Are You In da Club?

“Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know.” ― John Keats

Wine clubs, they come, and they go, some for better and some for worse. But if you'd like to explore different styles of wines from a variety of French wine regions, then a wine club is the right vehicle to do so. Let's face it though, the business of wine clubs is more competitive than ever, with every club claiming they have an 'expert' who has been ordained by Baccus himself to guide you to the correct path of wine swirling and slurping enlightenment.

I've been in many wine clubs over the years, along with allotment lists which some will wait years to obtain access to the coveted allotment from the newest must-have winery to add to their unicorn collection. But I've kicked them all to the curb, I don't follow trends or do I wet my pants over so-called must-have collectibles because I like most people have a drinking collection of wines I can afford to open, anytime or any day.

At the moment, I don't belong to any wine club, but if I were going to choose just one, I'd prefer to link up with the team at Sommailier, who focuses exclusively on French Wine. One of the most significant differences with this club is that it's not just any French wine, these wines are currently not available in the U.S. marketplace, this is all small production, small lots and unearthed caches of wines sitting in cellars just looking for a home. It's worth mentioning that this club [a recent startup based in San Diego] is currently only available in California, but no reason to fret as Sommailier is considering expanding to 14 more states shortly.

But the reason, I recommend this club over the myriad 'other' clubs vying for your dollars, is two things, the authenticity of quality from previously unavailable producers. Even though I live here in Oregon now, they were still able to send me a sample shipment, much like any other wine club would receive.

The second reason is the three wines sent were outstanding, to excellent and extremely well balanced. The third point is that their pricing is remarkedly reasonable considering the quality of the wine in the bottle, the QPR is excellent. Finally, the packaging sent is cardboard, not foam. The information about each wine is short and sweet, getting right to the point and offers a pairing suggestion.

As you may know, I'm a huge fan of French wine in general; one I've personally explored in person, both in Bordeaux and Champagne. It's a vast region to get to know and understand. If you're are at all interested in knowing more about French wine and French wine culture from its origins, this club is an excellent place to get started.

I've been reading the book "Exploring Wine," when I get to Chapter 7 about French wine, it starts off with the premise, that "French wine has lost the luster on the once shiny crown." Stating that the average wine consumer no longer values French wine as it may have in the past. This statement is sadly in a way accurate because many consumers here in the states don't have the same access to French wine, as they do to diluted California, Oregon, and Washington jug wine producers who line the shelves of their grocery stores.

There's also a profit model driving distributors who service these grocery stores to push commodity juice, give special incentives for floor and shelve placement. Sommailier is a different wine club, one that can be of great assistance, cutting out the middleman and delivering incredible wine values previously unseen.

Domaine Anny Derain, Cote Chalonnainse 2014: In the picture above, a delicious Cote Chalonnaise, from a small Domaine with parcels located in the villages of Mercurey and Givry, a west-facing vineyard, shallow limestone-rich soils, and fifty-year-old vines. After uncorking the bottle, pouring a glass, beautiful aromas dancing away in abundance, aromas of barnyard funk, damp earth, freshly picked mushrooms, Bing cherries, sage, and beets. Taste-wise, I found this wine dry, balanced, with a medium-minus body, medium-plus tannins that folded effortlessly in the wines flavor profile. Flavor descriptors were few, raspberry, cranberry, roasted beets, a whiff of sandalwood and overall it's an easy to love wine without decanting. The finish is long and caressing. An excellent first choice to represent the direction this wine club will take with future shipments. This Burgundy does drink a bit less traditional but is still wonderfully appealing from the first splash to the last drop.

"A love story between the man and his soil; with trust in nature and an acceptance of fate. You may suffer in winemaking, but you’ll never end this sacred relationship. The vineyard on which you were born and raised will be a part of you forever." Sommailier, Our Story

Denis Lurton 2015 Margaux: This left bank beauty, assembled from 3ème Cru Classé Chateau Desmirail property in the Margaux appellation. Cru is "a vineyard or group of vineyards, especially one of recognized quality." "It is a French wine term which is traditionally translated as "growth." It is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the balance is Merlot. 13% abv, but drinks a like a sexy monster from Napa while being completely balanced. This wine does need a proper decanting to allow it to unwind, revealing its many facets and intricacies. Some espresso dust, dark plum, crushed gravel across the nose give this a sexy, appealing edge right off the bat, followed up by chewy tannins that only will soften with a few more years in the bottle. Still for those who appreciate, a wine of this quality, at the crazy price point it's offered at, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better bottle of wine from the 2015 vintage. I sampled this wine over a couple of days; it held up wonderfully.

Chateau La Fleur Des Pins, Graves 2016: A Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Sauvignon Gris 50% Semillon blend often referred to as a 'White Bordeaux.' While it was not a stunning wine, not one that will make you insta-famous. But it is a bottle of wine I'd recommend uncorking, pouring and enjoying again and again. It's great to have wines like this in the cellar, ready to go at a moment's notice. A delicious, white Bordeaux that makes for an ideal way to dress up a lazy summer evening, with friends, family or even the occasional impromptu co-worker get together.

I really enjoyed this wine this 100% hand-picked grapes, from Pujols sur Ciron appellation, the soil composed of clay and limestone on a small nine-acre parcel from fifty-year vines. This wine has real soul and substance to it; a blaze of acid was pinning the [fruit driven] Semillon to the mat, while vibrant minerality kept things interesting. In my mind, it was the perfect wine [apple/pear lemon butter] for the occasion, simple, light and most of all refreshing. Each sip and slurp had me thinking about what it must be like to sit on a porch/veranda in Bordeaux, relaxing with friends and family, and perhaps watching the sunset over the vineyards.

There was, of course, in addition to the sample of what Sommailier has to offer consumers, I had the opportunity to interview Laurent Yung, over the phone. His English is fantastic, while my French is rudimentary at best, truly a man of the world. We discussed the wine culture, his passion for sharing the joys of wine exploration, why this wine-club is different and how he and his family had arrived in San Diego, my old hometown of many years. After tasting the wines, reading through the website, and the wine club materials, I'm happy to recommend Laurent Yung and this wine club, Sommailier.

Q: How did you and your family come to live in San Diego? 
A: While we have lived in many places around the world, like New York, Sweden, and Bordeaux, San Diego presented itself with some unique opportunities. Also, seeing California as a great place to raise a family and community with a growing interest in wine diversity, meaning the exploration of imported wines. 

Q: When you say, "one of the major goals of Sommailier is to spread the family tradition of French wines" what should the consumer take away from that statement?  
A: To us, wine is all about family. The authenticity of small batch production from family-owned vineyards has a traditional feel of the wines we enjoyed around our dinner table in Bordeaux. Through our wine club, not only did we want to share these unique wine but more importantly the stories behind the labels; of the winemakers, the challenges of working in the vineyard. I grew up in Bordeaux, being exposed to wine business daily, I come from five generations of winemakers. We hope to spread the word about life on the vineyard, and in the wineries, the everyday struggles and the joy of accomplishment in the French tradition. 

Q: When you say the previously unavailable wines, do you mean to say that these wines are uniquely sourced from producers who had not already offered them to the export market?
A: I noticed a lack of wine clubs in the American market featuring smaller, harder-to-find French wines. I also wanted to truly showcase the hidden jewels and hard, if not difficult to acquire treasures of French wine, which my partners and I have unique access. We sit at the right hand of the small-batch wineries with the ability to market and leverage the small niche wineries previously unknown in this marketplace. The connections we have developed allows us at times, for example, to merely import 300-500 bottles, are okay with the small batch. My brother, Patrick, recently acquired a wine distributor in Paris, one who has had great success bringing boutique French wines to the marketplace, since 1948. As a result, our wine club, Sommailier is benefiting from his expertise and closely-tied network to import these wines to the United States.

Q: Tell me more about the opportunity for a "personalized wine tour in Bordeaux", is this something offered exclusively to members? 
A: At the moment it's a developing process, but with can work with small itineraries, such as giving advice on where to go, we make advance contacts with our partners, to set up appointments and tours. If you're a club member, please contact us before you travel,  and we'll be in touch. 

Q: When you say "wine is all about family" what are you attempting to communicate? In a world of hyper-connectivity, how does the wine experience break through the clamor and noise of the modern world? A: You have my story, you know about my winemaking heritage, so when you join the club, you become part of the Sommailier family.

Q: The wines sent, would you say some are better to be enjoyed in the here and now, or like the Margaux, I received as a sample, would it be better to hold it, and drink later? 
A: In general Burgundy, in the club selections are drink now, while wines like the Margaux sent in our first shipment. We acquired nine thousand bottles of the Margaux [750 cases] and five thousand bottles of the red burgundy [416 cases]. There are limitations, on supply, and all wine is kept in our cold facility for storage.

Q: Are these wine club selections bottled and labeled exclusively for club members, meaning the labeled bottles will have unique labels setting them apart? 
A: Exclusive to the club, very famous families, general consumers cannot access them. On the back label, you'll find variety, best-serving temperature, a when to drink window and a pairing suggestion.

Q: Many consumers will ask are "organic" wines available from Sommailier? 
A: While we currently do not offer any certified 'organic' wines; we are discovering new bottlings all the time, a vegan choice, approved for the Sommailier Club shipments is in the clarification and approval process.

Q: In the first shipment there was Bordeaux, Burgundy, but what other regions will be offered like Champagne for example? 
A: Champagne not in the cards, for the moment. White, Red and Rose, but white and red only at that moment. Older vintages could be the cards, possibly, evolving and taken under advisement. Thanks for the suggestion. Our overall goal to educate is the current wine club model, but we are open to change and modification as the club grows. Feedback from club members is very important to us. 


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