Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Chateau de la Dauphine: 93 Pt. Organically Grown Bordeaux for $20? Yes, It's True

I am always excited when I find fine wines from an underdog region - and when they're at an unreal price, I'm especially delighted. That was the case at a tasting last week with Chateau de la Dauphine that took me by surprise.

The 100+ acre riverfront estate, on the Right Bank, is in Fronsac, a region that is not as well known or as widely trumpeted as its Right Bank neighbors in St. Emilion, but is nonetheless known for high quality wines. 

This particular estate started down the path to organic certification under its previous owners in 2012, and completed its Ecocert organic certification in 2015. (While the winery's promotional materials also say it is biodynamic, it has not been certified by any of the biodynamic certifiers.)

Chateau de la Dauphine - la Dauphine means Princess - has a long and illustrious history dating back to the 18th century, when it was visited by the French princess, Maria Josepha of Saxony. More recently it was owned by the Moeix family, a family well known for their ownership of Petrus and other Right Bank estates. (Christian Moueix has been involved in Napa with Dominus Estate as well as his new winery, Ulysses.) 

Marion Merker of Chateau de la Dauphine
In 2000, the Moeix family sold it to the Halley family who owned it and improved the vineyards until 2015, when, due to the father's death, it was sold to the LeBrune family, whose wealth comes from the medical software business. 

I had the pleasure of tasting these wines at an elegant luncheon last week in the company of some very fine wine writers - Deborah Grossman, Sara Hare (Napa/Sonoma magazine), Deborah Parker Wong, Thomas Riley, Charles Belle and Susan Lin of Belmont Wine Exchange - at the two Michelin star Taj Compton, an elegant restaurant near Union Square.

"The Halley's started on the organic path, and they made sure to sell it to a French family that shared these values and wanted to continue to improve the quality of the vines and the wines," said Marion Merker, marketing director of the Chateau, at the luncheon.  

The winery is also much visited by wine tourists, including those on Viking cruises. It stages a French picnic for tourists and recently won a major wine tourism award for its hospitality. "We made a cupcake that has foie gras (and other treats), which is very popular," Merker told us.

Photo credit: Sara Hale
We tasted through four wines - a 2016 rosé, the first rosé the winery has released, as an aperitif, followed by three vintages - 2004, 2009, and 2012 - paired with mushroom soup, filet mignon and raspberry chocolate cake. 

The 2004 was showing very well, having aged quite nicely.
The 2009 was paired with the filet mignon, which was an excellent pairing. 

There was a bit of sediment
on the 2009, which everyone wanted to photograph.
And to finish...the 2012 paired with a lovely, light cake
topped with gold flakes.

When it was discovered that my birthday was two days after the lunch, the assembled graciously broke into Happy Birthday in French. (See the video here.)

I had expected these wines to cost at least $40+, so when Marion told us that the retail price was $20 - available at KL Wines and J. J. Buckley - I was surprised. 

It makes no sense to pay Napa prices, as so many of us here in California expect to, when wines like this are on the market. Granted you have to seek them out, but I can't think of another Merlot - organically grown or not - that comes close to this for price point/quality. And although I am not a "scores person," even the esteemed Robert Parker scores the wines 91-93 pts., which is about where many of the finer Napa Cabs come in on his Richter scale. James Suckling has given the wines similar scores.

There are not very many Bordeaux estates who have certified organic vineyards, so that's just one more big plus for Chateau de la Dauphine - a royal winner in my book.

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