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Barrel’s worth

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Located in Mirabel in the lower Laurentians and founded in 1993, Vignoble Négondos is one of Quebec’s more interesting producers of wines made from hybrid grapes. The winery is certified organic and has adopted a non-interventionist approach in the cellar: spontaneous fermentations, gravity feeds, clarification by settling, minimal if any filtration, and so on. The result is honest and enjoyable wines for which few if any excuses need be made. The winery’s most celebrated – and hard to procure – product is Julep, a world-class Seyval Blanc orange wine whose label and name wryly refer to Montreal’s iconic Gibeau Orange Julep drive-in and its signature drink.

Négondos wines can be purchased at the winery. A limited selection can be found in a few local food stores; contact the winery for details. Our bottles came from Loco and Dans la Côte respectively. Note that the prices vary depending on who’s doing the markup.

As usual, the wines were served double-blind to everyone except me. A few hints were provided: the wines were close-to identical blends from the same producer, the main difference being that one was matured in stainless steel tanks and the other in oak barrels.

Québec 2016, Suroît, Vignoble Négondos ($18.00-$20.00)
A blend of organically farmed Maréchal Foch, St. Croix, Frontenac and Marquette. The manually harvested grapes are fermented with indigenous yeasts at high temperatures. Sees only stainless steel until bottling. 12% ABV.
On first sniff, the Suroît’s nose prompts one taster to declare the wine “Ontarian.” My note reads: unsubtle gush of plum, almond, red meat, earth and eventually sweet spice. In the mouth, it’s fruity but dry, with an earthy backdrop. Light tannins and bright acidity provide a kind of balance and the finish is clean. That said, relief from the juicy onslaught and most especially nuance are in short supply. Probably best thought of as a food wine. (Buy again? Maybe.)

Québec 2015, Chesnaie, Vignoble Négondos ($20.00-$22.00)
This is the Suroît but with six months’ barrel ageing. 12% ABV.
“Wait. This can’t be Ontarian. Now I’m confused,” says the aforementioned taster. A nose far more complex and subtle: wafting plum with dill, spice, wood and “black tea” notes. In the mouth, it’s deeper, smoother and more fluid. Fine acidity and tannins structure the layered fruit, which takes on a savoury, even minerally edge that lasts through the credible finish. The difference between the two wines is astounding (a glass of the Chesnaie served double-blind a few days earlier had me guessing Austria or northern Italy) though how much of that is due to vintage and how much to barrel-ageing is a subject for future research. (Buy again? Yes indeed.)

MWG May 18th tasting: flight 4 of 6

Written by carswell

June 21, 2017 at 12:14

Dãoist

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Dão 2011, Quinta da Falorca ($19.45, 11895381)
Contrary to what SAQ.com and the Quebec agent claim, this is the estate’s basic Dão and not the Touriga Nacional bottling. And while Quinta da Falorca is the estate shown on the label, the wine is made by Quinta do Vale des Escandinhas. A blend of Touriga Nacional (60%), Alfrocheiro (15%), Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo, 10%), Jaen (aka Mencia, 10%) and Rufete (5%) from estate-owned vines on the granite banks of the Dão River. Manually harvested. Destemmed. Gently pressed. Fermented in temperature-controlled (26-28°C) tanks. Matured in French oak barrels and stainless steel tanks. Reducing sugar: 2.2 g/l. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: Balthazard.
Winey, peppery, stemmy, earthy nose dominated by plum and cassis aromas. In the mouth, it’s full-bodied but not weighty, possessed of a fundamentally fluid texture. Most apparent up front, the ripe fruit soon gives way to more savoury flavours (old oak, dark minerals, leather, dried mushroom, dusting of black pepper) and is elegantly structured, the acidity bright and sleek, the tannins slender yet firm, the alcohol heady, not hot. The long finish brings a woody/stemmy aftertaste and a faint numbing quality. Quite fresh for a six-year-old wine, this has several years of life ahead of it. It smoothed and opened with a half hour’s exposure to air, so carafing is advised. (Buy again? Yes, including a couple of bottles to lay down for four to five years.)

Written by carswell

May 24, 2017 at 12:52

Voilà Vóila

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Crete 2016, Assyrtiko, Vóila, Lyrarakis ($18.15, 11996333)
A new label and name in 2016, neither of which are shown on SAQ.com (the UPC codes are the same, however). 100% Assyrtiko from unirrigated vines planted in the 1970s in the loamy soil of the Vóila vineyard at 580 m in Sitia, eastern Crete. (These may be the first Assytiko vines planted outside Santorini.) Manually harvested. Given 10 hours’ skin contact at 12ºC. Fermentation in stainless steel lasted around three weeks. Reducing sugar: 6.6 g/l. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Focus Cellars.
Briny, minerally nose with hints of peach, lemon and honey. In the mouth, it’s satin-textured and weightier than you might expect, quite extracted but not very fruity (what fruit there is tends to apple, citrus and stone fruit). On the other hand, quartz and chalk abound and powdered ginger spices the credible finish. The trademark Assyrtiko acidity is there but is softened by the extract and residual sugar – the residual sugar, which (and this is my only complaint) is a notch or two too high. It doesn’t make the wine sweet or even off-dry but it does verge on cloying after a glass or two. That effect is less apparent with food, meaning this is probably not an ideal choice as an aperitif wine. Softer, a bit fruitier and less trenchant, grippy and profound than top Santorini Assyrtikos or, more locally, Economou’s but appealing in its own right. Far less expensive, too. Something of a sleeper, actually. There aren’t many $18 whites from Greece or elsewhere that offer its combination of terroir, balance and savour. All that and a screwcap too. Earlier vintages have been drier, so let’s mark the 2016 down as an anomaly (Buy again? The 2016 maybe. Drier future vintages for sure.)

 

Written by carswell

May 15, 2017 at 10:34

Posted in Tasting notes

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Vacqueyrasish

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Based in Vacqueyras and comprising 16 hecatres of vines, Roucas Toumba (“roche tombée” or “fallen rock” in the old Provençal dialect) is a centuries-old, family-run estate currently headed by Éric Bouletin. The estate long sold its grapes to the local co-op and the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel but, in 2006, decided to start making its own wine. The farming is organic though not certified as such. Fermentations, which use indigenous yeasts, typically last 30 days and are temperature-controlled (18°C). The free-run and press wines are kept separate until the end of malolactic fermentation. The wines are never fined and seldom filtered.

We tried the estate’s two entry-level reds and now look forward to tasting the higher-end cuvées.

Vin de Pays de Méditérrinée 2015, Pichot Roucas, Roucas Toumba ($18.50, 12782249)
A blend of Syrah (30%), Carignan (30%) and Grenache (30%) from vines located near the Ouvèze river. Manually harvested. The grapes are 70% destemmed with half the Carignan being left in whole clusters. Short maceration. Matured six months in concrete tanks. 13.5% ABV. Typical production: 10,000 bottles. Quebec agent: Ward & associés.
Red and black fruit, graphite, spice and a whiff of barnyard. Medium-bodied. Smooth upfront with a fluid texture, light but present structure and a surprising freshness. Though the lacking the depth and length of the Grands Chemins, this is pleasant enough. Lightly chilled, it would make a fine picnic wine, which may explain the label’s bicycle leaning against a tree. (Buy again? Sure.)

Vin de France 2015, Les Grands Chemins, Roucas Toumba ($26.15, private import, 12 bottles/case)
Grenache (50%), old-vine Carignan (40%) and Syrah (10%) from vineyards in and around the Vacqueyras AOC. Manually harvested. The destemmed grapes are co-fermented, meaning the blend is made before fermentation. Matured eight months in concrete vats. 14% ABV. Typical production: 5,000 bottles. Quebec agent: Ward & associés.
Fresh, Rhône-ish nose of red and black fruit, garrigue, crystalline minerals and a hint of animale. Richer and fuller-bodied than the Pichot Roucas but still fluid and fresh, not in any way hot. For now, at least, the flavours tend to raspberry and black pepper (the Grenache speaking?). Sleek acidity and light but grippy tannins add structure and texture, a dark mineral underlay depth. The finish is long and spicy. Nicely balanced and very drinkable. Grilled lamb, please. (Buy again? Yes.)

MWG April 6th tasting: flight 5 of 7

Written by carswell

May 7, 2017 at 12:28

The difference a day makes

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Crete 2014, Kotsifali, Lyrarakis ($13.75, 10703818)
100% Kotsifali from unirrigated vines rooted in loamy sandy soil in the Alagni region of central Crete. Manually harvested. Fermentation with selected yeasts and on the skins in temperature-controlled (24-27°C) tanks lasted 10 days. Screwcapped. Reducing sugar: 2.2 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Focus Cellars.

Day one: Popped (well, twisted) and poured, the wine was dull, hard and one-dimensional, seemingly incapable of providing pleasure. After a couple of glasses, the remainder was transferred to a half-bottle, sealed and stuck in the fridge.
Day two: The wine is transformed. Engaging, surprisingly complex, not exuberantly fruity nose of plum, blackberry, spice and ashy earth with dried herb, raw meat and floral notes. In the mouth, it’s savoury, dry and medium- to full-bodied. The ripe but not sweet fruit and dark minerals are structured by soft tannins and smooth acidity. The fair finish brings a wood note, a whiff of alcohol and a lingering taste of sour bitter plum.  Honest and enjoyable. Not only is it off the beaten path, it’s one of the better wines in its price range. (Buy again? Yes, though there’s not much left in the system.)

Written by carswell

April 14, 2017 at 13:37

Greek winery tour: Tselepos (Arcadia)

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[Hover over pics to display captions and credits; click to embiggen.]

One of the leaders of the Greek wine renaissance and the modern day king of the ancient Moscofilero variety, Yiannis Tselepos is a phenomenon. A Cypriot by birth, he studied oenology at the Université de Bourgogne in Dijon and, after graduating, spent a couple of years working at several Burgundy estates. He then moved to Arcadia in the eastern Peloponnese, where he found employment as a consulting oenologist, married a local girl, Amelia, and with her founded the eponymous winery. The Tseleposes currently own two estates and have an interest in a third.

Located in Rizes, central Arcadia, Ktima Tselepos is the larger and older of the two estates, dating back to 1999. It sits on a plateau on the eastern flank of Mount Parnon. While the main buildings are surrounded by 30 hectares of vineyards, the estate’s holdings actually total some 240 hectares. The soil here tends to shale and rocky clay and the average elevation is 750 metres, helping ensure the all-important wide difference in day and night temperatures. The handsome winery is built in the traditional local architectural style; less flashy and touristy than some, it feels like a facility whose main vocation is wine production. Although around two-thirds of its output is devoted to Moscofiliero, the estate makes a wide range of wines, from sparklers to still dry reds and whites to sweet wines, from international as well as local grape varieties. With a total annual production of 350,000 bottles, half of which is exported, this is no small operation.

In 2003, Tselepos acquired a second property, Ktima Driopi, an 8.5-hecatre plot of 50-year-old vines rooted in steep clay soil in Kousti, near Nemea, about an hour’s drive to the north-northwest. The estate specializes in Agiorgitiko, another ancient indigenous variety. A small winery has since been built to handle the estate’s output. The estate’s striking labels, as classy as its wines, feature a dormant tree in silhouette.

Tselepos’s latest project is a joint venture with the Chryssou family on Santorini. The Chryssous provide the grapes (from 12 hectares of ungrafted 50- to 100-year-old vines in Pyrgos and Emporio) while Yannis provides the wine-making expertise. Dubbed Canava Chryssou Tselepos Santorini, the estate currently produces around 12,000 bottles a year of a single wine, a 100% Assyrtiko.

At all three estates, the viticultural practices are enlightened without being full-bore organic. In Arcadia, the vines are trained on wires, a virtual necessity in the region’s humid climate. On arid, wind-blasted, sun-stroked Santorini, the vines are coaxed into nest-like spirals that lie close to the ground, the better to protect the fruit and preserve precious water. Irrespective of the estate, the grapes are manually harvested in the cool of the early morning and transported to the winery in small crates. Though the facilities are outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, Yiannis views technology as limited to a supporting role. “Good technology makes for good wine, but only the right vineyard will yield a great wine,” he says.

One aspect of this balancing act between technology and terroir was the focus of an interesting exchange during our technical tasting. A member of our party, a professional sommelier with an impressively acute palate, wondered why Tselepos used selected instead of indigenous yeasts since, he felt, the former scalp and compress wines. Yiannis countered with “I have 17 families besides my own who depend on the winery’s success. I’m not going to put their livelihoods at risk.”

I can see both sides of the argument. Obviously, indigenous yeasts – the yeasts native to a place – are a factor in terroir. And many other winemakers have shown that fine wines can reliably be made using them. So it seems a little paradoxical that the winery, which proudly describes its central wine-making philosophy as “to grow Greek varieties within their specific native ecosystem” and which, as the following notes show, does indeed make terroir-expressive wines, doesn’t go all the way down the terroir path.

Then again, Yiannis is clearly more than just a winemaker. He’s also a successful businessman, a player in the local community and a standard bearer for the wines of his region and country. His Moschofileros and Agiorgitikos are widely viewed as models for what the grapes can achieve. His Mantinias have almost single-handedly put that appellation on the map. One of the reasons this has happened is the wines’ consistency. Why, then, tinker with a winning formula? Why introduce another variable into the process? Why do anything that could undermine the livings of so many and the reputations of a business and a region?

More than just a winemaker? Yes. But still a winemaker at heart, as the following story shows. At one point, Yiannis told us how he came to chose oenopole to represent his wines in Quebec. One day this Greek-Canadian showed up, introduced himself as Theo Diamantis and explained that he was setting up an agency dedicated to selling “real,” terroir-driven wines with a high drinkability quotient, wines made not by industrial producers but by vignerons. Which was why he wanted Tselepos in the portfolio. “It was the first time anybody called me a vigneron,” Yiannis beamed, “and it was all I needed to know. I was ready right then to sign on the dotted line.”

You’ll find my notes on all the day two wines after the jump. For details about where we stayed and ate and what we ate and saw, including some of Tselepos’s vineyards, see the day two report on carswelliana.

INTRODUCTION
PAPAGIANNAKOS (ATTICA)
♦ TSELEPOS (ARCADIA)
MERCOURI (ELIS)
TETRAMYTHOS (ACHAEA)
THYMIOPOULOS (MACEDONIA)
ARGYROS (SANTORINI)

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Buxom blend

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Epanomi 2016, Estate White, Ktima Gerovassiliou ($18.65, 10249061)
The village of Epanomi is located about 25 km southeast of Thessaloniki in central Macedonia. A 50-50 blend of Malagousia and Assyrtiko from estate-grown vines After a brief maceration, the grapes are pressed and the juice is fermented in temperature-controlled (18-20°C) stainless steel tanks. Does not undergo malolactic fermentation. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Le Maître de Chai.

Redolent of flowers, fruit and something green: jasmine, orange blossom, grapefruit, lime, stone fruit, lemon grass and maybe a little kiwi and mint. Round in the piehole, fresh with aromatic fruit and bright acidity. A minerally vein runs well into the long finish where it’s joined by an appealing salty bitterness. The Malagousia’s exuberance makes this seem less dry than it actually is, while the Assyrtiko’s acidity and minerals provide welcome structure. Fans of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc looking to broaden their horizons should make a bee line. Food-friendly by nature, this made a fine match for herb-roasted salmon with a squeeze of lemon. (Buy again? Sure.)

Written by carswell

March 21, 2017 at 13:28