VINTAGES Preview – Oct 29th, 2016
The 90 Point Divide
by David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel
In the absence of a compelling feature from VINTAGES in this release, I want to re-visit wine ratings. Long time readers may just want to skip right to our 90-point plus picks, but every once in a while I think it is important to discuss this topic for new readers. In the last year, WineAlign has attracted 7,500 registered users in Ontario.
For a whole generation of wine producers, retailers and consumers a 90-point rating has become the great divide or fault line of wine quality. Below 90 the wine is ignored, above 90 fanfare awaits. Any rational human will know that this is an arbitrary line, and that the importance of “90 points” has ballooned out of proportion. But we critics who taste thousands of wines a year still need some kind of compass to let you know where we stand.
From my perspective 90 points has always been that threshold of “excellence”. Where I am freed from thinking about fault or inadequacy and allowed to enjoy a wine that expresses purity, fine typicity and balance. And hopefully, the wine has the energy, balance and length to be really compelling – the more compelling the higher that score should be. Theoretically up to 100 points, although I probably won’t score a wine 100 unless it makes me weep.
You may have noticed that at WineAlign, and among other local reviewers as well, the range of scores for VINTAGES releases is generally between 85 and 92 points – which to me is too compressed on a 100-point scale. But that’s where it sits, and that’s actually where quality lies within wines priced between $15 and $50, which is VINTAGES’ bandwidth. (The average price at VINTAGES is something like $21.95). When I review LCBO general list wines from $8 to $15 most score between 80 and 87 points. If I were reviewing Classics Catalogue wines priced $50 and up the scores would be most often between 92 and 99.
Within this 85 to 92 point VINTAGES framework the 90-point divide looms particularly large, and I urge you not to make 90 your cut-off point, especially without looking at price. You must always look at price, because I do not build “value” into my ratings, as some critics may do. To me, a $30 wine should hit 90 points with ease nowadays, so that any 90-point wine under $30 is good value. So is an 89-point wine under $25, or an 88-point wine under $20, and 87-point wine under $15. On the other side of 90, a $40 wine should be hitting 91, a $50 wine 92, etc. etc. That’s how I see it anyway.
As to how other critics score, that is their responsibility to explain, and your responsibility to find out. I often cringe when I see scores I feel are inflated or plain wrong, but it is not my place to comment on the work of my peers – except when a winery directly chooses to publish a suspect score on the bottle as part of their marketing effort. Anything on the label that might be influencing your point of purchase decision becomes a domain for fair comment. In this regard, I would also hold VINTAGES to account in occasionally publishing inflated “shelf-talker” scores.
To help you calibrate to WineAlign and its critics I have asked Michael and Sara for picks from the October 29th VINTAGES release that hit 90 points. Take a look, note the price, read the review, and then you be the judge. And remember, 90 points is where this selection begins. Click the links to see how they have really scored.
Our 90 pts+ Picks from the Oct 29th VINTAGES release:
André Blanck & Fils 2015 Altenburg Gewürztraminer, Alsace, France ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Huge value, with a great sense of purity, from a very fine producer. This shows a nose of orange blossom, lychee, white pepper, and mint. Lovely aromatics.
Mastroberardino 2014 Fiano Di Avellino, Campania, Italy ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – A standout and sizable winery in Campania, Mastroberadino has a mission to promote the indigenous grape varieties of the region. This fiano consistently over delivers for the price offering a compelling flavour profile, very good complexity and loads of personality.
New World Reds
Creekside 2013 Iconoclast Syrah, St. David’s Bench, Niagara-On-The-Lake ($22.95)
Michael Godel – Iconoclast smartly connects the entry-level with the Broken Press by way of the St. David’s Bench. This is meaty syrah, like a slice of rootsy, gutsy and gritty Americana humble and independent pie. From winemaker Rob Power, singer, songwriter, renaissance man and all-around winemaking bon syrah vivant.
Sara d’Amato – Pure, cool climate syrah is offered here with generous spicy and floral aromatics and great intensity of flavour. Leaner in body but offering great varietal expression and complexity. This blend of syrah and viognier was sourced from the premium estate vineyard of Queenston Road in the St. David’s Bench and was allowed to hang on the vine until early November. Syrah (and not shiraz) fans will be head over heals.
Mendel 2013 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($29.95)
David Lawrason – Young Argentina malbec is very often rather blunt, hot and tannic, so when comes along that is balanced, ripe and creamy my antennae go up. One of the finer malbecs of the year and indicative of what can happen with this grape at higher price points.
Torbreck 2014 Woodcutter’s Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($28.95)
David Lawrason – This big shiraz will strike many as all too much, and it does tilt into jamminess. But it has great aromatics and lift – so complex and it still manages some finesse for its size. I found it intriguing. And plum delicious.
Borsao 2012 Berola, Campo De Borja, Spain ($18.95)
Michael Godel – Berola is the old name of the 12th century Cistercian Monasterio de Veruela, home to the offices occupied by the Denominación de Origen. Borsao’s choice of nomenclature is perfectly ironic. Berola the wine is a grenache prevailing blend but syrah is the catalyst and the key. Campo de Borja as an appellation just seems destined to be the next big syrah thing south of the Pyrenees despite garnacha’s endemic dominance.
Fattoria Dei Barbi 2010 Brunello Di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($53.95)
David Lawrason – This is a cut above many of the Brunellos that have passed through Vintages this year. It’s a tough, pricey category and I am more often disappointed than not. This has exotic, complex aromas, juiciness, and generosity. Nicely maturing.
Heredad De Baroja 2002 Gran Reserva 2002, Rioja, Spain ($29.95)
Michael Godel – Don’t adjust your set. This label does indeed read 2002. There have been times when a vintage like 2001 has passed through VINTAGES and the integrity of the (100 percent) age of the juice is called into question. Not only because of hue but also freshness. There is no mistaking the age or the altruism of this Rioja. It won’t blow your mind but $30 is a pittance to pay for someone else doing all the cellaring work.
Sara d’Amato – Out of the cellar and into your glass, this matured to perfection Gran Reserva is beautifully balanced with poise and harmony. The palate is typically savory with lifted cherry, worn-in leather, wildfire, earth and iron along with a lingering finish of excellent length.
Niepoort 2013 Dão Rótulo Red, Dão, Portugal ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – The 30-60 year old vines of touriga nacional, jaen and alfrocheiro planted on granitic soil make for a captivating blend that is textbook Dão. We have seen too many over-ripe blends from this region in our market of late and not enough of these expressive, spicy and aromatic examples. Stylish and sensual, perky but still mouth filling, the Rótulo Red is sure to captivate.
Domaine De Pignan 2013 Châteauneuf Du Pape, Rhone Valley, France ($36.95)
Michael Godel – In 1989 Frédéric Charvin began\ to work his family’s vineyard, like Louis and René Pécoul, Pécoul François and Pécoul Antoine before him. His Domain goes back 160 years and the average age of Pignan’s vines are 60 years, three of them are a hundred years old. Subtle for Châteauneuf Du Pape, equanimity is the name of the game in this esteemed section of the southern Rhone Valley and kudos to Pignan for bringing reason and reserve to the table.
Domaine De Cristia 2012 Vieilles Vignes Châteauneuf-Du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France ($107.00)
David Lawrason – Here is the giant of the release, albeit a gentle giant. At $100 bucks it should be a 95+ wine, and it is. My review begins with Wow. Always a good sign. And so seldom do we see CNDPs of this calibre – it’s another difficult over-priced genre, like Brunello. This has a wonderful, fragrant and elegant nose. It’s rich yet refined. The length is outstanding.
Cave De Tain 2013 Esprit De Granit Saint Joseph, Rhône, France ($37.95)
Sara d’Amato – The well-respected Cave de Tain co-op produces wine from over 1000 hectares of vineyard across the northern Rhône and is the most significant producer of Cru wines of the region. With so much fruit to choose from, it is no wonder their premium “Parcellaires” line can offer so much intrigue. Grapes were sourced from granitic terraces on south facing slopes giving the wine great concentration and gusto. Pure hedonism!
So this is the first take at the October 29 release. John will be back next week. It’s an exciting time for M. Szabo with his new book, Volcanic Wines, Salt, and Power, hitting the shelves. John will be hosting a Volcanic Wines Taste & Buy and Book Signing at George Restaurant on November 22nd. There are still tickets left!
Until next time!
From VINTAGES October 29, 2016
Use these quick links for immediate access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release.
Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Premium subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!