Coming your way: excellent and affordable New World pinot noirs, rosés, and other fine wines
Featherstone ‘Cuvée Joy’ Rosé Sparkling Wine 2015
VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $29.95 12.5% alc.
Sourced entirely from pinot noir that was whole-bunch pressed, and made in the ‘Traditional Method’, this is a fabulous pink fizz that’s a little deeper and brighter in colour than many the rosés that aim for the classic Provençal oeil de perdrix (“partridge-eye,” a very pale pink colour). Featherstone knows that people buy rosés by colour, and the specs sheet warns, “Don’t let the pretty pink hue mislead you…. This is a structured sparkler….” Good idea to add that note because it might be mistaken for a sweet, fruity sparkling wine when it’s actually dry, full of bright, nicely layered and structured fruit that’s balanced by fresh, clean acidity. There’s lots of bubble action in the bottle and in your glass. One idiosyncrasy: it’s sealed with a crown cap (like a beer bottle). Just as you think – what with all these screw caps that make a corkscrew unnecessary – that all you need is your fingers to get at your wine, you have to go and look for a bottle-opener! But no stars lost for that. Drink this stylish fizz now and over the next year or two.
Ruffino ‘Modus’ 2013
IGT Toscana, Italy $29.95 (912956) 14.5% alc.
Vintage after vintage, Modus performs at a stellar level. It’s a densely flavoured, intricately textured blend, with the 2013 combining virtually equal parts of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. The three varieties were vinified separately, then assembled and aged 12 months in new and used barriques, before being aged further in stainless steel and bottle before release. The flavour profile makes itself known on the rich nose, then unfolds to a palate that shows both depth and breadth. If you’re into identifying descriptors, it provides an interesting, elongated exercise, but don’t let that divert you from the sheer pleasure of drinking this wine. The texture is rich and well structured, with excellent balance of fruit and acid, the alcohol is seamlessly integrated, while the tannins are smooth, moderate, and manageable. Drink it now to the early 2020s
Kendall-Jackson ‘Vintner’s Reserve’ Chardonnay 2015
California $19.95 (369686) 13.5% alc.
[Vintages Essential, new vintage] This is a delicious 100% chardonnay that shows elegance through and through. The nose gives off fresh fruit with a veneer of toastiness, while the palate amplifies the fruit and turns the volume down on the toast. The flavours are broad and focused, with plenty of complexity, and the fruit harmonizes with the well-calibrated acid. All but 5% of this chardonnay was barrel-aged on lees, and that comes through in weight and complexity of the texture. The overall impression is one of elegance and style – a modern chardonnay that’s versatile at the table. It’s drinking beautifully now and I suggest drinking it by 2020, so that you can appreciate the freshness of the fruit.
Rodney Strong ‘Chalk Hill’ Chardonnay 2014
Sonoma County, California $26.95 14.5% alc,
I tasted this at the California Wine Fair in Ottawa at the end of March. A couple of days before that, a fellow wine professional referred to California wines as “oak-water,” and at the show another commented on the heavy use of oak. Of course, whether a wine is heavily oaked or not depends upon your flavour preferences and tolerance of oak. It’s like peat in whisky. Some people (including a wine writer I know who regularly whines about oak in wine) can’t get enough peat, even if it drowns the flavour of the whisky. But I’ve never been convinced that oak treatment in California was universally as heavy-handed as is often made out. Yes, California winemakers regularly tell me that they’re dialling back the oak to bring the fruit forward – but so do winemakers from New Zealand, Argentina, Canada, and elsewhere. It doesn’t mean that their use of oak was excessive, but that they want to give it even less influence. The California oaked chardonnays I tasted the other day struck me as well-balanced in terms of fruit, acid, alcohol, and oak, and this one from Rodney Strong is full of flavour, complex, balanced, and above all fresh. It was fermented in new and used French oak, then aged 12 months on stirred lees, which adds complexity to the flavour profile and some weight to the texture. Great stuff, this oaked chardonnay! Drink it now and over the next year or two to enjoy the freshness of the fruit.
Arriving on 15 April 2017
Coriole ‘Mary Kathleen Reserve’ Cabernet Merlot 2012
McLaren Vale, Australia $39.95 (745489) 14.0% alc.
Predominantly (90%) cabernet sauvignon, this is a wine that delivers complexity and balance rather than fruit power. The palate of pure fruit flavours is intricately layered, with plenty of sweet ripeness in the mix, and the fruit is cut through by the clean acid. The tannins are a little grippy, but perfectly manageable, and the wine has recently entered its drinking window. It has good lasting potential, but I think it would be a crime to miss out on these flavours, and I suggest drinking it by 2020.
Kim Crawford ‘Rise and Shine’ Pinot Noir 2014
Central Otago, New Zealand $29.95 (35337) 13.5% alc.
The pinots of Central Otago (called “Central” by locals) have a character of their own that distinguishes them from their siblings in other New Zealand regions – not to mention far-flung places like Oregon, Russian River, and a little place called Bourgogne, where they also make pinot noir. I’m not sure about drinking this Kim Crawford example for breakfast (which “rise and shine” implies to me) but I’m happy to sip it with lunch or later. It’s unquestionably a food wine, with juicy acidity complementing the fruit, which is consistent through the palate and persistent in the finish. There’s good layered complexity and harmony in the components. Drink it now to 2020.
Sacred Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Marlborough, New Zealand $18.95 (489112) 12.5% alc.
This is one of those Marlborough sauvignons that breaks the common mold and delivers a wine that’s versatile with food. Absent are the aggressively intense flavours, the sweetness, and the high acidity that demand a wine be served very cold. Here the fruit is well modulated, with nice definition and complexity, and it’s balanced by fresh, clean acidity. The classic Marlborough flavours are there, but this is a nuanced effort that pays off. Drink it now to 2019.
Henry of Pelham ‘Family Tree’ Red 2014
VQA Ontario, Canada $18.95 (247882)
This blend of syrah (33%), merlot (29%), cabernet franc (19%), cabernet sauvignon (14%), and baco noir (5%) was barrel-aged for 17 months in French (65%) and American (35%) oak. The syrah stakes its claim on the flavours at the outset, but the other varietal components make their mark as the palate evolves. This complexity is underwritten by a very good acidity that’s clean and fresh and adds some attractive juiciness to the texture. The texture itself verges on generous, while the moderate tannins tighten it up slightly. The overall effect is attractive, serious, and very drinkable. Drink now through to 2020 to enjoy its freshness.
Château Vrai Caillou 2014
AOC Bordeaux Supérieur, France $15.95 (576678) 12.5% alc.
This is a blend of merlot (50%), cabernet franc (30%), and cabernet sauvignon (20%) from the Entre-Deux-Mers region of Bordeaux. It’s aged 12 months in stainless steel and barrels, and it’s a solid, well-made, and well-priced wine. You’ll find plenty going on in the flavours, which hold firm right through the palate. The fruit is well balanced by the fresh acidity and the tannins are drying but unobtrusive. Drink it now to 2020.
Arriving on 29 April 2017
Simi Merlot 2014
Sonoma County, California $22.95 (417386) 13.5% alc.
Most of the merlot in this wine comes from the Alexander Valley, and there is also some cabernet sauvignon (14%) and malbec (1%) in the blend. It was fermented in stainless steel and aged 14 months in a mix of small French and American barrels, a quarter new. The result is a densely flavoured merlot with a profile that’s deeply layered. The fruit is ably supported by a broad seam of clean acidity, just the right balance to cut through the fruit and lighten the texture. The tannins are slightly drying but very manageable. As usual, I err on the side of youth and I suggest drinking this now and in the next two or three years.
Arriving on 29 April 2017
Featherstone ‘Black Sheep’ Riesling 2016
VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $16.95 10.4% alc.
Every vintage, I’m in awe at the skill of Featherstone’s sheep. They not only keep the grass between the rows of vines in check, but apparently harvest the grapes, tread them by hoof, and – with a little help from titular winemaker David Johnson – make the wine. It’s a good idea to keep the name in English, even though it does hint at a best-forgotten member of the family and even though ‘Mouton Noir’ has a bit more cachet, just because it’s French. But I see Mouton Rothschild is suing a Burgundy vigneron named Mouton for having the temerity to use his own name on his labels. And if consumers could confuse a modest $30 burgundy with a $500 Premier Cru Bordeaux, they’d certainly get a $16.95 riesling mixed up with the iconic red Bordeaux, too. This line of thinking has taken me some distance from Featherstone’s wine, so to regroup: I watch for this riesling every year, and every year it meets my expectations. It’s one of those complete wines where you find the most attractive flavours, great complexity, and perfect fruit-acid balance. Drink it now and in the next year or so, to enjoy its freshness. Bravo, moutons!
Cloudline Pinot Noir 2014
Willamette Valley, Oregon $28.95 (159970) 13.9% alc.
This attractive pinot noir kicks off with quite intense aromas, then carries through to a concentrated palate with a core of ripe-sweet fruit and nice layering. There’s a touch of warmth, but nothing to get worried or excited about, the tannins are relaxed to the point of being comatose, and the texture is smooth. Overall, it’s a lovely pinot with the richness of the New World and the restraint often characteristic of the Willamette Valley. Drinking window: now to 2020.
Argyle Pinot Noir 2014
Willamette Valley, Oregon $33.95 (909499) 13.9% alc.
The components of this wine are superior individually and, well, you know, the sum is greater than the parts. Taking things one at a time and in sequence: the nose is full of ripe, fresh fruit, the palate replays them with focus and additional complexity, the fruit-acid balance (the acid being fresh and clean) is right-on, the tannins are moderately firm, the texture delivers some juiciness, and there’s good length to the finish. Put all this into play, and you have a serious pinot that’s also attractive and very drinkable. It’s good to go now, and I suggest drinking through to 2020.
Torres ‘Viña Esmeralda’ Rosé 2016
DO Catalunya $13.95 12.5% alc.
Made from garnacha, this is dressed in classic, pale, partridge-eye pink. It shows bright and slightly pungent fruit flavours paired with fairly vibrant acidity. The overall style is clean, zesty, and tangy, with food-friendly juiciness. Drink it now and in the next year or so.
Arriving on 13 May 2017
Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Napa Valley, California $29.95 (39388) 13.5% alc.
Cabernet sauvignon accounts for 83% of this wine, with the rest being merlot (10%), malbec (3%), petit verdot (3%), and syrah (1%). That makes it a 1800s-style Bordeaux blend: at that time, when there were no appellation rules, Bordeaux producers frequently added some syrah from the Rhône Valley to their wines to give them some character. (But they used to add a lot more than 1%!) Now it’s all out in the open, and the good thing is that producers in California and other New World places can blend whatever they think will produce a fine wine. And this is one. It’s a sturdy cabernet in style, with up-front flavours and full body, but it delivers on structure and balance and it’s above all a big, drinkable wine – two qualities that don’t always co-exist easily. The varieties were vinified separately (there were more than 200 lots of the Bordeaux varieties) and blended during the 18 months aging in small barrels (20% new). It’s a delicious, richly flavoured and nicely nuanced cabernet with manageable tannins that make it excellent drinking now. I suggest closing the drinking window about 2020, before too much maturity sets in.
Tom Gore Chardonnay 2014
California $19.95 (458810) 13.5% alc.
There’s a touch (2%) of sauvignon blanc in this chardonnay, which probably adds to the aromatics and acid. What you get is a lovely wine that’s full of flavour, well balanced and very harmonious, and above all drinkable. It’s quite aromatic, with the fruit profile well defined and nuanced and the flavours consistent right through to the good finish. The oak is perceptible, subtle, and integrated. The texture is generous and smooth and its attractive character shows some evidence of the 60% barrel-fermentation. Overall, it’s a well-made chardonnay that should have wide appeal. I suggest drinking it now to 2020 to capture its attractive fruit. (An additional note: the specs sheet that came with this wine refers to Tom Gore, a second-generation grape farmer, “stomping [grapes] alongside his dad” as a child. “Stompin’ Tom” has a particular meaning for Canadians that the specs sheet writer might have missed. If “Stompin’ Tom” means nothing to you, google it.)
Pencarrrow Pinot Noir 2015
Martinborough, New Zealand $24.95 (692301) 13.5% alc.
New Zealand isn’t a big place, and it’s confusing that two key pinot noir regions – Martinborough and Marlborough – have such similar names. They’re on different islands and it’s sheer happenstance that they turned out to be excellent areas to grow pinot noir. (Although Martinborough is named for one John Martin, let’s also remember that St. Martin is linked to viticulture, especially in the Loire Valley.) The district took an early lead in New Zealand’s reputation for pinot noir, but was eclipsed by Central Otago and Marlborough, so this example from Pencarrow is a timely reminder to look for Martinborough pinots. There’s some dustiness covering the fruit on the nose, but the fruit shines through on the palate, where there’s a core of sweetness and good layering of ripe and herbal flavours. The acid is exceptionally well balanced and integrated, the tannins exert a slight grip, and all the components are harmonious. Drinking window: now to the early 2020s.
Errazuriz “Estate Series’ Cabernet Rosé 2016
DO Valle Central, Chile $13.95 (492934) 12.0% alc.
This dusty-pink-coloured rosé is made from cabernet sauvignon (85%) and syrah (15%). The specs sheet that came with the wine set out clearly what rosé-producers always do: manage the colour of the wine carefully. The sheet notes that “once the must had reached the desired colour….” I’m not sure what this particular colour signifies, but probably dryness, because consumers often associate bright pinkness with sweetness. It is dry, in fact, with 2.3 grams of residual sugar per litre, and shows bright fruit flavours, equally bright acidity, and very good drinkability. It’s a wine for enjoying now and over the next year.
Errazuriz Pinot Noir 2015
DO Aconcagua Costa, Chile $24.95 (494807) 13.5% alc.
In Chile’s labeling system, Costa refers to coastal areas, and the grapes for this pinot were sourced from vineyards only 7.5 miles from the Pacific Ocean. They’re cooled by ocean breezes. (The Pacific is frigid off Chile, which is why you see the beaches crowded in summer, but no one swimming.) The first impression this wine makes is terrific freshness, closely followed by the concentrated but finely sculpted fruit. There’s good complexity in the profile, and the acid is clean, fresh, and juicy. The tannins are relaxed and drying. You can drink this pinot now to 2020 to capture its freshness.
Arriving on 27 May 2017
Luis Cañas Blanco 2016
DOC Rioja, Spain $18.95 (146217) 13.5%
Made from old vines of viura (85%) and malvasia (15%), this was barrel-fermented and then aged on its lees for four months in new French (75%) and American (25%) oak. The evidence of the aging regime is more evident in the texture, with shows some complexity, than in the flavours. They are fresh and layered, with the most subtle evidence of oak. Look for excellent fruit-acid balance and a juicy texture in this attractive white blend.
Arriving in June 2017
Featherstone Sauvignon Blanc 2016
VQA Niagara Peninsula $17.95 13.0% alc.
This is a very attractive sauvignon blanc that shows some textural influence from being 20% barrel-fermented and kept on lees for about a month. It’s not a full-fledged fumé style, but it has qualities that are reminiscent. The flavours are pure and discreetly measured – they are positive and nicely focused, but they don’t have the sometimes overbearing power of, say, classic Marlborough sauvignon. This, and the bright, well-calibrated acid, makes this wine very versatile with food. Drink now and in the next year or so.
Featherstone Four Feathers White 2016
VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $14.95 (341586) 12.5% alc.
This blend of riesling (48%), chardonnay (30%), gewürztraminer (16%), and sauvignon blanc (6%) was fermented in stainless steel. It’s a fresh-textured white with pungent yet bright flavours that are fairly concentrated and nicely layered. It’s not a complicated wine, but fruity, refreshing, and very drinkable, on its own or with food. It’s ready to go now, and to be enjoyed in the next year or so.
Arriving on 10 June 2017
M. Chapoutier ‘Les Vignes de Bila-Haut’ Rouge 2015
AOC Côtes du Roussillon, France $15.95 (168716) 14.5% alc.
Made from syrah, grenache and carignan, this is densely and richly flavoured, which the correspondingly dense colour more or less sets you up for. The fruit is well structured and its depth shows a nicely stratified flavour profile. The fruit-acid balance is very good, with the acid nicely calibrated: it adds freshness without being an obvious component of the texture. As for the tannins, they’re drying with a light grip, and easily managed. This is an attractive wine with a touch of rusticity that will make it an excellent and affordable addition to summer barbecues. Drink now to 2020.
Arriving on 24 June 2017
La Crema Pinot Noir 2014
Monterey, California $26.95 (367896) 13.5% alc.
This is just a lovely pinot noir that delivers ripe-sweet flavours, terrific fruit-acid balance, and a smooth texture, all adding up to a serious and seriously easy-drinking quality wine. There’s plenty of layered complexity on the well-structured palate, with sweet-ripeness at the core, and the fruit is underpinned by a broad seam of fresh but soft, lateral acidity. The texture is quite smooth and gently mouth-filling, and the tannins are fine, sleek, and well integrated. It’s a stylish, modern pinot noir that’s drinking very well now and will hold its freshness to 2020, maybe a little longer.
Sieur d’Arques ‘Première Bulle’ Brut 2015
AOC Blanquette de Limoux $18.95 (497727) 12.5% alc.
Limoux lays a claim to having made sparkling wine as early as 1531, a good century and more before Dom Pérignon was working in Champagne. The reference to “First Bubble” evokes this history. This blend of mauzac (90%), and chenin blanc and chardonnay (5% each) delivers lovely fresh flavours backed by fresh acidity. There’s plenty of bubble action, and this is an easy-drinking fizz you can enjoy on its own or with food.
Arriving in July and August 2017
Featherstone Rosé 2016
VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $15.95 (117861) 13.5% alc.
Made from gamay (50%), cabernet sauvignon (40%), and pinot noir (10%), this stayed on lees for six weeks. This is a bright pink rosé that’s fairly generous in mouthfeel and with quite rich, fruit-filled flavours. There are 12.5 grams of residual sugar here, but most of it is neutralized by the acidity, which leaves you with a perception of fruitiness rather than sweetness. Drink it now and in the next year or so.
Rodney Strong ‘Alexander’s Crown’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Alexander Valley, California $99.95 14.5% alc.
This single-vineyard cabernet is sourced from vines growing on the crown of a hill at the southern end of the Alexander Valley, where they’re exposed to the first cool breezes of afternoon. The cooler summer growing conditions here (compared to the northerly parts of the valley) produce less intensity in the fruit. You’ll find the palate of this wine is focused and defined, for sure, but although it’s full-bodied, it’s far from overbearing. The fruit is light on its feet and is extremely well balanced with the measured acidity. The tannins are well integrated, and this is drinking from now to the early-mid-2020s.
Grgich Hills Zinfandel 2012
Napa Valley, California $55.95 15.5% alc.
This is a lighter style of zinfandel, so you don’t find the dense, ripe-sweet flavours associated with many zins destined for the mass-market. The sweetness is there at the core of the palate, but it’s by no means dominant, and it’s cut by the seam of fresh acidity that supports the fruit. The tannins are easy-going and the alcohol, although high, is well integrated. Overall this is a very attractive wine with all the familiar character of zinfandel, but it leaves you to discover its personality. Think of it as a personable, well-trained pup that licks your hand politely, rather than one that jumps all over you, licks your face, then knocks you down. Drink it now to the early 2020s.
Arriving on 22 July 2017
Joel Gott ‘815’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
California $24.95 (444059) 13.9% alc.
This 100% cabernet sauvignon is sourced from vineyards in seven AVAs in California, including Lodi, Napa, and Paso Robles. The wine from each vineyard is aged separated for 18 months in American oak (25% new). What you get in your glass is deliciously ripe-sweet fruit with real depth and length. The layering is extensive and the structure is good. The seam of clean, fresh acidity keeps the fruit honest, and the tannins are fine, slightly drying, and already well integrated. It’s drinking very well now and will hold its freshness to the early 2020s.
Arriving in September 2017
Featherstone ‘Canadian Oak’ Chardonnay 2015
VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $21.95 (149302) 13.0% alc.
This is made 100% from chardonnay sourced from vines planted in 1988. It was fermented in Canadian oak barrels and aged in them for 12 months. The aromas are pungent and filled with sweet fruit and some subtle vanilla/oak notes, an attractive introduction that leads to an equally attractive palate. There you’ll find a nicely-nuanced palette of flavours, all well-defined and layered, together with a refreshing and juicy texture. Everything’s well integrated and makes for a delicious and fresh white that’s extremely versatile with food. It’s ready to go now, and I suggest drinking it while it’s young and fresh, say to 2019. Try this on any oaked-chardonnay-haters you’ve been misguided enough to keep as friends. If they don’t like this one, you’ll know they’re just being bloody-minded, and you can delete them from your contacts.
Arriving on 22 July 2017
M. Chapoutier ‘Les Vignes de Bila-Haut’ Blanc 2015
AOC Côtes du Roussillon, France $15.45 13.5% alc.
Made from grenache blanc, grenache gris, and macabeu, and made in stainless steel, this is a bright, well-structured, balanced white that’s a natural for summer drinking – either on its own or with food. The moderately fruity flavours are focused and defined, and the wine is very dry but stays this side of astringency. Drink it now and in the next year or so to enjoy its freshness.
Domaine Mont Chavy Morgon 2014
AOC Morgon, France $19.95 12.5% alc.
This is a lovely example of Morgon, one of Beaujolais’s crus. The fruit is concentrated and the layered profile shows well-defined strata of flavour, and the well-measured acid complements the fruit well. It’s very dry with a long and fairly astringent finish, and it’s ready to drink now and through to the 2020, perhaps a little longer.
Arriving soon, the date TBA
Henry of Pelham ‘Family Tree’ White 2015
VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $17.95 (251116) 13% alc.
A blend of viognier (35%), chardonnay (25%), gewürztraminer (25%) and chardonnay musqué (15%), this was 40% barrel-fermented then barrel-aged for eight months, and 60% made in stainless steel. It’s a remarkably easy-drinking blend in the best sense of easy-drinking – easy to drink a glass and easy to pour the next. It shows generous fruit, nice complexity, decent structure, and excellent fruit-acid balance, with the clean, fresh acidity giving some juiciness to the texture. It’s ready to drink now and in the next couple of years.
Henry of Pelham ‘Estate’ Riesling 2016
VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario $17.95 (557165) 11.5% alc.
The aromatics of this riesling are within the parameters of Niagara riesling I’m used to, but the palate was a bit of a surprise. I’ve got used to Niagara rieslings with pretty zingy acidity, but in this one the acid was broad, rather than linear – fresh and clean, but without the bite. It’s not a criticism, and in fact it makes this riesling one you can enjoy without (or with) food. Many rieslings deliver that hard acid bite that makes them difficult to drink on their own. Not here. As for the fruit, which is well balanced with the acid, it’s on the dry side of off-dry (enhancing its drinkability sans food). Everything’s harmonious here, and you have a riesling you can enjoy now and in the next few years. It will age to the early/mid-2020s, but I would drink it while it’s young for maximum pleasure.
Henry of Pelham ‘Estate’ Pinot Noir 2015
VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario $24.95 (268391) 13.5% alc.
This is a nicely tailored pinot noir, a very correct wine in the best sense of the term. There’s not a lot going on the nose – some efficient fruit notes – but it comes to life on the palate, which is where you want the action to be, unless you plan to do no more than sniff the wine. The fruit is focused rather than concentrated, defined rather than complexly layered, and it’s fresh and quite serious in tone. The structure is very good, the fruit-acid balance is excellent, and the tannins are fine and slightly grippy. Overall, it’s a very attractive pinot that displays gravitas rather than exuberance, and it makes a versatile wine for the table. Drink now to the very early 2020s.