Best of September ’06
Each month, watch for the top wines encountered in the previous four weeks. Not necessarily the best of the best, but 12 wines that stood out in terms of quality, value, newsworthiness or plain intrigue. Here is the line-up for September, presented in descending price order—you’ll have to read to the end to find the best values. They are either immediately available or coming soon (please bookmark). If neither, I’ve provided tracking information.
Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 2003, Pauillac 1st Growth, Bordeaux ****1/2 ($664.00, Classics Catalogue Winter 2007) Excellent but not quite drop dead gorgeous, nor worth the money, unless you are collector who will re-sell it in 20 years. Classic Bordeaux cedar, lead pencil, wood smoke and new oak vanilla beautifully inset amid very ripe (hot vintage) cherry fruit. An internal poise that is subtle and intriguing. Full bodied, tight and still tannic, so it does need age. Best 2012 to beyond 2020. The tasting was hosted by Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA at the swanky new Le Select Bistro on Wellington Street west of Spadina.
Almaviva 2003, Chile ***** ($90 range, Select Wines 416-367-5600)Poured alongside Mouton-Rothschild, Almaviva is a joint venture between Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Bordeaux and Concha y Toro. It’s a cabernet sauvignon, carmenere, cab franc blend from 26-year-old vines in the stony soils of the Puente Alte sub-district of Maipo at the foot of the Andes. Delivers classic Maipo cassis, eucalyptus, chocolate and vanilla in a seamless, lush, rich texture. But it’s not just soft and cuddly; there is beam of acidity and finesse. Very impressive and certainly age-worthy.
Cordero di Montezemolo 2001 Barolo Monfalletto, Italy ****1/2 ($29.95/375ml, Vintages Oct 28)An odd choice for a half-bottle because once opened you will want more and more. However you could also treat yourself to the half-bottle some evening when dining alone. This is my pick of the special Barolo release coming October 28, with very lifted outdoorsy, spicy, leathery, sour cherry and red currant fragrance—classic modern nebbiolo scents. Medium to full bodied, elegant yet solid, very well balanced and integrated. Excellent length.
De Bortoli 2002 Noble One, Australia ****1/2 ($29.95/375ml, Vintages Nov 25)The most famous dessert wine in Australia, made from fully botrytis-affected semillon. Very complex with barrel-aged toffee tucked in behind amazing marmalade, honey, dried apricot and exotic ginger character. Feels thick and viscous but well-embedded natural acidity squeezes the finish to dryness. Excellent to outstanding length. Bookmark this one for the holidays.
Creekside 2002 Meritage Reserve, Niagara Peninsula **** ($34.95, www.winerytohome.com)Ontario will not do Bordeaux varieties much better than this. Only 84 cases were made, a blend of 20% cabernet franc, 45% cabernet sauvignon and 35% merlot from top vineyards in Niagara’s best red wine vintage to date. Deep colour. Rich, ripe evolving nose with cigar-tobacco, leather, smoke, ripe currant fruit. Medium to full bodied, supple and dense with rich flavours, soft, well-integrated tannin. A touch green on the finish. Excellent length. Stylish. Best 2007 to 2012.
Norman Hardie 2005 Riesling **** ($19.95, www.normanhardie.com)The debut of a terrific Niagara riesling picked and crushed at the Wismer Vineyard near Beamsville then fermented, aged and bottled at Norman Hardie’s winery in Prince Edward County. A classic, solid, dry riesling mindful of the best mineral-driven rieslings of Germany, Austria or Alsace. Generous petrol, lemon, dried peach and stony aromas and flavours. Great structure, acid very firm and a bit tart on the finish. Very good to excellent length. Free shipping with case orders, you pay shipping for smaller lots.
Charles Baker 2005 Riesling, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara ***1/2 ($22.00, www.charlesbaker.ca)Charles Baker, ex -Cave Spring Cellars, is the marketing director at Stratus, where he made this wine, the first of a series of new single vineyard efforts. Grapes were sourced from a top-of-escarpment site in the new Vinemount Ridge appellation, with some vines up to 22 years. The site is owned by chef Mark Picone (ex-Vineland Estates). Aromatically reserved for now with some sulphur evident. Very ripe pear-apple, floral and vague evergreen notes. Mid-weight, fresh and just slightly sweet, with loads of ripe fruit on the palate. Texturally lively and poised, with a lemon, pear finish. Very good length. Age it a bit; best 2008 to 2011.
Sandbanks Estate Winery 2005 Baco Noir Unfiltered, Ontario ***1/2 ($19.95,www.sandbankswinery.com)On a broad curve where the Loyalist Parkway hugs the Lake Ontario shore in Prince Edward County sits the charming winery built by Catherine Langlois and Rene Lorenzo. They grow baco noir and vidal, plus cabernet franc, and create wonderfully gentle wines. In fact I’ve never had such an amiable baco noir. Baco can be horsey and austere and volatile—this is like a fragrant Cotes du Rhone or South African pinotage, flavourwise, but lighter weight and very genteel and harmonious on the palate.
Chateau Sainte-Eulalie 2003 La Cantilene, Minervois, France **** ($18.95, Vintages)Best French Red at the International Value Wine Awards 2006 in Calgary. Very stylish gentle red without flaw and in almost perfect balance. Lovely if subdued black cherry wrapped in mocha with an authentic touch of garrigue (dried herbs and scrub brush) and leather. Check out availability at www.lcbo.com—a few scattered bottles remain but I hear more may be coming.
Mouton-Cadet 2004 Rouge, Bordeaux ***1/2 ($13.95, LCBO)This is light, charming and so easy to enjoy. Increased merlot percentage has shaved off that green, scratchy edge that plagued cheap Bordeaux. Now a gentle, fine everyday red with raspberry, herbs and wet earth flavours. With a sense of the integration and balance that Bordeaux still does better than most. Ideal, lightly chilled, to accompany a sandwich or roast chicken.
Concha Y Toro 2005 Carmenere, Chile **** ($12.05, LCBO)Carmenere is the wild child of Chilean viticulture, a grape prone to greenness within a swarthy, powerful frame. This tamed version from later-picked riper grapes features sweet blackberry, clove, coffee and new wood mocha. Medium to full bodied, very smooth, supple and dense with surprisingly good structure and excellent length. Wow. There is “crazy growth” in popularity of this wine says Concha y Toro winemaker Marcelo Papa, who revealed production has gone from zero to 150,000 cases in just four years.
Pelee Island 2005 Cabernet Franc, Ontario *** ($10.45, LCBO)Very pleasant, straightforward non-oaked cabernet franc with sweet raspberry, tobacco, earthy aromas and flavours. Mid-weight, rounded, a touch sweet with light tannin. A riper year. Fine little mid-weight sipping red right on focus for this variety in Ontario. The less oak the better. Good length. Now to 2009.