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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

Jaune and jauneish

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Vin de France 2011, 3.11, Bertin-Delatte ($38.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Founded in 2008, the three-hectare estate is based in Rablay-sur-Layon. This 100% Chenin Blanc is from organically farmed young vines. The grapes, which normally would have been used for the flagship L’Échalier bottling, are harvested by hand and gently pressed. Barrel-fermented and -matured. The barrels were not topped up and a veil of yeast formed on the surface, much like on a vin jaune. This one-off experiment spent five years in the barrel. Unfiltered and unfined. Sulphur is minimal. Three barrels (800 bottles) were made; that and the last two digits of the vintage explain the name. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: WINO.
Typically oxidized nose of nutty yellow fruit but maybe not as complex or opulent as a good vin jaune’s. Lovely on the palate: sleek textured, lightly oxidized, clean fruited and minerally with great acidity, freshness and length. “Très chenin” and “great Chenin character” note other tasters. More than just a curiosity. (Buy again? Yes.)

Côtes du Jura 2009, Vin Jaune, Domaine Pignier ($102.10/620 ml, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Founded in the 13th century and in the hands of the Pignier family since 1794, the estate is located in the commune of Montaigu in the southern Jura. 100% Savagnin from biodynamically farmed vines rooted in clayey calcareous marl with Lias slate. Manually harvested. Fermented and matured in untopped-up oak barrels under a yeast veil for seven years. No added yeast. No chaptalization or racking. Bottled according to the lunar calendar. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: WINO.
On the nose, it’s a beautiful, subtle mix of nuts, yellow fruit, straw and white minerals. In the mouth, it’s a perfect balance between the pure fruit, fine acidity and imposing minerality. Not as oxidized as some but elegant, “accessible” and “super fresh.” (Buy again? If feeling flush, yes.)

MWG July 13th tasting: flight 9 of 9

Written by carswell

September 3, 2017 at 14:05

Not your ordinary champers

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Something of a cult producer – they’re currently accepting no new clients – Vouette et Sorbée has been making idiosyncratic champagnes since 2001. The estate is located in the village of Buxières-sur-Arce, which is geographically, geologically and maybe even spiritually closer to Chablis than to the champagne capital of Épernay.

Champagne 2011, Cuvée Fidèle, Vouette et Sorbée ($76.73, private import, 6 bottles/case)
A blanc de noirs. 100% Pinot Noir from organically and biodynamically farmed vines 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. The wine is aged on its lees on lattes (stacked in piles with small pieces of wood inserted between the bottles to prevent them from moving) and riddled on racks. This is nearly all 2011 except for a dollop of reserve wines. Sulphur dioxide is added to the incoming grapes but not at bottling. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: Rézin.
Extremely complex nose: miso, black pepper, “apples on the floor of the orchard” (quoting another taster), roasted white meat, barley sugar and more as the wine breathes. Dry and intense on the palate. The effervescence is light and fine but also very insistent. The remarkably pure fruit tends to red berries and apples, is grounded in chalky minerals and coloured by spice and umami notes. Lively acidity adds tension that relaxes only on the long finish with its lingering spice and brioche flavours. Not so much a vin plaisir as a vin de contemplation and quite unlike any other champagne I’ve tasted. Next time I’ll carafe it a couple of hours before serving. (Buy again? Yes.)

Champagne 2012, Saignée de Sorbée, Vouette et Sorbée ($124.85, private import, 6 bottles/case)
A rosé champagne. 100% Pinot Noir from organically and biodyamically farmed vines averaging 22 years old. More than three-quarters of the vines are planted on Kimmeridgian hillsides, the remainder in fragmented Portlandian limestone. Manually harvested. Made using the saignée method with extended carbonic maceration. Vinified in 400-litre oak casks. Undergoes malolactic fermentation. Indigenous yeasts are used for primary and secondary fermentation. The wine is aged on its lees on lattes and riddled on racks. Sulphur dioxide is added only to the incoming grapes. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: Rézin.
Strawberry carpels, miso, cooked rhubarb, pastry cream, apple peel and more. In the piehole, the wine is weighty but not heavy, textured by a fine, soft bead and mouth-watering acidity. Once again the fruit is as savoury as sweet and intertwined with minerals. Pink grapefruit, including the pith, is joined by spice and umami notes on the long finish. Continues evolving in the glass; I suspect this, too, would benefit from an hour or two in the carafe. Complex and fascinating, a rosé to contend with. (Buy again? When my boat comes in…)

These showed much better than the 2007s that the group tasted in December 2010. Or maybe our palates have evolved. In fact, at one point during the tasting, I found myself wondering whether the adage about vin jaune didn’t also apply here: you don’t appreciate it until your third encounter.

MWG March 12th tasting: flight 4 of 7

Written by carswell

April 7, 2016 at 15:02

Peaked and peaking

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To celebrate his impending marriage, a MWG member raided his cellar and generously treated the group to two 1990 St-Juliens. Thanks and congratulations, David!

Saint-Julien 1990, Château Lagrange
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (44%), Merlot (44%) and Petit Verdot (12%). Manually harvested. Maceration and fermentation of the various lots takes place in temperature-controlled (28°C) stainless steel vats ranging in size from 66 to 220 hl and lasts two to three weeks. The lots are selected, blended and matured in French oak barrels (60% new) for 21 months. Fined with egg whites and racked by candle light before bottling. 13% ABV.
Young to the eye for a 25-year-old wine: some fading at the rim but virtually no bricking. Effusive nose of cassis, graphite, red meat, “honeycomb,” modelling clay, cigar box and green pepper. Savoury and smooth, rich and elegant. The tannins are mostly resolved though the wine still has plenty of structure. Leather, stones, spice and wood (not oak) overtone the long finish. A complete wine. Classic Médoc, at or near peak.

Saint-Julien 1990, Château Léoville-Barton
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc; haven’t found the exact percentages used in 1990 but it’s usually something like 65%, 25% and 10% respectively. Current-day wine-making practices, which are probably not too dissimilar from those used a quarter of a century ago, are: manual harvesting; destemming, crushing and fermenting on a plot by plot basis in temperature-controlled wood vats; alcoholic fermentation lasting seven to 10 days with twice daily pump-overs; three week’s maceration on the skins; maturation in French oak barrels (50-70% new) for 16 to 18 months and topped up three times a week; fining in the barrels with fresh egg whites. 12.5% ABV.
Even less bricking than the Lagrange. The expected cassis is there but as a backdrop to beef chop suey, “tamarind,” chestnut honey and graphite. Smoothly structured with soft-glow acidity and round, resolving tannins that, as chewing reveals, still have an astringent bite. The fruit remains vibrant and the wine’s depth is not yet fully in evidence. Tobacco and cedar linger long. Darker and more umami-rich than a bottle opened a decade earlier, I think this needs another five or 10 years to peak. That said, I’m sure it’d be a here-now delight with a roasted leg of lamb.

MWG October 8th tasting: flight 6 of 7

Written by carswell

October 25, 2015 at 15:03

MWG November 24th tasting: Perfectly Pinot

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Côtes-de-Nuits Villages 2012, Viola odorata, Domaine Henri Naudin-Ferrand ($76.75, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Each of the estate’s unsulphured cuvées is named after a different wildflower found growing in the vineyards. The grapes for this 100% Pinot Noir come from sustainably farmed 70- to 85-year-old vines grown in three parcels. Manually harvested. The whole clusters are vatted under carbon dioxide for two weeks’ maceration and fermentation (with indigenous yeasts and occasional punch-downs), followed by a quick, gentle pressing, The must is transferred by gravity into large barrels for 48 hours’ settling and then into French oak barrels (80% new) for malolactic fermentation and maturation (18 months in all). Bottled unfiltered and unfined using gravity and compressed air (no pumping). No added sulphur. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
The kind of fragrant nose that makes Pinot Noir lovers swoon: red berries, forest floor, ferns, cola, beet, turned earth, slate, ash and a hint of iodide. A sip shows the wine to be a medium-bodied, silky textured, expansive mouthful of ripe fruit with firm yet lacy tannins and glowing acidity, all grounded in earth and minerals and slow-fading in a long, woody (not oaky) finish. Am not sure how it pulls off the trick of being both rustic and elegant but it does. Carafe an hour or longer if serving now or cellar for another five or ten years. (Buy again? If you can afford it, go for it!)

Vosne-Romanée 2011, Les Jachées, Domaine Bizot ($179.00, 11381953)
The 3.5-hectare estate produces a total 900 cases of wines a year. 100% Pinot Noir from sustainably farmed 80-plus-year-old vines grown in the Les Jachées vineyard. Manually harvested. The whole clusters are vatted, fermented with indigenous yeasts for 14 to 20 days and gently pressed. The must is transferred to new oak barrels for 15 to 20 months’ maturation. Unpumped, unracked, unfiltered and unfined, with not added sulphur. Manually bottled, barrel by barrel (the label specifies which barrel the wine came from). 11.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
More assertive but equally textbook nose redolent of spice, cherry, wood, cedar, turned earth, beet: ça pinote, as they say around here. Richer, rounder and deeper, too. Structured though not at the expense of fluidity. Silky fruit unfurls over fine velvety tannins and sleek acidity. Layers of minerals and wood hint at unplumbable depths. Gains a liqueurish note on the seemingly endless finish. Dry but so ripe and pure you don’t notice. In a word, spellbinding. Remarkably accessible for such a primary wine, which isn’t to say it shouldn’t be cellared for a decade. (Buy again? If you can afford it, go for it!)

An interesting flight for several reasons. First, it was arguably the most memorable of the tasting. Also, both wines come from the Côtes-de-Nuits and are made with grapes from old vines. Both estates have similar farming and winemaking practices. And lastly, Claire Naudin and Jean-Yves Bizot were once an item and remain good friends.

(Flight: 3/5)

Written by carswell

December 19, 2014 at 14:05

MWG November 24th tasting: Inspired start

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Theo Diamantis recently joined the group to lead a tasting of wines from the oenopole portfolio. Our agency tastings usually feature private imports. This time, however, with an eye to the holidays, we focused mainly on bottles sold at the two SAQ Signature stores. The tasting began with a fine sparkler.

Champagne, Blanc de blancs, Extra-Brut, La Colline Inspirée, Jacques Lassaigne ($106, 12061353)
Planted to Chardonnay and a little Pinot Noir, the approximately five-hectare estate is located in Montgeux, a chalky hill in the southernmost part of the appellation. A small quantity of grapes is also purchased. All the grapes are organically farmed and the wine-making is as natural as possible. Disgorgement is performed monthly, surely one of the reasons the wines always taste fresh. This cuvée, currently a blend of the 2009 and 2010 vintages, is vinified and aged on the lees in used white Burgundy barrels. The 100% Chardonnay grapes come from vines more than 40 years old. Fermentation is with indigenous yeasts. Riddling is mechanical, disgorging manual. Sulphur is added only at harvest to prevent oxidation; even the liqueur d’expédition (the wine used to top up the disgorged bottles) is sulphur-free. The liqueur also contains little or no added sugar. Bottled unfiltered and unfined. Available only in magnums until a couple of years ago. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
A nose you want to linger with: apple and pear, chalk, yeast, a floral note and hints of vanilla, yogurt and oxidation (nuts and honey). Rich and round in the mouth, with a creamy texture, fine, caressing bubbles and tons of minerals and acidity. The mature fruit initially gives the impression of sweetness but the wine is actually very dry (around 4 g/l residual sugar). There’s good depth and impressive breadth and length. Fleshier than the other Lassaigne wines I’ve tasted but, like them, a model of purity and elegance. (Buy again? Budget permitting, yes.)

(Flight: 1/5)

Written by carswell

December 9, 2014 at 21:03