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Burgundy, (not) Burgundy

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Based in Bonnencontre, Domaine Bonardot is sometimes referred to as Domaine Ludovic Bonnardot to avoid confusion with the Domaine Bonnardot based in Villers-la-Faye. Ludovic has been in charge of the estate since 2005, when he took over from his mother, Élisabeth. She founded the business in 1981 after studying oenology and apprenticing with Jules Chauvet. Over the years, she became interested in more natural approaches to farming and wine-making, an interest Ludovic shares, and it is under his watch that the estate has begun converting to organic. The 15-hectare estate has two operations: centred in Santenay, the wine-growing focuses on Côte de Beaune and Hautes-Côtes de Beaune appellations, while blackcurrants, aspaagus and grains are grown in Bonnencontre.

(That charcuterie, which tasted even better than it looks, came from Phillip Viens.)

Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes de Beaune 2014, En Cheignot, Domaine Bonnardot ($34.21, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Chardonnay from a relatively high-altitude (440 m) parcel of 40-year-old substantially farmed vines near Orches. The soil is clay and limestone with pebbles and occasional rock outcrops. The grapes were manually harvested and the whole clusters direct-pressed. Spontaneously fermented in temperature-controlled conditions. Underwent spontaneous malolactic fermentation. Matured 12 months in 228-litre, fourth- to sixth-fill oak barrels and a further six months in stainless steel tanks. Clarified naturally, then lightly filtered before bottling with a small amount of sulphur dioxide (the only sulphur added during wine-making). 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
Faint lemon and apple, minerals and distant cedary spice. In the mouth, it’s medium-bodied, lean and minerally, fresh and balanced. “You get rocks and chalk,” as one taster notes, along with nuances of yellow stone fruit and lemon. Clean, long and complete. A QPR winner, as far as I’m concerned. (Buy again? Def.)

Vin de France 2015, Les Grandes Terres, Ludovic et Émilien Bonnardot ($40.24, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Pinot Noir from organically and biodynamically farmed vines in the Santenay-Villages appellation (am unsure why it is declassified). The whole-clusters are spontaneously fermented and pressed when fermentation/maceration are complete. The wine is transferred to oak barrels for 12-18 months’ maturation. This is from Bonnardot’s natural line, so no added anything, including sulphur, and no filtering or fining. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
Lovely, complex, fruity nose with an appealing rustic edge: red berries, some spice, a hint of beet and a whiff of turned earth. Rich and velvety (“the texture is very thick”) on the palate, though still medium-bodied. The acidity is smooth, the tannins are round and both are well integrated; in short, everything’s in balance. Finishes long and clean with a lingering tang. While there’s lots happening on the surface, most notably a fruity denseness, you wouldn’t call the wine deep, at least at this stage in its development. And yet your interest is engaged and held. A here-now pleasure. (Buy again? Yes.)

MWG February 22nd tasting: flight 3 of 5

All singing, all dreaming

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Based in Savigny-lès-Beaune, the husband and wife team of Guillaume Bott and Tomoko Kuriyama founded Chanterêves in 2010. Both have a background in wine-growing, with Guillaume having worked at Étienne Sauzet before becoming the winemaker at Domaine Bize and Tomoko having studied oenology in Geisenheim before working at Friedrich Altenkirch in the Rheingau. Although they use only purchased grapes, they have their own wine-making facilities and hope to acquire some plots of vines. Their cellar practices tend to the non-interventionist, with an increasing reliance on whole-cluster fermentations. All fermentations are spontaneous; new oak is limited to the top cuvées and never exceeds 33%; fining is avoided; and sulphur use is minimized.

Bourgogne Blanc 2014, Chanterêves ($34.49, private import, 12 bottles/case)
100% Chardonnay from organically and biodynamically farmed vines in a plot in the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, just behind Saint-Romain. Fermented and matured one year in older oak barrels. Underwent malolactic fermentation. No stirring. Lightly filtered before bottling. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
Fresh-cut apple and chalk with faint honey, oak and ash notes. Medium-bodied. The lemon-apple fruit, fresh acidity and mineral backbone are in prefect balance, providing texture, tension, structure and depth. A hint of caramel lingers. “Centred in the middle of the mouth” per one taster. Delicious. (Buy again? Moot but yes.)

Bourgogne Blanc 2015, Chanterêves ($35.07, private import, 12 bottles/case)
100% Chardonnay. Vinification as for the 2014. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
More closed: subtle white flowers, minerals and eventually herbs and lemon fruit and pith. In the mouth, it’s a bit heftier, more minerally and, surprisingly, less fruity than the 2014. The acidity seems ramped up a bit too. While the effects of the hot vintage are apparent, the wine remains balanced and precise. “Centered in the front of the mouth” per the same taster, though I expect that may change as the wine ages, not that I’d recommend keeping it much beyond 2020. (Buy again? Yes.)

Bourgogne Rouge 2014, Chanterêves ($34.49, private import, 12 bottles/case)
100% Pinot Noir from sustainably farmed parcels in Puligny-Montrachet and Paris-l’Hôpital (Maranges). This was Chanterêves’ first whole-cluster, nearly sulphurless cuvée. Given four weeks’ maceration in a wooden tank with no pump-overs but six post-fermentation punch-downs. Matured 10 months in older oak barrels. Racked once before bottling. Unfiltered. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
Ça pinote: beet, sawed wood and background graphite gaining “blueberry pie filling” and Christmas spice notes. A light medium-bodied. Ripe but bone dry, leading one taster to describe it as “super lean.” Sleek tannins and acidity structure and enliven the ethereal fruit. The purity, balance and length are exceptional for a generic Burgundy. (Buy again? Moot but yes.)

Bourgogne Rouge 2015 Chanterêves ($35.07, private import, 12 bottles/case)
100% Pinot Noir. Vinification as for the 2014 except slightly more sulphur dioxide was used at bottling. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
Seems less effusive than the 2014: the difference a vintage makes? a year of in the bottle makes? Coaxing brings out red berries, spice and turned earth. On the palate, it’s richer and even more structured, with zingy acid, light but firm tannins and mineral depth. In a phrase, a lovely, lush-leaning Pinot Noir that will probably benefit from a couple of years in the cellar. Opinions were evenly divided as to which of the two reds was preferable. (Buy again? Yes.)

MWG February 22nd tasting: flight 2 of 5

Written by carswell

March 27, 2018 at 12:30

Les élixirs de Xavier

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The Mo’ Wine Group’s second February tasting was led by agent Max Campbell and devoted to private imports represented in Quebec by Deux Caves, one of which caves Max is. We began with three wines from an under-the-radar artisanal vintner whose wines had impressed us back in 2015.

In 2010, Xavier Marchais abandoned his career as a computer engineer and moved to Faye-d’Anjou to begin life as a winemaker. His four hectares of vines (half Chenin, half Cabernet Franc) are farmed biodynamically using a horse and manual labour. Pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and other synthetic products are systematically avoided. The wine-making is non-interventionist. For the Elixir cuvées, fermentation (with indigenous yeasts) and maturation take place in used barriques. Cellar techniques are pretty much limited to crushing and punching down by foot, manual pressing and racking. No sugar or sulphur are added. The unfiltered and unfined wines are bottled by hand and closed with a crown cap (the still red’s cap reportedly allows more oxygen exchange than the still white’s).

Vin de France 2015, L’Élixir de Jouvence, Xavier Marchais ($32.77, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Chenin Blanc grown on schist. Matured 12 months. Crown-capped. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
Engaging nose of straw, dried stone fruit, citrus peel and wax. Medium-bodied but full of fruity extract, not to mention a ton of minerals. The acidity is very present. While there’s some depth, this is above all a fresh and unpretentious expression of juicy Chenin goodness. Totally lacks the rebarbative reduction found in the 2013, which Marchais reportedly now attributes to not having realized that the wine hadn’t finished malolactic fermentation when he bottled it, meaning fermentation continued in reductive conditions (which would also explain that wine’s faint fizz). (Buy again? Yes.)

Vin de France, L’Élixir de Longue-Vie, Xavier Marchais ($29.32, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Cabernet Franc grown on schist and spilite. Matured 12 months. Crown-capped. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
Exuberant, green-free nose of dusty hard red candy (raspberry, cherry, currant), sandalwood, slate and herbs. Gains a floral note. Both fresh and drying in the mouth. No more than medium-bodied. The pure fruit is quite structured, with wiry tannins and fluent acidity found throughout. A minerally and earthy streak comes to the fore (or, as one taster put it, “there’s this long rooty thing in the middle of the palate”) but the finish is long and clean. A classic easy-drinking Cab Franc. (Buy again? Def.)

Vin de France 2015, L’Élixir Onirique, Xavier Marchais ($33.06, private import, 6 bottles/case)
A red pet-nat (ancestral method sparkler) of Grolleau (70%) and Cabernet Franc (30%). Matured 12 months in barrel, six month in bottle. No dosage (the residual sugar remaining in the bottled wine ferments, producing the carbon dioxide that sparkles the wine). 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
“Cherry cough drops” and “dried violets,” to quote two other tasters. Fine bubbles. Fruity, minerally and yeasty. Not particularly deep but more structured than you might expect, with framing tannins and an almost souring acidity. The sweet-tart finish draws you back for another sip. Vin plaisir, anyone? (Buy again? Yep.)

MWG February 22nd tasting: flight 1 of 5

A ramble round Vittoria

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In Italian, cerasuolo means cherry-red. The word also appears in the names of two appellations. Cerasuolo d’Abrruzo is a Multepulciano-based rosé from central Italy. Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a red wine from southeast Sicily, specifically the province of Ragusa and parts of Caltanissetta and Catania.

Though Cerasuolo di Vittoria has been made since the 17th century, it wasn’t granted DOC status until 1974. Since 2004, it has been Sicily’s only DOCG. By law, Cerasuolo di Vittoria must be a blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato, with the former constituting between 50 and 70%. Within the DOCG is a large zone, centred around Vittoria and including the original DOC, whose wines are entitled to the Classico designation provided they have been matured 18 months or longer.

Cerasuolo di Vittora 2015, Planeta ($24.00, 10553362)
A 50-50 blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato from vines rooted in sandy top soil over tufa. The two vineyards are at 70-80 metres above sea level. Manually harvested. Destemmed. Macerated on the skins for 14 days. Fermented in temperature-controlled (23°C) stainless steel vats. Gently pressed in a vertical press. Matured in stainless steel tanks. Reducing sugar: 2.8 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: La Céleste Levrue.
Bright nose of red berries, pine forest floor, fresh oregano, “turnip” and “pepper oil” that takes on candied notes as the wine breathes. A medium-bodied mouthful of red berries and red peppercorns. Smoothed-edge acidity brightens the fruit while a mineral streak adds a modicum of depth. The tannins are soft on surface, more sinewy underneath. A bitter thread runs though the caramel-overtoned finish. Best, by which I mean freshest and most lively, just after opening. With time in the glass, the wine loses nuance and buoyancy, becoming more fruit-forward and sweet-seeming, even cloying. (Buy again? Meh.)

Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2015, Classico, COS ($36.50, 12484997)
A 60-40 blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato from organically and biodynamically farmed vines averaging 25 years old. Elevation: 230 m. Fermented in stainless steel tanks on the skins and with indigenous yeasts. Matured 15 months in 20- and 40-hectolire Slavonian oak foudres and several months in bottle. Unfiltered. Reducing sugar: 2.0 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Nuanced, complex, savoury nose: red fruit, cured wood, dark minerals and spice. Fluid, silky and on the lighter side of medium-bodied. The gossamer fruit is grounded in a mineral substrate and structured by lacy tannins and pronounced but seamlessly integrated acidity. Finishes long and clean. A balanced, complete and enchanting wine. Not remarkably deep but a here-now pleasure to drink. (Buy again? Yes.)

Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2014, Classico, Gulfi ($41.50, 13477828)
A 70-30 blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato from organically farmed vines from a single vineyard near Ragusa. Elevation: 400-500 m. The varieties are vinified separately. The manually harvested grapes are given a short cold-maceration, followed by fermentation in stainless steel for about two weeks. After pressing, the base wines are blended and matured a few months in stainless steel tanks. Reducing sugar: 3.4 g/l. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: Bambara Sélection.
The nose of blackberry, sandalwood, old wood and leafmould is darker, richer and sweeter than the others but also jammier. In the mouth, it’s bordering on full-bodied and possessed of a satiny texture. Minerals darken the very ripe fruit. Structure is provided by smooth though resilient tannins and sufficient acidity, depth by layers of flavour. A bitter note chimes through the decent finish. Remains fresh despite the density. An enjoyable, even elegant wine albeit one that’s atypically rich – more southern and solar, less like a Burgundy and more like a Languedoc – for the appellation. (Buy again? Sure.)

Mo’ Wine Group November 23rd tasting: flight 6 of 6

Written by carswell

March 7, 2018 at 12:48

Garage music

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Vermont 2016, House Music, La Garagista ($42.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
An ancestral method red sparkler made from a field blend of Marquette, Saint Croix, La Crescent, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac Blanc, and Frontenac Noir. Co-fermented with indigenous yeasts. Unfiltered and unfined. No added sulphur. 11.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.
Protean nose of red berries (and “blueberry pie” per one taster), earth, “good canola,” shoe cream and a not unattractive whiff of barnyard. Lightly fizzy and dry, smooth and fleet. The fruit is sweet-tart, the acidity bright, the slender tannins relegated to the background. A slatey vein extends into the lip-smacking finish. Fresh, juicy and well-neigh irresistible. (Buy again? Def.)

Vermont 2015, Damejeanne, La Garagista ($42.54, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Damejeannes are better known in English as demijohns or carboys, the glass vessels most of La Garagista’s wines are fermented and sometimes matured in. This is a blend of Marquette (90%) and La Crescent (10%). Fermented on the skins with indigenous yeasts, matured one year. Unfiltered and unfined. No added sulphur. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.
Wild red berries including cranberry, earthy notes of slate and beet, spice, an evanescent touch of volatile acidity and an orange-almond note reminiscent of the Vinu Jancu. Denser and rounder than its flightmate, a mouthful of sweet and sour-edged fruit that has me thinking of pomegranates, cherries and red plums, among other things. A mineral base provides foundation for a structure of lightly raspy acid and supple if sinewy tannins tannins. Long, clean, tart finish. (Buy again? Yep.)

Whatever else the assembled tasters thought about the La Garagista wines, everyone agreed they had an energy and a vibrancy – a closeness to the fruit and terroir – that are rare for any wine, let alone ones made from hybrid grapes grown in a harsh climate. The buzz around the table in the tasting room and the Vins Dame-Jeanne booth at the Salon des Quilles was palpable. People, myself included, were stoked about the wines themselves but also about realizing that truly exciting wines unlike any others can be made in our part of the world. Quebec vintners should take note.

Mo’ Wine Group November 23rd tasting: flight 5 of 6

Orange zeal

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Vermont 2015, Vinu Jancu, La Garagista ($45.76, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Vinu Jancu means “orange wine” in a Sicilian dialect. 100% La Crescent. Spontaneously fermented on the skins in glass demijohns. Overwintered on the lees. Unfiltered and unfined. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.

Hazy bronze-orange. Effusive nose: floral, choco-orange, wax, tamarind, cinnamon, hints of caraway, “grappa” and honeycomb. Almost too intense on the attack, “like strong chestnut honey,” but mild-mannered more nuanced on the mid-palate. Fruity, even muscaty (the grape’s Muscat of Hamburg parentage comes through) but dry, with smooth acidity and faint tannins. Focus and you’ll find a mineral vein running throughout. The finish – “really pithy,” “like clementine pith” – lasts for minutes. Fascinating. Like nothing else I’ve encountered, orange or otherwise. (Buy again? A bottle to revisit and contemplate.)

Mo’ Wine Group November 23rd tasting: flight 4 of 6

Brianna split

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Located near the Killington ski resort, on the slopes of Mount Hunger in Barnard, Vermont, and run by Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber, La Garagista Farm + Winery traces its roots back to 1999, when the couple began farming to provide produce for Osteria Pane e Salute, their restaurant in nearby Woodstock. (The osteria closed in 2017 when the cooking operations were moved to Hart Tavernetta Forestiera + Bar à Vin on the winery grounds.) The estate also has two vineyards at the western edge of the state, overlooking Lake Champlain.

Experimental plantings aside, cold-hardy hybrids – crosses between vinifera grapes and native American species – are the only varieties grown: La Crescent, Marquette, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac Blanc, Frontenac, Brianna and St. Croix. When I asked Caleb if they winter-proofed the vines (for example, by burying them), he said no. When I asked whether that was a problem during the harsh cold spells we’ve had in recent winters, he said, “quite the opposite.” The vines had no trouble coping with the cold but the same couldn’t be said about insect and other pests, so the vines thrived the following summers.

Commercial wine- and cider-making is relatively new at the estate, the first vintage being the 2010. From the start, all farming has been organic and biodynamic. The fruit is picked by hand and crushed by foot. Fermentations are spontaneous, relying solely on indigenous yeasts and bacteria. Fermentation and maturation take place in glass demijohns and old barrels, though amphorae and cement eggs are on the couple’s wish list. Filtering and fining are avoided. Sulphur additions, if any, are minimal.

Production is tiny – only a few thousand bottles a year – though plans are to ramp that up to 10,000 or even 20,000. In Montreal, the latest arrival sold out in a flash and personal allocations were limited to a bottle or two, if that, of a given cuvée. Here, then, your best bet for trying La Garagista wines is to visit a wine bar or restaurant that focuses on natural wines. Alternatively, head south, where bottles can sometimes be found on store shelves and restaurant wine lists in Vermont, Boston and New York City.

Vermont 2016, Pétillant Naturel, Ci Confonde, La Garagista ($42.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Brianna. An ancestral method sparkler. Not disgorged. No added sulphur. 11% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.
No head to speak of but a few lazy streams of tiny bubbles. Complex nose with notes of ham, lees, Belgian beer yeast, apple, lemon, white spice and “apricot buckwheat pastry.” Somewhat mead-like in the mouth. Very dry, with lightly souring acidity and a real mineral component. Flavours? Beeswax, drying hay and “passion fruit,” as one taster notes, though it’s by no means a fruity wine. Which isn’t to say it lacks intensity, especially as it breathes and warms. The effervescence mostly disappears by the time the finish rolls around. Chamomile and a hint of honey linger. (Buy again? Gladly, though not without wishing it were $10 cheaper.)

Vermont 2016, Loup d’Or, La Garagista ($42.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Brianna. Made in glass demijohns. 11.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.
The first glasses poured were clear pale yellow-green; due to the deposit, the last glasses were translucent beige verging on opaque tan. For that reason if no other, this is a wine to carafe before serving. And as my sludgy glass was that last one poured, I didn’t spend a lot of time being analytical about it. A complex nose once again: white grape skin, distant stone fruit, spice chest, flowers and a note one taster not disapprovingly describes as “tennis ball.” Fortunately, a neighbour lets me take a couple of sips from his glass, the first one poured. They reveal a textured white with plenty of extract to balance the fine-edged acidity, savoury fruit and mineral flavours set against a leesy backdrop and a satisfying finish. On the whole, an even more accomplished wine than the Ci Confonde and one I look forward to re-encountering in a more pristine state. (Buy again? Ditto, but such is the law of supply and demand.)

Mo’ Wine Group November 23rd tasting: flight 3 of 6