Archive for June 2019

St. Emilion Wine Tasting Recap

June 13, 2019

First of all, when making the wise decision to spend a few days in the lovely wine village of St. Emilion, we can highly recommend the accommodations at the charming Au Logis des Remparts, a centrally located yet secluded hotel within walking distance to all of the restaurants and attractions the village has to offer, and within driving distance to the recommended wineries. Complete with a pool, a parking lot, oversized rooms (we got upgraded!) and set just behind the vineyards of Chateau Villemaurine, we couldn’t have been happier with our stay here.

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While visiting this famous Bordeaux wine region, we obviously took the time to visit several wineries, some of which I’ve placed on a viticultural pedestal for years now. Like most of Europe, wine tastings in St. Emilion are quite different than what most Americans are used to on their normal visits to California or Oregon wine country. Visits are heavily structured and are almost always reserved by appointment only. The format generally consists of a tour of the estate and a brief discussion of its history followed by an explanation of the wine-making process that is usually accompanied by a trip through the vats, barrel-room and caves. Only after this educational overview does the tasting commence; there is no “belly-up and taste” option here. The tastings themselves are quite subdued, consisting of two or three small pours, only one of which represents the actual chateau being visited, as these estates almost always have sister properties or offshoot projects within the family that they are pouring alongside a premier growth. And, the vintage that they’ll be pouring will likely be a much older one and not necessarily the one you’re seeking, since the mentality in Bordeaux is to make wine worthy of cellaring and to showcase that quality to potential customers. Those eager to taste the highly acclaimed 2015 and 2016s will have to buy them by the bottle at this juncture.

Knowing this, I made it my top priority to locate and purchase a bottle of each of the three bottles of 2015 St. Emilion that earned a spot in last year’s Wine Spectator Top 100. We had planned to visit two of these vineyards, and I had tasted those two wines previously, but consuming an entire bottle of wine while residing within the same region where the grapes are grown is a different experience entirely. For one, wine always tastes better with context, and what better understanding could be gained than by visiting and standing in the very vineyard where the wine was born and understanding its history and process? Furthermore, the ability to drink the wine slowly over a day or two provides a more complex tasting evaluation, as the wine is able to be appreciated in its different forms as it evolves and opens. I was able to find the third bottle of wine on my list, which is not available in the United States nor available for public visitation, at a local wine shop across the street from our hotel:

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Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere 2015, 96 Points- An absolutely monstrous nose of smoke, tobacco and tar above deep, dark currants. Weightless texture considering its overall power, this explodes into a beam of rich, polished blackberry and dark plum that coats the palate, then evolves into creamier layers of toasty vanilla and mocha that expose smoky tobacco, smoldering charcoal and graphite notes through the endless finish. One of the greats, and should improve with time.

Chateau Beau-Sejour Becot 2015, 95 Points- Perfumey red currant nose shows vanilla bean and tobacco leaf influences. Very soft and creamy on the palate yet exploding with elegant, pure flavors of black cherry, wild raspberry and damson plum which evolves into deeper, thicker notes of blackberry and black licorice. Expressive fruit, lingering with exotic white pepper spice and sandalwood through the long finish. Firm tannic grip that will soften with time. This really deepens as it opens, lingering with a tarry edge.

Chateau Monbousquet 2015, 95 Points- Intense and complex on the nose, with tons of smoked meat nuances above its perfumey black currant aromas. Thick, bold and powerful body shows rich blackberry and dark raspberry fruit above layered elements of tobacco spice, mocha and charcoal, with a streak of iron running throughout. Long finish, gaining depth from its black licorice notes as spice lingers.

Here’s a look at each of the Chateaus we visited, and my highest scoring wine at each from its tasting session.

CHATEAU PAPE CLEMENT

We had time for one stop in Pessac-Leognan on our drive from Bordeaux to St. Emilion, and this was an obvious choice given the recent successes of the 2015 and 2016 vintages. Planted in 1300, it is the oldest vineyard in the region, and still bears the name of the Pope who acquired it at that time. There is a lot of history here, but the current winemaking team continues to create wines in a powerful, modern style.

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Chateau Pape Clement 2014, 93 Points- Perfumey and dark, with blackberry and black cherry fruit above juicy plumcake notes. This is very velvety and fruit-driven, uncommon for this vineyard, picking up licorice and Italian herbs through the finish. Gains complexity from tea leaf and baking spice notes which linger long; a deviation from the norm as all elements of loam, iron and smoke have dissipated from previous notes.

CHATEAU LA DOMINIQUE

This spectacularly modernized facility sits on the southern edge of Pomerol and borders the famed estate of Chateau Cheval Blanc, sharing the same plateau and terroir. In my estimation, this has long been an extremely underrated producer, and after visiting it was apparent how their superior technological advancements in the winemaking process, specifically in terms of sorting for ripeness, have helped them catch up to the bigger names in the region.

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Chateau La Dominique 2014, 94 Points- Complex on the nose, with deep cassis, cracked pepper and understated smoked meat nuances. Velvety on the palate with its perfumey blackberry and dark plum fruit that leads into a blast of charcoal, campfire smoke, black pepper and chalky mineral. Very intense and muscular through the long finish.

CHATEAU PAVIE

As the lone Premier Grand Cru Classe A Chateau that offers tours to the public, securing a private tour and tasting here was our number one priority on this tasting trip. (These reservations are highly competitive, so secure your spot early). The property itself is immaculate to an almost obsessive degree. One wine is poured and the experience is an expensive one at €45 per person, but the tour is informative and personalized and cannot be missed when visiting the region.

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Chateau Pavie 2008, 95 Points- Powerful aromas of minty cedar, vanilla bean and juicy cherry, showing black licorice and wet mineral notes. Silky body of explosive cherry and dark raspberry fruit that gains a blast of black licorice and anise, backed by a complex combination of tobacco, briar and clove spice with cocoa and dark chocolate underneath. Long, intense finish that is all well-balanced and layered with spices lingering longest of all. Super soft on the palate; finish goes on for minutes.

CHATEAU CANON LA GAFFELIERE

As my favorite producer in all of Bordeaux that I’ve been able to taste on a consistent basis over the years, suffice to say that setting foot in the vineyards of Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere was akin to the holy grail. The tour here was a large group, but we really enjoyed being able to walk through and stand in the actual vineyard and hearing detailed scientific explanations of the grafting process from our guide. This was a hardcore highlight for me, and they even had bottles of the 2015 for sale to help me complete my quest.

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Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere 2011, 94 Points-  Lots of smoke, mocha and black tea leaf on the nose, with subtle red plum aromas. Silky and elegant, with refined plum and pure red currant giving way to layered elements of graphite, smoked meat and mocha bean. Weightless on the palate, as tobacco spice kicks in through the long finish. A solid effort in a tough vintage.

CHATEAU BEAU-SEJOUR BECOT

This was by far the most elaborate, meticulous and expansive cave network we encountered, and it was truly mesmerizing. The sheer volume of wine stored below the ground at this estate is astonishing and surreal. From the standpoint of a tour experience, this was second to none for us. The wine is fantastic as well, and the tasting provides a full overview of the four different winemaking projects the family is currently involved in.

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Chateau Beau-Séjour Becot 2013, 91 Points- Aromas of crushed red cherries, red licorice, vanilla bean and barnyard. Silky, elegant and jammy, with cherry plum and red currant preserve flavors gliding effortlessly over undertones of sandalwood, iron and wet limestone. Understated elegance in a tough vintage, medium length.

CHATEAU FRANC-MAYNE

If your preference is for a more old-school, musky and moldy cave experience, this will be a highlight. Rustic and authentic, this Chateau is well worth seeking out for some of the best wines in the region in the €30 and under range. And the tree that guards the entrance to the cave is simply glorious.

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Chateau Franc Mayne 2011, 90 Points- Jammy and plummy on the nose, with wet limestone nuances. Velvety and mineral-driven, with wet rock and slate notes preceding juicy, violety purple fruits- black plum, fig and boysenberry, finishing in unison as this lingers with a graphite bite.

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France Dining Recap

June 12, 2019

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Since becoming such an enthusiast of wine in my mid 20s, it’s been a dream of mine to visit Bordeaux, a region which I believe produces the greatest wines in the world. Instead of home-basing out of downtown Bordeaux, I decided to focus on one specific region- St. Emilion on the right bank of the Gironde River. The easiest way to access Bordeaux is in and out of Paris, as high-speed trains travel between the two cities several times daily, and rental cars are easily available at the Bordeaux train station. One of the best parts of visiting France is enjoying the food, so my Sidekick Courtney (who would soon become my fiance) and I focused on authentic bistro style meals in both regions. The results of our culinary adventures follow below, and played a big part in making this a trip we will never forget. We can recommend dining at each of these destinations.

ST. EMILION

L’Envers du Decor- Bright, bustling and authentic bistro features a chalkboard menu as dishes change daily, and in English to boot. I opted for a rich appetizer of rabbit liver followed by a perfectly cooked and substantial filet of beef. We were dining here among the locals as news of the Notre Dame fire spread throughout the restaurant.

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La Terrasse Rouge- The restaurant at La Dominique vineyard offers an affordable three course tasting menu (€39, additional €25 for a three glass wine pairing) combined with expansive vineyard views that look north towards Pomerol. Adjacent first growth Cheval Blanc is visible as well. Lunch consisted of goat cheese ravioli and a succulent roasted breast of duck. Terrace seating is available in warmer months, but the main dining room smells incredible, and the views are the same.

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Lard et Bouchon- The entire St. Emilion region is defined by its limestone plateau, so dining inside of one of its quarries is a magical and mandatory experience. The food here was arguably the most flavor-intense of our entire trip. Innovative dishes like poached eggs in Bordelaise sauce with foie gras and duck breast topped with a foie gras cutlet in Perigeux sauce really hit the bull’s-eye.

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Atelier de Candale-The intimate restaurant at Chateau Candale offers a bargain prix fixe menu at lunch time (€26) in a gorgeous countryside vineyard setting. A crab meat and lobster bisque was followed by a perfectly medium-rare cooked and richly prepared filet of beef. Outdoor seating is available in warmer months, and the dining room features floor to ceiling windows to soak in the views.

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Les Delices Du Roy- This small and casual bistro is famous for its duck burger, so that’s what you order here. This is not ground duck, as you can plainly see, but instead consists of sliced duck breast and foie gras cutlets doused in a rich green peppercorn sauce. Knife and fork are advisable when consuming this juicy dish. An appetizer of rabbit terrine was the perfect prelude.

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La Table de Plaisance- This Michelin two star restaurant provided a unique and romantic ambiance to both execute a proposal and celebrate an engagement. The terrace looks out upon the Monolithic church with the city square and medieval town below. At €72 per person for three courses and two glasses of wine, this is a bargain special occasion lunch for such a highly acclaimed establishment. Highlights included a white asparagus soup and monkfish soaked in beets and wrapped in bacon.

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Chai Pascal- Cozy and laid back wine bar was the perfect finale to our St. Emilion adventure, as the friendly servers delivered substantial portions of rustic bistro classics at affordable prices. My starter of pork terrine could have been a meal in itself, but I made room to finish the crispy, gamey confit leg of duck.

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PARIS

Le Procope- Always a lively destination for a late night dinner on Rue l’Ancienne Comedie, Paris’ oldest cafe is always a mandatory stop when visiting the city, specifically for its famous Coq Au Vin served in a cauldron.

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Les Deux Magots- No cafe crawl can be considered complete without a trip to this famous literary rendez-vous next to the Saint-Germain des Pres church. It served as the perfect first meal off the plane for weary travelers as the confit duck leg served with crispy potatoes really hit the spot.

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Polidor- Hemingway’s favorite establishment still draws a packed house in a noisy, bustling setting. They go to extreme measures to maintain the antique quality of the place; for example, the restroom consists of a single hole in the ground behind a door (not pictured). The service is friendly, if a bit frantic and inattentive, but the Beef Bourguignon with mashed potatoes lived up to its billing.

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Le Petit Pontoise- A charming little restaurant off the south bank of the Seine that provides a €23 two course lunch menu along with friendly service. We sat outside on a narrow sidewalk as I started with a pork mousse terrine followed by a sliced duck breast in peppercorn sauce served with roasted potatoes and carrots.

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Le Trumilou- Finding decent dining in the touristy area around the Notre Dame can be challenging, but you could do worse than this location set just north of the Seine. They offer a two course lunch for €20, which culminated in a simply prepared roast beef .

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Cafe Pont Neuf- We enjoyed an impromptu and leisurely Easter brunch here at this centrally located spot before heading to the airport, and I finally got my leg of lamb.

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Au Revoir!

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Belmont Day Late Pick 4 Analysis

June 8, 2019

BELMONT DAY PICK 4 PICKS AND ANALYSIS

Tacitus

8- Woody Stephens, 7f, 4:04

1) Honest Mischief (6-1)- Chad Brown charge owns the best Brisnet speed at distance (108) and field high Beyer at the distance (97) for his maiden win last out. Makes his third career start and has room to improve from a ground saving post; can sit in the second flight of runners and get first run on what figures to be a hotly contested pace. Best bet of the day on a colt who may have unlimited upside.

2) Mind Control (5-2)- Deserving favorite draws outside the main speed here and enters having won two of his three 2019 starts, and was a Grade 1 winner at the distance as a two-year-old. Won the Grade 3 Bay Shore last out and earned a Beyer that ties for the best here at the distance (97); fits well in this spot and must be used on top in all wagers.

3) Hog Creek Hustle (20-1)- The lone Brisnet “S” designation in a field full of speed merits a look on that attribute alone as he cuts back to the distance where he has won before following a respectable 2nd at 8f in the Pat Day last out. Has shown ascending Brisnet speed figures in his last three races while running in graded company; usable on top at hefty odds.

4) Burracho (15-1)- Winner last out at this distance beat a salty field on Derby day and now steps up in class, but has shown three straight ascending Brisnet speed figures.

Try to beat:

Complexity (4-1)- Talented Chad Brown runner has a Grade 1 win at 8f over this track as a two-year-old but picks a tough spot for his first start of the year after more than seven months on the shelf as he draws inside the main speed and will likely be forced into a hotly contested pace early.

9- Met Mile, 8f, 4:46

1) Firenze Fire (4-1)- A perfect 3/3 at Belmont, one-turn specialist stretches out over his favorite track having won here at 6f in his last. Ran the best race of his career over this track and distance when winning the Dwyer, earning a field high 8f Beyer (107). Looks poised to lay back off the pace and set up his late move in a likely speed-heavy race.

2) McKinzie (5-2)- By far the horse to beat on paper as he cuts back following a triumphant score in the 8.5f Alysheba, where he posted speed figures that tower over these (109 Beyer, 112 Brisnet). There’s not much to knock here besides the fact that he’s never raced at Belmont and draws inside the speed; must-use on top in any case.

3) Prince Lucky (12-1)- Appears a bit overlooked here after a dreadful outing last out over a sloppy track, but he’d won three in a row before that race. Pletcher and Velazquez team up for a colt that owns the highest Beyer and Brisnet speed figures at this distance in the field this year (106, 106) for his February win in the Hal’s Hope; a run back to that race puts him squarely in the mix at long odds, and he’s one of just three here to have won at Belmont.

4) Thunder Snow (5-1)- Two-time Dubai World Cup winner has raced well at Belmont and has tactical speed, but has never won a race in the United States, and all of his best races have come at 10f. The feeling here is that the 8f distance may be a tad sharper than ideal for this likely race shape but he deserves respect on class alone.

Try to beat: The sprinters.

Mitole (3-1) and Promises Fulfilled (12-1)- Horses cutting back tend to fare better than those stretching out in this race, and these two happen to both be “E” designations who figure to be on the motor from the start. Mitole just won at 7f in his first attempt beyond 6f; we opposed him there and will do the same here on principle in a tougher spot. Promises Fulfilled is perhaps a bit more appealing as he’s won at 8.5f before, but that was over a year ago against less pace and far inferior foes.

10- Manhattan, 10f, 5:36

1) Bricks and Mortar (7-5)- Besides the fact that he’s won 8 of his last 10 races, with the two losses coming by a combined 1.5 lengths, what’s been most impressive has been the way he’s won. The glacial paces he closed into in winning his last two (1:15 for the 3/4) usually mean death for off the pace types, but he gobbled up ground both times and simply refused to lose. Catches some added ground here as he’s never gone 10f, but it seems that should only help based on his last two and also that his highest career figures came in his longest race at 9.5f (107 Beyer, 106 Brisnet).  A highly viable single every time he runs until someone beats him.

2) Raging Bull (10-1)- Sneaky Chad Brown closer has caught soft ground in 5 of his last 6, but the one race of those over firm came in the 9f Hollywood Derby where he won convincingly and earned competitive figures (97 Beyer, 104 Brisnet). The move back to firmer ground combined with the added distance could hit him right between the eyes at a price as he owns the highest Brisnet Late Pace figure of 112. Runs third off the lay and adds blinkers; Brown wins with 25% of his runners after making that equipment change.

3) Robert Bruce (6-1)- Our Arlington Million champion has been somewhat of a forgotten horse since that win, having missed the board entirely in his last two. He’s been running on soft turf and distances both longer than shorter than this one, however, and a return to firm turf here at the same distance as the Million which seems to be his sweet spot could inspire an improved effort second off the lay for Chad Brown, who wins with 25% of his runners in that stage of their form cycle.

4) Channel Maker (9-2)- Inconsistent type cuts back to 10f after winning his last over this turf course, earning competitive speed figures (106 Beyer, 103 Brisnet) at 11f. His best race puts him right in the mix but the feeling here is that he may be more effective going longer than this; was easily beaten by the top selection three back and only three wins in the last ten starts came at 11f or longer.

Try to beat:

Olympico (6-1)- Chad Brown holds a heavy hand here but we upgrade the runners moving from soft to firm ground who have been losing over the off going rather than the opposite; his last nine races have all come over good to soft turf so it’s fair to wonder whether he moves down over firmer ground.

Quarbaan (8-1)- Fits on figures but has lost ground in the stretch of both of his last two after leading and getting ideal trips; not sure he wants to go this far.

11- Belmont Stakes, 12f, 6:37

1) Tacitus (9-5)- Favorite checks off a lot of boxes in this spot, as sire Tapit has won three of the last five editions of this race, and colts to skip the Preakness after contesting the Derby have won four of the last five where a Triple Crown wasn’t on the line. Additionally, he was the only colt in the Derby to gain ground on the winner in the stretch after racing within five lengths of the pace at the second call, so the added distance should be a positive. Still owns the best Brisnet speed figure of the group (103) for his 9f Wood Memorial score; the one to beat, albeit at short odds.

2) Tax (15-1)- Didn’t do a lot of running when 14th in the Derby, but he had excuses from an inside post that didn’t allow him to be comfortably positioned near the pace as preferred, and the sloppy track didn’t seem to do any favors either. With a pedigree that suggests he can run all day, the combination of tactical speed and grinding style should suit quite well in this race third off the lay. With all of the steam on the new shooters, it’s worth mentioning that he defeated Sir Winston by 5 lengths earlier this year in the 9f Withers. The Timeform figure he earned in defeat in the Wood Memorial (120) is second only to the Preakness winner, and if we like Tacitus to win, we have to like him at least a little bit coming narrowly beaten out of the same race.

3) Intrepid Heart (10-1)- Primarily a pedigree and pace play, as sire Tapit has been responsible for three of the last five winners of this race, and damsire Touch Gold won it to deny a triple crown attempt. A stumble at the start cost him over this track last out when 3rd in the Peter Pan, but the addition of blinkers and a less taxing race shape should increase tactical type’s chances. Lightly raced and facing Grade 1 company for the first time (and graded company for just the second time), but has shown increasing Brisnet speed figures in his three career starts is eligible to improve again third off the lay for Todd Pletcher.

4) Sir Winston (12-1)- Earned the highest Beyer in the field when 2nd over this track in the Peter Pan (100). Deep closer is rapidly improving but will need to stay in touch with the leaders in a race that is not traditionally kind to that style of running, as well as turn tables of 9 combined lengths against the top two selections. The transitive property doesn’t mean much in horse racing, but it’s still worth mentioning. He’s never won a dirt race and chooses a tough spot to earn his first, but the added distance could be the key for a colt who is rapidly improving and is bred to run true routes, by Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again and out of an Afleet Alex mare, one of just two damsires in this field to have won this race.

Try to beat: The Preakness colts.

War of Will (2-1)- Admittedly a warrior, but draws an outside post here and will have to track the speed while losing ground all the way around following two very tough races over the last five weeks. 12f may be further than he wants to go under those circumstances. The feeling is that the top four selections are better colts than any that ran in the Preakness, and all four have run higher Brisnet tops. He rode a golden rail in the Preakness and the setup doesn’t appear to set up as kindly here against a tougher group.

Bourbon War (12-1)- Our Preakness selection removes blinkers after that experiment backfired, but we are through endorsing him for anything more than a spot underneath the superfecta at this point. Grinders without tactical speed are not generally successful in this race, although he does round out the Tapit contingent.

Everfast (15-1)- Continues to destroy exacta bets by coming in second at long odds thanks to perfect setups, but that trend ends here in a race that doesn’t favor his drop back early style. (He was 22 lengths back at the start of the Preakness. 22!)

Pick 4 Bet:

Honest Mischief, Mind Control, Hog Creek Hustle/

Firenze Fire, McKinzie, Prince Lucky/

Bricks and Mortar/

Tacitus, Tax, Intrepid Heart, Sir Winston