Lawrason’s Take on Vintages July 20 Release
Great Values Under $25, Chapoutier and my Best of the Bunch
The headline in a July 5 article in the National Post by their drinks freelancer Adam McDowell made a statement (ducked by posing it as a question) that boiled my blood, and I don’t boil easily. “Are wine critics fooling us into buying pricier bottles?” the headline asked. And then came a statement positioned as a pull-quote by the National Post editors. It said ‘There’s almost nowhere where the bulls–t goes deeper than in the wine world’. Beyond the headlines, McDowell’s article leapt from one preposterous assumption to another.
His basic premise is that most people are happy to drink $10 wine (true); thus any wine that we wine critics write about that costs more than $10 is an attempt to fool them into drinking more expensive wine (false). If people are happy with their $10 wine, good for them. But they are not the people who read wine criticism. And a journalist like McDowell should be attempting to explain why people find wine interesting and pleasurable beyond its basic role as a $10 beverage..
If you are reading this newsletter you are looking for help in finding the best values on Vintages July 20 release – the most interesting and highest quality wines at the lowest possible price. That is my job. And I do it as objectively and fairly as I can, based on years of tasting and studying wine of all grapes, styles, origins and prices. It is what all the other critics at WineAlign try to do too. I am disappointed that the National Post – which is a WineAlign partner and will presumably be publishing this piece – didn’t bother to talk to us about our experience, methodology and results.
But onward, to some great values and great wines from VINTAGES very large July 20 release. The focal point is chardonnay in recognition of this weekend’s International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4c) in Niagara, but as John Szabo has nicely covered this event and the wines I will move on and straight into my picks from other realms.
Chapoutier of the Rhone
M. Chapoutier of France’s Rhône Valley is not a “featured” producer in this release; but VINTAGES might have considered doing so. (In fact, featuring one producer each release with a portfolio of about half dozen wines, would be a great idea). I decided to focus on Chapoutier because there are three very good wines, in three price ranges, in the line-up. Chapoutier is a very old firm, but after Max Chapoutier (who I visited in 1984) passed away, the mantle was passed to son Michel Chapoutier, a very inquisitive, passionate man who dug into bio-dynamics and began converting the company’s production. The result these many years later are wines of great structure, energy and complexity.
M. Chapoutier 2011 Belleruche Côtes Du Rhône ($15.95) is the basic Côtes Du Rhône based on grenache and syrah, sourced from various soils across four departments. It shows surprising structure and length for the money – great value indeed. The 2011 Les Granilites Saint-Joseph Rouge ($39.95) is a 100% syrah made from parcels of prime granitic soils on the steep right bank of the Rhône. It is aged in barrels for 12 months then cement vats for six. It has a certain ruggedness and depth that is very appealing. And then there is the very svelte, 2011 Invitare Condrieu ($65.95) a wonderful white viognier from the tiny appellation that made this perfumed grape famous. The steep granite slopes proved so difficult to cultivate that the entire appellation was reduced to 17 acres in 1985; but Michel Chapoutier is one of a few producers bringing Condrieu back to life.
Having extolled the wines above I must also report that I was not pleased with a vinegary note in a 4th Chapoutier wine on this release – Domaine De Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem from Roussillon.
Four Summery Whites Under $20
I don’t know about you but my red wine consumption has fallen off a cliff since July 1. Kick back with these unusual and very effective unoaked whites, built for a heat wave.
Gaspereau 2011 Muscat ($19.95) from Nova Scotia has amazing aromatic lift and scintillating acidity that will slay summer heat. What is not obvious from the label is that the grape variety is not the muscat (à petits grains) that is widely grown in Europe. It is a muscat-like hybrid variety called New York Muscat developed at Cornell University by crossing Homburg Muscat with a grape called Ontario. (Who knew our province was named after a grape?). Anyway, you must give this vaguely pinkish wine a try. The winery says “it is the perfect partner for curry dishes, crab cakes and shellfish”.
Buena Vista 2011 Vinicultural Society Sauvignon Blanc ($18.95) is a gentle, bright sauvignon ideal for a mellow summer evening. A little less intense than most Kiwi examples and very nicely made. This is a promising re-introduction of Buena Vista, an historic Sonoma winery that has been re-booted since acquisition by Boisset of Burgundy. Jean Charles Boisset has been on a real roll in establishing his vision for bright, pure and often biodynamic wines in California – not only at Buena Vista, but Raymond, De Loach, Lyeth and Lockwood.
Elephant Hill 2011 Le Phant Blanc Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand ($19.95) is a sleek, delicious blend of viognier, pinot gris and gewürztraminer from Gunther Thies, formerly the winemaker at Schloss Schoenborn in Germany’s Rheingau region. He established an ultra-modern winery on the seaside in Hawke’s Bay and makes a range of modern, elegant wines. At the New Zealand Wine Fair in Toronto in May I asked Gunther about the significance of the name, Le Phant. There is no significance; it just sounded fun, said Gunther.
La Ferme Du Mont 2011 La Truffiere Côtes Du Rhône, France ($15.95) offers a fresh, new alternative in unoaked summer whites. Historically basic white Rhônes have been dull and a rather soft, but picking at the right moment and using natural yeasts winemaker Stefan Vedeau has crafted a brilliant, well textured, subtle yet energetic white based on grenache blanc. And there is an intriguing anise and spice on the finish that signs it off as classic southern France.
Four 90 Point South American Reds Under $20
I was very impressed by a quartet of well-priced reds from Argentina and Chile that are well constructed yet nicely pure and delicious examples of their grape and origin.
Altocedro 2011 Año Cero Malbec La Consulta ($18.95) hails from one of the better sub-regions of the Uco Valley, a higher altitude region where warm days and cool nights bring both richness and freshness through decent acid balance. This is the second time I have recommended Altocedro, so perhaps winemaking is part of it as well. Karim Mussi Saffie is head winemaker and owner of the property (est 1989) and his family have been part of Argentina’s wine industry for more than 30 years.
Fabre Montmayou 2011 Reserva Malbec ($15.95) is surprisingly lush, rich, smooth and deep for the money. I suspect it has to do with the traditional winemaking – natural yeast and generous oak – applied to grapes from fifty year+ vines in the Lujan de Cuyo region. This is the heartland of Mendoza. The company also has a winery to the south in Patagonia.
Casas Del Bosque 2011 Reserva Pinot Noir ($16.95) is one of the better pinots out of Chile, and again, a steal at $17. I have generally found Chilean pinot too simple and somewhat confected, but this has some tension and complexity. Pinot is very important to this modern producer in the cooler Casablanca Valley.
Bisquertt 2009 Ecos De Rulo Carmenère, Colchagua Valley ($17.95) is a textbook example of Chile’s signature grape, with some herbaceousness but not too much. Viña Bisquertt was founded in 1978 by Mr. Osvaldo Bisquertt Reveco, who planted the first vines in 1974 in the now prestigious Marchigüe area about 30 kms from Pacific Ocean. Nicely done.
Four Great Euro Red Bargains
Château De Ventenac 2009 Grand Réserve Cabardès ($17.95) is an excellent example from one of the more unusual appellations of the south of France. Situated inland near Carcassonne, the region experiences climatic influences from both the Atlantic to the west and the Mediterranean in the east – resulting in the formal inclusion of Bordeaux varieties (minimum 40% merlot or cabernet) and Mediterranean varieties (minimum 40% syrah and grenache). To make it even more interesting, the lower slopes of this region are limestone based soils, with some granite outcrops at higher elevations.
Romain Duvernay 2010 Vacqueyras ($26.95) is yet another excellent 2010 southern Rhone, this time from a fairly new family negociant enterprise based in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. In 1998 Roland Duvernay and his son Romain, both oenologists, decided to form a company to deliver modern, accessible wines. It worked. My review calls this Vacqueyras (65% grenache, 20% syrah, 15% mourvedre) “plush, open, savoury and refined”.
Renieri 2010 Invetro ($20.95) is a delicious, savoury and elegant wine for the money, a blend of sangiovese 50%, cabernet sauvignon 25% and merlot 25% from an estate in Montalcino in southern Tuscany. It has about 30 hectares of vineyard that was completely replanted in 1998 at a higher density. This wine comes with a nifty glass “cork”
Quinta De Ventozelo 2009 Touriga Nacional ($19.95). This is consistently one of my go-to producers for Douro wines – be they ports or table wines. This 100% touriga nacional presents a great glimpse into what makes it Portugal’s premier red grape. It was aged eight months in American oak. It is wonderfully polished, ripe yet well structured, and huge value.
Best of the Bunch
A reader remarked recently that I “never just pick my favourite wine(s) of the release, price be damned”. So I may just do that going forward. In this release there were actually two favourites – both French, both great, and one a huge value.
Château Clos De L’Oratoire 2009 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé ($68.85) is a lesson in modern Bordeaux winemaking from a small 4,000 case chateau that only came into being in 1972 when a larger property was parcelled off. In 1989 L’Oratoire was purchased outright by Comte Stephan von Neipperg, who also owns Canon-La-Gaffeliere. I am a fan of Neipperg wines, or at least those by his self-taught oenologist Stéphane Derenoncourt, who consults to several Bordeaux properties, and has begun working in California. Anyway – I love the effortless balance and layers in this merlot (90%), a testament to a great vintage and great winemaking. And yes, good value at $70. As an ISD quantities are very limited – only 49 cases released for all of Ontario.
Rolly Gassmann 2007 Rotleibel De Rorschwihr Auxerrois ($20.95) is a masterpiece of complexity and balance. The old school rustic label, the unknown vineyard (non grand cru) and the rarely seen grape variety (auxerrois) will ensure that most casual shoppers will walk on by. Leaving more of 199 cases ordered for those who read this. Iconoclast Rolly Gassman will amaze; and I’ll leave it at that.
I look forward to seeing some of you at I4C this weekend. Check out space availability at the Chardonnay “Boot and Sandal” camp that John Szabo and I are hosting on Saturday afternoon at Vineland. And watch for upcoming articles and recommendations by our new B.C. WineAlign critics, Rhys Pender and DJ Kearney, as well as more from Treve Ring.
VP of Wine
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From the July 20, 2013 Vintages release: