Larch Hill Winery Mad Angie Madeline Angevine 2009

Larch Hill Winery Mad Angie Madeline Angevine 2009

Larch Hill Winery Mad Angie Madeline Angevine 2009

There are some topics that I find interesting which are made more so because I know there will be people who want to read about them.  Posts about Wine & Spirits Education Trust exams are popular because there’s a small group of people who care a great deal, and even if I’m not a huge authority on the subject, they’re often happy for whatever information or analysis I can provide.  Today’s topic, on the other hand, will be of interest to very few, if any, other people in the world.  Nevertheless, if obscure grapes are your thing, I hope you enjoy this post concerning the Larch Hill Winery Mad Angie Madeline Angevine 2009.

When I was studying with the WSET, I often found it unusual that they devoted any time at all to wine production in the UK.  While there are some interesting wines being produced there, particularly sparkling wine from the south of England, the quantities and their impact on the global wine trade are so insignificant that it hardly seems worthwhile devoting pages to them in the syllabus.

That said, were it not for having to study wine production in England and Wales, I never would have heard of Madeleine Angevine.  Course materials from 2000 in the Advanced class describe it as “A variety that supports the British climate and gives a good yield.  It is perhaps best used for blending as it is low in acidity.”  At the Diploma level in a more recent study guide, the variety is relegated to the “Less Important” topic list.

The grape variety is of relatively modern origin, having first been cultivated in 1857 and released in 1863.  It ripens early, often ready for harvest by Sainte-Madeleine’s Day (22 July) from which it takes part of its name, while the city of Angers in the Loire Valley contributes the rest.  It is the offspring of two grapes not currently used in commercial wine production, Circé and Madeleine Royal, and has been used as a parent for other varieties, notably Siegerrebe and Madeleine X Angevine 7672.  It only has female flowers, which means it cannot self-pollinate, requiring other vines to be planted nearby.  It does well in cool climates, and while it has all but vanished in the Loire, it seems to be embarking on something of a second life in the Pacific Northwest, particularly Washington, USA and British Columbia, Canada.  It is also used as a table grape within Krygyzstan.

You may have noticed that I didn’t list the UK among places it is planted, and there is a good reason for that.  Despite what I quoted from the out of date course materials, Madeleine Angevine as described above is not what was planted in the UK.  In fact, their vines are the Madeleine X Angevine 7672, cultivated originally in Germany as a self-pollinating offspring of Madeleine Angevine and an unknown father.  There are other plantings of one or the other (possibly both) in Sweden and Denmark, but I can’t determine which.

Unfortunately for me, I was unaware of the grape until I moved to Australia, some thousands of kilometres from the nearest planting, cursed to forever remember its name but with little prospect of ever tasting it.  That is, until a trip to Vancouver allowed me to stock up on obscure varieties bred for cold climates.

This one is from Larch Hill Winery, in the now familiar Okanagan Valley of British Columbia – read my post on the JoieFarm Chardonnay for more information if the Okanagan Valley is unfamiliar.  Owned and run by Jack and Hazel Manser, the vineyard and winery were conceived in 1987 and planted commercially after five years of experimental plantings.  The list of their vines reads like a Who’s Who list of cold climate crosses – Ortega, Madeleine Sylvaner, Siegerrebe, and Agria, as well as this Madeleine Angevine.  In addition to their own plantings, they source Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Maréchal Foch and Merlot from neighbouring growers, and their site also lists Semillon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Reisling, and Lemberger (Blaufränkisch).  Their wines are largely varietal bottlings of the above, with a few blends, and a trio of dessert wines.

A quick note on the spelling of the grape variety in this wine – the bottle says “Madeline” but their website has the extra “e” in “Madeleine” that is the more typical spelling.  I don’t understand why they’re using two spellings.  As with most things, I consider Wine Grapes to be the final word.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a pale lemon green colour and a few quick legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium minus intensity and notes of pear, custard, lychee, and red apple.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium minus alcohol, medium plus intensity, and medium plus length.  The palate matches the nose in terms of pear, red apple, and lychee, but also brings with it rosewater and a honeyed character.  It makes the wine taste slightly sweet, but not in a residual sugar sort of way.

This is a very good wine.  It has a rich flavour, with balanced intensity and length.  While it is fruit dominated, it’s a fairly complex collection of fruit, and the rosewater almost gives it an aromatic quality.  While I get very excited at the prospect of trying new varieties, I set my expectations low in terms of how they will taste when it comes to obscure crosses.  Generally speaking, if they produced exceptional wines, they would be more widely planted, right?  While that sounds pessimistic, it means the surprise is all the more pleasant when I come across something I thoroughly enjoy, like this wine or the Niche Wine Company Foch from back in December.

Honeytree Estate Hunter Valley Clairette 2012

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Honeytree Estate Hunter Valley Clairette 2012

Honeytree Estate Hunter Valley Clairette 2012

It used to be that I would keep my eyes open for interesting varieties, and be pleased when I happened to come across them.  Recently though, I’ve moved to the next level and I’m actively seeking them out.  Here is one I put on my list of wines I’d like for my birthday, the Honeytree Estate Hunter Valley Clairette 2012.

So Clairette.  The name, which can mean pale, clear or bright, is thought to originate with the light hairs found on the shoots and the undersides of mature leaves, rather than with the pale colour of the grapes.  It is vigorous, even in poor soil, and grows unusually straight and strong vines, which do not require stakes even in areas of strong winds.  It ripens late and can produce high levels of alcohol, though sometimes at the expense of acidity.

It is at home in southern France, and gives its name to three appellations there:  Clairette de Bellegarde, Clairette du Languedoc, and Clairette de Die.  The first two are still, varietal wines while Clairette de Die is sparkling and typically a blend dominated by Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains.  The same region produces Cremant de Die which is 100% Clairette.  It’s also commonly found in regional Vin de Pays of southern France, and can be a component of a number of Southern Rhone wines, including  Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  As evidenced by this wine of Australia, it’s planted outside of France, with notable concentrations also found in Italy, Russia, South Africa and even Lebanon.

Even though this is the first pin in the region on the map, this is not the first wine we’ve encountered from the Hunter Valley.  Unfortunately for cartographic accuracy, the Will Taylor Hunter Valley Semillon from last year ended up pinned in Adelaide where their offices are located, but the description of the region from that post is still viable.  As I mentioned in that post, while the region is identified with Semillon, there are a wide range of varieties planted, including Chambourcin which is on my list to try.

Honeytree Estate is a small producer in the Hunter Valley region.  It was planted in 1970 and now owned by Robyn and Henk Strengers.  Henk is originally from the Netherlands, and despite their boutique levels of production, some wine is exported there.  Their holdings consist of 23 acres of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Semillon as well as this Clairette.  Plantings of Traminer were grafted over to Clairette after the very successful 1998 vintage.  They’ve also produced something called Vindouce, and while the half bottle size, tasting note of luscious and low alcohol level suggest it is a dessert wine, I can’t find any firm details, though there is mention of ice wine on their Facebook page.

As to this wine, in the glass it is clear and bright, with a pale, pale lemon green colour.  I use “pale lemon green” quite a bit as these days it’s the industry standard white wine colour, but really, this wine is borderline water white.  It shows very small legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and youthful, with medium plus intensity and bright notes of tropical fruit – passion fruit and rock melon – as well as grapefruit, some lime, and a little vanilla.

On the palate it’s dry, though there’s enough fruit that I had to taste it a few times to decided if there was any residual sugar.  I don’t think there is.  It has medium plus acidity, medium minus body, medium plus flavour intensity, medium minus alcohol, and a medium length with a clean finish.  The palate matches the nose, with the grapefruit notes being somewhat more pronounced, but still with the tropical fruit – melon and passionfruit – as well as a hint of coconut.

This is a good wine – well made, youthful, and while it’s nearly all fruit, all the flavours are crisp and distinct.  While I hate myself for saying so because it’s such a cliché, it’s a perfect summer quaffer.  There is nothing present in the glass that doesn’t please.  If you’re looking for a serious wine with layers of complexity and great ageing potential, this is unlikely to satisfy, but if you want something to drink while the sun is shining, you can do much worse.

This is my first varietal Clairette, and my first Australian Clairette, so clearly I am not an expert on the topic, particularly when it comes to tasting.  However, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say for the record that my first thought when I tasted it was that it was uncannily similar to a South Australian Colombard that I’ve recently enjoyed.  So while Wine Grapes doesn’t list any connection between Colombard and Clairette, it does make me wonder if it’s possible that some Colombard vines in South Australia are actually Clairette, or if some Clairette vines in the Hunter Valley might actually be Colombard.

Bodega Ruca Malén Yauquén Chardonnay 2007

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Bodega Ruca Malén Yauquén Chardonnay 2007

Bodega Ruca Malén Yauquén Chardonnay 2007

My modest collection of wine includes a dozen or so bottles of what I hope will prove to be excellent wines of Mendoza, largely Malbec varietal wines or Malbec dominated blends.  I had a look through my cellar again this week but since my wife won’t be drinking for another month at least, those wines will have to wait.  Instead I pulled out a wine I somehow managed to overlook previously, this Bodega Ruca Malén Yauquén Chardonnay 2007.

I think it’s fair to say that when most people think of Mendoza, Malbec is the first grape that comes to mind.  While that’s certainly fair, given the iconic nature of the grape with respect to Argentina, the area is much more diversely planted that one might expect.  There are vast tracks of Criolla Grande and Cereza, but they are used largely for cheap, bulk wine and grape concentrate, and as varieties unlikely to be named on a label of wine for export.  In terms of grapes for quality wines, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot perform well, both as a varietals and in blends with Malbec, and as we saw with the Aglianico from Familia Zuccardi, there are many lesser known red grapes on the rise.  Given the excellent red wines of the region, it’s easy to forget that white grapes are grown in Mendoza, and not just the Argentine favourite Torrontés.  Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and even Ugni Blanc are all cultivated.

As this is the 16th wine I’ve covered made up completely or in part of Chardonnay, I should by now have said all I can say about the grape.  However, with Wine Grapes close at hand, it’s worth another look.  First off, this, like the recently covered Auxerrois, Melon, Gamay Noir and Romorantin it is the offspring of Gouais Blanc and Pinot.  While I’ve written about Chardonnay grown in a half dozen different countries, Wine Grapes lists 42 countries, but concludes that it’s also grown “virtually everywhere else in the world that claims a wine industry.”

Another topic worth a quick word is that of clones.  We’ve discussed crossings as offspring of two different parent varieties and hybrids as offspring of two different species of grape (usually one Vitis vinifera).  Clones are vines of the same variety which have built up an accumulation of genetic differences over the course of generations being propagated through clippings.  There are 28 clones permitted in Burgundy, often known collectively as Dijon clones.  The most widely planted Chardonnay clone in Australia is believed to be I10V1, developed at UC Davis and imported into Australia in 1969.  It has tighter bunches than Dijon clones and can show more tropical fruit, but is waning somewhat in popularity as it is thought by some not to have the ability to age as well.

One clone that is growing in popularity is the Gin Gin (or sometimes Gingin) clone. It was brought into Western Australia by Houghton Wines in 1957 and named after a local town, though its origin prior to that is unclear.  The fact that outside of Western Australia is it more commonly known as the Mendoza clone has resulted in obvious speculation it came from Argentina, though it seems extremely unlikely that an Australian viticulturist would turn to South America, rather than Europe or California, for vines.  The OCW suggests, in the millerandage entry, that the Mendoza clone was developed at UC Davis and is also known as 1A but I can’t find any corroboration and it’s not mentioned in the more recent Wine Grapes.

While its genesis remains a mystery, at least to me, some winemakers prize its susceptibility to millerandage (hen and chicks), or a mix of berry sizes, which can reduce yields and provide greater concentration.  Also, the smaller “chick” berries have higher acidity and higher skin to juice ratios.  It remains popular in Western Australia, in the Margaret River in particular, and recently By Jingo! released an eponymous Mendoza Chardonnay out of Southern Fleurieu in South Australia.

Speaking of this wine, it is produced by Bodega Ruca Malén.  While the company’s name is based on a native legend, it was founded in 1998 by Jean Pierre Thibaud, formerly of the Argentinian branch of Moët et Chandon, and Jacques Louis de Montalembert of Burgundy. In this Yauquén range they also produce a Malbec, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a blend of the two.  In their Ruca Malén line they produce varietal still wines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Chardonnay, as well as a sparkling Pinot Noir / Chardonnay blend.  Their Kinien line is made up of varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, as well as their flagship wine, the de Don Raúl, which is a Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon / Petit Verdot blend.

This grapes for this Chardonnay from the Yauquén line are hand harvested, pass through bunch selection and then whole bunch pressing before temperature controlled fermentation in stainless steel tanks.  It has not undergone malolactic fermentation.  And while this wine is a Chardonnay from Mendoza, I don’t actually have details as to the clone(s) used, so it could be made from Dijon or UC Davis clones.  Given the French origin of the founders, my money would be on Burgundy, but my tasting skills are not so expert that I can tell by what’s in the glass.

Speaking of which, in the glass this wine is clear and bright, with medium lemon colour and quick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity and notes of lemon curd, mushrooms, grapefruit, and hints of oak (though this wine was bottled without seeing the inside of a barrel).  The palate is dry with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium plus flavour intensity and medium length.  There are notes of grapefruit, quince, lemon, mushroom, and a hint of mint with a slightly candied lime finish.

This is a good wine.  While it’s still developing, I think I’ve left it too long.  Based on the steel treatment and lack of malolactic fermentation I suspect it would have been better fresh.  It hasn’t fallen apart, though, and it’s certainly picked up some complexity.  However, in doing so it’s lost some typicity and has drifted more toward the flavour profile I would expect from an older Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon blend.

Lake Breeze Zephyr Brut 2009

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Lake Breeze Zephyr Brut 2009

Lake Breeze Zephyr Brut 2009

While I’m pleased that people occasionally read my posts, it’s probably obvious I write for my own sake.  I initially started writing to aid my studies as my WSET Diploma Unit 3 Exam approached, and then continued to document what I was drinking just to keep track and to keep up with my studies after I had passed the exam.  Writing here has the additional benefit of giving me an outlet when it comes to expounding on things that I find interesting.  Very few people with whom I spend time in person want to hear me go on about how much I’ve enjoyed tasting rare French hybrids and German crossing that I picked up in Canada.  And while I do have some more obscure varieties in the queue, today I’ll have a look at something a bit more conventional, the Lake Breeze Zephyr Brut 2009.

Since I live in Australia, I must first make clear that this is the Lake Breeze of British Columbia, Canada and the lake in question is the Okanagan Lake.  This should not be confused with another fine winery, Lake Breeze of Langhorne Creek, South Australia where the lake in question is Lake Alexandrina.  I doubt the two are related, and I hope I don’t ruffle any feathers if they were unaware of each other up until this point.  Tabuaeran is an island in the Pacific about equidistant from both wineries and might make a nice halfway point to meet up and discuss the situation.

I try to structure my posts with information about the grape, region and producer, and to wrap it up with a tasting note.  This week all the wines are from the Okanagan Valley, which by now is already quite familiar territory so instead the focus has been on the new (to me) grape varieties.  However, today’s wine is a Pinot Noir, and not only have we seen many such wines, we’ve even seen two varietal sparkling Pinot Noirs, one of which was from Ross Gower in Elgin, South Africa.  As it turns out, sparkling Pinot Noir is not the only connection between Lake Breeze and South Africa.

Lake Breeze was founded in the mid-1990s with its first vintage in 1995.  Their vineyards date to 1985, which makes them quite old by local standards.  The original owners termed it a “wine farm”, harkening back to the 25 years they spent in South Africa.  The winemaker, Garron Elmes, is originally from Cape Town and studied oneology and viticulture at Elsenburg College in Stellenbosch.  To top off the link to South Africa, Lake Breeze was the first vineyard in Canada to cultivate Pinotage, using clippings they imported from U.C. Davis.  It’s possible I’m the only person on the planet who thinks that’s incredibly cool, but as I said earlier, if I write it here instead of blathering about it to people in person, I can still have friends.

In addition to this sparkling Pinot Noir and a Pinotage, Lake Breeze produces a fairly broad range of wines.  Their whites include varietal Ehrenfelser, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Semillon, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc, in addition to a white blend, and they produce a rosé from co-fermented Pinot Noir and Viognier.  Their range of reds includes two Pinot Noirs, two Bordeaux style blends, and a Merlot.  They only produce this single sparkling wine, using the tradition method of second fermentation in the bottle.

Since the two sparkling Pinot Noirs we’ve seen previously were both rosé, a quick word on winemaking might not go amiss.  Most grapes, regardless of their skin colour, contain pale flesh and relatively clear juice.  There is a class of grapes known as teinturiers, which have red flesh and therefore red (or at least pink) juice, and we’ve covered one in the form of the Georgian grape Saperavi.  However, Pinot Noir is not a teinturier and it produces clear juice, as evidenced by not only this wine but also by the many white sparkling wines of Champagne that contain Pinot Noir, and even the still Chardonnay Pinot Noir blend from Haute Cabrière we saw back in April.  If you want Pinot Noir, or any other non-teinturier red grape to contribute colour to a wine, the juice must have contact with the coloured grape skins after they’ve been crushed.  That typically happens during fermentation, through in some cases before and/or after, prior to pressing, as well.  For rosé wines there are a number of methods, from very brief skin contact before pressing, extraction of some of the juice from after it’s been in skin contact (leaving the rest of the juice to make red wine), and even in some cases blending red and white grapes or wine.

But as to this wine, in the glass it is clear and bright, with a pale lemon green colour.  It has fine beading with long lasting lace around the rim.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity and notes of biscuit, blossom, and strawberries.  On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, medium minus alcohol, medium body, medium plus flavour intensity, and medium length.  There are notes of sour cherry, strawberry, and grapefruit – all fruit without the developing characters of the nose.

I rate this wine as a solid good.  It’s certainly fresh, with some vibrancy.  It came across as a bit fruity on the palate, certainly more so than I expected from the nose, but the tart acidity keeps it lively.  It didn’t have the complexity or development that would have pushed it into the very good category, but it doesn’t disappoint.

Domaine Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2010

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Domaine Marcel Deiss Pinot d'Alsace 2010

Domaine Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2010

After the Rhône, Bordeaux,  Languedoc Roussillon, and Burgundy, I’m wrapping up this week of French wines with Alsace.  While it is a classic wine region of France, I must admit it’s not one that normally does much for me.  The varieties for which it is best known, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris, are easily found elsewhere in both the Old and New World, and the lesser varieties such as Pinot Blanc, Chasselas and Sylvaner are often impossible to source in Australia.  However, I couldn’t pass up today’s wine, the Domaine Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2010.

Pinot d’Alsace is not a new variety, but rather a blend of the various Pinots found in Alsace.  I guessed Blanc, Gris and Noir, which earns only partial credit.  This wine apparently also has components of Pinot Meunier and Pinot Auxerrois, which is more widely known as just Auxerrois outside of Alsace.  In terms of covering all the bases, this wine does well, missing out only on Pinot Teinturier and Pinot Noir Précoce.  While none of the grapes are new to this blog, it’s certainly the first time Pinot Blanc and Pinot Auxerrois have turned up in a blend and since I have the new Wine Grapes book, I can tell you a bit about how it says they are related to one another.

While people generally talk about different varieties within the Pinot family of grapes, recent DNA profiling has shown that they are in fact all mutations of the same variety.  When a variety emerges, it is typically through pollination of a flower from one variety with the pollen of another variety, resulting in a grape with seeds.  If one of the seeds then grows into a vine it will be a new variety, distinct from either of the parents.

However, vines are traditionally cultivated through clippings, whereby a small piece of a vine is cut off, planted and grown into another vine.  That it how you can have a vineyard of thousands of essentially the same Chardonnay vine.  However, changes do happen to vines through random mutations.  While they are small, for instance colour, over generations of successive clippings and cultivations, you may end up with vines which have distinct properties but which in terms of DNA are virtually identical except for the accumulation of mutations.

That is exactly what you have in the case of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Pinot Teinturier and Pinot Noir Précoce. They can be identified in the vineyard or in the bottle as different, but at a DNA level they differ only very slightly.  What about Pinot Auxerrois?  Despite the local Alsatian name, it’s not actually a Pinot.  Instead it is the offspring of a Pinot and Gouais Blanc, much like Aligoté, Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, Melon de Bourgogne, Romorantin and 16 others (at least).

This is the third wine of Alsace to grace these pages, and some information about the region generally can be found along with my notes on the Domaine Mittnacht Freres Riesling I had back in May.

As to the producer, the Deiss family has winemaking roots in Bergheim, Alsace going back to 1744.  The label takes its name from Marcel Deiss, who following 18 years as a professional soldier, returned to his family’s homeland after World War II.  With his son André, they built the family holdings into a company which is now run by the grandson of Marcel, Jean-Michel Deiss.  Wines are organized into three lines, with varietal entry level wines and wines made of late picked grapes being their Vins de Fruits and Vins de Temps respectively.  However, the domaine is best known for its Vins de Terroirs, a range of largely single vineyard wines.

Many people in the wine trade like the expression “wine is made in the vineyard” and while my experiences in both vineyard and winery do not support such an aphorism, the wines of Domaine Marcel Deiss do go a step further than most.  Typically blended wines are the result of separate cultivation and vinification, with Port and some Syrah / Viognier blends being notable exceptions.  The best wines of Marcel Deiss are field blends, meaning vineyards are planted with a number of varieties, which are picked and vinified together.  While many of the varieties in their blends would ripen at different times under other circumstances, Diess believes his ripen together in the vineyard due to a combination of dense planting and deep root systems that make them less influenced by climate and vintage.

This is fairly atypical.  Alsatian wines are frequently varietal, and unlike most of the rest of France, they traditionally feature the grape variety on the front label.  In that context, Jean-Michel Diess had campaign to have the rules of the appellation changed such that he would be able to bottle his Grand Cru designated vineyards as field blends with just the vineyard and appellation on the label.  His vines have been grown organically for 35 years and have been biodynamic since 1997.  Winemaking is with minimal intervention, slow pressing (18-24 hours for a run), natural yeasts and fermentations that can take months, with lots of time on lees and only a very small amount of SO2 at the end.  Wines are filtered, but at very low pressure taking many times longer than conventional filtration.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a medium gold colour that has a hint of orange and slow thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity and notes of stone fruit, pear, minerality, and a hint of vanilla.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus body, medium plus intensity, medium plus alcohol, medium acidity, and a medium length.  There are notes of slightly candied pear, a hint of saltiness, sandalwood, some apple – red and green, and a little lime on the finish.

This is a good wine, but a bit weird.  It doesn’t lack for complexity of flavour, and they are certainly distinct but not especially in tune with one another.  I’m not sure if the grapes fit as well together in the glass as they do in the vineyard.  Also the alcohol feels a bit strong, though not completely out of balance.  Certainly worth a try in terms of a somewhat unique offering.

Domaine de la Cadette Melon 2011

Domaine de la Cadette Melon 2011

Domaine de la Cadette Melon 2011

When studying a topic, I’m often drawn to quirky, fringe bits of information rather than the meat of the topic at hand.  For instance, when reviewing Chianti for the Santa Margherita post, I was far more interested to learn that the classic straw covered bottle of the region is called a fiasco than I was about various limits on yields in the vineyard.  I know the latter would be more important on an exam, but the former would be just the sort of smarmy detail to amuse at a wine tasting.  Hence my attraction to this wine, the Domaine de la Cadette Melon 2011.

This is a white wine from Burgundy, which means Chardonnay would be a good guess as to the grape, but wrong.  Failing that, Aligoté is another fairly well known but much less popular white grape of Burgundy, and long time readers of this site will recall there are plantings of Sauvignon Blanc in Saint Bris.  It turns out this is none of the above, and is in fact Melon de Bourgogne.

Melon de Bourgogne certainly has a history in Burgundy, though these days it is more commonly referred to as Muscadet, reflecting its near complete migration to the area of the western Loire around Nantes.  There it is made into Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, an example of this we saw from Guy Bossard.  So even more than I like finding a new example of an unusual variety in the New World, I love finding examples of grapes in unexpected places in the Old World.

While Burgundy is a hugely important region and I’ve only dipped into it here and there, the classification of wine in particular is worth a quick note.  Burgundy values specificity, in that the most sought after wines are from very small areas, often individual, tiny vineyards, and typically from an individual variety.  At the other end of the spectrum is the classification of this wine, Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire, which essentially can be made from any permitted Burgundian grapes, anywhere in the region.  Ordinaire is the operative work, ordinary, and grand refers more to the size of the region rather than the quality level of the wine.

However, it can be quite an interesting classification for at least two reasons.  First, it can represent a good value proposition, in that the wine in question will be of Burgundy and possibly of a reasonable level of quality, but without the price tag that accompanies more specific geography.  The other reason though is that the classification is sometimes used for wines such as this, a permitted but lesser known grape.  So if you’re looking for a Burgundian César, Tressot or Sacy, Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire is likely how it will be bottled.

And so while this wine is officially of no particular place within Burgundy, in truth it’s from somewhere rather special, Bourgogne Vézelay.  While located not far to the south of Chablis, Vézelay has a cooler climate and its soils contain less clay and more limestone.  It is an area with a long history of grape growing, but largely of no great distinction and most of the results have been destined for use in a co-operative.  However, toward the end of the 20th century a number of producers raised their standards and through their efforts the area was granted appellation status for Chardonnay based white wine in 1997.  Pinot Noir and Melon de Bourgogne produced there remain classified as Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire but they represent only a fraction of production.

That timeline coincides with the founding of Domaine de la Cadette.  Jean and Catherine Montanet established the domaine over the course of a decade of vine clearing and replanting from 1987 through to 1997.  Their holdings consists of 13.5HA, mostly Chardonnay with a quarter Pinot Noir / César  and a tiny patch of this Melon de Bourgogne.

They work them organically and were certified such in 2002.  Grapes are hand picked, and their winemaking involves as little intervention as possible.  The produce three different Bourgogne Vézelay varietal Chardonnays, a varietal Pinot Noir and a Pinot Noir / César blend as Bourgogne Rouge and this Melon.

In the glass this wine is clean and bright with a pale lemon yellow colour and slow legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium intensity and notes of candle wax, lemon, and vanilla custard.  On the palate it’s dry with medium minus acidity, medium plus body, medium intensity, medium minus alcohol and medium length.  There are notes of lemon, a little asparagus, and some ginger.

I rate this wine as good, possibly very good.  It’s unfamiliar but intriguing.  There are interesting notes across a wide range of flavours – some of which I don’t typically associate with wine – which I find very appealing.  It certainly has complexity though I don’t think the descriptors do it justice.

 

Domaine Matassa Cuvée Nougé 2005

Domaine Matassa Cuvée Nougé 2005

Domaine Matassa Cuvée Nougé 2005

Yesterday was something of a French classic, a white Bordeaux, with a family run producer making wine that has a history in the region dating back generations.  Today, it’s a different take on the concept of heritage from some unlikely characters in the form of this Domaine Matassa Cuvée Nougé 2005.

This is a Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, much like the Domaine Lafage Carignan I wrote about back in July.  However, a quick recap might be useful.  VDP can be wine of three different types of geographic designations, and from largest to smallest they are regional, departmental and local.  The larger the area, the more flexibility a producer has in terms of where they source their grapes.  In addition, some regional designations are both familiar internationally and fairly well regarded such as Vin de Pays d’Oc.

Côtes Catalanes is situated in the south of France near the border with Spain.  When I wrote about the Domaine Lafage Carignan I mentioned the warm, Mediterranean climate and the soils, which vary from a combination of decomposed shale and clay with poor drainage through to schist marble and limestone hills, and gravel as you near the sea.  However, I didn’t say anything about Catalonia.

I prefer to focus on wine and not politics, so I’ll be brief.  Catalonia is at present one of the autonomous communities of Spain.  Historically the Principality of Catalonia included area which is now across the border in France, and the region as a whole has a unique language and culture.  Many producers, such as this one, have chosen therefore to use the Côtes Catalanes designation instead of the more widely known Côtes du Roussillon or  d’Oc.

Speaking of this producer, Domaine Matassa was founded by Tom Lubbbe, Nathalie Gauby and Sam Harrop MW in 2002.  Lubbe, apparently born in New Zealand but brought up in South Africa, worked in Swartland and Bordeaux prior to arriving in the Côtes Catalanes and working at Domaine Gauby where he met Nathalie Gauby.  Her family has run the Domain for generations, selling grapes through a co-operative until 1985 when they started making their own wine.  It is now regarded as a top Roussillon estate.  Harrop is a Master of Wine and consultant winemaker, having previously make wine in his native New Zealand, as well as California and Australia, before working with Marks and Spencer, a hugely influential UK retailer.

After the initial purchase of the Clos Matassa vineyard near Le Vivier at 500-600m altitude on granitic soils, the Domaine expanded with the purchase of a number of neighbouring parcels and additional vineyards near Calce, 20km to the east on schist and marl soils at altitudes of 150-200m.  Most vineyards are between 60 and 120 years old, and consist of traditional Catalan varieties such as Carignan, Grenache, Maccabeu, Grenache Gris, Muscat of Alexandria and Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, while the younger vineyards have Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Viognier.  Cabernet Franc, Carignan Blanc, Vermentino, Rolle and Chenin Blanc have also been known to feature in their wines.  Grapes are grown organically, and biodynamic techniques are employed in the vineyard.  Vineyards are plowed, in some cases by mules.

Most wines produced are blends, some co-fermented field blends.  Whites are made by tightly packing whole bunches into a basket press and ageing in 600l old oak barrels.  Reds are fermented as whole bunches with some initial foot crushing, and then transferred to 600l old oak barrels halfway through and kept there for an additional 18-24 months, including malolactic fermentation.

Before I get to this wine itself, a quick note about the grapes.  Maccabeu as it is known in Roussillon and printed on the back label, may be more familiar as Viura in Rioja or Macabeo more generally.  Details can be found in my write up of a varietal example from Borsao, while more information about Muscat is available in my post on the Schild Estate Frontignac and notes about Viognier are given in my Yalumba Virgilius post.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a medium minus lemon green colour and film, not legs, when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity, and notes of lemon and green apple.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity, and medium length.  There are notes of lime, mandarin, and a bit of saltiness that made me think of Gatorade.  (Note, I have very fond memories of Gatorade going back 30 years to when I was a child playing soccer, so I mean that in the best of all possible ways.)

This is a good wine.  I was initially worried that I had left this bottle in the cellar for too long but it’s holding up well – still developing on the nose.  I don’t know that I would have wanted to give it another seven years, but the fruit is still fresh.  I didn’t get a great deal of complexity beyond some lively citrus, but it was well balanced with a pleasing flavour profile.

Pin in the map is the village of Calce where the producer’s cellar is based, but I have no street address.

Cheval Quancard Château Fort de Roquetaillade 2011

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Cheval Quancard Château Fort de Roquetaillade 2011

Cheval Quancard Château Fort de Roquetaillade 2011

While I’ve been particularly interested in varietal wines in my quest to taste 100 different grapes, there are some classic blends that deserve attention as well.  There’s been no shortage of posts about red Bordeaux style blends, but it’s time to have a look at a dry white wine of the region, the Cheval Quancard Château Fort de Roquetaillade 2011

Most people learn about Bordeaux on paper from the top down, in that there are the classified growths, then there are the various crus on the other side of the river, and finally the whole collection of lesser wines across the region.  I tend to think it’s the opposite of how one might best learn to appreciate them in the glass, as it’s always more pleasant to experience ever increasing levels of quality.  Generally the bulk of such education focuses on the red wines for which the region is most famous, and while the sweet wines, particularly Sauternes such as Château d’Yquem, will get a mention, the white wines are often neglected.  (Crémant de Bordeaux, sadly, remains largely mythical in my experience.)

While dry white wine in Bordeaux may be varietal, it’s more often a blend, with Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc being the most common grapes, and those two together when found in the New World are typically what is meant when someone refers to a white Bordeaux blend.  Muscadelle is also considered a classic white grape of the region, and a number of other white grapes such as Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Sauvignon Gris and Merlot Blanc may be permitted depending on the particular subregion and quality level of the wine.

Dry white wine is produced in a number of areas of Bordeaux, concentrated in Pessac-Léognan and Graves south of the Garonne, and Entre-Deux-Mers and Graves de Vayres between the Garrone and Dordogne.  It’s also produced in Blaye, on the north bank of the Gironde, though the blend there is not typical in that it is dominated by Ugni Blanc.

Graves takes its name from the French term for gravel, and its vineyards are planted in namesake terraces.  With the exception of areas set apart for sweet wine production in Sauternes, Barsac, and Cérons, historically the area stretched south east from the city of Bordeaux along the Garrone.  The original home of Claret in the Middle Ages, it held the first named château and the first growth classified Château Haut-Brion.  However, in 1987 the appellation Pessac-Léognan was formed from the northernmost section of Graves.  In a stroke Graves lost its most famous château and along with it some of its long established reputation, particularly with respect to red wines.

That said, there are certainly fine wines still produced within the current boundaries of the appellation, with red wines often being good value, if somewhat rustic, relative to their neighbours.  White wines are at least as well regarded and often barrel fermented and/or aged.

Cheval Quancard is a family run company that dates back to 1844 when it began trading as Quancard & fils, founded by Pierre Quancard.  The company dealt in wines of the region and from their estate, and over the century and a half that followed grew to produce red, white, rosé and sweet wine across over a dozen châteaux throughout Bordeaux.  The current name of the company was set in 1985, unifying their holdings but retaining their link to the original founding.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a pale lemon colour, and very slow thin legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity and notes of lime, lemon curd, quince, marigold, and mandarin.  The palate is dry with medium plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity, medium body, and medium plus length.  There are notes of lime, mineral, orange peel, and hints of both vanilla and grape.

I categorize this wine as good.  It has a nice array of aromas and flavours but took a little while to tease them out as the glass warmed slightly.  While the nose is almost exclusively fruit and flowers, the minerality on the palate gives it a boost in terms of complexity.  I was surprised by the grape note as I only associate that with Muscat, but it certainly wasn’t pronounced.

Viña Mayu Elqui Valley Pedro Ximénez 2011

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Viña Mayu Elqui Valley Pedro Ximénez 2011

Viña Mayu Elqui Valley Pedro Ximénez 2011

While I complain about the lack of imported New World wines in Australia, other than from New Zealand, I do come across some now and again and it’s often a pleasant surprise.  This wine is an example of exactly that, a gift no less, as well as a new region and variety. Unexpected in several ways, I give you the Viña Mayu Elqui Valley Pedro Ximénez 2011,

When I passed the 70/100 mark in my mission to taste a century of varietal wines, I thought that I would be hitting on the rare and obscure for the last 30, such as the recent Romorantin and Kerner.  However, Pedro Ximénez is a very well known grape, and one which is readily identifiable with a single sniff in its most typical form.  However, such would not have been the case with this wine.

Pedro Ximénez, often shortened to PX, is a white grape of Iberia.  It produces large bunches of unevenly sized berries and is vulnerable to a number of rots and diseases.  However, it is fairly vigorous and delivers good yields with high sugars in warm to hot climates, though typically with low acidity.  In its most common vinified form, a sweet, fortified wine, Pedro Ximénez is very distinctive.  It’s typically a rich, brown colour, often almost black, with a substantial body and a pronounced nose which combines raisin purée with a shot of spirit.

It is at home in southern Spain, though it can be found to a lesser extent in Portugal as well.  In Montilla it is typically used to make a sweet, fortified wine and very ripe grapes are often further dried before pressing.  Unfortified wines are made as well, though they too are high in alcohol.  In neighbouring Jerez they also use it to make a sweet, fortified wine, and most of the larger sherry houses produce a varietal.

In South America, Argentina has a grape called Pedro Giménez (PG) which is more known for the production of bulk wines than anything else.  Within Chile, there are some plantings under the name Pedro Jiménez (PJ), and it is used in both table wine and distilled in the production of Pisco.  Wine Grapes says that DNA profiling has established that PG is unrelated to PX, but it is not clear yet if PJ is related to either of them, or if it is in fact a completely separate grape.

This wine is from the Elqui Valley in Chile, which along with the Limari and Choapa Valleys, make up the Coquimbo region.  It is the northernmost of Chile’s commercial wine regions, stretching east to west across much of the country just within the 30-50° latitude that favours production.  Elsewhere in the world, 30º from the Equator would potentially be a very warm climate for growing grapes, such as the centre of Texas, the north coast of Libya, or southern Iraq.  (Which is not to say that grapes aren’t grown there – they most certainly are in Texas at the very least.)  The Elqui Valley differs from the aforementioned regions in that it has altitude, up to 2,000 metres, and so can in fact get very cold, particularly with the wind blowing off the Pacific Ocean to the west or down from the Andes Mountains to the east.  It is a high desert, with very little rain but plenty of sunshine and large diurnal variation.  Pre-Columbian channels provide irrigation from snow melt.  The  primary soil types are clay, silt and chalk, and the most common plantings found are Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Carménère.

Viña Mayu was founded in 2005 by Mauro Olivier and is part of the Olivier family group.  The family business began with Mauro’s father Aldo who started growing grapes for Pisco production, eventually founding a distillery and expanding to be the third largest producer in the country.  The group moved into wine production in the 1990s and also includes neighbouring Viña Falernia.

Viña Mayu has vineyards that range from 350 metres in altitude some 18km from the Atlantic to 1000 metres some 85km inland.  Beyond this Pedro Ximénez, they also produce varietal wines from Sauvignon Blanc, Carménère, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Sangiovese, as well as three red blends.

This wine is clear and bright and has a pale lemon green colour, but no legs – just a quick film inside the glass when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity, and notes of lemon curd and freshly baked bread, a hint of grape, some vanilla and a cake-like confection note.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium intensity and medium plus length.  There are notes of lime zest, white pepper, some white grape, red apple, ginger, and a little orange peel on the finish.

This is a good wine.  It’s unexpectedly spicy on the palate, but well balanced and satisfying.  The complexity of flavours is somewhat intriguing, though some flavours are at odds with others.  It’s an interesting wine, particularly because it has so little in common with every other PX I’ve ever tried.

As to the variety, while I have been able to spot a fortified version of Pedro Ximénez in an exam without even needing a sip, I never would have identified the variety of this wine even with repeated tastes and guesses.  Does that mean that this is a different grape?  Since this is my first experience with something claiming to be an unfortified Pedro Ximénez, it’s completely new to me and I cannot say.  For the purposes of this post however, I consider this wine to be Pedro Ximénez (not Giménez or Jiménez), because that’s what it says on the label, and if I have to update this at a later date, so be it.  It’s new to me either way.

Julien Courtois Autochtone 2010

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Julien Courtois Autochtone 2010

Julien Courtois Autochtone 2010

I like to think that my wine buying decisions are based on things like grape varieties, regions, and producers, but every now and again a bottle comes along and I buy it for some other reason.  While ultimately I purchased this wine because of the unusual nature of the variety, it was in fact the label that initially drew me to this Julien Courtois Autochtone 2010.

If you look at the label, it is devoid of text.  While there are a few details on the back, I found a label with no words intriguing enough to ask about it and was told that it’s a wine of the Loire (the label only indicates France) made from Romorantin, a grape that was completely new to me.  That’s all I needed to hear and I happily bought it immediately.

Romorantin is a classic grape of Burgundy that’s been relocated to the Loire Valley.  Unlike Melon de Bourgogne which can still be found in its homeland, Romarantin is found almost exclusively in the appellation of Cour-Cheverny and is thought to be extinct in Burgundy.  Like so many (at least 20) varieties, it is the offspring of Gouais Blanc and a Pinot, in this case Pinot Teinturier.  It was once relatively common in the Loire Valley, though plantings now cover less than 200 acres.  It buds early and its small berries ripen in the middle of vintage.  While prized for its minerality, it can have extreme acidity if it is unable to ripen fully, but under the right conditions can be used to produce Botrytized, late harvest wines.

Cheverny is an appellation in the Loire Valley to the north and east of Touraine.  The region is slightly cooler than its southern neighbours, with a continental climate of cold winters and warm summers.  Soils are sandy, though there are areas with limestone and clay close to the surface.  Given AOC status in 1993, it covers white, red and rosé wines.  White wines are largely Sauvignon Blanc with components of Arbois, Chardonnay and Pineau Blanc de la Loire permitted.  Red wines have a base of Gamay and portions of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Côt (Malbec) make up the remainder.  Pineau d’Aunis is also permitted in rosé wines.  Cour-Cheverny is the name of the same appellation when white wine is produced from Romorantin.

The appellation information, however, is for reference only as this wine is a Vin de France.  My guess is that the generic classification is intentional on the part of the producer, but I can only speculate as to the reason, since the grapes almost certainly originate within Cheverny.  (Perhaps AOC rules require information on the front label?)

The producer is Julien Courtois, who along with his wife, Heidi Kuka, founded their estate in 1998 with plantings of Menu Pineau, Gamay, Gascon, Côt, Chardonnay, Romorantin and more recently Chenin Blanc.  Courtois is the son of Claude Courtois, an artisanal winemaker based in the same region, while Kuka is originally from New Zealand and her Maori background is evident in the labels she designs for the bottles.

Grapes are grown organically and wine is made with as little intervention as possible.  That includes wild yeasts, undisturbed time on lees in barrel, and gravity fed, hand bottling .  In addition, SO2 is rarely if ever used.

In the glass, this wine is slightly cloudy and bright, with a medium minus lemon green colour, and lots of slow legs.  Fine bubbles form in the bottom of the glass if you leave it still for a while.  On the nose it smells somewhat oxidized, with medium plus intensity and notes of bruised apple, a hint of nuttiness, some pastry and custard.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium minus body, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity, and medium length.  There are notes of apple peel, a bit of cider, some lime, and a chalky texture.

I’m not really sure what to make of this, honestly.  There are indications on the nose and palate that this wine has oxidative qualities, and to properly assess quality it would be useful to know if they are intentional or not.  I believe that Julien Courtois does produces some wines in an oxidative style, including surface yeast inside barrels, so that could be the reason.  However, I don’t know if this is one of those wines.  If it is, then it’s a good quality wine with bruised apple, cider and nutty notes being what one would expect.

However, if the wine is not intentionally made in an oxidative style, then I can only really say there is a fault.  It could be the absence of SO2 left the wine vulnerable to oxidation, or there could be a fault with the cork which allowed oxygen into the bottle, or it could be something else entirely.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the insight into the intention behind this wine required to judge, but if a wine were faulty I would give no assessment of quality beyond that.

The one thing I will say about this wine though is that if left me somewhat disappointed.  While I’ll happily add Romorantin to my list of varietal wines tasted, I still have no idea how it would be expected to taste, and so I’ll have to find another one.