Three-chord wines, hold the rants

Wine on the rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

Part Two: A 30 march of value reds

PHOTO: MONKEY BUSINESS/FOTOLIA.COM

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Today’s date may read April 5th, 2013 but as far as I’m concerned, it’s still March. Winter chill hovers like a suffocating raft over a simmering cauldron of consommé. We are the suds, the weather our nimbus and we can’t wait to rent our effervescent clothes, break free from the mackerel sky and walk into spring.

Related – More March wine reviews

The coming weeks worth of frosty nights and their refusal to hightail on out of here must then be quelled by belly warming, hearty meals shared in kind with big, bold red wines. Here is a 15-strong list available now and in a store near you.

From left: Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2010, Calmel + J Joseph Faugères 2009, Château Gadet Terrefort 2010, Herdade Penedo Gordo Vinho Tinto 2010, and Otazu Premium Cuvée 2007

The French

Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2010 (177584, $13.95) is a remarkable price for a Vin Pays d’Oc acting as a ringer for a Mark Kent (Boekenhoutskloof) Franschhoek meets the Northern Rhône. A dish of roasted pork belly, boar musk, lacquer, black olive and sun-baked earth would work. Good follow-up to the 2009 Septaguanarian of pork perambulations. Impossible balance for a pittance.  87

Château Agnel Cuvée Phillipe Minervois 2009 (309195, $15.95) is no pretender, this disciplined study in equilibrium. Blessed with a freestyle swimmer’s ability to master strokes in one varietal medley. More Grenache than Syrah, more Yannick than Michael. Exercises a learned rusticity, acts “old enough to face the dawn.” An angel of the morning bursting forth in floral scents and reaching out with a graceful length. Languedoc red as microcosmic study in an Olympian, southern French pool.  88  @FrontierWine

Calmel + J Joseph Faugères 2009 (310193, $16.95) conjures up full-on hedonism in roasted mutton, garrigue, black raspberry jus and a shot ‘o java. Full-bodied, mochafied richesse, juicy, easy to consume if  never to be seen again. All for $17.  89  @LanguedocWines

Château Gadet Terrefort 2010 (307231, $20.95) waltzes out in empeltre olive, plum sangria and creamy chocolate. Turns roast meaty in gritty tannin, struts great intensity for Médoc, like a “black-haired flamenco dancer,” de color rojo oscuro, not unlike modern Montsant. “Pass me a bottle, Mr. Jones.”  90  @ProfileWineGrp 

Château Senejac 2009 (193037, $28.85, 11350145, SAQ, $26.85) walks a rustic, oxygenated Bordeaux tightrope threatening to fray but an earth, tar tincture and Mediterranean sense of longevity keeps this Haut-Médoc wound tightly together. Olive, licorice and Sambucan spice infuse in smokey tones.  91

The Portuguese

Herdade Penedo Gordo Vinho Tinto 2010 (218339, $13.95) from Alentejo, Portugal is very modern, full of lush, dusty berry fruit and void of hard lines. Licorice tang, suet roasted meat built on local grapes (Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional, Aragonez and Trincadeira). Refines the nature of its origins.  87  @winesportugalCA

Quinta Do Penedo 2009 (313676, $18.95) of Syrah-like sheen jonesing to purple sets out muted but after a swirl opens to black cherry bubble gum. Alfrocheiro and Touriga Nacional work effortlessly together to fashion a Dão whose “white clouds have turned it black.”  This one can come away with me anytime.  88  

The Spanish

Otazu Premium Cuvée 2007 (313809, $16.95, SAQ 11387298, $18.70) plays an intense, gritty Navarran riff full of earthy expletives. Addictive, salty, marinated olive, black cherry plethoric red that stops you in your tracks. Makes use of Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Reminds me of the Hecula or the Manga del Brujo but is so much edgier, crazed, frantic. Wild stuff.  88  @bodegaotazu

Beronia Gran Reserva 2005 (940965, $32.95) has smoothed its cigar smoked extremities with vanilla cream. The sour cherry tang is a necessary advocate for balance and structure. This classic and classy Riojan is ready and willing to sit at the dinner table along side Chorizo, Jabali and stuffed Piquillos.  89  @WoodmanWines

The Argentines

La Puerta Reserva Bonarda 2009 (67801, $18.95) is a serious, brooding, dark and mysterious gem from  Famatina Valley in the north-west of the Province of La Rioja. Red stone fruit, vanilla bean and an Andean rock face of tannin. Once you go cool-climate, altitudinous Argentinian Bonarda, you may never go back to Malbec.  88  @LaPuertaWines

Versado Malbec 2010 (317008, $24.95) takes on Argentina by way of Southbrook (Ontario) and Sperling Family Vineyards (British Columbia) in the estimable hands of winemaker Ann Sperling. Husband and oeno-guru Peter Gamble joins forces to beeline straight for Luján de Cuyo typicity in deep cherry, pitching to black, solder spice and herbs smoldering in oak.  Cool and minting in its alveolate void. Interesting to say the least.  88  @VersadoWine

Versado Reserva Malbec 2009 (316984, $59.95) seems to travel a Hobbsian path laid out like Cobos cobblestone. At nearly two and a half times the cost of the Versado normale you might expect a revelation and you get one or two, if you allow your senses to drift out-of-body, into a lead crystal, Malbec state of consciousness. Tons of charcoal clouding the infundibular annals of the wine. Emerges as a scherzo in velvety tones, texture and structure.  90  @ArgentinaWineCA

The Californians

Langtry Guenoc Petite Sirah 2011 (19935, $17.95) is a more than commendable example out of the less than glamorous Lake County. At only 13% abv, the Langtry is modest and shy by PS standards, heavenly scented by blueberry, white chocolate and eucalyptus. California PS can be formidable stuff but here “I got a California rainbow to come give them thunder clouds a rest.”  87  @LangtryGuenoc

Highway 12 Highwayman 2010 (319186, $27.95) is a proprietary blend of Cabernet Franc (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) and Merlot (20%) from Sonoman Michael Sebastiani. Present but not overbearing 14.3% alcohol, decadent despite its roots but tempered by good chocolate, olives and herbs. The kind of brambly, inky blend you might swear had some Zinfandel or Syrah in the mix but straight Bordeaux it is. A whack of wine for $28 originally released down south at $42.  90  @highway12winery

The Australian

Dandelion Vineyards Lion’s Tooth of McLaren Vale Shiraz/Riesling 2010 (311233, $19.95) is not a typo or a joke. Riesling does round out this McLaren Vale Shiraz, not Viognier. Only an Aussie would take this risk and help me Rhonda if it doesn’t work. “I can give you lots a reasons why” this works and number one is balance. The dash of white kicks the red into gear – it may be a strange sensation for which there is no prior frame of reference, but boy if it don’t put me on a beach.  88  @mrkcstr

Good to go!