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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.

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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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Orange line

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The Mo’ Wine Group have been fans of Radikon’s “blue label” orange wines since discovering the Oslavje when it was a private import. All three wines are now carried by the SAQ, albeit in minute and fast-disappearing quantities. This year, though the 2010s were released on different dates, all three were on the monopoly’s shelves for a few days in late February or early March, giving us our first opportunity to taste them side by side.

The wine-making is the same for all three cuvées. The manually harvested grapes are destemmed, then placed in neutral Slavonian oak vats (no temperature control) for maceration and fermentation with indigenous yeasts and manual punch-downs three or four times a day. When alcoholic fermentation is complete, the vats are topped up and closed until the wine has been in contact with the skins for two to three months. The grapes are then gently pressed and the wine is racked into neutral 25- to 35-hectolitre Slavonian oak barrels for about 40 months’ maturation, with further racking performed as needed. The wines are bottled unfiltered, unfined and with no added sulphur and aged another six months in bottle before release.

The bottles are 500 ml because the late Stanko Radkion felt that is the ideal amount of wine for one person to drink by himself or for two people to share, assuming they’ll also share a 500 ml bottle of red. Convinced that using a standard cork would allow too high a rate of oxygen exchange, he designed his bottles to have smaller bore necks and long, narrow corks. Long corks usually indicate that a wine is age-worthy and, in fact, the ageing potential of these wines is not in doubt: opened last year, a bottle of the 2002 seemed at or near peak and likely to remain so for another 10 years.

Venezia Giulia 2010, Jakot, Radikon ($44.25/500 ml, 13571312)
100% Friulano (formerly known as Tocai Friulano, as referenced by the cuvée’s name, which is Tokaj – the Hungarian spelling – spelled backwards) from organically farmed vines. 13.75% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Lovely, wafting nose that elicits several unexpected fruit descriptors, including “preserved plum,” freeze-dried strawberries and “peach Melba.” Swirling and time bring out savoury aromas, including yellow spice (turmeric, saffron), beeswax and old wood, and a hint of oxidation. Quite substantial on the palate. Zingy acidity pushes the fruit into citrus territory (kumquat, maybe?), while light tannins dance across the palate. Mineral and savoury threads intertwine with the fruit and last well into the long finish. A dense yet cutting wine with great focus: intense and exciting now but sublime in 10 years. (Buy again? Def.)

Venezia Giulia 2010, Oslavje, Radikon ($44.25/500 ml, 13571283)
A blend of Chardonnay (40%), Sauvignon Blanc (30%) and Pinot Grigio (30%) from organically farmed vines. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Complex, engaging nose of honey, “cedar,” “anisette,” pear compote, sultanas and a jasmine-like floral note. In the mouth, it’s rich and smooth, verging on opulent, despite the underlying acidity and tannic rasp. The flavours are less fruity, more savoury than those of its flightmates, with old wood and minerals providing ballast. Spice, dried fruit, an almond note and a faint bitterness linger. Approachable if a bit monolithic, this will benefit enormously from extended cellaring. (Buy again? Def.)

Venezia Giulia 2010, Ribolla Gialla, Radikon ($44.25/500 ml, 13555953)
100% Ribolla Gialla from organically farmed vines. 13.75% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
At this stage, the most complex bouquet of the three: dried clementine, floor wax, straw and cedar, among other things. Dense, somewhat waxy texture. Subtle tannins provide grain, piercing acidity freshness. A surprising creamy streak marks it out from its companions. Spice and minerals linger. Breadth and length it has in spades; greater depth and complexity will come with time. Astoundingly pure and savoury and nowhere near its prime. (Buy again? Def.)

MWG March 9th tasting: flight 5 of 5

Written by carswell

May 13, 2018 at 11:17

Rebholz range

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Pfalz 2016, Riesling, Trocken, Ökonomierat Rebholz ($26.65, 12690707)
100% Riesling from organically farmed 20-year-old vines rooted in sandstone. Manually harvested. Macerated 24 hours on the skins. Clarified through sedimentation. Fermented (with selected yeasts) for two weeks and matured for six months in stainless steel tanks. Malolactic fermentation was prevented. Filtered but not fined. Screwcapped. Residual sugar: 3.1 g/l. 11% ABV. Quebec agent: Valmonti.
Granite dust, faint lemon and apple, distant straw, “canned mandarins” and a note described as “floral” by one taster and “jasmine” by another. Pitched somewhere between light- and medium-bodied. Slight fizzy at first. Clean and quite dry, with bright acidity, a dusting of minerals and lots of lemon. More linear than deep but mouth-filling. Sour apple and a touch of salt linger. Not dancing though that may well change as the wine matures. Accessible now but surely better in a year or three. (Buy again? Sure.)

Pfalz 2015, Riesling, Trocken, Vom Rotliegenden, Ökonomierat Rebholz ($42.50, 12353196)
100% Riesling from 25-year-old organically farmed vines rooted in red slate. Manually harvested. Macerated 24 hours on the skins. Clarified through sedimentation. Fermentation with selected yeasts lasted four weeks. Matured six months in stainless steel tanks. Malolactic fermentation was prevented. Filtered but not fined. Residual sugar: 1.3 g/l. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Valmonti.
Gorgeous nose of apple, lemon-lime, spring meadow and a hint of almond. Not quite as gorgeous in the mouth, at least for now, though hardly without appeal. Medium-bodied and smooth-textured with bright but integrated acidity. Minerals provide a backdrop to the fruit, which tends to citrus and apple and has fresh herb harmonics. The depth and length are admirable. Finishes with a faintly salty tang. Give it at least a couple of years in the cellar and you’re in for a treat. (Buy again? Yes.)

Pfalz 2015, Riesling, Großes Gewächs, Kastanienbusch, Ökonomierat Rebholz ($99.25, 13350704)
The estate’s top wine. Großes Gewächs (“great growth”) is an unofficial designation for top-level dry wines from selected sites that is increasingly used in the Mosel by the members of the Bernkasteler Ring and elsewhere (except the Rheingau) by the members of the VDP growers’ association. This 100% Riesling comes from 50-year-old organically and biodynamically farmed vines in the Kastanienbusch vineyard (the name refers to chestnut trees that grow nearby). The soil consists of loose deposits of granite, slate and melaphyre with a high iron content giving it a dark red colour. The manually harvested grapes were destemmed and then macerated on the skins for 24 hours. The must was clarified through settling. Fermentation (with selected yeasts) and maturation in stainless steel tanks lasted about seven months. Malolactic fermentation was prevented. Filtered but not fined. Bottled in May 2017. Residual sugar: 4.8 g/l. 12.5% ABV. Quebec agent: Valmonti.
Closed yet super complex nose, an inexhaustible mine of minerals veined with citrus, stone fruit, apple, flowers and grassy herbs. In the mouth, it has it all, including great purity and an exquisite mineral-fruit balance. The acidity is very present, very tense but also unedgy. Flavours include apple, white peach and mineral water. The dazzling finish lasts forever. Such delicacy and yet such cut, precision and focus. Five to ten years in a cool, dark place will do it a world of good. Expensive, yes, but perfection has a price. (Buy again? If you’ve got the bucks, absolutely.)

In case you’re wondering, Ökonomierat is a German title of honour conferred upon individuals and organizations in recognition of their outstanding service to agriculture.

MWG March 9th tasting: flight 2 of 5

Written by carswell

April 11, 2018 at 13:47

Unique, authentic, treasurable

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Dolceacqua is a commune and village in western Liguria, just inland from the Mediterranean and touching the border with France. It is also a DOC for red wines made from the Rossese grape. The DOC’s annual production averages a mere 1,500 hectolitres.

Founded in 1961, Testalonga is widely considered the top estate in Dolceacqua. Its owner-winemaker is Antonio Perrino, now in his 70s and preparing for retirement (his niece Erica has begun assisting him and will eventually take over). The estate’s holdings total around one hectare of vines in small terraced plots on steep hillsides, like all the best vineyards in the appellation. Testalonga’s overlook the sea and are located a half hour’s drive from town. The vines average 35-45 years in age though some are as old as 100. Two varieties are grown: Vermentino and Rossese. The farming is organic (uncertified) and the vineyards are worked manually. Harvesting is manual, too.

The wine-making takes place in a converted garage in the centre of town. The wine-making equipment is pretty much limited to a vertical press and a couple of old large barrels. All fermentations are spontaneous. No temperature control is used. With total annual production typically being seven 600-litre barrels (five red, two white), Testalonga qualifies as a micro-producer. Antonio says he makes wines like his father made them and there’s no denying that have a rare timeless quality.

Vino da Tavola 2016, Bianco, Testalonga ($43.12, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Vermentino. Macerated on the skins for five days. Matured in 600-litre old oak barrels. Unfined and probably unfiltered. 14% ABV. Total production: less than 1,000 bottles. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
More deep yellow than “orange” in the glass. Somewhat closed yet intriguing nose dominated by dried citrus and whiffs of alcohol. Suave and spicy in the mouth. Tending to full-bodied. The savoury fruit is overtoned with dried herbs, deepened by minerals, tensed with acidity. Ghostly tannins confer a lightly gritty texture, most noticeable on the mid-palate and long, saline finish. Involving and rewarding. (Buy again? Def.)

Rossese di Dolceacqua 2016, Testalonga ($51.74, private import, 6 bottles/case)
100% Rossese di Dolceacqua (aka Tibouren), nearly all of which comes from the Arcagna vineyard, considered one of the best in the appellation. Made using the whole clusters. Matured in 600-litre old oak barrels. Unfiltered and unfined. Total production: around 2,000 bottles. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: Deux Caves.
Dusty cherry with notes of dried flowers and iron shavings. Medium-bodied. Dry and savoury, with rich fruit, a dusting of black pepper, light but pervasive acidity and rustic tannins in the background. While there’s plenty of breadth and a certain depth and length, this seems more about flavour and texture. Not a knockout, then, but unique, authentic and teasurable. Reportedly ages well. Probably shows best with food; a Ligurian rabbit stew sounds like just the ticket. (Buy again? Yes.)

MWG February 22nd tasting: flight 5 of 5

Zingers

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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

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