Arterra Canada’s Eugene Mlynczyk MW presents four wines for the season…

Four seasons, four winds blow, four leaves fall, and four wines are found. Back in March when I wanted to get out safely during the early days of lockdown, I went hiking in local country forests. Fast forward seven months, and who would have thought that I’d be doing the same trek, but with brilliant crimson autumn leaves carpeting the forest floors here in Simcoe County.

These thoughts have not only led me to some excellent fall reading (including The Circle of the Seasons by a real terroir-ist, Edwin Way Teale), but also to a quartet of fabulous fall wine finds. These are all from the luxury portfolio of Principle Fine Wines, a division of Arterra Wines Canada, and feature a mix of local and international wonders.

To begin with, I have long been entranced by the higher end wines of Jackson-Triggs’ Niagara Estate. With my older son studying architecture, my mind travels (virtually) to the Jackson-Triggs winery on Stone Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which neatly manages to be both modern and yet integrate so well into its bucolic landscape. Designed by renowned Toronto firm KPMB Architects, I am sure that the building wasn’t the only thing which attracted a young Marco Piccoli to join the winery circa 2005, but I like to think great art (architecture) begets other great art (wine).

Now capably in the hands of winemaker Levi de Loryn, the Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve range epitomizes full flavoured expressions of several key varieties and a signature style typical of Niagara. Meritage blends are a consistent highlight for me from the region (and would feature strongly in anyone’s list of “signature” wine styles from Ontario). You might have to wait a bit for this one at the LCBO as it will only be on Vintages shelves in mid-November, but you can also currently find it at The Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Red Meritage 2017 is a full-bodied blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Always provided with a judicious time in barriques, I sometimes find this wine to be deceptive in its youth, thinking the oak won’t ever fold nicely into the black cherry-currant fruit tones, but after a few years, this wine surprises and meshes together so well. This 2017 vintage is just hitting peak drinking phase and is also ready to keep for another decade if you’d like, representing great value at $25.95.

Next, we move on our autumn journey to Italy, and specifically Tuscany, with two wines from Ruffino Estates, one of which is a classic benchmark for the region, and the other a newly revised, modern powerhouse version. Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2015 is the long time standby that I refer to. Produced since 1947, but not in every year, this wine represents the peak expression for traditional Chianti, and is sourced exclusively from two estate properties in the hilly heart of the region, Santedame and Gretole. If you love the savoury character of the Sangiovese grape, you will thrill in this wine’s sandalwood and dark cherry pit notes. Proven ageability for decades if you like, this edition of Oro once again shines, as evidenced in my own recent tasting note, where I rated the wine 94 points: “Brilliant, mid to deep ruby hue. Open, dense fruit featuring black plum and cherry compote, but very fresh. Powerful on the attack, with elegant, drying chalky tannins adding complexity and structure to the bright acid spine. Flavours of black tree fruits and sage/mountain herbs are nicely tucked into woodsy oak including cedar tones. Everything adds up and confirms the excellence of this still youthful example from a solid vintage.”

The second Ruffino wine I’d like to recommend is the Romitorio di Santedame 2016, which is also a Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, but differs from the Oro since it is produced exclusively from the Santedame property. Some stalwart wine lovers will remember this wine from a few years back as an IGT Super Tuscan, built of Colorino and Merlot. After a few years on hiatus, chief winemaker Gabriele Tacconi has reintroduced the wine as a Gran Selezione, while maintaining a small portion of the traditional, dark Colorino grape in the mix. I see this as a much more black-fruited example, with more burly, yet still fine grained, tannins compared to the Oro. Best bet is to grab both and do a side by side tasting. And I’m not the only one who liked this, as evidenced by this rave 93-point score from Kerin O’Keefe in The Wine Enthusiast: “Intense aromas of red berry, eucalyptus, leather and tobacco lead the nose on this fragrant blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Colorino. The juicy, structured palate doles out pomegranate, red cherry, clove and cinnamon alongside firm, fine-grained tannins and bright acidity. Enjoy 2022–2030.” Both Ruffino wines here will be available at LCBO Vintages on October 31, 2020 in limited release.

The final wine I fell for this fall takes us upscale and to the West Coast, specifically the heart of Cabernet country in Napa Valley’s Oakville subdistrict. This is one of icon wines of the region and based on multiple tastings over the past few decades, dipping as far back in vintage as the 1970s, I am fully aligned with Mark de Vere MW’s contention that the Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve stands proudly amongst the great wines of the world. The 2015 edition is the fifth to be sourced exclusively from the famed To Kalon Vineyard which surrounds the historic winery founded by Robert Mondavi in 1966. Just starting to drink well now, this wine is ready to improve for decades to come, provided you have the patience to wait. I have my own tasting notes and they are consistent with the multiple top-notch wine press scores out there, including 98 points from The Tasting Panel, 96+ from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, and 96 points from James Suckling. Here’s the detail from the 95 point review by Jeb Dunnuck, which I think is very well stated: “A blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 2% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc, the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon The Reserve To Kalon Vineyard is about as perfumed, upfront and sexy as they come. Sporting a ruby/plum color and a terrific bouquet of black raspberries, cedary spice, toasty oak, flowers and incense, it hits the palate with loads of sweet fruit, an undeniable opulence, ripe tannin and a great finish. It’s an approachable 2015 that’s going to evolve gracefully for another two decades.”

That just about wraps up this quartet of autumn winners which are anything but four-square. As we all head into this season, I would like to wish everyone the best for health, happiness and, I hope, turning a new leaf from darkness to light. Follow @PrincipleFineWines on Instagram for other great wine finds.

Eugene Mlynczyk MW is the National Sales Manager for Principle Fine Wines, a part of the Arterra Wines Canada group. Arterra Wines is a Good Food Fighter. Please support the businesses and organizations that support Good Food Revolution.