France > Crozes-Hermitage > M. Chapoutier Les Meysonniers

M. Chapoutier Les Meysonniers

Country: France
Region: Crozes-Hermitage
Producer: M. Chapoutier
Grape variety: 100% Syrah
Vintage: 2009
Found at: Co-op Wines and Spirits, Willow Park Wines and Spirits, Superstore (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $21.99

About the region: Although Syrah aka Shiraz is most commonly associated with Australia these days, its origins reside in the Rhone valley, where (most likely) it descended from several indigenous, wild grape varieties. The Northern Rhone valley in particular has been known for its high-quality Syrah as far back as Roman times. Over the centuries it became so popular that other regions (most notably Bordeaux and Burgundy) even used small portions of Syrah from the Northern Rhone to boost their wines during difficult years in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Some of the best Syrah in the world comes from a particular hill, towering over the town of Tain on the bank of the Rhone river, called Hermitage. Due to its fame, wines from Hermitage will set you back at least $100 (and considerably more than that for most). So if we want to get a a sense for Syrah’s character from vineyards where this grape was first grown, we have to travel down the hill and consider the flatter lands around the hill. This region of the Northern Rhone valley is Crozes-Hermitage. Less prestigious than Hermitage, but much more affordable.

A quick note then about Australian Shiraz vs Northern Rhone’s Syrah: Australian Shiraz is known for being soft and full-bodied with lots of dark, ripe fruit characteristics. Syrah from the Northern Rhone on the other hand tends to be closer to medium bodied with higher tannins, showing a more complex combination of black fruit, spicy (peppery), and earthy characteristics. These differences can be explained by differences in climate and soils, as well as in vineyard and winemaking practices. Although there is clearly variation within each region as well, the general characteristics of Syrah/Shiraz across the two regions provides a great example of how the same grape variety can produce wines with rather different characteristics.

About the wine:

At age 24, Michel Chapoutier went to have a chat with his grandfather, who at that time still owned a majority stake in the Chapoutier wine business. Even though he had only been working in the family business for a few years, he had come to realize that the quality of the family’s wines (made by his father at the time) was well below their potential. He indicated to his grandfather that he would leave the family business unless he could have a majority stake in the business (including his father’s minority stake) and thereby, control in the winery. His grandfather agreed, which resulted in a new beginning for the Chapoutier business (as well as Michel and his father not talking for quite some time).

Over the next 10 years, Michel vastly improved the quality of the Chapoutier wines while buying additional vineyard land and tripling production. Historically, wines from the Northern Rhone had been blends from different vineyards in each appellation (sub-region). Michel’s vision was to start producing “pictures of the terroir” instead; that is, wines that reflect the unique characteristics of each of the individual vineyards. His single-vineyard bottlings have since become some of the Northern Rhone’s most renowned wines. The mention of L’Ermite, Le Méal, and Le Pavillon are enough to make any Northern Rhone fan’s mouth water (as a side note, if anyone is still looking for a belated birthday present for me, the L’Ermite is only $450…). Meanwhile, Michel continues to hold strong opinions about wine making, whether it pertains to Riesling’s characteristic whiff of petrol or the natural wine movement.

The Meysonniers comes from south-facing, gentle slopes. It’s hand harvested and matured in concrete tanks (so it doesn’t touch oak). So there are no oaky or vanilla-y aromas to be found here. Instead, earthy and peppery notes dominate, which makes this wine such a good example of Syrah from France’s Northern Rhone region. There are notes of red cherry and blackcurrant. The acidity makes this wine very food-friendly (think nicely-peppered steak).

In Susanne’s words: It’s okay.

For an interesting experiment, pick up a bottle of your favorite Australian Shiraz and the Meysonniers, open both up, and taste them side by side. Both are made from the exact same grape variety, so will have characteristics in common, but you will find that both are very different in some aspects as well. Cheers!


France > Vouvray > Barton & Guestier Vouvray

Barton & Guestier Vouvray

Country: France
Region: Vouvray
Producer: Barton & Guestier
Grape variety: Chenin Blanc
Vintage: 2010
Found at: Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $16.99

About the region: Time to visit a lesser-known wine region! As a kid, I associated the Loire valley with castles like Chambord and Chenonceau, which we used to visit while camping there. Today, it makes me think of the wide variety of wines that are grown all along the river valley: from Sancerre in the East to Muscadet in the West and in between several others, including today’s region: Vouvray.

The grape variety grown here is Chenin Blanc in a wide variety of styles ranging from dry to sweet and from still to bubbly. Its flavours vary accordingly as well, ranging from green apple to exotic, but usually with above-average acidity and mineral notes.

About the wine: In 1725, Irishman Thomas Barton founded a wine shipping company in Bordeaux to distribute its wines, mainly across the channel. Eventually he bought several estates in Bordeaux as well and start producing his own wines. In 1802, his grandson and successor, Hugh Barton, joined forces with Daniel Guestier, a French trader, to create Barton & Guestier. Today, it develops a wide range of mostly entry-level wines among which the Vouvray stands out.

The Vouvray is off-dry, balanced by the characteristic acidity. It’s showing peach and pear flavours, as well as some floral notes. This will be another great wine for a nice summer day, which will hopefully come along soon!

In Susanne’s words: Nice, happy, special.

France > Burgundy > Joseph Faiveley Bourgogne Pinot Noir

Joseph Faiveley Bourgogne

Country: France
Region: Burgundy
Producer: Joseph Faiveley
Grape variety: Pinot Noir
Vintage: 2007
Found at: Willow Park Wines and Spirits and Co-Op Wines and Spirits (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $15.99 – $17.99

About the region
: This week we’re staying in Burgundy, but are now turning toward its black grape variety: Pinot Noir. Virtually all red wine from Burgundy is made from the Pinot Noir grape, so even if you don’t see the grape variety being mentioned on the label of a bottle of red Burgundy, it contains 100% Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is known as the “heartbreak grape” since it has a thin skin and grows in tight bunches of small berries, which makes it prone to rot and therefore difficult to grow. Similar to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir was originally planted in Burgundy and (in my humble opinion) succeeds better in Burgundy than anywhere else in the world. The halmark characteristics of Pinot Noir are low tannins (the astringent stuff in red wines that makes your mouth feel dry) and high acidity. Burgundian Pinot Noir will display red fruit favours (e.g., cherry, raspberry, strawberry) as well as vegetal and savoury notes, especially as the wine matures. The complexity of red Burgundy and the high acidity make this one of my favourites.

If you think of Southern Alberta as vast stretches of land with farmers owning thousands of acres of land, as far as the eye can see, Burgundy is the exact opposite. As an example, one of the largest and most famous vineyards in Burgundy is the Clos de Vougeot, which is a mere 125 acres, which in turn is shared by over 80 producers. So every producer owns a few rows of vines at most, with the rows to their right being owned by a different producer and the rows to their left being owned by yet another one. This is the case in most of Burgundy’s best vineyards: most producers own a limited number of rows of vines in vineyards spread out across Burgundy.

Since Pinot Noir is difficult to grow and because of limited supply and large demand, Burgundy Pinot Noir is expensive. Several high-end Burgundies will run you 5 figures per bottle. We’ll stick to the entry-level wines though…

About the wine: Domaine Faiveley has been around for the past 186 years and its vineyard holdings are among the largest in Burgundy. In December 2004 (at age 25), Erwan Faiveley took over the controls from his father, François. Since taking over, Erwan expanded the domaine’s vineyard holdings and started making changes to the style of wines. Under François, the wines had been more reserved and austere. Erwan’s main objective was to make the wines more accessible. The changes he instigated included lowering yields in the vineyards, installing a grape-sorting table in the winery, and holding back the release of selected wines until they are ready to drink. The 2007 vintage is the first where the reds fully reflect the changes that Erwan put in place.

Their entry level wine provides good value and is a good reflection of what Burgundy has to offer. There’s redcurrant, black pepper, mushroom, and forest floor on the nose. On the palate, there’s above-average acidity, low tannins, red cherry, and cranberry. It’s light-bodied, elegant, and quite pretty.

In Susanne’s words: Easy but not slutty. I like it.

France > Burgundy > Joseph Drouhin Macon-Villages

Joseph Drouhin Macon-Villages

Country: France
Region: Burgundy
Producer: Joseph Drouhin
Grape variety: Chardonnay
Vintage: 2010
Found at: Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $17.99

About the region
: Although Chardonnay is grown all over the world today, its roots lie in Burgundy. And since the grape variety is named after a village in the Maconnais (one of Burgundy’s sub-regions), let’s visit that region this week. Added benefit: white Burgundy from the Maconnais is considerably cheaper than those from the more famous subregions to its North (such as Meursault). 43 villages in the Maconnais qualify to label their wines as “Macon-Villages”, which generally provide somewhat more complexity, ripeness, and character compared to those labeled as the more generic “Macon”. Chardonnay is a non-aromatic grape variety, which implies that it doesn’t have a very pronounced fruit character: to explore this for yourself, stick your nose in a glass of Chardonnay and then in a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling and you’ll find that the latter have a much more pronounced, fruity smell. Because it’s non-aromatic, the wine’s character is determined to a large the degree by where the vineyard is situated and choices made by the winemaker (e.g., the use of oak vs. no oak).

About the wine: Maison Joseph Drouhin is one of the largest producers in Burgundy. They own vineyards all over Burgundy (including parcels in several famous vineyards), as well as source grapes from other growers. They’ve been around for 130 years and are currently run by the fourth generation of the Drouhin family. Their Macon-Villages is made from grapes bought from other growers. After fermentation, the wine is aged in stainless steel for 6 to 8 months. thereby retaining its riper fruit characteristics.

Apple and melon notes dominate on the nose, combined with some subtle straw notes. On the palate there is above-average acidity, the apple and melon notes make a recurrence, as well as some lemon peel and minerality.

In Susanne’s words: Apple-y; tastes gooood.

France > Bordeaux > Sirius

Sirius Bordeaux

Country: France
Region: Bordeaux
Producer: Maison Sichel
Grape varieties: 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage: 2009
Price: $19.59 – $19.99
Found at: Willow Park Wines and Spirits, Co-op Wines and Spirits (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)

About the region: The impact of Bordeaux on the wine world has always been and still is enormous. It is the home of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (and others), the birthplace of wine brands, and it produces some of the world’s most expensive and sought-after wines. Bordeaux reds are most often a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc with either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot forming the majority of the blend. Many can age for a decade; some even for several decades. Factoid: you can buy bottles of Bordeaux while it’s still in barrel at the chateau (see for example).

2009 was an excellent year for Bordeaux with hot, dry weather throughout the growing season. Unfortunately, this also meant that prices increased sharply again for higher end wines. Entry level wines were affected less by these price increases, so 2009 is an excellent year to shop for value wines.

About the wine: Maison Sichel owns a variety of properties in Bordeaux (including several high-end chateaux). Peter Sichel created the Sirius brand in 1985 to prove that it was possible to apply the same care and methods as for high-end Bordeaux to less prestigious vineyards to obtain a fine, fruit-forward, and rounded wine at an affordable price. The 2009 lives up to this ambition: it has tons of black cherry and plum character, as well as chocolate and cedar notes. The tannins are still fairly firm, so this will last for a good 5 years to come, though it drinks very nicely now already as well, especially after some decanting.

The 2002 Sirius made me realize that a wine can be more than “just a wine” and that Bordeaux is a region I should try more of. It’s not my intention to hype this bottle to such a degree that anyone who tries it will be disappointed, but I hope that each of us at some point comes across a bottle that stays with us and entices us to want to learn and try more, like this bottle did for me.

France > Pouilly-Fuissé > Louis Jadot

Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé

Country: France
Region: Pouilly-Fuissé
Producer: Louis Jadot
Grape variety: Chardonnay
Vintage: 2009
Found at: Willow Park Wines and Spirits ($37)

About the region
: Pouilly-Fuissé produces some of the richest white wines in Burgundy, due to the vineyards being situated on a series of amphitheatre-like slopes, which act as natural sun traps.

About the wine: This wine reflects the region very well. It offers pear and peach aromas, combined with a nutty and almost herbal character. It’s richer than your average white Burgundy, though it still sports a vibrant acidity to balance it out. For fans of oaky, buttery New World (United States, Australia, South America, etc.) Chardonnay who want to try a more restraint style, this would be a great place to start. On the other side, for Burgundy fans looking for a richer style of white that won’t break the bank, this would be a good bottle to try out as well.

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