Sunday, January 8, 2012

Rubies on the Table, featuring 2006 LCJ Pinot Noir

2006 Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Pinot Noir | VQA Twenty Mile Bench

2006 Le Clos Jordanne Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Pinot Noir | VQA Twenty Mile Bench

2006 Le Clos Jordanne La Petite Vineyard Pinot Noir | VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Our dinner was great. I'd like to think that the wines helped. These particular bottles are deeply meaningful to me for several reasons.

1| Pedigree, to start. This winery was hyped as Niagara's best, before its first vintage was ever on the shelf. Originally a partnership between Vincor and Boisset, a lot has changed in the short time since it's first commercial vintage (2005). The founding partners are no more - Boisset pulled out, and Vincor was bought by Constellation. The first winemaker, Thomas Bachelder, left and is now replaced by Sebastien Jacquey, the former assistant winemaker. There was even talk at first about building a fancy Frank Gehry designed winery - luckily, that plot has been planted over with vines. An interesting history, and certainly one of the leading producers of pinot noir and chardonnay, but the best? Let's separate all the hype and marketing bluster from what the wines actually are. And yes, the money put in by these giant corporations into marketing is extensive. A source in Niagara close to the operation told me that originally, the French side wanted LCJ to be a 100% pinot noir winery. They only wanted to produce red wine, because market research told them that North Americans are more willing to accept expensive red wines - $40 chardonnays just don't sell. Clearly, and it's becoming clearer with every vintage, chardonnay is the varietal of strength here. A compromise was reached to produce about 70% pinot noir and 30% chardonnay for the winery. A reversal of those numbers would probably have been a better decision (vinously, of course).

2| As a budding wino still in school, I was eager to begin putting wines away, as much as a poor student's budget would allow. Not much, but I was working on my terms off from school, and figured I could spare about $200 or so a term for collecting. And I desperately wanted LCJ in my cellar. 2005 Lailey Pinot Noir was the bottle that did it for me . . . just that epiphany in wine that sets the benchmark for all other Niagara pinot noirs. At the time, about winter or early spring of 2007, the 2005 LCJ's were being released. Even in little Waterloo, Ontario, some of the LCBO outlets were receiving 6-packs. And I was thwarted every time. Every single release, every single wine - I was just a step too late. Completely disheartened, I knew that I had to be better prepared. Who knew . . . a Niagara cult wine??!! It wasn't until autumn of 2008, going on until spring of 2009 that the 2006 vintage was released. First the Village Reserves, then the single vineyards. And finally, I managed to get them all. The whole thing underscored how much time and gas I was willing to spend to secure these bottles, but after going to about 7 different LCBO locations in Toronto over the 4 months or so that they were released, I got all the 2006 LCJ's, save for the premium ($70+) bottlings.

3| 2006 being a cool, waterlogged vintage, the wines were always lean. What attracted me was the purity of fruit, the mineral expression, and that beautiful floral/rose petal character I think of as a defining attribute of elegant, delicate pinot noir. Prior to opening them for this dinner, I had tasted the 2006 pinot noirs on only two occasions - one, the 2006 Claystone Terrace Pinot Noir a few years ago for dinner at the Hyatt with a friend. The other, May of 2011, when I tasted the 2006 Le Grand Clos Pinot Noir. And that was the impetus for opening the rest of my 2006's. The wine was beginning to fall apart. Browning and drying up, the acidity robbing the fruit of flavour and texture. Having tasted my 2006 chardonnays over the summer - Village Reserve, Claystone Terrace, LCJ Vineyard - I was hopeful. They were showing beautifully, if a bit oaky, and the Village Reserve Pinot Noir was promising as well. But of course, I wouldn't know for sure until those wines were in the glass.

I really shouldn't have worried.

All the wines showed the most beautiful, stunning bright ruby red colour, just luminous and sparkling in the glass. Almost breathtaking, with no loss in saturation, and just a slight browning in hue. Let's begin with the Claystone Terrace. Initially showing a hint of volatile acidity, it blows off showing pure fragrance, roses and cranberries. Fresh, but just beginning to dry out. Elegant and still grippy in texture, fabulous sweetness.

The Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard just gorgeous. Earthy, with great depth. Sour cherries and cranberry, but more overt ripeness developing. Lean and slightly sour on the palate, but with a fresh and fruity texture. Delicious, and the consensus favourite around the table. No need for a vote - just ask what everyone wants their second glass to be, right?

And finally, the wine I'm most attached to, the vineyard that I insist on visiting each time I'm in Niagara. A beautiful location on the Escarpment, high and overlooking Lake Ontario. An absolute jewel. Slightly more muted, and darker in colour. Minerals and just singing of rose petals. The delicacy of the wine is already apparent on the bouquet. Earthy and the most fragrant of all, lots of juicy fruit on the palate. Delicate and elegant, absolutely haunting. A wine of beauty.

I have a bottle or so of each left in the cellar; while beginning to decline (far too prematurely in my opinion), the pinot noirs are delicious. Fine and authentic. Not great wines, but absolutely true to vintage and region. And that's all we can ask for.


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