Brett happens

All wine, most of the time

Posts Tagged ‘Off the beaten path

Skin or not

leave a comment »

Kakheti 2016, Chinuri No Skin, Pheasant’s Tears ($43.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Chinuri. Direct pressed (no maceration) but still made in large beeswax-lined qvevri sunk into the ground. Spontaneous fermentation. Unfiltered and unfined. No added sulphur. 11% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Subtle nose: white fruit (pear?), quartz, a faint floral note. Medium-bodied. Very dry though fruity enough that that’s not immediately apparent. Smooth on entry, then the tingly acidity kicks in. The fruit is more citrus than, say, stone and the sustained finish is mineral-laden. Clean, crisp, refreshing and more complex than it initially seems. Cyril, who visited Georgia recently, says this wine is magnificent after 10 years or longer in the bottle. (Buy again? Def.)

Kakheti 2017, Rkatsiteli Bodbiskhevi, Pheasant’s Tears ($39.55, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Rkatsiteli from the village of Bodbiskhevi. Spent 30 days on the skins. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Bronze to the eye. Fragrant, savoury nose: ramen, apple and apricot skins, dried sawdust. Pronounced tannins and fluent acidity structure the fruit (peach leather?) and confer a slightly grippy texture. Herbal overtones and mineral undertones add savour and depth. A touch of nuttiness (walnut skins?) emerges on the long finish. Complex, flavourful, engaging and about as close to a classic Georgian orange wine as you’re likely to get. (Buy again? Yep.)

Kakheti 2016, Rkatsiteli, Pheasant’s Tears ($44.80, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Rkatsiteli. Reportedly spent about a month on the skins. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Hazy, even turbid beige. Odd nose with a plastic note that opens up to yellow fruit, white minerals and straw. In the mouth, it’s a bit spritzy, perlant as the French say, and fuller-bodied than you might expect. Fruity but dry, with zingy acidity and faint tannins. Overtoned with herbs and dried flowers. Little if any oxidation but a long, clean, tangy finish. So charming. (Buy again? Yep.)

Yet another set of excellent wines from Pheasant’s Tears. The only downside is the prices, which have taken a jump well in excess of 10%. Cyril says that’s primarily because the SAQ, which imports the wines into Quebec, doesn’t have a pickup point in Georgia or environs, meaning the wines have to transit through a country that does. Earlier shipments have gone through Sweden, which, as a non-member of the Eurozone, doesn’t charge Eurozone tariffs. This current shipment transited through Italy, which does.

MWG March 20th tasting: flight 6 of 7

Georgia straight

leave a comment »

Most ampelographers and wine historians consider the South Caucasus region – and more specifically, the part occupied by modern-day Georgia – to be the birthplace of wine-making, with archeological evidence stretching back some 8,000 or 9,000 years. Although modern-styled Georgian wines can be found, the most interesting continue to be made using traditional techniques. The grapes – some of the hundreds of indigenous varieties found in Georgia – are picked and trod. The resulting must is transferred, often along with the skins, ripe stems and seeds, to large qvevri, terracotta jars and sunk into the cool ground, where it ferments (with indigenous yeasts) and matures. The process, from start to finish, is nicely summarized in this video.

The resulting wines are full of character – they’ve got guts, as Hugh Johnson puts it in another video – and are unlike any other. Like Jura wines, they aren’t to everyone’s taste and even those of us who are fascinated by them may find ourselves forced to abandon our usual appreciation criteria and descriptors, taken out of our comfort zone and questioning what it is we want from a wine. It’s a brave old world and one we’re glad to have the opportunity to explore.

Established in 2007 by an American artist and a Georgian, Pheasant’s Tears winery is located south of the Greater Caucasus mountains in the Kakheti region of eastern Georgia. The wines are made traditionally in qvevri lined with organic beeswax. Skin/stem/pip contact varies from wine to wine but no sulphur is added to any of them.

Kakheti 2017, Poliphonia, Pheasant’s Tears ($44.80, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Georgia counts 525 indigenous grape varieties. This is a field blend of 417 of them. The vines – between one and 10 of each variety – are co-planted. The grapes are harvested in three or four passes and so are a mix not only of colours but also of ripeness levels. Co-fermented in qvevri. 12.5%. Quebec agent: La QV.
Technically a red but actually a dusky rosé with an amber cast (the colour reportedly differs from vintage to vintage). Initially reduced nose – “durian,” per one taster, and sulphur – gives way to hard-to-pin-down fruit (“strawberry rhubarb” was the best anyone came up with). In the mouth, it’s barely medium-bodied and quite dry. The beautiful if – again – elusive fruit has an acidic/citric streak. Complex set of flavours. Smooth, fluent texture. The tannins are light, more like a full-bore orange wine’s than a structured red. Tangy finish. Evolves – improves – in the glass. Delightfully disorienting: unlike anything any of us had encountered before. The wine of the night for many and the only wine in the tasting that the group ordered three cases of. (Buy again? Done!)

Kakheti 2015, Tavkveri, Pheasant’s Tears ($44.80, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Tavkveri. 12.5%. Quebec agent: La QV.
Reticent, faintly funky nose with notes of fur and dog hair that segues into dark berries. Medium-bodied and juicy-fruited. Dry. Fine structure: sleek acidity, limber if a little raspy tannins. Long, tasty but a bit of a wallflower in comparison to its weirder flightmates. Will be interesting to see what time in the cellar brings. (Buy again? A bottle to spend time with now and another to revisit in 2022.)

Kakheti 2016, Saperavi, Pheasant’s Tears ($44.80, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Cabernet Saperavi. 14%. Quebec agent: La QV.
As, always, the biggest red. Unevolved nose of dark fruit and minerals, the reductive notes quickly blowing off. Smooth even elegant in the mouth for such a rich and full-bodied wine. The fruit (“cherry on the attack”) is dense yet the wine is fluid and fleet. Husky tannins, sleek acidity and dark minerals provide structure and relief. The long finish is bitter-edged. Somewhat monolithic but, hey, it’s young. It’s also vigorous and well-balanced and earlier vintages have aged beautifully. Enjoyable now, even better in two to five years. (Buy again? Done!)

A couple of decades ago, when wine on the Web was becoming a thing, there was a site where you could keep a list of the grape varieties you had tasted and, when you reached 100, receive a certificate. (Given the rarity of obscure varieties on the North American market at the time, it was a much bigger challenge than it would be today.) Anyway, a friend points out that a single sip of the Poliphonia would have qualified you for the certificate more than four times over.

MWG March 20th tasting: flight 5 of 7

Mallorca in a glass

leave a comment »

Based in Felantix, Mallorca, 4 Kilos Vinicola was founded in the summer of 2006 by winemaker Francesc Grimalt and musician Sergio Caballero, both natives of the island. To start up operations, each partner invested a modest 4 million piestas; colloquially in Spanish a kilo is one million, hence the bodega’s name. Though 4 Kilos now has a proper winery (a converted sheep barn), its first wines were made in a garage. The vineyards – 15 hectares owned by the winery and others belonging to independent grape growers – are scattered across the north and south of the island, meaning all the wines bear the broad VDT Mallorca designation. Farming is sustainable and increasingly organic. Gravelly clay soil predominates. Wines are made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Callet, Fogoneu, Manto Negro, Merlot, Monastrell and Syrah.

Vino de la terra de Mallorca 2016, 12 Volts, 4 Kilos ($37.55, private import, 6 bottles/case)
The striking label is the work of Gary Baseman. While earlier vintages included some Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, this is 100% Callet, an indigenous red variety, from organically farmed vines. Manually harvested. Destemmed. Half the grapes were fermented in stainless steel, half in 2,500-litre wood vats. Malolactic fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks and 225-litre oak barrels. The various lots were blended and the resulting wine matured 12 months in French oak barrels. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Lovely, inviting nose: cherry, earth, herbs and spice. Medium- to Full-bodied but not heavy, smooth but not lacking acidity. Clean, sun-ripe fruit, fine, pervasive tannins and a rumbling of dark minerals fill the mouth. The oak is nicely integrated, one component among many. Finishes long with lingering spice. Refreshing, food-friendly and easy to drink, what the French call digeste. A crowd-pleaser too. Less international in style than the 2013 and better for it. (Buy again? Yes.)

This private import used to be available at the SAQ. Here’s hoping it makes a return. In the meantime, two other 4 Kilos wines can be found on the monopoly’s shelves: The Island Syndicate ($24.75, 13903487) and Gallinas y Focas ($35.75, 13903479). Cyril was especially enthusiastic about the QPR of the former. Supplies of both are running short, especially in Montreal, but if you’re off island, you might still be able to snag a bottle.

MWG March 20th tasting: flight 4 of 7

Written by carswell

April 20, 2019 at 11:19

Bugey whites

leave a comment »

…and a red.

Not many wine drinkers are aware of the Bugey wine region, which is wedged against the Savoie between Beaujolais and the Jura. And if they are, it’s probably because of Bugey-Cerdon, the off-dry, dark rosé sparkler made from Gamay and sometimes Poulsard. But still wines are also made in Bugey.

The region’s low profile means that it, like parts of the Roussillon, is one of the few places left in France where small start-up winegrowers can afford to buy land. As a result, it is seeing an influx of new vintners. The Decoster Coiffier familiy (Jérémy, Isabelle and two children) is one of them. With the backing of some 30 subscribers, they acquired the six-hectare Domaine Les Cortis just before the harvest in 2016. As the Descoter Coiffiers didn’t make the 2015s that came with the property, 2017 was their third official and second real vintage.

The estate’s five vineyards sit at around 500 metres in altitude. While they are not contiguous, all have stony, predominantly clayey calcareous soil. Mondeuse, Chardonnay, Gamay and Altesse are the main grape varieties; a little Pinot Noir, Corbeau and Chasselas are also grown.

On acquiring the estate, the Coffiers began converting it to organic farming. Wine-making is traditional: the manually harvested grapes are pressed and transferred to stainless steel vats or oak barrels for maceration (only for the reds), fermentation (with indigenous yeasts) and maturation. Sulphur dioxide is limited to a tiny squirt at bottling. Gravity is used in preference to pumping. Annual production is around 25,000 bottles of red, white, sparkling and other wines.

Weather conditions – hail in particular – made 2017 a potentially disastrous vintage for the new owners. Chablis’s renowned De Moor estate, where the couple had worked for many years, took pity and sold them part of its Aligoté harvest, whence the Valorice.

Vin de France 2017, Valorice, Les Cortis ($34.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
A 60-40 blend of organically farmed Aligoté from the De Moor estate in Chablis and Chardonnay from Bugey. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Delicious nose of lemon, oats, straw and chalk with a lactic note. Medium-bodied and mouth-filling. The fruit is tensed with tamed but trenchant acidity, grounded in a light minerality. Finishes clean and saline. Such a tonic wine. Seems to embody everything I like and none of the things I dislike about each variety. (Buy again? Yes.)

Bugey 2017, Teraxe, Les Cortis ($34.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Altesse from organically farmed vines. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
More introverted and minerally on the nose than the Valorice, with hints of pear. In the mouth, it’s a round and very dry middleweight carried on a current of smooth acidity. Flavours are neutralish, though there’s an unmissable savour along with pronounced minerality. Good finish. Enjoyable. (Buy again? Sure.)

Bugey 2017, Uzée, Les Cortis ($34.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
80% Gamay and 20% Mondeuse. Matured on the fine lees. Added sulphur dioxide (at bottling): 20 mg/l. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Nose like a Beaujo’s only with extra minerals. Medium-bodied. The clean and spicy, red berry-leaning fruit is structured by acidity and minerals as much as tannins. The juicy texture turns a little tongue-tingly on the finish. Fun and super drinkable. I’ll gladly take this over many similarly priced Beaujolais. (Buy again? Yes.)

MWG March 20th tasting: flight 2 of 7

Greek winery tour: Tetramythos (Achaea)

leave a comment »

[Hover over pics to display captions and credits; click to embiggen.]

The first two days of our mini-tour of the Peloponnese took us east to the hot valley floors and cool forested mountains of Arcadia and west to the rolling, Ionian Sea-breezed plain of Elis. The last day was devoted to Achaea, the rugged terrain of the peninsula’s north central coast, and to one of Greece’s most forward-thinking yet underappreciated wineries: Tetramythos.

The Tetramythos estate is located near the village of Ano Diakopto, by car about nine kilometres south of the beachside town of Pounta Trapeza on the Gulf of Corinth. About nine kilometres south and one kilometre up, that is, for the village, the winery and all its vineyards are perched on the side of a ridge that is part of the massive Aroania range, which includes the peninsula’s third-highest peak, the 2,355-metre (7,726-foot) Mount Aroania. In fact, if you continue up the road, you’ll soon arrive at one of Greece’s biggest ski resorts.

Tetramythos was founded by brothers Aristides and Stathios Spanos, both locals. After dabbling in farming, they decided to focus on wine-growing. In 1999, they connected with another local, oenologist Panagiotis Papagiannopoulos, and produced their first bottles of wine. In the years that followed, they planted new vineyards, expanding the estate to its current 14 hectares, and constructed the winery buildings, which consist of two handsome stone and stucco structures: a large shoebox-shaped winery and a more visitor-focused building that houses a reception area, a boutique cum (small) wine museum and a banquet/conference room. The windows and decks of the last offer panoramic views of the valley all the way down to the gulf.

The nearby vineyards are located at elevations ranging from around 500 metres to more than 1,000 metres. (Coming from a plot at 1,000 metres, the Sauvignon Blanc may be some of the highest grown anywhere.) The soil is mostly limestone and some of the vines are 80 years old. Most are bush-trained, though a few plots are planted in rows and trained on wires. Roditis, a local pink-skinned grape, is the main white variety, while another local grape, Mavro Kalavrytino, is used for the estate’s flagship red (the town of Kalavryta is another 25 km by car further down, well, up the highway from Ano Diakopto). The other Greek varieties are Malagousia, Muscat Mikrorago, Agiorgitiko and Mavrodaphne. Constituting about 15% of the vineyard, the international varieties (Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) came with the estate and are not Panagiotis’s favourites but “you work with what you’re given,” he says.

In midsummer, the vineyards – some in terraces, others following the lay of the land – are patches of green in an otherwise tawny landscape. Once covered in pine forests, the mountainsides are now mostly bare, the result of a huge wildfire that raged through the area in July 2007. Among much other damage, the roof of the winery caught fire and the building burned down. Oddly, due to the leaves’ high moisture content, the vineyards didn’t so much burn as act as a buffer. Tetramythos made their 2007s at nearby wineries. The winery building was reconstructed in less than a year and the 2008s were made on site.

Farming at Tetramythos is organic, which is surprisingly rare in Greece and here is surely facilitated by the climate: dry and sunny during the growing season, with maritime and mountain breezes providing good air circulation and the altitude increasing the day-night temperature spread crucial to maintaining good acidity.

The wine-making facilities are centred around a large, high-ceilinged vat room lined on two and a half sides with tall stainless steel tanks and a wooden vat. A recumbent cylindrical press sits slightly off centre and a bottling line, with a glass wall onto the vat room, is off to one side. Underground are found a barrel cellar, a bottle-ageing cellar and a private tasting room.

Like the estate, the wines seem both modern and timeless. The wine-making is mostly non-interventionist. With one exception (the Roditis Orange Nature PDO Patras Reserve), all the grapes are destemmed. Only free-run juice is used for the wines, which are usually fermented with the natural yeasts found on the grapes and in the winery environment; very occasionally – and then only to restart a stopped natural fermentation – are the musts inoculated with selected yeasts.

Though we tasted only one of them, “natural,” no-added-sulphur versions of many of their wines are now being made. Unfortunately, none of them is available in Quebec. Fortunately, that is about to change: the 2018 Muscat Sec Nature, Roditis Nature, Roditis Orange Nature and Retsina Amphora Nature as well as the 2018 Retsina and 2016 Sauvignon Blanc “Miliá” are slated to appear on the SAQ’s shelves soon (you heard it here first, folks).

Annual production currently hovers around 200,000 bottles. Considerably more than half is exported, with Quebec being a major market and alone buying more than three-quarters of the regular Roditis bottling.

Before going over, I’d wondered about the winery’s name. “Four myths” maybe? But if so, which? None actually. Tetramythos is the name of a local wild pear tree with small, bitter fruit. “Only my grandmother would eat it and only when it was so ripe it started turning mouldy,” Panagiotis explained. The Spanos brothers don’t speak English, so our ability to converse with them was limited (yet another reason to learn Greek!). Panagiotis, however, is fluent, and interacting with him was a highlight of the trip. Grounded yet a bit cosmic, he is soft-spoken and reserved, not florid, but also focused and frank, radiating integrity and inner-strength.

Why do I say Tetramythos is underappreciated? Well, here we have a groundbreaking organic, increasingly natural estate making characterful, terroir-driven and super-drinkable high-QPR wines mostly from native grapes. And, yet, for much of the world, the winery remains one of Greece’s best-kept secrets. Luckily, due to the wines’ quality, authenticity and affordability and to the legwork of oenopole’s sales team, Quebec is one of the few places where it isn’t. We should count our blessings.

You’ll find my tasting notes on all the Tetramythos wines we tasted after the jump. For details about where we stayed, where and what we ate and what we saw, including the Tetramythos vineyards, see the Day Four report on carswelliana.

INTRODUCTION
PAPAGIANNAKOS (ATTICA)
TSELEPOS (ARCADIA)
MERCOURI (ELIS)
♦ TETRAMYTHOS (ACHAEA)
THYMIOPOULOS (MACEDONIA)
ARGYROS (SANTORINI)

Read the rest of this entry »

Spain 2, Australia 1

leave a comment »

Didn’t set out to do a Vintrinsec-only flight but that’s how it ended up. Is the agency cornering the Mencia market in Quebec?

McLaren Vale 2016, Mencia, The Anthropocene Epoch, D’Arenberg ($29.90, 13491136)
Australian Mencia. Who knew? Apparently, this is the first vintage of the wine. 100% Mencia. The grapes are hand-picked and vinified on a parcel-by-parcel basis. The grapes are gently crushed and placed in fermentation vats. About two-thirds of the way through fermentation (with selected yeasts), the grapes are foot-trod, then basket-pressed and transferred to old French oak barrels for nine months. Reducing sugar: 2.7 g/l. 14% ABV. Screwcapped. Quebec agent: Vintrinsec.
Outgoing nose of plum skin, berries, slate, herbs, black pepper, beef fat and clay. Full-bodied but not galumphing, dense with ripe fruit but not a bomb. Clean and dry, with soft tannins, freshening acidity and a flavour not that far from cherry cola. Good finish that gains wood notes as the wine warms and breathes. A shade less minerally than the other wines in the flight but respectable nonetheless. (Buy again? When looking for a crowd-pleaser to pour at a classy backyard barbecue, sure.)

Bierzo 2014, Gus, Raúl Pérez ($26.10, 13354457)
Rockstar winemaker Pérez named an earlier entry-level cuvée Dargo, after a pet dog. This cuvée is named after one of his cats. 100% Mencia from organically farmed 70-year-old vines. Matured 12 months in neutral French oak barrels. Reducing sugar: 1.6 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Vintrinsec.
Red and black licorice, slate and a touch of volatile acidity lending a vinyl note (a second bottle opened a few days later was pristine). A medium-bodied, fluid mouthful of juicy fruit (black raspberry, mainly) and dark minerals. Alive with acidity and firmed by smooth tannins. Credible energy and depth. Faint vanilla and char notes emerge on the finish. Not quite the equal of the long-ago Lalama but about as good a Mencia as you’ll find for the price. (Buy again? Yes.)

Ribeira Sacra 2016, Joven, Mencia, Adegas Guímaro ($21.00, 12752533)
Mencia (90% with five percent each of Caiño Tinto and Sousón, all from organically farmed vines in various parcels with soils ranging from granite to slate and sand. Manually harvested. The lots are fermented separately by soild type. About three-quarters of the harvest is destemmed; the remainder is left in whole clusters. Cold-macerated six days. Fermented 20-30 days with indigenous yeasts, half in tanks and half in foudres. Matured six months in tanks on the lees. Unfiltered. Cold-stabilized. Fined with egg whites. Added sulphur is kept to a minimum. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Vintrinsec.
Bretty nose of tomato paste, red and black berries and slate. Medium-bodied. fruit-forward and fleet, due in no small part to the bright acidity. The juicy fruit is undertoned with minerals and overtoned with herbs. Light tannins provide an appealing rasp. Finishes long and clean on a spicy note. Nothing profound but honest, drinkable and affordable. (Buy again? Sure.)

MWG March 9th tasting: flight 4 of 5

Written by carswell

May 9, 2018 at 11:25

Unique, authentic, treasurable

leave a comment »

Dolceacqua is a commune and village in western Liguria, just inland from the Mediterranean and touching the border with France. It is also a DOC for red wines made from the Rossese grape. The DOC’s annual production averages a mere 1,500 hectolitres.

Founded in 1961, Testalonga is widely considered the top estate in Dolceacqua. Its owner-winemaker is Antonio Perrino, now in his 70s and preparing for retirement (his niece Erica has begun assisting him and will eventually take over). The estate’s holdings total around one hectare of vines in small terraced plots on steep hillsides, like all the best vineyards in the appellation. Testalonga’s overlook the sea and are located a half hour’s drive from town. The vines average 35-45 years in age though some are as old as 100. Two varieties are grown: Vermentino and Rossese. The farming is organic (uncertified) and the vineyards are worked manually. Harvesting is manual, too.

The wine-making takes place in a converted garage in the centre of town. The wine-making equipment is pretty much limited to a vertical press and a couple of old large barrels. All fermentations are spontaneous. No temperature control is used. With total annual production typically being seven 600-litre barrels (five red, two white), Testalonga qualifies as a micro-producer. Antonio says he makes wines like his father made them and there’s no denying that have a rare timeless quality.

Vino da Tavola 2016, Bianco, Testalonga ($43.12, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Vermentino. Macerated on the skins for five days. Matured in 600-litre old oak barrels. Unfined and probably unfiltered. 14% ABV. Total production: less than 1,000 bottles. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
More deep yellow than “orange” in the glass. Somewhat closed yet intriguing nose dominated by dried citrus and whiffs of alcohol. Suave and spicy in the mouth. Tending to full-bodied. The savoury fruit is overtoned with dried herbs, deepened by minerals, tensed with acidity. Ghostly tannins confer a lightly gritty texture, most noticeable on the mid-palate and long, saline finish. Involving and rewarding. (Buy again? Def.)

Rossese di Dolceacqua 2016, Testalonga ($51.74, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Rossese di Dolceacqua (aka Tibouren), nearly all of which comes from the Arcagna vineyard, considered one of the best in the appellation. Made using the whole clusters. Matured in 600-litre old oak barrels. Unfiltered and unfined. Total production: around 2,000 bottles. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
Dusty cherry with notes of dried flowers and iron shavings. Medium-bodied. Dry and savoury, with rich fruit, a dusting of black pepper, light but pervasive acidity and rustic tannins in the background. While there’s plenty of breadth and a certain depth and length, this seems more about flavour and texture. Not a knockout, then, but unique, authentic and teasurable. Reportedly ages well. Probably shows best with food; a Ligurian rabbit stew sounds like just the ticket. (Buy again? Yes.)

MWG February 22nd tasting: flight 5 of 5