Every column, I recommend several wines, many of which will be featured in the next Vintages release. Perhaps it would be useful for me to share some of the thinking that goes into the choices I make.
I live in Sault Ste. Marie, and this small northern Ontario city, like other centres throughout the north, receives just a fraction of the wines slated for the shelves. For July 22, the Sault will receive about half the 100 wines listed, while Timmins, for example, will get just a third. Most of my recommendations will come from that portion of the release.
The column appears on five sites: in the Sault, Timmins and North Bay in the north, as well as Guelph and Barrie in the south.
For readers in Guelph and Barrie, the selection is fairly complete. If the wine isn’t coming to your community, it isn’t too far to another centre that would likely be able to satisfy your needs.
I put the column out a week ahead of the release, so that readers can check to see what their stores are getting, and if necessary can try to order in by the following Tuesday at the latest, depending on remaining warehouse availability.
La Tremenda Monastrell 2012, $19.95, for example, is not slated for Sault Ste. Marie or Timmins, but this Spanish red, known as Mourvèdre in France, promises “freshness, pomegranate, raspberries, and red cherries along with red licorice and Mediterranean herbs” according to robertparker.com, which also calls it “juicy and accessible”, praising its persistence – 91+ If it appeals, you might need to order ahead.
So then, what factors influence my suggestions? Quality and price are important. While I might be seduced into paying $20 or more for a bottle of wine, many of my readers would be happier paying less.
We still find good choices between $13 and $18, and the general list will push that price range down a few dollars easily. There, for example, the Cono Sur Bicicleta line from Chile offers great value, with the Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Viognier all coming through for $10 to $12.
When quality and price are fairly equal, variety on one hand and popularity on the other can play a role. I am always interested in trying wines that are new to me. Falanghina from Campania in Italy around Naples is one of those grapes native to southern Italy beginning to gain traction.
Coming out July 22, Janare Falanghina Del Sannio 2015, $16.95, is a flavourful white wine with some nutty and mineral notes. Vintages remarks on ripe tropical fruit, while others identify orchard fruit such a pear. There is very good balance and acidity at play.
Another consideration in making a selection is a wine’s “track record” – how is it faring in the eyes of the critics, how has it performed in the past. This Falanghina received a “three glass” or “excellent” rating in the 2017 Gambero Rosso Guide of Italian Wines. So, in terms of price, quality and interest, this wine has it all.
In Toronto, the LCBO provided wine writers with the opportunity to taste wines which will be slated for release through Vintages, but, living in Northern Ontario, that option isn’t of practical use to me. In addition to my own experience, I look to what other writers and wine publications have to say, along with competition results, to help me make recommendations.
It helps to have a sense of how particular critics score wines –because they differ. One writer’s “93” might be another writer’s “90”, and an “88” from a third writer may indicate a wine I want to try more than one to which others gave a much higher grade. It isn’t that a critic was necessarily off-base; you just have to understand how their perceptions might compare to your own.
I respect the writers for the Wine Enthusiast, and so an 88 from them for the Spanish red blend Monasaterio De Las Viñas San José de Aguarón Reserva 2012, $14.95, is attractive. “A fresh palate that is slightly choppy in feel…cherry, raspberry and oak flavors… finishes dry, spicy and steady.” That it already has some bottle age also makes it appealing.
Many of us are partial to the “tried and true”. South Africa’s Mulderbosch has always been reliable for good value wines, and this applies to its Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2016, $12.95. The fruit for this wine comes from vineyards that were planted intentionally for the purpose of making rosé. The John Platter South African Guide calls the 2016 very good with a “lovely mid-palate tanginess that invites the next sip.”
As for Rosés, the international benchmark is Tavel, in the southern Rhône region of France. There, Rosés are made exclusively and are intentionally flavourful. Domaine Maby La Forcadière Tavel, Rosé 2016, $18.95, is a deep pink in colour, laden with fruit and herbal elements and is even big enough they say to take on red meat dishes. Knowing both this region and this winery’s reputation gives me confidence in recommending it to you.
In making suggestions, I am influenced by my own tastes and comfort levels, no doubt. While I enjoy big flavours, I prefer my red wines on the drier side, and so I don’t often write about those red wines from California that have been pushing the envelope in sugar levels. They are a style with a huge following, and it reminds me of how most “beginning” wine drinkers prefer something on the sweeter side.
50 years ago, my generation began drinking sparkling Portuguese wines like Mateus and Casal Mendes – not to mention Ontario’s “Baby Duck”. 20 years ago, it was blush wines such as “white Zinfandel” that had the attention of new wine drinkers. Gradually, though, tastes may develop or mature, and people gravitate to wines that are drier.
(That said, a sparkling Moscato or cider can be really tasty, especially with the warm weather. The tasty and refreshing Growers Ciders at the Wine Rack stores and LCBO come in various flavours, including Wild Berry, Pear, and Stone Fruit (peach,/apricot) for $3 per 473 ml. can or $12.95 for 6 cans of 330 ml.
I enjoy the wines from the south of France. There are many fine and affordable examples, such as the up-coming Claude Gros La Condamine Paulignan Minervois 2013, $17.95. The robertparker.com site is noted for giving high marks to rich-tasting wines, and the 92 given here is compelling: “fabulously textured, medium to full-bodied, layered and seamless, this beauty offers up a rock star bouquet of black cherries, incense, lavender and hints of olive.” I think this one is hard to resist.
In the past couple of years, I have become a fan of the white wines from the Loire region of France known as Muscadet Sèvre & Maine, which is noted for its dryness and energy. With the Pierre-Luc Bouchaud 2015, $14.95, “high level tartness and acidity meet the plump fruit for a full-on expression of Melon de Bourgogne,” according to winealign.com. – 89.
In all, I have my reasons, and my predilections. I will write about more expensive wines, especially when I have had a chance to try them, but in general I am trying to focus on wines that most of us will find tasty and affordable.
If Readers have suggestions or constructive criticisms, please share them. I can be reached at email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you, and will do my best to get back to you. In the meantime enjoy your wine.
Some more recommendations for July 22.
Joseph Cattin Riesling 2015, $15.95 from Alsace carries “soft citrus notes of clementine [that] are streaked with fresh lemon…slender, dry and totally refreshing” – 89 –Wine Enthusiast
Featherstone Sauvignon Blanc 2016, $17.95. Here is a Niagara wine to challenge your New Zealand favourites. Writer Michael Pinkus points out that Featherstone has added barrel fermentation to the wine-making process, bringing some heft as a result, but there is still great acidity, along with grassy, grapefruit and guava. Pinkus calls it “perennially delicious.”
Simi Chardonnay 2015, $19.95 – I have been re-discovering this Sonoma producer’s efforts. They are significantly good and value-laden for a wine from this part of California between the Napa Valley and the Pacific. This wine is delicious. The palate is medium-bodied and silky, as you would expect because of the malolactic fermentation which converts the apple-like acids to smoother “milkier” ones – but this was done with just under half the wine, so that good acidity is retained and expresses itself at the end. The tinge of oak and its suggestion of vanilla is there as you swallow, but it is restrained, with only 25% new wood used. This wine is balanced and pleasurable just on its own, though the winery suggests serving it with prawns, salmon, or even Caprese Salad. With a suggested retail price of $19 in the States, this is a great buy.
Umano Ronchi Montipagano Montepuciano d’Abruzzi 2015, $13.95 –This organic wine from a respected producer is simpler with raspberry, cinnamon and dusty tannins, according to winemag.com. Pair it with grilled sausages and pasta with a good red sauce, and you’ll be happy with your choice.
Las Cepas Costalarbrol 2013, $16.95, is new to Vintages and seems very promising. While it is from Rioja, it is only about 20% Tempranillo along with 20% Garnacha (aka Grenache). The rest is Graciano, a dark, aromatic and moderately tannic grape. TheWine Enthusiast remarks on its “spice-cake exuberance” “very clean fruit” and “pleasant chunkiness” - 91.
La Gironda La Lippa Barbera d’Asti 2014, $19.95, is rated “very good to excellent” by Gambero Rosso. It has forward ripe red berry and cherry fruit and is easy drinking, especially if slightly chilled. Vintages suggest s that there is a rustic note adding “depth and character”.
Vintages On-Line Exclusive
I have just tasted the Ravenswood Belloni Zinfandel 2012, a single vineyard example from Sonoma’s Russian River Valley which became available on-line on July 6 for $44.95. While it is comparatively pricey, especially for this column, it is exceptional. Dark and dusty, with a core of black fruit and plum, the wine’s expansive nature impresses, with savoury nuances such as olive reining things in to provide a fine balance. Critics have scored it variously from 92 to 95 points, commenting on its solid structure, pristine integration, and beautiful layered effect. The winery suggests a drinking window that would extend from now through 2025.
To order go to vintages.com, enter the name or product code (672741) and follow the prompts. You could try the Vintages number1-800-668-5226 if you feel the need to speak with someone about ordering.