Bainbridge and Cathcart Cuvée Rouge aux Lèvres 2011

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Bainbridge and Cathcart Cuvée Rouge aux Lèvres 2011

Bainbridge and Cathcart Cuvée Rouge aux Lèvres 2011

A local wine bar sometimes pours a bottle or two of special wine by the glass on Sunday evenings.  While I missed this particular Sunday session, there was still some available when I next visited, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to taste this wine, the Bainbridge and Cathcart Cuvée Rouge aux Lèvres 2011.

So yes, it’s a new grape, pushing me that little bit closer to a Century of Wines.  Today’s variety is Grolleau Noir, a dark grape of the Loire Valley, found in the rosé and sparkling wines of Anjou, Touraine and Saumur.  It buds early and ripens midway through vintage, just after Gamay Noir.  It is known for high yields and is made into light bodied wine with high acidity.  While at one time it was widely planted, there was a significant decrease in the area under vine in the second half of the 20th century, though that trend seems to have slowed of late.  I can’t find any indication of this variety being planted outside of France, or indeed even outside of the Loire.  Curiously though, Wine Grapes says that it is known as Bourdalès in Madiran, quite some ways from the Loire, but doesn’t mention it being planted there.

Apologies for the especially poor quality of the photo, including the semi-detached nature of the label, but there is some detail that I hope you can make out.  This wine is neither rosé nor sparkling.  Grolleau Noir is not a permitted grape in red wines under the appellation rules of the Loire Valley, which should explain another detail visible in the photo, that this is a Vin de France.  When I was initially learning about the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system within France, I thought it was too restrictive in terms of not allowing for innovation or experimentation.  Since then I like to think that my opinion has become somewhat more nuanced.  Producers within France are in fact innovating and experimenting, some within classic wine producing regions.  However, in doing so they often have to give up the right to claim themselves as part of a particular appellation, and instead can only describe themselves as Vin de Pays or Vin de France.  Given that many French appellations have long established reputations, I think it’s a reasonable trade-off in terms of allowing winemakers to do what they want, while protecting the brands of appellations.

So what we have here is a grape that’s increasingly rare where it originates and unknown elsewhere, made into a varietal wine contrary to the appellation rules, sent to the far side of the world and into the glass of someone on a quest to taste 100 different varietal wines. I hope you can see why I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to taste it.  To top it off, one of the local names for the variety, Groslot, translates to jackpot.  It’s as though they made this wine just for me.

This wine is the work of Toby and Julie Bainbridge.  Toby, originally from England, and Julie, a native of Oklahoma, have been in France for 11 years, and have been working with Domain Mosse for most of it.  In 2007, with the help of Ali and Rob Cathcart, they branched out to make their own wines on the side.  They have 4.2HA of vines spread between Faye D’Anjou and Chavagnes les Eaux, roughly 18km south by south east of Angers in the Anjou and Saumur region of the Loire Valley, and I believe as of last year they’ve been able to give up their day jobs to focus on their own label.

It appears their vines are staked, or at the very least not trained on wires.  There is some tilling by tractor, and they acquired a sprayer last year, but I would bet that most of the work in the vineyard is done by hand.  They hand pick their grapes into buckets and small tubs, and use a traditional basket press.  They grow Groslot (Grolleau Noir), Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc, and make varietal wines of each.  They also apparently have an unfiltered, rosé, sparkling project, La Danseuse, from the 2012 vintage that was in riddling racks as of a few months ago, but I haven’t been able to dig up any further details.

Bainbridge and Cathcart don’t have a website as such, which is why there is no link in the first paragraph, but they do have a Facebook page with some photos and information in which they describe themselves as a natural winery.  I’ve written on the topic of natural wine before, so I don’t need to get into it again here.  Regardless of what I think of the term “natural”, I wholeheartedly support experimentation and innovation, which is clearly happening at Bainbridge and Cathcart.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any details as to their winemaking, so there’s some speculation in this paragraph.  They put their wine under crown cap in clear bottles typically used for sparkling wine, and there is some CO2 in the bottle that one of their distributors describes as “a preservative”.  The COcould in fact be added but I would think it’s more likely from being bottled unfiltered before fermentation is complete.  The label also indicates sulfites, but some are naturally occurring during fermentation, so I can’t say if they add sulphur at bottling.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with a dark purple colour and quick legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and youthful, with medium plus intensity, and peppery notes as well as brambles, plums, and red currants.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus mouth coating tannins, medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity, and medium length.  There are notes of plum – some red and some green – as well as pepper, and a bit of stem, but the fruit is very fresh.  There are also some violet notes on the finish.

I rate this wine as very good.  It has a fair amount of concentration, and the combination of the tannins and acidity make me think of the bite of unsweetened cranberry juice (which is not to say that it tastes of cranberries, if that makes sense).  The complexity of flavours is good as far as not just fruit but some lively spice as well.  I can’t really speak to its typicity as this is my first encounter with Grolleau Noir.  It reminds me a bit of Cabernet Franc, largely because of the stem notes, but it’s clearly a different variety.  I enjoyed this wine slightly chilled on a warm day and it absolutely hit the spot.

Pin in the map is only accurate to the town/postcode level.

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.

Domaine La Ferme Saint-Martin Les Terres Jaunes 2010

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Domaine La Ferme Saint-Martin Les Terres Jaunes 2010

Domaine La Ferme Saint-Martin Les Terres Jaunes 2010

Last week was meant to be an attempt to clear out some of the backlog of Australian wines in my queue, and was at least partially successful, with four interesting wines from two large and two very small producers.  This week I will focus on the French wines that I’ve tasted recently but which haven’t made it onto the site.  Today, it’s the Domaine La Ferme Saint-Martin Les Terres Jaunes 2010.

This is a wine of Beaume de Venise in the southern Rhône.  It is a warm Mediterranean region, somewhat to the east of the valley through which the river flows, and protected from the mistral.  The area has three main soil types across the different areas being cultivated.  South of the town is a flat with alluvial gravel and silt over sand and cobalt.  Just north of the town on south facing slopes vines are planted on an area of broken rock over sand, and further north on the far side of the peaks is decomposed gravel with concentrations of dolomite over sandstone and marl.

I first became familiar with the region a few years back by way of the style of wine for which the area is historically famous, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, and for which it was given AOC status in 1945 (though backdated to 1943).  It’s a white Muscat based vin doux naturel, a sweet style of wine where the fermentation is stopped by the addition of spirit before all the sugar is converted to alcohol.

However, this wine is neither white, sweet, nor fortified.  In addition to the Muscat VND, the regions is also known for production of dry, red table wine, and was granted AOC status in 2005.  The red wines of Beaumes de Venise are blended from at least 50% Grenache and  25% Syrah and up to 20% being other authorized grapes such as Mourvèdre including at most 5% white grapes.   White and rosé wines are also produced though only as Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC.

Domaine La Ferme Saint-Martin is a fairly small producer based in the north of the Beaumes de Venise appellation.  They are certified as organic, and in addition to this wine, they produce red and rosé wines of the Côtes du Ventoux appellation and red and white Côtes du Rhône.  In addition to Syrah and Grenache, they have plantings of Cinsault and Carignan they use in their Côtes du Ventoux and red Côtes du Rhône wines as well as Roussanne and Clairette which go into their white Côtes du Rhône.

This wine, which translates to Yellow Lands, is a blend of 75% Grenache and 25% Syrah.  After fermentation, it is matured in vats and bottled with some sulphur but without filtration.

In the glass, it is clear and bright, with a dark purple colour and some legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity and notes of blackberry, coffee, cherry, and plums.  It’s richly fruity but with some secondary characters.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus body, medium plus intensity, medium plus grippy tannins, medium plus alcohol, medium acidity and medium length.  There are notes of chocolate, hazelnut, liquorice, blackberry and cherry.

This is a good wine.  It has an interesting complexity of flavours, which work well together.  It’s strong in most respects, only falling slightly out of balance with less acidity and length than I might have wanted.  However, it does have the potential to get more interesting with cellaring.

Pin in the map is approximate.

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.

Domaine Léon Barral Faugères 2009

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Domaine Léon Barral Faugères 2009

Domaine Léon Barral Faugères 2009

While I don’t mention them by name, I’m very grateful for a small handful of restaurants and wine bars in my area that have interesting wine lists, in particular by the glass.  You can generally tell when I write about their wines because the bottle photographs are different, typically featuring a glass as well.  Today is one such wine, the Domaine Léon Barral Faugères 2009.

A stereotypical by the glass wine list around here will have a local sparkler and a Champagne, an aromatic white, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir, a middle weight red, and a Shiraz.  Except for the Champagne, and possibly a Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, everything will be Australian, largely from South Australia.  While I’m all for supporting local producers, it can be quite predictable, and if you eat out regularly, somewhat boring.

Fortunately, there are a few places I frequent which offer a wider range of wines by the glass, with roughly a third from South Australia and the rest being divided between Europe and other parts of Australia, with the occasional New World wines as well.  Often I find myself with a glass in front of me and I have no idea what it is or where it’s from.

That was the case with this wine, and only subsequent reading allowed me to locate the region and identify the blend.  This wine is from Faugères, an appellation located in Languedoc in the south of France.  It emerged as a wine producing region in the 19th century, and was promoted from VDQS to AOC in 1982 for red and rosé wines and in 2005 for whites.  The soil is primarily schist and the climate is Mediterranean with hot, dry summers and fairly cold wet winters.  The grapes for red and rosé wines are traditionally Carignan and Cinsault, though Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah are not just permitted but being promoted as replacement varieties.  White wine may be made of Rousanne, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Vermentino, though red wines dominate with 80% of production.

While it’s true I knew nothing about this wine when it was placed in front of me, Faugères is in fact listed as a regional entry for WSET Diploma students, so I should have known everything in the last paragraph and more.  In terms of the producer, its name would likewise have been familiar had I been a better student, because in the Faugères entry in the Oxford Companion to Wine, it is mentioned as being a top quality producer.

Domaine Leon Barral was founded in 1993 by Didier Barrel and is named after his grandfather.  He’s a champion for the biodynamic movement, and so his team working the vineyard consists of himself, horses, cows and pigs.  His youngest vineyard is Mourvèdre and Syrah with vines that are 15 to 30 years old, though his older vineyard are dominated by Carignan vines that are up to 90 years old.  He produces three AOC red blends and a white vin de pays of Terrets Blanc and Gris, Viognier and Roussanne.

Grapes are hand picked, and then fermented in concrete without the addition of sulphur or introduced yeasts.  This wine was aged a further two years in tanks without oak influence, and bottled without racking, fining or filtration.  (The other two reds do see time in barrel.)  Based on 50% Carignan, Grenache and Cinsault make up the remainder of the blend.  As this blog is no stranger to those grapes, it’s on to the tasting.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright with a dark ruby colour and quick abundant legs.  On the nose it’s clean, and developing with medium plus intensity and notes of violets, sweet spice, simple red fruit, and lavender.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus intensity, medium plus alcohol, medium plus fine tannins, medium acidity, medium body, and medium length.  There are notes of chocolate, simple red fruit, violets, plums, and red cherries, with some hazelnut and coffee on the finish.

This is a very good wine.  The palate has a very complex and pleasing collection of flavours.  The red fruit is not especially distinct, but all the other flavours are very evocative.  It’s nicely balanced, and even the 14% alcohol is noticeable but not hot.  A pleasant surprise and a reminder to me that I still have plenty of studying to do to be worthy of the Diploma.

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.

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.