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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

Could-be Chiantis

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The daughter of an oenologist, Giovanna Morganti studied oenology and then began working for San Felice, where she focused on preserving some 300 old Tuscan grape varieties. When her father gave her the three-hectare Podere le Boncie, an olive-growing estate in Castelnuovo Berardenga, Giovanna created a vineyard, populating it with Sangiovese and her favourite old varieties – Ciligiolo, Foglia Tonda, Mammolo and Prugnolo – planted very densely (7,000 vines per hectare). She has since acquired another 1.3 hectares nearby. The farming is mostly biodynamic. Fermentation, with indigenous yeasts, takes place in traditional open-topped wood tanks. Two wines are produced: the flagship Le Trame and a “second” wine, Il Cinque, a young-vines cuvée that was originally sold only at the winery.

Located in Carmignano, Italy’s smallest wine appellation and one of its oldest (granted special protections as far back as 1716), Fattoria di Baccherto has been in the hands of the Tesi family since 1920. Currently run by Rossela Bencini Tesi, the estate is centred around a former Medici hunting lodge. In 2001, unhappy with the quality of her wines and the condition of her soil, Rossela switched to natural wine-making: organic and eventually biodynamic farming, no additions in the cellar other than a tiny shot of sulphur dioxide at bottling, spontaneous fermentations, no temperature control, no filtering and no fining. Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon (long present in the appellation and possibly introduced in the 16th century by Catherine de’ Medici), Canaiolo, Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia del Chinati are the main grape varieties. Annual production is around 10,000 bottles of red wine, 2,000 bottles of white wine and 1,000 bottles of vin santo as well as olive oil, honey and figs.

IGT Toscana 2015, Cinque, Podere le Boncie ($33.50, private import, 12 bottles/case)
Sangiovese (70%) with Mammolo, Colorino, Foglia Tonda and Ciliegolo making up the balance. Manually harvested. Destemmed. Fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks. Matured 12 months in barrels and six months in the bottle. Unfiltered and unfined. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Wafting nose of ripe plum, sawed wood, spice, moldering leaves, ink and tobacco. Medium-bodied, silky textured and oh, so flavourful. The ripe, almost juicy fruit is grounded in a earthy mineral substrate. Bright acidity and wiry tannins provide a light but tensile structure. Finishes long and clean. Accessible now and best drunk over the next two or three years, methinks. (Buy again? Done!)

Carmignano 2014, Terre a Mano, Fattoria di Bacchereto ($50.75, private import, 6 bottles/case)
75% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo Nero, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon from vines planted in 1979, 1994 and 2004. Manually harvested. Destemmed. Alcoholic fermentation takes place in glass-lined concrete tanks and lasts 15 days. The wine is then transferred to used 350-litre Allier oak barrels for malolactic fermentation and maturation, typically lasting 18 to 24 months. Unfiltered and unfined. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Pure cherry faceted with plum, dried herbs, sun-baked earth and a hint of leather. Medium- to full-bodied. Ideal balance between ripe, savoury, satiny fruit and a lovely airframe structure comprising robust tannins, bright acidity and real mineral depth. A floral note creeps in on the long finish. The touch of rusticity in no way detracts from the wine’s overall elegance. (Buy again? Yes.)

IGT Toscana 2014, Le Trame, Podere le Boncie ($54.50, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Sangiovese (90%), Foglia Tonda, Colorino and Mammolo (10% combined) from vines averaging 20 years old. Manually harvested. Destemmed. Fermented 20 days in small wood vats with indigenous yeasts and twice-daily punch-downs. Matured 26 months in large barrels and six months in the bottle. Annual production: around 6,000 bottles. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Echt-Sangiovese nose of cherry, sawdust, terracotta and sandalwood with earthy overtones of mushroom and humus. Rich, the fleshiest of the three but in no way heavy. Glowing acidity enlightens the sweet-ripe, somewhat dusky fruity. Round tannins add a light, drying rasp. Dark minerals abound, including a ferrous rumble that lasts well into the long finish. Red fruit, terracotta, spice and a hint of mint linger. Already showing considerable complexity, not to mention superb depth and balance, this will age beautifully for another five or 10 years. (Buy again? Done!)

MWG November 10th tasting: flight 4 of 5

Written by carswell

February 4, 2018 at 13:05

Dufaitre trio

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Based in Saint-Étienne-des-Oullières, Laurence and Rémi Dufaitre began working their first hectare of vines in 2001, initially selling the fruit to the local co-op. They started making wine and bottling it under their own label in 2010. Today their holdings, which include the former Domaine de Botheland, total around 12 hectares, one of which is planted to Chardonnay. Inspired by Jules Chauvet and his disciples, especially Jean Foillard, the Dufaitres use organically farmed grapes that undergo carbonic maceration and are given long, naturally low-temperature fermentations with indigenous yeasts. Chaptalization, filtering and fining are strictly avoided. When used, sulphur dioxide is kept to a minimum.

Beaujolais Villages 2016, Prémices, Laurence et Rémi Dufaitre ($28.40, private import, 12 bottles/case)
100% Gamay from 35-year-old vines grown in the granite, sand and gravel soil of a plot named Prémices. Carbonic maceration lasted 16 days. Fermented and matured in concrete tanks. No added sulphur. Bottled in February 2017. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Cherry, red berries and vine sap with background slate and ink. Fresh and light on the palate, with lovely ripe fruit, bright acidity and light, caressing tannins. Ripe-sweet upfront, drying on the long, savoury, spicy finish with its lingering hint of stem. Straightforward but far from simple, a wine of great purity and finesse. A second encounter, a bottle drunk on its own at dinner, impressed me even more; tasting double-blind and fooled by its raspberry-leaning fruit and peppery spice, I guessed it was carbonic-macerated Grenache. (Buy again? Definitely.)

Brouilly 2016, Laurence et Rémi Dufaitre ($34.75, private import, 12 bottles/case)
100% Gamay from 60- to 65-year-old vines rooted in granite and volcanic soil. Carbonic maceration lasted 18 days. Fermented in concrete tanks. Matured in old 200-litre oak barrels. Bottled in March 2017. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Earthy nose, the fruit overtoned with old wood, spice and a hint of barnyard. In the mouth, the wine is a bit more intense – a bit less vin plaisir – than the Prémices though still on the lighter side of medium-bodied. Veils of fruit, great minerality, buoyant acidity and light tannins hold the attention. As Theo notes, there’s a lovely “clarity [that] comes in the middle of the mouth.” The longest of the three. (Buy again? Yes, though not necessarily in preference to the Côte de Brouilly.)

Côte de Brouilly 2016, Laurence et Rémi Dufaitre ($36.50, private import, 12 bottles/case)
100% Gamay from 50- to 70-year-old vines rooted in granite and volcanic soil. Carbonic maceration lasted 18 days. Fermented in concrete tanks. Matured in used Burgundy barrels. Bottled in March 2017, a month earlier than usual. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
A nose similar to the Brouilly’s but deeper, more complex and savoury, with mushroom creeping in and the spice taking on Asian overtones. A medium-bodied mouthful of rich yet crunchy fruit and slate. Finely structured by sleek acidity and supple yet resilient tannins. So pure and elegant, this complete and balanced wine is delicious now but has the wherewithal to age for several years. (Buy again? Yes.)

MWG November 10th tasting: flight 3 of 5

Written by carswell

January 31, 2018 at 12:31

Southern Overnoys

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A surprising number of Jura winemakers share family names. The list includes the Benoits (Denis and Paul et fils), the Boilleys (Joël and Luc), the Bulabois (Claude, Georges, Philippe and Régis), the Clavelins (Charles and Hubert et fils), the Puffeneys (Frédéric and Jacques), the Rolets (the eponymous estate and Gérard) and the Tissots (Jean-Louis, Jacques and André et Mireille).

The Overnoys also belong on this list. The wines made by Pupilin-based Pierre Overnoy (and now his former assistant, Emmanuel Houillon) have long been favourites bordering of fetish objects of natural wine geeks. Also based in Pupillin, Domaine Overnoy-Crinquand has a somewhat lower profile but is something of a rising star. Until this fall, however, I didn’t know there was a third Overnoy estate: Domaine Overnoy, which is located further south, in the commune of Orbagna, and is currently run by 20-something Guillaume Overnoy, Pierre’s great nephew.

Actually, Domaine Overnoy is a neighbour of Domaine Labet (both estates are in the Sud-Revermont region) and Julien Labet has been active in introducing the estate to agents he deals with, including oenopole, which is how the wines have made their way to Quebec.

Guillaume took over the 5.5-hectare family estate from his father, Jean-Louis, in 2013. The following year, he began converting it to organic farming, obtaining certification in 2016. While Trousseau is the flagship, wines are made from all five official Jura varieties (the estate has 3 ha of Chardonnay, 1 ha of Savagnin and around 1 ha of red varieties, of which Trousseau comprises 55 ares, the rest being Poulsard and Pinot Noir). The soil tends to grey marl. Harvesting is manual. Wine-making is non-interventionist. Alcoholic and malolactic fermentations are spontaneous. In the cellar, sulphur use is minimal.

All three wines we tasted were from the 2015 vintage. The last few vintages have been difficult in the Jura and 2015 was no exception, the main problems being excessive heat and drought.

Côtes du Jura 2015, Chardonnay, Perce Neige, Domaine Overnoy ($32.75, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Chardonnay from vines in an historic parcel. May be fermented in tanks and may be prevented from undergoing malolactic fermentation. In any case, the winemaker’s aim is for a fresh wine to be drunk young and not necessarily with food. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Engaging nose of yellow apple and straw with hints of pineapple and white flowers. Medium-bodied. Sweet-seeming on entry but actually quite dry. Ripe but hot heavy, in no small part due to the crisp acidity. The rich mid-palate is underlain with chalky minerals that last well into the long, drying finish. A clean, precise, refreshing wine with “lots of energy.” (Buy again? Yes.)

Côtes du Jura 2015, Chardonnay, Charmille, Domaine Overnoy ($37.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Chardonnay from the Charmille lieu-dit. Slow alcoholic fermentation (more than 10 months). Underwent malolactic fermentation. Matured in fifth- to sixth-fill fûts. 14.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
More minerally, complex and serious than the Perce Neige, with notes of “curry,” “cumin seeds,” browning apple and crushed fresh herbs, especially chamomile. Rich and serious in the mouth (“like a Labet,” notes one taster). Clean and structured, fleet yet complex. There’s a load of minerals and great energy. Keeps its cool despite the alcohol. Savoury and dry, especially on the long finish. My favourite of the three. (Buy again? Def.)

Côtes du Jura 2015, Trousseau, Domaine Overnoy ($38.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Trousseau. Probably destemmed. Matured in neutral barrels. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Red berries, boudoir, old wood, spice and eventually floral and earth notes. In the mouth, it’s “fruit-forward” and full of “ripe strawberry.” The acidity is pronounced but smooth. Round tannins and dark minerals stay in the background until the finish. While a bit atypical (richer, more fruit-driven and less structured than your average Trousseau, probably due to the vintage), it definitely works as a “vin plaisir.” Not sure it’s a long keeper, though. (Buy again? Yep.)

MWG November 10th tasting: flight 2 of 5

Written by carswell

January 29, 2018 at 14:37

Peerless

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Dolcetto d’Alba 2015, Cantina Bartolo Mascarello ($34.00, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Dolcetto from organically farmed vines. Fermented with indigenous yeasts in non-temperature-controlled concrete tanks with no pump-overs but with the skins and seeds kept submerged in the must. Matured one year in neutral, Slavonian oak botte. Lightly filtered before bottling. 14% ABV. The lovely label features a painting done by Bartolo when he was in his 70s. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Closed nose that, with coaxing, gives up mullbery, coffee, turned earth, “vanilla Coke,”Asian spice and “florals.” So dense, tannic, tight and primal in the mouth and yet so beautiful. The ripe fruit, which includes “black olive,” is carried on an underground river of acidity over a deep mineral substrate. The finish is endless. Balanced, profound, even mysterious, and full of potential: clearly a great wine. Give this monolith five years or longer to open up, then prepare to be wowed. (Buy again? Whenever the opportunity presents itself.)

Dolcetto d’Alba 2015, Giuseppe Rinaldi ($33.50, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Dolcetto from organically farmed vines. Fermented with indigenous yeasts in large wood vats. Matured in neutral Slavonian oak botte. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Constantly evolving nose of, among other things, bitter cherry, sweet spice, leafmould, slate, incense and cascara. Medium- to full-bodied. Packed with fruit (mainly black cherry) and minerals. Structured by bright, smooth acidity and firm yet pliable tannins that another taster describes as “silty.” The long, silky finish is overtoned with earth and spice. A complete wine. Accessible, especially compared with the Mascarello, though capable of ageing a decade or even longer. (Buy again? Definitely.)

MWG October 26th tasting: flight 5 of 6

Written by carswell

December 23, 2017 at 12:55

Three Rieslings/countries/price points

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Rheingau 2015, Riesling Trocken, Von Unserm, Weingut Balthasar Ress ($20.65, 12510788)
100% Riesling from vines planted in clayey limestone soil in Hattenheim and Rüdesheim. Manually harvested. Direct pressed. Fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. Clarified by settling. Screwcapped. Reducing sugar: 4.1 g/l. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: Balthazard.
Classic Riesling nose of lemon/lime, green apple, white slate and a hint of peach yogurt. A faint spritz is detectable on the palate. Welterweight build. Dry but fruity: apple and lime set on river stones. The acidity stays underground until surfacing on the decent finish. A bit simple but fresh and likeable. (Buy again? Sure.)

Alsace 2014, Riesling, Le Kottabe, Josmeyer & Fils ($31.00, 12713032)
100% Riesling from organically and biodynamically farmed 40-year-old vines rooted in the gravelly, sandy, pebbly soil of Herrenweg. Manually harvested. The whole clusters were pneumatically pressed over five to eight hours. Spontaneous fermentation lasted from one to four months. The resulting wine was matured in a mix of stainless steel tanks and century-old oak foudres. Reducing sugar: 2.4 g/l. 11.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Symbiose.
Appealing nose of lemon pound cake, icing sugar and eventually white spice. Medium-bodied and super dry. The pure fruit (“crab apple” with hints of citrus and peach) is brightened by relatively low-Watt acidity. The long, taut, saline finish has a bitter edge. Tasty. (Buy again? Sure, though not without wishing it was $5 cheaper.)

Alto Adige Valle Iscaro 2014, Riesling, Brixner Eisacktaler, Weingut Köfererhof ($49.00, 12958013)
Founded in 1940, the five-hectare estate is located in the South Tyrol at the foot of the Dolomites, near Italy’s border with Austria. 100% Riesling from vines planted in 1998 and rooted in gravely silt and sand at 650-700 metres above sea level. The grapes are manually harvested in two passes; half when fully ripe and the other half two or three weeks later. The two harvests are vinified separately and blended before bottling. The clusters are not systematically destemmed. Fermentation takes place in temperature-controlled (20°C) stainless steel tanks and matures on the lees for six months. Sulphur is added only at bottling and then in minute quantities. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Le Maître de Chai.
A whiff of sulphur blows off, leaving a complex nose of chalk, “papaya,” clean sweat and “lemon grape” that’s like walking through a balsam forest after a rain. Time in the glass produces floral and herbal notes. Equally interesting in the mouth: a dry, structured, dimensional wine of great precision and purity. The ripe fruit, deep minerality and lively acidity are in perfect balance from the clean attack through the long finish. Loses none of its qualities after warming to room temperature, always a good sign. Austere but delicious and absolutely world-class. Wow. (Buy again? Yes.)

MWG October 26th tasting: flight 3 of 6

Written by carswell

December 20, 2017 at 14:24

Red devil

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Vallée d’Aoste 2015, Enfer d’Arvier, Danilo Thomain ($37.75, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Located in a steep, south-facing ampitheatre in the Valle d’Aosta, the five-hectare Enfer d’Arvier subzone, which gained DOC status in 1971 but has since been incorporated into the valley-wide DOC, is named enfer (“hell” in French) due to the intensity of the light and summer heat and the aridity and hardness of the soil. The Thomain estate, which was founded in 1920 by Danilo’s grandfather, comprises one hectare and is the appellation’s only independent winemaker. Farming is not organic though use of chemicals is kept to a minimum. The wine-making is artisanal. Production averages around 5,000 bottles a year. This, the only wine made, is a blend of Petit Rouge (90%) with 10% Pinot Noir, Gamay and Gamaret from 35- to 40-year-old vines rooted in sandy glacial moraine. Manually harvested. Destemmed. Alcoholic fermentation with indigenous yeasts takes place in 1.5-ton fibreglass tanks and lasts around two weeks. The wine is then transferred to barrels for nine months for malolactic fermentation and maturation on the lees. Clarification is by settling; the wine is unfiltered and unfined. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Vadim Fonta.

The first bottle seems lightly corked, which is confirmed when we open a backup. Appealing, earthy nose of sour cherry and choke cherry with hints of green and tarragon/licorice. In the mouth, it’s medium-bodied, dry and oh, so pure. The intense berry fruit tastes more wild than cultivated. Structure comes in the form of smooth but lively acidity, wiry tannins and a mineral underlay. The finish is long and a faint bitterness lingers. Tasty and very drinkable. Had this been available for purchase, we would have taken a case or two. (Buy again? Yes.)

MWG October 13th tasting: flight 7 of 9

Written by carswell

December 2, 2017 at 13:44