Lawrason’s Take on Vintages November 23 Release

Best Values from the Gold Mine, The Evolution of Stratus

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

VINTAGES Nov 23 release groans under the weight of over 160 wallet tempting wines and spirits, with several being triple digit priced, glittering heavy hitters. So I am going with a straight “value” formula for my recommendations to help you separate the nuggets from the ore. Wines over $100 need to score very close to 100 points before I would consider them values, and none in this release reach that mark. I really think wine drinkers need to re-evaluate the very expensive icon wines that built their reputations during the 1980s. There are so many other interesting wines to explore here.  Check out John Szabo’s Premium Parade for more great suggestions.

But before laying out my picks, I draw your attention to the Evolution of Stratus with the release of their excellent 2010 White and Red, as well as to a separate, comprehensive WineAlign report called Beaujo Nouveau and Beyond, published as Beaujolais nouveau washes ashore this week.

Top Values over $50

Kistler 2012 Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay, ($84.95). Kistler is California’s great chardonnay specialist, producing ten different single vineyard wines. This is from two volcanic soil sites high in the Mayacamus Mountains, and indeed there is a sense of real fire power in this wine. All Kistler chardonnays are barrel fermented in new French oak using natural yeast. Compelling stuff!

Domaine Bachey-Legros 2010 Vieilles Vignes Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot 1er Cru, ($59.95). This stunning chardonnay hails from a vineyard planted in 1950 in the red clay-limestone soils in the heart of Morgeot, the primary premier cru of Chassagne. The Domaine – which today is run by Christiane Bachey-Legros and her two sons – owns two hectares in Morgeot, which is an embarrassment of riches in such an important and crowded site.

M. Chapoutier 2010 Les Bécasses Côte-Rôtie, ($82.95). This is more than a textbook Cote Rôtie, it is a dissertation from a great vintage – and one of the great northern Rhône syrah’s I have had in recent times. It combines biodynamically farmed, hand harvested syrah from the two primary slopes – Côte Brune and Côte Blonde. Very little is being released; grab two or three and save some for others who want to go to school as well.

Alion 2009 Ribera del Duero ($84.95). Alion first appeared in 1995 as the much heralded off-shoot of Vega Sicilia – Spain’s single most legendary winery. It is a separate project made 100% from tempranillo, whereas Vega is a blend. Again, this is the type of wine that you need to experience just once to understand what this region can deliver (perhaps opened alongside the much less expensive very good Condado De Haza, $24.95, that is also from Ribera)

Versado 2010 Reserva Malbec, Luján de Cuyo, ($59.95), Niagara-based winemakers Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble have purchased a small vineyard in the prized limestone silt and sandy soils on an ancient riverbed, in a corridor that funnels cool air from the mountains behind. Ann’s fine winemaking touch has helped fashion one of the most elegant malbecs I have ever had, and goodness knows this is a genre desperately seeking elegance.

Kistler Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay 2012Domaine Bachey Legros Vieilles Vignes Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot 1er Cru 2010M. Chapoutier Les Bécasses Côte Rôtie 2010Alion 2009Versado Reserva Malbec 2010

Top Values $25 to $50

Château De Fontaine-Audon 2012 Sancerre, Loire Valley ($29.95). This property, which includes 15 hectares on the silex (flint) soils around one of the few actual chateaux in Sancerre, is owned by Bollinger of Champagne. This makes me wonder if that connection might not be responsible for the extraordinary vivacity yet delicacy of this 100%, non-oaked sauvignon blanc. Those who are stuck at paying $20 for sauvignon may balk at $29 – but don’t.

Mountadam The Red 2009, Eden Valley, South Australia ($34.95). This is a classic and very well composed blend of 57% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot and 3% cabernet franc from a 37-year-old vineyard said to be one of the highest sites in Australia. Mountadam was founded in 1972 as one of Australia’s brave new modern boutiques, and it has been in and now out of corporate hands. I will be paying more attention.

Giacosa Fratelli 2006 Vigna Mandorlo Barolo ($49.95). This powerful, complex yet surprisingly refined Barolo is for fans of traditional styles; from a vintage that I think is one of the best in a very good decade. The family has been making Barolo and Barbaresco for over 100 years, claiming to be focused on natural, vineyard focused winemaking. Sure tastes like it.

Domaine La Roquète 2010 Châteauneuf-Du-Pape ($49.95). This property is now owned by and has been restored by the Brunier family of Vieux Telegraphe. When I visited the latter two years ago I was impressed by how meticulous and detail oriented they are, and there is a sense of that in this modern, seamless yet powerful grenache, syrah mourvedre from one of the great vintages of recent times.

Sella & Mosca 2008 Marchese Di Villamarina Alghero, Sardinia ($46.95). I would love to insert this into a blind tasting of cabernet sauvignons. It would certainly stand out for its very old world Italian ambiance, indeed most would doubt that it is cabernet. But it is in fact 100% cab from a single vineyard planted in the 1950s. Once I got beyond how different it is, I started to roll with it as it revealed all its nuances and power.

Chåteau De Fontaine Audon 2012Mountadam The RedGiacosa Fratelli Vigna Mandorlo Barolo 2006Domaine La Roquéte Chåteauneuf Du Pape 2010Sella & Mosca Marchese Di Villamarina Alghero 2008

Top Values Under $25

Offley 10 Year Old Tawny Port Btld. 2013, Douro, Portugal ($25.95). Two years running now I have picked this is an amazing value in ten-year tawny. It has so much life and power and length. So why? I suspect it has much to do with the winemaking prowess of Luís Sottomayor, who oversees the fine wine production for parent firm Sogrape. He has one Winemaker of The Year honours in Portugal, and was nominated for that title at The International Wine Challenge in 2012.

Hauller 2011 Muenchberg Riesling, Alsace Grand Cru ($19.95). Alsace keeps delivering great value!  Here’s another grand cru for under $25, from one of the most southernmost sites that forms a south-facing horseshoe with red sandstone and volcanic soils.  There is a real sense of power and muscle in this riesling. Hauller is a family winery with a long history of barrelmaking.

d’Arenberg 2010 The Footbolt Shiraz McLaren Vale, South Australia ($23.95). Footbolt refers to a racehorse once owned by the founder Joseph Osborn, who sold his stables in 1912 to start the winery. Good move. I always admire the fine almost velvety texture of D’Arenberg’s wines, attributing it to a combination of maritime McLaren climate that brings some acidity, and the very gentle handling that includes partial foot-trodding and basket pressing. This is a very affordable, authentic and delicious everyday shiraz.

Château d’Anglés 2008 Grand Vin, Languedoc La Clape, France ($20.95). There is a lot of story to this wine, which I suspect contributes to the excellent quality. It’s only the price I don’t understand. La Clape is emerging as one of the great terroirs of Languedoc, a rocky outcrop very near the coast that enjoys 300 days of sun tempered by both sea breezes and inland cooling from the Massif Central. The situation attracted Eric Fabre who worked eight years at Chateau Lafite and other Bordeaux properties. He took over in 2001, and he has obviously found the handle with syrah and the other Rhône varieties.

Domaine Rotier 2010 Les Gravels Gaillac, Southwest France, ($16.95). Here’s a tidy, charming, unsuspecting and unpretentious red from a region that nestles comfortably between Atlantic and Mediterranean climate, in an ancient stony terroir in the Tarn Valley in the south of France. Two local and rare grape varieties – duras and bracoul (alias fer servadou) are blended with some syrah. The red wine value of the release!

Offley 10 Year Old Tawny PortHauller Muenchberg Riesling Grand Cru 2011D'arenberg The Footbolt Shiraz 2010Chåteau d'Anglés Grand Vin 2008Domaine Rotier 2010 Les Gravels Gaillac

The Evolution of Stratus

On November 23 Stratus Vineyards of Niagara releases its 2010 Stratus White and 2010 Stratus Red at VINTAGES. To promote the new vintage – which I personally believe is the best to date for both the Stratus White and Stratus Red – winemaker JL Groux recently gathered media for a vertical tasting of his premier blends, going back six years.

I readily attended because in my mind the Stratus blends are the bellwether for Ontario blends in general, and what can be achieved here when intelligent, quality-focused winemaking is applied. JL Groux, who arrived in Niagara as the winemaker for Hillebrand in 1989 has more experience under his belt than anyone in the province, especially working with the red Bordeaux varieties like cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot.

Even more interesting than tasting the wines themselves was hearing JL’s 20-20 hindsight replay of his decisions for each vintage, adapting to weather conditions, vineyard maturity and in many ways his own subtle shifts in thinking about what the wines should be.

The original concept was to make the best possible terroir/place driven estate wine using whatever grapes were grown there. The wide variety of planted varieties at Stratus gave him a wide palette of colours to choose from. But of course not every variety will perform at its best each year, and with over ten vintages under his belt he seems to be more focused on the grapes that are the most consistent performers.

Stratus Red 2010Stratus White 2010Whether conscious or not, both the 2010s are closer to a Bordeaux model than anything yet produced – both in terms of grape component and taste of the wines. It should be remembered that JL grew up in France’s Loire Valley, and studied winemaking at the University of Bordeaux, so it is natural that he might gravitate this way. Stratus Red 2010 is all Bordeaux varieties, void of grapes like syrah or gamay that appeared in previous years. Stratus White 2010 has dropped gewurz from the blend for the first time and reduced the chardonnay component, while putting semillon and sauvignon (the white Bordeaux varieties) front and centre at a combined 63%.

And I think he will stay this course. Twice during the tasting he talked of “the necessity to be consistent when dealing with the international marketplace”. Thinking beyond our borders and playing in the big sandbox is new thinking from Stratus – speaking perhaps to his personal desire to be internationally known, and the economic necessity of moving beyond the Ontario market. Given what’s in the bottle this should be no problem. Please check out my reviews for Stratus White 2010 and Stratus Red 2010.

That’s a wrap for this edition. We have one more big release to go on December 7 until we can all settle down for the holidays and actually drink some of these great wines. And if I get to the LCBO in time I also plan to serve many of them at my intensive, three-day Level 2 WSET course in Ottawa on December 6-7-8. For details see


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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From the Nov 23, 2013 Vintages release:

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