12 Days of Vinebox: Day 5

29 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

The westernmost wine region on a map of the Loire Valley in France is Muscadet, maritime stronghold of the relatively neutral but late-ripening, frost-resistant grape variety Melon (or Melon de Bourgogne, or Melon Blanc). I might propose that this wine deserves a better fate than the shrinking total vineyard areas that characterize its current struggle to survive. Melon is a regional speciality and frankly as a grape might not be capable of achieving much more, although the wine world needs to hold on to this sort of heritage, lest everything homogenize into “hedonistic fruit bomb” oblivion. I’m therefore pleased to see such a wine in Vinebox. In theory, Muscadet should be popular for many of the same reasons Pinot Grigio is an international superstar: it’s neutral and hence unobjectionable (said to taste of “subtle green fruit”), approachable, and food-friendly, albeit with considerably more provincial character. I mean, how many wines can taste of the sea itself? Then again, this is the sort of wine that is built to pair well with local cuisine and is therefore supposed to represent but a shard of viticultural diversity, as opposed to stepping up as the next candidate for world domination. Perhaps it is mediocre to great right where it is.

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Muscadet Sevre et Maine is the largest appellation within the broader region, representing around two-thirds of total production. Wines from the broader Muscadet appellation are rarely seen outside the region, made in fairly small quantities, and deemed insipid by international critics. Sevre et Maine refers to a couple of small rivers that flow through the area, which roughly comprises the eastern half of the region. At their best, Sevre et Maine wines are light-bodied, tautly acidic, tangy, and saline in character, although there is some interesting regional variation in them that would be fun to explore. Although traditionally fermented in large old oak vessels, nowadays stainless steel and concrete have become more common. More recently winemakers are seeking to designate unique terroirs within the region, and are even experimenting with Burgundian techniques such as small barrel fermentation. Perhaps the region isn’t going anywhere without a fight. Read the rest of this entry »

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12 Days of Vinebox: Day 4

28 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I’d say we have had an auspicious first quarter of Vinebox. A few surprises, and three rather good wines. We enter the second quarter with heads held high and hearts open, albeit fatigued from all the (self-imposed) indentured servitude that comes along with blogging BOTH Advent and post-Advent calendars. This much wine writing in such a concentrated span of time is invigorating, inspiring, exhausting, and maddening in approximately equal measure. But the wine dudes abide. It is a good sign that I still feel the wine post-Advent love this afternoon. Ask me if this is still the case next Tuesday. As I somewhat hazily recall, this wine was an early draft pick of mine when Peter and I divvied up the vials.

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Corbieres is a smaller appellation within the much larger and obscenely diverse Languedoc. Yes, we are back in the south of France, but across the Golfe du Lion from Provence. Corbieres is one of the Languedoc sub-appellations that has steadfastly forged its own reputation. Corbieres itself is further sub-divided (but of course!) into 11 regions based on climate and soil topography, with basic distinctions drawn between coastal zones that enjoy a Mediterranean influence, a northern strip contiguous with the equally well-known appellation Minervois, relatively cooler western high altitude vineyards that experience some Atlantic influence, and finally an enclave of very rugged lands in the south and centre. Really then, we are looking at a minimum of four distinct wine regions fused into one political entity whose purpose is to provide a reasonably well-known signifier on wine labels. I can nevertheless comment on a few rough constants. Corbieres on the whole is hilly and relatively warm. The heat is conducive to grape ripening yet is tempered by maritime winds and altitude, so that the grapes retain enough acidity to yield fresh aromatic wines as opposed to something purely jammy. This is a classic recipe for oenological success, although now I must attempt to dial in the specific nature of today’s offering. Or should I say “vial in”…thank you, thank you, I’m here for the next four days! Try the (sustainably farmed cruelty-free) veal.  Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 14

14 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

After last night’s quirky yet mightily delicious Rioja, I’ve got the distinct feeling that this weekend run of three wines is going to deliver fireworks. Lo and behold, today’s reveal is a Chablis from one of the best known, most emblematic producers in the region. Burgundy remains my favourite wine region despite many strong contenders. And Chablis, that northern Burgundian outpost of stark minerality and abject crystalline purity, is a particularly singular wine region unto itself. Plagued by viticultural hazards, including regular springtime frosts and the odd unpredictable hailstorm, grape growing is no easy task in this hinterland. I continue to marvel at exactly how these hard-working vintners can distill these harsh conditions into such sheer, stony, precise, pixelated and elegant wines. They are known for a distinctive “gunflint” note, described as “goût de pierre à fusil“, or “steely” if you prefer something rather less martial. ‘Minerality” remains hard to definitively pin down as a construct. We have to date identified no specific “mineral” receptors in the human gustatory system, and yet one cannot reasonably deny the existence of such aromas in certain wines. I’ve even heard the argument that Chablis is where Chardonnay shines most brightly, its true spiritual home. The notion that this grape’s genuine essence could be more ethereal mineral than gaudy fruit intrigues me to no end, subjective viewpoint though it may be.

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William Fevre began with the 1959 harvest, although William’s father Maurice was growing grapes back in the 1930s, mainly in Chablis’ Grand Cru vineyards. Today William Fevre owns the largest number of Grand and Premier Cru vineyards in the region, populated mostly by old, low-yielding vines. The estate was purchased by the Henriot family of Champagne in 1998. Although such a takeover can sometimes be a harbinger of decreased quality, the Henriots instead implemented a new philosophy geared towards better preservation of the nuances of Chablis terroir: use of new oak was abolished in favour of old barrels with an average age of 6 years. Grapes are grown organically, although the estate isn’t particularly fussy about getting official certification. William Fevre seeks to preserve even the most muted variations across individual sites. This focus is coupled with an emphasis on “instant appeal” in the wines, one of those ideological melds of tradition and avant-garde technology that works, and works well.

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The 2015 vintage in Chablis was characterized by a late onset of winter, with some frost and rain until the end of May followed by hot, dry weather at the start of June until the end of August. This is pretty optimal for the Petit Chablis and (non-Cru) Chablis vineyards, lesser sites where grapes can struggle to reach an appropriate degree of ripeness. Indeed, the fine folks at Bricks chose well here. According to William Fevre cellarmaster Didier Seguier, “It’s a perfect vintage for the lower appellations, Petit Chablis and Chablis… These can be difficult in cool, late years, but in ’15 they have a good level of ripeness and freshness.” The entry level Chablis AOC profiled here is harvested manually, with the grapes receiving a brief, gentle pneumatic press followed by gravity settling of the juice. Some fine lees is retained, and the wine does undergo malolactic fermentation (many basic Chablis do not, although I believe the practice has become more common in the region of late). Maturation occurs only in stainless steel.

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Cork Rating: 3.0/10 (Points for total and utter clarity as to region and vintage. Alas, there is little else to score here.)

This all sounds textbook. Frankly, that’s exactly what I am expecting here, in the very best way. I am not disappointed. The fruits include tart Granny Smith apple and the most stern and austere of the green pears, followed by some suggestions of under-ripe hard nectarine, lemon and watermelon rinds (you know, that watery white stuff), a few ghosts of pineapple and starfruit. White berries do occur in nature (e.g. the snowberry) but they are largely unpalatable. If one were indeed edible, I feel I would detect such a note in this taut, precise little dynamo. A pleasing minerality of matchlock musket, chalkboards, and Epsom salts begins to billow from the glass, and I welcome more associations of green banana peel, salted cultured butter, margarita glass rim, and Siberian peashrub/caragana flowers (let’s go with “acacia” for those of you following along on a tasting wheel). The fresh acid is far from meek, malo notwithstanding, and the finish recalls an abrupt sharp slap followed by a few conciliatory caresses. This aggression will not stand, man. Truth be told, this is far too classy to merit more than a few allusions to anything truly bellicose.

89+ points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 10

10 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Riesling. I’ve been waiting for this Advent moment. In his delightful book “Reading Between The Wines”, Terry Theise proposes that Riesling is the greatest of all wine grapes, stating that nothing else so perfectly captures the essence of the land. Riesling is said to repress its own very nature in favour of serving as a pure conduit through which soil, climate, sunlight, farming practices, and the like can shine through: a changeling that mirrors the terroir. I’m not entirely sure about this, as I find Riesling pretty distinctive on the palate heedless of the wine region. Perhaps I’m being overly analytical. The sentiment is beautiful, and such a grape-land symbiosis likely fuels the ability to great Rieslings to provide a spiritual experience (if you believe wine can do such a thing… And I do).

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Alsace Rieslings typically have less floral character than their German counterparts, often showing rather firm and lean in their youth. In the best vintages this austere baseline eventually blossoms into wines that can seem rather rich and “big”, but able to reflect vineyard character as adeptly as their German counterparts. Alsace is the driest wine region in France, far away from maritime influence and with the Vosges mountains providing further shelter. This warm, dry climate allows grapes to ripen slowly, yielding good aromas but not at the expense of acidity. Many top producers consider Riesling to be the most noble of the Alsace noble varieties, albeit one that can be difficult to work with due to its late-ripening proclivities and aforementioned responsiveness to site variation. Unlike the soft and immediately aromatic Gewurztraminer, Alsace Riesling requires patience, a dedicated cellar master with a fine attention to detail in the vineyard but a corresponding savvy around what to leave well enough alone during the winemaking itself. Enter the Hugel family. Read the rest of this entry »





Global Champagne Day Taittinger Technical Tasting @ Alloy Restaurant

21 10 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Happy (belated) Global Champagne Day! There is probably no better way than a champagne tasting to shake off what has become a considerable amount of wine writing rust. Tasting bubbles, bantering with a few friends, listening to a knowledgeable and engaging speaker — good for the soul. As usual I arrive at the restaurant too early, a neurosis that rarely extends to other important engagements in my life but one that seems omnipresent where wine events are concerned. I simply do not want to miss anything. Right away there is a glass of Cuvee Brut Reserve NV (non-vintage) in my hand, Taittinger’s entry level offering, and at this point I do not mind waiting. IMG_2148Taittinger’s Mikael Falkman comes highly recommended, although on this occasion he seems more inclined to let these majestic wines speak for themselves. He does come to life near the end of the tasting with an exuberant blend of knowledge and humour.  Mikael makes sure to provide a concise history of this famed house, but I particularly appreciate his expositions of the Taittinger family’s winemaking philosophy. I will provide these gems and nuggets along with my tasting notes for each wine. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 8

8 12 2017

I feel like I was slightly prescient yesterday when I said that most of the bottle picks in the first week of Bricks Half-Bottle Wine Advent were straight out of a Classic Wine Regions textbook, as today we hit probably the 2nd most likely remaining appellation in France to get the call in a Wine Primer All-Stars competition:  Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  (If Bordeaux shows up anytime in the next 3 days, we will definitely have cracked the code.)  Chateauneuf is the jewel of the Southern Rhone, spiritual birthplace of the GSM (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre) blend, and purveyor of bold, brash, rich yet layered wines that are an Old World gateway drug for many a Cali Cab or Aussie Shiraz lover.  The area’s regal approachability arises out of a combination of extensive sunlight, scorching summer temperatures (over 30 degrees Celsius on average) and a whipping northern wind so famous that it has its own name (the mistral), which cools the grapes, prevents rot and allows for longer hang times and prolonged ripening.

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Tonight’s Chateauneuf representative is the 2012 Domaine Chante Cigale, a 100+ year-old winery that recently turned its winemaking duties over to someone barely out of his teens.  In 2002, with his father suffering from health problems, Alexandre Favier, freshly graduated from viticultural studies at the age of 20 (he started wine school when he was 15) took the reins and hasn’t looked back since.  The Domaine owns 40 hectares of vineyards, but they’re not in an orderly square surrounding the winery, instead plastered and scattered throughout FORTY-FIVE different plots all across Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Favier relies only on ambient native yeasts present in the cellar for fermentation and ages his wines in an oddly endearing array of almost every type and size of oak barrel possible (foudres, demi-muids, barriques, mostly pre-used) as well as concrete tanks.

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This cork deserves its own picture.  See below.

This particular Chante Cigale is the Domaine’s entry-level CNDP (if there is such a thing), keeping with the classic varietal mix of the region at 65% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre and 5% Cinsault.  It is a deep ruby colour and immediately smells like something that has been preserved:  beef jerky, molasses, date, sunbaked earth, hickory and Sultana crackers, if these had been cooked down in an Instant Pot and then set on fire.  The wine’s hefty 15% alcohol is well-contained, but everything in its profile is stewed or baked, leaving it begging for a touch of primary freshness that never comes.  Malty, Port-y, fruitcake-y, it is neither thick nor heavy in body but constantly feels that way due to a dense sluggishness in its flavours.  Like a Wagyu beef burger left too long under the heat lamp before being served, the pedigree is there, but in execution it just hung on a bit too long.  As fellow PnP Advent author Ray Lamontagne puts it, “it’s like an old venison milkshake”.  There are no kind similes.

86+ points

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Cork Rating: 9/10 (What a monster. Coat of arms, complete with cicadas [singing grasshoppers, aka Chante Cigales – nice], killer intricacy and coverage; glorious.)





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 4

4 12 2017

Well, after a riotously successful guest author turn yesterday, you’re stuck back with me tonight.  Thankfully, there seems to be no “stuck” and no neutral gear in the Bricks Wine Advent Calendar, which just keeps churning out half-bottles of interest on the daily like it’s no big thing.  We’re at 4 for 4 in terms of legitimately interesting, well-made, high-quality, non-seat-filler wines, and I get the feeling there’s going to be 20 more where that came from.  I should have known that tonight’s producer would end up in this calendar, as Beaujolais’ Manoir du Carra (at least in my experience with them) seems to be the king of the small-format wine.  My first interaction with the winery was in the form of a highly rare but utterly magnificent (for those solo wine-drinker households like mine) 500 mL bottling of Cru Beaujolais, a format that I would like every winery in the world to emulate, as it ends up being either a glass-and-a-bit-each weeknight dinner almost-bottle for two or a vinous feast less the hangover for one.  Turns out MdC can bring it in 375 mL format too.

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Tonight’s offering is the 2015 “Montee de la Tonne” (which roughly translates to “The Rise Of The Ton”, which I don’t understand) from Fleurie, which is one of 10 top “Cru” sub-regions of Beaujolais, known for its elegant, almost pretty, wines.  Manoir du Carra owns 50 separate vineyard plots within Beaujolais, and Montee de la Tonne is one of them, a 1.5 hectare micro-plot of 50 year-old wines just recently acquired by the producer that it holds in significant esteem.  Like all red Beaujolais, the wine is 100% Gamay, fermented partly through carbonic maceration (an intra-grape fermentation process spurred by CO2 and an absence of oxygen that enhances bubble-gummy fruit flavours) and then aged in large natural oak barrels for 3-4 months before bottling.

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Cork Rating:  2/10 (Can we all agree to eradicate all “Mis En Bouteille” corks from existence?)

First impressions:  this is a surprisingly deep and vivid purple colour, still mostly transparent but pretty amped up for Beaujolais.  The crisp herbal, floral nose evokes roses (complete with stalks and thorns) and potpourri, softened by felt and spiked with pepper, surrounded by a mist of strawberry and raspberry fruit and just a whiff of banana skins, the latter likely a product of the carbonic fermentation process.  Powdery yet poised on the palate, kept haughty by emery board tannin and piercing rivulets of acid, the Montee de la Tonne flashes class and subtlety with a careful flavour mix of dusty currant, sidewalk chalk, dried flowers, rocks and rain, never quite letting you in but letting you admire its sophistication from afar.  Like a black and white movie star, this is cast in hazy heroic tones, admirable but not fully reachable, a true throwback.

88 points

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It’s probably not what led to the banana skin aromas in this wine, but isoamyl acetate can result in banana smells in some bottles.  The chemistry continues…








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