Lawrason’s Take on Vintages January 7th Release: Wintry Argentina Red, Killer Vacqueyras, Charming Chianti, Warm Blooded Toro and Classic NZ Pinot
It was entirely predictable that Vintages first release of 2012 would be focused on cheap wines. Note I did not say “good value” or “bargain” wines. That’s because most are cheap and of average quality – lots of 83 to 86 point scores this time. I would have loved a smart, spiffy collection of $30 wines in the line-up to jazz up a dreary January, but the conventional wisdom at Vintages is that no one buys better wines after Christmas. May I suggest it might only be a convention because Vintages has always thought this way, and of course, no one else is able to provide an alternative or prove otherwise. What they actually could do to cover all the bases is offer a huge January “Boxing Month” sale with prices reduced not only on slow moving stock, but on that same spiffy collection of new stuff. Or would that be irresponsible? I think they call the practice loss leaders in the real world of retailing. Brings boots into the stores.
Despite the overall average-ness I enjoyed tasting this batch of wines. It’s our job as critics to taste it all, constantly calibrating our abilities and scoring range. And it is also our job to still find the best wines, and all the better if they are inexpensive. So on we go to my highlights of this release, whether good values or not.
Wintry Argentina Reds
There is a promising selection of Argentine reds – a great mid-winter style combining richness and softness that warms and soothes. But a couple of those promising wines were held back by a touch of earthiness that is perhaps cork related – an issue I found to be fairly prevalent in Argentina having tasted hundreds of reds before, during and after my trip there in late November. But there were a couple of delicious wines, that are also great value. TRIVENTO 2009 AMADO SUR MALBEC / BONARDA / SYRAH ($15.00) is a rich, polished and vibrant red that defines modern thinking and winemaking in Mendoza. Blends that contain bonarda – which has higher acidity than malbec – are becoming all the rage, and deservedly so. The grape is inexpensive and it adds vibrancy and violet like florality whereever it goes. FINCA FLICHMAN 2009 GESTOS MALBEC ($14.95) is more traditional but solid, structured and complex for the price. For my money Flichman is one of the finest, historical houses, located in the flat, visually boring lower altitude Barrances district in Maipu southest of Mendoza. But that dusty ground harbours a stony old riverbed soils that churn out some sturdy reds.
And so do the stony soils of Vacqueyras in the France’s Southern Rhone Valley. Among the very best reds of the release is DOMAINE DU GRAND MONTMIRAIL 2009 VACQUEYRAS, and at $24.95 it is great value. This important producer is located in and best known for having prime sites in Gigondas, but it also has 7 ha of vineyards in neighbouring Vacqueyras, comprised of 65% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre. For the last generation it has been in the hands of Yves Cheron, a grad from oenology school in Beaune. So the wine has some natural pedigree, but let’s not overlook the importance of the 2009 vintage. The 2009 Rhone’s are one of the great stories of the past year at Vintages, and let’s hope that we see a few more perfectly ripened beauties like this parade into 2012 as well. It has balance, depth and sophistication, even if a year or three from prime. A great cellaring value.
Still with hearty Euro reds for cold nights, try SABOR REAL 2080 TORO, a Spanish bargain at $14.95. So far I have been going on about the 2009 vintage in Europe, but in Toro producers preferred the 2008s. Toro – in Spain’s Duero Valley northwest of Madrid – is one of the hottest, driest places in Europe for winemaking, with the tempranillo grape’s skins thickening up to create high alcohol, black and tannic wines. The weather in 2008 was a bit cooler, imparting more finesse. This is all relative of course – the coolest vintage in Toro is still hotter than the hottest in Niagara – so this is by no means a light red. But I really like its depth and complexity, especially at the price. The trick to Toro winemaking is not just alcohol and tannin control – it’s picking at perfect, pre-raisin ripeness. This catches the moment.
I am of one mind about Tuscany’s two red wine styles. I really like them both. One the one hand are the sleek, complex, finely tuned reds that more often than not contain some merlot and cabernet, and are aged in new French oak. On the other, are the traditional, more rustic, leathery and earthy reds likely compromised of sangiovese and canaiolo aged in older, larger barrels, likely including some Hungarian wood. UGGIANO PRESTIGE 2009 CHIANTI is clearly in the latter camp, and it is great value at $15.95. Again, we likely have the warm 2009 vintage to thank; adding just enough charm and ripeness to fill out the more coarse edges. Regardless, grab a half dozen bottles of this for those pasta and pizza nights while locked in doors this winter.
Always on the look out for fine pinot, I was delighted to spy HUNTER’S 2009 PINOT NOIR ($21.95) on the tasting bench as I entered that hallowed chamber at LCBO HQ. Hunter’s is one of the pioneers of the Marlborough region, founded in the late 1970s by Ernie Hunter, who met his future wife Jane just after his first vintage in 1982. He was killed in a car accident soon after and Jane has carried on, making Hunter’s Marlborough’s oldest family winery today. Jane has earned numerous accolades in her career, including appointment as a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM), for her services to viticulture. This wine also won a gold medal in the New World Wine Awards. And yes, it is good value.
One mini-feature of Vintages Jan 7th release is a set of whites and reds made from more obscure Euro grapes and regions. It’s a great concept, but the offerings are average. The one exception is this dandy DUCA DI CASTELMONTE 2010 BAGLIO KELBI INZOLIA at $14.95. This grape is widely grown in western Sicily where it joins two other whites – grillo and cataratto – that were used in production of almost extinct fortified marsala. Of the three, insolia makes the more fragrant, light-hearted whites. I would put this somewhat in the viognier camp; but in any case it is very pleasant, aromatic and finely rendered.
California is not a go-to region for snappy sauvignon. For the most part the Sunshine State is just too warm to get the vibrant acidity, citrus and herbality that has become the grape’s signature elsewhere. But Californians continue to fiddle, and I like the result in MURPHY-GOODE 2009 THE FUMÉ SAUVIGNON BLANC from the broad North Coast appellation ($18.95). They have uses a clone called sauvignon musqué for added lift, and they have also used 6% semillon for textural complexity. A minority portion of the final blend was also barrel fermented in French and American oak. The overall effect is a white that is calm, cool and collected – with all kinds of nuance. They are cheekily calling it “The Fume”, rather than sticking with the more pedestrian term Fume Blanc that is oft applied to wooded sauvignon in California.
And that’s a wrap for this release. I did little other tasting over the holidays, but I would point out to BC wine fans to some excellent 2010 pinots and chardonnays from Meyer Family, a great little family winery currently on hot streak. They are only available via private order via Terroir Wines, but worth the effort. For starters check outMeyer Family Pinot Noir Reimer Vineyard (Kelowna) 2010.
Check out reviews on over 100 wines from the January 7th release here.
See you in a couple of weeks.
– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign