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Orange line

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The Mo’ Wine Group have been fans of Radikon’s “blue label” orange wines since discovering the Oslavje when it was a private import. All three wines are now carried by the SAQ, albeit in minute and fast-disappearing quantities. This year, though the 2010s were released on different dates, all three were on the monopoly’s shelves for a few days in late February or early March, giving us our first opportunity to taste them side by side.

The wine-making is the same for all three cuvées. The manually harvested grapes are destemmed, then placed in neutral Slavonian oak vats (no temperature control) for maceration and fermentation with indigenous yeasts and manual punch-downs three or four times a day. When alcoholic fermentation is complete, the vats are topped up and closed until the wine has been in contact with the skins for two to three months. The grapes are then gently pressed and the wine is racked into neutral 25- to 35-hectolitre Slavonian oak barrels for about 40 months’ maturation, with further racking performed as needed. The wines are bottled unfiltered, unfined and with no added sulphur and aged another six months in bottle before release.

The bottles are 500 ml because the late Stanko Radkion felt that is the ideal amount of wine for one person to drink by himself or for two people to share, assuming they’ll also share a 500 ml bottle of red. Convinced that using a standard cork would allow too high a rate of oxygen exchange, he designed his bottles to have smaller bore necks and long, narrow corks. Long corks usually indicate that a wine is age-worthy and, in fact, the ageing potential of these wines is not in doubt: opened last year, a bottle of the 2002 seemed at or near peak and likely to remain so for another 10 years.

Venezia Giulia 2010, Jakot, Radikon ($44.25/500 ml, 13571312)
100% Friulano (formerly known as Tocai Friulano, as referenced by the cuvée’s name, which is Tokaj – the Hungarian spelling – spelled backwards) from organically farmed vines. 13.75% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Lovely, wafting nose that elicits several unexpected fruit descriptors, including “preserved plum,” freeze-dried strawberries and “peach Melba.” Swirling and time bring out savoury aromas, including yellow spice (turmeric, saffron), beeswax and old wood, and a hint of oxidation. Quite substantial on the palate. Zingy acidity pushes the fruit into citrus territory (kumquat, maybe?), while light tannins dance across the palate. Mineral and savoury threads intertwine with the fruit and last well into the long finish. A dense yet cutting wine with great focus: intense and exciting now but sublime in 10 years. (Buy again? Def.)

Venezia Giulia 2010, Oslavje, Radikon ($44.25/500 ml, 13571283)
A blend of Chardonnay (40%), Sauvignon Blanc (30%) and Pinot Grigio (30%) from organically farmed vines. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Complex, engaging nose of honey, “cedar,” “anisette,” pear compote, sultanas and a jasmine-like floral note. In the mouth, it’s rich and smooth, verging on opulent, despite the underlying acidity and tannic rasp. The flavours are less fruity, more savoury than those of its flightmates, with old wood and minerals providing ballast. Spice, dried fruit, an almond note and a faint bitterness linger. Approachable if a bit monolithic, this will benefit enormously from extended cellaring. (Buy again? Def.)

Venezia Giulia 2010, Ribolla Gialla, Radikon ($44.25/500 ml, 13555953)
100% Ribolla Gialla from organically farmed vines. 13.75% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
At this stage, the most complex bouquet of the three: dried clementine, floor wax, straw and cedar, among other things. Dense, somewhat waxy texture. Subtle tannins provide grain, piercing acidity freshness. A surprising creamy streak marks it out from its companions. Spice and minerals linger. Breadth and length it has in spades; greater depth and complexity will come with time. Astoundingly pure and savoury and nowhere near its prime. (Buy again? Def.)

MWG March 9th tasting: flight 5 of 5

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Written by carswell

May 13, 2018 at 11:17

Rebholz range

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Pfalz 2016, Riesling, Trocken, Ökonomierat Rebholz ($26.65, 12690707)
100% Riesling from organically farmed 20-year-old vines rooted in sandstone. Manually harvested. Macerated 24 hours on the skins. Clarified through sedimentation. Fermented (with selected yeasts) for two weeks and matured for six months in stainless steel tanks. Malolactic fermentation was prevented. Filtered but not fined. Screwcapped. Residual sugar: 3.1 g/l. 11% ABV. Quebec agent: Valmonti.
Granite dust, faint lemon and apple, distant straw, “canned mandarins” and a note described as “floral” by one taster and “jasmine” by another. Pitched somewhere between light- and medium-bodied. Slight fizzy at first. Clean and quite dry, with bright acidity, a dusting of minerals and lots of lemon. More linear than deep but mouth-filling. Sour apple and a touch of salt linger. Not dancing though that may well change as the wine matures. Accessible now but surely better in a year or three. (Buy again? Sure.)

Pfalz 2015, Riesling, Trocken, Vom Rotliegenden, Ökonomierat Rebholz ($42.50, 12353196)
100% Riesling from 25-year-old organically farmed vines rooted in red slate. Manually harvested. Macerated 24 hours on the skins. Clarified through sedimentation. Fermentation with selected yeasts lasted four weeks. Matured six months in stainless steel tanks. Malolactic fermentation was prevented. Filtered but not fined. Residual sugar: 1.3 g/l. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Valmonti.
Gorgeous nose of apple, lemon-lime, spring meadow and a hint of almond. Not quite as gorgeous in the mouth, at least for now, though hardly without appeal. Medium-bodied and smooth-textured with bright but integrated acidity. Minerals provide a backdrop to the fruit, which tends to citrus and apple and has fresh herb harmonics. The depth and length are admirable. Finishes with a faintly salty tang. Give it at least a couple of years in the cellar and you’re in for a treat. (Buy again? Yes.)

Pfalz 2015, Riesling, Großes Gewächs, Kastanienbusch, Ökonomierat Rebholz ($99.25, 13350704)
The estate’s top wine. Großes Gewächs (“great growth”) is an unofficial designation for top-level dry wines from selected sites that is increasingly used in the Mosel by the members of the Bernkasteler Ring and elsewhere (except the Rheingau) by the members of the VDP growers’ association. This 100% Riesling comes from 50-year-old organically and biodynamically farmed vines in the Kastanienbusch vineyard (the name refers to chestnut trees that grow nearby). The soil consists of loose deposits of granite, slate and melaphyre with a high iron content giving it a dark red colour. The manually harvested grapes were destemmed and then macerated on the skins for 24 hours. The must was clarified through settling. Fermentation (with selected yeasts) and maturation in stainless steel tanks lasted about seven months. Malolactic fermentation was prevented. Filtered but not fined. Bottled in May 2017. Residual sugar: 4.8 g/l. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Valmonti.
Closed yet super complex nose, an inexhaustible mine of minerals veined with citrus, stone fruit, apple, flowers and grassy herbs. In the mouth, it has it all, including great purity and an exquisite mineral-fruit balance. The acidity is very present, very tense but also unedgy. Flavours include apple, white peach and mineral water. The dazzling finish lasts forever. Such delicacy and yet such cut, precision and focus. Five to ten years in a cool, dark place will do it a world of good. Expensive, yes, but perfection has a price. (Buy again? If you’ve got the bucks, absolutely.)

In case you’re wondering, Ökonomierat is a German title of honour conferred upon individuals and organizations in recognition of their outstanding service to agriculture.

MWG March 9th tasting: flight 2 of 5

Written by carswell

April 11, 2018 at 13:47

Grand Cru

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Written and directed by MWG member David Eng, Grand Cru is a documentary film whose subject is winemaker Pascal Marchand.

Pascal Marchand, an aspiring poet from Montreal, arrived in the mythical land of Burgundy to work the harvest at age 21. Enchanted by the region, he settled there and embarked on an unlikely path to winemaking stardom. Now over 30 years later, he is renowned as an artist and innovator, finding his inspiration in the ancient techniques of the Cistercian monks who meticulously studied and refined Burgundy’s winemaking in the middle ages. Shot over his most difficult year ever, the catastrophic 2016 season which saw devastating frosts, hailstorms and disease in the vineyards, the film is both a love letter and a cautionary tale, as winemakers like Pascal must face the unpredictable and destructive consequences of climate change.

Grand Cru begins its Montreal theatrical run at Cinéma Beaubien this Friday, April 6, at 12:35 p.m., 5:15 p.m., and 7:15 p.m. David and Katarina Soukup, the film’s producer, will be present for a Q&A session after the 7:15 screening. The run continues through Wednesday, April 11, with screenings every day at 12:35 p.m., 5:45 p.m. and 9:25 p.m.

The film will also be shown at Cinéma Le Clap in Quebec City on April 6 (9:45 a.m. and 6 p.m.) as well as on April 21 and May 4 and 21. Further screenings are slated for Newport Beach (April 30 and May 3) and Toronto (May 11), the last with David and Katarina leading another Q&A (see the Grand Cru website for details).

In March, I attended an advance screening at the ITHQ. Besides the pleasure of meeting Pascal and watching the worthwhile film, we were provided with glasses of three wines from the Marchand-Tawse portfolio. You’ll find notes on them and a comment or two from Pascal after the jump.

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Written by carswell

April 5, 2018 at 11:56

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

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