Gruaud-Larose: Bordeaux Splendor, Accidentally Acquired

Gruaud-Larose: Bordeaux Splendor, Accidentally Acquired: How an accidential auction acquisition illuminated one of the best values in fine Bordeaux.

Accidentally Acquired Gruaud-Larose

“May I have $600?…thank you, sir…$650?….$700 it is…and sold! – to the young man in the back.”

Frozen in the moment, I had suspended my emerald-green Sothebys paddle in the air like some nightmarish bull’s-eye that the auctioneer kept shooting.

And, suddenly, without intending it, I was then the owner of a case of 24-year-old fine wine, when I had just wanted to experience the sensation of bidding — not buying — in an auction.  It was 1994 and my first-ever wine auction – and, well, no one had shown me how to actually use an auction paddle.

Two things eased the pain of making this accidental purchase.  First, I was there with my college buddy “Hernie,” an investment banker with Benjamins to burn, who cheerfully offered to ease the burden on my wallet by buying half of the accidentally won case from me.  The other was that the wine was from Château Gruaud-Larose, which, despite my inexperience, was known to me as an exceptional wine that offered excellent value for the money.

To this day, Gruaud-Larose remains for me one of the best accidentally-made deals in collectable wine.  It is one of fifteen Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growths) in the original Bordeaux Wine Classification of 1855, and thus rated just below the mythical Premier Crus such as Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Latour.  But in the minds of many wine lovers, Gruaud-Larose – and other overachieving Deuxièmes Crus or so-called “Super-Seconds”– can sometimes match or even eclipse the Premier Crus in quality.  Yet because it remains in the shadow of these spotlighted titans, Gruaud-Larose offers this splendor at typically a third of the price of the Premier Crus.

Another factor keeping it affordable is its relatively generous production run.  About 25,000 cases of Gruaud-Larose are brought to market each year, a relative bounty when you contrast it with the microscopic case-counts of many other top wines.

The wine itself is reliably delicious, typically a classic Bordeaux tour de force of blackcurrants, smoky cigar box, and earthiness, with a medium-body and a long, enduring finish. Compared to similarly-situated Bordeaux chateaux, Gruaud-Larose can sometimes show a bit more tannic muscularity, which can be tamed with the wine’s classic soulmate, rack of lamb.  The 1982 and 2000 vintages were particular stand-outs, the latter still relatively obtainable at fine wine merchants.

And what of the case of my Sotheby’s-sourced, accidentally-acquired 1970 Gruaud-Larose that started it all?  With all but three already opened, let’s just say that buying an exceptional estate like Gruaud-Larose cannot protect one from the Russian Roulette-like vicissitudes that befall older bottles – which, if not stored optimally, can fall victim to premature oxidation and other ailments of old age.  While seven of the bottles were elegant masterpieces of cassis and cedar, the remaining two, sadly, had the appearance of volcanic mud and the unkind aroma of wrestling shoes.


Devastate Your Friends on New Year’s Eve: The Kit

To coincide with my seminars at the 25th anniversary of the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen this weekend, I am auctioning off a very special “Devastate Your Friends on New Year’s Eve” Kit. All proceeds go to FOOD & WINE’s Grow for Good campaign to raise $1 million for Farm to Table, a national initiative dedicated to encouraging sustainable agriculture and increasing people’s access to locally-grown foods.

Mark’s “Devastate Your Friends on New Year’s Eve” Kit

Be the vinous hero among your friends when you serve these rare gems straight from Mark’s personal collection.  Before and during the ball drop, you will enjoy a fascinating face-off between two best-of-breed Blanc de Blancs Champagnes–one from a top “indie producer” and theother from a legendary Champagne house.  The first is a magnum of the stunning no-dosage Grand Cru Cramant from Guy Larmandier, the marvelous artisanal grower-producer whose Champagnes are mostly only obtainable at auction.  The other, the Taittinger “Comtes de Champagne” Brut Blanc de Blancs, hails from the splendid 1996 vintage and has received ecstatic praise from top wine critics.

As you and your guests savor the first hours of the new year in a state of bubbly bliss, you will cap the evening with divine nectar from Austria- the ultra-rare Nittnaus Trockenbeerenauslese Neusiedlersee Pinorama 1995.  Your guests will marvel at both your ability to pronounce the unprounceable [TRAWK-uhn-bay-ruhn-OWS-lay-zuh] and how such a delicate dessert wine can offer so much complexity – a rapturous swirl of honey, orange, apricot, and chocolate, buttressed by a racy vein of acidity. To master these wine types and many others, we are including a signed copy of the best-selling Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine.

  • Guy Larmandier Grand Cru Cramant Blanc de Blancs Champagne NV (1500ml magnum)
  • Taittinger “Comtes de Champagne” Brut Blanc de Blancs 1996 (750ml)
  • Nittnaus Trockenbeerenauslese Neusiedlersee Pinorama 1995 (375ml)
  • Signed copy of Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine (Penguin)