Everything Wine blog

An American Epic

I was having lunch with some Wine Friends (like normal friends except you can open a 15-year-old Brunello for them without crying on the inside), one of whom is a prominent Napa winemaker, when the topic turned to the disastrous 2020 vintage. The normally gregarious winemaker became diminutive and hushed, so much that I could barely make out his answer when I asked what kind of harvest he could produce, given the thick smoke that blanketed the region for months. “Did you say Fifty percent?” I asked, unsure of what he said. “Fifteen percent”, he replied. “If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to make 15% of what we usually produce”. 

Fifteen percent. The chronic fires aren’t the only threat: the same forces that gave Napa a golden run of stunning vintages (2012-2016, then 2018-2019) are now making it nearly impossible for them to make the wines that the world expects. While grape farming is way less water intensive than most other forms of agriculture (especially almonds, omg those thirsty cretins) you can’t really dry farm in Napa, and they are nearly out of water. The reservoirs are dry. Conditions are getting so bad that many wineries can’t even get insured anymore. In every way, the Californian climate has changed, the only constant that remains is demand. 

This winter could still see lots of badly needed, aquifer-filling rain to the region (unlikely, though, due to the expected La Niña), and the few wineries that do plan on releasing their 2020 vintages could be sitting on something amazing. I sincerely hope so. No one wants their Wine Guy to turn bummer – this is not what they teach you in Wine Guy School - but speaking frankly there is a reasonable chance that the 2018 and 2019 Napa/Sonoma vintages – both amazing years – will be the last ones that reflect the region as we now know it. Equally as likely is the prospect of greatly reduced quantities (of incredible quality, that’s the trade off) and prices soaring well past their current levels. If we look at the near-exponential price increases that inclement weather and its ensuing insurance pressures caused in Burgundy over the last decade, we glimpse a troubling scenario that could unfold in the coming decade; as high as the current Napa prices are, they could be adorable compared to a projected 2027 vintage. 

Oregon’s Willamette Valley, much more northern and temperate in a Maritime climate, won’t soon suffer the same climatic pressures as California – this year’s La Niña should actually bring more precipitation to that area (and to us) – but they felt the full effect of wildfire smoke in 2020. At one point surrounded by fires, the Willamette spent many weeks stewing in smoke, which was particularly harmful to the thin-skinned Pinot Noir grape. Many wineries I’ve talked to won’t be releasing their prestigious single-vineyard Pinots, they’ll opt instead to produce sparkling wines (no skin contact, thus no smoke taint) or declassify the fruit that’s untainted into their entry-level reds. 

And now, the awkward pivot. 

I’ve spent the last couple of months gathering some incredible wines from the American west coast (with a surprise bonus region at the end, no peeking!), and I’m proud to offer some houses that have never been here before now. Join me on this very American adventure: 

 

CALIFORNIA 

Nickel & Nickel. First time in BC, and topping the list of wines-people-always-ask-for-that-I-can’t-get, at least until now. Far Niente’s venture exploring the different characters of Napa’s best vineyards has now been copied by so many wineries, we forget how radical of an idea it was when they started Nickel & Nickel in the ‘90s. I brought in my two faves: 

Nickel & Nickel John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Oakville, Napa. This wine is proof that Cab loves us and wants us to be happy. Plums, chocolate and blackberry knew it was your birthday and they baked a cake for you and there’s money in the cake. The Sullenger vineyard, full of sandy clay, is Nickel’s home vineyard, adjacent to the winery in the middle of Oakville, maximizing sun exposure but retaining the typical Oakville tannins, which would integrate better in a few years. Lovely baking spices on the finish with menthol hues hanging on for a minute. Everything you love about Oakville loves you back, turns out. 95 points Wine Enthusiast, 4 6-packs available, $206.98 +tax 

Nickel & Nickel Bear Track Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Napa. The first vintage from Nickel’s recently acquired Bear Track vineyard, just outside the Howell Mountain AVA, is singing its own song right out of the gate, distinguishing itself as clearly the most refined, elegant Cab in the stable. Quite a floral nose with rosewater lifting the soft blueberry notes and rosemary out of the glass, before a sleek palate pulls up in a limousine to take you to the Prince’s Ball. A far more refined structure suggests an easy 20 years cellaring time, but I wouldn’t want to lose the fruit, everything going on here is capital “P” Pretty. Not yet rated. 2 6-packs available, $206.98 +tax 

Hourglass Blueline Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Calistoga, Napa. Someone seems to have been drinking a lot of Bordeaux, and that someone is Robert Foley. Bob’s winemaking at Hourglass, a project he runs with its owner Jeff Smith, has always emphasized concentration overall, but this single-vineyard Cab from the recently acquired Blueline Estate blends that thickness with a bright streak of gorgeous acidity and a very French restraint. Cassis, graphite, cedar and tomato leaf on the nose, with a good deal of earth and tension stretching a ross the palate to the finish. Pure class. 96 points Vinous, 94 points Robert Parker, 1 6-pack available, $202.98 +tax 

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2018, Napa. The top cuvée of Phelps’ best sites from all over the valley, Insignia has always been an honest broker, presenting the vintage from all sides with full disclosure: possible rainy harvests, warm summers or drought-inflected heft will show up somewhere in the wine, depending on the year. Since the mild, drama-free 2018 was the viticultural equivalent of listening to Enya for several months – especially in the long, warm autumn - an honest cross section of the vintage is music to our mouths: Crème de Cassis lifts the chocolate blackberries and pencil shavings over the deep pools of mocha, caramel and pepper, leaving a mineral, cocoa-nibs spell in its wake. An excellent Insignia. 99 points James Suckling, 97+ points Robert Parker, 2 6-packs available, $505.98 +tax 

Macauley Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Oakville, Napa. Although the Macauley name is now synonymous with elite Cabernet Sauvignon, the first wine that Ann Macauley made when she bought the winery straight out of college in 1984 was a Sauternes-style Sauvignon Blanc. Tragically, Ann never got to try the finished wines as she died in a 1986 car accident, but years later her son Mac returned to Napa to revive his mom’s label, this time with a focus on reds. With access to what could reasonably considered America’s First Growth, the contemporary Macauley winery uses their wee allocation of To Kalon fruit to make a Cab that matches otherworldly fruit intensity and power with the sleek structure and gravel frame of more French-inflected wines like Opus One (which is itself largely built out of To Kalon fruit). Currant and blackberry notes over crushed rocks and tilled earth. Stunning. 98-100 points Jeb Dunnuck, 6 bottles available, $364.98 +tax 

Cakebread Dancing Bear Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Howell Mountain, Napa. Perched high above Napa Valley with nearly 360 degrees of exposure, there isn’t a lot of sun that Dancing Bear doesn’t get (maybe the bear is dancing because he’s way sunburned and it hurts to sit down), but the altitude is what spared this site from the smoke and heat spikes of 2017 (history will treat 2017 way better than the wine press did). The big diurnal shift keeps a measure of balance, building a svelte medium-full body underneath a decadent fruit pie of boysenberry, plum and cherry on the nose. Front of house is for pleasure but the back of house is all business. 97 points Jeb Dunnuck, 95+ points Robert Parker, 1 6-pack available, $231.98 +tax 

Diamond Creek Mixed Pack 2017, Diamond Mountain, Napa. Al and Boots Brounstein’s unassuming, unlikely cult wine became so sought after that when they wanted to retire, Champagne house Louis Roederer snapped up the house immediately. Sold only by the 6-pack (I can’t break it up, sorry), the wines focus on 3 adjacent terroirs on Diamond Mountain with different soils and temperatures: Gravelly Meadow (95 Suckling) is coolest, Red Rock Terrace (97 Suckling) is warmer, and Volcanic Hill (96 Suckling) is hotter than, well, a Volcano. The 3 Cabs are quite wildly different from each other but these is a smoky, sleek through line of minerality and Pauillac-like frame. Precious little is made and even less comes to Vancouver. 1 6-pack available, Case Price (again, can’t split it but I’m still a good person) $2,500.00 +tax 

Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Mt Veeder, Napa. As old as them there hills, Mayacamas was part of the US team that beat the French in the 1976 Paris Tasting, besting Mouton Rothschild and Leoville las Cases, among others. Other Napa wineries from the contest have since changed their style along with the times, but Mayacamas stays up in the hills, never botherin’ nobody, doin’ the same thing they done for years. A reserved, mountain Cab made with almost zero new oak, this 2014 reveals layers of dark fruit and earthy notes, with currants, cigar box and graphite underpinning the whole show. #1 – Vine Pair’s Top 50 of 2018, 97 points James Suckling, 96+ points Vinous, 2 6-packs available, $242.98 +tax 

Collina Dalla Valle 2018, Oakville, Napa. Although Dalla Valle makes stratospherically high-end wines at the top end, I’ve always been drawn to this complex, multi-faceted, ultimately drinkable blend of Cab Sauv and Cab Franc from their eastern Oakville property. Equal parts rich and racy, the fresh blackberries balance the dark chocolate, just like the pencil shavings balance the fragrant sage vibes on the long finish. Deep dark and delicious with a round body that flows over the fine-grained tannins. First time I’ve been able to offer this! 94+ points Jeb Dunnuck, 2 6-packs available, $208.98 +tax 

Matthiasson Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Napa. There are two ways to make a full-throated Napa Cab with 13% abv: 1) find a time machine, or 2) get Steve and Jill Matthiasson to make it. Pulling from 6 vineyards across the valley, they practice a nearly month-long ferment followed by 2 years in (mostly) old barrels, and this finished 2017 reminds me more of those rare, unblended Tuscan cabs from around Chianti and the coast: dusty currants (likely from the Rutherford component in the mix) and bright red fruit like cherry and cranberry, with a cedary mineral component closing off after a full, brisk palate. It has the bones to go 20 years, but the charismatic approachability that we’ve come to expect from a founding member of the Ashes + Diamonds group project. Not submitted for review. 24 bottles available, $114.98 +tax 

Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Howell Mountain, Napa. I’m not sure what happened behind the scenes during the decades where Randy Dunn helped put Caymus on the map, all I know is that in 1978 he headed for the hills, bought some vines on a mountain and vowed never to make a wine above 14% abv ever again. If this whole project was some sort of atonement then atonement is delicious. Sourced from his Howell Mountain vineyards, Dunn’s Cabs are neither fat nor lean, they’re athletic: power houses of energy and concentration, aged for almost 3 years in all new French oak, but medium-bodied at best. Mediterranean vibes play around the savoury herbs, but the intense blueberry and lavender notes bleed into a dream of spice and graphite. Statuesque. 97 points Decanter, 95 points Wine Spectator, 12 bottles available, $289.98 +tax 

Bevan Cellars “Ontogeny” 2018, Napa. Waves of deep fruit tumble endlessly from this Cab-dominated blend of 2 of Bevan’s best sites, the Sugarloaf Mountain vineyard and Tench, Screaming Eagle’s neighbour. Fine tannins try to restrain the finish but they never had a chance: it’s all fruit, all the way down, always and forever. Neither a bruiser nor a blanket, Ontogeny’s raison d’être is Luxury and its tools are cassis, lavender and garrigue. Blue fruits rule the finish. Will age by sheer concentration but is singing now. 99 points Jeb Dunnuck, 95+ points Robert Parker, 18 bottles available, $166.98 +tax 

Jonata “Todos” 2017, Ballard Canyon, Santa Ynez Valley. If I were the sister winery to Screaming Eagle, I’d make a bigger deal about it. Oh, they talk a lot about their special microclimate in Ballard Canyon, and how the sandy soils challenge the vines to root deeper and provide concentration, and omg they won’t stop about how the 2017 Todos (Syrah with Cab and Petit Sirah) is teeming with blueberry, game, black pepper, fig and jasmine, or how it’s massive body and smooth delivery fill you with happiness and change your life for the better and blah blah blah. Nowhere do they say “hey FYI we are owned by Screaming Eagle” and then drop a microphone on the floor. Oh well, one day they’ll let me write their blurbs for them. 94+ points Jeb Dunnuck, 12 bottles available, $88.98 +tax 

Eisele Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Calistoga, Napa. Chateau Latour always did want to make a white wine. The Eisele vineyard has been a home to grape vines since 1880, and even kept growing through Prohibition (but only for juice, wink, wink). Through Napa’s renaissance in the 60s and 70s, Cabernet Sauvignon from Eisele showed up in Ridge Vineyards wines, Conn Creek, and several early vintages of Phelps’ Insignia. Now owned by Chateau Latour, their love affair with Bordelais-style Cab continues, but the eastern sliver of the vineyard is planted to a particularly aromatic clone of Sauvignon Blanc called “Musqué”. Kim Crawford this is not. Crafted like a timeless White Bordeaux, the Musqué is blended with a small portion of regular Sauv Blanc and then aged in concrete and oak, making a viscous, layered brew of citrus and sunshine, with peach, pear, yuzu lime, beeswax and hazelnut surrounding the nose. Commanding and potent on the front but luscious and disarming on the finish. Wow. 97 points James Suckling, 96 points Vinous, 9 bottles available, $180.98 +tax 

Littorai Block E Wendling Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019, Anderson Valley. Littorai’s Ted Lemon was the first American winemaker to ever be trusted with the reins of a Burgundy house when he took over operations at Domaine Roulot in the early ‘80s, after stints at Dujac and Villaine. After returning home to make wine with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, he and his equally talented partner Heidi started Littorai, an immediately cult-ish Pinot and Chard house that nabbed Ted a Winemaker of the Year award (SF Cronicle) in 2010. The most northern and most coastal vineyard of the Anderson Valley AVA, the Wendling vineyard was planted with Ted and Heidi’s help so they got firsties in plot selection, and chose the steepest Block E for this amazing Pinot. Mineral chalk and white pepper notes undergird the classic candied blackberry and blueberry notes, with rose petals and mint riding a fountain of strawberry juice to a fresh, vibrant finish. 96+ points Vinous, 12 bottles available, $137.98 +tax 

Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs 2017, Dry Creek, Sonoma. The party wine for the well-informed, this blend of ¾ Zinfandel and ¼ Petit Sirah/Carignan harkens back to the freewheeling early days of California’s Wine Renaissance, when balance and poise was favoured over raw power. Cinnamon, violets and eucalypt surround the gorgeous red fruits and velvet delivery, medium-full bodied with a gently rustic vibe on mid-palate, finishing fresh and spicy with an elegant lift that Zin can’t always pull off. Tastes like more. 95 points The Tasting Panel, 24 bottles available, $80.98 +tax 

 

OREGON 

We talk a lot about Oregon Pinot Noir and rightly so: decades ago a bunch of hippies placed all of their chips on a fussy, invalid, thin-skinned grape that mutates if you look at it wrong and is susceptible to all kinds of environmental pressures, up to and including coarse language. It was a crazy, uninformed bet – and it worked. Oregon is Pinot and Pinot is Oregon, but the revelation that I’ve experienced this year is just how far the Chardonnay has come, even in just the last few years. Certain houses in the Willamette are making stunning, world class Chards with depth, power and tension, they are fresh and energetic completely on their own terms, nobody on the west coast is making Chards quite like these. Look, I’ll show you: 

Brittan Vineyards Chardonnay 2017, McMinnville. When I got the invitation to attend the Oregon/Washington Trade Tasting last week, I had an anxiety attack: do I remember how to go to these? There hasn’t been a tasting in almost 2 years, would I remember how to properly dress myself and open my eyes and speak English? Turns out yes, and despite getting lost in the Vancouver Club (I swear that place is Hogwarts – all the halls scramble every night) I had a delightful time and tried many great wines, but this Chardonnay from the esteemed Robert Brittan stole the whole show. Generous and mineral with lemon oil and pear strudel on the nose, leading towards the reactor core where its unexplained power and presence lights up the sky. Gorgeous 1-second bursts of mint, pear, jasmine and white pepper compete for attention; this complexity and depth is usually seen in modern Meursault or Chablis, often for at least twice the price. 95 points Wine Enthusiast, 24 bottles available, $61.98 +tax 

Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Chardonnay 2016, Dundee Hills. If I told you how I got this, we would both have to go into hiding. Despite making their reputation on Pinot (I can’t get any, sorry) many years ago, Ken and Grace Evenstad have contemporarily become just as lauded for this iconic, striking Chardonnay, even though it accounts for a tiny sliver of their total production. A smoky, nutty vibe permeates the melon and peach notes on the nose, and the citrus elements continue through the palate, which is a perfect balance of both heft and zing. Slight tertiary notes of ginger and honey persist on the finish – we are in the optimal drinking window now, and will be for the next 6 years. Unless a local agency decides to import Serene again (no one does, currently), I don’t expect to see this again. 96 points Decanter, 95 points Wine Enthusiast, 5 6-packs arriving next week, $107.98 +tax 

Bethel Heights Casteel Estate Chardonnay 2017, Eola-Amity Hills. A regal, timeless Chardonnay, liquid evidence that oak and elegance are not enemies. Always a cuvee of the top barrels from their estate in Eola-Amity (one of a handful of Oregon’s pioneering vineyards), this full-malolactic rich feast still displays remarkable tension and lift, a result of being just east of the Van Duzer Corridor, which brings cooling Pacific breeze to this hotter, southern AVA. Baked apples and quince notes with whizz-bang menthol and apricot notes, a full body and a crisp finish that pops like a much lighter wine. 95 points Robert Parker, 94 points Wine Enthusiast, 94 points Jeb Dunnuck, 6 bottles available, $127.98 +tax 

Kelley Fox “Tir” Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, McMinnville. One of the many apprentices of Eyrie Vineyards David Lett (the winery and wizard that put Oregon on the world’s Wine Map), Kelley Fox went and got a doctorate in biochemistry before returning to the Willamette to start this tiny winery with her dad Gus. From vineyard to bottling, Kelley does everything herself, but she won’t be doing it with fruit from Momtazi going forward as her lease ran out, making this 2016 the second last vintage of this outstanding, ethereal Pinot (only two cases came in, I took ‘em both). McMinnville can be a somber, dominating AVA (it often takes over any blend it’s in) but Kelley’s use of neutral barrels (4 of them) and 100% whole cluster pressing softens the attack, leaving bare the raw intensities of black raspberry, violet, tilled earth, rust and cocoa. Velvety layers of fine, integrated tannins deploy on palate and after, super seductive and complex. A rare find, mysterious and sexy. Not submitted for review. 2 6-packs available, $107.98 +tax 

Elk Cove La Bohème Pinot Noir 2018, Yamhill-Carlton. Arguably the highest vineyard in the Willamette and one of my very favourite Oregon wines, which made things awkward at that Oregon/Washington tasting when everyone tried it and fell in love with it but nobody could buy it because (pointing at me) that guy bought everything that came into BC. The Bohème Pinot is always a capital “P” Pretty wine, one of the most floral bouquets in the state, showing roses and violets over cherry cola and nutty vibes. The finish – surprisingly structured – acts more like Nebbiolo than Oregon Pinot, but altitude can increase the skin-to-juice ratio, and since this vineyard is higher than Snoop Dogg in the late afternoon, it makes sense. Fabulously delicious. Exclusive to Everything Wine River District. 18 bottles available, $76.98 +tax 

 

WASHINGTON 

Force Majeure. With Red Mountain fruit and Bryant’s winemaker on board, there was little doubt as to what kind of stuff this micro-winery in Walla Walla would make. With a production so small that it’s only gettable by way of mailing list down south, Todd Alexander was the first to plant in the rocky, steep upper slopes of Red Mountain and his wines are accordingly born battle-hardened. These are deep and timeless wines of purpose, with Napa intensity and French structure. During the first months of the pandemic their BC importer trimmed off this winery from their portfolio to be cautious, but at my insistence the following wines were brought in again just for me: 

Force Majeure Estate Syrah 2018, Red Mountain. A feast for the nose, tongue and, almost, teeth. The small Viognier co-ferment brings out the blue hues and blue fruits that become black fruits as you swirl. A tryst of flowers, blackberries and meat, this glorious 2018 makes its peppery way from nose to palate almost begging you to chew on it but the rich, generous delivery sheds both bite and bark and gives way to layers of lavender and gravel, with present but restrained tannins. Exclusive to Everything Wine River District. 100 points Jeb Dunnuck, 95 points Wine Spectator, 12 bottles available, $162.98 +tax 

Force Majeure Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Red Mountain. The emblematic, dusty signature of Red Mountain Cab opens the door to a tight, Saint-Julien-ish minerality (“Liquid Rock” was how one reviewer put it) with plum and cassis stepping into baking spice and cedar notes over a man-camp-drum-circle of brawn and bravado. Wondrous but young, needs time. Exclusive to Everything Wine River District. 97 points Jeb Dunnuck, 95 points Wine Spectator, 6 bottles available, $215.98 +tax 

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Columbia Valley. Washington’s most iconic Cabernet celebrated it’s 40th anniversary like I celebrate my birthdays now – by not telling anyone. Seriously, dudes, you put Washington on the map for premium Cab, drove credibility and investment into the state and cranked out the most stunning wine every year for 40 years… and you didn’t put any of that on the bottle? Were you worried about tarnishing your dinky Chateau de Strip-Mall label? Well, packaging aside, this 2018 carries the torch admirably: always a bit more expressive than most WA Cabs, boasting a cigar box full of both black and red fruits, with incense, gravel and lilac. The wine’s signature layers start at the front of the palate and continue back to forever. Impressive now, unstoppable in 10 years. Of of the Great American Wines. 100 points Decanter, 98 points Robert Parker, 98 points Jeb Dunnuck, 98 points Wine Enthusiast, 98 points James Suckling, 9 bottles available, $337.98 +tax 

 

And now for our surprise state: 

 

ARIZONA 

Caduceus Cellars / Merkin Vineyards. Returning to BC for the first time in 8 years (and perhaps the last - the winery’s pre-Covid policy was to never export). The fact that there is indeed a vibrant, if nascent, premium wine industry in Arizona is due in no small part to the continuing  efforts of Maynard James Keenan, whose work in the cellar and vineyards (documented in the film Blood Into Wine), not to mention his celebrity (he is the Grammy-winning singer of Tool and A Perfect Circle) brought attention and interest to the desert state, although grape vines had already been there for over a hundred years, in a certain form. 

Spanish Missionaries, needing wine for Sacrament, planted vines wherever they went and Arizona was no exception, but they planted vineyards in the hot, dry south near Tucson, where the wines could have a cooked quality. Keenan sought and planted vineyards in the higher-altitude northern area, just south of Sedona, where the diurnal shift was much more pronounced and vital acidity could be retained. He had moved to nearby Cornville so that his kids wouldn’t grow up in L.A. and was drawn to winemaking by the discovery of his own ancestry, descended as he was from a long line of northern Italian winemakers. He started out cautiously by blending Californian juice with Arizona grapes when he found the local supply wanting, but over 15+ years he made the requisite changes in the vineyards to allow him to present 100% Arizonian terroir. 

Look, I’m like you, and the idea of celebrity gimmick wines (Wayne Gretzky/Dan Aykroyd/Some Golfer Guy?!? That sounds delicious!) or athlete tax write-offs (Yao Ming’s Napa venture, although those wines were actually not bad) sends me running away in disgust. Caduceus Cellars is not one of those. It’s not a brand. M.J. Keenan is the winemaker and devotes his life to it – Tool went 13 years between 10,000 Days and Fear Innoculum, winemaking is pretty much all this guy does now, and his restless creativity – using grapes and methods largely unseen in Cali, Oregon or Washington – is consumed by viticulture and vinification. Caduceus gives us another legit square in the American Wine Quilt, which is why I’m excited to finally offer the following: 

Caduceus Cellars “Sancha” Tempranillo 2017, Yavapai County. The Sancha Tempranillo, modelled after wines from the Rioja Alta, is sourced from the Buhl Memorial vineyard, a south-facing bed of clay and limestone that sits at 4300ft, with a diurnal swing that can reach up to 50 degrees. The harsh conditions manage to wrest elegance out of Tempranillo, and the structured finish lifts everything up, like the red cherry, licorice, cinnamon and vanilla notes that float above the stones and tilled earth. Robustly bodied with a long, bracing coda, this Spanish grape is right at home in the desert. Wicked stuff. Not submitted for review, 3 cases available, $82.98 +tax 

Caduceus Cellars “Nagual de la Naga” Sangiovese 2017, Yavapai County. Unlike more restrained Tuscan wines, the Sangiovese from Keenan’s Eliphante block is a giant shining beam of red fruit with a body to match. Oaky cherry notes, tobacco and dried tomato pour forth with abandon, as the generous, plummy frame deploys new coats every few steps on the palate. Good acidity with green herbs on the finish. Not submitted for review, 12 bottles available, $82.98 

Caduceus Cellars “Primer Paso” 2017, Yavapai County. One of Keenan’s earliest bottlings (he used to add Cali Juice to this), Primer Paso has evolved to show the terroir of the Eliphante block and the 2017 is the first vintage entirely sourced from there. 80% Syrah with Garnacha and Petit Sirah rounding off, co-fermented with a smidge of Malvasia for colour stability and fresh vibes. Desert climes give the Syrah some smoky notes with orange peel and blackberry holding firm. This is the biggest beast in Keenan’s stable, corpulent and smooth with a dusty, herbal ending. Not submitted for review, 12 bottles available, $82.98 +tax 

Merkin Vineyards “Shinola” 2020, Yavapai County. Treating the Merkin label as his entry tier, Keenan does a rustic Italian blend of Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Dolcetto and Barbera with a smidge of Primitivo, all from the Buhl site. Aged in minimal neutral oak, this reminds me of the Tuscan table wines in every restaurant there, where you didn’t ask what it was because it was just good. Medium bodied with a fresh, citrusy acidity and mineral elements, with bright cherry, black pepper and a lot more complexity on palate than the nose suggests. Not submitted for review, 3 cases available, $44.98 +tax 

Merkin Vineyards “Shinola Orancia” 2020, Yavapai County. The Italian white grape Malvasia Bianca done with a measure of skin contact, but despite the name it’s not really all that orange, more of a deep gold. From the Buhl Memorial  vineyard, the grapes are fermented on skins for 10 days in stainless steel, and that process adds a complex, layered shape with a bit of astringency on the finish. Honeyed melon, honeysuckle and orange peel with citrus oil and lilac. Gorgeous and substantial. Not submitted for review, 3 cases available, $41.98 +tax 

That’s it! Thanks kindly for your time and attention. Rhône and Piedmont collections in the near future! 

Until next time, Happy Drinking! 

 

Postscript: If you’re feeling too amazing today and want to take things down a peg, I can send you the New York Times article about Napa upon which I based my preamble. Just ask. 

River District Burgundy Offer 2021

I proudly present the River District Burgundy Offer for 2021. I’ve been collecting tiny batches over the course of this year, often just a case each, so that I could bring you a diverse, balanced selection over many regions and prices. There are pricy wines here to be sure, but Burgundy still has good deals if you know where to look (I do). If you’re a Burgundy lover and you aren’t interested in anything here…. stop it. Yes you are. 

No way around it, this is a beast. It’s a long and storied list of wines from the Cote d’Or, Maconnais and Chablis, so take your time with it (and feel free to share it with fellow Burgheads), but not too much time because I can’t really “hold” anything, just come in to River District or call me with payment to secure the wines. Cool? Cool. 

Visit Jordan in the Vintages Room at our River District location.

  • 8570 River District Crossing
  • 604 416 1672
  • jcarrier@everythingwine.ca

We begin with unicorns shooting rainbows out of their horns: 

Maison Leroy. No sense burying the lede: I have back-vintaged Leroy. This hasn’t happened before and won’t again: it is only because of the (gestures broadly at everything) past 18 months that wines like this even left France. Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy ran Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) for nearly 20 years and is still the majority shareholder, but now runs her late father’s negoçe Maison Leroy as well as Domaine Leroy (much younger than Maison, established in the late ‘80s). Behind DRC, Leroy is the second most sought Burgundy in the world, which is why it’s nutbar that I actually could get the following: 

Maison Leroy Morey-Saint-Denis (Pinot Noir) 1984. An exercise in sublimity with floral notes, dried raspberries, balsamic and baked plum. Evolves in front of you, but the lively acidity on the close keeps everything fresh. 6 bottles available, $1727.98 +tax 

Maison Leroy Saint-Aubin (Pinot Noir) 1993. A rare Saint-Aubin red. Soft echoes of strawberries and roses under tilled earth, with gamey dried fig and plum notes continuing from front to back. 6 bottles available, $2199.98 +tax 

Maison Leroy Volnay (Pinot Noir) 2003. An expert balance of elegance and power, with vibrant black cherry and blackberry leading the nose, with slight green herb notes and barrel influence. Great acidity, another 20 years is possible but perfect now. 6 bottles available, $2132.98 +tax 

Maison Leroy Nuits-Saint-Georges (Pinot Noir) 2013. Randy and kicking, with spicy cassis, fresh plum and ferrous notes. Still tightly wound and fresher than early ‘90s Will Smith. 6 bottles available, $1983.98 +tax 

 

CÔTE D’OR 

Domaine Robert Groffier Père & Fils. The largest landowner in the cult-inspiring Amoureuses 1er Cru comes into it honestly and generationally: current vigneron Nicolas Groffier is the 4th Groffier to wrest power and beauty from Pinot in the Côte de Nuits. The house style can best be described as terroir-informed pragmatism, Nicolas doesn’t dogmatically hue to one way of winemaking (i.e. whole cluster vs. destemming), he lets the vineyard tell him what to do, an easy decision when you have dirt like this: 

Groffier Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Amoureuses (Pinot Noir) 2017. The Premier Cru that self identifies as a Grand Cru (with good reason), and Nicolas owns the biggest and arguably best chunk of it. 50% whole cluster pressing, 25% new oak. A fresh, autumn rain vibe underscores the violets, raspberries, cherries and spice. 5 bottles available, $904.98 +tax 

Groffier Bonnes Mares Grand Cru (Pinot Noir) 2017. Nestled on the border of two villages (Chambolle-Musigny and Morey-Saint-Denis) and adjacent to the Clos de Tart Grand Cru (more on them below), Bonnes Mares can ripen Pinot more than its neighbors, so this is a tad fatter than most 2017s you’ll find. A high intensity of floral aromatics over brambly fruit and blueberries. Slight note of soy and anise. Hella fresh delivery from the 100% whole cluster pressing that balances the weight. 6 bottles available, $904.98 +tax 

Groffier Chambolle-Musigny Les Sentiers (Pinot Noir) 2017. The northernmost Cru of the village. 100% whole cluster pressing from 80-year-old vines. Slight notes of smoke and pine lift the racy cherry and potpourri aromas. Silky deployment with black current lingering on the long finish. 6 bottles available, $369.98 +tax 

 

Clos de Tart. Another once-in-a-blue-moon acquisition for me, I don’t expect to see it again. The largest of the 5 Grand Cru Monopoles in Burgundy (Monopole = one house owns the whole Cru, a near-impossibility under the Napoleonic Laws of Inheritance), Clos de Tart has only had 4 owners since 1141 (it’s now owned by Chateau Latour). Founded by the “Tart” nuns, this stone-walled vineyard adjacent to Bonnes Mares is unique in the Côte de Nuits, in that it’s planted to both north and south exposure, whereas most Crus face south, giving an elegant twist to the ripe Pinot grown there. I have two vintages: 

Clos de Tart Grand Cru Monopole (Pinot Noir) 2018. Deceptively light on its feet, hiding the massive power on the back end. 55% whole cluster pressing. Plum and rose aromas atop cinnamon and stone. Endlessly layered, timeless. 3 bottles available, $1187.98 +tax 

Clos de Tart Grand Cru Monopole (Pinot Noir) 2009. 100% destemmed and reflecting the girth of the hotter vintage, the 2009 is firmly in the zone and will stay there for another 15 years. Ripe cherries and sandalwood with bergamot and slight hints of chocolate. Despite the aromatic generosity the shape is medium-bodied and elegant, with a vibrant, electric finish. 3 bottles available, $1348.98 +tax 

 

Domaine Chavy-Chouet. First time in BC and I’m stoked. 7th generation winemaker Romanic Chavy is part of the vanguard making modern, electric white Burgundies with tension and purpose. Aging on lees but eschewing lees stirring, his fresh winemaking was informed by his godfather Francois Mikulski (more on him below) although his Chardonnays carry a bit more weight. I have: 

Chavy-Chouet Meursault Les Cases Têtes (Chardonnay) 2019. A “Case Tête” is a mind-bending puzzle, and they so named the vineyard due to the head-scratching effort it took to get anything to grow on this pebbly, limestone ground. Baked pear, toasted hazelnuts and lemon zest, silky delivery, gorgeously tart, chalky finish. 6 bottles available, $119.98 +tax 

Chavy-Chouet Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Champs Gain (Chardonnay) 2019. An easterly exposure and higher altitude give this climat just under Blagny a cooling effect, making lighter, more elegant Chard. Freshly cut peach and underripe pear aromas, a creamy, lush delivery that becomes a lightsaber on the finish. 6 bottles available, $173.98 +tax 

Chavy-Chouet Bourgogne Aligoté “Les Petits Poiriers” (Aligoté) 2019. One of the most expressive Aligotés that I’ve tried in a long time, from 60-year-old vines on a single lieu-dit. Grassy apple and nectarine notes, super linear on palate. Zippy and lovely. 6 bottles available, $43.98 +tax 

 

Domaine François Mikulski. The road Francois took towards winemaking could fill a miniseries: his father escaped occupied Poland and found himself fighting alongside the British in the Free Polish Forces, where he met François’ mother who was from Burgundy. François fell in love with Burgundian wine and in 1992 inherited some plots from his uncle Pierre Boillot, then spent the next 3 decades in the cellar doing the opposite of what his uncle did. Racy and immediate, with elegance obscuring the latent power. 

Mikulski Meursault (Chardonnay) 2019. Minerality takes centre stage with brown butter and cashews providing support. Green melon on the palate leads to the characteristic house zing. You only notice after its gone how heavy it actually was. 6 bottles available, $126.98 +tax 

Mikulski Bourgogne Aligote (Aligote) 2019. A rustic brew of green apple, lime and white pepper from a plot planted by François’ grandfather in 1922. A honeyed nose gives way to a taught, austere palate and a saline, quince-like finish. 10 bottles available, $48.98 +tax 

 

Domaine Marc Morey. The Morey name shows up in Burgundy more often than chocolate chips do in a cookie, all stemming from the vineyards that Frederic Morey bought when he returned from WW2. His kids split the holdings into a few domaines, and his great-granddaughter Sabine now runs Marc Morey, specializing in delightfully old-school renderings of the legendary Crus surrounding the village of Chassagne-Montrachet. Ambient yeast ferments, gentle battonage (lees stirring) and unrestricted malolactic are the family tools, and Sabine uses them to craft aromatic, generously textured Chardonnays of layer and length, like: 

Marc Morey Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Chenevottes (Chardonnay) 2019. A hella sunny climat, named after “chanvre” the Old French word for hemp, which covered these slopes well before the Cistercian monks replanted them to vines. Like receiving a hug from the Lemon God. Ripe peaches and truffle support the lemon preserve aromas, a full, creamy body fills all cracks with love until the citrus-rind astringent finish adds a welcome tension at the end. 12 bottles available, $161.98 

Marc Morey Chassagne-Montrachet Les Virondots (Chardonnay) 2019. The highest point in Chassagne, Virondots’ meager topsoil readily gives way to the limestone bedrock, making viticulture so challenging that few had attempted it before Frederic Morey made the Cru sing with mineral expressions below the ripe fruit. Orange zest and apple define the profile, with chalky austerity supporting the medium frame. Delicious now, unstoppable in 5 years. 12 bottles available, $161.98 +tax 

 

Anne Gros. Every crusty old grump who said that Burgundian winemaking “is a man’s art” are now just eddies in the wake of Anne Gros, an impressive feat considering that one of those grumps was her own father. One of the Cote de Nuits undisputed top winemakers, Anne now tends the cellar as her children tend the vines, driving collectors nuts with her tiny quantities and sorceress-like status. I have: 

Anne Gros Echezeaux Grand Cru (Pinot Noir) 2019. Just above Clos Vougeot, one of the larger Grand Crus. The licorice hues of the Cru are accompanied by dark chocolate, Asian five-spice and game notes. Tightly wound and bursting with potential, with sous-bois and orange rind flowing across the finish line. Masterful stuff, this is not its decade. 6 bottles available, $320.98 +tax 

 

Domaine des Perdrix. There are few left nowadays but several decades ago Burgundy, like many other estates in France, contained lots of non-descript, workaday houses that harvested heavy and sold off their juice in bulk. Perdrix was one such estate until the Devillard family purchased it in 1966 and set it on the road to stardom, slashing harvest tonnage and modernizing the cellar. Today Perdix is known for two things: 1) half of their holdings are either Premier Cru or Grand Cru, and 2) the house style favours depth and power with precise fruit expression. For example: 

Perdrix Vosne-Romanée (Pinot Noir) 2018. 60% whole cluster pressing from vineyards touching Clos Vougeot, a whopping 40% new oak used in the cellar: Here be Dragons. Dark and dangerous with cassis and licorice stirring the pot, a formidable frame, but not at the expense of lively acidity. Full body, big bones. 12 bottles available $139.98 +tax 

 

Domaine Faiveley. In 1934, with the world economy in ruins, Hitler ascending to power, and nobody buying Burgundy wines at all, Georges Faively founded the legendary Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin (which meets to this day in the basement of Clos Vougeot), under the simple concept that if no one was buying them, at least the winemakers could get together and drink them. Founded in 1825, Faiveley has incrementally collected some of Burgundy’s best climats over two centuries (they own more Monopoles than any other estate), and now 7th generation vignerons Erwan and Eve Faiveley have steered the house style away from power (their dad François’ calling card) towards elegance and fidelity to terroir. I have: 

Faiveley Clos des Cortons Faiveley Grand Cru Monopole (Pinot Noir) 2017. Another one of the 5 Grand Cru Monopoles, acquired by the family in 1874, and sitting on one of the oldest vine-bearing hills in Burgundy, planted in the time of Charlemagne. An elegant vintage, with intense black cherry, vanilla and pomegranate. 2 bottles available, $330.98 +tax 

Faiveley Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos des Issarts Monopole (Pinot Noir) 2017. The smallest appellation in all of Burgundy, with eastern exposure. A savoury, stony vibe supports the earthy raspberries and licorice notes. Built like a tiny little tank. 6 bottles available, $155.98 +tax 

Faiveley Puligny-Montrachet (Chardonnay) 2019. Soft oak notes around beeswax, jasmine and quince, finishes creamy and mineral. A welcome throwback style, delicate and lush. 6 bottles available, $126.98 +tax 

Faiveley Chassagne-Montrachet (Chardonnay) 2019. Stone fruits and candied grapefruit zest (yes) atop a rainwater minerality. The oak is more on nose than palate, with vanillin and lychee preceding a long, slightly minty finish. 6 bottles available, $117.98 +tax 

Faiveley Vosne-Romanée (Pinot Noir) 2015. Managed to snag a back vintage of this perfumed, very pretty Vosne. Roses and strawberries over tomato leaf and dark cherry notes. Very much in the zone, lovely. 6 bottles available, $138.98 +tax 

 

Benoit Ente. A tiny maison run by Benoit and his aunt, farming vineyards bequeathed from his grandparents in and around the village of Puligny-Montrachet. It’s a simple operation, they pick the grapes earlier than most and age the wines in large foudres with no fining. That’s pretty much it. Lucky for Benoit that he farms some of the best plots in the village; he doesn’t really need to do much more. New to BC, I’m stoked to have: 

Benoit Ente Puligny-Montrachet (Chardonnay) 2018. Lemon essence and jasmine intertwine with brioche and Anjou pear. Large and friendly with zippy tension on the back end. Gorgeous stuff. 12 bottles available, $159.98 +tax 

 

Gerard Raphet. Neal Martin called Gerard Raphet one of the best “under the radar producers” in Burgundy. A quiet man making civilized wines, Raphet practices very light extraction and a fraction of new oak, even on his Grand Crus, so although Gerard is quiet, his vineyards are loud. He took over from his father 20 years ago and makes wine with his daughter Virgine in Morey-Saint-Denis. I have: 

Gerard Raphet Clos Vougeot Grand Cru (Pinot Noir) 2011. Bright red fruits amongst the roses in the dirt. Finely structured frame, with ripe fruit on palate followed by a smoky mushroom vibe on the long finish. Tastes like forever. 3 bottles available, $304.98+tax 

Gerard Raphet Chambolle-Musigny (Pinot Noir) 2018. A bright, sunny Chambolle with notes of green herbs and mushrooms amidst the sour cherry and ripe plum notes. 6 bottles available, $159.98 +tax 

 

Domaine Latour-Giraud. When the Latour and Giraud families merged in 1958 (Burgundy is one of the world’s last places where peeps still marry for land), they brought together a combined 4 centuries of viticulture. Specializing almost entirely in the village of Meursault (with a notable exception below), Jean-Pierre Latour has pioneered low-intervention winemaking in the village, using ambient yeasts, lees again and minimal racking, and the style can best be called Retro-Modern, as the wines are generous but still tightly wound. I have: 

Latour-Giraud Meursault 1er Cru 1er Cru Meursault-Genevrières (Chardonnay) 2018. Named after the juniper trees that the grape vines replaced, the limestone-laced Genevrières Cru is known locally for massive body and nutty aromas. Latour-Giraud’s expression tones down the huge, with white flowers and orange rind prevailing. Elegant and supercharged on the finish. 12 bottles available, $144.98 +tax 

Latour-Giraud Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champs Canet (Chardonnay) 2018. Bordering Meursault, Champs Canet is a crumbly-wumbly of marl and limestone with limited topsoil, and hues a shade lighter than many other Pulignys. Orchard blossom and almonds on the nose, with hints of petrol. Mouth-filling but laser-tight on the finish. 12 bottles available, $164.98 +tax 

 

Domaine Pierre Labet. Although the Labet name can be traced back 500 years in the Beaune wine trade, François Labet himself is more contemporarily associated with the venerated Chateau de la Tour, where he is the head winemaker, producing some of the most sought-after Clos Vougeot in the world. His home label is no side-hustle, though, as his family accrued amazing vineyards around Beaune over the years, vinified at the same facility (and by the same team) as Chateau de la Tour. When asked about his house style, François said “I think I’m making pre-World-War 2 wines with modern techniques and equipment.” We have: 

Pierre Labet Meursault Les Tillets (Chardonnay) 2018. The highest site in Meursault, sitting just above Les Narvaux, Les Tillets produces focused, mineral Chards with poise and charm. Citrus notes rule the nose, with slight buttered peach notes on palate but not on the finish. Zingy and zangy. 6 bottles available, $132.98 +tax 

Pierre Labet Beaune Clos des Monsnieres (Chardonnay) 2018. Lush Beaune fruit (peach, butter, buttered peaches, peachy butter) is restrained by lemon oil and orange zest, as well as a bracingly fresh acid profile. I’d like the finish to integrate better, 3 years would take care of that. 6 bottles available, $100.98 +tax 

 

Domaine Philippe Gavignet. Elegant wines from a village certainly capable of the opposite: many Nuits-St-Georges can be Tannin-o-sauruses with ferrous frames and only slight glimpses of the terrified fruit imprisoned therein, but Philippe Gavignet leads with soft beauty, partially due to the old vines he inherited from the 3 Gavignets before him. With his son Benoit, he farms around NSG and Haute-Côtes de Nuits, practicing moderate extraction in the winery towards finessed, silky wines like these: 

Philippe Gavignet Nuits-Saintt-Georges 1er Cru Les Pruliers (Pinot Noir) 2019. Planted in 1974 at the bottom of the Pruliers Cru where the soils are limestoniest, this accordingly well-structured NSG is tempered by dusty chocolate, cinnamon and blackberry, as well as Philippe’s softer touch. Not ready yet but not as far off as other NSGs. 12 bottles available, $138.98 +tax 

Domaine Stephane Magnien. Although organic viticulture is widespread in Burgundy it’s a relatively recent practice, but fourth generation winemaker Stephane can proudly claim that his family has never used pesticides, and have plowed by horse continuously over a century to preserve the living soil under their feet. These are finely finessed Pinots, almost entirely from the village of Morey-Saint-Denis, aged in only 10% new barrels, and the Magnien family is known locally for using “Pinot Tordu”, a tiny-berried aromatic clone of Pinot from old vines. I have: 

Stephane Magnien Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru “Cuvee aux Petit Noix” (Pinot Noir) 2018. A unique blend of two mid-slope Premier Crus, Petit Noix is one of the more corpulent MSDs that Stephane produces. A complex beast, with gamey blackberry emerging on the nose, with mineral and herbal flavours accompanying the fruit on palate. The tannins are fine but will better integrate in 5 years. 6 bottles available, $133.98 

David Butterfield. If we’re honest, David Butterfield is what most of us in this industry really want to be: a Canadian who French people think is cool. Embraced by local winemakers (he apprenticed under a few of them), the Burgundians like David for his traditional, respectful approach to many of the region’s best fruit. I like him because he keeps releasing reasonably priced, awesome back vintages like these: 

Butterfield Beaune 1er Cru Les Teurons (Pinot Noir) 2009. Pretty widely considered to be the best Beaune Cru for reds, smack dab in the middle of the strip of 1er Crus near the town. Black cherry and spicy blackberry. There’s always a bit more depth and darkness to the Teurons fruit profile, elevated by the warmer 2009, but this is no Mallomar, a precise frame holds the extra baggage perfectly and there’s 10 more years in this no probs. 6 bottles arriving next week, $110.98 +tax 

Butterfield Corton Grand Cru Blanc (Chardonnay) 2015. Enter the Pleasuredome. Slightly hotter and rounder than Corton-Charlemagne around the corner, white Cortons are as close as Burgundy gets to erotic fan fiction. Ripe pear and bruised apple shade the soft minerality and weight, a full body flows towards an electric finish with great tension. I’m blushing. So freaking gorgeous. 6 bottles arriving next week, $238.98 +tax 

Domaine Joseph Roty. With 11 continuous generations making wine, the Roty family is both one of the oldest Burgundian winemaking families and owners of some of Burgundy’s oldest vines. Even by the standards of Burgundy this is a miniscule production, and by tasting and looking at the bottles one might conclude that Roty thinks the last 20 years didn’t happen. Full destemming and liberal new oak usage aren’t what the cool kids are doing nowadays, but no one cares - with juice this good I’ll happily live in the past. I have: 

Joseph Roty Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Fontenys (Pinot Noir) 2017. A 1er Cru that’s due for a promotion, the Les Fontenys plot touches 2 Grand Crus (Mazi-Chambertin and Ruchottes-Chambertin). Already a sober village (speaking only allegorically), this Gevrey-Chambertin hues darkly, with intensely sanguineous notes around the dark cherry, orange peel and pepper notes. From 80+ year-old vines. 3 bottles available, $237.98 +tax 

MACONNAIS 

Domaine Barraud. Father and son team Daniel and Julien Barraud have been spinning gold from the lands that Daniel’s father bought in 1905, all around the totemistic local landmark the Roche de Vergisson, a rocky promontory that looms so large over the region you can find out where you are just by seeing where it is. There aren’t many “hacks” into Burgundy anymore, the value villages of 15 years ago (Meursault, St. Aubin) are now level with their contemporaries in price, but the right Maconnais plots in the hands of amazing producers like these rival the magic of the Cote d’Or’s best wines, at a fraction of the price. I have: 

Barraud Macon-Vergisson La Roche (Chardonnay) 2018. The highest plot in the appellation, simply one of Burgundy’s best remaining values. Intense lemon oil vibes – very Chassagne-ish – over a layered intensity of chalk and lime. 12 bottles available, $50.98 +tax 

Barraud Pouilly-Fuissé La Roche 2018 (Chardonnay) 2018. Same altitude as the previous “La Roche” vineyard, but this future Premier Cru (after 2020) is at the summit of the Roche de Vergisson. From 50-year-old vines, with apple peel, flint and light sea spray over a thicker, buzzy body. Loooong finish. 12 bottles available, $74.98 +tax 

Barraud Pouilly-Fuissé La Verchère Vieilles Vignes (Chardonnay) 2018. A cooler, limestone-rich site underneath the Roche de Vergisson and (conveniently) behind the Barraud’s home. 70+-year-old vines. White flowers, with faint hints of smoke over fresh lemon and chalk. 12 bottles available, $74.98 +tax 

Barraud Saint-Veran Arpege (Chardonnay) 2018. From the rocky Arpege plot (12 inches of topsoil before you hit limestone), this Veran is a live wire of green apple and honey dipped in citronella. Bracing, stony finish. 6 bottles available, $44.98 +tax 

Eve & Michel Rey. Pretty easy to practice low-intervention winemaking when there’s just two of you. Husband and wife team Eve and Michel pretty much do everything themselves, making modern, energy-filled Pouilly-Fuissé from around the Roche de Vergisson. Ambient yest ferments and minimal sulphites. Although they’ve only been at it a little while, they are every inch contemporaries of Domaine Barraud in quality and spirit. I have: 

Eve & Michel Rey Pouilly Fuissé La Maréchaude (Chardonnay) 2018. A stony, steep south-facing lieu-dit (future 1er Cru after 2020) on the slopes of Roche de Vergisson with chalk and clay underneath. Pomelo and hazelnut lurk under the citrus and slight smoke. The ripest of the bunch packs a punch. 12 bottles available, $58.98 +tax 

Eve & Michel Rey Pouilly Fuissé En Buland (Chardonnay) 2017. Aged a bit longer in neutral oak, this is the coolest lieu-dit of the bunch, sitting higher and facing northwest. 70-year-old vines. Racy and tasty with fresh lemon and flint. Lip-smacking finish, it zings like a wing ding. 12 bottles available, $49.98 +tax 

Eve & Michel Rey Pouilly Fuissé Les Crays (Chardonnay) 2017. Southeast facing plot, kind of a mid point between the two styles above. Will be a 1er Cru after 2020. Gorgeous floral notes beside the limeade, rich on palate, medium zing. 12 bottles available, $51.98 +tax 

CHABLIS 

Roland Lavantureux. New to BC, and not a moment too soon. Roland put his name on the family label in 1978, back when grapes were just one of the crops produced by the enterprising Laventureux family. Roland expanded his vineyard holdings five-fold, and now plays a back seat driver to his sons Arnaud and David, who run this marvelous, forward-looking maison We have: 

Lavantureux Chablis 1er Cru Vau de Vey (Chardonnay) 2018. Clay and limestone soils under one of the steepest plots in the village. Unsurprising gravel notes underscore the yellow plum and citrus rind, the palate is pretty big (reflecting the vintage) but the whole thing hums with energy from front to back, 12 bottles available, $69.98 +tax 

Lavantureux Chablis Vauprin (Chardonnay) 2018. Although only a lieu-dit in the middle of nowhere and not a 1er Cru, the Vauprin is considered locally to be the estate’s signature offering. The high-lying, south-facing plot gives the perfect blend of ripeness and tension, with smoke and hazelnut lurking beneath the citrus, with some apparent lees aging permeating the nose. 6 bottles available, $61.98 +tax 

Garnier & Fils. Although the Garnier family has been growing grapes for decades, it was brothers Xavier and Jerome Garnier who started making wine out of them in 1996, whereas their dad sold the crops to neighboring houses. Admirably bucking the general trend, the bros aren’t afraid to go big, picking later than anyone around them and allowing long, ambient yeast fermentations before aging in ginormous barrels. We have: 

Garnier & Fils Chablis 1er Cru Mont de Milieu (Chardonnay) 2018. One of the 1er Crus most worthy of a promotion, sharing the same soil and aspect with the Grand Crus just a bit further north. Mont de Milieu makes big, ripe Chardonnay and the Garnier bros are most definitely here for it. The limestone chalkiness is ever-present, but lush pineapple and mango accompany the quince and lemon pastry. Great value. 12 bottles available, $65.98 +tax  

Garnier & Fils Bourgogne Epineuil (Pinot Noir) 2018. “Wait, what? There’s no such thing as red Chablis?!? What manner of sorcery be this?” Yes, you’re indeed correct, Chablis is only white wines, but when winemakers from there want to get their red on, they go just a bit down the road to Epineuil, a nearby hamlet with the same soils as Chablis, where Pinot is king. The Pinots from here act like they were raised by Syrah: peppery, meaty notes accompany the beaming red fruits, with smoke and blueberry around the fringes. What sets Epineuil apart from Burgundy (besides 150km) is the softer tannins – you can drink these immediately – and the energy of a ferret who has binged on No-Doz and MMA pay-per-view. Garnier’s version is elegant and racy, with candied pomegranate, smoke and roses on the nose, followed by a silky medium body and ultra-fresh finish. Best value of this list. 24 Bottles available, $39.98 +tax 

Maison Benjamin Laroche – La Manufacture. As kids tend to do, Benjamin had to go on a walkabout and escape the legacy of his legendary Chablis family (the Laroche name is 7 generations old, there) before returning home to put down roots, figuratively and literally. Having managed wineries all over France as a young man, he fell back in love with Chardonnay and the Chablis terroir, and set about trying to perfect expressions of those vineyards. As such, Benjamin does very little to the juice from the small plots he farms himself, his wines are elegant and honest, showing great value. 

La Manufacture Chablis Grand Cru Blanchot (Chardonnay) 2018. Pretty much all of the citrus fruits own some real estate in this nose, which evolves so quickly in front of you that the minerality seems to come and go as it pleases. Although Blanchot is the southernmost of the Grand Crus, it’s mostly known for elegant, mineral expressions, and this 2018 – despite the hotter year – is no exception. 12 bottles available, $116.98 +tax 

 

That’s it! We made it! We’re done! Coming soon: American Epics, Rhone wines and the River District Piedmont Offer…. 

Until next time, Happy Drinking! 

Jordan Carrier

Get to know the grape: Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc: The “Velvet Glove, Iron Fist” Grape  

I’m a Cabernet Sauvignon drinker. But every now and again, I find myself a bit bored and wanting to venture off the beaten path and try something new or different.  If this describes you, then join me on a little excursion into Cabernet Franc.

A Bit of wine history…

Cabernet Franc is genetically the parent grape of both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It is slightly lighter in style than Cabernet Sauvignon but often higher in acidity, making it an ideal red wine for the end of summer because you can serve it slightly chilled.  Wine historians believe it to have originated in the border region between France and Spain, meaning that it has the potential for wide appeal to both Rioja lovers and Bordeaux imbibers.

A Bit of Wine science…

Part of the appeal of this grape variety is that it but buds slightly earlier than other big reds, which is great for a growing region like B.C. since we need all of the ripening time we can get for our red wines!  The grape also contains a unique pyrazine compound which makes it resistant to pests, which is why it grows in such a wide range of climates. It is slightly more pigmented as well as more perfumed than Cab Sauv which is probably why global wine critic and author Jancis Robinson says that “Cabernet Franc is the ‘feminine' side of Cabernet Sauvignon.” (https://www.jancisrobinson.com/learn/grape-varieties/red/cabernet-franc)    

Some Wines to Look For…

If you look carefully at your blended wine labels, you will often see some Cabernet Franc in the mix since it is one of the most widely planted varieties globally.  Because it has good structure, it is used as a blending grape in many of the right bank Bordeaux wines from France (look for labels from Pomerol or St. Emilion). There are also excellent examples coming out of South Africa (for example, Raats Winery in Stellenbosch makes a Cab Franc that exhibits the perfect trifecta of fruit, spice and herbaceousness) and Argentina’s La Mascota winery has a Cab Franc with subtle violet notes and sweet spices like cloves and black pepper (Shiraz drinkers take note).   

BC producers are exploring Cabernet Franc in exciting ways as it is the 6th most planted grape in the province as of 2019 (www.winebc.com acreage report, May 27, 2021).  In cooler sites, it produces more tart wines but in warmer vineyards, it produces wines with a kind of strawberry, dried fruit flavour reminiscent of Tuscan wines.  BC consumers are reaping the benefits of Cab Franc’s vinicultural vigour with widely available wines by producers like Adega, Black Sage Vineyards and Bartier Bros. all being excellent entry-points to explore what might be a new grape to you.  Some premium BC offerings include Synchromesh Wine’s Turtle Rock Farms Cab Franc or Painted Rock vineyards whose 2018 Cab Franc has aromas of black cherry and tobacco on the nose while on the palate, there is a bright, racy acidity that keeps pace with the ripe plum, cedar, and liquorice flavours – this is a perfect charcuterie board wine!

Raats Winemaker Gavin Bruwer likes to use the analogy ‘iron fist, velvet glove’ for Cabernet Franc, meaning there’s power on the palate, followed by an elegance and silkiness thanks to the tannin structure.” (https://raats.co.za/frankly-speaking/).  So if you are looking for a wine that has the heft and power of some of the bolder reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, but also the delicacy and lighter-touch of some of the softer reds like Pinot Noir, you may want to explore Cabernet Franc. I think you’ll find it both elegant and strong.

Toscanarama Part Three

Our third instalment in this year’s cavalcade of amazing Tuscan wines continues, focusing again on titanic examples of the best Brunello vintage since at least 2010: 

BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO 

Conti Costanti 2016, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. One of the original founding estates of the Brunello appellation (along with Biondi Santi), Costanti holds down the Old Guard, building a statuesque, long-looking Brunello from high-altitude sites just below the mountain-top village. Orange zest and lavender are just some of the fresh high-tones that lift the sour cherry and candied raspberries before slowing down to the speed limit on the palate and the brisk, garrigue-inflected Mediterranean finish. Act One starts in 3 years, but oh, what a play that will be. Best Costanti that I can remember. 99 points Wine Enthusiast, 98 points Decanter, 97 points Wine Spectator, 5 6-packs available, $160.98 +tax 

Fuligni 2016, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. A stone’s throw from Costanti, Fuligni’s nose adds heat and spice to that highly situated style, showing kirsch and strawberry compote amongst the sanguineous plum and anise notes, coasting briskly over the palate before the law gets laid down with a traditionally tannic profile and a lifted, ferrous finish. Boasting a restored convent on the property, you wouldn’t plant anything but grapes on Maria Flora Fuligni’s 1450-ft high site, it’s basically bunch of rocks that produce small, angry bunches of Sangiovese, making a deliberate, inscrutable Brunello that needs a further two years for the finish to integrate. Once it does, it’ll show Fuligni’s perfect balance of elegance and power. 99 points Wine Enthusiast, 99 points Decanter, 98 points Vinous, 3 6-packs available, $145.99 +tax 

Poggio Landi 2016, Brunello di Montalcino 2016. The best value of the Brunello 2016s that I’ve come across thus far, Poggio Landi straddles the trad/modern divide, aging in French oak but keeping the elegance and soft power of the classic houses. Sourced from vineyards in the north of the appellation, including the mighty Montosoli, this 2016 is a balance of fruit and savoury elements: black pepper and licorice mix with dried cherry, cedar and pine notes, before tomato leaf and blackberry zing across the palate and long floral finish. Medium-bodied with considerable intensity and a great future, the fruit presence is fantastic now but (broken record) I’d like the finish to poke out a little less – a two years nap should do the trick. 97 points Wine Spectator, 10 6-packs available, $77.98 +tax 

Canalicchio di Sopra 2016, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Situated on the steep northeast side of the mountain in what’s now a Unesco Heritage site, Canalicchio di Sopra blends their Brunello from their home site and the Montosoli cru, mixing a classic delivery with bright freshness and slightly earlier accessibility. Lilac and soft balsamic notes lift the cherries and licorice above a ferrous, citrus-laced frame, hints of sweet spice along the palate and one of the longest finishes of the appellation. Still needs a nap but showing great early promise. 97 points Wine Enthusiast, 4 6-packs available, $106.98 +tax 

Canalicchio di Sopra La Casaccia 2016, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Only the second vintage produced from the Casaccia plot in the home vineyard, a two-hectare site with an unusually high level of minerals in its clay soils. I can year you saying “two hectares?!? How much wine can you squeeze out of that?”. The answer is surprisingly specific: 4,133 bottles, and I have 6 of ‘em. The most idiosyncratic plot in Canalicchio do Sopra’s oeuvre, Casaccia unsurprisingly shines with minerality and saline notes before the army of flowers invades: smoke-tinged jasmine and violets precede lovely cherry, pine and citrus aromas. Finishes long and herbal, with even more minerals. 98 points Vinous, 97 points Decanter, two wooden 3-packs available, $222.98 +tax 

PRE-ORDER: Le Chiuse 2016, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Just clearing customs now, will be in store in a couple weeks.  Although no one officially crowns a “Wine Of The Vintage” in Montalcino, let me put it this way: can you name a better candidate than Le Chiuse? This timeless Brunello that was cleaved from Biondi Santi as dowry (it used to be Biondi’s reserve vineyard) has fully met its moment in 2016 – two perfect scores, and although it isn’t officially released yet, Wine Enthusiast let the winery know that this 2016 Brunello placed #2 on their year-end Top 100 Cellar Selections list. Electric red fruit with savoury green herbs, orange peel with crushed rocks, sour cherry with topsoil, the supple palate is upstaged, currently, by a rigid frame, but that should begin to soften by 2024. Years from now, we’ll remember that 2016 was the vintage that vaulted Le Chiuse into the elite echelon of Brunello producers, joining the benchmark houses that define the genre. No way it stays this price. 100 points Jeb Dunnuck, 100 points Wine Enthusiast, 98 points Wine Spectator – 20 6-packs available for pre-order - $151.98 +tax 

Biondi Santi 2012, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. The grand-daddy of them all in a new release (they hold back for bottle-aging longer than most). The 2012 finds lots of graphite and blood orange amongst the characteristic herbed cherries, with soft currant and tea notes building before the austere finish returns to Biondi Santi’s natural lack of youthful charisma. Some reviewers suggest that the window on this 2012 is already open, but those people must enjoy getting slapped. As it has always been, Biondi Santi is a time capsule and must be aged accordingly; this will be singing in another 6 years but it’s currently growling. 96 points Wine Enthusiast, $263.98 +tax 

 

OTHER TUSCANS 

Istine Vigna Cavarchione 2018, Chianti Classico DOCG. Although old-vine vineyards are never a risky bet, sometimes a young ingenue can turn heads and sing new tunes: the Caverchione vineyard isn’t even a decade old yet, and it’s already producing stunning Sangiovese with energy and precision. The Fronti family spent decades planning and managing vineyards for Chianti’s elite houses, but never making wine themselves until Angela Fronti convinced her dad that their talents should stay in house, and the Istine label launched in 2009. Built upon the family’s uncanny knack for identifying the best plots, Istine makes several crus but the Cavarchione site has stood out for its brawn and depth: this is a big, complicated Chianti Classico, with layers upon layers of plum, orange peel, cherry and stone drawing you into the glass. Finishes like a laser despite its weight, outstanding stuff now, and it’ll be fascinating to watch what this vineyard gives us going forward. 96 points Vinous, 3 6-packs available, $66.98 +tax 

Terralsole “Trio” 2008, Toscana IGT. Although made by a famous Brunello house within the boundaries of the Montalcino appellation, I can’t put Trio in the “Brunello” category as it’s a blend of French grapes created initially to piss off Mario Bollag’s dinner guests. While most Tuscan producers experiment with international grapes here and there, Terralsole’s Mario found himself hosting several snotty neighbours - Brunello winemakers who were taking turns throwing shade on those non-traditional wines over dinner. When asked to sample them on his recent Brunellos in barrel, Mario descended resentfully into his cellar clutching a decanter, which he then filled with equal parts Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Merlot. He served the ad-hoc jungle juice to his guests, gleefully expecting to revel in their disgust, but was thrown by what happened next: they loved it. Then he tried it. Turns out that Mario had haphazardly created an amazing Supertuscan: lovely dark berries with toasty oak notes and tertiary notes of leather and dried currants (he holds these back longer than his Brunellos because I don’t know why). Smooth as silk and richly textured, I wish I made accidents like this. Not Rated. 2 6-packs available, $58.98 +tax 

 

NON-STOP CLASSIC HITS 

What follows is a brief listing of some wines that fit this theme and have previously been written about, but featured again for the benefit of those who’ve recently joined my Collectors List and may have missed ‘em the first time. If anyone requires more info, I’m happy to send over the original blurb to you. 

Buon Tempo 2010, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. 12 bottles available, $89.98 +tax 

Casanova di Neri 2016 (I got more!) Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. 95 points Wine Spectator, 12 bottles available, $105.99 +tax 

Il Paradiso di Manfredi 2013, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. 97 points Wine Enthusiast, 12 bottles available, $207.98 +tax 

Arcanum 2015, Toscana IGT. 97 points Robert Parker, 18 bottles available, $108.98 +tax 

Le Macchiole “Paleo Rosso” 2016, Toscana IGT. 97 points Robert Parker, 97 points Wine Enthusiast, 1 6-pack available, $170.98 +tax 

Tolaini “Legit” 2016, Toscana IGT. (it’s back and it’s on sale!) #13 Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2020, 95 points Wine Spectator, 4 cases (12) available, reg price $64.99, SALE PRICE $59.99 +tax 

My Wine Journey

I started to have an interest in wine while I was working for the travel industry in Japan. I’ve been in love with Canada since I first visited this country as an English school student. I kept coming back, getting to know more and more about this beautiful country. The more I learned, the more I craved to learn more. I did not really know Canadian wine other than ice wine then. It was a long time ago, so maybe you understand Canadian wine is nothing more than ice wine back in the day.  

I enjoy drinking good wine, like everybody does. I was lucky enough to have had many opportunities to try great wines on some tours of Canada that I was on, but still I did not know what a great wine was truly back then. 

One day I had a chance to see all the beautiful scenery in BC at a destination seminar and learned about Osoyoos. I was familiar with the name Osoyoos since my favourite English teacher kept telling us how beautiful it was. The presentation was talking mainly about Nk'Mip creek. I was so attracted by the beauty of the winery and golf course at the resort that I made a mental note and put it on my bucket list to go there one day. (spoiler alert! Not yet happened!) I started to study Canadian wines more, but it was still from the Tourism industry point of view, not the wine industry one. 

Around that time, I found a (one and only) Canadian Wine only store in Japan. I don’t even remember how I found it. I visited there and asked questions and begged to stay at their store to learn more. The owner was really nice and let me stay and she taught me about wines and told me about WSET. I was like, “whaaaaaaat!?” You mean I don’t have to be a sommelier to learn all about wine!?

So, I started WSET in Japan. There were only two options in Japan for me location wise back then. It was a 3-month course and I passed Level 2 and started Level 3 when I knew I could not finish it because I decided to move to Canada, but I did not want to waste what I had already completed. I wanted to keep it going.

After I moved to Canada as a business school student, I did not have money to spend on the WSET course but was dreaming of one day getting a wine related job. So, I kept drinking wine, but it was so hard to keep up my wine knowledge. I needed to study again to get back a little confidence after I started to work at the store, Everything Wine, but here I am. With great support from the managers (seriously!) at my store, I work as a BC wine buyer and am having a blast! I get to learn about and try lots of BC wines! I get to talk about them and know how they are all connected economically, environmentally, and even politically. Through everybody’s incredible efforts in the BC wine industry, it is growing a lot. There’re many more wineries compared to even just a few years back. I’m enjoying learning many aspects of this beautiful province and the fantastic wines produced here.

My favourite BC wine is Desert Hills Gamay

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