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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


Bobal and co.

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Founded in 2005 by the then 23-year-old Juan Antonio Ponce, Bodegas y Viñedos Ponce is the star winery in Spain’s Manchuela region, which lies inland from Valencia. The most widely planted grape variety in the area and in the Ponce family plots is Bobal. As I wrote in 2012, “The vineyards of southeast Spain are rife with Bobal – in 2004, 89,000 ha (220,000 acres) were under cultivation, mainly in Valencia, Alicante and Utiel-Requena – though most of the harvest is made into bulk wine (industrially produced, shipped in tankers, sold anonymously in jugs and boxes). Rightly convinced that the grape deserves a less lowly fate, some winemakers have begun producing blended and monovarietal red and rosé Bobal cuvées. … Bobal’s tolerance of climatic extremes and tendency to produce relatively high acid, low alcohol wines are a boon [in a region whose climate] locals describe as nine months of winter and three months of hell.”

Ponce makes all his red wines in fundamentally the same way. The farming is biodynamic. The grapes, which come from vines up to 75 years old, are hand-harvested. The whole clusters are chilled to 8°C, then placed in open-topped tanks, foot-crushed and fermented with indigenous yeasts for several days, after which the must is transferred to barrels to finish alcoholic fermentation, undergo malolactic fermentation and mature. (The process is known as remango in Rioja, where Ponce worked at Remelluri as Telmo Rodriguez’s assistant for five years.) Made in a rented facility using little mechanization, the wines are bottled unfiltered, unfined and with minimal additions of sulphur dioxide.

Vino de la Tierra de Castilla 2016, Depaula, Bodegas y Viñedos Ponce ($19.25, private import, 12 bottles/case)
100% Monastrell from 45-year-old vines rooted in calcareous soil in the Jumilla region. Spontaneously fermented in stainless steel tanks. Matured seven months in 600-litre neutral oak barrels. 14% ABV. About 800 cases made. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Straightforward nose: ripe but not jammy black cherry and plum and some background slate. Medium- to full-bodied. Fresh acidity, unassertive tannins The flavours echo the nose and the alcohol isn’t apparent. Simpler than the others but still quite gluggable. Best served lightly chilled, methinks. (Buy again? Sure.)

Manchuela 2016, La Xara, Bodegas y Viñedos Ponce ($21.95, private import, 12 bottles/case)
100% Garnacha from vines planted in 1995 and rooted in clayey calcareous soil. Spontaneously fermented in open-top wood tanks. Matured 10 months in large neutral French oak barrels. 13.5% ABV. About 180 cases made. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Perfumed and minerally but also, alas, faintly corked. We could still tell this was a perfumed, minerally take on Grenache, medium-bodied and fluid, with pure, raspberry-leaning fruit, wiry tannins, bright acidity and a peppery finish. (Buy again? One corked bottle does not a bad wine make, so yes.)

Manchuela 2016, La Casilla, Bodegas y Viñedos Ponce ($26.55, private import, 12 bottles/case)
100% Bobal from vines planted in 1935 and tooted in calcareous soil. Spontaneously fermented in open-top wood tanks. Matured 10 months in 600-litre neutral French oak barrels.. 13% ABV. About 920 cases made. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Nose of “cherry,” “tulip,” plum, graphite and a hint of smoke. Rich and velvety yet also fresh. Built around a core of Chambord-like fruit. The tannins are round, the acidity soft. A mineral substrate gives it some depth. Long. Special. (Buy again? Yes.)

Tasted a few weeks later was the entry-level Bobal, the Manchuela 2016, Clos Lojen, Bodegas y Viñedos Ponce ($19.25, oenopole private import, 12 bottles/case, c. 2,250 cases made), whose grapes come from vines planted in 1965. No notes taken but this is a silky textured, medium-bodied easy-drinker with clean fruit, sprightly acid, slender tannins and a long minerally finish.

Given the wines’ integrity, not to mention their high pleasure quotient and low cost, it’s no wonder restaurateurs snapped them all up in a couple of weeks.

MWG February 8th tasting: flight 4 of 5

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


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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

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