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Piedmontissimo

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Located in Monforte d’Alba, the approximately seven-hectare Cascina Disa estate has been in the Sandri family since 1965, the year of current owner/winemaker Elio Sandri’s birth. Elio has been in charge since 2000 and his is the only name now shown on the wines’ front labels. Only six wines – all red and resolutely traditional in style – are made: Dolcetto d’Alba, Barbera d’Alba, Langhe Nebbiolo, Marapika (a Langhe blend of the three varieties), Barolo and Barolo Riserva. The farming is organic but uncertified. Pruning is about the only intervention in the vineyard. The wine-making is similarly non-interventionist: spontaneous fermentation, minimal manipulation, extended maturation in neutral botti and no filtering or fining. The only addition is tiny amounts of sulphur dioxide at bottling. Sandri is sometimes ranked alongside Bartolo Mascarello and Rinaldi; to go by our tasting, it’s easy to see why.

Langhe Rosso 2013, Marapika, Elio Sandri ($25.95, private import, 12 bottles/case)
A blend of Barbera and Dolcetto, in equal proportion, with a small dollop of Nebbiolo from younger vines planted on north- and east-facing slopes. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Labelle Bouteille/oenopole.
Bitter cherry, including the pits, along with minerals and a bit of spice. A medium-bodied mouthful of ripe-sweet fruit, silky smooth acidity and fine tannins that become more assertive with chewing. Dark minerals provide some depth. Finishes longish, clean and bitter-tinged. Definitely gluggable. (Buy again? Yes.)

Dolcetto d’Alba 2015, Elio Sandri ($25.95, private import, 12 bottles/case)
100% Dolcetto from vines planted in 1977. Vinified in cement tanks. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Labelle Bouteille/oenopole.
Textbook nose of mulberry, bitter cherry and leafmould. Quite elegant in the mouth with its core of vibrant fruit, lively acidity, fine bitey tannins and long minerally finish. A touch of astringency lingers. Gorgeous. (Buy again? Def.)

Barbera d’Alba Superiore 2015, Elio Sandri ($38.00, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Barbera from vines rooted in ferrous sandstone and planted in 1945 and 1976. Manually harvested. Partially destemmed. Matured eight months in very old Slovenian oak botti, six months in the bottle. 14.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Labelle Bouteille/oenopole.
Deep nose of ripe blackberry, slate and graphite with clove overtones. Medium-bodied and supremely fluent. Very dry though ripe-sweet on the attack. Built around an intense core of dark fruit wrapped in wiry tannins, aglow with fine acidity and shot through with minerals. Long, complete and elegant. Accessible now but ageable, too. Pricey Barberas from other producers are often New Worldishly fruit- and oak-driven. This takes another, more authentic and much more enjoyable path. (Buy again? Oh, yes.)

Barolo 2010, Perno, Elio Sandri ($71.50, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Nebbiolo from vines planted in 1937. Macerated, with a submerged cap, for 28 days. Matured six years in neutral Slavonian oak botti. Total production: 3,500 bottles. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: Labelle Bouteille/oenopole.
Subtle, perhaps somewhat closed nose of red and black fruit and turned earth with telltale hints of tar and violet. Medium- to full-bodied. The fruit is remarkably pure, the structure what you’d expect from a traditionally styled Barolo: robust attack, sleek acidity, firm yet pliable tannins, a deep mineral foundation and an impressively sustained, somewhat astringent finish. A flawless wine with great energy, focus and balance, every dimension and soul. Young and promising but also surprisingly accessible. (Buy again? Yes.)

MWG November 10th tasting: flight 5 of 5

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Written by carswell

February 8, 2018 at 12:53

Clean, crisp and elegant

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Champagne, Brut, 7 Crus, Agrapart & Fils ($69.75, 12632275)
For background on the Avise-based estate, see here. A blend of Chardonnay (90%) and Pinot Noir (10%) from two vintages (40% 2012 and 60% 2013 per the Agrapart website). The grapes came from vineyards in seven villages. After alcoholic fermentation, the still wine underwent malolactic fermentation. Half of the 2012 wine was matured in oak barrels. Bottled unfiltered and unfined in May 2014. Matured in bottle on the lees for three years. Riddled manually. Disgorged on an as-needed basis 60 days before being released to market. Dosage was limited to 7 g/l of sugar and 50 g/l of sulphur dioxide. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: Bella Vita.

Not much foam but lots of tiny bubbles. Lovely nose of pear, apple and minerals with background yeast, vanilla, honey, toast, white flowers and a lactic note. In the mouth, it’s as minerally as it is fruity, the minerals tending to chalk, the fruit to lemon and green apple. Fundamentally a lightweight yet the underlying wineyness gives it a depth not often found in champagnes at this price point. The fine, tickling effervescence adds texture and lift, while the long finish brings “des beaux amères” (a beautiful bitterness, quoting another taster). Remarkably clean, crisp and elegant, this is a superb aperitif champagne. (Buy again? Yes.)

MWG October 26th tasting: flight 1 of 6

Written by carswell

December 12, 2017 at 12:12

L’Aietta trio

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In 2001, Francesco Mulinari, then a 17-year-old high school student, decided to make wine from some abandoned Sangiovese vines growing on a 2.5-hectare plot of land that his parents had acquired as a picnicking spot and natural playground for their children. Located just outside the wall surrounding Montalcino, the spot, known as L’Aietta, had been the site of an army encampment during the 1555 siege of the city. When applying for a production permit, he – well, actually his mother, as he was underage – learned that the parcel lay within the Brunello di Montalcino appellation. His first vintage, the 2001 and officially a Brunello, consisted of 720 bottles.

In 2004, Mulinari replaced the old vines with bush vines, as the hard rock would have made installing posts difficult. The land is so steep – the tiny parcel is divided into 18 terraces – that all work is done by hand. In 2002, he acquired another hectare of Sangiovese vines in nearby Castelnuovo dell’Abate, eventually replacing them with bush vines too. He more recently took over a 2.5-hecatre plot in Monecucco, from whose grapes he makes a Chianti-style blend (Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino) and a raisinated sweet white (Malvasia di Candia, Vermentino and Zibibbo). He works this last vineyard with a horse.

Farming is rigorously organic (certified in 2013); harvesting is manual; wine-making is non-interventionist. The winery, the smallest in Montalcino, has very little technology and only tanks and barrels. All farming and wine-making is done by Mulinari by himself. Current production is around 7,000 bottles a year.

Vino Spumante 2013, Brut, Metodo Classico, L’Aietta ($55.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Sangiovese Grosso from organically farmed vines averaging 15 years old and located in the Castelnuovo dell’Abate vineyard. The grapes are harvested based on their acidity, not their maturation, and before their colour is fully developed (green harvest fruit, in other words). Macerated and fermented (with indigenous yeasts) for 30 days in stainless steel tanks. The still wine is matured for one year in large Slavonian oak barrels. Secondary fermentation and one year’s maturation take place in the bottle. Unfiltered and unfined. 11.5% ABV. Around 700 bottles made. Quebec agent: Vadim Fonta.

Pale pink. Initially closed nose with notes of cheese, modelling clay, bread dough and eventually red berries. Light effervescence. Smooth despite the bright acidity. More savoury than fruity. The mineral underlay lasts well into the long, saline finish with its peekaboo berry notes. Elegant, tasty, unusual and rare, though is that enough to justify the champagne-rivaling price? (Buy again? If feeling flush.)

Rosso di Montalcino 2015, L’Aietta ($37.75, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Sangiovese Grosso from organically farmed vines averaging 15 years old and located in the Castelnuovo dell’Abate vineyard. The grapes are macerated and fermented (with indigenous yeasts) in stainless steel tanks for 30 days. Matured one year in large Slavonian oak barrels and one year in the bottle. Unfiltered and unfined. 2,600 bottles made. 14.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Vadim Fonta.
Classic nose of cherry, tobacco, herbs and graphite. Velvety smooth on the palate. The ripe fruit is illuminated by soft-glow acidity, shaded by minerals. Stealth tannins turn more assertive on the spicy finish. Will probably be even better in a year or two. Lovely though one of those wines that shows better at the dining table than at a tasting. (Buy again? Yes.)

Brunello di Montalcino 2012, L’Aietta ($71.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Sangiovese Grosso from organically farmed vines averaging 15 years old and located in the L’Aietta vineyard. The grapes are macerated and fermented (with indigenous yeasts) in stainless steel tanks for 21 days. Matured two years in large Slavonian oak barrels and one year in the bottle. Unfiltered and unfined. 2,200 bottles made. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: Vadim Fonta.
Complex, evolving nose of red and black berries, smoke, graphite, tobacco, leather, oak, spice and maybe mint. Fuller, rounder, deeper and longer than the Rosso. Satin-textured. The beautifully pure ripe fruit is structured by round, firm tannins and fluent acidity. Dark minerals, nose-echoing tertiary flavours and Asian spice overtones add complexity and interest. Very long. A noble wine that’s delicious now but still a youngster. Probably a stunner in five to 10 years. (Buy again? Yes.)

MWG October 13th tasting: flight 6 of 9

Written by carswell

November 30, 2017 at 13:51

Champagne naturally

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Champagne, Fidèle, Vouette et Sorbée ($87.47, private import, 6 bottles/case)
This is nearly all 2014 except for a dollop (about 5%) of reserve wine from a solera-type system started in 2001. A blanc de noirs: 100% Pinot Noir from 30-year-old biodynamically farmed vines from several parcels but all rooted in Kimmeridgian marl. The manually harvested grapes are gently pressed. The free-run juice is transferred to 400-litre oak casks for fermentation (with indigenous yeasts) and maturation. Undergoes malolactic fermentation. Indigenous yeasts are used for primary and secondary fermentation. Matured 10 months in used Meursault barrels. The bottled wine is aged on its lees on lattes and riddled on racks for around 15 months. No dosage. Sulphur dioxide is added to the incoming grapes but not at bottling. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: Rézin.
A white wine but with a rosé cast. Intriguing nose of distant strawberry, fired minerals and “garlic brioche.” Fine, non-aggressive bubbles, pure fruit, silky acidity and an unmissable mineral depth. Long flavourful finish with lingering rhubarb crème brûlée. Absolutely not an aperitif wine, rather one to open ahead of time, maybe even carafe, and drink with food. (Buy again? Yes.)

Champagne, Extra Brut, Blanc d’Argile, Vouette et Sorbée ($114.58, private import, 3 bottles/case)
A blanc de blancs: 100% Chardonnay from biodyanmically farmed vines planted in 2000 in a single plot. The vines – massale cuttings from Jacques Sélosse and Vincent Dauvissat – were planted “wild” (directly in the unprepared clay and Kimmeridgian limestone soil). Manually harvested. Fermented and sparkled with indigenous yeasts. The still wine is matured 18 months on the lees in oak casks. Undosed. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: Rézin.
Dried apple, yeast, icing sugar and a faint, nougaty oxidative note. Fine, caressing bubbles. Smooth, caressing acidity. Browning apple upfront, apple Danish and salty seashells on finish. Still a baby. Clean, tonic and bracing, this cuvée lives up to its reputation of being a Chablis with bubbles. As a group, champagne is arguably the most overpriced wine in the world; that said, this delivers exceptional if relative QPR. (Buy again? Yes.)

The first time I tasted them, Vouette et Sorbée’s champagnes did not impress. Subsequent encounters, which have mostly involved bottles laid down a few years, have been much more positive and I now rank the house among my favourite producers.

MWG August 11th tasting: flight 9 of 9

Bairrada and Burgundy

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Bairrada 2015, Maria da Graça, Tiago Teles ($28.04, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Alfrocheiro from 15- to 30-year-old vines rooted in clay-limestone soil in a cool-climate vineyard. The manually harvested grapes are fermented in open concrete vats. Matured six months in stainless steel tanks. Minimal sulphur dioxide at bottling. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Rézin.
Interesting, savoury nose of “smoke,” slate, blackberry, plum, licorice and a hint of rubber. Medium-bodied, dry and savoury but also astoundingly fresh and fluid. The sweet-ripe fruit joined by dried beef, spice and lots of minerals. Lively tannins, smooth tannins and a long finish round out the tasty picture. (Buy again? Yep.)

Saint-Aubin 2014, Le Ban, Domaine Derain (ca. $60, private import, 6 bottles/case)
A blend of Pinot Noir (97%) and Aligoté, Chardonnay, Pinot Beurot and Pinot Blanc. The nearly 100-year-old vines are coplanted and have been farmed biodynamically since 1989. Manually harvested. Crushed by foot. Whole-cluster fermentation in traditional wooden vats lasts two to three weeks. Matured in barrels. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Rézin.
Ça pinote ? And how. A perfumy, floral nose of red berries, sweet spice, beet and cola. A sip reveals a wine of great purity. The rich, ripe fruit is beautifully structured by lively acidity and fine, firm tannins and a mineral underlay. Marinated cherry, herbs and a hint of chocolate appear on the expansive mid-palate and linger through the long, bitter-edged finish. Delicious now and probably even better in 10 years. Tastes old-fashioned in the best sense of the phrase. A memorable wine. Fairly priced too. (Buy again? A case if it weren’t sold out.)

MWG August 11th tasting: flight 5 of 9

Written by carswell

October 11, 2017 at 12:15

The Pélican brief

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The germ of the idea for Domaine du Pélican, the Jura offshoot of Burgundy’s renowned Domaine Marquis d’Angerville, was a bottle of Stéphane Tissot’s 2005 Arbois Chardonnay “Les Bruyères” that Guillaume d’Angerville tasted blind at a Paris restaurant in 2007. D’Angerville had asked the sommelier to bring him a bottle of something not from Burgundy. On tasting the wine, he declared the sommelier had not followed his instructions and was dumbstruck when the bottle was unveiled.

So impressed by the wine was he that d’Angerville began searching for vineyards in the Jura. In 2012, he leased the Chateau de Chavanes in Montigny-les-Arsures, gaining access to five hectares of biodynamically farmed vines. The estate’s holdings were later expanded by two acquisitions of organically farmed vines: five hectares from Jean-Marc Brignot and, in 2014, four hectares from the retiring Jacques Puffeney.

The estate, whose name and label are inspired by the Arbois coat of arms, currently makes and sells four wines, all vinified à la bourguignonne, in the Burgundian style, by which d’Angerville means non-oxidized. The estate’s first oxidized wine, a vin jaune, is slated for release in 2022.

Arbois 2015, Savagnin Ouillé, Domaine du Pélican ($49.25, 13265041)
100% organically farmed Savagnin primarily from two parcels (Barbi and Grand Curoulet) of Jurassic marl and terre de gryphées. Manually harvested. Lightly crushed then whole-cluster pressed. Fermented in stainless steel and matured 10 months, mostly in neutral 350-litre barrels. which are regularly topped-up (ouillé) to prevent oxidation. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Séguin et Robillard.
Striking nose of lemon, green apple, quartz and, per other tasters, “terroir smoke” and “deviled eggs.” Fresh and vibrant in the mouth, with an elegant texture, impressively pure fruit, brilliant acidity, great minerality and every dimension. Long, racy and complete. Exactly the kind of commanding unullaged Savagnin that floats my boat. (Yes but…)

Arbois 2015, Chardonnay, Domaine du Pélican ($49.25, 13265032)
100% organically farmed Chardonnay from the Barbi vineyard and three other parcels. Mainly limestone with clay and marl. Wine-making is as for the Savagnin. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Séguin et Robillard.
Subtle nose: faint orchard and stone fruit, hints of oat and “flowers changing to chalk.” In the mouth, it’s more buttery and smoother, less marked by acidity than its flightmates. There’s real complexity, including a vein of minerality that lasts into the long finish. So elegant and still evolving. Excellent but needs five to 10 years. (Sure but…)

Arbois 2015, Poulsard, Domaine du Pélican ($52.25, 13314113)
The first vintage of the wine. 100% Poulsard entirely from the Puffeney vineyards. The wine-making was guided by Puffeney. Manually harvested. Fully destemmed. Fermeneted in vats. Matured 10 months in 228-litre oak barrels. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Séguin et Robillard.
Complex nose of “cranberry,” “earth,” spice, prosciutto fat, undergrowth and slate. Light- to medium-bodied. The ripe if ethereal fruit is structured by gossamer tannins and racy acidity. The layers – veils is perhaps the better term – of flavour give a certain depth. Long, minerally, old-woody finish. Fresh, fleet and wonderfully pure. Poulsard is sometimes done in a rustic style but not here. So engaging. “Effing good.” (Buy again? Yes but…)

Arbois 2015, Trois Cépages, Domaine du Pélican ($49.25, 13265083)
A PPT, i.e. a blend of Pinot Noir (65%), Poulsard (30%) and Trousseau (5%). Wine-making is as for the Poulsard, though without Puffeney’s input. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Séguin et Robillard.
Outgoing nose of “strawberries,” “tart cherries,” “a bit of meat“ and “nutmeg.” Medium-bodied and more structured than the Poulsard. Again, the fruit is remarkably pure but here framed by light, torquey tannins and sleek acidity. Good length and balance. Young but already showing some complexity. Impeccable. (Buy again? Sure but…)

This was my first encounter with Domaine du Pélican’s wines. Going in, I’d wondered whether they would taste more Burgundian than Juraassien. They didn’t. While you’ll have to look elsewhere for the rusticity and funk found and prized in some Jura wines, there’s no denying that these could come from nowhere but the Jura and that the Savagnin and Poulsard are textbook examples of the grapes and style.

Why the buy-again buts then? The price. Nearly everyone around the table said they’d plunk for one or more of the wines if they were in the $30 to $40 range but not at $50. My memories of the Savagnin and Poulsard are so vivid and compelling that I’ve come close to splurging on a bottle of each. And then I remember that the 2013 Puffeney Poulsard cost $31.50 a bottle (and that was through the higher-markup private import channel), making it hard not to conclude that Domaine du Pélican is charging Burgundy prices for Jura wines, that you are, to some degree, paying through the nose for a name. Maybe that’s why, however outstanding they may be, all the wines in this limited release remain available more than two months after the release date.

MWG July 27th tasting: flights 4 and 5 of 7

Written by carswell

September 25, 2017 at 11:21

Cab Franc three ways

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Though they don’t come from a wine-making family, brothers Fabien and Cyril Boisard founded Domaine du Mortier in 1996 when they both were in their teens. Their holdings comprise around 12 hectares of vineyards in Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil and a recently acquired three hectares in Bourgueil. Farming is organic-leaning-biodynamic, harvesting is by hand and none of the wines is chaptalized.

Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil 2015, Les Sables, Domaine du Mortier ($27.23, private import, 12 bottles/case)
100% Cabernet Franc from seven parcel of mostly young vines in sandy soil. Whole-bunch fermentation takes place in 70 hl concrete vats. Lees from earlier vintages are used to start the fermentation. Pump-overs with minimum oxygen uptake are performed for five or 10 minutes a day. Matured on the lees for about six months. Unfiltered and unfined. A tiny amount of sulphur (16 mg/l) is added at bottling. 12.27% ABV. Quebec agent: WINO.
Red and black berries, coffee, dried meat, slate, pepper, distant barnyard. Medium-bodied and so very drinkable. A mouthful of tart fruit, dark minerals, lively acidity, super-supple tannins. Dry and wonderfully pure. Nothing deep or complex (a function of soil and vine age), just good, clean fun. The easiest-drinking Cabernet Franc I’ve encountered in a coon’s age. (Buy again? Done!)

Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil 2014, Dionysos, Domaine du Mortier ($32.89, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Cabernet Franc from 30-year-old vines rooted in gravel over tuffeau. Manually harvested. Gently destemmed, gently pressed and given around 25 days’ maceration on the skins. Barrel-fermented using indigenous yeasts. Matured eight months in old oak barrels. 13.35% ABV. Quebec agent: WINO.
Darker nose of red berries and slate with meat and vegetal notes. Full and round in the mouth, packed with remarkably juicy fruit. Firm tannins bestow a velour-like texture, bright acidity a bit of a bite. The bedrock minerality rumbles through the long, spicy finish. The winemakers feel this often needs a couple of years before it hits its stride and drinks well for six to eight years beyond that. (Buy again? Yes.)

Vin de France 2014, 180 jours, Domaine du Mortier ($63.79, private import, 6 bottles/case)
VdF because the brothers feel it wouldn’t be accepted by the AOC authorities and because it leaves them free to supplement Saint-Nicolas grapes with fruit from their holdings in Bourgueil. Cabernet Franc from 60- to 70-year-old vines in tuffeau. Whole-bunch fermented and macerated in old barrels for 180 days, with the barrel being tightly closed, not topped-up and turned once daily during fermentation; after 180 days, the barrel is taken apart so the wine and skins can be transferred to the press. After pressing, the wine is matured in new barrels for another 180 days. Unfiltered and unfined. No added sulphur. 13.5% ABV. Due to the small quantities made, the wine is normally sold only at the winery, a limit of 12 bottles per customer is imposed and, reportedly, none is exported. Bravo to Martin Landry for scoring a few cases for Quebec. Quebec agent: WINO
Much darker and denser than its flightmates. Complex, funky nose: old wood, dark fruit and minerals, “animale,” “green olives,” “the stuff you scoop out of a squash” and more. Rich and dark yet somehow fresh. So complex and layered, so plush and chewy. Superbly structured with velvety tannins, glowing acidity and mineral depth. Great length. Complete, elegant, accessible. A big wine but so not the overextracted monster I was fearing it would be. Just wow. (Buy again? Just yes.)

MWG July 13th tasting: flight 7 of 9

Written by carswell

August 31, 2017 at 13:48