Cellar Direct: Summer Vibes, Part 1

2 08 2017

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

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Cellar Direct:  always delivers, figuratively and literally.

And we’re back.  If you’ve seen little activity on this blog for the past few weeks, it’s for good reason:  I was not on mainland North America.  Some family fun in the sun in Maui was an excellent and much-needed recharge, but too much time away from the cellar is a dicey proposition, so I’m revving up the tasting notes and Pop & Pour is ready to rumble again.  And we’re not easing back into blogging life either:  we’re kicking it retro-style tonight with a powerhouse sub-13% abv traditional red duet that’s as Old World as Old World gets, both of which were recent feature offerings at what ever-increasingly appears to be Canada’s can’t-miss online wine club, Cellar Direct.

If you read this blog and that name is familiar to you, there’s good reason, as this will be the fifth time I’ve been lucky enough to experience and describe their wares, dating back to the venture’s launch almost two years ago (see here and here and here for more).  I have yet to taste a Cellar Direct bottle that disappoints.  Sourcing directly from the cellars of producers themselves and focused on classically made, low-intervention, farm-to-bottle offerings from European producers steeped in history, CD gets them to consumers in a 21st-century manner, via regular inbox offers and an online storefront where you can go back and grab more of past winners.  They ship using AST Healthcare’s temperature-controlled delivery services when external temperatures permit (3-4 times per year) and safely store your ordered wines until they’re ready to be delivered to your door.  Cellar Direct’s reach is nationwide, and their inventory is stocked with European treasures that often don’t otherwise see our shores.  Past, meet future.

This is the first of a three-part series of posts offering a snapshot of what Cellar Direct has been offering its members (which can include you, as it’s free to sign up) in spring and summer 2017.  Some of the wines are still around in CD’s online shop; others have sadly sold out with haste; but all are representative of what this venture is all about.  The first two bottles I tried tell you all you need to know.

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2010 Olga Raffault Chinon “Les Picasses” ($33.50)

Pre-aged seven year-old Loire Valley Cabernet Franc from a top vintage and a legendary producer?  For under $35?  Yes please.  If you were to draw the Loire as an archery target, Chinon would be the bullseye:  right in the dead centre of this long, stretched, east-to-west region in north-central France, it may be the Old World location where Cabernet Franc’s star shines brightest.  It’s certainly where it is given the most of the spotlight, pulling it out from Bordeaux supporting actor status to give it a star turn on its own.  Olga Raffault is now a four-generation family winery that is among the cream of the crop of the region, farming without the use of pesticides or herbicides, harvesting by hand, fermenting in whole clusters (stems rule) with native yeasts and aging without the use of any new oak.  One thing that sets this producer apart is that they often hold back their wines 3-4 years or more before they’re released, to ensure that they’re properly ready when they are opened.  That’s an approach that was often taken with powerful Tempranillo in traditional Spanish Riojas subject to extensive oak aging, but that is not exactly standard practice for lean, delicate Loire Cab Franc.  That said, if this single-vineyard bottling from 60 year-old vines is any indication, the Raffaults seem to know exactly what they’re doing.

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The “Les Picasses” Chinon is a shimmering translucent ruby-garnet colour, indicative of the meandering path taken to its release, weirdly redder at the top rim and showing traces of rusty orange at the bottom of the glass.  While the wine gives a visual cue as to its age, there is no olfactory impression of a Cab Franc that has advanced more than a couple years onto its aging curve; if I didn’t see the vintage on the label I would say it is too young and needs time to open, and it may still.  It is presently going through some kind of aromatic shift and is just beginning to blossom…which is not to suggest that there’s nothing to find for the senses.  Beams of raspberry, cranberry and pomegranate are just starting to get dustier around the edges; sweet pea and fresh leaf herbaceousness is just starting to inch towards forest floor, with floral coriander wafting above; but the whole thing feels like the wine is hitting the pause button, taking a breath more before its next phase of growth, the world’s most delicate monolith.  With air and time, some olive-y, cured meat funk gloriously emerges, hinting at thrilling complexity to come.

Once you remember to actually bring the glass to your lips (it took me a while), there is an immediate moment of surprise at the pillowyness of texture of this Chinon on the tongue, a gentleness offset but not eliminated by poignant acidity and near-invisible tannin.  This flies in the face of the common trope of thin, vegetal Loire Cabernet Franc, unfolding ripe and pure yet weightless, adding pepper spice and granitic rockiness on the palate, biding its time to offer even more.  If you happen to have multiple bottles, crack one now (you sort of have to), then revisit again in…5 years?  10?  20?  More?  This is $34?

93 points

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Cork Ratings:  6.5/10 & 1.5/10 respectively (Love the “Vin de Chinon” identity; hate the “Mis en Bouteille” anonymity.  Aren’t we past this?)

2014 Clos Siguier Cahors ($21)

From one under-appreciated Bordeaux understudy grape to another!  Well, sort of.  If this was 20 years ago, I could have somewhat defensibly said that Malbec never got its day in the sun, clocking in 4th or 5th in importance in red Bordeaux blends and never quite gaining global attention in its home zone of Cahors, located just southeast of Bordeaux. Known as Côt here, Malbec was traditionally made into wines that were so deeply coloured and so thick and dank and devoid of freshness or light that they were widely known as the “Black Wines of Cahors”.  Thankfully, producers have more recently taken to more careful practices in the vineyard and a defter touch in the cellar that bring some purity and primacy back to the Malbec grape.  Of course, more recently Argentina has also happened to Malbec, but its almost easier to understand Cahors Malbec if you don’t consider it through that lens:  apart from its colour, commonalities between Cahors and its New World relative are not easy to come by.

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But that colour:  just like every glass of Malbec you’ve seen, this one is deep, dark and purple, coating the interior surface despite its un-Argentina 12% abv.  That alcohol level is possible, even with a late-October harvest, thanks to a combination of cooler weather, hillside vineyards and elevation, all of which Clos Siguier has learned to handle with grace.  They are another traditional, sustainable, low-tech generational producer, with a history that dates back centuries, 15 hectares of organic vineyards strewn with chalk, iron, fossils and shells, and native-yeast fermentation practices with a strong emphasis on concrete tanks and minimal sulphur.  Their introductory Cahors adds 5% of Tannat well after initial maturation to round out the wine, which likely adds to its visual impression and certainly boosts every element of its structure.

Aromas just cascade out of this glass, surprisingly fresh and juicy blueberry and grape fruit, but not the ultra-ripe jammy projection you may have run across in the New World:  it’s more like biting into the real article, freshly picked maybe a touch early, when it’s still tart.  The Black Wine’s famed dankness descends slightly on the fruit on the palate, part hard toffee and topsoil, part date and hot rocks, but the wine’s lithe body skims over the added density of these flavours, keeping things continually crisp and lively.  It’s a double-take-worthy contrast:  how can…?  did it just…?  Add some dark flowers, metallic undertones (like drinking from a copper cup) and asphalt and you’ll start to get the picture of this deep yet agile wine.  So dark, but so light.

89+ points

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