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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


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

Lebanese legend

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Bekaa Valley 2009, Château Musar ($54.75, 13393000)
A blend of nearly equal proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan from organically farmed vines averaging 40 years old and planted in gravelly soil over a limestone base. The vintage was unusual in that the harvest was interrupted by an unprecedented two days of heavy rain in early September; the grapes picked after the deluge were said to be juicier and more perfumed. The varieties were vinified separately. Alcoholic fermentation with indigenous yeasts was slow and took place in temperature-controlled (sub-30°C) concrete vats. Six months later, the wine was transferred to French Nevers oak barrels for one year’s maturation. The monovarietal wines were then blended and transferred to concrete tanks for another 12 months. Finally, the wine was bottled and aged four years in the bottle before being released in 2016, seven years after harvest. Unfiltered and unfined. A small amount of sulphur dioxide was added at bottling. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: Divin Paradis.
Complex, enveloping bouquet of roasted plum (“pruney” per another taster though not to my nose), spice, graphite and a whole set of aromas heading into tertiary territory, including baked earth, leather, dried herbs, dried leaves and camphor. Medium- to full-bodied and dry. The sun-ripe fruit is inflected with minerals, minty herbs and old wood and structured by vibrant acidity and shaggy tannins. Though you wouldn’t call it deep, the wine has plenty of ballast. What’s most remarkable, however, is the sensuousness, the fluid savour that lasts through the long finish, and that sui generis combo of Bordeaux-Rhône structure and solar fruit. At peak? If so, it’ll stay there for several years. Maybe not a great Musar but definitely an enjoyable one. (Buy again? Yep.)

Bekaa Valley 2006, Château Musar ($52.75, 13391389)
Cabernet Sauvignon (34%), Cinsault (33%), Samsó (possibly a clone of Cinsault, 17%) and Carignan (16%). The summer was one of the coolest on record, reportedly producing grapes with higher than usual acidity. Wine-making was as for the 2009, with the blending taking place in 2009. Musar releases its wines only when it considers them ready to drink, normally seven years after the vintage, but in this case the estate waited until the spring of 2017. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: Divin Paradis.
A redder-smelling and decidedly tertiary bouquet: raspberry liqueur, “tobacco,” herbs, old wood and leather. Smooth, round, velvety and a notch less weighty than the 2009. Here the brambly fruit definitely has a “pruney” edge. The tannins are approaching full resolution and, while the acidity is present, the wattage is low. The long finish brings a faint cabbage aftertaste. Tasty but also about to leave the plateau and enter the downslope of its life span. Of course, that could just be our bottle, consistency not being one of Musar’s strong points. (Buy again? A bottle for one last fling?)

Revisiting the wines after the tasting was over and everyone else had left only confirmed my earlier impressions. After an hour or so in the glass, the 2009 was alive and kicking while the 2006 seemed increasingly loose-knit, even to the point of beginning to fall apart.

MWG February 8th tasting: flight 5 of 5

Written by carswell

March 20, 2018 at 14:30

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

A ramble round Vittoria

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by carswell

March 7, 2018 at 12:48

Garage music

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

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

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

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


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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