Lawrason’s Take on Vintages April 27 Release
Passing on Appassimento, France’s 2010s and Ten WOIs (Wines of Interest)
This is a large, rambling release with only one stylistic/regional theme – Italy’s appassimento wines. I will explain why I am lukewarm on appassimento wines, wherever they are made, then move on to more compelling topics. There are a handful of excellent 2010s from France, a vintage very much deserving to be on your radar. Then from there it’s a potpourri of ten WOIs – or Wines of Interest. They may be new, or rare, or surprising for any number of reasons, but all have made the list because their quality is high.
Why I Pass on Appassimento
Last week John Szabo penned a superb WineAlign essay on wines made by the appassimento technique of drying grapes toward raisin-hood in order to concentrate sugars and flavours. It leaves me nothing to do except explain, on a fairly subjective level, why I am not all that interested in the genre.
Appassimento particularly benefits reds made in cooler climates, so if all the world’s reds were made in Veneto or Ontario, I might be tempted to buy more appassimento. And when the world of Italian wine was much more narrow than it is today, amarone was indeed greeted as something magically rich and wonderful. But there are now simply far more choices in rich, buxom reds made elsewhere, particularly rich syrah/shiraz from Australia, South Africa, California, even B.C. And there are also many fully ripened reds from southern Italy and Spain that actually have similar flavour profiles to amarone. So, pass – especially when considering the next points.
The number two reason is price. By drying the grapes the yield per berry is lower and the price is justifiably higher. But increased weight and concentration does not always equate to higher quality to justify the price. I have had some great Italian amarones – and there are a couple of excellent ones on this release – but I have had far more not great Italian amarones that cost $30 to $60. Likewise, many of Ontario’s new appassimentos are quite expensive as well. Pass.
The third reason is inconsistent quality. As John Szabo explains, the finished appassimento wine is only as good as the quality of the grapes going in. The process doesn’t manufacture quality; only weight and flavour concentration. And if the drying is not done carefully the grapes can develop volatile/acetic character which I find frequently in appassimento wines. So one has to be careful to choose the best producers, and nowadays in Veneto there are hundreds of producers of amarone and ripasso wines. And in Ontario the technique is sufficiently new and varied that a strong quality track record is not yet established.
Having said all that, here two recommended wines on this release. Le Ragose 2005 Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico is certainly not cheap at $62.95 but it is classic, mature, complex and compelling amarone that gets to the heart of the reason that the genre endures. And for those unwilling or unable to consider that price I also recommend Le Arche Atesio 2010 Appassimento Rosso at only $16.95. This is a wine that doesn’t try too hard to be an amarone; it is simply charming, youthful and well made.
France’s 2010 Vintage
In recent weeks and months we have begun to see the whites and reds of France’s excellent 2010 vintage arrive in some volume. No matter the region or grape variety any well-made 2010s have a certain energy, structure, purity and depth. I first noticed it a year ago when I spent a week in Alsace and tasted the new releases. There were dozens of scintillating whites. I moved on to Burgundy and the south of France directly after Alsace and found the same kind of tension and focus in the early releases there as well. Since then we have begun to see the first “minor” Bordeaux, the first premier cru Burgundy, and the bigger Chateauneuf-du-Papes. The winemakers of the Rhone are particularly excited.
The weather was not uniform throughout all the French regions but there are some commonalities that begin to account for the quality. One is the lower than normal yield across the country thanks to a cold winter; with commensurate increase in flavour concentration (length of finish). The spring tended to be cool with a later start to the growing season, which was warm and balanced, with good warmth if not as sensationally hot and news-grabbing as 2009. With the later start, good fall weather was essential and Mother Nature delivered. So overall the grapes enjoyed a long, even ripening with natural acidity maintained, and tannin levels being in balance as well. And that’s what I really like about 2010 – the sense of balance and tension and evenness – not overripe, not underripe, not flabby, nor shrill. Here are some examples on this release.
Clos Du Roy 2010 Fronsac ($22.95) is a thoroughly impressive, solid yet forgiving and quite elegant young merlot-based red from the right bank of Bordeaux. Domaine De Saint Siffrein 2010 Châteauneuf-Du-Pape ($41.95) is another in a string of solid 2010 southern Rhones that are reserved now, but will bloom in the cellar over the next five years, and could last for over a decade. Delas Domaine Des Grands Chemins 2010 Crozes-Hermitage ($31.95) is a 100% syrah from the northern Rhone that is also showing classic, age-worthy structure. (This is an In-Store Discovery found only in the largest Vintages stores).
Five White Wines of Interest
Loan Wines 2004 Unwooded Special Reserve Semillon from the Barossa Valley of South Australia is jaw-droppingly stunning. And amazing value at $15.95. For years I have extolled the virtues and value of Australian semillon, but this organically grown, fully mature example is the exclamation point. If you are at all a wine explorer you cannot afford to not buy a bottle.
La Cappuccina 2012 Soave ($14.95) is an organically grown garganega that points to a real renaissance in quality within this once boring, industrialized category. The Tessari family has been making wine in the region since 1890, but in 1985 they began the conversion to “slow wine” and organic grape growing. The resulting energy, balance and refinement is palpable, and remarkable for $15.
Mount Riley 2011 Chardonnay ($17.95) from New Zealand is of interest not just due its price, but due to its tight, Chablis-like cool climate structure. New Zealand in general and Marlborough in particular tends to be over-looked as a chardonnay producer – largely due to the omni-presence of its sauvignons. But this is a very good buy, partially fermented in new oak, but not the least oaky.
Lammershoek 2010 Roulette Blanc from the Swartland region of South Africa ($21.95) is one of the most intriguing and best white blends of the Cape – from naturally farmed bush vines growing chenin blanc, chardonnay, viognier and clairette. It is barrel fermented but the oaking is very well handled. It’s complex, age-worthy and performs well above its price.
Lunae 2011 Colli Di Luni Vermentino ($20.95) is one of the best examples of vermentino that I have ever encountered. Colli di Luni is an appellation in eastern Liguria on Italy’s north Mediterranean coast. Cantina Lunae is a widely heralded producer with 65 ha planted on sand and gravel slopes overlooking the Mediterranean. Great vitality, finesse and exotic flavours here.
Five Red Wines of Interest
Hidden Bench 2009 Terroir Caché Meritage ($32.95) from the Beamsville Bench of Niagara Peninsula is a dramatic statement for pressing on with Bordeaux varieties in Niagara, if winemakers are prepared to commit to quality and consumers are willing to pay for it. This is a surprisingly fine and ripe example from “a lighter, cooler vintage”, and from a sub-region of Niagara that is much better known for riesling, chardonnay and pinot. And I would put it up against any $35 Bordeaux you could name.
Maycas Del Limarí 2009 Reserva Especial Syrah ($19.95) is very good value, and a peek at the evolving quality and styling of Chilean syrah. The grape is relatively new in the long thin land, so still in the process of finding itself. Many still smell and taste more like cabernet or carmenere than syrah, but the northern, Pacific-cooled regions of Limari (with some limestone) and Elqui are showing more typical syrah character.
Quartz Reef 2010 Pinot Noir ($44.95) is from the Bendigo sub-region of Central Otago, New Zealand. It is of interest to me on many levels, including the fact it represents a specific sub-appellation of Central Otago. After spending five days there I came to appreciate that Otago is indeed more than one region. It is also of interest because it is biodynamically produced and because it is a very refined pinot noir.
Morgenster 2005 Lourens River Valley ($25.95) is a mature example of a very serious, cabernet focused, Bordeaux-inspired house with vineyards in the slightly cooler Helderberg sub district of Stellenbosch near Somerset West. Pierre Lurton of Bordeaux is the winemaking consultant. You may not be a fan of Stellenbosch reds with their distinctive rubber band/tarry character – and you will find it here – but there are so many other attributes on display, for a shockingly low price.
Torrevento 2008 Vigna Pedale Riserva ($20.95) is from the Castel del Monte appellation of Puglia on the heel of Italy – an appellation that has been on my value radar for years. This red is from a low-yielding local grape called uva di troia, but it becomes a Wine of Interest largely due to its unique, exotic spiciness. And by the way, I would easily buy three bottles of this over one bottle of fine amarone.
That’s it for this edition. See you back here before the May 11 release. May warm weather wine drinking be with us all soon.
VP of Wine
From the April 27, 2013 Vintages release: