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waters on wine

Stocked amongst the dizzying array of wines made by producers around the world, Mouton Cadet can be easy to overlook. While this unassuming red wine from Bordeaux has been readily available at Canadian shops since the 1950s, its chief winemaker Jérôme Aguirre thinks it’s ripe for rediscovery.

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For wine lovers of a certain age, mention of Mouton Cadet might be tinged with nostalgia of a drink that helped introduce them to a world of wine. Younger consumers may have never given it or other basic styles of Bordeaux – without fashionable chateau names or popular appellations such as Pauillac or Margaux on the label – much thought.

“We want Mouton Cadet to be a charming wine,” says Aguirre, who has worked in Bordeaux since 2004 and took charge of the Mouton Cadet range in March, 2022. “So, you’ll see we have made a red wine with a sunny expression that’s generous and fruity in style.”

The 2020 vintage marks Mouton Cadet’s 90th anniversary. One of the earliest global wine brands, Mouton Cadet was launched in 1930 as a red wine made from components that weren’t suitable for Château Mouton-Rothschild. The chateau’s owner, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, saw an opportunity to bring a quality wine from Bordeaux to a wider audience. The bistros of Paris quickly embraced Mouton Cadet and its distribution expanded as production increased.

Sales records at the winery trace imports to Quebec back to 1953. Canada continues to be one of the most important export markets out of the 150 countries where Mouton Cadet is sold.

Mouton Cadet added a white wine in the early 1970s and expanded the range again in the 1990s to include a rosé as well as a range of smaller production reserve labels, including red wines from Saint-Emilion and Margaux and a sweet white from Sauternes. Annual production is reported to be nine million bottles of red wine, two million of white and one million of rosé.

Working from the 16-hectare (40-acre) site in Pauillac where the Mouton Cadet Winery is located, Aguirre explains he has strengthened the company’s relationship with 200 growers spread across the region. “We don’t buy bulk wine,” he says. “We work directly with farmers, and we have all of the diversity of Bordeaux available.”

For the Mouton Cadet red blend, Aguirre says he likes to combine merlot from vines growing in clay soils with merlot from vineyards with limestone-based soils to balance fruit flavours with freshness. It’s a way of building complexity and character in the wines.

Most vineyards are in the Côtes de Bordeaux and Bordeaux appellations with much of the sauvignon blanc and sémillon grapes for white wine production coming from Entre-deux-Mers. There is a major push in Bordeaux to embrace more environmentally friendly farming methods, with a region-wide proposal to have all vineyards certified by some form of third-party accreditation (including certified organic and biodynamic authorities) by 2030.

The 2020 vintage of Mouton Cadet will start appearing on liquor store shelves in the coming weeks. It’s an enjoyable red wine, charming even, that shows the tremendous quality red wines from Bordeaux can deliver at every level of production. There’s been a sea-change since affordable red wines from Bordeaux often spelled thin, tart and nasty flavours. Aguirre and a network of growers around the region hope you can taste the excitement again.

Meerlust Rubicon 2018 (South Africa), $59.95

Rating:93 /100

This blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot comes from one of South Africa’s premium estate wineries and a celebrated vintage. The hot and dry growing season in Stellenbosch made for a small but high-quality crop of grapes. Rubicon is the top wine in Meerlust’s portfolio and this current release lives up to storied reputation earned since its first vintage in 1980. There’s winning complexity and sophisticated character in a wine that’s built to last. Drink 2024 to 2032. Available in Ontario.

Mouton Cadet Bordeaux Red 2020 (France), $18.95

Rating:88 /100

This merlot-dominant blend captures the fruit, fragrance and freshness that makes Bordeaux reds so appetizing. The dry, medium-bodied wine is supple and supported by chewy tannins – it’s bound to surprise wine lovers who haven’t tasted it recently. Drink now to 2024. Available in Ontario at the above price, $18.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $25.09 in Saskatchewan, $19.49 in Manitoba, $17.95 in Quebec, $20.99 in New Brunswick, $20.99 in Nova Scotia, $20.29 in Prince Edward Island, $20.92 in Newfoundland.

Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc 2021 (United States), $46.95

Rating:91 /100

Rombauer uses sauvignon blanc grapes grown in Sonoma County and Napa Valley to produce this vibrant and textured white wine. The winery uses a combination of oak barrels, stainless steel and concrete tanks to knit together a crisp white wine with appealing fragrance and pleasing flavours with a refreshing finish. Drink now to 2025. Available in Ontario.

Telmo Rodriguez Gago 2018 (Spain), $31.95

Rating:92 /100

Branching out from his home in Rioja, winemaker Telmo Rodriguez has taken to producing wine in other parts of Spain, including this exceptional red wine produced from indigenous tinta de toro (a.k.a. tempranillo) grapes grown in Toro. Gago is the second label produced at the Toro operation. It’s an exciting red wine, with a juicy fruit character centred on a core of sweet cherry and plum flavours. That concentrated fruit is nicely supported by smoke, pepper and earthy notes, and balanced by fresh acidity. Drink now to 2026. Available at the above price in Ontario, various prices in Alberta (2016 vintage), $40 in Nova Scotia.

Westcott Estate Pinot Noir 2019 (Canada), $31.95

Rating:91 /100

A blend of pinot grapes grown at estate vineyards owned by Westcott in Niagara, Ont., this refined red wine offers an attractive mix of cherry and berry fruit with spicy and savoury notes that add welcome complexity and character. The cooler growing conditions in 2019 were beneficial to top producing quality pinot noir. Winemaker Casey Kulczyk and team seem to have taken full advantage. Drink now to 2027. Available in Ontario at the above price or $31.99 direct,

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