Australasian tasting with Escarpment and Torbreck Vintners

Some of the worlds oldest vines continue to thrive in South Australia’s Barossa Valley and 3,600 kms away in Martinborough, New Zealand there are some vines upwards of 35 years of age now entering into their experiential phase. First there is the 1994 founded Torbreck Vintners, one of the Barossa’s upper echelon producers of bonzer shiraz, Rhône-inspired red blends, sémillon and a grenache to rival any in this world. Second along comes Escarpment Wines, a recent addition to the Torbreck portfolio created by the Marchesi of Martinborough himself, that being Larry McKenna back in 1999. The winery was originally established as a partnership between McKenna, his wife Sue, along with Robert and Mem Kirby, at a vineyard planted on the Te Muna river terraces, a few kilometres east of Martinborough town. McKenna had been in Martinborough since 1984, involved in the vineyards since ’86 and the winery was recently purchased by Torbreck in 2019.

With John Szabo MS and Torbreck’s Andrew Tierney

Back in September Torbreck’s Sales, Export and Marketing Director Andrew Tierney was in Toronto and so John Szabo MS and I sat down with him and his importing agent Craig de Blois of Noble Estates. We paced steadily with concerted haste through five Escarpment and eight Torbreck wines. Some will soon show up in VINTAGES and also by way of Classics catalogue releases from now through the Spring of 2023. Here are my notes on the 13 wines.

Escarpment Chardonnay 2021, Martinborough, New Zealand

Founder Larry McKenna had been in Martinborough since ’84, involved in the vineyards since ’86, started the property in ’99, mainly to chardonnay and pinot noir with a bit of pinot gris. Purchased by Torbreck in 2019. Alluvial-gravel soils and a property (Escarpment) that needed an infusion of commercial advantage. Quite a flinty strike, reminiscent of the Dog Point style in whites but here clearly attributable to the terroir. Low density in the new plantings and low volume output. From the original plantings (or at least those that survived Phylloxera) and a wine that sees no barrique, only puncheons. Intensity of tart and taut behaviour, lees-textured though nothing creamy caused by stirring. Gets to the top of the sides of the palate, lingers for a cocktail or two and slowly drifts away. Unique set of chardonnay circumstances right here. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted September 2022

Escarpment “Noir” Martinborough Pinot Noir 2020, Martinborough, New Zealand

Considered an “entry-level” pinot noir, poured first and leading into a few “Premier and Grand Cru” iterations. Consider this more of a mini or multi-Villages style or plan, done in stainless steel and old barrels. A combination of vineyard across Martinborough of fruit de-classified away from the Villages and Cru wines. Shows off that darker and mineral-stony intensity of varietal fruit and therefore quite typical for the greater sense of place. As floral as expected or better yet wanting it to be, strength of aromatic sense and then herbal though savoury so, like fennel and drying roses. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted September 2022

Escarpment Pinot Noir 2019, Martinborough, New Zealand

The next Escarpment steppe is a “Villages” level pinot noir, composed of 60-70 per cent estate fruit plus other Martinborough “Villages” sourced fruit. The next level concentration but more so the complex notions of fungi and Piedmontese-esque tar and roses take this to another level entirely. You need to take time here, allow the aromatics to rise and hover, pause again and then consider the range of flavour escaping with emotion. The encapsulation of Martinborough falls into and emerges from this Villages and my how it strikes a chord. Drink 2023-2025.  Tasted September 2022

Escarpment Pinot Noir Kiwa 2020, Martinborough, New Zealand

From the oldest (1.8 hectare) block with a higher level of alluvial-gravel, a township vineyard close to Ata Rangi, dating back to 1994. Expect high mineral and tannin though that is not necessarily what will come from sister bottling Kupe. Taking concentration, sensation and fascination to another level yet again, aromatic sure but harder to get and fully comprehend. Yet you know and intuit another dimension and scope of varietal fortitude, due to soil and place, someway, somehow. This is whole and a wine of breadth, clustered by 30-40 per cent intact berries and thereby a true gifting of the veritable pinot noir. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted September 2022

Escarpment Pinot Noir Kupe 2020, Martinborough, New Zealand

One hundred per cent Abel clone smothered and then smuggled from “somewhere” in France, here from a block that suggests 60-70 whole cluster fermentation and the winemaking team abides. There is a pickling effect, a reductive reticence and a demand in taut intensity by way of tension that would not want to open up any time soon. Showing some nightshade leafiness though subtly so and surely a component that will dissipate with time. A beast? Perhaps the term of endearment could be used but it should be considered more in terms of weaponry, medieval to a degree but a warrior’s accoutrement accruements for sure. Return before the next moment of strife to check in and see where Kupe is at. Drink 2025-2033.  Tasted September 2022

Ladies and gentlemen, Craig de Blois

Torbreck Woodcutter’s Sémillon 2022, Barossa Valley, South Australia

From plantings of 1984 and 1998 and yes indeed the first 2022 wine tasted (for now). Just over a third is aged in wood and the vintage was as non dramatic as it gets, “a good year,” tells Andrew Tierney, “no drought, no wildfires, no bad winds.” Bit more downy texture and fulsome mouthfeel than many which will surely equip this sémillon with the kind of stature to age into something elastic and forever. This will surely include buttered brioche and lemon curd, eventually. Just imagine how upper echelon, world class this wine could be were it’s vineyards farmed and crafting approached with religious reverence. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck Cuvée Juveniles 2021, Barossa Valley, South Australia

The first vintage that contains fruit from the recent carignan and cunoise plantings (2017) to go along with the syrah, grenache and mourvèdre. The “Côtes de Barossa” of Torbreck’s Rhône portfolio with such an added savoury element now that the C’s are involved and balancing out with the S, G and M. Gone are the days of confectionary pleasantries (a relative thing to say) and welcome to equanimity but better still Barossa Valley range. The new umami and depth descended than before. a great direction to be sure. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck The Steading 2020, Barossa Valley, South Australia

Here Torbreck’s world enters what can be considered and even referred to as “Châteauneuf de Barossa,” a place where a multitude of Rhône grapes gather for the full and complimentary layered effect. A true G-S-M, first made in 1996 and by many accounts the signature red wine of the company. Rich and structured, built for aging. Ages in large foudres and while it will almost certainly retract in a year or so, for now the open juiciness and up front beauty is there for the preview. Just wait until the 2017 plantings of carignan and counoise mature and join this mix. The future will be exciting indeed. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck Grenache Hillside Vineyard 2019, Barossa Valley, South Australia

Planted in 1949, all dry-farmed bush vine grenache on an estate property at 180m of elevation. The fruit used to go into The Steading but now finds its way into one large foudre for this lithe, elegant and copacetic example of pure grenache. Hard to find a Barossa Charter for Old Vines example any more impressive as a provider than this, a parent, grandparent and great-grandparent set of vines gifting a current vintage with all the acumen, experience and nurturing that is seemingly impossible but so very wanted. Started in 2017 with the elimination of small casks because grenache absorbs and then oxidizes, better best done up in foudres for the right result. Here the grenache swirls, inclusive of raspberry, then variegates (with far eastern Illicium Verum spices) and expands aromatically, in complex flavours and truth be told, über concentrated freshness. Gorgeous and honest wine. Drink 2024-2034.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck The Struie 2020, Barossa Valley, South Australia

Label does not say it (it’s a Torbreck thing) but this is solo shiraz, from “intermediate” vineyards in the 70-80 year range, 75 per cent from the Valley and the rest outside. Sure there is a feeling gained that’s expressly shiraz from Barossa but what’s more and truly important is this silken seamlessness, the glycerol and mint coulis that grabs the palate’s full attention. To grow at this quality level the yields have to be devilishly low, not an easy task when you’re working with 30 contract growers. Sustainably farmed and regionally framed in a shiraz of fruit, meat and sweet herbs, nothing tarry, charred or rustic about it. Smooth as it gets. Truth. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck Shiraz The Factor 2019, Barossa Valley, South Australia

The essential difference between Struie and Factor is complicated but the limiting is to four vineyards (90 to 125 years of age, in stone, sand, clay and red Barossa loam) and 40 per cent in French oak. The viscosity is again palpable but now so bloody accentuated, elongated, elasticized and multiplied in the Factor. Thus the name? Not exactly (or likely) but this is indeed a matter of place(s) and purpose. No deception in this depth, nor in the execution neither. Need to find more word hyperboles for glycerol and mouthfeel so bare with me for a moment.. Let’s call Factor a shiraz “triol bond multiplied by hydroxyl bomb” with the result being a diatomic molecule simply called “Radical.” Drink 2026-2037.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck RunRig 2019, Barossa Valley, South Australia

Six vineyards go into RunRig, 90-170 years of age, four estate and two by growers, from Lindoc to Ebeneezer. There is a tiny percentage of viognier added at bottling and the wines that are not chosen will end up in the Struie and The Factor. A drought year and there seems no real need to compare with those wines. The level of fortitude, intensity, trenchant purpose and just plain gumption is off the charts, shiraz or not, with a “willingness to get things done and just let this wine do the talking.” Not the solo black fruit that the others show but a full hematoma of hue and drupe, blues and reds in the scheme. Full varietal aperture, slow shutter speed and clarity like no other. Vintage snapshot captured that will live in infamy. Drink 2024-2039.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck RunRig 2016, Barossa Valley, South Australia

Six vineyards go into RunRig, 90-170 years of age, four estate and two by growers, from Lindoc to Ebeneezer. There is a tiny percentage of viognier added at bottling and the wines that are not chosen will end up in the Struie and The Factor. Surely age has begun to make a minor difference but more than anything it is a vintage that sets the record straight. RunRig was one thing and like all great wines has to change so here the set is that of a twain. And so 2016 marks the turn from one era towards another and establishes a revised launch point to accrue the new benchmark. Shiraz yes but a wine of certitude and confidence to transcend varietal definitions and celebrate some of the oldest plots in the land. Sure the texture is silky smooth but the “it factor” concerns these layers to peel away and the depths of (opposite of despair) that put this wine where it wants to be. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted September 2022

Good to go!

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The best wine releases of 2012

PHOTO: STEFANO TIRABOSCHI/FOTOLIA.COM

Wine is best celebrated with family and friends and the holidays present so many opportunities to share a glass. Pulling corks (or twisting caps) substantiates purchasing choices made in previous years. Last year I noted on, “a quick reflect back on a year of plasmic vials once voluminous, now in condign as a commitment to memory. ”

The current season’s pours have the palaver or promise and the eviglio of accumulation to thank for the opportunity. The VINTAGES releases of 2012 perpetuate this promulgated philosophy. The year’s buys have migrated to the cellar, to wait there in abstemious behaviour of maturation. They too will one day climb the steps to a welcoming table, set with family and friends.

Here are my favourite under and over $30 wines of 2012.

Under $30 VINTAGES released wines

Under $30 VINTAGES Releases

1. The grapes: Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah

Where: Côtes du Rhône, France

Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuveé Maximilien Cairanne 2010 (286336, $21.95) is extraordinary for the appellation. Pitch purple, world-class milk and dark chocolate swirl, creamy silk. The stuff of recent phenomenon, where rocks, dreams and raspberries are crushed and scattered like cake bits over the loam.   91

2. The grapes: Garnacha, Carinena and Syrah

Where: Montsant, Spain

Celler Besllum Besllum 2008 (283515, $15.95) of Cubist Picassan, “cut up, Maria,” heavenly body struts its stuff as an enchantress with an alluring Spanish, violaceous visage. A black cherry, carboniferous quartzite Popsicle for Mr. Jones.  “We all want something beautiful.”  90

3. The grape: Petite Sirah

Where: Alexander Valley, California

Trentadue La Storia Petite Sirah 2010 (291047, $23.95) is massively concentrated out of the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County, as if it were packed with five centuries of the Italian American experience. Manages 14.9% alcohol with George Bailey-esque, heady grace. Tasted blind I commented, “if this is under $30 it’s an outrageous deal.” “Well whaddya know about that!!!. “ 92

4. The grape: Riesling

Where: Clare Valley, Australia

Pewsey Vale Riesling 2011 (686600, $19.95) shimmers an iridescent emerald-green on gold patina. Cracks like a whip straight in your face with lemon, lime and slate than lowers a sledgehammer of petrified wood. Snake-like Sasak fruit tang and acidity “goes dancin’ in,”  “builds that power” and lingers long after its skin has been shed.  91

5. The Grape: Sangiovese

Where: Tuscany, Italy

Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2008 (285510, $28.95) is a wow wine. Viscous, sweet nectar, full on concentrated berries and polished rocks au jus. An opus dei call to vinous holiness and sanctity. Rapturous feeling of punch drunk love falls over me after sipping this noble Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile).  92

6. The grape: Chenin Blanc

Where: Loire Valley, France

Marc Brédif Vouvray 2010 (685362, $19.95) perches high atop a parched, molecular hilltop. Bread starter nip promises stuffed pastry filled with friable, early harvest apples. Wonderful, classic and dehumidified Vouvray.  91

7. The grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot

Where: Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Lulu Island Meritage (277566, $23.95) just sounds like an Aussie moniker when in fact it hails from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Maybe the most lustrous B.C. red I have ever laid eyes on. Hard not to forbear a crush on its purple profile, hued like a $100, Single-Vineyard Argentinean Malbec. A bit reductive due to its infantile youth but this is appurtenant to the samphire, currants and peppery Merlot scents. Less weight buoys the palate. Bites back in the end. Follows varietal rules of proportion vis-a-vis the dry martini. Massive CVR** complexity from this massif assemblage.  91

8. The Grape: Cabernet Franc

Where: Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Hinterbrook Rosé 2011 (275818, $16.00) is simply brilliant. Top Ontario Rosé to date. Goes well beyond descriptors like “playful” and “quaffable.” A four-day Cabernet Franc cold soak was the ticket to serious pink success, the choice of grape an engineering master stroke. Hinterbrook’s dark side of the moon. Moody, ambient, rich in tone, lyric and extended play. Rosé needs some mystery and here it is.  ”There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact it’s all dark.”  91

9. The Grape: Riesling

Where: Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany

Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2009 (0197186, $21.95) races out of the nuss pit with peerless Bergweiler CVR** Spätlese speed. The late harvest drupe is so focused you would never know how sweet the middle ground really is. Never struggling against circumstance, it slides effortlessly into Spätlese orbit. Searching and finding the German Riesling dream. Sonnenuhr vineyard is here and “the time is right, for racing in the street.”  91

10. The Grape: Chardonnay

Where: Casablanca Valley, Chile

Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2010 (738393, $17.95) will be your best IVR* bet for Chardonnay day on May 26. Wild yeasts make cause for a weird resemblance, reminiscent of February’s Furmint. Delicate, expressive and unusual, the mint flint, brioche and smoked pineapple effect leads to thoughts of Blancs de Blancs. A little malo just might turn this into good bubbly!  89

Over $30 VINTAGES released wines

Over $30 VINTAGES Releases

1. The grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault

Where: Southern Rhône, France

Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (700922, $53.95, SAQ 10817461, $50.50) will dare you to claim any better value from the storied appellation. “Da price boss, da price!” Like I’ve landed on Fantasy Island where Châteauneuf is flowing and it’s always affordable! Kirsch galore, a Rhône cat, sensuous and gorgeous. Goldfinger garrigue, with herbs and acidity so alive and purring. Approachable now, the heavenly structure will see the Donjon through 2025.  94

2. The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

Where: Napa Valley, California

Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (193763, $99.95) is a flat out brilliant composition by the voice of one who once “traded love for glory.” This Cab reverts back to its singer-songwriter, Napa Valley pioneering form. The ’08 is a crooning balladeer intent to hold out its best in a graceful lucubration of layered, dark fruit, restrained restlessness and a vision of long life. Put the Dunn away and look to be rewarded 15+ years on with as good a California Cabernet as you will ever taste.  96

3. The Grape: Syrah

Where: Northern Rhône, France

Delas Frères Francois De Tournon Saint-Joseph 2009 (17525, $33.00) is both militaristic and the stuff of gushing Renaissance literature. Serious Syrah and foxy, Faerie Queene.  Cardinal colour, striking and dreamy. Augustinian diplomat meets allegorical fantasy. Crushed berries, truffles caked by earth, sol de la foret. Built of elegance and power, “such endlesse richesse, and so sumptuous shew.”  92

4. The Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot

Where: Napa Valley, California

Dominus 2008 (212381, $145.95) solicits riposte for parry, to buy or not to buy. The omnipotently voluptuous one resides in a tramontane locale, beyond reach and also the pale. A shocking parade of profound, hyper-purple personality. Even if it suffers “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune“, a lucky man this Dominus, “all dressed in satin,” “nor woman neither.” Colour field shockingly crimson and amarinthine, textured with rich and layered brush stroke, as if Red on Maroon. A Lama, “the flowing robes, the grace, bald…striking.” To me this ’08 leans more Ornellaia than Pétrus.  97

5. The grapes: Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Carignan

Ridge Lytton Springs 2009 (982413, $46.95) will live in infamy like the ’92 and ’99. Immediate waft of freshly shucked vanilla bean. Ambrosial, earthy, briary fruit. Precise distillation inclusive of 23% Petite Sirah results in an impossibly lambent cordial. Not to mention you gotta love that Draper perfume. Open the magazine in 10-15 years time for the best read.  93

6. The grape: Nebbiolo

Where: Piedmont, Italy

Gemma Giblin Riserva Barolo 2005 (185025, $36.95) has begun to brick at the edges. Mouth rosewatering acidity binged by sour cherry and shellac. Wisp of Monte Cristo and withered rose only Barolo can smell of.  This Gemma is beautiful like a turning season, like something you know won’t last. For now and no more than two to three more years.  92

7. The grapes: Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Counoise

Where: Southern Rhône, France

Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (711317, $89.95) enters no confected, over-extracted or OTT danger zones. The most floral Beaucastel, a doffing of Stoechas Avignon and the omnipresent Rhône garrigue. Persimmon and lavender share time imparting the wine with fumes from les galets roulés of the argilo-calcaireous vineyard beds. Basic hedonism here from such an extraordinary, complex and balanced blend.  95

8. The grapes: Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon

Where: Bordeaux, France

Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2008 (581033, $59.00) is possessive of febrile gooseberry imagination. Blows sweet peach and apricot in and out of the glass in alberge de tours waves. “Hungry like the wolf” and his lycopersicon esculentum. A white PL for the ages.  92

9. The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot

Where: Tuscany, Italy

Ornellaia 2009 (722470, $189.95) is more approachable than the unparalleled 1998. A silky smooth and velvety texture puts super-ripe fruit at the forefront. While that ’98 rocked my world, this vintage offers immediate gratification, less dominating hard lines and edges. The balance is impeccable but the acidity is tempered, like the finest chocolate. The window is open now, though it may soon close, to drink beautifully for the next five years.  94

10. The Grapes: Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara e Altri Vitigni

Where: Veneto, Italy

Remo Farina Le Pezze Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2008 (171587, $33.95) underwhelms as a no kicker. Needs no Euro hype nor boozy heft to make itself understood. Modish mocha java speaks fluent huttish, communicating by lingua franca vernacular to the initiated. “Goopta mo bossa!“  92

Good to go!

It’s Black Friday but wine gifts come at a price

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

Photograph by volff, Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

It’s an American thing. Black Friday shopping deals will attract major crowds south of the border but in Canada, not so much. Studies show that only one in 10 Canadians will get off the couch and leave their basements for this day of discount shopping. The reverse will apply to Boxing Day.

Related – More from the VINTAGES November 24th, 2012 Release

Ontarians are just as likely to hit their local LCBO in search of wine gems for the coming holiday season. The current VINTAGES release is front loaded with lavish, iconic, red and “black” wines. The spotlight is on the big boys, especially Cabernet Sauvignon nearing and often breaching the centurial dollar mark. Behold eight more wine gems for your gift list.

The grapes: Corvina e Corvinone, Rondinella and Barbera

The history: From north-east of Verona, on the hill that separates Montorio from Valle d’Illasi

The lowdown: More substantial, almost unwieldy than most other Valpolicella in the price range

The food match: Coffee Brined Chicken

Musella Vigne Nuove Valpolicella Superiore 2009 (205757, $15.95) races forward pell-mell, spewing tar, ash and black tea exhaust. The fruit component is dark, black plum seeping in its own reductive juices. Chewy, persistent and gathering speed. Top quality normale Valpo.  89

The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Amounts to 88% Cab primarily sourced from vineyards located in the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Sonoma Valleys

The lowdown: Pseudo-supermarket brand gets it right in ’09. $20 Cab south of the 49th

The food match: Smoked Chorizo Sausage, brisket quinoa fritters

Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (990440, $22.95) is a solid deal, nothing overly serious, just the sum of all it should be from California and parts thereof. Currants, berries, mint, Cassis, roast beef and oak-driven milk chocolate fill this bottle. Packs enough stuffing for smoking.  88

The grape: Shiraz

The history: Oz outfit from the Great Dividing Range in the Grampians region of Victoria

The lowdown: Winemaker Dan Buckle fashions “cool climate” Shiraz from eastern granite slopes of Mount Langi Ghiran

The food match: Roast Duck, potato, orange, fennel, watercress salad

Mount Langi Cliff Edge Shiraz 2006 (287235, $28.95) rips off a ringing riff that teeters but never quite goes over the edge. Perhaps it still has not found what it’s looking for but it’s got Victoria’s ’06 funk. Spicy wood gets right into your nose then coffee, sodium, charcoal game and black currant all add notes. A very good price for a complex wine.  91

The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: A legendary bottling returns to top form after a decade long falling out

The lowdown: Hyperbole like “epic,” “classic” and “best ever” surround this Napa Valley Cab

The food match: English Cut Braised Short Ribs, red wine reduction, red pearl onions

Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (193763, $99.95) is a flat out brilliant composition by the voice of one who once “traded love for glory.” This Cab reverts back to its singer-songwriter, Napa Valley pioneering form. The ’08 is a crooning balladeer intent to hold out its best in a graceful lucubration of layered, dark fruit, restrained restlessness and a vision of long life. Put the Dunn away and look to be rewarded 15+ years on with as good a California Cabernet as you will ever taste.  96

The grapes: Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Counoise

The history: The house that Jacques Perrin built is the most famous in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

The lowdown: Can’t say I’ve ever been this blown away by such a young Beaucastel

The food match: Braised Veal Brisket, smashed parisienne potato, brussels sprouts, truffle oil

Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (711317, $89.95) enters no confected, over-extracted or OTT danger zones. The most floral Beaucastel, a doffing of Stoechas Avignon and the omnipresent Rhône garrigue. Persimmon and lavender share time imparting the wine with fumes from les galets roulés of the argilo-calcaireous vineyard beds. Basic hedonism here from such an extraordinary, complex and balanced blend.  95

The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc

The history: Arguably the most iconic Cab-based Super Tuscan from “the place of many stones”

The lowdown: Down $7 in price from vintages going back to ’05, this ’09 has scored as high as 98 (James Suckling)

The food match: Grilled Bisteca Fiorentine (Tuscan-style Porterhouse Steak)

Sassicaia 2009 (480533, $179.95) the raven brunette is anything but sappy or syrupy yet is impossibly viscous. Hints at ripe berries growing in the crags of maritime gravel and the most expected hits of sanguine, animal musk. A huge wine in the making, the adolescent hunter Sassicaia off-roads up a steep incline to go tell it on the mountain of tannin. Disappears into parts unknown and will only reappear as a mature adult. Look to 2025 and it may say “the perspective to say the very least, changes only with the journey.”  96

The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot

The history: Tenuta dell’Ornellaia was founded in Bolgheri (1981) and only Massetto, “wink-wink, say no more,” is a more famous Super Tuscan

The food match: Grilled Bisteca Panzanese (Bolgheria-style Porterhouse Steak)

Ornellaia 2009 (722470, $189.95) is more approachable than the unparalleled 1998. A silky smooth and velvety texture puts super-ripe fruit at the forefront. While that ’98 rocked my world, this vintage offers immediate gratification, less dominating hard lines and edges. The balance is impeccable but the acidity is tempered, like the finest chocolate. The window is open now, though it may soon close, to drink beautifully for the next five years.  94

The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: In a class of two (along with Shafer’s Hillside Select) of Napa Cabernet neither garagiste nor Barnett, Harlan Estate or Screaming Eagle

The lowdown: Certainly not an act in search of a circus, the ’08 Insignia demands a star’s salary

The food match: Bison Rib-Eye, king mushroom, juniper and thyme demi-glace

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2008 (710400, $224.95) teases with immediate gratification then turns inward upon itself to hide from a volcano bursting of hot lava. The stoic resistance keeps the Insignia safe from the fiendish, dark mark mountain of UFO tannin. “A real rock and roll molest.” Checking out the wine’s black hue in the raised glass is a sight to behold. The pitch conceals a deep well of pure raspberry distillation, roasted meat, yew and rosemary. The wine’s lines are like architectural strokes of genius, currently too hot to handle.  94

Good to go!

Going Rhône for the dog days of August

With just a shade over two weeks to go before Labour Day, here are seven wines to see you through the last dog days of summer. Who will argue that 2010 is not the Rhône’s vintage of the decade, no matter which way you flip the calendar. Seriously, no trick daddy. Ripeness, rhythm and a profundity of fruit will allow the 2010 Rhônes to age gracefully. “Mo’ punch than your bowl of juice.” Read on for recommendations on five first-rate Rhônes, a local Riesling and the prettiest little Spanish number to “take it to da house.”

as seen on canada.com

The grapes: Garnacha, Carinena and Syrah

The history: Spain’s Montsant region is the pioneer for red blends that coalesce French varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah with indigenous grapes

The lowdown: Purple, sugar, water and complexity. A post-profanity Chris Rock “drink” for grown-ups

The food match: Roast Beef Tenderloin, tempura soft-boiled egg, yukon gold bedaub

Celler Besllum Besllum 2008 (283515, $15.95) of Cubist Picassan, “cut up, Maria,” heavenly body struts its stuff as an enchantress with an alluring Spanish, violaceous visage. A black cherry, carboniferous quartzite Popsicle for Mr. Jones.  “We all want something beautiful.”  90

The grape: Riesling

The history: Calamus is one of only two Niagara wineries in this specific locale and their Rieslings are going to be big someday

The lowdown: Against all odds, more neo-noir Germanic than Niagara is how I would describe Riesling grown on the very young Vinemount Ridge appellation that lies just above and south of the brow of the Niagara Escarpment

The food match: Grilled Portuguese Raballo Fish, good olive oil

Calamus Riesling 2010 (158642, $16.95) is locally grown on shallow east- and south-facing slopes yet acts globally dispatched and advanced. Atypically Niagara, hinting at lemon, lime and citrus but veering more into stone peach territory. Notes of sweet sedge rising from hummocky clay, loam, silt and shale. Late grace of highly perfumed, feathery, non-fermented, tart, residual, grape sweetness, wie Süssreserve?  87

The grapes: Grenache and Syrah

The history: Classic Côtes du Rhône made by Philippe Cambie

The lowdown: This CdR is really focused on texture and mouth feel. Modern and delicious

The food match: Julia Child’s Fricassée de Poulet L’Ancienne

Les Halos de Jupiter Côtes du Rhône 2010 (276956, $17.95) of Cassis and fresh mint has changed only in that the (15%) mouth-meeting Syrah seems to be more vocal in making itself heard. A Monahan monk with good habits.  “Acts like summer and walks like rain.” The Jupiter is consistent with an earlier tasting… no orphan of the storm. It strides in angelic and sweet talking. Just plain smooth, cream filled and easy to drink. This CdR gives up copious Grenache from a velvet glove, ready to perform miracles88

The grapes: Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre

The history: The appellation of Vacqueyras plays understudy to principals Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape

The lowdown: When it’s good, Vacqueyras blows Côtes du Rhône away and when it’s only a few dollars more, it’s grand theft vino

The food match: Garlic and Lavender Studded Pork Butt

Domaine Grandy Vacqueyras 2010 (287532, $18.95) has dogs begging from the sidewalk for its boucherie scents of roti de porc et beouf. The Mourvèdre is not shy, brooding over the softer Grenache and inky Syrah all Rihanna, smokey campfire and monstrous-like. The Grandy “tried to be expressive without bein’ aggressive,” but it wasn’t the first time a Vacqueyras was hard to resist.  89

The grape: Sangiovese

The history: Chianti’s greatest gift has yet to sweep across the globe like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah. This too will change

The lowdown: McLaren Vale (pioneered by Coriole) was its first OZ stop and now Barossa, more specifically Mt. Crawford is making a Sangiovese splash

The food match: Ziti, Holy Trinity Ragù and Reggiano Parmesan

Domain Day One Serious Sangiovese 2007 (683243, $21.95) is, as its proprietor Robin Day notes, “savoury, rustic and elegant.” Brick-red like a Sienese piazza, the Day is a bareback rider astride a Palio race horse, a muscle-dense, graceful snow horse and a tough mudder of a cart horse. Five years old and drinking at peak.   90

The Splurges

The grapes: Grenache Blanc, Roussanne

The history:  Can’t recall a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape sold in these parts other than some of the biggest icons (Beaucastel, Vieux-Telegraphe, Beaurenard)

The lowdown: You get everything you pay for and more. Same price as the (2nd wine) Coudoulet de Beaucastel Blanc for the same dough

The food match: Chicken Tagine and Cous Cous

Brotte Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2010 (74203, $29.95) is a veritable museum of Southern Rhône aromas. Bending piperitious lavender and nettles, mighty haughty for Grenache Blanc and chock full of nuts. Rousanne lifts the herbs and spices with blossoms orange and white. CVR** choice to enjoy now and to age five plus years.  90

The grapes: Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Vaccarèse, Cinsault and Counoise

The history: Grenache (75+%) dominates this kitchen sink Châteauneuf-du-Pape red of the Southern Rhône

The lowdown: Very few iconic CdP producers offer this kind of quality for the price. La Nerthe, Vieux Lazaret and Beaurenard are in the same league

The food match: Braised Veal Shoulder Sandwich, sharp mustard, wild leek pickle

Bosquet Des Papes Cuvée Tradition Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (726687, $42.95) lives on the elegant side of the street. The 2010 CdP’s are simply stunning and while most have the pedal pressed firmly on modern metal, the BdP is grounded and down to earth. Pretty, purple colour, agrarian attitude, pastoral, mistral moulding. Builds to a crescendo of intensity in flavour, indicating 10 years should be granted to unleash the limits of its power.  90

Good to go!