Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – April 29th, 2017

Seeking Value among the Best of the Rest
By David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The wines of Washington and Oregon are featured in this release, and Sara has provided detailed background and her picks in last week’s preview. I don’t want to dwell on the Pacific Northwest theme too long because there are many other wines on the release that demand our attention. We’ve got some great value picks for you.

But I do want to acknowledge the great effort and success of the recent Taste Oregon event in Toronto, which presented over 40 wineries and 200 wines – the largest expo of Oregon wines ever held outside of the USA, according to Oregon participants. It was the tasting of the year in Toronto – so far, so hats off to Will Predhomme and crew. There were so many exciting (if expensive) wines that it put VINTAGES April 29 five-wine Oregon offering to shame.

Oregon wine is expensive and VINTAGES by design must seek lower-priced wines because that’s what the majority of wine consumers buy – and there is only so much room on the shelves. But as LCBO workers voted 93% this week to go on strike over privatization, I would vote for Will Predhomme and Co, opening a private Oregon wine shop that could actually make these wines easily available. During the Oregon invasion of Toronto I sat down with two winemakers: Arron Bell of Domaine Drouhin and Melissa Burr of Stoller Family Estate. Please see a short report below, and no their wines are not easily available either.

Oregon Wines - Tasting Apr11-17 hi-res-216

Germany is also spotlighted in Saturday’s release, but with only four wines offered, this too is an anemic effort. The German selection on-shelf at VINTAGES has been pathetic in recent months – with nary a good Spätlese and Auslese in sight, and this release provides little relief. Again, they can argue that there is lack of demand, and that riesling drinkers have turned to Ontario. And good for Ontario. But an extraordinary category that is different from Ontario seems on the verge of extinction. There is certainly a better selection at the German destination store at 15 King Street in Waterloo, as well as on-line exclusives, but driving to Waterloo or purchasing by the case is not very helpful to the average punter.

On to other picks and observations from this release. I was personally quite impressed by the tranche of Australian reds. I am also noting the increasing strength (in number and quality) of good value Spanish reds. Italy remains very strong as well, lead by Tuscany. In fact, it is on the grapevine that Italy has already replaced California as the leading exporter of wine to Ontario. At the California Wine Fair luncheon it was strongly hinted from the podium that Italy was challenging.

And then there is the first spring wave of rosés! Here are some wines to put on your shopping list:

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 29th Release:

Whites and Pinks

Château Rives-Blanques 2015 Odyssée Chardonnay, Limoux, France ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Chardonnay has long been a staple in the calcerous soils of Limoux, one of the few Languedoc regions where it is an authorized variety. This has the structure and complexity of a mid-tier village white Burgundy at half the price. Great value. 

Reichsgraf Von Kesselstatt 2014 Kaseler Nies’chen Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This is a classic and very alive riesling from the Ruwer Valley, with complex and quite intense aromas of apricot, honey, candle wax, yellow blossoms and stoniness. It is light bodied, firm and taut but not austere.
Michael Godel – One of the icons and dictionary purveyors of Kabinett is this Mosel house. The taut nature of such a low alcohol, high acid, striking citrus riesling begs for patience and promises reward. The expected notes of peach, apricot and nutty kernel sweetness are just hints at such a young stage, but know they will all emerge when the decade begins to turn.

Chateau Rives Blanques Odyssée 2015Reichsgraf Von Kesselstatt Nies'chen Riesling Kabinett 2014 Schloss Vollrads Riesling Spätlese 2014

Schloss Vollrads 2014 Riesling Spätlese, Rheingau, Germany ($34.95)
Sara d’Amato – Like many fine makers of German riesling, Schloss Vollrads produces only riesling on its 80 hectares of land. In the Rheingau, riesling tends to be more substantial and a touch drier than in Mosel and this voluptuous, Spätlese level find offers classic appeal with a good degree of ageing potential. Cellar-worthy.
Michael Godel – The aromatics are bent to citrus and herbs, like Trocken riesling will be but here in the Rheingau they also indicate something creamy and excitable. The palate confirms the energy and the pulse. This late harvest beauty should be ready by Thanksgiving 2019 or better still, 2020.

Domaine de la Denante 2014 Saint Véran Les Maillettes, Burgundy, France ($26.95)
Sara d’Amato – The warm Burgundian appellation of Saint-Véran hugs that of Pouilly-Fuissé and is situated on good-quality chalky clay soils. The resulting wines are a mixed bag but there is often very good value to be found such as this example from the father and son opered winery of Domaine de la Denate. The wine offers a sophisticated stony quality, is lightly smoky with lively acids. An absolute delight.

Domaine de la Denante Saint Véran Les Maillettes 2014Justin Monmousseau Vouvray 2015

Justin Monmousseau Vouvray 2015, Loire, France ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – A lightly off-dry style of Vouvray, the most common of the sweetness levels, with tangy lemon notes juxtaposed by ripe apricot and a hint of botrytis. Careful picking after a slightly longer than the norm hang-time has prevented any herbal or sensation of under ripeness on the palate. Try with soft, creamy cheeses now or hold another 3-4 years.

Caves d’Esclans 2016 Whispering Angel Rosé, Côtes de Provence, France ($27.95)
David Lawrason – Rosé season opens with one of the most hyped wines of the release, and it lives up. There is a rare sense of luminescence, poise and refinement that is very impressive.

Château d'Esclans Whispering Angel 2016 Jean Max Roger La Grange Dimiere Sancerre Rosé 2016

Jean-Max Roger 2016 La Grange Dimiere Sancerre Rosé, Loire, France ($25.95)
David Lawrason – This pinot noir rosé has some gumption. Not in terms of colour and body but I really like the generous, piquant nose of redcurrant, cherry, mild herbs and pink roses. It’s mid-weight, dry and quite intense. The length is excellent.
Sara d’Amato – The pretty pale colour of this pinot noir rosé is achieved by pressing immediately after harvest but despite this quick turnaround, the wine shows a great deal of depth and flavour. The soil type is important here as most of the pinot reserved for this rosé comes from very flinty soils that imbue a distinctive freshness to this grape variety. A punchy rosé that is both satisfying and refreshing.


Penley Estate 2014 Hyland Shiraz, Coonawarra, South Australia ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This is a great buy in a classic Coonawarra shiraz from an excellent producer. It has weight, tension and depth beyond its price, with generous aromas of blackcurrant, mint, damp earth/moss and chocolate.

Penley Estate Hyland Shiraz 2014 Domaine Tournon Mathilda Shiraz 2013

Tournon 2013 Mathilda Chapoutier Shiraz, Victoria, Australia ($17.95)
David Lawrason – Mathilda is the “entry level” shiraz from Rhone Valley-based Michel Chapoutier’s impressive portfolio of Australian shiraz. It has a lifted, quite spicy peppery nose with some violets and vague menthol. It is quite full bodied, almost creamy on the palate, ripe and a touch hot. Lots here for $18.

Renato Ratti 2015 Ochetti Langhe Nebbiolo, Piedmont, Italy ($23.95)
David Lawrason – This pale nebbiolo has a surprising, piquant nose of rosemary/juniper, strawberry/cranberry, cedar and vague earthiness. It is mid-weight, quite supple and charming with fine juicy acidity. Certainly less tannic and more approachable and affordable than Ratti’s excellent Barolo.
Sara d’Amato – A uniquely spicy, botanical and bright-bitter red fruit character has been coaxed out of this very pure, northern Italian nebbiolo. A not-to-be-missed knock-out find for under $25 from an innovative producer.

Fattoria di Basciano 2013 I Pini, Rosso dei Colli della Toscana Centrale, Italy ($33.95)
David Lawrason – This is a very pretty, modern, elegant blend of cabernet, merlot and syrah from the hills of central Tuscany. Lifted aromas of blackberry, vanilla and violets also show subtle spice and minerality. It’s classy, quite tender and refined.

Renato Ratti Ochetti Langhe Nebbiolo 2015 Fattoria Di Basciano I Pini 2013 Monte Del Frá Bardolino 2014

Monte del Frá 2014 Bardolino, Veneto, Italy ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Help to bring on summer with this nervy little number from Monte del Frá. Produced from corvina and rondinella with a touch of sangiovese planted on high elevation gravelly slopes. On the light side of mid-weight with no oak treatment allowing for plenty of fruit and mineral expression. Chill slightly for optimum enjoyment.

Anselmann Edesheimer Ordensgut Dry Dornfelder 2015, Pfalz, Germany ($13.95)
Michael Godel – The ever-elusive dornfelder comes into plain dry and juicy view with this 2015 from a house that knows its endemic business. There are few bells and whistles on this silky Edesheim red. It’s fine-spun, silky smooth, carries high acidity and would work beautifully with smoked BBQ but also charred slabs off the grill. Firm and formidable red and at the price with plenty of firm upside and grip.

Anselmann Edesheimer Ordensgut Dry Dornfelder 2015 Pinyolet Garnacha 2013

Pinyolet 2013 Garnacha, Montsant, Spain ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This is such a fun, vibrant, juicy red – a 100% garnacha (grenache) from limestone soils at 520 metres above sea level (not far from the Mediterranean Sea). Expect lifted sour cherry compote, herbs/thyme, anise and a certain meatiness. Another great value from Montsant.

Oregon’s Domaine Drouhin and Stoller Family Vineyards

I sat down with the winemakers of two prominent Oregon wineries to get a feel for trends in the region (I have not visited in several years).

Oregonian Arron Bell is the day-to-day winemaker at Domaine Drouhin, working with Veronique Drouhin who helped established the landmark winery in the late 1980s’. Drouhin was the first Burgundian winery to ever invest outside of Burgundy to make wine, and to this day their “French soul, Oregon Soil” motto actually rings in the glass. They seem to have more tension and finesse than the most Oregon wines. The current release Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir Oregon 2014 ($52.95) is quite fine.

Photo credit: Rick Vyrostko Photography

DDO, as they refer to the company, has expanded in recent years, with the biggest move being the planting of the Red Rock Vineyard in Eola-Amity Hills south and east of the Dundee Hills pinot heartland. Although somewhat farther inland this region is more exposed to Pacific influences that funnel though the Van Duzer Gap in the coastal hills, creating a cooler microclimate that is attracting many new vineyard projects. Drouhin’s 126-acre Rose Rock site, first planted in 2002, is now a major contributor to the finesse in the Drouhin’s wines. Rose Rock 2014 Zepherine Pinot Noir ($72) is entirely from Rose Rock fruit, a bigger bond, firm and still youthfully tannic pinot with gorgeous blueberry/raspberry fruit.  DDO also produces the less expensive Cloudline Pinot Noir 2014 which is in Saturday’s VINTAGES release. Inquire about availability of these and other Domaine Drouhin wines through importing agent Family Wine Merchants.

I also spent an hour talking and tasting with Melissa Burr, winemaker of Stoller Family Vineyard. She too is a homegrown winemaking talent now at the helm of a 200-acre estate winery that has grown to 35,000 cases since its founding in 2000. Located in the heart of the Dundee Hills, Stoller is a “legacy project” by Bill Stoller, the third generation of an Oregon farming family.

Photo credit: Rick Vyrostko Photography

I was looking for news and trends but ended up being totally absorbed by the purity, finesse, subtlety and depth of Melissa Burr’s wines, and by a couple of surprises. First up was a gorgeous, tiny production 2015 Riesling ($56) fermented with indigenous yeasts in neutral oak and stainless steel. Then came a very elegant and delicate Chardonnay 2014 Reserve, again fermented for the most part in neutral oak – fabulous peach, spice and minerality. Next up a shockingly pure and elegant 2016 Pinot Noir Rose ($32) with aromas of pink roses, watermelon and strawberry. This is considered one of the best pinks in Oregon with production having climbed to 6500 cases. The Stoller pinots are also very fine with 2015 Dundee Hills bottling ($40) showing very generous almost too ripe fruit, and the 2014 Nancy’s Pinot Noir ($125) is the big gun – incredibly deep, layered and fragrant.

And we will hear more from Melissa as she launched her own small production line under the History Wines label that will feature old vineyards in Oregon and Washington. Stoller wines are represented by The Vine wine agency.

And that’s a wrap for this edition. I look forward to seeing some of you at the Wines of Spain dinner May 1st and/or the Errazuriz dinner May 3rd.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014