Brett happens

All wine, most of the time

Posts Tagged ‘Under 13 percent

Les élixirs de Xavier

leave a comment »

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



leave a comment »

Located on the north shore of the Danube, about 65 kilometres upstream (west) from Vienna, the 11-hectare Alzinger estate has parcels in two of the Wachau’s most prized vineyards: Loibenberg and Steintertal. Grüner Veltliner and Riesling are the primary grape varieties, though a small amount of Chardonnay is also grown. Leo Alzinger took the helm of the family estate in the 1970s. In 1983, he decided to stop selling its grapes to a local cooperative and to start making wine and selling it under the Alzinger label. Today, his son, Leo Jr., handles the wine-making though Leo Sr. still looks after the top vineyards.

The wine-making is similar for all the cuvées. The manually harvested whole clusters are pressed. The juice is given a short maceration on the skins and then allowed to clarify by settling for 24 hours. The Smaragd wines are matured in large neutral wood barrels, the others in stainless steel. Indigenous yeasts and selected yeasts (especially for the Rieslings) are used. Malolactic fermentation is routinely avoided.

Federspiel 2015, Dürnsteiner, Riesling, Alzinger ($29.10, 11581744)
100% Riesling from several small plots near the village of Oberloiben (Dürnsteiner). Screwcapped. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Vinealis.
Green apple, lemon-lime, flint and a whiff of smoke. Spritzy on opening though that quickly dissipated. Bright, fresh and lemon-appley in the piehole with sleek acidity and a strong mineral current. Seems a bit watery at first – like it could be deeper and more structured – but gains presence and weight as it breathes. Finishes long and clearn. Not a knockout but definitely gluggable and probably even better in three to five years. (Buy again? Sure.)

Smaragd 2015, Loibenberg, Grüner Veltliner, Alzinger ($48.00, 11864955)
100% Grüner Veltliner from the lower reaches of the south-facing terraces of the Loibenberg vineyard, considered the warmest in the Wachau. The vines are rooted in loess. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Vinealis.
Grass, asparagus, white pepper, white meat, flint and eventually a jalapeño note. Medium-bodied. The juicy kiwi fruit is overtoned with green herbs and white spice while the acidity fairly glows. There’s real mineral depth. The finish is long and saline. A beautiful baby. (Buy again? Yes.)

Smaragd 2015, Steinertal, Grüner Veltliner, Alzinger ($57.00, 11581736)
100% Grüner Veltliner from lower down on the terrace, where the soil is richer and deeper. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Vinealis.
Textbook Grüner nose. Finer, more savoury and more closed than the Loibenberg but still redolent of lime, melon, green herbs, minerals and distant smoke. A real presence and a little more of everything in the mouth. The brilliant acidity and dense extract are in perfect balance. Fruit and minerality are among the unfathomable layers of flavour arrayed against a honeyed backdrop. Remarkable precision and depth. The finish is endless. (Buy again? Yes.)

Smaragd 2015, Steinertal, Riesling, Alzinger ($57.00, 11581779)
100% Riesling from the barren, steep Steinertal terrace (thin topsoil over gneiss). 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Vinealis.
Aromatic and multifaceted: green apple, lemon-lime and white flowers and the telltale Riesling note that here is more eucalyptus than petrol. Dense yet fleet on the palate. The sweet fruit tames the electric acidity. The stony minerality seems inexhaustible as does the finish. So complex, pure and flawless – in a word, stunning. Surprisingly accessible for a wine that probably won’t peak for another 10 to 20 years. (Buy again? As many as I can afford.)

MWG February 8th tasting: flight 3 of 5

Written by carswell

March 16, 2018 at 14:31

A pair of aged Muscadets

leave a comment »

It’s rare to see eight- or ten-year-old Muscadet in stores but both these showed up at the SAQ in February.

Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine 2009, Château Thébaud Clos des Tabardières, Poiron-Dabin ($24.95, 13473915)
100% Melon de Bourgogne from 50-year-old vines rooted in granite and gneiss. Manually harvested. After pressing the must is allowed to cold-settle for 48 hours. Spontaneous fermentation in temperature-controlled (20°C max) tanks lasts three to four weeks. Matured on the lees for 84 months. Reducing sugar: 3.7 g/l. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: Divin Paradis.
Complex and engaging nose of apple and chalk with hints of honey, petrol, animale and eventually dried herbs. Somewhat weighty in the mouth, the texture falling between unctuous and waxy. Diffuse fruit and minerality and low acidity leave an impression of flabbiness that extends through the bitter-edged finish. Less interesting than the nose promises. The wine has been showered with medals and 98 points from Decanter, leaving me to wonder whether our bottle was defective, not that it tasted off in any way. (Buy again? A bottle to give it a second chance?)

Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu 2007, Origine, Domaine du Haut Bourg ($27.00, 12565210)
100% Melon de Bourgogne from vines planted in 1944 and rooted in red sand, gravel and quartz pebbles over shale and amphibolite. Fermented in temperature-controlled tanks. Matured 10 years on the lees in underground vats with two or three stirrings during the first year. Reducing sugar: 1.8 g/l. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: Sélections Onéo.
Pear and quince, minerals and ash upfront, then schist, dried lemon peel, wax and a hint of alcohol. Lighter and fleeter than its flightmate. Dry, minerally going on crystalline, herby, long, complex. Acidity and extract are in perfect balance. A saline thread runs throughout and a honey note lingers. Surprisingly fresh for a decade-old Muscadet. A beautiful, involving wine at its peak. (Buy again? Done!)

MWG February 8th tasting: flight 2 of 5

Written by carswell

March 13, 2018 at 14:53

Turbulent time

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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

Orange zeal

leave a comment »

Vermont 2015, Vinu Jancu, La Garagista ($45.76, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Vinu Jancu means “orange wine” in a Sicilian dialect. 100% La Crescent. Spontaneously fermented on the skins in glass demijohns. Overwintered on the lees. Unfiltered and unfined. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Les Vins Dame-Jeanne.

Hazy bronze-orange. Effusive nose: floral, choco-orange, wax, tamarind, cinnamon, hints of caraway, “grappa” and honeycomb. Almost too intense on the attack, “like strong chestnut honey,” but mild-mannered more nuanced on the mid-palate. Fruity, even muscaty (the grape’s Muscat of Hamburg parentage comes through) but dry, with smooth acidity and faint tannins. Focus and you’ll find a mineral vein running throughout. The finish – “really pithy,” “like clementine pith” – lasts for minutes. Fascinating. Like nothing else I’ve encountered, orange or otherwise. (Buy again? A bottle to revisit and contemplate.)

Mo’ Wine Group November 23rd tasting: flight 4 of 6

Brianna split

leave a comment »

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