The Best Of October 2006

The Best Of October 2006

Each month, I look back over the previous four weeks of tasting notes to review ten wines that stood out for quality, value, newsworthiness or plain intrigue. With several major high-end tastings, including Halpern’s Grand Cru Festival, the Errazuriz Berlin Tasting and the Port and Douro Reds event, plus tastings for Vintages November releases, much of the selection is up in more rarefied territory this month. And, by chance, several happen to be great age-worthy cabernet sauvignons—still the king of the cellar. Here is the line-up presented in descending price order, so you have to read to the end to find the best values. They are all either immediately available, coming soon (please bookmark), or I have provided tracking information.

Chateau Margaux 2000 Margaux 1er Cru. Bordeaux ***** ($600+ range, auctions/private cellars)One of the most famous wines on the planet, from a superb vintage now just starting to emerge into adulthood, this was ranked number one by over 60 pros in a very serious blind tasting wherein some top Chilean cabernets were pitted against top Europeans. I couldn’t believe its sheer presence, from the billowing bouquet of ripe blackberry fruit, leather and smoke to its palate-drenching texture, to a length of finish that almost lasted to bedtime. It just keeps coming at you. You might spy it on a restaurant list or charity auction bill, and, if ever tempted to go nuts on a single bottle, this might be the one. The price guesstimate varies depending on who’s selling it and why.

Taylors 40 Year Old Tawny Port, Douro Valley, Portugal ***** ($239, Vintages Classics Catalogue Holiday EditionThe world’s greatest old wines are often so fine and gentle on the palate that they seem to have no texture at all. Perhaps a touch of silk, but so seamless as to leave sensory attention focused on the flavours, which trail off as endless vapours. That’s the impression provided by this amazing old tawny, one that rested an average of 40 years in old barrels before being bottled. The vapours are of mocha, walnut, fig, honey and molasses, all perfectly interwoven and lasting on the finish for as long as you want before having another sip or a nip of cheese. This is the ultimate fireside, holiday indulgence for port fans.

Cliff Lede 2002 Poetry, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley, California ***** ($139, Classics Catalogue Holiday Edition)Edmonton-born, Vancouver businessman and avid Bordeaux wine collector Cliff Lede lived out every wine nut’s fantasy when he established one of Napa’s best new wineries in 2002, on the property of the former S. Anderson sparkling wine house in the Stags Leap district. His single vineyard Poetry, from 25-year-old hillside vines harvested at a very meagre one-ton-per-acre is 83% cabernet sauvignon with a smattering of the four other Bordeaux varietals. It was aged for 20 months in 70% new French oak and bottled without fining or filtration. It is indeed a thing of grace with classic, ripe, seamless aromas of blackcurrant and mulberry, cedar, mocha and spices. Full bodied, supple and quite open knit with fine tannin and outstanding length of finish. Best 2008 to 2015 or beyond. Cliff Lede 2003 Stagecoach Cabernet Sauvignon ****1/2 ($59) is also in Classics.

Errazuriz 2003 Don Maximiano Founders Reserve, Aconcagua Valley, Chile ****1/2 ($79, Vintages Classics Catalogue Holiday Edition)Recently tasted blind during the Berlin Challenge, I placed this luscious cabernet sauvignon (with a touch of syrah) second behind the Chateau Margaux 2000 reviewed above. From old vines on the Aconcagua estate about one hour north of Santiago, this impressed through the purity and density of its massive fruit. Incredible cassis and cream on the nose with mint and background oak spice. Full bodied, plush and seamless with incredible fruit focus and length. New World all the way, but proof that you can have fruit bombs with elegance. The finish never quits. Approachable now, should hold form, with this kind of density, for 25 years.

Dow’s 2003 Vintage Port, Douro Valley, Portugal ****1/2 ($79, Vintages)Always one of the less gracious vintage ports in youth, Dow’s usually emerges as one of the silkiest as it reaches its peak. Deep black colour. Reserved but complex nose of plum, mulberry, and Christmas mincemeat pie. Thick, tight and tannic but very well proportioned with a hint of 2003 suppleness. It’s still youthful and closed overall but when this kind of elegance can still surface amid this kind of tightness and tannin, you know you have a long cellaring wine on your hands. Best 2012 to 2025. Consider as cellar gift for a good friend. On the shelf now at Vintages.

Penfolds 2003 Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia **** ($29.95, Vintages November 11)In a world increasingly full of flashy, juicy, sweet, soft reds I always seem to stop at Penfolds Bin reds and say, “Now there’s a wine with complexity, balance and structure”. Yet again, with the Bin 407, a cabernet’s cabernet that will cellar for a decade. But don’t interpret this to mean lean and green. It’s full fruited with ripe blackberry, layered in cedar, lead pencil and leathery complexity. Solid and balanced with fine, firm tannin and very good length. Best 2009 to 2015.

Dog Point Vineyard 2005 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ****1/2 ($19.95, Vintages)Summer sauvignon season may be out of mind as we head into winter, but do not ignore this sensational sauvignon currently on the shelf at Vintages. It has that rare ability of great wine to balance delicate feel with powerful flavours. Very typical, very well integrated peach, passion fruit and lemongrass, with a touch of exotic tangerine. Very refreshing and stylish, with excellent length. Should hold up through the 2007 sauvignon season very nicely. Agent is Small Winemakers Collection.

Katnook 2003 Founders Block Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia **** ($17.95, LCBO)This new screwcap cabernet from a winery based in and specializing in Coonawarra cabernet has just joined the LCBO general list. It doesn’t offer the depth of the 2003 Estate version coming December 9 to Vintages, but this is very complete, approachable and distinctly Coonawarra in style—with a touch of minerality and dried herbs amid the ripe blackcurrant fruit, mint and well handled oak mocha. Its medium-full bodied, compact but not the least austere in its youth. It should hold form for a decade, but you can drink it as you please.

Colognole 2003 Chianti Rufina, Tuscany, Italy ***1/2 ($16.95, Vintages)With many good chiantis now over $25 it’s nice to find one that’s reasonably priced, with some class and from an excellent ripe year. The reason? The Rufina zone north of Florence is less well known than Chianti Classico. And, within Rufina, which is dominated by the Frescobaldis, the small wineries are even less well known. This shows lifted, well integrated currant-cherry fruit, licorice and herbs typical of sangiovese, with a mid-weight, silky palate and warm, dry finish. Length is very good. Best 2007 to 2010. Widely available now at Vintages, and the excellent Colognole 2000 Riserva **** ($27.10) is also available from Small Winemakers Collection.

Segu 2003 Carmenere Reserve Unfiltered, Maule Valley, Chile ***1/2 ($14.95, Vintages November 11)The deeply coloured, dense, highly structured but often green tasting carmeneres of Chile are distinctive and therefore controversial—as in, love it or hate it. The best are now toning back greenness and gaminess by p
icking later. From a small family winery in the southern Maule region comes one of the “improved” carmeneres, still with a touch of spinach or rapini, and loads of more floral peony notes, blackberry fruit and oak. It’s ripe, dense and firm, stuffed to age and best from 2008 to 2012. Love ‘em or hate ‘em Carmenere can pack great value.