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Posts Tagged ‘Le Maître de Chai

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.


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Somewhereness 2013: Hidden Bench

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Founded in 2008, Hidden Bench favours a sustainable approach in the vineyard and a non-interventionist approach in the winery, including indigenous yeast fermentations and the avoidance of harsh procedures like pumping. With nearly 50 acres currently in production, it offers something for just about everyone: Riesling, Viognier, Chardonnay, Sémillon, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.

Chardonnay 2011, Estate, Beamsville Bench VQA, Hidden Bench ($39.67, Le Maître de Chai, 6 bottles/case)
100% Chardonnay. Manually harvested, whole-cluster pressed. The juice was cold-settled for 24 hours, then racked into French oak barrels (20% new) for spontaneous fermentation and partial malolactic, with weekly stirring of the lees. Selected barrels were blended and lightly filtered before bottling. 13.5% ABV.
Candied lemon, pear and oak spice. Round and full without being plump, thanks in part to the sustained acidity. Less fruity than the nose might lead you to believe. Chalk and lemon linger into a long finish whose scents put me in mind of a hay loft. (Buy again? At the Ontario price of $28.75, sure.)

Pinot Noir 2010, Estate, Beamsville Bench VQA, Hidden Bench ($40.93, Le Maître de Chai, 6 bottles/case)
100% Pinot Noir. Manually harvested. Cold-soaked in small lots for five to eight days, followed by spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts and punch-downs of the cap three to four times a day. After alcoholic fermentation, the free-run juice was gravity-drained into barrels while the skins were pressed. Malolactic fermentation took place in the barrels. Unfiltered and unfined. 13.5% ABV.
Fragrant, Burgundian nose of red berries, cherry, beet, spice and even some forest floor. Medium-bodied and supple yet also quite concentrated and intense, with ripe fruit, discreet oak, lacy tannins, refreshing acidity and the requisite depth, breadth and length, not to mention poise and balance. A delight. (Buy again? It’s a bit pricey but yes.)

Pinot Noir 2010, Felseck Vineyard, Beamsville Bench VQA, Hidden Bench ($44.73, Le Maître de Chai, 6 bottles/case)
100% Pinot Noir. Manually harvested. Destemmed. Transferred to five-ton oak fermenters and cold-soaked for eight days, followed by spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts and punch-downs of the cap three to four times a day. After alcoholic fermentation, the free-run juice was gravity-drained into barrels while the skins were pressed. Malolactic fermentation took place in the barrels. Unfiltered and unfined. 13.5% ABV.
Compared with the Estate, darker (slate and plum), meatier and richer on the nose. Similarly medium-bodied and full-flavoured but also more minerally and structured. The tannins in particular are tighter and more obvious, bordering on rustic. With certain depth and real length, the wine definitely has presence. Yet, for now at least, it’s less integrated and coherent, less a whole, more a sum of its parts. Maybe what it’s lacking is time. (Buy again? A bottle or two to see how it ages.)

Pinot Noir 2009, Locust Lane Vineyard, Beamsville Bench VQA, Hidden Bench ($55.00 at the winery)
100% Pinot Noir. Manually harvested. Destemmed. Transferred to five-ton oak fermenters and cold-soaked for ten days, followed by spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts and punch-downs of the cap three to four times a day. After alcoholic fermentation, the free-run juice was gravity-drained into barrels while the skins were pressed. Malolactic fermentation took place in the barrels. Unfiltered and unfined. 13.5% ABV.
All kinds of tertiary aromas (leafmould, smoke, game) along with the expected berries, cherry and spice. The driest and most serious of the three Pinots. Supple but sinewy. The concentrated ripe fruit is heady with floral overtones and a bit heavy with oak. Firm tannins and vibrant acidity give structure and shape, a dark mineral vein depth. Underbrush scents the long finish. While I found myself wondering whether the winery is pushing too hard, there’s no denying that this is an impressive effort. Revisit in four or five years and hope the fruit has outlasted the tannins and oak. (Buy again? A bottle to open on Canada’s 150th.)

Terroir Caché 2009, Red Meritage, Beamsville Bench VQA, Hidden Bench ($40.93, Le Maître de Chai, 6 bottles/case)
A blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec. Manually harvested. Destemmed. Cold-soaked for seven to ten days. The varieties were fermented separately (with indigenous yeasts), with regular racking and returning. Macerated on the skins another ten to 14 days after fermentation, then gravity-drained into barrels (a mix of new and old French oak) for 16 months’ malolactic fermentation and maturation. Bottled unfiltered and unfined. 13.5% ABV.
Complex, engaging nose: dark fruit, spice, graphite, oak, underbrush bordering on garrigue. Medium- to full-bodied. Fundamentally savoury despite the sweet, ripe fruit that’s beautifully balanced by bright acidity and an airframe structure. Good length with some chocolate and oak chiming in. (Buy again? Yes, especially at the winery/LCBO price of $32.75.)

Written by carswell

November 19, 2013 at 17:59

Le génie de la Loire

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In honour of Bastille Day (because these beauties could only have come from France), notes from a recent tasting of Loire wines chosen by Sam with a connoisseur’s eye. Most were private imports, a few were importations valise and, as far as I know, none are currently available in Quebec.


Vouvray 2008, Brut, Méthode traditionnel, Philippe Foreau (Clos Naudin)
100% Chenin Blanc. 13% ABV. The 2011 can be found at the SAQ for $30.
Limpid gold. Tiny bubbles and not tons of them. Yellow fruit, lemon blossom and toast against a chalky background. Dry and minerally with a nipping acidity and effervescence. Long, toasted brioche finish. Impeccable.


Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine 2010, Clisson, Domaine de la Pépière
100% Melon de Bourgogne. The estate is represented in Quebec by Vinealis.
Closed nose: faint lemon, pear and chalk. Dry, extracted and dimensional. Trenchant acidity. As much about minerals as fruit. Long, saline finish. Great presence. Austere bordering on severe but oh, so pure and beautiful. My wine of the flight.

Sancerre 2001, Clos de Beaujeu, Gérard Boulay
100% Sauvignon Blanc. 12.5% ABV. Represented in Quebec by Rézin.
Intriguing bouquet: overripe white peach, crystalline minerals and, as one taster noted, a suggestion of mushroom. Dry. Minerally more than fruity – faint citrus and gun smoke. A not off-putting acrid note surfaces on the long finish. Tasting double-blind, I didn’t peg this as either a Sauvignon Blanc or – due to its vibrancy and tension – a 12-year-old wine.

Saumur 2009, La Charpentrie, Domaine du Collier
100% old-vine Chenin Blanc. 13% ABV. Represented in Quebec by oenopole.
Rich nose: peach and some tropical fruit, honey, sour white flowers. Silky and rich with a touch of residual sugar. Brisk acidity provides welcome cut, faint herbs and chalky minerals welcome complexity. Immaculate, authentic and delicious though not particularly deep, at least at this point in its probably long life.


Bourgueil 1993, Busardières, Domaine de la Chevalerie
100% biodynamically farmed Cabernet Franc. 12.5% ABV. Represented in Quebec by La QV.
Delicate but complex: ash, spice, ripe but not jammy boysenberry, humus and hummus, slate and stems. Smooth and supple with fully resolved, velvety tannins and bright acidity. Seemed a bit thin next to the Chinon. On its own, however, complete and surprisingly vibrant at 20 years of age.

Chinon 2005, Domaine Les Roches (Alain and Jérome Lenoir)
100% Cabernet Franc. 12.5% ABV. Represented in Quebec by Glou. This bottle cost around $25.
Initially closed, the nose became more complex and perfumed over the course of the evening. Elderberry liqueur, floral overtones, a hint of meat, some old wood and the faintest note of bacon and new leather. Concentrated, even chewy, yet silky and not heavy. Layers of rich fruit and dark minerals structured by fine, firm tannins and energizing acidity. Long, lightly astringent finish. Superb. My wine of the flight and Cab Franc of the night.

Saumur-Champigny 2008, Clos Rougeard
100% Cabernet Franc. 12.5% ABV. Last I heard, the estate was represented in Quebec by Réserve & Sélection.
Darker, meatier with a hint of fresh tomato, background slate, sawed wood. Tighter than a drum: structured more than fruity and the élevage is showing. You can see that the wine is perfectly proportioned, that the fruit is pure, ripe and deep, that the use of the barrel is masterful. You can also see that the wine needs – at a minimum – another decade to open up. Tasted 24 hours later, the tail end of the bottle had hardly budged.


Chinon 2009, Coteau de Noiré, Philippe Alliet
100% Cabernet Franc. 13% ABV. Represented in Quebec by Le Maître de Chai. The 2010 is sold at the SAQ Signature for $46.
Young, unresolved nose: choco-cherry, sawed wood, dill, ash. Smooth, dapper, restrained. Fine albeit tight tannins. The clean, ripe fruit – showing some tobacco but not a hint of greenness – is deepened by dark minerals and subtle wood. A delicate astringency velvets the long finish. Good potential. Revisit in five years.

Saumur 2009, La Charpentrie, Domaine du Collier
100% Cabernet Franc. 13% ABV. Represented in Quebec by oenopole.
Plummy (a sign of the hot vintage?) and slatey. Round, rich and balanced. The tannins and acidity are fruit-cloaked but there’s plenty of underlying structure. Lightly yet pervasively astringent. The élevage shows on the long finish. While its potential is obvious, this is another case of a bottle too young.

Chinon 2009, La Croix Boisée, Domaine Bernard Baudry
100% Cabernet Franc, aged in barrel, not filtered or fined. 13.5% ABV. Represented in Quebec by Balthazard.
So closed on the nose: wood, wet slate and not much else. Closed on the palate, too. Ripe, even liqueurish fruit, old wood, minerals. Sleek tannins. Rich, complete and in need of time, much time.


Vouvray moelleux 1986, Clos du Bourg, Domaine Huet
100% biodynamically farmed Chenin Blanc. 12% ABV. The 2007 runs $50.50 at the SAQ.
Amazing nose: dried pear, wax, straw, honey, turbinado sugar… Intense on the palate yet also elegant, reserved and nuanced. Neither dry nor sweet. Brilliant acidity. Chewing reveals all kinds of complexity. Spice, chalk, quartz, caramel, candied pineapple are only some of the flavours. A crème brûlée note lingers through the long finish. Astonishingly young and fresh. Wine of the tasting for most people around the table.

Côteaux du Loir 2009, Les Giroflées, Domaine Bellivière
A 100% biodynamically farmed Pineau d’Aunis rosé. 13.5% ABV. Represented in Quebec by Le Maître de Chai but I’m not sure they bring this wine in (our bottle was purchased at Flatiron Wines and Spirits in New York City).
Strawberry, wax, quartz on the nose. Smooth and quaffable. Off-dry. A basket of fresh berry fruit with just enough acidity and a touch of peppery spice. Simple but charming. Flavourwise, it made a fine pairing for pâte sucrée bars filled with a thin layer of pastry cream and topped with fresh raspberries and a rhubarb marshmallow, though in the best of all possible worlds the pastries would have been a little less sweet.