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Catena: Man (and Daughter) of the Year – by Lesley Fraser

Catena: Man (and Daughter) of the Year

The talented and driven Laura Catena was in Toronto recently, promoting the Argentine wines of Bodega Catena Zapata.  Her visit was part of the ongoing celebration and promotion of  her father’s – Nicolas Catena’s – recently bestowed honour as Decanter magazine’s Man of the Year – the first time a South American has received the award.

Laura and Nicolas Catena

Laura and Nicolas Catena

Catena and their Canadian importers, Calibrium International, have partnered with several restaurants in Toronto and Ottawa to create special prix fixe menus showcasing Catena wines. Available from Monday, October 26 until Sunday, November 8 at Amuse Bouche, C5 at the ROM, Niagara St. Café, Victor, Delux, and The Harbord Room in Toronto, and Navarra in Ottawa.

But the real stories are Laura Catena herself and the work being done with the high-end portfolio presented at a Calibrium media tasting.  As well as being VP of Catena, Laura works as an ER physician, has two kids, and has written a book, out next fall, about Argentina and its wines. She has all the energy and intelligence of her father, who earned his Decanter recognition for putting Argentina’s wine industry on the map in the late 1980s .

With its focus on quality and its determination to explore the full potential of high altitude viticulture in the exciting Valle de Uco (a sub-region of Mendoza), Catena remains one of the touchstones of the industry, having lost no ground to the swell of new wineries in the world’s fifth largest wine-producing region.

Catena produces some lower-end wines (Alamos and Catena), but the focus of this tasting was the high end of their portfolio: the single-varietal Catena Alta wines that are blends of fruit from premier sites; two single-vineyard high-altitude malbecs that have been produced only since 2004; and the icon wines — the Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino and the Nicolas Catena Zapata Bordeaux blend.

Malbec is Argentina’s calling card to the world, and Catena Zapata achieves something very special with it, but to my mind the standouts of the tasting were the chardonnay and the Nicolas Catena Zapata cabernet/malbec blend. Interestingly, quality chardonnay and cabernet were what Nicolas Catena always dreamed of making, and they were his first plantings — he cultivated malbec only because he thought he owed it to his father. He feels that as the high altitude cabernet vineyards in the Valle de Uco mature they’ll give great wines, and at some point the market will discover them. And if malbec’s best role is to play support to cab, is there any real shame in that?

 2006 Catena Alta Chardonnay

2006 Catena Alta Chardonnay

Catena Alta 2006 Chardonnay ($39, February 2010, Vintages). Laura takes obvious pride in this wine — she insisted it be included in the tasting. It’s gorgeous, with a very refined nose of citrus, mineral, subtle buttered toast and a slight oxidative, bruised apple character. It opens to reveal floral notes of wild honey, blossoms and butterscotch. The palate is dry and elegant: it’s smoky and creamy, with excellent fruit concentration balanced by terrific acidity. Very well integrated, top quality oak. Perfectly balanced, lively and zesty, it will continue to develop for several years. Outstanding finish.

2006 Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon

2006 Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon

Catena Alta 2006 Cabernet ($50, November 2009, Vintages). Shows the same refinement as the chardonnay. The nose is ripe and herbaceous with concentrated black fruit, savoury cedar and inky blueberry. On the palate it’s very concentrated without being heavy handed. It’s medium to full bodied with a distinct freshness and brightness. There’s a perfect balance of fruit, acidity and fine-grained tannins. Excellent length. (Review of 2005 vintage)

2006 Catena Alta Malbec

2006 Catena Alta Malbec

Catena Alta 2006 Malbec ($56, November 2009, Vintages). This demonstrates the power and complexity that malbec’s capable of. Inky purple in the glass, the nose is complex with violets, tobacco, coffee and black fruit. There’s a woodsy rusticity that adds to the intrigue. On the palate, plummy sweetness is nicely offset by powerful tannins. Smoke, leather and licorice add savoury character. Full bodied yet restrained, with bright, bold fruit and great power. Excellent finish. (Review of 2005 vintage)

Catena Zapata 2005 Nicasia Vineyard Malbec

Catena Zapata 2005 Nicasia Vineyard Malbec

Catena Zapata 2005 Nicasia Vineyard Malbec ($70, private order). Nicasia is located in the Altamira sub-region of Valle de Uco and sits at 1200m. The nose is perfumed, delicate and very refined, with lifted cedar, pepper, violets and ripe fruit. A creamy texture and fine-grained tannins give it a very elegant mouthfeel. There’s none of malbec’s frequent heaviness at the centre, and it’s very balanced across the palate. Medium to full bodied, with perceptible – but not ungainly– warmth on the outstanding finish.

Catena Zapata 2005 Adrianna Vineyard Malbec

Catena Zapata 2005 Adrianna Vineyard Malbec

Catena Zapata 2005 Adrianna Vineyard Malbec ($70, private order). The Adrianna Vineyard is located in the Tupungato sub-region of the Valle de Uco, and, at almost 1500 m, it is the highest altitude malbec vineyard in all of Mendoza. Intense sunlight produces thick-skinned grapes and wines with big flavour and aromatics. The Adrianna is headier than the Nicasia but conveys more power than perfume. Black fruit, graphite, chocolate and violets are prevalent. The palate is rich, fleshy and concentrated with leather, black cherry and sweet plum. Powerful tannins give excellent grip, but they’re perfectly balanced by the fruit. This could easily age another five years. Outstanding length.

Catena Zapata 2005 Malbec Argentino

Catena Zapata 2005 Malbec Argentino

Catena Zapata 2005 Malbec Argentino ($83, private order). A blend of fruit from the Adrianna and Nicasia vineyards. As with all Catena’s high-end wines, the picking is done in three separate passes through the vineyard, but here the percentage of very ripe grapes from the third pass is higher, giving it a lush, extracted character. The floral perfume blends with deeper black fruit and licorice. The palate is powerful, dense and macho, with cassis, cedar, sweet spice and smoke predominating.  Outstanding length.

Nicolas Catena Zapata 2005

Nicolas Catena Zapata 2005

Nicolas Catena Zapata 2005 ($83, LCBO virtual). A blend of cabernet sauvignon (78%) and malbec (22%), this wine is stunning. The appeal is immediate in the complex nose of cedar, tobacco, subtle black fruit, toast and spice. Lifted and harmonious, it has the careful balance of good Bordeaux. On the palate, ripe, very well integrated tannins perfectly counter the black currant and plum fruit. Leather, tobacco and delicate spicy toast give it a restrained, classic style. Outstanding length and excellent quality.

Lesley Fraser is working with David Lawrason as an editor, writer, and wine educator. She is a certified sommelier, through the International Sommelier Guild, and has completed the Wine and Spirit Education Trust’s Diploma with Merit. She has a background in hospitality and wine sales and is Director of Education for Brix Wine.

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B.C.’s Better Way – by David Lawrason

Last Saturday British Columbia’s Liquor Distribution Branch staged an in-store release of 28 premium B.C. wines in their annual fall Best of B.C.’s promotion.  On October 3 it released, in its 23 signature stores, 68 top Bordeaux 2006s.  This too is an annual release, as in something planned that consumers and suppliers can rely on.  Just two small examples of a system that works better than Ontario’s LCBO,

But there are many more.  In B.C. there is no “classics catalogue” with lottery-like maybe-you’ll-get-it-maybe-you-want shenanigans for small lot wines.   No virtual on-line sales that involve passwords, or emails about wines will or won’t arrive at a place you can pick them up (on line sales can work but don’t work well in Ontario).  Imagine just going to the store and picking up the bottles same day.  Or sending a surrogate armed with a handy booklet in which you have checked off which bottles to buy.

It gets better.  The BCLDB doesn’t have a separate Vintages or specialty stores or sections at all.  Every wine from one country appears in that country’s section, those at $9.99 beside those at $99.99 and everything in between (except for the triple digit wines that are under lock and key to prevent shoplifting).  What a great opportunity for the trade to “up-sell”, and for shoppers to get a comparative and realistic sense of the quality and value of wines they are buying.

There are indeed always-available wines like those on Ontario’s general list. Then side by side there are specialty listings that are in lesser supply and may not be in all stores. But those wines just arrive when they arrive (no bi-monthly releases) and sell out when they sell out. And if they sell well they are bought again by the BCLDB and earn themselves a regular berth, until they stop selling.  Gee, that makes sense to me, allowing suppliers an ability to build brands, and consumers an opportunity to buy favourites on a regular basis.

Wait, still better!  B.C. wine lovers have – count’em – three other retail options. There are a few private fine wine merchants in certain areas with the population base to support them. This broadens B.C’s pallet of small lot, fine wines enormously. There are countless so-called cold beer and wine shops selling lower priced wines and beers. And finally there are VQA stores selling nothing but B.C. VQA wine, with a wide ranging selection – a program that has made B.C. wine the largest selling regional wine in B.C.

So why is B.C. so much better than Ontario?  Because the B.C. government has given up on the notion that it must be a monopoly retailer of alcohol. Allowing even a degree of privatization and competition quickly forced the retailing of wine down its rightful paths. Like opening a damn and watching it flow through natural channels across a wider landscape.

The moment Dalton McGuinty pulls that philosophical plug the same will happen in Ontario.  And he can do all this for Ontario consumers  with the stroke of a pen, making more money for Ontario’s now-debt laden treasury, and at the same time removing many of the political issues choking and poisoning our local wine industry.  His own Beverage Alcohol Review of 2005 has already told him that, but he threw it in the garbage days before a liquor board employees strike deadline.

C’mon Dalton, face down OPSEU and MADD and do the right thing.

- David Lawrason

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Aussie Spotlight Exposes Hits and Misses


“The 20 Australian wines in the Oct 24 release are positioned in the Vintages catalogue as a regional exploration, which is the direction Australia is going, and needs to go, to tell the world its wines are not all the same. However, the general quality of this bunch is not high enough, and the sampling is not broad enough, to clearly expose regional differences in the glass.  As well, some of the cheaper wines are simply not very good and express no regional character at all.  Somewhere in all this lies the current dilemma for Australian wine.  It may be drilling down into regionalism, but the country has lost its overall lustre to a degree.  I hate to say it, but I am a bit bored with the never-ending torrent of new brands, including all those too cute but ultimately disconnected names like Skuttlebutt.  It has lost its value quotient to an even greater degree. There are great wines being made, without a doubt – the Two Hands Bella’s Garden Shiraz is terrific at $64. But try to find great value under $20, and it’s just not there, at least not in this release.  Only the Tamar Ridge 2008 Riesling and the Yarra Ridge 2008 Pinot work at the price.

Elsewhere in the release, port is featured – and you must buy the Offley Ten Year Old that leads off David’s Half Dozen at 94 points.  But again, overall this feature disappoints, largely because the selection is small and Vintages is trying too hard to keep so many wines under $20.  By the way, I am not sure if Croft’s Pink Port qualifies as an innovative step in the right direction, but it is the first pink port I’ve tasted, and it’s decent.

Chateau des Charmes of Niagara is featured as well, with three wines, and the 2007 Gewurztraminer is quite good, but overall it’s not an inspired selection. The Bosc family is doing great viticultural development work and has contributed so much to the local industry over the years.  They can make brilliant white wines and icewines, but their reds are usually very rustic (except for gamay). I would love to see the winemaking hit the heights their maturing vineyards are capable of reaching, with a general sprucing up of their style to accompany the new labels that appear this fall.”

-  David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

Click here to see ranked lists and reviews of close to 100 wines in this release.

David’s Half Dozen

Whites
TAMAR RIDGE DEVIL'S CORNER RIESLING 2008
138289 TAMAR RIDGE DEVIL’S CORNER RIESLING 2008
Tasmania, Australia,
$18.95  90pts

WAIMEA SAUVIGNON BLANC 2008
WAIMEA SAUVIGNON BLANC 2008 Nelson, New Zealand
$17.95  90pts

QUINTA DOS CARVALHAIS DUQUE DE VISEU WHITE 2008
QUINTA DOS CARVALHAIS DUQUE DE VISEU WHITE 2008 DOC Dão, Portugal
$12.95  88pts

Reds
Le SERRE NUOVE DELL' ORNELLAIA  2007
Le SERRE NUOVE
DELL’ ORNELLAIA 2007
Bolgheri Rosso, Tuscany $59.95  93pts

DESCENDIENTES DE J. PALACIOS PÉTALOS 2007
DESCENDIENTES DE J. PALACIOS PÉTALOS 2007
DO Bierzo, Spain
$23.95  91pts

OFFLEY BARON OF FORRESTER 10 YEARS OLD TAWNY PORT
OFFLEY BARON OF FORRESTER 10 YEARS OLD TAWNY PORT
DOC Douro, Portugal
$25.95  94pts

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Turkey with Italian Red?

“You might well ask, given Vintages’ feature release of Italian reds on Thanksgiving weekend. And guess what? It’s not a bad notion.  Consider that cranberryish pinot noir is the classic red match for turkey.  Italian reds have that same nervous acidity, savoury complexity, and sour red fruit, especially if they hail from the northern regions like Piedmont, Veneto and, to some extent, Tuscany.  They may be even better than pinot because they have more weight to stand up to not only the dense turkey meat (especially the dark) but the stuffing and all the trimmings. I suspect several wines from the following will be excellent with Big Bird:  Remo Farina Ripasso Valpolicella, Trerose Vino Nobile Di MontepulcianoLa Spinona Bricco Faset Barbaresco and Malgrà Fornace Di Cerreto Barbera D’asti Superiore… This release, Vintages continues its string of excellent quality, great value German rieslings, young and old.  I can’t believe some of these golden beauts are landing at under $20. Try the idiosyncratic Studert-Prüm 2004 Riesling Spätlese Wehlener Sonnehur… Ontario whites shine in this release, every bit as good quality and excellent value as their international competition.  Look for Flat Rock’s 2008 Unplugged Chardonnay; the shimmering, taut Thirty Bench 2008 Riesling; and the quite luxurious, yet well-balanced, 90-point Inniskillin 2007 Montague Chardonnay that makes the list of David’s Half Dozen. Ever so quietly, winemaker Bruce Nicholson has been moving Inniskillin back to the quality forefront.”

-  David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign
Click here to see ranked lists and reviews of close to 100 wines in this release.

David’s Half Dozen

Whites
Schloss Reinhartshausen Riesling Spätlese 2007
Schloss Reinhartshausen Riesling Spätlese 2007, Rheingau, Germany  $23.95, 91pts

Inniskillin Winemaker's Series Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2007
Inniskillin Winemaker’s Series Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2007, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula  $18.95 90pts

Tedeschi Capitel Tenda Soave Classico 2008
Tedeschi Capitel Tenda Soave Classico 2008, DocVeneto, Italy $15.95  90pts

Reds
Miguel Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
Miguel Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Do Penedès, Spain  $44.95 92pts

Il Grigio Da San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva 2005
Il Grigio Da San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva 2005, Docg,Tuscany, Italy  $28.95 91pts

Volpaia Citto 2007
Volpaia Citto 2007, Tuscany, Italy $13.95  89pts

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Cellared In Canada Controversy

There has been lots of discussion recently about Cellared In Canada (CIC) wines. If you don’t know, there is a common international practice of making wine by mixing imported wine from different countries. In Canada there is some controversy around our current labeling standards and the potential for consumers to be confused between wines that are ‘Cellared’ In Canada (mainly foreign wine) and wines made with 100% Canadian grapes (VQA). In keeping with our mission of providing consumers with the most objective information possible, we have created a new Cellared In Canada region and have re-classified all CIC wines from Ontario and British Columbia in this new region. Wines classified as CIC will no longer be presented when you are searching for wines from Canada, Ontario, or BC.

Cellared In Canada Filter

Cellared In Canada Filter

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Vincor and Andrew Peller pledge new labels to deal with Cellared In Canada Controversy

VANCOUVER SUN — Two of Canada’s largest winemakers said Thursday they are going to change the labeling of their bulk import wines in response to consumer backlash over selling them as B.C. wine.

They never intended to mislead consumers, John Peller, president of Andrew Peller Ltd. and Eric Morham, president of Vincor Canada, said in an exclusive interview with the editorial board of The Vancouver Sun. New label concepts are already in the works, they said.

“We’ve heard the feedback loud and clear,” said Peller.

See full article via Vancouver Sun

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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008