Wines of Israel, The Stars Align on Trimbach Riesling & JP Brun Beaujolais
by David Lawrason, with Sara D’Amato and John Szabo
Welcome to the second VINTAGES release preview featuring our new format for previewing the best buys. Last week we presented a look at the featured wines – what VINTAGES magazine calls the Fab Cabs. And despite a couple of gems like Hedges Family Estate Three Vineyards Red and La Parde De Haut-Bailly, we were not overly excited by the offering. Today we move on to the rest of the release, where you will find some very appealing wines and must-buys. And it might just be my mood, but I sense spring around the corner, and our selections seem to have a lighter touch this time.
But first a word about the mini-spotlight on kosher wines from Israel. The good news is that five of the six wines were bright, modern and not weird in any way. The bad news is similar – the wines are bright, modern and do not stand apart because they are from Israel. There is no sense of terroir here. They could be from any warm climate in the new world, most akin perhaps to California. Indeed, like California, Israel is focused on cabernet, merlot and chardonnay, whether or not these are the best suited varieties.
In Israel (which I have not visited) the best vineyards are in higher altitudes of Upper Galilee. But this does not translate into “cool climate” acid structure as we know it here in Ontario. The wines are full, soft, ripe and unfortunately, some of them have bought into that pervasive new world tendency to sweeten and mocha-fy. The one wine that seemed to nicely avoid this, while providing some complexity was a blend of cabernet and syrah: Galil Mountain 2010 Alon KP ($19.95).
Sara d’Amato highlights Teperberg Family Estate 2011 Meritage KP ($16.95) from the Elah Valley, as easily the best value selection of the lot. Teperberg is one of the oldest of the new era wineries of Israel and also one of the largest in the country. Despite its size, it manages to produce some intriguing, high quality reds such as this delectable and neatly composed Bordelaise style blend. (SD)
The KP designation stands for Kosher Product, which means it has been made under the supervision of a rabbi and with processes and ingredients that conform to Jewish dietary laws.
Where The Stars Align –
(Wines independently highlighted by two or more WineAlign critics)
Trimbach 2010 Réserve Riesling, Alsace, France ($27.95) JS – I first tasted this exceptional Réserve Riesling with Jean Trimbach back in November in Alsace, and was equally impressed more recently back home in the far less pleasurable setting of the LCBO lab. It hails from the village of Ribeauvillé, from mainly old vines (40 years average), on clay-limestone soils. 2010 was a lean, austere vintage in the best sense, yielding a very tightly wound example, flinty on the nose, with tart, tartaric acids, but really intense flavour extract. This in fact has more dry extract than the Cuvée Frédéric Emile riesling in the same vintage, for reasons Trimbach can’t explain. In any case, it’s a wine of terrific intensity and vibrancy, and great length. DL – This riesling captures and effortlessly displays delicacy and strength – a rare combination. John has rated it highly, I am even higher.
Jean-Paul Brun 2012 Terres Dorées Côte De Brouilly, Beaujolais, France ($20.95) JS – The highly respected Jean-Paul Brun delivers yet another very fine, crispy, crunchy red fruit flavoured Côte de Brouilly, a little lighter than the average for this Beaujolais cru, but highly drinkable. Cranberry, pomegranate and apple flavours lead the way, with saliva-inducing acids and good to very good length. For fans of light and bright reds, best now-2017. Classic stuff. DL – This is what great gamay is all about, with briskness and delicacy, and the clarity of cool, sunny autumn morning. You can almost smell the fruit on the vine and the soil below – in this case granite soils from one of the most famed slopes in Beaujolais.
David Lawrason’s Picks
Casa Do Valle 2012 Grande Escolha, Vinho Verde, Portugal ($15.95). The whites of Vinho Verde continue to surprise, with the best estate-grown bottlings offering complexity and depth far beyond what we have grown to expect via the slightly fizzy, inexpensive “green” wines at the LCBO. This rivals Chablis structurally with some intriguing herbal and maritime complexities. Wine has been made at this property since the 18th C, but the brand was created 20 years ago.
Villa Girardi 2011 Bure Alto Ripasso Valpolicella Classico, Italy ($17.00). This is absolutely delicious and shockingly good value. Ripasso is all over the stylistic map nowadays with many trying to be amarone. The weight and balance are so natural here I wasn’t even sure it was ripasso. Lovely elegant and pure expression of Valpolicella. Villa Girardi is consistently one of best producers of Veneto in my books.
Castle Rock 2011 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($19.95). Castle Rock makes wines in 12 west coast appellations in Washington, Oregon and California, with a stated goal of “high quality affordable wines”. It’s the kind of slogan hundreds of wineries use, but having tasted a more lighthearted, firm and fragrant style of pinot than I expect from Oregon, I am inclined to believe they have put their money where their mouth is. A little research reveals that the winemaker August “Joe” Briggs is actually a pinot specialist, having worked at Alpine in Oregon and La Crema in California. This is not profound pinot, but certainly great value at $20.
Domaine La Fourmone 2009 Sélection Maître De Chais Vacqueyras ($23.95). Okay it’s official, Vacqueyras is my favorite appellation of the Southern Rhône – for complexity, power, honesty and value. The Combe family has been growing grenache, syrah and mourvedre in this sustainably farmed 20 hectare plot of sandy, rocky limestone for several generations. They join a list of Vacqueyras producers that I have recently begun to follow closely. This is a classic, and ready to drink.
Jim Barry 2012 The Lodge Hill Shiraz, Clare Valley, South Australia ($26.95). VINTAGES catalogue already quotes my review of this excellent shiraz. I had actually forgotten my previous note when I tasted it in the lab, and I doled out the same rating. There is such a fine sense of clarity and definition which can be hard to achieve in bigger wines. Winemaker Tom Barry is third generation at one of the founding estates of Clare. Lodge Hill is a vineyard largely planted to riesling with one north facing (warmer) section at the summit planted to shiraz.
John Szabo’s Picks
Rustenberg 2012 Chardonnay, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($19.95). This drinks like $30 chardonnay from other, perhaps more fashionable, parts of the planet. It’s made in a firm, ripe, fleshy but balanced new world style, riding a measured, moderate climate line, with very good length and well above average depth for the price category. Best 2014-2018.
Maison Adrien Vacher 2012 Les Adrets Altesse Roussette De Savoie, France ($16.95). It might have been the hoped-for, imminent arrival of spring, but I’d swear this roussette grown in the French Alps smells and tastes like a mountain meadow blanketed in spring flowers. Green apple freshness and above average flavour intensity, length and depth make this a smart buy and well worth discovering, especially when that spring finally arrives.
Maison Roche De Bellene 2011 Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay, France ($18.95). Savvy negociant Nicolas Potel continues to defy the value equation in Burgundy, offering here a ‘generic’ chardonnay that rivals many village-level examples at a terrific price. This has just the right mix of fruit and old spicy oak influence, crisp acids and balanced palate, not to mention very good length. A very safe bet for fans of classic white Burgundy. Best 2014-2017.
Lan 2010 Crianza Rioja ($15.95). The ever-reliable Bodegas Lan provides a juicy, fruity, well-balanced 2010 Rioja crianza with plenty of regional character and moderate oak influence, for current pleasure.
Castello Di Querceto 2010 Chianti Classico Riserva ($29.95). 2010 was an excellent Tuscan vintage offering the magical mix of ripeness and freshness, and Querceto’s Riserva is a beautiful example. It’s savoury, solidly built and well-balanced, with exceptional density and complexity, delivering all that one could hope for from the region in a traditional-leaning style. Drinkable now, but better in 2-3 years, or hold till the end of the decade.
Sara d’Amato’s Picks
Pierre Sparr Réserve Brut Crémant d’Alsace ($16.95). Pierre Sparr is easily the most recognizable Alsatian wine on the shelves at the LCBO and the house often turns out solid values that can be appreciated by a wide audience. Despite some misses here and again, I am pleased to report that this lovely Cremant d’Alsace, made of pinot blanc using the traditional Champenois method, remains utterly charming and certainly consistent in its quality. Lovely with everything from eggs benedict to sushi.
Prà 2012 Soave, Veneto, Italy ($19.95). A Soave Classico quality for the price of a Soave, this delightfully surprising find features quality well beyond expectations. Under screwcap, the wine is fresh and exhibits pitch perfect balance. Graziano Pra is a small, artisanal organic grower and producer of highly revered Soave (Classico) and Amarone – located just on the outskirts of Verona. Pan-seared sea scallops is your best-bet pairing.
Le Clos Jordanne 2011 Village Reserve Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula ($30.00). One of the best of the Village Reserve Pinot Noirs from Clos Jordanne tasted in recent memory. At half the price of the Cru series, this is a terrific value delivering a great deal of depth, complexity and appeal. An Ontario pinot that is perfect to wow those skeptical of our local wines.
Domaine Vincent Prunier 2010 Volnay Les Mitans 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($57.95). The delicate, aromatic and ethereal nature of Volnay makes it a wine for romantics. Just because Valentine’s Day is past, it doesn’t mean that grand, romantic gestures go unappreciated and this wine is sure to sweep someone off their feet. Vincent Prunier is somewhat of a romantic as well – he is a part of a younger generation of winemakers with reverence for the old ways and tries to impart a sense of rich tradition to his wines.
Pico Maccario Lavignone 2011 Barbera d’Asti, Piedmont, Italy ($17.95). Here is a simply delicious Barbera d’Asti. Call it a guilty pleasure, perhaps, but it is chock full of personality, flavour and will make your dinner guests take note. This type of quality and approachability is not surprising from Pico Maccario who dedicates the majority of its production to barbera and has come to be known as a specialist in the varietal. Their barbera vineyard is one single parcel of over 70 hectares and is the largest solely owned vineyard in the Piedmont region.
And that’s a wrap for this edition – a diverse and delicious selection. We have reviewed virtually all the wines on this March 1st release so please continue your exploration using the links below. Until next time, when we take on some heavy hitter Californians from the March 15 release.
VP of Wine
From the Mar 1, 2014 Vintages release:
Editors Note: You can find our Critic’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!