Three-chord wines, hold the rants

Wine on the rocks

Here are six rock ‘n’ roll wines, in four-four time, ready and willing to ease your mind.
Photo: Pavel Drozda/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

The world’s most famous wine critic is not happy. His claim of “wannabe” scribes hell-bent to focus on obscure wines most consumers can never find has raised a maelstrom of retort. Robert Parker published a diatribe last month about “a vociferous minority” of “euro-elitists” vying for journalistic market share “perpetrating nothing short of absolute sham on wine consumers.”

Them’s fightin’ words. No, not that rant by Robert Parker about Robert Griffin III. Wine critic Robert Parker Jr. railed against a bevy of unnamed bloggers on the natural, honest and low-alcohol wine supporting bandwagon. His claim? Natural wines will be exposed as fraud. Parker’s would-be assailants are an outspoken generation who would seek to bring down those classic grapes capable of ripe extraction and elevated levels of sugar and alcohol, namely Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The intensity-loving reviewer has positioned himself as the establishment, a victim agonizing over the sanctification of “godforsaken grapes,” like Blaufränkisch and Trousseau.

Alder Yarrow of Vinography took exception and proposed a cage match. His column: Debating Robert Parker At His Invitation. Rebecca Gibb’s take: Should Robert Parker Have Listened to Disraeli? Jamie Goode put in his ever-wry two cents: Novelty at the expense of quality? This after Jancis Robinson chimed in with Bottle fight: Novelty v classic wines. Talia Baiocchi had this to say: The Robert Parker Tirade, Continued. Eric Asimov brought it down to a New York state of mind with Why Can’t You Find That Wine? Meanwhile, Steve Heimoff took the other side: There are some kinds of blogs we just don’t need.

There isn’t a writer in the bunch I wouldn’t read, can’t learn from or don’t find funny, but the need to chime in on what is obvious and already understood leaves me dumbfounded. In wine, as in life, there are some things that just are what they are, like them or not. Mr. Parker, you carved your niche. Those who lay with you ate cake. The model worked. It held water and was extremely successful for a long time. You are this week’s Napa Wine Writers Symposium keynote speaker, where you will feel the love. No one will ask, what have you done for me lately? You created the establishment and are of course trying to protect the status quo. You’ve been ridiculously prolific. Integral to the high-frequency, high-end wine buyer. And you are just a writer. Really. So what if the dogs are seeing signs of Queegish dotage. You named no names in your rant, so who exactly did you mean to insult? The world is your oyster. What’s with the bitching?

Perhaps Parker touched an insecure spot, the one where self-doubt creeps in. The one that drives writers to defend themselves, even if the attack is not a personal one. The need to tear him down is strange at best. It smells of poli-campaign slander. If he’s no longer relevant, as a vehement bunch seem to scream and shout, why bother? Why is the wine writing community one where sides desperately need to be taken? To both sides I caution the high road. Let writers write and if you think they are wrong or have nothing to say, ignore them. Like a tree falling in the forest, is an unread writer ever really heard?

It’s understood that controversy sells and lively discourse is healthy. In this case it has produced more than a novella of interesting reads. The current generation of critics, bloggers and reviewers is replete with some stupidly smart writers who have chosen wine as their raison d’écrire. That they chime in and offer their take on everything from varietal obsessions to tasting bans and producer/journalist relationships is certainly fascinating. Arguing the merits of varietal worthiness is fine. Discussing the pros and cons of esoteric versus classic wines on restaurant cards is relevant. Throwing sticks onto the ice, choosing teams and starting fights simultaneous to the debate loses sight of the original topic. I am not suggesting a wine writer’s love in but would more levity and space not foster an environment where the wines themselves matter more than the people who talk about them?

Tasting, talking about and writing up wines seems the course to stay, whether it be reviews on varieties never heard of or an obnoxiously fat glass of buttery Chardonnay. Richard Auffrey fights the good fight but still takes a stab at the beast. The always dry W. Blake Gray floats on in his singular, ethereal way, and by doing so, gets it right. He wants you to know I’ll have some Roussillon, hold the Rivesaltes. With Tuba and Alto Sax. Perhaps Gray would agree with me. If I need a dose of scathing criticism or irony I’ll turn on Bill Maher, or put on a Bill Hicks Rant in E-Minor.

Music and wine can work magic when paired together. Jamie Goode has been exploring the possibilities. Sometimes it’s just a matter of breaking wine down to the base, choosing grapes from places where they are made in straightforward and simply powerful ways. Likewise, clicking an uncomplicated, three-chord arrangement on YouTube or the I-pod can really change the outlook of a day. Here are six rock ‘n’ roll wines, in four-four time, ready and willing to ease your mind.

Clockwise from left: Alamos Torrontés 2013, Lar De Paula Crianza Tempranillo 2008, Sophora Sparkling Cuvée, Grant Burge 5th Generation Shiraz 2012, Thorn Clarke William Randell Shiraz 2010, and Poderi Colla Dardi Le Rose Bussia Barolo 2008

Clockwise from left: Alamos Torrontés 2013, Lar De Paula Crianza Tempranillo 2008, Sophora Sparkling Cuvée, Grant Burge 5th Generation Shiraz 2012, Thorn Clarke William Randell Shiraz 2010, and Poderi Colla Dardi Le Rose Bussia Barolo 2008

Alamos Torrontés 2013, Salta, Argentina (81539, $13.95, WineAlign)

From Salta in north west Argentina, what is so appealing about this well-priced bottling is the salinity and outright humidity it always displays. Torrontés gives so much away aromatically, by way of flowers and the verdigris of mountain ferns. This Catena entry-level wine achieves all of the above and for a song. This Alamos is medicinal, reeks of orchids sweating in a greenhouse and teases with white pepper. It’s short and quick but efficient. Excellent value.  88  Tasted January 2014  @CatenaMalbec  @MalbecLife

Lar De Paula Crianza Tempranillo 2008, Rioja, Spain (358770, $16.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Entry-level Rioja was nothing but a house party. Was surely rocking a year ago but now a fading, dry cake of rusticity, with the slightest hydration of charred sour cherry. Solid Crianza, though short-lived, with some bitter notes and good acidity in tight corners. Where once it “said move it, groove it,” now it laments “baby, don’t you lose it.”  87  Tasted February 2014  @HHDImports_Wine

Sophora Sparkling Cuvée, New Zealand (353656, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Frothy, gregarious sparkler from New Zealand with extraordinarily large bubbles, a soft downy texture and a cottony nose. Gentle spice, sweet easy bake brioche and juicy grapefruit is inviting, if advanced by mechanical means. Mellow, smooth, pure and clean with no obvious toast, soap or bitters. Well-priced, drink now fizz.  89  Tasted February 2014  @Select_Wines

Grant Burge 5th Generation Shiraz 2012, Barossa, South Australia, Australia (Agent, $20.00, WineAlign)

High powered, ocean size aromas here, expressing the power and pomp inflection of the Barossan attitude. Very berry and not alcohol shy though it’s a gathered heat and nothing shocking. Swirl this wave of big juice for long enough and though it will feel “like a tooth aching a jawbone,” it’s fleeting and releases to a softer finish. Still, a Shiraz more John than Jane.  88  Tasted January 2014  @GrantBurgeWines  @TrialtoON

Thorn Clarke William Randell Shiraz 2010, Barossa, South Australia, Australia (922773, $43.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Surreal, impossibly dense and terrifically complex Barossa Shiraz, full of dark fruit blues and hard-rocking rhythms. Metallic zinc tincture, causing heavy breathing, steaming like a locomotive with “no way to slow down.” Steals words and all sensitivity from teeth and gums. Such a big expression but certainly not one of the all-time one-dimensional losers. So much more than jammy fruit. To put aside and revisit in 20 years.  91  Tasted February 2014  @pontewine

Poderi Colla Dardi Le Rose Bussia Barolo 2008, Piedmont, Italy (596890, $49.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Pure Nebbiolo currency, bankable Barolo. This ’08 confirms the old-school austerity of the Colla caste and genre. Parlous handsome perfume, stark, raving Barolo, exact and definitive in angular tannin. Racy, deep and unctuous, nowhere even close to settled or responsive.  There is a lurking depth of flavour not yet willing to cooperate. My kingdom for your Bussia graces.  92  Tasted February 2014  @glencairnwines

Good to go!

Big houses, bigger wines, big-ish prices

Canadian money

The earnest call across the country to free my grapes continues though regrettably, stiff resistance stifles the cause.
Photo: ulga/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

If you live in Canada, purchasing wine ties you directly to a monopoly. There are exceptions, though still imperfect ones, like the free market culture of Alberta and the developing tiered system in British Columbia. The earnest call across the country to free my grapes continues though regrettably, stiff resistance stifles the cause.

Manitoba and BC allow direct to consumer inter-provincial wine imports. Consumers can order from out of province and receive direct shipments so long as the wine  is 100 per cent Canadian. Nova Scotia has passed enabling legislation that will follow a similar path. If you reside in Quebec or a fortiori, in Ontario, having wine shipped to you remains taboo. The alternate recourse of consignment wines available for purchase through local importers is an irregular option and having to buy by the case designs no compass of mass appeal.

Spend even a fraction of the time I do in trying to seek out the best values, at the best prices and in the categories that cater specifically to personal tastes and you will understand how difficult it is to be satiated in such a constricting climate. I am not the only one seeking out red wines made in the vineyard, through minimalist oak intervention, unhindered by residual sugar, produced by passionate and honest winemakers who are vigilant with the softest of hands.

Who does not want their wine to have mass in it, as in life? Who would reject an elixir drawn from iron-rich earth, boiled through limestone and warmed to a rosy madder? Who can deny the pure joy culled from a wine that might steal the words from the mouths of poets?

In Canada, unearthing such gems requires intestinal fortitude, especially considering the search is mapped out in government-controlled stores. Stock norms do not include wines made from lesser-known grapes, from regions and appellations less frequented. It takes time, effort and most of all, patience. Life can get in the way of the endless and unavailing chase; work that pays, kids, weather, fatigue. Sometimes it just makes sense to abide and even embrace the easier, well-worn path. This is where the bigger wineries step in, toting larger case loads and a middle-of-the-road, radio bathos experience.

There are varietal vicissitudes to ferret out from varieties you might have chosen to avoid. New World Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Zinfandel. Rhône blends. Sangiovese blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. Tempranillo. All these grapes are often mistreated, modernized, smothered in oak and homogenized so that their indigenous origins are blurred into a bar of mass-produced chocolate. Occasionally they are done right by their makers.

In what has been such relentless cold, snow and ice, now into the oppressive dog days of winter, don’t think of drinking commercial wine as copping out. The big houses can be your friend, so loosen up and trust me when I tell you I’ve worked very hard to weed out the chaff and promise only to recommend the whole wheat. Here are seven current releases that made the pecuniary cut.

From left: Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Clos Du Val Zinfandel 2011, and Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2011

From left: Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Clos Du Val Zinfandel 2011, and Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2011

Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Okanagan Valley British Columbia (545012, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Here’s a juicy plum wine with noticeable warm alcohol that goes subterranean and won’t make you homesick for alien Pinot Noir. Athletic red with a quick first step and nerve, running a west coast offence, scoring points.  Char in licorice and a grid-iron, “uptight, uptight” bitter tendency but is a most saucy rendition. Extra point from clean, easy sweet tannins. Good length. Pinot on the radio. Really attractive price puts it at the head of its class.  90  Tasted February 2014  @MissionHillWine

Clos Du Val Zinfandel 2011, Napa Valley California, USA (590216, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Every so often a grape variety confounds and astounds, like this pretty in zinc Zinfandel. Almost mute as far as Zin goes, this CdV ”set out on the heels of the unknown.” Times like these normally produce lumbering, high-octane interpretations but this radical face is the Simon and Garfunkel of the variety. Singing with soft harmonies and composed as if by a deft balladeer. Flair comes from Spanish-like modernity – a good thing for Zin. Less bramble, more Ribera. Less reduction, more Montsant. Smooth as silk, reeking in vanilla, raspberry and symptomatic by a kiss of mineral. If but for one hollow mid-verse this would truly sing but that really is no big thing.  90  Tasted February 2014  @ClosDuValNapa

Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley, California, USA (310409, $25.95, WineAlign)

One of the more quintessential, mid-range, rich and opulent Napa Chardonnays that steps out of the lobster butter dish in 2011. Apple-tinged terpenes show their presence, along with tarragon and a bag of just opened good and plenty. Piquant, poignant vintage, peppery and acting cooler than I ever remember it to be. Whether by chance or by choice, this is a welcome direction though I doubt its kind will soon be seen again.  89  Tasted January 2014  @RobertMondavi

From left: Umberto Cesari Liano Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Wairau River Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Grant Burge The Holy Trinity Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvédre 2011, and Beronia Viñas Viejas 2010

From left: Umberto Cesari Liano Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Wairau River Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Grant Burge The Holy Trinity Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvédre 2011, and Beronia Viñas Viejas 2010

Umberto Cesari Liano Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Igt Rubicone Emilia-Romagna, Italy (225086, $29.95)

Decidedly modern in many ways; oak impart, varietal alliance and braggadocio. The nose speaks highly of unsettled alcohol and alchemy. Big on black cherry and earthy with a welcoming and necessary roasted rare and still kicking game component. The mellow support of Cabernet Sauvignon is kicked upside the head by full throttle, oak-laden Sangiovese. Though hot and bothered, there is a keen sense of acumen on display by the Emilia-Romagna team at Umberto Cesari.  89   Tasted January 2014  @UmbertoCesari

Wairau River Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand (361253, $29.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Wonderful value in premium Marlborough Pinot Noir. Alluring sylvan aromatics, in a potpourri of violet, rose, plum and strawberry. Sharp, cranberry-pomegranate-cherry fruit flavours, the grain of red fife, and eye-popping acidity. An earthy terroirist, layered and delicious. Warm but not alcohol driven, touched by oak but not shaken and with just one coat of paint.  91  Tasted February 2014  @wairauriver

Grant Burge The Holy Trinity Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvédre 2011, Barossa, South Australia (Agent, 236257, $29.95, WineAlign)

The right Rhône immediacy of the 2011 Barossa vintage gets its hooks right in. Snapping with a direct blow uppercut to the jaw, this Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvédre blend goes right for the jugular with passion, not sugar. It’s a tricky mix, angular yet smooth, floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. Terrific charred, meaty flavours mixed with juniper and black raspberry, savoury spice and a chain of tannic length. Will age with metronome precision over a period of 10-15 years.  91  Tasted January 2014  @GrantBurgeWines

Beronia Viñas Viejas 2010, Rioja, Spain  (Agent, $30.00, WineAlign)

This 100% Tempranillo is Beronia’s enigma. Sourced from 40-plus year-old vines and housed for 14 months in new French oak. The Van Morrison bottling, if you will. Forget thoughts of a gnarly, tar and brambly red. This one is compliant and inviting. Cherry cheesecake gives it a dessert-like funk, with a baking spice and savoury plum pudding chaser. Vanilla is the unifying factor, the glaze, the icing on the cake, thanks to those new barrels. “You say “France” and I’ll whistle.” This is a pleasure to taste and ready for consumption.  90  Tasted January 2014  @BodegasBeronia

Good to go!

Top 20 under-$20 wines of 2013

Top 20 under-$20 wines of 2013

Putting out a top list of wines is not so much an exercise of commendation as it is a look back at an amazing year of tasting and writing about wine.
Photo: michalzak/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Last year I chose to highlight wines that fell into the under $15 niche.  A subsequent column focused on the $30 threshold as the next level to make picks for wines of the year. In retrospect that made it very difficult for wines in the consumer sweet spot, the $15-20 set, to make it onto either list. So, $20 is the over/under this time around.

Ontario is well represented here, taking up five of the 20 spots. If prohibitionist Canada, and especially Ontario would FreeMyGrapes and allow us to taste more than just a handful of Canadian wines produced beyond these borders, I have little doubt that other provinces would have made an appearance here, especially British Columbia.

Countries conspicuously missing are Italy, Argentina and the United States, whereas Portugal, South Africa and Chile are represented twice and Greece once. Value is always found in wines that are good and original, unfortunately the parts that are good are not always original.

Putting out a top list of wines is not so much an exercise of commendation as it is a look back at an amazing year of tasting and writing about wine. It’s a retrospective view, a compilation to sum up the pulling of words like taffy until they become something altogether more pliable and palatable. Just like the swirled, sniffed and tasted wines they describe. While tasting notes are so often chewed and spit out as amphibological waste, the process of formulating them is base and necessary to the culture. Without them we would all just be drinking.

The wine agents that move thousands of diverse wines through our provinces face Herculean tasks to get their wines to the public. It is through their generosity that I am able to taste so many in a calendar year. I’d like to thank Robin Sirutis and Julie Hauser of the Licensee program along with Kelly Taylor, Jim Sheridan, Douglas Webster and team for allowing me into their LCBO home to sample 1000′s more wines from the bi-weekly and shop on-line VINTAGES releases. Not to be forgotten are the many world-class sommeliers who give so much of their time to offer memorable wine experiences, no matter the effort required. So, thanks to all of you, here is my list of top 20, under $20 wines in random order, tasted and reviewed in 2013.

From left: MARÉCHAL BRUT CRÉMANT DE LOIRE, TAWSE ‘SPARK’ RIESLING 2009, CHÂTEAU D'ANGLES LA CLAPE ROSÉ 2012, CALITERRA SAUVIGNON BLANC RESERVA 2013, and ANDRÉ BLANCK ET SES FILS ROSENBOURG PINOT BLANC 2011

From left: MARÉCHAL BRUT CRÉMANT DE LOIRE, TAWSE ‘SPARK’ RIESLING 2009, CHÂTEAU D’ANGLES LA CLAPE ROSÉ 2012, CALITERRA SAUVIGNON BLANC RESERVA 2013, and ANDRÉ BLANCK ET SES FILS ROSENBOURG PINOT BLANC 2011

Sparkling

MARÉCHAL BRUT CRÉMANT DE LOIRE, Loire Valley, France (141077, $15.95, WineAlign)

Foams frothy forth alive and expansive out of a yeasty starter, spins lightly on its A16 axis and revolves tightly wound around a citrus spindle. A working class Marechal, real and made for the people. Perhaps not La Grande Illusion but a wine that will “show the common humanity present across these divisions.” About as good as Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling Loire Chenin Blanc can be and priced to fly.  89  Tasted April 2013  From: See the humanity in real value wine

TAWSE ‘SPARK’ RIESLING 2009, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery only, $18.95)

May just be that bottle of persuasive interrogation and torture to turn even the toughest hold-outs against Sparkling Riesling. A veritable homeland crush of signature grapes, put to a not so traditional test, emerge in piercing, capital dry scintillation. Sparks fly in Beamsville when winemaker Paul Pender and team, “the boy prophets walk it handsome and hot.” This sparkler does the E street shuffle and dances in the dark. The new deal in Ontario bubbles.  “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”  89  Tasted October 2013  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013  @Paul_Pender  @Tawse_Winery

Rosé

CHÂTEAU D’ANGLES LA CLAPE ROSÉ 2012, Languedoc Roussillon (Midi), France (323386, $15.95, WineAlign)

Goes classic holy trinity Midi in Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache. Creamy, frosty and savoury in strawberry, rhubarb, balmy tarragon and shrubbery. Finishes with salinity pressed like a salt herring.  91  Tasted June 2013  From: Hot weekend wines and cool Chardonnay  @chateaudangles

White

CALITERRA SAUVIGNON BLANC RESERVA 2013, Casablanca Valley, Chile (275909, $9.95, WineAlign - WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice)

Great show savvy, really great show. Outright fast flint, white pepper, citrus and fresh herbs. Luscious texture, convincing up the middle and goes deeper than many. Grapey and succulent. Clean, concise winemaking.  90  From: He spits, he scores: World Wine Awards of Canada results  @Caliterra  @imbibersreport

ANDRÉ BLANCK ET SES FILS ROSENBOURG PINOT BLANC 2011, Ac Alsace, France (626606, $14.95, WineAlign)

High on lime citrus and heavy in stones, so much more so than in ’09 and ’10. Green apple in tart tonality, lean and mean.  Much juicier and riper to taste, with the faintest lees note to ground it firmly on Alsatian terrain ferme.  Love this designation. Same vintage release from a year ago.  89  Tasted July 2012  From: A paradox of wine accents  @drinkAlsace

From left: DR. HERMANN ÜRZIGER WÜRZGARTEN RIESLING SPÄTLESE 2007, 2027 CELLARS RIESLING ‘FALLS VINEYARD’ 2012, ROSEWOOD ESTATES SÉMILLON 2011, DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, and TE AWA CHARDONNAY 2010

From left: DR. HERMANN ÜRZIGER WÜRZGARTEN RIESLING SPÄTLESE 2007, 2027 CELLARS RIESLING ‘FALLS VINEYARD’ 2012, ROSEWOOD ESTATES SÉMILLON 2011, DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, and TE AWA CHARDONNAY 2010

DR. HERMANN ÜRZIGER WÜRZGARTEN RIESLING SPÄTLESE 2007 (313528, $16.95, WineAlign) clocks in at a mere 8 per cent abv and is a nasal microchamber filled with dry ice but taste it and be soothed by its unguent goodness. Minerals, spice and everything nice out of red sandstone, slate soil and just barely beginning to act its age. OK, it may be a touch disjointed but at $17 they are giving it away. I could drink it like wheat grass all summer long.  90  Tasted March 2013  From: Masters wines in purple, yellow and green jackets

2027 CELLARS RIESLING ‘FALLS VINEYARD’ 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (294041, $18.95, WineAlign)

In contrast to brother Foxcroft, this is the more serious vineyard in my estimation. Falls compresses less limestone chalk and instead thunder rolls out glacial boulders. Here there is less grass, herbs, citrus and sea, but rather garrigue blanc, the windswept plain studded with gorse and deeper, sweeter, earthly purity.  91  Tasted October 2013  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013   @2027Cellars

ROSEWOOD ESTATES SÉMILLON 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177758, $17.95, WineAlign)

The leader of the pack. The honey is uncanny. From an earlier note: “is frighteningly honeyed and its blatant acidity brings out all the right zest notes in the seafood. Major (three times) cropping from a “disease control vintage” by Orwinski who “knows the vineyard. It really is his home.” He’s still chanting “drop the crop!” in his sleep. The citrus and soda are glaring, exciting and invigorating in ’11, as is the aforementioned honey, the trump card keeping the Sémillon from being confused for Riesling.  Fascinating study.”  91  Tasted twice, May 2013  From: Showcase Showdown: Rosewood Sémillon  @RosewoodWine

DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, Wo Robertson, South Africa (355438, $18.95, WineAlign)

This is exactly what I come to expect and hope for in calcareous, gravel and clay Cape Chardonnay. Robertson study in balance, fortitude and anxiety. Palpable proof of De Westhof’s self-professed attitude towards “site-specific vineyard management and wine-making.” Really pretty white flowers, citrus in C minor and piercing acidity. Proficiently ripe, toasted without tempting caramel and really well-judged. All in for $19. No ifs and or buts.  91  Tasted November 2013  From: Twelve days of wine for Christmas

TE AWA CHARDONNAY 2010, Hawkes Bay, North Island, New Zealand (301135, $18.95, WineAlign)

Gives off a good dose of char but in a Penderish way with knowledge that it will dissipate, integrate and elevate this stony ‘River of God’ into a fine, swirling eddy of hard bop goodness. Gorgeous green enamel Ngaruroro meandering to gold. Oleic, alluvial consistency, with a sense of creamed corn, barren straw and built of a gravel verve, taking risks like a Sonny Rollins riff.  91  Tasted February 2013  From: A march of French grapes to dinner  @TeAwaWinery

MARC BRÉDIF VOUVRAY 2011, Ac, Loire, France (685362, $19.95, SAQ $19.55, 10267809, WineAlign)

Indicates grapevines grown of a mineral-rich terroir, like land left after the draining of a lake. Travels into the Loire Valley’s heart of darkness but also shows some increased honey in ’11, fattening the ever-present lemon drop, candied peel, ginger and stony goodness. Chenin as a man in pink pajamas. There is just no worthy value adversary to this tight, racy and wondrous Vouvray.  91  Tasted July 2013  From: Alternative wines for the August long weekend  @ProfileWineGrp   @LoireValleyWine

Reds

BOUTARI NAOUSSA 2008, Pdo Naoussa, Greece (23218, $12.95, WineAlign)

Like other Xinomavro shows that combination of pure fruit and ancient wisdom. Juicy and rustic at the same time, erupting in cherry and a lava flow of hot rocks. There is leather, dry spice and sun-dried fruit. Already bricking like Sangiovese, as if rustic Vino Nobile Rosso. There is simply no earthly reason not to drink this every night for the rest of the summer.  89  Tasted July 2013  From: A midsummer night’s chill red wine  @boutari

QUINTA DOS CARVALHAIS DUQUE DE VISEU RED 2009, Doc Dão, Portugal  (546309, $13.95, WineAlign)

Simple, straight cut, hedonistic Dão pleasure from winemaker Manuel Vieira and the Sogrape Vinhos’ empire. Nothing wrong with that except that at $14 it feels like stealing. An evincive blend of 50 per cent Touriga Nacional, 20 Tinta Roriz and 30 Jaen. Red and black fruit, mineral tension, somewhat gritty but lush in plum, licorice feel and flavour. Really good stuff.  89  Tasted November 2013  From: Twelve days of wine for Christmas  @winePortugalCA

LAILEY VINEYARD WINES CABERNET MERLOT 2011, VQA, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery only, $15)

Speaks the language of vinous accommodation. Abundant very berry fruit if less knotty and peculiar and more accessible than most Niagara Bordeaux blends. No bones about it, languid Lailey in mind of its own wonder. Could drink it straight from the tap.  89  Tasted October 2013  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013  @Laileywinemakr

TSCHARKE BAROSSA GOLD MARANANGA CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, Barossa Valley, South Australia (289884, $15.95, WineAlign)

This is really good stuff. Tight attack, bold and tannic, brimming with figgy black fruit, dark chocolate, spirit cake and white pepper. The oldest Barossa Neoproterozoic Schist and Siltstone rocks impart piercing minerality as if the Marananga were blasted out of a cannon.  Tests any Napa Cab under $50.  89  Tasted January 2013  From: Iconic wines, affordable prices  @tscharkewines

VIA CHILCAS SINGLE VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($17.95, 309757, WineAlign)

From the Maule Valley, is graced by amazing freshness and vigorous, new wave energy. With an imagined dragon’s foot securely planted in the ancestry of Chilean wine, this radioactive red is a portal to the industry’s future. Roasted and brewed, in espresso yes but mocha, no. “Welcome to the new age, to the new age.”  91  Tasted September 2013  From: A Chile wind is blowing  @ViaWines

ANETO RED 2009, Doc Douro, Portugal (314930, $19.95, WineAlign)

Reminds me of the deepest, earthbound southern French reds, like Minervois or La Clape. Stygian and shadowy, the Aneto’s rusticity is borne of xistous terra, baking spice and dried fruit. Puts on her make up for prevailing balance in a show of hydrated, in vogue, darling pretty maturity. She can “heal my aching heart and soul.”  91  Tasted January 2013  From: Super Bowl wine prediction: Red 49ers over black Ravens  @liffordwine

DOMAINE MANOIR DE CARRA JULIÉNAS 2010, Ac Beaujolais, France (290981, $19.95, WineAlign) The pearl finally puts some funk into “an otherwise empty room.” Dandy, candied peony, cracking good, cinnamon scented and jammy in Rhôneish behaviour. More structure than most.  Beaujolais’ daughter.  91  Tasted May 15, 2013  From: Go Gamay Go

THE FOREIGN AFFAIR THE CONSPIRACY 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (149237, $19.95, WineAlign)

Kissed, re-passed over and threatening to push boundaries as if it were singing “if I could stick a knife in my heart, suicide right on stage.” This Ilya Senchuk beauty may only be ripasso but I like it. Eases my pain and my brain. Excellent verve and honed of a rock star’s capacity to be loved, with tart, red and black fruit in waves, tar and charcoal. Svelte balance in fruit, alcohol, sweet and sour. This is THE vintage for this wine. Ten plus years lay ahead for a long affair and it will be rewarded with praise in future tastings.  92  Tasted April 2013  From: ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’ (but I like wine)  @wineaffair

JOURNEY’S END SHIRAZ 2007, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (337642, $19.95, WineAlign)

Initiates serious sanguine Stellenbosch intimacy with dusty black cherry and black pepper. Hard to break, like the Northern Rhône, or even Syrah-heavy Châteauneuf-du-Pape but swirl and she will open up. Meaty, gamey, anise, metal-mineral fruit. Hedonistic and certainly clothed in heavy coat but there is an underlying velvet dignity here, though it has not yet shed its bacon baby fat. I would follow this highly complex and intriguing South African for five to 10 years. Already a few years in and not nearly at its peak.  Has ancient experience in its blood.  92  Tasted September 2013  From: Free my Canadian grapes and other love songs  @JourneysEndWine

Good to go!

All I want for Christmas is a big red wine

Red wine

If you have $20 or $40 or $60 to spend on that red wine consumer in your life with a hankering for bold and beautiful, then this list’s for you.
Photo: 7artman/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

The three of you who read my bi/tri-weekly column must have noticed by now that I am diplomatic, almost to a fault, to be as inclusive as possible. I certainly make a point to unearth and make public the best Canadian wines that I can find, especially when they originate so close to home.

Old world, new world, rosé, Sparkling, red wine, and an increasing focus on white wine may have some of you running for the hills but spreading the wealth is the name of the game. Diversity is my keeper but there comes a time when logic and proportion need a break. All I want for Christmas, and for those of you who know me that’s a ridiculous thing to say, is a great big ole’ bottle of red wine.

Who doesn’t? If you have missed the last 25 or so recommendations I’ve laid at your gift giving feet, if you have $20 or $40 or $60 to spend on that red wine consumer in your life with a hankering for bold and beautiful, then this list’s for you. Or, you can buy them all, seven reds for $250 and change. Not too shabby.

From left: ROCCA DELLE MACÌE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2008, BURIED HOPE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, and BURIED HOPE TEMPRANILLO 2010

From left: ROCCA DELLE MACÌE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2008, BURIED HOPE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, and BURIED HOPE TEMPRANILLO 2010

BURIED HOPE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, North Coast, California (356113, $19.95, WineAlign)

This 2010 is a new let’s groove label from the somewhat ambiguously defined North Coast appellation of California. An area of three million acres that includes Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties, and portions of Marin and Solano counties. Dusty entry, peppery finish. In between there is distilled cooler red fruit which sweet-heat spikes if only temporarily and ultimately settles into a fine balance of earth, wind and fire. Gifts an admirable sense of wood restraint. Simply “let this groove, set in your shoes” and enjoy its simple pleasures. Available in small quantities for a limited time.  87  Tasted December 2013  @hk_Canada

BURIED HOPE TEMPRANILLO 2010, Ribera del Duero, Spain (350215, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Iberian cousin to the North Coast Cabernet an ocean away likewise enters the fray dusty and flecked by white pepper. What gives it immediate density identity is the juicy, just picked cherry flesh and pencil lead minerality. A sweet blueberry flavour gets lift from edgy tannins so as you ponder this Tempranillo you will note that ”it’s gonna take you years to find out” what it’s all about. But there’s hope, however presently buried, in the descendent nature of its roots.  88  Tasted November 2013

ROCCA DELLE MACÌE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2008, Docg Tuscany, Italy (930966, $21.95, WineAlign)

One of the most reliable Tuscan houses offers no apology for this CCR’s flamboyance and it works a great vintage for the genre to maximum advantage. There is an intoxicating, exotic soaking of teak, vine stem and bhang counterbalanced by a berry sweetness that cannot be denied. In the end there’s the expected enunciation in modern Italian verse. Like a Tuscan-treated Gaja, gorgeous and tough.  89  Tasted November 2013  @roccadellemacie

From left: SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, WHITE OAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006, LE VIEUX DONJON CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, and BURROWING OWL MERITAGE 2010

From left: SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, WHITE OAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006, LE VIEUX DONJON CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, and BURROWING OWL MERITAGE 2010

SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, Barossa Valley, South Australia, Australia (48579, $26.95, WineAlign)

Behold the utter pitchy Barossan, privileged by full-on extraction in as much fruit this amount of money can buy. Tempered by a cool centre, complimented by a tangy finish. The coverall make-up is in high fashion and the big red lives to tell a passionate story after 22 months maturity in oak. Lifted by temperate zest and though it’s more Barossa than Cabernet per se, there is a fortune to be won in the bottle.  89  Tasted November 2013  @SaltramWines

WHITE OAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006, Napa Valley, Califonia (357723, $49.95, WineAlign)

A curious magnum of this highly underrated Napa Cabernet appeared for tasting. Really delicate and already maturing savoury/sweet florals lengthened by a chain of vanilla grain. Fruit looming large, with a Gershwin summertime grace and Holiday ”unique diction, inimitable phrasing and acute dramatic intensity.”  Cool, soulful, jazzy Cabernet, loaded with pepper and phite. Lady Day Easy Living90  Tasted November 2013  @WhiteOakWinery

LE VIEUX DONJON CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, Rhône, France (700922, $57.95, WineAlign)

Following a string of excellent vintages from 2003 to 2010, this clumsy Donjon could be dismissed as not up to par but I beg to differ. Such distinct aromatics can only come from a Donjon. Redolent red berry musk, exotic spices from islands east and west, metal replicate and a brush of vineyard funk. Though it thistle-stings the palate and is presently held back by a tannic core, this CdP has the track record and muscle memory for moving forward. Gathers anise, more funk and so much fruit as it aerates but clearly so much time is needed to settle it down. Look to patience in the requiem realm of 10+ years.  92  Tasted November 2013

BURROWING OWL MERITAGE 2010, British Columbia, Canada (343038, $59.95, WineAlign)

A National Wine Awards of Canada Platinum Medal winner. As massive a corporeal attack as can ever be ascertained from a B.C. Bordeaux blend, of the earth, or any other prodigiously structured Canadian red. Uproariously ripe fruit de rigueur and storming tannins. A boast of plum crushed by an intense, dry, rocky intent. To this Okanagan I say, “you’re the book that I have opened and now I’ve got to know much more.” Crazy stuff for sure, full of unfinished sympathy, with enough fruit to push it to 10 years and beyond. Priced at $45 (winery) and at a premium through VINTAGES.  90  Tasted November 2013  @BurrowingOwlBC

Good to go!

Top 10 wines for May Day

PHOTO: FABIOBERTI.IT/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

If April was the cruelest month (and in 2013 it certainly seemed like it was), May has just got to be better. A good, proper and solid bottle of wine would go a long way towards fashioning sunny and warmer days. Wine stores can seem like a waste land, filled with a sea of monochromatic bottles from which it’s impossible to choose from. You might ask your local product consultant, “what branches grow out of this stony rubbish?”

Related – More Spring wine releases

Fear not, for the answers to your mayday distress calls are answered. Here are ten current releases to pour at tonight’s May Day table.

Clockwise from left: Angels Gate Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Lionel Osmin Mon Adour Madiran 2008, Smoke & Gamble Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2010, Wittmann Riesling Trocken 2011, Domaine Du Petit Métris Les Fougeraies Savennières 2009, The Good Earth The Good Wine Betty’s Blend 2011, Il Marroneto Brunello Di Montalcino 2007, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2009, Rainoldi Crespino Valtellina Superiore 2006, and Loan Wines Unwooded Special Reserve Semillon 2004

Angels Gate Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (277590, $13.95) in comely, pale gold flesh and peach blossom nose is well designed if not grape-specific “correct.” And I thank her for that. Leads like a Jack Johnson ballad, gathering then tempering the vintage’s acidity and finishing with a soulful refrain. Outright proper Beamsville Bench white wine, even if it bears little resemblance to the Loire or Marlborough. Good on her, this angel, “she gives me kisses on the lips just for coming home.”  88  @angelsgatewines

The Good Earth The Good Wine Betty’s Blend 2011 ($17.95, 327791) led by Bench earth that simply knew is front ranked by Chardonnay trailed by reserves of Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Crafted from a ukase towards “petite lot, low yield” production, this laundered and commendable blend is tart in a sour key way. Fleur de sel and aquatic chalk add seasoning and texture. An umami latté.  87  @goodearthtweets

Loan Wines Unwooded Special Reserve Semillon 2004 (301127, $15.95) from Australia’s Barossa Valley is nearing fruit nugatory at nearly 10-years old. Lands right where aged Semillon should be, dry as the desert and tonically restorative. The colour of crystal gold and soda suppressing, spirited if not so sound fruit. Continues to speak in stinging tongues. I wouldn’t overlook its history.  89  @LeSommelierWine

Lionel Osmin Mon Adour Madiran 2008 (246850, $17.95) is no shrinking violet, in pitch, weight, cassonade (14.5 per cent abv) and tannin.  Tannat of an acute purple demanding in ocytone to match its spices and baked heat. A thick and syrupy southwestern French river of tar. Balks at brother Malbec and asks, “who’s the boss?”  89  @OsminCie

Smoke & Gamble Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2010 (332825, $18.95) just makes you want to head on down to Norfolk on Lake Erie’s north shore and set up camp. Roast some game by the campfire echoed by this satellite St. Emilion-styled blend’s aromas of licorice, smoldering cedar stick and plums poaching in the earth and acidity of the wine.  Gotta love the fitting rustic and campy label.  88  @DoverVineyards

Wittmann Riesling Trocken 2011 (320366, $20.95) may just be the driest Rheinhessen ever released. While there are no bubbles this Qualitätswein is like soda under immense pressure, inculcate of so much tension and threatening spontaneous combustion. Profound gold bouillon colour and the right amount of jolt to match the sec. Will magically quench any thirst, not leaving you hung out to dry.  88  @sir_neville

Domaine Du Petit Métris Les Fougeraies Savennières 2009 (319855, $23.95) screams “I am Chenin Blanc,” in honey on the pedal and maximum mineral metal. Aggressive, pursuing machine “stealing honey from a swarm of bees.” Petrol stinky, tangy thick, sticky with honey oozing everywhere, in comb and sweet-smelling suckle. Seriously huge and flashy. Will be stunning when it settles down.  92  @Savennieresaoc

Rainoldi Crespino Valtellina Superiore 2006 (316331, $31.95) is composed of 100 per cent Chiavennasca (Nebbiolo) from Lombardy. Grace, flowing ruby robe, striking. Lit by cherries bathing in a silica and gravel mineral bath, tightly wound in a swirling pensieve of real vinous thought. Elevated by cool, altitudinous breezes and gothic, statuesque like a Mantegazza. Northern, alpine and proud.  93  @VinumValtellina

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2009 ($32.95, winery only) is akin to a Canadian dining experience; like the highest quality smoked meat sandwich, or rare, lean game, fruit purée and demi-glacé. All in a wine. From my previous note: “Occupies hallowed Beamsville Bench middle ground between the beastly corpulence of 2008 and the rich, voluptuous 2010. Puzzling blend. Approachable and formidable. I sip and sip and sip her majesty in spite of her necessary acidity and tenacious tannin. “I want to tell her that I love her a lot but I gotta get a bellyful of wine.”  92  @HiddenBench

Il Marroneto Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 (190108, $46.95) in a tight, rusty-red dress flirts like a good ’07 should, sets her table with a bouquet of roses, dried fruit and herbs. She’ll be a star in five years,  reprising her role in alluring, candied rose perfume, cherries and fine leather.  92  @ConsBrunello

Good to go!

Iconic wines, affordable prices

PHOTO: MINERVA STUDIO/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Famous wines fill cellars everywhere, made by houses of pedigree and produced from the most recognizable grapes. There is Piedmont’s Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay out of Burgundy and Champagne, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Napa Valley and Bordeaux. Unless you began collecting some 25 years ago, chances are your stock piles are low when it comes to varietal inamorata. While there exists a minority that sees the trophies as simulacrum, the majority continue to run down dreams. Icons for less than $50? No more. A once unthinkable, magical $100 mark is a fiscal cliff in the rear-view mirror. The question begs. Has the peak been reached?

Related – More from the VINTAGES January 5th, 2013 Release

McCannian “collision of curse and whisper” finds the state of the union bound by a new world order where social media driven wine purchasing decisions fluctuate with every fleeting tweet. Expansion and saturation are in. First Growth and Grand Cru need’ms are waning in popularity, having priced themselves beyond the reach of mere mortal geeks. Andrew Jefford certainly disagrees, noting, “…it’s no surprise that wine has become just another vacuous totem of wealth.” But the Decanter scribe is not writing about a state of Ontario affairs. There are substitutes around every turn and where there is effort, there is a wine-altering way. Diamonds can be unearthed out of the proverbial rough, certainly not at will, but with patience and poise. Champion producers lay in wait within the lesser, unheralded corners of the world’s most famous wine appellations. They can also be found in nooks not yet trusted. More often than not they are the by-products of familial labours of love, small parcel productions, fruits of wine vernacular passed down through the generations.

Here are four unreal wines from iconic grapes, ready for the taking and affordable to all.

The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Bordeaux’s Left Bank star finds richesse and success in South Australia

The lowdown: Located in the sub-region of Marananga in Barossa Valley and farmed by 6th Generation family member, Damien Tscharke. Shiraz may have put Barossa on the map but my red Oz consciousness leans Cabernet Sauvignon

The food match: Braised and Pulled Beef Inside Round, barossa brie, toasted ciabatta

Tscharke Barossa Gold Marananga Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (289884, $15.95) is really good stuff. Tight attack, bold and tannic, brimming with figgy black fruit, dark chocolate, spirit cake and white pepper. The oldest Barossa Neoproterozoic Schist and Siltstone rocks impart piercing minerality as if the Marananga were blasted out of a cannon.  Tests any Napa Cab under $50.  89  @tscharkewines

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Family domain in the Mâconnais, lead by Jean-Paul Paquet, along with wife Monique and son Yannick

The lowdown: Old vines (parcels of 50+ years) and barrel ageing combine for layered results

The food match: Sage Roast Chicken, schmaltz confit yukon gold potatoes, parsley

Domaine De Fussiacus Vieilles Vignes Pouilly-Fuissé 2010 (276444, $23.95) gratifies in an instant and holds on seemingly forever with remarkable depth of fruit. The tang and tin-effect of Bresse Bleu is merely a hint, smothered over by almond and vanilla extract, green olive pit and the taste of creamy, balmy, citrons doux, bergamot marmalade. A fatty, poularde glycerin texture really ties the dude, er wine, together. Plenitude for a song.  “Sometimes, there’s a man,” I’m talking about Jean Paquet here, and I can just imagine him thinking, “we can be heroes,” working a land that finds him surrounded by stupid expensive Chardonnay.  90

The grape: Nebbiolo

The history: Makes for Italy’s most regal wines, Barolo and Barbaresco

The lowdown: The Marziano Abbonna stable trots out this entry-level Barolo with expert success vintage after vintage

The food match: Murray Farm Heritage Roast Turkey, roasted chestnut stuffing, cranberry-lemon sauce

La Pieve Barolo 2008 (213132, $28.95) does what few other sub-$30 Baroli can do; offer a taste of the real thing. Though initially a touch reductive, it hits a chord of correct notes, including chestnut tisane, tar and rose petals. Firm Nebbiolo, frank and aggressively forward, wanting to share more drupe but it’s not quite there. Time will help flesh out the hidden stone fruit and sweet red pepper flavours.  89  @CAbbona

The Splurge

The grape: Aglianico

The history: From Campania, Taurasi is believed to be derived from the pre-Roman (probably Etruscan) taur[o] meaning mountain.

The lowdown: Taurasi must be aged for at least three years before it is released, with at least one year in wood. No one can dissertate more eloquently or knowledgeably on the subject better than Feudi’s Export Manager Maurizio de Rosa

The food match: Braised Beef Short Ribs, caramelized onion, carrot, aglianico jus

Feudi di San Gregorio Taurasi 2007 (956011, $39.95) is lush and gorgeous. The most immediately gratifying young Aglianico yet such an infant. Earthbound red berries, perfectly ripe plums, biting tannin and off the charts acidity. Epochal verve of Middle Pleistocene volcanic rocksSouthern Italian equivalent to Southern Rhône reds, offering tremendous value under $50 where Bordeaux and Tuscany pedantically fall short. Should join the ranks of recent great vintages, ’01 and ’04.  93  @FeudiDSGregorio

Good to go!

Wine gems for your gift list

<em>Photograph by PhotoSG, Fotolia.com</em>

Photograph by PhotoSG, Fotolia.com

The season of giving and consumer spending is fast approaching. Wine sales more than double during the holidays, as does the dollar value spent per bottle. With so many over-valued and under-achieving wines on the market it can be difficult to choose the right gift.

While I have the good fortune to try expensive wines all year round, the number of high-end bottles is so much more prevalent at tastings in the weeks leading up to the year-end break. Here are five gems to look for when shopping for holiday gifts.

Wine gems for your gift list

The grape: Nebbiolo

The history: Regal king of Piedmont

The lowdown: The ’07′s continue to impress. Perhaps the best Ascheri Barolo I have tasted to date

The food match: Bourbon Java Steak Tips

Ascheri Pisapola Barolo 2007 (739920, $42.95) will not be punished for unremarkable rust and rusticity. Barolo as it should be, disciplined and indoctrinated in the ways of the Nebbioli. Black licorice meets unsweetened cherry and a whiff of cigar smoke. Double Z notes “if you say silky or velvety your palate is mistaken.” Proper, wicked, excellent.  91-92 (From the VINTAGES November 24th, 2012 Release)

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: If Burgundy is your game, Oregon’s Willamette Valley is the closest second

The lowdown: From a blend of some of Oregon’s greatest vineyard sites & appellations

The food match: Yukon Gold Potato Poutine, turkey gravy, fior di latte

Bergström Cumberland Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 (255935, $49) shimmers red rubies in the glass and emanates as a study in Oregon geology. Colorful silicic material is expressed as strawberry cola, ripe and caramelizing. Even at 14.1% the Cumberland remains elegant and balanced by thunderegg, spherical characteristics and tempered acidity.  91-92 (From The VINTAGES May 2012 Classics Catalogue)

The grape: Shiraz

The history: Success measured by billions of dollars in the land of OZ

The lowdown: So often jamming beyond control, once in a while there comes along a Hermitage ringer

The food match: Spice-Rubbed Baby Back Pork Ribs, tomatillo vinegar, chipotle chile glaze

Elderton Neil Ashmead GTS Grand Tourer Shiraz 2009 (271486, $65) named after and produced in honour of Elderton’s co-founder, the GTS is a crushed berry beauty with raven highlights. Kirsch cordial in a cedar mansion dreaming of the Hermitage hills. This Barossa Road Warrior drives in at 14%, takes turns with speed, alternating between northern Rhone peppery, smoked meat and Barossa berries. Leaves the vineyard’s Command in its dust.  92-93 (From The VINTAGES May 2012 Classics Catalogue)

The grape: Sangiovese

The history: The Grosso of Montalcino is still so often undervalued

The lowdown: When Brunello under $50 is this good it should not be dismissed

The food match: Wild Mushroom Ravioli, wild boar ragu, truffle oil

San Polo Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 (650812, $49) has so much cure “there’s a meat hook in my heart.” Carbon driven molecular complexity of dense, red brick cherry liqueur. Butchery core, clove perfume and late snare attack. 92-93 (From The VINTAGES Shop On Line October 4th, 2012 Release)

The grapes: Grenache and Syrah

The history: Jerome Quiot’s domain is named for the  “Lazarists” who in the 17th century had a hospice for old, poor and disabled

The lowdown: This is Châteauneuf at the height of lush with so much minerality you might think you have a mouth full of rocks

The food match: Simmered Coq-Au-Vin, roasted root vegetables, buttered salsify

Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Exceptionnelle 2007 (957274, $55) will pop at the open when it appears online November 15th. The pinkish-maroon hue actually deepens with time spent swirled. Lithospheric rheology and isostatic behaviour befitting the appellation puts graphite, earth and pine forest at the forefront. Tremendous length and potential. Exceptionnelle93-94 (From The VINTAGES Shop On Line November 15th, 2012 Release)

Good to go!