Syrah’s New Frontiers, 90pt-09 Bordeaux, Wise Buys, Lifford’s Pinot Fête
This is a large and rambling release. In three visits to the VINTAGES lab I managed to taste and review 102 of the 132 new wines on offer. It seemed to take an eternity – perhaps I am in summer slow-mo. Or perhaps dragging after the deluge of chardonnays at the terrific International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration in Niagara (congrats to all who made it happen), and subsequent trade tastings like Lifford’s excellent global pinot noir ensemble (see below). But onward, largely bypassing the French white feature that John Szabo has already nicely covered. We tour new syrah regions, re-visit 2009 Bordeaux and point out some wise buys in whites and reds for your summer enjoyment.
Syrah’s New Frontiers
I love tasting syrah/shiraz, perhaps more than any grape except pinot noir. I actually don’t drink a lot of syrah however, perhaps because it is too heavy for most situations I am in – certainly in the summer, unless grilling red meat. But I do love it when I have great examples, and that happened recently during a trade dinner with Australia’s Jim Barry Wines at an Asian restaurant called Ki Modern Japanese in downtown Toronto. Grandson Tom Barry poured several great cabs and shiraz that will be making their way to VINTAGES in the months ahead (already posted to WineAlign). Their signature shiraz called The Armagh is considered one of the icons of Australia, and the silky, ultra-rich and layered 2008 vintage gave a virtuoso performance this night, matched with sweet and spicy Korean short ribs. In Australia, which is much closer to the Asian culinary scene than here in Canada, big shiraz is regularly being recommended with richer Asian cuisine by sommeliers – and I get it.
This release does have some good Aussie shiraz, as well as northern Rhone classics. But I want to stop briefly in regions new to this black grape. It is generally considered a warm climate grape, but actually it seems to perform well in “moderate” climates as well (which is how I would characterize the northern Rhone). One region hoping to prove this is Niagara. Against all prevailing wisdom a decade ago syrah is a growing concern here, especially when we are blessed with warm vintages like 2010 and 2012. Peninsula Ridge 2010 Reserve Syrah ($24.95) is a textbook example of the lighter, black pepper laden Ontario style, with some ripe black cherry fruit showing through. It is not a deep or riveting wine, but it is definitive syrah, and its lighter style could prove very appropriate at the summer table.
Another moderate non-traditional region where syrah is showing real promise is Tuscany, and on this release there are no less than two syrahs from eastern Tuscany sub-region of Cortona, a region crowned with a medieval hill town of the same name. The very smooth, dense and fruit driven Il Castagno 2011 Cortona Syrah is a great buy at $20.95. It is the flagship wine (first made in 2003) from a small Cortona estate owned by Fabrizio Dinosio, who has carried on his father’s work in creating a two-vineyard winery on the hillside below the town. This whole area of central Italy – including neighbouring Umbria could be great syrah country.
The warmer, somewhat inland Paso Robles region of California’s Central Coast is a locally well known as good syrah country, but it still suffers from lack of wider recognition due to the long shadow cast by Napa and Sonoma, and cabernet sauvignon. California in general, in my opinion, is still lagging in the syrah department because it is still considered a fringy variety. Too bad, because so much of California is ideal for this grape. But there is hope when one sees a fine, smooth, well-priced example like J. Lohr 2011 South Ridge Syrah hit the shelves at $19.95. J. Lohr is a large company with great reach.
2009 Bordeaux at 90+
There are nine Bordeaux arriving August 3, split between the main release and In Store Discoveries (smaller quantities in a few larger locations). And all are from the vaunted, hotter 2009 vintage, which provides a useful mini-clinic on how the wines are developing after four years. Most are quite dense (for Bordeaux), rich and ripe. They are showing first signs of evolution but could still age another year or three as tannins tend to be quite firm. A couple of examples proved overripe and almost raisiny and also showed hints of volatility associated with the breakdown of the fruit before fermentation – the main problem with the vintage in my view, and good reason to taste before you buy when approaching lesser known names.
But there are some dandies here – five at 90 points or better – and they are the result of excellent winemaking. As much as I like to bash Bordeaux for excessive pricing at the top end, and inconsistent style and quality at the low end, there are obviously many skilled winemakers working the middle ground and actually offering decent value between $25 and $50. Above all else Bordeaux is focused and deeply experienced with the cab-merlot family of vines, and the result are wines that very often have a sweet spot of elegance, depth and complexity.
Château Goulee 2009 Médoc is a shining example and a very good buy at $42.85 (ISD). It hails from an unremarkable Medoc property, but the winemaking has been handled by the folks at Cos d’Estournel, one of the great second growths of Bordeaux. It is a model of refinement and modern sensibilities and techniques.
Château La Vieille Cure 2009 from the right bank appellation of Fronsac ($36.85 ISD) is yet another example. I have followed this 50 hectare property for several years and recommended its wines here before. It was purchased and refurbished and the vineyard (merlot 74%) was partially replanted by American investors in the mid-eighties, but its oldest vines remain intact. The dominant soil base here is limestone, and to me that is creating the lovely lift and fragrance in this wine.
Château Joanin-Bécot 2009 ($42.85, ISD) is another very pretty merlot based wine, this time from limestone-based soils in my favourite little sub-region of Castillon upriver from St. Emilion. It too was purchased and refurbished, this time in 2001, by the Becot family of St. Emilion. Juliette Becot has overseen the employment of all the tricks of the trade to help ensure quality from hand harvesting to double sorting, cool pre-fermentation maceration, manual cap punching and ageing in new, medium toast French oak for 15 months.
Château d’Aurilhac 2009 Haut-Médoc ($23.85) has proven difficult to research, but it is very likely a cabernet sauvignon dominated left bank blend. It has impressive richness and depth for its price and station. It is an example straying toward over-ripeness but it holds on. Not quite as polished as its peers above but it has some hedonistic appeal.
Wise Buys in Oaked Whites
As mentioned, there are several interesting French whites on this release, but none are great buys, except for the complex, tight Chablis-esque J.J. Vincent 2010 Marie-Antoinette Pouilly-Fuissé at $26.95. So I want to take you elsewhere for some well-priced whites you might not think of buying otherwise. All are well structured, judiciously oaked whites that you might want to pair with grilled seafood or poultry.
Ken Forrester 2011 Reserve Chenin Blanc ($17.95) from Stellenbosch, South Africa is a very well made, solid yet elegant barreled chenin. It doesn’t spell out oak on the label (and I think it should) but it is at least well-handled oak that gives some breathing room to chenin’s quince fruit. I really like the structure and finish of this wine. Ken Forrester is leading proponent of chenin – South Africa’s signature white, which is commonly made in both oaked and unoaked styles.
Ritual 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($19.95) from Chile’s Casablanca Valley has similar sense of restraint and class. It is a newish label from Veramonte, one of the pioneers of Casablanca under Augustin Huneeus who took a particular interest in sauvignon from the region. Ritual is made from a selection of best estate vineyards, with the wine aged five months in French oak, for a dash of spice around the tropical fruit and gentle herbal notes.
Lua Cheia Em 2011 Vinhas Velhas ($15.95) from Portugal’s Douro Valley is the most intriguing of the three, and a bit more idiosyncratic. Lua Cheia Em is a very new label, created in 2010 through a partnership of three Douro winemakers who set up shop in temporary facilities to make small lots from growers without their own wineries – sort of like the Okanagan Crush Pad concept. In this case, the wine is made from a field blend of unspecified varieties, aged in barrel. Excellent structure with a dash of exoticism!
Wise Buys in Summer Reds
I have recently been enjoying lighter, fruit driven, non-oaked or lightly oaked reds for summer evening meals. Two more appeared on my radar in this release, plus a rich, succulent and smooth Australian for grilled red meat (lamb) or late evening sipping.
Le Plan Classic 2011 Côtes Du Rhône ($15.95) is all you could ask in smooth and easy and dare I say “racy” grenache-based (60%) blend from France’s southern Rhone. Le Plan is a new collection by former Dutch race car driver Dirk Vermeersch. I’ll give this one the green flag despite octane of 14.9%. Chill it a bit. No burnt rubber on the nose!
Clavesana 2011 Dolcetto Di Dogliani ($15.95) is the largest production dolcetto in Piedmont, Italy, the product of a co-op of over 350 growers that work about 1350 acres in the area around the town of Clavesana in the heart of the Dogliani appellation. I am surprised that such a large enterprise is turning out such a clean, fresh and high quality example. Chill lightly and enjoy with charcuterie.
Penley Estate 2010 Condor Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra, South Australia pours with pure seduction, and it was made in smooth, fruity style to achieve just that end. Normally I would simply pass right by this style of wine but this arrested me with its very intense, florid cassis aromas, and the fact it is not relying on residual sweetness to deliver the fruit. It’s the real McCoy and combining shiraz (52%) and cabernet has inlaid some complexity as well.
Best of the Bunch
Chanson Père & Fils 2010 Clos Du Roi Beaune 1er Cru
Burgundy, France $48.95, 93 Points
My BOB vote goes to this brilliant red Burgundy, from what may turn out to be the best vintage of recent times. The arriving 2011s are quite good as well if perhaps not built for long ageing. With rain problems in 2012 and now reports of serious hail damage in the Cotes de Beaune in 2013, supplies of good Beaune could become scarce and expensive in the near future. So you might want pick some age-worthy 2010s while you can.
Beaune is always one of the most approachable of the serious southern red Burgundy appellations (along with Volnay and Pommard) and because it is larger it is a bit less expensive. This particular 1er Cru is one of the best on the slope, and Chanson, a small historic house within the ramparts of the city, is turning out some great wines in recent vintages. It was purchased by Bollinger of Champagne in 1999, and Jean- Pierre Confuron was installed as winemaker. I have done four tastings of their portfolio in the past three years and they just keep getting better it seems.
Lifford’s Fête de Pinot Noir
There are few wine importers in Canada that could single-handedly put together a showcase of some of the world’s best pinot noirs, with the winemakers present. But on July 23rd Lifford Wines & Spirits/Ponte Wine & Spirits poured 43 different pinots from 13 producers in five countries – Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand and the USA (California and Oregon). They were smart to take advantage of some producers who had been at the International Cool Climate Celebration the weekend before pouring, because where there is chardonnay (smoke) there is often pinot noir (fire).
I tasted about 90% of the wines. Most are private order – meaning they are ordered for future shipment by the case (most are in six bottle cases). I have not published “review quality” notes and ratings given the circumstances of the tasting, but I certainly got a heads up on the most exciting wines. Please contact www.liffordwine.com for further information and ordering.
The Canadian contingent was particularly interesting and strong and newsworthy, with the trade debut of wines from Niagara’s new Domaine Queylus, the first Ontario pinots from Bachelder Wines, the first Toronto showing (to my knowledge) of Foxtrot pinots from the Okanagan Valley’s Naramata Bench, as well as pinots from Tawse, including the intriguing 2010 from the Lauritzen Vineyard ($44.95).
Domaine Queylus will open soon in the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation atop the Niagara Escarpment. It is owned by Gilles Chevalier of Montreal, with the first wines from the 2010 and 2011 vintages made by Thomas Bachelder. Fruit for the two price tiers – Tradition ($29) and Reserve ($39) – come from a Beamsville site planted in 2007, and a Jordan site planted in 2002. Pinot keeners may be interested to know the latter is the same as the Le Clos Jordanne vineyard called La Petite Colline. These are immediately serious pinots that move into Niagara’s top echelon.
Thomas Bachelder was pouring his wines from Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara. He has separate contract winemaking facilities in all three countries and travels to each to make a range of single vineyard pinots. I was particularly impressed by the 2011s from Burgundy, with a single site 2011 Nuits-Saints-George La Petite Charmotte ($56.95) being among the stars of the day. It was also fun to taste his 2011 Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir ($53.95), from one of the oldest pinot sites in Niagara just below St. Davids.
Foxtrot is a relatively new, premium producer of pinot, chardonnay and viognier based on the Naramata Bench in B.C. I really enjoyed the complexity and tension of the pinots, even if not the most refined. Owner Gustav Allander showed the 2010 Erickson Vineyard ($74.95) and 2010 Foxtrot Vineyard ($91.95). In B.C. those same wines are priced at $46.15 and $56.40 respectively, which makes the point as to why many Ontarians are direct-ordering from B.C.
One of the great and most pleasant surprises was the St. Innocent 2010 Momtazi Vineyard ($56.95), an Oregon pinot of amazing aromatic presence, elegance and outstanding length from a quite cool side with some maritime influence. Elsewhere in the U.S. contingent I was most impressed by the Schug 2010 Carneros ($46.50) from California, the Sequana Dutton Ranch 2009 from Sonoma’s Green Valley ($65.95) and the Freestone 2011 Pinot from Sonoma Coast ($79.95).
Among European pinots the stand outs were the Louis Jadot 2010 Clos Vougeot Grand Cru ($187.95), the much less expensive Jadot 2010 Beaune 1er Cru Theurons ($64.95) and from Italy the Podere Monastero 2011 La Pineta ($43.95). The latter is a small single vineyard, single clone (177) pinot with considerable muscle and Tuscan tension. There was another lighter, more supple Tuscan pinot from Frescobaldi from an estate vineyard in the Pomino appellation ($34.95).
That’s a wrap for this edition. August – the doldrums of wine activity in the northern hemisphere at least – promises to be quieter, and may even hold a week’s vacation, before I head to Germany on a rather esoteric exploration of German pinot noir and the state of organic/biodynamic winemaking. But I will be back with a look at VINTAGES Aug 17 release before I go.
VP of Wine
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From the Aug 3, 2013 Vintages release:
Photos courtesy of: Ponte Wine & Spirits