Lawrason’s Take on Vintages June 25th Release – Argentina Steps It Up, A Tale of Two Tempranillos, Brilliant Provence Rose, Bio-Grgich Cabernet, Wynn-Fall Shiraz, Trimbach Riesling, Deborah Paskus and the Little Fat Wino

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The fizzle seems to be going out of Fusion. Sales are still very healthy but it is no longer the buzz on the street.  The same can be said of inexpensive Argentine malbec in general.  Leading to the question: what next Argentina?  Well Vintages seems to have answered the question on this release with a dozen well chosen wines that include torrontes, tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon and blends thereof.  There are still four malbecs, but two at least are a step up from the everyday. And overall the wines presented are more interesting and higher quality than I expected.

Familia Zuccardi Organica Torrontés 2010Torrontes is a very aromatic, muscat-like white variety that thrives in Argentina. When tasting at the International Value Wine Awards in Calgary earlier this month I was pleased to encounter a flight of eight Argentine torrontes, a group that showed very well indeed. I noted two stylistic camps within the group – the racy, lifted, summer sippers and the more solid, drier weight examples that will work with food. The pair on this release illustrate the styles perfectly, and I particularly like the ultra fresh, almost dazzling FAMILIA ZUCCARDI 2010 ORGANICA TORRONTÉS at only $13.95.  A poolside winner that dances with citrus and floral flavours.  As evening sets in switch to the more reserved but powerful Alta Vista 2010 Torrontes, also $13.95, to match a meal of salads, cheese and charcuterie.

Benmarco Cabernet Sauvignon 2009At the same awards tasting there was some discussion after a very good blind flight of cabernet sauvignons, that Argentina was also a rising star for this most venerable of red grapes (that is doing extremely well indeed over the Andes in Chile). There is no reason that Argentina should not be making great cabernets. The growing season is long, warm and dry, and by pinpointing the right altitude, they can perfectly ripen cabernet sauvignon, or any grape for that matter. It’s said that every 100 metres difference in elevation is equivalent to 150 kilometres difference in latitude.  Anyway,BENMARCO 2009 CABERNET SAUVIGNON from Mendoza, is ample demonstration, with some good winemaking being brought to bear as well.  Winemaker Pedro Marchevsky is one of the most educated, experienced viticulturists in Argentina, managing vineyards for almost 30 years. For $16.95 he has delivered a minor masterpiece. Love the fruit ripeness here without sacrificing cabernet’s more herbal nature.

Terrazas De Los Andes Reserva Malbec 2008One of the malbecs is also a notch above the norm, offering great value under $20. I was particularly impressed with the structure of TERRAZAS DE LOS ANDES 2008 RESERVA MALBEC at only $17.95. While many go for exaggerated fruitiness and juiciness (often with hot alcohol in tow) this is both generous and dense yet restrained. It is from the hands of another highly experienced winemaker who knows a thing or two about malbec, as he manages over 250 hectares of it. Hervie Birnie-Scott trained at Montpellier in France, and worked in Napa and Australia before landing in Argentina in 1991 with Bodegas Chandon.  He went to co-author Cheval des Andes, a joint venture wine between Bordeaux’s Ch Cheval Blanc and Terrazes, which has become the country’s most prized and expensive collector’s red – a blend of malbec and cabernet with a splash of merlot.  This Reserva, at about one-quarter the price, is very fine and much better value.

A Tale of Two Tempranillos

There are two Argentine tempranillos on the release, an indication that Argentina is progressing with the grape that thrives in Spain’s similarly hot, arid climate.  I have always had trouble pinning tempranillo’s character, as it has chameleon-like ability to adapt its character to its surroundings. I can pick out a syrah or cabernet from anywhere due to certain distinguishing characteristics; but not so with tempranillo.  Nor does it help when oak is heaped on top, as often happens in Spain, and in both the Argentine examples offered here.  But I did find it intriguing to compare FAMILIA ZUCCARDI 2008 Q TEMPRANILLO with a Spanish tempranillo blend BARON DE LEY 2005 RIOJA RESERVA.  The similarity is in the heavy American oak influence in both wines – Zuccardi is obviously riffing on traditional Rioja styling.  The more interesting difference was in the structure, with the Argentine wine showing a very smooth, rich open-knit New World style, while the Rioja is more lean and elegant although still quite dense.  Both are very good, typical examples at the same price of $19.95.

Familia Zuccardi Q Tempranillo 2008 Baron De Ley Reserva 2005

Fine Provence Rosé

La Bastide Blanche Bandol Rosé 2010A short stay in Provence last month re-awakened me to the charms of Provencal Rosé in particular, and indeed it is quite different from others – even in the nearby Rhone Valley and Tavel. The colour is pale and less vibrantly pink, more of a glowing salmon shade. The fruit is not as obviously berryish and sweet; it’s a bit more exotic and tart like persimmon or perhaps ground cherry. Notes of herb, spices and a scent that reminds me of fresh onion skin are more dominant. And the wines are bone dry, taut and lively. There are two very good examples on this release. Chateau La Tour de Eveque 2010 is from Cotes de Provence, a large appellation whose production is 80% pink, made from typical southern French varieties like carignan, cinsault and syrah. LA BASTIDE BLANCHE 2009 BANDOL ROSÉ is a notch above, from a particular seaside, limestone-soiled appellation that demands at least 50% mourvedre. This is a very tidy, precise and dry rose that you must try with cold canapés at your next deck soiree.

Bio-Grgich Cabernet 

Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007The wines of Grgich Hills have been showing up steadily at Vintages of late, and I am very happy about that.  It is one of many great, almost legendary Napa pioneers, but to me it has always stood out for being a bit more conscientious about its wine than most, less concerned with gloss and willing to march to its own drummer, especially back in the day when Mike Grgich went all-white in the heart of Napa cab country. He did come around to cab, obviously, as GRGICH HILLS ESTATE 2007 CABERNET SAUVIGNON is featured here, at a healthy $69.95. It is a very well composed, subtle yet concentrated wine – not too oaky, not too rich and vitally honest. I think the reason lies in the bio-dynamically grown fruit. Few mainstream Napa wineries have gone so completely organic (Frog’sLeap on this release is another), and the task was even more daunting on converting 150 hectares, which was completed and Demeter certified in 2006. According to Monty Waldin’s Biodynamic Wine Guide, the impetus for conversion came in 2002 when vineyard manager Ivo Jeramaz attended a biodynamics symposium by famous French bio-promoter Nicolas Joly.  But would Grgich have converted without already having a conscience instilled by its founder? I’d bet not.  Biodynamics is as much an attitude as it is a process.

Wynn-Fall Shiraz Value

I tasted dozens of shiraz on my trip to Australia earlier this year, but none struck me as better value, in a serious, age worthy style, than WYNNS 2008 COONAWARRA ESTATE SHIRAZ. It offers up sinewy structure, density and depth well beyond its $19.95 price tag. Why? I expect it has to do with a very good vintage overlying the complex Coonawarra soils, plus the stringent work of a viticultural team led by veteran Allen Jenkins, a viticulturalist, teacher and writer with over 20 years in South Australia, and the last ten in Coonawarra specifically. He knows the region and its terra rosa soils like the back of his hand, and is heavily involved in the development of sub-appellations like Victoria and Albert Lane (or colloquially V&A Lane). I spent a fascinating two hours with him in the vineyard, and learned a great deal that had somehow escaped me over the past 25 years.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2008

Pierre Trimbach Visits Niagara

 Cuvée Frédéric Émile Riesling 2005In early June I also spent considerable time with Pierre Trimbach, the 11th generation family winemaker at perhaps the most famous riesling house in Alsace.  He was guest lecturer at Brock University’s Riesling Experience 2011, and I also met him for lunch prior to his first visit to Niagara. The Brock audience was largely comprised of winemakers so things got a bit technical over his lengthy two hour presentation. But he never let himself be drawn too deeply into explaining why he did what he did, in terms of things like yeast selection, maceration times etc.  He just seemed to know and accept what he had learned through 385 years of riesling winemaking experience. I particularly loved his response to a question about what was need to ensure riesling’s longevity, as we tasted his exquisite  CUVÉE FRÉDÉRIC ÉMILE 2005 RIESLING, then moved back to the even better 2001. “The first thing is balance” he said. “ The second thing is balance,  and the third thing is balance. The rest is just blah, blah, blah…”  I will attempt to cover more of the Brock Riesling Experience in the near future, which also brought together rieslings from the Great Lakes basin (Niagara, Ohio, New York and Michigan) but for now, the focus is on Trimbach as the wines are only available through a special offer at VINTAGES while small supplies last. I recommend the impeccably balanced 2005 Cuvee Frederic Emile ($59), and the ripe, rich yet still dry 2009 Riesling Reserve ($25.95). This wine is part of the Vintages Classics Collection. Click here for details on this offer.

Closson Chase Winemaker Deborah Paskus Awarded

Closson Chase K.J. Watson Vineyard Chardonnay 2008At the recent gala announcing the winners of the 16th annual Ontario Wine Awards (results at Ontario winemakerDeborah Paskus was given the inaugural “Larry Patterson Innovation in the Vineyard Award”.  More on Larry Patterson in a moment, but I wanted to add my two cents on how fitting it is that Deborah received this award, and to advise that you can taste her work on Saturday’s release via the incredibly rich, poised and complex CLOSSON CHASE 2008 K.J. WATSON VINEYARD CHARDONNAY grown in the Niagara River sub-appellation. Yes, it is a Niagara wine made at the Prince Edward County winery, but Paskus has had her feet planted in both regions for a very long time, and sees all of Ontario has her field of endeavour. She actually made her name back in the 90s with a low-Deborah Paskusyield, long wood aged Temkin-Paskus Niagara chardonnay made jointly with wine writer Steven Temkin, then worked at Niagara wineries like Thirty Bench, then Tawse. By the end of the 90s she was foraging for vineyard sites in Prince Edward County, well ahead of the pack, and she has continued to create some of the most controversial, unabashedly rich chardonnays in the country from both locales. On receiving the award she acknowledged Larry Paterson, and something about herself that her fans have long known.   “Knowing the truth is not enough, speaking the truth is required. The world squeezes hard for us to fall in line. Where nice is considered a character attribute, Larry Paterson spoke his truth and he had a quality I most admire: he was authentic.”  In the spirit of truth telling, I wish some of the guests had had the courtesy to zip it during the presentation of this award.

“Radical Red” Honours the late “Little Fat Wino”

The Little Fat Wino!As Deborah Paskus received her award she was given a bottle of Radical Red, a tribute bottling by Stoney Ridge winemaker Jim Warren honouring his long time friend Lawrence Peighton Paterson. For as long as I can remember Larry was much better known and embodied as the Little Fat Wino.  He passed away late in 2010 after a long career as a professional thorn in the paw of the Ontario wine establishment, including the LCBO.  He was the only LCBO staffer ever fired for breaking “the company” rules about the listing process. He was such a fierce promoter of Ontario wine that while working in the Lakefield LCBO (near Peterborough) he would drive to Niagara on weekends to bring in non-listed wines for display in the store.  Once relieved of his duties he became even more aggressive, writing in publications and on his own website, about anything he deemed stupid, arbitrary and artificial (including wine additives).

In later years he became a promoter of Ontario wine outside conventional regional and varietal boundaries, doing much to convince winemakers in fringe areas to consider new, hybrid grape varieties. One such grape called Landot (see his treatise here) became a calling card, and it is from this variety, blended with merlot, that Jim Warren has created his small lot of Radical Red. When I received the bottle from Jim Warren after the event, I thought I should keep it as a momento to Larry, but I decided to just go ahead and open it. That’s what Larry would have done, and having received the bottle as a journalist it was indeed my job to write about it.  Radical Red is not a remarkable wine. It is very good, with a richness that escapes many Ontario reds, but there is a fair bit of oak and a volatile and leathery edge to it as well, so that the fruit character is not particularly distinctive. What’s remarkable is that the wine exists, from vines grown with the greatest of patience by one of the most impatient men I have ever known.  Or at least a man impatient with anything that got in the way of his passion for the development of a unique and vibrant wine industry.

That’s a wrap. See the rest of my reviews on this release (I was not able to taste all of it) here.

And please take a moment to check out our new video series, “So, You Think You Know Wine?“.

Cheers and enjoy, David

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign