Cave de Tain coming soon to a shelf or list near you

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The Rhône Valley is well known as a distinguished wine region, but perhaps less well known is the fact that the region actually lumps together the Northern Rhône and the Southern Rhône. More importantly, there is a big distinction between the two, not exclusively, but especially, in terms of volume. The Northern Rhône represents only 5% of all Rhône Valley production, with all eight of its crus being equal in size to the production of the Southern Rhône’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape. But, in spite of its small size, it manages to produce big, bold, beautiful wines.

Within the Northern Rhône, leading producers, such as Jaboulet, Chapoutier, Chave and Delas Freres, have made their mark on the American market, but Cave de Tain is only now turning its full attention to external markets. Established in 1933, the Cave de Tain cooperative currently has 359 members and is ready to hit the ground running now that they have signed with the U.S.-based Hand Picked Selections.

The winery is situated within Tain Hermitage, capital of the Northern Rhone and home to only 6,000 people. They produce wines within five of the crus along with a small production of IGP wines. All of the vineyards are intentionally no more than 15 km from the winery since the winery is Certified Sustainable, which means that everything they do is based on observation rather than according to a set plan. In this regard, they can carefully monitor the vineyards and only do things, such as spraying for mildew, when necessary.

Here, in the birthplace of Syrah, all of the reds they produce are 100% Syrah. Similarly, they have a mono-varietal focus when it comes to whites, championing Marsanne as their signature white grape. Both grapes play respective starring roles in Cave de Tain’s IGP Colline Rhodaniennes wines, which they hope will serve as an introduction to the Northern Rhône varieties. The company’s further philosophy is to use older and larger barrels, which accounts for the subtler oak influence in the resulting wines.

We tasted through a selection of seven wines beautifully paired with a family-style lunch at Rotisserie Georgette. Many of the wines hailed from 2015, which was a great vintage, one with balanced maturity and acidity, which is relatively rare to have high levels of both. The 2010 vintage was similar in nature, but 2015 is felt to be the better year. Today, the 2015s are drinking well now, but have sufficient fruit, acidity and tannins for aging. Of note, 2015 was a good vintage for both reds and whites. Admittedly, due to climate change, the last truly difficult vintage was 2008.

The IGP wines were very nice expressions of their respective grapes, displaying good fruit character and balance. The Marsanne 2015 (~$12.00) showed some complexity, with salty and nutty notes, along with pear and almond, while the Syrah 2015 (~$12.00) offered up blackberries, bright acidity and soft tannins.

Moving up the range to the Grand Classique wines from Crozes-Hermitage, the increased quality was immediately evident, while the price point remained reasonable. Presenting more noticeable fruit than its IGP counterpart, the Crozes-Hermitage Blanc 2015 was beautifully rich, with aromas of peach and apricot, along with elegance and long length. Similarly, the Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2015 had lush black fruit notes, with medium+ acidity and only a hint of oak influence.

The Grand Classique Hermitage wines are much pricier, which is to be expected given Hermitage’s reputation for long-lived wines of character and strength, but they deliver for the money and are worth the occasional splurge. The Grand Classique Hermitage Blanc 2010 was stunning! Rich and complex, it displayed a pronounced nuttiness, along with baking spices and dried stone fruit. Interestingly, we were advised that Marsanne takes only a few years to develop in bottle, but then will hold that development for some time. The Grand Classique Hermitage Rouge 2011 (~$76.00) is a gorgeous wine with spice, blackberry and dried herbs, silky tannins and lovely richness on the palate.

At the top of the range, the Gambert de Loche Hermitage Rouge 2011 – a plot selection named for the founder of the cooperative – offered more body and power than the straight Hermitage Rouge.

 

NB: Retail prices are noted when the wine appeared available in the U.S. market as per Wine Searcher. Since these wines are just hitting the U.S. trade now, it will take some time before they become widely available. We were advised that the wines were being priced fairly, yet assertively, so they will represent great value for the quality.

 

Make Mine A Malbec

2016-09-27-19-08-03Malbec is a grape variety better known for its time spent in Argentina, but the variety got its start in Southwest France, where it continues to not only survive, but also thrive. In fact, it presently accounts for nearly 9,000 acres in the southwest, making it one of the most planted grapes in the region.

Given the grape’s popularity in the market, these wines are making their way to the U.S. under the varietally-labeled option as well as its more traditional appellation of Cahors. Here are two wines to try.

Château Lagrézette Malbec 2010, France, $30.00
Château Lagrézette was built by Adhémar de Massaut in the 15th century on a hill overlooking the Lot River. Purchased by Alain Dominique Perrin in 1979, by 1982 the chateau was classified as a historical monument and a full restoration was completed. The property now boasts 90 hectares of vines. Deep purple in color, this wine offers up smoke, black and blueberry fruit with oak notes. Its dry, medium+ acid palate is full bodied with medium, fully ripe tannins, black and blue fruit, plum, smoke, oak, light heat, powerful yet balanced. Still young and fresh. Long length.

Domaine de Cause La Lande Cavagnac 2013 Cahors, France, $17.00
Owned by the Durou-Costes family, the care and management of Domaine de Cause was resumed by Serge and Martine Costes in 1994 in order to maintain Martine’s family’s legacy. Today, they utilize sustainable farming practices to craft the Malbec-based wines of Cahors. The La Lande Cavagnac is produced from a selection of the oldest vines on the estate. Aromas of plum, blueberry and blackberry greet the nose and persist on the palate, along with vibrant acidity and firm tannins.

 

A Summer for Sauvignon Blanc

2016-06-20 19.14.52While Riesling and rosé are highly touted for the summer season, Sauvignon Blanc is equally well-suited for sipping this time of year. This citrus-scented grape variety is cultivated worldwide, resulting in a broad range of wine styles from which to choose.

However, among the most well-known areas associated with this grape is New Zealand and, in particular, the region of Marlborough. New Zealand producer Nobilo brings two Sauvignon Blancs to the table this season: its Regional Collection and Icon. Icon is the company’s flagship wine, having been established by the Nobilo family in 1943.

The grapes for Icon presently come from the Castle Cliffs Vineyard, planted in 2002 in the Awatere Valley. Conversely, while the grapes for the Regional Collection wine are primarily sourced from Awatere, they are supplemented with those from the Wairau, Southern and Waihopai valleys within the region and then blended together to create a more consistent wine each year.

A side by side tasting permitted a comparison of the two:

Nobilo Regional Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Marlborough, NZ, $10.00
This wine is very fruity with bright, tropical fruit predominating the nose and palate. Although it has the same acidity level as the Icon wine, the perception is that it is lower in acidity on the palate due to its higher level of sweetness. Light and refreshing; perfect for an aperitif and light fare.

Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Marlborough, NZ, $18.00
The Icon has a leaner profile than the Regional Collection, displaying much more citrus aromas and flavors, along with a slightly grassy note. It is drier with more acidity, permitting it to pair more easily with a wider array of cuisine.

Although Sauvignon Blanc is less closely connected with Spain, this variety is slowly, but surely, finding a home here as well. Pago los Balancines, a winery within the Spanish region of Extramadura, about 200 km north of Seville, produces several wines with this grape. Its wines fall under the Ribera de Guadiana DO.

Pago los Balancines, Balancines Blanco Sobre Lias 2015, Ribera de Guadiana, Spain
This entry-level wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Viura and offers up a bright and fresh wine with citrus, tropical fruit and melon notes on the round palate.

Pago los Balancines, Alunado Sauvignon Blanc 2013 The Bootleg Wines vol. 0, Ribera de Guadiana, Spain
This full-bodied wine has clearly been oaked, with its citrus and pear aromas and flavors wrapped in oak and vanilla.

2016-06-20 19.15.21Alunado

 

The Land of Limoux: It’s Not Just for Sparklers Anymore

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The Languedoc-based Limoux region claims the distinction of being the first to produce a sparkling wine back in 1531. In fact, famed monk Dom Perignon is credited with visiting the area and bringing back the knowledge to Champagne. Unfortunately for Limoux, the Champenoise have been more assertive in their public relations campaign over the past several centuries, which is why Méthode Champenoise is much more familiar to the average consumer than Limoux’s Méthode Ancestrale.

However, despite Champagne’s better brand recognition, Limoux is now dialing up the volume on its message to market its wines. In this regard, a rooftop tasting held this month provided an opportunity to renew old acquaintances and make new friends.

The event kicked off with Limoux’s bubbles. For centuries, it was the Blanquette de Limoux and its Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale that dominated local production. These two wines earned appellation status in 1938 and harness the Mauzac grape’s floral and apple aromas. The Méthode Ancestrale wines undergo only partial fermentation and thus retain some sweetness on the palate.

Much more recently (1990s), the region added a Crémant de Limoux to its sparkling line up, which favors Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc over the indigenous Mauzac and requires a minimum of nine months of lees aging. In spite of its late arrival to the scene, this newer sparkler accounts for 40% of sparkling wine production in Limoux.

Priced below $20.00, the Limoux sparklers offer up great value for every day drinking with several different styles from which to choose, including drier, sweeter and rosé options.

Even more au courant, Limoux has diversified its portfolio with still whites and reds. While the whites focus on oaked versions of the same varieties as those employed for sparkling wines, the reds (which must include at least three different grapes) bring together an unusual mix of Bordeaux (Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon) and the Rhone Valley (Syrah and Grenache). The still wines are a relatively small percentage of total production and are priced accordingly.

TASTING NOTES

Delmas Blanquette de Limoux Cuvée Memoire Brut Nature 2010, $16.00
This wine is vinified in old oak barrels and sees 8 months of aging on the lees, with fresh citrus and apple aromas and flavors.

Saint Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux Brut 2014, $13.00
Thanks to a chance discovery many years ago, St. Hilaire was our house sparkler for a long time, providing us with affordable bubbles on a regular basis. Notes of Apple and apple peel greet the nose; fresh and lively with medium+ length on the palate.

Côté Mas Crémant de Limoux Rosé NV, $15.00
This wine spends 12 months on the lees, showing aromas of berries and herbs. It is dry, yet slightly fruity and slightly yeasty on the palate with long length.

Antech Crémant de Limoux ‘Heritage 1860’ 2013, $19.00
A more serious sparkler, this wine is dry with citrus and yeast aromas and flavors; fresh and clean on the palate.

Sieur d’Arques Toques et Clochers Limoux Blanc Terroir Autan 2014, $17.00
This 100% Chardonnay offers up floral aromas with a rich palate of pear, apple and a balanced use of oak; long length.

Château-Rives Blanques Dédicace Limoux Blanc 2012, $21.00
Produced from 100% Chenin Blanc, this wine displays yeast and floral notes on the nose with a lovely richness and roundness on the palate.

Domaine de Baron’arques Limoux Rouge 2012, $39.00
Barrel aged in a combination of 50% new barrels and 50% first and second use, this Merlot-dominant wine blend provides berries, black fruit and herbal notes joined by earthy and oaky flavors on the palate.

Michel Capdepon Limoux Méthode Ancestrale Fruité NV, $16.00
Even though the wine’s residual sugar level is at 95 g/l, this wine is beautifully balanced with floral and apple notes on the off-dry palate and finishes cleanly.

Time in a Bottle: The Pleasures and Treasures of Old Liquors

2016-04-12 20.47.39If we are lucky, we live in the present moment, enjoying and savoring the here and now, rather than constantly worrying about the future still to come. Yet, the opportunity to virtually travel back in time, uniting us with the past, can be a special experience. It is why, at least in part, we visit historic places and hold onto souvenirs imbued with memories from time gone by. Most mementos are a tangible, but fleeting glimpse, crumbling with the passage of years. For most things, we rely on museums to carefully preserve the past under lock and key and precise storage conditions.

While a stroll through an ancient site or viewing an antique document can bring the past to life, there is something inherently unique in partaking in a gustatory experience asynchronously shared with those who lived long ago. Much more than simply opening up a bottle of wine from a previous vacation destination (which momentarily brings us back to that seaside table in sleepy coastal town), older wines and spirits from decades — even centuries ago — can transport us to another era. In this way, an extremely rare tasting of 19th century Cognac, Armagnac, Port and Madeira provided the sensory time machine to visit the more distant past.

Held in connection with an auction at Christie’s featuring 39 bottles of Cognac and Armagnac, each dating to a presidential term of office, from 1789 to 1977, the tasting was presented by Old Liquors, a wine shop specializing in vintage wines and spirits.

The tasting event was hosted by Old Liquors’ CEO, Bart Laming at New York’s Brandy Library. Interestingly, Brandy Library owner, Flavien Desoblin, a specialist in Cognac, noted that, “The U.S. palate has matured to appreciate older brandies, but is still whisky focused.”

Also present that evening was Christie’s Head of Wine, Edwin Vos, who painstakingly opened each bottle and shared tips for cellaring such treasures such as the admonition to store Madeira upright due to its high alcohol and high acidity content, which would damage the cork if left horizontally.

Admittedly, indulging in such wines is an expensive and limited proposition – there are scant bottles remaining. However, it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience to taste these rare wines and recall the world as it once was even if none of us had been there ourselves.

For those with the means and interest in pursuing their own sensory experiences, Old Liquors bills itself as the “World’s largest Old Liquors Store,” with a robust website that accepts orders from around the world.
By Phone: +31 76 5416227
By Email: info@oldliquors.com

TASTING NOTES
Madeira 1865 Café Anglais Madere Vieux, Bual
Aromas of candied ginger, honey and spice; medium sweet palate with high acidity, flavors of coconut, yeast, rancio, ginger bread and orange peel; long length.

Port 1887 Brand unknown, Unknown shipper
A slight rancio note gives way to floral, cherries and bacon on the nose; medium sweet palate, with dried red fruit dominating; much fruitier than the Madeira; long length.

Cognac 1928 Croizet B. Léon Grande Réserve
Greeted by orange peel, spice and slight honey aromas; dry palate with high alcohol, displaying spices, oak and vanilla with elegance and long length.

Cognac 1914 Maxim’s, Caves du Restaurant, Fine Champagne, Réserve
This has an intense nose with woody and vanilla aromas and flavors; it is fuller-bodied on the palate than the above Cognac.

Armagnac 1893 Jacques Marou, Vieil, Handwritten label
This spirit offers concentrated dried fruit, most notably prunes and dates, along with oak and vanilla; simply lovely.

Cognac 1811 Napoléon, Grand Réserve, Imperial glass shoulder, button ‘N’
Aromas of bruised banana, vanilla, dried fruit and orange rind; dry on the palate with high alcohol, offering up spice and floral notes.

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Looking at the world through rosé-colored glasses

2015-mathilde-rose-backMy family and I visited Provence back in 2001. We didn’t know a lot about wine at the time; we just knew that we liked it.

On our first night in Provence, we stumbled across a lovely little restaurant with outdoor dining and knew that we had to join in the fun. We requested a table, sat down and gave the server our simple request: we want what the table next to us is having! A short while later our table was filled with incredible-looking, large grilled shrimp and glasses of rosé wine.

I don’t remember the name of that restaurant or even which town it was in, nor do I have any idea who produced that rosé, but that evening remains perfectly etched in our minds – a rosé moment! It is precisely for such moments that Mathilde Chapoutier crafted her wine (although admittedly, she hopes you will remember that she made it).

Accordingly, I don’t think she took much offense, if any, when I spent more timing catching up with my colleague as we gorged on towers of seafood and several bottles of her wine on a summer Friday, rather than peppering her with questions about her background and winemaking philosophy. We were creating yet another rosé memory.

When your last name is so synonymous with wine, it is challenging to stay away from the wine industry. Mathilde Chapoutier tried it for a while, contemplating a career as a shooter (after many years as a successful competitor), but the 24-year old eventually gave in and joined the family business.

Today, as a member of the 8th generation of her family to make wine, she serves as Chief of Strategy and Business Development, a position, which has been quite rewarding. However, she was drawn to the idea of creating something uniquely hers – she wanted to make her own wine.

Her approach has been to create a wine that would appeal to her friends and other similar-minded folks who are afraid of wine or find it elitist. Overall, she wanted, “something simple, elegant and easy to drink.” She has succeeded in spades.

Although her family had previously produced what she refers to as food rosés – such as the hearty, deep pink Tavels – her father, Michel Chapoutier, was decidedly not a fan of Provençal rosé. In his opinion, there really weren’t many good ones in the market.

But, Mathilde was determined to prove him wrong and fought for this project despite his objections, eventually finding the Grand Ferrage estate, situated in the foothills of the Saint-Victoire Mountain. For her first vintage (2014), she purchased the juice, ultimately fermenting and blending the wine to her exacting standards.

Dad saw how receptive everyone was to the wine and relaxed his view. For her next vintage, she purchased the entire domaine, giving her full autonomy over the grapes and harvest as well as production. The wine is now available in the U.S. and ready for you to create your own rosé moments.

Mathilde Chapoutier Grand Ferrage Rosé 2015, Côtes de Provence, France, $24.99 (SRP)

untitledVery light in color, thanks to only a few hours of skin contact, this wine offers up floral and citrus aromas, with a dry and delicate palate with peach and floral notes, culminating in long length.

Domaine Katsaros and Ricossa offer up modern wines for modern times

Although the world of wine has a long and storied history, two recent events – dinner with Evripidis Katsaros of Domaine Katsaros and lunch with Andrea Marazia of Ricossa winery – underscored the ever-evolving nature of the industry.

Domaine Katsaros, modernity in ancient Greece

KatsarosThinking about Greece, images of the Acropolis and other ancient temples might spring to mind –  crumbling pillars as a testament to a bygone civilization. But, despite this legacy of antiquity, there is a very modern bent to the winemaking currently taking place in Greece and Italy.

Instead of meeting Katsaros’ winemaker at a Greek establishment, the invitation promised pizza at Marta, the resident restaurant at the Martha Washington Hotel. Part of Danny Meyer’s empire (aka Union Square Hospitality Group), Marta is known for its wood-burning ovens, which turn out beautiful thin-crust pizzas and tempting grilled meats.

But, before the food was served, the journalists were given the opportunity to blind taste two wines and guess which one was the Katsaros 2015 Xinomavro barrel sample and which… was a Barolo. Like Nebbiolo — the grape responsible for Barolo (among others) — Xinomavro needs a lengthy time to fully ripen and has similarly high acidity and firm tannins. Evripidis further described Xinomavro wines as showing aromas of black fruit, rose petals, olive and tomato.

Interestingly, while the blind comparison didn’t seem to stump the participants, it did illustrate the shared characteristics of the two varieties. Yet, in the end, the Barolo’s significantly more tannic structure and less overt fruit aromas gave itself away. Meanwhile, despite its youth, the Xinomavro was rather enjoyable with its pronounced floral nose, brighter acidity and softer tannins.

For many of the guests, this was a first introduction to both Xinomavro and to Domaine Katsaros. The Domaine got its start in the early 1980s, when Evripidis’ father, Dr. Dimitrios Katsaros, purchased a small estate on the slopes of Mount Olympus. The property was initially intended as a family vacation home, but the area beckoned to him and soon he was buying additional land and planting grapevines on the 2500-foot elevation plots.

At the time, technical information on Greek grapes was non-existent, so Dimitrios looked to a grape with a proven track record: Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet was followed by Merlot, which was originally intended solely as a blending partner for the estate blend. However, they quickly discovered that the grapes were of significant quality to be crafted into a single variety Merlot.

In the early days, Dimitrios made wine only for friends and family, but, by 1985, the winery became official, coinciding with Evripidis’ childhood and adolescence. Having spent his summers watching his father build up the estate, it was a natural fit for him to study bio-chemistry at Bordeaux University, followed by a degree in Viticulture and Oenology from Burgundy University.

Consequently, Evripidis knows his way around French grapes and his contribution in this regard has been the addition of Chardonnay, thanks to his belief that they would get good results from this variety. While many areas of Greece would be too hot for a grape that thrives in Burgundy’s cool climate, the northerly position of Domaine Katsaros’ provides a suitable home with a latitude and weather akin to that of Tuscany. In true French fashion, the Chardonnay is aged in French oak for several months, although Evripidis, who took over as head winemaker in 2008, admits that he prefers less wood than his father, especially in white wines.

However, despite the heavy reliance on French varieties, a subtle shift seems to be taking place, with a new interest in indigenous grapes, as evidenced by the planting of Xinomavro grapes in 2010. And, soon, they will add Robola Kefalonia, a white grape that originated on the island of Cephalonia.

Today, the family-owned winery is still the only one within Thessally’s PGI Krania, and maintains its dedication to using only estate grown fruit even though the vineyards are dispersed among 21 separate parcels. In recognition of their good stewardship of the land, the vineyards received organic certification in 1998.

Overall, the wines were very well made and showed off Evripidis’ skill as a French-trained winemaker. In this regard, although the Xinomavro/Barolo comparison was quite fun, it would be equally fascinating to taste his Merlot beside a glass of Right Bank Bordeaux.

Unfortunately, not only do people really like the Domaine Katsaros’ wines, but they (or at least the grapes that go into them) are a big hit with wild boars; nearly all of the 2014 crop was eaten by the pigs. Thus, it was with some sense of poetic justice that we eagerly devoured the meat-heavy Macellaio pizza (Sopressata, Guanciale, Pork Sausage, Mozzarella and Grana Padano) and the grilled pork loin with the wines. Thankfully, the boar were less destructive in 2015, ensuring that there will be more wine to go around for this latest vintage.

Ricossa wine, co-opting old traditions to create new trends

RicossaAlthough not nearly as ancient as ancient Greece, winemaking in Italy’s Piedmont region – home to the aforementioned Nebbiolo and hence, Barolo – dates back several centuries. Here, traditional winemaking has primarily centered on producing powerful, long-lived reds that take decades to reach their full potential. And, it seemed that such traditions were firmly entrenched.

But, even here, things are shifting. For one, classic wine styles have been evolving since the 1980s as a decidedly different view of Barolo winemaking came to the fore, splitting producers into one of two camps — Traditionalist vs. Modernist.

More recently, in another blending of old and new, the region has co-opted the age-old tradition of drying grapes in service of a new, modern style of Barbera. The newly minted Barbera Appassimento DOC owes a debt of gratitude to Ricossa Winery, which was the brainchild behind the creation of this wine.

The company, part of the MGM Mondo del Vino group, felt that there was something missing from the Piedmontese winescape – wines made in the appasimento style – and specifically targeted the Barbera grape as the beneficiary of this process. And, after only a year of discussions with the Consorzio, this new wine was approved as of the 2014 vintage.

The appasimento style is most closely associated with Italy’s Veneto region – think Amarone della Valpolicella, but, essentially, these wines are produced from grapes that are dried in humidity-controlled, ventilated room, thereby reducing water content and concentrating aromas and flavors in the grape.

Moreover, the specific rules for the Barbera Appassimento DOC are vastly different than those of Amarone. Of note, the drying process for this new wine is limited to four to six weeks, a much shorter time frame than the four months required for Amarone production. Further, there is no wood aging permitted compared to the minimum two years of oak aging for Amarone.

Yet, despite the obvious comparison to the Veneto, the true intent was to express the Barbera grape in a alternate way rather than mimic Amarone, as evidenced by the resulting style of wine. The group was pleasantly surprised at how fresh and light the wine was, finding it to be a great expression of the grape with softer acidity and fuller body than more traditional Barbera wines. Lunch guests also tasted Ricossa’s Gavi as well as its Barbaresco 2011 and Barolo Riserva 2008, which provided a broader introduction to the winery’s portfolio.