Lawrason’s Take On Vintages June 23rd Release
Understated Euro Heat Busters
I am fatigued with media hype about “how to beat the heat”; especially those re-cycled spots every few days by breathless, bouncy meteorologists as soon as the humidex pushes over 30. I think we all know that cool places are good; hydration is good; lakes and pools are good, lighter exercise is good. But I would love to hear them say that Spanish manzanilla is good, and what about Italian prosecco and Provencal rosé? This hit home when I was tasting in a rather tepid LCBO lab for this Saturday’s “Summer Sippers” release. Sure there were racy New Zealand sauvignons, crisp Ontario whites and a raft of New World chardonnays, but all seemed just so brash and warm and loud, compared to those calm, cool and collected Euro wines. So here is a selection to consider, not so much based on big scores (although all are very good) but because they are inexpensive – nothing over $17.95 – and they will fit neatly into a sultry, lazy evening on the deck.
There are several whites to consider but I’ll begin with a perennial favourite from northern Italy’s subalpine “Sudtirol” region. Tiefenbrunner was one of the first Italian white wine specialists to adopt crisp, clean, modern wine styling in the 90s, and he continues to capture the refreshing ambiance of his high altitude region with Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2011 ($17.95). Up and over the snowy Alps in Switzerland the white wines from the chasselas grape are trending to a lighter, gentler style. Domaine des Chouans Soral 2010 from the hills around Geneva is a pristine, effortless example ($15.95). And from the Atlantic coast of northwest Spain the 2010 Nessa Albariño ($16.00) offers the same cool charm. Often albariño makes quite exotic and powerful whites but this edition is dialled back a bit. Served well chilled it will be like biting into a fresh honeydew melon.
Don’t not overlook sparkling wine on torrid days; perhaps the ultimate refreshment. And sure, if the occasion calls for an electrifying Champagne, open your wallet and go for it. But staying with our theme of understated, charming and inexpensive refreshers don’t miss Prevedello Asolo Superiore Extra Dry Prosecco 2010 at $16.95. It is utterly pure and delicious, almost twinkling with refreshment. And yes it is a new label by Toronto restaurateur Franco Prevedello (founder of Centro and others), who himself has a certain freshness of spirit.
The pink parade of new rosés continues Saturday and the ultimate refresher is 2011 Petit Rimauresq Rosé from Côtes de Provence. I was in this part of the world at a garden party on a very hot day just last month, and a local rosé of almost identical pale hue and zesty, mouth-watering delivery had people raving. I highly recommend this classy little number for any summer group events on your wine calendar, especially at only $13.95.
We finish off our Euro Tour of Summer Sippers with Emilio Lustau Papirusa Solera Reserva Very Dry Manzanilla at $11.95 for a half bottle. Rarely would one ever consider a fortified wine as a summer sipper, but this bone-dry sherry – served stone cold into a slim, narrow “copita” or sherry glass will make an indelible impression. It originates from southern Spain, one of the hottest wine regions on the planet, where it is almost as natural as breathing to have a manzanilla or two just before lunch or dinner with a simple plate of olives, almonds and a chunk of salty cheese.
Great New World Reds
So now that we’ve addressed your summer mood wines, which is just about all I am drinking these days, let’s get to the meat of the matter for those of us who also like big, bold and hopefully balanced reds. There were three really exciting, top notch reds on this release that I have rated at 93 or better.
The most exciting, especially for syrah fans, is the 2007 Wind Gap Castelli-Knight Ranch Syrah from the Russian River Valley, Sonoma County – worth every penny of $59.00 if this is in your bracket. Windgap is one of several labels from Pax Mahle, a Sonoma native who has refurbished an old 1936 winery in Forestville to make a series of distinctive, small batch wines, with a focus on syrah, but dabbling with other varieties as well – all from specific vineyards. A former sommelier, he is a leader among a group of California somms who are turning to winemaking with a vision of making less bombastic and more natural and food friendly reds, and generally shaking up the California established order. In a recent video Pax was asked what wine region most excited him nowadays, and he replied, Sicily. So indeed he is thinking outside the box. And this is great syrah!
Still on America’s west coast, and still with a more natural approach, pinot fans should not miss Maysara Estate Cuvée Pinot Noir 2008, a Demeter certified biodynamically grown Oregon pinot that fits very comfortably quality wise at $39.95. This winery was founded in 2001 by Moe and Flora Momtazi who had spied a parcel of vacant, unfarmed, organically in-tact land near McMinneville. So they have been farming biodynamically from the outset. The winemaking is now in the hands of Thamiene Momtazi, one of three daughters working at the winery. There is a great sense of style and energy to this wine.
Perhaps the best bargain among these collectible reds is Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz from South Australia. I first encountered it while doing a line-up of Penfolds 2008 reds at the winery in 2011, and it was one of my favourites of the day. For $39.95 it is monumental value. The review tells something about the winemaking, but I just want to add that I am a big fan of cabernet-shiraz blends in particular. The angularity of cabernet is softened by shiraz, and vice versa – kind of like a firm handshake between two quite different personalities. Anyway, seriously consider this for your cellar – it was a great vintage.
My Take on Bill C-311
This week the Canadian senate passed Bill C-311 at third reading, allowing individuals to carry Canadian wine, or cause it to be carried legally across provincial borders (i.e. ordered on line). The bill still needs Royal Assent but no doubt Her Majesty will wave it on through very soon. (Jump to backgrounder by WineAlign’s Janet Dorozynski)
This bill takes a huge chunk out of the moral authority of Canada’s liquor boards. When you strip wine down to its basic legally troubling element – alcohol – one can now easily ask, why not direct ship all wines? (The bill does not actually specify Canadian wine). Why not beer and spirits? Why not allow licensed (much more controllable) businesses to do the same? Such basic questions have liquor boards and the public service union brass spinning in there swivel chairs. Undoubtedly they will dig in their heels, and come out huffing and puffing about creeping privatization and loss of tax revenues that fund other government services. And they will warn of rivers of wine falling into the wrong hands (more than is happening now?).
Bill C-311 does give provincial liquor boards the right to impose limits on how much you and I can personally transport, or order on line, between provinces. But seriously, how can they do that in practical terms? Or in other words, who or what is stopping us? It is unenforceable. Provincial customs inspectors at every crossing and terminal? I suppose they could try to come up with some sort of reciprocal, interprovincial method of auditing every tasting room carry out or courier shipment leaving wineries? But that seems just as cumbersome and costly. So without mechanisms to curb it, and with we citizens knowing that in spirit it is morally fine to do so, wine will inexorably begin to flow more freely whether liquor boards like it or not. There is now a gaping hole in the dike.
I get to taste hundreds of Canadian wines every year that are only available from wineries directly, not the liquor boards. In this newsletter watch for reviews of Canadian wines worth buying on line. We will begin after the situation clarifies just a bit more. I do not want to mention specific wines at this point lest it be construed by the authorities that those wineries have rushed into direct shipping while it is still technically illegal.
Chardonnay Re-Boot Camp
I am looking forward to joining WineAlign colleague John Szabo in Niagara on Saturday, July 20 to present a session at the second annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, or as it is known, I4C. What do I foresee for this event? Despite the original Boot Camp name I am betting on a pretty laid back summer event – although John is talking about ten push ups for all between each wine. I like to think of it more as Chardonnay Re-Boot camp, especially given that our audience will exclusively be tech savvy WineAligners. I want to discuss exactly why Chardonnay’s reputation is being re-booted after a decade or two of the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) sentiment. We are going to examine this as we take you through a range of great international and Canadian chardonnays, the exact wines to be decided as I4C organizers portion the hundreds of wines among several events. We hope to meet you there. Find more details on this special offer to WineAlign members here.
And that’s it for now. I will be adding reviews for other June 23 wines over the weekend, but you can check out 60+ new reviews below. Cheers!
From the June 23rd, 2012 Vintages release:
VP of Wine