Saturday, January 30, 2010

Report from ... Chateau St. Jean Lunch @ Biff’s - January 27, 2010

Once again I found myself at Biff’s Bistro on Front Street in downtown Toronto. This time it’s the Chateau St. Jean lunch with winemaker Margo Van Staavereen, who’s on a very tight schedule, in just three short hours she’ll be boarding a place to Montreal.

To start, we taste 9 wines with commentary from Margo. She wants those in attendance to do some of the talking and ask some questions, because she’s “done so much talking lately she growing tired of my own voice”; but we’re a rather quiet lot and Margo is left carrying the brunt of a solo conversation.

We taste Pinot Blanc and Fume Blanc – interesting wines, but they are not chilled enough, so their full effect is lost on some (me included). Margo explains the difference in fruit sourcing – stuff marked as “California Merlot” (for example) is fruit sourced from outside St. Jeans home base of Sonoma (not all but a blend from various regions, thus can’t get the Sonoma moniker). We do try a 2008 Sonoma Chardonnay and a 2007 single vineyard Chardonnay from the Robert Young Vineyard. The Sonoma is sourved from all over the County, except for Knight’s Valley and Rock Pile, and is dominant in Aleksander Valley and Carneros fruit. Both wines are delicious and ranked four-stars in my book. The Sonoma Chardonnay seemed to have a little bit of everything: apple, lemon, pineapple and spicy with a creamy smoothness on the palate. The Robert Young Chardonnay seemed to be finer with more focus to what it delivered: lemon tang, tropical fruit and vanilla notes. It’s interesting to note that half of all Chateau St. Jean production is devoted to Chardonnay.

Moving onto the reds and it was the 2007 Sonoma County Merlot that took center stage for a few moments as Margo described her affection for the grape: “Merlot got a bad rap, it’s a good wine and I’m not ashamed of my love for Merlot.” This one contains about 8-10% Malbec, Margo explained her inclusion of the Malbec in her Merlots thusly: “I really like the combination of Malbec and Merlot, it really brings up the aromatics.” This Merlot had subtle spice, nice black fruit, a touch of bramble with good tannins and cinnamon on the tongue. (****)

But where the Chateau made it’s name for reds is from their blend of the 5 Bordeaux reds (Cabernet Sauvignon / Cabernet Franc / Merlot / Malbec and Petit Verdot). In the mid 80’s they made plans to revitalize their rd wines and in 1993 produced “Cinq Cepages” – or as it became Americanized to “Sink Seepage”. But it wasn’t ‘sink seepage’ for long. In 1996 it was ranked as the top wine of the year in Wine Spectator and the following year (1997) it ranked second … that put Cepages on the map for wine drinkers, and no longer did the derogatory name get used. We tried 3 vintages (2000, 2001 and 2005), and each wine showed its own personality:
2000 (“cool vintage”) had cassis and spice with fine grain tannins, taste fairly young for a 10-year old wine. (****)
2001 (“perfect vintage”), crème de cacao, big black fruit and bolder than the 2000. (****½)
2005 (“late wetness during vintage”, red and black fruit, mocha, cocoa and silky tannins. (****½)

Finally, someone spoke up with a question, asking whether the Cepages wines are made according to the vintage or to a house style. Margo explained that there is no formula to making the Cinq Cepages, though the 2000 and 2001 have close to the same ratio of Cabernet to Merlot (76% - 10%); the 2005, on the other hand, is quite different (83% - 11%) – “the vintage will express itself,” Margo said, “but if there’s not a balance from the beginning the wine just won’t age.” And she’s looking for these wines to have longevity.

On to Lunch …

Three more wines are poured with a delicious lunch. Of them the salmon showed quite well with the 2007 Sonoma Pinot Noir, cherries/black cherries, cranberry notes with nice acidity, spice and a touch of raspberry. (****)