Finding recherché in the classicism of a family run wine business is obscured by today’s speculative boardroom market of classified growths, futures and the wheeling of the négociant. When Bordeaux comes to town the connection is by and large a sterile one. How refreshing it is when the introduction is made in terms of kith, kin and tradition. The Delon family has been in the Bordeaux game since the middle ages. The estate of Château Potensac has been in Jean-Hubert Delon’s bloodline “since time immemorial.” The Delon holdings include Château Nenin (Pomerol), Potensac (Médoc) and Château Léoville-Las Cases (Saint-Julien).
Château Léoville-Las Cases 1995
Léoville-Las Cases or “LLC,” as it is affectionately known, is one of the oldest Médoc properties and though it has always played 2nd Growth fiddle to its elite Classified Growth neighbours, Las Cases is anything but second class. The terroir, micro-climate, vines, ripening potential, history, track record and wine acumen of Léoville-Las Cases is equal to those of Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion and Mouton. It might be considered the fifth major (or, in wine, the sixth), like the PGA’s Player’s Championship. Of the players, for the players. In fact, the estate is like an island green of itself, unique, accessible, of the people and for the people. LLC attracts an elite field but its success is shared and enjoyed by a level of consumer who may never afford or even come to taste a bottle of First Growth wine.
Pierre Graffeuille, Commercial Export Director, Domaines Delon
Pierre Graffeuille (Commercial Export Director) came to Toronto’s National Club on Wednesday, September 24, 2014 to present and to pour a cross-section of the Delon group of wines. Mr. Graffeuille was quick to point out “we do not want to make blockbusters.” The wines of Potensac, Clos de Marquis, Nenin and Léoville-Las Cases are meant for “lunches and dinners, not for tastings. We focus on elegance, not concentration.”
The Delon philosophy is based on “a continual and incontestable search for excellence.” The ontology is shared and spread throughout the 550 acres of production between the three properties. VINTAGES is sharing the Delon belief with an extensive offering from the properties, including a long vertical of LLC.
Château Potensac is situated in the north Médoc, close to Saint-Estèphe and is possessed of a similar terroir. Set on 200 acres, the vines average at 40 years-old, with some plots exceeding 80. The plantings are Merlot (50 per cent),Cabernet Sauvignon (35) and Cabernet Franc (15). Soils are clay limestone/small gravel and the density of 8000 vines/ha is congruent with classified growths. Traditional Médoc élevage is 1/3 new French oak for 12-14 months.
Château Nenin is 0ne of the largest estates in the appellation of Pomerol. It comprises 80 acres on the Pomerol plateau, land of clay with gravel and more clay underneath in sub-soil. Nenin’s neighbours include Château Trotanoy and Le Pin. The vines are now at 25 years in average, young by Pomerol standards but with huge potential. The acreage was originally planted to Merlot (78 per cent) and Cabernet Franc (22), though little by little the Franc is increasing with each passing vintage. “For freshness,” notes Pierre. The Nenin élevage is generally 30 per cent new French oak for 14-18 months.
Château Léoville-Las Cases has been in the Delon family since the 19th century and represents the heart and more than 60 per cent of the former (17th century) estate. The famous walled enclosure houses the most prestigious plot just below the (Gironde) river that separates it from Château Latour in Paulliac. This geographical allusion is key to understanding the LLC oeuvre. The wines are the amalgamated embodiment of and yet are neither Saint Julien nor Paulliac. The vines grow within a plot that brings the Venn diagram circles of both appellations into play. Once again, Las Cases is the island of Bordeaux, in fact, it is the archipelago of wine estates. It draws detail, deed and qualification from without, then internalizes all within. Even the Clos de Marquis, from vines grown on soils of more sand and less clay gathers and concentrates its holdings. The Clos combines “2nd wine” conceptualization with affordability in unparalleled ways. It is a benchmark for the intellection in Bordeaux.
Domaines Delon: Château Nenin 1999, Château Potensac 2003, Château Léoville Las Cases 1995, Clos Du Marquis 2004
Château Potensac 2003, Ac Médoc, Bordeaux, Left Bank, France (394866, $61.00, WineAlign)
What with its congruence to Saint-Estèphe terroir amplified by the humidity of the 2003 vintage, Potensac mines the gene pool for pure, unadulterated Médoc. The breakdown in ’03 is equal parts 41 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with Cabernet Franc rounding out the holy Bordeaux trinity. Certainly atypically warm in vintage, it has marinated and maintained its push vs. pull of freshness and warmth. Smells of black fruit, licorice, scrub brush and is no doubt really ripe with the heat still in control. Chalk, grain and mineral layers dominate the piquant palate. Finishes with capers and olives on top of small stones. The limestone is really prominent. Has hit its cruising speed and will stay there for a projection of three more years.
Clos Du Marquis 2004, Ac St Julien, 2nd Wine Of Château Léoville Las Cases, Bordeaux, Left Bank, France (402487, $115.00, WineAlign)
Ten years have got behind this baby Château Léoville Las Cases from the estate’s vineyard silted of more sand and less clay than that of the 2nd Growth’s esteemed enclosure. Composed of Cabernet Sauvignon (57 per cent), Merlot (38) and small rounding out amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, the Marquis enters with quite a bass note and plucky twang. It lives on the dark side of the fruit spectrum, with notable Cassis, black currants and a funk progression in the tonic minor. A savoury spike which has Mediterranean pique, richness and wood spice ticks in rhythmic metronome and lingering cool notes. Prickly in woody funk. Cool, herbal funk. There is a late great push to stretched length. Clos de Marquis “you are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.” Drinking well at 10 and will live for 10 more.
Château Nenin 1999, Ac Pomerol, Bordeaux, Right Bank, France (402495, $177.00, WineAlign)
From one of the largest estates in the appellation, the Nenin’s terroir is clay with gravel and more clay underneath in the sub-soil. The layered richness is apparent as far back as this ’99, an early vintage fashioned from Merlot (88 per cent) and Cabernet Franc (12). These are numbers that would gradually invert in future vintages. As per the LLC practicum, this spent 14-18 months in 30 per cent new French oak. This 15 year-old Nenin is earlier generation softer in style, lush and mellow. There are plums mixed with a Right Bank truffle, which, with time and shelled terroir, has come out to play. Now that the wine is a teenager, it wears the vineyard funk as its make up. A shadow of soft red fruit and a shave of fungi are accented by some wood relish. Age is this Merlot’s best friend. The fruit has dissipated but certainly remains in the audience, just not quite at centre stage.
Château Léoville Las Cases 1995, Ac St Julien, Bordeaux, Left Bank, France (402529, $599.00, WineAlign)
This 2nd Growth, Grand Vin is a product of nurturing and environment, a study in 12 superb soil subsets, from sand to clay to stone. From mature, edified vines split between Cabernet Sauvignon (70 per cent), Cabernet Franc (16) and Merlot (14). The LLC ’95 is grounded and centered on its highly confident axis while swirling within a centrifuge of inwardly concentrated, ripe but not ripest fruit. Merlot here is the anchor, Cabernet Sauvignon the mast. This is a relationship of pure linear fruit meets acidity. The full and fresh attack is refined with soft-pedaled tannins. It’s neither St. Julien nor Paulliac. It is Las Cases. No other Bordeaux is such an island, a distinctly personal expression, an event of its own. This is a window to the greatest vintages, a portal to extend to the benchmarks of 1996, 2000, 2005 and 2009, but also to step into the history of physiological cortex, to gain insight into previous legendary vintages, like 90, 89 and 82. The ’95 is silky, caressing, rapturous enveloping in a reverse osmosis of fruit and acidity, acidity and tannin. Another sip notices the layering, the grain left in tannin, the lingering richness of the fruit. The absolute sweet caress.
This coming weekend’s VINTAGES release will parlay values from around the globe into the meeting place of Ontario stores. Many of the bargains tie directly into a PB and J campaign, a parochial bandwagon advertising juggernaut. The LCBO and Wine Country Ontario‘s #Tastelocal, #Lovelocal and #LCBOGolocal slogans are currently omnipresent, fast forwardly gaining both steam and traction with restos, critics and consumers.
The late, great VINTAGES wine facilitator David Churchill once told me that putting together Taste Ontario was one of the LCBO’s great endeavors. David said the work and time that VINTAGES allotted the event was extraordinary and great care was always afforded the exercise. Next week the chance to taste the most current, largest and impressive cross-section of Ontario wines in one setting will happen with the annual Taste Ontario gala event. When Wine Country Ontario comes to town and joins forces with VINTAGES, it is the writers, sommeliers and restaurant wine junkies who collectively jump trains, catch flames and do what they do. This in the name of getting to know Ontario wines.
On September 27th VINTAGES will release the following 17 wines, though most will already be on shelves before you skim through this tasting note report with all the brevity you can afford. This week’s recommendations come by way of one Sparkling, four Chardonnay, two Riesling, three Pinot Noir, a Sangiovese, a Malbec, a Veneto, a Zinfandel, one Rhône and two Bordeaux blends.
From left to right: Delmas Cuvée Tradition Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Château Des Charmes Paul Bosc Estate Chardonnay 2012, Kistler Chardonnay Les Noisetiers 2012, Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2012, Errázuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2012, Henry Of Pelham Estate Riesling 2012
Delmas Cuvée Tradition Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Ac, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (179978, $19.95, WineAlign)
Organic and Biodynamic sparkler with a personality all its own. Made primarily from the local grape variety Mauzac (with some Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc), Blanquette is the dry and sylvan style of Limoux. The “little white one” is a lovely little lemon curd Blanquette pulsating in spatially atomic subtlety. Aerified notes hint at sulfur but the breeze is so minor so as not to obstruct the citrus and crucible of candied ginger. Green apple flavour delights with really good gin and tonic (juniper), lime bitters and a muddle of basil. Pertinent and invigorating example. Tasted September 2014 @AOCLIMOUX@RareEarth_Wines
Château Des Charmes Paul Bosc Estate Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (179978, $21.95, WineAlign)
Much oak and buttery crustaceans in this need to relax and settle into a self-induced state of Chardonnay. Quite lactic but that’s not a detractor; it’s a textural overlay that with time will turn lacy, organza even. I would imagine the wrong kind of attitude will not see the acidity for the forest and instead feel that malic is short for malicious behaviour. On the contrary. This is a very good vineyard giving fruit of the right St. David’s kind. With five years it will prove its merit and play matronly with that fresh catch on your plate. Too big and clunky you say? Put it down. Let it breathe. Take a good inhale/exhale yourself. From my earlier, August 2014 note: “It would be a shame to have missed the found ardor in this tractile, careening Chardonnay. Chances have been taken in 2012, from a vineyard near and dear to a proprietor’s heart and perhaps even his soul. Picked bright and early, vinified bone dry and sent to a Burgundian school, the Paul Bosc Vineyard Chardonnay suffers from ESS (early stricture syndrome) because it (and particularly its shaken lees) have yet to settle. The barrel is confusingly, hardly noticeable and so the ’12’s awkwardness must then be attributed to a milky, marmalade and blues-influenced free-form run. It’s as if the crowd is waiting for one (Garcia-Saunders) song to end and another to begin. The new “anyway you do” slang take on an old blues riff may be misconstrued but, when all is said and done, that’s alright mama, there’s jam and space for your kind too.” Last tasted September 2014 @Mbosc
Kistler Chardonnay Les Noisetiers 2012, Sonoma Coast, California (251223, $75.95, WineAlign)
Expansive, all over the coast display of Kistler ambition and conceit. Fully ripe and not shy to swim with splinters. Lemon meringue pie, baked Alaska and tarte au citron on one gorging dessert plate. Then the flavours kick in. A lemon Negroni (is there such an animal?) and lemon Hollandaise atop white aspagarus. Decadent, even for Kistler, without the poise and subtlety of the single-vineyard bottlings. A full on glass of California sunshine. From my earlier, (tasted three times), July 2014 note: “Long distance runner built for endurance, a cool customer able to withstand the heat from a season’s relentless, though moderate, gentle sun, from start to finish. No shortage of ripe fruit and certainly not wanting for the micro-oxygenated slow release of a prized barrel. This might be the two-bit Kistler bottling but it offers up exemplary Sonoma fruit with the temperament and conceit of high caste Burgundy. The style is culled from two poles and pulls in two directions. At once sharp and piquant, then golden and in mirth. All in all it’s exactly what should be wanted for the buyer who wants what it has to give.” Last tasted September 2014
Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (208694, $33.95, WineAlign)
Intimates warm sunshine but can’t hide from its cool nights. An element of periodic surprise wafts straight up and grabs the little nose hairs by the tips, tugs and then let’s go. Hatchoo. Wisps green apple skin, daikon radish and a metal tang. Full on fruit-mineral-earthy expression. Big Chardonnay as ripe as its gets for the Okanagan but carries a hefty (though you might ponder an inordinate exorbitance of 14.5 per cent abv) with relative ease. Goes on at length, about what, I do not yet know, but I’m willing to hang in there for 5-7 years to find out. Tasted September 2014 @BurrowingOwlBC
The wild ferment Francisco Baettig oeuvre brings into focus a nicely balanced and intimately-integrated-aligned Chardonnay. There is wildness in the form of a toasted bread, rich enzymatic energy and a leather strapping, bullied brawn. The countrified personality is tempered by a roundness, thus limiting its ability to display like an alpha male. Though not delicate or elegant by any stretch, this is Chilean power unleashed and reigned in. It represents really good value. Tasted September 2014 @errazurizwines@Dandurandwines
Henry Of Pelham Estate Riesling 2012, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (557165, $17.95, WineAlign)
Classic Short Hills Bench Riesling, magnified by and exemplified in the vintage. Soda enriched fresh juice, bursting berry nose, off-dry palate. Meets all expectations for the realms of juicy and savoury. One of the best yet from H of P at this price. Great value. Tasted September 2014 @HenryofPelham
From left to right: Wegeler Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett 2012, Kim Crawford Small Parcels Rise & Shine Pinot Noir 2012, Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2012, omaine Marchand Grillot Morey Saint Denis 2012, Viticcio Chianti Classico 2011
From the steepest Rheingau vineyard named after the nearby castle (Schloss) ruin “Ehrenfels” which was built in 1211. The stony terroir for this definitive Riesling is quarzite from the Taunus region with layers of slate. Oh, this has the sultry charm of most excellent Kabinett. Aerified to the stratosphere, dry, toasty and buoyant. The soda blows away into the sky with just a vigorous swirl and the aromas turn to fruit and to stone. Rocking great intensity of many fruits, of trees and of natural grape sugar (in the 80-90 g/L residual range) that is everywhere and nowhere. Acidity is linear and impossibly round at the same time. Typically low in alcohol (around 8 per cent by volume), this rude boy is a crazy Kabinett. It’s like a Barbadian songstress rated “R.” You may ask it “is you big enough?” It will answer, I’m as good as it gets. Tasted September 2014
Kim Crawford Small Parcels Rise & Shine Pinot Noir 2012, Central Otago, New Zealand (35337, $29.95, WineAlign)
Rich, ripe black cherry and just a hint of earth. Some cola but of the cherry kind. Tart yet sweet, hot and roomy. Built of a scrupulous structure where tannin and astringency bend in many ways. Does its yoga poses with reluctance then hits the gym. Confounding for Central Otago with what may perhaps be a great future ahead but for now, really wonky. Where is this going? To the dark side, to return in five years and to offer good value in aged CO Pinot Noir. Tasted September 2014 @kimcrawfordwine@CBrandsCareers
Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2012, Wo Hemel En Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa (999516, $44.95, WineAlign)
he right and fantastic Pinot Noir stuff from the winemaker with the King Midas (or in this case the Queen Modjadji) touch. The Walker Bay Burgundian specialist fashions some most elegant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It seems that every vintage is turned to gold, or brings rain when there is drought. The 2012 is marked by bright cherries and really pungent, compressed earth. Fantastically ripe but just before the fall. Pleasure of the incarnate kind. The coat of South African red wine arms is animatedly there but it’s contained, restrained, elegant and yet still powerful. Long, fashionable flow with no visible finish line. This will age for a minimum 10 years and get that smoky glaze and glare. Tasted September 2014 @TrialtoON
Domaine Marchand Grillot Morey Saint Denis 2012, Ac, Burgundy, France (210906, $54.95, WineAlign)
Here the entry is musty, blows off considerably and leaves the leaf and sweet fruit from strawberry and raspberry. For the spell it’s clean, crisp, pure and inviting. Roses and red fruit, violets and violent rocks careening with a rushing spring river. Those musty notes do persist again, blanketing the dolce, disguising that red fruit. Sharpness stings like Kiwi. Packs a punch of tannin, a bitter, mineral rangy streak that elevates the middle hallows and sends this MSD into really lengthy elasticity. Creamy vanilla comes to the palate with herbal undertones, like Lavender ice cream. This is old school with a modern twist. A really fine example. Tasted twice, September 2014, including blind at the WWAC14 @AmethystWineInc
Big, bad and brooding. Black fruits are intense but surprisingly not overbearing or huge in demanded extract. Chalky, tannic, acidic, long. This is neither average nor to be ignored. It’s in the 13.5 per cent proper Chianti wheelhouse and marches in hipster stride without ever acting obnoxious. Some sanguine activity, along with iron and tension. The real deal. Not the brightest Chianti in the hills but one of a raw, unleashed power. Tasted September 2014 @chianticlassico@MajesticWineInc
From left to right: Versado Malbec 2013, Luigi Righetti Campolieti Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2012, Seghesio Zinfandel 2012, Domaine Brusset Tradition Le Grand Montmirail Gigondas 2012, Creekside Laura’s Red 2011, Château Léoville Las Cases 2006
Versado Malbec 2013, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (317008, $25.95, WineAlign)
The rocks beneath the earth precede the rich, dark fruit. After the berries and the candy beets and the spices subside the flowers grow and take over the room. The vintage brings more layers than before. Malbec of character and belief, even a touch of good VA, a coat that only the Southern Hemisphere can provide. It is not usually present in Mendozan Malbec so it’s really a breath of fresh paint here in the Versado. Great purity. Protracted length. Most expansive and intriguing vintage to date. The Reserva will be killer. Tasted September 2014 @VersadoWine
Classic really. Juicy must, musty juiciness. Earth and fruit. Fruity earth. Simple but so effective. Never gets beyond itself or out of its mind. Just the right amount of funk. Maybe the best yet. Great value. Tasted September 2014 @Smallwinemakers
Seghesio Zinfandel 2012, Sonoma County, California, USA (942151, $29.95, WineAlign)
Rich plum and spicy Zinfandel. Young and tightly wound on a spindle. Needs time to unravel and reveal its charms. In a varietal sense this vintage of the Seghesio has got everything Zin needs and more. More specifically, the definition is out of a cooler vintage, with clear, well-delineated fruit and acidity. Sharp,spicy, focused and full, without ever acting hot, or bothered. Tasted September 2014 @seghesio
Domaine Brusset Tradition Le Grand Montmirail Gigondas 2012, Ac, Rhône, France (960104, $29.95, WineAlign)
A thick, baking cake of a Gigondas, full of expected dark red Rhône fruitiness, but all in balance. Soapy sandalwood and chalky tannins. Quite grainy. Big, brawny and teeth staining, its “teeth ready, sharpened to bite.” It’s warm but not too hot. Cool centres, some spice and garrigue. Nothing to run away from. Though firm and loyal in the tradition of place, this has rolling stones in its blood so it will age gracefully in a well respected, cool, calm and collected manner. Will grow and grow on you as you work with it. This will age forever as there is just so much fruit. Hedging my bets on 25 years, safe to say. Tasted September 2014 @rogcowines
The most dead red Laura to date, juicy and earthy, like a licorice, plum and pomegranate demi-glace. Really expressive of earth and fruit. Traditional house blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot. A no coat unfastened Niagara, consumer-friendly but also swelling with stuffing. “The light is red. The camera’s on,” the strokes are rich in energy though the tannins dry out a touch. Drink now and for two more years. Tasted September 2014 @CreeksideWine
Château Léoville Las Cases 2006, Ac St Julien, 2e Cru, Bordeaux, France (566661, $299.00, WineAlign)
The LLC Grand Vin vineyard is very close to the Gironde river, creating a micro-climate that tempers the vines in climate control and matronly comfort. Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc develop here as well as anywhere in the world. Here is an interesting retrospective look at this formidable St. Julien, now having reached the tender and yet developed age of eight. Earthbound distance fruit by way of a chocolate (real dark) truffle and layers of soul stew. Still chalky and tannic, there is enough fruit to keep this going for a decade and a half, or more. Licorice, Cassis and graphite. Wow. Very broad across the late palate, indicating an integration that has begun to realize the potential of this wine. A very good vintage looking back, not one for the ages, but certainly expressive and rich. Tasted September 2014 @Noble_Estates
The results are in. Closure has come. Category champions and Judge’s picks are now live.
The highly regarded WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada is categorized and justified as a “must enter” for winemakers and vintners who want to be a part of a genuine, above-board wine competition. For consumers in Canada it is a place to discover the best value wines available on the market today. Say what you will about the concours concept. The straightforward WineAlign offer implements an expertly designed bracket to ultimately crown a covey of thoroughly deserving champions. Wines are carefully scrutinized, judged with fair play and at times, brutal honesty. Each wine must impress the judges more than once. “Up to the task” is never in question. At “The Worlds,” the best minds are on the job.
Panorama of judging and wines at WWAC14 Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)
It was the week of August 18 to 22. Eighteen critics, two czars, a tech guy, a database custodian, a logistics steward, “her bitch” (sic) and a dedicated team of volunteers gathered to administer vinous justice for 1000 (give or take) hopeful wines. The tasting road was long yet filled with much success. Never have so many wines with the intention of offering value and simple pleasure shown so well and with so much grace.
Head judge Anthony Gismondi talks with Rhys Pender MW, Steve Thurlow, DJ Kearney and Godello Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)
In today’s WineAlign WWAC14 results dissertation, Anthony Gismondi tells us that “nothing has value unless you give it some.” The awards are about assessing daily drinkers, wines that the repeat consumer look for often, especially the bargains. They are for consumers first, of and for the common people. For the wineries, agents and writers, the competition is effectuated without bias. “The tastings are computerized from start to finish allowing wineries, agents or retailers to enter, pay, and eventually track their results online.”
In 2014 my position is this. Oak and cheap tricks are on the way out, at least when it comes to wines submitted to the WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada. Sugar, wood chips, agar agar, artificial colour, manipulated flavour, reverse osmosis and added acidity are trade practices reserved for wines out there in the fast food stratosphere. The judges at the WWAC14 were fortunate to be granted immunity from having to taste and assess such a most unnatural lot. These awards represent and foster an altruistic commonality between vigneron and critic. Make an honest wine and it will be judged with honourable intent.
WWAC14 Judging Panel
The writers and judges that make up the panels evaluate wines under $50 that are sold somewhere in Canada in the year of the competition. Entries are judged in flights along with similar varietal wines in three price categories; under $15, $15 to $25 and over $25. Starting with the 2014 awards all wines entered will not only be posted on WineAlign with bottle images, but reviews will be included as well (many in both French and English). Again in 2014, orchestration was overseen by one of North America’s most respected wine critics, Vancouver Sun columnist and WineAlign Partner Anthony Gismondi, aka The Spitter.
Panel of judges DJ Kearney, Godello and Rhys Pender MW Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)
Some startling results came out of this year’s tastings. Who would have ever put money on Carménère under $15 not only showing well, but blowing the collective minds of no less than five critics? Should Malbec in the $15-25 range, half of which are made by large and recognizable houses, have impressed with so much structure and restraint? A group of eight red blends under $15 were all good, five of them garnering very good scores. That same concept group of $15-25 were nearly all exceptional. Southern Italy fared with top value results in the under $15 category. Syrah/Shiraz $15-25 really surprised, as did Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the same range. Not to mention a flight of five fruit wines, four of which scored between 85 and 88. Not bad. All this can be attributed to one basic premise. WineAlign does not attract more producers than other concours. It attracts better ones.
WWAC14 judges Photo: Jason Dziver (www.jasondziver.com)
Each judge was asked to write reviews on a specific cross-section of wines they were a part of assessing during the competition. Here are my notes on 30 wines tasted blind, across a wide range of categories, in August of 2014 at #WWAC14 and the songs they inspired.
Category champion wines from left to right: Villa Wolf Riesling 2013, Castillo De Molina Reserva Carmenère 2012, Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Chardonnay 2012, Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2012, Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2012, Buena Vista Pinot Noir 2011
Cabernet Sauvignon $15-25
Wolf Blass Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coonawarra, South Australia, Australia (606939, $24.95, WineAlign)
Funny thing about Cabernet Sauvignon, “sometimes they rock and roll, sometimes they stay at home and it’s just fine,” Wolf Blass makes all kinds. This Coonawarra GL seems to do both. It’s ripe and presumptuous, rocks in the glass but also has good, homebody, varietal tendency. It has a heart that’s on fire, a wolf parade of iron, sanguine tension and tannin, but also hung walls of home woven tapestry texture. The core of fruit, earth and tar cries out for prey. The finish is long and returns, back to base Blass.
Icewine – Riesling-Gewurz-Apple
La Face Cachée de la Pomme 2011 Neige Première Ice Pink Cider, Quebec (39305, 375ml, $22.95, WineAlign)
“Breathe, breathe in the air” of intensity, in apples. One hundred squared apples on top of one another. Never mind the few bruised and oxidative ones because the fresh and concentrated mass smothers those minor notes. Pink and ambient, the major sweetness and top-notch acidity speak to me in waves of demonstrative, Floydian verse. Here you will find a Québécois response to “there is no dark side in the moon, really. As a matter of fact it’s all dark.” There is Icewine on the bright side and then there is Iced Cider on la face cachée, “balanced on the biggest wave.”
Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Riesling Icewine 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, 375ml, $59.95, WineAlign)
A vanimated astral week’s of emotion is met by an animal musk, both hard to define. There is a high quotient of lemon, in curd, zest and pith. The sweetness is tempered by nudging acidity though it lingers long. All Riesling Icewine has to do “is ring a bell and step right up” so despite the electric Kool-Aid sugar syrup moments, this one spins and twirls, as Riesling does, just like a ballerina.
Here sweetness, acerbity and a slightly advanced character are brought into balance by high grape sugar intensity and real linear acidity. Long and elastic, medicinally pretty and sacrosanct with seasoned complexity. Tasted this one and “felt a spark.” Tasted it twice and it tingled to the bone. What begun as a bob between evaluations ended with a simple twist of fate. WWAC 2014 Category Champion
Pinot Noir $15-25
Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2011, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (146548, $21.95, WineAlign)
Deep earth and black cherry combine for the most extraction in the $15-25 Pinot Noir flight. There’s dust in them hills as the wine acts as if it were borne of the mountains. Has attitude in altitude. All things considered, the fruit is clean and crisp, perhaps a hair over the overripe line. The cool temperament and temperature in the cold room aid in giving it some love. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “That Villa Maria can make 80,000 cases of Pinot Noir this proper is nothing short of remarkable. Aged in French oak for 8-10 months. As Pinot like as could be hoped for considering the case amount. Every drop must go through Malolactic fermentation. Winemaker Josh Hammond and crew insist upon it, though it’s nothing but painstaking cellar/lab work. The Pinot character initially shines, with loads of plum and black cherry, but there is a momentary lapse. But, “if you’re standing in the middle, ain’t no way you’re gonna stop.” So, the definitive Marlborough ectodermal line painted through the in door speaks quickly and leaves by the out door. From a smoking gun, rising like a Zeppelin. Large volume, big production, drinkable in the evening Pinot Noir.” Last tasted August 2014 WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Vancouver Island, British Columbia (winery, $$23.90, WineAlign)
Now here we’re talking about a Pinot Noir from a another mother. It heads generously into fragrances not yet nosed in this flight of $15-25 Pinot Noir. Exotic byrne of a perfume on high alert; jasmine, violets, roses and Summer ‘David’ Phlox. Exquisite, fresh and bright. There is tang and tannin. Vibrancy to raise eyebrows. Also wild sage, wild fruit, an animal on a walk in a virgin forest. So much Pinot Noir is hairy, this one is “living on nuts and berries.” WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (agent, $19.95, WineAlign)
This Golden Reserve Malbec by Trivento is a juicy, dusty, fruit tree addition to the #WWAC14 flight and arrives just in the nick of time. Despite the dark fruit, it has no Drake spoken word conceit. It sings in classic Drake lullaby, with beefy meet pine forest aromas and so “you find that darkness can give the brightest light.” Tender refrains soften chalky, stalky wood and corresponding bitter chocolate. Big tannins on this balladeer. Has impressive stuffing. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Red Blends over $25
Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2 Bench Red 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $29.95, WineAlign)
Wonderful, tangy red fruits define this well-structured Bordeaux blend. Cool and concise, it plays a tight riff and bangs a drum slowly. Comfortable on a big stage, it charges into a funky break and whips a crowd into a frenzy. So much energy from a band of five varietal friends, complimenting each other’s playing with mutual respect. Does the two Bench two-step and steals the show. “Celebrate we will because life is short but sweet for certain. We’re climbing two by two, to be sure these days continue.”
Vin Parfait Red 2012, Adelaide Hills, South Australia, Australia (350512, $29.95, WineAlign)
Circuitous mounds of round, stone ground aromas in coffee, Goji berry, red licorice and red ochre. A Jackson Pollock Expressionist splatter of notion and motion, flirtations and tension. Tempranillo, Shiraz and Grenache in does it, or will it come together beyond the abstract? Number 8 did. This one s’got to too.
A slightly cooked character is evident but within reason. Despite the heat it’s a bit of an arctic monkey, with tomato and cherry sprinkled over by Queso Fresco and followed up with a slice of blueberry pie. Simple yet effective, pleasant palate. There is some heat and tension from the tannins and “I’d like to poke them in their prying eyes,” but they do relent. The length is more than appropriate, given the tag. Only question is, “will the teasing of the fire be followed by the thud?” At $10, who really cares. Represents excellent value.
Garnacha from the old world west with incredible citrus bursts, like orange blossoms and the spirit of the zest. A spritz from a lemon too. A smoulder of burning charcoal with a spit-roasting goat adds to the roadside attraction. Palm branches help to create the smoke. This is exotic and creative stuff. Finishes with a dessert note of bitter plum. Velada, “you got yourself a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 star reaction.” Really unique red. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Caliterra Tributo Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Leyda Valley, Region de Aconcagua, Chile (283648, $14.95, WineAlign)
A step up from multi-site, southern hemisphere Sauvignon Blanc with direct intentions, all the right moves and in all the right places. So much going on in both its aromatic and textural world. Wax, lanolin and Bordeaux-like temperance and consistent with the growing SB trend, “the grass is getting greener each day.” Decent one republic attack on the palate though nothing fantastic. Has heart and Sauvignon Blanc soul. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
A red-veined Primitivo, with the savoury blood of Swiss Chard and hoisin and red bean paste coarsing through it. Smells like spicy and sweet Hunan dishes, sweet sweat and sour, but it is not a matter of oxidation. It’s a caramelized soy sensation but written in reverse. Spoon this over cereal, ice cream, charred beef, anything. It’s got Chinese five-spice powder and coriander. Like a bowl of most excellent Pho. Fantastic exotics. “We’re gettin’ you raw and it feels real good.” Rocking Primitivo. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Layer Cake Shiraz 2012, South Australia, Australia ($24.99, WineAlign)
Unquestionably warm but with restraint. That may be perceived as a bad, obvious and reprehensible dichotomous comment but in transparency it speaks truths. Shows good savour and sapidity. It’s an aurulent burnt orange and smoked pineapple offering, blanketed in dusty chocolate and syrupy to a certain extreme. It’s long, creamy, silken and covered further in darker chocolate. “True colors fly in blue and black, bruised silken sky and burning flag.” Warm but you too will indubitably see the pleasures in its layer cake. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
White Blends Under $15
Pelee Gewurztraminer Riesling 2012, Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario (109991, $10.95, WineAlign)
A ray of golden sunshine. The glade and the classic Gewurz attributes are here and highly floral. Rose petals soaking in good medicine. This could be my beloved monster. Such a dry example. She wears “a raincoat that has four sleeves, gets us through all kinds of weather.” Match with BBQ’s eels. Not for everyone but it works. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Shiraz/Syrah Over $25
Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2012, McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia (390872, $29.95, WineAlign)
This is the most accomplished and wise drop of Shiraz tasted at the WineAlign #WWAC14. A hit of snowy sulphur shows just how much growing up it needs. Such a precocious and heady example. A thick, gluey mess of fruit, unsettled and in rapture within its tannic walls. The voilets and the rest of the garden rules really tie the room together. Shiraz entrenched, grown and raised, “where the nettle met the rose.” For five years later and on patrol for ten more after that. Wow. WWAC 2014 Category ChampionWWAC 2014 Best of Country
Here blows a fine, exuberant and expresive muzzle with ambrosial flavours. A garrigue and olive dirty martini with sweet drops pf berry syrup. Juniper and conifer verdure meet inklings of berries. There is a sense of mushroom and truffle which can go either way, but here it brings paradigmatic character. Like words added to an intense Billy Preston instrumental. This may “take your brain to another dimension. Pay close attention.” Dark, brooding and out of space. A prodigy and a real deal in cool climate Syrah. WWAC 2014 Judges’ ChoiceWWAC 2014 Best of Country
Cabernet Sauvignon $15-25
Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina (135202, $19.95, WineAlign)
A genesis in clean fruit of high extract order is linear, direct, forceful and in Cab conceit. A narcissistic brooder with ripples of underbrush and underworld scents. Thinks highly of itself, demands attention, seeks followers, stares into a pool. “The face in the water looks up and she shakes her head as if to say, that it’s the last time you’ll look like today.” With a few more reflecting and reflective refrains this Cabernet will realize a softness, turn away from the mirror and settle into its skin. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Lake Sonoma Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa – Sonoma – Mendocino, California, United States (Agent, $26.99, WineAlign)
From the outset this engages the imbiber simple because it acts as though its one time tension has been massaged and released. The flat feeling is there, though not detracting, because of an inherent notion that there was and still can be beautiful fruit. It just needs “that spark to get psyched back up.” A rapping modern facade is the cover page for earth savoury meets candied M & M flavour, docile, downy glycerin Cabernet texture, with acidity and tannin waning. Was serious, now friendly and will be late leaving the party. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Kendall Jackson Avant Chardonnay 2013, Mendocino County, California, United States ($19.00, WineAlign)
This may be a winner. I love the immediacy of its fruit, the antebellum tension and just a kiss from the barrel. You know its there but in subtlety, class and as background noise. The aromas of citrus, beeswax and honey and all accents to clean orchard fruit. This has the most balance in a flight of eleven verry tidy Chardonnay in a consumer-driven $15-25 price bracket. Lady spirited and at times a bit anxious, or perhaps not yet entirely comfortable in its skin, this is nonetheless best in show. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Carmenère Under $15
Castillo De Molina Reserva Carmenère 2012, Valle del Maule, Region del Valle Central, Chile (Agent, $14.95, WineAlign)
The first thought on this Carmenère is the scaling back of new oak, lifting it above the crowd in an under $15 flight. The freshness factor makes for a whole new animal, or botanical rather. This has candied jasmine, pansy, bergamot and nasturtium. It’s a veritable salad of candied edibles. The middle palate is marked by Mentholatum and the finale is persistent in acidulated action. What a warm, mazzy gift of a Carmenère, a star of a Chilean red that would be welcome, just like flowers in December. “Send me a flower of your December. Save me a drink of your candy wine.” WWAC 2014 Category Champion
Chardonnay Over $25
Church & State Coyote Bowl Series Chardonnay 2012, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $26.90, WineAlign)
Quiet, muted, beautiful and reserved. This is the “iconoclastic and restlessly innovative” style of a wine that bravely explores other territories of pop Chardonnay. Anything but fashioned in an in your face style, this one is in it for the Hejira, the journey and the time. Ripe yellow apples and pears and then come the lees. Could pass for unoaked Chablis. The appreciation and gathering are a style that should be used more. “No regrets coyote,” you just come “from such different sets of circumstance.” WWAC 2014 Judges’ ChoiceWWAC 2014 Top Value Wines
Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley, California, United States (655381, $34.95, WineAlign)
Has hallmarks of essential fruit from a top notch vintage, the most complexity and schooling. The reduction is pure essence of grape must, with no fault to either the vine or the maker. Every wine’s “screwed up in their own special way.” A rmineral tannin gets on top early like a Ramones riff, stays for dinner and repeats in refrain. The crisp and mister punchy orchard fruit is kissed by wood. Sucks face. The texture is seamless and verve excellent, by acidity and forward to pronounced length. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Delouvin Bagnost N/V Brut, Champagne, France (agent, $42.75, WineAlign)
Tends to a trend in sweet aromatic beginnings which is nothing but endearing. A leesy pear and ris de veau nose split by a bowie and filled with pearls of sugary syrup. To taste there is the metallic gaminess of uncooked other white meat. Sweet meat, sweet thing. The gathering sensation is an elemental display of ethereal, aerified climatic conditions. Though made in an oxidized style, the complexity of character is not to be denied. “Runs to the center of things where the knowing one says, boys, boys, its a sweet thing.” In the end the burst of energy is invigorating and heart piercing. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Pinot Noir Over $25
Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2012, Valle de San Antonio, Region de Aconcagua, Chile (agent, $19.99, WineAlign)
You can always pick out the wines made from unique, little feat sites, wherever in the world they may have been raised. Even when they stink up the joint, smell like a 16 year-old hockey change room or like candied paint poured over fresh cedar planks, they stand out like beacons of Pinot amon din. Lord of the Pinot rings here that’s “been kicked by the wind, robbed by the sleet…baked by the sun,” fire lit, rosemary branches and oxtail smoldering and simmering over fresh cut ash from a deciduous forest. Cool mint and pine. The most savoury things of fantasy imagined. Wild ride in and most willin’ Pinot Noir. WWAC 2014 Category Champion
Buena Vista Pinot Noir, Carneros 2011, Napa Valley, California, United States (304105, $24.95, WineAlign)
This is really quite impressive Pinot Noir. Fastidiously judged if bullish fruit having way too much fun, causing varietal envy amongst other price category peers. Clearly fashioned from stocks of quality fruit, providing an environment for the coming together of many red berries and the earth of contigious vines. All roads lead to a grand palate marked by exotic, spicy and righteous fleet of wood tones. I wonder if I’m in over my head and tell it “your mood is like a circus wheel, you’re changing all the time.” Quite something this MacPinot specimen and though I wonder if it’s a bit too much, it always seems to have an answer and it sure feels fine. WWAC 2013 Category ChampionWWAC 2013 Best of Variety $15 – $25WWAC 2014 Category ChampionWWAC 2014 Top Value Wines
Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Pinot Noir 2010, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $29.99, WineAlign)
The grace of time has ladled felicity upon this left coast Pinot Noir. What once were harsh and mephitic stuck in a cola can kind of smells have been released and are just a faint memory of their once formidable, terrible teeth gnashing remains. Twas root beer that fouled the air but now the saline sea and verdure of hills speaks in clear vernacular. The sailor has “sailed across weeks and through a year,” met with wild things, to now return home and offer up her Pinot Noir, to be enjoyed with supper that is still warm. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
This has a lovely, head of its class, nearly value-driven exquisite nature and aromatic richness. In consideration of the price bracket, the sulphur is trumped by that radio dialed in richesse. Exotic Riesling specific fruit. A crisp apple meets a ripe pineapple. A wolf at the door, “out pops the cracker, smacks you in the head.” Decent acidity, better length, good bitters. WWAC 2014 Category Champion
Red Blends Under $15
Miguel Torres Sangre de Toro 2012, Cataluña, Spain (6585, $12.95, WineAlign)
This Garnacha and Carignan blend works a stoned immaculate contrivance as well as any red blend under $15 you are ever likely to upend. “Soft driven slow and mad, like some new language.” The action is effective, properly conceived and opens the doors to value-based perception. Perhaps a bit thin but the lack of wood and sweetener is a breath of fresh air. What it lacks in girth it makes up for with complexity, in notes of graphite, fennel and sea air. Lovely little Mediterranean red. WWAC 2014 Judges’ Choice
Carpineto brings “la Toscana e i suoi vini magliori” to the world. The producer near Greve in Chianti fashions wines from most of the better, best, requisite and constituent locales of Tuscany. The Carpineto library has been laid down from foundations in the DOC and DOCGs of Montereggio, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. Were the Bolgheri on the Maremma coast a part of their portfolio their reputation would surely be further cemented amongst the elite agricole of the region.
What dials Carpineto’s wines in to the natural and honest zone, especially when compared to so many modern peers, is their attention to simple detail. The wines across the board are restrained in alcohol, low in residual sugar and unencumbered by an excess of new oak. The wines are pure Tuscany distilled with seamless though mitigated texture. To a bottle they are a pleasure to taste.
Last Thursday Antonio Michael Zaccheo Jr. of Carpineto came to the WineAlign offices, along with eight of his wines. Together with Tandem Selections, WineAlign principals David Lawrason and Steve Thurlow we tasted through this noteworthy cross section of the Carpineto registry.
From left to right: Rosato 2013, Dogajolo Rosso 2012, Chianti Classico 2012, Chianti Classico Riserva 2008, Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Riserva 2007, Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Molin Vechio 2004 Photos: Jason Dziver, Photographer (http://www.jasondziver.com/)
The Dogajolo Rosato is a right proper and serviceable Rosé, made from 90 per cent Sangiovese and 10 Canaiolo from holdings in both Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile. Sells quite well at the LCBO and even better at the SAQ where there is a different “attitude towards Rosé.” A gaseous medicine with exceptional salinity. Very dry saigneé, savoury and approachable. The freshly pickled strawberry is a nice touch.
Farnito White 2012, Tuscany, Italy ($24.95, WineAlign)
The Carpineto “White” is made from 100 per cent Chardonnay. Though the intent may be Burgundy, the Tuscan take here is very Italian; tight and forthright in flexure and focus. It is quite amazing how very primary it shows, with its whisper of a kiss by just a chip off the old barrel. Fresh, bone dry and bestowed the angle of Tuscan herbiage. So young that it offers the sensation of just having left the tanks and the wood. Like a leaner and cleaner version of the Cervaro della Sella. Can you say Linguine con le Vongole?
Maybe it’s just a marketing term but Carpineto’s Antonio Michael Zaccheo Jr. refers to this as a “baby Super Tuscan,” because that is what it is. To pay $15 for a quarter century of winemaking acumen is anything but a hardship. Lithesome of fruit as opposed to sweet, it’s actually bone-dry (one g/L residual sugar), and artfully crafted for both the primi and secondi piatti. “Now we are in the Sangiovese camp, so good to go.” Well said, Antonio.
For Chianti Classico, 2012 was a good year, not too warm yet ripening occurred early, with the quality set to high, but the quantities were low. A winemaker’s vintage. Carpineto’s CC comes from the northern aspect of the appellation, from a conca (amphitheater) seven km’s east of Greve, by the piccolo hamlet of Dudda. It’s cooler in this part of Chianti, with more rock imparting flavour and textured sensations into the reds. The ’12 is essentially 90 percent Sangiovese and 10 per cent Canaiolo, give or take 10 per cent. Aromas of roses and wet rocks, fresh ripe plums mashed into tomatoes, herbs and a spicy side note. Old school and precisely what CC should be, minus the funk (which it does not have or need). Ultimate pasta wine right here. Traditional style in an up to date way with temperature control and all the tools of a modern facility. No VA, no barnyard, but really natural. This explains the axiom of maintaining tradition. With so many story lines already spoken for in sectarian Chianti, maybe that is the only thing Carpineto has left to hang their Zuccotto on. David Lawrason hits the nail head on. A Chianti that “resets the compass.” Coming to VINTAGES April 18, 2015
A wine that is “already performing at purchase time,” like the Chianti Classico but turned up to 11. This has a more than a touch of funk, not exactly barnyard, but surely an earthy forest carpeting. Attribute this to the extra concentration and the élevage – time spent soaking up the barrel. The added marinade works to opposite effect as compared to the CC normale and in my opinion it’s an adverse one. Lost is the freshness and spirit. Still a wine of great Tuscan antiquity, in maintenance of its acidity and full of dark, iron and sanguine pulsing fruit.
Carpineto’s Vino Nobile hails from further inland, where the climate is more continental and the dry-farmed clay soils help carry the grapes through warm summers like 2007. Has an intense grapey, raisin and resin character. Really big fruit yet still old school enough to remind us all of the Carpineto oeuvre. This has stuffing, with nary an advancing moment towards a premature future. Blessed with a seamless nose to palate to tannins structure. This is really fine Vino Nobile, “scelto,” a chosen mocker. It’s thick and full but not from oak in any shaken or splintered way. This Prugnolo Gentile comes by its substance naturally, with minimal effort or need of applause.
Cabernet planted as 8,000 vines per hectare in Montepulciano resulting in the production of one bottle per vine. Love that equation. Eight tons per hectare is low but not an economically impossible yield. Antonio Michael Zaccheo Jr. insists the single vineyard plot is the largest contiguous vineyard in all of Italy. The vineyard was 15 years old at the time this wine was made, so we’re talking prime time for making world class wine. Spent one year in one third new French and American oak and then a few years in bottle. Not quite as ready to pop and pour like the CCR, this has beast mode written all over its expatriate face. Juicy, chalky and dusty which puts it in contrast to the Sangiovese. This is much more internationally styled and “needs cholesterol of any kind, “ says Antonio Michael. It’s more floral than the Chiantis and the Vino Nobile. Ripe but not overripe, international but unmistakably Tuscany.
This vintage is from a single, five hectare vineyard (the wine moves around through vineyards, depending on an assessment of which shows best from year to year). Spent one year in new oak and was bottled in spring 2006. The “Old Mill” is a Tuscan-Bordeaux-Rhône gathering of Sangiovese (70 per cent), Cabernet Sauvignon (20) and Syrah (10). This has a Boschetto al Tartufo (shaved white truffles in cheese) note that is intoxicating. From sandy clay soils, southerly facing with marine sediments planted in the early nineties so the marine impart is just starting to show. Recent vintages should give increased salinity and minerality. Has the aroma of roasting game and savoury, Mediterranean bushes – this is akin to some southern Rhône big wines but the texture is stretched and seamless, not cake-baked and chalky. Great acidity and length. Still quite edgy. Needs at least five more years to come around. Released as part of the VINTAGES September Classics.
September has its share of excellence being revealed, particularly this coming weekend with the VINTAGES September 13, 2014 release. This is a perfect time to investigate the wares from this province. The weekend also marks the launch of the #LCBOtastelocal initiative, in conjunction with Wine Country Ontario. Then on October 2nd, Wine Country is coming to the Royal Ontario Museum. There will be 255 wines poured by 55 producers at Taste Ontario.
For years now the fine wine and premium spirits division of the LCBO, known benevolently to Wineontarians as VINTAGES, has been rolling out releases every two weeks. There are always somewhere between five and ten wines on each listing that, were I independently wealthy and helplessly wine obsessed in reckless abandon, would always buy. There are also upwards of 100 or more that I would not. Were I presented a glass half full, to most of them I would offer my thanks and sip away. There are also five to ten not worth the price of admission. As a member of the wine writer’s commonwealth of Ontario it is my trusted duty to help make sense of the bi-weekly barrage and to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Wine critics can be fussy people, tough mudders with palates sheathed by caparison. They can go from saying things like “not as good as the last shipment” to “I’m tired of tasting shit.” Even the most curmudgeonly of critics must play his part to promote the happiness, health, and wine safety of all of the people of a community. It is an honour to be trusted with a duty to taste, consider and then discard what is simply not right. The expectation and the responsibility is to find the most natural and honest wines made available, however fleeting and rare the opportunities may be.
Here are four from across the pond and 10 Ontario wines being unpacked onto LCBO shelves as we speak. Get out there and #LCBOGoLocal.
From left to right: Flat Rock Riesling 2013, Château Saint Estève Corbières 2011, Palazzo Maffei Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2011, Rosehall Run Cuvée County Chardonnay 2011, Peller Estates Private Reserve Cabernet Franc 2011, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, Thirty Bench Red 2012 Photos: Jason Dziver, Photographer (http://www.jasondziver.com/)
The FR Riesling cover girl gets a swift kick in the backside by gas blanketed, dehydrated pear and a sprinkle of rock sugar. Citrus peel, candied again, with medicinal silt. Rocky Riesling spread liberally across a horizontal canvas. From my earlier April 2014 note: “Just bottled a few weeks ago so the note to self is to expect a subtraction of preoccupation. Anything but. Though not as frantic as the Nadja’s sampled from tank back in February, the preview to the ’13 Estate is in show of so much zest, premature acidity and an overly enthusiastic outpouring of juicy emotion. The scraped zest is present in every respect, along with green mango, Himalayan salt and a squeeze of lime. There is attitude and altitude from this precocious Riesling and there’s no doubt it and the ’13 Nadja will be better than anticipated out of tank. Forget the infancy, wow is it showing well.” Last tasted August 2014 @Winemakersboots@brightlighter1@UnfilteredEd
Château Saint Estève Corbières 2011, Ap, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (377218, $17.95, WineAlign)
Corbieres excellence. Nothing funky going on here. A minor amount sees the inside of the fûts but how great it is to find such a clean, fruit forward, straight from the tank example. Made from (40 per cent) Grenache, (30) Syrah, (20) Carignan and (10) Mourvèdre. Certainly showing modern fruit but the low yield (35hl/ha) altruism and cleanliness is next to Midi-ness. A touch of chalk and milky chocolate with some vanilla and lavender too. Simple, effective (if a touch soapy) French red. Tasted August 2014
This is a massive Valpolicella, fully enriched by chocolate in countless ways, on many levels and in dry ice dreams. It’s a baby Amarone incarnate and if you are going that route, try this on instead for a mere pittance at $18. Huge wine, with exaggerated mannerisms in oak and high alcohol, though not volatile, even if the structure is value-driven pedestrian. Will work for a welcoming, big-hair crowd. Tasted August 2014 @HHDImports_Wine
Rosehall Run Cuvée County Chardonnay 2011, VQA Prince Edward County (132928, $21.95, WineAlign)
Today Dan Sullivan’s Chardonnay concentrates on its excellence while compressing in reduction. Beyond the encapsulating abstraction there are the rocks beneath the earth and by extension, the vines of hard-working fruit. Fruit surrounded by the spice of barrel. Tasted extensively over a 24 hour period I found this walks the line, takes on all comers, hovers over and has the guts to merely sigh at the distractions. Give this Chardonnay years, more than most, perhaps even 10 plus. In 2011, Chablis trumps barrel. Tasted August 2014 @Rosehall_Run@sullywine
Peller Estates Private Reserve Cabernet Franc 2011, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario (598078, $21.95, WineAlign)
A touch of reduction but the thought goes straight to serious wine and attentive winemaking. The barrel is not king, the fruit big and boisterous. It’s a bit hyper-fruity, steroidal even but it is anything but thin and certainly not encumbered by process or wood. A hint of soap is a detractor admittedly, but the acumen and level of higher learning is evident and commendable. This will be a wine to look at for years to come. Tasted August 2014 @PellerVQA
Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (275958, $21.95, WineAlign)
The 2012 Triomphe Cabernet Franc receives a meld of mellow, blending support from 12.4 per cent Merlot and the marriage is quietly non-contentious. That blending decision by winemaker Ann Sperling, along with the praiseworthy choice to forego obtrusive oak is as good as a golpe on the Niagara Cab Franc oeuvre. The use of large format (80 hectolitre), no splinters allowed oak vats over wood spice and milkshake imparting barrels is an easy swallow for sore palates. The ’12 Triomphe is an elongated and elastic Cab Franc, with nary a foray into the tobacco, bell pepper and cloying currant currency of so many predecessors. The co-fermenting of disparate, north and south, estate blocks in those vats has done wonders on the preservation of a warm vintage’s, judiciously picked (21.8 per cent brix at harvest) fresh fruit. Terrific decisions all in for a highly accessible, brand and varietal ambassador for Niagara. Tasted August 2014 @SouthbrookWine
Big red machine, really ahead of the class, especially in this price range, with this much stuffing. A full complement of fruit, bushy and falling just as it’s picked from the trees, not to mention quality, quality, sweet earth. This is jazzy, boozy and sparked, from ‘round midnight, smoky, exotic and global. Has the discipline of a monk to groove low and low, the stuffing and Thelonious tannin to boot. Wait for it, let the band play then give way. The solo will be fantastic. Tasted August 2014 @ThirtyBench
From left to right: Tawse Pinot Noir Growers Blend 2010, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Le Volte Dell’ornellaia 2012, Dominio De Tares Cepas Viejas Mencia 2009, Château Des Charmes Merlot St. David’s Bench Vineyard 2012, Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2011, Charles Baker Wines Riesling ‘Picone Vineyard’ 2011, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011 Photos: Jason Dziver, Photographer (http://www.jasondziver.com/)
Where at one time the GB Pinot Noir fought among its moving parts it now sits in permanent cease-fire mode. A position that realizes warm fruit, settled wood spice and linear acidity. Needs no more scaling or ropy ascension. It has reached the planing platform and going forward will glide effortlessly back down to ground. Where it began. From my earlier October 2013, April and May 2014 notes. “Though it’s a blend of several sites, this Tawse Pinot stands alone and of itself as a grower; it grows on you after multiple tastings. The first go ’round seems simple, vintage warm and tight. Taste again and the sappy wood seeps mineral, the phenolic red cherry ripeness turns black and the tempering is led by a sweet earth kind. Earth that smoulders in a rising Zeppelin kept afloat by tobacco and the swirling spores of pungent mushroom. Pinot Noir truth and value from a Niagara house of the holy kind. “You know-whoa, that’s right.” The univocal Pender perfume permeates the Tawse stable of Pinot Noir and seems only magnified in the multiple site Grower‘s Blend. Vintage related warmth and inferable incrassation of fruit. Delves into a deep connection to disparate lands possessive of a common goal. As if making wine is “your taste combined with all the years of wasting time.” Graceful Pinot Noir with moments touched by hot rocks, toasted red rice, a gentle smoulder and delicate grains of sand.” Last Tasted August 2014 @Tawse_Winery@Paul_Pender
Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Le Volte Dell’ornellaia 2012, Igt Toscana (964221, $26.95,WineAlign)
What can you say about Le Volte? Is she the most immediately rewarding, fruit forward and accessible Super Tuscan ever put on offer? Does this cuvée of Merlot (50 per cent), Sangiovese (30) and Cabernet Sauvignon (20) offer a portal through which to peer into the future of the Ornellaia grande? From a warm but not excessively hot season, the fruit teases, like a kiss that leaves a lipstick stain on the cheek, a taste that makes you crazy and dreaming of more. Time spent in barrels once used by the matron first wine equates to a morning of chocolate, Nutella and cappuccino in the piazza. Full on, with much more texture than ever before. She is beautiful, but is her beauty fleeting? Drink over the next two to four years. Tasted August 2014 @Ornellaia@AuthenticWineON
Fruit for this Bierzo is from old vines and is aged in a combination of French and American oak. An industrious rolling stone and two steps up example above and beyond for what usually passes as basic and simple Mencia. The Dominio de Tares is exactly the reason to ante up. Bierzo as a region produces exceptional quality wines at this price point but suffers a stenosis in the lower ranges. Here the intoxicating and delicious fumes are resonant of just caramelizing brown sugared fruits, formidable though sweet tannins and an enveloping that’s “all right now, in fact, it’s a gas” Displays and prances about with an incredible amount of energy and jumping jack flash. “It’s a gas, gas, gas.” Tasted August 2014 @oenophilia1
Château Des Charmes Merlot St. David’s Bench Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (453431, $29.95, WineAlign)
The vintage does Merlot a wondrous gifting and coupled with what strikes as an unusual salinity, this is a most unique take on the Merlot perspective. In the middle vacuum what is expected takes a turn; shaken, crushed berries with chocolate shavings and brushstrokes made by a weighty utensil but in the end it returns to the vintage specific layering. Well made with caveat to and from Merlot. Tasted August 2014 @MBosc
The passion from the Thomas Bachelder Niagara project has shifted into Domaine Queylus. With no disrespect to Thomas’ eponymous bottling from vineyards so nearby, the quality time has now been granted the Tradition. Here lies Mountainview and Le Petite Colline earth, here crushes Niagara cherries in hand, juice running down a clay caked forearm. Fresh and bright yet streaked by chalk and enveloping brush stroke. Sour? For a flash but in neither malic nor astringent form. This is a must buy. From my earlier June 2014 note: “Reverberates with the unmistakable calling card character of the storied Neudorf family La Petite vineyard with equal and opposite amounts of attraction and new life breathed in by the Lincoln Lakeshore fruit. Ethereally sifted earth of old meets cherries of new. Enriching Pinot Noir, a bit gangling like a primitive young giraffe but near to finding its legs. Hard working red, insistent, confident and having already paid some dirty fingernail dues. Excellent length.” Last tasted August 2014 @QueylusVin
You can take Riesling from out of the Vinemount Ridge but you can’t take Vinemount Ridge out from a Charles Baker Picone. The layers of tectonic shale and the slowly espressed fruit that swim within the waves of those layers make for the total oscillating package. Has moved nowhere, not sideways even, since last tasted, though today, from this bottle, there’s an awkward, shy adolescence. From my earlier May 2014 note: “Some sweetness now, but not in a flirting way. This will be a September VINTAGES release (with pink on the label as part of an LCBO/Princess Margaret fundraiser). Has not so much evolved but rather “come groovin’ up slowly,” since last tasted. Still got “joo joo eyeballs,” still tough in tension. Years left before it will come together, yeah.” From my earlier, October 2013 note: “does not so much pick up where cracking ’09 left off (with no offence meant to the soothing and tuneful ’10) but rather re-writes the Baker book. From the almost famous windswept vineyard atop the Vinemount Ridge, this Picone, from older Riesling plantings is crazy lively. That ’10 is now imbued with rich, oily glück. The ’11 will realize such a future, but much further along and in combination with its inborn tension. Right up there with Baker’s “perfect vintage” 2006. Last tasted August 2014 @cbriesling@StratusWines
This County ’12 by Norman Hardie needs fresh air, County air and time. Leave the wine alone in bottle counted out in five years time. There is pure intensity in aerified flight. Shows length, persistence, purity, phenolic ripeness and in time will show its ability to wade across raging rivers. From my earlier April 2014 note: “Hardie’s 2012 County Pinot Noir is a beacon, a flashing light on the shore, an invitation to copycats because this is what making red wine from limestone foundations is all about. To taste this ’12 is to experience Hardie’s purest berry maceration and distillation to date. It’s as if there was no alcohol present and in fact, at 11.5 per cent it is a modest and transparent pronouncement. Longevity may not bless the ’12 as in other vintages but this is certainly the most groomed and coiffed County Pinot Noir.” From my earlier October 2013 note: “Cuts a rug with immense, stepping out juicy behaviour. It’s both turntable old-school, astatic in smooth groove rotation, but also digitally forward thinking towards a perdurable future. The nose is Norm’s most intense floral burst to date, with incredible brightness and sparkling acidity in the key of fresh plum. This brings to mind indelible Burgundy, enveloped in PEC’s warm ’12 blanket. Hardie’s measure of consistency abides in a Pinot of parity and undemanding polish.” Last tasted August 2014 @normhardie
Grange of Prince Edward Trumpour’s Mill Gamay Noir 2012, Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, Stoney Ridge Estate Excellence Pinot Gris 2010
If you ask Heather MacGregor or Lisa Murray, the two responsible for leading the LCBO’s media relations and communications department, they will tell you this. “For the last 23 years LCBO has been a steadfast and proud supporter of locally produced Ontario VQA wine.” That is certainly true.
Three things would add measurable weight to that statement. Private VQA wine stores, increased shelf space in current LCBO stores and a lifting of the embargo for “typicity” qualifying standards of locally and exceptionally produced wine. Not to mention speaking out publicly on the necessity of developing a Canadian wine culture by allowing the importing of VQA wine into Ontario that is made in other Canadian provinces. Oh, but I seriously digress.
In fiscal 2013-14, sales of Ontario wine at LCBO were $396 million, 4.1per cent higher than the year before. VQA sales ended the year at $123 million, growth of nearly 2.1 per cent over fiscal 2012-13. Year-to-date 2014-15, VQA wines are up an impressive 5.8 per cent and significantly outpacing imports. Give credit where it is due. With their backs to the proverbial sandbox wall, the LCBO is working feverishly to put Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore on the monopoly map. They can thank Wine Country Ontario for the support, the expertise and the professional lead.
The LCBO WINES category offers 526 Ontario- produced wines, including 330 VQA wines. What makes up the other 196 might be questioned and that category could be improved were it to include, let us say, for the purposes of argumentation, a Pearl Morisstte Riesling. That said, 330 is a highly significant number. Good on you LCBO.
Our Wine Country Boutiques
Three stores in St.Catharines, Niagara Falls, and Windsor boast excellent local wine selections. The sommelier and restaurant community in Toronto has embraced Ontario wines. Their presence at events like Cool Chardonnay and the Ontario Technical Sparkling Wine Symposium are proof of the phenomenon. So are dozens of wine lists city-wide. The question is why does an Our Wine Country Boutique not exist in a flagship store such as Queen’s Quay or Bayview Village? The Toronto consumer requires chiding and the flock will submit if shown the righteous path. Bring OWCB’s to the city.
The LCBO is doing yeomans work to help small wineries in their own parochial scene and the bigger picture is taken care of through VINTAGES releases. The work has just begun. Change and progress are necessary. A good first step is an event such as was held on Thursday August 14th: Taste Local, Love Local. The match was to pie, kitschy yet effective. There were 21 wines on hand. These were the best three.
Grange of Prince Edward County Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (615062, $14.95, WineAlign)
As Gamay continues to gain traction, it is examples such as this ’12 from Grange that will help to solidify its position as a go to variety for versatile food matching and pure, simple quaffing pleasure. Though this ’12 and its warm vintage baggage render it beefy, spicy and veering to black cherry, it holds freshness and juicy acidity in retainer. The ripe tree fruit sensation never really relents so the style is heady but it shows the strength and excellent value to be found in Gamay. Tasted August 2014 @grangewinery
Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (275958, $21.95, WineAlign)
The 2012 Triomphe Cabernet Franc receives a meld of mellow, blending support from 12.4 per cent Merlot and the marriage is quietly non-contentious. That blending decision by winemaker Ann Sperling, along with the praiseworthy choice to forgo obtrusive oak is as good as a golpe on the Niagara Cab Franc oeuvre. The use of large format (80 hectolitre), no splinters allowed oak vats over wood spice and milkshake imparting barrels is an easy swallow for sore palates. The ’12 Triomphe is an elongated and elastic Cab Franc, with nary a foray into the tobacco, bell pepper and cloying currant currency of so many predecessors. The co-fermenting of disparate, north and south, estate blocks in those vats has done wonders on the preservation of a warm vintage’s, judiciously-picked (21.8 per cent brix at harvest) fresh fruit. Terrific decisions all in for a highly accessible, brand and varietal ambassador for Niagara. Tasted August 2014 @SouthbrookWine
Hardie’s 2011 Pinot Noir comes out of deep clay, 20 Mile Bench soil, an impart not lost in the rich though dusty character of the wine. The flesh is both corporeal and marbled and a chalky grain runs through, with thanks to what feels like smithereens of limestone blasted through. “It was long ago, seems like yesterday,” that Norm’s Niagara Pinot carried an unwieldy level of anxiety but here the tannins have settled, the volatility has relented and there is a curious combination now, of blood and roses. Though meaty, the ’11 Pinot’s juices are concentrated, contained, not running out. The aromas are floral, heightened and intoxicating. Once again, classic comes by way of low alcohol and minimalist intervention. Tasted August 2014 @normhardie
Meanwhile, back at the WineAlign ranch, yet another local standout is available for tasting. This Pinot Gris was a most excellent surprise.
From the deep soil of the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation, this is certainly made in a honeyed, Pinot Gris, noble bitter excellence style, conjuring up a Pierre Frick Pfaffenheim reminiscence. The golden hue and blanched nut aroma indicate a slight yet subtle advanced oxidation but the low (3.4) pH and necessary fortifying (5.8 g/L) acidity round-up and subdue the sugar (4.5 g/L) and alcohol (13.3 per cent), whose specs are nothing to cause any real concern in the first place. The intensity is only overshadowed by the natural sweetness which comes across the palate by way of texture and tannin. A mineral underlay is noted with props to a limestone and shale drip from the Bench down through soil towards the Niagara Lakeshore. This 2010 found symmetry in moving parts to reach its current peak and to propel the Excellence towards a 10 year future of graceful decline. Tasted August 2014 @stoneyridgewine
You won’t find a rare or carefully considered older vintage of Pinot Noir tasted and discussed at a Millésimes Alsace Master Sommelier class. Nor will it be featured in a magazine article’s varietal spotlight on the great wines of the region. The world may ignore the potentiality and the well-established roots of the expatriate Burgundian in Alsace, but there are winemakers who know. The future of the grape with a long history is already entrenched in the Alsace progression.
Pinot Noir is the only red grape variety authorized in Alsace. The official marketing and regulatory board for the region, Le Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace (CIVA) recognizes the trenchant antiquity. “What is today considered a novelty in the region is in reality a legacy of the past that is becoming increasingly successful.” According to the Wine Society, the oldest recorded grape variety in Alsace is in fact Pinot Noir, predating Riesling by at least seven centuries.” That exaggeration aside, records dating back to the 16th century indicate that the grape variety was stored in Abbey caves and poached in tithes by the Church.
Out in the diaspora the affirmation of what best indicates Burgundy is the requiem for respect. Oregon, Central Otago and certain pockets of (cooler) California are well into their seasons of repute. Yet sometime around 10-15 years ago the $60 Sonoma Pinot Noir became serious fashion. Thanks to darlings like Kosta Browne, the sky became the limit, in California and elsewhere. A host of producers joined the ranks of the rich and famous. Looking back now, the black cherry bomb initiative temporarily cost the New World its mojo.
Those growing pains have worked to great advantage. Today you have to be better and fashion elegant Pinot Noir to attract an audience and become a hero. This goes for Sonoma County, Napa Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, the Willamette Valley, Marlborough, Martinborough, Nelson and Otago. This applies to the Okanagan Valley and South Africa too. Niagara and Prince Edward County have followed suit. Vignerons like Norman Hardie, Thomas Bachelder, Moray Tawse and Harald Thiel understand what needs. Their wines have ushered in a $40-plus Pinot Noir era in Ontario. But Alsace? Please. Today a reckoning about Pinot Noir incites nothing but a series of car wrecks along the wine route from Thann to Marlenheim.
Burgundy and Bordeaux do not accept varietal expatriate inclusions. So, why should Alsace? For one, global warming. Say what you will about that load of scientific horse crap but the biodynamic culture that permeates much of Alsace is in tune and well aware of temperature change and ripening schedules. More and more growers are picking their whites earlier, to preserve freshness and acidity, not to mention the conscious decision to cheat botrytis and elevated residual sugar. Embracing Pinot Noir is on many of their minds. Some are ahead of the curve and have already made some exceptional wines. Many examples from the first eight years of the 21st century are showing beautifully in 2014. Phillipe Blanck poured a very much alive 1991. How many Alsace wineries can lay claim to one of those in their cellars?
It’s common knowledge to an Alsatian cognoscenti that white wines drive the mecca. Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer and their associations with the Grand Cru and lieu-dits are the it vines. Vendanges Tardives (VT or, Late Harvest) and Sélection de Grains Nobles (SGN, or selection of noble berries) sit on thrones of glory. Even traditional varieties like Auxerrois and Muscat continue to outshine and suppress the possibilities for Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir has yet to receive any proper respect both in and outside of Alsace. Can there be justice served in a wine region where a noble variety must share nomenclature with a bottom feeder like Pinot d’Alsace, which is not really a Pinot at all. The scavenging white blend draws attention while making unsubstantiated use of the Pinot prefix. Pd’A need only contain a small percentage of any type of Pinot (Blanc, Auxerrois, Meunier or Noir) in conjunction with other white Alsatian varieties. According to wikipedia:”Lack of acidity and complexity often prevent Alsatian Pinot Noir from achieving anything more than pleasant, easy drinking, quality levels.” Them’s fighting words.
That faux Pinot sideshow is really a whole lot of nothing. The real terror is that if you grow exceptional quality Pinot Noir on Grand Cru terroir in Alsace you can’t label it as such. If you produce Riesling in the Hengst, you are good to go. If you grow Pinot Noir in any of the storied “male horse,” vineyards, the resulting wine, with respect to the variety, is only considered lieu-dit and must be labeled as such. This is the Alsace Grand Cru taboo.
As part of his recent three-part report on Alsace, British journalist Tom Cannavan covers some of the wines of the Grand Cru Hengst. Cannavan so rightly notes that “the problem is, not only is Pinot Noir ineligible for Grand Cru status, but the name Hengst cannot even appear on the label.” He did sample some basic Pinot examples and wondered aloud about the injustice being a non-sequitur. He missed the boat. Case in point Domaine Albert Mann. Back that up with Pinot Noir made elsewhere by Pierre Blanck, Jean-Pierre Frick and Mélanie Pfister, among others.
Maurice and Jacky Barthelmé of Domaine Albert Mann shirk the system with the use of a simple letter, an “H” or a “G” in place of Hengst and Pfersigberg. Philippe Blanck of Paul Blanck & Fils does the same thing with an “F” for Furstentum. It’s a wink-wink, say-no-more kind of approach. A grand parade of life-giving packaging. The brothers Barthelmé and Mr. Blanck know what excellence lies in their Pinot Noir holdings and understand the bright red future for Alsace. “Pinot Noir, like Riesling, is a minerologist,” insists Maurice. Don’t think of the brothers as pioneers so much as pragmatists. CIVA has surely taken note and despite the resistance to add Burgundy to the charges, change is inevitable. The Pinot Noir eyes never lie.
Here are two dozen Pinot Noirs tasted in Alsace during a week in June.
“Diversity of the parcels of land, disseminated and however subtly intertwined, which are the particularity of the domaine”
Pinot Noir (and Pinot Gris) of Domaine Albert Mann
Pinot Noir Clos De La Faille 2012
Though geologically speaking this Pinot Noir out of 1997 plantings in calcaire and redstone soils is a fault on the hill of nature, as a wine it shows no discernible impropriety. This represents a tectonic shift for Alsatian Pinot Noir, a lithe and floral wine of articulation and an eye opener to prepare for the intensity of Mann’s Grand letters. It’s a lightly woven, silky soft Pinot, with a furrowed brow and the necessary Mann clarity of responsibility. Density is through a looking-glass, a gateway to Alsace and what future varietal decorum may be achieved.
Pinot Noir Les Saintes Claires 2012
From calcareous soil and still the Albert Mann zealous clarity, with similar intensity and protracted density. There is a lacuna permeated by a hint at black cherry but the ken is never fully realized. At 13 per cent abv and with a set of fine, sweet tannins (even more so than La Faille), these 20 year-old vines have procured a piled Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir Les Saintes Claires 2010
A top-notch (though cool and late harvested from a small crop) vintage for Mann (and Alsace) Pinot Noir, here the calcareous parcel at Sigolsheim above an old monastery called “Les Clarisses.” Some early rot and bottle reduction have both been stabilized as the wine peels off the rust and goes mellow, in full humanizing and sensual mystery. “How great the wine is when you can see the vintage, ” chimes Maurice. Controlling the effects of both nature and fermentation seems no biggie to the brothers Barthelmé. The act is of such minor tragedy, the climax characterful and sacred. A tingle of eastern spice twitches over bright fruit and a certain florality, materializing what can only be described as obvious commitment. It’s all about the journey.
Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Noir Les Saintes Claires 2008 and Grand P 2012
Pinot Noir Grand “P” 2012 (Tasted from a 375 mL bottle)
From a blend of plantings (1975 and 2004) in Wintzenheim limestone-sandstone soils on the Grand Cru Pfersigberg. Whole bunch pressed grapes (60 per cent) saw a range of oak; 25 per cent new, 50 one-year old and 25 older barrels. A light filtration was used to combat some reduction. This P is a touch ferric, not unlike Volnay but also because of the vintage. The vines in ’12 were subject to cool, then humid, then dry weather. The flux makes for a full floral display, from iron through to roses, but the wave stays linear and rigid. In its youth, the P is calm and on a level plain along its ECG-considered PQRST journey. It will soon spike past Q, up to R and then settle in for the long haul. Will hit its glide at S and T at the end of the decade.
Pinot Noir Grand “P” 2011
From what Maurice Barthelmé describes as a “paradoxical vintage” that started out dry and turned rabidly humid. This has huge personality, less refinement but more delicacy than the Hengst. Once again it’s a touch reductive and that tenuity is in the form of cured meat. The style here emulates Burgundy more than any of the P’s, much more than the H’s and worlds beyond the Failles and the Claires. The iron gait exceeds ’12 with a railroading layer of grand P funk. A chain of earth-resin-tannin has “got the knack,” jumps up, jumps back, does the locomotion with “a little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul.” The 2011 Pfersigberg is unlike any other Alsatian Pinot. It requires plenty of air and even more time to unwind. Look for it to become a classic 20 years after release.
Pinot Noir Grand “P” 2009 (Tasted from a 375 mL bottle)
In the ’09 you can smell how five years of bottle time (slightly accelerated by the small format) brings Pfersigberg Pinot fruit into a Grand Cru station. This is in the zone and just about as perfect an example can be to represent the young cottage industry that is Alsace Pinot Noir. Five more years would send it into philosophical complexity. The classic “P” reduction is there, with amazing structure from the palate. Wonderful funk, the proverbial Brett-esque creature of Pfersigberg, along with cherry and resin of pine. Wonderful animal.
Pinot Noir Grand “H” 2012 (Tasted from a 375 mL bottle)
From a south-facing plot in Wintzenheim on the Grand Cru Hengst. The soils are deeper, the clive made of consolidated clay or marly limestone and sandstone. All aspects of the Pinot Noir here are enriched by the density of nutrition; extract, spice and tannin. Any thoughts of overripe character in any way are thwarted a circular saw of energy that cuts through the cake, breaking it down with extreme prejudice. Tasted at 9:00 am this is a wake up call of the highest order. Notes Maurice Barthelmé, “this must be planted in calcaire soil.” Strike another notch on the Grand Cru petition.
Pinot Noir Grand “H” 2009,
Typically Hengst, with a whiff of reduction, though never as pronounced as the Pfersigberg. In the ’09, which was a star-caste vintage, the “H” stands for high. As in hue, extract and phenolics. It could be imagined that Syrah were blended in (Maurice said it) and like its namesake (German translation), “Hengst is a stallion.” The reduction is (sic), as Eleven Madison Park’s Jonathan Ross noted, “favourable flavour. A creaminess comes from grape tannin, not oak.” This is meaty Pinot Noir, seeking out rare flesh, in beef or game. It will travel well and live for a decade or more.
Pinot Noir 2008
This vintage preceded forward seasons that brought out warm, fully ripe and optimal phenol-realized fruit. From Maurice Barthelmé’s vineyard, between Mambourg and Furstentum, in Kientzheim. Clear, clean and precise. This was perhaps a bit ambitious in its oak soak from a year that Maurice considers “difficult and early,” but the parcel never lies and what a parcel it is. “Pinot Noir, like Riesling, is a mineralogist, ” says Barthelmé. This is Mann’s purest Pinot, if a touch under ripe, but that is the key. Whole bunch pressing and the oak envelopment has created a round flavour lock and Maurice feels he needs 10 more years to master this technique. Though this may have been the early stages in the development of the Mann Pinot candidacy, by 2018 it will reign in Alsace.
“We’re looking for authenticity. Not wines of impression, but wines of expression.”
Philippe Blanck, Domaine Paul Blanck & Fils
Pinot Noir 2012
From granite and gravel soils, the former bringing a bitter component, the latter what Philippe Blanck calls “a facile aspect.” Dark fruits, like black cherry and plum are flecked with pepper and cloaked in a silky robe. “Almost a sort of texture wine,” considers Blanck. The bitterness is beautiful and offers a window of proof towards the ageing capabilities of Pinot Noir in Alsace. “Everybody has an idea of what is a Pinot Noir in the world,” says Philippe. “This is a classic one. And they age crazy.” Classic vintage too. From now and for 10 years.
Pinot Noir 1991
From 20-year old vines (at the time) and a low-yielding (20 hl/ha), cold vintage. The wine was not filtered and 13 years on remains very much alive. Retains the unmistakable smell of Fragaria Vesca, fraise de bois, the herbaceous and wild alpine strawberry. Mix in a metallic, iron and wine tinge and still viable tannins and you’ve got yourself a wonderfully aged Alsace Pinot. An example to encourage a future for the grape variety in Alsace. “So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten.” Blanck said “nothing to prove, just to experiment. Some wet, moldy berry in here.” Roasted game lends a note as well to this upward, over the “mountain wine.”
Pinot Noir “F” 2009
The F is for Furstentum, the Grand Cru on the northern slopes of the Weisbach valley split between the communes of Kientzheim and Sigolsheim. The soil is marl. Philippe Blanck insists “we’re looking for authenticity. Not a wine of impression, but a wine of expression.” Here is cherry set on high, bright and exploding, with savoury wild herbs and direct linear of acidity. Authentic yes, silky no. Can age for 10 more years and somewhere along that line the direction will find a more approachable intersect.
Pinot Noir 2009
From a vintage Le Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace (CIVA) called “precocious” and of irresistible wines. Mélanie Pfister’s ’09 comes from the calcareous Clos Bamhauer, went through two weeks maceration in Inox and then spent a slow 18 months in Burgundy barriques. Incredibly fragrant, with a rich density and a charge of wood spice. Its black cherry waft brings Burgenland to mind, that and the elastic, silty grit by way of some vines grown on gravelly soil. What sets it apart from everywhere else not called Burgundy is the lack of any sort of varnished note. Purity prevails.
To Olivier Humbrecht, the location and managing the ripeness of Pinot Noir is key. “You can’t hide green character in Pinot Noir,” he asserts. Fruit comes from the Heimbourg vineyard, from west-facing slopes out of marl and limestone. This is a cooler, later ripening position with a draught between the hills. At 13 per cent alcohol it is pleasantly ripe but not as rich and intense as 2009. Still ripe enough for positive and effective phenols. Tannins are present and accounted for, wrapping a veil over the chalky, chewy, slighted coated fruit. The mineral is felt in texture coming from what is a simple, proper and elegant palate.
This block is literally le muret rouge or, the red stone wall. From brown, ferric (ferrugineux), hard calcaire soils. In 2008 you could not write organic on the label (this changed with the 2012 vintage) so Frick sub-labeled the bottle Vin Biologique Zéro Sulfites Gioutés. Natural wine. Rustic, full of horns on acidity. The combination of clay, marl and the fact that the plot benefits from extended late-afternoon sun all lead to vigor, rigor and rigidity. This is Jean-Pierre Frick’s thickest and most Romantic brushstrokes. Richly textured like a Gaugin portrait of the The Schuffenecker Family. Post-impressionist Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir 2008
From the Strangenberg lieu-dit, a hill parcel known as la colline aux pendus. Soil composition is hard, durable brown calcaire.After a quick whiff of farm droppings blow off, Jean-Pierre Frick’s Pinot Noir reveals a bright, light and feminine side. It is now blessed by gentle, resolved tannins. The generous spirit, kind heart and gentle soul of this Pinot offer nothing but calm pleasure. Its coat has not even a trace of primer. It is simply thoughtful and considerate. The iron minerality persists but with static and clinging trace fibers. A wine perfectly suited for a middle course at today’s table.
Pierre Frick Pinot Noir Strangenberg 2003 and Pinot Noir 2008
Pinot Noir Strangenberg 2003
Sub-label notes this ’03 as Vin Biologique Vinifié Sand Souffre. Years before it was fashionable or righteous to farm and vinify organically and without sulphites, Jean-Pierre Frick was looking to the stars. The Strangenberg is a very dry part of Alsace, Mediterranean in climate. This is earthy Pinot, like reds from Corbières or Sardinia, with its mutton-funky and roasted game aromas. Here is proof that non-sulphured wine can age, with the simple equation of fruit, acidity and tannin. It’s actually hard to believe so much tannin can emit from the collines of Haut-Rhin in Pinot Noir. Crazy actually. There is an underdeveloped green note along with some roasted and cooked flavours so peak has been reached. When left for 30 minutes in the glass the tannins begin to dry out. Like southern French and Italian reds, another 10 years would bring caramel, soy, figs and raisins. Either way. now or then, this Frick will also be interesting.
Pinot Noir Linzenberger 2013 (Barrel Sample)
Spent six months in one-year old (Allier forest) barrels. Bright, tight, full-on red cherries. A quick, fun, pure expression, clean and full of cherry. A two to three-year Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir Sainte Gregoire 2012
From the Val Saint Grégoire lieu-dit, the historic name of the Valley of Munster (before the Protestant reform). The soil is decomposed granite rich in micas. Leans warm and extracted but with a high-toned, spiced coat tension. A generalization would place it more New World than Old, verging to black cherry, though again, the spirit is high. In contrast the yields were low (17 hl/ha) from the Cru, let alone the top-level of output from such a low yielding vintage. “When nature isn’t generous the yields go down fast,” confirms Dominique Schoenheitz. Good balance and well-judged.
From the lieu-dit Froehn on the edge (the limit) of the Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim. Such a spicy florality and the underlay of calcaire from what is ostensibly hard limestone and Jurassic Lias marls meet one another in a geological confluence of fossils, red ferruginous soil and hard rock. A slow 12-month accumulation to fermentation has brought this Pinot Noir to land’s end. It bares un uncanny resemblance to the Prince Edward County Pinot Noir ’12 by Norman Hardie. Over exposure to sun, wind and everything else nature delivers gives this wine its vigor, its core strength and its vibrant personality.
Pinot Noir Piece de Chene 2011
The Rentz take on Pinot Noir grows up in oak for 14-18 months, from a mix of new and used (no older than four years) barrels. The style is decidedly rich Pinot of a sweet tooth with a soft spot for quality chocolate. Spice supplements of orange and cinnamon, along with ethical acidity bring forth a wine bien charpentée, agreeable and ready for PDQ consumption.
Flat out fresh, mineral Pinot Noir. Only 100 cases were produced from a chalk and clay single parcel, on the Grand Cru Eichberg. GC yes to Phillipe Zinck, “but not official.,” Very little barrel influence here, in fact two-thirds of the Terroir was fermented in stainless steel, “to keep the mineral.” The cherry scents has tinges of plum, licorice and black olive, but just around the periphery. It’s otherwise bright and fresh with a quiescent streak throughout. Excellent.
Pinot Noir Galets Oligocène 2010
From the village of Beblenheim, this Pinot Noir gets the moniker from deposits of Oligocène of the tertiary period consisting of conglomerated rock on a base of marl. Jean-Christophe Bott considers the low-lying grapes of this terroir on lower slopes to be Grand Cru (in quality). Picked early to avoid resinning, cooked or jammy flavours, the wine was matured in (one year-old) barriques for 14 to 18 months. Quite earthy and spiced explicitly by cinnamon, though delicious, this is Pinot that flirts with what Bott wants to avoid. Served with a good chill it harmonizes its intent.
Taylor Fladgate 10, 20, 30 and 40 Year-Old Tawny Ports, Single Harvest 1964, Single Harvest 1863
Taylor, Fladgate, & Yeatman. A name synonymous with Port. Purveyors of exceptional, axiomatic and accessible Port. Last week we WineAlign critics gathered (David Lawrason, John Szabo, Sara d’Amato and Julian Hitner) to taste a rare selection of Cask-aged benevolent pours. A chance to take measure of an evolutionary history from the vendibles of a “long and unbroken family tradition” makes cause for some adjectival arcana. Though the house is widely recognized for making epochal, fortified vintage-declared elixirs that can age for decades, it is the Tawny tales that deliver its most exciting and impossible gifts. Were a time capsule be floated into space for future, other worldly generations or alienigenate life forms to discover, a Taylor Port, a Tawny, would have to be in the mix.
The Taylor opus dates back to 1692, a most dubious vintage if you were to practice say, witchcraft in Massachusetts, but in Portugal it was a pretty good year to begin making Port. With thanks for the pull from the Taylor website, they are the house with the “largest reserves of rare cask aged wines from which its distinguished aged tawny Ports are drawn. The house is also known as the originator of Late Bottled Vintage, a style which the firm pioneered and of which it remains the leading producer.”
Rare cask aged wines. Ay, there’s the rub. I must admit that I am utterly fascinated by the new, progressive and forward thinking Taylor deal. “Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.” Under the supervision of Managing Director Adrian Bridge, Taylor has systematically scoured the Porto cathedrals in search of casks housing excellence and propriety. The world is now the beneficiary of the program. Old Tawny Ports, in pristine condition, being auctioned off to bidders who won’t be forced or coerced into taking out third mortgages.
With thanks to the WineAlign concierge, Head Wineaux Bryan McCaw, along with Associate Wineauxs Carol Ann Jessiman and Sarah Goddard, we were afforded the once in a lifetime chance to taste the 1863 Single Harvest Porto. With no disrespect to the most munificent and gratifying 10, 20, 30 and 40 year-old Tawny bottlings and no dis to guest chamberlain Stephen Marentette of Sylvestre Wines and Spirits, it was the 1863 and 1964 that took our collective breath away. “Time is an asterisk.”
Taylor Fladgate 10 Year-Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal (121749, $34.95, WineAlign)
Taylor’s 10, composed from no less than six Touriga and Tinta grapes (aged an average of 10 years in neutral oak) is the definitive and most accessible for the genre. Sourced from Cima Corgo and Douro Superior vineyards, the 10 puts a most tender fruit-wood balance on display. Sweet emotive fruit intensity with spice notes and a sliding scale of gathering acidity combine for full, though not over the top perfervid Porto nationalism. Late flavours of roasted figs, candied almonds and filberts round out this most effective Tawny, an example that acts as a portal to the overall Taylor oeuvre.
Taylor Fladgate 20 Year-Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal (149047, $68.95, WineAlign)
An average barrel period of 20 years heightens the eye-opening fruit sensations of this impeccable Tawny Port. The extended élevage makes cause for such huge contrast, poles apart from the near-conflagrant intensity displayed by the Taylor Tawny 10. At 20 the flames weaken to a diminishing point. Poured from a cool (15-17 degrees Celsius) temperature into a proper (minimum 12 oz, Bordeaux-shaped bowl) stem, the 20 warms and opens quickly, revealing an immediate soft and creamy caramel nose and body. Recently bottled (2013), this is quite youthful and its nuttiness is neither toasted nor roasted. It is a tactile wine of tact, wholly intact, seamless and gives of itself with effortless ease. Carries a century of residual sugar with tempering acidity and potential hydrogen poise. One hot flash sweats it out at one of the corners but it flashes the leather and makes the play. Enjoy the long finish four to six weeks after opening. Is 20 not the ideal, balanced number, in weight, pleasure and economy for a Taylor Tawny?
Taylor Fladgate 30 Year-Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal (540252, $180.95, WineAlign)
Bottled in 2014, the Taylor 30 year-old Tawny dramatizes the intensity of the 10 in medley with the elegance of the 20. Presents warm and velutinous, with a minor, nape of the neck hair raising (and not illogical) level of volatile acidity. The sweetness in the formidable 30 is cavernous, full of weightless gravity, flitting around in aerified circles, while the acidity sharpens its spears and arrows. Once the wine has opened and the drawn breathes have taken in its dried fruit, slow-roasted nuts and spirit enhancing liqueur, the acidity then pierces a straight line through its ambrosial, fleshy heart. The finish combs flavours of citrus, orange tisane and tarte flamande noix de coco. You can almost sense the minor (one to two per cent) addition of older barrel juice, say from the 1800’s. It just has that kind of wisdom and experience. Want to relax? Have a glass of the Taylor 30 year-old Tawny.
Taylor Fladgate 40 Year-Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal (540260, $239.95, WineAlign)
If the 30 year-old Taylor Tawny was beautiful, the 40 is untouchable. Soft, downy texture and wholly resolved, highly expressive aromas; rose and bougainvillea in full bloom, seeped Ceylon tea, potpourri, expensive yet undemonstrative perfume. The palate increases in density and viscosity but with both licorice and butterscotch candy. The nuts are darker and more exotic, the fruits too. There is also a citrus-spiked demi-glace flavour. There is a far-east pungency to both its smell and taste. The 40 is a much more serious wine, brooding even and encumbered by tropical humidity. That and the intensity of its confection are what makes its style so markedly different and perhaps even contentious, when contrasted to the 30. That said, if you compare it to the price of say, an 18 year-old Single Malt Scotch, it represents screaming value. Though the window to drink may only be four to six weeks after opening, the not yet cracked Taylor 40 can be stored for another half decade, at the least.
Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1964, Douro, Portugal (Agent, $299.95, WineAlign)
This program is new to the Taylor agenda, the releasing of single-cask, single-vineyard, single-vintage Tawny Ports that have aged for 50 years. Taylor sourced a number of casks for the catalog, including this 1964 and more will follow. The choice was made to not call it a Colheita, though technically that is really what it is. It shines in the deep hue of recently lacquered mahogany with a brickish outer layer. Both hue and texture are like treacle, with the aromas barbed by clove, white pepper and orange peel. The aromas fly out as if pulled by a vacuum. It is virtually impossible to assess all of its incense in just a few short minutes. There is caramel and a recently extinguished cask fire. Though the palate indicates sweetness, the intensity is more refined than the decades-designated Tawny Ports yet also lengthened, in part because the acidity is 33 per cent lower. The overall effect is a low and slow, micro-oxygenated coming out party. Your nose can rest six inches above the glass and the perfume will leap to it. This is a piece of Porto history that stands and rears on its hind legs, a musky, Rum-raisin flavoured bear of a wine. Injecting single-harvest, single-vintage Ports into the marketplace is key, the only disadvantage being the price. That’s because at $300, the value is so extraordinary that gift giving might totally ignore the 30 and 40 year-olds. It’s a good thing they and this 1964 will live in perpetuum.
Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Porto 1863, Douro, Portugal (Agent, $3,995.00, WineAlign)
The two casks of 1863 reached the Taylor family in pristine condition, from one of the last great pre-Phylloxera vintages of the 20th century. This wine came from the cool and damp Port lodges of Oporto, “the cathedrals of wine.” This was a once in a lifetime chance to taste a piece of history, a most natural and organic fluid encased for 151 years in its integument of time. The year 1863 was significant in many respects, including being the birth year of Henry Ford and Franz Ferdinand. This is Port that creates the future and yet dwells on the past. The hue is both progressive and fathomless in subterranean fantasy. Its many shades of warm, advancing colours resemble the faux brown rings of Mars. The aromas are built around toffee and with accents of many mints; spearmint, chocolate and pepper. You can smell the 1863 from rooms and world’s away. It conjures up many songs. “When you’re half way from a dream, is it hard to work out what is real?” That is its love illumination. It has the strange advance “of killing time and dreams.” The flavours are extreme and exotic, with South-Asian spices highlighting its deep, late night humidity. The finish is endless. Is this brilliance or a stroke of incredible luck? It is certainly pristine and wondrous. It has to be considered a perfect wine, for its niche and genre, by its makers, David Guimaraens and Adrian Bridge. Having let the days of 151 years go by, this is not a wine to compare with others, it is not the same as it ever was. In the end, “you may ask yourself, well…how did I get here?” Thanks to Stephen Marentette of Sylvestre Wines and Spirits. @Smarent