Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Porto Hutcheson, Colheita 1999

What is port, Porto or "port-styled wine"? Simply put, Porto is a fortified red wine coming from the Duoro region of Portugal.

   Starting with the red part, Porto wines are usually a blend of the native varietals, of which there are literally hundreds. The wine laws are very old in the Duoro; in fact the Duoro is the oldest protected wine region in the world having had laws passed in 1756 to safeguard it's wines authenticity. And so, back in the day, perhaps there were winemakers dabbling in any of the hundreds of applicable varietals but these days the dominant ones are  Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (a.k.a. Tempranillo in Spain), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional.

   And what do I mean by fortified? Well as I said, the Duoro has some very old laws and several of these laws limit the quantity of Porto that can be produced in any given year. What does a port-producer do with the rest of the wine? Well some of it will be kept or sold as table wine (such as the famous Quinta de Crasto) but much of it will be distilled down to a local liqueur known as Aguardente. This is moonshine, in the most beautiful way. As it comes from the wine that it goes to fortify, the flavors will marry wonderfully but the real joy in adding the liqueur is that it stops the fermentation of the wine, leaving behind any residual sugar to remain as sugar.... acidic and playful tawny ports or sugary sweet candied ruby ports, it is the Aguardente that makes the wine what it becomes.

  And so what of the Duoro? The Duoro is the name for both the wine-region and the massive river that carves it's way through northern Portugal. The wine gets produced in the wine-region which is inland from the coastal city of Porto and, back in the day, could only be transported down the mighty river by boat. Hence the fortified wine had to travel through Porto hence the name we give it.

   And if you're wondering why the Portuguese couldn't ship the wine by anything other then the river? It's the canyon walls.... hundreds of miles of steep gorges hundreds of feet deep and in the 1700's and 1800's a daunting journey, especially compared with the relative calm of the river.

   So what of Porto Hutcheson? In relative terms, Hutcheson is a new-comer; having been brought into the world in 1913 by Manuel de Almeida (http://www.porto-barros.pt/client/skins/english/site.htm). Manuel was a winemaker, yes indeed, but it seems to me that he was a businessman as well (perhaps above and beyond all else). Over the course of his career Manuel succeeded in not only opening Hutcheson, but keeping it open through 2 World Wars and a Great Depression. His grandson Manuel has succeeded and Hutcheson is still a family owned and operated endeavour.

1999 Porto Hutcheson Colheita
$35-40 USD    *** Very Good Value ***
  • visual:   clear with trace sediment; light ruby core with substantial orange-brick rim
  • nose:   clean; fully intense and developing aromas of candied orange peel, light caramel, dates and figs, cranberry, raspberry juice, woodsy notes and a touch of clove finish
  • palate:   clean; sweet, fully intense (pomegranate) acids, full alcohol, medium body, medium (soft, chalky) tannins, moderate+ intense and youthful flavors with emphasis on red berry notes to start; cranberry, young raspberry, fresh strawberry, pomegranate followed by savory earthy flavors, wood notes and citrus peel. Very good balance, good structure and medium length
  • conclusion: this wine has probably peaked, but will hold for several years. Drink now to 2020
  • FOOD PAIRING:   Vivid acids and high sugar levels can be a challenge; you will want to use some dairy to balance the acidity but keep your sweetness in the dessert to a minimum or risk making the port seem off-balance. Consider: dark chocolate torte with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, chevre ice-cream and star anise stewed plums

   Manuel de Almeida was an impressive businessman: opening his own business and keeping it thriving through nearly insurmountable odds. No, he didn't just keep it running, he grew it... I often worry about what is or is not possible in this time of economic uncertainty, and yet the Universe keeps showing me examples of what IS.

   More then we can ever hope for or imagine...  and I can imagine alot~!

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

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

Monday, January 9, 2012

Jean Foillard Beaujolais, Morgon "Cote du Py"

Beaujolais; you may think you know gamay noir, but until you've tried the masterpieces of Jean Foillard, you really don't know what the varietal is capable of. Greatness.
Jean Foillard (courtesy of WineTerroirs.com)

   Jean Foillard bought his vineyard in the appellation Morgon in the Cote du Py of Beaojolais in the early 1980s... the vineyard was in complete disarray and needed years of dedicated work before winemaking could even enter Jean's mind. Now visitors (like the fastidious Bertrand @ http://www.wineterroirs.com/) can stay in one of several private rooms in the chateau and enjoy the tasting room downstairs without fear of how to get back to the hotel after a bit too much joie-du-vie!

   Early in Jean's career, he was introduced to Jules Chavet and became an un-official member of "La Bande à Marcel" (http://www.vin-bio-naturel.fr/morgon-cote-du-py-2009-domaine-jean-foillard-vin-rouge-beaujolais,fr,4,BJCP07.cfm). Chavet's mantra or philosophy was (a radical view for the time) that winemaking should be a natural process; he felt that great winemaking started in the vineyard with vigerous canopy management, absolutely no use of chemicals on the vines, low or no use of sulphur, etc etc. To Jean this all made sense and what's more; it makes sense in the glass.

   If the appellation of Morgon in the Cote du Py region  is known for one thing, it would have to be the soil. Crumbling granite and ancient schist are trademarks of the regions soil, even sandstone makes an appearance to enhance vines with a perfumed edge. The Gamay Noir for which the region is most famous is made what it is because of the soil it grows on (much like all great wines)... but this wine is dulled with the use of chemicals, it is masked with "designer yeasts" and it is ultimately foiled by filtration. To people like Jules Chavet and Jean Foillard it was simple logic: they as winemakers needed to do everything they could to allow maximum expression of Morgon in the bottle (or glass).

   And so Jean does the work necessary in the vineyard to allow the fullest expression of the varietal and the terroir of his wines. This even extends to working with the barriques or foudres (3000L cask) himself; not that far out of his comfort zone as his father was a well-known cooper in the region. Every part of the winemaking process is integral to creating a final piece worthy of his efforts, much like every part of a puzzle is necessary to create a complete picture.

2009 Morgon "Cote du Py" by Jean Foillard
$40 CAD    ***** BUY THIS IF YOU CAN *****

varietal:      100% Gamay Noir
age of vines: up to 100 years old!
cultivation:   manual, completely organic and partially bio-dynamic (not-certified)
vinification:  traditional carbonic maceration
aging:    12 months in neutral foudres (some up to 40 years old)
awards:   93 points, Stephen Tanzer
  • visual:   clear; medium ruby core with light cherry rim and no bricking; faint sediment
  • nose:   clean; fully intense and youthful bouquet of red cherries, young raspberries, light red currant, ripe strawberries, rose blossoms in Spring, red candies, fresh blueberries, light spice afternotes
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate (well integrated red currant and cranberry) acids, moderate-to light (soft, silky) tannins, light body, light alcohol (13.5%), moderate+ intense and youthful flavors that mimick well the nose; heavy emphasis on candied red berry notes typical for a Beaujolais but with a distinct minerally-earthy backbone. Excellent balance and structure, long length
  • conclusion:   whilst this wine is drinking well now, because of the careful viticulture and age of vines this will age well for another decade. Drink 2011-2020; aging will develop earthy notes and the bright candied berries will soften
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   with the wine so young; the vibrant acidity and the bright red berries, duck is a natural! Consider bergamot smoked duck breast on celeriac and green apple rosti with steamed gai-lan (or swiss chard) with confit of sweet onion

   Jean Foillard once explained how the huge foudres he uses are brought into his ancient and modest winecellar: they are taken apart and re-assembled in the cellar plank by plank. It is a meticulous job he stipulated, stressing the importance of every piece being brought back into alignment. It was also worthy of note that the work needed to be finished within 24 hours or the pieces would have shifted slightly, almost imperceptibly, and would never re-assemble properly.

   It struck me as I read those words (thank you again Bertrand) that this was the same manner that Jean (and Jules Chavet and Marcel LaPierre and others) approached their work with the vineyard: everything has it's own place. It isn't the winemaker's job to impose his or her own sense of order to the vineyard, it is the winemaker's job to discover the vineyard's own sense of order.

   My sense of order is, these days, imposed by a much greater force then my own.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

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

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Chateau D'Arche, Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux Superieur

Alot of names for a little bottle of wine, and I can easily remember the days when this would have been daunting. Let me try and help you understand the label of this lovely (and relatively inexpensive) little way to enter the fiscally intimidating region of Bordeaux.

Chateau D'Arche in Ludon, Medoc
   Firstly, Chateau D'Arche is a very well established chateau; it was classified as a "Cru Bourgeois" in 1932 (explanation to follow) and for almost 20 years has been owned and managed by the owners of the prestigious Chateau Palmer (http://www.mahler-besse.com/). Chateau Palmer, a Grand Cru Classe, is exorbitantly expensive. To wit: a 1945 Chateau Palmer will auction for over $15,000 USD and it's only a 91-point wine.

 I cannot afford Chateau Palmer. But that being said, I am more then willing to enjoy the work of Mähler-Besse (the owners) and their winemaker at a fraction of the cost.

 Now as to the Cru Bourgeois: back in 1855 Emperor Napoleon mandated a classification of the chateau of Bordeaux for the Paris Exposition. The chateau were classified mostly according to the price of the wines and were not intended (we are taught) to be a judgement on quality. This list was divided into Premier Cru (First Class), Deuxiemes Cru (Second Class) and so on through Fifth Class.

   Well very little has changed since that time with the exception that the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture created a "Cru Bourgeois" in 1932. This list included 444 wineries that were thought to be of "high quality" and was divided into several tiers as well. This multi-tier system has since been annulled (as of 2008) and there is only one tier: Cru Bourgeois. This is supposed to indicate a high quality wine that was not on the official classification of 1855. Enough history?

   Time for some geography~! What is the Haut-Medoc?? Please refer to my article http://astudentofwine.blogspot.com/2011/01/chateau-la-gorce-medoc-bordeaux-france.html . Suffice it to say that the Medoc region is Left Bank Bordeaux (which in general means the wine will have a significant proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon) and the Haut-Medoc has the highest ratio of Grand Cru chateau.

1999 Chateau D'Arche, Haut-Medoc
Cru Bourgeois Superieur 

commune:   Ludon-Medoc
blend:         45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Carmenere
age of vines: minimum 35 years
soil type:    rich gravel
cultivation: completely manual without the use of any chemicals
vinification: traditional saignee method with 21 day maceration
aging:         12 months in 35% new French barriques
awards:      15.5/20 Vinum Wine Magazine
                   2 stars Le Guide Hachette des Vins
  • visual:   clear; medium garnet core with light cherry-brick rim and slight sediment
  • nose:   clean; fully intense and developed bouquet of red and black berries; cherries, black raspberries, blackberries, crisp red currant and cassis, intoxicating summer floral notes of roses, green peppers from the Carmenere and rich savory woodsy and earthy background
  • palate: clean; dry, moderate+ (still crisp red currant) acids, moderate (well integrated and chalky) tannins, medium body, moderate+ alcohol (12.5%), moderate intensity and developed flavors similar to the nose with emphasis on the red berry flavors with a strong woodsy/oaky/earthy presence mid-palate. Good balance, very good structure, good length
  • conclusion:   drinking well now, I have heard people say that this vintage will cellar to 2020... perhaps, but there will be no further development of flavors and one is in danger of losing the last of these zippy acids
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   as with any great Cab-Sauv blend, my natural inclination is to steak. As this is French, why not a classic Steak Frites with peppercorn demi-cream or even with Steak Tartare and roast elephant garlic jam as an appetizer?

   Chateau D'Arche is not a Grand Cru wine, but it most certainly is Grand Cru skill utilized to it's fullest. The reward is in the glass!

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

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