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Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
The 2009 Petit Castel is quite an interesting “second” wine at this point. It offers an awful lot. Most wineries would be happy to have it as a first wine. Of course, it should be good –it isn’t exactly cheap, either. While it always shows better than the Grand Vin young, on first taste this year, I thought this might be the year when it would literally match or surpass the Grand Vin. It is a Bordeaux grape blend of Merlot (54%), Cabernet Sauvignon (32%), Cabernet Franc (8%), Malbec (4%) and Petit Verdot (2%). It seemed surprisingly lush (the dominant Merlot component?) and relatively deep this year, granting that it is young and may thin and that the early impression of concentration may exceed the ultimate reality as it ages. The plush demeanor makes it seem very full bodied, very differently styled than the more focused and powerful ’08, still beautifully constructed, with well integrated tannins, seductive texture and that impression of richness. It also has earthy and complex flavors, which devolves into a bit of funk on the wine. Although that nuance did moderate a bit with 90 minutes of air, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But for that, I might well have preferred it to the Grand Vin. Despite the impression of depth, I don’t think that this overall shows as well as its predecessor, the 2008, but this relatively rich, earthy and seductive Petit Castel still offers a lot in its own style.
There's fine power and focus to the dried berry and crisp currant flavors, with lots of minerality and plenty of savory herbal notes as well. The muscular finish features hints of smoke and spice. Sauve. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Kosher.
After being born in cosmopolitan Alexandria and educated in England, Italy and Switzerland, Eli Ben Zaken moved to Israel, first working in agriculture and then later in the restaurant business. Eli has no formal winemaking education, and so when he had to decide whether or not to turn Domaine du Castel from a hobby into a formal business he was faced with a formidable challenge. Eli recalls how a sentiment voiced by Winston Churchill was very apt at this time as he felt as though he "were walking with Destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial … I was sure I should not fail."
An underappreciated wine-producing country currently undergoing a renaissance, South Africa has a surprisingly long and rich history considering its status as part of the “New World” of wine. In the mid-17th century, the lusciously sweet dessert wines of Constantia were highly prized by the European aristocracy. Since then, the South African wine industry has experienced some setbacks due to the phylloxera infestation of the late 1800s and political difficulties throughout the following century. Today, however, it is increasingly responsible for high-quality wines that are helping to put the country back on the international wine map. Wine production is mainly situated around Cape Town, where the climate is generally warm to hot, but the Benguela current from Antarctica provides the brisk ocean breezes necessary for steady ripening. Similarly, cooler high-elevation vineyard sites offer climatic diversity.
South Africa’s wine regions are divided into region, then smaller districts, and finally wards, but the country’s wine styles are differentiated more by grape variety than by region. Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, is the country’s “signature” grape, responsible for earthy, gamey reds. When Pinotage is blended with other red varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, or Pinot Noir (all commonly vinified alone as well), it is often labeled as a “Cape Blend.” Chenin Blanc (locally known as “Steen”) dominates white wine production, with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc following behind.
One of the world’s most classic and popular styles of red wine, Bordeaux-inspired blends have spread from their homeland in France to nearly every corner of the New World, especially in California, Washington, and Australia. Typically based on either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot and supported by Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and/or Petit Verdot, these are sometimes referred to in the US as “Meritage” blends. In Bordeaux itself, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates in wines from the Left Bank of the Gironde river, while the Right Bank focuses on Merlot. Often, blends from outside the region are classified as being inspired by one or the other.
In the Glass
Cabernet-based, Left-Bank-styled wines are typically more tannic and structured, while Merlot-based wines modeled after the Right Bank are softer and suppler. Cabernet Franc can add herbal notes, while Malbec and Petit Verdot contribute color and structure. Wines from Bordeaux can be bold and fruit-forward or restrained and earthy, while New World facsimiles tend to emulate the former style. In general, Bordeaux red blends can have aromas and flavors of black currant, cedar, plum, graphite, and violet, with more red fruit flavors when Merlot makes up a high proportion of the blend.
Since Bordeaux red blends are often quite structured and tannic, they pair best with hearty, flavorful, and fatty meat dishes. Any type of steak makes for a classic pairing. Equally welcome with these wines would be beef brisket, pot roast, braised lamb, or smoked duck.
While the region of Bordeaux is limited to a select few approved grape varieties, the New World is free to experiment. Bordeaux blends in California may include Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, or virtually any other grape deemed worthy by the winemaker. In Australia, Shiraz is a common component.