Lawrason’s Take on Vintages August 17 Release
Alt-Italy, Wines of Place, 90 Point Reds Under $20, Emmanuel Giboulot
Every year at this time I comment on the patchy quality of VINTAGES August releases – less well known and sometimes less well made wines that need to get out on the shelf at some point. And in some cases perhaps best when fewer are watching. We are still watching at WineAlign although I admit less than full scrutiny this time as I too have missed a tasting opportunity in order to take a week by a lake. I have tasted 83 of the 139 products – missing a swath of inexpensive Ontario wines that were curiously not presented for preview to media or product consultants, as well as several from South America in particular.
Alt-Italy (aka not Tuscany, Piedmont, Veneto)
Here in the thick of summer you may not want to be drinking many of the southern Italian reds that dominate this alt-Italy selection. There are a couple of northern reds and some intriguing whites, but the bulk assembled for this dog days release are heavy sledding southern reds – some of them intellectually interesting – but in general they are thick, hot, sour-edged and unbalanced. They need lasagna and grilled Italian sausage on a chilly autumn eve.
Bastianich 2011 Adriatico Friulano ($19.95) is a very classy, sumptuous yet refined white for a mellow summer evening. It is from a winery founded in 1997 and owned by Lidia and Joseph Bastianich – a mother & son team who are movers and shakers in the culinary world (owning 20 restaurants). Their goal is to give the best modern expression to the potential exotic native white varieties of Colli Orientali del Friuli in the far northeast. Friulano is one of the most well known grapes (formerly called Tocai Friulano).
Ippolito 1845 Liber Pater 2010 Cirò Rosso Classico Superiore ($14.95) from Calabrese is a big yet balanced red from one of the most rugged and isolated parts of Italy. The Ciro DOC is set in sparsely vegetated hills overlooking the Ionian Sea. It is made 100% from a grape called gaggliopo. Liber Pater is ‘an Italic wine god’. To lose you in a Google translation: “His (the wine’s) character reminds the strength of the earth from where it is said that Liber Pater, Italic god of wine and vineyard, would stretch the delicate aroma with which intoxicated the festivals in his honour”.
Taurino 2009 Riserva Salice Salentino ($14.95) is my favourite wine of the group. I have always admired the traditional wines of Taurino, based in Salento – the heartland of the Puglian wine. This is 85% negroamaro “the bitter black grape”. More importantly it is made in a traditional style that envokes all kinds of nutty, leathery character; that flirts with volatility; that overwhelms the senses and leaves most modern reds at this price in the dust in terms of its homerun length. Will you like it? Maybe. But at $14.95 you can’t afford not to find out.
Fine Whites of Place
One of the great joys and benefits of this work is visiting the places where the wines are made. It establishes such an important connection. When you go to a place, and taste heavily, you create a mental, sensorial blueprint. I have recently been to each of the locations represented by the whites and red wines below and I can personally vouch that they are prime examples of how the wines of the appellations can, should and do taste. It is the winemaker’s job to translate it well; and these all excel. At very good prices.
Blind River 2012 Sauvignon Blanc ($19.95) is from Marlborough, NZ, but more importantly it is from a cooler sub-region called the Awatere Valley. The winery has rightly added this information on the label, but Awatere – along with many obvious sub-regions in NZ – is not yet an official appellation. When there is such distinctive character as shown here – with a cooler region accentuating sauvignon’s greener/herbal element – the foot-dragging authorities don’t have a leg to stand on. This is Awatere sauvignon – pure, simple and very nicely balanced. Move over marketers, and let the wine speak.
André Blanck & Ses Fils 2011 Rosenbourg Pinot Blanc from Alsace, France ($14.95) shares a similar story, and demonstrates the evolution of a new site. Rosenbourg is not a “Grand Cru” classified vineyard, but as recently as the 1980s the growers near the village of Wettolsheim just south of Colmar realized that this clay limestone based hillside was producing different wines with “exotic aromas”. Indeed! This is a pinot blanc of impressive fragrance and richness. It’s hard to believe this unsung grape can achieve fruit like this. And for $15 here in Ontario!
José Pariente 2012 Verdejo ($16.95) is from a winery whose roots in the region go back to the 1960s when Jose Pariente began making 100% verdejo wines on the limestone-based soils of this high plateau of north central Spain. His daughter Victoria took over after his death in 1998. The winery is now modernized and still very focused on this grape with its “extraordinary aromatic balance of fruity and herbaceous tones”. If you have not yet ventured into verdejo you will not find a better value entrée.
Fine Reds of Place
In recent dispatches I have featured European reds, often of less well known appellations, that express a sense of purity and place. This time I highlight some very fine New World reds. New World regions are places too, and though their details may be less well evolved and defined, they are totally legit. And they are working on it!
Kenwood 2010 Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($37.95) is among the top wines of this release. I have written before about this single-vineyard cabernet from a hilltop site in Sonoma where the famed American author lived in a cabin while writing some of his best works, like Call of the Wild, White Fang and The Sea-Wolf, at the turn of the 20th Century. The lava soils of this site were first planted in the 1800s. Since 1976 (the early days of California’s renaissance) the site has been owned by, and the wines made by, Kenwood. The eucalypt and fruit purity here is enthralling.
Elk Cove 2011 Pinot Noir ($37.95) is from one of Oregon’s pioneering properties founded in 1974. This is very early days for Oregon pinot folks. It has been in and out of Ontario over the years, but the Adams clan, now with its second generation at the helm, has been in command all the way. This is a wine with a fine sense of proportion and balance. It is from south facing slopes on four different estate sites. That makes the vines pushing 40 years of age.
Jules Taylor 2011 Pinot Noir ($24.95) from Marlborough, NZ, is the product of the person and her place. Jules Taylor was born in Marlborough the year the vines were first planted. She’s not saying, but I am guessing 1973. She launched her own wines in 2001, with the local insight to be searching out not just certain vineyards, but nooks and crannies of certain vineyards. She is making classy, natural ferment wines with all kinds of complexity and context.
More Fine 90 Point Reds – Now Under $20
Emiliana 2011 Winemaker’s Selection Syrah from Chile’s Casablanca Valley ($19.95) is one of the first syrahs I can recall from this coastal region. It hails from a vineyard high in the hills above the valley floor. And it’s a winner. Emiliana is among the leading green producers of Chile, with legendary winemaker Álvaro Espinoza Durán as a consultant. Their range includes the first biodynamic wines made in South America, and if not entirely organic their whole portfolio claims to be made with “integrated management practices”. As important, I like what this $20 syrah says about the potential of this grape in Chile.
Paxton MV Shiraz 2011 ($17.95) is another winner. Ben Paxton is a low key but focused winemaker who has set out to make his Landcross Farm one of the leading properties of McLaren Vale – all through biodynamic viticulture. I can’t establish whether this was made from his fruit but I suspect so, if only because it has a depth and energy I have come to equate with biodynamic wines. It is really remarkable to find this kind of structure and depth under $20.
Boutari 2008 Naoussa ($12.95) is a curio from Greece. You need to be a fan of traditional Euro reds to get your head around this nutty nugget, but it has quite amazing complexity, and firm structure, especially at $13. As mentioned in my tasting note, it would not be out of place in a line-up of older Barolos. It is made from the xinomavro grape grown on mixed soils in hills above the plain of Macedonia in northern Greece.
Best of the Bunch
Brochet-Hervieux 1997 Premier Cru Brut Champagne ($72.95) is a masterpiece in mature Champagne. It is from a family property established in 1945 as the Second World War ended. Whereas so many Champagnes are made from grapes gathered throughout the region, this growers Champagne is about 80% pinot noir, from premier cru sites in the hills around Ecuil. About 45% of the final blend is of reserve or aged wine, perhaps resulting in the complexity here. But most of all I love the acidity in this outstanding Champagne – riveting stuff that is remarkably alive at over 15 years of age. And a great buy under $100.
Tasting with Emmanuel Giboulet – An i4c treat
In the hours after the chardonnay inundation at the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration the winemakers dispersed hither and yon – some going to the USA, some straight home to get back to work, some taking in the local wineries and exploring Toronto. I was pleased to spend an hour tasting with Emmanuel Giboulot who dropped by the palatial WineAlign offices on Dundas Street West en route to the airport, along with agent Martine-Garaguel O’Brien of MCO Wines. I had briefly tasted Giboulot’s steely chardonnays at i4c and was delighted to have a much more structured tête-a-tête.
Giboulot makes wines from small parcels totalling 10 hectares around the appellation of Beaune, with most of his biodynamically farmed (since 1996) parcels being from non-premier cru sites near the top of the hill on thinner, very rocky soils. (Thus their Côte de Beaune appellation). They are fermented in old oak using natural yeast and minimal sulphur dioxide. As a result they are chardonnays of scintillating tautness and minerality. I can understand how those who love generous, rich chardonnays, might find them difficult. But they certainly enforce the argument underlying i4c that chardonnay can also be very much a wine of place.
We tasted two chardonnays 2011 Pierres Blanches (92 points) and 2011 Combe d’Eve (93 points) then finished with a very fine red, Beaune 2010 La Lulune (93 Points) from a small hillside parcel facing onto Volnay. It’s hard to imagine a more terroir driven, unplugged pinot noir. I have posted my complete reviews on WineAlign. These wines are available through private order by contacting MCO.
VP of Wine
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From the Aug 17, 2013 Vintages release: