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Posts Tagged ‘biodynamic

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


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

A ramble round Vittoria

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In Italian, cerasuolo means cherry-red. The word also appears in the names of two appellations. Cerasuolo d’Abrruzo is a Multepulciano-based rosé from central Italy. Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a red wine from southeast Sicily, specifically the province of Ragusa and parts of Caltanissetta and Catania.

Though Cerasuolo di Vittoria has been made since the 17th century, it wasn’t granted DOC status until 1974. Since 2004, it has been Sicily’s only DOCG. By law, Cerasuolo di Vittoria must be a blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato, with the former constituting between 50 and 70%. Within the DOCG is a large zone, centred around Vittoria and including the original DOC, whose wines are entitled to the Classico designation provided they have been matured 18 months or longer.

Cerasuolo di Vittora 2015, Planeta ($24.00, 10553362)
A 50-50 blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato from vines rooted in sandy top soil over tufa. The two vineyards are at 70-80 metres above sea level. Manually harvested. Destemmed. Macerated on the skins for 14 days. Fermented in temperature-controlled (23°C) stainless steel vats. Gently pressed in a vertical press. Matured in stainless steel tanks. Reducing sugar: 2.8 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: La Céleste Levrue.
Bright nose of red berries, pine forest floor, fresh oregano, “turnip” and “pepper oil” that takes on candied notes as the wine breathes. A medium-bodied mouthful of red berries and red peppercorns. Smoothed-edge acidity brightens the fruit while a mineral streak adds a modicum of depth. The tannins are soft on surface, more sinewy underneath. A bitter thread runs though the caramel-overtoned finish. Best, by which I mean freshest and most lively, just after opening. With time in the glass, the wine loses nuance and buoyancy, becoming more fruit-forward and sweet-seeming, even cloying. (Buy again? Meh.)

Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2015, Classico, COS ($36.50, 12484997)
A 60-40 blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato from organically and biodynamically farmed vines averaging 25 years old. Elevation: 230 m. Fermented in stainless steel tanks on the skins and with indigenous yeasts. Matured 15 months in 20- and 40-hectolire Slavonian oak foudres and several months in bottle. Unfiltered. Reducing sugar: 2.0 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Nuanced, complex, savoury nose: red fruit, cured wood, dark minerals and spice. Fluid, silky and on the lighter side of medium-bodied. The gossamer fruit is grounded in a mineral substrate and structured by lacy tannins and pronounced but seamlessly integrated acidity. Finishes long and clean. A balanced, complete and enchanting wine. Not remarkably deep but a here-now pleasure to drink. (Buy again? Yes.)

Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2014, Classico, Gulfi ($41.50, 13477828)
A 70-30 blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato from organically farmed vines from a single vineyard near Ragusa. Elevation: 400-500 m. The varieties are vinified separately. The manually harvested grapes are given a short cold-maceration, followed by fermentation in stainless steel for about two weeks. After pressing, the base wines are blended and matured a few months in stainless steel tanks. Reducing sugar: 3.4 g/l. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: Bambara Sélection.
The nose of blackberry, sandalwood, old wood and leafmould is darker, richer and sweeter than the others but also jammier. In the mouth, it’s bordering on full-bodied and possessed of a satiny texture. Minerals darken the very ripe fruit. Structure is provided by smooth though resilient tannins and sufficient acidity, depth by layers of flavour. A bitter note chimes through the decent finish. Remains fresh despite the density. An enjoyable, even elegant wine albeit one that’s atypically rich – more southern and solar, less like a Burgundy and more like a Languedoc – for the appellation. (Buy again? Sure.)

Mo’ Wine Group November 23rd tasting: flight 6 of 6

Written by carswell

March 7, 2018 at 12:48

Garage music

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Vermont 2016, House Music, La Garagista ($42.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
An ancestral method red sparkler made from a field blend of Marquette, Saint Croix, La Crescent, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac Blanc, and Frontenac Noir. Co-fermented with indigenous yeasts. Unfiltered and unfined. No added sulphur. 11.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.
Protean nose of red berries (and “blueberry pie” per one taster), earth, “good canola,” shoe cream and a not unattractive whiff of barnyard. Lightly fizzy and dry, smooth and fleet. The fruit is sweet-tart, the acidity bright, the slender tannins relegated to the background. A slatey vein extends into the lip-smacking finish. Fresh, juicy and well-neigh irresistible. (Buy again? Def.)

Vermont 2015, Damejeanne, La Garagista ($42.54, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Damejeannes are better known in English as demijohns or carboys, the glass vessels most of La Garagista’s wines are fermented and sometimes matured in. This is a blend of Marquette (90%) and La Crescent (10%). Fermented on the skins with indigenous yeasts, matured one year. Unfiltered and unfined. No added sulphur. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.
Wild red berries including cranberry, earthy notes of slate and beet, spice, an evanescent touch of volatile acidity and an orange-almond note reminiscent of the Vinu Jancu. Denser and rounder than its flightmate, a mouthful of sweet and sour-edged fruit that has me thinking of pomegranates, cherries and red plums, among other things. A mineral base provides foundation for a structure of lightly raspy acid and supple if sinewy tannins tannins. Long, clean, tart finish. (Buy again? Yep.)

Whatever else the assembled tasters thought about the La Garagista wines, everyone agreed they had an energy and a vibrancy – a closeness to the fruit and terroir – that are rare for any wine, let alone ones made from hybrid grapes grown in a harsh climate. The buzz around the table in the tasting room and the Vins Dame-Jeanne booth at the Salon des Quilles was palpable. People, myself included, were stoked about the wines themselves but also about realizing that truly exciting wines unlike any others can be made in our part of the world. Quebec vintners should take note.

Mo’ Wine Group November 23rd tasting: flight 5 of 6

Orange zeal

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Vermont 2015, Vinu Jancu, La Garagista ($45.76, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Vinu Jancu means “orange wine” in a Sicilian dialect. 100% La Crescent. Spontaneously fermented on the skins in glass demijohns. Overwintered on the lees. Unfiltered and unfined. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.

Hazy bronze-orange. Effusive nose: floral, choco-orange, wax, tamarind, cinnamon, hints of caraway, “grappa” and honeycomb. Almost too intense on the attack, “like strong chestnut honey,” but mild-mannered more nuanced on the mid-palate. Fruity, even muscaty (the grape’s Muscat of Hamburg parentage comes through) but dry, with smooth acidity and faint tannins. Focus and you’ll find a mineral vein running throughout. The finish – “really pithy,” “like clementine pith” – lasts for minutes. Fascinating. Like nothing else I’ve encountered, orange or otherwise. (Buy again? A bottle to revisit and contemplate.)

Mo’ Wine Group November 23rd tasting: flight 4 of 6

Brianna split

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Located near the Killington ski resort, on the slopes of Mount Hunger in Barnard, Vermont, and run by Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber, La Garagista Farm + Winery traces its roots back to 1999, when the couple began farming to provide produce for Osteria Pane e Salute, their restaurant in nearby Woodstock. (The osteria closed in 2017 when the cooking operations were moved to Hart Tavernetta Forestiera + Bar à Vin on the winery grounds.) The estate also has two vineyards at the western edge of the state, overlooking Lake Champlain.

Experimental plantings aside, cold-hardy hybrids – crosses between vinifera grapes and native American species – are the only varieties grown: La Crescent, Marquette, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac Blanc, Frontenac, Brianna and St. Croix. When I asked Caleb if they winter-proofed the vines (for example, by burying them), he said no. When I asked whether that was a problem during the harsh cold spells we’ve had in recent winters, he said, “quite the opposite.” The vines had no trouble coping with the cold but the same couldn’t be said about insect and other pests, so the vines thrived the following summers.

Commercial wine- and cider-making is relatively new at the estate, the first vintage being the 2010. From the start, all farming has been organic and biodynamic. The fruit is picked by hand and crushed by foot. Fermentations are spontaneous, relying solely on indigenous yeasts and bacteria. Fermentation and maturation take place in glass demijohns and old barrels, though amphorae and cement eggs are on the couple’s wish list. Filtering and fining are avoided. Sulphur additions, if any, are minimal.

Production is tiny – only a few thousand bottles a year – though plans are to ramp that up to 10,000 or even 20,000. In Montreal, the latest arrival sold out in a flash and personal allocations were limited to a bottle or two, if that, of a given cuvée. Here, then, your best bet for trying La Garagista wines is to visit a wine bar or restaurant that focuses on natural wines. Alternatively, head south, where bottles can sometimes be found on store shelves and restaurant wine lists in Vermont, Boston and New York City.

Vermont 2016, Pétillant Naturel, Ci Confonde, La Garagista ($42.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Brianna. An ancestral method sparkler. Not disgorged. No added sulphur. 11% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.
No head to speak of but a few lazy streams of tiny bubbles. Complex nose with notes of ham, lees, Belgian beer yeast, apple, lemon, white spice and “apricot buckwheat pastry.” Somewhat mead-like in the mouth. Very dry, with lightly souring acidity and a real mineral component. Flavours? Beeswax, drying hay and “passion fruit,” as one taster notes, though it’s by no means a fruity wine. Which isn’t to say it lacks intensity, especially as it breathes and warms. The effervescence mostly disappears by the time the finish rolls around. Chamomile and a hint of honey linger. (Buy again? Gladly, though not without wishing it were $10 cheaper.)

Vermont 2016, Loup d’Or, La Garagista ($42.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Brianna. Made in glass demijohns. 11.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.
The first glasses poured were clear pale yellow-green; due to the deposit, the last glasses were translucent beige verging on opaque tan. For that reason if no other, this is a wine to carafe before serving. And as my sludgy glass was that last one poured, I didn’t spend a lot of time being analytical about it. A complex nose once again: white grape skin, distant stone fruit, spice chest, flowers and a note one taster not disapprovingly describes as “tennis ball.” Fortunately, a neighbour lets me take a couple of sips from his glass, the first one poured. They reveal a textured white with plenty of extract to balance the fine-edged acidity, savoury fruit and mineral flavours set against a leesy backdrop and a satisfying finish. On the whole, an even more accomplished wine than the Ci Confonde and one I look forward to re-encountering in a more pristine state. (Buy again? Ditto, but such is the law of supply and demand.)

Mo’ Wine Group November 23rd tasting: flight 3 of 6

Cava art

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Founded in 1924 and still located in the town of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, Cavas Recaredo today owns 46 hectares of vineyards in the Alt Penedès region. The vines, some of them nearly 80 years old, are unirrigated. All farming is organic and biodynamic (certified since 2010). Harvesting is manual. Only vintage-dated, totally dry sparkling wines are made and only from estate-grown grapes. All vinification is done in house. The musts from the oldest Xarel-lo vines are fermented and matured in oak barrels; some of the base wine are matured several months in oak, too. Immediately after bottling, the bottles are sealed with cork stoppers, not crown caps. Riddling is performed by hand. All disgorging is manual and done at cellar temperature; contrary to the practice of many sparkling wine producers, the necks of the bottles are not frozen before disgorging. None of the wines is dosed.

Cava 2010, Brut Nature Gran Reserva, Terrers, Recaredo ($36.00, 13319715)
Macabeo (54%), Xarel-lo (42%) and Parellada (4%) from organically and 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 five years on the lees. 190,000 bottles made. Reducing sugar: <1.2 g/l. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Fast-disappearing, snow-white foam. Fine bead. Elegant nose of lemon peel, straw, sea shells, marzipan and white blossom. Equally elegant in the mouth, the subdued flavours bringing apple-custard turnovers to mind. “Saliva-inducing” acidity and soft bubbles provide liveliness and lift. A mineral underlay lasts through the long finish, lending a “baking powder bitterness” to the lingering, faintly nutty flavours. All the elements are in place and in perfect balance. (Buy again? Yes.)

Cava 2007, Brut Nature Gran Reserva, Brut de Brut, Finca Serral del Vell, Recaredo ($49.75, 13202568)
The first vintage of Recaredo’s Brut de Brut made from a single estate, in this instance the Serral del Vall. Xarel-lo (51%) and Macabeo (49%) from organically farmed vines 16 to 28 years old and rooted in extremely calcareous, loamy soil with an abundance of stone and gravel. The wine-making was as for the Terrers with two exceptions: before blending, all the Xarel-lo was matured in oak casks and the blended wine is bottle-matured eight years. 50,000 bottles made. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Intriguing nose of white lily, minerals, apple, coffee, “angelica,” yeast and lees. Similar to but deeper than the Terrers, a tad heftier and even more refined. Here the subtle fruit – apple, tropical and faint citrus – takes a back seat to the chalky minerals. Very dry and yet fresh, surely a function of the fine-edged acidity and lilting effervescence. Complexities include a “tinge of bay leaf,” “cinnamon brioche” and a honey note that marks the long, savoury finish. Impeccable. (Buy again? Yes.)

If you’re not a fan of cava, these probably won’t make a believer out of you. If you are, you’ll have a hard time finding anything better at the price. Incidentally, Recaredo’s high-end cuvées – the 2004 Reserva Particular ($107.00, 11458228) and the recently sold-out 2000 Turó d’en Mota Reserva Brut ($135.00, 11587118) – are formidable, meditation-worthy wines that, while unmistakably cavas, can easily stand comparison with similarly priced champagnes.

Mo’ Wine Group November 23rd tasting: flight 2 of 6

Written by carswell

February 25, 2018 at 11:14