Foire aux Vins at Chai & Bar

Rumour has it that you can get lost in translation. This hasn’t happened yet to this blog, but this post is two weeks delayed in translation, but finally, here it is.
Chai & Bar is without doubt a key address of the Brussels wine scene. It’s a large wine store in the old Royal depot Tour & Taxis just northwest of the central part of the city, across the river. The range of Chai & Bar is perhaps best described as something in-between a specialised Bordeaux shop and a broad shop with a French focus. Without doubt it is Bordeaux which is their strength, and there their collection stretches all the way from good budget wines, to good wines that still are reasonably affordable, on to those wines which mere mortals can still buy when they go a little crazy, and finally on those where you can only do one thing: shake your head at the prices and remind people that it’s actually fermented grape juice we’re talking about. Their range also includes a lot of the rest of France, combined with some wines from the rest of the world. They do however have some complete white spots in areas which has to be seen as classic, such as Germany, Austria, Sherry and Port, and their total New World offer is quite limited (and rather uninteresting). The distinction of having the widest prestige-level wine range in Brussels therefore definitely goes to the large gourmet shop Rob.

In defence of Chai & Bar (which has existed for five years), I must say that their range in no way is static, and an interesting development is their progressively increased cooperation with other importers, such as the Italy specialist Licata Vini and the Spain specialist La Buena Vida, that like many specialised Belgian wine sellers are located “in the countryside” rather than in the Brussels area. Some well-chosen wines from their respective ranges are available in the shelves of Chai & Bar. As an example, from Licata, some of the lower-priced wines from La Spinetta and some from Avignonesi are available. Another couple of cooperations of this type, to cover the most obvious white spots, and they would give Rob a good match.
Despite my view that Rob has the wider range, I’m a more frequent visitor to Chai & Bar, since they offer larger and smaller tastings of various kinds, and have a number of campaigns throughout the year, when the prices tend to come down to quite reasonable levels. Thus, it is a very nice wine store to visit for anyone who at all likes the wines that’s part of their range. A tasting from late 2009 which is worth a particular honorary mention is one when they offered the possibility to taste 2,5 cl of Château Pétrus 2004 for € 10, i.e., they charged € 300/bottle at a time when their list price was somewhere around € 800 (?). Today you actually have to cough up € 1100 for a bottle. This is actually the only time I’ve Pétrus. (A quick tasting note from my head: good but not value for money, needs more time; Parker’s 93 p and “drink 2017-2035” may be a very reasonable evaluation.)

Our wine tasting club tends to hold at least one tasting per year at Chai & Bar, which is then led by one of their sommeliers. The latest one was a tasting of white Bordeaux in early June, and it was very good. (Where could my tasting notes from that one be hiding?) They also have an Enomatic-equipped wine bar in the shop, open when the shop is open, where 16 wines from their range (usually including a couple of really high-end wines) can be tasted at a very reasonable price.

Let’s get back to the tasting which was on the weekend I last visited them. Foire aux Vins is a well-known concept in the Francophone world, and quite simply means ”wine fair”, as in “wine sales”. This happens every autumn in at least France and Belgium. Some sellers may run a smaller version in spring as well. Around mid-September it started in Belgium. The big players are the supermarket chains, Carrefour, Delhaize, Colruyt and Cora, where Cora (despite having fewer Belgian stores than the other ones) usually has the best and most interesting offer. They are usually last, in October, and it’s likely that I’ll return to their Foire aux Vins in a later post. Many of these supermarkets bring in a larger, temporary range for these sales, which may include some items more interesting than their usual range, although often mixed up with a lot of completely uninteresting rubbish. Chai & Bar’s sale, on the other hand, is a temporary price reduction on selected parts of their regular range, as far as I can tell. This time around it runs from 10 September to 2 October. Those who’d like to take part in their tastings should notice that this requires signing up beforehand after getting a personal invitation, which you’ll get by registering on their website. This is observed strictly; walk-in unsubscribed visitors don’t get to try the wines on tasting for those who have signed up.

Laurent Perrier Brut Champagne, non-vintage (reduced from € 30 to € 27,50)
Cold, dry, and free is not a bad way to start if you want to keep your customers in a good mood!
In the nose slightly biscuity, citrus, somewhat aromatic, a quite classic Champagne aromas. On the palate dry, medium body, rather fruity, grapefruit notes, rather good acidity, some bitterness that reduces the rating somewhat. 87-88 p. A Champagne in classical, strict style. Difficult to say that it shows a very clear profile in comparison to other house styles – it seems to be solidly in the “middle of the pack” among the large houses of good reputation as to style: neither obviously young or unusually mature, or a dominance of any grape variety (possibly a bit “blanc de blancish” than anything else) or particularly lightweight or concentrated in style. Quite OK value at this price. Richard Juhlin rated it 72 (79) in his 2008 book, but that wasn’t this batch (and he rates from 0 rather than from 50). RJ says it’s 40% Pinot Noir, 15% Pinot Meunier, and 45% Chardonnay.

Domaine de Targuerie (Blanc) 2009 (reduced from € 6,00 to € 4,99)
Vin de Pays de Côtes de Gascogne (Southwest Frankrike), blend of Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
Very pale colour. In the nose furity, citrus, gooseberry, some green notes. In the nose, the Sauvignon Blanc impression dominates, but more “simple New Zeeland SB” than anything from Loire. On the palate dry, medium bodied, fruity with notes of gooseberry, plenty of lemon, good acidity, some green notes, and rather “prickly” and slightly bitter aftertaste. The taste reminds me again of (simpler) New World Sauvignon Blanc. 80-81 p. Very good value. Would be an excellent aperitif wine, in particular for use in summer if there was anything left of it…

Domaine des Masques Essentielle Chardonnay 2009 (reduced from € 7,50 to € 6,99)
Vin de Pays de Bouches de Rhône
Clear yellow colour. Exotic, candy-styled nose, almost reminds me of chewing gum with a generous serving of synthetic fruit aromas. On the palate slightly more than medium body, some alcohol bite, fruity taste, overt alcoholic notes and lack of balance in the aftertaste. 78-80 p. An impressive concentration for the price, but too alcoholic and unbalanced, and I believe few would guess France if served this wine blind. It was mentioned that it was high in alcohol (14%?) already when served. I can’t recommend it to anyone else than those who never tend to consider some wines too alcoholic. Is unlikely to become more balanced with time. Chai & Bar offered a tasting of several Domaine de Masque’s wines some months ago, and I remember them as rather good, so I see no reason to avoid this producer just because of this single wine.

Domaine Masson Blondelet Les Angelots 2008 (reduced from € 12,90 to € 10,49)
Pouilly-Fumé (Loire), Sauvignon Blanc
A nose of asparagus, some peach and citrus, slightly aromatic, some mineral. On the palate fruity, medium-bodied, rather good acidity, not too concentrated. 83-84 p. The aromas are rather typical for a Pouilly-Fumé in a rather fruity style, could have been more concentrated on the palate, but the style is rather elegant. Probably more styled as a an aperitif wine than a food wine. Quite decent value.

Les Plantiers du Haut-Brion 2005 (€ 44, not on sale)
Péssac-Léognan (Bordeaux/Graves), 63% Sémillon, 37% Sauvignon Blanc. Château Haut-Brion’s white second wine. The white and red second wines from this producer has different names, which both recently has changed, so more recent vintages of this wine is apparently called La Clarté de Haut-Brion. On top of that, there are many other châteaux with Haut Brion as part of their name or their second wines’ names. I guess it’s all to make things simpler for us consumers. Or something like that.
An Enomatic wine from the wine bar, not part of the sales tasting. I revisited this wine because we tasted it in June with the wine club, and then it impressed me greately.
Clear yellow colour. In the nose yellow fruit in the form of yellow apple and peach, some arrak liqueur (OK, that was a very typical Swedish tasting desciptor), straw and honey, well balanced barrel notes with some butter, minty mineral notes, very elegant. Slightly more than medium body, very minty and minerally, very clearly marked acidity, with a general impression of yellow fruit and citrus below the dominating mineral tones, again some straw, long and pleasant aftertaste with notes of mineral and citrus. 92-93 p. An extremely elegant, ”aristocratic” wine. The barrel notes are very well integrated. Could improve with aging, and should be able to age for quite some time given its minerality and acidity. If served now, some time in a carafe prior to serving would probably be good. Interesting to see a Sémillon-dominated wine being so strict, elegant and acid-driven, when Sauvignon Blanc-dominared blends seem to be the white Bordeaux favorites of today, among other things due to their acidity, as I thought. I had expected an oilier wine, and rather associated the wine’s profile to Chenin Blanc. If someone had said that it was a truly high-end oaked Savennières (but not from Joly) I had accepted that. At this price, we’re of course talking about a wine which costs what a lot of people would never spend on a dry white wine without bubbles. For those who can imagine paying this, I definitely do believe that this wine delivers. It should be appreciated by most of those who enjoy classically styled white wines, even if they’re not particular to white Bordeaux. An because of the connection to Haut-Brion (which is an icon also on the white side) I would even consider it reasonably-priced. It’s probably a wine to be paired with elegant fish dishes, but with its acidity I would also think that seafood could work.
Parker gave it 90 p in 2008 and recommended drinking 2008-2023. I’ve so far often rated slightly lower than Parker in this blog, but in this case he has been too ungenerous.

Henri Latour Bourgogne Haute Côtes de Beaune 2007 (reduced from € 11,90 to € 9,99)
Pinot Noir
Pale red colour, in the nose raspberry candy with some sour cherries, slightly aromatic with a hint of spice. Acidic taste of raspberries, some spice and some tannin that makes itself felt in the afterataste. 80-82 p. Very lightweight style, not very impressive, but a fully correct basic-level Burgundy, so no need to avoid if you appreciate the light, acidic version of Pinot Noir. Not too convinced about the value, because Haut Côtes wines can be better than this at this price level, and if we lift our heads from Burgundy, the very basic level of Pinot Noir should quite simply cost less than this.

Le Bordeaux de Maucaillou 2006 (reduced from € 6,90 to € 5,39)
Bordeaux Supérieur, blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This was said to be the fourth wine of Château Maucaillou in the Moulis appellation. This was the first time I had heard the term “fourth wine”, I thought the counting stopped at third wines. But in this case, the third wine is apparently called Le Haut-Médoc de Maucaillou, while this wine is marketed under an appellation (Bordeaux Supérieur) which is lower in the Bordeaux hierarchy than Haut-Médoc – could it possibly contain bought-in grapes as well?
Bright red colour. In the nose red berries (red currants, cherries), some dark plum, some spice. On the palate slightly less than medium bodied, rather fruity, good acidity, red currants and cherries, some tannin, in particular in the aftertaste. 81-83 p. Fresh and easy to drink in style, not intended for aging. Very good value. Not just a lot of wine for the price, but also some recognisable Bordeaux character, in difference from the typical 3 euro Bordeaux of Belgian supermarkets, which sometimes may be drinkable red wine with a vaguely “French” profile but which very often just are lousy. A plus for writing the phrase ”Grand vin de Bordeaux” (which is mockery when used by the aforementioned 3 euro wines) in very small letters on this, the producer’s simplest wine.

Le Haut-Médoc de Giscours 2006 (reduced from € 12,90 to € 9,29)
Haut-Médoc, in principle the third wine of Château Giscours in Margaux, but in reality it’s sourced (primarily?) from a ”first selection” of vineyards just outside Margaux’s appellation borders rather than a third selection from vineyards inside the appellation.
Bright red colour, slightly darker than the previous. In the nose barnyard aromas, red and black currants, some spice and barrel notes. On the palate medium bodied, rather rich in tannin and with good acidity, again red an black currants, tannic and strict aftertaste. 85-86 p. Definitely a good value. Very obviously a classic Bordeaux and specifically Left Bank style, is approachable now, but would definitely benefit from a few years in the cellar. Wonderful that such wines still can be found under 10 euro, on ”Cabernet Sauvignon ground” (Haut-Médoc) and produced by a reputable château!

Marquis de Mons 2005 (reduced from € 14,90 to € 11,99)
Margaux, 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, second wine of Château La Tour de Mons.
Bright red colour. In the nose barnyard aromas, red and some dark berries, slightly flowery, some notes of mild dried spice. On the palate medium bodied, red and dark berries, slightly softened tannins, but still rather obvious. Some tar aromas and dry tannins in the finish. 83-85 p. OK value. Comparing to the previous wine, this is more elegant in the nose at this stage, but is a bit more ”raw” and unharmonic in its aftertaste. Could age more, but I don’t think a few more years in the cellar will correct the balance. Considering that in general, 2005 is a fabulous vintage, this wine is an underachievement, which could explain why it’s on sale 2010, when mostly vintages 2006 and 2007 are on offer. If we forget what 2005 ”should” be like, it’s an OK wine for its price, though.

Château Chasse-Spleen 2007 (reduced from € 21,90 to € 18,50)
Moulis en Médoc, 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot.
Bright dark red colour. In the nose clearly flowery and aromatic (new oak?), red and dark berries, some barnyard aromas and spice. The aromas go in the ”modern-styled, good Bordeaux” direction. On the palate medium bodied, aromas of dark and red berries, good acidity, relatively present tannin, some spice, tannic but harmonic aftertase. 87-88 p. Clearly young, needs additional time. Good value. I must say that I was positively surprised by this wine, because the red Bordeaux 2007s have a general reputation for being weaker than 2006, and possibly overrated by some major wine critics. Some are supposed to show a bit of green or underripe aromas, and many risk being overpriced, since the en primeur contracts were signed on the tail of 2005’s reputation and just before the financial crisis hit the real economy. This wine is probably a little lighter-styled than what Chasse-Spleen achieves in a good year, but it’s very well made and show no ”funky” or green notes whatsoever. When it’s on sale for under 20 euro it’s probably priced a little below the 2006s, which makes it a good value, and this ia a very resonable pricing philosophy for a 2007.

Château Beychevelle 2007 (reduced from € 44,00 to € 36,90)
Saint-Julien (4th cru as of1855), 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot.
Dark bright red colour. In the nose some barnyard aromas and obvious notes of cedar wood, spice and blackcurrants – powerful and classic aromas. On the palate slightly more than medium bodied, black currant, some spice and tar, very present tannin but well integrated. 89-90 p. Young, but actually more accessible than Chasse-Spleen despite being made in a more powerful style, also shows more concentration of fruit. A good effort for the vintage and a very fine wine, but good value considering that we’re now talking twice the price of the previous bottle? No quite, if I go strictly after what’s in the bottle. For those who do attach importance to the label, and have decided upon Cru Classé, or this appellation, or buys this château in v every vintage – yes, barely.

And then over to the two Enomatic wines:

Château Smith Haut Lafitte 2007 (reduced from € 54,00 to € 45,00)
Péssac-Léognan, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot.
Rather compact dark red, with brighter red edge. In the nose barnyard and spicy aromas of blackcurrant and dark plum, possibly some truffle? Obviously spicy on the palate, a bit more than medium bodied, the slightest hint of alcoholic heat (a slightly ”Spanish” hint?), quite tannic but with ”polished” tannins for a young Cabernet dominated Bordeaux. 90-91 p. A ”foody” wine, perhaps slightly less elegant than Beychevelle in its aromas, but very well made, and again proves how reliable this château is. Quite young, but reasonably approachable already for those with a ”young” taste. A good value or not? – basically the same argument as for Beychevelle. But, do note that the reliable second wine Les Hauts de Smith is also part of the sale, in its 2006 vintage, and is reduced from € 19,00 to € 15,50. Without having tasted this vintage I still think I could say that it is a good value, since it e.g. is given the same vinification as the first wine.

Château Pontet Canet 2007 (reduced from € 65,00 to € 56,00)
Pauillac (4th cru as of 1855), 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot.
This wine turned out to be clearly marked by being served from the Enomatic, unlike the previous wine. This prevents me from giving a very reliable tasting note. But this is what I felt in the glass in front of me.
Rather compact dark red colour, purple edge. The nose initally dominated by aromas of cinnamon roll dough. (Another very Swedish descriptor – the point is not that it had very much cinnamon flavour, but that it had aromas of a sweet dough.) Weird, but it reminded me of a Pinot Blanc I had tasted from an Enomatic a short time earlier! After energetic swirling of the glass some red and dark berries and notes of mild, dried spice emerged from under the ”blanket” of the dough. In the taste the attack is acidic with red berries, after which tar and black currants take over mid-palate and, after which some fairly massive tannin hit. Rated in this condition I would give it (87-88 p ?), but the finish indicates that 90+ had been in question if it had ”normal” aromas. Parker gave it (91-94), and currently I can’t really say if I agree or not.

This wine turned out to have been in the Enomatic around 2,5 weeks, and the sommelier who could provide this information also said that the reductive nitrogen atmosphere sometimes can affect the aromas after this long time. He described the typical aromas due to this as “white spirits” while I associated to sweet dough, but it seemed he could accept that there was something ”yeasty” about it. Interesting, a completely different type of ”defect” than I have encountered before. I wonder if different persons are differently sensitive to these aromas? Two other in the staff apparently didn’t think there was anything wrong with the wine’s aromas, which slightly surprised me. (And, no, I didn’t have to pay for this glass.) The weird aromas were reduced by swirling but didn’t go away completely in 10 minutes of handling the glass.

The lesson is probably this: if a wine from an Enomatic seems weird, ask how long it’s been in the machine.

The Swedish version of this post can be found here.

This entry was posted in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Chardonnay, Loire, Pinot Noir, Provence, Sauvignon Blanc, Southwest France. Bookmark the permalink.

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