Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Dec 6th – Part Two
Unearthing Aged Reds, Great Explorations and Surprising Values
By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato
This is the second look at what may be the largest Vintages release of the year (we covered bubbles and whites last week). Close to 200 products land December 6 in the final attempt to pad the shelves for the holiday madness. Sara and I managed to taste all those presented – over four days – filling in for John who was scaling volcanos, all in the name of research of course. Most of the big gun gift items were released in November; this time we have a wealth of middle-priced, sometimes obscure or first-time-through-Vintages labels. Some are couched in a cosy feature called “Family Gatherings” but there is little to differentiate those from the rest of the pack. An interesting theme did however catch my eye!
Collectors often save their aged wines for special occasions, like Christmas and New Years, serving them to family and friends during lavish meals, and embellishing the event with tales of the wine’s provenance, how it became an honoured member of the cellar corps, and how it was cared for forever since (in that great old cellar) with an eye to opening it for someone special (just like you, dear guest). My sincere hope is that many such mature wines see the candlelight this season for appreciative audiences.
But if you don’t have your own cache of mature wines, how can you feel a part of this time-honoured ritual? Watchful shoppers are aware that Vintages places mature wines in the line-up from time to time, but this time there are several, and most are reasonably priced given their time on Earth – they just happen to come from regions that are unvalued as a whole. We have highlighted a few favourites below, in descending price order.
But, please note that not all the aged wines on this release are in great condition. We all tend to tire, and get a bit more earthy and grumpy as we pass our prime; especially if we have had to live our years within the confines of a hollowed out cork tree. So you should begin the presentation of these old wines to your guests with a caution that “not all wines are better with age” (which is very true), and that “there can be significant bottle variation in older wines” (also true). That said, I would avoid the following for the reasons stated above: Cicchitti Gran Reserva 2004 Malbec, Argentina (three bottles cork tainted); Monastir S.Xii Cluny 2006 Navarra, Spain (tired & farmy/manure-like aromas); Bodegas Balbás 2005 Ardal Crianza, Spain (good wine but impossibly youthful for a 2005, despite the tasting note quoted in Vintages catalogue. I don’t know why, I just know it doesn’t look, smell or taste nine years old).
Heitz Cellar Trailside Vineyard 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California ($119.95)
David Lawrason – If you are willing to pay up front to join the big leagues in great mature red, this is a classic and utterly gorgeous Napa cabernet from one of the families that put Napa on the map as a collector’s paradise.
Caprili 2009 Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($44.95)
David Lawrason – Five years may not seem very old, but Brunello spends over four years ageing at the winery, a minimum of two in barrel. This hastens the onset of brick-amber colouring and all the classic mature characteristics. As well, this was a hotter, and faster maturing vintage due to its lower acidity.
Morgenster 2005 Lourens River Valley, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($25.95)
David Lawrason – This will be a controversial recommendation! It’s a fully mature cabernet with distinctive meaty and iodine-like Cape flavours, and you may even detect some cork taint. I tried it three times and one bottle was corked – the others were fine. Beyond this lurks an amazingly complex, beautifully textured wine with profound depth of flavour from a small Cape producer rooted in Euro traditions. Match to lamb or game.
Il Molino di Grace 2006 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($23.95)
David Lawrason – This is a mature Chianti from a good vintage known for its power and longevity (most Chianti’s are peaking at about seven years). It is not hugely deep, but we are catching it at its most complex, with still fresh fruit nestled amid the leather, earth and spicy complexities. Ready to drink now and will run another couple of years.
Poderi Angelini 2009 Primitivo di Manduria, Puglia, Italy ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Normally I would not expect a soft, cushy, higher alcohol red from Italy’s deep south to age well. They often develop stewed, raisiny flavours. This maintains some piquancy but it is indeed rich, smooth and heart-warming.
Monasterio de las Viñas 2005 Gran Reserva, DO Cariñena, Spain ($16.95)
David Lawrason – The Spanish love mature wine; it’s a cultural thing rooted in generations of drinking wines that oxidize/mature easily in this sunny clime. So the whole country is a veritable museum of older wines, from the bodegas of Rioja to the more out of the way zones like Carinena. This is a mature, smooth, complex and very tasty blend of garnacha, tempranillo and carenina – a great old Spanish chestnut at an amazing price.
Pomum 2008 Shya Red, Yakima Valley, Washington, USA (24.95)
Sara d’Amato – Pomum focuses on artisanal, handcrafted wines with very limited production. This exceptionally elegant and well-structured Washington Bordeaux is demonstrative of 2008’s cooler temperatures and longer growing season. The balance of acid, tannins and fleshy fruit provide the framework for great longevity.
Great Value Red Explorations
Ernie Els 2012 Big Easy, Western Cape, South Africa ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Of all the celeb winery owners, PGA golf pro Ernie Els gets my vote as the one who really cares most about quality in the glass. Sorry Wayne, Mike and Dan (Canada’s celeb winemakers), but it’s the truth. I was totally impressed with his whole range in South Africa earlier this year, and even this “entry level’ blend of several grapes shows excellent structure.
KWV 2011 The Mentors Canvas, Coastal Region, South Africa ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – A funky and intriguing blend of shiraz, tempranillo, mourvedre and grenache. The complexity here is absolutely splendid and makes it a perfect pairing for a holiday spread. With its elegant packaging, it also makes for an attractive host gift.
Descendientes de J. Palacios 2012 Pétalos, Bierzo, Spain ($26.95)
David Lawrason – Alvaro Palacios was just in Toronto (unfortunately, I missed him this time). He has been here a lot recently which may have something to do with the reception that ultra-modern Spanish wines are getting in Ontario. They nicely bridge approachability and serious structure, while still capturing the essence of the three regions he operates within (Rioja, Priorat and Bierzo). The latter is a fantastic red wine region in northwest Spain that has great slate soils and experiences some Atlantic influence.
Sara d’Amato – Palacios is an innovator whose wines have become benchmarks of quality and distinctiveness in their respective regions. These modern wines, progressive in style with seductive appeal offer outstanding value.
Lavau 2012 Rasteau, Rhone, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – It has only been four years (since 2010) that the Cotes du Rhone Villages appellation Rasteau was given its very own AOC and can now be labelled as simply “Rasteau” – since that time the quality of the wines continue on an uphill trajectory. This lovely example made from equal parts grenache and syrah certainly made me take note with sensual, floral and spicy notes backed by a great deal of power but also finesse. This family-owned negociant hails from the right bank of Bordeaux but has now established three successful cellars in the southern Rhone.
Terrazas de los Andes 2011 Reserva Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95)
David Lawrason – I will be in Argentina as this is posted, and Vintages large and interesting December selection from Mendoza has given me much food for thought, and for questioning winemakers when I a am there. This is my favourite, and it’s great value in well structured, compact malbec that shies away from the obviousness of so many. I look forward to reporting back.
Volcanes de Chile 2012 Tectonia Pinot Noir, Bío Bío Valley, Chile ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This is not a super-serious pinot in terms of structure, depth, etc., but for me it’s a bellwether for a new, more subtle take on Chilean pinot that steers well south of that exuberantly fruity, minty style I have come to know. One reason may indeed be that they have gone far south in Bio Bio for this pinot. Good value and some charm here.
Sara d’Amato – Fresh, ethereal, and elegant – a cool climate, floral and lightly peppered pinot noir with an upbeat, jazzy feel. As “volcanic wines” are on the brink of widespread consumer fascination, be ahead of the trend and pour this at your next gathering. The volcanic soil in these vineyards comes from sediments of the Antuco and Lonquimay volcanoes – notable features of the southern Bío Bío Valley landscape.
Red Hill 2013 Estate Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – Red Hill, boutique winery with serious award-winning clout, has been an iconic fixture of the Mornington Peninsula for the past 25 years. Its cooler, fringe climate is ideal for the production of Burgundian varietals with style and complexity such as this tantalizing example.
And that is a wrap for the last Vintages newsletter of 2014. But do keep checking your inbox through December. John, Sara and I will be doing one newsletter per week to help you gear your wine selections to the Christmas season. Next week a last minute gift guide, the following week wines to match a variety of holiday foods, moods and events; and then just before Christmas, our annual far-reaching Fizz Report. Don’t go away.
VP of Wine
From VINTAGES Dec 6th 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 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!