Shakeup in the Rhône & Dynamic Global Reds
By Sara d’Amato with notes from David Lawrason
While John Szabo is busy scaling volcanoes (the life of a wine writer is a difficult and perilous job) I am only too happy to fill in with my thoughts on this week’s enormous release. In fact, as we approach the holidays, these releases will not get any smaller and the selections become quite varied with plenty of big names and labels. As wine writers, we are working double time in order to keep up with it all (as I mentioned, we have it tough).
Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images. You can also find the complete list of each VINTAGES release under Wine >> New Releases. Remember, however, that to access this list and to read all of the reviews you do need to subscribe (only $40/year). Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!
Rhône and the Midi
In the midst of some heavy hitters in this release, there is an impressively large number of wines from the Rhône and the Midi that collectively deserve a closer look. It just so happens that this is the region in which I have summered, ever since I was a little tike, and have made some discoveries as of late that are really quite a shakeup for this usually quite consistent region.
First, unusual weather patterns, especially in the winter of recent vintages, have thrown many wrenches into what is a generally a stable region. For example, the heat-seeking grenache is at an all-time low in the Rhône and southern France due to harsh cold snaps over the winters of 2010, 2011 and 2012, causing damage, and in some cases vine death, along with low fruit set at the onset of the growing season. So what does this mean? Well, certainly it means less grenache in blends and often less alcohol and concentration. But tribulation in the world of wine can often yield surprisingly fabulous results and critics worldwide are praising these unique, recent vintages as some of the finest in the last several decades. The resulting wines are stripped down and characterized by purity of fruit and mineral along with a certain finesse making for a compelling outcome.
Second, syrah, oh syrah, is experiencing a heyday both in the northern Rhône where it reigns supreme and in the south where it is experiencing temporary higher concentrations in blends. Cooler temperatures in the north have only enhanced the grape’s naturally peppery, floral character and in the south it benefited from a shorter growing season and some increase in the activity of the Mistral – the cooling, drying wind that sweeps through the Rhône valley (reportedly having caused the madness in Van Gogh that lead him to cut off his own ear). Yes, syrah needs coolness to thrive and fully express its sensual, spicy nature. Extreme heat squashes and fattens this stirring variety and thus it is often carefully planted at higher altitudes or in more shaded locales in southern France. Those wines that featured higher ratios of syrah in these past vintages also benefited from increased concentration due to naturally low yields, most notably in 2012.
Finally, who’s heard of Rasteau, Vacqueyras, Lirac and Tavel? More of you than ever before thanks to efforts by houses such as Perrin and other like-minded producers who push to highlight these distinctive southern regions. Châteauneuf-du-Pape may be the kingpin of the south, but many of the surrounding appellations have stepped up in terms of quality and their competitive prices may have you spending your money on them instead.
Without further ado, our thoughts on the best of the lot followed by statement making reds from around the globe:
Saint Roch 2013 Vielles Vignes Grenache Blanc/Marsanne, Côtes Du Roussillon, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – The whites of the southern France remain unknown to many consumers on this side of the pond,ok but the few that trickle in should not be overlooked. This is a fine, well-priced offering that boasts impressive freshness, vibrancy and elegance.
Chapoutier Petite Ruche Crozes Hermitage 2012, Rhône, France ($24.95)
David Lawrason – If you need convincing about the difference that biodynamic viticulture makes, buy one bottle of this and another 2012 Crozes-Hermitage to compare directly. This is an absolute northern Rhône classic syrah, firm yet generous with excellent length.
Sara d’Amato – Naturally low yields of concentrated syrah have produced a more firm and robust version of this far-reaching northern Rhône appellation – a product of an exceptional vintage.
Grands Serres 2012 Les Hautes Vacquieres, Vacqueyras, Rhône, France ($24.95)
David Lawrason – There have been about dozen Vacqueyras released in 2014, and all but one or two were excellent buys – if you like your southern Rhônes to be rich, dense and complex, as this example shows. I am coming around to the idea that most Vacqueyras are bigger than most Châteauneuf-du- Pape, at half the price.
Chàteau De Nages 2012 JT Costiéres De Nîmes, Rhône, France ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – Formerly part of the Languedoc, Costieres de Nimes has aligned itself with the Rhône and is now its most southern appellation. The region features a unique microclimate which is significantly cooler than its surrounding appellations (but no less sunny). This version is both robust and vibrant with exceptional balance.
Domaine de Vieux Télégraphe 2012 Télégramme Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône, France ($49.95)
Sara d’Amato – A lighter, brighter Châteauneuf-du-Pape and one which is terrifically approachable. The blend boasts a classic, traditional feel with plenty of garrigue, musk and earth.
Perrin & Fils 2012 l’Andéol Rasteau, Rhône, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Since 2010, Rasteau is an independent AOC in the Rhône Valley and focuses a great deal on grenache. This example is a wine of contrast featuring an abundance of succulent, zesty fruit along with a rich, mouth-filling texture and a dose of peppery syrah.
Domaine De l’Herminette 2013 Grand Cras Morgon, Beaujolais, France ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This young textbook Morgon nicely bridges the two styles of Beaujolais that I like. The aromatics showcase very pretty fruit and florality, while the palate battens down with more mineral driven character, and becomes more pinot-like.
Calera 2012 Pinot Noir, Central Coast, California ($33.95)
David Lawrason – Josh Jensen of Calera almost single-handedly gives pinot noir cred in California with his calcerous-soiled single vineyard wines from high on remote Mt. Harlan in San Benito County. This edition calls on fruit from Central Coast locales but possesses the same structure and complexity as the now very expensive editions. It runs in the family.
Josef Chromy 2010 Pepik Pinot Noir, Tasmania, Australia ($18.90)
Sara d’Amato – This high-tech, cool climate winery has produced a sensational result in this nervy pinot noir at a steal of a price. An exciting, modern style with no shortage of personality.
San Felice 2010 Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($27.95)
David Lawrason – Go to school on authentic Chianti – a 100% estate grown sangiovese aged 80% in larger, old Slavonian and 20% in smaller French barriques. No merlot or cabernet to in-fill more berryish fruit, it has all kinds of savoury, sour red fruit complexity – a lovely texture.
Tenuta Stefano 2009 Farina le Brume Langhe, Piedmont, Italy ($16.95)
David Lawrason – If you are Barolo/Barberesco fan, or want to know what they are all about, without paying $40 to $60, try this maturing nebbiolo from the Langhe zone that surrounds those two famous appellations. Lacking some of their depth perhaps but bang-on nebbiolo.
Cavino 2008 Grande Reserve Nemea, Greece ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – Agioritiko ages so gracefully and here is a perfect example to highlight this characteristic. Although the wine is drinking beautifully now, it is certainly still kicking and has opened to offer an impressive array of flavours.
Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($38.95)
Sara d’Amato – This iconic Bordelaise blend from Meerlust had me at first sip. Its pleasant maturation did not deter the flood of flavours on the palate of this complex and highly appealing wine.
For those of you in the Toronto area, please join WineAlign’s John Szabo MS at the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo on Friday, November 21st for an exotic tour of the world’s best volcanoes! And, of course, the exceptional wines that grow on them. The Volcanic Wines tasting will take place from 6:30 to 8 pm at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. To buy tickets, please go to foodandwineexpo.ca.
From VINTAGES Nov 22nd: