John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for September 17th 2011: Show-stealing New Zealand, Prête-à-Porter ’08 Bordeaux and Top Ten Smart Buys
Top Ten Smart Buys: This week’s top ten includes a delicious Dão red from Portugal, a Greek xynomavro that will have you guessing expensive Italian brand-name wine, a grüner of considerable class for under $20, and a savoury, organically-grown syrah-mourvèdre from Chile’s viticulturally hot Colchagua valley. See them all here.
Show-Stealing New Zealand
Despite being relegated to opening act, mini-feature status in the September 17th release, New Zealand steals the show. All six kiwi wines included are enthusiastically recommended; four of which are three star values (with two in the top ten smart buys) and five rate 90 points or better on my enjoyment scale. Ironically, given Bordeaux’s prominence in the release, the most impressive Bordeaux blend is not from Bordeaux but rather Hawkes Bay, New Zealand’s warmest and sunniest region, with a particularly clement climate for the black grapes of Aquitaine. It’s also the country’s oldest, with grape growing stretching back to 1851, four years before Bordeaux established its famous chateau classification. 2007 TE MATA COLERAINE Hawkes Bay, North Island $59.95 is a terrifically complex, stylish and classy red, nicely mature at this stage, and full of cassis, pencil lead, wet earth and other flavours that will set the heart of any fans of classic Bordeaux aflutter.
In a previous report I’ve laid bare my unenthusiastic feelings towards New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. But if you, too, have become a little jaded about the sea of sameness of most that reach our shelves, the 2009 TERRAVIN SINGLE VINEYARD SAUVIGNON BLANC Marlborough, South Island $29.95 will rinse out your prejudice. My review describes this as tasting like “liquefied rock”, which, if you feel as I do that fruit salad belongs on breakfast buffets not in wine, is a very good thing. More standard but a fine example of the genre in any case is the 2010 MOUNT RILEY SAUVIGNON BLANC Marlborough, South Island $15.95 .
New Zealand may not be famous for Chenin Blanc, but the 2009 MILLTON CRAZY BY NATURE DRY FLINT CHENIN BLANC Gisborne, North Island $18.95 certainly makes a compelling case for the variety on the North Island. Wine importer Mark Cuff of The Living Wine worked with biodynamic grower Millton on this blend to deliver classic chenin character – mineral, honey, wet wool, green apple – at an attractive sub-$20 price. This fairly brims with verve and energy in a pure and natural expression with excellent complexity for the money.
And finally, as though to underscore the nation’s diversity and broad stylistic suitability, there are two excellent wines that would be the envy of many Burgundian winemakers: 2008 DOG POINT CHARDONNAY Marlborough, South Island $39.95 and the 2008 CHURTON PINOT NOIR Marlborough, South Island $36.95 . No, they’re not inexpensive wines, but quality and price are equitably matched up.
There is never a bad vintage in Bordeaux, only “challenging” or “winemakers’” vintages, as everybody knows. 2008 was such a year. Jancis Robinson reported that she had “ been assailed with tales of woe, of another summer that has been disappointingly cool and damp, with widespread mildew and, still, a desperate need for more warmth and sunshine. “2008 may make 2007 look pretty good,” one château owner told me ruefully last week.”
Even the Comité Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bordeaux confessed in their official report that “August was dreary. Despite seasonal temperatures, there were slightly less hours of sunshine and rainfall levels recorded were higher than the average for the past 30 years…. Ripening developed slowly and inconsistently.”
Miraculously, in the end, the late-harvested grapes were brought in at better-than-expected levels of ripeness and in reasonably good shape. But judging by the small sampling of 2008s selected by Vintages for the September 17th release, these are rather forward, easy-going wines of modest structure ready to enjoy now, and not worth cellaring more than short term or mid-term at best. To be fair, the 16 wines included in this feature are not top names, and range in price from as low as $13.95/bottle up to just under $70, still a modest price tag in the rarefied world of classified growth Bordeaux – this is a not a collector’s release. Nonetheless, there are some pleasurable wines on offer if top value-for-money is not your MO.
The best of the lot, and also the most expensive red wine in the release is the 2008 CHÂTEAU BEAUREGARD AC Pomerol $57.95 . It’s a respectably complex, mid-weight plummy Pomerol, with deceptive power and length. Drink or hold this a half-dozen years or so. Also pricey but excellent is the 2008 CHÂTEAU de Fieuzal AC Pessac-Léognan $70.00 . This is textbook white Bordeaux, another mid-weight example with class and complexity and enough bracing acidity to see it develop over a half decade.
Likely the most age worthy red in the feature is the 2008 CHÂTEAU MEYNEY AC St-Estèphe $47.95 . St Estèphe is generally the burliest of the Médoc communal appellations, thanks to its cooler, clay-rich soils that yield higher acid, more tannic wines in general. The Meyney is in fact still quite closed, with considerable structure and grip for the vintage. Tuck this away for at least a couple of years; this should also see its way through into the early ‘20s. My top pick of the sub-$20 Bordeaux is the 2008 CHÂTEAU SEMONLON AC Haut-Médoc $17.95 . It surely won’t set the world on fire, but it’s a Juicy, easy-drinking, light-structured Haut-Médoc, with crisp acidity, fresh berry flavours, light wood spice and decent length. See all of the Bordeaux features worth a look.
John Szabo, Master Sommelier