Cellar Direct: Summer Vibes, Part 2

9 08 2017

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

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There’s something to be said for obscurity.

Summer is the time of sequels, and when the original is good you look doubly forward to the reprise.  (I should know:  my wife and I watched Cars 3 on the weekend with my oldest and his mini-me brother.)  Last week we got a brief glimpse into what national wine club extraordinaire Cellar Direct has been offering up to its email arsenal of subscribers in 2017, but the hits don’t stop there, as I still have a quartet of temperature-control-shipped CD French gems to take out for a spin.  Bring on the encore.

If you missed the start of this ongoing review saga, click here to catch up on what Cellar Direct is all about (TL;DR:  they’re a weekly-offer Canadian e-merchant with an Old World network of connections bordering on the incredible and a passion for low-intervention hand-made wines).  The initial duo of offerings I tasted took us a little bit off the standard retail track, to Loire Valley Cabernet Franc and Cahors Malbec.  Tonight’s pair nearly gets us lost in the wilderness, starting with an obscure white Bordeaux from the lesser-known Entre-Deux-Mers and then dropping the compass and setting the map on fire with a wine made from 100% Fer Servadou grapes grown in the Marcillac region of southwest France.  I didn’t make up any of those words, and I can assure you that after trying the wine they reference, I won’t be forgetting them anytime soon.

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2015 Chateau Turcaud Entre-Deux-Mers 2015 ($18)

If you have read or heard about Bordeaux you’ve probably heard of the Left Bank and the Right Bank, separated by the Gironde river, the former the home of the Medoc and its Cab-dominant subregions (where First Growths like Mouton-Rothschild, Lafite and Latour reside) and the latter the home of Pomerol, St. Emilion and their Merlot-dominant surroundings (where Petrus, Cheval Blanc and others rival the First Growths in stature and price).  For most consumers, that’s probably where the knowledge and information stops, because that’s where the hype does.  But the Gironde river keeps going, headed southeast, then splits into two smaller tributaries, the Garonne (the right fork) and the Dordogne (the left fork).  As the gap between them widens, a surprisingly large and rarely discussed region emerges in the landmass in the middle:  Entre-Deux-Mers, literally meaning “between two seas”.  Unfortunately, that geography lesson is more interesting than many of the wines emanating from the area, which (when we see them here at all) can tend to be drinkable but wholly unmemorable.  Fortunately, there are exceptions to every rule.

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Chateau Turcaud only dates back to 1973 (winemaking in Entre-Deux-Mers dates back roughly to when “BC” clocked over to “AD”), but it has amassed 50 hectares of vineyards and is putting them to eye-opening use, particularly in the sub-$20 category.  This particular Entre-Deux-Mers follows the white Bordeaux standard recipe of a roughly equal mix of Sauvignon Blanc (50%) and Semillon (45%), with a dash of Muscadelle (5%) thrown in.  It was fermented in stainless steel tanks and kept away from oak, but aged on its lees for textural intrigue and complexity.

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Confirmed:  I am totally done with Nomacorcs.  Notacork.

White Bordeaux from economy-grade subregions does not normally make me sit up and take notice, but this bottle had my attention from the first pour, which packed a serious visual punch for a 2 year-old oak-free wine, screaming out of the bottle an electric medium-golden colour.  There is an instant interest factor on the nose, lemon drop and orange zest lent tropical flair by pineapple, coconut milk and vanilla bean.  The Turcaud’s unexpectedly luscious body is softened by a textural fuzziness and pierced by biting acidity, imbued with an overall sense of life and energy not often found in any $18 Bordeaux.  Sauvignon Blanc’s guava and grapefruit flavours shine through the most on the tongue, but strains of Semillon’s more measured honey and lanolin keep them anchored even as Muscadelle’s florals try to lift it up.  This is value wine par excellence, suitable for pretty much any occasion (but immediately making me think of Thanksgiving, especially if you’re a white-meat-no-gravy sort of turkey person).

90 points

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Cork Ratings:  2/10 & 5.5/10 (Points for minor effort on the right; short and fake on the left.)

2015 Domaine Matha Cuvee Lairis ($23)

And now for something completely different.  I don’t mind admitting that, even after a decade or so of fairly extensive wine study, I had no earthly idea that this bottle’s home region of Marcillac existed at all.  It is part of what seems to be the black hole of French viticultural exposure, South West France, constituting basically everything underneath Bordeaux and probably better known for Armagnac than anything non-distilled.  The top non-spirit regions in the area are probably Cahors (original home of Malbec – see last review) and Madiran (Tannat 4ever!), which gives you a sense of what we’re dealing with here.  Cahors is about one Bordeaux east of Bordeaux; Marcillac is one Bordeaux east of Cahors.  You could make a square using Bordeaux (top left), Marcillac (top right), Roussillon (bottom right) and the southwest corner of the whole country (bottom left) as the edges.

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Marcillac’s grape of choice is the equally anonymous Fer Servadou, which is known in the region as Mansois and known in other places as many other things, although it only gets play as a blending component elsewhere.  “Fer” means “iron” in French, but even though iron oxide in Marcillac vineyard soils colours it red and even though iron is a common flavour element in Fer wine, the name most likely refers to the rigid strength of the grapevine’s wood as opposed to anything to do with the grapes.  Ironic.  There are only 180 hectares of vines in the whole Marcillac region, 15 of which belong to the Domaine Matha estate, which dates back generations.  Their Cuvee Lairis comes from over 30 year-old Fer vines fermented in concrete using indigenous yeasts and then aged without any oak treatment.

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Remember this name.

I had no idea what to expect going into this glass.  My inaugural Fer Servadou had a violently purple hue and a record-screech rustic aromatic profile, funk and earth on top of funk and earth.  Tar, shoe polish, charcoal, prune juice, topsoil, and (yes) iron, everything rusty and grimy and dusty, Old World with a capital O (and a capital W, I suppose).  Despite its fire-and-brimstone olfactory symphony, and despite immediately prevalent tannins, it was deft and light on its feet thanks to spritely acid and a svelte 12.5% abv.  Some black raspberry and cranberry fruit tentatively inches into the frame as the wine hits your tongue, but it’s quickly subsumed by its terroir, buried by pavement and pencils and all-encompassing dirt.  It’s not conventionally appetizing, but I sort of love it.  I can’t guarantee that you’ll like this wine, but I can guarantee that it will get your neurons firing…and if you’re playing French Wine Region Bingo, this might get you there.  A worthy $23 experience.

89 points

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