Bauhaus's Wine Director, Alan Koller, is back on the blog - this time, talking about his long journey with Bordeaux. He's warning you - this post is a long one.
"You may have noticed that I have neglected talking about Bordeaux ever since this series of mine began, but I can avoid it no longer. Bordeaux, oh, Bordeaux - how I have hated you. You are my abusive relationship in the wine world. So many times, I have been lucky enough to try what was supposed to be an amazing wine and somehow you have let me down. Now, was it your fault? Probably not… but maybe it was. I know this may sound odd to hear from a restaurant wine director, but I have my reasons.
Let’s get into this: when did my relationship start with Bordeaux? Back in the 90s I was at the Waterfront Hotel, and I am sure I had Bordeaux during that time but I can’t remember any one specific moment with a bottle of Bordeaux. However, I do remember buying a copy of Michael Broadbent’s The Great Vintage Wine Book. This was my first look into the vintage ratings for some of the best wines, and specifically Bordeaux for the last 200+ years. That was the moment the seed was planted.
Honestly, it wasn’t until I got to the Wedgewood Hotel that I began getting more moments with Bordeaux. I remember my “I drank the Kool-Aid” moment where I was confused as to why people would be buying a $700 bottle of ‘97 Insignia, over the ‘87 Domaine Chevalier for half the price. Of course, the ‘97 Insignia was a 100-point wine but it was 2001, there was no way the Insignia was ready to drink. My logic was that even though the Domaine Chevalier was an ’87, an average year, at least this wine should show some more character than the dark tannic fruit bomb that was the Insignia. So, we had 6 bottles, I sold 4 of them before I tried the wine. Have you heard the words ‘muddy’ and ‘acidic’ used as negative descriptors for wine? Well, this is the wine where you would have used those words. I had believed the hype of Bordeaux, and that cost me. This was the first moment of disappointment with Bordeaux, but sadly it was not my last. In fairness, this was more my lack of knowledge than the fault of Bordeaux. On an average year, Domaine Chevalier isn’t guaranteed to survive 14 years.
There were other moments with Bordeaux at the Wedgewood that added to my frustration. A guest dropped 3k on a bottle of the 2000 Petrus in 2004. It smelled incredible but it was so tannic and aggressive it was almost undrinkable. Infanticide is the only word you could use. Then, there was a guest who brought in 3 vintage Bordeaux, 2 from the ‘70s and 1 from the ‘60s. All three were done – undrinkable. Again, not Bordeaux’s fault but it certainly added to my growing frustration.
Let’s leave the Wedgewood and move onto to my next restaurant and that exposed me to the failure of an ‘86 Mouton. Apparently, the ‘86 Mouton was known as the donut by some critics because it starts great and is empty in the middle. Decanting it was the mistake made by the guest. Sometimes air isn’t a good thing. Now, I moved on to a smaller restaurant for a while and my exposure to Bordeaux dropped for a while, then I move to Black+Blue in 2013.
Black and Blue was moving some Bordeaux and its clientele were bringing in their own bottles from home. I thought I was going to figure out what the fascination is with Bordeaux. Needless to say, that didn’t happen (again). I can honestly say I never tried one Bordeaux the entire time that made me say “WOW.” That is not to say I didn’t have some good ones, but nothing worth the price people were paying. I remember trying a 2003 Margaux from a magnum. It was thin and unexciting, and for a twelve year old Bordeaux of this quality that made absolutely no sense (what did make sense is a thought I had a year later – was the bottle fake?) Then, there was the incident at a private Bordeaux tasting where the signature wine in the tasting was the 1995 Decru Beacaillou, Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year in 1998. So, I am sitting there with 20 other wine snobs and I am listening to the host rant on about how amazing this wine is, and shockingly people are agreeing with him. Ultimately, I think the host tried the wine when he had opened it three hours prior, but by the time the rest of us got to it the wine had thinned out. It has almost nothing redeeming left in it other than some rotted vegetation and a light cedar and smoke. So, I moved on from Black+Blue and took a break from the elite wine world for a couple of years.
Eventually, I arrived at Bauhaus and fortunately we attract a clientele that enjoy vintage Bordeaux. We had a Zachys wine dinner for 10 people one evening. They brought in the 1982 vintage of Cheval Blanc, Margeaux, Latour, and Montrose. ‘82 is one of the storied vintages from Bordeaux, so this was the first time I had a chance to try a legendary Bordeaux in its prime. I was amazed at how the Montrose still showed so much fruit. What I wasn’t ready for was the intense smokiness, strong cedar, and earthy umami flavours of the other wines. I can say that I now understood, but am still too immature to fully appreciate them.
A month ago, some regulars showed up with 4 vintages of Grande-Puy-Lacoste. The 2000, 1996, 1995, and the 1982. The 2000 was still young. The 1995 was good, but the stars were the ‘96 and the ‘82. The ‘82 still held its fruit, showed great aged complexity and still had a balanced amount of acidity. The guests and I felt it still had a few years left in it. The ‘96 also showed well, except the acidity was soft so it was drinking as well as it ever would, and again the guests agreed.
My next moment came a couple of weeks later when some guests showed up with the ‘82 Lynch Bages and an ‘82 Montrose. Once again, the Montrose showed very well and tasted the same as the one I tried a year prior. It’s nice to see consistency in a wine at 35 years old. The Lynch Bages showed very nicely as well, still had great fruit balanced with the typical earthy tones and a decent amount of acidity. Both wines appeared to me to still have some years left in them. And this is one of the keys to what makes Bordeaux great. On release both of these wines would have been about $50 dollars and for that money you got a wine that aged into something wonderful 35 years later. That is what makes Bordeaux. Very few wine regions can say that as consistently as Bordeaux can.
After 25 years of tasting, and hundreds of bottles of Bordeaux, this has been a glimpse of my journey into the Bordeaux world. What have I learned thus far in the journey? Well, I have been in some of the nicest cars ever made, visited some of the nicest hotels in the world, and I have tried some of the most storied Bordeaux ever made. It is easy to see what sets a supercar apart from the rest. There are statistics, an attention to detail, and recognizable quality to even the most untrained eye. You can walk into a 5 star hotel and immediately see what separates a Fairmont from a Delta hotel. There are guidelines that tell you what the difference between a 4 and 5 star hotel is. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said with Bordeaux – there are no guides to follow, no statistics to be read, and nothing defining about the bottle or a poured glass that will separate it from another wine. The only way for you to truly understand what separates Bordeaux from all other wines on the planet is to put in the work.
What work do you have to do? Do the book work. Learn the region and sub-regions, learn the classifications and learn the vintages. Learn the different houses that make these wines. Then, taste a lot of Bordeaux. Extend your tastings to include vertical tastings from the same winery and horizontal vintage tastings of the same year. Buy a case of 6 decent Bordeaux and age it for 18 years. Drink 1 bottle every three years just to observe how a wine developed in the bottle. Learn to buy from the best years and store the wine for the 20 to 40 it needs to develop. Oh, and did I mention to keep drinking and pushing yourself?
As you read this to-do list you may recognize the incredible amount of work and money it takes to learn about Bordeaux. That is what makes Bordeaux the greatest in the world. You can drive a Ferrari, you can stay at the Ritz. All that takes is money. But to understand and truly appreciate Bordeaux you must invest your time, heart, and soul into it. It will challenge you, frustrate you, and confuse you, but there will be times you will have the moment of clarity that will prove to you once and for all, Bordeaux has earned the right to be called the best. I am very lucky to have tried the wines I have tried, and I am curious to see where the next steps of my journey take me. I hope to see some of you along the way. Feel free to ask me when you are in Bauhaus about what wines we have that will help you along your journey, or where I know there are some hidden secrets in the city.
I hope you enjoyed discovering my journey. Happy drinking everyone.
PS. I would like to apologize to Burgundy and Barolo for potentially offending them for putting Bordeaux on the top of the list. I know Barolo is called the king of wine, and Burgundy has the highest priced wines in auction. But when it comes to a wine recognized by the masses as the best, Bordeaux wins."
- Alan Koller,
Wine Director, Bauhaus Restaurant
The days are dark, the nights are long, and the new Winter Tasting Menu is here. The 6 course dinner (also available as 4 courses) celebrates the changing of the seasons and is bursting with winter’s flavours.
cucumber / plankton / sea vegetables
rutabaga / bottarga
harissa / pistachio / eggplant
black truffle / egg yolk / roasted onion
red cabbage / celeriac / chestnut
crème anglaise / spekulatius
created by our Executive Chef team, David Mueller and Tim Schulte
four courses for 79 / six courses for 99
wine pairing 54 / 70
Alan Koller, Bauhaus's Wine Director, is exploring the famed New Word pinot noirs of Oregon in his latest blog post, leading up to Uwe's upcoming Wine Club Dinner on November 20th. Alan discusses the importance of terroir, age, and ultimately the mad-scientist of the wine world - the winemaker.
Well, here we are again, more wine talk! This is going to be a slightly different post, as I am focusing on pinot noir from Willamette Valley in Oregon – more specifically, a small part of it in the North West.
Why pinot? It is my favourite red grape, and there are several reasons why. I love how well pinot showcases the terroir it grows in. Riesling does a great job of that as well, but not like pinot. Pinot Noirs are a difficult grape, but the rewards for getting it right are worth it. As pinot ages, it evolves into flavours I respond to very well. Ultimately, pinot noir intrigues me when they are young. I don’t say that about Barolo, Brunello, Bordeaux or Aussie Shiraz, they all need time to evolve into something special, but pinot tells a story from the beginning.
Now, why Oregon? Because I love Oregon Pinot! I used to travel to Seattle to visit friends quite a bit, and my two duty free bottles were always Oregon Pinot. The other reason for “why Oregon” is because outside of Burgundy, there are only a few places that really produce top-quality pinot noir. I have discussed German pinot in an earlier blog post. Russian River pinots show very well, but I find the intensity of the fruit can overwhelm the terroir. Sonoma shows a little more restraint in its fruit and does have more varied sub-regions producing solid examples of pinot noir. California can struggle with overly rich soil, which causes the fruit to be very rich. However, pinot loves to struggle. But then there is Oregon: a cooler climate than Sonoma and the Russian River, and a similar soil composition to Burgundy, albeit a touch warmer. When you start dealing with wines from one of these four regions, you really start to find some very special wines. Dundee Hill, Eola Amity Hill, Chehalem Mountain, and Yamhill Carlton - each of these regions produce utterly stunning pinot noirs and each region’s wine show a slightly different character.
If you were to do a blind tasting of the pinots of these regions, apparently these are the differences between them. Dundee Hill has a high iron content in its soil, so acidity and minerality will be more present and the palate will show raspberry and black tea flavours. Now, when you move to Eola Amity Hill you get a much different story of plum, currant, and exotic spices. Yamhill Carlton is where the fruit stand up front and makes you take notice. Black cherry and vanilla tones seem to show up a great deal. Finally, there is Chehalem Mountain, and this is where some of the more intense bold style pinots are found, displaying rich cherry, black tea, and baking spice flavours.
Now, if I lined up 4 random wines from each region and tasted them blind, would I (or you) find that these previous descriptions apply? Maybe, or maybe we would struggle because there is another factor in the production of wine that can have a very large effect on how the wine taste: the winemaker.
The winemaker – the mad scientist/artist of the wine world. I remember a few years back when Wine Spectator did a study. They took 3 winemakers and challenged them to make three wines each. The key to the challenge was that Spectator bought the grapes. Where did the grapes come from? Three different vineyards. Each winemaker was given 1.5 tonne of grapes from each vineyard. The reason why they was to see whether terroir or the winemaker has the most influence on the finished product. The answer was the winemaker. The blind tasters did find some similarities between the wines, but they found that each wine uniquely different. So, the terroir will be present, but ultimately it is how the grapes were pressed, fermented and aged that will define the wine, UNLESS the goal of the winemaker is to showcase the terroir. Learning to make a wine so it showcases its terroir is the lesson new world pinot producers are undertaking.
It was not too long ago when North American pinots were over-extracted, had their alcohol levels too high, and were over-oaked. Those styles still exist, but thankfully many wineries started taking trips to Burgundy to discover what made French Burgundy so special. Some of it was winemaking technique, and another big part of it was getting Burgundy root stock. This is why we see “Clone such-and-such” listed as the type of pinot in most of the New World’s top producers of pinot. Simply put, Burgundy vines are better at showing the lands terroir. Oregon is certainly learning the ways of Burgundy. They recognized the soil similarities and they want to show off what Oregon has to offer in terroir. Apologies for the roundabout way of getting back to the terroir but if you have ever had the pleasure of my service, you would already know I do tend to wander. Perhaps it is part of my charm?
We have arrived at the point in my blog where we go from a fun little info session to the point of the story! Wouldn’t it be fun to try some Oregon pinots from top wineries, sourced from three of these regions just to see if they are different and if they do measure up to Burgundy? Well your opportunity is on November 20th! That is the date for Uwe’s next wine club dinner. How does the wine club work? It is a bit different than your usual wine dinner. Uwe has Chefs Tim and David create a special menu that will help showcase the wines of the evening. Uwe also brings in wines just for the event. The pricing is $130 before tax and gratuity for the chef’s menu and then the wines are sold by the glass. The best part is, the wine is not priced at the usual restaurant mark-up – Uwe does a minimal markup to make sure you get to try some of the best wines we can find without charging a fortune.
If you would like to join us for this unique glimpse into the world of Oregon Pinot, contact us at email@example.com or give us a call at 604-974-1147. Dinner starts at 7pm.
Bauhaus's Wine Director Alan Koller takes a trip through the history of Paso Robles and explore the Wild West attitude towards winemaking.
I want to begin by expressing my thoughts and prayers for everyone in Napa and Sonoma right now. We experienced our own brutal forest fires in BC this year, and unfortunately Napa and Sonoma currently find themselves in the middle of a collection of horrible fire storms. Hopefully Mother Nature will be kind and allow for the fire fighters to gain control over these fires.
Now, this blog is going to focus on a region south of Napa and Sonoma, called Paso Robles. When it comes to the history of a wine region, Paso Robles has an interesting history. Paso Robles has been growing grapes since 1797. At that point it was the Spanish Conquistadors and Franciscan Monks that were the first to plant grapes in this region. Again, like many regions we have to thank religion for establishing an industry, but maybe that will be its own blog post one day. So the monks were making wine, but there was a fun twist to the story that set up the commercial history of the area. Frank and Jesse James’s uncle, Drury James, was the man behind the foundation of the town of Paso Robles. The driving reason behind the town was the abundance of hot springs. Those hot springs were the key. Travellers on the El Camino Real trail would stop there to refresh in the mineral springs before head north to San Francisco. Of course, when you have a place that attracts people, some don’t leave. People began to recognize opportunity, and they took advantage. Paso Robles slowly became a productive agricultural area, with apple orchards, olive trees, and almonds being planted alongside the grapes.
Despite the monks were growing grapes for almost 100 years, it was in the 1880s that commercial wine production began. The York family created the Ascension winery, but like the rest of the US, Prohibition came and stalled the wine business. However, during Prohibition, a man named Ignace Paderewski came to the famed hot springs and loved the region so much that he bought 2000 acres of land. He planted Zinfandel and Petite Syrah. Of course, because of Prohibition he could not make wine, but he could grow grapes. As a result, he had a head start when Prohibition finally ended. Working together with York Mountain Winery, named Ascension, Paderewski started producing wine, and it was these wines that put Paso Robles on the map. Because of his fame as a composer, he had an in with the elite of the eastern United States. It is similar to an infamous film director opening up a restaurant – there is a lot of power in cross over marketing. For some reason, Paderewski never established a winery, he just kept producing under York Mountain. Of course, with 2000 acres they had a lot of grapes available, so they started selling to other wineries. In 2004, York Mountain Vineyards was re-established under the name Epoch. In the end, the original Paderewski vineyards are still active and continue to provide grapes for some of the best wineries in the region.
The history is important for another reason in Paso Robles. The history sets the tone for the attitude of the wine makers. There were no rules, they played with lots of grape varietals and were not afraid to blend them. What were they growing? Well there are your classic Bordeaux blending grapes, they grow all of them. Of course, they grew Zinfandel. Oh, and a bunch of Italian showed up and planted, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Barbera. They also grow the main Rhone blending grapes, Syrah, Mouverdre, Grenache, and Viognier. Other winemakers got bored and started growing some of the popular grapes from Spain and Portugal. Paso Robles has been considered the Wild West of wines, and it’s easy to see why. Syrah/Zinfandel blends, Zinfandel/Cabernet blends, Cabernet/Petite Syrah blends, and Zinfandel/Petit Syrah blends. Basically, wine makers would blend pretty much anything just to create something unique. It has been argued that Paso Robles is the wild west of wine. And who am I to argue with that!
If you think that all of this history would create market demand, you would be mistaken. Paso Robles wines have more of a cult following than mainstream success. In Vancouver, access is limited, and while there are a few cheaper ones around, the quality wines from Epoch, Saxum, and L’Aventure are very hard to find. But if you do, they are worth the money.
But here is the good news: we have one at Bauhaus! Yes, of course we do, there wouldn’t be much point to this blog if we didn’t. We have the L’Aventure Optimus red blend. The 2013 Optimus is a blend of 48% Syrah, 30% Cab and 22% Petit Verdot. The wine starts off with a rush of dark ripe fruit and as the wine sits on your palate, the wonderful chocolate, tobacco and baking spices create a beautiful complexity, and finally the firm acidity with gentle tannins finish the wine perfectly. A beautiful wine with a long palate. Any time you have a wine with the richness of the fruit, lingering tannins with a long complex finish, you need a dish that will be big and bold. That is where our new 30 day dry aged Cache Creek striploin comes in. Not much of a stretch to pair it with a steak but it is the sides that make the wine perfect. Brussel sprouts roasted and puréed, piave of potato with Roquefort cheese and a green peppercorn sauce. All these rich bold flavours need a wine that can show off its own collection of complex flavours. The Optimus does not disappoint! Come by and try this unique wine and let me know if you think Paso Robles is the Wild West of wines.
The Power of Trends and Ego