This weekend’s Vintages release is full of very good wines, California icons (the theme for this release), rustic reds from Southwest France and a surprising number of exceptional wines from France, Australia, Italy and Ontario.
That’s the good news. The bad news is the price of many of the best wines on offer place them outside the value range I look for when I make my recommendations. Nonetheless, there are still some fine values at prices higher than you normally see in this broadsheet.
The Icons feature from California is a fine demonstration of the strength of the California wine brand and the effective and sustained marketing effort by the California Wine Institute and its local partners in places like Ontario. We will see more from California in Vintages next month when the annual California Wine Fair tour will conduct a series of tastings in Toronto and seven other cities across Canada.
Two wines from California make this week’s list, including one from the Icons feature.
Ontario, Niagara – VQA Niagara Escarpment Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012
This wine is made from grapes grown on old vines planted in 1979 by Hermann Weis, one of the pioneers in Ontario grape growing lore. Here we have another example of the potential of Ontario: grow the right grape varieties in the right places, handle them carefully in the winery and we can make wines that stand up to the best anywhere. This is a bright and crisp beauty with lime fruit, flinty minerals and a long finish. The body is light as is the alcohol (9%). The sugar level is medium (24 g/L) but is well-balance by the taut acidity. This is a wine to stock up on for summer patio sipping and dining.
Medium, white wine – $19.95 per bottle
France, Bordeaux– AOC Médoc Barton & Guestier Les Charmes de Magnol 2010
This is a delightful surprise: a Bordeaux from the Left Bank, with some age under its cork, which shows some structure and character, selling for less than $20. Most wines from Bordeaux in this price bracket are green, thin and uninspired. Here you will find surprisingly intense black fruit, wet earth, spice, modest oak and a slight minerality along with a supple texture, bright acid and medium, flaky tannins. Very fine!
Extra dry, red wine – $18.95 per bottle
France, Midi – AOC Blanquette de Limoux Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut NV
There is a story – perpetrated by makers in appellation – that Blanquette de Limoux predates Champagne as the first sparkling wine to be made using the traditional method. Tom Stevenson, arguably the leading global expert on all matters sparkling, challenges this thesis and explains that a quality wine was made by makers in the area in the early 17th century and this higher quality status has morphed into the story about sparkling Limoux. Regardless, the wines of Limoux have a relatively lowly status in the sparkling world largely because they spend a limited time in bottle after fermentation is complete and they sell at prices that are a fraction of those fetched by Champagne. Since the wines spend a short time in bottle they tend not to have the biscuit aromas we expect with Champagne but, on the other hand, these wines are distinctly more complex and interesting when compared with sparkling wines such as Prosecco and Sekt made by the tank method– that is, wines that sell at comparable prices to Limoux. This Limoux is bright, crisp and fresh and has enough lees character to add complexity to complement the green apple and citrus flavours. Great value, especially if you want an aperitif that will surprise and please your guests.
Extra dry, sparkling wine – $18.95 per bottle
California, Napa Valley – Clos Pegase Mitsuko’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2012
It is almost 10 years since we last saw this wine offered by Vintages. In the meantime the price has dropped significantly to below $30 per bottle! This wine is made from fruit grown in the Los Carneros zone of Napa Valley in vineyards which are situated close to the cool waters and fog of San Pablo Bay. This is a classic Napa Chardonnay, meaning you will find a creamy texture, full body, concentrated fruit and notable oak. Don’t be deterred by this description: this is a refined wine which needs time in bottle for the oak to recede. There is ample fruit and acid to last for several years while this wine evolves in the bottle. Mistuko’s Vineyard is one of my favourite Chardonnays – let it age and you will be rewarded with a wonderfully balanced wine of character.
Extra dry, white wine – $29.95 per bottle
California, Sonoma County – Ridge Three Valleys 2012
Ridge is one of the leading winegrowing operations in California, if not the New World, known for some of its most iconic wines made from fruit grown at high altitude in the Santa Cruz mountains on the west wall of Silicon Valley, south of San Francisco. Ridge Monte Bello vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon blend is one of the great reds of the realm and is one of the California wines that stunned the world when it out-performed the famous French Great Growth wines in 1976 at The Judgement of Paris blind tasting. Three Valleys is made from fruit sourced in Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley, all in Sonoma County. This is a blend dominated by old-vine Zinfandel with some Petite Sirah and Carignan. It is an assertive wine with black fruit, violets, supple texture, big tannins, herbs and spices and a long finish. It is well-made and has the bones to age for many years. Buy a couple of bottles and put them away in a cool, dark place until 2020.
Extra dry, red wine – $35.95 per bottle (California Icons feature wine)
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