John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for May 25, 2013
Germany; Consignment Corner: Italy; Top Ten Smart Buys
This week’s preview features the top VINTAGES releases for May 25, 2013 with a focus on Germany, as well as a few highlights available through the consignment program. These latter wines are available for purchase directly from the importing agent by case lot (6 or 12, depending on how the wine was shipped), and can be delivered straight to your home or office. It remains little known in Ontario that there are hundreds of wines available at any time outside the LCBO through this fashion. This is where smart sommeliers do their shopping to add unique, often limited production wines to their wine programs, and you can do the same for your cellar or cupboard. This week I revisited the latest releases from a couple of top Italian estates that I think are worth sharing with you.
Pinot noir from around the world is the other VINTAGES theme, but the selection is disappointing and expensive, the antithesis to the German releases, so I’ve nothing to report on. And finally, of course, there are the usual top smart buys.
Top Smart Buys
This week’s tour of smart bottles takes you to the southern Rhône, Alsace and the Loire Valley in France, and from there southeast to Austria and northern Italy and then west to Rioja. You’ll traverse the equator to reach the Yarra Valley in Victoria, Australia, and then cross the Pacific to the shores of Chile and head up the Aconcagua Valley to vineyards sitting under the southern hemisphere’s highest peak. Start your journey here.
Looking for smart buys to sip this summer? Deutschland calls. Four of the six rieslings proposed by VINTAGES come highly recommended. Indeed, had I not chosen to list the German wines separately, these recommendations would have all made the top smart buys list. It’s hard to imagine a better summertime wine than the crisp, light, low alcohol and fragrant rieslings of Germany, and of the impossibly steep slate-covered slopes of the Mosel in particular. And while popularity and price lag behind quality, these are still some of the smartest buys in the world of wine. You need only reflect back to the late 19th century when the top rieslings of Germany fetched higher prices at auction and on restaurant wine lists than cru classé Bordeaux and vintage Port to get a sense of the changing whims of consumer preference. Smart drinkers, like smart investors, stay away from the over-fashionable.
In the off-dry category, the 2005 Dr. Hermann Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese ($21.95) is a well-balanced Auslese from the magnificent Würzgarten vineyard. It’s just starting to show some mature, smoky, caramelized fruit character and is drinking beautifully now.
A pair of slightly drier, kabinett-level rieslings from two of the most reliable producers in the Mosel are worthy of attention: 2011 Markus Molitor Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett ($29.95) and 2011 Studert-Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett ($19.95). Markus Molitor is well known for his maniacal devotion to his vineyards and minimalist philosophy in the winery, with the sole aim of expressing the uniqueness of each site. It’s a refrain you’ll hear time and time again in the wine world, but not all walk the walk. Molitor does. His ’11 from the Sonnenuhr vineyard has more like spätlese level ripeness than kabinett, and the palate is a little softer than what I’ve come to expect from this estate, but the site expression and the length/complexity are compelling. Were there a Burgundian style classification of Mosel vineyards, the Sonnenuhr would be grand cru, and this is unquestionably top stuff, it’s a wine to enjoy relatively young, that is to say, now or over the next eight-ten years.
Stüdert-Prüm, not to be confused with the (excellent) estates of J.J. Prüm and S.A. Prüm, has a prized parcel of vines in the nearby Himmelreich vineyard (loosely translated as paradise, from himmel meaning heaven, and reich, meaning empire), which officially belongs to the town of Graach next to Wehlen. This ’11 is an absolutely textbook Mosel riesling, with lovely, fragrant perfume, and off-dry palate balanced by tight acids. Infinitely drinkable, nicely priced.
And the driest of the quartet is the 2011 Vollenweider Wolfer Riesling ($19.95) from the village of Wolf in the Mosel. Wines are made by the Swiss Daniel Vollenweider, who blames Egon Müller for his move to the Mosel. It was specifically a 1990 Müller Scharzhofberg Riesling Auslese that compelled Vollenweider to drop everything and move to the Mosel to purchase several sites classified as “steep” or “extremely steep”, planted to an unusually high percentage of ancient, ungrafted vines. Having tasted the Scharzhofberg, I can’t say I blame Vollenweider. But his wines are making their own waves amongst German riesling cognoscenti, and this village blend is a clean, intense, smoky and minerally example with what I’d describe as an authentic, natural, pure profile – there’s nothing contrived about this. The palate is lean and tight, essentially dry, and rivetingly acidic in the best sense, with excellent complexity. This is fine stuff.
Consignment Corner: Wine Beyond the LCBO
Read David Lawrason’s latest report laying out the ever-more compelling reasons for private wine shops in Ontario. Maybe in our lifetime we’ll be able to find wines like the ones I’ve highlighted below, and thousands more, in a privately run shop near you. Wouldn’t that be nice. Until then, get to know some of the best agents in the province.
Last week Vincenzo Abbruzzese, proprietor of Valdicava in Montalcino, Tuscany, was in town to show off current releases and provide a retrospective on some old vintages of the estate’s top single vineyard Brunello, Madonna del Piano Riserva. Abbruzzese’s grandfather purchased Valdicava in 1953, and was instrumental, along with Franco Biondi-Santi, in establishing the appellation regulations for Brunello di Montalcino. At the time there were perhaps a dozen wine-producing estates in the zone; today there are over two hundred. Fortune has smiled on the once impoverished town of Montalcino. Yet Abbruzzese recalls the days when pici al ragù meant pasta with a sauce of moistened stale bread to the citizens of the town. Today, the ragù is rich and meaty, much like the wines of the DOCG.
The Valdicava property lies on a 300m high plateau north of the town Montalcino in the valley of the same name. It’s curious to call a plateau at 300m a “valley” (“val”), that is, until you look down on it from the town of Montalcino at over 400m. Perspective is everything. It’s a notably cooler zone of the Brunello DOCG, much more prone to fog and mist than the southern portion, and largely sheltered from the warming influence of the Mediterranean. The temperature on the north side of Montalcino is often several degrees lower than the south. Valdicava has twenty-seven hectares planted exclusively to sangiovese grosso (aka brunello), all farmed organically, on some of the most prized land in the valley, surrounded by several other top Brunello names like Caparzo and Romitorio.
These are certainly not inexpensive wines, but they’re among the top stuff in an appellation where the mean quality is extremely high. As Abbruzzese points out, the stakes are simply too rich today, and only those with sufficient ante to get into the game can even contemplate making wine in Montalcino. The net result is a large collection of small, extremely well funded estates aiming for the top end of the market. Consumers likewise have to ante-up if they wish to drink Brunello, but if you are inexorably attracted to the deepest and most powerful expression of sangiovese, there is nowhere quite like Montalcino to get your fix.
When Abbruzzese asked whether I would categorize his Brunellos as “traditional” or “modern”, a common distinction in the region, I sat back and thought for a moment. I couldn’t rightly place them in either category, absent the obvious toasty wood and sumptuous black fruit of the modern camp, yet neither the pale garnet colour, pot-pourri and dried cherry scented expression of the best traditional styles. Valdicava hits a nice balance between the two, with plenty of rich, ripe fruit and supple tannins, without sacrificing the savory, dried porcini-like character and firm structure that made Brunello famous in the first place. A good entry point to experience the quality level of Valdicava is the 2010 Rosso di Montalcino ($36.99). This is no easy drinking Rosso as most are, but rather one with substance, richness and considerable depth. It’s ripe yet rustic and earthy, with a real meaty-savoury note and complexity well above the average for the designation.
2005 was a cooler, generally lighter vintage in Montalcino, but in the case of the 2005 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino ($99), that simply means more finesse and earlier enjoyment, and indeed this is a really fine and fragrant bottle of Brunello. It’s sultry, with wet clay and ripe, savoury black cherry flavours, and a whiff of wild herbs and dried roses. And while not the most powerful of vintages, it delivers immense pleasure with its authentically dry and dusty texture, suitable for mid-term ageing.
2006, on the other hand, is the vintage for those seeking more muscle. The 2006 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino ($125) is a powerful and concentrated wine, full of savoury fruit notes, and loads of umami flavour like pure dried porcini mushrooms. The palate is still firm and compact, packed with ripe and solid tannins and supporting acid structure, making this a highly age worthy bottle. This should be best after 2016, and drink nicely for another decade after that if not longer. (This wine is currently available in the LCBO Classics Catalogue).
Azienda Agricola Accadia
Considering the amazing diversity and complexity of the top red wines of Italy, Italian whites are usually relegated to the second division. I attribute this view largely to the overwhelming acreage devoted to neutral grapes like trebbiano Toscano and catarratto. But a handful of native grapes stand above the sea of mediocrity: fiano, greco and falanghina from Campania, garganega from Soave, arneis from Piedmont, vermentino from Sardegna and the Tuscan-Ligurian coast come to mind. Then there’s Verdicchio, Le Marche’s contribution to the characterful white wines of Italy. It’s ironically related to trebbiano (of Lugana), but with far more character and class, excelling in styles ranging from bone dry to sweet, late harvest, even some sparkling versions. It has a wonderfully subtle floral side, often with a whiff of honey and almond, bright acids and the capacity to age.
Angelo Accadia manages a small, high quality operation in the Castelli di Jesi appellation that sits in an east-west valley that gives onto the Adriatic Sea. I recall visiting Accadia in 2006, and was impressed by the quality and the range of expressions of verdicchio on offer. Accadia is first an artist, a painter and sculpture to be precise, who happens to make wine. His works of art are on display throughout the estate, and he holds regular artistic symposia, inviting artists from across Italy to participate and further the culture of art in an open forum of exchange and sharing. His sense of artistry, balance, proportion, and authenticity seep into his winemaking philosophy.
Years later after my visit and the positive impression remains intact: the wines are still well priced and deliver great pleasure. For me they caused an almost instant retrieval of sunny Adriatic afternoons, vivid paintings and sensual sculptures from the recesses of my mind. The 2011 Azienda Agricola Accadia Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico “Consono” ($15.95) is Accadia’s very good entry level verdicchio cropped at higher levels and harvested slightly earlier than his two other cuvées, and I find it the most authentic and food-friendly of the range. It’s bright, lively, crisp and bone dry, yet with a certain weight and palate richness that gives this better depth than the average. Aromas and flavours mix in the citrus, blanched almond and sweet green herbal spectrum, with a fine dose of wet stones.
2011 Azienda Agricola Accadia Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore “Cantorí” ($22.95), on the other hand, is Accadia’s top end of the verdicchio range, from the highest elevation and lowest yielding vines (2.5 tons/hectare). There’s a distinctive late harvest-like richness here; the nose is powerful and ripe, full of custard pear, vanilla-poached pear, succulent ripe white peach and plenty of honeyed nuances, while the palate is viscous and dense, with a vague impression of sweetness firmed up by a streak of acids and a certain stony-mineral note. This is a verdicchio of real stature and class; try with luxury shellfish.
Valdicava is represented in Ontario by the Stem Wine Group and Accadia by Le Sommilier Inc. You can contact the agents directly regarding availability. For your convenience, wines on our site are linked to the agent’s profile page where you can find their contact info as well as Critic reviews of the wines they represent. Select ‘All Sources’ and ‘Zero Inventory’ as some of these wines are not in retail stores.
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
John Szabo, Master Sommelier
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From the May 25, 2013 Vintages release: