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Gérard Bertrand Wines & Sizest Stereotypes in Sustainable Wine

Gerard Bertrand Wines
Photo credit: Gérard Bertrand Wines

A couple of months back, I had the pleasure of (virtually) attending a tasting of Gérard Bertrand wines. This flourishing southern French winery possesses a multitude of certifications.  These cover everything from organic conversion, to organics, biodynamics, suitable for vegans, bee-friendly, and no added sulfites.

Listening to Bertrand and his team detail their organic and biodynamic winemaking commitments, I got to thinking. A wealth of misinformation and misunderstanding exists around the concept of sustainable wine.

The Myths & Misrepresentation around Eco-Conscience Wine

Many wine drinkers simply assume that wine, as an agricultural product, is made in an “earth friendly” manner. The notion of chemical herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides sprayed repeatedly on vines during the growing season just doesn’t register. The carbon footprint of winery processes, bottling, packaging, and shipping isn’t considered.

Still other wine enthusiasts draw a black and white line between what they perceive as  “conventional” and “natural” in wine production. For these dogmatists, small is beautiful, big is bad. All medium to large scale wineries producing high volume brands, are lumped into the conventional category. And there is a tacit implication that these mass-producing wineries are all rampant polluters.

Mom & pop wineries, tending their vines by hand, may seem the most worthy model for eco-conscience wine consumers. However, they aren’t always a feasible route to sustainable wine consumption. Firstly, because they don’t produce enough wine for widespread distribution. This means that most wine lovers can’t access them. Secondly, as they lack the economies of scale to produce affordable wines for low to middle income consumers, while themselves remaining profitable.

Big Wineries Making Big Strides for Sustainable Wine

So long as the demand for wine remains high globally, larger wineries are necessary. With that in mind, those making significant efforts to farm in a sustainable manner, and to offset carbon emissions, should be encouraged, not dismissed for their size.

As these larger players embrace change, they force more sluggish competitors to keep up. Just look at the actions of two powerhouse wineries, Familia Torres and Jackson Family Wines. Their efforts to address and redress the impacts of climate change in wine production are laudable. Eco-conscience, high volume companies such as these also do valuable work educating consumers on sustainable wine.

At just over two million bottles produced annually, Gérard Bertrand is hardly a wine-producing giant. And yet, with their numerous branded labels, they would surely be pegged as conventional by many a purist. To me, this is an unfortunate oversimplification.

The Organic Engagement Behind Gérard Bertrand Wines

The engagement shown by Gérard Bertrand wines, in terms of organic, biodynamic, and sustainable practices, can hardly be dismissed as a marketing ploy. The winery has employed organic farming methods for over twenty years. This is well before organic food production captured mainstream attention. What’s more, they have gone the additional step of certifying their practices.

Organic and biodynamic certifications like Agriculture Biologique (AB) and Demeter necessitate a long conversion process, regular audits, and mountains of fastidious paperwork. They oblige adherents to apply their strict rules of adhesion to the letter.

At present, Gérard Bertrand has an impressive 880 hectares of vineyards certified biodynamic or organic, undergoing biodynamic conversion. Bértrand is thus one of the largest organic and biodynamic vineyard owners world-wide. The winery also actively supports their grower partners in the organic transition process.

A Presentation & Tasting of Gérard Bertrand Wines 

Over the course of a morning, Bertrand presented no less than eight different ranges of Gérard Bertrand wines. Each brand/estate espouses one or several facets of sustainable wine production.

Change Sauvignon Blanc, IGP Pays d’Oc 2020 – 87pts. VW

Gérard Bertrand’s Change brand is dedicated to supporting its grower partners in the conversion to organic viticulture. The transition period lasts three years, in which producers must adhere to organic viticultural regulations in readiness for certification. The Change wines are certified Conversion Agriculture Biologique (CAB).

The Change Sauvignon Blanc is a pleasant, every day aromatic white wine with notes of white grapefruit, and chamomile on the nose. The palate is crisp and light bodied, with a dry, citrussy finish.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Naturae Chardonnay, IGP Pays d’Oc 2020 – 88pts. VW

The Naturae range has no added sulphites. In order to produce clean, consistent quality, the grapes are carefully sorted and winery hygiene protocols are meticulously followed. Naturae wines are certified organic and suitable for vegans.

Intense notes of poached pear and apricot feature on the nose. The palate is fresh, medium bodied, and easy drinking, with its smooth texture and lively yellow fruit flavours. Hints of refreshing bitterness frame the finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($18.70)

Cigalus Blanc, IGP Aude Hauterive 2019 – 90pts. PW

The IGP Aude Hauterive is nestled between the southern Massif Central and the Pyrenees. These valley vineyards follow the Aude river and neighbour the Corbières AOC.  Gérard Bertrand wines started their ambitious biodynamic vineyard project here, back in 2002.

The Cigalus white is a Demeter-certified biodynamic white wine blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc. Fermented and aged mainly in French oak, this is a bold, perfumed white with acacia, honey, yellow peach, and toasty oak nuances on the nose. The palate is creamy and textural, with a concentrated core of yellow fruit and vanilla spice. Needs time for the oak flavours to integrate further.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Source of Joy Rosé, Languedoc AOP 2020 – 89pts. PW

Source of Joy is a new entrant in the line up of Gérard Bertrand wines. It is named for a network of natural water sources coursing under the hilly, schist and limestone vineyards that produce this organic Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault blend. This “gastronomic rosé” is made with the saignée method, with no malolactic fermentation (to retain freshness), and partial oak ageing.

Pretty pale pink in colour with a mix of ripe and candied red berry aromas, underscored by hints of vanilla. The palate has a tangy, red fruit driven appeal and an ample, rounded structure. The finish is dry and moderately persistent, with a touch of refreshing bitterness.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Clos du Temple Rosé, Languedoc Cabrières AOP 2019 – 91pts. LW

Clos du Temple is sourced from eight hectares of old vine Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Viognier vineyards in the schist-based Languedoc Cabrières terroir. This is Gérard Bertrand wines’ ultra-premium, Demeter-certified biodynamic rosé, retailing for well over $200 (CAD).

Pale cream rose in colour, with delicate aromas of star anise, fresh herbs, red apple, and stone fruits. The palate is full-bodied and voluptuous, with marked toasty oak and exotic spice flavours overlaying hints of peaches and cream. Moderately firm, almost peppery tannins frame the long finish. Highly complex, but overshadowed by the oak at present. Needs 12 – 18 months’ cellaring to harmonize.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Orange Gold, Vin de France 2020 – 92pts. VW

This organic, orange wine is another new addition for Gérard Bertrand wines. It is made from whole bunch vinification of Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, Mauzac, and Muscat grapes. According to Bertrand, the goal is to create a “structured, rather than tannic white wine, with balanced bitterness”.  For me, this objective was achieved.

Pale amber in colour, with attractive baked apple, clementine peel, and dried floral notes. The palate is fresh, broad, and easy drinking with moderate concentration of earthy, savoury nuances, and an appealing hint of bitter citrus peel on the finish. This is a fantastic introductory wine for orange wine novices.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Change Merlot IGP Pays d’Oc, 2019 – 86pts. VW

This red wine offering from the organic conversion range, Change, has marked herbal flavours underscored by hints of red and black fruits. The palate is medium in body, with a firm, somewhat rustic character and peppery finish.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Pollinat’ Syrah, IGP Cévennes 2019 – 88pts. VW

The Pollinat’ label reflects Gérard Bertrand wines’ commitment to protect bees and other pollinators in the Cévennes region of Southern France. The wine is certified organic and “Bee Friendly”.

Deep purple in colour, with ripe black berry, violet, and green peppercorn aromas on the nose. The palate is fresh, medium in body, and moderately firm with fairly chewy tannins.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Naturae Cabernet Sauvignon, IGP Pays d’Oc 2019 – 87pts. VW

The Naturae Cabernet Sauvignon has no added sulphites, is certified organic, and suitable for vegans. This medium bodied red has smoky, meaty nuances on the nose, mingled with sweet black fruit. The palate is fresh and very firm, with tightly wound tannins. Decant an hour before serving.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Cigalus Rouge, IGP Aude Hauterive 2019 – 92pts. PW

The biodynamic Cigalus red wine is a blend of Syrah, Merlot, Caladoc, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre, and Carignan. Its bold character is an able reflection of the region’s sundrenched Mediterranean climate. The Syrah and Carignan are whole-bunch vinified, while all other varieties are destemmed. Ageing takes place in 100% new French barrels for just over one year.

Dark and brooding, with intense aromas and flavours of sweet blue and black fruit, cigar box, cloves, black pepper, dark chocolate, and violets . The palate is firm and highly concentrated with notable, yet well-integrated, cedar oak nuances. Finishes long and pleasantly warming. Excellent ageing potential; 10 years+.

Clos d’Ora, Minervois la Livinière AOP 2017 – 94pts. LW

Clos d’Ora is perhaps the crowning jewel of Gérard Bertrand wines. This walled, nine hectare biodynamic vineyard sits at an altitude of 220 metres, on a mix of chalk, sandstone, and marl soils. Vineyard work is entirely manual, using horse-drawn ploughs. The vineyards are certified biodynamic.

The Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, and Mourvèdre grapes destined for Clos d’Ora are vinified separately in concrete, and then aged one year in new French barrels and an additional year in bottle.

This is an incredibly dense, powerful red wine with fragrant aromas of cassis, black cherry, and plum, underscored by black olive, dark licorice, and dried provençal herbs. The palate is tightly woven, with spicy oak and ripe dark fruit flavours on the concentrated core. The tannins are bold, yet velvety; lingering on the persistent finish. Decant at least one to two hours before serving, chill slightly, and serve with a great big steak.

 (What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to decode the scores for Gérard Bertrand wines).

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Why You Need to Taste Hawkes Bay Chardonnay

Hawkes Bay Chardonnay
Photo credit: Sacred Hill Wine

Picture a crisp, steely, cool climate style of Chardonnay. Now, dial up the fruit ripeness several notches. Add a little more mid-palate weight and richness. Et voila, you have the basic outline of Hawkes Bay Chardonnay.

Hawkes Bay is the oldest wine producing area in New Zealand. Located on the eastern coast of the North Island, the region extends inwards from the South Pacific coast. With its abundant sunshine and temperate climate moderated by cooling maritime breezes, Hawkes Bay produces voluptuous wines with bright acidity.

With just over 5000 hectares planted, the region accounts for 13% of the country’s total acreage (second only in size to the mighty Marlborough). Best known for its Merlot-led red blends and Chardonnay, Hawkes Bay is also gaining critical acclaim for its Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris.

The vineyards of Hawkes Bay cover a large and highly varied terrain arching 350 km along the South Pacific coast and sprawling inwards across a land contoured over thousands of years by four major rivers.

  • The Coastal Areas, prized for their chiselled Chardonnay and aromatic Pinot Noir, have a distinctly maritime climate and long growing season.
  • The Hillsides offer a range of altitudes and orientations. They are mainly planted to red varieties, with some particularly favourable limestone-rich sites.
  • The Alluvial Plains are diverse in soil type and plantings. The Gimblett Gravels sub-zone, particularly revered for its Merlot blends, boast gravelly soils with excellent drainage.
  • The River Valleys provide diverse, yet generally warm, sheltered growing conditions.
  • Central Hawkes Bay is a cooler, inland sub-region with altitudes reaching 300 metres. Aromatic white grapes like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, as well as Pinot Noir, are popular here.

Hawkes Bay may seem an insignificant wine region in global terms. However, the quality of its Chardonnay is ample proof that New Zealand is far more than a one trick (aka Sauvignon Blanc) pony. It was this thinking that led the Hawkes Bay Winegrowers Association to create a Hawkes Bay Chardonnay Collection to send out to wine critics around the world.

In order to select the 12 Hawkes Bay Chardonnays to include in the pack, Master Sommelier Cameron Douglas was called into action. He blind tasted over 50 of the region’s best Chardonnays with the view to selecting the best possible cross-section of styles, prices, and terroir.

The 2019 growing season was deemed “extraordinary” by local growers. Hot, sunny days and cool evenings blessed the period leading up to harvest. This allowed estates to pick according to their optimal timelines, resulting in wines praised for their pristine fruit quality and vibrant acidity.

This was indeed the impression I had after tasting the range. The majority offered vivid, ripe fruit flavours and weighty structures balanced by lively acidity. The best of the bunch are already quite approachable, with harmoniously integrated oak. They also possess the freshness and concentration to age well over the moderate term.

Curious to try a Hawkes Bay Chardonnay? Here are my notes on the 12 wines sampled.

Hawkes Bay Chardonnay Pack

Photo credit: Hawkes Bay Winegrowers Association

(What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to decode the scores for these week-end wine recommendations):

Cooper’s Creek ‘The Limeworks’ Select Vineyards Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 89pts. PW

Intense notes of pineapple, ripe lemon, and red apple on the nose. The palate is tangy and bright, with medium body, a smooth texture, and attractive flavours of lemon curd and vanilla spice. Great value!

Price: NZ $25.00 at the winery

Monowai ‘Upper Reaches’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 88pts. PW

A fragrant white, with heady notes of honeydew melon and underlying floral, spice hints. Fresh and rounded on the soft palate with candied fruit flavours and subtle vanilla spice on the finish.

Price: NZ $35.00 at the winery

Collaboration Wines ‘Aurulent’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 91pts. PW

An attractive nose, with complex aromas of orange blossoms, lemon curd, tropical fruit, and underlying spicy oak nuances. Mouthwatering acidity on the palate gives nice vibrancy and lift to this full-bodied, moderately concentrated white. Toasty, crême caramel notes linger on the finish.

Price: NZ $35.00 at the winery

Tony Bish ‘Heartwood’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 88pts. PW

Tempting aromas of orchard fruit and anis, mingle with hints of marzipan and butterscotch on the nose. Fairly tightly wound on the palate, with brisk acidity, a firm, full-bodied structure, and subtle phenolic edge. Cellar for two to three years, or decant before serving.

Price: NZ $35.00 at the winery

Pask Winery ‘Declaration’ Chardonnay Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 89pts. PW

Initially restrained, with white floral notes, red apple, and herbal nuances developing with aeration. A taut, racy attack gives way to a creamy, medium weight mid-palate with overt toasty, vanilla oak flavours and orchard fruit on the finish.

Price: NZ $45.00 at the winery

Clearview Estate Winery ‘Reserve’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 91pts. PW

Enticing aromas of white blossoms, anise, apricot and stony mineral hints feature on the complex nose. The palate is initially crisp and taut, then deepens to reveal a subtle creaminess on the medium weight core. A touch of salinity and lively acidity lift and balance the spiced oak finish.

Price: NZ $45.00 at the winery

Askerne Wines ‘The Archer’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 90pts. PW

A temptingly ripe nose offering aromas of yellow pear, red apple, and raw honey. A Mâcon lookalike in terms of its fresh acidity, rounded structure, and sun-kissed, fruity flavours mingled with subtle toasted oak nuances. Finishes warm yet smooth.

Price: NZ $50.00 at the winery

Sacred Hill ‘Rifleman’s’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 94pts. LW

Flinty mineral notes add wonderful nuance to the pretty chamomile, lemon, and yellow apple aromas on the nose. The palate is elegantly constructed; crisp, full-bodied, and subtly creamy with flavours of brioche, orchard fruit, and subtle vanilla spice. Long and layered.

Price: NZ $70.00 at the winery

Elephant Hill ‘Salomé’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 94pts. LW

Heady notes of ripe lemon, red apple, quince, brioche, and spice fairly leap from the glass. The palate offers fine balance between its tangy acidity, full body, and concentrated core of juicy orchard and stone fruit flavours. Enticing gooseberry notes mingle with saline hints and well-integrated toasty oak nuances on the finish.

Price: NZ $75.00 at the winery

Villa Maria ‘Keltern’ Single Vineyard Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 90pts. LW

Overt lime cordial aromas overlay white blossoms and stony mineral hints on the fragrant nose. The palate is full-bodied, with striking acidity and a concentrated, textural core. Finishes on zesty notes of citrus mingled with spicy oak.

Price: NZ $80.00 at the winery

Bilancia ‘Tiratore’, La Collina Vineyard Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 88pts. LW

Discreet lemon, lime aromas mingle with yellow apple and floral hints on the nose. The palate is crisp and medium weight, with bright, fruity flavours, and a warming, toasty finish.

Price: NZ $90.00 at the winery

Church Road ‘Tom McDonald’ Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 – 92pts. LW

A flinty nose, with delicate notes of white fleshed fruit, chamomile, and fresh almond developing over time. The palate is racy and firm, with notable weight and depth of flavour, ably balancing the vibrant acidity and lingering spicy, butterscotch flavours.

Price: NZ $150.00 at the winery

 

 

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TIS THE SEASON FOR CANADIAN SPARKLING WINE

Canadian Sparkling Wine

The Canadian sparkling wines produced today are a far cry from the bad old days of Baby Duck. Quality sparkling wine producers are cropping up from Nova Scotia to British Columbia at an impressive rate. And what really sets Canadian sparkling wine apart, in this wine taster’s humble opinion, is the exceptional quality/price ratio the best of these bubblies has to offer.

I first discovered the breadth of fine Canadian sparkling wine at a Vancouver Wine Festival tasting back in 2016 or 2017. I had been living abroad for over 10 years and hadn’t had much occasion to drink Canadian wine. I went into the tasting eager to champion local efforts but laden with scepticism from a decade spent immersing myself in Old World wines.

I came away pleasantly surprised with the quality and range, but also the competitiveness of prices. Many well crafted, easy-drinking traditional method wines, aged 18 – 24 months on lees, were under $30.00 (Canadian). Top cuvées aged four years or longer on lees, with excellent depth, textural appeal, and complexity of primary, autolytic, and the first nuances of tertiary flavours were almost all under $45.00. When one considers that even the most unremarkable of entry level Champagnes costs at least $50.00, Canadian sparkling wine seems doubly attractive.

As a judge for the National Wine Awards of Canada, I was able to take a more analytical approach – blind tasting Canadian wines of all styles and colours from Nova Scotia, Québec, Ontario, and BC. What emerged was a sentiment first suggested to me by Janet Dorozynski, Trade Commissioner for Canadian Wine, Beer and Spirits and Tourism. While different grape varieties and wine styles excel in different provinces and growing regions, the one common denominator to all of Canada’s wine-producing areas is sparkling wine. Not just the fact that they all make it, but that it is of consistent high quality across the country.

I spent much of 2020 writing a Masters of Wine thesis on how to further define and/or strengthen the regional identity of Ontario wine (available for download here). The initial hypothesis was that a signature grape or type of wine was necessary to build a reputation. Over time, given the marked differences in soil composition, topography, and mesoclimate from one site to another, coupled with individual winery preferences, it became clear that the province couldn’t and wouldn’t rally around one grape. However, they could make their name for a climate-related style of wine from a restrained number of grapes, backed by a shared philosophy and high quality commitment.

All this to say that, while I think Canada makes noteworthy sparkling wine from coast to coast, getting all regions to agree to fly this one banner (as England has done) may not prove possible. It is heartening however, to see so many Canadian wine experts writing about our local fizz.

Another thing that my research showed me was how little Canadian (with the exception of BC’s loyal consumers) support their provincial wine industries. Time after time, wineries’ interviewed mentioned the struggles they faced getting locals to try their wines, and the naked surprise on said consumers’ faces when they discovered they were good!

So, with that in mind dear Canadian readers, I invite you to try a Canadian sparkling wine (or three) this holiday season. Your taste buds and pocket books will thank you.

In preparing this article, I reached out to local agents in Québec to taste a wide range of Canadian sparkling wine samples. The below suggestions represent the best from this tasting. There are so many more excellent sparkling wine names to look for. These selections were made in consultation with several top Canadian wine critics.

NOVA SCOTIA

Lightfoot & Wolfville

Located in the Annapolis Valley along the shores of the Bay of Fundy, Lightfoot & Wolfville is without a doubt one of Nova Scotia’s premiere sparkling wine producers. There is an almost electric vibrancy about their sparkling wines, that somehow manage to be racy, taut and fairly dry without any trace of austerity.

The 2014 Blanc de Blancs Brut is searing and precise, with vivid lemon zest, green apple, and ginger snap flavours. The palate is ultra-sleek with fine, persistent bubbles, and that signature salty tang that lifts the finish. Long, with a very harmonious brut dosage. 100% Chardonnay, aged 4 years + on its fine lees. 93pts. PW ($39.13 at the winery)

Benjamin Bridge

The Gaspereau Valley, a 12km expanse within the larger Annapolis Valley, is a coastal terroir whose breezy, maritime climate is defined by the dramatic, shifting tides of the Bay of Fundy. This moderating factor, coupled with south-facing vineyards allow for long, slow, full ripening, all while retaining racy, natural acidity.

The black label Benjamin Bridge NV Brut offers consistent good value for its $27.95 price. A blend of locally popular hybrid grape l’Acadie Blanc with Chardonnay, the NV Brut is zesty and bright, with clean, citrussy flavours, vigorous bubbles, and a dry, mineral-tinged finish. 89pts. PW ($27.95 at the winery).

Benjamin Bridge Brut Réserve 2012: Aged 5 years on its lees, this blend of 65% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Meunier is pure, hedonistic pleasure on the palate. Expressive notes of baker’s yeast, biscuits, lemon, yellow apple, and white blossoms on the nose. The palate is a shape shifter: racy and taut at the outset, broad, creamy, and textural on the mid-palate, with delicate, persistent bubbles. Finishes long and layered. Spectacular! 94pts. LW ($74.50 at the winery)

Other Nova Scotia sparkling wines worth discovering:

Blomidon Blancs de Blanc, l’Acadie Vineyards Prestige Brut, Avondale Sky Blanc de Noirs

QUEBEC

La Seigneurie de Liret

La Seigneurie de Liret is family-run, organic winery located near Québec City on the picturesque Île d’Orléans. The Demers family, experts in the field of industrial insulation, took a novel approach to protecting their vinifera vines over winter. Concerned about the possible thermal swings under geotextiles, they decided to create insulated coverings to maintain consistent, mild temperatures throughout Québec’s frosty winters. These vine blankets have allowed them to successfully grow Vitis vinifera sparkling wine varieties: Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay.

Aged several years on its fine lees, the Nuage Effervescent cuvée is initially restrained. With aeration attractive white blossoms, red apple, biscuit, and baking spice hints develop. Racy acidity, very fine, soft bubbles, and a taut, elegant structure. Finishes bone dry with a twist of refreshing bitterness. 91pts. PW (enquire with winery for price & sales locations).

Domaine St. Jacques

Domaine St. Jacques is a stalwart of the Québec wine industry.  Located a quick drive from Montréal in the Montérégie region, the estate produces a wide range of still and sparkling white, rosé, and red wines from both winter hardy hybrid grapes and Vitis vinifera varieties.

Domaine St. Jacques Brut Rosé is composed of equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (protected over winter with custom-made geotextile vine coverings). The nose is initially quite shy, revealing delicate cranberry, red apple, savoury herbal notes, and just a hint of brioche after a couple of minutes in the glass. Crisp and taut on the palate, with fine mousse and a nice balance of tangy red fruit and subtly creamy texture. Finishes crisp and dry. 90pts. PW ($34.95 at the winery)

Léon Courville

Former professor and banker Léon Courville took a leap of faith some twenty years ago and planted a vineyard on a hillside facing Lake Brôme in Québec’s Eastern Townships. Léon & his wife Anne-Marie Lemire have since grown the estate to 40 acres. They produce a wide range of still and sparkling wines from both Vitis vinifera and hybrid varieties.

The Muse St. Pépin Brut is made from the early ripening , North American hybrid grape St. Pépin. Aged 15 months on its lees, Muse has an intriguing nose, with ripe yellow fruits giving way to fresh almonds, herbal nuances, and hints of brioche. Vigorous mousse and crisp acidity on the palate, with notable mid-palate depth. Finishes dry and subtly savoury. 88pts. PW ($36.00 at the winery).

Other Québec sparkling wines to seek out:

Domaine Bergeville L’integrale Extra Brut NV, Domaine du Nival “Ces Petits Imprevus”, Pigeon Hill

ONTARIO

Hinterland

Prince Edward County star Hinterland Wine Company specializes in sparkling wine of all methods from ancestral, to charmat, to traditional method. While I have enjoyed many a Hinterland bubbly, the traditional method wines are where they really shine.

Les Etoiles 2016, a blend of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay, aged 36 months on lees, is precise and elegant, with racy acidity, fine bubbles, and excellent depth of digestive biscuit, sweet spice, vibrant citrus, and orchard fruit flavours. Finishes dry, yet not austere. Recently disgorged, bottled in small batches. 94pts. PW (an absolute steal for $39.75 at the winery).

***Also worth purchasing from Hinterland:

  • Rosé 2016 (85% Pinot Noir/15% Chardonnay, disgorged July 2020)- $39
  • Blanc de Blancs (currently out of stock but watch for it, really vinous, taut & elegant)
  • Sacrament (an even split of Pinot & Chardonnay, aged 60 months on lees, with layer upon layer of brioche, nutty, honeyed flavours ably balanced by vivid freshness – sadly also out of stock)

Flat Rock Cellars

Located at the top of Niagara’s Twenty Mile Bench, Flat Rock Cellars is well known for its affordable, approachable styles of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling. Much to his mother’s initial dismay, owner Ed Madronich chooses to bottle his sparkling wines with crown caps.

Recent laboratory analyses of lots of the same sparkling wine bottled under crown cap and under cork revealed a fresher, more fruit forward expression in aged crown cap sparkling wines. Read more about Flat Rock Cellars’ myriad wine experiments here.

Flat Rock Cellars “Riddled” Sparkling 2017: Pleasantly open on the nose with ripe fruited notes of yellow apple, apricot, and honeyed hints. Crisp and lively on the palate, with firm, persistent bubbles, medium body, and a rounded, delicately creamy texture. Finishes dry, with bright apply flavours and intriguing hints of baker’s yeast. 89pts. PW ($35.15 at the winery).

Flat Rock Cellars “Crowned” Sparkling Brut Rosé 2015 is made from 100% Pinot Noir aged 42 months on lees. Pretty pale pink in colour, with attractive aromas of pomegranate, baking spice, and red grapefruit, with subtle underlying earthiness. Zippy acidity lifts the fine, persistent mousse, and light, delicately fruited palate. Finishes dry, with tangy red fruit notes. 91pts. PW ($45.20 at the winery)

Rosehall Run

The wines of Rosehall Run embrace the piercing acidity so common in Prince Edward County wines, balancing its vigour with a rare purity of fruit and silkiness of texture that sets them apart. They produce some of my favourite County Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay. They also make a particularly elegant Blanc de Blancs traditional method sparkling wine called Ceremony.

Rosehall Run “Ceremony” Blanc de Blancs NV is a 100% Chardonnay. Tempting aromas of shortbread, ripe lemon, yellow orchard fruits, and white floral hints arrive in orderly succession on the nose. The palate is initally taut and racy, with bright, vigorous bubbles. The mid-palate broadens and deepens with zesty fruit and biscuit flavours. Finishes bone dry, yet without austerity. 92pts. PW ($36.00 at the winery)

***Also worth purchasing from Rosehall Run:

  • Pét Nat: I have tasted a lot of lacklustre Pét Nats recently…earthy, sour, lacking depth, and personality…so I have become somewhat wary. This was a very pleasant surprise. Bursting with juicy rhubarb flavours, soft, rounded bubbles, and bright acidity, this is a wonderfully refreshing, light, easy-drinking rosé sparkler.

Cave Spring Cellars

This Niagara winery is one of Ontario’s finest, notably prized for their high quality Riesling wines. Their precise NV Blanc de Blancs is made from VQA Beamsville Bench, estate-grown Chardonnay (95%) and Riesling (5%). Vibrant lemon, orchard fruit, and bread dough notes on the nose. The palate is clean and precise, with sleek bubbles, and tangy apple flavours, that give way to a dry, subtly nutty finish. 91pts. PW ($27.95 at the winery).

Jackson Triggs

Entourage Grande Réserve Brut 2016. Very ripe, almost Californian style of traditional method sparkling, with overt poached pear, crême caramel, and brioche notes on the nose. The palate is broad and smooth, though slightly lean structurally, with rounded bubbles, and toasty, patisserie flavours. 87pts. PW ($29.95 at Wine Rack).

Other Excellent Ontario Sparkling Wines:

13th Street Premier Cuvée, Henry of Pelham “Cuvee Catherine” Carte Blanche, Trius Showcase Blanc de Blancs NV, Two Sisters Blanc de Franc, Hidden Bench Blanc de Blancs

BRITISH COLUMBIA

Fitzpatrick Winery

A family-run winery with a long farming background (dating back to 1913) in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. Fitzpatrick’s vineyards are located mid-way between Peachland and Summerland, on a bend in the lake between the north and central parts of the valley where hot summer days are tempered by Lake Okanagan to the east, giving cool climate crisp acidity and light body, but ample, ripe orchard fruit flavours.

The Fitz Brut 2016 is roughly 2/3 Chardonnay, with Pinot Noir and a dash of Pinot Meunier. It is aged 24 months on its lees. Attractive yellow apple, brioche, and nutmeg aromas on the nose. The palate is light and racy, with a subtle creamy, leesy expression and a very dry, slightly savoury finish. 89pts. PW. ($32.99 at the winery)

The top tier of Fitz sparkling wines are the three Réserve wines: a Blanc de Blancs, a Blanc de Noirs, and a rosé. I have not had the pleasure, but have it on good authority that these wines are excellent.

Sperling Vineyards

Four generations of Sperlings have tended the family’s mineral-rich slopeside vineyards east of Kelowna, in the Okanagan Valley. Best known for their organic and biodynamically farmed aromatic varieties like Riesling and Pinot Gris, the estate also produces a couple of interesting sparkling wines.

The 2019 Speritz pét nat cuvée is delightfully refreshing, with vibrant aromas of apricot, poached pear, and hoppy IPA type nuances. This fizz is subtle and smooth on the palate, with tangy yellow fruit flavours and earthy, savoury undertones. Finishes dry and light, with just 8.4% alcohol…great for a “sensible” weeknight tipple. 88pts. PW ($30.00 at the winery).

***Also worth trying from Sperling vineyards:

  • Guy Lafleur “60” Brut – a 100% Pinot Blanc aged 60 months on lees, scored 92pts. by Treve Ring, GismondiOnWine.com

Other BC sparkling wines to have on your radar: 

Blue Mountain Blanc de Blancs, Bella Brut Reserve Nature Oliver West Side, Tantalus Old Vines Riesling Brut, Sumerhill Pyramid Winery Cipes Brut

(What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to decode the scores for these week-end wine recommendations):

 

Education Reviews Wines

2019 VINTAGE BURGUNDY: AN EN PRIMEUR TASTING

2019 Vintage Burgundy

Each growing season is a new beginning for wine producers. In marginal climates ripening can be challenging, and hazards like frost, hail, and fungal disease lurk at every turn. With this in mind, stellar years, like the 2019 vintage Burgundy recently experienced, are to be treasured.

After a mild winter, cool weather set in over spring, with April frost episodes – notably in the Mâconnais region- threatening the crop. The unseasonably chilly conditions lasted through June leading to uneven flowering and fruit set in certain sectors. The thermostat shot up in July and August, with spells of extreme heat leading to sunburnt grapes and hydric stress in many vineyards. Harvest came early, with a small crop of ripe, compact grapes. Despite the season’s challenges, 2019 vintage Burgundy is being hailed by many critics as highly promising.

According to the Bureau interprofessionnel des vins de Bourgogne (BIVB), the overall yield of 2019 vintage Burgundy was some 15% below average, at 1.23 million hectoliters. The low volume and reports of universally high quality across all regions and wine styles will likely equate to rising Burgundy prices once again. While this is bad news for Burgundy lovers, these ripe vintages result in excellent quality wines from less prestigious appellations. Read more on this here.

Surprisingly, given the prolonged summer heat waves and drought episodes, the 2019 vintage Burgundy report from the BIVB speaks of vibrant acidity levels from Chablis down to the Mâconnais, ably balancing ripe fruit flavours and rich, textural palates.

Curious to taste such a vaunted vintage, for both white and red wines, across the vast expanse of the Burgundy region, I gladly accepted an offer of en primeur samples from Bourgogne de Vigne en Verre. This group of 35 wine producers from Chablis to Mâcon, have joined forces to jointly promote their wines at home and abroad.

The 36 bottles of 2019 vintage Burgundy arrived cleverly packaged in 20mL single serving formats. After letting them rest for a few days, I sat down with my favourite oenologist (aka my husband) and we got down to tasting.

Bourgogne Vigne Verre 2019

Overall, we found that the 2019 vintage Burgundy wines showed real appellation typicity despite/alongside a ripe, fragrant fruit-forward style. On the whole, the wines were fresh, densely structured, and quite concentrated on the palate. For the most part, the red wines had ripe, approachable tannins with the best showing a tempting, almost chocolatey appeal. Some evidence of warming alcohol, freshness fading on the finish, and chewy tannins was also found in less successful examples.

In true Burgundian fashion, here are my 2019 vintage Burgundy tasting notes – red wines followed by whites:

RED WINES

Côte Chalonnaise

Domaine Meix-Foulot Mercurey 1er Cru “Clos de Château de Montague” : Moderately intense aromas of ripe raspberry, morello cherries, and hints of spice. Brisk and taut on the palate, with rustic savoury flavours underlying bright red berries. Faintly chewy tannins on the short finish. 86pts.

Domaine Meix-Foulot Mercurey 1er Cru “Les Veleys” : Bright red fruit, floral and blackberry hints on the nose. Crisp and somewhat angular on the attack, giving way to a smooth mid-palate, and fine-grained tannins. 87pts.

Domaine Meix-Foulot Merc 1er “Les Saumonts” : More restrained on the nose, with subtle red fruit and barnyard hints emerging with aeration. Similarly styled on the palate – brisk and taut – but with very fine, elongated tannins and a marginally longer finish. 87pts.

Domaine Chofflet Givry 1er Cru “Clos Jus”: High toned red berry, cherry, and marzipan notes on the nose. Lively and light on the palate with a silky texture, moderate depth of ripe dark fruit and kirsch flavours. Finishes smooth and fresh. – 88pts.

Domaine Chofflet Givry 1er Cru “En Choué” : Fragrant floral notes on the nose, with pretty red berry undertones. The palate shows a lovely ripeness of fruit, balanced by bright acidity and firm tannins. 90pts.

Côte de Beaune

Domaine Labry Hautes Côtes De Beaune: Intense aromas of crushed strawberry on the nose. Fresh and rounded, with a soft, short finish. Drink now. 86pts.

Domaine Labry Auxey Duresses: Perfumed notes of prunes, baking spice, and dark berry jam. Initally bright, but with a faintly bitter, hard edge to the baked fruit flavours. Soft tannins. 85pts.

Domaine Edmond Cornu Chorey-Les-Beaune “Les Bons Ores” : Delicate strawberry, cherry, and earthy nuances on the nose. Fresh, precise and firm in structure, with moderate concentration of tangy red berries and nutty flavours. Attractive chalky tannins frame the finish. 89pts.

Domaine Edmond Cornu Aloxe-Corton: Pretty nose featuring ripe black berries, morello cherry, and violets. Brisk and polished on the palate, with juicy black and red fruit flavours well knit with toasty spiced nuances. Silky tannins linger on the finish. 91pts.

Domaine Edmond Cornu Ladoix: Similar to Cornu’s Aloxe on the nose, with a slightly riper, more fruit-forward charm. Medium in body, with a firm texture verging on austere yet balanced by good depth of fruit and ripe tannins with an almost chocolatey sweetness. 90pts.

Domaine Georges Lignier Volnay 1er Cru: Complex, highly perfumed nose of ultra-ripe red fruits, with underlying notes of peony, sweet spice, and dried herbs. Really tangy, vivid acidity on the palate giving way to a silky, medium bodied palate with bright fruit flavours, and a lifted finish. Needs a few years to soften. 92pts.

Domaine Edmond Cornu Ladoix 1er Cru “Le Bois Roussot”: Moderately intense aromas of pomegranate and macerated red cherry, underscored by dark fruit and spice hints.  The palate is fresh, with a concentrated core of sweet red fruit, balanced by lifted, tangy flavours on the finish. Slightly warming, with firm, chewy tannins. 90pts.

Domaine Edmond Cornu Corton-Bressandes Grand Cru: Initally discreet, with complex aromas of morello cherry, orange peel, underbrush, floral nuances, and spice developing with aeration. The palate is fresh and lively, with a weighty core, velvety texture, and ultra-fine, powdery tannins. Elegant, with lingering stony minerality. 95pts.

Côte de Nuits

Domaine Jean Chauvenet Nuits-St-Georges: Intense notes of morello cherry and cassis on the nose, with earthy undertones. Lively on the attack, though somewhat rustic on the mid palate with a certain graininess of texture giving way to dense tannins. Soft fruit and earthy, underbrush nuances on the finish. 86pts.

Domaine Jerôme Chezeaux Vosne-Romanée: Intense, fairly complex aromas of crushed strawberries, morello cherry, marzipan, mixed spice, and violets on the nose. The palate is initially vibrant and suave, with medium body, and concentrated red and black fruit flavours, which become slightly overpowered by cedary oak nuances and somewhat drying tannins on the warming finish.  89pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Vosne-Romanée “Les Barreaux”: this high quality climat sits just above Richebourg. Initially restrained, with a multitude of ripe to macerated red fruits unfurling with aeration, underscored by layers of dried fruit, spice, floral, and nutty aromas. Dense and voluptuous on the palate, with suave rounded tannins, and a fresh, persistent flavourful finish. 93pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Chambolle Musigny “Clos de L’Orme”: Another well situated plot, lying just beneath Les Charmes and Les Plantes. Perfumed notes of morello cherry, dark plum, citrus oil, dried red fruits, and baking spice on the nose. The palate is wonderfully bright, with medium body, and concentrated fruit flavours that mirror the nose. Velvety tannins finish the medium length, marginally warming finish.  92pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Chambolle Musigny “Les Quarante Ouvrées”: Similarly ripe, expressive nose as the “Clos de L’Orme”; slightly more marked by its élévage with toasted, mocha nuances that will likely soften over time. Very silky and textural on the palate, with fine, smooth tannins. Light and elegant. 92pts.

Domaine Philippe Gevrey-Chambertin “Le Meix des Ouches”: out of condition

Domaine Georges Lignier Gevrey-Chambertin: Intense, nuanced nose with layers of marzipan, dark cherry, cassis, violets, and attractive herbal undertones.  Incredibly lively on the palate, with layers of juicy black fruit flavours, quite a firm structure, and ripe, fine-grained tannins. Balanced and long.  92pts.

Domaine Jean Chauvennet Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru “Les Perrières”: Stewed dark cherry and plum notes mingle with undertones of leather, dates, and allspice on the nose. Very firm and brisk on the palate, giving way to a highly concentrated core of dark fruits, savoury notes, and cedar spice. Bold, yet ripe, elongated tannins frame the long, layered finish. Needs a few years’ cellaring to unwind. 91pts.

Domaine Jean Chauvennet Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru “Les Vaucrains”: out of condition

Domaine Jean Chauvennet Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru “Rue de Chaux”: Attractive, highly expressive nose of blackberries, plum, and cassis, with underlying stony minerality and well integrated cedar, spiced nuances.  Firmly structured but generously fruity and polished on the palate, with muscular tannins. Excellent length. 94pts.

Domaine Jean Chauvennet Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru “Les Bousselots”: Quite a different offering than the Rue de Chaux, though equally complex. Macerated red berry and cherry aromas are underscored by kirsch, underbrush, and savoury nuances on the nose. The palate is tightly wound, with mouth watering acidity, and  very firm, yet fine-grained tannins. Needs a good five years + in cellar to soften. 90pts.

Domaine Jerôme Chezeaux Nuits-St-Georges » 1er Cru “Aux Boulots”: Quite restrained on the nose, with ripe black berry and cherry notes, violets, and marzipan notes emerging after a period of aeration. This Nuits really comes in to its own on the vibrant, juicy fruited palate, with its elegant structure, fine-grained tannins, and long, vivid finish. Very harmonious. 94pts.

Domaine Jerôme Chezeaux Vosne Romanée 1er Cru “Les Chaumes”: Highly perfumed, with sweet aromas and flavours of ultra-ripe blackberry, plum, and raspberry, mingled with floral and citrus peel notes. Brisk and firm on attack, deepening on the mid-palate, and finishing taut with densely wound tannins. Needs time to resolve but shows excellent potential. 93pts.

Domaine Georges Lignier Morey St Denis 1er Cru “Clos des Ormes”: Already quite tertiary on the nose, with crushed strawberry notes overshadowed by aromas of prunes, leather, and dried herbs. Fresh on the palate, with both tart and ultra-ripe fruit flavours vying for primacy. Attractive chalky texture and tannins. 89pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Champonnet”: Intense mocha, toasted, nutty aromas, slightly overpowering dark fruit notes. The palate is somewhat angular, with mouth watering acidity, a firm structure, and somewhat lean mid-palate. 88pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “La Romanée”: Ripe red and black berry fruit on the nose, with attractive hints of baking spice, nutty nuances, and subtle florality. Vivid and dense on the palate, with tangy acidity, and a concentrated core of dark fruit. Somewhat rustic, chewy tannins on the medium length finish. 89pts.

Domaine Georges Lignier Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Les Combottes”: Les Combottes is surrounded by illustrious neighbours including grand crus: Mazis-Chambertin and Latricières-Chambertin. This 1er Cru offers restrained cassis and plum notes on the nose. The palate is firm, with animal nuances, and grippy tannins. 87pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Clos Vougeot Grand Cru: Moderately intense notes of marzipan, plum, and dark cherry with animal undertones. Brisk and tightly wound on the palate, with a dense, concentrated structure, and firm, moderately astringent tannins. 87pts.

Domaine Philippe Cheron Charmes-Charmbertin Grand Cru: Discreet on the nose, with mocha, cedar, and spice aromas after aeration. The palate is dense, velvety, and broad, with concentrated, ultra-ripe fruit flavours underlying bold, toasted oak flavours. Firm, somewhat grippy tannins. 88pts.

Domaine Georges Lignier Clos St Denis Grand Cru: Vibrant herbal, blackcurrant bud aromas mingle with red currants and earthy, underbrush nuances on the nose. The palate is quite taut and weighty, with firm, lifted acidity and dense, chewy tannins. 87pts.

Domaine Georges Lignier Clos de la Roche Grand Cru: Fragrant, floral nose with vivid crushed raspberry, morello cherry, and black berry fruit aromas. Over time, mixed spice and citrus oil notes emerge. The palate is lively and firm, with quite a powerful structure, and concentrated flavours. The tannins are grippy and taut on the long finish. Needs time to soften. 90pts.

WHITE WINES

Domaine Labry Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune: Delicate notes of red apple and white blossoms on the nose. The palate is crisp on the attack, giving way to a broad, rounded, supple mid-palate with lingering lactic nuances. Finishes smooth and soft. 86pts.

Domaine Beaufumé Chablis:  Discreet lemony, green apple nose. Light and racy on the palate, with subtle mineral hints. 87pts.

Domaine Chofflet Givry 1er Cru “Les Galaffres”:  Attractive poached pear, red apple, and spiced aromas on the nose. The palate is crisp and very juicy, with a rounded, ultra-smooth appeal. Tangy orchard fruit notes linger on the finish. Harmonious. 90pts.

Domaine de Montarge Montagny 1er Cru “Montorge”: Pretty floral nose, with underlying yellow orchard fruit, and lactic hints. Initially fresh with a supple, creamy mid-palate, and fairly short, somewhat flabby finish. 87pts.

Domaine Labry Auxey Duresses: Vibrant nose featuring ripe lemon, white fleshed orchard fruits, and hints of anis. Searing acidity on the palate leads into a taut, moderately concentrated core, with tangy citrus notes. Finishes fresh with hints of attractive bitterness. 88pts.

Lavantureux Frères Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume: Classic, highly complex aromas of red apple, flint, ripe lemon, white blossoms, and fresh almonds unfurl on the nose. The palate is racy and firm, yet broadens on the mid palate revealing a creamy, textural core with concentrated fruity, mineral flavours. Very precise, elegant, and long. 94pts.

Lavantureux Frères Chablis Bourgros Grand Cru: Ripe, sweet orchard fruit aromas mingle with white peach, anis, and toasted nutty aromas on the powerfully nuanced nose. Crisp acidity lifts the concentrated, layered mid-palate, and underscores vivid yellow fruit and brioche flavours. Smooth and harmonious on the long finish. 95pts.

 

Reviews Wines

WEEK-END WINE RECOMMENDATIONS

week-end wine recommendations
Photo credit: giselaatje (souce: Pixabay)

December is upon us and, here in Québec, the mood is a little bleak. Covid cases are soaring. The government has reversed their decision to allow a confinement break over Christmas and all the usual seasonal events are cancelled. In light of this, week-end wine recommendations are definitely in order.

Even if the holiday spirit seems to have left the building, the smell of a good meal simmering on the stove and the sound of a cork popping can usually lift even the darkest fog. We may be toasting virtually this year, but let’s at least make sure the wine is good.

Drinking less, but better is definitely my mantra these days. As the grey hairs have started to appear (with alarming frequency), I find that I don’t have the tolerance I once had. And there is nothing worse than being confined to your house with two small children and a raging head-ache.

Though I still cringe a little inwardly at words like “mindfulness”, I do find it a useful ideal for wine tasting. You would be amazed at how much more enjoyment you can get from your glass of wine if you take a minute to concentrate fully on its aromas, its flavours, and how it feels on your palate.

Perhaps the lack of chatter from boisterous guests, or rushing around preparing elaborate meals, will allow us the time to really savour our wine, properly listen to a great piece of music, or immerse ourselves in a great book? Or maybe this is just cold comfort…

Either way, a nice glass of wine can’t hurt! So, with that in mind: week-end wine recommendations a plenty. There seems to be a decidedly Western European theme to the samples I have been receiving lately, so the below list is all France, Italy, and Spain.

(What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to decode the scores for these week-end wine recommendations):

Best to Sip while Cooking

Alain Jaume Grand Veneur Côtes du Rhône white 2019 (Rhône Valley, France) – 87pts. VW

The 50% Viognier in this white Rhône blend is evident on the fragrant, floral nose, with underlying apricot aromas. The palate is juicy and smooth, with notes of red apple and spice. Finishes soft and marginally warming but overall a pleasant, easy-drinking wine.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($18.85)

Best for Soft Cheeses

Albert Mann Auxerrois Vieilles Vignes 2018 (Alsace, France) – 89 pts. PW

Auxerrois (aka Pinot d’Auxerrois) is grown widely in Alsace yet might not be as familiar to wine lovers, as it is often used in the region’s still and sparkling wine blends.  Initially quite discreet on the nose, with hints of yellow apple, pear, honey developing after a little time in the glass. This shy white wine comes alive on the palate, where its fresh, textural, plump character reveals earthy nuances and tangy yellow fruit flavours. Finishes with a well balanced touch of sweetness.

Its soft, unassuming flavour profile and subtle sweetness should marry well with brie or other similar such neutral, creamy cheeses.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($26.60)

Best for Mild, Savoury Dishes

Chateau Fourcas Hosten “La Grande Demoiselle d’Hosten” Listrac-Médoc 2010 (Bordeaux, France) – 89pts. PW

It is rare to find mature, older vintages – like this 2010 Listrac – at the SAQ, so this definitely caught my attention. I would have expected more concentration from such a powerful vintage. However, what “La Grande Demoiselle d’Hosten” lacks in body, is made up for with its restrained, yet appealing cassis, dried red berries, and earthy flavours, silky texture, and soft, powdery tannins. Serve with mild, earthy flavours so as not to overwhelm this delicate lady.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($30.75)

Château Raz Caman Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux 2016 (Bordeaux, France) – 90pts. PW

This is a great example of how approachable (and affordable) Bordeaux wines can be from a good producer and vintage. Attractive aromas of black plum, raspberry, earth, and hints of cedar on the nose. The palate is medium in body, with a smooth, polished texture, and modest concentration of dark fruit. Finishes bright and fresh, with subtle spiced hints. Drinking well now.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($20.50)

Best for Braised Short Ribs

Bodegas Piqueras “VS” Almansa 2015  (Castilla-la-Mancha, Spain) – 88pts. PW

If you like bold reds with rich, fruity flavours, this one is for you! Deep ruby in colour, with potent blueberry jam, violet, and toasty spiced aromas. The palate is full-bodied and velvety smooth. Intense red and black berry fruit flavours, mingle with hints of tobacco leaf and dark chocolate on the finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($25.95)

Best for Hedonists Looking to Splurge

Arcanum “Valadorna” Toscana 2013 (Tuscany, Italy) – 93pts. LW

Deep garnet in colour, with a complex nose of ultra-ripe dark plum, black cherry, and fig aromas underscored by hints of smoke, dried herbs, and mint. The palate is dense and powerfully structured yet pleasantly fresh, with firm, chalky tannins. Finishes dry, with persistent sweet and savoury flavours. Would benefit from 3 – 4 years’ additional cellaring for the cedar/spice oak flavours to fully integrate and the tannins to soften further. Otherwise, decant a full hour before serving. A wine in keeping with the excellent Tuscan 2013 vintage.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($94.75)

 

Education Reviews Wines

EIGHT APPELLATIONS, EIGHT WINES FROM THE MÉDOC

wines from the medoc
Photo credit: Philippe Caumes

The Médoc region of Bordeaux is famous for its cru classés châteaux and its refined, ageworthy Cabernet-Sauvignon, Merlot blends. However, wines from the Médoc can also be incredibly affordable, offering great value for every day consumption.

Médoc Geography

The Médoc region is located north of Bordeaux, on the left bank of the Gironde estuary. Over 16,000 hectares of vineyards are planted here, spread over eight appellations. Heading north from the city of Bordeaux, these are: Haut-Médoc, Margaux, Moulis-en-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Saint-Julien, Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe, and Médoc.

The Médoc region has a warm, maritime climate. Sandwiched between the Atlantic ocean and the Gironde estuary, the Médoc peninsula benefits from the temperature moderating effect and the air circulation provided by these two large bodies of water.  While spring and early summer can be fairly damp, dryer conditions later in the growing season allow for consistent most vintages.

The soils of the Médoc are quite diverse in nature. In the south-east, gravel-rich soils are most prevalent. These gravels, mixed with sand and other alluvial deposits, originate from two sources: the Massif Central and Pyrenees mountains. They were carried along the Dordogne and Garonne rivers respectively, over thousands of years. Gravel is prized for its ability to warm quickly in the spring, reflect heat up into the vines during the day, and radiate it at night, aiding with ripening. It is also free draining, encouraging deep vine rooting. Late ripening grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot are most planted in the gravelly soils of the Médoc.

In lower lying areas, and notably, as you move further north and west, heavier clay-limestone soils, often with quite stony surface layers, dominate. These cooler, water retaining soils are common in large swathes of the Médoc AOC, as well as the appellations of Moulis, Listrac and Saint-Estèphe.  Early to mid ripening grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Franc thrive in these clay-based areas, yielding fruity, fleshy wines that round out the often angular Cabernet Sauvignon.

For an excellent 3D ariel view of the Médoc vineyards, click here.

Photo credit: Conseil interprofessionnel du vin de bordeaux

Quality Classifications

Two quality hierarchies exist for wines from the Médoc. The most famous, the 1855 classification, ranks top châteaux in five tiers from Premier Grand Cru Classé (first growths) to Cinquième Grand Cru Classé (fifth growths). With few exceptions, this ranking has remained unchanged since its inception. To learn more about the history and debate surrounding the 1855 classification, listen to my audio overview here.

A second estate classification system, Cru Bourgeois, was established in 1932 to highlight high-quality wines from the Médoc not included in the original list. This ranking has had quite a tumultuous history, with numerous revisions, an annulment, and much debate. The latest update was finalized as recently as February of this year. The 2020 Cru Bourgeois classification includes 249 châteaux ranked in three categories: Cru Bourgeois, Cru Bourgeois Supérieurs, Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnels. The ranking is set to be revised every five years, and all estates up for consideration must hold the French agricultural sustainability certification: Haute Valeur Environnementale. 

Earlier this month I tuned in to a virtual seminar on wines from the Médoc, which gave an overview of each of the appellation and highlighted one wine from the area.

MÉDOC AOC

The region-wide Médoc AOC can be used for any wine produced within the Médoc production area. For example, producers in Margaux or Saint-Julien may choose to declassify to Médoc AOC, potentially for young vines or areas of the vineyard yielding less ripe or pristine fruit. However, this practice is not frequently seen.

The appellation is generally reserved for the designated Médoc AOC section of vineyards that covers the northern third of the Médoc peninsula. This large area has 5,560 hectares of vines planted on mixed gravel and clay-limestone soils. Wine styles vary widely, depending on site and producer, but tend to be fashioned in a light, early-drinking, approachable style, with minimal oak ageing.

Merlot is the dominant grape here, and tends to make up the lion’s share of blends. Wines from the Médoc AOC are notably good value in warmer vintages, where grapes ripen fully, yielding wines with greater concentration, and more vibrant fruit flavours. Recent such vintages include 2015, 2016, 2018.

Château Tour St. Bonnet Médoc 2015 – 87pts. PW

The 2015 Château Tour St. Bonnet is a blend of 65% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot. It is vinified in concrete tanks and aged for 18 months in the same vessel. The hot, sunny 2015 growing conditions are apparent in the ripe red fruited nose, the smooth, supple structure, and velvety tannins. Fairly linear and short on the finish, but overall a pleasant, every day Bordeaux with attractive savoury undertones.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($23.85)

LISTRAC-MÉDOC

Listrac-Médoc neighbours Moulis-en-Médoc to the north. It boasts a marginally higher elevation than surrounding vineyards, reaching 43 metres at its highest point. Small in Médoc terms, with just 787 hectares of vines, Listrac-Médoc represents 5% of the Médoc vineyard area. The soils composition consists of three Pyrenean gravel terraces to the west, a Garonne gravel outcrop to the east, and a large central, flat land of clay-limestone.

This more marginal vineyard area is buffeted by strong winds and thus tends to ripen quite slowly. In warm vintages, this slow rate of berry maturation is an advantage, allowing for good acid retention and full phenolic development. However, in cooler growing seasons, Listrac-Médoc wines can be quite lean and vegetal.

Château Vieux Moulin Listrac-Médoc 2016 (Cru Bourgeois) – 88pts. PW

A blend of 58% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot, the Château Vieux Moulin 2016 is aged for 12 months in, mainly seasoned, French oak barrels. Restrained aromas of dark fruit, tobacco leaf, and hints of bell pepper on the nose. Brisk acidity on the attack, followed by a moderately firm, somewhat angular palate, with moderate concentration of tangy red and black fruit, with underlying dried herbal notes. Attractive chalky tannins frame the finish.

Moulis-en-Médoc

This narrow strip of vineyard land lies just north of Margaux, touching Listrac-Médoc. It is the smallest appellation of the Médoc, with 610 hectares planted, and 46 wine producers. The western part of the region is a fairly flat expanse with mainly sandy-clay soils. The central area features gravelly top soils with underlying clay-limestone layers. In the easternmost vineyards, closest to Margaux’s northern border, outcrops of Garonne gravels are highly prized vineyard soils.

Quality is variable depending on producer and vineyard site. Neither Moulis-en-Médoc nor Listrac-Médoc contain classed growth châteaux, however both have reputed Cru Bourgeois estates. Some famous names in Moulis-en-Médoc include Château Chasse-Spleen, Château Poujeaux, and Château Garricq.

Château La Garricq Moulis-en-Médoc 2015 (Cru Bourgeois) – 90pts. PW 

This blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 20% Petit Verdot is aged for 12 months in 1/3 new French oak. This is evident from the spicy, cedar notes on the nose, mingled with black fruit, dark chocolate, and hints of graphite. The palate shows more harmonious oak integration, with its concentrated red and black fruit flavours, tangy acidity, broad structure, and plush texture. Firm, ripe tannins frame the finish nicely.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($34.75)

HAUT-MÉDOC

The Haut-Medoc appellation stretches some 60 kilometres in length from just north of the city of Bordeaux, to north west of Saint-Estèphe. Due to its size, and diversity of soil types, orientations, aspects, proximity or distance from the Gironde, and so forth, wine style and quality from the Haut-Médoc is incredibly varied.

For much of its history, the Haut-Médoc, as well as the appellations along its north-south expanse, were salt marshes, unusable for viticulture. In the 17th century, Dutch merchants drained the marshes to expand Bordeaux vineyard acreage.

The majority of the Médoc’s Cru Bourgeois Supérieurs and Exceptionnels estates, as well as five cru classé châteaux are located in the Haut-Médoc.

Château de Gironville Haut-Médoc 2016 (Cru Bourgeois) – 91pts. PW

Château de Gironville is situated in the commune of Macau, just south of Margaux, near the mouth of the Garonne River. The estate boasts deep, fine gravel soils on their Cru Bourgeois ranked property. This blend of equal parts Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is completed with 10% Petit Verdot. According to estate director, Yannick Reyrel, the Petit Verdot gives an intriguing peppery, fruity nuance to the blend and the gravel soils bring a suave texture.

Initally closed. High toned plum, cassis, and dark cherry aromas emerged with aeration, underscored by complexifying notes of black licorice, nutmeg, and earth. Fresh, full-bodied, and stylish on the palate with lively dark fruit flavours, ripe, polished tannins, and a lengthy finish. Drinking well now, with 4 – 5 years ageing potential.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($30.00, $62.00 for magnums)

SAINT-ESTÈPHE

Saint Estèphe is the northermost and largest of the cru appellations within the Haut-Médoc. The region’s 1,229 hectares of vineyards are spread across an undulating landscape, with gentle hillsides reaching 20 metres at their highest point. While gravel-rich soils are prevalent, notably at higher elevations, Saint Estèphe has significant areas of clay-dominant soils, with a limestone bedrock. Greater concentrations of clay in Saint-Estèphe equate to wider plantings of Merlot, giving the bold, full-bodied wines of the area a certain mid-palate roundness.

Saint Estèphe has a mere five cru classé estates. However its best properties, including second growths, Château Cos d’Estournel and Château Montrose, and third growth, Château Calon-Ségur, are highly esteemed.

Château Beau-Site St. Estèphe 2015 (Cru Bourgeois) – 92pts. PW  

Château Beau-Site overlooks the Garonne River, from one of Saint-Estèphe’s higher grounds. The stony soils of the estate are deep and free-draining. The 2015 vintage is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc, aged 18 months in 35% new French oak.  Intense aromas of prune, mocha, and pencil shavings, are lifted by underlying hints of menthol and red currant. The palate is remarkably fresh, given the hot summer, with concentrated flavours of dark chocolate, black fruit, menthol, and cedar, and a dense, weighty structure. Excellent length and balance. Drinking well now.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($43.75)

MARGAUX

Margaux is the southernmost of the Haut-Médoc cru appellations, situated near the confluence of the Garonne and Gironde rivers. Vast quantities of Garonne gravel cover Margaux’s central area. This nutrient-poor soil is has excellent drainage stimulating deep vine rooting. Margaux has a marginally warmer mesoclimate than surrounding areas. The wines of the area are often described as quite velvety in texture, with floral overtones, and exotic spice nuances.

With its 1500 hectares of vines, Margaux accounts for 9% of the Médoc region’s vineyards. Among its 65 producers, Margaux has a whopping 21 classed growth châteaux – more than any other Médoc appellation. The region also boasts a number of highly regarded Cru Bourgeois estates.

Château d’Arsac Margaux 2014 (Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel) – 89pts. PW 

Château d’Arsac is a well-regarded 112-hectare property in the western part of the appellation. This blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon and 47% Merlot is reflective of the cooler 2014 vintage with its restrained bell pepper, dried herbal, and tart red currant aromas. The palate is far more inviting, with brisk acidity nicely balancing a broad, textural mid-palate and moderate concentration of dark fruit, graphite, and herbal flavours. Overall, a pleasant, supple wine – yet lacking the depth and opulence of top Margaux.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($38.50)

SAINT-JULIEN

Bordering the Gironde, just south of Pauillac, lies Saint-Julien. The 910 hectares of the appellation are planted on fairly uniform, gravel-rich soils. This factor is given as an explanation for the impressive concentration of classed growth estates here. Indeed, of a total 19 wine producers in Saint-Julien, 11 were included in the 1855 classification. There are no first growth vineyards in Saint-Julien, but its second growths are often referred to as “super seconds” inferring that they are worthy of first growth status. These include: Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, Chateau Gruaud-Larose, Léoville-Las Cases, Léoville-Barton, and Léoville-Poyferré.

The wines of Saint-Julien are often described as a combination of the silkiness and floral elegance of Margaux, with Pauillac’s power and heft.

Sarget de Gruaud Larose St. Julien 2016 – 94pts. LW

Sarget is the second label from Château Gruaud Larose. The 2016 cuvée is made from 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and  4% Petit Verdot. Fragrant aromas of black plum, raspberry, violets, and exotic spice feature on the highly complex nose. The palate is full-bodied and firm, with a highly concentrated core of tangy red and black fruit, savoury notes, and subtle cedar nuances. Very polished and precise overall, with fine-grained tannins and a lengthy finish. Drinking well now, but should improve over the next eight to ten years.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($54.00)

PAUILLAC

The vineyard region of Pauillac is named for the Gironde port town of the same name. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates on the region’s gravel rich soils. However, marked variations in the depth, origin, and concentration of gravels across higher and lower lying sites leads to significant quality differences. In general terms, the wines of Pauillac are considered the most muscular and long lived of the Médoc, with notable cassis and graphite aromas.

Pauillac is the only Haut-Médoc cru appellation with two first growth estates: Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Mouton Rothschild. In all, Pauillac consists of 1213 hectares of vines, and has 18 classed growth estates.

Lacoste-Borie Pauillac 2016 – 93pts. LW

This is the second wine from fifth growth, Château Grand Puy Lacoste. The 2016 blend features 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, aged in 45% new French oak for 15 months. Classic Pauillac aromas of cassis, dark plum, graphite, cedar, and hints of earthy, black truffle feature on the attractive, highly complex nose. The palate is lively, with a dense, full-bodied structure, and excellent depth of savoury, dark fruited flavours. Well-knit cedar nuances and firm, quite muscular tannins mark the finish. Would show best with six to eight years further cellaring, though has the power to hold nicely for another decade.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($59.00)

*** What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to find out.

Médoc Wine
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TASTING THE TORRES ANTOLOGIA WINES

Torres Antologia

The Familia Torres Antologia wines are a collection of the Spanish powerhouse winery’s top five bottlings. According to Torres, this range represents the family’s most prized terroirs – they hold cherished historical significance, with a combination of old vines, mesoclimate, soil composition, and topography that set them apart.

Familia Torres’ 150 Year History

In the 150 years since Jaime and Miguel Torres established Torres y Compañia in Penedès, the winery has seen five generations successively take up the reins. And with each changing of the guard came new innovations. Miguel Torres Carbó was the first in the region to bottle wine. Miguel A. Torres is largely credited for modernizing Spanish winemaking practices and bringing international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon to Catalonia.

The current generation has been instrumental in reviving ancient grape varieties in Penedès and neighbouring regions. Ancestral Spanish cultivars like Moneu, Querol, and Garró had all but disappeared post Phylloxera. Miguel and Mireia Torres Maczassek are slowly replanting these forgotten grapes to preserve their region’s viticultural heritage.

Spurred on by Miguel A. Torres’ passion and dynamism, the family is also leading the way globally in terms of winery sustainability. In 2019, the Familia Torres co-founded International Wineries for Climate Action to “galvanize the global wine community towards creating climate change mitigation strategies and decarbonizing the industry”.  From 2008 to 2019, the company reduced their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per bottle by 30%, and target a 55% reduction by 2030.

Familia Torres Antologia Tasting

In celebration of their 150th anniversary, a series of Torres Antologia tastings were organized. Participants received an elegant wood case of judiciously sized, 187-millilitre samples and an invitation to virtually taste through the range with chief winemaker, Josep Sabarich.

In discussions with wine professionals (and enthusiasts alike) I am regularly faced with a tiresome stereotype: that boutique-scale wineries necessarily produce more complex and interesting wines than their high-volume counterparts. They dismiss the idea that a winery can produce both commercial, mass-market brands and serious, single vineyard wines. Having worked for a producer who ably proved this possible, I am always keen to see what “terroir wines” look like from bigger bottlers.

The Torres Antologia tasting started with the only white wine in the line up, followed by a range of four reds:

Milmanda

Milmanda is a white wine made exclusively from Chardonnay. It is sourced from a Torres’ vineyard planted in the early 1980s in the Conca de Barberà DO. This inland growing region is located in south central Catalonia between two rivers, the Riu Sec and El Francoli. The soils are a red, silty clay formed by alluvial deposits. In a region where summer rainfall is scarce, the high water holding capacity of these clay-rich soils is crucial. The vines are forced to dig down deep for sustenance, resulting in low yields of concentrated fruit.

The 2017 vintage was particularly dry, with 40% less rainfall than an average growing season. It was also a warm year, though cooler conditions prior to harvest allowed for good acid retention. The Milmanda parcel is hand harvested. Fermentation is started in tank at cool, 16°c to preserve freshness. At the mid-way mark, the wines are transferred to barrels to allow for harmonious oak integration. Malolactic fermentation is blocked half way in further efforts to retain vibrancy. The wine is then aged on its fine lees in 50% new French oak for four to six months before racking to stainless steel tanks for a further 10 to 14 months with regular bâtonnage throughout.

Torres “Milmanda” Conca de Barberà DO 2017 has attractive aromas of lemon, yellow pear, acacia, and beeswax on the nose. The palate is fresh, broad, and subtly creamy, with moderately concentrated notes of juicy yellow fruit, grilled notes and hints of crème caramel. Round and faintly warming on the finish –  89pts. LW. Where to Buy: Inquire with Canadian agent Vins Dandurand for Torres Antologia wines (Winesearcher average price for Milmanda 2017: $68.00 CAD).

Mas La Plana

This iconic Torres cuvée hails from 60-year-old organically farmed Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in the Turons de Vilafranca subzone of Penedès. This vineyard is on the site of the Torres winery. The vines are planted on a slope ranging in altitude from 180 to 240 metres above sea level.  The soils are very deep, diverse in nature, and of alluvial origin. They are moderately coarse, with layers of gravel, sand, silt, and clay; giving them good water holding potential. Huge efforts have been made in recent years to protect and improve biodiversity in the vineyard. The creation of wildlife corridors, planting of cover crops, installation of insectariums, use of integrated pest management techniques, and move to electric tractors are just some of the main initiatives in place.  Vineyard planting on this site began at the beginning of the 1960s, with many original vines still in existence.

Mas La Plana is fermented in a combination of vessels. Sabarich prefers large wooden vats for vineyard areas with warmer soils. These sites yield smaller grapes, with greater concentration and firmer tannic structure. He uses stainless steel for the cooler areas where grapes are larger and more acidic. Gentle punch downs helps with extraction, as does an extended maceration of up to two weeks. Ageing occurs in 85% new French oak in 300 to 500 litre casks.

Torres “Mas La Plana” Penedès DO 2016 is remarkably fresh given the hot, dry growing season. Ripe red currant, black cherry, and cassis mingle with notes of cigar box, graphite, and cedar on the complex, harmonious nose. The palate is firm and dense, with excellent depth of black fruit, dark chocolate, and cedar spice flavours. Tannins are muscular, yet ripe and fine-grained. Finishes long, with overt toasty oak and vibrant dark fruit – 92pts. LW. Where to Buy: Inquire with Canadian agent Vins Dandurand for Torres Antologia wines (Winesearcher average price for Mas La Plana 2016: $85.00 CAD)

Reserva Real

This blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, and 12% Merlot comes from the four-hectare vineyard, Les Arnes, in the Costers de l’Anoia subzone of Penedès. This area is due north of Mas La Plana. The site’s rocky Silurian slate soils are dark in colour, absorbing heat throughout the day and aiding with ripening. They are mineral-rich and free draining, yet quite shallow as hard rock blocks the vine from deeper rooting.

Grapes for Reserva Real are hand harvested. The three varieties are vinified separately, with a similarly long maceration and gentle extraction as Mas La Plana. However, instead of ageing in larger foudres (casks), Reserva Real is aged in new 225 litre French barrels for 18 months.

Torres Reserva Real Penedès DO 2016 is incredibly suave, with high-toned aromas of dark plum, cassis, cedar, menthol, and graphite on the nose. Intriguing earthy, black truffle notes emerge with aeration. Multifaceted in structure; initially brisk and quite firm, then broadening and deepening on the dense, flavourful mid-palate, tapering to elegant, polished tannins. Dark fruit, savoury nuances, and cedar-spice linger on the finish. Merits additional cellaring – 94pts LW. Where to Buy: Inquire with Canadian agent Vins Dandurand for Torres Antologia wines (Winesearcher average price for Reserva Real 2016: $167.00 CAD)

Gran Muralles

The Gran Muralles is a Mediterranean blend of mainly Garnacha and Cariñena, with small additions of Monastrell and native varieties Querol and Garró. Sabarich feels that “Garnacha brings the soul, while Cariñena provides the backbone of Gran Muralles”. He likes Monastrell for its bright fruit. Querol and Garró are among the grape varieties that the Familia Torres is endeavouring to bring back from near extinction in Catalonia. According to Sabarich, they add a hint of rusticity which furthers the aromatic complexity of the blend. The six-hectare vineyard site for Gran Muralles neighbours Milmanda, in the Conca de Barberà DO. This hilly plot features deep rocky, slate and granite-based soils with sandy areas.

The 2016 growing season was markedly different in Conca de Barberà as compared to Penedès. The weather was distinctly cool and rainy, producing a fresh and fruity style of wine. Much like Reserva Real, the Gran Muralles varieties are vinified separately, and then aged in new French oak barrels for 18 months before bottling.

Torres Gran Muralles Conca de Barberà DO 2016 has a seductive floral perfume, underscored by ripe blue and black fruit, baking spice, and toasty, nutty hints. Bright acidity and a moderately firm structure counterbalance the plush, richly textured mouthfeel, intensity of ripe black fruit and cocoa flavours. Hints of cedar and spice from extended oak ageing are nicely integrated. Finishes smooth and very long – 94pts. LW. Where to Buy: Inquire with Canadian agent Vins Dandurand for Torres Antologia wines (Winesearcher average price for Gran Muralles 2016: $220.00 CAD)

Mas de la Rosa

Tucked away in a secluded valley of the Priorat near Poboleda, this small 1.86-hectare plot of 80-year old Garnacha and Cariñena was first vinified by the Familia Torres in 2016. The vineyard is perched on a sharply angled slope of nearly 30% grade. All vineyard work is done by hand, or by horse, due to the steepness of the hillside and the bush vine plantings. The parcel faces northeast and is shaded from midday onwards. This, coupled with the moderately high, 420 metre altitude create a cooling effect that preserves freshness in the wines. The soils are a pure, disintegrated slate called llicorella. They are shallow, nutrient-poor soils that encourage the vines to root deeply.

The 2017 growing season in Priorat was very hot and dry in the spring through to mid-summer, with marginally cooler conditions at harvest. Small berries produced dense, richly coloured wines. After an eight to nine day cold soak, fermentation takes place at cooler, 24°c temperatures “to avoid creating a massive wine, and losing the soul of the grapes”, explained Sabarich. The blend is then aged for 16-months in new French oak barrels.

Torres Mas de la Rosa Priorat DOQ 2017 is initially shy, but gains in intensity with aeration. Crushed raspberry and blue fruit aromas gain in complexity with the development of savoury undertones and violet hints. The palate is medium in body, with a very focused quality and a seductive, silky texture giving way to fine, powdery tannins. Lively, concentrated red fruit flavours mingle with stony mineral hints on the finish – 93pts. LW. Where to Buy: Inquire with Canadian agent Vins Dandurand for Torres Antologia wines (Winesearcher average price for Mas de la Rosa 2017: $312.00 CAD)

*** What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to find out.

 

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SIX WINES FOR THE WEEK-END

SIX WINES FOR THE WEEK-END!

The week-end is here, and yes, you may be thinking to yourself…meh, week day, week-end, what difference does it make? Wine. Wine is the difference. We can’t go out to restaurants at the moment, so why not splurge on a nicer bottle of wine and make a complicated recipe from that cookbook gathering dust in your kitchen cabinet?

I have been tasting up a storm over the past few weeks, traveling via my wine glass. I visited the Russian River Valley with the wines of Gary Farrell. I toured top tier vineyard sites of the Penedès and Priorat with Familia Torres’ Antologia range. I strolled through the gravelly flat lands of the Médoc, stopping at each of its eight appellations. And I spent a happy morning exploring Chablis, the Côte d’Or, and Côte Chalonnaise, while tasting Burgundy En Primeur 2019 wines. Those latter two articles should be out next week.

In the meanwhile, assorted samples have been gathering dust on my desk, my floor, my wine rack, etc. Their accusing looks from across the room finally wore me down, so this morning I gathered them up and grabbed a glass. Without further ado, here are six wines for the week-end – a selection of my top picks from the tasting.

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

Best for Brunch

Ponte G Pinot Grigo delle Venezie, Vino Spumante Brut (Veneto, Italy) – 87pts. VW

Pleasant aromas of white pear, apple, and hints of spice on the nose. The palate is medium in body, with smooth, rounded bubbles, fresh, stone fruit flavours, and a subtly fruity, brut finish. Similar to a Prosecco, with a bit more body, and less frothy bubbles.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($16.75)

Best for Spicy Asian Dishes

Albert Mann Gewürztraminer 2018 (Alsace, France) – 90 pts. PW

If not carefully managed, Gewürztraminer can become a little flabby, soft, and overly sweet on the palate. The organically-farmed Albert Mann 2018 is a testament to how fine it can be in skillful hands. Nuanced aromas of white blossoms, lychee, spice, and apricots feature on the nose. The palate is wonderfully silky and layered, with a lifted, fresh finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($34.25)

Best for Roasted Fowl & Mellow Earthy Flavours

La Grange Tiphaine Clef de Sol Montlouis-sur-Loire 2018 (Loire Valley, France) – 94pts. PW

I almost swooned when I tasted this white. It just checks all the boxes for me. This nose has classic Loire Chenin Blanc aromas (red apple, raw honey, nutmeg, and earthy nuances) that gain in intensity and depth with aeration. The palate is full-bodied and boldly flavoured with tangy, yet honeyed orchard fruit overlying savoury hints. Crisp acidity brings lift and vibrancy, while a subtly creamy, layered mid-palate gives huge textural appeal. Decant one hour before serving.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($37.00)

Best for Gourmet Pizza

Head High Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2018 (California, USA) – 90pts. PW

Vivid aromas of red cherry, pomegranate, and mixed spice on the nose. The palate is true to its origin, marrying mouth watering acidity with a plush texture and ripe red fruit flavours. Finishes smooth and fresh, with delicate green herbal nuances. Great value for the price.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($24.95)

Best for Bold Flavoured, Mildly Spiced Meals

Valley of the Moon “Cuvée de la Luna” 2014 (California, USA) – 89pts. PW

An interesting blend of 44% Zinfandel, 21% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Sangiovese. The nose is perfumed with ripe blackberry, candied cherry, and milk chocolate aromas. Full-bodied and velvety smooth on the palate, with fresh acidity giving vibrancy to the blue and black fruit flavours. Finishes with subtle sweet tobacco and spicy oak nuances.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($27.40)

Best for Refined French Cuisine & for the Cellar

Château La Tour de By Médoc 2016 (Bordeaux, France) – 92pts. PW

Another exceptional value that drinks way above its humble appellation and mid $20 price point. The 2016 vintage is excellent throughout Bordeaux, with lots of great finds at affordable prices. The sustainably-farmed Château La Tour de By offers attractive red currant, plum, red pepper, and cedar hints on the nose. The palate is brisk and tightly knit, with vibrant red and black fruit flavours mingling with earthy undertones. The tannins are firm, yet fine-grained and elegant. Will cellar well over the next four to six years. Decant an hour before serving.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($26.50)

Reviews Wines

TASTING THE WINES OF GARY FARRELL

wines of gary farrell
Photo credit: Gary Farrell Vineyards (winery, eagle’s nest view)

The wines of Gary Farrell are a testament to the unique and contrasting climate of the Russian River Valley. Plunging your nose in a glass of the 2017 Chardonnay, the ripeness of fruit evokes warmth and abundant sunshine, and yet lipsmacking acidity greets you on the taut, lively palate. The wines are a study in opposites, that most definitely attract.

Gary Farrell launched his eponymous wine label back in 1982. At the time, Napa was starting to gain worldwide attention thanks to the efforts of pioneers like Robert Mondavi, and the media attention garnered from the 1976 Judgement of Paris. However, on the other side of the Mayacamas mountains, Sonoma County remained a discreet and rugged frontierland. That is not to say exciting developments were not afoot. In the Russian River Valley, wineries like Davis Bynum were quietly proving how well suited cool climate varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were to the region’s cool, Pacific-influenced climate.

Farrell got his start at Davis Bynum, initially as an apprentice and finally as head winemaker. When he bottled his first wine, it was with fruit sourced from renowned local growers like Rochioli, Allen, and Hallberg, using the winery at Davis Bynum. By the late 1990s, the wines of Gary Farrell were widely respected, and production had expanded sufficiently to warrant construction of his own winery. Farrell chose a secluded, area in Healdsburg, the heartland of the Russian River Valley, to build his facility.

Today, the property is owned by an investment group including Bill Price, of reputed Sonoma and Napa Chardonnay specialist, Kistler Vineyards. Farrell may no longer be involved, but his legacy remains. Many of the same grower partnerships, established with a handshake nearly 40 years ago, hold strong. Since 2012, experienced local winemaker, and former chemist, Theresa Heredia has crafted the Gary Farrell wine style. In 2019, the winery attained “Year 2 Status” as a California Certified Sustainable Winemaking (CCSW) winery.

Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Theresa (virtually), to chat Russian River, how she crafts the wines of Gary Farrell, and taste a couple recent releases.

Russian River Valley Overview

Russian River Valley Map

Image credit: Gary Farrell Vineyards

The Sonoma County AVA (American Viticultural Area) of Russian River Valley begins on a sharp bend in the Russian River, where it changes its north-south course to head westward toward the Pacific coast. Many liken the region’s shape to a heart, extending south and west over a roughly 25-kilometre span in both directions. Despite decidedly warm, sunny day-time temperatures, the climate is generally deemed cool due to the heavy fogs that permeate the area, slipping through the Petaluma Gap to the south and via a wind tunnel formed by the Russian River, to the west. This phenomenon results in significant diurnal variation, with night time lows up to 20ºC cooler than day time highs.

Just over 6000 hectares are planted here, mainly to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as some coveted old vine Zinfandel. The region consists of five vineyard areas (or neighbourhoods as they are called locally): Middle Reach, Santa Rosa Plain, Green Valley, Sebastopol Hills, and Laguna Ridge. Each of these neighbourhoods has a distinct mesoclimate, elevation, soil composition, and so forth. The wines of Gary Farrell are made from grapes sourced through longstanding grower partnerships across the valley, producing blends with complimentary elements from various sites, as well as single vineyard cuvées.

Green Valley, the foggiest, coolest neighbourhood of Russian River Valley due to its location closest to the coast, possesses such an individual character that it has been granted separate sub-AVA status within the Valley. It is from the sandy soils of the Hallberg Vineyard located here, that Heredia sources one of Gary Farrell’s most admired Chardonnays.

Gary Farrell Sustainability Commitments

Sonoma County is committed to leading the way in terms of vineyard and winery sustainability. In fact, in 2014 the region set themselves the goal of achieving 100% sustainability for the sector. By 2019, they had achieved 99% of their target. At Gary Farrell, sustainability initiatives include a solar array spanning the length of the winery roof that defrays 93% of the property’s power usage. Their parking lot includes Tesla/EV charging stations to encourage electric car use among staff and visitors. As part of their progression through the CCSW certification process, the winery is developing a continuous improvement plan assessing areas like water conservation, enery efficiency, waste management, social sustainability, and so forth.

The wines of Gary Farrell are made from over three-quarters certified sustainable Chardonnay vineyard sources, and nearly 90% certified sustainable Pinot Noir partners.

Gary Farrell Winemaking & Tasting Notes

Chardonnay Winemaking

Freshness and vibrancy of fruit are key watchwords for Heredia. She prefers to harvest early, when Chardonnay reaches 21 to 23 brix. “My ideal scenario” says Heredia “is Chardonnay with a pH between 3.2 to 3.5 and total acidity of 7 to 9 grams/litre, but obviously this doesn’t always happen!”. After experimenting with varying periods of skin contact, she concluded that she generally prefers the fresh, more delicate quality of rapidly pressed whites. Heredia uses a range of different pressing techniques, each tailored specifically to the Chardonnay source and clone. Fermentation and ageing takes place in lightly toasted barrels on fine lees, using a careful selection of yeasts including Burgundian favourite RC212 and Montrachet.

Gary Farrell Chardonnay “Russian River Selection” 2017

The “Russian River Selection” cuvée is made from a blend of grower partner sites in the Middle Reach, Laguna Ridge, and Santa Rosa Plain neighbourhoods (including Rochioli, Rochioli-Allen, Bacigalupi, Westside Farms, Olivet Lane, and Martinelli). The harvest took place during a total eclipse, at a frenetic pace to beat a forecasted intense heat wave. Ageing lasted nine months, in 35% new French oak.

Initially shy, the nose reveals complex notes of ripe lemon, poached pear, white blossoms, and hints of buttered toast with aeration. The palate is defined by zesty acidity, a taut structure, medium body, and tangy white grapefruit and yellow fruit notes. A subtle layered creaminess comes through on the long, dry, delicately toasted finish. A vibrant, refined Chardonnay with harmonious oaked undertones. Still quite tightly-knit, would benefit from another year or two in cellar for the acidity to soften.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($53.25)

Pinot Noir Winemaking

Heredia has an equally restrained, site-specific approach when it comes to Pinot Noir. She harvests at 22 – 24 brix. Decisions on whether to destem or vinify whole clusters differ depending on the vintage and vineyard, though she likes the “tannin structure, backbone, and spice” that whole cluster fermentation can bring to Pinot Noir. After a three – five day cold soak, must is fermented at cooler temperatures with gentle punch downs, using wild yeasts when possible. Lightly toasted barrels are also employed for Pinot Noir ageing.

Gary Farrell Pinot Noir “Hallberg Vineyard” 2016

Sourced from the Hallberg vineyard site in the cool Green Valley sub-AVA, and aged 15 months in 40% new French oak, this Pinot Noir is fragrant and floral, with vibrant black cherry, exotic spice, and tea leaf aromas. Medium weight on the palate, with brisk acidity, nicely balanced by concentrated flavours of juicy red and black fruits with mocha undertones. Elegant, moderately firm tannins with just a touch of refreshing bitterness that adds interest on the finish.  Drinking well now for lovers of more taut, high acid reds, otherwise cellar for three to four years to allow a more supple expression to develop.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($57.00)

 

Life Reviews Wines

Thanksgiving 2020 Wines & Reasons to Celebrate

Thanksgiving 2020 Wines

It is Turkey time! So let’s pick out some Thanksgiving 2020 wines. No, international readers, Thanksgiving is not solely an American holiday. We Canadians celebrate the bounty of harvest and the blessings of the year on the second Monday of October. Sure, many of you might be thinking that there is not much to be thankful for in these challenging times of deadly viruses, rampant wildfires, ongoing global conflict, and the uncertain future of democracy. But, I would like to offer the following anecdote as a counter argument.

A couple of years ago I met a charming Piedmontese wine producer at an Italian wine trade fair. He poured through a selection of wines that I greatly enjoyed and we had a very interesting conversation. Fast forward to last week and the delivery of a mystery bottle of wine to my door. It was a bottle of Barolo, offered as a gift to congratulate me on my Master of Wine success. When I wrote back to thank Gabriele for his generosity, he said that, especially in these hard times, we have to take every occasion to celebrate our victories. He signed off with the sentence, “thank God 2020 is not only about bad news”!

Bad news is indeed all around us – big and small. While I feel petty relating my trivial problems, the daily reality of living in a “red zone” – where gatherings are prohibited, quashing our Thanksgiving family gathering, and threatening to ruin our children’s Halloween festivities – is pretty glum. I am therefore all the more determined to seize every opportunity for fun. And what could be more fun than cooking a massive feast and pairing it with the perfect wines? Not. Much!

So here are my “screw the seriously messed up world situation, let’s eat some turkey and drink something delicious” Thanksgiving 2020 wines (or just regular old week-end) meal.

Under the “I’m just keeping it casual and need to save my pennies” category, I recommend these Thanksgiving 2020 wines:

Mont Gras “Amaral” Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Leyda Valley, Chile

Drink this while you are stuffing the turkey, chopping potatoes, and bopping along to your favourite tunes. Its lively, light bodied style and vibrant lemon, passion fruit, herbal aromas will keep your palate refreshed.

Where to Buy: SAQ (14.60$), Ontarians, try slightly pricier, but fantastic value San Pedro 1865

Maison Ogier Ventoux Rosé

This Southern Rhône Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault blend is the epitome of easy drinking charm with its soft, rounded mouthfeel and inviting candied red fruit aromas. This medium bodied, dry rosé is a perfect Turkey wine for your red wine averse friends.

Where to Buy: LCBO (14.55$), Québeckers, try the Maison Gassier Buti Nages Languedoc rosé

Châsse Galerie Languedoc Red, by Jean-Noël Bousquet 2017, Languedoc, France

Great value for the price, with baked dark fruit, chocolate, and subtly smoky notes on the nose. The palate is full bodied and velvety smooth, with ripe, rounded tannins and and a dry, bright-fruited finish. The combination of rich, ripe fruit and fairly unobtrusive tannins will compliment the turkey, stuffing, and savory side dishes.

Where to Buy: SAQ (15.35$), Ontarians, try the Mathilde Chapoutier Languedoc 2017

Under the “I am upping my game, but still want to keep things reasonable” category, check out these Thanksgiving 2020 wines:

Bisol Crede Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore 2019, Italy

A lovely, harmonious Prosecco with none of the frothy, mouth-filling bubbles of lesser examples. This dry, silky textured bubbly has delicate apple, pear, white floral aromas and a clean, fresh palate.

Where to Buy: SAQ (22.50$), Ontarians, try the Varaschin Prosecco Superiore DOCG

Domaine Labranche-Laffont Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh 2018, South-West, France

Another great apéritif white, with an intriguing, aromatic nose of star anise, beeswax, fresh almonds & citrus. The palate is racy and sleek, with tangy tangerine and grapefruit flavours lingering on the dry finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ (24.45$)

Flat Rock Cellars Estate Pinot Noir 2018, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario, Canada

The 2018 Estate Pinot Noir has perky aromas of ripe cherry, red berries, and hints of menthol. The palate hums with juicy acidity and tangy red berry flavours on a smooth, lightweight backdrop. Much like a tart, subtly sweet cranberry sauce, this Pinot will offset the richness of Thanksgiving fare perfectly.

Where to Buy: SAQ (23.95$), LCBO (22.95$)

Domaine Cazes “Marie Gabrielle” Côtes de Roussillon 2019, Languedoc-Roussillon, France

Classic rich, smooth and ripe fruited Côtes du Roussillon redolent with macerated black, blue fruit and lingering notes of dark chocolate. The finish is fresh, with moderately firm tannins. A hearty wine great for chilly fall evenings.

Where to Buy: SAQ (18.90$), Ontarians, try Domaine de la Rougeante Corbières 2016

Under the “I’m splashing out, who know when this madness will end?” category, how about these Thanksgiving 2020 wines:

Domaine St. Jacques Brut Rosé Sparkling, Québec, Canada

Initially shy, revealing delicate cranberry, red apple, savoury herbal notes on the nose, with just a hint of brioche. Crisp and taut on the palate, with fine mousse and a nice balance of tangy red fruit and subtly creamy texture. Finishes crisp and dry.

Where to Buy: SAQ (34.85$), Ontarians, try the Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catherine Rosé Brut

Tawse Winery Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2016, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario, Canada

This is an opulent, yet harmonious Chardonnay with vibrant acidity and subtle stony minerality to offset the rich, layered texture. The nose features seductive aromas of raw honey, yellow apple, white floral notes, and almonds. The palate is crisp and full bodied, with a concentrated core of ripe orchard fruit, subtle butter, and vanilla nuances. Long and layered.

Where to Buy: LCBO (46.15$), SAQ (48.25$ – 2015 vintage)

Agnès Paquet Auxey-Duresses 2018, Burgundy, France

An appellation which is often austere in its youth, however the warm 2018 vintage in the skillful hands of Agnès Paquet is a delight. Bright red berry and cassis notes on the nose, with floral and faintly earthy undertones. The palate is incredibly vivacious, with a silken texture, tangy fruit flavours, and fine-grained tannins. The finish is long and lifted.

Where to Buy: SAQ (45.00$)