Don’t usually age Canadian white wines but appreciate the fresh vibrancy they usually bring for drinking younger. However some grape varieties with better acidity balance and higher extract certainly lend themselves to some bottle age for an improved resulting wine. Riesling comes first to mind but some would say Chardonnay. However, Chenin Blanc and white Rhone blends also can develop some interesting nuances with more time in the bottle. Certainly have marvelled over very old textured Savennieres (of Chenin Blanc) from the Loire Valley in France including Clos de la Coulee de Serrant (Joly family monopoly). Your scribe was fortunate to try last year mature Chave 1978 white Hermitage (usually 80% Marsanne & 20% Roussanne) from the northern Rhone that ages brilliantly. Note the success of Esprit de Tablas Blanc (mainly Roussanne but blend a total of 6 grapes from Chateau de Beaucastel cuttings) from Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles California and Marsanne from Tahbilk (established in 1860 in Victoria, Australia).
How do those grapes develop in the wines from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia? Present leaders include Road 13 Vineyards for old vines Chenin Blanc planted on the Golden Mile Bench in 1968 and now made into ageable Sparkling too. Moon Curser Vineyards Roussanne Marsanne on the Osoyoos East Bench (even initially made under the old Twisted Tree winery name) with currently 2021 a successful blend of 82% Roussanne & 18% Marsanne. Also Le Vieux Pin with a single varietal late ripening Roussanne since 2014 plus their lovely Ava blend of 3 grapes but in 2021 now Roussanne dominant with 53%, 30% Viognier and 17% Marsanne.
In the early days of wine in the Okanagan Valley there were several pioneers that didn’t receive enough credit for their foresight. One was Howard Soon who joined Calona Wines in 1980 starting the wonderful “Small Lots” program for premium lots. Another was Hungarian Sandor Mayer who moved with his family to the Okanagan in 1988 and became winemaker for Okanagan Vineyards Winery (OVW) in 1992 developing the famous single vineyard Dark Horse Estate Vineyard near Oliver. In 1996 OVW was purchased by Inniskillin Wines (established in Ontario in 1975 by co-founders Donald Ziraldo & Karl Kaiser) and later in 2006 became part of Constellation Brands.
Admired what Sandor did with his Discovery Series (“small lots embodying Inniskillin’s spirit of adventure and passion for crafting wines of outstanding character”) including first planted Zinfandel, Tempranillo, and other red varieties. Your scribe particularly liked what Sandor was doing with his limited production whites and complimented him on them several times and encouraged him to do more. Enjoyed his early production of both 2005 chenin blanc & 2006 marsanne roussanne which were pretty good tasting early on. Decided to age the 2006 vintage of both and they certainly did improve dramatically in bottle. Saved my last bottle of each to open last week after 17 years and what a surprise was in store. The 2006 Chenin (2500 cases at 14 abv) was quite a dark yellow colour but not maderized or oxidized but displaying typical rich minerality of the variety plus as Sandor said “generous sweet salty honey & ripe honeydew and lingering flavours of apple, guava, and pineapple.” Suggest you drink now at the end of its delightful plateau.
The surprising star and inspiration for this wine column today was his Discovery Series 2006 Marsanne Roussanne (only 78 cases at 13 abv). Not sure who supplied these grapes – probably Golden Mile Bench – because Dark Horse Vineyard was not planted with them till 2006. What an amazing wine with time standing still for this 50/50 blend. An unbelievable pale light green Chablis-like look. How is this possible? Unusual as Marsanne gets darker with age and Roussanne is prone to oxidation. Shows some floral notes with prominent juicy apples, ripe pear, almonds, and apricot stone fruits. Still has what Sandor called “well balanced with crisp acidity on the finish.” Not yet as oily as expected. This wine may go on almost forever with the outstanding structure and complexity in this bottle. It matched sublimely with a delicious fresh local wild King Salmon dinner. Pure joy of dining. Sandor after 25 years of valuable contributions to the early BC wine industry moved back to Hungary in 2014. Sure he would appreciate that this special wine he was trying to produce turned out to be a fantastic one indeed. What a positive inspiration and encouragement for other wineries presently trying to make complex ageable Marsanne Roussanne. Our congrats!
Question: When will they do Burgundy & Beaujolais 2023 Harvest?
Answer: Crazy year. Beaujolais had the most intense long drought they ever experienced in 2023 and started early harvest already on August 17 according to the latest report in Le Monde. The Chalonnaise & Beaujolais also experienced several hailstorms. Chablis has issues with rot. Burgundy has predicted a larger crop level though widely varying yields on each vine in the same plot causes selection problems and different phenolic ripening issues but are expecting to commence harvest generally around September 8/9. Stay tuned for interesting updated Vendange information during September.
The Sous-Commanderie de Vancouver of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin held their annual Summer Paulee extended lunch event on August 26, 2023 at Acquafarina, a Michelin Guide recommended fine-dining restaurant. Our always exciting Paulee events from previous years are posted on this Blog but the last time the theme was Grand Cru Chablis was in 2017 (and 2011) so the link dated September 4 is here. Your scribe describes the 7 Grand Cru vineyards in more detail on what makes them really unique. There also is another posting June 1, 2020 linked here of a Chablis tasting your scribe conducted on Zoom for The Wine & Food Society of Boston (est.1934) rating many vintages both pre-2010 & every year 2010- 2019 inclusive. Time for an update.
Grand Senechal George Loverock does excellent work with his Chef du Protocol Randy Rae in organizing these events. Well done. Admired how Cellier Blair Curtis chose “simpler” reds to match the outstanding 6 course cuisine by Executive Chef Jefferson Alvarez and his brigade so that the Grand Cru Chablis would be the stars. That 2009 Pavelot SLB Aux Guettes was not simple but great even if not quite as complex as their 2009 La Dominode. Another top highlight was the 2010 Butteaux 1er Cru from Francois Raveneau that shone so brightly as a Grand Cru wannabe of top quality. So young.
This opportunity to study and compare some 40 Grand Cru Chablis is irresistible for me who doesn’t take advantage of the wonderful social aspect of the Paulee but instead just intensely focuses on quickly tasting to get an overall impression on all the wines. Shown is the printed list of some 36 (but of course more were added by late comers) ranging from 2000 to 2021. The main producer was Domaine Wiliam Fevre (DWF) with about a dozen followed by half a dozen Domaine Christian Moreau (DCM) – both important suppliers to the British Columbia wine market. Les Clos (IMHO clearly the best cru) led the way with over 1/3 of them followed by Bougros (7), Preuses, Vaudesir (including Moutonne), Blanchots, Valmur and zero Grenouilles.
Knowledgeable member friend Ritchie Younger spoke briefly on the long history of the region and his concern of 10x growth of Chablis from 500 hectares in 1950 to 5800 in 2023. He thought all the wines were pretty solid but felt 2014 was clearly the best vintage. Agreed! He picked a Top 5 (different from mine) led by two Dauvissat Les Preuses 2016 & 2007 with 2014 Les Clos DCM 3rd, Faiveley 2009 Les Clos 4th, and his own mag of 2010 Les Preuses DWF 5th.
Your scribe was more critical with some pre-mox of older wines worrisome but probably bottle variation. Worst was 2008 Bougros DWF but usual fav Les Clos 2000 DWF & 2005 DCM both were maderizing – surprising for that long aging vineyard at 20 years.
2007: Variable not consistent with stormy April 21 and later hail but Dauvissat made a good selection with rounder Les Preuses approachable earlier than Les Clos.
2008: Less rain than Cote d’Or plus no hail, botrytis or rot in a later harvest gave more dry extract & glycerol as shown in Les Clos DWF.
2009: Bigger crop warmer less acidity often more grape-like Chardonnay called Beaunois (same in 2018 & 2019) than pure Chablis definition but Faiveley Les Clos well balanced with menthol licorice notes.
2010: Yields down intense minerality is perfect in Les Clos DWF but Les Preuses though fresh in Mag has a dank unclean nose. Decanting might have helped the bouquet.
2011: Rather cool rainy July, August, September resulted in lighter ready now style even for fuller Valmur DCM.
2012: Shorter crop irregular flowering lovely not as mineral as 2010.
2013: Difficult year with mushroom exotic notes but Drouhin-Vaudon Vaudesir a clean surprise.
2014: Classic dense with aromatic freshness. All the 2014 tasted showed a really outstanding vintage led by Les Clos DCM saline minerality complexity. The Louis Michel Les Clos (white pepper) & Vaudesir (coconut) plus Billaud-Simon (acquired in 2014 by Faiveley) Blanchots and Vaudesir Long-Depaquit (Bichot) were all bright, fresh, stylish and lighter bodied showing their individual cru distinct definition brilliantly.
2015: Atypically Burgundian rich earlier picking with harvest hail on August 31/September 1. Les Clos DCM on a delicious plateau.
2016: Frost hit April 26/27 plus May 13 & 27 followed by rain and warm Summer. Small crop is “patchy” but another special selection by Dauvissat Les Preuses for earlier enjoyment.
2017: Mid-April frosts for lower yields with energetic balance. Like the comment of Fabien Moreau DCM that it “took 10 vines to fill one basket in 2017 but only 1 vine/basket in 2018 bigger yields.
2018: Heat spikes softer rounded peachier style even in Les Clos and Olivier Leflaive Vaudesir.
2019: Also heat spikes but August was not as blisteringly hot so some balancing tension for the super concentrated Chardonnay-like style. Three Bougros are indeed defined by the usual generous and robust character of the cru but positively less earthy than usual. Not delicate or subtle.
2020: Some similarity to 2017 more classic style but not the 2014 outstanding balance of acidity. Early harvest that avoided the heat spikes of 2018 & 2019. Getting good wine reviews and the Moutonne monopole impresses with the rich classy complex structured flavours getting the 2nd highest score of 97 (behind 98 for Raveneau Les Clos) in the recent 2020 extensive horizontal tasting by Decanter.
2021: Complicated and inconsistent. Some are slimmer and softer. Fun to try the new Domaine Gueguen Bougros from Celine (daughter of J-M Brocard) & Frederic (from Dom. Durup). Watch out for them.
Answer: Strippagio is an Italian word used mostly in connection with the tasting of olive oils to evaluate the quality of them. It is very similar to the English word Slurping which is more often used in wine tasting. Both describe a method whereby you suck air into your mouth to oxygenate the liquid to help intensify the overall aromas and sensory flavours that are released. Two very good descriptive words!
The Vancouver Group of Eight held their annual Summer dinner with spouses at Blue Water Cafe on August 15, 2023. The feature was eight younger California chardonnays served in two flights that were in a range of styles, mostly charming. Three French classy ringers opened and finished a most delightful wine & food evening:
2008 TAITTINGER COMTES DE CHAMPAGNE BLANC DE BLANCS GRAND CRU from an outstanding vintage uses only the first gentle pressing with 95% stainless (5% oak) with 10+ years on the lees. It showed a most impressive structure with concentrated energetic fruit intensity but a less developed bouquet of that trademark complex “creme patissiere” it will develop with more bottle age. Lovely.
1983 CHÂTEAU LAFITE ROTHSCHILD PAUILLAC EN MAGNUM paired elegantly with the main course of exquisite quail ballotine in a potato bird’s nest. Weather conditions in August 1983 were not as favourable in the Pauillac vineyards as further south in Margaux but careful selection of 66/30/7 Cab Sauv/Merlot/Cab Franc blend at 42 hl/ha yields plus 40 years has resulted in an enticing herbal tea spicy tobacco cedar bouquet with lively but fleshy softening evolved flavours. On a delightful plateau now and is helped by the fresher fruit in magnum format but IMHO is not as pure, rich, and complex as the outstanding 1983 Chateau PIchon Lalande.
2007 CHATEAU COUTET BARSAC was the surprise of the night – as Sauternes often are! Underrated vintage has full weight (richness of 2001) with balancing acidity (like1988) plus an intriguing level of botrytis in the long finish. Perfect with the dessert having similar flavours of peach, passion fruit, lemon orange citrus, and honey. What a dreamy match!
CALIFORNIA CHARDONNAY FIRST FLIGHT:
2020 BERINGER PRIVATE RESERVE OAKVILLE All the grapes Clone 4 are sourced from Gamble Ranch and current vintages are moving towards a fresher style. However this one is 100% barrel fermented in French oak with full malo in a rich toasty, stirred sur lie creamy style. Your scribe found it a bit hot on the finish and the microscopic abv on the front label states 14.9 (but seems higher). Nonetheless others liked it more and voted it fav of the first flight. Value.
2019 FRANK FAMILY VINEYARD CARNEROS Old historic stone winery from 1884 in Calistoga now owns over 450 acres of vineyards in the Napa Valley. Use here mainly their Lewis Vineyard plus neighbouring Carneros fruit from both Sonoma & Napa. French oak 100% BF & partial ML results in admirable smooth stylish well textured Chardonnay.
2018 WALTER HANSEL CAHILL LANE VINEYARD RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY Underrated winery producing quality pinot noirs plus good value wines. This Cahill Lane was only 907 cases showing stylish Chardonnay fruit with a nice touch of charming elegance at 14 abv.
2019 KISTLER LES NOISETIERS SONOMA COAST Famous Chardonnay producer from old Wente clones on sandy Goldridge soils using Burgundian techniques. They have many different vineyard selections all unfined & unfiltered but this is an entry level one from Les Noisetiers surrounding their winery on the Sonoma Coast of 344 barrels at 14.3. Juicy fruit with some minerality. Rather tasty.
CALIFORNIA CHARDONNAY SECOND FLIGHT
2020 SEA SMOKE STA. RITA HILLS SANTA BARBARA Estate grown grapes hand picked chilled overnight and softly pressed followed by 24% new oak and 10 months battonage. Result is a clean pure elegant stylish balanced Chardonnay more expensive but delicious second flight popular choice winner.
2018 FLOWERS SONOMA COAST Founders Joan & Walt Flowers were early pioneers of the unique spirit and sense of place provided by the Sonoma Coast. Pure vibrant lower alcohol 13.5 with salty pineapple bright acidity notes are so elegant and no rush to drink up as should develop further interest.
2016 RAMEY ROCHIOLI VINEYARD RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY Their second vintage from this special RRV vineyard has developed really rich creamy textures with some time in bottle. Much more weighty body than RRV from Walter Hansel showed. Longer 20 months time in 21% new French oak with powerful dense solid structure. Drinking beautifully now not showing the 14.5 abv.
2015 THE OJAI VINEYARD PUERTA DEL MAR SANTA BARBARA Planted 6 acres in 2007 in that cold vineyard “Door to the Sea” and this 2015 is the 5th release of 563 cases from Helen & Adam Tolmach. Visit their Tasting Room right in downtown Ojai which we hope survived the 5.1 earthquake there yesterday. Only 13.5 alcohol and 7% new French oak displays tension and energy in this refreshing Chardonnay. Bottle variation between the two bottles.