Wine Review: Famille Sichel Bordeaux Tiers

15 04 2018

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]


What a Bordeaux progression looks like.

Bordeaux is one of those regions that any aspiring wine geek finds out about roughly 15 seconds after beginning their vinous adventure.  It leads off many textbooks, is (rightly) touted as the spiritual homeland of red grape overlord Cabernet Sauvignon and its consigliere Merlot and is held up as a must-try area both so that new oenophiles can get a sense of the classics and because top-flight Bordeaux can be so memorable that its first-chapter place in all future textbooks is likely assured.  Of course, all of that comes at a price, one that seems to be increasing by the year, as wines from the top chateaux become more luxury commodity and less agricultural product and as international demand in new markets shoots through the roof.  So what are the non-obscenely wealthy wine-curious to do?  Here’s one way to start:  find a reputable producer and taste your way up their lineup, through the quality tiers and nesting-doll classifications layered throughout the Bordeaux appellation.  Even if you don’t make it all the way up to the grand vin flagship of the chateau, you will end up with a really good sense of what makes this rarefied region tick and also start to understand why those tiers exist in the first place.


I was fortunate enough to test this tasting theory with the wines of Famille Sichel, a producer with whom I didn’t initially think I was familiar until discovering that they are the owners of one of Bordeaux’s hidden gem producers, Margaux’s Chateau d’Angludet.  While the winery is centuries old and the Sichel family’s history in Bordeaux is almost equally entrenched (they have been established in the region as a negociant since 1883 and are on their sixth generation of family ownership), their two paths didn’t cross until the 1960s, when d’Angludet was in a state of extreme disrepair and was bought and revived by Peter Sichel thanks to an extensive replanting and restoration program.  Current proprietor Benjamin Sichel continues both the negociant business (under the Maison Sichel banner) and the Chateau’s estate bottlings with a heavier focus in the vineyard and a defter touch in the cellar.  I have previously enjoyed Chateau d’Angludet on numerous occasions and now got to experience the trail of bottles that leads up to it. Read the rest of this entry »


Co-op Wines: The Social Collection, Bin 101

12 02 2018

By Peter Vetsch

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]


Get Social.

Negociant-style wines have long been a staple of the Old World wine economy:  instead of a winery planting, tending and harvesting a vineyard then using those estate-grown grapes to make wine, an enterprising producer or brand instead either buys grapes from a grower for use in their own winemaking or, more simply, buys already-made wine from a winery that is maturing in barrel or bottle and then sticks their own label on it. This may not accord with the most romantic notions of pastoral family-farmhouse wineries that automatically spring to mind when we think about the industry in the abstract, but it has a ton of advantages as a full-estate alternative, mostly tied to the division of labour.  To create and sell your own wine, you no longer need to own any land, purchase expensive wine-making equipment (or wine-aging vessels – do you have any idea how much oak barrels cost??) or have any winemaking education or expertise; you just need to get contact with the right subject-matter experts and have a vision for how to make it all come together cohesively.  The negociant approach drastically reduces barriers to entry in the wine production industry and also provides an additional market for those who grow grapes or operate winery facilities, and while it has always been a part of the industry in the New World, it now seems to be taking on an increased presence, particularly in the realm of branded grocery store wines.


Ultra-transparent for a Cab!

This is actually not a new topic to this blog — a few years ago, I had the pleasure and challenge of trying to dig behind what was behind the cover label of the PC brand of wines, which resulted in some truly entertaining (if somewhat strange) juice.  Now Co-op Wine and Spirits has released its own lineup of sommelier-curated negociant wines called The Social Collection, sourced from around the world and targeted towards “the socialite and modern wine drinker”.  Translation, I think:  these are mainstream wines intended for easy enjoyment while still striving to properly represent their varietal and region at a wallet-friendly price.  I was sent a trio of examples from this new branding effort to taste and decided to make a group event out of it.  Dan and Ray will taste and report on a couple of subsequent Co-op releases later in the week, but I’m kicking things off tonight from where it all started for The Social Collection:  Bin 101. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: Cameron Hughes Lot 179 (2007)

13 08 2011

I very much regret not writing this review last year (you know, before this blog even existed) so that people could have actually gone out and found this wine.  In the last 12 months I’ve probably bought upwards of 20 bottles of it both for myself and as gifts for others, due partly to its awesomeness and partly to its criminally cheap pricing; after cracking tonight’s bottle, I (tragically) only have 3 left.  It’s the closest my place has had to a house wine in 2010-2011…I’m definitely going to miss it when it’s gone.  Before I jump into the story of how it came to be, a huge shout out is owed to Tim from Highlander Wine & Spirits, who clued me into it on the very first night I met him — let’s just say he set the bar very high for himself right off the bat.

If this was Back to the Future, I would have told you to buy this already.

Cameron Hughes is based out of San Francisco, but he’s not your typical Californian wine producer.  Instead of owning a tract of land in Napa, growing grapes there and making them into wine, he’s a négociant, which means that he buys grapes, juice or even finished/partly-finished wine from other growers/producers and completes, packages and sells it under his own label.  Négociants are much more well known in European wine regions like Burgundy, France (Jadot and Leroy are big-name examples) than in the US, but Hughes is showing that the business model works just as well on this side of the Atlantic.  In many cases, Hughes buys excess grapes/juice from high-end Napa producers; they get quick cash in a capital-intensive industry and get rid of overflow product in a way that doesn’t devalue their own brand (Hughes is generally not permitted to reveal his sources), while Hughes gets high-quality raw materials for pennies on the dollar.  However, with Lot 179, the story is different:  what is in the bottle is actually the finished product of another winery that went out of business before its 2007 vintage was able to hit the market. Read the rest of this entry »

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