Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to take part in two wine tastings in Toronto – “A Tasting of Wine From Italy” sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission, and “Love Wine, Love Chile” under the auspices of ProChile and the Wines of Chile trade organization.
A multitude of truly excellent wines were available at both, and there are always more wines than there is time – or capacity – to taste at events such as these. Both events were managed with the utmost professionalism and were well- organized, with a booklet identifying the producers, the wines available to sample, and where in the room they were to be found.
They were trade tastings, targeting restaurants and other licensees, as well as the press. Tastings open to the paying public followed in the evening.
Over a period of 4 to 5 hours, one could taste and make notes, and do one’s best to remain sober and mentally alert. Eventually one’s palate will give out, and so there are always interesting wines left un-tasted.
In that respect, the Italian event was particularly overwhelming, with 94 producers represented – often by owners and winemakers – and over 500 wines seeking your attention.
In contrast, the Chilean tasting featured just 26 wineries and about 150 wines. Almost all the wineries here have representation in the LCBO, while there were well over 50 per cent of the Italian producers who only have wines available on consignment or private order, and who currently might only be found in restaurants – hence the trade focus.
“Consignment” wines are either here now in warehouse, or scheduled for shipment. “Private Order” signifies wines that have not yet “booked passage”, and are only available through the winery, usually via the Ontario agencies representing them.
One picks up the catalogue of wines on registration at the event; I don’t know if it would be possible to get one ahead of time but it would certainly be helpful in plotting one’s course, figuring out which wines one really should try. It would help, too, if right in the catalogue there was an indication of wines available on the general list, and which are Vintages products, the latter with their pertinent release dates given. The Chilean catalogue did give the prices, which also helps in focusing one’s choices. Given that so many of the Italian wines are not as available, it may make sense that it could be difficult to ascertain the prices before the booklets go to print.
As I tasted my way through the reds, my taste buds were inevitably overwhelmed by tannins. Usually I try to refresh them with water and bread, but with only partial success,
The Chilean tasting, however, had a table set up just for sparkling wines, and it dawned on me that a “swirl and spit” or two or citrusy effervescence was far more effective at perking up the palate that a glass of water.
At multi-coursed dinners, a “granita” of shaved ice, sugar and citrus fruit might be served to give your taste buds a break, but a small glass of sparkling wine could be as effective –or better, I think.
At this particular Italian tasting, there was no preceding seminar, though there was one for Chile, with a panel of 10 winemakers each presenting a wine to taste. These seminars are always informative, and you get a sense not only of the particular wine, but also of the winery, its location, and its philosophy.
One significant insight for me was a “reconciliation” with Carmenère, the grape that had vanished from Europe with the Philloexera louse that devastated vineyards there, and which was only rediscovered mixed in with Merlot vines in Chile in 1990.
I didn’t care for the vegetal. “pea-pod” trait that I felt detracted from the fruit taste in many Carmenères, but I was converted by many examples that were poured this week, where that characteristic was practically non-existent.
Concha y Toro’s Hugo Requena explained that Carmenère is complicated to grow, but planting the grape in the right soil, managing the canopy of leaves on the vine, and picking at optimum ripeness results in good, non-vegetal flavours. The 2014 Winemaker’s Lot Carmenère, $17.95, is still widely available in Vintages with tasty dark fruit, and a smooth easy-drinking impact.
Carmen Premier 1850 Carmenère, just $11.95, is the top –selling example in Ontario. It has only a whisper of the pea-pod not on the back palate, but oodles of black berry and sweet cherry fruit. James Suckling score it 91.
Though not in our stores, the most unusual wine, for me, was the J. Bouchon Pais Salvaje 2016, $19.66. This Pais apparently was growing wild, hanging from trees – hence the “salvaje” or “savage” - it has an unusual, muddy pink hue. In flavour, it is reminiscent of a light Beaujolais Nouveau, in this case getting a very fresh character from 50% carbonic maceration. (By the way, the traditional Beaujolais Nouveau release is the third Thursday in November, the first chance to taste wines from the 2016 harvest in Europe or North America.)
Another significant value is Carmen Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, $16.95 on the general list. It made #32 on the Wine Spectator’s “Top 100” for 2015 – it is tasty and smooth with gentle tannins, moderately deep dark fruit – black currant, strawberry – and just easy to enjoy.
In Vintages now is Viña Errazuriz Syrah, 2013, $18.95, with a whopping 94 from wineandspiritsmagazine.com. – “blackcurrants, spice, mineral and herbs…edgy and linear…Drink it now with something meaty.”
Contrast the Errazuriz with Bisquertt La Joya Syrah 2015, $17.95, which shows a bit of the barrel on its nose, but comes across as silky and fruity, with some white pepper notes. I found it lighter than anticipated, though James Suckling refers to “full body, round texture and savory finish.”
Chilean wines are almost exclusively made from the classic varietals from France, and in white we usually find Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.
On the general list, Santa Carolina Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2016 is right on point with textbook SB character – the musky gooseberry nose and the grapefruit notes on the palate are in clear evidence. Starting next week, it is only $9.95, a savings of $2.
Likewise, the 2015 Santa Carolina Reserva Chardonnay, $11.95, delivers above its price, it is gentle and light, but the flavours are deceptively deep and delicious. Very fine for the price.
To be honest, had I more time to check things through, I likely would have tasted more Italian wines that I knew would likely be coming to our stores,Still, I was able to taste wines from Cesari, which have long been part of the LCBO’s stable.
The Cesari Valpoilcella Classico Ripasso Mara 2014, $18.95 is smooth, integrated and refined, with warm prolonged flavour - a classic example of the style, undergoing a secondary fermentation on the Amarone skins for 15 days.
In its turn, the Cesari Amarone Classico 2012, $38.95 is made from grapes that have been dried In small grey plastic boxes which enable the grapes to dry evenly and to be manipulated easily if needed to ensure they are prefect for the wine.
Some Amarones are much more expensive – but they don’t get a lot better than this, It has great extraction and depth – dark cherry, raisined fruit, and mocha notes, and lovely density underpinning it all.
At the Italian tasting I was able to visit with Serge Janjic, Premium Wine Manager for Treasury Wine Estates, who was pouring the Castello di Gabbiano wines. Serge is much more than a salesman, with a top Sommelier background. We tasted the Chianti Classico Gabbiano 2014, which may be $3 off its regular price of $17.95 this next month.
Serge explained that by just calling in “Gabbiano”, it is being differentiated from wines produced on the Castello di Gabbiano estate itself. This is a real food wine, with medium body and persistent flavours of spice and sweet/tart cherry, along with some cedar notes.
The Castello de Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2013, $22.95, on the November 12 release is a big step up, with polished impressions of dark cherry, pipe tobacco, and some earthy notes, but all smoothly presented with a lengthy impact.
Of the wines available to us only through their agent, Majestic Wine Cellars, the Greco IGT Calabria Bianco 2015 from Statti was a white that stood out. Unlike many good wines from the Greco grape which are drier with some salinity, this one is a deep gold with a floral note and unanticipated rich and delicious flavours. I hope we see it here regularly eventually.
On the general list, Lamberti Santepietre Pinot Grigio 2015, $13.95, is from Italy’s Lake Garda area in the Veneto, and has the character people expect with a Pinot Grigio. It is dry, with ample citrus notes at play especially on the finish. On the palate, the wine has a bit of density and softness that counterbalances the acidity, resulting in a good sipping wine, and one that would work with creamy sauces, whether it be with pasta, fish, or poultry.
There were many more wines that impressed me at both tastings, but we will save them for later, especially when there’s a chance we can find them!
By the way, if you are adventurous and looking for an all-in adventure vacation to Chile, www.explora.com has three locations, one on Easter Island, one in Patagonia , and one in the Atacama Desert region. Explora promotes itself as “South America’s Leading Expedition Company.” Cycling can be included. And always wine!
In Other News…
South Africa’s Inception Irresistible White 2015, $13.95, is a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, and Gewurtztraminer and it carries 12 grams of sugar per litre. While it still qualifies for “Dry”, the overall impact is a softer entry and finish, and flavours reminiscent of peach and lemon with a whisper of lychee on the finish, courtesy of the Gewurztraminer. This wine is right on the border between dry and off-dry, and will appeal to those who enjoy a fruitier white.
The companion Inception Blushing Rose 2016, is a fine bargain at just $7.45, and likely at the tail-end of its availability as summer becomes just a fond memory. Yet, this is quite tasty, with good fruit sweet red berry fruit and a refreshingly tart finish – it would pair well with spicier dishes.
November 12 Vintages Release
Kim Crawford Small Parcels, “Fizz” 2011 Methode Traditionelle, $29.95 – they call it Fizz, and that’s what it is. One sip and your mouth is awash in a froth of bubbles. The flavour is emphatically citrus with lemon most prominent, Then, towards the finish, nuances of toast start to appear. Here is the perfect palate cleanser I mentioned above, refreshing and very, very, satisfying.
Thierry Delunay Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2015, $14.95, should satisfy immensely. Internationalwine report.com identifies ripe kiwi, citrus and a stony minerality, calling it “clean and balanced, with a burst of acidity…with some sweet honeydew notes on the finish.” 90
Beronia Rueda Verdejo 2015, $14.95 from the October 29 release is still available in most communities. Winereview.planet grape.com identifies it as “zesty and dry with notes of lime, green apple, banana, pineapple, leek and spring pea.” The score -88. Intriguing, isn’t it.
Chateau de Lisennes Cuvée Tradition 2010, $16.95, a Bordeaux from very good vintage, is considered “compelling and complex” by winealign.com’s Sara d’Amato wo says it is “on the ‘just ripe’ end of the spectrum with a touch of welcome dired herb greenness.” 89
Vicente Gandia El Miracle By Mariscal Garnacha 2013, $14.95. remains available from last week’s release. robertparker.com refers to it a “surprisingly aromatic” with “herbal hints that add freshness” and as being “slightly rustic but with character and in need of food.” - 90.