Monday, 19 February 2018

Cave de Roquebrun : Attractive and Age Worthy Wines from the Languedoc

I guess I have been living under a rock lately because it was not until a few months ago that I was introduced to the remarkable and alluring wines of Cave de Roquebrun, a co-operative on the steep slopes of St. Chinian in the Languedoc, France.  Not only have the wines been selling here in Quebec for the past 30 years, the director and winemaker, Alain Rogier makes no less than two trips a year to Montreal.  I thought I had a decent grasp of the all the great wines that’s available on our market, but I was humbly put in my place.  Roquebrun!!  Where have you been all my life?!?!”
Cave de Roquebrun is a co-operative of about 80 members, holding approximately 650 ha of vines.  Being a co-op is nothing to sneer at, as the wines are astonishing and age-worthy.  The fact they go through carbonic maceration makes them even more charming and interesting, if that's even possible.  

When Alain arrived at Roquebrun, he found cellars and equipment used to make wine via carbonic maceration (see the basic explanation of CM on the infographic below).  Carbonic maceration (CM for short) is famous in Beaujolais where Gamay is King, and produces easy drinking wines that are soft, fruity, and (most of the time) meant for early consumption.

Although he could have done away with the ‘equipment’, Alain was intrigued and took the risk of using this technique for his wines, which include grapes like Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre,  Grenache, and Cinsault  - not the typical grapes associated with CM.  They are now the largest and most successful producers of carbonic macerated wines in the Languedoc.

All the grapes are carefully hand harvested.  They have to be, since the slopes are too steep for any machine to work there, but also due to the fact that they go into the vat with whole clusters.  All the grapes are put into separate vats by variety and also by plot.  The next step at Roquebrun is what sets it apart from the rest.  Usually with CM, grapes are sealed in a vat that is sealed with CO2.  The grapes go through intercellular fermentation (essentially fermentation taking place inside the grape), once the must reaches 1.5-2% the grapes 'die' and then undergo a second fermentation with yeasts.  At Roquebrun, the yeast is added immediately and then everything is left alone for roughly a month, give or take a few days.  The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation, and sometimes micro-oxygenation, but only when necessary.  

Tasting all the way back to the 1994 vintage, it is remarkable how these wines reflect elegance and complexity while still holding on to so much life, and all made by carbonic maceration! I was (wrongfully) under the impression that wines made by CM were made for early drinking. Having experienced a vertical tasting going back 24 years, I am astonished at the level of complexity, longevity and intense flavours of the wines from Cave de Roquebrun.  

Although all of the wines at the event were incredibly exciting and attractive, I have listed below my top favourites.  I have a tendency to always lean towards wines with high acidity, so the younger vintages seem to have especially stolen my heart.  

Cave de Roquebrun Roche Noires

1994 : Generous notes of violet, sweet plums, cherries cooked blackberries and sweet spices, amongst the bits of leather and coffee grains.   The acidity is very well maintained with the fruit.  The notes of dark chocolate and supple tannins create softness in the wine, leading to a very complex and persistent finish.  Outstanding.  

1998: Cooked blackberries, black cherries and fig that unfold into a rich and spicy palate, with impressions of earth and leather.  The acidity is still bright and tannins which are round and supple.  The long finish has layers of complexity leaving notes of chocolate-covered black fruit. A very elegant wine.  

2008: This wine sings with notes of concentrated cherries, blackberries and plum with a bit of cinnamon spice.  Rich and expressive, the excellent acidity carries the fruit along nicely as it evolves into layers of oak, dried herbs and blueberry.  The finish is long, where the above flavours are extraordinarily layered and balanced.  Drink now or in the next 6-8 years.  

2009:  Beautiful, complex flavours of blackberries, black cherries, sweet spice and violet.  Mid way through the palate the bright acidity hits, along with a meaty edge.  Tannins are soft yet chalky.  The finish has an excellent core of fruit.  

2011:  Similar to the '09 with a deeper edge of dark chocolate, coffee and balsamic.  Concentrated blackberries and cherries with a mineral streak for good balance.  The acidity is bright and on point with the fruit and fine tannin structure.  The finish is delicious and round with the slightest touch of sweet and savoury spice.  Drink now or in the next 10-12 years.  

Les Fiefs d'Aupenac

 1995: So bright and youthful with attractive notes of black cherries, blackberries and plum integrated with sweet spice, violet and a hint of balsamic.  A very round and supple palate with fine grained tannins and excellent acidity.  Lots of balance and structure with layers of fruit revealing themselves as it leads into a very fine finish.  

2006:  Juicy and vibrant, this is bursting with cherries, plum,  and dark chocolate covered cranberries.  The tertiary notes come to play here too, having bits of leather and dried raisin fruit.  This wine is very concentrated and smooth textured but with a very good line of acidity.  Incredibly easy to drink. Absolutely delicious and long finish.  Drink now or in the next 4-5 years. 

2009: Savoury, dense, blackcurrant and blueberries with approachable spicy tannins.  Bits of dried herbs and cedar. This is a very youthful and elegant wine.  Ready to drink, but give it some time and you will be supremely rewarded.  Drink now orin the next 8-10 years.  

2013:  A great expression of intense blackberries, blueberries, and cherries with a very nice spicy edge.  The palate has elegant, seductive appeal and has intense, ripe black fruit where the oak and spice is dancing around the palate perfectly.  Great structure.  Drink now or in the next 8-10 years.  

*Alain Rogier was named Red Winemaker of the Year in 2016 by the International Wine Challenge and the La Grange des Combes, along with numerous awards and medals over the years.  Lucky for us, his wines are readily available at the SAQ.  A very special thank you to A.O.C & Cie and Alain Rogier for the stellar vertical tasting and meal held at La Colombe here in Montréal.  

Monday, 12 February 2018

Le Famiglie Storiche: The Ultimate Expression of Top Quality Amarone

Amarone is a highly regarded wine.  This is partly because it’s longevity (it can cellar up to 15-20 years, easy), partly because of the meticulous production methods (careful grape selection and drying process), but mostly it’s due to the complex and elegant flavours that leave such a loving and lasting impression on the palate. (Intense and rich black/raisin fruit paired with this insane acidity and plump mouthfeel tunneling into layers of dark chocolate, fig, earth, and then back to ripe fruit again.) 

Amarone can sometimes be expensive, for very good reason considering how the wine is made, but they are not all created equal.  If you are looking to buy pristine quality, check out an Amarone coming from Le Famiglie Storiche. 

What is Amarone?
Amarone is a unique style of wine coming from the Valpolicella region of the Veneto in Northeastern Italy.   It is a wine made from very selective, superior grapes that are hand harvested and placed in a room where temperature and humidity are controlled and the grapes are dried for a period of time.  This drying process, called appassimento, reduces water content of the grapes anywhere between 40-50%,  creating highly concentrated juice for fermentation.  Finally, the wine gets aged in the top-quality barrels for at least 24 months.* 
Photo: Le Famiglie Storiche

Amarone produces a wine that has intense colour, rich flavour, supple tannins, and an excellent acidity, making it perfect for aging. 

The grapes used for Amarone are:
-       45-95% Corvina : A mandatory variety that has sublte tannin and high acidity.
-       Corvinone: may substitute Corvina for up to 50% of this amount
-       5-30% Rondinella : A mandatory variety that produces a full bodied wine and contributes sweetness to a blend.
-       Up to 15% of other red indigenous varieties like Molinara and Oseleta.

Grapes like Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella are native to Italy and key to making Amarone.   They are naturally high in acidity and have very thick skin, thus making it ideal to withstand the drying process and hold on to concentrated flavors and aromas that are characteristic of Amarone. 
Photo: Le Famiglie Storiche
What is Le Famiglie Storiche ?

Founded in 2009, Le Famiglie Storiche consists of 13 family owned producers of Amarone in the Valpolicella.  Being concerned with overproduction of too many diluted examples of Amarone, they created the group to protect the unique beauty and elegance of this special wine.
Photo: Panelists from members of Le Famiglie Storiche

Le Famiglie Storiche has applied stricter, more quality driven regulations when it comes to making Amarone compared to their counterparts, and they are as follows: 

-       Minimal alcohol is 15% ( compared to 14% in the DOCG regulations)
-       Minimum dry extract is 30g/l ( compared to 28g/l in the DOCG regulations)
-       Minimum 30 months aging (compared to 24 months in the DOCG regulations)*
-       The option of not making any Amarone if there is a poor vintage. 

The most important thing to note is the superior quality, charm and overall excellence of the sophisticated Amarone from Le Famiglie Storiche.   They take no short cuts: it is a timely and labour intensive wine making process where their priority is to make long-lived, elegant, and very structured wines reflecting tradition and passion.

The 13 Members of Le Famiglie Storiche are :

Photo: La Famiglie Storiche
At a recent event held here in Montreal at Institut de Tourisme et d'hôtellerie du Quebec,  all 13 members of the Famiglie Storiche were here to represent their region, their winery and of course their Amarone.  The presentation included tastings of vintages from 2011 all the way back to 1988, from one of the most unique styles of wine on the planet.  The following tasting notes are from this event.  

♥: Denotes a personal favorite

Torre D'Orti - Amarone della Valpolicella 2010 
Agent: L'Enoteca di Moreno de Marchi 

This generous and rich wine has ripe blackberries, plum, dark cherries and fig.  Mid way through, notes of chocolate, coffee and raisin emerge. Acidity is fresh and tannins give a good lift through the palate, into a long and beautiful finish.  This wine has a long and promising life ahead of it.  Drink in 10-15 years.  

Tommasi - Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2009
Agent: Univins & Spiritueux

Made in the same year as the founding of Le Famiglie Stroiche, this wine is the definition of elegance and structure.  The wine begins with concentrated black cherries, fig, and dark chocolate that spiral around the palate.  Depth of flavours continue as nuances of molasses, cedar and wet earth give way to snappy tannins and excellent acidity.  The finish is layered, long and extremely beautiful. One of my top favourites from this tasting.  Drink in 15-20 years. 

Masi Agricola - Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2007 
Agent: Authentic Vins et Spiriteux

This wine has generous notes of cherries, strawberries and blackberries.  Lots of ripe fruit with nuances of coffee and chocolate.  The acidity is bright and fresh with supple tannins.  Lots of body with a creamy texture having a long and evolving palate.  Finish is very decent with a fruity and lasting mouthfeel. Drink in the next 20-25  years.  

Zenato - Amarone della Valopllicella 2006
Agent: Italvine Vins & Spiritueux 

There are some lifted notes here along with blackberries, fig, blueberries, fruitcake, a little prune, a little raisin, very complex nose.  The palate is full bodied, with a fresh excellent acidity matched with concentrated fruit of blackberries, cherries and chocolate but the acidity and the medium grained  tannins add dimension.  This is still very young, very well structured and full of flavour.  You could drink this now, but if you are patient,  better in the next 20-25 years. 

Musella - Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva 2006 ♥
Agent: Agent:  Importation le Pot de Vin

Very expressive wine with endless floral notes, sweet black cherries, blackberries and prunes mingling with vibrant mocha coffee freshness.  This wine has an excellent acidity and very fine structure.  It has a succulent palate with fine silky tannins and a finish that goes on forever. Drink now or in the next 8-10 years.  

Begali - Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2005
Agent: Sélections Fréchette

Very small winery that is completely family run with only 12 ha of vines.  Rich in flavour, there are dominate notes of sweet cherries, prunes, and cassis with bits of cedar and tobacco and a surprising mineral streak.  The tannins are soft and silky with a vibrant acidity and a very balanced and fine finish.  Drink now or in the next 18-20 years.  

Allegrini - Amarone Classico DOC 2005
Agent:  Élixirs Vins et Spiritueux

The best producers are able to make incredible wine even in difficult vintages, and this Amarone from Allegrini is a prime example:  intense notes of sweet cherries, blackberries, and dried raisins. The concentrated and juicy fruit is supported by a high acidity and lush tannins. The palate is round and sophisticated, where the notes of cedar and vanilla seem to bring it all together.  Incredible length and complex finish with dark berry fruit, and bits of spice.  Drink now or in the next 10-15 years.  

Venturini  - Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva 2005
Agent : Seeking Agency

Sweet strawberries, cherries, and blackberries with worn leather and some herbaceous and cedar undertones.  The fresh acidity and fine grained tannins are carrying it along nicely with well integrated oak, dark chocolate, and slight tobacco.  Very long finish.  Drink now or in the next 10-15 years.

Tenuta Sant'Antonio - Amarone della Valpolicella 2004
Agent: Mark Anthony Wines and Spirits

Very approachable and complex nose having blackberries,  ripe red cherries, violet and spice.  There is also  a nice development of leather,  dried prunes and fig.   lifted The round palate is rich with medium grained tannins and fine acidity leading to a long, layered finish of vanilla and and black fruit ending on a note of chocolate covered blueberries.  Lovely. Drink now or in the next 15-20 years.

Brigaldara - Amarone della Valpolicella 2011
Agent: LVAB

Beautiful concentration of blackberries, prunes, herbs, a little bit of spice, coffee, and dried fruit.  Tannins are elegant and very well integrated with a vibrant acidity.   The beautifully balanced palate reveals layers of delicious flavours with a concentrated and long length.     Located in the Classico region,  but they are starting to invest in plots outside of this area. Drink in 20-25 years.

Tedeschi - Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2001
Agent: La Céleste Levure

A pristine example of Amarone - beautiful notes of ripe blackberries and cherries carrying over to dried raisin fruit, fig, dark chocolate and bits of liquorice and autumn mulch.  This wine is evolving gracefully, framed by a lively acidity and great tannin structure.  The round palate has a great depth of flavours that linger on the palate. Very long finish. Drink in 20-25 years. 

Guerrieri  Rizzardi - Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva 1998
Agent: Valmonti

Generous notes of cherries, blackberries, and blueberries interwoven with cedar, vanilla and tobacco. Tertiary elements of forest floor, leather, and meaty elements glide into some cinnamon spice on the full bodied wine.  This has a wonderful amount of acidity and medium grained tannin, making it suitable for further aging.  An intense Amarone. Drink now or in 8-10 years. 

Speri Viticoltori- Amarone della Valpolicella 1988
Agent: Seeking Agency 

Dense and fruity, with ripe wild strawberry, raisin, earth and sweet herb character. Full-bodied, with fine and delicate tannins and a smooth palate.  Delivers fruitcake with bits of spice and pepper leading to a long and full finish.  Drink now or in the next 10-15 years.