WineAlign

Find the right wine at the right price, right now.

Bourgogne Lovers Part II: Finding Value in Bourgogne

By John Szabo MSOctober 18, 2014

 

Some Regions & Producers to Seek Out, and a Buyer’s Guide of Currently Available Wines

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Part I last week surveyed some of the challenges facing La Bourgogne. But despite the doom and gloom outlined, all hope is not lost for Bourgogne lovers. In fact, there are several pockets within the region that remain relatively good value in this high stakes game, and the quality of Bourgogne wines in general is better than anytime before in history. Not even Bourgogne’s lauded name on a label is sufficient to sell mediocre wines in today’s hyper competitive market. Ironically, Bourgogne’s versions of chardonnay and pinot noir remain the yardstick for the majority of producers globally, even if not all will admit it, so there are plenty of excellent alternatives from every coolish climate between Ontario and Tasmania to buy instead of poor quality Bourgogne. So even the homeland has had to keep apace qualitatively.

But it’s important to be realistic: you’ll never find great sub-$20 red Burgundy, or sub $15 white. And $30 and $20 respectively are more probable entry prices. I’ll never tire of quoting Burghound Allen Meadow’s brilliant observation about pinot noir pricing: “you don’t always get what you pay for, but you never get what you don’t pay for”. This is true not only in Burgundy, but just about everywhere else, too. So here, I’m talking value at the premium end of the wine spectrum, relative to the oft-inflated prices of wines from any well-known region. For the best of the originals, look for these regions and producers, or skip to directly to the Buyers’ Guide for wines currently available somewhere in Canada.

Chablis: Get It While You Can

For reasons I fail to fully understand, Chablis remains both a world reference for chardonnay as well as perhaps the single best value within La Bourgogne. Considering that many, including me, believe Chablis to be the world’s most unique, effortless expression of cool climate chardonnay, it’s puzzling, and even more so now that demand outstrips supply. How long can this last?

The Latest Developments

Guillaume Michel of Domaine Louis Michel

Guillaume Michel of Domaine Louis Michel

If 1980 was a critical turning point for Chablis in the cellar, with the widespread arrival of stainless steel tanks (enamel-lined tanks or wood vats predominated before), the most important recent changes have occurred in the vineyards. “The pruning has changed quite dramatically”, Guillaume Michel of Domaine Louis Michel tells me. “Today, it’s much shorter, as there’s much less risk of frost damage.” Global warming has been keenly felt in this part of France, and production is more regular now than in the past, even if average quantities are down as a result.

Overall, viticulture has also improved dramatically. “Thirty years ago, Chablis was like the moon”, continues Michel, referring to the widespread use of herbicides. “Nobody ploughed their vineyards. Now it’s commonplace.” Bernard Ravenau, one of the region’s most celebrated vignerons, further explains: “Twenty years ago, the top producers were the ones who had the balls to harvest late. Now, the top producers are the ones who harvest earliest. The goal is not a wine with 14% alcohol”.

Bernard Raveneau

Bernard Raveneau

Raveneau’s extraordinary 2010s weigh in at around 12.5%, so it’s clearly not just talk. The net result, at least in the top tier, is better wine than Chablis has ever produced before. And there’s little excuse for thin, mean and acidic Chablis, unless you’re greedy with yields.

At its best, Chablis captures an inimitable profile and bottles its essence. It’s that electrifying structure and palpable minerality that blatantly defies the naysayer scientists who claim that soil cannot possibly impart the taste of its rocks to a wine, which keeps me coming back.

Yet even Chablis’ grandest expressions, a Raveneau or a Dauvissat grand cru for example, cost a half or a third of a top grand cru from the Côte de Beaune, for a sensory experience you simply can’t find anywhere else. These are not cheap wines – c. $250 is a hell of lot to pay for any bottle – but all things considered, they are awesome value in the rarefied realm of fine wine.

Maybe it’s because of Chablis’ relatively large size (just over 3,300ha producing a little more than 25m bottles annually), which is double the size of the whole Côte de Nuits, where yields per hectare are also much lower on average than in Chablis. Or perhaps it’s because the quality of the region’s bottom-tier wines is bad enough to scuff the luster of the entire appellation, keeping average prices down (about 40% of regional production is still made by négociants), or that the silly money of the punters is spent mostly on red wine.

Whatever the case, learn a few reliable names, and buy their wines. $20 gets you fine quality entry-level village Chablis ($30 in BC), while an additional $10 or $15 gets you into premier cru territory. $70 gets you Chablis from one of the seven grand cru climats, with most still under $100. I realize we’re talking about the ultra premium wine category here, but if you’ve read this far, you’re interested enough to know the deal.

Recommended Producers (Not an exhaustive list)

Domaine François Raveneau and Domaine Vincent Dauvissat

I include these two producers more as a reference – you’ll be lucky to ever find a bottle from either. Production is tiny, and every last drop disappears quickly into the cellars of the enthusiasts lucky enough to get an allocation. The quality of both Bernard Ravenau’s and Vincent Dauvissat’s (and increasingly his daughter Etienette’s) recent and future releases experienced during a tasting in May 2014 confirms the iconic status of these two producers. Don’t miss a chance to taste either; the Raveneau 2010 Montée de Tonnerre is about as fine a white wine as I’ve ever had. [Barrel Select, ON]

Domaine Louis Moreau

Moreau is a sizable 50ha domaine with an enviable collection of five grand cru parcels, the jewel of which is the Clos de l’Hospice, a 0.4ha duopole within the Les Clos grand cru, shared with kin Christian Moreau. Although wood was experimented with in the past, it has been abandoned for all but the Clos de L’Hospice, which is fermented in 500l barrels and aims at a richer style. Louis Moreau believes that wood fermenting/ageing sacrifices both finesse and the mineral signature of each cru, a sentiment heard frequently, if not uniformly, in the region. The left bank Vaillons is considered the most delicate 1er cru in the Moreau range, though even it shows satisfying depth. [Vins Balthazard Inc., QC; Lorac Wine, ON].

Domaine Louis Michel et Fils

Guillaume Michel works on 25 hectares spread over all four appellations in the region (Petit Chablis, Chablis, 1er cru and grand cru) including six premier crus totalling 14ha, of which the highly priced Montée de Tonnerre is the largest. The house style has not changed here since Guillaume’s Grandfather Louis abandoned wood altogether in 1969. “He spent his time in the vineyards and didn’t have time to mess around in the cellar” says Guillaume. Wines ageing in wood are much more likely to go sideways than those sitting in a neutral environment like stainless steel.

The Michel style is all about tension and precision. From Petit Chablis to grand cru, everything is made in the same way: long, cool fermentations with wild yeast. Lees contact depends on the vintage: in 2012, for example some lees were retained to add texture, even if these are never remotely fat or creamy wines. The 2010 Grenouilles grand cru is a particularly special wine, though the 2012 Montée de Tonnerre and the 2011 Forêts are also excellent. [H.H.D. IMPORTS, ON]

Domaine de Pattes Loup

Thomas Pico, Domaines Pattes Loup

Thomas Pico, Domaines Pattes Loup

Thomas Pico is a rising star in the region. This fast-talking (literally) winegrower was born into the métier; both his father and grandfather made wine. Pico returned to the family estate in 2004 after oenology studies in Beaune and took over control of eight hectares, a part of his father’s Domaine Bois d’Yver. Control of the remaining Bois d’Yver vineyards will slowly shift to Thomas from his father; it was too much to take over all at once, and “my father had existing markets and relationships to respect” he says.

Pico immediately converted his parcels to organic farming (certified ECOCERT in 2009) and created the Domaines de Pattes Loup. Today he makes four premier crus and a village wine, including a delicate and mineral Vaillons and a rich and a powerful Butteaux (a 1er cru within the larger Montmains cru). Everything is barrel-fermented and aged in old wood, though like in all great barrelled Chablis, wood is rarely, or only very subtlely, detectable. The impact is rather more layered and textured, managing a seemingly mutually exclusive combination of richness and density with laser-sharp precision and freshness. I suspect Pico will be considered among the very best in the region in short order. It’s a shame that he refuses to deal with Ontario: “trop compliqué” he says, a familiar refrain from top growers who could sell their production twice over to importers who pay up within a reasonable time frame. (Oenopole, QC; The Living Vine, ON).

La Chablisienne

The cooperative La Chablisienne is well deserving of inclusion on this list. Established in 1923, this association of nearly 300 producers represents 25% of the entire production of the region (c. 2 million bottles), with an enviable collection of vineyards including eleven premier crus and five grands crus, of which the prized Château de Grenouilles vineyard is the coop’s flagship. It counts among France’s best-run and highest quality cooperatives, which, considering it’s size and relative influence on the image of the appellation, is a very good thing for everyone in the region.

The Venerable La Chablisienne Coop since 1923, with winemaker Vincent Bartement

The Venerable La Chablisienne Coop since 1923, with winemaker Vincent Bartement

Beyond the usual approach to quality of reduced yields and attentive viticulture, La Chabliesienne follows a couple of other notable qualitative protocols, such as extended ageing even for the ‘village’ wines, La Sereine and Les Vénérables, which spend a minimum of one year on lies in stainless vats and barrels, and the bottling of all wines in a single lot (as opposed to bottling to order). According to Hervé Tucki, Managing Director of La Chablisienne, “the aim is not to make fruity wine”.

Indeed, these are not simple green apple flavoured wines – chalkiness and minerality are given pride of place. The range is highly competent across the board from the “Pas Si Petit” Petit Chablis up to the Château Grenouilles Grand Cru. Of the 2012s tasted in May, I was especially enthusiastic about the left bank Montmains 1er Cru, 95% of which comes from the Butteaux climat, and the right bank Vaulorent 1er Cru, adjacent to the grand cru slope. Though it must be said that the “basic” Chablis “Les Vénerables Vieilles Vignes”, made from vines aged between 35 and over 100 years, is a terrific value and fine entry point to the region. [Vinexx, ON]

Northern Burgundy: Grand Auxerrois

I’m willing to guess that this is the least-known part of Burgundy. The “Grand Auxerrois” is a collection of regional appellations all beginning with prefix “Bourgogne”: Chitry, Côte-Saint-Jacques, Côtes d’Auxerre, Coulanges-la-Vineuse, Épineuil, Tonnerre, and Vézelay. The exceptions are the appellations of Saint Bris, the only AOC in Burgundy where sauvignon blanc is permitted and obligatory, and Irancy, an AOC for red wine made from Pinot Noir and, more rarely, César.

Pre-phylloxera, this part of the l’Yonne department was heavily planted; I’ve read that some 40,000 hectares were once under vine. But the region was all but forgotten subsequently. Yet now with global warming, this could once again become an important source of Bourgogne.

Jean-Hugues et Guilhem Goisot

Rocks and fossils on display at Domaine Goisot

Rocks and fossils on display at Domaine Goisot

Goisot is a multi-generational family Domaine with 26.5 hectares in Saint Bris and Irancy. After Guilhem Goisot had discovered biodynamics first in Australia and subsequently in France, he began trials on the family vineyards in 2001. In 2003 he converted the entire domaine and received the first certification in 2004. According to Goisot, a measured, deliberate thinker and speaker, biodynamics helps to “temper climatic variations”. After hail, for example, it used to take a couple of weeks for the vines to re-start the growing process. “Now with arnica applications, the vines get back to work after just two days” says Goisot.

All wines are bottled in single lots, and I’m reassured that place matters by the collection of rocks and fossils from different vineyard sites that Goisot has on display in the small tasting room. I have a terrific tasting here – from the tightly wound Irancy Les Mazelots  on highly calcareous soils, to the darker and spicy Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre La Ronce from a south-facing site on kimmeridgean blue marnes, each wine is clearly marked by soil, each like a window on the earth, pure and totally transparent. [Le Maître de Chai Inc., QC]

Marsannay: Last Refuge of the Côte de Nuits

As mentioned in Part I, top Côtes de Nuits wines are scarce. One village that remains accessible, however, is Marsannay, just south of Dijon. For myriad reasons the wines of Marsannay, the only Côte d’Or communal appellation to permit red, white and rosé wines, have failed to achieve as much renown as those from the villages to the south. Yet the name of the climat “Clos du Roy”, (formerly the “Clos des Ducs”) gives some insight on the degree to which certain vineyards were esteemed in the past. There are no official premier crus for the time being (the proposal has been made), but for single-parcel wines the appellation may be followed by the name of the climat as in “Marsannay Clos du Roy”. There are some 17 growers in the village with an average of 10 hectares each, far above the average for the rest of the Côte d’Or and one of the reasons that Marsannay is still reasonably priced and available. Stylistically the [red] wines of Marsannay resemble those of neighboring Fixin and Gevrey, which is to say pinots of darker fruit and spice character, and marked minerality, if lighter than most Gevrey.

Domaine Jean Fournier  

Laurent Fournier, Domaine Jean Fournier

Laurent Fournier, Domaine Jean Fournier

Jean and his son Laurent Fournier currently farm 17 hectares principally in the village, but also 1.5 in Gevrey, 1.5 in Côte de Nuits Village near Brochon and a half-hectare in Fixin, with another three being planted in Marsannay. Fournier began with biodynamics in 2004 and the domaine was certified in 2008.

On arrival I like the vibe immediately; the young Laurent Fournier is energetic and enthusiastic, the sort of vigneron who brings a smile to your face. It’s all the more pleasing when the wines, too, live up to expectation, and the range chez Fournier is uniformly excellent. The Clos du Roy and Longerois are the two red house specialties, the former made from vines over 40 years old on average, 50% whole bunch, aged in large tonneaux (half new) for 18 months and very grippy on the palate, a wine for cellaring another 3-5 years minimum, and the latter a more generously proportioned, plush and immediately satisfying wine. My favorite on the day however is the outstanding Côte de Nuits Village Croix Violettes Vieilles Vignes, from a half-hectare parcel of vines planted straight on the bedrock near Brochon between 1937 and 1943 in the days before tractors, and thus super high density.  It’s made with 80% whole bunch and delivers marvellous spice and firm tannins and minerals on the palate.

A Word on Coteaux Bourguignons AOC

In 2011, a new regional appellation called Coteaux Bourguignons was created. It covers essentially the former unfortunately-named Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire AOC, as well as Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains. Grapes can be sourced from anywhere within the four départements that make up greater Bourgogne. It was created in part to deal with the shortage of pinot noir over the last few vintages; even basic Bourgogne Rouge will be scarce and certainly more expensive – examples under $30 in CAD will be very hard to find. “The grapes have become too expensive” Thibault Gagey tells me, the man at the head of the formidable Maison Louis Jadot in Beaune. “In many cases the price of a pièce [a 228l barrel] have more doubled.”

But wines under this appellation will need to be selected with care. At the bottom end, Coteaux Bourguignon will become a dumping ground for poor quality gamay from the Beaujolais, while the best will incorporate a high percentage of pinot, or at least good quality gamay. Jadot’s very good version, for example is three-quarters gamay, but includes several declassified cru Beaujolais, including Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent from the Château des Jacques.

La Côte Châlonnaise: From the Miners to the Majors

Half way between Dijon and Mâcon, La Côte Chalonnaise, which is sometimes referred to as the “third Côte”, lies south of the Côte de Beaune a few kilometers from Santenay. It is the geological continuation of the Côte d’Or, sitting on the same fault line that gave rise to the Jurassic limestone and marls underlying the great wines of La Bourgogne, as well as those across the Sâone Valley in the Jura. The hillsides of the Côte Chalonnaise meander more erratically than the more uniform southeast-facing slopes of the Côte d’Or and this irregular topography means that site selection becomes critical.

Vineyards of the Côte Chalonnaise

Vineyards of the Côte Chalonnaise

And the feel of the region changes too. The more compact, well-appointed villages of the Côte d’Or, fairly dripping with the prosperity of the last decades gives way to more sparsely populated villages worn with time. Former grandeur shows the cracks of neglect, like aristocratic Vieille France in need of a makeover. The countryside is beautiful, but the charm is decidedly more rural than cosmopolitan, and one gets the sense that this was once a more important place that has somehow been left behind, like a former capital after the politicians and ministers have decamped with their expense accounts.

It was more a series of historic circumstances, rather than inferior wine quality, that led to the relative obscurity in which the Côte Chalonnaise lies today. For one, the villages of the Côte Chalonnaise are far enough away from Dijon to have been overlooked by the Ducs de Bourgogne – it’s about 70 kilometers from Bouzeron to Dijon, a long road to travel by horse-drawn carriage.  And during the industrial revolution, the miners of the nearby mines of Montceau and Creusot and slaked their unquenchable thirst on the wines of the region, leaving little for outsiders, and little incentive for local vignerons to break their backs for quality. Phylloxera, too, dealt its decisive blow, and the region has never fully recovered. Today less than 50% of the previous surface area is planted.

Yet the miners and the dukes are gone, replaced by insatiable worldwide markets for Bourgogne wines. And considering the shortage of wine, for reasons outlined above, now is the time for the Côte Chalonnaise to recapture its former position of importance and realize its quality potential in the major leagues. This after all, the geographic heart of viticultural Burgundy.

Wines of the Côte Chalonnaise

Wines of the Côte Chalonnaise

From north to south the Côte Chalonnaise encompasses the communal appellations of Bouzeron, Rully, Mercurey, Givry and Montagny as well as the regional Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise AOC. Each is authorized to produce both red and white wines from pinot noir and chardonnay, with the exception of Bouzeron, an appellation reserved for whites from aligoté – the only one in Bourgogne – and Montagny, which is exclusively white from chardonnay. Whites dominate reds overall.

Styles of course vary widely, but in general the wines are endowed with an exuberant and appealingly fruity profile, the reds redolent of fresh raspberries and the whites full of pear and apple. The entry-level wines are for the most part accessible and immediately pleasing, while wines of the top echelon deliver a minerality that has nothing to envy the Côte d’Or. I’d pick Givry and Mercurey as the two most reliable villages for red wines, and Rully and Montagny for whites. Considering that prices are about half to two-thirds of equivalent quality wine from further north, the value quotient is high.

Climats de la Côte Chalonnaise

An association of nine quality-minded, family-run domaines was formed in 2010 with the aim re-positioning the region in its rightful place of respect. Known as “Les vignerons des Climats de la Côte Châlonnaise”, the group is hoping that 2012 will be their breakout vintage. The vintage was excellent in the region, and both it and members of this association are an excellent starting point to discover the wines of the “third côte”.

Côte Chalonnaise Producers

Domaine Jean-Marc Joblot, Givry

Jean-Marc Joblot, Givry

Jean-Marc Joblot, Givry

Although not part of the association, Jean-Marc Joblot, a fourth generation winemaker, has been a quality leader in the village of Givry, and in the region, for years. It was in fact the wines of Joblot that first turned me on to the Côte Chalonnaise back in the 1990s, when he was already well-known and respected in Canada, especially in Québec. Joblot farms thirteen hectares including nine premiers covering both red and white. Vines are meticulously tended and he is a self-declared “constructionist”, believing that wine is “the result of a hundred things that are interdependent”. Little is left to chance, but although he approaches winemaking with the mind of a scientist, he is not an interventionist, nor a technocrat. “When you make an apple or a peach pie, you won’t go and analyse the fruit. You taste it. It’s that simple”, he says. Seasonal rhythms are strictly respected; if you show up for a visit in May for example, a period Joblot considers critical for vineyard work, don’t expect the door to open no matter who you are.

Admittedly I find his insistence on 100% new wood for all of his crus curious, and in youth they are certainly marked by wood influence, yet the fruit depth and structure to ensure harmony over time is clearly there  – I’ve had ten year-old examples that prove the point.  Indeed, these are wines built on tension and intended for ageing, not immediate enjoyment. He most representative crus are the Clos de la Servoisine and Clos du Cellier aux Moines, both best a minimum of five years after vintage.

Domaine A et P de Villaine, Bouzeron

Purchased by Aubert and Pamela de Villaine (of Domanine de La Romanée Conti) in 1971, Domaine A et P de Villaine is run today by Pierre de Benoist, the nephew of de Villaine. This is a leading domaine, and both de Villaine and de Benoist were instrumental in the establishment of the association « Les Climats de la Côte Chalonnaise ». Of the 21 hectares under vine, ten are devoted to aligoté, coinciding with outcrops of granite where aligoté is most happy. Bouzeron is considered by most to yield the finest examples of this lesser-known variety in Bourgogne.

Pierre de Benoist, Domaine A&P de Villaine, Bouzeron

Pierre de Benoist, Domaine A&P de Villaine, Bouzeron

De Benoist reflects back on a 1964 Bonneau de Martray aligoté that was life changing – it was then he realized than Aligoté, treated with care, could produce mesmerizing wines. Unfortunately over-cropping and the negative association with crème de cassis (to sweeten and soften the shrill acids of over-productive vines) in the infamous Kir cocktail reduced aligoté to anecdotal acreage. Even today the entire appellation of Bouzeron counts less than sixty hectares (even Puligny-Montrachet is over 200ha), so don’t expect a revolution any time soon. Though I wish there were more Bouzeron of this quality to go around.

In an interesting twist, the INAO has asked several times for local producer to assemble a dossier of 1er crus in Bouzeron, but de Benoist has refused each time. “It would be a shame to ruin the quality-price rapport of the appellation” he says in uncharacteristic anti-capitalist fashion.

But the domaine isn’t all aligoté; there are also exceptional pinots and chardonnays, especially the marvellously mineral Rully Blanc Les Saint Jacques, the fragrant and fruity Bourgogne Côte Châlonnaise Rouge La Fortune, and the structured and brooding Bourgogne Côte Châlonnaise La Digoine from 65 year-old vines.

Domaine Paul et Marie Jaquesson, Rully

Henri Jacqusson established this domaine in 1946 in the wake of WWII when vineyards had been abandoned. Today Henri’s son Paul has passed the baton on to his daughter Marie to manage the thirteen hectare estate in the AOCs of Rully, Bouzeron and Mercurey. The Rully Blanc 1er Cru Grésigny is a particularly fine and layered white Bourgogne.

Domaine Ragot, Givry

Nicolas Ragot took over the family domaine from his father Jean-Paul, making him the 5th generation to farm vineyards in Givry. Nine hectares are divided between red and white all within the commune, and the wines are elegant, structured and refined in the old school style. The Givry Rouge 1er Cru Clos Jus is especially impressive, succulent and structured.

Stéphane Aladame, Montagny

This domaine was created in 1992 by Stéphane Aladame, and counts today eight hectares under vine of which 7 are in premier crus. Aladame favours freshness and minerality, particularly in the Montagny 1er Cru  Selection Vieilles Vignes from over 50-year-old vines (partially fermented in steel).

Cellier aux Moines, Givry

Originally established by Cistercian monks in 1130, the Cellier aux Moines is run today by Philippe and Catherine Pascal. There are seven hectares under vine including five in the original clos surrounding the ancient cellar. Wines are classically styled and built to age, with the Mercurey Blanc Les Margotons and the Givry Rouge 1er Cru Clos du Cellier aux Moines particularly fine and sinewy examples.

Château de Chamirey, Mercurey

Château de Chamirey

Château de Chamirey

The most important property in Mercurey since the 17th century, the Château de Chamirey is owned today by Amaury and Aurore de Villard. They are the fifth generation in this long family story, having taken over from their father Bertrand, who in turn succeeded from his father-in-law, the marquis de Jouennes. The style is more international, aimed overall at wide commercial appeal, though the Mercurey Rouge 1er Cru Les Ruelles is particularly sumptuous and satisfying.

Domaine de la Framboisière (property of Faiveley), Mercurey

The Domaine de la Framboisière is the recently re-launched domaine of the Faiveley family, formerly called simply “Domaine Faiveley”. La Maison Faiveley was founded in 1825, and the family remains one of the largest landowners/negociants throughout La Bourgogne. George Faiveley set up he first “ en fermage” contract with a Mercurey grower in 1933, and Guy Faiveley bought the family’s first property in 1963 in the same village. The domaine has since expanded into Montagny and Rully and counts now 72 hectares – one of the largest in the Côte Chalonnaise. The quality has improved greatly here in recent years with the arrival of a new winemaker. The style is pure, clean and generously fruity, perhaps not the most profound wines of the Côte Chalonnaise, but frightfully drinkable. The 1er cru monopole La Framboisière from which the domaine takes its name is especially enjoyable.

Domaine François Raquillet, Mercurey

Roots run deep in Mercurey; the Raquillet family has been here since at least the 15th century according to local archives. François officially established the domaine in 1963 and ceded control to his son, also François, in 1983. I find the house style a little heavy-handed, with grapes verging on overripe and the use of oak overly generous, though the wines are certainly not without appeal. The Mercurey Blanc 1er Cru Les Veleys is the best of the lot.

Buyer’s Guide: Top Smart Buys

The following recommended wines are currently available somewhere in Canada (Merci to Nadia Fournier for adding her picks from the SAQ). Click on each for the details.

John’s Picks:

Jean Marc Brocard Vau De Vay Chablis 1er Cru 2012

Domaine Du Chardonnay Chablis Vaillons Premier Cru 2010

Louis Michel & Fils Chablis 2012

Sylvain Mosnier Vieilles Vignes Chablis 2010

Domaine Le Verger Chablis 2012

Jean Marc Brocard Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2011

Domaine Chenevières Chablis 2012

Domaine Laroche Chablis Saint Martin 2011

La Chablisienne Sauvignon Saint Bris 2013

Maison Roche De Bellene Côtes Du Nuits Villages 2011

Bouchard Père & Fils Côte De Beaune Villages 2011

Maison Roche De Bellene Montagny 1er Cru 2011

Caves Des Vignerons De Buxy Montagny Les Chaniots 1er Cru 2010

Les Choix de Nadia:

Jean Claude Boisset Bourgogne Les Ursulines 2012

Jean Claude Boisset Bourgogne Chardonnay Les Ursulines 2010

Domaine René Bouvier Bourgogne Pinot Noir Le Chapitre 2012

Domaine Faiveley La Framboisiere 2010

Jadot Couvent Des Jacobins Bourgogne 2011

Domaine Michel Juillot Bourgogne 2012

Domaine Michel Juillot Mercurey

Domaine Goisot Bourgogne Aligoté 2012

Domaine De La Cadette La Châtelaine 2012

Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis 2012

Domaine Louis Moreau Petit Chablis 2012

Domaine Stéphane Aladame Montagny Premier Cru Sélection Vieilles Vignes 2012

Pierre Vessigaud Mâcon Fuissé Haut De Fuissé 2012

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Part One: The Challenges

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names. Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Photo credit to John Szabo MS


Le Serein, the river that runs through Chablis Looking west onto Chablis from the top of Les Clos grand cru

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , , , , , , , , ,

Troubling Times for Bourgogne Lovers

By John Szabo MSOctober 7, 2014

 

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Short crops in the last four vintages, skyrocketing demand, rising land prices and the threat of a serious region-wide vineyard disease is just some of the troubling news coming out of La Bourgogne, one of the world’s most famous wine regions. Burgundy lovers are faced with the very real and unpalatable prospect of having to look elsewhere for their fix, or at least pay a hell of a lot for the genuine article. Considering that Canada is the fourth largest importer of Burgundy by value, that’s a serious concern in this country.But there’s also a silver lining: these unfortunate developments will give some of La Bourgogne’s lesser-known corners a chance to emerge from the giant shadow of the most famous Côte d’Or villages. There is, believe it or not, good value red and white Bourgogne still to be had. And at the same time, the very best of the region is better than ever before.

In part I of this report I’ll examine some of the challenges facing La Bourgogne, and follow that up in subsequent postings with a look at a few of the regions/appellations and producers where quality and value intersect: Chablis and Grand Auxerois, Marsannay, La Côte Chalonnaise and the Maconnais. Each section will include a Buyer’s Guide of the best kit currently available, somewhere in Canada.

(Editorial note: the anglicised name of the region, “Burgundy”, has been dropped from all marketing material by the BIVB, so I’ll respectfully follow suit and use the French name – after all, no other French wine region uses a different English name.)

Part One: The Challenges

A String of Small Vintages

The most serious immediate issue facing growers in Bourgogne is the loss of a significant proportion of the crop in all of the last four years, with certain regions also down significantly in 2014. The main culprits have been poor flower set and especially hail, and nowhere has been hit harder than the Côte de Beaune, with Beaune itself, Volnay and Pommard particularly unlucky, as well as Chablis.

Giles Burke-Gaffney, Buying Director for Justerini & Brooks, a British wine & spirit merchant established in 1749, has this to report in his introduction to the 2012 offer:

Gerard Boudot of Etienne Sauzet has been making wine since 1974 and has never known such a small vintage, his Folatieres is just one example – he made two barrels instead of the usual ten. 2013 is also terribly small, and with 2011 and 2010 being short crops, too, Burgundy has effectively produced the equivalent of two decent sized vintages in four years. Cellars up and down the Côte d’Or look empty”.

Old Vinetages at Domaine Henri Gouges, one of the First Domaines in the Côte d'Or to estate bottle wine

Old Vintages at Domaine Henri Gouges, one of the First Domaines in the Côte d’Or to estate bottle wine

Hugues Pavelot of Domaine Pavelot in Savigny-lès-Beaune confirms the situation: “the last four vintages have been the equivalent volume of two average years”, he tells me, referring to the years 2010-2013. It’s late May 2014 as he speaks these words, inadvertently forgetting to touch the wood of the bistro table at La Ciboulette restaurant in Beaune where we’re lunching. A month later, the Côte de Beaune would be struck yet again by devastating hail on June 28th, further compounding growers’ woes.

Estates from Beaune to Meursault reported damage affecting up to 40% of the potential 2014 harvest, after golf ball sized hailstones destroyed leaves, grape bunches and canes. Some areas were even less fortunate, like the famous Clos Des Mouches vineyard in Beaune where up to 90% of this year’s harvest was obliterated in a matter of minutes.

Even more discouraging is that the hail fell despite measures in place to prevent it. Thirty-four ‘hail cannons’ had been deployed every 10 kilometres in the storm-prone areas, which shoot particles of silver iodide and copper acetylacetone into threatening clouds to disperse hail pellets or reduce their size. But the measures ‘failed to work’ according to Thiebault Huber of Domaine Huber-Verdereau and also president of the Volnay Wine Council, or at least didn’t work well enough. This year’s damage has prompted discussions on other anti-hail measures like netting, as is practiced in Argentina. But hail nets are both expensive and reduce sunlight exposure – an estimated 10%-30% – which is not a problem in the intense sunlight of Argentina, but is a genuine concern in far less sunny Burgundy. In any case official INAO approval could be years away.

The slight increase in the 2013 harvest over 2012 is of little consolation for many growers, considering that 2012 itself was exceptionally small. Taking the average of the last five years, 2013 was down 7% and 12% for reds and whites respectively, and also down 12% for Crémant de Bourgogne.

For many, this could spell financial ruin, Thiebault Huber tells Decanter.com. “We have lost the equivalent of two harvests over the last three years”, he says, echoing Pavelot’s and many other grower’s difficult situation. Ultimately prices will have to keep rising to keep domaines solvent.

High Demand

And it seems the unprecedented demand for top Burgundy around the world will encourage and sustain those prices. “I’m not sure why you’re here”, Frédéric Mugnier says to me immediately after arriving at his highly-regarded domaine in Chambolle-Musigny. “I have nothing to sell”. It’s perhaps not a dramatic change of attitude, but noticeable nonetheless, from when I first started travelling to Burgundy in the late 1990s. Back then, doors at all but the very top estates were still open.

The essential tourist photo at Domaine de la Romanée Conti

The essential tourist photo at Domaine de la Romanée Conti

But now Mugnier’s wines, like all of the top wines from the Côte d’Or and especially the Côte de Nuits, are on tight allocation, with importers/distributors bemoaning the few cases they are allotted to broker. Most growers are reluctant to even open their doors to prospective clients (or journalists), knowing that fueling more demand just causes more headaches. The world can’t get enough of sought after appellations like Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée, Chambolle-Musigny, Nuits-St-Georges and Morey St.-Denis (and of course all of the premiers and grand crus within them).

Exports to Hong Kong have tripled since 2008 when taxes on products with less than 30% alcohol were abolished, and growth shows no signs of abating with the first part of 2014 up another 12%. At the same time, Hong Kong importers have set up distribution in Mainland China, which has also increased demand. And it’s not just a handful of prestigious labels – Bourgogne is second only to Bordeaux now in China in terms of the number of different labels offered on average at points of sale.

Elsewhere, the United States remains the number one market for Bourgogne by value and is increasing despite a strong euro and weak dollar, indicating a buy-at-any-price attitude, while Canada also continues to grow, fuelled mainly by Québec, which accounts for 70% of Bourgogne sales by volume in the country. In the UK, allocations for the top wines are ever-tighter. Giles Burke-Gaffney of Justerini & Brooks warns prospective buyers of 2012s in no uncertain terms:

2012 is an extremely small vintage, one of the smallest on record, and in many cases wine will have to be allocated to customers. The crop ranges from 20-90% down on 2011. Add this to furious, ever-increasing demand and we have quite a shortage on our hands and producers will inevitably have to put prices up.”

That pretty much sums it up. Bourgogne lovers and collectors, buy what you can, while you still can.

Flavescence Dorée: The Phylloxera of the 21st Century?

Another spectre is haunting La Bourgogne and threatening to reduce quantities further: Flavescence Dorée. “La Flavescence” is a deadly vine disease – a phytoplasm to be more accurate (parasitic bacteria) – which first appeared in France in the 1950s in Armagnac. It has since spread across the south and into Northern Italy and beyond, and is moving further northwards. There is no cure for the disease, which spreads from plant to plant on vector insects, more specifically the sap-sucking “cicadelle de la vigne” (Scaphoideus titanus) or leafhopper, that also arrived in france in the 1950s, likely on vine rootstocks imported from the Great Lakes region of North America. Once a cicadelle becomes infected with the bacteria, which is harmless to the insect, it will in turn infect the plants with which it comes into contact, including grapevines. Flavescence remains asymptomatic for a year, making early detection difficult, but the bacteria then works quickly to kill the vine within a year or two.

Clos des Epenaux, Pommard

Clos des Epenaux, Pommard

Jean-Philippe Gervais, Technical Director of the BIVB (Bureau Interprofessionelle des Vins de Bourgogne), tells me that Flavescence Dorée first appeared in Burgundy in the late nineties near Puligny but was quickly eliminated. More recently it appeared again but in a much larger area in northern Mâcon around 2011 and has spread. He considers the disease a threat on par with phylloxera: “it’s really epidemic”, he says. “It multiplies almost exponentially. In the beginning you have one vine infected; by the following year, thanks to the movement of the cicadelle, you can infect all of the surrounding vines”. It’s believed that many phytoplasm-infected vines were sold by nurseries up to the mid-nineties, before obligatory hot water treatment was introduced to kill the bacteria. Thus nurseries unwittingly helped to spread the disease to many parts of France. And now with the increasing population and movement of leafhoppers, there is a very real danger that Flavescence Dorée could spread out of control.

Ironically, it’s been the dramatic reduction of insecticide use in Bourgogne over the last 15 years that has allowed the population of leafhoppers to grow virtually uncontrolled. It’s estimated that Bourgogne has 100x more leafhoppers than some other affected regions. The solution to the problem is two-fold: 1) identify and rip out all of the vines infected with the bacteria, and 2) reduce the population of leafhoppers with insecticide sprays.

Rolling barrels at Domaine Philippe Pacalet

Rolling barrels at Domaine Philippe Pacalet

Action last year was swift and decisive, some would argue excessive and reactionary, others necessary. In 2013, all communes of the Saône-et-Loire and Côte d’Or départments (covering a large part of Bourgogne the wine region) were ordered to spray three times against the insect. “We didn’t know how many infected areas there were”, reveals Gervais “there wasn’t time to inspect the entire region. But there were definitely large areas – eleven hectares [in Mâcon] were ripped out after all”. A commune-by-commune inspection of every single vine was also ordered to be carried out just before the 2013 harvest, when the symptoms are most visible. The inspections were preceded by work shops for vignerons on how to identify the symptoms of the disease: coloration of the leaves (reddish for pinot noir, yellow for chardonnay), poor lignification of canes and withering of berries, for example.

The action was considered largely successful, and in 2014, only thirteen communes in the southern part of the Côte d’Or, in which or near which Flavescence was detected, were required to spray, and even then only according to a 1+1 strategy, meaning that a second treatment is required only if the cicadelle population remains above a certain threshold. In the regions where the greatest incidences of Flavescence have been detected, namely in Mercurey (Côte Châlonnaise) and the northern Mâconnais, two obligatory treatments were ordered this year, with a possible third if deemed necessary. “The goal of course is to reduce treatments”, says Gervais. Nobody wants to spray insecticides unecessarily”.

But despite the seriousness of the problem, the severe approach has not been universally lauded, as could be expected from hundreds of individual vignerons each with varying winegrowing philosophies. The highest profile case involved organic/biodynamic grower Emmanuel Giboulot, who refused outright to spray insecticides on his grapes, though he was not alone. Even more dangerous are the countless growers who feigned to follow orders, purchasing the insecticide spray in order to be able to show the authorities the receipt, yet never used it.

Although Flavescence appears to be under control, the danger is still present. And the stakes are very high.

Land Prices Beyond Reach

Another long-term problem, but without any solution, is the skyrocketing cost of land in Bourgogne, some of France’s, and the world’s, most expensive vineyards. According to government figures, vineyard prices in the Cote d’Or rose by 5% on average last year versus 2012, to €515,600 per hectare, though the top grand crus can change hands for the princely sum of €9.5m per hectare ($14m CAD). Headlines were made when luxury goods giant LVMH purchased the 8.66 hectares of the Clos des Lambrays grand cru for a reported €100m.

Priceless grand cru vineyards, Côte de Nuits

Priceless grand cru vineyards, Côte de Nuits

This of course puts upward pressure on the cost of wines from the most prestigious sites. But even more seriously, it puts into question the long-term viability of family-run domaines. According to French inheritance laws, descendants pay 40% of property value in taxes in the succession from one generation to the next. Considering the astronomical value of the top estates, few families will be able to afford the taxes without serious succession planning.

“Our concern is that, in a couple of years, family domaines will have to sell their vineyards to big financial groups,” Caroline Parent-Gros, of Domaine AF Gros, said in the July issue of Decanter magazine.

Benjamin Leroux standing in the Clos des Epeneaux (He has sinced moved on to focus his own wines under his name)

Benjamin Leroux standing in the Clos des Epeneaux (He has sinced moved on to focus his own wines under his name)

The large number of family-run domaines in Bourgogne is one of the defining features of the region, compared to more corporate-run regions such as Bordeaux or Champagne. The family estates have also been instrumental in pushing up average quality across the region over the last couple of generations, in what was before a market dominated entirely by négociants and cooperatives. To see the region fall predominantly into the hands of large multinationals would indeed be a shame.

Impossibly high land prices also stifle development. Anyone with less than a massive fortune can only dream of buying vineyards in the famous communes of the Côte d’Or, which makes the region the playground of a small elite. The only way in for any outsiders is through the route of the “micro negociant”, a business model whereby individuals purchase small lots of grapes or juice, or finished wines in barrel or bottle to sell under their own label, like Canada’s own Thomas Bachelder. And even in this case, you need to be extremely well connected to have access to the best lots, like Benjamin Leroux for example, former régisseur at Compte Armand in Pommard from 1998 until this year, who’s striking out on his own, or Nicolas Potel, whose father, Gérard Potel ran Domaine de La Pousse d’Or in Volnay, who now operates a negociant business under the Maison Roche de Bellene label, and offers an impressive collection of crus. But they are luckier than most.

Part II next week takes a look at where to find value in Bourgogne, along with a buyer’s guide of the top, currently available wines.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Part II: Finding Value in Bourgogne


Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , , , ,

Treve’s Take – Wine and Culinary International Forum II

From molecular gastronomy to minerality, from the latest in iPad winelists, to the return of beverage carts, from texturometers to China’s tradition of KAMPAI, the flying fingers of WineAlign’s intrepid Treve Ring capture an entire day of presentations by leading global thinkers in the realm of food and wine at the Wine & Culinary International Forum in Barcelona. Says Treve: “What I clearly realized is that conventional borders to food and wine no longer exist. The new frontier is breaking through glass beliefs of pairing, and using science and chemistry to better appreciate how certain things react together”.

wine & culinary

Setting the Scene:

Journalists, sommeliers and chefs from around the world descended on Barcelona last weekend for the second Wine & Culinary International Forum. Held every two years, the event was founded by Torres Wines, created to focus on the relationship between wine and gastronomy. This year’s theme is Creativity and Market, and the global presenters linked to this thread. As Miguel Torres Maczassek (Jr.). shared in his welcome address, he feels that some branches of cuisine, especially molecular gastronomy, have moved away from the marriage of food and wine. This weekend of seminars and tastings and workshops, uniting palates and minds from around the world, investigated the importance of uniting food and wine effectively. And inclusively as well – demonstrating how science and molecular studies can aid our understanding of perfect pairings.

I arrived to Barcelona with 70 journalists from 15 nations, and was happy to discover I was representing Canada alongside Toronto’s Tony Aspler. Live translation through headsets allowed all the various languages in the room to understand each presenter. We may not all understand the same language, but we all speak food and wine.

The brief below is a bit rough and tumble, the result of my typing as fast as I could over the course of eight hours. Since not everyone could be there for this important collaboration, here follows a recap of the speakers, and my takeaway thoughts:

IMG_7751

9:30 h. Welcome by Miguel A. Torres (Sr.), President of Bodegas Torres, and Rafael Ansón, President of the Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

9:45 h. “The Sommelier’s psychology and the training of Sommeliers”, by Gérard Basset, World’s Best Sommelier 2010, OBE, MS, MW and MBA.

Wisdom from THE top wine professional in the world, on what it takes to be a good sommelier.

First, sommeliers need to love people. Second they need to be a salesman. Basset recognizes that some become offended by the term salesman, especially ones that see themselves as ‘artists’, but it’s a job, and the end result is making money. Sommeliers very much need to understand people, the profile of the guest, and matching wine to them. This will ensure happy guests = repeat guests. If a wine is out of stock, the somm doesn’t tell that to the guest. He/she brings out a more expensive or better bottle for guest, and sells it at same price. Service is key. Food is very important, and he’s very proud of the menu in his restaurant, but “wine comes first. No food comes until wine is ready.” Sommeliers should read blogs, especially Jamie Goode’s Wine Anorak, keep up on news, magazines, be well educated and up to date. Sommeliers must travel, meet and taste. “For me, I can’t imagine going to any holiday destination without wine”. When he was preparing for competitions, study is most important, but it’s more than just wine preparation. Basset prepared with a business coach, memory work champions, acting coach and psychologist. It’s all about the wine, but it’s about more than just wine.

10:15 h. “When wine inspires the dish”, by Josep Roca, from El Celler de Can Roca, 3* Michelin and World’s Best Restaurant 2013.

This master molecular gastronomy chef gave insight into how he works with scientific tools to better match food and wine.

Implementing a scientific approach to food and wine is difficult because humans are all different in their sensory perception. What he has researched is how different elements that all humans process affect food and tasting – the mechanics. For instance, how saliva affects what we perceive as well as benefit digestion. Aromas also have a major impact, as does texture. Roca wanted to quantify texture of his restaurant’s dishes to better understand how to match wine on a textural basis, so he works with a “texturometer”. Temperature affects texture so that is also closely controlled and timed. He likes working with wine in his dishes because it’s a fluid, and easily enters the body in a seamless way. Instruments and tools in the kitchen allow him to create very special, avant garde, cutting edge flavours and texture based on wine. For instance, he can take the alcohol from wine, freezing and dehydrate (removing water and leaving molecules intact), employ powdering affects and carbonation. Lyophilization is a specialized freeze dehydration technique traditionally used for preservation. Roca also uses other parts of the grape plant – like seeds, grape leaves, etc. He also distils the aromas of spirits, and reintroduces them into his dishes.

11:00 h. “Minerals: harmony through terroir”, by Jamie Goode, author of ‘The science of wine’.

The highly travelled and educated Dr. Goode, a WineAlign friend, is one of the most influential wine bloggers on the globe and author of two very important books, The Science of Wine, and the brand new Authentic Wine.

Dr. Jamie Goode

Dr. Jamie Goode

Goode prefaces that while he’s interested in science, and a trained scientist (phD), he’s not a scientific fundamentalist. He is always questioning.

He describes Terroir by the following:

1st – the way that the quality of a vineyard affects quality of wine (slope, aspect, etc.)
2nd – Sense of place
3rd – Gout de terroir. Related to the soils in which the vines are growing
4th – Actual physical vineyard site itself.

Many definitions of terroir eliminate the human influence. Human intervention – viti and vini – may also confer a shared sense of place to wine. The mechanisms of terroir also need to be considered:

Chemical – light, water, air, elements
Grapes – starting place for wine production – entirely through photosynthesis and biochemistry.
Soil – water and dissolved mineral ions. Scientific consensus is that water availability is key – not soil chemistry. But experience of winegrowers testifies that soil chemistry is important. The bulk of soil mineral content comes from decaying organic material, not decomposed rock.
Microbial activity – breaks down organic matter into mineral ions. Water, food, oxygen affect microbial growth. Oxygen is more available in uncompacted soil.

In conventional agriculture, there is very little organic matter in the soil, thus little microbial activity. Fungicides kill off not just fungi but also a high proportion of bacterial and actinomycetes. The importance of soil microlife makes nutrients more readily available to vines. Organics encourage the soil microlife to develop. Root exudates from plants are important in encouraging growth of soil microlife. Vine age obviously has an effect, in part because of the vine’s expanded root system, encouraging better soil microlife vine interactions. Increased soil microlife could lead to more minerality in wines because the roots can absorb more living things.

Is there a connection with minerality and ageability of the wines? Interesting question not yet answered by science.

Minerality – a relatively new tasting term. Not used much before 1980s – Steven Spurrier started in the mid 1980’s. Jordi Ballester, the leading expert on sensory evaluation showed that there is a cultural basis for the term and its use (in the Loire it is used frequently, for example). The problem is that many people use it to mean different things, therefore there isn’t a clear consensus about what we’re all talking about. Plus, he deftly noted, when people run out of descriptors for a wine, they often throw in “mineral” as a filler – not helping.

For Goode, there are 3 types of minerality in wine:

1 – Mineral smells – matchstick, gunflint, volatile sulphur (mercaptans)
2 – Mineral tastes 1 – high acidity, wet stones
3 – Mineral tastes 2 – salty, textural, grainy

11:30 h. “Thinking outside the wine list: innovative approaches to selling wine in America’s top restaurants”, by Lucas Paya, José Andrés ThinkFoodGroup’s Wine Director 2008-2014, presented by Ray Isle, ‘Food and Wine Magazine’ journalist.

I’ve long admired Ray Isle’s writing, and insight on the American and worldwide drinking scene. Together with Paya, they thoroughly dissected modern winelists in America today, trends and successes.

In many US restaurants, winelists are about breaking boundaries and encouraging wine programs in a traditionally non-wine drinking culture. Most wine sales in the States are through wine stores – but restaurants are seen as trendsetters and arbiters of what people should be purchasing and aspire to purchase. The younger the group of people, the more they are purchasing in restaurants (millennials rank highest with 18% purchased in restaurants).

Creativity in winelists is important to make your mark in a competitive restaurant landscape, and winelists have been turned into a utensil to convey concept of the restaurant. Examples for layout: price, location, grape, weight, colour, alcohol, age, alphabetic order, producer.

Interesting notion – selling wine by weight. 1 mg of wine correlates to 1ml of wine, and pricr and sell accordingly. The Coravin has allowed huge advancements in serving wine in restaurants due to its precision and quality. Guests tried a glass of Mas La Plana 2009 that was first “Coravined” in June 2014 and it tasted as fresh and unspoiled as if it had just been opened.

A great tip on reading a winelist from Isle – “If Veuve is overpriced, the entire winelist will be overpriced.” BAM.

What current trends in winelists?

– Flat pricing – all bottles @ $50, for example
– By soil type (Husk, South Carolina) – Limestone, Volcanic, Alluvial, Granite
– Promotions that go beyond your restaurant – like Summer of Riesling (Terroir, NYC) and collaborations with other sommeliers, restaurants.
– By flow chart/pictograms/diagrams – playful, self directed, easy and short
– iPad lists, allowing customers to instantly look up specs, photos, tasting notes, pairing suggestions, critics’ scores
– Bringing back the traditional – amphora, biodynamic and natural in winemaking, and decanting, sabring, port tongs, drinks cart, wine casks in service.

12:15 h. “Wine in Mediterranean diet”, by Dr. Ramón Estruch, senior internal medicine consultant at Barcelona’s Clínic Hospital, and Domingo Valiente, Executive Director of Mediterranean Diet Foundation.

The Mediterranean Diet is a major theme of the forum. Current science shows that Mediterranean countries Italy and Greece have much lower coronary heart disease than elsewhere in the world. Genetic factors proved improbable; therefore the life habits like diet and exercise are leading contributors.

Mediterranean Diet, like many diets, can be thought of as a pyramid. I found it quite interesting that the bottom of the Mediterranean diet pyramid shows a large social aspect – dining with friends – as of great importance. Other key items to intake include extra virgin olive oil, breads, grains, fruit and veg, olives, nuts, seeds, white meat (vs. red), moderate wine, fatty fish. Substitute refined cereals to whole grain and reduce salt and red meat. And completely avoid soda, commercial bakery sweets and pastries.

13:15 h. Cocktail-lunch offered by Nandu Jubany + Tour around Bodegas Torres’ worldwide wines.

15:30 h. “Far East and wine: how to make it popular”. Journalist and winemaker Víctor de la Serna interviews Jeannie Cho Lee, first MW of Asia.

No one knows Asia and wine better than Jeannie Cho Lee, the first Asian MW, and instrumental in introducing Bordeaux to Asia. She was interviewed by influential Spanish journalist Victor de la Serna.

Cho Lee remembers 1997 as the first boom of wine into Hong Kong and mainland China. Now, 14 years later, she is seeing change in the wine habits of Asians, but it’s still a very slow uptake to culturally accepting wine with a meal. The Kampai culture still rules – wither you’re drinking 85 Bordeaux or 67 Cheval Blanc, you are to chug your glass in a social setting when Kampai is called.

Cho Lee is seeing a gradual uptake of having certain wines paired to certain courses – especially in fine dining restaurants in Westernized cities. One major issue blocking wine culture in Asia is space – there is no room for wine storage in a typical Asian home/apartment or restaurant. The very highest quality sushi, tempura, soba, ramen restaurants don’t think of nor have room for wine storage and service.

In Cho Lee’s opinion, an after-dinner drinking venue is needed: “Starbucks for wine” – casual lounges. She recommends stop fighting the culture and try and fit wine into already existing patterns. The Chinese domestic wine industry makes up 80% of the wine consumption and punitive taxes stomp the growth of import wine. The vast majority of wine imported is red, only 5% is white (better marketed as GOLD wine). Of highest importance – wine must offer value.

Restaurants are hugely hesitant to hire a sommelier – because the hired somm will know more than the owner/chef, and the restaurant will have to trust in the somm. There is very little shared glory to go around. Similarly, there is a hesitation to promote chefs – because then the chef will have a name and become popular and possibly leave the restaurant. Cho Lee noted a massive protectionist mechanism in place. On a positive note, WSET enrolment for levels 1-3 is highest worldwide in Asia = change is coming. On a negative note, women barely register in the fine wine scene; the higher the price point, the fewer the women involved.

16:00 h. Master tasting: “Great family wines – The Primum Familiae Vini”, by Christophe Brunet, Wine Ambassador of the PFV, and Fiona Beckett, journalist specialized in harmonies between wine and gastronomy.

The crowd was very excited for this presentation – from the highly regarded Brunet, noted wine professional, and the widely read Beckett, respected author of 23 books on wine and food pairing and with a hugely popular website Matching Food & Wine, 10 years in the running. As expected, Beckett’s pairings were insightful and acute.

Primum Familiae Vini is an international association of some of the best (11) winemaking families in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal – initially founded by Torres. To gain inclusion in the private group, you have to have a minimum of 5 generations producing wine. It’s evident that the group is united by a passion for the pursuit of excellence, using their collective expertise to share, educate and train the younger generations. Brunet introduced one wine from each family, and Beckett offered her **pairing suggestions**, based on how the wine was showing at the exact moment. Scores are Treve’s, tasting at the forum.

Pol Roger Brut 2004.
Classic. Mineral and toast, shell, lemon pith, pear nose. Very elegant, shell, salt, lees, almond, citrus – lovely finessed acidity. Proper champers. 92 points.
**Vintage champagne has an undeniable umami. Pair with freshly roasted chicken – with well roasted chicken skin.

Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot 2011, Marquis de Laguiche, Joseph Drouhin
Cream, apple and vanillan pear. Stone, perfume. Fresh, creamy palate, white blossoms. lemon curd, Cheerios/grain and fantastic stone spice and length. 20% oak, balance is bang on. 92 points.
**Good quality raw shellfish, crab, langoustine, lobster risotto, scallops. Creamy fennel puree, caramelized cauliflower puree.

Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett 2013, Egon Müller-Scharzhof
Mosel. 2013 was the lowest yield since 1945 – hard for Egon to send 11 bottles for this tasting! Hugely expressive nose. White blossoms, talc, earth, truffle notes, lees, light botrytis notes, lime pulp. Delicate floral, crystallized lemon, incredible intensity and concentration (11 HL/HA). Off dry, with extreme precise balance between sweetness and lazer acidity. A baby. Great length. Wood ferment yields no wood flavours. 93 points.
**Thai food – pomelo, chilis, tamarind, lemongrass

Guidalberto 2012, Tenuta San Guido
Cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend. Earth, light cherry, savoury, slightly salty. Light red, stone, saline character, black cherry, raspberry. Slightly grippy, light tannins. 90 points.
**Tuna, octopus, black rice, rabbit, shrimp

Tignanello 2011, Marchesi Antinori
1970 was their 1st vintage, kicking off the Super Tuscan regime. 80% sangiovese, with cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon. Black cherry, upright structure, floral perfume, liquorice, black cocoa, concentration, and softer tannin – a bit downy. 90 points.
**Lamb with herbs, Korean steak, Parmigiano Reggiano

Chateau de Beaucastel 2008, Familie Perrin
Have used no chemicals for 60 years. Use all 13 grape varieties allowed in Chateauneuf-du-Pape for this blend (rare). Savoury, aged wood, tobacco, black cherry, leaf, stone. Very layered flavours, Amazing spice, cinnamon, black flowers, savoury spice, black cherry, strawberry, gamy, leaf, herbs, straight up structure, but tannins well integrated. Generous, surprisingly fresh acidity, benefit of the vintage = best of both worlds. 93 points
**Braised short ribs, beef stew, comforting foots

Valbuena 5° Ano 2010, Vega Sicilia
“Best vintage of Valbuena we’ve ever made” according to Vega Sicilia. Not released yet, we had a sneak preview. Tempranillo, merlot, cabernet sauvignon. Black plum, cedar wood spice, black perfumed flowers, Slightly gummy tannins, dense fruit, light eucalypt/branch notes and oak still present. Very young – long way to go. 89 points.
**Perfect steak wine. 28 day or 55 day – look for something with age.

Petit Mouton 2005, Mouton Rothschild
2nd label Petit invented 1930. Browning. Bretty as heck. Underneath, lovely dried raspberry perfume, cherry, leather, aged wood. Light floral vein, stone, cherry. Medium body, fine tannins, graceful and stately. 90 points
**Well aged lamb – like mutton. Or meat pie with fantastic pastry.

Reserva Real 2010, Bodegas Torres
The king of Spain was visiting the winery, and Torres knew he liked Bordeaux wine, so made a wine with those grapes: cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot. Only 200 cases/year. Black fruit, anise, blackberry, branch, black fruit, stone and spice, eraser/dense graphite. Herbal note. Cigarette. Lovely freshness and structure. 91 points.
**Butterflied herbed leg of lamb, Portobello mushrooms grilled with garlic, a high quality, gourmet meat burger.

Gewurztraminer Vendage Tardive 2007, Hugel & Fils
Sweet wines are 2% of production, yet are the flagship wines of the house. Light golden hue, honeysuckle, pear, honey, roses, great stony spice, apricot, hugely concentrated. Sweetness tempered by stone, acid. 91 points.
**Blue cheese, warm beignet with apricot chutney/dip.

Dow’s 2000 Vintage Port, Symington Family Estate
Ink, black cassis, tar, very concentrated black fruit, caramelized sugar, vanilla, black peppery spice. Grippy tannins starting to loosen. Still much power and fresh finesse. Drinkable now. Great length. 91 points.
**Single squares of beautiful, single origin chocolate.

17:15 h. “Cook with wine”, by Manuel Martínez, chef owner of the Parisian restaurant Le Relais Louis XIII. 2* Michelin.

Martínez demonstrated the difference between making a sauce with wine incorporated, and one without – for the entire room to taste and judge.

Live demonstration that showed wine added in at the end is clumsy and disjointed. One with wine reduced in cooking, followed by fresh wine that hasn’t been boiled and then incorporated in proved much more finessed, smooth. Proof in the pudding.

17:45 h. “False wines enemies”, by Ferran Centelles, elBulli sommelier 2000-2011 and www.jancisrobinson.com contributor.

Sitting down to a pairing session with one of the best somms in the world was both insightful and a reality check. Fantastic advice to not let tradition rule your pairing decisions.

Artichokes, eggs and acid are considered for many as the most difficult and challenging food for a successful wine pairing. We tasted through a line up of different white and red wines with flavour pairings (acid, egg, artichoke) and proved that certain long-held assumptions (vinegar kills everything) wasn’t necessarily the case. A great exercise to remind us to question everything, and not take any pairing principle for granted.

Debunking wine and food pairing myths

Debunking wine and food pairing myths

18:15 h. “End of geographical boundaries of taste”, by François Chartier, “Créateur d’harmonies”; Daniel Ovadía, chef owner of Paxia (Mexico); Vineet Bhatia, chef owner of Rasoi (London); and Stéphane Modat, chef of Champlain Restaurant (Canada).

Chartier is a Montreal-based, world-leading researcher in recipe creation and “the number one expert on flavours”. As a Canadian, it was entirely rewarding to see him present the final talk, and tie in everything to maple syrup.

As scientist Chartier got into wine and gastronomy, he released he had to recreate and reinvent the way he thought about tasting – to move past sweet, sour, bitter, acid. There was no exact, measurable science, so he began to investigate pairings based on molecules. His studies proved instrumental on elBulli’s successes, and Chartier travelled very often to Spain to meet with the chefs and restaurant team there. Pairing certain elements together, based on molecules, means 1+1= 3. You could make a more than ideal match, by aligning and partnering like or matching molecules. Each chef in sequence prepared a dish that shared molecular structure with maple syrup, but included no maple in the recipe. Formidable.

20 h. Closure

A full day, packed with science and art. What I clearly realized is that conventional borders to food and wine no longer exist. The new frontier is breaking through glass beliefs of pairing, and using science and chemistry to better appreciate how certain things react together – for the positively and negatively. As a wine critic, it’s always good to remember to present notes clearly and concisely and consistently. What we taste means nothing if we can’t communicate it to the consumer and our readers.

¡Salud!

Treve Ring

wine-culinary-international-forum-2014-ponentes

The speakers


Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , , , ,

Niagara Riesling: Making the Case

Ontario Wine Report
John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Is riesling Niagara’s most reliable grape? Aside from indestructible hybrids like vidal, most local growers point to either riesling or chardonnay as the best performing white grapes in Ontario. And I’d argue that while top Niagara Chardonnays are surely excellent, they also come at a price, usually $25 and up for the best, and often over $50. Fine riesling on the other hand, can regularly be had for under $15, while even at the very top end prices have yet to exceed $40.

The style and flavor spectrums for chardonnay and riesling are of course not comparable, but if you’re looking for regional and varietal paradigms, riesling wins on value every time. And when it comes to ageability, riesling is hard to beat. I recently tried a 1989 Vineland semi-dry riesling that was astonishingly good, a wine that cost well under $10 on release.

Some of the oldest vines in Niagara are riesling, with several parcels planted back in the late 1970s still producing. These old vines are the origin of some of Niagara’s best. Geeks will revel in discussions over clones and the subtly different wines they produce; Weiss 21 brought by Hermann Weiss to Vineland Estates from the Mosel is the most widely planted, producing a tighter, leaner more citrus-driven style. The so-called Clone 49, an Alsatian clone, delivers a broader, fuller, more pear-flavoured riesling in my experience. But of course it’s the dirt that matters most, a fact put into clear relief after a recent riesling-focused tour through Niagara wine country.

Vertical Tastings of some of the best Niagara Rieslings

According to Tom Penachetti of Cave Spring, vine age and soil depth are critical quality factors. “The sweet spot is on the bench under the Escarpment”, he says, referring to mainly the Beamsville Bench and Twenty Mile Bench Sub-appellations. Hydrology, or water availability, is one of the reasons, with the best sites benefitting from the springs and ground water that drain off of the Niagara Escapment.

Soils are thinner on top of the escarpment, Penachetti continues, and can dry out too quickly, or retain too much water. He believes the sites with heavier clays are best for riesling. But there are exceptions, such as the excellent Charles Baker’s Picone vineyard Riesling and Tawse’s Quarry Road Riesling, both from the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation on top of the Escarpment.

Soils further from the Escarpment, down by shores of Lake Ontario tend to be more sandy, with less clay and limestone, and tend to produce softer, fruitier, more peachy Rieslings. Yet even here, a few patches of heavier clays such as the vineyard at Back Ten Cellars, what the locals call “the brickyard”, yield more nervy, compact wines.

In any case, Niagara has much to offer in a range of styles. Here are a few to seek out to conduct your own tour of Niagara Riesling. Click on each for full tasting notes.

Top Values: Both Inexpensive and Representative

Vineland Estates 2013 Dry Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench ($13.95). A regional paradigm, with apple cherry blossom and green apple aromatics, lovely crisp acids and surprising depth.

Vineland Estates 2013 Semi-Dry Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench ($13.95). All from the original St. Urban’s Vineyard planted in the late 1970s. Although semi-dry, this is beautifully balanced between  generous and fleshy texture and lean and taught acids. There’s a fine, elegant bitterness from phenolics, which also helps to dry out the palate.

Vineland Estates 2013 Dry Riesling Vineland Estates Riesling Semi Dry VQA 2013 No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver Cave Spring Estate Riesling 2012

Château des Charmes 2012 Riesling Old Vines, Niagara-on-the-Lake ($16.95). This wine captures the richer style of riesling from the warmest part of Niagara (mostly St. David’s Bench fruit), widely appealing in the fuller and broader riesling category.

Cave Spring 2012 Riesling Estate, Beamsville Bench ($17.95). A very fine vintage for this reliable wine, ripe and verging on exotic, even if winemaker Angelo Pavan doesn’t use any aroma-enhancing enzymes, believing that it sacrifices too much texture (enzymes split sugars and make them unavailable for fermentation and hence glycerol/alcohol production).

Top Escarpment/Bench Sites: A Glassful of Limestone

Tawse 2012 Carly’s Block, Twenty Mile Bench ($31.95). From Tawse’s oldest riesling block planted in 1978, this is one of the top Rieslings of the vintage in my view. Considering its track record, this should age beautifully – I’d revisit after 2016 for maximum enjoyment.

Tawse 2012 Quarry Road Vineyard, Vinemount Ridge ($23.95). Quarry Road is on top of the Niagara Escarpment, planted 50-50 with Clone 49 and Weiss 21. I’ve tasted the 2012 a couple of times now, and the wine seems to be gaining in tightness and freshness, amazingly enough. Relative to the Carly’s Block, this is a tight and angular expression, though the balance is pitch perfect.

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2012 Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2010 Fielding Estate Lot 17 Riesling Fielding Vineyard 2013

Cave Spring 2010 CSV Riesling, Beamsville Bench ($29.95). Another Niagara classic, the CSV is always built to age. It’s one of the broader and fuller styles of Ontario riesling, and the 2012 reflects both the later harvest (full ripeness) policy of the house and the warm vintage. I’d suggest enjoying this anytime over the next half dozen years.

Fielding Estate 2013 Riesling Lot 17, Beamsville Bench ($27.95). From 17 rows of the oldest riesling on the estate planted in 2000 with clone 49, this is very pear-driven, off-dry, zesty and crisp, though edging to a drier style with each vintage it seems. It’s the finest riesling from Fielding to date.

Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Riesling Wood Post ($30); Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Riesling Steel Post ($30); Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Riesling Triangle Vineyard ($30). Here’s a chance to do a perfect side-by-side comparative tasting of three different vineyards all made in the exact some way, all from the estate vineyards on the Beamsville Bench, from vines of approximately the same age. Thirty Bench has done in-depth studies on their terroir and there are indeed measureable differences, so it’s not just your imagination.  See if you can pick up the The “Wood Post’s intriguing herbal-pine needle nuances, the Steel Post’s perfect pitch and green apple citrus-lime character, and the richness of the Triangle Vineyard, the most forward and generous of the series.

Thirty Bench Small Lot Wood Post Riesling 2012 Thirty Bench Small Lot Steel Post Vineyard 2012 Thirty Bench Small Lot Triangle Vineyard Riesling 2012Showcase Ghost Creek Riesling 2012Back 10 Cellars The Big Reach Riesling 2012

Top Lakeshore/Niagara-on-the-Lake Rieslings – The broader, fuller styles

Trius 2012 Showcase Ghost Creek Riesling, Four Mile Creek ($25). Ghost Creek is one of the original Hillebrand vineyards planted in the 1980s, though this hails from a more recent planting with clone 49. The vineyard sits on an old, very stony, dried up creek bed with shale and limestone and thus good drainage. The 2012 is a full and fleshy, ripe and substantial wine, one of the best from the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation.

Back 10 Cellars 2012 The Big Reach Riesling, Lincoln Lakeshore ($25). The Back Ten Cellars vineyard sits on heavy red clay soils in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation, in which yields of a measly 2 tons per acre are considered successful. For this wine only free-run juice is used. It’s quite a broad and full wine with evident concentration, denser and more compact than Bench Rieslings.

Vinemount Ridge – for acid Freaks

Charles Baker 2012 Riesling Picone Vineyard, Vinemount Ridge ($35). From now 35 year old vines in this vintage, the 2012 is rivetingly tight and pure, concise and focused, in my view the finest Picone Vineyard riesling to date, even after the excellent 2011.

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver

Flat Rock Nadja's Vineyard Riesling 2013

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012Flat Rock Cellars 2013 Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench ($19.95). Nadja’s vineyard was planted in 2000, a two-ha parcel just under the top of the Escarpment and Flatrock’s coolest site, ripening up to two weeks later than the parcel below the winery. This is fragrant and pretty, lean and tightly wound example of Niagara Riesling.

2027 Cellars 2012 Falls Vineyard Riesling, Vinemount Ridge ($25). Falls vineyard is 2027 Cellars’ tightest and most riveting riesling, true to sub-appellation, with significant minerality.

The Stylistic Outlier

Pearl-Morissette 2012 Riesling Cuvée Foudre “Black Ball”, Twenty Mile Bench ($25). This wine is not yet released and it remains to be determined whether it will be labeled as VQA Riesling, or VQA at all, as François Morissette tells me it has already been rejected twice by the VQA tasting panel, even though it has past the laboratory analysis and been deemed chemically stable. (It was also rejected in past vintages, which is the origin of the cuvée name “Black Ball). In any case, it doesn’t fall into any known model of Ontario riesling, being at once fully dry with malolatic fermentation fully finished, and aged in large old foudres from Alsace and bottled unfined and unfiltered with minimal sulphur. It’s a wine of texture more than aromatics, and you’ll need to think along the lines of other stylistic outliers like, say André Ostertag in Epfig or Clemens-Busch in the Mosel, to really get this.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Remember, however, that to read all of the reviews you do need to subscribe (only $40/year). Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


 

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , , , ,

The Successful Collector – Taylor’s Tawnies

Julian Hitner reports on the greatest tawny port lineup ever presented in WineAlign’s newly refurbished tasting room, courtesy of Stephen Marentette of Sylvestre Wines & Spirits. Several of these wines (including an astonishing bottling from 1863!) have already been released through VINTAGES, with one or two on the way (click on the links below for exact dates).

The Art of Tawny Port
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

In port circles, few establishments are as universally revered as Taylor Fladgate, its roots dating back more than three hundred years. Quality is an obsession here, from the choicest bottle-aged (vintage) versions to those kept in wood (such as Late Bottled Vintage) for only a short period of time. But what of those aged in barrel for ten years or longer, those ‘tawnies’ one hears so much about? Back in 1973, when the Instituto dos Vinho do Porto (IVP) created new rules permitting producers to state the age of older tawny ports on the label, Taylor’s found itself in an enviable position. Having spent decades developing stocks of fortified wines aged for many years in wood, it became the first major house to launch a full range of tawnies in increments of 10, 20, 30 and 40 years. Over forty years later, these versions have emerged as some of the most enticing, most consistent wines of their kind in the Douro.

Needless to say, their ‘ruby’ counterparts are entirely different. Aside from much fiercer tannins, deeper colours and totally dissimilar flavours, the finest rubies are largely crafted with bottle aging in mind. Vintage versions are at the top of the pyramid, crafted from the best grapes and only aged for roughly two years in wood and subsequently sold to private buyers for decades of further maturation. Other types, such as Late Bottled Vintage (LBV), are kept in barrel for around four to six years to make them approachable on release. Wines labelled simply as ‘Ruby’ are the cheapest, crafted from the lowest quality grapes and aged very minimally. There are several other types of ruby port, each worthy of exploration.

Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny Port Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny Port Taylor Fladgate 30 Year Old Tawny Port Taylor Fladgate 40 Year Old Tawny PortTaylor Fladgate Single Harvest 1964

By comparison, tawny ports are aged for much longer periods in wood for a much lighter colour (one can easily guess which one) and more nut- and fruitcake-oriented flavours. Wines simply labelled as ‘Tawny’ are the most plebeian, and do not state any period of barrel aging on the label. Taylor’s Fine Tawny (not tasted) is just such a wine. Continuing with Fladgate, this is followed by the 10 Year Old, usually the freshest and most approachable of the above-mentioned quartet. In contrast, the aristocratic 20 Year Old is a much more serious offering, possessing deeper flavours and more concentration. This seems to be the premium tawny of choice for the widest number of connoisseurs. However, for those with very deep pockets, the princely 30 Year Old is a singular favourite, likely on account of its inherent richness, prodigious complexity and overall sense of completeness. The imperial 40 Year Old, on the other hand, is almost an entirely different proposition, produced in very small quantities and possessing unparalleled concentration, luxuriousness and exoticism. Tasted side-by-side, the 30 Year Old appears much fresher and mellower, while its senior, ritzier counterpart seems a weighty titan, basking in immortal opulence and pedigree. Each of these tawnies are among the greatest in Portugal, blended from multiple vintages with the youngest being the stated age on the label.

A short time ago, the ante for such wines was upped even further with Taylor’s introduction of its 1964 Single Harvest Port. Bottled this year, fifty-year-old tawnies from a specific vintage are beyond rare, though younger single-vintage versions known as ‘Colheita’ are produced at many houses. Such wines are usually extremely well made and delicious, particularly those up to twenty years of age. Yet Taylor’s half-century-old bottling (priced at $299.95 in VINTAGES), which it plans on producing every year from now on, is something truly unique, slightly Madeira-like and a good deal sweeter. It is certainly the greatest Colheita (though this term is not used on the label) I have tasted to date.

Taylor Fladgate 1863 Single Harvest Port (Courtesy Taylor Fladgate)At least from the twentieth century. Leave it to Taylor’s to lay its hands on a few casks of mid-nineteenth-century fortified wine from a single vintage and then bottle it. Indeed, the firm’s 1863 Single Harvest Port is likely to be celebrated as one of most spellbinding, most miraculous tawnies in modern times. Divvied out into 1,600 gorgeous crystal decanters placed in luxury boxes of maple burl veneer (fetching $3,995 in VINTAGES), it almost reminds one of a super-premium Cognac, at the same time extraordinarily spice-oriented and mouth-filling. Crafted from pre-phylloxera grapes, it is unquestionably the most unique port wine, ruby or tawny, I have ever been privileged to examine. At the house of Fladgate, only the best seems to do.

The tawny ports of Taylor Fladgate:

Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny Port may generally be considered the gold standard for tawnies of this age group, crafted with obvious care and attention to detail. The freshest and most fruit-driven of the range yet by no means simplistic, this may be enjoyed with almost carefree abandon.

Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny Port has always been a favourite of mine, and recent batches have never been better. Compared to the 10 Year Old, this is a more serious wine, possessing outstanding body, harmony and style. It certainly merits all the laurels it consistently receives.

Taylor Fladgate 30 Year Old Tawny Port has always seemed the most ‘complete’ of the age-stated quartet, delivering substantial concentration, purity and harmony. More than double the cost of the 20 Year Old, collectors have every right to expect great things from such a wine. I have never once been disappointed.

Taylor Fladgate 40 Year Old Tawny Port is easily the most decadent, most enticing wine of this genre. Like its counterparts, it is a blend of multiple vintages, the youngest being the stated age on the label. This means some extremely old vintages were blended into this, with stupendous results.

Taylor Fladgate 1964 Single Harvest Port delivers unbelievable character, style and harmony. Hailing from a single vintage, it has very little in common with even the 40 Year Old, possessing remarkable Madeira-like characteristics and sweeter flavours on the palate. A true original in more ways than one.

Taylor Fladgate 1863 Single Harvest Port is in a class of its own, possessing more in common with a fine Cognac (particularly on the nose) than with a fortified wine. Featuring astounding intensity, harmony, structure, elegance and length, this is one of the true originals of the winegrowing world. Pity that so few persons will ever have an opportunity to taste it.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Click here for Julian’s list of recommended port wines

Editors Note: You can find our critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


 

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , , , , , ,

Un petit quelque chose aux pommes avec ça ?

Hors des sentiers battus
par Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau sm

Marc Chapleau

Notre site s’appelle Chacun son vin, c’est vrai, mais pour ma part, et j’ose croire qu’il en est de même pour plusieurs d’entre vous, je ne dédaigne pas une bonne bière, la plupart du temps. Surtout avec l’éclosion incessante de nouvelles microbrasseries au Québec, et des combinaisons de saveurs parfois un peu tirées par les cheveux mais ô combien réussies, et je pense notamment à la Lambic Fruit de la passion de la ferme-brasserie Schoune de Saint-Polycarpe, près de Valleyfield, vendue dans certaines épiceries et dépanneurs spécialisés.

Cette digression, désolé, pour vous emmener plutôt vers le cidre –  on ne peut plus de saison alors que l’action, en cette fin d’été, se déroule surtout dans les vergers.

Que les 50 ans et plus ne s’enfuient pas tout de suite ! Et que les plus jeunes sachent, si ce n’est pas déjà le cas, que le cidre qu’on a recommencé à commercialiser dans les années 1970 après avoir connu une longue période d’interdiction était sinon infect, du moins traître au possible…

Les cuvées alors proposées titraient allègrement 13 ou 14 pour cent d’alcool et étaient bourrées de soufre. On faisait le cidre dans ce temps-là, ont par la suite colporté les mauvaises langues, à partir de pommes tombées au sol et souvent pourries.

J’en sais quelque chose. À propos de tanguer à cause de ça en direction du plancher des vaches, j’entends…

Nous sommes d’ailleurs plusieurs quinquas à avoir pris nos premières brosses avec ce maudit cidre. On était à l’époque des hipsters et des Pôpa avant l’heure, avec nos barbes de prophètes et nos chemises à carreaux. Et tout ce qu’on a récolté pour toute cette peine qu’on s’est donnée à faire de la réintroduction du cidre un succès… c’est des mals de cheveux carabinés. (Je sais, au pluriel, mal c’est maux, mais « des maux de
cheveux », de vous à moi, ça ne fait pas très sérieux…)

Tout ça pour dire que si un gars comme moi dit aujourd’hui du bien du cidre québécois, il ne faut surtout pas le prendre à la légère.

Ça a été long, pas loin de 20 ans, mais l’industrie s’est bel et bien reprise en main. Le cidre de glace par exemple, qui ne le sait pas, est même devenu l’un de nos fleurons gastronomiques. Quant aux cidres de table, appelons-les comme ça, tranquilles, mousseux, secs et demi-secs proposent aujourd’hui une boisson saine et équilibrée, au fruité souvent très pur, on ne peut plus « pomme ». C’est tout ce que le client demande, la plupart du temps.

De fait, le cidre – sauf exception – est rarement très complexe. Il l’est du reste moins que le vin et même que la bière, souvent. N’empêche : compte tenu de notre long passé pomicole, et ne serait-ce que parce qu’on compte au Québec actuellement dix fois plus d’hectares de vergers que d’hectares de vignes, le cidre n’en demeure peut-être pas moins la boisson du terroir la plus authentiquement et plus naturellement québécoise.

Il s’agit seulement, pour les baby-boomers, de faire abstraction du passé et de l’aborder sans préjugé.

À boire, aubergiste !

J’ai goûté ou regoûté récemment un certain nombre de cidres vendus à la SAQ. Tous, ou à peu près, sont bons et bien faits, équilibrés et bien fruités. Certains ressortent tout de même du lot. Surtout au niveau de la texture, ai-je noté, les meilleurs exemples ayant plus de profondeur, une structure en bouche plus affirmée et parfois même, une légère et délicieuse astringence.

Trois cidres tranquilles pour commencer, c’est-à-dire sans effervescence.

Les Vergers Lafrance Légende D'automne 2012 Domaine Pinnacle Verger Sud La Face Cachée De La Pomme Dégel

Le Légendes d’automne 2012 Vergers Lafrance, à base de McIntosh, n’est pas trop sucré, plutôt léger (9 % d’alcool), simple et de bon goût.

Le Vergers du Sud Domaine Pinnacle m’a de prime abord fait sourciller, étant donné sa bouteille très lourde. Pas d’esbroufe en bouche cependant, équilibre exemplaire, et une agréable pointe saline.

Enfin, le Dégel La Face cachée de la pomme est comme le précédent riche et corsé, avec juste ce qu’il faut d’acidité pour le garder pimpant. À réserver par exemple pour les fromages, plus que pour l’apéro, étant donné son coffre, sa corpulence.

Michel Jodoin Cidre Mousseux Rosé Domaine Lafrance Cidre Mousseux 2013 La Face Cachée De La Pomme Bulle De Neige

Du côté des cidres mousseux, j’ai à nouveau bien aimé le Cidre léger rosé Michel Jodoin, élaboré à partir de la variété de pomme Geneva, à la chair rougeâtre, d’où la couleur du cidre. Une belle réussite à seulement 7 % d’alcool, signée par le duo Michel Jodoin/Laurence Lamboley.

Plus sucré et assez corsé, le Cidre mousseux 2013 Domaine Lafrance a tout de même une bonne fraîcheur et d’engageants arômes de pomme dès l’abord.

On renoue en gros avec le style du cidre léger de Jodoin avec le Bulle de Neige La Face cachée de la pomme, demi-sec, rafraîchissant et bien soutenu par son acidité.

Les cidres de glace

La Face Cachée De La Pomme Neige Première Ice Cider 2011 La Face Cachée de la Pomme Neige Récolte d'HiverJ’aurais pu ici parler des produits du domaine Pinnacle, du Clos Saragnat, des Vergers de la Colline et de bien d’autres encore. Si je n’en retiens que deux, du même producteur qui plus est, c’est que je viens tout juste de les regoûter et donc mon commentaire est plus à jour.

De bons points, ainsi, pour le Neige Récolte d’hiver La Face cachée de la pomme , liquoreux et quasi sirupeux mais qui demeure nerveux, malgré ses quelque 190 g de sucre résiduel par litre.

Même constat pour le Neige Première 2011 La Face cachée de la pomme, celui-ci issu d’une récolte d’automne obtenu par cryoconcentration naturelle (jus mis à geler à l’extérieur). Très compote de pomme et pas trop sucré, un excellent dessert par lui-même.

Santé !

Marc

Note de la rédaction: vous pouvez lire les commentaires de dégustation complets en cliquant sur les noms de vins, les photos de bouteilles ou les liens mis en surbrillance. Les abonnés payants à Chacun son vin ont accès à toutes les critiques dès leur mise en ligne. Les utilisateurs inscrits doivent attendre 60 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de grands vins!


Penfolds clinique de rebouchage

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , , , , , , ,

The Successful Collector – Wachau Riesling

Austria’s greatest white wines?
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Conversing with colleague — and my former instructor — John Szabo MS several months back, I was shocked to learn that riesling accounts for less than 5 per cent of total plantings in Austria. 4.1 per cent, to be precise. How can this be? Would someone explain why Austria, home to the wondrous Wachau, one of the greatest and most beautiful winegrowing regions in the world, produces such minuscule quantities of this magnificent grape?

As a partial explanation, it is only relatively recently that the potential for riesling in the Wachau and nearby regions has been meaningfully set to purpose by more than just a handful of producers. Unfortunately, this means that overall plantings have had to play an unwinnable game of catch-up with grüner veltliner, Austria’s most famous grape, red or white, for popular recognition. Not that this has discouraged producers from expanding their holdings throughout this glorious 20-km stretch of the river. Based mainly on extremely steep terraces overlooking the water, the best riesling parcels are usually found on the upper slopes, where soils consist mainly of granite, gneiss, and mica-schist.

Wachau Map (Courtesy Domäne Wachau)

For the most part, great Wachau riesling is often low-keyed in youth, routinely consisting of steely green fruits intermixed with lemon citrus, herbs, and an abundance of minerals. Yet with just a smidgen of bottle age (depending on the wine), more honeyed, kerosene, and nut-driven impressions seem to take over. Cellaring capability is extremely high, the best examples potentially lasting for at least a few decades. The richest and longest lived are those labeled ‘Smaragd’ (named after a local lizard), with alcohol levels at 12.5 per cent or higher. Wines labeled ‘Federspiel’ (11.5 – 12.5 per cent) are usually drier and less pronounced, while those labeled ‘Steinfeder’ (up to 11.5 per cent) are the lightest.

At this year’s VieVinum in Vienna, I discovered a great deal about the Wachau’s greatest vineyards. Out of 900-odd Rieden (or sites), about a dozen stand above the rest for riesling. Furthest west, along the Spitzer Graben tributary, Bruck is situated on an extremely high hillside, with terraced rows so narrow that tractors cannot even pass through — a common theme throughout many of the best sites. These are extremely minerally, citrus-laden wines. Further east, the Offenberg and Setzberg vineyards are also of similar configuration and quality, though perhaps more fruit-driven in youth. In these cooler parts of the Wachau, soils are mainly derived from mica schists, resulting in wines of considerable elegance and vitality.

East of the village of Spitz, the Danube plays an even greater role in most of the top riesling vineyards, particularly in terms of temperature moderation. Singerriedel is just such a Ried, well-protected from wind and privy to the warm autumn sun late in the evening. Wines of excellent concentration and class are produced here, along with those of Hochrain to the south. Much more famous, however, is the Ried of Achleiten, situated just to the north of the village of Weissenkirchen. Composed of slate and gneiss, it produces riesling of unmistakable minerality and finesse. Those of neighbouring Klaus are also of significant regard.

Singerriedel (Courtesy Domäne Wachau)

In what might be considered the heart of the Wachau, the villages of Dürnstein and the Loibens (Unter- and Ober-) possess some of the most renowned riesling vineyards in Austria. Of these, Kellerberg is traditionally ranked at the top, though grüner veltliner also comprises a large minority of plantings here. Mixed vineyards are very common in the Wachau. Enjoying ample sunlight, broad day-/night-time temperatures, and complex soils consisting mostly of granitic gneiss, Kellerberg riesling is both marvellously fulsome and long-lived. Other nearby vineyards of great repute are Loibenberg, Schütt, and Höhereck, each with their own distinctive personality and eminence. Last but not least, great riesling is produced south of the river around the village of Mautern. The top producer here is indisputably Nikolaihof, a boutique winery whose greatest offerings from Steiner Hund (located across the border in Kremstal), Vom Stein, and Im Weingebirge are widely in demand.

Indeed, small producers throughout the Wachau are routinely among the finest riesling cultivators. Unfortunately, availability in VINTAGES is profoundly lacking, with only one or two wines currently in the system. As something of a small mercy, however, some of the top producers possess agency representation in Ontario, several of which presently carry Wachau rieslings on consignment (immediate delivery) or are able to handle orders directly from the winery. As usual, such wines must be ordered in twelve- or six-bottle cases, though delivery usually takes several months.

Granted, ordering such wines from private agencies might be a nuisance—not because of poor service but because of the necessity of buying by the case—but the rewards are truly beyond measure. When it comes to top-notch Wachau riesling and the best sites from which they are sourced, all one has to do is be in the know.

Top estates in the Wachau

F.X. Pichler – The wines of F.X. Pichler are generally regarded as the most stunning in the Wachau, at times equalled by several other estates, yet never surpassed. With parcels in some of the greatest vineyards around the village of Dürnstein and the Loibens (Unter- and Ober-), every bottling is a testament to the originality and quality of each individual terroir. Ontario Representative: Le Sommelier

F.X. Picher 2013 Dürnsteiner Kellerberg Riesling Smaragd is perhaps the most sensational, most in-depth dry white I have ever tasted (at least to date) from the Wachau. From what is widely considered the most prized vineyard in the region, this sensational offering will keep for up to two decades in the right conditions.

Franz Hirtzberger – Based out of the village of Spitz in a more westerly sector of the Wachau, few wines are as singularly delicious as those of Franz Hirtzberger. Much of the region’s modern-day successes may be traced to Franz’s tireless efforts in spearheading the Vinea Wachau (an association of winegrowers) and promoting perfectionist winegrowing techniques. Not represented in Canada

Franz Hirtzberger 2013 Hochrain Riesling Smaragd is both remarkably intense and stylish. Located just below the famed Singerriedel vineyard, Hochrain routinely yields wines of this design, oftentimes with astonishing aging potential. This particular example may be kept for up to fifteen years or more.

Emmerich Knoll – With 15 ha of vineyards, Emmerich and Monika Knoll (along with their son) are among the most committed, most dynamic winegrowers in the Wachau. Based out of the village of Unterloiben, the style here is one of luminosity and breed. Normally tight in youth, these are wines of phenomenal elegance and ageability. Québec representative: Les Vins Alain Bélanger

Emmerich Knoll 2013 Ried Loibenberg Riesling Smaragd is one of several spellbinding wines produced at this estate. Possessing incredible sophistication and character, it will probably require a vigorous decanting if consumed young, and will likely keep for nearly two decades if cellared correctly.

Mature Nikolaihof RieslingNikolaihof: – Perhaps the most celebrated Biodynamic producer in the Wachau, the Saah family’s approach to winemaking is unique. From a mindboggling number of bottlings to an innate understanding of individuality, the wines of Nikolaihof are as mouth-watering as they are unique. Based out of Mautern, to taste from here is a special experience. Ontario representative: The Living Vine

Nikolaihof 2013 Vom Stein Riesling Federspiel is only barely alluding to its potential at such a young age, though it should open up if given a coaxing. Invigorating and balanced (to mention resoundingly dry), this will likely benefit from a thorough decanting if enjoyed young. Drink now or hold for up to eight years or more.

Alzinger – One of the most up-and-coming estates in the Wachau, the wines of Leo Alzinger (now produced with his son) merit profuse exploration. Based out of Unterloiben, this gifted family of winegrowers possess parcels in some of the best vineyards of the region, each with their own personality and charm. Québec Representative: Vinealis

Alzinger 2013 Höhereck Riesling Smaragd is a wine of remarkable purity and harmony. Situated just under the famed Kellerberg vineyard, Höhereck is an especially brilliant site, resulting in wines of incredible vitality and elegance. Drink now or enjoy over the next dozen years or more.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Link to Julian’s complete list of Austrian white wines
Link to John Szabo’s Austria Report

Editors Note: You can find our critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


Kellerberg (Courtesy Domäne Wachau)

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , , , , , , ,

Ontario wine is busting out all over.. and our critic’s pick their fave’s

Ontario Wine Report – 2014 VintageSept. 11, 2014

by David Lawrason with notes Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

It’s that time of year to zero in on the fruits of labours past, and Ontario winemakers and wine lovers should be pretty pleased at the moment. On to vintage 2014 in a moment, but we are now enjoying some cracker cooler clime 2013 whites and richer 2012 reds (the best balanced hot vintage wines to date).

But first to tasting and buying opportunities. On Saturday VINTAGES releases a chunk of notable Ontario wines, which John Szabo covered right here. Meanwhile the folks across the hall on the General List side of the soon-to-be-sold LCBO HQ launched an Ontario TasteLocal promotion of their own, with a youth-oriented tasting on Queen Street West before Labour Day, and a release of new wines as well, although many are marketing driven commercial blends or less expensive varietals of little real interest.

Looking ahead, The Niagara Grape and Wine Festival launches Sept 13 with three full weekends of tastings and events at www.niagarawinefestivals.com. And Wine Country Ontario is gearing up for its big annual downtown Toronto VINTAGES-sponsored tasting of over 100 wines at the Royal Ontario Museum on October 2. See Taste Ontario at www.vintages.com. So no excuses not to find wine to taste.

On a political level, things are also perking along for wider distribution of Canadian wine. At the recent premiers conference in Charlottetown PEI,  B.C. Premier Christy Clark managed to squeeze a commitment out of Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne that within a year Ontario would do something about opening its borders to the direct import of B.C. wine for personal consumption. (B.C. already allows Ont wine to be direct shipped). We await the details and timelines, but as I have said all along – go ahead and order it anyway. The feds made it legal in June 2012.

Just before that announcement, the C.D. Howe Institute endorsed greater competition and privatization of wine sales in the province http://www.cdhowe.org/uncorking-a-strange-brew-the-need-for-more-competition-in-ontarios-alcoholic-beverage-retailing-system/27217, which would suit The Wine Council of Ontario just fine. It has rightly and bravely been promoting the sale of both domestic and imported wines in private wine shops in Ontario at www.pairsperfectly.com.

And finally, in the vineyard, where it all counts for quality, Ontario winemakers are also breathing a bit easier for the 2014 vintage. The frigid winter played havoc with exposed (un-buried) vines, reducing crop levels, and severely damaging winter sensitive varieties like merlot, sauvignon blanc and syrah. Some Lake Erie vineyards will have only 10% of their normal crop! A late spring and coolish summer had ripening set back by a couple of weeks, with enough rain and humidity to make it a typically challenging Ontario season. But the last ten days of above average temperatures have helped. Harvesting of earliest varieties could be underway momentarily. C’mon September, play nice!

As you contemplate all this, and decide to enjoy Ontario wines along with Ontario corn, tomatos, peaches and plums, Sara and I offer our thoughts on some of the more interesting Ontario wines encountered this season – no matter where and how encountered – although we draw heavily from the platinum and gold medal ranks of the WineAlign National Wine Awards judged in June (full results here). Some may be on the shelf under your nose, others might require some web-surfing or a weekend in wine country. Some are ground-breaking, some are controversial, some are excellent quality – but none are boring.

David Lawrason’s Picks

Hidden Bench 2011 Tete De Cuvee Chardonnay,
Beamsville Bench, $45.20
Hubbs Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2011 Peller Estates Private Reserve Gamay Noir 2012 No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason DziverTasting blind, I didn’t know what had hit me during the preliminary round of the National Wine Awards but this brilliant, profound and concentrated chardonnay almost knocked me out of my chair – as it did panel mate Bill Zacharkiw of Montreal. So how it missed a platinum in the second round – and settled for gold – is beyond me. Maybe however it won’t sell out as quickly. Don’t you miss it if you get a chance.

Peller Estates 2012 Gamay Reserve, Niagara Peninsula, $18.90
With an Ontario Lieutenant-Governor’s Award and a gold at the National Wine Awards of Canada, Peller’s Reserve Gamay by winemaker Katie Dickenson (who took over in 2012)  leaps to the head of a genre in Ontario that many are yet to embrace.  During the LG Awards a panelist asked if one could really take this out into the world as an example of excellence in Ontario wine. To which I replied – yes, and I would take it straight to Beaujolais.

Hubbs Creek 2011 Pinot Noir, Prince Edward County, $28.90
I put this National Wine Awards silver medalist on my list not so much for what it is now (a solid 90 point, beautifully integrated county pinot) but for what it represents and will be.  The 2012 awaiting release in the months ahead is clearly a 90+, and it stems from committed high density viticulture by owner John Battista Calvieri.  Although the 1000 case winery has only produced three vintages, some of the vines, planted in some of the County’s stoniest soils on Danforth Road, date back to 2002.  The ring of County authenticity is loud and clear.

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver

Exultet 2013 Pinot GrigioExultet Pinot Grigio 2013, Prince Edward County, $30.00
I had three head turning experiences with mineral driven County pinot gris this summer – a finely tuned 2013 by Hubbs Creek above, an excellent Alsatian styled, mineral-driven Grange of Prince Edward 2012 and this amazing and delicious and profound yet light on its feet “Grigio” by Exultet.  It is the best pinot gris I have yet had from Ontario and yes, worth the brave price of $30.

Tawse 2012 Carly’s Block Riesling,  Beamsville Bench, $31.95
With a second consecutive Lt Governors Award and a Platinum at the National Wine Awards there can be little doubt that Carly’s Block – named for Moray Tawse’s daughter –  planted in 1978 and now farmed biodynamically, is one of the greatest riesling sites in the province.  This is scintillating riesling, and particularly notable for 9.8%, a direction more Niagara riesling producers need to go.

Sara D’Amato’s Picks

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason DziverTawse 2011 Robyn’s Block ChardonnayNo Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver, Twenty Mile Bench, ($45.95)
This is a serious cool climate endeavor; one that has helped put Ontario on the map as a world-class chardonnay producer. With locally trained winemaker Paul Pender at the helm, the wines of Tawse are afforded a real sense of place and benefit from a superb collection of carefully chosen sites.  The Robyn’s block is the oldest of the winery’s estate plantings and is home to 30 year-old chardonnay vines. The quality of the fruit is immediately evident on the nose alone as is the quality of the French oak in which it spends a full year. Rich and with enviable depth and complexity, this top local chardonnay is one of those wines I like to bring abroad to showcase what we do best.

Eastdell Estates 2011 Black Label Shiraz By Diamond Estates, Niagara Peninsula, ($19.95)
Cool climate syrahs certainly turned heads at the National Wine Awards this year and the category was one of my favourite to judge. Syrah’s pepper, musky loveliness can be muted in warmer years or climates. It takes a very sensitive understanding of the varietal to find just the right location where it will thrive and a deft hand to know when it is ready to harvest. This lip-smacking, sensually inviting example from a longer growing season, delivers exotic spice, freshly ground pepper, black fruit and succulent sour cherries to the palate. Finish of great length is pleasantly earthy and musky.

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason DziverFlat Rock Cellars 2012 Gravity Pinot NoirNo Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver, Twenty Mile Bench, ($30.15)
There are so many astounding, utterly compelling pinot noirs to be found now as the ages of vines increases in Niagara and as we focus more fine-tuning and small batch production. Flat Rock Cellars Gravity pinot noir is one of those iconic examples, which offers terrific complexity, lovely dimension, and, in this warmer vintage, a beautifully lifted nose of wildflowers and cherry. Locally trained Winemaker Jay Johnston has made his rounds of Ontario wineries and has now settled into this well-suited role at Flat Rock producing expressive wines with grace and poise.

Chateau Des Charmes 2012 Cabernet Franc, St. David’s Bench Vineyard, Niagara, ($25.95)
The Bosc family has been producing wine in their well-established locale in St. David’s Bench, just outside Niagara-on-the-Lake, for over 35 years. One of the founding families of quality wine production in Ontario, and developers of new and unique clones, appealing wines with “charm” have become a hallmark of their portfolio. This lovely cabernet franc exhibits grace, balance and elegance along with the pepper and perfume typical to perfectly ripened cool climate styles.

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason DziverHidden Bench 2012 Roman’s Block Rosomel Vineyard RieslingNo Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver, Beamsville Bench,  ($32.00)
Such a small amount of this site specific riesling was produced and we should all be glad this project came to fruition. This impressive result features a palate which is zesty and pure with an abundance of mineral and delicate layers of floral and tender fruit. Ethereal, nervy and distinctively Niagara.

Niagara College Teaching Winery 2012 Dean’s List Prodigy Icewine, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario ($43.00)
Niagara College Teaching Winery has graduated many of Ontario’s most talented winemakers and has a fully operational winery teaming with students anxious to learn the ropes. Birthed from such a dynamic and experimental setting comes this exquisite Icewine. So much complexity has been coaxed out of this vidal, a grape known more for its hardiness than its intricacy, delivering concentrated notes of honey, dried herbs, soy sauce and balsamic. A distinctive and truly memorable feat exhibiting terrific balance which makes you feel like you can have more than just a sip or two.

And that’s it for now. In the days ahead John Szabo will be publishing a special report on Niagara riesling, which many claim is the single best wine that Ontario makes.

Cheers
David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


Filed under: Featured Articles, , , , , , , ,

Austria Report 2014: Visiting Vienna, Best of Blaufränkisch; Little Black Danube Valley Address Book + Ontario Buyer’s Guide

Sept. 9, 2014

VieVinum-logo-2014-02John Szabo reports on his latest trip to the Imperial capital of Vienna for the 2014 edition of Vievinum. Apparently, he had fun, and he shares some discoveries that will be useful to all but die-hard, one-brand wine drinkers.

Mozart + Schnitzel +… Wein
by John Szabo MS

Mozart, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Salzburg music festival, the waltz, Wiener schnitzel, 19th century coffee houses or skiing in Innsbruck… Austria has many cultural references with which many North Americans will have at least some vague familiarity, if not personal intimacy. But wine from Austria? Awareness in Canada that wine is produced in this tiny, mostly Alpine central European country is as limited as the number of shelf-facings on Canadian government monopoly stores. That is, at least outside of the cozy world of sommeliers and wine writers and the not-so-occasional wine consumer unafraid to venture into the darker corners of the Vintages section. For these people, Austrian wine has already emerged from the dark Vienna Woods.

But since Austria may well produce some of the finest wines you’ve never tasted, it’s high time to experience Austrian life beyond Mozart.

So here’s my pitch. It includes suggestions on what to do in romantic Vienna to get you in the mood, followed by a look at the current Austrian wine scene, a list of the cream from nearly four score of blaufränkisch recently tasted (that’s Austria finest red grape), and the addresses in the Danube Valley that every wine lover should have (from the flagship appellations – Wachau, Kamptal, and Kremstal – for the country’s most important white variety, gruner veltiner, as well as riesling – Austria’s best kept secret and some of the very finest in the world). I’ll round it up with a Buyer’s Guide of wines currently available in Ontario. There is, of course, so much more. But it’s a start.

Visiting Vienna

A Gustav Klimt original tapestry at Café Griensteidl

A Gustav Klimt original tapestry at Café Griensteidl

Each time I travel to Vienna, I’m swept up by the romance that hangs in the air, that suffuses the old wood panels and ancient stones, and lingers in the almost audible string quartets echoing off the cobbled streets and dancing in the dying light glinting off the Danube. I sit on the patio of the 19th C. coffee house Grienstiedl in the Michaelerplatz sipping a g’spritzer, an upscale version of soda and white wine, while listening to the soulful strings of a concert-level celloist reverberate off the walls of Empress Sisi’s Hofburg Palace residence with a sound that most concert halls would envy, busking more for practice than for pay.

I never miss a chance to travel up to the Nussberg vineyard on the northwest hills above the city to take in its magnificent, commanding view over all of Vienna, the spire of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the Stephansplatz a tiny toothpick in the distance.

The Nussberg Vineyard overlooking the Danube River and Vienna

The Nussberg Vineyard overlooking the Danube River and Vienna

And it’s from this vineyard that one of my favorite Viennese wines hails: the Nussberg Alte Reben from Franz Wieninger, made from an interplanted mix of old vines that ripen each year under the Pannonian sun. This traditional field blend and others made from the 650-odd hectares within the city’s boundaries are a uniquely Viennese specialty officially called gemischter satz, which is almost as much fun to say as it is to drink. (If the Alte Reben isn’t available, Wieninger’s straight up Gemischter Satz is a more than worthy substitute.)

Mayer am Pfarrplatz

Mayer am Pfarrplatz

It’s unthinkable not to spend an evening in one of the dozens of heurigen in the outlying districts, like the Mayer am Pfarrplatz in the 19th district where Beethoven stayed in 1817 to work on the Eroica and begin composing the 9th symphony, and more recently, Arnold Schwarzenegger and his entourage nearly knocked me over on their way out through the narrow wooden door. Heurigen are Austrian institutions devoted to local food and especially wine scattered around the city’s outlying districts, where everything is produced on-premise, including the wine, and is served on long wooden tables in the open air under vine-covered pergolas. And the accordion plays on.

Then I’ll return to the center and stroll through the cobbled streets of this Imperial City, and admire its magnificent baroque buildings and palaces, heavily statued parks and squares, the rows upon rows of museums, the extravagant wood-paneled shrines to coffee, and inhale the strangely pleasant and authentic scent of fresh horse manure as I idle past the rows of carriages parked outside of St. Stephen’s Cathedral waiting to ferry passengers around the old quarter of the 1st district.

A Carriage ride through Vienna, passing the Hofburg Palace

A Carriage ride through Vienna, passing the Hofburg Palace

If hungry, there’s always the city’s most famous schnitzel at Figlmuller’s or the incomparable tafelspitz at Plachutta – a Rabelesian feast of boiled meats – or for more refined Austrian cuisine, the Michelin-starred Steiereck.

And throughout it all, I’m constantly struck by the nation’s inherent composure and self-confidence; you can’t help but get a sense that Austrians are secure, and more than just financially. There’s a sense of comfort related to both the past and present, and indeed a conspicuous absence of insecurity regarding the future.

I suppose such a city couldn’t help but produce that legendary Viennese haughtiness – so pronounced in some cases as to make even a real Parisian blush – that I’ve come to expect, and even appreciate, being such a dramatic change from Canadian politeness. I suspect the attitude is born of this culture of precision and suspicion, even intolerance, of anything sub-standard that seems to be shared by all of Alpine Europe. Is it the mountain air? Order your drinks and get on with it, no time for polite dithering.

The Wine Scene

Wine culture thrives in Vienna, but not in the self-conscious, self-congratulatory way it often does in North America. In countless restaurants and wine bars, details are taken seriously but matter-of-factly, and one inevitably concludes that serving a wide selection of local wines at the proper temperature in gorgeous crystal stems is really just the way things are done, not how some star sommelier has dictated they should be in order to gain advantage over the competition and notoriety for himself. Switzerland may have watches, but Austria has some of the world’s finest glassware, such as the ever-expanding range from Georg Riedel, and Zalto, which for my money is easily the best high-end stemware on the market, so there are no excuses.

No visit to Vienna is complete without a stop at Wein & Co. just off of the Stephansplatz, one of the best wine shops/wine bars in the city where you can browse, buy, and bring your wine over the to bar side for chilling and sipping. That’s if you don’t find anything you like on the already extensive “regular list”. The historic Zum Schwarzen Kameel is also a favorite, especially if you find a seat on the crowded patio. You’ll experience fine wine and Viennese attitude all in one.

The Austrian Wine Zeitgeist

Austrian confidence permeates the wine industry, too, particularly refreshing in a business that is constantly looking over the fence to see what’s happening on the other side. Not to say that Austrian winemakers aren’t interested in the rest of the world, nor arrogantly under the impression that they make the world’s best wine – far from it – but neither do they feel an urgent need to change what they’re doing to chase current consumer trends. It’s as if to say, “stay the course and success will come”.

But it hasn’t always been this way. Only a few short decades ago the entire Austrian wine industry was in a state of crisis, if not outright panic, in the face of an overblown scandal that saw exports drop off the radar. It was as though a millennial tradition of winemaking had evaporated like the angel’s share from a barrel of wine. The remote, glorious past meant nothing to contemporary wine drinkers.

But setbacks can be turned into opportunities, and Austrians wasted no time in revamping the entire industry from top to bottom, imposing some of the strictest quality controls in the world of wine. The return road to international markets was bumpy and many of the same mistakes that have hampered other new and old world winemaking countries were committed, such as over reliance on international, often unsuitable grapes, adherence to the belief that clever winemaking could fix any problems, and devotion to over ripeness and the flavour of new oak. “The past three decades have seen plenty of setbacks, wrong turns and detours” says Willi Klinger, head of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board.

White Wines

Near Weißenkirchen in the wine region Wachau in Niederösterreich (Lower Austria). View from single vineyard Achleiten towards west. © AWMB / Egon Mark

Near Weißenkirchen in the wine region Wachau in Niederösterreich (Lower Austria). View from single vineyard Achleiten towards west. © AWMB / Egon Mark

White wines have historically been Austria’s strength, and the fine-tuning that has occurred over the last three decades has shifted them into the top world leagues. Gruner veltliner remains the most planted grape by a good margin and in many ways defines Austrian wines, at least for export markets. It’s a polyvalent variety, running the spectrum of styles from light and whit-pepper scented from cooler areas like the Weinviertel, to round, full-bodied lush examples from the wind-blown loess soils west of Vienna on either side of the Danube (especially the regions of Wagram and Traisental), and piercing, firm, minerally wines from vineyards planted right on primary rock (gneiss, granites, etc.) in the Danube Valley.

Riesling Rocks

Yet Austrian Riesling, in my view, and at the risk of offending a large percentage of the wine industry, produces the country’s very finest white wines. The examples from the primary rock terraces lining the Danube west of Vienna, especially the Wachau region and select sites in the Kamptal and Kremstal, are strikingly mineral, powerful, enormously complex wines capable of long-term cellaring and shouldn’t be missed by fans of the grape. See below for some trustworthy names to look for.

Other Exotics

Other more exotic local grapes like rotgpfler and zierfandler from the Thermenregion south of Vienna can surprise by their dense orchard fruit and minerally character. Look for the wines of Stadlmann for a good introduction. In the southern part of the country, in the region called Steiermark (Styria), sauvignon blanc is the calling card. Steep slopes of varying composition including volcanic, gravel, limestone soils yield pungent sauvignons, somewhere between Loire Valley, Bordeaux and New Zealand in style, and most closely resembling the perfumed examples in Italy’s neighboring Friuli region. Look for Sattlerhof or Tement to get yourself started.

I’ll also put in a word for Styria’s pale rose specialty called Schilcher [SHILL-hair] made from the blauer wildbacher grape. These bone dry, searingly tart wines are a bit of an acquired taste, but I personally love the vibrancy and first-sip-of-the-day acids. Try Reiterer’s Alte Reben (“Old Vine”) Engleweingarten schilcher for a pleasant shock.

Reds on the Rise

Hands down, however, the greatest improvements in Austrian wine have come in the red wine category. I recall the first tasting of Austrian reds I attended some fifteen years ago in Toronto, where I was struck by how woeful they were for the most part: thin, green, weedy, or crushed by excessive oak and over-extraction. Klinger, referring specifically to red wines, is appropriately circumspect: “Looking back, we can see that while each of these innovations [international varieties, extraction, excessive oak use] were important steps on the way to new red wine highs, they were not the essence of this development.”

Now Austrian vintners, at least the top tier, have moved past this developmental phase to the point where terroirs and native varieties have been embraced with confidence. “Austria has three aces up its sleeve, namely the indigenous grape varieties Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent. It is only now that we really understand how to play this incredible starting hand,” says Klinger.

Top Austrian Red Wine Tasting at the Hofburg Palace (Can you spot the WineAlign logo on someone's computer?)

Top Austrian Red Wine Tasting at the Hofburg Palace (Can you spot the WineAlign logo on someone’s computer?)

My most recent tastings, including wines from the excellent 2011 and 2012 vintages, underscore the point. Austrian winemakers today can confidently spend more time looking at their vineyards rather than outside the country, comfortable in the knowledge that both their native grapes and their varied terroirs are able to produce wines that are as distinctive and qualitative as any other great local specialties around the world.

Proof of Success

A quick glance at the steep upward graph depicting Austrian wine exports over the last three decades tells a clear tale: foreign markets have grown increasingly confident in the quality of Austrian wines, and are willing to pay more and more for them. Exports reached an all-time high of 137m euros in 2013, all the more remarkable considering the steady or even decreasing exports by volume, thanks in part to several consecutive short crops. The value curve has been rising steeply for a decade. Also, average export price per liter topped 3 euros (c. $5) for the first time in 2013. That may not seem like a lot to Canadian consumers used to paying $15 and up for a decent 750ml bottle of wine, but that figure is among the highest in the world.

Still Work to Be Done

But there is, of course, still work to be done – any country that stands still in today’s market is quickly left behind. Red wine quality is still not uniformly high, and too many still rely on the crutch of over-making wines. The divide between progressive and backward looking winemakers is still wide. Blaufrankisch, despite its firm tannins and marked acids, is nonetheless a dainty variety, with delicate tart red fruit flavours that need to be preserved through careful handling. Heavy wood/caramel flavours all too easily overwhelm the delicate fruit character that makes the grape so attractive in the first place, and one gets the sense that great fruit is often compromised by aggressive winemaking. Several of the wines recently tasted are not at international level, while a handful could even be considered defective, and this among what are supposed to be the country’s top rated wines.

“When it comes to Blaufränkisch, we have seen that it was the right decision to move the focus away from cellar techniques and place it on the work in the vineyard,” emphasizes Klinger, words that more winemakers need to take to heart.

For detailed information on the Austrian wine industry and all appellations, visit the Austrian Wine Marketing Board excellent and comprehensive website.

The Wines: Top Blaufrankisch from 2011-2012

Following are a dozen blaufrankisch to track down at all costs. The wines were tasted in June 2014 during the biennial fair called Vievinum held in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. The list of wines to be tasted was compiled by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board from the highest rated wines as judged by the local press.

The Burgenland in the far east of Austria on the border with Hungary, and its various sub-appellations, remains the reference region of production. Among my general observations is that limestone and slate soils seem to give the best – most refined, elegant and mineral – versions of blaufrankisch. The Leithaberg and Eisenberg DACs are almost uniformly excellent, while the silty-loam-clays of Carnuntum were generally less exciting, with many wines bearing the heavy hand of the winemaker. Exceptions, however, prove the rule.

A Killer Dozen

Weingut Ernst Triebaumer 2011 Blaufränkisch Ried Mariental Burgenland. Ernst Tribaumer took over the 300 year family operation in 1971, implementing a new quality direction. Many cite the 1986 Triebaumer Mariental blaufrankisch as the first great serious Austrian red wine, and it continues to be a reference point. The Mariental vineyard is an east-facing, mostly calcareous vineyard in Rust, with over 50-year-old vines, bottled separately only in exceptional vintages. The 2011 intense and concentrated, but without exaggeration, in the darker fruit spectrum, dense, rich, compact. Nearly twenty years on since this wine first catapulted Austrian reds into the international spotlight, this still remains a top reference. Best after 2018 – this can also age magnificently into the late ’20s.

Roland Velich of Moric, a Blaufränkisch specialist

Roland Velich of Moric, a Blaufränkisch specialist

Moric 2011 Blaufränkisch Lutzmannsburg “Alte Reben” Burgenland. Roland Velich is a widely recognized master of blaufrankisch, a variety he has pushed to the limits to see what could be obtained. His range of village and single vineyard wines is nothing short of extraordinary, vinified meticulously with the lightest of touches and refinement and elegance in mind. The old vines from Lutzmannsburg, some over 100 years and planted in high density, is all about finesse and florality, pure and authentic, the hallmarks of this sandy-loam over primary rock site. An energetic, natural wine of top quality.

Weingut Gernot und Heike Heinrich 2011 Blaufränkisch Ried Alter Berg Burgenland. Gernot Henrich runs a sizable operation (500k bottles annually) from a stylish, modern facility in the Burgenland, producing several ranges of wines, each at the top of their respective price categories. Grapes are biodynamically farmed, and the key words here are purity and elegance. The Alter Berg is a sea fossil-rich site in the Leithagebirge hills on the western shore of Lake Neusiedl, vinified à la pinot noir, in open top wooden fermenters and aged in 500l barrels. This is classic blaufrankisch: pure wild cherry, floral, blood orange character, clean and pure, with gorgeous, juicy acids and fine-grained tannins. For current enjoyment or mid term hold.

Former sommelier-turned-blaufränkisch-producer Uwe Schiefer

Former sommelier-turned-blaufränkisch-producer Uwe Schiefer

Weingut Uwe Schiefer 2012 Blaufrankisch Königsberg, Burgenland. A former sommelier at Vienna’s top restaurant, Steiereck, Uwe Schiefer is another acknowledge blaufrankisch specialist and among the first to pursue the more refined and elegant side of the variety. From his excellent range, the Königsberg vineyard stood out; this pure limestone site planted with over 50-year-old vines is a beauty. Classy, spicy and beautifully structured, with terrific length, it should hit prime towards the end of the decade. Look also for the 2012 Eisenberg, a top notch schist-quartz expression of the grape.

Weingut Wachter-Wiesler 2011 Blaufränkisch Reserve “Alte Reben” Eisenberg. This was a great discovery for me, the first wine I’ve tasted from Wachter-Wiesler, established in 1999 with the amalgamation of the two families’ vineyards. “For me, a wine is most interesting, natural and authentic when it is known where its grapes are grown,” says Christoph Wachter, and every effort to preserve the natural vineyard expression is made. The Alte Reben (“old vines”) is made from eighty year-old vines grown on the green slate soils that dominate the Eisenberg appellation, aged in 1500l casks. It delivers high density and intensity, compact tannins and firm acids, not to mention tremendous length. A serious wine, succulent, elegant and balanced.

Weingut Birgit Braunstein 2011 Blaufränkisch Leithaberg DAC. Another great discovery are the wines of Birgit Braunstein, made from organically grown, minimally-handled grapes. The limestone-rich soils of the Leithaberg favour finesse, which is perfectly preserved by wild ferment wild in wood vats and ageing in old 500 liter barrels. This 40 year-old vine cuvée is pure, and fragrant, succulent and lively. I love the fresh acids firm, structured tannins, balanced by ripe and zesty red berry fruit. Good to very good length. Best after 2016.

Weingut Familie Prieler 2011 Blaufränkisch Ried Goldberg Burgenland. The Prieler family has been in Schützen for at least 150 years practicing polyculture, and made the transition to a dedicated wine estate in 1972. Today the family farms 30 hctares of vineyards on the western shores of Lake Neusiedl under a nature reserve. The Goldberg and its mineral-rich slate soils is the top blaufrankisch bottling, pure, red fruit driven with typical herbal spice. I like the black currant character, juicy, lively acids, and fully integrated wood (26 months in small barrel, though must be well-used).

Dorli Muhr, Muhr-van der Niepoort wines, Carnuntum

Dorli Muhr, Muhr-van der Niepoort wines, Carnuntum

Weingut Muhr – van der Niepoort 2011 Blaufränkisch Ried Spitzerberg Carnuntum. This is the only non-Burgenland blaufrankisch to make my top list, though considering the unusually high limestone content of the Spitzerberg, and the partnership between Dorli Muhr and Dirk Neipoort (of the extraordinary Niepoort wines in the Douro Valley, Portugal, it’s not surprising that it sits in the top class. This is fine, fragrant, balanced and elegant blaufrankisch, highly minerally, with lovely wild cherry fruit. And if you think this is good, just wait for the 2012s to be released.

Weingut Pittnauer 2011 Blaufränkisch Ried Ungerberg Burgenland. Although considered St. Laurent specialists, the biodynamically-farmed, wild yeast fermented blaufrankisch from the Ungerbrg vineyard is a stunning wine. It spends 20 months in old barrels, delivering an intriguing aromatics including green olive, citrus-blood orange, and authentic grape spice while the palate is arch classic blaufrankisch with its mid-weight, fine but dusty tannins and crunchy acids, plus mineral character.

Weingut Anton Hartl 2011 Blaufränkisch Ried Rosenberg Leithaberg DAC. Organically certified grapes (since 2010), high limestone content in the vineyard and gentle handling give Toni Hartl’s blaufrankisch a quality edge. The 2011 is just on the right side of reductiveness, with lively red berry fruit, tart and juicy – a blaufrankisch on the more elegant and succulent side.

Weingut Anita & Hans Nittnaus 2011 Blaufränkisch Ried Tannenberg Burgenland. Although not the most expensive wine in the Nittnaus range, the Tannenberg vineyard blaufrankisch is for me their finest wine. Made from biodynamically-grown grapes, the 2011 has genuine complexity and character, voluminous and substantial palate, with fine-grained, firm tannins and succulent acids. A superb wine, best after 2016.

Weingut Krutzler 2011 Blaufränkisch Reserve Burgenland. In opposition to the current trend in the Burgenland for site-specific bottlings, the Krutzlers “no longer rely exclusively on single vineyards, but rather focus on the interplay of premium fruit, consistent vineyard management and steady stylistics”. The Reserve is made from 15- to 30-year-old vines on the estate’s top sites on the Eisenberg and in Deutsch-Schützen, and this offers a nicely balanced nose and palate to match, with a fine mix of tannins and acids, alcohol and fruit. Everything is nicely in place, with excellent length. Best after 2016.

Little Black Book Addresses in The Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal

While not an exhaustive list, these are the producers you shouldn’t miss when traveling through the Danube Valley west of Vienna, or when shopping anywhere for top bottles of grüner veltliner and Riesling from Austria.

Wachau

Weingut Franz Hirtzberger

Weingut Emmerich Knoll

Nikolaihof

Weingut F.X. Pichler

Weingut Rudi Pichler

Weingut Veyder-Malberg

Weingut Pichler-Krutzler

Peter Veyler-Malberg

Peter Veyler-Malberg, Wachau

 

Kamptal

Weingut Rudi Rabl

Weingut Kurt Angerer

Weingut Allram

Weingut Bründlemayer

Weingut Jurtschitsch

Weingut Fred Loimer

 

Kremstal

Weingut Geyerhof

Schloss Gobelsburg

Weingut Hiedler

Weingut Nigl

Salomon Undhof

 

Buyer’s Guide: Top Smart Buys in Ontario

The following recommended wines are currently available in Ontario, either at the LCBO or via consignment agents. Click on each for the details.

White

Loimer Spiegel Grüner Veltliner 2012 Kamptal, 94 $64.95

Weinrieder Riesling Kugler 2009, Weinviertel 92 $29.95

Weingut Loimer Grüner Veltliner Terrassen 2012 Niederösterreich, 92 $39.95

Domäne Wachau Achleiten Smaragd Riesling 2011, Wachau, Austria 92 $36.95

Biohof Pratsch Steinberg Grüner Veltliner 2010, Niederösterreich 91 $35.95
Salomon Undhof Wachtberg Reserve Erste Lage Gr†Ner Veltliner 2011, Kremstal 91 $27.95

X. Pichler Federspiel Loibner Klostersatz Grüner Veltliner 2012 Wachau, 91 $37.95

Salomon Undhof Wachtberg Reserve Erste Lage Grüner Veltliner 2011, Kremstal, 91 $27.95

Loimer Grüner Veltliner Trocken 2013, Dac Kamptal 90 $23.95

Wieninger Gemischter Satz 2013, Vienna 90 $20.95

Kurt Angerer Grüner Veltliner Kies 2013 Niederösterreich, 90 $19.95

Meinklang Grüner Veltliner 2013, Burgenland 89 $15.95

Winzer Krems Edition Chremisa Grüner Veltliner 2012 Niederösterreich, 89 $24.95

Domäne Wachau Terraces Grüner Veltliner 2012, Wachau, 88 $17.95

Zahel Gruner Veltliner Goldberg 2013, Vienna 88 $22.60

Weingut Loimer, Grüner Vetliner ‘lois’ 2013 Niederösterreich, 87 $18.95

Sattlerhof Sauvignon Blanc Vom Sand 2013, Südsteiermark 87 $19.95

 

Red

Heinrich St Laurent 2010, Burgenland 91 $36.95

Weingut Heinrich Blaufränkisch 2012, Burgenland 89 $24.95

Heinrich Zweigelt 2012, Burgenland 89 $24.95

Zantho St Laurent 2011, Burgenland 88 $18.00

 

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

 

Filed under: Featured Articles, , , , , ,

South Africa in The Spotlight Part Two: Getting Cooler

South Africa in The Spotlight: Part Two

Part one of the series last week makes the pitch for South Africa as one of the most exciting countries in the world of wine, and examines the Swartland region and its top producers. This entry covers the cool Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

Regions to Watch: The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (“heaven and earth”) is technically three separate wards within the district of Walker Bay: there’s the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley itself as well as the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, and Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, as you move inland from the seaside town of Hermanus. There are currently eleven wineries in the valley and 14 grape growers, and growing.

The coast by Hermanus, Walker Bay

The coast by Hermanus, Walker Bay

This is pinot noir and chardonnay territory par excellence, cooled by breezes off the Atlantic Ocean, which in turn are chilled by the icy Benguela current that surges up from Antarctica and bounces off the Cape. Soils vary greatly, but follow the general South African pattern of variations on shale, sandstone and granite. The clay content, however, heavier at either end of the valley but lower in the middle, regulates the relative weight of pinot noirs, Anthony Hamilton Russell tells me. “The middle part of the valley [the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde] will always make lighter and delicate pinots”, he says, while more clay equates to fuller bodied and more structured examples.

Anthony’s father Tim Hamilton Russell was the first to plant vines in Walker Bay, although it wasn’t known then as Walker Bay. Travelling frequently to his holiday home in the old seaside fishing town of Hermanus, he was struck by the possibility of winegrowing in this cool maritime region. At the time it was outside of any official demarcated wine growing areas, and the pinot, chardonnay and sauvignon that Hamilton Russell made in the mid-eighties was labeled simply as “Western Cape Red/White Wine” without mention of region or grape.

Eventually the government would create the Walker Bay District, but it is a very large area with vastly different soils and micro climates, and so without logical coherence. It was then broken up five years ago into five wards: the Standford Valley, Bot River Valley, and the three Hemel-en-Aarde wards. “It’s been a commercially difficult transition, as the appellation is a mouthful to be sure, whereas Walker Bay is known and easy” says Hamilton Russell.

The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley with the Atlantic in the distance, seen from Newton Johnson Vineyards

The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley with the Atlantic in the distance, seen from Newton Johnson Vineyards

Early challenges in the region included a lack of good plant material. The first clone of pinot noir available in South Africa was the Swiss Wadenswill clone, better suited to sparkling wine production in cool climates, and evidently not ideal for the Cape. “One of the frustrations for pinot noir producers in this country is that we’re in the minority” laments Bevan Newton Johnson of Newton Johnson Vineyards. “Nurseries are much better equipped to respond to the demands of cabernet, merlot and shiraz producers. We’d send in orders but there was no incentive to offer quality clones. They knew we’d have to take what was available”.

Better clonal material such as the Dijon clones would eventually arrive, but another ongoing problem is endemic leaf roll virus. Most vineyards have to be replanted every dozen or so years, meaning that many vines may never reach their maximum quality potential.

Yet challenges aside, the wines from the Hemel-en-Aarde have a finesse and elegance unknown elsewhere in South Africa, and I suspect this little piece of heaven and earth will soon be much better-known both domestically and internationally.

The Hemel-en-Aarde Producers to Know 

Anthony Hamilton Russell in his beautiful Canadian beaver pelt fedora

Anthony Hamilton Russell in his beautiful Canadian beaver pelt fedora

Hamilton-Russell. Little intro is needed here; Hamilton Russell is the original and still the gold standard for the region. The wines are all class, like Anthony Hamilton Russell himself, an English aristocrat who happens to be South African. Watch out for the turtles roaming the gardens in front of Braemar, the home of Anthony & Olive Hamilton Russell. The very good Southern Right and Asbourne labels are also produced by the Hamilton Russell team.

Newton Johnson Vineyards. This is a gorgeous spot in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde with a view to the coast down the Valley. It’s very much a family affair, with father Dave Newton Johnson a Cape Wine Master with thirty years experience in the business, and sons Gordon (winemaking) and Bevan (Managing Director, marketing).

Prior to settingling in the valley, Dave worked at Distell, South Africa’s largest wine company. But pinot noir was always his passion, and he used to drag his kids up to Walker Bay to see Peter Finlayson (former winemaker at Hamilton Russell before launching his own winery, Bouchard Finlayson, with a group of 18 investors including Paul Bouchard from Burgundy) to taste pinot. Pinot noir was, after all, Dave’s dissertation topic in the 1980s for his Master’s degree, a time when very little was known about the grape in South Africa.

Bevan (left) and Gordon Newton Johnson

Bevan (left) and Gordon Newton Johnson

He eventually purchased land in the area in the late 1990s and was joined by his sons; the purpose was clear: to focus on pinot noir. They started from scratch and have since planted sixteen hectares over the years 2002-2004. Chardonnay, sauvignon and the Rhône varieties play supporting roles.

Lunch at Newton Johnson (pork belly is all the rage in South Africa, too)

Lunch at Newton Johnson (pork belly is all the rage in South Africa, too)

Overall, the wines at Newton Johnson are pristine and perfumed, finely crafted, elegant, with a minimum of extraction and emphasis on elegance, precisely what the lighter soils in this middle section of the valley are best suited to produce. Research and experimentation continues. “Nobody has more than 30 years experience growing pinot in South Africa. We have so much to learn”, Bevan reveals.

As an aside, the restaurant at Newton Johnson is one of the finest in the Cape and certainly Michelin star-quality. Don’t miss a chance to dine here if you find yourself in the area.

Creation Wines. Husband and wife team Jean-Claude (JC) and Carolyn Martin run this tidy operation in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge ward. The couple started from the ground up, converting a sheep farm under the imposing Babylon Mountain peak to vineyards in 2002, and following that with a cellar and restaurant in 2007. This part of the valley is about ten kilometers from the sea and at 300m elevation. And the climate is notably more continental: “midnight is always 12ºC cooler than the daytime high” JC tells me, and “harvest is two weeks later than the lower part of the Valley”.

Jean-Claude Martin, Creation Wines

Jean-Claude Martin, Creation Wines

More clay surfaces here amidst the 450 million-year-old Bokkersfeld shale soils, as it does lower down, favouring more structured wines. The Martins have forty hectares planted principally to pinot noir, with a mix of other varieties including chardonnay, syrah and grenache. 

Over lunch we’re treated to a first hand dose of Ridge weather. From calm, hot and sunny on arrival, within a matter of minutes a large front moves in from the north. Weather events hit here about a day after they move through Stellenbosch and Paarl as fronts curl around the cape and head up the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. The wind picks up and guest quickly scurry inside as the restaurant staff scrambles to lower umbrellas and close the sliding doors. Rain is imminent. The weather can change here in five minutes.

Carolyn Martin, Creation Wines, with her fancy double decanting device

Carolyn Martin, Creation Wines, with her fancy double decanting device

Safely inside, we sit down to a well-orchestrated wine and food pairing. Correctly speaking, Creation doesn’t have a restaurant, I’m told, but rather a “degustation room”. Carolyn is emphatic about ensuring that everything works to highlight the wines. On the menu, every dish is accompanied by a wine – in fact ordering food without wine is frowned upon (there’s a separate playroom for children – a brilliant idea that should be emulated the world over in my view – so that the adults can play in peace). Carolyn works daily with the chef, fine tuning dishes to pair with Creation wines, and everything is expertly done with love and care, down to proper serving temperature (reds are served cool) and double decanting wines when necessary. We have an excellent experience.

JC, who is of Swiss-French origin, is no less precise on the winemaking side. These are skillfully crafted and widely appealing wines, to the point that one almost wishes for a hair to be out of place. But there isn’t – every bottle is neatly coloured within the lines, a reasonable feat considering a production of 200,000 bottles under the Creation label, and another 150,000 bottles under the Whale Pod, made mostly from purchased fruit “and bits and pieces” of estate fruit. There are three tiers: Creation Estate, Creation Reserve, and the two top wines labeled “The Art of Chardonnay” and “The Art of Pinot Noir”. And JC tells me that his clones of pinot noir are virus-free, unlike the majority in the valley, meaning that as they age the full potential of Hemel-en-Aarde terroir may be revealed.

Also Noteworthy:

Peter Finlayson

Peter Finlayson

Sumaridge. A quality producer in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, owned by the Bellingham Turner family. Chardonnays here are a little denser and riper than the average in the region. Look also for the excellent “Epitome” cuvée, a shiraz-pinotage blend reminiscent of the southern Rhône.

Bouchard Finlayson. Although quality is highly variable from wine to wine and vintage to vintage, the estate is worth a mention as one of the longest-established in the region after Hamilton Russell, where Peter Finlayson was winemaker until the early 1990s. The 2007 and 2011 Galpin Peak pinot noir are among the best I’ve tasted from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, while the Overberg unoaked chardonnay is also worth a look.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Part One: Revolution in the Swartland; Buyer’s guide to South African Wines

Bad cop, good cop - Québec journalist Jessica harnois and Laurel Keenan of Wines of South Africa

Bad cop, good cop – Québec journalist Jessica Harnois and Laurel Keenan of Wines of South Africa


Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , , , ,

@WineAlign

WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008