Lawrason’s Take on Vintages July 6 Release

Summer Class in Your Glass – Red, White and Pink

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

VINTAGES catalogue for this early summer release features a useful global selection of fruit-driven lighter whites, and a not-so-useful selection of California wines positioned for summer gatherings. I don’t want to belabour my dissatisfaction with the price/quality ratio of California wine, but those that hover around $20 are showing average quality. And so we pass quickly to several fruit driven Euro reds that are shockingly good value under $20. And yes there are some fine pinkies that fit the summer theme, plus a handful of notable heavy hitters, where California does better.

The Reds

This selection is geared toward summer meals that do not necessarily involve grilling. Surely we don’t eat BBQed red meat every day, do we? These fruit forward, oak-lite reds will certainly work with grilled meats if you must, but will also be ideal with alfresco dining with cold meats – charcuterie, sausage, pork/ham, chicken – and myriad salads as well, served lightly chilled.

Château Le Peyrat 2010 Côtes de Bordeaux, Castillon $15.95 – I have long extolled the value and virtue of the merlot based wines of Castillon – a verdant region of forests, fields and vineyards on the bank right bank of the Dordogne up-stream from Saint-Émilion. In 2009 the Côtes de Castillon appellation was lumped, along with other similar satellites, under the new Côtes de Bordeaux appellation, with Castillon added after a comma. Is this helpful? Anyway, it is a quite delicious red with the firmer structure of the 2010 vintage, to enjoy this summer or over the next two or three.

Templários Colheita SeleccionadaChâteau De Jau 2011Château Le Peyrat 2010Château De Jau 2011, Côtes du Roussillon Villages $14.95 – Founded in 1792 Chateau de Jau is one of the larger estates in Roussillon, and under the direction of Estelle Dauré the 134 hectares of vineyard – located in the Pyrenees foothills at the edge of Corbieres – have undergone a no-stone-unturned revitalization. It is amazing really that such a wine can be sold here for $15. It’s a blend of syrah, mourvèdre, grenache and carignan that has been gently fermented and not aged in oak. Delicious!

Templários Colheita Seleccionada 2009 Touriga Nacional/Cabernet Sauvignon Tejo, Portugal $15.95 – This was the surprise of the release for me, a deeply coloured, smooth red with soaring black fruit and floral aromatics – thanks in large part to the 50% touriga nacional, while the cabernet lends its palate firmness (without being too tannic). In any event it is a well-conceived and wrought (only six months in oak) regional blend from the new Tejo region centred by the Tagus (Tejo) River east and inland from Lisbon. In 2009 the region changed its name from Ribatejo, although the latter still exists for DOC wines and six sub-regions.

Pinyolet 2011 Garnacha, Montsant, Spain $17.95 – I was first struck by the classic, rustic and simple label, then I twigged to the fact it is from Montsant, one of my favourite appellations in Spain (a neighbour of Priorat). And then I tasted the wine and I was fully seduced. Pinyolet is a type of pebbly limestone soil found at higher, cooler elevations in Montsant; and this terroir has delivered a particularly elegant, supple but not at all soupy grenache, that has seen no wood at all. Don’t miss it!

Pinyolet Garnacha 2011Marchesi Di Barolo Maràia Barbera MonferratoSAN PEDRO 1865 SINGLE VINEYARD CARMENÈREMarchesi Di Barolo 2011 Maràia Barbera Monferrato, Piedmont, Italy $16.95 – I have always liked the aromatic lift and taut freshness of barbera, although sometimes its acidity can be screeching. This fruity beauty takes care of that with acidity reduced to a supporting refreshment role. It will work well on the deck; try grilled Italian sausage and chorizo. VINTAGES has duly noted that this ranked #66 in the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 of 2012 listing. The rush will be on!

San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard 2010 Carménère, Maule Valley $19.95 – San Pedro is a massive company with estate vineyards up and down Chile. Their Pencahue site in Maule, which grows carménère, is apparently dry farmed, while the tech notes for this wine say it is from an irrigated site. All of which makes labelling it as Single Vineyard, without naming a site, rather misleading. But I am nit-picking. This struck me as a quite pure, fine and classic interpretation of carménère, with a natural freshness that will work during the summer, perhaps paired with lamb and grilled veggies.

The Whites

Hidden Bench 2011 Estate Riesling Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula $23.95 – It is so heartening to see such high quality riesling coming off Beamsville Bench at such a fair price; and a demonstration that riesling is still perhaps the calling card of the Bench, despite its good pinots and chardonnays. Owner Harald Thiel and winemaker Marlize Beyers make all three varieties very well, but perhaps none more consistently exciting than their dry, powerful, stone-laden rieslings. Here’s a great intro.

Rabl Käferberg Grüner Veltliner 2011Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 2011Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2011Seresin 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough $21.95 – There is a certain restraint, evenness and complexity lurking within this otherwise typically exuberant and fresh NZ sauvignon. And it’s explained by the fine details of the winemaking – organically grown fruit from three sites; the use of six clones; the use of wild yeasts, the blending of 10% barrel aged sémillon, and even barrel ageing a small portion of the sauvignon. Serving this too cold will rob some of the nuance. Those who think NZ is simply bashing out oceans of brash sauvignon need to look again.

Rabl Käferberg 2011 Grüner Veltliner Kamptal Reserve $19.95 – Rabl has shown up on my recommended lists before. The winemaking is so pure and solid. This fine grüner is from a single very stony site called Kaferberg in the Kamp Valley. About 15% of the wine was fermented in large 500 L barrels for texturing. There is no oak obvious on the nose or palate; just classic grüner stone fruit and a titch of pepper.

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2012Caves Des Vignerons De Buxy Montagny Les ChaniotsTawse 2012 Sketches Of Niagara Riesling $17.95 – Time and again in blind tastings  this “basic” riesling has matched or risen above the ratings of Tawse’s more expensive, old vine, single vineyard offerings. It captures attention due to its impeccable purity and balance, which in the quality equation can be as important as structure, depth and complexity. And that is a tribute to the winemaking of Paul Pender. If you love a late afternoon riesling in the garden, stock up here for the rest of the summer.

Caves Des Vignerons De Buxy 2010 Montagny Les Chaniots 1er Cru $22.95 – Well I had to include one oak-aged white! But this is not at all a ponderous, toasty, nutty effort. It is slender, refined and bright with real charm, backed by some of the firmness of the 2010 vintage. I visited this well regarded co-op in the Chalonnais village of Buxy many years ago, and ever since then the limestone-laced chardonnays from this this fine out-of-the-way region have impressed. It’s like a gentler Chablis.

Bürgerspital Würzberger Abtsleite SilvanerBürgerspital Würzberger 2011 Abtsleite Silvaner Trocken, Franken, Germany $18.95 – Most shoppers will walk right on by this white in its famous squat ‘bocksbeutel’ unaware they are passing up one the more unique whites of Europe. Silvaner (aka sylvaner) is a second class citizen in all regions of Europe except Franconia, east of Frankfurt, where it was first planted in the mid-17th Century. This 120 ha estate is one of the largest, located in the centre of Wurzburg, with several vineyards on the steep slopes of the domed hills that line the River Main. So pause to sip a Euro classic – you will be moved.

The Pinks

Featherstone 2012 Rosé Niagara Peninsula $14.95 – I have come to rely on eco-friendly, pristine winemaking at the hands of David Johnston and Kevin Panagapka. It pays off handsomely in this brilliant rosé, with striking aromas of mixed red fruits that had me thinking of some of Europe’s best. The varieties aren’t specified but I suspect from the red currant component that cab franc figures heavily. The 2012 has delivered a bit more weight and lower acidity, and I found the wine a bit sweet when encountered close to room temp, so chill it well and enjoy it with or without food.

Featherstone Rosé 2012Les Grandes Serres La Rose D'aimée TavelDomaine de La Garenne Bandol RoséLes Grandes Serres La Rose d’Aimée 2012 Tavel, Rhône Valley $18.95 – This nicely captures the deeper colour, fuller body and intriguing red plum/pomegranate fruit that sets Tavel apart from most other rosés, and lines it up as a great all-purpose summer food wine. Les Grand Serres is a large producer based in Châteauneuf-du-Pape that is making wines from many Rhône appellations. This is not an outstanding example but it handily represents the genre and is my pick for food pairing.

Domaine de la Garenne 2012 Bandol Rosé, Provence $19.95 – Located in a popular tourist area in La Cadiere d’Azur four kms from the Mediterranean this 27 hectare property on clay-limestone soil is being uplifted and moved toward organic production by Beatrix Balincourt, daughter of Count Jean de Balincourt who founded the estate in 1965. Mourvèdre is the main red grape here, but in this rosé it is blended with grenache and cinsault. It’s a very refined, pale, subtle and almost piquant style that will sneak up on you.

Notable Heavy Hitters

To return to California, the best wines in the feature are indeed the most expensive; and a couple are so good that I actually don’t find the value challenging.

Stags' Leap Winery Viognier 2012Ridge Estate Chardonnay 2011Ridge Vineyards 2011 Estate Chardonnay $55.95 – This is one of the historic chardonnays of California. The site atop Montebello Ridge was first planted to chardonnay in 1949. It has undergone a re-planting since that time but the vines are again achieving notable age. The grapes are hand-harvested, whole cluster pressed, fermented with wild yeasts and aged sixteen months is old and new French and American oak barrels. This is great, classic California chardonnay!

Stags’ Leap Winery 2012 Viognier, Napa Valley, $36.95 – This wine displays a wonderful sense of richness and freshness. It is one of the best California viogniers I can recall. Like the Ridge Chardonnay above it was harvested by hand and whole cluster pressed, but here the fermentation took place in neutral French oak barrels – leaving the wonderful fruit and floral elements intact, while creating a certain lushness and finesse on the palate.

Laurel Glen Sonoma Mountain Cabernet SauvignonLATIUM CAMPO LEÒN AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLALaurel Glen 2007 Sonoma Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon $69.95 – This is a very impressive, concentrated mountain cabernet – so packed with fruit richness I might have mistaken it for a burly old vine zinfandel. But it does have cabernet structure and it should age well. The property was founded by the dogged Patrick Campbell in the 70s, with the first vintage being 1981. It fell off my radar for much of the past ten years or so. It was purchased in 2011 by a group of investors led by Bettina Sichel, daughter of Peter M.F. Sichel, who was prominent in the European wine industry in 70s and 80s. Bettina has worked in Napa for 20 years, helping launch Quintessa in 1998. The vineyard and winemaking is now in the hands of consultant Sonoma legend David Ramey. And Patrick Campbell still consults as well.

Latium Morini 2008 Campo Leòn Amarone Della Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy $46.95 – This whopper is hardly the wine for a tepid summer evening but don’t miss it if you are an amarone fan. With 16.5% alcohol it has massive presence and richness, but it is also packed to the gunwales with fruit and creamy complexity. And the opulence is accomplished without being notably sweet – an oft’ used trick with amarone. This is fairly new small winery established in 1992 by the seven siblings of the Morini family who decided to make wine from 40 ha of vineyards established by their parents a generation prior. The land is divided into seven vineyards.

And that is a wrap for this edition. I will be back with more summer fun from the July 20 release. And stay tuned next week as we judges from the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada begin to write about our favourites of the competition. We will soon be announcing the release dates for the full results. And I am starting to get excited about I4C (International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration) coming up in Niagara July 19-21. Now in year 3, it has become one of the major wine events of the year in Ontario, featuring wineries from around the world. Hope to see you there.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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From the July 6, 2013 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

Stags' Leap Winery Viognier 2012

WineAlign Chardonnay Boot Camp