Bill’s Best Bets – October 2017

Location, location, location
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

One of my most memorable moments in my career as a wine journalist happened while touring France’s southwest. I was standing in a doorway in a fancy restaurant’s kitchen after dinner, smoking cigarettes with Charles Hours, talking about his Jurançon sec. This region, famous for it’s sweet wines, also produces incredible and very ageable table wines as well. I love his wines.

I could tell something was bugging him. We had just tasted a vertical of 10 different vintages of his Cuvee Marie and I was blown away. In a moment of candour, he said that he just hadn’t reached the level of minerality and focus that he wanted. We talked about other great whites of the world, and I pointed my finger at him and said “you want to make Muscadet like Domaine de L’Ecu.”

He just smiled. I told him he can’t.

One of the great injustices of wine is terroir. Understanding it for its strengths and inadequacies is at the root of great grape growing. It is the first and most important step in producing a “great” wine. If you listen closely enough, the terroir, the climate and soil, will tell you what grape varieties to plant and what style of wine to make.

It will tell you whether or not you can produce a concentrated wine, with an ability to age. Conversely, it will tell you if it is more suited to make fresh and immediately drinkable wines. It is ultimately what I look for when critiquing a wine – is it “comfortable” with itself or has the winemaker and grape grower tried to make it something it isn’t.

I see this all the time unfortunately. Cabernet sauvignon is now the world’s most planted grape variety. Why? Because it’s an easy sell. But much of it is in places that should not be growing “cab”  and the quantity of half-ass, dull cabernet sauvignon on the market right now makes me want to be a Tequila critic at times. Actually, I would like that.

The same can be said for any of the grape varieties that have achieved mass popularity: chardonnay, merlot, pinot noir. Sometimes the grape won’t ripen properly, or will consistently over-ripen, resulting in winemakers needing to intervene. Whether it’s artificially concentrating wines with spinning cones, or adding water to dilute or de-alcoholizing over-concentrated wines, if that needs to be done vintage after vintage, then something is wrong.

And this happens more often than you might think. So in honour of those wines which are properly planted, and made in a way which is conducive to the terroir, here is what I have been drinking lately.

For whites, let’s start with the 2014 Jurançon Sec, Cuvée Marie from Charles Hours. Brilliant focus and like always, one of the more interesting whites at this price level. With a similar structural profile, fresh and fruity, try the 2015 Schlossgut Riesling from Diel. From Germany’s Nahe region, this dry riesling offers superb freshness and a remarkable texture for a Trocken. And L’Ecu’s Muscadet? It’s oyster season, so crack a bottle of the 2015 D’Orthogneiss and enjoy.

Cuvée Marie Jurançon Sec 2014Schlossgut Diel Riesling Trocken 2015Domaine de L'ecu d'Orthogneiss 2015Celler Pinol Avi Arrufi Terra Alta 2014Château Mont Redon Lirac Blanc 2016

Another white which I enjoyed is from Spain’s Cellar Pinol. The 2014 Avi Arrufi Terra Alta is a barrel-fermented grenache blanc that will hold up to any white meat you throw at it. In a similar style, the 2016 Lirac from Mont-Redon is a classic white Rhone blend that offers a texture that will be perfectly suited to most chardonnay fans who want something different.

In reds, cooler temps have meant more red wines are being opened at my place. If you are looking for a good cab, I drank two excellent wines from Torres. Penedes is one of those “good cab” growing regions. The 2011 Manso is still quite youthful for a 6 year old wine, but shows excellent depth and finesse for its just under $45 price tag. A touch more expensive, the 2011 Mas La Plana is up to the standard it has set as one of Spain’s iconic reds.

Miguel Torres Manso De Velasco 2011Miguel Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Torres Cordillera De Los Andes Reserva Privada 2013

A perfect example of “the right grape for the place” is Carignan in the Chilean region of Maule. Seeing that through into a wine, try the 2013 Cordillera de Los Andes. Cabernet in style but meatier and with that menthol and eucalyptus Chilean tweak that gives it its postal code.

In France, it is rare to find a pure carignan. Try the 2014 Saint-Chinian from Domaine La Madura, which is 40% carignan. At under $19, it’s a tasty bargain.

Domaine La Madura Classic 2014Seresin Estate Pinot Noir 2014Schug Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2015

And to finish, for you pinot noir fans, I will go outside of Burgundy on these two recommendations. While Central Otago gets the media attention, I have a soft spot for Marlborough pinot noir. One of the best is made by Seresin. The 2014 Estate pinot is so bright and juicy, yet with a richer texture than most.

My other fave is from Schug in California’s Sonoma Coast. While it still has that wild fruitiness that is characteristic of Sonoma pinot, the 2015 shows great restraint. One of the best and at $30, a fair deal as well.

Happy October folks,


“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

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