CH. MARIS and MARIS: Delicious Terroir-driven Organic and Biodynamic Wines

Ch. Maris is a 79-acre estate planted to Syrah, Grenache, and Carignan in the Minervois cru La Liviniere. Minervois is one of the villages of the Languedoc with itss own applellation producing some of the best wines of the Languedoc. La Liviniere has long been considered the best part of the appellation of Minervois and has stricter rules for wines labeled “Minervois La Liviniere” than for wines labeled simply as “Minervois”. Ch. Maris is an estate growing grapes using organic and biodynamic practices in the vineyard and making wines in and environmental masterpiece of a winery (made from hemp bricks) with a focus on organic practice and a clean but not sterile biome to make wines ranging from fine to stunning. The 79 acres (divided into a non-contiguous patchwork of plots and blocks) is a good-sized estate for the area.

Although founded earlier, the modern history of Ch. Maris began in 1997 when the current ownership group bought the winery and installed Robert Eden (one of the ownership group) as winemaker. Under Eden’s guidance, Ch. Maris moved away from commercial chemical farming toward first organic and then Biodynamic vineyard practices. As they did, life returned to the soil, the vine got heathier, and the quality of the grapes improved. Ch, Maris gained EcoCert status in 2002, Biodyvin since 2004 and Demeter in 2008. Ch. Maris was certified a “BCorps” in 2016. All these certifications remain in effect. Minervois has never tasted so good. La Liviniere has never tasted so good.

British-born Robert Eden is the winemaker and co-owner of Ch. Maris. He has lived in France since 1994 after traveling in Australia, Italy, Burgundy, Spain and California where he worked with renowned winemakers. Since 1997, he has pursued organic and biodynamic viticulture at Chateau Maris. Robert has been actively involved in the protection of the environment going so far as to build the first hemp cellar that passively consumes Co2. He regularly presents on the advantages of biodynamic viticulture and the importance of taking steps to reduce the impact on the environment in the wine industry.

All well and good but how are the wines? In a word: Stunning. I was expecting this tasting in my office to be a courtesy appointment ending sooner rather than later in a “Thanks for coming by.” Instead, it stretched out over two hours as I tasted wine after wine that both surprised and delighted me. I’ve been tasting wines from Minervois (and its Languedoc neighbors) for over 30 years and I have never tasted wines like these. I have never before thought that this area could produce a wine I would score 97 or 98 points. I was both stunned and elated. Please see my notes below. And come taste the wines for yourself on Monday October 14th (7pm) at the Wine School at l’Allaince Française.

MY NOTES (Wines arriving at Spec’s on Thursday October 10th):
MARIS Vermentino, Pays d’Oc , 2018
100% Rolle (Vermentino) from all certified organic vineyards (both estate and under contract) pressed off before fermentation and 4 months aging in concrete tanks.  Straw color with well-formed legs; dry, light-bodied with refreshing acidity and scant phenolics with a long finish.     Fresh with more lemon and lemon peel fruit with a hint of fruit stones with mineral earth. Light, bright, and alive.   BearScore: 90+.
126827   Spec’s Cash Bottle: $13.99

MARIS Rouge Organic, Pays d’Oc , 2018
An Organic Wine from all certified organic vineyards (both estate and under contract). 90% Syrah and 10% Grenache fermented and aged 4 months in concrete tanks.  Deep-red color with well-formed legs; dry, medium-light-bodied with very-freshly-balanced acidity and medium-light phenolics with a long finish.     Supple, fresh, easy drinking red fruit with some spiciness and a subtle mineral earthiness.   BearScore: 91.
126828  Spec’s Cash Bottle: $13.99

MARIS Le Zulu, Vin de France, 2018
An all certified organic vineyards (both estate and under contract) blend of 90% Syrah and 10% Grenache fermented and aged 4 months in concrete tanks. No sulfur added  SO2 at bottling was 2 parts per million. No fining / light filtration.    Magenta color with well-formed legs; dry, medium-light-bodied with very-freshly-balanced acidity and medium-plus phenolics with a long finish.     Supple fresh, lively, chewy red fruit accompanied by garrigue and black pepper spice.   BearScore: 91+.
126830   Spec’s Cash Bottle: $15.99

CHATEAU MARIS La Touge, Minervois La Liviniere, 2017
All certified biodynamic, estate-grown, 60% Syrah 40% Grenache. The Syrah was fermented in foudre and pressed in a basket press before 12 months aging  in 500 liter demi-muits. Grenache was fermented in concrete, basket pressed, and aged in concrete eggs for 12 months before blending. The blended wine is then aged 6 months more in concrete eggs before bottling. No fining/filtering. (SO2: 54 ppm).     Red-purple color with well-formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with very-freshly-balanced acidity and medium phenolics with a really long finish.     Fresh and lively red fruit with spicy garrigue. Bright fresh and alive. Vivid.   BearScore: 92+.
126831   Spec’s Cash Bottle: $18.99

CHATEAU MARIS Les Planels, Minervois La Liviniere , 2016
All certified biodynamic, estate-grown, 95% Syrah and 5% Grenache. Syrah fermented in Foudre, basket pressed, and aged 12 months in 500 liter demi-muits. The blended wines is then aged 3 months in concrete eggs before bottling.      Red-purple color with well-formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with very-freshly-balanced acidity and medium-chewy phenolics with a really long finish.     Supple, fresh, lively but full of red fruit flavor with hints of spice and garrigue. Layered-Textured-Dimensional.   BearScore: 93+.
126832   Spec’s Cash Bottle: $24.99

CHATEAU MARIS Savoir Vieillir, Minervois, 2018
An estate grown, certified biodynamic 100% Syrah Organic Wine that is in fact an earlier-bottled, no-sulfite version of “Les Planels”. Stabilized and bottled in Dec/Jan to avoid oxygen. As it is bottled early, it is classified as Minervois AOP. Since it is labeled “Minervois” and not “Minervois La Liviniere,” it does not need to have the normal 5% Grenache as part of the blend. Sulfites at bottling: 3 ppm.   Red-magenta color with well-formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with balanced-plus acidity and medium-plus phenolics with a really quite long finish.     Lovely pure, fresh red and darker red raspberry fruit with black and white pepper spice. Fresh and focused. Thrilling in the mouth.   BearScore: 93+.
126837   Spec’s Cash Bottle: $24.99

CHATEAU MARIS Las Combes, Minervois , 2017
All certified biodynamic, estate-grown, 100% Grenache fermented in 1500-liter wooden egg then aged 4 months in a concrete egg. Bottled early so declassified from Minervois La Liviniere to Minervois AOP. SO2 at bottling: 35 ppm.     Red-magenta color with well-formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with very-freshly-balanced acidity and medium phenolics with a really quite long finish.     Lovely pure sweet red fruit with only hints of garrigue and spice. Ethereal feel with a certain weightlessness in the mouth.   BearScore: 94.
126833   Spec’s Cash Bottle: $27.99

CHATEAU MARIS les Anciens, Minervois La Liviniere , 2016
All certified biodynamic, estate-grown, 95% Carignan and 5% Grenache. Basket Press. Fermented and aged in concrete eggs. No fining/filtering.  500 bottles made.  Deep-purple color with very-well-formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly-balanced acidity and medium-chewy phenolics with a really quite long finish.     Vivid, fresh, lively, slightly dusty red and darker red fruit with spice and liquid mineral. Wow and wow. Absolutely stunning. Layered-Textured-Dimensional.   BearScore: 97.
126835   Spec’s Cash Bottle: $31.99

CHATEAU MARIS Dynamic, Minervois La Liviniere , 2016
All certified biodynamic, estate-grown, 95% Syrah and 5% Grenache fermented in foudre, basket pressed, and aged 18 months 224-liter oak barrels. No fining/filtering. Only 500 bottles made.     Red-magenta color with very-well-formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with very-freshly-balanced acidity and medium phenolics with a really quite long finish.      Fresh, ethereal, alive. Vivid red fruit with an almost crystaline structure. Thrilling in the mouth with lots of lingering flavors. Lasts and lasts. Layered-Textures-Dimensional.   BearScore: 97.
126834   Spec’s Cash Bottle: $75.99

CHATEAU MARIS les Amandieres, Minervois La Liviniere , 2016
All certified biodynamic, estate-grown 95% Syrah and 5% Grenache fermented in foudre, basket pressed, and aged in oak barrels. No fining/filtering. 500 bottles made.  Deep-purple color stains the glass with well-formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly-balanced acidity and medium-chewy phenolics with a really quite long finish.     Has the fruit of Australia, the structure of Cote Rotie, and the ethereal weightlessness of a fantasy.  I have never had a Syrah like this before. Dark and darker red fruit with hints of coffee grounds and black pepper spice with a trill of white pepper. Vivid fruit with a finish that goes on and on. Oh, what a thrill. Layered-Textured-Dimensional. Would love to taste this next to Hill of Grace.  BearScore: 98.
126836   Spec’s Cash Bottle: $75.99

SOLD OUT! – An Evening with Jane Ferrari of Yalumba

SOLD OUT! – An Evening with Jane Ferrari of Yalumba

NOW SOLD OUT!

 

On Friday, September 22 at 7pm, please join me, Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton, in welcoming our always-entertaining-and-ever-informative friend Jane Ferrari, traveling winemaker of Yalumba, to the Wine School at l’Alliance Française for a tasting of Yalumba’s excellent Australian wines. The net proceeds of this event will benefit ECHOS (see below).

The ever-popular Ms. Ferrari will talk about where the wines come from and how they are made as well as the history and traditions of both Yalumba and the Barossa Valley. A native of Australia’s acclaimed Barossa Valley, Jane Ferrari is a trained winemaker – a graduate of Australia’s Roseworthy College (one of the top three winemaking schools in the world) – who gets her hands dirty both in the vineyards and the wineries in Barossa but also travels the world telling the Yalumba story. She is down-to-earth and very entertaining in a way that must be experienced. Jane first visited Houston in October of 2003 and utterly charmed a group of over 60 wine fans. She has been back almost every year since and has wowed us all each time. In addition to information about wine, you may hear about Australian and American culture (or lack thereof), Baseball, Elvis, and other tangentially related topics.

We will taste:
Jansz Brut, Tasmania, NV
Jansz Rosé, Tasmania, NV
Yalumba Y-Series Riesling, 2016
Yalumba Viognier, Eden Valley, 2015
Yalumba Old Bush Vine Grenache), Barossa, 2014
Yalumba The Triangle (Shiraz – Viognier), Barossa, 2013
Yalumba Patchwork Shiraz, Barossa, 2014
Yalumba The Strapper (Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre), Barossa, 2014
Yalumba The Scribbler (Cabernet-Shiraz), Barossa, 2013
Yalumba The Signature, Barossa, 2013
Yalumba The Cigar Menzies, 2012
Yalumba Museum Antique Tawny NV

An Evening With Jane Ferrari will cost $30.00 (Cash or Check made out to the ECHOS only please). The class will meet at 7pm on Friday September 22, 2017. To reserve your spot for this event, please contact Susan Coburn at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

L’Alliance Française is the French cultural center in Houston. Located at 427 Lovett Blvd., l’Alliance is on the southeast corner of Lovett and Whitney (one block south of Westheimer and two blocks east of Montrose).

About ECHOS
Epiphany Community Health Outreach Services (ECHOS) is a non-profit organization connecting people in need with the health, social and educational resources that can improve their lives. ECHOS’ mission is to connect people in need with health, social and educational resources that can improve their lives.
ECHOS  provides on-site help to families who are unable to access affordable health care and who do not have medical insurance coverage in completing and submitting applications for healthcare and social services.
ECHOS offers on-site health care services and screenings promoting healthier and more productive lives including Children’s Immunizations, Blood Pressure and Glucose Screenings, Vision Screenings, Well and sick child check ups, and Dental care
ECHOS also assistclients in meeting basic needs and self-sufficiency.  Assistance is free and includes: Food from the Food Pantry, Food Fairs and Mini Health Fairs, English-as-a-second-language, Computer literacy, and Domestic violence support groups on campus.
ECHOS is a non-profit 501(C)3 corporation.

MAKING A LIST . . .

The other day, I bumped into a friend-of-some-years (thereby avoiding referring to her as an “old friend”) who asked if I’d made my list yet. Even though I look more-than-a-bit like Santa Claus, I generally wait until after all the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone to start thinking about Christmas stuff. And I said as much.

She replied “No. Not that list. Your value wine list.”

I told her that it had been a few years since I’d done that. She said I should do it again as she needed a new one … and then she pulled a much-taped-and-folded, very-beat-up piece-of-paper from her purse and showed me one of my old value wine picks lists she’d been carrying around for several years. The vintages were all way out-of-date but a good chunk of the wines that are still available are wines I’d still recommend. After I looked at it (with some wonderment on my part), she carefully refolded it and put it safely back in her purse saying “See. I need a new one … but I’ll hold on to this one until you get around to it.”

Well, OK. Good idea. And since she’s what I refer to as a “church lady” (although not all church ladies go to my church), her “request” is really more of a command anyway.

You may well ask “What makes a ‘Value Wine?’” (You also may ask “What makes a Church Lady?” but that‘s a topic for another time and place.) In the general parlance, “value wine” is a good or recommended wine below a certain price point. That well-worn list my friend had saved was all under $15.00 per bottle. And that’s fair as far as it goes but to make my list, the wines have to consistently over-deliver. That being the case, not many heavily-marketed, national brands make my list as, while many of them offer a fair value, seldom do they over-deliver (and almost never do they over deliver over a series of vintages).

bearonwinelogoWhat you’ll find on this list are my picks (wines I actually buy and drink at home) with First-of-December-2016 prices under $20 (Spec’s cash bottle price – if you’re buying six-mixed at a time or by-the-case, the prices will be lower). The prices listed will likely change (some up, some down) over time. The vintages on the list are those that are current as I compile it but don’t worry too much if you bump into a vintage that’s younger. These wines tend to be pretty consistent from vintage-to-vintage. These are wines with enough production that they are available most of the time; I’m not including anything where we don’t get at least a couple of pallets a year. Finally, these are wines that I recommend. Which means they are wines I like to drink. Which means they offer plenty of fruit but are not over-ripe or over-manipulated. Which is to say that they taste of the grapes from which they were made and (generally) of the specific place they were grown.

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Wines To Drink Now: RHONE RANGERS

saint_cosme_cotes_du_rhone_rouge_2012To me the most useful notes are on the wines I can walk into a store and buy right now. These are available wines that go with the kinds of food I’m eating at that time of year. With our current dose of cold weather, I’ve been eating my share of braised meats. Since nothing goes better with braised meat than the Rhone blends, here are several of my favorites selected from the Rhone Range. Being an equal opportunity imbiber, these picks represent France (the Rhone), Spain (the origin of Grenache), Australia (G-S-M anyone?), and the USA (Paso Robles is the New Rhone Range). Prices range from everyday to the top of the weekend range but all these picks offer a great bang for the buck at their respective price points. And all of these are wines I have drunk (as opposed to just tasted) in the last month.

SAINT COSME, Cotes du Rhone, 2012 ($12.99)
A ripe 14.5% alcohol, 100% Syrah fermented and aged in a mix of concrete and stainless steel tanks at the winery in Gigondas.    Red-purple in color with well-formed legs; dry, medium full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium-chewy phenolics.  Supple, fresh, juicy, mostly black fruit Cotes du Rhone offering notes of coffee and black pepper and a hint of garrigue. Easy to drink and like. Rich, warming, satisfying. Great everyday red to go with braised meats and other cool weather favorites. BS: 90+.CabasseDASablet

Domaine de CABASSE “Les Deux Anges”, Cotes du Rhone Villages – Sablet, 2012 ($11.39)
A 13% alcohol  blend of 70% Grenache, 27% Syrah, and 3% Carignan fermented and aged in a mix of concrete and stainless steel tanks.      Red-violet in color with well-formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium-chewy phenolics.  Spicy fresh, lovely elegant, dark red cherry berry (even strawberry) fruit with spice and mineral and just a bit of garrigue. Pure, precise, pretty. YUM. Great wine for cooler weather and the braised and roasted meats that go with it. BS: 90+.

gr174CASA GRAN del SIURANA (Castillo Perelada) GR-174, Priorat, 2012 ($14.99)
A 15% alcohol blend of 40% Grenache, 30% Carignan, and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon aged 5 months in all oak French barrels (no new barrels).   Sensory: Purple red in color with well formed legs; dry, full-bodied with softly balanced acidity and medium chewy phenolics.  Rich but bright dark red and some black fruit. Supple feel. Rich in the mouth. Juicy and supple but still shows the graphite and a bit of garrigue. Utterly delicious. BS: 92.

StrapperYALUMBA “The Strapper” Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre (GSM), Barossa, 2011 ($17.99)
A 14.1% alcohol blend of 48% Grenache, 47% Shiraz, 5% Mataro picked separately and fermented in small batches – some in oak vats and some in stainless steel – and then aged in a mixture of all seasoned large oak vats, small oak vats, puncheons, and smaller oak barrels, to allow the wines to develop without the influence of a lot of new oak. Made to be suitable for vegans and vegetarians.     Sensory: Purple-red in color with well-formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly-balanced acidity; medium-chewy phenolics.  Supple and rich but still lively. Dark red spicy raspberry and strawberry fruit. Some earth and notes of black and white pepper with a hint of black fruit in the background. YUM. Satisfying and delicious. The Mourvedre is there more as texture than flavor. Perfect with a braise or a barbecue. Or a movie night snuggle on the couch. BS: 91. (In Australian horse racing parlance, the “strapper” is the person who tacks up – straps the saddle on –  the horse.)

TresVioletCALCAREOUS Tres Violet, Paso Robles, 2009 ($33.59)
A 15.4% alcohol blend of 36% Mourvedre, 34% Syrah, and 30% Grenache (all cropped under 2 tons per acre) aged 28 months in all French oak barrels (50% new).     Purple-violet in color with well formed legs; dry, full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium-chewy phenolics.  Rich and Rhoney. Hits the “Paso sweet spot” as well as anything. Yes there is Violet to go with the juicy, almost sweet, succulent red and black fruit. Has a nice mix of earth and spice and floral. Elegant and perfumed. YUM! A party in the mouth. BS: 93.

CalcareousMooseCALCAREOUS “The Moose,” Paso Robles, 2010 ($33.99)
A 15.4% alcohol blend of 89% Syrah and 11% Petite Verdot aged 28 months in all French oak barrels; (55% new).   Rich purple in color with well formed legs; dry, full-bodied with fresh enough acidity and chewy phenolics.  Supple and delicious. Fine mix of bright but darker, still juicy fruit with dusty earth and supple sweet oak. Rollicking big red with exuberant fruit and a lovely fresh perfume. Yum. BS: 92.

PLEASE check the EVENTS PAGE for the annual 2011 CRU CLASSÉ BORDEAUX TASTING on January 21st at the Crystal Ballroom at the Rice.

WINE OF THE WEEK: The Scribbler

yalumba_yalscb10_mainThe labels (there are few versions) are sophomoric and gimmicky (and, OK, fun) but the wine is serious and Yalumba, the company behind it, is the real deal. Robert Hill-Smith and team have turned Yalumba into Australia’s most successful family-owned winery. Their flagship red, The Signature is a reference standard for higher-end Cabernet-Shiraz blends. This wine, the Scribbler is the mischievous younger brother of the Signature.

YALUMBA “The Scribbler” Cabernet – Shiraz, Barossa, 2010  ($17.99)
13.5% Alcohol. A blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon and 43% Shiraz all from Yalumba’s estate vineyards in Barossa fermented in tanks and aged in mixed sizes of mostly seasoned American oak barrels, puncheons, etc.    Purple red in color with well formed legs, dry and freshly balanced offering medium-chewy phenolics. Really pops in the mouth with fresh red and some black mixed cherry and red berry (raspberry) fruit accented with black and white pepper, tobacco leaf, and a bit of coffee grounds. Quite long and quite succulent. We have drunk it with steaks, we have drunk it with pasta, and we have drunk it with conversation and Friday night TV. And – GLW&CDR* – we will drink it again. Not another over-blown, over-ripe, over-manipulated, high-alcohol Aussie red; rather, this is a real deal, balanced, fresh, exuberantly tasty red for close to everyday drinking. BS: 92

*Good-Lord-Willing & Creek-Don’t-Rise

Please check the EVENTS PAGE for an information on the upcoming WINE 101 class and the annual CRU CLASSÉ BORDEAUX TASTING featuring the 2011 vintage.

BAROSSA and BEYOND with Jane Ferrari of Yalumba

On Tuesday, November 26th at 7pm, please join me, SPEC’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton, in welcoming Yalumba’s famed traveling winemaker, the ever popular Jane Ferrari to Houston at l’Alliance Française for a tasting and class featuring eleven wines of Yalumba.

The informative and entertaining Ms. Ferrari, who is a native of Barossa, will talk about where the wines come from and how they are made as well as the history and traditions of both Yalumba and the Barossa Valley. Jane Ferrari is a trained winemaker (educated at Australia’s esteemed Roseworthy College) who gets her hands dirty both in the vineyards and the wineries in Barossa but also travels the world telling the Yalumba  story. She is down to earth and very entertaining in a way that must be experienced. Jane first visited Houston in October of 2003 and utterly charmed a group of over 60 wine fans. She has been back almost every year since and has “wowed” us all each time. In addition to information about wine, you may hear about Australian and American culture (or lack thereof), Baseball, Elvis, and only Jane knows what else.

The wines she’ll present and we’ll taste include:

Jansz Brut, Tasmania, NV
Yalumba Y Series Unwooded Chardonnay, South Australia, 2012
Yalumba Y Series Viognier, South Australia, 2012
Yalumba Viognier, Eden Valley, 2011
Yalumba Y Series Shiraz Viognier, South Australia, 2012
Yalumba Y Series Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia, 2012
Yalumba Barossa “The Strapper” GSM, Barossa, 2012
Yalumba Patchwork, Barossa, 2010
Yalumba The Scribbler, Barossa, 2010
Yalumba Shiraz Viognier, Eden Valley, 2009
Yalumba FSW8B Botrytis Viognier, Wrattonbully, 2009

BAROSSA AND BEYOND with Jane Ferrari will cost $30 per person cash ($31.58 regular). The event will be held at l’Alliance Française which is located at 427 Lovett Blvd. (The corner of Lovett and Whitney is a block south of Westheimer and two blocks east of Montrose.) To register for this class, please call Marlo Ammons at 832-660-0250 or send her a note at MarloAmmons@specsonline.com.

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Houston Area Women’s Center.