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October 2019

Education Reviews Wines

THE TROUBLE WITH NATURAL WINE FANATICS…

natural wine fanatics

I live in a city awash with natural wine fanatics. I am a little less ardent in my appreciation. That is not to say there aren’t scores of natural wines that I like. There are. I found a whole lot to love at the Raw Wine show in Montréal last week.

The natural wine movement has done a lot for the world of wine. It has encouraged wineries of all sizes and doctrines to re-think their winemaking methods and decrease the quantity of potentially unnecessary additives. It has pushed the boundaries of experimentation in the vineyards and cellar. It has created new wine styles, offering consumers greater vinous choice. And it has yielded some fabulous, passionate advocates that do a great job educating wine lovers.

Unfortunately, it has also spawned a generation of natural wine fanatics; a breed of super fans that range from tiresomely vocal enthusiasts to closed minded zealots.

…the judgmental attitude of die-hard natural wine fanatics is doing a disservice to the entire natural wine movement.

Psychologist Jeremy Sherman, PhD describes fanatics as “…people who indulge in a heady, intoxicating and toxic concoction of self-affirming, know-it-all confidence that they have unique access to absolute truths, truths so perfect that they have to impose them on everyone.” It is exactly this mentality that makes me wary each time I enter a natural wine heavy establishment.

In my opinion, the judgmental attitude of die-hard natural wine fanatics is doing a disservice to the entire natural wine movement – alienating, rather than welcoming, potential new consumers.  In some quarters, there is almost a school yard mentality at play. Drinkers of anything other than natural wines are looked down on like kids on a playground wearing unfashionable clothes.

I remember being in a Parisian wine bar eight years ago politely listening to the sommelier expounding his theories on the superiority of natural wines. He insisted on choosing our wines  for us all night long. We made the appropriate noises, nodded, smiled, and on our way out, understanding that we were in the wine trade, he asked where we worked. We named the winery. His look of disgust was almost farcical. And he said, his words dripping with disdain, “Oh, I’ve heard of them. They’re conventional“.

…drinkers of anything other than natural wines are looked down on like kids on a playground wearing unfashionable clothes.

The urge natural wine fanatics feel to evangelize is frankly just irritating. If I dare to admit not liking a certain natural wine, I don’t want to listen to a super fan arguing with me, or rhapsodizing about the winemaker’s vision. This will not change my mind, or make the wine taste better.

Of course I prefer to drink wines that are made in an ethical, sustainable manner. A winemaker who sees themselves as a custodian of their vineyards for future generations is one I can get behind. Especially if said winemaker’s values extent to how they treat their staff, and their community. If that wine also happens to be made using only natural yeasts, with no additives, or maybe just a drop of sulphur at bottling, so much the better.

However, I will not suffer through a skin contact white with tannins so bitter they make my taste buds weep. I won’t marvel over a murky, gamey rosé. And, I refuse to drink a wine that tastes more like beer or cider. If I wanted beer or cider, I’d order it. Sure, the producer might have a compelling winemaking philosophy…but you can’t drink ideology. Or at least I can’t.

Sure, the producer might have a compelling winemaking philosophy…but you can’t drink ideology. 

To me, the world of wine is so marvellous because of its diversity of styles and flavour profiles. There is truly a wine out there for every budget and every palate. Opinion formers in the wine trade – sommeliers, wine merchants, wine writers, educators, etc. – have a vital role to play today in teaching consumers about the importance of supporting wineries working sustainably in their vineyards and cellars. However, we are there to act as guides, not dictators.

Why can’t we just drink and let drink?

End of rant…now, let’s get to the wines. A handful of the wineries that really impressed me at Raw Wine Montréal and some other recent tastings of natural or low interventionist winemakers include:

Bret Brothers & La Soufrandière, biodynamic producers from the Maconnais region of Burgundy. Incredibly precise, mineral, textured whites.

Pearl Morissette, minimal interventionist winemakers from  the Niagara Peninsula, Ontario. Beautifully nuanced Chardonnay, Riesling & Cabernet Franc.

Domaine Frédéric Brouca, passionate producer of old vine wines on the Schist soils of Faugères. Lovely, pure Cinsault and bold, yet balanced Mourvèdre-Syrah blends.

Domaine aux Moines, organic producers currently undergoing biodynamic conversion. Racy, elegant Savennières.

Château Maris, a biodynamic, sulpher-avoiding producer  in Minervois-la-Livinière (who doesn’t choose to label himself a natural wine maker). Textured, expansive Grenache Gris and bold, fragrant Syrah.

Domaine Mann, an organic producer from Alsace. Lovely crémant, aromatic, layered Pinot Gris, and long-lived Riesling.

Reyneke, producer of organic and biodynamic wines from Stellenbosch, South Africa. Vibrant Chenin Blanc and rich, concentrated Syrah.

 

 

 

Reviews Wines

TASTING THE WINES OF MULLINEUX & LEEU

wines of mullineux

I first met Chris and Andrea Mullineux in South Africa back in 2007 under the shade of a kindly old tree at the Tulbagh Mountain Winery (now Fable Wines). Over the course of a leisurely lunch they laid out their plans to move west; to a region then better known for wheat than wine – the Swartland.

Their eyes shone at the idea of setting up in this new frontier. It offered the ideal, Mediterranean climate to craft wines from the Rhône varieties they had come to love during their internship years in Southern France. They were also toying with the idea of producing a straw wine.

I caught up with Chris and Andrea in France a few times in the ensuing years and they gave modest accounts of their Swartland winemaking adventures. It wasn’t until I emerged from my sleepy Gigondas existence, and started following international press accounts, that I discovered their impressive rise in prominence.

Last week, I was offered the opportunity to taste through the current Mullineux Swartland range available here in Montreal. Mullineux’s sales director Nicola Tipping led us through the tasting, and explained the nuances of terroir that give each wine such distinctive personality.

The schist soils of the Kasteelberg bring structure, body, and freshness, while 40  km away the decomposed granite of the Paardeberg gives racier acidity and flinty minerality. Between the two rocky outcrops, iron-rich soils offer a grippier, more concentrated expression. Mullineux’s wines are a testament to these varied soils and to the region’s benevolent climate.

To me, the common thread throughout the tasting was a sense of harmony. The Chenin Blanc based white wines showed mouthwatering acidity perfectly pitched against bright fruit and/ or textural weight. The Syrah-dominant red wines were fairly bold and weighty as should be expected from this hot South African region, yet displayed lovely freshness and juicy fruit flavours. The oak imprint is subtle if at all noticeable, and the Syrah tannins are ripe and rounded.

And the straw wine?

The project did indeed come to fruition, garnering an impressive 96 points Wine Advocate in its first vintage. Each subsequent vintage has achieved similar scores and sells out quickly.

Want to try a Mullineux wine for yourself? Check out my tasting notes from the event, and see which wines are available near you.

Kloof Street Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2018, Swartland

Really bright fruit on the nose, with tropical nuances underscored by ripe lemon, yellow apple, and subtle stony mineral hints. Very clean on the palate, with piercing acidity, a round, juicy fruited core, and dry, citrus-driven finish. Cool fermented in tank and a small portion of neutral barrels.

Where to Buy: SAQ (22.20$), LCBO (19.70$)

Mullineux Old Vines White 2018, Swartland

A blend of mainly Chenin Blanc, with white Rhône varietals, and a splash of Sémillon Gris. Initially quite flinty, with aromas of ripe lemon, yellow apple, gooseberry, and anis developing with aeration. The palate shows lovely balance of racy acidity, lifting the weighty, creamy textured mid-palate nicely. Finishes dry, with attractive nutty flavours, and well integrated toasty oak hints. Barrel fermented with native yeasts. Aged 11 months in mainly 3rd and 4th fill French casks.

Where to Buy: LCBO (37.95$). Private import in Québec, enquire with agent: Rézin.

Mullineux “Granite” Chenin Blanc 2018, Swartland

Slightly muted on the nose, with nuances of yellow orchard and stone fruit, hints of marzipan, and flint. This impressive wine really comes alive on the palate, with its powerful, tightly wound expression, its depth of honeyed yellow fruit, its mouthwatering acidity, and lingering saline finish. Needs a few years in cellar to unfurl, but should be a stunner. 40-year-old, dry farmed Chenin Blanc grapes, grown in granite soils. Barrel fermented with native yeasts. Aged 11 months in mainly 3rd and 4th fill French casks.

Where to buy: Special release at SAQ in Feb. 2020 (95.00$), enquire with agent in Ontario: Nicolas Pearce Wines

Kloof Street Red 2017, Swartland

Predominantly Syrah, with a touch of old vine Cinsault and Carignan. An easy drinking red with attractive plum, red currant, and cherry aromas. Light, smooth, and rounded on the palate, with juicy red fruit flavours, and soft tannins. Partial whole bunch fermentation at cool temperatures. Brief maturation in neutral oak.

Where to buy: SAQ (22.90$), enquire with agent in Ontario: Nicolas Pearce Wines

Mullineux Syrah 2016, Swartland

Intense aromas of smoked meat, baked red and black fruit, and black olive tapenade feature on the nose. Dense and brooding on the palate, giving way to a bright, juicy fruited core bringing lift and freshness. Finishes dry, with muscular tannins, and hints of tobacco and sweet spice.

Where to buy: SAQ (46.00$), LCBO (47.00$)

Mullineux “Granite” Syrah 2016, Swartland

Very elegant Syrah, with an alluring nose of violets, dark chocolate, red currant, and baked black fruit, with a subtle gamey undertone. The palate is full-bodied and firm in structure, yet pleasingly suave in texture with ripe, polished tannins. Highly concentrated flavours of juicy red and black fruit mingle with meaty nuances, lingering long on the finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (145.00$), enquire with agent in Ontario: Nicolas Pearce Wines

Mullineux “Schist” Syrah 2016, Swartland

Similar in weight and concentration, but with more blue and black fruit on the nose, underscored by both game and herbal nuances. The palate displays an attractive chalky texture and fine-grained tannins; more sinewy in nature than the Granite. Finishes wonderfully fresh, with layers of vibrant dark fruit and refreshing herbal hints.

Where to buy: SAQ (140.00$), enquire with agent in Ontario: Nicolas Pearce Wines

Mullineux Straw Wine 2018, Swartland

Wonderfully fragrant, with notes of pineapple, apricot, candied lemon, and honey fairly leaping from the glass. Searing acidity cuts through the concentrated core and honeyed sweetness effortlessly, and provides lovely lift on the long, crystalline finish.

100% Chenin Blanc grapes are picked at optimal ripeness to preserve vibrant acidity. Grapes are dried 2 – 4 weeks on outdoor, shaded straw mats, leading to an evaporation of (up to) 80% of liquid.  Cool, slow fermentation follows with native yeasts lasting upwards of 6 months in neutral barrels.

Where to buy: Sadly not available. Enquire with agents: RézinNicolas Pearce Wines

Wines

TASTING THE WINES OF YALUMBA

wines of Yalumba
Photo credit: Yalumba 

Louisa Rose has a big job. She is the head winemaker at Yalumba; Australia’s most historic family-owned winery. The wines of Yalumba are renowned for their consistent, high quality – from the affordable “Y Series” to revered icons like “The Caley”. This reputation is maintained by the hard work and dedication of Louisa and her team. So when her visit to Montréal was anounced – her first since 2011 – I was keen to meet her.

Yalumba is based in the Barossa Valley, in South Australia. “We are incredibly lucky in the Barossa” says Louisa. “The climate is Mediterranean, with rainfall in the winter and spring months, and a warm, dry summer”. The mild winters and dry growing season conditions keep fungal pressure and other vine maladies to a minimum, allowing vineyards to thrive into venerable old age. The Barossa Valley is home to some of the oldest bush vines in the world.

These ideal climate conditions also allow growers to practice organic viticulture with (relative) ease; a philosophy that has long been at the heart of Yalumba’s vineyard management strategy. Encouraging increased biodiversity in the vines is a huge part of this plan. “We work hard to protect our native vegetation, insects, and bird life” says Louisa.

Another benefit of such vibrant, diverse vineyard ecosystems, according to Louisa, is the healthy vineyard populations of wild yeasts. The wines of Yalumba are fermented almost exclusively with yeasts from their vineyards and winery. Louisa is a huge proponent of native yeasts. “They bring so much complexity and texture to our wines”.

From wild yeasts, we moved on to a conversation about signature grapes. Viognier is one such focus among the white wines of Yalumba. In fact, the winery was one of the first to plant Viognier in Australia, back in 1980. “At the time, there was barely any Viognier left in the world” explains Louisa, “what little remained was all concentrated around Condrieu”.  Yalumba boasts its own nursery. Established in 1975 to ensure quality grafted planting material for their vineyards, the nursery brought in a handful of Viognier vines, and the rest is history.

From Viognier, we moved on to a discussion on Grenache, and the complexity and succulence brought by the old bush vines for which the Barossa is famous. Perhaps the most famous of the red wines of Yalumba however, is Shiraz, and the blends of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. “A colleague once described Shiraz to me as a highly aromatic grape, and that really resonated with me” said Louisa. In recent years, the style of Yalumba Shiraz has definitely become more fragrant, with a lighter oak signature, and fresher acidity.

Overall, the wines of Yalumba are impressive. While we in the wine trade love to extol the virtues of tiny, craft wineries, there is no denying the accomplishment of a larger firm providing great quality, consistent wines at all price levels, for all wine lovers, vintage after vintage.

  

Scroll down for my wines of Yalumba tasting notes from today’s event:

(What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to find out):

Yalumba “The Y Series” Viognier 2018, South Eastern Australia – 88pts. VW

The Y series Viognier is fermented in stainless steel tanks, with native yeasts, then matured on its fine lees for 3 to 4 months. The result is a fresh, fruity, smooth textured white with loads of easy-drinking appeal. Initially quite closed on the nose; hints of honeysuckle and ripe lemon give way to riper stone fruit nuances upon aeration. Light bodied, with bright peach and melon flavours and a refreshing hint of bitterness on the dry finish.

Where to buy: SAQ (14.95$), LCBO (14.95$)

Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2017 – 91pts. PW

Fermented in a mix of mature French oak barrels and puncheons, and stainless steel tanks, this heady Viognier spends 10 months ageing on its lees, with regular bâtonnage. “If I want to show someone the essence of Yalumba Viognier, this would be it” said Louisa Rose. It is easy to see why. Exotic notes of ginger, orange rind, and apricot fairly leap from the glass. Brisk acidity provides lift and balance to the rich, creamy mid-palate. Finishes dry, with spicy ginger notes and citrus oil. Long and layered.

Where to buy: SAQ (22.00$)

Yalumba “Samuel’s Collection” Bush Vine Grenache 2018, Barossa Valley – 89pts. PW

“Grenache has great drinkability; beautiful succulence, juiciness, lift, and spice” explains Louisa Rose, in reference to Yalumba’s old bush vine Grenache from the Barossa Valley. Grapes are sourced from vineyards ranging in age from 35 to 100-years old. An appealing balance of lightness and warmth is on display here. Pretty crushed raspberry, dark plum, and baking spice aromas give way to a mix of fresh and macerated fruit flavours on the palate. The palate is medium in body, suave in texture and pleasantly warming on the finish.

Where to buy: Private import in Québec (27$), enquire with agent: Elixirs Vins & Spiritueux 

Yalumba Organic Shiraz 2017, South Eastern Australia – 87pts. VW

Very fragrant, fruit-driven nose featuring black cherry, blueberry, and blackberry notes. Medium-bodied and broad on the palate, with marginally low acidity giving a slight flatness to the mid-palate. Ripe, chunky tannins frame the finish. The Organic Shiraz is vinified in stainless steel tanks with native yeasts.

Where to buy: SAQ (16.95$)

Yalumba “Samuel’s Collection” Shiraz 2017, Barossa Valley – 89pts. PW

Hints of eaux-de-vie and vanilla, coconut oak nuances give way to lovely ripe blueberry aromas with a little time in the glass. The palate is full bodied and moderately firm, with a velvety texture, and a concentrated core of black fruit, milk chocolate, and savoury hints. Big, ripe tannins accentuate the fine structure of this bold, yet well balanced red. Aged in 15% new French, American, and Hungarian oak.

Where to buy: Private import in Québec (27$), enquire with agent: Elixirs

Yalumba “Samuel’s Collection Shiraz – Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Barossa Valley – 92 pts.

Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic Australian blend that, according to Louisa Rose, has existed for over 100 years. This is a fantastic example of how well the two grapes harmonize. The nose is incredibly vibrant, with notes of spearmint, cedar, blueberry, and dark cherry. The palate is equally vivid, with lively acidity, a firm structure, concentrated flavours of baked black and blue fruit, mingled with cedar and dark chocolate. The finish is long and layered, with polished tannins, subtle oaked nuances, and bright fruit. Drinks well above its price point.

Where to buy: Private import in Québec (27$), enquire with agent: Elixirs

Yalumba “The Signature” Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz 2015, Barossa Valley – 94pts. LW

Deep, brooding, complex red with layers of ripe cassis, dark chocolate, cedar, earth, prune, and baking spice on the nose and palate. Initially firm, though finally quite expansive with its impressive depth and lingering finish of tobacco, cedar, and macerated fruit. Dry, with fine-grained tannins and lovely integration of cedar, spiced oak nuances. A powerful, yet highly elegant wine that espouses its 20 months in 30% new French and American oak barrels and casks beautifully.

Where to Buy: LCBO (75$, 2013 vintage). Sadly out of stock in Québec, enquire with agent: Elixirs

Reviews Wines

MODERN MALBEC: FROM CAHORS TO MENDOZA

modern malbec

Over the course of two days in September, I attended two excellent tastings that highlighted the versatility, ageability, and downright drinkability of Modern Malbec. On the Tuesday, reputed Argentine wine writer Joaquin Hidalgo took me through an exciting line up of white and red wines, including a delicious range of Mendoza Malbec and Malbec dominant blends. On the Wednesday, I tasted with Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux, proprietor of esteemed Cahors estates: Château de Haute-Serre and Château de Mercuès.

Native of France’s South West, Malbec was once widely planted through out France. The variety was so common that, according to Jancis’ Robinson’s Oxford Companian to Wine, there exist over 1000 different synonyms for it. Côt, Pressac, and Auxerrois are just a few examples.

Native of France’s South West, Malbec was once widely planted through out France.

From its pre-phylloxera heydey, Malbec saw a long, steady decline to near oblivion in France over the course of the 19 hundreds. It is a finicky grape, sensitive to frost damage and fungal infections, and prone to uneven flowering and poor fruit set. Once a major red grape in Bordeaux, it is now very much a minor player. After a particularly severe frost in 1956 that decimated Malbec vines, growers preferred to replant with more reliable Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Today, Malbec is principally grown in the Cahors AOC in France’s South West wine region. Here, the vine flourishes in the dry, sunny climate. The classic style of Cahors is can be quite rustic, with its deep, brooding colour, its powerful palate structure, robust tannins, and gamey flavours. Yet, quality-minded producers like Georges Vigouroux’ Château de Haute-Serre are increasingly moving toward a more approachable, modern Malbec . “Our goal is elegance over power”, explains Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux. “The focus is on drinkability”.

The classic style of Cahors can be quite rustic…quality-minded producers are increasingly moving toward a more approachable, modern Malbec.

This same objective is being sought some 11 000 km away, in Mendoza, Argentina. First planted in the mid 19th century with cuttings from France, Malbec’s popularity surged in the 1990s and remains Argentina’s signature grape to this day.

Mendoza Malbec has traditionally been a lush, weighty, overtly fruity affair: inky black, fuchsia-rimmed colour with intense, baked black fruit aromas, a full-bodied, velvety smooth palate, and warm (sometimes boozy) finish. These styles still abound from the flat plains around Mendoza city, but over the past 10 to 15 years, growers have been heading ever further up the Andes mountains in search of cooler temperatures,  fresher wines and the incredibly concentrated flavours that the higher UV levels can bring.

The Valle de Uco and Lujan de Cuyo are the two best known Mendoza sub-zones for cool(er) climate Malbec. The vineyards here range in altitude from 850 metres to over 1500 metres above sea level. Each of these areas is further sub-divided into smaller vineyard sub-regions that boast distinctive flavour traits. In very general terms Valle de Uco wines are often described as elegant, spicy, and floral, while Lujan de Cuyo wines are denser, and more mineral, with black fruit flavours.

…over the past 10 to 15 years, growers have been heading ever further up the Andes mountains in search of cooler temperatures,  fresher wines and the incredibly concentrated flavours that higher UV levels can bring.

This “modern Malbec”, in Cahors and Mendoza, is indeed more drinkable. Shedding some of its power and tannic thrust has resulted in lighter wines, without diminishing their ageing ability. A vertical of Château de Haute-Serre back to 1983 was indeed proof of both the evolution in style, and the ability of the more finely structured, pure fruited wines of the 2000s to age with grace.

Some Modern Malbec favourites from the two tastings included:

D.V. Catena Tinto Historico Mendoza 2017

A blend of mainly Malbec, with Bonarda, and a splash of Petit Verdot sourced from several sites in Mendoza, notably the Valle de Uco. This is a really fresh, lively red with enticing floral aromas, underscored by hints of iron, and fresh red and black berry fruit. The palate is fleshy and round, with herbal, minty notes lifting the tangy black fruit and dark chocolate flavours nicely. Great value for the price.

Where to Buy: SAQ (19.95$), LCBO (19.95$)

Bodega Norton Lote Negro 2015

Intense aromas of macerated dark fruits mingle with cedar and tobacco notes on the nose of this intriguing Malbec, Cabernet Franc blend. The palate is weighty, with a combination of brisk acidity and firm structure that ably counterbalance the concentrated core of rich, dark fruit. Polished tannins frame the finish. Needs a couple of hours decanting, or some additional cellaring to open further.

Where to Buy: SAQ (29.95$)

Bodega Norton “Privada” Family Blend 2016

Discreet nose that reveals pretty blue fruit, graphite, and herbal notes with aeration. Really crisp and juicy on the palate, with loads of tart red and dark fruit, a firm, full-bodied structure, and fine grained tannins. Spicy French oak notes are well integrated on the finish.

Blend: 40% Malbec, 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon

Where to Buy: SAQ (24.05$)

Casa Petrini Malbec, Tupungato, Mendoza 2016

Tupungato is the northernmost sub-region of the Valle de Uco. It is famed for the rich, concentrated expression of its wine. This lovely Malbec is no exception. It boasts a freshness and purity of flavour beautifully balanced by a dense, concentrated core. Red and black fruit mingle with violet, dark chocolate and tar notes on the nose and palate. Loads of finesse & lovely length.

Where to buy: Sadly not available here in Quebec! Look out for it on your travels.

Château de Haut-Serre Cahors 2000

The freshness of fruit impresses on this almost 20-year old Cahors. Notes of ripe blueberry and black cherry lift the tertiary earthy, potpourri aromas nicely. Quite elegant and understated on the palate, with mellow tannins, and delicate fruit and graphite flavours. Ever so slightly drying on the finish. Drink now.

Where to buy: Sold out. Buy the 2016 and age it for a decade or so 😉

Château de Haut-Serre Cahors 2016

Really fragrant; brimming with crushed black and blue fruit, violets, earth, and licorice. The palate, while dense and tightly knit, offers pleasingly bright acidity and juicy fruit flavours.  Firm, ripe tannins and notes of tobacco and mark the finish. Would benefit from 2 – 3 years additional cellaring.

Where to Buy: SAQ (25.25$)

Château de Haute-Serre Cuvée Prestige “Géron Dadine”

Slightly muted on the nose, with notes of kirsch, black plum, earth, cedar and spice developing over time. Bold and dense on the palate, with a powerful core of dark fruit and spice, giving way to big, velvetty tannins and a long, lifted finish. Needs 2 – 3 years in cellar to integrate further and reveal the full extent of its undeniable elegance.

Where to buy: Enquire with agent: Philippe Dandurand