Twin Fin, Salmon Revival, Chateau de Beaucastel

Twin Fin, Salmon Revival, Chateau de Beaucastel

It’s a rule of thumb (the purple thumb) that when the hype is about labels, demographics and price points, the wine in the bottle is likely mediocre—more so when cuddly critters are baring their commercial fangs. Which brings us to the LCBO general list and a new concept wine from California called Twin Fin (not the mascot of the San Jose Sharks). Twin Fin is actually decent wine but I’m not going to rave. It’s exactly the quality I expect from a $14.00 bottle, and fair value from California which still tends to be overpriced for what’s in the glass.

Twin Fin refers to the label that depicts a double-finned surf board in a red convertible, presumably on a Malibu beach. So you get the drift—a harmless fun-fun-fun, sand-in-your-toes summer wine. But would Brian Wilson, the tortured, reclusive soul of the Beach Boys, have gotten out of bed to pick up a case delivered to his door? Anyway, I like Twin Fin 2004 Pinot Noir *** (LCBO $13.95) because it’s fairly supple, balanced and tastes of spiced cherry jam, like many California pinots. It has a whiff of crouton-like oxidation on the nose on first pour, but it dissipates with aeration. And I like the Twin Fin 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon*** (LCBO $13.95) as well—actually slightly more exciting than the pinot but hardly as robust as real cabernet can be. Both are also being poured at Sante.

Speaking of fins, the LCBO and Banrock Station of the BRL Hardy wine group in Australia have announced a five-year, $1.2 million project to help restore native Atlantic salmon to Lake Ontario. Over 400,000 fingerlings from Nova Scotia are being released into feeder rivers this week, then work will begin to repair spawning habitats. Banrock Station has supported wetland and native species restoration projects for more than 15 years, mostly in the Murray River region of Australia where massive vineyard irrigation projects, among other agricultural pursuits, have endangered fragile, local ecology. The LCBO’s contribution to the salmon revival is about $250,000, part of a recent enviro-consciousness that includes pushing wine in tetra-packs and a new line by—you guessed it—Banrock Station (as yet not tasted). This is all laudable, but some residents of Lake Ontario’s watershed will only deem all of this a success when they see Lake Ontario salmon proudly listed on Toronto restaurant menus.

Over to France. François Perrin of Chateau de Beaucastel in the Rhone Valley slipped through Toronto last week as well (it’s a busy time), presenting a vertical tasting of the world’s most famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape en route to a sold-out $995 per couple Beaucastel wine weekend at Langdon Hall near Cambridge. Collectors could and would debate another ten houses in the famous southern Rhone appellation that vie for this honour. But few have achieved such ubiquitous recognition, largely because Wine Spectator named the 1990 Beaucastel its Wine of the Year awhile back. I was delighted to see the Beaucastel 1990 ***** (avg $135 US, not available in Ontario) in the tasting. It was still the best vintage on the table, a tall shoulder above the rest, a wine of stunning power, lift and complexity that’s drinking beautifully and should hold another decade at least. Fast forwarding, the current Chateau de Beaucastel 2003 **** (Vintages $79.90) is not likely to live this long. From a very hot vintage it is ripe and delicious, with a sweet wild berry jam quality mindful of California zinfandel, but nicely buttoned down and not ponderous or over-extracted. A bit of a stretch value-wise, but delicious wine that should age well through 2015. Perrin says the 2004 and 2005 vintages to come are better.

Discussion at vertical tastings nowadays is inevitably over whether longevity is relevant because so many wines today are delicious in youth. Perrin, while acknowledging the huge winemaking strides that make big modern reds balanced when young, eloquently stated the classic French view that upholds the honour of place: “When you have the ability to make wines to age because you have the historic terroir, then you must do it. Given the sheer pleasure of nosing the leather, truffle, tobacco and dried cherry-fig like fruit of the Beaucastel 1981 ****1/2 (no longer available)—that is only now just edging beyond prime without being a monumental a vintage—he has a point. Whether or not that place is in the New World or Old.

Until next pour…