Lawrason’s Take on Vintages April 13 Release

The County is Back, Bargain Burgundy, California’s L’Aventure & Cade and Lifford’s New Zealand Offerings

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Popular brands from New Zealand and a handful of decent value Portuguese reds get the limelight on this release but as colleague John Szabo amply covered them last week, I veer off in other directions. Due to a whopping head cold on one of my tasting days I was not able to cover the entire release, but I did catch the Prince Edward County wines, some terrific In Store Discoveries and other sundry delights. I also had a chance to taste the growing portfolio of New Zealand pinots being offered for direct purchase by Lifford Wine & Spirits, so I offer links to some favourites reviewed here on WineAlign.

But first I want to dedicate this edition to two friends in wine who passed away last week. Barbara Ritchie was a colleague on the tasting/writing circuit for many years, a gentle, intelligent and diligent taster and writer who beyond all expectation long survived the death of her twin sister Ann in 1996. They were founding members of the Wine Writers Circle of Canada, and both will be remembered in a service at The Toronto Hunt on Sunday, April 21.

I also sadly salute the passing of David Churchill, a film critic and novelist who indulged his passion for wine by researching and writing for the LCBO’s VINTAGES magazines that we have all relied on for years. He was a creative, quick-witted, generous and gregarious lad who lived life with gusto, and he was an immeasurable help to me in accommodating my deadlines and writings about VINTAGES offerings. He is missed.

County Wines Re-Visited

Since moving back to Toronto from the Prince Edward County region in 2010, I have done my best to keep on top of new wines and wineries. This spring sees the opening of Hubbs Creek Vineyard on Danforth Road in Hillier where John Battista Calivieri and partners have been growing pinot noir and white grapes since 2001. The 2010 pinot is a very fine, very Burgundian addition to the County lexicon. And ThreeDog Vineyards has its official opening in June, as yet an “un-tasted” property growing pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris and hybrids in the north end of the County off Highway 49.

You can personally check out all the latest offerings at “County in the City” on Thursday, April 25 at the Berkeley Church in Toronto. The evolving line-up includes newer wineries like Lighthall, Exultet, Stanners and Devil’s Wishbone. Meanwhile, County standards like Norman Hardie, Rosehall Run and Huff Estate are also featured on this month’s release.

Rosehall Run Cuvée County Chardonnay 2010Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2009Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011Rosehall Run 2010 Cuvée County Chardonnay ($21.95) is a benchmark County chardonnay from a winery that has focused on the County’s best grape from Day One. This is sourced from the winery’s own site on Greer Road as well as nearby Hillier region vineyards. It’s typically light and lively with nicely ripe fruit flavours thanks to the warmer 2010 vintage – if not quite as deep as its JCR Rosehall Vineyard portfolio mate.

Huff Estates 2009 South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay ($29.95) shows some real class and depth at the hands of winemaker Frederic Picard. It’s a maturing, quite buttery style from a lighter vintage. The South Bay Vineyard lies very near a bay of the same name near the County’s south shore – not at the winery itself which last year added a restaurant to its excellent inn, and the terrific Oeno Gallery.

Norman Hardie 2011 County Pinot Noir ($35.00) follows evenly in the footsteps of previous vintages even though 2011 was a “lighter” vintage. The only place this evident is in the very pale ruby colour. This will cause some to pause, but the aromatics are convincingly ripe, clean and complex. Pinot fans will be pleased, right through to the typical County minerality on the finish.

Fine, Affordable Burgundy & Beaujolais

If Prince Edward County pinot noir deserves comparison to any place in the world it is Burgundy. The County has not yet developed the vine age, nor perhaps does it have the sites, to be compared to top 1er Cru and Grand Cru Burgundy, but I have tasted some basic Bourgogne that are akin to County pinots.

Domaine Des Marrans Fleurie 2011Domaine Parent Pinot Noir Bourgogne 2011Domaine Parent 2011 Pinot Noir Bourgogne ($21.95) is a case in point, with a juicy tartness and cranberry scented fruit that is very reminiscent of some County pinots. And this wine rises well above its station at the bottom of the Burgundy pecking order. Anne and Catherine Parent hand harvest and sort the best fruit from flatter sites near their home base in Pommard and Volnay to create this wine. The 2011 vintage in Burgundy is being called very good, with a somewhat larger crop and lighter structure than the age-worthy 2010s or the very ripe 2009s.

Domaine Des Marrans 2011 Fleurie ($19.95) continues the string of delicious “Cru” Beaujolais from the south of Burgundy. They are based on gamay, not pinot noir. When I was in Burgundy last spring one sommelier sniffed that Beaujolais was a great “luncheon wine”. Indeed it is. But regular readers will know I have taken a shine to the “crus” ever since a new generation of elegant, floral and ripe wines began to appear with the 2009 vintage. I have been drinking them for dinner quite regularly, indeed just last week I BYO’d a bottle of 2010 Cote de Brouilly to an excellent French dinner at Celestin on Mt Pleasant (free corkage on Tuesday nights).

Huge Mosel Value

Dr. Hermann Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese 2007I continue to be amazed by the nose-diving prices of fine German wines. It’s almost inconceivable that a maturing beauty like Dr. Hermann Ürziger Würzgarten 2007 Riesling Spätlese could be offered here for a mere $16.95. Everything about this wine is classic. The family has been in the Mosel wine business for centuries, although the current generations only created this winery in 1967. This riesling is harvested from impossibly steep vineyards on the home property above the village of Urzig, one of a handful of vineyards the family owns, totalling no more than 7.5 ha in the middle of Mosel. What a great opportunity to explore Mosel riesling’s charm and ageworthiness. Try it to celebrate the first truly lovely evening of spring – whenever that arrives.

California’s L’Aventure & Cade

About two years ago I was on a crash, seven-day group tour of several California wine regions. On day one in Paso Robles, admittedly bleary-eyed after the travel and a late first night, we visited L’Aventure, one of the most memorable tastings of any that would follow. But first we had to make it through a very long introduction by winemaker Stephen Asseo. Thank goodness his tale was interesting – a French winemaker bored by the strictures of AOC regulation at home and setting off in 1996 to find great terroir elsewhere in the world. He arrived in the Pacific cooled western hills of Paso Robles with their calcareous-based soils and shouted Eureka! He densely planted over 100 acres of syrah, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and mourvedre, and undertook a laborious, organic growing regimen that yields a paltry two tons per acre. He kept repeating that above all he wanted balanced wines, and when we crowded into his tasting room and he began to pour his inky reds I was still a doubter. By the end of the tasting I was hooked, and I am delighted to report that I remain a convert after a more leisurely and studied tasting of the pair being released now as In Store Discoveries.

Cade Napa Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 2009L'Aventure Côte à Côte 2010L'Aventure Estate Cuvée 2010L’Aventure 2010 Estate Cuvée is a profound, complex, structured and nuanced blend of almost equal parts cabernet and syrah with some petit verdot. L’Aventure 2010 Côte-À-Côte is an equally massive if softer blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre. Both hit well over 15% alcohol, with barely a warm buzz. Both are $95.  Both are worth a look by collectors of California wine. Both are better than Opus One, also being released April 13, at just over twice the price.

But if it must be Napa cabernet and Opus is too rich for your blood, do try Cade Napa Cuvée 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, which is equally as good but much less than half the price at $78.95. This is a new, organically farmed Howell Mountain winery complete with LEED certified environics (the walls are insulated with blue jean rags). It is owned by the Plumpjack group – most well-known to wine collectors for cultish Plumpjack Cabernet. But the partners, including Gavin Newson, a former mayor of San Francisco, and Gordon Getty, an L.A composer and Shakespearean, also own three wine shops and now have interest in three hotel properties. In any event, this a classic, sculpted Napa cabernet with some mountain minerality on the finish.

More Great White Bordeaux

Château Haut Bergey Blanc 2009I jumped the gun on the last newsletter extolling the virtues of white Bordeaux. Three more have turned up as In Store Discoveries this time. All are over $50, but fans of the genre won’t complain. I especially draw your attention to the magnificent Château Haut-Bergey 2009 Blanc from Pessac-Léognan at $57.85. This is one of the great whites of the year to date, with wonderful vitality and richness. The small, ancient property was purchased by Sylvaine Garcin-Cathiard, wife of a Bordeaux wine merchant, in 1991. The white wine vineyard is a paltry 2ha of gravelly soil planted to 82% sauvignon blanc and 12% semillon. The wine was barrel fermented and aged 12 months in new French oak but you barely recognize the oak effect amid the exotic fruit and richness.

Lifford’s New Zealand Offerings

As mentioned, four important New Zealand wineries are featured with multiple listings on this release – Oyster Bay, Coopers Creek, Cloudy Bay and Dog Point (don’t miss Dog Point). Multiple listings seems to be a new strategy by VINTAGES, and the fact that three of the four are top-selling brands, suggests some deal-making at play. Which is all fine until you consider the hundreds of other worthy NZ wineries that would have loved to have been a part of this feature.

While VINTAGES does its thing, wine importers are busy doing theirs, and Lifford Wine & Spirits in particular has taken a shine to NZ wine and is busy building a market. Owner Steven Campbell recently took some of his staff, plus key sommeliers from across Canada, to the Pinot Noir NZ 2013 conference in Wellington. “I have been to every conference from day one” he says, “always looking for great new producers”. He was not alone this year as representatives from Ontario’s B & W Wines and Connexion Oenophelia were also on scouting missions.

Lifford's New Zealand Portfolio Tasting

Lifford’s New Zealand Portfolio Tasting

Lifford presented its beefed up NZ portfolio to buyers in Toronto earlier this month – with a fine range of wines by Ata Rangi of Martinborugh, Carrick and Felton Road of Central Otago, Craggy Range of Hawkes Bay, Staete Landt of Marlborough, and two new houses: Mountford of Waipara Valley and Neudorf of Nelson. Over 30 wines were poured. I focused on the many pinot noirs in the line-up, partially in preparation of a planned article on NZ pinot noir that will pinpoint over 20 sub-regions where this grape is showing its diversity.

Meantime, here are links to some of my favorites. Some of the wines are currently on consignment, others available by private order through Lifford until April 19.

Ata Rangi 2011 Pinot Noir, Martinborough $79.95
Ata Rangi 2011 Crimson Pinot Noir, Martinborough $36.95
Carrick 2010 Bannockburn Pinot Noir, Central Otago $44.95
Craggy Range 2011 Pinot Noir Te Muna Road, Martinborough $49.95
Craggy Range 2010 Calvert  Pinot Noir Calvert, Central Otago, $67.95
Felton Road 2011 Bannockburn Pinot Noir, Central Otago $71.50
Felton Road 2011 Calvert Pinot Noir, Central Otago $84.95
Mountford 2009 Village Pinot Noir,  Waipara Valley $46.95
Mountford 2009 Pinot Noir Estate, Waipara Valley $89.95
Neudorf 2011 Moutere Pinot Noir, Nelson $69.95
Staete Landt 2009 Paladin Pinot Noir, Marlborough $39.95

And that’s a wrap for this edition. In the days ahead I hope to see you at Malbec World Day on April 16 (which includes many other Argentina varieties) and at County in the City on April 25 (where the winemakers bring Prince Edward County to you).


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the April 13, 2013 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

County in the City

Malbec World Day