Wine recommendations to ease you into fall
“Pandemic Summer” brought devastation to the hospitality industry and, by association, those involved in writing about and promoting food, drink and travel. Tasting events and dinners were cancelled, as were media trips (I personally had six of them cancelled…damn!). But of course, things didn’t totally die, they just adapted. “Virtual tastings” became the norm. I was even involved in a pretty amazing virtual dinner tasting courtesy of the Moët Hennessy Canada people, where I was delivered Champagne, cocktail ingredients, glassware and a multi-course restaurant-quality meal I just had to reheat. And since I couldn’t get to a lot of the wine, a lot of it got to me. Here are but a few of my wine recommendations.
Two lively Kiwi Sauvignon Blancs – both from Marlborough – offered welcome refreshment in the summer heat. Instrumental for putting New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (and perhaps New Zealand wine in general) on the global wine map, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc celebrated its 35th vintage with the vibrant, mouthwateringly zesty 2019 edition that offers layers of tropical(guava)/citrus fruit, with a dash of mineral complexity. Perhaps a tad less complex – but every bit a lively – the Marlborough Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2019 delivers fresh pink grapefruit and cut grass aromas, and crisp, herbal flavours, all at a (for New Zealand) bargain price.
For Chardonnay fans, the Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve 2018 combines fruit from four prime growing regions delivers a nose of banana, mango, vanilla and buttered toast that lead to flavours suggesting nougat, almond and pineapple all wrapped around a ripe, balanced core.
Sticking with California, but sourcing its fruit exclusively from the Napa Valley, First Press Napa Valley Chardonnay 2018 delivers peach, ripe melon, vanilla and white flower blossom aromas. In the mouth, it’s elegant and poised, emphasizing pear-laced fruit, a dash of spice and just a hint of toasty oak. (Its red counterpart, the First Press Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, is also worth grabbing).
Heading farther north, The Chardonnay Reserve 2018 from BC’s Mission Hill delivers fragrant notes of baked apple, stone fruit, melon, lemon and mineral delivered in a mid-weight package showing ripe pear, marzipan and a mineral/vanilla finish.
And, for those looking for good weight without wood and an elegantly refined style, the Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2018 is worth considering. The nose leans towards yellow apple, white flower blossom and a hint of citrus. Flavours of fresh melon, mineral and peach pit distinguish this engaging white that relies on fruit and terroir (rather than oak) to deliver balance and complexity.
Rosé & Sparkling
When it comes to rosés, I’ll come clean and admit that I tend to gravitate towards those from the south of France and Spain (while freely admitting that there are excellent examples coming from practically every wine-producing country). So, it was with open arms (and a rather large glass) that I welcomed the return of the Beronia Tempranillo Rosé 2019 (or rosado, to be more linguistically accurate).
Vinified from a blend of 70 percent Temparanillo (Spain’s most important red grape variety) and 30 percent Garnacha, it sports a gorgeous coral hue and bright, fragrant aromas hinting at rose petal, freshly picked strawberries, and a bare suggestion of ripe peach. Wonderfully crisp on the palate, yet with enough body and depth to impress discerning oenophiles, it delivers nuances of dried herbs, wild strawberry and traces of mineral.
Saintly “The Good Sparkling Rosé” from Niagara backs up my above claim that high-quality rosés are being produced worldwide. A bouquet of citrus, berry and stone fruits (think strawberry, raspberry, citrus, peach) gave way to a balanced, bubbly palate featuring ripe red-berry flavours wrapped up in a dry, moderately full-bodied package. Likewise, Saintly (yes, it’s lower case on the label, but in print it looks weird) “the good sparkling” shows there’s definitely a niche for sparkling wines in Niagara. Lots of citrus, red apple and flower blossom on the nose; crisp and clean, yet with a definite ripeness and weight (likely due to lees contact) in the mouth.
Closer to a vintage champagne in terms of complexity and weight, the Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Brut 2016 (also from Niagara) dishes out complex, toasty biscuit aromas buttressed with hints of red apple and almond skin nuances that lead into a rich, creamy palate, flavours of crisp green apple and subtle vanilla, and a long, almond-tinged finish.
The Rotari Brut 2015 and Rotari Brut Rosé 2014 from Italy’s Trentino region offer excellent value considering they are made using the traditional (and labour-intensive) in-bottle secondary fermentation method and are vintage dated. Expect to find lemon curd, peach, mineral and subtle buttery notes on the former; pink grapefruit, dried herbs and wild strawberry on the latter. Both feature exceptional balance and length.
And for something rather different, see if you can track down any Champ “Divin” Crémant du Jura Zero Dosage from Valerie and Fabrice Closset-Gaziaux. From a single vineyard and made following exclusively organic methods, it offers, aromatically, intriguing apple cider, caramel and a slight yeasty/bread dough note. Very finely textured, it displays flavours of orchard fruit with a certain earthy/mushroom quality. Quite different – and very good!
I was hit with a deluge of (mostly) very good reds over the course of the summer – way more than space here allows. So, here are a handful of memorable ones listed from lighter bodied to progressively fuller:
Laughing Stock Pinot Noir 2018 from British Columbia has excellent varietal character, with earthy raspberry aromas, and a touch of coco; smooth, silky and seductive in the mouth, with complex layers of sweet, ripe raspberry, mocha and sandalwood.
The Brouilly 2017 from Richard Rottiers shows that not all Beaujolais are just fruity fun. This “cru” level example delivers plenty of smoky/wet slate/black fruit nuances; loamy/wet gravel/ripe blackberry flavours in a mid-weight package. Maybe not “typical,” but significantly more powerful and complex than your “average” Beaujolais.
Aptly showing that Niagara is more than capable of producing some top-notch red wines, the Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Reserve 2017 served up an engaging aromatic platter of tobacco leaf, leather, mint, plum and violet that gave way to flavours of blackcurrant, black cherry wrapped in a slightly spicy mid-weight package.
I was introduced to the Schwaigerner Ruthe Lemberger Trocken 2016 from Graf Neipperg (say it three times, fast) during the course of a Wines of Germany “virtual” tasting. Germany is producing some outstanding red wines, and this Lemberger caught me off guard. Extremely aromatic, with loads of baking spice, cedar, rhubarb and blackberry; chewy, peppery, herbal and laced with dark berry fruit.
Aves del Sur Reserva Carmenère 2017 from Chile was another peppery number that also sported suggestions of blueberry, mocha and graphite; quite ripe and rich without being in any way bloated or overbearing, largely due to the fine acid/tannin balance that controlled the wine’s smoky/herbal/blueberry flavours.
Some wines are pretty much impossible not to like. The Raymond Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 from California is one of those. Both the nose and palate are chock full of crushed black raspberry and blackberry, backed up by hints of mint, cedar/cigar box, dark plum and a dash of spice. Yummy.
California Zinfandel is the consummate barbecue wine. Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel 2018, with its bramble, toasted oak and white pepper-laced aromatics and ripe, rich, tarry, peppery, black raspberry fruit – combined with its brawny structure – would be the perfect foil for a rack or two of sticky BBQ ribs.
Finally, for those who like their red wines big, round, and rich, there’s Three Fingers Jack “East Side Ridge” Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. From California’s Lodi AVA (known for producing wines of size), this monster Cab (15% ABV) is the drinking equivalent of letting yourself sink into a deep, plush, worn leather armchair (perhaps made of dark chocolate). Cigar box and anise; smoke and spice; chocolate and black cherry compote…get the picture?