John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for May 11, 2013
Rosé; The Doctor Recommends; Highlights From Top Ten Smart Buys
This week’s report features a handful of rosés that shine above the rest for their quality/value/pleasure. Few producers take rosé production seriously, and finding the good stuff is like panning for gold. My selection includes a shiny range from $13 to $27; all are dry. I’ve nothing against sweet pinks – they’re great for spritzers. I also highlight a naturally low alcohol white made by a medical doctor in New Zealand who believes he’s hit on an innovative method (patent pending) to achieve full flavor at under 10% ABV, saving countless calories, livers and maybe even marriages. And the Top Ten Smart Buys this week include two astonishingly good $50 wines, which, if they hailed from Burgundy, Bordeaux or Napa, would easily cost in the $100s, plus a whole lot more. Read on.
I know that rosé is a perilous category for wine consumers, fraught with the frustrations of trying to find what you’re looking for out of a jumble of radically different styles all lopped under the same loose heading. It’s kind of like tossing all fruits into one bin at the grocery store and letting shoppers muddle through, only they’re blindfolded and each fruit is wrapped in newspaper. Grab and hope. You’re as likely to find a green apple when looking for a juicy peach, or an avocado instead of a mango. So what can you do to navigate these murky waters? Not much I’m afraid, except find somebody you can trust who’s already tasted the wine, or stick to the regions and producers for whom rosé is not an afterthought or by-product of red wine, or worse yet, the dreaded “brand extension”. If you enjoy dry rosé with some authentic regional character, these are for you:
2012 Muga Rosé ($12.95). Garnacha, tempranillo and viura are blended in this well-priced, dry and lively rosé. 2012 was a warm and dry year in Rioja, conditions under which garnacha thrive. Muga’s vineyards in the cooler, higher elevations of the Rioja Alta also contributed to maintaining the impeccable balance here, and while this may be slightly riper than previous vintages, it’s still lean and crisp with low alcohol. Perfect for patios and paellas.
No other region in the world is more closely associated with quality rosé than Provence in the south of France, and it’s still the source of the world’s best in my view. Château La Tour De l’Évêque makes regular appearances in Canadian stores and the 2012 Rosé ($18.95) is an arch-classic, dry, savoury, solidly built and concentrated example without sacrificing refreshment.
Taking it up a notch into a rarefied quality level for rosé is the 2011 Château Léoube “Rosé de Léoube” ($26.95); available through the agent The Case For Wine. Léoube is a 550 hectare property of dramatic beauty, nestled within sight of the Mediterranean with 62 hectares of organically farmed vineyards surrounded by forests and wild scrub. The English owners of Léoube launched Daylesford Organic foods in the UK over 25 years ago, so respect for the land runs deep in the house philosophy. Château Léoube’s winemaker is Romain Ott, originally of the highly respected Domaine Ott in Provence, who came to the property after the family estate was purchased by Champagne Roederer. He brings considerable experience to the Léoube project, with the know how to make rosé of the highest order. This classic blend of 40% Grenache, 40% cinsault and 10% each of syrah and mourvèdre is a rosé of considerable depth and class. Pale in colour but deep in flavour, it delivers a marvelous fragrance of white flowers, sweet herbs and fresh strawberry, while the palate offers a harmonious balance of acids and alcohol (13%), just hitting perfect drinking stride now. It’s a compelling example of how some time in bottle can do wonders for classically structured rosé, especially when built on genuine concentration rather than merely clever winemaking. Bottom line: it’s well worth the asking price.
Next door to Provence on the other side of the Rhône delta is the AOC of Costières de Nîmes, where the Marès family has been making wine for six generations. Mas Des Bressades 2012 Cuvée Tradition Rosé ($14.95) is a reliable blend of Grenache, syrah and cinsault made in a dry style, reminiscent of Tavel with its generous 13.5% alcohol and powerful fruit.
And rounding out these five picks is the Domaine Allimant-Laugner Rosé Crémant d’Alsace ($19.95), from a region admittedly not known for rosé, but very much worth a look nevertheless because the adjectives good, bubbly, pink and under $20 are rarely found in the same sentence. Hubert Laugner is the 10th generation in a succession of winemakers in the Allimant-Laugner family farming twelve hectares spread over three villages. The Crémant rosé is a traditional method bubbly made from pinot noir, designed to be enjoyed young and fruity. It’s bright and fragrant, with red berry, raspberry, cherry and green apple aromatics, balanced palate and very good length, offering lots of pleasure.
The Doctor Recommends
Drs. John and Brigid Forrest operate Forrest winery in Marlborough, New Zealand, and also own prime parcels in the Gimblett Gravels in Hawke’s Bay, Bannockburn in Central Otago and the Waitaki Valley. Considering the Forrests’ medical training – John spent eight years at the Salk Institute studying neurology – there’s an extra measure of scientific rigor applied to the wines, along with a great deal of empiricism: learning through experimentation and observation, which has lead to many innovative techniques and new wines. The range is indeed huge and would seem impossible to stay on top of, that is, until you meet this energetic and indefatigable couple, the kind of people that make you feel as though you should’ve accomplished more today.
John and Brigid launched the Doctors’ range to represent their growing roster of alternative grapes like arneis, gruner veltliner and St. Laurent, and to label the results of innovative winemaking techniques that have led to wines like the 2011 Forrest Estate The Doctors’ Sauvignon Blanc ($19.95). This dry wine clocks in at a featherweight 9.5% alcohol, naturally achieved, without chemical or mechanical de-alcoholization.
My conversation with Dr. Forrest on his methods quickly surpassed my knowledge of plant biology/physiology, touching on concepts such as the splitting and deviations of carbon rings as the plant grows grows – this is clearly a process that Forrest has studied deeply. He has drawn upon work done at the Geisenheim Research in Germany, where Professor Hans Schultz has been investigating methods to maintain the traditionally low alcohol style of German riesling in the face of global warming. According to Dr. Forrest, the initial step is to carefully select sauvignon blanc clones from specific vineyards and microclimates. Then, methods of vine de-vigoration are applied, such as the targeted removal of young basal leaves from vines at critical times, which are far more efficient at photosynthesis, leaving the less efficient older leaves to do all of the ripening work. The result is lower sugar accumulation but longer hang time, allowing full flavour development with less potential alcohol. This, and other “top secret” viticultural techniques, as well as less secretive winemaking techniques such as using low-efficiency yeast strains that pump out less alcohol per gram of sugar, have enabled Forrest to create this dry 9.5% alcohol sauvignon naturally, a first of its kind to my knowledge.
Forrest first applied his techniques to riesling with tremendous commercial success before turning his sights on Marlborough’s calling card variety. The 2012 is the third and most successful attempt to date, a wine in which he finally achieved the balance he was looking for. Forrest needed one last little tweak: the addition of a small portion of slightly overripe/late harvested sauvignon to add a tropical fruit nuance that was missing from the previous trials.
While the Doctors’ sauvignon blanc may not make the angels sigh, I find it remarkably flavourful nonetheless, not to mention regionally and varietally accurate, for such a low alcohol wine – I have to marvel at the ingenuity of its production and the commercial potential. For anyone who enjoys Marlborough sauvignon blanc, or any other zesty-herbal white, and wants a low alcohol alternative with fewer calories and lower alcohol-related health (and moving violation) risks, this is worth trying. Forrest plans to share his research with others later this year.
Highlights From Top Ten Smart Buys
In this week’s top ten I’ve included two wines that are well above the price range normally recommended: 2010 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg ($50.00) and 2007 Manzone Gramolere Barolo ($51.95). The reason is simple: these are great value wines, period.
The Schlossberg riesling is made by one of the most respected domaines in Alsace, from the world’s most noble white grape, grown in one of the top vineyard sites for the variety in all of northern Europe, in a classic vintage. $50 is actually a bargain. The 2010 is a pure marvel of the grape with a palpably gritty texture, riveting acids and striking salty minerality – this is all about vineyard expression with a minimum of winemaking interference. Be forewarned that this is not an immediately accessible wine, but rather one for both long ageing in the cellar and for terroir fanatics – a real intellectual challenge in the best sense. But those are precisely the qualities one looks for in premium wines – the fruity fluffy stuff can be made just about anywhere by anyone. (This wine is available in VINTAGES Classics Catalogue from February, so supply may be limited.)
I have a similar pitch for the Barolo: an historic estate making limited quantities of wine from Italy’s most aristocratic red grape grown in the legendary hilltop vineyard Gramolere in Monforte d’Alba, in a top, age-worthy vintage. ‘Nuff said. It’s just starting to open nicely now on the nose, showing its evident class and quality right off the top and textbook floral, red fruit, licorice, tar and violet aromatics. The palate is firm and very well structured, with wave after wave of palate-coating flavour and pleasantly grippy texture. It’s an expansive wine of genuine concentration and authentic complexity that can only derive from a unique combination of suitable conditions, i.e., a terroir wine.
Although $50 is a lofty price to pay for any bottle, I have to say that relative to the equivalent top wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Napa Valley for example, you could argue that these are outright giveaways. I’d say it’s where the smart money goes if you’re into the premium category.
See below for the link to the rest of the top ten. You’ll find more smart white wine values from the Loire and the Mosel, one of my favorites whites from Campania, sturdy reds from Calabria, Spain and the Languedoc, and one of the best values from California I’ve encountered in some time.
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
John Szabo MS
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From the May 11, 2013 Vintages release: