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History in a bottle at Chateau des Charmes, plus update on Beaujolais Nouveau

By Rick VanSickle

Just to put a tidy bow on the whole business of the Beaujolais Nouveau release, and lack thereof this year at LCBO stores, you are just going to have to learn to live without it.

An internal memo, shared with Wines in Niagara and sent to LCBO consultants, says, “at the moment, we do not have plans to bring back Beaujolais Nouveau in 2023.” The memo was issued as a talking point should consumers ask store consultants questions about the annual Nouveau release held every third Thursday in November. For the first time, it was cancelled in 2022, due to several factors outlined in the memo:

A severe frost in 2021 reduced the size of the harvest by half, resulting in a shortage of grapes from the Beaujolais region;
Other increases in input costs (labels, corks, bottles, etc.) have driven the price of Beaujolais Nouveau up further;
Due to the short turnaround from harvest to store shelves, Beaujolais Nouveau wines need to be air freighted, and freight costs have increased significantly

Niagara wine

The memo goes on to suggest LCBO employees point consumers in the direction of “other Beaujolais products” they may enjoy, but curiously, not the delicious and plentiful Gamays made in right here in Ontario.

As Wines In Niagara pointed out in this story focused on locally-made Gamays (posted here), consumers are well advised to give the famous grape of Beaujolais serious consideration as winemakers in Ontario are turning out some stunning examples. We suggested 18 Gamays, a small fraction of what’s out there, to go and buy now, including the Chateau des Charmes Gamay Droit 2020 (and reprised here) featured in our spotlight on the St. David’s winery below.

Gamay has stormed onto the Niagara winescape in a big way in recent years and there’s plenty to choose from to fill that gap left by collapse of the Beaujolais Nouveau hype machine. I might even suggest we keep the third Thursday in November alive and have our own Niagara Gamay festival, the start of what could be a fantastic way to showcase this grape at its finest. Any takers?

New wines from Chateau des Charmes

Chateau des Charmes is a historic St. David’s Bench winery found in 1978 by Paul Bosc (above), a fifth-generation French winegrower and of Niagara’s most important wine growing pioneers.

Bosc and his young family arrived in Niagara in the 1960s with the idea that growing their own grapes was the best way to make fine wine. That holds true today — the winery only makes wines from grapes grown on the estate.

After more than 40 vintages in Niagara, Chateau des Charmes knows exactly what grows best in their vineyards have steadfastly made classic wines from the hands of Paul Bosc and now the capable hands of Amélie Boury (very top photo).

Wines in Niagara recently tasted through a selection of wines from the estate. Here is what we liked.

The bubbles

Chateau des Charmes Brut Sparkling Wine NV ($26, LCBO, winery, 91 points) — This estate bottled sparkling wine is a classic blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir made in the traditional method. It’s bottled on the lees for a minimum of one year. It shows an elegant bead in the glass with notes of fresh lemon/citrus, baked bread, green apples, and toasty notes. The bubbles are gentle and persistent in the glass with some flinty notes, sharp citrus, pear/apple, and tingly acidity on a lifted finish. Great value bubble here.

Chateau des Charmes Rosé Sparkling Wine 2017 ($35, winery, 92 points) — This sparkling rosé is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that’s made in the traditional method with a Pinot Noir dosage. It’s aged on the lees for a minimum of 18 months and shows pretty red berries on the nose, strawberry pie, baked brioche and pomegranate with a lively bead in the glass. The bubbles on the palate are more elegant with a mix of raspberry and strawberry fruits, brambly notes, bready/yeasty notes and a bright, lifted finish.

The whites

Chateau des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2016 ($19, winery, 93 points) — Riesling was one of the first varieties planted at the estate in 1978 and that original block is still producing excellent fruit. The Old Vines are sourced from the oldest blocks in the vineyard and the wine is late released with beautiful age and integration. It has a thrilling nose with fresh cut lime, an emerging note of petrol, ginger, grapefruit and saline/stony minerality. It’s wonderfully dry on the palate (1 g/l of RS) with a tart melange of citrus, sweet petrol, a profound vein of stony minerality, ginger and a long, refreshing finish. A fine Riesling with typicity and style that will continue to evolve in the cellar.

Chateau des Charmes St. David’s Bench Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2021 ($22, winery, 90 points) — This estate Gewürztraminer is grown on the West side of the Château on a 1-hectare (2.5 acre) parcel. The grapes were planted in 1996 and the winemaking team feels they are just now hitting their peak. It has a highly aromatic nose of grapefruit, lychee, pear, ginger, and nectarine. It has a lovely oily texture on the palate with ginger spice, grapefruit and brown sugar, baked pear, and apricot with medium+ acidity and a juicy finish.

Chateau des Charmes Paul Bosc Vineyard Fumé Blanc 2020 ($35, winery, 92 points) — Made from the only Sauvignon Blanc block on the estate, planted in 1983, this is fermented in new French oak then put into neutral oak for another 10 months. It shows an elegant nose of lime, grapefruit, pear, and spices with an interesting chalky minerality. There is plenty of pep here on the palate that shows a creamy texture with notes of ripe pear, melon, subtle tropical fruits, and tasty spices all leading to a lifted, fresh finish.

The rosé

Chateau des Charmes Cuvée D’Andrée Rosé 2021 ($19, LCBO, winery, 90 points) — This 100 estate Pinot Noir rosé shows a pretty pink colour in the glass with a nose of brambly raspberries, black cherries and subtle cassis notes. It’s ripe and flavourful on the palate with a melange of red berries, crunchy cranberries, a touch of earthiness and perfectly dry impression through the fresh finish. No need to wait for summer to enjoy this year-round expression of rosé.

The reds

Chateau des Charmes Gamay Droit 2020 ($22, winery, previously reviewed, 90 points) — This estate, single-vineyard Gamay Droit is Canada’s first native vinifera vine, born in the St. David’s Bench Vineyard. In the early 1980s, Paul Bosc was doing routine inspections in the vineyard and noticed a single Gamay Noir vine growing straight up and taller than the others in the block. It was tested and determined to be a separate variety from the Gamay family. No oak is used to finish this unique expression. The smoky nose reveals an earthy/savoury side with macerated cherries, brambly raspberries and plums. The ripe, red berries shine on the palate with a pinch of smoky/meaty notes and mouth-watering acidity on the finish.

Chateau des Charmes Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017 ($45, winery, 93 points) — Much like the estate’s top red wine, Equuleus, the Paul Bosc Pinot Noir is made only in outstanding vintages. Throughout the growing season, the vineyard team led by Boury carefully monitors the yield produced by the oldest vines in the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard to achieve the optimal balance between tannin ripeness, brix (sugar levels) and flavour. The wine is aged for 16 months in new French oak barrels. This is another late released wine, which is a huge benefit for the consumer to enjoy Pinot Noir that has already been bottle aged. It’s a sturdy Pinot with a bold nose of forest floor, earthy/savoury notes, brambly raspberries, dark cherries, a touch of cassis and eucalypt to go with fine oak spices. It’s rich and textured on the palate with black cherries, raspberries and anise all integrated with earthy/savoury notes, smooth tannins, elegant spices, and a lifted and long finish. This is a bolder style Pinot Noir with structure and can benefit from further aging in the cellar, say 5+ years.