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MWG November 13th tasting: Confounding expectations

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I’d normally serve a Côtes du Rhône before a Châteauneuf but Cyril suggested otherwise. He was right to do so.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2011, Les Vieilles Vignes, Domaine de Villeneuve ($59.00, 11884913)
A blend of Grenache (70%), Mourvèdre (16%), Syrah (8%), Cinsault (4%) and Clairette (2%) from organically and biodynamically farmed vines up to 90 years old. The varieties are vinified separately. The grapes are manually harvested and gravity fed into the underground winery, where they are left whole, crushed and/or destemmed as the winemaker sees fit and transferred to ceramic-lined concrete vats (80 hl for fermentation, 60 hl for maturation). Maceration and fermentation (with indigenous yeasts) last 20 to 40 days depending on the variety. The cap is punched down and rack-and-return and pump-overs are used when deemed necessary. The must is then pressed with a pneumatic press; the press juice is separately matured and may be added to the free run juice at a later stage. Maturation on the lees lasts 18 to 20 months, with no more than 20% of the wine being matured in a mix of new to third-fill oak barrels. 14.5% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV/Insolite.
Scents of raspberry, plum, Asian spice, cedar and graphite waft from the glass. In the mouth, it’s a middleweight with an almost Burgundian texture and fluidity though the savoury flavours – garrigue, black olives, sun-radiated fruit – are clearly Provençal. Bright acidity and lacy tannins add structure and lingering well into the long, perfumed finish. The alcohol is remarkably unapparent. The estate’s website says their goal is to make fine, delicate wines. Well, mission accomplished. This is one of the most civilized Châteauneufs I’ve tasted. Surprisingly accessible now, balanced enough to age for a decade, I’d guess. (Buy again? For a special meal, sure.)

Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Visan 2011, Grains sauvages, Domaine La Fourmente ($38.08, private import, 6 bottles/case)
In 2014, the estate changed its name and is now known as Domaine Dieulefit. This 100% Grenache comes from low-yielding, organically farmed vines between 45 and 70 years old. The grapes are manually harvested, given a long maceration, fermented with indigenous yeasts and matured on the lees, all in lined concrete tanks. No added sulphur. 14.5% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV/Insolite.
Reductive nose (Brussels sprouts?!) gives way to dried plum and tamari with earthy dried herb and spice notes. Mouth-filling, dense and velvety. The rich, ripe fruit (red berries, pomegranate) has a peppery kick. Etching acidity and fine tannins provide sufficient structure, while dark minerals emerge on the bitter-edged, faintly flaring finish. A wine with lots of there there. (Buy again? Sure, though not without wishing it were $5 cheaper.)

(Flight: 8/9)

Written by carswell

December 3, 2014 at 10:56

Balanced bruisers

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Côtes du Rhône 2011, Domaine de Fontbonau ($37.00, 12280134)
Longtime friends Frédéric Engerer (president of Château Latour) and Jérôme Malet (owner of Domaine Sarda-Malet) joined forces in 2008 to acquire the Fontbonau estate, which is located about 15 km northwest of Nyons. The third vintage of this wine is an 80-20 blend of Grenache and Syrah from organically farmed 70- and 30-year-old vines respectively. Vinified on a parcel-by-parcel basis. After manual harvesting and sorting, the grapes are destemmed, cold-macerated and fermented with alternating pump-overs and manual punch-downs. The wine is transferred by gravity to a mix of new (10%) and old barrels and a few 600-litre demi-muids for 12 months’ maturation. Bottled unfiltered and unfined. 15% ABV per SAQ.com, 15.5% per the label. Quebec agent: SAQ.
Pleasing, warming nose: plum, sweet spice, whiffs of garrigue, a peppery note and a hint of leather. Rich but not heavy, extracted but not a bomb. Possessed of round tannins, fresh acidity and a certain dark-minerally depth. The long, spicy finish is marked by a fine astringency and vaporous alcohol. A surprisingly well-balanced bruiser that punches above its AOC weight. (Buy again? Not my style but those who appreciate heady Rhône reds needn’t hesitate.)

Opened at a BYOB (so no notes taken), the Côtes du Rhône Villages – Cairanne 2010, L’Ebrescade, Domaine Richaud ($50.00, 12205097) is a 40-30-30 Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blend of organically farmed grapes grown on vines between 20 and 50 years old that’s fermented (with indigenous yeasts) and matured in used barrels and bottled unfiltered and unfined with little or no added sulphur. The estate is represented in Quebec by Rézin. It had an entrancing bouquet of plum, fig, black cherry, fired minerals and violet. In the mouth, it proved a big wine with dense fruit, vigorous if fine-grained tannins, sturdy acidity and a long, heady finish. A monolith, it needs another five years or so to open up, though like the Fontbonau, it will always be a warmer (15% ABV), never a refresher. (Buy again? Not my style but those who appreciate heady Rhône reds needn’t hesitate.)

Written by carswell

September 12, 2014 at 14:35

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MWG July 17th tasting: Syrah shoot-out

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Syrah 2010, Okanagan Valley, Le Vieux Pin ($54.00, 12178674)
Mostly Syrah from vines between five and 11 years old grown in two Okanagan sub-appellations. As is often the case in Côte-Rôtie, a dollop (around 2%) of Viognier is added prior to fermentation. Matured 17 months in French oak barrels, 20% new. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Les vins Alain Bélanger.
On the nose and in the mouth, predicated around a core of sweet fruit and overtoned with spice, meat, graphite and oak. The medium weight, lean tannins and sleek acidity prompted on taster to describe the wine as “linear,” with all that implies in terms of flow and depth. Elegant for a New World Syrah, though I’d like it even better with less oak. Still quite young at this point, so a few more years in the bottle may digest the wood and deepen the fruit. The New World aficionados around the table preferred this to the Côte-Rôtie. (Buy again? Maybe.)

Côte-Rôtie 2012, Nature, Jean-Michel Stephan ($72.75, 11953616)
Last year the “nature” on the label was blacked out with a magic marker; this year it isn’t. A blend of Syrah (90% or 80% depending on whom you believe) and Viognier (10% or 20%) from organically farmed vines between 15 and 45 years old. Half of the Syrah – a clone (some would say a separate variety) known locally as Sérine – underwent semi-carbonic maceration. The Viognier was macerated on the skins for 15 hours, then destemmed and pressed. Alcoholic fermentation (with regular pump-overs for the first two weeks) took place at 15°C for five days, then at 31°C until complete. Matured 18 months in Burgundy barrels ranging from two to six years old. Unfiltered and unfined. No added sulphur. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: Glou.
An echt-Syrah nose of violets, black pepper, red berries, animale. Sits suppley on the palate yet is intensely present. The remarkably pure and fresh fresh fruit is supported by a framework of fine tannins, carried on unfurling skeins of silky acid and sustained well into the long, aromatic finish. Time in the cellar will surely reveal more depth but, for drinking here and now, this is a joy, albeit an expensive one. (Buy again? Budget permitting, yes.)

Written by carswell

August 27, 2014 at 10:46

MWG July 17th tasting: A rosé is a rosé is a rosé?

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Côtes du Rhône 2010, Rosé, Domaine Gourt de Mautens ($73.50, private import, NLA)
The inaugural vintage of this wine. A blend of co-planted organically and biodynamically farmed Grenache Noir, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Counoise from nearly century-old vines. Very low yields (10 to 15 hl/ha). Manually harvested. Sorted on picking and in the cellar. The grapes are pressed on arrival. The must is then co-fermented with indigenous yeasts and matured ten to 18 months in stainless steel tanks and neutral demi-muids. Bottled unfiltered and unfined. The winemaker says this is essentially a blanc de noirs and can be aged up to ten or 15 years. 14% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Soft orange-pink. Impossibly complex nose that never stops evolving: grilled peach, red currant, blood orange, white pepper, quartz, garrigue, dried flowers, roast chicken, talc. In the mouth, a dry and savoury middleweight with sustained acidity and layer upon ethereal layer of fruit and flinty minerals. Structured and tense in the manner of a fine white. An orange wine-like hint of tannin textures the long finish. Delicious even when warm. The alcohol is totally unapparent. Phenomenal. (Buy again? If the price isn’t a barrier, yes.)

Written by carswell

August 10, 2014 at 12:28

MWG July 17th tasting: Marsanne shoot-out

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Saint-Joseph 2011, Les Granilites, M. Chapoutier ($39.25, 11873018)
100% Marsanne from organically framed vines. Manually harvested. The whole clusters are pressed, with the must going directly into vats, where it is chilled and clarified by settling for 48 hours. It is then racked into 600-litre fûts and fermented with indigenous yeasts. Matured ten months in fûts with stirring of the lees for the first two months. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Vins Philippe Dandurand.
Complex nose: honey, white spices, wax, pear, lychee, minerals and a whiff of cheese. On the palate, it’s rich, dry and mouth-filling, weighty but balanced , possessed of a satiny texture. There’s a suggestion of spiced pear and peach though, as with its flightmate, the fruit flavours are elusive. Long and complete. If the wine has a downside, it’s that it’s not particularly refreshing. That said, it might prove the perfect accompaniment to a dish like scallops or langoustines in curry cream. (Buy again? If in the market for a 100% Marsanne, sure.)

Northern White 2011, Washington State, Rôtie Cellars ($33.00, 12115462)
100% Marsanne. Slow, cool (13°C) alcoholic fermentation with indigenous yeasts. Malolactic fermentation is not completed. Sees only stainless steel until bottling. 13.9% ABV. Quebec agent: Insolite.
Inscrutable nose of minerals and ash. Middleweight and balanced but lean and not exactly characterful, the firm acidity notwithstanding. Flavours? Saline with hints of pear and white peach and a faint oxidized honey note. “A lot of surface but doesn’t stick around very long,” noted one taster. The tail-end – tellingly about a quarter of the bottle was left at the end of the tasting – had lost all personality the next day. (Buy again? Probably not.)

Written by carswell

August 1, 2014 at 18:04

Morel certainty

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Gigondas 2010, Pierre Henri Morel ($33.00, 11996157)
Grenache (60%), Syrah (30%) and Mourvèdre (10%). Fermented in concrete vats for three to four weeks, with daily pump-overs. Matured for 12 to 18 months, mostly in concrete vats but partly in 600-litre barrels. 14.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Clos des vignes.
A nose more closed and subdued than the Signargues‘s, the blackberry and sour cherry wrapped in leather, garrigue and old oak. Bigger, sterner and more structured too, with grippier if fine tannins. The fruit is pure, focused and held in check by savoury and mineral flavours and sleek acidity, while the spice-scented finish lasts long. This has leg of lamb written all over it. Carafe an hour before serving at cool room temperature. In contrast to some overachiever Gigondases, not a blockbuster and all the better for it. (Buy again? Sure.)

Written by carswell

July 13, 2014 at 10:30

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Morel ambiguity

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Based in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine Pierre-Henri Morel – no website that I could find – is a recent joint venture between Morel and Michel Chapoutier, for whom Morel works as commercial director. The wines are made at Chapoutier’s facilities but Morel is responsible for all wine-making decisions.

Côtes du Rhône Villages Signargues 2011, Pierre Henri Morel ($19.25, 1233249)
Another of those blends whose composition nobody seems to agree on. The bottle’s back label says Grenache and Syrah, while an official looking technical information sheet says mostly Grenache with some Syrah. SAQ.com claims it’s 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache but the wine tastes more like 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah. Various US and UK vendors refer to Grenache, Syrah and Mouvèdre, often in a proportion of 50-25-25. The Quebec agent doesn’t even list Morel on its website and doesn’t include wine lists or technical information for any of the producers it does list. Whatever. The wine is reportedly fermented in concrete vats with daily pump-overs for three to four weeks and matured in concrete vats for 12 months. 14.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Clos des vignes.
Appealing nose: spiced plum and black cherry with hay loft, graphite and smoke notes, evolving toward raspberry liqueur. A heady, silk-textured, bone-dry middleweight. The peppery, tangy fruit, rasping acidity and fine mesh of tannins are the main show, while a mild astringency and flaring heat mark the finish. Carafe an hour before serving and drink at cool room temperature (20-30 minutes in the fridge on these warm summer evenings) to temper the heat. (Buy again? Sure.)

Written by carswell

July 12, 2014 at 11:28

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