Wine Review: Red Blends of the Eternal Ice Age

20 03 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

Happy first day of spring.  Spare me.  Yeah, I’ve seen all of the (obviously non-local) articles and Instagram pics and Twitter updates about new rosé and bubble releases and patio beers and T-shirt weather.  Meanwhile I have snowbanks bordering each side of my driveway that are taller than each of my children and still see the minus sign side the thermometer heading to work every morning.  It’s supposed to snow again on Thursday morning and there is no god and we are in some kind of forsaken meteorological time loop that will have no end.  So forget you, frizzy pink refreshing splashes and dainty Prosecco; I’m gearing up for blustery Armageddon, armed with a pair of full reds that scoff at the entire concept of spring.  I need to find joy somewhere, after all.

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Forget you, “spring”.

2014 Gerard Bertrand Corbieres (~$20)

I know from past experience that Gerard Bertrand is a value wine savant, and that his legend in the south of France is ever-growing.  I also knew that this particular bottle of Corbieres, part of his “Terroirs” regional collection of bottlings, hit the wine awards mother lode in 2016 by landing the #55 spot in the much-anticipated Wine Spectator Top 100 list — not bad for a $20 bottle from a little-known region.  What I didn’t know about Bertrand was that he was a prodigious professional rugby player before he followed in his family’s footsteps and turned to winemaking, even juggling a pro career with vigneron duties in the aftermath of his father’s death as he took over the reins of his ancestors’ business.  He has now hung up the cleats for good but brings some of his sport’s scrappiness to all of the wines that bear his name.  

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If you head straight south from Paris until you hit the border (or the Mediterranean), you will find yourself in Corbieres, a sub-region of Languedoc-Roussillon situated right beside the famed board-game town of Carcassonne.  This is Bertrand’s home region, a mountainous area with rocky limestone soils and plenty of heat, best known for hearty red wines.  This particular offering is a classic GSM (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre) blend, done in a slightly less-than-classic way:  the Syrah is fermented via carbonic maceration while the Grenache and Mourvedre avoid the anaerobic treatment and are vinified the normal way.  After blending, the finished wine sees 8 months in barrique before bottling.

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Corbieres is that red blob.  And France is separately also an island IN the Mediterranean Sea.

Despite being a Grenache-dominant blend, it takes after Syrah in appearance, beaming out of the bottle a pretty semi-opaque purple.  The deep and chewy nose feels like it is hard at work, a blue-collar mixture of hot rocks, stewed blackberry, mulled grape, pavement and pepper, like a mountain highway project in a sauna.  There is an astringent tang to the sanguine, dusty, granitic flavours, ultra-fine tannins fully enveloping a reticent core of baked black fruit and roast beef.  This is a film noir of a bargain bottle, one that eventually wins you over with serious substance bordering on severity as opposed to flashy flouncy fruit.  A highly un-Grenache-like GSM, its profile and presence dominated by the latter two varietals in the blend, but layered and rich and very impressive for its price tag.

89+ points

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Cork/Stelvin Ratings:  8.5/10 & 7.5/10 (Strong showings all around.  That GB cross is a thing of beauty.)

2015 Dirty Laundry Cabernet Sauvignon (~$32)

I know:  I said this was a red blend review, but this is labelled as a Cabernet Sauvignon.  Turns out that the label and I are both right, as this particular Cab rendition from Summerland BC’s Dirty Laundry contains the VQA-minimum 85% Cabernet Sauvignon to permit its branding as a pure-varietal wine.  More precisely, as stated by s. 26(1) of the Wines of Marked Quality Regulation under the Food and Agricultural Products Classification Act (B.C. Reg. 79/2005, thank you law school), “in order to use a varietal name on a label, a BC wine of distinction must meet the following criteria:  (a) single-varietal, if the wine consists primarily of one grape variety and at least 85% of the total wine by volume, when measured at a temperature of 20°C, is derived from that variety…”.  (As an aside, there is a hilarious exception to s. 26(1)(a) in s. 26(2), which says: “For the purposes of subsection (1), a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon is deemed to be one variety of grape if a BC wine of distinction also contains Merlot.”  What??  This explains the ubiquitous Franc-heavy “Cabernet Merlot” labelling we often see on the BC shelf, but why should Merlot be the determining factor of two separate grapes’ varietal identity?)  Anyway, 15% Merlot rounds out this particular Cab, but since the Cabernet grapes come from the Similkameen Valley and the Merlot grapes hail from the Okanagan, a separate region, the bottle’s label can only bear the general “British Columbia” designation (s. 28 of the Regulation).

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I am on record as saying that varietal (or close-to-varietal) Cabernet Sauvignon can be the third rail of BC wine and is always, always a tough road to hoe in the province, with the popular demand for the grape offset by the somewhat-less-than-ideal location in which to grow it, the shorter ripening season in the Okanagan not always meshing well with Cab’s desire to hang out on the vine before hitting phenolic ripeness.  There are exceptions to every wine rule, but often chasing varietal Cab in Canada can lead to flying too close to the sun.  This bottle is neither a cautionary tale nor a victorious contrarian, but somewhere in between.

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Corbieres left, Cab right.

Dirty Laundry’s 2015 Cab is surprisingly lacking a double-entendre name, but otherwise grabs the attention once it’s in the glass thanks to a highly confectionary, oak-influenced nose lacing icing sugar, vanilla cupcake, white mocha and hickory over top of grape jelly and currant fruit, the result hedonistically pleasing if a little put on.  This outward veneer recedes slightly as you taste, the underlying fruit revealing traces of green pepper herbaceousness and astringency, but it delivers just enough primary impact to give you a sense of the varietal.  This would be aided by a touch more acidity to imbue the wine with a greater sense of freshness, but its grape skin, dark bakers’ chocolate, celery root and black licorice impressions lend some seriousness to the aroma set.  The wine’s best impression is right at the point of swallowing, when flavours and textures start to align, only to vanish from the mouth to the stomach.  The effort shows, but the grape can be such an uphill battle.

86- points

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