Lawrason’s Take On Vintages Sept 15th Release
Talking Ontario, Great Cabernet Taste-Off, Five Cellaring Reds, Fine Whites and Bargains
Ontario Wine: People are talking, and talking… Called People are Talking, the largest LCBO promotion of Ontario wine in history kicks off this weekend, with a wide-reaching program of in-store tastings and spotlighting of new and old wines. It is impressive on paper – 142 wines highlighted (whatever that means) at LCBO stores, with 24 new wines among them. There will be 1,200 in-store tastings, and they will be out collecting consumer testimonials at the same time. Vintages is releasing 21 local wines this Saturday (see my picks below), and has published a long conversation among its buyers, sommeliers and writers.
But so much of this, like other regional promotions at the LCBO, is smoke and mirrors – or perhaps I should say, just talk. Where are price reductions that would really drive traffic? Where are the political initiatives to really help local wines by creating stand-alone Ontario wine stores? As it is now, most Ontario wine is not available at the LCBO, and most wineries can otherwise only sell out of their tasting rooms or on-line with direct delivery to restaurants and individuals, (while B.C. wineries by comparison have four retail streams). There is indeed a lot of excitement and talk around the wine quality itself; but until government gets itself out of the way too few people will be exposed to what Ontario is capable of doing.
And here at WineAlign we are talking about Ontario wine too. Colleague John Szabo has penned a terrific piece on WineAlign called Does Buying Local Make Sense?, in which he very cogently tackles complex issues around diversity, quality, value and the importance of “necessary” wines in Ontario. And I have published an opinion piece in Grapevine magazine titled: Canadian Wine’s Coming Freedom from Over-Regulation, arguing that due to the quality now being achieved it is indeed time for governments, and even Canada’s VQA program, to back off and let we consumers decide which Canadian wines we can buy, as well as decide where, when and how we want to do that. We are paying the freight. The full text is at grapevinemagazine.ca.
As you read these pieces, open any of the following wines from the September 15th release, and it will all make a lot more sense. Vintages has done a good job focusing squarely on the five wines/styles Ontario does best – riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet franc and icewine/late harvest. Riesling is well represented with four strong candidates, but I particularly liked the tension and depth of 2027 Falls Vineyard 2011 Riesling from Vinemount Ridge ($18.95). Among the chardonnays, Bachelder 2010 Niagara Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95) is a brilliant and thoroughly modern example of Ontario’s potential with this grape. Featherstone 2010 Cabernet Franc, also from Niagara Peninsula ($16.95) is also a great example of new thinking around this plentiful grape, (and I can let you in on a little secret that 27 Ontario cabernet francs have won medals at the 2012 Canadian Wine Awards, including four golds). And finally, although I found the Niagara pinots on this release a bit difficult, I am very pleased with the slim, tidy and long finishing Norman Hardie 2010 County Unfiltered Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County ($35.00). My full review is also in the Vintages magazine.
Wolf Blass’ Great Cabernet Blend Taste-Off
If you have been partaking of the Toronto International Film Festival you are likely aware that Australia’s Wolf Blass is the exclusive wine sponsor. Ontario has been a key market for Wolf Blass over the years, often a launching pad for new brands, and for several years Yellow Label was the top-selling wine at the LCBO, at any price. So Wolf Blass himself has been in red-carpet-ville much of this week, along with chief winemaker Chris Hatcher. They used the occasion of TIFF to conduct a most interesting tasting on Tuesday, where 30 top, most respected Cabernet Sauvignon blends of the 2008 vintage from Bordeaux, Australia, California and Chile were blind tasted by ten wine writers and sommeliers assembled from across Canada. The same tasting was held in Melbourne two weeks ago and next month will be replicated in London, England.
It was not billed as “competition” but of course blind tasting by its nature engenders competition, and yes, Wolf Blass Black Label ranked number one, to which Chris Hatcher said “thanks for that mates”. It was picked ahead of all the first growths of Bordeaux, most of super-second growths, Opus One and Insignia from California and Almaviva from Chile. What I enjoyed most about this exercise was simply trying to delineate which regions the wines were from, and I was right at least 50% of the time. But I was surprised about how many Bordeaux I picked as New World wines, even in a more spare vintage like 2008. Bordeaux loves to talk about its classicism and sense of place, but some examples wore so much new oak, and fully ripened structure that it was hard to pin them as Bordeaux. And on the other side of the ledger the New World examples were trying to dial back the ripeness and oak in search of elusive Bordeaux restraint.
In the end the vast majority were excellent wines. I only scored two less than 90 points – but excellent quality should be routine at the triple-digit price of all these wines. And for the record, I didn’t score Black Label the highest. It was in my top third at 94 points, but a couple were higher, with my favourite being the electric Chateau Lascombes 2008, a Margaux that actually has a higher merlot content. Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 2008 and Almaviva 2008 were at 95 points, with six at 94. I hope one day soon to publish complete reviews from this tasting on WineAlign, but there was no time for this newsletter.
Five Great Cellar Reds That Don’t Cost over $100
Now back to earth and this release, where there were few themes other than Ontario. So I would like to simply present five excellent 90+ point reds that are accessible, available and don’t cost hundreds of dollars.
From California Stags’ Leap Winery 2008 Petite Sirah ($44.95) is perhaps the best single bottle of petite sirah I have ever had. Also called durif, this syrah-like variety has always had a bit of cult following in California, but has rarely topped the charts because it usual lacks finesse and flavour depth. This one captures both.
From Australia, Two Hands Lily’s Garden 2010 Shiraz ($62.95) from the McLaren Vale is a minor masterpiece, very sumptuous but finally tuned with calvacade of flavours. It is aged entirely in American oak for almost two years, but it is amazingly not-very-oaky, which speaks to the fruit depth achieved.
From the Rhone Valley of France, Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($37.95) is yet another testament to the quality of this vintage in the south of France. It is reserved so it was not an immediately obvious hit, but it has good density, poise and length that will reward five years in the cellar. The 14 ha family vineyard owned Corinne Mestre is naturally farmed, and the wine is concrete fermented and aged in large, old oak foudres.
From Tuscany, Italy comes one of the great classics. Ruffino Ducale Oro 2007 Chianti Classico Riserva ($43.95) is just hitting prime time. It’s a classic take on Tuscany; chock full of rusticity and richness. If you are fan on Brunello di Montalcino you should enjoy this just as much, for a few dollars less than most brunellos.
And finally from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley comes one of the great, traditional classics. Chateau Musar 2002 is ready to drink, in fact should be drunk within a couple of years. You may balk at $54.95 for Lebanese wine but it is worth every inch of that price as a lesson in wine maturing and the weave of texture and flavour into a harmonious whole.
Fine Whites Under $30
From Marlborough, New Zealand, Villa Maria Cellar Selection 2011 Sauvignon Blanc only strengthens my impression that Villa Maria is making some of the best wines of any of the larger NZ houses. The wines have such composure! So if you are avoiding NZ sauvignons because they are too aggressive give this a try, at only $21.95.
From Alsace, France comes a monumental Rolly Gassmann 2009 Stegreben de Rorschwihr Gewurztraminer, for $27.95. I say monumental not because it is huge in stature, but because it so statuesquely defines Alsatian gewürztraminer. So it is a monument to the genre for those who want a first class education.
From Italy’s Alto Adige comes the lovely mountain-rendered Nals Margreid 2011 Pinot Grigio ($17.95). This is a co-op winery with over 100 growers, but a modern co-op founded in the mid-eighties that employs the latest thinking in terms of viticulture and winemaking. And this is more than your average Italian pinot grigio.
And a Pair of Great Little Bargains
If you are always on the look-out for great buys cheap, don’t miss the spry, juicy little white Domaine Jacky Marteau Sauvignon Touraine from the Loire Valley at $12.95. Or the surprisingly well structured, complex if not hugely deep Azul Portugal 2007 Vinho Tinto from Portugal’s Bairrada region. Again, only $12.95.
That’s it for this release. I hope to see some you Monday (Sept 17) at the sold-out Penfold’s Single Bottle dinner, which by the way, has changed location to House of Moments in the Riverdale area of Toronto. I can’t make it to the Boekenshoutskloof event with Marc Kent but I have enjoyed his wines immensely and he is one of those engaging and very interesting winemakers who is totally tuned into the global wine scene.
See you next time,
VP of Wine
From the September 15th, 2012 Vintages release:
WineAlign is pleased to present our Winemaker Series
These intimate and exclusive events allow our members the opportunity to enjoy great wines with some of the most famous winemakers in the world.
Sept 18th – Paired Tasting Dinner with winemaker Marc Kent
Founded in 1776, Boekenhoutskloof Winery experienced a re-birth in 1993 when Marc Kent took over. Marc’s skill as winemaker soon shone bright and he started to catch the eyes of wine lovers and writers around the world, garnering the only FIVE star rating for a South African winery from the esteemed Robert Parker. In addition, Boekenhoutskloof was recently awarded “2012 Winery of the Year” by Platter’s South African Wine Guide.
Join Marc and WineAlign’s Zoltan Szabo on September 18th for an exquisitely paired tasting experience at Barque (one of Toronto’s best new restaurants – Toronto Life) with a lineup of eight of his wines that will quickly convert those new to South Africa. Event details