Last Monday, I headed to Toronto to participate in A Tasting of Wines from Italy sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission. This was “day three” of a four-city cross-country junket that saw stops in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.
Over a hundred different Italian wineries were in attendance, many represented by the owners and winemakers themselves. In all, there were over 700 wines poured, all in the space of four to five hours.
Clearly you had to pick and choose. In that there wasn’t much of an opportunity to “pre-plan” your tasting strategy, and most of the wineries and wines are not found in the LCBO portfolio, it was very much a “seat-of-the-pants” experience.
The whole objective of the tasting was to market wines to the restaurant trade, not to the average consumer. Some wineries had Ontario agents, many did not.
Most of the wines were available only on “Private Order “. Some agents may have some wines already here. Those are said to be available “on consignment.” These have to be purchased by the case, usually six or 12 bottles at a time. Private orders can take a while before delivery, depending on where the wines are coming from.
Restaurants frequently like to carry wines that aren’t commonly found, creating a kind of exclusivity. Bigger centres will have the “critical mass” of eateries that would be interested in the wines poured at this kind of tasting.
One such, for example, could be Jacobs Steakhouse in Toronto, where you could order an 18 ounce bone-in striploin from Penokean Hills in Bruce Mines Ontario for $108, or a 16 ounce A-5 Kobe Black Tajima striploin from Japan for $880.
The restaurant has a 74-page wine list with probably 1,400 or so wines on offer. Restaurants are definitely the target for Wine Tastings of this nature.
From a writer’s perspective, one is torn between the familiar, where we might find something to recommend, and the totally new for a fresh experience. Of course, with so many wines, there will always be regrets in hindsight that we didn’t taste one wine or another.
Castello di Meleto Chianti Classico 2015, $18.95, is actually on the Nov. 10 Vintages release. It has a 92 from the Wine Spectator, which praised it for its cherry, strawberry and spice flavours and its harmony, though tannins suggest laying it down for a couple of years. I missed it at the Trade Tasting, so I will have to buy a bottle myself to get the full picture.
I did enjoy trying wines from Casale Del Giglio in the Lazio region outside Rome. The inexpensive Fontana di Papa wines, long available on our shelves, hail from Lazio, but the Del Giglio are definitely of a higher order of quality.
The Anthium 2017, $24.95, is a white made from Bellone, a grape only recently brought back from obscurity, It has a lovely medium texture, with quiet, enjoyable fruit notes.
Cesanese is another indigenous grape, one used in the Castelli Romani red blend we find at the LCBO. The Lazio IGT Cesanese is made entirely from that grape. It is delicious and distinctive, and lightly tannic, and sells for $22.95
To purchase Casale Del Giglio wines, contact Profile Wine Group at 416-598-0033.
Luccarelli is a producer from Puglia whose entry-level wines are popular at the LCBO. The Negroamaro, $9.05, and the Primitivo, $11.95, have very good flavour levels of plum, cherry and spice. The former also has a pleasing acidic bite, while the latter possesses a touch of tannin on the finish.
Luccarelli also presented some more upscale examples of the same grapes in their “Campo Marina” line, retailing for $22.95. These had significant flavour and were bright and delicious. The question is, if someone is familiar with the Luccarelli name, would they be willing in a restaurant to pay $40 to $50 for these clearly superior examples, or would their “$10 pre-conceptions” make them hesitant?
Wines from Il Molino di Grace regularly appear in Vintages. The winery, in the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany, is owned by the Grace family from the United States.
Until I knew that, I was pronouncing the name as “Grah–che” instead of the English word, “grace.” Daniel Grace, representing the winery, laughed and said both worked – they were used to it.
I tasted the 2011 Gratius, which is predominantly Sangiovese. It is a single vineyard wine from their highest elevation, 440 metres above sea level. Daniel believes it can go toe-to toe with very good Brunellos.
The 2010 is still available on line at LCBO.com and can be found in some stores at $49.95. it is drinking well now and has a 92 from the Wine Spectator. It is austere, but “long and complex” with spice, cherry anise and, as Daniel described, “a potpourri of the Panzano forest floor.” Il Molino di Grace is represented by Frontier Wine Merchants - 416 273 6034.
In all, A Tasting of Wines From Italy, was an interesting adventure: intriguing for the wines tasted, frustrating for the wines missed, and both satisfying and tiring for me after trying some 80 wines in 4 hours.
It’s a tough job!
Nov. 10 Vintages Release
There are loads of good values on this release, as well as some excellent but more expensive wines. The emphasis is on the reds, which outnumber the whites by a 4 to 1 ratio.
Santa Ema Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2016. $16.95, is a fine Chilean Chardonnay described by James Suckling as carrying cooked apple and almond notes and being “full-bodied, round and flavorful” – 92.
Vetiver Viura 2014, $16.95, is a Spanish white made from the native Viura grape. This one ranked #62 in the Wine Spectator’s “Top Buys” for 2016. Built to last, it is expected to drink well through 2024. With pear and toast flavours, and “dried pineapple details”, it is said to be lively and even displays light tannins, not something we usually associate with a white wine - 91
Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2017, $17.95 – Chenin Blanc is the “go-to” white in South Africa, where it often goes by the name of “Steen”. Forrester is a master with this grape. The winery suggests that you can expect baked apple and honeycomb, and soft full flavours with some mineral notes on the finish.
Tenuta Messieri Visioni Pecorino 2015, $17.95, from Italy’s Marche region has two out of three glasses from Gambero Rosso, suggesting a wine of very good quality. This wine would work well with fish. It is dry, with herbal notes and good acidity at the end.
Cave Spring Cellars Chardonnay Musqué 2016, $17.95 – I mentioned this wine in my last article, and now Tony Aspler in vintageassessments.com acknowledges its quality referring to its “richly extracted, sweet apple and baked lemon flavours” – 88.5
Cave Spring Indian Summer Riesling 2016, $24.95 – (375. ml.) – Here is an excellent medium sweet dessert wine, one of the few from Ontario that is not an Ice Wine. Instead, these late harvest grapes are left hanging until they begin to shrivel and lose water content, concentrating the nectar. This has 75 g/l of residual sugar, and carries a 91 from the Wine Enthusiast.
Doga dellle Clavule Morellino di Scansano 2015, $15.95, is a Tuscan red from the coastal area of Tuscany, Maremma. These wines rarely seem to make it to our shelves. Like Chianiti and Brunello, the grape is Sangiovese. The Wine Spectator identifies “a fine interplay between the fruit and earthy, savoury notes. It should drink well for the next five years.
Chateau Cône-Taillasson Sabourin 2015, $17.95, from one of the Bordeaux satellites is a Vintages “Wine of the Month”. The Wine Enthusiast says that it is “spicy and full of black cherry and berry flavors.” – 91
Chateau Saint-Roch Chimères 2016, $17 from the Midi earned the praise of the Robert Parker people, A Grenache/Syrah blend, it is a great value with its red fruit (cherries and raspberries) and accents of dried spices and dark chocolate. It is full-bodied and supple– 91
Submission Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, $17, is another “Wine of the Month”, this time from California’s 689 Cellars. Carolyn Evans Hammond who writes in the Toronto Star has given this a 98, but that simply means that for a wine of this price it is really, really good. Plush with ripe flavours, it is “elegant yet slightly brooding… a steal.”
Bogedas Montecillo Gran Reserva 2009, $29,95 – Montecillo is unusual in that it purchases its fruit, having been unhappy with the original vineyards. The winery has cultivated special relationships with trusted growers, and the success of this policy is evident in this excellent Rioja. It is universally well-received, with leather, baking spice, dark fruit and mocha integrated nicely. There is full-flavour, but it is not over whelming. All is balanced and in harmony.
Other reds worth seeking out include Spain’s Castaño Hécula Monastrell 2015, $14.95, Portugal’s Crasto 2015, $17.95, Italy”s Tommasi Gratccio Appasionato 2016, $15.95 and an exceptional Sicilian, Feudo Montoni Lagnusa Nero d’Avola 2015, $23.95.
What the heck, buy ‘em all!