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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Sept 13th – Part Two

Wines That Moved UsSept. 11, 2014

by David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo MS

David New 2014

David Lawrason

In Part One of our September 2013 release preview we sifted through the large contingent of Ontario wines being offered by VINTAGES. And we have also just published an Ontario Wine Report that updates the many local wine events in the weeks ahead, and recommends even more Ontario wines available outside of the LCBO. All of which has left us a blank canvas this week to highlight a random selection of wines that simply moved us.

But before revealing them, a note that our critics’ reasons for selecting which wines to highlight can differ. We do not have a formula, and we don’t consult with each other. Personally I am moved first by quality, especially when from an unexpected place or winery. I love to see underdogs over-achieve. Often of late those wines have been organically or biodynamically grown without my knowing that fact ahead of time. But a wine will usually only show up among my picks if value is also a big factor.

Most important, there are many, many other wines not mentioned that we like and have rated highly. So not being mentioned does not mean they are not worthwhile, and I strongly urge you to go the next step and browse the entire slate of reviews from each critic. You can find the complete list of September 13th VINTAGES wines under Wine >> New Releases. Remember, however, that to access this list and to read all of the reviews you do need to subscribe (only $40/year). Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later.

Sparkling

Lefèvre Rémondet Brut Blanc Crémant De Bourgogne

Vincent Couche 2002 Brut ChampagneVincent Couche Brut Champagne 2002, France ($49.95)
David Lawrason – This is great value in mature but still vibrant Champagne. I mean who expects a 14 year-old vintage Champagne to be this good and this youthful for $50 (a base price for Champagne). Vincent Couche is a leading light in the ranks of small “growers”, tending is 32 acres organically. I strongly suspect that accounts for the energy and depth that took me by surprise at the tasting bench, before I knew anything about Vincent Couche.

Lefèvre Rémondet Brut Blanc Crémant De Bourgogne, Burgundy, France ($20.95)
Sara d’Amato – A remarkable crémant that offers the toasty lees and depth of a Champagne. A blend of 70% pinot noir and 30% chardonnay makes for a good deal of substance and power. Celebration worthy.

Whites

Studert-Prüm 2012 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany ($20.95)
John Szabo – There’s simply nowhere in the world that can reproduce this wine style, and great Mosel Kabinett is surely among the world’s best wine buys. This is a superb, intensely mineral, very natural wine with an absolutely unique flavour profile, at a giveaway price. Best 2014-2022.
Sara d’Amato – This Kabinett is refreshingly traditional and offers so much enjoyment, complexity and stuffing for the price. Slate, petrol and buckwheat honey are offset by wild herbs and lemon curd. This unmistakable value is nervy with plenty of racy mineral and terrific length.

Michel Gassier 2013 Les Piliers Viognier, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato: This deliciously complex viognier boasts impressive freshness and balance with a long, lingering finish. A great deal of compelling flavours have been coaxed out this simple Vin de France from Michel Gassier who focuses on organic farming in the Costières de Nimes region. Try with crab or sushi.

Kunde Chardonnay 2012 Sonoma Valley, California ($21.95)
David Lawrason –  There is of course a strong movement to cool climate, lean, mineral chardonnays, but this celebrates what made first made California chardonnay famous. It is boldly fruity, delicious yet even handed in all respects.  Kunde Family Estate is an impressively large producer with vineyards both on the floor of and in the hills above Sonoma Valley. Winemaker Zach Long strives for “balanced fruit, and full flavoured complex wines”.  He’s nailed it here, at a good price.

Studert Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 2012 Michel Gassier Les Piliers Viognier 2013 Kunde Chardonnay 2012 Stellenrust Wild Yeast Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2011 Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Mallory & Benjamin Talmard Mâcon Uchizy 2012

Stellenrust 2011 Wild Yeast Barrel Fermented Chardonnay Stellenbosch, South Africa ($17.95) John Szabo – From a near-century-old estate with high-elevation vines in the cooler Bottelary ward of Stellenbosch, this is classy, complete, intriguing wine at a great price, for those seeking character and depth at a fine price, not just simple, fruity white.

Seresin 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, New Zealand ($21.95)
David Lawrason – Here is another biodynamically farmed success story. It was a stellar vintage for NZ sauvignons with most showing real depth and vibrancy. What I like about this example is it’s leaner, more mineral style, whereas many Marlborough ‘savvies’ are getting very fruity, fatter and a touch sweet.

Mallory & Benjamin Talmard 2012 Mâcon-Uchizy, Burgundy, France ($16.95)
David Lawrason –  Great value here –  a lovely tender, fleshy and bright style of chardonnay that Macon does so well.  The sister and brother Talmard team have taken the family’s 31 ha – spread through four villages in southern Burgundy – and increased both quality and quantity.

Red Wines

Wits End Luna Shiraz 2012

Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Reininger Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Reininger 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla, Washington ($20.95)
David Lawrason – This is a great buy from the Pacific Northwest – so why not have included it in the PNW feature last month, where it might have received more attention?  This immediately impressed with structure and depth well beyond $20 – a classic firm yet generous cabernet to drink now or hold five years.
John Szabo – From the Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills vineyards, this is a full, dense, savoury and spicy Washington cabernet with firm, hard tannins and plenty of extract – not a wine for fans of fruit, but much more distinctive, “terroir”-dominated profiles. I’d suspect this will be better after another 1-2 years and hold for close to decade, which is rare indeed for a $20 US wine. Best 2015-2022.

Chateau Montelena 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California ($59.95)
Sara d’Amato – While many of the 2011s from California are lean, a little mean and sadly dilute, Chateau Montelena has risen to the task of creating a wine for the ages with freshness, complexity and length. This stripped down version of this iconic cabernet is one of my favorites in recent memory

Wits End 2012 Luna Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($16.95)
David Lawrason – I had just finished tasting the excellent $60 “Bruce” shiraz when along comes a shiraz of very similar style and only slightly less quality – at one third the price. Wits End is made by Chalk Hill Wines owned by the Harvey family. The wine is made by French oenologist Emmanuelle Requin-Bekkers, who apparently has a very elegant touch.

Château De Pierreux Brouilly 2013

Salton Classic Cabernet Franc 2012

Cederberg Shiraz 2010Château De Pierreux 2013 Brouilly, Beaujolais, France ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This jumped off the tasting bench with amazingly lifted florality and juiciness – the way I remember other fine Brouilly gamays over the years. It is from a very large estate that is now in the portfolio of Burgundy’s Boisset family, and has been converted to biodynamic viticulture.

Salton 2012 Classic Cabernet Franc, Serra Gaucha, Brazil, ($12.95)
Sara d’Amato – Although a very simple wine, it is pure, un-manipulated, juicy and certainly intended to please. A lovely value from Serra Gaucha – Brazil’s largest region under vine, producing over 85% of the country’s wine. Located on the border of Uruguay, its topography is made up on mostly low mountain ranges populated by “gauchos” (cowboys).

Cederberg 2010 Shiraz, Cederberg, South Africa ($24.95)
John Szabo – 250 kilometers north from Cape Town, the Cederberg winery (which confusingly shares its name with the Wine of Origin Cederberg ward, though it’s also the only winery in the region), is South Africa’s highest elevation wine farm at 950-1100 meters asl. The vineyards are surrounded by pristine fynbos (native vegetation) and there’s no downy mildew thanks to isolation and extreme conditions. This is savoury and firm syrah, fresh, dark-fruited and spicy, with excellent length. Best 2014-2020.

Stobi Vranec 2010

Dominio De Tares Cepas Viejas Mencia 2009

Carrick 2011 Pinot NoirCarrick Pinot Noir 2011, Central Otago, New Zealand ($38.95)
Sara d’Amato – Carrick has been producing noteworthy pinot noirs since the mid-90s that have featured potent, aromatic appeal and great refinement. Hailing from Central Otago, one would expect this to be, very ripe and perhaps a touch overblown. On the contrary, the wine is supremely elegant, slowly revealing layers of flavour in the glass. Nicely structured for mid-term cellaring.

Dominio De Tares 2009 Cepas Viejas Mencia, Bierzo ($29.95)
John Szabo - A reliable name in the region of Bierzo, Dominio de Tares’ “Cepas Viejas” (old vines) is produced from vines over 60 years old. This is just starting to come into prime drinking – I love the mature, spicy nature of this wine, coupled with freshness and structure, though there’s still lots of life ahead. Best 2014-2024.

Stobi 2010 Vranec, Tikves, Republic of Macedonia ($11.95)
John Szabo – for the price you can’t very well go far wrong here. In my slowly growing experience with Macedonian wine, the local variety vranec is easily the most interesting, hitting a profile that reminds me somewhat of cabernet franc with its dark fruit and floral aspects, and firm but not hard tannins. I have to say this is a very solid and flavourful wine for the money, and well worth a look. Best 2014-2020.

And that’s it for this week. We are working ahead on the September 27 release which features Portugal and a huge international selection as VINTAGES beefs up for the big autumn buying season. Also in the pipeline is an article on Niagara riesling by John Szabo, and then a look at the rieslings of Austria’ Wachau region by Julian Hitner.

Enjoy.

Until next time!

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES September 13th release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Sept 13th Part One – Ontario Focus

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Chateau St Jean Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County

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Louis M Martini Winery Dinner with Master Winemaker Michael Martini

WineAlign is pleased to present a gourmet dinner with Master Winemaker Michael Martini on Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014.

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Join third generation winemaker and Napa Valley Icon Michael Martini as he presents a selection of exclusive wines from his family M_Martiniwinery the Louis M Martini Winery, celebrating over 80 years in the Napa Valley. Mike Martini grew up in his father and grandfather’s vineyards, learning first-hand what it takes to make world-class wines. When he wasn’t in school in rural St. Helena, he was working at the winery, in the vineyard, or out riding horses.

Today, St. Helena has grown up, and so has Mike but he still gets up every day to make Cabernet Sauvignon that will make his family proud. This dinner will be all about CABERNET SAUVIGNON!!  We will showcase Napa and Sonoma Cab’s including two wines that are exclusive to this dinner and the very small production Lot 1.

Michael will be joined by WineAlign’s John Szabo.

Event Details:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Location:  Pangaea Restaurant (1221 Bay Street, Toronto)

Reception and Dinner: 7 pm – 10 pm

Tickets:  $100 including taxes and fees

Please note tickets are limited to 45, so book early to avoid disappointment – our winemaker events sell out quickly.

 

Purchase Your Tickets Here

Menu

Louis M Martini Signature Cocktail

Torchon of Foie Gras with toasted brioche, mushrooms, pearl onion and wild blueberry

Wine pairing:  2012 Louis M Martini Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon

Duck roulade with spiced roasted cauliflower, raisins, crispy kale and coriander

Wine pairing: 2011 Louis M Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Beef striploin with celeriac-rosemary crust, oven glazed vegetables, roasted king oyster mushroom

Wine pairing: 2011 Louis M Martini Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Braised Lamb Neck with crisp parmesan polenta, root vegetable confetti, fine herb salad

Wine pairing: 2010 Louis M Martini Lot 1 Cabernet Sauvignon

Local Artisanal Cheeses with stone fruits and honey

Coffee/Tea and petit fours

*There are no substitutions*

About Pangaea

pangaea (pan-gee-ahhh!) is the acclaimed Yorkville restaurant named after the super continent that existed on earth 250 million years ago before the tectonic plates separated to form the land masses on world maps today. Pangaea Restaurant co-owners Peter Geary and Martin Kouprie chose this tricky to spell name because it evokes what they want their restaurant to be: a place where international inspiration and regional ingredients come together to form a unique and wonderful dining concept.

A success since 1996, Pangaea Restaurant continues to be faithful to this original goal. Today, as on the first day our door swung open on to Bay Street, Peter and Martin ensure that Pangaea Restaurant is a place where people can come to experience the best food and service Toronto has to offer. At Toronto’s Pangaea Restaurant plates do indeed move twice a day; but, instead of continental plates, china plates artfully topped with delectable regional cuisine are the ones traveling.

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Our winemaker events have been consistently and quickly selling out.  If you are interested in attending then we advise you to purchase your tickets as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

Purchase Your Tickets Here

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Austria Report 2014: Visiting Vienna, Best of Blaufränkisch; Little Black Danube Valley Address Book + Ontario Buyer’s Guide

Sept. 9, 2014

VieVinum-logo-2014-02John Szabo reports on his latest trip to the Imperial capital of Vienna for the 2014 edition of Vievinum. Apparently, he had fun, and he shares some discoveries that will be useful to all but die-hard, one-brand wine drinkers.

Mozart + Schnitzel +… Wein
by John Szabo MS

Mozart, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Salzburg music festival, the waltz, Wiener schnitzel, 19th century coffee houses or skiing in Innsbruck… Austria has many cultural references with which many North Americans will have at least some vague familiarity, if not personal intimacy. But wine from Austria? Awareness in Canada that wine is produced in this tiny, mostly Alpine central European country is as limited as the number of shelf-facings on Canadian government monopoly stores. That is, at least outside of the cozy world of sommeliers and wine writers and the not-so-occasional wine consumer unafraid to venture into the darker corners of the Vintages section. For these people, Austrian wine has already emerged from the dark Vienna Woods.

But since Austria may well produce some of the finest wines you’ve never tasted, it’s high time to experience Austrian life beyond Mozart.

So here’s my pitch. It includes suggestions on what to do in romantic Vienna to get you in the mood, followed by a look at the current Austrian wine scene, a list of the cream from nearly four score of blaufränkisch recently tasted (that’s Austria finest red grape), and the addresses in the Danube Valley that every wine lover should have (from the flagship appellations – Wachau, Kamptal, and Kremstal – for the country’s most important white variety, gruner veltiner, as well as riesling – Austria’s best kept secret and some of the very finest in the world). I’ll round it up with a Buyer’s Guide of wines currently available in Ontario. There is, of course, so much more. But it’s a start.

Visiting Vienna

A Gustav Klimt original tapestry at Café Griensteidl

A Gustav Klimt original tapestry at Café Griensteidl

Each time I travel to Vienna, I’m swept up by the romance that hangs in the air, that suffuses the old wood panels and ancient stones, and lingers in the almost audible string quartets echoing off the cobbled streets and dancing in the dying light glinting off the Danube. I sit on the patio of the 19th C. coffee house Grienstiedl in the Michaelerplatz sipping a g’spritzer, an upscale version of soda and white wine, while listening to the soulful strings of a concert-level celloist reverberate off the walls of Empress Sisi’s Hofburg Palace residence with a sound that most concert halls would envy, busking more for practice than for pay.

I never miss a chance to travel up to the Nussberg vineyard on the northwest hills above the city to take in its magnificent, commanding view over all of Vienna, the spire of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the Stephansplatz a tiny toothpick in the distance.

The Nussberg Vineyard overlooking the Danube River and Vienna

The Nussberg Vineyard overlooking the Danube River and Vienna

And it’s from this vineyard that one of my favorite Viennese wines hails: the Nussberg Alte Reben from Franz Wieninger, made from an interplanted mix of old vines that ripen each year under the Pannonian sun. This traditional field blend and others made from the 650-odd hectares within the city’s boundaries are a uniquely Viennese specialty officially called gemischter satz, which is almost as much fun to say as it is to drink. (If the Alte Reben isn’t available, Wieninger’s straight up Gemischter Satz is a more than worthy substitute.)

Mayer am Pfarrplatz

Mayer am Pfarrplatz

It’s unthinkable not to spend an evening in one of the dozens of heurigen in the outlying districts, like the Mayer am Pfarrplatz in the 19th district where Beethoven stayed in 1817 to work on the Eroica and begin composing the 9th symphony, and more recently, Arnold Schwarzenegger and his entourage nearly knocked me over on their way out through the narrow wooden door. Heurigen are Austrian institutions devoted to local food and especially wine scattered around the city’s outlying districts, where everything is produced on-premise, including the wine, and is served on long wooden tables in the open air under vine-covered pergolas. And the accordion plays on.

Then I’ll return to the center and stroll through the cobbled streets of this Imperial City, and admire its magnificent baroque buildings and palaces, heavily statued parks and squares, the rows upon rows of museums, the extravagant wood-paneled shrines to coffee, and inhale the strangely pleasant and authentic scent of fresh horse manure as I idle past the rows of carriages parked outside of St. Stephen’s Cathedral waiting to ferry passengers around the old quarter of the 1st district.

A Carriage ride through Vienna, passing the Hofburg Palace

A Carriage ride through Vienna, passing the Hofburg Palace

If hungry, there’s always the city’s most famous schnitzel at Figlmuller’s or the incomparable tafelspitz at Plachutta – a Rabelesian feast of boiled meats – or for more refined Austrian cuisine, the Michelin-starred Steiereck.

And throughout it all, I’m constantly struck by the nation’s inherent composure and self-confidence; you can’t help but get a sense that Austrians are secure, and more than just financially. There’s a sense of comfort related to both the past and present, and indeed a conspicuous absence of insecurity regarding the future.

I suppose such a city couldn’t help but produce that legendary Viennese haughtiness – so pronounced in some cases as to make even a real Parisian blush – that I’ve come to expect, and even appreciate, being such a dramatic change from Canadian politeness. I suspect the attitude is born of this culture of precision and suspicion, even intolerance, of anything sub-standard that seems to be shared by all of Alpine Europe. Is it the mountain air? Order your drinks and get on with it, no time for polite dithering.

The Wine Scene

Wine culture thrives in Vienna, but not in the self-conscious, self-congratulatory way it often does in North America. In countless restaurants and wine bars, details are taken seriously but matter-of-factly, and one inevitably concludes that serving a wide selection of local wines at the proper temperature in gorgeous crystal stems is really just the way things are done, not how some star sommelier has dictated they should be in order to gain advantage over the competition and notoriety for himself. Switzerland may have watches, but Austria has some of the world’s finest glassware, such as the ever-expanding range from Georg Riedel, and Zalto, which for my money is easily the best high-end stemware on the market, so there are no excuses.

No visit to Vienna is complete without a stop at Wein & Co. just off of the Stephansplatz, one of the best wine shops/wine bars in the city where you can browse, buy, and bring your wine over the to bar side for chilling and sipping. That’s if you don’t find anything you like on the already extensive “regular list”. The historic Zum Schwarzen Kameel is also a favorite, especially if you find a seat on the crowded patio. You’ll experience fine wine and Viennese attitude all in one.

The Austrian Wine Zeitgeist

Austrian confidence permeates the wine industry, too, particularly refreshing in a business that is constantly looking over the fence to see what’s happening on the other side. Not to say that Austrian winemakers aren’t interested in the rest of the world, nor arrogantly under the impression that they make the world’s best wine – far from it – but neither do they feel an urgent need to change what they’re doing to chase current consumer trends. It’s as if to say, “stay the course and success will come”.

But it hasn’t always been this way. Only a few short decades ago the entire Austrian wine industry was in a state of crisis, if not outright panic, in the face of an overblown scandal that saw exports drop off the radar. It was as though a millennial tradition of winemaking had evaporated like the angel’s share from a barrel of wine. The remote, glorious past meant nothing to contemporary wine drinkers.

But setbacks can be turned into opportunities, and Austrians wasted no time in revamping the entire industry from top to bottom, imposing some of the strictest quality controls in the world of wine. The return road to international markets was bumpy and many of the same mistakes that have hampered other new and old world winemaking countries were committed, such as over reliance on international, often unsuitable grapes, adherence to the belief that clever winemaking could fix any problems, and devotion to over ripeness and the flavour of new oak. “The past three decades have seen plenty of setbacks, wrong turns and detours” says Willi Klinger, head of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board.

White Wines

Near Weißenkirchen in the wine region Wachau in Niederösterreich (Lower Austria). View from single vineyard Achleiten towards west. © AWMB / Egon Mark

Near Weißenkirchen in the wine region Wachau in Niederösterreich (Lower Austria). View from single vineyard Achleiten towards west. © AWMB / Egon Mark

White wines have historically been Austria’s strength, and the fine-tuning that has occurred over the last three decades has shifted them into the top world leagues. Gruner veltliner remains the most planted grape by a good margin and in many ways defines Austrian wines, at least for export markets. It’s a polyvalent variety, running the spectrum of styles from light and whit-pepper scented from cooler areas like the Weinviertel, to round, full-bodied lush examples from the wind-blown loess soils west of Vienna on either side of the Danube (especially the regions of Wagram and Traisental), and piercing, firm, minerally wines from vineyards planted right on primary rock (gneiss, granites, etc.) in the Danube Valley.

Riesling Rocks

Yet Austrian Riesling, in my view, and at the risk of offending a large percentage of the wine industry, produces the country’s very finest white wines. The examples from the primary rock terraces lining the Danube west of Vienna, especially the Wachau region and select sites in the Kamptal and Kremstal, are strikingly mineral, powerful, enormously complex wines capable of long-term cellaring and shouldn’t be missed by fans of the grape. See below for some trustworthy names to look for.

Other Exotics

Other more exotic local grapes like rotgpfler and zierfandler from the Thermenregion south of Vienna can surprise by their dense orchard fruit and minerally character. Look for the wines of Stadlmann for a good introduction. In the southern part of the country, in the region called Steiermark (Styria), sauvignon blanc is the calling card. Steep slopes of varying composition including volcanic, gravel, limestone soils yield pungent sauvignons, somewhere between Loire Valley, Bordeaux and New Zealand in style, and most closely resembling the perfumed examples in Italy’s neighboring Friuli region. Look for Sattlerhof or Tement to get yourself started.

I’ll also put in a word for Styria’s pale rose specialty called Schilcher [SHILL-hair] made from the blauer wildbacher grape. These bone dry, searingly tart wines are a bit of an acquired taste, but I personally love the vibrancy and first-sip-of-the-day acids. Try Reiterer’s Alte Reben (“Old Vine”) Engleweingarten schilcher for a pleasant shock.

Reds on the Rise

Hands down, however, the greatest improvements in Austrian wine have come in the red wine category. I recall the first tasting of Austrian reds I attended some fifteen years ago in Toronto, where I was struck by how woeful they were for the most part: thin, green, weedy, or crushed by excessive oak and over-extraction. Klinger, referring specifically to red wines, is appropriately circumspect: “Looking back, we can see that while each of these innovations [international varieties, extraction, excessive oak use] were important steps on the way to new red wine highs, they were not the essence of this development.”

Now Austrian vintners, at least the top tier, have moved past this developmental phase to the point where terroirs and native varieties have been embraced with confidence. “Austria has three aces up its sleeve, namely the indigenous grape varieties Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent. It is only now that we really understand how to play this incredible starting hand,” says Klinger.

Top Austrian Red Wine Tasting at the Hofburg Palace (Can you spot the WineAlign logo on someone's computer?)

Top Austrian Red Wine Tasting at the Hofburg Palace (Can you spot the WineAlign logo on someone’s computer?)

My most recent tastings, including wines from the excellent 2011 and 2012 vintages, underscore the point. Austrian winemakers today can confidently spend more time looking at their vineyards rather than outside the country, comfortable in the knowledge that both their native grapes and their varied terroirs are able to produce wines that are as distinctive and qualitative as any other great local specialties around the world.

Proof of Success

A quick glance at the steep upward graph depicting Austrian wine exports over the last three decades tells a clear tale: foreign markets have grown increasingly confident in the quality of Austrian wines, and are willing to pay more and more for them. Exports reached an all-time high of 137m euros in 2013, all the more remarkable considering the steady or even decreasing exports by volume, thanks in part to several consecutive short crops. The value curve has been rising steeply for a decade. Also, average export price per liter topped 3 euros (c. $5) for the first time in 2013. That may not seem like a lot to Canadian consumers used to paying $15 and up for a decent 750ml bottle of wine, but that figure is among the highest in the world.

Still Work to Be Done

But there is, of course, still work to be done – any country that stands still in today’s market is quickly left behind. Red wine quality is still not uniformly high, and too many still rely on the crutch of over-making wines. The divide between progressive and backward looking winemakers is still wide. Blaufrankisch, despite its firm tannins and marked acids, is nonetheless a dainty variety, with delicate tart red fruit flavours that need to be preserved through careful handling. Heavy wood/caramel flavours all too easily overwhelm the delicate fruit character that makes the grape so attractive in the first place, and one gets the sense that great fruit is often compromised by aggressive winemaking. Several of the wines recently tasted are not at international level, while a handful could even be considered defective, and this among what are supposed to be the country’s top rated wines.

“When it comes to Blaufränkisch, we have seen that it was the right decision to move the focus away from cellar techniques and place it on the work in the vineyard,” emphasizes Klinger, words that more winemakers need to take to heart.

For detailed information on the Austrian wine industry and all appellations, visit the Austrian Wine Marketing Board excellent and comprehensive website.

The Wines: Top Blaufrankisch from 2011-2012

Following are a dozen blaufrankisch to track down at all costs. The wines were tasted in June 2014 during the biennial fair called Vievinum held in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. The list of wines to be tasted was compiled by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board from the highest rated wines as judged by the local press.

The Burgenland in the far east of Austria on the border with Hungary, and its various sub-appellations, remains the reference region of production. Among my general observations is that limestone and slate soils seem to give the best – most refined, elegant and mineral – versions of blaufrankisch. The Leithaberg and Eisenberg DACs are almost uniformly excellent, while the silty-loam-clays of Carnuntum were generally less exciting, with many wines bearing the heavy hand of the winemaker. Exceptions, however, prove the rule.

A Killer Dozen

Weingut Ernst Triebaumer 2011 Blaufränkisch Ried Mariental Burgenland. Ernst Tribaumer took over the 300 year family operation in 1971, implementing a new quality direction. Many cite the 1986 Triebaumer Mariental blaufrankisch as the first great serious Austrian red wine, and it continues to be a reference point. The Mariental vineyard is an east-facing, mostly calcareous vineyard in Rust, with over 50-year-old vines, bottled separately only in exceptional vintages. The 2011 intense and concentrated, but without exaggeration, in the darker fruit spectrum, dense, rich, compact. Nearly twenty years on since this wine first catapulted Austrian reds into the international spotlight, this still remains a top reference. Best after 2018 – this can also age magnificently into the late ’20s.

Roland Velich of Moric, a Blaufränkisch specialist

Roland Velich of Moric, a Blaufränkisch specialist

Moric 2011 Blaufränkisch Lutzmannsburg “Alte Reben” Burgenland. Roland Velich is a widely recognized master of blaufrankisch, a variety he has pushed to the limits to see what could be obtained. His range of village and single vineyard wines is nothing short of extraordinary, vinified meticulously with the lightest of touches and refinement and elegance in mind. The old vines from Lutzmannsburg, some over 100 years and planted in high density, is all about finesse and florality, pure and authentic, the hallmarks of this sandy-loam over primary rock site. An energetic, natural wine of top quality.

Weingut Gernot und Heike Heinrich 2011 Blaufränkisch Ried Alter Berg Burgenland. Gernot Henrich runs a sizable operation (500k bottles annually) from a stylish, modern facility in the Burgenland, producing several ranges of wines, each at the top of their respective price categories. Grapes are biodynamically farmed, and the key words here are purity and elegance. The Alter Berg is a sea fossil-rich site in the Leithagebirge hills on the western shore of Lake Neusiedl, vinified à la pinot noir, in open top wooden fermenters and aged in 500l barrels. This is classic blaufrankisch: pure wild cherry, floral, blood orange character, clean and pure, with gorgeous, juicy acids and fine-grained tannins. For current enjoyment or mid term hold.

Former sommelier-turned-blaufränkisch-producer Uwe Schiefer

Former sommelier-turned-blaufränkisch-producer Uwe Schiefer

Weingut Uwe Schiefer 2012 Blaufrankisch Königsberg, Burgenland. A former sommelier at Vienna’s top restaurant, Steiereck, Uwe Schiefer is another acknowledge blaufrankisch specialist and among the first to pursue the more refined and elegant side of the variety. From his excellent range, the Königsberg vineyard stood out; this pure limestone site planted with over 50-year-old vines is a beauty. Classy, spicy and beautifully structured, with terrific length, it should hit prime towards the end of the decade. Look also for the 2012 Eisenberg, a top notch schist-quartz expression of the grape.

Weingut Wachter-Wiesler 2011 Blaufränkisch Reserve “Alte Reben” Eisenberg. This was a great discovery for me, the first wine I’ve tasted from Wachter-Wiesler, established in 1999 with the amalgamation of the two families’ vineyards. “For me, a wine is most interesting, natural and authentic when it is known where its grapes are grown,” says Christoph Wachter, and every effort to preserve the natural vineyard expression is made. The Alte Reben (“old vines”) is made from eighty year-old vines grown on the green slate soils that dominate the Eisenberg appellation, aged in 1500l casks. It delivers high density and intensity, compact tannins and firm acids, not to mention tremendous length. A serious wine, succulent, elegant and balanced.

Weingut Birgit Braunstein 2011 Blaufränkisch Leithaberg DAC. Another great discovery are the wines of Birgit Braunstein, made from organically grown, minimally-handled grapes. The limestone-rich soils of the Leithaberg favour finesse, which is perfectly preserved by wild ferment wild in wood vats and ageing in old 500 liter barrels. This 40 year-old vine cuvée is pure, and fragrant, succulent and lively. I love the fresh acids firm, structured tannins, balanced by ripe and zesty red berry fruit. Good to very good length. Best after 2016.

Weingut Familie Prieler 2011 Blaufränkisch Ried Goldberg Burgenland. The Prieler family has been in Schützen for at least 150 years practicing polyculture, and made the transition to a dedicated wine estate in 1972. Today the family farms 30 hctares of vineyards on the western shores of Lake Neusiedl under a nature reserve. The Goldberg and its mineral-rich slate soils is the top blaufrankisch bottling, pure, red fruit driven with typical herbal spice. I like the black currant character, juicy, lively acids, and fully integrated wood (26 months in small barrel, though must be well-used).

Dorli Muhr, Muhr-van der Niepoort wines, Carnuntum

Dorli Muhr, Muhr-van der Niepoort wines, Carnuntum

Weingut Muhr – van der Niepoort 2011 Blaufränkisch Ried Spitzerberg Carnuntum. This is the only non-Burgenland blaufrankisch to make my top list, though considering the unusually high limestone content of the Spitzerberg, and the partnership between Dorli Muhr and Dirk Neipoort (of the extraordinary Niepoort wines in the Douro Valley, Portugal, it’s not surprising that it sits in the top class. This is fine, fragrant, balanced and elegant blaufrankisch, highly minerally, with lovely wild cherry fruit. And if you think this is good, just wait for the 2012s to be released.

Weingut Pittnauer 2011 Blaufränkisch Ried Ungerberg Burgenland. Although considered St. Laurent specialists, the biodynamically-farmed, wild yeast fermented blaufrankisch from the Ungerbrg vineyard is a stunning wine. It spends 20 months in old barrels, delivering an intriguing aromatics including green olive, citrus-blood orange, and authentic grape spice while the palate is arch classic blaufrankisch with its mid-weight, fine but dusty tannins and crunchy acids, plus mineral character.

Weingut Anton Hartl 2011 Blaufränkisch Ried Rosenberg Leithaberg DAC. Organically certified grapes (since 2010), high limestone content in the vineyard and gentle handling give Toni Hartl’s blaufrankisch a quality edge. The 2011 is just on the right side of reductiveness, with lively red berry fruit, tart and juicy – a blaufrankisch on the more elegant and succulent side.

Weingut Anita & Hans Nittnaus 2011 Blaufränkisch Ried Tannenberg Burgenland. Although not the most expensive wine in the Nittnaus range, the Tannenberg vineyard blaufrankisch is for me their finest wine. Made from biodynamically-grown grapes, the 2011 has genuine complexity and character, voluminous and substantial palate, with fine-grained, firm tannins and succulent acids. A superb wine, best after 2016.

Weingut Krutzler 2011 Blaufränkisch Reserve Burgenland. In opposition to the current trend in the Burgenland for site-specific bottlings, the Krutzlers “no longer rely exclusively on single vineyards, but rather focus on the interplay of premium fruit, consistent vineyard management and steady stylistics”. The Reserve is made from 15- to 30-year-old vines on the estate’s top sites on the Eisenberg and in Deutsch-Schützen, and this offers a nicely balanced nose and palate to match, with a fine mix of tannins and acids, alcohol and fruit. Everything is nicely in place, with excellent length. Best after 2016.

Little Black Book Addresses in The Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal

While not an exhaustive list, these are the producers you shouldn’t miss when traveling through the Danube Valley west of Vienna, or when shopping anywhere for top bottles of grüner veltliner and Riesling from Austria.

Wachau

Weingut Franz Hirtzberger

Weingut Emmerich Knoll

Nikolaihof

Weingut F.X. Pichler

Weingut Rudi Pichler

Weingut Veyder-Malberg

Weingut Pichler-Krutzler

Peter Veyler-Malberg

Peter Veyler-Malberg, Wachau

 

Kamptal

Weingut Rudi Rabl

Weingut Kurt Angerer

Weingut Allram

Weingut Bründlemayer

Weingut Jurtschitsch

Weingut Fred Loimer

 

Kremstal

Weingut Geyerhof

Schloss Gobelsburg

Weingut Hiedler

Weingut Nigl

Salomon Undhof

 

Buyer’s Guide: Top Smart Buys in Ontario

The following recommended wines are currently available in Ontario, either at the LCBO or via consignment agents. Click on each for the details.

White

Loimer Spiegel Grüner Veltliner 2012 Kamptal, 94 $64.95

Weinrieder Riesling Kugler 2009, Weinviertel 92 $29.95

Weingut Loimer Grüner Veltliner Terrassen 2012 Niederösterreich, 92 $39.95

Domäne Wachau Achleiten Smaragd Riesling 2011, Wachau, Austria 92 $36.95

Biohof Pratsch Steinberg Grüner Veltliner 2010, Niederösterreich 91 $35.95
Salomon Undhof Wachtberg Reserve Erste Lage Gr†Ner Veltliner 2011, Kremstal 91 $27.95

X. Pichler Federspiel Loibner Klostersatz Grüner Veltliner 2012 Wachau, 91 $37.95

Salomon Undhof Wachtberg Reserve Erste Lage Grüner Veltliner 2011, Kremstal, 91 $27.95

Loimer Grüner Veltliner Trocken 2013, Dac Kamptal 90 $23.95

Wieninger Gemischter Satz 2013, Vienna 90 $20.95

Kurt Angerer Grüner Veltliner Kies 2013 Niederösterreich, 90 $19.95

Meinklang Grüner Veltliner 2013, Burgenland 89 $15.95

Winzer Krems Edition Chremisa Grüner Veltliner 2012 Niederösterreich, 89 $24.95

Domäne Wachau Terraces Grüner Veltliner 2012, Wachau, 88 $17.95

Zahel Gruner Veltliner Goldberg 2013, Vienna 88 $22.60

Weingut Loimer, Grüner Vetliner ‘lois’ 2013 Niederösterreich, 87 $18.95

Sattlerhof Sauvignon Blanc Vom Sand 2013, Südsteiermark 87 $19.95

 

Red

Heinrich St Laurent 2010, Burgenland 91 $36.95

Weingut Heinrich Blaufränkisch 2012, Burgenland 89 $24.95

Heinrich Zweigelt 2012, Burgenland 89 $24.95

Zantho St Laurent 2011, Burgenland 88 $18.00

 

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

 

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Sept 13th – Part One

Ontario Focus and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Take a short tour by helicopter across the Niagara Peninsula for a bird’s eye view of Canada’s largest growing region (or check out the photos below). You’ll see the three main topographic features of the region that make grape growing possible, and which shape the character of the wines: the Niagara Escarpment, Lake Ontario and the Niagara River. Both the lake and the river moderate climate extremes like the soft focus feature on your camera, and generate crucial air movement to keep vines healthy. The Escarpment for its part contains that moderating effect in the area between the water and the cliff face, like the focus lock feature. And then of course there are the soils…

Ontario is the theme of the September 13th LCBO-VINTAGES release and the focus of this report. And although Ontario’s cool climate is evidently well suited to crisp whites, bubbles and Icewine, this time there are several red wines that really shine. Warmer vintages like 2010 and 2012 provide opportunities for winegrowers to showcase more substantial reds from grapes like merlot, cabernet franc and syrah, while cooler years like 2011 favour more elegantly styled reds. Forty years of learning just how to deal with Ontario’s often challenging climate has softened the vintage variation curve significantly and Ontario can now be counted upon for consistent quality red wines. There’s a great selection below to choose from, with at least two WineAlign critics aligning on almost every wine.

Looking east and north to Lake Ontario, with the forested top of the Escarpment in the foreground

Looking east and north to Lake Ontario, with the forested top of the Escarpment in the foreground

Approaching Château des Charmes from the west - St. David's Bench Sub-Appellation

Approaching Château des Charmes from the west – St. David’s Bench Sub-Appellation

The Niagara River Sub-Appellation Hugging the Riverbank

The Niagara River Sub-Appellation Hugging the Riverbank

Niagara Falls from Above, with US falls in bottom left

Niagara Falls from Above, with US falls in bottom left

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 

The other theme of the release is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, one of Tuscany’s ‘big three’ DOCG appellations. But Vino Nobile is like the middle child, getting less attention than either Chianti or Brunello di Montalcino. Stylistically (as well as geographically), it also falls generally between its two better-known neighbors. Vino Nobile is similarly based on sangiovese, locally called prugnolo gentile, but the rules allow up to 30% of other varieties, which makes pinning down a typical style more challenging. But the best combine real savory Tuscan character with a finesse rarely found in Brunello, and less forced ambition than one encounters in Chianti Classico aiming to live up to an unrealistic flavor profile.

The Annual New Vintage Release Tasting at the Montepulciano Fortress

The Annual New Vintage Release Tasting at the Montepulciano Fortress

A trip to the Fortress of Montepulciano last year to taste the latest releases revealed a region in dynamic development – things are changing in this small hilltop village, and very much for the better.

I credit in part the storied house of Avignonese for the regional shakeup, which was purchased in 2009 by Belgian-born Virginie Saverys. The highly purposeful and self-motivated outsider promptly converted the entire estate to organic/biodynamic farming, and at 200 ha, it’s the largest in the region.

This move has undoubtedly caused some chatter amongst the neighbors: it’s time for everyone to pick it up or get left behind. In any case, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a region worth keeping a close watch on to capture the best before Montalcino-like pricing inevitably sets in. We pick our favorites of the examples on offer.

Buyer’s Guide: Ontario

Rosehall Run 2011 Cuvée County Chardonnay, VQA Prince Edward County ($21.95)
John Szabo - Dan Sullivan’s ’11 County chardonnay is a lean, taught, tightly wound wine with a fine lactic quality in the style of Chablis. A highly representative example all in all, which highlights the County’s mineral character nicely. Best 2014-2019.

Charles Baker 2011 Picone Vineyard Riesling, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($35.20)
David Lawrason – The cooler vintage and excellent ten-acre site farther from the lake at higher altitude have created a riesling with real verve and intensity, including classic Niagara minerality from the older vines on the site planted on clay limestone soils.

Flat Rock 2013 Riesling, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($16.95)
David Lawrason – Flat Rock’s riesling from a high slope on the escarpment has long been a benchmark. The style is juicy, intense and fruit driven, with added acid lift in this great riesling vintage. And Flat Rock has always kept its prices grounded as well.
Sara d’Amato – A love at first sip riesling. The 2013 delivers considerable verve and excitement for the dollar. Bright, racy and dry – lovely on its own but also with also has a great deal of food pairing potential.

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2011 No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver

Thirty Bench 2012 Red, VQA Beamsville Bench ($24.00)
John Szabo – The 1998 Thirty Bench Red has been referenced by several experts as the wine that made them believers in Niagara reds – that wine was a monster at nearly 15% alcohol if I recall correctly. Now 14 years later, the 2012 is in my view even better: better balanced, more poised, more enjoyable to drink while still retaining its full-body, dense, rich and savoury flavours and spicy-fruity complexity. This could easily sit alongside right bank Bordeaux reds at twice the price. Best 2014-2024.
Sara d’Amato – A gold award winner at the National Wine Awards, this impressive Bordeaux style blend delivers intensity, brightness and loads of appeal. The blend exhibits a well-developed balance, focus and definition but is also generous, fleshy and inviting.

Lailey Vineyard 2012 Syrah, VQA Niagara River ($27.20)
John Szabo – I consider Derek Barnett of Lailey a reference point for Niagara syrah, crafting his version in a no-makeup, straight-out-of-bed style, complete with messy hair and a bit of sleepy dust in the eye. Niagara River, along with St. David’s Bench, are arguably the two most suited sub-appellations for the grape. This will give top Northern Rhône syrah a run for the money, at about half the money. Best after 2015.
David Lawrason – From the time I first tasted syrah from the neighboring Delaine Vineyard about ten vintages ago, I knew this little patch of Niagara within a km of the river was a special place for this variety.  The warmer vintage and Derek Barnett’s deftness with barrels have fashioned a very sensual northern Rhonish edition example, which walked off with a gold medal at the 2014 National Wine Awards of Canada.

Tawse 2011 Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($31.95)
John Szabo – I’ve always appreciated the more forward, lively and elegant expression of the Laundry Vineyard in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation, usually the first of the Tawse cabernet’s to be released, and one which Paul Pender has learned to read and allow to express its delicacy rather than impose a pre-conceived style. It takes some time in the glass to reveal its full fruity-floral side, so decant before serving for best enjoyment. Best 2014-2018.

Domaine Queylus 2011 Tradition Pinot Noir, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($29.95).
John Szabo -The wines of newcomer Queylus are made by the venerable Thomas Bachelder, from all-Niagara Escarpment fruit including one of Le Clos Jordanne’s former vineyards even if this is labeled generically as Niagara Peninsula. The style in this cool vintage is decidedly earthy and tart red fruit dominated, with supple but nicely delineated texture. It’s firmly acidic in the best sense, for fans with Euro-leaning sensibilities. Best 2014-2017.
Sara d’Amato – A serious undertaking and a considerable value. This project headed by former Clos Jordanne winemaker Thomas Bachelder betrays the long, laborious but passionate undertaking of friends and colleagues that brought this project to fruition. A lovely balance of new world intensity and old world precision and balance.

Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2011 Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2011 No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver

Château Des Charmes 2012 Merlot St. David’s Bench Vineyard, VQA St. David’s Bench ($29.95)
John Szabo – A big and powerful merlot here, richly fruity, full-bodied, and dense, accurately reflective of both the warm vintage and the house style of red wines built to age. This will likely be best after 2016 or so – there’s plenty of stuffing here to envisage a positive outcome.
David Lawrason – This house has always made reds to age, and so with considerable tannin still at play I would not approach this for another three to five years. That said, the warm year and maturing vines in Niagara’s warmest sub-appellation have created a merlot of substance and yes, even some mid-palate elegance.
Sara d’Amato – Understated but a charmer nonetheless with flavours that blossom with time in the glass to reveal a rather complex array of flavours from licorice and earth to plum and raspberry. Lovely grip and appealing rusticity.

Tawse Growers Blend 2010 Pinot Noir, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Despite 2010 being a hotter, riper year many Niagara pinots suffered lack of colour and structure, and some are already fading. This is one of the strongest pinots of the vintage and it is just now softening into prime. A silver medal winner at this year’s Nationals.

Norman Hardie 2012 County Unfiltered Pinot Noir, VQA Prince Edward County ($39.00)
David Lawrason – This vibrant, perfumed and elegant County pinot has waltzed off with a platinum medal at the National Wine Awards of Canada, a testament perhaps to maturing vines and a warmer season.  It will certainly sell out quickly at the winery so this release may be a last chance to grab some.
Sara d’Amato – The leader of the pack of remarkable County pinot noirs, this warm vintage has bolstered the flavours yet the wine remains both complex and ethereal – the hallmark of Hardie’s wines. Well deserving of its platinum award from this year’s National Wine Awards of Canada.

Buyer’s Guide: Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano

Poliziano 2011 Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy ($29.95)
Castellani Filicheto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2010 Carpineto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Riserva 2008 Poliziano Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011John Szabo – Occasionally it takes only a split-second whiff to confirm that what’s in the glass is of superior quality; such was the case with Poliziano’s Vino Nobile. Beyond aromatics, there’s genuine depth and concentration on the palate, and you have to admire the balance and vibrancy coupled with complexity, for the money. Best now-2020.
David Lawrason – From a leading modernist, this is a very refined, tidy wine – so well balanced and appealing now that it is hard to believe it has only been in bottle over a year.  A lighter vintage may be one reason, as well as ageing up to 16 months, mostly in new French oak.  But it too should age well through the rest of this decade. Lovely fragrance here.

Carpineto 2008 Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($29.95)
David Lawrason – I was pleasantly surprised by the youth this 2008 Riserva is showing. It was not a great vintage, and indeed there is a certain unexpected lightness to this wine. The fruit aromatics are bright and almost floral with oak in the background despite ageing four years before release (two years in large Slavonian oak with a small percent in French barriques). It should handle another five years in the cellar although it is balanced now.

Castellani Filicheto 2010 Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy ($19.95)
John Szabo – A tidy little value from the Vino Nobile mini-thematic – it’s solidly flavoured, savoury and succulent, and ready to enjoy tonight.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Sept 13th:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 30th – Part Two

Pacific Northwest in Passing & Other Critic’s Picks
by David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo MS

David New 2014

David Lawrason

Nothing sparks a wine critic quite like a discussion of scoring wines, but I am personally so tired of the debate after 30 years of critiquing wine, that I find little energy for it. Last week John Szabo hit all the right high points and low points about VINTAGES selection of 90-point wines on this release. I will only add that one of the reasons I love WineAlign is that it’s the only website/publication I know that attempts to let readers align their palates to several expert opinions at once. Scores are nothing if not numerical opinions, and you need to choose who you “Follow”.

I am charged today with focusing on the secondary theme of the release – the Pacific Northwest. VINTAGES focuses only on Oregon and Washington, and misses a great opportunity to include more than two wines from British Columbia – which is of course geographically, culturally and vinously very much in synch with its neighbouring states to the south. The southern Okanagan Valley is actually the northern finger of the Sonoran Desert that cradles the best wines of eastern Washington. The choice of grapes and their stylistic outcome is very similar indeed, and across the entire PNW there is a great spirit of newness, exploration and a brightness in the wines that is defined by higher acidity than achieved in warmer California.

I hold great personal fondness for the northwest – being Vancouver-born and still having strong family ties on Vancouver Island. Some of my closest and dearest friends are from B.C. as well, some of whom I have met through countless visits to Okanagan wine country. I am a bit less familiar with Oregon but I have visited twice, and Washington three times. So when I say I am disappointed by the wines on this release, and VINTAGES general lack of attention to PNW over the years, I do so with a real sense of loss and frustration.

Part of the problem is the price of the wines. VINTAGES is very much stuck in a groove of offering most of its wines just under the $20 mark. Sure, they go over that where a region naturally commands a higher average price, but when a region is less well established they get even more cautious. PNW wines on average are not cheap, so in order to get tax-bloated wines on shelf here at $20 they start scraping the bottom of the commercial PNW barrel. Which is why I do not ‘flag’ any very good buys among the four whites on offer (although John does highlight the Elk Cove Pinot Gris). The reds are a bit more interesting and last week I did give a nod to the A to Z Pinot Noir from Oregon and also like Innocent Bystander Pinot. This week, I’ll add in the Ecole 41 Cabernet Sauvignon (see below).  But that’s about it, until next time, perhaps three years from now, when VINTAGES decides to focus its low wattage spotlight on the region.

Meanwhile, there are many other great buys on shelf Saturday (in some stores sooner). Last week we gave you a long list, and here we three chime in with even more – aligning at times as we go.

White & Sparkling Wines

Blue Mountain 2012  Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, B.C. ($23.95)
David Lawrason – I can’t think of another B.C. winery doing such consistently fine work in recent vintages. The root of its success is the well-established, organically tended vineyard near Okanagan Falls in mid-valley. To me this ideal chardonnay and pinot country, and fine winemaking by the Mavety family that shows restraint and true respect for the terroir is pushing Blue Mountain to the top.
John Szabo – Blue Mountain has been cranking out superb wines across the board in the last couple of vintages, and must be counted among BC’s most reliable (and solid value) names. This is judiciously oaked, savoury and spicy chardonnay, more focused on mature notes rather than simple primary fruit, with much of the enjoyment coming from the layered texture. Best 2014-2018

Elk Cove 2013 Pinot Gris Willamette Valley, Oregon ($24.95)
John Szabo – Forty years make Elk Cove one of the most experienced wineries in Oregon (est. 1974), practicing genuinely sustainable production since long before it became fashionable. But what counts here is what’s in the bottle: a richly flavoured, mineral-inflected, substantial and complex pinot gris made with evident care and ambition. This has the stuffing to get even more interesting over time.

Schloss Reinhartshausen 2012 Hattenheimer Wisselbrunnen Riesling Kabinett Rheingau, Germany ($20.95)
David Lawrason – This venerable, large estate in the Rheingau often sends us brilliant mature rieslings. But they can do ‘young’ very well too. This is super fresh, off dry, lovely riesling with lifted apricot/honeydew melon fruit, gentle spice and a touch of petrol and minerality. Ideal for a late summer’s evening.

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2012 Elk Cove Pinot Gris 2013 Schloss Reinhartshausen Hattenheimer Wisselbrunnen Riesling Kabinett 2012 Clos Marguerite Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Laurent Perrier Brut Champagne

Clos Marguerite 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, New Zealand ($21.95)
John Szabo – The small family winery of Belgian couple Jean-Charles Van Hove and Marguerite Dubois stood out for me when traveling through New Zealand last year. I appreciated then, as now, the evident density and extract, flavour concentration and length of their wines, not to mention the restrained mid old-new world styling. The cooler Awatere Valley sub-region of Marlborough lends its distinctively zesty character to this example, well worth a look by fans of serious sauvignon blanc from anywhere. Best 2014-2018.

Laurent Perrier Brut Champagne, France ($63.95)
Sara d’Amato – I was quite dazzled by this classic Laurent Perrier Cuvée that can easily to stand up to many of the big name Champagnes (and high prices) of this TIFF-inspired release. Save yourself the big bucks and enjoy big names on the silver screen instead.
David Lawrason – This too was my favourite TIFFer Champagne. And you can buy five bottles for the price of one Cristal, or buy one and spend the extra $220 on theatre tickets.

Rose & Reds

Mas Des Bressades 2013 Cuvée Tradition Rosé, Costières De Nîmes, Rhône, France ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – The 2013 Mas Des Bressades proves once again to be one of the best value rosés at the LCBO. This ever charming rosé is dry, generous in fruit and offers plenty of lovely garrigue of the Southern Rhône.

L’Ecole 41 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Situated in a rural schoolhouse this is one of the pioneering wines of Walla Walla, a region that straddles the Washington/Oregon border and produces some quite magnificent Bordeaux-variety reds. This less expensive edition casts a wider net sourcing from the much larger Columbia Valley AVA. It is a solid, authentic cabernet at a very good price, and particularly good value from Washington.

Porcupine Ridge 2012 Syrah/Viognier, Swartland, South Africa ($16.95)
John Szabo – Mark Kent (of Boekenhoutskloof) has had enormous success with the Porcupine Ridge brand, and it’s easy to see why, even if the measured dose of coffee-chocolate wood flavour isn’t usually my cup of tea. But one can’t argue with the length, depth and pleasure that exceed expectations for the price category. Another fine value from the up-and-coming Swartland region that drinks well now, but personally I’d like to see it in 2-3 years. Best 2014-2019.

Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Rosé 2013 L'ecole 41 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Porcupine Ridge Syrah Viognier 2012 Chilensis Lazuli 2011 Domaine Jean Bousquet Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Chilensis 2011 Lazuli, Maule Valley, Chile ($17.95)
David Lawrason – Named after Chile’s famous turquoise stone – lapus lazuli – this is a well managed blend of six grapes led by cabernet, with all the other Bordeaux varieties, plus a dollop of syrah. That may account for its complexity. But its sense of finesse is, I think, reflective of the slightly cooler aspect of the Maule Valley about 300 kms south of Santiago. In any event, I was taken with the balance and lighter touch here.

Domaine Jean Bousquet 2012  Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Tupungato Valley, Uco Valley, Argentina ($14.95)
John Szabo – The wines grown in the high vineyards of Tupungato are increasingly distinguishing themselves from those of lower, flatter, hotter Mendoza. This is fine, and savoury, characterful and well-balanced cabernet with plenty of flavour for the money. Best 2014-2018.

Casa Brancaia 2011 Tre,  Tuscany, Italy ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Tre encapsulates modern Tuscany, as an entity onto itself. It draws grapes from three vineyards in both the Classico zone and southerly Maremma. It uses three grape varieties, with sangiovese leading at 80% plus cabernet and merlot. And it combines all these elements into an artful wine that is both refined and lively, hitting excellent length without being at all ponderous.

Xavier 2010 Côtes Du Rhône, Rhône Valley, France ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – This project by consultant oenologist Xavier Vignon hailing from the Southern Rhône is impressive at first sip. A finely crafted crowd-pleaser – fleshy and well balanced with an abundance of fruit and a voluptuous mouthfeel (not to mention great packaging).

Brancaia Tre 2011Xavier Côtes Du Rhone 2010 Montresor Capitel Della Crosara Valpolicella Ripasso 2011Domaine Des Amouriers Signature Vacqueyras 2011 Marziano Abbona Pressenda Barolo 2008

Montresor 2011 Capitel Della Crosara Valpolicella Ripasso, Veneto, Italy ($18.95)
David Lawrason – I struggle to enjoy and define what passes for ripasso these days. The lines and the quality between ‘basic’ Valpolicella, ripasso and amarone are blurring. Then along comes a fine, more traditional, slightly firm (less soupy) ripasso that gives me back my bearings. Very fragrant, balanced and delicious.

Domaine Des Amouriers 2011 Signature Vacqueyras, Rhône Valley, France ($24.95)
David Lawrason – The 2011 vintage was not the most opulent or concentrated in the southern Rhône, and indeed this does seem a bit ‘lighter’. But it still carries the richer ambiance of Vacqueyras, it is balanced and hits all the high notes with pepper, licorice, dried herbs. The Polish Chudzikiewicz  family has farmed the 25-ha site since 1900, with fourth generation Igor converting the site to organic viticulture this year.

Marziano Abbona 2008 Pressenda Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($52.95)
David Lawrason – I have to be stirred fairly deeply to include a $50 Barolo as a value; but this mature, very elegant, complex example is everything I look for in this famous wine. So often we hear and write about Barolo’s needing time, having great potential etc. etc.  But this one is ready to drink, and should be put on the shopping list of anyone who has been wanting to go to school on Barolo.

And that’s the ballgame for this week. One of the greatest and busiest weekends of the year is coming up. We hope you get to enjoy it with a fine meal and bottle of wine or two. We return in September with a full slate of Buyers Guides to VINTAGES releases, to the LCBO General List, and with a special Ontario Wine Report that will highlight the very best from Niagara, PEC and Lake Erie that we have encountered at the National Wine Awards of Canada and elsewhere.

Until next time!

 

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES August 30th release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
August 30th Part One – Southern France

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2012

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 30th – Part One

Head-Scratching 90-point wines, and more importantly, Smart Buys
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

It’s time again for the yearly 90+ point wine release at LCBO-VINTAGES [yawn]. It used to cause so much excitement, including those frenzied pre-dawn lineups on Saturday morning as buyers scrambled to get their allocations of top-scoring bottles like limited concert tickets. Now, it seems to slide languidly by more like a late summer stream, eddying lazily under the weeping willows, barely causing a stir.

You can be forgiven for thinking that a 90-point score means little these days, especially when presented as virtually all retailers, including the LCBO, do. The basic protocol is to scour planetary archives for the highest score for whatever’s on sale, and drop it into the catalogue without context as though there were some international treaty defining the meaning of the 100-point scale. Anybody’s review is fair game, credible or not, only stopping short at repurposing reviews from buyareview.com. Look long enough, and eventually you’ll find the number you’re looking for.

93 point, $13.95 grüner vetliner? I’m sure even the producer is scratching his head at that one. There are plenty of competent, well made wines in this release (like that grüner), but it would be a supreme hot yoga stretch to count them in the very top echelon of wines made around the world, as a 90+ rating would imply, at least in my context.

Ultimately this approach is a disservice to consumers. It distorts reality and sets up untenable expectations, and makes it impossible to sort out the good from the really and truly excellent. The 100-point scale loses the only value it has, which is a measure of one reviewer’s preference, within his or her relative context, and as a simple way of sorting out thousands of options to arrive at a starting point. And when scores become completely meaningless, what will those retailers do?

But rather than flog the scoring issue more than I already have, we’ll focus this report instead – like all WineAlign reports – on a handful of wines that David, Sara and I think are worth your attention, and more importantly, money, including a handful of particularly good pinot noirs in this release. You can decide what score, if any, is applicable.

Next week David will turn the spotlight on the Pacific Northwest, and BC in particular.

Buyer’s Guide LCBO-Vintages August 30th 2014: Smart Buys

New World Pinot Noir

The New World, and the Southern Hemisphere come up big in this release. Three emerging classic regions south of the equator are worth investigating, and Niagara also shows its quality, versatility, and value.

Waipara Hills Pinot Noir 2012Schubert Block B Pinot Noir 2011Schubert Block B 2011 Pinot Noir, Wairarapa, New Zealand ($55.95)
John Szabo – Schubert is one of the leaders in Wairarapa (Martinborough), and this pinot shows the depth and spiciness of which the region is capable. Although not inexpensive, to borrow a quote from Allen Meadows (burghound.com), in the world of pinot “you don’t always get what you pay for, but you never get what you don’t pay for”. I can easily picture the low-yielding vines and small bunches from this naturally un-generous region (in the best, qualitative sense). This is an excellent, concentrated, very masculine pinot. Best 2016-2023.

Waipara Hills 2012 Pinot NoirCentral Otago, New Zealand ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Waipara Hills winery is on the east coast north of Christchurch; but the grapes for this wine are from Central Otago, about six hours by car farther south and inland.  The pinots achieve considerable ripeness here in this semi-arid region, showing cherry jam, a certain juiciness and warmth, and richness. This shows the style well.
Sara d’Amato – Central Otago’s distinctive power and aromatic impact is most distinctively represented in this savory Waipara Hills. Violets and spice make their way to the lush and fruity palate which remains bright and buoyant.

Innocent Bystander 2012 Pinot NoirYarra Valley, Australia ($21.95)
John Szabo – Yarra is firmly on the map as a source of excellent pinot noir, and this example from Innocent Bystander, their entry range (Giant Steps is the top, and also excellent range) is perfectly zesty and lively, spicy and fresh, all raspberry and strawberry, nicely capturing the spirit of the region at a very fair price. Best now-2017.

Familia Schroeder 2012 Saurus Select Pinot NoirPatagonia, Argentina ($19.95)
John Szabo – During my last trip to Argentina Patagonia stood out as the country’s most exciting region, especially if seeking more balanced, fresher wines. Although this is undoubtedly a full-bodied and concentrated wine, ripe and extracted relative to Innocent Bystander’s version, I do appreciate the purity and density of fruit. For fans of New World-style pinot in any case. Best 2014-2018
Sara d’Amato – A modern, but cool climate, new world style of pinot noir from the southern tip of Argentina. This generous pinot delivers a great deal of impact and impressive complexity for the price.

A To Z Wineworks 2012 Pinot Noir, Oregon USA ( $24.95)
David Lawrason – Pinot lovers knows that Oregon is an international frontrunner. To me the style nestles between California and BC which of course makes sense geographically as Oregon’s Willamette Valley lies at 45 degrees latitude. A to Z  has grown out of the Rex Hill Winery property as the vision of Oregon pinot veterans who wanted to make more affordable pinot (a noble pursuit in a region where high prices prevail)  This is not perfect but it delivers the spirit of Oregon pinot well – some weight and ripeness without the jaminess of California.

Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir 2012 Familia Schroeder Saurus Select Pinot Noir 2012 A To Z Wineworks Pinot Noir 2012 Fog Head Highland Series Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 Sperling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012

Fog Head 2012 Highland Series Reserve Pinot Noir, Monterey County, California, USA ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Between the influence of the fog and the cooler vintage, this savory, aromatic pinot noir seems to hit all the right notes. Cherry blossom, ginger, a touch of dried leaf – this compelling wine of good length is certainly a steal.

Sperling Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($27.95)
David Lawrason – The slopes on the east and west sides of the lake near Kelowna are, in my mind, prime pinot country in BC. The Sperling site is farther “inland’  and higher altitude, producing a lighter, tighter, leaner pinot style, that is still based on a “hot rock-lava”minerality I have come to pick up in this region.  Riveting, mouthwatering wine that should age very well. Sara d’Amato – Sperling’s home vineyard site in the Okanagan is home to this expressive and world-class pinot with both freshness and impact. Modern, stylish but well endowed with classic pinot charm.

Local Pinot

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Old Vines Pinot Noir 2010Rosewood Select Pinot Noir 2012Rosewood Select Series 2012 Pinot Noir, Niagara Escarpment ($21.95)
John Szabo – Of the two local pinots I recommend this week, Rosewood’s represents the light and delicate, feminine side of the grape, also in the dusty, savoury and earthy flavour spectrum. I think this style works well for Niagara, especially at the price. Think savoury Côte de Beaune style. Best 2014-2017.
Sara d’Amato -This premium series pinot noir from meadery Rosewood Estate is an impressive feat of complexity, depth and compelling texture. Long and elegant and featuring notes of exotic spice, bramble and cherry.

Château Des Charmes 2010 Estate Bottled Old Vines Pinot NoirNiagara-on-the-Lake ($18.95)
John Szabo – Compared to the Rosewood pinot, CdC’s is decidedly meaty, firm and tannic, reflective of this warmer corner of Niagara and the typical sort of rustic profile I often find in St. David’s Bench pinot. I’d let this unwind for another year or two for maximum enjoyment. Best 2015-2020.

Sparkling, White and Red

Graham Beck Brut Rosé Méthode Cap Classique, Western Cape, South Africa ($20.95)
John Szabo – This is a terrific value for money from Graham Beck, delivering substantial red berry and toasty brioche flavours in a complex ensemble.

Gaston Chiquet Brut Rosé, Champagne, France (54.95)
David Lawrason – This 23 hectare family property has delivered a quite delicate well balance pink Champagne. It is based predominantly on pinot meunier, the third cousin red grape of the region, with some pinot noir. Although not a high-strung, acid driven Champagne it does deliver gentle red fruit flavours with some charm and tenderness. Please don’t over chill this mild-mannered wine.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve Champagne, France ($64.95)
David Lawrason – This famous house delivers real finesse in its Champagnes.  It is light, elegant and racy with mature aromas of straw, honey, pear custard and spice. Very refined with great length.

Graham Beck Brut Rosé, Méthode Cap Classique Gaston Chiquet Brut Rosé Champagne Billecart Salmon Brut Réserve Champagne Evening Land Seven Springs Chardonnay 2011 Stags' Leap Winery Viognier 2013

Evening Land 2011 Seven Springs ChardonnayEola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($58.95)
John Szabo – From the vineyard of the same name and made by Canadian Isabelle Meunier (formerly assistant winemaker at Le Clos Jordanne in Niagara) under the consultancy of Dominique Lafon, this is a stellar wine, even if from relatively young vines. I love the salty, tangy, savoury profile fully shifted into the tertiary phase (i.e. not simply fruity), and wonderful textured – an authentic terroir expression. Best 2014-2021.

Stags’ Leap Winery 2013 Viognier Napa Valley, California ($34.95)
John Szabo – One of the best viogniers from this storied estate that I’ve had – the wines seem to get better here every year under Christophe Paubert. It would make a cracking match with Vietnamese dishes inflected with basil and a touch of heat. Best 2014-2019.

De Buxy Buissonnier 2011 Montagny 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($19.95)
David Lawrason – I’ve always been a fan of tender, fruity chardonnays of Montagny, a village in the Chalonnais blessed with a seam of limestone soil. This is a classic Burgundy chardonnay with pure apple, grapefruit and just a touch oak spice.

Domaine Le Verger 2012 Chablis, France ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Great value here in a basic but quite exciting taut, firm mouthwatering Chablis, just what I expect from chardonnay grown around the sleepy village in northern France.  No oak; just mouth-watering acidity and Chablis’s certain stoniness.

Domaine Cauhapé 2013 Chant Des Vignes Dry Jurancon, France ($16.95)
John Szabo – Looking for something different? Try this original wine from southwest France made from gros and petit manseng. It’s more fruity than floral, and more stony than fruity, yet with most of the action on the palate. Density and weight are great for the money, and length is also impressive. Cauhapé is a reference for the region. Best 2014-2018.

De Buxy Buissonnier Montagny 1er Cru 2011 Domaine Le Verger Chablis 2012 Domaine Cauhapé Chant Des Vignes Dry Jurancon 2013 Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2012

Creekside 2013 Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc, Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95)
John Szabo – Creekside has made a specialty of sauvignon blanc, and this 2013 from the vineyard behind the estate (the “Backyard”) delivers fine intensity and depth. It sits on the riper side of the spectrum, more guava and passion fruit than green herbs and asparagus, with lovely fleshy orchard fruit on the palate.

Penfolds 2012 Bin 128 Shiraz Coonawarra, South Australia ($34.95)
John Szabo – It would be hard to imagine a more consistent company than Penfolds, and the Bin 128, created in 1962 to reflect cooler, spicy Coonawarra shiraz, has just about everything one could want at the price. French oak, which replaced American from the 1980 vintage onward, contributes to making this a relatively restrained and elegant example, albeit definitely dense and concentrated. Best 2014-2022.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Aug 30th:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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South Africa in The Spotlight Part Two: Getting Cooler

South Africa in The Spotlight: Part Two

Part one of the series last week makes the pitch for South Africa as one of the most exciting countries in the world of wine, and examines the Swartland region and its top producers. This entry covers the cool Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

Regions to Watch: The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (“heaven and earth”) is technically three separate wards within the district of Walker Bay: there’s the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley itself as well as the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, and Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, as you move inland from the seaside town of Hermanus. There are currently eleven wineries in the valley and 14 grape growers, and growing.

The coast by Hermanus, Walker Bay

The coast by Hermanus, Walker Bay

This is pinot noir and chardonnay territory par excellence, cooled by breezes off the Atlantic Ocean, which in turn are chilled by the icy Benguela current that surges up from Antarctica and bounces off the Cape. Soils vary greatly, but follow the general South African pattern of variations on shale, sandstone and granite. The clay content, however, heavier at either end of the valley but lower in the middle, regulates the relative weight of pinot noirs, Anthony Hamilton Russell tells me. “The middle part of the valley [the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde] will always make lighter and delicate pinots”, he says, while more clay equates to fuller bodied and more structured examples.

Anthony’s father Tim Hamilton Russell was the first to plant vines in Walker Bay, although it wasn’t known then as Walker Bay. Travelling frequently to his holiday home in the old seaside fishing town of Hermanus, he was struck by the possibility of winegrowing in this cool maritime region. At the time it was outside of any official demarcated wine growing areas, and the pinot, chardonnay and sauvignon that Hamilton Russell made in the mid-eighties was labeled simply as “Western Cape Red/White Wine” without mention of region or grape.

Eventually the government would create the Walker Bay District, but it is a very large area with vastly different soils and micro climates, and so without logical coherence. It was then broken up five years ago into five wards: the Standford Valley, Bot River Valley, and the three Hemel-en-Aarde wards. “It’s been a commercially difficult transition, as the appellation is a mouthful to be sure, whereas Walker Bay is known and easy” says Hamilton Russell.

The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley with the Atlantic in the distance, seen from Newton Johnson Vineyards

The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley with the Atlantic in the distance, seen from Newton Johnson Vineyards

Early challenges in the region included a lack of good plant material. The first clone of pinot noir available in South Africa was the Swiss Wadenswill clone, better suited to sparkling wine production in cool climates, and evidently not ideal for the Cape. “One of the frustrations for pinot noir producers in this country is that we’re in the minority” laments Bevan Newton Johnson of Newton Johnson Vineyards. “Nurseries are much better equipped to respond to the demands of cabernet, merlot and shiraz producers. We’d send in orders but there was no incentive to offer quality clones. They knew we’d have to take what was available”.

Better clonal material such as the Dijon clones would eventually arrive, but another ongoing problem is endemic leaf roll virus. Most vineyards have to be replanted every dozen or so years, meaning that many vines may never reach their maximum quality potential.

Yet challenges aside, the wines from the Hemel-en-Aarde have a finesse and elegance unknown elsewhere in South Africa, and I suspect this little piece of heaven and earth will soon be much better-known both domestically and internationally.

The Hemel-en-Aarde Producers to Know 

Anthony Hamilton Russell in his beautiful Canadian beaver pelt fedora

Anthony Hamilton Russell in his beautiful Canadian beaver pelt fedora

Hamilton-Russell. Little intro is needed here; Hamilton Russell is the original and still the gold standard for the region. The wines are all class, like Anthony Hamilton Russell himself, an English aristocrat who happens to be South African. Watch out for the turtles roaming the gardens in front of Braemar, the home of Anthony & Olive Hamilton Russell. The very good Southern Right and Asbourne labels are also produced by the Hamilton Russell team.

Newton Johnson Vineyards. This is a gorgeous spot in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde with a view to the coast down the Valley. It’s very much a family affair, with father Dave Newton Johnson a Cape Wine Master with thirty years experience in the business, and sons Gordon (winemaking) and Bevan (Managing Director, marketing).

Prior to settingling in the valley, Dave worked at Distell, South Africa’s largest wine company. But pinot noir was always his passion, and he used to drag his kids up to Walker Bay to see Peter Finlayson (former winemaker at Hamilton Russell before launching his own winery, Bouchard Finlayson, with a group of 18 investors including Paul Bouchard from Burgundy) to taste pinot. Pinot noir was, after all, Dave’s dissertation topic in the 1980s for his Master’s degree, a time when very little was known about the grape in South Africa.

Bevan (left) and Gordon Newton Johnson

Bevan (left) and Gordon Newton Johnson

He eventually purchased land in the area in the late 1990s and was joined by his sons; the purpose was clear: to focus on pinot noir. They started from scratch and have since planted sixteen hectares over the years 2002-2004. Chardonnay, sauvignon and the Rhône varieties play supporting roles.

Lunch at Newton Johnson (pork belly is all the rage in South Africa, too)

Lunch at Newton Johnson (pork belly is all the rage in South Africa, too)

Overall, the wines at Newton Johnson are pristine and perfumed, finely crafted, elegant, with a minimum of extraction and emphasis on elegance, precisely what the lighter soils in this middle section of the valley are best suited to produce. Research and experimentation continues. “Nobody has more than 30 years experience growing pinot in South Africa. We have so much to learn”, Bevan reveals.

As an aside, the restaurant at Newton Johnson is one of the finest in the Cape and certainly Michelin star-quality. Don’t miss a chance to dine here if you find yourself in the area.

Creation Wines. Husband and wife team Jean-Claude (JC) and Carolyn Martin run this tidy operation in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge ward. The couple started from the ground up, converting a sheep farm under the imposing Babylon Mountain peak to vineyards in 2002, and following that with a cellar and restaurant in 2007. This part of the valley is about ten kilometers from the sea and at 300m elevation. And the climate is notably more continental: “midnight is always 12ºC cooler than the daytime high” JC tells me, and “harvest is two weeks later than the lower part of the Valley”.

Jean-Claude Martin, Creation Wines

Jean-Claude Martin, Creation Wines

More clay surfaces here amidst the 450 million-year-old Bokkersfeld shale soils, as it does lower down, favouring more structured wines. The Martins have forty hectares planted principally to pinot noir, with a mix of other varieties including chardonnay, syrah and grenache. 

Over lunch we’re treated to a first hand dose of Ridge weather. From calm, hot and sunny on arrival, within a matter of minutes a large front moves in from the north. Weather events hit here about a day after they move through Stellenbosch and Paarl as fronts curl around the cape and head up the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. The wind picks up and guest quickly scurry inside as the restaurant staff scrambles to lower umbrellas and close the sliding doors. Rain is imminent. The weather can change here in five minutes.

Carolyn Martin, Creation Wines, with her fancy double decanting device

Carolyn Martin, Creation Wines, with her fancy double decanting device

Safely inside, we sit down to a well-orchestrated wine and food pairing. Correctly speaking, Creation doesn’t have a restaurant, I’m told, but rather a “degustation room”. Carolyn is emphatic about ensuring that everything works to highlight the wines. On the menu, every dish is accompanied by a wine – in fact ordering food without wine is frowned upon (there’s a separate playroom for children – a brilliant idea that should be emulated the world over in my view – so that the adults can play in peace). Carolyn works daily with the chef, fine tuning dishes to pair with Creation wines, and everything is expertly done with love and care, down to proper serving temperature (reds are served cool) and double decanting wines when necessary. We have an excellent experience.

JC, who is of Swiss-French origin, is no less precise on the winemaking side. These are skillfully crafted and widely appealing wines, to the point that one almost wishes for a hair to be out of place. But there isn’t – every bottle is neatly coloured within the lines, a reasonable feat considering a production of 200,000 bottles under the Creation label, and another 150,000 bottles under the Whale Pod, made mostly from purchased fruit “and bits and pieces” of estate fruit. There are three tiers: Creation Estate, Creation Reserve, and the two top wines labeled “The Art of Chardonnay” and “The Art of Pinot Noir”. And JC tells me that his clones of pinot noir are virus-free, unlike the majority in the valley, meaning that as they age the full potential of Hemel-en-Aarde terroir may be revealed.

Also Noteworthy:

Peter Finlayson

Peter Finlayson

Sumaridge. A quality producer in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, owned by the Bellingham Turner family. Chardonnays here are a little denser and riper than the average in the region. Look also for the excellent “Epitome” cuvée, a shiraz-pinotage blend reminiscent of the southern Rhône.

Bouchard Finlayson. Although quality is highly variable from wine to wine and vintage to vintage, the estate is worth a mention as one of the longest-established in the region after Hamilton Russell, where Peter Finlayson was winemaker until the early 1990s. The 2007 and 2011 Galpin Peak pinot noir are among the best I’ve tasted from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, while the Overberg unoaked chardonnay is also worth a look.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Part One: Revolution in the Swartland; Buyer’s guide to South African Wines

Bad cop, good cop - Québec journalist Jessica harnois and Laurel Keenan of Wines of South Africa

Bad cop, good cop – Québec journalist Jessica Harnois and Laurel Keenan of Wines of South Africa


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 16th – Part Two

Malbec and Mighty Fine Whites
by David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo MS

David New 2014

David Lawrason

Argentine malbec is a secondary feature in the August 16th release (south of France was featured in Part One). There are six wines that range from $15.95 (the price many are used to paying) up to $74.95 (which will undoubtedly cause some to question the new world order). And in between there are malbecs at $22.95 and $45.95. The more expensive wines do indeed show elevated quality. In fact the Colomé Reserva ($74.95) may be the best red of the release, at least on par with two just-under-$100 Bordeaux that are In Store Discoveries. But it will likely gather moss on the shelf. Which outlines the huge difficulty New World nations face in establishing the cred that Europeans (and now Napa) takes for granted. Wine reputations take time; and it takes courage to keep putting them out there. I am delighted that VINTAGES has purchased this wine, and so should Argentina be delighted.

But what of Argentine malbec in general – as reflected by half of the lower priced entries? Malbec was a wine that swept to power in the late 2000s as a tasty and affordable red just as the market for pricey wine was going into a recessionary tailspin. But now that the dust is settling we are taking a harder look. It is, if nothing else, big – at a time when sensibilities are lightening up. And you can’t just make malbec lighter with the flip of a switch. You can try to make balanced, complex and more refined malbecs, but this is difficult if you have to sell them under $20. Sweetening and oaking become key tools to impart drinkability, and then they all tend to taste the same. The homogeny of cheap Argentine malbec has become its biggest obstacle. So my mission now is to seek out, and be prepared to pay more for more expensive malbecs from producers focused on making higher quality, smaller batch, regional examples.

Meanwhile, there are several other wines worth a look on this release, including a bevy of nifty Italian and other Euro whites that superbly catch the sultry mood of August. We actually have triple alignment on the enchanting Basa Rueda from Spain. There are also excellent aged German rieslings, and Ontario chips in with a great Norman Hardie chardonnay. Plus there is an assortment of other reds put forward Sara d’Amato, John Szabo and I. Happy hunting!

Argentine Malbec

Colomé 2010 Reserva Malbec, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina  ($74.95)
David Lawrason – This very serious red hails from a historic winery in the province of Salta, far to the north of Mendoza. It registers excellent to outstanding depth, complexity and overall quality, but what I find intriguing is the different, more compact and linear demeanour that it demonstrates compared to Mendoza malbec peers.
Sara d’Amato – Colomé is one of Argentina’s oldest wineries and is home to the world’s highest elevation vineyards (we’re talking 3000 meters above sea level) – no wonder they can produce a wine of such balance, brightness and depth. This highly recommended example, although pricey, is both cellar worthy and undeniably memorable.

Decero 2011 Remolinos Vineyard Malbec, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina ($22.95)
David Lawrason – This is a refined, even keeled malbec from a single vineyard in the sub-region of Agrelo which lies in the heart of Mendoza south of the city. The Remolinos site is at 1050 metres, at the highest point of the region, where ripening is slowed thanks to cooling winds that sweep down from the Andes at night.

Colomé Reserva Malbec 2011 Decero Remolinos Vineyard Malbec 2011 Viña Cobos Bramare Malbec 2011 Graffigna Grand Reserve Malbec 2010

Viña Cobos 2011 Bramare Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina, ($45.95)
Sara d’Amato – Here is a wine that will bring out the fiery tango dancer in you. This is a riveting malbec with the depth and complexity to rival the best in this category. Unctuous and texturally intriguing with the elusive “sweet spot” of balance masterfully achieved. Vina Cobos is a shared partnership between renowned American oenologist Paul Hobbs and Argentine winemaking partners Andrea Marchiori and Luis Barraud.

Graffigna 2011 Grand Reserve Malbec, San Juan, Argentina, ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – In the best value category of this feature, this San Juan gem is refreshingly dry, a little tart and pleasantly fruity. A malbec you needn’t fear will overwhelm your main course but also one that is sure to please a crowd.

Whites

Norman Hardie Niagara ChardonnayBasa Blanco 2013Basa Blanco 2013, Rueda Spain ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This is a lovely, lively verdejo from great Spanish winemaker Telmo Rodriguez. Rueda whites are based on a terrific white grape called verdejo, that often is blended with a bit of sauvignon blanc. That was the formula for Basa as well, but in 2013 the sauvignon was replaced by 8% viura, a high acid native Spanish variety that has perhaps given this wine its amazing freshness.
John Szabo – Another fine edition, perhaps one of the best yet, of the Basa Rueda signed by Telmo Rodriguez. This smells like quality sauvignon blanc, or more accurately fumé blanc, with its gentle sweet herbal aromas and fruit shifting into the tropical – melon, guava, passion fruit spectrum.
Sara d’Amato – A sophisticated blend of verdejo and viura by iconic producer Telmo Rodriguez who is well-known for his work promoting indigenous varietals and delving into lesser known regions. This wine benefits from his keen and gentle touch and delivers a generous dose of zest, mineral and pure, refreshing fruit to the palate. A fabulous summer treat!

Norman Hardie 2012 Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)
John Szabo – It’s more often Hardie’s County wines that excite me, but this 2012 Niagara chardonnay is a beauty – a wine of serious substance and minerality, and terrific depth. I love how he can stuff so much flavour into a wine with under 13% alcohol – a lesson that should be absorbed by more winemakers everywhere. Best 2014-2020
David Lawrason – This took a gold medal at the 2014 National Wine Awards of Canada. Both it and its County counterpart are stunningly good in 2012, wowing both local and international critics at i4c. Having followed Norm Hardie from day-one I am not surprised by his success, but in 2012 his chardonnays have leapt to a new level.

Dr. Hermann 2005 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Auslese, Mosel, Germany ($23.95)
John Szabo – What a great price for this superb, mature auslese, by no means at the end of life, with abundant minerality, succulent fruit and gentle spearmint notes (a flavour I often get in aged German riesling) – hard to beat this.
David Lawrason – This mature, sweet, honeyed riesling offers character far beyond its price. It is almost a must-buy for anyone who needs a bit of education on riesling’s ability to age. (no image available)

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012 Alana Tokaj Tokaji Harslevelu 2005 Beyra Vinhos De Altitude 2012 Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay 2012

Vineland Estates 2012 Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – This continues to prove a top-caliber riesling, not only for Niagara, but is also a world-class example. This picture of elegance and power stems from an esteemed vineyard site from the Vineland estate itself planted in 1979. Vibrant, nervy and energetic – here is a firecracker of a riesling.

Alana-Tokaj 2005 Tokaji Dry Harslevelu Tokaj, Hungary ($24.95)
John Szabo – And here’s another beautifully mature wine that still has lots of life left, from an artisanal producer in Tokaj. Although the label says dry, it’s more like a gentle late-harvest style with the merest sensation of sweetness, and complexity is off the charts. Look for the saliva-inducing saltiness of volcanic terroir underlying the weighty ensemble – for $25 this is a real tour de flavour. Best 2014-2018.

Beyra Vinhos De Altitude 2012, Beiras Interior, Portugal ($13.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a brilliantly lively and perfumed blend of local varieties siría and fonte cal, like Chablis meets Sancerre. Vineyards at 700m on the schist soils of inland Portugal (just south of the Douro) are cool enough to yield this perfectly ripe wine at just 12% alc, focused on delicate citrus and sweet green herbs, with a killer streak of wet stone minerality.

Valdespino Inocente Single Vineyard Fino Dry SherryMiopasso Fiano 2012Beringer 2012 Private Reserve ChardonnayNapa Valley, California ($44.95)
David Lawrason – In a field of generally boring, over-oaked Calfornia chardonnays, this classic stood out for its poise and complexity – combining all the elements and expressing them with both authority and restraint. I am often hard on California wines for its pricing – this one is worth the money, perhaps even good value.

Miopasso 2012 Fiano Terre Siciliane, Sicily, Italy ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – The Miopasso range of wines focuses on indigenous varietals from southern Italy. This 100% fiano is flinty, smoky and mineral with a burst of citrus and delicate floral aromas. It is totally refreshing and immensely pleasurable.

Valdespino Inocente Single Vineyard Fino Dry Sherry, Spain ($22.95)
John Szabo – So salty and savoury, this is like an aperitif and an appetizer wrapped into one. Fantastic nuttiness, green olive brine, fresh bread and waxy citrus fruit flavours, in short, tremendous complexity, is apparently not for everyone (considering slumping sherry sales). But why would you spend the same $23 or more on a me-too generic cabernet from anywhere? Bring on the tapas.

Other Reds

Carvalhais 2011 Duque De Viseu Red, Dão, Portugal ($13.95)
Sara d’Amato – Portugal once again proves to be the land of great value. At under $14, this lightly perfumed and characteristically spicy wine from Dao is full-bodied and chalk full of perfectly ripened fruit. This lovely specimen will serve you well from aperitif to main course.
David Lawrason –
About halfway through tasting this dark, delicious, fruit-packed red I paused to check its price and just fell off my chair in surprise.  Enough said. You must try it.

Ninin De Antonino Izquierdo 2009Ribera del Duero Spain ($23.95)
John Szabo – Coming into its own now, I like the florality reminiscent of reds from further north in Spain like Bierzo, and the fine, pleasant bitterness. Best 2014-2019.

López De Haro 2008 CrianzaRioja Spain ($15.95)
John Szabo – It’s hard to ask for more for a $16 wine, especially if you’re a fan of old school Rioja. The resemblance to great traditionalist Lopez de Heredia Bodega doesn’t stop at the name and label design. This is an authentic regional wine. Best 2014-2020.

Carvalhais Duque De Viseu Red Ninin De Antonino Izquierdo 2009 López De Haro Crianza 2008 Apollonio Copertino Rosso 2007 Abad Dom Bueno Mencía 2008 Domaine De L'olivette Excellence Chusclan Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2012

Apollonio 2007 Copertino Rosso, Puglia, Italy ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This mature, rustic Italian country red will work better with a winter stew (the website actually recommends horse meat as a potential food much), but grab some now. It’s a blend of negroamaro 70% and montepulciano 30% that is absolutely stuffed with mouth-filling flavour and it has surprising harmony.

Abad Dom Bueno 2008 Mencía, Bierzo, Spain ($16.10)
David Lawrason – Here is yet another mencia-based red that performs well above its price with the power, structure and depth found in $40 reds from more famous regions of Spain and indeed the rest of Europe. The more I taste Bierzo the more I am convinced the mencia grape belongs in the gallery of the worlds best red wine grapes – up there with cabernet,syrah and company.

Domaine De l’Olivette 2012 Excellence Chusclan Côtes Du Rhône Villages, Rhône, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Chusclan is a tiny village appellation of only 250 hectares located on the banks of the Cèze river, a minor tributary of the Rhône and close to the town of Orange. This is a hot a sunny appellation, heavy in grenache, commonly known for its juicy, easy drinking reds and Tavel-style roses. This example from l’Olivette was a delight to discover with delicious botanical notes and distinctive garrigue.

****

That’s a wrap for this edition. Watch next week for our first Preview of the August 30 release, and don’t forget to check out Steve Thurlow’s round-up of the best new LCBO General List arrivals. Our national WineAlign team is convening in Toronto to judge the World Wine Awards of Canada. Busy times indeed.

Until next time!

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES August 16th release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
August 16th Part One – Southern France

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 16th – Part One

Southern France
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Southern France in general, and the sprawling crescent-shaped region of the Languedoc-Roussillon in particular, is one of the smartest places to go shopping for character-filled wines at inordinately low prices. That’s the focus of this week’s report, and of the VINTAGES August 16th release. Read on for some terrific values in the robust red category and more.

Southern France: Hot Spot for Value

Southern France, or the Midi as it’s popularly known (because the scorching sun always seems to be right above your head, as at noon), continues on the trajectory towards quality wine started back in the 1990s. The bureaucracy-fraught process of identifying unique terroirs (and getting everybody to agree on where to draw the lines) continues in French wine officialdom, even if the most experienced growers in this millennial wine region have known the sources of the top wines since time immemorial.

The latest area to be granted official AOP status (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) is the Terrasses du Larzac, while La Clape awaits its promotion likely later this year, joining now fifteen table wine appellations and four fortified muscat AOPs in the Languedoc. The Roussillon is home to another three table wine and six fortified wine AOPs. In all, this massive region is incredibly varied at best, and hopelessly bewildering at worst, with terroirs as diverse as the sandy seaside AOPs like Picpoul de Pinet, to the more elevated, inland AOPs where altitude (as in the sparkling wine enclave of Limoux), and myriad soils like schist in St. Chinian, limestone in Minervois-La Livinières or sandstones in the Grès de Montpellier play an important role in wine style. Considering that together the Languedoc and Roussillon contribute nearly 30% of France’s annual wine production, there’s a lot to discover.

Sara d’Amato, who has just returned from her 27th trip to southern France, has this to say:

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

“I feel like I know it less than ever before; the region is an incredibly complex tapestry that is still being sewn. It’s both steeped in tradition and yet has some of the most progressive producers, and with every visit there are new appellations to discover (one of interest in the August 16th release is Malepère).”

But what’s also important to know is that this corner of France, perhaps because of its sheer size, its complexity and the historic reputation for inferior bulk wine that still seems to dog the region, is an excellent source for value. The Languedoc-Roussillon still has yet to really establish itself as a source of high quality in the way that many other parts of France have, and thus prices run up against the relatively low ceilings of commercial reality. Yet it’s not for lack of effort or even quality in the glass.

The climate, “one of the sunniest and driest on earth”, a bronzed Sara reminds me, lends itself to quasi de facto organic viticulture. Many of the top estates have been farming this way for generations. Large tracks of old vines are the rule rather than the exception, and the myriad of grape varieties and terroirs offer an enticing palette of styles. And most importantly, a large and growing number of vignerons, including of course locals, but also foreigners (especially English) who’ve fallen in love with the region and its climate and have been inspired to make small batches of quality wine, as well as celebrated winegrowers from other parts of France who’ve recognized the confluence of potential quality and relatively low production costs, are taking advantage of the circumstances to make excellent inexpensive wine.

For the southern France-themed VINTAGES release on August 16th, many of the same, larger producers appear again (thanks in part to their active and competent importing agents), and thus as usual many of the smaller boutique producers get pushed out. But there’s nonetheless a decent collection of wines with which to begin, or renew, your discovery. The following are recommended by one of more WineAlign critics.

Buyer’s Guide for VINTAGES August 16th: Southern France

Hecht & Bannier Minervois 2011Château De Lastours Grande Réserve Corbières 2008Guillaume Aurèle 2013 ViognierGuillaume Aurèle 2013 Viognier, Pays d’Oc, France ($13.95).
John Szabo – Here’s a delicious little value, full of typical varietal character like candied violets and succulent peach-nectarine orchard fruit. The palate remains remarkably fresh and balanced, with tingling acids and integrated alcohol. A smart buy for summer sipping outdoors, when aromatic amplitude is needed to combat gentle breezes.
David Lawrason – Viognier is always an adventure, its strong personality enchanting some, but turning others off. This one may be extra challenging – it’s savoury, powerful and dry – but I can’t believe the gumption and depth it delivers at $14. For devotees or adventurers only.

Château De Lastours 2008 Grande Réserve Corbières, France ($22.95)
John Szabo – This is an evidently ripe, modern style, but the masses of fruit should be more than enough to see it through to full integration. Although a distant analogy, it should appeal to fans of classy Napa cabernet, especially at the price. Despite six years of age, I’d still tuck this away until 2016, and then pull it out blind for your friends and wait for the superlatives to fly. Best 2016-2020.
Sara d’Amato: Corbières is the largest appellation in Languedoc-Roussillon and one of the largest in all of France. Previously known for producing inexpensive but cheerful reds, it now boasts many an interesting gem. Reds dominate, produced from 50% carignan – a variety that does best in warm, dry climates and produces wines of significant tannin, colour and ever-important acidity. Balanced and elegant but rich and full bodied, this example is immensely compelling and memorable – not to be missed!

Hecht & Bannier 2011 Minervois Ac France ($20.95)
John Szabo – The reliable negociant house of Hecht & Bannier established in 2002 rarely disappoints – this dynamic pair specializes in red wines, visiting hundreds of producers each year to select the most representative wines of each appellation, often from higher elevation sites and very old vines. 600l demi-muids preserve fruit as well as the savoury Mediterranean flavours that make these wines so interesting.
Sara d’Amato – Minervois vineyards benefit from relatively high altitude – up to 350m, near Carcassonne on the foothills of the Montaigne Noire that protects the vines from northern winds. The wines can be a little more racy and nervy than typical Languedoc-Roussillon wines and often boast delicious minerality, like this outstanding example.
David Lawrason - Minervois has always struck me as a more rugged, less refined and rustic wine. Even in the hands of these modernist winemakers, the sense is unchanged.   This is solid yet approachable, and it rings true.

Château De Treviac 2011Hecht & Bannier St Chinian 2011Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir Pic Saint Loup 2011Château De Treviac 2011 Corbières Ap, France ($17.95)
John Szabo – A deep, dark, resinous herb (bay leaf, oregano, lavender) and spicy fruit-flavoured Corbières, with no small measure of the attractive savage qualities typical of this corner of southern France, which occasionally finds a new world counterpart in Chile.
Sara d’Amato – Another great value Corbières and this time with unusually complex flavours and surprising length. Although we’ve seen this very vintage grace the LCBO shelves in the past, it remains impressive with a solid framework of tannins and a real depth of flavour.

Hecht & Bannier 2011 St-Chinian AC, France ($25.95)
John Szabo - Of the two excellent Hecht & Bannier wines in the release, the St. Chinian is the more characterful, minerally wine, almost painfully so. It’s by no means easy drinking; attentive tasting is required to fully appreciate, but I love the regionally distinctive scorched earth, schistous stoniness and firm, dusty tannins. Best after 2015 – let it unwind a bit.
David Lawrason – H&B is a relatively new, dynamic negociant that purchases grapes, juice and wine across the south of France – paying the highest prices, they claim. And they turn out intense, bright and savoury reds. I love their objective for St. Chinian: “We first focus on finding the areas where the Syrah presents a floral and licorice bouquet”. They’ve nailed it here.

Gérard Bertrand 2011 Grand Terroir Pic Saint Loup, Coteaux du Languedoc, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – One of my favourite terroirs in the Languedoc, the Pic St. Loup itself is a massive limestone ridge about 20kms from the sea that marks the transition from coastal plains to the inland hilly zone. The savoury character of this example is a direct reflection of the wildly fragrant vegetative scrub (garrigue) that covers the region. This is lovely stuff for the money, with additional capacity to improve over the next 2-3 years. Best 2014-2021.

Château De Gourgazaud Cuvée Mathilde Minervois 2011Gérard Bertrand Saint Chinian 2009Château De Cointes Marie Anne Malepère 2011Château De Cointes Marie-Anne 2011 Malepère Ac, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – Malepère marks the divide between Atlantic and Mediterranean-influenced zones, also reflected in the permitted varietal mix. This blend of 1/3 each of merlot, cabernet franc and grenache, works beautifully; I love the freshness and florality from the Bordeaux components, along with the luscious, generous and ripe side from grenache, resulting in a complete and highly appealing ensemble. Best 2014-2019.

Gérard Bertrand 2009 Saint-Chinian Syrah Mourvèdre, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – Gerard Bertrand produces some authentic feeling wines and this aged example is no exception. Saint-Chinian is known for wines that are tannic and quite muscular but have a lovely freshness and fruit spice about them. They are planted solely on slopes that face the sea, which allows them to benefit from moderating temperatures and breezes.

Château De Gourgazaud 2011 Cuvée Mathilde Minervois, France ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Gourgazaud deserves an endurance medal for holding up the Minervois category – indeed all of the Languedoc – at the LCBO for years on end. The limestone-soil based estate uses only syrah and mourvèdre, providing a lifted, linear, spicy ambiance that I have always loved. Mathilde infuses more fruit presence and richness. This is delicious and ridiculously cheap.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Aug 16th:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 2nd – Part Two

The Mid-Summer Acid Test – Riesling, Sauvignon and Chenin
by David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo MS

David New 2014

David Lawrason

A small selection of whites from France’s Loire Valley and Alsace regions have been grouped as a mini-feature in VINTAGES Aug 2 release. (John covered off the main California feature last week). I thought I would elaborate on the essential concept of these whites from northern France – pure acidity set against pure fruit. No oak to soften or spice. No alcohol (hopefully) to numb the freshness. No blending or oxidation to mask personality. Whites that draw a line through a tepid evening like an ice-cube down the spine.

Three important high acid grape varieties do that better than any other – riesling, sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc – and they grow far and wide beyond France as well. To experience them at their best, open a bottle before dinner is served so you can focus entirely on what’s in the glass. Yes they should be chilled, but when quality is in place they may actually suffer from over-chilling. Whet your appetite with these values, then read on to other whites and reds that John and I have flagged as great buys as well. We have aligned on four wines, most notable perhaps a killer syrah from Chile.

Pierre Sparr Granit Riesling 2010Hidden Bench 2013 Estate RieslingHidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($23.95).
John Szabo - One of the province’s top riesling producers, Hidden Bench regularly delivers quality far above the average, underscoring that there’s simply no substitute for meticulous farming. Even though this is the “mere” estate blend, it could easily sit among the top single vineyard bottlings in the region, at a nice price.
David Lawrason – A cooler vintage like 2013 is ideal for Niagara’s acid driven whites. This is a very fine, firm, subtle and dry riesling. It needs a year or two to open, but it is solid and well-structured with minerality and excellent length.

Pierre Sparr 2010 Granit Riesling, Alsace, France ($16.95). Riesling’s acid core makes it perhaps the best of the hot weather whites. And when acid combines with minerality, and a highly structured vintage like 2010 in Europe the effect is doubled (and so is the value quotient). This has core minerality and firmness that is front and centre, just slightly coarse and tart but nervy and solid. DL

Fournier Père & Fils 2012 Les Deux Cailloux Pouilly-Fumé ($26.95).
David Lawrason – This is a solid, not at all heavy, sauvignon from a lighter vintage that showcases freshness. Almost tingling acidity and a hint of C02 on the palate with dry, bitter grapefruit and stony finish.
John Szabo – A stony, very natural-smelling Pouilly Fumé, with excellent density and concentration. Best 2014-2020.

Jean-Max Roger 2012 Cuvée C.M. Sancerre Blanc ($27.95).
John Szabo - The “C.M” comes from “Caillottes” and “Kimmeridgian Marls”, two of the three prevalent terroirs in the Sancerre AOC. According to Roger, the “caillottes” give the wine its floral and fruity notes, along with its lightness and freshness, while the “terres blanches” (Kimmeridgian marls) provide structure, richness and power. This is a fine synthesis of the two.
David Lawrason – a particularly delicate classic indeed from a staunch producer of quality sauvignon.

Fournier Père & Fils Les Deux Cailloux Pouilly Fumé 2012Jean Max Roger Cuvée C.M. Sancerre Blanc 2012Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2013Ventisquero Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2013Domaine Du Vieux Vauvert Vouvray 2012

Greywacke 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95). Just back from Marlborough, I can attest that not all kiwi ‘savvies’ are brash and vegetal. The best, like this fine example, are nicely composed, compact and firm, positioning green herbs (celery leaf), passion fruit, grapefruit and pepper. Fine sense of levity and quench here from Kevin Judd, whose been doing Marlborough sauvignon for as long as anybody. DL

Ventisquero 2013 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($13.95). This is particularly good value. Chilean sauvignon can be heavy and blunt, but this nicely balanced effort from cooler Casablanca blends guava topicality fresh green herbs and pepper. While in NZ I read an article in a local wine industry mag alerting New Zealanders to the rise of Chilean sauvignon. Here’s why. DL

Domaine Du Vieux Vauvert 2012 Vouvray ($15.95). So often I find the chenin blancs of Vouvray bothered by some earthy/fungal character and sulphur. This textbook, great value is squeaky clean with classic quince/pear fruit, light florality and beeswax. Gentle, poised and delicious. There is a hint of sweetness but it does not dull the effect. DL

Other Whites

Domaine Du Chardonnay Chablis 2012Loan Wines 2005 Special Reserve Semillon UnoakedLoan Wines Special Reserve Semillon 2005, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($16.95). The previous vintage of this wine was also a spectacular value, and one wonders how you can get so much flavour in a wine for $17. Admittedly the flavour profile won’t appeal to all (don’t buy it for the wedding party), but this is well worth a look for fans of original, regional specialties. JS

Domaine Du Chardonnay 2012 Chablis ($21.95). A textbook regional Chablis, and a perfect oyster wine, the kind I’d like to be sipping every Sunday afternoon. JS

Reds

Matetic 2011 Corralillo Syrah, San Antonio Valley, Chile ($23.95).
David Lawrason - Here is a big, juicy, ultra fresh syrah from a biodynamic producer lodged in the coastal ranges of Chile. There is an obvious juiciness here, but it is also solid and circumspect. Huge blackcurrant fruit is etched with fresh forest greens, pepper, meatiness, dark chocolate graphite. One can argue successfully it is not like syrah from France, or anywhere else for that matter. But does it have to be? This is Chilean to its stirrups.
John Szabo - Cool, coastal Chile is a hot spot for sauvignon blanc, and increasingly, syrah. And make no mistake: this is not shiraz, but much more old world in style. Matetic is certified organic and biodynamic (Demeter), and their vineyards are in the Rosario Valley (a subdivision of the San Antonio Valley), an enclosed valley that runs perpendicular to the Pacific. I love the savoury herbal-bay leaf flavours, reminiscent of native Chilean trees like Quillay, Maitén, Boldo and Peumo that grow in the area. Cellar this for another 2-3 years for maximum enjoyment.

Ascheri 2011 Fontanelle Barbera D’alba Podere Di Rivalta ($17.95). Ascheri nicely buffs the tart edges of barbera, without sacrificing the grape’s natural vibrancy or fruit. The secret seems to be finer tannin management. This has a lifted nose of redcurrant/cherry (pinot fans will like it), a touch of leathery/meatiness and gentle vanillin. Could work lightly chilled on a summer eve with a cold pasta salad. DL

Boutari 2009 Naoussa, Greece ($13.95). As always, an attractively priced, savoury old world red from Boutari, their ‘regular’ bottling of Naoussa (made from xinomavro). To put this into context, think of traditional style sangiovese from Chianti and you’re in the right style zone. JS

Matetic Corralillo Syrah 2011 Ascheri Fontanelle Barbera D'alba 2011 Boutari Naoussa 2009 Santa Alicia Gran Reserva De Los Andes Carmenère 2011c

Santa Alicia 2011 Gran Reserva De Los Andes Carmenère, Maipo Valley, Chile ($15.95). I am studying carmenère closely these days because they continue – through complexity and depth – to offer good value. Then, if they are well balanced too, they can be huge value. The world has not yet caught on to this so many remain underpriced – as is the case with solid, savoury example. DL

Domaine La Fourmone 2011 Le Fauquet Gigondas, Rhône Valley, France ($28.95). There is a certain amiable freshness and vibrancy here but set within the Rhône’s comfy framework. Not at all heavy or thick – a fine drink-anytime red with class and some elegance. Gigondas offers more finesse than any of the other fine villages strung out along the base of the saw-toothed Dentelles in the southern Rhône. DL

****

And speaking of the southern Rhône, Sara d’Amato and family have been camped out there for July, so expect some thoughts from her when she returns. Other upcoming works include an article by Julian Hitner on the value to be found in classic, dry European rieslings.  And John Sazabo returns next week with the first preview of the Aug 19 release. May your Civic Holiday weekend be wonderfully civil.

Until next time!

From VINTAGES August 2nd release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews
August 2nd Part One – Pure California

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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