Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 21st – Part Two
Great Buys and Why They Are Not Canadian
By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo
I am disappointed that VINTAGES has not put more emphasis on top quality Canadian wine in this release leading up to Canada Day. As discussed last week by John Szabo in Part One of our preview there are many interesting wines under the two features themes: Old World vs New World, and Unique Grape Varieties. And we three critics have aligned on some dandy buys among the imports here in Part Two (read on). But we have not found much to write about in terms of Canadian wines because the selection is uninspired both in terms of quantity and quality. VINTAGES has “highlighted” Canadian wines with a double-page spread of six wines in its magazine, but none are highly memorable.
I have never been one to promote Canadian wine as a flag waving exercise. I have always wanted Canadian wine to succeed, but it must succeed in the glass. So since 2001 I have teamed up with others who feel the same way to run the National Wine Awards of Canada competition that unfurls Saturday through next Wednesday in Penticton B.C. (it returns to Ontario in 2015). This year we have a record 1300+ wines to sort through. Such independent competition helps both consumers and winemakers cut through all the chatter and focus on success in the glass.
Success in the glass is the only measure that will win the day for Canadian wine, and I get grumpy when political, regulatory and commercial decisions stand in the way of this success. I am not going to launch here into all the issues – current monetarilty driven VQA policies among them – that I think are more hindrance than help. But I do want to talk about the role of the LCBO in all this because it is the only non-winery retailer of Ontario wine. I am not picking on any one person in the LCBO, or even suggesting there is a “policy,” but I want to point out two huge weaknesses of the monopoly system in terms of promoting quality in Ontario wine.
First, the LCBO is forcing Ontario wine to compete in the shallow end of the pool, to go head to head, shelf facing to shelf facing, with imports both on price and selection. To gain attention Ontario winemakers must try to churn out the least expensive wine possible and in a place as expensive (and over-taxed) as Ontario that’s a recipe for mediocrity. It is also forcing wineries to compete with styles and grape varieties not necessarily best suited to Ontario. We commonly hear that Ontario is not focused, and is making too many different wines. Some of this is also due to winemaker experimentation, but the reality of selling to the LCBO is why Ontario wine is not as commercially focused as it should be on a handful of grapes and styles that we can do best.
Second the LCBO exists within an almost impossible conflict of interest. As a government agency it has a political mandate to promote Ontario wine. But it has finite shelf space and must also supply global wine to a huge market that wants more of everything. So in reality they can only take this as far as “to be seen to be promoting Ontario wine”. If you look carefully at the split of Ontario versus import on any given VINTAGES release Ontario wine is receiving only 10% of shelf space at best. Then, furthermore, the LCBO has to be seen as being fair to all Ontario wineries within that 10%, with each one ending up getting token representation. This further dilutes the quality being presented to consumers and injures the cause of Ontario wine. Such is the case with this Canada Day offering, just at a moment when more people will be patriotically moved to buy more and spend more on Ontario wine. What a pity eh.
And now on to some great buys among the imports, including two wines where all three critics have independently aligned on their recommendations
The Stars Align
Muga 2009 Selección Especial Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($39.95). John Szabo – This shouldn’t be missed by collectors of great Spanish wine, and well, collectors of any great wine. Muga hits that perfect balance of tradition and modernity, so often claimed but just as often meaningless. What it means here is a tempranillo-led blend (70%) with garnacha, graciano and mazuelo, evidently serious and complex right off the top, with rich dark fruit and spice, ample structure and terrific flavour intensity, and long drinking window. Best 2014-2029. Sara d’Amato – Muga’s top tier has achieved near perfection in 2009. Bold and show-stopping in character with undeniable charm. This will happily find homes in many a cellar, excellent for mid-term ageing, but would also bring a great deal of pleasure to the host of your next dinner party. David Lawrason – Not much more to add, except that collectors who normally focus on Napa cabs and super-Tuscans can safely branch out stylistically with this beauty.
Château Canteloup 2010, Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($16.95). David Lawrason – This great little ‘petit chateaux’ reached up and grabbed all three critics by the nose, then caused sticker shock of the best kind when it was revealed as a $17 wine. I chalk it up to a certain generous style of winemaking that was harnessed by the almost perfect structure of the excellent 2010 vintage. John Szabo – Sniffing this blind I would have immediately been in a far higher price category; this smells like expensive left bank Bordeaux. It may not have the structure of the top shelf, though at $17, it’s hugely satisfying and impressive, with ageing potential. Sara D’Amato – This exceptional value from Bordeaux is worthy of a spotlight. The density, richness and overall absorbing nature of this left bank blend will have you wishing you had a few bottles in reserve. I imagine this to be a very hot seller.
Château Boutisse 2010 Saint Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France ($39.95). Sara d’Amato – A stunner of a Saint Emilion with the depth and complexity of a wine of a much greater price. Chateau Boutisse’s name pays homage to the extraction of the chalky limestone on which the village of St. Emilion is built (and built from) leaving hollow channels below the surface of the wineries that make up the famous, maze-like, underground cellars of Saint Emilion. David Lawrason – Great value in thoroughly modern merlot-based Bordeaux from a 57-acre estate revamped and largely replanted in 1996. You don’t always have to pay through the nose to get a great Bordeaux experience.
Tamaya 2011 Gran Reserva Syrah, Limarí Valley, Chile ($21.95). David Lawrason – Syrah is certainly a keeper in Chile, and seems to be finding its feet best in some of the cooler regions, like the Pacific-cooled, limestone influenced Limari Valley well north of Santiago. There is a distinctive Chilean aromatic here, but it goes well beyond with great structure, complexity and length. John Szabo – Regular readers won’t be surprised to see another Tamaya wine on my list, an estate, and a region, which offer quality above the mean. I love the balance in Limarì syrahs: savoury, minerally and gritty, with loads of spicy dark fruit. Best 2014-2020.
Château d’Anglès 2010 La Clape Classique Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre, Languedoc, France ($14.95). John Szabo – La Clape is one of those little-known sub-regions of the Languedoc near Narbonne (soon to be an independent appellation, apparently) that regularly makes wines of great character at prices commensurate with their low notoriety. D’Anglès’ classic southern French blend has personality and depth in spades – a great “house wine” this summer. David Lawrason – There are a handful of good value Southern France wines on this release, but none offer value like this. It’s from a property situated within sight of the Mediterranean, which provides cooling evening influences in an arid region that sees 300 days of sun a year.
Yalumba 2012 Organic Viognier, South Australia, ($18.95). David Lawrason – Yalumba is one of the largest producers of viognier in Australia, if not the world. And given the passion and down-to-earth character of winemaker Jane Ferrari it is entirely in keeping that an organic version would be attempted. It seems to add layers of flavour missing in the already complex “regular” viogniers. Quite something under $20. Sara d’Amato – A rich, lust-worthy viognier that oozes the delectable, sultry and exotic character of this varietal in which Yalumba takes exceptional pride. This example is strikingly concentrated and undeniably seductive.
Sparklers, Whites & Pinks
Gruhier 2010 Extra Brut Crémant De Bourgogne, France ($18.95). John Szabo – Anytime you find quality traditional method sparkling for under $20 it’s worth considering, especially when it comes damned close to champagne. This is a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay from northern Burgundy, aged 36 months before release, the equivalent of a vintage-dated champers. A great choice for large gatherings where both price and quality matter.
Rodney Strong 2012 Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California ($19.95). Sara d’Amato – Rodney Strong has fallen off my radar of late but this compelling chardonnay is perspective changing. Rodney Strong undoubtedly sources great fruit for this wine but has a tendency to over-work the juice in the cellar. This example is hopefully, indicative of a new, fresher approach. The wine feels Burgundian in its complexity and light-handedness but very much a Sonoma chardonnay in its richness and depth of fruit.
Château La Mascaronne 2013 Quat’saisons Rosé, Côtes de Provence, France ($19.95). David Lawrason – As pink wines explode in popularity around the world more and more serious winemakers are looking to the pale, elegant, subtle roses of Provence as a template. They drink more like whites but with intriguing nuances of red fruit. This is a classic of the genre.
Adega De Monte Branco 2011 Alento Tinto, Alentejano, Portugal ($15.95). David Lawrason – Like so many modern Portuguese reds this offers terrific complexity for the money, thanks to a blend of four native grape varieties. Modern winemaking, at the hands of owner Luis Louro, who studied in Portugal and trained with his father at Quinta de Mouro and in Sonoma, has buffed any coarse edges but it still retains good structure.
Jim Barry 2009 The Mcrae Wood Shiraz, Clare Valley, South Australia ($59.95). David Lawrason – This is my top scoring wine of the June 21 release – a delicious monument to modern Aussie shiraz. Three generations of Roseworthy-trained winemakers have worked this venerable Clare Valley, with highly awarded Tom Barry, who has also worked in Europe, now at the helm. The magic to this wine is the opulence of its flavours set within well-proportioned structure, without relying on obvious alcohol heat or tannin.
Hitching Post 2012 Hometown Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, California ($28.95). Sara D’Amato – Brought to fame by the movie Sideways (at least, for those of us outside of Santa Barbara), the Hitching Post founders Frank Ostini, chef of the Hitching Post and his good friend, former fisherman Gray Hartley find their inspiration for their renowned pinot noirs from inspired growers throughout the Santa Barbara County. This virtual label, of sorts, is now run out of Terravant Winery, an ultra-premium facility close to the Hitching Post II. Initially the wines were produced to serve the restaurant but more recently, have enjoyed larger commercial success.
Malvirà 2009 Roero, Piedmont Italy ($19.95). John Szabo – the sandy soils of Roero produce lighter and more perfumed versions of nebbiolo, and coupled with the warm 2009 vintage and Malvirà’s “classico” i.e. non-riserva Roero, this is already nicely mature and soft on the palate. But it’s also umami-rich, savoury, and finally compelling for the money.
And that’s a wrap for this edition. Watch next week for Part One of our Preview of the July 5th release including a feature on New Zealand. Meanwhile enjoy an entertaining read on the importance of the wine label by Anthony Gismondi. And despite my somewhat grumpy opening re Ontario wine, I urge you seek out some of the very fine wines that are being made in Niagara and Prince Edward County, perhaps as you forage in your local farmers market, where Ontario wines are now being sold.
VP of Wine
From VINTAGES June 21st release:
Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!