Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation, a rating of one to five corks, and an overall summary based on the [Hugh] Johnson System (abbreviated HJ). (All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.)
Sip It or Skip It Special Edition: Eight Wines, Two Gems, All Bordeaux
This past week I attended my first Toronto Vintners Club wine tasting featuring seven Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignons and one Merlot. What follows are my musings on this interesting, if not slightly difficult, vintage.
VINTAGE FORECAST: STORMY WITH A CHANCE OF STANDOUTS
- First, the vines hadn’t recovered from the 2005 drought cycle;
- Second, budburst was later than usual; and
- Third, the low spring rainfall, coupled with a serious summer heatwave, either stalled the ripening process, or, in the case of the early-ripening Merlot, accelerated it.
By harvest time in September, the rain was almost relentless — almost seven consecutive days! These were the conditions impacting the Bordelais growers and the backdrop I bore in mind while working my way through eight different wines.
THE WINE’S THE THING
The tasting included:
2006 Chateau Malescot St. Exupery, Margaux, 3 e ($69)
2006 Chateau Clerc Milon, Paullac, 5 e ($59)
2006 Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste, Pauillac, 5 ($82)
2006 Chateaur Domaine du Chevalier, Pessac-Leognan, GCC ($64)
2006 Pavie Macquin, St. Emilion GCC ($85)
2006 Chateau Leoville Barton, St Julien, 2 e ($99)
2006 Chateau Leoville Poyferré, St Julien 2 e ($95)
2006 Branaire Ducru, St Julien, 4e ($75)
I’ll spare you a review of each because they share so many similar taste profiles, but differ, sometimes radically, in their expression.
On the whole, I found the ’06 Bordeaux a bit premature to enjoy. Sure, they were drinkable, but, in most instances, the tannins were too in-your-face. (I’m sure Robert Parker has used that identical description before!)
One of my favourites among the bunch was a Château Clerc Milion, Pauillac, 5e ($59) – Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (44%), Cabernet Franc (6%). Deep ruby colour with a tickle of plum purple, this full-bodied red is packed full of black fruit notes, butterscotch and a forest-floor earthiness that added to the complexity. I tasted wood, smoke and dark chocolate. RP Jr. remarked that, “because of [this wine’s] freshness and density, it is reminiscent of a 1996 Médoc.” Wine Cellar Insider points out that Pauillac was one of the “most consistent” appellations for 2006 Bordeaux, which was evident in both the Clerc Milion and the Château Grand Puy Lacoste, Pauillac, 5e, though I found the latter slightly more tannic.
My other favourite was a Pavie Macquin, St. Emilion, GCC ($85). Beside the other seven Cab Sauvs, I thought this wine popped. It seemed brighter, more lively, with pronounced tart cherry notes, cloves, licorice, a slight pepperiness and an unmistakably oaky character. RP Jr. called this wine “backward, brawny [and] muscular,” and a wine for longer-term aging, and while I agree with the presence of high tannins, I thought this had a nice structure and balance.
Final thoughts: Sip It, for sure, but Skip It for 2015. (Maybe in about 5-10 years?)
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.
- There’s more things green than grapes in Ontario’s wine country, with its growing shift to environmentally friendly grape-growing practices.
- Move over Niagara and Okanagen, great wines are coming from lesser-known grape-growing regions across this fair country. Ever heard of the Similkameen or Gaspereau Valleys? Maybe you’re about to…
- And perhaps not a moment too soon, as Canadians are drinking more wine than ever before, with average consumption hitting 15 litres per year (or around 20 bottles).
- University of Washington researchers have found high levels of arsenic from 65 American red wines tested, including those from California, New York, Oregon and Washington State.
- Much is being written this week in praise of English wine. That’s right — the land of Shakespeare and the Beatles are producing what’s being dubbed “the new champagne.”
- But keep calm and carry on, France, especially as a Bordeaux village investigates child cancer rates five times higher than the national average. Are pesticides sprayed in the vineyards of Sauternes to blame?
- And while the English may love their “cheap, crappy wine,” Swedes are more discerning, drinking more organic wine than any other country in Europe.
- Happy Birthday to Cloudy Bay, New Zealand’s iconic Malborough wine, which launched its first Sauvignon Blanc vintage 30 years ago.
Wine world miscellanea – from varieties to regions, and from vine to bottle.
THIS WEEK: WINEMAKING TECHNIQUE
For all the hardcore wine geeks out there, what’s this:
HOOC – CH2 – CHOH – COOH → CH3 – CHOH – COOH + CO2 ↑
I’ll give you a three-letter hint: MLF.
Did I just hear you shout “malolactic fermentation” at the computer screen? I hope you didn’t spill any of that Chardonnay, with its yummy lactic butteriness, on your keyboard. (Do you prefer oaked or unoaked? No, wait, I digress…)
Malolactic fermentation — or, more accurately, conversion — is the winemaking process that turns the tart grape juice, with its naturally present malic acid, into the softer-tasting delicious nectar of the gods. The conversion is pretty much standard for red wine production, and some white, like that Chardonnay you were drinking. (That butteriness comes from diacetyl, one of the byproducts of the malolactic fermentation process.) However, it’s the malic acid that offers some of that crisp, refreshing fruitiness of beloved whites foregoing this conversion process — think Riesling, Gewürtz, Sauvignon (not Fumé) Blanc, and so forth.
After the primary fermentation is complete, in which sugar has been converted into alcohol, the wine can be inoculated with bacteria. (I say “can be” because I’ve seen a bunch of literature on different approaches, yeasts to use, “co-fermentation” and other stuff way outside the tiny sphere of my immediate wine knowledge.) During the ML conversion, carbon dioxide, another byproduct, is also released, stimulating fermentation. Many winemakers feel that malolactic fermentation occurring during barrel aging better integrates the fruit and oak character in wine. But MLF in the bottle is a big no-no!
WSET STUDY BUDDY
As I diligently study for my WSET Level 2, I share some of my favourite web resources on wine — from podcasts to infographics to apps, oh my!
I heart Wine Folly for its chic infographics and spectacular maps of some of the world’s most famous wine regions, not to mention short but information-packed articles. Wondering about the most common grape varieties and their expressions? Confused about what to pair with that new bottle of Gruner you just picked up? Can’t remember where Stellenbosch is located? I not only subscribe to the blog, follow the author, Madeline Puckette, on Twitter, but also have her new book shipping from Amazon this week! I highly recommend downloading the free maps, in particular; they’re colour-coded by sub-region and come in super handy for studying.
B.C. Wine Trends blog has some neat data visualizations of British Columbia wine industry statistics, from total acreage for reds vs. whites to (my favourite) winery locations by awards. I’m such a visual person that I find these helpful for committing most prominent varieties to memory. I’m really excited to see what B.C. Wine Trends blog comes up with next!