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Reviews Wines

TOP PICKS – GALLEON WINES TASTING

Wine Bottles

When I tell people that I work in the wine industry, I invariably get a lot amused comments. The general assumption is that the job entails sitting around, drinking all day. Sadly, this is usually not the case. I mean, come on folks, would you pay someone to do that?

Even on those days where wine tasting really is my assigned task, the selection on offer is often a little dreary. Mass produced wines, like any high volume consumer item, generally have little that sets them apart from their competitors. They are often passably good, but rarely great.

Every once in a while, however, I attend a tasting where the wines (from small and large wine producers alike) are really fantastic…and I do just sit around, drinking all day.

I had one such day last week, at the launch of a new agency called Galleon Wines. They are actually more of a sub-agency; the fine wine division of large, national wine company Philippe Dandurand Wines.

Just a quick segue for those of you who don’t know what I mean by wine agency: in Canada, our cherished liquor boards (a.k.a monopolies) are the sole wine importers in the majority of provinces. They are also the sole retailers in most cases. With hundreds of stores, and thousands of wines on offer, a product can easily get lost in the shuffle. A wine agency is there to represent wine producers’ products locally. Their sales force will push for greater distribution in stores, try and get restaurants to purchase and so forth.

Galleon Wines is ably steered by wine expert Denis Marsan (long time SAQ Signatures buyer) and the savvy wine salesman Pierre-Adrien Fleurant. Together with their team, they have hand selected an exciting line up of wines. The accent is definitely on French wine; with a particularly fine range of Burgundies. The common thread for much of the portfolio is freshness, purity of fruit and balance.

The majority of these wines are not available at the SAQ or LCBO, however Galleon is on the verge of launching an e-commerce platform. Consumers will be able to buy directly from the website.

This is still Canada, with all our complicated rules and regulations, so you do unfortunately have to buy cases of 6 or 12 (depending on the wine).  I recommend getting together with like-palated friends to share orders.

Here are my top 11 favourites (because I couldn’t whittle it down to 10)What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to find out:

Kracher und Sohm Grüner Veltliner 2015 – 92pts. PW (20 – 25$/bttle)

Kracher und Sohm is a brilliant partnership between Alois Kracher, highly acclaimed Austrian vintner, and Aldo Sohm, top New York based sommelier.

Pale straw. Elegant, moderately intense aromas of ripe peach, fresh hay and white flowers. Lively acidity and lovely precision define the light bodied palate. This unoaked white finishes with a subtle saline note and lingering white pepper. Drink now, or hold 3 – 5 years.

Domaine Franck Millet Sancerre Blanc 2015 – 90pts. PW (25 – 30$/bttle)

The 22-hectare estate in the heart of Sancerre has been passed down from father to son for 3 generations. Textbook Sancerre; with a restrained, mineral-driven nose underscored by citrus and hints of gooseberry. Racy acidity, moderate concentration, rounded mid-palate and a lingering, citrus-infused finish.

Domaine Ravaut Bourgogne Blanc 2014 – 91pts. PW (25 – 30$/bttle)

This small, 12 hectare estate is situated in Ladoix-Serrigny, 5 km from Beaune. This well-crafted white Burgundy offers a surprising amount of complexity for such a modest appellation. Pale gold in colour, with attractive lemon curd, white pear, mineral and buttery aromas. Very fresh on the medium weight palate, with a subtly creamy texture and a clean, medium length finish. Unoaked.

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Tradition 2013 – 89pts. PW (25 – 30$/bttle)

With local star Trevor Bachelder making the wines, the Domaine Queylus is among the better estates in Niagara today. This harmonious white offers good value at under 30$. Intense floral, apricot and ripe pear aromas on the nose. The palate is quite richly textured and fruit-driven, yet balanced by vibrant acidity. The toasty, vanilla nuances from long oak ageing are fairly well integrated. Finishes just a touch short.

Domaine Nathalie & Gilles Fèvre Chablis 2015 – 90pts. PW (25 – 30$/bttle)

This sustainably farmed estate can trace its history in the local wine industry back to 1745. Pale straw in colour, the subdued nose offers hints of lemon, lime and chalky minerality. The rasor sharp acidity is nicely offset by vibrant, pure citrus and apple flavours. The texture is smooth, with subtle leesy notes. Attractive minerality comes back to the fore on the long finish.

Château de la Maltroye Chassagne-Montrachet Blanc 2014- 94pts. LW (65 – 70$/bttle)

The stunning 18th century manor house is among the most beautiful properties in Burgundy. Pale gold. Very elegant, complex aromas featuring white flowers, fresh almonds, citrus, green apple and underlying minerality. Lively and taut on the palate, with a creamy, textured mid-palate and hint of buttery richness. The oak is subtle and well integrated. Finishes long, with lovely mineral and aniseed notes.

Domaine des Varinelles Saumur Champigny 2014 – 89pts. PW (20 – 25$/bttle)

Domaine des Varinelles is situated in the heart of Saumur, and boasts mainly mature vines ranging in age from 35 to 60 years on average. Youthful, purple colour. Vibrant raspberry, green pepper, and subtle cedar notes on the nose. The palate is fresh, medium bodied and dry, with tart red fruit flavours and ripe, grainy tannins that frame the finish nicely.

Domaine Coillot Marsannay “Les Boivins” 2014 – 91pts. PW (45 – 50$/bttle)

This sustainably farmed estate is commited to keeping yields low to best express the individual terroirs. The “Les Boivins” cuvée is a lovely example. Medium ruby, with pretty floral, red berry and brambly fruit notes on the nose. Fresh acidity is amply balanced by a smooth, velvetty texture and fleshy tannins.  The oak is very subtle and harmonious. Medium length finish.

Domaine Heresztyn-Mazzini Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 2013 – 94pts. LW (80 – 85$/bttle)

This is a relatively new estate, borne from the mariage of Champenois winemaker Simon Mazzini and Burgundian Florence Heresztyn (descendant of the long established Domaine Heresztyn). This is a big, bold style of Gevrey-Chambertin. The intense, complex nose features earthy, animal notes underscored by just ripe red and black fruits, violets and exotic spice. Fresh on attack, with highly concentrated fruit flavours and prominent coffee and cedar-scented oak. The tannins are ripe and chewy. The finish is very long and nuanced, with intriguing hints of cumin. This dense, tightly woven wine needs a few more years to unwind and harmonize in cellar, but shows enormous potential.

Frescobaldi Lamaione IGT Toscana 2010 – 95pts. LW (125$/magnum)

Frescobaldi’s Lamaione Merlot strikes the perfect balance between power and purity.  Deep ruby. Moderately intense brambly fruit, with underling tobacco and cedar. Very fresh on the palate, nicely counterbalancing the big, brooding structure and ripe, dark fruit flavours. The firm, fine-grained tannins and well integrated cedar oak provide additional complexity. The finish is long, with hints of tobacco and lively mint.

Trapiche Imperfecto 2012 – 90pts. LW (50 – 55$/ bttle)

Youthful, inky purple colour. Very pretty nose featuring violets, ripe black berries and dark chocolate. The palate shows lovely harmony of fresh acidity, velvetty texture, full body and concentrated dark fruit flavours. Rounded tannins and spicy oak define the finish.

Reviews Wines

The fickle finesse of Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir Tasting Line Up

While Pinot Noir is often cited as one of the most popular grape varieties in North America, it only accounts for a measly 2% of marketshare (according to a 2014 study by the University of Adelaide).  It is no match for the heavy hitters Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with over 3 times as many plantings world-wide. Why is this? Well, Pinot Noir is a notoriously hard grape to grow. Just like Goldilocks and her porridge, Pinot Noir does not like it too hot or too cold. It is suceptible to frost, prone to rot and a host of other diseases and viruses, and often suffers problems at flowering leading to crop loss and uneven ripening. It is also a fairly low yielding grape. So why, you may be asking yourself, do so many top class wine producers bother to grow it?

At its best, Pinot Noir is the most ethereal of wines, possessing an elegance and finesse that no other red variety even comes close to matching. It is a thin skinned grape, leading to wines of fairly pale colour, vibrant acidity, light to medium body and low tannins.  Aromas range from earthy notes, red berries, game and floral tones in cooler climates to black cherry, cola and baking spices in hotter vineyards. Though the origin of the grape is unknown, Pinot Noir’s adopted home is, undisputedly, the famed region of Burgundy. Nowadays, Pinot Noir is grown around the world; through out France, Italy, Germany, Australia, New Zeland, USA, Chile, South Africa and many other countries.

At its best, Pinot Noir is the most ethereal of wines, possessing an elegance and finesse that no other red variety even comes close to matching.

If you have read my tasting style page, you will know that I am a wholehearted Burgundy lover. It is an incredible place. Evidence of grape growing dates back to the 2nd century AD. The vineyards are a patchwork of small, individual plots lining a gentle, eastern facing limestone slope. Basic red Pinot Noir from across the region is labelled Bourgogne, whereas superior wines carry the names of the single village or vineyard sitings where they are grown, like Chambolle Musigny or Corton. Burgundy is a cool place, with a heavy fog that seems to descend in November and lift at the end of March. Summers are hit and miss, and in poor vintages, many wines can be acidic, thin and reedy. Yet, in the years when the vines get enough sunshine, Burgundy produces the most incrediblely complex, elegant, nuanced and long lasting Pinot Noirs on earth.

New Zealand is a relatively new player in the Pinot game. Growers started focussing on the grape in earnest in the late 1970s. Today, it is the most planted red grape variety in the country. The majority of plantings can be found on the South Island, in Marlborough and the Central Otago region. Marlborough Pinot Noir from the right producers (Mt. Riley and Vavasour come to mind) is gulpably good, with aromas of dark cherry, plums and spice, medium body and fine, rounded tannins. The Central Otago is developing a reputation as the best New Zealand terroir for serious Pinot Noir. The cool, mountaneous terrain yields wines of great intensity and finesse.  High toned, fragrant reds are made here with bright red and black berry fruit, a firm structure yet silky texture. Alcohol levels are surprisingly high, but generally well integrated lending weight and roundness.

You may assume that Australia is too hot of a country for balanced Pinot Noir, but the state of Victoria and island of Tasmania offer several interesting cooler climate vineyard sites. In Victoria, the best known region for Pinot Noir is the Yarra Valley. Rolling hills and valleys from 50m to 400m in altitude make for a huge range of temperatures and soil compositions, hence a wide diversity of wine styles. The best Yarra Pinot Noirs display pretty red fruits, spice, wood smoke and sometimes a meaty undertone.

In California, the sunny climate shines through on Pinot Noir. It is much sweeter and sappier, with bright, almost candied fruit, cola notes and often a healthy dollop of vanilla from oak ageing. Cooler climates do exist in areas through out Sonoma, the Central Coast and Carneros, thanks to the maritime influence. However, the wines still display more overt fruitiness and softer acidity for the most part, than any other major Pinot Noir producing country.

Though this title is hotly disputed among New World vineyards, Oregon is often cited as having the most Burgundian of Pinot Noir styles. The Oregon Wine Board’s website has a great tagline…”if you were a wine grape, you’d want to be planted in Oregon”. They boast a long, sunny growing season with crisp, cool nights giving wines with excellent balance of fresh acidity and ripe, juicy fruit. While many regions can (and do) make the same claim, the best Pinot Noirs from Oregon are living proof of the promised brightness and vibrancy. AVAs like the Willamette Valley and Yamhill-Carlton are home to some stunning examples.

For the purposes of this initial overview tasting, I chose examples from the following producers: (What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to find out).

La Pousse d’Or Volnay 1er Cru “En Caillerets” 2010 – 93pts LW

A testament to the expression that “patience is a virtue”. At first glance, a restrained, tightly woven offering with a firm structure and seemingly simple earthy, red berry aromas. Upon aeration, the development in glass was superb. The nose showed great elegance, with cassis bud, floral notes and vibrant strawberry aromas. The racy acidity was solidly balanced by a velvetty texture and firm, yet finely grained tannins. The oak is very well integrated, adding lovely textural elements without overpowering the moderate length finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (the 2010 is sold out, but the 2011 & 2012 – albeit lesser vintages – are available for 94$ and 114$ respectively)

Sylvie Esmonin Gevrey Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 2012 – 91pts LW

Headed up by a fantastic female winemaker, this organic estate makes bold, stylish Gevrey Chambertin. The 2012 old vines cuvée displays enticing mixed black fruits, mocha and forest floor notes. Crisp and juicy on the palate, with lots of body and and good depth through the mid-palate. Big, velvetty tannins frame the finish nicely.

Where to Buy: Not currently sold in Ontario or Quebec

Cloudline Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2013 – 90pts. PW

This highly drinkable red offers great value for the price. A pretty, pale ruby colour, offering vibrant red cherry, cranberry and strawberry fruit, with underlying early grey notes. The tart acidity is backed by a fresh, linear structure, subtle rounded tannins and moderate, 13% alcohol.

Where to Buy: SAQ (25.55$)

Coldstream Hills Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2012 – 87pts. PW

A bigger, bolder wine with a deeper ruby colour, full body and big, chewy tannins. Intense aromas of macerated red fruits, herbal notes and a certain meatiness. Fresh acidity frames the broad, fleshy structure. The oak is just a touch too prominent for my liking, adding toasty, spiced, mocha notes to the finish. The alcohol, though a reasonable 13.5%, feels a little hot.

Where to Buy: SAQ (30.25$)

Wooing Tree “Beetle Juice” Pinot Noir Central Otago 2012 – 89pts. PW

If one can get passed the unattractive label, this Central Otago Pinot has a lot to offer. Deep ruby in colour, with pretty, ripe black berry, black cherry, floral and spiced aromas. The high toned acidity leads into a lifted, juicy core and a toasty oaked finish. The tannins are firm and grippy; potentially needing a couple of years to unwind. The alcohol is a slightly overpowering 14.5%.

Where to Buy: LCBO (39.95$), SAQ (31.50$)

La Crema Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013 – 86pts. PW

Though I am sure this easy drinking, intensely fruit style would have many admirers, it is not the style of Pinot Noir I personally enjoy. Medium ruby in colour, with overt stewed strawberry, cola and spiced notes. Moderate acidity, with a firm yet velvetty structure, jammy fruit on the palate and vanilla and custard cream oak flavours on the fairly short finish.

Where to Buy: LCBO (31.95$), SAQ (34.00$)