Hot Times, Chile’s Rhône-ifcation, Tempting Tempranillos, Nifty Whites, and Stratus Meets Paul Hobbs -
Breaking News – On to Vintages June 9 release momentarily, but first, Parliament last night unanimously passed Bill C-311 opening up personal carrying and shipping of Canadian wine between provinces. The Canadian wine landscape just shifted. I am planning to write about reaction and ramifications in the days ahead, but in the meantime congratulations to Okanagan MP Dan Albas for getting his private members bill passed into law. WineAlign has been reviewing many winery-only BC wines for some time, and BC shoppers as well as those from other provinces can find a wealth of Ontario wines as well. Stay tuned!
Chile is the featured country in this release, and as colleague John Szabo has already pointed out – it is a very strong line-up. And I echo his praise for Concha Y Toro as the engine behind the quality of this particular group of wines, and perhaps Chile as a whole. To have such a powerful and conscientous leader sets the bar high for and inspires the rest of the country. Indeed I would argue that collectively the top companies of Chile – including Santa Rita/Carmen, Errazuriz and Montes – have done their country very proud as they have brought it into the forefront of the wine world in the past generation. I will return to Chile momentarily with an observation about its Rhone-ification, but first to the South of France itself.
Hot Times for Mediterranean France
If you have only recently registered for WineAlign you may not be aware that in the past year our critics have been doing handsprings over the red wines from the Rhône Valley and the South of France. It began with the arrival of the near-perfect 2009 vintage, and it continues with the excellent 2010s. The theme re-appears in this release with very well priced reds from various appellations in Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence. I would have grouped Saturday’s Rhône releases in this bunch as well because the Rhône Valley is at the heart of the matter, located between Provence and Languedoc, and using the same gang of grape varieties – with grenache, syrah, mourvedre, carigan and cinsault leading the way.
Bordeaux is about refinement, Burgundy is about energy, Mediterranean France is about richness and warmth. I spent a week in Rhône/Provence last month, and I can still feel the sun on my skin, smell the lavender scented garrigue in the air, and taste the ripe plum fruit, hot stones and melted licorice on my palate. I was staying near the foot of Mont Ventoux, only a few kilomtres from the beginning of a “wine road” that passes through Côtes du Rhône villages that are nestled against the hillsides of the Dentelles de Montmirail. Outings took me often through appellations like Beaumes-de-Venise, Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Sablet, Seguret and Rasteau; and I have begun to deliniate their individual styles, and to bond with them. I really enjoy Gigondas, for example, where limestone soils and slightly northwest skew imbue a certain finesse to the otherwise rich and lush wines. Seek out one of the last 80 remaining bottles of Pierre Amadieu Domaine Grand Romane Cuvée Prestige Gigondas that was released last December. The Chateau du Trignon 2006 being released Saturday is a good showcase for the finesse of Gigondas if missing a bit of depth.
But Vacqueyras, which was only granted Appellation d’Origin Contrôlée status in 1990, is the region that has somehow gotten deepest under my skin. It is the most rugged, warm and Rhônish – perhaps more like Châteauneuf-du-Pape the iconic appellation it faces across the flatter ground dissected by the Rhône River. But Vacqueyras wines are half the price of Châteauneuf. It’s aspect tilts more to the south, around the bend from Gigondas, and gets less effect of the northerly Mistral winds that cool. The soils here are very sandy, dry and stony creating wines that are very ripe, powerful and somehow dusty, like the excellent Romain Duvernay Vacqueyras 2009 ($24.95). The conditions here also attract organic and biodynamic winemakers, and although I have not yet tasted grenache-based Montirius le Clos Vacqueyras 2007 ($28.95), I will buying a few bottles Saturday to add to my dwindling batch of 2006 purchased last year. This is beefy, deep bio- red indeed!
The huge, rambling Languedoc-Roussillon region to the west of the Rhône Valley offers even better value than the Rhône itself – but I would need to stay there a year to figure out the complex permutations of soil, aspect, maritime proximity and altitude (hmm, not a bad idea). “The Midi” was a land that time seemed to forget as modern-day fine wine production focused on other regions of France and the New World, but it is now emerging – largely thanks to sons and daughters and few foreigners – to take its rightful place. By and large its wines are still priced under $25, which might make some shy away in fear that the wines might be inferior. Well most are actually under-priced, like Mont Tauch Le Tauch 2009 from the appellation of Fitou, which given its rich, succulent melted licorice palate is a steal at $19.95. Likewise the 2009 Hegarty Chamans No. 2 from Minervois at $21.95. I have not scored/reviewed this at press time due to a hint of cork taint in one bottle but it is a hugely impressive, rich red farmed biodynamically on 15 ha of clay-limestone surrounded by woodlands on the slopes of the Montaigne Noir in Minervois. I will re-taste on release.
We have all come to associate Chile with Bordeaux varieties like cabernet sauvignon, carmenère and merlot, largely because these varieties were all that mattered in the wine world when the various waves of European immigrants arrived, first in the post-phylloxera era of the late 19th Century, then 100 years later when the Bordelais (Rothschilds) and Californians (Mondavi) flew in to create iconic Bordeaux-inspired blends. If you wanted to be a “somebody” in the wine world in the 80s and 90s you had to make great cabernet-based wine.
But Chile, as a scan of the atlas will tell you, is more Mediterranean in clime, and so is California for that matter. That means the aforementioned Rhône grape varieties should do very well in Chile, and they do. But the first syrah was only planted by Errazruiz in 1993! My greatest revelation in Chilean wine came about three years ago when I was tasting at De Martino, which brought out some wonderfully, rich, fragrant and ripe Viejas Tinajas harvested from 100 year old carignan vines planted in heart red soils in coastal mountains in the Itata region far to the south.
Emiliana Signos de Origen la Vinilla 2010 are Rhone varieties, and at $19.95 it offers great value in buxom grill-ready white, and an intriguing flavour journey where the spicy persimmon-like marsanne and anise scented viognier in particular hold their own. I would love to see the result without any chardonnay mollification.
Among reds 2008 Oveja Negra The Lost Barrel ($24.95) is a successful composite of 40% syrah, 40% old vine carignan, plus carmenère and petit verdot from a new project in the Maule Valley by Edgard Carter, formerly of Errazuriz. And finally, we witness the return of Maycas del Limari Reserva Especial Syrah 2008 ($19.95) from the Limarí Valley of northern Chile. Syrah in particular seems well suited to this region, where direct coastal influence sweeps inland across rolling terrain that is underpinned by limestone soils that are fairly rare in Chile.
I’ve always had a hard time nailing the character of Spain’s tempranillo grape. This is partially because it is such a chameleon in its homeland, changing its personality according to its terroir, quite naturally so. But Spain’s historical penchant for ageing its reds a long time in oak and subsuming the fruit doesn’t help. Wouldn’t you know that it has taken a couple of off-shore tempranillo’s to help with the task. First came Tar & Roses 2011 Tempranillo from Victoria, Australia that will be released in July (watch for a special WineAlign report on Victoria). Amid this less oaked version I found the bright cherry fruit I recognized as tempranillo (especially in young less oaky wines from Ribera del Duero). Then, on this release, came Zuccardi Q Tempranillo 2008($19.95) from the Santa Rosa Vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina. It too is heavily oaked in a nod to the old country, but the fruit is so ripe and rich in sunny Mendoza that it shines through, again with the brightness of a fresh baked cherry pie (if with mocha nut ice cream on the side). Love the rich texture here too, by the way – this slightly different style of big red is ideal for the barbecue.
If your tastes lean more to the classical interpretation on tempranillo a la Rioja, don’t miss the riveting Fernández de Piérola Rioja Reserva 2004 at $25.95. With its share of farmy funk, and mature nutty, oaky character it will not appeal to all perhaps, but as mentioned before I like some farmy funk in my wines as long as it doesn’t send the fruit out to pasture. And this has lovely cherry-currant fruit and all kinds of other complexity set in an elegant, piquant frame.
Nifty Summer Whites
It’s becoming a tradition to group some of my favourite whites into a little corner of their own. I might add that whites of this type – meaning bright, purely reflective of their origins and inexpensive – find their way onto my personal shopping lists more than reds – especially at this time of year. My white wine fridge is always full, indeed sometimes choked up with favourites from releases last year or the year before. And yes I have a separate 60 bottle white wine unit with temperature lowered for immediate drinking – the best cellaring/wine enjoyment strategy I have ever employed.
Ontario of course is prime territory for crisp, pure summer whites. On this release I refer you to Coyote’s Run Black Paw Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 ($21.95) from the Four Mile Creek appellation in Niagara. Winemaker David Sheppard, who worked many years for Inniskillin, can turn out some fine, elegant wines. Sometimes I feel Coyote’s Run is trying to make too many wines (they are not alone in Niagara in this) but I always pay attention to their single vineyard Black Paw offerings, one of the finest little “crus” in Niagara. From Marlborough, New Zealand don’t miss Hunter’s Jane Hunter Sauvignon Blanc 2011, a crisp, crunchy, mouth-watering steal at $19.95. And here we are back in the south of France to close out the selection. Les Piliers Viognier 2010, wearing nothing but the new Vin de France appellation label, offers very good viognier character, purity and ease of drinking for only $15.95. In 2010 Vin De France was created to allow varietal labelling of wines that might have been blended from anywhere in France. Critics at the time bemoaned the loss of ‘heritage’ and predicted French wine would become as homogenized as Coca-Cola, which of course is alarmist sound-bite nonsense. This is indeed a nifty viognier indeed, and still as French as can be.
Stratus Debuts at the ROM
Next Thursday, June 14, Stratus Vineyards is holding a tasting at C5 Restaurant at the Royal Ontario Museum that debuts three new wines, each made in consultation with California and Argentina-based oenologist Paul Hobbs. All from 2009, they include a Chardonnay, Malbec and Syrah. Other new releases will also be featured. For tickets ($45), which include food by ROM chef Corbin Tomaszeski, click here.
I was able to taste the wines and meet Paul Hobbs in Toronto in late April. The very talented Californian, who I have been following since he made his first pinots in Sonoma over 20 years ago, did not have much direct influence on the Stratus 2009s as his contract only began that year. But he has already had impact in terms of viticultural methods to lower yields and introducing winemaker J. L Groux to techniques to handle fermentation with native yeasts. Hobbs said in April that he is very keen on chardonnay in Ontario, and also sees potential for malbec and syrah. He actually grew up in wine country - Niagara County, New York.
To check out my reviews on many of the new Stratus wines, simply type Stratus into the WineAlign Search field and scroll away (or click here).
Wynns Tasting with Sue Hodder
A few tickets remain for the WineAlign exclusive tastings with Wynn’s winemaker Sue Hodder in Ottawa (June 19) and Toronto (June 20). Rod Phillips will lead the Ottawa event at the Empire Grill, I will host Sue in Toronto at the Arcadian Lofts. I have met and tasted with this fine winemaker several times, most recently on her turf in Coonawarra, South Australia in 2011. The day was a revelation. She will modestly tell you that much of the great improvement to Wynn’s wines has come from incredible viticulture research by the Wynn’s team, but there is a certain natural polish, richness and elegance that reflects the winemaker too. The full list of wines to be tasted, plus ticket purchasing info is available here .
And that’s it for this edition. I have tasted about 60% of this release (missed the rosés and sparklers), but I will attempt to fill in the holes in the days ahead after the wines are released.
From the June 9th, 2012 Vintages release:
VP of Wine