Vintages: wines in stock and some early 2017 arrivals

Vintages early 2017

In Vintages now

Gabriel Meffre ‘Saint-Barthélemy’ Vacqueyras 2014
4.5 stars

AOC Vacqueyras, France $29.95
It’s said that wines from Vacqueyras can be like their siblings from Côtes du Rhône on steroids, but that privileges their power over their other qualities. This example, a blend of grenache and syrah, is certainly powerful, with quite dense flavours that are both structured and well-defined. Given its weight, it’s light on its feet, with the fruit in balance with the well-calibrated acid that contributes some juiciness to the texture. The tannins are drying and slightly grippy, but very manageable. It’s drinking well now and I suggest drinking it by the early 2020s. 

Versado Malbec 2013
4.5 stars

Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina $25.95 (317008)
Made by Canadian winemaker Ann Sperling, this is a terrific Malbec that delivers all the fruit you expect from Argentine malbec, but in a style that’s more restrained than most. The grapes are harvested earlier than most, so that they have more acidity, but that gain is not at the expense of fruit or ripeness. Here the flavours are ripe and concentrated, with good layering and focus. The acidity is clean and bright and it contributes freshness verging on juiciness to the texture – something you rarely find in Mendoza malbec. It’s drinking very well now and will hold to 2020 and beyond.  

Sperling Vineyards Gewürztraminer Icewine 2014
4.5 stars

BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $49.95 (471425)
I’m not a huge fan of icewine. There, I’ve said it, and even then I’m choosing my words carefully. Most of them leave me cold and after tasting hundreds of icewines over the years, I find most of them blur into an undifferentiated mass of sweetness. Perhaps I’m being unfair. I do try hard to taste them critically, and most do pretty well as far as scores are concerned. But along come some that stand out, and this is one, made from gewürztraminer and showing its varietal provenance clearly. It’s a lovely rich number, with very good aromatics, the viscosity you expect from icewine, and seam of lively acidity. It’s sweet, of course, but more than manageably so. Drink it now and over the next decade. 

Vintages release, 21 January 2017

Jean-Max Roger ‘Cuvée C.M.’ Sancerre 2014
4.5 stars

AOC Sancerre, France $27.95 (196667)
A regular in Vintages, this sauvignon blanc from France’s premier region for the variety delivers finesse across the board. Look for well-focused, nicely layered fruit that’s backed by bright and clean acidity. There’s some juiciness to the texture, and the components are harmoniously integrated. It’s drinking very well now and I suggest drinking it in the next year or two. 

Lavau Vacqueyras 2014
4 stars

AOC Vacqueyras, France $25.95 (104927) 
Making a return appearance in Vintages, this is a lovely classic GSM (grenache, syrah, mourvèdre) blend. The flavours are concentrated, well-defined, and impressively complex, and they hold solid right through the palate and into a good finish. The acidity is clean and balanced, and the tannins are well integrated. This is ready to drink now and over the next four or five years if you want to catch its freshness. 

Bolla Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso 2014
4.5 stars

DOC Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso, Italy $19.95 (475574)
This is a very drinkable wine that’s juicy-textured, full of fresh fruit, and animated by lively acidity. A blend of corvina, corvinone, and rondinella grapes, it shows the fruit concentration that comes from the ripasso process and here the fruit is not only concentrated but complex and well structured and very well balanced by the well-calibrated acid. The tannins are fine and drying, and well enough integrated that you can drink this now. Or hold it to the end of the decade, before it starts to lose its freshness. 

Columbia Crest ‘H3’ Merlot 2014
4.5 stars

Horse Heaven Hills, Washington $25.95 (209874) 
We’re seeing a lot more Washington wines in the LCBO and Vintages these days, and that’s a good thing. California produces most of America’s wine, but other states deserve better representation. Merlot is one of Washington’s strengths, and this is a fine example from Columbia Crest, a major producer. The fruit is ripe, fruit-sweet at the core, and well layered, and it’s supported by clean acidity that adds a little nip to the texture which is otherwise velvet smooth. The tannins are gripping a little, but they’re easily manageable now, and I suggest drinking it through to about 2020 to catch the freshness of the fruit. 

Vintages release, 4 February 2016

Kim Crawford ‘Spitfire’ Sauvignon Blanc 2016
5 stars

Marlborough, New Zealand $24.95 (038240)
(FYI, it’s named for the famous World War Two aircraft because the winery is located near the location of a wartime air force training base.)  I tasted this with Kim Crawford winemaker Anthony Walkenhorst last September, when the wine was a real baby. This an eminently drinkable style of sauvignon blanc, unlike many Marlborough sauvignons that are too heavy in fruit sweetness. In contrast, the pungent aromatics of Spitfire take flight and the rich, defined flavours are complemented by fresh, clean acidity. There’s plenty of complexity, some of it deriving from the variety of vineyards the grapes were sourced from, and the texture is sleek and aerodynamic. Anthony Walkenhorst points out that there is no standard style for Spitfire, and it varies by vintage. It’s drinking beautifully now and I suggest enjoying it while it’s fresh – in the next year or so. 

Inniskillin ‘Montague Vineyard’ Chardonnay 2014
4.5 stars

VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $24.95
The grapes for this wine were sourced from Inniskillin’s Montague Vineyard in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation of Niagara, but I notice two things about the labelling. One is that it mentions the vineyard by name, it doesn’t refer to “single vineyard,” which many marketers think is a selling-point. Perhaps the reference to the name of the vineyard implies that, and maybe giving the vineyard a name actually makes a stronger bond for the consumer than an anonymous “single vineyard.” Second, they’ve chosen to give the origin as Niagara Peninsula rather than Four Mile Creek. There’s a tendency in many places (such as Australia) to label by smaller regions than by huge zones, but a problem is that consumers often don’t recognize small appellations: how many people know that Four Mile Creek is in the Niagara Peninsula wine region?  A solution is to print both the sub-appellation and the broader appellation on the label: Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula. They do it in Paso Robles, because few people know that appellations such as San Juan Creek and Adelaida are in Paso Robles AVA. So much for the label. As for the chardonnay in this bottle, it’s a very drinkable fruity number that delivers nice complexity in the fruit-sweet flavours and very good fruit-acid balance. There are attractive notes from the oak (the wine was fermented and aged in new and used French barrels) but they’re nuances and well integrated. This is a style that oak-haters can embrace. It’s drinking very well now and I suggest drinking it by about 2020.  

Palazzo Maffei Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore 2014
4.5 stars

DOC Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore, Italy $21.95 (338913)
There’s plenty of concentrated ripe fruit flavour in this wine, which is nicely complex and well structured. The texture is quite juicy, thanks to a seam of clean, fresh acidity, and the tannins are drying but integrated enough to make this good drinking now. Drink through to 2020.

Gérard Bertrand ‘Cote des Roses’ Rosé 2015
4 stars

AOP Languedoc, France $18.95 (373985)
I’ve had producers and agents roll their eyes when Vintages schedules the release of their rosés for the middle of winter – because, of course, rosé sales are hottest when the weather is, too. But I’m all for buying and drinking rosé all year round, and it’s especially flavourful in the dead of winter, when it’s a sort of challenge to the weather and a reminder that summer is a mere five months away.  And flavour this wine has, despite its pale pink colour. It doesn’t plumb the partridge-eye pallor of many Provençal rosés, but it’s close. The flavours are focused and decently complex, the acid is bright and clean, and it’s ready to drink as soon as you get it home. Drink it during winter, spring, summer, and fall. 

Vintages release, 18 February 2017

Ravenswood ‘Old Vine’ Zinfandel 2014
4.5 stars

Napa Valley, California $21.95 (963405)
The age of “old vines” is not defined in any wine laws that I know of, but the term is printed on labels (like “single vineyard”) because old vines are said to deliver particularly concentrated and complex flavours. (“Single vineyard” is more complicated, but that’s another story.) You can’t quibble about concentration and complexity in this zinfandel, as they’re here aplenty. The wine is also well structured and shows very good fruit-acid balance, anything but the fruit bombs that often wear the zinfandel label. At 15%, the alcohol is quite common for zinfandel, but it’s well integrated. Overall, this is a delicious wine that’s drinking well now and will hold its freshness to the end of the decade. 

Henry of Pelham Estate Pinot Noir 2012
4.5 stars

VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario $24.95 (268391)
This is a pinot that shows the character of the warm 2012 vintage in the ripeness and quality of the fruit, which is concentrated and nicely layered.  It’s supported by clean, fresh acidity, and the tannins are drying and slightly grippy. All the components are well harmonized, and you can drink this now or hold it another year or so, then drink it through to 2022. 

Henry of Pelham ‘Speck Family Reserve’ Baco Noir 2014
4.5 stars

VQA Ontario, Ontario $24.95 (461699)
Baco noir used to be made in a funky style that had its own fan club, but in recent years the off-beat flavours have given way to mainstream. This is a lovely wine, but it lacks the distinctive character of bacos from earlier this century, and whether that’s a function of aging vines or winemaking, I don’t know.  Either way, you’ll find plenty of concentrated and complex fruit here, good depth, and some edgy, clean acidity. The tannins are drying and well integrated. Drink it now to 2020.

Gérard Bertrand ‘Grand Terroir’ Les Aspres 2013
4 stars

AOP Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres, France $18.95 (413245)
A blend of syrah, mourvèdre, and grenache, this delivers solid fruit right through the palate. It’s characterized by complexity and structure, and is supported by a seam of well-calibrated acidity. The tannins are drying and well integrated, and you can drink it now though to 2020.

Vintages release, 2 March 2017

Casillero del Diablo Reserva Privada Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
4.5 stars

DO Maipo Valley, Chile $17.95
[Tasted October 2016] Winemaker Marcelo Papa is moving to earlier picking within the harvest window as Concha y Toro moves away from the very ripe flavours that have dominated until recently, and towards wines that show “more precise” fruit character, are less sweet, and have lower alcohol. This cabernet, from Chile’s best region for the variety, is juicy and lively, but retains the depth and complexity of fruit you expect of cabernet. It has much less of the mint/eucalyptus character often found in Maipo cabernet – something Papa also attributes to earlier harvesting. This is a young cabernet that needs a little longer to integrate. Drink it 2018-21. 

Vintages release, 18 March 2017

Errazuriz ‘Aconcagua Alto’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
4.5 stars

DO Valle de Aconcagua, Chile $19.95 (203364)
The ‘Alto’ in the name refers to the location of the vineyards this wine was sourced from, lying at 600m above sea level on a terrace overlooking the Aconcagua River. This is a rich cabernet with a concentrated and multilayered flavour profile. The fruit is backed by well-measured acid, and the texture is smooth, generous, and tannin-dry. (The wine was aged 12 months in oak.) Drink it now and over the next four years. 

14 Hands Csabernet Sauvignon 2014
4.5 star

Columbia Valley, Washington $18.95 (478115)
This is an excellent cabernet that displays focused and layered fruit right through the palate. Half of it was made in stainless steel, the other half aged about 12 months in oak (10-15% new), so that the fruit retains a lot of purity. The acid is well measured and adds juiciness to the texture, while the tannins are sweet and manageably drying. It’s drinking very nicely now and will hold its very attractive freshness to 2020 or so. 

Vintages release, March 2017

Casas del Bosque Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
5 stars

DO Maipo, Chile $22.95 (353086)
It’s not surprising to see this 100% cabernet labelled by the Maipo Valley appellation. It’s not that every cabernet from the region is superlative, but it’s the source of most of Chile’s finest cabernets, and this is one of them. Although it’s young (I tasted this in September 2016, when the wines was two-and-a-half years old), it’s drinking beautifully and has the wherewithal to hold well for another five or six years – although I have to say I like the way it us now, and I would drink it in 2017-18. There’s great concentration of flavour, with an intensity that’s positive rather than full-on fruit, the complexity is impressive, and the acidity is calibrated perfectly. The tannins are ripe and drying rather than grippy. It’s a deliciously drinkable wine at a very good price, well worth buying in multiples.

Vintages release 15 April 2017

Frescobaldi ‘Nipozzano’ Vecchie Viti Chianti Rufina Riserva 2012
5 stars

DOCG Chianti Rufina, Italy $29.95 (395186)
This is a delicious and very drinkable wine, far too good simply to taste, write up, and discard as I’m forced to do with many wines. Made from the oldest vines in the vineyard of Castello Nipozzano and aged 24 months in big oak botti, it shows a lifted nose of spicy fruit that leads to a flavour profile with complexity that you can cut horizontally and vertically. The acid is perfectly calibrated, and the tannins are ripe, smooth, and well integrated. It’s drinking beautifully now and will hold its attractive freshness another three or four years.

Henry of Pelham ‘Family Tree’ Red 2014
4.5 stars

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. 

Vintages release, 29 April 2017

Chateau Ste Michelle Merlot 2014
4.5 stars

Columbia Valley, Washington $20.95 (486636)
Columbia Valley is one of the largest AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and it encompasses a number of different climatic types, so it’s difficult to generalize from region to wine style. This merlot shows the ripeness of fruit that comes with warmth during the growing season and the acidity that comes with cool nights. I love merlots like this. They’re such a contrast to the many dull merlots that are all sweet fruit and low acid. This one is juicy, bright, and flavoursome, the style that makes you want another glass. Drink it now to 2020.