Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Nov 26th, 2016
Beaujolais & Global Nouveau; Splurge-Worthy and Value Finds
by Sara d’Amato, with notes from Michael Godel
Yesterday marked the 3rd Thursday in November, the annual release day of Beaujolais Nouveau when the freshly fermented gamays of this southern Burgundian appellation arrive simultaneously to the four corners of the globe. Using means of transport from rickshaw to jet planes, the Nouveau always arrives on time. This celebration of the harvest, the “vin de l’année” is released between 6-8 weeks after the end of harvest with a fixed date that ensures the wine’s arrival on shelves from Beijing to New York at exactly 12:01 AM on this Thursday of November. Gimmicky? Passé? Certainly, and reports of the decline in sales of this en primeur have been seen since the crash of the industry in 2000.
Marketing of these newly fermented wines began shortly after WWII although the industry had been releasing celebratory harvest wines since the 19th century. A renewed effort to market these wines was accomplished in the 80s, largely due to the force of Georges Duboeuf, the largest wine merchant/negociant in the region. Thus the Nouveau craze really took off and to this day, 1/3 of the production of Beaujolais, almost 65 million bottles, are sold as “Nouveau”.
The week of Beaujolais Nouveau coincides closely with American Thanksgiving where turkey and gamay have been marketed side by side for decades. We Canadians miss the Beaujolais boat when it comes to this festive occasion and are forced to pair our bird with anything else.
Whether it be turkey or pork, fish or quinoa, Beaujolais Nouveau makes a versatile food pairing due to its low tannin content. In fact, some may go so far as to say that it is the closest red to a white. The wine’s generous fruity character and soft tannins are for the most part due to the clever process of carbonic maceration wherein whole clusters of grapes are fermented in sealed tanks topped up with carbon dioxide. As this anaerobic fermentation begins, the weight of the grapes begins to gently crush the clusters below releasing even more CO2 to the mix. This proliferation of gas forces the fermentation to happen within the individual berries making the grape skins the vessels for the transformation of juice into wine. The process yields fresh and fruity, low-tannin wines often with a note of sweet candy floss or bubble gum.
Beaujolais is the only region outside of Champagne where hand harvesting is a requirement. None of the grapes here are mass machine harvested and the reason is the carbonic maceration technique which necessitates that the full berry clusters remain intact for fermentation. Considering the cost differential between the wines of Champagne and Beaujolais, this is a notable fact!
These accessible wines are best consumed within weeks of the date they appear on the shelves although they will likely remain vibrant until the end of the following spring. Only in rare cases would short to mid-term ageing be recommended. Regardless of how quickly you consume these wines, they should be served with a slight chill for optimum fruity expression. Twelve degrees is an ideal temperature for appreciating these spirited gamays.
Although this Nouveau trend is notably waning, with the exception of sales in Asia, Beaujolais is not the only region to market freshly harvested wines. When working at a large co-op in Bordeaux in the early 2000s, a significant amount of growers would show up with their jugs less than a week after they had delivered their grapes for a fill of the sweet and effervescent, partially fermented juice of merlot and cabernet. This celebratory, low alcohol wine was enjoyed all week alongside roasted chestnuts. In other parts of France, Europe and the new world the “Nouveau” “Primeur” and “Novella” trends are also observed due to the previous success of these young Beaujolais. In yesterday’s LCBO release, 4 of the 9 wines offered were from outside of “bojo” with at least one of them a winner.
The best of the Nouveau bunch worthy of your valued attention are as follows. Do enjoy them in celebration of the completion of harvest and try not to take them too seriously. They are intended to be a fun, traditional event and a send-off to those wines being tucked into vessels for slow maturation over the winter. In addition, you can find below our top picks in both splurge-worthy and value finds categories as you stock up for your holiday hibernation.
Mezzacorona 2016 Novio Vino Novello, Trentino, Italy ($9.95) – By far the most exciting newbie of this release made from the Teroldego grape in the Trentino foothills. This up-and-coming and relatively rare grape variety is distantly related to syrah and offers the same dark colour and firm tannins. This freshly fermented version offers surprising complexity and aromatic intensity which is certainly above the mean for the price and style.
Joseph Drouhin 2016 Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau, Beaujolais, France ($15.95) – This Village level standard offers a distinct tannic component and restraint when it comes to sweet, confected fruity notes. Drouhin uses the term “en primeur” to distinguish itself from the rest of the Nouveau.
Duboeuf 2016 Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau, Beaujolais, France ($15.95) – Duboeuf’s Beaujolais Nouveau are the benchmark of these carbonically macerated baby gamays. Consistently one of the best wines in the release, the Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau is clean and cheerful offering balance and even a little sophistication.
John Szabo will return next week with reports from afar and new notes on this November 26th release. David Lawrason has been busy tasting the best of Canadian wines from coast to coast as the National Wine Judge of Gold Medal Plates. This culinary competition takes place in major cities across Canada raising funds for the upcoming Olympics. Below David shares notes on a recent comparative tasting of leading BC and Ontario Bordeaux blends. And Michael and I contribute to the Splurge-Worthy and Value Finds from this November 26th release.
Top Picks from November 26th Release:
Domaine Daniel Etienne Defaix 2003 Côtes de Lechet Chablis 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($51.95)
Sara d’Amato – An exciting, aged to perfect maturity find at a price worthy of said wine in its youth. Côtes de Lechet is a unique appellation that features a southeastern aspect as opposed to the more common eastern aspects of other 1er Crus making these wines sharper and more austere in their youth. Neither of those adjectives would suit this aged Chablis which has taken on deliciously honeyed tertiary flavours in bottle in addition to an appealing nutty character. In balance, harmony and offering supreme integration.
Catena Alta Historic Rows Malbec 2013, Mendoza, Argentina (49.95)
Michael Godel – A step back with restraint it seems in 2013 with an edge of black currant and smokey savour. The richness accrued from studied terroir and altitude-driven fruit is consistently provided by Catena as few others in Argentina can. Simply, flat out religiously delicious malbec evermore and unfailing. For under $50 this prepares for up to two decades of longevity. From five to 15 is the ideal window. The penultimate vineyard-designate malbec blend.
Torbreck 2014 Cuvée Juveniles, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($27.95)
Sara d’Amato – Les Juveniles is named after a cult wine bar in Paris whose owner befriended Torbreck founder David Powell a number of years ago. Powell commemorates this friendship through this blend of southern Rhone varietals (grenache, mataro and shiraz), a style cherished by his friend Tim. Fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel, this appealing and expressive blend is a sophisticated head-turner.
Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2010, VQA Short Hills Bench ($39.95)
Michael Godel – No other Bordeaux blend came to the 2010 vintage with as much acumen and experience as the Henry of Pelham and here six years on it shows. I will say this about the Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Merlot oeuvre. The wines may not consistently rank number one for their genre but they absolutely never crash and burn. In vintages like ’98, ’02, ’05, ’07, ’10 and ’12 they live for 15 plus years and refuse to dry out or die. They are the smartest, safest and most rewarding Bordeaux-blend experience to place your bets out of Niagara. When I tasted this in 2013 I said I’ll have to heed (then winemaker Ron) Giesbrecht’s warning of oeno-infanticide and wait five to ten years.
Prunotto 2012 Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($40.95)
Sara d’Amato – A Barolo at this level of quality is generally tagged with a higher price so consider this a bargain. There is great elegance and finesse offered here but also definition and typical varietal expression with much life ahead. There is an earnest tenderness about this nebbiolo that is wonderfully compelling.
Domaine Cauhapé Jurançon Symphonie de Novembre 2012, Southwest, France ($38.95)
Michael Godel – Symphonie is the operative word and November a great month to imbibe though I’d consider 2020 to begin. The web of tropical fruit aromatics is so tangled and layered it will take time for secondary notes in the mineral to honey spectrum to emerge. The palate is filled with engaging fruit, spice and the most amazing tartness of being. It is acidity of course that elevates what needs to stay clear of cloy and strike balance. Late harvest wines like this Jurançon are so very rare and should be treated with reverence. This fits the bill.
Tenute Messieri 2013 Visioni Offida Pecorino, Marche, Italy ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – Pecorino has experienced a revival in Italy’s central, eastern coast after decades of removal in favour of the higher yielding trebbiano grape variety. With fresh acids and generally high alcohol, Pecorino expresses itself in a uniquely compelling way in the Offida DOC. This version offers both texture and brightness with surprising complexity.
Borsao Bole 2013, Campo De Borja, Spain ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – Campo de Borja is situated in the heartland of Garnacha located in northeastern Spain in the realm of Aragon. Here in the “Empire of Garnacha”, these grapes thrive both on flatter lands and on dramatic hillside slopes. Borsao’s fiery Bole label is eye-catching on the table and offers a playful and distinctive expression of garnacha paired with peppery syrah for added flair.
Michael Godel – Borsao’s most basic Campo de Borja garnacha is anything but, with the many-pronged effect from old vines, a looming mountain and a prevailing wind playing vital roles in its upbringing. As a leading progenitor of style and stability for the region, director of winemaking Chris Ringland means business with the lowly-priced Bole. It is full of clay, slate, ripe fruit and ripping acidity. It should be paid great attention as a stepping stone towards more developed, variegated and serious garnacha, often with a syrah twist.
Barão de Vilar 2014 Feuerheerd’s Tinto, Douro, Portugal ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – My top pick for a weeknight red in this release, this accessible blend of local grape varieties is easy-drinking and stylish. Although it is not particularly complex, it offers a good deal of concentration and body for the price with great typicity and balance.
Afectus Alvarinho 2015, Vino Regional Minho ($17.95)
Michael Godel – A regional varietal wine not permitted to be labled Vinho Verde so Vino Regional Minho it must be. This 100 per cent alvarinho is labeled as such in Portugal and Afectus for the Ontario market, Latin for “emotions.” Quite consistently fashioned like the avesso and the loueiro varietal Vinho Verde, of low tones, fresh, sprite, fully lemon and all around good guy acidity. Not so much a matter of varietal distinction so much as an adherence to a stylistic thread. So by extension I suppose the Curvos wines are about terroir. Afectus for the rest of us.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2012, Coonawarra ($22.95)
Michael Godel – Terra Rossa spills from every pore, accentuated with time passing by. Elegance and cool-climate meaning is culled from this perfumed shiraz in ways so many dream they would, or could. Though cabernet sauvignon reigns from these Coonawarra soils, if you want to gain a greater understanding of what shiraz can be, begin right here. A real Coonawarra and shiraz connection is forged by winemaker Sue Hodder.
Stratus 2012 Red, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario ($44.95)
David Lawrason – Last week I singled out Hidden Bench 2012 Terroir Cache as a textbook Bordeaux style red from Niagara, in the best vintage for this style to date. Well here is another classic of equal quality, from winemaker J.L. Groux, the man with more experience in this style in Niagara than anyone else. It may alter your thinking about Ontario being a “cool climate” region.
Osoyoos-Larose 2012 Grand Vin, Okanagan Valley ($44.95)
David Lawrason – This is the best vintage to date of the carefully sculpted Bordeaux blend that was launched in 2001 in the Okanagan as a joint venture between Vincor and Le Group Taillan. It is now solely owned by the French house. It is full bodied, dense yet very fine, although still youthful. Needs age, but grab a bottle of this, plus Stratus red, to gauge Canada’s progress with these varieties.
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