If you’ve been to either of Derek Barnett’s big red futures tastings that he puts on only in exceptional vintages at various stations set up in the barrel cellar at Lailey Vineyard, you get a sense of how popular his top wines are.
The cellar is jam-packed with ardent Lailey fans all clamouring for a taste of his unreleased red wines that are put up for sale at a substantial discount in advance of the bottling and release.
It’s not unlike a Boxing Day sale with a crush of consumers squeezing to the front of the line for a taste of this or that. Barnett and his staff pour with smiles and pleasantly answer as many of the questions that are tossed their way as they can.
It’s a tasting that’s not designed for the casual wine lover. They are for mostly hard-core Lailey fans who taste, buy and save a lot of money for some of the finest reds produced in Niagara.
Barnett, Lailey’s longtime winemaker, is a tireless promoter of his wines, not only conducting the futures tasting (modelled after the Bordeaux annual futures tasting) in exceptional vintages but also taking his wines to Toronto to pour for wine writers, bloggers and sommeliers as well as many wine shows where he also pours the barrel samples. It’s a one-on-one, hands-on approach that serves Barnett and Lailey well. And it gives consumers a unique chance to know what they are buying and purchase in advance.
Add to that the fact that 2010 is, in the words of Barnett, “the best he’s seen in 15 or 20 years,” and you can see why there’s a wonderful buzz about the release.
Barnett says the 2010s “were ripe physiologically without getting into a long hang time.” And the crop was above average in terms of tonnage.
Here’s what I liked from samples tasted with Barnett. It should be noted that all the wines reviewed here are barrel samples and therefore representative of the final wine. The wines won’t actually be bottled until May or June. The futures price is shown first followed by the release price. The future’s release can be ordered through the winery at Lailey Vineyard.
Lailey Old Vines Pinot Noir 2010 ($31, $45, 90 points) — The Old Vines are from a small block of Pinot planted in 1974 to the Pommard clone. The nose shows pretty strawberry, raspberry and black cherry fruit with just a touch of earth and spice. It shows a gentle approach in the mouth, not an overdone Pinot, with red currants, other red fruits, clove spice, good acidity and length through the finish. The key in this Pinot is the wonderful balance and verve.
Lailey Lot 48 Pinot Noir 2010 ($42, $60, 92 points) — Wow, what a Pinot and a worthy successor to the astounding 2009 version. Lot 48 is named after the measly number of cases made from grapes purchased in Vineland from Ken Whitty’s vineyards. This is only the third vintage made of this special Pinot (09 and 02 are the others). The nose shows an intense attack of red fruits, mainly cherry, with lovely and elegant oak stylings, vanilla and spice. It is a beauty on the palate with impeccable balance, texture, pure and generous red fruit flavours, length through the finish and perfectly crafted spice notes.
Lailey Syrah 2010 ($19, $27, 92+ points) — This is one spectacular Syrah. Barnett has a way with this varietal, always crafting some of Niagara’s elite Syrahs vintage to vintage, especially in the warmer years. He sources his fruit from a small block of vines in the Tregunno vineyards on the Niagara Parkway, near the quaint town of Queenston. The style evokes the great Northern Rhone Syrahs with a nose of roasted meats, pepper, intense black fruits of blueberry, currants and bramble to go with layers of spice that chime in harmoniously. It’s the contrast of meaty aromas and purity of fruit once it hits the palate that is the lasting memory with this sensational wine. Beautiful and textured, with blueberry, cassis, and meaty-spicy notes on a bed of plush tannins makes this such a great wine. It has that swagger, that gout de terroir, and has clearly established itself among the top Niagara reds.
Lailey Impromptu 2010 ($31, $45, 90 points) — A blend of Syrah (75%), Malbec (13%) and Petit Verdot (12%) from estate-grown fruit with each variety vinified separately. It is aged in French and U.S. oak, 33% of it new. It is tightly wound, but still shows good Syrah fruit on the nose, with spice and wood notes. It has beautiful texture, firm tannins and fruit intensity in the mouth. It needs (and deserves) time in the cellar.
Lailey Cabernet Franc 2010 ($20, $30, 89 points) — Barnett calls this Cab Franc “probably the best I’ve ever made. Phenomenal texture.” It possesses a nose of currants, cherry, sweet peppers, leafy tobacco, leather, lavish spice and an interesting mint/eucalypt note. It shows purity of fruit on the palate with spice notes of mocha and vanilla in a well-balanced presentation.
Lailey Merlot 2010 ($20, $30, 90 points) — Barnett says he’s “not looking for a big, jammy California style” of Merlot. Indeed, but his 2010 Merlot isn’t exactly a wallflower. It’s a meaty, manly version of Merlot with earthy-loam notes to go with ripe cherry fruit followed by a wall of interesting spice. It’s texturally beautiful in the mouth with red fruits, game notes, rousing spice and length through the finish. It can best be described as elegant in a macho man sort of way.
Lailey Cabernet Sauvignon ($20, $30, 88 points) — Barnett did not make a 100% Cab in 2009 but his 2008 version is still a big seller in Niagara restaurants. The 2010 edition will sure to be a hit as well. The nose is intense with currants, blackberry and cherry fruit followed by sweet spice and subtle oak undercurrents. The fruit is lovely in the mouth with good balance, intensity and spice.
Lailey Meritage Canadian Oak 2010 ($28, $40, 91 points) — Barnett loves his Canadian oak and feels it brightens the fruit characteristics in this blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. It shows a brilliant nose of red and dark fruits, notably cherry and blackberry, with a fine display of wood and spice. It’s super concentrated on the palate with fruit intensity and a balanced approach to spice and oak. The acidic backbone and concentration of fruit will evolve and transform this wine over time. One to keep and enjoy for many years in the cellar.