Lawrason’s Take on Vintages April 14th Release: Argentina Spotlight
Tuesday, April 17th has been dubbed Malbec World Day by a marketing whiz within an organization called Wines of Argentina. It is a promotional exercise to focus the world’s attention on malbec specifically and Argentina’s wines in general, with events being held in over 40 countries. What’s most impressive is that 2012 is only the second year for Malbec World Day – and there has been a huge “buy-in” to the concept. Our very own Vintages stores are featuring several Argentine releases on April 14th. On April 12th there are trade and consumer events in Ottawa, and next week – on the 17th – there will be trade and consumer events in Toronto. I look forward to leading the panel discussion and tasting for the Toronto trade, having visited Argentina with Rod Philips late last year. The two of us will also be collaborating on a regional tour in a WineAlign feature next week.
Malbec still occupies more vineyard space, and head space, than any other variety in the country. I faced a malbec inundation, especially in Mendoza when I was there. But I was intrigued to begin to discover different takes on malbec based on differences in appellation and vineyard altitude, and I did find more expensive editions reaching for more finesse. But in the broader context malbec remains a big, cuddly, creamy red that delivers that essential mood just as easily in cheap wines as it does in expensive versions. Indeed, expensive malbecs often seem to not deliver that much extra for the additional money being asked. But at the other end of the scale, very inexpensive malbecs can become boring. So my general advice would be to target malbecs in the $17 to $25 range, like Mapema Malbec 2009 at $21.95, a proto-typical example that is balanced, fairly complex and rich.
I was more energized by some of the other varieties that play in malbec’s shadow, especially the dark skinned bonarda. This grape originated in sub-alpine Savoie region of France where it is known as corbeau, and it is found widely in sub-alpine regions of northern Italy (Piedmont and Lombardy). Fans of obscure California wines will know it as charbono. It has long been grown at high yields in Argentina to make fruity, simple jug wines, but it is now being made at lower yields, at higher altitudes, and/or barrel aged to bring it into premium quality levels. I love the florality and juicy exuberance of bonarda as best expressed by the simple Chakana Yaguareté Collection 2010 at only $12.95. The La Puerta Alta 2009 from the Famatina Valley in La Rioja, is a bit more rich and complex, and still great value at $14.95.
The release also has some decent Argentine cabernets and blends, but I was disappointed to find that there was a tasting sample mix-up with the Decero 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. A different vintage and bottling was presented in the lab, so I will taste it after release. Decero is a very good producer indeed.
Aussie Semillon Ain’t Getting Respect
Semillon is the grape that some people love to hate, and many others simply choose to ignore. For as long as I have been writing about wine, semillon from Australia (in particular) has been on my radar as one of the great, unsung values among white wines. But the unique, often petrol/fusel scent inherent in most semillons takes some getting used to, along with the lime and minerality. Semillon seems to flat line in the fruit department. But the best also have great structure, proportion and depth, sometimes riding on remarkably low alcohol. And as they age they morph into exciting, quite rich and honeyed wines. If you are nimble you can own one of the last eight bottles remaining of Mt. Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2003 ($59), that is still available through Vintages ShopOnLine – an iconic, kick-in-the-senses masterpiece! Or you can purchase Tyrrell’s Brookdale Semillon 2011 from the Hunter Valley on Saturday. It is textbook Semillon and very much worth an experiment at $19.95; so grab at least three bottles, one to try now, two for the cellar. St. Hallett Semillon 2006 gets you part way down the maturity track at $19.95, but this Barossa example does not have the same energy. To ease you gently into Aussie semillon try the Devils Lair Fifth Leg Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2010 that resides on the LCBO general list, and is currently $14.95 with $1 off until April 29. And finally if your interest is piqued, I also point you to Stratus White 2008 from Niagara-on-the-Lake, a multi-grape barrel aged blend that has promoted semillon into a more dominant role this vintage.
A McLaren Vale Clinic
Sometimes themes just present themselves. I was merrily tasting through the line-up of Australian reds when I came upon Brokenwood Shiraz 2009($29.95). ‘Rather light and quite charming for shiraz’ I thought to myself, after wading through a couple of other typically dense, creamy and rich Aussie reds. I paid closer attention to the origin and read McLaren Vale/Beechworth, South Australia/Victoria on the label – a statement of intent to move to slightly cooler regions. Beechwood is a higher altitude, almost mountainous area of central Victoria, while McLaren Vale is a much more well known, maritime area near Adelaide in South Australia.
As it happened the next two wines were also from McLaren Vale, and I noted a similar lightness of step. Shottesbrooke Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($21.95) is a quite elegant yet firm cabernet; while Pirramimma Katunga GTS 2007($24.95) is solid yet refined red with impressive layered complexity and length. GTS in this instance does not refer some ‘60s roadster, but to the very creative and effective blend of grenache, tannat and shiraz. To be clear, these are not lean, tart, mineral-driven cool climate wines; they are still smooth, ripe and Australian to their core. But by being just a little less texturally ponderous they open themselves up to more prolonged drinking pleasure with a wider palette of culinary options.
Best Power Reds
For those on the prowl for powerful, dense and cellar worthy reds allow me to point you to three New World offerings that have easily surpassed 90 points. But before delivering the good news, how about even better news? You could buy 2.5 bottles of all three of them (8 bottles total), or buy one bottle of Solaia 2008 at $249. For those who may not know, Solaia is an excellent, modern Tuscan cabernet by Antinori, one of the first great modern cabernets of Italy, for which it gained almost legendary notoriety, with price following suit. The 2008 vintage is excellent indeed if not quite as sensuous as I expected.
With the first of the three power reds we stay in Australia, and the terrific Grant Burge The Holy Trinity Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvèdre 2008 from Barossa, which I think is an excellent buy at $33.95. You are owning a bit of history here because Holy Trinity, which is patterned on Châteauneuf-du-Pape in France’s southern Rhône Valley, was one of the early GSMs (first vintage 1997). But most of all I love the sense of evenness and depth once the richness washes off – this is very nicely focused wine. The 2008 Spier Creative Block 3 from South Africa is very impressive and a huge value at $19.95. It too is a Rhône blend, but this time with shiraz, mourvèdre and a splash of viognier. And finally, I strongly urge Napa cab collectors to peer over the hills into Sonoma’s Alexander Valley – another cabernet hot spot. Alexander Valley VineyardsCyrus 2007 at $59, is a best blocks blend of 66% cabernet sauvignon, 23% cabernet franc, 6% merlot and 5% petit verdot. It’s named after Cyrus Alexander, a 19th century homesteader on the current AVV property, who lent his surname to the entire region. So you are buying a bit of history here as well, (and I scored it the same as Solaia).
As has become almost a habit each release, we finish with a miscellany of great white wine values. I am a big white wine fan and as I have probably said before, more attentive and more technological winemaking is making it much more common to achieve great purity of fruit expression, which is the essence of white wine. That purity is readily apparent right here at home with Niagara and County whites too, and I am very impressed by Vineland Estates Chardonnay Musqué 2010 from the Niagara Escarpment, a great buy at $17.95. Musqué should be aromatic and floral but this fine effort releases new levels of aromatic complexity. Italy’s native white grapes are great benefactors of the quality revolution, when basic wines like La Cappuccina Soave 2011 can turn out such pristine, charming flavours at only $13.95. And over in France don’t miss what is textbook Loire Valley chenin blanc in Guy Saget Marie de Beauregard Vouvray 2009 at only $17.95.
Prince Edward County Showcase
You can take the boy out of the County, but you can’t take the County out of the boy. On Tuesday, 13 Prince Edward County wineries poured their wares at the Berkeley Church in Toronto, and I managed to taste most of the wines offered. I had not done this kind of comprehensive tasting since moving to Toronto from Belleville 18 months ago, and I was immediately transported back to that distinctive County essence. There continues to be winemaking issues in the County, largely traced to sour-edged volatile acidity, but the energy, flavour depth and distinctive minerality remain hugely exciting.
If you have not been to the County yet – and a surprising number of wine-interested Torontonians have not – then there are two prime opportunities coming up. The first is the annual Terroir Festival on Saturday, May 26 at the Crystal Palace in Picton. The second is one weekend later at the Great Canadian Cheese Festival June 1st to 3rd – same location. I will be helping to co-ordinate the wines for this event, with over a dozen County wineries on board. Between now and then I am hoping to post several new reviews of County wines right here on WineAlign. As most are not in the LCBO, search by winery name in the Search field.
And that’s a wrap, for now. To see all my reviews from April 14 please click here.
VP of Wine at WineAlign