CASA MARIN : A 40 MINUTE CONVER-TASTING WITH JAMIE VERBRAAK

CASA MARIN ::::::::::: Crazy for Cool Climate!

This entry was written and composed whilst enjoying a Rabl 2013 Gruner Veltliner 'Langenlois' Kamptal DAC Austria and listening to a Jay Dee aka J-Dilla interview with Gilles Peterson from Feb 2001 commemorating his death anniversary and birthday

the conversation: w/ Jamie Verbraak - commercial manager

 Jamie Verbraak - Commercial Manager for Casa Marín

Jamie Verbraak - Commercial Manager for Casa Marín

It was nearly a year and half ago that I was introduced to the wines of Casa Marin. A colleague of mine, Mr. Ian Thresher had recently been on a wine tour of Chile and shortly after his return to Canada he placed a private order for several of their wines. The purchase Included a wine of remarquable character  this wine being 'the' Syrah from the Miramar Vineyards of Lo Abarca. The wine was enchanting. Along with their Sauvignon Blanc and the rare Sauvignon Gris these wines had a purity and brightness of fruit that is 'Chile' at its best, but these wines had a precision that reflected the passion and drive of their maker Maria Luz Marin. 

Maria Luz Marin is Chile's first Lady of wine, the nation's first female wine maker and the first female to own a winery in a rather male dominated industry. She was and still is at the vanguard of cool climate Chilean wines and boy do we love 'cool climate wines'! In fact shortly after her first vintage of 2003 under her Casa Marin label she received acclaime as the top producer of Chilean white wines!

She has accomplished all that she has in the face of a wine hierarchy that is dominated by massive brands and by companies that are not directly related to wine. I was informed that about 60% of the wineries in Chile are owned by approximately 40 large national or international companies. To clarify  - I can make no factual claim in this statement but I can understand the 'new world winery' business model and the investment that is needed in order to compete on the world market. Though private sector investment and corporate management is one way of doing things the Casa Marin story set's it apart from the rest. 

Maria Luz Marin, started her winemaking career in the 70's and into the 90's gathered momentum by building the 3rd largest producer of bulk wine in Chile, wines that would be used for blending and for supermarket brands in the domestic and european  markets. But....She had a higher calling and would be inspired to make 'great' wines with her talent and drive, but where? 

Lo Abarca in the 90's 

One of Maria's oldest childhood memories was of taking family vacations to the coast. The destination would be on the other side of the San Antonio Valley towards the ocean and the route would take them through an area called Lo Abarca. Lo Abarca is known for superior agriculture products and produce. As a child she would notice the temperature change and coolness as the family car travelled through various elevations towards their destination. As an adult knowing that she wanted to create unique wines, where would that be, and it was a childhood memory that would direct her back to Lo Abarca. Everyone thought she was crazy, it was too cold, the soils were too fertile. It would be folly, it would be financial suicide. Bah! She withdrew investments from her bulk wine company and bought, at auction, vineyard and land over various plots in Lo Abarca and set off to make her own wines as the first Chilean woman to found an independent winery. In 1999/2000 she planted vineyards and in 2003 she released her first wines that would prove to silence critics and nay-sayers.

CASA MARIN is

  • 46 hectares.
  • planted to Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris for white grapes and Syrah and Pinot Noir for red grapes ( with a new project focusing on Grenache).
  • wines are sourced from 63 different vineyard plots.
  • 80% of the vineyards are located in the hills of Lo Abarca on various micro-climates at elevations that range from 100 feet to 500 feet above sea level.
  • soils range from loam to granite with sand and limestone with marine deposits in the flatter vineyards. 
  • the maritime terroir is one of the coolest and closest to the coast,  though this cool the region benefits from a long season with an early and long spring and rather consistent and moderated temperature throughout the year.

Maria Luz is now assisted by her son Felipe, who has recently graduated from school of viticulture and oenology and has returned home from working in New Zealand. He is also spearheading a project focused on Grenache from vineyards that are farmed with biodynamic and natural applications. The results of which are fascinating and engaging the palates of some of the most astute critics and wine writers around the world.  

Casa Marin is the epitome of cool climate wines from the ever evolving wine world of Chile

the tasting:

Sauvignon Blanc 'Cartagena' 2013 : Cartagena is the Casa Marin entry level series of wines. They are most certainly pleasant and drinkable. Those who love Sauvignon in the riper fruit context and those studying Chilean Sauv Blanc will delight in the purity of flavour and complexity of expression. They are using a French Clone for this wine coming from one of their top vineyard sights, which helps explain certain complexity in flavour. From poor soils and a warm site this wine is a pleaser 

Sauvignon Blanc 'Cipresses' Casa Marin 2013: is the ultimate expression of the Casa Marin Sauvignon Blanc vision. The wines is made from smaller but better quantity of grapes per hectare coming from the vineyard. They are using a UC Davis 1 clone with cold maceration over 18hours with 3 weeks of lees contact. The wine sees 5% of oak but is barely felt if any on the palate. Think asparagus, sweet corn, and savoury and earthy notes with a sweet pea to creamy pea soup feel. Honestly Sauvignon Blanc is not my first choice but I find these wines to be precise, focused and made with the utmost care. 

Sauvignon Gris 'Estero' Casa Marin 2013 : is a unique creature indeed. Sourced from an old clone from Pessac Leognan in Bordeaux that never re-emerged after phylloxera as it was not considered profitable as a grape. Maria Luz felt this would be the exact grape to hold a place in her stable of white wines. The wine is made from spontaneous fermentation with 70% of the wine aged in 2/3 times used barrels with 30% rested in steel. To taste this wine think, grass, herbs, young green shoots, to leeks and chives, with texture and natural sweetness, though it is a dry wine. Lemon Thyme and Lemon Balm, but I may be reaching here. The palate is fresh and spiced with white pepper, round and pleasing. I fun wine for the student and the connoisseur. 

Pinot Noir 'Cartegena' 2013 : the first of their entry level Pinot Noir, think lean, fresh and spiced red berry. A pleasant balance of cool climate pinot character - fragrant, meaty, savoury with fruit that is dry versus sweet. Clocking in at 14% alcohol, it is impressive that the wine is so lean. 

Pinot Noir ' Litoral Vineyards' 2013 : is an example of their top tier production. The wine is high toned, peppered and savoury with nice red fruit. Really a balance of fruit and the savoury quality of Pinot Noir at it's best. Lush, Plush, mineral with a smokey and pleasant finish. A must have for PInot that should be ready to drink in the next 2-5 years. 

 Viñedos Lo Abarca - a new series of wines  

Viñedos Lo Abarca - a new series of wines  

Garnacha/Syrah 'Viñedos Lo Abarca No. 3 2013 : this is the Casa Marin new generation of wines made by Felipe, Maria Luz's son. He represents the new generation of wine makers focusing on wines made closer to natural and biodynamic principles. They planted grenache in 2011 and this is first presentation of the wine. 1800 bottles, 2 years in  barrel. The wine is killer! Think North Rhone, think Gigondas with a 20-30% blend of Syrah that takes the wine into a whole new level. The wine is of a sweet berry profile, with freshness and vibrancy, white and black pepper, a textured and pleasant mouthfeel. Can you tell that I really enjoyed this wine. Get some when they get here! Please!

FORADORI : THE ELEGANCE OF TEROLDEGO

It was a very cold Sunday night in January, it felt as though winter had finally arrived. Myself a winter baby it has been strange to have such 'clement' weather this time of year. Taking advantage of the snow-free streets I rode my bicycle down to Archive Wine Bar to taste the unique wines of Foradori and to meet Emilio Foradori. Emilio, oenologue and viticulture since 2013 is here on a multi-city tour of Canada presenting his first vintage as 'winemaker' of this family run winery. Emilio has taken over from his graceful and elegant mother Elisabetta. Emilio 27 yrs old, himself a student of Viticulture from SupAgro 'the' school of Viticultural Sciences in Montpellier (South France) and raised in the way of biodynamics is expanding on the vision of his mother, and that is to produce wines from indigenous grapes, Manzoni Bianco, Nosiola and Teroldego. Creating wines with depth and character, that are world class representatives of the potential of this northern corner of Italy. 

ELISABETTA Foradori, LA REGINA DELLA VAL D'ADIGE, Naturalemente

Elisabetta, is the Queen of Teroldego; from the age of 19 she was placed in charge her father's winery and estate. The father who suddenly passed away left all he had to his one daughter and dutifully she continued to tend to the vines until, intrinsically, she was lead to the world of biodynamics. Biodynamics as a philosophy and way of shepherding the vine and grape towards a more complex and dynamic wine. She completed studies in Viticulture and Winemaking and thus from a technical aspect she was capable of making correct wine from the grape Teroldego of Rotaliano. She soon grew tired of the run of the mill correct wines and the co-operative mentality so much that in the early 80's she started the conversion to  biodynamic methods to allow the truth to be heard from her vines. She first focused on Teroldego as the variety to be the vehicle for her 'message in the bottle'. The wines stand alone and are an example of honest winemaking. Taste for yourself and you shall see. 

Why is Granato Granato?…it was meant to be a big fat wine from the Teroldego grape, at the time the common example was fresh, floral and lighter in body….with time the wine has become concentrated, focused and the strongest expression of what Foradori Teroldego is…
— Emilio Foradori

TEROLDEGO of the Rotaliano Plains

The grape is found for the most part in the central valley below the Dolomiti Mountains. The 'plain' is called Campo Rotaliano for which the grape receives it's classic name Teroldego Rotaliano. Now interestingly enough the grape is genetically related to the majestic Syrah of France. It is also the cousin of the Lagrein of Italy, and the lesser known Mondeuse and Dureza of France. The growth cycle, as explained briefly by Emilio, is like that of Syrah, it is quite vigourous, the leaves will fall, as in lop over from their own weight unless they are managed and will produce medium sized grapes that are harvested usually in September. The grape tends to produce wines of elevated acidity, with dark savoury fruitiness and are deep in colour. 

The beauty of the Foradori vineyards is that vines for all of their vineyards are originally from a massal selection ( 15 select cuttings of old vines) from 4 of their oldest vineyards. These 4 vineyards were planted within the years of 1938 and 1954 and contain the original 'DNA' for the Teroldego that they use today. These 4 vineyards produce the grapes for the top red cuvée called 'GRANATO'. 

 Foradori does not use 'clones'. The reason is that as a result of agricultural crossings, certain 'clones' of the same variety are made to be either very productive and/or resistant to disease for whatever purpose suits the needs of the winemaker and though they can produce palatable wines these specimens will never reach the same complexity and depth of flavour as original massal selections. Foradori has chosen quality over quantity.

 Foradori Family of Wines. 

Foradori Family of Wines. 

message in the bottle, a session with emilio foradori

We began the tasting with the 2014 Manzoni Bianco 'Fontanasanta'. Manzoni Bianco isn't that what we clean hockey rinks with? Not quite. It is in Emilio's opinion 'one of the few crossings by man that were successful'. The Dr. Manzoni was responsible for crossing Riesling and Pinot Bianco, thus Manzoni Bianco. The Manzoni Bianco populated vineyards within Friuli, Veneto and Trentino producing mineral and savoury wines, with low yields and a strange growth character, in that the vine grows straight up in the air like a bean stalk, and with thick skins became an ideal candidate for wines of long maceration. it was Emilio's grandfather, who studied wine in Conegliano (Prosecco country), that found that the grape adapted well to the clay soils of the hills in Trento near a village called Fontanasanta. The wine itself spends 5-7 days of maceration with skin contact and then 7-8 months in Acacia casks. I found the wine to be quite lovely and engaging with a lovely floral, then smokey and white stone fruit character with a palate of mountain flowers and bright herbs. With time this wine will be quite charming. 

We had the pleasure of tasting two vintages of the Nosiola 'Fontanasanta' both 2010 and 2013. The Nosiola grape variety is local and indigenous which today is limited to 50 hectares in the entire world. 50 years ago there were more than 850 hectares dedicated to the grape before the 'co-operative' system forced out this rather 'non-aromatic' and 'Shy' grape. The majority believed in Pinot Grigio, the almighty saviour and provider. Foradori stuck by Nosiola and this wine is a fantastic example of what Foradori is about.

Enter the amphora, the spanish styled clay vessel called the 'Tinajas' [tina'has}. We talked of the 2 prevailing traditions of 'clay' Amphora wine making, 1. that of the Georgians and 2. that of the Spanish that use 'clay' as the material for the vessel. Why I asked, and Emilio explained that clay gives oxygen and helps in the 'life processes' of the wine as it moves through it's natural transformation from grape to wine. The clay keeps the wines bright and alive without imparting additional flavour. The Foradori Nosiola spends 7 months with skin contact in amphorae and tasting the two vintages side by side the progression is remarkable. 2013 Nosiolo 'Fontnasanta' was rotund with pear, melon, then savoury of mountain herbes and dried mountain flowers and another moment, waxy like honeycomb. The wine is very persistent in flavour. Whereas the 2010 Nosiola 'Fontanasanta' was evolved with red and green apple skin, the texture of tannin subtle and salted, the herbs moved to something caramel and luscious 'super dope' flavours I exclaimed, like nothing I've tasted before and the perfume. I was compelled to eat and drink. To put this wine into context, there are only 3 other producers working with this variety in a region that is dominated by 2 very large co-operatives that account for 95% of the wine produced in the region. Now think Trentino-Alto Adige contributes maybe 5% of Italian wine production. The co-operatives generate 70million bottles and Foradori generates 8,000 bottles of this near forgotten grape Nosiolo! Get some it's great!

We then proceeded to the reds which are all 100% Teroldego 'vigneti delle Dolomiti' from 2011 and 2013 vintages. Emilio describes the vintages in very direct terms. 2011 was a 'Primadonna' vintage of generous and sexy wines and the 2013 vintage was more 'German' in style. My notes in brief are as follows. 

2013 Foradori Teroldego. A wine that spends 1/2 it's time in oak and the other in concrete was redolent of violets and purple flowers (what are purple flowers) and dark berries, the flavours were earthy and textured with a subtle burnt orange skin with soft grained tannin that was gentle and savoury. This is the classic Foradori Teroldego from the plains of Rotaliano. (in Bordeaux bottle for wines that have spent time in oak) 

We then moved to the (2)single vineyard expressions of Teroldego. Wines of long maceration in the 'tinaja' styled amphorea. Both wines were presented in Burgundy bottle

 Two single Vineyards 100% Teroldego 100% Amphora (Tinajas) 100% delightful. 

Two single Vineyards 100% Teroldego 100% Amphora (Tinajas) 100% delightful. 

2013 Sgarzon Teroldego. Emilio describes this wine as 'nervous' and bright with acidity as it comes from a cooler site with sandy soils. Indeed the wine is bright and floral, with sweet fresh red berry like a creamed soda. The texture of the wine is remarkable in that the tannin is evident but not pronounced. The wine is earthy but carries none of the tell-tale signs of amphora aged biodynamic wines. It was a Teroldego that I had always wanted.

2013 Morei Teroldego comes from one of the hottest vineyards that receives an extra 2 hours more of sun exposure and is on stoney soils. Morei means dark in the Trento dialect and the wine is indeed warmer and richer in all facets. Think dark cherry, sweet purée of tomato with red liquorice. I imagines red twizzlers made of wine. The structure of the wine was just that much more beefier than the Sgarzon but you could identify them having the same hand in wine making. The acid hound that I am loved the Sgarzon but the Morei had a certain hedonistic pleasure. Both wines would be handsome at the dinner table and fitting for any and every mood. Balanced, focused, complex and of character. 

2011 Granato Teroldego. The flagship wine of the family. Before tasting I had to ask Emilio 'Why is Granato Granato?" His response was that as a wine that started in the 80's it was meant to be a big fat wine from Teroldego, at the time the common examples were fresh, floral and lighter in body. Though the Granato has evolved with time, the wine has become concentrated, focused and the strongest expression of what Foradori Teroldego is.

 An homage to the influence of the Mediterranean, the origin of wine.  Granato - charm, beauty, elegance

An homage to the influence of the Mediterranean, the origin of wine.  Granato - charm, beauty, elegance

Granato = Pomegranate. I have had 2009 vintage of this wine and it is such a charming and sexy wine, the 2011 was nothing short of lovely, with minted dark forest berry, savoury and bright profile on the palate with a soft braised mushroom, umami like texture, call it depth of flavour and I reminded myself that Granato is sourced from the 4 oldest mother vineyards, planted between 1938 to 1954. The 4 main vineyards being Regin, Redot, Pasquari, Cesura and occasionally Noval. 

Emilio Foradori

I must say it was a fantastic and casual session of tasting and talking wine with Emilio and Foradori, one of Italy's brightest stars of wine. Thank you to Archive Wine bar for hosting us and 'The Living Vine' Agency for bringing us such a elegant and lovely wines. Emilio was quite charismatic despite just getting off the plane 3 hours previous. I can only imagine the power and grace of his mother. Emilio having studied in France, has also worked at Cheval Blanc, has recently spent some time in Patagonia and is part of a generation of modern and connected winemakers that will only bring the public closer to the true 'message in the bottle'. 

That's it for now. a la proxima

Christopher

The Back Bar at Alo

Meditating on Saturday service at Alo. Good things to come this year in Wine, Food and Service with splash of more travelling.  

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Negroni n Beats by Ulrich @People's Eatery. Toronto.

Moving through the night on my two-wheeler, post-service with head phones on grime. Skepta. Stopped in at people's eatery and my man J. Ulrich dropping proper vinyl. Beats electronic. 

 

 Jason Ulrich  

Jason Ulrich  

Always proper! Not a forgotten art! Vinyl, DJ, beats.  

He studied vinyl Like I study wine and service.  

Easy!  

BBK!  

Top Boy!  

On the Real! - The Outside Looking In.

Music paired with this entry - Stormzy 'Shut Up' - really it's about striving to be the best at what you do....However you want to interpret…display....portray....it's up to you....as long as nobody gets hurt. 

From Burgundy on King Street to Rum on Dundas… today was a good day of wine tasting and industry harmony. In brief the afternoon started with a Master Class tasting of Wines of Burgundy hosted by Sopexa and moderated by John Szabo. A fantastic and welcome seminar on the 'village wines' of Burgundy. About 20 Village level wines, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, tasted blind for structure and relevance in a new world and old world context. The experience was profound for many of us. A room full of 20 hardcore Sommeliers, Wine Writers and Industry professionals, it's not often we get to taste wines blind and learn…most often we are there to taste and offer analysis and critique and then think of purchasing. Here we were students once again as we are always meant to be. Bravo Sopexa and John Szabo. 

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Then off to service. Normal for a Tuesday night. Though this evening, over at Archive Wine Bar, Will Predhomme and Nicholas Pearce were hosting a unique wines of South Africa tasting. Showcasing some cool wines that they tasted and experienced on a recent trip to the Cape, they shared these wines with a good dollop of Toronto's crème de la crème wine elite in attendance…'the Cru' as Nick Pearce put it in a text to me as I was riding over. Exploring a series of above normal wines from South Africa I missed the bulk of the tasting but had the opportunity to taste the 'Sparkling Horse' sparkling wine. Delicious. Over glasses of Bouzeron, Clos de la Roilette and Toro Albala Sherry we all discussed life in Paris, wines of the County, while I sipped Mount Gay XO Barbados Rum and the Cru rocked out to what's his name…Queen and Freddie Mercury. A good night pre-Christmas Madness. 

A full report in on the Burgundy tasting…in blog format to follow….

Map Crazy - Barolo

This just arrived in the mail. Truffle scented and sprinkled of Nocciola.  Map mode has gone overdrive!  

Maps can really make a difference in the understanding of regions with complex topographical aspects. These details often are reflected in the wines. 

Thank you Albeisa  : Nebbiolo Prima 2015 : Ghuessis : Consorzio Di Tutela Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe Dogliani 

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Return to Alba - Nebbiolo Prima w/ Christopher Sealy and GoodFood Revolution

Earlier this year I was whisked off to Piemonte to cover the action and excitement of Nebbiolo Prima 2015. My third visit to this, my favourite part of Italy was an opportunity to develop deeper relationships with many producers some who I had met 2 years prior at the same event.

Here is a 3rd article on my adventures in the hills of the Langhe! Click the link below!

http://www.goodfoodrevolution.com/my-return-visit-to-nebbiolo-prima/

the Piazza Doumo in Alba

EARTH AND SKY….IS THE LIMIT - XINOMAVRO from Thymiopoulos Vineyards. Naoussa Greece

For the second time this year I had the opportunity to catch up with Apostolos Thymiopoulos, who is one of my favourite wine producers and quickly becoming a good friend in wine. On this market visit he was accompanied by his lovely wife Eleftheria, her first visit to the Toronto. The couple are the driving force behind the wines of Thymiopoulos Vineyards of Naoussa, Greece. They are the producers of amazing biodynamic wines based on the noble red grape called Xinomavro [sour -dark].  Why is Xinomavro fabulous and worthy of your attention? Well if you are a lover of Pinot Noir, an admirer of Nebbiolo then you will absolutely die for Xinomavro. The wines are bright fresh, savoury with red cherry fruit to sometimes olive sun dried tomato all wrapped up in firm tannin and a good dose of acidity. Sounds delicious doesn't it. The appellation of Naoussa is located in the northern part of Greece sitting a the foot of the Vermio Mountains. Naoussa is one of 4 appellations for the production of high quality Xinomavro,  the others being Rapsani, Amynteo and Goumenissa. The landscape here is of rolling and lush hills that remind you of the Langhe - Barolo and Barbaresco regions of Piemonte, Italy. In all truth and honesty my first visit to Greece in 2012 with New Wines of Greece was just after I had spent 6 days in Piemonte tasting Nebbiolo. When I encountered the Xinomavro of Thymiopoulos, I felt like I was tasting an original version of Nebbiolo! The experience was amazing. As soon as I returned to Toronto I contacted the 'brand new' agency of Victory Wine and Spirits owned/managed by  Nicole Artopolous and I had exclaimed that I had to have these wines. I could say with confidence that I was one of the first to pour these wines in Toronto and I've been an 'unofficial' ambassador for the brand and the wines ever since. But I digress.  The climate here is a combination of Continental and Mediterranean and many vineyards are situated at 300 to 500 metres above sea level. The grape of Xinomavro is one of Greeces vinous crown jewels and certainly impresses with it's charm. 

Thymiopoulos wines are farmed on 28 hectares of Biodynamic vineyards in the two prime  villages of Trifolos and Fytia. There are no subregions yet defined in Naoussa but they are moving closer to single vineyard designations. What I did learn is that within Naoussa there are 7 villages that are home to the best vineyards for Xinomavro production. The soils at these 7 villages are primarily a combination of schist, granite, red granite and quartz.

Starting in 2003 released their first vintage and have been running since, receiving critical acclaim and plaudits with every vintage. Apostolos truly believes in biodymanics in that it would be strange to have vines 'lined up like soldiers in the field' he prefers to have wild flower and grasses in between the vines, not only does this 'life in the vineyard' add complexity and aroma to the wines, there is a natural barrier and protection that the vines are afforded against the high temperatures here that can rise to 38degrees celsius in the heat of summer.    

 Apostolos with his 'Nature' - near zero sulphur Xinomavro…soon to be available in Ontario. 

Apostolos with his 'Nature' - near zero sulphur Xinomavro…soon to be available in Ontario. 

First off we tasted the wines of his ATMA project. A white wine blend that is composed of  primarily Malagouzia, then followed by variable amounts ofs Assryrtiko, Aidani and Roditis. The vines for this wine are average age of 4years old from rocky schist and granitic soils. As 2014 was a rather cool year, the components of the blend will change based on vintage. We had the 2014 ATMA blend which had a very reduced amount of Malagouzia, a semi-aromatic varietal. Instead of ripe luscious fruit, there is lean and clean floral aroma to peach and pear and slight green apple. There was some flesh to the wine underlining the wines subtle and pleasant nature. The wine had been previously called 'The Boarding Pass' which I had purchased in 2011. The wine stylistically has come along way and will only get better with time. 

The Young Guns!

We then jumped into the main feature of the visit and that is the Xinomavro wines of Young Vine and Earth and Sky. I know that with every guest that I present this wine to they have been awestruck and amazed at it's quality and character. I gently remind them that Xinomavro and the terroir from which this grape comes from is some of the oldest wine growing regions in the world and that much of what we know about wine today originates here and before that in the Middle East. Amazing! I know. 

The 2013 Young Vines Xinomavro is composed of vines aged 7-9 years. Much of the fruit is coming from several villages in the area. Harvested in the end of September, the wine goes into maceration for 12-14 days and sometimes this is done in whole cluster to give depth and texture. I must say that this vintage was quite exceptional. A combined and stunning rich fruity and floral aroma with savoury earthiness to balance. To taste this wine is to taste silky red and black cherry, with sweet sundried tomato and tomato leaf with a lift that is like a fresh breeze in the northern hills of Greece. Apostolos has had a hard time keeping this wine in stock. So much so that he most recently bottled directly from the stainless steel vats! Believe me the wine is this good! 

Now to the big brother, 2013 Earth and Sky sourced from 9-11 vineyards with average age of 42 year old vines, natural fermentation and no controlled malolactic, 4 month on lees and continual ageing in large barrel for 18 months. Now words can't really describe the lovely rich and heady aroma of this wine, earthy pine needles with a creamed cherry tartness that lashes out images of Nebbiolo, then pushes fine and velvety tannin of Sangiovese then back flips back to the old world with a charm that is only Xinomavro!

Last but not least was the 2014 Rosé. The vines are on average 4 years old, harvested in November after the grapes for the reds are collected. A 10 hour overnight extractions results in a gorgeous candy cherry and raspberry delight. This is a wine with presence and me not being a 'massive' fan of rosé could not help but fall in love with this wine. 

If you haven't yet tried the wines of Thymiopoulos, I really do believe you might be missing out on a very exciting and engaging family of wines from Naoussa in Northern Greece. There are many great wine of the world and I think even fewer that provide sheer and pure drinking pleasure. 

Eleftheri and Apostolos Thymiopoulos, Me (int the Tie) and Nicole Artopolos of Victory Wines

Drink More Xinomavro

A WEEK OF ALTITUDE WINES AND LASER TOASTED BARRELS

Toronto, ON. 2015

in the headphones :  Benji  B on BBC Radio 1

the tasting begins. CATENA ZAPATA

The first day back to the grind after the Canadian Thanksgiving Long Weekend, was spent at a fun and innovative concept tasting of Malbec from the famed house of  Bodega Catena Zapata of Mendoza, Argentina. Catena Zapata is represented in Toronto by the wonderful people at Trialto Agency and they treated us to a structured and very cool interactive tasting of several of Catena's 'high altitude' single vineyard Malbec wines as well as the famous wine 'Alta Malbec', vintage 2012. The premise of the tasting was to examine and understand the nature of how they complete the Alta Malbec wine, which is in actuality a blend of 5 different single vineyard sites found at altitudes ranging from 860 to 1500 metres above sea level. Now, I myself and many of my peers love 'altitude' wines. Why? More often than not the wines offer up a quality of fruit flavour combined with a natural freshness and precision that tastes and feels very different then wines at lower altitudes and certainly those of valley's and plains. How? in a simple explanation are these sensations achieved? I can only deduce that the freshness of microclimate at altitude and greater proximity to the sun provide that necessary photosynthetic energy needed to ripen the grape with a natural and evident cool climate. I think about skiing as a natural analogy …as fresh as it is on the peaks, you always leave sun soaked or sunburnt.

(Sun Energy generates ripe grapes) + (Cold Air elevates acid) = Really Fun and Balanced Wines. 

Well…actually there is a bit more than that and fortunately we had Ernesto Bajda, Catena's Wine Maker walk us through the site specific nature of each vineyard, the nature of the Malbec clone used and actual insight into the respiratory cycle of the vine as it lives and breaths at altitude.

Lets talk Altitude

The methods that Ernesto and the team at Catena use to make their famous wines is really an exercise in climate blending in order to create wines of unique flavour and aromatic expression. We have to thank Nicolas Catena for his insight into creating and developing their single vineyard system. The vineyards are found between 860 metres and 1500 metres above sea level in the Uco Valley at roughly 10km away from the snow line of the Andes Mountains. The Andes are the highest mountain range in the Americas and is also the longest range in the world. Altitude and Longitude are key elements considered in the raising of their Malbec grapes. With 330 days of sunshine (which is a hell of a lot) and an annual average of only 8" of rain fall, the zone is dry and arid. The water needed to feed the grapes is control irrigated from the melted snow of the Andes. As far as vintages are concerned it's really about temperature creating good to great vintages and in the case of a bad vintage it would be influenced on the level of excess rainfall in the year.  Here at Catena they control the water stress of the vines, helping to focus the vine plant energy into the grapes rather than on growth. I conclude that Catena has utmost control on how to influence or not to influence the growth of the vine.  

History dictates that it was a certain Frenchman, Francois Pouget, that in 1852 immigrated to Argentina and with him brought cuttings of Malbec from France. In 1898 Nicolas Catena (Nicolas's grandfather) immigrated from Italy to Argentina and founded their home and home vineyard in the Uco Valley. The home vineyard has since been named Angelica after Nicolas's mother and it is here that Nicolas's father felt the family could create enjoyable and great wines from Malbec. The family philosophy is that Malbec should not be harsh and tannic, nor rustic. It should be plum candy pleasant, with enjoyable and delicate tannin. Catena would stand to create plush, plump plum and floral wines to be enjoyed and cherished. In the 1990's Nicolas would endeavour to find the best plants from the home vineyard, Angelica. He found 145 ideal plants and from that found 5 individual plants that would propagate the 4 other vineyards. The difference in the vineyards, outside of soil and other factors would be that they would be at varying altitudes. He determined that vines at different altitudes produced different quality of grape that would eventually contribute to the complexity of the exalted Catena - Alta Malbec blend.

He took a scientific research approach to creating his single vineyards. For every 100 metre increase in altitude you lose 1 degree celsius. The science behind this is that basically the vine has a certain threshold for heat, for it to generate energy and a tolerance for air pressure in order to breath and recover. We talk of diurnal temperature shifts in certain wine making regions as important factors to ripen grapes but also to balance grapes with acidity. The high heat of the day creates sugar in the fruit and the cooler the night allows for the 'creation' of acid as the vine breaths. Now it is said that at more than 33 degrees celsius day time temperatures the vine will shut down/stop working and will stop breathing in order to protect itself and it's fruit. The vine will then wait for the cooler night temperature to continue working and to recover. Instead of photosynthetic energy used, at night the plant will 'eat' it's tannin and sugar as they respire at night and resume work, thus raising the acidity levels as a result. Ideally the more consistent the temperature shift the more natural the plant behaviour and more natural the resulting wine. Well Nicolas determined that at in certain sites of the Uco Valley, there was a constant day temperature of 30 to 32 degrees celsius because of the coolness of the mountain air at altitude, therefore there was never or rarely a point in the day that the vine stopped working. The desert like conditions of the Uco Vally at night was equally 'fresh' and the plant could breath and recover without using the energy (sugar and tannin) that would normally go into the grape bunches. Less diurnal shift and constant work over the 330 days of sunshine would create the ideal conditions to find a new expression for Malbec grapes for him to blend. Not to forget that Air pressure was also a factor. The higher you go the more air pressure. The pressure is created by the Atmosphere, as the filter between the suns heat energy and us as living being. It protects and moderates that energy as it reaches us living beings. At higher altitude there is 'less' of a filter therefore more direct and pure sunlight and a higher air pressure, less water loss and more water retention. The key was to find higher sites with consistent heat but cooler temperatures and that's is where the longitude of the Andes comes in. Starting at the Angelica (home vineyard at 920m) and rising to the highest vineyard and the most prized, the Adrianna (at 1450m) then moving to the southern vineyards of Nicasia (at 1200m is still consistently warm but is also in a much cooler zone as due to orientation in Southern hemisphere). Sounds complicated but as we tasted through the several single vineyards 'we could feel' the difference. 

The fun part of this tasting was that we (some 15 or so Sommelier and Wine Buyers in attendance) attempted to recreate the Catena Alta Malbec blend from the samples of the single vineyards we had in front of us. This component added a nice twist to the 'classic' master class tasting structure. My blend was a broken down to 50% of the 'La Piramide Vineyard' (on clay soil in a rather flat plains area at 950m) with 20% each of two different sections of the 'Adrianna' Vineyard (limestone and clay soils with sand at 1500m) finished with 20% of the home vineyard 'Angelica' (gravel and river bed soil with clay at 920m). Ernesto did make the rounds of the room tasting and discussing our 'individual blends' and he found that some us were not far off from his original blend, though we will never know the real recipe. 

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LASER TOASTED BARRELS W/ ROCCHE DEI MANZONI, MONFORTE D'ALBA - BAROLO

RODOLFO MIGLIORINI AND GIULIA NEGRO were in Toronto recently to tour and taste the family wines of Rodolfo Migliorini with Giulia as chief of Marketing. The family has 6 hectares in Barolo, primarily in Monforte d'Alba from cru vineyards such as Santo Stefano, Mosconi and Rue among others. Rodolfo defines the house style as not modern by any stretch of the imagination but rather traditional and innovative. I learned this and questioned this mindset only after tasting the 2010 Barbera d'Alba 'La Cresta' considered their most traditional wine. I was impressed with a clean, forward and transparent profile, filled in with spice red currant and an earthy richness with the classic Barbera brightness and fresh nature. It will cost you $30 plus for this wine but I found it worth it. The wine is aged in 'new barrel' but barrel that is toasted by laser and not fire. Rodolfo explained that barrels toasted by Laser eliminated the caramel and vanilla flavours that are normally associated with 'fire toasted barrel' these rich flavours are often then integrated into the wines, rendering Barbera as a creamy vanilla and blueberry pied wine. They also rest the barrels for one year exposed outside as a form of seasoning before they are used. Combined with time in concrete egg before bottling the Barbera was incredibly rich yet fresh. 

Manzoni

2013 Langhe Nebbiolo coming from higher vineyards in Monforte, to accentuate a fresh and floral nature to the wines are not an attempt at being a 'baby Barolo' but to rather be a great Nebbiolo. This time second use barrel aged wines produced fruit forward, cherry and currant flavours with floral and spiced notes and a delightful fullness that was undeniably approachable . 

2010 Barolo 'Big d' Big' is a single vineyard called Big d' Big, named after the first owner of the vineyard who after World War II left for America and became a rich man. Upon his return to Piemonte he purchased this 'rather large' vineyard and his nickname was Mr. Big. On official appellation maps the vineyard is named Big d'Big. Now…I expected a super modern and rich Barolo from this 'great' 2010 vintage. The wine was floral and ripe upfront, elegant and inviting with earthy and savoury notes that kept the wine grounded. 

A Taste of Bourgogne - April 8th Luncheon Tasting.

ORIGINAL POST FROM APRIL 2014

Earlier this month I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a structured seminar on the fine wines of Burgundy, France. It would be impossible to fully capture the true essence Burgundy in one sitting, in reality it would take a lifetime. I and a few other Sommelier and Media Representatives were presented with a well curated snapshot of the whole region via 15 different wines starting in Chablis continuing down to Rully and further down to Pouilly-Fuissé in the Maçonnais.

 Vins de Bourgogn le 8 Avril 2014

Vins de Bourgogn le 8 Avril 2014

This seminar hosted by Sopexha was presented in tandem, by John Szabo, Master Sommelier (Toronto), and Francois Labet, vigneron and Chairman of the BIVB* Marketing and Communication Commission (France) with the assistance of Nelly Blau, Manager of Export Marketing and Communication for BIVB* (France)

  *Bureau Interprofessinnel des Vins de Bourgogne.

All wines selected for the seminar were sourced from the LCBO and through Consignment Agents. During the introduction given by Francois, it was made clear that Burgundy and Canada enjoy a positive and longstanding relationship that has lasted for many years. The Quebec and Ontario markets are very important to the Burgundians. Recent vintages have been good but reduced in quantity and availability. The purpose for the visit/tasting was to reconnect  with a Toronto public, the Restaurant and Hospitality community and for those of us attending the seminar, it was another opportunity to taste and understand the region, this time in a very non-academic format. 

 Francois Labet introduces the Wines of Burgundy

Francois Labet introduces the Wines of Burgundy

During the introduction to the tasting there were a few important key facts about Burgundy  that were brought to our attention, facts that I feel should be shared with you for a greater understanding of Burgundy and its' importance in the continued history of wine. 

1. Burgundy, and particularly the vineyards of the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuits are soon to be recognized as an Official UNESCO World Heritage Site. A worthy consideration because of the Burgundian geographical history of soil, and for it's European Cultural and Historical significance of which a great part of this history is based on the vine and wine.

2. Some would argue that the notion of 'terroir' was born in France, with Burgundy as the clearest example. John Szabo offered up this formula for the argument supporting the 'terroir case for Burgundy. The following is the formula: Soil + Climate + Vine + the Intervention of Man + HUMILITY. Humility being the key factor, stemming from the Burgundian history of the Cistercian Monks crafting the first of Burgundy's great wines. The life purpose of the monk was to work and live by god and to produce the best wine that they could offer up to the heavens. In producing such wine only an extreme amount of Humility would allow the the best possible wine, even in the face of the ever unpredictable nature of the elements of the earth, sky and the heavens. The monks discipline was to perfect gods work exemplified through wine. It was the monks that identified that different plots of land that gave way to different qualities of wine. Thus the creating of the base for 'cru' vineyards and the notion of terroir that we know and understand today. 

 John Szabo defining Burgundy and Terroir

John Szabo defining Burgundy and Terroir

3. Burgundy has a history of wine making that started in the middle ages, a history that has been more or less uninterrupted throughout the ages. Even through the decades of political, economical unrest and the turmoil due to war, the vineyards of Burgundy have remained intact thus creating a long period of production which has allowed continual development and growth. There are few regions around the world that have been so favoured by so many. A long and rich history is a key factor adding to the prominence and importance of this region in current times. 

soil + climate + intervention of man + humility = the true notion of Terroir. Humility being an important factor determining man’s purpose in wine.
— John Szabo

Here I will list the wines tasted and highlight the wines which I found of particular interest. Based on my limited experience these notes are by no means based on a score or critique. They are simply a sommeliers analysis of wine. The omission of notes on a wine is by no means an indication of judgment or a lack of quality. 

 An intimate conversation with Nelly Blau, a native Burgundia

An intimate conversation with Nelly Blau, a native Burgundia

CHARDONNAY based wines.

1. Chablis AOC,  2012. Domain Gautheron. $24.95. Vintages 207902. A wine with a bright lemon and citrus attack, a nice touch of lees leading to slight melon and banana with a nervy amount of acid. Some texture on the palate, mineral and driven of medium complexity. Oak maturation was evident but restrained.

2. 1er Cru Montmains AOC, 2010. La Chablisienne.  $28.95. Vintages 265090

3. Bourgogne Blanc AOC, 2013. Louis Jadot. $20.95. Vintages Essential. 

4. Mâcon-Villages AOC, 2012. Maison Joseph Drouhin. $17.75 Vintages 356956

5. Rully 1er Cru, Mont-Palais, 2011. Domaine Jaeger-Defaix. $41.99 Consignment. I found the wine to be quite taught and focused, with a nutty almond character under the fruit. There was a slight spiced component to the aromatics of the wine which I found intriguing and added to the complexity of the wine. Palate was dry, saline, mineral and tart like that of plum skin. 

6. Pouilly-Fuissé AOC, 'Vieilles Vignes', 2010 Château Vitallis $27.95 Vintages 360495

7. Pouilly-Fuissé Ver Cras AOC Château de Beauregard 2010. Masion Joseph Burrier $49.95 Consignment. This wine was deliciously tart and lifted, rosemary, lemon, lime, chalky minerality and bright presenting a complex 'nose'. The follow through on the palate was equally tart and textured, fresh pear to slightly bruised apple, soft spice and a certain viscosity t the palate. 

NOTE: I found the Pouilly-Fuissé wines to be of great value and quality. The discussion upon tasting the wines lead to the admission by our hosts that some vineyards had been submitted for 'premier cru' status, which would lead to an eventual stratification of Pouilly-Fuissé, much like the rich cousins of Côtes de Beaune and des Nuits to the north. Creating a new profile of quality for the region of Pouilly-Fuissé. 

8. Chassange-Montrachet AOC, 'Vieilles Vignes' 2012. Maison Vincent Girardin. $55.75 Vintages 364141. The aromatics on the wine gave way to ginger, lemon and a nice mineral touch. The wine was tart, mineral and with a bright acid structure, all of this contributing to its great elegance on the palate. Sourced from 50 year old vines there was a lot happening in this wine, with chalky, stoney and some vegetal tones shining through. 

PINOT NOIR based wines: 

9. Bourgogne Rouge AOC, 2010. Maison André Delorme. $20.95. Vintages 366427. 

10. Givry 1er Cru, Cellier aux Moines AOC, 2008. Domain Thénard. $32.50. Consignment. A pleasant wine of fresh red berry fruit, some caramelized chocolate, floral and a slight herbed nose, to a palate that was earthy, mineral, elevated in acid, with medium tannin. Some bitter vegetable, and more earth adding a complex dimension to the wine. 

11. Beaune 1er Cru, Beaune du Château AOC, 2009. Dom. Bouchard Père & Fils. $36.90 LCBO Signature 325142

12. Beaune 1er Cru, Les Grèves AOC, 2010. Maison Roche de Bellene. $46.95 Consignment. 

13. Pommard, Clos des Ursulines AOC, 2011. Dom. du Paviollon, Masion. Albert Bichot. $49.95 Vintages 23820. This was a very attractive wine, with dark bramble and rhubarb fruit, wrapped by smokey and hickory tones, celery and a touch of espresso or raw chocolate. The mouthfeel was that of bright red cherry fruit over the dark berry from the nose. firm tannin and great structure.

14. Morey-Saint-Denis AOC, 2010. Domaine Aurélien Verdet. $36.25. Vintages 354316 One of the few wines in the tasting based on biodynamic practices. The wine was plush and elegant with a soft earthy feel. more bramble of red and black fruit, fleshy. A sweet and tart pleasant sipping wine. I think future vintages will certainly produce better wines as a result of biodynamic practices. 

15. Nuits-Saint-George AOC 'Vieilles Vignes', 2011. Domaine Daniel Rion & Fils. $53.75 Vintages 356600. A continuation of that delightful bramble fruit nose, that wafts between cherry and other red berry, nice cinnamon and warm wood spice - similar in tone to the Pommard but a different range. The palate had what seemed like sweeter, rich black fruit, with candy cinnamon to fine elegant acid and tannin. 

CAPARZO - Media Luncheon and Tasting.

The year 2014 kicked off with the 'polar vortex' and sub zero temperatures all throughout the GTA, some of us in the wine trade had been fortunate enough to attend wine seminars and luncheons with visiting wine makers and export managers from abroad. This past January 23rd, I had the fortune of attending a delicious 3 hour luncheon showcasing the wines of Caparzo of Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany) at Tutti Matti | Ristorante Toscana

A few food writers and wine buyers headed down to the warm environs of Tutti Matti, for a 4 course tuscan themed lunch prepared by Chef Alida Solomon. We tasted several wines from the Caparzo portfolio, all presented by the proprietor herself, Elisabetta Gnudi. The event was staged to celebrate and introduce the fact that one of the Caparzo entry level wines was selected as the LCBO Vintages Winter Wine. A 3 month promotion that awards 1 winery from 100's of wines submitted to be represented in 275 LCBO stores across the GTA. The wine selected was a 2011 Sangiovese IGT Toscana - a blend of Sangiovese, with Alicante, Petit Verdot and Merlot. The grapes being sourced from individual vineyards from the Caparzo triad of estates located in Chianti, Brunello and Scansano. Borgo Scopeto (Chianti), Caparzo (Montalcino) and Doga delle Clavule (Maremma) - represented by the three roses and three lillies in the crest pictured below. 

The following is a brief summary of the wines we tasted and a few notes. Wines can be purchased from the Ontario Agents : The Case For Wine. Lloyd Evans and Terry Milne. 

2011 Caparzo Sangiovese IGT Toscana - blend of Sangiovese, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Alicante.  $12.95 Vintages LCBO. Note: this value to quality wine of a youthful intensity showed classic cherry and red fruit notes, with some red apple skin. A subtle vanilla underlining earthy and warm spice notes translated on the palate to a fresh, med body wine. The sweet red cherry fruit and apple giving moderate complexity. Good value for the money.

2005 Le Grance IGT Toscana - blend of 80% Chardonnay, 15% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Gewürztraminer. The first vintage of this 'burgundian styled' white wine was in 1985. Sourced from a north facing slope in a vineyard situated in the northern quadrant of the Brunello appellation. The philosophy is to make a wine from Tuscany with burgundian feel and the capacity to age. I cannot comment on the burgundian reference as I have not tasted enough to make a sound judgement but I can say that the wine was elegant and well structured.  On the nose the use of oak was present but judicious with Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer giving a combination of high tone citrus, lemon rind, ripe stewed pear, with orange pith and a subtle florality. Celery and fennel fronds, nut and biscuit aroma led to a palate of moderate acidity, soft texture and a balance that was pleasing based on the blend. This 2005 showed well and should develop more complex aroma over time. 

2010 Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico - 95% Sangiovese, 5% Colorino. A decidedly more plush and rich styled Classico, with classic Sangiovese flavour indicative of the southern hills of Siena. I felt the nice warm cherry, berry and dusty leather nose so familiar with classic sangiovese, though some notes of darker berry emerged. Suggesting that I may have got the Colorino wrong for what might be a touch of Merlot. As for the flavour profile, dry, with firm fine grained tannin, wrapped around red berry fruit, cherry, vanilla,  and fennel/liquorice. I would say a very polished and pleasing wine. 

2008 Brunello di Montalcino DOCG - 100% Sangiovese. This Brunello displayed an intense nose of red cherry and berry, red apple skin to an uplifting floral , rose like perfume which quickly moved into more leafy, earthy and mineral tones. As a mouthful the wine had great structure exemplified by good acidity and great tannin. The fruit on this wine was riper and sweet strawberry, tart cherry, vanilla spiced to chard, fennel, tea leaf and bay leaf highlights. Certainly a full bodied red, with great complexity.

La Casa is the label for the  'cru' single vineyard plot in the north of the Brunello appellation. I had the pleasure of tasting 4 older vintages of Caparzo's top wine. 

2008 La Casa Brunello di Montalcino DOCG - Immediately showing dark black cherry, intense in colour and aroma, still with vanilla and oak lingering from the wines release from barrel. Overall, an interesting herbed and candied amaro profile, switching to bold fruit with a richness that will resolve itself over time.

2006- La Casa Brunello di Montalcino DOCG comes from a 5 star vintage that was warmer for Tuscany overall the producers located in the south would have full flavoured higher alcohol wines, but great for the producers in the cooler top end of the appellation for elegance and power. Here is where Caparzo makes it mark. Cherry, full fruit berry, black currant, floral, rose, leather, to an iron and sanguine feel, star anise, fennel seed, earth, with balsamic notes. The palate reflects this complexity with firm tannin and acidity to hold a the components of red fruit berry, currants, bitter cherry, and bitter chocolate.

2004 La Casa Brunello di Montalcino DOCG goes a step further, still with more time to evolve and develop. Cherry, raspberry and tart fruit, over wood aroma of birch bark, root herbs. There was fennel and rhubarb stem. On the palate bitter and sweet black cherry, black and red currant, leather and earthy with similar house style of herbed and mineral amaro on the back palate and finish.

2000 La Casa Brunello di Montalcino DOCG - still showing it richness of dry vanilla and dusted barrel, but with complex and developed aroma, tea, leather, coffee bean, dry cherry with pepper and turned leaf aroma. Again a notion of root, amaro and birch bark of sorts. The palate shrilled with acidity, tannin and similar flavours of leather, spice, cinnamon, roasted game meats, torrified coffee beans. Certainly a wine Brunello/Sangiovese lovers should taste, we drink our Brunello wines far too young. Give them a chance and the magic will happen.  

So concludes some notes on a fantastic producer tasting way back in the depths of January.