Each week I review a wine with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.
Mitolo Jester Shiraz 2013
Vintages #: 659607 | 750 mL bottle | $22.95
Wine Type: Red
The Mitolo Shiraz was tough for me to love–it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t spectacular either. Regardless of the reviews (some of which put this in the 90+ range), I wasn’t bowled over. The trouble with this wine was that the incredible bouquet didn’t translate to the palate. Bright, luscious, bursting aromas of blackberry, black cherry, mint, and roasted coffee made me salivate. The muscular tannins, toasty notes, and prominent tobacco flavours competed with the fruitiness, and flavours of bitter chocolate, and for some reason, the balance was just off for me. The wine had a good, full-bodied mouth-feel, with a decent acidity to round out the finish which ended on a slightly sweet note. Try it, for sure, since many seem to really like this wine (except your resident blogger).
About the Wine: According to Mitolo Wines, the 2013 vintage was outstanding, producing bright, fresh wines with “excellent tannin structure.” The Shiraz vineyards are in the Willunga district, in the south of McLaren Vale. Grapes are grown in a loamy-sandstone-clay soil, and in a maritime climate. Mitolo Wines recommends pairing this with a “Bistecca alla Fiorentina cooked over charcoal.”
LCBO #: Special Order | 750 mL bottle | $30 (but purchased for $21 on Black Friday)
Wine Type: White
This is a 90-95-point wine that Decanter describes as “a complex, unique Chardonnay,” but oh man, did I have a hard time getting into this wine. On the nose, the aroma of oak was overpowering for me, cloaking some of the other scents I managed to pick up (but not without a struggle!), including brioche and blanched asparagus and butane (but I think the professionals use the more sophisticated descriptor, “flinty”). On the palate, heavy oak dominated, but an upstart citrusy-acidity vied for attention. The buttery mouth-feel, matched by a spritely minerality, was not at all unpleasant, but overall, not to be repeated (and I still have two more bottles!).
About the Wine: Located 400 km north of Santiago in the Limarí Valley, the Maycas winery produces typical Burgundian varieties, including Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay, grown at the Quebrada Seca Vinyard 190 m above sea level in calcareous and clay soils, is exposed to optimal growing conditions: sunny days, close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, and a cool- to moderate-climate.
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.
- Oy! It’s not all good news about supermarket wine sales in Ontario – from $10.95 minimum prices, to all-Ontario wines, it could be more of a curse than a blessing. (Wine so close to everything you would need to make a cheese board, yet limited by geography. *Tear.*)
- Move over, Napa! Baja, Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe may be the next up-and-coming “darling of luxury food, wine and travel experience.” (I reviewed some Baja wine last year.)
- Michigan ice wine was served at the White House state dinner on Thursday? Um, wouldn’t have Ontario ice wine been more apropos?
- Heading to California soon? Why not take a Judgement of Paris wine tour for $200 (US). On the itinerary: Chateau Montelena Winery, Clos Du Val, Freemark Abbey, Spring Mountain Vineyard and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.
- Are you getting tired of all these reports on which wine is dominating international sales? This week it’s Spanish wine nudging out the French as the most popular wine in the world…
- …And Spain’s Rioja region is about to import China’s Changyu Noble Dragon wine–a wine made in Yantai Changyu Group, China’s oldest bodega, founded in 1892.
- Let’s raise a glass (of Brunello) to Italy’s first winery operated solely by women.
- Drinks International magazine’s annual poll has named Australia’s Penfolds the world’s most admired wine brand.
- Get your bottle of EU Referendum wine from U.K. wine merchant, Weavers. It’ll not doubt become a collector’s item…
- But 720 mL bottles certainly won’t. The EU has rejected Japan’s pleas in free-trade talks to allow the sale of smaller-than-average wine bottles in European markets.
THROUGH THE WINE GLASS
This week we have a special guest blog from a Faithful Reader, who reflects on his favourite wines and wine adventures. [Editorial comments sparingly added by Yours Truly. xo]
As the inaugural guest contributor, may I say how honoured I am for this invitation. I hope I can do justice to you, the loyal readers, and introduce you to what may perhaps be new perspectives. Unlike your regular columnist, I have a far less refined palate, and lack her descriptive powers and her fluency with wine terminology. I take a more Trumpian approach to these matters – I know what I like, and I tell it how it is. Even if I’m wrong.
So, where to start? OK. Yes. Whisk(e)y. As a Scot by residence (yes, I know, a very long time ago) I spent my childhood surrounded by shabbily dressed academics who would gaze for hours at a tumbler (alright, several tumblers) of Scotch, prattling on with decreasing coherence about the taste/bouquet (they didn’t call it that) quadrant into which malt whiskies are allocated. Some of them (yes, Laphroiag) really had few redeeming qualities, but it was as fashionable then (c. 1965) as now to worship the briny smell and taste of the Islay malts. Frankly, I find most of them quite vile and an appalling waste of money. My preferences were Singleton (difficult to get in Ontario), some of the older Glenfiddichs, Highland Park (I still remember the 25 year-old I was given as a farewell gift when I departed my last proper job), Oban, The (and it is “The”) Macallan and, usually, the darker, richer malts. Lately, though, I’ve strayed from the historical and snobby purity that scorns any whisky not from Scotland, and have been buying some of the alternatives. There are some excellent Irish whiskies (OK, not many) and an increasing range of offerings from the US, a few from Canada and, you’d never guess…..India! Yes, India. Amrut is one of the leading distillers there, and in blind testings they frequently beat out some of the noblest Scotches. [I’ve tasted this, and it’s not bad.] They’re not cheap – typically in the $70-$90 range – but dark, rich, delicious, with or without a splash of water and never, ever ice, which should be deployed only with the palest Islays. I’m still experimenting with bourbons, so will return to these in a later guest column. If I’m ever invited back.
Veering back on course, let me talk about wine. First off, your regular correspondent and I do not agree on ratings. I get the challenges of the 100 point scale, because, really, it’s finicky, deeply subjective, silly, and ultimately impossible. But nor does this cork system work. [Wow, someone can kiss that invitation back good bye…!] If you reduce the options to a maximum of four or five corks, you are grading wines in bands of 20% to 25%. However, I have to admit that I don’t actually have a better system. Or perhaps I do. The starting point is that wine that tastes horrible shouldn’t be marketed. Period. Once beyond that barrier, it’s a taste/price value proposition. If you spend below $10 a bottle, it’s just…wine, usually for a party, or for people who don’t know good from bad, or don’t care. Between $10 and $20, you need to enjoy it, but not to the point of over-thinking it, especially at the lower end of that range. But more than $20, the flavours must be distinctive, the bouquet powerful. Again, though, what matters is – do you like it? Of course, even if you like it, even if you really, really like it, the question soon becomes: is it worth it?
Having attended a recent wine auction with your regular correspondent (and she was indeed dressed as if she could squander thousands on a single bottle of Petrus, although there was some muttering about the propriety of her distinctive shade of lipstick [it was “classic red,” thank you very much!]) I saw people pay up to $3,000 for a bottle of claret. [Note: I say “saw”, but the high rollers invariably bid through an agent, or by phone, because if you have that sort of money, you aren’t going to spend a Saturday morning in the company of folks who get squeamish about paying more than $20 a bottle [or, as he actually remarked, people who wouldn’t deign to sit in the cheap chairs]]. What went through my mind was this: how can a Petrus be worth 150 times what you’d pay for a perfectly decent bottle of, say, a Chilean Malbec? It might taste a bit better (even a lot better) and the taste sensations will no doubt go on for longer, but that can’t come close to justifying these prices. Which leads to these conclusions: people pay these prices because they are investing, not collecting, and because they can and want others to know that they can.
This blog is of course about what to drink and not drink. I intend to point you in the right direction, but won’t be giving any specific recommendations. I’m not a big fan of French wine [sacrilege!]; and I don’t know much about Italian wine beyond what a friend of mine once told me – stick to those that begin with a B [in a pinch, I guess, but there are some other very exciting wines that don’t begin with a B – the Vs are quite remarkable, for example]. And I find that Californian wine, especially the reds, is just too and in some cases ridiculously expensive. My last such indulgence was a Schafer Merlot, at more than $50. It was…nice. I subsequently saw that it was reviewed with a score of 89, so go figure.
The best values are Chilean [no disagreement here – in fact, you can check out my blog on the wines of Chile from last year]. Nice, crisp whites, And stunning reds. Anything that gets 90+ points in the Vintages catalogue, buy it, and drink it in the next year [disagreeing – see this week’s tasting notes above]. And then of course we have Australian, of which I’ve been an avid fan for decades, when I made my first trip to the Hunter Valley. It started inauspiciously. My host drove me the two hours from Sydney, and as we were about to pull up for lunch at Freds’ Resto, he suddenly swerved back into traffic, declaring that he wasn’t prepared to patronize an establishment whose owner didn’t understand where to place the apostrophe, and was rear-ended by a Holden station wagon. As we waited for the tow truck, we had a glass of Saxonvale Chardonnay at Freds’, and I was hooked. I returned to Toronto with a case of Rosemount Cab Sauv, and never looked back. You can spend a lot on Aussie reds (D’Arenberg Dead Arm, still available at Vintages, for over $50, is wonderful) but you don’t need to, as there are many selections in the $20-$25 range (Cabs, Shiraz) that are way better than any French nonsense [hey now!] at multiples of that, and which need little if any cellaring.
I must end with a confession. I did make a purchase at a wine auction last year. An Australian Shiraz, from the Mollydooker winery. (There are two meanings of this expression, one harmless, the other stereotypically vulgar). It cost $160, plus buyer’s premium, and HST. I plan to drink it this year, and will send a review for inclusion in this blog.