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Cool White Spirits

by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Vodka in North America once was a colourless flavourless way to booze up orange or tomato juice. Then came the flavoured vodkas often used to add jazz to cocktails. Now along comes a Swedish vodka created specifically to max out flavour without the addition of flavourings. Just pure unfiltered distilled grain – albeit distilled 34 times – and best served unadulterated by anything but water.

Master Blender Thomas Kuuttanen travelled recently to Canada to present his Purity Vodka to bartenders and spirit writers. Kuuttanen who has worked for over 25 years as a distiller of whisky, eau-de-vie and liqueurs said “I didn’t like what vodka had become over the years – colourless, tasteless and odorless.”

He set about developing an old school style vodka that played by the rules (i.e. could not according to regulations be solely made in a pot still) but had texture, aroma and flavour. To do this he had to invent his own distillation method and his own distillation apparatus which took over a year to create (a pot still and two special distillation towers).

Purity VodkaVodka can be made with any agricultural ingredient however most use wheat. Kuuttanen used a combo of winter wheat and two-row organic malted barley (the same type used for whisky) for Purity. The 34 extremely slow distillations over several days are what make the biggest difference. He uses only the finest 10% distillate and he doesn’t filter his vodka (it’s so pure there’s no need he says).

The result is the first vodka to score a perfect 100 points (organic category, The Vodka Masters 2011) and is the most awarded ultra-premium vodka in the world with over 80 gold medals. At the tasting I attended we compared Purity with Smirnoff (the biggest selling vodka in the world), Grey Goose, Stoli Elit and Absolut Elyx. Smirnoff as could be expected was the most neutral, Purity the most aromatic and deep with flavour and Stoli Elit the prettiest and silkiest.

He presented a vodka flavour chart to demonstrate which vodkas fell where on the scale of neutral to complex and light to rich. In the quadrant of complex and rich were such vodkas as Stoli Elit, Ketel One, Belvedere Intense, Vermont Gold and right up at the top, Purity.

Kuuttanen’s signature cocktail for Purity is 3 parts vodka, one part water stirred over ice and strained out into a martini glass. To make a smoky martini he recommends using the same formula but swirling Laphroaig in the martini glass first. Then toss out the whisky, rub an orange peel on the top of the glass and pour in the vodka/water mix.

Spud Potato vodka is another interesting vodka to come to Canada. Made in Poland from distilled potatoes grown without chemicals or pesticides, its creamy texture works well in highball drinks. It’s also free of additives. (Many vodkas contain additives such as glycerine, sugars or softeners to make the vodka taste better.)

Spud Potato VodkaBroken Shed VodkaI Spirit VodkaGrey Goose VX

Additive free Broken Shed Vodka from New Zealand currently has a small distribution in British Columbia through Indigo Hospitality Solutions (www.tasteindigo.com) with a view to grow its presence throughout Canada. It’s also making a name for itself in the US. Its unusual twist is that it’s made from whey.

The Italian vodka, I Spirit Vodka debuted in 2009, a project of three Italians: Arrigo Cipriani of Harry’s Bar, Lapo Elkann (from the Fiat family)and wine producer Marco Fantinel.

Available only in Duty Free in Canada, Grey Goose VX is silky, smooth and exceptional.

Deluxe gins are trendy in Canada. In Ontario those in the over $32 category are up 80 per cent. That said it’s good to see value priced ($27.95) elegant and citrus crisp Hayman’s London Dry Gin on the shelves too. Hayman’s Old Tom Gin is a lovely old style juniper dominant, ginny gin.

Hayman's London Dry GinHayman's Old Tom GinBombay Sapphire East

From Islay in Scotland, The Botanist Dry Gin has nine classic gin botanicals plus an astonishing 22 local herbs and flowers to flavour it. Bombay Sapphire East has an addition of Thai lemongrass and Vietnamese black peppercorns to lend it an exotic flare. For a most refreshing G&T press 3 small bulbs of lemongrass and a lime wedge into the base of a glass. Add 1.5 ounces Bombay Sapphire East Gin, Fever Tree Tonic (less sweet than standard commercial sodas) and ice to the glass and stir. Garnish with a sprinkle of cracked peppercorn and a stem of lemongrass.

Auchentoshan 12 Years Old Single Malt Scotch WhiskyThose who prefer a brown spirit for their cocktails or just for sweet summer sipping on the rocks by the dock should stock up on triple distilled Auchentoshan.

For an alternative to a G&T; mix a good quality ginger beer with 1.5 ounces Auchentoshan in a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with an orange slice. This single malt Lowland scotch is smooth yet distinctive. Ideal like those gins and vodkas above to mellow out and relax on a midsummer day.

Cin cin, salud, santé, cheerio, skål, slainte – whatever your toast – have a cheer filled summer.

 

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on the link below:

Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can read Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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20 under $20 in British Columbia (July 2014)

Monthly Picks from our West Coast Critic Team

We’re well into summer now, and priorities have distinctively shifted into summer holiday mode. We’re still tasting as much as ever, though patios, beaches, campsites, parks, docks and boats play heavily on our choices now. As Ella so soulfully and rightfully crooned, it’s Summertime, and the livin’ is easy

Our 20 Under $20 wines are readily available in BC Liquor Stores and VQA stores across the province for your shopping convenience.

Cheers ~
Treve Ring

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

It’s amazing how a few warm days can transform a lightweight, fruity wine into a quenching patio favourite that has everybody asking to see the label. Remember light and fruity doesn’t have to mean flavourless and flabby nor should the wine possess a finish that lasts longer than a weekend round of golf.

Case in point, Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2012 from Washington’s Columbia Valley. Or, from further south, the simple, juicy and off-dry Fetzer Quartz Winemaker’s Favourite White Blend 2012. Chill them down, find a deck chair and away you go.

Equally refreshing – and local – is Grant Stanley’s 50th Parallel Estate Riesling 2013 from British Columbia Lake Country with its bright acidity and tension. Think grilled pork.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2012 Fetzer Quartz Winemaker's Favourite White Blend 2012 50th Parallel Riesling 2013 Bold Vine Old Vine Zinfandel 2012 Château Peyros Tannat Cabernet 2009

Barbecue freaks often reach for red, and this juicy example from California will match many al fresco meals. Bold Vine Old Vine Zinfandel 2012 is a catchy, friendly fresh, easy-sipping style for lighter grilled dishes, plus tapas, cheese and pizzas.

Finally, it’s fun to explore new grapes, blends and region in the summer and  Chateau Peyros Madiran Tannat Cabernet Franc 2009 qualifies on all counts.

This very interesting tannat /cabernet franc blend from southwest France’s Madiran region will expand your wine knowledge, and your big meaty BBQ pairing options.

DJ Kearney

White wines from the Southern Hemisphere typically bring a trio of satisfying factors:  generous fruit, lush texture and killer value. I’ve chosen five bottles from south of the equator that are lovely summertime wines for relaxed outdoor dinners.

Giesen Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 brings brisk and cheeky to a new level, with tropical notes, grassy freshness and dusty minerals for a tossed salad of local goat’s cheese, grapes, kiwi and baby greens. Use the wine in the vinaigrette as the acid for complete harmony.

South Africa’s Cape winelands have embraced sauvignon blanc in a bearhug, and are sending lovely trim wines to market, like the Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2013. Savoury with nettles and crunchy gooseberries, it’s a dry and earthy companion for chilled cucumber soup.

Giesen Wine Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Miss Molly By Moreson Hoity Toity Chenin Blanc 2012 Yalumba The Y Series Viognier 2012 Concha Y Toro Marques De Casa Concha Chardonnay 2012

Chenin Blanc is the Cape’s most planted white grape and in Miss Molly Hoity Toity 2012, a jolt of perfumed viognier romps through the blend.  Lemony fresh with a peachy finish, it’s built for simple grilled chicken skewers.

Yalumba makes a wide range of wonderful wines, and led the charge planting Viognier in Oz.  Organic, floral and gorgeous, the Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2012 is for grilled salmon and stonefruit salsa.

Finally, a Chilean looker that is under $20 by just a penny, but it over-delivers even at this price.  Stately and rich, I want Concha Y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2012 with steamed Dungeness crab and Meyer Lemon butter.

Rhys Pender MW

Summer is finally here and in a dramatic fashion. At the time of writing this, temperatures in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys were in the high 30s. The body wants to slow down, shade and water are sought after and crisp, dry and refreshing wines are in order. Fortunately there are many great wines that have the perfect level of refreshment.

My first recommendation this month is not a grape variety and place that we often associate and maybe that is why the Nederburg The Winemaster’s Reserve Riesling 2012 is such a great deal at $10 (BC)!

Summer also means dry rosé time. Few wines are as well suited to lounging in the shade on a hot day than very cold, light pink rosé from the south of France. The Domaine Saint Ferréol Les Vaunières 2013 and the Bieler Père et Fils 2013  are both perfect.

Nederburg The Winemaster's Reserve Riesling 2012 Domiane St Ferreol Les Vaunieres 2013 Bieler Père & Fils Sabine Rosé 2013Baldes & Fils Château Labrande 2010 Trapiche Pure Malbec 2012

Red wine may also be necessary at this time of the year and particularly later in the evening when it finally cools off and you want to grill big chunks of red meat. A good red wine for this must have character but not be overly boozy or heavily laden with oak. And don’t be afraid to chill them down in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour. The Château Labrande 2010 Cahors Malbec is a good choice.

Another important red wine that is bucking a lot of the trends of sweetness and chocolatey oak is the Trapiche 2012 Pure Malbec from the cool Uco Valley part of Argentina’s Mendoza. The vineyard is managed to slow ripening and the grapes are picked a little earlier to avoid jamminess. The wine then sees no oak staying fresh, juicy and lively. And it works.

Treve Ring

Vive le Juillet! Tour de France and this week’s Bastille Day celebrations have me in a distinctively French frame of mind. While many people – erroneously – consider French wines to be expensive and intimidating, I argue that the amazing diversity of regions, styles, grapes – and price points – makes France a wine buyers (and drinker’s) delight.

Everyone loves bubbles, especially when they are pink, fresh, fruity, easy and $16. The Loire Valley’s Remy Pannier Royal de Neuville Rose is a gentle, off-dry example that matches summer’s rosy sunset.

If you prefer your pinks dry, pick up the Chateau de Brigue Côtes de Provence Protégée Rose 2013, a crisp and refined syrah and cinsault blend that will fit patio sipping or your albacore tuna niçoise.

Tour de France riders spent a couple of days in the Vosges mountains, undoubtedly satisfied to slake their thirsts with juicy, fruity, round whites like Kuhlmann Platz Gewurztraminer 2012.

Remy Pannier Royal De Neuville Petillant RoseChateau De Brigue Rose 2013Kuhlmann Platz GewurztraminerCave De Rasteau La Domelière Rasteau 2010 Cote Mas Languedoc Reserve 2012

A GSM blend is always a good bet for summertime suppers, so two must be doubly as good, right? True when we’re talking about Cave de Rasteau La Domelière 2010 from AC Rasteau. This savoury grenache, syrah, mouvedre blend is from one of the oldest wineries in the Rhone valley and demonstrates its pedigree now with a few years patina.

In a younger, fresher vein is the Cote Mas Languedoc Reserve 2012, from Languedoc AC. Here, Grenache, syrah and mouvedre are joined by the charismatic and secretive carignan, resulting in a savoury and garrigue-imbued herbal cherry wonder, ideal for dusky nights al fresco.

Keep cool out there BC – we’ll be back next month to satisfy your wallets and your palates with a special edition 20 Under $20 focused on The World Wine Awards of Canada.

20 Under $20 in British Columbia

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Premium subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 19th – Part Two

Guess Who’s Coming to the BBQ?
by David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo

David New 2014

David Lawrason

Every year about this time food and wine media all over the northern hemisphere like to feed into the season with features on BBQ wines – and VINTAGES magazine is no exception with the July 19th release. As if we needed help to understand that what we really want are wines to fit the relaxed, convivial mood of dining outdoors. We want fruit and balance and purity. We don’t really need nuance, and we don’t want to belabour precise matches to this or that. Nor do we want average quality wines masquerading as BBQ wines just because they are cheap. There is some art to creating balanced wine, and it is fine by me if that means they are more expensive. VINTAGES has its selections, but we only align with them on and couple in terms of quality. So we have gone beyond to suggest others that show balance, purity and flavour depth – wines that make us feel good, like an evening with friends and family, for which the BBQ is merely a prop.

Where the Stars Align

Hedesheimer Hof Weingut Beck Grauer Burgunder Kabinett Trocken 2012Paco & Lola Albariño 2012Hedesheimer Hof Grauer 2012 Burgunder Kabinett Trocken, Pfalz, Germany ($18.95).
David Lawrason – I am paying a lot of attention to pinot whites from the warmer German regions of Pfalz and Baden. This has real polish and oodles of fruit.
Sara d’Amato – Oof, the name is a bit of a mouthful but so is the wine – rich, decadent and deserving of such a grand title. To break it down, name of the grape: grauer burgunder aka pinot gris; the level of quality or sweetness: Kabinett Trocken (Kabinett is generally off-dry unless designated “trocken”). A sure-fire value.

Paco & Lola 2012 Albariño, Rías Baixas, Galicia, Spain ($18.95)
David Lawrason - The fragrant, slightly exotic albarino grape – that is making waves along the Atlantic coasts of northwestern Spain and over the border in northern Portugal’s Vihno Verde – has a very summery, garden fresh appeal. This particular example is one of the best to arrive this year.
Sara d’Amato – A terrific introduction to albarino, this textbook example is nicely packaged and offers appealing notes of dried herb, saline, pear, lime and lemon curd. Juicy and fresh but also with great presence and gumption.

Alain Jaume Grande Garrigue Vacqueyras 2012Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler 2012 RieslingDr. Pauly Bergweiler Riesling 2012, Mosel, Germany ($13.95)
David Lawrason – This is shockingly good value – a classy, super fresh and bright Mosel riesling. It may not work with grilled foods, but if your al fresco dining also includes fruit based salads and mild cheeses grab a handful.
John Szabo – Dr. Pauly’s basic QBA riesling is a terrific deal, offering all of the hallmark Mosel riesling character at a price that would make most rieslings blush. This would make a fine “house” wine for the summer.

Alain Jaume 2012 Grande Garrigue Vacqueyras, Rhone Valley, France ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Meat–meisters who want more than fruit in their red will love this rich, ripe, plummy, peppery, spicy southern Rhône. My love affair with Vacqueyras continues, but this is not for the faint of heart.
Sara d’Amato – In the shadow of the great wines of Gigondas, Vacqueyras is certainly an unsung hero of the Côtes-du-Rhône, producing some of the better values of the southern villages. This example is really quite polished, tight and refined with all the “garrigue” that title suggests. Fleshy, juicy and widely appealing.

Lawrason’s Picks

Niro 2012 Pecorino, Terre di Chieti, Abruzzo, Italy ($15.95). Pecorino – the grape not the cheese – is emerging as yet another “discovery white” among the somm set. With good reason. This is a bright, balanced, subtle yet powerful dry white – not to mention excellent value.

Rockway 2012 Small Lot Block 12-150 Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($18.95). Since Niagara College grad David Stasiuk took over the winemaking helm at Rockway the quality has rocketed at the only Ontario winery with a golf course. This has good weight, presence and depth with some refreshing stoniness.

Viña Cobos 2012 Felino Malbec, Mendoza ($19.95). Argentina will undoubtedly be drowning their soccer sorrows with great hunks of scorched beef and mugs of malbec. Commiserate with this lovely, balance beauty from the hands of California roving oenologist Paul Hobbs.

Niro Pecorino 2012 Rockway Small Lot Block 12 150 Riesling 2012 Viña Cobos Felino Malbec 2012 Brazin (B)Old Vine Zinfandel 2011 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2011 Herdade Do Sobroso Sobro Red 2012

Brazin 2011 (B)old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, California ($19.95). This has good heft and thankfully comes up just short of being overly confected and mocha-fied like so many of its modern, overly commercialized peers. The nose has some of the brambly, woodsy, outdoorsy character (the French would call it garrigue) that I like in authentic zin.

MacMurray Ranch 2011 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County ($24.95). Yes it is a borderline overly fruity, sweetish California pinot, but it actually hangs together, and has ideal out-door ease, freshness and charm. Chill lightly.

Herdade do Sobroso 2012 Sobro Red, Alentejano, Portugal ($14.95). This is a decent buy in easy drinking Portuguese red – and not often do you hear those words in the same sentence. It blends local varieties of southern Portugal with cabernet and syrah, aged just a short time of three months in barrel to maintain exuberant fruity appeal.

More Picks from Sara

Schreckbichl Colterenzio 2012 Pinot Grigio, Alto Adige, Italy ($18.95). Although we saw this come through almost a year ago, I certainly preferred it most recently. The wine has seen a lovely mini evolution and is drinking beautifully at this point.

Château Haut Dina 2010, Côtes De Bordeaux Castillon, Bordeaux, France ($15.00). A rustic, traditional blend primarily made up of merlot as is usually the case in the right bank. Undeniably charming with some lovely pleasure enhancing faults such as just a touch of brett and volatility. Such ruggedness is nicely balanced with a wide array of fruit from plum to fig. A wine with a great deal to offer at this price – Bordeaux traditionalists take note!

Chateau-Haut-Dina-2010 Perrin & Fils l'Andéol Rasteau 2011 Viña Tarapacá Gran Reserva Carmenère 2011

Perrin & Fils 2011 l’Andéol Rasteau, Côtes Du Rhône Villages, Rhône, France ($19.95). Rasteau can grow remarkable grenache on its sunbaked terrain and the varietal often makes up a good deal of the appellation’s blends. Typically a good value, the 2011 l’Andéol is immediately appealing, revealing and easy to appreciate. Its affable, supple and succulent nature makes for a terrific everyday red but it is also quite versatile and can be enjoyed from aperitif to cheese course.

Viña Tarapacá 2011 Gran Reserva Carmenère, Maipo Valley, Chile ($17.95). One of last year’s judges picks at the World Wine Awards of Canada, Tarapaca’s Gran Reserva shows no signs of loss of life. In fact, it continues to exhibit more harmony and complexity as it gently matures. Sourced from high quality vineyards throughout the Maipo, it is especially distinctive of place and variety and exhibits the structure and concentration of a wine twice its price.

Szabo’s Best Buys

Fattori Motto Piane Soave 2011

Mastroberardino Greco Di Tufo 2011

Cave Spring 2011 CSV RieslingCave Spring Riesling CSV 2011, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95). 2011 is a fine vintage for the Cave Spring CSV riesling, balancing ripeness and freshness in the usual dry and more full-bodied style favoured by winemaker Angelo Pavan. A fine wine for current enjoyment or mid-term cellaring.

Mastroberardino 2012 Greco Di Tufo, Campania, Italy ($22.00). Regional leader Mastroberardino delivers another fine example of Greco di Tufo, which, along with Fiano di Avellino, producers the region’s top whites in my view – this has character and personality in spades, and no small measure of volcanic-ash minerality.

Fattori 2011 Soave Motto Piane, Veneto Italy ($22.95). Soave is a schizophrenic region, with a large but uninteresting part of production grown on flat, overly fertile soils. The best, however, come from the poor volcanic hills to the north, like this, from a 3.9h parcel of 30-year-old garganega on Monte Calvarina. Grapes are dried for 40 days to create a full-bodied, rich and creamy, intensely flavoured example, with high alcohol (14.5%) and a whack of salty, savoury, volcanic minerality. A fine find for fans of distinctiveness and regional character.

Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2010

Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

Trimbach 2011 Réserve Pinot GrisTrimbach Réserve Pinot Gris 2011, Alsace, France ($23.95). A lovely wine in the classic, upright, firm and dry Trimbach style, with excellent intensity and length, especially considering the generally lighter and earlier maturing 2011 vintage.

Castello Di Gabbiano 2009 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($22.95). 2009 is a full and very ripe, structured and concentrated vintage for the Gabbiano Riserva, displaying almost Brunello like richness, which was my guess (and teammates Sara D’Amato and Steve Thurlow) when faced with this wine blind in the final episode of So, You Think You Know Wine?, season four. Suffice to say that it has depth and intensity above the mean.

Dei 2010 Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy ($27.95). I love the elegant wines of Dei, always seamless and refined, structured and complex, neither overly traditional nor obviously modern. The 2010 is a fine vintage, the epitome of refined sangiovese.

Domaine Berthoumieu Haute Tradition Madiran 2011

Abad Dom Bueno Crianza 2006

Château Lalande-Borie 2010, Saint-JulienChâteau Lalande Borie 2010, Bordeaux, France ($39.85). Arch-classical left bank Bordeaux from a great vintage, best after 2018, or hold until the late ’20s.

Abad Dom Bueno 2006 Crianza Do Bierzo, Spain ($14.95). Wow – what a terrific value. Most wines in this price range can only dream of this complexity. It’s fully mature, yet still holds on to attractive dark fruit and floral character. To buy by the case.

Domaine Berthoumieu 2011 Haute Tradition Madiran, Southwest France ($17.95). I first tasted the wines of Didier Barré over a dozen years ago and was impressed then, as I am now, by the way he manages to tame the rough tannins of tannat without sacrificing regional character and authenticity. This wine will appeal to fans of classic cabernet sauvignon, with which it shares similar dark berry, cassis fruit flavours and firm structure. Best suited to cuts of rare-grilled beef or lamb on the BBQ.

…..

And that’s it for this edition. I will be missing the great i4c event this weekend due to foreign travels (a rare trip to New Zealand in winter) but John Szabo will be in Niagara flying the flag and moderating events. If you have some time to catch up on your reading don’t miss recently published articles wherein John explores the wines of Greece in-depth, and Julian Hitner raises the awareness of Haut-Medoc in Bordeaux, an especially good source of good value wines in the terrific 2010 vintage.

Until next time!

From VINTAGES July 19th release:

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews
July 19th Part One – Very Cool Chardonnay

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Behind the scenes at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada 2014

A Quality Affair

Last month WineAlign converged on Penticton, British Columbia for the National Wine Awards of Canada. For five full days the ballrooms of the Penticton Lakeside Resort were transformed into a world class stage to judge the country’s best wines.

While we are busy tabulating the results – which will be announced later this month – we thought you might enjoy this insider’s look at what goes on behind the scenes of one of the best wine competitions in the world.

It’s as good as it gets!


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Bill’s Best Bets – July

Whites to serve warmer
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Most wine fanatics can remember particular moments, or perhaps certain wines that were game changers. Moments that shifted the paradigm so that afterwards, you were no longer simply drinking fermented grapes and getting a slight buzz, but drinking something that represented much more than the wine in your glass. The experience got you hooked.

One of those moments happened to me in the mid 90’s. Now I can’t tell you what I drank, I know it was a Californian chardonnay that my sister brought back for me from a trip she made to San Francisco. What I do remember was having a meal/date on a backyard terrace on a hot summer evening, and drinking that wine when it was probably close to 20 °C.

The texture was so rich, the wine so aromatic. Talk about complexity. My mind was blown. Like most people I was a red wine drinker but that moment turned me onto white wines and my fascination with them has never waned.

Pay attention to temperature

La Vieille Ferme Côtes Du Luberon 2013Château Coupe Roses 2012Fast forward to a few weeks ago and once again I was floored by the “warm white.” With the evening temperature way over 20 °C, our bottle of Minervois from Château Coupe Roses was just left to get ambient on the table. Made with 100% roussanne, while it was very good  at around 10 °C with our souvlaki, as it got warmer and warmer, the wine gained in both texture and aromatics. Must have finished that last glass when it was over 20 °C.

Now before you start trying to break the serving temperature record on all your whites, some are best served around 8C. Anything with sugar, like off-dry rieslings, should be kept cool so that you keep the acidity. Likewise, wines whose chief attribute is their acidity, like those made with sauvignon blanc, muscadet, pinot grigio and vinho verde, for example, shouldn’t be served much higher than 10 °C.

But if your wine is made with grapes where the joy factor is linked to their rich texture and aromatics, then feel free to play around. And this is not limited to expensive wines either. One inexpensive wine which will gain much more with a few degrees is La Vieille Ferme.

Made with boubelenc, grenache blanc, vermentino and roussanne, if you try it just directly from the fridge, which is around 4 °C, you’ll have a pretty boring white wine. But once it reaches around 10-12 °C, then the texture is much more interesting and it shows much more aromatically.

It will give you a completely other dimension, and all for $14.

Château Villerambert Julien 2012Vina Gravonia Rioja Crianza 2004If there is a theme in the above two wines, it’s that southern French grapes like roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc, like it a little bit warmer. Another Minervois, this time made with roussanne and viognier, is the Château Villerambert JulienI found its sweet spot to be around 14 °C. Oh, and after being decanted for a few hours.

Southern French whites aren’t the only wines that benefit from higher than expected service temperatures. One of my favourite white wines, the Gravonia Crianza from Rioja winery Lopez de Heredia, has just been released. This is the bomb – but it should come with an instruction manual. I would open it in the morning, take a sip, put the cork back in and take it out of the fridge an hour before serving. Let it go as warm as you dare.

My record for warm white service temperature probably goes to the wines of France’s Jura. In fact, I don’t even bother putting most of them in the fridge. A Vin Jaune, the weirdest of all whites whereby the savagnin grape is raised like a sherry, only starts to get going around 12 °C. Any cooler you are wondering what sort of strange beverage is masquerading as wine in your glass. It peaks around 16 °C and I have drunk them a number of times around 20 °C.

Jean Claude Boisset Bourgogne Chardonnay 2010Domaine Stépahne Tissot Arbois Savagnin 2010But Vin Jaune isn’t for everyone and is an acquired taste. A great entry point into the oxidative world of the savagnin grape is Stephane Tissot’s Arbois. The wine spent just two years, as opposed to the six years of a Vin Jaune, under the protective “voile.” Superb with curries and white meats.

Finally, there is chardonnay. This is never an easy one. I prefer my Chablis, unless it is a Grand Cru, around 10 °C. But after that, it really is a matter of taste. I tried the 2010 Bourgogne from Jean-Charles Boisset at different temperatures and loved it most at 12 °C. Because it is already four years old, the extra warmth allowed for more nuance.

So there you go. I suggest you take your whites out of the fridge, and try this experiment yourself. Drink your first glass and just allow the wine to warm up. If you have trouble with whites, then this might be what was missing.

And this doesn’t mean you should put away your ice bucket. It’s summer folks, and you should always have it next to your table. And not only for your whites, but for your reds. But that’s another article.

Happy summer,

Bill

“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

Editors Note: You can find Bill’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Premium subscribers to Chacun son vin see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Les choix de Nadia – Juillet

Cool Chardonnay !
par Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier

La fin de semaine prochaine, du 18 au 20 juillet, la région de la péninsule de Niagara sera l’hôte de la quatrième édition du i4c (International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration), un festival dédié au chardonnay de climat frais.

À l’approche de ce rassemblement auquel je participerai, plusieurs questions me sont venues en tête quant à la définition même de la « fraîcheur ». Qu’est-ce qui distingue un chardonnay de climat frais du reste de l’océan de chardonnays produits sur la planète ? Et au fond, sur quoi repose réellement cette sensation de fraîcheur que procurent certains vins ? Est-elle simplement attribuable à la teneur en acidité du vin ou plutôt aux familles d’arômes qui s’en dégagent ? Est-ce que la fraîcheur est attribuable exclusivement au lieu d’origine des raisins ou est-ce que la signature du vigneron joue aussi un rôle important ?

Autant de questions mériteraient sans doute une longue réponse complexe et nuancée. Pourtant, après mûre réflexion, j’en suis venue à une conclusion plutôt simple. Pour moi, la définition du chardonnay de climat frais pourrait se résumer à un mot : minéralité.

Malheureusement, la définition de ce terme largement utilisé dans le jargon des critiques de vins – dont je suis – demeure certainement aussi vague, sinon plus, que la notion de fraîcheur, puisqu’il repose sur un concept encore plus abstrait.

INTERNATIONAL COOL CLIMATE CHARDONNAY ASSOCIATION - Célébrations

« On peut produire des gros chardonnays boisés un peu partout dans le monde, mais ce qui nous intéresse au i4c, ce sont des vins digestes qui traduisent les subtilités de leurs terroirs d’origine. » Thomas Bachelder, vigneron globe-trotter et l’un des fondateurs de l’International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration.

« Antidote à l’ennui »

En faisant quelques recherches, j’ai retrouvé une réflexion sur la minéralité qu’avait diffusée Denis Dubourdieu, professeur à la faculté d’œnologie de Bordeaux. Dubitatif devant cette perception qui ne s’appuie sur aucune recherche scientifique, Dubourdieu émettait quelques hypothèses après avoir longuement cogité sur la question. En voici un résumé :

« La minéralité caractérise certainement le goût d’un vin inspiré par le refus de la facilité, dicté par l’ambition de faire un vin inimitable associé à un lieu et à nul autre. [...] Minéral dans votre esprit s’oppose à pâteux, complaisant, sucré, alcooleux, sur boisé [...] et est alors synonyme de pur, aérien, frais, serré, tendu, complexe et mystérieux. [...] Minéral fait aussi référence à l’effort. Quand la vigne est facile à cultiver, le vin est ennuyeux à déguster. La quête de la minéralité est finalement celle de l’antidote à l’ennui, que les vins complaisants finissent toujours par susciter. »

Mais comment donc obtient-on ce goût minéral ?

L’histoire a depuis longtemps prouvé que les vins fins et subtils provenaient généralement de régions où le climat n’avait rien d’excessif. Juste ce qu’il faut de chaleur pour que le raisin mûrisse lentement, mais sûrement.

Dans les régions torrides, le fruit mûrit sans peine chaque année, mais donne rarement des vins subtils ou profonds. Voilà pourquoi la Bourgogne donne des chardonnays infiniment plus complexes que ceux de la Baja California, au Mexique.De là l’idée de planter les cépages à leurs limites géographiques : le plus au nord possible dans l’hémisphère nord, le plus au sud possible dans l’hémisphère sud. Et de miser, dans les régions montagneuses, sur les terroirs d’altitude et les coteaux protégés du soleil.

Le type d’agriculture a aussi une incidence sur la complexité d’un vin. En bannissant les d’engrais chimiques et les désherbants et en travaillant les sols, on favorise l’enracinement profond de la vigne et l’apport minéral. Aucune étude scientifique ne le prouve, mais le résultat dans le verre, lui, ne fait aucun doute.

Enfin, loin de se limiter au sol, la minéralité tient aussi de l’état d’esprit qui anime le vigneron. Car entre les mains d’un vigneron paresseux ou trop ambitieux, même un grand terroir de Bourgogne peut être réduit à la banalité. Trop de bois ou de bâtonnage, une vigne mal entretenue, des rendements trop élevés, une vendange trop précoce, trop tardive, etc. Autant de détails qui font toute la différence entre le vin ordinaire et le vin mystère…

De Rougemont à Auckland

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011Bachelder Bourgogne Chardonnay 2011Coteau Rougemont Chardonnay La Cote 2012Vendredi dernier, histoire de m’amuser un peu, j’ai servi à l’aveugle quelques vins blancs québécois à des amis amateurs de vins qui étaient venus prendre l’apéro à la maison. Dans le lot, le Chardonnay 2012 La Côte de Coteau Rougemont (23,95 $). À l’aveugle, tous étaient persuadés qu’il s’agissait d’un vin européen. Je ne tomberai pas dans les superlatifs faciles, mais je dirai seulement que quelqu’un a évoqué la Bourgogne… À suivre!

Le Montréalais Thomas Bachelder, ancien vinificateur du Clos Jordanne (Niagara), a démarré une activité de négoce transatlantique, spécialisée dans le chardonnay et le pinot noir, en Bourgogne, en l’Oregon et à Niagara.

Stylistiquement à mi-chemin entre Meursault et un Chablis Premier cru, le Beaune blanc 2010, Les Longes(43,25 $) est un heureux mariage de vivacité et de gras. Pas donné, mais excellent!

Sans avoir la même dimension aromatique, son Bourgogne Chardonnay 2011 (27 $)mérite une mention spéciale pour sa tenue en bouche et son volume. À moins de 30 $, c’est un achat avisé.

Encore disponible dans quelques succursales au moment d’écrire ces lignes, le Chardonnay 2011, Wismer Vineyard(41,25 $) est l’archétype d’un bon chardonnay de climat frais. Dégusté à nouveau la semaine dernière, le vin faisait preuve d’une tension remarquable en bouche, avec une finale rassasiante tant par sa texture que par sa vigueur. 

Chablis, quintessence du chardonnay ?

De l’avis de plusieurs, le chablis est la quintessence du cépage chardonnay. Grâce à leur acidité naturelle et à leur équilibre, les meilleurs peuvent être conservés plusieurs années.

À la tête du domaine familial Louis Moreau depuis 1994, Louis Moreau est aussi président du comité interprofessionnel des vignerons de Chablis. De manière générale, les vins sont très fidèles à l’idée de pureté et de franchise propres à l’appellation.

À la fois vigoureux et vineux, agrémenté de saveurs cristallines et doté d’une franche tension minérale, le Chablis Premier cru Vaulignot 2011 a tous les éléments recherchés dans un chablis ! Fort belle réussite aussi pour le Chablis 2012. Parfaitement sec et suffisamment vineux.

Enfin, de l’aveu de Louis Moreau, le Petit Chablis 2012 est naturellement plus friand, souple, fruité et moins minéral qu’un chablis courant. N’empêche, c’est l’un des beaux exemples du genre offerts sur le marché.

Louis Moreau Chablis Vaulignot Premier Cru 2011Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis 2012Domaine Louis Moreau Petit Chablis 2012La Sœur Cadette Bourgogne 2012

Au Domaine de La Cadette, Jean Montanet est un pilier de la région de Vèzelay, dans l’Yonne (au sud de Chablis), où il pratique une agriculture biologique depuis plus de 10 ans. Sa « petite » cuvée, La Sœur Cadette, est issue à la fois des vignes du domaine et d’achat de raisins. Encore plus complet que le 2011 dégusté l’an dernier et toujours vendu à moins de 20 $. Une aubaine à saisir! 

Le chardonnay aux antipodes

Carmen Chardonnay Reserva 2012De Martino Legado Reserva Limari Chardonnay 2012Œnologue de la maison De Martino, Marcelo Retamal est l’un des plus brillants œnologues chiliens de sa génération. Il a mené plusieurs études des sols de la vallée centrale qui sont désormais une référence pour les nouvelles plantations. Persuadé que la cordillère des Andes représente l’avenir du vignoble chilien, il préconise un retour à la viticulture d’altitude.

À l’ouverture, son Chardonnay 2012, Legado – produit dans la région fraîche de Limari –peut presque passer inaperçu. Car ce n’est vraiment qu’après quelques heures qu’il se révèle à sa juste valeur. On découvre alors un chardonnay très pur, à des lieues des cuvées lourdes et exagérément boisées. À moins de 20 $, on en ferait son vin blanc quotidien !

Depuis quelques années, Viña Carmen – une cave appartenant au groupe Santa Rita, mais gérée de manière autonome – ne cesse de me surprendre par la qualité de ses vins, qui offrent généralement un excellent rapport qualité-prix. Pour une bouchée de pain, ce Viña Carmen Chardonnay 2013 (13 $) vendu dans l’ensemble du réseau est un modèle du genre. Rien de bien profond ni de minéral, mais un très bon vin blanc sec, équilibré et agréable à boire.

Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2009Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2009En Nouvelle-Zélande, au nord de l’île du Nord et en périphérie de la région métropolitaine d’Auckland, Kumeu River, le domaine de famille Brajkovich, est réputé à juste titre pour produire quelques-uns des vins les plus fins du pays. Animé par la volonté d’obtenir un vin pur et fidèle au goût du lieu, Michael Brajkovich a opté pour une approche peu interventionniste, qui a certainement contribué au caractère singulier de ses cuvées.

Disponible en bonnes quantités à la SAQ, le Chardonnay 2009, Estate (34,25 $) est une valeur sûre. Un peu moins complexe et intense que les cuvées parcellaires du domaine, mais tout aussi élégant. Il a aussi un bon potentiel de garde.

Encore disponible dans quelques succursales dans les régions de Montréal, Québec et Sherbrooke, le Hunting Hill (40 $) est la preuve que la Bourgogne n’est pas la seule à donner à ce cépage ses lettres de noblesse. Le chardonnay conjugué au plus-que-parfait !

Au plaisir de vous rencontrer la fin de semaine prochaine à Niagara.

Santé !

Nadia Fournier

Note de la rédaction: vous pouvez lire les commentaires de dégustation complets en cliquant sur les noms de vins, les photos de bouteilles ou les liens mis en surbrillance. Les abonnés payants à Chacun son vin ont accès à toutes les critiques dès leur mise en ligne. Les utilisateurs inscrits doivent attendre 30 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de bons vins!


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 19th – Part One

A Complete Starter’s Kit for the i4c and Very Cool Chardonnay
by John Szabo MS with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report features chardonnay in the key of cool, the thematic of the VINTAGES July 19th release, as well raison d’être of the upcoming International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. The i4c, as it’s better known, is just that: a celebration of chardonnay grown in cool places around the world. The WineAlign team has put together a robust preview of some of the top wines that will be poured over the course of the weekend, which runs from July 18-20th in venues across Niagara. And even if you’re not going, these chardonnays are worth knowing. Next week, we’ll cover the top picks for the obligatory backyard BBQ.

The idea for the i4c was dreamt up on a summer’s night in 2009 by a group of local winemakers lounging around a backyard fire. These winemakers believed that chardonnay, one of the most widely planted grapes in Ontario, “is deserving of a renaissance. It’s resilient and refined. It can be steely or floral, complex or focused. It expresses terroir better than any other grape we grow.” And the Niagara-based celebration of cool climate chardonnay was born.

The forward-thinking group also realized that Ontario chardonnay needed to be put into an international context, and so it was mandated that at least half of the participating wineries in the yearly celebration would be from outside of the province to ensure a truly global view of the myriad nuances of chardonnay grown in cool climates. The celebration’s clever motto – 400,000 acres can’t be wrong – tells the story of chardonnay’s dominance of the fine wine world, with Ontario seeking to establish its own niche within.

School of cool

The School of Cool at i4c

It was also determined that a respected international keynote speaker with an important outsider’s perspective would be invited each year – a show of confidence by the local industry. The inaugural celebration in 2011 welcomed Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator, Stephen Brook (Decanter) joined in 2012 and Steven Spurrier (Decanter) in 2013. Tim Atkin MW, a multi award-winning London-based wine writer and broadcaster will deliver this year’s keynote address and share his perspective on how Ontarian vintners are performing while the world is watching.

Although there is a full day of technical talk aimed at the trade on Friday the 18th at Brock University, the rest of the weekend’s events are designed for general enjoyment. Stephen Brook had this to say about the 2012 edition: “We gathered to celebrate some great cool climate wines and to explore what makes them distinctive, but we also enjoyed those wines with top international winemakers alongside great food in a delightfully informal atmosphere. The perfect blend of sophisticated appreciation and unsophisticated fun”.

Principals from fifty-eight wineries and around 2000 guests are anticipated over the course of the weekend, and I’d hope to see you among them. I’ll be moderating the technical sessions on Friday, so if you’re particularly keen, stop by with your most detailed questions. Panels of experts have been convened to discuss topics like “Yield in Context: a discussion regarding the importance of yield in producing high quality wines, in relationship to other factors (terroir, weather, mesoclimate, vine age”. It’s the sort of stuff that has kept you up at night wondering. For all of the rest of the event details and tickets visit: www.coolchardonnay.org

Your i4c Starter Kit: Some Top Preview Picks

Unless you’re amazingly efficient and plan on staying in Niagara for the whole weekend, it’ll be tough to taste over a hundred wines. So here’s a short, if not comprehensive, list of what not to miss to get you started; even if you’re not attending the i4c, these are chardonnays worth tracking down. All recommendations will be either released through VINTAGES on July 19th, or are available directly from wineries.

International Selections

Domaine Dublère Savigny Lès Beaune Aux Vergelesses 1er Cru 2011Champy Pernand Vergelesses En Caradeux Premier Cru 2011Triple Alignment! No chardonnay celebration of any kind would be complete without wines from the spiritual and physical home of chardonnay, and Burgundy is indeed represented by several fine wines. At the top of the quality pile is the Maison Champy 2011 Pernand-Vergelesses En Caradeux 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($49.95).

John Szabo – Although En Caradeux may not be the most celebrated 1er cru in Pernand, Champy’s bottlings in recent vintages have been outstanding, and this one follows in the same vein. It also underscores the dramatic improvements that the larger negociant houses have been forced to make to keep up with the rising quality of small family-run domaines. The 2011 is an excellent success for the vintage, to be enjoyed after 2016 or held into the mid-twenties.
David Lawrason - Sitting at the foot of the Corton-Charlemagne vineyards this Pernand is one of the great underrated white wine sites of Burgundy. Combine that with much improved winemaking at the tiny negociant firm of Champy in Beaune and you get one exciting, cracking good chardonnay.
Sara D’Amato – En Caradeux is a tiny 1er Cru climat located within Pernand Vergelesses that produces both chardonnay and pinot noir, but is best known for its whites. There is great dimension and length to this wildly compelling wine with a touch of naughty volatility.

Triple Alignment!

John Szabo – The village of Savigny-les-Beaune is arguably the best of the lesser-known communes of the Côtes de Beaune, and one of my favourite hunting grounds for value, such as it exists in the Côte d’Or. The 2011 Domaine Dublère Savigny-Lès-Beaune Aux Vergelesses 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($58.95) is hardly inexpensive, but drinks like solid Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru with its restrained, firm, tightly wound, briskly mineral style.  It’s another exception to the rule of usually light and delicate 2011s, best after 2017.
David Lawrason – Savigny les Beaune and Pernand Vergelesses are adjoining AOCs, so I am assuming this hails from a site somewhere on the border. And it delivers similar quality and style to the Maison Champy Pernand, if in a slightly more sleek and tender style of Savigny.
Sara D’Amato – The Vergelesses vineyard is the closest of the Savigny-les-Beaune sites to Pernand-Vergelesses which nuzzles up to the Grand Cru sites of Corton. Expect terrific depth, poise and substance from this exceptional chardonnay that I rarely reward with such a score.  Both grand and reserved, this is an epic wine.

DECELLE-VILLA SAVIGNY-LES-BEAUNE BLANC 2012Domaine Nadine Ferrand Lise Marie Pouilly Fuissé 2011Also fine value from the same village is the Decelle-Villa 2012 Savigny-Les-Beaune Blanc, Burgundy, France ($40.95), a producer who has attended the i4c in the past. Olivier Decelle is the man behind the highly regarded fortified Roussillon wines of Mas Amiel, while Pierre-Jean Villa helped develop les Vins de Vienne, a sought-after boutique négociant in the northern Rhône. The pair has joined forces in Burgundy, where they share a cellar with Canadian Thomas Bachelder (also at i4c 2014), making wine from both purchased grapes and estate parcels all managed organically or biodynamically. Wood has been masterfully integrated into this minerally ensemble, while elegant white-fleshed fruit dominates the palate.

Domaine Nadine Ferrand Lise-Marie 2011 Pouilly-Fuissé, Burgundy, France ($27.95). Southern Burgundy is another regional hot spot where quality and value intersect. The limestone-rich soils of the hills surrounding the villages of Pouilly and Fuissé yield the region’s top crus (an official cru system is currently being proposed), and Nadine Ferrand farms 10 hectares in the heart of the appellation. In 2011 she produced a very floral Pouilly Fuissé with substantial intensity and depth. I appreciate the freshness and balance on offer, the ethereal nature without being insipid. This is simply well-balanced, genuinely concentrated, well made, regionally representative wine.

Miguel Torres Gran Viña Sol Chardonnay 2012Marimar Estate Acero Chardonnay 2012The Russian River Valley of Sonoma is not a particularly cool region admittedly, but the Marimar Estate 2012 Acero Chardonnay Don Miguel Vineyard Russian River Valley, California, USA ($29.95) is an unoaked cuvée (acero means stainless steel in Spanish) from Marimar Torres, aimed at, and achieving, freshness balanced with typically ripe Russian River fruit. I like the equilibrium of fleshy fruit and firm acids; serve it chilled to tone down generous alcohol and up the freshness.

Double Alignment!

John Szabo – And keeping it in the family, Marimar’s father Don Miguel offers the keenly priced Miguel Torres 2012 Gran Viña Sol Chardonnay, Penedès, Spain ($15.95). Cool and Spain aren’t often in the same sentence, but a case can be made for the genuinely cooler highlands of the upper Penedès region north of Barcelona where this wine is grown. It’s simple but fresh and lively, with intensity that’s more than in line with the price category.
Sara D’Amato – The grapes of this well-priced chardonnay come from the middle and upper Penedès at higher elevations (up to 800 meters above sea level) which gives the wine a cooler climate feel of lively fruit and vibrant acids. Just a touch of oak is welcome and matches the intensity of this peppery wine well.

A Banker’s Dozen Very Cool Ontario Chardonnays (All will be at the i4c)

Hidden Bench 2011 Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($38.00) From Hidden Bench, owned by the former i4c chairman Harald Thiel, this a really very fine chardonnay. The Felseck vineyard on the Beamsville Bench has consistently yielded minerally, palpably chalky-textured wines over the past several vintages and the 2011 even brings that minerally edge up a notch or two. It’s tightly wound and stony the way we like it, and surely one of the top chardonnays of the vintage.

Hillebrand Showcase Series 2012 Wild Ferment Chardonnay Oliveira Vineyard, Lincoln Lakeshore ($36.20)The Oliveira Vineyard in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation is one of the few sites below the Niagara Bench that’s capable of producing genuinely mineral and composed examples of chardonnay, as Hillebrand (now Trius) has consistently shown over several vintages. The 2012 is given royal treatment in the cellar including a ‘wild ferment’ with native yeasts, and is rich and powerful to be sure, but also poised and highly stony, with impressive balance.

Tawse 2011 Quarry Road Chardonnay, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula $34.95 The Quarry Road vineyard in the cool Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation is consistently my favorite chardonnay from the excellent Tawse range, and 2011 has yielded another first class edition. It stands out for its purity, precision and pristine fruit and limestone character.

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2011Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay Oliveira Vineyard 2012Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011Malivoire Mottiar Chardonnay 2011

Malivoire 2011 Mottiar Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95) Malivoire winemaker Shiraz Mottiar spotted the site that he would eventually purchase while cycling along the Niagara Escarpment, divining that this abandoned pear orchard, directly under the limestone cliff of the Escarpment could potentially yield fine wine. He appears to have been right. It was planted in 2003, and has since proved itself to be an excellent source for mineral-suffused, true cool climate chardonnay. This 2011 version is neither rich nor lean, but offers a certain honey-slathered stone character that I find highly appealing.

Norman Hardie 2012 Unfiltered County Chardonnay, VQA Prince Edward County ($39.00) Norm Hardie has done as much as anyone to put Canadian chardonnay on the map, and his wines have become staples on top wine lists across the country. The 2012 ‘County’ offers immediate enjoyment without sacrificing the hallmark minerality and elegance of the house style. This also has a bit more weight and flesh than the mean and fills the mouth in satisfying fashion, though still clocks in at just 12.1% without a hint of green – the magic of Prince Edward County.

Lailey Vineyard 2012 Chardonnay Old Vines, VQA Niagara River, Niagara Peninsula ($40.20) This wine could certainly be included in a panel discussion on vine age vs. quality, making an eloquent that argument that older vines make better wine. From vines planted over 35 years ago, this is well-made, quality wine with integrity and honesty.

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2012Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay Old Vines 2012Cave Spring Csv Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011

Cave Spring 2011 CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95)A cool and composed, vintage for the Cave Spring CSV chardonnay, one of the most reliable in Ontario year after year. It’s more than fairly priced for the quality on offer.

Bachelder 2011 Niagara Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($29.95) Thomas Bachelder is an obvious chardonnay (and pinot) fanatic, making these two grapes in three countries (Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara). Just about anything under his label is worth a look, including his ‘entry level’ Niagara chardonnay blended from three blocks (Wismer, Saunders and Wismer-Foxcroft) He’ll also be pouring the excellent single vineyard Wismer chardonnay at the i4c as well.

Triple Alignment! Le Clos Jordanne 2011 Village Reserve Chardonnay VQA Niagara Peninsula ($30.00)

John Szabo – 2011 is shaping up to be a fine vintage for Le Clos’ whites, a combination of maturing vines, and winemaker Sébastien Jacquey getting more attuned to the vagaries of Niagara and the specifics of his vineyards. This is certainly no major step down from the other “crus”, so fair value to be sure.
David Lawrason - The Village reserve may be the basic “vineyard blend” in the Le Clos lineup, and perhaps lacking a bit of finesse of its more expensive stable mates, but this is solid, complex, thoughtful cool climate chardonnay.
Sara D’Amato – Liquid loveliness – this entry level chardonnay from Le Clos Jordanne benefits from a superb vintage that was, by all accounts, warm and dry but with a bit of a dicey start that may have caused some natural thinning and subsequent concentration in the resulting wines. Here is a wine with definition, with amplitude and on a path of graceful maturation – a fine example of cool climate character.

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011Southbrook Vineyards WhimsyStratus Chardonnay 2012

And for those who like more sumptuous versions of chardonnay, there are two from the marginally warmer growing area south of Niagara on the Lake. The Southbrook Vineyards 2012 Whimsy! “Richness” Chardonnay, VQA Niagara On The Lake ($34.95) is a barrel selection of wines that fit winemaker Ann Sperling’s whimsy of the vintage. It’s from biodynamically-grown estate fruit, and is really is all about the palate: thick and dense, rich and full, as the name promises.

In a similar vein, the Stratus 2012 Chardonnay, Niagara On The Lake ($48.00) is a wine for fans of full-bodied chardonnay that coats the palate. The overall impression is highly reminiscent of California-style (more Sonoma than Napa) chardonnay, ambitiously oaked and very creamy, not surprising given the input of California consultant Paul Hobbs at Stratus.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

From VINTAGES July 19th release:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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The Successful Collector – The Haut-Médoc

Stomping grounds for value
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

If there’s one problem Bordeaux has yet to overcome, it’s convincing enthusiasts that great claret need not break the bank. Yet many less-esteemed appellations throughout one of France’s most celebrated winegrowing areas are nowadays consistently able to combine both quality and ageability with youthful scrumptiousness and value. Of these, the Haut-Médoc is arguably at the forefront.

The largest appellation on the Left Bank of the Gironde, the Haut-Médoc surrounds the far more renowned appellations (excluded like a jigsaw puzzle from the map shown right) of Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac, and St-Estèphe, each home to the lion’s share of the most famous estates in Bordeaux. The others are situated further upriver, just south of the city of Bordeaux, in the appellation of Pessac-Léognan. As a result, the finest estates of the Haut-Médoc are routinely overlooked.

But this has begun changing for some time, particularly in parts of the Haut-Médoc most blessed with higher gravel mounds on which to plant vines. As with the finest sections in the more celebrated appellations mentioned above, these gravel mounds represent one of the most significant characteristics of the greatest terroirs on the Left Bank. While regrettable, estates with vines sourced from lower-level locations simply cannot make the same wines.

The boundaries of the Haut-Médoc are extensive. Extending only several kilometres into the hinterland, the appellation begins just northeast of the city of Bordeaux along the Left Bank of the Gironde. It concludes several kilometres north of St-Estèphe, where the gravel mounds finally give way to lower-lying vineyards located in an appellation known simply as Médoc. Merlot tends to play a much greater role in the blends at this point along the river, with Cabernet Sauvignon habitually used in much smaller amounts.

Throughout much of the Haut-Médoc, Cabernet Sauvignon is used in fairly generous proportions, reinforced by Merlot and small percentages of Cabernet Franc. Petit Verdot may be found from time to time, while Malbec may turn up in extremely small sums here and there. While the most illustrious estates may employ hand pickers at harvest time, many estates will often bring in their grapes via mechanical harvesters. Unlike the most famous estates of Margaux or Pauillac, many establishments in the Haut-Médoc are unable to afford such a luxury. The use of new French oak barriques will also vary according to financial constraints and/or quality of the grapes.

Of rankings, the Haut-Médoc contains only five estates belonging to the famous yet contentious 1855 Classification, each varying in quality and typically ranging in VINTAGES and the SAQ from $45-100. In terms of overall value, better examples may be found among the numerous estates ranked as Cru Bourgeois, the chief ranking category of the appellation. With the odd exception, prices in this category usually range from $20-40.

In the past, the majority of such wines were excessively lean and required years of cellaring in order to blossom. Not anymore. As a result of better winegrowing techniques and changes in climatic conditions (think global warming), the best Cru Bourgeois wines nowadays routinely offer immediate, concentrated appeal, and may be kept for up to ten years or more in the cellar. What’s more, their prices are strikingly reasonable, unlike their counterparts in St-Julien or St-Estèphe, where estates included in the 1855 Classification have all but been cordoned off except to the most well-heeled of buyers.

In the twenty-first century, never before has the winegrowing region of Bordeaux made such sizeable quantities of excellent wine. Yet the consequences of celebrity have grown all too apparent in appellations like Margaux or Pauillac, where wines once considered reasonable have become anything but. For diehard claret lovers, therefore, the fast-improving Haut-Médoc could not be more of a lifesaver.

My top choices:

Château Peyrabon 2010 Haut-Médoc is situated in the commune of St-Sauveur (just to the east of Pauillac) and represents terrific value for money. Although a rather oak-driven affair, all the component parts of this sumptuous claret are in marvellous alignment. Drink now or hold for up to ten years or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Sénéjac 2009 Haut-Médoc is situated in the commune of St-Pian (located in the southern part of the appellation) and is easily the most serious vintage I’ve tasted from this estate to date. Regrettably, only a handful of bottles are left in VINTAGES at time of publication. Drink now or hold for up to eight years or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Peyrabon 2010Château Senejac 2009Château Larose Trintaudon 2010Château Moulin De Blanchon 2009Château De Gironville 2009

Château Larose-Trintaudon 2010 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of St-Laurent (just to the east of St-Julien) and is the largest estate on the Left Bank. Though quality has been limited for many years, recent vintages such as the ’10 have been excellent. Drink now or hold for up to eight years. Decanting is recommended.

Château Moulin de Blanchon 2009 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of St-Seurin (just to the north of St-Estèphe) and represents a sincerely beautiful outing. From a part of the Haut-Médoc with some extremely fine wineries, it’s wines like these that typify the future of the appellation. Drink now or hold for up to six years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château de Gironville 2009 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of Macau (just to the south of Margaux) and is a truly delicious affair. Containing 10% Petit Verdot (unusual for a Haut-Médoc), there are only a handful of bottles left in VINTAGES at time of publication. Drink now or hold for up to eight years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château La Lagune 2010Château Belgrave 2009Château Belgrave 2009 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of St-Laurent (just to the east of St-Julien) and is ranked as a Fifth Growth in the 1855 Classification. Though twice the cost of a standard Cru Bourgeois, the ’09 really is an outstanding claret. Drink now or hold for up to fourteen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château La Lagune 2010 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of Ludon (located in the southern part of the appellation) and is ranked as a Third Growth in the 1855 Classification. This is widely regarded as one of the finest wines of the Haut-Médoc, and is highly recommended for serious collectors. Drink now or hold for up to twenty years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Readers may want to take note that there are many other exemplary wines currently available in VINTAGES and the SAQ that have not been listed as recommendations. This is because I either do not have evaluations for them, or because they are wines from alternate vintages that are no longer available in stores.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Editors Note: You can find Julian’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

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Greek Wine Report: Outstanding 2013 Whites And Going Native

John Szabo reports on top whites (and a few reds) from Greece, land of singular flavours and excellent value, and offers compelling reasons to drink native varieties

2013 has yielded an exceptional crop of wines throughout Greece, especially whites, playing to the strengths of the country’s envious range of native varieties. According to the harvest report on the New Wines of Greece website “winemakers throughout Greece are hailing 2013 as one of the best in recent years. Favorable growing conditions, without the extreme heat that usually characterizes Greek summers were aided by cool northern winds allowing grapes to mature evenly and completely, with relatively few problems. The wines have excellent acidity and good alcohol levels with the whites showing intense aromatic qualities.”

Santorini, Greece

Santorini, Greece

A tasting in Toronto in May left no doubt of the high quality of the vintage, with many familiar estates making the finest wines I’ve tasted in the last decade. Below are some of my top picks; click on the name of each for the full review and availability.

Toronto trade out in full force to taste Greek wine

Toronto trade out in full force to taste Greek wine

Why Go Native

Although the names/varieties and regions for the majority of the recommendations will be utterly foreign, I’d urge you to go native and not to miss out. The prices remain amazingly low relative to quality, and this is your chance to discover new and intriguing flavours. And it makes sense to focus on the indigenous grapes in a country that has over 300 known varieties, and probably many more waiting to be documented. If these varieties are still around in the 21st C., there’s probably a very good reason.

Consider this: Greece has been making wine for the better part of four thousand years. Yet the actual cause of alcoholic fermentation (yeasts consuming sugars and spitting out alcohol) wasn’t discovered until Louis Pasteur took a microscope to fermenting grape juice a little over a hundred years ago. The technological bag of tricks that winemakers today have at their disposal to tweak a wine’s aromatics and structure and stabilize it against the ravaging effects of oxygen is a mere few decades old. (And new oenological products continue to emerge on the market like the latest range in a seasonal fashion catalogue.)

All of this development has enabled grape varieties to be transplanted in places around the world for which they are not naturally suited, and for commercial grade wine to be made from them. It has also allowed winemakers to customize a wine to fit a perceived market, denaturing the style that a region is naturally inclined to produce. The commercial pressure to put a popular variety on a label is often too much to resist, and indigenous grapes have often been ripped out to make way for chard, cab and co.

Now back to the Greeks and a few thousand years ago. No products, no technology, little understanding. In fact, ancient winegrowers had very little ability to materially affect the outcome of their winemaking ritual, and you can be sure that plenty of vinegar was made, even with fingers crossed and all.

Ancient Cretan winery at Vathypetro c. 1000BC

Ancient Cretan winery at Vathypetro c. 1000BC

But the one area in which they did have some control over the process was the type of vines planted in their vineyards. Good old-fashioned empirical trial and error would have led to a natural selection of varieties (distinguished easily enough by leaf shape, bunch size, and other basic morphological features – no Ph.D. required), which over time would have proved themselves to be naturally adapted to the local growing environment. And by adapted I mean that they would have been the varieties that yield naturally balanced wines – ones that would have been stable enough to last at least until the next vintage before turning to vinegar (remember, this was an era in which wine was more than a part of life, it was nothing less than a staple). By today’s standards, this means wine that doesn’t require any tinkering or chemical adjustments: crush, ferment, press, drink.

One of the most important features of a well-adapted variety is the retention of natural acidity/low pH, given that no bags of tartaric acid were available at the local supply store. This is especially critical in a generally warm, dry, Mediterranean climate where ripeness is easy to achieve – high acid/low pH is a natural defense against bacterial spoilage. You’ll find that the majority of native Greek whites from indigenous grapes are remarkably fresh and lively considering the southerly latitude on which they’re grown – a perfect illustration of natural selection.

So over the course of several thousand years, suitable grapes and places were matched up as efficiently as an online dating service: assyrtiko with the poor, wind-swept volcanic soils of Santorini, moscophilero with the cool, high mountain plateau of Mantinia, or vidiano with the arid, hot, north-facing slopes of Crete, to name but a few. Stick with the native varieties and your chances of finding, naturally well-balanced, authentic wines increase dramatically.

Although Greek winemakers of this era are as well-trained and technologically equipped as any, in some cases the grape growing and winemaking techniques employed several thousand years ago are still practiced, simply because they still work (though fewer keep their fingers crossed). I love that fact that this gives us a window on the ancient world and on what the wines sold in Athens c. 200 BC might well have tasted like.

Time to go prospecting.

Santorini

This year’s harvest was one of the earliest ever in Santorini, beginning at the end of July, but because of the residual effects of a “perfect storm” (Winds over 11 Beaufort) that damaged vines during the previous 2012 growing season, production was down over 20% from last year. This year’s wines are being compared to the benchmark vintages of 2009 and 2011, and similar to these years, the 2013 wines are showing exceptional aromatic qualities, great structure, firm acidity and, of course, intense minerality, a Santorini trademark.” – NWOG Harvest Report

Vineyards, Santorini

Traditional vineyards, Santorini

Estate Argyros 2013 Santorini, Greece ($23.95) Matthew Argyros represents the 4th generation of winemaking at the family-run estate, founded in 1903 by George Argyros. The estate owns some of the oldest vines on the island, including a parcel reputed to be over 150 years old. The 2013 estate, from the oldest vines, is so distinctively Santorini with its riveting salty-sulphurous minerality, yet tightness and acidity are taken to new heights. This is quite literally crunchy and electrifying, with a perfect pitch of alcohol and dry extract, firm and gently tannic on the palate.

Similar in style to the Estate but just a narrow step below is the Argyros Assyrtiko 2013 Santorini, Greece $19.95. It’s made from the “young vines” (50-60 years old), and offers impressive density and weigh, palpable astringency from tannins even though this is made from free-run juice, and extraordinarily fresh acids, finishing on a quivering mineral-salty string. Like the estate, this really shouldn’t be touched for another 2-3 years.

Paris Sigalas

Paris Sigalas, Santorini

Paris Sigalas is another leading grower on the Island whose wines rarely fail to excite. This former mathematician applies precision to his process and the Sigalas 2013 Santorini, Greece ($22.95) is a beautifully balance, extraordinarily rich and stony example with textbook volcanic minerality – that hard-to-describe saltiness that permeates the wine from start to finish. Fruit character is as usual subdued – assyrtiko rarely exudes much more than a whiff of grapefruit-citrus-pear – this is much more about the almost sulphur hot springs-like aromatics. Given my experience with Sigalas’ wines, this should age beautifully, and likely hit peak somewhere around 6-8 years of age, if you can wait.

Rounding out the Santorini selections (although one other excellent grower, Haridimos Hatzidakis, did not present at the tasting) is the Gaia Thalassitis 2013 Santorini, Greece ($23.95). Made by the skillful hands of Yiannis Paraskevopoulos who makes the wine at Gaia Estate in Nemea and teaches oenology at the University of Athens, Thalassitis is often a little more tame than the above-mentioned wines. In this case it’s notably reductive off the top (flinty-matchstick notes) and very tightly wound on the palate with ripping acids and firm, tart, lightly tannic texture. A fine wine, best after 2016 I’d say, and should hold a dozen years in all without any stretch.

Crete

“2013 is considered by the island’s winemakers to be the best vintage in the last 20 years. In spite of the early harvest, the growing season was characterized by a stable, constant rate of grape maturity due to spring winds and moderate summer temperatures.” NWOG Harvest Report

Nikos Douloufakis is the third generation to make wine at the family estate in the village of Dafnes, a few kilometers south of Heraklion on north facing, undulating hills. The focus here is on indigenous grapes, though winemaking is clean and modern, and price/quality is excellent. The Douloufakis Femina 2013, PGI Crete, Greece ($14.95) made from malvasia is not a particularly complex wine, but is explosively aromatic, with crunchy, zesty green fruit and plenty of floral-orange blossom notes. Hard to believe this comes from Crete; it would be equally at home in Northern Italy, stylistically. A perfect match for spicy Asian fare.

Nikos Douloufakis and John Szabo in vineyards, Dafnes, Crete

Nikos Douloufakis and John Szabo in vineyards, Dafnes, Crete

A richer and more “serious” wine from Douloufakis is the Dafnios White 2013, PGI Crete, Greece ($18.95) made from 100% vidiano, one of the top white varieties on the Island. The 2013 is a fine, fruity unoaked wine that runs in the same style spectrum as, say, viognier, substantially flavoured and very ripe, with mostly yellow orchard fruit and some mango-guava-papaya tropical fruit flavours. Drink this over the short term.

Mantinia (Peloponnese)

“This year’s harvest yielded very good results for Moschofilero, although production was down 20-30% because of frost damage that occurred near the end of April. Early results indicate this year’s vintage will have excellent aromatic potential with good structure.” – NWOG Harvest Report

It took Yiannis Tselepos ten years of careful observation before deciding to establish his vineyards on the eastern foothills of Mt. Parnon on the plateau of Mantinia in 1989. He consistently produces one of the top wines in this sought-after appellation. Overnight skin contact for the Tselepos 2013 Mantinia Moschofilero, Greece ($19.95) extracts maximum aromatics, though this is anything but rustic. The 2013 is one of Tselepos’ best, wonderfully fresh and fragrant, floral and fruity in the typical moschophilero fashion, with zesty acids and mid-weight palate. Enjoy now or hold short term – this is best fresh.

Domaine Spiropoulos, Mantinia

Domaine Spiropoulos, Mantinia

The Spiropoulos family, with ties to the wine industry stretching back to the 19th century, is another top grower in Mantinia. The Domaine Spiropoulos Mantinia 2013, Peloponnese, Greece ($16.95) is made from all-estate grown moschofilero, organically farmed, and has a pale pink tinge, reflective of the dark skins of fully ripe moschofilero (like pinot gris when ripe. The palate shines with its vibrant fruity flavours in a fairly substantial and weighty expression (though still just 12.5% alcohol).

Northern Greece

Ktima Biblia Chora 2013 Assyrtico / Sauvignon, Greece ($22.95) The Biblia Chora Estate was established in 1998 by two well known winemakers, Vassilis Tsaktsarlis and Vangelis Gerovassiliou, who developed their model organic vineyard of 140 hectares at the foot of Mount Pangeon in Kokkinochori, Kavala (northeastern Greece). Assyrtiko and sauvignon blanc are common blending partners in this region, the former adding depth and structure and the latter adding its perfume and zest. The palate is rich and explosive, deep and flavourful, with tremendous intensity and length. Terrific stuff here, with evident concentration.

 

Angelos Iatridis, Alpha Estate, Amyndeon

Angelos Iatridis, Alpha Estate, Amyndeon

Alpha Estate 2013 Axia Malagouzia, PGI Florina, Greece ($17.95) Alpha Estate is likewise a partnership between two wine industry veterans, viticulturist Makis Mavridis and oenologist Angelos Iatridis, who, after years of consulting winemaking experience in various parts of Greece, chose the Amyndeon appellation (central-northwest Greece in the regional unit of Florina) to create his own wine. The 2013 Malagouzia is the best yet from the estate, offering all of the lovely rich, ripe fruit in the tropical spectrum that the variety is capable of, with a generous, plush texture and very good length. This will appeal to fans of generously proportioned and aromatic whites like viognier, with a little more of a cool and fresh acid kick. (The 2012 is currently in VINTAGES).

And the Reds…

And for those who can’t do without red, here are a couple of currently available standouts to track down:

Boutari 2008 Grande Reserve Naoussa, Greece ($16.95)

Alpha Estate 2009 Syrah / Merlot / Xinomavro, Macedonia, Greece ($32.50)

Thymiopoulos Vineyards Yn Kai Oupavós Xinomavro 2010, Unfiltered, Naoussa

Domaine Karydas Naoussa 2009, Dop Naoussa

Katogi Averoff 2008, Metsovo

 

That’s all for now. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Time-lapse & group shots from The National Wine Awards of Canada 2014

We held our National Wine Awards of Canada in Penticton British Columbia June 21st to 25th.   We used a GoPro in time-lapse mode to record the set up of the back room.   What you are witnessing is the set up of over 4,000 bottles of wine over a 24 hour period.

WineAlign Judges & Staff, Penticton, BC, June 2014

WineAlign Judges and Staff, Penticton, BC, June 2014

Herding Cats

Herding Cats

Group Hug

Close knit group

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