Brett happens

All wine, most of the time

Les elixirs de Xavier Marchais

with 6 comments

In late September, the Mo’ Wine Group initiated what we hope will be a near-monthly series of agency tastings, at which a representative from one of Quebec’s many wine agencies presents a selection of wines, usually private imports, from the agency’s portfolio.

Kicking off the series was one of the newest kids on the block, Deux Caves. (The agency’s name is a play on words, une cave being a cellar in French and un cave being a dumbass, an incompetent, a sucker.) The cave leading the tasting was Max Campbell, who earns an actual living pouring wine, serving tables and shucking oysters at Joe Beef and Vin Papillon; the other cave, Alexander Campbell (no relation to Max) is a Montrealer currently based in Dijon, where he’s studying oenology.

Deux Caves’s portfolio may be small for now but their focus is already clear: ultra-drinkable natural wines. In other words, right up the MWG’s alley, which is part of the reason why demand for seats at the tasting was so high that we ended up holding two sessions back to back (the promise of food, including a dish from Vin Papillon, may also have had something to do with it).

We began with a white and a red from Xavier Marchais, a young winemaker based in the Anjou region. His four hectares of vines (half Chenin, half Cabernet Franc) are farmed biodynamically using a horse and manual labour. Pesticides, herbicides and other synthetic products are systematically avoided. Wine-making is non-interventionist. For the two Elixir cuvées, fermentation (with indigenous yeasts, naturally) 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 red’s cap reportedly allows more oxygen exchange than the white’s, which may partially explain the white’s reductive side).

Vin de France 2013, L’Elixir de Jouvence, Xavier Marchais ($28.54, private import, 12 bottles/case, NLA)
100% Chenin Blanc grown on schist. Yields in 2012 were an incredibly low 13 hl/ha (probably similar in 2013). Matured 12 months. Crown-capped. 11.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
Reductive aromas on the nose and a faint spritz on the palate; carafing the wine well in advance helped to eliminate both. Engaging nose of wax, quince, lemon, minerals, honey, honeysuckle and straw/hay. Coming across as very close to the juice in the mouth. Dry, though, with zingy acidity, ethereal fruit, lots of minerals and a good, clean, tart finish. Light but vibrant and mouth-filling. The winemaker says this is young and more reduced than in other vintages. He also foresees a long life for it, predicting that the acidity will decease while the wine will become rounder and more aromatically complex. In the meantime, he suggests carafing it “violently.” (Buy again? In multiples.)

Vin de France 2013, L’Elixir de Longue Vie, Xavier Marchais ($26.87, private import, 12 bottles/case, NLA)
100% Cabernet Franc grown on schist and spilite. Yields in 2012 were 27 hl/ha (probably similar in 2013). Crown-capped. 11% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
Exuberant nose of red fruit with floral, spice and incense overtones but no green pepper. Less exuberant than expected on the palate. Medium-bodied and satin-textured. Very dry, again with ethereal fruit. The acidity is bright and the tannins soft. A streak of slate runs throughout and is joined by spice on the long finish. The bottle at the second tasting was mushroomier than the first. The group’s resident Cab Franc hater actually enjoyed this enough to buy a couple of bottles. (Buy again? Yes.)

Mo’ Wine Group September 27th tastings: flight 1 of 3

6 Responses

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  1. Really liked your tasting note for the white, carswell.


    November 10, 2015 at 21:28

  2. […] here’s a link to another, much less tardy report on the tasting – one from which some of the earlier-cited technical information about Xavier Marchais comes – that was posted on Fou du Vin, a Quebec-based […]

  3. The bottle of Élixir de Jouvence 2013 I opened a month ago, even with 2 hours of breathing, was closer of cider than wine. Given that we were many people around the table, the wine did not get more time to open and it was disappointing. The 2014 I am currently drinking, after an extended breathing, is closer of a chenin from Loire but still has some cider aspect. And while it is quite drinkable and enjoyable, I find a lack of focus and clarity. Given the price point, I think I would go for Guiberteau’s or Yvonne’s Saumurs instead. Question is: did I get fooled by the nice evening when we tasted the 2013 (quite possible though it was the very first wine) or is it an example of what can happen with natural wines, i.e. great bottles and great disappointments ?


    September 17, 2016 at 18:46

    • A bottle of the 2013 opened last spring was as oxidatively rebarbative as ever, JB. Half the people around the dinner table refused to take more than one sip.

      As a group, unsulphured natural wines seem to be more subject to variation than their manipulated counterparts, though, of course, there are plenty of exceptions to the rule. As for the Élixir, I won’t be touching my 2013s for at least another couple of years; the bottle we had at the tasting had an appeal I’ve not found in any bottles opened since. Haven’t yet sampled the 2014, We should ask the agent what he thinks.


      September 19, 2016 at 14:57

  4. […] 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. […]

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