It's an abiding question among wine enthusiasts. What's more important: the reputation of the vineyard or the talents of the vintner? Truth is, they both matter, of course. But if you ask good winemakers, chances are they'll stress land more than hand, enthusing about their ideal soils, hospitable microclimates and precious old vines rather than rattling off details of their CVs.
And yet some CVs can draw our attention to wines we might otherwise overlook. That seems to be the case with many fans of Château d'Anglès in France's southern Languedoc region. You may not have heard of d'Anglès, but you certainly will be familiar with where its owner, Eric Fabre, used to punch the clock. Rare is the article or blog on Château d'Anglès that does not reference Fabre's tenure as chief winemaker (or, more formally, "technical director") of Lafite Rothschild, the great Bordeaux chateau that makes one of the world's most expensive wines.
A star to Bordeaux collectors, Fabre long harboured a dream to buy a vineyard on the sunny Mediterranean coast (don't we all?); in 2001, he bought the farm, so to speak.
It's a very nice farm, apparently, in a region that has only recently begun to re-establish its credibility as a significant source of marvellous wines. Those of Château d'Anglès are just that and I must believe that Fabre's talent, which obviously includes a keen eye for good land, is the chief reason.
Two of Fabre's reds were released recently in Ontario Vintages stores – at less than $20, a far cry from the $1,000-plus trophies he crafted at Lafite. The Grand Vin 2007 in particular is superb, a classic southern blend of spicy syrah, tannic mourvèdre and supple-fruity grenache. Complex and aromatic, it's as satisfying to sniff as to sip.
You might swear you were standing amid the wild herbs that carpet so much of the Mediterranean shore. Yes, that's the land talking, but Fabre made it speak.
Château d'Anglès Grand Vin 2007 (France)
SCORE : 94 PRICE : $19.95
Full-bodied and seductive, this red shows ample, berry-like fruit, a hallmark of the estate's sunny, arid locale. But things get really interesting with notes of pepper, menthol and herbs, and the tannins are fine-grained and smooth, delivering structure without bracing astringency. It's fetching now and would probably continue to improve with up to six years in the cellar. Try it with roast poultry or red-meat dishes. Look also for Château d'Anglès La Clape Classique 2007 ($14.95, 92), which I covered in a previous column.
Painted Rock Estate Grown Chardonnay 2011 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 94 PRICE: $26.70
Gorgeous chardonnay, better than the vast majority selling for a comparable price. Rich and full, it stays tight and crisp through the long, tension-filled finish, with ripe flavours of pineapple and stone fruit answered by brisk acidity and a smoky-flinty quality thanks, I'm guessing, to five months of contact with spent yeast (a.k.a. lees) in new French oak barrels.
The vineyard team led by Calgary-born Barry Green and Cawston, B.C. native Gabriel Reis conducted three separate "micro" harvests over a two-week period to capture different ripeness levels in the resulting blend. It would excel with rich fish dishes and roast poultry.
Taxes and bottle deposit bring the price to $30, still a bargain for great Burgundy-class chardonnay. Available through www.paintedrock.ca.
Domaine Michel Caillot Meursault 2009 (France)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $42.95
Perfectly ripe stone-fruit flavour joined by brown butter, hazelnut and spices add up to a very fine village white from Burgundy. There's even a nice hint of popcorn in this poised, complex chardonnay. Try it with seafood swimming in butter or cream. Available in Ontario.
Marchesi de Frescobaldi Tenuta di Castiglioni 2009 (Italy)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $21.95
A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and sangiovese, this fullbodied red shows as much finesse as some of its much more expensive supertuscan kin. A supple, berry-like core supports enticingly floral-herbal aromatics, fine-grained tannins and well-tuned acidity. Steak would be nice. $25.55 in Que., $20.95 in Man., $31.76 in N.S.
Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2010 (Ontario)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $35
The sunny summer of 2010 yielded delicious ripeness in this red from Prince Edward County, though it weighs in at a respectably tame 11.9-per-cent alcohol. It shows plum jam, raspberry and spice flavours along with an attractive undercurrent of damp forest floor. It would match well with grilled salmon or roast pork tenderloin.
SpierHead Pinot Noir 2010 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $17.90
Here's a fine start from a new Okanagan winery southeast of Kelowna near the top of Spiers Road (hence the name). It's medium-bodied, with jammy-berry flavour yet a lean elegance that also carries cinnamon, herbs and a hint of vanilla from the oak. There's a moderate tannic backbone for added structure, too. Pair it with light red-meat dishes or roast poultry. Available at private wine stores in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island as well as through the winery (www.spierheadwinery.com).
Cellar Hand Free Run White 2011 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $15.90
Black Hills Estate, long one of the Okanagan's esteemed small producers, is a boutique no more. This new, "second" label (think Miu Miu from Prada) extends its reach beyond the base of devotees willing to brave the gridlock outside the winery on product-release day. "Free run" is a technical term denoting precious juice that seeps from grapes after crush but before they're more aggressively pressed. I'm not certain they used only free-run juice here, but the wine has a free spirit about it. Dry, musky and aromatic, it tastes a little like floral moscato, but it's in fact a mix of pinot blanc, pinot gris, viognier, chardonnay, semillon and sauvignon blanc. Nice for pan-Asian cuisine. Available in B.C.
Citra Montepulciano d'Abruzzo2010 (Italy)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $7.25
This is the sort of remarkable bargain we wine critics tend to overlook in our enthusiasm to cover the recherché small producers. Close your eyes and don't let the screwcap or familiar label distract you from enjoying this satisfying red. Alternatively, serve it from a decanter if moneybags friends are coming over. Medium-bodied, cherry-like and surprisingly earthy and herbal, it's balanced, supple and juicy, a fine partner for grilled sausages or pizza. $10.99 in B.C. and $9.23 in Man., while the one-litre bottle sells for $10.05 in Que.