Monday, October 31, 2011

Chateau de Montfaucon, Cotes du Rhone

I've spoken alot in recent months about building something new; being "brave" as it were and pushing out on one's own to create a future.

   What then would be my adjective for someone who is re-building their family history and creating a new family legacy?

   This is the story with Rudolphe de Pins, current owner and winemaker at Chateau de Montfaucon ( in the Cotes-de-Rhone, southern France. A graduate of UC Davis in California, and then a part of the winemaking team at the prestigious Henschke vineyard in Barossa and Vieux Telegraphe in Ch√Ęteauneuf du Pape, Rudolphe had a mountain of work when he took over Montfaucon in 1995. Luckily for him, a recent ancestor (Baron Louis) was the one who had begun the massive undertaking in the 1800's; renovating the facade of the massive keep and developing the vineyards.

   It fell to Rudolphe, however, to develop the vines to the point where no longer did the family feel they needed to sell their grapes of Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Counoise to other wineries. Rudolphe was determined, and had the training behind him to make his dreams reality. In 1995 Chateau de Montfaucon released it's first vintage in over a century and it was under Rudolphe's leadership.

   Now the original 18 HA of vineyard have grown to over 45, with some vines over 90 years of age. Montfaucon is careful to keep low yields to ensure quality flavor concentration, and the variety of soils and over 15 varietals grown ensure great depth of flavor and layering. If there is one thing that really sets Montfaucon apart from many other wineries however, it is their technique of co-fermentation.

   Co-incidentally, I read today about a winemaker in BC who applies the same techniques and has developed a cult following for the depth of flavor and layering in his wines. Sounds familiar~! Many winemakers when blending different varietals will ferment each one separately and then blend post-fermentation, even after aging. Rudolphe disagrees with this practice:

Rudolphe in the 15th century cellar

 "In order to enhance the balance of the wine, we co-ferment up to five varieties in the same tank. This increases the exchange and integration of different grapes during the important fermentation time. By controlling temperature and time on skins, typically 8 to 14 days, I am looking to extract only soft and silky tannins."

Montfaucon on the map
   What does all of this mean for the wine-drinker: for you the consumer? Rich flavors with approachable tannins and all for a reasonable price. These vineyards are literally across the river from Chateauneuf-du-Pape where the same blend triples in cost, and Rudolphe has the pedigree to charge those kind of prices. But he doesn't.

   He's building something these days. He's building brand recognition. He's building a loyal following of consumers throughout the world. He's building, in other words, a future for his family.

2008 Cotes-du-Rhone, Chateau de Montfaucon
 blend of  Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan, Mourvedre and Counoise
$22  CAD    **** EXCELLENT VALUE ****

vine age:   average 40 years with some to 90 years
soil type: varied with mainly calcareous pebbelstone on silty sandy soil, soil with clay and sandy soil
fermentation: co-fermentation typically 8 to 14 days
maturation:   18 months in concrete and French oak
  • visual:   clear; dark plum core with slight cherry rim (faintest tint of brick)
  • nose:   clean; medium+ to fully intense developing aromas of blackberry, red and black raspberry, rich earthy background, lifted dark florals from the Mourvedre, bruised plums
  • palate:    clean; dry, moderate (very well balanced raspberry/cranberry) acids, moderate+ (well integrated and velvety) tannins, moderate+ alcohol (13.5%), moderate body, moderate+ intense and developing flavors that mimick the nose with emphasis on rich berry notes and warm earthy background. Excellent balance and structure with long length
  • conclusion:   whilst drinking well now, this wine can age gracefully for several years yet will not develop appreciably
  • FOOD PAIRING:   rich Cotes-de-Rhone pairs well with duck and game meats; always has and always will. This wine is no exception. Consider bergamot smoked duck breast over chorizo fried "dirty" rice with sweet pea-spinach emulsion and candied cranberries

   This wine is a wonderful way to become acquainted with Cotes-de-Rhone flavors and aromas. Indeed, if it were up to me this would be required tasting for all aspiring wine stewards. It's not a terribly complicated wine but, in fact, that works in favor of the new wine-drinker. What a deliciously easy-drinking way to be introduced to this regions flavors. This is a typical blend made with a-typical care and attention to detail for the price. Are you more experienced with the region and the flavors? Then enjoy something that is Chateauneuf-du-pape quality and uses the same varietals but for one-third the price~!

   This is the entry level wine for Rudolphe de Pins and Chateau de Montfaucon. The world of wine should be taking notice.

As always I welcome your comments and questions.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Three Saints Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley, California

I'm at that point in my life where hard-work and dedication are goals everyday: every time I read about someone who dared to break off on their own and build something that was theirs I am reminded that the only thing standing between myself and my success is me.

   I'm in awe of people who seem to instinctually know this and live their lives accordingly; they dream of something and they make it happen. Kudos to people like you. You are inspirational.
Three Saints, Santa Ynez

   Jim Dierberg is one of those inspirational people. Jim was born in a small town in Missouri and after college went to work at the local bank. The local bank went out of control and turned into a chain of 150 units across several states and Jim's salary increased accordingly, and so Jim did what every kid in Missouri dreams of (joking); he opened a winery.

   Not content with just the Hermannhof winery, which became one of the best known wineries in the state... Jim and his wife Mary began scouring California for their new home and adventure. They ended up in the Santa Barbara AVA and why they chose to settle there I can well understand. Santa Barbara is comfortable; rolling hills meet the ocean and un-ending beaches... there's great farmland, cattle raising (*especially lamb), fishing. In fact, one of the only things I don't like about Santa Barbara is that there is a county-wide $2000 fine for smoking on the beach. Fairly draconian measures in my mind - but then again - I smoke cigars, don't I?

   So Jim and Mary found Santa Barbara County appellation in the inland corner known as Santa Ynez Valley and there they started the Three Saints Vineyard ( ). Many winemakers will argue that the area along the coastline is more prestigious,  as it gets a heavy amount of fog and is eminently suitable to the growing of Pinot Noir. Santa Ynez however retains it's heat, and when Jim and Mary wanted to work with Southern Rhone varietals - they know they had the right spot.

   The wineries' website gives the fullest explanation of their individual terroirs and I fear I wouldn't do them justice by plagiarizing and so I'll say: visit the website. It's a brief read full of useful information. One thing I don't think they give enough attention to is the vast amount of work that is done by hand in the vineyards. There are a staggering number of wineries in California who automate their viticulture work in order to reduce costs and (theoretically) increase quality... in some instances I've seen quality increase. Some.

2007 Three Saints Syrah
$20    **** EXCELLENT VALUE ****

time on skins:   20 days
aging:      15 months in neutral oak; 2 months on-the-lees
fining/filtration:   light fining/ light filtration
production:   650 cases
  • visual:   clear; dark inky-purple core with slight cherry rim (light bricking)
  • nose:   clean; fully intense and developing aromas of bright red cherry, red raspberry, light cassis, blackberry and huge blueberry notes, savory baked earth
  • palate:   clean; moderate (red currant) acids, moderate+ (chalky, silty) tannins, moderate+ body, moderate+ alcohol (14.2% ABV), moderate+ intense and developing flavors that mimick the nose with nuances of leather, red meat, hints of dark coffee. Very good balance and structure, long length
  • conclusion:   drink now to 2014, will not develop further in bottle
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   all of the berry notes and the bright, vibrant acidity make me want to pair this with duck~! Consider a Chinese 5-spice crispy skin duck breast on wild rice latkes with steamed Swiss chard...

 2007 Three Saints "Steakhouse Red"
 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Malbec, 18% Merlot, and 8% Cabernet Franc
$23     **** EXCELLENT VALUE ****
  • visual:   clear; moderate+ to fully intense garnet core with substantial cherry/brick rim
  • nose:   clean; moderate intense and developing aromas of baked earth, casis, red and black raspberry, worn leather, light savory herbs, a little spice on the finish (a good Bordeaux blend)
  • palate:   clean; moderately intense red currant/cassis acids, moderate+ (chalky/silty) tannins, moderate body, moderate+ alcohol (14.7% ABV), moderately intense and developing flavors that mimick the nose with the richness of the berries and the earth showcasing. Very good to excellent balance, excellent structure and long length.
  • conclusion:   drinking very well now and until 2014/15. Will not improve with further aging.
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:  I wouldn't expect this with a $23 Bordeaux blend, but this has the balanced acids and finesse in it's structure to pair with beef tenderloin. Consider  butter poached venison tenderloin "al rossini" with shaved black truffle on foie gras, potato rosti and apple puree
the view at Santa Ynez

   A great showing of reasonably priced wines. I look forward to sampling more of their products in the near future~!

As always, I look forward to your comments and questions.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Thelema Mountain Vineyards Merlot

So I heard a story recently about an award-winning winemaker from South Africa who used to be a chartered accountant...

I waited patiently for the punchline.

There isn't one. It's a true story and Gyles Webb from Thelema Mountain Vineyards ( really used to be an accountant, but more then that he was (and is) a man with a passion: excellence in wine.
Thelema vineyards (arial view)

   Gyles and his wife Barbara had dreamt of finding themselves the right spot in Stellenbosch to make the wine they knew they could make. It was a long search, but an abandoned fruit farm of approximately 157 ha became their new home. The farm had been long abandoned, and though grapes had once been grown there - there were none when the Webbs moved onto the property.

   The amount of work that went into developing the land from fruit orchard to working winery was staggering and the Webbs aren't done yet~! In 2000 Thelema bought a 45 ha apple orchard in the Elgin Valley and began to convert it to cool-climate varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
Thelema vineyards (tasting room)

   But it was the 2006 Merlot that really caught my attention; deep, dark and delicious it's a uniquely rich version of the grape. Merlot of course is capable of many faces; from a soft and fruit-driven single varietal to a blend with Cabernet Sauvignon to a fully tannic and an intense dark berry and chocolate flavor profile. This showing from Thelema would certainly fall under the latter category and is brilliantly executed.

2006 Thelema Mountain Vineyards Merlot
$36    **** EXCELLENT VALUE ****

altitude:    approximately 500 m
soil:          Hutton: high proportion of decomposed granite
vines:        planted 1988
maturation:   20 months oak (40% new)
  • visual:   clear; fully intense bruised plum core with slightest cherry/brick rim
  • nose:   clean; moderate+ intense and developed aromas of blackberry, black cassis, black raspberry, light savory herbs and eucalyptus notes
  • palate: clean, dry, moderately intense (red and black currant) acids, moderate+ (soft, smooth, silty) tannins, moderate+ body, moderate+ alcohol (14.5%), moderate+ intense and developed flavors similar to the nose with a distinct peppery finish. Very good to excellent balance and structure with long length
  • conclusion:  I agree with the winemaker's notes that this wine is peaking now and should be enjoyed over the next 24 months. Will not improve with further aging.
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   a soft and smooth red wine with rich tannin structure screams red meat to me... I was thinking butter poached beef tenderloin with wild thyme roast BC mushrooms and crispy parnip chips but hey, that's just my style :)


 I like hearing stories that end on a positive note; an accountant and his wife have a burning passion for wine. They search for their place in the world and work their a$$es off to make the land work and work with the land. Many of you know that I have a new light in my life; Clare Elizabeth (the LittlestStudentofWine). I understand the value of hard work and have a new-found comprehension  for how and why people are willing to dedicate themselves to building something bigger then themselves.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!