John Szabo, MS
Image Makeover: More. Cooler. Australia; Top Ten Smart Buys and a Chilean Trio
In the span of a just few months, Australia’s image in Ontario has received a complete makeover courtesy of the LCBO’s Vintage department. It’s hard to say precisely how and why this occurred. Perhaps it’s owed to strong lobbying from Wine Australia. Or maybe it was a momentary engagement of reason and vision from Head Office. I’d like to think that it was due to the inevitable realization that Ontarian wine drinkers have grown up and want something more than a peanut butter and jam sandwich, at least once in a while. Whatever the reason, the Vintages October 13th release has a handful of absolute gems that will shift your image of Australian wines from PB&Js to haute cuisine.
The Top Ten is back of course, highlighting a quartet of sub-$15, dangerously drinkable bottles, as well as a pair of worthy $35+ wines that deliver high on the typicity scale, and a few more in between. I also recommend a trio of Chilean wines, the mini-feature of the release. Sharpen your corkscrews (or prepare to twist).
More, Cooler, Australia
The makeover started back in the summer, when a large feature covering the wines of Victoria hit the shelves at Vintages. WineAlign covered the release with undisguised enthusiasm, with both David Lawrason and I welcoming the long-awaited introduction of some of the more regionally distinctive and sophisticated wines from this cool state (re-visit my report from July 21st 2012, Australia’s New Cool). Subsequent releases have seen several more fine Australian wines trickle in, with another sizable batch arriving for the August 4th release. And now, the October 13th release features Australia yet again, moving beyond Victoria (although there are some excellent Victorian wines here again) into other regions, notably the Barossa Valley in South Australia, and Margaret River in Western Australia.
This release wasn’t the first time I have come across the wines of Spinifex in the Barossa Valley. That happy moment came courtesy of Wine Australia and educator Mark Davidson, who put on a master class dubbed the “finest shiraz tasting ever assembled outside of Australia” at the Court of Master Sommeliers first annual Conference in Pebble Beach, California in January 2010. The 2006 Spinifex Indigène Shiraz-Mourvèdre was in a line up that included wines from Wendouree, Clonakilla, Giaconda, Craiglee, Mount Langi Ghiran and of course Penfolds’ Grange, among several others, all astoundingly good producers. The point of the tasting was to remind a bunch of jaded master sommeliers that Australia has depth and diversity, not to mention class and elegance and regional diversity, within the repertoire of its flagship grape.
So I was delighted to spot the 2010 Spinifex Bête Noir Shiraz ($49.95) and the 2010 Spinifex Papillon Grenache/Cinsault/Carignan/Shiraz ($29.95), as I walked into the LCBO lab to cover the release back in early September. Spinifex is a decade-old, micro-negociant operation run by husband and wife team Peter Schell and Magali Gely. They source fruit from small growers in the Barossa and Eden Valleys, specializing in Mediterranean varieties (shiraz, mourvèdre, grenache, cinsault, carignan, ugni blanc, grenache gris, marsanne and semillon) – Gely’s family were vignerons in the south of France for generations, and Schell has worked six of the last ten harvests in France, in regions as diverse as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Provence, and the Languedoc. They produce a wide range of varietal and blended wines, all with a guileless purity.
Not surprisingly, there’s a distinctive old world sensibility to Spinifex’s wines, a refinement that comes without sacrificing the generosity and fleshiness that defines Barossa wines. The Bête Noir is an absolutely brilliant Aussie shiraz, with significant depth and grip, smoky-black pepper character, wild herbs and faded violets, along with pure cassis and black berry flavours. The palate offers outstanding poise and balance, tight acids, refined tannins and long finish. The intriguing Papillon blend is very nearly as good, with wonderfully pure and vibrant sweet red berry, strawberry-raspberry fruit, and loads of dusty earth and savoury herb character, not to mention a beguilingly pleasant bitter tinge on the finish. Both are paradigm shifters.
Fraser Gallop in Margaret River, Western Australia, is another decade-old operation whose sights are set at the top level. Site selection with the goal of producing top Bordeaux blends as well as chardonnay commenced in 1998, with the search quickly leading to the upper Wilyabrup district of Margaret River, just 6km from the Indian Ocean. With already established neighbors like Vasse Felix, Moss Wood and Cullen, it seemed clear that this was the ideal spot to realize their goals. In 2006, former Vasse Felix winemaker Clive Otto was brought aboard to lead the winemaking team, and the results are excellent.
Attention to detail is evident in the three Fraser Gallop wines in this release: 2009 Fraser Gallop Cabernet Sauvignon Wilyabrup, ($45.95), 2010 Fraser Gallop Cabernet/Merlot ($29.95) and the 2011 Fraser Gallop Chardonnay ($28.95). But for my money, I’ll save up and pay the extra $15 for the spectacular, arch-Bordeaux-like 2009 Wilyabrup cabernet. Be forewarned that it needs significant air to emerge from its shell – decant for an hour ahead – or cellar for another 2-4 years. But the palate is balanced and composed, succulent and dense without excess weight. All in all, it’s a refined and polished, elegant wine with a terrifically long finish.
There’s also a pair of chardonnays from Victoria well worth drawing your attention to, namely the 2010 Yabby Lake Single Vineyard Chardonnay ($39.95) and the 2011 Oakridge Over the Shoulder Chardonnay ($24.95). I had the opportunity to meet and taste with Yabby Lake founding vineyard manager Keith Harris this past July during the International Cool Climate Celebration in Niagara. Harris is a viticultural pragmatist, leaving nothing to chance, with as deep an understanding of Mornington Peninsula terroir as anyone. Tom Carson, formerly of Yering Station and Coldstream Hills in the Yarra Valley, was hired in 2006 to transform Harris’ fruit into leading regional wines. The 2010 is a polished, complex, subtle and mineral, distinctly cool climate style chardonnay, with succulent and fleshy yet focused palate and excellent length. It’s worthy of the premium price.
Oakridge was one of the pioneers of the Yarra Valley, opening up shop in 1978. The Over the Shoulder range is the estate’s entry line, aimed at delivering a fresh, vibrant, low alcohol, pure varietal expression. The 2011 Chardonnay does just that; it’s restrained, with no oak detectable, while acids are tight and taught. I love the cut and vibrancy of this, a great ceviche wine.
Highlights from the Top Ten Smart Buys
Fans of superb value, zesty, food-friendly wines should consider adding these four sub-$15 wines to their shopping lists:
2011 Beauvignac Picpoul de Pinet, Coteaux de Languedoc, France $12.95
2010 Terredora Falanghina, Campania, Italy $14.95
2010 Henry of Pelham Gamay, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula $14.95
2008 Quinta de Baixo Tinto, Bairrada, Portugal $14.95
The Beauvignac picpoul has been coming into Ontario for many years now, but this is easily the best to date. It’s delightfully fruity and fresh, with inviting citrus and just-ripe orchard fruit (pear, nectarine, white peach) flavours. Acids are brisk, and the finish remarkably long. Not at all what you’d expect from the deep south of France – a perfect seafood/shellfish wine at an unbeatable price. Terredora’s falanghina is a remarkably rich and concentrated wine for the money, with a real sense of tight minerality, ripe orchard fruit and generous body. Acids swoop in on the finish to cleanse the palate, leaving you salivating and ready for the next bite or sip.
Henry of Pelham’s 2010 gamay is a fresh and juicy, infinitely drinkable version, with tart red berry fruit and mouth-watering acids, the sort of wine you can drink all day (and night) without tiring. Bairrada’s notoriously grippy grape baga is given a softening touch of touriga nacional in Quinta da Baixo’s example, yielding a lively peppery and fruity red with gritty texture and firm, saliva inducing palate. A tidy little value here. Both wines are designed for the table, best enjoyed with a light chill.
A dollar more than these gets you another vintage of the cracking 2009 Falernia Reserva Syrah Elquí Valley ($15.95), a wine with an astonishing amount of flavour packed into a $16 bottle, as well as the 2010 Artemis Karamolegos Santorini, Aegean Islands ($15.95), a typically restrained and stony example of assyrtiko from the volcanic Island of Santorini, one of my favorite paces to go shopping for concentrated, minerally whites.
At the premium end of the value scale, Ontario is well represented by the 2009 Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($38.00).
This should be counted among Canada’s top chardonnays in my view, an intense, evidently concentrated wine from Hidden Bench’s Felseck vineyard. It has the intriguing “rancid” character of fine Meursault, with no shortage of chalky minerality to back the resemblance. While on the palate, it offers terrific flavour intensity, with plenty of nutty, hazelnut, green walnut, tart citrus fruit and green apple flavours, and on and on it goes. I’d put this in the cellar for another 1-3 years to allow it to unwind – it’s still taught and barely penetrable.
See the full top ten here, which also includes three Italian classics.
And finally, three wines from the Chile mini-theme stand out for their excellent value/quality/typicity, and are well worth a look:
2011 Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley ($24.95)
2011 Leyda Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Ledya Valley ($16.95)
2008 Tres Palacios Family Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon Fundo Santa Eugenia de Cholqui Vineyard, Maipo Valley ($17.95).
Gourmet Food & Wine Show
Don’t miss the annual Szabo vs Szabo no holds barred jiyu kumite (with wine, not swords) at the Gourmet Food and Wine Show on Friday, November 16th, 7:30-9pm.
Cutting Edge Wines
John Szabo MS & Zoltan Szabo
$95 | 7:30 – 9:00 Friday November 16th, 2012
The dynamic duo of master tasters returns for what promises to be another sold-out seminar. John and Zoltan both currently work with the famed Trump Hotel in Toronto while they continue to consult, write, judge and travel. As leading sommeliers for over a decade, they are in tune with the most progressive winemakers, interesting grapes and dynamic new wine regions. Learn from Canada’s foremost wine experts as they present eight cutting-edge wines. Order Tickets here.
John Szabo, Master Sommelier
From the October 13, 2012 Vintages release:
Top Ten Smart Buys
Top Aussie Wines
Filed under: News, Wine, Australia, Chile, John Szabo, Top 10 Smart Buys, Vintages, Vintages Preview