Vintages October 30 release is a tour de force of California – the best selection from the Golden State in quite some time. Not just in terms of breadth, but quality depth. In fact the overall quality level of the other New World regions is so average that one almost suspects a conspiracy to stack this release (and the resulting coverage it might receive). But that’s fine; everyone gets a turn at the LCBO; that’s the nature of our very Canadian beast.
The catalogue divides the selections by regions and hits on the grapes that have now evolved to best express those regions. The most exciting selections to my mind come from California’s more southerly regions of the Central Coast. I haven’t travelled to Paso Robles and Santa Barbara for a very long time, but the time I spent there was quality – spending a self-drive week back in the mid-eighties – long before the movie “Sideways” put the region on the map in 2003. It was very fringy back then with enterprises like Zaca Mesa dabbling with syrah, a winery called Sanford daring to believe that pinot noir might thrive in the coastal Santa Rita Hills. Farther north in Paso Robles there was also talk of syrah and other Rhone varieties as well, but it was a joke to the establishment in San Francisco and Napa. I’ll never forget laughing along with a Wine Spectator cover that dressed Syrah producer Randall Graham in a Lone Ranger gear and called him the Rhone Ranger. I have since wondered what took California so long to realize that the syrah, mourvedre and grenache are better grapes, state-wide- for its climate than cabernet and merlot. The snobbery of the Bordeaux varietals was just too hard to resist.
A young man from Paso Robles named Austin Hope was not among those star struck by the Medoc. His family had planted vines in Paso Robles in 1978 and he worked on the property until a great Cote Rotie syrah from the northern Rhone changed his life. He began to replant the site, located on calcerous soils in the cooler hills of the Templeton Gap not too far from the Pacific Ocean. He dense planted syrah (for lower yield per plant) and several clones of syrah, plus mourvedre and grenache. The result of all this passion and vision can be tasted in AUSTIN HOPE FAMILY VINEYARD 2008 SYRAH, a monumental syrah that packs incredible northern Rhone syrah flavours into a powerful, rich, but not too jammy California structure.
My other favourite from the Central Coast is the luscious yet refined SANFORD 2008 PINOT NOIR from the fog-cooled Santa Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County. The Sandford and Benedict Vineayrd was planted in 1971 – the first pinot acreage in the region. The first wine was made in 1976. But it wasn’t until 2001 that the Santa Rita Hills earned its official American Viticultural Area (AVA) appellation status. Sandford is now in the hands of the Terlato Family, with production centred at a new facility at the La Riconada Vineyard. Production is now larger, partially thanks to demand created by “Sideways”, but to me this wine has not lost that special style and flavour that made people take notice in the first place.
There many other excellent wines in the release, including great Napa chardonnays from Vine Cliff and Grgich Hills, but I would like to focus on the excellent ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT SPARKLING WINE from the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County. While traveling in this isolated green coniferous valley during the same period I heard that Roederer of Champagne was moving into the hood. It was a good idea, I thought, at the time. If a Champagne house was going to venture into California (to catch the New World wave) the Pacific-cooled Anderson Valley would seem the best bet. I have been happily recommending Roederer Estate Brut as the best California bubbly ever since. My latest encounter during a Roederer dinner to launch 2004 Cristal, proved yet again that this wine is great value. You can buy at least six bottles at $44.95, for the price of one bottle of Cristal. A no-brainer!
The only other non-Californian New World red to catch my fancy was New Zealand’s MARGRAIN 2008 RIVER’S EDGE PINOT NOIR from the Martinborough region of North Island. It’s no secret that the Kiwis have made pinot a cause celebre, but what’s now evident are regional styles within New Zealand. Marlborough tends to make smooth, sweet very berryish pinots while Central Otago makes more powerful, structured, cherry-scented editions. But if you are a fan of more traditional Burgundian pinots, replete with more foresty and farmy flavours you should look to Martinborough, New Zealand’s first pinot region, located an hour or so northeast of the capital of Wellington. I am sure that local winemakers will say that the terroir is responsible for Martinborough’s profile, but I wonder also if the Burgundy legacy pursued by the first pinot pioneers has contributed to the flavour profile.
The only other region to seriously compete with California on this release is Italy. There are several very to excellent wines, with Tuscany once again weighing in with fine Brunellos, Chiantis and blends. But I want to focus your attention on Barolo, as there are two examples that I have scored over 90 points. This should not be noteworthy for one of Italy’s most expensive wines, but in this case both are under $50, and classics of the genre. PODERI COLLA 2005 BUSSIA DARDI LE ROSE BAROLO is textbook, with all kinds of layered complexity, structure and depth – rating 93.
So far these picks are rather expensive wines, which is very much a theme in Vintages pre-holiday releases. So I draw your attention to a pair of great values under $20. DR. PAULY-BERGWEILER 2008 RIESLING KABINETT from the famous Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard of Germany’s Mosel Valley is a wonderful expression of riesling, rating 91 at only $16.95. It is pristine, delicate, balanced on a pinhead and classic riesling with perfectly proportioned petrol, peach, citrus and mineral flavours.
And for red wine fans looking to slip some bargains into the cellar, Portugal once-again springs to mind. QUINTA DO CABRIZ 2007 RESERVA from the Dão region in the centre of the country has structure and complexity well beyond its $16.95 price tag. Founded in 1990 at the site of a 17th chapel, Quinta do Cabriz is a leader in the transition of Dao into a modern region. Always known for complex powerful but often brutally tannic, rustic wines the Dao is really coming alive with brighter, cleaner wines that have not given up on local varieties.
See all my reviews for the October 30th release here.
– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign