Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Nov 12th, 2016
The Best Finds Under $25 and the Judgment of Kingston
by Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason & Michael Godel
Regardless of your perspective on the recent ideological and political upheaval down south, alcohol of some sort seems to be in order. You may feel the need to celebrate with an extra special bottle – if so, check out John’s Szabo’s report from last week that focuses on premium wines in various price categories. If celebration is out of the question, you may be looking for the best you can get for the least you can pay. In that case, we’re pleased to offer our advice on how to get the best for under $25 in this week’s VINTAGES release.
This week’s release features a small but solid group of wines coming out of the Pacific Northwest, in particular from the states of Oregon and Washington. Although I have highlighted a couple such wines below, you can expect more words from me in an upcoming report. A recent visit to those disparate wine regions yielded some unconventional and counter-intuitive discoveries.
Other than the major Star Quality feature outlined in last week’s report, you’ll find a diverse and significant selection of wines as VINTAGES builds up stock for the upcoming holiday season. You’ll notice that the number of wines in the release now increases dramatically until the end of the month. We are therefore doubling up our efforts and the hours we spend tasting at the LCBO headquarters in order to bring you these reports.
The Judgement of Kingston
Last week marked the first annual Judgment of Kingston Tasting, a blind wine tasting that pitted the chardonnays of Prince Edward County against those of California. The event was based on the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting organized by British wine merchant and critic Steven Spurrier which put the best of Burgundy chardonnays and Bordelaise cabernets up against top California examples. In each instance of this blind tasting, a Californian wine was surprisingly awarded best in its category. This year marks the 40th anniversary of definitive tasting that put the Californian wine industry on the map. It has thus prompted many such copycat tastings around the globe but this is the only one featuring the wines of Prince Edward County.
Admittedly the comparison of the elegant and more delicate PEC chardonnays against the bolder California styles seems like comparing apples to oranges but the outcome was less black and white than expected. Along local wine critics and colleagues, seven wines were blind tasted with a group of 150 consumers in the historic Kingston City Hall. Of the four Prince Edward County wines, two surfaced as the top wines of the evening: Rosehall Run’s 2013 “JCR” Chardonnay and Closson Chase’s 2014 “South Clos” Chardonnay. The third place award went to the cooler climate Clos du Val Carneros Estate 2013 Chardonnay. The tasting illustrated the finesse of the leaner more Burgundian style Prince Edward County chardonnays which were favored by this group of engaged consumers. Part Two of the Judgement of Kingston will feature County pinot noirs against their Burgundian counterparts. More information can be found at: JudgementOfKingston.ca
Back to VINTAGES and our Top Picks from the November 12th Release:
Deetlefs 2014 Chenin Blanc, Breedekloof, Western Cape, South Africa ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – A solid value, this characteristic chenin blanc is a fresh expression of this grape variety sourced from 27-year old vines. A very small addition of viognier and semillon add some aromatic intrigue and a structural boost. Mineral, white flower a little oak mesh nicely on the palate.
Karavitakis Winery 2015 The Little Prince White, Crete, Greece ($14.95)
Michael Godel – Here an interesting bit of local vernacular, Cretan style, with vilana and vidiano dishing up a distinctly and singularly endemic mineral impression by way of subtle hints from tropical fruit. The palate is rich, broad and marzipan creamy. The acidity is round and rambling, tying the whole kit and Crete kaboodle together. A worthy side venture into the Greek Aegean hinterland.
Château Vignol 2015 Blanc, Entre Deux Mers, Bordeaux, France ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – From the great Bordelaise expanse of Entre Deux Mers, this blend of sauvignon blanc, sauvignon gris (of increasing popularity in the region), sémillon and Muscadelle offers a delightful harmony of flavours. White Bordeaux is still an extremely rare find in our parts so if you fancy this style of wine, buy up!
David Lawrason – This very good value for sauvignon fans who may have been fixated on New Zealand. It has a surprisingly floral nose, perhaps through the inclusion of muscadelle in the blend. It is more floral and tropical than the average Entre-Deux Mers, and presents generous fruit, herbs and florals.
Lone Birch 2014 Pinot Gris, Yakima Valley, Washington, USA ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Yakima Valley is a cooler climate gateway of the wine regions of Washington, east of the Cascade Mountains and is ideal for the production of whites and merlot. Lone Birch is a fourth generation, family owned winery that prides itself on sustainable production with a low-carbon footprint. This distinctive pinot gris style offers a dry palate but sensual viscosity and plump tree fruit.
Trimbach 2013 Riesling, Alsace, France ($23.95)
David Lawrason – We don’t get many glimpses into fine, affordable Alsatian riesling. Here’s a window. It’s a firm, dry, quite powerful riesling very much in Trimbach’s serious, age worthy style. The nose is quite complex, with great acid and minerality on the palate.
Michael Godel – What pray tell might you ask more than this from Alsace riesling? Could you, would you demand more immediate gratification? Might you request more purity and clarity of soil, rock and regional understanding? Is there a need to better define citrus and dry extract in any finer way? How things ought to be. A tight vintage though, so give it some air time. If you imagine the possibilities for Trimbach’s Cuvée Frédéric Emile, how could you not see the value in this?
Terre Bianche Alghero 2014 Torbato, Sardinia, Italy ($16.95)
David Lawrason – A lovely, very good value white emerges from the nooks and crannies of the Mediterranean. This is the torbato grape from the DOC Alghero in Sardinia. It reminds me of viognier at first blush but also of vermentino. Nicely lifted ripe aromas of pineapple, lemongrass and candlewax follow well on the palate.
REDS UNDER $25
Hedges 2014 C.M.S. Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot-Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA ($23.95)
Michael Godel – In a very good vintage the Hedges CMS is a wine of deep singer-songwriter meets jazzy flavour and sensible grip. It flies past, like “seven tracks in 40 minutes and it’s musically distinct.” By combining disparate varietals it dishes ambiguity in ways only it can do because it can’t or shouldn’t have to give everything away. It is purely Hedges and so very Washington.
Sara d’Amato – Located in the esteemed Red Mountain sub-AVA of Washington’s Columbia Valley, Hedges is known for its wild and wonderful reds and whites that are sometimes funky but always quirky and complex. This American/French family owned winery has a particular expertise in Washington syrah which is evident in this peppery blend that is wildly aromatic and pleasantly earthy.
Catena 2014 Malbec (1500mL), Mendoza, Argentina ($39.95)
Sara d’Amato – Festive find alert! The price is reflective of the magnum format so still fits within our $25 cap. A blend of high mountain sites from the winery who pioneered high altitude plantings in Mendoza. Mid-weight and fresh with a highly appealing nose of black pepper and violets. Elegant and food friendly with little oak and impressive length. (Also in 750Ml)
Avelino Vegas 2013 Fuentespina Roble 7, Ribera Del Duero, Spain ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – A fun find that is pure pleasure. Not the most complex wine in the bunch but offers an enticing licorice dominant nose and plenty of juicy red and black fruit on the palate. With supple tannins and great balance, this makes for a satisfying weeknight red.
United Stars 2014 Saperavi, Kindzmarauli, Kakheti, Georgia ($12.95)
Sara d’Amato – An adventurous find produced from saperavi, a dominant Georgian grape whose flavour characteristics are a cross between sangiovese and zinfandel. Easy-drinking but with complexity that is above the mean.
Thymiopoulos Vineyards 2013 Young Vines Xinomavro, Naoussa, Greece ($17.95)
Michael Godel – Apostolos Thymiopoulos has only just begun his long vinous journey into the heart of Naoussa. This organic and biodynamic wine defines fresh and alive. It’s stainless and painless because says Apostolos, “who needs oxygen when you have young vines?” Like Norah Jones in a glass, sultry, contemporary, lightly smoky, of a jazz aesthetic and a pop sensibility. And wild berries. So fresh, so good.
Paolo Conterno Bricco Barbera d’Alba 2014, Piedmont, Italy ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – A zesty, playful and engaging barbera offering characteristic freshness and wide appeal. Tannins are smooth and oak treatment is minimal allowing the fruit to really shine.
Parker Coonawarra Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Coonawarra, Limestone Coast, South Australia ($19.95)
Michael Godel – There can be no separating Terra Rossa soil from what happens with (especially) cabernet sauvignon anywhere in the Coonawarra. Look to this well-priced example from the Williams family vineyard in Southern Coonawarra. Really crunchy, chewy and gritty wine with focus and grip. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted October 2016
Maycas De Limari 2014 Reserva Especial Pinot Noir, Limari Valley, Chile ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Great value for pinot fans – delicious at a more than fair price. The cooler region of Limari could become ground zero for Chilean pinot if they keep offering up this quality – let alone the value. It has intense, vibrant aromas and flavours all nicely juxtaposed. It’s mid-weight, fleshy yet taut and juicy.
Lafage 2014 Côté Sud, Côtes Catalanes, France ($15.95)
David Lawrason – This is a huge value syrah-grenache from the slopes of the Pyrenees. Great, lifted peppery, herbal/leafy and meaty/charcuterie nose. Great stuffing and structure for the price. Here’s an every day priced red that will stand in admirably with any grilled, smoked red meat recipes.
Hidden Bench 2012 Terroir Caché Meritage, Beamsville Bench, Niagara ($38.00)
David Lawrason – This is so well made! From a riper vintage that put some beef into Niagara reds, this is not quite ready for prime time – showing considerable tannic grit and bitterness. But the lavish (for Niagara) fruit and impeccable barrel treatment has created as fine a Bordeaux red as yet produced in Ontario.
La Rioja Alta 2007 Viña Ardanza Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($44.95)
David Lawrason – Here’s a great old Rioja. You need to like all the sandalwood, herbs, tobacco and resin of the old school, but wow does it deliver. The palate is smooth, dense, rich with almost hashish like herbal/earthiness. Excellent length. Ready now, will live into the next decade.
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