Michael Vaughan's Liquid Assets
Michael Vaughan's April 17th Update
Austrian Trade Wine Fair
Kir-Yianni 2007 Petra White
Chile's Viña Undurraga
My apologies for the delay in posting this feature but I have been ill with a nasty head cold that seems to be making rounds. You may not be aware, but I am currently celebrating the 19th anniversary of Vintage Assessments my bi-weekly publication, which has been seen by millions around the world. I have been doing this single-handedly for every Vintages release since 1990. In fact, I still actually print and mail a biweekly edition prior to the Vintages release to hard core FBTI Supporters who lack computer literacy.
I would be hard pressed to abandon individuals like Biagio Vinci, the owner of Biagio Ristorante, who has been receiving my trade-buying-guide for well over a decade. It's nice to discover that Vintages Assessments is still indispensable! Perhaps even more valuable for serious buyers is my Vaughan on Vintages guide to more than 20,000 Vintages release reviews released since 2000. This user-friendly, currently free service, offers all the details, tasting notes & links one could wish for. Stuff you simply can't find anywhere else. Thank you for your support.
This also would have also been my 10th anniversary at the National Post. I started writing a weekly feature in November 1999. Unfortunately, last year the National Post decided to suspend my critical, award-winning column. What's left are three very short weekly reviews. In fact, if you add up all the National Post reviews for a year, it's only slightly more than what I provide readers with every two weeks.
For nine years, I tried to make a serious critical contribution to the Canadian wine writing scene. Certainly, my heart goes out to all those National Post supporters who have been disappointed by the ever-shrinking state of the newspaper. As one fan writes: "I wish you were back at the Globe & Mail where they really need a professional taster." Mentioning this isn't meant as a slight against the Globe's current wine writer. For those who don't know, I was the Globe & Mail's first wine and spirits columnist more than 20 years before Beppi Crosariol (who started his weekly columns in 1999). Also, I recently traveled to Sicily with Beppi, where I acted as his official translator (kidding) and even shared a pre-prandial bottle of bubbly in my room on the last night of our trip. We both survived. Happy10th Beppi.
April 22nd Austrian Trade Wine Fair
My very first update relates to the upcoming Austrian trade wine fair, which takes place on Wednesday, April 22nd. The event was initially scheduled for a day earlier, which meant that a major California road show, which was scheduled on the 21st, changed the date to the 22nd. Now we're stuck with two events taking place on the same day. For information contact Birgitta Samavarchian of the Consulate General of Austria, at 416-967-3348, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
My suggestion for professional wine buyers is to make a beeline to the annual Austrian event. Why? Because Austria is now producing some of the most interesting, food-friendly wines on the planet. Unfortunately, some LCBO/Vintages offerings are far from stellar. I have said it before and I will say it again: there's nothing worse for neophytes than to invest in a an unknown wine that isn't up to scratch, especially if it is overpriced by Vintages. This is a serious turn-off for any future Austrian acquisitions. At the show, however, you will discover that there are lots of gems for sommeliers and serious wine lovers. As long as the LCBO continues to release sub-par quality - private order & consignment is the best way to go.
I think that most wine writers agree that Grüner Veltliner is Austria's claim to fame, mostly because there is more grown here than anywhere else in the world. There are a whopping 67 GVs to assess at the fair (see pages 60-63 of the Austria Tasting Catalogue). They vary from cheap and cheerful, to rare and expensive. From the former, I have frequently recommended those from Laurenz V (or L5) in the under-$20 range. This is a new Austrian project from Lenz Moser, whose family has been in the wine business for generations. Sophie, the sixth generation, is Lenz's daughter. While I have recommended previous Vintages releases of their still-available 2007 "Singing" and 2006 "Friendly" I have yet to try their "Charming".
If you are looking for something special, make sure that you try Salomon Undhof 2006 Von Stein Reserve Grüner Veltliner (0115014), which is currently available as a Vintages OnLine Exclusive. There are many fine producers and I am pleased inform trade buyers and professional sommeliers to request a complimentary copy of the 280-page softcover book Grüner Veltliner From an insider's secret to international trendsetter by wein.pur. Published December 2008, sign in with Birgitta Samavarchian, she will provide you with a copy that normally sells for 19 euros.
There are 22 Rieslings, 20 Zweigelt and even 7 Pinot Noir. With so much to taste, I suggest you arrive at noon. Let me refer to my National Post feature entitled Hitting the Vineyard Trail: New Shining Stars in 2003 published January 4, 2003 where I said:
Past trends don't always predict the future. Last year was eye opening because I had the opportunity to tour a number of exciting wine regions. As a result, I have uncovered some things, which don't even qualify as "best kept secrets" because they're still so obscure.
Austria, for instance, will never threaten Australia in terms of visibility. And yet, from this forlorn homeland of the Gruner Veltliner grape comes some of the world's most fabulous Sauvignon Blanc. The best from 2001 are well structured with gorgeous gooseberry, ripe peach and/or tangy Anjou pear fruit flavours (depending on the clone, date of picking and/or yield).
I visited the tiny, gently mountainous region of Syria or Steier (actually called Südsteiermark) last June and was amazed by the number of world-class producers whose wineries dot the southern Slovenian border. Look for Walter Skoff, Alois Gross, Paul Achs, Eduard Tscheppe, Neumeister, Gamlitz and Polz - all outstanding houses. They are not inexpensive, usually $20 to $35, but are usually worth every penny.
The highly sought-after Manfred Tement whites, for instance, are produced in a tiny, exquisite, ultra modern, gravity flow winery that compares to the best anywhere in the world. His single vineyard estate Tement Sauvignon Blanc Zieregg 2001 at 14% alcohol has stunning sweet pear puree fruit overlaid with gooseberry and vanilla notes.
As mentioned, for my palate, Austrian Sauvignon Blanc may well be its most exciting variety. Having visited the southern region of Styria numerous times since 2003, I have been wowed by some Sauvignon Blancs that shatter the richter scale. In fact, at last year's inaugural World Sauvignon Blanc Congress I was able to blind taste some of the best one-on-one. I was not disappointed and can refer you to a number of exclusive articles I wrote for the National Post extolling the virtues of the remarkable progress made
with this grape. I suggest you take a look at two previous features: The World Cup of Sauvignon Blanc: Austria Triumphant and Austria's Wines on a Roll. There will be nine must taste Sauvignon Blanc at the event: Tement (three at table 23), Sattlerhoff (three at table 17) then one from Aichinger (table 15), Nigle (table 14) and Rabl (table 26).
Kir-Yianni 2007 Petra White
Why you can't find those recent Vintages "Best Buys"
Once it's off the shelf, it's gone forever!
Wine importers inform me that Vintages is failing, now more than ever, to deliver the goods to Ontario consumers. It happened at this week's LCBO Trade Day. It seems that up until fairly recently, any sizable Vintages release would automatically go to almost all Vintages stores. Now the new releases are only being sent to a small proportion of Vintages stores. Wine importers have now been told to start soliciting these other LCBO store managers/consultants to order to get them to buy their upcoming Vintages releases. All of this, despite an enormous current excess inventory at Vintages rumored to total over $50 million.
Sadly, one of the Vintages January 31st highlights still languishes on the few shelves, at least on those few shelves where it is still available. Like Austria, Greek wines have never been an easy sell, often because too many inferior selections are stocked by the LCBO. And despite being a winner, once Vintages stores sell their stock, they rarely reorder. Why? Because shelf space is at such a premium and has to be cleared out for the next wave of releases. This means that even if a wine sells out immediately, it's off to the next release.
This has definitely impacted on the boys over at Kolonaki Group, who are stuggling to raise the bar when it comes to great Greek wines. Unfortunately, lighter bodied, floral, Greek whites aren't the easiest thing to sell when it's minus-20-degrees outside. Of the 200 cases initial order, there's still an additional backlog of 59 cases still sitting in the LCBO warehouse.
Given the frigid climate, I don't think that anybody wrote about this wine at the time it was released. Now that it's warmer, you should go down to your local store and ask them to order Kir-Yianni 2007 Petra (63552) a real deal at only $14.95. Please let me know if they don't oblige your request. This delicious 100% Roditis is one of the oldest-known, continuously cultivated, indigenous varieties in Greece. It has a light straw colour and very attractive, slightly spicy, honeyed, ripe pear aromas. On the palate, it's fairly dry, harmonious and ready to drink with slightly spicy, pear purée flavours along with a lingering, tangy, Sauvignon Blanc tinged finish. A perfect springtime selection, try it with poultry or seafood.
Chile's Viña Undurraga
Undiscovered In Store Discoveries
The very first Recommended Vintages release from Viña Undurraga was on January 12, 2002. The 300 cases of the tasty, extremely well-priced, 2000 Pinot Noir flew off the shelves at only $11.70 a bottle. It has never been seen since.
However, Undurraga is back and its better than ever. After a total winery makeover, there has been a shift to producing serious wine for discerning drinkers. Dan Rabinovitch, the newly appointed Ontario agent and owner of Azureau wine agency recently dropped off two hot-off-the shelf Vintages March ISD releases. Unfortunately, Vintages decrees that wine writers are not allowed to taste the unfinished samples put out for the LCBO consultants - any remaining wine is poured down the drain. As these wines got zero exposure and Dan wanted to make sure that my readers were aware of the new quality level.
After tasting these new wines, I decided to share the wealth with my readers. First, there's Viña Undurraga 2005 Founder's Collection Cabernet Sauvignon (726646) at $36.95 has profoundly deep, intense purple colour – almost impenetrable. The nose is rich and mellow with ripe plum and cassis with faint hints of pine cone and smoldering sandalwood. It is smooth and rich on the palate with an abundance of gently juicy, ripe plum fruit with hints of back cherry and touch of pencil eraser followed up by a lingering, harmonious, mocha-tinged finish. Very classy and absolutely at its prime for immediate drinking, I give it (out of ***+) and suggest that you try it with a rib steak. Only 36 cases of 6 were released and it's still available in 13 stores.
The second wine was Vina Undurraga 2006 TH Syrah (94193) at $27.95 also from the Maipo Valley – in this case Parcel 4, Santa Ana Estate. Only 930 cases "Terroir Hunter" were produced and some 50 cases (actually 100 cases of 6) were purchased by the Vintage. It has an extremely deep intense purple colour and a rich, complex, slightly spicy, mocha-tinged, roasted plum and black cherry nose with a lick of licorice. It's well-stuctured and quite harmonious on the palate with some very slightly dusty, albeit ripe plum and baked cherry flavours followed up by a slightly dusty, red pepper, mocha-chocolate notes on the lingering finish. I get the impression that it has reached its peak and give it (out of ***+). You might want to try it with roast beef. It's still available in 18 stores.
Michael Vaughan's Liquid Assets
Vintages Sale Bargains
Easter Wine & Food Pairings
Best Buys from the April 11th Release
Last Monday, I gave FBTI Supporter's access to the 71 March 30th Vintages sale items (originally listed last November) appearing exclusively on our website. Many of these iems are still available and we are pleased to present details to our general readership. There are two formats. First, a fully linked, colour-coded sale list (two pages) – click here to see. There is also five pages of detailed, linked, tasting reviews of every sale item – click here to see.
As next Saturday's Vintages April 11th release will likely be available this Thursday, April 9th I have decided to provide some advance reviews of my recommendations. It features 110 selections with two thematics. This first is "perfect Easter food & wine paings" with 22 releases. The second is "Eco wines are booming" with 20 selections.
Starting with the former, there are openers, closers and then matches for ham, salmon, lamb and turkey. Honestly, I can't see some of the matches, but for what it's worth, here are some of my recommendations.
Those looking for a Champagne-inspired opener should try the (out of ***+) flavourful effervescent Dufouleur 2005 Crémant de Bourgogne Brut (47241) at $21.95. This Burgundian blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Aligoté has a very pale straw colour and crisp, ripe, lemon-melon nose. On the palate, it's dry, gently honeyed, very pleasant and medium-light bodied with slightly spicy, ripe, lemon-melon flavours.
For ham, the tasty, albeit very floral, Domaine de Gourgazaud 2007 Viognier (734533) at $15.95 is quite OK with rating.
This French Vin de Pays d'Oc has slightly honeyed, light, ripe melon aromas along with some spicy, wild flower notes. On the palate it's dry, spicy, medium-light bodied and quite harmonious with tangy, ripe melon flavours with a crisp, yellow grapefruit finish.
An even better ham bet might be Malivoire 2008 Ladybug Rosé (559088) at $15.95. This homegrown VQA Niagara Escarpment blend of Cabernet Franc, Gamay and Pinot Noir has a medium-light reddish pink colour. The nose is quite attractive with spicy, honeyed, plum-strawberry notes. It's fairly dry, harmonious and medium-light bodied with spicy, plummy, strawberry flavours.
The Vintages Catalogue suggests the Loron 2007 Bourgogne Blanc (110304) at $19.95 with salmon. I feel, however, that this best buy and the Pinot Noir would actually be better with turkey. This 100% Burgundian Chardonnay has a forward medium light yellow colour. The nose is gently complex and slightly spicy with toasty, ripe lemon meringue notes. It's dry, medium bodied and quite harmonious with tangy, ripe lemon meringue flavours and a lingering, somewhat toasty finish.
The excellent Brancott 2006 Reserve Pinot Noir (93708) at $29.95, which hails from the Central Otago region of New Zealand and rated should also go well with turkey, or even better, duck. It has a surprisingly deep intense purple color and a rather spicy, stewed cherry nose with lots of vanilla-cedar notes. It's dry, medium bodied, very spicy, plummy, intense, dried ripe red cherry and raspberry flavours with a lingering, tangy finish. It comes with a screwcap closure and will probably get even better with another year of aging.
Ironically, I thought that the Georges Duboeuf Domaine des Sablons 2007 Saint-Amour (2923) at $19.95, which the Vintages Catalogue recommends with turkey, would go better with either salmon or ham. This Beaujolais single cru Gamay was rated , it has a fairly fruity, ripe plum and red apple nose. It's dry, medium bodied and loaded with fresh, ripe plum and red cherry flavours along with a lingering, crisp finish.
My best buy organic wine hails from Chile's Casablanca Valley and is absolutely ready to drink. The tangy yellow grapefruit flavours of Natura 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Special Lot (93914) at $15.95 hit the spot. With a terrific quality/price ratio, it has an excellent rating. The nose is attractive, fresh and slightly spicy with honeyed, faintly peachy, ripe melon-grapefruit notes. On the palate it is dry, tangy and medium-light bodied with slightly spicy, ripe lemon-grapefruit flavours with a lingering, crisp, very gently grassy finish. It comes with a screwcap closure, is completely unoaked and would be perfect for seafood or oysters. This organic wine contains 23 mg/L of free sulphur.
My release "must try white" is made from the indigenous Grillo grape from Sicily. Italy's Feudo Montoni 2007 Grillo (116319) at only $13.95 is a destination. The nose is very attractive with spicy, yellow grapefruit and wild flower notes. It has dry, bright, medium-light bodied, spicy, yellow grapefruit flavours with a lingering, tangy finish. A perfect versatile warm weather white, which will be perfect with grilled calamari.