Buyers Guide to VINTAGES May 10 – Part Two
Not So Petite Sirah, Brilliant Euro Whites, Opus One Alternatives
by David Lawrason with John Szabo and Sara d’Amato
Last week John Szabo had his work cut out as he compiled notes on three strong groups featured on the May 10th release – South America, Germany and Rose. That report highlighted 22 wines that are very much worth your consideration – so please re-visit here. I was particularly pleased with the breadth of the selection demonstrating that Germany is more than riesling – much more. You will find good pinot gris, sylvaner, siegerrebe and a decent pinot noir, and all good values. I must also align my vote for Achaval Ferrer 2013 Malbec as the top pick from the South American group, an oversight last week because as a Wine of the Month it was not grouped with the others on the list from which I selected. This wine deserves cellaring for a couple of years.
Before cherry picking from the rest of the release, a word on the California cabernet selection, none of which are actually recommended based on value. Opus One, the iconic, super-collector from Napa Valley is back, and vastly overpriced at $459.00. Yes it is excellent scoring 91 points, but it should be close to 100 at this price. And if you are willing to spend $400 to drink California cabernet definitely buy four bottles of the even better, nicely sculpted Cade 2010 from Napa at $99.95. Or buy four bottles of the rugged Stonestreet 2009 Legacy from Alexander Valley, or a full case of the eminently drinkable if less well delineated Decoy 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon at $33.95.
The Stars Align
Fairview 2011 Petite Sirah, Paarl, South Africa ($23.95). David Lawrason – Fairview is unique in South Africa as a producer of alt-varietals. When owner Charles Back gets a notion to try a new grape variety he just does it, but in order to do it properly he insists on owning the vineyard, planting it and making the wine. Petite Sirah piqued his interest quite recently, producing the first vintage in 2009. When I visited in March, this black monster jumped out of a line-up that also included tannat, sangiovese and carignan. John Szabo – The entrepreneurial Charles Back of Fairview (and Spice Route) planted petite sirah in the early 1990s when it was non-existent in South Africa, just curious to see what might happen. The gamble paid off – this is a hell of a mouthful for the money, the sort of thick, full, hyper-concentrated wine for which one can pay into the triple digits when shopping in California or the more cultish corners of Australia. But it demands serious commitment; this is no mere simple sipper, but big enough to cut with a knife. Best 2014-2023.
Fowles Wine 2010 The Exception Cabernet Sauvignon, Strathbogie Ranges, Victoria, Australia ($24.95). David Lawrason – Matt Fowles is creating quite a name for himself with a range of wines growing in 360 acres high in the granite boulder-strewn Strathbogie Range northeast of Melbourne. The Exception series are one-off, usually single vineyard selections. Lots going on here for $25, re-enforcing a notion that Australia is highly underrated for cabernet. Sara d’Amato – From the producers of “Ladies Who Shoot their Lunch” and “Are you Game?” comes this cabernet that tastes twice the price. A cooler climate style of cabernet that is hugely expressive with a delightful tang. A great accompaniment to barbequed meat.
Jean-Max Roger 2012 Cuvée G.C. Sancerre, Loire Valley, France ($28.95). I recently received an excellent education on the soil types of Sancerre from Laurent Noblet Bourgeois from the house of Henri Bourgeois, whose excellent 2012 Les Baronnes is a VINTAGES staple. I was thus able to better understand the lovely purity, florality and fruit presence of this wine from neighbour Jean-Max Roger, a wine grown entirely on the ‘caillots’ or clay limestone pebbled soil with an ideal southeast exposure. Great sense of finesse here. DL
La Griffe Bernard Chéreau 2012 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Sur Lie, Loire Valley, France ($15.95). Still in the Loire Valley Bernard Chéreau is the largest, quality producer of Muscadet, rendering an example here that surprised me for the added sense of fruit weight and depth. It is still very much a cracking good seafood white with good acidity and oyster shell minerality, but there is a certain sense of volume I really enjoyed. DL
Casar De Burbia 2011 Godello, Bierzo, Spain ($16.95). Godello is a white grape native to northwest Spain in regions like Valdorreas and Bierzo – a grape making a comeback in recent years. I was impressed overall with its sense of power and weight when I visited Bierzo about three years ago (some godellos are oaked aged). And I am very impressed by the almost gewurz-like bloom, spice and power rendered by this modern producer. DL
Zilliken Saarburg 2011 Rausch Riesling Kabinett, Saar Valley, Germany ($32.95). Zilliken is famed for its three-story deep, stalagmite-dripping cellar in the Saar, where profound rieslings ferment in old wood at 11 C., without losing an ounce of freshness. This wine is incredibly layered and complex with excellent length. DL
Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni 2011, Tuscany, Italy ($21.95). This is just so suave and well appointed – not a hair out of place – and it also has a bit more depth than I expected from its price and vintage. This estate, first documented as a wine producer in the 1300s, is in a warmer region southwest of Florence which makes it ideal for the cabernet and merlot that dominate this wine. DL
Fontanafredda 2008 Serralunga d’Alba Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($39.95). This is the mainstream Barolo from Fontanafredda (there are other more expensive single site wines). It struck me as being in a perfect state of maturity, showcasing all the essentials of Barolo. A year in small Allier (French) barriques, two years in larger Allier casks and another 2+ years in bottle have yielded a very complex wine to be enjoyed over the next three to five years – at a decent price in the Barolo universe. DL
Florio Vecchioflorio 2010 Dolce Marsala Superiore, Sicily, Italy ($14.95). Florio remains one of the few remaining producers of marsala, a sweet, fortified wine produced around the coastal town of Trapani in Sicily since the 29th C. Like so many calorie-rich, sweet and fortified wines of the Mediterranean it is an endangered species in our diet conscious urban lifestyle of the 21st Century. But it is delicious and ridiculously inexpensive. DL
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Dog Point 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($23.95). This wine will stir up some controversy, crafted as it is in the ‘reductive’ house style of Dog Point whereby prolonged ageing on heavy lees leads to intensely flinty aromatics. I think it’s one of Marlborough’s most interesting sauvignons, made by the team who originally brought us the ground-breaking Cloudy Bay sauvignons in the early 1990s. Once you’re past the funky aromas, you’ll find a substantial, concentrated, well-balanced wine that will reveal its best in time – this certainly has the stuffing to age, and more importantly improve, over time, a rare quality in NZ sauvignon. Best 2016-2023. JS
Königschaffhausen 2012 Vulkanfelsen Trocken Pinot Gris, Baden, Germany ($14.95). Wines from this cooperative in Baden have often found their way onto my smart buys list, and here’s another solid and fine value from the Vulkanfelsen vineyard and its volcanic-derived soils. $15 gets you ripeness, richness and creaminess that are well above the standard for the price category. Try with patés, soft rind cheeses and richer shellfish dishes. JS
The Ned 2013 Pinot Gris, Marlborough, New Zealand ($16.95). The Ned is a range of wines produced by Marisco Vineyards in Marlborough’s Waihopai Valley, the vision of Brent Marris begun in 2003. The 2013 vintage was warmer and drier than the average, resulting in full-bodied pinot gris with exotic aromatics, flirting with the Alsatian style, only drier. Short skin contact gives it a distinctive coppery hue, enhances the palate structure and widens applications at the table, right through to pork and veal dishes. JS
Domaine Du Clos Gautier 2008 Cuvée Emile, Côtes de Provence, France ($24.95). Provence is justifiably famous for its fine, pale rosés, of course, while reds are all but forgotten. Here’s a reason to bring them to mind: an engaging syrah-grenache blend from Clos Gautier in the heart of “Green Provence” between Saint Tropez, Aix-en-Provence and Nice. This is chock-full of lavender, wild oregano, fennel, licorice and other flavours that evoke the south of France, a fine option in an authentic, perfectly mature red. Best now-2018. JS
D’Angelo 2009 Aglianico Del Vulture, Basilicata, Italy ($16.95). This was originally released (and tasted) in August of 2012, I’m happy to report that this savoury southern Italian wine from the volcanic slopes of Mount Vulture has continued on its evolutionary trajectory as anticipated, developing considerable earthy-umami-driven flavours and plenty of potpourri along the way. It’s a wine not to be missed by fans of traditional old world reds with loads of regional character. Best now-2017. JS
Valdemar 2010 Inspiración Selección, Rioja, Spain ($17.00). This is a Rioja for fans of the more “modern” style: deeply coloured, and with more extract and ultra ripe fruit than one would expect from the old guard. Indeed, the “Inspiracíon” wines from 125 year-old Bodegas Valdemar (vinified on the same property but in a separate facility) are supposed to be just that, described by Valdemar as “modern, very personal…. wines that are the result of an exhaustive selection process and work on unique plots of land in Rioja.” This is a blend of 80% tempranillo, with equal parts graciano and the rare maturana variety, aged 10 months in mainly French wood. Quite a tour de flavour for the money, best 2014-2020. JS
Rioja Bordón 2008 Reserva Rioja, Spain ($18.95). Fans of the arch-traditional style of Rioja should turn instead to Bodegas Franco-Españolas (est. 1890), whose stated vision is to “Uphold traditional production of certified-origin Rioja wines”. The Bordón Reserva comes complete with pale colour, juicy acids and fine-grained tannins, and plenty of dusty American oak, dried red berries, leather and cinnamon-sandalwood-coconut spice. What a pleasure to sip and sip again – a timeless wine. Best 2014-2020. JS
Borthwick Vineyard 2012 Paddy Borthwick Sauvignon Blanc, Wairarapa, New Zealand ($18.95). From a winery that focuses on sustainable production, comes a sauvignon blanc brimming with floral aromas and zesty flavours. Complex, distinctive and carefully ripened, here is a wine perfect for the patio season that is finally upon us. SD
Paul Mas 2012 Nicole Vineyard Viognier, Pays D’Oc, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($17.95). If you’re looking for a wine with presence but without the mask of oak, you’ll be delighted with this sunny, southern French find. A wine that will please just about everyone, it makes an excellent host gift or a great weekday pick-me-up. SD
Ripa Marchetti 2011 Capolino Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi Classico, Marche, Italy ($16.95). These verdicchio specialists have successfully crafted a richly complex and well-priced example from the hotbed of this variety in central, coastal Italy – Le Marche. You can expect a good deal of substance and depth here – a solid value. SD
Marchand Tawse 2011 Pinot Noir Bourgogne, Burgundy, France ($27.95) This Franco-Canadian collaboration has brought forth a somewhat pricy but really quite exciting entry-level pinot noir from Burgundy. Remaining rooted in old-world tradition, this pinot is crisp and elegant and features an impressive array of finely interwoven flavours and challenging complexity. SD
Chateau Margaux Offering
On May 8 Vintages launched a large offering of Chateau Margaux and its off-shoot Pavillon Rouge and Blanc. The complete list is on VINTAGES.com – Margaux Offer. Whether you want to spend the incredible prices is of course up to you, and I can only say as a critic that the quality in the bottle can never live up to the expectation posed by prices this astronomical. That said I am always impressed by Margaux, and the diligence of Paul Pontallier who has been at the helm since 1983. At a tasting in Toronto last week he updated us on plans to go organic (with the 2012) vintage, and to upgrade the quality of the second wine Pavillon Rouge and the introduction of a less expensive third tier. If the Grand Vin is beyond your reach, and you want some inkling of what Margaux is about I recommend the very fine Pavillon Rouge 2009 and the absolutely gorgeous Pavillon Blanc 2011.
Before signing off, a quick thank you to the 52 guests and all the wineries and their staff who made WineAlign’s bus tour to the Terroir Festival in Prince Edward County such a great success. (Check out some photos on Facebook). Based on tastings there and at County in the City last month I will be leading off a new WineAlign Ontario Wine Report with a County update later this month. You may already have noticed that we are expanding and revising our entire editorial program. Next week watch for a new Buyers Guide to New Releases and otherwise interesting wines on the LCBO General List.
Until next time,
VP of Wine
From VINTAGES May 10 Release:
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