Lawrason’s Take on Vintages March 31st Release: A Magical Mystery Tour Under $25
Vintages main theme this release is Easter wines. I will probably offend some by giving this topic the pass over, but this is such a wildly diverse selection of wines that it is either highly calculated to minister to every possible Easter dining scenario, or it has no relevance to Easter at all. But the theme of diversity is actually where this release is most interesting. It’s not deep in great, high scoring wines – the vast majority are scoring 85 to 88. But it does have some very interesting wines from surprising sources, and it is often the off-beat places and grapes that deliver the best value. So join our ten-wine Magical Mystery Tour, from the lowest to highest priced wines, all scoring 88 points or higher, for under $25.
Velenosi Querci’Antica Lacrima di Morro d’Alba 2010
Marche, Italy $13.95
The tour begins in the rolling hills of Marche on Italy’s Adriatic coast. I was in this scenic, pastoral region several years ago and remember being aghast at the value and diversity being delivered by its famous white wine called Verdicchio. It is stunning how little Verdicchio is ordered by the LCBO to this day. Anyway, on that trip I remember being lifted out of my chair by a very fragrant, smooth and charming red called Lacrima di Morro d’Alba. Lacrima is the grape variety. The appellation, which was bestowed in 2005, is not so much governing the region of origin as it is the variety itself and method of production that calls for the addition of unsweetened must/juice before the end of the year of vintage. The result is a fruity, sweetish, entirely gulpable red that deserves a place on your deck this summer. A pure delight.
Muralhas de Monção Vinho Verde 2010
Minho, Portugal $14.95
The next stop is the damp, briny west coast of northern Portugal where forested hillsides and misty, mossy valleys would seem to indicate a climate too humid and grey to ripen grapes. Some shrill red wine is grown in the Minho, but a selection of early ripening white grape varieties like loureiro, alvarhino and trajadura are cultivated to make a wine called Vinho Verde. This “green wine” is not a stranger to those who like crisp, light, slightly fizzy wines for a plate of oysters, but less appreciated are the more stately, complex versions from single estates or vineyards. Based largely on the fragrant, spicy alvarinho grape (called albarino over the Spanish border in Galicia) this edition is made by the local co-operative in a sub-region called Monção. I wouldn’t hesitate to insert it into a fine seafood dinner where you might otherwise serve a classic Muscadet or Chablis.
Taurino Riserva Salice Salentino 2008
Puglia, Italy $14.95
Back to Italy now (and we will return yet again) to the same Adriatic coast, but farther south along the heel of the boot, and inland a little, to one of the best appellations that I have ever visited. Salice Salentino has been an appellation since 1976, and has impressed me almost as long. A deeply held wine trade establishment bias against the hotter, richer reds of Italy’s deep south has kept prices suppressed and value quotient high. The grape here is predominantly negroamaro, or “the black bitter one” (with about 20% of the fragrant malvasia nera). Negroamaro has risen to the fore because it easily absorbs the heat of the area to create ripe, rich wines, but also has the tannic structure and acidity to give the wines structure and age-worthiness in barrel and bottle. There are bound to be a couple more stew and roast days before you abandon the stove for the grill, or simply stash a few bottles away for next fall. This is a great buy.
We now zap to one of the most mystical places on the planet – the remote Elqui Valley, Chile’s most northerly wine region. With little rainfall and pure desert nights Elqui is one of the best vantage points in the world for stargazers. Indeed huge internationally funded observatories are nearby, and I spent a night there in a hotel called Domos, where we slept in domed tents with a zip-open ceiling to allow sky-watching from bed. And by the way, Elqui’s pristine, somnolent ambiance and luminosity also attracts its share of backpacking soul searchers and space cadets. With precious little arable land in the narrow valley wine production will never be huge, but Falernia, which was only founded in 1998, is making some amazingly concentrated yet elegant wines out of this stony terroir. And they are knocking down gold medals on the international show circuit like nobody’s business – so get in while the wines remain priced far below their intrinsic value.
Château La Bourrée 2008
Côtes de Castillon, Bordeaux, France $17.95
Bordeaux is hardly a far-flung corner of the wine world, but the appellations upstream and inland from the famed regions like St. Emilion, Medoc and Graves might as well be on the moon in terms of international recognition. Which again is a positive in terms of value. The Castillon appellation was only created in 1989. It lies upstream along the Dordogne River, where it is a bit warmer, imbuing a bit more ripeness. I did a midday hike in this region several years ago and vividly remember the warmth and tranquility of the rolling landscape of forests, meadows and vineyards, and stopping at farm houses to replenish water bottles from their wells. Made predominantly from merlot the wines seem to have that same rather lazy but pure ambiance, compared to the highly structured, precisely constructed wines of St. Emilion. Chateau la Bourrée is a ten hectare property owned by M. Jean Francois Meynard, who believes in low-yields and sorting tables to keep quality high. Don’t overlook this big buy in little Bordeaux!
Tasca d’Almerita Lamùri Nero d’Avola 2009
Sicilia, Italy $17.95
There is nothing like standing on heights to grasp a sense of place, and I will never forget standing on a hill at the Regaliali estate of Tasca d’Almerita and viewing, it seemed, all of Sicily spread out below. Sicily is a hot, hot place to make wine – they call it the California of Italy. But up here in the central hills the air was fresh and cooler, and so are the wines from one of the largest wine estates in Europe. Harvested from vineyards at up to 750 metres, fermented in stainless steel and aged in older, almost neutral barrels, you will never find a nero d’avola with this kind of freshness and fragrance. Tasca d’Almerita has been making wine here for seven generations and continues to vigorously experiment with new grape varieties and techniques.
Achaval Ferrer Malbec 2010
Mendoza, Argentina $23.95
Just last November I was in Mendoza where I tasted dozens upon dozens of malbecs in four days. The routine was to spend about two hours, twice a day, doing a kind of speed dating tasting with groups of up to ten producers – so about 10 minutes per station. At times I felt like I was in a malbec-induced trance. Until I came to the table of Achaval Ferrer, and I tasted this very wine. Suddenly there was a sense of restraint, and elegance and power, all very neatly tied together. Founded in 1998 by a group of five friends, the goal is to create top quality wine from its high altitude 14 acre site in the La Consulta sub-region of the Uco Valley. This “basic” malbec bottling however is from three sites in La Consulta, Lujan de Cuyo and Medrano. Still, yields are kept low, picking and sorting processes are rigorous, and talented young Italian winemaker and partner Roberto Cipresso chooses to bottle even this less expensive version without fining or filtration. Take this rare opportunity to try a “higher expression” of Argentina’s every day grape.
Megalomaniac Eccentric Savagnin 2010
Oliveira Vineyard, Niagara Peninsula, $24.95
Over in eastern France in the sub-alpine region of Jura they make an intriguing, spicy and intense white wine from a grape called savagnin. It is a classically muddled central European variety in terms of its origins, although traminer from sub-alpine Italy seems to be at least a cousin if not a slightly different clone. More interesting however is the fact that it is grown in very few other regions, and now one of them happens to be Niagara, where the latitude and climate is not all that different from Jura. John Howard (of Megalomaniac) is not the first in Ontario to make savagnin. Chateau des Charmes made a stunning savagnin icewine a few years ago. But this is the first dry version I have tasted from Niagara and it is a very good example, and an intriguing white wine. It is sold out at the winery, so this is your last chance.
Yalumba Viognier 2010
Eden Valley, South Australia $24.95
On my first trip to Australia in 1995, we were driven from the almost flat Barossa Valley floor up into the hills on the eastern side of Barossa and into an adjacent, cooler and rocky-soiled region called Eden Valley – which is not actually a valley. There was a certain reverence in the air, about this being a rather magical, cooler place capable of producing some very refined, higher acid shiraz and riesling. The fact that the legendary Henschke winery is located here has helped. Yalumba, Australia’s largest producer of viognier and also a pioneer of Eden, thinks it is special for viognier too, and they have created Eden Viognier as a mid-priced “fruit forward” expression. It was 60% aged in old barrels, but the wood is not at all obvious. I love the classic viognier spice, apricot and overall sense of power, delivered with a sense of restraint and refinement.
Sorelli Vinsanto del Chianti Classico 2003
Tuscany, Italy $25.95
And finally we return to Italy yet again, to Tuscany’s famous Vin Santo – a style of wine that has always intrigued me. Like many other classic European oxidative dessert wines (marsala, madeira, oloroso sherry, tawny port) the style is fading from favour in an era where we want everything bright, shiny and easy to interpret. This too means that prices drop and value rises, especially given the complexity attained in the elaborate winemaking process.
Vin Santo is made from malvasia and trebbiano grapes dried after harvest, usually on straw mats. If sweet must was added during fermentation to produce a higher alcohol fortified style it is called “liquoroso”. It is aged at least three years in barrel (the type of wood can differ from producer to producer) where it takes on the amber colour and oxidative nutty flavours. It is a very compelling wine, but not as heavy as you might think. A wine to consider lightly chilled, as light fades on the deck.
And so ends the tour. Back to reality. I will return after Easter for the April 14th release, but in the meantime I want you to mark some wine lovers dates on your calendar – The Austria Uncorked event at the Trump Hotel on April 16th; and the Malbec World Day Argentina Event on April 17th. I will be hosting the trade portion of that event in the afternoon.
VP of Wine at WineAlign
Check out reviews on over 100 wines from the March 31st release here.