Lawrason’s and d’Amato’s Take on Vintages Nov 9 Release
Best Over $50 and Off the Beaten Path
Personal travel and a miscue at the LCBO has resulted in my missing two of three pre-release tastings of the November 9 release, so I have invited WineAlign colleague Sara d’Amato to expand coverage of this massive offering. As it happened, most of the wines I did taste were higher-end offerings packaged in VINTAGES catalogue as Star Quality wines, as well as more limited availability In Store Discoveries. Sara has gone off the beaten path to highlight wines, including a delicious dessert wine, that you might otherwise pass by.
Seeking Value Between $50 and $75 (David)
As we move into holiday season spending larger for gift bottles, or to deck out a fine meal, falls into more common practice. Or you may just want to snag some of the fine wines that only come around once or year, if that. This release seems focused on wines in the $50 to $75 range so I bring you some of the best buys in this bracket, most scoring (as they should) between 92 and 94 point excellence. With a reminder that in my books quality is defined by ‘true, balanced and generous expression of origin’. At this price level trueness and generosity should almost be a given, so my emphasis starts to shift, and ratings begin to rise, around that notion of “classic” expression of grape and place. Here are some great examples of wines that measure up, including two great buys well below $50.
F & L Pillot 2010 Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot 1er Cru ($76.35). Several elements line up to make this a great wine, scoring 95 points. First, it was a classic, firm vintage in France. Second, this is from a family winery very much on the ascent under the direction of next generation winemaker Laurent Pillot, who has overseen conversion to estate production, vineyard expansion and the building of a new winery. And third the large Morgeot vineyard is a great site on red soils renowned for making solidly structured chardonnays (and pinots too). Here’s a white Burgundy to cellar.
Domaine Bernard Defaix 2010 Bougros Grand Cru Chablis, France ($69.95). From two hectares in 1952 this fourth generation family company has grown to 26 hectares and officially converted to organic production in 2009. This is a taut, refined, textbook Chablis with the flavour depth one expects from a Grand Cru site. And for a Grand Cru the price is not bad at all.
Renato Ratti 2008 Marcenasco Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($52.95). Renato Ratti pioneered the modern era of Barolo winemaking, not only by creating a more fruit-forward style of nebbiolo that still holds authenticity, but by undertaking research on sub-zones that are today part of the modern fabric of Barolo’s identity. And by the way; he had no family history in the region, making it easier to test drive new ideas. Ratti’s Marcenasco has been my go-to Barolo for a while now (love the aromatics).
Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2011, Bolgheri, Tuscany ($59.95). Second wines from iconic properties are always the best way to brush with the stars. In theory they demonstrate the same terroir and winemaking skill, but usually hail from less good blocks or barrels so may lack some depth and nuance. But they really exist because wines like Ornellaia are just hopelessly out of reach to most people, and any winery needs to stay connected to the market and bring new customers along. I have always enjoyed tasting Le Serre Nuove as much as Ornellaia, and without all the botoxed richness of the big gun it may actually be a truer representation of the terroir.
Domaine Bosquet Des Papes 2011 Chante Le Merle Vieilles Vignes Châteauneuf-Du-Pape, Rhone Valley ($68.00). This family property prides itself in wines to cellar, but I found this 2011 actually quite charming and approachable. It is certainly structured and will age, but the vintage is not as firm 2010 (ie the Le Vieux Telegraphe on this release). Chante le Merle is 80% grenache, 10% syrah, 10% mourvedre from 60-70 year old vines, fermented in wooden “foudres” (not stainless steel).
Closa Batllet 2007 Priorat, Spain ($47.95). This small property came into production after 2000 when a Marc Ripoll – a young man in his 20s at the time – returned to an old family grape-growing property to build a winery. Based on 90-year-old slate vineyards, he has done a great job at a great price. I have tasted several Priorats recently and I love their tension, power and depth. Hoping to do a Priorat feature in the weeks ahead.
Quinta De Ventozelo 2008 Grande Reserva, Douro, Portugal ($37.95). For years I have been picking out the wines of Ventozelo as very good buys – both their ports and red wines. Even at this reasonably expensive level (for Portugal) it offers very good value in rich, balanced and deep wine. The reserve is led by 80% touriga nacional, the star red grape of Portugal that delivers great fragrance, elegance and depth.
Descendientes De J. Palacios 2011 Pétalos, Bierzo, Spain ($24.95). I have highly recommended this great buy in almost every recent vintage, and Petalos is really only the gateway to a range of amazing single vineyard, mencia-based reds from this dramatic, high altitude corner of northern Spain. The oak yoke wears a bit thick at the moment but the concentration and balance are phenomenal at this price. Don’t miss it.
d’Arenberg 2009 The Dead Arm Shiraz, South Australia ($54.95). This perennial smoothie from Australia has tended to lull me into passivity over the years, especially with all its oak treatment. But I woke up this time –perhaps it was the quality of the 2009 vintage. It is a textural masterpiece – perhaps achieved through foot-trodding and basket pressing. Nor is it fined or filtered. But it could really in the end come down to the particular maritime climate of McLaren Vale which I consider the fount of Australia’s most elegant wines
Off the Beaten Track (Sara)
As David has mentioned, the quality of the releases has markedly improved as we near the holiday season. So much so that we critics, tucked away in the stark, clinical tasting lab of the LCBO every Friday, are collectively noting how our scores have dramatically increased over the past month. Although the features in this release are very generalist – such as the “Star Quality’”category that encompasses all of the high-end goodies and the “Dessert Wines” feature – what impressed me most were the cool, eclectic, off-kilter finds that were peppered throughout the lineup. Here are my top picks that might otherwise pass you by.
Jean Michel Dupré Vignes De 1918 Régnié 2011, Beaujolais, France ($17.95). Never heard of Régnié? Being a tiny village of 950 inhabitants, the majority of which are involved in the village’s wine industry and the youngest of the Beaujolais Crus (since 1988), it is no wonder that it has likely passed you by. However, here’s your chance to discover a really unique wine made from vines planted in 1918 that have largely been organically grown since their planting. How’s that for forward thinking?
Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2012, Coastal Region, South Africa ($22.95). Although you might pass by this beauty on the shelves without that much fanfare, I highly encourage a stab. If you’re looking for a distraction from the circus of Rob Ford, here’s a bottle that is powerful enough to take your mind off of it, at least for a few minutes. Show stopping in its own right, rich, succulent and persistent – it’s enough to whisk you from circus to the bright, sunny skies and distant mountainous peaks of coastal South Africa
Natura Carmenère 2012, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($14.95). My value pick of the week is a lovely, perfectly ripened and distinctive carmènere that, although would certainly prove versatile with food, is so deliciously balanced that I plan on enjoying this sustainably produced gem on its own. It can be a challenge to find typicity, balance and complexity at under $15 – so wine students, take note! With a modest label, and a variety that is not the most yearned after, you might easily miss out on a terrific find.
Travaglini Nebbiolo 2011 Costa Della Sesia, Piedmont, Italy ($18.95). A sophisticated and serious Nebbiolo under $20 can be found, case in point. Not uncommonly aged in large Slovenia oak casks for a more delicate flavour and oak influence, this wild, aromatic and rather complex red is perfectly suited to mid-term ageing for those of you attempting to amass an affordable collection.
Dessert Wine Feature (Sara)
Finally, I’d like to acknowledge the dessert wine feature in this release. Although many of us hoard bottles of Icewine and other “dessert” wine in our cellars and cupboards, waiting for an appropriate or special occasion in which to open them, I would like to encourage you to do so over the holidays, at the height of entertaining season. Why not open a few of those bottles that are gathering dust (and are most likely forgotten) with a fabulous platter of cheese before the evening’s end? Luckily, forgetting about these bottles will likely not bring harm to them as sweeter wines generally exhibit remarkable ageabillity and only become more composed, unctuous and delicious over time.
My top pick from this feature is a mead from Ontario’s bee keeping experts, Rosewood Estates in Beamsville. A complex, and unique mead aged for 6 months in French oak and ready to go. Achieving a silver medal at this year’s National Wine Awards of Canada means that I was not alone in being convinced of its award winning quality. Rosewood Mead Royale Honey Wine 2008, Select Barrel Aged, Ontario (500ml), Canada ($14.95).
The 2011 Vintage Ports (David)
Just a quick memo that I have added my notes on several of the terrific 2011 Vintage Ports to the database. On November 1 – the day phone ordering opened at the LCBO – Julian Hitner published his views on what is being hailed as an extraordinary vintage. So they are very much worth a look at. (2011 Vintage Port)
And that is it for this edition. Stayed tuned in two weeks time for notes from the star-studded Nov 23rd release. And if you haven’t done so you yet please check out the first episode of the re-formatted blind tasting video series called “So, You Think You Know Wine?”.
VP of Wine
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From the Nov 9, 2013 Vintages release: