Château Montbadon in Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux, one of the region’s last remaining examples of medieval military architecture.
For years, I’ve suffered from nostalgia in Bordeaux. I trace it back to a moment at Château Margaux, in a conversation with Paul Pontallier, the late managing director, about how a journalist could fairly approach the region’s wines. What I really meant was how someone who had not chosen to participate in the wealth-generating machine that Bordeaux had become could still report on it in interesting and relevant ways: I could no longer afford to buy his wines, and our tasting panel’s access to them in New York had ended. He smiled the benevolent smile of a monk and said, “You are always welcome to come and taste here.”
For the past ten years, our coverage of Bordeaux has slimmed down, focused on the wines we could source here in the US market for our tastings, and to en primeur reports from Fiona Morrison, MW, who had become a friend when she worked at Château & Estate in New York, and later moved to Bordeaux, eventually making wine in Pomerol. It was Fiona who took me to Castillon for the first time—or, rather, it was her fiancé, Jacques Thienpont, whose Flemish grandfather had a country house at Puygueraud in the Côtes de Francs. Thienpont took us hiking in the fields and woodlands just to the south, where a fairytale castle on a distant hill overlooked open pastures and small patches of vines. More than two decades later, I found that place again, down a long, wooded drive, this time arriving at the front gates of Château de Pitray in Castillon. It still had the pastoral beauty I was guarding in my memory.
This September, I spent a week with the vignerons of Castillon, where there are no grand cru classés. Any side trips I made were to growers in Fronsac and Margaux who tend pre-phylloxera vines, and to Entre-Deux-Mers, visiting growers who sustain the survivors of phylloxera—vines like carmenère and malbec that helped earn the First Growths their reputations but have since lost their foothold in the region.
The week finally broke me of my nostalgia, as, although I met some growers struggling with the bland ambitions buyers may have for their wines, I also met any number of dedicated vignerons, people whose work gave me a completely new insight into what Bordeaux could be, and what they were discovering Bordeaux to be. I came back to the US wondering how we might reconnect with California cabernet in the same way, and asked Karen Moneymaker, who runs our tastings department in LA, to talk with 20 sommeliers about what they like in California cabernet—a category that leaves so many of them rolling their eyes. She heard some nostalgic recollections of great wines past, but she was surprised by the honest enthusiasm she found for new wines, even among the most stalwart terroirists in the crowd. We present her findings here, as well as Tara Q. Thomas’s own break with nostalgia while exploring the radical new wines of Georgia. There are few ghosts of holidays past in this issue as, instead, we hope to o er you a taste of holidays to come.