Unravelling the Rhône, South Africa, Canada and Other Wines of Interest
This edition is written from Niagara where the entire WineAlign team is assembled all week to taste through 1,100 wines at the National Wine Awards of Canada – an amazing process of co-ordination and endurance. One result however has been my missing a VINTAGES press tasting opportunity, thus reviewing fewer wines from the June 22 release, and offering a shorter newsletter. But I have captured the Rhône, South Africa and Canadian features, and found other wines of interest from locales as far-flung as Australia, Alsace and Rioja.
Unravelling the Rhône
It struck me as odd that VINTAGES would highlight a Rhône release as summer dawns. Rosé, sure – but this batch is mostly reds, and in some cases they are quite burly and tannic. Some of the lighter, softer examples might be okay lightly chilled and quaffed on the deck, but how do you tell which will fit that bill (other than reading our reviews one by one). I got a chance to explore that idea last week during a Rhône Valley trade seminar that laid out wines from almost all of the appellations side by side. Sponsored by InterRhone, there was also a Rhône overview presented by Veronique Rivest of Montreal, a good friend, sommelier and writer who finished second in the World’s Best Sommelier Competition in Tokyo in March of this year.
The overriding message was that the Rhône Valley is complicated, with 22 authorized grape varieties (eight are white) grown among 23 appellations and another 18 sub-regions with a village name attached. This does not include the overriding Cotes du Rhône appellation that accounts for almost 75% of the entire volume produced. And of course, every year the vintage conditions vary. So for those who want to dive deep the Rhône is almost as absorbing and complex as Burgundy.
Don’t worry; I am not going to attempt to explain it all here. But I do want to pass on some general tips to help sort out which are likely to be the softer, rounder and easier/earlier reds and which will be the more linear, firm and tannic (perhaps for longer ageing). The softer reds will have a dominant portion of grenache in the blend; the firmer reds will be based on syrah, and even firmer if there is a high proportion of the tannic mourvedre grape. The softer reds will also be from more sandy and or clay soils found on the valley floor and lower slopes (where grenache tends to flourish), while the firmer reds will be from stonier, higher elevation sites (where syrah is more often found).
In terms of appellations, all the ‘northern Rhône’ AOCs are on steep, granite based slopes that support syrah only. These include Cote Rôtie, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St. Joseph and Cornas. By and large they make firm, age-worthy often quite elegant (and expensive) reds. That’s the easy part.
The southern Rhône is more complicated because all the grape varieties are used, and most often are blended. But grenache is usually the dominant grape – so southern Rhône wines are softer, rounder and higher in alcohol than those in the north. Within the south look to the lower, sandier appellations for the softest wines, led by Châteauneuf du Pape, then Lirac, Costieres de Nimes, Plan de Dieu, Gadagne (new), Cairanne, Rasteau, Visan and Grigan-les-Ahdemar. Two wines on the release stand out as very good value examples of this style. Romain Duvernay 2010 Cairanne ($18.95) – a Wine of the Month – has classic Rhône plummy fruit and pepper, albeit in the more compact and structured style of the 2010 vintage. Château Bizard Montagne 2010 De Raucoule ($20.95) is from the new Grignan-les-Adhemar appellation, formerly known as Coteaux du Triscatin at the northern edge of southern Rhône. This wine is particularly smooth, rich and almost velvety – a style I can’t wait to try with a BBQ.
For wines with more firmness and complexity look to the hillside oriented appellations of Vacqueyras, Beaumes de Venise, Gigondas, Sablet, Seguret and perhaps Vinsobres. Domaine Saint Gayan 2009 Gigondas ($30.95) is a very elegant, focused wine from a family that has been making wine on their property since 1709. Montirius Garrigues Vacqueyras 2010 is also a biodynamic beauty from a great property in Vacqueyras, but to buy this wine you will have to go VINTAGES Shop Online.
White Wines of Interest
Avondale 2010 Cyclus from Paarl, South Africa ($29.95) is part of a new breed of big, rich, Rhône-inspired oaked whites from the Cape, this one led by viognier, with chenin blanc and semillon in the blend. The estate grows biodynamically. It’s a profound and quite magnificent wine.
Benjamin Bridge 2012 Nova 7 from Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Valley (a spur of the Annapolis Valley) has been a sensation ‘down east’ for the last couple of years. Benjamin Bridge is a critically acclaimed sparkling wine producer doing very serious Champagne-styled wines, but this is much more in the Moscato d’Asti realm –super-fresh, off-dry, clean as a whistle. A summer fruit salad to serve snapping cold. ($25.95)
Henry of Pelham 2010 Estate Riesling from the Short Hills Bench in Niagara is an amazing value at $15.95. From mature vines it exudes ripe, peach, honey and waxy notes, whereas many Niagara rieslings are leaner, greener and more petrol driven. There is a seamless elegance and richness here.
Domaines Schlumberger Kessler 2008 Pinot Gris is a mature pinot gris that seems to have emerged from the woodwork at VINTAGES – a 2008 now? But it is a great opportunity. It is massive pinot gris, especially within the mild-mannered gris/grigio universe. So it may not appeal to all. It is from an excellent age-worthy, acid driven vintage. Hailing from a Grand Cru vineyard in the south of Alsace, this has real torque and richness, and it is a great value at $25.95
Red Wines of Interest
Flagstone Writer’s Block 2010 Pinotage ($19.95) from the Western Cape in South Africa, is a good value pinotage that, finally, is more than coffee and cocoa. A wine called Café Culture started that Starbucks trend and it is spreading like a plague. I admit actually liking the flavour, but it does ruin the fruit of pinotage. Flagstone has some of that mocha-fied character in the background, but it is not the whole show. Some of pinotage’s wild pinosity comes through. (Pinotage is crossing of pinot noir and cinsault)
Creekside 2010 Laura’s Red has long been one of Niagara’s fine, under-sung Bordeaux-style blends, barreled blends. It was named for previous owner Laura McCain, but the brand is now established, so why change the name? And the credit firmly belongs to winemaker Rob Power who’s cabernet and syrah based reds always show strongly in awards. And this vintage is now starting to show as the best yet for Niagara’s bigger reds. A great buy at $19.95!
The Hedonist 2009 Shiraz is biodynamically farmed from a maritime-exposed vineyard situated in the Willunga foothills of McLaren Vale, South Australia. It was aged in 50-50 French and American oak. There is a very positive trend in Aussie shiraz to deliver power and authenticity in a drier, more restrained style – and this is on program. Great value at $23.95
Grant Burge 2009 Corryton Park Cabernet Sauvignon is from one of the highest vineyards in the Barossa Valley of South Australia – located at the south extremity on the edge of the Adelaide Hills. Cabernet often prospers in moderated/cooler climes like this (and in Coonawarra and Margaret River) and I was very impressed by the tension and complexity. Great cab for $32.95
Poggio Il Castellare 2010 Rosso Di Montalcino is a delicious and complex wine that out-performs most big brother brunellos at more than double the price. Normally Rosso is supposed to be a light-hearted and easy drinking. This engages at a more intense and vital level, without trying to be elegant and profound. It’s is Chianti Classico territory with a bit more richness. A steal at $20.95.
Marqués De Murrieta Finca Ygay 2006 Reserva is from one of the great, venerable estates of Spain – known far beyond Rioja. It has a history of making very age-worthy wines in a traditional style. This move to a slightly softer, rich more modern style but it has all kinds of structure and depth for $24.95.
And that’s it for an abbreviated version from Niagara. We’ll be back for the July 6th Release.
VP of Wine
We invite our Premium Subscription members to use these links to find all of David Lawrason’s reviews. Paid membership to WineAlign has its privileges – this is one of them. Enjoy!
From the June 22, 2013 Vintages release: