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The Successful Collector – Bordeaux 2012 Futures

Julian Hitner reports on one of the most inconsistent and overpriced vintages Bordeaux has faced in recent years.

A question of value:
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

If there is one lesson claret connoisseurs may take from the 2012 vintage, it is that it pays to be selective. To best understand this, we must briefly turn our attention to the back-to-back vintages of 2009 and 2010. Widely hailed as two of the most luxurious, most ageworthy harvests Mother Nature has ever bestowed, most estates and négociants experienced little compunction in raising their prices by hitherto ludicrous margins. Considering the quality, collectors and casual buyers both played along, and sales went extremely well. Then came 2011, a vintage of middling quality that should have brought prices back to levels similar to 2008 – ironically the most underrated vintage of the 21st century. It didn’t, and sales were anything but vigorous.

This brings us back to 2012, a vintage of even more variable quality. For most of us, common sense would dictate that estates and négociants, smarting from a sharp decline in 2011 sales, would deign to adjust their prices to something mimicking 2008. Once again, this did not happen, leaving many claret lovers to ask, especially when considering how mediocre 2013 is purported to be: when will Bordeaux wise up?

Hence the importance of selectiveness in 2012, in patronizing only the best wines from a select few estates and négociants with the audacity to sell at reasonable prices. For the record: a surprising number of estates did in fact manage to produce some really attractive, freshly flavoured wines, making it doubly unfortunate that 2012 is most likely to be remembered along the same lines as 2011 or 2007: two deceptively average years plagued more by price gouging than precipitation or pestilence put together. In the end, only a handful of top performers got their acts right.

The Left Bank:

In terms of consistency, Margaux is the standout appellation, with more wines than naught retaining remarkable freshness, definition and fragrance. Clarity of fruit is essential in a vintage like 2012, particularly where new oak is often (and advisably) used in lesser amounts. Those that had problems with ripeness suffered in spades, not just in Margaux but in many other places. In St-Julien, many estates seem to have publicly defied the challenges of the harvest, crafting wines of impeccable fruit orientation and layering. By contrast, Pauillac is more of a mixed bag, where only the really illustrious properties seem to have produced wines of exceptional body, structure and class. More than anything, this is likely to do with problems in fully ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, a factor on which great Pauillac almost always significantly depends. In St-Estèphe, many châteaux seem to have compensated by using larger percentages of earlier-ripening Merlot, crafting some truly appetizing, approachable wines.

Château Kirwan, Margaux

For bargain hunters, however, the appellations of Moulis-en-Médoc and Listrac-Médoc rank as top picks. Without the same name recognition as their above-mentioned counterparts, prices for the best wines, crafted with undeniable scrutiny and care, seem strikingly rewarding and reasonable. Though not exactly as fulsome and cellarable as the best of Margaux or St-Julien, the most promising examples (crafted from larger percentages of Merlot) clearly possess more than enough freshness, structure and durability for both youthful enjoyment and long-term accumulation. Such is the theme of most overvalued yet underappreciated vintages: it gives underdogs a rare chance to shine.

The Graves:

Along with at least several parts of the Left Bank, the reds of Pessac-Léognan are largely hit-and-miss affairs. The whites, on the other hand, are a different matter entirely. Though I was only able to record formal notes on a handful of them (same with the reds), it seems 2012 will be remembered as an extremely successful vintage for white Graves. Crafted mostly from Sauvignon Blanc with Sémillon as accompaniment (along with a few drops of Muscadelle), a great glass of white Pessac-Léognan certainly ranks one of Bordeaux’s most under-celebrated types of premium wine. Like top white burgundy, the best examples are both fermented and matured in oak barrels, resulting in impeccable concentration, complexity and long-term cellaring potential. In 2012, many estates produced truly exceptional, sophisticated examples.

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Sauternes

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the sweet whites of Sauternes and Barsac, with several estates opting out of even declaring a vintage. This is has generated a great deal of controversy, with many arguing such a move serves only to discourage buyers from patronizing the vintage in any way whatsoever. On the other hand: there is general consensus that most estates experienced enormous difficulties in 2012, with only a small number of properties managing to craft really rejuvenating, desirable versions. Thankfully these days, prices for Sauternes and Barsac are almost always agreeable, especially when considering the amount of labour that goes into producing this type of wine.

The Right Bank:

In this neck of the woods, where wines are mostly crafted from Merlot and small amounts of Cabernet Franc, there is no question that Pomerol is the winner, with many estates producing wines of impeccable beauty, harmony and charm. Like their counterparts on the Left Bank, the best examples shall easily keep for two decades or more, though may be enjoyed now with unfettered enthusiasm. Unfortunately, many of these same properties also seem to have taken the same misguided cue in pegging their wines at markedly high prices. As a result, one must use the same level of caution when selecting from Pomerol as with Margaux, St-Julien or white Graves.

Château Gazin, Pomerol

Across the border in St-Emilion, the same generalizations regarding quality are almost impossible to make. On the one hand, there are a good number of estates that steered clear of overt Parkerization (excessive extraction), crafting wines of beautiful smoothness, opulence and pedigree. On the other, you have countless establishments that seem to have lost their way, their wines possessing more in common with port than with claret. While these same wines may be awarded high scores, their injudicious use of new oak and prolonged hang-time on the vine to promote extra ripeness and higher levels of alcohol (particularly inadvisable in 2012) serves only to distort the origins and singular qualities of the wines themselves, not to mention fails to disguise any phenolically underripe grapes that may have been picked. After all, what is the point of growing wine in St-Emilion when they all start tasting like they originated from Napa? In a year like 2012, the creation of such supercharged, overpriced wines does little to boaster long-term support for one of Bordeaux’s most dynamic appellations.

Final thoughts:

For many wine lovers nowadays, Bordeaux continues to harbour an image problem. For some, the estates and their wines are too stuffy, too obsessed with their own self-worth, charging exorbitant prices for bottles that may not even be opened for a decade or more. This makes the pricing structure of a vintage like 2012 all the more problematic, in that it only feeds into such sentiments. If claret is to remain relevant, its countless producers must never forget that its wines are unique, that it is short-sighted to produce wines like those of the Upper Douro or Napa Valley, and that it is especially important for premium estates to significantly lower their prices in non-legendary years. For an underappreciated vintage like 2012, most simply failed to recognize this.

Top picks:

Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2012 Pessac-Léognan hails from one of the most consistent, most proficient producers of premium white Graves. Retaining exemplary palate roundness, harmony and refinement, the Perrin family is yet again to be commended for its superior efforts. Drink now or hold for up to a decade. 

Château Kirwan 2012 Margaux may be easily justified as one of the top premium picks of the appellation, if not the entire vintage. A wine of remarkable purity, fragrance and freshness, it’s a miracle VINTAGES isn’t charging more for this. Drink now or hold for up to two decades. Decanting is recommended.

Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2012 Château Kirwan 2012 Château Siran 2012 Château Prieuré Lichine 2012

Château Siran 2012 Margaux comes from one of the friendliest, most accessible estates in its neck of the woods. Though not included in the 1855 Classification, this deliciously fruity and flavourful claret is easily one of the best bargains of the vintage. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Prieuré-Lichine 2012 Margaux hails from one of the most fragmented estates on the Left Bank, with as many as forty different parcels scattered throughout the appellation. Over the past several years, quality has risen considerably, its latest outing showing exceptional structure and precision. Drink now or hold for eighteen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Maucaillou 2012 Moulis-en-Médoc is unquestionably one of the best bets for the budget-minded, demonstrating outstanding precision, style and harmony. Owned by the Dourthe family since 1929, quality at this estate has risen much over the past several years. Drink now or hold for fifteen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Poujeaux 2012 Moulis-en-Médoc is capable of going head-to-head with many more famous names throughout the Left Bank. Possessing remarkable harmony, precision and build, the Theil family has every reason to be proud of all they’ve accomplished. Drink now or hold for up to eighteen years. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Maucaillou 2012 Château Poujeaux 2012 Château Sociando Mallet 2012 Château Coufran 2012

Château Sociando-Mallet 2012 Haut-Médoc comes from one of the most adept, most undervalued estates on the Left Bank. Possessing remarkable structure and class, wines from this exemplarily situated property are always reasonably priced and delicious. Let’s hope this never changes. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Coufran 2012 Haut-Médoc is a great choice for the budget-minded, containing far more Merlot than Cabernet Sauvignon in the final blend – a reflection of vineyard conditions. Owned by the Miailhe for a very long time, this is one property to watch. Drink now or hold for up to a decade or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Saint-Pierre 2012 St-Julien is definitely one of the year’s highlights, possessing extraordinary layering, structure and elegance. One of the smallest estates included in the 1855 Classification, this impeccable Fourth Growth is seldom sold in VINTAGES, only through its futures programme. Drink now or hold for two decades or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Haut-Bages Libéral 2012 Pauillac hails from one of very few estates in this vintage with the gumption to set its prices correctly. A claret of marvellous framework, balance and appellation character, a wine like this merits our patronage. Drink now or hold for up to eighteen years. Decanting is recommended.

Château Saint Pierre 2012 Château Haut Bages Libéral 2012 Château Gazin 2012 Château Lafaurie Peyraguey 2012

Château Gazin 2012 Pomerol has all the makings of an exemplary red wine, crafted at one of largest, most greatly improved estates on the appellation’s plateau. Exhibiting impeccable layering, structure and breed, it is unfortunate loyal admirers were only given a perfunctory break on the price. Drink now or hold for two decades or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2012 Sauternes regrettably represents one of few sweet wines for which I had time to write formal notes. Even so, few would deny that this particular specimen ranks as one of the most sensational, most lusciously stylish of the bunch. Reasonably priced when considering the amount of labour involved. Drink now or hold for three decades or more. 

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Click here for Julian’s complete list of 2012 notes

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The Successful Collector – The First Growths of Bordeaux

Julian Hitner reports on some of the top châteaux of Bordeaux after visiting one of France’s most celebrated winegrowing regions in 2014. Read on to learn more about the classifications of Bordeaux, a typical visit to first-class estate and an overview of some of the region’s most revered properties.

A spiritual experience:
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

A visit to a First Growth is unlike any other wine pilgrimage. The closest thing it resembles is a pseudo-religious experience: setting foot on sacred vineyards, entering sanctified estate interiors and partaking of wines officially consecrated as the best of the best, the latter a deceptively secular means of declaring such contents divine. Of course, this is mere melodramatic testament to perfectionist winegrowing, acknowledged by centuries of near-universal adulation, exorbitant price structuring and begrudged rarity of genuine appreciation by all but the most deep-pocketed of wine collectors. Yet these are the terms in which the most illustrious estates of Bordeaux must be understood, in that they are grandiose, that they are picture-perfect, and that the wines they produce are among the greatest in the world.

But how does one account for this situation? For wine historians, the success of Bordeaux’s greatest estates has as much to do with the quality of their flawless vineyards as it does with the long-standing endurance of the classification systems to which they belong. Of these, the most famous is the 1855 Classification of the Médoc (or Left Bank) and Sauternes-Barsac. This is the classification, or hierarchy, that includes the most prized châteaux of the Left Bank as First Growths: Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild (promoted in 1973), Margaux and Haut-Brion (the latter based out of the appellation of Pessac-Léognan in the Graves). All other estates fortunate enough to be included belong to four other categories: Second Growth, Third Growth, Fourth Growth and Fifth Growth. In Sauternes-Barsac, there are three categories: Premier Cru Supérieur (a status enjoyed only by Château d’Yquem), Premier Cru and Second Growth.

Château Lafite Rothschild vines and buildings

Château Lafite Rothschild vines and buildings

In the Graves, the appellation of Pessac-Léognan employs a one-category classification of Grand Cru Classé, or variations thereof, for both its red and white wines. Unlike the Left Bank, where all whites must be labeled, appellation-wise, as generic ‘Bordeaux’ and may not even mention the estate’s official ranking, those of Pessac-Léognan are permitted to state the actual name of the appellation as well as the official classification of the estate. All of this stands in contrast to the much larger, reds-only classification system of St-Emilion, the most significant appellation of the Right Bank sector of Bordeaux. Subject to revision every ten years or so, a sizeable number of estates are placed into four categories. The first is Premier Grand Cru Classé A, widely considered the equivalent of the First Growths of the Left Bank. For the longest time, only Châteaux Ausone and Cheval Blanc were ranked as such, having recent been joined (not without controversy) by Angélus and Pavie. Following this are Premier Cru Classé B, Grand Cru Classé and Grand Cru. Over the border in the appellation of Pomerol, there is no classification system in place, though few would dispute that immortal Château Petrus along with a few others may be considered equals to the First Growths of the Left Bank or St-Emilion.

Fairy Tale Second Growth Château Pichon-Longueville Baron

Fairy Tale Second Growth Château Pichon-Longueville Baron

 

All spiritual jargon aside, there is indeed something to be said for visiting nearly all of the First Growths of Bordeaux, along with a host of other magnificent properties, in only roughly one week. As appearances go, such properties are immaculately tended, with luxurious gardens, aristocratic exteriors and interiors and perfectly tended vines. Yet strangely enough, visiting the finest châteaux is not an entirely complicated concern, for most estates nowadays are eager to accept visitors. Advanced planning is key. Appointments must be made well ahead of time, in some cases as much as several months, and travel by car or perhaps bicycle is highly recommended. Most estates have special sections on their website on how they may be contacted for making an appointment. Furthermore, most estates, First Growths included, now retain public relations staff in their employ, many of whom are extremely courteous and knowledgeable. Excepting fellow winegrowers and professional journalists, it is highly unlikely that visitors will be greeted by the owner, chief viticulturalist or director of winemaking.

From personal experience, the course of a visit seldom varies from one château to another: a tour of the vineyards and cellar, followed by a tasting of the latest vintage, typically from barrel. The length of one’s stay depends almost entirely on one’s depth of interest. In most cases, First Growths are extremely large properties, consisting of substantial vineyard parcels, work-specific and residential buildings, elaborate garden spaces and below-ground cellars. Any self-respecting claret lover should make a point of viewing as many of these components as possible. Photos are almost always permitted.

Château Latour pigeon house and vines

Château Latour pigeon house and vines

 

As it so happens, those expecting an abundance of different wines to taste will be left out in the cold. Except on rare occasions, even professional journalists are only provided with a sample of the latest vintage to taste. Compared to many other types of wineries, many of which possess a vast range of wines on offer, most Bordeaux estates produce only a handful of wines every vintage. In the case of First Growths, this may consist of as a little as two wines: the grand vin (the top wine of the estate) and the second wine (usually crafted from parcels or vat selections deemed to be of lesser quality). Those that also produce white wines, such as Château Margaux or Haut Brion, seldom make these available for tasting, as they are produced in very small quantities. This said, tasting the latest vintage of Margaux or Cheval Blanc is anything but immaterial, for such wines are nowadays remarkably appreciable and understandable even in infancy, providing enthusiasts with invaluable insight into the reasons for which these estates are held in such sensational regard.

Unfortunately these days, the greatest names of Bordeaux are entirely unaffordable, demand far outstripping supply even for the second wines, a single bottle of which now cost at least a few hundred dollars. Not that such wines were ever low-cost, there was nonetheless a time, only a decade or two ago, when enthusiasts could put aside a few monies and lay their hands on a bottle or two for the cellar. This makes a pilgrimage to the First Growths all the more singular, for it is genuinely the only means nowadays of partaking of a small quantity of ostensibly hallowed wines traditionally reserved for a select few. As it appears, pseudo-religiosity knows very few bounds when discussing First Growths.

The greatest estates:

The First Growths of the 1855 Classification:

Château Latour:

Château Mouton Rothschild 2012 Château Lafite Rothschild 2001 Château Latour 2004As name recognition goes, Château Latour is perhaps the most famous of the First Growths, a name that evokes not unfounded notions of regality, grandeur and longevity. Owned by François Pinault, much of this 78-ha estate is located on the southern boundary of Pauillac, right across from Second Growth Léoville-Las Cases in St-Julien. The director of winemaking is Frédéric Engerer. The second wine is Les Forts de Latour. The estate also produces a third wine known as Pauillac de Château Latour, which has been produced every year since 1990.

Not long ago, Latour stunned the wine world by announcing that it is no longer participating in the annual en primeur (futures) programme, instead releasing specific vintages direct from the château only when they believe the wine is ready to be drunk. This is meant to discourage price speculation, bolster traditional markets and ensure the best possible quality for the connoisseur. Enthusiasts everywhere may look upon this as a positive development.

Château Latour 2004, Pauillac hails from one of the most classic vintages of the new century, possessing wondrous precision, harmony, layering and breed. Like so many other vintages before it, those fortunate enough to possess a bottle or two need not fear of carefully cellaring it for a few decades, perhaps for a child’s graduation. Drink now or hold through 2050 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Lafite Rothschild:

The epitome of pedigree and positive life forces, Château Lafite Rothschild may be considered the very embodiment of great claret production, for centuries compared and contrasted with Latour as the more aristocratic and graceful of the two. Owned by Baron Eric de Rothschild, this 112-ha property is situated on the northern boundary of Pauillac, directly across from Second Growth Cos d’Estournel in St-Estèphe. The director of winemaking is Charles Chevalier. The second wine is Carruades de Lafite.

Over the past decade, prices for Lafite have risen considerably in many parts of the world, mainly (though not exclusively) a result of its burgeoning popularity among well-heeled buyers in Asia. Although the wines of Lafite were never cheap, this dilemma has certainly shed light on the growing contrast of prices between those of the First Growths and its counterparts lower down the ladder. No solution has yet to be found.

Château Lafite Rothschild 2001, Pauillac is quite possibly the greatest wine of the vintage. Retaining indomitable authority, harmony, structure and gorgeousness, every claret enthusiast should discover the means of appreciating, if only once in a lifetime, a wine such as this, preferably on an occasion lending itself to quiet reflection and the company of one or two good persons. Drink now or hold through 2060 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Mouton Rothschild:

First Growth Château Mouton Rothschild has the extraordinary honour of being the only estate to have ever been promoted in the 1855 Classification, a status to which few would dispute it is rightly entitled. Owned by Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, this 84-ha establishment is bordered next to Lafite in the northern sector of Pauillac, where wines of miraculous depth, exuberance and breed are produced to worldwide acclaim. The director of winemaking is Hervé Berland. The second wine is Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild. The estate also produces small amounts of white wine known as Aile d’Argent, largely regarded as a work in progress.

For every vintage since 1945, Mouton has commissioned some of the world’s most famous artists to design the front label of the bottle, including Salvador Dalí, Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and acclaimed director John Huston. Few châteaux are as creative and dynamic as Mouton Rothschild.

Château Mouton Rothschild 2012, Pauillac is a wine like few others, delivering unbelievable structure, radiance, harmony and breed. For decades, Baron Philippe de Rothschild (1902-1988) worked tirelessly to have Mouton promoted from Second to First Growth, finally achieving his dream in 1973. Nearly forty vintages later, wines like ’12 prove precisely why this advancement was necessary. Drink now or hold through 2065 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Haut-Brion:

Château D’yquem 2011 Château Margaux 2008 Château Haut Brion 2007Based out of the appellation of Pessac-Léognan in the Graves, Château Haut-Brion is the only estate outside of the Left Bank to be included in the 1855 Classification. Owned by Prince Robert of Luxembourg, this 46-ha estate is by far the oldest of the First Growths in terms of name recognition and quality. Long-established hallmarks for both reds and whites (the latter produced in extremely small quantities) are precociousness of texture, sophistication and fragrance. The director of winemaking is Jean-Philippe Delmas. The second wine is Le Clarence de Haut-Brion.

In 1983, Haut-Brion managed to acquire the 26-ha Château La Mission Haut-Brion from across the road, running the property as a separate entity yet with the same perfectionist standards. In some ways, La Mission may be rightly deemed a sixth First Growth, for the quality of its wines, both red and white, is virtually identical to that of Haut-Brion (to which it is most often compared) and the four others. For now, however, the estate is only included in the one-category classification system of Pessac-Léognan. The second wine is La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion.

Château Haut-Brion 2007 Pessac-Léognan is very possibly the most inspiring claret from this difficult vintage. Tasted twice (most recently at the estate), it is probably the most ‘backward’ of the graduating class, featuring mindboggling layering, texture, elegance and harmony. With almost as much merlot as cabernet sauvignon, it is approachable even at present, though it will cellar for an extremely long time. Drink now or hold through 2060. Decanting is recommended.

Château Margaux:

Unequivocally the most sensual of the First Growths, Château Margaux is renowned for is unsurpassed spirituality of fragrance, elegance and structural dimension. Owned by Corinne Mentzelopoulos, this 92-ha estate is located in the appellation of the same name, with vineyards scattered among the choicest locations. The director of winemaking is Paul Pontallier. The second wine is Pavillon Rouge, and the estate also produces very small quantities of a miraculous white wine known as Pavillon Blanc.

Like many of the other First Growths, Margaux has spent the past several years tightening up quality, in the process creating a third wine, Margaux du Château Margaux. Now that two of five estates have launched such a label, it is likely only a matter of time before the rest of the pack does the same. Reactions to this development have been mixed. While quality of the Grand Vin and second wines are bound to go up, prices are likely to ascend just as rapidly.

Château Margaux 2008 Margaux is a claret of sensational layering, precision, harmony and grace. In many ways, it is a testament to the colossal aptitude of Paul Pontallier, Margaux’s managing director for nearly twenty-five years. Yet even Pontallier is the first to admit that his role at Margaux comes at a distant second to the estate’s unmatched terroirs. A very modest individual. Drink now or hold through 2050 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château d’Yquem:

Not only the greatest sweet wine producer in France, Château d’Yquem is easily one of Bordeaux’s most lauded and legendary institutions. Owned by luxury goods group LVMH, this 110-ha property is the only estate in Sauternes to be designated as Premier Cru Supérieur, its wines considered, at least historically, to be so much finer than any of its peers that to rank them as equals was unthinkable. The director of winemaking is Sandrine Garbay. Although there is no second wine, a small amount of dry table wine, known as Ygrec, is produced every vintage.

For the extremely challenging 2012 vintage, d’Yquem generated a great deal of controversy by announcing that it would not be producing a sweet wine. This has placed other estates in Sauternes and Barsac in a difficult position, with many winegrowers lamenting the effect d’Yquem’s decision has had on the market and overall expectations. While some producers have stayed the course and claim to have made excellent wines, others such as Rieussec, Suduiraut and Raymond-Lafon have gone the way of d’Yquem. Instead, many will only be bottling a wine under their second label. Was d’Yquem’s course of action justified? Time will hopefully tell.

Château d’Yquem 2011 Sauternes clearly reflects the quality of this magnificent vintage, delivering astounding glamour, harmony, energy and decadence. Put simply, few other estates in Bordeaux, France or any other part of the world are capable of routinely crafting wines of this type at such a stupendous level of excellence. A shame one vine at d’Yquem averages only a single glass of wine. Drink now or hold through 2060 and beyond.

Other illustrious estates:

Château Léoville-Las Cases:

Château Palmer 2004 Château Ducru Beaucaillou 2001 Château Léoville Las Cases 2008Were the 1855 Classification ever revised, Second Growth Château Léoville-Las Cases would likely join the ranks of the First Growths in a heartbeat. Owned and operated by Jean-Hubert Delon, this 98-ha institution is located in northern St-Julien, just opposite Château Latour in Pauillac. For decades, its wines have overwhelmed connoisseurs with their immaculate sense of structure, refinement and capability. The second wine is Le Petit Lion du Marquis de Las Cases, while another, more famous wine known as Clos du Marquis is sourced from extremely high-grade parcels adjacent to the main holdings of the estate.

The Delon family is also the proud owner of Château Potensac in the appellation of Médoc, one of the greatest overachievers in this rather northerly part of the Left Bank. Planted on atypically gravelly soils at slightly higher elevations (unusual in much of this appellation), wines from this 84-ha property are routinely of extremely high quality and are rarely overpriced. If only more entities were as perfectionist as Léoville-Las Cases and its sister property.

Château Léoville-Las Cases 2008 St-Julien is one of the most affordable wines I have ever encountered from this estate in modern times, at least judging by the profound reverence for which this Super Second is held. Sustaining spectacular harmony, layering, style and pedigree, it begs the question why the 1855 Classification has only once been meritoriously revised to accommodate Mouton Rothschild. Drink now or hold through 2050. Decanting is recommended.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou:

Along with Léoville-Las Cases, Second Growth Château Ducru-Beaucaillou is the pride and joy of St-Julien, an appellation with no First Growths yet possessing an awfully impressive résumé of revered properties. Owned and operated by Bruno Borie, this 50-ha establishment nowadays yields wines of prodigious finesse, harmony and excitement. The second wine is La Croix de Beaucaillou.

An overachieving Second Growth, Ducru-Beaucaillou is one of the most sought-after of the ‘Super Seconds,’ a nickname used to describe estates in the 1855 Classification that either perform well above their rank and/or are much more expensive than their peers. These include: Léoville-las Cases in St-Julien; Second Growths Cos d’Estournel and Montrose in St-Estèphe; Third Growth Palmer in Margaux; and Second Growths Pichon-Longueville Baron and Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac. Also worthy of mention are Lynch Bages and Pontet-Canet, two Pauillac Fifth Growths of Super Second quality and cost.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 2001 St-Julian is now entering its peak, possessing uncanny sophistication, harmony, refinement and breed. From one of the most underappreciated vintages of the new millennium, wines like these serve as a valuable reminder that premium clarets need not nowadays be aged for decades on end in order to be fully appreciated. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Palmer:

Though only ranked as a Third Growth, Château Palmer has been known to eclipse even neighbouring Château Margaux in some vintages. Owned by the Sichel and Mähler-Besse families, this 55-ha property has for decades produced wines of irrepressible beauty, profoundness and harmony. The director of winemaking is Thomas Duroux. The second wine is Alter Ego.

Although cabernet sauvignon is usually the most significant grape throughout the most prestigious appellations of the Left Bank, some estates like Palmer prefer to use near-equal amounts of merlot in the final blend, contributing extra concentration and beguilingly velvety textures to the wines. As of 2014, the estate also switched to 100% biodynamic farming. The future of Palmer has never shone brighter.

Château Palmer 2004 Margaux is already ten years old and yet only just beginning to open up. Endowed with astounding posture, refinement, harmony and style, its best days are still well ahead of it. For claret enthusiasts with the means of acquiring a bottle or two, it is thus a prime candidate to lay aside for the birth of a grandchild or long-awaited natural passing of a reviled in-law. Drink now or hold through 2050 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Cheval Blanc:

Vieux Château Certan 2012 Château Cheval Blanc 2006Along with Château Ausone (not visited), Château Cheval Blanc has long been recognized as the leading estate of St-Emilion, ranked as Premier Grand Cru Classé A in the appellation’s classification system. Owned by luxury goods group LVMH, this 37-ha establishment is situated on the border with Pomerol, and is known for wines of extraordinary pedigree, durability and envelopment. Prices are routinely equal or higher than the First Growths of the Left Bank. The director of winemaking is Pierre Lurton. The second wine is Le Petit Cheval.

In 2011, the estate completed a major renovation and expansion of its main building and adjacent facilities. Reactions to its unapologetically ultramodern design have been mixed, with some (mostly Cheval Blanc affiliates) lauding its savvy technological features, while others have bemoaned its outward ostentation and contrast with the traditional appearance of neighbouring estates. So long as quality remains the same, or is even enhanced, such developments are likely of small consequence to claret enthusiasts.

Château Cheval Blanc 2006 St-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé A is one of the most majestic wines I have tasted from this estate to date, conveying spellbinding structure, pedigree, texture and balance. Containing 55% merlot and a whopping 45% cabernet franc, it is unquestionably the qualitative equivalent of a Left Bank First Growth, albeit one derived from a distinctly different set of winegrowing criteria. Drink now or hold through 2055 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Vieux Château Certan:

With absolutely no classification system, claret aficionados are entirely left to their own devices when ranking the estates of Pomerol. Even still, few would disagree that Vieux Château Certan is one of a handful of estates meriting highest standing. Owned and operated by Alexandre Thienpont, this 14-ha property has for decades borne wines of magnificent stature, elegance and authority. The second wine is La Gravette de Certan.

Unlike other prestigious appellations in most other parts of Bordeaux, châteaux in Pomerol are often small-scale affairs, with vineyards typically only adding up to several hectares. Usually family-owned, there is an almost peasant-like mentality in how winegrowers view their properties. At Vieux Château Certan, Monsieur Thienpont takes a very hands-on approach, personally receiving visitors and sharing his ideas with them. If only top estates elsewhere could assume a similar attitude, though property sizes in many cases renders this unrealistic.

Vieux Château Certan 2012 Pomerol was grabbed right off the bottling line by Alexandre Thienpont during a recent visit. Possessing tremendous harmony, attitude, elegance and breed, it almost singlehandedly defies the difficulties many winegrowers faced throughout this troublesome vintage. From one of Pomerol’s most historically renowned estates, if only there were more of its wines to go around. Drink now or hold through 2048 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Stay tuned next month for my report on the 2012 vintage. Plenty of choices for both the budget-minded and serious collectors alike.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Click here for Julian’s massive list of Bordeaux red wine recommendations

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!


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The Successful Collector – Sud-Ouest France and Duck

Julian Hitner reports on his latest trip to the assorted appellations of Sud-Ouest (Southwest) France, shedding some much-needed light on one of France’s most sundry winegrowing regions and its inhabitants’ enthusiasm for duck. His visit to the Southwest (courtesy of Sopexa) includes Cahors, Gaillac and Fronton, tossing in Madiran and Jurançon (both not visited) for their jigsaw-like significance. Readers may also wish to take note that the wines of the Dordogne (ex. Bergerac) have been omitted on account of the similarities to their counterparts in Bordeaux.

The most diverse region in France?
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

In terms of sheer diversity, few regions are as varied as that of Sud-Ouest France. From titanically tannic reds and alternate renderings to whites of inordinate obscurity and rare dessert versions, the Sud-Ouest (Southwest) continues to writhe as one of France’s most enigmatic winegrowing sectors. Fortunately, many producers seem undeterred, crafting increasingly better wines in the hopes of attracting new followers. The odds seem in their favour, particularly as quality improves and prices even for premium versions remain relatively low.

Of reds, two appellations have traditionally enjoyed the strongest reputations: Cahors and Madiran. These days, the former, arguably the stronger of the two, owes much of its current revival to Malbec, the most important grape in Cahors (from which it originates) though made popular in Argentina. Most Cahors is a blend of two or three grapes, containing at least 70 per cent Malbec and up to 30 per cent Merlot and/or Tannat. But even this is changing, with increasing numbers of producers crafting wines containing 100 per cent Malbec in their top offerings. Over the past several years, VINTAGES has been diligent in its selections, with prices ranging from $15-60.

The history of Cahors is a fascinating one, worthy of a brief digression. As early as the Middle Ages, it was known as ‘The Black Wine’ because of its dark appearance and weighty structure, a choice drink for connoisseurs. Then in the late-nineteenth century phylloxera struck, annihilating most of the vineyards. At the time, shortsighted growers replanted with inferior, high-yielding hybrids, leaving Cahors all but a distant memory. This began to change in the years following the Second World War, when some producers banded together in faint hopes of reviving their beloved Black Wine. Though it has taken decades, these growers’ descendants have largely succeeded in replanting their vineyards, and are again crafting wine of outstanding dimension, elegance and quality.

Though back on form, the modern-day reds of Cahors (there are no whites) taste nothing like their Argentinean counterparts, the latter oftentimes much more concentrated and excessively oak-reliant. In Cahors, the most balanced examples, sourced from a wide range of terroirs (the higher terraces and plateau are considered top locations), often possess wonderful quantities of blackberries, purple fruits and menthol in youth, taking on more claret-like characteristics as they age, yet always retaining a unique sense of balance, crystalline texture and breed. What’s more, such wines are often resoundingly tannic, requiring several years (sometimes decades) of aging to open up. Vigorous decanting can do much to alleviate the mouth-puckering effects of a young bottle of Cahors.

Tannat Grapes (Courtesy Official Website for Madiran Wines)

Tannat Grapes (Courtesy Official Website for Madiran Wines)

This said, no wine of France is better known for its tannins than Madiran. The name of its principle grape says it all: Tannat. According to current regulations, this most tightly structured of French grapes most comprise at least 50 per cent of the blend. Other permitted grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Fer Servadou. As in Cahors, many producers are now crafting their finest versions with 100 per cent Tannat. With many exceptions, the best examples seem strikingly Bordelaise, containing similar flavour profiles of currants, blackberries and damson plums, albeit with much more tannic structure in youth. Time is Madiran’s friendly companion. As the finest bottlings age, they routinely tend to mirror their counterparts in Cahors and Bordeaux, assuming notes of cedarwood, tobacco and wild game. Modern winemaking methods have played no small role in the expanding success of this superb appellation, with many producers utilizing a technique known as ‘micro-oxygenation’ to soften tannins during the vinification and maturation process. Selections in VINTAGES are usually reasonable, with prices ranging from $15-30, sometimes more. Like Cahors, great Madiran routinely represents excellent value for money.

Then there’s Gaillac, home to more obscure grape varietals than any other part of the Southwest. For producers, this is something of a double-edged sword: plenty of unique wines yet continuous confusion on the part of potential patrons. For reds, the primary grapes are Braucol (the local name for Fer Servadou) and Duras, oftentimes accompanied by Gamay, Syrah and the three main Bordeaux grapes (plus a few others). Braucol and Duras share many similarities. Both are medium-bodied at most and tend to contain flavours reminiscent of plums, blackberries and pepper. Only the best bottlings are usually aged in oak, and may be kept for at least several years. Simpler versions really ought to be consumed immediately. Selections in VINTAGES are minimal, though some decent examples may be had for less than twenty bucks.

Loin de l'Oeil Grapes (Courtesy Official Website for Gaillac Wines)

Loin de l’Oeil Grapes (Courtesy Official Website for Gaillac Wines)

The white wines of Gaillac are even more complicated. By tradition, the most common grape is Loin de l’Oeil (or Len de l’El), so named because of its long-stemmed clusters as it appears on the vine. Although occasionally appearing on its own, it is often blended with Mauzac (another major grape of the appellation), Ondenc, Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc, the latter largely viewed as an unwelcome intruder. Historically, such esoteric grapes were used to make sweeter-style wines of considerable quality. Now such bottlings represent only a very small minority. Instead, growers have increasingly turned to rosés and sparkling wines in order to increase sales. Crafted from 100 per cent Mauzac, sparkling versions in Gaillac are produced via the ‘ancestral method’ (or ‘méthode ancestrale’), whereby the wine is bottled during fermentation, thus trapping carbon dioxide inside the wine. As with the reds, quality remains patchy in a few cases, though there is no doubting the determination of the appellation’s many young winegrowers.

This same resolve has also taken hold in Fronton. Located just north of the city of Toulouse (one of the largest cities in France), this appellation is fairly easy to understand. In this soothingly pastoral neck of the Southwest, reds must contain at least 50 per cent Négrette, the most important grape in Fronton. Though 100 per cent is permitted, most growers opt to blend their wines with varying percentages of Fer Servadou and Syrah. Despite its name, Négrette may have a dark colour but does not take kindly to aging in oak. Usually light-bodied and containing moderate notes of damson plums, most Fronton is really best admired for its youthful freshness and fruitiness. As in Gaillac and other appellations, rosé versions are also now being produced in sizable volumes. Selections for both types of wine in VINTAGES are sparse, with prices hovering around fifteen dollars. As a recommendable everyday wine, Fronton is seldom expensive, for Toulouse is a thirsty city.

Map of Southwest France

Finally, there is the appellation of Jurançon, home to the most famous type of sweet wine in the Southwest. Many wine commentators and sommeliers have a soft spot for this distinctive, underrated offering, crafted in relatively small amounts and usually drunk at the beginning of a meal. As elsewhere, the grapes are unique: Petit Manseng and its thinner-skinned (and larger-berried) cousin Gros Manseng, along with Petit Courbu and several others of preposterous obscurity. Unlike Sauternes, these delectably sweet moelleux wines are not affected by botrytis, nonetheless left on the vine as late as December to order to concentrate their sugars and flavour content. In France, this process is known as passerillé. In Alsace, wines labelled as ‘Vendanges Tardive’ are treated almost exactly the same. In youth, great Jurançon often presents notes of honey, lemon curd and elderberries, becoming increasingly Sauternes-like as it ages, though almost never as full-bodied. Pickings in VINTAGES are uninspired, though are often extremely reasonably priced when available, usually at around $25 or less. Dry white versions, labelled as ‘Jurançon Sec’ (crafted mostly from the earlier-ripening Gros Manseng) usually cost only half as much, and are often recommendable as everyday wines.

As if choices from the Southwest aren’t varied enough, scores of other appellations also slowly on the ascendancy. Value for money is key to their future prosperity. Though almost never available in VINTAGES, names to watch out for are Marcillac, Buzet, Côtes du Marmandais, Côtes du Duras, Béarn (and Béarn-Bellocq) and Irouléguy, the latter the only French appellation located in Basque Country. For lovers of diversity in wine, this vast sector of France truly is a proverbial treasure-trove of possibilities.

A few estates to watch:

Château Bouissel (Fronton): Run by Anne-Marie and Pierre Selle, the wines of Château Bouissel are among the most enjoyable in Fronton. At this 22-ha estate, freshness and approachability are prominent features. Three reds are currently produced, along with a very clean rosé. Le Bouissel seems their most balanced label, crafted mainly from Négrette and equal parts Syrah and Cot (Malbec) Ontario representative: Ruby Wines & Spirits

Château Bouissel 2012 Le Bouissel Fronton is one of several impressive examples produced at this reputable estate. Though more serious wines are increasingly being attempted, the best wines of Fronton seem to be those that manage to retain a proper sense of fruit expression and approachability. This is just such a wine. Drink now or hold for up to four years or more.  

Domaine Rotier (Gaillac): One of the finest properties in Gaillac, this 35-ha property is owned by Alain Rotier and brother-in-law Francis Marre. Though the reds respectable enough, the estate’s sweet wine (crafted from 100 per cent Loin de l’Oeil) is a very special offering. Like many operations in this part of the Southwest, the future holds more potential than it does obstacles. Ontario representative: Rouge et Blanc

Domaine Rotier 2011 Renaissance Vendanges Tardives Gaillac harkens back to the days when this ancient part of winegrowing France was best known for its sweeter-styled wines. Impeccably styled and elegant, it is a shame more of these wines aren’t produced nowadays. Drink now or hold for ten years or more.

Domaine du Moulin (Gaillac): Owned by the Hirrisou family, the wines of Domaine du Moulin are among the most impressive in Gaillac. Concentration, cleanliness and character seem to be common traits, particularly as far as the premium labels are concerned. Every visitor to this charming appellation should make a point of tasting this property’s wines. Not represented in Canada

Domaine du Moulin 2012 Florentin is easily the greatest pure Braucol (Fer Servadou) I have tasted to date. Possessing first-rate fruit expression, harmony and character, I would have never believed this lighter-bodied grape could yield a wine of such seriousness. Drink now or hold for six years or more. Decanting recommended.

Château Bouissel Classic 2012 Domaine Rotier Renaissance Vendanges Tardives 2011 Domaine Du Moulin Florentin 2012 Domaine Du Prince Lou Prince Cahors 2011 Château Montus 2009

Domaine du Prince (Cahors): Owned by the Jouve family, the wines of Domaine du Prince (especially the more premium versions) are certainly among the more concentrated versions of the appellation. Recent vintages from this 27-ha property seem superb, which currently produces four reds and one rosé. This is a very serious operation. Québec representative: À Travers Le Vin

Domaine du Prince 2011 Lou Prince Cahors is the flagship bottling of the estate, sourced from two separate parcels. Like the property’s other premium labels, this marvellous offering manages to combine a unique sense of modernity with the inherent characteristics and flavours of a top-sited Cahors. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting recommended.  

Château Montus (Madiran): Generally considered the star estate of the appellation, the wines of Château Montus seldom disappoint. Owned by Alain Brumont, a master of Tannat, this stellar establishment currently produces five reds and one white. For Madiran enthusiasts, and fans of the Southwest of France in general, few properties are as significant. Québec Representative: Mark Anthony Brands

Château Montus 2009 Montus Madiran is a wine of outstanding character, power and breed. Just as significant, the Montus is not even the flagship label of the estate, which just goes to show how serious owner Alain Brumont takes his wines. Drink now or hold four fourteen years or more. Decanting recommended.

~

Duck (canard) and Sud-Ouest France:

Thanks to a sensational foie gras extravaganza at Château Montauriol (see list below) in Fronton and many other opportunities to partake of local specialties, Julian’s time in the Southwest of France was as much wine-themed as it was duck-oriented. Feast your eyes on his report.

As I am loath to the concept of photographing my food, a type of avant-garde ritual amongst smartphone and tablet owners as an alternate form of saying grace, I leave it to readers’ old-fashioned imaginations to conceive of the wondrous and innumerable types of duck (canard) cuisine to be found in the Southwest of France. Though enjoyed throughout France and many other parts of the world, few peoples seem as attached to this sinfully satisfying creature as the inhabitants of France’s southwestern quadrant, particularly in and around Gascogne.

Controversy aside, foie gras is the most celebrated genre, the best examples sourced from the livers of free-range ducks (though geese is considered superior) fattened on maize. Foie gras is produced in many formats. Those prepared ‘entier’ are generally considered the finest, consisting of the entire liver and usually containing no preservatives. Those presented as a ‘bloc’ are typically derived from smaller pieces whipped and condensed together. ‘Mousse’ de foie gras consists of puréed pieces, while ‘pâté’ is usually combined with other meat products. When cooked, entier or bloc versions (most common) are among the most appetizing of culinary delights. Foie gras is typically begun at the start of a meal, ideally with sweeter-style wines. Jurançon or sweet Gaillac are both optimal pairings.

Though modes of preparation are vast, two types of duck are most often served as main courses. Confit de canard is certainly the most decadent. Crafted from the leg, the meat is first rubbed with salt, herbs and garlic, after which it is covered in rendered fat. The duck is then cooked at a low temperature in the oven for at least several hours. The result is incredible flavour and richness. Another common type of duck is magret de canard, the breast of the bird, typically lined with a half-centimetre layer of fat on one side. Usually pan-fried and containing several slits for accuracy, a moist helping of magret de canard is one of the region’s great offerings. Cahors or Madiran are ideal accompaniments.

The options don’t end here. In salads, duck gizzards (gesiers) are quite common, as is smoked duck served in slices, usually from the breast. There are many others of greater complicatedness than the ones mentioned above, and I would list them, yet I am made to recall the trials and tribulations of my most beloved cartoon characters and feel the need to pause. It seems my appreciation of duck is not without a sense of screen imagery after all.

A duck feast at Château Montauriol (Fronton):

Foie gras de canard mi-cuit (half-cooked)

Fois gras de canard entier

Cou de canard farci

Rillettes de canard

Pâté de canard

Saucisse de canard

Magret de canard frais séché

Gesiers de canard (served in salad)

Tartare de canard

Carpaccio de canard (with garlic and parsley)

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Click here for Julian’s complete list of red wines from Southwest France

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!


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The Successful Collector – Taylor’s Tawnies

Julian Hitner reports on the greatest tawny port lineup ever presented in WineAlign’s newly refurbished tasting room, courtesy of Stephen Marentette of Sylvestre Wines & Spirits. Several of these wines (including an astonishing bottling from 1863!) have already been released through VINTAGES, with one or two on the way (click on the links below for exact dates).

The Art of Tawny Port
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

In port circles, few establishments are as universally revered as Taylor Fladgate, its roots dating back more than three hundred years. Quality is an obsession here, from the choicest bottle-aged (vintage) versions to those kept in wood (such as Late Bottled Vintage) for only a short period of time. But what of those aged in barrel for ten years or longer, those ‘tawnies’ one hears so much about? Back in 1973, when the Instituto dos Vinho do Porto (IVP) created new rules permitting producers to state the age of older tawny ports on the label, Taylor’s found itself in an enviable position. Having spent decades developing stocks of fortified wines aged for many years in wood, it became the first major house to launch a full range of tawnies in increments of 10, 20, 30 and 40 years. Over forty years later, these versions have emerged as some of the most enticing, most consistent wines of their kind in the Douro.

Needless to say, their ‘ruby’ counterparts are entirely different. Aside from much fiercer tannins, deeper colours and totally dissimilar flavours, the finest rubies are largely crafted with bottle aging in mind. Vintage versions are at the top of the pyramid, crafted from the best grapes and only aged for roughly two years in wood and subsequently sold to private buyers for decades of further maturation. Other types, such as Late Bottled Vintage (LBV), are kept in barrel for around four to six years to make them approachable on release. Wines labelled simply as ‘Ruby’ are the cheapest, crafted from the lowest quality grapes and aged very minimally. There are several other types of ruby port, each worthy of exploration.

Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny Port Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny Port Taylor Fladgate 30 Year Old Tawny Port Taylor Fladgate 40 Year Old Tawny PortTaylor Fladgate Single Harvest 1964

By comparison, tawny ports are aged for much longer periods in wood for a much lighter colour (one can easily guess which one) and more nut- and fruitcake-oriented flavours. Wines simply labelled as ‘Tawny’ are the most plebeian, and do not state any period of barrel aging on the label. Taylor’s Fine Tawny (not tasted) is just such a wine. Continuing with Fladgate, this is followed by the 10 Year Old, usually the freshest and most approachable of the above-mentioned quartet. In contrast, the aristocratic 20 Year Old is a much more serious offering, possessing deeper flavours and more concentration. This seems to be the premium tawny of choice for the widest number of connoisseurs. However, for those with very deep pockets, the princely 30 Year Old is a singular favourite, likely on account of its inherent richness, prodigious complexity and overall sense of completeness. The imperial 40 Year Old, on the other hand, is almost an entirely different proposition, produced in very small quantities and possessing unparalleled concentration, luxuriousness and exoticism. Tasted side-by-side, the 30 Year Old appears much fresher and mellower, while its senior, ritzier counterpart seems a weighty titan, basking in immortal opulence and pedigree. Each of these tawnies are among the greatest in Portugal, blended from multiple vintages with the youngest being the stated age on the label.

A short time ago, the ante for such wines was upped even further with Taylor’s introduction of its 1964 Single Harvest Port. Bottled this year, fifty-year-old tawnies from a specific vintage are beyond rare, though younger single-vintage versions known as ‘Colheita’ are produced at many houses. Such wines are usually extremely well made and delicious, particularly those up to twenty years of age. Yet Taylor’s half-century-old bottling (priced at $299.95 in VINTAGES), which it plans on producing every year from now on, is something truly unique, slightly Madeira-like and a good deal sweeter. It is certainly the greatest Colheita (though this term is not used on the label) I have tasted to date.

Taylor Fladgate 1863 Single Harvest Port (Courtesy Taylor Fladgate)At least from the twentieth century. Leave it to Taylor’s to lay its hands on a few casks of mid-nineteenth-century fortified wine from a single vintage and then bottle it. Indeed, the firm’s 1863 Single Harvest Port is likely to be celebrated as one of most spellbinding, most miraculous tawnies in modern times. Divvied out into 1,600 gorgeous crystal decanters placed in luxury boxes of maple burl veneer (fetching $3,995 in VINTAGES), it almost reminds one of a super-premium Cognac, at the same time extraordinarily spice-oriented and mouth-filling. Crafted from pre-phylloxera grapes, it is unquestionably the most unique port wine, ruby or tawny, I have ever been privileged to examine. At the house of Fladgate, only the best seems to do.

The tawny ports of Taylor Fladgate:

Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny Port may generally be considered the gold standard for tawnies of this age group, crafted with obvious care and attention to detail. The freshest and most fruit-driven of the range yet by no means simplistic, this may be enjoyed with almost carefree abandon.

Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny Port has always been a favourite of mine, and recent batches have never been better. Compared to the 10 Year Old, this is a more serious wine, possessing outstanding body, harmony and style. It certainly merits all the laurels it consistently receives.

Taylor Fladgate 30 Year Old Tawny Port has always seemed the most ‘complete’ of the age-stated quartet, delivering substantial concentration, purity and harmony. More than double the cost of the 20 Year Old, collectors have every right to expect great things from such a wine. I have never once been disappointed.

Taylor Fladgate 40 Year Old Tawny Port is easily the most decadent, most enticing wine of this genre. Like its counterparts, it is a blend of multiple vintages, the youngest being the stated age on the label. This means some extremely old vintages were blended into this, with stupendous results.

Taylor Fladgate 1964 Single Harvest Port delivers unbelievable character, style and harmony. Hailing from a single vintage, it has very little in common with even the 40 Year Old, possessing remarkable Madeira-like characteristics and sweeter flavours on the palate. A true original in more ways than one.

Taylor Fladgate 1863 Single Harvest Port is in a class of its own, possessing more in common with a fine Cognac (particularly on the nose) than with a fortified wine. Featuring astounding intensity, harmony, structure, elegance and length, this is one of the true originals of the winegrowing world. Pity that so few persons will ever have an opportunity to taste it.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Click here for Julian’s list of recommended port wines

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!


 

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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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The Successful Collector – The Haut-Médoc

Stomping grounds for value
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

If there’s one problem Bordeaux has yet to overcome, it’s convincing enthusiasts that great claret need not break the bank. Yet many less-esteemed appellations throughout one of France’s most celebrated winegrowing areas are nowadays consistently able to combine both quality and ageability with youthful scrumptiousness and value. Of these, the Haut-Médoc is arguably at the forefront.

The largest appellation on the Left Bank of the Gironde, the Haut-Médoc surrounds the far more renowned appellations (excluded like a jigsaw puzzle from the map shown right) of Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac, and St-Estèphe, each home to the lion’s share of the most famous estates in Bordeaux. The others are situated further upriver, just south of the city of Bordeaux, in the appellation of Pessac-Léognan. As a result, the finest estates of the Haut-Médoc are routinely overlooked.

But this has begun changing for some time, particularly in parts of the Haut-Médoc most blessed with higher gravel mounds on which to plant vines. As with the finest sections in the more celebrated appellations mentioned above, these gravel mounds represent one of the most significant characteristics of the greatest terroirs on the Left Bank. While regrettable, estates with vines sourced from lower-level locations simply cannot make the same wines.

The boundaries of the Haut-Médoc are extensive. Extending only several kilometres into the hinterland, the appellation begins just northeast of the city of Bordeaux along the Left Bank of the Gironde. It concludes several kilometres north of St-Estèphe, where the gravel mounds finally give way to lower-lying vineyards located in an appellation known simply as Médoc. Merlot tends to play a much greater role in the blends at this point along the river, with Cabernet Sauvignon habitually used in much smaller amounts.

Throughout much of the Haut-Médoc, Cabernet Sauvignon is used in fairly generous proportions, reinforced by Merlot and small percentages of Cabernet Franc. Petit Verdot may be found from time to time, while Malbec may turn up in extremely small sums here and there. While the most illustrious estates may employ hand pickers at harvest time, many estates will often bring in their grapes via mechanical harvesters. Unlike the most famous estates of Margaux or Pauillac, many establishments in the Haut-Médoc are unable to afford such a luxury. The use of new French oak barriques will also vary according to financial constraints and/or quality of the grapes.

Of rankings, the Haut-Médoc contains only five estates belonging to the famous yet contentious 1855 Classification, each varying in quality and typically ranging in VINTAGES and the SAQ from $45-100. In terms of overall value, better examples may be found among the numerous estates ranked as Cru Bourgeois, the chief ranking category of the appellation. With the odd exception, prices in this category usually range from $20-40.

In the past, the majority of such wines were excessively lean and required years of cellaring in order to blossom. Not anymore. As a result of better winegrowing techniques and changes in climatic conditions (think global warming), the best Cru Bourgeois wines nowadays routinely offer immediate, concentrated appeal, and may be kept for up to ten years or more in the cellar. What’s more, their prices are strikingly reasonable, unlike their counterparts in St-Julien or St-Estèphe, where estates included in the 1855 Classification have all but been cordoned off except to the most well-heeled of buyers.

In the twenty-first century, never before has the winegrowing region of Bordeaux made such sizeable quantities of excellent wine. Yet the consequences of celebrity have grown all too apparent in appellations like Margaux or Pauillac, where wines once considered reasonable have become anything but. For diehard claret lovers, therefore, the fast-improving Haut-Médoc could not be more of a lifesaver.

My top choices:

Château Peyrabon 2010 Haut-Médoc is situated in the commune of St-Sauveur (just to the east of Pauillac) and represents terrific value for money. Although a rather oak-driven affair, all the component parts of this sumptuous claret are in marvellous alignment. Drink now or hold for up to ten years or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Sénéjac 2009 Haut-Médoc is situated in the commune of St-Pian (located in the southern part of the appellation) and is easily the most serious vintage I’ve tasted from this estate to date. Regrettably, only a handful of bottles are left in VINTAGES at time of publication. Drink now or hold for up to eight years or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Peyrabon 2010Château Senejac 2009Château Larose Trintaudon 2010Château Moulin De Blanchon 2009Château De Gironville 2009

Château Larose-Trintaudon 2010 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of St-Laurent (just to the east of St-Julien) and is the largest estate on the Left Bank. Though quality has been limited for many years, recent vintages such as the ’10 have been excellent. Drink now or hold for up to eight years. Decanting is recommended.

Château Moulin de Blanchon 2009 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of St-Seurin (just to the north of St-Estèphe) and represents a sincerely beautiful outing. From a part of the Haut-Médoc with some extremely fine wineries, it’s wines like these that typify the future of the appellation. Drink now or hold for up to six years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château de Gironville 2009 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of Macau (just to the south of Margaux) and is a truly delicious affair. Containing 10% Petit Verdot (unusual for a Haut-Médoc), there are only a handful of bottles left in VINTAGES at time of publication. Drink now or hold for up to eight years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château La Lagune 2010Château Belgrave 2009Château Belgrave 2009 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of St-Laurent (just to the east of St-Julien) and is ranked as a Fifth Growth in the 1855 Classification. Though twice the cost of a standard Cru Bourgeois, the ’09 really is an outstanding claret. Drink now or hold for up to fourteen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château La Lagune 2010 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of Ludon (located in the southern part of the appellation) and is ranked as a Third Growth in the 1855 Classification. This is widely regarded as one of the finest wines of the Haut-Médoc, and is highly recommended for serious collectors. Drink now or hold for up to twenty years or more. Decanting is recommended.

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.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

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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The Successful Collector – Value at the premium end in France

Where to Find Value in Top French wines
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

When venturing into the potentially prohibitive arena of premium French wine buying in VINTAGES, enthusiasts may have to dodge a few landmines to score the best finds. Even then, what is ‘premium’ by French standards? Subliminally speaking, $40-50 is often the starting point, which is still quite a lot of money to spend on any single bottle of wine, to say nothing of those costing a great deal more. What vinous liquids from the world’s most illustrious winegrowing nation could possibly be worth the extra cash?

The answer is largely subjective, though commentators and sommeliers over the years have reached some form of consensus. In each case, overall quality and aging potential are among the two most important factors.

Logo UGCC JEPGFor whites, Grand Cru Chablis is routinely at the top of the list, with prices ranging between $50-100. Compare this to a single bottle of Corton-Charlemagne, which usually fetches at least $200. In the words of UK-based expert Hugh Johnson: “Parity would be closer to justice.” Regrettably, the same cannot be said of most other white Burgundies.

Further north, outlays for the best dry whites of Alsace have long remained remarkably reasonable. Of special interest are the finest examples of riesling and gewürztraminer, usually hailing from specific parcels within the region’s many Grand Cru vineyards. In VINTAGES, the best examples typically fetch around $30-85. Such wines are not only intensely flavoured and downright delectable, but are usually just as ageworthy as their counterparts in Burgundy or Bordeaux. Why the best dry whites of Alsace continue to fetch such comparatively low prices is beyond me.

On the red side of the spectrum, there are an even larger number of choices. The only catch is that Bordeaux and Burgundy really aren’t the best places to be looking for them. Instead, buyers should arguably be on the lookout for the greatest offerings of the Rhône (particularly the southern appellations) and Midi, where both overall quality and ageability have skyrocketed over the past fifteen years.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in picturesque Gigondas, where wines mainly consist of grenache, syrah, and mourvèdre. About a half-hour’s drive northeast of Châteauneuf-du-Pape (the most famous appellation in the region), the greatest producers nowadays manage to coax astounding concentration, character, and ageing potential out of their wines. On VINTAGES shelves, most Gigondas costs between $30-70, the best representing astounding value for money when compared to the costliest Châteauneufs, the latter easily surpassing $125. Southwest of here, the finest wines of Vacqueyras are also turning heads.

Gigondas

Picturesque Gigondas

The same can also be said of the Midi (Languedoc-Roussillon), the crescent-shaped portion of Mediterranean France that was mostly recognized for its bulk wine in the past. Not anymore. Nowhere in the country has quality leapt so high in such a short period of time as this gorgeously rugged set of winegrowing areas. In most places, the same grapes as the Southern Rhône dominate the best bottlings, though old-vine carignan is also highly prized. While specific appellations are too varied to list, prices in VINTAGES often begin as low as $30 for some truly exemplary offerings, rising to $60 or more on a few occasions. Compared, once again, to Bordeaux or Burgundy, such wines are a proverbial steal.

Switching to sparklings, every French wine lover understands that Champagne is the most celebrated of its type in the world, though value at the premium end is oftentimes viewed as a contradiction in terms. After all, even the most basic, non-vintage offerings begin at $40 or more in Ontario. As a result, many enthusiasts tend to overlook the more costly vintage-stated versions. But these are precisely the wines to watch out for, especially those from $60-100. Though admittedly not of the same quality as a super-extravagant cuvée like Cristal (nearly $300), such wines are nonetheless almost always profoundly superior to their non-vintage counterparts, capable of cellaring for at least several years.

Then there are the innumerable sweet wines of France. Believe it or not, this is where Bordeaux shines brighter than most of its counterparts, for the likes of Sauternes and Barsac are among the most truly inimitable types of botrytis-affected dessert wines around. Despite the amount of skilled labour and material costs involved, wondrous examples may be had in the range of $40-75, most in 375-mL bottles. Though much cheaper versions are available elsewhere, the quality is oftentimes simply not the same. Hence, along with the fantastic chenin blanc-based dessert wines of the Loire (these simply cannot be omitted), this is arguably the one instance where the most famous examples truly represent the best buys.

Of course, there are many other premium wines throughout France that have not been listed here. From the most prized reds of Madiran and Cahors in the Southwest to the spellbinding Vouvrays (plus a few from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé) in the Loire, the number of choices at the luxury level are unimaginable. But this is a column about the truly best of the best, combining both colossal quality and long-term ageability (hence my need to append a few names just a moment ago, along with mourvèdre-based Bandol in Provence and top single-cru Beaujolais). In the end, there will always be an astounding number of tolerably priced premium French wines to choose from, as well as plenty that, in true draconian style, will have to be left out.

My top choices:

Domaine William Fèvre 2011 Chablis Bougros Côte Bouguerots Grand Cru ($90.00) is sourced from a 2.11-ha parcel of old vines at the foot of the vineyard. Showcasing fantastic harmony, character, and charm, it’s wines like these that get me so excited about Grand Cru Chablis. Drink now or hold for six years or more.

Domaine Christian Moreau 2011 Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru ($65.00) is a perfect illustration of how underpriced Grand Cru Chablis currently stands. For the record: I wrote up this wine in glowing terms in a previous column, yet there are still a few bottles left. Such elegance and harmony! Not to be missed. Drink now or hold for up to nine years.

Trimbach 2010 Réserve Riesling ($27.95) has been selected not just because of its price (nor because pickings at the moment in VINTAGES are rather slim), but mainly on account of its remarkable quality. From one of the greatest producers in Alsace, this has all the elements of a premium wine, minus the cost. Drink now or hold for five years or more.

E. Guigal 2009 Gigondas ($31.95) is a wine of great power, focus, and clarity of fruit. From one of the most famous producers in the Rhône, this surpasses a whole horde of basic Châteauneufs we wine commentators routinely examine every year. Drink now or hold for ten years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Montirius 2011 Les Clos Vacqueyras ($32.00) delivers both excellent freshness and focus for a wine of its type. As a whole, this producer has consistently delivered both high quality and value over the past several years, making for some very worthy recommendations. Drink now or hold for five years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Bougros Côte Bouguerots Grand Cru 2011Christian Moreau Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 2011Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2010 E. Guigal Gigondas 2009Montirius Le Clos Vacqueyras 2011

Château Puech-Haut 2011 Prestige St-Drézéery ($29.95) encapsulates virtually everything I’ve said about the remarkable value of Midi-based wines, particularly from a standpoint of both quality and ageability. From an especially well-regarded establishment, I have yet to taste a non-overachiever from here. Drink now or hold for up to eight years. Decanting is recommended.

Moët & Chandon 2004 Grand Vintage Brut Champagne ($83.95) is well less than half the price of Dom Pérignon and yet of truly wonderful quality. Retaining tremendous precision and harmony (not to mention exemplary fruit expression and style), sparkling lovers will not want to miss out on this exemplary vintage champagne. Drink now or hold for up to twelve years.

Larmandier-Bernier 2007 Terres de Vertus Vintage Brut Champagne ($75.00) packs a great deal of firepower for such a young vintage. Boasting considerable intensity and harmony, I’m amazed VINTAGES hasn’t made greater efforts to source more champagnes from this particular house. Drink now or hold for up to ten years.

Château de Myrat 2009 Barsac ($28.00) is not just ridiculously underpriced, but is also likely the best wine ever produced at this estate. Combining resolute harmony with acute deliciousness, this 375-mL bottle serves as a liquid testament to how undervalued great Barsac (along with Sauternes) continues to be. Drink now or hold for up to twenty years.

Château Puech Haut Prestige Saint Drézéry 2011Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Champagne 2004Larmandier Bernier Terres De Vertus Vintage Brut Champagne 2007Château De Myrat 2009

Readers may want to take note that there are many other exemplary wines currently available in VINTAGES 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

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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VINTAGES Preview for March 29th 2014 (Part One)

Welcome to VINTAGES!

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

As my jet-setting colleagues are currently re-discovering South Africa, I remain on solid ground and am happy to keep you grounded as well with the best picks from the upcoming VINTAGES release feature.

So, “Welcome to VINTAGES”!  That is the title of the upcoming VINTAGES release. If you’re asking yourself what this feature title is all about, you’re not alone – I was equally confused. I jumped to the conclusion that this was a collection of wines new to the VINTAGES category that were being “welcomed” in. It turns out, though, that the theme behind this month’s release is to showcase wines that represent what VINTAGES is “all about.” Some of these wines are big names; others more obscure, and the remaining represent popular styles. If these three categories define what we see in VINTAGES, this might provide some insight into what we should expect to see in the near future.

VINTAGES March 29 Release CoverIt also offers a good opportunity to provide some background about the sometimes mysterious VINTAGES collection. What is VINTAGES? Most people think of it as the rear portion of their LCBO shop with finer shelving and more intimidating pricing. Basically, VINTAGES tries to entice those who are willing to spend a little more on higher quality and better names, and encourage them to discover something new. Whether they achieve this is perhaps an interesting academic question, if also somewhat beside the point, since there is no other outlet for such a selection of international wines in the province.

To break it down:

VINTAGES is the premium category of spirits and wine at the LCBO, to be contrasted with the regular LCBO shelves that are known as the “general list”. Over 5,000 new products are introduced through VINTAGES every year and these are delivered to consumers through over 600 LCBO stores across Ontario.

There are about one hundred “VINTAGES Essentials” that are continuously available but the vast majority of VINTAGES’ selections are one-shot purchases that will not re-appear for months, or years, if ever.

Between 100-150 wines are released every two weeks through VINTAGES. It is the most dynamic and, arguably, rewarding category at the LCBO, and as you may know, we at WineAlign endeavor to taste all these wines and bring you the best of VINTAGES’ releases in newsletters every two weeks.

VINTAGES Shop On Line is a virtual retail outlet for smaller lots of often more rare wines. You place orders on-line and wines are delivered to your store. This program now includes frequent releases of VINTAGES Classics Collection catalogue wines, as well as themed collections such as Bordeaux Futures. WineAlign also reviews these wines when we can gain access to tastings (See Bordeaux 2011 from earlier this year).

With the possible exception of a few of the big LCBO “flagship” stores the selection will always vary from store to store – which makes WineAlign’s “favourite store” feature very useful. Those of you who shop the VINTAGES already know that the quantities in each store will vary and that some wines sell out quickly. Product consultants at each individual VINTAGES store manage their inventory and choose the majority of wines they will receive from each release. (They also have authority to put slow-moving wines from previous releases on sale)

This is why making friends with your product consultant can come in handy, especially when you are hoping to see something chosen for your local store.

Let them know your preferences and what you’d like to see on the shelves. And of course, bring along your WineAlign previews to help guide you through the best of what’s available in your local shop.

Now, let me explore some upcoming VINTAGES trends emerging from this month’s “Welcome to VINTAGES” feature:

Sustainability

Rutherford Ranch Chardonnay 2012Social and environmental concerns are a mandate that LCBO has been promoting as of late. One example is the Lightweight Glass Wine Standard that requires wineries to conform to a 420 gram weight limit or else incur an additional per-bottle fee. This practice started in January 2013 for bottles under $15 (which is LCBO shorthand for high-volume wines). In addition, the LCBO has made a deliberate effort in the past few years to bring more organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines into their fold. VINTAGES catalogues will feature an organic symbol next to certified organic wines and product consultants have been briefed to field questions about such wines and guide customers. Expect to see more of these sustainably produced wines in the year to come.  (WineAlign uses an Organic/Biodynamic tag well to help you search.)

Rutherford Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley, California ($20.95). Sustainability is at the core of wines at Rutherford Ranch, which impressively boasts 100% sustainably produced products. Some of their initiatives include the encouragement of predator mites and birds to rid the vines of potential, unfavorable outbreaks along with water reclamation/reuse and the encouragement of biodiversity. Although not a showstopper, this elegant Chardonnay is also indicative of the new trend of more progressive, less oaky, showy and sweet style chardonnays that focus more on the purity of the fruit and balance of the components. This wine, therefore, fits nicely into two new trends I have observed and described below.

goLocal

This is an LCBO mandate focusing on increasing the visibility and availability of Ontario wines. An environmental initiative rather than one of national pride, its emphasis is on lowering energy consumption by shipping more wine from closer locations. And although the following wine does not quite fit the mold, given its cross—country provenance, the national spirit is inspiring. The second selection in this category is not inclusive in this feature but is one in this release that is certainly worthy of proving the point that we need not go further than our doorstep for satisfying wines:

Gray Monk Pinot Noir 2011Tawse Gamay Noir 2012Gray Monk Pinot Noir 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($19.75). Pinot noir in Ontario is so inspiring to me that I often poo-poo examples from our western neighbors who tend to bowl me over with their syrah. Well, here is an example impossible to overlook and well worth the relatively modest price. Old world inspired, gnarly, lovely and aromatic here is a classic pinot noir that will provide a great deal of satisfaction for Burgundy lovers. Gray Monk’s name comes from one of the first grape varieties that they produced – Pinot Gris. 
In Austria and Hungary, this grape is called ‘Grauar Mönch’ hence the translation to ‘Gray Monk’. 
Don’t miss out!

Tawse Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($18.95). Tucked into this release but not part of the “Welcome to Vintages” feature, Tawse really hits the mark with this stellar gamay that makes one wonder why we ever venture outside of the province for our wine. This gamay, with its wide appeal and regional distinctiveness fits the bill of what VINTAGES “is all about”.

French Frenzy

France is back in a big way, and better than ever. Bordeaux under $30 can often be a drag but this example will change your perspective. I have been decidedly impressed over the past few months by examples from this most distinguished region of France in the $25 and under category. Although there may have been a lull, this category is experiencing a recent resurgence – France is up in market share by in VINTAGES and threatens to rival the ever-climbing California share. All this to say, don’t be surprised to see great value on the French front and more to come!

Domaine La Guintrandy Vieilles Vignes Cairanne 2009Château Fleur De Jean Gué 2010Château Fleur De Jean Gué 2010, Lalande De Pomerol, Bordeaux, France ($24.95). A nice example of the value we will hopefully, increasingly see in the VINTAGES portfolio. This merlot-based, right-bank blend delivers both intensity and elegance for, dare I say, a bargain. The vineyards are located on the very outskirts of the Pomerol appellation and impart similar characteristics of dried wild berries and licorice.

Domaine La Guintrandy Vieilles Vignes Cairanne 2009, Côtes Du Rhone Villages, Rhône, France ($19.95). This village appellation located in the Vaucluse region of the southern Rhône, just north of Orange is known for its rugged climate producing wines of great fortitude, sometimes rustic and certainly age worthy. At under $20, this delightful example is infused with all of the gnarly garrigue that one would hope to see in such a charming wine.

Stay tuned for our collective column on the ‘best of the rest’ from the March 29th release. Until next week, Santé!

Sara d’Amato

From the Mar 29, 2014 Vintages release:

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

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


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Château St. Jean Fumé Blanc 2011

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Vintages Preview February 15th with David Lawrason, John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

New Format, Same Great Picks and Values + The Stars Align

We are re-tooling the editorial plan at WineAlign in the days ahead to make better use of our vast array of talent, and bring you more timely, comprehensive and authoritative reviews and articles. This is partially due to the imminent addition of four top wine critics from Quebec, who join our four writers in B.C. and six in Ontario. You will see a wider range of topics and viewpoints – some geared specifically to helping you shop wisely with WineAlign, others to bring you the wide world of education and perspective.

Our coverage of VINTAGES twice-monthly releases in Ontario will be changing but not diminishing. Before each release there will still be two separate previews with combined contributions from David Lawrason, John Szabo and Sara d’Amato.

David Lawrason, John Szabo & Sara d'Amato

The first preview, published eight days ahead of the release, will go into depth on the theme that VINTAGES sets out, providing alternative, more objective coverage than found in their magazine. It will be authored by one critic, with review inputs from the team. It may also include wines on the same theme that are available through the LCBO general list, VINTAGES new Shop Online platform (see below) or on consignment. See the first edition on French wines by John Szabo published last week.

The second preview will present non-themed picks from the VINTAGES release from all three critics – David, John and Sara. And where we independently converge on a specific wine it will be singled out in a section called “The Stars Align”. Today marks the first edition of this preview.

Where The Stars Align
(Wines independently highlighted by two or more WineAlign critics)

Thorn Clarke William Randell Shiraz 2010Castorani Amorino Montepulciano D'abruzzo 2007Fleur De California Pinot Noir 2011Fleur De California Pinot Noir 2011 ($19.95) gets two thumbs up from David and Sara. One of the prettiest versions of this cooler climate pinot noir in recent memory and one that hasn’t increased in price from 2008 – also refreshing. Light, fragrant but with surprising complexity – certainly worth a go at this price (SD). Nice crossover of cool and warm climate styles – eminently drinkable, good value pinot from a Carneros expert (DL).

Castorani Amorino 2007 Montepulciano D’abruzzo  Casuria ($27.95) was scored 90+ by both John and David. A fully mature, flavourful, complex example of montepulciano, which brings to mind very good level Brunello di Montalcino with its similar range of savoury, ripe, dusty red berry-cherry aromatics and wild herbal notes (JSz). Certainly more sophistication and complexity than most wines from Abruzzi (DL).

2010 Thorn-Clarke William Randell Shiraz Barossa ($43.95). A hugely satisfying shiraz in the old Barossa style: full-blown, ripe, jammy, buttery and generously proportioned. This makes no concessions to the modern wave of leaner, tighter Australian wines, yet a sense of proportion is nonetheless maintained (JSz). The best wine I have ever tasted from this flavour-forward house – this is Barossa on steroids (DL).

Lawrason’s Take

Whites

Wente Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc 2011Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2012Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2012Burning Kiln 2012 Stick Shaker Savagnin, Ontario ($24.95) is something you just must try. Savagnin, the great white grape of Jura, is rare in Ontario, and in the hands of boundary pushing winemaker Andrejz Lipinski (also Big Head, Cornerstone) it hits amazing heights. Burning Kiln is the new, smart winery on Lake Erie near Port Dover.

Tawse 2012 Sketches Of Niagara Riesling, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95) is the new vintage of one of the winningest little rieslings in Ontario’s history. While Tawse makes single vineyard, older vine rieslings that have more complexity and minerality, this simpler version lights up with pitch-perfect acid-sugar balance and purity.

Wente 2011 Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc, Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay ($17.95). You may be surprised to see a California sauvignon in this list, because it is not a strong variety in the Golden State. This hails however from some of the oldest SB vines in the state, in a forgotten area that has been turning out solid white Bordeaux – styles wines for almost 40 years. A steal given the complexity it packs.

Reds

Montefino Tinto Reserva 2005Tasca D'almerita Cygnus Nero D'avola Cabernet Sauvignon 2009Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2011Mission Hill 2011 Reserve Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, B.C. ($24.95). Mission Hill stunned the world last year when its Martin Lane’s single vineyard pinot from a site near the winery in Westbank captured a Decanter trophy for best pinot under £15. Given the vitality, nerve and complexity of this less expensive Reserve from the same vintage, I am no longer surprised. Nor, in this context, am I surprised by Mission Hill’s recent acquisition of CedarCreek, which owns plenty of good pinot noir vineyard across the lake.

Tasca d’Almerita 2009 Cygnus Nero d’Avola/Cabernet Sauvignon, Sicily, Italy ($19.95) is a huge value and an intoxicating wine, in the best way. Great wine carries a sense of place and the ebullient fragrance of this blend transported me instantly to the cool, hilltop site of one of the best wineries in all of Italy. It’s unusual so don’t load up until you try it for yourself; but it is a savoury red to be reckoned with.

Montefino 2005 Tinto Reserva , Alentejano, Portugal ($17.95) is a must buy for any fans of mature Euro reds. It is so fragrant, complex and seamlessly built. I just can’t believe the price given its quality and age! Portugal has long suffered from under-valuation, but that is our gain as consumers if you are willing to buy off the grid.

John Szabo’s Smart Buys

Whites

Quinta Das Marias Encruzado 2011Boutari Santorini 2012Colomé Torrontés 2012Waterkloof Circle Of Life 2011

Quinta Das Marias 2011 Encruzado Dão ($16.95). A complex and flavourful encruzado, one of the star indigenous grapes in a country with over two hundred. It’s reminiscent of viognier with its unctuous, glycerous texture and very ripe orchard and tropical fruit flavours, well suited to full flavoured dishes, cream sauces and white meats, even lightly spiced coconut curries.

Boutari 2012 Santorini ($17.95). Characteristically shy on the nose, but the palate delivers significant weight and flesh, density and the particular salty flavour derived from the volcanic soils of the island. Grapefruit and lemon rind notes linger.

Colomé 2012 Torrontés Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina ($13.95). A smart value in a simple, pungent, highly aromatic white wine, with genuine acids and cut. Complexity may be modest, but the flavour impact and length are satisfying at the price.

Waterkloof 2011 Circle Of Life ($24.95). Not especially aromatic, but the palate delivers impressive concentration and a wide range of flavours, not least of which is a scorching streak of minerality. Despite richness and alcoholic warmth, there’s sufficient underlying acidity to prop up the ensemble and keep it balanced if not exactly fresh, but in any case this is a wine of texture and depth, not freshness.

Pier Rio Sordo Barbaresco 2009Saltram Limited Release Winemaker's Selection Shiraz Tempranillo 2010Reds

Saltram 2010 Limited Release Winemaker’s Selection Shiraz Tempranillo Barossa Valley, Australia ($44.95). This is like a warm sweater on a cool winter’s night, enveloping, comforting, satisfying. Plush, intense dark fruit combines with generous but balanced alcohol and great length. Drinking well now, though will hold until the end of the decade and easily beyond.  An innovative blend.

Pier Rio Sordo 2009 Barbaresco ($28.95). This is a long way from prime drinking, but the palate shows excellent promise, with very good structure and depth, not to mention length. I’d revisit this in 2-4 years – it has classic firmness and pleasant rusticity.

Sara’s Sommelier Picks

White and the Reds

Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2012 Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario ($22.95). A medalist at the National Wine Awards this year, the Southbrook Whimsy chardonnay earned top scores among critics. The Triomphe is Southbrook’s more reasonably priced ranged aimed at everyday entertaining. Carefully produced from organically grown grapes, this chardonnay delivers exceptional balance and class for a fair price. Not to be missed.

Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2012Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate Grand Reserve Shiraz 2011Malivoire Gamay 2012Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate Grand Reserve Shiraz 2011 Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($24.95). No doubt about it – Jackson Triggs knows its way around this grape varietal that has proven a bit of a gamble in Niagara. However, this cool climate style is quite riveting and is a testament that Niagara’s perseverance can result in show stopping results. This traditional Rhone varietal can actually thrive in slightly cooler climates and expresses itself in a peppery and enticing aromatic way.

Malivoire Gamay 2012 Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($17.95). #GoGamayGo – fans of Niagara wines have been touting the greatness of this varietal in Niagara for several years now. Personally, I hope to see much more of this “Cru style” on the shelves of the LCBO in years to come as it is such an exciting, food friendly and locally expressive varietal. Besides, Malivoire’s winemaker has one of the best names in the business: Shiraz Mottiar!

Artezin Zinfandel 2011, Mendocino County, California ($21.95). As the name suggest, Artezin has focused on this one varietal but has recently branched out to petit sirah as well. In fact, this zin contains a small dose of the aforementioned, robust varietal. Nevertheless, the wine remains true to varietal character with zesty raspberry is medium-bodied and boasts a plethora of authentic berry fruit flavours. The oak is spicy rather than sweet making this both commercially appealing but also a bit a challenging. The producer works closely with sustainable and family-owned growers across California. Great value.

Kilikanoon Killerman's Run Shiraz Grenache 2011Hess Collection 19 Block Cuvée 2009Artezin Zinfandel 2011Hess Collection 19 Block Cuvée 2009 Napa Valley, California ($47.95). Mount Veeder’s slopes are home to some of the most sought after wines in Napa. With the lowest yields of the region and a rugged terrain featuring volcanic soils that require careful hand harvesting and little to no mechanization, you can bet there is a price tag to match. This is certain to make any collector quite happy.

Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz Grenache 2011 ($19.95). Australia has been a major focus of the LCBO as of late and it is delightful to see a greater range of these lighter, fresher and more reserved, “new age” wines hit the shelves. I was fortunate to sit down with Kilikanoon’s proprietor, and renowned storyteller, Nathan Waks, who has long been a fan of this pared down style. Although this amount of delectable pepper is a product of the cool 2011 vintage in Clare Valley, the vibrancy, succulent mouthfeel and balance is quite characteristic. Will delight both fans of the Old World and New.

VINTAGES ReLaunches Online Sales Platform

WineAlign is not the only website on the move it seems. VINTAGES has just re-launched its Shop Online purchasing platform to consolidate its entire web-based business. VintagesShopOnline.com makes good sense to us, and we look forward to easier use of it ourselves and hopefully providing more and more reviews of the wines that appear on the Shop Online site. Ordering for a new slate of Classic Catalogue items begins February 20.

And that is a wrap for this edition. We look forward to your feedback. And watch WineAlign in the days ahead as we head into the home stretch before the Vancouver International Wine Festival. If you have never been, you might want to seriously consider booking a spur of the moment weeks holiday, or long weekend getaway.

From the February 15, 2014 Vintages release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Picks
All Reviews

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


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 Saltram Winemaker's Selection Shiraz Tempranillo 2010


Cuvée Weekend 2014 – WineAlign VIP Access

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008