Surprising Australians in Vintages’ new release

Surprising Australians in Vintages’ new release

The upcoming March issue of Toronto Life (on newsstands February 7th) contains reviews of 10 wines from Vintages’ February 2nd release, all of which have been rated 90 points or higher by other writers. In the spirit of helping you critique the critics, my reviews in the magazine compare my impressions and ratings to theirs, but there are certainly more than 10 interesting wines on this release.

As a general observation, I found proportionately more Australians worthy of note. Is this due to personal fondness for Australian style? Not really, because I’m also very fond of great Burgundy, Beaujolais, Tuscan reds, South African reds—you name it. If it’s great wine, it has a place on my table and in my heart. So why so many Oz wines? Could it be that Australia has found the way to capture quality more often and at a lower price point than other nations? I think so, and so does famous Bordeaux-based oenologist Michel Rolland who consults in virtually every country except Australia. Over lunch a few months back he told me: “Australia is making the best quality wine on the planet”. Maybe he’s feeling un-needed there.

Here are some highlights, all $40 or less, on Saturday’s release:

Under $20

Bottega Vinaia 2006 Pinot Grigio, Trentino, Italy($15.85, 88 points, 51623)A pleasant surprise and very good value. Makes one think spring! Classic, fragrant, pure nose of peach jam, honey and fresh baguette. Mid-weight, supple and quite rich then nicely dry on the finish with a typical, subtle Italian white almond bitterness. Very good flavour length. Drink when the snow melts.

Henry’s Drive 2005 Pillar Box Red, Padthaway, South Australia($17.40, 89 points, 685941)Very good value. This blend of young vine shiraz, cabernet and merlot offers plenty of depth and flavour for under $20, but has a couple of negatives (a touch of eggy H2S, and slightly overripe fruit) that preclude an excellent rating. (Robert Parker has scored it 91). Very deep colour and a palate drenched in cherry-fig fruit, with green bean notes from the young cabernet and merlot vines. Excellent length. Ready now.

$20 to $40

Stella Bella 2005 Shiraz, Margaret River. West Australia($21.85, 90 points, 48553)Shiraz from the west coast seems a bit more elegant and tense than its eastern cousins. Very complex, appealing nose of perfectly ripened black cherry-cassis like fruit with soft mocha notes from the barrel. Mid-weight and supple, yet built around firm acidity and a touch of minerality on the finish. Tannins are quite fine; ready to drink.

Château de Sérame 2005 Réserve du Château, Minervois, France($22.85, 90 points, 651125)Very deep black colour. Great nose very much in the modern style, with lifted plum, blackcurrant fruit embellished by coffee, chocolate, clove and cinnamon spice. It’s medium-full bodied. Quite dense yet surprisingly elegant for its size and ripeness. Well balanced with very good to excellent length.

Hewitson 2006 Ned & Henry’s Shiraz, Barossa, South Australia($22.85, 88 points, 54221)This very youthful, jam-packed wine needs some cellar time. It’s a very rich and powerful black forest cake shiraz with cherries, chocolate, mint and some leesy character. Medium-full bodied, somewhat disjointed and coarse, with sweetness, tannin and alcohol needing to come together. Finish is hot; length is very good. Best 2010 to 2015.

Glen Eldon 2004 Dry Bore Shiraz, Barossa, South Australia($27.75, 90 points, 54197)A deeply coloured, richly fruity modern Australian classic with very deep colour and huge aroma of blueberry, violets, mint and chocolate—almost too the point of confection, but appealing nonetheless. It’s full bodied, dense and soft with fine, polished tannin and a very supple feel. Not hot, which speaks to the amazing fruit concentration.

Château Jean Voisin 2001 St. Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France($31.85, 90 points, 61804)A great buy in mature Bordeaux for current drinking. It has evolved into a svelte, elegant merlot with ripe, rich blackberry fruit nicely proportioned among mature leather, cedar and mineral notes—very good harmony among the elements. Medium-full bodied, smooth texture although showing some dry, ragged tannin on the finish. Should hold another three to five years. Fairly priced for the quality and time spent ageing on your behalf.

Henschke 2005 Julius Riesling, Eden Valley, Australia($36.75, 92 points, 945055)One of the most expensive rieslings at the LCBO, but clearly one of the best since it comes from a cool, high altitude region of Barossa that highlights the grape’s acid-driven finesse. Huge aromas of petrol, honey, pineapple, mint and minerality. Not very graceful but full-bodied, solid and fleshy. A powerhouse.

Clos Henri 2005 Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand($37.85, 90 points, 56556)This comes from a New Zealand estate owned by Henri Bourgeois of France’s Loire Valley, where he also makes a small amount of pinot alongside his more famous Sancerre whites. This is a very pretty, lifted pinot with complex redcurrant-raspberry fruit, spice, leather and light wood smoke. Fairly gentle, supple mid-weight texture with a sweet and sour tension, fine tannin and excellent length. Best now to 2011.

Henschke 2004 Henry’s Seven, Barossa, South Australia ($40.95, 92 points, 685578)This is a real showboat from one Australia’s best producers. It blends three red varieties in the manner of the southern Rhône (shiraz, grenache, mourvedre) plus a dash of white viognier for added suppleness. And indeed the complex strawberry-cherry jam, cedar, nutmeg, bay leaf aromas are very much like some Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Full-bodied, supple, sweet and a bit hot. Very spicy finish. Excellent length.