Our story so far: Last week I attended a wine tasting that reminded me of the power of contrasting. The stories told to us in childhood and the movies we watch often illustrate life experiences as a choice between good and bad. Sure there are situations where we can identify someone or something as being good or bad in absence of a contrasting reference. For example, no one needs to contrast the reported acts of Harvey Weinstein against those of Mother Teresa to conclude that he is a low-life predator. Most judgments are more complex and it’s really hard to choose which product is best for you (and why) without at least one contrasting reference.
What’s the connection to the wine tasting I attended? Well, a month ago the Muddle group of amateurs gathered to taste wines. In the tasting was the the $20 Bernard-Massard Brut Cuvée de L’Écusson —VINTAGES#: 970970. The unanimous conclusion of this group was that the wine came across as sweet and simple. There were better choices in the release and I categorized this wine as one to avoid. Fast forward two weeks and (unknown to me at the time) this wine appears as another wine tasting. This gathering is much larger, almost 50 people, served blind and was the sole sparkling wine in the line up. The conclusion of that group? Most loved the wine and there was clamour to write down the product code.
Why the difference in the conclusion? I believe that one group had a significant advantage over the other. And, that advantage was the ability to contrast the choices.
Thankfully today there are few bad wines. The world is, however, awash in mediocre wine. Hell, there is so much of it that excess supply is made into ethanol to blend with gasoline. More importantly, there are gems in both the bi-weekly KGBO (a.k.a. the LCBO) Vintages releases and the general list wines (that is, the wines that are not in the Vintages section of your store). As I muddle along exploring the fun and complexities of wine I will try to remember and apply the power of contrasting.
We only tasted one wine from this release that I would call outstanding. I love the $23 Joseph Drouhin Bourgogne Chardonnay 2015 —VINTAGES#: 512582. If you are a fan of fruit forward, bold, or buttery Chardonnay this wine is not for you. This is a wine of finesse and balance. It has fruit, the right amount and type of floral, a touch of oak, and good acidity. A good producer and good vintage and my kind-of style. If this type of wine appeals to you then please slightly chill it before serving (say 1/2 hour in the refrigerator) and decant the wine 30 minutes or more before consuming. If you serve the wine cold it will be very muted and will only shine once it warms up and gets air.
Wines to consider
The $20 Premius Crémant de Bordeaux Sparkling —VINTAGES#: 515239 is a dry and simple wine that would be a crowd pleaser. The published tasting notes are bunk. There is better value Sparkling wine at this price point but I’m mentioning this product because you may be looking for quantity and there are lots of bottles in the KGBO’s system.
The $20 Susana Balbo Signature Malbec 2014 —VINTAGES#: 79798 is an entry-level Malbec with some finesse. If you are a fan of high alcohol big fruit Argentinian Malbec this wine is not for you. The style of Malbec in this wine is more balanced. Decent fruit, acidity and chocolate tones that will please many people. While the alcohol level is high at 14.5% the sipping the wine only results in the burn that I find unpleasant at the very end of the finish. Given the high alcohol levels in modern winemaking I guess I’ve learned to live with that outcome. A decent wine.
However, heed this warning. I know of at least two bottles of this wine that had flawed corks so I have to be suspect of a problem at the winery. If you buy this wine and it smells like an old basement or wet cardboard then the wine is corked. Put the cork back into the bottle and return the bottle to the LCBO for a refund. The LCBO has a great return policy and process.
The $20 Tabalí Vetas Blancas Reserva Especial Cabernet Franc 2014 —VINTAGES#: 514117 is a wine geek’s wine. If you are only familiar with Cab Franc from France or Canada you probably have not tasted a Cab Franc with this degree of ripeness. Wine made from Cab Franc grapes grown in cool climate areas typically has a lot of vegetal aromas and flavors (specifically green bell pepper). They’ll jump from the glass at you and most people find this attribute unappealing. The Tabalí has this attribute but it is slight, not unappealing and you’ll have to go looking for it. The tasting notes speak of black raspberries and violets and I think that you’ll find them present in the wine. This wine would benefit from several years in the cellar. I wish that I had space as it would be interesting to see how this wine evolves over time. The alcohol level at 15.1% is ridiculous but it is decently integrated in the wine. Fatty foods help to tame it.
The $20 Château Peymelon 2006 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon—VINTAGES#: 512558 is a good buy. There is a slight off-putting scent of candy on the nose and the wine is tannic but here is your chance to taste an 11 year old Bordeaux that hits a lot of the aged Bordeaux attributes for $20. If you are a fan of Bordeaux then it’s pretty hard to argue that this wine does not represent good value. If you are willing to pay about double then consider the $43 Château Haut-Bergey 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot—VINTAGES#: 516161, a more sophisticated and classical Bordeaux wine that would benefit from several more years of cellar time.
The $18 La Chablisienne Saint Bris 2016 Sauvignon Blanc—VINTAGES#: 641753 is a novelty wine. The novelty is that Saint Bris region is the sole region is Burgundy that is allowed to make wine with Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Supposedly, this wine could trick experts to think that it is Chardonnay but, in a blind tasting, it fooled none of the amatuer tasters that gathered on Sunday. If you are a fan of French Sauvignon Blanc then this wine is a decent buy.
The $50 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino 2012 Sangiovese —VINTAGES#: 579094 is a good purchase. The wine is from a good vintage and displays classic Brunello flavors. It’s a balanced wine that you could drink now or cellar for many years. The price is decent as the fair value of this wine on the world market is about $30USD. You could expect to pay as high as $60 here. Book a table at your favorite BYOB Italian restaurant and bring a bottle.
The $35 Faustino I Gran Reserva 2004 Tempranillo Blend—VINTAGES#: 976662 is a decent value, especially if you are willing to store and age the wines. Yes, the wine is 13 years old but the wine’s components would benefit from significant cellar time. If you consume this wine now (or in the next few years) please decant it for at least an hour. The wine’s exposure to wood needs to settle so that the wine’s other elements come through. Air time will help. Years in the bottle would be better.
Wines to avoid
The $17 Beni di Batasiolo Langhe Rosso 2014 Nebbiolo Blend—VINTAGES#: 981019 is table wine that has an off-putting sourness and is overpriced. While I agree with other reviewers that it is accurate blend of local varieties the wine lacks appeal in the final product. Not a fan at this price.
The $15 Vetiver Viura 2014 Viura (Macabeo)—VINTAGES#: 437707 is floral, slightly bitter and simple. The tasting notes confounds me as they recommend aging this wine to as long as 2024. To the group that tasted this wine on Sunday, it was a simple dock wine and it’s now too cold to sit on a dock and drink chilled white wine.
The $15 Susana Balbo Crios Red Blend 2016 Red Blend —VINTAGES#: 366146 is a basic house wine. Again, the tasting notes overstate the attributes of this wine. There is a spiciness to the nose that is slightly medicinal that may put some people off. I also grew weary of this wine after a single glass. At this price point it’s just an okay wine and you would served better if you spent an extra $5 to buy the Susana Balbo Signature Malbec, which is discussed above. You are worth it.