The death of wine scores?

 

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing? Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

Is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?
Photo: Maria Vazquez/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Not so fast.

As time goes by, I am hearing less comments like, “well that one got a 95,” and “that one is better value because it got a 90.” Wine ratings may increasingly becoming maligned and less frequently employed but that does not mean they don’t have their place. Scores continue to be necessary as a way to evaluate wines that lack a certain level of honesty. Wines on the edge of being dodgily made, encumbered by heavy-handed, industry-fed, mass marketing machines. Scores separate and differentiate the wheat from the chaff when dealing with over the top residual sugar, hyper-acidification, bloated alcohol and (lack of fruit) masking. Embrocating one Malbec an 85 over another’s 84 makes a comment on the relative validities of those two sweetened confections.

Attaching a rating to a tasting note is not a question of right versus wrong. Ratings measure a bottle of wine against its peers. That is the simple answer. The problem is that the tasting experience is a subjective one and each reviewer has personal preferences, so in order to align with one (or more), the consumer must self-calibrate alongside a critic whose palate they’ve figured out. Very difficult to do, so relying on scores has always been the easiest road to travel.

Part of the problem is that tasting notes, on their own, are often fleeting and impossible to grasp. Guilty as charged. Fred Swan put this is the most eloquent terms. “Tasting notes are like photographs, portraying a subject at one brief moment in time and without a back story.” If tasting notes are just snapshots, is that not compelling testimony as to the need for an accompanying score? Or is the rating simply a tool understood within the context of marketing?

Jamie Goode’s take. “I find myself in a tricky position: I use points even though I don’t like to because readers find them useful. And I have to calibrate my scale with the major critics. This pushes me into a corner.”

Still the debate is growing and for good reason. The wine community is tiring of seeing scores, especially those tabulated using the Robert Parker Jr. anointed 100-point scale, attached to a critic’s wine tasting note. The question has always been this. Why would you need scores to sell wine?

Mr. Parker feels so strongly about the entrenched longevity of his system that he’s announced the launch of a new lifestyle magazine called “100 Points by Robert Parker.” Does this sound like a last gasp fling from a captain going down with his ship? Bill Zacharkiw seems to intimate the idea, but the Montreal Gazette wine critic is smarter than to lash out and drag anyone through the mud. Taking a high road, Zacharkiw writes, “from grapes to wine styles, there is truly a wine for everyone. I have my taste, you have yours, and Parker has his.” No, nor scores neither. Nor scores neither.

The fervor and sometimes rage in the argument reminds me of the (second) most famous of Hamlet soliloquys. “Why it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man!” Most of the voices chiming in on this hot topic only see the ratings world in black and white. There are more shades of grey than many would freely admit. Scores have their place.

Meanwhile, Decanter is reporting that Château Pontet-Canet made a bold decision to test (more than 20 years) of uncharted waters by setting their en Primeur pricing in advance of the taste and ratings levies by the major critics. Since the nineties the likes of Parker, Decanter and Wine Spectator have all but determined Bordeaux Futures pricing. Pontet-Canet’s move is being seen as another nail in the 100-point coffin. One Bordeaux négociant commented, “If other chateaux follow this same pricing model, we might as well go home now.”

The real issue is the bottle itself. In the new world of wine, who has not thrown new stock and a vested interest into wines made naturally, in sustainable, biodynamic or organic ways? Who has not made a resolution to drink more honest wine? Producing good wine still trumps the natural theatre of viticulture and viniculture but honesty is the new order. Honest wines should go forth and be free of wine ratings.

Wine scores can be ignored if we concentrate on what matters. Like apiculate yeast, fermentative vigor, microflora, clonal selection and soil. We also need to talk more about and mention flaws, like chlorinated compounds, hydrogen sulphide and volatile acidity. These are things that are too often brushed under the rug.

I will continue to post ratings of the wines I review on WineAlign because as a community of critics we offer a round table of opinions that allow the wine buyer to make gathered, educated and informed decisions. In consideration that this forum is a singular expression of opinions, this column will no longer attach scores to tasting notes. It’s quite obvious, plain and simple. I only write about honest wines for canada.com. The prose speaks for itself.

With spring beginning this Friday, no joke, here are the last of the great big winter reds. Five wines recently tasted that thrilled by way of their fairness, their honor and their virtue. Wines that need no score.

From left: Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, and Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe

From left: Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, and Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe

Mi Terruño Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza, Argentina (364133, $15.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

Stands out for its honest fruit, this Mendozan from San Roque district in Maipú county. Qualified by an admirable level of restraint, low in residual sugar and alcohol, straightforward, unencumbered. Winemakers María Eugenia Baigorria and Sergio Giménez have let the fruit speak in clean, level tones, in red berries, licorice red and black, a dusting of spice, red cherry and even strawberry. This is textbook hands off winemaking with nearly exceptional length and simply solid from start to finish. Mi sueno, mi terruño.  Tasted March 2014

Pearl Morissette Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline 2010, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (winery, $38, WineAlign)

Francois Morissette’s 2010 is a pioneering example towards defining Bench appellation Cabernet Franc isomeric reactions. Relationships between grapes of a growing area and their ultimate destination in bottle. An affair of veraison, leaf drop, frost, hand harvesting, whole cluster sorting and berry oak fermenting.  Indigenous yeast, punch downs and overs for phenolic skin extraction and polymerization. Neutral oak and sulfur dioxide to provide antimicrobial and antioxidant protection. An eighteen month somniac’s rest, fine lees and no filtration. The structural arrangement in cohabitation of radicals and ions leads to such a Cabernet Franc. Fully expressive of an endemic, very ripe, vegetal varietal vicissitude that is both inbred and necessary. Currants and peppered berries of power and grit. Dry (2 g/L residual sugar), plump (13.7 per cent alcohol) and scarce (618 cases made). Reflective of the warm 2010 vintage and will always act in stark contrast to the elegant 2011.  Tasted July 2013 and March 2014  @PearlMorissette  On the card at Barque Smokehouse

Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2008, Tuscany, Italy (353201, $43.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

A re-release showing an exuberance of advanced character. Now acting out the strikingly rich and golden vintage, in Lamé and gilded iron. Speaking a most Tuscan, elite vernacular, already recognizable and evolving into its own skin, with a notion towards herbaceous, dried fruit. A classic pasta and roasted meats red wine. Nonna’s Trattoria kitchen in a glass. Drying just a touch, so drink up. Earlier note: “Slight earthy funk, imparted by the vineyard floor and in part from the wood. Sappy, resinous, distinctively warm-blooded, plummy fruit. Tuscan tang though light on pucker.”  Tasted October 2013 and March 2014

The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, California, USA (662015, $59.00, WineAlign)

A seminal bottling from a game-changing year, for two all important reasons. One, it was a great vintage for Napa reds and two, the Mount Veeder sub-appellation was established. While only 24 years ago, a mere five wineries existed there at the time, including Mayacamas, Mt. Veeder and Hess. No hyperbole to say this is tasting a piece of history. Despite my “shouting all about love,” this splendidly aged Cabernet is not so much about resilience as it is persistence and infinite wisdom. All those years ago there were Napa reds made at a mere 12.5 per cent alcohol, with finesse and a sense of George-like calm. With little aeration there is fig, prune and toffee gently weeping but with air the aged fruit is swept away by a wave of gob stopping Cassis before its time. Preconceived notions of banausic, early days Cabernet are smothered by the magic dust of this Hess religion, a Dharma of licorice, ash and enlightenment. A wine to make you forget where you are. Depth, length and up to a half decade yet of reserved life lay ahead.  Tasted March 2014  @HessCollection 

Château Calon Ségur 2010, Ac Saint Estèphe, Bordeaux, France (259010, $149.85, WineAlign) An In-Store Discovery from the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release

A blend that in 2010 is extremely high in Cabernet Sauvignon (86 per cent), with support from Merlot (12) and Petit Verdot (2). Immaculate hue in blue jasmine meets red ochre, echoed by blue and red fruit aromas. A purity of freshness and an exotic perfume distracts from the absurdity of the price, if just long enough to become intoxicated by its qualifications. It really does have it all. Red velvet layer cake made of the finest chocolate, the world’s least refined and highest quality sugar, spices only found in places reached and hand-picked by agile, primate-like humans. So approachable and marked by sweet tannins that will carry this Saint Estèphe for three decades.  Tasted March 2014

Good to go!

Top ten wines $30 and under for 2013

Wine in the haystack


Finding the needles in the proverbial haystack is no simple assignment so tasting through thousands of wines each year is the necessity to the mother of invention.
Photo: Africa Studio/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Folks like best of lists and I for one am happy to offer them up. Historical farsightedness can be one of life’s great pleasures so cue the retrospective view.

The $20-30 category brims to overflowing with soft wines, so often heavy, overworked, reeking of new oak and unforgiving in contrivance. That niche can also be occupied by some of the greatest wine values on the planet. Wines that are neither entry-level nor flagship. Wines that define the attitude and intention of their producers.

Finding the needles in the proverbial haystack is no simple assignment so tasting through thousands of wines each year is the necessity to the mother of invention. Looking back, I am pleased to note that Ontario wines proved their worth in this reasonable if not cheap category. That four of the ten represented here were chosen locally is a testament to the quality and the marketability of $25 Niagara whites and reds.

Here are my top ten wines, on the number or below, released and tasted in 2013.

Ten wine releases $30 and under

From left: SOUTHBROOK TRIOMPHE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, GREENLANE RIESLING OLD VINES 2011, DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS LES FOUGERAIES SAVENNIÈRES 2009, DOMAINES SCHLUMBERGER KESSLER PINOT GRIS 2008, and SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009

From left: SOUTHBROOK TRIOMPHE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, GREENLANE RIESLING OLD VINES 2011, DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS LES FOUGERAIES SAVENNIÈRES 2009, DOMAINES SCHLUMBERGER KESSLER PINOT GRIS 2008, and SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009

SIGALAS SANTORINI ASSYRTIKO 2011, Santorini, Greece (74781, $21.95, WineAlign)

Must be a fairy tale, a Boucles d’or narrative of structure and complexity from the first swirl and sniff. Airy, saline, built of rich, gold guts. Perfectly ripened orchard fruit and fresh-squeezed grapefruit. Taste it and there’s a joyous dance, a kefi bursting inside, like great Champagne but minus the bubbles.  92  Tasted April 2013  @KolonakiGroup  From: See the humanity in real value wine

SOUTHBROOK TRIOMPHE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (ON, VINTAGES Essential, 193573, $22.95, WineAlign)

Drifts effortlessly along in an extreme brightness and lightness of being. A perfumed exotic beauty that displays definitive Cabernet Sauvignon character. Tea, tobacco, Cassis, vanilla, dark berries, proper acidity, good grip and length. Dictionary entry for the vintage, the Niagara-on-the-Lake appellation and the genre. No other sub-$25 Ontario Cab does the warm vintages (’02. ’05, ’07 and ’10) with this kind of grace and power. From and kudos to winemaker Ann Sperling.  91  Tasted September 2013  @SouthbrookWine  From: Good Look Ahead at Canadian Wines For Thanksgiving

GREENLANE RIESLING OLD VINES 2011 ,VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (351486, $22.95, WineAlign)

Cracks the mineral whip, froths lime into foam and atomizes stone fruit into sweet and sour heaven. Wants to be semi-dry but never quite goes there. Walks a fine line, a tightrope actually. Up there with Charles Baker and Thirty Bench for sheer madness.  91  Tasted July 2013  @GreenLaneWinery  From: Alternative wines for the August long weekend

DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS LES FOUGERAIES SAVENNIÈRES 2009, Ac Loire, France (319855, $23.95, WineAlign)

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  Tasted April 2013  @Savennieresaoc  From: Top ten wines for May Day

DOMAINES SCHLUMBERGER KESSLER PINOT GRIS 2008, Ac Alsace, France (249623, $25.95, WineAlign)

Wants to tell you she’s late harvest but you know better. “You might say you can only fool yourself.” Golden gorgeous, silken pear custard and southern hemisphere, capsicum spiked fruit. Walks on little feat but ultra-marathon runs a sweet to dry crescendoing gamut.  92  Tasted June 2013  @drinkAlsace  From: Working wines for the Canada Day long weekend

From left: SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, LAN GRAN RESERVA 2005, ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT SPARKLING, MALIVOIRE WINE COMPANY GAMAY 'COURTNEY' 2011, and THIRTY BENCH VINEYARDS 'STEEL POST' VINEYARD RIESLING 2011

From left: SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, LAN GRAN RESERVA 2005, ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT SPARKLING, MALIVOIRE WINE COMPANY GAMAY ‘COURTNEY’ 2011, and THIRTY BENCH VINEYARDS ‘STEEL POST’ VINEYARD RIESLING 2011

SAN FELICE IL GRIGIO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, Tuscany, Italy (716266, $26.95, SAQ, 703363, $27, WineAlign)

Clocks in at 12.8 per cent abv. Are you following the theme here? This CCR is just so flippin’ foxy and gorgeous to nose. It’s also demanding in iron, dried sanguine char and tough like the label’s Titian-painted medieval knight. CCR stretched out on the rack, Italianate through and through and likely in need of 10 years lay down time. Funkless which, considering the lack of coat and obfuscation, is very, very interesting.  92   Tasted August 2013  From: Fall is the wine time to be with the Tuscan you love

LAN GRAN RESERVA 2005, Rioja, Spain (928622, $27.95, WineAlign)

Its makers may now just be a cog in the Sogrape empire but it continues to do its own thing. Has that evolution I look for in Rioja. The slightest oxidative note, heaps of herbs and the umami of salty clashes with smokey Jamon. Rioja expressive of one love and one heart. Caught bobbing, dancing and wailing right in its wheelhouse, giving everything it’s made of, no holds barred and no questions asked. “Is there a place for the hopeless sinner?” Yes, in a glass of a weathered, leathery and just flat out real as it gets red Rioja.  92  Tasted September 2013  @BodegasLan  From: Ancient state of the art Spanish wine

ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT SPARKLING, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California, (294181, $29.95, WineAlign)

Composed of approximately 60 per cent Chardonnay and 40 Pinot Noir. As close to greatness a house style from California can achieve. Discovers some secrets shared by cool-climate Sparkling wine, first with a delicate floral waft from out of a salmon copper tone. Complex, savoury bubbles, in rhubarb, tarragon and poached pear. Round, really fine, earthly, grounded stuff that spent a minimum two years on the lees. Marked by citrus too, namely pink grapefruit and creamy vanilla from the addition of some oak-aged wine.  91  Tasted November 2013  From: Ten sparkling wine to life

MALIVOIRE WINE COMPANY GAMAY ‘COURTNEY’ 2011, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($29.95, winery only,)

Spent 14 edifying months in French oak and will live adroitly for another five years as a result. So much plum inherent in all its faculties, berries and currants too. The winemaker star of Shiraz Mottiar is rising higher into the cool climate stratosphere with each passing vintage. His wines walk a haute couture runway of class and style.  91  Tasted April 2013  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  From: Come together over wine

THIRTY BENCH VINEYARDS ‘STEEL POST’ VINEYARD RIESLING 2011, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($30, winery only, WineAlign)

From the Andrew Peller stable leans late-harvest or Spätlese, with 18.5 grams per litre of residual sugar. Clean, crisp, precise and near perfect Beamsville Bench expression. Flinty minerality and fantastic whorl by way of winemaker Emma Garner. Equal to if not more of a bomb than the stellar ’09.  93  Tasted March 2013  @ThirtyBench  100 kilometre wine for Spring

Good to go!

Twelve days of wine for Christmas

Wine for Christmas

Now is the time to begin shopping, that is unless you are a glutton for line-up punishment in the last 12 days leading up to Christmas.
Photo: jillchen/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Christmas is but three weeks away and so the countdown begins. Wine shops from coast to coast are officially at maximum inventory, knowing full well that if you stock it, they will come.

In Ontario, VINTAGES sections at the LCBO have more to offer than at any other time of the year. The same can be said for the SAQ in Quebec. Alberta’s private wine shops are loaded up with selections, as are the VQA stores in British Columbia and every other provincial liquor board store.

Now is the time to begin shopping, that is unless you are a glutton for line-up punishment in the last 12 days leading up to Christmas. Starting tomorrow you have exactly one week left to search and acquire any of these twelve terrific wines. Come on people, get out there!

From left: QUINTA DOS CARVALHAIS DUQUE DE VISEU RED 2009, CHÂTEAU BERTINERIE MERLOT/CABERNET 2009, DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, LORNANO LE BANDITE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS CLOS DE LA MARCHE SAVENNIÈRES 2009, and RIOJA BORDÓN GRAN RESERVA 2004

From left: QUINTA DOS CARVALHAIS DUQUE DE VISEU RED 2009, CHÂTEAU BERTINERIE MERLOT/CABERNET 2009, DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, LORNANO LE BANDITE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS CLOS DE LA MARCHE SAVENNIÈRES 2009, and RIOJA BORDÓN GRAN RESERVA 2004

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  @winePortugalCA

CHÂTEAU BERTINERIE MERLOT/CABERNET 2009, Ac Côtes De Bordeaux, Blaye (244640, $18.95, WineAlign)

Intrigue and nary a sign of Brett or funk. Warm, java fruit ninja subsidized by the tension that possesses it. A bit overripe perhaps, also rocky and hematic, unstaunched and with good length. Satisfyingly good, deep, dark wine. At $19 this has December stews written all over its Blays face.  90  Tasted November 2013  @Bertinerie

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

LORNANO LE BANDITE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2009, Docg Tuscany, Italy  (230672, $19.95, WineAlign)

Goes out Brett funky straight away and without trepidation. Le Bandite indeed, rough, rural, musky, manly, stealing fruit from the well dressed, the hygienic and the entitled. Robin Hood CCR, prince of fresh fruit thief, or perhaps the man in tights, as in iron, Italianate, searing, sanguine attitude. Throwing rocks, stones, rioting, looting and shooting arrows through my Chianti heart. Could you tell I liked it?  90  Tasted November 2013  @FrontierWine

DOMAINE DU PETIT MÉTRIS CLOS DE LA MARCHE SAVENNIÈRES 2009, Ac Loire, France (250571, $23.95, WineAlign)

A bottle full of apple, lemon and flinty rock. At first, a Chenin Blanc study for The Dance. The aromatics seem just a bit closed today and the texture a touch more downy than from memory, but it is far from oxidized. Arid, tight and then a slow emergence. The stones begin to traipse on the tongue in a Matissean La Danse clarity of light, form and simplicity, tingle to the core, circle round and round. Textbook Savennières.  91  Tasted November 2013  @LoireValleyWine

RIOJA BORDÓN GRAN RESERVA 2004, Doca Rioja, Spain (114454, $24.95, SAQ 11383561, $22.45, Alta. $34.99, WineAlign)

A Rioja that wears its alcohol and emotions on its sleeve. Robust attack, cranky acidity and lashing tannin. A cup of sweet and sour cherries in jubilation and rigmarole. Quite the boisterous, reactive Rioja animal. Hard to figure on but quite something. Classic actually.  90  Tasted November 2013  @RiojaBordon

From left: DE MARTINO LIMÁVIDA OLD BUSH VINES 2010, THE FOREIGN AFFAIR THE TEMPTRESS ‘ABBRACCIO’ 2009, BONNY DOON LE CIGARE VOLANT 2008, DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, PAHLMEYER CHARDONNAY 2010, and CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010

From left: DE MARTINO LIMÁVIDA OLD BUSH VINES 2010, THE FOREIGN AFFAIR THE TEMPTRESS ‘ABBRACCIO’ 2009, BONNY DOON LE CIGARE VOLANT 2008, DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, PAHLMEYER CHARDONNAY 2010, and CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010

DE MARTINO LIMÁVIDA OLD BUSH VINES 2010, Maule Valley, Chile  (360131, $35.95, WineAlign)

If a seriously heaving berry, dark as night Chilean red can add a bit of euphoria into your life, this SV might just be the one. Wet earth drenched in a sudoric blanket of wood soaked in fine liqueur. Limited production blend of Malbec, Carmenère, Carignan and Tannat from “terroir más excepcionales de Chile.” Noticeable porcine note from a wine seemingly old and wise but beneath the hard shell it’s actually berry-chocolate fruity and tangy. Has tension and nerve but the parts don’t always equate to the whole. Terrific attempt at a serious Maule Valley red of singular expression.  90  Tasted November 2013  @DeMartinoWines  @Halpernwine

THE FOREIGN AFFAIR THE TEMPTRESS ‘ABBRACCIO’ 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (127340, $44.95, WineAlign)

From the estate’s Crispino Vineyard, the blend of 65 per cent Merlot, 30 Cabernet Sauvignon and five Petit Verdot is chosen from the best barrels. Activates Ilya Senchuk’s take on the appassimento style, in structure and in spades. This is the vintage where 14 became 15, but that alcohol has to be forgiven, considering the outright bravado embrace of the rehydrated fruit. Plum deep, syrup drippy, espresso and dark chocolate bitterness. Works against the grain, but again, must be forgiven considering the overall achievement. Gotta check this one out between 2019-2022.  91  Tasted November 2013  @wineaffair

BONNY DOON LE CIGARE VOLANT 2008, Central Coast, California (975847, $48.95, SAQ 10253386, $49.00, WineAlign)

“Well I’ve always had a deep respect,” for the boisterous wines of Randall Grahm “and I mean that most sincere.” Less rope and more felicity etch this ’08 into a Rhône book of yesteryear. This Volant has its cigar and smokes it too, having entered peak toasted spice form, with sweet Grenache, peppery Syrah and the strengthening, fortifying assistance from Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Carignane. Raspberry youthful, mineral tough, juicy and gorgeous, full-bodied, ripe, essential ranger. Bites down hard on the blistered finish. This is really, really nice Central Coast California juice. Right up there with CDP’s in a similar tax bracket.  91  Tasted November 2013  @BonnyDoonVineyd  @RandallGrahm

DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT MOUTONNE GRAND CRU CHABLIS 2011, Monopole, Ac, Burgundy, France (46706, $89.95, WineAlign)

From Mathieu Mangenot’s ”Grand Cru” plots, the Monopole holdings in the steep amphitheatre slope of Vaudésir and the gentle rise of Les Preuses. The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine. He spoons piles of flint and chunks of rock. He explains the tin pan elevation of Chablis and Chardonnay squeezed from the bedrock, capturing every last drop of geology, refuse of stars and fossils of the ancient animals. Stoic, metazoic, super Chablis, with tremendous length. How can this Chablis have so much fruit but no apple, no lemon, no pith. “You think things are straight but they’re not what they seem.” Candy for the soul. Novacaine in liquid form. Amazing.  94  Tasted November 2013.

PAHLMEYER CHARDONNAY 2010, Sonoma Coast, California (222117, $99.95, SAQ 11936111, $97.00, Alta. 737672, $104.76, WineAlign)

The offspring of two famous vineyards, Wayfarer and Ritchie. Two plots that bring strength and style, Captain and Tenille. The sumptuous cajoling of this dense Sonoman could never be accused of lying low or lacking confidence. When “some sweet talking guy comes along singing his song,” like this Pahlmeyer, the trickery is palpable and that burst into song, “love will keep us together,” is unavoidable. It’s the unabashed, high density fruit, the layers of enveloping wood and the crustaceans dripping butter. It’s the thick and chewy texture, unlike almost any other, but it’s also the woody, resinous, strikingly ripe, brix combative turned alcohol heavy feeling and the creamed cornucopia of whipped polenta, lemon and burnt sugary crème brûlée. Huge style.  91  Tasted November 2013  @Pahlmeyer

CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET VIDE BOURSE 1ER CRU 2010, Ac Burgundy, France (344887, $101.95, Quebec $85.00, WineAlign)

A mild sylvan reductive stink is neither abstruse nor in fruit obstruction. What we have here is a brass tax in Chardonnay histrionics. Yellow and green tree fruit, wicked wild yeast game and just about as much ruminating, mineral tang as one might desire. Something wicked this way woos my wistful longing for quality white Burgundy. I could imagine drinking this well into my pension days.  95  Tasted November 2013

Good to Go!

Fall is the time for Tuscan wine

Ripe wine grapes
PHOTO: ANDY DEAN/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Tuscany. Entrenched in place as one of the most storied, time-tested and traditional wine regions of the world. For right reason, thanks in great measure to the chimerical, paragons of Brunello, Vino Nobile, Bolgheri, Maremma and of course, Chianti Classico.

Tuscan wine laws, while more relaxed and inclusive than they recently were, continue to hold on to stubborn and hardheaded ways and remain transfixed on tradition and patriarchy. In the 1970′s some miscreant and rebellious winemakers began bottling with foreign varieties and gulp, in blends with the local, beloved Sangiovese. They broke as many rules as possible. Wine hippies. The movement paid no heed to the DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) laws and the wines came to be known as Super Tuscans. The new marketers labeled their bastardi as IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica). Antinori’s Tignanello, Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia, Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia’s Ornellaia and Masseto were the very expensive originals. So many followed and today a “Super Tuscan” can be had from $12 to $400. I turn to this concise and disseminated description on the genre from VinoinLove.

PHOTO: Daniela Scorza/Fotolia.com
Tuscan wines are to be found everywhere these days and tastings seem to teem with them in the fall.

All this in direct insult and dis to the salt of Tuscany’s wine earth, the sanguis Jovis, the “blood of Jove,” Sangiovese. Conventional and prescribed Chianti (Sangiovese), Brunello (Sangiovese Grosso) and Vino Nobile (Prugnolo Gentile) all contained, in majority proportions, a form or clone of the grape. Other autochthonous varieties were parochially permitted, like Canaiolo, Colorino, Malvasia and Mammolo. But Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah? No chance. Today, things have (somewhat) changed.

The Super Tuscan IGT holds court while Sangiovese-based wines fight for market share. Better yet, the IGT style paradigm is finally beginning to shift back to the future of Italian wine, in a focused, pure, fruit-driven style. Oak hindrance and high alcohol IGT, despite the reason for putting the genre on the map in the first place and while still so prevalent, will not survive the mode it has been mired in for the past 10-12 years.

Tuscan wines are to be found everywhere these days and tastings seem to teem with them in the fall. Tuscany was the themed centrepiece of the most recent VINTAGES September 28th, 2013 release. Wine importers have been showcasing their IGT’s at portfolio tastings and coming next month, Wines of Italy will offer more than a dozen among the 100+ wines on pour at that immense event. Here are five recently sampled Super-Tuscans and three rogue Sangiovese to seek out this fall.

Clockwise from left: Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano 2010, Fattoria Carpoli Sada Integolo 2010, San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva 2009, Carpineto Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Pertimali AZ. Livio Sassetti Fili di Seta IGT 2009, Terrabianca Campaccio IGT 2009, and Anima Libera Morellino di Scanzano 2011

VINTAGES September 28th, 2013 release

Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano 2010 (508531, $16.95) lets Sangiovese play chaperone to Cabernet Sauvignon and Canaiolo in its most modern and alluring incarnation to date. That’s not to say it clenches without tension, in seething red berry and cherry. Highly floral entry and dusty finish. Solid value. Will work for many a pasta.  88

Fattoria Carpoli Sada Integolo 2010 (350132, $18.95) the unheralded, consumer obscure yet not so unusual IGT blend from Cabernet Sauvignon, Montepulciano and Alicante feigns modernity at a refreshingly low, low alcohol by volume of 12.5 percent. Though not widely known, the blend is not so uncommon for the Tuscan coast. Uncomplicated and pure, dark red camera obscura with pitch emitting a ray of bright fruit light. Spit char roasting aroma, sun-dried flavour and energy in solar happiness, as “the rocks melt wi‚ the sun.”   89

San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva 2009 (716266, $26.95, SAQ, 703363, $27) clocks in at 12.8 per cent abv. Are you following the theme here? This CCR is just so flippin’ foxy and gorgeous to nose. It’s also demanding in iron, dried sanguine char and tough like the label’s Titian-painted medieval knight. CCR stretched out on the rack, Italianate through and through and likely in need of 10 years lay down time. Funkless which, considering the lack of coat and obfuscation, is very, very interesting.  92

Carpineto Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (996553, $29.95) invites Chianciano/Montepulciano to the party mix and the result in 2007 is lush, lusty and downright funky. Usually one only finds this kind of funk and circumstance in a Napa valley Cabernet. So muttonous and crustaceous I’m tempted to say merroir but as my colleague JS notes, “withterroir like this who needs grapes.” Another IGT that dials my number at 12.5 per cent abv. Honesty thy name is balance.  90

Profile Wine Group Portfolio Tasting

Liberty Grand, September 24, 2013

Pertimali AZ. Livio Sassetti Fili di Seta IGT 2009 (Profile Wine Group private order, $37.95, B.C., International Wine Cellars, 16147, $46) is a Sangiovese (60 per cent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (40 per cent) Montalcino blend. Rosso di Toscano, as opposed to Rosso di Montalcino, or baby Brunello. Lush, jet pitchy and earthy fruit that dances the Brett line but never crosses over into dangerously funky territory.  90

Terrabianca Campaccio IGT 2009 (Profile Wine Group consignment, $39.95) combines fruit from two Tuscan appellations, Chianti Classico and Maremma. The 70 per cent Sangiovese and 30 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon blend has never wavered or waffled, nor has the price. Same 40 bucks I paid for my ’97′s. If perhaps it were accused of being less complex and idiosyncratic and more accessible, so be it. Such a virtuous expression of Sangiovese where Cabernet supports. Harmonious, red fruit and rampart acidity in a wine capable of abstruse behaviour.  91

Connexion Oenophilia

August 1, 2013

Anima Libera Chianti 2011 (Connexion Oenophilia Private Order, $16.95) is the child of a “garagiste” project from flying consultant winemaker Emiliano Falsini. Composed of 95 percent Sangiovese and five Canaiolo, it’s juicy, lively, certainly a “made” wine but bursting with western Chianti earth, raspberry and strawberry. Ultimately approachable and sociable “from love I long to taste.” Libera me Chianti.  89

Anima Libera Morellino di Scansano 2011 (Connexion Oenophilia Private Order, $22.95) is a mix of Sangiovese (90 per cent), Alicante (five) and Malvasia Nera (five). More depth and robust, studied consternation than most Morellino. Corporeal, developed cherry fruit deliberated by grainy, chalky tannin. There’s an iodine and roasted chestnut note but the fruit remains fresh, neither rustic nor bruised and the wine is conclusively rooted sub-mediterraneanly beyond the Chianti’s reach.  91

Good to go!

Wines for the Ides of March

PHOTO: PAUL FLEET/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Good friends, go in and taste some wine with me.

And we, like friends, will straightway go together.
March 15th is not just any old day, that is if you are a Roman. The monthly Ides were sacred to the worshipers of Jupiter, king deity of the Romans. Shakespeare‘s play is more than just a forgotten high school memory. The Ides of March, 44 BCE assassination of Julius Caesar in the Roman Senate was a big deal.

Caesar was, however cautious and abstemious some say, known as a wine guy. Can you argue the actuality in utterance of the Bard’s famous line, “Et tu, Brute?” as he offered his (77-years ahead, future reference) Judas a goblet of wine? JC was purportedly known to love indigenous Italian grapes like Mamertino and Brachetto.

Caesar took control of the mint and had money coined to put into the hands of the people. He then built great structures, public works and was followed (jump forward, twenty-one centuries, Twitter equivalent) by many. Was he killed for being a people’s patron of the arts, architecture and culture and did his offing lead to the demise of plentiful money in Rome? Can Caesar really be blamed for the tax increases, corruption and the loss of homes and land? Admittedly, the dictator has been historically accused of killing one million enemy French (Gallic) men and enslaving another million. But he was a wine guy! Would Caesar have jammed in a cork to stop private wine clubs?

Canadians purportedly drink Bloody Caesars to celebrate the anniversary of the soothsayer’s day. Me, not so much. But I can tie the Italian-Canadian thing together. Here I string five Canadians and three Italians, bound by one apropos French connection, a sublime red wine from Bordeaux. Raise a glass and whisper “All hail Caesar.”

From left: Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Reserve Red Assemblage 2010, Stoney Ridge Excellence Chardonnay 2010, Vicchiomaggio Agostino Petri Chianti Classico Riserva 2008, Tenuta Di Ghizzano Veneroso 2009, Paolo Conterno Riva Del Bric Barolo 2008, Château Haut-Bages Liberal 2009.

The Canadians

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2010 (246579, $15.95) is fresh in chert, posy aromatic and stuffed with an airy, sense of whipped lemon cream. Salinity and white pepper add kick and spice to this Chardonnay cousin only Cave Spring seems to have mastered.  89  @CaveSpring

Malivoire Riesling 2011 (277483, $15.95) of savvy, textured pomade hails Prussian in ideal, with equatorial accents, in coconut, ginger and creamy, fallen tree fruit. A lime’s zest, rind and late harvest condensed orange marmalade buttress this beryl flecked, golden Escarpment Riesling. Tons of nuance.  90  @MalivoireWine

Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Reserve Red Assemblage 2010 (321893, $16.95) coalesces to what so few Niagara Peninsula peers achieve by summation in the heat of 2010. Meritage balance for under $20. Many made great wines in the premium category but many more made bottles of jam at this price. Rockway’s Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend is a tale of two poles. At once pretty, in violets, soft black currants and mild coffee and then bound by an underlying coal tension and furious punk beat. “The sun is out and I want some.”  88   @Rockway Vineyard

Creekside Laura’s White 2010 (121764, $18.95) is peach quintessence in a glass. Niagara Peninsula peaches burst forth, replay to taste and never dissipate. The tree’s blossoms are there two, along with the fruit’s stony pit, with a full-on mouth attack, finishing with a spoonful of peach-infused simple syrup. A white “to let go of it all just for this evening.” Dessert and then goodnight.  88  @CreeksideWine

Stoney Ridge Excellence Chardonnay 2010 (254243, $24.95) hails from the Lincoln Lakeshore and warms in toasted, buttered pecans, Caesar spice and sunny climate fruit. The shore’s metallic, rocky bed adds minerality, “rockin’ up the richter scale” with tang and stabbing notes on the long finish. Goes both ways, ACDC.  89  @stoneyridgewine

The Italians

Vicchiomaggio Agostino Petri Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 (993360, $19.95) in a tighter vintage is not as round, ripe and forgiving so priced to sell but it’s that grit that gives this CCR it’s charm. More Run Through the Jungle than Lodi, this Petri “fills the land with smoke,” in animale and a marbled, granular texture. Thought modern in styling, this Sangiovese is like charred Kobe beef covered in butter polished demi-glace.  90

Tenuta Di Ghizzano Veneroso 2009 (103218, $29.95) bears little resemblence to the IGT you may be used to, especially in a 70/30 Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon blend. This one’s mutton-funky, not quite like the Montetti or Madonna del Piano but still an earthy beast. There is vibrant purple Pisa fruit and a dusty, chalky tannic splash. We’ll see but my thoughts look to a wow future. Gorgeous wine from Ginevra Venerosi Pesciolini.  91  @FrontierWine

Paolo Conterno Riva Del Bric Barolo 2008 (172783, $36.95, SAQ, 10860223, $34) from young vines on this venerable estate’s Ginestra plot is really impressive for under $40. Savoury and perfumed, of Rhododendron and dried roses. Pipe smoke at the mid-point and sweet tannin. Not exactly a big Barolo but more of a Nebbiolista’s bric-a-brac of all the best bits Barolo has to offer 91  @liffordwine

Château Haut-Bages Liberal 2009 (197640, $64.85) of sumptuous, acculturated Paulliac texture is just so pretty. Not unlike the ’07 Brunelli, or the current release ’08 Guado Al Tasso for that matter, there is nary a harsh or biting note. The kicker is the Left Bank mineral, crushed rock thing going on and the wine never wavers from the its velvety feel. Pure, unadulterated red fruit, juicy and forevermore. This liberal lady can “lay across my big brass bed,” anytime.  92

Good to go!

Your man wants these wines for Valentine’s

Valentine’s Day wines PHOTO: ANNA/FOTOLIA.COM

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Cupid’s got a dilemma. He knows his arrow will pierce the man in the relationship’s heart, hypnotize him to hunt and gather the finest chocolate and sweet-smelling roses that money can buy. But what about the other, more feminine half? They just might not feel the same V-Day pressure. Besides, beyond the cliché, what exactly or specifically is the appropriate gift for Valentine’s Day?

Related – Current release wine recommendations

Even divas fuss over the pink holiday. Nicki Minaj has told us that Cupid’s Got a Gun. Carrie Underwood’s version is a shotgun. Yikes. If you ask me, all I really want this Thursday, like any other day of the year, is a decent bottle of wine. Is that not what every man wants? Matches the profile of the ones I hang out with. Your man probably likes Italian wine. Maybe he imagines himself Romeo to your Juliet?

While it would certainly put a smile on my face, I’m not holding my breath for a ripe, rare and bleeding Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (24190, $74.95, 91), though I wouldn’t kick one out of bed for cacophonous quacking.  Nor would I run away from a classic, opaque and rustic cherry Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 (994095, $57.95, 91).  Here are six current and affordable releases sure to please the love of your life.

The grapes: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot

The history: Classic varietals and small lots from winemaker Emma Garner on the Beamsville Bench

The lowdown: TB’s Rieslings have long been blowing my mind but this Bordeaux-styled blend trips new light

The food match: Dry-Rubbed Grilled Chicken Breast Tacos, aged whited cheddar, tomato

Thirty Bench Red 2010 (320986, $24.00) shows off the ripeness of the vintage at an indubitably balanced 13.6% ABV. Exhibits red licorice, funk of the earth and currants in a demi-glace kind of way. Beamsville sand and gravel meet savoury herbs, lashed together by dusty tannin. Quite serious, more IGT than Bordeaux or Loire.  88  @ThirtyBench

The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot

The history: Left Bank, Haut-Médoc Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Bordeaux blend

The lowdown: So unclassified you’ve likely never heard of it but so what?

The food match: Grilled Beef and Veal Baseballs, roasted garlic, parsley, artichoke aioli

Château Fort-Lignac 2009 (307264, $17.95) gives plum pudding heaped with baking spice and even a note of fine cigar. Judicious wood adds espresso, chew and chalk to this unassuming red. Lots of Bordeaux for $18.  89

The grape: Syrah

The history: Delas Frères is one of the smaller Rhone négociants but their recent run is nothing less than remarkable

The lowdown: Crozes-Hermitage at this price is so often thin and metallic but this ultra-modern ’10 is a hit

The food match: Lamb- and Rose-Stuffed Quails

Delas Frères Les Launes Crozes-Hermitage 2010 (701359, $20.95, B.C., 174664, $24.99, 2009) like hipster coffee dislikes authority and marches to the beat of a different drummer. Understated Syrah black pitch and no smoked meat or confit here. Instead there is purple, floral heliotrope gorgeousness and plum fruit. Big mineral component too. This one’s for the masculine gifter and the feminine giftee.  90  @HHDImports_Wine

The grape: Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile)

The history: From Montepulciano in Tuscany’s south

The lowdown: Bar none the best and most consistent value in Vino Nobile

The food match: Roast Beef Tenderloin, fried Tuscan potatoes

Poliziano Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2009 (988055, $25.95, SAQ, 11194832, $26.20) is blessed with such a lush texture and post-modern attraction that a couple of sips could lead to some serious heavy petting. Retains just enough Italianate, gamey, iron mineral qualities to keep it real but this is berry, chocolate, acqua vitae equipped to reach many, many folk. Best VNM for the buck, year in and year out.  90  @Noble_Estates

The grape: Nebbiolo

The history: From Diano d’Alba and Rodello in Piedmont’s Lower Langhe, characterized by vines and cereals

The lowdown: From third generation proprietor Mario Giribaldi, farmer at heart, lover of all things Langhe

The food match: Frico (cheese crisp) with Potato, Onion and Sausage Filling

Giribaldi Barbaresco 2006 (101147, $31.95) the dichotomous Nebbiolo of live rust looks old, as though it has lived hard when it’s actually quite young at heart. Classic Barbaresco bouquet of rose, tar, peeled orange and pepper berries. Banging acidity, coffee vapor and a powder finger of tannin. Don’t worry, there’s no real fear that this one “would fade away so young.”  91

The grapes: Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malvasia Nero

The history: Dates back to 1972, from Gaiole in Chianti, in the province of Siena

The lowdown: Self-described as “a place of cultic importance in the wine world.” Works for me

The food match: Bucatini with Pancetta, Tomato and Onion

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 (39768, $34.95, SAQ, 11315403, $33.75) is always top quality CCR. So sweet and savoury at the same time, licorice whipped, tightly wound, with a foot marching to the future, yet still traditional. A righteous, sinless song of Sangiovese fruit, with a backing band of varietals, written for everyone. Proof that while some in Chianti have forgotten their past, many have not. “Somebody said it’s different now, look, it’s just the same.”  91  @CastellodiAma

Good to go!

The hunt for red October wine

Photo courtesy Kiowaman

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With the ides of October nearly upon us and cold winds blowing stronger out of the great white north, wine thoughts turn simply red. I’ve no plans to re-create the ancient Roman practice of the October Horse but I do intend to sacrifice a few slumbering bottles from the cellar. After all, there’s no point holding back the years.

Caution horses be weary you don’t crack open too many, not quite ready, aging wines. In order to defend that cellar, now is the time to get on the horse and pursue current release, bold bottles to fortify against the chill of impending inclement weather. Here are five rich reds to look for this coming weekend.

Related – VINTAGES October 13th, 2012 Release

redoctwines1 The hunt for red October wine

The grape: Petit Verdot

The history: Used in smallish quantities to round out Bordeaux blends. Has for more than a decade appeared as a single varietal species in Australia and now more recently, here in Chile

The lowdown: Something other varietal by way of Lontué Valley, a wine-producing sub-region of the Curico Valley, in the center of Chile

The food match: Chicken Liver Paté, french baguette, maldon salt

Korta Barrel Selection Reserve Petit Verdot 2010 (296608, $14.95,) like Carmenère pours a glass of tar and toast but here sidesteps green bell pepper and herb stem. In fact, this PV is  so polished the grape needs no blending as it is both the wine’s anchor and sail. Achieves a ripe fruit/briny olive dichotomy, where la figue meets les Lucques and la mûre connects with les Picholines88

The grapes: Carinena, Garnacha and Syrah

The history: Montsant lies in the province of Tarragona, forming a horseshoe around it’s more famous neighbour Priorat

The lowdown: Produced By The Can Blau Estate out of Catalunya, don’t expect a re-working of the wheel, but for the price at the gate, go to the show

The food match: Grilled Lamb Chops, mint, rosemary, garlic, olive oil

Bula 2009 (292094, $17.95, SAQ 11666852, $19.00) trots out of the stable of new wave Montsant blends at a lope. Poised, purposed and purple pretty. Ligneous influence to anodyne effect in coffee liqueur. Smooth and blended until everything has agreed to become red wine. Waves of flavour and makes evident that textural reconsideration can be your best friend.  89

Photo courtesy Kiowaman

The grape: Sangiovese

The history: Tuscany defined, Sangiovese is Chianti to the core

The lowdown: Make no mistake. Castello di Fonterutoli is going full throttle, international styling here and it’s just so damn irresistible

The food match: Braised Beef Short Rib Croquette, sangiovese jus

Mazzei Ser Lapo Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 (288530, $24.95) may cause intellectual and physical moiety due to a bold, morning mug of mocha driven, piazza juice but I wouldn’t kick her out of bed for eating biscotti. Say what you will but the Lapo displays a striking, Italianate, strada strut. A wine expansive and adorned as if she were the duchessa of an embellished palazzo90

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Burgundy’s heartbreak grape found true love in the Willamette Valley but Umpqua Valley is something other

The lowdown: Not fully tested southern climate for Pinot in Oregon increases the subtlety and  intrigue factors

The food match: Smoked Duck Confit, bliny, fig jam

Brandborg Bench Lands Pinot Noir 2008 (295238, $28.95) is bred from a locale not known for its speed out of the gate but when she spooks, she can pass any horse in the ring. Base and natural like bare hands and feet grazing the pasture. Cinnamon heart candy red and spice meets herbal, licorice twizzler. Perfect libation for the bright lights, social hour. “A festival every week, if this is what you seek.”  90

The hunt for red October wine. Photo courtesy Kiowaman

The Splurge

The grape: Tempranillo

The history: The greatest expression of the grape has to be in Spain’s Ribera Del Duero, bar none

The lowdown: Alejandro Fernández may be the wine world’s greatest unsung hero. His “basic” Crianza wines can age beautifully for 10-15 years. The Reservas? Forget about it

The food match: Braised Beef Brisket, caramelized onion, tempranillo gravy

Tinto Pesquera Reserva 2008 (323345, $39.95) ramps up the garriga tierra quotient. Savoury and spicy, flanked by chalky, grainy tannin and a pulchritudinous, primordial tobacco aroma that tendrils around, as tobacco smell will. Sickle hocked, over at the knee, toes in. Inviolable Tempranillo.  92

Good to go!