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Weekend Wine: That's new to me

One of the fascinating things about wine is that there is always something to discover, not the least of which are grapes that I had never heard of before.
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One of the fascinating things about wine is that there is always something to discover, not the least of which are grapes that I had never heard of before.

A few years ago it was Carmenère, a French grape that had virtually disappeared in France back in the 19th century with the vine louse epidemic, phylloxera, only to be rediscovered in Chile not that long ago mingled in with and mistaken for Merlot.  Today, Carmenère has become quite “mainstream”. 

Carmenère has been described as softer than Cabernet Sauvignon, but gamier than Merlot.  It can have good red and dark berry notes, but also a herbal or green pepper character.  It is the “green pepper” notes that can be problematic.  Too heavy and they can impart a vegetal character that some may not appreciate.  That said, its popularity is undeniable.

 The Casillero del Diablo Reserva Carmenère$14 on the regular list, would be a good introduction for those who have yet to try this wine.  It is easy drinking with plum and other dark fruit notes, and would go well with roasted or grilled meats.

On the March 6 Vintages Release, Santa Alicia Gran Reserva de Los Andes Carmenère 2012, $17.95, has been said to have Merlot –like qualities, but also savoury notes such as olive and mint according to the Wine Enthusiast.

More recently, Bonarda has emerged in Argentina.  Once almost exclusively a bulk or blending wine, now Bonarda has emerged as a single varietal, one that is easy drinking and relatively light on the budget. La Posta Armando Bonarda 2014, $14.95 is currently on the Vintages shelves – this won’t be complicated, but will have a sensation of baked fruit and some earthiness – some are even reminded of beet.  There is freshness here and some sour cherry towards the finish.

Today, Bonarda and Carmenere have become relatively common, but what about Bobal and Rufete?  Until this year, neither of those names had made any impression on me, but that has changed.

I don’t remember hearing of Bobal  prior to this year, and then Pasión de Bobal 2012, $16.95, showed up on the February 6 Vintages release.   Bobal, like Bonarda in Argentina, is used mainly in bulk wine production, this time just inland from the Mediterranean on the central Spanish coast near the La Mancha plain. 

One might ask how a grape that is generally considered only useful for bulk wine production can make something special; after all there is the adage about silk purses and pig’s ears.  

But there are always other factors.  In the vineyard, vineyard management is critical.  In the case of bulk wine, high yields are desirable, but the fewer the bunches of grapes a vine is expected to support, the higher the quality that can be achieved.  Careful management of the leaf canopy for exposure to sunlight, control of irrigation, and many other factors can all play apart in ultimate quality, as can the age of the vines.

In the case of Pasión de Bobal, the vines are a venerable 60 years old, with a resulting intensity in the quality of the fruit.  Think of how the term “Old Vine” often shows up on a wine label – producers are using it to allude to higher quality in the fruit.

Conversely, the fruit from young vines can lack depth and character.  That is why famous producers such as Chateau Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux don’t use grapes from vines less than 10 years old in their flagship wine, while the average age is 39.

But back to Bobal.  The Pasión de Bobal is vibrant and energetic with significant depth.  It has a somewhat rustic character, but this just adds to the charm.  Smoky notes, dark cherry and dark chocolate are some associations that have been made, with peppery notes and tightening tannins coming through at the end.

Several reliable reviewers have given in scores of 90, and it remains available in most areas of the province.

A second Bobal-based wine, Bodegas Ponce La Casilla Estrecha 2013, $36.95, was released on February 20, but only in the Toronto and Ottawa areas.  I have to doubt that it is twice the wine of Pasión.

As much as the Pasión de Bobal is vigorous, Phinca Encanto Rufete 2011, $27.25, is, as David Lawrason describes it, “delicious and fascinating.”   

Rufete is grown along the Duero/Duoro River basin on the border with Portugal, completely across the country from Bobal.

A young Spanish winemaker, David Sampedro Gil, believing in the grape’s potential, and using organic and biodynamic practices in the vineyard and winery, he has created a very intriguing and impressive wine.

Gil looks to recover varieties traditional to the area, giving full respect to nature and to the characteristics of the fruit in the winemaking process.  He believes in minimal intervention so that the final product is as true to the particular vine as possible. 

After a natural fermentation, the grapes are pressed and then aged over two winters in French oak barrels in order to undergo a natural and softening malolactic fermentation.

The first time I tried the Rufete I was immediately surprised and impressed with the nose – it was abundant, and reminiscent of a sweet pipe tobacco, with dark cherry and mint, too.  The flavours are more integrated than those of the Bobal, with spice and earth reverberations, smooth tannin and satisfying fruit. 

W’ine Align’s Sara d’Amato calls it “immensely compelling offering verve and intensity with a complex array of flavours” and John Szabo called it an “exciting find”. 

The experts are impressed, and you will be, too.  It is worth seeking out.

Another of David Sampedro Gil's wines was released on February 20, Pasolamonjas 2011, $24.95, and it, too, is exceptional.  A Garnacha, this wine comes across as much drier than several I have tried of that varietal, though at the core there is still a very pleasing seam of sweet fruit.  Britain’s Decanter magazine gave it a 93 and called it “stylish…smooth, integrated and harmonious.”

Other rarely seen grapes continue to emerge, such as Coda di Volpe in southern Italy, and Malagoussia from Greece. I’m looking forward to more and more.

March 6 Vintages Release

The focus of the release is on some very high end California wines, but looking through what’s on offer, it could just as easily have been on Chardonnay.  In addition to a few I will linger on, there are several very good choices that won’t be seen in Northern Ontario (that’s well north of Barrie!) that I want to mention.

Kew Vineyards Old Vine Chardonnay 2012, $18.95, is part of the Angels Gate family, and for that alone it is worth trying.  In addition, Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2013, $22.95, from B.C.’s Okanagan Valley and William Févre Espino Gran Cuvèe Chardonnay 2013, $18.95, both come very highly recommended.

Napa’s Beringer Chardonnay 2014, $22.95, is more broadly available and is ready to enjoy now.  Green apple and pear, with a touch of French oak are identified by vinous.com which gave it an 89.

Frei Bothers Reserve Chardonnay 2013, $24.95, is more of an in-your-face wine that should provide even deeper flavour. The oaky vanilla is kept in balance by lemon and orange citrus notes with deep apple allusions adding to the richness.

Among other whites there’s New Zealand’s Lagoon Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2014, $17.95, with tropical mango and passionfruit, and new mown hay followed up with a crisp finish.

From the Mosel, we have St. Urbans-Hop Nik Weis Selection Urban Riesling 2014, $18.95. This wine should reverberate with Ontario drinkers, as Nik Weis was involved with Vineland Estates and his daughter has married into the Cave Spring family.  The wine is off-dry and is described by the Wine Enthusiast as being “squeaky fresh” with “tart tangerine and punchy yellow peach and mango flavors” –score? 89.

Red Wines

The Sister’s Run Calvary Hill Shiraz from the February 6 release is already hard to find throughout the province (Timmins and North Bay still have some), so don’t wait too long to pick up the Sister’s Run Cow’s Corner Grenache/Shiraz/ Mataro 2014, $16.95 when it hits the shelves.

The Decanter Asia Wine Awards gave this wine a silver medal for its “harmonious elegant palate full of youthful dark fruit with a good sprinkling of spice and a supple finish.” Considering the winery’s track record, this should be a no-brainer.

Wines specially promoted by the LCBO tend to be pretty good, and the same should hold true for Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, $17, from California, with both a double gold from the San Francisco International Wine Competition and a 90 from the “Ultimate Wine Challenge”.  Nutmeg and dark fruit on the nose, loads of dark fruit on the palate with a nutty and chocolatey finish.

The same LCBO rule of thumb should apply to the Xavier 100% Côtes du Rhône 2013, $17, with its erobertparker.com91.  It has the same grapes as the Sister’s Run…and several more: Cinsault, Carignan, Marselan.  (Marselan really is a “new one”, a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache developed in 1961!)

It carries dark berry and mineral notes on the nose and in the mouth, and “has beautiful concentration, a layered balanced feel and ample length” according to the Parker review.

I can’t help but recommend more Spanish reds. The quality to price ratio is tipped way over in our favour.

Abad Dom Bueno Crianza 2006 is a 10 year old wine for only $15.95.  The grape is Mencia, noted for dark fruit flavours and herbal notes.  Gord Stimmell in the Toronto Star wrote of “a lush gush of blackberry, plums, cedar and black cherry.”  Pick some up.

Vizcarra Senda Del Oro Roble 2013, $18.95 is another rich red, this time made from Tempranillo, arguably Spain’s most noted grape.  The Parker people write of a “big blast” of flavour, saying “the wine hits the palate with a suppleness as well as nicely textured opulence.”  It should be drinking perfectly now.

Have fun.