Take an Englishman with an engineering background and have him buy a run-down winery in Bordeaux. Then have him turn centuries of Bordeaux wine-making tradition on its head. Then have him replicate the concept in Napa Valley. It might sound like a recipe for disaster, but in the case of Jonathan Maltus, the visionary behind the Château Teyssier and World’s End wineries, it has been the recipe for phenomenal success. Several of Maltus’s wines were sampled over a lunch at Luca in September.
In the 1990s in the Saint Emilion region of Bordeaux in France, where an established winemaking tradition dates back many centuries, some innovative winemakers decided to shake things up. Their controversial movement became known as Vins de Garage, partially because some of the wineries that participated were so small they could fit inside a garage.
The rebellious movement eschewed the terroir-focused Bordeaux winemaking style for one that produced less tannic, fruitier wines that were more aligned with the burgeoning international palate and desire to drink wines young without years of aging.
In 1994, when Bordeaux’s Vins de Garage was just starting to gain favor with international wine critics, Englishman Jonathan Maltus bought a run-down wine estate in Saint Emilion called Château Teyssier, which he immediately modernized and began expanding through the purchase of nearby vineyards. Since he was new to winemaking and not tied to Bordeaux winemaking traditions, Maltus became one of the leading ‘garagistes,’ the name given to those producing the Vins de Garage.
Although the Vins de Garage movement has faded somewhat since its heyday, when some of the wines it produced earned true cult status, the best of garagistes – including Maltus – are still producing small amounts of high-quality wines with the modernized style.
Earlier this year, the 2010 vintage of one of Maltus’s first garagiste-style wines – his single-vineyard Saint Emilion Grand Cru called Le Dome – received a perfect 100 points from wine critic Robert Parker, an accolade Maltus said “represents, perhaps, the pinnacle of our endeavors at Château Teyssier.”
Le Dome and some of his other wines from Château Teyssier and his latest venture in Napa Valley, California, called World’s End are now available on Grand Cayman through Cayman Distributors at restaurants and BlackBeard’s retail outlets. Several of the wines were tasted during a lunch at Luca with restaurant manager/wine buyer Cheryl Pokoradi, sister restaurant Ragazzi sommelier Ernie Virag, and Cayman Distributors wine sales professional Lee Quessy.
A 750 ml bottle of Le Dome, no matter what the vintage, costs hundreds of dollars. Although Maltus and the team at Château Teyssier are known for producing high-quality, small production Grand Cru Bordeaux wines in the garagiste style, the winery is by no means the size of a garage. It’s a large, modern winery capable of producing well over 20,000 cases of wine annually.
In 2005, Château Teyssier started producing entry-level red, white and rose wines made from grapes from Bordeaux.
“The reason he started producing these wines was that he felt there wasn’t a quality Bordeaux Rouge or Bordeaux Blanc for everyday drinking that he would want to drink,” Quessy said. “He wanted to produce a weekday wine that wouldn’t break the bank, but that still had the attention to detail of his other wines.”
Maltus’s response was to create the Pezat line of wines, which include Bordeaux Superieur, Rose and Blanc.
The 2012 Pezat Blanc [Retail price: $19.99] is a blend of mostly Sauvignon Blanc with some Semillon and Muscadelle added to give it more character. It’s an easy-drinking, quaffing wine that is ideal for Cayman’s climate and its seafood-prominent cuisine. This is a good wine for avid Sauvignon Blanc drinkers who are looking for something just a little different.
The 2011 Pezat Superieur [Retail price: $21.99] is a red blend made of 85 percent Merlot grapes sourced from just outside of Saint Emilion – “literally just steps away” said Quessy – and 15 percent Cabernet Franc. The result is a smooth, fruity and bright wine with flavors of dark fruits that is great for everyday drinking. It was a perfect match with Luca’s antipasto platter of cured meats, duck liver terrine, tapenade and olives.
Moving up a notch, 2009 Château Teyssier Saint Emilion Grand Cru [Retail: $43] is an affordable Grand Cru made with the same equipment and wine-making standards as the winery’s high-end single-vineyard wines. One of the largest selling of all the Saint Emilion Grand Crus, this is a Merlot-driven wine that also includes some Cabernet Franc. The wine is elegant and well-structured with aromas and flavors of spice, but still fruit-driven and very drinkable even while it is young.
The value for the price is unmistakable.
“I sell this for $64 on [Luca’s] menu,” said Pokoradi. “For a Grand Cru Bordeaux? Hello!”
Not content with shaking things up in Bordeaux, Maltus purchased property in Napa Valley and started producing wine on the World’s End label in 2008. A fan of classic rock ‘n’ roll music, Maltus names each of his World’s End wines after a famous rock n’ roll song from the ‘60s or ‘70s. Three of six wines he produces on the label were tasted at lunch.
The 2009 Little Sister [Retail: $45.99], named after an early ‘60s Elvis Presley song that was later covered by several other musicians including Ry Cooder and Robert Plant, is a big and bold Merlot, the kind of Merlot that those who drink a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon will like. Although it’s flush with the rich flavors of black fruits, it still has a sophisticated elegance about it, reminiscent of the Right Bank Saint Emilion Maltus produces in Bordeaux. Tasted with Luca’s delicious pappardelle with braised veal and porcini ragout, it was the highlight pairing of the lunch.
Quessy explained that one of the reasons the World’s End wines have Bordeaux qualities is that the winery uses the same fermentation and cold maceration methods used to make the Château Teyssier wines.
If Six was Nine, named after the Jimi Hendrix song, is a Cabernet Sauvignon-driven wine with a little Merlot and Cabernet Franc added, making it more of a Left Bank-style blend. The elegant wine is made from grapes that come from higher elevations, giving it rich flavors and good structure. The tannins on the young 2009 vintage are still a little tight, and the wine could use a year or two of aging, but if paired with a hearty meat dish that can stand up to the tannins – like Luca’s pistachio- encrusted New Zealand rack of lamb – it is just fine.
Van Morrison was the inspiration for the final World’s End wine tasted called Wavelength. The wine is made with 65 percent Syrah and 35 percent Cabernet Franc, a blend that is illegal to put together in the Bordeaux and Rhone wine-producing regions of France.
The grapes for Wavelength come from the higher and cooler Sugarloaf Mountain vineyard, which gives the grapes longer on the vine and the wine from those grapes a deeper color and flavor. The result is a rich wine with a velvety mouth feel that goes well with any red meat, particularly a juicy steak.
Wavelength also boasted a spectacular bouquet, with a complex array of aromas that included blue and black fruits, spices, pepper and notes of violets. Perhaps because of the latter, the wine paired incredibly well with Luca’s lavender crème brûlée, a union that created a long and delightful floral finish that lasted minutes.