Tag Archives: Chateau Bonnet

Winebits 595: Andre Lurton, ancient yeast, Grocery Outlet

Andre Lurton

Andre Lurton

This week’s wine news: Andre Lurton, one of the leaders in great cheap wine, has died, plus an ancient yeast discovery and wine discounter Grocery Outlet may expand

Andre Lurton: Andre Lurton, whose skill and foresight gave us Chateau Bonnet, one of the world’s greatest cheap wines, has died at 94. The Lurton family are Bordeaux royalty, and their holdings include Cheval Blanc, one of the world’s great estates. But Andre Lurton “specialized in buying properties at their lowest value and nurturing them into valuable wine estates,” starting with the family’s Château Bonnet in 1953. It was in Bordeaux’s Entre-Deux-Mers region, then and now known for mostly poorly made supermarket wine. But Lurton understood how to improve wine quality and maintain the price, and today Chateau Bonnet produces $10 wine that shames almost all the other cheap wine in the world. As one French journalist wrote: “Andre defines himself as a peasant. He loves to count the hours he spent driving a tractor more than he loves to count the chateaus he owns.” What better epitaph could Lurton have?

5,000-year-old yeast: Israeli researchers have made beer using yeast extracted from 5,000-year-old Egyptian clay pots. Key to their work was Israel’s Kadma Winery, which makes wine in clay pots. Said one expert: “We are talking about a real breakthrough here. This is the first time we succeeded in producing ancient alcohol from ancient yeast. In other words, from the original substances from which alcohol was produced. This has never been done before.” And, reportedly, the beer wasn’t bad, either.

More Grocery Outlets? Good news for cheap wine drinkers – Grocery Outlet, the west coast cult discounter, wants to expand to other parts of the U.S. Supermarket News reports that the company wants to raise $100 million through a stock offering to open hundreds of stores adjacent to its locations in California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington (it also has stores in Pennsylvania, which has limited supermarket wine sales). Company officials say it could eventually reach 4,800 stores across the country. Grocery Outlet is famous for buying surplus products from wholesalers and manufacturers, including and especially wine, marking it down by as much as 40 to 70 percent.

Chateau Bonnet Blanc and why scores are useless

Chateau Bonnet BlancChateau Bonnet is the $10 French wine that is one of the world’s great values and has been in the Hall of Fame since the first ranking in 2007. As such, it has always been varietally correct, impeccably made, an outstanding value, and cheap and delicious. The 2012 Bonnet blanc, which I had with dinner the other night, made me shake my head in amazement. How could a cheap white wine that old still be so enjoyable?

What more could a wine drinker want?

A lot, apparently, if a couple of the scores for the 2012 on CellarTracker (the blog’s unofficial wine inventory app) are to be believed. The Chateau Bonnet blanc scored 80 points from someone who said the label was ugly and 83 points from a Norwegian, and that a Norwegian was using points shows how insidious scores have become.

The irony is that the tasting notes for the low scores were quite complimentary. The 80-point mentioned “crisp dry tones and pleasant blend of melon flavours” while the 83 described herbs, minerals, and citrus, and neither noted any off flavors or flaws. Yet, given those scores, the Bonnet blanc was barely an average wine, hardly better than the grocery store plonk I regularly complain about on the blog.

Which it’s not. Those two wine drinkers are allowed to score the wine as low as they like, and they’re allowed to dislike it. That’s not the problem. The problem is consistency; someone else gave the Bonnet blanc a 90, citing minerality and lime zest — mostly the same description as the low scores. Yet a 90 signifies an outstanding wine. How can a wine that three people describe the same way get such different scores?

Because scores are inherently flawed, depending as they do on the subjective judgment of the people giving the scores. If I believed scores and I saw the 80 or the 83, I’d never try the Chateau Bonnet blanc, even if I liked melon flavors or minerals and citrus. Which is the opposite of what scores are supposed to do. And that they now do the opposite of what they’re supposed to do means it’s time — past time, in fact — to find a better way.

For more on wine scores:
? Wine scores, and why they don’t work (still)
? Wine competitions and wine scores
? Great quotes in wine history: Humphrey Bogart

Wine of the week: Chateau Bonnet Rouge 2010

Chateau Bonnet rougeChateau Bonnet Rouge ($10, purchased, 14%) is the quintessential cheap red wine:

? It tastes of where it’s from, in this case the Bordeaux region of France. That means enough fruit to be recognizable (mostly red); some earthiness so that it doesn’t taste like it came from Argentina or Australia (almost mushroomy for this vintage); and tannins that make the wine taste better.

? Varietally correct, so that the merlot and cabernet sauvignon taste like merlot and cabernet sauvignon, and not some gerrymandered red wine where the residual sugar level was fixed before the wine was made.

? It doesn’t have any flaws or defects, and is consistent from vintage to vintage.

In this, it shows that simple wines can be enjoyable and that simple does not mean stupid or insulting. What more do wine drinkers need?

And if the Bonnet needs any more to recommend it, this was a four-year-old $10 wine. Too many four-year-old $10 wines don’t make it past 18 months before they oxidize or turn to vinegar.

Highly recommended (as are the Bonnet blanc and rose). The only catch is pricing. Some retailers, even for older, previous vintages like this, figure they can get $15 for it because it has a French label that says Bordeaux. It’s still a fine value for $15, but I hate to give those kinds of retailers my business.

Wine of the week: Chateau Bonnet Blanc 2010

chateau bonnet blancThis white blend from Bordeaux has been in and out of the $10 Hall since I started it for a Dallas magazine 10 years ago — but not because of quality. Rather, what once was a $10 wine has been as expensive as $15 in Dallas, and though I like it a lot, it’s not a $15 wine.

The good news is that Spec’s, the largest retailer in Texas, has opened in Dallas, and they carry the Bonnet (purchased) for $10. So it’s back at a good price and eligible again for the $10 Hall of Fame — the newest version of which will be announced in two days. Have a suggestion for the Hall? Leave it in the comments or send me an email.

But I’m not sure this vintage of the Bonnet is a Hall of Fame wine. This is not to say that it’s not well made, because it is, crisp and fresh with lots of citrus fruit like lemon and grapefruit, and there is nothing off about it. It just doesn’t taste very Bordeaux-like. Call me picky (that’s a harsh charge for the Wine Curmudgeon, no?), but when wine is from Bordeaux I want a little minerality and not quite so much fruit. If I want this style of wine, I’ll buy any of the equally fine $10 sauvignon blancs from New Zealand.

This doesn’t mean the Bonnet isn’t a fine $10 wine, and it doesn’t mean that I won’t buy it again. I will, and drink it chilled on its own or with almost any white wine dish that doesn’t have a big sauce. What it does mean is that wines that make the Hall have to better than this; it is the Hall of Fame, after all.