Hine Cognac…Fine Cognac

Photo by Espen Klem @ flickr creative commonsFor almost 250 years, Hine has been making some of the finest Cognacs around.  The house was first established in 1763 in Jarnac, France by Thomas Hine’s father-in-law.  When his father-in-law passed away, Thomas, originally from Dorset, England, took the reins and worked hard to expand the company.  In 1817, Thomas renamed the company Thomas Hine & Co. after himself.  Unfortunately, he died of pneumonia a few short years later, but not until he had gained a reputation the world over for producing consistently exquisite Cognac.  Six generations later, the company is still a family run business, and remains faithful to the principles set over 2 centuries ago by Thomas Hine.  Their simple motto: “Produce little; but make it perfect.”  Since 1963, Hine has been the only Cognac house to have the honour of holding the Royal Warrant to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

What makes Hine Cognacs so special?

The House of Hine produces excellent blended Cognacs that are sourced fromPer Even Allaire, Hine's Global Ambassador fewer than 50 growers, all from the well-known Grande and Petite Champagne districts.  Hine is also acknowledged worldwide as the specialist in Vintage Cognacs.  A Vintage Cognac is made only in exceptional years, and only in limited quantities, which can explain their cost.  Hine is known for ageing their Cognacs much longer than legally required and longer than many other producers.

Hine also continues the tradition that began in the 19th century of sending a few casks of each vintage to England to age in the chalk cellars of Bristol.  Known as ‘Early Landed’ Cognacs, their different flavour lies in the climate, explained Per Even Allaire, Hine’s global ambassador.  Bristol has overall cooler temperatures that remain quite steady, and the humidity is rarely below 95%, resulting in less evaporation of the liquid than in Jarnac where the air is much drier and the temperatures fluctuate more.  As a result, the Cognacs aged in Bristol will be fresher and fruitier and may even have slightly floral notes .  Jarnac-aged Cognacs, subjected to more evaporation and oxidation, are rich and complex, with a distinctly woody character.

Timothy Hine & Co. CognacA Tasting of Fine Hine Cognacs:

Hine Rare VSOP Fine Champagne Cognac:  Fine Champagne means that it is a blend of Grande and Petite Champagne Cognacs, with at least 50% coming from Grande Champagne (not to be confused with the famous sparkling wine region, Champagne – a completely different place).  This is a blend of more than 25 Cognacs, the youngest of which has aged more than 6 years.  This is Hine’s most delicate Cognac with aromas of orange peel, caramel, and jasmine.  Mellow and smooth. ($86.15)

Hine Homage Grand Cru Fine Champagne Cognac:  A blend of three ‘Early Landed’ vintage Cognacs (1984, 1986, 1987) aged in Bristol and some extra old Cognac aged in Hine’s cellars in Jarnac.   Per Even described the Homage Cognac as being an introduction to a wider audience of the style of Early Landed Vintage Cognac.  Homage Cognac has fresh aromas of orange peel, ripe apple, and butterscotch. ($144.95. To be released at the LCBO September 20, 2012.)

Hine 1er Cru Antique XO:  Antique XO was first released about 100 years ago.  To celebrate this anniversary, Hine has made Antique a Premier Cru, a blend of over 40 Cognacs exclusively from the Grande Champagne region.  The youngest Cognacs in the blend are at least 20 years old while the oldest have been aged for several decades.  This opulent and delicious Cognac has complex aromas of rich caramel, baked apple, apricot, spice, sweet honey, and licorice.  ($226.75)

Hine Cigar Reserve Cognac:  Created in 1996 for the cigar connoisseur.  A blend of 4 regions: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, and Fins Bois.  Powerful and bold, Cigar Reserve has pronounced aromas of smoke, gingerbread, caramel, baked apple, and loads of spice.  ($129.95.  To be released at the LCBO September 20, 2012.)

Hine Vintage 1964 Grande Champagne CognacHine Vintage 1964 Grande Champagne Cognac:  This is a previously unreleased Vintage Cognac that was aged 25 to 30 years in barrel in the Hine cellars in Jarnac. Incredibly complex, a flood of aromas sweeps you away each time you nose it – chocolatey-caramel sweetness, an array of spice and baked fruit.  A soft and silky texture with earthy and spicy fruit flavours on the palate.  Very long and lingering and delicious.

Hine Triomphe CognacHine Triomphe Decanter Cognac:  The 50 or so Grande Champagne Cognacs that make up this blend were selected and put aside 50 and 60 years ago.  Exquisite and complex, this Cognac has soft and sweet aromas of vanilla, creamy caramel, and butterscotch, with candied orange peel, and a delicate floral note.  Round and lush on the palate with a smoky spiciness on the lingering finish.  ($830.  To be released on November 19, 2012 as an LCBO Classics Online Release.  Only 20 bottles available in Ontario.)

Ravenwood’s Joel Peterson – the “Godfather of Zin”

Ravenswood WineryRavenswood has a very simple motto: “No Wimpy Wines.”  Well, from the wines I tasted back in May at the Ravenswood Zinfandel tasting and summer BBQ (the food was prepared by celebrity Chef Rob Rainford) in Toronto, I can honestly say that these ripe, rich, full-bodied wines are definitely not wimpy.  They’re not your average simple Zinfandel fruit bombs either – these wines, especially the Single Vineyard Designate line, are flavourful and complex…dare I say even terroir-driven?

Joel Peterson, Winemaker

Joel Peterson, founder and winemaker of Ravenswood, started out as a clinical laboratory scientist and worked full-time as a cancer immunology researcher at a San Francisco hospital and dabbled in wine on the side.  Back in 1976, Joel brought in 4 tons of grapes to make two Sonoma County single-vineyard Zinfandels.  These were the first wines to bear the label of the winery that took its name from the ravens that taunted Joel as he toiled in the Joel Peterson of Ravenswoodvineyards.  In 1979, these same wines won first and second at a prestigious wine tasting in San Francisco, which helped Peterson recruit investors to get his fledgling winery going.  It wasn’t an easy ride, however, the winery moved around a lot in the early years, and it didn’t begin to make a profit until the late 80s.  In 1991, Ravenswood finally found its permanent home in Sonoma County.  It wasn’t until 1992 that Joel quit his job in the laboratory to concentrate exclusively on the winery and its wines.  Joel is now known as the “Godfather of Zin” for helping to turn the under-appreciated Zinfandel vine into a world-class grape.   He also makes Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot, and Chardonnay.

In fact, Joel didn’t know a lot about Zinfandel when he first started out.  He actually wanted his first wine to be a Bordeaux blend in honour of the French wines that he fell in love with as a young man.  Unfortunately, Bordeaux varieties were not easy to come by in California in 1976, except for Cabernet Sauvignon which was very expensive.  A colleague told him that Zinfandel is the “Bordeaux of California.”  So, Joel makes Zinfandel in a Bordeaux style.

In 2001, Ravenswood was purchased by Constellation for a cool $148 million – not bad for a guy who started with $4,000.  But, Joel did not ride quietly off into the sunset with his saddlebags full of cash, he became a senior vice-president at Constellation and he remains the winemaker at Ravenswood, where he continues to make “unadulterated, unapologetic, unfussy, unwimpy” wines.

Single Vineyard Designate Wines

Most of us are familiar with Ravenswood Vintners Blend Old Vine Zinfandel, but Ravenswood makes more than just this mass produced “Zinfandel with training wheels,” as Joel describes it.  Their top tier is the Single Vineyard Designate line.  The grapes for these big, bold wines are sourced from vineyards with old, low-yielding vines with soils that are ideally suited to the grapes that grow on it.  The wines have specific and consistently distinctive flavours that are unique to each site.

Ravenswood Chauvet Zinfandel 2008Ravenswood 2008 Chauvet Zinfandel: Not an official Single Vineyard Designate wine, but it does come from one small plot of land.  Aged 24 months in 100% French oak of which 30% was new.  14.5% abv.  Complex  aromas of blueberry, red currant, black cherry, spice, caramel, and chocolate, with a distinctive smoked meat character. Rich, thick, and lush with firm tannins and a long length.  The alcohol, while high, is balanced. ($59.95 – limited amounts) Paired with an assorted cheese plate.

Ravenswood 2008 Old Hill ZinfandelRavenswood 2008 Old Hill Zinfandel: 75% Zinfandel, 25% mixed blacks.  Aged 20 months in French oak, 34% new and 30% 1 year.  15% abv.  Intense aromas of ripe dark fruit – especially blueberries – vanilla, and chocolate.  Big and powerful on the palate with the very high alcohol resulting in a very warm finish.  The alcohol is quite noticeable. ($59.95) Paired with grilled beef and asparagus – a nice pairing.

Ravenswood 2008 Teldeschi ZinfandelRavenswood 2008 Teldeschi Zinfandel: 75% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah, 3% Carignane, 2% Alicante Bouchet.  Aged 20 months in French oak, 31% new and 30% 1 year old.  14.5% abv.  A powerful, yet very pretty nose of sweet, ripe, dark berries, black cherry, spice box, vanilla, and chocolate.  A very rich and generous mouthfeel with velvetty tannins and a very long length.  My favourite of the Zins! ($44.95 – not available until October 2012) Paired with fig with coffee infused mascarpone cheese – not in love with this pairing.

Ravenswood 2007 Pickberry Red Wine:  58% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon – a nod to Joel’s love for Bordeaux.  Aged 24 months in French oak, 40% new.  14.5% abv.  Overflowing with aromas of red plum, black currant, cedar, licorice and a touch of graphite pencil.  Full and dense with firm tannins and a long length.  Really good. ($44.95) Paired with charred beef tenderloin on crustini with coffee rub and Brie cheese – a good pairing.

Winemaker Joel Peterson and Chef Rob Rainford

G. Marquis – The Silver Line

G. Marquis is a new brand from Ontario’s Magnotta winery.  The brand consists of two tiers – the Red Line and the Silver Line.  Although I haven’t had the opportunity to try any, the website describes the Red Line as 100% VQA wines that are soft, fruit-forward, unoaked, and easy-drinking.  The Silver Line is the top tier and is made with hand-harvested grapes from the Stone Road Vineyard located in the Niagara-on-the-Lake appellation.  I recently sampled a few wines from the Silver Line – 2008 Chardonnay, 2011 Pinot Noir, and 2009 Vidal Icewine – and I was impressed.  These are well-made, tasty wines at very reasonable prices.

G. Marquis Silver Line Chardonnay 2008G. Marquis Silver Line Chardonnay 2008 VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake:  Aged for 6 months in French-American hybrid oak casks with a subsequent 16 months in stainless steel.  12.3% abv.  Good complexity on the nose for this price range.  Aromas include creamy vanilla, golden apples, tangerine, crisp lemon, some mineral notes, and a touch of butter.  It’s well-balanced with medium weight, cleansing acidity, and flavours of vanilla yogurt, butter, and yellow tree fruit.  The oak influence is light and well-integrated.  Medium length. There are still a few bottles available in LCBO’s Vintages. Good value at $16.95.


G. Marquis Silver Line Pinot Noir 2011G. Marquis Silver Line Pinot Noir 2011 VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake: 6 months barrel aging in new French and Hungarian oak.  13% abv.  A vibrant medium ruby colour, this wine shows aromas of cherry, red currant, raspberry, dried bay leaf, and a hint of smoky oak.  On the palate, it’s elegant and fresh, with medium body, bright acidity, and fine tannins.  The oak influence is there, but it is integrated and doesn’t overpower the Pinot Noir’s natural character.  This 2011 vintage will be released as a Vintages Essentials at the LCBO sometime in late summer or early autumn, but right now there are still some bottles of the 2010 vintage available at Vintages.  Again, good value. I’ve had much more expensive Ontario Pinot Noirs that I have not liked as much as this.  $19.95

G. Marquis Silver Line Vidal Icewine 2009G. Marquis Silver Line Vidal Icewine 2009 VQA Niagara Peninsula:  Aged for 6 to 8 months in stainless steel prior to bottling.  9.9% abv. This wine is a beautiful golden colour with intense aromas of sweet apricot, dried mango and pineapple, and sultana raisins.  It’s luxurious and rich on the palate showing honeyed apricot, citrus, and tropical fruit notes.  The high sugar level (204 g/L) is balanced by the almost searing acidity, resulting in a quite refreshing finish.  Serve very chilled.  Some bottles are still available at LCBO Vintages for $27.95/200 ml.

(All three wines were received as samples.)

Ontario Chardonnay Musqué

Photo by Basheer Tome @ flickr.com‘Chardonnay Musqué‘ is a name that’s appearing more and more on Ontario wine labels – currently there are at least 3 or 4 available at my nearest Vintages store.   “What exactly is Chardonnay Musqué?”, you may be asking.  Well, it’s actually a special clone of Chardonnay.  The term “musqué” can be applied to certain varieties or clones of grapes that means both “musky” and “Muscat-like” and indicates a perfumed or highly aromatic grape.

There are over 40 different clones of Chardonnay, but only two of these can be called “Musqué” due to their aromatic qualities – Clone 77 and Clone 809.  They are generally unoaked in order to preserve the fresh and fragrant aromas natural to the grape.  Several Ontario vineyards are now planted with musqué clones and the grapes may be used as either part of a blend or bottled on their own.  Generally, these wines are best when consumed relatively young.  The aromas of Chardonnay Musqué are reminiscent of Viognier or even Torrontes, and it can be made in a range of styles from dry to a little sweet to quite sweet, sometimes even with a slight spritz.  Enjoy a chilled glass of Chardonnay Musqué on a warm spring or summer day, either on its own or pair it with mild curries, sushi, salads, grilled salmon, and seafood.

Several Ontario wineries are using one or both Chardonnay Musqué clones in their wines.  13th Street’s delicious White Palette uses Chardonnay Musqué as part of the blend, while other producers, such as Chateau des Charmes, Cave Spring Cellars, Vineland Estates, Malivoire, Ravine Vineyard, and Fielding Estates, to name a few, prefer to bottle the clone on its own.

A few Ontario Chardonnay Musqués:

Chateau des Charmes Chardonnay Musque 2010Chateau des Charmes 2010 Chardonnay Musqué:  Paul Bosc, founder of Chateau des Charmes, chose the particularly fragrant and interesting Clone 809 for his Chardonnay Musqué.  The first 2 rows were planted at Chateau des Charmes in 1993, another 2 rows in 1995, and finally a whole block was planted with Clone 809 in 1999.  Chateau des Charmes first bottled the clone on its own in very small quantities in 2002.  Today, only 500 cases are bottled by the winery annually.  The 2010 Chardonnay Musqué has fragrant aromas of honeysuckle, cherry blossoms, grapefruit, and green apple.  Dry with crisp citrus, mineral, and spicy notes on the palate with refreshing acidity and a lingering finish. ($16.95)  *2012 Ontario Wine Awards Gold Medal Winner in the Unoaked Chardonnay category.*

Cave Spring Cellars 2009 Chardonnay MusqueCave Spring Cellars 2009 Chardonnay Musqué:  This wine is made from 100% Chardonnay Musqué Clone 77, first planted in Cave Spring‘s vineyards in 1984.  The first vintage bottled was 1988.  The 2009 vintage shows pronounced aromas of orange blossom, melon, honey, grapefruit, and ripe apple.  This is a dry wine with zesty acidity and flavours of lemon and grapefruit, peach, and a hint of spice with a lively and refreshing finish. ($15.95)

Vineland Estates 2010 Chardonnay MusqueVineland Estates 2010 Chardonnay Musqué: Showing floral and ripe tropical fruit aromas, Vineland Estates 2010 Chardonnay Musqué is very reminiscent of Viognier.  Loads of lemon and grapefruit zest with soft floral notes, peach and nectarine.  Off-dry on the palate, the residual sugar is beautifully balanceed by the ample acidity.  Exotic fruit flavours, citrus, and minerals burst on the palate with a pleasantly lingering finish.($17.95)

Malivoire 2010 Musque SpritzMalivoire 2010 Musqué Spritz: Made from Clone 809 planted in Malivoire‘s Estate Vineyard in 1999.  This wine is Ontario’s version of Italy’s Moscato d’Asti.  Sweet melon, grape, peach, and floral aromas dominate the nose.  A slight spritz balances the generous dose of residual sugar.  Only 9% alcohol.  Can be paired with light curries and other slightly spicy dishes, but also has enough sweetness to pair with some fruit-based desserts. ($19.95)

Ontario’s Virtual Wineries

“It doesn’t matter where you make the wine, it’s the quality of the fruit,” declared Kevin Panagapka of 2027 Cellars at a recent tasting of 6 virtual Ontario wineries.  This seems to be the general mantra of all the talented winemakers showcasing their wares on that dreary early-spring Saturday in Toronto.  What is a ‘virtual winery’ exactly?  A ‘virtual winery’ has no building, no tasting room, no cellar, no bricks and mortar at all to call its own.  Essentially, the ‘virtual winery’ model is a way for a winemaker to practice his or her craft without having to come up with the astronomical investment needed to build a winery and purchase land.  Instead, they buy grapes from trusted grape growers and rent space from existing wineries and use their facilities, and the internet serves as their retail store.  It’s a model that has been found around the world for decades, but it has increased in popularity in recent years, including right here in Ontario.

Thomas BachelderVirtual winery’ is a term that’s used mainly in North America.   Thomas Bachelder, who makes wine in 3 so-called virtual wineries in 3 different countries, prefers the term ‘micro négoce’ or ‘micro négociant’ instead.  A ‘négociant’ is a wine merchant, usually French, who buys grapes and vinifies them, or buys wine and blends them, and then sells the wine under his or her own label.  Négociants who specialize in very limited-production wines would be ‘micro négociants’. It fits.

I think the term ‘terroir négociant‘ also aptly describes this growing group of winemakers.  Some time ago, Jancis Robinson, wrote an article called “Burgundy’s New Breed of Negociants,” in which she calls these smaller, quality-driven merchants ‘terroir merchants‘, as “they are every bit as passionate about squeezing terroir, or a sense of place, into a bottle as those who run the best small domaines” (Jancis Robinson).  While Jancis is referring to a special group of winemakers in Burgundy, I think this also applies to the owners of our very own ‘micro negociants’ here in Ontario.

The 6 winemakers who gathered at Canoe in Toronto on Saturday, all proudly spoke about hand-selecting the healthiest grapes and minimal intervention in the winemaking process in order to bring out the full expression of the grapes and the unique terroir of the vineyards.

Bachelder Wines

Thomas Bachelder makes wine in 3 different wine regions – Oregon, Burgundy, and Niagara.  He buys organic grapes wherever Bachelder Chardonnays 2009possible and rents space in wineries to make the wines.  In Niagara, he makes the wines out of Southbrook Vineyards.  One day he hopes to go to bricks and mortar and own his own domaine, but right now he’s happy as a micro négociant.  He’s dedicated to illustrating the unique expression of the 3 different terroirs he works with so he’s made all 3 Chardonnays in the same way – “It’s not only Meursault that can show terroir,”  he says.  To read my full tasting notes on Bachelder’s 3 2009 Chardonnays, please read “Bachelder’s Trio of Chardonnays”.  (I highly recommend all 3 Chardonnays.)

Charles Baker

Charles BakerCharles Baker is one of the original ‘virtual wineries’ in Niagara.  His wine (he only makes Riesling) is made at Stratus and his grapes come from the Picone Vineyard and, since 2010, the Ivan Vineyard.  He now has 7 vintages under his belt with 2005 as the inaugural vintage.  Right now he is only interested in making wine with Riesling.  When asked, Charles did say that if he had a winery, he would be interested in working with Gamay, but that he certainly has no plans to own his own winery right now.

Riesling 2010 Picone Vineyard:  (11.5% abv., 18 g/l rs.)  2010 was a very warm vintage so this wine is a bit broader than the other 3 in the line-up.  There’s a pretty floral note with lots of mineral, lime and green apple aromas.  The acid is crisp, even for a warm year, with flavours of peach, mineral, and green fruit with a touch of smoke on the finish.

Riesling 2009 Picone Vineyard:  (10.5 % abv., 27 g/l rs.) 2009 was very cool and wet until the autumn when the sun shone for about 6 weeks, saving the vintage.  The grapes had already captured relatively high acidity which shows through in the wine. Aromas of petrol, smoke, wet stone, and citrus.  Nervy and tense on the palate with a good dose of residual sugar to balance the high acid.  Really good.

Riesling 2005:  Very much alive and kicking!  Still lots of fruit on the nose – green apple, lemon/lime – with aromas of petrol and wet stone.  The palate is beginning to show signs of maturity with yellow apple, sultana raisins, earth, and petrol.  Off-dry to balance the acid.  A wine with lots of character.

Nyarai Cellars

Steve Byfield of Nyarai CellarsNyarai, made by winemaker and owner Steve Byfield, used to be made out of Calamus, but they have recently moved over to Diprofio Wines.  Nyarai began in 2008 with grapes from the 2007 vintage and quickly became known for crisp, flavourful Sauvignon Blanc.  Steve also makes other white wines using Chardonnay and Viognier, as well as delicious red blends.

2011 Sauvignon Blanc:  30% was fermented in 5 to 6 year old barrels.  This wine has aromas of fresh hay, grapefruit, mineral, citrus, and gooseberry.  Crisp and juicy on the palate with a long length.  Another great Sauvignon Blanc from Nyarai!

2010 Viognier:  100% stainless steel.  Medium intensity with notes of honeysuckle, orange zest, peach, and apricot.  A creamy texture with very great acidity for a Viognier.  Long finish.

2010 Red Blend barrel sample. To be named “Cadence”.  This wine is still in barrel (all old oak) and the blend has not been finalized, but it will contain Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.  This very young wine has aromas of lead pencil, chocolate, plum and other dark fruit.  A little white pepper on the palate in addition to dark fruit, mineral and spice.  The tannins are still young and quite fuzzy, but should soften with more time.  I’m looking forward to trying the final wine, as there is lots of potential here!

100 Marks

Made by Jeff Hundertmark, winemaker at Marynissen, these wines are made under Marynissen’s licence and Jeff rents space from his employer to make his wines. 100 Marks Wine While Jeff says that he doesn’t focus on any particular grape or style of wine, he makes wines that Marynissen doesn’t produce.  He doesn’t label his wines varietally because he wants people to focus on what’s in the bottle, not on what’s on the label.

White Merlot 2011:  (100% Merlot, 11% abv, 24 g/l rs)  The grapes were all hand-harvested and pressed right away.  Any pink that leached into the juice from the Merlot grapes settled out through the winemaking process and now this wine is a pale lemon colour.  Very fruity aromas of peach, pear, almost like fruit cup syrup.  Very light and easy drinking with a soft sweetness.

2010 Red: (91% Pinot Noir from St. David’s Bench, 9% Gamay from 35 year old vines in Four Mile Creek)  Notes of campfire smoke, toast, vanilla, and dark berries.  A sturdy structure with good acidity and firm, but ripe tannins.  Good length.

2027 Cellars

2027 Cellars Queenston Road Pinot Noir 2010Kevin Panagapka is the winemaker and owner of 2027 Cellars and he rents space out of Featherstone Estate Winery to make the wines.  He began this virtual winery in 2007 and makes single vineyard Riesling (except 2010), Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, as Kevin believes these are the best grapes for Niagara’s climate.  Kevin admits that he owns a virtual winery because he can’t afford to build one, but he claims he would like to one day.  He only makes a tiny amount of wine which typically sells out very quickly.

2011 Fox Croft Vineyard Riesling:  (11 g/l rs., 9 g acid) A complex nose of wet stone, ripe peach, green apple, citrus, and tangerine zest.  The zesty acid is balanced by a little residual sugar and ripe fruit flavours, a touch of petrol, and wonderful Niagara minerality.  Long length.

2010 Queenston Road Pinot Noir:  This wine underwent a wild fermentation, a wild malolactic fermentation and is unfined and unfiltered.  It was aged in 30% new Burgundian oak and 70% old oak.  Overflowing with aromas of smoky cherry, cranberry, earth, spice, and pink blossoms.   A very silky texture with sweet vanilla, ripe cherry, mineral, and dark spice flavours that linger forever.  Fantastic!

Leaning Post

Ilya and Nadia Senchuk named their virtual winery ‘Leaning Post’ after the posts found at the end of each row of vines that supports the wires on which the vines grow.  LeaningLeaning Post Wines Post is also a reference to the support of friends and family that the couple have had to lean on in order to make their dream of owning a winery a reality.  Their goal is to take unique single vineyard sites in Niagara and turn them into distinct, terroir-driven wines.  In 2011 they purchased a property in Winona which will eventually become the site of their real bricks and mortar winery.

2009 Foxcroft Riesling:  The grapes were picked very late – on Nov 2 and 3 – at 22 Brix.  The wine spent 15 months on the lees. (13 g/l rs, 10 g acid, 12.5% abv.)  Complex aromas of petrol, grapefruit, green apple, peach, mineral, and smoke with a slightly floral note.  Delicious and juicy on the palate with a long length.  Finishes quite dry despite a little residual sugar.  One of my favourite wines of the tasting!

2009 Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir:  32 year old vines.  Grapes were picked October 28 and the wine spent 14 months in 40% new French and 60% 5 year old French barrels and underwent a light filter.  This wine is brimming with aromas of cranberry, rhubarb, cherry, beetroot, and smoked meat.  Tannins are still a bit firm so decant if drinking now, or cellar for a couple of years.

2010 Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir: (barrel sample). This wine is still in barrel and Ilya said he’s not sure yet when it will be bottled.  Being from a warmer vintage, this wine has riper, richer fruit than the 2009 with lots of ripe cherry, currant, strawberry, spice, and smoked meat aromas.  Fine tannins and a silky texture.  I’m looking forward to the finished product.

The Wines of Alvaro Palacios – Part 2 – Bierzo

Alvaro Palacios makes complex and compelling wine in 3 very different Spanish wine regions – Priorat, Bierzo, and Rioja.  The Wines of Alvaro Palacios – Part 1- Priorat discusses Alvaro’s Priorat wines, and this post will cover the wines of Descendientes de J. Palacios in Bierzo.


Courtesy of WikipediaLocated in northwestern Spain, Bierzo has all the ‘ingredients’ Alvaro Palacios believes are necessary to create great wine – steep slopes, distinctive terroirs, ancient vines – so in 1999, he and his nephew, Ricardo Perez, started to make wine there.  The project was named Descendientes de J. Palacios, as an homage to José Palacios, Alvaro’s father and Ricardo’s grandfather.

The area is beautiful.  The verdant landscape and castle-studded hills undoubtedly contributed to Alvaro and Ricardo’s love for the region.  The soil in vineyards in the western part of the region, the location of the Descendientes de J. Palacios’ vineyards, are ancient, mineral-rich slate which are helpful in regulating water.


The Mencia grape is the star of Bierzo.  For a long time, Mencia was thought to be directly related to Cabernet Franc, but DNAMencia vines profiling has recently proven that this is not the case. They did, however, discover that Mencia is the same as Jaen, a grape variety that can be found growing in Dao, Portugal.  The reputation of Mencia is on the rise, and some believe that it is one of Spain’s 4 greatest grape varieties.  Mencia can be made in a variety of different styles, from easy-drinking fruity wines to more complex, long-lived versions.

Tasting Notes of Decendientes de J. Palacios:

Petalos del Bierzo 2010:  Alvaro described the cool and dry 2010 vintage as being “the vintage of enchantment”.  The grapes are from 4 villages in the region and are a blend of both purchased and estate fruit.  This may be an entry level wine, but it definitely shows the quality of all Palacios’ wines with a fragrance of violets, blueberry, plum, and a minerality that is reminiscent of lead pencils.  A creamy texture and fuzzy tannins on the palate and a good length.  $26

Villa de Corullon, Bierzo 2009:  Grapes are from steeply-sloped vineyards in the village of Corullon.  Complex aromas of dried herbs, dark raspberry, cherry, blueberry, rose petals, and cinnamon.  Very fruit forward on the palate with quite concentrated fruit flavours, a firm structure and a long length.  $49

Las Lamas, Bierzo 2009:  Grapes are from the single vineyard of Las Lamas located about 750 m above sea level.  This vineyard is very low yielding at around 9 hl/ha which, in part explains the price of this wine.  Intense perfume of ripe dark plum, juicy blackberry, spice and flowers.  Very concentrated with a velvetty texture and a lingering length.  $116

Related Articles:

The Wines of Alvaro Palacios – Part 1 – Priorat

The Wines of Alvaro Palacios – Part 1 – Priorat

Alvaro PalaciosAlvaro Palacios’ name seems to be on every Spanish wine lover’s lips these days and it’s no wonder – this exciting winemaker makes outstanding and compelling wines.  Born in a Rioja winery into a family with 350 years experience in the wine industry, wine is definitely and passionately coursing through his veins.  Some see him as a visionary and even as a revolutionary of Spanish wine, and while the wines of Alvaro Palacios are modern, they also show a deep respect for tradition and the unique terroir of each of his vineyards.

Alvaro currently makes wine in 3 very different Spanish wine regions – Priorat, Rioja, and Bierzo. There are certain ingredients Alvaro believes are necessary to make great wines and he looks for these when deciding on a new region to grow and craft his wines.  He believes that a monastic or religious background is very important. “Monks brought viticulture to a spiritual level,” he says, and he adds that the old monasteries “add a sense of mystery to the place.”

A traditional culture in the region is also important.  Alvaro told the crowd of wine professionals in Toronto earlier this week that “a traditional culture along with a special site makes magical wines.”  He has returned to traditional methods of cultivation by using an organic approach and by reverting to bush-trained vines, which he feels do better in the hot Spanish sun.

He admires French winemakers who understand the importance of vineyard sites, or crus, and who have developed some of these sites for centuries, which is why Alvaro is attracted to sites with very old vines.


After Alvaro studied winemaking in France, most notably at Bordeaux’s Ch. Petrus, he began making wine in Priorat, an hour and a half drive south of Barcelona, Spain and an hour west of the Mediterranean Sea.  He was attracted to the area because of the rugged beauty of the place, the ancient monastery, the old vines, the steep slopes, and the slate soil.  Rene Barbier, an important Priorat winemaker who had asked him to join a new vineyard project in Priorat, made the region even more attractive.  He couldn’t refuse such an offer.  It was 1989 and Alvaro describes Priorat as being a “diamond in the rough.”  In 1993, he bought L’Ermita, the vineyard that produces the grapes that go into his flagship wine of the same name.  Unfortunately, we did not taste L’Ermita at this event.

Alvaro Palacios Camins del PrioratCamins del Priorat 2010: This wine is made with grapes from relatively young vines and are sourced from 7 different villages.  A small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon is added to the Garnacha and it was aged for 8 months in wooden vats and barrels.  This wine is full of red berry fruit with spice and fennel.  Soft and silky on the palate with rich red fruit and a strawberry finish.  Good length. $26

Alvaro Palacios Les TerrassesLes Terrasses 2010 Priorat:  The vines are older (about 75 years old) and as Alvaro says, “Old vines have wisdom.”   The grapes are grown in the same 7 villages as the Camins wine but there is also more Carignan added to the blend.  Rich aromas of ripe red fruit, black licorice, fennel, and spice.  More concentrated than the Camins and with a firmer structure.  Long finish.  $45

Alvaro Palacios GratallopsGratallops 2010 Priorat:  This is a Village Appellation wine and the grapes are sourced from 6 vineyards in the village.  The 2010 vintage we tasted is still in barrel (it will be bottled sometime in the next couple of months after spending approximately 16 months in barrel.)  The blend is about 60% Garnacha with Carignan making up the rest.  This wine is very fragrant with aromas of blueberry, red plum, spice, pink flowers, vanilla, and a hint of dill and fennel.  This is still a very young wine and the somewhat aggressive tannins will mellow with time.  Very concentrated and balanced with creamy vanilla on the long finish.  An excellent wine.  $66

Alvaro Palacios Finca DofiFinca Dofi 2009 Priorat:  A single vineyard wine made up of 80% Garnacha with the remainder being Cabernet and Syrah.  The nose is very complex with a perfume of strawberry, cherry, turkish delight, cinnamon, cardamon, and a hint of mint.  Concentrated and velvetty on the palate with rich fruit flavours and spice.  Beautifully balanced with a finish that lingers seemingly forever. $99

The wines of Alvaro Palacios are available in Ontario through Woodman Wines and Spirits.

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