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All wine, most of the time

Les élixirs de Xavier

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The Mo’ Wine Group’s second February tasting was led by agent Max Campbell and devoted to private imports represented in Quebec by Deux Caves, one of which caves Max is. We began with three wines from an under-the-radar artisanal vintner whose wines had impressed us back in 2015.

In 2010, Xavier Marchais abandoned his career as a computer engineer and moved to Faye-d’Anjou to begin life as a winemaker. His four hectares of vines (half Chenin, half Cabernet Franc) are farmed biodynamically using a horse and manual labour. Pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and other synthetic products are systematically avoided. The wine-making is non-interventionist. For the Elixir cuvées, fermentation (with indigenous yeasts) and maturation take place in used barriques. Cellar techniques are pretty much limited to crushing and punching down by foot, manual pressing and racking. No sugar or sulphur are added. The unfiltered and unfined wines are bottled by hand and closed with a crown cap (the still red’s cap reportedly allows more oxygen exchange than the still white’s).

Vin de France 2015, L’Élixir de Jouvence, Xavier Marchais ($32.77, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Chenin Blanc grown on schist. Matured 12 months. Crown-capped. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
Engaging nose of straw, dried stone fruit, citrus peel and wax. Medium-bodied but full of fruity extract, not to mention a ton of minerals. The acidity is very present. While there’s some depth, this is above all a fresh and unpretentious expression of juicy Chenin goodness. Totally lacks the rebarbative reduction found in the 2013, which Marchais reportedly now attributes to not having realized that the wine hadn’t finished malolactic fermentation when he bottled it, meaning fermentation continued in reductive conditions (which would also explain that wine’s faint fizz). (Buy again? Yes.)

Vin de France, L’Élixir de Longue-Vie, Xavier Marchais ($29.32, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Cabernet Franc grown on schist and spilite. Matured 12 months. Crown-capped. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
Exuberant, green-free nose of dusty hard red candy (raspberry, cherry, currant), sandalwood, slate and herbs. Gains a floral note. Both fresh and drying in the mouth. No more than medium-bodied. The pure fruit is quite structured, with wiry tannins and fluent acidity found throughout. A minerally and earthy streak comes to the fore (or, as one taster put it, “there’s this long rooty thing in the middle of the palate”) but the finish is long and clean. A classic easy-drinking Cab Franc. (Buy again? Def.)

Vin de France 2015, L’Élixir Onirique, Xavier Marchais ($33.06, private import, 6 bottles/case)
A red pet-nat (ancestral method sparkler) of Grolleau (70%) and Cabernet Franc (30%). Matured 12 months in barrel, six month in bottle. No dosage (the residual sugar remaining in the bottled wine ferments, producing the carbon dioxide that sparkles the wine). 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
“Cherry cough drops” and “dried violets,” to quote two other tasters. Fine bubbles. Fruity, minerally and yeasty. Not particularly deep but more structured than you might expect, with framing tannins and an almost souring acidity. The sweet-tart finish draws you back for another sip. Vin plaisir, anyone? (Buy again? Yep.)

MWG February 22nd tasting: flight 1 of 5


Weeknight RdD

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Ribera del Duero 2014, Embocadero, Bodega San Pedro Regalado ($16.95, 13396286)
Located in the village of La Aguilera, Bodega San Pedro Regalado is a cooperative founded in 1958. This 100% Tempranillo comes from unirrigated, organically farmed vines, many of them more than 100 years old, rooted in clay, limestone and round stones. Manually harvested. Given five days’ cold maceration. Fermented 12 days with indigenous yeasts in concrete tanks for 12 days. Matured in second- and third-fill oak barrels (70% French Allier, 30% American) for 14 months. Reducing sugar: 2.4 g/l. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: Vinicolor.
Red and black fruit (especially cherry), spice (especially black pepper), turned earth, roasted coffee beans and a thin veneer of oak. On the fuller side of medium-bodied. The initially ripe-sweet fruit notwithstanding, a very dry wine with bright acidity and wiry tannins that become more apparent on chewing and linger astringently. Mineral and dark chocolate undertones provide a modicum of depth. The earthy, faintly oaky finish segues into blueberry pie, and the expected alcoholic flare is MIA. Better – more integrated, less oaky – an hour or two after opening. Lamb stew with tomatoes, rosemary and garlic brings out the caramelly oak; grilled lamb probably wouldn’t. Not bad for the price. (Buy again? Sure.)

Written by carswell

March 21, 2018 at 13:19

Lebanese legend

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Bekaa Valley 2009, Château Musar ($54.75, 13393000)
A blend of nearly equal proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan from organically farmed vines averaging 40 years old and planted in gravelly soil over a limestone base. The vintage was unusual in that the harvest was interrupted by an unprecedented two days of heavy rain in early September; the grapes picked after the deluge were said to be juicier and more perfumed. The varieties were vinified separately. Alcoholic fermentation with indigenous yeasts was slow and took place in temperature-controlled (sub-30°C) concrete vats. Six months later, the wine was transferred to French Nevers oak barrels for one year’s maturation. The monovarietal wines were then blended and transferred to concrete tanks for another 12 months. Finally, the wine was bottled and aged four years in the bottle before being released in 2016, seven years after harvest. Unfiltered and unfined. A small amount of sulphur dioxide was added at bottling. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: Divin Paradis.
Complex, enveloping bouquet of roasted plum (“pruney” per another taster though not to my nose), spice, graphite and a whole set of aromas heading into tertiary territory, including baked earth, leather, dried herbs, dried leaves and camphor. Medium- to full-bodied and dry. The sun-ripe fruit is inflected with minerals, minty herbs and old wood and structured by vibrant acidity and shaggy tannins. Though you wouldn’t call it deep, the wine has plenty of ballast. What’s most remarkable, however, is the sensuousness, the fluid savour that lasts through the long finish, and that sui generis combo of Bordeaux-Rhône structure and solar fruit. At peak? If so, it’ll stay there for several years. Maybe not a great Musar but definitely an enjoyable one. (Buy again? Yep.)

Bekaa Valley 2006, Château Musar ($52.75, 13391389)
Cabernet Sauvignon (34%), Cinsault (33%), Samsó (possibly a clone of Cinsault, 17%) and Carignan (16%). The summer was one of the coolest on record, reportedly producing grapes with higher than usual acidity. Wine-making was as for the 2009, with the blending taking place in 2009. Musar releases its wines only when it considers them ready to drink, normally seven years after the vintage, but in this case the estate waited until the spring of 2017. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: Divin Paradis.
A redder-smelling and decidedly tertiary bouquet: raspberry liqueur, “tobacco,” herbs, old wood and leather. Smooth, round, velvety and a notch less weighty than the 2009. Here the brambly fruit definitely has a “pruney” edge. The tannins are approaching full resolution and, while the acidity is present, the wattage is low. The long finish brings a faint cabbage aftertaste. Tasty but also about to leave the plateau and enter the downslope of its life span. Of course, that could just be our bottle, consistency not being one of Musar’s strong points. (Buy again? A bottle for one last fling?)

Revisiting the wines after the tasting was over and everyone else had left only confirmed my earlier impressions. After an hour or so in the glass, the 2009 was alive and kicking while the 2006 seemed increasingly loose-knit, even to the point of beginning to fall apart.

MWG February 8th tasting: flight 5 of 5

Written by carswell

March 20, 2018 at 14:30

Bobal and co.

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Founded in 2005 by the then 23-year-old Juan Antonio Ponce, Bodegas y Viñedos Ponce is the star winery in Spain’s Manchuela region, which lies inland from Valencia. The most widely planted grape variety in the area and in the Ponce family plots is Bobal. As I wrote in 2012, “The vineyards of southeast Spain are rife with Bobal – in 2004, 89,000 ha (220,000 acres) were under cultivation, mainly in Valencia, Alicante and Utiel-Requena – though most of the harvest is made into bulk wine (industrially produced, shipped in tankers, sold anonymously in jugs and boxes). Rightly convinced that the grape deserves a less lowly fate, some winemakers have begun producing blended and monovarietal red and rosé Bobal cuvées. … Bobal’s tolerance of climatic extremes and tendency to produce relatively high acid, low alcohol wines are a boon [in a region whose climate] locals describe as nine months of winter and three months of hell.”

Ponce makes all his red wines in fundamentally the same way. The farming is biodynamic. The grapes, which come from vines up to 75 years old, are hand-harvested. The whole clusters are chilled to 8°C, then placed in open-topped tanks, foot-crushed and fermented with indigenous yeasts for several days, after which the must is transferred to barrels to finish alcoholic fermentation, undergo malolactic fermentation and mature. (The process is known as remango in Rioja, where Ponce worked at Remelluri as Telmo Rodriguez’s assistant for five years.) Made in a rented facility using little mechanization, the wines are bottled unfiltered, unfined and with minimal additions of sulphur dioxide.

Vino de la Tierra de Castilla 2016, Depaula, Bodegas y Viñedos Ponce ($19.25, private import, 12 bottles/case)
100% Monastrell from 45-year-old vines rooted in calcareous soil in the Jumilla region. Spontaneously fermented in stainless steel tanks. Matured seven months in 600-litre neutral oak barrels. 14% ABV. About 800 cases made. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Straightforward nose: ripe but not jammy black cherry and plum and some background slate. Medium- to full-bodied. Fresh acidity, unassertive tannins The flavours echo the nose and the alcohol isn’t apparent. Simpler than the others but still quite gluggable. Best served lightly chilled, methinks. (Buy again? Sure.)

Manchuela 2016, La Xara, Bodegas y Viñedos Ponce ($21.95, private import, 12 bottles/case)
100% Garnacha from vines planted in 1995 and rooted in clayey calcareous soil. Spontaneously fermented in open-top wood tanks. Matured 10 months in large neutral French oak barrels. 13.5% ABV. About 180 cases made. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Perfumed and minerally but also, alas, faintly corked. We could still tell this was a perfumed, minerally take on Grenache, medium-bodied and fluid, with pure, raspberry-leaning fruit, wiry tannins, bright acidity and a peppery finish. (Buy again? One corked bottle does not a bad wine make, so yes.)

Manchuela 2016, La Casilla, Bodegas y Viñedos Ponce ($26.55, private import, 12 bottles/case)
100% Bobal from vines planted in 1935 and tooted in calcareous soil. Spontaneously fermented in open-top wood tanks. Matured 10 months in 600-litre neutral French oak barrels.. 13% ABV. About 920 cases made. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Nose of “cherry,” “tulip,” plum, graphite and a hint of smoke. Rich and velvety yet also fresh. Built around a core of Chambord-like fruit. The tannins are round, the acidity soft. A mineral substrate gives it some depth. Long. Special. (Buy again? Yes.)

Tasted a few weeks later was the entry-level Bobal, the Manchuela 2016, Clos Lojen, Bodegas y Viñedos Ponce ($19.25, oenopole private import, 12 bottles/case, c. 2,250 cases made), whose grapes come from vines planted in 1965. No notes taken but this is a silky textured, medium-bodied easy-drinker with clean fruit, sprightly acid, slender tannins and a long minerally finish.

Given the wines’ integrity, not to mention their high pleasure quotient and low cost, it’s no wonder restaurateurs snapped them all up in a couple of weeks.

MWG February 8th tasting: flight 4 of 5


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Located on the north shore of the Danube, about 65 kilometres upstream (west) from Vienna, the 11-hectare Alzinger estate has parcels in two of the Wachau’s most prized vineyards: Loibenberg and Steintertal. Grüner Veltliner and Riesling are the primary grape varieties, though a small amount of Chardonnay is also grown. Leo Alzinger took the helm of the family estate in the 1970s. In 1983, he decided to stop selling its grapes to a local cooperative and to start making wine and selling it under the Alzinger label. Today, his son, Leo Jr., handles the wine-making though Leo Sr. still looks after the top vineyards.

The wine-making is similar for all the cuvées. The manually harvested whole clusters are pressed. The juice is given a short maceration on the skins and then allowed to clarify by settling for 24 hours. The Smaragd wines are matured in large neutral wood barrels, the others in stainless steel. Indigenous yeasts and selected yeasts (especially for the Rieslings) are used. Malolactic fermentation is routinely avoided.

Federspiel 2015, Dürnsteiner, Riesling, Alzinger ($29.10, 11581744)
100% Riesling from several small plots near the village of Oberloiben (Dürnsteiner). Screwcapped. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Vinealis.
Green apple, lemon-lime, flint and a whiff of smoke. Spritzy on opening though that quickly dissipated. Bright, fresh and lemon-appley in the piehole with sleek acidity and a strong mineral current. Seems a bit watery at first – like it could be deeper and more structured – but gains presence and weight as it breathes. Finishes long and clearn. Not a knockout but definitely gluggable and probably even better in three to five years. (Buy again? Sure.)

Smaragd 2015, Loibenberg, Grüner Veltliner, Alzinger ($48.00, 11864955)
100% Grüner Veltliner from the lower reaches of the south-facing terraces of the Loibenberg vineyard, considered the warmest in the Wachau. The vines are rooted in loess. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Vinealis.
Grass, asparagus, white pepper, white meat, flint and eventually a jalapeño note. Medium-bodied. The juicy kiwi fruit is overtoned with green herbs and white spice while the acidity fairly glows. There’s real mineral depth. The finish is long and saline. A beautiful baby. (Buy again? Yes.)

Smaragd 2015, Steinertal, Grüner Veltliner, Alzinger ($57.00, 11581736)
100% Grüner Veltliner from lower down on the terrace, where the soil is richer and deeper. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Vinealis.
Textbook Grüner nose. Finer, more savoury and more closed than the Loibenberg but still redolent of lime, melon, green herbs, minerals and distant smoke. A real presence and a little more of everything in the mouth. The brilliant acidity and dense extract are in perfect balance. Fruit and minerality are among the unfathomable layers of flavour arrayed against a honeyed backdrop. Remarkable precision and depth. The finish is endless. (Buy again? Yes.)

Smaragd 2015, Steinertal, Riesling, Alzinger ($57.00, 11581779)
100% Riesling from the barren, steep Steinertal terrace (thin topsoil over gneiss). 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Vinealis.
Aromatic and multifaceted: green apple, lemon-lime and white flowers and the telltale Riesling note that here is more eucalyptus than petrol. Dense yet fleet on the palate. The sweet fruit tames the electric acidity. The stony minerality seems inexhaustible as does the finish. So complex, pure and flawless – in a word, stunning. Surprisingly accessible for a wine that probably won’t peak for another 10 to 20 years. (Buy again? As many as I can afford.)

MWG February 8th tasting: flight 3 of 5

Written by carswell

March 16, 2018 at 14:31

A pair of aged Muscadets

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It’s rare to see eight- or ten-year-old Muscadet in stores but both these showed up at the SAQ in February.

Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine 2009, Château Thébaud Clos des Tabardières, Poiron-Dabin ($24.95, 13473915)
100% Melon de Bourgogne from 50-year-old vines rooted in granite and gneiss. Manually harvested. After pressing the must is allowed to cold-settle for 48 hours. Spontaneous fermentation in temperature-controlled (20°C max) tanks lasts three to four weeks. Matured on the lees for 84 months. Reducing sugar: 3.7 g/l. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: Divin Paradis.
Complex and engaging nose of apple and chalk with hints of honey, petrol, animale and eventually dried herbs. Somewhat weighty in the mouth, the texture falling between unctuous and waxy. Diffuse fruit and minerality and low acidity leave an impression of flabbiness that extends through the bitter-edged finish. Less interesting than the nose promises. The wine has been showered with medals and 98 points from Decanter, leaving me to wonder whether our bottle was defective, not that it tasted off in any way. (Buy again? A bottle to give it a second chance?)

Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu 2007, Origine, Domaine du Haut Bourg ($27.00, 12565210)
100% Melon de Bourgogne from vines planted in 1944 and rooted in red sand, gravel and quartz pebbles over shale and amphibolite. Fermented in temperature-controlled tanks. Matured 10 years on the lees in underground vats with two or three stirrings during the first year. Reducing sugar: 1.8 g/l. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: Sélections Onéo.
Pear and quince, minerals and ash upfront, then schist, dried lemon peel, wax and a hint of alcohol. Lighter and fleeter than its flightmate. Dry, minerally going on crystalline, herby, long, complex. Acidity and extract are in perfect balance. A saline thread runs throughout and a honey note lingers. Surprisingly fresh for a decade-old Muscadet. A beautiful, involving wine at its peak. (Buy again? Done!)

MWG February 8th tasting: flight 2 of 5

Written by carswell

March 13, 2018 at 14:53

Turbulent time

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Crémant du Jura 2015, Les Turbulents, Domaine Labet ($29.75, 11549162)
A 50-50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from organically farmed 28- to 60-year-old vines rooted in the calcareous soil of the Les Varrons lieu-dit. Fermented with indigenous yeasts. Matured seven months in stainless steel tanks on the initial fermentation lees and eight months in the bottle after secondary fermentation. Unfiltered. Reducing sugar: 7.2 g/l. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.

Not a lot of foam. Appealing nose of yeast, barley sugar, almond, apple and lemon. Softly effervescent in the mouth, with medium bubbles. The zingy acid is rounded by the extract. The fruit – pearish on the mid-palate – fades fades fast but mineral (chalk and quartz), lemon zest and “a little fennel” linger. A sparkler that has lots going for it, especially a lively energy, yet somehow isn’t a coup de cœur for anyone around the table, which a couple of the more experienced and analytical tasters attribute to heavy dosage (“trop dosé,” “dosage trop évident”). Additional time in the bottle may do it some good. (Buy again? A bottle or two to lay down and revisit in a year or two.)

MWG February 8th tasting: flight 1 of 5

Written by carswell

March 12, 2018 at 12:40