David Lawrason’s Take on Vintages July 7 Release

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The World Comes to Niagara, the Lieutenant Governor’s Honour Roll, Great Reds Under $30 and Exotic Whites Under $20!

From July 20 to 22 Ontario wine country is hosting 27 winemakers from six countries who will pour their wine at the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, or I4C. This is a public showcase involving several seminars, winery lunches and grand tastings, including a Chardonnay “Re-Boot Camp” exclusively for WineAligners, hosted by John Szabo and I. The USA sends the largest contingent of visiting producers with ten, followed by France with seven. There will also be winemakers from Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina. And Canada presents 26 wineries from B.C., Prince Edward County and Niagara.

International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration

I4C is the first international wine event hosted by the Ontario wine industry, and the fact that so many good international producers are coming (actually some are returning after the inaugural I4C last year) is a statement of faith in the quality and direction of Canada’s industry. So now it’s up to us to make the visitors welcome, show them a good time, and take the time to learn about their wines. They are not just here to make us feel world class. They wouldn’t mind a bit of commerce too.

So the LCBO has done the right thing by featuring some of those chardonnay producers in this Saturday’s release – just to give us a taste, and help out those who may not be able to attend I4C itself. And I want to quickly point them out as well – four wines earning 90-plus points.

Ponzi Reserve ChardonnayPascal Marchand MeursaultWe begin with a Canadian connection to a stunningly good Burgundy – 2010 Pascal Marchand Meursault, which in my books is very much worth $57.95. Pascal Marchand is a Montreal-born winemaker who after 20 years in Burgundy is carving out a huge reputation with a range of domain and negociant wines now being made in two re-vamped wineries in Nuits-Saint-Georges. His partner in the enterprise is Niagara’s Moray Tawse, for whom Marchand also consults in Ontario. The Marchand wines were first presented in Toronto, to great acclaim, last year at a trade tasting; and I revisited them in May in Burgundy. Again, very impressive! The style here is pristine and racy; the complexity and depth are remarkable.

From Oregon, Ponzi Reserve Chardonnay 2009 ($38.95) is downright historic. Celebrating 42 years since its founding in 1970, there is only one winery in Oregon that is older –  The Eyrie Vineyard founded in 1966 (first vintage 1970). Ponzi is now in the hands of the second generation and still turning out wines of terrific depth, complexity and power – organically grown, barrel fermented and aged for up to 18 months.

Flowers Sonoma Coast ChardonnayKumeu River Estate ChardonnayFlowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2010 ($59.95) is from one of the hottest, cool properties in Sonoma County – both literally and figuratively. Before 1989 Walt and Joan Flowers ran in nursery business (no kidding) in Pennsylvania. With fine wine growing on their mind they discovered a hilltop for sale only two miles from the Pacific Ocean in Sonoma County, with its ridge high enough to escape much of the fog that blankets the coast line – leaving them a hotter site in a cool climate. In the years since their vibrant, pure, organically grown chardonnays and pinots have climbed to the top of the charts.

Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2008 ($34.95) from Auckland, on the North Island of New Zealand is historic as well. The Brajkovich family emigrated from Croatia to New Zealand and first planted vines near Auckland, the capital, in 1944. In 1986, under the direction of the second and third generations, the family re-named the winery Kumeu River and began to focus on Burgundy inspired chardonnay, now grown in five distinct sites. The area is almost sub-tropical, but situated on a narrow peninsula with the Pacific on one side and the Tasman Sea on the other, the climate is surprisingly cool.  This is a profound and powerful chardonnay.

The Lieutenant Governor’s Honour Roll

Just after filing this newsletter I headed off to Niagara College to judge in the 2012 Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Ontario Wines. Like I4C, this is the second year for this event. Unlike the numerous other competitions in which Ontario wines are entered (Cuvée, Ontario Wine Awards, Canadian Wine Awards, Intervin and the All Canada Wine Championships), the Lieutenant Governor’s Awards has no commercial ramifications for the winery (no entry fees). Nor does it have magazines to sell, or events to fill thereafter. There is simply the honour of winning among a select few. Wines are tasted blind in varietal/style groups but no matter the category, winners must achieve an “excellent” rating to be awarded. Of the 277 wines entered last year only 12 made the Honour Roll. The full list is available here on the Lieutenant Governor’s website. I must say that the process turned in some strong candidates, along with a caveat that all have aged one year since they won. In yet another demonstration of timely co-operation, Vintages July 7 release features three of the winners from last year.

Huff Estate Cuvée Peter F. Huff SparklingCharles Baker Picone Vineyard RieslingMalivoire Pinot Noir

Huff Estate Cuvée Peter F. Huff Sparkling 2008 ($39.95) from Prince Edward County was the only PEC wine to make the honour roll in 2011. I have had this wine several times and it is evolving quickly with complex nutty, brioche flavours, partially due to the fact it was from a lighter vintage (the 2007 hasn’t been released yet). I love the light, tight County feel!

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2009 from the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation of Niagara ($35.20) is a very worthy winner indeed, a searingly tight and pure riesling from a “virtual winery” based at Stratus that makes nothing but riesling.

I have been following Malivoire Pinot Noir 2009 from Niagara as well ($29.95), and it is now maturing into a very good place with considerable woodsy complexity and a sensibility that reminded me of Beaune in Burgundy.

Five Great Reds Under $30

This is actually a very strong release overall – lots of wines of interest – and several themes I could extract. But let’s just get at it, with some terrific international reds for under $30. There are some excellent reds over $30 too, so check out the full list.

Seppelt Chalambar ShirazDomaine E. & J. Durand Les Coteaux St. JosephDomaine E. & J. Durand 2009 Les Coteaux St. Joseph ($28.95) from the northern Rhône Valley of France is a syrah purist’s syrah. Eric and Joel Durand have 13 hectares of sustainably farmed vineyard in St. Joseph – an undervalued appellation that faces Hermitage across the river – as well as in Cornas. Les Coteaux is a 7 hectare site, and interestingly the wines are “raised” in enamel-lined concrete (not oak barrels) for 12 months. This may speak to the purity of the syrah flavours.

Seppelt Chalambar Shiraz 2008 from the Grampians/Bendigo region of Victoria ($24.95) is one of the historic shiraz of Australia, first made in 1953. (Penfolds Grange first commercial vintage was 1952). Seppelt itself is one of the pioneering wineries of Australia, now revived under the leadership of young winemakers like Emma Wood and Jo Marsh, who have acquired several winemaking honours in Australia.

Château SénéjacFonterutoli Chianti ClassicoAlvaro Castro RedI am delighted to include a well-priced, very finely tuned Bordeaux in this under $30 hit parade. Château Sénéjac Haut-Médoc 2008 ($23.95) over-achieves in an “average” vintage. The 39 hectare vineyard was refurbished in the eighties, with cabernet and merlot leading in the blend. But I think it is 11% cabernet franc and 4% petit verdot that give this fine Bordeaux its fetching aromatic lift and tension.

Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2009 ($25.95) is one of the great buys of this release. Such fragrance, finesse and poise at such a good price, from a family that has owned the Tuscan property since the 15th Century. Undoubtedly the ripeness of the 2009 vintage has provided the fruit richness that is so appealing, but it is not at all overripe, heavy or ponderous. Very stylish modern winemaking here; and this is the “second wine” after the Castello di Fonterutoli to which we still can look forward.

Perhaps the best value of all comes from the Dão region of Portugal. Alvaro Castro 2008 Red delivers great vibrancy, intensity and complexity at $16.95. Some pundits consider him the best winemaker of the region, now joined by his daughter Maria who began working with her father in 2000. Dão is always on my radar for delivering distinctive, sometimes tough reds full of evergreen, woodsy character.              

Five Exotic Garden Whites Under $20

Sella & Mosca Monteoro Vermentino Di Gallura SuperioreThe Royal Tokaji Wine Company FurmintJoseph Cattin MuscatAlsatian dry muscat has long been one of my hidden pleasures, but most of the world could care less about this genre. Winemakers in Alsace do sing its praises, especially in springtime asparagus season, and they always punctuate their comments with an exclamation about its value. No matter how good, it never sells for more than riesling, gewurz or pinot gris. Which helps explains why this $14.95 example, Joseph Cattin Muscat 2010, can bring down a score of 91. The 2010 vintage was outstanding, and this growing producer is building a solid reputation.

My experiences with table wine made from Hungary’s famous dessert wine grape have been mixed over the years, but The Royal Tokaji Wine Company Furmint 2009 is stunningly good. And at $13.95 the value quotient is almost silly. It is crisp and dry yet packed with flavours with an orchard of aromas and flavours.

Equally surprising given its modest price, and equally surprising in terms of the quality delivered is the 2011 Sella & Mosca Monteoro Vermentino di Gallura Superiore ($15.95). I have always enjoyed the crisp lemony vermentinos of Italy’s coastal Liguria, but I am not sure I have ever experienced an aromatic fireworks display like this. The nose is staggeringly perfumed and exotic, but the palate is clean as a whistle. Sardinia’s Vermentino di Gallura is said to be the very best expression of this late-ripening grape.

Bastianich Adriactico FriulanoBastianich Adriactico Friulano 2010 ($18.95) is yet another aromatic surprise. Bastianich was founded in 1997 to bring expressive, modern winemaking to unique grapes and climate the Colli Orientali Del Friuli in the northeast (Friuli’s Eastern Hills) where a combination of elevation and proximity of the Adriatic Sea contribute cool nights that help boost aromatic intensity. Friulano (formerly called tocai friulano) is a signature of the area, and this fine example puts forward some very intriguing scents, again in a dry style.

Mt. Boucherie Estate Collection SemillonAnd we end up back home with another grape variety that struggles for respect – especially in the vineyards of Canada, where it is actually quite rare. Mt. Boucherie Estate Collection Semillon 2008 from B.C.s Okanagan Valley offers plenty of complexity and power for $19.95. A collection of exotic scents is made even more interesting by the fact that this is a maturing white with some honeyed and even earthy tones. Yet it remains vibrant and fresh on the palate.

And that’s it for this edition. I’ll return in the days ahead with a special look at the wines of Australia’s state of Victoria ahead of a feature on the July 21 release. See all my July 7 reviews below, and watch for a few additions after the release on Saturday.

From the July 7th, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

David Lawrason
VP of Wine


 Sbragia Home Ranch Chardonnay 2009