Holiday Best Buys Under $30, Prized Priorat
The massive December 7 release sees Vintages stores bulking up for the Holiday stampede. The top gun collector and gifting statement wines were released in November; this tranche is for those who want to spend more moderately on gifts or holiday table wines – but still want something above par. So I’ve imposed an arbitrary $30 or less limit for my picks, arranged them in meal service order – from sparklers (under $60) through lighter then heavier whites and reds then onto dessert and fortifieds. And for those still looking for something sophisticated and cellar-worthy and off the beaten path I explore Spain’s Priorat and a special Vintages offering.
Fine Fizz Under $60
Over the next three weeks WineAlign is publishing a three-part Bubbly Countdown to New Year’s. Next week, Treve Ring explorers less well-known “grower Champagnes”. The week before Christmas, John Szabo explores the high end “luxe” vintage Champagnes. Then just before New Year’s Eve, Janet Dorozynski will offer a selection of affordable sparklers. Meantime, here are three picks from Vintages Dec 7 Fizz feature that hit excellence without costing anywhere near the $100 you can expect from several of the Champagnes on the release.
Roederer Estate Brut Sparkling, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California ($29.95) is to my mind the best of the California sparklers made by the big French houses, and it remains true to the full flavoured more mature taste of its French parent. This is all estate grown 60% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir. The reserve wine is oak aged, adding more nutty, toasty complexity. It’s a more powerful, food friendly style – and an amazing value!
13th Street 2006 Grande Cuvée Blanc De Noirs, Niagara Peninsula ($59.95). You might consider the Champagne-level price ambitious for Niagara sparkling, but this well-aged, complex 100% pinot noir spent 4.5 years on the lees, and it’s as tight, complex and concentrated as most Champagnes. Packaging is classy and it will make a great talking point at your table or gathering. The winery suggests matching to Dover sole à la meunière, smoked salmon, fresh oysters, caviar with buckwheat blinis and crème fraiche, or triple cream bloomy rind cheeses. This may only be available in larger Vintages flagship stores.
Henriot Souverain Brut Champagne, France ($59.95) is a very classy, tidy and bright all-purpose sipping or dining Champagne that has really picked up its game in recent years. It is a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and meunier comprised of 20% reserve wine and aged three years on the lees.
Whites Under $30
Seresin 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($21.95) is one of the classiest NZ sauvignons of the year. So many are nervy and shrill, and great on the summer dock. This is organically grown, fermented on wild yeasts, blended with a small portion of Semillon and a fraction was old oak aged. The result is a more mellow, complex yet still bright edition that will grace a holiday table. Might even work with turkey and stuffing.
André Blanck 2012 Clos Schwendi Pinot Gris, Alsace, France ($18.95) – Since travelling in Alsace in 2012 then across the Rhine River in Germany’s Baden region this summer I have come to the conclusion that the upper Rhine is the spiritual home of pinot gris, and cousin pinot blanc. From a fine producer that simultaneously achieves richness and balance, this is a great value that can be sipped with richer breaded pork and veal dishes, or washed rind cheeses.
Joseph Cattin 2011 Gewürztraminer, Alsace, France ( $17.95). This is a gewurz perfume bomb – incredible aromatics here, so it’s hard to know where to place it at the Holiday table without it being too dominant. At dinner with Jacques Cattin at Bertholdi restaurant in Colmar last year, we had his powerful late harvest gewurz with ripe meunster cheese sprinkled with cumin, and it was sensational. Requires outside the box thinking, but this is great value for gewurz fans.
De Wetshof 2012 Finesse Lesca Estate Chardonnay, Robertson, South Africa ($18.95) – I recall the vibrant, rich chardonnays from Danie De Wetshof being among the very first important modern South African whites in the post-apartheid era. They seemed to disappear from Canada for a long time, but they are back, offering incredible value in complex, limestone driven chardonnay. Don’t overlook it.
Reds Under $30
Laurent Gauthier 2011 Grand Cras Vieilles Vignes Morgon, Beaujolais ($17.95) Here is a quintessential family domain in Beaujolais, a father and son team belonging to an association of Terroirs Originels. The focus is on two vineyards in the ‘cru’ of Morgon, famous for its decomposed blue granite. Says Laurent, “I like to adapt to the geology of my land, a bit like a painter with his palette of colors who projects his individuality through his work, but I only have one colour – gamay noir”. I am thinking turkey sandwiches on Boxing Day
Tenuta San Guido 2011 Le Difese, Bolgheri, Tuscany ($27.95) I have rated this third-stringer from San Guido virtually the same as big brother Sassicaia (or is that uncle Sassicaia). And I could buy six bottles of this for one Sassicaia. It is not as concentrated and structured but it has nerve, confidence and charm, and I think that’s where Tuscan red should be – with Sassicaia perhaps trying too hard to be what brought it to life in the 80s. Give it two years before opening.
Beronia 2008 Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($18.95) If you are looking for a more mature red for holiday dining – perhaps with beef fondue, braised ribs or roast duck – consider this very fine effort and good value. Rioja can often be rather soft, but this has great verve that will slice and dice the right food. This house is on a bit of a roll.
Churchill’s Estates 2009 Touriga Nacional, Douro, Portugal ($30.95) I continue to be impressed by the growing quality, and startled by the value, of many Douro reds. This is yet another winner, even more educational in that it is 100% touriga nacional, whereas most are blends. It is very deep, refined, sophisticated and quite accessible; a bit too big for turkey but there will many more hearty red meat meals over the holidays, this year or this decade, where this wine will work.
Viña Casablanca 2010 El Bosque Carmenère, Rapel Valley, Chile ($15.95) Vina Casablanca is based in the Casablanca Valley but draws this fruit from the somewhat warmer Rapel Valley more suitable for late-ripening carmenere. This was the first vintage by winemaker Ximena Pacheco (who arrived at Vina Casablanca via Hungary), and so it is perhaps her touch that is lending a bit more finesse to this grape than I have to come to expect. Great value in après ski outdoor winter grill wine, although the winery also recommends curry dishes.
Saltram 2010 Mamre Brook Shiraz, Barossa, South Australia ($26.95) I have shouted out the incredible value of Saltram’s before. This and a partner 2010 Mamre Brook Cabernet also being released Dec 7, are big, deep yet lustrous examples of their variety and their Barossa origin. It’s a real feat to have delivered them to Vintages at under $30. Saltram’s is an iconic Barossa winery (est 1859) and Mamre Brook is the name of the house built by founder William Salter in 1844.
Finca Flichman 2010 Paisaje De Barrancas, Mendoza, Argentina ($17.95). I was struck by the sheer richness and depth of this syrah (55%), malbec and cabernet blend – a winter wine par excellence. I put this down to the slightly lower altitude warmer Barrancas district. Stack this up against rich game dishes, and perhaps even some zesty Thai mains (again, the winery’s idea).
Castelnau De Suduiraut 2010 Sauternes, Bordeaux ($42.95/750ml) I have noted the bottle size here because nowadays most Sauternes at Vintages is sold in half bottles. I love the idea of serving this “regular” bottle to a large group of say 16 people either before dinner with foie and cheese, or with a mild flan or custard dessert. This is huge value as the second wine from one of my favourite Sauternes estates. Brilliant!
Burmester 10 Years Old Tawny Port Btld. 2013, Douro, Portugal ($24.95) Recently Julian Hitner and I reviewed the sensational 2011 vintage ports. But some did not rate as highly in my books as this sensational tawny that is one-quarter the price and already aged ten years for you. There are layers of deep bass flavours and a mellow sultry texture that remind me of my new BOSE speakers. Grab a couple for the sweets and nuts sideboard.
Clos Figueres & Other Priorats
Back in October I enjoyed a vertical tasting of Clos Figueres, a small property in Spain’s Priorat appellation. The five wines I tasted are being released via a “virtual” Vintages offering starting on December 12th, along with other vintages I have not tasted (including the 2010). To read my reviews go to Clos Figueres Priorat 2009, then click through to the 2007, 2006, 2004 and 2003. All the wines have scored in the 90s, with the 2007 and 2006 being the wines that have scored a bit higher and might make the best cellaring choices. The 2007 has the most stock and is a great showcase for the complexity, tension and elegance attainable in this unusual region.
I have had a certain fascination with Priorat since discovering the wines in a tasting in Madrid in the late nineties. They were newborns at that time, the first modern wines from an ancient region that was being renewed by a band of young turks lead by Alvaro Palacios and Rene Barbier. Their wines were boldly priced to compete with Spanish legends like Vega Sicilia, adding to their almost mythical status. I visited Priorat a couple of years later and was bowled over by its impossibly steep slopes; its ruggedness, remoteness and rusticity. It was not hard to imagine the monks of Scala Dei and their mules ploughing against the grey rock landscape.
A young, entrepreneurial, Bordeaux–based wine trading Brit named Christopher Canaan was captivated by this landscape too. Since 1984 he had been exporting the wines of Scala Dei, the last existing Priorat winery. Alvaro Palacios invited him to dinner just after the first renaissance winery was built there in 1989, and the two of them plotted to get the wines tasted by Robert Parker, and great success ensued. By 1997 Canaan was in feet first with his own 10ha property called Clos Figueres, adding another block of old vines in 2000.
Some of the old garnacha and carinena vines date from the 19th Century when there were 7000 ha in the region, that acreage reduced to 700 ha in the 1960s. The young bucks saw the old vine potential but began planting new French varieties like cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah as a supplement. Today most Priorats are still based on the Spanish varieties, but proportions change from property to property.
What I like in almost any Priorat I taste – and to some extent in the less expensive wines of neighbouring Montsant – is that juxtaposition of firm tension delivered by black slate and quartz soils, yet the warmth and richness of the fruit grown in an arid climate. Whereas many new Spanish reds are full bodied, fruity and heavy, the Priorats are classy and sophisticated and they will age. The most positive trend of late – perhaps thanks to the 2008 financial meltdown – is that prices are moderating, and it is possible to find good buys under $50. But for Clos Figueres and other early and midterm adopters you should still expect to be paying in the neighbourhood of $80 to $100, and most are still well north of $50
If you don’t get to Figueres, here are some other fine Priorats still showing inventory at Vintages.
That’s a wrap for this edition and there will not be another “Lawrason’s Take” until very early January in advance of the January 4th release. But there is lots of great editorial upcoming on WineAlign in December – the aforementioned three-part bubbly countdown to New Year’s Eve, a collaboration on Great Gift wines, Margaret Swaine’s Spirits, and as an end-of-year wrap up the WineAlign critics will look back on their Top Wines, Top Values and Best New Wines of 2013.
Thank you for supporting WineAlign in 2013, and all the best to you and your family.
VP of Wine
Editors Note: You can find David Lawrason’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!
From the December 7, 2013 Vintages release: