Ask Chuck

Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Tasting The Old and Discovering The New: Some Fabulous Wines!

 The Old! The New! The Classic!

The Old!
A couple of weeks ago I decided to raid my cellar and treat myself to some of my older vintages. I decided to go back to two of the great vintages which were part and parcel to three consecutively super vintages from Bordeaux. The 1988 and 1989 along with 1990 were highly regarded as some of the best vintages ever.

Chateau Kirwan 1988      Margaux   3ieme cru    85/100 points  
I chose the 1988 Chateau Kirwan, a third growth from the commune of Margaux. The '88 is from a great year though not as the following two years. It still had the "Margaux" properties of elegance, feminine and softness while exhibiting red fruit, vanilla wood, smoke both on the nose and palate! It still had life in it with evidence of soft tannin and a crisp, spicy finish.  It definitely was a wine that was fully mature and elderly but still kicking.
Comments: The chateau goes back to the early 18th Century and was known to Thomas Jefferson. It was named after Mark Kirwan an Irishman who obtained the property by marriage. He built the chateau in the latter half of the 18th Century. The property has been owned by Schroder and Schyler since 1925.
The wine has gained a better reputation in recent years. The combination of excellent location, gravel soil and blend of  45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 10% Petit Verdot give it a good length of life. I enjoyed it and enjoyed drinking history.  
Pairing: Roast Beef, pork or Chicken. Easy on the sauce. 

Chateau Latour-Martillac 1989 Pessac-Leognan (formerly Graves)     88/100 points (Red)
This chateau has a great deal of ancient history which goes back to the 12th Century though the ancient tower is all that remains. The property has been in the Kressmann Family since the late 19th Century with the planting of grapes in 1884.  Some of these grapes (White Semillon) are now  140 years old.
The chateau has plantings of 60% Sauvignon Blanc and 40% Semillon. Martillac red wines have plantings of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot  and 5% Petite Verdot   
Comments: Martillac-Latour 1989 would be described by may critics as fully mature and, due to its age, in danger of drying up but I found quite the opposite. I found it still vibrant and complex with red fruit, cigar smoke, wet leaves, earth on the nose and soft, medium bodied, elegant on the finish. I actually preferred it to the Kirwan.
There is no question that like the Kirwan, Martillac is showing its age but it is doing so gracefully. I have no intent on guzzling my remaining bottles. 
Martillac-Latour initially started with white grape vine plantings. The red vines are planted on gravelly soil on the plateau while the white vines are planted on  clay/limestone soil next to the Garonne River. 
Pairing: The red Martillac would be a great accompaniment with beef, lamb, duck and chicken while the white would be great with sea food, veal, pork and cheese. As with Kirwan, I would suggest easy on various sauces!

The New

Bodegas Benegas (Mendoza) Malbec       Vintages:547331                                     94.5/100 
Outstanding for quality, this winery goes back over 100 years and has its original cellars from 1901. The history of the Benegas family goes far further and included the signing of an 1820 independence peace treaty at its farm as well as having many of the family members involved in important political posts. 
Family patriarch, Don Tiburico  searched wine regions for vine cuttings and encouraged any who wanted to grow vines. He founded El Trapiche Winery in 1883 but sold it in 1970.Frederico Benegas Lynch was born in 1951 and after spending a number of years working in the Trapiche vineyards and tasting wines with his father, came under the influence of Trapiche's winemaker, Angel Mendoza. 
He repurchased the family vineyard "Finca Libertad" and purchased a 19th Century winery----adding the Benegas name 
He repurchased the family vineyard “Finca Libertad”, purchased a 19th century winery and added the Benegas name.
He enlisted wine consultant Michel Rolland and Napa winemaker, Paul Hobbs. 
The wine comes from Benegas owned vineyards, Finca Libertad ad Finca Incerrada with vine age ranging from 70 to 128 years. The grapes are carefully cultivated and selected and Fermentation are strictly controlled.  Vineyard heights range from 850 to 2800 
Comments: Excellent concentration. Chewable plum, cedar, red and black fruit with floral violet background. Pleasant tannin on a medium to full body. Long finish.   
Well made and reasonably priced. 
The Classic

Inniskillin Montague Single Vineyard Pinot Noir  2018 VQA   Vintages 997393   90/100 points 
Inniskillin will always go down in Canadian Wine History as being the trail blazer that encouraged other boutique wineries to occur. It went through the hardships of going through the paces of developing a standard by which all Ontario and Canadian wineries are measured. Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser took great pain and risk to do what no other wine maker had done before -----the successful growing,  cultivating and vinifying vinifera vines. Wineries throughout this country owe them a debt of gratitude and respect. 
Ziraldo and Kaiser purchased the Montague Vineyard (1982) from another trail blazer, Stan Murdza  who, with great foresight, planted  original vines in 1970. He proved that vinifera could be grown in Ontario. Director of Viticulture Gerald Close is credited with preparing the vineyard, new planting of specific clones and cover crop. 
Award winning winemaker Bruce Nicholson has shown his capable talent in producing a wine that reflects the characteristic of a great Pinot Noir according to the Niagara terroir. The vines had a rough period in 2018 owing to weather that was fickle! 
Winter was cold then warm in February spawning early development and then winter returned in an April cold spell. A warm May and hot summer ensured early development of the grapes---many varieties ripening early. Harvest was a problem with rain and more rain but earlier picking through dry days and careful selection of grapes ensured that the quality was good. In all, most declared a  successful though difficult, schizophrenic vintage. Pinot Noir is a difficult grape enough to deal with but this year must have driven wine makes to distraction!
Comments:  Pinot is suited to cool climate viticulture and the Montague Single Vineyard. In each passing vintage the vines grow older (the oldest going back to '70's)  and the Pinot certainly likes its home. The 2018 shows floral cherry, strawberry, cranberry on nose with a tender ripeness of vanilla and anise. The medium body has pleasant but firm tannin which adds strength to the wine. Pleasant acidity with a nice, long finish. Reviews say that it would be good now though I would love to try it in about another five years.                              
Pairing: Roast turkey, roast beef, pork roast. 

Chateau d'Aurilhac  2011 Haut-Medoc                               85/100 points
 I purchased this wine through  "Wine-On-Line" for several reasons but mainly due to Jancis Robinson's  comments about it, its history and the fact that the wine came directly from the chateau with no third party handling. The fact that great pain is taken to carefully pick and handle the grapes and general care for the vineyard made this wine very attractive. The reasonable price of purchase  ($29.95) didn't hurt either. The winery is owned by Eric Nieuwaal and is in the ha2.5mlet of Saint Seurin de Cadourne on the outskirts of the Commune of Pauillac (Home of Latour, Mouton-Rothschild and Lafite) and also bordering with the Commune of Saint Estephe..  
The vineyard which was planted in 1983, used to be a cattle meadow though vines were grown in the area since the middle ages. Eric planted 11 hectares  with 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46%, Merlot, 2.5% Cabernet Franc and  2.5 % Petite Verdot. The vines are 15 to 20 years of age growing in a splendid mixture of gravel and clay! This is certainly a chateau to watch!
Comments: 2011 was a weird vintage in Haut Madoc and much of Bordeaux since Spring turned out to be quite hot with some drought conditions. Summer was cooler with rain in August. Cabernet Sauvignon was having trouble ripening. Intermittent storms caused much in the form of rot and grape dilution due to rain. Weather improved in the fall and vineyards that could wait profited with a warm Autumn. 
At the chateau, careful selection (double grape selection) and scrupulous methodology made the making
of the red wine better. White wine faired better but both red and white wines proved good.
Chateau d' Aurilhac 2011 still has much life in it beyond the stated developing time. The colour is still red with a nose of dark fruit, smoke, earth and  nuances of wood. The palate is medium to full body, with respectful tannin with a dry, slightly acidic finish. A good wine made in a somewhat difficult year.
While some may say that the wine is "over the hill", I would say it is fully mature but will hang on to develop for several more years especially if kept in a good cellar. A Sichel (Chateau Palmer etc.) 
wine brand!
Pairing: Beef, Game, Pork,  Roast Turkey, Duck, Lamb