Friday, June 23, 2006

Garden Rosé Tasting #6

Chino 2005, Cuvée Réné Couly, Couly-Dutheil (saq...$16.60)

Against the backdrop of creeping thyme in full flower, this lip gloss colored “rosé de saignée’ was a bit of a surprise. Composed of 100% Cabernet Franc, the first whiff announced a full-on fruit assault with the accent on fresh strawberries still with their green tops. The first sip confirmed an almost precocious adolescence, with a hint of sweetness on top of slight ‘perlance,’ fine little bubbles dancing playfully over your tongue. But with some time, this little Lolita shed some of her coyness, showing a more floral side, an elegant mix of poppy and lilac alongside an admirable depth. While I, like many, admire the fragile and enticing beauty that comes with youth, here is a case to wait and see what a little maturity will bring.

I am stocking a couple of bottles for next summer.

Next post...Vin Gris is dethroned!

2006 rosé ranking
1. Vin Gris de Cigare 2005, Bonny Doon
2. Toscana Igt 2005, Rosato, Carpineto
3. Chino 2005, Cuvée Réné Couly, Couly-Dutheil
4. Coteaux du Languedoc 2005, Château de Lancyre
5. Costières de Nîmes 2005, Domaine Saint-André
6. Saint Chinian 2005, Clos de L'Orb

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Wine Blog Wednesday #22
Light Alcohol Reds

Alcohol is up. Turely, Rolland, Parker and many other influence peddlers have without doubt left their mark, promulgating a super (over?) ripe style of wine. But don't shoot the messenger, rising alcohol levels are not their fault. When Tim at Winecast proposed the low alcohol reds theme, and setting the cut off at 12.5%, I was confident that I could rummage through my collection of organic Beaujolais and be faced with that beautiful dilemma of which one to choose.

Wrong. Metras, Thevenet, Foillard, Lapierre, names synonymous with the ‘vin nature’ organic movement in France all had abv levels ranging from 12.5% to 13.5%. Metras’ Fleurie 2002 had an alcohol level of 12%, coinciding with the one of the weakest years France has witnessed over the last decade. If any group of winemakers can be counted on to refute the ‘modern style’ it is these guys. However, as these winemakers strive for optimal ripeness, eschewing without any additives (even sulfur) or manipulations, the unprecedented higher than average summer temperatures that Europe has seen over the last 7 or 8 years has played an even bigger part in taking French wine towards high abv than a conscious decision to make a more ‘new world style.’ So what to drink below 12.5%

How about 5%?

Brigantino 2003, Casorzo Doc, Accornero ($23…ip)
Hailing from Piedmont, the Brigantino is made almost entirely from one of the innumerable Malvasia varieties scattered throughout Europe, Malvasia di Casorzo. Slightly frizzante, this is a very pretty wine that combines rose petals, wild strawberries with a hint of plum. It sweetness is balanced by a nice acidity and of course, the bubbles. While it drinks almost too easily as an aperitif, it is the perfect accompaniment for one of our favorite desserts, rhubarb and strawberry pudding.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Garden Rosé Tasting #5

Vin Gris de Cigare 2005, Bonny Doon (saq...$17)

With a label inspired by a local French law which forbade spaceships from landing in their vineyards (I’m serious), this is yet another Randall Graham homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. A blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Cunoise, Syrah and Viogner, the 2005 version strikes me as his best effort yet.

The color is a delicate pink with orange highlights. The bouquet is both pretty and complex with a nice balance struck between typical Provençal herbs like rosemary and thyme, and a nicely understated fruit of guava, strawberry and pomegranate.

The mouth is bone dry with a nice crisp acidity and follows through on the herbal notes that we found in the nose, though with the addition of some red peppercorn. It had decent length and I found a hint of iodine along with a touch of strawberry on the finish.

Oh but what to eat? It works okay as an aperitif with all those herbal notes, but it's a shame not to give it some food. It would be a great lunch wine with a salad nicoise or even better, with a cold lobster salad served with some roquette and other bitter greens, or as we did, salmon.

This year, the SAQ tripled its order to 3000 cases to satisy what seems to be an insatiable local demand for this Randall Graham creation. And with reason, as it is consistently one of the better rosés on the market, and probably the most complete rosé I have tasted this summer….. so far!

Garden Update
Everything is in the ground or seeded, but as the azaleas bloom, one must pay homage ourselves. Next up…a rosé from Chinon.

2006 rosé ranking
1. Vin Gris de Cigare 2005, Bonny Doon
2. Toscana Igt 2005, Rosato, Carpineto
3. Coteaux du Languedoc 2005, Château de Lancyre
4. Costières de Nîmes 2005, Domaine Saint-André
5. Saint Chinian 2005, Clos de L'Orb

Monday, June 12, 2006

Biodynamic in Bordeaux
The Seemingly Ageless Château le Puy

While the debate over the merits of biodynamic agriculture continues, one cannot argue about the quality and uniqueness of many of the wines produced by those winemakers who follow this discipline. The wines of Leroy, Joly, Weinbach, Ostertag, Gauby, Lapierre, to name but a few, are some of the finest examples of their respective regions. The real question is whether the quality of these wines are a product of bio-d, or simply due to that unique combination of winemaker skill, attentiveness, soil and climate.

While biodynamics is gaining adherents the world over, staid and conservative Bordeaux has so far resisted the temptation to hang and bury plant-stuffed deer bladders. However, there is one winemaker who has taken that leap of faith, embracing not only bio-dynamics but also a more organic approach to vinification via the use of indigenous yeasts, little or no sulphur dioxides, no fining or filtration.

The witch in question is Jean-Pierre Amoreau of Château le Puy, a 25 hectare vineyard in the Côtes de Francs region of Bordeaux. It shares the same rocky plateau as Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, with his site sitting atop the ‘Côteau des Merveilles,’ a name which pays homage to the quality of the wines produced at a Château which has been in operation since 1610. His wines are dominated by very ripe merlot with small percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon and a touch of Carménère, and are marked by a bright acidity which offers an exemplary freshness and length.

Amoreau scoffs at his fellow countrymen who have succumbed to what he refers to as the whims of the export market and their critics. While he uses Michel Rolland’s laboratory for analysis, he refers to Rolland as a brilliant chemist, someone who understands marketing more than wine. He in unabashedly Bordelais, believing that while his wines should be approachable in the first few years in bottle, their destiny is to be passed on to later generations, a snapshot of the year they were made and of the person who made them.

Before I launch into a tasting that went as far back as 1955, it should be noted that these are $23 bottles, not the ‘mortgage your house and let the kids eat lentils’ first-classed growths. I was shocked at not only how the bottles showed the same exemplary lineage, but also at how they aged with such grace and elegance. Thanks to Erwan and the gang at AOC for arranging a great tasting and dinner.

Château le Puy 2001 (saq…$23)
Soft and delicate red fruits with a hint of truffle and held up by very ripe tannins. A great bottle from an underrated vintage.

Château le Puy 2000
I found the balance slightly off, with a tart black cherry aftertaste that cut into the expansiveness and creamy-mouth feel that was so sexy in the 2001.

Château le Puy 1989
A beautiful bouquet that combined dark plums with herbs. It had a similar touch of tart cherry as the 2000 but in this context, it added freshness that was a beautiful counterbalance to the darker, slightly jammy fruit.

Château le Puy 1970
Remember, this wine costs $25! This is how Bordeaux should be drunk. A generous bouquet that combined herbs, tobacco with a hint of leather was followed by a profound fruitiness that evoked the same bright plum and tart cherry of younger vintages but in a richer and more elegant framework.

Château le Puy 1967
The first to have signs of age, it still had that signature acidity but the fruit was a touch cooked (think of port). If you like the style, and lots do, then it was great. I dumped my glass and took a big boy gulp of the 1970.

Château le Puy 1955
It smelled and tasted younger than the ’67, except for hints of strawberry and red cherries that gave the wine a certain softness unfound in the other vintages. Very pretty and again, that brilliant acidity kept the ensemble fresh.

Château le Puy 2003, Cuvée Barthélemy (saq…$60)
With no added sulfur, the Barthélemy is one of the finer examples of wines made in this model. Not reductive in the least, it had a ton of fruit held up by soft, round tannins. It made me kinda think of a young Brigitte Bardot for some reason. Ready to drink and will be available at the SAQ in the coming months.

Château le Puy 2001, Cuvée Barthélemy
One of the problems with no sulfur wines is the risk of oxidation. While the ’03 was perfect, I found the 2001 slipped a bit into that porto fruit area. Very drinkable with notes of cassis and almost a Languedoc type garrigue bouquet.

Monday, June 05, 2006

A Monster in the Minervois

France's Languedoc-Roussillon is a vast and fertile region home to over 400,000 acres of vines. To put this into perspective, this is more acreage under vine than in all of Australia. As the majority of the annual production of 18 million hectolitres of wine is destined to be simple ‘vin de table,’ one could point an accusatory finger at this region for its continued role in adding to what is becoming a worldwide crisis of oversupply of low-quality grapes and wine. As the price of grapes continues to fall, those growers who don’t produce either high-quality grapes or their own wines are finding it difficult to make ends meet.

In what I see as a more productive reaction to the crisis than brandishing pitchforks and blockading highways, efforts are being undertaken on a number of fronts to deal with the oversupply. The cheap stuff is undergoing a cosmetic makeover with hipper packaging and marketing to counter the increasing dominance of Australia and California in the low-end price point. Vines are also being literally ripped out of the ground, making way for more viable cash crops.

Winemakers in the region have also made a conscious decision to produce better-quality wines. Didier Baral in Faugères, Ollivier Jullien in the Languedoc, Marjorie Gallet in the Roussillon are but a few of hundreds of excellent winemakers making reasonably-priced, high-quality and distinctive wines. While many of these winemakers are taking advantage of the region's penchant for experimentation by planting international varietals and using modern vinification techniques, the winemakers that I appreciate most are those who work with indigeneous red varietals like Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and Mourvedre, and white varietals like Roussane, Macabeo and Grenache Blanc and Gris. Here is one such wine.

Minervois La Liviniere 2001, Clos de L’Escandil, Giles Chabbert ($27..importation Privée)
This winemaker and his wine encapsulate perfectly what is happening in today’s Languedoc. Taking over from his father who sold his grapes to the local co-op, Mr. Chabbert now makes his own wine with one foot firmly planted in tradition and the other ‘toeing’ the sand of modern viticulture. A blend of Syrah, Vieilles Vignes Grenache and Carignan, the Clos was rich, ripe and juicy like an over-ripened dark plum. At 14.5% alchohol, hints of black pepper, cloves, black licorice and cooked fig harkened memories of zinfandel. Well-structured with decent tannins, it was a dream with our bbq baby back ribs.

Interesting Languedoc red wines available at the SAQ
Ch. Lancyre Pic St-Loup Grande Cuvée coteaux-du-languedoc 2001 ($24)
Château Puech-Haut Saint- Drézéry coteaux-du-languedoc 2001 ($36)
Domaine Clavel Les Garrigues coteaux-du-languedoc 2004 ($18)
Domaine Borie de Maurel Esprit d'Automne minervois 2005 ($16)
Château Coupes Roses Granaxa minervois 2003 ($22)
Château de Combebelle Comte Cathare st-chinian 2001 ($21)
Donnadieu Cuvée Mathieu et Marie st-chinian 2004 ($16)