Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 27 – Part One
Pan-Am Wines; WineAlign’s Favourites of Customer Favourites
By John Szabo MS, with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason
The Pan Am games are virtually upon the Golden Horseshoe. The 1.5 billion-dollar event has impacted the region significantly, motivating many infrastructure improvements like multiple sports venues, a long-overdue rail connection to Pearson, new HOV lanes, and a prettied-up Queen’s Quay. The games have even influenced the wine selections arriving in Ontario on June 27th. But the LCBO’s selection of Pan-AM-themed wines stack the odds in favour of the powerhouse countries and give little hope for the emerging ones.
It’s a shame that the elite competitors from little-known wine producing countries like Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico weren’t invited to compete against perennial favourites from Canada, the US, Chile and Argentina. Instead, those marginalized countries are represented only by their second-string wines, unprepared for international competition. If one of the goals of the thematic, as for the games, is to introduce us to the new stars and to expand Pan-American cultural awareness and respect, I’m afraid spectator-drinkers will go home with prejudices fully intact.
Rather than one of southern Brazil’s very good sparkling wines (Chandon Brazil, Cave Geisse, Vallontano?), we’re offered instead a weak and bony, fleshless, amateur bubbly from the cooperative Aurora Winery, which, according to their website, is “the largest of its kind in Brazil and produces beverages [my emphasis] to suit all tastes and occasions”. Hardly an inspiring training motto for the factory’s winemakers. But for $13.95, all you can expect is the regional high school team, not the world cup squad.
Uruguay with its flag-waving tannat grape has countless potential medal-winning entries, but it didn’t even qualify. Instead we have Del Pedregal’s bench-warming Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly serviceable, worthy perhaps of a participation ribbon, but definitely not starting-team, medal material (Del Pedregal’s tannat wins all the medals). And Mexico, well, Mexico should have stayed home altogether. In a retirement home. Washed-up and oxidized, Freixenet de México’s entry should be watching the games from a reclining armchair. Is this really the best Mexico has to offer?
In the end, none of these countries will walk away with any new fans. And that’s the shame. It’s hardly a fair reflection of their sporting potential.
You could of course argue that no one will pay a high-priced ticket to see an unknown country perform, even if it’s the best in the event-category. And you’d probably be right. Stocking the LCBO shelves with expensive oddities is not smart planning, unless there’s an enthusiastic mascot on hand at every venue who can sell the ticket. But then again, if the proper infrastructure isn’t in place, then maybe the LCBO shouldn’t have been awarded the games at all. The risk of misrepresenting emerging countries is high.
So if you are going to the games on the 27th, preserve your unsullied impression of the mystery entries by keeping them a mystery, and go straight to see the marquee performers. The WineAlign odds-makers have lined up the top contenders from Canada, Chile, the US and Argentina, where medal chances are high.
The other theme of the release is “Customer Favourites”, a straightforward selection based on what has sold well in the past. These are the wines that you’ve voted for. This week’s report covers our favourites out of your favourite white wines (along with a handful of other irresistible wines that we’ll boldly predict as “future customer favourites”), while reds will be covered next week along with David’s lead-off on Canada’s finest for our national day.
Buyers’ Guide to Pan-American Wines
Montes Alpha 2012 Carmenère Colchagua Valley Chile ($19.95)
John Szabo – A big and muscular, Pan Am sumo wrestler of a wine with soft midsection, yet sufficient acids to keep the masses of fruit from falling out of the ring. Best 2015-2020.
Viña San Pedro 2012 1865 Single Vineyard Syrah, Cachapoal Valley, Chile ($19.95)
Sara D’Amato – A syrah that knocks it out of the park with perky peppercorn and notes of juicy black currants on its compelling palate that is sure to prove a backyard barbecue favourite.
Trapiche 2011 Fincas Las Palmas Gran Reserva Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($16.95)
David Lawrason – This is impressively deep, full and flavourful for the money – a hefty Argentine malbec that manages some complexity. As the largest and one of the oldest wineries in Mendoza, some might categorize Trapiche as old school – but I rather like the inbred oak driven complexity. A grilling red.
2013 Sperling Gewurztraminer, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, Canada ($28.95)
John Szabo – A sprightly, energetic, more hundred-meter-dash-than-marathoner of a wine in the gewürztraminer context. It’s marvellously aromatic in the varietal style, but much crisper, drier and firmer than the mean.
Sara D’Amato – A stunningly elegant gewürztraminer which features well-balanced, bright acids to counteract the characteristic fatness common to the varietal. For a cross-cultural, Pan Am treat, try with a slightly spicy chile relleno.
Colomé 2013 Torrontés, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Salta, Argentina ($13.95)
Sara D’Amato – From the world’s most elevated concentration of vineyards comes a smart and poised but characteristically value-priced torrontés. A restrained floral component and vibrant palate make for a widely appealing, easy summer sipper.
David Lawrason – Gran Altura is harvested at three different altitudes between 1800 and 3100 metres (which is lofty even for Argentina standards). The result is a delicacy and finesse rarely encountered in this show-off, highly aromatic variety. And at this price it’s amazing value. Make sure you chill well for garden sipping. Ideal for ceviche.
Our Favourites of Your Favourites Part One: White Wines
La Crema 2013 Chardonnay Monterey, California, USA ($26.95)
John Szabo – La Crema has slowly but surely been tightening the screws on their chardonnays, and while even the Monterey bottling, typically the tightest of La Crema’s range, wouldn’t have been among my favorites even just a few years ago, the 2013 hits the right balance. It’s still very much California, but happily tweaked for freshness and extended shelf-life. Best now-2023.
2013 Featherstone Sauvignon Blanc VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($17.95)
John Szabo – Featherstone, too, steps into my favourites line-up for the first time, with this strong 2013 sauvignon release. I like the mix of guava/passion fruit inflected with subdued herbal-grassy character, and the honest dusty-chalky finish. Just feels right.
Sara D’Amato – Don’t expect a grassy New Zealand style of sauvignon blanc nor a riper California fumé but rather a uniquely Niagara style with great balance and appeal. Sourced from grapes at peak ripeness, this mid-priced sauvignon blanc exhibits surprising viscosity and staying power with the refreshing flavours of cooler tropical fruits such as pineapple and passion fruit.
Casas Del Bosque 2014 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($13.95)
David Lawrason – The world is increasingly dividing into three camps when it comes to sauvignon blanc, and given the time of year let’s call them summer camps – Camp Oh So Green, Camp Cool by the Lake, and Camp Deep in the Woods. This is a New Zealand-inspired Camp Oh So Green blaster with intense capsicum, celery, dill on the nose and palate. A bit much for some, but a huge flavour hit for $13.95.
“Future Favourites” Part One: White Wines
Ken Forrester 2014 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($17.95)
John Szabo – I’m delighted to see the return of this excellent value from Forrester, my pick for a future Vintages favourite. The 2014 is a particularly steely and mineral version, still at least a year or two away from prime drinking, but this has the depth and stuffing to go the distance. Best 2016-2024.
Sara D’Amato – This exceptional chenin blanc has been a WineAlign favourite since 2009. Each subsequent vintage has been hit after hit – a testament to the consistency of the wines from this internationally acclaimed producer. This substantial and complex example of a variety that has found unique expression in South Africa delivers a great deal of impact for a petite price.
Flor De Vetus 2013 Verdejo, old vines from Segovia, DO Rueda Spain ($15.95)
John Szabo – Verdejo has the (unfortunate) tendency to turn into a Delmonte tropical fruit cup, but not so this example, from several old parcels all above 850 meters in the western corner of Rueda. It’s unusually subdued, with lovely cut and dense texture on the palate, and the sort of energy and depth that’s uncommon at this price. This is much more about stony-salty-mineral flavours than fruit, yet neither lean nor shrill, which is nice.
Marrenon 2012 Doria Luberon, Rhône, France ($17.95)
John Szabo – An excellent wine from the extensive Marrenon coop (1200 members farming over 7,000 hectares!). This is one of their top whites made from selected parcels, a blend of Vermentino (rolle), grenache blanc and a splash of Roussanne, harvested late and vinified together. The result is an engagingly floral wine with fully ripe orchard fruit (peaches, apricots), and gentle but fresh, palpably chalky palate. 20% barrel fermentation goes virtually unnoticed, save for the textural creaminess. I’d love to see more wines like this, especially at the price.
David Lawrason – This is a classy, understated summer white from vineyards on the clay limestone slopes of the Luberon in southern France. The estate was founded in 1966 by Petula Garcia , a wealthy Brazilian who fell in love with the Provence countryside (as wealthy people often do). This is a fresh, slender blend peachy white made from 60% vermentino, 30% grenache blanc and 10% roussanne.
Château Saint Genès 2013, Bordeaux Blanc, France
David Lawrason – This is a fine little value in white Bordeaux, blending semillon and sauvignon blanc. Often white Bordeaux is barrel-aged but if there is oak here it’s very discreet indeed. It’s from a property in the Cotes de Blaye, where vines are grown on gravelled soils with limestone underpinning. Lovely precision!
Monte Del Frá 2012 Ca’ Del Magro, Custoza Superiore, Veneto, Italy ($17.95)
David Lawrason – Made from local varieties that grow in low-yielding vineyards on the slopes above of Lago do Garda, this a subtle, fresh young white that would work very nicely on the shore of your lake as well. Or by the pool. It reminds of a mid-weight Soave with subtle aromas of peach, yellow flowers and almond. Nicely made by one of my favourite houses of Italy’s northeast.
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
From VINTAGES June 27th, 2015
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