Rich diversity from a hill of stones

By CHRIS SHERMAN
Published March 24, 2004


LONGBOAT KEY – I cannot refrain from bragging about this pairing of food and wine: All of the courses matched vintages of Cos d’Estournel from the last three decades at one of Bordeaux’s most beloved names.

If Cos d’Estournel does not impress, I could note that the guest of honor was the successor to a French maharajah.

Mais oui, the estate was so famous 150 years ago that its wines regularly were shipped as far as India. The proprietor styled himself the maharajah of St. Estephe and put pagoda towers and doors from Zanzibar on his chateau, curios that remain today just up the road from Lafite-Rothschild.

To those who know and admire Cos, I’ll detail the indulgence by the numbers: ’75, ’93, ’96, ’86 and, most gloriously, ’70. If you happen to have these in your cellar at $100 to $400 a bottle, my advice is to give ’96 and ’86 more time, but you can open the other three now for luscious drinking.

The occasion was a private dinner for 24 in a Longboat Key condo to introduce potential donors to Grapes for Humanity, a charity founded by Michael and Arlene Willis, a Canadian-American couple who bring together their connections in the world of wine to help victims of land mines. A four-course meal from Morton’s Catering of Sarasota accompanied talk of rehabilitation and prosthetics and toasts to Franco-American friendship.

One came from Jean-Guillaume Prats, who runs Cos d’Estournel; his family owned it for three generations, making him a successor to Gaspar Estournel. When pressed to talk about the Raj tradition, he will give a bow of a mock swami. At 34, he embodies the dietary paradox of grand French cuisine, a lean-and-fit man with the well-finished look of an English schoolboy. But he is serious about philanthropy.

“We are so lucky; we must give something back,” he says.

Still, what to make of the treasures he contributed from his cellar?

Tasting through 30 years of a great name offers delicious object lessons in patience and the attributes of greatness in wine. Yes, there are bottles that are worth decades and hundreds of dollars; and the great names of Bordeaux can still uphold that tradition.

Cos has two significant distinctions. The first is unmistakable: a bouquet so spicy it hints of cedar and herbs and, if you can’t shake the memory of the maharajah, curry. The other is an intensity of deep colors and dark fruits and a firm, steely structure of tannins that makes it one of the slowest and most long-lived of Bordeaux.

Both hallmarks were apparent in the wines; their great aging potential allows you to taste that theme through immense variations, from sensuous to muscular, the characteristics a single year can wring from a single piece of land. With age, the scaffolding is removed, and what remains is beauty: rich in flavor, sometimes luscious, sometimes delicate.

“In Bordeaux, we do not have bad vintages,” Prats says. “Some are great and others are . . . more modest.”

Indeed, the chateau rates its years as exceptional, great, very good or years with difficulty – as were most of the 1990s. But 2000 ushered in a string of beauties, or at least they will be, when they grow up.

For this dinner, the ’93 was the youngest that was ready to drink, and it was silken. The ’96, a great year, and even the ’86, are more aggressive, fine amid the riches of duck in vanilla and Madeira or lamb with figs, morels and anise. These two will get even better later. The ’75, almost 30 years old, has a grace that combines finesse and freshness, making it perfect with a first course of fish and lush foie gras. Starting with an older wine may be heresy, but Prats says, “It’s something I do more and more, and this still tastes young.”

However, the ’70 had matured into a chocolatey richness, almost a syrup that matched the creamiest Explorateur and bleu cheeses at the finale.

The land that produced all of them is a stubby hill of pebbly gravel, called a cos, a few hundred yards from the great, broad Gironde, the waterway that has defined Bordeaux for centuries and delivered it to the wine-drinking world.

On the far side lies the Bordeaux many Americans love best and understand the most easily: Pomerol and St. Emillion, where the reds are famously and softly heavy with merlot.

On the southern side of the river is the Medoc and its communes, chateaux and vineyards, where blends rich in cabernet sauvignon fill bottles that will last happily for decades and have been known for centuries.

Chateau Cos d’Estournel sits on 170 acres in St. Estephe, the finest wine in that district, and right on the border with Pauillac, the heaviest hitter in Bordeaux.

In the great classification of 1855, which identified the region’s grand crus or great growths, wine merchants tapped four chateaux as premier cru, three of them in Pauillac, and ranked Cos in a second group of 15 great growths. Over the years, its strength won many fans, who regarded it a “supersecond” with more value and less hype than some grandees. In an unofficial reclassification in 1998 by Robert Parker, the American critic put Cos in the first rank.

What makes it special? The grapes are much the same each year, mostly cabernet, some merlot and occasionally cabernet franc and petite verdot. The harvest and much of the work is still done by hand and, while Prats uses some modern tools, he strives for the old character – and knows it, for he has drunk of the 1870s.

The land is largely the same, a well-drained hill of pebbles and limestone, where most vines are now 30 years old, densely planted and forced to reach their roots deep for water.

The only explanation the chateau makes is in the glass, year after year, different and the same.

If the mystery seems out of reach, one of the great advantages of Tampa Bay life is the wine cellar at Bern’s Steak House, where old Bordeaux vintages are common and fairly priced. Its Cos collection goes back to 1937 and includes that fine ’93 at a bargain $99.

You could also teach yourself a lesson in patience by dropping $100 on a future from the 2003 Cos d’Estournel. Yes, the French summer was murderously hot and the crop was cut almost in half, but Prats says the remains have made a remarkably ripe wine. When it comes out next year, set it aside for another eight, at least.

Might as well buy two. You’ll probably open one too early.

– Chris Sherman, who writes about food and wine for the St. Petersburg Times, is the author of “The Buzz on Wine” Lebhar-Friedman Books, $16.95. He can be reached at (727) 893-8585 or [email protected]

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Department of State Salutes Grapes for Humanity for Assistance to Cambodian Landmine Survivors

Cambodian survivors of landmine and unexploded ordnance accidents will receive additional rehabilitative assistance thanks to more than $100,000 raised during the annual charitable dinner hosted by Grapes for Humanity (gfhglobal.org ), a non-governmental organization and U.S. Department of State Public-Private Partner in humanitarian mine action.

The funds raised at this event, which was generously supported by Jean-Guillaume Prats of Cos d’Estournel wines and Priestly Demolition Inc., under the patronage of the Economic and Trade Commissioner for France, will be granted to the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation to construct new facilities at its Prey Veng rehabilitation center in eastern Cambodia. The Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation engages in mine survivors assistance and landmine impact surveys and is also one of the Department’s mine action partners.

Since 1979 alone, landmines and unexploded ordnance have killed or seriously injured over 62,000 Cambodians. Cambodia remains a high-priority country for assistance from the multi-agency U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program, receiving more than $49 million from the United States since 1993 for demining, mine risk education, and mine survivors assistance. Even with such official support from the United States and other donor nations, civil society contributions for mine action in Cambodia as well as other mine-affected countries, as exemplified here by Grapes for Humanity and its sponsors and individual supporters, are vital and appreciated.

The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, manages the Department’s humanitarian mine action and small arms/light weapons control activities worldwide. It also operates a Public-Private Partnership Program to attract additional resources to address the global landmine problem. To learn more about these Public-Private Partnerships or to download “Safe Passage,” the partnership newsletter, visit www.state.gov/t/pm/wra/partners/.

2006/1056
Released on November 20, 2006

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Madame May-Eliane de LENCQUESAING – Washington

“Le Vin: une touche de la Femme” with Madame May-Eliane de LENCQUESAING. The first in a series of Fine Wine Dinners in conjunction with the Four Seasons Hotels featuring the fine wines of Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande.

Tickets $500 each (limit 2) – Corporate Sponsor Table for 8 – $6500

For more information, please phone 1 800 218 1422 or email: [email protected]

Only 50 seats available

Location: The Four Seasons Hotel – Washington, D.C.
Date: Thursday, May 18, 2006 , 6:30 p.m.

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Madame May-Eliane de LENCQUESAING

“Le Vin: une touche de la Femme” with Madame May-Eliane de LENCQUESAING. The first in a series of Fine Wine Dinners in conjunction with the Four Seasons Hotels featuring the fine wines of Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande.

Tickets: $1,000 each – (limit 2) Corporate Sponsor Table for 8 – $10,000SOLD OUT

1-800-218-1422

Location: The Four Seasons Hotel -New York City
Date: Wednesday, May 17, 2006 , 6:30p.m.

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Jean-Guillaume Prats – Cos d’Estournel – $75,000 Net Raised

April 29, 2005

A Exclusive Reception and Dinner was held at the home of Dr. Christine Wheeler in New York City with honored guest, Jean-Guillaume Prats, CEO of Cos d’Estournel.  The wines served included:  Pagodes de Cos 2001, Cos d’Estournel 2000, Cos d Estournel 1995, Cos d’Estournel 1990 and Cos d’Estournel 1986.  G.H. Mumm, Mumm de Cramant and a Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc for the reception.

Corporate Tables were $8,000  and the event was a huge success


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There is Only One!! OPUS ONE – $12,000 raised for One SriLanka.

Dinner at Michael’s Wine Cellar in Sarasota, Florida – two vintages of Mouton Rothschild White and Three Vintages of OPUS ONE – 2001, 1997 and 1985 in Magnum.

Tickets $350.00 each. – Phone 1 800 218 1422 to order tickets. Only 50 seats available.

Location: Michael’s Wine Cellar, Sarasota, Florida
Date: Friday, March 04, 2005 , 6:30 p.m.

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Uncorked: Strong stock produces fine vintners, too

By CHRIS SHERMAN, Times Food Critic
Published June 9, 2004

A rare and vanishing breed was sighted in Florida during a brief appearance on the North American continent last month.

Latin for the genus is Primum Familiae Vini, but you’d recognize the species: Rothschild, Mondavi, Antinori, Drouhin, Hugel, Torres and so on.

The PFV is a tiny exclusive club that includes 11 famous family wineries, and if such well-known brands can’t be called endangered, they can be classified at risk. Occasionally one suffers from internal family strife, like the sibling rivalry of the Mondavis. All face a difficult environment.

Which is one reason they banded together as PFV a decade ago. They meet twice a year, a private session at a member’s estate, the other a brief charity tour where they host the grandest of winemaker dinners with the owners and their wines.

When they arrived at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota last month for one of this year’s dinners, PFV showed off vintages old and new, of wine and winemakers, to raise funds for Grapes for Humanity.

If the emphasis was on the young, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild of Ch. Mouton Rothschild, now near 70 and anything but retiring in voice or jewelry, served as grande dame and Auntie Mame.

Half the families, even those that date back 500 years, sent 30-something scions, who now have serious roles in the business. They exchange market and vineyard news, but they’re young enough to pile into a convertible to hit Lido Beach or trade tips on Euroshopping for shoes. The group’s current president is a freckled young marchesa from the 26th generation of winemaking Antinoris, Alessia, 28.

(Sister Marcia Mondavi represented her family now that brothers Tim and Michael have split.)

Despite their fame they all worry. Rothschild was typically frank.

“The competition is ferocious and the New World wines are very good,” she said.

As the Rothschilds and other families have vineyards in the United States and Chile, “New World” often means Australia, whose good, inexpensive wines have made it a world power in less than 20 years. No Australian family is a member of PFV.

Corporations of all nationalities control more and more of the wine market and mass production has created a class of international blandness.

Ideally, family wineries, great and small, are closely tied to the terroir of home estates and traditions built over generations. “They can make fake silk now and fake cotton, you know with computers, but no one can make fake wine, at least I haven’t heard about it. It takes the human hand,” Rothschild says.

Or in the words of young Antinori: “The difference Italy can make is we have so many different varieties. (Elsewhere) there seems to be a standardization; it’s all cabernet, merlot and chardonnay. They need to have some differences, some new varieties. Italy can give this.”

The survival of these families hinges as much on on their adaptability as their grand old names, and that too may run in the family.

Piero Antinori was among the first to challenge old Italian wine laws with the Chianti-like Tignanello that started super Tuscans 30 years ago. Today Antinori has vineyards in California, Washington, Chile, Hungary, Malta and expanded plantings in Umbria and southern Italy. Daughter Alessia has added a new premium olive oil to the portfolio.

The Miguel Torres’ main vineyards are in Catalonia but daughter Miramar has her own brand in Sonoma.

Joseph Drouhin makes wines in Burgundy and the Willamette Valley of Washington (“Oregon soil, French soul,” says Laurent Drouhin) and Vega-Sicilia of Spain has a tokay winery in Hungary.

The baroness, too, is proud to point out, “My father thought we ought to have a more democratic wine,” which produced Mouton Cadet after a weak vintage in the 1930s. They still produce it, as well as generic varietals from the south of France and grand partnerships, such as Opus One with Mondavi. At home, she warns Bordeaux must be vigilant about quality.

But the newest generations do have something to work with, treasured vineyards, patience and long experience on the land, something every vintner in PFV could appreciate when they opened a sleek bottle of Egon Muller Scharzhof Riesling, 1959.

The best things last.

Chris Sherman, who writes about food and wine for the St. Petersburg Times, is the author of “The Buzz on Wine” Lebhar-Friedman Books, $16.95. He can be reached at (727) 893-8585 or [email protected]

© Copyright 2003 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved

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Department of State Salutes Grapes for Humanity and Primum Familiae Vini for Supporting Landmine Survivors Assistance in Angola and Ethiopia

Media Note
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 28, 2004

Some Angolan and Ethiopian landmine survivors will have better access to clinical care and physical rehabilitation thanks to Grapes for Humanity, a charitable foundation that funds mine survivors assistance, and Primum Familiae Vini (first families of wine), a group of leading international family-owned vintners, working together to support Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation survivors assistance efforts in both countries.

Primum Familiae Vini chose Grapes for Humanity as the designated beneficiary at its gala fund-raising dinners held in Sarasota, Florida, and New York City earlier this month. Grapes for Humanity passed $58,000 of the proceeds to the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, a non-governmental organization with years of humanitarian mine action experience. $23,000 will help the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation to construct a prosthetics clinic in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. $35,000 purchased a 4-wheel drive vehicle with a secure communications system to ferry Angolan landmine survivors and other war wounded between their villages in Moxico, Lunda Sol and Lunda Norte provinces and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation Regional Rehabilitation Center in Luena.

Grapes for Humanity and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation are among nearly fifty civic associations, foundations, non-governmental organizations, and corporations that work in partnership with the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement to reinforce humanitarian mine action (landmine clearance, mine risk education, and mine survivors assistance). To learn more about this public-private partnership program, visit www.state.gov/t/pm/wra/c10388.htm.

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The PFV Fine Wine Extravaganza – Sarasota, Florida

Dine with the PFV – (First Families of Wine) on the first stop of their U.S. Tour. Representing the PFV will be: Alessia Antinori, Marchesi Antinori and president of Primum Familiae Vini this year; Laurent Drouhin, Joseph Drouhin; Egon Muller, Egon Muller Scharzhof; Etienne Hugel, Hugel et Fils; Nicholas Jaboulet, Paul Jaboulet Ainé, Marcia Mondavi, Robert Mondavi Winery; Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, Chateau Mouton Rothschild; Hubert de Billy, Pol Roger Champagne; Rupert Symington, Symington Family Port Companies; Marimar Torres, Miguel Torres; and Pablo Alvarez Vega Sicilia.

$75,000 RAISED AT THE LIVE AUCTION.SOLD OUT

TASTE THEIR WINES: Champagne Sir Winston Churchill 1995 Hugel Riesling Jubilee 1998 Robert Mondavi I Bloc Sauvignon Blanc 2001 Joseph Drouhin Montrachet de Laguiche 1999 Chateau Mouton Rothchild 1989 Marchesi Antinori Tignanello 200 Paul Jaboulet Ainé Hermitage La Chapelle 1983 Miguel Torres Mas La Plana 2001 Vega Sicilia Unico 1989 Egon Muller Scharzhof Eiswein 1998 Graham Malvedos 1996

TICKETS $300 each – $4000 for a Corporate Producer Table (10) – Phone: 1 800 218 1422

Location: The Ritz-Carlson, Sarasota
Date: Wednesday, May 12, 2004 , 6:30 p.m.

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Primum Familiae Vini – Leading Wine Families

Dine with: Alessia Antinori, Marchesi Antinori and president of Primum Familiae Vini this year; Laurent Drouhin, Joseph Drouhin; Egon Muller, Egon Muller Scharzhof; Etienne Hugel, Hugel et Fils; Nicholas Jaboulet, Paul Jaboulet Ainé, Marcia Mondavi, Robert Mondavi Winery; Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, Chateau Mouton Rothschild; Hubert de Billy, Pol Roger Champagne; Rupert Symington, Symington Family Port Companies; Marimar Torres, Miguel Torres; and Pablo Alvarez Vega Sicilia.

$50,000 RAISED ON THE LIVE AUCTION.SOLD OUT

TASTE THEIR WINES: Champagne Sir Winston Churchill 1995 Hugel Riesling Jubilee 1998 Robert Mondavi I Bloc Sauvignon Blanc 2001 Joseph Drouhin Montrachet de Laguiche 1999 Chateau Mouton Rothchild 1982 Marchesi Antinori Tignanello 2000 Paul Jaboulet Ainé Hermitage La Chapelle 1983 Miguel Torres Mas La Plana 2001 Vega Sicilia Unico 1989 Egon Muller Scharzhof Eiswein 1998 Graham Malvedos 1996

Don’t miss the wine event of the century in New York City. Phone: 1 800 218 1422

Tickets $500 each $6,000 PFV – Producer for ten people

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Location: The Pierre Hotel – New York City
Date: Friday, May 14, 2004 , 6:30 p.m.

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