The Ratings System

Top Scoring WinesThis week’s edition of Vintages is dedicated to 90+ wines. The ones that someone, who has made a living off wine, considered outstanding enough to grant the equivalent of an A.  Do you pay attention to wine ratings? Whether it is the nod of approval from  Wine Spectator, Natalie MacLean, or Jancis Robinson to name a few, the numbers certainly make a difference to  sales.

Then there is the influence of Uber-critic Robert Parker who started The Wine Advocate.  His seal of approval in the form of a 90+ rating,  can mean as much as $5 million dollars in additional world sales.

Parker of the Wine Advocate  bases his ratings on a   100-point scale graded like this:

  • 96-100 being extraordinary
  • 90-95 considered outstanding
  • 80-89 very good to above average
  • 70-79 average

And really, if you rate below 70 – you aren’t flaunting it. Many others followed Parker’s lead, including Wine Spectator and Canadian Natalie MacLean.  British wine writer Jancis Robinson opted for  a 20-point scale because she believes it is more precise..

Ratings MatterThe debate over whether ratings actually matter will never end. It’s been called pretentious manipulation aimed at getting people to pay more for wine.  But there is no question that they  have an influence.

With that much at stake, many wineries go to great lengths to get a good rating. The Parkerization of wine refers to wineries that tailor their techniques to Parker’s preferred style of wine. Then there are the legendary stories (or gross exaggerations – one involving two Chateau owners who allegedly (that’s my news lingo for unsubstantiated claims) offered up their daughters  in exchange for a better review. The best story involves the manager of a French winery who was so incensed with the less than glowing review, he invited Parker back to re-test the wine.  When Parker arrived he was attacked by the manager’s dog. Bleeding, Parker asked for a bandage.The manager handed over a copy of the newsletter featuring the bad review..

90 Rating under $20
90 Rating under $20

I have taken a few wine courses, which have only confirmed to me how much I do NOT know, and while I am starting to recognize a few favourite producers, and a few favourite regions, I admit, the ratings do make a difference to me when it is a wine I have not tried before. Though I am not so precious as to refuse a wine under 90 points.As I mentioned, there are some great affordable wines that score in the 80’s.

The ideal way to choose your wine is to try before you buy. The tasting rooms in some LCBOs and SAQs are the perfect places to do that. Samples cost anywhere between 50 cents – $2.00  – the only problem – there aren’t nearly enough tasting rooms.

The Salcheto Vineyard
The Salcheto Vineyard

They are much more common in  Italy.  Even better,  the tastings there  are often free. You can also go into a wine bar (like the most spectacular wine bar  in Montepulciano, Tuscany –  E Lucevan le Stella,  which means the stars were shining brightly) and often taste before you buy a bottle.  That’s why you never see a sticker crowing about an award, or a label on the shelf that boasts  the number of stars or ratings in Italy, unless it caters to tourists, of course.

Antinori Superstar
Antinori Superstar

Piero Antinori, the patriarch of a family that has been producing wines for 27 generations, said picking a good wine is a badge of honour for an Italian. They would never drink a wine strictly based on a rating. So I asked Lucia, the young woman who took us on a tour of Tenuta Valdipiatta how she picks her wines. Word of mouth, a friend’s recommendation, but most important, try before you buy. How civilized.

rockawayIt’s another of the many reasons to visit Niagara-On-The-Lake. While VQA wines may not always be my first stop at the LCBO, every single time I have visited the wineries, I have come home with a special find which has sent me out to find it again.   And I have often been pleasantly surprised by the sample – usually very affordable, offered in many LCBO’s and SAQ’s on a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon.

The tasting principle works at Costco and it sure works in Italy. Is it good business? How often do you seen people leaving empty handed?.

Still, I am not at all embarrassed that I do pay attention to the ratings. It’s not the only way I  make my picks – you would be losing out on so many opportunities if you only bought based on  ratings. It is no guarantee of greatness, perhaps more of an indication of quality or simply an idea that plants the perception of greatness on your taste buds. Maybe one day I won’t feel the need to pay attention to the ratings at all. But for now, a little advice and a little knowledge does go  a long way.

Salute!

2013 Wednesday Wine Picks with a Sexy Suggestion

A Bottle of Kaiken that Didn't Last Long
A Bottle of Kaiken that Didn’t Last Long

Kaiken Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina  LCBO $14.95

Argentina is becoming known for great value wines and this is a good  example. It is one of the reasons Argentina has become the fifth biggest wine producer in the world. Dark purpley red in colour, this beauty is full-bodied with soft tannins and fruit and spice flavours. Nice match with barbecued meat. 98% Malbec which is Argentina’s most important grape, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignion. 14.5% alcohol.

 

 

T Sanzo Vino De La Tierra di Castilla di Leon, Spain  LCBO $14.95

A Rich Recommendation from Rioja
A Rich Recommendation from Rioja

Continuing in the Spanish-speaking countries – this one from the Rioja region of Spain -also at the right price.  Yummy, delicious and fruity, it is made from 100% Tempranillo, one of the stars of Spain. Well-balanced and great value. 13.5% alcohol.  And if a rating helps to  convince you, Jay Miller, from eRobertParker gave it a 90.

Salud!

 

 

Finally my splurge recommendation:

Deep and Delicious
Deep and Delicious

La Vita Lucente 2010, Montalcino, Italy LCBO $28.90

A dear friend asked me for a recommendation the day after I uncorked this lovely and the infatuation was still burning the next morning. When I read the description I sent to her, it sounded less like a wine review and more like a review of 50 Shades without the handcuffs. This is sex in a bottle. The magnificent rich ruby red colour alone is enough to make me break my No Wine on Weekdays resolution – lucky I don’t have a bottle to open. The first sip had promise, 10 minutes later – it delivered exquisitely. It’s 75% Merlot and 25% Sangiovese blended perfectly. With a little research, I learned producer  LucedellaVite (The Light of Life) was originally a coproduction between the Frescobaldi family – Italy’s oldest wine producing family and the late Robert Mondavi of California. The Frescobaldis have since taken full ownership, and continue to produce a terrific wine perfect for any occasion.

 Send us the name of your favourite wine under $20.

 

 

A Small Tuscan Winery gets Top Marks

 

Morning Glory in Montepulciano

Tucked into the valley underneath those clouds is a modest winery getting anything but modest results. When you drive down the long dirt road approaching Tenuta Valdipiatta and you witness the glory of the past and the taste of the future.

Acres and acres of vines, some decades old, some barely a year, roots finding a home in some of the most valuable terroir in Italy.

Everything about this place feels authentic.

This is not product of good marketing. This is the product of care, attention and excellent grapes. We lucked out on this day because it was prime harvest time. The workers were hand picking  the vines.  Truckloads of fat juicy grapes were  poured into the de-stemmer and the fermentation process begins.

A Truckload of Beauty
A Truckload of Juicy Beauties

We got a tour and tasting of four of their wines for 10 Euros. They have another tour that sounds sublime: a sensory wine tasting that guides you through the experience using natural and artificial aromas that lead you through the sampling of three of their fine wines.I called at the last-minute on the off-chance they had an available time. Lucia graciously obliged with a tour of the estate and a tasting of some of their best.
It’s one of the many things I love about this country.

There is always something around the corner to discover that makes your life so much richer for having experienced it.

 In this case, it was the Valdipiatta Vino Nobile Di Montipulciano 2009. And it wasn’t just us. Robert Parker gave it a whopping 93 – not bad considering it is only 17 Euros a bottle. We sampled the Rosso, the Vino Nobile, the Riserva and Lucia threw in a Super Tuscan blend of Canaiolo and Merlot  for comparison.

Tenuta Valdipiatta produces 140,000 bottles a year. And I am taking home four of them for tonight’s  dinner and four of them back to Canada.  Such difficult decisions. Allowing you to bring back   only four bottles is sheer torture. The signs that say We Ship Worldwide  are so misleading. In Canada,  it only valuable of you are buying crazy expensive wine. The base price for shipping 6 bottles in 110 Euros. Argh!

But Valdipiatta will make my final cut. And when I am sitting on my back deck with great friends, a plate of simple pasta and I pop open that bottle – it will bring back memories of another perfect day in the outskirts of Montepulciano, Italy – a glass in hand and a dream to return again.

Is there a special wine that brings back memories for you?

Foreign Men With Sexy Accents Serving Up Delicious Wines

Recently we were invited to an event put on by Mark Bruni, the general manager of RKW Wine Imports.  He had flown in Marc Kent a winemaker from South Africa for the launch of his Wolftrap White and Wolftrap Red labels at the LCBO.

Mark is the winemaker at B O E K E N H O U T S K L O O F (bow-ken-howts-cloof) already known and loved for its Porcupine Ridge and The Chocolate Block.  Bet you can’t say that name fast a few times…actually it works better after a few glasses of his delicious wine.  Mark’s talent for winemaking has garnered the only FIVE star rating for a South African winery from the esteemed Robert Parker.

In addition, Boekenhoutskloof was recently awarded “2012 Winery of the Year” by Platter’s South African Wine Guide.

Lis and I with Sommelier Zolton Szabo

The event took place at Barque Smokehouse and the place was packed.  Our table was set for seven and as we quickly introduced ourselves to our charming dinner partners we realised one of our esteemed companions was none other that the super sexy sommelier Zoltan Szabo.

If you don’t already know this, the one thing all wine lovers seem to have in common is their love of sharing…whether it’s a fantastic new find, their passion for pairings, helpful tasting hints or a glass from a great bottle of wine (or maybe two).

Salad of warm fior de latte, heirloom tomatoes, basil & reduced balsamic

Mark’s passion for winemaking and in particular these new wines had us all ready to sample what was being served for the evening.  It started light with the Wolftrap Rose.  We moved through a couple of whites including the lovely and fresh Wolftrap White served with Salad of warm Fior de Latte and then came the Boekenhoustskloof Semillon served with some white fish…

 

 

Well I’ve tasted Semillon before and was not a fan but this one is something to rave about.  Since wine tastings are often more about sampling than drinking everything served, I laughed when Zoltan wouldn’t let the server take his glass of the Semillon because he was so impressed by its taste.

Then came the reds…the new release Wolftrap Red was served with a Pulled Duck Taco that everyone enjoyed. The pairings continued (yes I know you’re wondering how do these wine people eat and drink so darn much – well everything comes in small servings – think tapas).  The Chocolate Block with the braised short rib may have been my favourite but I have to say everything was delicious – both food and the wines.

Now when you get to spend the night sitting beside an amazing sommelier you make sure you absorb as much of his knowledge as possible.  I confessed as an average wine consumer I often pass right by South African wines and go straight to the better known producers  – France, Italy, Australia and even California.  He made sure to let me know  you should never pass by the unfamiliar in favour of the standards because you never know when you’ll find something delicious, and I believe we did. It’s really one of the great things about the wines at the LCBO…you’ll always find the regulars but there’s always something new to try.

If you’d like to try these, here’s what to look for:

The Wolftrap White 2011 LCBO #169409 $12.95

The Wolftrap Red 2011 LCBO #292557 $13.93

Boekenhoutskloop Semillon 2009 $34.95 Only available through RKW Imports Consignment Channel

Try either the red or white this Thanksgiving weekend with your turkey dinner and make sure to enjoy some time outside admiring the beautiful fall colours.