David Lawrason’s Take on Vintages August 4th Release
Great Germans, Bargains Under $20, New World Family Reds, Top Ten I4C Chardonnays
It seems that every August I get grouchy about Vintages offerings. Maybe it’s because in July I am looking forward to an August vacation (see below). But I think it’s also a reflection of the way Vintages bundles many less good wines into the dog days of summer when fewer people are paying attention. The quotient of wines scoring 85 or lower is much higher than normal − 27 in all, out of 98 tasted. By the way, a wine below 85 might still be good, but some kind of flaw or imbalance is perceptible, or it may be plain dull. But fear not, there are still many worthwhile wines in the August 4th release.
A Terrific German Trio
With only seven wines the German mini-feature is not as wide-ranging as it deserves to be given the great quality, history and culture of German wine. If this is all that Vintages feels we consumers can take of Germany then its wines are indeed in trouble. But German winemaking needs to look inward too. I was not thrilled with three of the selections. But another three exquisitely rendered wines do carry the banner high. And if there is an upside to Germany’s downturn, the prices for these three are ridiculously low for the quality they represent – pushing value through the roof.
From a great estate on the steep forest and vineyard clad banks of the narrow Saar River Valley, comes a light mature, riesling that is pure poetry. Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett 2006 should be mandatory drinking for anyone remotely interested in riesling – a first class lesson in delicacy and ethereal complexity – for a shocking $17.95. At the opposite end of the style spectrum, and farther north on the Mosel River, Markus Molitor Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese 2008 ($26.95) presents a powerful, tooth-rattling riesling that almost breathes minerality from the de-composed slate of the 2.9ha Himmelreich vineyard. But the great value and sentimental favourite is not even riesling, or from the Rhine. Several years ago in the cellars of Königschaffhausen in Baden I was astounded by the silky elegance and depth of a pinot gris (alias rulander), grown on the slopes of the ancient volcano called the Kaiserstuhl (the Kaiser’s throne). Königschaffhausen Königschaffhausener Vulkanfelsen Trocken Pinot Gris 2011 is a mouthful of silken opulence and finesse. And when you compare its quality at $13.95 to all the other boring gris/grigios out there at the same price, you may well ask where the heck has Baden pinot gris been all this time.
Obscure New World Family Vineyards
When tasting along the row of big reds from California, South America and Australia I was struck by how many labels I didn’t recognize. Perhaps, I thought, they too were being test driven on a quiet August release. So when I came to edit and finish my notes I did some research and discovered that a number were from small and/or less well known family vineyards, of which there must be thousands out there. So good on Vintages for ferreting them out. Being from a family vineyard does not automatically make the wine better; but it will probably be more individual, perhaps more characterful and even idiosyncratic. So it takes a willingness to explore, and hopefully an interest in the people who have struggled (usually) into this business. And it becomes more inspiring when you consider that it is even harder for New World family enterprises that don’t have centuries old pedigree and world famous sites anchoring their reputations.
I felt particularly sorry for the Smith family that moved from urban LA to follow their dream near Calistoga in northern Napa in the mid-90s, only to find most of their new 25 year old cabernet vineyard crippled by phylloxera. So they had to replant and move much more slowly than expected; now just reaching their modest goal of 2000 cases. Their 2007 Barlow Barrouge Cabernet Sauvignon ($47.95) is a very fine, sturdy, cellar-worthy reward. The Pedroncelli clan of Dry Creek has been at it much longer than that – since 1927 – one of several Italian heritage families that have shepherded old vineyard sites like the 50 year old Bushnell site in Dry Creek. Pedroncelli Bushnell Vineyard 2009 Zinfandel ($22.95) is stuffed with flavour and rustic charm. Over in Australia the Schild family has been farming shiraz in the Barossa Valley since 1952, and here they are 60 years later turning out a classic red blend. The 2010 Schild Estate Old Bush Vine Grenache/Mourvedre/Shiraz is a meaty, big and bouncy red laden with all kinds of personality for $21.95. The family stories don’t end there; also look into the Soter family efforts from Oregon, the Dante Robino family’s bonarda from Mendoza, and the Frank family’s Napa cabernet from vineyards also in business since the 1920s. They are not all as good as my picks above but then I did warn you about idiosyncrasy.
Bargain Euro White Explorations
As in most releases there are handful of interesting white wines that will reward those willing to venture outside of the riesling, chardonnay, sauvignon triad – and yes Europe is once again the source as better winemaking is brought to bear on grapes that were never before asked to achieve, or as in the case of godello, barely existed.
In the landlocked Bierzo DO in northwest Spain godello was almost extinct – representing only 1% of the region’s production until recent times. But Abad dom Bueno has made godello a cause, and its 2010 an unoaked version delivers a wine with an interesting duality of exotic ripeness and tight elegance – all for $14.95. From Campania in south central Italy (inland from Naples) the antique, but more widely planted fiano d’avellino grape offers a similar duality of richness and finesse and Terredora 2010 Fiano di Avellino ($18.95) is an excellent example. In northwest Italy the cortese di gavi grape (shortened to gavi) was once considered the only serious white of the region, some comparing its best age-worthy examples to white Burgundy. Broglia la Meirana Gavi di Gavi 2010 ($17.95) is a very good, low yield, estate grown example from one of few houses that specializes in its production.
And Fine Euro Reds Under $20
Given that quality was generally harder to find in this release, I am delighted to offer three very good deals on European reds. All come from well-established regions, but not top tier regions, so their prices remain moderated. For a joyful and classy summer evening enjoyment don’t miss Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Côte de Brouilly 2010 ($18.95) from a producer garnering considerable attention. His Terres Dorées domaine is in the south of Beaujolais but he also sources gamay from some of the northern cru villages. He breaks the mould by rejecting the traditional whole cluster, semi-carbonic method of making Beaujolais, in favour of the Burgundian method of “normal” fermentation, 4 to 5 weeks maceration, and ageing in oak or cement vats (depending on the vintage). This is the technique that many Ontario gamay producers are using.
Castellani Filicheto 2009 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ($17.95) shines for the Tuscan complexity and authority it offers under $20. It was a warmer vintage, and this is already showing some maturity, so feel free to enjoy it anytime. Many Douro reds are blends of the same varieties that are used for port production. I have always liked the singular aromatic profile of touriga nacional, the lead grape in the mix. In Quinta de Ventozelo 2008 ($18.95) touriga fashions a red with lovely aroma, richness and elegance, while still showcasing the granitic minerality of the region.
Top Ten I4C Chardonnay Picks
During the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration in Niagara, July 20-22, Vintages was on hand taking Private Orders for many of the wines being sampled. This was a much better idea than in the first year (2011) when a poorly attended Sunday tasting was held at Roy Thomson Hall. Now Vintages, in partnership with the I4C Association, is following up with a special on-line ordering program that runs until August 23. The complete list of wines can be found on at Vintages Online.
One of the shortcomings of I4C from a media perspective was a lack of opportunity to taste through all the wines in a thorough and focused manner that facilitated note-taking. Believe me, I enjoyed the venues and events, and I did come away with a sense of where the styles and quality of various wineries sit within a global context. And I found some terrific wines. So in lieu of links to complete reviews I simply present a top ten alphabetical list of personal favourites, mostly for the quality they achieved, but in some cases for reasons of rarity and intrigue as well.
Ayala Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne 2005, France
Ayala Cuvée Perle d’Ayala Brut Nature Champagne 2002, France
Decelle-Villa les Vireuils Meursault 2010, Burgundy
Domaine Chanson Pernand Vergelesses les Caradeux 1er Cru 2009, Burgundy
Felton Road Bannockburn Chardonnay 2011, New Zealand
Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2008, New Zealand
Pascal Marchand Chassagne-Montrachet Abbaye de Morgeot 1er Cru 2010, Burgundy
Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2010, Niagara Peninsula
Stratus Chardonnay 2009, Niagara (see WineAlign review)
Villa Maria Keltern Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, New Zealand
And that’s a wrap for this time. I am heading to B.C. for three weeks: one week vacation in Invermere; one week to judge the Canadian Wine Awards in Penticton; and then to visit family and wineries on Vancouver Island, with event stops in Vancouver and Edmonton en route home. So the next Vintages preview falls into the very capable and much more artistic hands of WineAlign colleague Sara d’Amato. See you in September.
VP of Wine
From the August 4th Vintages release: