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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

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Les bons choix de Marc – 2

Chroniques chablisiennes — 2
par Marc Chapleau

Après avoir abordé ce mardi la question de la minéralité (1) et du vieillissement (2) des chablis, et avant de vous suggérer quelques autres belles bouteilles, place maintenant à divers points d’intérêt qui ont été d’une manière ou d’une autre soulevés au cours du récent voyage que j’ai fait là-bas.

Mais d’abord, chose pratiquement promise, chose assurément due. J’ai retrouvé le fameux vidéo du suçage de caillou. C’est ici.

 

Marc Chapleau suce le caillou...

… à la recherche de la minéralité dans le vin ! Avec la complicité de Jean-Guillaume Bret, du domaine Bret Brothers, dans le Mâconnais.

 

Après la pierre à lécher, puisque je vous laisse d’abord visionner l’extrait, on tâtera un peu du liège reconstitué…

3. LE BOUCHON DIAM

Les vins altérés pour cause de mauvais bouchons de liège, on le sait, demeurent fréquents. Or aux yeux des vignerons chablisiens, le défaut pardonne encore moins pour leurs vins, purs et cristallins.

DIAMPlusieurs ne jurent ainsi que par le bouchon Diam, fait de liège réduit en poudre, traité de manière à empêcher toute contamination causant le fameux goût de bouchon, puis reconstitué. Chez William Fèvre, par exemple, tout est bouché Diam.

Mais le Diam a aussi ses détracteurs, qui se méfient, à terme, des colles utilisées pour reconstruire le bouchon : vont-elles un jour, après quelques années, être relarguées dans le vin ? D’autres estiment que le Diam remplit à ce point son office qu’il réduit les vins, qu’il les empêche de respirer comme cela se produirait avec le liège traditionnel, le long de l’interface verre-bouchon.

Si bien que la capsule dévissable, même si elle est fragile, demeure, dans l’esprit de plusieurs, la véritable panacée. Même pour les premiers et grands crus ? ai-je demandé à Bernard Raveneau, qui m’a répondu : « Ils ont fait des expériences voilà quelques années chez Laroche, et les résultats étaient très satisfaisants… »

4. LE GEL ET LE RÉCHAUFFEMENT CLIMATIQUE

Du folklore, le brasero dans les vignes au printemps pour contrer le gel ?
« On l’a fait en 2014, avant ça il faut remonter à 2003, indique Guillaume Michel. Ce n’est plus vraiment une menace, de nos jours. »

Le réchauffement climatique aurait-il donc tout bon, dans la région ? La réponse du vigneron Bernard Raveneau : « Cela est bénéfique à Chablis, oui. Certes, les équilibres acides s’en trouvent modifiés, et oui, c’est vrai, les vins sont plus riches, parfois moins tendus. Mais… peut-être aussi qu’ils étaient trop acides, avant », dit-il, sourire en coin. Il n’en conclut pas moins : « Mais là, au stade où on est rendus, il ne faudrait pas que ça réchauffe plus… »

5. LE BOIS : OUI OU NON ?

Certains, l’excellent domaine Louis Michel est de ceux-là, sont tout à fait contre : on doit produire des chablis sans artifices boisés, nets, purs et précis.

D’autres, Thomas Pico par exemple, du domaine de Pattes-Loup, s’insurgent contre la tendance : « Du Chablis sans bois ? C’est des conneries ! C’est typique de vieillir nos vins dans le bois, mon grand-père le faisait déjà. C’est une mode, le tout cuve ! »

Vincent Dauvissat, du domaine éponyme, exprime la chose ainsi : « On fait 10 % de bois neuf même sur le Petit Chablis… Nous, on utilise le bois comme catalyseur, pour faire parler les terroirs. Grâce au phénomène d’oxydoréduction, le vin “respire”. C’est l’élevage, quoi… »

Chose certaine, la plupart des grands domaines usent du chêne à bon escient, sans que le vin ne se retrouve avec une empreinte boisée marquée — sauf peut-être chez Benoît et Jean-Paul Droin, où certaines cuvées, de l’aveu même des intéressés, ont des accents « côte d’oriens ».

Le vrai problème avec le bois, c’est qu’il y eut une époque à Chablis, dans les années 1980 notamment, où certains vins, ceux de William Fèvre entre autres, étaient boisés au point d’être dénaturés. S’en est apparemment suivie, y compris pour plusieurs consommateurs, une aversion systématique pour la barrique, le foudre et le demi-muid.

6. LE « PETIT CHABLIS »

On le croyait disparu, et voilà qu’il est partout ! Le « petit chablis », élaboré en principe à partir des terroirs les moins valorisés de la région, est de plus en plus en populaire. Longtemps perçu de manière péjorative à cause de son nom, le vin semble aujourd’hui connoter une sorte de retour au Small is Beautiful. À un petit quelque chose d’authentique, sans artifices. Quoi qu’il en soit, les petit-chablis, j’en ai recommandé mardi, sont souvent vifs et rafraîchissants, à défaut d’être complexes. Ils constituent en règle générale de bons rapports qualité-prix.

7. PREMIERS CRUS OU GRANDS CRUS ?

Mon coming out, tout de go : je crois que je préfère les premiers crus aux grands crus…

LOVECHABLISUne hérésie, je sais. Un crime de lèse-majesté. Comment dire… je trouve dans l’ensemble les premiers crus plus minéraux, plus tendus, bref plus vifs et plus énergiques. Et les grands crus, je généralise encore, plus riches, plus profonds, plus complexes aussi, c’est vrai, j’en conviens, avec eux il faut être patient. Mais mon coeur balance, vraiment… Surtout que les prix sont à l’avenant.

8. LA SAGA DES MILLÉSIMES

Dixit Vincent Dauvissat lui-même : « Depuis 10 ou 15 ans, il n’y a pas eu de mauvais millésimes à Chablis. » Cela dit, à peu près tous s’entendent pour mettre sur le dessus du panier 2012, 2010, 2008, 2005 et 2002, pour s’arrêter là. On trouve tout de même de superbes bouteilles en 2011, 2007, 2006, 2004 et même 2013. « Une année qu’on va essayer d’oublier rapidement », dit Bernard Raveneau à propos de ce millésime qui a vu les rendements fondre avec la pluie et les foyers de pourriture qui se sont installés.

9. LE CHABLIS ET LES HUÎTRES

Un mariage naturel, pourrait-on croire. Oui, diront à cela plusieurs vignerons, mais avec un petit chablis ou sinon un chablis tout court bien vif. Autrement, si on pense aux premiers crus et aux grands crus… « Ils ont trop de richesse pour bien aller avec des huîtres nature, je préfère encore pour ma part un bon muscadet », avoue Vincent Dauvissat avec une belle ouverture d’esprit.

10. LES MOTS DU CHABLIS

La minéralité, c’était dans mon texte de mardi. Aujourd’hui, place pour commencer à la salinité : « Le travail des sols apporte ce côté salé aux vins », indique Denis Pommier, qui élabore des chablis vifs et élégants.

Au mousseron, maintenant : c’est une sorte de champignon et de fait, on dit à Chablis que le vin mousseronne quand il vieillit et prend des notes d’humidité, de vieille cave. Quant à la craie, on a encore moins envie de la sucer qu’un caillou, celle-là. En plus ça tache ! La sensation crayeuse, agréable et qui se perçoit surtout en fin de bouche, est liée à la minéralité et à la texture du vin. Enfin, la laine mouillée (qui traduit la présence de minéralité pour les uns, de soufre pour les autres) et le grillé (associé tantôt à la minéralité, tantôt au boisé) reviennent souvent dans les commentaires de dégustation. Ainsi que les agrumes (un côté tropical), le silex et la pierre à fusil.

À boire, aubergiste !

Du côté des premiers crus, j’ai goûté ces jours-ci et bien aimé l’énergique Domaine Bernard Defaix Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2012, l’atypique Patrick Piuze Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2012 et le déjà complexe William Fevre Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume 2011.

Domaine Bernard Defaix Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2012Patrick Piuze Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2012William Fèvre Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume 2011Château Grenouilles Chablis Grand Cru 2009Simonnet Febvre Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2009

Au sommet de la hiérarchie chablisienne — même si un peu comme à Bordeaux pour les grands crus classés, ils ne comptent que pour 2 pour cent de la production totale de la région —, les grands crus de Chablis brillent de tous leurs feux, avec la colline qui les abrite surplombant le village.

Entre autres disponibles à la SAQ actuellement, le Chateau Grenouilles Chablis Grand Cru 2009 et le Simonnet-Febvre Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2009 s’avèrent encore plus riches et concentrés qu’à l’accoutumée dans ce millésime chaud et ensoleillé.

Santé !

Marc

Chroniques chablisiennes — 1

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 30 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de bons vins!


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Les bons choix de Marc – Août

Chroniques chablisiennes — 1
par Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

J’arrive de Chablis. En fait, non, cela fait déjà trois semaines que je suis de retour. Sauf que je n’en suis pas revenu, au propre comme au figuré. Moi qui adorais ce grand vin blanc de Bourgogne, je suis devenu mordu au dernier degré. Non mais, quels beaux vins ! Quelle superbe acidité ! Et ce vignoble au sol si particulier, ces vignerons sympathiques au possible, cette délicate austérité chablisienne dans un monde qui se complaît dans les gros degrés et le sucré…

Mais il y a tant à dire que je vais décliner Chablis en plusieurs temps, à travers divers thèmes. Et en deux mouvements : d’abord aujourd’hui puis avec un autre texte normalement ce vendredi. À chaque fois, je vous aiguillerai vers de bons chablis disponibles à la SAQ, à différents prix.

Aussi, je vous dirige d’entrée de jeu vers un site fiable pour obtenir les informations de base, pour connaître l’a b c de la région et de ses terroirs.

1. LA FAMEUSE MINÉRALITÉ

ChablisHum… Sujet délicat, en ce sens que personne ne s’entend vraiment sur ce que recoupe cette notion, laquelle s’impose néanmoins souvent d’elle-même, à la dégustation. Chose certaine, la minéralité est intimement liée à l’acidité marquée du vin, à l’énergie et à la tension qui l’habite — ou plutôt, plus exactement, qui le sous-tend.

On parle de salinité aussi, souvent, d’astringence également. On a tous entendu parler de silex, de pierre à fusil, des arômes tous deux censément en lien avec cette fameuse minéralité.

L’excellente cave coopérative La Chablisienne a d’ailleurs consacré une brochure entière à ce seul sujet. Deux morceaux choisis : « L’idée de minéraux puisés dans la roche et qui passeraient directement dans le vin pour se laisser sentir et goûter ne tient pas vraiment la route » et « Quant à la pierre à fusil, [il s’agit d’une] molécule qui n’a rien de minéral et que l’on classerait davantage dans les arômes […] de type “grillé” ou “brûlé”. »

Encore a-t-il fallu que je le suce…

Autre certitude : les producteurs eux-mêmes y croient, ou du moins font-ils souvent écho à cette réalité. Exemple, cette petite conversation qu’on a eue là-bas, un vigneron et moi :

— Il y a du gras et en même temps c’est très minéral, dis-je à mon interlocuteur.

— Merci, merci, répond-il, et oui, comme vous dites, on a vraiment l’impression de sucer le caillou !

Sucer le caillou… Je comprenais très bien ce qu’il voulait dire, cette sensation d’assèchement pas du tout désagréable et qui se trouve en fait à rajouter une couche au vin, à accroître sa complexité.

Par ailleurs, ce n’est pas pour me vanter mais j’ai déjà tété comme ça une grosse roche prélevée dans le vignoble. C’était en Bourgogne, dans le Mâconnais, avec l’un des frères Bret que j’interviewais à l’époque pour l’ancien magazine Cellier.

Et puis ? Et puis… ça ne goûte strictement rien, hormis peut-être la poussière si on ne prend pas soin de polir le caillou avant de le lécher. J’ai même ça sur vidéo ! Si vous êtes nombreux à en faire la demande, je tâcherai de m’organiser pour mettre ça sur YouTube, tiens. Sinon tant pis, moi je sais que je crève l’écran, en tout cas ;-)

2. VIEILLIRA, VIEILLIRA PAS ?

Le discours surprend. Alors qu’à peu près partout ailleurs dans les grandes régions vinicoles, les vignerons disent que leurs vins peuvent durer, ô mon vieux ! quinze, vingt voire trente ans quand ce n’est pas un demi-siècle, ici, à Chablis, on nous dit qu’un premier cru est à son apogée à environ cinq ans. Oui monsieur ! On affirme aussi qu’un chablis tout court livre l’essentiel de ses promesses après deux ou trois ans. Même les grands crus seraient à cueillir au bout de huit à dix ans maximum.

Ce qui se passe, en gros, c’est que passé ces délais, les chablis ont tendance à mieller — autrement dit, à voir s’étioler au nez leur côté floral et fruité pour arborer des notes évoquant plutôt le miel, même le caramel. Ce n’est pas désagréable, loin de là ; sauf que le dégustateur a parfois l’impression de perdre au change, et nommément en fraîcheur.

« Quand vous tombez sur ce côté miellé, oubliez le vin pour un temps, ouvrez-en une autre bouteille quelques années plus tard et vous verrez, il aura retrouvé cette fraîcheur dont vous parlez », de répondre à cela Vincent Dauvissat, du domaine éponyme.

Attention aux caves trop chaudes ?

Domaine Millet Petit Chablis 2012Domaine Laroche Petit Chablis 2013Domaine D'élise Petit Chablis 2012Autre son de cloche, cette fois de Didier Séguier, maître d’oeuvre au domaine William Fèvre, l’un des gros joueurs de l’appellation : « Le chablis, de par sa nature délicate, demande à être conservé dans une cave fraîche. Au-dessus de 18 degrés Celsius, sa durée de vie est réduite. »

Oups ! Et ma propre cave qui monte à 20 degrés l’été, des fois même 21… Si bien qu’à mon retour, la semaine dernière, le coeur battant, très anxieux, j’ai ouvert coup sur coup un Vaillons et un Fourchaume de chez Fèvre, justement, et tous deux du millésime 2008.

Résultat : mon cher Didier, avec tout le respect que je vous dois, vos vins étaient et sont encore toujours excellents et même dans la fleur de l’âge, pas du tout miellés.

À boire, aubergiste !

Assez parlé. La prochaine fois, dans quelques jours comme je disais, j’aborderai notamment la question du bois à Chablis, des millésimes, des accords à table et des tendances de l’heure, comme ce fameux bouchon Diam.

Entretemps, je propose d’y aller graduellement et de se faire la bouche avec de très bonnes bouteilles d’entrée de gamme. Pour commencer, trois « petit-chablis », une appellation dont je parlerai vendredi.

D’abord le Domaine d’Élise Petit Chablis 2012, d’une réjouissante légèreté, puis le Laroche Petit Chablis 2013, plus tropical au nez mais bien nerveux et bouché, bon point pour lui, au moyen d’une capsule dévissable. Enfin, le Petit Chablis Domaine Millet 2012 est peut-être le plus typé chablis des trois, le plus austère et le plus mordant, vraiment très bon.

La Chablisienne Cuvée La Sereine 2011 Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis 2012 William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2012 Domaine Séguinot Bordet Chablis 2012 Joseph Drouhin Chablis Drouhin Vaudon 2012

Du côté des chablis d’appellation communale, et dans le millésime 2011 cette fois, difficile de passer à côté du La Chablisienne La Sereine, année après année l’un des sinon le meilleur rapport qualité-prix en vins de Chablis. Également très recommandables, bien typés eux aussi, le Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis 2012 et le William Fèvre Chablis Champs Royaux 2012.

Enfin, peut-être une légère coche au-dessus, les Domaine Séguinot-Bordet Chablis 2012 et Drouhin-Vaudon Chablis 2012 brillent dans ce millésime superlatif ; ce dernier, élaboré par les soins de la famille Drouhin de Beaune, faisant preuve de l’élégance typique des vins de cette fameuse maison.

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 30 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de bons vins!


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Les choix de Nadia – Juillet

Cool Chardonnay !
par Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier

La fin de semaine prochaine, du 18 au 20 juillet, la région de la péninsule de Niagara sera l’hôte de la quatrième édition du i4c (International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration), un festival dédié au chardonnay de climat frais.

À l’approche de ce rassemblement auquel je participerai, plusieurs questions me sont venues en tête quant à la définition même de la « fraîcheur ». Qu’est-ce qui distingue un chardonnay de climat frais du reste de l’océan de chardonnays produits sur la planète ? Et au fond, sur quoi repose réellement cette sensation de fraîcheur que procurent certains vins ? Est-elle simplement attribuable à la teneur en acidité du vin ou plutôt aux familles d’arômes qui s’en dégagent ? Est-ce que la fraîcheur est attribuable exclusivement au lieu d’origine des raisins ou est-ce que la signature du vigneron joue aussi un rôle important ?

Autant de questions mériteraient sans doute une longue réponse complexe et nuancée. Pourtant, après mûre réflexion, j’en suis venue à une conclusion plutôt simple. Pour moi, la définition du chardonnay de climat frais pourrait se résumer à un mot : minéralité.

Malheureusement, la définition de ce terme largement utilisé dans le jargon des critiques de vins – dont je suis – demeure certainement aussi vague, sinon plus, que la notion de fraîcheur, puisqu’il repose sur un concept encore plus abstrait.

INTERNATIONAL COOL CLIMATE CHARDONNAY ASSOCIATION - Célébrations

« On peut produire des gros chardonnays boisés un peu partout dans le monde, mais ce qui nous intéresse au i4c, ce sont des vins digestes qui traduisent les subtilités de leurs terroirs d’origine. » Thomas Bachelder, vigneron globe-trotter et l’un des fondateurs de l’International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration.

« Antidote à l’ennui »

En faisant quelques recherches, j’ai retrouvé une réflexion sur la minéralité qu’avait diffusée Denis Dubourdieu, professeur à la faculté d’œnologie de Bordeaux. Dubitatif devant cette perception qui ne s’appuie sur aucune recherche scientifique, Dubourdieu émettait quelques hypothèses après avoir longuement cogité sur la question. En voici un résumé :

« La minéralité caractérise certainement le goût d’un vin inspiré par le refus de la facilité, dicté par l’ambition de faire un vin inimitable associé à un lieu et à nul autre. […] Minéral dans votre esprit s’oppose à pâteux, complaisant, sucré, alcooleux, sur boisé […] et est alors synonyme de pur, aérien, frais, serré, tendu, complexe et mystérieux. […] Minéral fait aussi référence à l’effort. Quand la vigne est facile à cultiver, le vin est ennuyeux à déguster. La quête de la minéralité est finalement celle de l’antidote à l’ennui, que les vins complaisants finissent toujours par susciter. »

Mais comment donc obtient-on ce goût minéral ?

L’histoire a depuis longtemps prouvé que les vins fins et subtils provenaient généralement de régions où le climat n’avait rien d’excessif. Juste ce qu’il faut de chaleur pour que le raisin mûrisse lentement, mais sûrement.

Dans les régions torrides, le fruit mûrit sans peine chaque année, mais donne rarement des vins subtils ou profonds. Voilà pourquoi la Bourgogne donne des chardonnays infiniment plus complexes que ceux de la Baja California, au Mexique.De là l’idée de planter les cépages à leurs limites géographiques : le plus au nord possible dans l’hémisphère nord, le plus au sud possible dans l’hémisphère sud. Et de miser, dans les régions montagneuses, sur les terroirs d’altitude et les coteaux protégés du soleil.

Le type d’agriculture a aussi une incidence sur la complexité d’un vin. En bannissant les d’engrais chimiques et les désherbants et en travaillant les sols, on favorise l’enracinement profond de la vigne et l’apport minéral. Aucune étude scientifique ne le prouve, mais le résultat dans le verre, lui, ne fait aucun doute.

Enfin, loin de se limiter au sol, la minéralité tient aussi de l’état d’esprit qui anime le vigneron. Car entre les mains d’un vigneron paresseux ou trop ambitieux, même un grand terroir de Bourgogne peut être réduit à la banalité. Trop de bois ou de bâtonnage, une vigne mal entretenue, des rendements trop élevés, une vendange trop précoce, trop tardive, etc. Autant de détails qui font toute la différence entre le vin ordinaire et le vin mystère…

De Rougemont à Auckland

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011Bachelder Bourgogne Chardonnay 2011Coteau Rougemont Chardonnay La Cote 2012Vendredi dernier, histoire de m’amuser un peu, j’ai servi à l’aveugle quelques vins blancs québécois à des amis amateurs de vins qui étaient venus prendre l’apéro à la maison. Dans le lot, le Chardonnay 2012 La Côte de Coteau Rougemont (23,95 $). À l’aveugle, tous étaient persuadés qu’il s’agissait d’un vin européen. Je ne tomberai pas dans les superlatifs faciles, mais je dirai seulement que quelqu’un a évoqué la Bourgogne… À suivre!

Le Montréalais Thomas Bachelder, ancien vinificateur du Clos Jordanne (Niagara), a démarré une activité de négoce transatlantique, spécialisée dans le chardonnay et le pinot noir, en Bourgogne, en l’Oregon et à Niagara.

Stylistiquement à mi-chemin entre Meursault et un Chablis Premier cru, le Beaune blanc 2010, Les Longes(43,25 $) est un heureux mariage de vivacité et de gras. Pas donné, mais excellent!

Sans avoir la même dimension aromatique, son Bourgogne Chardonnay 2011 (27 $)mérite une mention spéciale pour sa tenue en bouche et son volume. À moins de 30 $, c’est un achat avisé.

Encore disponible dans quelques succursales au moment d’écrire ces lignes, le Chardonnay 2011, Wismer Vineyard(41,25 $) est l’archétype d’un bon chardonnay de climat frais. Dégusté à nouveau la semaine dernière, le vin faisait preuve d’une tension remarquable en bouche, avec une finale rassasiante tant par sa texture que par sa vigueur. 

Chablis, quintessence du chardonnay ?

De l’avis de plusieurs, le chablis est la quintessence du cépage chardonnay. Grâce à leur acidité naturelle et à leur équilibre, les meilleurs peuvent être conservés plusieurs années.

À la tête du domaine familial Louis Moreau depuis 1994, Louis Moreau est aussi président du comité interprofessionnel des vignerons de Chablis. De manière générale, les vins sont très fidèles à l’idée de pureté et de franchise propres à l’appellation.

À la fois vigoureux et vineux, agrémenté de saveurs cristallines et doté d’une franche tension minérale, le Chablis Premier cru Vaulignot 2011 a tous les éléments recherchés dans un chablis ! Fort belle réussite aussi pour le Chablis 2012. Parfaitement sec et suffisamment vineux.

Enfin, de l’aveu de Louis Moreau, le Petit Chablis 2012 est naturellement plus friand, souple, fruité et moins minéral qu’un chablis courant. N’empêche, c’est l’un des beaux exemples du genre offerts sur le marché.

Louis Moreau Chablis Vaulignot Premier Cru 2011Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis 2012Domaine Louis Moreau Petit Chablis 2012La Sœur Cadette Bourgogne 2012

Au Domaine de La Cadette, Jean Montanet est un pilier de la région de Vèzelay, dans l’Yonne (au sud de Chablis), où il pratique une agriculture biologique depuis plus de 10 ans. Sa « petite » cuvée, La Sœur Cadette, est issue à la fois des vignes du domaine et d’achat de raisins. Encore plus complet que le 2011 dégusté l’an dernier et toujours vendu à moins de 20 $. Une aubaine à saisir! 

Le chardonnay aux antipodes

Carmen Chardonnay Reserva 2012De Martino Legado Reserva Limari Chardonnay 2012Œnologue de la maison De Martino, Marcelo Retamal est l’un des plus brillants œnologues chiliens de sa génération. Il a mené plusieurs études des sols de la vallée centrale qui sont désormais une référence pour les nouvelles plantations. Persuadé que la cordillère des Andes représente l’avenir du vignoble chilien, il préconise un retour à la viticulture d’altitude.

À l’ouverture, son Chardonnay 2012, Legado – produit dans la région fraîche de Limari –peut presque passer inaperçu. Car ce n’est vraiment qu’après quelques heures qu’il se révèle à sa juste valeur. On découvre alors un chardonnay très pur, à des lieues des cuvées lourdes et exagérément boisées. À moins de 20 $, on en ferait son vin blanc quotidien !

Depuis quelques années, Viña Carmen – une cave appartenant au groupe Santa Rita, mais gérée de manière autonome – ne cesse de me surprendre par la qualité de ses vins, qui offrent généralement un excellent rapport qualité-prix. Pour une bouchée de pain, ce Viña Carmen Chardonnay 2013 (13 $) vendu dans l’ensemble du réseau est un modèle du genre. Rien de bien profond ni de minéral, mais un très bon vin blanc sec, équilibré et agréable à boire.

Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2009Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2009En Nouvelle-Zélande, au nord de l’île du Nord et en périphérie de la région métropolitaine d’Auckland, Kumeu River, le domaine de famille Brajkovich, est réputé à juste titre pour produire quelques-uns des vins les plus fins du pays. Animé par la volonté d’obtenir un vin pur et fidèle au goût du lieu, Michael Brajkovich a opté pour une approche peu interventionniste, qui a certainement contribué au caractère singulier de ses cuvées.

Disponible en bonnes quantités à la SAQ, le Chardonnay 2009, Estate (34,25 $) est une valeur sûre. Un peu moins complexe et intense que les cuvées parcellaires du domaine, mais tout aussi élégant. Il a aussi un bon potentiel de garde.

Encore disponible dans quelques succursales dans les régions de Montréal, Québec et Sherbrooke, le Hunting Hill (40 $) est la preuve que la Bourgogne n’est pas la seule à donner à ce cépage ses lettres de noblesse. Le chardonnay conjugué au plus-que-parfait !

Au plaisir de vous rencontrer la fin de semaine prochaine à Niagara.

Santé !

Nadia Fournier

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 30 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de bons vins!


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 19th – Part One

A Complete Starter’s Kit for the i4c and Very Cool Chardonnay
by John Szabo MS with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report features chardonnay in the key of cool, the thematic of the VINTAGES July 19th release, as well raison d’être of the upcoming International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. The i4c, as it’s better known, is just that: a celebration of chardonnay grown in cool places around the world. The WineAlign team has put together a robust preview of some of the top wines that will be poured over the course of the weekend, which runs from July 18-20th in venues across Niagara. And even if you’re not going, these chardonnays are worth knowing. Next week, we’ll cover the top picks for the obligatory backyard BBQ.

The idea for the i4c was dreamt up on a summer’s night in 2009 by a group of local winemakers lounging around a backyard fire. These winemakers believed that chardonnay, one of the most widely planted grapes in Ontario, “is deserving of a renaissance. It’s resilient and refined. It can be steely or floral, complex or focused. It expresses terroir better than any other grape we grow.” And the Niagara-based celebration of cool climate chardonnay was born.

The forward-thinking group also realized that Ontario chardonnay needed to be put into an international context, and so it was mandated that at least half of the participating wineries in the yearly celebration would be from outside of the province to ensure a truly global view of the myriad nuances of chardonnay grown in cool climates. The celebration’s clever motto – 400,000 acres can’t be wrong – tells the story of chardonnay’s dominance of the fine wine world, with Ontario seeking to establish its own niche within.

School of cool

The School of Cool at i4c

It was also determined that a respected international keynote speaker with an important outsider’s perspective would be invited each year – a show of confidence by the local industry. The inaugural celebration in 2011 welcomed Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator, Stephen Brook (Decanter) joined in 2012 and Steven Spurrier (Decanter) in 2013. Tim Atkin MW, a multi award-winning London-based wine writer and broadcaster will deliver this year’s keynote address and share his perspective on how Ontarian vintners are performing while the world is watching.

Although there is a full day of technical talk aimed at the trade on Friday the 18th at Brock University, the rest of the weekend’s events are designed for general enjoyment. Stephen Brook had this to say about the 2012 edition: “We gathered to celebrate some great cool climate wines and to explore what makes them distinctive, but we also enjoyed those wines with top international winemakers alongside great food in a delightfully informal atmosphere. The perfect blend of sophisticated appreciation and unsophisticated fun”.

Principals from fifty-eight wineries and around 2000 guests are anticipated over the course of the weekend, and I’d hope to see you among them. I’ll be moderating the technical sessions on Friday, so if you’re particularly keen, stop by with your most detailed questions. Panels of experts have been convened to discuss topics like “Yield in Context: a discussion regarding the importance of yield in producing high quality wines, in relationship to other factors (terroir, weather, mesoclimate, vine age”. It’s the sort of stuff that has kept you up at night wondering. For all of the rest of the event details and tickets visit: www.coolchardonnay.org

Your i4c Starter Kit: Some Top Preview Picks

Unless you’re amazingly efficient and plan on staying in Niagara for the whole weekend, it’ll be tough to taste over a hundred wines. So here’s a short, if not comprehensive, list of what not to miss to get you started; even if you’re not attending the i4c, these are chardonnays worth tracking down. All recommendations will be either released through VINTAGES on July 19th, or are available directly from wineries.

International Selections

Domaine Dublère Savigny Lès Beaune Aux Vergelesses 1er Cru 2011Champy Pernand Vergelesses En Caradeux Premier Cru 2011Triple Alignment! No chardonnay celebration of any kind would be complete without wines from the spiritual and physical home of chardonnay, and Burgundy is indeed represented by several fine wines. At the top of the quality pile is the Maison Champy 2011 Pernand-Vergelesses En Caradeux 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($49.95).

John Szabo – Although En Caradeux may not be the most celebrated 1er cru in Pernand, Champy’s bottlings in recent vintages have been outstanding, and this one follows in the same vein. It also underscores the dramatic improvements that the larger negociant houses have been forced to make to keep up with the rising quality of small family-run domaines. The 2011 is an excellent success for the vintage, to be enjoyed after 2016 or held into the mid-twenties.
David Lawrason - Sitting at the foot of the Corton-Charlemagne vineyards this Pernand is one of the great underrated white wine sites of Burgundy. Combine that with much improved winemaking at the tiny negociant firm of Champy in Beaune and you get one exciting, cracking good chardonnay.
Sara D’Amato – En Caradeux is a tiny 1er Cru climat located within Pernand Vergelesses that produces both chardonnay and pinot noir, but is best known for its whites. There is great dimension and length to this wildly compelling wine with a touch of naughty volatility.

Triple Alignment!

John Szabo – The village of Savigny-les-Beaune is arguably the best of the lesser-known communes of the Côtes de Beaune, and one of my favourite hunting grounds for value, such as it exists in the Côte d’Or. The 2011 Domaine Dublère Savigny-Lès-Beaune Aux Vergelesses 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($58.95) is hardly inexpensive, but drinks like solid Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru with its restrained, firm, tightly wound, briskly mineral style.  It’s another exception to the rule of usually light and delicate 2011s, best after 2017.
David Lawrason – Savigny les Beaune and Pernand Vergelesses are adjoining AOCs, so I am assuming this hails from a site somewhere on the border. And it delivers similar quality and style to the Maison Champy Pernand, if in a slightly more sleek and tender style of Savigny.
Sara D’Amato – The Vergelesses vineyard is the closest of the Savigny-les-Beaune sites to Pernand-Vergelesses which nuzzles up to the Grand Cru sites of Corton. Expect terrific depth, poise and substance from this exceptional chardonnay that I rarely reward with such a score.  Both grand and reserved, this is an epic wine.

DECELLE-VILLA SAVIGNY-LES-BEAUNE BLANC 2012Domaine Nadine Ferrand Lise Marie Pouilly Fuissé 2011Also fine value from the same village is the Decelle-Villa 2012 Savigny-Les-Beaune Blanc, Burgundy, France ($40.95), a producer who has attended the i4c in the past. Olivier Decelle is the man behind the highly regarded fortified Roussillon wines of Mas Amiel, while Pierre-Jean Villa helped develop les Vins de Vienne, a sought-after boutique négociant in the northern Rhône. The pair has joined forces in Burgundy, where they share a cellar with Canadian Thomas Bachelder (also at i4c 2014), making wine from both purchased grapes and estate parcels all managed organically or biodynamically. Wood has been masterfully integrated into this minerally ensemble, while elegant white-fleshed fruit dominates the palate.

Domaine Nadine Ferrand Lise-Marie 2011 Pouilly-Fuissé, Burgundy, France ($27.95). Southern Burgundy is another regional hot spot where quality and value intersect. The limestone-rich soils of the hills surrounding the villages of Pouilly and Fuissé yield the region’s top crus (an official cru system is currently being proposed), and Nadine Ferrand farms 10 hectares in the heart of the appellation. In 2011 she produced a very floral Pouilly Fuissé with substantial intensity and depth. I appreciate the freshness and balance on offer, the ethereal nature without being insipid. This is simply well-balanced, genuinely concentrated, well made, regionally representative wine.

Miguel Torres Gran Viña Sol Chardonnay 2012Marimar Estate Acero Chardonnay 2012The Russian River Valley of Sonoma is not a particularly cool region admittedly, but the Marimar Estate 2012 Acero Chardonnay Don Miguel Vineyard Russian River Valley, California, USA ($29.95) is an unoaked cuvée (acero means stainless steel in Spanish) from Marimar Torres, aimed at, and achieving, freshness balanced with typically ripe Russian River fruit. I like the equilibrium of fleshy fruit and firm acids; serve it chilled to tone down generous alcohol and up the freshness.

Double Alignment!

John Szabo – And keeping it in the family, Marimar’s father Don Miguel offers the keenly priced Miguel Torres 2012 Gran Viña Sol Chardonnay, Penedès, Spain ($15.95). Cool and Spain aren’t often in the same sentence, but a case can be made for the genuinely cooler highlands of the upper Penedès region north of Barcelona where this wine is grown. It’s simple but fresh and lively, with intensity that’s more than in line with the price category.
Sara D’Amato – The grapes of this well-priced chardonnay come from the middle and upper Penedès at higher elevations (up to 800 meters above sea level) which gives the wine a cooler climate feel of lively fruit and vibrant acids. Just a touch of oak is welcome and matches the intensity of this peppery wine well.

A Banker’s Dozen Very Cool Ontario Chardonnays (All will be at the i4c)

Hidden Bench 2011 Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($38.00) From Hidden Bench, owned by the former i4c chairman Harald Thiel, this a really very fine chardonnay. The Felseck vineyard on the Beamsville Bench has consistently yielded minerally, palpably chalky-textured wines over the past several vintages and the 2011 even brings that minerally edge up a notch or two. It’s tightly wound and stony the way we like it, and surely one of the top chardonnays of the vintage.

Hillebrand Showcase Series 2012 Wild Ferment Chardonnay Oliveira Vineyard, Lincoln Lakeshore ($36.20)The Oliveira Vineyard in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation is one of the few sites below the Niagara Bench that’s capable of producing genuinely mineral and composed examples of chardonnay, as Hillebrand (now Trius) has consistently shown over several vintages. The 2012 is given royal treatment in the cellar including a ‘wild ferment’ with native yeasts, and is rich and powerful to be sure, but also poised and highly stony, with impressive balance.

Tawse 2011 Quarry Road Chardonnay, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula $34.95 The Quarry Road vineyard in the cool Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation is consistently my favorite chardonnay from the excellent Tawse range, and 2011 has yielded another first class edition. It stands out for its purity, precision and pristine fruit and limestone character.

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2011Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay Oliveira Vineyard 2012Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011Malivoire Mottiar Chardonnay 2011

Malivoire 2011 Mottiar Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95) Malivoire winemaker Shiraz Mottiar spotted the site that he would eventually purchase while cycling along the Niagara Escarpment, divining that this abandoned pear orchard, directly under the limestone cliff of the Escarpment could potentially yield fine wine. He appears to have been right. It was planted in 2003, and has since proved itself to be an excellent source for mineral-suffused, true cool climate chardonnay. This 2011 version is neither rich nor lean, but offers a certain honey-slathered stone character that I find highly appealing.

Norman Hardie 2012 Unfiltered County Chardonnay, VQA Prince Edward County ($39.00) Norm Hardie has done as much as anyone to put Canadian chardonnay on the map, and his wines have become staples on top wine lists across the country. The 2012 ‘County’ offers immediate enjoyment without sacrificing the hallmark minerality and elegance of the house style. This also has a bit more weight and flesh than the mean and fills the mouth in satisfying fashion, though still clocks in at just 12.1% without a hint of green – the magic of Prince Edward County.

Lailey Vineyard 2012 Chardonnay Old Vines, VQA Niagara River, Niagara Peninsula ($40.20) This wine could certainly be included in a panel discussion on vine age vs. quality, making an eloquent that argument that older vines make better wine. From vines planted over 35 years ago, this is well-made, quality wine with integrity and honesty.

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2012Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay Old Vines 2012Cave Spring Csv Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011

Cave Spring 2011 CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95)A cool and composed, vintage for the Cave Spring CSV chardonnay, one of the most reliable in Ontario year after year. It’s more than fairly priced for the quality on offer.

Bachelder 2011 Niagara Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($29.95) Thomas Bachelder is an obvious chardonnay (and pinot) fanatic, making these two grapes in three countries (Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara). Just about anything under his label is worth a look, including his ‘entry level’ Niagara chardonnay blended from three blocks (Wismer, Saunders and Wismer-Foxcroft) He’ll also be pouring the excellent single vineyard Wismer chardonnay at the i4c as well.

Triple Alignment! Le Clos Jordanne 2011 Village Reserve Chardonnay VQA Niagara Peninsula ($30.00)

John Szabo – 2011 is shaping up to be a fine vintage for Le Clos’ whites, a combination of maturing vines, and winemaker Sébastien Jacquey getting more attuned to the vagaries of Niagara and the specifics of his vineyards. This is certainly no major step down from the other “crus”, so fair value to be sure.
David Lawrason - The Village reserve may be the basic “vineyard blend” in the Le Clos lineup, and perhaps lacking a bit of finesse of its more expensive stable mates, but this is solid, complex, thoughtful cool climate chardonnay.
Sara D’Amato – Liquid loveliness – this entry level chardonnay from Le Clos Jordanne benefits from a superb vintage that was, by all accounts, warm and dry but with a bit of a dicey start that may have caused some natural thinning and subsequent concentration in the resulting wines. Here is a wine with definition, with amplitude and on a path of graceful maturation – a fine example of cool climate character.

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011Southbrook Vineyards WhimsyStratus Chardonnay 2012

And for those who like more sumptuous versions of chardonnay, there are two from the marginally warmer growing area south of Niagara on the Lake. The Southbrook Vineyards 2012 Whimsy! “Richness” Chardonnay, VQA Niagara On The Lake ($34.95) is a barrel selection of wines that fit winemaker Ann Sperling’s whimsy of the vintage. It’s from biodynamically-grown estate fruit, and is really is all about the palate: thick and dense, rich and full, as the name promises.

In a similar vein, the Stratus 2012 Chardonnay, Niagara On The Lake ($48.00) is a wine for fans of full-bodied chardonnay that coats the palate. The overall impression is highly reminiscent of California-style (more Sonoma than Napa) chardonnay, ambitiously oaked and very creamy, not surprising given the input of California consultant Paul Hobbs at Stratus.

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

From VINTAGES July 19th release:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews

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 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 5th – Part Two

Spain and the best of the rest
by John Szabo MS with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

This week’s report comes a bit later than usual due to a birthday celebration – Canada’s – and a postponed LCBO tasting, but here we wrap up coverage of the July 5th VINTAGES release with some cool chardonnays leading up to the highly anticipated i4c weekend (International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration) happening July 18th-20th in Niagara, of which more to come next week. We also have some picks from Spain, a couple of rosés and more to get you through the week.

The main feature of the July 5th release is New Zealand, which was admirably covered last week by David and Sara, and it’s safe to say that we have all aligned on the recommendations already set out. Many of my top producers have been highlighted, and the LCBO has done a fine job in selecting some of the top regional representatives. Spain, on the other hand, the mini feature this week, offers less excitement overall. It seems Ontarians are not yet privy to the best that this ascending country has to offer, though there are a couple worth your attention.

Chardonnay comes up strong with a half-dozen very solid wines from California, South Africa, Niagara and Burgundy, proving once again the adaptability and suitability of the world’s most planted fine white grape, while premium rosé – the real, dry, purpose-grown stuff is represented by the country that does it best: France. A few extras round out the week’s picks.

Spain

Finca Constancia 2011Star Alignment: Peique 2012 Tinto Mencía, Bierzo ($15.95). John Szabo – Another fine, fruity-savoury example of mencía from Bierzo, with balanced, succulent acids and moderate-firm tannins. This delivers all one could want from a $16 wine. Drink now or hold short-term. David Lawrason – There are plenty of pleasant fruity young (joven) reds coming out of Spain nowadays, but I often find them too soft. The mencia grape of Bierzo however has the character to infuse a bit more tension and refreshment. This is a great summer red; not recommended for power or complexity or depth, but for liveliness in the glass.

Finca Constancia 2011 Vino de La Tierra de Castillia ($18.95). This is a modern Spanish blend of tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, cabernet franc, petit verdot and graciano from vineyards near the picturesuque town of Toledo, part of the Gonzalez-Byass family of wines. It offers exuberant, ripe black berry fruit character in a modern-leaning style, though the palate is all old world with its dusty, firm tannic structure and prominent acids. This should continue to age well over the next 2-5 years, offering a more savoury expression.

Cool Chardonnay

Hamilton Russell 2012 Chardonnay, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa ($32.95). David already highlighted this wine last week, but I think it’s worth another mention. Walker Bay (Hemel-en-Aarde Valley) pioneers Hamilton Russel have led, and continue to lead the pack in this cooler region of South Africa, well-suited to chardonnay and pinot noir. The 2012 chardonnay is an exceptional bottle in every respect, hitting a pitch-perfect balance between ripeness and freshness, oak and fruit, minerals and savoury spice. A very satisfying wine all around, with excellent depth and length, a wine for fans of classically-styled, balanced, minerally chardonnay.

Ridge Vineyards 2012 Estate Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains, California ($59.95). I can’t seem to get enough of Ridge’s top wines – these are peerless in the Golden State for their authentic and regional character. The Santa Cruz Mountains are clearly a special place to grow grapes, and one trip up the narrow, winding mountain road to the estate leave an indelible impression. Failing that, have a taste of this pristine, evidently classy chardonnay which shines even more brightly in the excellent 2012 vintage. 14.5% alcohol is held in check by fresh acids and ample fruit extract, and the texture is nothing short of beguiling. This will need at least another 2-3 years to enter its prime drinking window, and should also age into the mid-twenties without a stretch.

Cave Spring Estate 2012 Chardonnay, Cave Spring Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($18.95). Angelo Pavan has done an admirable job in reeling in the generous fruit of the 2012 vintage here; I like the crisp acids that counterbalance the ripe fruit, while wood is an accent rather than feature. Fine wine at a nice price.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012Ridge Estate Chardonnay 2012Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2012Kali Hart Chardonnay 2012Caves Des Vignerons De Buxy Montagny Les Chaniots 1er Cru 2010

Kali Hart 2012 Chardonnay, Monterey County, California ($23.95). This wine from the reliable house of Talbott is a bit of a conundrum off the top admittedly, with a bit of an awkward sweet-sour tension upfront. But there’s plenty of flavour intensity and very good length to be sure, above the regional average in the price category. Ultimately this has merit, and should be revisited in 1-2 years by which time it will have knit together nicely.

Caves Des Vignerons De Buxy 2010 Montagny Les Chaniots 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($24.95). The Côte Chalonnaise, south of the Côte d’Or is one of Burgundy’s hot spots for value, and the cooperative at Buxy is a great place to start shopping. This 2010 premier cru delivers a fine dose of chalky-limestone minerality on a taught and tightly wound frame, with little interference from wood. I appreciate the vibrancy and forthrightness of this wine, made simply and honestly. Solid length, too; a fine ‘starter’ wine for those getting into white Burgundy, or for those who love it but don’t always have $40-$50 to dispose on a bottle.

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2012Melville Verna’s 2011 Estate ChardonnayMelville Verna's Estate Chardonnay 2011, Santa Barbara County ($16.95). Here’s an open, honest, characterful California chardonnay at an unusually low price. This has plenty of chalky minerality, tart acids (in the good sense), and sensible, low oak influence. This has everything but the high price tag; if I had a restaurant, I’d be pouring this by the glass.

Star Alignment: Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled 2012 Chardonnay Musqué, Niagara-on-the-Lake ($16.95). John Szabo – The aromatic musqué clone of chardonnay shines here from Chateau des Charmes in 2012, capturing the essence of the vintage nicely. Fruit is round and ripe in the orchard/tree fruit spectrum, while generous but balanced alcohol carries the finish. A pleasant, round, easy-sipping example all in all, for current enjoyment. David Lawrason – The musque clone of the chardonnay grape is a peek-a-boo performer in Niagara and seems to like the warmer vintages that coax out its more opulent characteristics. At least that’s what I like about musque. No point it tasting taut and lean like riesling, of which we have plenty of good examples. This is textbook musque.

Rosé and More

Château De Lancyre 2013 Pic Saint-Loup Rosé, Coteaux du Languedoc ($17.95). A rosé made in the Provençal style from about half grenache and syrah (with a splash of cinsault), offering genuine concentration and depth, not to mention length, while complexity stretches the rosé genre further than its used to going. A rosé for serious wine drinkers from one of the Languedoc’s most interesting appellations in my view.

Domaine De l’Hermitage 2013 l’Oratoire Bandol Rosé ($24.95). $25 may seem like a lot to pay for rosé, and it’s certainly well above the average, though then again so is the quality of the mourvèdre-based rosés from this small appellation overlooking the Côte d’Azure. This pale, delicate wine offers a fine mix of savoury herbs and bright red fruit flavours, with very good complexity and length. This is the sort of rosé I could drink all summer, and all winter long.

Château De Lancyre Pic Saint Loup Rosé 2013Domaine De L'Hermitage L'Oratoire Bandol Rosé 2013Terredora Fiano Di Avellino 2012Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013

Terre Dora 2012 Fiano Di Avellino ($21.95). Regional leader Terre Dora’s 2012 Fiano is a sultry, smoky, mineral-driven white wine with subtle grapefruit-citrus and savoury herbal notes, though this is not a fruity wine by any stretch. The palate offers plenty of palpable texture and grip, salty-saline-mineral flavours and excellent length and depth. As with many wines from volcanic terroirs, this is not a soft and easy-sipping style, but rather one that demands some attention and desire to explore the more regionally distinct variations of the wine world. Drink or hold this a half-dozen years or longer I suspect, without sacrificing any quality, on the contrary, enhancing the honeyed-stony side.

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara 2013 Riesling, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95). Here’s another fine example of Tawse’s “entry level” riesling, which has consistently performed above its price category. The 2013 is crisp, bright and green apple flavoured, in a perfectly balanced, barely off-dry style. Impressive length, too. Drink or hold short term.

Lawrason’s Take

Osborne Bailen Dry Oloroso Sherry, Jerez, Spain $16.95 – I have a habit of being mightily impressed by sherries when I taste them after a long day of working through whites and reds in Vintages lab. No exception here for this browning old chestnut. Make that a walnut. This is high strung, powerful yet refined and the complex tapestry of dried fruit, citrus, barrels and nuts flavours drift on forever.

Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico Riserva 2009Osborne Bailen Dry Oloroso SherryBordeaux 2010s: The Hits Keep on Coming

Between regular releases and some In Store Discoveries there are four very worthy 2010 Bordeaux on this release. Sure, most are pricey, but we are not talking $100s for top echelon wines here. If you are collector, or a fan, or wanting to explore the allure of Bordeaux here are four, from least to most expensive, to consider. And they cover four main regions. Check out the full reviews by clicking on the link, beginning with an under $20 merlot that over delivers:

Château Gachon 2010 Cuvée Les Petits Rangas, Montagne Saint-Émilion ($18.95)

Château Tour Maillet 2010, Pomerol ($49.00)

Château Sociando-Mallet 2010, Haut-Médoc ($57.00)

Château De Fieuzal 2010, Pessac-Léognan ($64.00)

Star Alignment: Villa Cafaggio 2009 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($26.95). David Lawrason – This is 100% sangiovese (whereas many Chiantis can now contain a small percentage of cabernet, merlot, even syrah). This is perhaps why I find this such an authentic expression of Tuscan red, with fruit bolstered by the warm 2009 vintage, then softened and given some grace by an extra year of ageing in barrel and bottle. Drinking very nicely right now. Sara d’Amato – A charming, classic example of Chianti from elevated plantings. The wine has a very natural, traditional feel and impressive length.

Sara’s Sommelier Selection

Lealtanza 2012 White, Rioja, Spain ($15.95). Fresh, zesty, pure and appealing, this unoaked viura based white offers clean refreshment at a very fair price. Lealtanza means “loyal”, i.e. loyal to tradition as the producer has an inclination to take a classic approach to their wines such as using only indigenous varietals.

Edge Wines 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast, California ($29.95). Nothing to do with U2, Edge is actually produced by Signorello wines – the high-end Napa producer with a Vancouver connection. Here is a wine that used to be a restaurant gem, unavailable to the general public. In the past 5 years, it has increased in price, but not declined in quality, and is now widely available. Despite its commercially focused appeal, the wine boasts really great structure, concentration and is perfectly dry.

Malma 2010 Reserva Malbec, Neuquén, Patagonia, Argentina ($17.95). From the cooler, southern reaches of Patagonia, Malma is a stunning malbec at a highly palatable price. This isn’t a big, boastful style of malbec but rather a stylish, sophisticated and well-balanced example that is sure to make an impression.

Lealtanza White 2012Edge Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Malma Reserva Malbec 2010Ortas L'estellan Gigondas 2011Roux Père & Fils L'ebaupin Saint Aubin 2010

Ortas l’Estellan 2011 Gigondas, Rhône, France ($24.95). A gracefully maturing Gigondas with ample southern charm, garrigue and impressive complexity. Despite its high alcohol, the wine feels in no way heavy, sweet or unbalanced. Well-priced and drinking beautifully now.

Roux Père & Fils 2010 l’Ebaupin Saint Aubin, Burgundy, France ($28.95). An uncommon find, and a lovely one at that – Saint Aubin is nestled among some of the finest white Burgdundy sites, close to Montrachet. Red is also produced in this region and this beautifully perfumed version, lean in body but with impressive complexity is a splendid example of the elegant nature of this appellation.

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

From VINTAGES July 5th release:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Selections
All Reviews
July 5th Part One – New Zealand’s Core Strengths

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 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for July 20th 2013

Cool Chardonnay and Top Smart Buys

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report celebrates cool climate chardonnay, in time to coincide with the 3rd annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4c) that runs from July 19 – 21 at various venues throughout the Niagara Peninsula. See all the details on our Rebirth of Cool blog.

Cool chardonnay is also the theme of the July 20 VINTAGES release, and I’ve picked out a half-dozen premium bottles to highlight. There are also several more Smart Buys for you to choose from.

400,000 Acres Can’t be Wrong!

As one of i4c’s clever tag lines puts it, “400,000 acres can’t be wrong”. Chardonnay is the most planted fine wine grape on earth, and there’s a simple reason for that: the variety makes quality wine. Although I’m a champion of the indigenous and often obscure, chardonnay has spread around the world (occasionally at the expense of local varieties) for its reliability and consistency, not to mention adaptability to many different climates and soils, and supreme quality in the right places. From the grower’s perspective, chardonnay provides about as reliable a crop as any, and it’s far less fickle than pinot noir, alongside which it is often grown. It’s also well-known and easy to sell. It’s as close to money in the bank as it gets in the wine business.

Courtesy of Flowers Vineyard & Winery, Sonoma Coast

Flowers Vineyard & Winery, Sonoma Coast

And for wine lovers, chardonnay is rarely undrinkable. It’s occasionally rather neutral and dull, or overworked, but almost never an outright failure. For those enthused by terroir, chardonnay is like an x-ray machine, able to penetrate all but the thickest layers of oak to reveal the outlines of its dirt and climate of origin. As Prince Edward County winegrower and chardonnay specialist Norman Hardie puts it, “When grown with love and fermented with care, Chardonnay is one of the few varietals that truly showcases the terroir it is grown on.”

But despite wide adaptability, most serious wine drinkers, this one included, prefer the results when chardonnay is ripened slowly and evenly in a cool place. And cool can come from any one or more of several factors: higher latitudes, (like Ontario or Champagne or Central Otago in New Zealand), high elevation (like the Adelaide Hills in Australia or parts of Mendoza), or coastal/maritime influence (as in the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, or the Mornington Peninsula, to name but a few). So fortunately, the options to grow cool chardonnay around the world are as abundant as road construction sites in a Toronto summer, only with more efficient results. That’s reason to celebrate.

Chardonnay Boot Camp, Photo by Steven Elphick & Associates

WineAlign Cool Chardonnay Boot Camp

Hence the creation of the i4c, to celebrate chardonnay from the world’s coolest places. Shortly after last year’s event I wrote: “So when it all comes together, cool climate, great dirt and savvy hands, the results are sensational. And there’s no world monopoly – dozens of regions, Ontario included, are making fine chardonnay in the key of cool. If you missed this year’s i4c, be sure to sign up next year (scheduled for July 19-21, 2013). Because if you think you know chardonnay, it’s time to drink again.”

Well, it’s time to sign up. This year’s keynote speaker is Steven Spurrier, a prominent British figure in the international wine trade for almost 50 years, and I look forward to hearing his insights on both Canada’s place in the wine world, and on chardonnay in general. Sixty-two wineries from Canada and abroad will be pouring 120 chardonnays over the weekend throughout a series seminars, tastings, lunches, as well as the feature event, the Cool Chardonnay World Tour and Dinner on Saturday evening. Just prior to the World Tour, David Lawrason and I will be leading a not-too-be-missed WineAlign-exclusive Cool Chardonnay Boot Camp (at David’s insistence to be renamed the “Chardonnay Sandal Camp”, since we’ll be sitting outdoors under a massive old tree at the Vineland Research Institute – a gorgeous setting). So we hope to see you there on Saturday at 4pm. (Click here for details and our promo code.)

In the meantime, I’ve picked out a half-dozen cool chardonnays from the premium end of the spectrum.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2011Billaud Simon Vaillons Chablis 1er Cru 20092011 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay, South Africa ($32.95). Anthony Hamilton Russell focuses exclusively on pinot noir and chardonnay on his cool, maritime-influenced 52 hectares of stony, clay-rich, shale vineyards in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley at the southern tip of Africa. This superb 2011 chardonnay is crafted in a very old world style with bright acids, integrated oak and no small measure of earthy-mineral character, with a real sense of palate presence and genuine depth.

2009 Billaud-Simon Vaillons Chablis 1er Cru, France ($35.95). I visited this domaine a little over a decade ago and was impressed then by the purity and precision of these highly traditional Chablis. I’m happy to report that not much has changed since, other than the vines have grown older. The ’09 Vaillons, from a south-southeast facing cru on the left bank of the Serein River facing the grand crus has excellent depth and concentration, and quite full and plush texture in line with the warm vintage, though underpinned by significant acidity and leesy-minerality. I’d say this is near peak – ’09 is not the vintage to lay down in most cases, but this is premium Chablis to be sure.

Château Genot Boulanger Clos Du Cromin MeursaultBachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 20102010 Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay ($44.95). Bachelder’s Wismer Vineyard chardonnay delivers better freshness than many 2010 Niagara chardonnays in addition to great complexity, offering a broad range of flavours covering the cedar, baking spice, green walnut, candied citrus and fresh brioche (yeasty-lees character) spectrum. But it’s every bit as much about the texture: fullish, rich and creamy, with balanced acid-alcohol and excellent length. Drink this now, or hold 3-5 years.

2010 Château Genot-Boulanger Clos Du Cromin Meursault ($49.95). Here’s a fine example of Meursault, mixing the expected earthy mineral notes of the region with dusty wood character and plaster dust, incense and other wood-derived flavours. Acids are sharp, almost but not fully balanced by fleshy fruit, though this should knit together nicely over the next 2-3 years.

Brewer-Clifton Santa Rita Hills ChardonnayFramingham Chardonnay 20092010 Brewer-Clifton Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay, California ($45.98). This is a style of chardonnay I appreciate: balanced, tight, mineral driven, with notable lees influence in a quasi-reductive style, crisp acids, and very good to excellent length. Wood is very moderate (just 30% new oak), while green apple and citrus-pear flavours dominate. A classy wine from one of Santa Barbara’s top outfits. (Available in Ontario through Barrel Select)

Framingham Chardonnay 2009, Marlborough, South Island, Marlborough, New Zealand 91 $19.95. This is an edgy style, yet another example of very fine Kiwi chardonnay, perhaps the most under rated, successful variety for the country, reflected in the very reasonable price. It has some funky-leesy notes that add significant complexity to an already rich and concentrated palate, with very good to excellent length, not to mention structure and complexity. (Mar 30 Release)

Top Smart Buys

This week’s smart buys includes five fantastic whites ranging from $20.95 for the finest Auxerrois you’ll likely ever taste, to a tidy little South African Chenin Blanc for an enticing $12.95, passing through a pair of superior Kiwi sauv blancs and a re-release of a dynamite Spanish Godello priced in VINTAGES sweet spot at $15.95. Red drinkers will regale with a pair of substantial wines from the Douro Valley and its steep slate slopes, one each for the traditionalists and the modernists. Click through the links below to see all of the details.

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

Cheers,

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

We invite our Premium Subscription members to use these links to find all of John Szabo’s reviews. Paid membership to WineAlign has its privileges – this is one of them. Enjoy!

From the July 20, 2013 Vintages release:

Top Smart Buy and Cool Chards
All Reviews

Photo credits: Flowers Vineyard & Winery; Steven Elphick & Associates


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Stags' Leap Winery Viognier 2012


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I4C and our Exclusive WineAlign Chardonnay Boot Camp

Tour the world with one glass …

Cool ChardonnayThe International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (I4C) is three days spent exploring seductive shades of the most planted grape on earth. Join 60 of the world’s “coolest” winemakers as they present 120 Chardonnays from ten countries alongside the exceptional cuisine that pairs with it so well. With intimate vineyard luncheons, culinary showcases and the Cool Chardonnay World Tour, you can custom-blend your own unforgettable chardonnay weekend. Decanter Magazine’s Steven Spurrier joins Food Network Chef Vikram Vij as the Guest Hosts of the 2013 event which runs from July 19-21. Click here for a complete schedule of the week-end’s events.

Signature Event – Saturday, July 20

The Cool Chardonnay World Tour – the signature event of the i4c – is the only event of the weekend where every wine will be presented in one area. The Tasting and Dinner package begins with a 2-hour walk-around tasting in the scenic rhododendron gardens, where premium chardonnays from Domaine Drouhin, Maison Louis Jadot, Kistler, Flowers Vineyard and thirty other international producers join exciting Ontario vintages including Bachelder, Pearl Morissette and Hidden Bench Vineyard. Click here for a full list of producers and wines.

Following the tasting, guests will enjoy a reception featuring the world-renowned Champagne house, Taittinger, who will present three of their top Champagnes alongside other Champagne & Sparkling producers from France and Ontario. And for the perfect pairing, a 40-foot custom-built oyster bar will feature oyster varieties from both Canadian coasts.

The al fresco dinner – led by Food Network Chef Vikram Vij and the chefs of the Canadian Food & Wine Institute – will feature a global menu crafted from Ontario’s premium farm-grown bounty.

Chardonnay Boot Camp – Exclusive for WineAlign Members

Last year's WineAlign Chardonnay Boot Camp

The idyllic setting for our Chardonnay Boot Camp

Kick off your Cool Chardonnay World Tour with the return of WineAlign’s popular “Chardonnay Boot Camp” session with David Lawrason and John Szabo.  John and David will lead a structured tasting of Chardonnays from six different regions – wines presented exclusively at this session. Learn about what makes each of these wines (and regions) exemplars of the 5 aspects of “cool” – latitude, altitude, marine influence, microclimate, and winemaking style.

WineAlign Chardonnay Boot CampThe “Chardonnay Boot Camp” begins at 4:00pm, with the “Cool Chardonnay World Tour” commencing at 5:30pm, followed by the reception and dinner as listed above.

All events are at the beautiful grounds of the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Vineland, Ontario.

Tickets are $150 (+HST). To purchase tickets, visit www.coolchardonnay.org and select the Cool Chardonnay World Tour – Tasting & Dinner.

Be sure to enter the Promo code WINEALIGN to be registered for this Exclusive preview event.

Cool Chardonnay Boot Camp

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for November 24th 2012

A Pre-Preview; Winter Whites and a Trio of Chardonnays

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

November 24th is a massive release of fine wine, spirits and gifts for the holidays. So big is the release, that the LCBO had to spread the trade tastings over several sessions with the final one scheduled for November 20th.

Rather than have you wait until next week, here’s a little Pre-Preview highlighting the Vintages white wines which have already been tasted. (I will post a follow-up piece on Nov 23rd.)

Take a look at this trio of top chardonnays, including two from Ontario.

Le Clos Jordanne 2009 Le Grand Clos Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench

The 2009 Grand Clos is evolving beautifully, still holding on to youthful citrus and lemon custard notes while the wheat, wet hay, honey and wet limestone notes are beginning to take the lead. The palate is mid-weight, balanced on a pin-point between crunchy acidity, moderate alcohol and significant flavour depth. Excellent length. Very classy to be sure.

Philippe Colin 2008 Chassagne-Montrachet Les Chaumées 1er Cru, Burgundy, France

Here’s a classy, textbook white Burgundy of a very high level, with tremendous complexity and depth. The intense minerality is more reminiscent of Puligny than Chassagne, pronounced and intense, as opposed to the often rounder fruitier style of typical Chassagne, but I’m hardly complaining. Terrific length; top notch and enjoyable now, but this has the structure and acidity to carry forth to the end of the decade and beyond.

Malivoire 2009 Moira Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Beamsville Bench

Here’s an elegant, refined, minerally example, with a terrifically broad palate and notable chalky mineral taste and texture. Wood is well integrated and forms a subtle backdrop to citrus and tree fruit, though it’s really the limestone that dominates – a very good thing. Excellent length. Drink now or hold mid-term – this has the structure to improve. One of Malivoire’s strongest chardonnays to date.

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2009Philippe Colin Chassagne Montrachet Les Chaumées 1er CruMalivoire Moira Chardonnay 2009

All of the wines from the November 24th release, including these white wine reviews, are posted on our site as usual. However, you will have to wait until next week to see the red wine reviews and the Top Ten Smart Buys.

Come down to the Gourmet Wine & Food Expo and do some pre-release tasting for yourself.  We would love to meet you at the WineAlign booth #222.

Cheers,

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

All November 24th Reviews


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Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner; Wine education for us all – Chardonnay; November 10th, 2012

Wooded vs. Unwooded

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

The world’s most famous white grape, Chardonnay is crafted in two major styles, with many shades of grey in between. The first includes Chardonnay where wood, usually oak, is used at some point during the winemaking process. The other is where no oak is used at all.

For winegrowers, the decision to use oak, typically French, is a very personal one, dictated principally by precedent, growing conditions, and winemaking inclinations. In Burgundy, the contrasts between Chardonnay containing oak and ones that do not could not be more transparent. On the one hand, you have the famous white Burgundies of the Côte de Beaune, where whites from the best vineyards such as Domaine LeflaiveLe Montrachet and Corton-Charlemagne fetch some of the highest prices in the world. In virtually all cases, such wines are both fermented and matured in French oak barrels. On the other, you have the most prized vineyards of Chablis, where no oak is usually the norm, although some producers are now using small amounts for their best wines. Here, most wines are fermented and matured in stainless steel casks or ‘neutral’ oak barrels.

Chardonnay GrapesAnd therein lays the most fundamental difference between wooded and unwooded Chardonnay: the use of oak for fermentation and/or maturation. While generalizations are hard to establish, most Chardonnays containing oak are usually more concentrated and complex than their counterparts (the main exception being Chablis). At their finest, such wines usually contain a vast array of entrancing aromas, including subtle butterscotch/caramel, pears, green apples, apricots, quince, orange zest, hazelnuts, white flowers, lemon, and mineral nuances.

For winegrowers, the key thing is to ensure that the oak component in Chardonnay does not overwhelm the other components in the wine. This has been a cause for considerable concern among wine lovers and evaluators for well over a decade now—that too much emphasis is being placed on the use of oak in the winemaking process, resulting in Chardonnay tasting too buttery and one-dimensional, not to mention overtly oaky and (oftentimes) excessively tropical.

Leeuwin Estate ChardonnayThis is why many winegrowers have over the past several years decided to use less oak and concentrate on developing better fruit aromas instead. Some have even opted to use no oak in Chardonnay at all. While often much more simplistic than wines having been fermented and/or matured in oak barrels, such wines are nonetheless capable of delighting an eager audience in search of unoaked versions.

But a little oak influence can go a long way in this most malleable of grapes. As such, many producers have decided to adopt a ‘partial oak’ stance in their wines, fermenting their Chardonnay in stainless steel casks and then maturing it in oak barrels for only short periods of time. While such wines will often contain many of the same flavour characteristics as fuller-oaked bottlings, the undesirable butteriness, oakiness, and excessive tropical flavours are kept healthily in check. The best advice: taste every single Chardonnay in the world before deciding on a favourite. Alternatively, stick only with my recommendations and those of my fellow publishers…

Click here for a few gems from the November 10th Vintages Release

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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008