July 2019

Cool climate North America

In July I visited two different cool climate wine region in North America: Niagara (in Ontario) and the North Fork of Long Island. For a long time these less travelled regions were one line entries in wine encyclopedias; today, as the climate changes, they are increasingly less marginal for viticulture and can consistently make excellent wine.

Niagara was the first Canadian wine region I have visited, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Given the short growing season, cool climate varieties fare best, and I particularly enjoyed the Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir wines I tasted. A highlight was a visit to the famed ice wine producer, Inniskillin, where they produce not only white and red ice wines from from frozen grapes, but also very rare (and delicious) sparkling ice wine.

In New York, I visited Macari Vineyards, courtesy of my friend Gabriella Macari. On a wonderful site above the Long Island Sound, Macari works the vineyards biodynamically, being willing to sacrifice making certain wines (especially the reds) in difficult vintages rather than use chemicals in the vineyard. The wines are full of fruit and joy, and my picks were the zippy rosé (and Horses, the rosé sparkling), the peppery Syrah and the various wines made of the red Bordeaux varieties. They offer a lovely visitor experience with a tasting room and an outstanding pizza oven.

Bordeaux: Vintages to Drink Now

Based on recent tastings, here’s an overview of which red Bordeaux vintages are drinking well today at classed growth level (and equivalent on the Right Bank).

2010 and younger: wait - with the exception of 2013 where you should try anything below First Growth level.

2009/2008/2006/2005: these remain quite primary, especially the 2005, which seems like it was just bottled yesterday. However, the tannins are beginning to soften so these vintages are becoming more accessible.

2007/2004/2002/2001: these are lighter vintages that are all drinking well today.

2003/2000/1998: there’s a lot of pleasure to be had from these vintage today, especially from the Right Bank. From the Left Bank I would really like to leave the best wines for another five years just to open up a little more.

1996/1995: 1996 is better on the Left Bank, and almost all wines are drinking beautifully now. 1995 on the Left Bank remains a very slow aging vintage with high levels of tannin. 1995s from the Right Bank are glorious now.

1990/1989/1988: the best vintage of this trio is now indisputably 1989, but all three vintages are wonderful to drink today.

1986/1985/1982: the First Growths from these years continue to drink very well; below that level, however, some drinkers may find the wines a little mature as the fruit begins to fade.

A Thought on Greatness in Wine

Last month I was fortunate to taste several really memorable wines. First was Mouton Rothschild 1982 from magnum; another was Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano di Neive Riserva 1998 and a third was Roumier Ruchottes Chambertin 2002. Which made me ponder: what does greatness taste like? What distinguishes these wines from others?

What’s most interesting to me is the way that they are not great because they are so much different from their peers. In a way, it’s the opposite: they are the perfect expression of their genre or type. The Barbaresco seemed to be that place and that variety distilled down to its essence. The Roumier was like the Platonic form of Burgundy: autumnal, melancholic, wistful. If you had an idea in your head of what Left Bank Bordeaux tastes like, the Mouton would fit it perfectly.

In these terms, true greatness in wine is a question of familiarity and continuity rather than radical difference or strangeness. And I for one find that quietly reassuring.