Plaimont Saint Mont Les Vignes Retrouvées 2010

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Plaimont Saint Mont Les Vignes Retrouvées 2010

Plaimont Saint Mont Les Vignes Retrouvées 2010

Vacations are wonderful, but I often find I have so much work piled up and waiting for me when I get back that I wonder why I went in the first place.  With this blog it’s no different, and between wines that were in the queue before I went away and the wines I enjoyed in Canada, I could write for a month without trying anything new.  Have no fear – that’s something of an impossible notion, but still I can now skip a day or two of drinking without endangering my output.  This is a wine I had by the glass before I went to Canada, but only just now looked into what it actually is – the Plaimont Saint Mont Les Vignes Retrouvées 2010.

This is a wine of Saint Mont, which sounded vaguely familiar but didn’t ring any particularly strong bells.  If I had been a more diligent student, I might have remembered it being mentioned in the Oxford Companion to Wine entry for South West France, but Saint Mont itself wasn’t in the WSET Diploma syllabus so I never read further.  In the OCW it is listed as a Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure (VDQS), which was a classification that stood as a middle ground between appellation contrôlée (AC) wine and vin de pays (VDP).  The VDQS designation was often used as a step toward AC status, with regions being eventually promoted up, and as a transitional classification never represented more than a percentage or two of total production.  The category as a whole was eliminated in 2011, and around the same time Saint Mont was promoted to AC status, as shown in the fine print on the label of this bottle.  (This vintage, 2010, may actually be from before that happened, but it’s likely it was bottled or labelled after the promotion.)

Beyond its classification status and that it’s in the South West of France, what else is there to know about Saint Mont?  Geographically it’s directly northeast of the Madiran / Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh region and surrounded for the most part by the Côtes de Gascogne.  The climate is continental though the influences of the Atlantic and Mediterranean keep winters fairly mild. Springs are wet, summers are hot, and the ripening season last long enough for late harvests. The soils are sandy earth, along with some sand and clay.

The proximity to Madiran is evident in the grapes permitted in red and rosé wines.  Tannat must constitute at least 60% of those wines, with Fer (Pinenc), Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, as well as Merlot being allowed to make up the remainder.  White wine is produced from Gros and Petit Manseng, which combined can make up at most 60% of the blend, with the remainder being Arrufiac (Ruffiac), Petit Courbu, and Clairette Blanche, though Clairette Blanche is being phased out.

This wine is a blend of Arrufiac, Gros Manseng, and Petit Courbu.  Gros Manseng is a larger-berried and less prized cousin of Petit Manseng that we know from the 919 Wines varietal example we tasted back in February, and we’ve seen Petit Courbu as a varietal from Château Bouscassé which we tasted in May.  Therefore, it makes sense to spare a moment for Arrufiac.  It’s a white grape native to the south west of France, and has traditionally been used in wines of Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, and as is the case with this wine typically blended with Mansengs and Petit Courbu.  It is not well known outside of Gascony, and was in decline until the 1980s when it was revitalized, primarily by Plaimont.  The name of this wine, The Rediscovered Vines, pays tribute to the traditional grapes of the region.  Arrufiac, also known as Rufiac, Arrufiat and a dozen other synonyms, brings body and a gunflint character to blends.

Plaimont is a cooperative formed in 1979 by the merger of three regional cooperatives, Plaisance (Pl), Aignan (ai) and Saint Mont (mont).  It represents over 1000 growers, and with an annual volume of over 40 million bottles, represents 98% of the trade in Saint Mont, and almost half of the volume in Madiran, Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, and Côtes de Gascogne.    With roughly 40 wines in their portfolio, if there is a type of wine that can be made in Gascony, it’s safe to say that they make it, across red, rosé, and white, table and sweet, still and even a sparkling Colombard.  The plantings of their growers represent all the traditional grapes relatively unique to the region, as well as more widely known French grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc.

This wine, from their Producteurs range, is clear and bright in the glass with a pale lemon colour, and a few slow legs.  On the nose it’s clean and youthful with medium intensity,  and notes of green apple, mineral, and grapefruit.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium plus intensity, medium alcohol, and medium plus length. It’s heavily citric with notes of grapefruit and a little lime, but there are also some green onion and herby characters.  It has an orange blossom finish.

I’ll rate this wine as a solid good.  It’s crisp, fresh, and offers slightly more than just citrus and acid.  It’s very quaffable, and just the thing as we head into the summer months down here.  I’m glad that Plaimont has continued to cultivate Arrufiac in Saint Mont, though of course I am hoping at some point to be able to try it as a varietal instead of just as part of a blend.  Perhaps there’s some already growing in Australia that I just haven’t found yet.

AP Birks Wendouree Cellars Shiraz Malbec 2006

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AP Birks Wendouree Cellars Shiraz Malbec 2006

AP Birks Wendouree Cellars Shiraz Malbec 2006

As I’ve returned to Australia, I really need to get back in the swing of things, and today that means a local hero.  This wine is more than a little bit special, and not just because it’s an interesting blend.  If you don’t live in Australia, it could be one of the best producers you’ve never heard of.  I give you the AP Birks Wendouree Cellars Shiraz Malbec 2006.

When I arrived in Australia I quickly became acquainted with the names and labels of the top producers, and managed to visit the cellar doors of some of them, particularly in South Australia.  I came across Wendouree as a name well represented on the Langton’s Classification and on auction sites, but as they have no website or cellar door I couldn’t find out a great deal.

As it turns out, they were to be my first encounter with a mailing list winery, which is just what you would think – a producer who sells wine (almost?) exclusively to a set list of customers through the post.  It’s quite an enviable situation, where customers are essentially beating a path to your door, and you might think that would make the wines impossible to source.

For better or worse, that’s not so much the case.  While some customers on the list buy their allotted bottles and cellar them away, the fact that demand outstrips supply tempts others to sell theirs, often through auction sites.  One way or another they turn up in some of the nicer bottle shops and every now and again on a wine list.  The “better” part of that is that people who aren’t on the list are able to enjoy the wines, but “worse” is that the prices the wines can command on the secondary market can be multiples of the prices charged by Wendouree.  So almost any time such a bottle finds its way into the hands of someone not on the mailing list, there’s someone other than the producer pocketing a hefty markup.  While I’ve been fortunate enough to buy some wines direct, I’ve also purchased some second hand.  The money I paid was not unreasonable for the wine in question, but it was disappointing knowing so little of it went to the producer.

The term “cult” is often associated with fans of Wendouree, by the likes of Oz Clark, Jamie Goode, and even Langton’s.  Being a fan, I have an obvious bias, but I don’t think it’s apt for two reasons.  First, I associate cults with a disconnection from logic, where people who are part of them believe themselves to have some insight that those outside do not.  While not everyone is a fan of Wendouree for whatever reason, I know of few detractors when it comes to the wines themselves.  Second, people who join cults typically have to give up all their money, but the wines of Wendouree are not overly expensive for their quality, particularly if you are on the mailing list.

If you want the classic cult wine, you need look no further than the archetype, Screaming Eagle, which has no end of detractors (based on the hype, obviously not on the wine as so few have ever tried it) and is completely unaffordable on top of being largely unavailable.  The disconnect from reality is evident in that they think of themselves as “a grand cru – a Napa first growth.”  A tragic case drinking too much of their own Kool-Aid.  Jancis Robinson recently tweeted, “Must say I find French wine names outside France really silly.”  I think that goes double for French wine classifications.

So what makes Wendouree so special?  The winery is a hundred years old, and some of the grapes are off vines planted as far back as 1892.  Even with their younger vines, yields are kept very low, and the winery produces only about 1800 cases per year.  Everything is harvested by hand, often across multiple passes.  The winery itself makes use of open top fermenters, carefully controlled malolactic fermentation in tank, and a mix of new and used French oak.  Wines are made for ageing – a few years back they released a 1991 varietal Malbec in magnums some 18 years after vintage (and yes, I managed to bag one).  As I write this, there is a 1975 Wendouree Cabernet Malbec Shiraz up for auction with Langtons which I would love to try.

If there’s one aspect, beyond the mailing list, that might make people want to put Wendouree in the category of a cult wine, it’s the somewhat shy nature of the people behind it.  Tony and Lita Brady have owned the property since 1974, but their focus has been on the vines and wines.  As far as I can tell, they do no promotion, they enter their wines in no shows, and they do not comment publicly about their wines.  Only rarely do wine writers grace their office, and then the focus seems as much on technique for producing the best cup of coffee as bottle of wine.  There are no tasting notes, and in the case of this bottle, no back label.  (In fact this bottle doesn’t even have an ABV printed – is that legal?  I wasn’t looking closely enough – the ABV is there in very, very fine print.)  Their wines speak for themselves, and in a world that knows no end of self-promotion, I find that refreshing.  More a cloister than a cult.

I hope I can be forgiven for not having much more to say about the Clare Valley, having been there as recently as July with the ArtWine Graciano.  As to these grapes, they are well known to this blog both as varietals and as components in blends, but this is the first time we’ve seen them together.  In France, no region springs to mind as being known for growing both, though as some Syrah used to make its way into Bordeaux blends from time to time (pre-AC regulations), they’ve certainly been found in the same bottle before.  I’m somewhat surprised I haven’t yet come across Syrah Malbec blends in South America because there are a few producers blending them there as well.

As to this wine, in the glass it is clear and bright, dark ruby colour, just starting to edge toward brick red, with quick coloured legs.  On the nose I get sweet spice, roses, perfume, blackberries, and caramelized meat that’s just about to be charred.  It’s developing and intense.  On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium plus alcohol, medium plus intensity, medium plus fine tannins, and a long finish.  There are notes of red meat on the palate, black pepper, liquorice, blackberries, and a little charcoal.

This wine is exceptional.  It’s rich, intense, and complex.  I’m almost certainly enjoying it too young, and at the expense of further development over the next few years.

As I mentioned, there’s no link to the producer’s website because there isn’t one, and there is no cellar door so don’t go knocking on doors near the pin in the map on Wendouree Road without an invitation.

Road 13 Jackpot Viognier Roussanne Marsanne 2011

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Road 13 Jackpot Viognier Roussanne Marsanne 2011

Road 13 Jackpot Viognier Roussanne Marsanne 2011

I’m just back from two fantastic weeks in Vancouver and I’m pleased to report that in addition to having had a great holiday with the family, I managed to complete all three of the modest items on my Canadian Wine To Do list.  While I only wrote up a couple of wines of British Columbia while I was there, I have notes and photos of several more that will be turned into posts over the next few weeks.  While the two wines I’ve already written up didn’t hugely impress me, I’m pleased to now be writing about a wine I enjoyed a great deal, the Road 13 Jackpot Viognier Roussanne Marsanne 2011.

I’ve managed to bring back ten bottles of wine with me from this trip, which I suspect puts me at the top of the league table of Australia for the largest collection of Canadian wine.  While I did pick up a red Bordeaux style blend and a couple of wines made from more familiar grapes, I have seven new (to me) varietal wines to work my way through.  Some of the new grapes I only know from theory exams while others are completely unknown.  However, rather than having a couple of weeks of nothing but wines from unusual grapes which are largely impossible for non-Canadians to source, I’ll be spreading them out over the next few months.

However, today it’s a wine I actually drank with friends in Canada.  This is not the first time we’ve seen these three grapes – I’ve had each on their own as varietals and together in the form of John Duval’s Plexus.  Viognier, Roussane and Marsanne are natives to the Rhône Valley in France.  In the Northern Rhône, Roussanne and Marsanne are blending partners, while Viognier is typically found as a varietal white or as a fractional blending partner with Syrah in red wine.  Only in Southern Rhône appellations can the three be found together in the same wine.

This wine is labelled British Columbia VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) which is similar to the appellation system found in many other countries, though more concerned with the origin of the grapes than with regulating which varieties are grown and what winemaking techniques are employed.  British Columbia is a political rather than a geographically defined appellation, and so the use of it on the label indicates that the grapes are from more than one regional appellation, in this case Similkameen Valley and the Okanagan Valley.

Since this is the third wine in a row made with grapes from the Okanagan Valley, it’s worth digging deeper into the sub-appellation (as yet unofficial) in which this producer is based, Golden Mile.  Note however that most of the grapes in this wine in particular are actually from the Similkameen Valley, and the Okanagan grapes actually came from the opposite side of the valley in the Black Sage Bench.

Golden Mile is an area to the southwest of Oliver, on the western benches between the mountains and the valley floor.  The soil is made up of several distinct types of loamy sand and gravel with good drainage, though it was the construction of a canal running north to south that made the area as a whole useful for agriculture.  In particular a large pipeline constructed of wood allowed water from the canal to be pumped uphill to the west to irrigate the Golden Mile subregion itself.  Normally altitude means cooler temperatures, so somewhat counterintuitively the region can be several degrees warmer in the western benches than on the valley floor, providing protection against frost.  This is largely due to the favourable aspect which catches more sunlight, particularly in the morning.  While the area is larger than its name suggests (roughly 13 miles top to bottom) it contains less than ten percent of the vineyard area of Okanagan and Similkameen.

Another reason Golden Mile is worth mentioning in the context of this producer is that Road 13 was formerly named Golden Mile Cellars when it was purchased from the Serwo family in 2003.  The current owners, Pam and Mick Luckhurst, decided that it would be better to change the name and to free up “Golden Mile” for use by all the neighbouring producers which seems like a fairly generous move.

Road 13 produces three ranges of wines – entry level blends in red and white called Honest John, Road 13 branded blends and varietal wines incorporating largely grapes of the Rhône, as well as some Alsatian white grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Malbec, and a Jackpot premium range.  They also produce both sparkling and late harvest wines of Chenin Blanc.

Another interesting note about Road 13 is that their winemaker is Jean Martin Bouchard.  The name immediately conjures up images of the famous Burgundian négociant, and then for me at least a favourite producer of Pinot Noir in South Africa, Bouchard-Finlayson.  However, this Bouchard is a Quebec native who started in the wine trade in Australia through a friend he made while working in a youth hostel.  His work in Australia started with Moorooduc Estate in Victoria, but he’s also worked with local favourites Wirra Wirra, Torbreck and as an assistant winemaker at Penfolds, in addition to work in Germany and Alsace.  Prior to Road 13 he was the winemaker at Hidden Bench Winery in Ontario, and joined Road 13 in 2010.

The grapes for this wine were hand picked as whole bunches and pressed without destemming.  The juice was fermented in old barrels, underwent weekly lees stirring for three months, and then had a further four months in neutral oak before bottling.

In the glass it’s clear and bright with a pale lemon green colour and visible legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean with medium plus intensity, developing, with notes of white peach, citrus, and white pepper.  On the palate it’s dry with medium acidity, medium plus body, medium plus intensity, medium alcohol and medium plus length.  In addition to delivering on the palate what the nose promised, there are notes of pear and minerality.

This is a very good wine, and the best I’ve reviewed so far from Canada.  It has a fair amount of complexity, with the pepper and minerality balancing out the fruit flavours.  It could use a bit more acidity, but Viognier dominated wines (92% in this case) often struggle with that, even when grown in cooler regions.  The intensity was good on both the nose and palate, and the flavour profile was very agreeable, particularly with food.

Splurge

I just walked out of a bottle shop here in Vancouver with a half-dozen bottles of new (to me) varietal wines, all from British Columbia. My excitement is tempered by the arithmetic of so many bottles versus the number of days of holiday remaining here in Canada. That, and the expression of disapproval which is likely to grace the face of my most patient wife when I arrive back at our suite with them. But still, dear readers, every drink I drink, I drink for you, even if it means putting some Bacchus in my checked luggage and hoping for the best.

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery Auxerrois Classic 2011

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Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery Auxerrois Classic 2011

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery Auxerrois Classic 2011

While I’m officially on vacation, it wouldn’t be much of a holiday without wine, and having wine without writing it up feels a bit like cheating.  Since I hate cheating, here is some more light writing in the form of the Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery Auxerrois Classic 2011.

This was actually the first Canadian wine of this trip, but since it was both a new variety and a new region, I’m writing about this second, because with the JoieFarm Chardonnay I was able to focus a little more on the region as Chardonnay is a familiar (and beloved) grape.  The corollary is that I have more time here to talk about this grape than I would otherwise.

And what a grape it is.  Auxerrois means different things to different people, literally.  In Cahors it refers to their main red grape, which is better known in the rest of the world as Malbec.  In the French Moeslle it is the name for Chardonnay.  Less commonly there are also Auxerrois Gris (Pinot Gris) and Gros Auxerrois (Valdiguié).  In Alsace, and most of the rest of the world, including Canada is seems, Auxerrois (blanc) refers to a grape that is descended from Pinot and Gouais Blanc (much like Aligoté, Chardonnay and a dozen other grapes).

A white grape, there are plantings of Auxerrois in French Moselle (where it is known as Auxerrois Blanc de Laquenexy to differentiate it from Chardonnay), Luxembourg, and Germany, though it is best known as an important grape of Alsace.  When I say “best known” it must be taken with a grain of salt, for although it is widely planted in Alsace and often found in bottles labelled Pinot Blanc, its name is rarely found on labels.  In fact, it is possible to bottle a 100% Auxerrois and label it as Pinot Blanc, so it’s no wonder the grape remains unfamiliar to even fans of Alsace.  Adding to the identity crisis, some of the earliest plantings of what were thought to be Chardonnay in South Africa turned out to be Auxerrois.  In the rest of the New World, there are obviously plantings in Canada, and a few in the USA though none that I could find in Australia.

The grape itself is prized in cool to cold climates for its ability to maintain low levels of acidity.  (I did have something of a laugh when I first read that, coming at things from an Australian perspective where low acidity is more often a problem than a feature.)  As such, it is used to add texture and body to Alsatian blends, and when yields are kept under control can produce wines that can age gracefully.

Gehringer Brothers dates back to the 1980s (which is not so long after modern viticulture started in the Okanagan Valley) though the story begins roughly a decade before that with the two brothers in question both spending time in (West) Germany studying winemaking, while their father and his brother conducted an extensive microterroir survey of the valley.  A site was purchased in 1981 and the first vintage was produced in 1985.   The business has grown over the subsequent decades and 22 wines are produced across seven different ranges, which include entry level varietals and blends, wines of a desert terroir, reserves, late harvest and ice wines.  In addition to Alsatian varieties, the company produces wines of Bordeaux reds, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and an Ehrenfelser – a white German grape which is completely new to me.

Another quick note on the Okanagan Valley, because even though I’m not going to be able to visit it, I’m learning a bit more about it each day.  As I mentioned previously, it’s a young region, and it’s interesting to see how it’s being approached in terms of varieties planted.  While I won’t get to try them all, I’ve seen examples of cold climate grapes that I’ve only previously encountered in theory – Baco Noir, Vidal, and Maréchal Foch.  Then there have been the Alsatian and German grapes mentioned, as well as Burgundians.  Beyond that though, there are people working with Bordeaux varieties, and even Rhône grapes such as Syrah, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne.  (I should be able to write up an example of a Syrah and a V/R/M blend if my notes can be deciphered).  In total there are at least 75 different varieties being cultivated, split roughly between red and white.

If I compare that to New World regions closer to home, that’s not so strange.  I expect I could find that many in the Barossa Valley or in McLaren Vale.  I think what I find most interesting though is the range of grapes in terms of their ideal climates.  Vidal, often associated with Canadian ice wine, being grown in the same region as Syrah, which I associate with the warmth of the Rhône or Barossa, is very exciting (at least to me).  I put it down to three main factors.  First, it’s Canada and varieties that thrive in the cold were an obvious first choice (and probably the most readily available).  Second, the region is young, so there’s a great deal of experimentation as people figure out what works and what doesn’t.  And finally, it’s a large region with a fair amount of geographic and climactic variation, so it’s to be expected that different subregions would works better with some varieties than others.

As to this particular wine, in the glass it is clear and bright with a pale, lemon green colour and slow, thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and youthful, with medium intensity and notes of apple – both green and red – a little grapefruit, and some minerality.  On the palate it’s off-dry, with medium plus acidity, medium plus body, medium alcohol, medium flavour intensity, and medium plus length.  The palate matches the nose with apples and grapefruit, but doesn’t bring much else to the experience other than a somewhat sour grapefruit finish.

This is a good wine – it has a certain heft, in that it could stand up to significantly spicy or weighty foods.  It has a somewhat rare combination in a white of medium plus acidity and medium plus body, and given that the residual sugar wasn’t obvious, is generally well balanced.  What it lacks though is complexity – it has fruit but not much more and it’s young enough that there aren’t any developed characters.  So as an introduction to a new grape, it ticks a box, but I look forward to trying another for more perspective.

Pin in the map is approximate as I’m getting similar to identical addresses for Gehringer Brothers Winery and what I’m assuming is the neighbouring or co-located Hester Creek Estate Winery.

JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay 2009

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JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay 2009

JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay 2009

Apologies for the long delay in posting since I arrived in Canada. I have such a wealth of topics before me that I hardly know where to begin. That’s actually been a bit of a problem, in that the first few wines I tried here would have required discussion of not just new regions, but also new grapes and possibly even winemaking styles. So while I’ll certainly get to those wines, I’m making things a bit easier on myself and sticking with an old favourite as far as grapes go with this JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay 2009.

Having spent so much of my time learning about wines in Australia, it’s liberating to walk into a Canadian wine shop. There’s certainly no shortage of Australian wine on the shelves here, but they’re joined by a huge collection of wines from both the Old World and the New, and in particular many wines from Canada and California. And while I look forward to writing about some interesting wines that are not so widely available in Australia, it would be poor manners to begin with anything other than a Canadian wine.

Yes, wine is produced within Canada. The most famous is certainly Inniskillin Ice Wine from Niagra-on-the-Lake in Ontario, but wine is made across Canada including several parts of British Columbia. The most prominent wine region in the vicinity of Vancouver is the Okanagan Valley, accounting for 90% of BC production, and which is sometimes known as just the Okanagan outside the context of wine.

Roughly 400km to the east of Vancouver as the crow flies, the Okanagan Valley is the area surrounding the lake and river of the same name. While the first vines were planted by missionaries in the 19th century, it’s best described as an up and coming wine region, with commercial plantings of Vitis vinifera having been established only as recently as 1975. As with many cool to cold areas outside of mainland Europe, early efforts at viticulture started with hybrids of European and North American grapes, such as Vidal Blanc, but through the 1980s the focus shifted to Alsatian and German varieties such as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewürtztraiminer that were then bred specifically to cope with the cold conditions. Since then, as specific terroirs have become better understood, a much wider range of varieties have been planted, and the area is also now known for Bordeaux blends and Syrah.  Merlot is the most widely planted variety, followed by Chardonnay, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinots Gris, Blanc and Noir rounding out the top six.

The climate is continental, though mitigated by the lake and river. It is also in the rain shadow of the Cascade and Coast Mountains, making much of the area, particularly in the south, inhospitable to vines without irrigation. Parts of the region are frequently described as a desert.  While cold winters make frost a danger, the distance from the Equator means summer days of the ripening season are particularly long.  The soils are varied, with gravel, sand and silt making up much of the topsoil over different types of bedrock.

I don’t have anything to say about Chardonnay that I haven’t already said, so let’s look at JoieFarm.  It’s a small producer founded by two sommeliers who got married and ran off to make wine.  While I love sommeliers, and they have a great story, I’m glad they made a wise call and hired in an actual winemaker to round out the team.  It looks as though 2009 was in fact their first vintage and they are dedicated to white and rosé wines of Burgundian and Alsatian varieties (though they produce some red as well).  They grow a small amount of Gewürtztraiminer and Muscat and buy in grapes from a dozen producers.  In addition to this wine and an un-oaked Chardonnay, they produce varietal Riesling and Pinot Blanc, an Alsatian inspired white blend, a blend of two types of Muscat, a rosé of Gamay and Pinots Gris, Noir and Meunier, and a Pinot Noir / Gamay Passetoutgrain blend.

As to this wine in the glass, it’s clear and bright with a pale lemon colour and thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with notes of green apple, oak, smoke and some nuttiness.  On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium plus body, medium plus intensity, and a medium plus finish.  There are notes of smoke, sawdust, tart green apple but also some sweet apple skin, and some minerality.

This is a good wine.  I want to like it more than my notes will allow in that it’s from an area that’s new to me, it has a fun story behind it, and I can’t help but like anyone who makes a Passetoutgrain outside of Burgundy.  The wine itself has good concentration and length, but I can’t go any higher than good because it lacks complexity.  It tastes as though the vast majority of the wine was made from apples and oak, and as someone who enjoys cider I don’t mean that in a bad way.  If it were from Chablis I would want more steel, from Macon I would want more richness, and if it were from the Adelaide Hills I would want a range of citrus.  That said, good is certainly a step up from acceptable and a worthy score for what I think is a fine first effort.

O Canada

World Atlas of Wine, Johnson and Robinson, Canada entry, and North American plug for laptop

World Atlas of Wine, Johnson and Robinson, Canada entry, and North American plug for laptop

This has been a bit of a quiet week, and while I have been working on a couple of posts that I hope to finish next week, my thoughts have been elsewhere.  Instead of writing about wine, I’ve been sorting out travel plans and by this time tomorrow I will be approaching Vancouver.  Strictly speaking, this is a family trip and not my preferred wine tourism, but I’m fairly certain that I’ll be able to sneak in some vinous fun.

There are three things on my wine To Do list at the moment.  First, I need to procure and write up some Inniskillin icewine.  Yes, it’s a classic to the point of nearly being a cliché, but still.  Second, I look forward to trying some wine made in British Columbia, ideally while visiting a wine region near Vancouver.  Third, I hope to enjoy more generally wines of North America, as they’re so thin on the ground in Australia, whereas I believe Canada imports wine from all over.

So while I’ll be away from my normal environment and ostensibly enjoying a holiday, I intend to continue to post from Vancouver, though in a leisurely fashion.  And if anyone has any suggestions for wine activities there over the next two weeks, please let me know.

Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux Brut 2010

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Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux Brut 2010

Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux Brut 2010

Depending on where you live, some of the WSET Diploma can feel theoretical only.  When I studied for the sparkling wine section, much of the focus was on Champagne, Cava, Crémant, Sekt, Italian styles and New World sparklers, all of which we were able to taste as part of our class, and which were also readily available for further study.  However, we were also expected to cover some lesser known wines, and today I have an example of one which I’m tasting for the first time, the Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux Brut 2005.

The sparkling wine exam was actually one of the easiest, in that the amount of material covered was fairly small.  You could almost be guaranteed that there would be  Champagne related question, and then it could be anything for the other two questions, but there were only so many topics.  My exam consisted of the fairly straightforward topics Négociant-manipulant, Cava DO, and Crémant.  The result was correspondingly high pass rate of 77%.  Had the Crémant question been swapped with a question on the sparkling wines of Limoux, I think the result might have been a bit different, because while I could have covered the basics, I had pages of detail on Crémant through not just France but Luxembourg as well.

Limoux is an appellation in the south of France in the hills leading up to the Spanish border.  It is among the coolest regions within Languedoc, with both altitude and distance from the sea setting it apart.  The climate is Mediterranean, though the influence of the Atlantic is felt more, further distinguishing it as cooler and wetter than its neighbouring regions.  The soils are rocky, with clay, sandstone and limestone making up distinct subzones.

While there is some production of still, red wine, the area is best known for sparkling, white wine.  It is claimed by locals to be the birthplace of sparkling wine, with records dating back to 1531, well before bubbles were mastered in Champagne.  The technique originally used is now known as Méthode Ancestrale, which involves bottling wine which has not finished fermenting.  The fermentation continues in bottle, resulting in a somewhat sweet, often cloudy wine with a relatively low level of alcohol and carbonation.  Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale is a wine of the region made in that manner, exclusively from the Mauzac grape.  Blanquette in Occitan means white, though it often is used to refer to Mauzac in this context.

In addition, sparkling wine is made in the traditional method, with a second fermentation being instigated in bottle followed by disgorgement as opposed to the initial fermentation continuing and no disgorgement.  This takes the form of sparkling wine made under the labels Blanquette de Limoux (Méthode Traditionnelle) and Crémant de Limoux.  While both are produced in the same manner as Champagne, the difference between the two is that Blanquette de Limoux must be made up of at least 90% Mauzac, with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc completing the blend, while Crémant de Limoux must be a majority of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, a minority of Mauzac, with a small portion of Pinot Noir permitted but not required.

Mauzac (Blanc), or sometimes Blanquette, is a white skinned grape largely found in the vicinity of Limoux or Gaillac 100km to the north.  While there are Mauzac Rosé and Mauzac Noir varieties as well, they are particularly rare and Mauzac without a colour almost always refers to the Blanc variety.  The grape buds and ripens late, which seems an odd choice for Limoux given its relatively cool and wet climate.  It has highly variable yields, which in part explains its decreasing popularity with growers.   It it typically picked early to retain acidity needed in sparkling wine, but often at the cost of the characteristic apple peel flavour that comes with further ripening.  In addition to Limoux and Gaillac, it’s apparently one of the permitted (but almost never used) white grapes of Bordeaux.  Wikipedia references a Decanter article that claims there are seven permitted white grapes, but other sources list eight, but all include Mauzac – news to me.

[A tweet from the good people at Rives Blanques after this was initially published informed me that Mauzac is also used in still white wine in AOC Limoux, where is it picked by hand, fermented and aged in bottle – something I overlooked in researching this post.  They of course would know, as they produce wines across AOC Limoux, AOC Blanquette de Limoux, and AOC Crémant de Limoux, as well as a few others.]

Like the Lambrusco of last week, information on this producer is somewhat thin on the ground, but I did manage to find a few titbits.  The name on the label, Saint-Hilaire, is the monastery where monks are said to have invented Vin Blanquette and Méthode Rurale in 1531.  The wine itself was produced at/by La Cave des Vignerons du Sieur d’Arques, a winemaking cooperative and the largest winery in Limoux.  This wine is not listed on their direct order website, and given that the front and back labels are in English (and that there’s a back label at all), I’m guessing this is produced exclusively for export.  At some point, after more research, it would be worth writing a post exclusively about cooperatives because they can be a huge part of trade depending on the area, but it’s rare that I (knowingly) encounter cooperative wines.

As to this wine in the glass, it is clear and bright with pale lemon green colour, multiple steady streams of bubbles, and a ring of bubbles where the glass meets the top of the pour.   On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium minus intensity.  I get the classic baking powder note of carbon dioxide which often makes it difficult for me to smell anything else, but also some green apple and pear, and a hint of biscuit/dough.  On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium minus alcohol, medium minus intensity, and a medium minus length.  It has notes of sour apple, herbs, and some hay or grass – not freshly cut New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but more dried and almost bitter.

I’ll give this a good, because there are no faults, even if it is lacking in a few key areas.  Since it’s my first Blanquette de Limoux I don’t have a reference point, but what I’ve read about Mauzac is spot on in terms of tasting so it gets full marks for typicity.  As with all first tries, it does make me wish I had another or a few so as to get a better sense of the style and quality, but most of all it makes me wish I had access to a varietal Mauzac to get me another step closer to a century of varietal wines.

Rockford Rod & Spur Barossa Valley Cabernet Shiraz 2006

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Rockford Rod & Spur Barossa Valley Cabernet Shiraz 2006

Rockford Rod & Spur Barossa Valley Cabernet Shiraz 2006

When I arrived in Australia over five years ago, I knew little about wine.  South Australia in particular is a good place to learn, though there are some pitfalls to avoid when it comes to studying wine in an area in which it’s made.  For instance, local knowledge of wines of the area can be both broad and deep, but insufficient if you want to explore wines of other areas.  So as I mentioned last week, many Australians claim sparkling red wine as a homegrown innovation, overlooking Lambrusco.  Some have made similar assertions which are worth exploring as to the blend of grapes in today’s wine, the Rockford Rod & Spur Barossa Valley Cabernet Shiraz 2006.

Blending different grape varieties is practised throughout most places in which wine is made.  The best known area for blending could be said to be Bordeaux, where their red, white and sweet wines are typically blends of at least two grapes each.  Blending is likewise common in much (but not all) of the Rhône Valley, with Châteauneuf-du-Pape being a stand out with over a dozen permitted grapes.  Even in Burgundy, best known for varietal wines, there are less common blends such as the Passe-Tout-Grains.

There are a number of reasons winemakers might choose to make a blend, but the single biggest is to balance out the different characteristics of individual varieties, and commercial concerns can come into play as well.  Traditionally though, blending options were limited to grapes that were grown in reasonably close proximity, for reasons of climate or culture.  I believe that is why I have yet to see an Old World blend of Riesling and Palomino.  In many places, these traditional grapes and blends have become enshrined in regulations, such that if you were to put together such a blend, it would be outside of all but the lowest official designation of wine quality.

However, if you move to the New World, it’s an entirely different story.  While there are some grapes that have a resonance with certain areas, there are few if any restrictions as to what people can plant and blend.  This allows perhaps a greater degree of experimentation and innovation, but it also means that if a customer sees a bottle of red wine on a shelf that says Barossa on the label, they cannot make any assumptions as to the grapes that went into it.

So what does any of that have to do with this wine?  Cabernet Sauvignon of Bordeaux and Syrah (or Shiraz) of the Rhône are not historically grown near each other and as such are not found together in traditional blends.  Some would say that in France since the grapes take on the same role of providing tannins, structure and the ability to mature over decades, to combine them would be redundant.  Australia, however, embraced both varieties, often planting them in neighbouring areas and vineyards, and so was born what is claimed to be an innovative blend.  It’s even found its way back to France, where some vin de pays is made in the south in that style, notably by Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) with their Val De L’Ours Vin de Pays d’Oc.

However, is it really an original Australian blend?  Nearly, but not quite.  In the days before strict appellation regulations, winemakers in France had a bit more flexibility as to how they handled vintage variation.  Within Bordeaux, when the Cabernet components of their blends were not quite filling their role, it was not uncommon for Syrah wines to be imported and added to the cuvée.  This was apparently not unusual up through roughly a hundred years ago, though it has now been largely forgotten.  Largely, but not entirely, as evidenced by an experimental Château Palmer blend in 2004 that utilized Syrah from the Rhône blended with fruit from their Margaux estate, as well as by the continuing efforts of Alexandre Sirech who has replaced Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah in a Merlot blend.

All that said, I think it actually is fair to describe Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Shiraz as Australian for three main reasons.  The grapes are grown in the same region, they’re blended together because when grown in Australia they have characteristics that can be complimentary and not redundant, and the blend consists of just those two varieties as opposed to potentially including the other Bordeaux reds.  Australia must also be given credit for promoting the two grapes together as a blend, as opposed relying on it as a contingency.

Having spent so many words talking about this blend, it’s a good thing that Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and the Barossa Valley are already well known to this blog and we can move on to Rockford, which certainly deserves some attention.

I think Rockford is best described as an institution in South Australia.  In 1971 Robert O’Callaghan purchased a set of old stone buildings dating back to the 1850s which would become the heart of Rockford.  A winery was built on the location in much the same style, with a rustic feel to the entire property.  His family background was in grape growing, and he trained as a winemaker with Seppelt in Rutherglen before setting out on his own.  While many Barossa producers have a great deal of history and tradition in the region, Rockford is somewhat unique in that also espouses traditional tools of the trade, including the basket press which gives its name to their flagship Shiraz which is among the most sought-after in Australia according to Langton’s Classification.  It’s almost The Woodwright’s Shop approach to winemaking.

While certainly best known for their Basket Press, the wine of theirs that I most commonly encounter is the Alicante Bouchet, a rosé that’s found on a vast number of wine lists in South Australia, despite being made from a grape that is not highly regarded anywhere else in the world.  That may be a reflection of the nature of the company in general, in that it is so greatly appreciated within Australia, South Australia especially, that its limited production is not widely exported and unlike many of the names at the top of the Langton’s Classification, it is not so well known abroad.

Rockford also produces varietal wines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Semillon, and Frontignac, as well as a Grenache / Mataro  / Shiraz blend and a fortified wine.  This wine, a 63% Cabernet Sauvignon and 37% Shiraz blend is somewhere in the middle of the Rockford range, and is named for the pruning method used by their growers.

In the glass, it is clear and bright, with a dark, brick red colour (I know, garnet is the preferred term), and slow thick legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium plus intensity and notes of sweet spice, dried red fruit (currants, raspberries, cherries), black pepper, and a little liquorice.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium acidity, medium fine tannins, medium plus intensity, medium plus alcohol, and medium body.  It has notes of liquorice, green peppercorn, red currant, raspberries, and some pencil lead.  It has a medium length with a sour, black cherry finish.

I’ll give this a good rating.  There is a fruit sweetness I associate with Shiraz and Grenache, but there’s also the astringency that I often get from Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc.  There’s not a huge amount of development for a seven year old wine, and still a generous amount of fruit, so this wine will almost certainly improve with additional time in the cellar.