The Successful Collector, by Julian Hitner: Wine education for us all – Visiting Vinho Verde

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Having experienced my fill of wine travels over the past several months, it is with an acute sense of relief that summer has arrived. Like many of my fellow Ontarians, I adore this time of year: business matters mostly come to a halt, many of my more boisterous neighbours go on extended vacations, and wine discussions with my associates tend to take on more relaxed, less caustic overtones. If I had anything in the way of long hair, I would let it down — please see column photo.

Early in June, I ended off my springtime travels on a high note with a visit to the Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) of Vinho Verde in northern Portugal. Famous for its dry, oftentimes slightly effervescent, whites, the wines of Vinho Verde popularly conjure up images of refreshing, inexpensive wares to enjoy in warmer weather, usually with seafood.

Vinho VerdeThough I am mostly of this opinion, it is now clear to me that the region’s finer bottlings merit closer examination, particularly ones crafted from 100% Alvarinho. Better known by its Spanish name of Albariño (the grape is grown to great success in Galicia across the border), the best wines crafted from this promising, intensely mineral-laden varietal seem to reflect a growing sense of confidence among the region’s many producers, most of which have only very recently begun to craft wine of any serious worth. After all, few people outside of Portugal had ever even heard of Vinho Verde as recently as fifteen years ago, never mind all the other recommended white grapes used to make the wine — Loureiro, Trajadura, Avesso, Azal Branco, and Padernã.

But things are changing very quickly. Sales of Vinho Verde are soaring, vineyards and winemaking facilities are being revamped, and increasingly better wines are being produced at all price levels. Granted, there is immense room for improvement, especially at the lower end, where quality is anything but uniform. Yet if there’s one thing I learned about the winegrowers in this part of Portugal, it’s that they recognize the need for pressing forward. If only all the world’s winegrowing regions embraced this virtue in equal measure.

One more remark:

At the present time, the LCBO carries only a handful of Vinho Verde wines. Of those available, wines from Aveleda are generally respectable (if not a tad rudimentary), though the finer Portuguese restaurants in our city will likely have far more interesting offerings. After a quick search online, the best place appears to be Salt Wine Bar (225 Ossington Ave.), which even includes the Soalheiro 2011 Alvarinho — not to be missed.

VINTAGES Shop Online 

For several years now, WineAlign critics have reviewed wines available via the VINTAGES Shop Online portfolio whenever possible. For those unfamiliar with the programme, a couple of years ago the LCBO (or VINTAGES) began offering select wines exclusively over the internet, on a separate website, to be picked up at a local store of customers’ choosing.

Taken as a whole, the programme has enjoyed mixed success. While many of the wines are of impeccable quality (with prices ranging from around $25 to $200), consumers have yet to embrace the on-line purchasing platform. In my opinion, this is due in no small part to the fact that the wines are not available for home delivery, but must be picked up at a local outlet.

This aside, WineAlign is pleased to announce that its critics — spearheaded by me in this case — will be reviewing wines from the VINTAGES Shop Online programme on a much more regular basis, as more of these wines are being put forward for critics to taste in the LCBO lab. This initiative also applies to the VINTAGES In-Store Discovery programme, of which critics are now permitted to taste, as well.

Here are a few gems currently available on VINTAGES Shop Online:

Dr. Bürklin Wolf Hohenmorgen G.C. Riesling TrockenDomaine La Garrigue La Cantarelle VacqueryasDr. Bürklin Wolf Hohenmorgen G.C. Riesling Trocken 2007 : Sourced from the famed Hohenmorgen vineyard (based out of Deidesheim), the 2007 Riesling Trocken GC delivers wonderful character, style, finesse, and harmony. Light lime in colour with a trace of yellow (extremely faint), it reveals tremendously elegant, enticing scents of lemon citrus, lime cordial, dried white peaches, minerals, and plenty of spice. Complex, with exceptional Alsatian-like fruit, balanced acidity, and a soothing yet vibrant hint of lemon citrus and minerals on the finish. Outstanding performance, a wine of this calibre may be kept for the next ten years or more. Now-2023++.

Domaine La Garrigue La Cantarelle Vacqueryas: Likely the most powerful Vacqueyras I’ve ever examined (logging in at 15.5% alcohol), the 2010 La Cantarelle is both well-structured and decadent. Opaque ruby in colour, it delivers alluring, powerful aromas of seaweed-infused blackberry compote, plums, dried cherries, pencil lead, forest floor, vanilla, and spice. Very complex, with concentrated fruit, very firm tannins, balanced acidity, and a forceful, lasting hint of blackberry compote, garrigue, and seaweed-like characteristics on the finish. Massively outlined, this beauty represents excellent value for money. 85% Grenache and 15% Syrah. Now-2025.

Nicolas Joly Les Vieux Clos 2009La Roquète L'Accent de la RoquèteAustin Hope Family Vineyard Syrah 2010Austin Hope Family Vineyard Syrah 2010: My only note from this winery, the 2010 Hope Family Vineyard Syrah is sourced entirely from a site located within the Templeton Gap region (just west of the Paso Robles AVA). Opaque ruby in colour, the wine is finely toasted, with inviting aromas of blackberries, plums, incense, tobacco, forest floor, vanilla, and spice. Complex, boasting delicious forward fruit, fairly supple tannins, mild acidity, and a long, satisfying hint of blackberries, incense, and tobacco on the finish. Bold, lengthy, and balanced (despite 15% alcohol). Now-2017++.

La Roquète l’Accent De La Roquète: Top wine of the domaine, the 2009 L’Accent de La Roquète is crafted from vines roughly sixty years of age. Dark ruby in colour, the ’09 presents appetizing aromas of dark raspberries, currants, and figs; switching to dried cherries, underbrush, and a hint of savoury herbs and spice. Complex, boasting delicious, ‘deceptively midweight’ fruit, firm tannins, balanced acidity, and a terrific hint of dried red fruits/figs, raspberries, and underbrush on the finish. Great character, balance, and structure. According to their website: mainly Grenache, plus roughly 10% Mourvèdre. Now-2020++.

Nicolas Joly Les Vieux Clos: Nicolas Joly’s obsession with biodynamic/holistic winegrowing is well known, for which the weird and wonderful 2009 Les Vieux Clos serves as testament. Light-medium yellow-lime in colour (plus a little haze), it reveals entirely idiosyncratic scents of baked Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples (both in pie format); switching to cinnamon, apple cider/strudel, smoke, and alternate bruised fruits. Very complex, with beautiful fruit, balanced acidity, and a wholly original, endearing hint of baked apples (in cider- and pie-like format) on the finish. Excellent job, the planets must have really been in sync when this wine was produced. Now-2016++.

At WineAlign, the choices for subscribers keeps on expanding. Cheers!

For more reviews visit our Critics profile page: Julian Hitner