First Look and Top Picks
For premium wine lovers in Ontario, the Vintages Taste the Classics event – a preview of wines likely to be released in early-2014 as part of the Classics Collection (which can also be ordered by phone right away – 416-365-5767 or toll-free at 1-800-266-4764) – was long overdue. Held last week in the illustrious Governor’s Room at the Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex (Exhibition Place), a sold-out crowd of eager connoisseurs were on hand to taste over 65 wines from around the winegrowing world.
Though it may come as a surprise to some, the LCBO is surprisingly adept at hosting events like these. From outstanding wines to an overabundance of food accompaniments (offered to ensure that inebriated guests depart the event on a full stomach), my only bone to pick is that such events aren’t held with much greater frequency. For one thing, the public can’t seem to get enough of them, which would seem to indicate that most of the costs of arranging such shindigs are essentially recuperated. Just as important, the events should be more than just two and a half hours in duration so as to allow for enough time to taste all the wines properly. After all, the spittoon is a marvellous invention…
Here are a few selections from the November 2013 Taste the Classics event:
Domaine Christian Moreau 2011 Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru ($65.00) is a perfect reminder that some famous French wines remain underpriced. I’m actually quite serious: great Chablis is truly as every bit as fine as its counterparts in the Côte de Beaune (think Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet). The ’11 Les Clos will benefit from decanting if consumed young.
Château de Beaucastel 2011 Vieilles Vignes Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc ($159.00) shall likely breach the ‘perfection barrier’ over the next several years. Crafted from 100% Roussanne, this omnipotent offering is worth every penny, and will likely keep for well over thirty years. Decant vigorously if enjoyed at a more youthful stage of development.
Domaine Weinbach 2009 Cuvée St-Catherine Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling ($74.00) is one of the greatest wines from this celebrated Alsatian producer. A dynamic combination of intensity and elegance, it’s wines like these that have been known to convert many a non-Riesling drinker to born-again status. Decanting is recommended.
Domaine Jean-Marc Morey 2010 Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets Premier Cru ($77.00) is sourced from one of the greatest sites in Chassagne-Montrachet, a commune that deserves (nearly) as much praise its neighbour Puligny-Montrachet to the north. For white burgundy lovers, this is not to be missed. Decanting is advisable.
Casanova di Neri 2007 Brunello di Montalcino ($63.00) is one of the best bargains for premium wines around. An overachiever in more ways than one, Brunello lovers unfamiliar with the wines of Casanova di Neri are doing themselves a serious disservice by not ordering a case of the ’07 right away! Decanting is warranted.
Paulo Scavino 2005 Bric dël Fiasc Barolo ($123.00) comes from one of the top sites within the commune of Castiglione Faletto and is a truly sensational wine, despite hailing from a more challenging vintage. Drinking fabulously now, this will also probably keep to the end of the next decade. Decanting is highly recommended.
Penfolds 2008 Grange ($750.00) is the best, most perfect vintage since the indomitable ’98, for which chief winemaker Peter Gago ought to be immensely proud. A candidate for super-long cellaring, this will probably take around ten years just to fully harmonize, which means those wishing to drink this now ought to undertake a double-decanting to get the most out of it.
Domaine Antonin Guyon 2010 Corton Clos du Roy Grand Cru ($99.00) is a stellar red burgundy of exemplary finesse and breed. All too often, the best red Cortons are overlooked for more prestigious wines in the communes further north, from Vosne-Romanée to Gevrey-Chambertin. What a shame. Decanting is arguably unnecessary.
Domaine de la Janasse 2011 Vieilles Vignes Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($123.00) is the top bottling of this exquisite domaine. From a vintage many have already written off, this stunning Châteauneuf is not only drinking phenomenally now (good for people like me who enjoy rack of lamb for Christmas) but will keep for decades to come. Decanting is compulsory.
Jonata 2007 El Desafío de Jonata ($145.00) is an astonishing blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, the rest Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. From one of the most lauded operations in the Santa Ynez Valley, the sheer decadence and copiousness of this wine is incredible. Decanting is compulsory.
Vega Sicilia 2003 Único ($424.00) comes from one of the most celebrated wineries in Spain. The flagship bottling of the establishment, the ’03 (from one of the hottest vintages on record) is what you’d expect: dramatically opulent, polished, and seductive. Drink now with absolute pleasure of hold for a few decades. Decanting is obligatory.
Castello dei Rampolla 2007 d’Alceo ($195.00) is the flagship label of this exemplary winery, delivering incredible sophistication and structure. A blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Petit Verdot, this is a very special Super Tuscan of glorious stylization and stature. Perhaps a tad unwieldy at the present stage, decanting is essential should patient cellaring prove untenable.
Wish They Were Here:
Champagne tasting in Chicago:
On 29 October 2013, I attended a large-scale champagne function hosted by the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) in downtown Chicago. A one-day trip to the Windy City to delve through copious quantities of champagne. What was I thinking? Did I not realize how tiring such an adventure would leave me, to say nothing of the effects of systematically examining several dozen different samples of bubbly before flying back home? Were it not for spittoons (used almost exclusively), I might not have made it back in one piece, it was that tiring a jaunt.
In fact, the day (at time of writing) is not even over. With half an hour left until boarding and nothing productive to do, one might question my decision to begin this column under a cloud of acute mental and physical exhaustion. But efficient use of time knows few obstacles, plus many of the greatest wines of the day remain fresh in my mind.
To get the ball rolling: a luncheon held at NoMI at the Park Hyatt. This was my first face-to-face meeting with Sam Heitner, head of the Champagne Bureau US (a subsidiary of the CIVC) and an inveterate, Templar-like defender of champagne labelling laws. According to Heitner (whose last name is eerily similar to my own), the name of ‘champagne’ has been misleadingly used on labels of sparkling wine produced outside of Champagne for decades. For Heitner and many other likes him (I count myself among them), this has been a considerable detriment to the quality of sparkling wine produced in the actual winegrowing region of Champagne—in other words, that which is the genuine article.
As the main promotional body of the region, the CIVC has worked tirelessly to correct this, painstakingly negotiating with government authorities worldwide to ensure that only sparkling wine produced in Champagne is labelled as such. Taken as a whole, their successes have been plentiful, as increasing numbers of countries throughout the world (especially those producing sparkling wine) have come to legally recognize that the integrity of ‘champagne’ is unequivocally dependent on the adequate protection of its namesake.
Canada is set to become one such nation. As of 1 January 2014, Canadian winegrowers will no longer be permitted to use the name ‘champagne’ on any wine label, no matter how qualitatively sound (or poor) the contents of any given bottle might be. This means ‘President Champagne’ or ‘Baby Canadian Champagne’ will be going the way of the dodo, or at very least relabeled. As for the increasing number of Canadian growers nowadays producing ever-better quality sparkling wine via the ‘Classic Method’ (the same method by which champagne is produced), such wines will be mostly unaffected by the new rules coming into effect. Virtually none of them use the name ‘champagne’ on their labels, anyway.
Here are a few champagne selections:
Bollinger 2004 La Grande Année Brut ($139.00) is an absolute darling of a champagne, representing one of my top choices from this exceptional vintage. A blend of 66% Pinot Noir and 34% Chardonnay, this will keep with little fuss over the next dozen years or more, but why wait?
Louis Roederer NV Premier Brut ($63.95) might not have been available to taste at the Classics event, though it unquestionably remains one of the best buys around. From the same house that produces Cristal, this has long been one of my favourite ‘standby’ champagnes.
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