Lawrason’s Take on Vintages October 1st Release: White Bordeaux Redemption, Big Ticket Cellaring Reds, Scintillating Syrah & Under $20 Bargains
Welcome the first of a half dozen Vintages fall releases stuffed with tempting wines bound to strain your budget and your will power. It is that time of year, when the majority of the world’s fine wine is actually purchased, and so the run of heavy hitters begins. Not every wine on this release is a world beater however, indeed there are number of difficult wines that I am rating under 85, so watch carefully.
White Bordeaux Redemption
Last time out I bashed over-priced, boring red Bordeaux, and I heard not one complaint from readers. (But I may now be on no-fly list for visits into the Medoc). I am delighted therefore to report that Bordeaux has risen to become one of my favourite white wine regions on the planet. There are three essential styles of white Bordeaux, all represented on this release. At its most basic it is straightforward vibrant, non-oaked white, usually bearing the basic Bordeaux AOC label. Historically these were often painfully dull and sour wines but with the likes of DOURTHE 2010 LA GRANDE CUVÉE BLANC ($14.95) show that Bordeaux’s world is changing too. It is incredibly vibrant while steering a course somewhere north of bombastic New Zealand style. The next level is the barrel fermented semillon-sauvignons from appellations like Graves and Pessac-Leognan. Anti-woodistas may groan at this style, but barrels are by and large being used very well nowadays and the wines are brighter and more elegant than ever. Witness the wonderful, superb value LE G DE CHÂTEAU GUIRAUD 2009 $23.95. It too bears the Bordeaux appellation, but because it is a dry wine made within the Sauternes appellation by one of its leading estates. And finally, I have always loved Bordeaux’s sweet Sauternes, Barsacs and other “ac’s” (Loupiac, Cadillac, Monbazillac). Vintages has a small but very good selection of half bottles in this release; and if prepping for some holiday gatherings where you want to walk a different path, I highly recommend CHÂTEAU DOISY-VÉDRINES 2007 Sauternes, 2eme Cru at $29.00/375ml.
Big Ticket Cellaring Wines
Vintages has put together a collection of what it considers cellar worthy wines, for beginners. The basic information they provide on ageing and cellaring conditions is quite detailed and useful and by the book. But if you are seriously thinking about starting a cellar or collection, you should ask yourself some basic questions before you begin planning your route and space. The most important is whether or not you actually like the taste of mature wine. Cellaring and ageing was essential in years gone by as the only way to make young, raw and rudimentarily made wines palatably smooth. And so a whole industry and set of rules and lore evolved to serve this aspect of wine appreciation. Nowadays, with winemaking having worked out the major kinks, most wines are actually quite enjoyable when they are young. They have all that carefully ripened fruit thanks to more attentive viticulture. The wine is then carefully fermented to preserve its character, then carefully aged to gain accents from the barrels. So will you actually like it when the leathery, earthy more oxidative notes begin to take hold? Many people don’t, and you just might save yourself a lot of time and money.
This notion ran through my mind as I tasted two of the big ticket reds on this release. ORNELLAIA 2008 from Tuscany’s Bolgheri region is one of the collected and expensive wines ($184.95) of Italy. And it is downright delicious; a piece of haut couture with fabulous gloss, nuance and depth. I really just wanted to sit back and enjoy a bottle right then and there. Time in a decanter would have solved any real issue around grate of fine tannin. Same when I tasted the delicious DOW’S 1997 VINTAGE PORTat $84.95. Vintage port is historically the most aged of all wines – laid away from grandchildren and all that – yet here I was swooning over the richness, suppleness and charm of a 1997 babe in arms.
With both these wines, had I the money to collect multiple bottles, I would want to protect them to preserve their youth with proper storage conditions. But that’s a very different – and much more liberating – notion than feeling you have to put wines down until they become good enough to drink. Most are just fine right now.
WineAlign colleague John Szabo has done a fine tutorial on the two schools of syrah and shiraz featured in the October 1 release. My fascination with syrah is only eclipsed by my fascination with pinot noir. To me syrah is pinot noir on steroids, more obvious but intriguing nonetheless. And both express their sense of place well, which is the sub-text of this release. There are syrahs from several specific appellations where this grape shines: the northern Rhone of course, the south of France, Tuscany, McLaren Vale and Barossa in Australia and Santa Barbara in California. (Too bad there are none from BC and Washington because the Pacific Northwest is, to me, the great undiscovered syrah region.)
Overall the selection is of high quality, and my only complaint is the overpriced Elderton Command Shiraz which is a bit of a throwback to a very jammy, high alcohol style that defined Aussie shiraz in the 90s. Elsewhere, I am leaning to a classic DOMAINE DE BONSERINE LA SARRASINE 2008 CÔTE-RÔTIE as my favourite red of the release. It’s no steal at $49.95, but the quality edges toward outstanding, and it is textbook Cote Rotie. New World syrah fans should not miss FESS PARKER 2007 THE BIG EASY SYRAH from Santa Barbara County at $34.95 – again a classic of this region that has been intriguing me with lush, black, smoked meat and tarry syrahs ahead of any region in California. And one the great values on the release is vibrant, peppery little-big number from the south of France. DOMAINE LES YEUSES 2008 LES ÉPICES SYRAH from Vins de Pays d’Oc is all fireworks at $14.95.
Under $20 Bargains
There are at least three excellent buys under $20 from diverse parts of the world on this release. TAWSE SKETCHES OF NIAGARA 2009 CHARDONNAY from Niagara is a huge value at $19.95, a mini-Meursault for fans of white Burgundy style chardonnay. From New Zealand don’t miss WILD ROCK 2008 GRAVEL PIT RED ($17.95) from the Gimblett Gravels appellation of Hawkes Bay. Great modern winemaking going on here from the folks who bring us Craggy Range. And finally back over to France, and the next chapter in the year-long saga of fine little Beaujolais from the glorious 2009 vintage. Don’t miss CHÂTEAU DE PIERREUX 2009 BROUILLY at $18.95.
Profile Wine Group Portfolio Tasting
‘Tis the season for agents to showcase their Consignment and Private Order wares for the hundreds of trade buyers looking to beef up stocks for the busy Holiday Season. On Tuesday this week I attended a large annual portfolio tasting for Profile Wine Group www.profilewinegroup.com one of the larger independent agencies in Toronto. The week prior I attended a similar tasting for The Stem Group www.stemwinegroup.com, and this week I hope to attend a tasting for Oakville-based BND Wines and Spirits. Then on Thursday, October 27 there is the big Grand Cru Event for Halpern Wines with 70 wineries in town, featuring an auction that helps raise funds for Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation, combined with a series of great chefs dinners on Oct 29. For details go to www.grandcru.ca.
I am always amazed to be reminded at these events how many wines are sold in Ontario without appearing at Vintages or the LCBO. Many of the producers I encountered at the Profile Tasting were recognizable, but usually just for one or two wines that might appear at Vintages, on occasion. Here wineries poured their entire line-ups, making it easier to put the wines in context in terms of style and quality. I ran through the line-ups of several producers including Washington’s Columbia Crest/Chateau St Michelle, Pierre Sparr of Alsace, Falernia in Chile’s remote Elqui Valley and several Piedmont and Tuscan producers. I spent the most time on Tuscany but I would like to save comments for next time because Tuscany is featured in Vintages October 15 release, and I have been working on Tuscany for an upcoming article in Toronto Life.
So I leave you with a hot tip of the week – Falernia of Chile. This is an innovative, pioneering producer hewing a great reputation from the rocky, steep vineyards of the remote Elqui Valley, the most northern wine region in the county. “My wines are different from all others in Chile”, proclaimed winemaker Giorgio Flessati. “It’s a combination of different fruit from the Elqui and my Italian winemaking background”. When the Falernia 2007 Syrah Reserva blew through Vintages at $15 in June I raved about its depth and classic styling. At this tasting I was very impressed by the whites, including a racy tank sample of rare 2011 Pedro Ximinez, a grape normally used to make sweet wines in southern Spain. Likewise with a steely, riveting Sauvignon Blanc, a rich semi-ripasso style carmenere and new cab-merlot-syrah blend called Number One. The prices are great folks, check it out at www.profilewinegroup.com.
That’s it for this edition. I’ll be back prior to the October 15th release. See all my reviews for October 1st here.
Cheers and enjoy, David
– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign