Catena out of the bag

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Inclined to think this block has the best microbes @CatenaMalbec @LauraCatenamd @Noble_Estates #perfectname #adriannavineyard #vinodeparcela #mundusbacillusterrae #catenazapata #winesofargentina #mendoza #gualtallary #tupungato

Argentina’s Bodega Catena Zapata is in the throes of self-professed “Three Revolutions.” The first was inspired by Napa Valley, a grand success story that convinced Nicolás Catena Zapata to pursue the consciousness of emulation. He made the decision to plant, cultivate and produce high quality cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. He infused his high-end domestic red with malbec, initiating a long history for this wine and a technique many others would follow. The old Italian traditions were eschewed for the Calif-French style. Catena has long since brought that wine to the world. The first revolution has been realized.

The development of extreme high altitude vineyards are at the crux of Catena’s second revolution. “When we talk about making a high altitude blend, we are actually taking about making a high altitude family of blends,” says Dr. Laura Catena, by way of introduction to a small faction of Toronto media. Plant selections and cuttings are employed with geneology and lineage. “To me climate has always been defined by latitude. Altitude is an entirely separate component. It’s a fact. Different soils give different flavours. I think the explanation lies in the microbes. Terroir needs to be redefined with these elements.”

Which leads to the third revolution, the current obsession defined by vinous archaeology, as if the Catena team are searching for fossils and signs of ancient life in the soil of their Adrianna Vineyard. They are in fact looking for diversity, variance and permutations, what viticulturists like to call micro-terroir. They are seeking to prove a French theory which attributes 100 per cent wine quality to terroir. Research is the mode de vie and who better to lead the revolution than the Harvard University-educated, biologist and physician Dr. Laura Catena. She and Head Winemaker Alejandro Vigil, along with Fernando Buscema and Vineyard Manager Luis Reginato have created the “Catena Institute of Wine.” What treasures they unearth will unlock the secret to the third “vineyard lot” revolution.

good-morning-lauracatenamd-vinodeparcela-altitudewines-appellationwines

Good morning @lauracatenamd #vinodeparcela #altitudewines #appellationwines

Their website reads “Leña Restaurante by Chef Anthony Walsh is an all-day dining destination, inspired by South American cooking, located at the corner of Yonge and Richmond.” Truer time-gastronomy continuum words are rarely spoken. We arrived early to meet Dr. Laura Catena, listened with great intent as she led us through nine appellation series and Adrianna Vineyard wines and then moved on to lunch. If ducking out early to catch an overseas flight were not an obstacle it would have added up to the better part of an all-day affair. I would have had no problem with that.

We are blessed in Toronto, this close-knit wine community of ours, with access to a never-ending flow of great wine. We are also graced by exceptional humans, wine purveyors, men and women who have assumed the thankless task of procuring the finest available products from around the globe, against all odds beneath the shadow of the world’s most tyrannical liquor system. Hats off to them.

tuna

Leña Restaurante’s Charcoal Bluefin Tuna, baked garlic potato, rapini, mojama, tomato

On November 9th Craig de Blois, Richard Dittmar and Mark Coster of Noble Estates, three smarter than your average bear, stand up guys played chaperone to Argentina’s Dr. Laura Catena in Toronto for this media tasting and trade lunch. We journalists and sommeliers are all well-versed in the Catena portfolio. My WineAlign colleagues and I had recently sat down with winemaker Ernesto Badja for a full-on, wide-scale investigation into a large section of the portfolio. This extraordinary and climat-precise sit-down went much further, deep into the soil for a compendious look at the proselytism of Catena culture.

Much of the discourse with Dr. Laura Catena during this visit focused on the science of soil, of microbes, bacteria and block by block vineyard investigations. I would expand further but I’ll just have to ask you to read the tasting notes below. Each of the very specific wines poured by Dr. Catena is driven by a particular block or a structured pyramid of amalgamated plots and the notes must speak to the science behind each expression. No more questions here. Just read the notes.

catena-appellation

Catena Vista Flores 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

The humidity of Vista Flores (where there is much more rainfall) makes for another level of compression and density in malbec. A very floral red, from violets and roses, mixed in with deep, dark fruit. The tannins are sous vide and subterranean, throaty, tobacco-laced and rigid. Gifts a soft peppery bite, fine dust, even finer tang, minty meets calcari feel. The purpose here is to elevate Catena’s cabernet sauvignon and malbec essentials into more curious consumer territory. Value here is strong and purposed so there is nothing to fear. Single vineyards are not always commercially sustainable but single terroirs are so much more likely so. This is the epitome of that concept for malbec in Mendoza. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted June and November 2016

Catena Paraje Altamira Malbec 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

Paraje Altamira refers to something that is distant, far away, separated, a terroir where plots and places are dotted, separated by one another by some distance. Here Catena procures the flesh of the land with a malbec that delves deeper into earth and clay and procures a fuller, riper rich berry that goes to blue and boys. Though the tones of aromatic intensity and acidity are elevated, the ceiling is finite and the malbec juice is brilliantly protected. The earthy, material funk is all in, in surround and prevalent even as it finishes with the effects of great soil structure variegations. There is modern nebbiolo meets South African schisty syrah from mineral, smoked meat and smoulder in here. It’s got tartare running through its blood. Wow. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted June and November 2016

Catena San Carlos Cabernet Franc 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Here in 2014 the single terroir series cabernet franc by Catena heads in the right direction with elevated aromatic tones, so different than the malbec. Well enough aside and beyond just location, it seems San Carlos accentuates the acidity and the herbal conditioning to fruit, making it taste more like plum and pomegranate than berries. The barrel weighs yet does trod lightly on the ripe red fruit. There is great persistence in its gait, with additional black fruit from currants and berries. The pyrazines are low to almost noon-discernible. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted June and November 2016

Catena Agrelo Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

The aromatics fly from this four vineyard blend, more than the malbecs and certainly with haute plaisir as compared to the cabernet franc. The far-reaching amalgamation comes by way of La Pirámide Vineyard in the Agrelo district of Luján de Cuyo, Domingo Vineyard in the Villa Bastías district of Tupungato, Nicasia Vineyard located in Altamira in the La Consulta district of San Carlos and the high-altitude Adrianna Vineyard in the Gualtallary district of Tupungato. Travels well beyond fruit into florals and a sense of one another’s cumulative soil. What happens in Agrelo’s soils reacts with cabernet sauvignon or rather it allows (or encourages) these vines to draw something other. Something that is deep into a richness of tang, not an elevated acidity but a round and circuitous one. Balance is unearthed (literally) and this wine is extremely fresh, in fact it’s bloody delicious. A bit dusty and a few drops of bitters fall into it late so there is a minor sense of char and tar. Lingers like cabernet can and should. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted November 2016

"Bones sinking like stones, all that we fall for." @LauraCatenamd we live in a beautiful world when #chardonnay does this, and that #adriannavineyard #catenawines #bodegacatenazapata #gualtallary #tupungato #mendoza #vinodeparcela #whitebones #whitestones

“Bones sinking like stones, all that we fall for.” @LauraCatenamd we live in a beautiful world when #chardonnay does this, and that #adriannavineyard #catenawines #bodegacatenazapata #gualtallary #tupungato #mendoza #vinodeparcela #whitebones #whitestones

Bodega Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Chardonnay White Stones 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $81.00, WineAlign)

The White Stones chardonnay from the altitude-aromatic-accelerating Adrianna Vineyard is part of Catena’s third revolution, in concert to understanding soil, led by Laura Catena, beginning here. From Laura’s passion for “parcelas,” micro-level soil locations, going back to an investigation that began in 2000. In a locale above a dried riverbed, leaving big rocks, limestone, sand and more rocks in various locations, with the use of 70 parcel bits per hectare showing what is where. Stones on the soil’s surface help to facilitate and create a micro-climate of warm days and very cold nights. From the outset it has to be said that no chardonnay from the southern hemisphere has ever intimated Burgundy as one smell and one taste as here it has done. It is noted as an impression deeply internalized from this single parcel within the vineyard. There are sticks and stones in elegant lines, subtle, demurred white flower aromas, lime-creamy fruit, petals and rock. A wow mouthfeel and flavour intensity. Wild-eyed acidity. All this could not have been laid clear, or bare, a year ago. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted November 2016

Bodega Catena Zapata Chardonnay Adrianna Vineyard White Bones 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $110.00, WineAlign)

The flip side of the Adrianna Vineyard is the antithetical White Bones, also part of Laura Catena’s third revolution, investigating and culling acuity from soil through the breakdown of the “parcelas.” These micro-level soil locations were first dissected in 2000 for the purpose of deconstructing Adrianna’s block-by-block diversity. The Bones necessarily draws from the ancient riverbed below, from its single parcel limestone, sand and rocks within the vineyard, though it seems quite deferential to the White Stones. It’s somehow fleshier and corporeal, of similar sticks but less stones. More bones, like an arm outstretched from the crackling skin of the roasting bird or swine. More gastronomy in that sense, less cool-climate and limestone a mere twinkle, not a shard or karst stuck like a needle into that arm. But the palate returns to join the stones with citrus and intensity. Chardonnay of concentration and balance with the soil crumbling like bones, shells and fossils into what is best described as Chablis. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted November 2016

chicken-soup

Leña Restaurante’s Mushroom and Lentil Soup, roasted chicken, swiss chard, lemon

Nicolás Catena Zapata 2011, Mendoza, Argentina (396960, $110.00, WineAlign)

The epiphany came after Jacques Lurton told Nicolás Catena “your cabernet sauvignon reminds me of the Languedoc.” So Nicolás went back to Argentina and planted at 5,000 feet of elevation. History changed. So the coolest (others insisted “you will never ripen at this altitude”) site produces this dry, dusty, intense cabernet sauvignon, the kind you can’t deny is possessive of powers unable to resist oozing dark black currants, chocolate and spice. Try musing about holes on the palate and if you find one it’s black into which once entered reveals no exit point. The back is very chocolate driven, of dark cacao, bitterless and strong. Note the balanced intervals of structure by fine-line drawn architecture and see where this will travel. For 10 more years until the fruit begins to dry and shrivel to further intensify. The mind’s obsession keeps returning back to the middle palate that drives the machine. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted November 2016

Catena Adrianna Vineyard Fortuna Terrae Malbec Vino De Parcela 2012, Mendoza (Agent, $130.00, WineAlign)

Catena’s Adrianna has clearly emerged as its most important vineyard and its biological dissolution is spurred by Laura Catena’s medical state of being and an unpropitious thirst for viticultural, micro-level knowledge. The analogical thinking machine delves deep into soil locations from an investigation that began in 2000. This section of Adrianna draws aridity and subtlety (as opposed to power) from the subterranean riverbed, leaving the big rock and heavy clay impart to others. From this single parcel within the vineyard the surprisingly attenuated and reserved character creates a new order for malbec, from Catena and the single-vineyard entablature. Quite pretty, floral and less volatile than not just Catena’s way but Mendoza malbec as a thing. A natural cure in the flavour profile tends to salumi and comes late. But even more respect is awarded because the overall personality is achieved without shrouding, sheathing or smouldering. It’s a very transparent malbec of extreme clarity, engaging and inviting. Singular actually. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted November 2016

Catena Adrianna Vineyard Mundus Bacillus Terrae Malbec 2011, Mendoza (Agent, $325.00, WineAlign)

In this extremely specific malbec from a diagnosed block of the Adrianna Vineyard we are graced with the micro-science of wine. And if you feel that using the name of an aerobic bacteria in the nomenclature is an odd choice, consider the mind of Dr. Laura Catena and her biological approach to viticulture. If we can understand and differentiate the microbes in the soil we can make better wine. It’s as simple as that. When wine is broken down to the biological level is becomes something entirely different and this is the road travelled by the Mundus Bacillus. Catena’s usage of 70 parcel pits per hectare has unearthed this single parcel within the vineyard, again completely different and the pinpointed microbial discussion initiates right here. The soil stakes a claim for this malbec only, certainly not in any way that tends to funk but surely as an impresario of soil. Talk about eugenics in the MBT because that science is compelling and can be related to in this wine. It can offer keys towards improving genetic quality of the vinous population. Here we are faced with rich and dusty, a mean streak of malbec intensity made elegant by earthly microbes. This section draws parallels to the (chardonnay) White Bones soil from which there transfers an excess of dry extract and tannin. Patience please for a malbec that will be long lived. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted November 2016

inclined-to-think-this-block-has-the-best-microbes-catenamalbec-lauracatenamd-noble_estates-perfectname-adriannavineyard-vinodeparcela-mundusbacillusterrae-catenazapata-winesofargentina-mend

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Telmo Rodríguez redux

remelluri

A couple of years ago I tasted godello with Telmo Rodríguez at Archive Wine Bar in Toronto. Godello and godello under the tutelage of the micro-craft-small production Spanish wine magnate. Rodríguez combines “travel, evangelism and conceit, qualities the laser-focused, frank and facund winemaker possesses in spades.” Telmo returned to Toronto last Wednesday, this time to Momofuku’s Nikai. Godello (the grape) was not in tow, but Godello (the writer) was privy to taste some of the wildest field blends on the planet not produced by Marcel Deiss.

Related – Telmo’s Spanish dream

The place of origin is at the epicentre of Telmo’s recurrent dream, a place “lost in the mists of time.” Remelluri. The family farm to which a prodigal son returns, to restore winemaking traditions and bring back greatness. In Telmo’s world, exceptionality from place does not happen without first preaching a very specific gospel in nothing short of modern evangelical tones. Rodríguez doesn’t think much of corporations, commercialization, factories and cooperatives. He has little patience for large production, low-cost, cookie-cutter Rioja passing for traditional values. He is argumentative towards labelling and time spent in oak definitions. To him the Rioja categories of Crianza and Reserva are frustrating, mis-leading and so stupidly broad. He believes that most regional vintners put the most average juice into barrels, adhere to the criteria for aging and boom, release generic Rioja with no sense of place. Telmo is desperate to right this wrong.

Telmo, happy, Godello happy #remelluri #telmorodríguez #rioja

Last time through Rodríguez lamented that “in Canada you have been drinking the worst Riojas, the undrinkable Riojas.” So he makes wines without incessantly resorting to the  suffocating slings and arrows of outrageous, appellative fortune; no Crianza, no Reserva, no Gran Reserva. At Remelluri he follows the designations albeit with experimental designs, even if some consider him to be doing so “illegally.” The field blend concept can’t be found anywhere in Rioja’s published guidelines or conceptual literature. That doesn’t seem to stop Telmo from doing his thing. At Remelluri, the vineyard was filled with a field blend, beyond tempranillo, planted to more than 5,000 plants per hectare. Telmo grafted from these plants to resuscitate the vineyard. Caring nothing about shunned (endemic) grape varieties densities considered too high he simply went about doing his radical work.

Rodríguez explains to a group of Toronto writers and sommeliers what it takes to make great wine in Spain. “Lets fight for those places. In Malaga, in Rioja, vineyards from the 7th century. Top vineyards. Amazing places.” He insists that the best wines from Rioja are not from 150 year-old wineries with big production. They are from places like Artadi’s Viña El Pisón, and the Rodríguez Las Beatas vineyard, small, specific and rich in historical significance. His list might also include R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia’s Viña Cubillo, Viña Bosconia, and Viña Zaconia. Not to mention Tentenublo Wines Las Paredes and Contino’s Viña del Olivo.

Momofuku Nikai's Fried Chicken

Momofuku Nikai’s Fried Chicken

Telmo’s current focus and main goal is changing the hierarchy in Rioja, to re-establish beautiful places at the pinnacle of quality. “The quality of a wine is (derived from) the talent of the vineyard. The place is the talent, not the winemaker.” This is the crux of Telmo Rodríguez. This turns the winemaker-vineyard, artist-canvas concept on its head. There is no canvas. The vineyard as the star makes the winemaker a mere handler, a facilitator, a coach, a manager. The vineyard is the talent.

With thanks to Momofuku’s Beverage Director and Sommelier Steve Sousa and the Noble Estates braintrust of Craig de Blois, Richard Dittmar and too legit to quit Mark Coster, we sat down with four pours by Telmo Rodríguez and a stellar Nikai spread. Here are the notes.

got-me-thinking-writing-anticipating-remelluri-telmorodriguez

Got me thinking, writing, anticipating #remelluri #telmorodriguez

Remelluri Rioja Blanco 2012, Rioja, Spain (Agent, $87.00, WineAlign)

Telmo Rodríguez returned in 2010 with the desperate urge to be a representative for Remelluri, the family property purchased by his parents in the 1960’s, with a lineage and history dating back to the 16th century. “They spent a good part of their life recuperating this estate,” explains Rodríguez. “It is a place never touched by herbicides or pesticides. How many vineyards in Europe can say that?” Remelluri is not just organic now, it has always been this way. The Blanco is a field blend of nine different varieties grown on poor limestone terraces of calcaire variegated into clay and quartenary sandstone/loam. The high altitude slopes and their cool-climate induction from the northwest are driven to drawing an immediate sense of layering, of sub-strata, strata, ground cover, dirt, vine and air. You can’t help but smell the white flowers and the palpability of dry extract. Picked over a long September to October period, fermented with wild abandon and left to smoulder away in a carnival of casks, the Blanco is an onion and its layers will peel away over a decade or more. An artisan white Rhône sensation warms the glass with the only southern aspect to waft from this wine. The rest is cooly northern and while the sense of origin is at the crux and the core, time will be needed to clarify the memories and to look ahead for future vintages articulated with greater experience. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted September 2016

From here the leap is great before assuming a place in history #remelluri #telmorodriguez

Remuelluri Lindes De Remelluri Viñedos De Labastida 2012, Rioja, Spain (392860, $27.95, WineAlign)

Granja Nuestra Señora de Remelluri is the oldest wine estate from Rioja, adjunct two villages, Labastida Alava and San Vicente de la Sonsierra from Rioja Alta. The significance of place was magnified in 2009 when the harvests were separated from each other and from the rest of the greater estate as a whole. The family lineages of farming and pressing those grapes is now expressed in two single-village, non-estate Lindes, meaning “on the boundaries or surroundings.” Tempranillo, garnacha, graciano and viura combine to tell the story of Labastida in Telmo Rodríguez’ entry-level Remelluri in which we don’t talk about oak. “We talk about place, viticulture, about what is important,” not how much time the wine aged in barrel. Rodríguez prizes these growers’ grapes and they are very proud of this project. A wine (60,000 bottles) that is ready to drink. A density of cure, just the slightest mustiness, a demurred, smoky, opaque mustiness, strawberries, cream and more natural yeasts and grapes than might be imagined getting together and making wine. It’s so very Telmo Rodríguez by mouthfeel so the vineyard is procured a time out in the sensory assessment and the winemaker steps in. But then culture, history and things that used to be creep back in on the gently sloping, ups, down and angled overs arrive at the beautiful finish. The length is not just long but lingering and very fresh. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Remuelluri Rioja Reserva 2010, Rioja, Spain (Agent, $59.99, WineAlign)

“My first fight was in Navarra, against cabernet sauvignon,” begins Telmo Rodríguez, el luchador por la libertad, the grape fighter. “My fight today is against trellising.” He continues.” Bush vines, field blends, these things are beautiful. The future of Spain is the past. For me Rioja is the villages, and the (field) blend of grapes. And a culture that has been lost.” And so The Remelluri Reserva, the original Granja Nuestra Señora de Remelluri estate wine has so quickly come to this. The most important fruit from three valleys from an essential Rioja vintage, massive, intense and instructive. All the culture, history and tradition of Telmo’s Rioja is locked tight in this time capsule vault of tempranillo, garnacha, graciano, viura and malvasia. From three valleys, Remelluri , Valdarremelluri and Villaescusa, from Labastida (Rioja Alvesa) and Rivas de Tereso belonging to San Vicente de La Sonsierra (Rioja Alta). These places are so important because of the families who have farmed these vineyards and the villages they are associated with. These lands are the rock stars and Rodríguez brings the Medoc-Bordeaux concept to purpose their Grand Vin potential. This 2010 Reserva is so young it took 20 minutes in the moment and two hours in the present to open the consideration assessment to even begin thinking about what it is. The depth of fruit is currently managed by volatility and tannin. That much is understood. Even acidity took a knee in the present, not in protest but in concession and abstinence. It will take its rightful place when needed, 10 plus years down the road. The fruit is massive, with freshness that will be preserved though it can’t yet speak. Red berries in a coal mine, tart unidentified stone fruits suspended in tree pod syrup animation. More later. Much later. Drink 2020-2032. Tasted September 2016

Granja Remuelluri Rioja Gran Reserva 2009, Rioja, Spain (Agent, $89.99, WineAlign)

“What is Rioja?” asks Telmo Rodríguez. He notes that Lopez-Heredia still manages small vineyards, Grand Cru and Premier Cru plots, but most Rioja houses are industrial. Their wines age in barrels in 100-150 year old wineries but have no sense of place, of origins, of an amazing vineyard. “I want to be radical. I believe it (Rioja) can be one of the most beautiful places in the world but I told my brothers it needed to go in a very particular direction. My brothers agreed.” So costs went up 35 per cent. They bought no grapes. “If you want to work properly in Spain, you have to be a hero.” You have to work the most difficult vineyards, where production costs are five times that of Grand Vin Bordeaux but the price sells for 10 times less. And so Telmo Rodríguez produces this Gran Reserva, a wine that adheres to a Rioja systematic but does so from a blind-eye turned, high density field-blend planting of tempranillo, garnacha, graciano, muscatel, viura and malvasia. A field blend, unlike Bordeaux but a local village farmed gathering of the best fruit. The 2009 is showing no age but the difference between 2010 Reserva and 2009 Gran Reserva is night and day. This makes the ’10 seem fresh, alive, open, almost simple. Here the variegation is distilled down to laser focus, as if the varieties all become one and most people would simply say tempranillo, but who has ever tasted and been dealt such a tempranillo? This is oozing of a liqueur like no other, rich, viscous, natural and dry-extract sweet. An expression of the best microclimates and their vineyard kin. Wait another five years to allow it to remember and tell its tale. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted September 2016

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Secret agent wine

Champagne Laurent Perrier, https://twitter.com/Noble_Estates

Champagne Laurent Perrier, https://twitter.com/Noble_Estates

Most consumers regard the LCBO as the only source for purchasing wine in Ontario. That is understandable when you consider the blanketing influence a monopoly has over the public. The commodification of wine in this province can be like gasoline and health care. You know exactly where to go when you need a fill-up, a prescription or a bottle of wine. Or, do you?

There are options. The most obvious is a one or two-hour drive west on the QEW or east on the 401 from Toronto, to the Niagara and Prince Edward County wine regions. A bit further west you can find cellar door availability in the Lake Erie North Shore and Ontario South Coast areas. There is something else out there. You can also buy by the case.

The greatest little secret in Ontario lies in the briefcases full of fine wine in the hands of Ontario’s importers and agents. The importers tote portfolios of consignment wines rarely seen on LCBO shelves, often found on restaurant lists, ready and willing to fill cellars, wine fridges and passive wine racks in homes scattered across this province. You just need to know where to look, who to ask and get some sound advice on what’s worth purchasing, by the case.

Related – Buy the Case: Trialto Group

The thing is, you have to buy by the case when using an Ontario importer as your source and there are many reasons to do so. At WineAlign we break it down for you. Restaurant pours buy the glass, cellar-worthy wines, cases to split with friends, house wines, etc., etc.

There are some who might question the motive and the execution. It’s quite simple really and transparent. The agenda is straightforward and obvious. WineAlign is a dual-sided platform for wine commerce and education. One hand allows agents and local wineries to promote their wares and to introduce their hard work to a public that might not otherwise know they are there. The other hand allows critics from across the country to write independent reviews on their wines, the best of which are included in reports on those agents and vignerons. Some of the wines do not receive favourable reviews. As a consumer, do you want to see those reviews linked to in the article? Would you not rather be informed about what floated the critical boats and to know what to buy? The sponsored content is advertorial. The reviews are not.

“Importers pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines.”

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

BuyTheCaseLOGOimageFor an explanation of the program, the process and our 10 Good Reasons to Buy the Case, please click here.

Over the past six months we have tasted wines from several portfolios. I wrote about the first Buy the Case with Trialto Wine Group, listed in the link above. Here are some of my reviews from the more recent tastings, from Noble Estates, Treasury Wine Estates, Cavinona and Da Capo Wines.

 

Noble Estates

Domaine Pfister Pinot Blanc 2013, Alsace, France ($22.99, WineAlign)

Hillside Marl sites provide the fruit and fodder for this precise Pinot Blanc. Auxerrois can be used to infuse brio bolstering punch for such a pristine white made by the deft hands of winemaker Mélanie Pfister. I have tasted this 2013 more than 15 times and it always come up the same; clean, polished, lithe and on a sure bee-line away from the honey comb. The need for development is not the crux of this pleasure. Sips alone and swallows alongside much varied gastronomy is the matter at hand and should be on many an occasion. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted many times, November 2014 to September 2015

Planeta Etna Bianco 2014, Sicily, Italy ($29.99, WineAlign)

From Castiglione di Sicilia (Catania) and the most ancient of Sicilian grape varieties, what more could be ingratiated in depth of Carricante and its carbon dating fascination. The rich mineral layering is intense and munificent at the same time. Herbs and salinity in candied flowers grace both nose and palate. This is a near perfect vintage for such a wine. Clearly built slowly by sunshine and long shadows. Finishes as philanthropic as it began. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted September 2015  @PlanetaWinery  @WinesOfSicily

Planeta Etna Bianco 2014

Hedges Cuvee Marcel Dupont Syrah Red Mountain Les Gosses Vineyard 2012, Washington ($49.99, WineAlign)

Less than 3,000 cases were produced of this single-vineyard (Les Gosses), 100 per cent Syrah. This has the je ne sais quoi of Syrah meets Red Mountain AVA, in fact it has the JNSQ of anywhere in the Syrah diaspora. The regular attributes of meaty, gritty, peppery, pitchy and prime are all in. What sets it apart is balance and chivalry. “Everybody has their own opinion” and mine of this wine could lead to addiction. Addicted to the mountain song it sings in refrain, again and again. This is no Jane doe of a Syrah. It steals the limelight and puts on a terrific show. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted September 2015  @hedgeswine  @WINESofWA

Hedges Cuvee Marcel Dupont Syrah Red Mountain Les Gosses Vineyard 2012

Nickel & Nickel John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (142546, $174.99, WineAlign)

Gorgeous aromatics from the depths of deep clay, raised on sunshine and held back from crossing any extracted or sullen wood lines. A keen sense of graphite shredded into wheat and concrete streaks through the purity that is pristine 2012 Oakville fruit. This is Cabernet for the cellar, to collect by the half dozen (or more if you can afford it) and open one every two years for the next 12 to 24. This has the legs and the agility to slowly braise and develop for at least that long. The balance and the length are as good as it gets. Drink 2017-2036.  Tasted October 2015  @NickelandNickel

Nickel___Nickel_John_C_Sullenger_Vineyard_Cabernet_Sauvignon_2012_web

Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle Grand Cuvée, Champagne, France (379982, $199.99, WineAlign)

Grand Siècle is a wine paid full attention in detail. The master’s blown glass should make that crystal clear. Chardonnay (55 per cent) and Pinot Noir (45), give or take a few approximating points is culled from a blend of 11 grands crus; Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Ambonnay, Bouzy, Louvois, Mailly, Tours-sur-Marne and Verzenay. If freshness, elegance and structure are the intent, here is a wine in kind of a perfect three for three, though elegance is the clear winner. When all aspects are aligned, where finesse talks in soft spoken tones and why Champagne can be so delicate is the mystery revealed in the Grand Siècle. A walk through this cuvée is getting lost in a ten foot flower garden, canopy overhead. A taste means delicate gastronomy. A glide to the finish is effortless. All this adds up to wonderful symmetry. Champagne can be great when it tows a direct, purposed line. This will last decades and it can certainly, twist my arm, be enjoyed now. Great combo. Drink 2015-2035.  Tasted September 2015  @ChampagneLPUSA

Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle Grand Cuvée

Treasury Wine Estates

Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, California ($19.95, WineAlign)

This California-designated Cabernet is composed from fruit drawn out of the North Coast and Central Coast. The North Coast vineyards stretch from Sonoma to Lake County and the Central Coast fruit in Paso Robles and Santa Barbara. A warm (13.8 per cent alcohol) Cab to be sure but several shades this side of hot. The tones are elevated and a bit jumpy, with fruit noting plum, pomegranate and ultra ripe to sweetened cranberry. Wood spice (from eight months in French and American oak) gives cinnamon and Goji berry. The perfume keeps wafting in waves, intoxicatingly so, prepping the palate for really solid fruit flavours. Though not the deepest nor the longest spoke on the Cabernet wheel, this CSJ works in the simplest, apropos ways. Highly aromatic, well-structured, righteously crafted and respectfully restrained. The sweet finish is dipped in chocolate. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted May 2015  @CSJWines

Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

 

Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011, Tuscany, Italy ($22.95, WineAlign)

Always at or near the apex of CCR value, the 2011 is of a rich, modern, pitched deeply and highly purposed vintage. It elevates its game in all facets; fruit, acidity, tannin and warmth. A muzzle of bees seems to add muted, buzzing complexity in a Sangiovese with a faint if unusual smell of honey. In this Riserva, the “sun gets passed, sea to sea…with the breeze blown through.” The natural ripening leads to aromas indicating slow-cured plum, anise, and candied rose petals. The deeper tones are like hot autostrada surface, the gait slow roasted, with charred protein and dehydrating red fruits. In three years the fruit will seem fully dried, slightly oxidized and potentially caramelized. Express compliance of these instructions need heed by agreeing to drink this in the short term with an hour or two of radio air time. This to allow the astringent tannin to be tamed. Roger, Wilco that. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted May 2015  @castgabbiano  @chianticlassico

Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2012, Yarra Valley, Australia ($29.95, WineAlign)

Culled from the upper and lower Yarra Valleys, the ’12 is a high-toned tome of rusty, dusty, ricochet in fruit. Seemingly warmer than its 13.5 alcohol suggests, but like the Arizona desert, it’s a dry heat. The metal urgency of sloping hillside impart is a bit tense. The is the OZ equivalent of terse Burgundy when mired in youth. The copious quantity of red fruit, both tart and ripe, is admirably in and with more time, beyond the current anxious phase, will come around again. The depth of flavour and grain ingrained in texture pushes the point. The finish is distinctly parallel and long. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted May 2015

clone_wine_15160_web

Etude Pinot Gris 2013, Carneros, California ($39.95, WineAlign)

Made in Pinot Gris exactitude, of inklings warm, in certitude dry, to intimations Alsatian, with nobly bitter flavours and a wealth of grape tannin. The preceding aromas recalled late August orchard’s stone fruit. With lieu-dit (think Altenbourg) premier cru (equivalent) ability, this is a very stylish Pinot Gris with layers of fruit and acidity. It’s certainly one for the cellar, to forget and allow for a secondary set of developments, in wax, honey and atmospheric, elemental aerified notions. Quite fearless PG. Were it $30, it would surely be a multi-case buy. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted May 2015  @etudewines  @CarnerosWine

Etude Pinot Gris 2013

Da Capo Wines

Mas Las Cabes Côtes Du Roussillon 2012, Ac Côtes Du Roussillon, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($19.75, WineAlign)

Beautifully funky southern French Syrah-Grenache meld, at once warm and then modern, entrenched in earth and laden with a smother and a smoulder. Syrupy but characterful far beyond simple, with spice, savour and garagiste intent. The garrigue accent runs across the grain in high altitude, windswept ways. Solid protein red for any day of the week and a candidate for restaurant list partner. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted August 2015  @LanguedocWines

Mas Las Cabes Côtes Du Roussillon 2012

Frank Family Zinfandel 2012, Napa Valley, California ($42.75, WineAlign)

A really lovely Zinfandel, of pure red fruits and just a fine, delineating, if zig-zagging swath of bramble. Though the alcohol (listed at 14.8 per cent) is anything but peckish, the heat does not overtake the fruit. This has so many barbecue forms and fetishes written into its DNA. It will comply with nary a complaint. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted August 2015  @FrankFamilyWine  @TheZinfandelOrg

Frank Family Zinfandel 2012

Albino Rocca Duemilaundici Barbaresco 2011, Piedmont, Italy ($65.95, WineAlign)

Point blank Barberesco, autarchic and traditional, built on memories and bent on making new ones. From a clay-limestone, south facing, single vineyard in a cru called Montersino (in the Treiso commune). Where it differs from the Ronchi is the natural cure coursing in slow food motion through its blood stream, carrying micro-oxygenated blood. There are notes of crushed aniseed and sweaty clay. The mouthfeel is silkier, more refined and the tannins sweeter. Can actually imagine this pleasing sooner and also for longer. Drink 2017-2032.  Tasted August 2015  @regionepiemonte

Albino Rocca Duemilaundici Barbaresco 2011

 

Cavinona Wines

Terre Di Giurfo Kudyah Nero D’avola 2013, Doc Sicily, Italy ($19.50, WineAlign)

Kudyah is the arabic name for the Sicilian town of Licodea Eubea nearest to Terre di Giurfo’s vineyards. Quite classic, rich, ruby red raspberry and earth Nero d’Avola. Tons of fruit, chews of liquorice and a mineral finish add up to a very direct, simple pleasure. A scrape of orange zest adds a florality to lift spirits and relieve stress. Just a bit salutary and saline on the finish. Very honest Nero. Tasted 2015-2018.  Tasted July 2015  @WinesOfSicily

Terre Di Giurfo Kudyah Nero D'avola 2013

Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Rosé, Lombardy, Italy ($33.50, WineAlign)

Statuesque, rustic, ancient ruin of Franciacorta, on a clear day, of tall grasses, oxidative apples and slices of hard Lombardian cheese. A total, classical, storied package of gastronomy in a bottle. Not so much Rosé as much as bubbles with a fostered history of age. Arid as the desert and piercing from acidity. This will be misunderstood by some, reveled in by others. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted July 2015  @contadicastaldi  @Franciacorta

Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Rosé

Fattoria Di Milziade Antano Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2011, Doc Umbria, Italy ($50.50, WineAlign)

From arguably a better vintage than 2012, this Montefalco exhibits a deeper treasury of fruit, thankful and necessary to handle the wood it has been dealt. The fusion into such a sanguine and ferric stream has been achieved with more direct consciousness than the free-feeling and liberismo 2012 normale. The red fruit here is dense, steroidal even, yet still pure and direct. Largesse in rusticity is the plainly assessed goings on, chewy and dusty, a figure head for Sagrantino in Umbria. This is Italian wine to define the meaning of provinciale, deeply ingrained for place, history and tradition. Like its baby brother it will need time to settle but not so much that the fruit submits to the tannin. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted July 2015

Fattoria Di Milziade Antano Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2011

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Italian wines of the week

Wines of the week

Wines of the week

Fear not dear reader. This is not a top ten list or a call to promote the best of the worst. It is not, most thankfully, a post on what wines are being released at the LCBO through VINTAGES. No, a one or two-day break is being granted, mercifully, to explore some wines over at the SAQ in Quebec and others available, by the case, in consignment by way of Ontario agents.

WineAlign is ever so surely becoming the tasting office of choice. It offers the opportunity to explore that critic’s dream realm of “so many wines and so little time.” The home office checks in a close second, with samples ready and carefully kept under temperature control.  I tasted and scribbled with much verve last week and over the weekend. There will be more to follow, but for now, the Italian notes.

 

Torraccia Di Presura Leneo 2013, Chianti, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent, $18.95, WineAlign)

Leneo is 100 per cent Sangiovese, half of which is matured in small oak French barrels for approximately six months. From vineyards near Greve in Chianti, this is the epitome of fresh. The strawberry and raspberry aromas are so very height of summer, the tension having long left the ferment. Fruit and buoyant acidity remain to lift and cut spirit. A late flavour of rosemary and olive adds a nice Mediterranean touch.  Tasted March 2015  @TorracciaPresur  @TheVine_RobGroh

Capoverso Cortona Syrah 2013, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent, $18.95, WineAlign)

There is noticeable volatility in this Syrah though it strikes a congenial balance between fruit and alcohol. The wine is not hot but is currently unsettled. That comes through in the sooty sinew and tree sap aromas. Black raspberry fruit abounds, as does liquorice and black tea. The overall accord works the parts but some time will be required for reconciliation. Sweet and sour is accented by a savoury, though moderately lengthened finish.  Tasted March 2015  @TheVine_RobGroh

Cantina Roccafiore Rosato 2014, Umbria, Italy (Ontario Agent, $20.95, WineAlign)

A Sangiovese blush made from organic grapes, arid as the Corso Vannucci is long, linear and direct as la strada centrale leads to the Fontana Maggiore. Has a savoury flex and a salinity that central Italian Rosé almost always displays, a pull from two seas not hard to reach heading either east or west. The glycerin texture and tangy, just this side shy of reductive aromas are a propriety of pure yet driven fruit. Has the slant of Sangiovese, even in the absence of its sour edge and devitalizing tannin. A very fine example of Umbrian Rosé.  Tasted March 2015  @roccafiorewines  @TheVine_RobGroh

Cantina Roccafiore Fiordaliso Grechetto 2014, Umbria, Italy (Ontario Agent, $20.95, WineAlign)

Fashioned from organic (and specialized clones of) Grechetto di Todi and Trebbiano Spoletino. The ordinary is abutted with prejudice in this Roccafiore take, in full mineral action out of Umbria. This one speaks to me, never mind the current reductive accent. The organic vines exude healthy fruit and this fleur-de-lis is regal, royal and full of life. Wet stones, not flinty but certainly crouching on the rocky forefront. The balance between orchard fruit, the rocks and the load carrying acidity is spot on. This is an expertly crafted, intelligent and gratifying white.  Tasted March 2015  @roccafiorewines  @TheVine_RobGroh

Cantina Roccafiore ‘Melograno’ 2013, IGT Umbria, Italy (Ontario Agent, $20.95, WineAlign)

Sangiovese and Montepulciano combine forces in this organic Umbrian, the punica granatum or pomegranate. Like the uniquely variegated, sour, sweet and highly mineral fruit, this red mimics the savoury pleasures. It’s dry, possessive of natural salts and fruity, but not in a sugary way. The acids are citrusy, much like pomegranate, but void of true citrus. Very pure, penitent, clean and crisp, with mild tannins and a ferric touch. Very Umbrian, regal, Franciscan, Friars Minor to bigger, bolder Sangiovese. Tasted March 2015  @roccafiorewines  @TheVine_RobGroh

Brancaia Il Bianco 2013, Tuscany, Italy (SAQ 11797174,$21.35, WineAlign)

Sauvignon Blanc stands soprattutto to Viognier, Gewürztraminer and Sémillon in this tannic white wine from Castellina in Chianti, in the far south-east corner of Chianti Classico. Five months on yeasts has not only built breadth but also compensated for no oak or malolactic. The repercussion is a curtailment and a feigning of qualitative casting, as if from sea stones and ancient feelings. Pretty pleasures are a supraliminal by-product of the effect, in a leavening of lime and rock. This reminds me of a young, petite Stratus White, in which a mélange of grape varieties combine and effectively cancel one another out, with nary a dominant, alpha varietal limelight steal. This Bianco would create even more buzz with a 10-20 per cent barrel influence.  Tasted March 2015  Brancaia

Capoverso Rosso Di Montepulciano 2012, Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

Here is Prugnolo Gentile with a swagger and quite the attitude. Don’t be fooled by the new adventist-adventurist, retro-romantic label. This Rosso has a mean streak. Funky aromas of the barn and the compost heap may be secondary to red fruit but they are definitely there. High iron content, less so in botany and rich like a long braise of dark veal shank ragu. Complexity is in, basics are out and there is much to dwell on in this Rosso, event if its intent is to induce simple pleasures. This needs salty protein, like the aforementioned idea of ragu.  Tasted March 2015   @TheVine_RobGroh

Argiano Non Confunditur 2012, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent 72397, $24.95, WineAlign)

The Argiano NC-IGT must be awarded points and applause for the sheer felicity it affords the discerning drinker who knows when they have been pleased. This is juicy stuff from a terrific vintage. A latin lover of voluptuous body and luscious-laden lips. A flirtatious Tuscan ragazza, outgoing, friendly, hand-holding and demonstrative. Liquid freshness, with layers of red fruit and circulating acidity. Very modern, in an Aussie Rhône-blend way, with liquorice, cocktail beginnings and Tawny Port ends. Quite a swirl of flavours and pulsations. Drink now and for another two years.  Tasted March 2015  @Argianowinery  @TrialtoON

Fontanafredda Barolo 2010, Piedmont, Italy (Ontario Agent 20214, $30.00, WineAlign)

Traditional Nebbiolo that is neither austere nor of such a hard shell to crack. Roses and street cover in summer give sweet and fume aromas. Has an elemental scent, like a science lab but with experiments that broadcast harmony, synthesis and balance. Glycerin and tannin revolve around in the Nebbiolo oscillator. Some late funk creeps in, indicating some time (five years) needed to see a proper fruition. Represents very good value at $30.  Tasted March 2015  @Fontanafredda_  @Noble_Estates

Tolaini Al Passo 2011, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent $37.99, SAQ 11794344, $28.40, Manitoba Banville and Jones $34.99, WineAlign)

This IGT from Castelnuovo Berardenga blends Merlot into Sangiovese, a push and pull varietal relationship if ever there was one. The Sangiovese is Mary while the Merlot whispers. The sacred and the profane. The ancient and the modern. “Uh-will the wind ever remember the (Tuscan wine) names it has blown in the past?” A red house of aromas, a gypsy’s soul and balance are found in this whirling, flavour-filled glass of noise. This is wild Tuscan magic, if a bit disjointed and occupied by strange, though harmonious bedfellows. Rippling red wine, tannic and in need of a few years to soften. “After all the jacks are in their boxes and the clowns have all gone to bed.”  Tasted March 2015  @TolainiWines  @BanvilleJones  @bwwines

Capoverso Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

In antithesis to the angular ’12 Rosso, this ’11 Vino Nobile is Prugnolo Gentile at its liquor-like most. This is a painted Sangiovese, with impasto, with style that is strong of colour and meaning. With very plush, oak-managed Caciotti brush stroke and thick creamy flavours. Intensely glycerin, polished and agreeable, especially considering the often tannic and ferric side of Vino Nobile. This will not be a 20-year Tuscan as it already exhibits signs of age, in dried fruit, velutinous toffee and baking blackberry pie. Oh but it will go beautifully with a rare slice of roast and a side of truffled spuds. Tasted March 2015   @TheVine_RobGroh

Tolaini Valdisanti Tenuta S. Giovanni 2009, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent 137786, $49.00, Manitoba Banville and Jones $54.99, WineAlign)

The opposite, the antithesis, the polar paradox of to egregious IGT Tuscan blending is here in this delightful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc. Oak plays a prominent, spicy and sandalwood barmy role, as does the (mere five per cent) CF, giving currant energy and savoury plug-in to the softer CS. The middle notes and flavours are all Sangiovese, which is a good thing and a wise winemaking decision. The request begs for more Cabernet Franc in Tuscan composites, please. The Castelnuovo Bereardenga and Tuscan climate as a whole agrees with the variety, fleshes it, embraces it, encourages it to support Sangiovese and the less animale Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Here squares off a total package, in substance and in familiarity. Tasted March 2015  TolainiWines  @BanvilleJones  @bwwines

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A Bordeaux family of wines

Château Léoville Las Cases of Domaines Delon http://www.domaines-delon.com/en/accueil.html

Château Léoville Las Cases of Domaines Delon
http://www.domaines-delon.com/en/accueil.html

Finding recherché in the classicism of a family run wine business is obscured by today’s speculative boardroom market of classified growths, futures and the wheeling of the négociant. When Bordeaux comes to town the connection is by and large a sterile one. How refreshing it is when the introduction is made in terms of kith, kin and tradition. The Delon family has been in the Bordeaux game since the middle ages. The estate of Château Potensac has been in Jean-Hubert Delon’s bloodline “since time immemorial.” The Delon holdings include Château Nenin (Pomerol), Potensac (Médoc) and Château Léoville-Las Cases (Saint-Julien).

Château Léoville-Las Cases 1995

Château Léoville-Las Cases 1995

Léoville-Las Cases or “LLC,” as it is affectionately known, is one of the oldest Médoc properties and though it has always played 2nd Growth fiddle to its elite Classified Growth neighbours, Las Cases is anything but second class. The terroir, micro-climate, vines, ripening potential, history, track record and wine acumen of Léoville-Las Cases is equal to those of Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion and Mouton. It might be considered the fifth major (or, in wine, the sixth), like the PGA’s Player’s Championship. Of the players, for the players. In fact, the estate is like an island green of itself, unique, accessible, of the people and for the people. LLC attracts an elite field but its success is shared and enjoyed by a level of consumer who may never afford or even come to taste a bottle of First Growth wine.

Pierre Graffeuille, Commercial Export Director, Domaines Delon

Pierre Graffeuille, Commercial Export Director, Domaines Delon

Pierre Graffeuille (Commercial Export Director) came to Toronto’s National Club on Wednesday, September 24, 2014 to present and to pour a cross-section of the Delon group of wines. Mr. Graffeuille was quick to point out “we do not want to make blockbusters.” The wines of Potensac, Clos de Marquis, Nenin and Léoville-Las Cases are meant for “lunches and dinners, not for tastings.  We focus on elegance, not concentration.”

The Delon philosophy is based on “a continual and incontestable search for excellence.” The ontology is shared and spread throughout the 550 acres of production between the three properties. VINTAGES is sharing the Delon belief with an extensive offering from the properties, including a long vertical of LLC.

Château Potensac is situated in the north Médoc, close to Saint-Estèphe and is possessed of a similar terroir. Set on 200 acres, the vines average at 40 years-old, with some plots exceeding 80. The plantings are Merlot (50 per cent),Cabernet Sauvignon (35) and Cabernet Franc (15). Soils are clay limestone/small gravel and the density of 8000 vines/ha is congruent with classified growths. Traditional Médoc élevage is 1/3 new French oak for 12-14 months.

Château Nenin is 0ne of the largest estates in the appellation of Pomerol. It comprises 80 acres on the Pomerol plateau, land of clay with gravel and more clay underneath in sub-soil. Nenin’s neighbours include Château Trotanoy and Le Pin. The vines are now at 25 years in average, young by Pomerol standards but with huge potential. The acreage was originally planted to Merlot (78 per cent) and Cabernet Franc (22), though little by little the Franc is increasing with each passing vintage. “For freshness,” notes Pierre. The Nenin élevage is generally 30 per cent new French oak for 14-18 months.

Château Léoville-Las Cases has been in the Delon family since the 19th century and represents the heart and more than 60 per cent of the former (17th century) estate. The famous walled enclosure houses the most prestigious plot just below the (Gironde) river that separates it from Château Latour in Paulliac. This geographical allusion is key to understanding the LLC oeuvre. The wines are the amalgamated embodiment of and yet are neither Saint Julien nor Paulliac. The vines grow within a plot that brings the Venn diagram circles of both appellations into play. Once again, Las Cases is the island of Bordeaux, in fact, it is the archipelago of wine estates. It draws detail, deed and qualification from without, then internalizes all within. Even the Clos de Marquis, from vines grown on soils of more sand and less clay gathers and concentrates its holdings. The Clos combines “2nd wine” conceptualization with affordability in unparalleled ways. It is a benchmark for the intellection in Bordeaux.

With thanks to the markedly too legit to quit Mark Coster and Noble Estates, the pleasure was had to taste four wines from the Domaines Delon. Here are the notes.

Domaines Delon: Château Nenin 1999, Château Potensac 2003, Château Léoville Las Cases 1995, Clos Du Marquis 2004

Domaines Delon: Château Nenin 1999, Château Potensac 2003, Château Léoville Las Cases 1995, Clos Du Marquis 2004

Château Potensac 2003, Ac Médoc, Bordeaux, Left Bank, France (394866, $61.00, WineAlign)

What with its congruence to Saint-Estèphe terroir amplified by the humidity of the 2003 vintage, Potensac mines the gene pool for pure, unadulterated Médoc. The breakdown in ’03 is equal parts 41 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with Cabernet Franc rounding out the holy Bordeaux trinity. Certainly atypically warm in vintage, it has marinated and maintained its push vs. pull of freshness and warmth. Smells of black fruit, licorice, scrub brush and is no doubt really ripe with the heat still in control. Chalk, grain and mineral layers dominate the piquant palate. Finishes with capers and olives on top of small stones. The limestone is really prominent. Has hit its cruising speed and will stay there for a projection of three more years.

Clos Du Marquis 2004, Ac St Julien, 2nd Wine Of Château Léoville Las Cases, Bordeaux, Left Bank, France (402487, $115.00, WineAlign)

Ten years have got behind this baby Château Léoville Las Cases from the estate’s vineyard silted of more sand and less clay than that of the 2nd Growth’s esteemed enclosure. Composed of Cabernet Sauvignon (57 per cent), Merlot (38) and small rounding out amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, the Marquis enters with quite a bass note and plucky twang. It lives on the dark side of the fruit spectrum, with notable Cassis, black currants and a funk progression in the tonic minor. A savoury spike which has Mediterranean pique, richness and wood spice ticks in rhythmic metronome and lingering cool notes. Prickly in woody funk. Cool, herbal funk. There is a late great push to stretched length. Clos de Marquis “you are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.” Drinking well at 10 and will live for 10 more.

Château Nenin 1999, Ac Pomerol, Bordeaux, Right Bank, France (402495, $177.00, WineAlign)

From one of the largest estates in the appellation, the Nenin’s terroir is clay with gravel and more clay underneath in the sub-soil. The layered richness is apparent as far back as this ’99, an early vintage fashioned from Merlot (88 per cent) and Cabernet Franc (12). These are numbers that would gradually invert in future vintages. As per the LLC practicum, this spent 14-18 months in 30 per cent new French oak. This 15 year-old Nenin is earlier generation softer in style, lush and mellow. There are plums mixed with a Right Bank truffle, which, with time and shelled terroir, has come out to play. Now that the wine is a teenager, it wears the vineyard funk as its make up. A shadow of soft red fruit and a shave of fungi are accented by some wood relish. Age is this Merlot’s best friend. The fruit has dissipated but certainly remains in the audience, just not quite at centre stage.

Château Léoville Las Cases 1995, Ac St Julien, Bordeaux, Left Bank, France (402529, $599.00, WineAlign)

This 2nd Growth, Grand Vin is a product of nurturing and environment, a study in 12 superb soil subsets, from sand to clay to stone. From mature, edified vines split between Cabernet Sauvignon (70 per cent), Cabernet Franc (16) and Merlot (14). The LLC ’95 is grounded and centered on its highly confident axis while swirling within a centrifuge of inwardly concentrated, ripe but not ripest fruit. Merlot here is the anchor, Cabernet Sauvignon the mast. This is a relationship of pure linear fruit meets acidity. The full and fresh attack is refined with soft-pedaled tannins. It’s neither St. Julien nor Paulliac. It is Las Cases. No other Bordeaux is such an island, a distinctly personal expression, an event of its own. This is a window to the greatest vintages, a portal to extend to the benchmarks of 1996, 2000, 2005 and 2009, but also to step into the history of physiological cortex, to gain insight into previous legendary vintages, like 90, 89 and 82. The ’95 is silky, caressing, rapturous enveloping in a reverse osmosis of fruit and acidity, acidity and tannin. Another sip notices the layering, the grain left in tannin, the lingering richness of the fruit. The absolute sweet caress.

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Château Margaux hits the road

Decanted Château Margaux 1989, The National Club, Toronto, May 1, 2014 PHOTO: Michael Godel

Decanted Château Margaux 1989, The National Club, Toronto, May 1, 2014
PHOTO: Michael Godel

The wines of Château Margaux need no introduction. First Growth Bordeaux. One of the most famous brands in the world. Iconic and beyond mortal means, especially in the greatest vintages; 1953, 1961, 1982, 1989, 1996, 2000, 2009. So why is Paul Pontallier on the road to promotion? Do the wines not automatically sell themselves?

The answer is both yes, and no. Château Margaux annually produces 130,00o bottles of its Grand Vin. The 2009 is listed at nearly $1,800 in Ontario. They will sell through, if not this year, certainly eventually and inclusive of the calculated, incremental cost of inflation. The more pressing incendiary matter is a concern of distributive demand. Chinese and other south Asian markets have spent the better part of the last decade scooping up First Growths by the palette load. Mr. Pontallier clearly understands if you can’t see the forest for the trees, you risk losing touch with how you arrived here in the first place. Château Margaux needs to reconnect with North America.

Paul Pontallier is the Managing Director of Château Margaux. He joined the team of Corinne Mentzelopoulos in 1983. Along with Aurélien Valance, Senior VP Commercial Director, the most distinguished of Margaux houses came to Toronto’s The National Club at the facilitating invitation of wine agent Noble Estates on Thursday May 1, 2014. A 10:00 am start. Château Margaux for breakfast. “Probably the best time to taste wine,” quips Pontallier.

Château Margaux Tasting

Chateau Margaux Tasting

At the estate’s crux is the significance of territory. The wines are “not just a marketing ploy,” asseverates Pontallier, “they are based on the insistence of the terroir.” There exists a significant heterogeneity between the plots. “We try to protect them as much as possible. We can’t expand.” There is a sense of frustration in the director’s voice. “Château Margaux hasn’t changed since the late 17th century.”

Then there is savoir-faire. “Even three or 400 years isn’t a lot of experience. There is only one possibility, one harvest each year, for experimentation. But, the asset, the depth of experience is as important as the terroir.” Does the excellence of top Bordeaux require genius? No, contends Pontallier. He speaks of hard work, respect for history and the constant need to change, not just for its own sake, but to doubt what’s come before and to improve every gesture. Organic, though it won’t ever be noted on the label, is the end result of many years of research and development. “Our tradition in not a closed one. We are open to what science can bring us.”

On change? “How can we pretend that our tastes do not change. Language, accents, words, everything changes.” Though the accusation is of a response to market demand, the Margaux position is one that insists that it is about a natural evolution, not a response to consumer demand. Change is inevitable. “It would risk not reaching excellence. It would write off the wonderful experience we have inherited. We can adapt, we can play, within reason.”

On the 2013 (challenging) vintage from which weather during flowering affected the quantity. A wonderfully dry, hot summer gave way to damp and wet weather at the end of September. Perfect conditions were set up for rot (botrytis) to develop. Margaux rushed to pick five to six days earlier than usual. “In these conditions, the exceptionality of terroir was so important.” The conclusion? “Less complexity, less depth, less quality. In Bordeaux as a whole, the lesser terroirs were affected by the situation.” According to Pontallier the result of the mediocre conditions did not result in mediocre wines because of the technical progress achieved over the last 25-30 years.

Pontallier is a pragmatist, a funny thing to say considering the domain he oversees. “It’s not always the most impressive wines that are the most pleasurable to drink,” he admits. “Burgundy has a wonderful balance.” His thoughts on the primeur system? “It has always been efficient for some, or just a few wines. If you can find wines a few years later on the market at the same price, it doesn’t make sense.” Here are notes on the fives wines poured.

From left: Pavillon Blanc Du Château Margaux 2011, Pavillon Rouge 2004, Pavillon Rouge 2009, Château Margaux 1999, Château Margaux 1989

From left: Pavillon Blanc Du Château Margaux 2011, Pavillon Rouge 2004, Pavillon Rouge 2009, Château Margaux 1999, Château Margaux 1989

Pavillon Blanc Du Château Margaux 2011, Ac Bordeaux, France (374579, $142.40, WineAlign)

Extreme temperatures in June sent signals to convince the grapes to begin ripening in mid July. Though harvest would be the earliest since 1893, vintage imbalance was averted by cooler summer temperatures. A limited production, 100 per cent Sauvignon Blanc with 300 years of experience in its blood. Once known as Vin Blanc de Sauvignon, the Pavillon earned its modern era moniker in 1920. From a single block that was abandoned near the turn of the century because it was sensitive to frost. Re-discovered and re-planted in the 1970’s and 80’s, the plot is a haven for aromatic protection and preservation. Today’s Pavillon is made from only one-third of the estate’s Sauvignon Blanc production, the rest secretly sold off in bulk. The ’11 saw eight months in barrel, 25 per cent new oak. Sparks with intense minerality and creamy corpulence contained within an acidity enclosure. Feigns early advancement though not near ready to burst and bust open, with the sense that terroir will trump variety. A slow release of ripe fruit will be measured in decades. Tremendous concentration, density and depth. Has Sauvignon Blanc ever ingratiated itself with such poise? Will begin to open in two to three years and ripple in waves for 20-25 more.

Pavillon Rouge 2009, Ac Margaux, 2nd Wine Of Château Margaux, Bordeaux, France ($132.45, WineAlign)

From a wine that “used to be a tool,” comments Paul Pontallier to a “second wine” out of an incredible vintage “at least as good, or better than the four previous vintages of the first wine.” Them are fighting words and no sooner are they more truthfully spoken then over a swirling glass of the wine that has improved the most at Château Margaux. The Pavillon Rouge ’09 is indeed the best in modern times, in part due to immaculate selection and because it makes up just one-third of the total red grape production at Margaux. In the 1980’s it was the opposite but with a third wine now pushed to the European and Japanese restaurant market beginning in this vintage, Pavillon is now a grand brand, in a connected and assiduous way as never before. There are 100 lesser ’09 Bordeaux that fail to assimilate the wood and the crush of density, not to mention the tannin and Expressionist brushstroke. Pavillon manages a suppression of the admiral elements, including the scientific ones. The fruit is deeper, riper, with more brooding levels of pectin and anthocyanin. An earthy funk makes a late appearance on a finish of extended length to indicate where this Pavillon will range, forward 25-30 years and back to a 1989 type of history.

Pavillon Rouge 2004, Ac Margaux, 2nd Wine Of Château Margaux, Bordeaux, France ($119.50, WineAlign)

The Pavillon 2004 was and remains a “second wine,” insomuch that it predates the greatness of the modern Pavillon and because it finds itself sandwiched between two magnanimous harvests, 2003 and 2005. “We accept the fatalism of lesser vintages,” admits Mr. Pontallier, “selection is key to success.” The goal is to always make a good wine so it was necessary the Pavillon ’04 set out to benefit from “extreme” berry selection. Spent 18 months in 50 per cent new oak. Persistently young and overwhelmingly perfumed, in violet, tobacco and strawberry so ripe yet still must fight for aromatic airspace with dewy earth. Soft, velvety tannins envelop the Margaux notion of restraint and elegance. The ’04 has found success, despite the conditions, something that could not be said of the Château’s wines made 25-30 years ago. Drinking well now and will continue to do so for five to 10 more years.

Château Margaux 1999

Château Margaux 1999

Château Margaux 1999, Ac Margaux, Bordeaux, France (BCLDB 187799 $1,000.00, WineAlign)

The 1999 Château Margaux is a timeless wine. Tasted alongside the notorious 1989, its inhibitions are forced on display. Though repressed by the diluting effects of late September heavy rain, the 1999 may be subtle and modest, lack any discernible funk, but by no means is it soft. Wondrous aromatically like a hanging garden, with roses everywhere. “This is the perfume of Château Margaux,” notes Paul Pontallier. A difficult wine to describe. Its complexity, warmth and perfumed character define Margaux. Not as dense as the ’89, from grapes that benefitted from maturation conditions, from perfectly ripe if slightly diluted fruit. The proportions and shape (12.5 per cent alcohol by volume) are perfect and exacting but on a smaller scale. Smooth and resolved at a young 15 year-old, teenage age. The tenuous tranquility can be a point of deception. Beneath the lace there is body and hidden depth to give it 15 to 25 more years of growth. “Fall fall fall fall, into the walls. Jump jump out of time.” Though not the beast that is the ’89, this ’99 is a suffused bottle of remarkable concentration, of luxe, calme et volupté. A wine to help cure what ails.

Chateau Margaux 1989

Château Margaux 1989

Château Margaux 1989, Ac Bordeaux, France (176057, $1,645.00, WineAlign)

The 1989 Château Margaux wears the response to a mondo Bordeaux axiom on its sleeve. Are First Growth wines made for people who want darts of instant pleasure?” Twenty years earlier and now like the 2009, here is a quintessential and exemplary vintage, from day one of bud break to the last day of harvest. Its appraisal as anything but incredible is to assassinate it as if it were the Franz Ferdinand of Bordeaux. The examination 25 years later sees a mellow funk meet a peerless and sublime perfume. A wine cast in utmost density, complexity and length. It noses strength, warmth verging on heat but only for a fleeting moment, to gain attention. The iconic wine has reached the first major peak, up a ways from base camp. In this second phase of young adulthood it looks with conceit to the top of the mountain, seeing 25 to 50 more years on the climb. Mr. Pontallier regrets he won’t be around to taste this wine at full maturity. Moi aussi. The fruit lingers in its full, original state, from the moment it passes lips and for minutes onward. Violets trump roses. Château Margaux 1989 is from a vintage that offers the blessing of ethereal balance. Hear her sing, “Ich heisse Superfantastisch!”

Good to go!

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Mr. Pearson’s Opus

David Pearson has been the CEO of Opus One since February of 2004. His job is both simple at heart and complex of mind. Two legendary wine men, California’s Robert Mondavi and Bordeaux’s Baron Philippe de Rothschild combined (in 1978) to create one of Napa Valley’s most iconic wines. “At its core, Opus One is an idea,” relates Mr. Pearson. The wine is a blend of Mondavi and Mouton, a reflection of the character of two families.

Pearson is responsible for all production, marketing, sales and administrative activities at Opus One. He is the caretaker of a single bottle of wine. Can there be another brand, anywhere in the world (not called a First Growth) that carries such weight or specificity of concentration? The job requires serious moxie and intuition. The soft-spoken David Pearson is Opus One. That much is clear. Thirty-five years later “we’re just at the beginning of the process,” explains Pearson, “In evolution, of developing this great marriage.” For the uninitiated, Opus One is a Bordeaux table blend of the traditional five varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec, made in a “California style.”

Opus One Vineyard Photo: http://en.opusonewinery.com/

Opus One Vineyard
Photo: http://en.opusonewinery.com/

It started as a pure concept, with no actual vineyard, in the Baron’s bedroom back in the 1970’s. “The wine is a child that resembles its parents,” notes Pearson. He sees its growth has now reached a maturity stage for individual vintages to be judged as either that child or as an adult. Pearson, Craig de Blois and Mark Coster of Noble Estates brought four vintages of Opus One to Luma Restaurant on March 27th. Pearson asked that the group of sommeliers and wine scribes decide which of these wines have left their parent’s home. The exercise seemed simple enough, especially with a level of clarity made readily available by the fact that all four vintages poured were fostered and nurtured by current winemaker Michael Silacci. Silacci joined Opus One in March 2001 as director of viticulture and enology and became winemaker in January of 2004. After tasting a stunning set from 2010, 2009, 2006 and 2001, the solicited clarity was revealed.

All natural acidity, an ever-earlier picking stratagem and less frequent racking define the Opus direction. The Opus team considers their winemaking “minimalist” and though in wine-speak that is certainly a relative term, as a group the wines do present with a meritorious level of fruit purity. That can’t be said for many Napa Valley brands that seek more hedonism than is often necessary. Saying that the price of a bottle is inflated by a historical elevage of personality and fashion branding neither does Opus One an injustice nor does it relegate the commenter as a castaway to a deserted island. Opus One is a brilliant and gorgeous red. It’s also very expensive.

Opus One Tasting at Luma Restaurant Photo: Eric Vellend

Opus One Tasting at Luma Restaurant
Photo: Eric Vellend

In September of 2012 I had the pleasure of tasting the Opus One 1989. My tasting note:

Opus One 1989 Unbelievable. A lesson in Napa iconoclasm. What every great 22-year old New World wine should strive to become. In harmony with every part of itself; fruit, tannin, acidity. Beauty within and without. Dark, sultry, full of all things berry and oak. The full gamut of red and black fruit, vanilla, mocha and chocolate. Like walking into your childhood and being handed the keys to Charlie’s factory. Another M gem.

Notes from the March 2014 tasting: Opus One, Napa Valley (26310, $399.95 – 2009 vintage)

2010 (WineAlign) The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (84 per cent), Cabernet Franc (5.5), Merlot (5.5), Petit Verdot (4) and Malbec (1). Fiercely approachable, a rope of gemstones falling effortlessly into the palm of a velvet glove. Imminently modern, reeking of toothsome Napa and working without Old World parental support. Dense texture, high acidity and exceptional length. Layers upon layers of fruit powered by audacity and prowess. Even this formidable ’10 will struggle to find immunity from the weird vintage. It’s ripe, anything but green and manages an admirable level of elegance. Lives for today. Will it age like its older siblings? Yes, but not as long.

2009 (WineAlign) The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (81 per cent), Cabernet Franc (9), Petit Verdot (6), Merlot (3) and Malbec (1). The immediate and obvious cerebration is all about its incredible sense of balance. A garden of perfume, the most Bordeaux-bent of the tasting and a mineral reverberation carried on through a seemingly never-ending finish. Blessed by a long and sweet chain of tannin. This ’09 has that Mediterranean brush stroke of garrigue and black olive smothered by a smear of sun-drenched California fruit. Another challenging vintage where picking time was so crucial. That September 21st to October 20th window must have been the right one.

Opus One Bottle

2006 (WineAlign) The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (77 per cent), Merlot (12), Cabernet Franc (5), Petit Verdot (3) and Malbec (3). A kinaesthesia with age is sent forward by the tertiary complexity of its make-up. Dusty, still marked by acidity, along with a note of toffee and a raisining of the fruit. Savoury too, in gentle middle-age, it gives away strange sensations and aromas that suggest a potpourri of powders; rose, bacon, espresso and Filé. Full of grace and contentment. A cool year that saw no end-of-year heat spike, this is a most unique Opus one.

2001 (WineAlign) The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (87 per cent), Merlot (6), Malbec (3), Cabernet Franc (2) and Petit Verdot (2). The ’01 conjures up instant funk and “the beat is really soothing.” The Bretty streak stretches, dissipates and is cleansed as the wine aerates, but the groove lingers on. An Opus that clearly states “I got my mind made up.” Of the vineyard and for the vineyard, with a note of wet forest. The Bar Mitzvah boy is acting as one would expect, as an agent to a coming of age law, like a leather satchel filled with dehydrating, concentrated fruit. Swirl some more and that jerky is then drizzled by a Mickey of berry liqueur and dusted by 13 year-old dirt. A vintage defined by 14 per cent alcohol, still vital, powerful and neo-gritty. Forty-five minutes in, the lingering funk is fading but the thought, the chalk and the grain sends this Opus One back across the Atlantic, to the world of Mouton.

Good to go!

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