Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Picks: Vintages Release -- March 5 2011

The headliners of this week’s release are Argentina and Chile, with a supporting role given to “the other Northern Italy”, which means anything but Piedmont.

The good thing about the wines from Argentina and Chile is that they’re not from the best-known areas. No Mendoza among the Argentineans. No Maipo, Rapel, or Maule among the Chileans. Kudos for the effort.

And I’m a big fan of northeastern Italy: Alto-Adige, Trentino, Friuli. But the choices...well...they should do better...and more of them, please.

Usually, there are other goodies tuck away here and there in any release. But I found it tough sledding this time around.

But here they are…Dave’s Dozen. (Nothing organic worth your consideration this week.)

Off the Beaten Track


Among the whites, there’s one from Chile and one from Northern Italy, plus 2 other Italians from further south and a Bordeaux.

AMARAL COOL CLIMATE SAUVIGNON BLANC 2010, Leyda Valley (Chile); #48025; Price: $14.95; 14.5% ABV
100% Sauvignon Blanc from the cool climate of Leyda Valley, just 12 km from the Pacific, almost directly west of Santiago. Surprisingly high alcohol. Drink young with seafood.

CHÂTEAU COUCHEROY BLANC 2008, AC Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux); #199133; Price: $22.95; 12.5% ABV
100% Sauvignon Blanc, a bit unusual for a Bordeaux Blanc, which usually has a fair amount of Semillon in the blend. Partly barrel-fermented, partly fermented in stainless steel. Aged partly in oak, partly in stainless steel on its spent yeasts. No Malolactic fermentation. Crisp, fresh, ideal as an aperitif or with some simply-prepared seafood.

ALOIS LAGEDER PINOT GRIGIO 2009, DOC Alto Adige (Italy); #681429; Price: $18.95; 12.5% ABV
It’s fashionable to knock Pinot Grigio (still?) and often it’s justified. It’s a Varietal that can be insipid. But here in northeast Italy is where PG has a well-deserved good reputation. Fermented in stainless steel tanks, then aged on its lees for 4 months. No oak.

CASALFARNETO FONTEVECCHIA 2009, DOC Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi Classico Superiore (Marche, Italy); #208983; Price: $14.95; 13.2% ABV
I bet almost everybody knows the Verdicchio from Fazi-Battaglia (it’s the one in the odd-shaped bottle) so here’s a chance to try another producer from Marche (on the Adriatic coast, with Tuscany and Umbria to the west). Hand harvested. Aged in steel tanks for 5 months, then in bottle for 2 months. No oak. Filtered. Look for characteristic lemon and bitter almond flavours.

CARUSO & MININI TIMPUNE GRILLO 2009, IGT Sicilia; #203943; Price: $13.95; 13.5% ABV
100% Grillo, a grape that’s indigenous to Sicily. Fermented in large oak and acacia (!) barrels. Aged on its lees in stainless steel, followed by 3 months of bottle aging before release.


Among the reds, a couple of interesting Argentineans from outside Mendoza, plus a couple of always-reliable Rhone wines from 2 great vintages (2007, 2009) and two wines from Rioja. If you’re not drinking Rioja, you’re missing great values.

CASA MONTES ALZAMORA SYRAH 2006, San Juan (Argentina); #220673; Price: $19.95; 13.9% ABV
From San Juan, north of Mendoza. A little hotter is San Juan, which Mr Syrah seems to like. Harvested by hand. Fermented in stainless steel. Maceration on the skins both before and after fermentation for 12 days. Aged in a combination of new and used French oak for 12 months. The winemakers, originally from Spain, may be aiming for an Old World style, as they use the name “Syrah” and not “Shiraz”.

VALLE PERDIDO RESERVA MALBEC 2006, Patagonia (Argentina); #222760; Price: $19.95; 14.0% ABV
Yes, it’s 100% Malbec, the signature grape of Argentina. But it’s from the cool (and windy) climate of Patagonia, not Mendoza. Handpicked (at dawn!) and sorted, then gravity-fed into fermentation in stainless steel tanks for 10 days. Aged for 14 months in first-use 60% French and 40% American oak.

MAS DES BRESSADES CUVÉE TRADITION 2009, AC Costières de Nîmes (France); #143099; Price: $14.95; 14.1% ABV
A blend of Syrah (55%) and Grenache (45%). Machine harvested...what do you want for 15 bucks from France?...the winemaker fermented the two grape varieties separately, then aged in concrete tanks. No oak!  Costières de Nîmes is officially part of the southern Rhone but is right next door to Languedoc. Good value.

PIERRE GAILLARD SAINT-JOSEPH 2007, AC Saint-Joseph (Rhone); #194928; Price: $27.95; 13.0% ABV
100% Syrah from the Northern Rhone. Cold maceration for 4 days, then fermentation for 4 days, followed by post-fermentation maceration for 2 weeks, then Malolactic fermentation in barrels. Aged 18 months in Allier and Nevers oak (20% new). I rank the smaller AC of Saint-Joseph in between Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage for quality.

BODEGAS LAN CRIANZA 2006, DOCa Rioja (Spain); #166538; Price: $15.00; 13.0% ABV
100% Tempranillo. Aged in American and French oak barrels for 12 months, followed by several months in bottle. If you don’t know the wines of Rioja, this is the perfect starting point.

MARQUÉS DE MURRIETA FINCA YGAY RESERVA 2005, DOCa Rioja (Spain); #209148; Price: $24.95; 14.0% ABV
A classic Rioja Alta wine! A blend of Tempranillo (84%), Garnacha (13%), and Mazuelo (3%). A step up from Crianza, Riojan Reservas spend more time aging, both in the barrel and in the bottle. The grape selection should be better too. Fermentation on its skins for 8 days in stainless steel tanks. Aged 22 months in American oak (8 months in new oak), then kept in the bottle for 12 months before release.


JANSZ PREMIUM CUVÉE NV, Tasmania; #566828; Price: $24.95; 12.5% ABV
A classic blend of Chardonnay (58%), Pinot Noir (40%) and Pinot Meunier (2%) from cool climate Tasmania. Made in the traditional méthode Champenoise, or as they say at Jansz, the Méthode Tasmaniose: the wines go through secondary fermentation in bottles and aged on yeast lees for as long as possible (average two years). Good value on ya, mate!

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