Lawrason’s Take on Vintages December 8th Release – Six Fine Pairs, Twelve Great Buys
The last Vintages release of 2012 is a monster, with many interesting wines to be explored – so make sure you spend time poring over all the wines that I reviewed, not just those featured here. There is no particular theme to the release so here – to whet your appetite – I simply highlight some of the best wines and best values. And I have done this in pairs, so that if one is not available you should be able to find the other.
There is a decent slate of bubblies on the Dec 8 release in the run–up to New Year’s Eve. I am already on record in the soon-to-be-published January issue of Toronto Life that Ontario sparkling wine is all one really needs if quality and value are part of your New Year’s sparkling wine purchases. However, although the two Ontario sparklers on this release are very good they are not quite top wrung values. Instead, I draw your attention to BLUE MOUNTAIN BRUT from the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia as the single best buy in fizz on this release. Combining equal parts estate grown parts pinot noir and chardonnay, with six per cent pinot gris, it’s a classically made via second fermentation in the bottle, and for only $27.95 it delivers excellent complexity, structure and length. Blue Mountain was one of the very first serious sparkling wine producers in B.C. and the experience shows.
If it must be Champagne, BEAUMONT DES CRAYÈRES GRAND PRESTIGE BRUT CHAMPAGNE also offers excellent quality for $46.95, which is in the lower price tier for Champagne. But for the same price you could buy two bottles of RUHLMANN SIGNATURE JEAN-CHARLES BRUT CRÉMANT D’ALSACE ($19.95). Cremant d’Alsace – which is made in the same method as Champagne – is riding a huge wave of popularity in Europe at the moment, with the best bringing in a new set of flavours thanks to the varied Alsatian grape varieties. In this case pinot blanc, auxerrois and pinot gris create a certain richness that make the wine work well as sipper or with food. The winery website suggests “gastronomic occasions throughout the meal from foie gras to seafood, poultry to desserts”. But this is a dry wine in the end. Ruhlmann is 30 hectare family company not often seen here.
Fine 2009 Red Burgundy
The 2009s in Burgundy are frowned on by classicists as being too soft, fruity and obvious – due to the heat of the season. Well that may be true in some cases but it would be foolish not to keep tasting for those gems that do stand up – especially if you already enjoy riper pinots from New Zealand, Australia’s Mornington Peninsula and California’s Sonoma Coast. There are two Burgundies on this release that catch great balance and a sense of being very complete. LOUIS JADOT DOMAINE GAGEY CLOS DU ROI 2009 MARSANNAY ($34.95) is one that classicists should actually enjoy too – with a very fine sense of restraint, balance yet some charm. Typical of Marsannay it is not a wine of great depth but I can see it sailing through a meal of equal refinement – whether seafood, poultry or veal.
If you want depth and wow factor look no further than DOMAINE CHANSON 2009 BEAUNE CLOS DES MARCONNETS 1ER CRU at $49.95. This historic company’s purchase by Bollinger in 1999 spawned the re-fitting of its spectacular cellars within the walled ramparts of Beaune, and the arrival of winemaker Jean-Pierre Confuron. The result is a brilliant portfolio of whites and reds, the latter dominated by the company’s large holdings in the Beaune AC itself. Marconnets is 3.8ha site high on the hillside with classic southeast exposure.
Classy German Rieslings
This release offers a two-wine clinic on fine German riesling. It’s astounding to me that such wines are selling so cheaply. Such is the fickle finger of fashion, I guess. At the risk of sounding too old I remember the days when finding a riesling from the Forster Jesuitengarten was something very special indeed. I recall poring over the incredibly detailed Hugh Johnson’s Atlas of German Wine, trying to sort out all the ‘einzellagen” (vineyards) and ‘grossenlagen’ (vineyard groupings). And Forster was one that always intrigued, perhaps because Johnson himself seemed intrigued by Forst’s unique black basalt laden soils. Tasting REICHSRAT VON BUHL 2009 FORSTER JESUITENGARTEN RIESLING SPÄTLESE ($24.95) I discovered such a sense of refinement and minerality that when I got home I went back to yee-old Atlas to double check on the basalt connection. My increasingly spotty memory had served me well.
ST. URBANS-HOF 2011 RIESLING OLD VINES ($16.95) did not require the same level of research and Ontario riesling fans may be aware that St. Urbans-hof has a very strong connection to Niagara. It is the winery that first sent riesling cuttings to Niagara where they were planted in the St. Urbans Vineyard at Vineland Estates in the late 1970s. It was the Weis clone, named after the family that owns St. Urbanshof, that dominates Niagara riesling today. Anna Weis emigrated to Canada soon after and married into the Pennachetti family that has done such great work with riesling at Cave Spring. So you can ruminate on this as you try this electrifying riesling, perhaps opened alongside a Niagara off-shoot for the fun of comparison.
Vintages continues to offer up a strong Tuscan presence, with some fine wines surfacing in just about every release. There are some Brunellos again this time, but it was a pair of excellent 90 point Tuscans under $30 that caught my attention. Tuscan sangiovese can and should be mid-weight wine of nerve and charm – much like pinot noir actually. Too often they are overripe or overoaked, or too sour. FONTODI 2009 CHIANTI CLASSICO ($29.95) finds the handle and delivers a delicious, authentic Chianti experience with confidence and a sense of fun. TENUTA SAN GUIDO 2010 LE DIFESE ($26.95) does likewise. Given its 70% cabernet sauvignon component, and the lean reputation of its more expensive stable mates like Sassicaia and Guidalberto I expected this to be a rather tough nut, but it is very balanced and complete, with the 30% sangiovese providing just the right amount of Tuscan attitude.
If I could stray from Vintages for a moment I also want to alert you to a terrific buy in Tuscan sangiovese-cabernet blend that is only available by the case on consignment. CARPINETO 2011 DOGAJOLO ($14.95) is simply delicious – juicy, charming, aromatically piquant, fairly complex and easy to drink, with just three months in old oak to soften the edges. This wine has appeared before at Vintages and done well, but in Quebec it is so popular that it is selling 25,000 cases a year. At this price, a case would make a great gift for those who have always wanted their own Italian house red. Contact Mark Bruni at RKW Imports 416-883-3580 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Collector Cabs from Sonoma
Napa cabernets tend to get all the California attention when collectors look to stock their cellars, but there is a concerted effort to make great, age-worthy cabernets and blends in Sonoma as well; particularly from mountain/hillside sites in the warmer areas of the Alexander Valley and Dry Creek. To my mind the best have even more structure and age-ability than many of the smoothies from Napa’s valley floor. STONESTREET MONUMENT RIDGE 2007 CABERNET SAUVIGNON from Alexander Mountain Estates is a classic example at $49.95. More famous, and more pricy, is CHATEAU ST. JEAN 2008 CINQ CÉPAGES Sonoma County at $75.95. Cinq Cepages now has a 20+ year lineage since it was created in 1990 as one of the first California wines to adopt all five Bordeaux varieties. This is a sturdy, quite lean and complex wine that will definitely reward patience in the cellar.
$15 Sipping Whites
There are always occasions to have a fine sipping wine ready to go during the holidays, often as an aperitif. As such it is often the first wine of the evening, and it receives more attention than those that come after. Here are two subtle yet fine, dry whites that will attract attention and praise. DOMÆNE GOBELSBURG 2011 GRÜNER VELTLINER ($13.95) from Austria’s Niederösterreich region is just so classy for the money – again no drama but quietly confident and poised. Gobelsburg is one of my favourite white wine producers in all of Europe. And from much closer to home don’t miss LAILEY 2011 UNOAKED CHARDONNAY at $15.95. We are well used to winemaker Derek Barnett’s work with powerful, barrel-aged wines designed for cellaring, so it is good to see that he can also work very efficiently with unoaked wines, all of which is testament, in the end, to the quality of the fruit at the Lailey farm.
Teaching WSET is My New Endeavour for 2013
For most of the years that I have been writing about wine I have also been teaching – something I find almost more rewarding due to the sharing of the tasting experience and the feedback from students. I have not been teaching as much recently so I have jumped at the chance to join Fine Vintage Ltd that delivers the London-based WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) program. WSET is the global, English language standard for structured wine education, with clearly defined curriculum, expertly produced materials and stringent exam procedures. It is the world’s best recognized training ground for those seeking careers in the wine world, or simply wanting a structured education.
Fine Vintage Ltd is just one of several WSET schools around the world, founded in Vancouver by Master of Wine James Cluer, who has now expanded to 13 cities in Canada, the Western USA and recently Tuscany. Fine Vintage earned the Riedel Trophy for WSET Wine Educator of the Year in 2011. I had the occasion to audit several classes recently and I was convinced that this is indeed a serious, well-constructed program, not least of which is due to the high quality of the wines served.
My role will be to teach weekend programs at the Foundation, Intermediate and eventually the Advanced levels in Toronto. In 2013 I will also help get a school running in Ottawa and teach some English language programs in Montreal. So if you want to get yourself started in 2013, with a voice that is somewhat familiar, checkout the schedule, fees and requirements at www.finevintageltd.com.
We will back before Christmas
And so this concludes the Vintage releases for 2012. But don’t go away as we roll through December. The WineAlign team will continue to taste and deliver interesting themed newsletters as we move toward and through the Holidays. And we have some pleasant surprises in store.
VP of Wine
From the December 8th, 2012 Vintages release: