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The Successful Collector – Sud-Ouest France and Duck

Julian Hitner reports on his latest trip to the assorted appellations of Sud-Ouest (Southwest) France, shedding some much-needed light on one of France’s most sundry winegrowing regions and its inhabitants’ enthusiasm for duck. His visit to the Southwest (courtesy of Sopexa) includes Cahors, Gaillac and Fronton, tossing in Madiran and Jurançon (both not visited) for their jigsaw-like significance. Readers may also wish to take note that the wines of the Dordogne (ex. Bergerac) have been omitted on account of the similarities to their counterparts in Bordeaux.

The most diverse region in France?
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

In terms of sheer diversity, few regions are as varied as that of Sud-Ouest France. From titanically tannic reds and alternate renderings to whites of inordinate obscurity and rare dessert versions, the Sud-Ouest (Southwest) continues to writhe as one of France’s most enigmatic winegrowing sectors. Fortunately, many producers seem undeterred, crafting increasingly better wines in the hopes of attracting new followers. The odds seem in their favour, particularly as quality improves and prices even for premium versions remain relatively low.

Of reds, two appellations have traditionally enjoyed the strongest reputations: Cahors and Madiran. These days, the former, arguably the stronger of the two, owes much of its current revival to Malbec, the most important grape in Cahors (from which it originates) though made popular in Argentina. Most Cahors is a blend of two or three grapes, containing at least 70 per cent Malbec and up to 30 per cent Merlot and/or Tannat. But even this is changing, with increasing numbers of producers crafting wines containing 100 per cent Malbec in their top offerings. Over the past several years, VINTAGES has been diligent in its selections, with prices ranging from $15-60.

The history of Cahors is a fascinating one, worthy of a brief digression. As early as the Middle Ages, it was known as ‘The Black Wine’ because of its dark appearance and weighty structure, a choice drink for connoisseurs. Then in the late-nineteenth century phylloxera struck, annihilating most of the vineyards. At the time, shortsighted growers replanted with inferior, high-yielding hybrids, leaving Cahors all but a distant memory. This began to change in the years following the Second World War, when some producers banded together in faint hopes of reviving their beloved Black Wine. Though it has taken decades, these growers’ descendants have largely succeeded in replanting their vineyards, and are again crafting wine of outstanding dimension, elegance and quality.

Though back on form, the modern-day reds of Cahors (there are no whites) taste nothing like their Argentinean counterparts, the latter oftentimes much more concentrated and excessively oak-reliant. In Cahors, the most balanced examples, sourced from a wide range of terroirs (the higher terraces and plateau are considered top locations), often possess wonderful quantities of blackberries, purple fruits and menthol in youth, taking on more claret-like characteristics as they age, yet always retaining a unique sense of balance, crystalline texture and breed. What’s more, such wines are often resoundingly tannic, requiring several years (sometimes decades) of aging to open up. Vigorous decanting can do much to alleviate the mouth-puckering effects of a young bottle of Cahors.

Tannat Grapes (Courtesy Official Website for Madiran Wines)

Tannat Grapes (Courtesy Official Website for Madiran Wines)

This said, no wine of France is better known for its tannins than Madiran. The name of its principle grape says it all: Tannat. According to current regulations, this most tightly structured of French grapes most comprise at least 50 per cent of the blend. Other permitted grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Fer Servadou. As in Cahors, many producers are now crafting their finest versions with 100 per cent Tannat. With many exceptions, the best examples seem strikingly Bordelaise, containing similar flavour profiles of currants, blackberries and damson plums, albeit with much more tannic structure in youth. Time is Madiran’s friendly companion. As the finest bottlings age, they routinely tend to mirror their counterparts in Cahors and Bordeaux, assuming notes of cedarwood, tobacco and wild game. Modern winemaking methods have played no small role in the expanding success of this superb appellation, with many producers utilizing a technique known as ‘micro-oxygenation’ to soften tannins during the vinification and maturation process. Selections in VINTAGES are usually reasonable, with prices ranging from $15-30, sometimes more. Like Cahors, great Madiran routinely represents excellent value for money.

Then there’s Gaillac, home to more obscure grape varietals than any other part of the Southwest. For producers, this is something of a double-edged sword: plenty of unique wines yet continuous confusion on the part of potential patrons. For reds, the primary grapes are Braucol (the local name for Fer Servadou) and Duras, oftentimes accompanied by Gamay, Syrah and the three main Bordeaux grapes (plus a few others). Braucol and Duras share many similarities. Both are medium-bodied at most and tend to contain flavours reminiscent of plums, blackberries and pepper. Only the best bottlings are usually aged in oak, and may be kept for at least several years. Simpler versions really ought to be consumed immediately. Selections in VINTAGES are minimal, though some decent examples may be had for less than twenty bucks.

Loin de l'Oeil Grapes (Courtesy Official Website for Gaillac Wines)

Loin de l’Oeil Grapes (Courtesy Official Website for Gaillac Wines)

The white wines of Gaillac are even more complicated. By tradition, the most common grape is Loin de l’Oeil (or Len de l’El), so named because of its long-stemmed clusters as it appears on the vine. Although occasionally appearing on its own, it is often blended with Mauzac (another major grape of the appellation), Ondenc, Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc, the latter largely viewed as an unwelcome intruder. Historically, such esoteric grapes were used to make sweeter-style wines of considerable quality. Now such bottlings represent only a very small minority. Instead, growers have increasingly turned to rosés and sparkling wines in order to increase sales. Crafted from 100 per cent Mauzac, sparkling versions in Gaillac are produced via the ‘ancestral method’ (or ‘méthode ancestrale’), whereby the wine is bottled during fermentation, thus trapping carbon dioxide inside the wine. As with the reds, quality remains patchy in a few cases, though there is no doubting the determination of the appellation’s many young winegrowers.

This same resolve has also taken hold in Fronton. Located just north of the city of Toulouse (one of the largest cities in France), this appellation is fairly easy to understand. In this soothingly pastoral neck of the Southwest, reds must contain at least 50 per cent Négrette, the most important grape in Fronton. Though 100 per cent is permitted, most growers opt to blend their wines with varying percentages of Fer Servadou and Syrah. Despite its name, Négrette may have a dark colour but does not take kindly to aging in oak. Usually light-bodied and containing moderate notes of damson plums, most Fronton is really best admired for its youthful freshness and fruitiness. As in Gaillac and other appellations, rosé versions are also now being produced in sizable volumes. Selections for both types of wine in VINTAGES are sparse, with prices hovering around fifteen dollars. As a recommendable everyday wine, Fronton is seldom expensive, for Toulouse is a thirsty city.

Map of Southwest France

Finally, there is the appellation of Jurançon, home to the most famous type of sweet wine in the Southwest. Many wine commentators and sommeliers have a soft spot for this distinctive, underrated offering, crafted in relatively small amounts and usually drunk at the beginning of a meal. As elsewhere, the grapes are unique: Petit Manseng and its thinner-skinned (and larger-berried) cousin Gros Manseng, along with Petit Courbu and several others of preposterous obscurity. Unlike Sauternes, these delectably sweet moelleux wines are not affected by botrytis, nonetheless left on the vine as late as December to order to concentrate their sugars and flavour content. In France, this process is known as passerillé. In Alsace, wines labelled as ‘Vendanges Tardive’ are treated almost exactly the same. In youth, great Jurançon often presents notes of honey, lemon curd and elderberries, becoming increasingly Sauternes-like as it ages, though almost never as full-bodied. Pickings in VINTAGES are uninspired, though are often extremely reasonably priced when available, usually at around $25 or less. Dry white versions, labelled as ‘Jurançon Sec’ (crafted mostly from the earlier-ripening Gros Manseng) usually cost only half as much, and are often recommendable as everyday wines.

As if choices from the Southwest aren’t varied enough, scores of other appellations also slowly on the ascendancy. Value for money is key to their future prosperity. Though almost never available in VINTAGES, names to watch out for are Marcillac, Buzet, Côtes du Marmandais, Côtes du Duras, Béarn (and Béarn-Bellocq) and Irouléguy, the latter the only French appellation located in Basque Country. For lovers of diversity in wine, this vast sector of France truly is a proverbial treasure-trove of possibilities.

A few estates to watch:

Château Bouissel (Fronton): Run by Anne-Marie and Pierre Selle, the wines of Château Bouissel are among the most enjoyable in Fronton. At this 22-ha estate, freshness and approachability are prominent features. Three reds are currently produced, along with a very clean rosé. Le Bouissel seems their most balanced label, crafted mainly from Négrette and equal parts Syrah and Cot (Malbec) Ontario representative: Ruby Wines & Spirits

Château Bouissel 2012 Le Bouissel Fronton is one of several impressive examples produced at this reputable estate. Though more serious wines are increasingly being attempted, the best wines of Fronton seem to be those that manage to retain a proper sense of fruit expression and approachability. This is just such a wine. Drink now or hold for up to four years or more.  

Domaine Rotier (Gaillac): One of the finest properties in Gaillac, this 35-ha property is owned by Alain Rotier and brother-in-law Francis Marre. Though the reds respectable enough, the estate’s sweet wine (crafted from 100 per cent Loin de l’Oeil) is a very special offering. Like many operations in this part of the Southwest, the future holds more potential than it does obstacles. Ontario representative: Rouge et Blanc

Domaine Rotier 2011 Renaissance Vendanges Tardives Gaillac harkens back to the days when this ancient part of winegrowing France was best known for its sweeter-styled wines. Impeccably styled and elegant, it is a shame more of these wines aren’t produced nowadays. Drink now or hold for ten years or more.

Domaine du Moulin (Gaillac): Owned by the Hirrisou family, the wines of Domaine du Moulin are among the most impressive in Gaillac. Concentration, cleanliness and character seem to be common traits, particularly as far as the premium labels are concerned. Every visitor to this charming appellation should make a point of tasting this property’s wines. Not represented in Canada

Domaine du Moulin 2012 Florentin is easily the greatest pure Braucol (Fer Servadou) I have tasted to date. Possessing first-rate fruit expression, harmony and character, I would have never believed this lighter-bodied grape could yield a wine of such seriousness. Drink now or hold for six years or more. Decanting recommended.

Château Bouissel Classic 2012 Domaine Rotier Renaissance Vendanges Tardives 2011 Domaine Du Moulin Florentin 2012 Domaine Du Prince Lou Prince Cahors 2011 Château Montus 2009

Domaine du Prince (Cahors): Owned by the Jouve family, the wines of Domaine du Prince (especially the more premium versions) are certainly among the more concentrated versions of the appellation. Recent vintages from this 27-ha property seem superb, which currently produces four reds and one rosé. This is a very serious operation. Québec representative: À Travers Le Vin

Domaine du Prince 2011 Lou Prince Cahors is the flagship bottling of the estate, sourced from two separate parcels. Like the property’s other premium labels, this marvellous offering manages to combine a unique sense of modernity with the inherent characteristics and flavours of a top-sited Cahors. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting recommended.  

Château Montus (Madiran): Generally considered the star estate of the appellation, the wines of Château Montus seldom disappoint. Owned by Alain Brumont, a master of Tannat, this stellar establishment currently produces five reds and one white. For Madiran enthusiasts, and fans of the Southwest of France in general, few properties are as significant. Québec Representative: Mark Anthony Brands

Château Montus 2009 Montus Madiran is a wine of outstanding character, power and breed. Just as significant, the Montus is not even the flagship label of the estate, which just goes to show how serious owner Alain Brumont takes his wines. Drink now or hold four fourteen years or more. Decanting recommended.

~

Duck (canard) and Sud-Ouest France:

Thanks to a sensational foie gras extravaganza at Château Montauriol (see list below) in Fronton and many other opportunities to partake of local specialties, Julian’s time in the Southwest of France was as much wine-themed as it was duck-oriented. Feast your eyes on his report.

As I am loath to the concept of photographing my food, a type of avant-garde ritual amongst smartphone and tablet owners as an alternate form of saying grace, I leave it to readers’ old-fashioned imaginations to conceive of the wondrous and innumerable types of duck (canard) cuisine to be found in the Southwest of France. Though enjoyed throughout France and many other parts of the world, few peoples seem as attached to this sinfully satisfying creature as the inhabitants of France’s southwestern quadrant, particularly in and around Gascogne.

Controversy aside, foie gras is the most celebrated genre, the best examples sourced from the livers of free-range ducks (though geese is considered superior) fattened on maize. Foie gras is produced in many formats. Those prepared ‘entier’ are generally considered the finest, consisting of the entire liver and usually containing no preservatives. Those presented as a ‘bloc’ are typically derived from smaller pieces whipped and condensed together. ‘Mousse’ de foie gras consists of puréed pieces, while ‘pâté’ is usually combined with other meat products. When cooked, entier or bloc versions (most common) are among the most appetizing of culinary delights. Foie gras is typically begun at the start of a meal, ideally with sweeter-style wines. Jurançon or sweet Gaillac are both optimal pairings.

Though modes of preparation are vast, two types of duck are most often served as main courses. Confit de canard is certainly the most decadent. Crafted from the leg, the meat is first rubbed with salt, herbs and garlic, after which it is covered in rendered fat. The duck is then cooked at a low temperature in the oven for at least several hours. The result is incredible flavour and richness. Another common type of duck is magret de canard, the breast of the bird, typically lined with a half-centimetre layer of fat on one side. Usually pan-fried and containing several slits for accuracy, a moist helping of magret de canard is one of the region’s great offerings. Cahors or Madiran are ideal accompaniments.

The options don’t end here. In salads, duck gizzards (gesiers) are quite common, as is smoked duck served in slices, usually from the breast. There are many others of greater complicatedness than the ones mentioned above, and I would list them, yet I am made to recall the trials and tribulations of my most beloved cartoon characters and feel the need to pause. It seems my appreciation of duck is not without a sense of screen imagery after all.

A duck feast at Château Montauriol (Fronton):

Foie gras de canard mi-cuit (half-cooked)

Fois gras de canard entier

Cou de canard farci

Rillettes de canard

Pâté de canard

Saucisse de canard

Magret de canard frais séché

Gesiers de canard (served in salad)

Tartare de canard

Carpaccio de canard (with garlic and parsley)

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Click here for Julian’s complete list of red wines from Southwest France

Editors Note: You can find our 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 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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The Successful Collector – Taylor’s Tawnies

Julian Hitner reports on the greatest tawny port lineup ever presented in WineAlign’s newly refurbished tasting room, courtesy of Stephen Marentette of Sylvestre Wines & Spirits. Several of these wines (including an astonishing bottling from 1863!) have already been released through VINTAGES, with one or two on the way (click on the links below for exact dates).

The Art of Tawny Port
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

In port circles, few establishments are as universally revered as Taylor Fladgate, its roots dating back more than three hundred years. Quality is an obsession here, from the choicest bottle-aged (vintage) versions to those kept in wood (such as Late Bottled Vintage) for only a short period of time. But what of those aged in barrel for ten years or longer, those ‘tawnies’ one hears so much about? Back in 1973, when the Instituto dos Vinho do Porto (IVP) created new rules permitting producers to state the age of older tawny ports on the label, Taylor’s found itself in an enviable position. Having spent decades developing stocks of fortified wines aged for many years in wood, it became the first major house to launch a full range of tawnies in increments of 10, 20, 30 and 40 years. Over forty years later, these versions have emerged as some of the most enticing, most consistent wines of their kind in the Douro.

Needless to say, their ‘ruby’ counterparts are entirely different. Aside from much fiercer tannins, deeper colours and totally dissimilar flavours, the finest rubies are largely crafted with bottle aging in mind. Vintage versions are at the top of the pyramid, crafted from the best grapes and only aged for roughly two years in wood and subsequently sold to private buyers for decades of further maturation. Other types, such as Late Bottled Vintage (LBV), are kept in barrel for around four to six years to make them approachable on release. Wines labelled simply as ‘Ruby’ are the cheapest, crafted from the lowest quality grapes and aged very minimally. There are several other types of ruby port, each worthy of exploration.

Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny Port Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny Port Taylor Fladgate 30 Year Old Tawny Port Taylor Fladgate 40 Year Old Tawny PortTaylor Fladgate Single Harvest 1964

By comparison, tawny ports are aged for much longer periods in wood for a much lighter colour (one can easily guess which one) and more nut- and fruitcake-oriented flavours. Wines simply labelled as ‘Tawny’ are the most plebeian, and do not state any period of barrel aging on the label. Taylor’s Fine Tawny (not tasted) is just such a wine. Continuing with Fladgate, this is followed by the 10 Year Old, usually the freshest and most approachable of the above-mentioned quartet. In contrast, the aristocratic 20 Year Old is a much more serious offering, possessing deeper flavours and more concentration. This seems to be the premium tawny of choice for the widest number of connoisseurs. However, for those with very deep pockets, the princely 30 Year Old is a singular favourite, likely on account of its inherent richness, prodigious complexity and overall sense of completeness. The imperial 40 Year Old, on the other hand, is almost an entirely different proposition, produced in very small quantities and possessing unparalleled concentration, luxuriousness and exoticism. Tasted side-by-side, the 30 Year Old appears much fresher and mellower, while its senior, ritzier counterpart seems a weighty titan, basking in immortal opulence and pedigree. Each of these tawnies are among the greatest in Portugal, blended from multiple vintages with the youngest being the stated age on the label.

A short time ago, the ante for such wines was upped even further with Taylor’s introduction of its 1964 Single Harvest Port. Bottled this year, fifty-year-old tawnies from a specific vintage are beyond rare, though younger single-vintage versions known as ‘Colheita’ are produced at many houses. Such wines are usually extremely well made and delicious, particularly those up to twenty years of age. Yet Taylor’s half-century-old bottling (priced at $299.95 in VINTAGES), which it plans on producing every year from now on, is something truly unique, slightly Madeira-like and a good deal sweeter. It is certainly the greatest Colheita (though this term is not used on the label) I have tasted to date.

Taylor Fladgate 1863 Single Harvest Port (Courtesy Taylor Fladgate)At least from the twentieth century. Leave it to Taylor’s to lay its hands on a few casks of mid-nineteenth-century fortified wine from a single vintage and then bottle it. Indeed, the firm’s 1863 Single Harvest Port is likely to be celebrated as one of most spellbinding, most miraculous tawnies in modern times. Divvied out into 1,600 gorgeous crystal decanters placed in luxury boxes of maple burl veneer (fetching $3,995 in VINTAGES), it almost reminds one of a super-premium Cognac, at the same time extraordinarily spice-oriented and mouth-filling. Crafted from pre-phylloxera grapes, it is unquestionably the most unique port wine, ruby or tawny, I have ever been privileged to examine. At the house of Fladgate, only the best seems to do.

The tawny ports of Taylor Fladgate:

Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny Port may generally be considered the gold standard for tawnies of this age group, crafted with obvious care and attention to detail. The freshest and most fruit-driven of the range yet by no means simplistic, this may be enjoyed with almost carefree abandon.

Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny Port has always been a favourite of mine, and recent batches have never been better. Compared to the 10 Year Old, this is a more serious wine, possessing outstanding body, harmony and style. It certainly merits all the laurels it consistently receives.

Taylor Fladgate 30 Year Old Tawny Port has always seemed the most ‘complete’ of the age-stated quartet, delivering substantial concentration, purity and harmony. More than double the cost of the 20 Year Old, collectors have every right to expect great things from such a wine. I have never once been disappointed.

Taylor Fladgate 40 Year Old Tawny Port is easily the most decadent, most enticing wine of this genre. Like its counterparts, it is a blend of multiple vintages, the youngest being the stated age on the label. This means some extremely old vintages were blended into this, with stupendous results.

Taylor Fladgate 1964 Single Harvest Port delivers unbelievable character, style and harmony. Hailing from a single vintage, it has very little in common with even the 40 Year Old, possessing remarkable Madeira-like characteristics and sweeter flavours on the palate. A true original in more ways than one.

Taylor Fladgate 1863 Single Harvest Port is in a class of its own, possessing more in common with a fine Cognac (particularly on the nose) than with a fortified wine. Featuring astounding intensity, harmony, structure, elegance and length, this is one of the true originals of the winegrowing world. Pity that so few persons will ever have an opportunity to taste it.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Click here for Julian’s list of recommended port wines

Editors Note: You can find our 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 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


 

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The Successful Collector – Wachau Riesling

Austria’s greatest white wines?
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Conversing with colleague — and my former instructor — John Szabo MS several months back, I was shocked to learn that riesling accounts for less than 5 per cent of total plantings in Austria. 4.1 per cent, to be precise. How can this be? Would someone explain why Austria, home to the wondrous Wachau, one of the greatest and most beautiful winegrowing regions in the world, produces such minuscule quantities of this magnificent grape?

As a partial explanation, it is only relatively recently that the potential for riesling in the Wachau and nearby regions has been meaningfully set to purpose by more than just a handful of producers. Unfortunately, this means that overall plantings have had to play an unwinnable game of catch-up with grüner veltliner, Austria’s most famous grape, red or white, for popular recognition. Not that this has discouraged producers from expanding their holdings throughout this glorious 20-km stretch of the river. Based mainly on extremely steep terraces overlooking the water, the best riesling parcels are usually found on the upper slopes, where soils consist mainly of granite, gneiss, and mica-schist.

Wachau Map (Courtesy Domäne Wachau)

For the most part, great Wachau riesling is often low-keyed in youth, routinely consisting of steely green fruits intermixed with lemon citrus, herbs, and an abundance of minerals. Yet with just a smidgen of bottle age (depending on the wine), more honeyed, kerosene, and nut-driven impressions seem to take over. Cellaring capability is extremely high, the best examples potentially lasting for at least a few decades. The richest and longest lived are those labeled ‘Smaragd’ (named after a local lizard), with alcohol levels at 12.5 per cent or higher. Wines labeled ‘Federspiel’ (11.5 – 12.5 per cent) are usually drier and less pronounced, while those labeled ‘Steinfeder’ (up to 11.5 per cent) are the lightest.

At this year’s VieVinum in Vienna, I discovered a great deal about the Wachau’s greatest vineyards. Out of 900-odd Rieden (or sites), about a dozen stand above the rest for riesling. Furthest west, along the Spitzer Graben tributary, Bruck is situated on an extremely high hillside, with terraced rows so narrow that tractors cannot even pass through — a common theme throughout many of the best sites. These are extremely minerally, citrus-laden wines. Further east, the Offenberg and Setzberg vineyards are also of similar configuration and quality, though perhaps more fruit-driven in youth. In these cooler parts of the Wachau, soils are mainly derived from mica schists, resulting in wines of considerable elegance and vitality.

East of the village of Spitz, the Danube plays an even greater role in most of the top riesling vineyards, particularly in terms of temperature moderation. Singerriedel is just such a Ried, well-protected from wind and privy to the warm autumn sun late in the evening. Wines of excellent concentration and class are produced here, along with those of Hochrain to the south. Much more famous, however, is the Ried of Achleiten, situated just to the north of the village of Weissenkirchen. Composed of slate and gneiss, it produces riesling of unmistakable minerality and finesse. Those of neighbouring Klaus are also of significant regard.

Singerriedel (Courtesy Domäne Wachau)

In what might be considered the heart of the Wachau, the villages of Dürnstein and the Loibens (Unter- and Ober-) possess some of the most renowned riesling vineyards in Austria. Of these, Kellerberg is traditionally ranked at the top, though grüner veltliner also comprises a large minority of plantings here. Mixed vineyards are very common in the Wachau. Enjoying ample sunlight, broad day-/night-time temperatures, and complex soils consisting mostly of granitic gneiss, Kellerberg riesling is both marvellously fulsome and long-lived. Other nearby vineyards of great repute are Loibenberg, Schütt, and Höhereck, each with their own distinctive personality and eminence. Last but not least, great riesling is produced south of the river around the village of Mautern. The top producer here is indisputably Nikolaihof, a boutique winery whose greatest offerings from Steiner Hund (located across the border in Kremstal), Vom Stein, and Im Weingebirge are widely in demand.

Indeed, small producers throughout the Wachau are routinely among the finest riesling cultivators. Unfortunately, availability in VINTAGES is profoundly lacking, with only one or two wines currently in the system. As something of a small mercy, however, some of the top producers possess agency representation in Ontario, several of which presently carry Wachau rieslings on consignment (immediate delivery) or are able to handle orders directly from the winery. As usual, such wines must be ordered in twelve- or six-bottle cases, though delivery usually takes several months.

Granted, ordering such wines from private agencies might be a nuisance—not because of poor service but because of the necessity of buying by the case—but the rewards are truly beyond measure. When it comes to top-notch Wachau riesling and the best sites from which they are sourced, all one has to do is be in the know.

Top estates in the Wachau

F.X. Pichler - The wines of F.X. Pichler are generally regarded as the most stunning in the Wachau, at times equalled by several other estates, yet never surpassed. With parcels in some of the greatest vineyards around the village of Dürnstein and the Loibens (Unter- and Ober-), every bottling is a testament to the originality and quality of each individual terroir. Ontario Representative: Le Sommelier

F.X. Picher 2013 Dürnsteiner Kellerberg Riesling Smaragd is perhaps the most sensational, most in-depth dry white I have ever tasted (at least to date) from the Wachau. From what is widely considered the most prized vineyard in the region, this sensational offering will keep for up to two decades in the right conditions.

Franz Hirtzberger - Based out of the village of Spitz in a more westerly sector of the Wachau, few wines are as singularly delicious as those of Franz Hirtzberger. Much of the region’s modern-day successes may be traced to Franz’s tireless efforts in spearheading the Vinea Wachau (an association of winegrowers) and promoting perfectionist winegrowing techniques. Not represented in Canada

Franz Hirtzberger 2013 Hochrain Riesling Smaragd is both remarkably intense and stylish. Located just below the famed Singerriedel vineyard, Hochrain routinely yields wines of this design, oftentimes with astonishing aging potential. This particular example may be kept for up to fifteen years or more.

Emmerich Knoll - With 15 ha of vineyards, Emmerich and Monika Knoll (along with their son) are among the most committed, most dynamic winegrowers in the Wachau. Based out of the village of Unterloiben, the style here is one of luminosity and breed. Normally tight in youth, these are wines of phenomenal elegance and ageability. Québec representative: Les Vins Alain Bélanger

Emmerich Knoll 2013 Ried Loibenberg Riesling Smaragd is one of several spellbinding wines produced at this estate. Possessing incredible sophistication and character, it will probably require a vigorous decanting if consumed young, and will likely keep for nearly two decades if cellared correctly.

Mature Nikolaihof RieslingNikolaihof: - Perhaps the most celebrated Biodynamic producer in the Wachau, the Saah family’s approach to winemaking is unique. From a mindboggling number of bottlings to an innate understanding of individuality, the wines of Nikolaihof are as mouth-watering as they are unique. Based out of Mautern, to taste from here is a special experience. Ontario representative: The Living Vine

Nikolaihof 2013 Vom Stein Riesling Federspiel is only barely alluding to its potential at such a young age, though it should open up if given a coaxing. Invigorating and balanced (to mention resoundingly dry), this will likely benefit from a thorough decanting if enjoyed young. Drink now or hold for up to eight years or more.

Alzinger - One of the most up-and-coming estates in the Wachau, the wines of Leo Alzinger (now produced with his son) merit profuse exploration. Based out of Unterloiben, this gifted family of winegrowers possess parcels in some of the best vineyards of the region, each with their own personality and charm. Québec Representative: Vinealis

Alzinger 2013 Höhereck Riesling Smaragd is a wine of remarkable purity and harmony. Situated just under the famed Kellerberg vineyard, Höhereck is an especially brilliant site, resulting in wines of incredible vitality and elegance. Drink now or enjoy over the next dozen years or more.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Link to Julian’s complete list of Austrian white wines
Link to John Szabo’s Austria Report

Editors Note: You can find our 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 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


Kellerberg (Courtesy Domäne Wachau)

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The Successful Collector – Old World Riesling

The most undervalued white grape?
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Placed in the hands of even the most lacklustre of attorneys, a compelling court case could be made for convincing wine jurists that riesling is the greatest, most versatile white grape in Europe. The fact that other types of wine fetch higher prices at the premium end is neither here nor there. Granted, the best dry white Burgundy and Bordeaux may cost a great deal more, but one could easily argue this is more a result of rarity and present consumer trends than a reflection of comparative worth. Not that the quality of top Burgundy or Bordeaux has been exaggerated, more that prices for top riesling in many parts of the Old World are at present comparatively low, almost to the point of unreasonableness. As a result, there are more bargains for exemplary riesling than virtually any other type of white wine.

In the twenty-first century, few would deny that Alsace, Austria, and the most acclaimed winegrowing regions of Germany represent a sort of vinous triumvirate of unique places where riesling is able to thrive. At the premium level, the types produced in each area are at their greatest distinctiveness.

Alsace

Rows of vines in Alsace

Rows of vines in Alsace

In Alsace, the greatest rieslings usually hail from single-vineyard Grand Cru sites on steep hillsides, oftentimes (though not exclusively) consisting of sand and clay. Site variation in this part of the winegrowing world is extreme, with increasing numbers of producers vinifying and bottling specific parcels within their vineyards as separate wines. Relative dryness and higher alcohol (usually 12.5 per cent or more) remain essential hallmarks, though many top wines will often possess considerable richness, extra body, and some residual sugar. While flavour profiles are hard to generalize, the finest Alsatian rieslings tend to possess a resounding concentration of citrus-infused orchard fruits (such as peaches and pears), taking on more honeyed and kerosene-like tendencies as they age. The greatest bottlings may be easily kept for up to two decades or more. Current prices in VINTAGES for the best bottlings tend to range from $55-85, though many extremely good wines may be found for less than thirty bucks.

Austria

In Austria, the emerging style in the most famous regions for riesling (such as Wachau, Kremstal, and Kamptal) is one of astonishing minerality and heightened gradations of dryness. In most cases, the greatest wines derive from single vineyards, oftentimes bottled as single-parcel cuvées, grown on incredibly steep slopes facing the Danube.

Riesling vines along the Danube

Riesling vines along the Danube

Unlike Alsace or Germany, these vineyards are not officially ranked, though the best sites, usually based on granite, gneiss, and mica-schist, have long enjoyed widespread recognition over their less exalted counterparts. Alcohol levels are even higher than in Alsace (and much higher than in Germany), sometimes reaching up to 15 per cent. Compared to Alsace or Germany, the flavour of fine Austrian riesling is often much more low-keyed in youth, usually consisting of steely green fruits intermixed with lemon citrus, herbs, and an abundance of minerals. With age, more honeyed, kerosene, and nut-driven impressions seem to take over. Cellaring capability for the finest wines easily match those of Alsatian or Germanic extraction. Current availability of Austrian riesling in VINTAGES is profoundly lacking, with prices ranging from around $15-35.

Germany

For many, Germany is where riesling finds its greatest expression. As with Alsace and Austria, the best wines are those of single-vineyard persuasion, from the slate-dominant sites of the Mosel to the more clay-based areas of the Mittelhaart of the Pflaz. Styles are traditionally measured according to sweetness via the QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat) system. From driest to sweetest: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, and Trockenbeerenauslese. The best wines of the Mosel and its tributaries the Saar and Ruwer tend to reflect this system more concisely than most, while producers throughout the Rheingau, Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz are increasingly crafting their best single-vineyard wines in drier styles. Such wines are often labelled as ‘Grosses Gewächs,’ and invariably contain higher levels of alcohol at the expense of residual sugar. This said, the QmP system is just as useful for understanding different styles throughout most riesling-dominant regions. On the label, a stated vineyard is usually preceded by the village with which it is affiliated.

Riesling vines along the Mosel

Riesling vines along the Mosel

To this day, consumers continue to have difficulty comprehending the meaning behind different types of German wine labels. But this should not prove a barrier to obtaining some of the most underappreciated, undervalued types of riesling in Europe. Currently in VINTAGES, extremely fine, ageworthy examples logging in as low as 8 per cent alcohol (depending on the region) may be found for as little as $20, with top bottlings fetching up to $70. The sweetest versions such as Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese, not to mention Eiswein, are prodigiously more expensive, and are not exactly meant for everyday drinking.

Of more off-dry examples such as Kabinett and (to a lesser extent) Spätlese, flavours often include an addictive cornucopia of white peaches, green fruits, lemon citrus, and traces of kerosene, the latter becoming more pronounced and honeyed as time wears on. As white wines go, the capacity of German riesling to age is incredible, though Kabinett versions are at their best around the vicinity of ten years. Great Auslese, on the other hand, whose special nature places it more in the medium-sweet camp, may keep for decades and decades in the right conditions. Tragically, these types of wines are not nearly as popular as they once were. This may largely be attributed to both lax and unintelligible German wine laws, along with the plain fact that many enthusiasts continue to believe that all German wine, regardless of what is stated on the label, tastes excessively sweet.

A Comeback is Coming

In some respects, this would suggest that German riesling is long overdue for a comeback, particularly as examples in Alsace and Austria continue to enjoy an increasing number of successes. The quality is there, the ageability substantial, the prices even for moderately premium versions beyond modest. What’s more, with legions of ‘wine civilians’ being dutifully summoned every day as serious enthusiasts, it is only a matter of time before this collective jury of palates renders a verdict in riesling’s favour. Impatient as some wine commentators might be, it is only a matter of time.

My top choices:

Trimbach 2010 Réserve Riesling has been recommended more than once this past year, for there are still a reasonable number of bottles remaining in LCBO outlets. From one of the greatest white wine producers in Alsace, this is exactly what great Old World Riesling is all about. Drink now or hold for five years or more. 

Léon Beyer 2005 Cuvée des Comtes de d’Eguisheim Riesling is the top label (in dry format) from this particular Alsace-based establishment. Though nearing ten years of age, it is still endowed with an abundant sense of liveliness, intensity, and harmony. Only just over two dozen bottles remain in LCBO outlets. Drink now or hold for up to nine years or more. 

Zilliken 2011 Saarburg Rausch Riesling Kabinett logs in at a miniscule 8% alcohol, at the same time possessing outstanding roundness, harmony, and weight. Somewhat off-dry, few wines of the Saar (a tributary of the Mosel in Germany) manage to combine such gracefulness with such ferocity of character. Drink now or hold for up to twelve years. 

Schloss 2008 Schönborn Macrobrunn Riesling Kabinett is a premium type of German (Rheingau) Riesling at a remarkably reasonable price. Crafted in an off-dry style, wines like this were all the rage throughout much of the twentieth century and preceding eras. There is no reason why they should not be again. Drink now or hold for up to eight years.

Domäne Wachau 2011 Achleiten Riesling Smaragd hails from the Wachau, easily the most prestigious winegrowing region (at least for whites) in Austria. Retaining remarkable vibrancy and balance, this invigorating example is precisely why premium Austrian Riesling, alongside Grüner Veltliner, is becoming so popular. Drink now or hold for seven years or more.

Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2010Léon Beyer Cuvée Des Comtes D'eguisheim Riesling 2005Zilliken Saarburg Rausch Riesling Kabinett 2011Schloss Schönborn Macrobrunn Riesling Kabinett 2008Domäne Wachau Achleiten Smaragd Riesling 2011

Readers may want to take note that there are many other exemplary wines currently available in VINTAGES and the SAQ that have not been listed as recommendations. This is because I either do not have evaluations for them, or because they are wines from alternate vintages that are no longer available in stores. All price ranges have been researched so as to reflect current availability.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

P.S. Stay tuned next month for my exciting summary of top riesling vineyards of the Wachau, Austria’s most prestigious white winegrowing region.

Editors Note: You can find Julian’s complete 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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The Successful Collector – The Haut-Médoc

Stomping grounds for value
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

If there’s one problem Bordeaux has yet to overcome, it’s convincing enthusiasts that great claret need not break the bank. Yet many less-esteemed appellations throughout one of France’s most celebrated winegrowing areas are nowadays consistently able to combine both quality and ageability with youthful scrumptiousness and value. Of these, the Haut-Médoc is arguably at the forefront.

The largest appellation on the Left Bank of the Gironde, the Haut-Médoc surrounds the far more renowned appellations (excluded like a jigsaw puzzle from the map shown right) of Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac, and St-Estèphe, each home to the lion’s share of the most famous estates in Bordeaux. The others are situated further upriver, just south of the city of Bordeaux, in the appellation of Pessac-Léognan. As a result, the finest estates of the Haut-Médoc are routinely overlooked.

But this has begun changing for some time, particularly in parts of the Haut-Médoc most blessed with higher gravel mounds on which to plant vines. As with the finest sections in the more celebrated appellations mentioned above, these gravel mounds represent one of the most significant characteristics of the greatest terroirs on the Left Bank. While regrettable, estates with vines sourced from lower-level locations simply cannot make the same wines.

The boundaries of the Haut-Médoc are extensive. Extending only several kilometres into the hinterland, the appellation begins just northeast of the city of Bordeaux along the Left Bank of the Gironde. It concludes several kilometres north of St-Estèphe, where the gravel mounds finally give way to lower-lying vineyards located in an appellation known simply as Médoc. Merlot tends to play a much greater role in the blends at this point along the river, with Cabernet Sauvignon habitually used in much smaller amounts.

Throughout much of the Haut-Médoc, Cabernet Sauvignon is used in fairly generous proportions, reinforced by Merlot and small percentages of Cabernet Franc. Petit Verdot may be found from time to time, while Malbec may turn up in extremely small sums here and there. While the most illustrious estates may employ hand pickers at harvest time, many estates will often bring in their grapes via mechanical harvesters. Unlike the most famous estates of Margaux or Pauillac, many establishments in the Haut-Médoc are unable to afford such a luxury. The use of new French oak barriques will also vary according to financial constraints and/or quality of the grapes.

Of rankings, the Haut-Médoc contains only five estates belonging to the famous yet contentious 1855 Classification, each varying in quality and typically ranging in VINTAGES and the SAQ from $45-100. In terms of overall value, better examples may be found among the numerous estates ranked as Cru Bourgeois, the chief ranking category of the appellation. With the odd exception, prices in this category usually range from $20-40.

In the past, the majority of such wines were excessively lean and required years of cellaring in order to blossom. Not anymore. As a result of better winegrowing techniques and changes in climatic conditions (think global warming), the best Cru Bourgeois wines nowadays routinely offer immediate, concentrated appeal, and may be kept for up to ten years or more in the cellar. What’s more, their prices are strikingly reasonable, unlike their counterparts in St-Julien or St-Estèphe, where estates included in the 1855 Classification have all but been cordoned off except to the most well-heeled of buyers.

In the twenty-first century, never before has the winegrowing region of Bordeaux made such sizeable quantities of excellent wine. Yet the consequences of celebrity have grown all too apparent in appellations like Margaux or Pauillac, where wines once considered reasonable have become anything but. For diehard claret lovers, therefore, the fast-improving Haut-Médoc could not be more of a lifesaver.

My top choices:

Château Peyrabon 2010 Haut-Médoc is situated in the commune of St-Sauveur (just to the east of Pauillac) and represents terrific value for money. Although a rather oak-driven affair, all the component parts of this sumptuous claret are in marvellous alignment. Drink now or hold for up to ten years or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Sénéjac 2009 Haut-Médoc is situated in the commune of St-Pian (located in the southern part of the appellation) and is easily the most serious vintage I’ve tasted from this estate to date. Regrettably, only a handful of bottles are left in VINTAGES at time of publication. Drink now or hold for up to eight years or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Peyrabon 2010Château Senejac 2009Château Larose Trintaudon 2010Château Moulin De Blanchon 2009Château De Gironville 2009

Château Larose-Trintaudon 2010 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of St-Laurent (just to the east of St-Julien) and is the largest estate on the Left Bank. Though quality has been limited for many years, recent vintages such as the ’10 have been excellent. Drink now or hold for up to eight years. Decanting is recommended.

Château Moulin de Blanchon 2009 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of St-Seurin (just to the north of St-Estèphe) and represents a sincerely beautiful outing. From a part of the Haut-Médoc with some extremely fine wineries, it’s wines like these that typify the future of the appellation. Drink now or hold for up to six years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château de Gironville 2009 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of Macau (just to the south of Margaux) and is a truly delicious affair. Containing 10% Petit Verdot (unusual for a Haut-Médoc), there are only a handful of bottles left in VINTAGES at time of publication. Drink now or hold for up to eight years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château La Lagune 2010Château Belgrave 2009Château Belgrave 2009 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of St-Laurent (just to the east of St-Julien) and is ranked as a Fifth Growth in the 1855 Classification. Though twice the cost of a standard Cru Bourgeois, the ’09 really is an outstanding claret. Drink now or hold for up to fourteen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château La Lagune 2010 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of Ludon (located in the southern part of the appellation) and is ranked as a Third Growth in the 1855 Classification. This is widely regarded as one of the finest wines of the Haut-Médoc, and is highly recommended for serious collectors. Drink now or hold for up to twenty years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Readers may want to take note that there are many other exemplary wines currently available in VINTAGES and the SAQ that have not been listed as recommendations. This is because I either do not have evaluations for them, or because they are wines from alternate vintages that are no longer available in stores.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Editors Note: You can find Julian’s complete 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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The Successful Collector – Value at the premium end in France

Where to Find Value in Top French wines
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

When venturing into the potentially prohibitive arena of premium French wine buying in VINTAGES, enthusiasts may have to dodge a few landmines to score the best finds. Even then, what is ‘premium’ by French standards? Subliminally speaking, $40-50 is often the starting point, which is still quite a lot of money to spend on any single bottle of wine, to say nothing of those costing a great deal more. What vinous liquids from the world’s most illustrious winegrowing nation could possibly be worth the extra cash?

The answer is largely subjective, though commentators and sommeliers over the years have reached some form of consensus. In each case, overall quality and aging potential are among the two most important factors.

Logo UGCC JEPGFor whites, Grand Cru Chablis is routinely at the top of the list, with prices ranging between $50-100. Compare this to a single bottle of Corton-Charlemagne, which usually fetches at least $200. In the words of UK-based expert Hugh Johnson: “Parity would be closer to justice.” Regrettably, the same cannot be said of most other white Burgundies.

Further north, outlays for the best dry whites of Alsace have long remained remarkably reasonable. Of special interest are the finest examples of riesling and gewürztraminer, usually hailing from specific parcels within the region’s many Grand Cru vineyards. In VINTAGES, the best examples typically fetch around $30-85. Such wines are not only intensely flavoured and downright delectable, but are usually just as ageworthy as their counterparts in Burgundy or Bordeaux. Why the best dry whites of Alsace continue to fetch such comparatively low prices is beyond me.

On the red side of the spectrum, there are an even larger number of choices. The only catch is that Bordeaux and Burgundy really aren’t the best places to be looking for them. Instead, buyers should arguably be on the lookout for the greatest offerings of the Rhône (particularly the southern appellations) and Midi, where both overall quality and ageability have skyrocketed over the past fifteen years.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in picturesque Gigondas, where wines mainly consist of grenache, syrah, and mourvèdre. About a half-hour’s drive northeast of Châteauneuf-du-Pape (the most famous appellation in the region), the greatest producers nowadays manage to coax astounding concentration, character, and ageing potential out of their wines. On VINTAGES shelves, most Gigondas costs between $30-70, the best representing astounding value for money when compared to the costliest Châteauneufs, the latter easily surpassing $125. Southwest of here, the finest wines of Vacqueyras are also turning heads.

Gigondas

Picturesque Gigondas

The same can also be said of the Midi (Languedoc-Roussillon), the crescent-shaped portion of Mediterranean France that was mostly recognized for its bulk wine in the past. Not anymore. Nowhere in the country has quality leapt so high in such a short period of time as this gorgeously rugged set of winegrowing areas. In most places, the same grapes as the Southern Rhône dominate the best bottlings, though old-vine carignan is also highly prized. While specific appellations are too varied to list, prices in VINTAGES often begin as low as $30 for some truly exemplary offerings, rising to $60 or more on a few occasions. Compared, once again, to Bordeaux or Burgundy, such wines are a proverbial steal.

Switching to sparklings, every French wine lover understands that Champagne is the most celebrated of its type in the world, though value at the premium end is oftentimes viewed as a contradiction in terms. After all, even the most basic, non-vintage offerings begin at $40 or more in Ontario. As a result, many enthusiasts tend to overlook the more costly vintage-stated versions. But these are precisely the wines to watch out for, especially those from $60-100. Though admittedly not of the same quality as a super-extravagant cuvée like Cristal (nearly $300), such wines are nonetheless almost always profoundly superior to their non-vintage counterparts, capable of cellaring for at least several years.

Then there are the innumerable sweet wines of France. Believe it or not, this is where Bordeaux shines brighter than most of its counterparts, for the likes of Sauternes and Barsac are among the most truly inimitable types of botrytis-affected dessert wines around. Despite the amount of skilled labour and material costs involved, wondrous examples may be had in the range of $40-75, most in 375-mL bottles. Though much cheaper versions are available elsewhere, the quality is oftentimes simply not the same. Hence, along with the fantastic chenin blanc-based dessert wines of the Loire (these simply cannot be omitted), this is arguably the one instance where the most famous examples truly represent the best buys.

Of course, there are many other premium wines throughout France that have not been listed here. From the most prized reds of Madiran and Cahors in the Southwest to the spellbinding Vouvrays (plus a few from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé) in the Loire, the number of choices at the luxury level are unimaginable. But this is a column about the truly best of the best, combining both colossal quality and long-term ageability (hence my need to append a few names just a moment ago, along with mourvèdre-based Bandol in Provence and top single-cru Beaujolais). In the end, there will always be an astounding number of tolerably priced premium French wines to choose from, as well as plenty that, in true draconian style, will have to be left out.

My top choices:

Domaine William Fèvre 2011 Chablis Bougros Côte Bouguerots Grand Cru ($90.00) is sourced from a 2.11-ha parcel of old vines at the foot of the vineyard. Showcasing fantastic harmony, character, and charm, it’s wines like these that get me so excited about Grand Cru Chablis. Drink now or hold for six years or more.

Domaine Christian Moreau 2011 Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru ($65.00) is a perfect illustration of how underpriced Grand Cru Chablis currently stands. For the record: I wrote up this wine in glowing terms in a previous column, yet there are still a few bottles left. Such elegance and harmony! Not to be missed. Drink now or hold for up to nine years.

Trimbach 2010 Réserve Riesling ($27.95) has been selected not just because of its price (nor because pickings at the moment in VINTAGES are rather slim), but mainly on account of its remarkable quality. From one of the greatest producers in Alsace, this has all the elements of a premium wine, minus the cost. Drink now or hold for five years or more.

E. Guigal 2009 Gigondas ($31.95) is a wine of great power, focus, and clarity of fruit. From one of the most famous producers in the Rhône, this surpasses a whole horde of basic Châteauneufs we wine commentators routinely examine every year. Drink now or hold for ten years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Montirius 2011 Les Clos Vacqueyras ($32.00) delivers both excellent freshness and focus for a wine of its type. As a whole, this producer has consistently delivered both high quality and value over the past several years, making for some very worthy recommendations. Drink now or hold for five years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Bougros Côte Bouguerots Grand Cru 2011Christian Moreau Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 2011Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2010 E. Guigal Gigondas 2009Montirius Le Clos Vacqueyras 2011

Château Puech-Haut 2011 Prestige St-Drézéery ($29.95) encapsulates virtually everything I’ve said about the remarkable value of Midi-based wines, particularly from a standpoint of both quality and ageability. From an especially well-regarded establishment, I have yet to taste a non-overachiever from here. Drink now or hold for up to eight years. Decanting is recommended.

Moët & Chandon 2004 Grand Vintage Brut Champagne ($83.95) is well less than half the price of Dom Pérignon and yet of truly wonderful quality. Retaining tremendous precision and harmony (not to mention exemplary fruit expression and style), sparkling lovers will not want to miss out on this exemplary vintage champagne. Drink now or hold for up to twelve years.

Larmandier-Bernier 2007 Terres de Vertus Vintage Brut Champagne ($75.00) packs a great deal of firepower for such a young vintage. Boasting considerable intensity and harmony, I’m amazed VINTAGES hasn’t made greater efforts to source more champagnes from this particular house. Drink now or hold for up to ten years.

Château de Myrat 2009 Barsac ($28.00) is not just ridiculously underpriced, but is also likely the best wine ever produced at this estate. Combining resolute harmony with acute deliciousness, this 375-mL bottle serves as a liquid testament to how undervalued great Barsac (along with Sauternes) continues to be. Drink now or hold for up to twenty years.

Château Puech Haut Prestige Saint Drézéry 2011Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Champagne 2004Larmandier Bernier Terres De Vertus Vintage Brut Champagne 2007Château De Myrat 2009

Readers may want to take note that there are many other exemplary wines currently available in VINTAGES that have not been listed as recommendations. This is because I either do not have evaluations for them, or because they are wines from alternate vintages that are no longer available in stores. All price ranges have been researched so as to reflect current availability.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Editors Note: You can find Julian’s complete 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!

All Julian Hitner Reviews


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Reaching out for Silent Auction Wines

Supporting Second Harvest’s food rescue program
By Julian Hitner

Second Harvest logoOn Sunday 8 June 2014 at Corus Quay (25 Dockside Drive) beginning at 6:00 p.m., hundreds of gourmet cuisine and wine connoisseurs will be flocking to Toronto’s revitalized waterfront for a calorically colossal evening of great foods, craft beers, and fine wines. Toronto Taste is organized every year by charitable food distributor Second Harvest (the largest in Canada), the event also includes a silent wine auction, which I have headed for over five years.

Obviously, we need wines to make this happen. This year, we are reaching out to legions of wine-lovers and agents throughout Ontario in hopes of securing a few extra donations for this year’s exciting charitable event. In exchange for your generosity, your name or organization (if desired) shall appear on the auction bidding sheet. All donors shall also receive a tax receipt based on the appraisal value of the wine. There is no minimum amount (or value) you have to submit. We’re happy to take everything we can get and auction it off to support those in our city who most need our help.

Second Harvest

If you would like to donate some wine, please contact me at julianhitner@hitnerwine.com or telephone Jennifer Chow (416.408.2594 ext. 240) at Second Harvest directly. To make things as easy as possible, all submissions will be picked up at your place of residence or business. Though we will be accepting donations right up until the last week of May, we need to get a head start on this right away. Sorting and cataloging of all these wines takes time!

Cheers,

Julian Hitner


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The Successful Collector, Julian Hitner – The new Gran Selezione Category of Chianti Classico

Raising the bar or raising prices?

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Debuting this spring, the new ‘Gran Selezione’ category of Chianti Classico has the entire wine world abuzz. What exactly is this new premium wine category? What are the rules? And when might we expect to begin seeing bottles labelled as Gran Selezione in VINTAGES stores?

Such questions were uppermost on my mind when I attended the official launch of Gran Selezione in Florence last month. Held in the illustrious Throne Room of the Palazzo Vecchio, the excitement of participating producers (some of the best in the region) was palpable. For many, the creation of the Gran Selezione category had been a long time coming. With the widely recognized rise in the quality of Chianti Classico over the past several years, it was only natural that a new ranking be developed at the top level so as to reflect the calibre of the best bottlings. To most in attendance, this was at least the message the Consorzio del Vino Chianti Classico very much wished to convey.

Chianti LogoThe rules for Gran Selezione are reasonably simple. First and foremost, all grapes must be estate-grown. In other words, producers may not purchase grapes from other growers (such as bulk producers) for the purpose of adding them to the final blend. Second, the wine must be matured for at least 30 months in wood prior to release, including at least 3 months in bottle. Finally, the wine is to be strictly examined by an expert panel of impartial judges before release. As with Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva, all Gran Selezione must be produced from 80-100% Sangiovese. In addition to local grapes such as Canaiolo and/or Colorino, grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot may constitute up to 20% of the final blend.

The establishment of this new category has been met with considerable anticipation, though several issues remain. Of these, the most significant is how this new premium ranking will affect other existing categories of Chianti Classico. For instance, will the style of wines bottled as ‘Chianti Classico Riserva’ be changed? According to existing regulations, Riservas must be aged for at least 2 years in wood, including 3 months in bottle. They also do not have to be crafted exclusively from estate-grown fruit. But even already (and this should not come as a surprise), some producers have begun diverting their best estate-grown fruit from wines formerly destined to be labelled as Riserva to bottles destined to be labelled as Gran Selezione. As a whole, does this mean the quality of Chianti Classico Riserva is destined for a nosedive? Only time will tell.

Chianti Pyramid

 

Another issue is whether Gran Selezione wines (the grapes of which are not even obliged to come from single vineyards) will even be qualitatively superior to Chianti Classico Riserva or ‘standard’ Chianti Classico in the long run. Simply put, is the Gran Selezione category nothing but a price grab in the making? So far, this does not seem to be the case. From what I tasted during my time in Firenze, wines labelled as Gran Selezione almost always represented the finest, most qualitatively appreciable bottlings of any given estate, at least among Chianti Classico offerings. A good omen of things to come? Once again, only time will tell.

Indeed, the quality of initial offerings are truly impressive, with many possessing a much-welcomed extra degree of concentration and complexity that seem to definitively separate them from their ‘standard’ counterparts. But personal preference does play a role, as not everyone might appreciate their Chianti Classicos aged for so long in oak at the expense of fruit freshness and approachability. Hence the contradictorily positive effect(s) of the new Gran Selezione category: an expansion of styles and more diverse levels of quality than ever before.

Availability of Chianti Classico Gran Selezione:

At present, wines labelled as ‘Chianti Classico Gran Selezione’ are set to be released in VINTAGES stores over the next several years. At time of publication, we are uncertain if these wines will be featured in bi-weekly releases or if they will be offered exclusively through the VINTAGES Classics Collection. For now, all wines may only be purchased through the agent listed. They are truly worth seeking out.

My top choices:

Mazzei Castello di Fonterutoli 2010 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione ($75.00) surpasses a large number of expectations. For both its concentration and refinement, this is definitely one of the most powerful, most delicious versions I have ever tasted from this extraordinary establishment. Decanting is recommended. Available through Trialto Wine Group.

San Felice 2010 Il Grigio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione ($35.00) is a first-rate outing, representing one of the best buys of this premium new category. In addition to 80% Sangiovese, five other grape varietals made it into the final blend. Decanting is recommended. Available through John Hanna & Sons.

Fontodi 2010 Vigna del Sorbo Chianti Classico Gran Selezione ($95.00) is the finest version I have tasted thus far, hailing from one of the most accomplished producers in Tuscany. A potential legend in the making, the Manetti family has every reason to take pride in this incredible offering. Decanting is certainly warranted. Available through Rogers & Company.

Il Molino di Grace 2010 Il Margone Chianti Classico Gran Selezione ($75.00) is built for the very long-term, but may be consumed now with unbridled gusto. For those unfamiliar with this winery (launched in 1999), Frank Grace’s eponymous operation has developed quite a reputation for itself in a very short time. Decanting is recommended. Available through Connexion Oenophilia.

Antinori 2009 Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione ($60.00) is to be commended on so many levels, not just for its sensational pedigree but also for its obvious superiority to a good number of its predecessors. An immensely rewarding wine. Decanting is recommended. Available through Halpern Enterprises.

Chianti Classico Riservas currently available:

Castello di Bossi 2008 Berardo Chianti Classico Riserva ($29.95) hails from an estate with which I am only just beginning to become familiar. Owned by the Bacci family, human activity appears to have taken place at Castello de Bossi since ancient Roman times. A very fascinating locale for winegrowing. Decanting is recommended.

Fontodi 2009 Vigna del Sorbo Chianti Classico Riserva ($75.00) represents one of the top offerings of its graduating class, and may very well be the last vintage of Vigna del Sorbo to be bottled as ‘Riserva.’ A wine of remarkable disposition and breed, this will keep for up to a dozen years. Decanting is recommended.

Castelgreve 2009 Chianti Classico Riserva ($29.95) provides an extremely solid introduction to wines crafted more in the ‘traditional style.’ This usually means greater emphasis placed on dried fruits and cedarwood, an approach that tends to lend itself well to all sorts of Italian foods. Decanting is recommended.

Castello San Sano 2008 Guarnellotto Chianti Classico Riserva ($19.25) was tasted a year ago and has since been reduced in price. Enjoyable over the medium term, this may not be the most complex wine, though the quality of its ingredients makes for a rather impressive experience. Decanting is recommended but not mandatory.

Click the links below for more Chianti Classico wines and reviews.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Editors Note: You can find our critics reviews by clicking on any of the links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great reviews.

Julian’s Chianti Classico Reviews
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The Successful Collector, Julian Hitner – Ribera del Duero

One exciting winegrowing region

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Without question, Ribera del Duero is a land of extremes. How else to describe a region where summer day-/night-time temperatures vary by double digits and soil compositions are too numerable to relate. Such is the crux of Ribera, nowadays lauded as one of the most prosperous and popular names on the Spanish winegrowing scene.

An hour’s drive north of Madrid, the last twenty years have witnessed an unfathomable transformation in this 115-km stretch of the Duero River, which eventually flows into Portugal (passing the port vineyards) and empties into the Atlantic. From just a handful of bodegas in 1990 to over 200 today, vineyards continue to be planted at a breathtaking pace. While this has not been without controversy on account of too many vines being planted in overly productive sites, the result has been a growing appreciation of just how glorious Tinto Fino can be.

Ribera del DueroOtherwise known as Tinta del País (another local name for this particular strain of Tempranillo), much of Ribera’s success may be attributed to the ways in which the region’s finest growers have brought out the best qualities of this marvellous grape. Of these, lush strawberry-driven flavours (often rather fragrant), full-bodiedness, and structural acuity are particular hallmarks. Though other grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec are also permitted, the best examples usually consist of 100% Tinto Fino, sourced from extremely old vines ranging from 35 to over 100 years. Styles tend to range from the more floral and sensual to the more blatantly oak-driven and saturated.

As always, personal preference plays a role. Some may prefer a less powerful, more fruit-forward ‘Crianza’ (aged for a minimum of one year in wood and one in bottle). A wine labelled as ‘Joven’ will have had no wood ageing at all, while one marked as ‘Roble’ will have been aged in wood for well under a year. Others may opt for a more poignant, tighter structured ‘Reserva’ (aged for a minimum of one year in wood and two in bottle); while some may enjoy a full-bodied, especially complex ‘Gran Reserva’ (aged for a minimum of two years in wood and three in bottle). Finally, there are those who may prefer the increasingly celebrated single-vineyard bottlings for which many of the finest winegrowing establishments are famous. These are usually aged along more Bordelaise-style lines in French and/or American oak barrels for roughly 18 to 24 months or more.

Such wines owe as much to Tinto Fino as to the conditions in which this star grape has been able to thrive. As mentioned in the beginning, soil compositions are fretfully varied, though clay-based sands over alternating layers and limestone and marl (sometimes chalk) are generally the norm. Tinto Fino seems to do remarkably well when planted in such conditions.

Ribera del Duero

A typical vineyard in Ribera del Duero

Climate would seem to play an even more significant role. Located on the great northern plateau of the Iberian Peninsula, elevations are unusually high in this part of the country, between 750 to over 850 metres. In the summer months, this means extremely hot days (up to 36 degrees) and very cool nights (as low as 8 degrees). The result is a slow, prolonged ripening cycle, accentuating the potential flavour of the grapes without any loss of acidity. Few other places in the winegrowing world enjoy such variations in temperature. Rainfall is also notably low, usually taking place in the winter months.

All of this has lead to an incredible leap in both the overall quality and popularity of the region’s wines, not to mention a colossal proliferation of bodegas throughout the D.O. Many of these are family-owned and are supplied by estate-grown or purchased grapes. The difference between the two is a source of great pride for most winegrowers, as the former are usually considered preferable over the latter (though some growers may opt to lease vineyards via a long-term agreement).

Also not to be discounted is wine tourism, which is likely to play an increasingly prominent role in the coming years. Not surprisingly, many bodegas both old and new have invested heavily over the past decade in renovating and expanding their buildings. Though many owners are quick to point out that their primary aim is to improve quality, there is little mistaking the effect an architecturally attractive building can have on the eye. At the end of the day, the name of the game is to impress.

The excitement at the moment is certainly palpable. In just a short period of time, Ribera del Duero has gone from comparative anonymity to one of the most successful winegrowing regions in Spain, showing few signs of slowing down. How long this will last is anyone’s guess, though wine lovers everywhere stand the most grateful beneficiaries.

Top estates in Ribera del Duero:

Vega Sicilia: The most famous estate in the region, the wines of Vega Sicilia are synonymous with individuality and luxury. Under the skillful, philosophical hand of director Xavier Ausas, the estate has gone from strength to strength since its inception in the mid-19th century, having inaugurated an entirely new winemaking facility just a few years ago. Each parcel in the vineyards is now vinified separately, Ausas likening this arrangement to a painter utilizing every colour and infinite number of shades on the palate. Three wines are produced from mostly old-vine Tinto Fino: Valbuena, Único, and Único Especial (a blend of various vintages). Most estates would do well to produce wine half as fine as those crafted at Vega Sicilia.

Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5 Cosecha 2009Aalto PS 2011Vega Sicilia 2009 Valbuena 5 Cosecha ($185.00) is generally regarded as the ‘second wine’ of the bodega, boasting incredible concentration and charm. Though the flagship Único is unaffordable for most persons, the ’09 Valbuena 5 Cosecha is highly recommendable any day of the week. Decanting is highly advisable. Available through Halpern Enterprises.

Aalto: Co-owned by former Vega Sicilia winemaker Mariano Garcia and former director of the Consejo Regulador Javier Zaccagnini, Aalto has only been in existence for only fifteen years and is already widely considered one of the top bodegas in Ribera del Duero. The partnership between these two brilliant gentlemen has been a roaring success, their unsurpassed wealth of expertise bringing to bear two wines of sensational quality: Aalto and the flagship label Aalto PS. Both are crafted from 100% Tinto Fino, sourced from extremely old vines from some of the finest plots in the region. Quality is unimpeachable.

Aalto PS 2011 ($135.00) is one of my most insistent recommendations. The flagship label of the bodega, this magnificent creature (crafted from 100% Tinto Fino) delivers unparalleled concentration, structure, and flavour. I’ve even ordered a case for my own cellar. Decanting is obligatory. Available through Trialto Wine Group.

Dominio de Pingus: The boutique winery of Danish owner/winemaker Peter Sisseck, Dominio de Pingus has enjoyed cult status for some time now. The wines are crafted from 100% Tinto Fino and are worth every laurel they almost always receive: Pingus and ‘second wine’ Flor de Pingus. The philosophy at this super-small establishment is Burgundian in inclination and holistic in orientation. Grapes are sourced from extremely old vines planted in some of the best soil conditions in the region. In the mid-1990s, Sisseck made the unusual decision of selling all of his wine en primeur (i.e. before they are bottled), freeing his team up so that they may concentrate exclusively on quality. The results speak for themselves.

Dominio De Pingus Flor De Pingus 2012Dominio de Pingus 2012 Flor de Pingus ($125.00) is the ‘second wine’ of this cult operation. Though not yet bottled at time of examination, it augurs a phenomenal future. Crafted from 100% Tinto Fino, every Spanish wine lover ought to do their utmost to get their hands on this magnificent wine. Decanting is advisable. Available through Profile Wine Group.

Viña Sastre: An impeccable source for some of the most powerful examples in the region, Viña Sastre enjoys a considerable reputation these days. With access to extremely old vines (mostly Tinto Fino), the aim of co-owner/winemaker Juan Manuel is to craft wines of extraordinary concentration and depth. New oak (both French and American) is employed in abundance; and while the style might not be for everyone, the quality of the range is remarkably high. Five wines are produced: Roble, Crianza, Pago de Santa Cruz, Regina Vides, and Pesus. The oak regimens on the last three are especially marked, demanding long-term cellaring.

Bodega Rodero: Owner/winemaker Carmelo Rodero is something of a maverick when it comes to winemaking, employing a radical system of rotating vats and bins lifted by pulleys so as to avoid the use of pumps during fermentation. The results are very impressive: powerful, chewy wines crafted from old-vine Tinto Fino and small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon. A resplendent new winery and welcome centre (including a banquet room for large functions) was completed several years ago. These are wines worth getting excited about.

Pago de Carraovejas: Owned by the Ruiz family, Pago de Carraovejas is a highly estimable operation, particularly when considering its size. Quality is generally excellent, though the better balanced examples are those where the use of new oak is less apparent. Four red wines are produced from mostly Tinto Fino: Crianza, Reserva, Cuesta de las Liebres, and El Anejón. The three whites (each 100% Verdejo) are also of high quality: Quintaluna (based out of Rueda), Ossian, and Ossian Capitel (sourced from 160-year-old vines). Because whites may not be labelled as Ribera del Duero, Ossian and Ossian Capitel are marketed as Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Léon. Other large-sized establishments could learn a great deal from this producer.

Wines currently available in Vintages:

Cepa 21 Hito 2010Resalte De Peñafiel Peña Roble Reserva 2004Bodegas Vizcarra JC Vizcarra 2010Bodegas Vizcarra 2010 JC Vizcarra ($28.95) delivers a decisively beautiful amalgam of aromatic and textural characteristics, making for an outstandingly delicious offering. Having now tasted several wines from this impeccable bodega, my advice to Spanish lovers would be to stock up whenever (and wherever) possible. Decanting is advisable.

Resalte de Peñafiel 2004 Peña Roble Reserva ($31.95) is performing superbly at ten years of age, though it will keep for some time yet. Sourced from vines over twenty-five years of age, it’s wines like these that serve only to highlight the successes of Ribera del Duero as a whole. A gentle decanting for sediment is worthwhile.

Cepa 21 2010 Hito ($17.95) is an ideal recommendation for everyday drinking, though it will mellow further for those with a proper cellar. Crafted from 100% Tinto Fino, its most prominent feature is its appropriate accessibility of fruit—an often overlooked attribute for wines of this type. Decanting is likely unnecessary.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Editors Note: You can find our critics reviews by clicking on any of the links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great reviews.

Julian’s Ribera del Duero Reviews
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An evening of claret: Looking at Bordeaux 2011s

by Julian Hitner and Sara d’Amato

On the evening of Thursday 16 January 2014, the LCBO played host at the Royal Ontario Museum to over 90 estates belonging to the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) as châteaux representatives poured wines from the 2011 vintage.

For those still interested in placing orders, Vintages will be selling futures of the 2011 vintage until March 6, 2014. To place your order call helloLCBO at 416-365-5900 or toll-free at 1-800-668-5226 (Monday to Friday, 8:30am-6pm, Saturday 9am-6pm). There is no minimum order size and quantities are limited. The 2011s are expected to arrive between Spring 2014 to Winter 2015. For more information, visit: Vintages.com

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

But is the 2011 vintage even worth buying? If so, what wines are the best? Year in and year out, these are the two most significant questions facing Ontario’s ever-increasing ranks of Bordeaux aficionados. But fear not, for we WineAlign commentators were on hand to taste as many different wines as time would permit. Between Sara d’Amato and myself, we were resoundingly thorough, though we do apologize in advance for any wines we may have overlooked. There were over a 110 wines to review and therefore I took on the enormity of the task of covering the Left Bank wines while Sara focused on the Right Bank and Sauternes.

Are the prices worth it?

Beyond all other concerns, the most pressing matter for Bordeaux buyers is whether or not the 2011 vintage is worth patronizing. For my part, I am inclined to respond with a provisional yes. Taken as a whole, some surprisingly fine wines were made in what has largely been deemed an average year. Caution is key. Many estates and ‘négociants’ – the latter commonly serving as intermediaries between châteaux and retailers – were far too ambitious in their pricing strategy. As a result, many 2011s have been absurdly overpriced and should be avoided at all costs. This said, there are luckily a very reasonable number of wines meriting the prices at which they’ve been pegged. Such are the offerings Sara and I are delighted to recommend in this column.

The Left Bank and Pessac-Léognan

Home to some of the most iconic estates in Bordeaux, the Left Bank (otherwise known as the ‘Médoc’) produced some surprisingly beautiful, bountiful wines in 2011. In Pauillac, accessibility of fruit seems to be a primary characteristic, reinforced by decent tannic backbone and overall ripeness. The same would seem to apply to an even greater extent in St-Julien, where some of the best wines of the vintage were produced. Things were more subdued in Margaux, though the more diligent estates were nonetheless successful in producing some extremely fine clarets of exemplary fragrance and body. Of St-Estèphe, there were too few estates at the event to formulate any generalizations. As for the Haut-Médoc (I was unable to taste any wines from the Médoc AOC), quality at the finest estates does not appear to have been much of problem, though prices were arguably too ambitious on the part of most wineries involved.

In Pessac-Léognan, I regret to report that I had only enough time to taste a handful of wines, though those I was able to examine were, along with St-Julien, some of the most notable examples of the evening: finely structured, full-bodied, and reasonably priced. The same could probably be said of the whites (at least judging from what I’ve heard through the grapevine). If only I had enough time to taste any of them—the LCBO really ought to make these events longer!

Julian’s Top Picks from the Left Bank
Domaine de Chevalier 2011Château Léoville Barton 2011Château Smith Haut Lafitte 2011Château Grand Puy Ducasse 2011Château Langoa Barton

Domaine de Chevalier 2011 Pessac-Léognan ($69.00) is easily one of my top choices of the vintage, representing incredible value for money. Though historically known for its wondrous white wine, the estate’s red version in recent years has emerged as one of the most undervalued premium clarets in Bordeaux. Not to be missed.

Château Léoville Barton 2011 St-Julien ($97.00) is very much in keeping with the owner’s long-standing policy of never overcharging on his wines, despite the fact that Léoville Barton has long been considered one of the top estates in St-Julien. Surprisingly concentrated when considering the limitations of the vintage, this beauty comes very highly recommended.

Château Smith Haut Lafitte 2011 Pessac-Léognan ($99.00) is a truly substantial effort on the part of this extraordinary estate. A classic example of conscientious winegrowing in the face of challenging conditions, this along with Domaine de Chevalier represents one of the best outings in Pessac-Léognan.

Château Grand-Puy Ducasse 2011 Pauillac ($69.00) exceeds a plethora expectations. Surpassing even the ’10 (no mean achievement), this is easily the finest wine I have tasted from this estate to date. Honestly, I never thought I’d see the day when Grand-Puy Ducasse would emerge as one of my top suggestions.

Château Langoa Barton 2011 St-Julien ($75.00) is an exceptional Third Growth under the same ownership as Château Léoville Barton (the latter is actually produced at the same estate as the former). Over the past several years, Langoa has taken a giant leap forward in quality, with the ’11 defying expectations in more ways than one.
Château Saint Pierre 2011Château Labégorce 2011Château Gloria 2011Château Carbonnieux 2011Château Maucaillou 2011

Château Saint-Pierre 2011 St-Julien ($75.00) hails from the smallest Classed Growth in St-Julien, which means that its wines don’t always get the recognition they deserve. The ’11 is a classic example: full-bodied, excellently structured, and capable of long-term cellaring. For my part, I wish I had more wines from Saint-Pierre in my collection.

Château Labégorce 2011 Margaux ($39.00) is not only one of finest wines ever produced at this estate, it also represents one of the best bargains of the vintage. Surprisingly full-bodied and flavourful, a case of this may very well find its way into my own wine cellar before the ordering deadline passes.

Château Gloria 2011 St-Julien ($51.00) is widely recognized as the top non-Classed Growth of St-Julien, under the same ownership as Château Saint-Pierre. Tasted alongside, the two wines in ‘11 have much in common: outstanding concentration, balance, and style. If the 1855 Classification were ever revised, you can bet the likes of Château Gloria would be included.

Château Carbonnieux 2011 Pessac-Léognan ($49.00) might not have the same name recognition as some of its peers, which is all the more reason to buy it. Like many estates throughout Pessac-Léognan, it used to be the much-improved whites that hogged the spotlight; but now that the reds have caught up, the latter represent some of the best values around.

Château Maucaillou 2011 Moulis-en-Médoc ($35.00) is one of the most reasonably priced wines in its neck of the woods. A very beautiful outing, wines like this will undoubtedly become increasingly popular as the Classed Growths become all but unaffordable for most claret connoisseurs in the years to come.

Navigating the Tumultuous 2011 Vintage
Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Once again, Julian Hitner and I have joined forces to cover this year’s UGC de Bordeaux Tasting (Union des Grands Crus) hosted by Vintages. On the heels of two praise-worthy and very pricy vintages, the 2011 crop of Bordeaux proved highly variable and certainly lacking the consistency of the two exceptional vintages it supersedes. Therefore a little extra caution is recommended this year in making purchasing decisions. Although the prices are down, they are not down enough. Certain producers refuse to drop their prices accordingly for fear of devaluing their brand or creating a fight to increase the price later. Others, however, respect the lesser quality and take the hit. At the end of the day, it is the market that will ultimately influence further pricing and this is a critical year.

Having spoken to several former colleagues over the course of the growing season, I had the impression that they were quite baffled by the season and could not predict what sort of outcome they would have. The growing season was oddly reversed with a scorching hot spring and then a very cool and rainy summer. What saved the wines was a rather long Indian summer that evened out the vintage and allowed the producers a break from the erratic to come to gradual and calculated courses of action.  Careful winemaking was paramount in such a vintage as muscular tannins required a gentle hand to manage.

Just as the season was erratic, so are the offerings. There are some very fine, dare I say, values amidst some unimpressive offerings lacking depth. All in all, I suspect that the right bank fared slightly better than the left as merlot and cabernet franc proved somewhat hardier in the dense clay soils which may have allowed for a more steady pace of ripening in the face of these turbulent conditions. This being said, there are some terrific wines in this group that are certainly worthy of your attention.

Sara’s Top Picks from the Right Bank and Sauternes

Saint-Emilion and Pomerol

Château Pavie Macquin 2011Château Troplong Mondot 2011Château Trotte Vieille 2011Chateau Trotte Vielle 2011, Saint-Emilion ($225.00). A fascinating estate with a remarkable, small and rare plot of pre-phylloxera vines. Known for careful, small-batch production and keen winemaking, it is no wonder this Chateau faired exceptionally well in this vintage. The level of complexity and thunderous intensity is nothing short of brilliant.

Chateau Troplong-Mondot 2011, Saint-Emilion ($119.00). For centuries, Troplong-Mondot has been producing praise-worthy wines, considered one of the top estates of Saint-Emilion. Today it is run by Christine and Xavier Pariente – a couple who proudly continue this great tradition. This compelling 2011 exhibits a presence impossible to overlook.

Chateau Pavie-Macquin 2011 Saint-Emilion, 1er Grand Cru Classe ($89.00). Known for its impactful, dense and powerful wine, the founder of Pavie-Macquin, Albert Macquin, was responsible for helping save Saint-Emilion from phylloxera during turn of the century by introducing the process of grafting root-stocks to the region. Balanced, generous and revealing, this carefully crafted offering has serious technical merit.

Château Villemaurine 2011Château La Couspaude 2011Château Le Bon Pasteur 2011Chateau Villemaurine 2011 Saint-Emilion ($59.00). Made purely of merlot (80%) and cabernet franc (20%), this offering is an example of how these varietals have proved shinning stars this vintage.  Feminine, floral, poised and elegant but also generous and affable.

Chateau La Couspaude 2011, Saint-Emilion ($79.00). Vanessa Aubert puts on many hats at Chateau including that of winemaker, having inherited the property along with her two siblings from generations of men in her family since 1908. After studying enology at the University of Bordeaux, has devoted herself to continuing the illustrious tradition of the property. The Aubert family also owns eight other left bank properties. Not to be missed – this is a complex, carefully crafted and sublimely enjoyable offering.

Chateau Le Bon Pasteur 2011, Pomerol ($95.00). Le Bon Pasteur benefits from both an interesting location, at the junction of Pomerol and Saint-Emilion known as the “Maillet sector”, and by the current managers, descendents of the original owners, Jean-Daniel and Michel Rolland (yes, The Michel Rolland). Once again, meticulous winemaking wins the day in this age worthy offering with classic structure.

Sauternes

Château La Tour Blanche 2010Château De Fargues 2011Chateau de Fargues 2011, Sauternes ($179.00). Chateau de Fargues never ceases to impress me with concentration and complexity that is far superior to any of the greats I taste from this region. Owned by the Lur Saluces family for over five centuries, this sought-after nectar is worth the premium price.

Chateau La Tour Blanche 2011, Sauternes ($95.00). Known for its history giving back to the industry in helping establish a tuition-free viticulture school in the region, Chateau La Tour Blanche is also known for its modern methods and progressive attitude. It has certainly adapted to this vintage remarkably well.

Our Featured 2011 Bordeaux
Julian’s complete list of 2011 Bordeaux reviews
To order 2011 Boardeaux, visit: Vintages.com

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


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