Lawrason’s Take on Vintages November 12th Release: 93 Point Winter Reds, Stratus & Other Homegrown Heroes, Sweet Exotica, Bargains Under $20
93 Point Winter Reds– The LCBO’s Vintages release of over 100 new products on November 12th is stacked with excellent (90 point+) wines. Most of those 90 pointers are well over $40, so they should be excellent. In my books 80 to 85 points is good, 86-89 is very good, 90-94 is excellent, and 95+ is outstanding (price is not factored into the rating). So when I start to hand out scores like 93 you know the wines are not only technically very proficient – pure, generous, complex and balanced – but there is some excitement, a bit of a wow factor. There were three reds in particular that hit this bar, and I suggest them either for your cellar or for enjoyment on winters’ coldest days with red meats steeped in gravies, stews and marinades.
REININGER 2006 ASH HOLLOW VINEYARD SYRAH from Washington’s Walla Walla Valley is a massive, inky yet stylish red with amazing density and richness – actually good value in its class for $39.95. It is from a small winery founded in 1997 by a family that has been farming the Walla Walla region (arguably the Pacific Northwest’s finest region for big reds) for five generations. They describe this wine has having “a rusticity like Cornas” a syrah appellation in France’s Northern Rhone Valley. That’s a very apt descriptor, but this is even bigger – a syrah on steroids.
The same grape, same price and same sense of power and finesse awaits in KILIKANOON 2007 PARABLE SHIRAZ from Australia ($39.95). The Parable is selected from old vine sites in McLaren Vale, a cooler, maritime region just outside of Adelaide. For my money McLaren Vale shiraz is the smoothest and most elegant in Oz, and this is especially lush and gentle despite its richness. Gentle basket-pressing may be part of the reason. The winery itself is based in the Clare Valley, but makes wines in most regions of South Australia.
JONATA 2007 TODOS RED is from a new star in Santa Ynez Valley, near Santa Barbara in California. It is more expensive ($59.95) partially due to the lofty reputation of Jonata, a small house which has aimed high and gained notoriety by being unconventional. Winemaker Matt Dees has no formal winemaking training but is a soil expert, and he has parsed his vineyard into impossibly small blocks in order to build complexity into his wines. This is essentially a syrah/cabernet sauvignon blend but it is spiced with four other varieties. I was first impressed – almost bowled over – by its sheer size, but I stayed with it and realized there is indeed impressive complexity as well.
Stratus Red & Homegrown Heroes
The November 12th release showcases a who’s who in top Ontario and B.C. wines. I first encountered STRATUS 2008 RED ($44.20) from Niagara-on-the-Lake at a Stratus portfolio tasting held in the sunlit surroundings of C5 restaurant at the Royal Ontario Museum. The WineAlign team tasted over a dozen new and upcoming Stratus releases with winemaker J.L. Groux, and I was very impressed across the board with the sense of elegance and nuance he is achieving. These are not big, swarthy New World wines, indeed the 2008 vintage in particular has created lighter more tense wines. But Stratus 2008 Red, a composition of several grape varieties, has more weight than I expected and all kinds of subtle flavours in its nooks and crannies. Watch for reviews of other new Stratus wines to be posted on WineAlign as they become available in the days and weeks ahead – including a very impressive debut syrah, and check out www.stratuswines.com for release news and special offers. There are fine things happening at this showpiece winery just outside Niagara-on-the-Lake.
From Stratus it is a long tee shot down Stone Road to another architecturally impressive winery – Jackson-Triggs. Long known as an ubiquitous, commercial brand, J-T is has all this time been working away at (well-priced) premium tier wines under the guidance of a young Italy-trained winemaker named Marco Piccoli. He is doing some fine work and I was surprised and delighted by the complexity, finesse and all-round style of JACKSON TRIGGS 2009 GOLD SERIES MERLOT ($21.95). It is from a cool vintage not particularly kind to Bordeaux-style cabernet and merlot based reds, but it has achieved good extraction nicely framed by generous new French oak. There is some joy and finesse here.
The 2009 vintage in Niagara was better tuned to earlier ripening pinot noir, indeed as WineAlign colleague John Szabo discussed here recently, it may be the single best Ontario pinot noir vintage to date. FLAT ROCK CELLARS 2009 GRAVITY PINOT NOIR($29.95) from the winery’s home vineyard high on Twenty Mile Bench, is fine example. The winemaking techniques emphasize richness and smoothness through maximum flavour extraction and use of French oak, but there is a nifty tart edge to this wine that links it to Niagara and the cool vintage.
Speaking of Ontario pinot noir, on Nov 11th and 12th several Ontario pinot noirs are being poured for wine trade and media in Florence, Italy. There is a polite diplomatic mission wherein Ontario is a “guest” region at an annual Chianti Rufina tasting. It has been undertaken by American wine journalist Ian D’Agata, who works with American critic Steven Tanzer and by British writer Stephen Brooks. Both have travelled in Ontario and hooked up with a small group of Ontario wineries that form the Somewhereness group. This is exactly the kind of exposure Ontario wine needs if it is ever going to build a significant export market.
It is good to see Vintages highlighting sweet/dessert wines in the November 12th release. This is their season, but it is also disconcerting to see sweet wines in general – including huge categories like port, sherry and even Canadian icewine – being marginalized as seasonal wines. I only say this because the quality of sweet wines is generally very high, and the value even higher and they are tasty all year round. This is an eclectic array of sweet wines from all over the world, but I was not wowed by all of them in terms of quality. Tops in my books is LENZ MOSER 2008 PRESTIGE TROCKENBEERENAUSLESE from Burgenland, Austria at only $19.95 per half bottle. It belongs to a large family of dessert wines – including French Sauternes – made from shrivelled, concentrated grapes affected by a “noble rot” or botrytis. The other stand-out is OSBORNE PEDRO XIMENEZ 1827 SWEET SHERRY from Spain. It is tooth-rattling sweet, thick, black and raisiny wine made from pedro ximenez grapes over-ripened and baked in the sweltering heat of southern Spain. It must be experienced to be believed and at only $17.95 for a 750 meal it is an affordable adventure.
Bargains Under $20
In each Vintages release I highlight wines that are great buys under $20. Most under $20 wines fall – or should fall – into the 86 to 89 scoring range at this price. But these are overachievers that that hit 90 points or better; wines that nicely express their grape and origin. Very often they are less expensive precisely because they are from less well known origins, providing an affordable and “safe” platform to explore wines you might not normally buy. They can form the cornerstone of a budget conscious wine cellar, or simply provide an interesting new experience for your weekend wine enjoyment.
SPY VALLEY 2010 GEWURZTRAMINER from the Marlborough region of New Zealand’s South Island is a great buy at $19.95. I remember being particularly impressed by the few gewürztraminers I had in NZ over a decade ago. Since then the heady, aromatic grape of Alsace has become more well entrenched, with a winery called VinOptima being the world’s first winery dedicated solely to gewurz production. This edition from Spy Valley (a consistently exciting winery in my books) delivers delicious gewurz with unwavering precision and clarity.
FERRATON 2009 LA MATINIÈRE CROZES-HERMITAGE from France’s northern Rhone Valley is a huge value in classic syrah at only $20.95 (sorry, slipped over $20 but I had to include it). Founded in 1946 this family property is now led by a young, talented team with their eye on modern styling. Harvested from well-drained pebbly soils the wine is fermented in wood vats (not steel) and aged 12 months in French oak. It captures all the smoky, licorice and peppery flavours expected of traditional Rhone syrah but folds them into gorgeous fruit from the ripe 2009 vintage.
VILLA GIRARDI 2009 BURE ALTO RIPASSO VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO SUPERIORE ($17.95) is the product of another forward thinking estate, and one I have always admired, virtually since its founding in 1986. The wines always possess clarity and charm, even at the richer “ripasso” level, wherein the wine is fermented normally, then re-fermented after the addition of skins and lees leftover from amarone production. This provides more body and richness. The grapes for this wine are from the Bure Alto vineyard, one of the highest altitude sites in the Valpolicella region. Delicious!
SANTA CAROLINA 2009 RESERVA DE FAMILIA CABERNET SAUVIGNON from Chile’s Maipo Valley ($17.95) is for those who like their cabernets chewy, and are willing to cellar them awhile. Santa Carolina is one of Chile’s largest and oldest wineries, with its estate in Santiago’s southern suburbs declared a national historic monument. For many years the style of wine here was heavy and pedantic, but it is turned the corner recently with more lively, fruit-driven wines that do not forsake solid structure. This was made by new talents Andres Caballero and Alejandro Wedeles from 100% cabernet sauvignon grapes grown in the Alto Maipo region at the foot of the Andes. Great value at only $17.95! There are some advantages in economy of scale enjoyed by large wineries that also pay attention to quality.
“So You Think You Know Wine” Season Two is Now Launched
The opening salvo in season two of WineAlign’s popular new blind tasting video series is now posted here. The series has been re-formatted to make it a tournament, with a total of six tasters who go six preliminary rounds before heading into an elimination series. Expertly directed by Doug Arrowsmith, the focus is all on the tasters and what’s in their glasses as they attempt to identify grape, region, country, vintage and price. The entertainment comes from the drama of the process, and education is in watching them deduce and explain their decisions.
That’s it for this week. Read over 100 reviews from the November 12th release here, and watch again in two weeks for my take on Vintages November 26th release
Cheers and enjoy, David
– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign