Gerard Bertrand: Spring Sessions

10 04 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

As we came to the end yesterday of what felt like the first actual Calgary spring day of 2020, as warmth and sun and open sky allowed for some temporary reprieve from the surreal creeping dread of our daily pandemic existence, there was no better time to consider the virtues of fresh, bright, appealing, pleasant wines.  You don’t realize how much you miss pleasant until that sensation of easy comfort and untroubled joy is no longer as accessible in the world around you.

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Some wines thrill with complexity, but when life is plenty complex enough at the moment and you can actually sit outside without a jacket, sometimes the better vinous thrill is the bottle that can just provide happy company for a short while.  When I wrote about Gerard Bertrand’s marvellous Estates reds a month and a half ago, I almost opened these bottles instead, but decided to switch the order at the last moment.  Do you even remember a month and a half ago?  Now, having to firmly self-motivate in order to write at all, this vivacious patio trio felt like a vital lifeline to simpler, better, more pleasant times.  Two whites and a barely-rosé, perhaps the palest combined set of wines ever featured on PnP, shone through my malaise like this sunny day.  (Then it snowed again today.  But I digress.)  Let’s meet them.

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2018 Gerard Bertrand Terroir Picpoul de Pinet (~$21)

The Languedoc is almost entirely known as a red wine region, and for good reason:  its scorching summers and long growing season allow for even the swarthiest of reds to ripen with ease.  It is not a likely candidate to produce a crisp, acid-driven white, let alone one with sufficient distinction to form the basis of its own region…and yet here’s Picpoul de Pinet, surrounded by red stalwarts Saint Chinian and Faugeres and Pic-Saint-Loup but walking an entirely different path from all of them.  Located in the eastern Languedoc, near the Mediterranean Sea, Pinet benefits from the even closer Thau Basin, a large inland lagoon running parallel to the coast and conveying all of the same seaside benefits to the region, particularly significant temperature modulation and constant cooling wind activity.  This convenient geography has made Picpoul de Pinet, one of the few French wine regions directly named after its primary grape variety (“Picpoul from Pinet”), the white wine hub of the Languedoc, to the point where it was awarded formal appellation status in 2013.

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Picpoul is perfectly suited to thrive in these conditions, as it is late-ripening, needing the Mediterranean summer’s heat to complete its development, and yet remarkable at retaining acidity.  Its name apparently translates to “lip stinger” as a nod to its acidic core — “piquer” means “to sting”, although “poule” means “chicken”, so maybe it was lipless grape-stealing poultry who got an acidic surprise.  The particular vineyard from which these grapes were harvested is right along the banks of the Thau, and the Picpoul was harvested at night or at dawn to avoid oxidation and preserve freshness.  After low-temperature fermentation, the resulting wine was aged on lees in steel vats before being bottled.

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I am a committed fan of Picpoul, because it can only ever be itself.  This version was a pale greenish lemon in the glass, visually demure but for a hint of spritz, biding its time until you approach to explore further.  Intense biting citric aromas immediately pounce as your nose nears the glass, lemon-lime Gatorade powder and mandarin orange laced with chalk, a surrounding cacophony blasting Pop Rocks, green grass, parsley and Granny Smith apples at high volume but never penetrating the citrus core.  Powerfully, almost painfully, dry and tart from the first sip, the incisive acid burrows into your tongue and forcibly delivers a haymaker of cutting freshness, to the point where it’s extremely hard to allow the wine just to sit in the mouth — it squirms and writhes, desperate to unleash its energy.  A juicy sun-drenched body provides just enough protection from the acid rain, the lime-based fruit and lemongrass herbals and rock salt minerality almost achingly crisp but still poised.  This wine would sing while slicing through heavier, fattier foods (pork rinds/chicharron? salt and pepper dry ribs?) and would absolutely benefit from the contrast.  This is unquestionably true to form and a  wonderfully accessible example of Picpoul, even if might think that it’s out to kill you for most of the first glass.  Rarely do you see such power and control for $21.

89+ points

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2018 Gerard Bertrand Perles de Sauvignon (~$20)

This will inevitably less of a terroir story than the last bottle.  For one thing, rather than hailing from a region that was created in honour of the ideal geographic fit of its namesake grape, this wine is from the broader Pays d’Oc IGP region, which blankets the whole Languedoc-Roussillon, extends for 90,000 hectares and permits the inclusion of 56 different authorized grape varieties.  For another, it is made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc, the high-floor grape of the wine world, which can grow and be made into enjoyable wine almost everywhere.  Of course, the point of the bottle is not to tell the kind of site-specific tale as the last one; it’s to provide a proper wine experience that’s enjoyable for all, at a price that eliminates none from consideration.  Gerard Bertrand is rightly praised for ingenious bottle designs (the Cotes des Roses rosé still the standard-bearer for this), and this pearl necklace-laden bottle is another attempt to make the packaging an intentional part of the drinking process, a concept that I wholeheartedly endorse, even if I am less certain about the particular name choice in question.  (Officially, it ties back to the area’s renown for its oysters.)

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The Perles de Sauvignon is even paler than the Picpoul, angling closer to water-white at the rim and absolutely coating the bottom of the glass in tiny bubbles.  But it is unmistakably, unquestionably, irrevocably Sauvignon Blanc from the first exploratory inhale, and not the more restrained French style epitomized in Bordeaux or the Loire Valley.  No, this is raging flamboyant gooseberry, papaya, passionfruit and cantaloupe, with simultaneous lashings of grass clippings and sweet peas (both the flower and the vegetable), as most commonly and famously seen in the Sauv Blancs of Marlborough, New Zealand, a tropical-meets-herbal style created thanks to layered picking that captures both the most and least ripe expressions of the Sauvignon Blanc grape in a single blended whole.  The fruit scales back and the herbals ramp up on the palate, matcha and chamomile, thyme and oregano, Pine Sol and apple skins, but the tropical influence remains in echo form, clinging to powdery acid that streaks the wine into a chalky finish.  That ending hint of mineral may be the only common thread between this and the Picpoul above; this will surely be a pleasing bottle to many, but it tastes less like where it’s from than the wine that preceded it.

87- points

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Stelvin/Vinolok Ratings:  7/10, 1.5/10, 8/10 (For my money, the Perles de Sauvignon Vinolok closure is the best part of its bottle design.  The rose can do better than this.)

2018 Gerard Bertrand Gris Blanc (~$18)

Destined to be known forever as the GBGB, the Gerard Bertrand Gris Blanc must be for that surprisingly large contingent of people who enjoys rosé but is turned off when its depth of colour gets too intense.  I don’t understand these people.  Maybe it’s subconscious White Zinfandel pushback, maybe it’s a fear that colour equals sweetness, but it’s a real thing and it has kept so many from enjoying pink wine for so long.  So when I see a rosé from a renowned pink winemaker named “Grey White”, I assume it’s to make sure that no potential wine-drinker gets left behind.  Still, I do not adhere to the reactionary principle that paler is better (and I suspect that Bertrand probably doesn’t either), which makes it hard to know exactly what to make of this.  What is beyond doubt is that this is a bottle made with care:  a blend of Grenache Noir and Grenache Gris, the grapes are picked by hand and then immediately pressed (almost no skin contact with the red grape skins = almost no colour), with all pre-fermentation activity carried out in a reductive environment to preserve the inherent delicacy of the juice.

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This is another Pays d’Oc IGP wine, and as you’ve probably gathered by now, it is exceedingly pale:  my attempted colour descriptions include “dirty white” and, creepily, “skin colour”.  It smells like the ocean, saline and rainwater threaded with pink grapefruit, a passing whiff of cotton candy confection and raspberry jam coziness offering a sly hint of the grapes’ potential.  Some playful personality emerges to taste, musky melon and Bazooka Joe gum layered over the more predictably austere rhubarb and rose petals and Crystal Light.  Pulsing acid and connecting chalk (3 for 3!!) lends some gravitas to the lean sense of stern refreshment that’s a qualifying mark to all rosés of this type.  It is well-knit for the price and accomplishes its stark and linear mission, even if it may not convert fleshier rosé converts to the cause.  But it brought me back to myself a bit by commanding internal contemplation of what it means to be a successful rosé…any $18 wine that spawns those sorts of discussions is pulling its weight.

87+ points

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