Lawrason’s Take on Vintages Oct 13th Release
Australian and Chilean Values, Great Chardonnays,
Coudelets and Fine Italian Whites
It’s a huge, wide ranging release this week, with some of the most interesting wines hitting out beyond the advertised features on Australia and Chile. I have tasted almost every wine – 130 in all – which was done over three days. My featured wines below include some more expensive chardonnays and Rhônes from Beaucastel, but all others are great $20 range or under buys that have simply risen to the top. And there is nothing like the experience of tasting all the world’s wines side by side to experience quality rising to the top, no matter where they are from.
Australia’s Push Back
Colleague John Szabo has gone into depth on the Australian collection featured in this release, and discussed that country’s resurgence and re-branding – after taking a severe hit in the marketplace in the latter half of the last decade. There is no doubt that there is a concerted marketing effort at play here, both through Vintages releases, Wines of Australia and through visits by Aussie winemakers. In the past month we have seen Wolf Blass himself, Peter Gago of Penfolds, Ben Glaetzer, Grant Burge, Bruce Tyrrell and Louisa Rose of Yalumba all touch down in Toronto.
But something else is happening too. I am simply enjoying big, rich Aussie reds of late; seeking that sense of comfort, that flood of flavour. Is that a personal shift in taste, or is because the wines are better balanced – less hot, less sweet and more streamlined? I think balance is probably the main factor. I am still marking hard on wines that are too gratuitously sweet and/or cocoa-fied, and those with excessive afterburn. But I am now frequently over 90 points based on the complexity, depth and sense of perfect ripeness of many reds. And I am finding these qualities often in wines that are not too expensive.
Two on this release are prime examples. First Drop Half & Half 2010 Shiraz/Monastrell is from the Barossa in South Australia, at $21.95. I usually have low expectations from wines with too-cute names like First Drop, that promise “life, flavour and fun” in every bottle. Nothing against life, flavour and fun mind you, but really – all that for only twenty bucks? I am much more interested in the fact that it is a fairly rare (for Australia) and effective blend of shiraz and monastrell, with the firm tannin structure and somewhat wild meaty complexity of the latter grape (also called mourvèdre) adding structural dimension to Aussie shiraz, as it so often does in the south of France (see Coudelet de Beaucastel below).
Paxton AAA 2010 Shiraz/Grenache from McLaren Vale, South Australia is a Rhone-inspired blend too, and another hit at $19.95. The mantra of this biodynamic producer is “heads down and tails up”. And rather than their bottles promising everything except cash for life, Paxton is only striving to provide “a snapshot of a vineyard and a vintage in one moment in time”. This is big wine; very rich and rambling, but packed to the gunwales with flavour without tipping the boat. It’s Triple A good.
Chile’s Nooks and Crannies
There is a mini-feature on Chile on this release, which of course doesn’t do the country justice as a whole. Chile is busting ahead on so many levels. One level is introducing winemaking “Sustainability” nationally as discussed by WineAlign’s Janet Dorozynski after she moderated a panel discussion on the topic in Toronto in early October. Quality and value continue apace in Chile as well, but I am most interested, again, in new explorations and new wines – the nooks and crannies out of the Chilean mainstream.
Falernia 2009 Reserva Syrah from the Elquí Valley is not new at Vintages – indeed this is at least its third appearance. But at $15.95 I just can’t resist re-introducing it to those of you yet to discover the secluded, precipitous Elqui Valley several hundred kms north of Santiago on the southern fringe of the Atacama Dessert. The wine is rather oaky, but it has incredible concentration and structure for the money; I think as a result of the low yields from those very rocky soils. The only vineyards not clinging to hillsides in Elqui are planted on the incredibly stony flats of an old riverbed.
Korta 2010 Barrel Selection Reserve Petit Verdot from the Lontué Valley in southern Chile is also a great buy at $14.95. Korta is a family enterprise with the winery morphing from a fruit growing business in 1997. Petit Verdot is always an intriguing variety for its aromatic complexity and acid structure, but often its unripe elements get in the way. So winemakers are hesitant to make petit verdot solo. This is one of those quite rare examples that achieves enough ripeness, and has plenty of concentration to boot – surprisingly so at $15. It could be a great variety for Chile, much in the same vein as carmenere.
Three 90+ Chardonnays
Almost every release has a handful of excellent chardonnays, but it is now almost a rule of thumb that they will be somewhere around $40. Which is okay by me, because that’s what it takes to make chardonnay intriguing whether from a cool or warm climate. If I want to drink white under $25 I will usually go to other varieties.
Hidden Bench 2009 Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay ($38.00) is a Beamsville Bench classic from Niagara. Felseck, which apparently means “corner of the cliff” was first planted in 1992 – including a large 3.3 acre chardonnay block – and purchased by Hidden Bench in 2007. The intrinsic depth and complexity being delivered from the almost 20 year old vines combines with the great acid structure of the 2009 vintage to provide one excellent chardonnay.
Yabby Lake 2010 Single Vineyard Chardonnay ($39.95) is yet another fine cool climate chardonnay from the Mornington Peninsula of Victoria, Australia. We have had several in recent weeks, which should put this ocean-side jut of land squarely on your fine wine GPS. This is classically made “non-interventionist” style from three blocks in a single vineyard in Tuerong. It’s barrel fermented in older French oak, using natural yeasts, then aged ten months on the lees without malolactic fermentation. In other words, rather riveting stuff in a bare bones way.
Beringer 2010 Private Reserve Chardonnay ($44.95) from Napa Valley is another beauty, if for a different reason. Sourced from more than one site, in cooler areas of Napa, it is a masterpiece of tender and thoughtful winemaking. Yes it is rich and soft, yet impeccably balanced, layered and supple. Certainly a more restrained style of modern California chardonnay, but not relying on “cool climate” tension and minerality of the two mentioned above. Delicious! California chard fans will be in heaven.
Coudelet is a vineyard lying adjacent to the famous Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, separated only by a motorway (that’s a big European road). Like Beaucastel it is owned by the Perrin family, and always touted as a good value, mid-tier label. In some vintages I am underwhelmed by the value proposition of Coudelet, but the one-two punch of the 2011 Blanc and 2010 Rouge on this release is a different matter.
When I visited Château de Beaucastel with a large group of Canadian oeno-tourists in May, Thomas Perrin opened the tasting with one of my favourite white wines of all time – the Vieilles Vignes Beaucastel Blanc made 100% from 65 year old roussanne vines. It is a silken masterpiece with haunting depth. And I got something of that same vibe from the 2011 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Blanc ($33.95). Interestingly it contains no roussanne at all – rather the other four Rhône white varieties: marsanne 30%, viognier 30%, bourboulenc 30%, clairette 10%. Great winemaking here!
Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2010 ($29.95) is also impeccably made, and a fine insight into the excellent 2010 vintage, and a preview of 2010 Château de Beaucastel itself. Both wines use a higher proportion of mourvèdre than most wines in the area, providing fragrance and complexity on the one hand, and a bit more sinew and structure for aging. The 2010 should be tasted now to get a sense of its finesse, then the rest stored for at least two years.
So Fine Italian Whites
I’ve said it so often before; Italian whites are among the most intriguing on the planet. They have been cleaned up by modern winemaking, and actually treated with viticultural respect by a new generation keen to translate the unique character of many of the native varieties. This release has no less than three $20-range whites flirting with 90-point scores, and their story is the same – complexity, brightness, precision, and new flavours for the palate tiring of conventional whites. Buy the set and go to school.
Prà 2011 Soave Classico ($19.95) from the garganega grape in Veneto is one of the most fragrant, complex yet tender examples of this appellation in recent memory. Terredora 2010 Falanghina from Campania delivers a bold and juicy interpretation of this exotic, ancient southern variety. You can’t afford not to explore it at $14.95. And okay, Castello della Sala 2011 Bramìto del Cervo Chardonnay from Umbria is not a native variety. But at $21.95 it is a great buy in chardonnay with classic Italian flair and energy while remaining understated at the same time.
Bargain Iberian Reds
And we end with a pair of very good buys from Portugal and Spain – both countries quite well represented on this release, at least in terms of well-priced wines. Maritávora 2008 Tinto from Portugal’s Douro Valley is yet another example of the incredible refinement emanating from the new generation of table wines in port country – a steal at $15.95 and worth cellaring for a while. Pedro Martínez 2006 Alesanco Reserva from Rioja in Spain is already nicely mature but can stretch even longer. I love how this wine integrates its wood, which means the fruit quality and concentration was excellent at the outset. It too is an excellent buy at $17.95.
That’s it for this week. Tune in again on October 25 when I have a look at the 2009 Bordeaux and other picks from the ever-enlarging fall releases.
VP of Wine
From the October 13th, 2012 Vintages release: