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Greek winery tour: Tetramythos (Achaea)

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[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)

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Dão duo

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Dão 2014, Quinta da Ponte Pedrinha ($18.14, 11895321)
Everyone seems to agree this contains Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo) and Jaen (aka Mencia); some add Touriga Nacional and Alfrocheiro to the mix. The manually harvested grapes are given extended maceration. Fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. Reducing sugar: 2.4 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Bergeron-les-vins.
Plum, blackberry, slate and a whiff of dried herbs. Medium-bodied and quite dry, the ripe fruit notwithstanding. Bright acidity, wiry tannins and a mineral substrate provide freshness, structure and a modicum of depth. Overtones of leather and tobacco push the long finish into savoury territory. An earthy yet balanced wine and something of a bargain. Chill it down to 16-18°C before drinking. (Buy again? Yep.)

Dão 2011, Reserva, Quinta da Ponte Pedrinha ($25.45, 00883645)
Jaen (40%), Touriga Nacional (30%) and Alfrocheiro (30%) from old vines. Manually harvested. Macerated and fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. Half of the wine is matured for 12 months in French oak demi-muids (600 litres), half in stainless steel tanks. Reducing sugar: 2.4 g/l. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: Bergeron-les-vins.
Deeper, riper and a bit jammier on the nose. Swirling brings out savoury notes of tobacco, dried herbs and spice. Heading toward full-bodied. Rich, dark fruit and sweet, spicy oak are the dominant flavours. A minerally substrate lends an earthy depth. While the acidity is smooth, the tannins are anything but. An ashy note marks the long finish. Accessible but still quite primary. Needs another five to 10 years for the oak to integrate, the tannins to relax and the layers to develop. (Buy again? Sure.)

MWG March 9th tasting: flight 3 of 5

Written by carswell

April 14, 2018 at 09:32

Austro-Hungarian fizz

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Somló 2017, Foam, Meinklang ($23.75, private import, 12 bottles/case)
An unclarified ancestral method sparkler, meaning the wine is still on its lees and a bit hazy as a result. Blend of Hárslevelü (60%) and Juhfark (40%) from biodynamically farmed 35- to 60-year-old vines grown at Meinklang’s estate at the base of the long-extinct Somló volcano in western Hungary. Spontaneous first fermentation in stainless steel tanks. No temperature control, fining, filtering or added sulphur. Crown-capped. Residual sugar: 4 g/l. 10.5% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Complex, savoury nose of lemon, wax, lees and hints of brett and sweat. Fine bubbles. Cidery, minerally, tart and longish in the mouth. The flavours are hazier than – not as precise as – the Prosa’s, not that there’s anything wrong with that. This fresh and fun sparkler reminds me of some of the natural Proseccos we’ve tried and seems purpose-built for a summer day. The winery’s suggested food pairings of leek and goat cheese quiche and smoked eel sound right on target. (Buy again? Yep.)

Österreich 2017, Prosa, Meinklang ($23.75, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Another ancestral method sparkler, but this time 100% Pinot Noir from biodynamically farmed wines grown in Meinklang’s east Austrian estate. Spontaneous first fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Unfined but filtered. Residual sugar: 14 g/l. 10.5% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Minerally nose of crushed cherries and more than a slight hint of boudoir. Fine bubbles. Clean, fresh and bright in the mouth. There’s a touch of residual sugar (a bit more than in earlier vintages, if memory serves) though it’s in no way cloying and may be attributable to our bottle being a little warm. “Strawberry-rhubarb,” including the rhubarb’s acidic tang and streak of green, dominate the mid-palate. An almond note lingers. If you like Bugey-Cerdon, you’ll probably like this. Works as a summer sipper, an aperitif and as an accompaniment to not-too-sweet strawberry desserts (berries on vanilla ice cream drizzled with basil syrup? hmm.). (Buy again? Sure.)

MWG March 9th tasting: flight 1 of 5

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

Weeknight RdD

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Ribera del Duero 2014, Embocadero, Bodega San Pedro Regalado ($16.95, 13396286)
Located in the village of La Aguilera, Bodega San Pedro Regalado is a cooperative founded in 1958. This 100% Tempranillo comes from unirrigated, organically farmed vines, many of them more than 100 years old, rooted in clay, limestone and round stones. Manually harvested. Given five days’ cold maceration. Fermented 12 days with indigenous yeasts in concrete tanks for 12 days. Matured in second- and third-fill oak barrels (70% French Allier, 30% American) for 14 months. Reducing sugar: 2.4 g/l. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: Vinicolor.
Red and black fruit (especially cherry), spice (especially black pepper), turned earth, roasted coffee beans and a thin veneer of oak. On the fuller side of medium-bodied. The initially ripe-sweet fruit notwithstanding, a very dry wine with bright acidity and wiry tannins that become more apparent on chewing and linger astringently. Mineral and dark chocolate undertones provide a modicum of depth. The earthy, faintly oaky finish segues into blueberry pie, and the expected alcoholic flare is MIA. Better – more integrated, less oaky – an hour or two after opening. Lamb stew with tomatoes, rosemary and garlic brings out the caramelly oak; grilled lamb probably wouldn’t. Not bad for the price. (Buy again? Sure.)

Written by carswell

March 21, 2018 at 13:19

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

Cider house jewels

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The most recent edition of the Salon des Quilles, the trade-focused wine expo held alongside the late October/early November Salon des vins d’importation privée, was filled with delights familiar and un-. In the latter category, the two stand-outs for me were unexpected: Switzerland’s Cidrerie du Vulcain and Vermont’s La Garagista. Fortunately, the Mo’ Wine Group was able to secure bottles from each estate for inclusion in a new arrivals tasting.

Run by 40-something Jacques Perritaz, Cidrerie du Vulcain (vulcain is the French name for the red admiral butterfly, which feeds on the juice of fallen apples) is located in Le Mouret, in the canton of Fribourg, Switzerland. While working as a freelance biologist specializing in the management and preservation of natural habitats and rare native plants, Perritaz decided to try his hand at cider-making, initially as a hobby. In his work, he had noticed old apple and pear trees in the fields of many dairy farmers. The trees, remnants of the once-thriving local cider industry, were trimmed à haute tige, with the lower branches removed, the better to protect the cows from the elements and prevent the beasts from eating the unfallen fruit. When asked, the farmers said they did nothing with the fruit and Perritaz was free to harvest it. He bought a small press and, in 2000, began making cider, his annual production eventually increasing to about 250 cases.

In 2006, while vacationing in Normandy, he encountered cider-maker extraordinaire Éric Bordelet, who took him under his wing. Perritaz soon invested in a larger facility and bottling line and went commercial. The fruit he uses come from around 200 trees, some of them leased. When I inquired whether he was planning to buy any trees, Perritaz said he would like to but land prices in Switzerland made that impossible, though he was open to acquiring land elsewhere, including in France or possibly even Quebec.

Most of the old Swiss varieties Perritaz uses are low in tannin, which makes natural clarification difficult. As a result, he is more interventionist in the cellar than he might otherwise be, adding an enzyme derived from natural mushroom extract (approved for organic uses) to encourage precipitation. All fermentations are with indigenous yeasts. However, as initial fermentation are over-vigorous, at the two-week point he lightly filters the fermenting juice through diatomaceous earth to “tire” and slow the yeast, thereby ensuring enough sugar remains for the second, in-bottle fermentation. The only other intervention is the addition of a small amount of sulphur dioxide at bottling.

The MWG’s late November new arrivals tasting began with three ciders, two from Cidrerie du Vulcain and one from La Garagista, which estate I’ll profile in the third instalment of this report.

Cidre demi-sec 2016, Transparente, Cidrerie du Vulcain ($19.66, private import, 12 bottles/case)
Made from a blend of Transparente de Croncels, Reinette de Champagne, Pomme Raisin and Rose de Berne apples. Usually demi-sec but can be sec, depending on the vintage. Added sulphur is limited to about 20 mg/l. 4.2% ABV. Quebec agent: Planvin.
Engaging nose of apple blossom and skins, “kind of like bottle caps candy” (quoting another taster). Off-dry and softly effervescent. The “juicy” yet ethereal – transparent? – fruit has a slightly bruised and browning quality. There’s just enough acidity is to brighten and freshen. A trickle of salt and white spice surfaces on the long finish. “Like being in an orchard.” Delightful now but I’m saving my other bottles for refreshment on hot summer days. (Buy again? Yes.)

Cidre 2016, Trois Pépins, Cidrerie du Vulcain ($24.81, private import, 12 bottles/case)
A blend of apple, pear and quince in equal proportions. 5% ABV. Quebec agent: Planvin.
A nose more subdued, complex and savoury with a mastic note. “Ça me fait penser au boudin noir” notes one taster. In the mouth, it’s dry, minerally and not particularly fruity. Soft round bubbles and smooth acidity provide lift, a salty mineral underlay some depth. Ghostly tannins appear on the bitter-edged finished. Opens up with time in the glass. Layered and faceted enough to be absorbing on its own but also excellent with pre-meal nibbles and substantial and savoury enough to accompany raw or cooked white fish and shell fish and mild cheeses. Wow. (Buy again? A case or two at least.)

Cidre Mousseux Vintage No. 1, Bouleverser, La Garagista ($29.89, private import, 6 bottles/case)
This is a blend of 17 varieties of biodynamically farmed apples, mostly American heirloom varieties, grown on the estate, which is located in Bethel, Vermont. Most of the juice is from 2015 fruit, though some is from earlier vintages going back to 2010, in a kind of solera system. Both fermentations use indigenous yeasts. The sugar for the second, in-bottle fermentation was provided by the addition of 2015 juice. 7% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.
An initial odd note of vinyl and “new shoes” blows off, leaving a nose dominated by apples, though not to the exclusion of a whole set of savoury aromas including straw and fresh mushrooms. Dry and saline on the palate, electric with bubbles and acidity, complicated by a faint sourness and showing real depth of flavour. Finishes long and clean with a tang that virtually demands you take another sip. Less airy and alpine than the Vulcains, somehow closer to an ale or wine, this is stupendous. (Buy again? Definitely.)

Mo’ Wine Group November 23rd tasting: flight 1 of 6