While the term “Cru” is most often used for the French classification system, the “Cru” concept can apply to any vineyard or group of vineyards recognized for their superior quality. This seminar at the Vancouver International Wine Festival took us on a global journey to some of the wine world’s greatest vineyards to discover what makes their terroir and wines so special.
Our Moderators were Anthony Gismondi from Vancouver and Evan Goldstein MS from California.
Our Panelists: Christine Colletta (Okanagan Crush Pad), Rebecca Yates-Campbell (Dave Phinney Wines), Sergio Zingarelli (Rocca delle Macie), Mark de Vere MW (Robert Mondavi Winery), Enrique Morgan (Accolade Wines), Mele Sosa (Bodega Garzon), Cecilia Carrasco (Familia Zuccardi), and Michael Couttolenc (Arboleda).
While “cru” is a French wine term, there are words with similar meaning for other wine-growing regions; Bricco in Piedmont, Page in Spain, and Grosse Lagen in Germany for example.
Cru though must not be confused with being big, bold red wines. Wines from Cru areas can be light, white, sweet, dry, or red. The wines we tasted covered white and red wines. What makes Cru is its terroir. I have talked about terroir before. It covers the environment plus human intervention. In the environment, you have soil composition, slope aspect and altitude, sun exposure, micro-fauna (microbes in the soil), and climate. People can be part of terroir through what they do in the vineyard including vine selection, trellising, etc., and in the winery, such as yeast choice, oak barrels used, etc.
All the wines below are wines products of place and site-specificity, well elevaged by the people who are responsible for them.
Our Panelists Speak
Christine Colletta in 2011 with help of Alberto Antonini and Pedro Parra to find a unique place in the Okanagan to grow grapes. 320 acre Garnet Valley Ranch property was purchased. It had never been farmed and no neighours. They undertake precision agriculture to find all the unique sites in the vineyards and which vines to plant. Their organic Garnet Valley Ranch vineyard is situated between 600-680 m ASL, the highest vineyard in the Okanagan. There is always a light breeze passing through the vineyard. She says their wines are “shaped by nature”. Less is more. They use concrete tanks, amphora, and stainless steel. Low intervention in winemaking. Whole bunch pressing and fermenting using native yeasts.
Rebecca Yates-Campbell from Talbott Vineyards talked about the Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH) where their vineyard hails. The SLH is a premium area in California for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Wines from their Sleepy Hollow vineyard is 20km south of Monterey. Monterey Bay is very deep with cold water. The cold air from the water rolls in from 6 pm and cools down the SLH, but the wind starts daily at 1 pm. The wind causes photosynthesis to slow down so they get a longer growing season so that the grapes can fully ripen and still have bright acidity. The skins get thicker which gives more flavour components to the wine. They grow Martini and Wente clones.
Sergio Zingarelli from Rocca delle Macìe talked to us about the newest category of Chianti Classico wines called “Gran Selezione” and their winery. The winery was started in 1973 by Sergio’s father, buying two estates. The quality of Chianti Classico has improved through research with universities on the Sangiovese grapes and the Consorzio. 2014 was the first year that the Gran Selezione category was instated to show this increase in the quality of the Sangiovese grape and wine. They now want to increase the percentage of Sangiovese used to be at least 90% and the other 10% being indigenous grapes to Italy.
Mark de Vere MW noted that the winery was founded in 1966 by Robert Mondavi and that Robert transformed the renaissance in quality wine in Napa Valley. This wine comes from their To Kalon vineyard. Mr. Mondavi choose this vineyard site as he knew it was the most reliable place to grow great grapes. He started the winery when he was 53 years old when others would be winding down their careers. He worked already for 30 years in the wine industry, so he knew where to own his ideal site to grow grapes. Oakville is the perfect spot for his style of wine; ripe fruit but still gets bright acidity in the Cabernet Sauvignon. The west side of the Napa Valley is an alluvial fan. More gravel is dropped closest to the hill giving free-draining soils which is where Cabernet Sauvignon does best. For Mr. Mondavi, a great soil drains beautifully in the winter and spring but holds water deep in the soil for the summer. In dry years, the vines can find water in the soil. In the vineyard there are also cool winds that show up around 5 pm, cooling the temperature which preserves the brightness of the ripe fruit. They also try to work with the terroir. Wine is an art for the palate according to Mr. Mondavi. Adding their interpretation is part of the artistry. The To Kalon vineyard gives intensity to the fruit and also has strong tannins and racy acidity. Tannin plus acidity gives a grip to the wine. Mr. Mondavi felt that a great Napa Cab should have power but should also be gentle. So, they ferment the grapes in big oak tanks to capture the mid-palate richness and polish the tannins. This wine expresses the site, flavour and structure of the terroir.
Enrique Morgan noted that the Barossa is made of the Barossa and Eden Valleys. North of Adelaide. St. Hallett was founded in 1970. The grapes are from the Barossa Valley. The Old Block wine launched in 1980, the first vintage. The owner, Stewart, wanted to show the culmination of knowledge of the Barossa in this wine. Old Block uses old vines for their Shiraz. Some vines go back 125 years. On average the vines are 90 years for this wine, with the grapes coming from contracted growers, with 60% of the grapes coming from Eden Valley. The soil is only a few inches deep, it rains very little and there is no wind. The vines have “learned” when there will be sun and rain what they need to survive in this harsh environment. The vines will respond with all, some or no grapes in a season, depending on the weather that year. So the Old Block Shiraz is not made every year. The grapes that do not reach the quality required for the Old Block Shiraz go into their Blackwell Shiraz wine.
Mele Sosa noted that Uruguay has been producing wine for over 150 years. Bodega Garzon is located in the village of Garzón in Maldonado, on the eastern coast of Uruguay, further east of the traditional grape growing areas. The owner, Alejandro Bulgheroni, who worked in the energy sector, wanted to build wind turbines on this site, but his wife, Bettina, turned this idea down, so he met Alberto Antonini from Chianti Classico. Alberto and Alejandro walked the land, which has quite flat, rolling hills. Alberto said that this would be a good area for growing grapes. Tannat is the flagship grape of Uruguay. The vineyard here is affected by the Atlantic and the colder Antarctic ocean and associated wind. Tannat is the signature red grape of Uruguay and we were told by Mele Sosa that there is a style of Tannat for each cut of beef. They are a big beef-eating nation. Decomposed ancient granite soils in this vineyard. It is also very good soil for Albarino. Mele said that Uruguay tamed Tannat, the most tannic, red wine grape, compared to Carmenere and Malbec from neighbour countries. She likes to think that this wine is more like an elegant ballerina that has muscles in her legs, core strength, finesse and elegance.
Cecilia Carrasco introduced us to Mendoza. No influence from the Pacific Ocean due to the Andes. There is no green in Mendoza unless someone planted something. All water comes from snowmelt. Uco Valley is the most beautiful part of Mendoza. There is lots of variety in the soil in the Uco Valley, which is good for grape growing. The Zuccardi family have planted grapes in the Uco Valley. In 2015 they opened their winery in the Uco Valley. Identifying terroir is very important for the winery. Why Malbec? It was brought in 1852 and growers realized it was a perfect match for Argentina which has very little water, sandy soil, and rough conditions. She said that the rough conditions are what Malbec prefers. The soils come from alluvial fans and also contain some calcium carbonate. Malbec likes alluvial soils, is sensitive to soil types and shows the differences in the wine. 2016 was a good vintage; it was quite rainy, making a less concentrated, lighter wine, and could use less oak ageing.
Michael Couttolenc talked to us about Seña and Viñedo Chadwick in Chile. Seña is a Bordeaux blend. This wine started as a joint venture with Robert Mondavi. The original wine started with primarily Cabernet Sauvignon but now we are using more grape varieties. It is a biodynamic wine. Petite Verdot is adding a violet colour to the wine and Cabernet Franc is adding floral notes. The Viñedo Chadwick wine was part of the 2004 Berlin tasting where a selection of the best wines from the world were blind-tasted; Latour, Margaux, and other exceptional wines. First place was Viñedo Chadwick 2000 vintage. Michael noted that they wanted to show the world that Chile is producing high-quality wine. I’d say that they made their point when you look at the wines that were tasted in that lineup.
My Wine Tasting Notes
Free Form Garnet Valley Ranch Organic Riesling 2020, BC – Grapes are whole bunch pressed then fermented in stainless steel tanks using native yeast. It has a deep golden colour. Ripe pears and honey aromas, but with more exposure to air you get lychee as well. Medium sweetness with a light body and lightly round. Apricot, honey, dried apricots, and some nuttiness. A long lingering finish. An amazing wine. If you live in BC, buy this wine.
Dave Phinney Wines Talbott Vineyards Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay 2016, SLH, California – The vineyard benefits from the deep cool waters off the coast and the 1 pm winds coming up the Salinas Valley to cool the area. A deep bright lemon colour. Full, strong aromas of toast, citrus and tropical fruit. Tears in the glass are evident. Dry and round with a thicker mouthfeel. Lots of tropical fruit flavours, plus butterscotch, toast and sweet spices. Medium acidity and length.
Louis Jadot Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Baudes 2015, Burgundy, France – A medium dull garnet colour with a hint of bricking on the edges. Light tar, cherries and sweet spices on the nose. Lighter body and lightly round. Red and candied red cherries plus a touch of floral and light oak. Bright acidity and light tannins. A tart finish. One of the audience members noted that the wine appears to be more closed and would open up again in the future. The speakers agreed. All wines made to age will go through a dumb phase where the aromas and flavours close down, similar to a teenager transitioning from a youth to an adult.
Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Sergio Zingarelli 2016, Tuscany, Italy – 100% Sangiovese grapes. A deeper clear garnet colour. Leather and red fruit aromas. Dry, medium body, lightly round with medium to firm tannins. Red fruits with a touch of oak. A dry tannic finish. A harmonious wine.
Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville District 2016, Napa Valley, California – The grapes for this wine come from the storied To Kalon vineyard. It uses 80% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes but also has 9% Malbec, 7% Petite Verdot, and 4% Merlot in this wine. It is opaque garnet coloured. Medium intensity aromas of cedar, sweet ripe dark fruits and sweet spices. Medium body, lightly round and a light mouthfeel. Rich, ripe dark fruit with touches of chocolate and herbs. A mix of tart and sweet fruit on the finish. A soft, medium-length finish.
Rodney Strong Wine Estates Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Sonoma County, California – 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is deep garnet coloured. Light bright cassis, cedar, mace and a hint of capsicum on the nose. Dry, medium body. A soft mouthfeel but does have a tannic backbone. Red cherries, bay leaf, cassis, and black pepper flavours. Medium-minus length.
Jackson Family Wines Mt. Brave Veeder Mountain Cabernet 2017, Napa Valley, California – The high mountain vineyard for this wine produce small berries, which gives more skin to pulp, and deeper colour, flavour and tannin to a wine. A blend of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Malbec, 1.5% Cabernet Franc, and 1.5% Petit Verdot. Opaque garnet to the rim. Light aromas of cedar, toast, dark fruit and capsicum. Dry, medium-plus body, soft with a medium acidic backbone. Tannins sit in the background but become more prominent on the finish. Light intensity black fruit flavour and some savoury notes.
Accolade Wines St Hallett Old Block Shiraz 2016, Barossa, Australia – This block of vines averages 90 years old. This wine has an almost opaque yet translucent garnet colour. A light intensity black fruit nose. Fuller body, round with medium acidity and light tannins. The wine starts off silky and then finishes with firmer tannins. Sweet black fruit, and black fruit syrup plus a touch of black pepper and rose on the palate.
Accolade Wines St Hallett Blackwell Shiraz 2017, Barossa, Australia – The grapes that don’t qualify for the Old Block Shiraz go into the Blackwell Shiraz. This wine is opaque garnet in colour. Deep aromas of capsicum, coffee, sweet spices, and black fruits. Dry, round and soft, but also fuller-bodied. Light acidity and tannins. Black fruit and sweet spices flavours.
Bodega Garzón Single Vineyard Tannat 2018, Maldonado, Uruguay – This wine is opaque garnet in colour. Medium-minus intensity aromas of tar, tea leaves, dark fruit, and black pepper. Dry, full body with medium acidity. Dark fruit flavours, plus touches of floral and coffee. Lightly firm tannins on the finish.
Familia Zuccardi Aluvional Gualtallary 2016, Mendoza, Argentina – Opaque garnet. Medium intensity aromas show dark fruit, tar and coffee. Dry and round but has a light mouthfeel. Firm, strong tannins and medium acidity. Black fruit and bay leaf flavours.
Arboleda Seña 2019, Aconcagua Valley, Chile – Opaque violet colour. A very expressive nose with capsicum, cedar, sweet spices, red fruit and red cherry aromas. Dry, soft and silky, with medium acidity and light fine tannins. Sweet red and black fruit flavours and a hint of pine needles, floral, and vanilla. A more acid than tannin driven wine.
Arboleda Viñedo Chadwick 2019, Maipo Valley, Chile – Deep garnet colour but still translucent to the core. Light aromas of capsicum, and sweet spices. Fuller body, dry and soft with refreshing acidity. Capsicum, bay leaf, and ripe black fruit flavours. Light, fine tannins.
Thank you to Anthony and Evan for moderating our panellists at this seminar.