This time I will evaluate a ”home wine tasting” box from François de Fonbelle containing five 5 cl bottles of Bordeaux. These miniature bottles should perhaps better be described as ampoules (the text inside the box calls them ”phials”), because they have a glass-only seal that is opened by ”breaking its neck”. The 5 cl sample is therefore packaged under a controlled atmosphere and shouldn’t be oxidised while waiting to be sold. The idea is very good and this concept should have potential!
The box is labelled ”Five prestigious French Wines”, and yes, this label leaves a producer open to nasty remarks if the contents don’t live up to standard. The content is five Bordeaux wines – one white (Bordeaux Blanc) and four red (Bordeaux Rouge, St.-Émilion, Graves and Médoc).
The box, bought at Brussels airport for about € 13, seems to have been launched in 2009 and was marketed at the Tax Free World Association (TFWA) World Exhibition in Cannes. In the unlikely event that there are readers unfamiliar with this event, it’s an annual exhibition targeting the tax-free business. (I actually didn’t even know there were exhibitions specifically for tax-free shops, but every day is a learning experience.)
I found it slightly pointless to taste a single white wine against four reds, so I added a half bottle of Château de Rochemorin Blanc 2007, a good white Bordeaux from André Lurton, to the flight. This also gave an opportunity to calibrate scores against a real château-designated wine from a highly competent producer.
Tasting notes for the two whites:
Château de Rochemorin Blanc 2007 (Péssac-Léognan, 100% Sauvignon Blanc, 10 months in barrel, of which 35% new) – Bright yellow colour. In the nose relatively obvious barrel notes with some toast and buttery notes, citrus, yellow apple, some gooseberry marmalade. Rather ”big” aromas. On the palate rather full with obvious ”barrelly” notes of oiliness, spicy, and decent acidity. 85-86 p. Food-friendly style, and a good wine, but on the palate, other vintages have shown better acidity, more fruit (primarily citrus) and freshness. Would typically be able to reach 88-90 p. (For a wine this young, the effect of the half bottle shouldn’t produce this effect, so this is likely the vintage character.) Could possibly become a bit more harmonic after some additional cellaring.
Rochemorin Blanc is typically reliable as a reasonably priced ”entry level representative” of the higher class of modern white Bordeaux. This means Sauvignon Blanc-dominated and with fairly overt barrel notes, often with significant toast. I’ve included it in some tastings/courses to represent this style, and I’m therefore comparing this 2007 to my recollection of vintages 2004, 2005 and 2006.
André Lurton’s fact sheet for Château de Rochemorin Blanc
The half bottle was € 8,95 at La Maison des Vins in Brussels. Full bottles should be possible to find at around € 15-16.
Bordeaux Blanc – Slight ”œil de perdrix” colour, i.e., darker and less yellow than the previous. In the nose more muted and boring than Rochemorin, with notes of damp wool, pear, a hint of spice and almond. On the palate somewhat thin, slightly oily and spicy, with some apple and pear notes, some bitterness and decent acidity. Bitter aftertaste with a lack of freshness. 68-72 p? The style indicates a Sémillon-dominated wine (that actually resembles a simple and bad Chenin Blanc) with no barrel contact and winemaking of limited competence.
Regarding the four reds, my first impression was that they were lighter in colour than young red Bordeaux typically is, which doesn’t make me expect particularly high-class or concentrated wines. Tasting notes:
Bordeaux Rouge – Bright red colour. On the nose herbal notes with red fruit and a hint of leather. On the palate fairly dilute, with notes of red berries (sour cherries?), noticeably acidic, some tannin and slight bitterness. An ungenerous style with no obvious positive points, but a correct wine which is identifiable as a ”generic Bordeaux”. 70-75 p?
Saint-Émilion – Bright red colour, deeper than the previous. Fruity nose with plums and red berries, a warmer impression with notes of fruit compote, hints of spice, herbs and leather, a slightly yeasty note? On the palate rather fruity again with plums and red berries, fairly obvious acidity, some tannin and spice. Well-balanced but not too concentrated. 81-83 p? Typical for its appellation in its aromas, an clearly the most ”right bank-styled” among the four reds.
Médoc – Bright red colour, between the two previous in shade. On the nose red and dark berries, some aromatic-flowery notes (violet?), hints of tar and herbs. Less strong aromas than the St.-Émilion, but with more elegance. More fruit on the palate than the nose indicates, with clear notes of red and black currants, obvious tannin, good acidity. 83-84 p? Typical aromas for its appellation, light but elegant in style. If it came packaged in 75 cl bottles I would say it would definitely benefit from a few years of cellaring.
Graves – Bright red colour, about the same as the first wine. Herbal nose, some red berries, hints of leather, earth and spice. Aromas slightly more pronounced than the first wine, but much more discrete than St.-É and Médoc. Thin on the palate, not much fruit, hints of red and dark berries, some tannin. Some bitterness mid-palate and very obvious bitterness in the aftertaste, very disturbing. Somewhat more full than Bordeaux Rouge, but with much less harmony. 60-65 p? (This final rating was lowered after trying it with food, when the bitterness became even more obvious.) Not representative of its appellation, dilute, would have to be seen as substandard even for a cheap, generic Bordeaux.
That the box would feature négociant wines, that didn’t reach the level of for example Cru Bourgeois wines, didn’t surprise me. That none of the wines show any obvious notes of barrel aging doesn’t disturb me. But what does disturb me is that only two of five wines are of an acceptable quality level, when the box has the obvious purpose of showing the style of the major ”wine families” of Bordeaux. Possibly, the Bordeaux Rouge could be acceptable as a generic-level wine that provides contrast to the other reds. But two out of five are substandard with no trace of a doubt. The contents of the Bordeaux Blanc ampoule rather shows why the old style of simpler white Bordeaux lost its popularity and market, and why those who produced it largely converted to red wine production during the red wine craze of the 1980s. Surely this is not the point to be made with contemporary customers? Simple but marketable white Bordeaux of today – even if in a light style and with no barrels involved – needs more freshness, and likely a higher proportion of Sauvignon Blanc and colder and more oxidation-free winemaking. If no better white wine can be found on the bulk market, it had been better to market a box with only reds. And then we have the real disgrace of the flight – the Graves wine. Oh Lord, this is the worst wine (corked or completely oxidised bottles of ancient vintages excluded) I’ve tasted in a long time – and the worst so far in 2010. That it even showed worse with light food (pasta with vegetables) indicates just how horribly bad it is. In my opinion, it’s not just that it shouldn’t have been included in the box; it shouldn’t have been allowed to be sold under its appellation. Graves is supposed to be two steps up from generic Bordeaux and above Bordeaux Supérieur AOC in quality. This wine is rather two steps further down from where generic Bordeaux should end. Bordeaux of today experiences problems in finding a market for simpler wines (mostly Bordeaux AOC), and the price of bulk wine has reached a level where many producers face bankruptcy. At the risk of sounding like a very bad and insensitive person, I can only say this: if this wine is representative of what is produced by those facing bankruptcy, that simply shows that the free market is working as it should. Unfortunately, I can not say the same thing about the procedures involved in giving Bordeaux wines their seal of approval to be sold as AOC wine.
I had better add that I’m fairly certain that the Oenova packaging worked well, so no package-related defect should be to blame for the way the Graves wine showed. I say this because all four reds displayed quite muted aromas immediately after being poured, more so than wines from just opened 75 cl bottles typically do. They the opened up with a few minutes of swirling, which indicates that they came from a very oxygen-free environment. They also did not show any other ”textbook fault”.
In summary, a promising concept. However, the selection of wines for this box is quite simply not up to standard – too bad! I had also expected a bit more information inside the box, perhaps a description of how ”typical wines” from the featured appellations are expected to be. I can understand that it can be difficult to finance any more advanced booklet writing specifically for a product like this, but I had expected that for example the Bordeaux wine organisation CIVB would have been able to contribute general information. A search on the net does not indicate that Fonbelle has so far launched any more Oenova box after this first one.
Since I prefer to end on a slightly more positive note, I should add that two of the reds – Saint-Émilion and Médoc – were in a style which is very pleasant, and probably underappreciated today. By that I mean wine produced in a light style, but with typicity and a certain elegance. Very nice to drink with not-too-heavy food! If all five wines had been of this quality level, I would have been able to recommend this box. (Now I can’t.)
And then something slightly weird: in the left-hand margin of
this article in The Drinks Report the Fonbelle box is presented just under Lanson Extra Age – the very subject of yesterday’s post on this very blog! I swear I hadn’t checked this out before deciding on this theme! Even if TFWA and purchases in one and the same tax free shop provides some connection, this still raises a number of issues. Is there a free will? Are The Drinks Report and this blog written by the same monkeys using the same typewriter? That, dear readers, are issues I believe we will have reason to return to in later posts.
The Swedish version of this post can be found here.