In wine circles, the notion that a bottle labelled as chardonnay or pinot noir should taste like chardonnay or pinot noir is what’s known as typicity. It was once the guiding principle of wine appreciation and continues to be a major foundation of wine-education programs.
Typicity helped Canadian beer and spirits consumers embrace wine. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, wine makers from Australia and California loved explaining how their wines were easy to appreciate and understand. Consumers could anticipate that a bottle of cabernet sauvignon would taste like cassis or blackberries from the flavours of the ripe grapes, and vanilla from oak aging. By contrast, merlot would be soft and plummy, with that tell-tale whiff of oak-derived vanilla. Different grapes resulted in different flavours, but similar oak-aging practices produced the same results.
Selling wines with the grape variety proudly printed on the label was effectively a truth-in-advertising play. It was a supposed guarantee to savvy wine shoppers so they would know what to expect.
In time, however, the unifying theory of typicity made some wines so predictable that consumers moved on in search of new thrills. After decades of success, for instance, Australian winemakers watched consumers shift their focus to wines from Argentina, Chile and New Zealand.
For sommeliers, wine writers and the rest of the trade, typicity gave way to the search for authenticity. Instead of seeking wines that smelled and tasted like the most idealized version of the grapes used in production, bottles that share a “sense of place” with wine lovers became the new sales standard.
Sure, cabernet sauvignon would still offer those classic cassis or blackberry notes, but ones from Coonawarra in South Australia would have a different personality than those grown in Sonoma County in California or the Maipo Valley of Chile. That regional character offers nuance, which helps these wines showcase a taste of where they were made.
Ultimately, authenticity is a more refined take on typicity, more dialed-in to location. Open to more variables, more permissible flavours, practices and techniques.
Meanwhile, the market for easy-to-understand, easy-to-appreciate wines continues apace. That type of wine remains easier to sell.
Recently, I tasted a new Italian chardonnay available in Ontario. Some traditionalists would sneer at the very notion of chardonnay being grown in that country, despite a few incredible and age-worthy examples coming from the north. Many more would be taken aback that this treatment was aged in American oak to the extent that it tastes largely of nougat and crème brûlée, with a soft, sweet and rich character that wouldn’t have been out of place in the 1980s.
There was nothing particularly Italian about this wine. It’s a confected commodity. Based on the label, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was made in California, which I suspect is part of its marketing approach. Only the back label declares the wine to be “Chardonnay Vino Bianco Italiano.” It’s inexpensive, and it tastes like chardonnay, albeit a throwback style, so you might say it represents typicity. But it also shows why the wide-scale embrace of wines of substance was so important for the evolution of wine appreciation around the world.
This week’s recommendations include a variety of wines at a range of prices. They’re representative of the grape varieties and techniques used to make them and offer a taste of their regional identity. That makes them rate in my estimation.
Château de Vaugelas Corbières Le Prieuré 2019 (France)
This medium-bodied and dry red wine’s blend features grenache and syrah from a family-owned, single-vineyard estate in the south of France. The easygoing and fruity style makes it a safe bet for enjoying on its own or with a meal. Drink now to 2023. Available in Ontario.
Ferraton Père & Fils Samorëns Côtes du Rhône 2018 (France)
Samorëns is a grenache, syrah and cinsault blend sourced from the southern Rhône. It’s a classic bistro-style wine, with upfront plummy fruit and peppery spice notes and a gentle tug of tannin on the finish. This offers great quality for the price and is ready to enjoy sooner or later. Drink now to 2025. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.
Hester Creek Garland 2017 (Canada)
Named for owner Curt Garland, Hester Creek’s top-of-the-line red was first created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the planting of vinifera vines at the Okanagan winery. Now in its third vintage, Garland has settled nicely into place as one of the winery’s flagship offerings. With cabernet representing 84 per cent of this year’s blend, this is produced with grapes from the old vines. The cabernet and merlot lots are fermented separately, while the petit verdot and malbec are co-fermented. The finished wine presents an attractive mix of dark fruit, with supple texture and a lingering finish. Drink now to 2027. Available direct through hestercreek.com.
Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2017 (Canada)
A recent release at LCBO Vintages outlets, this rich and rewarding chardonnay from one of Ontario’s elite producers is hitting its stride. A blend of barrel-fermented chardonnay from Hidden Bench’s three estate vineyards in Beamsville, this is nicely integrated and complete thanks to its winning combination of vibrant fruit and nutty oak-derived flavours that carry through to a long, persistent finish. Drink now to 2024. Available in Ontario.
Louis Bernard Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2019 (France)
Louis Bernard is part of the Boisset family’s portfolio of French wineries. This is a stylish blend of grenache blanc and other regional white varieties. It’s a dry and refreshing white wine, with some floral and fruity notes that make it easy to appreciate. Drink now to 2022. Available in Ontario at the above price, $16.49 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $18.99 in Saskatchewan.
Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2020 (New Zealand)
Oyster Bay’s latest vintage once again delivers the expected house style for its popular Marlborough sauvignon blanc. It’s made in a bright and lively fashion, with less flavour intensity and concentration than others available on the market. The refreshing character shows marked passionfruit and tart ruby-grapefruit flavours. Available in Ontario and Quebec at the above price, $19.99 in British Columbia ($17.99 until Oct. 31), various prices in Alberta, $20.99 in Saskatchewan, $18.99 in Manitoba, $23.79 in New Brunswick, $22.49 in Nova Scotia, $22.50 in Newfoundland.
Torres Celeste Crianza 2017 (Spain)
This stylish red is produced from 100-per-cent tempranillo from high-elevation vineyards in Ribera del Duero. The bold fruit, spice and chocolate notes make for a flavourful, full-bodied wine with a polished texture. It’s ready to drink but promises to mature nicely over the next three to five years. Available in Ontario at the above price, $27.99 in British Columbia ($25.99 until Oct. 31), various prices in Alberta, $26.99 in Saskatchewan, $23.99 in Manitoba, $21.75 in Quebec, $29.99 in New Brunswick, $28.96 in Nova Scotia.
Plan your weekend with our Good Taste newsletter, offering wine advice and reviews, recipes, restaurant news and more. Sign up today.