Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 4th – Part Two
Off the Beaten Path, from East to West and a Battle of the Corkscrews
By Sara d’Amato with notes from Michael Godel
Before leaving for more volcanic wine adventures, John Szabo focused the past newsletter on Easter lamb-inspired wines with a bonus feature of three delectable recipes. The secondary promoted feature in this week’s VINTAGES release is the wine of Veneto, a very short, rather humdrum selection of bottles. More interesting, however, were the selection of idiosyncratic wines from little-known regions and lesser-known grapes. With the aid of Michael Godel, replacing our traveling critics this week, we have therefore decided to take you off the beaten path in order to highlight some of these unique discoveries.
Off the Beaten Path
Livia 2013 Sarba, Cotesti, Romania ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Sarba is a recently developed Romanian cross of two aromatic grape varietals: tamaioasa romaneasca and riesling. The result is a bright, floral zesty wine perfect for aperitif time. The family owned winery of Girboiu is located in the south-eastern Romanian region of Cotesti known for its warmer conditions, mineral rich soils and gentle altitudes of up to 200 meters.
Garamvári Szolobirt 2013 Irsai Olivér, Balatonlellei, Hungary ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Unique to Hungary, the Irsai Oliver varietal has a distinctive muscat-like character but with the fresh, easy-drinking playfulness of pinot grigio. Pretty, appealing, and perfect for a brunch table milieu.
Horse Valley 2013 Single Vineyard Chardonnay, Danubian Plain, Bulgaria, ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – With 3,000 years of winemaking history, Bulgaria is one of the oldest wine producing nations in the world. And while its reputation has taken a hit in recent times, there is quality and value to be discovered. I was particularly taken by this offbeat, fleshy chardonnay, featuring flavours of honeydew melon and apple along with racy acids, saline and fresh herbs.
Dandelion Vineyards 2012 Lionheart of the Barossa Shiraz, Mclaren Vale, South Australia ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Not so much off the beaten path as actually growing on a beaten path. This is shiraz from ancient, gnarled vines, many over a hundred years of age. A wine from Neolithic soils, consumed and procreated on and upon itself.
Alain Jaume & Fils 2012 Clos De Sixte Lirac, Rhône, France ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – Lirac is the southernmost cru of the Rhône and one that is often overlooked and overshadowed by its more famed neighbors. This tranquil district butts up against the mecca of rosé, Tavel and the Clos de Sixte vineyards mirror those of Châteauneuf-du-Pape directly across the Rhône river. A Mediterranean influenced and wildly complex blend of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre .
Muriel 2008 Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada, Rioja, Spain ($18.95)
Michael Godel – A great wine for the money, right up there with the Montecillo 1991, but cleaner, juicier and with more sex appeal. A red head, a ginger, Rita Hayworth, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone.
Monte Faustino 2008 Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico, Veneto, Italy ($45.95)
Michael Godel – Once in a while there comes a Recioto in reserve of its own preciousness. A dessert wine comfortable in its own skin, does not have to try too hard, posits only what it is safely made of. An elegant example with under the radar personality.
Cálem Lágrima White Port, Douro, Portugal ($15.95)
Michael Godel – Sometimes you just need to walk along roads you never seem to take, take in the backstreets or sip along with something that’s always there but you just never bother. Port can be non-descript and it can also be like this Cálem Lágrima, a viscous and seamlessly crafted White Port.
British Columbia & Ontario
Every week we Ontario WineAligners taste over a hundred international new wine releases just before they hit the shelves of the LCBO. What might surprise some is that our local wines, more often than not, hold their own and even shine in this international context. In this release we are fortunate to have an abundance of such shining examples that are well worth singling out. Our top picks highlight the strengths and differences in the contrasting regions of the Okanagan and Niagara.
Vintage variations are at the heart of what makes Ontario wine sing. Some call the region a cool climate when in fact Niagara summers can be as hot as Bordeaux with which it shares similar latitude. In some vintages, cabernet ripens with ease and in others it is a struggle to get most reds off the vine before winter’s icy fingers take hold. These vintage variations are part of what make Ontario wine so unique, excitingly mutable, and able to push the boundaries of feasibility. This “fringe” climate, if you will, causes the unlikely and remarkable benefits of stress to the vine, often naturally reducing yields, forcing growers to focus on particular varietals and the production of premium rather than mass-produced wines. It is in these unique pockets of the world that spring forth some of the most surprising and impactful wines. Careful management in the vineyard and honed, responsive winemaking are the keys to success in Ontario – successes which become more and more apparent as the region comes to maturity.
British Columbia is a naturally gifted wine region with great variation in its distinctive and more recently formally recognized appellations, such as the Okanagan’s Golden Mile Bench – the first of many BC sub-appellations to come. From lush to arid, high to low, ocean-influenced to shadowed from the rain and intemperate climate, British Columbia is anything but a one-trick-pony. And although we in Ontario have great reverence for the big, bold and consistently ripened reds of BC, the region has terrific variation to offer, from nervy bubblies to aromatic German varietals, to gutsy and energetic reds.
Without further ado, our local recommendations from the April 4th release:
Gehringer Brothers 2013 Private Reserve Pinot Gris, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – A Golden Mile offering accentuating pinot gris as a strength of the Okanagan. Weighty, earthy, nutty and succulent with a viscous texture and a rather pleasant oxidative character.
Michael Godel – Gehringer offers a unique, golden mile take on pinot gris. The last vintage to pass through these parts had a fuller and slightly oxidative lean. Here the generous alcohol contributes to the mulish attitude though in ’12 the freshness, citrus and aridity bring so much energy to the table.
Pearl Morissette 2013 Cuvée Black Ball Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Ontario, Canada ($32.20)
Sara d’Amato – A polarizing wine that does not aim to please but rather to challenge, requiring patience and an open mind. This type of complex and compelling riesling is a hallmark of Niagara.
Michael Godel – The wines of François Morissette are not meant to please curmudgeons, skeptics, contrarians or members of the wine media. This Riesling has no desire to kiss ass. This will not appeal to late harvest lovers, from Kabinett to Auslese. Is it ripe? Not quite. Is it different? Absolutely.
Tawse 2014 Sketches Of Niagara Rosé, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – It’s spring, isn’t it? This fresh and cheerful dry rosé will have you singing in the rain in no time. Clean, peppy and youthful but with more structure than meets the eye.
Burrowing Owl 2011 Syrah, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($39.95)
Sara d’Amato – The southern Okanagan can produce stunning examples of syrah with impressive depth and substance. This riper version from the desert sites of Burrowing Owl is a true showstopper.
Michael Godel – Is there another Okanagan winery that coaxes maximum ripeness and richesse out of desert sage country syrah? Burrowing Owl pushes the envelope even higher in this ripping 2011.
Small Talk Vineyards 2012 Recap Syrah, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, Canada ($24.95) (415612)
Sara d’Amato – Syrah expresses itself fully in the relatively cooler climate of Niagara with intensely peppery flavours and aromatic wild flowers. So distinctive and so divine.
Michael Godel – In the hands of new winemaker Angela Kasimos, Small Talk Vineyards should consider going with and increasing their plantings of syrah. It’s clear that Kasimos has inherited good solid fruit and the Small Talk (formerly Cornerstone Wines) 2012 lays down good solid roots.
Best Canadian Sommelier Competition
Toronto had the fortune of hosting the Best Sommelier of Canada Competition at the new Montecito Restaurant earlier this month. The competition, managed by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS), takes place every two years, each time in a different province. Competitors from coast to coast came to put their best corkscrew forward to try their hand at winning this prestigious award sponsored by Wine Country Ontario.
After a grueling day of written service exams, and a restless, anxious night, the candidates lined up in the presence of over 150 members of the public and countless webcast voyeurs for the announcement of the top three finalists. Those top three were then thrown into the ring, for an afternoon of unknown challenges scrutinized by not only a panel of distinguished judges but by a national community of viewers.
Those esteemed judges included WineAlign’s John Szabo MS along with Geoff Kruth MS, Chief Operating Officer for the Guild of Sommeliers and Ricardo Grellet, founder and Vice-President of the National Association of Sommeliers of Chile as well as guest judge Magdalena Kaiser of Wine Country Ontario.
Of the three finalists, which included Steven Robinson of Atelier Restaurant, in Ottawa and Carl Villeneuve Lepage of Toqué! in Montreal, the title of Canada’s Best Sommelier was awarded to Élyse Lambert, Sommelier Consultant, Maison Boulud of the Ritz Carlton in Montreal. Lambert’s previous success at APAS, the Pan-American Sommelier Challenge means that she can no longer compete this month in Chile at that same competition, but she will go directly the World’s Best Sommelier competition in Argentina in 2016.
The competition was arduous and exacting, and the crowd showed deserved reverence to those sommeliers who put their reputations on the line for the greater good of promoting the Canadian sommelier trade. Blind tasting was only a portion of the taxing exam but here are the wines with which the finalists were faced. Think you could have correctly identified these wines in succession? Élyse Lambert nearly nailed them all:
Di Prisco 2005 Taurasi, (Aglianico), Campania, Italy
Travaglini 2007 Gattinara, (Nebbiolo) Piedmont, Italy
Silvio Grasso 2009 Annunziata Vigna Plicotti Barolo, (Nebbiolo) Piedmont, Italy
Stay tuned for adventurous reports from Germany and Santorni, among other volcanic destinations by John Szabo in the near future. Word from David Lawrason as he returns from his New Zealand trek is also forthcoming.
For our members in Ottawa, you asked for more wine events, and we deliver! Check out this great evening exploring regional estates with Beringer winemaker Laurie Hook. WineAlign’s Rod Phillips will be your host as Laurie takes you through a tasting that showcases the volcanic, cobbled rock and alluvial soils of Knights Valley, the highest elevations of Napa’s Howell Mountain and the sun-drenched valley floor of Napa’s Oak Knoll district. (Find out more here.)
Until next week!
From VINTAGES April 4th, 2015:
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!
Golden Mile Bench photos: Culmina Winery, courtesy of Treve Ring