Each week I review two wines with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.
***Faithful Readers, I have nothing to report for Beaujolais Nouveau 2015, which could be ascribed to my poor planning. I did not line up at my local LCBO trailer on Friday (yes, trailer, while my neighbourhood wine and spirits retailer is under renovation), but, for those who may be interested, the LCBO’s releases for this annual event can be found here. The editorial calendar has been locked down since October, hence also no Carmenere recommendations in honour of International Carmenere Day (but do check out my older review of a charming budget Carm). It’s all about Riesling this week, I’m afraid. Like it or loathe it, we’ve got two options from opposite sides of the Atlantic:
Tawse, Quarry Road, Riesling, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara VQA, 2013
Vintages #: 198853 | 750 mL bottle | $23.95
Wine Type: White
My tasting notebook says it all — beside this organic Ontario wine is the following shorthand: “TASTY! :)” This young Riesling is an unspectacular pale straw colour, nearly water white, but on the nose, light apricot and citrus aromas, even the subtle scent of oxidized green apple peel, invite a delightful first sip. On the palate, the wine is off-dry but still crisp, medium-bodied and honeyed, with pronounced floral characteristics, and only the subtlest hint of petrol (one of the signature aromas of an excellent aged Riesling). A pleasant minerality on the tongue transitions to a smooth, velvety finish, albeit disappointingly short in my opinion. Overall though, a great match for Asian dishes, complex curries or some schnitzel and spätzle.
Bischöfliche Weingüter Trier Scharzhofberger, Spätlese, Riesling, 2012
Vintages #: 424721 | 750 mL bottle | $31.95
Wine Type: White
A Mosel Riesling from Robert Talbott Vineyard and Winery, this Riesling was uncorked with the highest of expectations. Though not significantly older than the Ontario wine reviewed above, I was hoping for something infinitely more aromatic. It must be a failing of mine: I anticipate greatness from some of the world’s most renowned regions for specific varietals and am often crestfallen. Sadly, this one fails to deliver. Not overly aromatic, this wine is much sweeter than the Tawse, but stops short of the off-putting saccharine quality I find plaguing budget German Rieslings, like Black Tower or Deinhard Green Label. The wine is rather light bodied, with flavours of stone fruit (particularly ripe peach), honey, and crushed violets. Alright, but hardly worth the price.
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.
- Television viewers Down Under will soon be seeing how British Columbia’s Southern Okanagan Valley makes some of the world’s best wines.
- I had the great pleasure of attending a champagne reception at Waddingtons Auction House this week to celebrate the return of fine wine auctions to Ontario, beginning online on Monday, November 23.
- …and, if after Waddingtons, you still feel an itch to keep on bidding, the U.S. Marshals will be selling off almost 5,000 bottles of presumably authentic vino seized from a counterfeit wine producer. (Nothing says class like an impounded case of Château Mutton Rothschild. Baa!)
- Wine Spectator’s much-anticipated Top 100 list came out this week. An impressive showing from Italy was eclipsed by the good old U.S. of A., which snagged the top three spots.
- One of France’s most celebrated charity events, the Hospices de Beaune wine auction, in its one-hundred-and-fifty-fifth year, donated a portion of its proceeds to victims of the Paris attacks.
- Burgundy is reporting a quality vintage this year, though one of relatively low yields owing to a hot, dry summer.
- Politics and Pinot hardly seem like a winning combination, but the European Union evidently disagrees, demanding that products from Israel’s West Bank Settlements be labelled in order to dissuade consumers from purchasing goods from “occupied Palestinian lands.”
Wine world miscellanea – from varieties to regions, and from vine to bottle.
THIS WEEK: WINE REGION
Dão, Portugal: Rising Star
Dão isn’t a household name outside of wine circles. Unlike Napa and Bordeaux, few consumers are pillaging liquor store shelves at the first sign of wine from one of Portugal’s lesser-known, less glamorous, even underappreciated viticultural regions. Virtually eclipsed by its showy southern cousin, Duoro, where the country’s signature fortified wine, Port, is produced, my first encounter with a blend from Dão was extremely memorable, making it a wine region worth exploring further.
According to Oz Clarke’s Encyclopedia of Wine: An A-Z Guide to the Wines of the World, Dão can produce some of Portugal’s best reds, due to both its climate and topography. But it isn’t all gold medal, best-in-show standings–far from it, in fact, as the region has long been a producer of plonk. The structure of wine co-operatives in the area has, for decades, contributed to the proliferation of “hard, over-extracted reds and oxidized whites.” Thankfully, I did not have this experience with the Borges red I reviewed two weeks ago!
Dão is one of the oldest established wine regions in Portugal, which, not unlike Sherry, owes much of its wine-making evolution to various influences spanning millennia (think Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, not to mention rise of a global multi-empire wine trade). It takes its name from the Dão River around which many of the region’s producing vineyards are located. Some of the best reds are made from the local Tinta Roriz (known as Aragonez or Tempranillo in Spain) and Touriga Naçional grapes, often blended together; these are also two of the main varieties used in the production of Port.
Better quality Dão wines have good ageability, and can be cellared for many years. High quality wines owe a great deal to the combination of topography, aspect and soil type. The altitude, as well as the proximity to the mountains, help moderate the region’s temperatures, producing cooler nights, ideal for helping the grapes ripen slower, while the poor, granitic soils ensure grape varieties, like the Touriga N. and Tinta R., thrive. The predominant white grape variety, Encruzado, is well-known for producing light, fresh whites and, when barrel aged, wines of great depth and flavour. Unfortunately, Portugal’s wines earned no spots on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 this year, though two top-25 places went to (surprise, surprise) Portugese fortifieds, including a Port.
If my experience is any help, I strongly encourage you not to skimp on a wine from the region. I hate to equate quality and price, since we all know that, like a designer handbag, you might be paying more for the name rather than a discernible difference in craftsmanship (and I’m thinking here of some French and American wine-producing regions in particular). This said, I also know that every penny of that $25 Dão red was worth it, and landed me a superbly blended wine that was thoroughly enjoyable. So, do your research, and don’t fear splurging to ensure you avoid the trap of those overly astringent, poorly made bulk wines that are no reflection of the true potential of this great region. (And, of course, if you know of any exceptional, “entry level” Dãos, do let me and my readers know!)
THE ONE-MINUTE WINE TUTOR
Curious about the best resources to learn about wine? Here I review books, videos, podcasts and other educational tools in under a minute.
***The first in a two-week series on the wines of Burgundy, I review two very different books about France’s most beloved wine regions. It’s also been suggested that I rate the books I review, so you’ll see my much-adored five-cork rating system applied to wine books as well.***
If an introduction by Robert Parker, Jr. isn’t a stamp of approval for a wine book, I’m not sure what is! Burgundy and its Wines by Nicholas Faith, with photography by Andy Katz, is a visual treat and an easy introduction to a region known as much for its history as its terroir.
Faith is author and coauthor of several books on wines and spirits, including Cognac, The Story of Champagne and Chateau Margaux. His style is accessible, and his treatment of an area as complex and daunting as Bourgogne is deftly handled so that neophytes and experts alike can immerse themselves in the pages of this tome and benefit from its content.
The book is divided into six chapters that weave together a cohesive narrative, from an introduction to local geology, geography and grapes, to a short history of the slow but steady ascent of Burgundy as a venerated wine region–both its reds and whites enjoying the patronage of not only Burgundian dukes, but also Hapsburg emperors up until the late 19th century.
The chapter, “The Royal Road to Romanée Conti,”focuses not only on what Faith argues are “by far the finest…wines of unique elegance,” but the areas surrounding it. Indeed, the Côte d’Or is synonymous with Burgundy itself, rising to prominence from the humble beginnings of local monastic orders, to the gradual “secularization” of wine-making in the 15th and 16th centuries.
What Faith does well is connect history with tradition and culture. One of my favourite chapters on Beaune introduced me to the annual wine auction at the Hospices de Beaune which Faith calls “surely the weirdest event in the wine world,” but which I think is utterly charming. The annual auction, held on the third Sunday of November, sees fine wines from the 61 hectares owned by the Hospices (“almost exclusively from its Premier and Grand Cru vineyards”) sold for the purposes of donating the proceeds to the hospital. This year’s auction raised a record-breaking $12 million USD.
My overall verdict is that this is a wine book for the collection. It can be read and reread, and each chapter can be easily enjoyed on its own. It’s light on the more technical aspects of wine-making, but rightly so: this is not a textbook. Instead, it helps add the much-needed context and perspective to what some might forget as they sip their Domaine Dujac Morey-Saint-Denis Blanc: the fact that wine is often an integral part of a region’s historical and cultural narrative and is heavily influenced by politics, economics and social change.
Burgundy and Its Wines by Nicholas Faith
Publisher: Raincoast Books (Jan. 30 2004)
Available on Amazon.ca