Vintages’ April 12 Release: The Top 10
Vintages stores will be releasing dozens of new wines this Saturday. I have been able to taste most of them in advance along with other wine writers, a twice-monthly ritual that sees a couple dozen people sandwiched into a small white “lab” to work their way through almost 100 bottles. Some taste them all; some hit on a few big names. I am increasingly looking for quality above all else. The older one gets the more appropriate maxim “life is too short to drink (or taste and write about) bad wine.”
To me, quality in wine is defined as a true and generous expression of character—the better that expression, the higher the rating. Trueness is about purity (absence of flaws) and balance, which allows character to show through unimpeded by too much or too little acidity, alcohol or tannin. Generosity is reflected in the intensity of the aroma, complexity and length of finish, all of which can be measured, rated and priced. While many inexpensive wines are not without flaws and are reasonably well balanced, it is most often the more expensive wines that have complexity, intensity and a good length of finish.
And so, here are my top 10 picks from the April 12 release:
Darting 2006 Riesling Spätlese, Ungsteiner Herrenberg, Pfalz, Germany ($19.95, 92 points, 963207)This producer from the warm, southern Pfalz region neighbouring Alsace has really elevated quality of late. This medium-sweet beauty shows gentle but generous and well-integrated notes of ripe peach-apricot fruit, honey, fresh evergreen and wet stone minerality. Quite rich and sweet yet refreshed by lovely, lacy acidity. Excellent length. Great value.
Megalomaniac 2007 Narcissist Riesling, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95, 90 points, 67587)Ostentatious labeling often masks unimpressive wine. To date, John Howard’s Megalomaniac labels have been very good but not striking. This 2007 from Erda’s Vineyard breaks the 90-point level with lifted, complex apple, peach, spice and peppery nuances set in a crisp, tingly-fresh, mosel-like frame, with chalky minerality. Fine riesling essence. Good value.
La Crema 2006 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California ($29.95, 90 points, 962886)If you are an ABC activist (Anything But Chardonnay), you may want to give this big, sweet, cushy and oaky version a pass. But it delivers all these elements well with ripe apple-peach pie fruit, spice, butterscotch and coconut flavours. It’s full bodied, creamy and rich, but stays just onside with good acidity. Excellent length.
Casa Lapostolle 2005 Clos Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($99.95, 95 points, 723676)Many will dismiss a $100 Chilean red in disbelief. But this single-vineyard (Apalta) blend of four varieties (carmenère, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit syrah) is a stunner, setting the tone for Chile’s best “emerging” red wine region. Big bloom on the nose, with cassis, chocolate, violets, leather and hashish-like spiciness. Very dense yet surprisingly smooth and creamy until young tannins chew into the finish. Outstanding length; a great modern New World red for the cellar. Best 2012 to 2020 and beyond.
Quintarelli 1999 Valpolicella Classico, Veneto, Italy ($84.95, 92 points, 986117)Delicious imperfection. The traditional winemaking techniques of Italy’s most famous artisan—the man every Italian home winemaker dreams of being—are far from perfect. There is a volatile acetone–nail polish edge that modern puritans would never permit in their wines. However, it is buried in great complexity: dried cherry, marzipan, leather, chocolate and dried herb. Also possesses great balance, with a rich, satiny texture thanks to age having worn down the tannin. Excellent to outstanding length to boot. Drink now to 2011.
Muga 2004 Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($23.95, 91 points, 177345)This traditional producer values textural finesse above all. There is firm tannin and good acidity for long aging, but the proportions are bang on, leaving centre stage to the youthful floral blackberry fruit nicely embroidered by savoury cedar and earthy elements. Excellent length; very nicely done. Best 2010 to 2015.
Sandalford 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, Western Australia ($24.95, 91 points, 22293)I look for vibrancy above all in the cabs of Margaret River, and this one delivers. With a blast of cassis, menthol and chocolate on the nose, these flavours never waver. There is such great tension and zest that it almost feels light for cabernet, but there is a tightly coiled muscularity and density that keeps its grip through the very long finish. Drink now or age five years, maybe more.
Torbeck 2006 Woodcutter’s Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($25.95, 91 points, 927533)It’s always fun to find an Aussie shiraz that has all the density and power of Oz but finds that certain Rhône-like ambience of woodsmoke, black olive and caper nuances amid the fruit and oak. It’s a bit of a milkshake on the palate—sweetish, thick and dense, with youthful, drying tannin. Rounded enough to drink now, should hang in for about six years.
Domaine Antonin Guyon 2005 Beaune Clos de la Chaume Gaufriot, Burgundy ($42.95, 90 points, 66423)Burgundy’s heralded 2005 vintage is centred on almost perfect fruit ripeness combined with solid structure. Beaune is one of the lighter appellations of the region, which is echoed in this elegant pinot. Lovely, lifted aromas of cran-cherry fruit, fresh mint, lightly smoky oak, spice and leather. Mid-weight, well proportioned and even, with very good length. Best 2009 to 2012.
Château Calissanne 2005 Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, France ($15.95, 89 points, 61283)Perhaps the best value red in the April 12 release: a blend of grenache, syrah and cabernet sauvignon that delivers charm, depth and a bit of excitement. Love the Mediterranean ambience with olive, floral notes, tar and sweet blueberry-blackberry fruit. Slim, elegant and tense in feel, with good flavour concentration and tannin. Very good length. Best 2009 to 2013.