Euro Whites and Reds
by John Szabo MS, with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato
This week we highlight our top picks from Europe (aka the “Old World”) in the September 5th release, dominated by classics from France and Italy. Last week David led off part one with a look at top New World releases (my reviews have since been added to the site, with remarkable alignment), and the trend of creeping “hidden” sweetness in red wines (see also my article on that subject from January 2014)
Not to flog the proverbial dead horse, but the pervasiveness of sweetened wines was underscored yet again this past week as we tasted through close to a thousand wines for the WineAlign World Wine Awards, a nice snapshot of the current market across Canada. Many, many of the red and white wines had clearly been sweetened.
Like David, and the majority who spend a lot of their time tasting and thinking about wine, I find that adding back sweet, concentrated grape juice to wines before bottling, which are otherwise purported to be dry, pretty much washes out anything that might be called regional or varietal character, the things that people are generally willing to pay more for. To balance naturally high acid white wines is another matter.
But the wines in question are invariably low acid, and often need to have extra acid added to keep them from falling apart, so there’s no reason to sweeten other than to titillate your taste buds, tuned in to sweet tastes. That may be fine if all you’re after is a soft and easy drinking, pleasantly smooth commercial beverage made mostly from fermented grapes, priced accordingly.
But if the winery pretends anything more grand than that (as they so often do), it’s deceptive, which is why wine commentators get their taste buds in a knot over the issue and why there were so many disappointed and even angry faces around the tasting table this week as yet another sweet wine appeared in a flight of supposedly dry wines. It’s like the food industry that strips all of the natural flavour out of our food and then adds back designer chemicals engineered to light up the sensitive part of our brains.
New World countries are hardly the only perpetrators of wilful sweetening for commercial effect. The Old World, too, has its taste engineers, most predominantly in the southern Mediterranean (I can finger export-bound wines from southern Italy, Spain and Portugal in particular). Seeing the staggering sales figures for the successful sweetened brands in North America, it’s easy to understand why they’d want in on the action. Labelling them what they are – sweetened wines – would no doubt kill some of those sales. Or maybe, other wines will need to start putting “no sugar added” on their labels.
Until legislation changes – and you’ll need a very deep breath – we’ll continue to describe, comment and offer opinions, and let you decide what mixture of price, backstory and flavour profile is of preference. As a wine consumer above all, I personally love to know what I’m consuming.
Buyers Guide for September 5th 2015: Euro Whites
Old Vines in Young Hands 2013 White, Douro, Portugal ($12.95)
John Szabo – A tidy little wine here for the money to be sure, with an aromatic component (malvasia?), but don’t bother trying to dissect it – just enjoy this dry, fruity-stony, well-made blend.
Paul Prieur Et Fils 2014 Sancerre, Loire, France ($26.95)
Sara d’Amato – Paul Prieur is considered an important instigator in reviving the reputation of Sancerre both in France and internationally due to wines like this traditional, nervy and mineral driven treat. A widely appealing, sure-fire hit that is energetically brimming with crunchy saline and vibrant acids.
Bailly Lapierre 2014 Saint Bris Sauvignon Blanc, Burgundy, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – Easily the equal of many sauvignons from an hour or so west in Sancerre, Bailly Lapierre delivers a very pleasantly stony and lean, sharp and precisely cut example.
David Lawrason – No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you. There is one tiny appellation a few klicks southwest of Chablis where sauvignon blanc flourishes quite nicely. This is a quite fine, complex, compact and elegant example with a nice sense of minerality similar to Sancerre, which is not that far away in the upper Loire.
Studert-Prüm 2009 Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese Riesling, Mosel, Germany ($21.95)
John Szabo – A reliable name from a grand cru-worthy Mosel vineyard, this 2009 seems to have barely moved since bottling. It’s still crackling and fresh, supremely mineral, off-dry but balanced and ethereal in the way that only Germany can do consistently. Best 2015-2025.
Sara d’Amato – This Spätlese level riesling is unctuous, characteristically sweet but balanced by acidic verve. A touch of funky with notes of honey and beeswax that add complexity and dimension to this ageworthy riesling. Try with pork schnitzel.
Clemens Busch 2013 Marienburg Kabinett Riesling, Mosel, Germany ($28.95)
David Lawrason – You may have to go out of your way to find this Flagship Store exclusive, but if you profess to admire riesling you must buy this wine. It is a gorgeous, linear, tender and juicy off-dry, young Mosel with great acid nerve, complexity and length. A miracle that so much presence can be packed into a wine with 7.5% alcohol. Enjoy it over lunch on the last long weekend of the summer.
John Szabo – Ditto.
Domaine Laroche 2012 Les Vaudevey Chablis 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($38.95)
John Szabo – This is really beautiful Chablis from Laroche, just moving into an excellent drinking phase, with terrific depth and persistence. Best 2015-2022.
Maculan 2013 Pinot Grigio, Veneto, Italy ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Maculan is a leading family producer in the northeast, founded in 1947 by Faustino Maculan and now managed by third generation sisters Angela and Maria Vittoria. Be aware that this is a very different style of pinot grigio – definitely not bland. It’s deeply coloured with lifted floral, exotic aromas of lemongrass, licorice and chamomile; fairly soft and fleshy with a juicy, lemony tart finish.
Buyers Guide for September 5th 2015: Euro Reds
Chapoutier 2013 Belleruche Côtes-du-Rhône, Rhône, France ($16.95)
John Szabo – A fine vintage for the Belleruche CdR, Chapoutier’s Grenache-syrah blend from throughout the southern Rhône on multiple terroirs. The 2013 delivers lovely marked peppery flavours generous palate and supple, polished tannins. Best 2015-2020.
David Lawrason – This is textbook young Côtes-du-Rhône, possessing both charm and power. Love the classic Rhône aromatics of ripe strawberry/cherry, with white pepper, lavender and dried herbs. It’s medium-full bodied, smooth and powerful. Chapoutier is a world leader with grenache and syrah based wines, farming organically and biodynamically in the Rhône, Languedoc-Roussillon and Australia.
Sara d’Amato – The Belleruche Côtes du Rhône blend is sourced from the southern Rhône but the peppery, overtly floral nose would suggest a cooler, more northerly origin. Excellent value here with ample concentration and huge complexity.
Tessellae 2013 Côtes Du Roussillon Old Vines, Roussillon, France ($17.00)
David Lawrason – I only comment on a Parker (or any) rating when the producer has chosen to broadcast it on the label, making it part of your off-the-shelf buying decision. This bottle is wearing a Parker 94 – which is over the top in my books. Still, it is excellent and very good value; well made, smooth, almost silky, generous and a bit hot on the palate with typical Roussillon ripeness. The length is very good; but in the end I scored it a 90.
Château Godard Bellevue 2011, Bordeaux Côtes de Francs, France ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – The Francs appellation of the right bank of Bordeaux is often overlooked but there are some great values to be found. This merlot dominant blend offers a deliciously complex profile of smoke, violets and dried herbs. At this price this Bordeaux will likely fly from the shelves.
Mas Del Périé 2012 La Roque Malbec, Cahors, Southwest France ($21.95)
David Lawrason – Here – yet again – is a biodynamically produced wine that rises above the pack. It’s an increasingly common phenomenon when I taste unknowingly down the long line of wines at the LCBO lab. This is an intense, firm, fragrant young French malbec in a slightly rustic style, by young winemaker Fabien Jouves. Outperforms its price by a long shot. Best 2016 to 2020.
Sara d’Amato – The malbec on the label is more prominent that the appellation which tells you something about the selling power of this highly marketable grape. Although this example is distinctly French, the wine is generous and offers softer tannins than the norm.
Vignamaggio 2012 Gherardino Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($24.95)
John Szabo – A very tidy Chianti Classico, spicy, peppery, classically styled, firm and dusty, comfortably traditional. This is terrific food wine, with some grilled protein. Tasted August 2015.
J.L. Chave Selection 2013 Silène Crozes-Hermitage, Rhône, France ($33.00)
John Szabo – Although Jean-Louis Chave’s negociant bottlings (under the “Selection” label), may not be quite at the extraordinary heights of his legendary estate wines, they are surely a terrific introduction to the house style and the uncompromising quality standards. This is classic northern Rhône syrah, incense and black pepper-heavy, with beautifully textured, seamless palate and terrific length. Proper wine. Best 2015-2023.
Sara d’Amato – The “selection” collection is JL Chave’s negociant label and delivers some very good wines at a fraction of the price of Chave’s more esteemed line. Crozes-Hermitage is a very large appellation and although the wines are generally of average quality, some gems can be found like this musky, intense and compelling syrah.
Les Vins de Vienne l’Arzelle 2011 Saint-Joseph, Rhône, France ($37.95)
Sara d’Amato – The wines of the Rhône are hot in this current release and I can’t help but recommend one further selection. The only partially de-stemmed bunches of grapes contribute flavour and added complexity while the use of indigenous yeast ensures a more authentic experience of terroir.
Verbena 2009 Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($39.95)
David Lawrason – I am no plant and herb specialist, but I suspect a strong link between the name of this winery, the scent of this storied plant, and the very lifted aroma of this wine. From Wikipedia “In the William Faulkner short story An Odor of Verbena, verbena is used symbolically and described as ‘the only scent that can be smelled above the scent of horses and courage’. This great, deep and mature Brunello also sports a red and blackcurrant, leather and pepper aromas. It’s medium full bodied, very smooth, warm and engaging. Great flavour penetration and depth. Ready to drink, or cellar through 2020.
Domaine Jean-Marc Pavelot 2011 Savigny-Les-Beaune Les Peuillets 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($45.95)
John Szabo – Red Burgundy of this quality and price doesn’t come around all that often, so take advantage of this, from one of Savigny’s top addresses. Les Peuillets is one of Pavelot’s more charming and immediately appealing crus; the 2011 is tightly knit, smoky, spicy and savoury, balanced by plenty of wild cherry fruit. It’s nicely representative of the appellation, drinking now, but surely better after 2016.
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
John Szabo MS
From VINTAGES Sept 5, 2015
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