This Week’s Wine Tasting
France and Spain
Imported by European Cellars
Herencia Altes– “Herencia Altés is a project a long time in the making. For generations my family has been one of grape growers, with vineyards dispersed around the village of Batea. Now, I have decided to give these grapes their own personality in the form of these hand-crafted wines. While Terra Alta is not yet a well-known region – tucked away in the south eastern corner of Catalonia it borders Aragón and Valencia – it is one of the largest areas in Catalunya under vine. With plenty of old Garnatxa bush vines, I think it is amongst the best regions in terms of quality and authenticity.”
Herencia Altes Garnatxa Rosat 2014
Terra Alta, Spain. 100% Garnacha aged 3 months in tank. “The grapes are picked earlier then they would be for red wine, keeping potential alcohol levels lower. Upon entering the winery the grapes are crushed, chilled and sent direct to the press where they macerate on skins in hermetic conditions for 2-3 hours. With very little colour obtained the must enters the fermentation tanks to continue its transformation into wine. A very light, salmon pink colour reveals the short contact with skins. A delicate floral aroma is followed by light, fresh taste with a hint of sweetness from the garnacha.”
Celler de Capcanes– “If Priorat is the nutmeg, then Montsant is the mace. Almost completely surrounding the DOQ of Priorat, the DO Montsant is one of the newest DOs in Catalunya. After years of inclusion in the arguably inferior DO of Tarragona, Montsant was elevated in 2002 mainly in recognition of its superior wines produced from old vines on soils bearing a striking similarity to the Priorat. At lower prices and within spitting distance in quality of its famous neighbor, both consumers and winemakers have taken note.
Not surprisingly the cooperative of Capçanes, is situated in the village of the same name, nestled among the foothills of the Montsant mountains. In the 1990’s, the co-op began making kosher wines for the Jewish community in Barcelona, and from that exposure in the capital of Catalunya, the property began to attract a greater level of interest. By 1995, a vast investment took place and the whole winery was completely restructured and modernized.
From the entry level Mas Donis and the organic Mas Picosa to the single vineyard Costers del Gravet, Vall del Calas and Carbrida, the wines of Capçanes reflect a range of soils from sandy granite to chalky limestone and back to rocky schist. The undulating topography present a variety of exposure benefiting a wide selection of different grape varieties featuring the native Garnacha and Cariñena and the carpetbagging Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Tempranillo. There is even a small production fortified wine, Pansal del Calas made from old vine Garnacha and Cariñena which is made in a medium-dry style.”
Celler de Capcanes Mas Donis Rosado 2014
Montsant, Spain. A blend of 80% Garnacha, 10% Merlot, and 10% Syrah. From 20-40 year old vines. Aged 4 months in tank. “Rose-violet-medium red in color. Fresh and aromatic, vibrant red fruit flavours of strawberry and raspberry with a hint of herbs and spiceness. It is medium- to full-bodied and complex with elegant glycerin sweetness; ripe and fresh, long fruity finish.”
Celler de Capcanes Mas Donis Barrica Old Vines 2013
Montsant, Spain. A blend of Grenache and Syrah from 35-50 year old vines. Aged for 9 months in French and American oak. “Medium ruby in color with flecks of violet; lovely perfume of liquor soaked black cherry and red berries; spicy cake; ripe and complex; floral and masses a ripe crispy fruit; medium body; pure fruit seduction and charm; fine finish with ripe soft tannins and nicely refreshing aftertaste.” 2012 94 Wine Advocate- “Another baby Priorato, the 2012 Mas Donis, a custom cuvee from Eric Solomon, is composed of 85% Grenache and 15% Syrah aged nine months in both new and used French and American oak. The Grenache comes from 70-year-old vines, and the Syrah from 30-year-old vines. It is difficult to find a better value than this incredibly rich effort. The bouquet offers up a smorgasbord of aromas, including crushed rocks, spring flowers, kirsch liqueur and blacker fruits. Full-bodied with a velvety, voluptuous texture, and admirable opulence, density, purity and texture.”
Domaine Lafage– “Located outside the town of Perpignan, Domaine Lafage is run by the talented Jean-Marc Lafage and covers a number of diverse vineyards spread through the Roussillon. These three cuvees are a joint venture between Jean-Marc and importer Eric Solomon. The all represent fabulous values that warrant attention.”
“Jean-Marc and Eliane Lafage farm 160 hectares of vines located just south of the capital of French Catalonia, Perpignan. Some of their vineyards are situated a few kilometers from the Mediterranean, while others can be found in the foothills of the Pyrenees. This range of sites allows them to make both refreshing whites as well as concentrated reds and, this being the Roussillon, some fortified wines as well. Benefiting from a warm, dry climate, the estate is farmed organically. They grow primarily Grenache (Blanc, Gris & Noir), Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, Marsanne, Roussanne and Chardonnay with a significant proportion of the vines well over 50 years old. The soil, as you near the coast is weathered, alluvial gravel while in the higher elevation sites it is predominantly schist. They harvest by hand and the winemaking is surprisingly uncomplicated with stainlesss steel for the fresher whites but mostly concrete tanks for the rest with a small amount of French oak demi-muids.”
Domaine Lafage Novellum Chardonnay 2014
Vin de Pays d’Oc Cotes Catalanes, Roussillon, France. From 30 year old vines planted in vineyards that are practicing organic. Fermented in tank and aged for 3 months in tank (70%) and French oak barrels (30%) aged on the lees of Viognier. “For many years we worked with a cooperative in the Languedoc to make Novellum from a special site that in most years had some botrytis, giving the wine weight without resorting to oak. Since that time we’ve moved the project to the Roussillon where Jean-Marc and Eliane Lafage have some Chardonnay planted near the Mediterranean that makes a remarkably complex and mineral version of the variety. There is no botrytis here so we resort to a small percentage in barrel– usually less than 20%. The remainder of the wine is aged in tank on the lees of Viognier. It remains one of the best values in Chardonnay that you can find.” 2013, 92 Wine Advocate- “Novellum is a crazy value that needs to be tasted to be believed. A custom cuvee by importer Eric Solomon and a blend of 100% Chardonnay that comes from two separate vineyards, this Cotes Catalanes is aged three months (on Viognier lees) in a combination of Burgundy barrels and stainless steel. Exotic and perfumed, with ample white peach, cream, brioche and subtle nuttiness, it flows onto the palate with a medium to full-bodied, layered and beautifully detailed texture that shows bright acidity and fantastic purity of fruit. An incredible effort that has both richness and freshness, it should continue to thrill for another handful of years.”
Domaine Lafage Grenache Cuvee Nicolas Vieille Vignes 2013
Vin de Pays d’Oc Cotes Catalanes, Roussillon, France. 100% Grenache from 60 year old vines. The grapes were hand harvested and fermented in tank. After a 30 day maceration, the wine aged for 10 months in neutral French oak. 90 Wine Advocate– “Another superb value, the 2013 Cuvee Nicolas Vieilles Vignes is 100% Grenache that spent six months in barrel, on lees, prior to being bottle unfiltered. It offers up a forward, mid-weight, sexy feel in its kirsch, dried herbs, earth and spring-flower-driven bouquet. While I prefer the 2012 (surprisingly), this medium-bodied, forward and well-made beauty will drink nicely for 3-5 years. Most of these wines are custom cuvees made for importer Eric Solomon. All of these are incredible values and should not be missed!”
Domaine de la Janasse– “Over the last quarter century, Domaine de la Janasse has become one of the most highly-regarded estates in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Led by siblings Christophe and Isabelle Sabon, the estate combines the best of both traditional and modern techniques to craft a collection of truly riveting wines from “simple” value-priced VDP’s to their benchmark Châteauneufs.
The estate was founded in 1976 by Aimé Sabon, the father of Christophe and Isabelle, who still oversees the vineyards. The property consists of 40 hectares, spread over as many as 70 different parcels throughout the appellation. The terroirs range from sand, as can be found in their well-known plots in the North of the appellation – Chapouin and La Janasse– to lightly-colored clay limestone soils to gravel red clays and galets, most notable in their plots in Le Crau in the South. While Aimé works in the vineyards organically, his children, Christophe and Isabelle, are in charge of wine production. Christophe is a self-proclaimed “great defender of Grenache,” which still represents 75% of their vines. With assistance from Aimé and Isabelle, he manages the common rusticity of Grenache-based wines through meticulous work in the vineyards and cellar. The result is a wide range of rich and flavorful Châteauneuf-du-Papes ,Cotes-du-Rhônes and Vins de Pays that are complex and balanced – often in contradiction to an region better known for sheer exuberance and power.
In attempting to describe the style of the wines at Janasse one is confronted with the inadequacies of using “style” to express the qualities of the wines here. While there is a modern quality to the richness of the fruit it is beautifully paired with a pronounced sense of place and complexity. The reds are not entirely destemmed and see long and gentle macerations lasting up to a month, which may account for some of the earthiness and finesse in the wines. Aging takes place in various vessels from large concrete tanks to foudres, and demi-muids. The barrels are mostly neutral and darkened with age and repeated use. The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc here are frequently overlooked and are some of the best examples in the appellation. Coming mainly from sandier soils only the Roussanne sees time in barrel while the Grenache and Clairette are age entirely in tank. Minuscule quantities of a reserve Blanc, the Prestige, is aged entirely in demi-muid from 1-3 years old.”
Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone Reserve 2012– Cotes du Rhone, France. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, and Cinsault. The grapes were hand harvested, underwent fermentation in tank, 20% whole cluster, then underwent a 12-15 day maceration. The wine aged 12 months in foudre. 90 Wine Advocate– “A custom cuvee for Eric Solomon made by Christophe Sabon, the 2012 Cotes du Rhone Cuvee Reserve comes from older vines on the estate and is a blend of 55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Carignan and the balance Mourvedre and Cinsault. Aged 12 months in foudre, it’s another superb value from this estate, and since 2011, the Cuvee Reserve has been a significant step up over the estate’s classic Cotes du Rhone release. Drinking well past its humble price point, this 2012 exhibits notions of kirsch, blackberry, smoked meat, graphite and copious licorice nuances to go with a medium to full-bodied, pure and layered feel on the palate. It shows the purity of the vintage, as well as the richness and texture that this estate is known for. It should continue to thrill for another 4-5 years.”