John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for August 6th 2011: Good things come in pairs and Three-star values from Chile
Thoughts of Work Recede Like Early Morning Dreams: Deep in the heart of another hot and languid southern Ontario summer, when most are sitting by the lake, or dreaming that they were, it’s tough to get excited about anything that doesn’t involve afternoon naps, backyard BBQs or just soaking up the sun. The thought of 100+ wines lined up for tasting in a window-less laboratory on a gloriously sunny day was starting to seem like work, an alarming thought. Yet against all odds, tasting through the new releases for August 6th, I was impressed, even excited, by wine after wine: there is a fine collection of top quality and value stuff on offer this week. Evil thoughts of work quickly receded like early morning dreams, and it was back to business as usual, sniffing, sipping and marveling at the remarkable variations on a theme of fermented grape juice. So if you can drag yourself momentarily away from mid-summer nights’ musings, check out a few of these selections – it’s worth it.
Good Things Come in Pairs
A fine way to get familiar with a grape is to taste a few examples side by side – this way you can directly compare and contrast variations in terroir and winemaking techniques, and learn more about the range of possibilities within the category – context is key. This week there are a few pairs of wines worth tasting for educational purposes (maybe you can write it off as “cultural development”?), and more than a little pleasure.
1. 2007 SIGNORELLO ESTATE CABERNET SAUVIGNON Napa Valley, Unfiltered $59.95 & 2006 CHALK HILL ESTATE CABERNET SAUVIGNONSonoma County $44.95. Ray Signorello is a guy who gets it. He has one of the most extraordinary personal wine collections I have ever come across (and, err, plundered on one happy occasion), without a single average quality bottle – every wine is a reference point for its region/appellation/grape, so he clearly understands what fine wine is all about. His also understands international markets, and prices his wines to sell, not to finance another sports car. His full range of Napa wines favors finesse and elegance over sheer power and heft, so unsurprisingly his 2007 Napa cabernet has more than a nod back to the old world. This is about structure, complexity and elegance, with superb architecture and depth, and a finish that lingers on endlessly.
In 1972, the natural amphitheatre carved into the hills of eastern Sonoma that would become the Chalk Hill Estate was discovered by Fred Furth, while piloting his plane over the Russian River. He had a hunch that those slopes could produce fine quality grapes, and it seems he was right. Despite Sonoma’s reputation for producing more restrained wines than Napa, the 2006 Chalk Hill Estate cabernet is more forward, plush, ripe and immediately pleasing than Signorello’s version. It too offers a fine blend of fruit, earth, spice, herb, floral and oak notes, but with a bit more new world-style palate density. Both, in any case, are classy, and within the high-flying context of premium California cabernet, pretty fair value.
2. 2009 DOMAINE PIRON-LAMELOISE QUARTZ CHENAS AC $22.95 & 2009 JEAN-PAUL BRUN CÔTE DE BROUILLY AC $18.95 . We’ve been spoiled of late with several releases of excellent Beaujolais from the memorable 2009 vintage, and though I’ve already mentioned a couple in recent reports, I can’t resist pointing out this opportunity to compare two of the top ‘crus’ of the region from a pair of fine producers. In 2004, an 8.5-hectare property was taken over by a pair of well-known winegrower-restaurateurs, and Domaine Piron-Lameloise was launched. The property has seams of quartz running through it, hence the name of this cuvee, and the evident minerality right off the top. The Chenas cru in general, with it’s steep granitic soils, is reputed for its structured and sturdy examples of gamay, similar to Moulin-à-Vent next door, and this wine from Piron-Lameloise should age well for a half-dozen years thanks to its uncommon depth and richness and light but firm, grippy tannins.
“This is the best quality I’ve ever seen… nearly perfect,” said Jean-Paul Brun of the 2009 vintage. It’s been compared to the legendary vintages of ’47, ’49 and ’76. Brun is at the forefront of the natural wine movement that is sweeping through Beaujolais, and the world. Though he’s hailed in serious wine drinking circles as a genius, known for making particularly pure, fruity and delicate wines, he has had on-going difficulties with the French appellation authorities. Several of his wines have been denied Beaujolais appellation status in the past for their ‘atypical’ character. Well, if you consider the typically, insipid, mass-market Beaujolais “typical”, then I suppose they are right. Try this beguilingly floral, fresh yet fleshy Côte de Brouilly with the inimitable lightness and depth that epitomizes fine gamay, and decide for yourself.
3. 2005 SALCHETO VINO NOBILE DI MONTEPULCIANO DOCG $23.95 & 2006 MONTARO ROSSO DI MONTALCINO DOC $17.95 . This pair of Tuscan sangiovese shares more similarities than differences. Both are farmed using organic/biodynamic methods with a strong commitment to the environment. Salcheto in fact is launching a carbon-neutral winery this year using the latest water and energy conservation technology. The Montaro is the wine to try first; made from vineyards within the Brunello di Montalcino appellation but aged for a shorter period than required by law to quality for the designation, it’s released as the lighter and fruitier Rosso di Montalcino. The ’06 is absolutely delicious, juicy, and energetic, with light dusty tannins and fruit flavours solidly in the red berry spectrum, complemented by resinous herbs and dried flowers. It’s a wine I could happily drink any day (or every day) of the week.
Salcheto’s ’05 Vino Nobile from the nearby hilltop town of Montepulciano is a slightly more evolved, serious and complex example, with the integrated vestiges of new wood evident alongside some lovely floral notes, ripe berry fruit, spice, earth, savoury herbs. The palate is silky smooth yet firm and taught, with juicy acidity and exceptional length/depth at this price. This wine I’ll save for Sunday afternoons.
Other top smart buys this week include an unlikely but lovely blend of half-a-dozen mostly aromatic white grapes from Niagara’s 13th Street, a superior Spanish bubbly at just $13.95, and aMediterranean white (Adriatic, technically) tailor-made for grilled fish drizzled in extra-virgin oil with lemon and herbs. See them all here.
Chile is in the spotlight on August 6th, and not surprisingly there’s a whole shopping cart full of three-star values ranging from $13 to $30/bottle and from a half-dozen different grapes and different regions. The most exiting development in Chile in the last decade has been its growing diversity; it’s no longer just Maipo Valley cabernet that’s winning fans worldwide, but an expanding collection of grapes intelligently matched to varying terroirs spanning a thousand kilometers north to south. And there is so much to discover. Start with my Top Ten Smart Buys.
John Szabo, Master Sommelier