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MWG March 21st tasting (6/6): Four “cuvées for cellaring”

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Well, that’s what Cellier called them.

Pessac-Léognan 2009, Château Larrivet Haut-Brion ($50, 11378341)
The estate is distant from and unrelated to Château Haut-Brion. Michel Rolland has been hired as a consultant. This 2009 is reportedly 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot from vines averaging 25 to 30 years old. Manually harvested and sorted. Fermented on a parcel by parcel basis in temperature-controlled (30ºC) stainless steel tanks, with daily pump-overs and rack-and-returning. Macerated from three to five weeks. Transferred to French oak barrels (50% new, 50% second vintage) for malolactic fermentation and maturation, which lasts a total of 18 months. Fined with egg whites and lightly filtered before bottling. 13% ABV.
Textbook Médoc nose: cedar, graphite, plum, cassis. Rich and suave in the mouth. Upfront fruit and dark minerals smooth the underlying tannins. The sweet-ripe finish has a lingering astringency. On the one hand, a balanced, well-made wine with some apparent depth, though pretty primary for now. On the other hand, it’s modern and a bit cookie-cutter. Wine of the flight for most people around the table. (Buy again? If in the market for a $50 Bordeaux, maybe.)

Priorat 2007, Costers Vi de Guarda, Genium Celler ($45, 11896527)
A blend of 50% Carignan, 30% Grenache, 10% Merlot and 10% Syrah from nearly 100-year-old vines. A 48-hour cold soak is followed by 30-day fermentation (at 29 to 30ºC) and maceration in small stainless steel tanks. Subsequently transferred to new French oak casks for 14 months for malolactic fermentation and maturation. Bottled unfiltered. 15.5% ABV.
Complex, savoury, evolving nose: rubber, celery salt, dried salted plums, sawed wood and slate, then soy sauce and smoke, then candied red berries, cedar and Asian spice. Intense, dry and heady. Lots of character. Dense, even chewy fruit, 2×4 tannins and souring acidity. There’s breadth and length galore but not much depth, at least for now. Blackberry tea finish. Hidden by the extract, thick layer of oak and heavy structure, the alcohol is felt more than tasted. A monolithic mouthful, not for the faint of heart. (Buy again? Not my style.)

Ribera del Duero 2006, Finca Villacreces ($37, 11807547)
A blend of 95% Tinto Fino (aka Tempranillo) and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. After alcoholic fermentation, maceration and clarification, transferred to French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation and 16 months’ maturation. 14.5% ABV.
Cinders, plum, faint sawed wood. Sweet attack, darker finish. Ripe fruit, ash and slate flavours. Big but balanced, with bright acidity and fine firm tannins. Needs time to digest the oak and, one hopes, gain complexity. (Buy again? Unlikely.)

Pauillac grand cru classé 2009, Château Haut-Bages Libéral ($64.75, 11395909)
A cinquième cru classé, actually. A blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot from vines averaging 35 years of age. Manually harvested. Each parcel is fermented and macerated for 18 to 24 days in concrete or stainless steel vats. Matured for 16 months in French oak barrels, 40% new. 13% ABV.
Initially closed and stinky but developing cassis, cedar and sawed wood aromas with an unexpected floral note. Fluid and relatively supple, the structure cushioned by ripe fruit. Good acidity and integrated oak. Tannins linger through the menthol-scented finish. Primary but accessible. While it could be passing through a phase, surprisingly unnuanced, unlayered and undeep for a $65 bottle. (Buy again? Unlikely.)

While this was the most popular flight of the evening, it prompted comments along the lines of “I liked the wines but can’t see myself buying any of them” and “Not that I never drop $50 or $60 on a bottle, but these didn’t deliver the bang required for those kind of bucks.” Looking back at all six flights, others wondered whether such an uninspiring lineup didn’t imply that the Cellier concept had indeed run out of steam. In any case, RIP.

Written by carswell

April 3, 2013 at 16:27

MWG March 21st tasting (5/6): Quartetto Sangiovese

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Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 2008, Il Moro, Tenuta Villa Trentola ($26.75, 11735766)
100% Sangiovese. Manually harvested and sorted. Crushed and destemmed, then fermented and macerated in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks for two weeks. Matured in oak barrels for 12 months. 14.5% ABV.
Classic Sagiovese nose of black cherry, tobacco. terracotta and cedar. The impressively pure, ripe fruit is firmed by sturdy tannins and keen acidity. Background minerals linger through the finish. The oak and alcohol are discreet. The best QPR of the bunch. (Buy again? Sure.)

Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 2008, Pruno, Drei Donà (Tenuta La Palazza) ($39, 11295473)
100% Sangiovese from the estate’s best vineyards. Manually harvested and sorted. Fermented in stainless steel tanks at 28–30ºC for 12 to 18 days with pumping over several times a day. After malolactic fermentation, transferred to French oak barrels for 15 to 18 months. Bottled unfiltered. 14.5% ABV.
Black cherry, cedar shakes, slate and a whiff of new sneakers. Sweet, velvety fruit, integrated tannins, bright acidity and an oak-sweetened if bitter-edged finish. Not particularly complex or deep but tasty and suave. (Buy again? Maybe, though the QPR seems low, at least at this stage in its development.)

Sangiovese di Romagna 2008, Il Prugnolo, Tenuta Villa Trentola ($19.20, 11875890)
100% Sangiovese. Manually harvested, crushed, destemmed. Fermentation in stainless steel tanks with twice daily pump-overs lasts at least two weeks. Matured in stainless steel tanks. 14.5% ABV.
Powdered slate, wet ashtray, meat, plastic and a combination of cocoa, cream and coffee that one taster pegged as “tiramisu.” As ashy as fruity on the palate (odd since it isn’t barrel-aged). On the lighter side of medium-bodied. Without compensating fruit, the grape variety’s natural acidity and tannins leave an impression of sourness and astringency and the wine’s alcohol one of heat. (Buy again? No.)

Chianti Classico Riserva 2009, Tenuta di Nozzole ($24.55, 11881878)
The estate is part of the Folonari stable. 100% Sanvgiovese. Fermented in stainless steel tanks at 28ºC. Macerated for 12 days. After malolactic fermentation, transferred to large Slavonian oak barrels for 12 months’ maturation. 14.5% ABV.
Floral and sweet on the nose. Oaky in the mouth, the wood for now dominating the rich fruit. Moderate tannins and acidity and decent length. Needs more time? (Buy again? Unlikely.)

Written by carswell

March 31, 2013 at 13:52

MWG March 21st tasting (4/6): Bubbly, dry and red

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IGT Emilia 2011, Lambrusco, Monte delle Vigne ($16.50, 11873190)
100% Lambrusco Maestri from 20-year-old vines. Manually harvested and sorted. Fermented at less than 25ºC. Macerated on the skins a total of 25 days. Carbonated using the Charmat method. 11.5% ABV.
Black cherry, plum blossom and bitter almond nose (kind of Valpolicella-like, actually) along with raw red meat, slate and a dash of vinyl. Dry. Soft effervescence. The sweet-ripe fruit dries on the mid-palate, where it’s joined by sketchy tannins. Acidity runs throughout. A faint astringency and bitterness colour the finish. Opinions were divided over this but I liked it and look forward to trying it with salume; the producer specifically recommends pig’s trotters stuffed with minced pork and spices (be still, my beating heart). (Buy again? Sure.)

Written by carswell

March 29, 2013 at 12:25

MWG March 21st tasting (3/6): Rhône-ish

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Viognier 2010, Santa Ynez Valley, Zaca Mesa Winery ($20.20, 11882547)
100% Viognier. Began fermenting in stainless steel vats. Halfway through it was transferred to neutral French oak barrels for maturation. Not allowed to undergo malolatic fermentaion. 13.5% ABV.
Faint tropical fruit, peach/nectarine, honeysuckle, dried earth and straw. Dense and mouthfilling but with surprisingly high acidity for a Viognier. As minerally as it is fruity. Long though a little alcoholic on the finish. Unobjectionable but also unmemorable. (Buy again? Probably not.)

VDP du Gard 2010, Terre d’Argence, Domaine Mourgues du Grès ($20.25, 11874264)
Viognier and some Roussanne according to the producer. Roussanne (40%), Grenache Blanc (40%) and Viognier (20%) according to the Quebec agent. Equal parts Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc according to Matured in stainless steel tanks for six months (seven months according to the agent). An unspecified fraction is vinified and matured in oak barrels, at least according to the producer. 14.5% ABV.
Minerally, faintly floral, white grapefruit, a bit burned. Rich texture but ashy, acidic and acrid. Produced grimaces all around the table. Oddly, 24 hours later, the tail end was transformed: less heavy, better balanced, nearly ashless, the muted, peach-evoking fruit displayed against a minerally backdrop, with no off flavours – not great but quite drinkable, which no one said about it the night before. (Buy again? Only because I believe in giving second chances.)

That the Zaca Mesa was unexciting wasn’t a surprise; inexpensive Viogniers almost always are. The Mourgues du Grès was another story. The Costières de Nîmes estate’s reds have long been QPR favourites of mine and many other drinkers and the other whites of theirs I’ve tasted have always been enjoyable (I liked their private import white box wine enough at a restaurant to try to convince others to go in on a case with me). But at the tasting, the Terre d’Argence was virtually undrinkable – in sharp contrast to the generally positive reviews it received from local columnists – though it did improve greatly with extended exposure to air. Again, like the Nicolas Potel in the preceding flight, ours may have been an off bottle or may have been suffering from travel shock or from being opened just before being served. But if so, how odd that the Potel and the Mourges are represented by the same agency (and one of our favourites, at that). And how unfortunate that advance carafing should be required, as most consumers just pop and pour.

Written by carswell

March 28, 2013 at 17:17

MWG March 21st tasting (2/6): Contrasting Chards

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Chardonnay 2011, Metallico Unoaked, Monterey, Morgan Winery ($27.10, 11896471)
A blend of Chardonnay from cool-climate vineyards in the Arroyo Seco, Santa Lucia Highlands and Monterey AVAs. Whole-cluster pressed. Cold-tank fermented. No malolactic fermentation. Matured five months in stainless steel tanks. Screwcapped (though says cork). 14.1% ABV.
White lemon, minerals, faint stone fruit. Citric, chalky and green apply in the mouth. Crisp acidity and a certain presence but not much follow-through. Plus somehow it simply doesn’t cohere. (Buy again? Meh, especially when you can get a great unoaky Chard for $9 less.)

Bourgogne 2010, Chardonnay Vieilles Vignes, Nicolas Potel ($21.15, 11890926)
A négociant wine made 100% Chardonnay from 50- to 65-year-old vines in 12 parcels in the villages of Meursault and Puligny Montrachet. Manually harvested. Pressed, cold-settled for 24 hours. The resulting juice is transferred to oak barrels (30% new, 40% second vintage, 20% third vintage) and stainless steel tanks (10%) for alcoholic and malolactic fermentation. Matured ten months on the lees. 12% ABV.
Nose of slightly overripe tropical fruit and maple sugar evolving into lemon and pine needles. The combination of the rich, almost fat texture, residual sugar and mild flavours prompted the descriptor “rice syrup” from one taster. Smooth acidity and decent length but ultimately flat, unrefreshing, verging on cloying. Blind, I mistook it for the Californian… (Buy again? Only for research purposes.)

A disappointing flight. As an admirer of Nicolas Potel, I had high hopes for the Burgundy, especially as it has garnered positive reviews from local bloggers and from critics as reliable as Jancis Robinson. Maybe ours was an off bottle. Or maybe it needed to breathe more (I would have been interested in tasting both wines the day after but didn’t manage to snag the tail ends).

Written by carswell

March 27, 2013 at 12:00

MWG March 21st tasting (1/6): Two aromatic whites

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To mark the passing of Cellier as we know it, the tasting included only bottles from the Spring 2013 issue of the magazine, nearly all of them from the March 21st release. The still reds were double-carafed an hour or two before we got around to them. Time constraints meant the whites were poured within minutes of opening, which may explain some of the oddness we encountered.

Grüner Veltliner 2011, Wagram, Weinberghof Karl Fritsch ($16.75, 11885203)
The 20-hectare, biodynamic estate is located in the Wagram region, about 60 km west of Vienna. This 100% Grüner Veltliner is fermented and matured in stainless steel tanks. Screwcapped. 12.0% ABV.
Lime zest, chalk, quartz and the faintest hint of white pepper. Denser than expected on the palate. Ripe. Dry but not arid. Tingly acidity. The minerally substrate lasts through the long, citric finish. A bit simple but good clean fun. (Buy again? Yep.)

Colli Bolognesi Classico 2011, Pignoletto, Fattorie Vallona ($20.55, 11876041)
The Pignoletto grape variety is indigenous to Emilia-Romagna and common in the hills around Bologna. It may be related to Grechetto. Technical information on this wine is virtually non-existent. One or two websites claim earlier vintages contained 10% Riesling. In any case, my guess is that this is made entirely in neutral containers, possibly stainless steel. 13.5% ABV.
Candied lemon, rocks, faint dried herbs. Slightly spritzy, slightly off-dry, slightly weighty. White fruit, minerals, a hint of almond skin and a whack of acidity. The long finish is spoiled by an acrid note. (Buy again? Only to give it another chance.)

Written by carswell

March 26, 2013 at 11:05

MWG March 8th tasting (2/5): Two super-ripe Verdicchios

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Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore 2009, Podium, Gioacchino Garofoli ($22.45, 00711820)
100% Verdicchio from slightly overripe grapes. Gently pressed, clarified by cold settling, fermented at low temperatures. Matured 15 months in stainless steel tanks. 13% ABV.
Dried lemon, quartz, old straw and wood. Mouth-filling: extracted and intense. Some yellow fruit and dried herbs but more stones and tingly acidity. The finish is heady, saline and bitter. Less polished than the Casal but not without a certain rustic appeal. (Buy again? Sure.)

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore 2009, Vecchie Vigne, Casal di Serra, Umani Ronchi ($26.40, 11490341)
100% Verdicchio from vines planted in the early 1970s. The grapes are allowed to overripen slightly. Fermented in concrete tanks with native yeasts and matured on the lees. 14% ABV.
Straw, lemon, yellow stone fruit, almond, alcohol. Rich on the palate, stony and dry, with sotto voce fruit and high acidity. Long. Ends on a faintly bitter note. Overall, similar to the Podium but toned down a notch and all the better for it. (Buy again? Yes.)

Written by carswell

March 16, 2013 at 12:36

Posted in Tasting notes

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MWG March 8th tasting (1/5): Four Campanian whites

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While this was technically a Cellier tasting, only two bottles from the March 7th release made it into the wine-up: Mastroberardino’s Falanghina and Umani Ronchi’s Verdicchio.

All four wines in the first flight were made similarly: fermented (for a couple of weeks) and matured (for a few months) in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. If the estate favours organic farming, uses native yeasts and avoids manipulation, fining, filtering and sulphur dioxide in the winery, they certainly don’t trumpet it.

Greco di Tufo 2011, Mastroberardino ($22.10, 00411751)
100% Greco di Tufo from c. 15-year-old vines. 12.5% ABV.
Muted nose of lemon-lime and chalk. Smooth and rainwatery on the palate, with stealth acidity and a bitter undercurrent. Wax and pear flavours linger though the tingly finish. (Buy again? Maybe.)

Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio 2011, Mastroberardino ($19.20, 00972877)
100% Coda di Volpe from c. 20-year-old wines. 12.5% ABV.
Straw, pear, hot stones and something floral. Slightly denser than the Greco, drier, more savoury. High in acidity and lean on fruit. Lemon-pithy, minerally finish. (Buy again? Maybe.)

IGT Irpinia 2011, Morabianca, Falanghina, Mastroberardino ($19.75, 11873026)
100% Falanghina from c. six-year-old vines. 13.5% ABV.
Fragrant nose: mostly lemon blossom with some faint candied pineapple and a whiff of what one taster pegged as “freezer ice.” Probably the driest of the four. Underripe stone fruit sprinkled with lemon juice and set on sea shells. Bitter, puckery finish. (Buy again? Maybe.)

Fiano di Avellino 2011, Mastroberardino ($22.10, 00972851)
100% Fiano di Avellino from c. 15-year-old vines. 12.5% ABV.
Lime leaf, green pear, sweet pumpkin, bath salts, hazelnut skins. Somewhat less acidic and bitter than the others but also more saline. Pear and a little honey. Sustained finish. Balanced and refreshing. (Buy again? Definite maybe.)

As a concept, this flight had enormous appeal: four mono-varietals from four different Campanian grape varieties from the same vintage and made in the same way (cleanly in stainless steel, with no interfering oak) by the same producer. In practice, the flight was a study in shadings more than colours. On the plus side, all the wines were technically flawless and quite drinkable. And yet a little more personality wouldn’t have been out of place. It’s not as if they have to be low on character: Feudi di San Gregorio’s Fianos, for example, have character in spades and Mastroberadino’s high-end bottlings may well too. But we don’t have access to those, do we? As it is, these impeccably made but somewhat nondescript whites will work as an aperitif or an accompaniment to simply prepared seafood.

Speaking of Feudi di San Gregorio, has the SAQ dropped their products from its catalogue? If so, it’s a shame. The monopoly’s current Campania selection is small and dominated by one producer (Mastroberardino) and by affordable but relatively insipid bottlings, especially on the white side. With more than 100 indigenous grape varieties and a couple of thousand producers, the region is a potential source of a wealth of authentic wines. Yet we’re limited to a handful of mostly innocuous reds and whites from an even smaller handful of producers. Why?

Written by carswell

March 15, 2013 at 11:04

Cellier, take two

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The SAQ’s Cellier magazine and associated releases are about to undergo a major overhaul. Here’s a passage from the Forum SAQ newsletter just sent to the monopoly’s suppliers and their local agents:

Cellier magazine will be transformed and published twice as often, that is, eight times a year. Two of the issues will keep the current format while the six others will inform readers of specialty wine arrivals. Each issue will feature two product releases scheduled for the two weeks following distribution of the issue. The magazine’s content and look will also be revised.

The six new-format issues will reportedly resemble the LCBO’s glossy Vintages circular, i.e. a slick promotional tool focused on the wines in the upcoming releases and little more. The new format is supposed to be rolled out after the last old-format Cellier – devoted, as usual for the spring issue, to Italian wines – is published in late February.

The stated goal is to expand the magazine’s appeal beyond the so-called Connoisseur customer segment and to boost traffic and sales through a combination of more frequent and visible releases, events like the recent Wine Spectator Top 100 promo and more emphatic merchandising of the Cellier section in outlets and of products within the section.

Written by carswell

December 21, 2012 at 00:39

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MWG November 22nd tasting (5/5): Three Zins and a Syrah

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Like many North American wine lovers, I cut my teeth on California wines. I used to buy them regularly; these days, hardly ever. Part of the reason is my evolving palate. But it’s also true that the wines have changed. With a few blessed exceptions, they’ve gotten bigger, heavier, fruitier, sweeter, oakier, more alcoholic, less refreshing, less food-friendly and, oddly, less characterful. Early vintages of Ridge’s Geyserville, including some legendary ones, regularly clocked in at 13% ABV or less. Martini used to make a light, supple, relatively pale Zin as quaffable as a Beaujolais. Good luck finding wines like those these days. Anyway, when reading these notes, bear in mind that these wines aren’t really up my alley anymore. And, as the tasting showed, people with palates more receptive to the fruit-driven New World style will probably find them more interesting than I did.

Zinfandel 2009, East Bench, Dry Creek Valley, Ridge Vineyards ($29.75, 11817690)
100% Zinfandel (rare for Ridge) from dry-farmed vines planted in 2000 and 2001. Destemmed, crushed and fermented with native yeasts and twice daily pump-overs. Pressed after ten days’ maceration. Matured 13 months in American oak barrels, 20% new. Lightly sulphured at crush and during maturation. Lightly filtered at bottling. 15.2% ABV. This is Ridge’s fourth vintage of the wine.
Textbook Zin. Bramble berries, fresh fig, oak, spice, dried black tea. Rich, smooth and balanced. Fluid despite the weight. Built around an intense core of pure, unjammy fruit, with just enough acidity and tannins to avoid galumphingness. Dry, the high glycerin levels notwithstanding. Flaring finish. (Buy again? Maybe a bottle to go with grilled lamb next summer.)

Lytton Springs 2009, Dry Creek Valley, Ridge Vineyards ($42.25, 00513929)
71% Zinfandel, 23% Petite Syrah, 6% Carignane from dry-farmed vines some planted recently, others as far back as 1901. Destemmed, crushed and fermented with native yeasts and occasional pump-overs. A small amount of tartaric acid was added to a few very ripe lots. Pressed after eight days’ maceration. Matured 14 months in American oak barrels, 18% new. Lightly sulphured at crush and during maturation. Lightly fined”to moderate tannins.” Lightly filtered at bottling. 14.4% ABV.
Plum, spice and a hint of modelling clay. Similar to but deeper, broader and weightier than the East Bench. Pure, savoury fruit. Oak present but in check. Heady but not hot. Good structure and a long finish. Unfortunately, at this point it’s heavy and unrefreshing, less than the sum of its parts. Maybe time will improve things. (Buy again? Nope.)

Zinfandel 2009, Brandlin Vineyard, Mount Veeder, Peter Franus ($38.75, 00897652)
92% Zinfandel, 8% Charbono, Mourvèdre and Carignane from old, dry-farmed vines. Fermented 12 days at a relatively cool 80ºF (27ºC). Macerated 14 days before pressing. Matured 17 months in French oak barrels, 35% new. 15.5% ABV.
Blackberry and peppermint with sweet and savoury spice in the background. Smooth, satiny texture and not a lot of structure: this is mostly about the fruit, which is pure, sweet-and-sourish and given some depth by dried wood flavours. Dry, especially on the long, alcoholic – though not hot – finish. (Buy again? Only if in the mood for a full-bore Zin.)

Syrah 2009, Estate, Santa Ynez Valley, Beckmen Vineyards ($29.20, 11746941)
100% biodynamically farmed Syrah from eight different clonal selections grown in Beckman’s Purisima Mountain vineyard located in Ballard Canyon. The various lots were gently crushed and cold-soaked for two to five days. Fermented five to ten days with native yeasts and thrice daily punch-downs. Basket-pressed. Matured ten months in French oak barrels, 35% new. 14.6% ABV.
Appealing though un-Syrah-like nose: gingerbread, cassis and plum with some slate in the background. Full-bodied but fluid and fresh, due largely to its bright fruit and brisk acidity. Vanilla oak is noticeable but not cloying. To my palate, the flavours evoke a baked plum tart. Decent structure and length. While not a fan of the all-about-fruit style, I admit this has a certain charm. (Buy again? Probably not, though fans of California wines shouldn’t hesitate.)

Written by carswell

December 5, 2012 at 21:06