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A History, a Lesson and a Tour…

Whites from Loire & Bordeaux
by Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

While Bordeaux may be better known for its classified growth red wines and the Loire Valley for Sancerre, both regions have long been producing white wines, across a range of styles. Dry white blends from sauvignon blanc and sémillon are found throughout Bordeaux and the “other whites” from chenin blanc and melon de bourgogne are common in the western end of the Loire Valley.

I revisited both regions this past spring after a long absence and many changes in the French and global wine industry. Although France is now again the largest wine producer in the world, with 46 million hectolitres (more than 6 billion bottles) in 2014, according to latest International Organisation of Vine & Wine (OIV) figures (see infographic @, this news comes amid a decline in global and French wine consumption and the lingering economic crisis of the last decade. In spite of this, dry white Bordeaux blends and wines from chenin blanc are experiencing renewed interest among both wine producers and the wine cognoscenti around the globe.

What follows is a brief history of these storied and savoured white wines of the Loire and Bordeaux, plus suggestions where and when you can pair these whites throughout the winter season.


Chenin Blanc, Queen of the Loire

Chenin blanc is currently one of the darling white grapes among sommeliers, due in part to the quality wine focus in places where it is widely planted like South Africa and the US, as well as along the western reaches of the Loire Valley from Blois to Savennières, where chenin reigns.

Chateau Angers Chenin vines

Chateau Angers Chenin vines

The Anjou region is south and southwest of the city of Angers, where Château d’Angers houses the hauntingly beautiful Apocalypse Tapestry series of the late 14th century. Here, 140 chenin grape vines were planted atop and within the fortressed walls as a testament of King René the First of Anjou’s interest in this noble grape. It is in this part of the Loire where chenin blanc, known locally as pineau de la Loire, is made into a range of wine styles including the fascinating dry Savennières, the long-lived botrytis-affected sweet wines from Bonnezeaux, Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume, and méthode traditionelle sparkling wines known as Crémant de Loire.

Chenin when it Sparkles

Bouvet Ladubay, of the adjacent Saumur appellation, has been making sparkling wine since 1851 when the family purchased eight of the hundreds of kilometers of underground tunnels resulting from excavations to build the Loire’s famous castles and palaces. These passageways now house the maturation cellars for the chenin blanc-based sparkling wines of the region. In the late 1800’s, Bouvet Ladubay was the largest shipper of sparkling wine in the world and has continued with a specialization in sparkling wine in a range of styles. In addition to a visit and tasting at the winery, visitors can get a sense of history and space thanks to a guided bicycle tour of their sparkling wine cave carved deep into the tuffeau limestone underneath the winery and vineyards. Bouvet Ladubay Brut de Blancs Saumur is a great introduction to this house.

While a number of grape varieties can be used to make Crémant de Loire, chenin blanc is the most common. Naturally, sparkling is well-suited to festive occasions but because crémant tends to be well-priced, it is also a perfect everyday wine and ideal as an aperitif. Crémant blanc matches well with seafood such as oysters and crab, while crémant rosé is a good partner for spicy Chinese dishes, salmon carpaccio and vegetable or meat terrines.

Dry and Complex Loire Whites

Beyond bubbles, chenin blanc is also responsible for the region’s impressive dry and sweet white wines. Domaine des Baumard, whose property has been in the family since 1634, produces a series (Clos de St. Yves and the Clos du Papillon) of dry, structured and nervy whites from the Savennières appellation, sweet wines from the Quarts de Chaume and Coteaux du Layon, along with Crémant de Loire – white and rosé, in both dry and off-dry styles. Like many estates in this part of the Loire, the majority (80%) of their production is dedicated to white wine, with sparkling comprising over half of overall production.

Others such as Pithon-Paille are newer to the scene and since 2008 have been negociants in addition to wine growers, producing predominantly dry white wines from chenin blanc, with a smattering of red from cabernet franc and grolleau. Although their production is small (approximately 7000 cases a year), they export slightly more than 50%; Quebec is their largest market with the 2010 Chenin Blanc and 2011 La Fresnaye available.

Chateau-de-La-Roche-aux-Moines---Coul-e-de-SerrantSavennières is also home to famed biodynamic producer Nicolas Joly of Château de la Roche-aux-Moines. Originally an investment banker in the US and UK, he took over the family estate in the late 1970s and produces just three wines: Les Vieux Clos from the Savennières appellation, Clos de la Bergerie from the Savennières-Roche-aux-Moines appellation and Clos de la Coulée de Serrant from the Savennières-Coulée-de-Serrant appellation, a seven hectare appellation d’origine protégée (AOP) of its own, under vine since it was planted by Cistercian monks in 1130 and belonging all to Joly. A vertical tasting of Clos de la Coulée de Serrant in the 1990s was my first Road to Damascus moment in wine, so it was a special treat to taste recent vintages and meet the man behind the wines. In recent years Joly has handed over much of the winemaking and management of the estate to his daughter Virginie.

The whites of Savennières show depth, concentration and richness and with higher levels of acidity, can definitely benefit from longer aging in bottle, These are rich, medium-to-full bodied, dry white wines, with no oak and a backbone of palate cleansing acidity. Because of this, they are well suited to hearty winter dishes such as fish in cream or butter sauces, grilled and roasted pork dishes or veal in a creamy mushroom sauce.

Maritime Muscadet

Just west of Anjou near the mouth of the Loire River is the Pays Nantais. This is France’s largest white wine appellation and the region known for Muscadet made from the melon de bourgogne grape. In contrast to the full-bodied dense whites of Savennières, Muscadet is lighter in body and style, displaying a tangy crispness and salty (some would say maritime) influence. Due to the process of aging on the lees or sur lie, many of the wines like the Château du Cléray Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre et Maine are crisp but layered with good complexity though often overlooked in favour of similar trendier wines like Albariño. A newer generation of winemakers, such as Rémi Branger of Domaine de la Pépière, are also making complex and age-worthy Muscadet using a combination of new and traditional techniques and lower yielding clones. Standouts include the Cru Clisson and Château-Thébaud, benefitting from older vines, stony well-draining soils, 2 to 3 years of lees contact and stirring.


Boosting Bordeaux

Bordeaux is an historic area for premier wine production in France. Unfortunately, this history also works to its disadvantage; the region is often thought of as being too complex, with too many appellations, and in the case of North American consumers, no varietal labelling to indicate what grapes are in the bottle. Though the region is better known for red blends, ranging from good value generic Bordeaux to stratospherically priced first growths, dry whites have been made in Bordeaux for centuries and outpaced red wine production up until the 1970s. Currently, dry white wine production represents around 8% of the total of AOP wines in Bordeaux.

As with other wine regions in France and throughout the world, the Bordelais are interested in attracting new consumers, in particular, seizing new-found market opportunities in China and throughout Asia. A new international promotional and branding campaign focused on authenticity, diversity and innovation aims to stimulate curiosity and a re-discovery of Bordeaux as a world reference in terms of wine quality and expertise. While much of the focus centers on the region’s red wines, there is a tacit acknowledgement that dry Bordeaux whites are not as well-known as they could be. Since consumers have globally embraced sauvignon blanc the goal is to promote the “original” white Bordeaux blends from sauvignon blanc and sémillon as exceptionally food friendly and emulated by winemakers from Australia to Canada.

Sauvignon blanc is the main white grape planted in Bordeaux (55% of all white plantings), followed by sémillon (34%) and muscadelle (7%). It is thought that sauvignon blanc originated in Bordeaux. Furthermore, the Faculty of Oenology at the University of Bordeaux, led by Denis Durbourdieu, has conducted extensive research on sauvignon blanc aromas and the ways in which viticultural and wine making practices can enhance quality wine production and aging potential.

Back to (Bordeaux) School

A good start to learn about Bordeaux whites, or any of the wines from this region, is by going to wine school. Bordeaux’s École du Vin de Bordeaux in the city centre is where professionals and consumers alike can learn about the region, history, grape varieties and winemaking, while tasting examples of the main wine styles.

Ecole du Vin Bordeaux

Courses at the École du Vin range from two-hour workshops to intensive multi-day technical courses that include vineyard visits and dinner at a wine estate. If you can’t make it to the École du Vin, check out their partner schools and global tutors and find out more information on their website.

Winter Weight Whites from Bordeaux

While most shift to heavy, full-bodied reds during the cold winter months, there is still a place at the table for the two main styles of dry Bordeaux whites. The first is the fresh and vibrant whites such as Bordeaux Blanc, Entre-Deux-Mers and Cotes de Bordeaux. These generally are unoaked, light in body and made to be drunk young with lighter lunchtime fair such as salads or grilled fish or platters of oysters from the nearby Bay of Arcachon.

The second style is the richly textured and well-structured dry whites from the Graves and Pessac-Léognan appellations. They tend to be medium to full-bodied, usually vinified and aged in oak and can benefit from aging as well as decanting when served. This type of wine makes a great accompaniment to creamy soups and fish in cream sauces.

A Sea of Lively Whites

Entre-Deux-Mers is a pretty region located between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, hence the name meaning “between two seas”. After Bordeaux Blanc, it is the largest appellation for dry white wines, which are made predominantly from sauvignon blanc with sémillon added for weight and complexity and muscadelle for aroma. Producers like Château Sainte-Marie also add some pink-skinned sauvignon gris to their Entre-Deux-Mers for mouthfeel and aromatics. Most Entre-Deux-Mers are fermented and aged in stainless steel, resulting in dry, crisp and fruity wines with floral and citrus aromas. They are meant to be uncomplicated and consumed within a year or two of release. Chateau Sainte-Marie Entre Deux Mers Vieilles Vignes 2013 is a more stately example, not to be missed.

White Graves and Pessac-Léognan

The region of Graves and the well-known appellation of Pessac-Léognan lie to the south of the city of Bordeaux, encompassing some of its southern suburbs and on the left bank of the Garonne River. While Graves is considered the origin of red Bordeaux wines, dating back to the Middle Ages, the appellation of Pessac-Léognan is a relatively new addition created in 1987. Both reds and whites are produced in Graves and Pessac-Léognan, with white grapes accounting for approximately 20% of the vineyards of the latter.

This is an area of powerful, complex and aromatic dry white wines that spend a considerable time aged in oak barrels and continue to evolve and deepen in colour as they age in bottle. Sémillon and sauvignon blanc make up the blend, with appellation rules stipulating that sauvignon blanc must comprise at least 25% of the blend.

André Lurton is the owner of Château La Louvière, one of the key figures driving change in the area and behind the creation of the Pessac-Léognan appellation. Château La Louvière was the first winery to use screw caps in Bordeaux and they currently bottle their wines under both cork and screw cap, depending on the market of sale. The Château La Louvière Blanc is predominantly sauvignon blanc, with a small portion of sémillon depending on the vintage. The 2009 is 100% sauvignon blanc and though barrel fermented and aged, manages to retain a crisp freshness set against a backdrop of spicy, toasty notes with good depth and finish.

Although plantings of sauvignon blanc are more recent in this region, sémillon vines and vineyards are considerably older, with some reaching 120 years of age. Château Latour-Martillac oenologist Valerie Vialard explained that only the sémillon portion of the blend will undergo skin contact during fermentation to extract more flavour and add concentration, a move that has proven great success. So much so that Denis Dubourdieu, consultant to the winery, is considered responsible for the widespread use of skin contact for sémillon for white Bordeaux wines.

Old Vine Chenin Chateau Latour Martillac

120 year old sémillon at Chateau Latour Martillac

Bordeaux’s Golden Whites

Not all of the white wines from the Graves are dry and lovers of sweet wines are likely familiar with the golden elixirs of Sauternes and Barsac. The same grapes used for dry white Bordeaux are also used here, with sémillon being the principal grape, since it is particularly susceptible to “noble rot” Botrytis cinerea. Due to the grape’s desiccation, the shrivelled grapes produce intensely flavoured juice that results in concentrated sweet wines. The yield is much lower than for dry wines and the production process more labour intensive; botrytis does not affect each vine or bunch at the same time or way, so wineries are required to hand-pick the affected bunches or berries by passing through the vineyard up to a half-dozen times to complete the harvest.

100ml Sauternes tubes Chateau Guiraud

100ml Sauternes tubes Chateau Guiraud

Sweet wine production here dates back centuries though most Sauternes producers also make a dry white, which takes the first letter of the name of the Château, such as the Le G de Château Guiraud 2013. Although the golden sweet wines are revered by wine lovers across the globe, sales and exports have shown a decline since the financial crisis. According to Caroline Degrémont of Château Guiraud, the effect of the crisis seems to have been longer for Sauternes because these were “the first wines that you stopped drinking and the last that you start to drink again”. To make the wine accessible and affordable, the Château sells 100ml “tubes” of Sauternes in their tasting room which go over well with visitors.

Holding a slightly different view, Fabrice Dubordieu, a fourth generation family member of Château Doisy-Daëne in Barsac, hasn’t felt the impact of the crisis as much. He believes that the “sweet wine consumer is not your average wine consumer and is less concerned with showing off and more concerned with pleasure”. Dubordieu also explained that “to create a market for sweet wine, you need to create a ritual around it and a ritual for the food served with it”. Seems like timely advice as many of these wines have intense flavours that shout out for rich foods that you might only eat on special occasions and holidays. Think about Sauterne’s classic pairing with foie gras or Roquefort cheese, the less conventional pairing with sweetbreads that I once had in Sauternes (delicious!) or with a roasted pineapple tart to end a meal.

With the long winter ahead there are many whites from the Loire and Bordeaux, dry, sweet and sparkling and in a range of price points that will make your winter a little warmer.

Stay warm!

Janet Dorozynski

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

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Bill’s Best Bets – September part 2

September 18th Cellier Release
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Back again with what to buy from the 2nd Cellier magazine release which will be Thursday, Sept 18. The last release (Sept 4th) focused on Bordeaux and the Rhône. This time, many of the wines hail from a region which is very dear to us Quebeckers, the Languedoc-Roussillon.

Quebec is quite unique in the world with respect to this oft-maligned region. In many parts of the world, including France, it is known for producing bulk wine. Back in my days working the restaurant floor as a sommelier, I was shocked on a number of occasions when I suggested a Languedoc wine to French tourists, and their response was that they would never drink such cheap wine.

Amazing how perspectives on a wine region can be so different. The Languedoc-Roussillon is number one in Quebec in terms of bottles sold of any region in the world. And it is not of bulk wine. To me, the Languedoc is one of the more dynamic wine regions in the world. And while they do produce a ton of wine – the Languedoc-Roussillon produces more than all of Australia – much of what we see here are wines that are not only interesting and unique, but exceptional value.

So if you are already a fan, here are some suggestions. If you aren’t familiar with the region, then it’s time you get up to speed. This is Bargainville folks. From the sparklings of Limoux, to the rusticity of Corbières, the refinement of Coteaux du Languedoc, to the sun infused grapes of the Roussillon, there is truly a wine for every palate.

Le Loup Blanc La Mère Grand Minervois 2011Pierre Gaillard Transhumance 2011Let’s start with the wines that gave me the biggest buzz. From one of the least known appellations of the Languedoc, Faugères, is the 2011 Domaine de Cottebrune’s Transhumance. The winery is owned by one of my favourite vignerons in Cȏte Rȏtie, Pierre Gaillard. And much like his wines of the Northern Rhȏne, this is power in a velvet glove. Gaillard’s delicate touch is unmistakable as he takes this classic grenache-syrah-mourvèdre blend and offers up a palate of powerful fruit and garrigue with refinement and class. (180 cases)

On a completely different track, but with an equal joy factor, is Vignoble Le Loup Blanc’s 2011 Minervois. This is a beautiful expression of syrah and grenache. Owned by now Montrealer Alain Rochard, this has all the aromatic expression of a low to no sulphite wine. Organic, grown and made with care, the wine has incredible energy and purity. No oak to get in the way – just fruit, fruit and more fruit. (172 cases)

Moving south into the Roussillon, the Parcé Frères 2010 Cotes du Roussillon Village, Zoé, is made for those who want wines with torque. A blend of syrah and grenache, you can sense the sun in the grapes with its rich, dark fruits. But underneath the mass of fruit is a mineral streak that refines, adds depth and refreshes. (300 cases)

Zoé Parcé Frères 2011 Tessellae Carignan Old Vines 2011 Château L'argentier Vieilles Vignes De Carignan 2011If the Zoé isn’t big enough for you, try the 2011 Old Vine, cuvée Tesselae, Côtes du Roussillon from Louis Roche. Especially if you drink more new world wines and want to try a wine from southern France, this wine will make the transition very easy. Holds its 14.5% alcohol very well. I refer to it as one of those aaarrrrgggh! wines. Try it and find out why. (249 cases)

As I did last time, I’ll use this newsletter as a forum to talk about other noteworthy wines that are not part of the magazine release, but deserve some love. Fans of the carignan grape will be happy as the SAQ has re-ordered Elisabeth et François Jourdan’s Vieilles Vignes L’Argentier. Much like the 2010, the 2011 is dark fruited and replete with notes of black liquorice, meat and minerals. Never about the fruit, this is all about the texture.

No discussion of the Roussillon is complete without mentioning the fortified wines of Maury. I recently tasted two wines from Mas Amiel, and both are worthy purchases, especially if you are fans of Port. Less sweet and more elegant than the Portuguese wines, Maury’s wines often go un-noticed. The 2011 Vintage shows notes of figs and dried cassis. Amazing pairing with anything chocolate. If you want to try something even more impressive, there are a few bottle of the 15 year left in the store. Apparently the SAQ has yet to re-order them, so not sure when this exceptional wine will be back. If you can find one – buy it!

And finally, there are two Rhône wines that were not in the September 4 release. I love the Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Château Mont-Redon. When I first tasted the 2009 two years ago, I found it a touch fat, which was due to the hot vintage. But two years later, I’m happy to report that the wine is now tasting very much like the Mont-Redon that I love – finesse, elegance and all about the fruit. Patience pays off!

Mas Amiel Vintage 2011 Mas Amiel Prestige 15 Ans D'age Château Mont Redon Châteauneuf Du Pape 2009 Philippe Nusswitz Orénia 2012

Also of note is Philippe Nusswitz’s 2012 Orénia. From the little known IGP of Duché d’Uzès, which is located in the northern part of Nîmes, this is a classic fruit first Rhône wine. Keep it chilled and enjoy.

So that’s it for now. Next on the newsletter list is September’s 20 under $20.


“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

Bill’s Best Bets – September 4th Cellier

Editors Note: You can find Bill’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Premium subscribers to Chacun son vin see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva

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Bill’s Best Bets – September

A look at the September 4th Cellier Release
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

The Cellier magazine is back after a summer off, and as usual, a number of wines are accompanying its release. While a few of these wines have already been sold at the SAQ, there are a number which will be making their first appearance at the store level. This seems to be the new formula for the magazine – a mix of new releases and some classic wines. It’s a pretty good idea as a few of these wines which have already been available are pretty damned good.

As always, the 30 featured wines will be split between two release dates – September 4 and September 18. So what’s worth picking up from the first release? Overall, there are a number of very worthy wines, but a few are truly spectacular.

Château La Fleur Du Casse 2010Château Tour Haut Caussan 2010The new releases are all French and from classic regions like Bordeaux, Rhône and the Languedoc, and mostly red wines. So let’s get to it, and start with a few wines from Bordeaux, where the focus is on one of my favourite of recent vintages, 2010.

Despite it not even being close to the most expensive wine in the line-up, try the 2010 Château Tour Haut Caussan. This Cru Bourgeois from the Médoc has been around for over a decade on Private Import and when I worked as a sommelier, was always on my list. This is classic Bordeaux in the best, and most traditional sense of the word. (199 cases available)

Also from Bordeaux, but this time Saint Émilion, the 2010 La Fleur du Casse is as seductive a merlot as you’ll find out there. For those of us who found the 2009’s a touch over the top, especially for the merlot dominated wines of the right bank, this Grand Cru puts the accent back on drinkability over raw power. I would give it at least another 3 years before starting to drink, but its already a pleasure. (126 cases available)

Château Larrivaux 2010Château Les Ricards 2010Going back across the river, the 2010 Haut Médoc from Château Larrivaux is another great buy, especially considering its $25 price tag. Despite it being dominated by merlot, rare for an Haut-Médoc, this is no softy. The tannins have extra bite, probably due to almost 10% of petit verdot in the blend. The estate has another particularity in that it has been run by women of the same family since vines were first planted there in 1861. If you are looking for an inexpensive Bordeaux that will easily cellar up to 10 years, this is it. (300 cases available)

And while I am talking Bordeaux, although it was not part of this release, I recently drank the 2010 Château Les Ricards. For $20, this Côtes de Blaye might be the bargain of the year for Bordeaux. Supple fruit and so ready to drink. I’m not the only one who thinks so as it is flying off the shelves. If you can get your hands on this bottle, then you won’t be disappointed.

Moving south into the Rhône, there are three wines that are musts. Topping the list is Jean-Louis Chave’s 2012 Côtes de Rhône Mon Coeur. One of the great vignerons of Hermitage, Chave also runs a négoce which he treats with equal care. Every year, this wine flies off the shelves and the 2012 should as well, as it might be the best I have ever tasted of this cuvée. Gulp it, drink it slow, age it a bit – no problem. For the price, exceptional. (500 cases)

Clos Bellane Les Échalas 2010Crozes Hermitage Les Pichères 2011J.L. Chave Sélection Mon Coeur 2012I was equally impressed by Ferraton’s 2011 Crozes-Hermitage Les Pichères. But rather than the juicy fruit and ease of the Chave, Les Pichères is about the earthier side of the syrah. Dark-fruited, granitic, mineral, and with tannins that reminded me of a Cornas. This is a huge step up from most Crozes, and at $30, you are getting your money’s worth. Keep a few in the cellar for the future as this will gain with some cellar time. (419 cases)

I am also a big fan of the white wines of the Rhône. While much of the wine drinking world has embraced white wines with high acidities and exuberant aromatics, the Rhône has continued to make richly textured, and at times, phenomenally interesting wines. The 2010 Côtes du Rhône Villages, Les Échalas from Clos Bellane is one such wine. Vigneron Stéphane Vedeau works biodynamically, and this blend of marsanne and roussanne has exactly what I love about the  Rhône style – stone fruit, a dense texture and lots of intriguing spice on the finish. I would pull this from the fridge and never put it back as it will start to shine above 12C. (200 cases)

Back next week with some great buys from the September 18th release. With the focus being on the Languedoc, there’s a few that you don’t want to miss.


“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

Editors Note: You can find Bill’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Premium subscribers to Chacun son vin see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

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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…


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… »


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… »


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 !


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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Bill’s Best Bets – August

What’s “nouveau” is that Beaujolais is great wine
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

I was speaking at a private dinner function recently and I mentioned that many of my favourite red wines came from Beaujolais. Many “guffaws” were uttered around the table but that’s OK. Even though many look upon Beaujolais with a certain derision, I don’t care. I, along with others who have seen the light know that the region is home to some of the most food friendly, age worthy and delicious wines out there. And for the price you pay, they are some of the best bargain wines as well.

I can understand the hate out there. People were tricked for way too long into drinking Beaujolais Nouveau. But gone are the days when on the third Thursday of November we went and purchased our bottle of this just fermented beverage, bought a baguette and a piece of cheese, and packed it back. You drank before noon if you wanted to be truly in the spirit of things.

The reason that date was picked was so that unscrupulous producers and negociants didn’t put the wine to market too early. How it became a worldwide phenomena is beyond me. But while that craze is done with, the lingering hangover is the image of Beaujolais as a source of cheap, poorly made wines that are meant to be drunk immediately.

Wrong. So wrong.

Mathieu Lapierre talking shop

Mathieu Lapierre talking shop

This southern outpost of Burgundy, where the gamay grape takes over from pinot noir, has gone through a renaissance over the last decade. We are seeing more and more producers from the more esteemed pinot producing regions of the north buying up old vines on the cheap. And producers that were already there are simply doing a better job, not that there hasn’t always been great wines from there.

The region has also been at the forefront of a wine making movement called  “natural wine making,” where the aim is to manipulate the grapes to the minimum, use natural yeasts for fermenting, and in some cases, use very little or no sulphites. They are exciting, if at times challenging wines that have been instrumental in the development of my palate.

The joys of drinking Beaujo are many. They can be drunk immediately but age really well. After five to eight years, many will start to “pinotte,” when they take on “pinot noir-esque” qualities. In my many food and wine taste tests,  Beaujolais always tops the list as the most malleable red wine. From liver and onions to Chinese food to salmon, uncork a Beaujo and you will be happy.

So where do you start? The majority of Beaujolais is exported as either Beaujolais or Beaujolais Villages, accounting for almost three-quarters of the total production. These wines, with grapes sourced from the flatter lands in the south of the region, are where one finds the biggest variation in quality, with the best showing a delicate, fresh fruit character. These are wines to be drunk within a year or two of their bottling to conserve their freshness and the delicate berry fruits.

Domaine Des Marrans Chiroubles Vieilles Vignes 2011Jean Paul Brun L'Ancien Beaujolais 2012But these wines need not be all fluff. Try Jean-Paul Brun’s Beaujolais Ancien to see how good they can be.

The serious wine-making happens in the northern part of the region in the granitic soils of the 10 “Crus.” These are the wines which age, and show just how complex Beaujo can be. Depending on your mood, there is a Cru to match it.

The most delicate wines, where the accent is on the more floral qualities of the grape, can be found in Chiroubles, Regnié and Fleurie. Be ready for seductive floral aromas like violets, rose and iris, with bright acidities and fresh red fruit. These rock as an aperitif or with lighter fare like charcuteries. A great example is the Old Vine Chiroubles from Domaine des Marrans.

For more medium bodied wines, the best known of the Crus is Brouilly. Julienas and Saint-Amour as well fall into this style. A touch more tannin, slightly darker fruits and a hint more peppery spice is what awaits. The 2013 Château De Pierreux is a great example.

Then comes the biggest of the Beaujos where cellaring potential is the highest, and where the rewards of patience are yours if you can manage not to drink them. What was once a volcano is now the Côte de Brouilly. Granite and schist soils produce a much richer and denser wine than Brouilly. Try the Château Thivin for a great example of this Cru.

Château De Pierreux Brouilly 2013 Château Thivin Côte De Brouilly Cuvée Les Griottes 2011 Jean Paul Brun Terres Dorées 2013 Domaine Marcel Lapierre Morgon 2013 Jean Foillard Morgon 2012

My two personal favourites are Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon, and in Quebec we are spoiled with wines from three fantastic producers. Jean-Paul Brun’s 2013 Moulin-à-Vent is so classy and elegant, with ripe fruit and spice.

You can’t mention Morgon without talking about Domaine Marcel Lapierre and Jean Foillard. Lapierre’s 2013 is typical of the house style – so bright and fruity, and shows great depth after a few years in the cellar. Foillard’s 2012 shows more earth and spice, with a superb mineral note that refreshes and grounds the wine in the granite and volcanic rock.

Gamay vines growing in Morgon

Gamay vines growing in Morgon

As we still have a few more weeks of hot weather, this is the perfect time to try Beaujo. But remember that Beaujolais is best served slightly chilled, 14C to 16C!

Happy summer and if you too want to gush some love for Beaujolais and its most wonderful grape, gamay, say so on twitter at #GoGamayGo


“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

Editors Note: You can find Bill’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Premium subscribers to Chacun son vin see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Mathieu Lapierre photo credited to Jameson Fink; Gamay vines courtesy of Domaine Jean Foillard

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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.


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 ;-)


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 !


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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The Successful Collector – Value at the premium end in France

Where to Find Value in Top French wines
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

When venturing into the potentially prohibitive arena of premium French wine buying in VINTAGES, enthusiasts may have to dodge a few landmines to score the best finds. Even then, what is ‘premium’ by French standards? Subliminally speaking, $40-50 is often the starting point, which is still quite a lot of money to spend on any single bottle of wine, to say nothing of those costing a great deal more. What vinous liquids from the world’s most illustrious winegrowing nation could possibly be worth the extra cash?

The answer is largely subjective, though commentators and sommeliers over the years have reached some form of consensus. In each case, overall quality and aging potential are among the two most important factors.

Logo UGCC JEPGFor whites, Grand Cru Chablis is routinely at the top of the list, with prices ranging between $50-100. Compare this to a single bottle of Corton-Charlemagne, which usually fetches at least $200. In the words of UK-based expert Hugh Johnson: “Parity would be closer to justice.” Regrettably, the same cannot be said of most other white Burgundies.

Further north, outlays for the best dry whites of Alsace have long remained remarkably reasonable. Of special interest are the finest examples of riesling and gewürztraminer, usually hailing from specific parcels within the region’s many Grand Cru vineyards. In VINTAGES, the best examples typically fetch around $30-85. Such wines are not only intensely flavoured and downright delectable, but are usually just as ageworthy as their counterparts in Burgundy or Bordeaux. Why the best dry whites of Alsace continue to fetch such comparatively low prices is beyond me.

On the red side of the spectrum, there are an even larger number of choices. The only catch is that Bordeaux and Burgundy really aren’t the best places to be looking for them. Instead, buyers should arguably be on the lookout for the greatest offerings of the Rhône (particularly the southern appellations) and Midi, where both overall quality and ageability have skyrocketed over the past fifteen years.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in picturesque Gigondas, where wines mainly consist of grenache, syrah, and mourvèdre. About a half-hour’s drive northeast of Châteauneuf-du-Pape (the most famous appellation in the region), the greatest producers nowadays manage to coax astounding concentration, character, and ageing potential out of their wines. On VINTAGES shelves, most Gigondas costs between $30-70, the best representing astounding value for money when compared to the costliest Châteauneufs, the latter easily surpassing $125. Southwest of here, the finest wines of Vacqueyras are also turning heads.


Picturesque Gigondas

The same can also be said of the Midi (Languedoc-Roussillon), the crescent-shaped portion of Mediterranean France that was mostly recognized for its bulk wine in the past. Not anymore. Nowhere in the country has quality leapt so high in such a short period of time as this gorgeously rugged set of winegrowing areas. In most places, the same grapes as the Southern Rhône dominate the best bottlings, though old-vine carignan is also highly prized. While specific appellations are too varied to list, prices in VINTAGES often begin as low as $30 for some truly exemplary offerings, rising to $60 or more on a few occasions. Compared, once again, to Bordeaux or Burgundy, such wines are a proverbial steal.

Switching to sparklings, every French wine lover understands that Champagne is the most celebrated of its type in the world, though value at the premium end is oftentimes viewed as a contradiction in terms. After all, even the most basic, non-vintage offerings begin at $40 or more in Ontario. As a result, many enthusiasts tend to overlook the more costly vintage-stated versions. But these are precisely the wines to watch out for, especially those from $60-100. Though admittedly not of the same quality as a super-extravagant cuvée like Cristal (nearly $300), such wines are nonetheless almost always profoundly superior to their non-vintage counterparts, capable of cellaring for at least several years.

Then there are the innumerable sweet wines of France. Believe it or not, this is where Bordeaux shines brighter than most of its counterparts, for the likes of Sauternes and Barsac are among the most truly inimitable types of botrytis-affected dessert wines around. Despite the amount of skilled labour and material costs involved, wondrous examples may be had in the range of $40-75, most in 375-mL bottles. Though much cheaper versions are available elsewhere, the quality is oftentimes simply not the same. Hence, along with the fantastic chenin blanc-based dessert wines of the Loire (these simply cannot be omitted), this is arguably the one instance where the most famous examples truly represent the best buys.

Of course, there are many other premium wines throughout France that have not been listed here. From the most prized reds of Madiran and Cahors in the Southwest to the spellbinding Vouvrays (plus a few from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé) in the Loire, the number of choices at the luxury level are unimaginable. But this is a column about the truly best of the best, combining both colossal quality and long-term ageability (hence my need to append a few names just a moment ago, along with mourvèdre-based Bandol in Provence and top single-cru Beaujolais). In the end, there will always be an astounding number of tolerably priced premium French wines to choose from, as well as plenty that, in true draconian style, will have to be left out.

My top choices:

Domaine William Fèvre 2011 Chablis Bougros Côte Bouguerots Grand Cru ($90.00) is sourced from a 2.11-ha parcel of old vines at the foot of the vineyard. Showcasing fantastic harmony, character, and charm, it’s wines like these that get me so excited about Grand Cru Chablis. Drink now or hold for six years or more.

Domaine Christian Moreau 2011 Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru ($65.00) is a perfect illustration of how underpriced Grand Cru Chablis currently stands. For the record: I wrote up this wine in glowing terms in a previous column, yet there are still a few bottles left. Such elegance and harmony! Not to be missed. Drink now or hold for up to nine years.

Trimbach 2010 Réserve Riesling ($27.95) has been selected not just because of its price (nor because pickings at the moment in VINTAGES are rather slim), but mainly on account of its remarkable quality. From one of the greatest producers in Alsace, this has all the elements of a premium wine, minus the cost. Drink now or hold for five years or more.

E. Guigal 2009 Gigondas ($31.95) is a wine of great power, focus, and clarity of fruit. From one of the most famous producers in the Rhône, this surpasses a whole horde of basic Châteauneufs we wine commentators routinely examine every year. Drink now or hold for ten years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Montirius 2011 Les Clos Vacqueyras ($32.00) delivers both excellent freshness and focus for a wine of its type. As a whole, this producer has consistently delivered both high quality and value over the past several years, making for some very worthy recommendations. Drink now or hold for five years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Bougros Côte Bouguerots Grand Cru 2011Christian Moreau Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 2011Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2010 E. Guigal Gigondas 2009Montirius Le Clos Vacqueyras 2011

Château Puech-Haut 2011 Prestige St-Drézéery ($29.95) encapsulates virtually everything I’ve said about the remarkable value of Midi-based wines, particularly from a standpoint of both quality and ageability. From an especially well-regarded establishment, I have yet to taste a non-overachiever from here. Drink now or hold for up to eight years. Decanting is recommended.

Moët & Chandon 2004 Grand Vintage Brut Champagne ($83.95) is well less than half the price of Dom Pérignon and yet of truly wonderful quality. Retaining tremendous precision and harmony (not to mention exemplary fruit expression and style), sparkling lovers will not want to miss out on this exemplary vintage champagne. Drink now or hold for up to twelve years.

Larmandier-Bernier 2007 Terres de Vertus Vintage Brut Champagne ($75.00) packs a great deal of firepower for such a young vintage. Boasting considerable intensity and harmony, I’m amazed VINTAGES hasn’t made greater efforts to source more champagnes from this particular house. Drink now or hold for up to ten years.

Château de Myrat 2009 Barsac ($28.00) is not just ridiculously underpriced, but is also likely the best wine ever produced at this estate. Combining resolute harmony with acute deliciousness, this 375-mL bottle serves as a liquid testament to how undervalued great Barsac (along with Sauternes) continues to be. Drink now or hold for up to twenty years.

Château Puech Haut Prestige Saint Drézéry 2011Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Champagne 2004Larmandier Bernier Terres De Vertus Vintage Brut Champagne 2007Château De Myrat 2009

Readers may want to take note that there are many other exemplary wines currently available in VINTAGES that have not been listed as recommendations. This is because I either do not have evaluations for them, or because they are wines from alternate vintages that are no longer available in stores. All price ranges have been researched so as to reflect current availability.


Julian Hitner

Editors Note: You can find Julian’s complete 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!

All Julian Hitner Reviews

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 24 – Part Two

Spring Pinks and Great Red Values from France, Spain, Portugal
by David Lawrason with John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The finest whites of VINTAGES May 24 offering were unveiled last week in Part One of our ongoing double-barreled reports on each and every VINTAGES release. You can also check out the best of the southern Rhônes, which I felt was a strong group value-wise overall, even if a couple of higher end 2011 Châteauneufs were disappointing. But as always happens, the Rhône overshadows the wines of the neighbouring appellations in Languedoc-Roussillon, two of which make my highlight reel this week along with a lovely pinkie from the inlandish (not outlandish) Fronton appellation. Big reds from Spain and Portugal also figure very strongly on the menu between John Szabo and I, including an exhilarating, ridiculously inexpensive Madeira. Sara’s selections range farther and wider, with whites, pinks and somewhat lighter reds, including a pleasant home-grown surprise.

The Stars Align

Les YeusesQuinta Do Vale Meao 2011 Meandro Do ValeMeandro Do Vale Meão 2011, Douro, Portugal ($24.95). Although this label does not have a long history, its excellent vineyards do – at one point contributing to Portugal’s legendary red called Barca Velha. There are several indigenous grape varieties involved, as well as soil types within the vineyard. The fruit complexity and concentration are front and centre in the cellar-worthy red. David Lawrason.  This has been a regular feature on my best buys list, and the 2011 vintage was outstanding in the region to be sure. I suspect that perhaps the best grapes from Vale Meão were mostly directed to make vintage port (understandably), or their top dry Douro red cuvée; but in any case the 2nd wine “Meandro” shows a nice measure of freshness and vibrancy, balanced tannins and decent length and depth – an infinitely drinkable wine with solid regional character and class. John Szabo

Domaine Les Yeuses 2011 Les Épices Syrah, IGP Pays d’Oc, Languedoc, France ($14.95). Here’s another fine value syrah from Les Yeuses, which has been on my best buys lists every time it has been released. Although the price has crept up slightly, this delivers pure syrah character in the form of cold cream, black pepper, wood smoke, espresso bean and more. How that much flavour is stuffed into a $15 bottle is a happy mystery. John Szabo.  I have hit on this great syrah value before. Can’t believe the price/quality ratio! It’s old vine syrah grown on 70 hectares of calcareous soils very near the Mediterranean. Very good weight, density, a real garrigue based Mediterranean red. (Keen eyed label gazers will note this now uses the new EuroUnion IGP designation instead of the former French term IGT.)  David Lawrason.

Lawrason’s Take

Château Bellevue La Forêt 2013 Rosé, Fronton, Southwest France ($14.95). I continue to be impressed by the value emanating from this 112 ha estate that lies west of Toulouse, midway between the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Several varieties grow well in this middle zone, with this rosé being composed of negrette (a deeply coloured red thought to be the same as mavro from Crete), gamay and cabernet franc. The combo creates an intriguing aromatic collage, nicely delivered in a very fresh style. Since 2008 this property has been owned by Philip Grant, a businessman who earned his WSET diploma while flitting around the globe.

Domaine De Bila-Haut 2011 Occultum Lapidem, Côtes de Roussillon-Villages ($25.95). Michel Chapoutier is the world’s leading producer of organic reds made from syrah, grenache and carignan, with vineyards in the Australia, the Rhône Valley and Roussillon, a hot corner of southern France famous for its tough, terraced terrain. This is a behemoth – very powerful, highly structured and complex. Not advised for summer sipping. If you want to dial down a notch try little brother M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila-Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages that is also on this release. Or buy both and compare.

Bodega San Roque De Le Encina 2010 Monte Pinadillo, Crianza, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($19.95). I am generally not a huge fan of heavily oaked reds. There needs to be enough fruit stuffing and richness to carry the load, which this 100% tempranillo provides. I was surprised by the depth actually especially at the price, and even more surprised to discover later that it is from a co-operative winery that claims to be one of the first in what is now one of the “hottest” regions of Spain. This could work around the BBQ this summer, later in the evening.

Château Bellevue La Forêt Rosé 2013 Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2011  Monte Pinadillo Crianza 2010Altocedro Año Cero Malbec 2011Broadbent Rainwater Medium Dry Madeira

Altocedro 2011 Año Cero Malbec La Consulta, Mendoza, Argentina ($21.95). Founded by an Argentine family in 1989, this single vineyard estate in the higher La Consulta region, with its cool nights and rocky soils has caught my attention before. They use an artisan, vineyard driven approach which delivers bushels of fruit within a quite streamlined framework. Many Argentine malbecs can be powerful, but coarse. This has some poise.  There were other good value Argentine and Chilean wines on this release as well.

Broadbent Rainwater Medium-Dry Madeira, Portugal ($20.95). Madeira is considered by some to be one of the planet’s great wines, although in this day and age it is considered an antique. I can only suggest that if you are a lover of flavour rather than style that you give Madeira a try before it becomes extinct. The famous British wine writing Broadbent family have made it their mission to preserve this natural treasure. This is scintillating and delicious with outstanding length. And the price is ridiculously cheap.

Szabo’s Smart Buys

Telmo Rodriguez Lz 2012Castro Ventosa 2010 El Castro De ValtuilleCastro Ventosa El Castro De Valtuille 2010, Bierzo, Spain ($27.95). Regular readers will already know of my fondness for the wines of Bierzo. The predominance of old bush-trained vines, the moderate, fresh climate, and the quality of the mencía variety itself are all contributing factors; then add in one of the regions top winegrowers, Raúl Pérez of Castro Ventosa to the mix, and the results are irresistible. I was first introduced to the wines of this estate by the sommelier from El Bulli during a conference in Spain a few years ago, and have sought out them out ever since. This is a really cracking value, for fans of finesse and elegance with genuine substance and depth. Best 2014-2022.

Telmo Rodriguez 2012 LZ, Rioja, Spain ($15.95). What a fine and delicious value from Telmo Rodriguez, lively and juicy, balanced and fresh, not to mention infinitely drinkable, especially with a gentle chill. (Psst, I like it too – DL)

Sara’s Selections

Bernard Massard Cuvée De l’Écusson Brut Rosé, Luxembourg ($21.95). Bernard Massard is the largest producer of traditional method sparkling wines in Luxemburg and exports a great deal of their wine to Canada, most notably to Quebec. The winery and vineyards are located along the banks of the Moselle river that forms part of the German-Luxembourg border. The soil is made up of limestone in the north of the valley which is ideal for sparkling wine production. This is not the first time I’ve recommended a bubbly from this Luxemburg house that seems to consistently over-deliver. Pleasant, succulent and boasts above average quality for the price.

Mission Hill Family Estate 2012 Reserve Pinot Gris, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, ($14.75). Here is yet another selection that I find consistently appealing and of terrific value. The style is dry and weighty, reminiscent of Alsace but the palate is clean, neat and rather generous giving the wine a unique B.C. character.

St. Supéry 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California ($22.95). The patriarch of the Skalli family, owner of St. Supéry, come from a long line of Southern French wine producers. He fell in love with Napa in the 1970s around the time of the legendary “Judgement of Paris” – the catalyst for the rise of US wine. The winery now owns an astounding 1,500 acres of which they primarily focus on cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc. This example is uniquely expressive of Napa’s propensity to produce sauvignon of great depth and character, especially when planted in cooler, more elevated areas.

Bernard Massard Cuvée De L'écusson Brut RoséMission Hill Family Reserve Pinot Gris 2012St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc 2012Henry Of Pelham Family Tree Red 2012Château Saransot Dupré Cru Bourgeois 2010

Henry Of Pelham 2012 Family Tree Red, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($18.95). The 2012 Family Tree Red is half Rhône and half Bordeaux (48% syrah and the rest traditional Bordelaise varietals). What caught me off-guard was the wonderfully wild and complex nose of dried herbs, pepper, earth and dark fruit. It is very approachable, and intentionally so, but offers a little unexpected challenge that will please the more discerning wine drinker of the house.

Château Saransot Dupré 2010, Listrac, Bordeaux, France ($28.95). It is worth taking note of this wonderfully distinctive and harmonious Bordeaux. The blend offers great concentration with a solid core of fruit and expertly ripened tannins. Wood is seamlessly integrated in a fashion mastered by the Bordelaise and the wine is full of pepper, black fruit and musk. A touch of carmenere may go unnoticed but it surely adds to the complexity of the whole.

Château D'aquéria Tavel Rosé 2013Château Camp De La Hire 2010Château Camp De La Hire 2010, Castillon Côtes De Bordeaux, France ($16.95). This malbec dominant Bordeaux from the lesser-known right bank appellation of Castillon is both classic and compelling but still quite tightly wound. If you’re looking for an affordable addition to your cellar that will come to maturity in the next 3-4 years, look no further – but be sure to decant if immediate enjoyment is your goal.

Château d’Aquéria 2013 Tavel Rosé, Rhône Valley, France ($21.95). A perennial favourite, Château D’Aquéria’s 2013 is a classic example of the dry, powerful, complex and nervy roses that can only come from Tavel. Despite the increase in price, the wine delivers both the charming garrigue of the Southern Rhône and the touch of austerity that are distinctive of the house.

And that is a wrap for this edition. If you have not yet done so please check out Steve Thurlow’s new report on new releases and promotions from the LCBOs General List, and stay tuned next week for John Szabo’s look at VINTAGES’ Australian feature in the June 7 release. At that time I will also be publishing a WineAlign feature on Ten New Perceptions of Australia following a visit earlier this year. Until then: They say “money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy wine, and that’s pretty much the same thing”.

Until next time,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES May 24 Release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Selections
All Reviews
May 24 – Part 1

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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Is France the Birthplace of Terroir? by John Szabo, MS

The following piece roughly outlines a presentation I delivered at the 2014 Vancouver Wine Festival. The Title of the seminar was: France: The Birthplace of Terroir. Please leave your comments.

John Szabo, MSLet’s bring this gathering to order. I’m John Szabo and I’ll be leading and moderating this tasting. In the interest of time, I’ll save the introductions of the panelists we have with us today for when their respective wines come up for discussion. We’ve a great deal to cover and there’s never enough time. We’ll be tackling the very essence of fine wine and the rich concept of “terroir”.

Which brings me to the title of the seminar: France: the Birthplace of Terroir: Admittedly, it’s a controversial title, and I’m sure many looked at this and thought: “ahh, here we go again, another instance of Gallic arrogance”.

But let me assure you that this is not a seminar designed to prove that France is the only country with terroir. Nor is it to show that France makes the world’s best wines.

Though while I didn’t come up with the theme – I was simply asked to moderate – by way of introduction, allow me to suggest a defense of the fact that France is indeed the birthplace of terroir.  (And note that this is my take, and not that of Wines of France, or Sopexa’s or of any of the panelists here). And while it may not be airtight, I hope it’s at least controversial, and that it causes some arguments before the end of the day.

So bear with me for a few minutes as I make my case.

Let’s start with a definition of terroir:

“Vitivinicultural ‘terroir’ is a concept that refers to an area where the collective knowledge amassed from, on the one hand, the interactions between the identifiable physical and biological environment, and on the other hand, applied vitivinicultural practices, imparts distinctive characteristics on the products originating from that area.”

This is the definition of terroir as agreed upon by the OIV (International Office of Vines and Wines) in Georgia in 2010.

Master Class TastingIn other words, terroir is not just about the dirt, or the weather patterns over time that become climate, or the particular wildflowers and bugs flitting about in the vineyards. If such were the limited definition of terroir than it would have no birthplace, or rather the birthplace would be the entire earth at its very beginnings.

But if we admit that terroir is also about “collective knowledge” amassed over time, and the resulting “applied practices” that lead to something distinctive and recognizable, then the human element becomes a critical part of the concept of terroir. In other words, it takes both place and people. And I tend to agree with this.

To fully understand any terroir, it has to be observed and studied deeply. And those observations must be recorded accurately so that they can be transmitted over time. Knowledge must be amassed and shared, and passed down so that a picture of something unique, consistent and recognizable can come into focus.

And in order for this careful observation and sharing to happen, I’d say it’s also critical not be hamstrung along the way by commercial needs or basic survival, as perhaps some of the winemakers in the room might agree.

If your actions as a winegrower are driven solely by the need to get a product out the door to keep the business afloat, or to get rich, or in order to have something more drinkable than a medieval water source for the year, you’re not very likely to do what it takes to unlock the secrets, and therefore potential, of your particular patch of dirt.

And even if you hit upon some of these secrets, you’re not likely motivated to share them with the neighbors, who are also competitors. And as the average farmer in the Middle ages, nor are you likely to have the critical skills, or time, to observe, record and pass on for posterity. Most of the people actually working the land were illiterate, landless serfs.

Gerard Bertrand La ForgeSo it takes the right people under the right circumstances to develop the concept of terroir. It’s not just green-thumbed men and women of the land, but also those with time, lots of time on their hands, with a safe and secure roof over their heads, with assured food on their table, and the ability to record what happened and what was done each season. It’s even more likely to happen when you have a community of like-minded individuals all working towards the same goal, and not in competition with one another.

And above all, to discover terroir, it takes supreme humility. The process should be ego-less, with the realization that you can’t pre-impose your ideal of what the product should taste like, or what you believe the market wants to buy, lest what the land has to say fall on deaf ears.

And finally, in the case of vitivinicultural terroir, this utopian community has to be in the right part of the planet where the climate and soils are suitable for growing grapes, and you must have the right grapes available.

And so that’s why it can be said that concept of terroir has a birthplace: it took an extraordinarily unique set of circumstances to converge in time and space for the concept to form.

So why is France the birthplace of terroir? One simple reason: religion.

Chateau de BeaucastelNow, France is hardly the birthplace of religion. But it is the birthplace of a particular aspect of Christianity that would make the unencumbered study of terroir possible: monastic life.

That’s right: monks (much less so nuns). Monasticism is the devotional practice of individuals who live ascetic, cloistered lives dedicated to worship, with ideals that are largely at variance with those pursued by most of us. And in all aspects of life, monastics are guided by Jesus’ urging to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Monks, therefore, with no worldly goals, with ample time to devote to their labours, their safe, cloistered surroundings, their ability to read and write and share information, their comfort at the knowledge of living within a community devoted to its mutual upkeep and well-being, were the perfect candidates to give birth to the concept of terroir.

And making wine, since wine is a critical component of the Eucharist, was naturally one of the products Christian monks sought to produce.

Now, of course, the Greeks and the Romans and certainly the Georgians long before them recognized that different vineyards made better or less good wine, more ageworthy and less ageworthy. And we know that they made attempts to improve upon their products.

But it wasn’t a complete understanding of terroir as defined by the OIV. The time, and the systematic methodology, and all of the others circumstances mentioned here above (especially the humility and the need to be free from commercial constraints), wouldn’t come together until quite some time later, and it would happen in France.

Simonnet - Febvre ChablisChristian Monasticism was introduced in Western Europe by Saint Martin of Tours, who founded the first monastery in what is France today, the Abbey of Marmoutier just outside the city of Tours in the Loire Valley, around 372 AD.

Martin of Tours is still remembered on November 22nd each year as the patron saint of wine growers (and beggars). But Saint Martin is far from the whole story, and we’re not quite at the birth of terroir just yet.

The story shifts briefly to Italy, and to the Benedictines, who were the biggest monastic deal of the middle ages. Saint Benedict founded the Benedictine Order around 529AD with a monastery at Subiaco in Lazio. But Italy would miss its chance to fully claim the birthplace of terroir for a couple of reasons (although they did a lot for winegrowing to be sure).

Firstly, Benedictine monasteries were not centralized; each house operated more or less in isolation and information wasn’t shared between houses. And secondly, and more importantly, by the 11th century, many of the Benedictine orders had gone commercial, you might say.

The Cluny Abbey, for example, was the largest in Europe, and had become wealthy from rents, tithes, feudal rights and pilgrims who passed through Cluniac houses on the Way of St. James. The massive endowments, powers and responsibilities of the Cluniac abbots had drawn them into the affairs of the secular world, and their monks had abandoned manual labour to serfs. In other words, they had lost their connection to the land, without which no concept of terroir can be born.

Then in 1098, a Benedictine abbot, Robert of Molesme, left his monastery in Burgundy with a handful of supporters, who felt that the Cluniac communities had abandoned the rigours and simplicity of the original Rule of St. Benedict. He founded the first Cistercian monastery in the village of Cîteaux, near Dijon, close to Nuits-St-Georges. The term Cistercian derives in fact from Cistercium, the Latin name for the village of Cîteaux.

The Cistercians took to a pure and acetic life with counter-culture zealousness, and in various points went well beyond the austerity of the original rule of Benedict. The emphasis of Cistercian life was on manual labour and self-sufficiency, supporting themselves especially through agriculture and other activities like hydraulic engineering and metallurgy, and also notably, brewing ales. We owe those fine Trappist ales to the Cistercians.

The Cistercians quickly became the main diffusers of technological innovation in the medieval world. The order spread all over western Europe, into Germany, Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Croatia, Italy, Sicily, Kingdom of Poland, Kingdom of Hungary, Norway, Sweden, Spain and Portugal. At the order’s height in the 15th century, it would have nearly 750 houses.

It was a monk named Alberic, successor to the founder Robert, who would become a critical figure in the birth of terroir. He forged an alliance with the Dukes of Burgundy, and engineered the donation of the monastery’s first vineyard in Meursault. Then an Anglo-Saxon Abbot named Stephen Harding, who had in turn succeeded Alberic, began to acquire farms for the abbey to ensure both the survival of its brothers and of their work ethic, the first of which was the Clos Vougeot.

So, with all of the terroir-favorable benefits of monastic life, farming what was then, as now, some of the most suitable vineyard land in the known world, with a handful of excellent quality grapes, these monks set about making wine in the image of God: perfect. And perfection in this sense didn’t mean plentiful, nor commercially attractive. Perfection was as humble and accurate a picture of their God-given patch of land as possible.

Over centuries, the monks devoted themselves to deferentially studying their vineyards, observing a lifetime’s worth of vintages with heavenly patience, and amassing through the years a wealth of collective knowledge of “the interactions between the identifiable physical and biological environment, and applied vitivinicultural practices that came to impart distinctive characteristics on the products originating from that area.” The concept of terroir as we know it today came into sharp relief, and, one could say, was born.

Romain Duvernay HermitageToday, of course, France has no monopoly on terroir. The Cistercians shared knowledge between all of their houses throughout Europe, and the concept has since spread to every corner of the winemaking planet. But the land that is in France today, and the monks who devoted their lives to it, do make a strong case for having evolved the concept of terroir. It’s something to consider in any case.

Following are some general terroir themes and over arching questions to be considered during the tasting.

Matt Kramer ranted recently about our obsession with precision brought about by technology and things like GPS. He writes:

 “We live in a world of pinpoint precision. We now expect total certainty when identifying what taste the land will yield. The boundaries of Burgundy’s vineyards that were sanctified by the French government no doubt always suggested “precision and certainty.” But in an earlier era, it was understood that such boundaries, like stone walls separating land parcels, charted force fields of flavor more than anything that could be calibrated absolutely.”

So then, how precise is terroir? Does it chart, as Kramer suggests, more of a range of possible flavours rather than an exact and predictable expression? Or does greater precision mean greater terroir?

What are the viticultural and winemaking techniques that best reveal terroir, and which mask it?

There are surely some great and unique terroirs that struggle to sell their wines. So what is the relationship between selling price and terroir?

More obliquely, since science doesn’t have all of the answers, and we can’t measure, for example, minerality, or even less quantify “terroir” in a wine, I wonder then, can atheists make wines of “terroir”, or can atheists truly appreciate wines of terroir? In other words, does making, or appreciating vin de terroir require a leap of faith of sorts, a belief in something that can’t really be proved?

If you have any thoughts on these issues or on terroir in general  – leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for February 15th 2014

France in the Spotlight and the Benefits of Doing Nothing

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

In order to give our readers more comprehensive coverage of new releases, we’ve tweaked the newsletter format slightly to combine forces. Each month you’ll receive two reports focused on the bi-weekly/monthly themes from both VINTAGES and LCBO listings, with recommendations from several WineAlign critics, as well as two reports highlighting the best of the rest, with multiple critics weighing in. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

France is the theme for this week’s newsletter, focused on the VINTAGES February 15th release and the LCBO February thematic. I’ve selected ten recommended wines in the bubbles, and under and over $25 categories, red and white, from VINTAGES, and David Lawrason has added his list of smart buys from the LCBO. Next week we’ll cover the rest of the release. Read more.

The February 15th release sees a solid collection of wines from across France arriving in Ontario, with a stereotypical north-south price divide. As often seems the case in Mediterranean countries like Spain, Italy and France, household income, cost of living and wine prices increase as one travels north. The flip-side is that the best wine values (and weather, and olive oil) are often in the south. The model holds mostly true in this release.

Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!

It was inevitable that quality French wines would come back into fashion after several years of slumping sales, posting positive growth in Ontario last year that looks set to continue. The reason is that all truly great and unique wines will eventually find their market. This is not comforting news to corporations who live and die by their quarterly returns, but for generational family-owned operations it’s a fact of life. As a wine grower in the 21st century, sometimes you just have to stay true to your course and what your terroir can offer, and wait for the rest of the world to catch up.

Among the many challenges in the wine business is that while fashions change overnight, wine styles cannot. Producers are usually doomed to failure trying to follow market trends, since by the time they’ve managed to shift their wine style to meet current market demand for what’s “hot” (re-planted or re-grafted vineyards to new varieties or sourced different fruit, re-tooled the cellar with new equipment, barrels, changed grape growing and winemaking protocols, etc.), the market has usually moved on.

A case in point is the aptly named 2010 Château De Gaudou Renaissance Cahors Cuvée Boisée ($22.95). This is a wine, which, from my perspective, has missed the beat on the market. It’s a pure oak infusion, exceedingly boisée, with over ripe fruit that has little or nothing to do with Cahors, or France for that matter, and would be much more at home in a large Mendozan co-op. What’s more, the same style can be had for much less from Argentina, and it’d probably be better, too.

Despite the popularity of malbec, Cahors (which is made from mainly malbec) remains a relatively little-known appellation in southwest France, so I can see the temptation of trying to emulate a commercially popular style. But over oaked, over ripe malbecs from Argentina are already out of their short-lived moment in the spotlight. So why would I want to buy one from France at a premium? I’d be much more interested in an authentically rustic, flavoursome, typically old world style example, the kind that neither Argentina nor any other country can produce. Château de Gaudou has been at it for generations so no doubt they know what traditional Cahors tastes like. Eighteen months in 100% new oak be damned.

But enough about what not to drink. Here are the highlights, the French wines that taste like they come from France.


Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut ChampagneLouis Bouillot Perle D'aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De BourgogneFor inexpensive bubbles, consider the much improved Louis Bouillot Perle d’Aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne ($19.95). Relative to the last shipment, which was tired and oxidized, this bottling (no lot number listed, unfortunately – if only producers would give consumers a clue of what they’re buying) is much fresher and livelier, with a fine mouthful of bright red berry fruit and impressive complexity for the money. Be sure to check with your product consultant that what you’re buying is indeed the latest shipment and not the previous one that’s been sitting on the shelves for months and months.

On the premium side, the number of grower champagnes arriving in the market continues to grow, which is terrific news for drinkers in search of more original cuveés. One to seek out is the attractively priced Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Champagne ($49.95). Pierre Paillard (not to be confused with Bruno Paillard) is a family operation now in its eighth generation, farming 22 hectares of grand cru vineyards in the village of Bouzy. This is an assemblage of 60% pinot noir and 40% chardonnay from 22 separate plots, aged 3.5 years on the lees, greater than the minimum required for vintage champagne. Just seven grams of dosage puts this on the drier side, while the palate balances power and finesse to great effect.

Whites Under $25

Terres Blanches Muscat Sec 2012 labelPaul Zinck Portrait Gewürztraminer 2011Domaine Gautheron Chablis 2012I challenge you to find a more genuine and authentic Muscat for less than the 2012 Terres Blanches Muscat Sec ($13.95). Made by the Cave des Vignerons de Frontignan from vineyards bordering the Mediterranean, this delivers all of the pungent, floral, grapey aromatics one could hope for from the variety. It would make a fine afternoon aperitif, or base for spritzers.

Another reliable aromatic white is the 2011 Paul Zinck Portrait Gewürztraminer ($19.95 ). “Portrait” is Zinck’s entry-level range, designed to highlight the characteristics of each grape (rather than a specific terroir), and this 2011 does precisely that. Wondering what a textbook, slightly off-dry Alsatian gewürztraminer tastes like? Try this.

Vincent Girardin Vieilles Vignes Chassagne Montrachet 2011In a similar vein of textbook regionality, Chablis drinkers will find familiarity and comfort in the 2012 Domaine Gautheron Chablis ($24.95). Seven generations in and not much has changed here; this is simply made, solid Chablis.

Whites Over $25

Head to Burgundy for a more premium French white: 2011 Vincent Girardin Vieilles Vignes Chassagne-Montrachet ($55.95). It’s a little tight and sharp at this stage, a touch leaner than the average for the appellation though true to vintage, but it also has a significant dose of wet chalky minerality and well-measured lees influence, plus a long finish, to indicate a very positive future. Try after 2015.

Spirited Reds Under $25

Domaine Lambrusques Esprit Sauvage 2011Domaine De Grangeneuve Esprit De Grenache Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2011Southern France delivers two attractive red values: 2011 Domaine Lambrusques Esprit Sauvage Pic Saint-Loup ($17.95) and 2011 Domaine De Grangeneuve Esprit De Grenache Côtes Du Rhône Villages ($20.95). Pic St-Loup is one of the top communal crus of the Languedoc in my estimation, and the Esprit Sauvage nicely captures the savage spirit of this craggy, rugged scrubland that sits under the Montagne de l’Hortus and the Pic St. Loup itself. It’s fleshy, ripe and mineral, with the freshness associated with this cooler sub-zone.

The appropriately named Esprit de Grenache is likewise a spirited essence of southern Rhône Grenache, full of warm strawberry pie flavours and the beguilingly soft, voluptuous texture of the grape.

Reds Over $25

Champy Les Champs Pimont Beaune 1er Cru 2010Daniel Rion & Fils Vieilles Vignes Nuits Saint Georges 2011It’s back north to Burgundy for a pair of premium reds: 2011 Daniel Rion & Fils Vieilles Vignes Nuits-Saint-Georges ($53.95) and 2010 Champy Les Champs Pimont Beaune 1er Cru ($58.95). While neither is at the pinnacle of what Burgundy has to offer – you have to pay a lot more than $60 for that – both are representative of their respective appellations. Rion’s Nuits St. Georges has the classic firmness and pleasant rusticity of the appellation and is another 2-4 years away from prime enjoyment, while the continually-improving Maison Champy’s Beaune 1er Cru is a fine and elegant, succulent and firm wine from a classic vintage with all of the finesse one hopes for from the appellation. Earlier maturing, this should be drinking nicely by 2015.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle. Below, David Lawrason highlights more French wines from the LCBO regular listings – consider these attractively priced suggestions when value and satisfaction are the orders of the day.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

From the February 15, 2014 Vintages release:

John’s Top French Picks
All Reviews

New French Wines on the General List
David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The LCBO’s general list is also turning the spotlight onto French wines this month and has unveiled an impressive 35 new wines in recent weeks and month. Some of them are very good, authentic well-priced examples of the various regions and appellations. Here my six top picks, but all others are now reviewed on WineAlign as well.

L’Arjolle 2012 Sauvignon Blanc-Viognier ($11.95) is a clever and effective blend of sauvignon and viognier. Great value; think ahead to summer.

Jean Geiler Muscat Reserve Particuliere 2012 ($14.00) is a terrific example of Alsace’s most underrated variety. Great value; bring on a plate of mussels.

Chateau de Vaugelas 2011 Le Prieure Corbieres ($13.95) begins to fill a huge LCBO void in affordable, rustic and intriguing estate grown syrah-based blends from the south of France.

Mas des Montagnes Cotes du Roussillon Villages 2010 ($12.95) is very good value in authentic plummy, peppery red from the sunniest corner of France.

Joseph Drouhin Cote De Beaune-Villages 2010 ($23.75) is a light-weight but classic basic Burgundy with added stature and structure thanks to the excellent 2010 vintage.

Chateau Des Arroucats Sainte Croix Du Mont 2010 ($16.95) is a delicious Sauternes-style dessert wine from a neighbouring appellation. At this price you can’t afford not to test drive one of the world’s great wine styles.

L'arjolle Sauvignon Blanc Viognier 2012Jean Geiler Muscat Reserve Particuliere 2012Château De Vaugelas Le Prieuré Corbières 2011Mas De Montagnes 2010Joseph Drouhin Côte De Beaune Villages 2010Château Des Arroucats 2010

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Saltram Winemaker's Selection Shiraz Tempranillo 2010

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