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Jacky Blisson

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UPDATE: FREE TRADE FOR CANADIAN WINES

free trade canadian wines

UPDATE: Free Trade for Canadian Wines

Last summer, I wrote the article below bemoaning Canada’s archaic laws that prohibit the cross-border movement of alcohol. A year later, while there has been some movement, free trade for Canadian wines (and other alcoholic beverages) remains a long way off.

In April 2019, the Liberal government introduced legislation to remove the federal requirement that alcohol moving from one province to another be sold or consigned to a provincial liquor authority. However, it remains at the discretion of each province to forbid or allow direct-to-consumer shipping of out of province alcohol…so essentially, nothing has changed.

We remain a country where, unless you live in the progressive havens of BC, Manitoba or Nova Scotia, “you can order a gun from another province and have it delivered to you, but you can’t order a bottle of wine” laments Dan Paszkowski, president of the Canadian Vintners Association. 

Great wine is being made across Canada – from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. If you want to stand behind Canadian grape growers and winemakers, head on over to FreeMyGrapes and make your voice heard.

To read my full article from last year, click here or simply scroll down below the image. 

PS – Wines from Ontario, BC and Nova Scotia are STILL shelved in the USA or “Autres Pays” (Other Countries) aisles in the majority of SAQ outlets

free trade canadian wines

FREE TRADE FOR CANADIAN WINE

This past week-end, I attended the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (I4C). Held in the Niagara region of Ontario, this joyous event is equal parts professional conference on cool climate winemaking, and raucous party toasting Canada’s arrival in the realm of world-class fine wines.

I tasted so many delicious sparkling wines, Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Francs that I literally lost count. I came home brimming over with enthusiasm, ready to stock my cellar with Canadian wine. But I can’t.

Why you ask?

Because in Canada, we cannot legally order wine for home delivery from an out-of-province winery (except in BC, Manitoba and Nova Scotia). And because we have provincial alcohol monopolies, I can only buy what one single retailer decides to offer me.

In Canada, we cannot legally order wine for home delivery from an out-of-province winery.

According to the Canadian Vintners Association, 100% Canadian wine represents less than a 5 % wine sales market share in eight of our 10 provinces. No other wine producing country in the world has such ludicrously low domestic market share.

To test this theory, I took a stroll through my local SAQ the other day. I was happy to see a prominent “Origine Québec” section. However, when I looked for wines from Canada’s other provinces, I was sorely disappointed. There were a total of three wines. They were sitting in the category headed “Autres Pays” (Other Countries), mixed in with wines from obscure eastern European origins.

When I asked an employee if this was the extent of their domestic range, he reassured me that there were more in the produits réguliers (general list) section. He led me to the aisle. Under the category “United States”, I found 2 more Canadian wines.

Canadian wine represents less than a 5 % wine sales market share in eight of our 10 provinces.

Granted, this was one of the smaller format, SAQ Classique stores. But it is located in the heart of one of Montréal’s busiest commercial and residential neighbourhoods. While the larger SAQ Séléction outlets have a better range of Canadian wines, these stores are fewer and farther between.

I can always order on-line from the liquor board, but the selection is a mere fraction of what is on offer direct from the wineries.

So why can’t I just order direct? Because federal restrictions and provincial laws exist across Canada that prohibit the cross-border movement of alcohol. Even if I were to get in my car and drive the 4.5 hours to Prince Edward County or 6.5 hours to Niagara, I still couldn’t legally bring back more than 12 bottles (9 litres).

Nearly a century since the end of prohibition, and we are still being told that we require public supervision of our alcohol intake…

In 2012 Gerard Comeau, a New Brunswick native, was fined 292$ for bringing Québec purchased beer into the province. Comeau refused to pay, citing section 121 of Canada’s constitution which promises free trade of goods between provinces. After a 5-year legal battle, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against Comeau. They argued that the New Brunswick provincial legislation (section 134B) was not intended to restrict trade, simply to “enable public supervision of the production, movement, sale, and use of alcohol within New Brunswick”.

Nearly a century since the end of prohibition, and we are still being told by the Canadian powers-that-be, that we require public supervision of our alcohol intake. And that this imperative trumps our constitutional right to free trade.

The subject of interprovincial alcohol trade was on the agenda of last week’s meeting of Canada’s premiers. The consensus reached was less than impressive. While the premiers agree to “significantly increase personal use exemption limits”, according to New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, no specific amount or clear indication of timelines were given.

It is not simply the principle of the matter that irks me, it is the great disservice being done to our fledgling wine industry.

And no matter what the new limits are, the very fact that there are limits flies in the face of free trade. It is not simply the principle of the matter that irks me, it is the great disservice being done to our fledgling wine industry. It would seem that our governments are far more concerned with protecting the revenue stream from alcohol monopolies, than supporting the development of Canada’s wineries.

Great wine is being made across Canada – from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. If you want to stand behind Canadian grape growers and winemakers, head on over to FreeMyGrapes and make your voice heard.

You can toast your contribution with a glass of fine Canadian wine. Need a recommendation? Check out my list of favourites (here) from my recent week judging the 2019 National Wine Awards of Canada.

Reviews Wines

WHY YOU SHOULD DRINK (MORE) CANADIAN WINE

Canadian Wine
Photo credit: Wines of British Columbia, WineBC.com

Because it is delicious. Voila. Enough said. End of article. Seriously though, Canadian wine has come a hell of a long way in a very short time. There have never been so many great reasons to drink Canadian wine.

The first commercial Canadian vineyard was established in Cooksville, Ontario in 1811. However, wide-scale production of quality wine didn’t truly get under way for another 160 years. Temperance movements, prohibition, inhospitable climates, negative consumer reaction to the “foxy” tasting wines crafted from the mainly hybrid grapes planted for their cold hardiness… the hurdles faced by the pioneers of the Canadian wine industry were immense.

Happily, an intrepid band of believers persevered, eventually finding sheltered, well exposed sites, with favourable soil conditions, and over time, matched these to Vitis vinifera and quality hybrid grapes that would thrive there. These parcels of land are notably found surrounding Lake Okanagan, its tributaries, and downstream lakes in British Columbia, and hugging Lake Ontario in Ontario.

Thomas Bachelder, acclaimed Niagara Peninsula winemaker, is convinced of his region’s vast potential, “We have the degree days, and complex limestone-rich soils. Niagara Chardonnay is elegant; racy, mineral and floral, with a solid core of rich dry extract”, he explains. Riesling and cool climate red grapes like Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Cabernet Franc also produce award-winning results here.

The over 160km stretch north to south from Lake Country/ North Okanagan to Black Sage and Osoyoos in the Okanagan Valley equates to a diverse terrain and significant temperature differentials, allowing a wide array of grapes to flourish though out the region. The cooler north focuses on varieties that can handle colder conditions – think Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, while the warmer south excels at Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon blends, and the like.

Québec and Nova Scotia also have small but noteworthy, emerging Canadian wine industries. Nova Scotia is proving particularly successful with sparkling wines. The high tides of the Bay of Fundy bring constant wind movement, tempering the winters, allowing the region a long, moderate growing season. “Nova Scotian sparkling wine has very recognizable characteristics, namely its bracing acidity and pure, focused palate” says Josh Horton, head winemaker at top-quality Annapolis Valley winery: Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards.

Québec offers a wide palate of early ripening, winter hardy hybrid white, red, rosé, and sparkling wines, with a move toward noble, cool climate Vitis vinifera grapes in isolated, warmer sites. The quality of the sparkling, still whites and rosés has improved significantly in recent years, with favourite estates like Les Pervenches regularly selling out.

Last month, I had the great pleasure of joining a group of 22 Canadian wine experts as a judge for the 2019 National Wine Awards of Canada. Over 1800 wine entries were blind tasted through out the week. Without further ado, here are a selection of my top-rated wines from my tasting panels.*

* This list does not reflect the full extent of my enthusiasm for Canadian wine! Many of my favourite producers were not represented, or not in the tasting flights that I participated in. If you are looking for other suggestions for top class Canadian wine, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

Want to know what the LW, PW & LW stand for in my wine scores? Check out my wine scoring system page.

SPARKLING WINE

Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards Blanc De Blancs Brut 2014, Nova Scotia – 93pts. PW

Racy, precise sparkling wine from one of Nova Scotia’s masters. Thrilling lemon zest, green apple notes give way to a saline finish, with ultra-fine, persistent bubbles and impressive length. World-class quality for the price.

Blend: Blanc de Blancs, Chardonnay 100%

Price: 38.95$, contact winery

Two Sisters Vineyards 2016 Blanc de Franc, Niagara River – 92pts. LW

Intriguing hints of raspberry, anis and spice underscored by inviting brioche notes on the nose. The palate, while quite light weight, has lovely textural appeal and creaminess to the core. Finishes long, with bright, lifted fruit and fine bubbles.

Blend: Blanc de Noirs, Cabernet Franc 100%

Price: 62$, contact winery

Lundy Manor NV Brut, Niagara Peninsula – 92pts. PW

Opulent, with heady aromas of biscuit, red apple, golden pear and lemon. Medium in body, with brisk acidity, and layered, leesy mid-palate and a hint of sweetness to the brut finish.

Blend: Pinot Noir 75%, Chardonnay 25%

Price: 45$, contact winery

Dark Horse Estate Winery, Valegro 2015 Traditional Method, Ontario – 91pts. PW

Interwoven notes of brioche, grilled nuts, lemon and apple feature on the nose. The palate is very pure and focused, with a subtly creamy texture, light body, and a very dry, refreshing finish.

Blend: Blanc de Blancs, 100% Chardonnay

Price: 39.95$, contact winery

RIESLING

Harper’s Trail 2018 Silver Mane Block Riesling Thadd Springs Vineyards, Kamloops, BC – 93pts. VW

With aeration, displays quite a complex nose of flint, green apple, lemon and lime. The palate is pitch perfect: taut, racy, and textural, bursting with zesty citrus fruit, and a lip-smacking, subtly off dry finish. Absolute steal for the price.

Price: 18.30$, contact winery

Hidden Bench 2016 Riesling Felseck Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula – 92pts. PW

Lovely complexity on the nose, with hints of marmalade, mingled with red apple, white floral and lemon tones. Racy acidity gives way to a medium weight palate, with lifted orchard and citrus fruit flavours and subtle wet stone mineral hints on the long finish.

Price: 29$, contact winery

50th Parallel 2018 Riesling, Okanagan Valley – 92pts. VW

Another great value, with attractive grapefruit, green apple and lemon notes on the nose. Medium weight, with crisp acidity, a focused, linear core and lovely saline mineral notes that lift and draw out the finish.

Price: 19.90$, contact winery

Tawse 2016 Riesling, Sketches of Niagara, Niagara Peninsula – 91pts. VW

Classic Riesling nose, with petrol, white flowers, lemon, and apple nuances fairly leaping from the glass. Crisp and clean on the palate, with a vibrant, fruity core, and a taut, lengthy, off-dry finish. Delicious!

Price: 18.95$, contact wineryLCBO

CHARDONNAY

Quails’ Gate 2017 Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, BC – 93pts. PW

Puligny-esque on the nose, with nuances of flint, white orchard fruit, lemon and melted butter. Crisp acidity is ably matched by taut, finely chiselled structure, with well integrated hints of toasty, spiced French oak, and a lengthy, mineral-laced finish.

Price: 40$, contact winery

Leaning Post 2017 Chardonnay Senchuk Vineyard, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula – 93pts. PW

Very flinty on the nose, with hints of toasted oak, spice and white orchard fruit. The palate is fresh, yet quite broad and rich, with intermingled apple, vanilla, and toasted oak nuances on the long finish. Would benefit from a few years additional cellaring to further integrate.

Price: 45$, contact winery

Flat Rock Cellars The Rusty Shed 2017, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario – 92pts.

Surprisingly complex for the price, with stony mineral nuances overlaid by white floral notes, ripe lemon, and yellow apple on the nose. Brisk acidity gives way to a medium weight, creamy, layered core with a hint of that buttered popcorn flavour that is so tempting on Chardonnay (when balanced by sufficiently high acid, as is the case here). Long, nuanced finish.

Price: 26.95$, contact winery

Fort Berens 2017 White Gold, Okanagan Valley – 92pts. PW

Very elegant white, with a subtle fragrance of lemon, white orchard fruit, linden and flint. Medium in weight, with a lovely creaminess balanced by vibrant, juicy acidity. Notes of sweet vanilla and toasted oak underscore the tangy citrus, apple flavours on the persistent finish.

Price: 26$, contact winery

Trail Estate Winery 2017 Chardonnay, Foxcroft Vineyard Twenty Mile Bench Niagara – 90pts. PW

The Trail Estate wines (from Prince Edward County and Niagara) impressed me across the board, from their lively Riesling to their elegant Pinot Noir. This Niagara Chardonnay was particularly tempting, with its zesty acidity, its textural mid-palate, and its salty tang on the lifted finish.

Price: 35$, contact winery

ROSE

La Cantina Vallée d’Oka 2018, Rosé du Calvaire, Québec – 92pts. VW

I can’t help but admit to have been thrilled to see that my favourite, blind tasted rosé was from Québec! This unusual rosé blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offers pretty pink grapefruit, gooseberry and yellow pear notes on the nose. The distinctive personality of each grape really shine through, and harmonize nicely on the palate. Mouthwatering acidity leads into a very focused, medium bodied mid-palate with layers of orchard fruit and exotic citrus flavours. A very food friendly rosé!

Blend: Chardonnay 56%, Pinot Noir 44%

Price: 19.95$, contact winery, SAQ

Harper’s Trail 2018 Rosé, British Columbia – 91pts. VW

Pretty Pinot Gris-based rosé, with crushed strawberry, gooseberry and pink grapefruit aromas. The medium weight palate is brimming with tangy red fruit tempered by a subtle creaminess and a soft, rounded finish.

Blend: Pinot Gris 93%, Cabernet Franc 7%

Price: 17$, contact winery

Trius 2018 Rosé, Niagara Peninsula – 89pts. VW

Lively red apple and herbal notes feature on the nose. The palate is crisp and juicy, with a lightweight texture, and smooth, rounded structure. Finishes subtly off-dry.

Price: 17.95$, contact winery, LCBO

GAMAY

Deep Roots 2017 Gamay, Okanagan Valley – 92pts. VW

Very appealing nose marrying ripe red berry and violet notes, with undertones of blood orange and rhubarb. The palate offers tangy acidity, medium body and a silken texture that lengthens the finish nicely.

Price: 23.90$, contact winery

Desert Hills 2018 Gamay Noir, Okanagan Valley – 91pts. VW

Pure, Beaujolais nose with its beguiling dark raspberry, spice and violet aromas. Very lively on the palate, with moderate concentration, supple tannins, and a clean, precise finish.

Price: 22.90$, contact winery

Tawse 2017 Gamay Noir, Redfoot, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula – 89pts. PW

Quite a peppery style of Gamay, with tart red fruit flavours and crisp, refreshing acidity. Light weight on the palate, with fine, powdery tannins and a juicy, red fruited finish.

Price: 28.95$, contact winery, SAQ

PINOT NOIR

Blasted Church 2017 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley – 94pts. PW

Wonderfully fragrant, with ripe red cherries, red berries, exotic spice, and floral tones that really come to the fore with aeration. The palate is tightly knit, with mouthwatering acidity, and ripe, chalky tannins. Finishes with harmonious hints of cedar and spice from well executed oak maturation.

Average price: 32$, contact winery

Hidden Bench 2017 Pinot Noir Unfiltered, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula – 93pts. PW

An intriguing nose featuring wild herbs, red berries and stony mineral nuances. The palate is beautifully balanced; vibrant freshness amply counters the weighty core of red berries, savoury nuances and notes of citrus oil. Fine-grained tannins frame the finish nicely.

Price: 31.75$, contact winery, LCBO

Howling Bluff Pinot Noir 2016, Three Mile Creek, Okanagan Valley – 93pts. PW

Intense, aromatic style of Pinot Noir, brimming with ripe red cherries, crushed strawberries and floral tones. Lots of finesse on the palate, with the moderately firm, medium bodied core book-ended by brisk acidity and weighty, yet ripe, diffuse tannins.

Price: 35$, contact winery

Rosehall Run 2017 JCR Pinot Noir , Prince Edward County (Ontario) – 92pts. PW

Very Burgundian nose, with its small red berries, griotte cherries, hints of earth and cedar. Crisp acidity gives way to a silky smooth texture and soft tannins on this ready-to-drink, medium bodied Pinot Noir.

Price: 39.95$, contact winery

Arrowleaf 2017 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley – 92pts. VW

Lots of finesse on this subtle yet highly complex Pinot Noir. The nose offers discreet nuances of cranberry, wild strawberry, tea leaf and earth. The palate is crisp and light, with lovely powdery tannins and a vibrant, fruity finish. Fantastic value for the price!

Price: 22.80$, contact winery

CABERNET FRANC

Peller Estates 2016 Andrew Peller Signature Series Cabernet Franc, Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula – 91pts. LW

Raspberry, plum, and rose petal hints play across the nose. On the palate, brisk acidity leads into a smooth textured, weighty core of ripe dark fruit. Finishes with bold, yet polished tannins. Very long and layered with finely integrated cedar, spice nuances.

Price: 54.80$, contact winery

Foreign Affair 2016 Apologetic Red, Niagara Peninsula – 90pts. LW

A very stylish, full-bodied offering, with understated notes of cranberry, dark plum, bell pepper and cedar on the nose. The palate offers fresh acidity and a taut structure, with a concentrated core of baked black fruits. While ripe, the tannins are still pretty grippy and need a little time (or a few hours’ decanting) to mellow. Finishes with pleasing notes of tobacco and graphite.

Price: 69.95$, contact winery, LCBO

SYRAH

Mission Hill 2016 Reserve Shiraz, Okanagan Valley – 93pts. PW

Very pretty, ultra-ripe black berry and blueberry fruit underscored by notes of violet, pepper and dark chocolate. Quite sweet fruited on the palate, with a bold, weighty profile, firm tannins, and well-integrated cedar spice.

Price: 30$, contact winery

Le Vieux Pin 2017 Syrah Cuvée Violette, Okanagan Valley – 92pts. PW

Intense, complex nose featuring crushed cassis, black cherry, notes of exotic spice, tea leaf, and a hint of black pepper. Full-bodied and compact on the palate with ripe, grippy tannins and a fresh, lifted finish.

Price: 35.60$, contact winery

Ursa Major 2016 Syrah, Eagle Nest Vineyards, Okanagan Valley – 91pts. PW

A fleshy, dense Syrah with a powerful array of fresh black fruits, pepper, baking spice and floral hints on the nose and palate. Finishes with attractive, chalky tannins and subtle toasted oak nuances.

Price: 40$, contact winery

RED BLENDS

Nk’Mip Cellars 2016 “Winemakers Talon” Okanagan Valley – 93pts. PW

Perfumed nose featuring an array of fresh and baked black and blue fruits, floral hints, cedar and baking spice. The palate is ripe fruited, firm and quite powerful in structure, yet achieves quite an elegant balance with its bright acidity and muscular tannins.

Blend: Syrah 44%, Cabernet Sauvignon 18%, Merlot 13%, Malbec 13%, Cabernet Franc 10%, Pinot Noir 2%

Average price: 24$, contact winery

Riverstone Estate Winery “Stone’s Throw” Okanagan Valley – 93pts. PW

Intense aromas of ripe dark plum, black cherry, and bell pepper are nicely interwoven with graphite and cedar undertones. Full-bodied and highly concentrated on the palate, brimming with rich dark fruit flavours, and finishing with bold yet polished tannins, and lingering tobacco notes.

Blend: Merlot 78%, Cabernet Sauvignon 11%, Malbec 8%, Petit Verdot 3%

Average price: 28.90$, contact winery

Corcelettes 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah Menhir Estate Vineyard, Similkameen Valley (BC) – 92pts. PW

Very pretty nose featuring ripe cassis, plum and black cherry aromas, mingled with cedar, spice and vanilla. Upon aeration, pleasing floral hints develop. This weighty, dense red is lifted by its freshness, its fine-grained tannins, and well-integrated oak flavours.

Blend: Cabernet Sauvignon 58%, Syrah 42%

Price: 39.90$, contact winery

Stag’s Hollow Winery 2016 Renaissance Merlot Okanagan Falls – 92pts. PW

Highly perfumed, with notes of crushed cassis, dark cherry, baking spice, and cedar. The palate offers crisp acidity and very bright red and black fruit flavours that amply off-set the dense, weighty core and firm tannins.

Blend: Merlot 86%, Cabernet Sauvignon 7%, Cabernet Franc 6%

Average price: 35$, contact winery

Megalomaniac “Big Kahuna” 2016 Niagara Peninsula – 92pts. PW

Really juicy, medium weight red offering vibrant aromas and flavours of red currant, plum, and black cherry, mingling with hints of violet and cigar box. Quite taut in structure yet still highly approachable, with attractive fine-grained tannins and harmonious hints of oak.

Blend: 87% Cabernet Franc, 13% Syrah

Price: 34.95$, contact winery

ODDBALLS

Mooncurser Vineyards 2017 Touriga Nacional, Okanagan Valley – 93pts. LW

Deep, brooding red with a pleasing peppery, herbal flavour profile, balanced by masses of ripe black berries and cherries that linger on the finish. Very fresh on the palate, with a powerful structure and imposing tannins that require a little time to soften.

Price: 46$, contact winery

Mooncurser Vineyards 2017 Tempranillo, Okanagan Valley – 91pts. PW

Highly appealing floral nose, with underlying notes of blueberries, blackberries and plums. The palate is bold and weighty, with juicy black fruit flavours mingled with prominent, yet harmonious vanilla, spice oak nuances. Very grippy, firm tannins. Needs another year or two in the cellar.

Price: 35.75$, contact winery

Mt. Boucherie 2017 Blaufränkisch, British Columbia – 91pts. PW

A fine example of Blaufränkisch, with its pretty mulberry and spice nose, and its subtly earthy flavours. The palate is crisp, full-bodied and moderately firm with tangy fruit subduing the somewhat grainy tannins.

Price: 32$, contact winery

ICEWINE

Quail’s Gate Riesling Icewine 2017, Okanagan Valley – 95pts. LW

Wonderfully complex nose brimming with caramel, pineapple, confit lemon, apricot and hints of stony minerality. Highly concentrated on the palate, with its rich, layered texture and luscious sweetness perfectly balanced by racy acidity that lifts and lengthens the finish.

Average price: 39.95$, contact winery

Magnotta Winery 2018 Riesling Icewine Limited Edition, Niagara Peninsula – 94pts. LW

Enticing notes of pineapple, quince, ripe lemon and candied stone fruits feature on the nose. Vibrant, mouthwatering acidity lifts the unctiously sweet palate and underscores the concentrated, fruity core nicely. The finish is long and layered.

Average price: 39.95$, contact winery

Megalomaniac Wines 2017 Coldhearted Riesling Icewine , Niagara Peninsula – 93pts. LW

Irresistibly fragrant, brimming with exotic pineapple, guava, and mango aromas underscored by hints of candied lemon and caramel. Mouthwatering acidity provides the perfect counterweight to the dense, layered mid-palate and the enticingly sweet finish. Ripe peach and salted caramel flavours linger long on the finish.

Average price: 39.95$, contact winery

 

Reviews Wines

TASTING THE WINES OF DOMAINE LOUIS MICHEL & FILS

the wines of domaine louis michel

The wines of Domaine Louis Michel epitomize all that I love in top Chablis. They are pure, precise, and incredibly elegant in a lean, steely style that, while understated, remain incredibly complex and powerfully structured.

Established in 1850, the estate has passed down from one generation to the next, to its present day configuration of 25-hectares graced with prime vineyard locations in three Grand Cru terroirs (Les Clos, Grenouilles, Vaudésir) and eight Premier Cru sites, as well as Chablis and Petit Chablis holdings.

Present day owner, Guillaume Michel is clearly passionate about his vines and his region. His enthusiasm is infectious as he explains his team’s vineyard and winemaking philosophies. Crucial to his ideology, is the cultivating of healthy, optimally ripened grapes that ably express their terroir.

The headaches and sleepless nights start early in the Chablis vineyard growing season. Spring frosts are becoming increasingly frequent in the region, keeping vineyard owners up at all hours checking weather data and lighting “bougies” (large parafin candles) in their best parcels on high-risk nights.

Roughly 40 years ago, the Michel family made a radical change to their winemaking procedure. They decided to stop fermenting and ageing their wines in oak barrels. The reasoning? The Michels began to see oak as an artifice, masking or altering the flavour profile of the grape and its terroir. They also felt that the wine should be manipulated or moved as little as possible to allow a purer expression.

Since then, the wines of Domaine Louis Michel have been vinified and matured in 100% stainless steel tanks. The gently pressed must is cooled down to 12°C – 13°C for clarification, and then slowly, cool fermented to temperatures up to 18°C. Maturation on fine lees lasts 8 – 10 months for Petit Chablis and Chablis, whereas the Premier and Grand Cru parcels remain in tank for up to 18 months to integrate further and reveal their full potential.

I recently attended an incredible tasting of the wines of Domaine Louis Michel; all Premier and Grand Cru wines from the 2015 and 2016 vintage. When asked how these vintages compared, Guillaume Michel explained that, “2015 was atypical. A very hot, sunny growing season resulting in rich, fruity wines brimming with white stone fruit flavours. 2016 was a challenging vintage beset by frost, rain, and hail that drastically lowered yields. The wines are surprisingly good however; highly aromatic, with lots of energy and pleasing tropical hints”.

Favourites from the tasting included:

Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Montmain 2015 – 90pts. LW

According to Guillaume Michel, Montmain is “always very floral and elegant, with lovely saline minerality”. This is definitely the case here, with underlying notes of star-anise, ripe lemon, yellow apple and earthy, white mushroom hints. Very sleek and racy on the palate, with a bone-dry, lingering finish.

Price: 51.50$, private import (enquire with agent)

Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Butteaux Vieilles Vignes 2016 – 92pts. LW

Fairly discreet on the nose, with notes of wet stone underscored by green apple, forest floor, and fresh almonds. This elegant white really comes alive on the palate, with its thrilling acidity, its powerful structure, layered core of juicy yellow pear, white peach and tingly minerality. Finishes with a subtle, appealing bitterness.

Price: N/A, coming to the SAQ before year’s end (enquire with agent)

Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Butteaux Vieilles Vignes 2015 – 92pts. LW

The 2015 vintage is quite similar, and equally impressive, with slightly broader, rounder acidity and more honeyed, spiced nuances to the flavour profile. Very juicy and fresh on the finish.

Price: 70.50$ at the SAQ

Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre 2016 – 93pts. LW

Montée de Tonnerre is a south west facing parcel just south of the Grand Cru hill, sharing many geological features. It is one of the best-known and admired of the Premier Cru vineyards, and for good reason. This elegant white boasts a powerfully flinty nose, with vibrant citrus notes, an array of ripe orchard fruits and subtly earthy hints. High, zesty acidity gives way to laser-like precision on the palate, and a lingering mineral-rich (almost spicy) finish.

Price: 60.50$ at the SAQ

Domaine Louis Michel Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir 2016 – 95pts. LW

Quite a diverse terroir boasting a warm meso-climate, with slopes facing both south and north. Louis Michel’s vineyards are found on the north side. The 2016 is hugely aromatic, with oyster shell nuances interwoven with exotic citrus notes, pineapple, yellow plum, star-anise and earthy undertones. Broad, bracing acidity defines the palate, providing lovely lift for the opulent, richly textured core. A symphony of yellow fruit, ripe lemon and briny mineral notes on the finish.

Price: N/A, coming soon as a private import (enquire with agent)

Domaine Louis Michel Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir 2015 – 93pts. LW

Similar opulence and aromatic intensity to the 2016, with a more ample frame and softer, juicier acidity. The flavour profile is also comparable, but veers towards baked rather than fresh fruit, with a very long, spicy, warming finish.

Price: 108.50$, in stock, private import (enquire with agent)

Domaine Louis Michel Grand Cru Les Clos 2016 – 95pts. LW

Guillaume Michel described Les Clos as being “austere in its youth; far more expressive on the palate than the nose, with notes of white pepper on the finish”.  Again, an able description for this compact, racy white with its discreet nose featuring white mushrooms, lemon, and green fruits. Lovely mid-palate concentration, vibrant tangy fruit flavours, and an incredibly long, peppered finish attest to the vast potential for those with the patience to wait a few years.

Price: N/A, coming to the SAQ end of 2019, enquire with agent

Domaine Louis Michel Grand Cru Grenouilles 2016 – 97pts. LW

For me, this was the star of the show. The nose is utterly alluring, at first offering pretty white floral notes, an array of yellow fruits, citrus, kiwi and earthy hints. Upon aeration, flinty mineral aromas come to the fore. The palate is crisp, firm, and very juicy, fairly brimming over with stone fruit and grapefruit flavours, nicely matched by the smooth, creamy texture. A hint of grapefruit pith bitterness adds additional textural intrigue on the long finish.

Price: N/A, coming to the SAQ end of 2019, enquire with agent

Education

HOW TO READ A WINE LABEL

how to read a wine label

Have you ever stopped to actually read a wine label? I mean, not just a quick glance at the picture of a stately Château or a cheeky hippo, but really taken a few seconds to peruse the contents of the front and back label? You would be amazed by how much you can learn about a wine’s style and quality level once you know how to read a wine label.

***Side note: I have also made this post into a YouTube video. To watch, just scroll down to the bottom & click play. If you enjoy the video, consider subscribing to my YouTube channel so you never miss an episode of my weekly wine education series. 

The wine label, as I describe it below, often encompasses the front and back labels as many producers prefer to keep the front label information to a minimum to focus on the estate or brand name and the art work. With that in mind, the useful information on wine labels includes:

 

The Brand/ Estate Name

Generally displayed fairly prominently on the front label. This is the name of the wine producer’s estate or one of their brands. This is key information to retain if you enjoy a wine and want to purchase it again.

 The Cuvée Name

Most wineries produce more than one wine. A cuvée name like “Yellow Label”, “Bin 407”, or “Hommage à…” is a good way to differentiate one wine from another; especially if the estate makes more than one wine from the same grape variety. This information is useful to note down, alongside the estate/brand name for re-purchasing.

 The Grape Variety

The taste of a specific grape variety, once it has been transformed into wine, can vary depending on the climate of the vineyards and/ or the winemaking techniques employed. Just because you like one producer’s Malbec, you are not guaranteed to like another winemaker’s take on the same grape…especially if one hails from Mendoza and the other from Cahors. Most grape varieties do tend to have basic character traits though that regularly occur regardless of origin, so knowing your preferred varieties can be helpful.

That being said, many European regions traditionally don’t, or legally can’t, write the grape name on the label. For these regions, like Chianti or the Rhône Valley, the expression of the local terroir is more important than varietal typicity.

In Europe, if a single variety is listed on the label, the wine will contain a minimum of 85% of that variety, with up to 15% of other grapes allowed. In the USA however, a wine with one single grape mentioned on the label can have just 75% of that variety in the blend.

 The Vintage

The vintage refers to the year in which the grapes were harvested. Each growing season is different, especially in cooler climate areas. Colder growing seasons will give wines with more tart flavours and higher acid. Wines from warmer growing seasons will be riper and fleshier. When you are purchasing premium wines, it is worth considering the vintage conditions to get a sense of how the wine will taste or, potentially, how well it will cellar.

If you are buying more affordable, every day wines there is generally less vintage variation but these wines usually don’t age very well, so you want to make sure you are buying a recent bottlings. For white and rosé wines  look for a harvest date within the last 18 months or so, for most red wines you can push this up to 3 years.

 The Appellation of Origin

Somewhere on the front and/ or back label, you will see an indication of the wine’s origin, sometimes called an appellation. An appellation can be as wide as a whole region like Bordeaux or California, or it can be as specific as a single village or vineyard site. Generally, the more site specific the appellation, the better quality the wine. If you see terms like Premier Cru or Grand Cru on French wine, Classico on Italian wine, Erste Lage or Grosse Lage on German wines, these are indications of superior (sometimes single vineyard) sites.

Quality Designations

Riserva, Reserva, Gran Reserva, Superiore, Smaragd…  Each region and country, especially in Europe, has their own set of terms to denote superior quality wines. Wines with these mentions usually come from better vineyard sites, have achieved a high level of ripeness, and are aged for longer at the winery. I go into more detail about these mentions and appellation specifications in region specific articles.

There are also a couple of very vague terms that wineries love to throw on labels. Some of the most notorious mentions include : “Old Vines” and “Reserve” or “Prestige”.

Older vines generally produce a lower yield of more flavourful, concentrated grapes. Wines from healthy 30-year-old or older vines often give high quality wines. However, there is no set legal definition for the term. So, if you see the term Vieilles Vignes or Old Vines on the label, you never really know if the vines are barely teenagers or really are mature adults. If you see a wine labelled “old vine” under 15$, I would be a little suspicious.

The words Reserve and Prestige can also be pretty meaningless. They are meant to imply a step up in quality from the producer’s basic wines, and many wineries do employ these terms honestly. Frustratingly, there are countless Prestige or Reserve wines out there that are barely palatable. Sadly, for many wineries, these words are nothing but marketing hype.

The Alcohol Percentage by Volume

A wine’s alcohol percentage will tell you a lot about its taste profile. The lower in alcohol the wine, generally the lighter it will be in body. Alcohol gives viscosity to wine, giving a weightier, more rounded sensation. A 12% alcohol red wine will taste very lean on the palate as compared to a 14.5% alcohol version.

Health & Dietary Information

If you look at a wine’s back label, you might see some health warnings like:

Contains Sulphites: Yes, many wines contain sulphites – both naturally as a by-product of fermentation – and potentially added to protect them from oxidation and bacterial spoilage. Don’t be alarmed though, the level is well within health and safety norms, and contrary to popular belief, most health officials agree that sulphites in wine do not cause headaches.

Suitable for vegetarians/ or vegans: substances are often added to wines before bottling to absorb any sediments and, occasionally, to soften tannins. These are called fining agents. Certain are composed of milk products, egg whites, and gelatin so are not always vegetarian/ vegan friendly. If a wine has been labelled “suitable” for one group or both, it will either be fined using an alternative substance like bentonite clay, or has been bottled without fining.

Other Information

Each wine label or capsule will have a lot code (a string of multiple digits) somewhere on the wine capsule or label that will allow wineries to trace a bottle back to the exact bottling date, batch, and so forth for quality control reasons.

A reference to the bottler, and whether it was estate bottled or not, is included in some countries as well. Some labels also carry information on the importer, wine agency, or distributor that carries a wine. This is a good point of contact for consumers looking for retailer information or wanting to report an issue with a purchased bottle.

Finally, many back labels will also give information about the winery, the winemaking techniques, food pairing options, service temperature suggestions and so on. That can also make for interesting reading if you so desire.

The Video

For those visual learners among you who prefer to watch… here is a video version of the above article!

 

Education

HOW TO FIND THE BEST ROSÉ WINES

best rosé wines

You know that spring has arrived when stacks of rosé wine start hitting the wine shops. From still to sparkling, dry to sweet, pale pink to deep fuscia , there is a huge diversity of styles when it comes to rosé. This can make finding the best rosé wines to suit your palate a little tricky!

What is Rosé?

Rosé is essentially a paler, lighter bodied version of red wine. It is generally made with red wine grape varieties. The difference is that rosé wines spend as little as a few hours, or up to two to three days, in contact with their skins, before being pressed and then fermented like white wine. Red wines are macerated on their skins for far longer (anywhere from one to three weeks).   Rosé’s shorter maceration period means that the colouring pigments, aromatic compounds, and tannins found in grape skins have less time to leach into the wine, resulting in paler wines, with more delicate aromas and softer tannins.

What Grape Varieties are used to Make Rosé?

Each rosé producing country and region has its favourite grape varieties. I have tasted rosé wines made from dozens of different grapes, but some of the most popular varieties include:

  • Grenache: fragrant raspberry aromas, moderate acidity, high alcohol
  • Syrah: dark fruit & spice flavours, fresh acidity, firm structure, tannic
  • Cinsault: light, perfumed (ripe to candied red berries), refreshing, low tannins
  • Vermentino (aka Rolle): minor white grape used in Côtes de Provence rosé blends. Said to accentuate aromatics and give subtle saline nuances on the finish.
  • Pinot Noir: elegant, with tart red berry and floral notes, crisp acidity, low to moderate tannins
  • Sangiovese: high, crisp acidity, sometimes a faint sour cherry bitterness, generally very dry
  • Cabernet Sauvignon: similar aromas as the red wine, if more restrained: bell pepper, black currant notes, crisp, medium bodied, with a firm structure, subtle tannic grip
  • Zinfandel: overt candied red and black fruit, often produced in a simple, low alcohol, sweet style

How much or how little the chosen grape variety(ies) influence the style of the wine depends on how long the rosé macerates on its grape skins, and what percentage of each grape is used if a blend of two or more varieties is made.

Fun Fact about Rosé Wine!

Thanks to a big celebrity boost and some clever social media campaigns, rosé wine has skyrocketed in popularity over the last decade. Despite what you might think though, rosé is far from a new wine style. The Greeks were making rosé wines in the colony of Massilia (Marseille) back in 600 B.C. Long after the Romans arrived and started producing fuller-bodied red wines, the pale pink Provincia Romana wines remained popular.

Different Rosé Styles

The stylistic range of rosé wine is immense. From light-bodied, refreshing, bone-dry rosés to sweet, low alcohol, fruity rosés, and elegant sparkling rosés, there is definitely a rosé wine out there for you.  The major styles include:

Sparkling rosé 

The majority of sparkling rosé wines follow the same initial winemaking as still rosés, followed by a secondary fermentation in tank or bottle to render the wines effervescent. Depending on the region, they can be mono-varietal wines or blends, and tend to have a fairly similar profile to their sparkling white counterparts, with more vibrant fruit, and a slightly weightier, rounder mid-palate. In Champagne, rosé is produced by blending still white wines and red wines together. This gives a slightly firmer, more structured style of sparkling rosé.

Try these styles:

  • Champagne rosé, France (generally Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Meunier blends)
  • Franciacorta rosé, Italy (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc blends)
  • Cava Rosado, Spain (a blend of white Cava grapes with a minimum of 25% red grapes including: Garnacha, Monastrell, Pinot Noir or Trepat)

Pale Pink to Salmon Coloured, Dry Rosé

Pale coloured rosé wine is generally “direct pressed”. This means that the grapes are only in contact with their skins for a very brief period (4 – 6 hours is common). This style of rosé tends to have fairly restrained aromas ranging from pink grapefruit, to subtle red berry notes, to floral or herbal nuances. They are light in body, often quite crisp and refreshing, with a bone dry finish. Pale, dry rosé is a great alternative to crisp white wines for pre-supper sipping.

Try these styles:

  • Côtes-de-Provence, France (Grenache or Cinsault dominant blends from Provence)
  • Côtes-du-Rhône or Costières-de-Nîmes, France (Grenache, Syrah led blends from the Southern Rhône)
  • Pale Spanish rosado (Tempranillo-led blends from Navarra or Rioja)

Coral to Fuscia Coloured, Dry Rosé

Medium to dark coloured rosé wine is often fermented on its skins like a red wine for anywhere from 10 to 36 hours, before being drawn off its skins and finishing fermentation in a separate vessel. This process is called “saignée” which literally means bleeding off. Rosés made in this style tend to have more intense fruity aromas, a weightier mouthfeel, and firmer structure. They can also have subtle tannic grip on the finish. This denser style of rosé will pair well with a variety of lighter fare. You can serve it in place of light red wines.

Try these styles:

  • Tavel, France (Grenache dominant blends from the Southern Rhône Valley)
  • Navarra, France (Garnacha single varietal wines)
  • Bandol, France (Mourvèdre dominant blends, South Eastern France)
  • Marsannay, France (Pinot Noir from Burgundy) or Sancerre rosé (Pinot Noir, Loire Valley)

Sweet Rosé

Off-dry to sweet styles of rosé have a long-standing and staunchly loyal following. They are often quite low in alcohol, with overtly fruity/candied flavours, and a smooth, rounded palate. Sweetness levels vary from subtle to pronounced. They can be anywhere from pale pink to deep fuscia in colour. These rosé styles are perfect for wine lovers with a sweet tooth.

Try these styles:

  • White Zinfandel, California (medium sweet, low 9 – 10% alcohol, moderate acidity)
  • Pink Moscato, California & Australia (Mosato, often blended with a touch of Merlot, medium sweet to sweet, very low 7.5 to 9% alcohol, moderate acidity, still and semi-sparkling versions)
  • Rosé d’Anjou, France (mainly Grolleau grape, medium sweet, low 10% alcohol, brisk acidity, Loire Valley)
  • Cabernet d’Anjou, France (Cabernet Franc and/ or Cabernet Sauvignon, off-dry, Loire Valley)

Oak Aged, Premium Rosé

Don’t be surprised if you see rosé wines well over the 30$ mark on wine store shelves these days. Many of these, especially from the rosé hot spot of Provence, are starting to employ fine white winemaking techniques for rosé. This treatment is usually reserved for the estate’s best parcels of old vines. Vinification practices include barrel fermentation, lees stirring, long barrel ageing, and so forth. The result is a concentrated yet voluptuous style of rosé with a creamy, layered texture and a complex array of subtle fruity, spicy and woody nuances.

Try these wines:

  • Côtes-de-Provence top cuvées such as: Château d’Esclans “Garrus”, Clos Cibonne “Cuvée Speciale des Vignette”
  • Bandol, France: Château Romassan (owned by Domaine Ott)
  • Rioja, Spain: López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Rosado
  • Abruzzo, Italy: Valentini Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo

 

Expert Tips to Get Maximum Enjoyment from your Next Glass of Rosé Wine! 

Education Life

LOW CALORIE WINES: HOW TO DRINK WINE ON A DIET

low calorie wines

So you want to lose a few pounds, but you don’t want to give up your evening glass of wine? I am with you! Never fear, there is a way. It does involve moderation though…or failing that, seeking out low calorie wines.

The calories in wine come from wine’s alcohol and its sugar content. Alcohol actually contributes more calories than sugar; 7 calories per gram of alcohol, compared to just 4 calories per gram of sugar. So, you want to pay particular attention to alcohol levels. Want to learn more about the best low calorie wines + great tips and tricks to keep your wine consumption moderate? Just click on the video, and if you like what you see, consider subscribing to my channel so you never miss a weekly episode!

 

Producers Reviews

TASTING THE WINES OF DOMAINE MICHEL SARRAZIN

the wines of michel sarrazin

The Burgundian fog hung thick and relentless in the air as I guided my flashy fiat along the A6 southward to Givry. Exiting the highway at Chalon-sur-Saône, I was amazed to see how quickly I found myself ambling along tiny country lanes, crossing sleepy farming communities

At the top of a steep and winding path, I came across the hamlet of Jambles; part of the Givry appellation. I had arrived at my first visit of the morning: the Domaine Michel Sarrazin & Fils.

The Côte Chalonaise lies due south of Burgundy’s famed Côte d’Or. Aligoté, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards dot the landscape, but here they are interspersed with a variety of other crops and grazing land. From north to south, the top growing areas are: Bouzeron, Rully, Mercurey, Givry, and Montagny.

Apart from the nervy, elegant Aligoté from Bouzeron, the white wines of the Côte Chalonnaise are rarely lauded. The red wines, while often decidedly rustic, can achieve a vibrant fruitiness and silken texture in the right hands, on the right vineyard sites.

The commune of Givry is primarily devoted to red wine production, and is considered by many to offer the most elegant, fragrant Pinot Noirs of the region.

The commune of Givry is primarily devoted to red wine production, and is considered by many to offer the most elegant, fragrant Pinot Noirs of the region. My host for the morning, Guy Sarrazin, is certainly of this opinion. “Givry has a lovely, fruity expression”, he explained, “while Mercurey is generally earthier, and Rully often lacks weight”.  There are no Grand Cru vineyards here, but several excellent Premier Cru sites exist.

The Sarrazins have been growing grapes in and around Givry since the 17th century. The Domaine Michel Sarrazin was established by the current generations’ father in 1964, and it was at this juncture that the winery began bottling and selling their wines. Brothers Guy and Jean Yves are now at the helm, and have gained critical acclaim in France and abroad for the great value and consistent, high quality of their range.

Domaine Michel Sarrazin consists of 35 hectares in the appellations of Bourgogne AOC, Bourgogne Aligoté, Maranges, Givry, and Mercurey.

I was shown into a cool, dark cellar used to stock boxed, ready-to-ship orders. The tasting bar was tucked into the corner of this charmless room. Surveying my surroundings and my gruff host, I wondered what what I was in for. Thankfully as the morning progressed, Guy warmed to his subject and the twinkle in his eye was undeniable as he poured his finest reds.

Today, the Domaine Michel Sarrazin consists of 35 hectares in the appellations of Bourgogne AOC, Bourgogne Aligoté, Maranges, Givry, and Mercurey. The brothers produce 25 different wines ranging in style from crémant, to white, rosé, and red. The estates’ top wines hail from their Givry 1er Cru vineyards dotted through out the appellation. The vineyards are farmed according to the French lutte raisonnée system (literally translated as “the reasoned fight”, basically meaning that chemical sprays are strictly limited; used only when absolutely necessary).

All of Sarrazin’s wines, from the most humble to the grandest are matured in top quality French oak, sourced exclusively from the François Frères cooperage. Sarrazin believes that judicious oak maturation brings the structural lift and flavour complexity he seeks to enhance the individual expression of each terroir. The duration of ageing and percentage of new barrels used depends on the vineyard.

Overall, the wines were a revelation for me. The earthiness and rusticity of certain wines served to heighten complexity, underscoring lively fruit, floral, and spiced aromas. I was treated to a lengthy tasting, covering the majority of Guy’s range.

The fantastic value and dangerous drinkability of Guy’s Bourgogne AOC wines impressed me. Sarrazin’s Givry 1er Crus showed how versatile the wines of the appellation can be, from the elegant Champs Lalot, to the weightier, firmer Grande Berge.

Tasting notes from my favourite wines below.

 

Bourgogne Aligoté “Les Charnailles” 2017

Aromas of white flowers, lemon, grapefruit and anis hints feature on the nose. The palate is defined by its nervy acidity, light body, tangy citrus fruit flavours, and saline mineral notes on the lifted finish.

Givry 1er Cru “Champs Lalot” Blanc 2017

Though quite restrained on the nose, this medium bodied white comes into its own on the palate. Fresh, with attractive yellow apple and pear flavours, mingled with buttery notes, and hints of green almond. The subtle phenolic grip on the finish boulsters the structure nicely prolonging the lemon-infused finish.

Bourgogne Rouge Vieilles Vignes 2017

Pretty red cherry, raspberry and earthy nuances appear with aeration. Light in colour and body, this brisk red is brimming with juicy red berry flavours. The finish is smooth and rounded.

Givry “Les Dracy” 2017

Quite a light, lifted style of Givry, with restrained red berry and mossy, forest floor notes. Smooth and linear on the palate, with tangy red fruit flavours and lovely, silky tannins.

Givry 1er Cru “Champs Lalot” Rouge 2017

Very elegant, with a heady violet perfume underscored by raspberry, red cherry and cedar nuances. The palate is incredibly tangy and firmly structured, with lively acidity, medium body, tart red fruit flavours, and fine-grained tannins.

Givry 1er Cru “Les Bois Gauthiers” 2017

Discreet, with an earthier, less fruit forward expression than Champs Lalot. The palate is weightier, with quite firm, chewy tannins and lingering herbal, red berry notes.

Givry 1er Cru “Grande Berge” 2017

Intially restrained, the Grande Berge gains quickly in intensity, with intriguing exotic spice, red berry, red currant, and cedar notes. Crisp, vibrant acidity is matched by a very taut structure on this medium bodied red. It finishes quite earthy, with firm tannins and lingering mocha flavours.

Givry 1er Cru “Grande Berge” 2015

The 2015 vintage of Grande Berge is highly aromatic, with intense red cherry, black plum, and raspberry notes. Still tightly knit, but far weightier on the palate, with an abundance of ripe red berries, mocha, and spice. The tannins are broad and ripe.

Reviews

TASTING THE WINES OF DOMAINE TRAPET

the wines of domaine trapet

My week in Burgundy started off with a resounding bang. Tasting the wines of Domaine Trapet is an experience to be savoured. I would have appreciated it all the more if I hadn’t gotten lost…an impressive feat considering that the winery is on the main street and I drove straight passed it before turning off to meander along the side streets.

I was received my Madame Trapet (senior). There can be no greater positive publicity than having your mother pour your wines. With quiet pride and great dignity, Madame Trapet related the estate’s history finishing her tale with the feats of her talented son, Jean-Louis, and his equally skilled wife, Andrée.

Domaine Trapet is an 18-hectare estate with impressive vineyard holdings in and around Gevrey-Chambertin; notably five Premier Cru sites, and three of the most sought after Grand Crus: Chapelle-Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, and the mighty Le Chambertin.

Domaine Trapet is an 18-hectare estate with impressive vineyard holdings in and around Gevrey-Chambertin; notably five Premier Cru sites, and three of the most sought after Grand Crus: Chapelle-Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, and the mighty Le Chambertin. 

Seven generations of the Trapet family have tended the estate’s Gevrey-Chambertin vineyards. In the 1920s, the Trapets had amassed one of the largest vineyard holdings on the Côte d’Or, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that the family began bottling their wines. In 1993, the winery – until then known as Domaine Louis Trapet – was divided to allow a new generation to go their separate ways. It was then that the estates of Domaine Rossignol-Trapet and Domaine Trapet Père & Fils emerged.

It was also around this time that Jean-Louis Trapet, now at the helm of Domaine Trapet Père & Fils, decided to farm the estate according to biodynamic principles. Madame Trapet chuckled at this stage of the story, as she explained how the young Jean-Louis, fresh from his viticultural studies, announced the news to his father. “We had no idea what he was talking about” she said. It took some persuading, but Jean-Louis was adamant, and within a few growing seasons, the elder Trapets were convinced.

The vineyards of Domaine Trapet are certified biodynamic. “We are so much more in tune with our vines since making the switch”.

“We are so much more in tune with our vines since making the switch”, explained Madame Trapet. “They are healthier, hardier, and give far more expressive fruit”. The vineyards of Domaine Trapet now hold the Demeter biodynamic certification.

Winemaking practices have also evolved dramatically over the past 25 years. Once known for its heavily extracted, lavishly oaked style, the wines of Domaine Trapet are now the epitome of Burgundian elegance, purity, and finesse. Vinfication techniques depend on the vintage but generally consist of a brief period of cold maceration, followed by fermentation in open top wood fermenters with partial inclusion of stems (30 to 50%). Maceration is long and slow, with delicate extraction via punch-down and then gentle pump-overs in the later stages. Regional and village wines see 20% new French oak over 12 months of ageing, while Premier and Grand Crus are matured  18 – 20 months in 35 – 50% new French oak. Sulphur is added only at bottling, in minute doses.

Our tasting centred around barrel samples of the 2017 vintage. I was treated to another of Madame Trapet’s radiant smiles as she spoke of the 2017 harvest. “It was a summer marked by heat waves, and blessed with beneficial rains late August” she said. 2017 gave a desperately needed bumper crop to the grape growers of Burgundy. After a string of growing seasons ravaged by frost, hail, and wet weather, 2017 was a blessing. ‘The wines are really approachable with ripe, rounded tannins”.

The wines of Domaine Trapet are the epitome of Burgundian elegance, purity, and finesse.

After a brief, enjoyable chat with Jean and then Jean-Louis, we proceeded to taste. My notes below.

Many thanks Madame Trapet for giving so generously of your time. Your exquisite wines could not have been poured for a more appreciative palate!

Marsannay 2017

Bright red currant, red cherry, and black plum aromas on the nose, underpinned by mossy, forest floor notes. Lovely tangy acidity on the medium weight palate, with moderate depth of  juicy red and black berry flavours. Silky tannins frame the fresh, lifted finish. Very approachable.

Gevrey-Chambertin 2017

Wonderfully fragrant, spiced nose, initially showing lots of crushed raspberry, blackberry and cassis fruit. Earthy, cedar notes develop upon aeration. Quite brisk on the palate, medium in body, with a fairly firm structure giving way to surprisingly velvetty tannins and subtle oaked nuances. Hints of wet leaf and black berries linger on the finish.

Gevrey-Chambertin “Ostrea” Vieilles Vignes 2017

Ostrea refers to the oyster shell fossils found in this Gevrey-Chambertin vineyard boasting 60 to 90-year-old vines. Similar in fragrance and freshness to the precedent Gevrey-Chambertin, but fleshier and far weightier overall. Fine depth of tangy red berry and cherry flavours mingle with notes of spice, tobacco, and cedar. Firm, yet ripe tannins and subtle cedar, spice define the finish.

Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru “Capita” 2017

The Capita bottling is a blend of three Premier Cru sites: En Combottes, En Ergot, and Les Combottes. Seductive ripe black berry and black cherry aromas , with underlying violet, tobacco and cedar nuances. Really vibrant and dense on the palate, with a highly concentrated core leading on to ripe, chewy tannins. Brisk through out, with a lifted finish featuring tangy fruit and cedar hints.

Chapelle Chambertin Grand Cru 2017

This outstanding cru lies in the southern part of Gevrey=Chambertin, on a gentle slope just below the Clos de Bèze. Incredibly elegant, with a delicacy and intense florality that recalls top Chambolle-Musigny. Highly complex on the nose with vibrant red berries, spice, underbrush and cedar underpinning the enticing flowery perfume. It starts quite soft and reticent on the palate but quickly develops an expansive nature that crescendos to a powerful finale with broad, fleshy tannins. Pronounced yet harmonious toasty, vanilla notes from 18 months’ ageing in 50% new French oak frames the lengthy finish.

Le Chambertin Grand Cru 2017

The most famed cru in Gevrey, to which the village paid hommage in 1847 by affixing the word Chambertin to the official town name. Trapet’s 2017 Le Chambertin displays impressive density, concentration and ripeness. The aromatic range seems endless, with red cherry, red plum, crushed raspberry, mocha, exotic spice, tobacco, and gamey nuances all revealing themselves in a well-articulated, harmonious manner. Very firm and weighty on the palate, with brisk acidity, heady fruit and marked, yet fine-grained tannins underscored by finely integrated toasted oak. Incredibly persistent, with lingering hints of leather, tobacco, earth and wet leaf.

Life Wines

BURGUNDY REVISITED: WINE TASTING IN BURGUNDY

wine tasting in burgundy

On a cool and blustery day late December, I was speeding along the route nationale 74 in a rented, mint green Fiat 500. My destination? Gevrey-Chambertin to kick off a few days of wine tasting in Burgundy. I smiled as I passed the blink-and-you-miss-it village of Prémeaux-Prissey and a flood of memories assailed me.

I arrived in Burgundy in 2004 to study International Wine Commerce at the CFPPA de Beaune. I didn’t drive stick, my French was lousy, and my only acquaintance was an elderly widow. To make matters worse it was November – the month where a thick, grey fog descends over Burgundy and rarely lifts before the following March.

To say that my first couple of months were challenging is a vast understatement.

I had found accommodations at Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron in the sleepy town of Prémeaux-Prissey. Slowly but surely my French improved. I made friendships that I cherish to this day. And I drank some incredible wine. If someone had told me back then how lucky I was to be drinking top Burgundy on a regular basis, perhaps I would have sipped it more slowly and thoughtfully.

It has been 12 years since I called Burgundy home. After my formation and a two-year stint sourcing small lots of high-end Burgundy for North American private clients and importers, I moved on, to South Africa, then Avignon, and eventually home, to Montréal. I make the pilgrimage to Beaune most every year though. The siren song of Chambolle always lure me back. And there is nothing quite like popping a warm gougères in your mouth, washed down with a taut, tangy Puligny.

On this particular visit mid December, I was on a fact-finding mission. I have been drinking Burgundy in a fairly nonchalant way these past 10 years. But with the Master of Wine tasting exam looming (and not my first stab at it….sigh), it is time to get serious.

I had tastings lined up at excellent estates from Marsannay all the way down to Givry. The goal was to re-visit Burgundian wine styles and winemaking practices.

Much has changed in Burgundy since the early 2000s. Wine producers are far more ecologically conscience, wines are handled less reductively pre-fermentation, and the percentage of new oak – even at the Grand Cru level – has decreased significantly.

The resultant wines are, for the most part, silkier, lighter, and more ethereal than I remember. The difference between appellations is also less clear cut. Individual winemaking styles and the unique expression of each climat (vineyard plot) distinguishes the wines far more distinctly today.

The following series of articles covers my visits, tastings, and impressions from a few days’ intensive wine tasting in Burgundy.