Lawrason & Szabo on Vintages September 3rd Release: Henry of Pelham 90s, Great Napa Cab, Hand-crafted wines from South Africa, John’s Top Ten Smart Buys and Killer Value VSOs.

Summer holidays – bless them – interfered with our tasting schedule for Vintages September 3rd Labour Day weekend release, leaving David and John one small, last minute window to taste as much as possible on August 30 alongside Vintages products consultants. So for this report they present a joint effort – each picking their own highlights. Sara d’Amato did a great job covering most of the wines and presented her picks and reviews last week (link). And to make matters even more confusing watch for a report next week on the Vintages Sept 10th special release of Ontario wines.

We’ll start with David’s take on the release with John’s following (or click here).

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Double 90s for Henry of Pelham Reds – It’s fitting to whet your appetite for next week’s special Ontario release with a pair of 90-point Ontario reds from Henry of Pelham. About ten years ago a very accomplished palate and Niagara industry leader told me that no 90-point Niagara reds had been made to that point. Well all that has changed, with top reds routinely hitting that mark as new high end, quality focused wineries explode onto the Ontario landscape. What is even more significant about the pair of 90s from Henry of Pelham is that they are $20 and $25 wines, not $50 wines. And it is also significant that they come from an original family winery that has been toiling for almost 25 years, consistently maintaining very good quality and commanding respect from consumers and pundits alike. One of the chief reasons is the red winemaking prowess of Ron Giesbrecht, who long ago turned the fortunes of baco noir around by taming this ribald hybrid with the patience of a father – lowering yield to make it work harder and ageing in good wood for many months as a reward. The HENRY OF PELHAM 2009 RESERVE BACO NOIR ($24.95 ) is a delicious, robust autumn red, and very likely to age as well as the lush 2007 and several earlier vintages still showing well. The other 90 pointer is HENRY OF PELHAM 2007 RESERVE CABERNET/MERLOT, a great buy at $20.55. Patience is once again a virtue, with this 2007 (an excellent vintage) now rounding into fine shape with a real sense of class and balance. And I suspect it will live another five years with the greatest of ease.
Henry Of Pelham Reserve Baco Noir 2009  Henry Of Pelham Reserve Cabernet/Merlot 2007

Great Napa Mountain Cabernet
Brandlin Cabernet Sauvignon 2007The September 3 release is strong in California cabernets, specifically some higher ticket Napa labels. This is not remarkable as Napa cabernet continues to be a marquee brand, an easy sell, and prices have been coming down! What I found interesting about the selection is that there are new labels, or at least wines I have not seen before at Vintages. The most exciting is BRANDLIN 2007 CABERNET SAUVIGNON – not cheap at $84.95, but qualitatively right on the zone for wines pushing $100, and is one that collectors should seriously consider. It hails from old vines planted by the Brandlin family atop Mount Veeder in 1926 (the family actually first arrived and grew grapes in the area in the 1870s – New World huh?). In 1998 the property was purchased by Cuvaison, with cash and 30 years experience in Napa working to upgrade the vineyard and winemaking. But Chester Brandlin still lives on the property. To quote from the website “Respectfully maintaining the integrity of the estate, only a fraction of the land has been planted to vineyards carefully designed to honour the integral beauty of the property. Glens of old oak trees and sustainable viticultural practices support natural biodiversity and abundant wildlife”. This great 2007 mountain red is 92% cabernet spiced with small parcels of cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec.

Killer Value VSO French Reds
On August 25 a handful of new wines were released at Vintages Shop on Line (the LCBOs on-line ordering program). See “Just Released”. I tasted all of them (except Atalon) the next day and the reviews are now posted on WineAlign.

Montirius Vacqueyras Le Clos 2006I would like to direct your attention to a pair of great value French reds.MONTIRIUS 2006 LE CLOS VACQUEYRAS is nothing short of breathtaking, and a steal at $28.00. I read about this estate when I visited the southern Rhone in the spring, but after tasting this astonishingly rich, svelte and compelling southern Rhone blend I had to dig deeper, and I discovered it has been knocking the socks off other pundits as well. The estate is farmed by a very earnest couple named Christine and Eric Saurel, who began converting the rather non-descript looking vineyard to biodynamic viticulture ten years ago. They credit their complex soil layers for the quality – about two metres of pebbly ‘garrigue’ soil atop blue clay, atop a sandstone clay. I was further intrigued to discover they do not age their wines in oak barrels, so what you get is all fruit and terroir driven – and it is riveting stuff.
Domaine Mouton Les Grands Prétans Givry 1er Cru 2009
The other very good value is for pinot lovers – a lovely, sensuous if not very profound DOMAINE MOUTON 2009 LES GRANDS PRETANS 1ER CRU ($29) from the village of Givry, and often overlooked (thus less expensive) appellation the Chalonnaise. This is very pretty wine that is finely enough textured to approach now (decant an hour) or hold for three to five years in the cellar. Those 2009 Burgundies continue to charm..

See all my reviews from September 3rd here.

Cheers and enjoy, David

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

John Szabo

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

No time for shoe shines this week; let’s get right to it. My top ten smart buys for September 3rd covers a Technicolor array of grapes, styles and places. Highlights of the highlights include a Burgundy lovers’ Burgundy at Beaujolais prices, $33 Tuscan red very nearly as delicious as its $99 stable mate, sub-$15 aglianico from a volcano that’ll have you dreaming of Barolo, and a bona fide Barbaresco at aglianico prices. See them all here.

Hand-Crafted South African Wines
Though the mini-theme of this release is the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, initiated by Giuseppe Garibaldi and his band of one thousand merry men in redshirts who landed in Marsala, Sicily, on May 11th 1860, my personal mini-theme takes us to a country already 200 years into viticulture by the time Italy became Italy: South Africa. Indeed, the first wine grapes were pressed in South Africa on February 2nd, 1659.

First time visitors to the winelands of the Cape will be initially struck by the staggering beauty of the area, among the most picturesque winegrowing regions in the world. You’ll see rugged granite-capped mountains, vine-covered slopes and lush green valleys covered with strange, beautiful and infinitely varied native flowers. The Cape Floral Kingdom is, after all, the smallest yet richest of the six recognized floral kingdoms; the Cape alone contains more biodiversity than the entire northern hemisphere, with some 9,600 unique species.

There are four excellent South Africa wines in this release, two from the country’s best known region, Stellenbosch, as well as a pair from a region you’ll be hearing a great deal more about in the future: Swartland. All share the characteristics of small-production and minimal intervention in the winery, natural expressions of SA’s ancient soils.
Mullineux Syrah 2008First up is the 2008 MULLINEUX SYRAH WO Swartland $28.95 . Mullineux is a small family winery surrounded by savage, rolling hills and the outcrops of rock that form the Paardeberg, Riebeek Kasteel and Piketberg Mountains. I rarely quote producer websites, but Mullineux’s is particularly well-written: “It is not an easy place to establish vines, and is a region that has as much of an influence on the vineyards and people who farm there as the people have on the land itself. This brings to mind what film director David von Ancken has to say about the old American West: “The primal, universal power of the landscape strips away everything but the truth of men’s souls.” In much the same way, we feel the Swartland landscape bares the souls of grape vines, and in those varieties that can take the ruggedness, true personality of site is revealed.”

This syrah bears more than a passing resemblance to northern Rhône syrah, with smoke, bacon fat, and ample black pepper coupled with generous and succulent fruit flavours. The minerality from vines planted on shale, schist, decomposed granite and iron-rich soils is palpable, and preserved by no fining or filtration.
Lammershoek Roulette 2006

Also from Swartland is the 2006 LAMMERSHOEK ROULETTE WO Swartland $25.95, another family-run operation. Legend has it that Lammershoek, (“lamb’s corner”), was so-named for the ewes and their young lambs that sought shelter in the surrounding forests when threatened by the Black Eagle – “Lammervanger” in Cape Dutch. Never one to miss a Hungarian connection, in the 1970s the Lammershoek farm was visited by Hungarian aristocrat and winemaker Desiderius Pongrácz, who encouraged the owner to plant such “exotic” varieties as harslévelü, tinta barocca, carignan and grenache. Some of that old vine carignan and grenache now makes its way into the Roulette blend, along with syrah and mourvèdre. The result is a ripe and modern wine, with sweet ripe cassis, evident but not exaggerated wood, and a distinctive herbal-garrigue profile, what the South African’s would call “fynbos”. This will appeal widely to both traditional and modern drinkers alike.

Rust En Vrede Estate 2007De Toren Z 2008Two classic Bordeaux blends from Stellenbosch also arrested my taste buds: 2007 RUST EN VREDE ESTATE WO Stellenbosch $37.95 and 2008 DE TOREN Z WO Stellenbosch $32.95 . The 315 year-old estate of Rust en Vrede, established by the Governor of the Cape, Willem Adrian van der Stel, for whom the town of Stellenbosch is named, is, as you might expect, a traditional operation. The 2007 Estate red offers a typically South African balance between old and new world styles: the nose is all herbs, garrigue and savoury fruit, while the palate reveals plush, generous texture and ample structure. The result is harmonious and impressive, with length and depth to spare.

De Toren, on the other hand, spares no expense in the technology department. They’ve dug and analyzed 80 soil holes over a 5.4 hectare property allowing for more accurate matching of cultivars, rootstocks and clones to soil types, and make extensive use of Infrared Aerial Imaging to identify areas of different vine vigour. The merlot-based “Z” blend reflects the modern approach, delivering a rich, ripe, generously oaked example with plenty of high-quality oak flavours (coffee, chocolate) and firm, tight, acid-driven palate. This should improve over 1-3 years.

From the September 3rd Vintages release:
Top Ten Smart Buys
South African Features
All Reviews

John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier