Calgary Wine Life: Maison Sichel Masterclass with James Sichel

3 11 2018
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James Sichel of Maison Sichel

James Sichel is on a mission.  One of five brothers who comprise the sixth generation running the family-operated Maison Sichel, born in Margaux to English parents, James grew up among the history and legacy of Bordeaux and is now charged with connecting a whole new generation of wine drinkers with the fruits of his family’s labour, and rekindling the passion of those who think Bordeaux has passed them by.  There is a view among some modern drinkers that the region has ossified, become beholden to ancient classifications and over-reliant on score-chasing, stratospherically priced speculative investment bottles that are detached from the land and the soil and everything human and natural that goes into making great wine.  There are parts of such a criticism that may stick, but there is so much more to Bordeaux than four-figure futures bottlings and producer tiers; it is a massively prolific producing region and has somehow become an under-the-radar source of superb Tuesday night offerings (particularly, in my opinion, on the white side of the ledger) and sub-$100 luxury splurges.  James’ quest is to bring value Bordeaux back to the rest of the world, to steer the focus away from the elitism that can accompany 1st growth price tags and to allow a fresh audience to rediscover the true beating heart of Bordeaux.  The audience seems to be responding:  Bordeaux sales in Alberta are up 24% this year as compared to last.

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Maison Sichel is a complex entity.  Based in Bordeaux since 1883, they are part estate producer (they own over 350 hectares of vineyards in various different appellations), part winemaking negociant (they work with and source grapes from a series of smaller growers in southern Bordeaux then make wine, including their value flagship Sirius, from the fruit) and part discerning merchant (they sell other hand-selected partner estates’ wines other those estates’ own labels).  On the whole, if you search for the whole Sichel range on its website, you end up with 189 producer results, from straightforward cheap and cheerful offerings all the way up to Chateau Palmer, one of the premier wine estates in the world.  The Sichel family’s pride and joy, however, and James’ current home, is Chateau Angludet, a Margaux estate that is now highly regarded but was on the verge of ruin when the family purchased it in 1961.  It is now their hub and the pinnacle family pursuit.  Aside from Angludet (and a highly savvy prior investment in Palmer in the 1930s), the Sichels own Chateau Argadens in Bordeaux Superieur and Chateau Trillol down in Corbieres.  James’ brother Benjamin Sichel is the winemaker for all three family-owned estates.

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Foreshadowing.

James was on day 10 of a Canadian tour when he took the time (ahead of a sold-out black tie dinner) to lead his Alberta import agent through a portfolio tasting of many of the Maison Sichel offerings available in the province.  I was fortunate enough to sit in on the session and experience my own reacquaintance with a region that too often bypasses my attention.  There were ELEVEN wines poured, so from here on out I will try to be brief.  [Editor’s Note:  I did not succeed.] Read the rest of this entry »

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Wine Review: Famille Sichel Bordeaux Tiers

15 04 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

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What a Bordeaux progression looks like.

Bordeaux is one of those regions that any aspiring wine geek finds out about roughly 15 seconds after beginning their vinous adventure.  It leads off many textbooks, is (rightly) touted as the spiritual homeland of red grape overlord Cabernet Sauvignon and its consigliere Merlot and is held up as a must-try area both so that new oenophiles can get a sense of the classics and because top-flight Bordeaux can be so memorable that its first-chapter place in all future textbooks is likely assured.  Of course, all of that comes at a price, one that seems to be increasing by the year, as wines from the top chateaux become more luxury commodity and less agricultural product and as international demand in new markets shoots through the roof.  So what are the non-obscenely wealthy wine-curious to do?  Here’s one way to start:  find a reputable producer and taste your way up their lineup, through the quality tiers and nesting-doll classifications layered throughout the Bordeaux appellation.  Even if you don’t make it all the way up to the grand vin flagship of the chateau, you will end up with a really good sense of what makes this rarefied region tick and also start to understand why those tiers exist in the first place.

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I was fortunate enough to test this tasting theory with the wines of Famille Sichel, a producer with whom I didn’t initially think I was familiar until discovering that they are the owners of one of Bordeaux’s hidden gem producers, Margaux’s Chateau d’Angludet.  While the winery is centuries old and the Sichel family’s history in Bordeaux is almost equally entrenched (they have been established in the region as a negociant since 1883 and are on their sixth generation of family ownership), their two paths didn’t cross until the 1960s, when d’Angludet was in a state of extreme disrepair and was bought and revived by Peter Sichel thanks to an extensive replanting and restoration program.  Current proprietor Benjamin Sichel continues both the negociant business (under the Maison Sichel banner) and the Chateau’s estate bottlings with a heavier focus in the vineyard and a defter touch in the cellar.  I have previously enjoyed Chateau d’Angludet on numerous occasions and now got to experience the trail of bottles that leads up to it. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Winter Warmers, Part 1

23 02 2018

By Dan Steeves

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

The end of February is slowly approaching and we are less than a month away from the first day of spring. That means warmer weather is in our sights and we soon won’t have to deal with any more snow, right? That might be wishful thinking, but we can certainly hope it is the case! Until that warmer weather shows up and takes permanent residency in the prairies, we will need to keep staying warm and spending our evenings huddled around the fireplace with a nice glass of full-bodied red wine. Although I personally drink all types of wines all throughout the year (nobody should deprive themselves of rosé for months on end), there is no doubt that I enjoy more red wines over the cooler winter months, not only for the warming effects of a 15% ABV Cabernet Sauvignon, but also because we tend to eat more hearty full-flavoured comfort foods during this time and less light and refreshing fare.

To get you through the next month until you start seeing green on the ground, we have reviewed a few robust red wines that will be great at keeping you warm and satisfied until the spring flowers start blooming. We kick off this two-part series with reviews of great value reds from two regions known for their big red wines:  Bordeaux, France and the Colchagua Valley, Chile.

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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. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere

19 11 2014

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

If someone made a movie about the story of Carmenere, I would watch it.

If someone made a movie about the story of Carmenere, I would watch it.

The story of Carmenere is one of my favourite stories in all of wine.  It starts, as many wine stories do, in France, where centuries ago Carmenere was one of the six varietals used to make red Bordeaux, along with Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  As French explorers set out to claim and colonize new territories outside of Europe, they often brought plantings of their national vines with them, introducing these grapes to foreign soils.  It turns out they were lucky they did, because when the phylloxera louse decimated the vineyards of Europe in the mid-19th century, it wiped out Carmenere in Bordeaux completely — today, there are only five red Bordeaux varietals.  Everyone thought that Carmenere had been tragically lost forever…and then it randomly showed up in Chile over a hundred years later.

On November 24th, 1994, the French ampelographer (actual meaning: one who identifies and classifies grapevines) Jean Michel Boursiquot was paying a visit to the Carmen vineyards in Chile when he noticed that the Merlot growing there wasn’t actually Merlot at all, but Carmenere.  The lost grape of Bordeaux had been growing in the Southern Hemisphere for more than century, but due to its vines’ and grapes’ uncanny resemblance to those of its Bordeaux cousin Merlot, everyone assumed it was the latter, particularly given the general understanding that Carmenere no longer existed.  This led to some extensive (and confusing) cross-planting of vineyards that proved extremely difficult to unwind.  Boursiquot’s epic discovery was a boon to world viticulture, and it gave Chile what it needed most at the end of the 20th century:  a wine identity, forged in what is now proudly recognized as the country’s national grape.  It was also a big help to the resulting wines:  Carmenere ripens weeks later than Merlot, and if picked early (due to mistaken identity) it can exhibit strong, and generally unpleasant, green pepper flavours. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Co-op Wine & Spirits Judgment of Paris Tasting, Part 2

24 10 2011

The official checklist of what was poured, for the low low total retail price of $3800.

If you missed the excitement of the white wine portion of Co-op’s Judgment of Paris re-enactment, or me harshly slagging a $300 bottle of Grand Cru Burgundy, click here for Part 1 of this post.  While you had a whole day to absorb the notes and results from the white flight before moving onto the reds, we had about 15 minutes, which was spent running to McDonalds and powering down cheeseburgers and Quarter Pounders (note to wine retailers:  if you’re conducting a 5 hour tasting featuring 20 wines, don’t wait until the end of the tasting to serve food).   Then it was time for the main event.  Generally speaking, I think white wines are tragically underappreciated as compared to reds and shouldn’t be automatically classified as a vinous undercard; that said, some of the J of P red wines are among the most famous on Earth and were clearly the star attractions of this show.  I was particularly excited for the opportunity to try two of the five First Growth Bordeaux — Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Chateau Haut Brion (combined bottle price for both:  $1500), which, at least from a reputation/prestige/marketing standpoint, constitute the creme de la creme of the wine world.

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