Two days before the passing of one of New York's greatest iconic rock-n-roll figures, we sat with Jean-Luc Thunevin of Thunevin Selections at The Dutch to break bread and to taste through a number of his recent releases. And while the songs of Lou Reed play through today's internal dialogue like an overheard New York Conversation, it's not just the end product of these men's passions that we savor, but also the no-holds-barred paths that they created. Deaf to the startled reactions that their labors invoked, Reed celebrated the underbelly of New York, while Thunevin came to Bordeaux at the age of 29 with an eclectic resume, where he dared to purchase three rows of vines in St. Emilion. Coined "Bad Boy" by Robert Parker and "The Black Sheep of Bordeaux", in 1991 Thunevin released the world's first "garage wine" that rocked the Old World establishment.
When he first arrived in Bordeaux without pedigree, no one wanted to sell him land. When Parker put him on the map with Thunevin's first Bordeaux in 1991, everyone started inquiring about this guy who was making wines in his garage. In 1995 this same first wine, Valandraud, was given a Parker score of 95, which was higher than what had been given to Chateau Pétrus. And when Thunevin raised the price to match those of his peers in St Emilion who'd received these same scores, there was an uproar, but it was this increase that allowed Thunevin to purchase other vineyards.
On Friday, we began the luncheon at The Dutch with Chateau Valandraud Blanc de Balandraud no. 2 2009. First made in 2003, this is a blend of Bordeaux varietals from 3ha in St Emilion. Planted to clay and limestone soils at the base of a hill, this is a straight-up Bordeaux as one cannot make white wines from St Emilion. As one of the best selling wines in Bordeaux, the no. 2 is pressed (while the no. 1 is made from free-run juice), and fermented in 50% new oak. With only 3,000 bottles each, made of the no. 1 and no. 2, Thunevin works with an oenologist who consulted on this white blend, who had also worked in Burgundy. A blend of 50% Semilion, 30% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Sauvignon Gris, this is a wine that "drinks like a Burgundy". The 20% Sauvignon Gris in this vintage, explained Thunevin, adds notes of exotic fruits like mango and pineapple; and it is also resistant to disease. Very rich on the palate, the wine is silky and waxy with a layer of mineral notes that lifts and supports the fruit, leading it to a light white pepper spice on the finish.
After tasting through the Chateau Bellevue la Randee Bordeaux Rouge 2012 and the Domaine Virginie Thunevin Bordeaux Rouge 2006, Thunevin spoke in-depth about the Mauvais Garcon Bordeaux Rouge 2008. Initially named "Bad Boy", the wine was renamed Mauvais Garcon after Thunevin Selections received a letter of cease and desist from a winery in California who owned the "Bad Boy" name. And though Jean-Luc changed the label, he did leave a watermark with the wine's original name.
As the third peak to Bordeaux's St Emilion and Fronsac, Genissac "is the one no one knows about," said Thunevin. He believes that these vineyards rival those of St. Emilion and Fronsac; and while the owner of the vineyards here wouldn't sell his land to Jean-Luc, Thunevin is allowed to naturally farm the land himself and to obtain the fruit fresh from it.
A blend of 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc, Mauvais Garcon Bordeaux Rouge 2008 is aged for 18 months in 100% new oak, but one would never know it. To prevent his wines from being marked by new oak, Thunevin picks his fruit ripe, and he has a "great cooper". As the largest buyer of new oak barrels on the Right Bank, Thunevin purchases 500 new oak barrels a year. However, when people use new oak, said Thunevin, they tend to put clean wine in it. Thunevin, on the other hand, puts "dirty" wines into barrels, following their primary and not secondary fermentations. In this way, the sediment coats the barrel and prevents the wine from receiving too much direct oak contact. Jean-Luc also believes that most winemakers tend to rack too early, and that if one waits another six months before racking, that the wine will eventually mellow out. His Valandraud 2011 is still in barrel and will stay for a total of 2.5 years, until March.
From one of twenty of Thunevin's properties comes Chateau Bel Air Ouy St Emilion Grand Cru 1999, a blend of 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec. From a vineyard that Thunevin purchased in 1999, this parcel is the furthest commune east in the Southeast of St Emilion on the plateau. "Some of the best property," he added. Coming to us directly from the cellars of Thunevin, this vintage has been stored under optimal conditions. A little lighter than the 2000, which was fruiter and spicier, the 1999 offers more tertiary notes of earth and mushroom, though the fruit is still persistent, as is the acidity.
A popular wine that's served by the glass in a number of Paris' Michelin starred restaurants (Georges V and L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon) Chateau de Valandraud Virginie de Valandraud St Emilion Grand Cru 2007 now appears in an embossed label to help fight counter-fitting. From vines that are 30+ years old, the wine is fermented with indigenous yeast in stainless steel and aged for 18-20 months in new oak. Arriving in two weeks, the 2007 offers notes of developed fruit, coffee, tobacco, horseradish, earth and funk, with spice on the finish.
From one of the few properties that Jean-Luc works with but doesn't own, Chateau Franc Maillet "Cuvee Jean Baptiste" Pomerol 2006 comes from a single section in a continuous vineyard, that shows a streak of iron-rich clay that is some of the best terroir in Pomerol. When Jean-Luc first accessed the vineyard, he suggested that he isolate and vinify this parcel separately, and so every year, he farms and purchases the fruit from this section. There are second wines from top producers in Pomerol that are twice the price and not half as good, said Thunevin; and the streak of soil here typifies that of Chateau Petrus just up the road. Very earthy with plum fruit, spicy and floral notes, the acidity here is gently integrated.
"This vintage is one of the best in Bordeaux," said Thunevin, "on par with 2000 and 1961." Left out of the Left Bank Classification of 1855, St Emilion has its own classification system, with two classés of Premier Grand Cru Classés, A and B. As of 2012, Chateau de Valandraud Virginie de Valandraud St Emilion Grand Cru became classified as a Premier Grand Cru Classé B, and of his peers from the region, Jean-Luc believes that Tertre Roteboeuf is deserving to join the ranks. "The best wine I've ever made," said Jean-Luc of the 2010 Virginie de Valandraud. One of the best attributes of the 2010 vintage is its fine tannins, and though already approachable, the wine will peak in 15 years, he added.
Deep and rich with evolving notes of plum, spice, licorice, cocoa, dark earth minerality/graphite, and dark fruit that's bright beneath velvety tannins, the end notes offer rose petals. It's an amazing wine that left everyone speechless at the table. And while we had only a few hours to witness its evolution, the bounty of this wine was endless.
To Lou Reed, for the largess of his living and to the fruit that he bore. Cheers to a life lived to its fullest.
Lou Reed, March 2, 1942 - October 27, 2013
For selections from Jean-Luc Thunevin, read here.