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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 21st – Part One

Icon Wines Demystified
By David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

“Icon comes from the Greek word eikenai, meaning ‘to seem or to be like.’ In certain religions, statues of religious figures are referred to as icons – because they are prayed to as if they were the thing they represent.” So goes one definition plumbed from the web.

So what do icon wines represent? We assume they are wines – often made in the image of Bordeaux from cabernet, merlot and their disciples – that have reached some awe-inspiring, mystic, spiritual pinnacle of perfection and grace. But often icon wines are simply the most expensive wines that a producer can get away with stuffing into an overly heavy bottle, in the hope that the consumer will be so besotted by the gravitas of it all that they won’t notice that the wine itself is only very good, not great.

South Americans, Americans and yes some Canadians are particularly fond of the term, and it’s all about hype. Which is certainly the case of the California wines that VINTAGES has chosen to call icons in its March 21st release, that leads up to the 36th annual California Wine Fairs in Ottawa April 10th and Toronto April 13. And the fact that some soar past $100 adds to their sense of gravitas. I am not saying most are not excellent wines; I have scored several 90+ (my threshold of excellence). But at $100 or more they should be jaw-droppingly outstanding at 95 points +, which they are not.

For many, my protest will not matter a fig. These wines will sell quickly because there are enough buyers with enough money who choose to pay more to assure they will get quality. And that reason is just fine. I only want to temper the expectations of those who might venture a pile of money on an icon and expect the moon, only to find out they are looking into the glare of a streetlight – hardly a celestial, spiritual or unique experience.

Below we focus on the California “icons” that actually come closest to delivering somewhere near greatness, 92 or 93 points. At the same time we put forward some Bordeaux on the same release that also deliver quality very nicely. Some are just as expensive as the Californians (but Bordeaux wines ironically are rarely called icon wines). And then we scatter in some true values as well for those who just want an honest bottle.

Just before we get there, I have another observation from this tasting that relates to vintage variation. The Californians include 2011s and 2012s, and there is quite a difference between the two years. The 2011s are less ripe, with more Bordeaux-like leanness and greenness but they do have terrific energy. The 2012s are riper, softer and frankly a bit understated and lacking some energy. They may open and rev up with more bottle age, but they fail to ignite at the moment. Over on the Bordeaux side, the 2011s are also of lighter stock. Not green necessarily but lacking some depth of flavour (length) for their price tag. While beside them, a clutch of minor, less expensive, good value 2010s show the class and structure of that great vintage.

California “Icons”

Cade 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley ($112.95)

Dominus 2011

Dominus Napanook 2011

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2011David Lawrason – Cade is a recent arrival on the slopes of Howell Mountain, an off-shoot of the famous Plumpjack Winery created in part by former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. The winemaker is Danielle Cyrot, a woman of French descent who has managed to bring considerable elegance and a complex weave to Howell Mountain fruit more commonly known to make blockbuster, masculine cabs. This contains non-estate fruit; the Cade Estate cab rings up at $300US at the winery.
John Szabo – If you’re going to spend big in Napa, spend it on a “mountain” wine like this one. The 21-acre Cade estate was established in 2005 high on Howell Mountain, and vines are farmed organically. The 2011 is a grand success for the vintage, no doubt in part to the vineyard being above the fog line and thus maximizing the benefits of the scarce sunlight. It’s a densely packed wine, as savoury as it is fruity, with the expected grip and firm dusty texture of hillside Napa wines, in need of another 4-6 years in the cellar. Best 2020-2030.
Sara d’Amato – Power and refinement are distinctive features of the volcanic, higher elevation plantings of cabernet on breezy Howell Mountain. The cooler 2011 vintage is surely responsible for the wine’s terrific acid structure, fine tannins and lovely purity of fruit – a real standout for collectors.

Dominus 2011, Napa Valley ($176.95)

David Lawrason – If fame is the foundation of icon-hood, storied Dominus is perhaps most deserving of icon status. I have often found Dominus rather simple and almost boring for the price it garners, but something in this vintage turned my expectations on their head. I immediately thought of a fine, traditionally made Bordeaux, perhaps because the cooler 2011 vintage has imparted some tension. Very nicely constructed and focused, with excellent to outstanding length.
Sara d’Amato – It is no surprise that some of the best wines in this feature come with a hefty price tag but here is one worthy of attention. This old world, cabernet-focused blend from the Bordelaise Moueix dynasty offers immediate appeal, huge structure and a wide breadth of flavours.

Dominus 2011 Napanook, Napa Valley, USA ($76.95)

John Szabo – Admittedly I loved the 2011 Dominus (above), but for pure value Napanook, the second wine of the estate, is the one to buy. It’s very nearly as good with its lovely and savoury, earthy and complex profile, firmly in the old world stylistic camp as Dominus has been from the start. Best 2015-2026

Ridge Three Valleys 2012

Ridge 2011 Estate Cabernet SauvignonRidge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Monte Bello Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains ($61.95)

John Szabo – Just about everything from Ridge is worth a look, and in the context of top California cabernet, this is an outright bargain. Forget what you’ve heard about the 2011 vintage – top producers like Ridge made some of the most compelling, balanced wines in the last two decades. This is all class, firm, succulent, zesty and ripe, still tightly wound and closed up, but this unquestionably has the balance and stuffing to evolve beautifully over the next 2-5 years. Best 2018-2030.
David Lawrason – Ridge is perched high on the crest of a mountain south of San Francisco – the Silicon Valley in view to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west. The wines have never lacked structure. In this cooler vintage you will indeed detect some greenness and firmness, but it is a cabernet-lovers cabernet. Excellent length.

Ridge 2012 Three Valleys, Sonoma County ($35.95)

Sara d’Amato – Only a warm California vintage can perfect fruit ripening like in this Sonoma zinfandel and carignan dominant blend. Ripe red fruit abounds on the palate featuring peppery spice along with refreshing notes of pine and menthol. Clean and succulent with a very authentic, un-manipulated feel.
John Szabo – A fine vintage for the Three Valleys, Ridge’s Zinfandel-led blend, with firm and honest, woolly tannins, a nice mix of ripe and sour fruit, red and black, along with a range of savoury wild herbs. Best 2015-2027.

Clos Pegase 2012 Mitsuko’s Vineyard Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley, ($29.95)

Calera Chardonnay Mt. Harlan 2013 Clos Pegase Mitsuko's Vineyard Chardonnay 2012Sara D’Amato – There is a real traditional California feel to this well-balanced and beautifully integrated chardonnay featuring a great deal of presence, ripened tree fruit, oily viscosity and creamy malolactic texture. Mitsuko’s Vineyard is a large, 365-acre site in the cooler climate of Los Carneros named after proprietor Jan Shrem’s wife. The site’s varying degrees of slope, of elevation and soil types create great diversity in the grapes harvested often resulting in rather complex and compelling wines.
John Szabo – Mitsuko’s Vineyard is a sprawling 365 acre parcel on the Napa side of the Los Carneros AVA with diverse soils and aspects, all of which builds complexity. This substantial chardonnay doesn’t sacrifice freshness despite ample richness, and while oak influence is abundant, there’s also impressive fruit extract to compensate. To be cellared another 2-3 years; best 2017-2022.

Calera 2013 Chardonnay Mt. Harlan, Central Coast, USA ($49.95)

John Szabo – This is a serious bottle of wine. The Mt. Harlan Chardonnay Vineyard was planted in 1984 on own roots (un-grafted) using cuttings from errant vines found among the pinot noir of Josh Jensen’s original vineyards. The site is naturally low yielding, which shows in this generously proportioned wine. There’s a real sense of chalky-minerality, and while wood is very marked for the moment, this will surely knit together beautifully in time. Best 2018-2025

Bordeaux

Château Pontet-Canet 2011, Pauillac 5eme Cru ($150.00)

David Lawrason – Riding a Parker 100pt rating the previous 2010 vintage of Pontet-Canet sold at VINTAGES last month for $300. So it’s decent of them to have cut the price by half for this less good vintage. (You won’t see Napa doing this). The 2011 remains a firm, reserved and well-built young Pauillac, but it does not have the depth or wow you may expect if this is your first brush with one of the most talked about properties of Bordeaux.
John Szabo – Pontet-Canet is perhaps the most progressive Château in Bordeaux. Alfred Tesseron converted to organic/biodynamic farming some years ago, and vineyards are worked by horse. Clay amphorae were introduced in 2012 in an effort to decrease wood influence – all things that would have seemed impossible a decade ago. The efforts have been worth it, for although ’11 was a challenging vintage, this wine is a marvel: explosive and concentrated, full, dense and rich – a real honest and solid mouthful of wine. Cellar at least 4-6 before opening, or hold a couple of decades. Best 2020-2035.

Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2011, Margaux, 3eme Cru ($89.85)

David Lawrason – This is a lovely blend very much in the Margaux vein; which to me is all about charm and refinement. The blend here is 50% cabernet sauvignon, 35% merlot, 10% cabernet franc and 5% petit verdot. A very fine effort in a lesser vintage.

Château Clerc Milon 2011, Pauillac, 5eme Cru ($89.85)

John Szabo – 2011 is a nicely polished, full but firm, succulent and vibrant vintage for Clerc Milon, perfect for enjoying while waiting for the 2009s and 2010s to come around. But don’t drink it right away – give it another 3-4 years to fully knit. This is classy wine, full stop. Best 2018-2031.

Château Pontet Canet 2011 Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2011 Château Clerc Milon 2011 Château Bel Air 2010 Les Charmes De Magnol 2010

Château Bel-Air 2010, Haut-Médoc ($28.95)

David Lawrason – For one bottle of Chateau Pontet-Canet you could buy five bottles of this firm, well structured mid-weight Medoc cabernet-based red – that I rated the same as Pontet-Canet in terms of quality. What a difference a vintage can make? And with five bottles you could open one to test drive then stick the rest into the cellar, for another ten years. It’s textbook Bordeaux.

Les Charmes De Magnol 2010, Médoc ($18.95)

David Lawrason – This is very good value – a nicely balanced, ripe and decently structured Bordeaux for under $20. It is a second label from the grand (and also large) Château Magnol, a showpiece property and hospitality centre just north of Bordeaux’s city limits.

Other Bordeaux-Styled Reds

Pondview Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2012

Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Chakana Estate Selection Red Blend 2012Chakana 2012 Estate Selection Red Blend, Mendoza, Argentina ($29.95)

David Lawrason – This is a fairly new winery based in Lujan de Cuyo, but focused on wines grown in stonier alluvial soils whether in Agrelo or in Altamira in the southern Uco Valley. Increasingly revered Chilean viticulturalist Pedro Parra has helped Chakana map its vineyards. The winemaking consultant is Italian Alberto Antonini, who also works his minimalist, terroir-first magic at Altos Los Hormigos. This compiles 60% malbec, 20% cabernet sauvignon and 20% syrah into a quite fragrant, savoury young red. It’s quite dense, elegant and refined.

Tahbilk 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Nagambie Lakes, Victoria, Australia ($22.95)

David Lawrason – This is not a cabernet with gravitas, but it does have complexity, vitality and pretty good depth. It’s a bit more cool, curranty and spare than many Aussie reds, and I could drink a bottle with ease; especially around rack of lamb.

Pondview 2012 Cabernet Merlot Reserve, VQA Niagara Peninsula Canada ($18.95)

John Szabo – This is an enjoyable wine from Pondview, an honest and juicy, Bordeaux blend with sweet-tinged fruit and decent depth and structure. This should please fans of cool climate cabernet at the price. Best 2015-2022.

And that is a wrap for this edition. John leads off next week with the wines of Southwest France and other sundry picks from the March 21st release. Meantime also look forward as John and Sara d’Amato both report on this year’s Cuvée event for the Ontario Wine Report. I will be on holiday and travelling for the rest of March and will not be covering any of the April 4th release; but we have asked Michael Godel to offer some of his recommendations. Michael’s often lyrical reviews are fascinating, and he is in there tasting constantly – which to me is the pre-requisite to being a successful, objective critic.

Cheers,

David

From VINTAGES March 21, 2015:

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
John Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find complete critic 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 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


AdvertisementPenfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2011


California Wine Fair - Canadian Tour 2015

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES February 21st – Part One

A Great Australian Vintage
by David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The most interesting aspect of VINTAGES feature on Australian wines on the February 21 release is that it is focused around a single vintage – 2012. This is a very welcome development because rarely in the past has VINTAGES talked about vintages in regions outside of Europe.

There is a deeply held view – perhaps even a cultural bias – within the Euro-centric wine establishment (in which, until now, I would have lumped the LCBO) that vintages don’t matter in the New World. Europe has been steeped for so long in the annual vintage assessment of Bordeaux and Burgundy, and perhaps Barolo, Tuscany and Rioja, that denial of vintage variation anywhere else is an off-handed way of saying that those wines cannot be as good or pedigreed, because, well, vintages don’t vary. That’s nonsense. Vintage variation occurs everywhere – no two years are ever the same. And this could be even more true now as erratic climate change sponsored events settle in. So it is high time that New World producers and pundits made much more of this variation so that we can all get the most out of experiencing their wines. Good on VINTAGES for swinging the bat this time out.

The cover of the VINTAGES magazine calls Australia’s 2012 “The Best Vintage in 20 Years”, but doesn’t quote any specific local sources. The claim does however line up with my experience in Australia in Jan 2014, where producers were falling over themselves in excitement. Part of this may have been a bit of a rebound reaction due to the fact that 2011 had been the wettest, coolest vintage in their lifetimes, with many wines showing some greenness. (Interestingly 2011 also produced many under-ripe reds in Chile, Argentina and California as well). But yes, as the magazine spells out on page 4, 2012 did indeed bring ideal conditions to Australia, a good balance of moisture and sunshine with moderated temperatures and no searing heat waves (whew!). Long and slow and even ripening is always the best formula for ripe and balanced wines, and if yields are also lower those wines should have better concentration. This was the case when a late spring frost lowered the yield in some areas.

The irony is that some of the wines in this release fail to make the case for the excellence of 2012. Mainly because the average $20 price point of wine landed in Canada is not going to deliver balance and depth as easily. Some are marketing driven brands attempting to adhere to a style rather than show the variation of place or vintage, and they are very ripe, high in alcohol and tending to confection. The examples I have highlighted below are essentially single-site wines that do begin to show the evenness and balance of this vintage. Above all Australia’s reds need tension and structure – that is the on-going struggle for quality in one of the world’s hottest regions.

Just before getting to my picks (which include some good buys from California), a note that Australia will be all the buzz later this month as the theme country of the Vancouver International Wine Festival which runs the week of February 20. Our B.C. Editor and recently appointed National Managing Editor Treve Ring has already published a two part perspective on Australia Today, that includes some of her picks from the hundreds that will be poured at the Festival, as well as wines she encountered in Australia recently that she “Wishes They Were Here”. She has also just edited and published a Valentine Day compendium of romantic picks from WineAligners in three provinces in Canada – all the while being in Argentina.

Australia

Heartland Directors' Cut Shiraz 2012

Yangarra 2012 ShirazYangarra Shiraz 2012, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($32.95)
David Lawrason – Once again a biodynamically grown wine tops my charts, its bio-ness being unbeknownst to me when I tasted it. This shiraz was grown at fairly high, cooler altitude near the South Lofty Ranges, which combined with balance of the vintage and healthy viticulture has given it real class.  The focus and length are excellent. Supple and balanced enough to drink now; should hold three years at least.

Heartland 2012 Directors’ Cut Shiraz, Langhorne Creek, South Australia ($35.95)
David Lawrason – Heartland is a project by highly regarded winemaker Ben Glaetzer and his team (which includes John Glaetzer who was the man behind the success of Wolf Blass in its formative years). Director’s Cut is 100% Langhorne Creek fruit – the same region that supplied the backbone of Wolf Blass’ award winning wines. There is a fair bit of oak showing here, but in the end this big shiraz pivots on good acidity and firm tannin. Impressive!

Bleasdale 2012 Mulberry Tree Cabernet Sauvignon, Langhorne Creek, South Australia ($17.95).
David Lawrason –  Cabernet Sauvignon is the staple variety of this small cooler, maritime region on Lake Alexandria a stone’s throw from the Southern Ocean. Bleasdale was founded in the 19th C but a new viticultural regime introduced late last decade has resulted in wines with good tension and structure. Not huge depth here, but just fine for the price. And it’s unmistakably cab.

Dutschke 2012 80 Block St. Jakobi Vineyard Merlot, Lyndoch, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Varietally labelled merlot is rare in Australia, but this comes from one of the oldest plantings in Barossa. It struck me as particularly well composed and balanced merlot; all rather understated but quite delicious. As good merlot should be.

Penny’s Hill 2012 Cracking Black Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato No, ‘cracking black’ does not, in fact, refer to shiraz’s distinctive notes of cracked black pepper but rather to the infertile, cracking, grey-black soil of the Bay of Biscay where this hand-picked shiraz is planted. This crackling soil severs the surplus root structure of the vines, lessening vigor and enhancing grape quality. As dynamic as the soil in which it is grown, this aromatic and compelling shiraz deserves attention.

Bleasdale Mulberry Tree Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Dutschke 80 Block St. Jakobi Vineyard Merlot 2012 Penny's Hill Cracking Black Shiraz 2012 Schild Estate GMS Fowles Stone Dwellers Shiraz 2012

Schild Estate 2012 Grenache Mourvèdre Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – The grenache in this “GMS” is delightfully dominant giving the wine a crunchy saline texture, beautiful floral notes and plump red plum. Inspired by the blends of the Southern Rhone, this old-world-meets-new style is highly engaging. A Category Champion at WineAlign’s 2014 World Wine Awards of Canada.

Fowles 2012 Stone Dwellers Shiraz, Strathbogie Ranges, Victoria ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Cooler climate Australia is home to some dynamite shiraz that is exuberantly peppery and shows plenty of restraint, most notably in the alcohol department. If you normally stay far away from Aussie shiraz, give this one a try.

California Reds

 

Hartley-Ostini 2013 Hitching Post Hometown Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County ($28.95)
David Lawrason – I have always been a fan of well-made California pinot for its sheer drinkability. The problem of course is that high alcohol, sweetness and oak too often overwhelm the fruit. This nifty example from the company that starred in the Academy Award nominated wine flick “Sideways” manages to stay in fruit first focus.  A delightful, heart on its sleeve pinot – kinda like the movie.

Melville Estate 2012 Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County ($49.95)
David Lawrason – And from the same region is southern California comes yet another intriguing pinot that goes for elegance and structure. Melville is a small estate-fruit only operation specializing in pinot. They have gone to the trouble of planting 16 different clones in an effort to build up complexity, and it works so well. Wonderful aromatics and silky texture.

Hartley Ostini Hitching Post Hometown Pinot Noir 2013 Melville Estate Pinot Noir 2012 Kunde Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Volker Eisele Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

 

Kunde Family 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley ($26.95)
David Lawrason – This does not have the depth and structure to hit 90 points, but it is an honest, fairly priced cabernet with typical blackcurrant fruit and just enough firmness to announce its cab-ness. Kunde is based on a large sustainably farmed property in the hills above the Valley of the Moon. I have been liking their recent offerings, and the value is peaking these days.

Volker Eisele 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($68.95)
David Lawrason – Collectors of California cabernet may want to make some room in the cellar for this powerful, complex well attenuated blend of cabernet and merlot (14%) grown in the Chiles Valley up in the eastern hills above Napa Valley. The Volker Eisele family has farmed the site organically for over 40 years. Aged 24 months in French oak, it has plenty of fruit support, cabernet complexity and excellent length.

And that’s it for this edition. Tune in next week as John Szabo leads off on the rest of this release with a look at Euro reds and a selection of whites.

Cheers,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES Feb 21st release:

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find complete critic 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 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

 

 

 

 

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Gourmet Games – October 2

Special Offer for WineAlign Members:  $15 Off the Ticket Price (Promo Code: WineAlign)

Join Azureau Wine Agency on Thursday, October 2, at the 2nd Gourmet Games to sample over 60 wines from 14 award-winning wineries from around the world.  Guest chefs from some of Toronto’s best restaurants will also conduct high concept cooking demonstrations as top sommeliers engage in a food/wine pairing competition designed to educate consumers on how wine professionals recommend enjoying wine.2014-09-11_14-00-50

“We invented the Gourmet Games as a fun way for consumers to get into the minds of top chefs and sommeliers and learn to think as they do,” says Dan Rabinovitch, President of Azureau Wine Agency. “No one is going to tell you a pairing is wrong, but our guests may learn something new about the magic that can occur when two sets of flavours and textures are combined. Of course, simply walking around and discovering new wines is also welcome at the Games.”

The Gourmet Games features world-class food & wine talent including Master of Ceremonies Bob Blumer of the Food Network, WineAlign’s Sara d’Amato (who will be moderating the Premium Experiences), Sommelier Zoltan Szabo, and chefs from perennial top Toronto restaurants Cava, George on Queen, and newcomer Cluny Bistro. Wineries from Spain, Italy, Argentina, California, Australia, South Africa, and Chile will be pouring wines that are available for order at the show or purchase at the LCBO.

Sara's New Pic_Sm

Sara d’Amato

Premium Experiences (moderated by Sommelier and WineAlign critic Sara d’Amato):

World Wine Bubbles, Exploring Non-Traditional Sparkling Wines 7-7:45 pm

The Winemaker Series by Alpha Crucis  8-8:45 pm

Vino & Smoke, Cigar and Wine Pairing with Mombacho Cigars  9-9:45 pm

Event Details:

Thursday, October 2, 2014
Location: Berkeley Church – 315 Queen St. East
Time:  6:30 to 10 pm
Tickets: $80 for General Admission/$25 for each Premium Experience

WineAlign Members receive $15.00 off ticket price – Use Promo Code: WineAlign

 Purchase Your Tickets Here

2014-09-11_14-12-26

Participating wineries include:

Bodegas Salentein/Callia – Argentina
Chalk Hill/Alpha Crucis – McLaren Vale, Australia
Armas de Guerra – Bierzo, Spain
Vega Sindoa – Navarra, Spain
Rioja Vega – Rioja, Spain
Casas del Bosque – Casablanca, Chile
Erste + Neue – Alto Adige, Italy
Antica Fratta – Franciacorta, Italy
Winery Exchange – California, USA
Bodega Rejadorada – Toro, Spain
Paca & Lola – Rias Baixas, Spain
Simonsig – Stellenbosch, South Africa

Click here for more information on the wineries and the wines they will be pouring.

About Berkeley Church:

berkeley-st-church1Built in 1871, The Berkeley Church has been transformed into Toronto’s most original event venue. Nowhere else will you find such a beautiful blend of traditional ambiance and modern decor. Details such as the original 17-foot stained glass windows, hard wood floors and Victorian Inspired bar makes the Berkeley Church a stunning escape from the ordinary. This location is accessible by TTC, taxi and Green P parking is available on all surrounding streets for responsible designated drivers.

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 2nd – Part One

Pure California: 100+ Reviews of the Best of “New” California; The Icons of Napa Cabernet, and Sandhi, A Name to Know.
by John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The theme of the report this week is pure California, the focus of the VINTAGES August 2nd release, and David Lawrason and I list our top picks (with significant alignment). Next week David will lead coverage of Alsace, the Loire Valley, Greece, and the best of the rest along with my picks (Sara d’Amato is in the south of France conducting serious research). I’ve also included a couple of outstanding Santa Barbara chardonnays tasted at the i4c last week, and I’ve finally managed to publish close to 100 reviews from landmark California tastings held last October in San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma. Find the best pinot, chardonnay, Rhône blends and so much more on WineAlign; fans of California wine, and I know there are many of you, will want to track these down. But wait, there’s more – check out this report on the very best of the best Napa Cabernets. Read on for all the gold.

A California Wine Summit

Before we get into the top picks from the VINTAGES August 2nd release, those deeply into California wines may want to consider searching further afield. I’ve published nearly 100 of my top picks (mostly current releases) from an extraordinary set of tastings held last October in California. The “California Wine Summit” was organized and hosted by the Wine Institute of California for a select group of international journalists (WineAlign’s Anthony Gismondi also attended), with the aim of sharing the radical changes and developments that have occurred within the California wine industry over the last decade or so.

These extraordinary tastings were compiled and led by some of California’s most respected critics, authors and winemakers, including Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle and his top chardonnays, Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, and her favorite Pinot Noirs, Patrick J. Comiskey, critic for Wine & Spirits magazine and terrific California blends, and a once-in-a-lifetime tasting of iconic Napa Valley cabernets led by master sommeliers Geoff Kruth and Matt Stamp. And those were just some of the formal tastings.

The New California Wine

Jon Bonné and his top Chardonnays, with Gerard Basset MS, MW, OBE

Jon Bonné and his top Chardonnays, with Gerard Basset MS, MW, OBE

Perhaps Jon Bonné has best captured the zeitgeist in his recently published book The New California Wine, which is “the untold story of the California wine industry: the young, innovative producers who are rewriting the rules of contemporary winemaking; their quest to express the uniqueness of California terroir; and the continuing battle to move the state away from the overly technocratic, reactionary practices of its recent past.” Fans of California wine are well advised to grab a copy of this book – it’s an accurate synopsis of what’s going down in the Golden State.

No stones were left unturned during the summit as we tasted through every notable grape variety and wine style that the state has to offer over the course of a week, with detailed information, expert comparative analysis and historical perspective provided along the way by the folks who know it best. Only one tasting failed to shine: “California does value”, the one area where even the best of the new California often falls short. Value is of course relative, though with few exceptions, compelling sub-$20 (CAD) wines are few are far between in my view. The majority of entry-priced brands, at least those we find on shelves in Canada, prey on the human weakness for sugar. But once again, sales figures are in diametric opposition with me, so what do I know.

Dollars aside, the new California (as well as the California that’s so old it’s new again, and the California that never followed fashions of any kind) has an extraordinary offering of wines on shelves now. If you’ve turned away from California for whatever reason, I’d suggest you give Ontario’s most important foreign wine supplier another look.

Set your WineAlign search parameters to “California” and pick your favourite grape/style to see what’s on top. Be sure to check “show wines with zero inventory” for the full list, as some wines have yet to reach our shelves.

The Best of the Best of Napa Cabernet

I’ve also posted a blow-by-blow report of a tasting of iconic Napa cabernets, including all of the rarities – it was the sort of tasting one hardly ever reads about, let alone participates in. The notes were edited only for spelling, making it a more intimate and unadulterated view of the moment, including some impressions that surprised even me.

Buyer’s Guide for Vintages August 2nd 2014: California

White

Hahn S L H Estate Chardonnay 2012Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012Alignment: Robert Mondavi 2012 Fumé Blanc, Napa Valley ($23.95)
John Szabo – One of the most reliable and consistent Fumé Blancs, not to mention the original, from California, Mondavi (and winemaker Geneviève Janssens) still leads the way and delivers wide pleasure at the right price. I like the balanced between tropical and orchard-citrus fruit, in an approachable, round and soft style. Best 2014-2018.
David Lawrason – In California’s Mediterranean climate it is difficult to make snappy, acid-driven sauvignon blanc. Robert Mondavi engineered a great alternative years ago by adding semillon and barrel ageing, and calling it Fume Blanc. It has been one of my favourite California whites ever since – uniquely spicy with intriguing green olive an evergreen notes.

Hahn 2012 S-L-H Estate Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County ($32.95). David Lawrason – Hahn has emerged as dominant player in Monterey with huge vineyards and polished fruit driven style of wines. This is unabashedly big, generous and fruit driven – as so many chards are in California – yet it retains a sense of composure

Red

AlignmentNapa Angel 2008 Aurelio’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($62.95)
John Szabo – Chilean vintner Aurelio Montes’ Napa project is a particularly dense and full cabernet sauvignon, with tightly knit dark fruit and chocolate flavours, unsurprisingly, similar in style to his top wines from Chile. This is mature and drinking well now. Best 2014-2022.
David Lawrason – If you detect a certain Chilean bloom and piquancy in this delicious, sensuous Napa cab it is due to the fact that it is made by Chilean Aurelio Montes (who makes some of grandest reds of Chile’s Colchagua Valley, including Purple Angel).  This is excellent, collectible an drinkable cabernet – complete, profound and deep.

Grgich Hills 2010 Estate Grown Zinfandel, Napa Valley ($48.95). John Szabo – Biodynamic estate Grgich Hills rarely disappoints with any of their wines, which remain, relatively speaking, fairly priced within the Napa Valley context. This is an unusually aristocratic version of zinfandel, with fruit so very lively and vibrant – a difficult thing to achieve with zin in the Napa Valley. Best 2014-2020.

Beringer 2007 Bancroft Ranch Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Bancroft Ranch Vineyard, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley ($79.95). John Szabo – The Bancroft Ranch wines are often among my favorites from the vast Beringer portfolio, which for me has more distinctive character than the (more expensive) Private Reserve, of which this cabernet is often a notable component. This 2007 has evolved nicely into a dusty-grippy, savoury and dark fruit flavoured wine with a nice streak of scorched earth and minerality from the volcanic soils of Howell Mountain. Best 2014-2020.

Seghesio 2012 Zinfandel Sonoma County, California ($29.95). David Lawrason – I am not at all happy about the sweetening and mocha-fication of California’s commercially priced zins. To rise above the soup you need to raise your price ceiling and focus on classic producers like Seghesio – a family with zin its veins for generations.

Montes Napa Angel Aurelio's Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Grgich Hills Estate Grown Zinfandel 2010 Beringer Bancroft Ranch Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Seghesio Zinfandel 2012

Sandhi: The California Wines You Want to Get to Know

It wasn’t my first exposure to the wines of Sandhi in Santa Barbara County – one, the Sandford and Benedict Vineyard bottling, had been selected by Jon Bonné for his tasting of top Chardonnays during the California Wine Summit. But it was a pleasure to sit and taste a few more wines with co-owner Rajat Parr during the i4c weekend in Niagara. Sandhi, which mean “collaboration” in Sanskrit, is a joint venture established in 2010 between Parr, then, and still, wine director of the Michael Mina restaurant group, partner in San Francisco’s landmark RN74 and one of the US’s most recognizable wine figures, Charles Bank, the former owner of Jonata and Screaming Eagle, and winemaker Sashi Mormann. The winery is focused on small lots of chardonnay and pinot noir from select vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County, particularly the cooler stretches of the AVA a few miles from the Pacific Ocean.

I was delighted but not surprised to find that Parr, an outspoken advocate for balanced, moderate alcohol wines in his buying role for Mina, has upheld his position for his own production. The Sandhi wines are all about finesse and freshness, structure and balance, well articulated without attempting to replicate European wines- the fruit is still Californian, as it should be. Sandhi wines are available through the Trialto Wine Group across Canada, as are Parr’s other joint ventures, Domaine de La Côte, also in Santa Barbara (check out the excellent syrah), and Maison l’Orée in Burgundy.

Two to Try:

Sandhi 2012 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay, California ($48.00). A vibrant, moderate alcohol, terroir-driven chardonnay. Flavours are in the ripe orchard and even lightly tropical spectrum, though this is all about the zesty acids and firm structure, including a pleasantly chalky, tacky mineral texture.

Sandhi 2011 Rita’s Crown Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County, California ($78.00). A wine of serious depth and complexity off the charts; the balance is pitch-perfect, on the upper end of the intensity scale, with terrific length. Really top-notch stuff for current enjoyment or mid-term hold. Tasted July 2014.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Aug 2nd:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews

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A Cult Napa Tasting – Not Your Everyday Affair

Best of California Cabernet
by John Szabo MS

John Tasting

John Szabo, MS

The following is a report on a (more than likely) once-in-a-lifetime tasting of the best of California cabernet, part of a week-long event with the rather grand title the “The California Wine Summit” organized by the Wine Institute of California last October. Admittedly, however, its grandness surpassed expectations, and this was just one of multiple landmark tastings throughout the week, if you can believe that.

The selection of wines was done simply (and cleverly) enough: the Institute asked some of California’s most respected writers, including Jon Bonné (San Francisco Chronicle), Linda Murphy (US contributor to the Oxford Companion To Wine and co-author with Jancis Robinson of American Wine), Alder Yarrow (Vinography: a wine blog), Karen MacNeil (author of The Wine Bible), and Patrick J. Comiskey (Wine & Spirits Magazine), to submit a list of their favorite Napa Cabernets, no holds barred.

The Institute then tallied up the results and the wines with the most mentions were tracked down, miraculously in some cases, and presented to our group of international wine press. All manner of rarities were included, the sort of tasting one hardly ever reads about, let alone participates in. And to make matters better, the tasting was expertly prepared and hosted by Master Sommeliers Geoff Kruth and Matt Stamp, while additional colour commentary was provided by Patrick Comiskey, Karen MacNeil and Alder Yarrow. It was extraordinarily grand, a tasting not even the great Chateaux of the Médoc could touch (not least because the Bordelais would never allow anyone else to select, let alone publicly comment on their wines, on their own dime).

A pretty nice line up of Napa Cabernet..

A pretty nice line up of Napa Cabernet…

The formal tasting was followed by dinner at Silver Oak, where more fine wines were heaped upon the table like the grandest Medieval wedding , including many older vintages of the same wines. It was a night to remember to be sure, but those later notes remain my private property.

Napa Cabernet: The Best of the Best

The reviews below were edited only for spelling, making it an intimate and unadulterated view of the moment, including some impressions that surprised even me. Wines are ordered by my score, top down; prices are approximate.

Diamond Creek 2009 Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain ($200.00)

Really pretty, lifted, floral, spicy, tar and roses-scented, almost nebbiolo-like red from the iconic Diamond Creek estate, in this case from the iron-rich red soils of the Red Rock Terrace parcel. The complexity is extraordinary to be sure. Tannins are grippy and firm, grasping your palate and leaving no doubt that this will age magnificently. The finish goes on and on. Extraordinary stuff.  Tasted October 2013. 98 points.

Dunn 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain ($90.00)

A supremely dense, spicy, lightly herbal-vegetal, scorched earth and mineral-flavoured wine within the regional, almost savage profile of Howell Mountain. The palate is rustic and thick, with firm, tannic structure – this will age magnificently no doubt – built on a solid frame, yet there’s more than enough fleshy fruit to ensure full integration over time. All in all, quite approachable considering the customary burly house style. Tasted October 2013. 95 points.

Corison 2009 Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley St. Helena ($125.00)

From Cathy Corison’s flagship, 40-year old vineyard planted on phylloxera-resistant St. George rootstock, the 2009 Kronos delivers a dense, dark-fruited, briary, highly spicy, orange peel-scented nose, with very well-integrated oak profile. It’s structurally tense, anchored on almost tart acids with ripe, almost red fruit, and old vine vinosity. Terrific length. I suspect this will be best from about 2017 on, with the potential to live well into its third decade. Tasted October 2013. 95 points.

Quintessa 2010 Napa Valley Rutherford ($145.00)

Classic, ripe black and blue fruit, with savoury forest floor, pine needle, marked but gentle wood influence, and high-toned floral notes. This is polished and elegant on a big frame, like Bordeaux in a very warm vintage, classy and complex. Best after 2015. Tasted October 2013. 95 points.

Spring Mountain 2010 Elivette Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain ($150.00)

Spring Mountain Vineyards has been producing cabernet for a century, with vineyards now farmed virtually biodynamically on the top of Spring Mountain and its volcanic and sedimentary soils. There’s a freshness and lifted floral note, more red fruit-driven, and light sweet baking spice touch alongside an earthy undertone. The palate offers excellent succulence, and fine-grained, firm tannins. A very fine and elegant wine, with depth and complexity, to be enjoyed after 2018 or so. Tasted October 2013. 95 points.

Ridge 2009 Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains ($160.00)

Apparently enough folks named the Monte Bello among their favourite wines that is was included in this otherwise all-Napa lineup. The 2009 includes about 30% merlot and petit verdot along with cabernet, offering wonderfully perfumed aromatics, high-toned, violet-floral, sweet but just ripe black berry fruit. Amazingly enough, the American oak in which this is aged is a gentle spice addition (wood is air-dried long-term). The palate is mid-weight in the usual elegant style of Ridge, with fine, succulent acids, balanced alcohol (13.5%) and terrific length. Although surprisingly approachable now, this is of course a wine with great tension and tremendous ageing potential. Best from 2019- 2039. Tasted October 2013. 95 points.

Spottswoode 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley St. Helena ($145.00)

A classically styled Napa Cabernet from the historic Spottswoode property, biodynamically-farmed, ripe yet with a distinct roasted vegetable note. Fruit is both black and blue, with a sweet core and dense concentration and very firm, ageworthy structure. Alcohol is generous. This is far from prime, I’d say this will be best after about 2018, and should last several decades after that without a stretch. Tasted October 2013. 94 points.

Scarecrow 2007 Rutherford ($500.00)

From an old plot of vines adjacent to Inglenook, planted in the 1940s. This is classy to be sure, with evident ripeness and concentration and a vinous, old wine density, excellent balance and extraordinary length. A very fine wine to be sure. There’s great precision and elegance beyond the dense masses of flavour – a wine you can truly drink and enjoy, not just sit on a pedestal. Tasted October 2013. 94 points.

Harlan Estates 2009 Oakville ($770.00)

The 2009 Harlan is quite classy and surprisingly approachable at this early stage (if still a long way from maturity), with a marvelous amalgam of earth, spice box, tobacco, leather and of course plenty of dark fruit, and dried prune, figs and dates. Tannins are bold, ripe, anchoring the masses of fruit, with excellent length. For fans of the full on, bold, dense, rich Napa style. Tasted October 2013. 94 points.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 2009 SLV Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap District ($145.00)

Quite sweet and oak-tinged on the nose, with masses of (high-quality) barrel spice notes, vanilla, bitter chocolate, espresso bean, plus dense black fruit verging on liqueur-like concentration. The palate is smooth and supple, with very ripe, plush tannins, generous alcohol and long, long finish. There’s a scorched earth, red iron-like mineral note, though this remains a wood-infused bottle for the time being. To be revisited after 2017, with longevity of a couple of decades I’d suspect. Tasted October 2013. 93 points.

Continuum 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Pritchard Hill ($175.00)

The project of Tim Mondavi, an estate (92% estate fruit) wine from about 40 acres on Pritchard Hill, with 15% cabernet franc on iron-rich volcanic-derived soil. The nose is suppressed for the moment, a dense and brooding wine, though with a surprisingly supple and approachable palate – the texture here is fully beguiling, silky, yet densely packed and high in alcohol. The finish is long but carried on alcohol vapours – more of a winemaker’s wine, yet very fine in any case. Best from 2015. Tasted October 2013. 93 points.

Bond 2009 Pluribus, Spring Mountain ($250.00)

A markedly spicy, and lifted, wood spice-driven wine, very refined and elegant, yet with high, palate warming alcohol. There’s an intriguing aromatic profile with orange peel nuances I more often associate with Italian wines. Structurally the wine is firm and fine-grained, buoyed on alcohol, with nutty, chestnut flavours lingering over ripe red and some black fruit. Great length.  Tasted October 2013. 93 points.

The iconic tower at Silver Oak

The iconic tower at Silver Oak

Silver Oak 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($110.00)

The all-American oak ageing regime of Silver Oak comes through in spades in this 2009, delivering plenty of melted butter, coconut, and sandalwood – the particular house style is well-marked. The palate is as always neither heavy nor light, with vibrant acids, nicely succulent and balanced. One gets the sense that the base material is really very fine here, though you must also enjoy the heavily wood-derived profile to enjoy the ensemble, or wait at least a decade before opening. Tasted October 2013. 91 points.

Dalla Valle Maya 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville ($N/A)

Fully ripe and raisined, evidently a forward and dense, stylized wine, complete with a touch of VA. The palate is thick, hot, very firm, almost astringent, with very good length. All in all, an exaggerated style, with challenging drinkability in my view. Tasted October 2013. 91 points.

Shafer 2009 Hillside Select, Stag’s Leap District ($275.00)

Full on blue fruit and espresso, wood-derived flavour, in an unabashedly ultra-ripe, Napa valley style. Alcohol is hot, likely over 15%, with blueberry yoghurt flavours. All in all this comes across as rather one-dimensional, not in the top league in my view, though revisit in 4-6 years. Tasted October 2013. 90 points.

Cheers,

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS


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Les bons choix de Marc – Juillet

Made in USA
par Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

En ce 4 juillet, jour de réjouissances nationales pour nos amis états-uniens, j’ai pensé qu’il serait de bon ton de jeter un œil du côté de leur production viticole.

On parle couramment de vin « américain », mais en réalité, il faudrait souvent dire vin « californien ». Le Golden State est en effet responsable d’environ 90 % de la production nationale. La Californie se trouve ainsi encore et toujours loin devant les États de Washington, de l’Oregon et de New York, qui occupent les trois places suivantes. Cela dit, ce qu’on sait moins, c’est qu’on fait du vin dans chacun des 50 États de l’Union. Même en Floride ! Et ce n’est rien : même en Alaska, où le United States Department of Agriculture recensait sept wineries, en 2013.

Autre particularité du marché états-unien, il y a encore là-bas plus d’une quinzaine de monopoles d’État de la vente d’alcool – un peu comme notre bonne vieille SAQ, eh oui. Parmi les États pour ainsi dire prohibitionnistes, qui maternent les consommateurs et les protègent du démon Alcool, on retrouve le New Hampshire, le Vermont, l’Oregon, l’Ohio, la Pennsylvanie et bien entendu aussi l’Utah, le fief des mormons.

Bons troisièmes derrière la France et l’Italie

Pour revenir à nos moutons, précisons que les vins des États-Unis, et principalement ceux de la Californie, progressent très bien au Québec. Toutefois, spécifie le rapport annuel 2014 de la SAQ, ils le font « de manière plus modérée cette année avec près de 10 % d’augmentation des ventes en volume […] tant pour les vins blancs que pour les vins rouges ». Il n’empêche que les vins américains demeurent bons troisièmes sur le plan des ventes à la SAQ, avec 13 % de parts de marché, derrière la France (31 %) et l’Italie (23 %), mais devant l’Espagne et l’Australie (respectivement 8 % et 6 %).

Les régions plus fraîches du nord de la Californie, ainsi que l’Oregon et Washington produisent de très belles bouteilles qui n’ont rien à envier à ce qui se fait de mieux en Europe et notamment en France. À l’inverse, on trouve aussi en provenance de ces chers États-Unis des Ménage à Trois et des Apothic Red sucrés, ainsi que des White Zinfandel tout aussi doucereux – qui se vendent, hélas, comme des petits pains. Le collègue Bill Zacharkiw a d’ailleurs récemment publié un article à ce propos.

Et dire qu’on est censés être une société distincte, au Québec, et avoir un palais plus raffiné… Désolé pour la digression, je n’ai pu m’empêcher, j’aimerais tellement que les rouges sucrés coca-colaesques ne marchent pas.

Surtout qu’elle est pratiquement révolue, l’époque des vins américains vanillés et archiboisés. Nos voisins y vont aujourd’hui plus mollo sur le chêne, de manière générale et en Californie, notamment. Le pays a pour ainsi dire mûri, il fait toujours partie du Nouveau Monde viticole mais comme il produit depuis plusieurs décennies, il se fait vieux un peu — et c’est bien tant mieux.

De belles bouteilles born in the USA

J’ai puisé dans mes récentes notes de dégustation et dégoté quelques bonnes bouteilles que l’on pourrait très bien ouvrir cette fin de semaine, dans la foulée de l’Independence Day.

En blanc d’abord, le Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2011 n’est pas donné, à 50 $, mais il tient la comparaison avec bien des bourgognes blancs vendus le même prix.

Du côté du vin rosé, je retiens notamment le Terre Rouge Vin Gris d’Amador 2012, un très bon rosé de saignée californien, corsé et riche mais bien appuyé par l’acidité.

En rouge, on a, encore une fois, l’embarras du choix. En y allant par ordre de prix, on se régalera avec le Schug Pinot Noir 2012 de Sonoma Coast. Clin d’œil à la France maintenant, avec le Syrah Le Pousseur Bonny Doon 2010, typé syrah et doté d’une bonne fraîcheur.

Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2011Terre Rouge Vin Gris D'amador 2012Schug Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2012Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah 2010

Du même excentrique producteur qu’est Randall Grahm, place au Cigare Volant Bonny Doon 2008, qui pastiche pour ainsi dire les vins de Châteauneuf-du-Pape mais qui ressemble davantage, avec ce 2008, à un beau rouge de la région nord du Rhône.

Deux derniers rouges états-uniens, d’un producteur vedette aussi consultant à ses heures. Plus les années passent, plus les millésimes se succèdent, et plus les vins de ce Paul Hobbs me surprennent. Imposants, concentrés, costauds même, ils ont en revanche de la fraîcheur, ils ne s’écrasent pas en bouche et n’alourdissent pas le palais – pour peu, of course, qu’on n’abuse pas.

Essayez par exemple son Cabernet Sauvignon Paul Hobbs Crossbarn 2011 Monterey, à 48 $, ou encore, dans un tout autre registre, son Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir 2011 Russian River. Ce dernier, puissant et savoureux, est vendu 62 $ et des poussières, et ma foi il les vaut !

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2008Paul Hobbs Crossbarn Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir 2011CHANDON ROSÉ

Enfin, à l’apéro ou à la fin du repas, avec des fromages pas trop puissants, on pourrait très bien opter pour le Chandon Rosé Méthode Traditionnelle, un peu dosé (sucré), il est vrai, mais l’équilibre est préservé et il s’agit simplement de le servir bien frais, pour en rehausser le fruit.

Cheers !

Marc

Note de la rédaction: vous pouvez lire les commentaires de dégustation complets en cliquant sur les noms de vins, les photos de bouteilles ou les liens mis en surbrillance. Les abonnés payants à Chacun son vin ont accès à toutes les critiques dès leur mise en ligne. Les utilisateurs inscrits doivent attendre 30 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de bons vins!


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To Kalon, Moonstruck and Mondavi

The Final Blend
by Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

For all you youngsters out there who live and die by your cell phones, iPads and touch-screen computers have you ever wondered how all that technology came about? The answer is in the race to the moon. On February 20, 1962 astronaut John Glen piloted the “Friendship 7″ spacecraft on the first, US-manned mission completing a successful three-orbit tour around the earth and the race to miniaturise computer components was on.

Some four years later in a seemingly unrelated event, the Robert Mondavi Winery at Oakville opened for business in bucolic Oakville about an hour north of San Francisco. In those days, Napa Valley was about as far away from France and the centre of the wine world, as the moon must have appeared to NASA scientists working at Cape Canaveral. Yet both were on a mission: NASA to get to the moon, and Robert Mondavi to reach for the moon. Oddly some twenty years down the road their paths would cross in a vineyard.

For Mondavi it began with the phylloxera scourge of the late 1990s in his beloved To Kalon Vineyard. Always looking to improve and always looking for an edge Robert turned to the scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California to explore the use of high altitude photography developed from space to further study vineyards.

The project was cutting edge in the day. NASA supplied the winery with high spatial resolution airborne imagery acquired in California’s Napa Valley in 1993 and 1994 as part of the Grapevine Remote sensing Analysis of Phylloxera Early Stress (GRAPES) project. Investigators from NASA, the University of California, the California State University, and Robert Mondavi Winery examined the application of airborne digital imaging technology to vineyard management, with emphasis on detecting the phylloxera infestation in California vineyards.

To Kalon Vineyard 3

As time has gone on the technology has spread to every corner of the wine world to help viticulturalists and winemakers better understand their vineyards as a whole. Knowing what’s going on in the vineyard has been at the heart of winemaking since grapes were first planted although obtaining such information required a lifetime of harvests not to mention uncountable forays into the vineyard by winemakers and viticulturalists walking the rows one-by-one. You might say Robert was on his own mission and anything that could be done to satisfy a better ending was done. Over the years Robert was often heard to say. “If you think you have a really good idea (and it doesn’t cost too much) then do something about.”

To be sure, everyone still walks the vineyards at Mondavi, but now when they enter a specific block, (before, during and after every growing season), they do so with a wealth of computer-analysed information that leaves no stone unturned, or is it that they leave every stone exactly where it should be?

As early as 2002, director of winemaking Genevieve Janssens was not just walking the rows and tasting the grapes in preparation for harvest; she was using a hand-held, wireless device to select which sides of the rows were to be picked by the crews. The notion of not picking everything at once, or the thought that To Kalon is a series of very different blocks that should be handled individually, was another Mondavi tenet that helped them to grow the quality of their now famous Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

To Kalon VineyardOver time, now across five decades, the attention to detail at Mondavi has served the wines and To Kalon Vineyard well. Certainly there is a much greater understanding of the terroir and all its minute changes in soil, microclimate, slope and drainage and how they define each block and the distinct characteristics and flavours in the grapes. Today, not only are the grapes planted in specific soils with clones and rootstocks now known to be the most simpatico, but they are spaced, watered, pruned, shoot-thinned, green-harvested, leaf plucked and generally babied until harvest all with the aid of the latest in overhead photography that can chart every inch of the vineyard’s health.

A recent three-day visit revealed that while Robert Mondavi is no longer with us his spirit still dominates the winery, the team and To Kalon Vineyard. We began our visit by tasting some of the great wines of the world made by Mondavi’s competitors. As unusual as it is to serve the opposition’s wine at your winery, the folks at Mondavi have always embraced the competition, believing fine wine producers are all part of a bigger extended family. Early on Mondavi challenged the great wines of Bordeaux, often getting tasters to try his wines blind alongside some of the best in the world. Win or lose, just being in the same row was enough to grab some recognition and more often than not his generous, well-made reds would top the tastings.

Meeting the competition head on is no longer an earth-shaking business practice but in its day, in the wine business, it was almost unheard of among marketers. The real news is nothing much has changed at the winery. In fact, under chief winemaker Genevieve Janssens and wine educator Mark de Vere with no shortage of support from the ageless Margrit Mondavi, the Robert Mondavi Winery may be more fanatical today about the To Kalon project then when it began back in 1966.

In his book Harvests of Joy, Robert Mondavi talks about his decision to build his reputation on To Kalon. The “vineyard stood head and shoulders above those around it. It was a vineyard with a distinguished history and a magical nature. Ideal soils, sunlight and rain—to my eye, the vineyard was a treasure. Walking through To Kalon, admiring its contours and vines, smelling the richness of its soil, I knew this was a very special place.”

Even the name the original founder, Hamilton Crabb, had given to this vineyard a century ago, resonated with Mondavi. “It perfectly captured my guiding ambition and spirit. In Greek, To Kalon means ‘highest quality’ or ‘highest good.’ To me that meant, simply, ‘The Best.’

To Kalon Vineyard 5Robert’s dream to build a boutique winery on the edge of Napa Valley’s Highway 29, visible to travellers passing by, changed everything about how wineries would interact with their customers for the next 50 years. Despite the current inroads being made by social media, the Mondavi roadside boutique winery with a tasting room and the ability to sell direct to its customers remains vital to the bottom line of wineries worldwide.

Robert’s fixation with varietal wine (give the consumer some information that they can latch onto) was another monumental block in the foundation of a North American wine culture. Despite his role in catapulting varietal wine to prime time world-wide Mondavi was obsessed with appellation and place long before the rest of America would come to know that all great wines come from somewhere, and for that he had To Kalon.

Parts of the 450-acre To Kalon Vineyard were originally planted by Hamilton Walker Crabb, a noted Napa Valley winegrowing pioneer in the 1860s, although the bulk of the property has been replanted several times. The ‘Region Two’ site on the Winkler Scale spreads from the gravelly/alluvial loams of the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains east to Highway 29 where the profile is deeper and contains more clay. To Kalon is a huge contributor to the Mondavi Napa Valley, Oakville District, and Reserve wine programs. At the moment two wines are vineyard designated: Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc Reserve and To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon.

In 2004, 100 acres were sold to Opus One. Beckstoffer owns 89 acres of the To Kalon Vineyard leaving total planted acres under Robert Mondavi Winery at 439 including a staggering 90 vineyard blocks with an average size of 5 acres. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the site followed by Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Semillon, and a single block of Syrah.

Over the years Mondavi would also engage in several joint ventures with international producers of great stature:  Bordeaux’s famed Baron Philippe Rothschild (Opus), with Eduardo Chadwick (Seña) in Chile and with the Frescobaldi family (Luce) in Italy. While many consider these business machinations a distraction and perhaps an indulgence that took some lustre away from the Napa operation, Mondavi’s insistence on working with other cultures and exchanging wine making information was all based on reaching for the stars.

Still my tastings (which date back to the late 1970s) do not lead me to think the wines are anything but Californian. On this issue Tim Mondavi has written, “at home in California, we have always pursued wines that reflect the richness and ripeness of our climate while adding dimensions of elegance and finesse that we associate with the great wines of the world.”

The current guardian of the style at Mondavi is chief winemaker Genevieve Janssens who launched her career in 1974, coincidentally a significant vintage at Mondavi. In those days she was working in her family’s vineyards in Corsica and France. By the mid-seventies, she ran an enology lab in Provence and served as consulting enologist to many French chateaux, eventually working in the lab at Mondavi in 1978/79. After a decade of work around California, Janssens returned to the Mondavi family in 1989 to become Director of Production at Opus One Winery. In 1997, when an opening came up at Robert Mondavi she jumped at the chance to get back and in 2000, she helped implement the To Kalon Project, the winery’s first major renovation since it was founded in 1966.

The three most prominent post phylloxera developments at Mondavi are high-density planting (the Mondavis now boast the largest collection of high-density vineyards in California), an all-oak fermentation process to complement the gentle handling from harvest through the cellar, and bottling wines without filtration. The multi-level To Kalon Fermentation Cellar features 56, large oak vat fermenters.

Robert Mondavi tastingI well remember tasting the 2000 vintage reds and noting the almost overnight changes. In a vineyard tasting of two 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon (one grown at the highest density 4’x4’ or 2700 vines per acre; the other the more normal 8’x12’ spacing or 450 vines per acres) the difference in flavour and texture were dramatic.

The high density wine was darker in colour and richer in soft tannins and fruit compared with the almost watered down flavours of the sample made from vineyards planted to a lesser density. Still reeling from that experiment I tasted another pair of 2000 Cabernet Sauvignons, this time one fermented in stainless steel and the other made in the latest oak vats at To Kalon. The results mirrored the differences noted during the high-density tasting. This time the cabernet fermented in the all-oak vats was plusher, rounder and more sensuous in the mouth, not to mention well-stuffed and surprisingly easy to sip.

Combining the two techniques over the last 13 years has yielded some impressive results. About that time Mondavi also cut production of its top end wines to further increase quality, and by default, improve all of the wines below the top end via the trickle down technique.

With nearly three decades of experiments behind it there is nothing to suggest the folks at Mondavi will change. The plan is just as Mr. Mondavi charted it back in 1966 – make the best wine you possibly can and challenge that wine every vintage to be better. After all, if you have a good idea your duty is to do something about it. Reach for the stars.

Here are what our critics have said recently about the wines of Robert Mondavi :

Robert Mondavi Napa Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard 2009, Napa Valley, California

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, California

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2012, Central Coast

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2011

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2010, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2011, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley

Editors Note: You can find complete critic 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!


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County in the City 2014 – Try and Buy Event

Special Offer for WineAlign Members:  $5 Off the Ticket Price (Promo Code: winealign)

Join us on Thursday, April 3, for the 3rd Annual County in the City, and sample some of the best wines Prince Edward County has to offer! Many County wineries all under one Toronto roof!

County-in-the-City-Collage

At the 3rd annual “County in the City”, samples of more than 50 different wines (including many vintage and specialty wines) will be showcased from 5pm-9pm to the public. This tasting event will delight the palates of Torontonians and introduce them to some of the most enticing flavours of Prince Edward County; the world’s fastest growing wine region. Wine Spectator magazine dubbed the County as the “world’s least-known great wine zone“.

Many of the County wines showcased at the event are not available at retail wine outlets in the GTA, so guests can take part in the “Try and Buy” program and have delicious County wines delivered right to their door. Mix and match bottles from different wineries and receive FREE shipping (minimum 6 bottles).

Along with the delicious wines there will be fabulous food pairings from the Berkeley Events’ kitchen including, Butter chicken with quinoa and naan, roast beef on mini Yorkshire pudding w/ horseradish cream, Mini gourmet grilled cheese on brioche, Pierogies (bacon optional), Plus a surprise dish!

Event Details:

Thursday, April 3, 2014
Location: Berkeley Church – 315 Queen St. East
Time:  5pm to 9pm
Tickets: $49.00 in advance (includes all wine and food samples)
Tickets: $60.00 at the door (subject to availability)

WineAlign Members receive $5.00 off tickets purchased in advance – Use Promo Code: winealign

 Purchase Your Tickets Here

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Participating wineries include:

Broken Stone Winery
Casa Dea Estates Winery
Devil’s Wishbone
Grange of Prince Edward County Vineyard and Estate Winery
Harwood Estate Winery
Huff Estates Winery
Karlo Estates
Keint-He Winery and Vineyard
Lighthall Vineyard
Norman Hardie
Rosehall Run
Sandbanks Winery
Stanners Vineyard
ThreeDog Winery

 

About Berkeley Church:

berkeley-st-church1Built in 1871, The Berkeley Church has been transformed into Toronto’s most original event venue.Nowhere else will you find such a beautiful blend of traditional ambiance and modern decor. Details such as the original 17-foot stained glass windows, hard wood floors and Victorian Inspired bar makes the Berkeley Church a stunning escape from the ordinary. This location is accessible by TTC, taxi and Green P parking is available on all surrounding streets for responsible designated drivers.

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California Wine Fair 2014 – Canadian Tour

The 2014 California Wine Fair is fast approaching!2014-03-06_12-52-23

The California lifestyle embodies all the characteristics of a fine wine – vibrant, spirited and full of excitement. You are invited to drink in the famous, sun-kissed wine country of the Golden State and share the passion for liquid sunshine in a glass.

Raise a glass to California and enjoy a unique opportunity to sample a wide selection of more than 400 premium wines from 150 of California’s top producers.

This is the largest tasting tour of California wines in Canada!

Ottawa: Friday, April 4, 2014 (The Westin Ottawa)

Toronto: Monday, April 7, 2014 (Fairmont Royal York Hotel)

WineAlign Members receive $5.00 off the ticket price for the Toronto and Ottawa Shows – Use Coupon Code: WACALI
(The coupon code can be submitted on the checkout page.)

Click here for other Canadian cities.

Read about John Szabo’s and Sara d’Amato’s top picks from the California-themed March 15th VINTAGES release here.

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Top 10 Reasons to Attend the California Wine Fair

10.  Get Inspired – learning about California wines at the California Wine Fair may just inspire you to visit the Golden State in 2014.  Get help planning your trip at www.discovercaliforniawines.com.

9.  Great Value for Money! – for one fair price you can sample a myriad of wines at varying price points without having to purchase extra tasting tickets.

8.  Amazing Flavour Sensations – along with California’s most beloved varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel), get ready to taste wines made from a huge range of varieties such as Pinot Noir, Viognier, Rhone varieties, Bordeaux varieties, and Sauvignon Blanc.

7.  Appellations Abound! – drill deep into the stylistic differences of wines from a variety of appellations including Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Coast, Oakville, Sta. Rita Hills, Monterey County, Lodi, Carneros and Paso Robles, to name a few.

6.  California Wines are Eco-Friendly – the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) developed the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing in 2002 to promote environmental stewardship and social responsibility in the California wine industry.

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5.  Largest California Wine Tasting in Canada – and it’s all under one roof.  Explore the types of wines you like and experience the many flavours available at this event.

4.  Diversity of Styles – vintners will be coming from all over the Golden State and bringing a huge range of wines with them.  It’s a convenient way to learn the differences between the varieties and styles of wine.  There’s definitely something for everyone.

3.  Exciting New Wineries – explore a number of new wineries never before seen in Canada.  Check out the complete list at www.calwine.ca.

2.  More Participants than Ever – the event is bigger and better than ever before – 165 wineries, 450 wines, and numerous friends from the wineries and vineyards.

1.  Let California Sunshine Brighten your Spring! – after the winter of 2014, we could all use a little California sun this spring.  Come out to the California Wine Fair and experience sunshine in a glass.

To find more information about California wines, please visit http://www.discovercaliforniawines.com.

Purchase Your Tickets Here


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Vintages Preview for March 15th 2014

This week’s report looks at California’s record-breaking export success, and some top wines from the California-themed March 15th VINTAGES release selected by John Szabo MS and Sara d’Amato. Link also to John’s Benvenuto Brunello report on the latest releases – mainly the 2009s and the 2008 riservas – from Brunello di Montalcino, in which he examines the unofficial proposal to subdivide Montalcino into subzones, canvassing several growers for their views, reports on the 2009 vintage, and highlights over 30 top picks. Keen fans of this great Tuscan red won’t want to miss Benvenuto Brunello event in Toronto on March 10th, the first time the Brunello Consortium has come here to present new releases in a decade. Elsewhere, read John’s controversial defense of France as the birthplace of terroir.

California Wine Exports Reach All-time High in 2013

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Ontario, and Canada are very strong markets for Californian wines. We like the Golden State’s offerings well enough to rank as their second largest export market, behind only the 28-member European Union (considered a single market for statistical purposes). In 2013 we drank 454 million dollars worth, up 12% over the previous year. California is also flying high in the rest of the world, breaking all export records in 2013 and hitting 1.55 billion in winery revenues.

So what’s the secret of success? Producing excellent wines is an obvious factor. “Consumers across the globe continue to recognize the quality, diversity and value of California wines, despite significant trade barriers and heavily subsidized foreign competitors,” says Wine Institute President and CEO Robert P. (Bobby) Koch. “Our outstanding 2012 and 2013 California vintages, heralded for quality as well as quantity, were a record high so we have the ability to expand.”

But success is also due to a very organized and efficient marketing arm, with a significant budget at their disposal to spread the love of California. “We have an aggressive global marketing campaign underway that communicates California as an aspirational place with beautiful landscapes, iconic lifestyle, great wine and food, and as an environmental leader,” says Wine Institute Vice President International Marketing Linsey Gallagher.

And I’d anticipate even more California promotion over the coming year, considering that, for example, The Napa Valley Vintners’ 18th annual Premiere Napa Valley made history by bringing in a total of $5.9 million, nearly doubling the previous record of $3.1 million raised in 2012. The money raised goes into the NVVs war chest to promote the region’s wines. “We are overwhelmed by the response we saw today,” said Russ Weis, chair of the NVV Board of Directors and general manager of Silverado Vineyards. “It shows there is a renewed confidence in the fine wine market in general and in Napa Valley wines specifically.” The average wholesale price per bottle sold at the auction was a staggering $283, with bidding fueled by the fact that more than 90 percent of the lots were from the 2012 harvest, one of the most anticipated vintages in recent history.

And it’s indeed at the high-end that California performs best. In my view, great wine under $30 is as rare as rain in the dessert. Most inexpensive wines, it seems, are increasingly simple, fruity and notably off-dry, vying for market share with younger palates. But at the top end, quality, and diversity, have never been matched. The “counter-culture” wine movement driven by commentators like Eric Asimov of the New York Times and Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle, along with a new generation of well-traveled winegrowers, also influenced by young European vintners coming to do crush in California, have diversified the offering dramatically. This is excellent news; finesse and balance grow alongside power and opulence, and there’s quite literally a bottle for everyone.

John’s California Picks

Of the premium wines hitting the shelves on March 15th, and out of the latest releases from Treasury Wine Estates (Etude, Beringer, Stags’ Leap and Château St. Jean), here are the bottles to look for:

Premium chardonnay

Etude Carneros Estate Chardonnay 2011Stags' Leap Winery Chardonnay 2012Premium chardonnay is perhaps the most dramatically evolved category in California. No longer the exclusive domain of big and buttery (though there are still plenty of these), the new Cali chard marries power and finesse, ripe fruit and restrain. The 2011 Etude Carneros Estate Chardonnay Sonoma County ($39.95) is a perfect example, made by the delicate hand of John Priest. It’s harvested at relatively low brix (ripeness) by California standards to retain freshness and verve, and is fermented and aged in all old barrels resulting in a fine, lifted, vibrant wine.

2012 Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay Napa Valley ($34.95) is likewise a lovely wine by Christophe Paubert from the soon-to-be legend 2012 vintage. Paubert’s principal contribution to this wine since arriving in 2009 has been to shift fruit sources further south in Napa to the cooler AVAs, this one being exclusively from Oak Knoll and Carneros, made without malolactic fermentation, and aged in just 25% new wood, with 25% in stainless steel and 50% neutral oak. Give it 2-3 years to reach full drinking enjoyment.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Etude Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Dominus 2010Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Cab remains the mainstay of the premium segment, and the top wines have reached new levels of balance and structure, like setting the clock back to the great examples from the early 1980s, only better. Fans of elegance will already be familiar with the superb wines of Ridge in the Santa Cruz mountains, and the 2010 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains ($52.95) is a beautifully refined example.

But finesse can be done well in the heart of the Napa Valley as well, as is demonstrated by the excellent 2010 Dominus Napa Valley ($151.95) and 2010 Etude Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($100.00). Both of these cabs perfectly straddle the line between balance and power, delivering the supple, ripe, dark fruit one expects from Napa in a alongside tangy-ripe acids and supremely well-managed wood influence. Both should age magnificently, well into the late 2020s and beyond.

For those seeking slightly larger-scale, generously proportioned cabernet, I’d highlight the following trio:

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages 2009Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 20102010 Cade Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain, Napa Valley ($99.95). The Stars Align as this is recommended by both John and Sara. JS – The Cade Cabernet Sauvignon is a highly attractive, elegant but structured wine from the volcanic terroir of Howell Mountain, which should continue to evolve and improve over the next decade. The cooler-than-normal 2010 growing season resulted in a floral and nuanced expression, with ripe but fresh black berry flavours and well-chiseled tannins. SD – What exactly is so special about Howell Mountain? Using the catch phrase “above the fog”, the Mountain is gifted with long growing days of sustained temperatures due to its high elevation. It has very good drainage from rocky soils that tend to be of the nutrient deficient type, composed of volcanic ash or red clay. From this exquisite deprivation are produced these highly revered wines that are both challenging and age worthy. This cooler vintage for Cade has produced a delightfully revealing and feminine wine.

2009 Château St. Jean Cinq Cépages Sonoma County ($74.95) is the 20th release of Cinq Cépages, Château St. Jean’s flagship Bordeaux blend (77% cabernet sauvignon in this vintage). It’s just starting to move into a nice drinking window with its fully ripe, macerated black, blue and red berry fruit, light pot pourri and resinous herb flavours, and a palate that’s both structured and supple, with fine depth and length.

2010 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($149.95) is a dense, compact, dark fruit flavoured wine, dominated fully by blackberry and cassis flavours that should be best after 2016-2018.

Other Reds

Ridge Lytton Springs 2011Etude Pinot Noir Carneros Estate 2011Stags Leap Winery Ne Cede Malis Petite Sirah 2009Fans of the southern Rhône, great Bandol or Priorat, for example, will not want to miss the superb 2009 Stags’ Leap “Ne Cede Malis” Petite Sirah Napa Valley ($85.00). It’s an exceptional field blend originally planted in 1929, led by about 85% petite sirah, with another dozen or so varieties including most of the southern Rhône cultivars and even some white grapes. I love the wild berry fruit, savory and resinous herbs, and scorched earth flavours. You can drink or hold for this a couple of decades without a stretch.

For a classic Carneros expression of pinot pick up the 2011 Etude Pinot Noir Carneros Estate ($59.95), while Ridge’s 2011 Lytton Springs Dry Creek Valley ($48.95) is a zinfandel-led blend crafted in an remarkably elegant style, with very suave, supple tannins, fresh dark wildberry flavours and finely integrated wood spice.

Sara’s California Picks

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

As the highly touted 2012 and 2013 vintages begin to trickle in, California is currently facing its worst drought in decades. Grape yields in this challenging year promise to be low, and older vineyards are likely to fare best as their deep roots are able penetrate pockets of ground water. But despite the current stunted grape growth, there is no stopping the boom of growth in export sales in this heart of the US wine industry that is slated to hit 2 billion dollars by the year 2020.

The wines offered in this VINTAGES feature are a mix of the very refreshing, moderate, and progressive alongside wines that demonstrate classic heavy oak and alcohol. Much of this diversity has to do with the great variation in vintages that California has seen in the past half-decade. For example, pick up a bottle of the 2010s that we have coming in on the shelves and you’ll find evidence of a much cooler and longer growing season as wines are showing greater elegance, more acidity and because of this delicacy, a restrained use of oak to match. This type of vintage allows us a stripped-down appreciation of the sites and grapes.

More classically, 2012 proved an excellent year for many varietals, especially pinot noir. The growing season was long, sunny and saw even-keeled temperatures. Uneventful and consistent often make for the best vintages. Producers were able to pump out an abundance of high quality grapes – a dream year for growers! Speaking of pinot noir, my top picks are as follows (in addition to the Cade cabernet above which saw our palates “align”):

Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2010La Crema Pinot Noir Los Carneros 2012La Crema Pinot Noir Los Carneros 2012 ($44.95). I have largely been a great fan of this pinot noir that has proved consistently complex and an exemplary new world style. With a hefty price tag, it is fitting for both special occasion and mid-term cellaring. Straddling both the Napa and Sonoma appellations, Carneros is home to some of California’s most elegant pinots partly due to the influence of the wind and fog that keep the heat at bay and the acids from diminishing. Creamy, layered with flavour and a serene harmony that will have you foggy-headed.

Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Napa Valley ($54.95). Honest, pure and revealing – nicely reflecting the cooler 2010 vintage. Although well-structured, the wine is showing terrific complexity, unencumbered by an oaky haze. The winery refers to their iconic cabernets as “modern day liquid treasures” – a very evocative and, in this case, apt description. Named after the statuesque Sequoia trees that frame the winery, it is located on the Rutherford Bench known for its mineral rich soils and its low lying area that captures the morning fog, cooling off the vineyard and allowing for a very elegant flavour profile.

That’s all for this week. We’ll be back next week with the ‘best of the rest’ of this release.

From the Mar 15, 2014 Vintages release:

Classic California
All Reviews

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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Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010


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