David’s VINTAGES Preview – Mar 2nd, 2019

Noble Napa and New World Selections

By David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Is Napa Noble?  The cover of VINTAGES magazine for the March 2 release makes this proclamation.

Wine nobility is a very fuzzy concept in the first place, but it has historically been reserved for certain European wines – French wines made from certain “noble” grapes grown in well established regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy. Some Italian wines from Tuscany and Piedmont might be considered noble as well. Perhaps certain wines Rioja in Spain and the Rheingau in Germany.

But Napa?

Before answering, let’s define noble.  When spoken of as a character trait – encompassing morality, high ideals, honesty, self-sacrifice and doing the right thing  –  being noble is a fine concept. But, as wines are not people, this concept of nobility simply doesn’t apply.

So we are talking more about nobility as applied to social order, which speaks more of privilege, wealth, status and pedigree, sometimes inherited rather than earned  – and maintained over a long period of time. Which is why it is easy to anoint certain European wine regions as noble.

VINTAGES’ article quickly points out that Napa has been making wine since the mid 19th century, but the World Wars, Great Depression and Prohibition of the first half of the 20th Century reduced Napa’s output to communion wine, and it has only been making top quality, “world class” wines for 50 years tops.

AdvertisementWynns Coonawarra Estate The Siding Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

If lacking in history compared to Europe however, Napa has quickly assumed some of the other trappings of nobility. There is no doubt that Napa has excellent geographic bones for grape growing, and that excellent quality cab be attained, of which more in a moment  But much of Napa’s nobility has actually been leveraged through wealth. Purchased nobility as it were, and that’s where I start to have a problem.

Napa’s top wines have joined the most expensive in the world, fuelled by the fact they are being produced and purchased in California – one of the wealthiest places on the planet. And Napa itself has become one of the wealthiest and most expensive places in California.

In association with the Canadian Culinary Championships, I am currently helping set up a Napa tour at the end of March for a group of Canadians who have purchased five days of wining and dining based at the Napa Valley Lodge in Yountville to help raise money for youth involved in athletics, culinary and musical pursuits. At every turn we are encountering eye-rolling costs – from tasting room fees to venue rentals, restaurant menus and accommodations.  The wineries I am dealing with – which sell wine in Canada – are being nicely accommodating, but I am just making the point that the cost of doing business, or doing pleasure, in Napa is huge.

In this Napa release I sense VINTAGES has been facing the same kind of sticker shock, exaggerated by the lowly value of the Canadian dollar. Through their selections I can see that VINTAGES is trying to do two things – offer some new labels, and present some sense of affordability. They have succeeded reasonably well. The most expensive wine is $89, while most are in and around $50. And in Napa’s world this is low to mid-range.

Which actually shows up in the glass as well. For $50 – from almost any other region and certainly all other New World regions – we should be encountering very impressive quality. Scores in the mid-90s range whereas I have only given 90 or more points to four wines, and none more than 93. (Other international critics are higher, as usual).

Both John Szabo and Michael Godel were in Tuscany on the tasting date for this release, so Sara d’Amato and I present our picks from the Napa selection as well as other New World and Ontario picks. Next week, we return with Best Buys from the Old World.

Napa Selections

Scattered Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Napa Valley, California ($59.95)
Sara d’Amato – Scattered Peaks is the passion project of Derek Benham, a North Coast wine merchant-innovator) and Joel Aiken, a veteran Napa winemaker well-known for his work with Beaulieu whose name nods to their favourite passions: wine, surfing and skiing. This intriguing cabernet sauvignon is sourced from vineyards throughout Napa and crafted through gentle winemaking. Despite a hot, dry vintage with low yields, this wine has preserved notable freshness with flavours of red plum and violet dominating the palate with a hint of vanilla. The finesse is evident as is the use of good quality French oak. A very reasonable, appealing Napa cabernet that can be opened now but has the stuffing for ageing well into the next decade.
David Lawrason – Packaged in a super-heavy bottle, this is actually a pretty and good value Napa cab. Foremost it is cabernet, second most it is Napa. I like the lifted blackcurrant fruit nicely meshed with minty herbality, fine oak vanilla and subtle spice. Nicely composed. It is also well structured and balanced with fruit sweetness contained by fine tannin and warmth. The length and focus are excellent.

Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Napa Valley, California ($64.95)
David Lawrason – Founded in 1978 within an old, vacant, stone-walled  “ghost winery” near St. Helena, Flora Springs hasn’t been at the LCBO for quite some time. This 100% cabernet shows fine, fragrant typical aromas of blackcurrant, mint, pepper, cedar and oak vanillin nicely intermeshed. Some violet florality as well. It is full bodied, firm and hottish with firm cabernet tannin. The length is excellent. Might be best in 2021 but this is tasty, authentic and almost worth the price.

Joseph Carr Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Napa Valley, California ($44.95)
David Lawrason –  Joseph Carr opened his winery in Napa in 2005 following a ten year career as a sommelier. This cab sourced from various Napa sites offers decent cab character at a somewhat affordable price. I like the ripe almost figgy/cassis fruit on the nose with green tea and gentle oak vanillin and spice. It is full bodied, fairly soft, lush and warm with some cabernet grip and tannin despite the impression of sweetness. Nicely focused flavours with excellent length.

Scattered Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 Joseph Carr Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Stags’ Leap Winery Merlot 2015, Napa Valley, California ($48.95)
Sara d’Amato – Despite the wine’s richness due to a particularly parched and low-yielding vintage, this merlot offers notable refinement. The flavour of oak spice juxtaposes the fruit at present but with a little more time, it should resolve nicely for a harmonious impression. Notes of dried fruit, black cherry along with festive spice are built upon a framework of impressive tannic structure. Tidy and still rather tightly knit with persistent length.
David Lawrason – Winemaker and GM Christophe Paubert grew up in the Sauternes region of Bordeaux, and worked four years at Chateau d’Yquem and other New World regions before coming to Stags Leap. There is typical Napa generosity, richness and softness here, with a lovely nose of chocolate, bumbleberry pie and subtle merlot dried herbs/tea. It is full bodied, plush and quite elegant, with decent acid at its core. Alcohol is up there, tannins are nicely meshed. Excellent length. Tasted Feb 2019

Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Chardonnay 2015, Napa Valley, California ($29.95)
David Lawrason – Mondavi’s workhorse chardonnay has a very generous and quite complex nose of pineapple, buttered toast, yellow flowers and clove. It is full bodied, quite creamy, warm and spicy on the palate – almost sweet and quite lush. All kinds of spice on the finish, with some bitterness and heat. A bit clumsy, with excellent length. Scores on complexity and depth.

Stags' Leap Winery Merlot 2015 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Chardonnay 2015

New World Sparkling and Whites

13th Street Premier Cuvée 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($34.95)
David Lawrason – This was one of the first fine traditional method sparklers made in Ontario. The 2012 was gold medallist at the National Wine Awards in 2018, a classic of its style with fine mousse, pale gold coloration and a fairly complex nose of marzipan, dried apple, toast and a fine buttered croissant note. It is mid-weight nicely taut and firm with a lemony, walnut finish. The length is excellent. Last tasted Feb 2019

Babich Black Label Estate Grown Chardonnay 2017, Hawke’s Bay, North Island, New Zealand ($19.95) (630558) Sara d’Amato – The northern appellation of Hawke’s Bay may be better known for its rich and expressive reds, but it produces a great deal of chardonnay that is rare find in our parts. In fact, according the regional wine association of Hawke’s Bay, it is home to 32% of New Zealand’s chardonnay producing vineyards. This is example from Babich, whose family has been growing wine in New Zealand for over 100 years, offers fine wood treatment that is on its way to full integration on the palate. The good quality fruit is there as is high acid, good concentration and moderate body. A young chardonnay brimming with potential.

Lundy Manor Proprietors Blend 2017, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This is an unusual, creative blend of acacia barreled riesling, skin fermented gewurz, chardonnay and sauvignon. It works very well, with intriguing complexity thanks to bits of each variety playing a role. There is riesling apple, subtle wood spice, sauvignon herbaceosness and considerable citrus. It is medium-full bodied, just off-dry but nicely offset by some acidity, spice and grip and bitterness on the finish.

Tussock Jumper Chenin Blanc 2017, Western Cape, South Africa ($12.95)
David Lawrason – The label is visually amusing, but it’s the price that’s eye-catching. Chenin is a Cape specialty and this is good fit, if lacking the depth and intensity of better examples, it captures the ripe pear/quince fruit of the grape, with some spice, waxiness and vague herbality. It is medium-full bodied, nicely dry and warming with a spicy finish.

13th Street Premier Cuvée 2012 Babich Black Label Estate Grown Chardonnay 2017 Lundy Manor Proprietors Blend 2017 Tussock Jumper Chenin Blanc 2017

New World Reds

Lupa Malbec 2015,  Paraje Altamira, La Consulta, Mendoza ($37.95)
David Lawrason – This is an honest, well-constructed and generous Uco malbec with a typical nose of mulberry, anise, fresh herbs and nicely subtle oak vanillin, cedar and nutmeg. It is full bodied, fairly concentrated, beefy yet pure with high alcohol of 14% nicely absorbed. The focus and length are excellent.
Sara d’Amato – This malbec pours a remarkably dark, inky colour and is built to last. At present it is tightly wound with great intensity and a hint of youthful bitterness. Quite dry, tannic and relatively austere. Give the concentration and high-quality fruit, here is a wine that should evolve beautifully but if you’d like to enjoy now, be sure to pair it with some salty protein to soften the tannic blow. A dynamic and powerful find you don’t want to miss.

Malivoire 2017 Gamay, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – A gold medal winner in the latest round of the National Wine Awards of Canada, this gamay still holds its own. The aromatics are wildly distinctive and impressively generous. Pepper with notes of raspberry, violet and tar are pleasantly expressive. The palate is light-bodied, zesty and dynamic, a touch salty with raspberry and black cherry at the forefront. You’ll have a hard time putting down your glass.

San Pedro Sideral 2016, Cachapoal Valley, Cachapoal Valley, Chile ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – Sideral is an upper end blend in San Pedro’s portfolio that shows off the winemaking talent of Gonzalo Castro. The 2016 incarnation is loaded with juicy freshness and a great deal of authentic fruit flavour.  Exceptionally concentrated, this blend of estate grown cabernet sauvignon, syrah, carmenère, cabernet franc and petit verdot is a balanced and very pleasurable drink now. Full-bodied with an old world inspired, Bordelaise character, this assemblage offers great structure while avoiding a drying mouthfeel. Well-priced given its level of complexity.

Lupa Malbec 2015 Malivoire Gamay 2017 San Pedro Sideral 2016

Sidewood Shiraz 2015,  Adelaide Hills, South Australia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Sidewood was founded in 2004 in the Mt Lofty Range east of Adelaide by Owen and Cassandra Inglis. This quite delicious shiraz has a pretty, nicely lifted nose of blueberry/blackcurrant jam, pine, mint and cracked peppercorn. It is a mid-weight, warm, smooth/glycerol and juicy with very well managed tannin. Medium full bodied, fairly thick and rich with some alcohol heat. Some greenness and licorice here too.
Sara d’Amato – This shiraz offers an expressive aromatic component due to its higher altitude fruit offering plenty of cool green herbal notes. Sweet violet, cassis and white pepper make this a ringer for a northern Rhône style. Midweight, fresh and zesty with a pleasant dynamic tension on the palate. Excellent value.

Wynns Coonawarra Estate The Siding Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Coonawarra, South Australia ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Wynn’s Sue Hodder delivers signature poise and integrity in this well-priced highly drinkable cabernet.  Expect fairly lifted blackcurrant/cassis candy with mint, dill herbality, even some florality and just right oak vanillin and spice. Lovely sense of purity. It is medium-full bodied, firm, lively and a touch hot, but the aromas stay focused to the end.

Nederburg Manor House Shiraz 2015,  Western Cape, South Africa ($16.95)
David Lawrason – Great value here. So much complexity and depth for the price! It has a generous nose of smoked meat, pepper, capers and dark berry fruit with well moderated oak. It is medium-full bodied, fairly dense, warm and tannic but the flavour concentration – with all its licorice, acai/cranberry and wild herbs is pretty good. The length is excellent.

Sidewood Shiraz 2015 Wynns Coonawarra Estate The Siding Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 Nederburg Manor House Shiraz 2015

And that’s it for this edition.  We will back next week with our European Picks

David Lawrason

VP of Wine

Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier’s Selections

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

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