Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 8th – Part Two
Red Highlights, Bargains and Obscurities
by David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo MS
Last week we covered the whites and fortifieds from the massive Nov 8 release; this week we focus on the reds. Vintages has grouped several under the title ‘Star Quality’, which begs the question as to whether stardom automatically equates with quality. You probably just answered that yourself.
So off we go with various picks from the WineAlign team. I have focused somewhat on Italian entries – a mini-tour de force of Italian regions and style. This is partially inspired also by having attended the Italian Trade Commission tasting that landed in Toronto on Monday, part of a four-city Canadian tour. I was very impressed by the overall quality of the wines that Italy is producing; the new wines they are always attempting, and the sense of style and modernity they possess. It was a great tasting, and I have written a short report with personal picks that follows. But we give you our Vintages picks first – organized by Italian Reds, Other Euro Reds and New World Reds.
Orestiadi 2008 Ludovico, Rosso Sicilia, Italy ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is perhaps the best buy of the release in my books – a complete surprise in terms of the tension, structure and perfume it displays for $20. Usually Sicilian reds based on nero d’avola are softer and rounder. It is likely that the 10% cabernet here is giving it some of its lift and elegance, but the rest must be coming from the site in the hills above the Belice Valley in the westernmost province of Trapani. Into the cellar!
Aurelio Settimo 2008 Rocche Dell’Annunziata Barolo, Italy ($51.95)
David Lawrason – I do not put this forward as a wine that I think everyone will love. But if you are fan of traditional maturing Barolo, you will certainly appreciate the complexity, tension and depth of this vintage – a wine that will carry on another decade. It is from a prized calcerous ‘cru’ of 3.4 hectares with a southwest exposure. I met Tiziana Settimo at the Italian Trade Commission tasting and was totally impressed by this small firm’s attention to authenticity and detail.
Giacomo Mori 2011 Chianti, Tuscany, Italy ($19.95)
David Lawrason – So many Tuscan reds are becoming “juicy”, that combo of being brightly fruity yet tart. This struck me as a beautifully balanced, compact, drier and ultimately authentic Chianti. It is largely sangiovese with a small percentage of colorino (no merlot or cab or syrah, although these varieties are grown at this small estate). It was aged in Slovenian and some French oak, giving it that fine-grained wood seasoning (no vanilla or cocoa).
Other Euro Reds
Domaine Michel Magnien 2011 Cote De Nuits Villages, Burgundy, France ($36.95)
Sara d’Amato – A true beauty, this Cote de Nuits Villages is elegant, ethereal and absolutely captivating. Grapes are sourced from 50-year old non-certified organic vines on this reliable estate’s tiny 19-hectare property.
Roger Champault 2013 Les Pierris Sancerre Rouge, Loire Valley, France ($23.95)
John Szabo – A rare red Sancerre (pinot noir), suited to fans of crunchy, zesty versions full of joyful berry fruit and ripe acids. I’d expect to pay at least 30% more for similar quality from more heralded pinot regions. Best 2014-2020
Giroud 2013 Terra Helvetica Pinot Noir, Valais, Switzerland ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – A rare find in these parts but a rather common varietal to find in Switzerland. In fact pinot noir (also blauburgunder) is the most planted red variety in the country. This example proves undeniably seductive with lovely notes of sandalwood and musk and featuring above average depth and complexity.
Pascal Aufranc 2013 Vignes De 1939 Chénas, Beaujolais, France ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – I am excited to see this lovely gamay once again grace the shelves of the LCBO -produced from 75-year-old vines (pre WWII) no less! Chénas is the smallest of the Beaujolais Cru designations – no larger than one square mile of planted vine. The area gets its name from the oak trees (chêne) that once used to fill the slopes.
Hermanos Peciña 2009 Señorío De P. Peciña Crianza, Rioja Spain ($21.95)
John Szabo – I love the old school, zesty, American oak-tinged wines of the brothers Peciña, encapsulating the best of traditional style Rioja. This is the sort of wine you can drink all evening without tiring, blending savoury and fruity notes with uncommonly good balance. Best 2014-2020.
Alvaro Palacios 2013 Camins Del Priorat, Priorat Spain ($24.95)
John Szabo – An excellent value from Palacios that captures the stark graphite minerality and savage, wildly herbal and generously proportioned character of Priorat, without breaking the bank (relative to Palacios’ L’Hermita at $700+/bottle, I’d say this is smoking value). Best 2014-2020.
Viña Real 2009 Oro Reserva Rioja, Spain ($29.95)
David Lawrason – Rioja is such a chameleon, depending on the winemakers philosophy on the use of oak. One in this release (Pecina Crianza above) is plugged with resinous oak; another finds a nice fruit/oak balance through age (Otanon 2001), this one tilts to a fruitier style – perhaps due to the warmth of the 2009 vintage. It is a very elegant wine with pitch perfect balance, and oak nicely tucked in the corners.
Quinta Da Romaneira 2010 Touriga Nacional, Douro Portugal ($29.95)
John Szabo – Although 2010 was considered a cooler, lighter, non-vintage port year, the table reds from the Douro benefited from the less extreme climate, and like this lovely example from Romaneira, show great finesse and complexity. Best 2014-2020.
New World Reds
Burrowing Owl 2012 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($40.95)
Sara d’Amato – This Canadian gem is modern, juicy, exotic and features an abundance of fruit. A new world style done exceptionally well with huge appeal and surprising complexity.
Flat Rock 2012 Gravity Pinot Noir, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($29.95)
John Szabo – A fine, classically-styled pinot from Flat Rock, one of the best yet from the estate. Give it another year or two in the cellar to mesh. Best 2015-2020.
Hidden Bench 2010 Terroir Caché Meritage, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($38.95)
John Szabo – Hidden Bench’s 2010 Bordeaux-style blend is showing beautifully at the moment, certainly one of the best in the genre and with nothing to envy Bordeaux itself. Yet it still has plenty of potential development ahead; enjoy this now or in a half-dozen years or more.
Raven’s Roost 2012 Cabernet/Merlot, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)
John Szabo – this is the first I’ve seen of this label from Coyote’s Run, and I find it compelling. It’s a dead ringer for solid Bordeaux Supérieur, the kind of savoury, twiggy, earthy wine that sings with the right piece of salty protein. Best 2014-2019.
Laurel Glen 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Mountain, California ($77.95)
John Szabo – A classy wine from an historic vineyard site on the cooler west side of Sonoma mountain and its volcanic soils, recently purchased and revived by Bettina Sichel. Sichel, ironically, is a former executive of the Napa Valley Vintners association, but has found love in Sonoma. It’s a rare Californian example that proudly displays an authentic herbal, minty, spicy edge. Best 2014-2022.
Frei Brothers 2012 Reserve Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, California ($24.95)
David Lawrason – I have often lamented the demise of zinfandel, an intriguing, storied grape that has been commercialized as a chocolatized confection with punster labels that play on the word zin, or allude to the grape’s potential to make powerful, high alcohol reds (like the Boneshaker in this release). So make room from an honest, authentic and delicious zin from a classic hillside site in Sonoma County. Frei Brothers is a line by E & J Gallo.
Halter Ranch 2011 Syrah, Paso Robles, California, ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – An innovative producer that uses all sustainably grown estate fruit to make this immediately appealing syrah. An impactful California style yet the wine has delightfully retained its peppery and expressive character.
Domaine Tournon 2012 Shay’s Flat Vineyard Shiraz, Pyrenees, Victoria, Australia ($37.95) David Lawrason – This is a biodynamic wine by Michel Chapoutier of France’s Rhone Valley. It is one of three labels from individual granite-based vineyards in the remote Pyrenees regions of Australia about 200 km northeast of Melbourne. Simply but – Australia meets Hermitage, with stunning result.
Meerlust 2012 Pinot Noir, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($27.95)
Sara d’Amato – You may very well find yourself lusting over this pinot noir at first sip. More mature looking than it tastes, the wine over-delivers in terms of complexity and sophistication. Pinot lovers take note.
The Annual Italian Trade Commission Tasting
For as long as I can remember the Italians have been coming to Toronto the first week of November, with a massive array of wines. On November 3rd ninety producers were pouring at Roy Thomson Hall. With an average of six wines per stand, that’s just under 600 wines crammed into a five hour tasting window for media and trade, and any consumers pro-active enough to get themselves invited. It was a tour de force of what’s happening in ever-evolving Italy. I was taken by many of the wines I tasted but that amounted to less than 10% of the offering. And that’s about the same percentage that will actually ever show up at the LCBO or Vintages. No wonder the general public is not invited. It would only feed their frustration. And for the same reason I am hesitant to write about the wines that most interested me. You will not be able to buy them easily here in “not yours to discover” Ontario.
I entered the tasting – after an impolite security search of my knapsack – with the plan of focusing on one region (Piemonte) but that quickly fell apart as different producers and some obscure grapes and regions caught my eye. There was a viognier from Casale del Giglio in Lazio near Rome. I loved the dolcettos from Clavesana in the Dogliani zone of Piedmont. I was very impressed by the value and modern vibe of the general list Cusumano 2013 Syrah from Sicily. I was totally smitten by the Pasetti 2013 Pecorino from Abruzzo as well as their trebbiano/pecorino white blend called Testarossa. I loved Planeta 2013 Etna Bianco from Sicily, 100% from a white variety called carricante. There was another white that was sensational too – Tenuta Malgra 2013 Roero Arneis from Piedmont. And I found my favourite bargain red of the year, Monte del Fra 2013 Bardolino that is still kicking around in a few Vintages outlets.
But after three hours, as the crowds began to swell, I was done for the day. After another knapsack search to ensure I was not unleashing a bottle of dolcetto on an unsuspecting world, I took my leave. As a personal journey it was very fulfilling and enjoyable, and it was very well organized. But as a professional exercise from which to generate meaningful reviews, it was all but pointless. And this event has always been thus, as are many of the large fair-type tastings. This is not the fault of the organizers. It is the product of the oh-so limited LCBO retail environment in which all we wine lovers must live and work.
And that’s a wrap for this edition. We will back at the end of next week with Part One from an equally massive November 22 release 0f about 200 wines, that features many heavy hitters under Vintages “Our Finest” Feature.
For those of you in the Toronto area, please join WineAlign’s John Szabo MS at the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo on Friday, November 21st for an exotic tour of the world’s best volcanoes! And, of course, the exceptional wines that grow on them. The Volcanic Wines tasting will take place from 6:30 to 8 pm at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. To buy tickets, please go to foodandwineexpo.ca.
VP of Wine
From VINTAGES November 8th 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 to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!