Buyers Guide to VINTAGES June 7th – Part One
Don’t Say Aussie Shiraz!
Rediscovering Italian Whites
By John Szabo with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason
Australia makes a return to the spotlight in the June 7th VINTAGES release, but take care: people in the know don’t say “Aussie Shiraz” any more. And we know you love Italian reds, but lighten up and delve into the limpid, and sometimes orange world of Italian whites, also featured. An unusual number of our recommendations align this week, so the odds of pleasure are high. Finally, if you long for more diversity in your wine selection, tell your MPP about it. Details within.
Hey, You Can’t Say “Aussie Shiraz” Any More!
The industry organization Wine Australia has done much to repair the country’s image over the last decade, shifting consumer perceptions from a simple offering of inexpensive, fruity, easy-drinking wines to one of a marvelously diverse collection of regions, grapes and expressions. The blanket description “Aussie Shiraz”, thrown about first with enthusiasm and later with disdain, doesn’t cut it any longer. Now to be accorded any credibility in the industry you have to speak more specifically of McLaren Vale shiraz, or Yarra Valley shiraz, or Clare Valley shiraz, for example, each with their own nuances and points of difference.
Drinkers less concerned with the particulars can still of course enjoy a number of branded, Australian regional blends that offer a reliable and comforting flavour profile. But those seeking the value-add enjoyment of regional distinctiveness have more and more to choose from. A visit down under last fall to attend an international symposium in Adelaide left a clear message: Australia is listening and observing the world, and changing. There’s a spirit of innovation and a willingness to move beyond the merely technically correct and widely appealing to wines of genuine personality and character. The standardized wines of twenty years ago would be almost unrecognizable to the current wave of Aussie winegrowers; when once individuality was considered a fault, now it’s embraced.
It’s interesting to note that while a radical change in wine style is often associated with a shift away from tradition in most countries, in Australia’s case it’s quite the opposite: it’s a return to tradition, or even the creation of a lasting and solid tradition built on real wines, not brands designed in boardrooms. And why not take advantage of the wealth of ancient vines, in some cases centenarian, or of climates as diverse as cool and rainy Tasmania, or maritime Margaret River, or alpine King’s Valley to trumpet diversity? The world can only benefit.
Also heartening is the epidemic spread of less interventionalist winemaking. It takes courage and experience to be able to leave well enough alone; great wines require boundless energy in the vineyard and laziness in the winery. That experience, and the courage that comes with it, has been gained, and the corporate disconnect between vineyard manager and winemaker has been repaired, at least in the wineries worth knowing.
Sadly these exciting changes are not necessarily reflected in the LCBO’s selections arriving June 7th. There are some very good wines to be sure, picked out below by the WineAlign team with uncommon consensus, but it strikes me as opportunity lost to list three wines from a single producer – Mitolo – in a feature of only fifteen wines, as well as several re-releases and mostly familiar names. In the end, there’s very little that’s new. As a producer in Australia trying to break into the Ontario market, I’d be frustrated.
If you’re willing to go the extra mile, I’d recommend tracking down wines from the likes of Tom Shobbrock – a minimalist interpretation from the Barossa – or the positively electric wines of Jamsheed in Victoria (both represented by The Living Vine), for example, or go the extra 10,000 miles for the very fine Mornington Peninsula wines of Montalto or Ten Minutes by Tractor, or the wines of Oakridge and Mac Forbes in the Yarra Valley, none of which I’ve seen in Ontario. And I barely scratch the surface.
Call for Action: More Choice
As an aside but related, if you support diversity and choice, tell your MPP about it via an initiative launched by the Wine Council of Ontario, Pairs Perfectly, lobbying for independently owned wine shops parallel to the operations of the LCBO. See also David Lawrason’s insightful assessment of the initiative in the latest Ontario Wine Report. More choice? I’m in.
The other feature this week is Italian whites. Again, great strides have been made in white wine quality in a country known principally for its reds. It’s statistically probable that with a speculated 1300 or so native varieties, there’d be some white gems among them. And we are the beneficiaries of the new Italian sport of rediscovering forgotten varieties and the increasing care applied to white wines. Campania is a fine starting place with brilliant grapes like fiano, greco and falanghina, but then there’s also verdicchio from Le Marche, carricante from Etna, timorasso from Piedmont, ribolla from Friuli, garganega from Soave, albana from Romagna… And I could go on.
Italy, and more specifically the northeastern corner of the country, is also the modern epicenter of skin contact whites – white wines fermented like red wines with skins and all – picking up on a method “devised” some eight thousand years ago, likely in Georgia. The Albana di Romagna in this release is such a wine, well worth discovering if you’d like to try a wine that would be familiar to Homer and Pliny (but probably better). Start your discovery with our suggestions below.
Buyer’s Guide – VINTAGES June 7th Release: Australia and Italian Whites
The Stars Align – Triple Alignment
Domaine Tournon 2011 Mathilda Shiraz, Victoria, Australia ($19.95) John Szabo – A very peppery and reductive, zesty, post-modern style syrah from iconoclast Marc Chapoutier’s Antipodean outpost, balanced, lively and zesty. Be forewarned: those seeking the more robust Aussie style will be disappointed, but this is highly drinkable, and to be honest, I prefer it to the more expensive syrah from Tournon in this release. Drink with a light chill; best 2014- 2018. Sara d’Amato – As critics, we try to be as objective as possible when evaluating a wine and often leave our personal preferences out of the equation. However, every once in a while we take delight in finding a wine that we would happily drink all night. This French-inspired shiraz from Chapoutier really floats my boat with its peppery, floral and musky fragrance on a medium-bodied frame with a surprising amount of complexity for the price. David Lawrason – I liked this Rhonish take on shiraz so much when it was first released late last year that I decided to go to the vineyard while visiting Australia in January. And I hope soon to publish much more about Chapoutier’s adventure in the Pyrenees.
Grant Burge 2010 The Holy Trinity Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvèdre, Barossa, South Australia ($30.95) John Szabo – A big, dense, rich but juicy and balanced GSM blend from the premium range of the reliable Grant Burge. Lovely stuff and well worth a look for fans of savoury, rich reds, best 2014-2020. Sara d’Amato – Lovers of fine Châteauneuf-du-Pape, rejoice! The Holy Trinity is back on VINTAGES shelves, delivering all that wonderful southern Rhone charm in its inspired blend, with a modern and accessible feel for a very competitive price. David Lawrason – This continues to shine as one the quintessential GSMs of Australia. Great complexity here, almost an aromatic peacock’s tail with all kinds of fruity and savoury delights. Generous yet also composed.
La Cappuccina 2013 Soave, Veneto Italy ($15.95) John Szabo – Clean, crisp, stony and savoury-fruity, this is a well-balanced and food-friendly Italian white with an extra measure of depth and complexity. Chill and enjoy. David Lawrason – I have had richer, deeper Soave but this tender, pretty example has charm and authenticity and it will glide beautifully with an elegant summer fish course or pasta primavera. Youthful charm here.
Tyrrell’s HVD 2012 Single Vineyard Chardonnay, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia ($23.95) Sara d’Amato – The wines of Australia’s oldest wine region, Hunter Valley, rarely fail to excite me – they are often nervy with great depth, esoteric in nature and almost always intriguing. Here is a sophisticated find that has a sensual restraint and a deliciously taught and youthful nature. The highly decorated, Tyrell winery is one of Australia’s leading family-owned estates and one of its oldest, dating back over a century and a half. David Lawrason – HVD makes this sound like some new flat screen TV. But it is actually an ingenious take on Hunter chardonnay that takes its phrasing from Hunter semillon – lower alcohol, great acid grip and refinement. Not at all what you might expect from Aussie chard, and riveting.
Tiefenbrunner 2013 Pinot Grigio, IGT Delle Venezie, Alto Adige, Italy ($18.95) Sara d’Amato – A stunning pinot grigio (an adjective I rarely use to describe the often innocuous wine produced from this varietal) from white wine specialist Tiefenbrunner, whose estate is nestled in a picturesque alpine hamlet. The palate features an abundance of lovely, very pure fruit, authentic floral aromas, a hint of spice and a surprising amount of complexity. Enjoy as an aperitif or with seared scallops. David Lawrason – I cannot imagine a better, brighter sipping white well chilled on a hot summer day. Mountain fresh and pure from a house that has long shown the way in Italy’s sub-alpine Sudtirol.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate 2010 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia ($27.95) John Szabo – This is one wine I’m always happy to see return to the shelves. I’m a fan of Sue Hodder’s beautifully balanced wines, and the iconic Black Label cabernet is one of those rare wines you can enjoy relatively young, or forget in the cellar for a couple of decades and rediscover with a smile and the promise of a great mature wine experience. Fifty vintages have amply proven its longevity. David Lawrason – Not a hair out of place. It’s not a profound, gutsy earth-moving cabernet but it rings with authenticity and brims with fruit. Winemaker Sue Hodder has a generous yet refined touch.
Kilikanoon 2012 Killerman’s Run Cabernet Sauvignon, Clare Valley, South Australia ($19.95) John Szabo – Kilikanoon’s proprietor Kevin Mitchell isn’t afraid to throw about the term terroir, often shunned in Aussie wine circles as an unnecessary evocation of that other country. Does this reflect terroir? I’d say emphatically yes, conjuring up the cooler, high elevation vineyards of the valley and the resulting freshness and firmness. It’s not a monument to complexity, but all of the necessary components are accounted for, so drink now or hold to 2019. Sara d’Amato – Not on the radar until the late 90s, Killakanoon has fast risen to one of the most internationally exported and successful wine stories in Australia. This impressive cabernet is succulent with a lovely purity of fruit and shows restraint in both the alcohol and oak departments. Balanced, nicely structured and a wine that can both be enjoyed now or within the next five years.
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Terredora Di Paola 2012 Loggia Della Serra Greco Di Tufo, Campania, Italy ($20.95). Terredora was established by a branch of the iconic Mastroberardino family in 1978, and today offers a selection of native Campanian wines at the top end of the quality scale. The 2012 Greco in the “vineyard collection” is a little leaner than past vintages, but aromatic, stony and savoury, with a nice mix of resinous herbs and citrus fruit. This is very good, minerally wine for genuine wine drinkers, not party sippers, best 2014-2020.
Braschi 2012 Albana Di Romagna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy ($18.95). From the Braschi San Mamante ‘cru’ at 150m asl, don’t judge this wine too hastily – at first it will come across as slightly oxidized and tannic, but consider it instead in the ancient context of skin contact whites – whites made like reds. A short period of maceration is sufficient to yield a lightly astringent, light topaz-orange – coloured wine with fruit shifted into the herbal, wet hay, cold tea and dried apricot/peach spectrum – idiosyncratic but highly compelling. Try now with protein – cheese or meat, even red meat, or revisit in 203 years for a fully developed expression.
Brokenwood 2007 Maxwell Vineyard Semillon, Hunter Valley, Australia ($47.95). This wine pretty much stole the show at the LCBO lab as I tasted through the wines on offer. It’s an “In Store Discovery” so won’t be available everywhere, but for fanatics of totally unique and ageworthy whites it’s worth the drive. This is not even Brokenwood’s top Semillon (that’s the ILR reserve), but beautifully captures the spirit of the grape/place combination: still tightly wound at seven years of age, with aromatics that seem to have barely budged since bottling. There’s such tremendous length and depth, not to mention complexity, with is even more amazing considering it has just 11.5% alcohol – the voodoo-magic of Hunter Semillon. Don’t even think of opening for another 3-5 years, preferably 10.
Nugan 2012 King Valley Frasca’s Lane Chardonnay, King Valley, Victoria, Australia ($19.95). King Valley may be building a reputation for Italian varieties, but Nugan’s chardonnay is worth a look. It’s made in a fullish, rich but balanced style, with a fine, toasty-nutty note, lightly leesy and bread dough flavour, and vibrant acids. This is smart winemaking with wide appeal.
Sara D’Amato’s Picks
Donnachiara 2012 Fiano Di Avellino, Campania, Italy ($21.95). I always like to make mention of a strong female presence in the wine industry and owner Ilaria Petitto is just that – young, articulate and with an accomplished business background. But besides this fact, the wine is evidence of keen winemaking and a sensitive appreciation of traditional varietals grown on home soils. The winery focuses on the preservation of indigenous varietals and reaching back to traditional methods of production. Try with a mushroom risotto.
San Silvestro Fossili 2012 Gavi di Gavi, Piedmont, Italy ($16.95). Gavi is produced from the cortese varietal which has the potential to produce some pretty beautiful wine – lovely, feminine, floral and percolating with acidity. After many disappointing examples in previous releases, I’m please to have found an example worth recommending. This goosebump-inducing version is refreshing, challenging, sincere and classic. A terrific value.
Best Ontario Sommelier Competition
Have you ever been served by an amazing Sommelier? Ever wonder what it takes to be the BEST Sommelier in the Province? Find out June 22 at the BEST ONTARIO SOMMELIER COMPETITION. Attending the competition is free. Watch as the three finalists are put through their paces with Decanting Service, Champagne Service, Food and Wine Pairing, and Blind Tasting. Following the competition is a walk-around wine tasting ($5) featuring international and Ontario wines; all proceeds go to help the winning Sommelier with travel expenses to the Americas competition (Mendoza, Argentina 2015) and hopefully the Worlds (2016).
The Gala Dinner ($150) includes a silent auction, cocktail reception and a four course dinner prepared by Oliver and Bonacini, with, of course, tons of wine, and an after party.
This event only takes place once every two years.
When: June 22, 2014
Where: Arcadian Court, Toronto
Wine tasting 3:00-5:00
Cocktail Reception 5:00-7:00
Dinner 7:00-10:00, After Party 10:00 –
Upcoming Court of Master Sommelier Courses
Toronto (Level I & II), August 23-25th, The Air Canada Centre
Level I ($525 US) Introductory Course & Exam. Includes a fast paced review for a day and a half with a theory exam at the end of the second day. Candidates should have been employed in wine service for a minimum of three years, although this is not mandatory.
Level II ($325 US)Certified Sommelier Exam, a one-day exam only with no classroom work.
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
John Szabo, MS
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