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Posts Tagged ‘Red wine

Georgia straight

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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

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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

Wind power

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Run by owner-winemaker Primož Lavrenčič, the Burja Estate is located about 30 km northeast of Trieste in Slovenia’s Vipava Valley, historically one of the main routes between western and central Europe. Geographically and oenologically, the valley can be seen as an extension of Friuli, which it opens onto (the Vipava River flows through Italy, where it is known as the Vipacco, for 4 km before emptying to the Isono River).

The Lavrenčič family traces its roots in the valley back to 1499 and has been making and selling wine for three generations under the Sutor label. Primož left the family estate in 2008 to found his own winery, named Burja after the strong wind that blows through the valley. His aim was to focus on local, indigenous varieties as opposed to the international varieties pushed by the government.

Based in Podnanos, the Burja estate has five vineyards totalling 7.16 ha. The soil is varied but mainly sedimentary rock with layers of silt, sandstone and, occasionally, marl. A student of philosophy, Primož says his approach to wine-growing is based on Artistotle’s Metaphysics and informed by his affinity for Spinosa and pantheism. A mix of western and central European grape varieties are grown: Blaufränkisch, Laški Risling, Malvazija, Pinot Noir, Rebula, Refošk, Schioppettino and Zelen. Farming is certified organic.

Vipavaska Dolina 2016, Reddo, Burja ($54.20, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Winemaker’s note: “My challenge: playing with the idea of former red wine varieties in the Vipava Valley, which were once in minority, for home consumption only. Pokalca (Schioppettino) 50%, Modra frankinja (Blaufränkisch) 30%, Refošk (Refosco) 20%. Young vineyards, from 4 to 6 years old. Aged for two years in large barrels (10 to 15 hl) and 225 l barrique barrels. On the market since 2016.” Spontaneously fermented with no temperature control. Unfiltered, unfined. Total sulfites: 45 mg/l. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Alluring nose of plum, wood, leather, horsehair, pencil lead, “smoked meat” and more. No more than medium-bodied. Silky texture, not unlike a fine red Burg’s. Nicely structured by bright acidity and lithe tannins. The clean, fresh fruit is underlain with minerals. Good energy. Depth and complexity are there if you look for them. Savoury overtones rise retronasally as the finish fades to a caress. Clearly food-friendly, this works as an easy drinker but also rewards contemplation. Perfectly accessible now but surely able to age and develop over the short to medium term. Beautiful – one of the wines of the night for me and some others around the table. Too bad about the price. That a few of us said we’d consider ponying up for a bottle tells you something about its appeal. (Buy again? Sigh. Yes.)

This was the group’s second encounter with a Burja wine, the first being the similarly gorgeous 2015 Bela white. Clearly an estate to keep an eye on.

MWG March 20th tasting: flight 3 of 7

Written by carswell

April 9, 2019 at 11:30

Bugey whites

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…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)

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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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Stone fruit

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Of the rising stars of the Greek wine world, Apostolo Thymiopoulos is at or near the top. Still quite young (he just turned 40), he hails from Naoussa in Macedonia, about an hour’s drive west of Thessaloniki. From grapes he grows biodynamically there, he makes several wines that have become big hits in Quebec: the exquisite Rosé de Xinomavro, the ultra-popular, ultra-drinkable Jeunes vignes de Xinomavro, the classy Naoussa and his flagship Terre et ciel (aka Earth and Sky in anglophone countries). If that weren’t enough, he’s also been expanding into new areas, including the entry-level ATMA line and two or three (depending on the vintage) high-end Assyrtikos from Santorini made in collaboration with the Chryssou family of grape growers and sold mainly to well-heeled vacationers at Aegean luxury resorts (he got his feet wet on the island several years ago by helping the Hatzidakis family when winemaker Haridimos was indisposed and also assisted with the 2017 vintage following Haridimos’s untimely death). His latest project revolves around a recently acquired old-vine vineyard in Rapsani, in Thessaly, on the slopes of Mount Olympus, 120 km south of his Naoussa base. Only one wine, a red, is made. This 2015 is the first vintage and it’s a beaut.

Rapsani 2015, Terra Petra, Domaine Thymiopoulos ($31.00, 13509199)
A blend of Xinomavro (40%), Krassato (30%) and Stavroto (30%) from organically dry farmed vines between 15 and 50 years old and grown in one of the highest altitude vineyards in the appellation. The vineyard’s schist and granite subsoil is covered with rolled stones while most of the vines are bush-trained, giving the vineyard a very Châteauneuf-du-Pape-like appearance. Fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks and matured in large, neutral oak tonneaux for 24 months. Unfiltered and unfined. Added sulphur is kept to a minimum. Comes in an elegant if heavy bottle with a soft wax capsule. Reducing sugar: 3.6 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Intensely aromatic nose of sweet red and black fruit, sandalwood and inky minerals. In the mouth, it’s medium-bodied and fluid. As befits a warm vintage, the fruit has a solar character but is in no way jammy or bomby, helped no doubt by the enlivening acidity and finely etched tannins. The fleshy mid-palate reveals a unique and beautiful complex of flavours, including plum, red berries, black fig, herbs (oregano? marjoram?), dark minerals, sweet spice, a dusting of black pepper and hints of olive, tomato and leather. There’s good depth for a young wine and the potential for more to develop. A thread of bitterness unspools through the long, dry finish. Such balance and refinement as well as a quality that has me reaching for “purity” or maybe “clarity” as descriptors. While the wine is drinking beautifully now, it will surely integrate and open over the next five or more years (the 2018 cohort of the Greek winery tour returned raving about a 10-year-old bottle of the Rosé de Xinomavro paired with kid stuffed with its entrails and rice and slow-roasted, so chances are good that this wine will hold up for a decade or two). Substantial enough to accompany grilled or stewed lamb, the acidity cutting knife-like through the fat, but also light enough to go with white meats like veal or rabbit braised with tomato. A world-class wine, maybe my favourite of Apostolo’s reds and undoubtedly one of the best Greek reds I’ve drunk. (Buy again? Done!)

This has been in the system only since the very end of August but it’s disappearing fast. If you’re interested and especially if you’re located in Montreal, don’t dawdle. And keep an eye peeled for the 2016: early reports are that the cooler vintage produced a wine that is, if anything, even finer than the 2015.

Written by carswell

September 17, 2018 at 14:18

Nebbiolo purissimo

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Founded in the 1940s, Scarzello Giorgio et Filigo is a low-profile Barolo estate with a mere 5.5 hectares of vines, nearly half of which are in Sarmassa between the better-known Cannubi and Cerequio vineyards. Founder Giorgio replanted the Scarzello vineyards in the late 1990s. After completing his studies at the Scuola Enologica in Alba and the University of Turin, son Federico took the reins in 2001 and immediately began making improvements, all while remaining in the traditionalist camp. Four wines are made: a Langhe Nebbiolo, a Barbera d’Alba and two Barolos. The wines are released when Federico feels they’re ready, which is often later than his peers.

Langhe Nebbiolo 2015, Scarzello ($29.90, 13679403)
100% Nebbiolo from vines averaging 10 to 15 years old in the calcareous and clayey soil of a 0.5 ha plot in the Sarmassa vineyard. Manually harvested. Macerated about two weeks. Fermented with indigenous yeasts. Matured 12 months in 250-litre Slavonian oak botti (some but not many new, I’d guess) and another 12 months in the bottle. Reducing sugar: 1.5 g/l. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: Agence du Château.
Appealing nose – red fruit (plum?), herbs and a touch of sandalwood spice – tending more to the floral end of the rose-tar spectrum. In the mouth, the wine is full-bodied but medium weight and very dry. The ripe, even juicy fruit has unmistakable cherry overtones and is deepened and darkened by earthy minerals. The texture is silky until the mid-palate, when the tannins kick in, turning it raw silky. The acidity is freshening and seamlessly integrated, bright but not sharp. The alcohol is felt more as power than heat. Finishes long and aromatic, with a light though marked astringency that will surely soften with a year or two in the bottle. Which is not to say the wine isn’t drinking well now, especially at table. A pure expression of Nebbiolo, richer and more structured than Produttori di Barbaresco’s benchmark bottling (the difference between a “Barolo” Langhe and a “Barbaresco” Langhe?), justifying the higher price. (Buy again? Absolutely.)

The SAQ has also just released the estate’s 2012 Barolo del Commune di Barolo ($65.00, 13679391). Based on the quality of the Langhe Nebbiolo, I’d say it’s worth a shot. Both wines are available in limited quantities: most stores stocking them received only 12 bottles of each. If you’re interested (and you should be), act fast.

And finally a side note: As you may have noticed, things have been quiet around here for a while. Faced with a crushing workload, not having the time or energy to devote the 10 to 20 hours a week required to organize twice-monthly tastings and group orders and deeply feeling the need to take a break from most thing vinous, I’ve put the Mo’ Wine Group on hold for a few months. So, while I’ve not abandoned Brett happens, posts will be infrequent, probably until the fall. Enjoy the summer!

Written by carswell

July 7, 2018 at 14:37

Posted in Tasting notes

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