Carl Kanowsky: The test — does Bordeaux age gracefully?

Clyde Beffa, owner of K & L Wines, displays the Bordeaux wines poured at the tasting. Photo courtesy of Terry Kanowsky


I’ve told you before how much I respect the operation at K & L Wines, the retailer from the Bay Area that opened a Hollywood branch quite a while ago. We’ve enjoyed great tastings there, especially the Champagne extravaganza they host annually.

In addition to their yearly events, K & L also hosts twice-weekly tastings (Thursday nights and Saturday afternoons), generally with a focus on a specific varietal (e.g., pinot noir), or a particular producer, or a certain area of the globe, which is the one Terry and I went to a few weeks ago.

Clyde Beffa, founder and owner of K & L, led what was termed, “A Special Bordeaux Tastings – The ’90s.” Clyde opened 10 bottles from several Chateaux, from vintages ranging from 1991 to 2000.

Now, this is one of the reasons I tout wine tastings as a great educational opportunity. For about $25, you can sample $1,000 worth of wine that someone else has taken the trouble to store properly for two decades or longer. That right there is sufficient justification to enjoy such an event. You can discover for yourself if the reputation that Bordeaux wines can age almost endlessly is true or not.

Clyde has been K & L’s Bordeaux buyer for decades, generally visiting there twice a year. So, he knows whereof he speaks. He selected the bottles being poured because 1) he thinks the ’90s have been unfairly maligned; 2) these estates (with representatives from Pauillac, St-Emilion, Pessac-Leognan, and St-Estephe) reflect Bordeaux’s diversity; and, 3) the different estates deserve some recognition. 

Our four favorites were 1998 De Viaud, from Lalande-de-Pomerol; 1996 Citran, from Haut Medoc; 1997 Hault-Bailly, from Pessac-Leognan; and, 2000 Montrose, from St-Estephe. Retail prices went from $36 to $75 (this for a magnum) to $100 to $230.

The Chinese foodstuffs importer, COFCO, owns De Viaud now. Featuring a brick color (from the wine’s age), it has aromas of the forest floor and baking spices with tastes of leather, tobacco, and mint. To me there was a hint of sweetness. I rated it 93; Terry gave it a 98!

Two well-established Bordeaux families jointly own Citran, which has a history going all the way back to the 13th century. The Citran had a great nose with leather and berry as the wine opened up. It has a meaty flavor and soft tannins (not unexpected given its age). Because the wine came in a magnum (equal to two regular-size bottles), it aged more slowly due to less oxygen exchange with the wine. 

In 1998, American Robert Wilmers bought Haut-Bailly. Veronique Sanders (whose family used to own the Chateau) manages the property. Strong berry flavor remains, and I can see where this would be great with a juicy rib-eye. Terry loved the nose, getting cherry, berry, vanilla and a hint of mineral. I imagine that, even though 1997 was not a big harvest for the Chateau, because this is one of Clyde’s favorite wineries, K & L has a ready supply. 

Our last Bordeaux was the 2000 Montrose. 2000 was a great year for Bordeaux. And, despite being 19 years old, it remains vibrant. Its structure and balance provide the body to allow this wine to live another decade, perhaps longer. At $230 it is not cheap, but this is a good choice for a special evening.

So, to answer the initial question, yes, Bordeaux ages gracefully, beautifully.

Two tastings are coming up where you can experience what another region, namely Paso Robles, has to offer.

Wine Speak Paso Robles, a wine industry event for sommeliers, wine industry leaders and hospitality professionals, runs from Jan. 13 to the 16th. There will be winemaker seminars, hospitality workshops, dinners, tastings and exclusive vineyard excursions. Check out for information and tickets.

Then, on Jan. 29, right here in the SCV, join Epoch’s winemaker extraordinaire, Jordan Fiorentini, for an exclusive tasting at Salt Creek Grille, with proceeds benefiting the Boys & Girls Club. Tickets available at Hope to see you there – it will be Epoch!

Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker.

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