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Cava brava

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Cava 2013, Brut Nature Gran Reserva, Terriers, Recaredo ($39.75, 13319715)
A gift from Cyril in honour of the Mo’ Wine Group’s revival. Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada (reportedly 59%, 42% and 4% respectively) from biodyanmically farmed vines rooted in highly calcareous, loamy soil. Whole-cluster fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks. Around 10% of the blend was aged in oak casks. Bottled with neutral Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast for second fermentation and matured 53 months on the lees. Reducing sugar: <1.2 g/l. Quebec agent: La QV.

The dense white foam disappears fast leaving a fine bead. Lemon, stone fruit, crushed shells and a whiff of yeasty brioche dominate the nose. In the mouth, the wine is bone-dry, minerally, tight, even a little austere. There’s a certain heft though the tiny bubbles and sleek acidity provide plenty of lift and life. A hint of oxidation tinges the citrus and yellow apple fruit on the long, savoury finish. Absolutely impeccable cava, unfazed by coming after a flight of orange wines and sending us off with revived palates and renewed energy. (Buy again? Yes.)

MWG March 20th tasting: flight 7 of 7

Written by carswell

April 29, 2019 at 11:45

Skin or not

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Kakheti 2016, Chinuri No Skin, Pheasant’s Tears ($43.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Chinuri. Direct pressed (no maceration) but still made in large beeswax-lined qvevri sunk into the ground. Spontaneous fermentation. Unfiltered and unfined. No added sulphur. 11% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Subtle nose: white fruit (pear?), quartz, a faint floral note. Medium-bodied. Very dry though fruity enough that that’s not immediately apparent. Smooth on entry, then the tingly acidity kicks in. The fruit is more citrus than, say, stone and the sustained finish is mineral-laden. Clean, crisp, refreshing and more complex than it initially seems. Cyril, who visited Georgia recently, says this wine is magnificent after 10 years or longer in the bottle. (Buy again? Def.)

Kakheti 2017, Rkatsiteli Bodbiskhevi, Pheasant’s Tears ($39.55, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Rkatsiteli from the village of Bodbiskhevi. Spent 30 days on the skins. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Bronze to the eye. Fragrant, savoury nose: ramen, apple and apricot skins, dried sawdust. Pronounced tannins and fluent acidity structure the fruit (peach leather?) and confer a slightly grippy texture. Herbal overtones and mineral undertones add savour and depth. A touch of nuttiness (walnut skins?) emerges on the long finish. Complex, flavourful, engaging and about as close to a classic Georgian orange wine as you’re likely to get. (Buy again? Yep.)

Kakheti 2016, Rkatsiteli, Pheasant’s Tears ($44.80, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Rkatsiteli. Reportedly spent about a month on the skins. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Hazy, even turbid beige. Odd nose with a plastic note that opens up to yellow fruit, white minerals and straw. In the mouth, it’s a bit spritzy, perlant as the French say, and fuller-bodied than you might expect. Fruity but dry, with zingy acidity and faint tannins. Overtoned with herbs and dried flowers. Little if any oxidation but a long, clean, tangy finish. So charming. (Buy again? Yep.)

Yet another set of excellent wines from Pheasant’s Tears. The only downside is the prices, which have taken a jump well in excess of 10%. Cyril says that’s primarily because the SAQ, which imports the wines into Quebec, doesn’t have a pickup point in Georgia or environs, meaning the wines have to transit through a country that does. Earlier shipments have gone through Sweden, which, as a non-member of the Eurozone, doesn’t charge Eurozone tariffs. This current shipment transited through Italy, which does.

MWG March 20th tasting: flight 6 of 7

Georgia straight

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Most ampelographers and wine historians consider the South Caucasus region – and more specifically, the part occupied by modern-day Georgia – to be the birthplace of wine-making, with archeological evidence stretching back some 8,000 or 9,000 years. Although modern-styled Georgian wines can be found, the most interesting continue to be made using traditional techniques. The grapes – some of the hundreds of indigenous varieties found in Georgia – are picked and trod. The resulting must is transferred, often along with the skins, ripe stems and seeds, to large qvevri, terracotta jars and sunk into the cool ground, where it ferments (with indigenous yeasts) and matures. The process, from start to finish, is nicely summarized in this video.

The resulting wines are full of character – they’ve got guts, as Hugh Johnson puts it in another video – and are unlike any other. Like Jura wines, they aren’t to everyone’s taste and even those of us who are fascinated by them may find ourselves forced to abandon our usual appreciation criteria and descriptors, taken out of our comfort zone and questioning what it is we want from a wine. It’s a brave old world and one we’re glad to have the opportunity to explore.

Established in 2007 by an American artist and a Georgian, Pheasant’s Tears winery is located south of the Greater Caucasus mountains in the Kakheti region of eastern Georgia. The wines are made traditionally in qvevri lined with organic beeswax. Skin/stem/pip contact varies from wine to wine but no sulphur is added to any of them.

Kakheti 2017, Poliphonia, Pheasant’s Tears ($44.80, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Georgia counts 525 indigenous grape varieties. This is a field blend of 417 of them. The vines – between one and 10 of each variety – are co-planted. The grapes are harvested in three or four passes and so are a mix not only of colours but also of ripeness levels. Co-fermented in qvevri. 12.5%. Quebec agent: La QV.
Technically a red but actually a dusky rosé with an amber cast (the colour reportedly differs from vintage to vintage). Initially reduced nose – “durian,” per one taster, and sulphur – gives way to hard-to-pin-down fruit (“strawberry rhubarb” was the best anyone came up with). In the mouth, it’s barely medium-bodied and quite dry. The beautiful if – again – elusive fruit has an acidic/citric streak. Complex set of flavours. Smooth, fluent texture. The tannins are light, more like a full-bore orange wine’s than a structured red. Tangy finish. Evolves – improves – in the glass. Delightfully disorienting: unlike anything any of us had encountered before. The wine of the night for many and the only wine in the tasting that the group ordered three cases of. (Buy again? Done!)

Kakheti 2015, Tavkveri, Pheasant’s Tears ($44.80, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Tavkveri. 12.5%. Quebec agent: La QV.
Reticent, faintly funky nose with notes of fur and dog hair that segues into dark berries. Medium-bodied and juicy-fruited. Dry. Fine structure: sleek acidity, limber if a little raspy tannins. Long, tasty but a bit of a wallflower in comparison to its weirder flightmates. Will be interesting to see what time in the cellar brings. (Buy again? A bottle to spend time with now and another to revisit in 2022.)

Kakheti 2016, Saperavi, Pheasant’s Tears ($44.80, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Cabernet Saperavi. 14%. Quebec agent: La QV.
As, always, the biggest red. Unevolved nose of dark fruit and minerals, the reductive notes quickly blowing off. Smooth even elegant in the mouth for such a rich and full-bodied wine. The fruit (“cherry on the attack”) is dense yet the wine is fluid and fleet. Husky tannins, sleek acidity and dark minerals provide structure and relief. The long finish is bitter-edged. Somewhat monolithic but, hey, it’s young. It’s also vigorous and well-balanced and earlier vintages have aged beautifully. Enjoyable now, even better in two to five years. (Buy again? Done!)

A couple of decades ago, when wine on the Web was becoming a thing, there was a site where you could keep a list of the grape varieties you had tasted and, when you reached 100, receive a certificate. (Given the rarity of obscure varieties on the North American market at the time, it was a much bigger challenge than it would be today.) Anyway, a friend points out that a single sip of the Poliphonia would have qualified you for the certificate more than four times over.

MWG March 20th tasting: flight 5 of 7

Mallorca in a glass

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Based in Felantix, Mallorca, 4 Kilos Vinicola was founded in the summer of 2006 by winemaker Francesc Grimalt and musician Sergio Caballero, both natives of the island. To start up operations, each partner invested a modest 4 million piestas; colloquially in Spanish a kilo is one million, hence the bodega’s name. Though 4 Kilos now has a proper winery (a converted sheep barn), its first wines were made in a garage. The vineyards – 15 hectares owned by the winery and others belonging to independent grape growers – are scattered across the north and south of the island, meaning all the wines bear the broad VDT Mallorca designation. Farming is sustainable and increasingly organic. Gravelly clay soil predominates. Wines are made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Callet, Fogoneu, Manto Negro, Merlot, Monastrell and Syrah.

Vino de la terra de Mallorca 2016, 12 Volts, 4 Kilos ($37.55, private import, 6 bottles/case)
The striking label is the work of Gary Baseman. While earlier vintages included some Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, this is 100% Callet, an indigenous red variety, from organically farmed vines. Manually harvested. Destemmed. Half the grapes were fermented in stainless steel, half in 2,500-litre wood vats. Malolactic fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks and 225-litre oak barrels. The various lots were blended and the resulting wine matured 12 months in French oak barrels. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Lovely, inviting nose: cherry, earth, herbs and spice. Medium- to Full-bodied but not heavy, smooth but not lacking acidity. Clean, sun-ripe fruit, fine, pervasive tannins and a rumbling of dark minerals fill the mouth. The oak is nicely integrated, one component among many. Finishes long with lingering spice. Refreshing, food-friendly and easy to drink, what the French call digeste. A crowd-pleaser too. Less international in style than the 2013 and better for it. (Buy again? Yes.)

This private import used to be available at the SAQ. Here’s hoping it makes a return. In the meantime, two other 4 Kilos wines can be found on the monopoly’s shelves: The Island Syndicate ($24.75, 13903487) and Gallinas y Focas ($35.75, 13903479). Cyril was especially enthusiastic about the QPR of the former. Supplies of both are running short, especially in Montreal, but if you’re off island, you might still be able to snag a bottle.

MWG March 20th tasting: flight 4 of 7

Written by carswell

April 20, 2019 at 11:19

Wind power

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Run by owner-winemaker Primož Lavrenčič, the Burja Estate is located about 30 km northeast of Trieste in Slovenia’s Vipava Valley, historically one of the main routes between western and central Europe. Geographically and oenologically, the valley can be seen as an extension of Friuli, which it opens onto (the Vipava River flows through Italy, where it is known as the Vipacco, for 4 km before emptying to the Isono River).

The Lavrenčič family traces its roots in the valley back to 1499 and has been making and selling wine for three generations under the Sutor label. Primož left the family estate in 2008 to found his own winery, named Burja after the strong wind that blows through the valley. His aim was to focus on local, indigenous varieties as opposed to the international varieties pushed by the government.

Based in Podnanos, the Burja estate has five vineyards totalling 7.16 ha. The soil is varied but mainly sedimentary rock with layers of silt, sandstone and, occasionally, marl. A student of philosophy, Primož says his approach to wine-growing is based on Artistotle’s Metaphysics and informed by his affinity for Spinosa and pantheism. A mix of western and central European grape varieties are grown: Blaufränkisch, Laški Risling, Malvazija, Pinot Noir, Rebula, Refošk, Schioppettino and Zelen. Farming is certified organic.

Vipavaska Dolina 2016, Reddo, Burja ($54.20, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Winemaker’s note: “My challenge: playing with the idea of former red wine varieties in the Vipava Valley, which were once in minority, for home consumption only. Pokalca (Schioppettino) 50%, Modra frankinja (Blaufränkisch) 30%, Refošk (Refosco) 20%. Young vineyards, from 4 to 6 years old. Aged for two years in large barrels (10 to 15 hl) and 225 l barrique barrels. On the market since 2016.” Spontaneously fermented with no temperature control. Unfiltered, unfined. Total sulfites: 45 mg/l. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Alluring nose of plum, wood, leather, horsehair, pencil lead, “smoked meat” and more. No more than medium-bodied. Silky texture, not unlike a fine red Burg’s. Nicely structured by bright acidity and lithe tannins. The clean, fresh fruit is underlain with minerals. Good energy. Depth and complexity are there if you look for them. Savoury overtones rise retronasally as the finish fades to a caress. Clearly food-friendly, this works as an easy drinker but also rewards contemplation. Perfectly accessible now but surely able to age and develop over the short to medium term. Beautiful – one of the wines of the night for me and some others around the table. Too bad about the price. That a few of us said we’d consider ponying up for a bottle tells you something about its appeal. (Buy again? Sigh. Yes.)

This was the group’s second encounter with a Burja wine, the first being the similarly gorgeous 2015 Bela white. Clearly an estate to keep an eye on.

MWG March 20th tasting: flight 3 of 7

Written by carswell

April 9, 2019 at 11:30

Bugey whites

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…and a red.

Not many wine drinkers are aware of the Bugey wine region, which is wedged against the Savoie between Beaujolais and the Jura. And if they are, it’s probably because of Bugey-Cerdon, the off-dry, dark rosé sparkler made from Gamay and sometimes Poulsard. But still wines are also made in Bugey.

The region’s low profile means that it, like parts of the Roussillon, is one of the few places left in France where small start-up winegrowers can afford to buy land. As a result, it is seeing an influx of new vintners. The Decoster Coiffier familiy (Jérémy, Isabelle and two children) is one of them. With the backing of some 30 subscribers, they acquired the six-hectare Domaine Les Cortis just before the harvest in 2016. As the Descoter Coiffiers didn’t make the 2015s that came with the property, 2017 was their third official and second real vintage.

The estate’s five vineyards sit at around 500 metres in altitude. While they are not contiguous, all have stony, predominantly clayey calcareous soil. Mondeuse, Chardonnay, Gamay and Altesse are the main grape varieties; a little Pinot Noir, Corbeau and Chasselas are also grown.

On acquiring the estate, the Coffiers began converting it to organic farming. Wine-making is traditional: the manually harvested grapes are pressed and transferred to stainless steel vats or oak barrels for maceration (only for the reds), fermentation (with indigenous yeasts) and maturation. Sulphur dioxide is limited to a tiny squirt at bottling. Gravity is used in preference to pumping. Annual production is around 25,000 bottles of red, white, sparkling and other wines.

Weather conditions – hail in particular – made 2017 a potentially disastrous vintage for the new owners. Chablis’s renowned De Moor estate, where the couple had worked for many years, took pity and sold them part of its Aligoté harvest, whence the Valorice.

Vin de France 2017, Valorice, Les Cortis ($34.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
A 60-40 blend of organically farmed Aligoté from the De Moor estate in Chablis and Chardonnay from Bugey. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Delicious nose of lemon, oats, straw and chalk with a lactic note. Medium-bodied and mouth-filling. The fruit is tensed with tamed but trenchant acidity, grounded in a light minerality. Finishes clean and saline. Such a tonic wine. Seems to embody everything I like and none of the things I dislike about each variety. (Buy again? Yes.)

Bugey 2017, Teraxe, Les Cortis ($34.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Altesse from organically farmed vines. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
More introverted and minerally on the nose than the Valorice, with hints of pear. In the mouth, it’s a round and very dry middleweight carried on a current of smooth acidity. Flavours are neutralish, though there’s an unmissable savour along with pronounced minerality. Good finish. Enjoyable. (Buy again? Sure.)

Bugey 2017, Uzée, Les Cortis ($34.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
80% Gamay and 20% Mondeuse. Matured on the fine lees. Added sulphur dioxide (at bottling): 20 mg/l. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Nose like a Beaujo’s only with extra minerals. Medium-bodied. The clean and spicy, red berry-leaning fruit is structured by acidity and minerals as much as tannins. The juicy texture turns a little tongue-tingly on the finish. Fun and super drinkable. I’ll gladly take this over many similarly priced Beaujolais. (Buy again? Yes.)

MWG March 20th tasting: flight 2 of 7

Drunk back to life

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Shrugging off its rumoured demise, the Mo’ Wine Group officially met last week for the first time in nearly a year. Plans are to continue holding tastings, probably monthly.

The relaunch was timed to coincide with the arrival of a new shipment of Georgian wines from Pheasant’s Tears. It also featured other wines from La QV’s portfolio and was led by the agency’s numero uno, Cyril Kérébel, soldiering on despite a recently broken ankle.

As befitted a celebratory occasion, we began with a sparkler, in this case an off-white from one of the group’s favourite producers.

Burgenland 2017, Foam White, Meinklang ($40.40, private import, 6 bottles/case)
A 100% Pinot Gris pét-nat from biodynamically farmed vines planted on the winery’s Austrian – as opposed to Hungarian – estate. Spontaneous fermentation. Part of the wine was made in concrete eggs. To go by the colour and texture, it spent some time on the skins. Not disgorged. Unfiltered and unsulphured. Vegan-compatible. Crown-capped. Residual sugar: 1.2 g/l. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Slightly hazy bronze-pink with peach glints. Quickly rising foam quickly disappears. Fruity nose (peach, cherry, blood orange) with sandstone, “apple skin” (to quote another taster) and distant yogurt notes. Super-dry, softly effervescent, clean and minerally. Possessing a certain, well, if not weight then density. A stream of acidity runs throughout and is joined by a faint tannic bitterness that textures the long finish. Lingering “chamomile and tea.” Interesting – satisfying, even – though not particularly charming and more a food wine than an aperitif sparkler. (Buy again? Yes, a bottle to spend more time with the wine, ideally alongside some white fish in a light cream sauce.)

MWG March 20th tasting: flight 1 of 7