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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!

All Julian Hitner Reviews


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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!

All Julian Hitner Reviews


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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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Bill Zacharkiw’s World of Wine

The “Anti-primeur” Bordeaux guide
By Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

“En primeur” has wrapped up for another year, and the news out of Bordeaux is that the 2013 vintage will likely mean a drop in profits for all those involved. Boo-hoo. Why am I reporting on the financial repercussions of this year’s version of “Wine meets Wall Street” instead of the quality of the wines? It’s because this whole event is mostly about money.

For those of you unfamiliar with “en primeur,” it’s the annual tasting event where the top 5% of châteaux in Bordeaux give critics, brokers and négociants a sneak peek at their most recent vintage. The wines are still in barrel, mind you, so they still need to be aged more, blended,  bottled and then aged some more. They are unfinished wines, but that’s besides the point.

Unlike the rest of the wine world, top end Bordeaux are not sold directly by the châteaux to agents in their respective countries. They use a tiered system of courtiers and négociants, essentially resellers and middlemen, who buy and resell or simply broker the wines.

St-Émilion 2This system was created because the nobility that owned many of these châteaux wanted little to do with the dirty work of selling their wines, so négociants would buy the wines while in barrel, bottle them and then resell them. Interesting to note that one of the reasons wines started to be bottled at the châteaux was in response to unscrupulous négociants who were caught putting crap wine in bottles and sticking labels of the top châteaux on them. Château Mouton Rothschild was the first to do this back in the 1920’s for quality assurance.

But back to “en primeur.” The way it works is that the château will set the initial prices of their wines while they are still in barrel. Bordeaux is one of the few places where prices fluctuate dramatically dependent upon vintage. The courtiers will then resell to négociants who will then take these wines, and resell them as futures.

The Bordelais are masters of marketing their wines. And much of this hype is based on these initial barrel samplings. Remember that these are unfinished wines so what you, the client, are ultimately getting when the wines are eventually released might not be truly representative of what was tasted.

But at this point it doesn’t matter. If certain critics confirm that the vintage is indeed excellent, the hype machine kicks into high gear. Wineries will release small amounts of their production, testing the market to see if it will accept these prices. If they do, there is a good chance that the next release will cost even more.

St-ÉmilionBoth the châteaux and négociants love this system as they are paid deposits on their wines well before the wines are sent to market. What happens afterwards depends on the economy and consumer interest, so the consumer at this point is taking all the risk. Will the bottles be cheaper or more expensive in the future? It’s like paying the stock market, and as happened with many 2005 bottles, as the market crashed in 2008, so did wine prices.

Château Latour pulled out of “en primeur” two years ago, deciding that they would be best served to hold onto their wines and release them when they felt they would be ready. In effect, they were saying that they want a larger part of the profits that come from the appreciation of their wine’s value.

This has many business interests concerned. As reported by Decanter magazine in the UK, Patrick Bernard of Bordeaux wine merchant Millésima, told a crowd of journalists and châteaux owners that they were boycotting Latour.

“We believe what Latour is doing undermines the whole system, and that a château that doesn’t sell en primeur does not respect how Bordeaux works,” he said.

Poor Patrick. Add to this that initial prices look like they will be significantly lower than in previous years due to a poor vintage in 2013, profits for all will be lower. Maybe the system can go back to screwing us next year.

Château Fougas Maldoror 2010Vieux Château Champs De Mars 2009Château Le Puy 2008While I take a certain morbid pleasure in their losing profits, the reality is that these wines are priced way out of most wine lover’s comfort zone. But the balance sheets of the corporations that own these Châteaux and négociants are not the only victims here. I know many wine lovers who have simply stopped looking to Bordeaux for their wines. Some because they perceive the wines being over priced, some due to the manipulated and overly-polished nature of many of the wines.

My Bordeaux includes very good and affordable wines, made by people who make and sell their own wines. So in their honour here is my “Anti-Primeur” guide. Finished wines, with age, and character.

One of my “go to” wines is from the Bordeaux Côtes de Francs appellation, from Château le Puy. Made with organically grown grapes, the 2008 is ready to drink and offers exceptional finesse and florals. And it is for $27, a bargain.

Another great organic producer is Château Vieux Champs de Mars. Their 2009 Côtes de Castillon ($23) shows the hallmarks of the ripe vintage, but without going overboard. A touch of Brett will make you animal lovers happy.

Château Maison Blanche 2009Château Cailleteau Bergeron 2011Château Rauzan Despagne 2011If you want a wine that will cellar well, the 2010 Côtes de Bourg, Maldoror from Château Fougas ($30.50) offers immediate pleasure, but will easily gain complexity over the next 10 years. Organic as well, it shows perfectly ripe fruit, refreshing acidity and a grooving mineral note.

For you bargain hunters, I found two under $20 wines that show that Bordeaux can make very satisfying wines at the entry level. Both from the 2011 vintage,  Château Rauzan Despagne’s Bordeaux Reserve and Château Cailleteau Bergeron’s Blaye, are pretty wines, accenting the florals, red fruit and freshness that are the hallmarks of the 2011 vintage.

And finally, for those who like a softer textured, more modern-styled wine, Château Maison Blanche’s 2009 Médoc offers the fruit, oak and texture that will please all, without sacrificing it’s Bordelais roots.

Until next time.

Bill

“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

Editors Note: You can find our Bill’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers see all critic 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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Bordeaux photo credits: Nadia Fournier and Rémy Charest


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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
All Julian Hitner Reviews


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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – Spring Spirits

Bring on the White Spirits of Spring

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Spring launched with snow still on the ground in much of Canada (stop gloating Vancouver) but maybe finally it’s time to pop open the white spirits to herald in our late much desired true spring. Across Canada new distilleries are popping up like crocuses and globally new tequilas, vodkas and gins are making their debut.

Gin can be simply defined as botanically flavoured vodka. By law, juniper berries must be the chief botanical, but many others are added such as angelica, cassia bark, citrus peels and caraway. Modern gin makers have upped the ante with more and more interesting botanicals such as cucumber, rose petals, elderflower, lavender, cilantro and pepper.

Ungava, a fantastic tasting Canadian premium gin made by Domaine Pinnacle in Quebec is flavoured with indigenous Canadian botanicals of our far north such as Nordic juniper, Labrador tea leaf, crowberry, cloudberry and wild rose hips. It’s the most intriguing gin I’ve tasted and I recommend it be sipped simply chilled or on the rocks. Dillon’s in Beamsville, Ontario, makes their Gin 22, by passing vapour through 22 botanicals. It’s gentle, rounded and smooth. Perfect to make an easy going G&T. Victoria Gin, hand produced in small batches on Vancouver Island, is distilled from ten botanicals (natural and wild gathered).  Packed with personality, citrus peels come through on the nose as well as gentle juniper along with floral notes from rose petals.

Ungava Canadian Premium Gin   Dillon's Unfiltered Gin 22   Victoria Gin

Further afield, from London, Beefeater 24 in a bottle inspired by an early 20th century flask, is flavoured with 12 botanicals (including grapefruit peel, Seville orange and Japanese sencha tea) infused in grain spirit for 24 hours prior to distillation. The London #1 Gin also from 12 botanicals is a light turquoise colour derived in part from gardenia flowers and a final infusion of bergamot oil. No.3 London Dry Gin made in Holland but unmistakably traditional London Dry Gin has juniper at its heart to lend a characteristic pine and lavender overtone that I for one, absolutely love. Plymouth Gin has a higher proportion of roots such as orris and angelica in its recipe which gives it a smooth sweetness and a long finish. It’s flavourful with an array of bright distinctive lingering botanical aromas and robust power.

BEEFEATER 24  The London No. 1 Gin  No 3 London Dry  Plymouth English Gin

The original James Bond martini was based on gin and so was the first martini ever made. That being the case, a classic martini should use a gin where the juniper shines brightly such as Plymouth, Beefeater 24, or No. 3 London Dry. And easy on the vermouth. As Churchill once said “I would like to observe the vermouth from across the room while I drink my martini, leaving as much room for the gin as possible, naturally.” Chill a martini glass by putting ice in the glass. Add 2.5 oz gin and 0.5 oz (or just a few drops) dry vermouth to cocktail mixing glass filled with ice. Stir for 15 to 30 seconds to your desired dilution. Strain into cooled, empty martini glass. Garnish with lemon zest or olive speared with a toothpick.

Tromba Reposado Tequila Tromba Añejo TequilaAgave spirits have graduated in our markets from Jimmy Buffet songs and college parties to seriously delicious tipples. Tequila, produced primarily in the Mexican state of Jalisco is made from the Blue Agave plant. Blanco is unaged (but can be aged up to two months), reposado is two months to less than a year and añejo must be aged for at least a year but fewer than three.

Tromba Tequila (all 100% agave), founded by Canadian Eric Bass, Mexican master distiller Marco Cedano and others has recently got listings for their reposado and añejo in Canada. Tromba Reposado spent six months aging in Jack Daniel’s barrels and is silky smooth. Tromba Añejo was aged in Jack Daniel’s barrels for two years to give it a mellowed, honeyed agave character.

Dulce Vida Tequila is organic, 100% agave tequila that’s strong (50% alcohol) and powerful. Dulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila Blanco is intense and bright with peppery power. Dulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila Reposado is single barrel aged in American bourbon barrels for up to 11 months. Dulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila Anejo isaged for 18 to 24 months in American bourbon barrels.

Vodka, the world’s second most popular spirit continues to evolve with new flavours and artisanal production. Canada’s Iceberg Vodka, made using harvested icebergs now has a cold sensitive label that reveals a Canadian Maple Leaf when chilled down.  A new recently introduced flavour is Iceberg Chocolate Mint. Prepared to find it too syrupy, I was surprised at how good it was – like a liquid spirited after dinner mint. I’m now keen to try their other flavours namely Cucumber, and Crème Brulée which are available only in Alberta and Newfoundland so far.

Dulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila Blanco  Dulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila ReposadoDulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila Anejo Iceberg Chocolate Mint Flavoured Vodka Russian Standard Platinum Vodka

Russia may not be in our good books but so far Russian vodka still is. Russian Standard Platinum Vodka passed through an exclusive silver filtration system is ultra creamy and silky. Well chilled it makes a smooth sipping vodka martini. Let’s raise a glass to spring.

Margaret Swaine

For all of Margaret’s picks click here: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits Editors Note: You can find Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the 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 spirits!


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County in the City

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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
All Julian Hitner Reviews


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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – Mar 2014

St. Patrick’s Day Libations 2014

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Good news for Ontario residents this upcoming St. Patrick’s Day, Writers Tears has obtained general listing and will be available year round. This Pot Still Blend Irish Whiskey recently won “Best Blend in Ireland” at the Irish Whiskey Awards.

Evocative of the style of whiskey enjoyed during the time of Yeats and Joyce a century ago in Dublin, it’s a blend of pot still malted and unmalted barley, triple distilled and matured in American ex-bourbon casks. Velvety smooth, yet bold in flavour, with malt and bourbon notes, it has nuances of ginger, treacle and apple.

Writers Tears Pot Still Blend (700ml)It’s produced by an independent Irish company, owned by the Walsh family, who also produce The Irishman brands. The Irishman whiskeys are the creations of Bernard Walsh who enjoys special access to the warehouses of certain Irish distillers. He came up with the idea for the Pot Still blend. All other Irish blends contain some proportion of grain whiskey, the output of the less traditional Coffey/Column still.

Whiskey was first distilled in Ireland (not Scotland as may be common belief), around the 7th century. By 1802 Irish whiskey represented 90% of the entire world’s whiskey and Ireland boasted over 200 distilleries. Taxes, famines, the War of Independence, Prohibition and other factors lead to the demise of most of the distillers. However in recent years Irish whiskey has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity; historic brands have been revived, some mothballed distilleries reopened and the number of independent Irish bottlings has grown.

Kilbeggan Irish WhiskeyConnemara Peated Single Malt Irish WhiskyThe Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish WhiskeyCooley (now owned by Beam Inc.) is the distillery that shook up the market in 1987.  Founded by John Telling with the goal of reintroducing the North American market to quality Irish whiskey, Cooley departed from the accepted definition of Irish whiskey as being triple distilled and unpeated. He revived historic brands such as Tyrconnell and created a family of Connemara double distilled peated single malts. Part of the Cooley brands, Kilbeggan Distillery reopened in 2007. Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey has a sweet toffee nose and malty finish.

Bushmills can with fair authority claim to be the oldest distillery in the world. The royal licence to distil in the district of Bushmills was granted in 1608. Situated in the quaint town of Bushmills, Northern Ireland, it takes its name from the River Bush and all the mills that used to be on it. Bushmills 10 Year Old matured for a minimum of 10 years mainly in bourbon seasoned barrels has aromas of sweet smoky honey, vanilla and milk chocolate. Bushmills Black Bush has a high proportion of malt whiskey matured in oloroso sherry casks.

Midleton Very Rare Whiskey (one of the Irish Distillers brands which include Jameson, Powers, Paddy and Redbreast) is an expensive treat at $179.95 but worth the money.

Bushmills Malt 10 Year OldBushmills Black Bush WhiskeyMidleton Very Rare Irish WhiskeyThose who want to delve further into the link between Irish writers and drink might well visit Ireland and go on The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl. Irish pubs are much more than a place to get a drink. Part of the fabric of everyday life they are steeped in history, referenced in literature and full of lore. Dublin has 800 of them.

It’s fitting that in the “City of Words” the best pub crawl is a literary one. Actor and author Colm Quilligan started the Dublin pub tour in 1988 and figures about 300,000 people have taken it so far. Performance is part of the tour which is led by professional actors. The tour I took began at The Duke with a song by Colm and his partner for this night, Derek Reid. Those of us on the tour were encouraged to sing the fitting chorus, “I’ll have a pint with you.”

Then the two men launched into a (well-acted) piece from Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot. The evening was filled with prose, drama and song as we followed the footsteps of literary greats into four of their favourite haunts. We learned juicy details about the lives of Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Brendan Behan as we enjoyed a few good pints ending the evening at Davy Byrnes pub.

Davy Byrnes was the setting James Joyce chose for the Lestrygonians episode of his famous novel Ulysses. Cecil Salkeld, Brendan Behan’s father-in-law was commissioned to paint the murals on the right-hand side of the main bar. Colm filled us in on Behan’s excesses quoting him as saying “I’m a drinker with a writer problem.” The Irish have such a way with words.

Sláinte

Margaret Swaine

For all of Margaret’s picks click here: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can find Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the 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 spirits!


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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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Sara’s Sommelier Selections – Feb 1, 2014

Amorous Reds for Valentine’s Day

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

It’s never too soon to start planning for that special day that means more to most partners then they are willing to admit.

My advice: treat your lovely to a blind tasting of some of the most exotic reds of this release. Or, plan a menu around these wines with aphrodisiac pairings.

And you’ve guessed it – all of the pairings this week have titillating appeal and are meant to result in an evening best spent at home.

Chapel Hill Bush Vine Grenache 2011
Mclaren Vale, South Australia ($26.95)

Chapel Hill Bush Vine Grenache 2011

A completely seductive and compelling offer from the old bush vines of Australia’s founding wine region – McLaren Vale. Bush vines are generally older vines that were never trellised (put on wires) and grow almost wild in bush like formations. Although the wine may be named after the 19th century chapel turned parish school that now houses the winery and gallery, it is anything but pious – offering a sinful blend of exotic spice and rich fruit.

Food match: Pulled pork with mole sauce

Schild Estate Old Bush Vine Grenache/Mourvèdre/Shiraz 2011
Barossa, South Australia ($19.95)

Schild Estate Old Bush Vine Grenache Mourvedre Shiraz 2011

Since I’m in a bush vine state of mind, here is another lovely example that can make for an interesting comparative tasting with the last. Although largely made up of juicy grenache, it is blended with shiraz and mourvedre, a traditional southern Rhône combination that is known in Australia as a GSM. Here is a terrific value for just under $20 that wowed me at first sip.

Food match: Beef tenderloin with vanilla-soy sauce

Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir 2012
Tamar Ridge, Tasmania, Australia ($23.95)

Devil's Corner Pinot Noir 2012

This release features an impressive selection on Oceanic wines and this devilish pinot noir offers a wickedly delectable from cherry to pepper with just right amount of restraint. The cool-climate island of Tasmania features an ideal climate for the picky pinot noir, delivering some surprising examples.

Food Match: Seared tuna with blood orange

Syrousse 2011 Côtes Du Roussillon Villages
Southwest, France ($16.95)

Syrousse 2011

Romance fills the air with perfume and hot sunny days in the south of France and this lovely, traditional blend of syrah, grenache and carignan made in a ‘naked’ style (i.e. without the use of oak). “Rousse” refers to the colour of the iron rich soils of Rousillon but the word also means “redhead” and suggests the colour red – the colour of love, certainly fit for a valentine’s setting.

Food match: Chicken curry with basil

Thymiopoulos Vineyards Yn Kai Oupavós Xinomavro 2010
Naoussa, Naoussa, Greece ($19.95)

Thymiopoulos Vineyards Yn Kai Oupavós Xinomavro 2010

The Greeks love completely, as Plato once wrote: “The madness of love is the greatest of heaven’s blessings”. It is tough to find a sexier grape than that of xinomavro – it has all the intrigue of pinot noir and the intensity of nebbiolo rife with exotic spice and crushed black fruit. This progressive producer from the northern and ancient winemaking region of Macedonia strikes a fine balance in this sumptuous red that is certain to prove an intriguing new discovery.

Food match: Roasted duck breast stuffed with figs and almonds

Wishing you happy entertaining!

Sara d’Amato

From the Feb 1, 2013 Vintages release:

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find Sara d’Amato’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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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008