In the past I have opened each TWR Vintages posting with a brief comment on the theme of the current Vintages release. In these remarks I have often made unflattering comments about the theme of the release and how poorly the Vintages team has performed in making its purchase decisions for the release.
I have always felt somewhat uncomfortable when the tone of my remarks is negative and more recently I have developed more unease with this pattern. This unease is not due to a misplaced negativity. No, to the contrary, the Vintages team does a consistently poor job and this pattern has become more notable as the merchandising, marketing and logistics folks at the LCBO put more pressure on the wine and spirits folks to ensure the stuff bought moves off the shelves with great speed.
This translates into purchases of safe products that carry high critic scores, products that have wide consumer recognition, products made with fashionable grape varieties and so on.
This practice leaves out whole segments of the wine-producing world. The wines I speak of are those made by small makers who receive no critic scores, who make wines which reflect the best traditions of local wine-growing practice, who you will never hear of unless you are adventuresome and travel to the places these people live… and so on. These people are found all over the world of wine and they are growing in number as makers seek to make wines that represent the place they come from.
The adventuresome spirit I describe is lacking in current Vintages buying practices – a spirit that was well-represented many years ago when Lloyd Evans led the Vintages buying team. Lloyd filled my cellar when he was in charge (I speak figuratively – I merely bought the little beauties he turned up in each Vintages or Classics catalogues and I still have many of these wine resting quietly in my basement). Evans travelled extensively and found makers who flew under the radar but who made wines of regional character that had never met a critic. These were the days of discovery for many consumers who had grown up in the pre-Vintages era. What a time!
The Vintages releases of today have become quite boring and this is best manifested in the themes. The themes visit the same small handful of regions on an annual cycle and have a marketing feel that is self-promotion at its most blatant. The theme of the release typically has no bearing on anything; other than as a way to make the bi-weekly catalogue take on some fresh character each time it is published. The Vintages catalogues are wonderfully-packaged wine magazines and the theme coverage invariably provides some interesting reading even though it is generally thin and promotional.
Against this backdrop I have decided to stop being negative because it is tiresome for me, and I suspect equally tiresome for readers – the source of my unease.
How will I stop? I simply will make no comment on the release theme in this, or future, postings – that is, unless it is a great release, in which case you will hear about it from me!
Now onto my recommendations for this weekend: no wines from the theme make the list…
New Zealand, Marlborough – Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014
It is rare I commend a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough (MSB): these wines are generally too herbaceous for my palate. This trait renders them limited for food matching and for me wine is at its best when it accompanies food. In the Dog Point we have a much more balanced aroma and flavor package than your typical MSB – more akin to a Sancerre. There is plenty of citrus, green apple and spice, with a firm mineral character. The fruit character is intense and there is a slight reductive aspect which lends complexity. This is a very fine wine which will be a perfect match for grilled shellfish.
Extra dry, white wine – $24.95 per bottle
France, Bordeaux– AOC Graves Château Haut-Selve Réserve 2010
Haut-Selve is a modern operation which dates from 1993 – in fact the owners describe Haut-Selve as the only chateau in the region which dates from the 20th century…! This has become a place to watch for value-priced, high quality wines from an under-appreciated appellation in Bordeaux – Graves. Under-appreciated means one thing when think of Bordeaux: value! This wine is the reserve cuvée from the chateau and is made with grapes from a high-quality, low-yield vineyard. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (53%) and Merlot, this wine has an elegant mouth feel with bright black fruit, crisp acid and smooth tannins. The structure of this wine makes up for any shortfalls in complexity – this is an exceptional value run-don’t walk wine.
Extra dry, red wine – $27.95 per bottle
Germany, Ahr – Qba Mayschoss 140 Jahre Jubiläumswein Trocken Pinot Noir 2013
Red wine grapes now account of over 1/3 of all German vineyard area, reflecting growing local and international interest in the food-friendly, high-acid wines from this cool (but warming) part of the European vineyard. In this context Pinot Noir – or Spätburgunder as it is known locally – is the red grape that is truly prospering in this climate. This is a lean-bodied wine with concentrated fruit flavours of red berry and cherry, mushroom, crisp acids, velvety tannins and a long finish. The structure is solid and will support a few years of cellar development. This is a perfect match for white meats; pork, veal or roast chicken. Try it – you’ll be delighted.
Extra dry, red wine – $21.95 per bottle
South Africa, Wellington – WO Wellington Deimersfontein Pinotage 2013
For many wine lovers Pinotage is the red grape variety we associated with South Africa in the pre-apartheid-embargo era. These wines were typically made and marketed by the huge KWV cooperative under the Paarl label and were generally unpleasant: aromas and flavours of rubber and band-aid come to mind. Fast-forward to the post-1994 South Africa and Pinotage has taken on a new, attractive persona. The grape can make wines that are full-bodied, tannic and assertive and because of its heft Pinotage is often used in blends where its full-frontal character is bridled. This wine is made by a maker who has become known for his “coffee Pinotages”, so-called because of the use of heavy-toast oak barrels which lend a coffee character on the nose and palate. The nose and palate are rich with intense black fruit, spice, savoury notes, and smoke. The finish is long and delightfully acidic. Serve this big wine with roast prime rib or leg of lamb.
Extra dry, red wine – $18.95 per bottle
Spain, Rioja – DOCa Rioja Muriel Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2008
For lovers of the traditional style of Rioja this wine is a must. Oodles of old oak, concentrated red fruit and expressive aromas and flavours of development: forest floor, spice, leather. The structure of this wine is a highlight: firm tannins, crisp acid and a long finish. While the wine is well-advanced there is further development potential which will be realized over the next 3-5 years.
Extra dry, red wine – $21.95 per bottle
à bientôt… and Happy Easter!
Copyright © W. John Switzer 2003 – 2015