New World Picks (and notes from the California Wine Fair)
By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato
The first week of fine weather in Ontario for many months has also kicked off the busiest period of wine tasting events of the year. So let’s raise one gigantic toast to the new season! Open something that shouts.
Last week we looked at Euro wines on the release, so this week it’s New World, and we will get to our picks shortly. But I wanted to outline the amazing array of wine events coming our way in the weeks ahead. The season unfurled on April 13th with the 36th annual California Wine Fair in Toronto (see more below), followed three days later by the 4th annual Prince Edward County in the City event. Then on April 20th Ontario’s leading terroir driven wineries present their wares at Somewhereness in Toronto. (Watch for an Ontario Wine Report on both of these important local wine events).
On April 22 the Premium Familiae Vini – an association of Europe’s leading family owned wineries – presents a VINTAGES sponsored tasting in Toronto, followed by a reception and dinner on the 23rd. This is a great chance to taste some of the classics from Europe. For PFV wines being released on April 18 search out our WineAligner reviews from great names like Hugel of Alsace, Perrin of the Rhone, Drouhin of Burgundy, Antinori of Italy and Torres of Spain and many more. Each family has a couple of wines represented (but of course we would prefer they each had many more on the shelf).
The following week, April 29, Portugal’s annual grand tasting runs at the Art Gallery of Ontario. On May 7 there is the New Zealand Wine Fair. Then three consecutive VINTAGES events are on the schedule: May 21 is Next Generation Germany; May 26 is Australia’s First Families and on June 4 in come the Italians for the Gambero Rosso Tasting. So no whining about nothing to do this spring! Check out events at VINTAGES.com.
And not to forget our second annual “rolling limestone” WineAlign bus tour to the Terroir Wine Festival in Prince Edward County on May 9. We have two coaches ready to go from Toronto with stops at Hinterland, Rosehall Run and Norman Hardie, plus two and a half hours at the Terroir festival in Picton.
Both Sara d’Amato and I will be onboard to give you some colour commentary. Which is a great segue to one of my top picks of the release.
Norman Hardie 2013 Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($39.20)
David Lawrason – Norman Hardie is of course based in Prince Edward County, but makes wines from prime sites in Niagara as well. I tasted this wine among six other high end chardonnays from Burgundy and elsewhere. It not only stood its ground, it stood tall. Very elegant, taut, well woven and showing great minerality and length.
Graham Beck 2013 The Game Reserve Chardonnay, Robertson, South Africa ($16.95)
David Lawrason – Another surprise in the big chardonnay line-up this release comes from a remote region over the mountains, and away from maritime influence, in the Robertson region. There are limestone pockets here, and some fine chardonnays. This is not “great” but I am impressed that Graham Beck has delivered this much structure and character at $17.
Sara d’Amato – This pioneer of the sparkling variety in South Africa is also no stranger to chardonnay and this striking value is a standout. Get it, enjoy and thank me later.
Grgich Hills 2013 Fumé Blanc Dry Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California ($39.95)
David Lawrason – My attraction to this wine is not based on flash in the pan pizzazz, but on the solid, self-confident, nuanced ambiance it presents. I could see myself sitting with this wine over one or two bottles and not getting bored. Is it the biodynamics alone, or a winemaking idea? Very satisfying.
Hall 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California, USA ($34.00)
Sara d’Amato – Great California sauvignon blanc has a way of reeling me in like no chardonnay could ever do. Hall focuses on the sustainable production of Bordelaise varietals, thus choosing sauvignon blanc over chardonnay as its star white grape and we can be glad they do. On the riper style of the spectrum, this wild and wonderful example boasts impressive complexity, balance and appeal.
Rapaura Springs 2013 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – A solid example of Marlborough sauvignon blanc without excessive grassy, vegetal or ammonia from under-ripeness. Elegant and herbaceous with notes of mineral, passion fruit and citrus along with a remarkable degree of body.
Treana 2011 Red, Paso Robles, California ($39.95)
David Lawrason This opaque, black wine is a blend of cabernet and syrah from the hotter Paso Robles region of the Central Coast. It’s massive and deep, and I was prepared to dismiss it as a hot chocolate bomb, but lo and behold it shows very good proportion and balance. Large can also be balanced.
Franciscan 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, USA ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – With a warm, sunny summer and a cool harvest, 2012 in Napa is proving to be an interesting vintage and one hailed by many local producers as ideal for cabernet sauvignon. A structured, cellar-worthy find in the classic style of the Haut-Médoc.
Barrandica 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Vista Flores, Mendoza, Argentina ($16.95)
David Lawrason One my most important observations from two visits to Argentina in recent months, is the growing importance of excellent cabernets (see next as well). This is from the Vista flores sub-region of the Uco Valley, a region I have come to know for its lifted floral character and a certain wash of intense fruit. Great value.
Tapiz Alta 2011 Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95)
David Lawrason, This is a balanced and complete if not huge cabernet – an absolute bargain. Argentine cabernet seems to pack in a centre of gravity that some lack (cabs can famously have a ‘hollow middle’). There is even a sense of graphite minerality. Tapiz employs Pomerol-based Jean Claude Berrouet, perhaps accounting for the great sense of composure. In any event, it too is a great buy under $20.
C.J. Pask 2013 Gimblett Road Syrah, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – This Hawke’s Bay syrah has an expressive cool-climate nature that delivers a surprising amount of flavour on its lighter frame. Peppery, musky and savoury with an abundance of wild flowers and earth – unquestionably stylish.
Sister’s Run 2012 Epiphany Shiraz, McLaren Vale, Australia ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – An engaging find, stripped down, generous and appealing with a great deal more concentration, power and structure than one would expect at this price. A classic example of the power and purity that can be attained from the Mediterranean climate of McLaren Vale.
Notes on the California Wine Fair
It’s amazing that this event has been going for 36 years in Toronto and almost as long in Ottawa. It is the social wine event of the year, with about 1300 showing up for the trade portion on Monday afternoon in Toronto and over 300 for the luncheon in the Royal York’s largest ballroom. The guest speaker – Margo Van Staaveren, the winemaker at Chateau St. Jean – gave a personal overview of life and wine trends in Sonoma County, her home for 30 years. Well established as a modern haven for chardonnay and pinot noir, I was most surprised to hear her comment that the hottest trend in Sonoma is the improvement in cabernet sauvignons from the inland areas like Dry Creek, Alexander and Knights Valleys. She closed her presentation quoting a new marketing slogan “True Wine Country” that made the Napa winemaker at our table bristle.
We also heard from Shari Mogk-Edwards the LCBO’s Vice President of Products, Sales and Marketing deliver the state of the California nation address, indicating that sales in Ontario amounted to $285 million last year, up 13% over the previous year, with higher growth than any other region (although still behind Ontario and Italy in overall sales). She kept referring to the quality and value of California being behind the popularity, but I would argue that is more of a stylistic popularity, and a cultural affinity and comfort level. There is undeniable ease and familiarity to California wines. Value is certainly not part of my discussion around California and our sinking loonie will not help in the months ahead.
I spent my afternoon doing a checking out of new labels, and some classics, and getting a bead on the most interesting categories. There were 125 wineries in the room, each with several wines. So it was not a time for detailed reviews.
My first observation was that pinot noirs showed the most “new to me” labels and exciting quality. I was very impressed by the new Kiser “En Haut” from Mendocino County, Far Niente’s new En Route 2013 Les Pommiers; as well as Paul Hobbs 2012, Miramar Torres 2012 Mas Cavalls, Schug 2013 Carneros, Etude’s new Lyric 2013, and Jamieson Ranch 2013 Reata. California pinot is becoming more and more sophisticated every vintage it seems. Sure there are sweetish and hottish examples, but those working at the upper end of the quality spectrum are finding a groove. And the wines have a delicious factor that pinot does not often achieve elsewhere.
Over on the “cabernet sauvignon and friends” side there were some excellent wines indeed, but not as many new wines. I was most impressed by Far Niente 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mt Brave 2011, Stags Leap 2011 Fay Vineyard, Heitz 2005 Cabernet, Chateau St Jean 2010 Cinq Cepages and Quintessa 2011. It is such an interesting exercise to relate the cool vintage 2011s to Bordeaux, with which there is so much in common. It’s all a matter of how much ‘green’ you like in your cabs.
The most disappointing category was zinfandel. I tasted a half dozen and none showed the great brambly, florality by which I judge good zin. The oak mocha machine is gobbling up this once grand category.
And that’s a wrap for this rather long-winded edition. Hope to see you out there on the busy wine circuit in the weeks ahead.
VP of Wine
From VINTAGES April 18th, 2015:
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