Lawrason’s Take on Vintages March 17 Release: A Spanish Dalliance, Sparkling Fizzle and Sizzle, Classic Maipo Cab, Value White Burgundy, More Under $20 Whites, and LCBO Goes Italian
The Spanish Flavour Fiesta Feature
One of the great joys of touring Spain’s wine regions is eating Spain’s food – much of it very natural, boldly flavoured and simply prepared. I had several wonderful and not always elaborate meals when I visited Rueda,Toro and Bierzo last autumn, and on previous trips to other regions as well. And I regularly receive a very fine, very expensively produced, free Spanish gastronomic magazine called Gourmetour. So Vintages latest magazine feature called “Flavour Fiesta: Spanish Wines & Their Perfect Pairings” seems very appropriate, at least thematically and in terms of its timeliness. The world is awakening to Spain.
But something bugs me about this particular exercise by Vintages. The article on food pairings is expanding Vintages boundaries beyond wine, where it lacks authority. I know, it’s done in Food and Drink magazine too – with the rationale that writing about food and wine is promoting the culture of responsible consumption of alcohol. But Food and Drink at least bylines its article. Who exactly has decided that viura and mushrooms are perfect pairings? (Although in the case of the very woody, earthy viura offered it’s probably true). It’s time that Vintages magazine – as it wanders farther away from home and from promotion into education, and even peers into the chasm of journalism – started using bylines, or telling us their sources. Or at least whether there is a Test Kitchen somewhere in the bowels of the HQ?
But back to Spain, with continuing grumpiness. I am also not all that pleased with the selection of Spanish wines in this release. It does cover off the regions and grape varieties that make Spain so interesting, but the selection is shallow – one or two brands per place. And within that general cap of $20, they have not really come up a very interesting selection of what Spain can really do. The exceptions are one wine that beautifully captures the Spain of yore, and one that nods neatly to modern times. Baron de Ley 2001 Gran Reserva from Rioja is a magnificently scented, very refined and elegant wine that is a steal at $29.95. On the other hand Olivares Altos de la Hoya 2009 Monastrellfrom Jumilla is a juicy example of the new exuberance and value ($13.95) to be found in the sunny south. I was not able to taste three or four of others, especially from Bierzo but I will do so once they are released.
Sparklers: Sizzle and Fizzle
Sparkling wine is featured on this release as well and, as with the Spanish selection, this group is rather skimpy in terms of the number of brands offered. No Spanish cava, no Italian prosecco, and only a single, not very dramatic Champagne which is also incongruous in the sense that all the others are under $30. But I am tired of nit picking so I want to point you to a great little buy in pink or rosé sparkling wine. One of my little annoyances with most pink sparkling wine is that I find the aromatics too mild – just little teases of raspberry here or strawberry there. Even with top rosé Champagne I often find myself wanting more aroma and flavour. Well along comes a dandy little number from Burgundy that delivers that extra bit of fruit. Lefèvre Rémondet Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Rosé is an absolute steal at $15.95, with just a bit more pinot noir cran-raspberry than you normally get in the genre, and certainly more than in the very overly subtle almost dull Mumm Napa Rosé that is twice the price.
The other sparkler that caught my eye is from British Columbia See Ya Later Ranch Brut ($20.95) from the Okanagan Valley. It’s not fancy but it is solid and has a certain riveting, stony appeal that reminds me of the winery’s steep mountainside location overlooking the town of Okanagan Falls. The winery was formerly known as Hawthorne Mountain Ranch, one of several properties purchased by Vincor Canada, which changed its name to the more whimsical See Ya Later. This was the gist of a departure note apparently left by the founder’s new bride after a few weeks in the pioneer paradise of B.C.’s interior.
Is Maipo the Bordeaux of the New World?
Two weeks ago at the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival, where Chile was the theme country, I had the chance to taste several iconic Maipo Valley cabernets within the space of a couple of days, including multiple vintages of Santa Rita Casa Real, Vinedo Chadwick, De Martino Reserva de Familia and Concha Y Toro Don Melchor. And I had a revelation of sorts, one that escaped me even when I was last in Maipo about two years ago, and at least twice before that. The revelation is not that this region makes very good cabernets. Instead, it was the revelation that its cabernets are classic cabernets in every sense, and very much in the vein of the Medoc in Bordeaux, if with more weight. The Maipo cabs have very similar flavour profile – blackcurrant/cassis, graphite (lead pencil) and savoury herbaceous elements. They have the same sense of structural firmness, and above all, the ability to age long and very gracefully. Bottles from the nineties are holding very well at these top levels. Even the relatively diminutive, estate-grown Perez Cruz 2010 Cabernet that sells for $13.95 as a Vintages Essential has held well over six years, as have back vintages of the Cousiño Macul Antiguas Reserva Cabernet($15.45) that I tasted about three years ago.
The reason is of course based in climate and soils. One tends to forget that Chile is somewhat maritime, with that big body of cold Pacific Ocean not far away, and in terms of soil there is all kinds of rock and gravel strewn about, either in the foothills or along the meandering course of the Maipo River as it cuts through the flatter Central Valley floor. Concha y Toro 2007 Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon from the Maipo Valley sub-appellation of Puente Alto (650 M above sea level) is your best chance to test drive the theory if you have not seriously investigated Maipo cabernets until now. It’s not cheap at $79.95 but it is very well structured and surprisingly nuanced once you make your way deep into its heart. This is the 20th vintage of Don Melchor, one of the first “icon” wines of Chile.
Great Value White Burgundy
Value and Burgundy rarely appear in the same sentence. But on this release there are two very solid, well priced chardonnays from Burgundy regions other than the Cote d’Or – don’t miss them!Domaine Rodet Château de Mercey 2009 Mercurey ($22.95) is from a small village in the Chalonnaise that has surprised me before with the quality of its white wines. This has the flavour profile of a Meursault albeit without the same girth – which is just fine for lighter meal situations. It is from a 48 hectare estate and now also the site of a new Rodet tasting centre. The other winner is from Chablis, the un-oaked Domaine Christophe Camu 2009 Chablis, for a great price of $18.95. Again, there is great balance and fruit without tipping into heaviness and over-ripeness in this warm year. This is a small sixth generation enterprise with eight hectares spread over several appellations. The winery website mentions several awards in the last year, and I am not surprised. Ontario winemakers who make un-oaked chardonnay should go to school on this one.
More Bargain Whites Under $20
With spring roaring back into our lives this week it’s an appropriate time to consider enjoying pristine, bright white wines – and I don’t know about you, but I am finding the global quality of white wines is improving dramatically. Varietal character is more often spot on, the wines are usually pure and the textural weight and balance has really come into line. And all the while prices are holding fast. You can experience all this with three text book examples in Saturday’s release. Alkoomi 2009 Riesling from Western Australia’s cool Frankland River is serious and excellent quality at $16.95. Bründlmayer 2010 Kamptaler Terrassen Grüner Veltliner from Austria ($19.95) is a bit youthfully reserved but very tidy and one to consider for short term cellaring. And for the third pick we go back to Spain and the quite exciting, very well made Vega Murillo 2010 Verdejo that offers sauvignon-like flavours with a richer texture, all for $15.95.
“My Italy” in Ontario
Well none of us actually own Italy of course, and I am not sure that owning Italy would be a financially sound investment these days, but that doesn’t stop the promoters at the LCBO from trying to entitle our fantasies of eating and drinking our way through Italy. There is an Italian promotion called My Italy under way in LCBO stores this month (wrapping up March 31) that for once has some teeth to it in terms of some new wines recently and permanently added to the general list, as well as joint Vintages/LCBO public event coming up Wednesday, March 21st that will give the public an opportunity to taste them. The $70 event, which will be held at Andrew Richards Design studio in downtown Toronto (see the LCBO Website for ticket info) also features a personal appearance and book giveaway by celebrity chef David Rocco. It sounds like it could be a nifty evening out, but whether or not you go, do try some of the new Italian offerings. I really like very fruit focused Allegrini Corte Giara Ripasso Valpolicella at only $16.95, plus the fine little every day sipper from Abruzzo called Illuminati Riparosso Montepulciano.
Not exactly co-incident with the My Italy promotion comes the release of a new four-hour, three-part LCBO produced video series called Discover Italy, that is ostensibly a staff product knowledge tool. It took a crew 31 days and over 6000 kms of travel within Italy to shoot this opus – and although it is richly produced and of network quality – the educational material therein seems to me to be rather basic and soft and nothing one couldn’t get elsewhere. Hosted by the LCBO’s Michael Fagan it is available for viewing on DVD or as a podcast on the LCBO website under Learn. It was presented to the media this week at a tasting event hosted by “trade partner” Grande Marchi: Istituto del Vino Italiano de Qualita, an organisation of traditional big name wineries which helped fund the series. The tasting was poorly executed (and thus did not show the range of marquee wines to their best advantage) but then I have come to expect a certain amount of dysfunction at Italian tastings. It seems to be part of Italy’s charm, and perhaps part of the reason it would not be a good thing to actually own the place.
As I sign off, a reminder that we would be delighted to spend time meeting and getting to know our WineAlign readers at the Toronto Wine & Cheese Show this weekend at the International Centre in Mississauga. It’s a great place to give us your feedback on what and how we are doing. And to enjoy some wine together at the same time. Maybe you would like to feed me endless malbecs until I finally understand the difference between malbec and syrah. (See the latest episode of “So You Think You Know Wine” and you’ll see what I mean.)
VP of Wine at WineAlign
Check out reviews on over 100 wines from the March 17th release here.