Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 8th – Part One
Sparkling, Whites and Fortified Wines
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato
As the end-of-year releases start to roll out, the selections broaden and prices edge up. With nearly 170 products hitting (or re-hitting) shelves for the November 8th VINTAGES release, the media tasting was mercifully split over two days rather than the usual one. We’ll report this week on some of the top sparkling, white and fortified wines on offer, and next week we’ll follow up with red wines and other sundry specialties.
I’d like to make special mention of the fortified wines – sherry and port. I know these aren’t terribly popular categories these days, and I myself am guilty of not reaching into the dark and dusty corner of my cellar where I keep these wines often enough. But a recent visit to both Jerez de la Frontera, the heart of sherry country, and the Douro Valley where port is made, reminded me of just how astonishingly satisfying these wines can be.
And then there’s of course the value equation – few would argue that sherry and port are among the most complex wines on the planet for the money. Moreover, considering the ageing has already been done for you at the winery (with the exception of vintage port), so that you can stop in on the way home from work to buy a bottle of ten or twenty year old wine and enjoy a glass that same night, it’s a wonder that sales aren’t far more brisk.
So if it’s been awhile since you’ve experienced the mesmerizing range of savory, nutty flavours delivered by the best wines in the fortified category, try one of the recommendations below.
Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images. You can also find the complete list of each VINTAGES release under Wine >> New Releases. Remember, however, that to access this list and to read all of the reviews you do need to subscribe (only $40/year). Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!
Fleury Fleur De l’Europe Champagne, France ($63.95)
John Szabo – The first, and one of still very few certified biodynamic producers in the region, Fleury is a reliable name in the grower champagne arena. The house style is one of very mature, toasty, highly complex wines, and considering the excellent range of flavours on offer, I’d serve this at the table with suitably elegant dishes involving, nuts, cream, mushrooms, flavourful grains like barley or kasha, or other savoury, umami-rich plates.
Tawse 2012 Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling Sparkling Wine, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($19.95)
John Szabo – Sparkling wine may not be the house specialty at Tawse, but this is a well-priced, riesling-based bubbly from the newly acquired Limestone Ridge vineyard on the Beamsville Bench. It’s crisp and very dry, fresh and fruity, with a dash of mineral flavour to enhance the overall interest. All in all, a widely appealing bubbly for the aperitif slot.
Cathedral Cellar 2013 Chardonnay, Western Cape, South Africa ($15.95)
John Szabo – The KWV, the much derided former government-controlled cooperative, has quietly ratcheted up quality over the last few years to the point where just about everything produced is worth a look. This is fine entry-level chardonnay that ticks all of the boxes at an attractive price.
Hidden Bench 2012 Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($28.95)
John Szabo – Hidden Bench moves from strength to strength, and the latest range from 2012 shows a mature and steady hand at the helm. The generosity of the vintage was reeled in beautifully while still capturing the full, concentrated house style. And at this price Bourgogne drinkers should take note.
David Lawrason – Hidden Bench is oft highlighted as one of Ontario’s best producers; but owner Harald Thiel has always maintained that he’s striving to be among the best in the world. This tied with a much pricier Burgundy as the best chardonnay of the release.
Sara d’Amato – Hand-picked grapes, whole bunch pressed, cold fermented using indigenous yeast – all care was taken in the vineyards and in the cellar to produce this fine and classic chardonnay whose price is well matched to its high quality. Showing impressive integration of flavours, complexity and harmony, this slightly restrained chardonnay begs for another sip.
Rene Muré 2012 Signature Gewurztraminer, Alsace, France ($21.95)
John Szabo – A textbook Alsatian gewurztraminer, full-bodied, succulent, rich and intensely aromatic with lush, plush texture and off-dry styling.
David Lawrason – This has all the opulence, smoothness and generosity you could ask of Alsatian gewurz at the price. What really caught my eye was its sense of purity and brightness. A touch sweet, but very nicely done.
Beringer 2012 Private Reserve Chardonnay, Napa Valley, USA ($44.95)
John Szabo – I’ve tasted this wine a few times now, and grow more and more fond with each sip. It’s unquestionably a big, rich, creamy chardonnay in the unabashed California style, yet winemaker Laurie Hook has managed to sneak in a measure of reserve and balance. Considering the high-stakes game of Napa chardonnay, this is a relative bargain to be sure, for fans of the plus-sized genre.
Menade 2013 Verdejo, Rueda, Spain ($16.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a great ‘party pour’ over the holidays for your sauv blanc-loving friends if they’re open to something different. It’s reminiscent of sauvignon from warmer climes with a kiss of wood, while the palate is soft and round, smooth and easy drinking.
Andre Delorme 2010 Bourgogne Chardonnay, Burgundy, France ($19.95)
David Lawrason – The great thing about great vintages like 2010, is how they elevate “lesser” wines. Fans of traditional white Burgundy will be clicking their heels to find such a good example at $20.
Jean Max Roger 2013 Cuvée Les Chante Alouettes Pouilly Fumé, Loire, France ($28.95)
Sara d’Amato – A textbook Pouilly-Fumé, this elegant wine exhibits notes of mineral, lemon, flint and saline. Makes for a very conversational aperitif wine or an exquisite match for shellfish.
Domaine Du Grand Tinel 2012 Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc, Rhone, France ($49.95)
Sara d’Amato – Many consumers don’t appreciate the existence of white Châteauneuf–du-Pape and given that less than 7% of Châteauneuf production is white, it is not surprising. Grenache blanc, roussanne , marsanne and clairette are dominantly used in the production of these wines that can range from bright and minerally to rich and savory. This lovely example leans more towards the former with lovely verve and freshness along with a very appealing peppery quality – quite compelling.
(JSz -For a quick primer on sherry styles, see my latest article in CityBites Magazine.)
Emilio Lustau East India Solera Sherry, Jerez Spain ($22.95)
John Szabo – This is a case in point of how amazingly complex sherry can be at near give-away prices. It’s technically a cream sherry, meaning a sweetened oloroso, which hits all of the expected, nutty, roasted, caramel, marmalade, dried fig/date/raisin, old furniture polish and antique shop notes typical of the genre. To be sipped or served alongside roasted nuts and blue cheese.
Dalva 1995 Colheita Port, Douro, Portugal ($32.95)
John Szabo – A delectable treat, this is a port from a single harvest (“colheita”) that has been in cask since 1995 and bottled this year (Vintage ports are bottled no later than 2 years after harvest, while tawny ports are a blend of vintages). Technical details aside, this is authentically mature in both colour and aromatics, and smells as I imagine an old wooden, weather-beaten and repeatedly stained sailing vessel might.
David Lawrason – A colheita is a vintage-dated tawny port made only in the best years – and in Portugal they are as prized as great vintage ports but sell for much less. This is a slightly rugged version that has amazing complexity.
Sara d’Amato – This colheita Port benefits from longer than typical ageing contributing to its distinctive character and swoon-worthy effect. There is something quite absorbing about this wine that slowly unveils itself in the glass.
Sandeman 2011 Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal ($70.00)
John Szabo – Buy this as a 21st birthday gift for someone born in 2011, or a 25th year wedding anniversary gift for a couple married in the same year, or for yourself as a test of patience. But in any case, DO NOT TOUCH THIS WINE FOR AT LEAST 20 YEARS. It’s a belligerent vintage port, one of the most impenetrably deep-coloured wines I’ve seen in my career, with a brutal and savage palate, all hard acid and rasping tannins for the moment. But when it comes around, it will be a stunner. Best 2031-2071.
David Lawrason – Sandeman is a large company with a mid-size reputation overall, but 2011 is such a great vintage for port that this stands shoulder to shoulder with the best. So refined and rich.
Noval 10-Year-Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal ($34.95)
John Szabo – Noval’s latest ten year-old is still quite fruity and powerful in the house style, with marked sweetness checked by residual tannic grip. An excellent hard cheese or blue cheese option.
Sara d’Amato – There is very good value to be found in this intriguing 10 Year Old Tawny with an abundance of character. Nutty and figgy with a silky texture and a finish of freshly baked sticky buns.
Dow’s 2009 Late Bottled Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal ($17.95)
David Lawrason – LBV’s continue to be undervalued in my books, increasingly so as top labels strive for the finesse that marks their much more expensive vintage ports. This is fine example from a leading label, and a steal at $17.95.
CLA Special Reserve Porto, Douro, Portugal, $29.95
Sara d’Amato – A lush, dense port which is generous, creamy and very appealing. Clean and full-bodied, very smooth but also gutsy and satisfying. Break out the good chocolate for this one.
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
John Szabo MS
From VINTAGES Nov 8th: