Lawrason’s Take on Vintages January 5th Release
Great Explorations under $20, Ontario Cab Franc and LCBO Supermarket Express Kiosks
The first Vintages release of 2013 is designed to re-stock shelves stripped of lower priced wines during the holiday mayhem. Some of the new releases are packaged in the Vintages catalogue as Smart Buys and Dinner Wines, but I don’t see anything particularly special about those selections to qualify them for being in either camp. However, there are enough interesting wines, under $20, throughout this release to make January 5 worthy of exploration by value conscious fans of the obscure. Here are ten great buys that will broaden your horizons. Then read on for my take on Ontario Cabernet Franc and the LCBO’s plans to put Express Kiosks in Ontario grocery stores.
The Best Buy of the release is a sleek, delicate and delicious German riesling. Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen 2007 Riesling Spätlese from the Mosel Valley is a steal at $16.95. It is really astounding that wine of such quality can be sold here for $17 – a statement perhaps on the difficulty Germany is experiencing in selling its glorious, late harvested spatlese and auslese wines. It can be argued that this is great for consumers, but for how long will these wines be made if the market fades away. Do your bit for the future of Mosel riesling – one of the world’s most refined wines – and grab a few bottles.
I have always been intrigued by wines from the obscure Pemberton region of Western Australia, a cooler zone in the southwest corner of the continent. So has a young winemaker from nearby Frankland River named Larry Cherubino who, since 2005, has focused on single vineyard offerings from the area. In 2011 he earned James Halliday’s accolade as Winery of the Year in Australia. Ad Lib Hen & Chicken Oaked Chardonnay ($19.95) strikes an impressive balance between richness and leanness – warm and cool climate styling.
From New Zealand’s Wairapa Valley north and inland from Christchurch on the South Island, 2011 Tiki Pinot Gris ($17.95) is a fine example of the brightness and gentleness the region’s aromatic whites achieve. Tiki is a new family winery (first vintage 2009) making organically grown wines (as of 2012). A sister brand called Alpine Valley from Marlborough was white wine of show at the Ottawa Wine Challenge.
From Argentina’s Cafayate Valley don’t miss the Hermanos De Domingo 2011 Molina Hermanos Torrontés at $14.95. There is something exulted about this wine. Torrontes is normally hugely aromatic and zesty; this one is hugely aromatic and impressively rich, ripe and pure – much more than a breezy patio offering. This is from a winery owned by three brothers who grew up in the region, and whose father made wine there long before Cafayate became “hot”.
Back to Germany for Werner Anselmann 2011 Edesheimer Rosengarten Siegerrebe Spätlese – a terrific, exotic buy at $14.95. The siegerrebe grape was bred as a late bloomer (avoiding spring frosts) and early ripener (avoiding autumn frosts). It’s noted for its heady perfume (gewürztraminer is in its background). This particular example sports a very engaging nose and fine sense of balance, and length well beyond its price.
Argentina is often well represented with inexpensive reds in the value days of January, but only one stands out in this line-up. Alta Vista 2010 Premium Estate Malbec from Mendoza offers very good value at $14.95. Alta Vista was founded in 1998 by the d’Aulan family from France, with the aim of making ‘haute couture’ wines from five different sites, fermented in small batches and aged a maximum of 12 months in oak. There is nothing dramatic about it, except its sense of structure in a genre that is so often too soupy and sweet at this price point.
From across the Andes in Chile’s Maipo Valley De Martino 2010 Legado Reserva Carmenère over-delivers in terms of depth and complexity at $16.95. It’s a textbook carmenere from organically grown vineyards. I am a big fan of the winemaking at De Martino, from their basic Legado range to some spectacular bottlings of ancient vine carignan.
Donnachiara Irpinia 2008 Aglianico ($18.95) from Campania in southern Italy rather snuck upon me. As I do not read Vintages or anyone’s reviews before I taste, I was unaware this had cracked the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 of 2012, a list I find interesting because it is not just reserved for the highest point scores. Innovation, value and availability are also taken into account. Here, the Donnachiara winery, founded by Donna and Umberto Pettito in 2005, manages to dress up the leanness of the aglianico grape without altering its basic personality. And the price is terrific for the quality rendered.
Another Italian red from a relatively obscure region also piqued my interest. Arnaldo Caprai 2009 Rosso Montefalco ($19.95) is from a winery that has developed an almost cult-like following since it began elevating the highly scented, very tannic sagrantino grape from obscurity in the hills of Montefalco in central Umbria in the late 80s. This edition adds some sangiovese to the blend, creating a very poised, energetic and classic Italian red. I visited this property in the 90s, and got reacquainted last year during a trade tasting by Stem Wine Group. An impressive portfolio!
Terra d’Alter 2009 Aragones from the southern Alentejano region of Portugal is a dandy tempranillo from a new project that combines the talents of northern Duoro-based partners – the Roquette and the Castel-Branco Borges clans – as well as those of renowned winemaker Peter Bright. Bright is an Australian who began working in Portugal in 1981 (very early days for flying winemakers). He has made wine in Argentina as well, but is most closely linked to Portugal where he also makes a label called Fiuza and Bright. This is a great buy at $14.95!
Ontario Cabernet Franc
There is an interesting cross-section of four Ontario cabernet francs on this release. It’s a grape variety that continues to limp along in Niagara and Lake Erie North Shore in terms of consumer response. It’s nicely viable in Ontario’s cool climate and short season but continues to garner only lukewarm appreciation in the marketplace. In 2011 I conducted a comprehensive Ontario Cab Franc tasting/seminar at the Ottawa Wine and Food Festival that convinced me that Ontario winemakers had found the handle on this aromatic variety that tends to be overly green unless very carefully cultivated. Early Ontario examples were under-ripe through over-cropping, then over-extracted and over-oaked in the winery to compensate. Some winemakers then corrected by creating much simpler, better ripened, un-oaked and slightly sweet styles that were indeed more engaging and cheaper. But they were simple. The answer, as always, lies somewhere in the middle, with grape growing that accentuates the grape’s natural raspberry-currant fruit and its tinge of tobacco and herbs, then winemaking that respects that fine balance through judicious oaking and acid-alcohol-tannin management.
The crop of four selected are all very good – scoring from 86 to 89 points – but each shows either a weakness or an excess that keeps it shy of 90 point excellence. And as all are over $20, they are fair value but hardly bargains, a common refrain for Ontario’s “Bordeaux” reds. For $100 you could conduct your own four-wine clinic, but if you want two that show Ontario’s better attempts, look to Coyote’s Run 2010 Black Paw Vineyard Cabernet Franc from Four Mile Creek in Niagara-on-the-Lake ($24.95) and Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc from Lincoln Lakeshore at $31.95.
The LCBO’s Shallow New Years Resolutions
On New Years’ Eve Ontario finance minister Dwight Duncan unveiled two new LCBO initiatives that are obviously meant to muffle the recent hew and cry over privatization raised by Conservative leader Tim Hudak. One is a pilot project to place ten LCBO-operated “Express Kiosks” in supermarkets. The other, which received much less ink, was to expand the Ontario wine selection within five of the LCBO’s largest stores by creating VQA boutiques. This is in answer to the Wine Council of Ontario’s call for private wine shops through its own marketing/lobbying campaign launched in December called mywineshop.ca.
I presented my views about privatization in a WineAlign newsletter (Private Wine Shops in Ontario? – Let’s Talk about it.) at the time this story broke. My reaction to the latest moves by the LCBO is that they are of course a step in the right direction, but they don’t go nearly far enough. And If they are such great ideas, why weren’t they adopted years ago? Despite Duncan saying the plans have been in the pipeline for some time, they represent sheer political opportunism on the part of the incumbent Liberal government.
I was going to go into more depth on the shallowness of the recent announcements but this has been done very well by National Post columnist Chris Selley in his article: Ontario Liberals tempt fate with liquor retail ‘revolution’. In essence it points out that the LCBO proposal is not new at all. LCBO agency stores have been operating within groceries and supermarkets across Ontario – and managed by private citizens – for years now.
Indeed private retailing of alcohol in the hands of its citizens is far more pervasive than agency stores. It exists, and has existed for years – through tens of thousands of restaurants and bars, through hundreds of Ontario wine stores and supermarket kiosks, and countless make-your-own wine and beer enterprises. This reduces to ashes any argument that the LCBO alone must retail alcohol in order to promote public safety and social responsibility. It just isn’t so. So let these ten supermarkets actually run the kiosks themselves – that would be a meaningful “experiment”.
There will be much more to come in what promises to be a fascinating year of change in the Ontario political/wine landscape.
I will be spending most of January in New Zealand, and filing my next newsletter from somewhere on the South Island. Until next time, happy bargain hunting. You can link to all of my Jan 5th reviews below.
VP of Wine
From the January 5, 2013 Vintages release: