Top 12 Wines of August ’06
Watch this space the last Monday of every month, where I’ll be providing a selection of 12 memorable wines encountered over the preceding 30 days. The selection is based on outright quality, surprise, newsworthiness, value, or any combination thereof. All are currently or soon to be available. The picks are arranged in descending price order so you’ll have to read to the end to find the very best values.
A tough choice this month with plenty to choose from the LCBO general list and Vintages Essentials tastings I did for the Toronto Life Eating and Drink Guide (on newsstands in October). I also tasted Ontario selections for Winery to Home, led four George Brown College tastings for the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, and managed to preview the September 2 release of Tuscan wines at Vintages. By rough count, I’ve tasted well over 500 wines this August.
The Case for August:
• Antinori 2001 Guida Al Tasso, Bolgheri, Tuscany ****1/2 ($81.95, Vintages Sept 2)They just don’t come with much more finesse than this. An exceedingly fragrant, complex, seamless and long cabernet not out of place among Bordeaux’s first growths. So compared to those prices $82 looks pretty fine. Cellar 2008 to 2015+.
• Mazzei 2002 Tenuta Belguardo, Maremma, Tuscany ****1/2 ($56.95, Vintages Sept 2)Even better value for big spenders on top Italian reds. From the warmer Maremma zone southwest of Chianti this is opulent, elegant, sumptuous sangiovese blended with cabernet and merlot. You’ll want to drink it rather than admire it in a showcase.
• Lanson Black Label Brut, Champagne, France ****1/2 ($44.95, Vintages)Priced below most Champagnes at the LCBO and with more gumption, depth and complexity than its peers. Bracing, toasty and very long; one to take to the table with a rich fish first course. I like it better than Dom Perignon 1998, although Dom does have more length and elegance.
• Morgan 2004 Twelve Clones Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey ****1/2 ($32.95, Vintages Sept 2)Seriously yummy in California pinot noir way. Exciting new source from Bench lands in cool Monterey County. Silky, rich and generous with all kinds of cherry, vanilla and spice. Seductive stuff.
• Joseph Drouhin 2002 Cotes de Beaune-Villages, Burgundy, France **** ($19.95, LCBO)Burgundy’s last stand on the LCBO general list. Now maturing, diminutive but very tasty pinot noir with well integrated cherry, wood smoke and earthy notes that recalls the Cote d’Or in the fall. Enjoy it this autumn with a roasted bird accompanied by mushrooms and wild rice.
• Unity 2003 Chardonnay, Canada **** ($19.95, Vintages Sept 2)A politically correct, delicious and quite elegant 50-50 blend of Okanagan and Niagara chardonnay conceived by Vincor head winemaker Rod Scapin. I particularly like the pear, peat smoke and almond notes mindful of Meursault in Burgundy. A stylish chardonnay that will have your wine guessing friends scratching their heads.
• Concha Y Toro 2004 Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon ****1/2 ($18.95, Vintages)Fragrant cassis, chocolate mint and wood smoke could seduce the most reticent skeptic of Chilean wines. Unexpected structure and depth. This wine has stuffing and finesse to last over a decade. Wowed top city sommeliers gathered in a CAPS class.
• Thirty Bench 2005 Riesling, Beamsville Bench, Ontario **** ($18.00, www.winerytohome.com)Under new Andres ownership and the winemaking guidance of Natalie Reynolds, some of oldest and best riesling vines on the Bench get a new lease on life and join the top ranks of Niagara riesling. Petrol, peach, lime and minerality in a tight, juicy, deep style. Note new Niagara sub-appellation on the label.
• Leon Beyer 2004 Pinot Gris, Alsace, France **** ($16.15, LCBO)After wading through dozens of pinot gris and grigios for the Eating and Drinking Guide, finally one with real class. Honeyed, smooth, firm and very long on the finish. Easily the best Alsatian at the LCBO at the moment. You won’t find a better match for roast pork.
• Masi 2004 Possessioni Rosso, Veneto, Italy **** ($15.00, LCBO)This mid-weight blend of corvina and sangiovese is both gentle and vibrant, and as I sipped it with roasted red pepper bruschetta I couldn’t imagine a more Italian experience. At the moment, Masi’s general list line-up is very impressive in scope and quality.
• Chateau Bonnet 2005 Entres deux-Mers, Bordeaux, France **** ($11.75, LCBO)Nothing from New Zealand tastes like under-$12 New Zealand sauvignon. Classy new label, screw cap closure and hot vintage have turned this simple sauvignon into a passion fruit surprise. Juicy, fresh, excellent length.
• Moselland 2005 Bernkasteler Kurfurstlay, Mosel, Germany ***1/2 ($8.85, LCBO)A heads-up to German producers who insist on bottling dull, boring cheap wines. This little screw cap gem is light (9% alcohol), airy and refreshing, with spritzy orange-lemon citrus and a touch of sweetness. Hope we get a couple of more hot summer evenings.