As much as I enjoy drinking wine, my enjoyment is all the greater allowing for what I learn along the way. In effect, learning informs taste. Putting the wine into a context can heighten the experience of drinking it. Generally, it makes it better, though there are times when what one learns may help one to understand just why a particular bottle just didn’t make the grade.
Most of my learning, aside from tasting the wines, comes from what I read, be it in magazines or newspapers, or on-line.
The May 31 issue of The Wine Spectator out of New York has an article, “Copper Crackdown Vexes Vintners.” It reports that the European Union is pushing to eliminate the use of copper compounds in agriculture, as this heavy metal, when used in anti-fungal sprays such a Copper Sulphate, ends up staying in the ground, and represents a risk for farm workers, wildlife and groundwater.
Ironically, it is organic and biodynamic winemakers who are most upset with potential ban, as they have fewer alternatives than conventional winemakers for dealing with fungal issues in wet weather. Still, scientists in Bordeaux, the article reports, are coming up with promising alternatives, including a spray made with Atlantic algae
In the May 2019 issue of Britain’s Decanter, columnist Andrew Jefford makes a case for a different approach to the issue of copper sulphate and other problems. He argues that “most producers rely on a tiny pool of long-established varieties, despite their often poor disease-resistance, weak site aptitude and increasing climate discomfort.”
Merlot is one example he offers, the second-most widely planted grape in the world.
He offers two suggestions. One is planting other varieties –there are thousands that we rarely see – and the other is putting more support behind vine breeders, who he says, “are in no doubt that without recourse to genetic modification, they would be able to breed fungal disease resistance into the varieties we already use.”
Jefford argues that vine breeders could also work on improving other qualities, including developing vines that produce fully ripened fruit earlier, and maybe even improve aromas and flavours, too.
He believes that vine breeders can do even better by using modern gene-editing techniques and taking advantage of the great gene pool of grapes in regions such as Italy and Portugal, as well as Georgia in the former Soviet Union, where there is evidence of wine being made for over 8,000 years.
Jefford does acknowledge consumer resistance as a potential obstacle going down this road. Let’s face it, we are often cautious about not trying producers we don’t know, let alone strange and obscure varietals.
When we do try them, sometimes the result is disappointing, but most often, I have been delighted by the new wines I have encountered, including Pellegrello Rosso and Roero Arneis from Italy. I say “new”, but actually these are revivals of wines that have been with us for centuries, if not longer, and only now are re-surfacing.
There should always be room on the shelf for a new wine, especially if it’s good!
In the same Decanter issue, Jefford wrote on Best Merlots under £ 50 ($85). That is quite a range, yet he explained that, out of 52 tasted, only 12 scored above 90. Given the price ceiling, that is impressive, though not in a positive way.
Jefford explained some of the difficulties in working with this grape, saying it “punishes viticultural failings ruthlessly.” In other words, if a winemaker slips up, watch out!
The grape, he says, goes from under-ripeness to over-ripeness quickly. In addition, as it is vigorous, it can be too herbaceous, and it takes a deft hand to use oak properly with it.
Of the top 30 he reviewed, only one, the Duckhorn Vineyards 2015 from Napa, $67.95, is in the LCBO with a precious few bottles in the Ottawa area. He gives it an 88, saying that the nose is “almost jammy sweet”, but goes on to admire its freshness and poise, calling “well crafted, round and soundly vinified.”
His article has me reflecting on Merlot in Niagara and its suitability in our climate. Recently, Cave Spring Cellars, one of our most respected and successful producers, decided that Merlot would no longer have a place in their portfolio – or vineyards – and have moved away from it altogether.
At the same time, I recently wrote about the Arterra Epoca, one of the richest Ontario reds I have ever tasted. Here is a wine that is 100% Merlot, I understand, and is made by incorporating the Appassimento technique used in the Veneto. 20% of the grapes were dried first, to enrich the flavour. Boy, did it ever!
So the verdict is out, as to Merlot’s place here in Ontario; however, putting the issue in the context that Jefford articulated, it gets us thinking.
The next time we open a bottle of Merlot, we will be taking notice of our enjoyment, and assessing it against what we have been learning.
June 22 Vintages Release
There are a few Merlots included on this release, which can give you a good chance to “re-consider” this grape.
Thomas Goss Merlot 2016, $16.95, from Australia’s McLaren Vale, was described thus by wineorbit.co.nz: “The palate delivers excellent fruit weight and fleshy mouthfeel, backed by silky texture and fine tannins. It is immediately appealing with plenty of delectable fruit flavours with an elegant oak infusion.” – 92
Kim Crawford Merlot 2016, $19.95 hails from Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand. Natalie MacLean writes that is ”a robust, smooth New Zealand red wine with fleshy black plums and some dark spice on the finish. -92.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Merlot 2015, $21.95 is from one of the most respected wineries in Washington State. In this case the Merlot is enhanced with a dollop of Syrah, The vines in this case are all original rootstock, a rarity in North America. Natalie MacLean calls this one a blockbuster and scored in 93.
Several Spanish reds are appealing, including the Borsao Bole Garnacha/Syrah 2015, $16.95, and the Viñedos Y Bodegas Pablo Algairen 2015, $13.95, a Cariñena, or Carignan.
My first choice would be the CR Gold 5 Monestrell/ Syrah 2013, $17.95, from the Jumilla region. The Wine Enthusiast calls it a “driller”, referring to “oaky flavors of dark-berry fruits and black plums…rock solid from head to toe – 92.
Italy also competes for our attention with a solid handful of attractive possibilities. The Barbi Brusco dei Barbi 2016, a very reliable Tuscan blend at $17.95, and the Federici Roma Rosso 2017 from the Lazio region around Rome, $16.95, will be quite rewarding.
The following really stand out.
Niro Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2016, $17, is a Vintages “Wine of the Month”. The Decanter World Wine Awards gave it a 95: “fruity and agile, with a nice freshness mixed with an elegant salty undertone. This has finesse and fine length.”
Torrevento Castel del Monte Vigna Pedale Riserva 2014, $19.95, earned top honours (three glasses) from the Gamberro Rosso Italian Wines Guide for being “elegant, easy, full-flavored with good expansion.”
From Argentina we have the Los Haroldos Reserva Malbec 2015, $17. In his Argentina Special Report 2018, Tim Atkin said this is his kind of wine - “perfumed, poised and refreshing… with chalky nuances and a long finish.” – 93.
Two $20 Cabernets compete for our attention. From Australia, we have Penley Estate Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, $19.95. It was #28 in the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 for 2018. It will challenge now with its dense tannins, but it has concentrated “plum, cassis and blackberry flavors. Sage and rosemary linger in the background. Strikes the right balance between power and elegance.” – 93. They say drink it now through 2030.
Carolyn Evans Hammond, who sparked the Toro Bravo sensation with her 96, gives the same high score to Submission Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, $19.95, calling it “elegant yet slightly brooding, a steal.” She identifies a texture of “crushed velvet” and flavours including among others “smoked plum… toasted tobacco and vanilla cream.”
Gérard Bertrand Réserve Spéciale Viognier 2017, $14.95, nails it for price and quality. Bertrand always gives solid value. This has a typically floral nose – honeysuckle, apple blossom – and fruit that goes from tropical to peach/apricot, with balancing crispness at the end. Think seafood.
Joseph Cattin Pinot Blanc 2017, $15.95, is a good choice for a summer white. This wine from Alsace took Gold in Lyon, France in 2018. Vintages explains that it is “perennially fresh and round with finely defined citrus fruit accented by white floral tones.”
Porconero Fiano 2017, $17.95, showcases an indigenous grape from Campania. Mineral and citrus notes dance elegantly with Granny Smith apple and peach flavours. Another must-try from the south of Italy.
Ruppertsberger Gewürztraminer Linsenbusch Spätlese 2017, $18.95, from Germany’s Pfalz region is a moderately sweet, late- harvest winner offering classic flavours of lychee, rosewater and ginger. Vintages suggests that you chill it and serve it with fruit or spicy dishes, such as ginger pork.
This release abounds in Rosés with 16 listed altogether. While half of them are from France, there are also examples from Australia, Italy, Portugal, the U.S., and Ontario.
From the Languedoc, Typic Cinsault/Syrah 2018, $13.95, is tempting, Vintages refers to “great vibrancy and juicy berry fruit. Touches of savoury spice flavours on the finish provide additional complexity.”
Australia’s dry Zonte’s Footstep Scarlet Ladybird Rosé 2018, $16.95, is “vibrant and succulent with gentle ripe citrus flavours. A beautifully balanced rosé with good palate weight. –therealwine review.com -92.
Ontario’s Redstone Rosé 2018, $17.95, comes from the highly regarded second property owned by Moray Tawse. Of the 2015, savvy.com wrote,” this wine shatters any preconceptions of what people think rosé should be. The aromas alone are breathtaking: chokecherry, roses, cherries, orange peel and cinnamon candy hearts. This is a very approachable and easy-going wine that would be perfect year-round.” It shows how Ontario can wow us in this category.
While Vintages indicates a splash of Grenache, the winery indicates that the Villa Aix En Provence Rosé 2018, $18.95, is 60 % Grenache, 35% Cinsault and just a splash of Syrah. Splash aside, this pale pink wine from Provence offers “pitch-perfect delicacy and refinement” says Vintages, with its strawberry/raspberry fruit and “orange citrus” in support.