Tagged with 'Vintage'

Hooray for Chardonnay Spring 2021

A collection of Chardonnays today from several points on the globe but with extra focus on the US and Italy. We begin: 

FRANCE 

Anne Gros Bourgogne Blanc 2019, Burgundy. Behold the wisest spell to escape the wand of the She-Wizard. To avoid confusion, this isn’t the same as the $70 Bourgogne Blanc of Anne’s that I offered back in October. This stunning Chardonnay – a blend of parcels from the Côte de Nuits and Hautes Côtes de Nuits – finds Anne wearing her rare Négocient hat, purchasing fruit from her biggest fans and working her magic for a civilized bottle price. All grapes should be so lucky; this is the grapey version of finding the Golden Ticket in the Wonka bar. Fresh pear, Golden Delicious apples and chalk on the nose, a gorgeous melange of chamomile, rainwater and lime on palate. Chablis seems to be the north star, here – I’m quite sure I’d flag it as such were I blind tasted on this, the crisp acidity can see through walls and focuses the finish like a magnifying glass. Outstanding value, a great introduction to Anne’s oeuvre, will make your deck shine like a grail. 3 6-packs available, $51.98 +tax 

ARGENTINA 

Bodegas Chacras “Mainqué” Chardonnay 2018, Patagonia. Meursault’s Jean-Marc Roulot made this pure, focused Chardonnay to answer the question: What if you tried to make a white Burgundy on Hoth? The tempestuous landscape in South America’s southern, wild point (the indigenous population, first thought by Magellan to be giants, were dubbed the Patagon) throws all manner of curveballs at a humble grape-grower: dramatic temperature shifts, hail and heat waves, and yet Roulot manages to wrest some sort of elegance out of chaos every year. Aged in both oak and concrete, this 2018 experienced partial malolactic fermentation (they never control it, they just roll with what happens), so there’s a balance between brioche and brioche-with-a-laser-sword laying just underneath the Granny Smith, pears and jasmine on this expressive nose. The medium-full body brings tension, salinity and more brioche in case you didn’t get enough brioche. A lovely collection of opposites that’s so different each vintage. 97 points James Suckling, 12 bottles available, $71.98 +tax 

SOUTH AFRICA 

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2019, Hemel-en-Aarde. We weren’t supposed to get any of the miniscule-but-glorious 2019 vintage from Anthony Hamilton Russell: the tragic South African fires in early 2019, though less world-famous than Australia’s subsequent blazes, made life miserable and curtailed viticulture dramatically. The production was so small they thought they could only serve local markets for that year, but then (gestures broadly at everything). South Africa imposed an outright ban on alcohol sales, and while that really sucks for them it means more yummy HR for Jordan, so let’s rinse off that guilt with some good Chardonnay. Although usually destemmed, Russell crushed from whole bunches for this vintage to avoid the risk of smoke taint and employed the least amount of malolactic fermentation ever (only 10%), resulting in the most elegant and bright Chardonnay he’s ever produced, light on its feet without sacrificing the embracing intensity he’s known for. Limeade and candied pears line the crushed rocks on the fragrant nose, ending with just a hint of lemon danish and peach. 95 points Tim Atkins, 93 points Decanter, 3 6-packs available, $67.98 +tax 

ITALY 

Antinori Cervaro della Sala 2017, Umbria. The Antinori’s flagship white wine is a relatively young enterprise, seeing as the family started winemaking in the 12th century (I think my ancestors had contemporaneously discovered the Pointed Stick). The inaugural 1985 vintage could have been spread on toast to make an open-faced oak sandwich, but the ensuing decades have seen Cervaro evolve into an elegant, layered and powerful expression of warm-climate Chardonnay (with about 8% contribution from the local Grechetto grape). The Saharan 2017 vintage gave a nitro-boost to the wine’s weight and intensity, but the balanced élèvage (a portion spends 6 months in French oak, the rest in stainless) turned out a Chardonnay with a foot on two continents: the nose swims with the rich apples, pralines, stones and vanilla of Sonoma while the body holds that essential tension and agility of modern Beaune. This 2017 commands your attention so thoroughly, you might not even look at your phone for a couple minutes. 99 points James Suckling, 3 6-packs available, $79.98 +tax 

Gaja Rossj-Bass Chardonnay 2018, Langhe. Since Angelo Gaja is one of the fathers of modern Piedmont and Rossana (Rossj for short) is his daughter, I guess Rossj is… modern Piedmont? Figuring that out might take some time and a couple glasses of this luminous Chardonnay, grown in lower-lying (Bass) vineyards in Barbaresco and Barolo. Melon and white flowers bathed in honey – it’s quite a lovely, sweet nose – flow into a surprisingly structured frame and an almost Sancerre-ish, bracing finish. Not sure if this wine has made it into BC before, this is the first time I’ve seen it. Not yet rated. 2 6-packs available, $128.98 +tax 

Cantina Toblino Trentodoc “Antares” Brut Nature 2016, Trentino. From a snappy little organic co-operative in Trentino comes a brilliant shooting star of sparkling Chardonnay and a possible energy source to power cities of the future (diodes not included). From vines grown on the south-facing hills of Valle dei Laghi, the Chardonnay goes through the Traditional Method (can’t call it the Champagne Method because if you do, French spirits will visit as you sleep to turn all your snacks into cigarettes), spending 36 months on the lees after secondary fermentation. Full disclosure: I’m not always on board with the whole Brut Nature movement (no final “dosage” of sugar before bottling), I find that the more extreme cases are out of balance - just balls of acid that Somms dare each other to drink to see who cries first – but Antares Brut Nature is beautifully balanced and super-fab. Pastry notes are met by lemon meringue and river stones, gorgeous citrus and savoury saline mouthfeel, the finish is energetically zippy and zingy with persistent bubbles. Not often available outside of Italy, Antares is only rated locally: 4 Stars Vinibuoni d’Italia, 2 6-packs available, $55.98 +tax 

USA 

Hartford Court Chardonnay 2018, Russian River Valley, Sonoma. I hope Don Hartford doesn’t travel with armed guards ‘cause if I met him I’d just hug him without saying hello first. Giving Don good vibes would be reciprocal: for nearly 3 decades his wines have quietly showcased Sonoma’s generous, positive disposition without falling into lushness or simplicity – these are real, classic wines with great structure and length, they just have various fruits and spices falling out of their pockets and they feel that you should have some too. If ever a wine could be called “optimistic” this entry-level (!) Russian River Chardonnay would be a prime candidate, exuding honeysuckle, brioche, cream, apple, peach and pepper notes before unfolding into a rich, full texture-fest, lifting up at the end with a touch of grapefruit. Great minerality on all levels, too. The premium buyers in this company periodically get together to blind taste wines; this one blew us away and we valued it at twice the price (this new price has actually come down from near $60). #44 – Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2020, 94 points Wine Enthusiast, 6 cases available, $46.98 +tax 

WALT Chardonnay 2018, Sonoma Coast. Decadence liquified. This is the perfectly normal thing that happens when a pear and a vanilla milkshake love each other very much. Made by Napa’s Kathryn Hall from the Bob’s Ranch and Sangiacomo vineyards, the opulent nose – no need to compare apples to oranges ‘cause this has both – leads into a medium-bodied palate that shines a bit brighter than the nose suggests, just enough to boost the length of the creamy, pear-laced finish. Quite beautiful, in a confected, naughty way, and underrated in my opinion. 92 points Wine Enthusiast, 2 cases available, $61.98 

Arnot-Roberts Trout Gulch Vineyard Chardonnay 2017, Santa Cruz Mountains. The Simon and Garfunkel of single-vineyard California Négoce wines have outdone themselves with this cabin-in-the-woods style Chardonnay that I’d never blindly identify (blindentify?) as Californian. The Trout Gulch vineyard lies in the heavily forested southern Santa Cruz mountains, the whole area looks like the Slocan valley or western Kootenays, and if you’re thinking “I’ve never seen any wines from Castlegar”, bingo. The site is at the edge of the ripening window, sitting 4 miles from the ocean at 600ft and regularly beset by fog; climate change has made recent vintages more reliable than when Bernard Turgeon planted the vineyard in 1980, but there’s perennially a chance you won’t get a usable harvest. The years the vineyard gives you, however, are racing powder kegs of energy and density, like a Chablis that cloned itself and then ate that clone. Citrus and flowers rule the roost, with a robust, saline mid-palate and long, chalky finish. Refreshing now but I’d like to check back in 5 years to see what happens. 95 points Vinous, 2 6-packs available, $99.98 +tax 

NON-STOP CLASSIC HITS 

What follows is a brief listing of some wines that fit this theme and have previously been written about, but featured again for the benefit of those who’ve recently joined my Collectors List and may have missed ‘em the first time. If anyone requires more info, I’m happy to send over the original blurb to you. 

Nicolas Catena Zapata “White Stones” Chardonnay 2017, Mendoza, Argentina. 98 points James Suckling, 1 3-pack available, $133.98 +tax 

Nicolas Catena Zapata “White Bones” Chardonnay 2017, Mendoza, Argentina. 99 points James Suckling, 2 3-packs available, $156.98 +tax 

Shaw + Smith “M3” Chardonnay 2019, Adelaide Hills, Australia. 96 points Decanter, 96 points James Suckling, 12 bottles available, $56.98 

Ridge Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2014, Santa Cruz Mountains, California. 95 points Decanter, 8 bottles available, $95.98 +tax 

Olivier Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Gain 2015, Burgundy, France. 6 bottles available, $192.98 +tax 

Olivier Leflaive Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Gain 2016, Burgundy, France. 6 bottles available, $192.98 +tax 

Until next time, Happy Drinking!

It's a Cab, Cab, Cab, Cab World!!

It’s Go Time here at Everything Wine River District, as everything that I’ve been waiting for all year has started arriving (some of it delayed out of Europe because… you know). Rather than bug you with daily emails, I’ll be sending out deep, comprehensive offers, but don’t skim over them too fast because there will definitely be things you want, herein. To begin, I present to you an immodest collection of Cabernet-based wines from around the world. Straight to the juice we go: 

AUSTRALIA 

Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2007, Margaret River. The Cab/Merlots from Western Australia’s Margaret River region have always struck me as a fairly constant paradigm: Bordeaux + Toaster. The balance is always consistent and proportional, but everything is just a little hotter and a little …more. Case in point: this … let’s say irradiant 2007 from Margaret River’s “Original 3” pioneer Voyager Estate (Jordan’s note to self: no “on fire”/”blazing”/”explosion” analogies when describing buzzworthy wines from Aus. or U.S.), showing a core of cassis and black tapenade under some slight wood notes and balanced tertiary aromas. Smells like a Left Bank but drinks like a Right Bank, rich and well put together, absolutely killer value. 96 points James Halliday, 12 bottles available, $89.98 +tax. 

Hickinbotham “Trueman” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, McLaren Vale. Sourced from the high-ish altitude Clarendon vineyard (planted in 1971) which used to go into Grange, and made by guest winemaker Chris Carpenter from Napa’s Cardinale (I met Chris last year and everything you’ve heard about the moustache is real). A neat mix of sweet fruit notes and herbaceous aromas populate the jam-packed nose: mint, cocoa, blackberries and cedar, this has a serious structure and texture, setting it well apart from many McLaren Vale glug-fests (not that I’m against those). Boasts none of the flavours of Cardinale but all of the longevity, I don’t mean to keep ringing the Value Bell, but ding-ding-ding. 94 points Wine Spectator, 18 bottles available, $91.98 +tax 

BRITISH COLUMBIA 

Black Hills Nota Bene 2018, Black Sage Bench, Okanagan Valley. There has been even more buzz for this particular vintage of B.C.’s Cult Wine than the usual deafening amount, not necessarily because it’s the 20th anniversary of Nota Bene, but because it’s the first vintage shepherded by their new whizz-bang winemaker Ross Wise, one of the few Masters of Wine with actual skin in the game. 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc 1% Petit Verdot, with familiar but refined notes of black fruit, instant coffee and sage over a deep, tense frame. This is a step up. We are still two years out from the drinking window but who am I kidding? Nobody listens. Peeps are gonna buy it all and drink it immediately and love it then ask me for more, but I’ll be sold out and all I can do is shake my head and sigh disapprovingly like the little pig who built the house out of bricks. 8 cases available, $61.98 +tax 

CHILE 

Don Melchor 2017, Puente Alto. The top of the Chilean Cabernet Pyramid still belongs to this iconic flagship from Concha Y Toro, here celebrating its 30th vintage with this gorgeous 2017. That Don Melchor retains its throne despite other stellar Chilean Cabs rising to challenge it (and Santiago’s suburban sprawl now surrounding its single vineyard) is testament to the enduring partnership of winemaker Enrique Tirado and his Bordeaux Buddy Eric Boissenot, oenologist and consultant to 4 out of the 5 Bordeaux First Growths. Every year Enrique visits Bordeaux, barrel samples in tow, and he and Eric pick the Don Melchor blend out of the different parcels, and I guess some of those parcels are planted to blackcurrants because OMG. The Cassis notes drive, ride and fix the bus. Pencil shavings, crushed rocks and plums round out the nose – if it sounds like I’m describing Left Bank Bordeaux, that’s because it’s their North Star. A contemporary classic, first time in several years I’ve managed to land any. 99 points James Suckling, 95 points Wine Spectator, 3 wooden 6-packs available, $150.49 +tax  

FRANCE 

Pauillac de Latour 2014, Pauillac, Bordeaux. The 3rd wine to First Growth Chateau Latour is a love letter to Pauillac and a distillation of sheer expertise. Blackberry compote stirred with graphite then stuffed into a cigar box with a few bay leaves, over a medium frame held up by minimal, classic structure. 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot, it’s a junior version of the Grand Vin but drinking now, and as textbook a version of Pauillac as can be found. Delicious with a capital Yum, and one of the best deals for premium Bordeaux in my store. 18 bottles available, $168.98 +tax 

USA  

Ashes & Diamonds Cabernet Franc 2014, Napa Valley. A hidden treasure of elegance and restraint from a region that has misunderstood and mishandled this grape for decades. “Why can’t you go play football and shoot rabbits like your big brother Cabernet Sauvignon”, Napa would say to Cabernet Franc. “Why do you always stay inside and paint pictures of flowers all day?” Napa would then force little Cab Franc to dress and act like Cab Sauv and the results were weird and wrong, as if someone put machine guns on a swan. Steve Matthiasson, however, treats his Franc like a Franc, and this is a stunningly gorgeous expression of the grape from Los Carneros (near the bay), showing herbaceous red fruit over a peppery frame with a touch of Old World funk on the long, velvet finish. Drinking wonderfully now with no caveats, although I’d love to follow its development over a decade. 12 bottles available, $112.98 +tax. 

Neal Family Vineyards “Rutherford Dust” Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Planted in 1970, Rutherford Dust is one of the rare Valley Floor vineyards for the Neal family, who tend to favour the mountains and hills (like bears). The emblematic Neal structure and finesse is clear and present, however, in this timeless 2013, with perhaps a tad more weight around the middle (not that I know anything about that). Beautiful balance between the spicy sandalwood notes and the chocolate-covered blackcurrants, with wisps of menthol and coffee surrounding the finish. The “dust” in the vineyard name refers to the coarse, crunchy tannins that the plot is known for producing, but time has softened them to now support the body, not overthrow it. This is selling for about $40 cheaper than before. 12 bottles available, $125.98 +tax 

Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley. Chuck Wagner doesn’t have a family crest but if he did it would be a giant barrel shooting lasers out of its eyes (this barrel has eyes, fyi) whilst it stomps over hordes of fleeing grapes. Admirably unafraid of oak and physics, his 2016 is perhaps the apotheosis of the Caymus ethic: bigness for the sake of awesome, a powerhouse Cab that probably has structure, but who can tell? Like Shafer Hillside Select, this ages by dint of concentration – and age it does, I was lucky enough to drink a 2005 of this not long ago. Intense blackberries rule the court with caramelized figs, cedar and dusty spice. The only wine to place at the top of Wine Spectator’s Top 100 twice, although this vintage isn’t yet rated… 1 6-pack available, 199.99 +tax 

Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Santa Cruz Mountains. Such a lovely Cab, and I get so little. The mighty Monte Bello vineyard was first planted in the late 19th century, before Prohibition forced the owners to abandon it a few decades later. When Ridge acquired and replanted it in the 1960s, they began to notice that some of the new blocks produced a rounder, more immediately accessible Cab than was desired for the iconic Monte Bello bottling, so Paul Draper began to sequester those blocks into this compulsively gulpable Cab, although the winemaking is similar in the two labels: a hands-off “pre-industrial” ethic and the ultra-rare practice of using nearly 100% American oak instead of French (almost all Napa Cab is aged in French oak). This 2017 matches its cassis and blueberry with equal measures of cola, anise and violets. Predictably delicious. 18 bottles available, $99.99 +tax 

DeLille Chaleur Estate 2014, Red Mountain, Washington. So glad I could nab one more 6-pack of this outstanding 2014 Chaleur, one of Washington’s most egregiously unsung Bordeaux blends. Cab driven with Merlot, Franc and Petit Verdot in supporting roles, showing licorice, coffee and cloves around the striking red fruit, this is plush but still quite tannic, I’d cellar this as if it were a 2014 Left Bank, another 4 years should do the trick? 6 bottles available, $130.98 +tax 

Mettler Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Lodi, California. The last one I’ll leave you with today is an uber-tasty little gem from Lodi, one of the last regional bastions of value in premium Cali Cabs. It’s so hot in Lodi that CCR wrote a song about being stuck there, but that’s great news for Cab drinkers cuz these wines have built-in body, always drinking big and bold, if sometimes at the expense of nuance (but there are lots of Nuance Shmuance drinkers out there - you know who you are). The Mettler family is one of the largest landholders in Lodi (if this was the Middle Ages they’d be knights), and their son David does double duty both in his family’s cellars and at the local behemoth Michael David. Dark cherry, cola, cedar and fig on both nose and palate, it seems like it’s heading towards a big boozy mess but then lifts up on the surprisingly bright finish. Quite lovely and well balanced, vintage after vintage. 92 points Wine Enthusiast, 24 bottles available, $43.98 +tax 

NON-STOP CLASSIC HITS 

What follows is a brief listing of some wines that fit this theme and have previously been written about, but featured again for the benefit of those who’ve recently joined my Collectors List and may have missed ‘em the first time. If anyone requires more info I’m happy to send over the original blurb to you. 

Continuum 2016, Napa Valley. 100 points James Suckling, 99 points Robert Parker, 1 wooden 6-pack available, $374.98 +tax (bottle price) 

Raymond Generations Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Napa Valley. 98 points Robert Parker, 12 bottles available, $139.99+tax 

Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley. 96 points Robert Parker, 9 bottles available, $187.98 +tax 

Araujo Estate Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. 98 points James Suckling, 97 points Robert Parker, 1 bottle available, $917.98 +tax 

Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Napa Valley. 96 points Robert Parker, 94 points Wine Spectator, 9 bottles available, $202.98 

Chateau Leoville Las Cases 2009, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux. 99 points Robert Parker, 99 points James Suckling. 3 bottles available, $608.79 +tax 

Until next time, Happy Drinking!! 

Back Up The Truck! 99pt "Tuscan Amarone" for $60!

All technology looks like magic until you understand it. The act of turning grapes into wine pivots on the process of fermentation, a step that can happen spontaneously and looks exactly like a miracle when you can’t see the wee yeast beasties floating in the air that made it possible.  

Which isn’t to say that people didn’t use yeast, they did so obliviously all the time. The foam from fermenting beer was used to rise bread; crushed Roman grapes in an amphora eventually started to bubble in a way that resembled boiling – in fact the term fermentation comes from the Latin fevere: to boil. They knew the how but not the why, and wouldn’t truly understand until Louis Pasteur identified the mechanics of how yeast cells multiply in 1857. Until then: magic. 

The Renaissance-era Florentines were feeling mighty magical when they came up with a fix for inconsistent vintages in Tuscany. In the 1400s (when the world was cooler), using the crush-and-wait approach made your nascent wine vulnerable to the temperature swings of autumn, if you had a warm fall the yeasts would thrive and eat up all the yummy sugars, producing a drier wine (still a bit sweeter than today’s standards). A cool autumn made fermentation take way longer and could even make the yeasts go dormant, leaving elevated sugars in your accidentally sweet wine. To the entrepreneurial Florentines, who were making large coin exporting Chiantis to Europe with their new snazzy Sangiovese grape, this was a big marketing problem: how could your consumer trust your wine when they never knew how sweet it was gonna be? 

The fix they came up with was called the Governo method, and it would be used all over Tuscany and beyond until the advent of electricity. It goes like this: you do your regular vineyard harvest, but reserve a couple rows to let the fruit hang and ripen until it just about falls off the vine. You do your standard crush and ferment (but you don’t inoculate because you don’t know about yeast yet), but as the fermentation slows down (“stuck” in winemaker parlance) you pick and crush the remaining grapes (at this point semi-dried and hella sweet) and add the juice to the mix, reviving and strengthening the yeasts and resulting in a stronger, drier wine, lower in acid and consistent year after year. 

Modern Tuscan winemakers can control their ferments with a temperature dial, so the Governo method is nearly extinct, but there are a few renegade producers experimenting with it, particularly Andrea Valiani and his son Marco of Terrescure, a relatively young, upstart winery (although Andrea has been in the wine business his whole life). My “Back Up The Truck” wine today is their Lotto Unico 2016 Toscana IGT, a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot that I’ve been calling the “Tuscan Amarone”. 

To be clear: there’s no such thing as Tuscan Amarone. Amarone is only found further north in Valpolicella near Verona (and the Tuscans would argue that the Governo method predates Amarone by centuries). It is a helpful shorthand, though, to describe this rustic beast, a throwback to pre-industrial styles of Italian wine mixing raisinated grapes into the heady brew of roasted plums, mocha and caramel apple. Because the ancient Governo process is by nature oxidative, there’s also a soft basalmic quality on the nose, before unfolding into a full body (but not as heavy as Amarone) and a two-minute finish. The dried grape addition puts the sweetness slightly above Amarone levels (15g/l compared to 12g/l), drier than many Californian reds but sweeter than most bone-dry modern Tuscan wines; on average, wines have never been drier than they are today, and Lotto Unico is a nostalgic homage to a different age when sweetness, not ubiquitous as it is today, was considered a luxury. 

This is a wine for the end of the evening or the beginning of one, on a patio, with or without food (although I could destroy a burger with this, and great, now I’m hungry), and it’s a way-cool glimpse into the history of winemaking and the styles of yesteryear. I wish I had more...

Terrescure Lotto Unico 2016, Toscana I.G.T. 99 points Luca Maroni, 8 6-packs available, $59.98 +tax 

Until next time, have a great weekend, stay safe, and Happy Drinking! 

 

POSTSCRIPT: I know that the word “sweet” is the opposite of a safe-word for many wine drinkers, so I just wanted to give some context as to the residual sugar levels of a few popular wines. The antiquated 00-0-1-2-etc. dryness scale describes the impression of sweetness, which can be slewed by glycerine, acids and tannins (Coca-Cola famously hides its 39 grams of sugar per can behind a hefty dose of phosphoric acid – Apothic Red can appear dry to some because it balances its 19g with stemmy tannins), it is much more helpful to show the actual sugar content: 

Tignanello: 0.75g/l
Chateau de Beaucastel: 4g/l
Purple Angel: 4g/l
Kendall Jackson Chardonnay: 7g/l
The Prisoner: 8g/l
Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon: 9g/l
Belle Glos Pinot Noir: 10g/l
Masi Costasera Amarone: 10g/l
Brut Champagne: up to 12g/l
Lotto Unico: 15g/l
Apothic Red: 19g/l
Dr. Loosen “Dr. L” Riesling: 44g/l
Taylor Fladgate Tawny 10yr Port: 112g/l
Jackson-Triggs Vidal Icewine: 225g/l 

Spanish Magic

Adorado de Menade Magnum (1.5L), Rueda. I know the most projected activity associated with time-travel is Hero Stuff (preventing wars, stopping Smirnoff Ice from being invented), but – on the off chance that you aren’t Harrison Ford – what if you went back in time to taste what people drank back then? If you travelled to 1900 in the small, dusty hamlet of La Seca in Rueda and hung out with the grizzled farmers and labourers, you’d be drinking this rustic brew of old Verdejo and Palomino, and you wouldn’t ask the vintage because there ain’t one. Each new vintage goes into the top of a stack of barrels, which is transferred over the many years into the bottom barrels (called Solera, or “on the Ground” in Spanish) from which the wine is drawn, slowly blending each year’s harvest into each other in a consistent style. The “mother” Solera for Adorado, this gorgeous, striking wine from the Menade family, dates back to 1968 and there really aren’t any relatable signposts to guide you towards a description because we are in uncharted territory. At once fresh and vibrant but oxidative – having been subjected to the “flor” method used on Sherry – with notes of almond crisps and dried fruits, this golden wine is full and fortified but not sweet, unctuous and powerful. This is a new thing, you haven’t tasted anything quite like it. I tried it at Top Drop last year and insisted they import it for me (they weren’t going to because they thought it was too weird for North America), they only make a handful of magnums each year (no regular sizes are produced) and I got 6 of ‘em.  Come step back in time. 93 points Robert Parker, 6 Magnums available, $179.98 +tax

Bodegas Franco-Espanolas Rioja Bordon Gran Reserva 1999, Rioja. Started in Logroño in 1890 when a desperate Bordeaux vigneron came to Spain seeking to make wine again after decades of phylloxera ravaged his home town (Rioja wasn’t affected until years later), the French-Spanish Bodega became famous in the first half of the 20th century with fans like Ernest Hemmingway singing their praises before fascism closed Spain down for business for 40 years. Resurgent in the last couple of decades, the flagship Rioja Bordon is made in that pre-WW1 style, with American white oak and a hella-long bottle aging. Herbaceous and savoury notes battle with the dried cherries and vanilla on this well-deep nose, the palate is still amazingly fresh. Perfectly in the zone, quite delicious. 92 points Wine Spectator, 2 cases available, $50.98 +tax

Mas Rodo Macabeu 2016, Penedes. I love Viura, with its dichotomy of decadent, oily textures and linear, focused acidity. The folks along the Ebro River love it so much that it forms the back bone of white Riojas. The folks in Penedes love it so much that they plant it on the slopes of the mountains around Barcelona, but they love being Catalans so much that they had to rename it Macabeo so that it didn’t sound too Spanish. When Macabeo comes from old vines, like these gobelet-trained 50-year-old ones in Penedes, the concentration warrants the type of winemaking usually reserved for white Bordeaux, with extended French Oak aging and lees-stirring, offering texture and complexity to the natural melon, citrus and herbal notes. This is powerful stuff, capable of aging – but not too long because the subtle aromatics are so very sexy right now. Nutso value, this. Gold – International Wine Awards, 12 bottles available, $43.98 +tax

Contino Gran Reserva 2012, Rioja. Given how classically statuesque its wines are, you’d think that Contino has been around since the beginning of time, but in fact the estate was started in 1973 and is distinguished by becoming Rioja’s first “Chateau”, or single vineyard estate. The Ebro curves around the estate, moderating the hot summer temperatures and keeping sugar levels from spiking too early: this is a serious, Bordeaux-like affair, with a bulletproof structure under the intense black and red fruits competing with the wood – we’re about 3-4 years from the window opening here, but this is (like most premium Spanish wines) great value for a Cellar Star. 97 points James Suckling, 12 bottles available, $80.98 +tax

Cosmic Vinyaters “Valentia” Carinyena Blanca 2018, Alt Emporda. I’m throwing a bunch of new stuff at you here, so let’s slow down and chew our food: 1) this is white Carignan, an ultra-rare mutation of the more commonplace red Carignan variety, and I was also unaware of it before finding this wine. 2) Alt Emporda is a Mediterranean region between Barcelona and the French Border, heavily influenced by both the sea and the Tramontana, a cold wind that makes more delicate wines possible in such a warm climate. 3) Cosmic is the work of Salvador Batlle, who practices organic/biodynamic/voodoo viticulture, intervening as little as possible and probably doing sacred dances and stuff to ward off bad grape-moods. Or something. 4) Take all of these factors and then age them in traditional amphorae and chestnut barrels, and you have Valentia, an illuminating white wine with competing savoury and tropical fruit notes, big, chewy and viscous with a finish longer than this email. Far more delicious and less weird than I made it sound, no need to cautiously poke it with a stick before drinking lots and lots of it. 12 bottles available, $49.98 +tax

Bodega Lanzaga 2012, Rioja. Telmo Rodriguez, winemaker, terroir purist and allegorical bomb-thrower, came to town last year for what was advertised as a tasting but ended up being an exquisitely-accented rant against the B.C. wine market, castigating us for treating Spain as a Wine Ghetto that delivers only cheap juice with no sense of place (he accordingly removed his wines from BC for a few years). After adjusting the hairs on my back to stand down again, I had to concede that he may have a point – even some of my favourite Riojas, amazing wines all, are more producer driven than place driven, and even a sophisticated market like ours knows far more about the minutia regarding different Burgundian villages than even the macro-geology of Rioja. Telmo seeks to change that with Lanzaga, farmed on 14 hectares in Lanciego, a village in Rioja Alavesa. Lanzaga is reserved and sublime with cherry plum and cumin hints, over an austere but balanced frame – this will likely age like a Burgundy, which is precisely what Telmo intended, I think. 94 points James Suckling, 93 points Robert Parker, 10 bottles available (I bought some), $48.98

Something special for your Thanksgiving feast

SOUTHERN RHONE

Domaine Oratoire St Martin “Haut-Coustias” 2015, Cairanne. The reason you don’t think about the southern Rhone village of Cairanne much is because you’ve never tried this. Tracing their winemaking roots back to 1692, the Alary brothers are pretty much the Royal Family of Cairanne, owning the prime spots and making powerful, totemistic wines in a town known for table tipples that tend to blend into the tablecloth. The Haut-Coustias site is a 90-yr-old south-facing vineyard on a hill of chalk, a terroir quite unlike its surroundings and one of the only sites in Cairanne that can fully ripen Mourvèdre, the dark, moody grape that makes up 60% of this blend (with 20% Grenache and 20% Syrah; the Haut-Coustias’ constitution is similar to Beaucastel’s Hommage a Jacques Perrin and about a tenth of the price). Gorgeous violets and nutmeg surround plums and blackberries with a healthy dose of black pepper, boldly spicy and unforgettable. I’ll be pouring this on Saturday at 3pm in the River District Vintage Room if you want to taste for yourself. One of the better values I’ve found this season. 94 points Robert Parker, 2 cases available, $52.98 +tax

Chateau Saint-Cosme 2017, Gigondas. Continuing an unbroken legacy that almost predates the fork, the Barruol family gets back to traditional hues after two hot, climate-changey vintages and breaks out the pepper mill. Black and white pepper fold around blackberry, ginger and black olives over a fresh, vibrant frame, forged in both foudre and concrete. Silky and persistent. Grenache leads the band (70%) with Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault all playing tambourine. Probably best after a 2 years nap to let the finish integrate. There’s something so consistent and so right about Saint-Cosme, quite independent from how delicious it is: year after year it tastes like this ancient village’s natural reference point. 93 points Wine Spectator, 2 cases available, $77.99 +tax

Rotem & Mounir Saouma “Inopia” 2016, Cotes-du-Rhône Villages. The 97+pt Chateauneufs by Husband/Wife crime-fighting duo Rotem and Mounir (also of Burgundy’s hallowed Lucien Le Moine) were presented on these pages a few weeks ago, but these stellar, overachieving  CdRVs come from a rocky, nearly barren plot near Orange that was so tough to cultivate they named the wines Inopia, from the Latin meaning “made from nothing”. The Blanc is mostly Grenache Blanc with Roussanne and Marsanne, gorgeously silky with jasmine, brioche and pear notes over a robust frame with a touch of salinity. The Rouge is almost entirely Grenache with bits of Syrah and Cinsault, bright red fruits and lavender, medium-bodied and hella-versatile. I can’t stress the value of these enough: rather than a mishmash of lesser fruit (like most houses entry-levels are) these are single-vineyard expressions from one of France’s most exciting contemporary houses – Wednesday wines for the well-informed, if you will. I am in with both feet on this.
Blanc, 92 points Wine Spectator, 3 6-packs available, $40.98 +tax
Rouge, 90 points Wine Spectator, 3 6-packs available, $40.98 +tax

 

NORTHERN RHONE

VERTICAL: Domaine Jamet 2013, 2014 & 2015, Côte-Rôtie. You can see the Alps on a clear day from Le Vallin, the high plateau over Côte-Rôtie where Jean-Paul and Corinne Jamet make their traditionally ethereal wines (it’s also where they made their son Löic, who now works the vineyards with them). This “assemblage” cuvée, built from fruit in 15 different vineyards around the appellation, avoids destemming and sees almost no new barrels, so it’s a truth-serum Syrah, honestly and nakedly expressing the slate and granite terraced slopes of Côte-Rôtie in all their peppery, bacon-y glory. The Jamets have a devoted following worldwide, which is why it’s way-cool that I can offer the following:
Côte-Rôtie 2013, 94 points Robert Parker, 94 points Vinous, 3 bottles available, $165.99 +tax
Côte-R
ôtie 2014, 96 points James Suckling, 95 points Vinous 8 bottles available, $165.99 +tax
Côte-R
ôtie 2015, 97 points Vinous, 96 points Robert Parker, 9 bottles available $165.99 +tax

E. Guigal “La Landonne” 2014, Côte-Rôtie. The only one of the “La La”* Cote-Rôties by Guigal to not contain any Viognier, this 2014 Landonne is dark, deep, and more focused than someone jumpstarting a nuclear submarine, an impressive feat in a challenging vintage. The nose has notes of smoked meats stuffed with sage and olives, with hints of blackberries that have fallen under the grill, the deployment is smooth but the finish has notes of bar fights and leg-hold traps. This is a wine to be buried, hidden amongst the muggles until its eleventh birthday – only then can you announce that it is actually a wizard. 98 points Robert Parker, one wooden 3-pack available, $526.98 +tax

René Rostaing “La Landonne” 2015, Côte-Rôtie. Not quite as famous or historically significant as Guigal’s take on the same vineyard (Guigal put Côte-Rôtie on the map and single-handedly saved Viognier from extinction – in contrast, I just learned how to set a DVR recording from my phone), but Mr. Rostaing’s Landonne certainly approaches the Guigals in quality and longevity. Blackberry, fig, tobacco and bacon are just some of the attributes of this ever-changing nose, the palate is elegant power: it’s a medium weight at best but the intensity is almost frightening. Still several years out from true joy, but this 2015 will get there a tad quicker than other vintages. 99 points Robert Parker, 3 bottles available, $249.98 +tax

E. Guigal “Ex Voto” Blanc 2012, Hermitage. The best white Hermitage I’ve tasted besides Chave, from the Ermite and Murets parcels on Hermitage hill. Both stoic and generous, the nose teems with stone fruits, brioche, green apple, ginger and mint, omg. Beeswax and citrus deploy on palate, with that gorgeously viscous sewing-machine-oil texture and finish so prevalent in Marsanne. Drinking amazing now, drinking amazing in 15 years, all because it is made of magic. 97 points Wine Spectator, 8 bottles available, $249.98 +tax

Until next week, Happy Drinking!!

 

*The “La Las” are 3 Cote-Rôties by Guigal from 3 vineyards: La Mouline, La Turque and La Landonne, they are widely considered to be the appellation’s benchmark.

 

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