Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – May 28, 2016
Veneto, German Royalty and Smart Buys
Text and photos by John Szabo MS
This week I’ll have a look at the Veneto feature of the May 28th VINTAGES release, with some thoughts on the region and a quartet of top picks that cover some of the essential styles. A selection of miscellaneous smart buys follows, and includes a pair each of superb whites from the Niagara Escarpment and Stellenbosch, and a duo of old world reds straight from the textbook.
The annual German Wine Fair featured last week in Toronto, a country going from strength to strength and generating plenty of excitement, at least among the trade judging by the enthusiasm in the room. I’ve posted a separate Germany report including an interview with Josefine Schlumberger, current German Wine Queen, as well as top drops currently available, and ones I hope will soon be (calling all importers!!!).
Italian Giant: The Veneto
The Veneto in northeastern Italy is one of the country’s most prolific wine-producing regions. With large and famous appellations like Prosecco, Soave and Valpolicella, not to mention an ocean of pinot grigio “Delle Venezie IGT”, the quantity of wine produced, and exported, is staggering. Soave, for example, is the area with the most intense concentration of viticulture in all of Italy. The principal communes of Monteforte d’Alpone and Soave itself devote more than 90% of their agricultural area to vineyards.
With some notable exceptions, the selection made available to us on LCBO shelves is underwhelming to be sure, favouring the largest mass-market brands with advertising dollars to spare. The region of course has much more to offer in the quality spectrum. See my January report from Verona listing the top releases from the 2016 edition of the Anteprima Amarone with bonus picks from the Valpolicella and Ripasso categories.
The offerings debuting on May 28th are mixed, though I’ve found four wines that nicely represent their respective regions.
Pieropan 2014 Soave Classico DOC, Veneto, Italy ($17.95): The dual geological nature of the Soave zone, from black and red soils of volcanic origin to white or yellow terrain of calcareous (limestone) origins, is a hot current topic of discussion between producers. This arch-classic Soave is blended from both soil types but, like the region itself, is dominated by its volcanic side, yielding a lovely, floral-flinty, classically structured wine, with ample depth and smoky complexity, and I love the crackling acids of the 2014s in general. It’s terrific to see this come in at such an attractive price ($2 less than the 2013). I’d give it another year or two in bottle to reveal its more mineral side, but the range of flavours is already impressive. Best 2016-2024.
Monte del Frá 2014 Bardolino DOC, Veneto, Italy ($14.95): Here’s a totally delightful, fresh strawberry-raspberry-cherry scented red from the eastern shores of Lake Garda, the kind that just begs to be chilled and cracked, like the best wines of Valpolicella next door. I love the lack of pretension and the confidence to make an honest, simple but dangerously drinkable red without recourse to artificial wood flavouring or exaggerated ripeness. This is just fun.
Masi 2011 Serego Alighieri 650 Anniversario Monte Piazzo, Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC, Veneto, Italy ($21.95): If you are in the mood for a more serious red, this Masi wine from the historic estate that still belongs to the descendants of the poet Dante Alighieri is a fine option. It’s an ambitious, mature, very savoury example of Valpolicella, with notable wood influence but an equally abundant measure of dried porcini/leather/barley risotto-type flavours to balance. There’s definite old world styling here, complete with firm-dusty tannins. Best 2016-2021.
Giuseppe Campagnola 2014 Ripasso della Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC Veneto, Italy ($19.95): I find ripasso style Valpolicella a hard wine to get right – it’s neither pure and fruity-vibrant like straight up Valpolicella, nor rich, dense and heady like Amarone, but rather lost in between with varying degrees of unbalanced and overly raisined fruit flavour, or worse, excessive wood flavour, to which the delicate grapes of the region – mainly corvina/corvinone and rondinella – seem particularly susceptible. Campagnola dials it down nicely here, evidently a more serious, polished wine, heavier and more concentrated than the mean while retaining balance, with ripe, soft tannins and plush texture. Fruit remains faithful to the red berry spectrum, and the length is very good, and wood influence is marked but not exaggerated. Best 2016-2022.
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Supporters of local riesling, and indeed lovers of riesling from anywhere will want to tuck a few bottles of the Cave Spring 2013 CSV Riesling, VQA Beamsville Bench ($29.95) into the cellar. 2013 is a fine vintage for this Niagara classic, from some of the oldest riesling vines in the province. Balance is impeccable, with taught, quivering acids taming a light pinch of residual sugar. Length and depth impress, as does the range of spicy citrus, ginger and floral flavours. Drink or hold a decade – there’s a big window of enjoyment, judging by past great vintages.
And some insider information: the 2015 CSV riesling, made with wild ferment for the first time, is reportedly the estate’s best yet. But we’ll have to wait another couple of years to see it.
Flat Rock takes a page from the Chablis playbook in the 2014 Unplugged Chardonnay VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($16.95), a clean, lively, vibrant and very fresh unoaked chardonnay. I like the crunchy acids, lightly tacky texture, moderate alcohol, and vaguely lactic (yoghurt, fresh cheese) flavours that will remind you of northern France, in a very good way.
With the already weak Rand in further free fall of late, we can only expect more great values from South Africa.
For the moment, Rustenberg delivers another overachieving value with their 2014 Chardonnay ($19.95). It’s a nicely pitched, gently oaked, well-structured and complex chardonnay that could hold its own in a much higher price category. Length and depth, as well as complexity are impressive. Best 2016-2022.
South African chenin blanc is likewise one of the best values on planet wine, that is if you like assertive, characterful whites with occasional brute smoky-mineral force. Oldenburg Vineyards 2014 Chenin Blanc ($20.95) is such a wine, melding ripe sautéed pineapple and candied tangerine fruit flavours on a full-bodied, concentrated frame, with the merest hint of wood influence. I like the expansive, wide-ranging palate, and the lingering finish – this is a substantial white wine, ready for full-on BBQed chicken or veal, or similar high-intensity foods.
Textbook Euro Reds
I’ve been following the wines of Laurence Ferraud for a decade and a half, and watched her expand from her original family Domaine du Pégau in Châteauneuf and purchase Château Pegau just a few kilometers south of the appellation, with similar terroir including mounds of stones, next to the Rhône.
The 2013 Cuvée Maclura Côtes du Rhône ($19.95) is a fine, savoury-spicy, floral and cinnamon-tinged, quite well structured grenache-led GSM. This may run a little to the dry and dusty side for some, but I love the range of flavours on offer, covering all of the spectrums from dusty red fruit to lavender to black liquorice-pepper spice. Best 2016-2023.
Fans of classic sangiovese (with 10% canaiolo) will love the Carpineto 2010 Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Riserva DOCG Tuscany, Italy ($29.95). 2010 was one of those perfect vintages, and this is showing beautifully now, a lovely floral, black pepper, pot pourri-savoury expression. The palate is expansive and terrifically complex, polished and softened by two years in wood, and having reached a silky, refined texture with excellent length and depth overall. Drink or hold mid-term (2016-2025).
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
John Szabo MS
From VINTAGES May 28, 2016
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