Lawrason’s Take on Vintages Oct 27th Release
Bordeaux 2009s, California Boutiques, Super Tuscans and Discoveries
The LCBO’s annual Fine Wine Auction – held last weekend – has become the symbolic kick-off for Vintages fine wine season. From here through mid-December we will be inundated and titillated by big name wines and big vintages, at big prices.
The October 27 release gets it rolling with the 2009 Bordeauxs, California “boutique” wines and some super-Tuscans, which I will take on in due course. But I must warn you at the outset that I am getting pretty cynical about all this. My gripe is that these over-hyped wines are just too expensive and the value is not there.
I also sense that the glory days of collector wines from Bordeaux, California and Tuscany in particular, are just about over. Quality has become so good at lower price points, great wine has become global, and there is a new generation of winemakers who care more about expressing their place in the world, than what price they will fetch at the next auction. At the same time wine consumers are smarter and wiser and ready to make their own decisions; which is why my job is now more about aiding discovery rather than re-enforcing the status quo. And I will get to “discoveries” below.
Vintages’ Bordeaux 2009s Disappoint
Let the hype begin, with this Robert Parker mouthful reprinted by Vintages. “Given the overall style of the 2009s, which combine creamy voluptuous textures and sensational fruit-driven opulence, with remarkable finesse, precision and vibrancy, the best of the little wines will be delicious young, as will many of the classed growths. This is a magical vintage”
So where is the magic in this Oct 27 spate of “little” chateau wines? I was disappointed on my first taste through. I figured that maybe I was just grumpy that day so I returned to the Vintages lab three weeks later and tasted them all again. They are average 85 to 89 point wines that for the most part are over-priced. Three reach 90 points, none surpass. Some did show that sense of ripeness and fine structure that Monsieur Parkaire extols above, but styles were all over the map. There were overripe wines and green wines; soft wines and lean wines; funky wines and clean wines. This really points out the problem with vintage hype. Climate is only a framework, a barometer of how easy it is, or isn’t, to ripen the grapes. From that point there are hundreds of human-controlled variables that have a more dramatic influence on the final quality and taste.
But if you want to dip your toe into 2009 Bordeaux, here are my picks. Cru Bourgeois Château la Gravette Lacombe from the Médoc, is quite a savoury, smoky young wine in a very modern style, and excellent value at $19.95. Château Sénéjac, Haut-Médoc is a bit more traditional, complex and nicely balanced and fair value at $28.85. My personal favourite of the batch is Château de Cruzeau, Pessac-Léognan, again a modern wine with nicely lifted, well integrated, classic Pessac currant, pine and wood smoke, that is a decent price at $27.95.
To boutique or not to boutique? That is a good question nowadays. It is such a seventies term. And it carries other freight as well – namely the insinuation that small is beautiful (thus big is not). Actually small, family wineries are often stylistically idiosyncratic and patchy quality-wise, depending on the winemaker’s motivations and experience. Wines from big wineries that have to compete tooth and nail in the big bad world, cannot afford to be idiosyncratic or poor quality. They may be more predictable, and commercial, and have sameness, but they are usually well made.
Which is the theme in this Tale of Two Napa cabs. PB Hein 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($46.95) caught my attention for delivering all kinds of classic if edgy cabernet character. It’s from a small winery opened very recently by Paul Hein, a fifth generation Napan whose forebearers had vines on Mount Veeder. Contrast this to the very well layered, subtle, more corporate Beringer 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($39.95) which is also excellent quality, if in a more familiar and likely more broadly appealing style.
There are several big name California cabernets on the release, notably Dunn Howell Mountain 2005 and Chateau Montelena 2008 that are excellent quality, but disappointing at the price. Which goes back to my gripe with hype. These wines were all the rage and highly coveted in the 1980s and 1990s as newly wealthy boomers latched onto the California wine revolution. They have managed to maintain their inflated prices because they have name recognition, but frankly I, for one, am simply not that interested. And they have a ton of new competition.
The competition was very evident at the eye-opening Rogers and Company consignment portfolio tasting held this month at Brassai. Rogers has always been a leading importer of high end California wines, but the selection unleashed this day was truly impressive. There was one table devoted to triple digit “boutique” mid-90s scoring “super premium” California wines with names I did not recognize: like Tim Mondavi’s Continuum, Kapscandy’s Endre, O’Shaughnessy Howell Mountain Cab, Tierra Roja, Ovid and Dancing Hares. Another table of more mainstream California reds featured the likes of Caymus Special Selection, Quintessa and Ehlers 1886 Cabernet. I would have loved to spend two days tasting this portfolio, which also spanned Italy, France and Australia. The quality was very high across the board – even among less expensive wines. So if you aren’t on Rogers list of customers and “invitees” you may want to get in touch at www.rogcowines.com.
The October 27 release also features super-super Tuscan Antinori 2009 Solaia, a ground breaking cabernet launched in the eighties when the notion of cabernet in Italy was still revolutionary. And the 2009 is an excellent 92 point wine, in my books anyway. It has very modern, California influenced, French oak driven “international” styling, and carries it off well atop impressive structure. But the price is a choker at $251.95! I would much rather buy a case of Rocca delle Macìe’s 2009 Tenuta Sant’Alfonso Chianti Classico at $21.95, or nine bottles of Tenuta Sette Ponti 2009 Crognolo at $32.95. Sette Ponti is a great little property by the way, making very stylish mini-super Tuscans. And there are many more, very fine up-and-coming estates in them thar olive and vine strewn Chianti hills – indeed all over Italy – that are begging for your attention.
And allow me one last be-labouring of my point, based on vertical tasting of Luce that I was invited to this week. Luce was created out of a handshake deal back in 1993 when Napa’s Tim Mondavi went to the Frescobaldi family in Florence in search of a joint venture project. This was in Mondavi’s era of global outreach, also forming partnerships with the Rothschilds of Bordeaux, and Chadwicks (Errazuriz) of Chile. So Luce too was revolutionary – a new wine – combining Tuscany’s sangiovese with upstart merlot, grown in Montalcino, a bastion of Brunello-based tradition. It was newsmaker! And today the 2009 vintage is selling at Vintages for $99.95.
In a previous tasting, I had not reviewed the 2009 Luce Della Vite all that kindly and I tried it yet again to lead off the vertical tasting led by Lamberto Frescobaldi at Trattoria Giancarlo in Toronto’s Little Italy on College West. And again it was very oaky and somehow too loose and hot. The ten vintages preceding it were all of similar international style, but they improved with age as the wine “digested” the obvious oak – a very apt observation by Lamberto. My favourite vintages were the more mature 2006, 2004 and 2001, where the structure and Italianess of the wines shone through, and alcohol levels were a bit lower. And by the way, the Luce partnership dissolved in 2004 when Constellation wines purchased Robert Mondavi. “It’s not that (Constellation) aren’t nice people” said Lamberto, “but the magic was gone” Indeed.
So enough harping on the old order. Time for some value-surfing and discoveries from the October 27 release.
Among whites, three very aromatic, pure and bright wines caught my eye. Fess Parker 2010 Viognier ($24.95) from California’s Santa Barbara County is a tactful model of exotic viognier fruit expression and charm, without being overly heavy. Jules Taylor 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($19.95) from New Zealand’s Marlborough region explodes with complex aromas and delivers on a very racy chassy. Mas des Bressades 2011 Cuvée Tradition Blanc ($14.95) compiles a terrific, juicy and firm blend of four grapes from the south of France – grenache blanc, roussanne, marsanne and viognier.
Among reds, we start on the home front with Malivoire Albert’s Honour 2010 Old Vines Foch at $24.95. It struck me as I tasted this that very few hybrid red table wines remain on the market in Ontario, but this complex, rogue red proves there is room for well made, old vine editions, and there perhaps should be more of them in a region starved for “big reds”.
From Hawkes Bay New Zealand Alpha Domus 2010 The Barnstormer Syrah ($22.95) is indeed a barnstormer. Not in the sense of being a big, thick, rich Aussie-style shiraz but for its aromatic very Rhonish syrah punch. And still with syrah, Domaine Cros de Romet 2010 Cairanne Côtes du Rhône-Villages is yet another syrah-based star out of the southern Rhone, and a great buy at $21.95. And finally Palacios Remondo 2011 La Vendimia from Rioja, Spain is about as friendly a little sipping red as you are likely to find, and a steal at $14.95.
That’s a wrap for this time. Happy shopping, with WineAlign at your side and in your pocket. I am a recent convert to iPhone by the way, and I love using our WineAlign app while at the LCBO!
VP of Wine
From the October 27th, 2012 Vintages release: