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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


Turbulent time

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Crémant du Jura 2015, Les Turbulents, Domaine Labet ($29.75, 11549162)
A 50-50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from organically farmed 28- to 60-year-old vines rooted in the calcareous soil of the Les Varrons lieu-dit. Fermented with indigenous yeasts. Matured seven months in stainless steel tanks on the initial fermentation lees and eight months in the bottle after secondary fermentation. Unfiltered. Reducing sugar: 7.2 g/l. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.

Not a lot of foam. Appealing nose of yeast, barley sugar, almond, apple and lemon. Softly effervescent in the mouth, with medium bubbles. The zingy acid is rounded by the extract. The fruit – pearish on the mid-palate – fades fades fast but mineral (chalk and quartz), lemon zest and “a little fennel” linger. A sparkler that has lots going for it, especially a lively energy, yet somehow isn’t a coup de cœur for anyone around the table, which a couple of the more experienced and analytical tasters attribute to heavy dosage (“trop dosé,” “dosage trop évident”). Additional time in the bottle may do it some good. (Buy again? A bottle or two to lay down and revisit in a year or two.)

MWG February 8th tasting: flight 1 of 5

Written by carswell

March 12, 2018 at 12:40

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

Brianna split

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Located near the Killington ski resort, on the slopes of Mount Hunger in Barnard, Vermont, and run by Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber, La Garagista Farm + Winery traces its roots back to 1999, when the couple began farming to provide produce for Osteria Pane e Salute, their restaurant in nearby Woodstock. (The osteria closed in 2017 when the cooking operations were moved to Hart Tavernetta Forestiera + Bar à Vin on the winery grounds.) The estate also has two vineyards at the western edge of the state, overlooking Lake Champlain.

Experimental plantings aside, cold-hardy hybrids – crosses between vinifera grapes and native American species – are the only varieties grown: La Crescent, Marquette, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac Blanc, Frontenac, Brianna and St. Croix. When I asked Caleb if they winter-proofed the vines (for example, by burying them), he said no. When I asked whether that was a problem during the harsh cold spells we’ve had in recent winters, he said, “quite the opposite.” The vines had no trouble coping with the cold but the same couldn’t be said about insect and other pests, so the vines thrived the following summers.

Commercial wine- and cider-making is relatively new at the estate, the first vintage being the 2010. From the start, all farming has been organic and biodynamic. The fruit is picked by hand and crushed by foot. Fermentations are spontaneous, relying solely on indigenous yeasts and bacteria. Fermentation and maturation take place in glass demijohns and old barrels, though amphorae and cement eggs are on the couple’s wish list. Filtering and fining are avoided. Sulphur additions, if any, are minimal.

Production is tiny – only a few thousand bottles a year – though plans are to ramp that up to 10,000 or even 20,000. In Montreal, the latest arrival sold out in a flash and personal allocations were limited to a bottle or two, if that, of a given cuvée. Here, then, your best bet for trying La Garagista wines is to visit a wine bar or restaurant that focuses on natural wines. Alternatively, head south, where bottles can sometimes be found on store shelves and restaurant wine lists in Vermont, Boston and New York City.

Vermont 2016, Pétillant Naturel, Ci Confonde, La Garagista ($42.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Brianna. An ancestral method sparkler. Not disgorged. No added sulphur. 11% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.
No head to speak of but a few lazy streams of tiny bubbles. Complex nose with notes of ham, lees, Belgian beer yeast, apple, lemon, white spice and “apricot buckwheat pastry.” Somewhat mead-like in the mouth. Very dry, with lightly souring acidity and a real mineral component. Flavours? Beeswax, drying hay and “passion fruit,” as one taster notes, though it’s by no means a fruity wine. Which isn’t to say it lacks intensity, especially as it breathes and warms. The effervescence mostly disappears by the time the finish rolls around. Chamomile and a hint of honey linger. (Buy again? Gladly, though not without wishing it were $10 cheaper.)

Vermont 2016, Loup d’Or, La Garagista ($42.25, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Brianna. Made in glass demijohns. 11.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.
The first glasses poured were clear pale yellow-green; due to the deposit, the last glasses were translucent beige verging on opaque tan. For that reason if no other, this is a wine to carafe before serving. And as my sludgy glass was that last one poured, I didn’t spend a lot of time being analytical about it. A complex nose once again: white grape skin, distant stone fruit, spice chest, flowers and a note one taster not disapprovingly describes as “tennis ball.” Fortunately, a neighbour lets me take a couple of sips from his glass, the first one poured. They reveal a textured white with plenty of extract to balance the fine-edged acidity, savoury fruit and mineral flavours set against a leesy backdrop and a satisfying finish. On the whole, an even more accomplished wine than the Ci Confonde and one I look forward to re-encountering in a more pristine state. (Buy again? Ditto, but such is the law of supply and demand.)

Mo’ Wine Group November 23rd tasting: flight 3 of 6

Cava art

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Founded in 1924 and still located in the town of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, Cavas Recaredo today owns 46 hectares of vineyards in the Alt Penedès region. The vines, some of them nearly 80 years old, are unirrigated. All farming is organic and biodynamic (certified since 2010). Harvesting is manual. Only vintage-dated, totally dry sparkling wines are made and only from estate-grown grapes. All vinification is done in house. The musts from the oldest Xarel-lo vines are fermented and matured in oak barrels; some of the base wine are matured several months in oak, too. Immediately after bottling, the bottles are sealed with cork stoppers, not crown caps. Riddling is performed by hand. All disgorging is manual and done at cellar temperature; contrary to the practice of many sparkling wine producers, the necks of the bottles are not frozen before disgorging. None of the wines is dosed.

Cava 2010, Brut Nature Gran Reserva, Terrers, Recaredo ($36.00, 13319715)
Macabeo (54%), Xarel-lo (42%) and Parellada (4%) from organically and biodyanmically farmed vines rooted in highly calcareous, loamy soil. Whole-cluster fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks. Around 10% of the blend was aged in oak casks. Bottled with neutral Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast for second fermentation and matured five years on the lees. 190,000 bottles made. Reducing sugar: <1.2 g/l. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Fast-disappearing, snow-white foam. Fine bead. Elegant nose of lemon peel, straw, sea shells, marzipan and white blossom. Equally elegant in the mouth, the subdued flavours bringing apple-custard turnovers to mind. “Saliva-inducing” acidity and soft bubbles provide liveliness and lift. A mineral underlay lasts through the long finish, lending a “baking powder bitterness” to the lingering, faintly nutty flavours. All the elements are in place and in perfect balance. (Buy again? Yes.)

Cava 2007, Brut Nature Gran Reserva, Brut de Brut, Finca Serral del Vell, Recaredo ($49.75, 13202568)
The first vintage of Recaredo’s Brut de Brut made from a single estate, in this instance the Serral del Vall. Xarel-lo (51%) and Macabeo (49%) from organically farmed vines 16 to 28 years old and rooted in extremely calcareous, loamy soil with an abundance of stone and gravel. The wine-making was as for the Terrers with two exceptions: before blending, all the Xarel-lo was matured in oak casks and the blended wine is bottle-matured eight years. 50,000 bottles made. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: La QV.
Intriguing nose of white lily, minerals, apple, coffee, “angelica,” yeast and lees. Similar to but deeper than the Terrers, a tad heftier and even more refined. Here the subtle fruit – apple, tropical and faint citrus – takes a back seat to the chalky minerals. Very dry and yet fresh, surely a function of the fine-edged acidity and lilting effervescence. Complexities include a “tinge of bay leaf,” “cinnamon brioche” and a honey note that marks the long, savoury finish. Impeccable. (Buy again? Yes.)

If you’re not a fan of cava, these probably won’t make a believer out of you. If you are, you’ll have a hard time finding anything better at the price. Incidentally, Recaredo’s high-end cuvées – the 2004 Reserva Particular ($107.00, 11458228) and the recently sold-out 2000 Turó d’en Mota Reserva Brut ($135.00, 11587118) – are formidable, meditation-worthy wines that, while unmistakably cavas, can easily stand comparison with similarly priced champagnes.

Mo’ Wine Group November 23rd tasting: flight 2 of 6

Written by carswell

February 25, 2018 at 11:14

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

Clean, crisp and elegant

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Champagne, Brut, 7 Crus, Agrapart & Fils ($69.75, 12632275)
For background on the Avise-based estate, see here. A blend of Chardonnay (90%) and Pinot Noir (10%) from two vintages (40% 2012 and 60% 2013 per the Agrapart website). The grapes came from vineyards in seven villages. After alcoholic fermentation, the still wine underwent malolactic fermentation. Half of the 2012 wine was matured in oak barrels. Bottled unfiltered and unfined in May 2014. Matured in bottle on the lees for three years. Riddled manually. Disgorged on an as-needed basis 60 days before being released to market. Dosage was limited to 7 g/l of sugar and 50 g/l of sulphur dioxide. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: Bella Vita.

Not much foam but lots of tiny bubbles. Lovely nose of pear, apple and minerals with background yeast, vanilla, honey, toast, white flowers and a lactic note. In the mouth, it’s as minerally as it is fruity, the minerals tending to chalk, the fruit to lemon and green apple. Fundamentally a lightweight yet the underlying wineyness gives it a depth not often found in champagnes at this price point. The fine, tickling effervescence adds texture and lift, while the long finish brings “des beaux amères” (a beautiful bitterness, quoting another taster). Remarkably clean, crisp and elegant, this is a superb aperitif champagne. (Buy again? Yes.)

MWG October 26th tasting: flight 1 of 6

Written by carswell

December 12, 2017 at 12:12