A wire story weeks ago noted that Brad Pitt, a favourite visitor to the Toronto International Film Festival, would be noticeably absent from this year's fete. The actor took a pass even though he has a new movie, 12 Years a Slave, in the lineup, which instead brings several co-stars, including Paul Giamatti, to town.
But you could say Pitt sent something of a surrogate. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario last month launched a 1,000-case allotment of his and Angelina Jolie's much-hyped Provençal rosé. The $24.95 cuvée is called Miraval, after the couple's recently purchased property in southern France, once better known as the site of a recording studio where Pink Floyd recorded tracks for their epic album The Wall. The Ontario launch follows a smaller, 200-case rollout earlier this summer in British Columbia at $28.99 a bottle.
As I returned from holidays, I was surprised to notice plenty of stock remaining in both provinces. In March, when the first 6,000 bottles made their debut in France at $23 (U.S.), they reportedly vanished in five hours. Has the bloom faded from the Brangelina rosé?
Not entirely. For one thing, it's a Provençal wine. The Brangelina brand on a French wine carries more cachet in the local market than it does here. More significantly, though, it's a steep proposition for rosé (even if our Canadian prices, despite our supposedly obscene government markups, are in line with French and U.S. levels). Pink wines may have exploded in popularity here but they generally continue to be seen as simple, patio-sipping fare. Non-sparkling examples are an exceedingly tough sell above the luxury $20 mark. With the exception of rare and obscenely priced Domaines Ott ($47), there's not much A-list rosé on the market.
And, yes, for my money I'd sooner take the Cadierenne, in the notes below, from the Provençal district of Bandol.
But at least Miraval is no cheesy novelty. Far from it. It's a fine example of quality Provençal rosé. And for those who care about such things, it happens to be organically farmed.
Pitt and Jolie, whose names appear in fine print on the back label, reportedly helped to assemble the blend and consulted on the fancy, Champagne-style bottle design. But much of the credit surely goes to their partners in the project, the Perrin family, owners of Château de Beaucastel, the great organic estate in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The Perrins are to southern French winemaking what Pitt and Jolie are to red carpets.
Miraval Rosé 2012 (France)
Score: 90 Price: $24.95
The package is high-concept, reminiscent of the fat, low-shouldered bottles of Ruinart Champagne, with clear glass and a small, round label. Classically dry for a southern French rosé, it shows sharper acidity and bitterness than I would have given owners Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie credit for. In other words, it aims above the heads of the American mass market, and that at least partly accounts for the steep price. Pretty strawberry and herbal notes mingle with citrus pith and, oddly, a hint of fino-like sherry tang (at least in the bottle that I sampled). Very austere, perhaps too much so. Not a blockbuster but commendable, if slightly overpriced. $28.99 in B.C.
La Cadierenne Cuvée Grande Tradition Bandol Rosé 2012 (France)
Score: 91 Price: $18.95
This is classically dry in the Bandol style, but there's a pleasant roundness to the mid-palate, which underscores the punchy berry, rhubarb and grapefruit flavours. Beautifully balanced. Available in Ontario.
Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne (France)
Score: 92 Price: $91.95
Billecart-Salmon enjoys a reputation for superior non-vintage pink bubbly and this bottling shows why. Coppery-salmon in colour, it displays active effervescence and flavours of peach, berries, citrus and a hint of marzipan on a bone-dry frame. Delicate yet flavourful, if not cheap. $93.50 in Que.
Laughing Stock Syrah 2011 (British Columbia)
Score: 92 Price: $36
Better known for its flagship Bordeaux-style red blend called Portfolio, Laughing Stock branched out into syrah in 2008 and quickly made a mark with the variety. Here the grape is blended with 6-per-cent viognier, an aromatic white, for a juicier profile, as is customary in the northern Rhône Valley, where syrah achieves its greatest magic. Full, smooth and polished, this beauty serves up blueberry, raspberry and classic French-syrah hints of white pepper and heated rubber. This 2011 took home gold at the National Wine Awards, a fine followup to the 2010, which won a coveted provincial Lieutenant Governor's Award for Excellence. Available direct from the winery.
Antech Grande Réserve Brut Blanquette de Limoux 2011 (France)
Score: 91 Price: $16.95
An outstanding bubbly for the money, this hails from the southern Languedoc region and represents a sparkling style that predates Champagne. Blanquette is based principally on the mauzac grape, which must have been a green apple in a previous life because that's precisely what it almost invariably tastes like. Light and bone-dry, this delivers the apple in spades, with overtones of bread dough and citrus on a bracingly chalky texture. Available in Ontario.
Plume Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (California)
Score: 90 Price: $31.95
Here's an unusual bird. Plume is a partnership between the Zepponi family of California that founded ZD Wines in Napa and the Stewart family behind Quails' Gate in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley. Backstory: Dan Zepponi got to know the folks at Quails' Gate when he worked as president of B.C.'s nearby Mission Hill Family Estate several years ago before returning to California in 2009. This is big, teeth-staining cabernet in a classically ripe Napa style. Raspberry jam and luscious dark chocolate find balance in lively baking spices and dry tannins. It's sweet enough to offer plenty of pleasure now but should cellar well for four to six years. $29.99 in B.C., $26.75 in Man., $32.99 in N.S.
Bisquertt La Joya Reserve Syrah 2011 (Chile)
Score: 89 Price: $13.95
Impressive for its concentration, this full-bodied red displays more kinship with firm French syrahs than the smooth, value-priced shirazes of Chile's Southern Hemisphere "neighbour" Australia. The dark-berry fruit is sweet but not jammy, with lively accents of cracked pepper and herbs. It hides the 15-per-cent alcohol well. A bargain. Available in Ontario.