Buy The Case: Hobbs and Co.
A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by Michael Godel
In this regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single importing agent. Our critics independently, as always, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in this Buy the Case report. Importers pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines.
For an explanation of the program, the process and our 10 Good Reasons to Buy the Case, please click here.
Hobbs & Co.
I have been following the portfolio of Margaret Hobbs of Hobbs & Company for the past five years and have seen what was once a modest but carefully chosen registry of wineries grow in breadth without any compromise to quality. There are no duds in the Hobbs cache. Every producer is a star, has the potential or is well on the road to becoming one. Hobbs is a model of consistency in the importing agency world of Ontario.
Hobbs & Co. has been delivering fine wines to the Ontario marketplace since 1993. Margaret’s Twitter page notes, “Chief, cook and bottle washer at Hobbs & Co. My father’s daughter.” I asked her what that means. “Perhaps that should read,” she told me, “I am striving to be my father’s daughter! My dad, Bill, was a highly principled gentleman, with an incredible sense of integrity and a strong work ethic.” Margaret Hobbs is clearly someone who believes in tradition, legacy and carrying the torch. She also believes in progress.
I asked Margaret if she could briefly comment on what the company’s goals were 10 years ago and how they have changed to what they are now. Her answer was this:
“A lot has changed in 10 years! In 2007, we were focused almost exclusively on selling Consignment wine, mainly to restaurants throughout the province. And selling wine was relatively easy – we were well established with a great portfolio and a loyal client base, the consignment program rules were more flexible at that time and the economy was booming. Then 2008 hit…Given that our revenue was driven by sales to restaurants that were severely impacted by the recession, we were heavily impacted as well. Ever since, my priority has been to build greater resilience into our business model. While we retain a great passion for promoting relatively small production Consignment wines that we have sourced from around the world, we also have a fantastic and growing portfolio of wines that are sold through LCBO retail (General List, VINTAGES Essentials and VINTAGES). And we have diversified our portfolio to include well-crafted beer, cider and spirits. We have found interesting synergies between these categories, with the common element being the wonderful stories behind each brand that we represent. Our tag line – A story with every glass – sums it up well.”
With respect to maintaining a portfolio’s level of consistency and excellence during the last five years (give or take) period of growth, here is what Margaret had to say:
“We have an awesome sales team that drives our revenue and our growth. They have varied backgrounds – most have come from the Food Service & Hospitality Industry and many have formal wine-beer-spirits education and training. They are instrumental in helping to maintain the consistency and excellence of our portfolio. Almost all decisions regarding the wines we carry on our list are made through blind tastings with this incredible group of professionals.”
Hobbs and Company’s diverse portfolio is truly a global affair, ranging to New World locales like Chile and Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and with an intense focus on South Africa, home to some of the best wine values anywhere. In the Old World Germany and Portugal are represented but it is Italy, Spain and especially France where the Hobbs representation really stands tall.
Though the Ontario importer enjoys a strong global presence, their work with wineries in both Ontario and British Columbia is exceptional. Quails’ Gate and Tantalus Vineyards are two important and essential figures in B.C. and have both received great accolades at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. Here in Ontario Hobbs is partnered with Creekside Estates Winery, a Jordan outfit of great respect and an extremely diverse portfolio. Hobbs has also helped to develop and market Creekside’s participation in the Wine on Tap from stainless steel keg program. Creekside is one of the most successful producers in the field.
While we always enjoy our tasting sessions together, knowing that a Hobbs and Company set of wines was waiting in the WineAlign tasting room gave reason to really look forward to the day’s work. This portfolio offered up high anticipation for John Szabo, Steve Thurlow, David Lawrason and me. As usual with this Buy the Case feature – when discussing wines only available by the case – we offer some thoughts on how you might consider using the wines you purchase.
Sparkling & White
Beaumont des Crayères Grand Prestige Brut Champagne, France ($58.00)
Steve Thurlow – This is a mature fairly intense complex Champagne for a good price (for Champagne). It is made from a fairly common blend of the three Champagne grapes, chardonnay 40%, pinot noir 40% and pinot meunier 20%. Expect harmonious aromas of dried pear and pineapple fruit with toasted nuts, brioche, and lemon. It is medium bodied and finely balanced with excellent length. Given the depth of flavour and its savoury nature plus the vibrant acidity, this is a wine to dine with. Try with rich seafood dishes or white meats with creamy sauces. Tasted August 2016. Good for Wine Pooling.
Michael Godel – This is Brut non millésimé Champagne of Old world spirit with new world personality. The complicated whole made up of interconnected parts is both dense and ethereal, ideological and post-ideological. I agree with Steve. Get some friends together, split the case four ways and open one every four years.
Tinpot Hut Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Marlborough, New Zealand ($23.00)
David Lawrason – This is lively sauvignon loaded with passion fruit on the nose, plus gentle greens like celery leaf and snow pea. It’s quite light bodied and a little softer than many Marlborough sauvignons, with a touch of sweetness. It should have wide appeal, and do well by-the-glass if competitively priced.
Michael Godel – From winemaker Fiona Turner off of her own Home Block vineyard this is sauvignon blanc of high acidity but with so much pungent and forthright fruit the balance is spot on. The kind of Kiwi white to make restaurant goers say “wow” and “yum” when poured to them by the glass.
Lucien Lardy Beaujolais Villages 2015, Beaujolais, France ($21.50)
David Lawrason – Here’s a very pleasant, well balanced gamay that has the character of a Beaujolais cru. It has a pretty, floral, blueberry character with shadings of earthy beetroot and pepper. It’s light to medium bodied, nicely balanced with fine acidity and checked alcohol. It could do well on a French focused wine list.
John Szabo – Lighter reds, and especially Beaujolais, are all the rage these days, and this bottling, from a vineyard planted in 1951 on pink-tinged granite in the northern part of the appellation near the cru of Fleurie, is crafted in a lovely, juicy, engaging, fruity, carbonic-style. There’s plenty of typical candyfloss and strawberry flavour, ripe and juicy. I’d call this a regional paradigm, immediately identifiable, hitting all of the right notes.
Salcheto Rosso di Montepulciano 2014, Tuscany, Italy ($25.00)
David Lawrason – This is a rare rosso from Montepulciano, made from the same clone of sangiovese as Vino Nobile, but aged for a shorter period. It’s a quite lively, sour-edged, a touch meaty and volatile red – a style that fans of traditional Italian wine will appreciate. Should work nicely by-the-glass on an eclectic Italian list.
John Szabo – Here’s an authentic, savoury-earthy-spicy-floral, sangiovese-based red from around the town of Montepulciano and a fine producer dedicated to sustainability at every level,. It’s very aromatically engaging, with brisk and saliva-inducing acids, light and dusty tannins, and very good length and overall complexity for the price category. A classic Tuscan red all in all, tailor-made for the table.
Michael Godel – Salcheto’s Rosso exists as a gateway vial to its rich, unctuous and more mature Vino Nobile and like the grand wine this Rosso will appeal to two sides of sangiovese lovers. There is enough volatility and tart earthiness to reach back old school and the kind of ripe fruit to seek some modern appeal. It’s almost buzzing with energy and the tongue is lashed with a peppery jolt. Solid Rosso for any day of the week house wine service.
Hartenberg 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, South Africa ($35.00)
David Lawrason – Here’s a big, meaty and complex cabernet with classic Stellenbsoch iodine minerality caked around the very ripe cassis fruit, graphite and vaguely minty notes. It’s dense yet vibrant with considerable acidity and firm tannin. It’s very Euro in one sense, but has the classic power of the Cape. IT should age nicely for a decade, so consider splitting a case with other collectors.
Michael Godel – Deliciously and devilishly dry cabernet sauvignon from deep red Hutton and Avalon soils in Stellenbosch. Built to live a long and healthy life so see this as a big red with maturation potential. The vintner claims 15-20 years from vintage. That’s not a stretch though the next five will be the best. I tasted many similar 1995-2005 reds from Stellenbosch in Cape Town last September. This Hartenberg will occupy an important section of your cellar.
Schubert 2014 Pinot Noir, Wairarapa, New Zealand ($37.00)
John Szabo – This is an elegant, spicy-savoury and structured pinot from a fine producer in New Zealand’s North Island – Wairarapa, perfumed and floral, dark and swarthy in the best way. Tannins are refined and sophisticated, acids perfectly in balance, and the length exceptional. Really fine stuff, and fine value in the rarefied realm of pinot noir. Drink or hold into the early ’20s.
David Lawrason – Schubert is one of the pioneering pinot noir estates of the Martinborough region. This is a delicious, warmer climate, youthful pinot with lovely ripe blueberry/cherry fruit, violets, plus some foresty and gently spicy complexity. It’s medium weight, almost silky smooth with very fine tannin. The sheer deliciousness gives it a place as an upper-end wine by the glass. I bet more than one glass gets ordered.
Steve Thurlow – This is a lovely pinot that is so typical of Martinborough in a good year. Expect aromas of cherry and plum fruit with floral, spicy and herbal complexity. It is midweight and so finely balanced with the velvety smooth fruit driven by vibrant acidity on to the long lingering finish. Excellent length. Elegant and classy. It is a little hot on the finish otherwise would have scored higher. Great buy. Best 2016 to 2021. Tasted August 2016. A good personal house wine.
Roger Belland Maranges La Fussière 1er Cru 2014, Burgundy, France ($44.00)
John Szabo – Fine value from the southernmost commune of the Côte d’Or, plump, sappy, ripe, nicely proportioned, with finely-tuned, elegant tannins and balanced acids. A really successful wine for the vintage, made with evident care and ambition. And to find red 1er cru Burgundy at this price is a treat; restaurants should take notice.
Michael Godel – Belland from Santenay makes pinot noir from 23 hectares of vineyards spread throughout several appellations and La Fussiere is considered the best vineyard in Maranges with the Belland plot located mid-slope. As a result here is a mid-weight Maranges with bright cherry scents foiled by sweet, musty earth. Tart acidity adds further brightness and the vintage leaves fewer bitters behind. This will age gracefully for up to seven plus years. Not all Burgundy cellar space needs got be occupied by the rich and famous. Some space should be allotted to lesser known but certainly not lesser quality Cru.
This report was sponsored by Hobbs & Co. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. Hobbs & Co. has provided the following agency profile.
About Hobbs & Co.
Hobbs & Co. was born out of a passion for wine and a desire to share the stories of wines discovered and enjoyed by the Hobbs family in their travels. We have been fortunate to be able to grow our business gradually, with an emphasis on exceptional personal service and on quality wines of exceptional value. The fledgling company that began 23 years ago has flourished.
While we celebrate each new vintage from our roster of long-standing, noteworthy producers, our portfolio continues to evolve and expand to meet changing consumer tastes. And today, in addition to wine, that ‘story with every glass’ includes an exciting list of Hobbs-endorsed beer, cider and spirits.
We look forward to sharing with you the remarkable wines we love.
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