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Columns – Panos Kakaviatos

Château Haut-Bailly 25-Year Vertical from Magnum Bottles
Panos Kakaviatos
Mar 13, 2024

March 13, 2024: You know a Bordeaux producer is worthy when their second wine at nearly 20 years old is selected among the top in a blind tasting that included three Ridge Monte Bellos (1996, 2004, 2007), two Château Pontet Canets (2001, 2010), Château Brane Cantenac 1986, Château Beychevelle 1964, and Château Rauzan Ségla 2005. In a blind tasting of eleven 'Bordeaux blend' wines - including wines that could be from around the world, so long as they have Bordeaux grapes - La Parde de Haut Bailly 2006, the second wine of Château Haut-Bailly, garnered five votes from six tasters (working 'blind') as one of their top three favorites. The tasting for wine experts working either as educators or in the wine trade took place on 25 February this year at the members-only Wine Bank in Frankfurt, Germany. The tasting reminded me of just how great Château Haut-Bailly in the Graves region of Bordeaux is.

How is Bordeaux 2021 from Bottle? Go for the Whites
Panos Kakaviatos
Nov 15, 2023

Nov. 15, 2023: The recently bottled 2021 vintage from Bordeaux is 'very demanding' remarked friend and (very) experienced taster Jürgen Steinke while tasting many recently bottled red wines. Barrel aging has filled out some palates, but many wines lack excitement. Whether one encounters underripe tannin, middling mid palates or short finishes, the wines often lack the caliber of the solid if not amazing 2017 vintage and the verve of the more interesting 2014. The hype for the vintage when tasted from barrel was that it was a lower alcohol vintage, which is to say-about as far away as one could get from the more frequent hot, dry, and concentrated wines in 2022 and 2018 especially. These vintages reflect global warming, crafted from thick-skinned tiny grapes that pack punch - and high potential alcohol. But as the adage goes, 'It's all about balance.' And just as you can have imbalanced high alcohol wines, you can have boring, low alcohol (for the modern era) wines. But 2021 should be mainly known as a vintage that reminds us how Bordeaux produces excellent dry whites.

Château Clarke Marks 50 Years of the Rothschild Era, with Improvements on the Horizon
Panos Kakaviatos
Aug 23, 2023

August 23, 2023: Live outdoor music, delicious hors d'oeuvres, a magnificent indoor dinner accentuated by artistic dancing all contributed to one of the most festive a 50th anniversary fêtes I have ever experienced in Bordeaux. Back in 1973, Baron Edmond de Rothschild, embodying the third branch of the Rothschild family in Bordeaux (in addition to the Rothschilds at Mouton and Lafite in Pauillac), set his sights on Château Clarke - then an almost abandoned vineyard situated on clay-limestone hilltops. He saw the potential of the site, however, given a rich history dating back to at least the 12th century and shaped in the 18th century by Anthony Clarke, who gave it its name. A commitment to rebuild the estate paid dividends, as the wine has proven to be a top performer in an appellation whose wines too often seem rustic or boring, especially compared to more illustrious appellations like Saint Julien or Margaux. For over the past 20 years since I have been formally tasting Bordeaux, Château Clarke regularly outshines its Listrac counterparts. Looking ahead, the wine is set to get even better.

Saint-Émilion Excellence in 2022
Panos Kakaviatos
May 24, 2023

May 24, 2023: This spring, many came to Bordeaux with trepidation: 2022 is (so far) the hottest, driest year on record. Was it to be another 2003? Actually, 'worse' because alcohol levels in 2003 were not as high as in 2022. Like others, I was expecting heavy wines, with too much alcohol and too little acidity. Record levels of alcohol were recorded: Part of the final blend of Château Margaux, for example, includes Cabernet Sauvignon that reached - no joke - 16% alcohol. 'How will these wines age?' is a question often heard from insiders. The honest reply: 'Who knows?' But one thing is certain, the barrel samples of 2022 were far better than expected, and certainly far more fun to taste than the mediocre 2021 vintage. And while heterogenous in quality, with cold clay and limestone doing better than hot soils (for example the appellation Pessac-Léognan was on average not as consistent as northern Médoc appellations like Saint-Julien or Pauillac), nowhere was my pleasure more pronounced than in Saint-Émilion.

Mouton Rothschild and First Growth Bias?
Panos Kakaviatos
Feb 8, 2023

Feb. 8, 2023: A wonderful evening at the cozy and elegant French restaurant La Chaumière in Georgetown in Washington D.C. It was great to catch up with wine friends most of whom I hadn't seen since Covid struck. We chose as theme the venerable First Growth in Pauillac, Château Mouton Rothschild, each bringing a bottle. We also brought dry whites, Champagnes and late harvest wines from Sauternes. Rather than be seated in the main restaurant area, we enjoyed a private space near the entrance. The service was as excellent as the food, which reminded me of fine bistro fare. And quite authentic. Clients could order for example the ris de veau (sauteed veal sweetbreads), which is not always listed in French restaurants in the US. How about tripes? I am not a fan, but for tripe lovers, they come with carrots braised in Calvados. Other meaty options include the Boudin Blanc - a house chicken and pork sausage in Madeira sauce with caramelized apples. Sounds nice for a cold winter evening.

A Vertical at Château Pichon Longueville Baron to Honor Jean-René Matignon
Panos Kakaviatos
Oct 19, 2022

Oct. 19, 2022: I can still recall the disappointment in Jean-René Matignon's face as rain started to fall towards the end of the 2006 harvest. 'This could have been as good as 2005,' he told me regretfully. Nearly 16 years later, when tasting the vintage at Château Pichon Longueville Baron in a vertical of no less than 37 vintages, the wine tasted as one could expect: not as good as the 2005, but pretty good, proving the point that excellent terroir from an estate like Château Pichon Longueville Baron can shine over time, even in a less than 'great' vintage. In May this year, the estate invited me to join a special "Au Revoir" morning tasting and lunch featuring vintages that spanned Jean-René's career with the château. We then enjoyed magnums of 1959 and 1961 over lunch (of course, pre-dating his arrival at the estate). The universally high quality of the wines experienced testifies not only to the excellence of the terroir, but also to the talent of Jean-René and his team.

Italian American Wine Roots at Virginia's Barboursville Vineyards
Panos Kakaviatos
Aug 3, 2022

August 3, 2022: Viticulturist Fernando Franco cares for vines like his children. Driving through the 170-acre vineyard at the expansive - and historical - Barboursville Vineyards estate outside Charlottesville, Virginia, he enthusiastically pointed to vine plots: 'There's the Pinot Gris I recently planted; here's some Petit Syrah.' We later stopped to examine part of a 3.5-acre vineyard I especially liked - Goodlow Mountain - from which since 2017 Barboursville makes single vineyard Cabernet Franc that costs $85 a bottle. Pricey, but after trying nearly 20 wines in a gorgeous tasting room dubbed Library 1821, it was my overall favorite.

Perfect Champagne Day in Reims
Panos Kakaviatos
Mar 30, 2022

Mar 30, 2022: The list of UNESCO World Heritage sites includes two in Reims: the Notre Dame cathedral, inscribed together with the Palace of Tau and the Saint Remi Abbey in 1991, and 'Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars' in 2015. As impressive as the Notre Dame is, my day focused on Champagne. The UNESCO World Heritage Site 'Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars' includes the Colline Saint-Nicaise, located on the southeast edge of Reims. Occupied by Champagne Houses since the late 18th century, the hill offered producers needed space to develop their businesses and - more famously - ideal wine storage in the form of the crayères, which were once chalk quarries. Branded 'underground cathedrals,' they are a must to see, which I did in a recent visit to the celebrated house of Taittinger.

Dinner at Le Meurice in Paris with 100% Merlot by Edmond de Rothschild
Panos Kakaviatos
Nov 23, 2021

Dinner at the two-star Michelin Alain Ducasse Le Meurice in Paris at the hotel bearing the same name last month not only yielded superb cuisine, but also the best wine I've had from Puisseguin Saint-Émilion. Bordeaux is not just about grands crus or other classified wines. The Right Bank in particular counts many affordable 'satellite' appellations of Saint-Émilion: from Montagne to Fronsac. Some estates from such appellations craft wines from vines grown on excellent soils like cold clay and limestone, albeit often with cooler microclimates than prime Saint-Émilion locations.

Wine, Food and Fun on the Ionian Sea: Zakynthos and Cephalonia
Panos Kakaviatos
Sep 14, 2021

This second installment of my columns on, 'Wine and Food Adventures in Greece' takes us to the Ionian Islands of Zakynthos and Cephalonia which, at first glance, do not seem as obvious for wine culture as, say, Santorini and its famous Assyrtiko grape. But in visiting both islands last month, I discovered wine and food pleasure that matches their impressive history and culture. These Ionian Islands - along with Corfu, Ithaca, Kythira, Lefkada and Paxi - have a different history from the rest of Greece. Before falling under Roman rule (first the Western, then the Eastern Empire), Greeks settled the islands some 1,200 years before Christ. By the 4th Century BC, the Macedonian Empire took over. When Rome fell, the Ottoman Empire hardly touched them.

Wine and Food Adventures in Greece, Part I
Panos Kakaviatos
Aug 17, 2021

Summer 2021 has been somewhat easier for travel despite the threat of new COVID-19 variants Delta and Lambda (and who knows which others to come). As more people get vaccinated, and governments require proof, one can feel a bit safer, or at least hope so. As I traveled through Greece this summer, social distancing and mask wearing indoors are required. My trip this year included great experiences on the islands of Cephalonia and Zakinthos, but also in Vouliagmeni, considered the 'Athenian Riviera.' Located about 30 minutes away by car from the southern Athens (about 40 from central Athens), the restaurant Blue Fish, which opened five years ago, has earned a well-deserved 'Travelers' Choice' category in Trip Advisor.

Bordeaux 2020: Clay and Limestone as King and Queen of the Vintage
Panos Kakaviatos
May 25, 2021

From emotions to geeky delights by way of potential bargains, Bordeaux 2020 from barrel has much to offer. When assessing barrel samples, more attention is paid to structure and aging capacity: Why spend hard-earned cash for not-so-age-worthy Bordeaux? Nonetheless, top wines with necessary architecture also can evoke immediate emotional appeal. These wines, which I call the 'Emotions' of the vintage, excite with delight, and you will find more such examples on the Right Bank in 2020. Others promise to appeal more to your intellect or your inner wine geek. They may not be as (initially) exciting, but what I call the 'Intellect' wines have superb density and quality of tannin to go the distance. This category features more from the Left Bank in 2020. Finally, you get many potential deals, especially from the Right Bank in 2020.

Tariff Suspension Welcome for French Wine Lovers
Panos Kakaviatos
Mar 23, 2021

A recent report from Liv-ex, a global marketplace for the wine trade, indicates 'surging' activity in response to news that U.S. tariffs on European wines have been suspended. 'U.S. buying activity was up 36% in the days following the announcement, as American buyers flocked to snap up the wines previously subjected to the tariffs,' according to Liv-Ex. Earlier this month, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and European Trade Commission announced in a joint statement that all tariffs related to the Boeing-Airbus dispute would be suspended for four months. Producers in French regions with lower alcohol levels like Alsace, the Loire Valley and Burgundy are rejoicing as the hefty 25% tariff applied only to wines with up to 14.5% alcohol.

Highlighting Bordeaux's Latest Vintage from Bottle
Panos Kakaviatos
Jan 26, 2021

The 2018 vintage is the latest Bordeaux in bottle and as I had noted during barrel tastings, it is not the most homogenous, despite getting top billing from many quarters. The term 'great' often has been used to describe each new dry and hot vintage in Bordeaux, but - as ever - the devil is in the details. In recent months, including several visits to Bordeaux during official lockdowns in France, I tasted many 2018s mostly on location, after recent bottling, and the verdict is quite positive, but with a note of caution.

News Flash: Underpriced, Classy Bordeaux Found in Castillon
Panos Kakaviatos
Dec 22, 2020

With a variety of soils and exposures, the Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux was well known for its Middle-Ages port that delivered wine to royalty, and to the English. Although long overshadowed by Saint-Émilion, talented producers have been crafting fine wine in the modern era. Like other Right Bank regions, this appellation had fallen victim to excessive oak extraction fashion going back to the mid 2000s, but Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux more recently mirrors a change in style towards freshness. I was happy to experience this change in the 2018 vintage vertical, organized by Jean-Christophe Meyrou of Vignobles K, which includes two wines from the appellation, as well as the Saint-Émilion estate Château Bellefont Belcier, where I tasted the 50 wines blind.

Newly Designated Cassification Keeps Soave in Focus
Panos Kakaviatos
Sep 29, 2020

My first visit to Soave in 2013 brought me to Coffele Vintners, whose wines - made from lower yields and careful attention to vineyard and vat room work - imparted more concentrated flavors than your average drinker would expect from… an 'average' Soave. Fast-forward to 2020 to a more qualitative approach to Soave wines has been formalized since last year with a classification modeled after terroir and climate, similar to Burgundy premier crus. Covering under 40% of the some 7,000 hectares of Soave vineyards, 33 specific 'geographic units' or Unità Geografica Aggiuntiva (U.G.A.) refer to geographic areas within appellations that have been determined to hold particular merit. The UGAs are based on 20 years of studies of soils, climate conditions and trellising. Each one is expected to convey different expressions of Soave, based on the combined influence of soils, altitudes, aspects, climate influence as enhanced by winemaking and winery style.

Dry White 'Oscar' Worthy Summer Bargains from Bordeaux
Panos Kakaviatos
Jul 21, 2020

Even as we muddle through a challenging 2020, many still overlook dry white Bordeaux, despite articles about 'hidden gems.' And by such gems, I do not mean dry whites from the famous Graves region, specifically from the Pessac-Léognan appellation in the northern part of that region, which includes such well-known (and pricey) brands as Haut Brion Blanc, Smith Haut Lafitte and Domaine de Chevalier. Nor do I refer to dry whites produced by celebrated Médoc estates like Châteaux Margaux, Lynch Bages, Lagrange and Mouton Rothschild. No, the above average wine quality 'gems' include dry whites recently bottled from the 2019 vintage. Most of these winners are readily available in the United States and cost between $10 and $20 per bottle; not only are they inexpensive, but also of above average in quality.

People are Paying Attention to Bordeaux 2019 Futures
Panos Kakaviatos
Jun 9, 2020

COVID-19 has caused a great many deaths and dislocations, so in any reasonable ranking of repercussions, wine-related problems rank pretty low. With that acknowledged, wine remains important for many of us, and the recent rash of illness has caused the cancellation of many a fine wine related event, including one of most important: barrel tastings of Bordeaux's latest vintage, which were scheduled in late March and early April. Even though merchants are using scores from famous critics-including some very high ones-to peddle futures, the muted campaign for the '19s is just what the doctor ordered… for consumers at least. And not just for health reasons.

Champagne in the Time of Coronavirus
Panos Kakaviatos
Apr 14, 2020

Last month on a high-speed train from Paris to Strasbourg, France, I got nervous as another passenger opposite me kept coughing without covering his mouth. To make things worse, the train was delayed because of a faulty rail, resulting in another hour on top of the two-hour (crowded) train ride to spend in this person's vicinity. The news of the novel Coronavirus already had reached France, but lockdown was not to happen for another 10 days, and I wondered whether this one-evening trip to Paris--to attend a dinner celebrating the 20th anniversary of Champagne Gonet-Médeville--was worth the risk.

Who Needs Wine Experts?
Panos Kakaviatos
Feb 18, 2020

Especially in our social media era, wine experts who work as critics face growing competition from websites and Internet platforms that reflect consumer-shared experiences as an alternative to relying on the palate of a single critic, who may be seen as influenced by the wine trade or even a snob. With a user count of over 40 million (and growing), the Vivino application, for example, records two million wine searches worldwide each day, putting into online practice the University of Davis study, with no limit as to how many wines each consumer can submit and describe. Forums like Cellar Tracker tend to highlight higher-end wines, averaging scores from wine consumers so that a 'box score' is trusted, bringing the notion of 'trusting your own palate' to a larger online scale.

Protectionism Works Both Ways: Background Factors for Understanding Wine Tariffs
Panos Kakaviatos
Jan 1, 2020

I have been living in France for the better part of the last 22 years, and I adore French wine as reflecting some of the very best vineyards - and terroirs - in the world, from Bordeaux and Burgundy, to the Rhône Valley and Champagne. But what has always struck me - even in 2020 - is persistent bias among the French against non-French wines, whether Greek, Hungarian, Chilean or American.

Burgundy Bargains? Still Possible at Pernand Vergelesses
Panos Kakaviatos
Oct 29, 2019

Situated among the hills of Côte de Beaune, Pernand-Vergelesses straddles the famous Hill of Corton and the villages Aloxe-Corton and Ladoix-Serrigny, harboring prestigious Grands Crus of Corton in red and Corton-Charlemangne in white. Over lunch at the excellent Ermitage de Corton, vintners Rémi Rollin (of the excellent Domaine Rollin) and Françoise Jeanniard of the eponymous vineyard told me that Pernand Vergelesses soils are not quite as impressive as the best of the grand cru Corton vineyards, which have more limestone, Rollin said. Indeed, Bianchi refers to Pernand Vergelesses as the 'child' of Corton Charlemagne. Could well be, but the tasting proved that among these 'children' one finds wines worthy of their 'parents' -- and for less money.

Gevrey-Chambertin and 2017
Panos Kakaviatos
Aug 27, 2019

With two high yield vintages in a row, could 2017 and 2018 be softening skyscraping prices in Burgundy? Price watchers like Liv-Ex earlier this month stressed that a price decline for its index of 150 Burgundy wines over six consecutive months has 'not been seen' since it began collecting such data back in 2003. Even if prices may be leveling off, all is relative, because Burgundy prices remain high, as even a casual glance on wine-searcher.com would indicate. Back in 2003, most U.S. buyers would have paid $20 for a bottle of fine village level Burgundy wine, which today costs at least double for many brands, if not triple -- or even quadruple for some. Meanwhile, many lovely 2017 reds may get overlooked as coming from a vintage lacking the 'legendary' moniker. So, savvy buyers should look to it not just for relatively better price-quality ratios, but also for its sheer juicy and bright fruit appeal, as evidenced for example from a recent tasting I did of village, premiers and grands crus of Gevrey-Chambertin.

Heady Times, Heady Wines: Climate Change and the Enduring Appeal of Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Panos Kakaviatos
Jun 25, 2019

A joyful ceremony earlier this month to induct new ambassadors to the official fraternity of Châteauneuf-du-Pape -- the Eschansonnerie des Papes -- ended with soulful singing in the local Occitan dialect. Participants gathered in a restored cellar section of the ancient Châteauneuf-du-Pape castle to enjoy opulent reds from the famous southern Rhône wine region, served Middle Age-style from amphorae. Regarding that opulence, the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape have become stronger in terms of richness and alcohol in recent years, partly due to climate change, which is raising some concerns among vintners about the need to preserve balancing freshness as climate change progresses. Alcohol labels, as indicated on labels, are sometimes seen at 16% in recent years. And that is just the official indication…not necessarily the actual percentage.

2018 Bordeaux: Should We be Concerned Over High Alcohol and Low Acidity?
Panos Kakaviatos
Apr 30, 2019

In trying to understand 2018 in Bordeaux, some have been focusing on the balance between acidity and alcohol. You could say that about any vintage, but in 2018, the superlatives over barrel samples mirror bigger alcohol: 'Did you taste Château Montrose?' one eager American buyer asked me. 'It's tremendous'! Château Montrose clocks in at 14.8% alcohol with low acidity. A Bordeaux-based wine trader marveled at how 'enthralled' the wine trade is with Château Calon Ségur, which clocks in at 14.9% alcohol… and rather low acidity. It is worthy to note that 80% of the blend is Cabernet (Sauvignon and Franc combined). Alcohol levels have been creeping ever higher in Bordeaux, and for various reasons, including later harvesting and lower yields for more concentration and higher potential alcohol. Climate change has also been a factor.

Madeira: A Wine Time Machine That Works
Panos Kakaviatos
Mar 5, 2019

For under $40 off the volcanic island of Madeira, you can enjoy three hours cruising on a replica of Christopher Columbus's galleon 'Santa Maria.' Before he crossed the Atlantic on his legendary voyage back in 1492, Columbus lived for a few years in the Madeira archipelago, which had been discovered earlier that century by Portuguese sailors. Cruising over the waves, it is easy to imagine yourself in a bygone, swashbuckling, risk-taking era, especially considering how small the Santa María was: A single deck craft about 58 feet long with three small masts. The modern motor used for the replica on days with less wind brings you back to a more mundane present, but there is no denying the fabulous history of Madeira and its eponymous wine.

Discovering Montecucco
Panos Kakaviatos
Jan 8, 2019

A good way to confirm wine quality from a given region, after having been invited there on a press trip, is to test the wines by pouring them for assessment by people who had not attended the trip. That's precisely what I did following a tour of Montecucco, Tuscany this past September, to prove the point that Montecucco wines can achieve excellent price/quality ratios, especially for lovers of Sangiovese-based blends.

Getting Fresh in Saint Emilion
Panos Kakaviatos
Nov 13, 2018

In the grand history of winemaking, it was not that long ago when high octane and large scaled 'Garage Wines' were enjoying a heyday in Saint-Émilion, starting in the 1990s. In ensuing years, some voices -- including many sommeliers that favor freshness from Bordeaux -- began to criticize these wines as 'Parkerized.' In 2003, I interviewed Parker, who not only defended the movement, but also called it a 'revolution that is taking place and that will only grow.' In many ways, he has been proven correct. Star garage wine Château Valandraud was not only promoted in 2012 to a Grand Cru Classé B in Saint-Émilion, but is a top seller. Others, like Péby-Faugères, Rol Valentin and Gracia, also sell well. And yet in more recent years, more and more winemakers are talking about the importance of freshness in wine.

Santorini Assyrtiko: Terroir-Driven Whites Impress Even the French
Panos Kakaviatos
Sep 18, 2018

The high-speed ferry from Athens cuts the time it takes to get to the Cycladic island of Santorini by over half, faster than when I first visited the sun-drenched volcanic island 30 years ago. Boats now have WiFi, too. Another major difference from the past is that Santorini includes Greece's top white wines, which are sold increasingly in markets worldwide. And the star variety is Assyrtiko. In the late 1980s, I recall one or two wineries. Today, the island has a wine route for 18 estates, says George Skopelitis, who lives and works on Santorini for the Greek Agriculture Ministry. Just five years ago, there were only thirteen. Assyrtiko takes its roots from Santorini, encompassing well over half of its vineyard area. While the grape is planted in other parts of Greece -- and increasingly in wine regions outside the country -- the windswept island permits roots to dig deep into black ash-rich soil, lending distinctive wet stone aspects to the bone dry style which, at its best, is like fine white Burgundy.

Alsace: Indicate Dryness Levels Up Front
Panos Kakaviatos
Jul 24, 2018

Last month in Colmar, at the biennial "Millésimes d'Alsace" event, the Alsace Wine Council introduced a new logo and refurbished website (vinsalsace.com) including excellent information on all 51 grand crus from this famous French northeastern wine region. A stunning video to promote the new logo was also provided, one that matches the quality of a glitzy Champagne marketing campaign, complete with drone-shot HD images of gorgeous vineyard slopes, accentuating the region's many terroirs. Shortly after viewing the video, I joined a wine writer for lunch, where we enjoyed a Domaine Allimant-Laugner Alsace Grand Cru Praelatenberg 2014. You may have not yet heard of Praelatenberg -- and might wonder about its pronunciation -- but the new Vins Alsace website, translated into 10 languages, explains it nicely: 'The panoramic viewpoints from the majestic Haut-Koenigsbourg castle overlook the sharp slopes of Praelatenberg. This rich terroir produces generous and structured wines founded on a base of intense minerality.' That's very appealing, but still, any of us might wonder, how dry was the wine?