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What Next for Loire Valley Wine? Organic, Biodynamic, Natural Beginnnings.

Domaine Luneau Papin Vineyards

Three Loire winemakers gathered in a buzzy Montréal bar on Wednesday night. The event was fashionably informal. A pop-up tasting in a cool, low-key spot dripping with tuque-clad, tattooed ambiance. Retail staff from SAQ stores across the city had come in droves to taste the wines.

Having listened to wine event organizers lament a rising trend of poor attendance, I was heartened to see such a packed room. The crowd was young, knowledgeable, and evidently captivated by the wines. A world away from dismal media reports of Gen Z drinkers spurning wine for canned cocktails.

The vignerons hail from three distinct areas of the Loire: Domaine Luneau-Papin, Muscadet producers from the Pays Nantais, Domaine Pellé from the Centre Loire appellation of Menetou-Salon, and Domaine Sérol on the eastern foothills of the Massif Central, in the Côte Roannaise.

While their soils, topography, climate influences, and grapes are highly distinct, all three estates have a shared vision – not only for organic and biodynamic farming practices, but for how they see the future of their wine region.

The Loire has long been a hot bed for terroir-focused, innovative wine producers. Nicolas Joly is often cited as an early pioneer in this movement. His tireless and vocal championing of biodynamic viticulture was a powerful boon to the region as a whole. Joly’s books and his work at Coulée de Serant linked the Loire, by association, to greener, more sustainable vineyard practices.

Despite the Loire’s challenging meso-climates, with their ever-present threats of frost, hail, and damp weather, the number of estates adopting organic and biodynamic practices is noteworthy. The desire to experiment, push boundaries, and explore terroir expression is another hallmark of the Loire.

Spraying biodynamic preparations. Photo credit: Domaine Pellé.

Natural wines are made in every corner of France today. Beaujolais’ Gang of Four might get the credit for earliest adopters of sulphur-free, low intervention winemaking but the Loire came on hot and heavy in its wake.

In 1999, Pierre and Catherine Breton organized the first natural wine focused fair: La Dive Bouteille. The event was held in a Bourgueil cellar, with 40 or so local natural wine producers. Over twenty years later, the event remains the largest natural wine fair, bringing together over 200 producers from around the globe.

The Loire holds many advantages for young winemakers starting out. The vineyard land is far more affordable in areas like the Anjou, Roanaise, and Auvergne than many other viticultural zones in France. There are no age old classifications or quality hierarchies to contend with. And the inspiration to follow in the footsteps of trailblazing producers is a powerful draw.

The road is not without significant challenges though. “It hasn’t been easy” admitted Marie Luneau, of Domaine Luneau-Papin, over a glass of wine later that evening. When Luneau and her husband took over his family’s estate in the late 2000s, Muscadet was in crisis.

Pierre-Marie and Marie Luneau. Photo credit: Domaine Luneau-Papin.

Saddled with a reputation for cheap and cheerful supermarket wine, the region struggled to get buyers and consumers to accept price increases. Several vintages of devastating frosts, rising production costs, and increased global competition for entry-level white wine drove Muscadet’s mass markets into the ground.

The region that spanned over 13 000 hectares in the 1980s shrunk by one third in the ensuing decades. In the face of this dire situation, it took producers like Luneau-Papin, with serious passion and grit to remain steadfast.

In the late 2000s, while many Muscadet growers were walking away from the industry, Domaine Luneau-Papin converted to organic viticulture. Marie also co-founded L’Association des Vignes de Nantes to join forces with like-minded growers in promoting their quality-focused Muscadet wines.

Though Marie is (rightfully) proud of the nervy, textural wines the estate is crafting today, and the success they have found, she is quick to dispel any romantic notions of their ascendancy. “We worked non-stop for years” she explained. “I wonder if my children will even want to follow in our footsteps after seeing that”.

While Nantais growers like Domaine Luneau-Papin were fighting to revitalize Muscadet’s image, Carine and Stéphane Sérol had another concern…a complete lack of image for Côte Roannaise wines. Stéphane took over the estate from his father in 1996 and immediately set about making changes.

The couple uprooted lesser vineyards, selected higher altitude granite-rich sites for new plantings, and focused their attentions on their local variety: Gamay St-Romain. This unique Gamay clone thrives at higher elevations making structured, peppery wines. Interest for Domaine Sérol’s distinctive wines has come slowly but surely.

Gamay Saint Romain tank. Photo credit: Domaine Sérol.

Building renown has also been a long game for Domaine Pellé. The long shadow of Sancerre cast Menetou-Salon in a second tier role that quality-minded growers like Paul-Henry Pellé have worked hard to cast off. Paul-Henry took on responsibility for his family’s estate at a young age. After an inspiring apprenticeship with Hubert Lamy, he knew he wanted to adopt biodynamic farming.

Paul-Henry admits that it took time to get it right. An initial attempt at immediate, full-scale biodynamic practices – making his own preparations, applying all tenets of the new system, while running the estate proved too much. He realized that he would need to transition from organic to biodynamic over time.

Over nearly two decades, Paul-Henry has honed his craft, lowering yields, working towards certification, and transitioning to micro-vinifications in seasoned oak vats and casks. The wines are a testament to his efforts: racy, saline, and complex.

As the crowd eventually thinned and the lights grew dim, we sat at the bar sipping cocktails, musing about how far the Loire, and its top producers have come. The hard work of the current generation has garnered admiring audiences across the globe, as the night’s event proved. The next generation may not have an easy path in the face of increasingly extreme climate conditions, but the acceptance won by their predecessors will certainly set them up for easier success.

This “Loire Valley Wine” piece is re-printed (with permission) from my article written for Good Food Revolution. If you want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits, check out their excellent website.

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Roberto Voerzio, Barolo: The Man of La Morra

It is hard to image a man prouder of his origins than Roberto Voerzio. Born and raised in the Barolo sub-zone of La Morra, Voerzio knew from a young age that he wanted to make wine. Not just any wine though; fine wine to rival the likes of Giovanni Conterno and Bruno Giacosa.

In a recent tasting together, Roberto Voerzio shared the exacting methods he has employed over the years to reach the top echelon of Barolo winemakers. Voerzio speaks simply with a twinkle in his eye. He isn’t boastful, but there is no false modesty either.

Voerzio established his winery in 1986 with two hectares of vineyards in La Morra. Today, the estate spans 35-hectares of owned and rented vineyards, with notable holdings in La Morra crus such as La Serra, Brunate, Cerequio, Rocche dell’Annunziata, Fossati, and Sarmassa (in neighbouring Barolo).

A keen observer, Voerzio travels frequently to regions like Bordeaux and Bourgogne to analyze the viticultural methods of top estates. “I like to visit right before harvest” he explained. “The vineyard work is finished and you get a real sense of how successful the estate has been”. By this, he refers to the vine’s balance and ripeness of its fruit.

Roberto Voerzio La Morra Vineyards

Roberto Voerzio La Morra vineyard views (photo credit: Roberto Voerzio)

Voerzio determined early on that a high-density vineyard model would produce the best quality fruit. Vines planted in closer proximity tend to produce fewer bunches, giving a smaller yield of more concentrated, flavourful grapes. In his prime vineyard sites, Voerzio plants at a density of 9,000 to 11,000 vines per hectare; well over double the average for Piedmont.

From planting to winter pruning, and throughout the growing season, Voerzio works tirelessly to achieve his desired, low crop level. He leaves just five to eight buds during the initial pruning and thins the crop twice during the summer.

“In cooler, less sunny seasons, I start green harvesting in early July to ensure the grapes ripen fully. In warmer years, I wait a few more weeks” he says. A second round of grape thinning occurs mid-August, to decrease the size of each cluster, cutting the bottom portion to concentrate richness of flavour among the upper grapes. For top crus, the yield at harvest is often as low as 500 to 700 grams per plant.

This is obviously not the most economical way to make wine, Voerzio admits with a chuckle. However, he says with a widening grin, “I do it for the glory of the wine”.

Roberto Voerzio has no organic certifications, but his vineyards are cultivated without chemical entrants. Cow manure is used to fertilize vines as needed. No herbicides, fungicides, or pesticides are employed.

Roberto Voerzio La Morra vineyard yield

Low yields in Roberto Voerzio La Morra vineyards (photo credit: Roberto Voerzio)

In the cellar, Voerzio’s wines are made via spontaneous fermentation with native yeast. Alcoholic fermentation lasts 15 to 30 days in tank. The Nebbiolo and Barbera cuvées are then racked to a mix of seasoned Slovenian oak botti of varying sizes, and a small portion of French oak. Sulphur levels are less than half the regulated dose. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

ROBERTO VOERZIO BAROLO DEL COMMUNE DI LA MORRA 2016 – 93pts LW

This is something of a “house” Barolo for Voerzio, made from a blend of five cru vineyards, namely La Serra, Fossati, Cerequio, La Rocche dell Annunziata, and Case Nere. La Morra is often described as the most elegant and approachable of Barolo’s sub-zones, with sandy, clay-rich Tortonian soils.

Aromas of wild rosemary and thyme give way to red currant, plum, dried citrus, and wildflowers on the nose. The palate is full-bodied, yet sinewy in structure, with lip-smacking acidity, and vibrant red fruit, herbal flavours. Finishes very fresh and precise.

Where to Buy: $163.50 (small allocation of 2018 vintage at the SAQ)

ROBERTO VOERZIO BARBERA D’ALBA “POZZO DELL’ ANNUNZIATA” 2017 -95pts PW

Barbera is the most widely grown grape in the Piedmont region. I have had many easy-drinking, great value Barbera wines in my time, and a handful of serious stand outs but nothing of this calibre. The Pozzo dell’Annunziata cuvée really shows what the grape is capable on the right site, at low yields, in the right hands.

The 2017 vintage is redolent with dark cherries and plum aromas, over layers of prune, woodsmoke, dark chocolate, licorice, and cedar. Juicy and ripe fruited on the palate, with a fleshy, full-bodied core, and velvety finish. Savoury flavours mingle with plum and dried herbs on the very persistent finish.

Where to Buy: $48.50 (sadly sold out…)

ROBERTO VOERZIO BAROLO “FOSSATI” 2015 – 97pts. LW

Fossati lies on the western side of La Morra, adjacent to the Case Nere and La Serra crus, at 350m altitude. The soils are stoney and light, with clay layers. The vines are particularly deep rooted here, stretching down to ten metres in places. Voerzio describes Fossati wines as deep in colour, with pronounced tannins, and vivid aromatics.

Successive waves of ripe dark and red fruit, wild berries, barnyard hints, dried orange peel, and cedar waft from the glass of this seductive 2015 Fossati. The palate is initially understated, with a supple, suave quality that broadens and deepens on the mid-palate. A lively hum of acidity vibrates through the wine, complimenting the firm, chalky tannins and lifting the finish.

Where to Buy: $462.50 (small allocation of 2018 vintage at the SAQ )

ROBERTO VOERZIO BAROLO “CEREQUIO” 2012 – 96pts. LW

Cerequio is surrounded by equally prestigious La Morra cru vineyards on the western side of La Morra. The hillside plantings sit at 300 metres altitude on a bed of white clay over blueish marl sub soils. According to Voerzio, its wines are very round, elegant, and ethereal in nature with lively red fruit flavours.

The 2012 vintage is fragrant and complex, with dried fruit and dried rose petal aromas, over hints of truffle and eucalyptus. Initially rich and velvety on the palate, tapering to ripe, yet still somewhat grippy tannins. A concentrated core of minty, dried red fruit, and earthy flavours linger long on the finish.

Where to Buy: $462.50 (small allocation of 2018 vintage at the SAQ)

This “Roberto Voerzio Barolo” piece is re-printed (with permission) from my article written for Good Food Revolution. If you want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits, check out their excellent website.

Reviews

How will Climate Change Affect Cool Climate Wine Regions? Only Time will Tell…

Meursault Vineyards - Jacky Blisson MW

Atmospheric rivers, bomb cyclones, polar vortexes, cold drops… As increasingly erratic weather patterns combine with rising temperatures, prolonged drought episodes, and the like, the realities of climate change have never been more stark.

Grape growers, like all farmers, are dealing with a constantly shifting playing field, forcing them to adapt every season. Viticultural and oenological researchers are working feverishly to find solutions as problems continue to multiply.

Drought-resistant rootstocks, polygenic disease resistant hybrids, canopy management techniques to better shade fruit against sunburn, all manners of cutting-edge technology to track temperature, light, humidity, and water availability, lower alcohol-producing yeast strains, etc.

These are just a few of the many avenues being explored to maintain the viability of our major vineyard regions. And even if these efforts meet with long-term success, how long will the wine styles we currently know, and love remain recognizable?

Not so long ago it seemed like something of a boon to see rising temperatures in traditional cool climate regions like the Mosel Valley and Bourgogne. The need to memorize vintage charts to avoid lean, green, and let’s face it…often pretty mean wines from cold, wet growing seasons has all but vanished.

The need to chaptalize or rely on healthy doses of süssreserve to bolster light vintages is no longer such a vital crutch. On the other end of the spectrum, techniques to protect fruit in overly hot vintages have also improved. In Burgundian cellars, these ripe wines are also being handled with far greater elegance, with gentler extraction and far more discreet oak ageing than was the norm in the early 2000s.

Until recently, it wasn’t uncommon to hear wine critics describe climate change as a “blessing” for these cooler climes. Though I doubt many producers in these regions would agree looking forward to projections for the next thirty to fifty years to come.

The renown of wines from places like the Mosel and Bourgogne is built on their rare ability to combine a silky, ethereal elegance with underlying power and impressive ageability. Their vivid flavours, vibrant acidity, and overall poise stems – in part – from the long, slow, steady ripening that was once a hallmark feature of these climates.

Recently, I received a series of Bourgogne samples in the 14% to 14.5% alcohol range. While velvety and generously fruity, they lacked the tangy vibrancy of fruit, and fine-grained tannic presence that – for me – defines good red Bourgogne. In fact, I wasn’t at all sure that I would have picked out the region (or even the grape!) in a blind tasting.

With the advent of lower intervention winemaking, rising temperatures are all the more cause for concern. At higher potential alcohol and pH levels, contamination from errant bacteria or yeasts is a far greater threat.

For many, these funkier, more savoury flavours represent an appealing new layer of complexity…but at what cost? If we need to drink these wines within the first year or two of existence, before they fall apart, we lose all the pleasure of seeing the aromas and structure evolve.

Only time will tell how greatly our rapidly changing climate and ever evolving winemaking practices will affect traditional cool climate growing regions. In the meantime, I will continue to seek out and champion the many skillful producers successfully walking the fine line of bright, balanced fruit and freshness.

Here are just a handful of names that have impressed in recent tastings:

Agnès Paquet, Bourgogne (Côte d’Or)
Based in the tucked away Côte de Beaune hamlet of Meloisey, Agnès makes lithe, elegant wines with bright fruit and silky tannins. Her Auxey-Duresses red, fermented with native yeasts, partial whole-cluster, and aged in seasoned oak is divine.

Claudie Jobard, Bourgogne (Côte Chalonnaise)
Claudie Jobard comes from a long line of growers and winemakers in Rully. Her father was a reputed pépiniériste (vine nursery man). Her Rully white wines are proof positive that this once humble appellation can make wines with serious body, tension, and verve.

La Soeur Cadette, Bourgogne (Vézelay)
Now a négociant operation with lively, pure fruited wines from Beaujolais and across Bourgogne, this domaine built its reputation in the small Vézelay wine growing area nestled some 100km northwest of Beaune. Their nervy, incisive low-intervention Chardonnays are always great value.

Famille Dutraive, Beaujolais
Highly regarded Beaujolais winemaker Jean-Louis Dutraive is joined by his three children in the creation of this top notch négociant firm. A recent tasting of their Fleurie Les Déduits 2019 blew me away with its vivid flavours, overall vibrancy, and satiny texture.

Julien Sunier, Beaujolais
The Beaujolais winemaking style of Dijon-native Julien Sunier is often compared to Chambolle-Musigny, which is where he got his start, under Christophe Roumier. Lovely florality, bright flavours, and a lightness of touch that belies the impressive staying power of his Fleurie, Morgon, and Régnié old vine wines.Julien’s brother, Antoine Sunier, is also making very silky, elegant Beaujolais wines that are worth checking out.

This “Future of Cool Climate Wines” piece is re-printed (with permission) from my article written for Good Food Revolution. If you want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits, check out their excellent website.

Reviews Wines

Best Beaujolais Wines to Ring in Beaujolais Nouveau Night

best beaujolais wines

From excellent villages cuvées to top crus, the best Beaujolais wines are worth every penny. The Beaujolais Nouveau era may be over but the region has risen from its ashes in spectacular fashion. Scroll down for some fantastic Beaujolais wines to ring in Nouveau night.

There will be no whimsical displays of Beaujolais Nouveau this year. Freight and fuel costs continue to skyrocket. Global wine bottle shortages persist. As a result, this once cheap and oh-so-cheerful red has become an expensive proposition.

And let’s face it, consumer interest has been waning for years. Sommeliers turned their backs long ago. Even in Japan, Beaujolais Nouveau’s most ardent overseas imbibers, support has been steadily falling away for a decade. An estimated doubling of prices in the market may be the final nail in its coffin.

Though Beaujolais Nouveau may be gone from our store shelves in 2022, that doesn’t mean we can’t raise our glasses on Thursday to salute how far the region has come.

New Wines, Ancient Traditions

The idea of imbibing a freshly fermented wine is neither a new concept, nor specific to Beaujolais wines. In ancient Greece, the Athenian festival Anthesteria, in honour of Dionysus, was celebrated with the wine of the recently completed harvest.

This idea of harvest celebrations lingers in France, with nouveau wine releases throughout the country, from Gaillac, to Touraine, to the southern Rhône Valley – though Beaujolais remains the most well-known and widely exported example.

In the 1800s, wine merchants were already buying just fermented Beaujolais to showcase the new vintage to their brasserie and restaurant clients in major surrounding cities. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that official legislation was past that mandated the third Thursday of November as the official release date for the wines of the vintage.

How Beaujolais Nouveau Took the World by Storm

Beaujolais’ most recognized household name, Georges DuBoeuf, is credited with creating the global craze for Beaujolais Nouveau. By the 1960s, the cafés of Lyon and Paris had already joined in the fun of racing to see who would receive the first shipment of Beaujolais’ new vintage. “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive” became a call to revelers to join in the simple pleasure of sharing the light, fruity wine.

Photo credit: Inter Beaujolais

DuBoeuf worked tirelessly with chefs, sommeliers, and other wine gatekeepers in major markets around the world to extend this tradition. By the 1980s, industrial quantities were being produced. Television ads heralded the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau in the US, great towers of the stuff appeared in liquor stores across Canada, throughout Europe and beyond.

Perhaps no other export market took to Beaujolais Nouveau, or hung on so long, as Japan. Photos of Japanese merry-makers, bathing in spas overflowing with the wine are popular media images every November.

From Beaujolais Nouveau to Nouvelle… Génération

For a time, as appreciation for the soft, banana-scented Beaujolais fell away, it seemed that region was headed for disaster. Who could take a wine region seriously, who’s major claim to fame was a cheap, quaffing red with zero shelf life? But change was afoot.

The work of Beaujolais’ natural wine pioneers had already begun in the 1980s, under the mentorship of local scientist and winemaker, Jules Chauvet. It would take a further decade for these radical new wines – made without carefully selected yeast strains or protective doses of sulphur – to gain the first timid signs of international interest.

The natural wine movement allowed Beaujolais to re-focus attention on its terroirs and traditional winemaking practices. The merits and distinctions of its ten cru villages were increasingly highlighted with areas like Morgon, Fleurie, and Moulin-à-Vent gaining recognition around the world.

Photo credit: Inter Beaujolais

In 2008, the region began an ambitious soil mapping project that would span nine years. Over 15 000 soil surveys, 1000 soil pits, and 50 field visits were completed. The study led to detailed maps of each Beaujolais appellation, detailing 300 different soil types across the area.

The in-depth knowledge gained from this work has given Beaujolais’ grape growers an incredible tool – informing their decisions on planting, pruning, inter-row, and canopy management in each sector of their vineyards. It is also a great way to communicate terroir – to highlight how different Gamay can taste from one lieu-dit to another.

One Grape, Multiple Expressions

Between its impressive image makeover and the dual trends for natural wines and – more generally – for fresher, lighter, less oak-driven reds, Beaujolais is back in business. The volumes are a far cry from the dizzying heights of the Nouveau days, but a more sustainable quality reputation has been established.

It is a region that is simple for newcomers to get behind. Red wines made exclusively from the Gamay grape makes up 95% of production. Beaujolais can be simplistically summed up as Gamay + granite + temperate climate = light, fresh, low tannin reds with vibrant red fruit and violet notes.

May be an image of tree and nature
Photo credit: Inter Beaujolais

However, for those looking to explore more deeply, the varied topography of gentle hills to vertiginous slopes, myriad soil compositions, numerous meso-climates, and wide variety of winemaking practices yield huge stylistic diversity from one Beaujolais to another.

Here is a mere handful of the best Beaujolais wine producers (in this author’s opinion) for your Beaujolais Nouveau night celebrations: Mee Godard, Famille Dutraive, Antoine Sunier, Julien Sunier, Richard Rottiers, Château Thivin, Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, Domaine des Marrans, Domaine des Chers, Christophe Pacalet.

Favourites from a recent tasting include:

Famille Dutraive Fleurie Les Déduits 2019 – 95pts. PW

Pitch perfect, ready-to-drink Fleurie in a bold yet satiny smooth style ably matched by lively acidity and vivid red berry, cherry, violet, spice aromas. A truly joyous wine with impressive breadth and length. Dangerously easy to drink. Easily one of my coup de coeur Beaujolais for 2022.

Where to buy: SAQ ($42.75)

Antoine Sunier Morgon 2020 – 93pts. PW

Reminiscent of Northern Rhône Syrah with its peppery spice and subtly smoky, meaty undertones, this Morgon is medium in body with complex red and dark fruit flavours. Bright, balanced acidity, sinewy tannins, and lots of finesse. Carafe 30 minutes before serving.

Where to buy: SAQ ($35.50)

Julien Sunier Régnié 2020 – 92pts. PW

A very pretty, fragrant wine (in typical Régnié fashion) with wafts of ripe strawberry, peonies, baked red cherry, and subtly earthy undertones. The palate is light, silky and lifted, with a crisp freshness that lingers through the finish. A very approachable, easy-drinking Beaujolais.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($32.75)

Domaine Mee Godard Beaujolais Villages 2020 – 91pts. PW

Mee Godard is a Morgon producer that I have greatly admired since visiting her domaine in 2018. Her wines are often taut and firmly structured in their youth ageing gracefully over time. This Villages cuvée is not exception; definitely drinking above its origin. Medium in body with attractive blackberry, red cherry, savoury notes, and a velvety mouthfeel tapering to taut yet fine-grained tannins.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($28.55)

Marcel Lapierre Le Beaujolais 2021 – 90 pts. PW

From the challenging 2021 vintage, this “humble” Beaujolais is easy to dismiss as overly lean, tart, or vegetal…which was my first impression. However, over a span of four days I re-tasted regularly and the wine transformed. Still light and crisp, this red revealed layered aromas of cranberry, rhubarb, forest floor, beets, and green peppercorn over time. The palate is taut with finely chiselled tannins. Decant up to an hour before serving.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($29.30)

 Domaine des Marrans Chiroubles Aux Côtes 2020 – 90pts. PW

The Beaujolais cru of Chiroubles boasts the highest elevation and steepest slopes of the region. This south-west facing vineyard is perched at 400 metres altitude, giving a very ripe yet refreshing style of Beaujolais. The 2020 vintage features aromas of baked red berries, hints of pomegranate, and tar. The palate is medium weight, with a rounded structure, and slightly grippy tannins. Great value for the price.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($25.10)

Christophe Pacalet Haru-Ichi Beaujolais Villages Rosé 2021 – 90pts. PW

Rosé is a rarity in Beaujolais, making up just 3% of production so it is fun to see this on our shelves. This ample, deeper hued rosé is hugely enticing, with lovely florality on the nose and pure, tangy rhubarb flavours, underscored by earthy and subtly savoury notes. Lipsmackingly good and very food friendly.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($25.35)

This “Best Beaujolais Wines…” piece is re-printed (with permission) from my article written for Good Food Revolution. If you want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits, check out their excellent website.

Education Reviews Wines

The Wines of Menetou-Salon: Stepping out from Sancerre’s Shadow

The wines of Menetou-Salon

The vineyards of Menetou-Salon lie a mere 20-minute drive southwest of Sancerre. The same highly prized terroir of chalky Kimmeridgian marl runs through both appellations. The same grapes are planted in their sloped vineyards. And yet, Sancerre is revered the world over for its superlative Sauvignon Blanc, while Menetou-Salon is…well…not.

Size is one obvious differentiating factor. The acreage of Sancerre is almost five times that of Menetou-Salon’s modest 647 hectares. Sancerre exports over two-thirds of its wines, whereas the vast majority of Menetou-Salon’s wines are consumed in France.

Star producers from Sancerre have successfully promoted the region’s top terroirs such as Bué or Chavignol; even going so far as to elevate individual vineyard plots, like Monts Damnés and Cul de Beaujeau, to (unofficial) cru status.

The terroir specificities of Menetou-Salon’s ten communes remain little known. However, this may not be the case for long. A growing contingent of innovative, well-regarded winemakers is emerging in Menetou-Salon focused on single commune and vineyard bottlings.

vignoble-ap
Map credit: Menetou-Salon AOC

Near the eastern boundary of Mentou-Salon, lies the village of Morogues. This pretty hamlet is home to Domaine Henry Pellé. Third generation winemaker Paul-Henry Pellé produces a range of incisive, racy Sauvignon Blancs here that easily rival his excellent La Croix au Garde Sancerre.

Morogues marks the highest point of Menetou-Salon. Its hillside vineyards grown almost exclusively on Kimmeridgian marl – sediment formed during the Upper Jurassic period made up of alternating layers of chalky limestone from ancient, fossilized marine creatures, and clay. These soils are prized for their powerfully structured, long-lived expression of Sauvignon Blanc.

The best way to understand the nuances of Morogues is to taste Domaine Pellé’s Morogues cuvée – a blend of seven different hillside vineyards, against his three single vineyard (aka lieux-dits) wines from the same village: Les Blanchais, Le Carroir, and Vignes du Ratier.

Anne & Paul-Henry Pellé. Photo credit: Polaner Selections.

Variations in elevation, orientation, soil depth and composition yield markedly different wines. The sunny, southwest facing Vignes du Ratier plot gives fleshier, more supple wines; whereas the north-eastern exposure and mixed Kimmeridgian marl and flint soils of Les Blanchais give more austere, chiselled Sauvignon Blanc.

Heading west from Morogues, the vineyards of Menetou-Salon form a southward arc sloping more gently as they approach the towns of Parassy and Menetou-Salon. Here, the soils are more heterogenous with pockets of clay, varying compositions of clay-limestone, and veins of flint interspersed with the Kimmeridgian marl.

Domaine Chavet is based in Menetou-Salon. In 2018, this historic 23-hectare estate was acquired by Antoine de la Farge. Trained oenologist and former wine buyer for French wine store chain Nicholas, de la Farge is also a Menetou-Salon native from a family of vignerons at Domaine de l’Ermitage.

De la Farge is both estate owner and négociant, making wine in Menetou-Salon, Pouilly-Fumé, and Sancerre. His goal with Domaine Chavet mirrors that of Pellé – to showcase the distinctive quality and diversity of Menetou-Salon terroir.

Domaine Chavet’s vines are located between Menetou-Salon and Parassy. According to de la Farge, the wines here are generally richer and rounder than Morogues. The estate produces a broad Menetou-Salon blend called La Côte, as well as two lieux-dit whites, Clos de Coquin and Clos des Jentonnes.

The deeper clay, and more southerly exposure of Clos de Coquin gives a riper, more opulent Sauvignon Blanc, while just one kilometre over, the pure Kimmeridgian soil of the western facing Clos des Jentonnes plot yields a nervy, electric white with lingering salinity.

For a long time, Menetou-Salon was merely considered an affordable alternative to Sancerre. Now, the rise in ambition and excellence is palpable. At a recent Domaine Chavet tasting, Antoine de la Farge outlined his plans for a new, top-quality gravity flow winery – with temperature-controlled stainless steel vinifications followed by extended lees ageing in unlined sandstone amphorae and seasoned oak casks.

De la Farge also spoke highly of his neighbouring winemakers, especially Pellé. He praised his fellow vignerons commitment to sustainable growing practices, and their exacting standards of wine making – many focusing on natural yeasts and low intervention.

Since the turn of the century, the acreage of Menetou-Salon has increased three-fold. As curious oenophiles continue to step off-the-beaten track and local winemakers keep pushing quality ever upward, it will be exciting to see where the appellation goes.

Domaine Chavet Tasting Notes (Montréal Tasting, October 2022)

Chavet “La Côte” Menetou-Salon AOC 2021 – 90pts. PW

La Côte refers to the seven slopeside vineyards that make up this Menetou-Salon blend. The 2021 bottling has attractive currant bud, lemon, grape fruit aromas, underscored by riper hints of guava. The palate is laser-like in its light, linear structure, piercing acidity, and overall poise. Great value for the price. Drink now.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($24.25), LCBO ($22.95)

Domaine Chavet “Clos de Coquin” Menetou-Salon AOC 2020 – 92pts. PW

Pretty white floral notes mingle with lemon, aromatic green herbs, and subtle apricot notes on the 2020 Clos de Coquin cuvée. The palate is crisp and light-bodied, with a silky texture and layers of tangy green and white fruit over hints of green almond. Long, lively finish. Drink now or cellar up to 8 years.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent AOC & Cie (SAQ specialty order expected in spring 2023; $31.25)

Domaine Chavet “Clos des Jentonnes” Menetou-Salon AOC 2020 – 94pts.

Initially discreet, with vivid aromas of lime, greengage plum, tarragon, and wet stone developing over time. Racy and precise on the palate, with a textural, almost electric hum. Notes of guava, green apple, lemon, and lime unfurl in vibrant succession on the long, mineral finish. Drink now or cellar for up to 10 – 12 years.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent AOC & Cie

This Wines of Menetou-Salon article was originally written for Good Food Revolution. Want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits? Check out their excellent website.

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Champagne Bollinger Tasting: 2014 Vintage Release

Champagne Bollinger tasting

In 2029, Champagne Bollinger will celebrate its 200th anniversary. This renowned Maison is one of just three Champagne estates to be owned by the same family since its inception. Throughout its history, Champagne Bollinger has built up impressive global recognition, from its British royal warrant, held continuously for over 130 years, to its role as James Bond’s favourite bubby, and beyond.

Champagne Bollinger is located in the grand cru village of Aÿ, in the Vallée de la Marne. This is prime Pinot Noir country and indeed Bollinger is a decidedly Pinot Noir-centric Champagne producer.  Pinot Noir makes up anywhere from 60 to 100% of all Champagne Bollinger wines.

At a recent Champagne Bollinger tasting in Montréal, 6th generation family member Cyril Delarue related that this Pinot Noir signature is one of the core points of differentiation for Bollinger, giving the wines notable “structure, body, and longevity”.

Champagne Bollinger is both a substantial vineyard owner and a négociant, purchasing up to 50% of its grapes – with near exclusive sourcing of premier and grand cru grapes. Of Bollinger’s 180 hectares of owned vineyards, 151 hectares are located in premier and grand cru villages; notably Aÿ, Avenay, Tauxières, Louvois and Verzenay for Pinot Noir, and Cuis for Chardonnay.

As per many top-quality Champagne producers, Champagne Bollinger only uses the first pressing juice – la cuvée – in its wines. According to the Comité Champagne, “the cuvée is the purest juice of the pulp, rich in sugar and acid. This produces wines with great finesse, subtle aromas, a refreshing palate, and good ageing potential.”

While many Champagne houses prefer to vinify and age their base wines in stainless steel, Bollinger is among the rare houses that retained a focus on oak maturation. The Bollinger cellars house over 4000 oak barrels, managed by their in-house cooper. Oaked blending components go into all of Bollinger’s wines giving them “a rich, broad, textural quality…that is inimitable” said Cyril.

Another major influence on Bollinger’s distinctive style is the very high levels of reserve wines used in their non vintage wines. Reserve wines are still wines, that haven’t undergone secondary fermentation. These aged wines bring significant aromatic complexity and depth of flavour to non vintage Champagnes.

At Bollinger, reserve wines account for more than half of wines like the Bollinger Special Cuvée and Bollinger Rosé. These reserve wines range from five to 15 years of age and are stored in a mix of tanks and cork-sealed magnums. The magnums are bottled with a small amount of liqueur de tirage (sugar and yeast) to provoke a partial refermentation creating small bubbles which keep the wines fresh and pure in flavour.

The selection and blending of reserve wines is a true art. Cyril explained that Bollinger cellar master Gilles Descôtes seeks to express all forms of fruit – from tart, just ripe nuances to heady, dried fruit notes – in his wines. This is a hallmark of Champagne Bollinger, he adds.

To celebrate the Canadian launch of Bollinger La Grande Année 2014, Cyril poured these four lovely wines from Champagne Bollinger.

 Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée – 94pts. LW

Special Cuvée is a non-vintage blend of over 400 different wines from predominantly premier and grand cru vineyards, made from 60% reserve wine. One fifth of the blend was fermented in oak. The varietal split is 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, 15% Meunier. The bottle tasted was disgorged in December 2021.

Aged over 30 months on lees, the Special Cuvée has an inviting nose, redolent with dried apricot, nougat, ripe lemon, and apple. The palate is crisp and refreshing, with creamy, well-defined bubbles, and an expansive mid-palate. Tangy notes of granny smith apple and lemon mingle with deeper, more savoury, leesy flavours on the finish. Long and relatively dry.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($89.50), LCBO ($91.95)

Champagne Bollinger Rosé – 92pts. LW

Bollinger recently increased the percentage of Chardonnay in the non vintage rosé to soften the blend and make it less “vinous” according to Cyril Delarue. The current blend is very similar to the Special Cuvée in terms of its varietal split, reserve wines, vineyard ranking, and oak. The pale salmon colour is derived from a 5% addition of red wine into the blend.

Fragrant red and dark berries feature on the nose, with underlying hints of anise, spring flowers, and candied stone fruits. Really lively on the palate, from its sleek, vigorous mousse to its tangy red fruit flavours, and moderately firm, medium-bodied structure. Finishes dry, with lingering red berry nuances. Very refined in style.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($119.25), LCBO ($123.00)

Champagne Bollinger La Grande Année 2014 – 97pts. LW

La Grande Année is Bollinger’s ultra-premium, vintage release only produced in excellent quality growing seasons – a phenomenon which is becoming increasingly common in Champagne. The blend is composed of 19 different crus, of which 79% are ranked grand cru and 21% are premier crus.

The base wines are vinified and aged in seasoned oak casks (20 years of age, on average) before transfer to bottle and ageing on lees for over seven years. All winemaking tasks, from riddling to disgorging, are carried out by hand.

Despite the mixed review received by the somewhat cool, rainy 2014 vintage, this is a masterful wine. Layers of quince, roasted hazelnut, dried lemon peel, salted caramel, and delicate floral hints unfurl on the nose in rapid succession. The palate has a taut, chiselled quality with savoury, lemony flavours, and ultra-fine, highly persistent bubbles. Hugely concentrated and multi-faceted with pleasing salinity on the long finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($282.00), LCBO ($228.00)

Champagne Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 2014 – 96pts. LW

La Grande Année Rosé is vinified in the same way as the white, using essentially the same vineyard sourcing. An addition of 5% red wine from a steep, chalky hillside vineyard plot in Aÿ called La Côte des Enfants. This four-hectare Pinot Noir planting is among Bollinger’s most prized vineyard sites.

The 2014 La Grande Année Rosé has a very appealing nose of brioche, mixed spice, and wild berries, reminiscent of a summer pudding. Over time, hints of dried flowers and underbrush emerge. The palate is racy and full-bodied, with juicy red berry flavours deepened by nutty, savoury undertones. Finishes with a dry, subtly chalky texture and lingering fine mousse.

Where to buy: SAQ ($282.00)

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Wine from Argentina: Consistent Good Value Across the Decades

wine from argentina

When tasting wine from Argentina I am regularly struck by their consistent, good value. The country’s major wine regions have been on a quest of continuous improvement since the first wave of foreign investors and flying winemakers hit Mendoza in the 1990s.

When the trend for bold, sun-baked wine from Argentina started to fade some fifteen years back, change was already afoot in the vineyards. Wineries had begun planting at higher altitudes and at the cooler southern reaches of the country.

Vineyard management techniques were altered to better shade the fruit and retain acidity. Winemaking practices have become more restrained but also expanded to allow for greater experimentation. Lesser-known wines from Argentina, from local grapes like Bonarda, Criolla, and Torrontés are cropping up on store shelves around the globe.

It is indeed an exciting time, with even the richest, ripest wine from Argentina showing far more freshness and balance. And with all this, the prices have remained surprisingly affordable.

Here are a handful of stand outs from a recent tasting of wine from Argentina:

Schroeder, Alpataco Pinot Noir 2019, Patagonia

Easy drinking red, with baked plum and red currant aromas on the nose, underscored by an attractive mix of savoury and minty hints. The palate is medium-bodied, with fresh fruity flavours, and a fleshy texture.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($16.80, Code SAQ 14714493)

Catena Zapata Chardonnay “High Mountain Vines” 2020, Mendoza

Ripe, tropical expression of Chardonnay with crisp acidity that ably balances the full-bodied, rounded palate. Inviting notes of mango, buttered toast, and yellow pear linger on the smooth finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($20.20, Code SAQ 865279), LCBO ($19.95, Vintages Code: 918805)

Bodega Santa Julia, El Burro Malbec Natural 2021, Mendoza

Very youthful, primary red that makes up what it lacks in complexity by its bright, tangy dark fruit, lively acidity, and supple frame. Serve chilled.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($21.40, SAQ Code 14764925), LCBO ($22.95, Vintages Code: 24214)

La Mascota Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, Mendoza

Great value for the price, with its appealing floral, dark cherry perfume. The palate is juicy and fresh, with a soft, medium weight frame and ripe tannins.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($16.95, SAQ Code 10895565), LCBO ($16.95, Vintages Code: 292110)

El Esteco Don David Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, Calchaqui Valley

Quite a complex nose for such an affordable wine, with intense baked red cherry, cassis, licorice, pencil shavings, and hints of cedar. The palate is full-bodied yet fresh with lively red and dark fruit flavours and lingering eucalyptus notes.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($17.95, SAQ Code 13545886)

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Gulfi Wines: Fresh Nero d’Avola from Sicily’s Torrid South East

Gulfi Wines

Gulfi Wines are proof positive that fresh, balanced Sicilian reds are emerging from even the hottest sectors of the island. Last month, I tuned in to a discussion and tasting with Gulfi owner Matteo Catania to find out what makes his Nero d’Avola wines so compelling. Scroll down for 2019 vintage tasting notes.

In August 2021, the Sicilian city of Syracuse experienced a Europe-wide, record-breaking temperature of 48.8 degrees Celsius. The island is indeed famous for its hot, dry summers. And as global temperatures warm, its heat waves continue to intensify.

Given the scorching climate, it is only natural to assume that the wines must be bold, ripe, heady affairs. Historically, most were, and in some regions, they still are.

However, lighter, fresher wine styles have been cropping up with increased frequency over the past two decades. The high altitude, volcanic terroir of Mount Etna was the first to reveal this potential to a global audience.

Of course, the headlining grape in Etna Rosso wines, Nerello Mascalese, is naturally light in body and high acid. Elsewhere on the island, Nero d’Avola is the reigning red wine variety. It stereotypically produces ultra-ripe, generously proportioned wines with muscular tannins.

Plantings were once concentrated to hot, arid sites in the southeast. Now, they stretch across the island. And, the best Nero d’Avola winemakers are proving that, with the right terroir and techniques, even this most robust of red grapes can produce vibrant, balanced wine styles. Gulfi Cantina is a prime example.

After the death of his father in the late 1990s, Vito Catania returned to the family vineyards around the small hilltop village of Chiaramonte Gulfi in Ragusa. A great lover of Bourgogne wines, Catania came home with the vision of crafting elegant, terroir-expressive wines from select native grapes, on the area’s best vineyard sites.

To bring his dream to fruition, Catania enlisted the help of renowned viticulture and oenology consultant, Salvo Foti. The pair conducted detailed soil and climate analyses throughout the region, leading Catania to acquire over 100 hectares of vineyards.

Today, the Gulfi estate is run by Vito’s son; third generation vigneron, Matteo Catania. The vineyards are concentrated in three main areas: the hilly, calcareous marl vineyards of Chiaramonte Gulfi, the chalky, southeastern area of Pachino Val di Noto, prime terroir for Nero d’Avola, and finally, Mount Etna.

In all three of these areas, cooling influences – whether it be Mount Etna’s high altitude, or lower lying Pachino’s cooling sea breezes – cause temperatures to drop overnight tempering the hot summer days and allowing the grapes to ripen slowly, while retaining refreshing acidity.

Gulfi’s vineyards are dry farmed (aka not irrigated) and planted at densities of over 8,000 vines per hectare, in the island’s traditional “Alberello” bush vine style. According to Matteo, these practices are the key to producing wines expressive of each site

Without irrigation, the vines are obliged to dig deep into their marl or limestone bedrocks for sustenance. This struggle for nourishment, combined with high-density planting, means that the vines produce less, yet more qualitative fruit with greater flavour concentration and complexity.

Chemical pesticides and herbicides were prohibited on the estate long before the winery committed to certified organic viticulture. Today, the vineyards are farmed biodynamically, under the continued guidance of consultant Salvo Foti.

Last month, I had the pleasure of listening to Matteo Catania wax lyrical about his family’s vision, while tasting the (fermented) fruits of their labour.

Gulfi Cantina Wines

Gulfi “Valcanzjria” IGT Sicilia Bianco 2020 (Sicily, Italy) – 90pts. PW

More commonly found on the slopes of Mount Etna, Gulfi is one of the rare estates to cultivate Carricante in southeastern Sicily.  Here, the grape is blended with Chardonnay and a touch of lesser-known native grape, Albanello. The blend is vinified with native yeast in stainless steel tanks, then aged on its fine lees for eight months before bottling.

Enticing notes of preserved lemon, wild thyme, chamomile tea, and wet stone gain in nuance and intensity over time in the glass. The palate is nervy and tensile, with lively acidity echoed by citrussy, herbal flavours. Hints of eucalyptus linger on the dry, fresh finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($26.35, Code SAQ 14947271). 

Gulfi “Rossojbleo” IGT Sicilia Rosso 2019 (Sicily, Italy) – N/A

The Nero d’Avola vineyards for the Rossojbleo cuvée are planted on the lower slopes of southeastern Sicily’s Hyblaean Mountains at 450 metres altitude. Nearby forests and gentle marine breezes temper the hot local climate, allowing the grapes to ripen more slowly. The clay-rich soils are laced with limestone sediments and sand.

This is the estate’s more affordable Nero d’Avola red wine. To accentuate its fresh, easy-drinking character, the grapes are fermented at moderate temperatures in stainless steel tanks and aged for seven to eight months in the same vessels.

While my sample was unfortunately corked, I have enjoyed many vintages of this medium bodied, juicy, dark fruited red with its earthy undertones, ripe tannins, and subtle hint of bitter cherries.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($22.90 $, Code SAQ: 14923990).

Gulfi Cerasuolo Di Vittoria Rouge 2019 (Sicily, Italy) – 93pts. PW

Cerasuolo Di Vittoria is Sicily’s only vineyard area ranked DOCG; the highest appellation status in Italy. The wines here are made from a blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato grown in prime, south-facing, low yielding vineyards of clay-limestone at 420 metres altitude.

In this cuvée, Matteo uses equal parts Nero d’Avola and Frappato to produce a lighter, fresher, pure fruited wine style. The blend undergoes a long, slow maceration, followed by eight months’ ageing in tank. After bottling, the wine is held back for a further eight months to integrate.

Alluring notes of fresh dark cherry, plum, and black currant mingle with aromas of dried herbs and almond essence on the nose. The palate is lively throughout, lifting the robust palate, and underscoring the cranberry and dark fruit flavours. Ripe, ever-so-slightly grippy tannins frame the long finish. Decant for an hour and serve chilled down to 16 – 18c.

Where to Buy: SAQ (34.50, Code SAQ: 14044848)

Gulfi “Nerojbleo” Nero d’Avola IGT Sicilia Rosso 2019 (Sicily, Italy) – 91pts. PW

This was the very first wine produced by the Gulfi estate and remains their flagship wine. The cuvée is named for the grape, Nero d’Avola, and the mountains (Jbleo in Italian) where the vineyards are located. It is the premium iteration of the Rossojbleo wine, made from the area’s best, south-west facing red clay plots.

The Nero d’Avola grapes undergo a long, slow maceration in tank and are then aged for one year in a mix of small French oak barrels and larger casks. After bottling, the wine is held back for a further eight months to integrate.

Very open and fragrant, with blueberry, floral, and balsamic aromas over peppery, savoury nuances. Brisk acidity matches the firm structure and tart red and black fruit flavours on the palate. Finishes with ripe, muscular tannins and pleasantly warming eaux-de-vie hints, well integrated with lingering fruity, savoury notes.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($28.00, Code SAQ 13437391)

Gulfi wines can be found in Ontario through the Charlie’s Burgers Wine Program.

This article is a re-print of my recent Gulfi Wines article for Good Food Revolution. Want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits.? Check out their excellent website.

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La Grange Tiphaine Wines: Biodynamic Loire Valley at its Best

Damien Delecheneau La Grange Tiphaine

On a recent visit to the Loire Valley, I caught up with Damien Delecheneau for a terroir ramble through his Touraine vineyards and a 2020 vintage tasting of La Grange Tiphaine wines.

We woke up to glorious sunshine on Saturday. The sky was blue and cloudless. The weather was balmy. It was the perfect day for a wedding. This was the main reason for our quick transatlantic jaunt to Pontlevoy in the Loire Valley. But… I couldn’t spend a weekend in Touraine without sneaking in at least one winery visit.

As luck would have it, the domaine I had in mind was tantalizingly nearby: La Grange Tiphaine. I first tasted La Grange Tiphaine wines a few years back. From the first sip of their Clef du Sol Chenin Blanc, I was hooked. To me, it struck the perfect balance of bright fruit, subtly oxidative flavours, rich textural palate, and vibrant acidity.

We made the hairpin turn into the winery’s unassuming entrance path and pulled to a stop in front of a pretty wooden barn, with raised flower and vegetable patches in front. We had given little notice for our visit and had arrived late. I braced myself for a (deservedly) cool welcome and breathed a sigh of relief when Damien came out of the house, all smiles.

La Grange Tiphaine wines. It all Starts in the Vineyards…

Damien Delecheneau grew up on this family vineyard, on the outskirts of Amboise. He is the fifth generation to tend to its vines. As we walk out into the Sauvignon Blanc and Côt vineyards, dotted with fabulous metal sculptures from a local artist, Damien told us his tale.

While he once dreamed of becoming an airline pilot, the call of the vines eventually won out. Or perhaps it was fate intervening. In any event, the decision to pursue a winemaking degree proved a good one, as it was during his studies in Bordeaux that he met Coralie, his future wife and partner at the estate.

The pair travelled to California and South Africa for winemaking vintages before settling in the Loire. Damien took up the reigns of La Grange Tiphaine in 2002 and Coralie joined him several years later. From the outset, the couple decided to make some significant changes.

In the late 2000s, the estate was converted to organic and then biodynamic viticulture. Each of their over 50 vineyard plots in the Touraine, Touraine-Amboise, and Montlouis-Sur-Loire appellations are tended according to their individual needs. Damien detailed years of trial and error, while the team worked to regenerate their soils and hone their biodynamic methods.

“We used to buy compost” said Damien. “We would apply it year after year, at great expense, and see little result. When we started making our own, everything changed”. The estate, now over 16 hectares of estate vineyards, is constantly fine tuning its practices. A few years’ back they stopped ploughing the vines, in favour of simply hoeing under the vines and allowing natural cover crops to grow up between rows, and serve as beneficial mulch once cut back.

After years of combatting punishing spring frosts, Coralie and Damien invested in fixed and mobile wind turbines. According to Damien, within a few short vintages, they had already paid for themselves. “The spring frosts were particularly bad in 2021” he explained. “Many neighbours lost up to 70% of their yields. My losses were less than 30%”.

It is these exacting vineyard practices and investments, that allows La Grange Tiphaine to harness the full potential of their terroir. Bending down in row of newly planted Sauvignon Blanc, Damien shows me the flinty, clay-rich soils. The pale stones absorb heat and reflect it back to the vines, while the clay provides ample sustenance.

These soils and the temperate continental climate permit a range of grapes to thrive, but it is the Côt (aka Malbec) from these Touraine-Amboise vineyards that really interests Damien. “For me, Côt is the finest red grape in our region”. And indeed, his Côt Vieilles Vignes, with its century-old plantings, reveals impressive depth and concentration.

La Grange Tiphaine Wines from Montlouis-sur-Loire. Prime Terroir for Chenin Blanc.

Our conversation led on to the vineyards of Mountlouis-Sur-Loire, home to La Grange Tiphaine’s illustrious Chenin Blanc wines. Long in the shadow of the larger Vouvray appellation on the Loire’s north bank, Montlouis has quietly risen prominence over the past 25 years.

“It is prime Chenin Blanc terroir with a fascinating mosiac of flint, sand, silt, clay, and limestone soils” explains Damien. This diversity, coupled with varying vine orientations and mesoclimates allows Montlouis to produce six different styles of wine from the Chenin Blanc grape: dry (sec), off-dry (demi-sec), medium sweet (moelleux), sweet – botrytised or not (liquoreux), traditional method sparkling wines, and pétillant naturel.

This final wine style, officially termed Pétillant Originel, is a recent addition to the Montlouis-sur-Loire appellation charter, in no small part thanks to Damien. When Montlouis trailblazer François Chidaine relinquished his position as president of the appellation, Damien took up the role.

Considered one of the most dynamic appellations in the Loire, Montlouis is highly regarded for its commitment to sustainable vineyard practices. It is also the site of a recently launched annual event “Montlouis On the Rock”; an international Chenin Blanc celebration in the same vein as South Africa’s former Swartland Revolution.

Tasting the 2020 vintage of La Grange Tiphaine Wines

I could happily have tasted every wine in Damien’s wide range of estate and négociant wines but alas the church bells were soon to ring, calling us away. Instead, we focused on a handful of the 2020 vintage wines, starting with the parcels we had walked, and ending with a study of Montlouis Chenin Blanc from sparkling to late harvest.

The majority of cuvées have names with musical connotations. While wine is one of the couple’s great passions, music is certainly another equally important love. Damien plays clarinet and Coralie is an accomplished singer. In fact, she was in the process of recording an album during our visit.

La Grange Tiphaine “Quatre Main” Touraine AOC 2020 – 91pts. PW

Estate Sauvignon Blanc with intriguing smoky notes mingling with lemon, yellow plum, and elderflower hints on the nose. The palate is crisp, juicy, and amply proportioned with concentrated flavours of apricot, exotic spice, and fresh cut herbs. Finishes fresh and dry.

La Grange Tiphaine “Bécarre” Touraine 2020 – 92pts. PW

The Cabernet Franc vines for this cuvée are grown on a southwest facing plot of red clay and flint soils. Initially restrained, with aromas and flavours of violet, dark cherry, and smoked meat developing with aeration. The palate is brisk and moderately firm, with fresh, chalky tannins on the long, minty finish.

La Grange Tiphaine “Clef du Sol” Rouge Touraine 2020 – 94pts PW

This is the red counterpart to the estate’s flagship white; a blend of 65% Côt and 35% Cabernet Franc. The vines are situated in a cooler area to the Bécarre, with more clay-rich soils. The nose is seductive with its complex array of earthy, dark plum, cassis, and peony aromas. Firm and full-bodied, with prominent tannins – ripe, and ever so slightly grippy. Already harmonious, but still youthful. Will benefit from a few years’ cellaring.

La Grange Tiphaine Côt Vieilles Vignes Touraine-Amboise 2020 – 94pts PW

This Vieilles Vignes cuvée richly merits its name, with vines up to 140 years of age gracing the blend. This is a pure Côt, inky purple in colour and equally dense and brooding on the palate. Heady prune and cassis aromas overlay hints of eaux-de-vie, truffle, and balsamic notes. A ripe, muscular wine balanced by lively acidity that lengthens the finish nicely. Another red for the cellar, with a very long life ahead (10 years +).

La Grange Tiphaine “Nouveau Nez” Pétillant Originel Montlouis-sur-Loire NV – 92pts PW

I have enjoyed many a pét-nat for their light, lively, easy-drinking charm but have rarely found much complexity in this category. This Chenin Blanc was a revelation, with its fragrant baking spice, stone fruit, and floral aromas. The palate is similarly styled, with a rounded, creamy mid-palate, vibrant mousse, and fresh finish. Lip-smackingly good!

La Grange Tiphaine “Clef du Sol” Blanc Montlouis-sur-Loire 2020 – 95pts. PW

The 2020 vintage didn’t disappoint. Notes of chamomile, ripe lemon, and yellow apple are lifted by an underlying core of savoury, subtly nutty nuances. The palate is initially nervy and taut, but swiftly broadens, giving way to a textural, layered mid-palate. Finishes dry, with lingering lemon, yellow fruit, and earthy notes.

La Grange Tiphaine “Les Grenouillères” Blanc Montlouis-sur-Loire 2020 – 93pts. PW

A medium sweet iteration of late harvest Chenin Blanc with intense aromas of raw honey, white flowers, and spice. The palate is suave and rounded, with juicy apricot and yellow peach flavours, that lingers on the finish well balanced by lively acidity.

La Grange Tiphaine “Buisson Viau” Blanc Montlouis-sur-Loire 2020 – 94pts. PW

Opens to the same perfumed notes as Les Grenouillères, but this later harvested cuvée raisins on the vine, giving a fullness and opulent sweetness that sings against the vibrant citrussy acidity. Stone and tropical fruit flavours linger, underscored by earthy bass notes.

What does VW, PW, LW mean in my scores for La Grange Tiphaine wines? Check out my wine scoring system.

To purchase La Grange Tiphaine wines in North America, inquire with agents/importers: Vins Balthazard (Québec), Context Wines (Ontario), VineArts (Alberta), Jenny & François (USA).

Education Reviews

How to Buy More Sustainable Wine? Consider the Packaging.

HOW TO BUY MORE SUSTAINABLE WINE

Making eco-responsible purchasing decisions is a daunting task. I can’t count how many times I have found myself frozen, deer-in-the-headlights style, mid-aisle of a grocery store or wine shop pondering competing green claims.

Where wine is concerned, buying certified organic might seem like the obvious solution. However, there is quite a lot more to consider when looking for the product with the lowest possible carbon footprint. Scroll down to the end for a short form video version of this article. 

According to International Wineries for Climate Action, wine packaging and transport to market account for over 40% of their member wineries’ climate emissions. Environmental impact studies from retailers, wine regions, and researchers across the globe agree that these two areas are by far the biggest contributors to a wine’s carbon footprint.

Most wine is packaged and shipped in glass bottles. Glass wine bottles have been used for thousands of years. They are sturdy, transparent, inert, and neutral. These latter two qualities make glass the preferred vessel for fine wines, as it best preserves wine aromas and flavours over time. Glass bottles are also reusable and infinitely recyclable.

Photo credit: iStockphoto.com

But glass has a few major problems. New glass bottles are incredibly energy intensive to manufacture. Sand melts to form glass at a whopping 17 hundred degrees Celsius (the same temperature a space shuttle reaches as it re-enters earth’s atmosphere). The energy source for most of these furnaces is natural gas combustion.

Starting with recycled glass obviously lowers carbon footprint substantially, but glass recycling temperatures are also very high. And, while glass recycling rates are impressive across much of northern Europe, many of the world’s most populous nations, like the US, have disappointing track records.

According to a 2018 US Environmental Protection Agency study, only a quarter of glass containers used for consumer goods in America are recycled. The majority end up buried in landfills. This shortcoming is attributed to poorly designed, single stream collection systems in many states, resulting in improper sorting, mixing of glass formats, and glass shatter.

Glass wine bottles are also very heavy. Over the past decade there has been a growing move to lighter weight bottles, with major retailers like the LCBO, championing the cause. However,  many producers still feel compelled to package their best wines in bottles weighing up to a kilo or more.

Graphic source: LCBO (Lightweight Glass Bottle Program: mandatory  for wines under $16 retail)

The weight of glass bottles, and their shape (tapered at the neck, meaning lots of wasted space in packing), equate to high carbon emissions during marine and overland transport.

At the 2020 Porto Protocol Climate Change Conference, climate change expert Dr. Richard Smart cited Australian studies on wine carbon emissions from the vineyard to the end consumer. The research indicated that, “export of wine in glass bottles, their transport and limited recycling had the largest carbon footprint (68%)”.

So, what is an eco-conscience wine lover to do? Well, if you live in Sweden, you drink your wine from a box.

In a recent Master of Wine packaging sustainability seminar, Ulf Sjödin MW, head of category management at the nation’s wine retailer Systembolaget, indicated that 59% of their wines are now sold in bag-in-box.

The format has long been popular in Scandinavia, notably for its convenient size and shape but also for its eco values. A joint lifecycle assessment analysis commissioned in 2010, and updated in 2018, by Sweden, Norway, and Finland’s liquor monopolies, revealed that wines in boxes, pouches, and tetrapak cartons have the lowest carbon footprint and least climate impacts per litre.

Graphic source: Alko (boxed wine not featured but calculated at 70 g CO2 e/L)

Wine boxes, pouches, and PET bottles require far less energy to manufacture than glass. They are also significantly lighter formats. An empty PET bottle weighs up to ten times less  than the same volume glass bottle (of 560 grams). Formats like wine boxes, cartons, and pouches are very compact, another integral aspect in lowering their carbon footprint during transport. Finally, these formats are far less breakable than glass, limited product waste.

I realize that the idea of buying wine in a box, a plastic bottle, or a can may seem like sacrilege to many. Environmental benefits aside, wine quality in these formats hasn’t been that great historically. The wines were generally mass-produced, uninteresting wines with very limited shelf lives.

Improper filling of bag-in-box wines often led to premature oxidation issues. Previous generation PET bottles suffered high oxygen ingress levels and were thus dosed with far higher sulphur levels (than glass bottle wines) to ward off spoilage.

Happily, both the quality of wines packed in alternative formats, and the technology of these containers, have come a long way. PET bottles are now multi-layered with oxygen barriers and scavengers. Sulphur additions have come down dramatically and shelf life is much higher (up to 18 months, depending on the initial wine quality).

Aluminium cans are energy intensive to produce, like glass, but they are highly recyclable. More importantly, of beverage containers, they are reported to have the highest recycling rates world-wide. Most aluminum cans in circulation today are made from significant levels of recycled content. In the US, the average can has 73% recycled content.

The topic of sustainability in wine packaging and transport is a tricky one, with countless variables to consider, and no perfect answers. Today’s bag-in-boxes, pouches, and PET bottles are recyclable, but only to a limited degree, with loss of quality over time. End of life disposal and ensuing micro plastic pollution continues to be a significant concern, though advances in bio-PET and other sustainable materials is on-going.

Glass bottles remain the best way to preserve wine flavour and freshness over time. However, for everyday wines you plan to consume shortly after purchasing, it might be worth considering other wine packaging options.

PET, pouches, and cans make great outdoor wine serving options and many boxed wines will stay fresh for four to six weeks after opening so are great for sipping overtime.

As a parting thought, if you can’t find the wines you love in these alternate formats, try to at least buy lightweight glass bottles. Heavier bottles do not equate to better wines. They are unnecessary and unethical.

If you live in Québec, try this:

C’est dans le Sac, Vin Rouge Bio du Rhône, Pont du Gard IGP (Cave des Vignerons d’Estézargues)

Packaged in a 1.5 litre wine pouch, this red blend from the Rhône Valley has enticing ripe dark plum and cherry aromas interlaced with subtle baking spice notes. The palate is smooth and generously warming, with velvety tannins. Serve slightly chilled. Stays fresh after opening for six weeks.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($29.95)