Cellar Direct: Summer Vibes, Part 3

7 09 2017

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

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So different, yet so marvellous.

Well, the leaves in my backyard are starting to turn yellow and fall, and my kids just started a new year of school, so it’s probably a good time to wrap up my multi-part summer saga featuring the always-impressive old school wines of Cellar Direct, an online purveyor of European treasures that it offers up to a list of eager email subscribers and then ships nationwide when weather permits.  I recently had the chance to meet Ron van Schilt, one of the founders and owners of the business and the man in charge of sourcing all of the wines offered up across Canada, and his love and passion for his producers and their creations is physically palpable in every word he speaks.  Serious Wines all, and wondrous finds.

Cellar Direct sent me a six-pack sampler of their prior 2017 offerings at the start of the summer that I have been devouring in twos over the past couple months; to see how Wines #1, 2, 3 and 4 showed, click here then here for the recap (hint:  well, well, well and well).  Time to see if the last duo of bottles follow suit.  Like everything else in this offer set, they hailed from France and were the product of hand-worked soils and low-intervention winemaking, but they had basically nothing else in common.  I started off with a familiar face, and a blast from the past.

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2015 Francois Pinon Touraine Brut Rosé ($28)

A Francois Pinon sparkler from France’s Loire Valley was the very first wine I ever tried from Cellar Direct, (insanely enough) almost exactly two years ago, and now I feel I’m coming full circle.  That introductory bottle was a gorgeous sparkling Vouvray made from Chenin Blanc, a signature grape from the Loire.  Tonight’s bottle is also gorgeous and also sparkling, but from slightly-less-signature grape sources.  You might expect Loire Valley rosé to be the product of Cabernet Franc, and some of it is, but a strong pink contingent is made with native varietal Grolleau, and this one mixes a bit of that with a majority of…Malbec!, known here (as in Cahors) as Côt.  Loire Malbec!  My whole summer has seemingly been about re-evaluating the use and potential of this grape.

This sparkling rosé was made in the traditional method like Champagne, by starting with a low-alcohol still base wine and then inducing a secondary fermentation in bottle through the addition of further sugar (generally unfermented juice) and yeast, capturing the precious by-product of CO2 within the liquid itself in the form of glorious bubbles.  From hand-picked organic grapes and a family estate dating back to 1786, the secondary fermentation process of the wine isn’t the only thing that’s traditional:  no machines are used to tend the vines (which were planted by the current winemaker’s grandfather), no commercial yeasts trigger fermentation, and little to no sulphur dioxide is added at bottling.

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Colour can often be an afterthought in assessing wine, but I made myself stop and stare at the impeccably beautiful orangey-salmon stream filling my glass, a perfect shimmering hue for bubbly rosé.  I was snapped out of my reverie by a lively, spicy, floral swirl of aromatics, part sandpaper and white pepper, part carnations and potpourri, cut by sea breeze and dried apricots.  Intricate fruit starts to emerge on the palate, white raspberry and frozen strawberry, grounded by chalk and rock salt, amplified by brioche and charred bread, with minuscule incisive bubbles and glass-shard acidity.  Complex and delicate, its ingrained carbonation still cruising over 24 hours later, the wine’s rush of bubbles scrub the mouth clean on the finish, readying it for more.  An absolutely screaming value at $28 and a wine I could drink every day.

92 points

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Cork Reviews:  3/10 & 3.5/10 (What can I say – not a whole ton to work with here.)

2015 Domaine des Amphores “Altitude 300” Saint-Joseph Blanc

I have barely seen any white Saint-Joseph on the market at all; this largely red-dominant region in the Northern Rhone Valley is known for its Syrah, but it quietly features a small percentage of white production, which must be comprised of wines made from Marsanne, Roussanne or both.  This bottle opts for the latter route, coming in at 80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne, and it differs from many other traditional-style European wines in that it does not involve a multi-century back-story:  owners Veronique and Philippe Grenier are first-generation winemakers and themselves the ancestral trailblazers, having converted run-down wild family farmland to a fully biodynamic vineyard in 1994.  They take a gentle hands-off approach to vinification, using only native yeasts and maturing partly in steel tank and partly using old neutral oak barrels.  This particular bottling is so named for the altitude of the vineyards from which it is derived, which are found at the top of a valley 300 metres above sea level.

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This is yet another colour hit, a statement hue of deep, dense, gleaming gold that is both remarkable and unusual for the wine’s youthful age.  The nose is classic white Rhone, mixing confectionary and nutty butterscotch, maple, pistachio and angel food cake with lychee and burnt orange fruit and a ballast of sweat and brine.  But the true story of this bottle is its texture, long and liquid and stretched out, sensuously coating and caressing the tongue, oozing like molasses but kept just vibrant enough through subtle pinpricks of acidity.  Grilled peach, oolong tea and juicy canned pear flavours seem to reverberate and echo endlessly within the wine’s seamless structure.  It would be very, VERY easy for a bottle like this to simply disappear, which mine now mostly has.  It may not be shooting for life-altering majesty, but it delivers equal parts pleasure and depth with aplomb.

90+ points

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