Monday, March 23, 2009

Fortia: A Best Buy in Chateauneuf du Pape

When I went to a large tasting of 1998 Rhone wines several years ago, the Chateauneuf du Pape that stood out as the best of the lot to many of us who gathered around the Chateauneuf table was Chateau Fortia. This is an estate that was once ranked near the top of the appellation but often gets overlooked today, in part because Robert Parker put the label "under achiever" on it after several under-par wines produced in the 1980s. There is no question in anyone's mind, however, that Fortia has been making excellent wines in recent years. And it often sells at a discount.

The 2005 Fortia Cuvee Tradition is available right now for $31/bottle at Sawall Health Food store in Kalamazoo. That's about $10 to $40 less than other comparable Chateauneuf wines. The 2005 Fortia was given a high rating (90 to 93) by Steve Tanzer. And if it's anything like the 1998, it should be drinking well even at this youthful stage.


  1. A health food store that sells Chateauneuf du Pape? I think I'm moving to Kalamazoo!

  2. I know. Sawall's is a long established health food store in Kalamazoo that recently expanded into a full blown grocery store similar to Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. And the store now sells beer and wine.

    As a wine geek, I have a habit of turning over stones compulsively with the thought that there might be a Chateauneuf du Pape lurking underneath. Sometimes good wines show up in places you least expect to find them.

    You have to be careful, of course, not to buy older wine from a place with a very low turnover. I visit Sawall's two or three times a week and I know that the Fortia wine appeared only recently--regular price $35, marked down to $31.

    Michigan has been a good source for Rhone wines at least since the late 1970s--primarily because of people like Skip Delsner of AHD Vintners and Robert Mayberry, who taught at Grand Valley State University when he wrote his book on Rhone wines. J.C. Mathes, who teaches (taught?) tech writing at University of Michigan, started bringing in Rhone wines (including Pegau and Bois du Boursan) in the mid-1980s. Even so, I generally have to go to Village Corner in Ann Arbor to get a broad selection of Rhone wines.

  3. I've been looking over village corner's website. A startling selection of Rhone for a midwestern city. Are they able to ship out of state?


  4. Yes, VC does have an excellent selection of Rhones, Eric. And the selection is not nearly as big as it once was. My first sale booklet from there (Octo 31, 1981)listed nine CdPs, not to mention a full selection of all of the various Villages. And there was a full description (soil, vines, etc) and tasting note for each wine. That was before Parker had done anything on Rhone wines.

    And, yes, I'm sure that VC will ship out of state, if your state allows it. Rod Johnson, who was my go-to guy on Rhones, has left Village Corner, but Ric Cerrini and Dick Scheer are very knowledgeable and will give you "no BS" advice based on 30 years' experience tasting wine.

  5. That sounds like about the best recommendation I've gotten in 15 years of drinking wine, Fred! I'll have to give Ric and Dick a call.

    Did Rod move to another store/shop?

    Also, I have a buddy who is interested (or thinks she is) in Bordeaux style merlot blends. Would you have any off the cuff recommendations for a total beginner to the apellation? I know its not your favorite, but surely you've tasted a few.


  6. Dick and Ric at Village Corner have been tasting wine for at least 30 years and have a wealth of knowledge about any European wine. Jorge is younger, joined the staff in the last decade or so and is the buyer for New World wines. He can give good advice too, and none of the three will hesitate to let you know about a wine he doesn't like, even if it means missing a sale. Rod now heads the wine department at Plum Market, a new Whole Foods type store in Ann Arbor. I went there for the first time yesterday and found an impressive selection. Rod has clearly put his stamp on the Rhone and Burgundy choices. I'm sure they would ship out of state as well, but they don't have their stock lists online as VC does.

    As for Bordeaux, I bought a lot in the 1980s. Some of my moderately price favorites are Poujeaux, Meyney, Latour Saint Bonnet, Sociando Mallet, Fourcas Hosten, Potensac and Clos du Marquis. Of those, Latour Saint Bonnet and Fourcas Hosten are the only ones that are still in $15 to $20 range. (They were $8 to $10 wines when I bought them regularly, and I started looking elsewhere when the prices started escalating.

    Pitray, Grolet, Caruel and Haut Sociondo were some of my favorites in the $4-$5 range in the 1980s, but I haven't seen these recently. Wines from Fronsac, Canon Fronsac, Bourg, Cotes du Castillon and Blayes are always good values when you see them. And then at a slightly higher level, look for Moulis, Listrac, Medoc and Haut Medoc appellations. (The wines mentioned above are mostly from those appellations.)