LCBO Vintages release – August 30, 2014 (WVN 199)

This long holiday weekend has another Vintages release – in fact, I think there has been a release on each long weekend this summer since the Victoria Holiday weekend in May.
There are three features: 90+ wines, wines from the US pacific North-west and sparkling wines released in anticipation of a run on the category when the Toronto International Film Festival starts in a few days.

The 90+ feature is the main headline with 31 wines from almost every major region in the world represented. The scores have been awarded by a wide cross-section of critics so you can be assured that the 90+ moniker in this collection means many things when confronted in the glass.

As I have ranted in the past on these pages, an absolute score assigns precision to something that means very little without being aware of the palate preferences and personal biases of the writer. This criticism applies to all assessors, this writer included: witness the bias I consistently show in favour of Old World wines, as an example.

There is another issues related to scoring and that is the score inflation that has evolved over the years since Robert Parker made scoring wines on the 100-point scale the standard in the early 1980’s. First, the scale starts at 50, so a wine begins at that level simply by attending the tasting. Why don’t the scores start at 0 on a 50-point scale?

Secondly there are a number of gimme points awarded for appearance, aroma and palate that almost every wine of even the modest quality will attain. This raises the base score to somewhere in the low-70’s. Why don’t the scores start at 0 on a 28-point scale?

The current practice among major wine publications seems to score wines within an even narrower range that the above-noted 28 points. If you read a cross-section of the leading wine magazines and websites, score typically fall somewhere between a low of 82 and a high of somewhere in the mid-90”s. This reflects a general high-quality level of most wines available today. These scores also reflect an aversion to negatively scoring wines submitted for tasting by advertising clients of the magazines and websites.

All of these developments argue for some skepticism when it comes to scores and high scores more specifically. One important and emerging response to the score-related issues is adoption of a practice that is widely-used at competitions where panels of judges assess wines. This practice is to evaluate wines as a group where either a consensus is reached or where the specific scores assigned by each judge are reported. The practice ensures the reader has some better understanding of the quality of the wine in question.

In the meantime buyer beware; know the preferences and biases of you critic and follow those writers who have demonstrated their recommendations fit with your palate.

Now back to this release. There are a number of fine values in the main feature and two are on my short list this weekend.

British Columbia, Okanagan Valley – VQA Okanagan Valley Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2012

Blue Mountain has earned a well-deserved reputation for its sparkling wines and her we have an excellent still wine that will enhance the B-M reputation for quality. The character of this wine is developing well with a well-integrated structure of brown apple, pear, lemon and spice along with crisp acid, stony minerals and light tones of smoke and vanilla. The balance and classy character of this wine is outstanding.

Extra dry, white wine – $23.95 per bottle (90+ Feature wine)

Ontario, Niagara– VQA Niagara Peninsula Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2012

Over the past couple of years I have developed a habit of seeking out any Cabernet Franc I find from the Niagara region. Why? Simply to test my personal theory that this is indeed the champion black grape for the growing conditions of the region. I have rarely been let down: the aromatic, juicy, green and dusty tannins and berry fruit that are the markers of the grape are consistently delivered by almost every local producer. We can quibble about styles between winemakers but the characteristic aroma and flavour profile that comes from the best Cabernet Franc reds of the Loire valley shine in the C-F wines of Niagara – great news! This wine is solid with some heft on the body and concentrated berry fruit, tart acid, firm tannins, some smoke and herbal notes. The finish is long. Very fine!

Dry, red wine – $21.95 per bottle

Australia, Victoria – Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2012

Yarra Valley is a cool winegrowing region located less than an hour driving-time north-east of Melbourne. It is a hilly area with a cool and wet climate (see the photo on the mast-head at the top of this page; this was shot in late April from the steps of the cellar door at Coldstream Hills, the property developed by James Halliday). Pinot Noir has emerged as a highly–successful crop in this region and innocent Bystander is one of the many high-quality, small-footprint producers in the area. This is a delightful wine with a light body, expressive raspberry, red cherry, cranberry fruit, light tannins, crisp acid and spice on the mid-palate. This is a very good wine for the price and represents the kind of wine I hope we see more of as the profile of Australian wine exports evolves.

Extra dry, red wine – $21.95 per bottle

France, Southern Rhône– AOC Vacqueyras Domaine des Amouriers Signature 2011

This is a balanced wine which shows elegance and evenness despite alcohol which weighs in at 14.5% by volume. The nose and palate are appealing with berry and savoury notes, some modest wet earth, black olive and spice. The tannins are soft, the acid crisp and texture harmonious and supple. The finish is very long. For lovers of wines from the southern Rhône this wine is a must-have.

Extra dry, red wine – $24.95 per bottle (90+ feature wine)

France, Southwest – AOC Jurançon Sec Domaine Cauhapé Chant des Vignes 2013

Jurançon is a distinctive white wine made from a number of white varieties and depending on the variety can range in style from sweet to dry. This version is made with a blend dominated by the Gros Manseng grape which provides a tangy, green character to the blend. It is herbaceous, with generous, bright acid, plenty of intense citrus, stone fruit and tree fruit and a texture that is round and ripe. The finish is long. This is a wine to try at a very fine price.

Dry, white wine – $16.95 per bottle

à bientôt…
Copyright © W. John Switzer 2003 – 2014