Lawrason’s Take on Vintages January 4 Release
Must Buy Reds Under $20, Ontario Winners, Welcome Leaning Post
The first release of 2014 comes awfully early. It’s even more difficult considering the average quality therein, which is a normal occurrence in January it seems. To be fair, I have not yet tasted all the wines, and I will be finishing off next week and posting the missing notes. But so far among VINTAGES “Smart Buys” there are no really smart buys. Elsewhere in the catalogue however things improve. There are some “must buy” reds under $20, a strong contingent from Ontario, and some excellent to outstanding expensive “Flagship Store Exclusives”. And I bring you news of Leaning Post, a great new little winery that has opened its doors in Niagara.
Must Buys under $20
Domaine Tournon Mathilda Shiraz 2011, Victoria, Australia ($19.95). You may still spy stray bottles of the 2010 vintage on the shelves, which is equally good. This is a high-strung, biodynamically grown, northern Rhône styled shiraz from the inland hills of Victoria. What makes this wine so vital and in some ways intriguing is that there is no barrel ageing involved – the straight goods, edgy and authentic. Domaine Tournon is a project by Michel Chapoutier of the Rhône Valley, one of the star winemakers who will be attending the 2014 Vancouver International Wine Festival at the end of Feb.
Zonte’s Footstep Avalon Tree Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Langhorne Creek, South Australia ($17.95). This is from a vineyard on the shores of Lake Alexandrina at the mouth of the Murray River. From here it’s a hop, skip and jump to the Southern Ocean, indeed salt water once and still occasionally backs into the fresh water lake through a narrow channel. I mention this because of a saline scent I pick up in this otherwise surprisingly rich, vibrant and long finishing cabernet. The winery website addresses this flavour length by saying “This wine hangs about after you have tasted it for so long it seems almost self-defeating”. We’ll let you ponder that awhile.
Monte Del Frá Bardolino 2012, Veneto, Italy ($13.95). At this price I will personally be buying a few bottles of this lovely, fresh and mellow red to sock away for summer al fresco drinking. It is sourced from sloped, moraine soils above Lago di Garda near the village of Custoza. The winery controls over 140 ha in the region, paying attention to “agronomic (organic)” practices and going for lowish yields to extend flavour depth. This is a true bargain.
13th Street Merlot 2012, Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95). In my opinion this is one of the best reds yet made at 13th Street, and it cranks up my anticipation for the 2012 Niagara reds still to come. It is looking to be a truly fine vintage, not just a hot/ripe one. The fruit was healthy and naturally balanced, which Jean Pierre Colas chose to celebrate by avoiding oak barrel ageing altogether. Good call!
Flat Rock Riesling 2012, Twenty Mile Bench ($16.95). Here again the 2012 vintage seems to have imparted a fine natural balance and pitch perfect ripeness, both accentuated by judicious acid-sugar balance in this barely off-dry riesling. Flat Rock has been around long enough (since 1999) to have found the handle with its maturing riesling vines. Even better the price is terrific. Great value here.
Malivoire Guilty Men Cabernet/Merlot 2011, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95). The soft touch of winemaker Shiraz Mottiar – aided by the gentle gravity flow production system – has created a light but charming young red that will drink well over the next three years or so. It’s good to see a 2011 Niagara that is not too green.
Great Red Flagship Finds
The following more expensive wines will only be found at VINTAGES larger “flagship” stores. This year the In-Store Discovery program of limited, unheralded release of small purchase wines morphs into the somewhat less enigmatic Flagship Store Exclusives program. Same idea; small lot purchases only available at the larger stores. See the complete list of wines and stores at: Vintages.com.
J. L. Chave Selection Offerus Saint-Joseph 2011, Rhône Valley France ($33.95). Great value in classic northern Rhône syrah from a family winery that has made wine since 1481, among the oldest lineage in France. The secret to Chave’s much heralded success appears to lie not so much in individual sites, but uncanny blending abilities. Offerus appears to be from more than one source in St. Joseph, a steep appellation Chave is rebuilding one terrace at a time.
Punset Barbaresco 2008, Piedmont, Italy ($52.95). This estate in Nieve has been in the Macarino family for decades, with Marina Macarino taking over in 1987 and moving the production to organics. This is a terrific wine indeed, a fine composite of classic flavours and structure without giving into nebbiolo’s penchant to be austere.
Kistler Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley, California ($79.00). This is pricier than many might want to pay for California pinot but it is an exciting wine. This winery is best known for its pioneering work with chardonnay, but it is ramping up Sonoma pinot with four separate vineyard bottlings. This is the more basic Russian River composite, but it brushes with outstanding 95 point quality. Great energy here!
Leaning Post Opens its Doors in Niagara
Before Christmas I paid a visit to Ilya and Nadia Senchuk at their newly-opened Leaning Post Wines on Road 8 in Winona, and in a word – bravo! A new premium, terroir-focused winery is born in Niagara!
I was going to say a new label, but Senchuk has been producing Leaning Post as a “virtual label” since bottling his first (superbly evolving but sold out) 2009 riesling. The tiny production of riesling and pinot noir was being made at A Foreign Affair, where he is still involved, but in 2012 he moved his Leaning Post production into the re-fitted 1864 barn on his property in Winona, across the road from Puddicombe Farms. And the range expanded to include chardonnay, merlot and a soon-to-be released syrah, all from carefully purchased, single block fruit. “My goal is to expose the intriguing terroir-based differences within Niagara” he said.
Senchuk has also planted his own eight acres of pinot and chardonnay behind the barn this year on three metres of sandy, gravelly soils over a clay base. The site lies at the western apex of the Lincoln Lakeshore appellation where the distance between the lake and the escarpment face is a mere 1.5 kms, making it “very breezy” says Senchuk, which is handy for reducing rot and mildew in humid Niagara. The property is actually the easternmost within the city limits of Hamilton, and metres away, across the line in Grimsby, rises a new 150-home subdivision. “Nice of them to build a market for my wines right next door” he said, “I have already had future neighbours drop in to say how delighted they are to have a neighbourhood winery”.
Some may remember CCOVI grad Ilya Senchuk as the assistant winemaker at Daniel Lenko in his early days from 2002 to 2009. After a brief stint at Te Kairanga in New Zealand he returned to Niagara to take lead of the appassimento-driven winemaking at A Foreign Affair. And although he still thinks the appassimento style (concentrating flavours by drying grapes) has its place in Niagara for certain varieties, it is not a process he thinks applies to his pet grapes – pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling.
The Leaning Post Chardonnay 2012 ($35) is from the Foxcroft Vineyard in the Twenty Mile Bench appellation. Senchuk avoids racking or lees stirring his chardonnay, and the result here is a big, bright and quite powerful example with strong fruit and oak components that, in my opinion, need more integration. But the acid structure and weight are impressive.
He took a bit of a flyer with a Leaning Post Merlot 2010 sourced from the McLeary Vineyard in Twenty Mile Bench. It aged almost two years in barrel while Senchuk waited for it to “do something”, and he was thinking of selling it off. But it bloomed recently into a remarkably right-bank Bordeaux-like merlot of both finesse and power.
But clearly his primary passion is pinot noir. To date most of his pinot has come from the Lowrey Vineyard at the base of the St. David’s Bench adjacent to Ravine Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This is one of the warmest pockets in Niagara, and the Lowrey family of Five Rows Craft Winery have been growing pinot here for over 25 years, selling much of their production to enthusiasts like Senchuk. The Leaning Post Lowrey Pinot Noir 2010 ($38) is moving toward prime with intriguing dried herb complexity and a quite broad yet well-structured palate. The 2012 is similar if more poised, lying in barrel beside a lighter, juicier, berryish pinot from a vineyard in the cooler Vinemount Ridge appellation. Both will be released in the next month or three. He was contemplating whether to pull them out of wood as we spoke.
Senchuk is also a big fan of syrah in Niagara, and argues that Niagara is not as “cool climate” as popular opinion suggests, and that it is indeed a fine place for syrah. The stunning Leaning Post 2012 Syrah ($40 range) is ready for bottling to make his point, and will be reviewed and rated on release.
A trip to the winery at 1491 Hwy 8 in Stoney Creek, only ten minutes beyond the Burlington Skyway at the Fifty Road exit, is the surest way to purchase the wines, but they are also available via their website at LeaningPostWines.com. And you may find them in certain Ontario-wine friendly restaurants like Canoe and the Farmhouse Tavern in the Junction.
That’s it for the first release of 2014. In the next week or two watch for WineAlign reports on an Australian promotion at the LCBO, as well as a report on the Wolf Blass Cabernet Classification tasting that saw six WineAlign critics assemble in Montreal to blind taste the world’s top cabernets including all the 2009 First Growth Bordeaux.
All the best in 2014.
VP of Wine
Editors Note: You can find David Lawrason’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!
From the January 4, 2014 Vintages release:
Winery photos courtesy of Leaning Post Wines on Facebook