I’ve been in speed tastings before, where you sit at a table and the winemaker comes to your group to pour their wines and talk about them.
But Meet your Match was the first speed tasting I’ve seen where the tasters get up and move to the next winemaker’s table. Sort of like a musical chairs drinking game.
That’s how they speed taste at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. 10 wineries, 8 minutes each. We sat in two rows of five chairs each and created a wee audience for each winemaker or agent.
After introducing the wine men, host Anthony Gismondi turned us loose like it was a race.
I started at Table #1 with Francesco Ricasoli who poured his Castello Brolio 2008 Chianti Classico.
Ricasoli is the oldest winery in Italy and practically invented Chianti in 1872. Ricasoli spoke of how his family’s winery tends an average of 200 separate vineyards and treats each one differently
“In Brolio we have such a jewel of soils, exposures, microclimate, we began to think like in Burgundy,” he said. “Sangiovese the most important and challenging grape. We call it a bastard because its so nasty and so difficult you have to take the right care.”
But then he got almost philosophical about their method of winemaking, playing down the blending aspect.
“If you work with the mentality of respect for terroir and the places, it doesn’t matter what you do to the chemistry. A very small amount of varietal merlot can destroy a very thin sangiovese. A very respectful merlot from this terroir in higher percentage can blend very well with sangiovese. But percentages in blending for me are irrelevant.”
The wine was deeply complex, with dusty fruit, and a super long finish.
He said the 2009 was not produced, but when he said “2010” he kissed his fingers and you know what that means. $70-75 spec.
Then, we heard the ringy dingy of a bicycle bell and shuffled collectively to our right.
Thomas Perrin is among the 5th generation in the Famille Perrin winery in the Rhone Valley. He poured us the Chateau de Beaucastel 2012 Roussanne Vielles Vignes Blanc.
This Chateanuef du Pape winery in the Southern Rhone Valley has roots in the 16th century. The Perrin family has owned the winery for only a hundred years, and they are all involved.
Every six months they do a tasting of all vintages so you can go online to find out what’s ready to drink.
“In this wine you will find the essence of our firm, its long history and the very special nature of our territory and each vineyard.”
When asked what to eat with this wine, he said, “There’s only one food to eat with this wine and it is scallops and black truffles. We are famous for our black truffles, so naturally, since it’s coming from the soil.”
This wine fairly glowed in the glass. The fruit was quite ripe with apples and oranges, and a beautiful texture that I could see pairing with scallops. The truffles, though…?
Not available for $155 but amazing anyway.
Jorge Ramos of Taylor Fladgate poured their 2011 Vintage Port, a wine that only gets made every few years.
Ramos told us how the steeply-terraced grapes get picked by hand from 6 – noon and brought into the granite lagares – or square tubs – with “11 people here, 11 people there for foot treading”.
“After two and a half hours we bring out music and a lot of booze because they’ll be in there another 2 hours for a free tread. So it’s chicken dance, the train, so they’re in there dancing for the full 4 hours.”
Then, he demonstrated the stomping action. That got a good laugh.
He explained how “Vintage” is highest quality wine a winery can produce. In 300 years, Taylor Fladgate has declared classic vintages only 3x per decade. The last were 2011, 2009, 2003, 2000
I felt honoured to just hold the stuff in my glass. It had massive cassis fruit, but relatively soft tannins, with liquorice on the nose, and violets on the finish. So thick you want to pour it on pancakes. Only $135 CN bucks.
At the next table, the black wines continued with the Gérard Bertrand Cigalus 2011 Red, which was not the white wine we saw in our programs. Ooops.
Winemaker Stephane Queralt introduced the winery, owned by former Rugby Star Gérard Bertrand, telling us how injuries had forced Bertrand to quit the game. So, he started making wine, something he’d learned from his father.
Bertrand bought Cigalus in 1985 and now the Languedoc estate is completely biodymanic.
He called this red blend, “Bordeaux mixed with Rhone.” It’s 24% cabernet sauvignon plus cab franc, merlot, syrah, grenache, carignon, and calidoc, the love child of grenache and malbec.
Totally opaque in colour, it had deeply extracted black and purple fruit, with liquorice notes and a velvety soft mouthfeel. Huge body. $55-60 on spec.
Next was the stoic Fritz Haselbach of Gunderloch Winery pouring his Nackenheim Rothenberg 2012 Riesling Trocken.
Haselbach is the winemaker of his wife’s great grandfather’s winery, founded in 1890. After five generations, imagine the pressure of family inheritance.
He spoke about his family in hushed tones that revealed a hint of trepidation. His daughter, he said, had left the winery to work for Lufthansa, and his son left went work at a winery in Australia. But he has one son remaining and that seemed to give him comfort that someone would take over.
He said his wife’s grandfather was very rich and bought all the best vineyards in the area. Rothernberg is designated as GG for Grand Gros. “We live in the European community, but we’re not allowed to use Grand Cru,” he said, to some chuckling.
Rothenberg, he said, means Red Till since the grapes grow in red slate, a piece of which he held up for us. The wine has excellent minerality, luscious tropical fruit and a lip-smacking finish. $64 on Spec.
After the port and the red blend, this riesling tasted so refreshing I didn’t want to get up. But then the bicycle bell rang and like Pavlovian dogs, we were off to the next table.
Ten feet away we met the melifluously-voiced Stavano Benini, pouring Frescobaldi Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2008
His family has been making wine since the Renaissance, but the opportunity to purchase these Montalcino vineyards came in the early 1970s. After failing with sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon, they planted yet more sangiovese across 150 hectares.
They made this wine to be immediately approachable, he said. “We want a brunello that is open, that gives you the pleasure of drinking and makes you ready to go back for another glass. If you want something to age,” he shrugged, “go for the Reserva.”
For an approachable wine this had deep fruit and was herbal, earthy, and silky. $55. I hated dumping my pour as we shuffled on to the next great wine.
A minute later, he scolded a woman in my group. “No wash with water, that’s the worst thing to do. The last drop of wine is always better than water.”
Here is a guy with a strong sensibilities.
The wine he poured was his Hermitage Monier de la Sizeranne 2010, named for “the family who had the best vineyard in Hermitage.” That led to his best story:
“The family winemaker had an accident and became blind. This was the guy who finalized braille all over the world. For that, I decided to put braille on the bottles in 1995 to thank him for having the good idea to become blind and sell the vineyards to my great grandfather.”
You could almost taste the history in this inky wine, but most evident was the black pepper, “soot,” blackberry jam, and tar. Very impressive. $110. spec.
The last thing Chapoutier said was, “And don’t wash your glass with water!”
Jak Meyer was the only Canadian winemaker on the program, there to pour his Meyer Family Vineyards 2011 Chardonnay Micro Cuvee.
Compared to the other guys, Meyer sounded like a total newbie as he recalled how he and his wife bought their first vineyard, in Naramata, way back in 2006. So last decade!
Their 10-month new-french oak program explains the wine’s well-oaked effect. Micro Cuvee is made from the best of these barrels.
The wine was rich and buttery with big vanilla, ripe tropical fruit, and a beautiful nuttiness on the finish. $65 spec.
They only make 100 cases of this wine and he said there were about 5 cases left. A 2012 is coming out, but he doesn’t expect to make a 2013. But, a Micro Cuvee Pinot is coming out soon.
Then, back to Europe.
I was kind of surprised to meet yet another Port maker, but there was Miquel Roquette pouring the Quinto do Crasto Nacional 2010, a table wine made from Port grapes.
He described again the foot stomping tradition of Duoro and showed us a photo of a line of men in the tank. What, no women?
“Traditionally in the Douro, on the North Bank only men crush,” he said. “On the South Bank men and women crush. Don’t ask me why, this is lost in time, a 350 year old tradition.”
He said the Quinto do Crasto is named for Castrum, a roman fortress, which is what this wine tasted like. The colour was pitch with a purple rim, the colour my tongue had become. Super deep and rich, with huge fruit and an endless finish, it was a mouthful.
Pair it with game Roquette advised, after decanting it for 5 hours. Age it for 15 years, as only 600 bottles were made. $82 spec.
Winemaker Go ‘Round
After what felt like a trip around Europe, I craved a fresh beer, just to cleanse my palate. But it was fun, this musical chairs of speed tasting, meeting the men who bring us the wine. Maybe next year, they’ll bring in some women winemakers and make it like the South Bank of the Duoro instead of the North.
Meanwhile, what was your favourite event of the wine fest?