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From Riesling to Rosé – Rhys’ European Wine Adventure

Text and photos by Rhys Pender MW

Rhys Pender_Portrait_2015

Rhys Pender

Learning about the world of wine can be more confusing than enlightening, especially when learning about wine regions. Things are complicated and it is no wonder wine is intimidating. Everything seems clear after diligent studying of textbooks, encyclopedias and sitting through wine classes. But when you start to delve deeper into what makes a wine region tick, and look at the different aspects, altitudes, soils and more, you find that the more you try to generalize about any one place, the less accurate those simplifications become. Not only is it impossible to learn all the nuances that make a region unique but there is also the fact that things are always changing and evolving – wine styles, people and even climate. To understand a region properly, there is no better way than to jump in your car or on a plane and go there and find out for yourself what is really happening. That is really the only way to know what is going on.

Wine writers and educators spend a lot of time travelling, trying to answer those questions that exist only between the lines in our textbooks. We want to give current and accurate information in our articles and lectures, and believe me, keeping up with the world of wine is a full-time job.

A few months ago I took a fascinating journey that I recommend to anyone: a wine adventure from the homelands of riesling in Germany, south through Alsace and Burgundy, into the embrace of Beaujolais’s lovely gamay and to the refreshing jugs of rosé in the south of France. I learned a lot, answered a lot of questions, and created many more.

With daily flights from various parts of Canada to Frankfurt, Germany, this is a wine route that is well suited for Canadians to get a taste of many different styles of European wine. The only difficulty is that at the end you are stuck in the south of France and you need to get back to Frankfurt. Or, maybe, you could just stay there, something I have been tempted by many times before. Here is part 1 of what I found out is happening on my road trip from Riesling to Rosé.

Germany

I set off on my trip in March with a visit to ProWein in Germany. ProWein is the annual trade wine show in Düsseldorf where the wine world, literally, comes to Germany. Talking to producers, it seems this show has become number one on the international calendar. I had two and half days to work through 5,800 wineries. As you can imagine, you need to have a plan and having appointments is highly recommended. But if you are in the trade, ProWein is definitely your one stop shop for accessing the world of wine.

I had never been to German wine country before this trip and was completely blown away by the severity of some of the vineyards, particularly in the Mosel and Rheingau. It is inconceivable today that anyone would plant vineyards on sheer, near-vertical cliffs, and even more so that anyone in this modern age would work them. I drove around for hours mesmerized by the staked vines clinging tenuously to the rock. It is not surprising that in some areas these steep vineyards are being abandoned, but the best of them make wine that is too good to ignore. The industrious Germans have found a way to make it work with trolley systems to transport grapes, and equipment strung up between the vines.

Rheingau VineyardRheingau Soil or rocks more like

Germany is one of those countries that seems to always be a step or two ahead of what is written in any textbook. Thankfully, most of us have managed to get over the misconception that Germany is all about cheap, sweet, fruity white wines, and most people now think of good quality, low alcohol, delicate yet intense Riesling that nicely walks the tightrope between residual sugar and vibrant acidity. This is the image of Germany through textbooks, but the reality on the ground is something different again. These sweeter wines are still made but most of it is for the export market. The Germans are drinking dry (trocken), powerful Rieslings that often are closer in style to those of Alsace or Austria than the German stereotype. They have been at it for a long time in Germany and change is inevitable. The kids running around at Peter Jakob Kühn winery were the 13th generation. I wonder how many guises German wine has been through in that time?

The other misconception is that Germany produces almost exclusively white wine. Riesling still, thankfully, has 22.9% of the acreage but Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) is up to 11.5% and Dornfelder up to 7.8%. Red varieties now account for over 35% of production, but we rarely see these in Canada (Canada is Germany’s fifth largest export market by value) because the Germans drink it all themselves. In Germany, you will get to try some pretty tasty Pinot Noir (See David Lawrason’s take on Germany and Pinot Noir here). Thirty years ago, at a time when many north Americans formed their opinions about German wines, red grapes made up only 13%. This is quite a significant change for the world’s tenth largest producer of wine.

VDP_Faehnchen_braun_RGBKünstler Hochheimer Hölle Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2013 Künstler Hochheimer Stielweg Old Vines Riesling Trocken 2013There is also a move away from the traditional Prädikat labelling (terms like Kabinett, Spätlese, etc.) to more of a single vineyard focus. The VDP (Verband Deutscher Qualitäts- und Prädikatsweingüter), known by its black eagle logo that appears on member’s bottles, is an association that has always focused on the combination of producer, site and quality. It uses a Burgundian model based on vineyard site, with the top wines known as Erste Lage or Grosse Lage, the Grand Crus of the movement. The dry wines from a Grosse Lage vineyard will be labelled Grosses Gewächs and be labelled Qualitätswein Trocken. Sweeter versions use the Prädikat terms.

A lot of the best wines I tasted are not available in Canada but a few of the producers I visited that do appear from time to time are Auguste Kesseler, Baron Knyphausen, Kloster Eberbach and Künstler. There were also delicious sparkling wines from Schloss Vaux but I haven’t seen these in Canada yet.

After Germany it is a just a few hours drive across a deserted border into France and Alsace.

France – Alsace

Being in Alsace is like being in a fairy tale, at least in some villages. It is a cross between Germany and France, therefore becoming its own unique world. The food is brown, hearty and German. But for wine, Alsace is like no other place on earth. It is not just the stunning terroir of near vertical vineyards but also the attitude of the people. Alsace is a bit of a hub for the natural, the biodynamic, for those who want their wines to express the terroir without the winemaker sticking his bag of tricks in the way. Certainly not all Alsatian wine is of this low-manipulation style but there are enough producers to make it a movement rather than just a novel rarity.

The best quality wines of Alsace, in my opinion, come in two different styles. There are those like Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Domaine Weinbach, Bott-Geyl and Barmès-Buecher who make incredibly interesting wines that vary from vintage to vintage and are never boring. The other style of top Alsatian wine is a little more predictable and is based on purity of flavours and intensity. I would put the wines of Domaine Zinck and Trimbach in this category.

There is a lot of character in the different terroirs of Alsace and these will often show through in the wines. Acidity, power, complexity, body and minerality all vary considerably from site to site and many producers make an impressive number of different wines.

Riesling is king, and to me, makes the best wines, but the Gewurztraminer is also something that can be very special in Alsace. Gewurz better suits the sweetness that the warm, dry, sunny Alsatian climate gives, handling it better than Pinot Gris, which can be overblown in alcohol levels. The Alsatians like to drink their Gewurz with a bit of age, something we don’t really do much in Canada, but a bit of time in the bottle serves to give a nice savoury edge and the wine drinks a little drier than the overt floral, fruity sweetness it often shows in its youth.

It can be hard work tasting in Alsace, not because the wines aren’t delicious, but because the curiosity of the producers means that many of them make dozens of different wines. At Zind-Humbrecht I tasted through 14 wines and it was amazing how different each wine was, showing how much terroir can differ within a region and how much it can influence the wines. Winemaking at Zind-Humbrecht is pretty hands off. It isn’t religiously “natural” winemaking in the extreme sense but the farming is biodynamic and basically the wines are left to do their own thing in big old vats, sometimes taking a year or more to finish fermenting in the cool cellar (the ambient temperature is about 8°C in winter) and often stopping with a smidge of residual sugar. The wines are always intensely flavoured, interesting and most of all have a wonderful texture that is hard to match in Riesling from other parts of the world.

Domaine Weinbach Furstentum Grand Cru Gewurztraminer 2011 Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Cuvée Laurence 2012I learned some interesting things about using horses in the vineyard too. Zind-Humbrecht uses two horses as part of their viticulture program, but to do the entire vineyard they would need 10-12 horses. The animals need feeding three hours before working and then can only work for three hours. It is slow going too, taking about one week to plow one hectare of vines. Basically it takes a horse five days to do what a tractor could in half a day. They now match the soil conditions to the choice of tractor or horse. In some cases the tractor can be too powerful and do more damage than good. I found this pretty fascinating stuff. For viticulture geeks there was plenty of ground breaking (no pun intended) stuff at Zind-Humbrecht; the most important thing about organic or biodynamic viticulture is how close the grower observes what is happening in the vineyard and can adapt unique management to the unique situations.

At Domaine Weinbach (a tasting of 13 wines) the wines are of a similar style to Zind-Humbrecht. They make wine from 120 different plots, and all the wines show intensity of flavour, rich textures and complexity. The Riesling and the Gewurztraminer again stood out for me as well as the delicious 2014 Sylvaner Reserve. Two of the Gewurztraminer are now available in BC, the delicious Cuvée Laurence 2012, and the crazy Furstentum Grand Cru 2011.

My next stop was at Bott-Geyl where I notched up a tasting of 19 wines. The single vineyard and Grand Cru Rieslings showed amazing minerality and great richness of texture. These wines are also wild ferments and spend up to a year in old wood before bottling.

Domaine Barmès Buecher Crémant 2012 Domaine Barmes Buecher Riesling Alsace Grand Cru Steingrübler 2011At Barmès-Buecher, the dynamic family team of Geneviève Barmès and her children Sophie and Max are creating some eclectic and often delicious naturally inspired wines from some of the old vineyards that came together when Geneviève Buecher and her late husband François Barmès started the winery in 1985, incorporating vineyards that had been in the families since the 17th century. The family was hit with tragedy in 2011 when François passed away, but his children Max and Sophie came to the rescue to help their mother and I don’t think I have ever met a nicer, more generous and more energetic family in the wine business. I tasted through another 19 wines with the three of them and found more rich, delicious, textured and layered Riesling showing off a number of different terroirs (nine different vineyards including three Grand Cru sites). Quebecers get the best selection including the tasty 2011 Riesling Steingrubler GC. The 2012 Crémant d’Alsace Brut is also a good value bubbly.

My final Alsace visit was at Domaine Zinck, in Eguisheim. I thought that storks’ nests on top of fairy tale-like buildings hundreds of years old was something only of movies and imagination, but in Eguisheim it is alive and well. So is the young family of Phillippe & Pascale Zinck of Domaine Zinck. The winery was started by Phillippe’s father Paul, and now runs 20 hectares of grapes spread over 50 plots ranging in size from the largest at 1.7 ha down to just 0.06 ha. It sounds like a logistical nightmare, but 15 ha is located around the town of Eguisheim. Phillippe was born in Eguisheim and is a strong believer that 80% of the flavour in the wine comes from the grapes. They mostly work with stainless steel but are slowly incorporating larger oak casks into the mix. Phillippe talks of the difficulty in making Pinot Gris, saying there is only a small window to harvest when you get the right balance. They must be pretty good at finding this because their Pinot Gris Portrait 2012 won the International Trophy Best Off-Dry at the 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards.

Paul Zinck Cremant d’Alsace Domaine Zinck Portrait Series RieslingThe Portrait Series Riesling 2013 is a good value choice and is available in BC through private stores. There is also a little bit of the Grand Cru Riesling around and both the Pfersigberg 2012, a chalky, mineral, laser wine, and the Eichberg 2012, plusher, richer and more exotic, were delicious. It is worth putting these away for a few years. As Phillippe puts it, “when the Grand Cru wines are young you can’t smell the terroir, it takes about 5 years and then you have both the fruit and the aged complexities.” There is also the delicious Zinck Cremant d’Alsace which is excellent value at just over $20 in BC.

I feel like in Western Canada we are missing a lot of the best of Alsace. The top wines are definitely the Rieslings but the market seems keener on the Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer here. It would be nice to see more people try these intense, mostly dry, mineral driven Rieslings and see what they are missing out on. 

Part 2 will see the adventure continue south into Beaujolais…

 

Rhys Pender, MW

 


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Laissez-vous surprendre par les vins d’Allemagne ! – Mardi 17 mai

Salon des vins allemands à Montréal

La tournée canadienne de Riesling & Co. fait escale à Montréal le 17 mai prochain à la Galerie Lounge TD

Afin de promouvoir les saveurs étonnantes et la polyvalence exceptionnelle des vins allemands, l’événement Riesling & Co. arrive à Montréal ce printemps.

vins d’Allemagne

En effet, le 17 mai prochain, une vingtaine de producteurs allemands proposant plus de 100 vins se rassembleront à la Galerie Lounge TD pour offrir aux invités la dégustation de vins allemands la plus exhaustive au pays. Des accords gourmands seront préparés par quatre chefs réputés : Michèle Forgione (Impasto, Gema, Chez Tousignant), Paul-André Piché (Gargantua, Blind Pig, La Tannerie), Tommy et Frédéric (Pork Shop) et Yoan Boullion (Balmoral).

« Quelle meilleure façon pour les amateurs de vins de découvrir la polyvalence des rieslings et pinots allemands, et de partager leur passion avec les vignerons invités, » affirme Mme Ulrike Lenhardt, de l’Institut des vins allemands, qui sera à Montréal spécialement pour l’occasion. Tant les sommeliers que les chroniqueurs, les œnophiles et les gastronomes s’entendent en effet pour dire que les vins allemands s’accordent très bien avec une variété de mets.

Les vins d’Allemagne, soumis dans ce pays à des lois rigoureuses, offrent une très grande variété de produits convenant à toutes les occasions, à toutes les cuisines et à tous les goûts.

Le secret de cette grande compatibilité, c’est la variété des styles (sec à sucré, mousseux ou tranquille), des cépages (riesling et pinot noir notamment, deux des plus populaires) et des degrés de richesse (de léger à corsé). Sans compter que grâce à un climat plus frais, les vins présentent généralement plus d’acidité (un élément vital aux meilleurs accords vins-mets) et un taux d’alcool moins élevé que leurs pairs issus de climats plus chauds.

Autre avantage de l’acidité plus élevée des vins allemands, ceux-ci se conservent mieux une fois ouverts. N’hésitez donc pas à ouvrir plus d’une bouteille et à déguster pour décider du meilleur accord pour l’occasion, car vous pourrez ranger les autres bouteilles ouvertes au réfrigérateur en prévision d’un prochain repas.

« Si vous n’êtes pas déjà friand de vins allemands, c’est que vous n’avez tout simplement pas encore trouvé celui qui vous convient !  »

Chose certaine, rien de tel que le salon des vins allemands du 17 mai prochain pour découvrir, par vous-même, à quel point nos vins et la cuisine apprêtée à toutes les sauces sont faits pour s’entendre.

C’est un rendez-vous !

Acheter vos billets

Acheter vos billets

DATE / LIEU :

Mardi 17 mai – Galerie Lounge TD, 2e étage, 305 rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest, Montréal H2X 3X5

Dégustation informelle – Goûtez à plus de 100 vins

  • Rencontrez plus de 20 vignerons et propriétaires
  • 18 h 30 à 22 h
  • Billets d’entrée : 60 $ avec le code CHACUNSONVIN — tous les échantillons de vins et d’aliments sont compris (prix courant 70 $ )
    Une partie des profits sera remise à la Tablée des chefs

Les amateurs de vins qui souhaitent participer à la dégustation en soirée sont invités à visiter : Soirée Riesling & Co. Vins d’Allemagne

Les abonnés de Chacun son Vin ont droit à un rabais de 10 $ sur le prix courant du billet d’entrée de 70 $. Indiquer le code promotionnel : CHACUNSONVIN

Acheter vos billets

Pour plus d’information, veuillez contacter : Elisabeth Charland, Brad
Tel: 514-871-1616 poste 269 /  elisabeth.charland@brad.ca

Acheter vos billets


 

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German Wine Fair – Toronto – May 18, 2016

Be Surprised by German Wines!

Riesling & Co. Canadian Tour stops in Toronto on May 18th at the Arcadian Loft

Back by popular demand, the Riesling & Co. 2016 German Wine Fair returns to Toronto this spring.

Wines of Germany logoOn May 18th, 35 celebrated German wineries offering 100+ wines will assemble at the Arcadian Loft to offer guests the most extensive German wine tasting in Canada. Many winemakers and winery principals will be on hand to discuss their fabulous wines with you. Food pairings will be prepared by Oliver and Bonacini.

Picture1“What better way for wine enthusiasts to discover the versatility of German Rieslings and Pinots, than when matched with the passion of the visiting winemakers,” notes Ulrike Lenhardt of the German Wine Institute, who will be in Toronto for the event.

Queen JosefineGuests will also have the opportunity to meet a real live Queen – German Wine Queen Josefine Schlumberger will be attending to educate visitors on German wines.

German wines are generally heralded as great food friendly wines. This is a very bold statement, but most sommeliers and other food and wine professionals will agree. In the belief that food and wine pairing is a very personal experience, you are encouraged to experiment and discover your own favourites.

Following strict wine laws, German wines offer great variety, and one can find a wine for any occasion, matching any food and satisfying almost anyone. If you don’t love German wines, you just haven’t found the right one for you.

 

WineAlign subscribers receive $10 off the regular ticket price of $75 with promo code WINEALIGN.

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Event Details: Walk-around tasting
Date: Wednesday, May 18th, 2016
Place:  Arcadian Loft, 8th Floor, 401 Bay Street, Toronto
Time: 6:30pm – 9:00pm Purchase Tickets
Tickets:  $65 with access code WINEALIGN (regular price $75)

Germany Tasting

Wine lovers interested in attending the evening tasting are encouraged to visit: www.ticketweb.ca for ticket information and search Riesling and Co. German Wine Fair.

For further information please contact: Lisa Ulrich, Wines of Germany c/o Andros Communications
Tel: 905 637 2100  lisa@androscom.com .

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Bill’s Best Bets – April 2016

The beautiful complexity that is Alsace
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

As I write this, I’m looking out my hotel window at the Strasbourg train station. It’s an interesting building – all glass, reminds me of a massive doughnut seen from its side. Figures they would make something so complicated yet strangely beautiful here. After all, this is Alsace.

Of all the world’s wine regions I have travelled, few stories are harder to tell than Alsace. What makes it any more complicated than any other region? Well, that’s a lot easier to answer.

The soils

The great wine regions have a variation in soil types, though they tend to be variations on a central theme. Germany’s Mosel has its slate. Chablis owes its distinctiveness to oyster laden Kimmeridgean soils. The Northern Rhône is primarily granite, and Burgundy is Burgundy because of its stratified limestone and clay.

Despite being only 50 km wide and around 100 km in length, Alsace has a dizzying array of soil types. A dominance of one type of rock in a soil will alter the growing conditions of the vine and ultimately, the final wine. In Alsace, there are six distinct families of soils and within those, dozens of subtle variants.

Maurice Barthelmé from Albert Mann revealing the _dirt_ about The Granc Cru Hengst

Maurice Barthelmé from Albert Mann revealing the dirt about The Granc Cru Hengst

So you get everything from granite to limestone, volcanic to shale, sand to marl. In practical terms the result is that the same grape can show very different personalities. Grown in granite, expect floral and fruity aromas and a delicate acidity. A slate soil will be very austere, and more dominated by acid. Limestone brings citrus notes and depending on the amount of clay will bring more or less body.

The grapes

When you travel through Chablis, with its one grape variety and one soil type, you are tasting how chardonnay changes its expression depending on subtle variations in exposition and climate.

In Alsace, there are five main grapes: riesling, muscat, pinot blanc, pinot gris and gewurztraminer. There is also excellent pinot noir and auxerrois which is often blended in with pinot blanc and sylvaner. That’s eight different varieties for only 15,000 hectares of vines. Burgundy, excluding Beaujolais, has roughly twice as much vineyard but grows predominately two grapes, chardonnay and pinot noir.

Riesling growing in the Steinart Grand Cru

Riesling growing in the Steinart Grand Cru

There are also different perspectives on what is “ripe.” Some winemakers are looking for botryitis, or noble rot, in their wines so they tend to have some sweetness. Others are pushing for as dry as possible, which is definitely more a tendency, especially amongst the younger winemakers. Both are great, but again, very different wines.

So herein lies the dilemma. A riesling, for example, can be grown in a wide variety of soils, harvested at different levels of ripeness, and made in a wide variety of ways. How can you possibly say it is “one thing.” You simply can’t.

The people

In my many travels, I have never witnessed a place with such an interesting and deeply rooted culture. They have so much in common with each other, such pride, yet can have such different visions.

It is a region of intense religiosity and spirituality. Both Catholic and Protestant influences can be seen everywhere. It is the meeting ground of the Latin and Germanic cultures. The region has bounced back and forth between German and French control to the point that even their traditional dialect is a blend of German and French.

How complex are Alsatian soils_ Pierre Gassmann showing me 20 different rock types collected around his village

Pierre Gassmann showing me 20 different rock types collected around his village

One of the results of this mix of French rationalism and love for terroir, and the more Germanic love for nature, is that Alsace is one of the most environmentally conscious regions I have ever visited. It is the spiritual home for bio-dynamic grape growing. Organic viticulture is more the rule here than the exception.

So in the spirit of embracing the plurality of expressions and the complexity, suffice to say that centuries of wine making history, combined with the world’s greatest soils and noble grapes which are perfectly adapted to the terroir, no matter what you find in your glass, there’s a good chance it will be very worthy of your interest.

For those of you new to Alsace, a great place to start is with a blend. While each winery does it differently, what is often labelled “Gentil” must be composed of a minimum of 50% riesling, muscat, pinot gris and/or gewurztraminer. Try the 2012 Trilogie from Barmes-Buecher for its minerality and reserved fruit, or the more expressive, fruitier and slightly sweet 2014 Black Tie from Pfaffenheim.

Domaine Barmès Buecher Trilogie 2012Pfaffenheim Black Tie Pinot Gris Riesling 2014 Josmeyer Mise Du Printemps Pinot Blanc 2014 Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2014 Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Hengst 2012

With snow crab being in season, time to go pinot blanc. Delicate and nuanced, it will support the sweet and subtle flesh of the crab to perfection. If you can find a bottle, try the 2014 Mise de Printemps from Josmeyer. Simply put, an extraordinary wine. A classic which once again does the job well, the 2014 Pinot Banc from Trimbach won’t let you down.

Pinot gris is the most mysterious of the Alsatian grapes. The Grand Cru wines can lived for decades, and properly should be drunk after a decade in bottle as time allows for them to “eat up” their sweetness and develop amazing complexity. If you are into cellaring wines, then pick up a few bottles of the 2012 Grand Cru Hengst from Albert Mann. This is a beast with its apricot and lemon notes and is so richly textured. A touch more accessible, the 2013 Loberger Weingarten is a touch leaner yet shows great finesse. If you want it completely dry, then pick up the great gris from Leon Beyer.

Now on to riesling. Sadly, just last week we learned that Etienne Hugel passed away. He was a great ambassador for both his family estate and for the wines of Alsace in general. One of my go-to wines has always come from Hugel. Their basic riesling is dry and mineral, but with texture – classic Alsace riesling. And the 2014 lives up to its reputation. If you want a wine with more texture and just a bare hint of sweetness, the 2014 Vignoble d’E from Ostertag is an excellent wine, and ideal for a spicy stir fry.

Domaine J. Loberger Pinot Gris Weingarten 2013 Léon Beyer Pinot Gris 2013 Hugel Riesling 2014 Vignoble d'E from Ostertag Jean Louis Schoepfer Gewurztraminer 2014 Domaine Weinbach Cuvée Théo Gewurztraminer 2014

And finally, for you fans of powerful wines with no lack of aromatics, two gewurztraminers that are textbook. The 2014 from Jean Louis Schoepfer is quite dry but does not lack in texture but shows nicely restrained aromas. If you want a more classic gewurz, which shows layers of richness, spice and fruit, then look no further than the 2014 Cuvee Theo from Weinbach. In my books, one of the classic expressions of the grape. Bring on the Munster cheese.

Bill

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

You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to Chacun son vin 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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Les bons choix de Nadia – Février 2016

De grands terroirs sous-estimés
par Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier

Le monde du vin est vaste. De plus en plus vaste. L’année dernière, on recensait une soixantaine de pays producteurs. La France, l’Italie, les États-Unis et l’Espagne dans le peloton de tête; la Lettonie, le Kyrgyzstan et le Zimbabwe comme bons derniers.

Le Zimbabwe, quand même!

Malgré cette apparente diversité, j’ai l’impression de vous parler sans cesse des mêmes appellations, des mêmes vins. Évidemment, on ne peut réinventer la roue – qu’elle ait trois ou quatre boutons – à chaque chronique. Puis, comme notre travail consiste avant tout à vous guider dans vos achats, nos recommandations sont tributaires de l’offre à la SAQ.

La sélection du Cellier du mois de février, par exemple, est somme toute assez conservatrice. Outre quelques exceptions, l’offre se résume aux régions européennes classiques : Bordeaux, Madiran, Cahors, Sancerre, Barolo, Rioja, Douro et quelques vins de Toscane. Cela dit, bien que peu novatrice, la sélection compte de très bons achats, tous commentés plus bas.

Mais pour être certaine de ne pas vous laisser sur votre soif, je vous donne en prime quelques suggestions de vins abordables qui proviennent de régions encore trop souvent sous-estimées, sinon snobées.

À la vôtre!

Dão, Portugal 

Carvalhais Duque De Viseu Red 2013 Quinta Das Maias Dâo 2012Avec les investissements soutenus dont elle bénéficie depuis une vingtaine d’années, cette région qui a beaucoup souffert du monopole de coopératives instauré sous la dictature, est en voie de réhabilitation. Si les vins de table du Douro ont été la révélation portugaise des années 1990, ceux du Dão pourraient d’ailleurs être celle de la présente décennie.

Au Portugal, on entend souvent dire que les vins du Dão empruntent certains traits caractéristiques à ceux de la Bourgogne ou du Beaujolais. Fruité et goulayant, doté d’une certaine mâche tannique, tout en conservant une immense « buvabilité ». Le cépage touriga nacional n’a pourtant rien en commun avec le pinot noir ou le gamay et donne plutôt des vins puissants et tanniques dans le Douro. Mais sur les sols de granit du Dão, où il profite autant de la fraîcheur de l’océan atlantique que de celle des montagnes, il est la source de vins élégants et tout en nuances, comme le Quinta das Maias 2012, ou le Duque de Viseu 2013. Tous deux vendus sous la barre des 20 $. 

Muscadet, France

Depuis une dizaine d’années, les vins du Muscadet sont enfin sortis des limbes. grâce au travail d’une poignée de vignerons qui ont redonné leurs lettres de noblesse à ces vignobles situés au sud-est de Nantes. La région en avait grand besoin : le muscadet est sans doute l’un des vins blancs dont la réputation a le plus souffert de la vague industrielle qui a régné sur plusieurs vignobles de France après la seconde moitié du 20e siècle.

Soumis à des rendements immenses, le cépage local melon de bourgogne n’a longtemps donné que de petits vins vif et sans âme. Le muscadet constitue une excellente alternative économique pour les amateurs de vins blancs secs, non-boisés et désaltérant comme ceux de Chablis. Ses notes salines et minérales évoquent tantôt les coquilles d’huîtres, tantôt l’odeur de cailloux chauffés au soleil.

Les meilleurs vins de l’appellation peuvent aussi reposer en cave pendant une bonne dizaine d’années. Ils acquièrent alors des arômes des notes d’hydrocarbures et de cire d’abeille qui rappellent de vieux rieslings.

Guy Bossard (Domaine de l’Écu) a été l’un des premiers vignerons à redynamiser le Muscadet. Évoluant à contrecourant, il a en converti à l’agriculture biologique dès 1975, le domaine familial aujourd’hui géré de façon tout aussi rigoureuse par Fréderic Niger Van Herck. La cuvée Granite 2013 est l’un des beaux exemples du genre à la SAQ. 

Maule, Chili

Ce qui se passe en ce moment dans le vignoble chilien est fascinant. Un vent de renouveau souffle sur le pays depuis quelques années, entrainant sur son passage de nouvelles générations de vignerons. Rien à voir cependant avec la révolution technologique et oenologique qui avait permis de moderniser les méthodes de vinification dans les années 1980 et d’accroitre la concentration. Certains vous diront qu’il s’agit plutôt d’un retour en arrière : des raisins cueillis moins mûrs, moins d’interventions au chai et aussi moins de bois neuf.

Frappés par la sècheresse dans les régions viticoles les plus septentrionales, plusieurs acteurs importants de l’industrie viticole chilienne manifestent un intérêt croissant pour les régions de Maule et d’Itata. Les cépages carignan, cinsault et país – dont plusieurs vignes centenaires qui abondent dans ce secteur – sont maintenant pris au sérieux et donnent des vins aussi authentiques que délicieux.

Élaboré par Pedro Parra, chasseur de terroir et ambassadeur du renouveau chilien, le Clos des Fous Cauquenina 2013 est l’archétype du vrai vin de terroir. Issu de vignes âgées de 80 ans en moyenne (carignan, malbec, syrah, país, cinsault et carmenère) il évoque autant la terre que du fruit, par ses parfums de feuilles mortes et ses tanins un peu granuleux.

Domaine de L'ecu Granite 2013 Clos des Fous Cauquenina 2013 Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese Trocken 2014

Les riesling allemands… secs! 

Malgré la croyance populaire, tous les rieslings germaniques ne sont pas doux. À visiter les régions viticoles d’Allemagne, on pourrait même croire que les rieslings demi-secs sont une espèce menacée. Depuis une bonne trentaine d’années, les Allemands ont largement adopté les vins secs, dépourvus de sucre résiduel, au détriment de tout autre style de vin. En fait, la survie des riesling demi-sec tel qu’on les connait repose essentiellement sur la demande des acheteurs étrangers.

Au 19e siècle, les vins germaniques étaient plus secs que ceux de France et titraient jusqu’à 12,5 % d’alcool. Ce n’est qu’après la Première guerre mondiale que les vins ont commencé à évoluer vers un style demi-sec. Pour des raisons financières, les entreprises viticoles ont été contraintes d’accélérer le processus des vinifications. Ainsi, plutôt que de laisser le sucre présent dans le moût de raisins se transformer complétement en alcool – ce qui pouvait prendre un an voire plus, si la température extérieure ralentissait l’action des levures – plusieurs ont entrepris de bloquer la fermentation au printemps, lorsque les vins avaient encore une généreuse quantité de sucre résiduel. Ils pouvaient alors mettre le vin en bouteilles dès l’été et l’expédier avant la prochaine vendange.

Pour redécouvrir le riesling allemand sur un mode sec, vif et tranchant, goûtez le Riesling Trocken 2014 de la maison Kerpen, produit sur les des coteaux vertigineux du cru Wehlener Sonnenuhr, dans la Mittelmosel. Qu’un vin apte à vieillir et provenant d’un des plus grands terroirs viticoles de la planète coûte moins de 25 $ devrait suffire à vous convaincre de l’essayer. 

Cellier – Février 

En rafale, mes coups de cœur parmi les vins qui ont été mis en marché les 4 et 18 février dans le cadre du lancement du dernier Cellier. Pour consulter la liste complète des vins du dernier arrivage, commentés par Marc Chapleau, Bill Zacharkiw et moi, cliquez ICI.

Le Château Cormeil-Figeac, propriété de la famille Moreaud, fait face aux châteaux Figeac et Cheval-Blanc, à Saint-Émilion. En 2010, Coraline et Victor ont produit un vin harmonieux, franc et net, qui marie la rondeur du merlot à la vivacité du cabernet franc, avec un esprit de dépouillement qui fait le charme des bons bordeaux classiques. (38 $)

Château Cormeil Figeac 2010 Péraclos 2010 Michel Rolland Bordeaux 2010 Château La Fleur Pourret 2009 Château de Cenac Cuvée Prestige Malbec 2011

Le Péraclos 2010, Montagne Saint-Émilion offre une interprétation ambitieuse de ce terroir secondaire de la rive-droite. Encore jeune et marqué par l’élevage; compact et conçu pour plaire aux amateurs de vins costauds. (19,95 $) Nettement plus rond et accessible dès aujourd’hui, le Bordeaux 2010 de Michel Rolland est l’expression même d’un merlot mûr, gorgé de saveurs confites et porté par des tanins rond. (21,60 $) Dans le même registre, le Château La Fleur Pourret, Saint-Émilion grand cru 2009 affiche la générosité caractéristique du millésime. Le vin est cependant tissé de tanins assez fermes et n’accuse aucune lourdeur en bouche. (31 $)

Bon vin de Cahors issu à 100 % de malbec, le Château Cénac, Cahors 2011, Cuvée Prestige s’avère plus aromatique que concentré ou puissant. Droit et assez bien tourné. (17,50 $)

Dans le Piémont, Sergio Germano élabore des vins de facture moderne, qui mettent à contribution les barriques neuves. Son Barolo 2010 est gorgé de fruit et d’épices et soutenu par des tanins compacts. Encore jeune et très vigoureux, il devrait se bonifier d’ici 2018. (49,75 $)

Ettore Germano Barolo 2010 Marqués de Murrieta Finca Ygay Reserva 2010 Lavradores de Feitoria Douro 2013 Alves de Sousa Gaivosa Primeros Anos 2012 Guy Breton Régnié 2013

Célèbre pour sa cuvée Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva, Marques de Murrieta produit aussi une version Reserva commercialisée sous le simple nom de Ygay. Le Rioja Reserva 2010 est une belle bouteille à revoir dans 5-6 ans. (29,70 $) 

Disponible en très bonnes quantités dans le réseau et vendu pour moins de 15 $, le Lavradores de Feitoria, Douro 2013 ne titre que 13 % d’alcool, mais il a beaucoup de volume en bouche. À ce prix, on serait fou de s’en passer. (14,80 $) Un peu plus riche et boisé, le Gaivosa 2012, Primeros Anos, Douro est joufflu et assez rassasiant à sa manière. (20,95 $) 

Et pour terminer sur une note de légèreté, le Régnié 2013 de Guy Breton fera le plus grand bonheur des amoureux du gamay. Comme plusieurs vignerons de la région, Breton a fait ses classes aux côtés de Jules Chauvet, père du mouvement des vins naturels. Son Régnié est souple, coulant, gorgé de fruit et irrésistiblement digeste. (28,30 $)

Santé!

Nadia Fournier

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 60 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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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 21st – Part Two

Southwest France, Riesling & the Best of the Rest
By John Szabo MS with notes from Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The deep southwest remains one of those lost and misunderstood corners of France, as seemingly impenetrable as the local accent. I’ll never forget watching a news report in Paris in which a farmer from the Gers, a region to the west of Toulouse, was being interviewed. His accent was so thick the TV station posted subtitles so the rest of France could understand.

The region’s two marquee appellations, Cahors and Madiran, featured in the March 21st release, could likewise use some subtitles to help consumers understand them a little better. I was also inspired by a quartet of rieslings from three classic regions, and Sara and I have a handful of additional smart buys for you, filling in the gaps while David continues his peripatetic wine research.

Buyers’ Guide March 21st:
Southwest France, Cahors, Madiran & Fronton: Lost in Translation

Cahors

Considering Argentina’s success with malbec, a grape that originates in southwest France on either side of the Lot River near the town of Cahors, you’d have thought that some reflected spotlight would have shone back home. But I’d wager that most enthusiastic drinkers of deeply fruity malbec from Mendoza would have little inkling of the grape’s true origins, a perfectly understandable knowledge gap considering for one that the French original is rarely labeled with the name of the grape, but more importantly, how radically different the two styles are.

Ironically, these days it’s Argentina that has a more clearly defined style for the variety, and the old world is busy reinventing itself. It’s been fifteen years since I’ve been to that corner of France, so I asked local writer and wine importer Alain Laliberté for his most recent impressions of the region – Laliberté is somewhat of a specialist and has travelled there on many occasions over the last decade for his importing business.

“A generation of young producers have picked up the baton since the turn of the century, with a far more rigorous approach to quality than the previous generation. And they’ve already had a big impact”, he reveals [my translation]. “The rustic, bony wines of the ‘70s, ’80s and even ‘90s, with their drying tannins, have ceded place to structured wines that are more like an iron fist in a velvet glove.”

Cahors has indeed improved a great deal, and the top examples highlight malbec’s floral character, like a field of violets, and bring graceful natural acidity to bear on chiseled tannins, lifting and framing the wine. It was in fact that naturally high acid working with green tannins in the past that made the old “black wine” of Cahors so unruly.

Pont-Valentré, Cahors. (Photo from tripadvisor.ca)

Pont-Valentré, Cahors. (Photo from tripadvisor.ca)

There are also notable style differences depending on precisely where the grapes are grown, as the Cahors appellation has three distinct areas. “Malbec from the low-lying, gently inclined parcels facing the Lot River are less dense”, Laliberté confirms, “while the elevated inclines above produce more structured wines.” The Cahors most suitable for long ageing, however, are those grown on the iron-rich limestone plateau that sits above the river and the other two areas, which yields the most firm and dense wines, according to Laliberté, but also the most finessed. Clos Troteligotte, one of the producers Laliberté represents, has vines on the plateau and produces no fewer than six malbec cuvées according to the concentration of iron in each micro-parcel. (Clos Troteligotte K-Or Cahors 2012 is set to be released in April or May).

For more immediate gratification, try the Château Pineraie 2011 l’Authentique ($39.95) from this release. It’s a bold and seriously pure malbec from the plateau. Sixty year-old vines are harvested very ripe and grapes are fermented in wooden vats (more oxygen, softer tannins) before ageing in barriques, 2/3rds of which are new, for a year and a half. The net result is a dense and supple wine with excellent quality tannins: ripe but firm, fine-grained and neatly woven. Even at the premium price this over-delivers. Best 2015-2026.

Madiran

Tannat, the principal variety in the appellation of Madiran even further southwest of Cahors in Basque country, has yet to really garner any significant international attention. Unlikely Uruguay has made it somewhat of a signature variety, and I’ve seen it pop up in regions as far-flung as Greece and Australia, but its wiry, impermeable character make even malbec look like a plush and cuddly stuffed animal, and has limited its appeal in a new world looking above all for soft, fruity wines. During my first visit to Madiran in 2000, my palate was stripped of all flesh and saliva after a barrel tasting of just four wines, needing a full afternoon to recover from the blitzkrieg of tannin.

It’s not tough to imagine why micro-oxidation (or “micro-ox”), a technique of gently dosing wine with oxygen bubbles to soften tannins, would have been invented here to deal with tannat. But as in Cahors, more attentive viticulture, lower yields, and riper grapes have altered the style landscape. Also, in theory tannat need only represent 40% of a Madiran final blend, even if in practice the percentage is much higher, and producers have the option of adding cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon or fer to complement (it’s telling that cabernet sauvignon would be considered a softening variety here).

Château Pineraie l'Authentique Cahors 2011 Château Peyros Vieilles Vignes Madiran 2009 Château Bellevue La Forêt 2011

Most take advantage of the rules and blend 20%-30% of other grapes, as in Château Peyros 2009 Vieilles Vignes Madiran ($18.95). For this old vines cuvée, average 50 year-old Tannat is blended with 20% of cabernet franc to great effect yielding a very pretty, violet-scented example with an engaging medicinal note, like walking into an herbalist’s shop. For the money you’d be hard pressed to find more complexity; this is a flavour trip into wonderland. Now five years on it’s drinking very well, though it’s still Tannat, and tight tannins call for salty protein. Best 2015-2021.

Fronton

It seems only one estate waves the flag internationally for the small AOC of Fronton north of Toulouse and its unique specialty, négrette. Sara d’Amato recommends it:Château Bellevue La Forêt 2011 ($13.95). The blend is primarily made up of négrette, a grape found in very few places outside of Fronton or the southwest. As the name suggests, it produces deeply coloured wines, spicy with medium tannins but short on acids. In this case it is blended with syrah (adding appealing notes of black pepper and purple flower), cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. Impactful and memorable.”

Buyers’ Guide March 21st: Riesling Rules!

A quartet of excellent rieslings from regions with proven track records of success – Germany, Alsace and Ontario – inspired this mini-thematic. Gather your tasting group and line these up for a thorough schooling in riesling styles. Lovers of classic Mosel will find happiness in the Dr. Hermann 2010 Erdener Treppchen Kabinett Riesling ($17.95). It would be hard to imagine stuffing more regionally distinctive character, and just plain lots of wine, into a bottle for less. And if you saw how steep and difficult to farm the Treppchen vineyard is, you’d almost feel guilty. Almost. This wine will live on until the early ‘30s no doubt.

Ontario is by now internationally recognized for the quality of its riesling, and March 21st sees two of the finest examples offered. Since the first vintage in 2002, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling ($19.95) has turned heads. The 2013 is yet another lean, tightly wound, sharp riesling the way we like them, finely woven and very nicely balanced. Drink or hold until the early ‘20s.

And with an even longer track record, and some of the oldest riesling vines in Canada panted in the late 1970s, Vineland Estates 2012 Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling ($19.95) continues on in the Germanic tradition, carrying amazing flavour intensity on a featherweight, 9% alcohol frame. I like the off-dry, crisp-balanced, spiced apple flavours and the lingering apple blossom finish. Drink through 2022.

Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Kabinett Riesling 2010 Flat Rock Nadja's Vineyard Riesling 2013 Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012 Trimbach Riesling 2012

If you prefer your riesling fully dry and upright, you need only knock on the centuries old house of Trimbach, where dry riesling has been a specialty since 1626. The 2012 Trimbach Riesling ($21.95) is a terrific, arch-classic dry Alsatian style with deceptive intensity and length on a seemingly light frame. This quivers and reverberates on and on. Best 2015-2022.

Buyers’ Guide March 21st: More Smart Buys

Force Majeure 2011 Collaboration Series VI Red Mountain, Columbia Valley ($64.95)

John Szabo – In a short time Red Mountain has become Washington State’s premium red wine AVA, and Force Majeure one of its maximum interpreters. Paul McBride planted his first vines in 2006, but while waiting for them to mature, embarked on a series of collaborative wines with Ciel du Cheval vineyard. The series is being phased out as estate fruit comes into production, so it’s unlikely we’ll see this again, a sturdy and well-structured blend of mourvèdre and syrah with a splash of grenache offering plenty of dark fruit and spice, integrated wood, and liqueur-like concentration. Best 2017-2026.

Tinto Pesquera 2010 Reserva, DO Ribera del Duero, Spain ($44.95)

John Szabo – One of my first great wine moments involved a bottle of Pesquera, and happily, some years later, the wine is still as memorable. There are few places, and indeed fewer wines on earth that can pull off such a fine balance of fruit and oak, structure and suppleness. This wine also ages magnificently, and I recommend cellaring another three years or so before making your own memories. Best 2018-2030.
Sara d’Amato – An iconic, generous wine sure to etch itself in your memory. Drink selfishly or please, give a taste to a first time wine drinker and you may just be responsible for the birth of a new oenophile.

Force Majeure Collaboration Series VI 2011 Tinto Pesquera Reserva 2010 Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette de Limoux E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2013

Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Languedoc, France ($18.95)

Sara d’Amato – Limoux is known as the “original Champagne” as the bubbly was thought to have come about in the 16th century, close to 200 years before Champagne became prominent. With lots of depth, succulence and creaminess, this appealing and frothy example has me wanting to celebrate.

E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2012, Rhône, France ($18.95)

Sara d’Amato – White Rhône floats my boat and it is a shame we see it so infrequently on our shelves. This is a fine, well-priced southern example, very characteristic and easy to appreciate. Notes of lush apricot, lavender and crunchy sea salt will have you salivating. Try with white fish in a peppery lemon butter sauce.

That’s all for this week. But in case you missed it, check out d’Amato’s and my report on Cuvée 2015 and the best from Ontario, complete with compromising photographs! See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES March 21, 2015:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
March 21st Part One – Icon Wines Demystified
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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Niagara Riesling: Making the Case

Ontario Wine Report
John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Is riesling Niagara’s most reliable grape? Aside from indestructible hybrids like vidal, most local growers point to either riesling or chardonnay as the best performing white grapes in Ontario. And I’d argue that while top Niagara Chardonnays are surely excellent, they also come at a price, usually $25 and up for the best, and often over $50. Fine riesling on the other hand, can regularly be had for under $15, while even at the very top end prices have yet to exceed $40.

The style and flavor spectrums for chardonnay and riesling are of course not comparable, but if you’re looking for regional and varietal paradigms, riesling wins on value every time. And when it comes to ageability, riesling is hard to beat. I recently tried a 1989 Vineland semi-dry riesling that was astonishingly good, a wine that cost well under $10 on release.

Some of the oldest vines in Niagara are riesling, with several parcels planted back in the late 1970s still producing. These old vines are the origin of some of Niagara’s best. Geeks will revel in discussions over clones and the subtly different wines they produce; Weiss 21 brought by Hermann Weiss to Vineland Estates from the Mosel is the most widely planted, producing a tighter, leaner more citrus-driven style. The so-called Clone 49, an Alsatian clone, delivers a broader, fuller, more pear-flavoured riesling in my experience. But of course it’s the dirt that matters most, a fact put into clear relief after a recent riesling-focused tour through Niagara wine country.

Vertical Tastings of some of the best Niagara Rieslings

According to Tom Penachetti of Cave Spring, vine age and soil depth are critical quality factors. “The sweet spot is on the bench under the Escarpment”, he says, referring to mainly the Beamsville Bench and Twenty Mile Bench Sub-appellations. Hydrology, or water availability, is one of the reasons, with the best sites benefitting from the springs and ground water that drain off of the Niagara Escapment.

Soils are thinner on top of the escarpment, Penachetti continues, and can dry out too quickly, or retain too much water. He believes the sites with heavier clays are best for riesling. But there are exceptions, such as the excellent Charles Baker’s Picone vineyard Riesling and Tawse’s Quarry Road Riesling, both from the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation on top of the Escarpment.

Soils further from the Escarpment, down by shores of Lake Ontario tend to be more sandy, with less clay and limestone, and tend to produce softer, fruitier, more peachy Rieslings. Yet even here, a few patches of heavier clays such as the vineyard at Back Ten Cellars, what the locals call “the brickyard”, yield more nervy, compact wines.

In any case, Niagara has much to offer in a range of styles. Here are a few to seek out to conduct your own tour of Niagara Riesling. Click on each for full tasting notes.

Top Values: Both Inexpensive and Representative

Vineland Estates 2013 Dry Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench ($13.95). A regional paradigm, with apple cherry blossom and green apple aromatics, lovely crisp acids and surprising depth.

Vineland Estates 2013 Semi-Dry Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench ($13.95). All from the original St. Urban’s Vineyard planted in the late 1970s. Although semi-dry, this is beautifully balanced between  generous and fleshy texture and lean and taught acids. There’s a fine, elegant bitterness from phenolics, which also helps to dry out the palate.

Vineland Estates 2013 Dry Riesling Vineland Estates Riesling Semi Dry VQA 2013 No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver Cave Spring Estate Riesling 2012

Château des Charmes 2012 Riesling Old Vines, Niagara-on-the-Lake ($16.95). This wine captures the richer style of riesling from the warmest part of Niagara (mostly St. David’s Bench fruit), widely appealing in the fuller and broader riesling category.

Cave Spring 2012 Riesling Estate, Beamsville Bench ($17.95). A very fine vintage for this reliable wine, ripe and verging on exotic, even if winemaker Angelo Pavan doesn’t use any aroma-enhancing enzymes, believing that it sacrifices too much texture (enzymes split sugars and make them unavailable for fermentation and hence glycerol/alcohol production).

Top Escarpment/Bench Sites: A Glassful of Limestone

Tawse 2012 Carly’s Block, Twenty Mile Bench ($31.95). From Tawse’s oldest riesling block planted in 1978, this is one of the top Rieslings of the vintage in my view. Considering its track record, this should age beautifully – I’d revisit after 2016 for maximum enjoyment.

Tawse 2012 Quarry Road Vineyard, Vinemount Ridge ($23.95). Quarry Road is on top of the Niagara Escarpment, planted 50-50 with Clone 49 and Weiss 21. I’ve tasted the 2012 a couple of times now, and the wine seems to be gaining in tightness and freshness, amazingly enough. Relative to the Carly’s Block, this is a tight and angular expression, though the balance is pitch perfect.

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2012 Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2010 Fielding Estate Lot 17 Riesling Fielding Vineyard 2013

Cave Spring 2010 CSV Riesling, Beamsville Bench ($29.95). Another Niagara classic, the CSV is always built to age. It’s one of the broader and fuller styles of Ontario riesling, and the 2012 reflects both the later harvest (full ripeness) policy of the house and the warm vintage. I’d suggest enjoying this anytime over the next half dozen years.

Fielding Estate 2013 Riesling Lot 17, Beamsville Bench ($27.95). From 17 rows of the oldest riesling on the estate planted in 2000 with clone 49, this is very pear-driven, off-dry, zesty and crisp, though edging to a drier style with each vintage it seems. It’s the finest riesling from Fielding to date.

Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Riesling Wood Post ($30); Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Riesling Steel Post ($30); Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Riesling Triangle Vineyard ($30). Here’s a chance to do a perfect side-by-side comparative tasting of three different vineyards all made in the exact some way, all from the estate vineyards on the Beamsville Bench, from vines of approximately the same age. Thirty Bench has done in-depth studies on their terroir and there are indeed measureable differences, so it’s not just your imagination.  See if you can pick up the The “Wood Post’s intriguing herbal-pine needle nuances, the Steel Post’s perfect pitch and green apple citrus-lime character, and the richness of the Triangle Vineyard, the most forward and generous of the series.

Thirty Bench Small Lot Wood Post Riesling 2012 Thirty Bench Small Lot Steel Post Vineyard 2012 Thirty Bench Small Lot Triangle Vineyard Riesling 2012Showcase Ghost Creek Riesling 2012Back 10 Cellars The Big Reach Riesling 2012

Top Lakeshore/Niagara-on-the-Lake Rieslings – The broader, fuller styles

Trius 2012 Showcase Ghost Creek Riesling, Four Mile Creek ($25). Ghost Creek is one of the original Hillebrand vineyards planted in the 1980s, though this hails from a more recent planting with clone 49. The vineyard sits on an old, very stony, dried up creek bed with shale and limestone and thus good drainage. The 2012 is a full and fleshy, ripe and substantial wine, one of the best from the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation.

Back 10 Cellars 2012 The Big Reach Riesling, Lincoln Lakeshore ($25). The Back Ten Cellars vineyard sits on heavy red clay soils in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation, in which yields of a measly 2 tons per acre are considered successful. For this wine only free-run juice is used. It’s quite a broad and full wine with evident concentration, denser and more compact than Bench Rieslings.

Vinemount Ridge – for acid Freaks

Charles Baker 2012 Riesling Picone Vineyard, Vinemount Ridge ($35). From now 35 year old vines in this vintage, the 2012 is rivetingly tight and pure, concise and focused, in my view the finest Picone Vineyard riesling to date, even after the excellent 2011.

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver

Flat Rock Nadja's Vineyard Riesling 2013

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012Flat Rock Cellars 2013 Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench ($19.95). Nadja’s vineyard was planted in 2000, a two-ha parcel just under the top of the Escarpment and Flatrock’s coolest site, ripening up to two weeks later than the parcel below the winery. This is fragrant and pretty, lean and tightly wound example of Niagara Riesling.

2027 Cellars 2012 Falls Vineyard Riesling, Vinemount Ridge ($25). Falls vineyard is 2027 Cellars’ tightest and most riveting riesling, true to sub-appellation, with significant minerality.

The Stylistic Outlier

Pearl-Morissette 2012 Riesling Cuvée Foudre “Black Ball”, Twenty Mile Bench ($25). This wine is not yet released and it remains to be determined whether it will be labeled as VQA Riesling, or VQA at all, as François Morissette tells me it has already been rejected twice by the VQA tasting panel, even though it has past the laboratory analysis and been deemed chemically stable. (It was also rejected in past vintages, which is the origin of the cuvée name “Black Ball). In any case, it doesn’t fall into any known model of Ontario riesling, being at once fully dry with malolatic fermentation fully finished, and aged in large old foudres from Alsace and bottled unfined and unfiltered with minimal sulphur. It’s a wine of texture more than aromatics, and you’ll need to think along the lines of other stylistic outliers like, say André Ostertag in Epfig or Clemens-Busch in the Mosel, to really get this.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Remember, however, that to read all of the reviews you do need to subscribe (only $40/year). Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


 

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The Successful Collector – Wachau Riesling

Austria’s greatest white wines?
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Conversing with colleague — and my former instructor — John Szabo MS several months back, I was shocked to learn that riesling accounts for less than 5 per cent of total plantings in Austria. 4.1 per cent, to be precise. How can this be? Would someone explain why Austria, home to the wondrous Wachau, one of the greatest and most beautiful winegrowing regions in the world, produces such minuscule quantities of this magnificent grape?

As a partial explanation, it is only relatively recently that the potential for riesling in the Wachau and nearby regions has been meaningfully set to purpose by more than just a handful of producers. Unfortunately, this means that overall plantings have had to play an unwinnable game of catch-up with grüner veltliner, Austria’s most famous grape, red or white, for popular recognition. Not that this has discouraged producers from expanding their holdings throughout this glorious 20-km stretch of the river. Based mainly on extremely steep terraces overlooking the water, the best riesling parcels are usually found on the upper slopes, where soils consist mainly of granite, gneiss, and mica-schist.

Wachau Map (Courtesy Domäne Wachau)

For the most part, great Wachau riesling is often low-keyed in youth, routinely consisting of steely green fruits intermixed with lemon citrus, herbs, and an abundance of minerals. Yet with just a smidgen of bottle age (depending on the wine), more honeyed, kerosene, and nut-driven impressions seem to take over. Cellaring capability is extremely high, the best examples potentially lasting for at least a few decades. The richest and longest lived are those labeled ‘Smaragd’ (named after a local lizard), with alcohol levels at 12.5 per cent or higher. Wines labeled ‘Federspiel’ (11.5 – 12.5 per cent) are usually drier and less pronounced, while those labeled ‘Steinfeder’ (up to 11.5 per cent) are the lightest.

At this year’s VieVinum in Vienna, I discovered a great deal about the Wachau’s greatest vineyards. Out of 900-odd Rieden (or sites), about a dozen stand above the rest for riesling. Furthest west, along the Spitzer Graben tributary, Bruck is situated on an extremely high hillside, with terraced rows so narrow that tractors cannot even pass through — a common theme throughout many of the best sites. These are extremely minerally, citrus-laden wines. Further east, the Offenberg and Setzberg vineyards are also of similar configuration and quality, though perhaps more fruit-driven in youth. In these cooler parts of the Wachau, soils are mainly derived from mica schists, resulting in wines of considerable elegance and vitality.

East of the village of Spitz, the Danube plays an even greater role in most of the top riesling vineyards, particularly in terms of temperature moderation. Singerriedel is just such a Ried, well-protected from wind and privy to the warm autumn sun late in the evening. Wines of excellent concentration and class are produced here, along with those of Hochrain to the south. Much more famous, however, is the Ried of Achleiten, situated just to the north of the village of Weissenkirchen. Composed of slate and gneiss, it produces riesling of unmistakable minerality and finesse. Those of neighbouring Klaus are also of significant regard.

Singerriedel (Courtesy Domäne Wachau)

In what might be considered the heart of the Wachau, the villages of Dürnstein and the Loibens (Unter- and Ober-) possess some of the most renowned riesling vineyards in Austria. Of these, Kellerberg is traditionally ranked at the top, though grüner veltliner also comprises a large minority of plantings here. Mixed vineyards are very common in the Wachau. Enjoying ample sunlight, broad day-/night-time temperatures, and complex soils consisting mostly of granitic gneiss, Kellerberg riesling is both marvellously fulsome and long-lived. Other nearby vineyards of great repute are Loibenberg, Schütt, and Höhereck, each with their own distinctive personality and eminence. Last but not least, great riesling is produced south of the river around the village of Mautern. The top producer here is indisputably Nikolaihof, a boutique winery whose greatest offerings from Steiner Hund (located across the border in Kremstal), Vom Stein, and Im Weingebirge are widely in demand.

Indeed, small producers throughout the Wachau are routinely among the finest riesling cultivators. Unfortunately, availability in VINTAGES is profoundly lacking, with only one or two wines currently in the system. As something of a small mercy, however, some of the top producers possess agency representation in Ontario, several of which presently carry Wachau rieslings on consignment (immediate delivery) or are able to handle orders directly from the winery. As usual, such wines must be ordered in twelve- or six-bottle cases, though delivery usually takes several months.

Granted, ordering such wines from private agencies might be a nuisance—not because of poor service but because of the necessity of buying by the case—but the rewards are truly beyond measure. When it comes to top-notch Wachau riesling and the best sites from which they are sourced, all one has to do is be in the know.

Top estates in the Wachau

F.X. Pichler – The wines of F.X. Pichler are generally regarded as the most stunning in the Wachau, at times equalled by several other estates, yet never surpassed. With parcels in some of the greatest vineyards around the village of Dürnstein and the Loibens (Unter- and Ober-), every bottling is a testament to the originality and quality of each individual terroir. Ontario Representative: Le Sommelier

F.X. Picher 2013 Dürnsteiner Kellerberg Riesling Smaragd is perhaps the most sensational, most in-depth dry white I have ever tasted (at least to date) from the Wachau. From what is widely considered the most prized vineyard in the region, this sensational offering will keep for up to two decades in the right conditions.

Franz Hirtzberger – Based out of the village of Spitz in a more westerly sector of the Wachau, few wines are as singularly delicious as those of Franz Hirtzberger. Much of the region’s modern-day successes may be traced to Franz’s tireless efforts in spearheading the Vinea Wachau (an association of winegrowers) and promoting perfectionist winegrowing techniques. Not represented in Canada

Franz Hirtzberger 2013 Hochrain Riesling Smaragd is both remarkably intense and stylish. Located just below the famed Singerriedel vineyard, Hochrain routinely yields wines of this design, oftentimes with astonishing aging potential. This particular example may be kept for up to fifteen years or more.

Emmerich Knoll – With 15 ha of vineyards, Emmerich and Monika Knoll (along with their son) are among the most committed, most dynamic winegrowers in the Wachau. Based out of the village of Unterloiben, the style here is one of luminosity and breed. Normally tight in youth, these are wines of phenomenal elegance and ageability. Québec representative: Les Vins Alain Bélanger

Emmerich Knoll 2013 Ried Loibenberg Riesling Smaragd is one of several spellbinding wines produced at this estate. Possessing incredible sophistication and character, it will probably require a vigorous decanting if consumed young, and will likely keep for nearly two decades if cellared correctly.

Mature Nikolaihof RieslingNikolaihof: – Perhaps the most celebrated Biodynamic producer in the Wachau, the Saah family’s approach to winemaking is unique. From a mindboggling number of bottlings to an innate understanding of individuality, the wines of Nikolaihof are as mouth-watering as they are unique. Based out of Mautern, to taste from here is a special experience. Ontario representative: The Living Vine

Nikolaihof 2013 Vom Stein Riesling Federspiel is only barely alluding to its potential at such a young age, though it should open up if given a coaxing. Invigorating and balanced (to mention resoundingly dry), this will likely benefit from a thorough decanting if enjoyed young. Drink now or hold for up to eight years or more.

Alzinger – One of the most up-and-coming estates in the Wachau, the wines of Leo Alzinger (now produced with his son) merit profuse exploration. Based out of Unterloiben, this gifted family of winegrowers possess parcels in some of the best vineyards of the region, each with their own personality and charm. Québec Representative: Vinealis

Alzinger 2013 Höhereck Riesling Smaragd is a wine of remarkable purity and harmony. Situated just under the famed Kellerberg vineyard, Höhereck is an especially brilliant site, resulting in wines of incredible vitality and elegance. Drink now or enjoy over the next dozen years or more.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Link to Julian’s complete list of Austrian white wines
Link to John Szabo’s Austria Report

Editors Note: You can find our 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!


Kellerberg (Courtesy Domäne Wachau)

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The Successful Collector – Old World Riesling

The most undervalued white grape?
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Placed in the hands of even the most lacklustre of attorneys, a compelling court case could be made for convincing wine jurists that riesling is the greatest, most versatile white grape in Europe. The fact that other types of wine fetch higher prices at the premium end is neither here nor there. Granted, the best dry white Burgundy and Bordeaux may cost a great deal more, but one could easily argue this is more a result of rarity and present consumer trends than a reflection of comparative worth. Not that the quality of top Burgundy or Bordeaux has been exaggerated, more that prices for top riesling in many parts of the Old World are at present comparatively low, almost to the point of unreasonableness. As a result, there are more bargains for exemplary riesling than virtually any other type of white wine.

In the twenty-first century, few would deny that Alsace, Austria, and the most acclaimed winegrowing regions of Germany represent a sort of vinous triumvirate of unique places where riesling is able to thrive. At the premium level, the types produced in each area are at their greatest distinctiveness.

Alsace

Rows of vines in Alsace

Rows of vines in Alsace

In Alsace, the greatest rieslings usually hail from single-vineyard Grand Cru sites on steep hillsides, oftentimes (though not exclusively) consisting of sand and clay. Site variation in this part of the winegrowing world is extreme, with increasing numbers of producers vinifying and bottling specific parcels within their vineyards as separate wines. Relative dryness and higher alcohol (usually 12.5 per cent or more) remain essential hallmarks, though many top wines will often possess considerable richness, extra body, and some residual sugar. While flavour profiles are hard to generalize, the finest Alsatian rieslings tend to possess a resounding concentration of citrus-infused orchard fruits (such as peaches and pears), taking on more honeyed and kerosene-like tendencies as they age. The greatest bottlings may be easily kept for up to two decades or more. Current prices in VINTAGES for the best bottlings tend to range from $55-85, though many extremely good wines may be found for less than thirty bucks.

Austria

In Austria, the emerging style in the most famous regions for riesling (such as Wachau, Kremstal, and Kamptal) is one of astonishing minerality and heightened gradations of dryness. In most cases, the greatest wines derive from single vineyards, oftentimes bottled as single-parcel cuvées, grown on incredibly steep slopes facing the Danube.

Riesling vines along the Danube

Riesling vines along the Danube

Unlike Alsace or Germany, these vineyards are not officially ranked, though the best sites, usually based on granite, gneiss, and mica-schist, have long enjoyed widespread recognition over their less exalted counterparts. Alcohol levels are even higher than in Alsace (and much higher than in Germany), sometimes reaching up to 15 per cent. Compared to Alsace or Germany, the flavour of fine Austrian riesling is often much more low-keyed in youth, usually consisting of steely green fruits intermixed with lemon citrus, herbs, and an abundance of minerals. With age, more honeyed, kerosene, and nut-driven impressions seem to take over. Cellaring capability for the finest wines easily match those of Alsatian or Germanic extraction. Current availability of Austrian riesling in VINTAGES is profoundly lacking, with prices ranging from around $15-35.

Germany

For many, Germany is where riesling finds its greatest expression. As with Alsace and Austria, the best wines are those of single-vineyard persuasion, from the slate-dominant sites of the Mosel to the more clay-based areas of the Mittelhaart of the Pflaz. Styles are traditionally measured according to sweetness via the QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat) system. From driest to sweetest: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, and Trockenbeerenauslese. The best wines of the Mosel and its tributaries the Saar and Ruwer tend to reflect this system more concisely than most, while producers throughout the Rheingau, Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz are increasingly crafting their best single-vineyard wines in drier styles. Such wines are often labelled as ‘Grosses Gewächs,’ and invariably contain higher levels of alcohol at the expense of residual sugar. This said, the QmP system is just as useful for understanding different styles throughout most riesling-dominant regions. On the label, a stated vineyard is usually preceded by the village with which it is affiliated.

Riesling vines along the Mosel

Riesling vines along the Mosel

To this day, consumers continue to have difficulty comprehending the meaning behind different types of German wine labels. But this should not prove a barrier to obtaining some of the most underappreciated, undervalued types of riesling in Europe. Currently in VINTAGES, extremely fine, ageworthy examples logging in as low as 8 per cent alcohol (depending on the region) may be found for as little as $20, with top bottlings fetching up to $70. The sweetest versions such as Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese, not to mention Eiswein, are prodigiously more expensive, and are not exactly meant for everyday drinking.

Of more off-dry examples such as Kabinett and (to a lesser extent) Spätlese, flavours often include an addictive cornucopia of white peaches, green fruits, lemon citrus, and traces of kerosene, the latter becoming more pronounced and honeyed as time wears on. As white wines go, the capacity of German riesling to age is incredible, though Kabinett versions are at their best around the vicinity of ten years. Great Auslese, on the other hand, whose special nature places it more in the medium-sweet camp, may keep for decades and decades in the right conditions. Tragically, these types of wines are not nearly as popular as they once were. This may largely be attributed to both lax and unintelligible German wine laws, along with the plain fact that many enthusiasts continue to believe that all German wine, regardless of what is stated on the label, tastes excessively sweet.

A Comeback is Coming

In some respects, this would suggest that German riesling is long overdue for a comeback, particularly as examples in Alsace and Austria continue to enjoy an increasing number of successes. The quality is there, the ageability substantial, the prices even for moderately premium versions beyond modest. What’s more, with legions of ‘wine civilians’ being dutifully summoned every day as serious enthusiasts, it is only a matter of time before this collective jury of palates renders a verdict in riesling’s favour. Impatient as some wine commentators might be, it is only a matter of time.

My top choices:

Trimbach 2010 Réserve Riesling has been recommended more than once this past year, for there are still a reasonable number of bottles remaining in LCBO outlets. From one of the greatest white wine producers in Alsace, this is exactly what great Old World Riesling is all about. Drink now or hold for five years or more. 

Léon Beyer 2005 Cuvée des Comtes de d’Eguisheim Riesling is the top label (in dry format) from this particular Alsace-based establishment. Though nearing ten years of age, it is still endowed with an abundant sense of liveliness, intensity, and harmony. Only just over two dozen bottles remain in LCBO outlets. Drink now or hold for up to nine years or more. 

Zilliken 2011 Saarburg Rausch Riesling Kabinett logs in at a miniscule 8% alcohol, at the same time possessing outstanding roundness, harmony, and weight. Somewhat off-dry, few wines of the Saar (a tributary of the Mosel in Germany) manage to combine such gracefulness with such ferocity of character. Drink now or hold for up to twelve years. 

Schloss 2008 Schönborn Macrobrunn Riesling Kabinett is a premium type of German (Rheingau) Riesling at a remarkably reasonable price. Crafted in an off-dry style, wines like this were all the rage throughout much of the twentieth century and preceding eras. There is no reason why they should not be again. Drink now or hold for up to eight years.

Domäne Wachau 2011 Achleiten Riesling Smaragd hails from the Wachau, easily the most prestigious winegrowing region (at least for whites) in Austria. Retaining remarkable vibrancy and balance, this invigorating example is precisely why premium Austrian Riesling, alongside Grüner Veltliner, is becoming so popular. Drink now or hold for seven years or more.

Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2010Léon Beyer Cuvée Des Comtes D'eguisheim Riesling 2005Zilliken Saarburg Rausch Riesling Kabinett 2011Schloss Schönborn Macrobrunn Riesling Kabinett 2008Domäne Wachau Achleiten Smaragd Riesling 2011

Readers may want to take note that there are many other exemplary wines currently available in VINTAGES and the SAQ that have not been listed as recommendations. This is because I either do not have evaluations for them, or because they are wines from alternate vintages that are no longer available in stores. All price ranges have been researched so as to reflect current availability.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

P.S. Stay tuned next month for my exciting summary of top riesling vineyards of the Wachau, Austria’s most prestigious white winegrowing region.

Editors Note: You can find Julian’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

All Julian Hitner Reviews


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 2nd – Part Two

The Mid-Summer Acid Test – Riesling, Sauvignon and Chenin
by David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo MS

David New 2014

David Lawrason

A small selection of whites from France’s Loire Valley and Alsace regions have been grouped as a mini-feature in VINTAGES Aug 2 release. (John covered off the main California feature last week). I thought I would elaborate on the essential concept of these whites from northern France – pure acidity set against pure fruit. No oak to soften or spice. No alcohol (hopefully) to numb the freshness. No blending or oxidation to mask personality. Whites that draw a line through a tepid evening like an ice-cube down the spine.

Three important high acid grape varieties do that better than any other – riesling, sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc – and they grow far and wide beyond France as well. To experience them at their best, open a bottle before dinner is served so you can focus entirely on what’s in the glass. Yes they should be chilled, but when quality is in place they may actually suffer from over-chilling. Whet your appetite with these values, then read on to other whites and reds that John and I have flagged as great buys as well. We have aligned on four wines, most notable perhaps a killer syrah from Chile.

Pierre Sparr Granit Riesling 2010Hidden Bench 2013 Estate RieslingHidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($23.95).
John Szabo – One of the province’s top riesling producers, Hidden Bench regularly delivers quality far above the average, underscoring that there’s simply no substitute for meticulous farming. Even though this is the “mere” estate blend, it could easily sit among the top single vineyard bottlings in the region, at a nice price.
David Lawrason – A cooler vintage like 2013 is ideal for Niagara’s acid driven whites. This is a very fine, firm, subtle and dry riesling. It needs a year or two to open, but it is solid and well-structured with minerality and excellent length.

Pierre Sparr 2010 Granit Riesling, Alsace, France ($16.95). Riesling’s acid core makes it perhaps the best of the hot weather whites. And when acid combines with minerality, and a highly structured vintage like 2010 in Europe the effect is doubled (and so is the value quotient). This has core minerality and firmness that is front and centre, just slightly coarse and tart but nervy and solid. DL

Fournier Père & Fils 2012 Les Deux Cailloux Pouilly-Fumé ($26.95).
David Lawrason – This is a solid, not at all heavy, sauvignon from a lighter vintage that showcases freshness. Almost tingling acidity and a hint of C02 on the palate with dry, bitter grapefruit and stony finish.
John Szabo – A stony, very natural-smelling Pouilly Fumé, with excellent density and concentration. Best 2014-2020.

Jean-Max Roger 2012 Cuvée C.M. Sancerre Blanc ($27.95).
John Szabo – The “C.M” comes from “Caillottes” and “Kimmeridgian Marls”, two of the three prevalent terroirs in the Sancerre AOC. According to Roger, the “caillottes” give the wine its floral and fruity notes, along with its lightness and freshness, while the “terres blanches” (Kimmeridgian marls) provide structure, richness and power. This is a fine synthesis of the two.
David Lawrason – a particularly delicate classic indeed from a staunch producer of quality sauvignon.

Fournier Père & Fils Les Deux Cailloux Pouilly Fumé 2012Jean Max Roger Cuvée C.M. Sancerre Blanc 2012Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2013Ventisquero Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2013Domaine Du Vieux Vauvert Vouvray 2012

Greywacke 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95). Just back from Marlborough, I can attest that not all kiwi ‘savvies’ are brash and vegetal. The best, like this fine example, are nicely composed, compact and firm, positioning green herbs (celery leaf), passion fruit, grapefruit and pepper. Fine sense of levity and quench here from Kevin Judd, whose been doing Marlborough sauvignon for as long as anybody. DL

Ventisquero 2013 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($13.95). This is particularly good value. Chilean sauvignon can be heavy and blunt, but this nicely balanced effort from cooler Casablanca blends guava topicality fresh green herbs and pepper. While in NZ I read an article in a local wine industry mag alerting New Zealanders to the rise of Chilean sauvignon. Here’s why. DL

Domaine Du Vieux Vauvert 2012 Vouvray ($15.95). So often I find the chenin blancs of Vouvray bothered by some earthy/fungal character and sulphur. This textbook, great value is squeaky clean with classic quince/pear fruit, light florality and beeswax. Gentle, poised and delicious. There is a hint of sweetness but it does not dull the effect. DL

Other Whites

Domaine Du Chardonnay Chablis 2012Loan Wines 2005 Special Reserve Semillon UnoakedLoan Wines Special Reserve Semillon 2005, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($16.95). The previous vintage of this wine was also a spectacular value, and one wonders how you can get so much flavour in a wine for $17. Admittedly the flavour profile won’t appeal to all (don’t buy it for the wedding party), but this is well worth a look for fans of original, regional specialties. JS

Domaine Du Chardonnay 2012 Chablis ($21.95). A textbook regional Chablis, and a perfect oyster wine, the kind I’d like to be sipping every Sunday afternoon. JS

Reds

Matetic 2011 Corralillo Syrah, San Antonio Valley, Chile ($23.95).
David Lawrason – Here is a big, juicy, ultra fresh syrah from a biodynamic producer lodged in the coastal ranges of Chile. There is an obvious juiciness here, but it is also solid and circumspect. Huge blackcurrant fruit is etched with fresh forest greens, pepper, meatiness, dark chocolate graphite. One can argue successfully it is not like syrah from France, or anywhere else for that matter. But does it have to be? This is Chilean to its stirrups.
John Szabo – Cool, coastal Chile is a hot spot for sauvignon blanc, and increasingly, syrah. And make no mistake: this is not shiraz, but much more old world in style. Matetic is certified organic and biodynamic (Demeter), and their vineyards are in the Rosario Valley (a subdivision of the San Antonio Valley), an enclosed valley that runs perpendicular to the Pacific. I love the savoury herbal-bay leaf flavours, reminiscent of native Chilean trees like Quillay, Maitén, Boldo and Peumo that grow in the area. Cellar this for another 2-3 years for maximum enjoyment.

Ascheri 2011 Fontanelle Barbera D’alba Podere Di Rivalta ($17.95). Ascheri nicely buffs the tart edges of barbera, without sacrificing the grape’s natural vibrancy or fruit. The secret seems to be finer tannin management. This has a lifted nose of redcurrant/cherry (pinot fans will like it), a touch of leathery/meatiness and gentle vanillin. Could work lightly chilled on a summer eve with a cold pasta salad. DL

Boutari 2009 Naoussa, Greece ($13.95). As always, an attractively priced, savoury old world red from Boutari, their ‘regular’ bottling of Naoussa (made from xinomavro). To put this into context, think of traditional style sangiovese from Chianti and you’re in the right style zone. JS

Matetic Corralillo Syrah 2011 Ascheri Fontanelle Barbera D'alba 2011 Boutari Naoussa 2009 Santa Alicia Gran Reserva De Los Andes Carmenère 2011c

Santa Alicia 2011 Gran Reserva De Los Andes Carmenère, Maipo Valley, Chile ($15.95). I am studying carmenère closely these days because they continue – through complexity and depth – to offer good value. Then, if they are well balanced too, they can be huge value. The world has not yet caught on to this so many remain underpriced – as is the case with solid, savoury example. DL

Domaine La Fourmone 2011 Le Fauquet Gigondas, Rhône Valley, France ($28.95). There is a certain amiable freshness and vibrancy here but set within the Rhône’s comfy framework. Not at all heavy or thick – a fine drink-anytime red with class and some elegance. Gigondas offers more finesse than any of the other fine villages strung out along the base of the saw-toothed Dentelles in the southern Rhône. DL

****

And speaking of the southern Rhône, Sara d’Amato and family have been camped out there for July, so expect some thoughts from her when she returns. Other upcoming works include an article by Julian Hitner on the value to be found in classic, dry European rieslings.  And John Sazabo returns next week with the first preview of the Aug 19 release. May your Civic Holiday weekend be wonderfully civil.

Until next time!

From VINTAGES August 2nd release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews
August 2nd Part One – Pure California

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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