Lawrason’s Take on Vintages May 11 Release

Lake Erie’s Dilemma, 90Pt $25 Syrahs, Pretty Pinks & Six Other Wines of Interest.

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The Australian feature in VINTAGES May 11 release is not all that thematically strong yet there are a couple of 90 point shiraz based reds. Likewise, the quirky selection of rosés delivers a fine pair of $13 pinkies. And I have dug deeper into the release to find several other Wines of Interest. But first a comment on the mini-feature on Ontario’s Lake Erie North Shore, a region that some marketing whiz has re-branded as Essex Pelee Island Coast, or EPIC for short. EPIC is not a new appellation (yet), nor are the wines epic yet – despite the breathless prose in VINTAGES catalogue.

Lake Erie’s Forgotten Wineries

Calling the wines of LENS (Lake Erie North Shore) forgotten is bound to raise the hackles of the folks from Harrow, Kingsville, Pelee and other points in southwest Ontario. They will suggest it reflects a GTA-Niagara indifference to the wines down Windsor way. And they are right.  But there are two sides to every story. For one thing the wines are too seldom put on the radar in the huge market around Lake Ontario, which is why Vintages is pushing hard in this week’s catalogue. The real reason however is that they are not competing well enough in the bottle. Too few of the wines are driven by terroir/quality aspirations. There are few premium priced wines, or single vineyard wines – in other words too few buzz-worthy wines. The two economic drivers of the region – Colio and Pelee Island – rank among the top five volume-wise wineries in Ontario. They have attempted premium wines, and their prices do not over-reach. But neither does their quality.

Muscedere Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2011I am particularly disappointed of late by Pelee Island, a winery possessing the largest and perhaps most unique estate vineyard in the province. In recent times they ceased using their Pelee Island VQA designation on their labels. And so the Pelee Island designation was quietly dropped altogether by VQA Ontario and folded into Lake Erie North Shore. This is the only instance I can recall of an appellation disappearing from the books – surely a backward step (and a good reason never to allow one producer to own an entire appellation). It has undoubtedly led to the creation of the new EPIC branding that some will be angling to officially replace Lake Erie North Shore (which admittedly is not a great name either).

I visited LENS in 2010 and I am due to return. I can see the potential for the reds due to the moderate climate that favours later ripening “Bordeaux” red varieties like cabernet franc and merlot. The whites I find a bit flabby and hot, with some exceptions. The soils are weighted to sand and clay, but as with all areas in the Great Lakes basin there is limestone subsoil from an era when the Great Lakes comprised one great inland sea. In some places the limestone is not far from the surface.

And there are signs of winemaking progress. The Muscedere family (pronounced Moo-shed-ray) is producing some fine reds from their small plot – including syrah and pinot. Muscedere 2011 Cabernet Franc ($18.20) is a bit lighter than some of their other offerings but pleasantly vibrant, energetic and almost racy.  Viewpointe and Sprucewood Shores have produced some good individual efforts, and I tasted some potentially good wines from Smith and Wilson farther east toward Port Stanley.  Newer Cooper’s Hawk and Colchester Ridge CREW are promising too, but the 2008 reds in this release are maturing and a bit awkward.

90 Point $25 Syrahs

The $25 price point is important for fans of syrah and shiraz. For some reason this grape – with rare exceptions in the Rhône and Australia – has always been held to a lower pricing standard than cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. I think it is a lingering historical prejudice, whereby the commercial and auction house establishment of Paris and London once considered the syrah and grenache based wines of the south of France inferior by nature. And perhaps they were. But that no longer holds up in today’s global wine universe. The winemaking quality standard has risen dramatically, which means that the value quotient has risen too – a notion that struck me as I tasted through this release and found at least three solid 90 pointers at $25.

Spice Route Shiraz 2009Château Puech Haut Prestige Saint Drézéry 2010Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier Shiraz Viognier 2011Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier Shiraz/Viognier 2011 is a great buy at $24.95. It is an organically grown wine that bridges the Old and New Worlds, the result of a project by Michel Chapoutier of the Rhône and American Anthony Terlato who runs a large, international fine wine distribution company as well as Terlato Family Vineyards in California. It has classic Rhône syrah character with some Aussie heft. As Vintages Wine of the Month it should be around in sufficient quantities to be easily available. Grab a handful for the cellar.

Château Puech-Haut 2010 Prestige Saint-Drézéry from the Languedoc region in the south of France is another excellent buy at $26.95. This is actually weighted to grenache in the blend but it is a modern classic of the genre, with poise and power. It’s from a large 100 ha property not far from Montpelier that has gone to expense of hiring top consultant Michel Rolland; who if nothing else does tend to fashion wines with some elegance.

Spice Route 2009 Shiraz from the Swartland region of South Africa is another bomb at $24.95. It’s not just big; it’s complex, layered, profound and packed with personality. The Swartland region toward the western Atlantic coast has emerged as a new star for shiraz and Rhône-styled reds grown on dry farmed, red granitic soils. This is an In Store Discovery, so only available in larger Vintages store.

Pretty $13 Pinks

Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2012Zenato Bardolino Chiaretto Rosé 2012Rosé season is now fully upon us, and each release Vintages puts out another dozen or so. They have become quite international in their reach, which is interesting in one sense but it nets some odd ducks too. Not every region or producer really cares about rosé, nor is it a style that expresses regionality all that easily, especially at $15 price point Vintages seems to demand. I would rather see Vintages focused on great quality examples in the $20 range.

Still, there are some finds. Mulderbosch 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé ($12.95) is unusual for its piquant aromas of red currant and green herbs, directly attributable to the cabernet. It is brisk and almost zesty – not the soft and cuddly type – and for that reason I suspect it will perform very well with cold al fresco meals on the deck or dock.

Zenato 2012 Bardolino Chiaretto Rosé ($12.95) is the meek, mild and very pure sunset sipper.  It is so gentle in fact, and pale, that you might find yourself feeling a bit let down at first. After a couple of glasses you will have a new friend.

Other Wines of Interest

Vinos Sin Ley Puerta Bonita Garnacha 2009Balbas Reserva 2001Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2011Blue Mountain 2011 Chardonnay ($23.95) from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is a terrific buy in serious, cool climate chardonnay. When Ian and Jane Mavety first planted their stunning, much photographed vineyard overlooking Vaseux Lake in 1971, they were years ahead of the curve. They didn’t open a winery until 1991, and when they did the restaurant-focused wines remained largely inaccessible to the general public. With Matt and Christie Mavety of the next generation now taking a more active role, the wines are finding a broader audience, and recent quality and value quotients are very high – a result of sustainable, careful grape growing that began over 40 years ago.

Balbas 2001 Reserva from Spain’s Ribera del Duero is amazingly silky and refined, but it raises a questioning eyebrow. How is it that the colour is still so youthful and the fruit so fresh when this wine is 12 years old? There is some mature leathery character amid all the fruit, and it sure is texturally smooth, so there is some age here. But it still shows youthful aplomb and it will drink well for at least another five years – all rather remarkable for a wine costing $20.95.

Still in Spain, Vinos Sin Ley 2009 Puerta Bonita Garnacha is from a region northwest of Madrid. It purports to come from 120 year old vines, which is really quite remarkable. The resulting low yields have imparted excellent flavour focus and concentration, and there is a sense of refinement and poise that had me mentally comparing this to top Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Vinos Sin Ley (Wines without Law) is a collective of young winemakers who work through Spain, assembling twice a year to take on adventurous, value focused projects, often outside the realm of established DOs.  They succeed admirably here, at $18.95.

Guenoc Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Manzone Gramolere Barolo 2007Badia A Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2009Guenoc 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95) is at first glance nothing remarkable, the kind of wine easily overlooked on the tasting bench or the crowded wine aisle. Another California cabernet, and because it’s not from Napa it’s not an attention grabber. I think I was drawn to it precisely because it is not refined and sculpted; because it’s loaded with fruit and energy, and doesn’t rely on the confection of so many California cabs at this modest price. The Guenoc Valley is a massive spread of vineyards tucked in the hills of Lake County north of Napa.

Manzone 2007 Le Gramolere Barolo ($51.95) is a splendidly refined and modern example of carefully and naturally rendered, almost tender nebbiolo from a steep, low-yielding single vineyard in Monforte d’Alba. Manzone, founded in 1925, is now a father and son enterprise focused only on premium quality. With only 4000 cases per year spread across a range of four Barolos plus barbera and dolcetto, individual bottlings are rather scarce. I consider this a very fair price for the impeccable quality it displays.

Badia A Coltibuono 2009 Chianti Classico ($23.95) has very much the same tender yet energetic and natural feel, perhaps because this too is organically grown. This is a very old but very modern property owned and managed by the Stucchi Prinetti family. It makes a range of wines and olive oils and runs a restaurant, small inn and cooking classes. What I admire is the honest Chianti-ness of the wines – it’s exactly what I hope for from Chianti, and I would be willing to pay even more to get it.

That’s it for this edition. Don’t forget to check out our latest episode of “So, You Think You Know Wine?” and watch next week for an article by Anthony Gismondi, as well as Steve Thurlow’s monthly report on the LCBO Top 50 Values.

But before signing off, I want to welcome Sarah Goddard who joins Bryan and Carol Ann as our third full time staff member at WineAlign. With a deep resume as a sommelier (and a former star student at CAPS) she will be managing our new office in Etobicoke that will become tasting central for the WineAlign’s professional critics and the WineAlign Cru of bloggers. The address is at 4195 Dundas Street West, Suite 222, Toronto, Ontario. M8X 1Y4.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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