2013 Ontario, 2010 Bordeaux, Oregon & Top Ten Smart Buys
John Szabo, MS
There are still lots of red grapes hanging in Ontario vineyards, but producers are already talking about the quality of the vintage. I’ve canvassed growers from Niagara and Prince Edward County for a sneak preview of what we can expect from 2013. In the meantime, the annual Taste Ontario event last week provided an opportunity to taste current releases, and I share a handful of my favorites in this week’s report. The VINTAGES October 26th release features 2010 Bordeaux, heralded as a great vintage, and I’ve highlighted the best values, as well as a pair from the Oregon mini-feature and the usual Ten Smart Buys.
Top Ten Smart Buys
This week’s top ten includes a candidate for wine of the vintage in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and a gorgeous 2008 Barolo at the premium end of value; a pair of glorious fortified wines for cool weather enjoyment from opposite ends of the price spectrum, as well as brilliant white Burgundy, zesty grüner veltliner and a South Australian roussanne with complexity well above what the price category demands. See them all here.
Oregon is the minor feature of the October 26th release, with a handful of wines hitting the shelves. Of these, two caught my attention: 2011 Evening Land Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, ($33.95) and the 2012 Elk Cove Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley ($24.95). Canadian-born winemaker Isabelle Meunier makes the wines at Evening Land’s Oregon operation (wine is also made in California and Burgundy) with the consultation of Burgundian guru Dominique Lafon, and the wines feature elegance and finesse across the board. The 2011 is a pretty, red fruit flavoured pinot with supple but dusty tannins, succulent acidity and a marked savoury edge. This is classy stuff, for fans of old world style pinot with minerality and depth without heaviness.
I’ve recommended wines from Elk Cove in the past, one of Oregon’s oldest vineyards planted in 1977. Pinot Gris is the state’s signature white grape, and this 2012 is classically styled (in the Alsatian sense), just off-dry with fine flavour intensity and length. It would make a great match with lightly spiced fare or dishes with a sweet-sour-salty profile (think Chinese sweet-sour sauces).
2013 Ontario: “A long, Cool Season with the Potential For Excellence”
It’s of course premature to make any definitive statements about a vintage that isn’t even finished yet, but if you believe in the adage that great wines are made in the vineyard, then the majority of the work is done, and the initial reports are highly positive. Growers still have their fingers crossed for fine weather to bring the later ripening reds like cabernet sauvignon and syrah to full ripeness, but with much of the harvest already fermenting, there are smiles about.
“Overall, 2013 resembles 2011 and 2009. It was a bit cooler than ’11 and a bit warmer than ’09”, reports Tom Penachetti from Cave Spring Vineyard. “Riesling is still a work in progress, but appears to have the potential for true excellence, with great balance of sugars and acids and very complete flavour development. And Cabernet Franc is also shaping up beautifully. If all goes well, the wines will be ripe and aromatic, with a good balance of tannin and ripe yet still bright fruit character”, says Penachetti. And even more good news is that there will be plenty of wine to go around: “Yields are larger than average, like in 2011, but the flavours are complex and quality excellent.”
Paul Pender of Tawse is equally enthusiastic: “I am loving what’s coming out of the 2013 vintage. It’s definitely my kind of vintage. The longer, cooler growing season has produced some remarkable flavours in the Pinot, Chards and Rieslings. Acids are great and alcohols moderate”, he says.
Full flavour development alongside moderate alcohol levels, at least for white varieties, seems to be a common thread across the province, a feature that I find particularly exciting about 2013. Rob Power from Creekside Estate confirms: “the whites have great flavour intensity and classic Niagara acidity. This physiological ripeness was not matched by super-high grape sugars, so the wines will have good old-fashioned alcohol levels in the low 12s.” Bruce Nicholson of Inniskillin agrees on the strength of the whites: “Aromatic whites look very good with the help of some nice September sunshine”.
Growers were initially concerned about the late start to the growing season – bud burst came a couple of weeks later than the average – though warm weather in June, and additional warm periods again in August and September allowed grapes to catch up. And while there was a lot of precipitation during the growing season, according to Penachetti, “it came in short bursts and was never followed by hot, humid weather. Instead, it was almost always brisk and sunny after the rain, which minimized disease pressure and allowed for quick drying”.
It remains to be seen how the later reds will fair. “We are enjoying a great fall that has helped us catch up with a cool summer, but patience is still the name of the game this year especially for reds”, cautions J-L Groux of Stratus, well known for harvesting his reds into November even in warm years. “We now have great Chards, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and Rieslings in the winery but reds will be a November affair”. Michèle Bosc of Château des Charmes is optimistic: “thus far we have been delighted at the maturity of the fruit, and if the forecast is to be believed we could be equally as delighted with the late reds as we are with the whites/early reds.”
Prince Edward County
In Prince Edward County where virtually all varieties (early ripening grapes like pinot noir and chardonnay) have been picked, Rosehall Run’s Dan Sullivan reports a more challenging growing season. Frequent disease pressure required attentive canopy management, but Sullivan has similar enthusiasm regarding quality, thanks to a late season period of warm, dry weather. “Although the year started late with a bud break 10-14 days later than 2012, the season really picked up speed and the generally glorious weather over the last month has made the vintage” he says. Bruno François of The Old Third describes conditions in September and early October as “absolutely perfect for viticulture”.
The ever optimistic Norm Hardie makes the claim that 2013 is “the best yet”, while Sullivan, although reluctant to make as definitive a prediction, states that “it’s fair to say we expect the 2013 vintage to be very good to excellent. Our Chardonnay and Pinot (667 clone in particular) are some of the best I’ve seen in my 10 crushes at Rosehall Run.”
Stay tuned, and join winemakers in a little prayer for sun.
While we’re waiting for our first tastes of the 2013s, here are some recommended current releases available at the LCBO or direct from the winery:
2012 Charles Baker Wines Charles Baker Ivan Vineyard ($27.00)
Baker has done a fine job with the Ivan Vineyard in 2012, the best from this site to date. He seems to have coaxed an extra dimension of minerality from the vines while maintaining freshness, vibrancy and verve. I like the palpable astringency, from low yielding vines and genuine concentration no doubt, capturing the ripeness of 2012 without any hint of heaviness or sweetness. The finish lingers on admirably. This might just give the generally superior Picone Vineyard bottling a run for the money this year. Best now-2020+.
2008 Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc de Blanc ($44.95)
A fine, tight, bracing, dry bubbly that takes its place alongside the best of the province, but patience required. The 2008 is considerably more tart, lean and austere then the inaugural 2007, accurately reflecting the far cooler vintage conditions, and I suspect this will continue to age, and improve, slowly in the bottle and ultimately outlast the first edition. I’d tuck this in the cellar for another year or two minimum to allow some softening and evolution.
2012 Rosewood Estates Winery Select Series Semillon ($18.00)
The 2012 Semillon from Rosewood steps it up a notch (or two) from the 2011, offering considerably more ripeness and depth, with fruit moving into the tropical spectrum: pineapple, melon, and guava. There’s also a fine blast of fresh lime-citrus to freshen up the ensemble, along with a plush and flavour-rich mid-palate. A top-notch effort from Ontario with this rather rare and difficult grape, but one that proves that it can be done in the right sites with the right handling.
2011 Fielding Estate Winery Cabernet Franc ($21.95)
Fielding delivers a classic cool climate cabernet franc in 2011, complete with fresh cut grass, wet hay, damp earth and roasted green pepper. Wood has been used to good effect to fill in some flavour gaps, adding its smoky, spicy, meaty nuances, while the palate is medium-full, fresh and lively, with firm dusty tannins but more than enough fruit and other flavours to see this through to positive evolution. Best after 2015.
2011 Thomas Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir, St. David’s Bench ($53.95)
Bachelder’s 2011 Lowery Vineyard pinot from one of the oldest pinot sites on the escarpment offers a delightful nose of cinnamon-spiced cherries and cranberry chutney, ably integrating old barrel spice with fine fruit concentration in this challenging vintage. I think he’s nailed this one on the head with the supple, rich texture, yet structured palate, with moderate tannins fully enveloped in fruit extract. The length and flavour depth are also exceptional. Lovely wine, for drinking now, or hold up to a half dozen years or so.
2011 Lailey Vineyard Wines Cabernet Franc ($25.00)
Here’s a fragrant pure, complex and inviting wine from Derek Barnett that surpasses expectations for the price category. There’s a fine mix of high-toned red and black fruit, floral, fresh tobacco leaf and delicate baking spice nuances that come together nicely. The palate delivers substantial flavour and length on a light to mid-weight frame, with lively acids and fine-grained tannins. Terrific length for the money.
2012 Malivoire Wine Company Small Lot Gamay ($19.75)
An arch-typical, zesty, cold cream and tart red berry-flavoured gamay from specialists Malivoire, whose gamays are, year in and year out, among the best in the country. I love the bright, crunchy currant and pomegranate flavours, the black pepper and the saliva-inducing acids. Fine length, too. Well worth a look for fans of the grape/genre.
There is much hype surrounding the Bordeaux 2010s, which along with 2009 and 2005 are considered the best vintages of the last decade, if not the last thirty years. For a more comprehensive view, see Sara d’Amato and Julian Hitner’s posting from February of this year.
To sum up, the 2010s are tight, firm and unyielding. Compared to the 2009s, they are downright austere. Indeed, 2010 couldn’t be more different than 2009. Whereas the 2009s are all about plush fruit and supple tannins in an immediately seductive style, 2010 was an extreme, drought-ridden growing season influenced by the El Niño weather pattern. A cool August and September kept acidities high, while water stress resulted in shriveled berries, robust tannins, high alcohol and big concentration overall. In a positive light, these are wines that will age slowly over the long term. But for all but the most basic bottles, forget about them for at least half a dozen years.
There are just under a dozen 2010s to be released on October 26th, all under $30 and mostly from satellite appellations, so it’s not a representative collection of the top stuff. But it’s enough to get a sense of how austere and unfriendly some wines are. Raisined fruit flavours were a frequent feature, along with high alcohols (15% alc Bordeaux?) and the occasional exaggerated use of wood flavour. But to be fair, I’d say that it’s a tough period of evolution in which to be tasting these, and I had the sense that many wines, even at entry price points, were going through a ‘dumb’ (non-expressive) stage. It will be fascinating to follow them as they age.
Here’s a short list of the Château that seemed to have managed the stress well, yielding balanced, albeit well structured wines. Click to read full reviews, and note the recommended drink from and to dates.
2010 Château Rahoul, AC Graves ($29.95)
2010 Château De Maison Neuve, Montagne Saint-Émilion ($19.95)
2009 Château Reynon, AC Premières Côtes de Bordeaux ($23.85)
2010 Château La Couronne, AC Saint-Émilion Grand Cru ($24.95)
2010 Château Doms, AC Graves ($17.00)
I hope you can join me at the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo for an insider’s tour through the world of wine. I’ve selected an outstanding lineup of up-and-coming grapes, regions, producers and styles – the stuff you wouldn’t likely know about unless you are immersed in the wine trade – that are ripe for discovery. Pick up some tips on how to taste, serve and pair wine and food like a master sommelier along the way. See more details and get your tickets here.
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
John Szabo, Master Sommelier
From the October 26, 2013 Vintages release:
Top Smart Buys
Editors Note: You can find John Szabo’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!
Filed under: News, Wine, Bordeaux, EN, John Szabo, ONBlog, Ontario Wine, Oregon, Top Ten Smart Buys, Vintages Preview