Thursday, November 28, 2013

December 7 release - Another year come and gone at Vintages.

The final Vintages release of the year is traditionally the Bubbly release supported by a few big boys for you late Christmas shoppers. As well this release contains offerings for ‘Holiday Gatherings’. It appears the vintages team has tried to cross as many price points and wine styles as possible for this feature. Their strategy results in a somewhat muddled selection of wines with no focus or even trend. Speaking of muddled, if you’re driving anywhere this Christmas do not ask for directions from the Vintages editors. Once again they think Cahors is in the Rhone valley. That’s akin to telling you that Sarnia is just east of Cornwall on the St. Lawrence River.  Cahors should be categorized in the Southwest of France. Also, the wine that is listed under the Southwest is actually from the Languedoc-Rousillon which the LCBO usually categorizes as the Midi.  Perhaps a little early Christmas partying made the proof reading difficult?  

Back to the bubbly, I’m still trying to decide on a few wines to buy but the $$’s to palate ratio means Champagne doesn’t make the grade.  If I go nationalistic I might try to find some Stellers Jay from BC or perhaps a Hinterland from PEC, both from previous releases.  If I go international, there are a couple of new ones in this release that seem worthy - the Perlage Canah Brut Superiore Conegliano 2012 Prosseco (700 cases of 6) or the Juvé y Camps Cinta Purpura Reserva Brut Cava 2009 (300 cases of 12). Each of these is  under $20.

The final release of the year comes in with a VRSS total of 58 points. To arrive at that lofty level (cough) one of the wines was selected just to keep my vertical of it alive. Not an auspicious ending to what has been a pretty mundane year in Vintages.

Best Buys under $30
Beronia Reserva 2008 - $18.95 –1594 cases- Never mind what the review says, this is a modern style of Spanish Rioja, softer, smoother than most, black and blue fruits and maybe a wee bit plum-y and smokey. Can age but ready to drink now. On its own or with food this is much more than a good introduction to Spain.

La Ferme du Mont Cotes Jugunda Gigondas 2010 - $29.95 -299 cases– Just saying Cotes Jugunda Gigondas makes me smile.  A solid, ageable, meaty wine from a smokin' vintage. Look for garrigue, back fruit, perhaps a hint of iodine and licorice notes across the nose and palate.

Perrin Les Christins Vaqueyras 2011 -$23.95 – 249 cases- Annually this is a very solid wine from the Perrin family.

A trio of very solid Aussie Shiraz options:
  • Dandelion Vineyards Lionheart of the Barossa - $19.95 – (896 cases) A tossup between this and the Formula.
  • Small Gully The Formula Shiraz 2009 -$18.95 – (2100 cases) A tossup between this and the Lionheart.
  • Thorn Clarke Shotfire Shiraz 2011 -$21.95 – (503 cases) Trying hard to make it an Aussie ménage a trois but needs to lose a couple of bucks first.
Saltram Mamre Brook 2010 - $26.95 – (approx 800 cases of 6 for each) - Either the cab or the shiraz will provide ample pleasure on a cold winter night paired with a rich braised or roasted meat.

The Big Bucks
Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf du Pape 2011 - $57.95 – 149 cases- Perennially among the better wines of the Southern Rhone, the 2011 vintage slipped a bit. It’ll still command attention but unlike past years I don’t expect you’ll have to arm wrestle anyone for it first thing on Saturday morning.  Masochists should check out KL wines website for this wine. They give you two current reviews and their US price - $39.95. Oooo there's a spank that'll sting!

Domaine  Chante Cigale Chateauneuf du Pape Tradition 2010 - $41.95 –320 cases - The Domaine scored brilliantly in the  excellent  2010 vintage and now benefits from being on the same page as the subsequent  vintage’s slightly less impressive but more expensive  Vieux Donjon. Parker’s review for Chante Cigale is a little over the top but the wine will be excellent now and improve in 5 years.

Fattoria de Barbi Brunello 2007 -$49.95 – 349 cases- When priced around the early to mid $40’s, I considered  this one an early drinking Brunello option. The price has jumped a tad but the early drinking aspect has not changed.

Pietranera Brunello  Centolani 2007-$37.95 –(599 cases)- A really well priced, well scored  Brunello from an absolute corker of a vintage.

Killikanoon Reserve Cabernet Clare Valley  -2012 - $34.95 – Clare Valley Cab from a slightly cooler climate than many  of the  Aussie Cabs that we see, look for big things from this – cassis with an herby backbone.

Last but not least is a gimmick Christmas gift for the wine lover who has everything -  a blending kit from Raymond  winery in California. They offer a DVD, pipettes, graduated cylinders, and 4 bottles of wine,(2 cab sauvs each with a different oak treatment, a cab franc and a merlot), along with an instruction booklet.  That special someone can become a blendmeister for only $294.95! For that price, I’ll stick with selecting my wine ready made!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Vintages November 23rd - Liquid Bling

Next up on the Vintages front is the last release of November. Depending on your level of self control you may want to prepare for your wallet to run screaming from your pants. Or leap screaming from your purse. Or jump screaming from your European man satchel! Because no matter where your wallet is, at this time of year it should be afraid, very, very afraid!
As Vintages penultimate release each year this one has traditionally presented an expansive, expensive array of vinous options. The release contains some really big guns that are destined for the cellar but contains only a very few that are bargain basement priced. “But, are there any wines under $30?” you ask.  Yes.  “Are there many wines under $30 worth considering? “ A few.  “What about wines under that $50 price ceiling of yours?” Again, a few.  Certainly this release is top heavy with garnet beauties priced at or well over the $50 mark.  New entries have been added to the big dollar category this year so if you are looking for something really special, you might find it. It will however be up to you to do your own due diligence for those wines.
A special note for older wine fans, er make that fans of older wines.  I have suggested three from this release that are between 9 and 19 (yes nineteen) years old. Presumably their provenance has been  impeccable.
The VRSS scores 66-70 points. If I was a lottery winner, it would be much higher.
My Picks (Under $30)
Grant Burge The Holy Trinity - $29.95 – 499 cases - Since Rosemount’s GSM went to the cheap to ship  bottle and subsequently disappeared from our market, this has become my favourite Aussie GSM.  At just under $30 you can consider it either a shorter lived Chateauneuf or the equal of a very good Gigondas. It’s a superior wine when served with roasted meats or fowl but do not expect an Australian blockbuster.
Di Majo Norante Contado Riserva Aglianico del Molise 2010. 399 cases- At $17.95 and rated three of three by Gambero Rosso and 91 pts by Antonio Galloni, this is the best buy in the release if you are fans of an old world, more traditional style of wine.
Clos de los Siete 2010 –$21.95- 912 cases- The Argentine adventure of Michel Rolland’s Band of Seven continues to thrive. The vines are into double figures age wise resulting in a wine with more of everything but still available at a pretty good price. I would favorably compare this to Norton’s Privada. That  is a good thing.
Speaking of Argentine adventures, as well as the Clos de Los Siete , there are six Malbecs in this release priced between  $17.95 and $25.95. The LCBO bought plenty of each and my choices would be the second most expensive  Mendel 2010 and the mid priced Susanna Balbo Signature Malbec 2011 at $19.95. The latter will need some time to come around. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the six.
Pesquiera Condado De Haza 2009 – $24.95 – 587 cases - A crianza of very good quality, if you can leave it alone for a year or two, do so. Dry with more red fruit than black, I really enjoy this medium bodied wine.
Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggi a’Frati Chianti Classico Reserva 2009 $29.95 – 298 cases – Superior wine from a good vintage. Ageworthy and continues a good the run of CCR’s in Vintages.
Domini de La Cartoixa Formiga de Galena 2009 - $25.95 – A reasonably priced Priorat offering that’ll present red fruits. The red ants on the stylish label are sure to garner attention, the wine backs it up.   
Chapel Hill Cabernet 2010 - $24.95 –598 cases - Juicy, black fruit from the McLaren Vale, expect cassis and possibly cedar but not nearly the mint notes you’d get from Coonawarra.   Red meat anyone?
D’Arenberg The Footbolt Shiraz – 2010 – 637 cases- $23.95. – Recommended for just horsing around. 
For fans of wines with some age, there are three that stand out in this release.  Under $30 is the Domaine de  Viaud  from the 2001 vintage in Bordeaux. There are 329 cases of this one at $28.95. Leading into the big buck zone are two Spanish wines that look interesting. The 1994 (yes, 1994!) Urbina Gran Reserva Especial at $46.95 (181 cases), and La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial  2004 $38.95 (199 cases). 
The Big Bucks (that I can afford)
Trapiche Single Vineyard Series -$39.95 - 497 cases of 6 –For the 2009 vintage and in recognition of the quality of their production, Trapiche chose the following Malbec  growers - Domingo F Sarmiento, Jorge Mirailles and Finca Suarez Lastra -for the honour of presenting  their wines in this special series. The latter was selected for their first time so it would have been interesting to try that wine if it was the one in this release. Is it? Nope. The Jorge Miralles might ring a bell for you – in Vintages October 26th release this wine was recommended as a big buck ISD (ooops FSE).  While it seems odd for Vintages to repeat a wine that was an FSE just a month earlier, stranger things have happened at the monopoly. It is indeed the Jorge Miralles again in this release.  As a matter of fact nice wooden boxes of it have been available in my local (non FSE) store for over a week. I can only presume some sort of silliness has taken place between the LCBO and the importer/ distributor Phillipe Dandurand.
Domaine La Roquete 2010- $49.95 – 149 cases- Since purchasing and assuming control of this domaine in 1986, the Brunier Brothers have done a terrific job restoring it to glory. Certainly it had some prized vineyard locations but there was much work to be done. Their efforts are paying off in superior wines but as the quality gets higher, so do the prices. For these bigger bucks you can expect a wine with mesquite notes, black fruits, ganache and a long finish. Sadly, long gone are the mid to upper $30 price points for this beaut!   While not a blockbuster this is a terrific, subtle wine to accompany a mixed grill, game meats or to savour on its own. If you must open this vintage soon, do decant it for quite some time.
Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2010- $31.95- 448 cases- With vineyards planted at 6,666 vines per hectare dare I call this a devilishly good wine?  Of course I do! A 90 pointer derived from grapes produced on 20 to 25 year old vines, this blend of cabernet, merlot, and sangiovese is annually a first rate wine. Baby brother to the Oreno - game meats or perhaps roast pheasant are just the ticket and I think it’s a buck less than the ‘09.
J.Lohr Hilltops Vineyard 2010 $39.95 – 619 cases of 6 - J.Lohr Seven Oaks is a very pleasant wine in the Vintages Essentials portfolio. Consider this its big brother. Twice the price for slightly more of everything.
Giacosa Fratelli Vigna Mandorlo Barolo 2006 - $49.95 –299 cases of 6 -  Consistent scores from WS and WE (93 points)  suggest this’ll be a terrific Barolo in the short or long term. On the other hand, if your palate aligns with Antonio Galloni you might consider taking a pass. He rated this at only 87 points  
Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2011-$49.95 –199 cases of 6 - Sassicaia’s baby brother,  this is a 60 – 40 blend of Cab sauv and merlot. Ready to drink younger than its higher priced sibling. An excellent wine.
Antinori Pian della Vigne 2008 - $59.95 – 850 cases of 6 - Over my ceiling and may not be the wine it was in ’97 or ‘98 but it still merits some consideration.
Mountadam ‘The Red’ 2009 – $34.95 – 199 cases- From the Eden Valley, this one garnered a 95 point review from James Halliday. You can consider his score inflated by a few points but 91 or 92 for this Cab Sauv/Merlot/Cab Franc blend is realistic. The Chapel Hill is a better buy in this style of wine.
Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch Shiraz 2010 –$39.95- 595 cases of 6- While what was inside the bottle was good, the earlier marketing for this wine was pure genius. You can search this blog for some past highlights of it. The Fowles website has changed since then but they retain and proudly proclaim their opinion that there is nothing criminal about hunting/ killing the food you’ll eat.  As well, you can learn how LWSTL wines will compliment game meats.  

While we’re on the subject of marketing, each month in 2013 the Paso Robles wine alliance has released a video (they still have one video to go) which focuses on a different grape variety grown in the Paso area. Of course they continue to feature Paso Man aka Casey Biggs. As a pitchman he may not be ‘the most interesting man in the world’ or even the ’old spice’ guy but he comes across perfectly as the face of Paso Robles wines. (To me, he’s Don Ziraldo 2.0) Here’s the link, you be the judge.  

Friday, November 1, 2013

Vintages Nov.09 - Here come The Holidays!

For me, Vintages November releases are among the most anticipated releases of the year.  Annually they provide a selection of interesting wines to augment my cellar. In the past there were always two (or more) wines that would have me visiting a number of stores to ensure I procured enough of each of the coveted labels. What happened this year? Certainly from this first November release the excitement seems to be missing. Am I getting jaded in my old age? Or just getting old?    
There are good sub $30 and good big buck options in this release, so don’t think that it is just a top heavy waste of paper. There are even a few very good under $20 wines available for you. My top 6 choices are the first three reds ‘Under $30’ along with the first three reds in the ‘Big Buck’ group.  As I consider my options it is still almost two weeks before the products will be available. There is a chance that the priority of my picks from the release could change but you can’t go wrong with any of the ones selected below. 
For now, the VRSS comes in over 70 points this week.   
As I often try to do, I’ve used  Michael Vaughan’s to ascertain the case counts.  My thanks to him for making the info available to the public via his website. Those not familiar with his site should take a look at it.
The Under $30 Picks
Castello D’Albola Chianti Classico Reserva  2008 – $22.95 – 1400 cases - A WoM and Winner of 3 of 3 Bicchiere from two major Italian publications, this should be a buy for you to serve with anything Italian.
I expect a more traditional flavour profile here (less fruit and more saliva inducing acidity).
Bodegas LAN Vina Lanciano Reserva  2005 – $28.95- 239 cases – Whether it’s the red label crianza, the blue label reserva or another of the LAN lineup, Bodegas LAN is a superior producer of Riojan reds. This single vineyard option might be a sleeper in this release. Just don’t expect a fruit bomb.
Marchesi de Frescobaldi  Tenuta di Castiglioni 2011 - $21.95 – 1000 cases- Serving lamb with an Italian flair? Here’s the wine to accompany it. Best vintage I’ve had was the 2007 which Suckling gave 93 points while he was still at WS. This year his 92 point score is like a Christmas gift for the LCBO - 89-90 is realistic always. It’ll open tannic and soften with air. A Cab S/ Cab F/ Merlot/ Sangiovese blend.
Domaine Michelas St. Jemms Signature Crozes Hermitage 2010 – $24.95 – Syrah from the baby Hermitage. You get the short term pleasure if not the ageworthyness.  Look for black fruit, smoke and a tarry note on the finish.
Perrin Vinsobres Les Cornuds 2011 - $17.95 – 299 cases - Always a very pleasantly sophisticated wine (or is that sophisticatedly pleasant?), this vintage may not match up to 2010, but you’ll find enough acidity and fruity goodness to be happy.
Nashwauk Shiraz 2010- $19.95 – 1200 cases From the McLaren Vale, expect a big bold wine with black licorice, black cherry notes.
Ninquen Antu Syrah 2011 - $17.95 – 699 cases- Deciding what to wear could be the toughest thing about this wine. History asks “Do you wear your lederhosen to accompany this chocolate Black Forest cake in a glass or your Timmins tuxedo to go with all that wood?”
Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2012 –$22.95 – The lone white that caught my eye, this is $7 to $10 more expensive than some recently recommended Chenin Blancs. It might be worth it.  
Antinori Chianti Classico Reserva 2009 - $29.95 –597 cases - A superior Tuscan producer gives you the big factory take on CCR. Consistently very good and lots of it.
Wakefield Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $17.95 -1023 cases– A well priced offering from Australia which always over delivers.  Proof of its popularity is in the number of cases.
Rustenberg John X Merriman  Cabernet 2010– 2010 - $24.95 – 30 cases - An ISD, sorry FSE,  so that explains the tiny quantities but it’s a good, if very rare, wine.
Descendientes de J Palacios  Petalos 2011 - $24.95 – 539 cases - The mencia grape from Bierzo in Spain. Always a classy label that makes for a great host/ hostess gift if you’re dropping in at friends. Most years the wine backs up the label with equal class, quality and finesse. What’s it taste like? To me - Pinachyrah – (Pinot Noir, Grenache and Syrah notes– YMMV).
Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon – 2010 - $19.95 – 1364 cases  - WoM so lots of it. A very good, solid wine. 
Cicchitti Gran Reserva 2004 – 21.95 – 239 cases- Annually a very good malbec. Note that this is a 2004 so it may have lost some of the primary dark fruit that I find so engaging in young malbec.
Columbia Crest Grand Estates Amitage 2010- $16.95. – 559 cases - This is an unusual blend of syrah, cab franc and merlot.  I’ve not tried this one before but the producer is so solid.
The Big Bucks
Remember, these are my big bucks, so $50 is the ceiling unless I suffer a moment of serious weakness. (It happens!)  
Pierre Amadieu Le Pas de L’Aigle Gigondas 2010 - $32.95 – 249 cases- A very good producer, region, and vintage. It’s hard not to choose it. So I did. All the Gigondas notes will be  there - dark fruits, herbs, some licorice.
Elderton Ode to Lorraine – 2010- $39.95  (467 cases of 6) - Big, brooding but at the same time fruity, this is always a terrific blend from the Elderton folks.
Francis Ford Coppola’s Director’s Cut Cabernet $34.95 –447 cases - To my palate this line is far superior to the Coppola Vineyards’ other cab labels. 
Domaine Durieu Lucille Avril Chateauneuf du Pape 2010- 299 cases – The best thing that could have happened to this wine was pairing it on a page with the Vieux Telegraphe.  At $45 and 94 pts it looks like a bargain. Needs time, serious time.
Burrowing Owl Syrah 2010 - $41.95 – Get together with a bunch of friends and order a case direct from the winery in BC. You can, it’s your own small political statement and in the end it’ll save you a few bucks.
The Chocolate Block – $39.95- 448 cases - From South Africa, you might want to try serving this and the Chilean syrah Ninquen Antu  together.  Maybe with a something in a chocolate mole sauce, or perhaps Coco Puffs.
Donnatella Cinelli Columbini Brunello di Montalcino 2007 – $48.95 – 299 cases -A wonderful vintage in Brunello. New to me, this’ll need another 5-7 years to begin to show its best.
Adaptation 2010  Cabernet Sauvignon $49.95. 223 cases - From Plumpjack in Napa, this is a NAPA cab for sure. Cassis, cedar, but then other dark and red fruit notes.
Jonata Todos 2009 - $59.95 – 166 cases - Misnamed methinks, should have called it Smorgasbord instead.  Expect a circus in your mouth. I dare you to pick out a dominant flavour as this wine is a veritable blendfest.  
Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 - $59.95 – Another of the good, but pricey Californians available in this release. If you read this soon enough I think I’d skip this one and buy the Stag’s Leap that’s on sale until early Nov.  Save yourself $15.  
 Two Hands Bella’s Garden 2011 –$59.95- (599 cases of 6)- Always exceptional, this is possibly the lowest score  I’ve ever seen attributed to this wine.
D’Arenberg The Dead Arm 2009 - $54.95 –(516 cases of 6)- A former icon that, like many big name Australians, fell on hard times. This might be a comeback vintage for the Dead Arm. Certainly the LCBO thinks it’ll sell. Me too, but only at $10 less than this price.
Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape 2010 - $88.95. 299 cases – Last on the list but first on my wish list, the critics’ scores and this price have driven the VT way past the point where I can consider it. Too bad! When I could afford this wine, I really, really enjoyed it!