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The International Pinot Noir Celebration

Opening The Doors of Perception
By Treve Ring

There’s a place where all devout pinot-philes go. No – it’s not heaven (the golden slopes of Burgundy) or hell (where MegaPurple flows from the faucets).

It’s the International Pinot Noir Celebration, colloquially IPNC, and widely recognized as the one annual pinot noir event to not miss. Affectionately and affirmably a Celebration (rather than a conference, forum, festival or event), the festive July event brings consumers, winemakers, sommeliers and pinot fans from around the globe to the campus of Linfield College in McMinneville, Oregon, for weekend of sharing and learning.

Linfield College at dusk

Linfield College at dusk

The historic school, an easy one hour drive southwest of Portland and in the heart of the Willamette Valley, has become the traditional home of IPNC, a fitting venue for the scholarly seminars, proximity to vineyards and convenient accommodation in dorms for the hundreds of attendees from around the world.

The 2014 edition marked the IPNC’s 28th year, and major plans are already in the works for 2015’s event which will celebrate the 50th anniversary of pinot noir in the Willamette Valley. During this year’s gathering, next year’s anniversary discussions were as hot as the temperatures (hovering around 30C).

Fitting Plate for IPNC

Fitting Plate for IPNC

The vision of IPNC began, as many good ideas do, over wine. In late 1985, an informal group of like-minded Oregon wine geeks, winemakers, restaurateurs and retailers envisioned a premier wine event, to be held in the core of Oregon wine country. The first event was held in 1987, and it has grown and matured each year since.

In 2014, the weekend welcomed approximately 800 registered attendees, including more than 140 representatives from 73 featured wineries. For Sunday evening’s main event, the legendary Northwest Salmon Bake, hundreds more arrive, many with stocked coolers in tow, for this long-standing gastronomic feast – one of America’s top dinners.

It’s worth repeating that this is not your average consumer event; the knowledge level of attendees, service staff (all sommeliers) and presenters is extremely high. Past speakers have included Jancis Robinson, Robert Parker, Michael Broadbent, Dominique Lafon and more luminaries.

This year featured one such luminary who needs no introduction to this column.  Honourary WineAlign member, Dr. Jamie Goode, – who judged with us at the National Wine Awards of Canada in June – moderated the Grand Seminar, investigating the theme of Pinot Noir and the Doors of Perception. It’s a topic of particular interest to me, as a wine journalist trying to clearly articulate my thoughts on wine in a way that readers, amateur and advanced, can relate to. If I write apples and someone else tastes pears, are we off page? Or is my apple, his pear? Is my ‘juicy and grippy’ her ‘acidic and tannic’? Is this the conversation we should even be having?

Perceiving Pinot with Jamie Goode

Perceiving Pinot with Jamie Goode

Turns out I’m not the only one grappling with these thoughts, as Dr. Goode, one of the world’s leading wine journalists, admitted to the same questions himself. He skillfully introduced a shining panel of professionals from around the world who each described how they relate wines that speak to them. I was particularly interested in hearing Elaine Brown, the award-winning wine-writing philosopher and poet behind the popular Hawk Hakawaka Wine Reviews website. She expresses tasting notes as hand drawings, expressing how wines affect her through visuals, rather than words. Can art be something we can all relate to, rather than fruit, or tannin, or acid, or other geeky wine vocabulary? Are there ways I can improve on sharing the message about a wine?

Black Tasting Glasses

Black Tasting Glasses

That’s just one example of how my wine world expanded at IPNC. A University of Pinot seminar on Loire Valley Pinot Noir led by newly pinned Master Sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier was outstanding. The lauded somm of New York’s Michelin-starred pinnacle for vin naturel, Rouge Tomate was born and raised in the Loire, and her understanding of the region, and the characterful wines made sustainably and authentically was fascinating.

Similarly, a seminar with Dr. Jordi Ballester about The Aroma of Colour was a fantastic learning adventure A sensory scientist at the Université de Bourgogne, Dijon, he has devoted his academic career to exploring the question of how does one smell colour. The group were presented with wines in black glasses, and had to determine which was white, red and rose – a task much trickier than it sounds! Fortunately, I nailed the tasting (I credit the wine judging circuit) but most of the people in the room faltered. A fascinating experience illustrating how much our eyes perceive what we taste.

As mentioned, the grand Salmon Bake is the culmination of a full schedule of seminars, walk about tastings, lunches, discoveries and connections. That Saturday evening, as I feasted on an alfresco buffet of wild salmon roasted on alder stakes, local vegetables, salads, breads and too much more deliciousness to remember (all prepared by respected Oregon chefs), I clinked glasses with new and old friends and tasted dozens of wines from the IPNC library and personal cellars from around the globe. I was struck by the fact that we all came together to enjoy, rather Celebrate, pinot noir. Sometimes words, pictures, visuals, tasting notes and specs aren’t important – we were all united for our love of wine.

Salmon Bake Feast

Salmon Bake Feast

The 2015 International Pinot Noir Celebration will be held July 24-26, and will be an extra special event marking 50 years of growing pinot noir in the Willamette.

~ Treve

This year 73 pinot noir producers were featured, hailing from Alsace, Argentina, Burgundy, California, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Oregon, Washington plus one from Canada – Mission Hill Family Estate.

The following dozen pinot picks are from tastings over past year (including medalists from the 2014 National Wine Awards of Canada).

Domaine Vincent Delaporte Sancerre Rouge 2011, Sancerre, Loire

CedarCreek Estate Winery Rosé 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Haywire Canyonview Pinot Noir 2011, Okanagan Valley

Matello Wines Cuvee Lazarus Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Domaine Vincent Delaporte Sancerre Rouge 2011, Sancerre, Loire CedarCreek Estate Winery Rosé 2013Haywire Canyonview Pinot Noir 2011Matello Wines Cuvee Lazarus Pinot Noir 2011   Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir 2011Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2010

Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir 2011, Martinborough

Josef Chromy Pinot Noir 2010, Tasmania

Stoneboat Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Okanagan Valley

Spierhead Pinot Noir Gentleman Farmer Vineyard 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley

Stoneboat Pinot Noir 2011Spierhead Pinot Noir Gentleman Farmer Vineyard 2012 Pegasus Bay Estate Pinot Noir 2011 Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012 Mission Hill 5 Vineyards Pinot Noir 201250th Parallel Estate Pinot Noir Rose 2013

Pegasus Bay Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Waipara

Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Mission Hill 5 Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley

50th Parallel Estate Pinot Noir Rose 2013, British Columbia

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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20 bons vins à moins de 20$ pour Août

Les choix de notre équipe du Québec

C’est bien beau, les bouteilles dispendieuses qui font vibrer d’émotion, mais au jour le jour, avec tous les autres comptes à payer par ailleurs, on a la plupart du temps envie de se faire plaisir avec de bons vins pas trop chers. Ça tombe bien ! À chaque fin de mois, nos chroniqueurs vous suggèrent 20 bonnes affaires à moins de 20 $ parmi les bouteilles qu’ils ont goûtées récemment. Santé !


Les choix de Bill Zacharkiw

La fin de l’été, vraiment ? Espérons que mère Nature a gardé quelques belles semaines en réserve pour nous. Cela dit, septembre est un mois en « r », et donc les huîtres sont de retour ! Quoi boire avec ? Un mot à 
retenir : Calcari. Élaboré par la maison Parès Baltà, ce blanc est 100 pour cent à base de xarel-lo, un cépage normalement utilisé pour le cava (mousseux espagnol). Avec sa note saline et minérale, un match parfait avec les huîtres.

On a toujours besoin de bons blancs pour accompagner les repas – d’autant que je nous prédis un automne magnifique. Pourquoi ne pas essayer quelque chose de nouveau : un blanc de la région du Dão, au Portugal. Fait à partir d’encruzado et de cercial, le très bon Quinta da Quinta da Ponte Pedrinha’s 2012 est à la fois riche et rafraîchissant. Imaginez un chardonnay léger, pour ce qui est de la texture, et prévoyez par ailleurs des moules, pour vous sustenter…

Parès Baltà Calcari Xarel Lo 2013 Quinta Da Ponte Pedrinha 2012 Domaine D'aupilhac Lou Maset 2012 Pyrène Nature Coteaux Du Quercy 2012 Castell Del Remei Gotim Bru 2010

Durant la longue fin de semaine qui s’annonce, beaucoup de gens se la couleront douce à siroter du vin sur la galerie avec des copains. À la recherche d’un bon rouge passe-partout à servir légèrement frais (16 degrés), et qui se suffira à lui-même tout en pouvant se marier à une variété de mets ? Essayez le 2012 Lou Maset from Domaine d’Aupilhac. Un vin bio, soyeux, texturé et merveilleusement aromatique. Délicieux!

Si vous souhaitez un cran plus de vigueur et de tonus, le 2012 Pyrène Nature est un assemblage de malbec, cabernet franc et merlot assez tannique mais pas du tout rugueux ni rustique. Une sorte de cahors en plus léger. Si possible, passez-le en carafe quelques heures au préalable, il n’en sera que meilleur.

Enfin, si vous recherchez un rouge qui plaira au plus grand nombre, y compris les connaisseurs, le 2010 Gotim Bru Castell Del Remei conjugue habilement la rusticité espagnole au caractère très accessible typique du Nouveau Monde. Par ici la sauce BBQ!

Les choix de Marc Chapleau

C’est, officiellement, la dernière longue fin de semaine de l’été. Snif ! Mais il n’est pas dit qu’on va laisser celui-ci partir de longs mois en restant les bras croisés… Même qu’on va déboucher à qui mieux mieux, ce week-end, oh que oui !

Quelque chose à célébrer ? À part l’été québécois, bien sûr…

Alors les bulles sont toujours de mise. Pour faire changement, et aussi et peut-être même surtout parce que le prix est très bon, on pourrait aller du côté de la Loire et du Flamme Brut Gratien & Meyer Crémant de Loire. Miellé, épicé et fruité, à la finale croquante.

Très bien également pour l’apéro, si l’on n’aime pas trop les bulles… Le Prince Philippe 2013 Bourgogne Aligoté est floral et nerveux, et plutôt léger aussi, relativement peu alcoolisé.

Gratien & Meyer Crémant De Loire Flamme Brut, Anjou Et Saumur Prince Philippe Aligoté 2013Miguel Torres Sangre De Toro 2012 Torres Gran Sangre De Toro Reserva 2010, Do CatalunyaTorres Muscat Natureo 2012

Un doublé Torrès, en rouge… Il doit être sur le marché québécois sinon depuis un siècle, du moins un sacré bout de temps. Le 2012 Sangre de Toro, à seulement 13,40 $, est un incontournable, concentré et épicé, très grenache.

Une bonne idée serait de le faire suivre de son grand frère, le 2010 Gran Sangre de Toro, auquel se greffent également du carignan et de la syrah. Plus de tout, dans ce Gran Sangre, avec en prime une tonifiante acidité. Toutes les viandes grillées, même blanches, aimeront.

Maintenant, au cas où il y aurait des femmes enceintes autour de la table, des abstèmes, ou des gens qui prennent des antibiotiques et qui croient que cela interdit d’ingurgiter la moindre goutte d’alcool…

Je n’aurais jamais cru aimer un vin sans alcool – enfin, avec seulement 0,5 pour cent d’alcool par volume. Mais voilà, le Torres 2013 Natureo Muscat 2013 est très léger, bien entendu, mais il est aussi d’une étonnante pureté et tout à fait « muscat ». Alors pourquoi pas!

Les Choix de Nadia Fournier

Élaboré par le talentueux Raúl Pérez dans sa région natale, le Joven 2011, Bierzo propose une expression délicieusement fruitée du cépage mencia. Beaucoup de caractère pour le prix et une parfaite entrée en matière pour s’initier aux vins de l’appellation Bierzo.

Issu de l’agriculture biologique et composé de monastrell (mourvèdre) à 100 %, (mourvèdre), le Luzon 2013 Organic n’est pas très complexe, mais il compense par sa présence bouche gourmande, tout en fruit et assez persistante.

El Castro De Valtuille Mencia Joven 2011 Luzon Monastrell Organic 2013 Domaine Gerovassiliou White 2013, Regional Wine Of EpanomiDomaene Gobelsburg Kamptal Riesling 2013 Domæne Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner 2013

Comme toujours, le  2013 d’Evangelos Gerovassiliou est un mariage très réussi entre la malagousia (volume et exubérance aromatique) et l’assyrtiko (vigueur et acidité). Un achat du tonnerre à ce prix.

Léger, mais loin d’être insipide, le 2013 Domaene Gobelsburg Kamptal Riesling étonne par son ampleur aromatique qui se développe tout en subtilité.

Dans le même esprit, mais un peu moins complexe et parfumé, le Gobelsburg’s 2013 Grüner Veltliner plaira à l’amateur de vin blanc archi-secs, mordants et toniques. Surtout à ce prix…

Les Choix de Rémy Charest

C’est comme un mouvement d’horlogerie. Après une bonne bourrée de temps frais, revoici la chaleur et le soleil, juste à temps pour la rentrée scolaire. Au moins, on pourra se consoler avec des blancs frais et sympathiques, pour se sentir comme si c’était encore tout à fait l’été.

Vous voulez du vin sympa (et du pas cher, parce que les dépenses de la rentrée font leur effet…)? Difficile de faire mieux que le Two Oceans 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, d’Afrique du Sud, tout beau tout frais et sans le côté caricatural de bien des vins issus de ce cépage..

Également de l’hémisphère sud, mais un peu plus à l’est, le 2013 Layers White donne aussi dans la fraîcheur et la nervosité, avec un assemblage assez inusité. 11,5% d’alcool, en prime: de la fraîcheur, et vraiment rien d’assommant.

Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Peter Lehmann Layers 2013Domaine Henri Naudin Ferrand Bourgogne Aligoté 2012Carpineto Dogajolo Rosso 2012, Igt Toscana

Je ne me lasse jamais de mon cépage-fétiche du moment, l’aligoté. Et mon exemple préféré des derniers mois est sans contredit le 2012 Bourgogne Aligoté from Domaine Naudin-Ferrand: frais, élégant, gentiment sur le citron et les fleurs blanches, avec une petite touche de rondeur et de matière pour rendre le tout encore plus agréable

Côté rouges, il faut bien un peu de fraîcheur, puisque c’est encore le beau temps, mais pas nécessairement de la légèreté seulement. Le Goatfather un étonnant assemblage issu d’Affrique du Sud, vous fera bien plaisir, de ce côté. Un Sud-Africain qui a un flair italien.

“Quoi, c’est moins de 20$, ça?” Quand on s’étonne de la sorte en cherchant des infos sur une bouteille, il faut se dire que c’est au bas mot un bon rapport qualité-prix. C’est exactement comme ça que j’ai réussi quand j’ai goûté le 2012 Dogajolo, from Carpineto, que je n’avais pas goûté depuis un petit moment. Du beau toscan qui ne se prend pas pour un autre, bon pour l’été, l’automne et la suite des choses.


La liste complète : 20 bons vins à moins de 20$

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 grands vins!


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20 under $20 for August

Monthly picks from our Quebec Critic Team

Ah yes, the end of the month. It’s the time when we pay for our excesses over the previous weeks. Well, fear not, this doesn’t mean that you still can’t drink well. Our four critics have chosen for you their favourite five under $20 wines that they have recently tasted. No cash? Still thirsty? No problem! Here’s August’s version of the 20 under 20.


Marc Chapleau’s picks

It’s officially the last long weekend of the summer. Sniff! But we aren’t going to idly standby with our arm’s crossed and watch the summer pass by. Even better, let’s open a few great bottles this weekend.

Do you have anything to celebrate aside from summer in Quebec?

Bubbles are always an excellent choice. For a change of pace, and especially considering the price, look to the Loire and the Flamme Brut Gratien & Meyer Crémant de Loire. Honey, spice, loaded with fruit, and a refreshing, almost crunchy finish.

If you are not interested in bubbles, another great option for an aperitif is the Prince Philippe 2013 Bourgogne Aligoté. Floral, edgy and with its relatively low alcohol, nice and light.

Gratien & Meyer Crémant De Loire Flamme Brut, Anjou Et Saumur Prince Philippe Aligoté 2013, BourgogneMiguel Torres Sangre De Toro 2012 Torres Gran Sangre De Toro Reserva 2010, Do CatalunyaTorres Muscat Natureo 2012

I have a few choices from the Spanish winery, Torres. It seems like this wine has been in the Quebec market forever. The 2012 Sangre de Toro, at just over $13, is a must. Great concentration and spice – so very garnacha.

A interesting idea would be to follow that wine by its big brother, the 2010 Gran Sangre de Toro, where the addition of carignan and syrah add a little more bite. As a plus, because of its refreshing acidity, it makes an ideal pairing for any grilled meat, even white meats.

Now, if there are any pregnant women, those who abstain from drinking, or simply those who are taking a night off, Torres also has your wine. I never thought I would like a wine without alcohol – it’s actually 0.5% but let’s round it down to zero – and while the Torres 2013 Natureo Muscat 2013 is obviously light, it shows a remarkable purity and is indeed, very “muscat.” So why not?

Nadia Fournier’s selections

Made by the talented Raúl Pérez in the region of his birthplace, the Joven 2011, Bierzo offers up a wonderfully fruity expression of the mencia grape. A ton of character for the price, this is a great initiation to the wines of the region.

Made with organically grown grapes and entirely with monastrell (mourvèdre), the Luzon 2013 Organic isn’t the most complex wine, but more than makes up for that with its rich mouthfeel – all fruit and with great length.

El Castro De Valtuille Mencia Joven 2011 Luzon Monastrell Organic 2013 Domaine Gerovassiliou White 2013, Regional Wine Of EpanomiDomaene Gobelsburg Kamptal Riesling 2013 Domæne Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner 2013

As always, the 2013 white from Evangelos Gerovassiliou is a superb marriage between malagousia, which brings volume and aromatics, and assyrtiko (fruit and acidity). An easy purchase for the price.

Light, but far from insipid, the 2013 Domaene Gobelsburg Kamptal Riesling has remarkable aromatics for such a subtle and delicate wine.

In the same spirit, but perhaps a touch less complex and aromatic, Gobelsburg’s 2013 Grüner Veltliner will please those wine lovers who love very dry, biting and uber-refreshing wines. Especially at this price.

Bill Zacharkiw’s picks

One last blast of summer? Let’s hope that Mother Nature has a few good weeks left for us. But my favourite thing about September is that it is an ‘R’ month, and that means oyster season is back! And what to drink? One word – Calcari. Made by Parès Baltà this is 100% xarel-lo, a grape normally used for making Cava. The salty mineral note is a perfect match.

We still need our dinner whites. I’m very optimistic about a beautiful Autumn. So try something new – a white wine from Portugal’s Dão region. Made with encruzado and cercial, Quinta da Ponte Pedrinha’s 2012 is a beautiful mix of fresh and rich. Think a light chardonnay in texture and mussels for your belly.

Parès Baltà Calcari Xarel Lo 2013 Quinta Da Ponte Pedrinha 2012 Domaine D'aupilhac Lou Maset 2012, Coteaux Du Languedoc Pyrène Nature Coteaux Du Quercy 2012 Castell Del Remei Gotim Bru 2010, Do Costers Del Segre

With the Labour day weekend coming up, there will be a lot of sitting around on balconies drinking wine with friends. Need festive reds that are best served at 16C, that will drink well on their own but also at the table? Try the 2012 Lou Maset from Domaine d’Aupilhac. Organic, silky, textured and wonderfully aromatic. Delicious.

If you want a touch more torque, the 2012 Pyrène Nature is a blend of malbec, cabernet franc and merlot that has some good tannin, but doesn’t get at all heavy. A Cahors-light might be a good description. Give this a few hours in a carafe to get the most out of it.

And finally, if you are looking for a red that will satisfy a broad cross-section of palates, the 2010 Gotim Bru from Castell Del Remei is a great mix of Spanish rusticity and New World ease. Bring on the BBQ sauce.

Rémy Charest’s choices

It’s like magic, isn’t it? Cool weather is followed by a hot and sunny spell… just as school is starting again. Oh, well, at least there’s some light white wines for the evenings to make you feel like it’s still 100% summer.

All those extra going back to school expenses are giving you the blues? Well, here’s an under-$12 white to make you feel better: the Two Oceans 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, from South Africa. It’s crisp and fresh, and not a caricature of the grape, like so many other examples from the southern hemisphere.

Also from the southern hemisphere, but just a bit further east, the 2013 Layers White from Peter Lehmann is also on the fresh and vivacious side of things, with a rather unusual blend of varieties. It’s also got a very moderate 11.5% alcohol, so you get freshness and an evening drink without regretting it in the morning.

Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Peter Lehmann Layers 2013Domaine Henri Naudin Ferrand Bourgogne Aligoté 2012Fairview Estates The Goatfather 2012Carpineto Dogajolo Rosso 2012, Igt Toscana


I just can’t get enough Aligoté, these days. And my favorite bottle from the last few months has been the 2012 Bourgogne Aligoté from Domaine Naudin-Ferrand. It’s fresh and elegant, nicely showing citrus and white flowers, with just enough roundness and substance to make it all the more pleasant. More, please!

On the red side of things, a little freshness is always welcome, wince there’s still a little heat in the air, but that doesn’t mean the wines should only be light. The Goatfather a surprising blend from South Africa, will bring the best of both worlds together, on that account. South African wine with Italian flair.

“That’s under 20 bucks? Really?” When you’re so pleasantly surprised, as you look up a wine, you should take it as a really good sign. And that’s exactly how I felt after tasting the 2012 Dogajolo, from Carpineto, which I hadn’t come across in a little while. A pleasant Tuscan red that doesn’t think too highly of itself, good for summer, autumn and… beyond.

Cheers !

The complete list: 20 under $20 for August

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to Chacun son vin 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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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 30th – Part Two

Pacific Northwest in Passing & Other Critic’s Picks
by David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo MS

David New 2014

David Lawrason

Nothing sparks a wine critic quite like a discussion of scoring wines, but I am personally so tired of the debate after 30 years of critiquing wine, that I find little energy for it. Last week John Szabo hit all the right high points and low points about VINTAGES selection of 90-point wines on this release. I will only add that one of the reasons I love WineAlign is that it’s the only website/publication I know that attempts to let readers align their palates to several expert opinions at once. Scores are nothing if not numerical opinions, and you need to choose who you “Follow”.

I am charged today with focusing on the secondary theme of the release – the Pacific Northwest. VINTAGES focuses only on Oregon and Washington, and misses a great opportunity to include more than two wines from British Columbia – which is of course geographically, culturally and vinously very much in synch with its neighbouring states to the south. The southern Okanagan Valley is actually the northern finger of the Sonoran Desert that cradles the best wines of eastern Washington. The choice of grapes and their stylistic outcome is very similar indeed, and across the entire PNW there is a great spirit of newness, exploration and a brightness in the wines that is defined by higher acidity than achieved in warmer California.

I hold great personal fondness for the northwest – being Vancouver-born and still having strong family ties on Vancouver Island. Some of my closest and dearest friends are from B.C. as well, some of whom I have met through countless visits to Okanagan wine country. I am a bit less familiar with Oregon but I have visited twice, and Washington three times. So when I say I am disappointed by the wines on this release, and VINTAGES general lack of attention to PNW over the years, I do so with a real sense of loss and frustration.

Part of the problem is the price of the wines. VINTAGES is very much stuck in a groove of offering most of its wines just under the $20 mark. Sure, they go over that where a region naturally commands a higher average price, but when a region is less well established they get even more cautious. PNW wines on average are not cheap, so in order to get tax-bloated wines on shelf here at $20 they start scraping the bottom of the commercial PNW barrel. Which is why I do not ‘flag’ any very good buys among the four whites on offer (although John does highlight the Elk Cove Pinot Gris). The reds are a bit more interesting and last week I did give a nod to the A to Z Pinot Noir from Oregon and also like Innocent Bystander Pinot. This week, I’ll add in the Ecole 41 Cabernet Sauvignon (see below).  But that’s about it, until next time, perhaps three years from now, when VINTAGES decides to focus its low wattage spotlight on the region.

Meanwhile, there are many other great buys on shelf Saturday (in some stores sooner). Last week we gave you a long list, and here we three chime in with even more – aligning at times as we go.

White & Sparkling Wines

Blue Mountain 2012  Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, B.C. ($23.95)
David Lawrason – I can’t think of another B.C. winery doing such consistently fine work in recent vintages. The root of its success is the well-established, organically tended vineyard near Okanagan Falls in mid-valley. To me this ideal chardonnay and pinot country, and fine winemaking by the Mavety family that shows restraint and true respect for the terroir is pushing Blue Mountain to the top.
John Szabo – Blue Mountain has been cranking out superb wines across the board in the last couple of vintages, and must be counted among BC’s most reliable (and solid value) names. This is judiciously oaked, savoury and spicy chardonnay, more focused on mature notes rather than simple primary fruit, with much of the enjoyment coming from the layered texture. Best 2014-2018

Elk Cove 2013 Pinot Gris Willamette Valley, Oregon ($24.95)
John Szabo – Forty years make Elk Cove one of the most experienced wineries in Oregon (est. 1974), practicing genuinely sustainable production since long before it became fashionable. But what counts here is what’s in the bottle: a richly flavoured, mineral-inflected, substantial and complex pinot gris made with evident care and ambition. This has the stuffing to get even more interesting over time.

Schloss Reinhartshausen 2012 Hattenheimer Wisselbrunnen Riesling Kabinett Rheingau, Germany ($20.95)
David Lawrason – This venerable, large estate in the Rheingau often sends us brilliant mature rieslings. But they can do ‘young’ very well too. This is super fresh, off dry, lovely riesling with lifted apricot/honeydew melon fruit, gentle spice and a touch of petrol and minerality. Ideal for a late summer’s evening.

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2012 Elk Cove Pinot Gris 2013 Schloss Reinhartshausen Hattenheimer Wisselbrunnen Riesling Kabinett 2012 Clos Marguerite Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Laurent Perrier Brut Champagne

Clos Marguerite 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, New Zealand ($21.95)
John Szabo – The small family winery of Belgian couple Jean-Charles Van Hove and Marguerite Dubois stood out for me when traveling through New Zealand last year. I appreciated then, as now, the evident density and extract, flavour concentration and length of their wines, not to mention the restrained mid old-new world styling. The cooler Awatere Valley sub-region of Marlborough lends its distinctively zesty character to this example, well worth a look by fans of serious sauvignon blanc from anywhere. Best 2014-2018.

Laurent Perrier Brut Champagne, France ($63.95)
Sara d’Amato – I was quite dazzled by this classic Laurent Perrier Cuvée that can easily to stand up to many of the big name Champagnes (and high prices) of this TIFF-inspired release. Save yourself the big bucks and enjoy big names on the silver screen instead.
David Lawrason – This too was my favourite TIFFer Champagne. And you can buy five bottles for the price of one Cristal, or buy one and spend the extra $220 on theatre tickets.

Rose & Reds

Mas Des Bressades 2013 Cuvée Tradition Rosé, Costières De Nîmes, Rhône, France ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – The 2013 Mas Des Bressades proves once again to be one of the best value rosés at the LCBO. This ever charming rosé is dry, generous in fruit and offers plenty of lovely garrigue of the Southern Rhône.

L’Ecole 41 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Situated in a rural schoolhouse this is one of the pioneering wines of Walla Walla, a region that straddles the Washington/Oregon border and produces some quite magnificent Bordeaux-variety reds. This less expensive edition casts a wider net sourcing from the much larger Columbia Valley AVA. It is a solid, authentic cabernet at a very good price, and particularly good value from Washington.

Porcupine Ridge 2012 Syrah/Viognier, Swartland, South Africa ($16.95)
John Szabo – Mark Kent (of Boekenhoutskloof) has had enormous success with the Porcupine Ridge brand, and it’s easy to see why, even if the measured dose of coffee-chocolate wood flavour isn’t usually my cup of tea. But one can’t argue with the length, depth and pleasure that exceed expectations for the price category. Another fine value from the up-and-coming Swartland region that drinks well now, but personally I’d like to see it in 2-3 years. Best 2014-2019.

Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Rosé 2013 L'ecole 41 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Porcupine Ridge Syrah Viognier 2012 Chilensis Lazuli 2011 Domaine Jean Bousquet Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Chilensis 2011 Lazuli, Maule Valley, Chile ($17.95)
David Lawrason – Named after Chile’s famous turquoise stone – lapus lazuli – this is a well managed blend of six grapes led by cabernet, with all the other Bordeaux varieties, plus a dollop of syrah. That may account for its complexity. But its sense of finesse is, I think, reflective of the slightly cooler aspect of the Maule Valley about 300 kms south of Santiago. In any event, I was taken with the balance and lighter touch here.

Domaine Jean Bousquet 2012  Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Tupungato Valley, Uco Valley, Argentina ($14.95)
John Szabo – The wines grown in the high vineyards of Tupungato are increasingly distinguishing themselves from those of lower, flatter, hotter Mendoza. This is fine, and savoury, characterful and well-balanced cabernet with plenty of flavour for the money. Best 2014-2018.

Casa Brancaia 2011 Tre,  Tuscany, Italy ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Tre encapsulates modern Tuscany, as an entity onto itself. It draws grapes from three vineyards in both the Classico zone and southerly Maremma. It uses three grape varieties, with sangiovese leading at 80% plus cabernet and merlot. And it combines all these elements into an artful wine that is both refined and lively, hitting excellent length without being at all ponderous.

Xavier 2010 Côtes Du Rhône, Rhône Valley, France ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – This project by consultant oenologist Xavier Vignon hailing from the Southern Rhône is impressive at first sip. A finely crafted crowd-pleaser – fleshy and well balanced with an abundance of fruit and a voluptuous mouthfeel (not to mention great packaging).

Brancaia Tre 2011Xavier Côtes Du Rhone 2010 Montresor Capitel Della Crosara Valpolicella Ripasso 2011Domaine Des Amouriers Signature Vacqueyras 2011 Marziano Abbona Pressenda Barolo 2008

Montresor 2011 Capitel Della Crosara Valpolicella Ripasso, Veneto, Italy ($18.95)
David Lawrason – I struggle to enjoy and define what passes for ripasso these days. The lines and the quality between ‘basic’ Valpolicella, ripasso and amarone are blurring. Then along comes a fine, more traditional, slightly firm (less soupy) ripasso that gives me back my bearings. Very fragrant, balanced and delicious.

Domaine Des Amouriers 2011 Signature Vacqueyras, Rhône Valley, France ($24.95)
David Lawrason – The 2011 vintage was not the most opulent or concentrated in the southern Rhône, and indeed this does seem a bit ‘lighter’. But it still carries the richer ambiance of Vacqueyras, it is balanced and hits all the high notes with pepper, licorice, dried herbs. The Polish Chudzikiewicz  family has farmed the 25-ha site since 1900, with fourth generation Igor converting the site to organic viticulture this year.

Marziano Abbona 2008 Pressenda Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($52.95)
David Lawrason – I have to be stirred fairly deeply to include a $50 Barolo as a value; but this mature, very elegant, complex example is everything I look for in this famous wine. So often we hear and write about Barolo’s needing time, having great potential etc. etc.  But this one is ready to drink, and should be put on the shopping list of anyone who has been wanting to go to school on Barolo.

And that’s the ballgame for this week. One of the greatest and busiest weekends of the year is coming up. We hope you get to enjoy it with a fine meal and bottle of wine or two. We return in September with a full slate of Buyers Guides to VINTAGES releases, to the LCBO General List, and with a special Ontario Wine Report that will highlight the very best from Niagara, PEC and Lake Erie that we have encountered at the National Wine Awards of Canada and elsewhere.

Until next time!


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES August 30th release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
August 30th Part One – Southern France

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!


Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2012

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Le dégustateur et son ombre

Hors des sentiers battus
par Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

Je sors des sentiers battus, cette semaine, en ce sens qu’on va aborder un sujet sinon tabou, du moins dont on ne parle pas souvent : l’instinct de possession de l’amateur de vin, son identification aux bouteilles qu’il possède et qu’il entrepose religieusement dans son cellier.

Autrement dit, mettons que j’apporte un Château Palmer 2000 chez des amis pour souper, alors je suis Château Palmer 2000.

Et gare à vos fesses si vous dites du mal de moi !

J’ai pensé à cela récemment, en écoutant à la radio une entrevue donnée par Edgar Fruitier.

Ce grand mélomane et fin connaisseur parlait de « sa » musique, « sa » symphonie, « son » orchestre et de tel ou tel disque parmi les milliers de sa collection. L’intervieweur, gentiment, le rappelle à l’ordre : « Vous dites “ma” musique, mais ce n’est pas la vôtre, vous ne l’avez pas composée et vous ne la jouez pas non plus… »

Edgar Fruitier de répliquer: « Non, c’est composé par Untel et joué par tel orchestre ou instrumentiste, je vous le concède, mais ça demeure “ma” musique ! D’ailleurs, écoutez… c’est beau, non ? »

Pareil pour nous. Apporter une bouteille après l’avoir mûrement sélectionnée, la partager, c’est dans notre esprit comme mettre notre sceau dessus, comme en garantir la qualité.

Les amateurs de tout poil — et peut-être encore plus les passionnés de fraîche date, à l’enthousiasme débordant — ont déjà ressenti cela : l’impression, quand le vin qu’on a apporté à une dégustation ou à une soirée se fait contre toute attente descendre en flammes, d’être soi-même mis sur le bûcher… Dieu qu’on en fait une affaire personnelle. Comme si c’était nous qui avions fait le vin !

Mais voilà, quand on l’achète, qu’on la chérit et qu’on la bichonne durant des années, la bouteille devient effectivement nôtre, elle fait pour ainsi dire partie de nous. Après tout, elle était dans mon cellier, c’est moi qui l’ai apportée, moi qui vous l’offre…

Alors quand ça va mal à table, quand notre vin déçoit, c’est comme si le cheval qu’on présentait à une course et sur lequel on invitait tout le monde à miser s’avérait au bout du compte une picouille. Pas même foutue de galoper, ou pire encore, qui ne sait que trottiner à reculons… Le comble, c’est que même si le cheval est perdant, même s’il est, je ne sais pas moi, bouchonné ou fatigué, l’amour est aveugle et, donc, on le défend bec et ongles.

On voudrait tellement qu’il brille. Et que la tablée au complet nous aime, par ricochet : « Wow ! Quel beau cadeau tu nous fais là ! T’as raison, il est superbe, ton vin. »

Je ne suis pas pour autant en train de dire qu’il faut se défaire de cette attitude possessive.

Quoique… oui, dans le cas des buveurs d’étiquettes. J’ai d’ailleurs plus d’une fois refusé de prendre part à des dégustations soi-disant de prestige parce que je savais qu’il y aurait des label drinkers à table, souvent fortunés, et que ces gens-là, plus encore que tous les autres, détestent qu’on émette le moindre bémol sur leurs vins. Or comme j’ai une grande gueule…

Mais sinon, s’identifier à ses bouteilles, développer une sensibilité maladive à leur égard, c’est loin d’être une mauvaise chose. J’ai même l’impression que ça fait partie intégrante du jeu.

Edgar Fruitier a bien raison : tous autant qu’ils sont bien au frais dans nos caves, et même élaborés par tel vigneron ou telle maison, ce sont « nos » vins, « nos » bébés et d’ailleurs, goûtez… ils sont bons, non ?

Ton meilleur vin, aubergiste !

Trêve de réflexions. Voici, parmi les vins que j’ai eus l’occasion de boire récemment et qui sont encore disponibles à la SAQ, quelques belles bouteilles auxquelles, perso, je m’identifierais volontiers ;-)

En blanc, le Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco Haberle 2012 d’une région encore méconnue, qui sort, elle aussi, des sentiers battus : l’Alto Adige, le Tyrol italien, près de l’Autriche. Puissant et fin.

Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco Haberle 2012 Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2009 Domaine Chanson Pernand Vergelesses Premier Cru 2011 Château Montus Cuvée Prestige 2009

En rouge, Le Grand Vin 2009 Osoyoos-Larose, l’un des meilleurs Le Grand Vin qu’il m’ait été donné de goûter jusqu’ici. Puis le Domaine Chanson Pernand Vergelesses Premier Cru 2011, minéral, d’une belle pureté de fruit. Le Chateau Montus Cuvee Prestige 2009, à la texture bien serrée. Le Domaine Grand Veneur Les Origines Chateauneuf-Du-Pape 2010, à la fois élégant et très généreux. Et le Masi Costasera Amarone Classico 2009, épicé et complexe.

Domaine Grand Veneur Les Origines Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010 Masi Costasera Amarone Classico 2009 Quinta Do Noval Unfiltred Late Bottled Vintage 2007 Messias Colheita 1994

Du côté des vins sucrés, à prendre au dessert, au fromage ou au milieu de l’après-midi comme en fin de soirée, j’ai bien aimé le Quinta Do Noval Unfiltered LBV 2007, qui sent super bon la mûre et la réglisse, ainsi que le Messias Colheita 1994, à la texture veloutée et à l’acidité bien présente.

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 Aug 30th – Part One

Head-Scratching 90-point wines, and more importantly, Smart Buys
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

It’s time again for the yearly 90+ point wine release at LCBO-VINTAGES [yawn]. It used to cause so much excitement, including those frenzied pre-dawn lineups on Saturday morning as buyers scrambled to get their allocations of top-scoring bottles like limited concert tickets. Now, it seems to slide languidly by more like a late summer stream, eddying lazily under the weeping willows, barely causing a stir.

You can be forgiven for thinking that a 90-point score means little these days, especially when presented as virtually all retailers, including the LCBO, do. The basic protocol is to scour planetary archives for the highest score for whatever’s on sale, and drop it into the catalogue without context as though there were some international treaty defining the meaning of the 100-point scale. Anybody’s review is fair game, credible or not, only stopping short at repurposing reviews from Look long enough, and eventually you’ll find the number you’re looking for.

93 point, $13.95 grüner vetliner? I’m sure even the producer is scratching his head at that one. There are plenty of competent, well made wines in this release (like that grüner), but it would be a supreme hot yoga stretch to count them in the very top echelon of wines made around the world, as a 90+ rating would imply, at least in my context.

Ultimately this approach is a disservice to consumers. It distorts reality and sets up untenable expectations, and makes it impossible to sort out the good from the really and truly excellent. The 100-point scale loses the only value it has, which is a measure of one reviewer’s preference, within his or her relative context, and as a simple way of sorting out thousands of options to arrive at a starting point. And when scores become completely meaningless, what will those retailers do?

But rather than flog the scoring issue more than I already have, we’ll focus this report instead – like all WineAlign reports – on a handful of wines that David, Sara and I think are worth your attention, and more importantly, money, including a handful of particularly good pinot noirs in this release. You can decide what score, if any, is applicable.

Next week David will turn the spotlight on the Pacific Northwest, and BC in particular.

Buyer’s Guide LCBO-Vintages August 30th 2014: Smart Buys

New World Pinot Noir

The New World, and the Southern Hemisphere come up big in this release. Three emerging classic regions south of the equator are worth investigating, and Niagara also shows its quality, versatility, and value.

Waipara Hills Pinot Noir 2012Schubert Block B Pinot Noir 2011Schubert Block B 2011 Pinot Noir, Wairarapa, New Zealand ($55.95)
John Szabo – Schubert is one of the leaders in Wairarapa (Martinborough), and this pinot shows the depth and spiciness of which the region is capable. Although not inexpensive, to borrow a quote from Allen Meadows (, in the world of pinot “you don’t always get what you pay for, but you never get what you don’t pay for”. I can easily picture the low-yielding vines and small bunches from this naturally un-generous region (in the best, qualitative sense). This is an excellent, concentrated, very masculine pinot. Best 2016-2023.

Waipara Hills 2012 Pinot NoirCentral Otago, New Zealand ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Waipara Hills winery is on the east coast north of Christchurch; but the grapes for this wine are from Central Otago, about six hours by car farther south and inland.  The pinots achieve considerable ripeness here in this semi-arid region, showing cherry jam, a certain juiciness and warmth, and richness. This shows the style well.
Sara d’Amato – Central Otago’s distinctive power and aromatic impact is most distinctively represented in this savory Waipara Hills. Violets and spice make their way to the lush and fruity palate which remains bright and buoyant.

Innocent Bystander 2012 Pinot NoirYarra Valley, Australia ($21.95)
John Szabo – Yarra is firmly on the map as a source of excellent pinot noir, and this example from Innocent Bystander, their entry range (Giant Steps is the top, and also excellent range) is perfectly zesty and lively, spicy and fresh, all raspberry and strawberry, nicely capturing the spirit of the region at a very fair price. Best now-2017.

Familia Schroeder 2012 Saurus Select Pinot NoirPatagonia, Argentina ($19.95)
John Szabo – During my last trip to Argentina Patagonia stood out as the country’s most exciting region, especially if seeking more balanced, fresher wines. Although this is undoubtedly a full-bodied and concentrated wine, ripe and extracted relative to Innocent Bystander’s version, I do appreciate the purity and density of fruit. For fans of New World-style pinot in any case. Best 2014-2018
Sara d’Amato – A modern, but cool climate, new world style of pinot noir from the southern tip of Argentina. This generous pinot delivers a great deal of impact and impressive complexity for the price.

A To Z Wineworks 2012 Pinot Noir, Oregon USA ( $24.95)
David Lawrason – Pinot lovers knows that Oregon is an international frontrunner. To me the style nestles between California and BC which of course makes sense geographically as Oregon’s Willamette Valley lies at 45 degrees latitude. A to Z  has grown out of the Rex Hill Winery property as the vision of Oregon pinot veterans who wanted to make more affordable pinot (a noble pursuit in a region where high prices prevail)  This is not perfect but it delivers the spirit of Oregon pinot well – some weight and ripeness without the jaminess of California.

Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir 2012 Familia Schroeder Saurus Select Pinot Noir 2012 A To Z Wineworks Pinot Noir 2012 Fog Head Highland Series Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 Sperling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012

Fog Head 2012 Highland Series Reserve Pinot Noir, Monterey County, California, USA ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Between the influence of the fog and the cooler vintage, this savory, aromatic pinot noir seems to hit all the right notes. Cherry blossom, ginger, a touch of dried leaf – this compelling wine of good length is certainly a steal.

Sperling Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($27.95)
David Lawrason – The slopes on the east and west sides of the lake near Kelowna are, in my mind, prime pinot country in BC. The Sperling site is farther “inland’  and higher altitude, producing a lighter, tighter, leaner pinot style, that is still based on a “hot rock-lava”minerality I have come to pick up in this region.  Riveting, mouthwatering wine that should age very well. Sara d’Amato – Sperling’s home vineyard site in the Okanagan is home to this expressive and world-class pinot with both freshness and impact. Modern, stylish but well endowed with classic pinot charm.

Local Pinot

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Old Vines Pinot Noir 2010Rosewood Select Pinot Noir 2012Rosewood Select Series 2012 Pinot Noir, Niagara Escarpment ($21.95)
John Szabo – Of the two local pinots I recommend this week, Rosewood’s represents the light and delicate, feminine side of the grape, also in the dusty, savoury and earthy flavour spectrum. I think this style works well for Niagara, especially at the price. Think savoury Côte de Beaune style. Best 2014-2017.
Sara d’Amato -This premium series pinot noir from meadery Rosewood Estate is an impressive feat of complexity, depth and compelling texture. Long and elegant and featuring notes of exotic spice, bramble and cherry.

Château Des Charmes 2010 Estate Bottled Old Vines Pinot NoirNiagara-on-the-Lake ($18.95)
John Szabo – Compared to the Rosewood pinot, CdC’s is decidedly meaty, firm and tannic, reflective of this warmer corner of Niagara and the typical sort of rustic profile I often find in St. David’s Bench pinot. I’d let this unwind for another year or two for maximum enjoyment. Best 2015-2020.

Sparkling, White and Red

Graham Beck Brut Rosé Méthode Cap Classique, Western Cape, South Africa ($20.95)
John Szabo – This is a terrific value for money from Graham Beck, delivering substantial red berry and toasty brioche flavours in a complex ensemble.

Gaston Chiquet Brut Rosé, Champagne, France (54.95)
David Lawrason – This 23 hectare family property has delivered a quite delicate well balance pink Champagne. It is based predominantly on pinot meunier, the third cousin red grape of the region, with some pinot noir. Although not a high-strung, acid driven Champagne it does deliver gentle red fruit flavours with some charm and tenderness. Please don’t over chill this mild-mannered wine.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve Champagne, France ($64.95)
David Lawrason – This famous house delivers real finesse in its Champagnes.  It is light, elegant and racy with mature aromas of straw, honey, pear custard and spice. Very refined with great length.

Graham Beck Brut Rosé, Méthode Cap Classique Gaston Chiquet Brut Rosé Champagne Billecart Salmon Brut Réserve Champagne Evening Land Seven Springs Chardonnay 2011 Stags' Leap Winery Viognier 2013

Evening Land 2011 Seven Springs ChardonnayEola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($58.95)
John Szabo – From the vineyard of the same name and made by Canadian Isabelle Meunier (formerly assistant winemaker at Le Clos Jordanne in Niagara) under the consultancy of Dominique Lafon, this is a stellar wine, even if from relatively young vines. I love the salty, tangy, savoury profile fully shifted into the tertiary phase (i.e. not simply fruity), and wonderful textured – an authentic terroir expression. Best 2014-2021.

Stags’ Leap Winery 2013 Viognier Napa Valley, California ($34.95)
John Szabo – One of the best viogniers from this storied estate that I’ve had – the wines seem to get better here every year under Christophe Paubert. It would make a cracking match with Vietnamese dishes inflected with basil and a touch of heat. Best 2014-2019.

De Buxy Buissonnier 2011 Montagny 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($19.95)
David Lawrason – I’ve always been a fan of tender, fruity chardonnays of Montagny, a village in the Chalonnais blessed with a seam of limestone soil. This is a classic Burgundy chardonnay with pure apple, grapefruit and just a touch oak spice.

Domaine Le Verger 2012 Chablis, France ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Great value here in a basic but quite exciting taut, firm mouthwatering Chablis, just what I expect from chardonnay grown around the sleepy village in northern France.  No oak; just mouth-watering acidity and Chablis’s certain stoniness.

Domaine Cauhapé 2013 Chant Des Vignes Dry Jurancon, France ($16.95)
John Szabo – Looking for something different? Try this original wine from southwest France made from gros and petit manseng. It’s more fruity than floral, and more stony than fruity, yet with most of the action on the palate. Density and weight are great for the money, and length is also impressive. Cauhapé is a reference for the region. Best 2014-2018.

De Buxy Buissonnier Montagny 1er Cru 2011 Domaine Le Verger Chablis 2012 Domaine Cauhapé Chant Des Vignes Dry Jurancon 2013 Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2012

Creekside 2013 Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc, Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95)
John Szabo – Creekside has made a specialty of sauvignon blanc, and this 2013 from the vineyard behind the estate (the “Backyard”) delivers fine intensity and depth. It sits on the riper side of the spectrum, more guava and passion fruit than green herbs and asparagus, with lovely fleshy orchard fruit on the palate.

Penfolds 2012 Bin 128 Shiraz Coonawarra, South Australia ($34.95)
John Szabo – It would be hard to imagine a more consistent company than Penfolds, and the Bin 128, created in 1962 to reflect cooler, spicy Coonawarra shiraz, has just about everything one could want at the price. French oak, which replaced American from the 1980 vintage onward, contributes to making this a relatively restrained and elegant example, albeit definitely dense and concentrated. Best 2014-2022.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Aug 30th:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
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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BC Critics’ Picks August 2014

Our monthly BC Critics’ Picks column is the place to find recent recommendations from our intrepid and curious BC critics, wines that cross geographical boundaries, toe traditional style lines and may push limits – without being tied to price or distribution through BCLDB or VQA stores. All are currently available for sale in BC.

Focusing on the WineAlign World Wine Awards

This week the BC WineAlign team has invaded Toronto, convening with colleagues from across the country to judge the World Wine Awards of Canada (WWAC14). This competition is open to wines from any country (Canada included), as long as they’re sold some where on Canadian soil. We’ve divided the categories by grapes, and also by price point (under $15, $15-25, $25 and up) so we can compare apples to apples, or more correctly, merlot to merlot.

Tasting the wines by grape(s) and price point allows us to taste wines fairly in the company of their contemporaries. While price is not always an accurate reflector of quality, it is how the vast majority select the wines they’re going to purchase. Our job this week is to find the best wines in each category – be it a viognier over $25 or a pinot noir under $15. We’re here to separate the wheat from the chaff, and make shopping and drinking decisions easier. By the end of the week, each winning wine will have been tasted blind at least a dozen times and by all the judges to ensure that it’s worthy of top place in this competition.

To be clear, we are not yet revealing the winners from the 2014 judging. But as we’re lining up our palates to taste these international flights, we’ve been reflecting on the strengths from past competitions and our predictions for this year’s competition. Follow along on twitter at #WWAC14 to see how this year’s competition unfolds in the days ahead.

Cheers, Treve Ring

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

One of the privileges of being head judge of the Wine Align World Wine Awards is you get to see what goes in each and every flight, watching wines progress through flights taking on all comers and judges to become a Category Champion or Judges Choice. There are always pleasant surprises every year and then there are wineries that have proven themselves year after year to become dependable go to labels for almost any occasion.

Mission Hill Martin's Lane Riesling 2012Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2012Robert Mondavi Fumé BlancRobert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012 is one such wine, and the 2012 vintage as good as any in recent memory. Robert Mondavi wasn’t getting the attention for his sauvignon blanc he thought it deserved back in the 1980s so he looked to the French Loire Valley standard ‘Pouilly Fumé’ and came up with the Fumé Blanc moniker and the rest as they say is history.

Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay is another wine that needs little introduction. Once an advertisement for oak barrels this wine has evolved into a serious bottle of chardonnay and the 2012 vintage proves that Australian chardonnay deserves your attention, and respect.

Respected, and proven names in the wine world separately, Okanagan Valley’s Mission Hill Family Estate and German Rheinhessen star Fritz Hasselbach have come together to collaborate on the Martin’s Lane project bringing another layer of complexity to British Columbia riesling. Juicy and refined the Martin’s Lane 2013 Riesling is sure to continue to turn heads.

DJ Kearney

Trivento Reserve Cabernet Malbec 2012Glen Carlou Grand Classique Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2010Florina Alpha Estate Turtles Vineyard Syrah 2008The World Wine awards are such a treat and pleasure to judge. There are always joys and hidden gems like the best Greek wine at last year’s awards, Averoff’s 2008 Xinomavro from Naoussa. I also really admire the wine from Alpha Estates in the north western fringes of Amyndeon, an impressive and ambitious project with fine vineyard land, a striking modern winery and state of the art equipment. Their single vineyard syrah is distinctive and the 2008 vintage is on the BCLDB shelves.  A little age has integrated a bold amount of oak very nicely.

A South African wine that never fails to delight is Glen Carlou’s Grand Classique.  The current release in BC is the 2010 and it manages to taste as Bordeaux-like as ever, yet full of ripe and forward fruit.

Trivento’s Golden Cabernet Sauvignon underscores an important truth:  the cabernets are doing well in Mendoza. Full-bodied and fruit packed, it’s a lot of wine for the price. These three wines were some of my palate tune-ups for the judging.

Rhys Pender MW

Montresor Capitel Della Crosara Valpolicella Ripasso 2011Cono Sur Single Vineyard Rulos Alto Block 23 2013Devil's Lair The Hidden Cave Chardonnay 2013Chardonnay is successful at awards in many different styles but trends are changing in the world. The days of over oaked, buttery monsters is largely gone (thankfully with a few hanging on because sometimes we just really want these wines) and a new version of chardonnay built around restraint is the next generation. The Devil’s Lair 2013 The Hidden Cave Chardonnay is a good example of this.

Another grape successful around the world is riesling. You might not associate Chile with the grape, but there is some serious stuff coming out of the cool climate southern Bio Bio region. The Cono Sur 2013 Single Vineyard Block No. 23 Rulos del Alto Riesling is one I recommend trying to taste some of Bio Bio’s extreme, pristine fruit.

Italy always turns up some winners in the competition in a huge variety of styles. For a good combination of fruitiness and some earthy Euro-ness, try the Montresor 2011 Capitel della Crosara Valpolicella Ripasso.

Treve Ring

As I mentioned in my introduction, we sift through over the 1100 wines entered this week to find consumers the best wines in each category. Looking back over last year’s WWAC results, it’s pretty evident that our thorough judging system, checks and balances, works.

Warre’s 10 Year Old Otima PortUnsworth Vineyards Rose 2012Trapiche Pure Malbec 2012In the Under $15 category, Trapiche Malbec Reserve 2012 took top honours for Best of Variety. I’m hopeful that we’ll run into the Trapiche Pure Malbec 2012 this week – a fantastic example of adventuresome winemaking using wild yeasts, concrete vats and sourced from high altitude vineyards in the foothills of the Andes.

In the $15-25 group, Vancouver Island’s Unsworth Rosé proved a hometown hero and took a Judge’s Choice Award. Let’s hope the streak continues with the 2013 vintage, a fresh, dry marine influenced pinot noir rosé.

It’s a shame that more people don’t drink fortified wines on a regular basis. Don’t be mortified about fortified! Especially when you have a wine like last year’s $25+ Fortified Category award winner, the Warre’s Otima 10 Year Old Tawny Port. This contemporary tawny is from a classic and highly reputed house, spends an average of a decade aging in cask, with some parts of the blend upwards of 40 years old. A steal.


Check out our BC team’s value-focused Top 20 under $20 in early September, along with my special Back to School report on Wine Education in BC.


Treve Ring

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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South Africa in The Spotlight Part Two: Getting Cooler

South Africa in The Spotlight: Part Two

Part one of the series last week makes the pitch for South Africa as one of the most exciting countries in the world of wine, and examines the Swartland region and its top producers. This entry covers the cool Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

Regions to Watch: The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (“heaven and earth”) is technically three separate wards within the district of Walker Bay: there’s the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley itself as well as the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, and Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, as you move inland from the seaside town of Hermanus. There are currently eleven wineries in the valley and 14 grape growers, and growing.

The coast by Hermanus, Walker Bay

The coast by Hermanus, Walker Bay

This is pinot noir and chardonnay territory par excellence, cooled by breezes off the Atlantic Ocean, which in turn are chilled by the icy Benguela current that surges up from Antarctica and bounces off the Cape. Soils vary greatly, but follow the general South African pattern of variations on shale, sandstone and granite. The clay content, however, heavier at either end of the valley but lower in the middle, regulates the relative weight of pinot noirs, Anthony Hamilton Russell tells me. “The middle part of the valley [the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde] will always make lighter and delicate pinots”, he says, while more clay equates to fuller bodied and more structured examples.

Anthony’s father Tim Hamilton Russell was the first to plant vines in Walker Bay, although it wasn’t known then as Walker Bay. Travelling frequently to his holiday home in the old seaside fishing town of Hermanus, he was struck by the possibility of winegrowing in this cool maritime region. At the time it was outside of any official demarcated wine growing areas, and the pinot, chardonnay and sauvignon that Hamilton Russell made in the mid-eighties was labeled simply as “Western Cape Red/White Wine” without mention of region or grape.

Eventually the government would create the Walker Bay District, but it is a very large area with vastly different soils and micro climates, and so without logical coherence. It was then broken up five years ago into five wards: the Standford Valley, Bot River Valley, and the three Hemel-en-Aarde wards. “It’s been a commercially difficult transition, as the appellation is a mouthful to be sure, whereas Walker Bay is known and easy” says Hamilton Russell.

The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley with the Atlantic in the distance, seen from Newton Johnson Vineyards

The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley with the Atlantic in the distance, seen from Newton Johnson Vineyards

Early challenges in the region included a lack of good plant material. The first clone of pinot noir available in South Africa was the Swiss Wadenswill clone, better suited to sparkling wine production in cool climates, and evidently not ideal for the Cape. “One of the frustrations for pinot noir producers in this country is that we’re in the minority” laments Bevan Newton Johnson of Newton Johnson Vineyards. “Nurseries are much better equipped to respond to the demands of cabernet, merlot and shiraz producers. We’d send in orders but there was no incentive to offer quality clones. They knew we’d have to take what was available”.

Better clonal material such as the Dijon clones would eventually arrive, but another ongoing problem is endemic leaf roll virus. Most vineyards have to be replanted every dozen or so years, meaning that many vines may never reach their maximum quality potential.

Yet challenges aside, the wines from the Hemel-en-Aarde have a finesse and elegance unknown elsewhere in South Africa, and I suspect this little piece of heaven and earth will soon be much better-known both domestically and internationally.

The Hemel-en-Aarde Producers to Know 

Anthony Hamilton Russell in his beautiful Canadian beaver pelt fedora

Anthony Hamilton Russell in his beautiful Canadian beaver pelt fedora

Hamilton-Russell. Little intro is needed here; Hamilton Russell is the original and still the gold standard for the region. The wines are all class, like Anthony Hamilton Russell himself, an English aristocrat who happens to be South African. Watch out for the turtles roaming the gardens in front of Braemar, the home of Anthony & Olive Hamilton Russell. The very good Southern Right and Asbourne labels are also produced by the Hamilton Russell team.

Newton Johnson Vineyards. This is a gorgeous spot in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde with a view to the coast down the Valley. It’s very much a family affair, with father Dave Newton Johnson a Cape Wine Master with thirty years experience in the business, and sons Gordon (winemaking) and Bevan (Managing Director, marketing).

Prior to settingling in the valley, Dave worked at Distell, South Africa’s largest wine company. But pinot noir was always his passion, and he used to drag his kids up to Walker Bay to see Peter Finlayson (former winemaker at Hamilton Russell before launching his own winery, Bouchard Finlayson, with a group of 18 investors including Paul Bouchard from Burgundy) to taste pinot. Pinot noir was, after all, Dave’s dissertation topic in the 1980s for his Master’s degree, a time when very little was known about the grape in South Africa.

Bevan (left) and Gordon Newton Johnson

Bevan (left) and Gordon Newton Johnson

He eventually purchased land in the area in the late 1990s and was joined by his sons; the purpose was clear: to focus on pinot noir. They started from scratch and have since planted sixteen hectares over the years 2002-2004. Chardonnay, sauvignon and the Rhône varieties play supporting roles.

Lunch at Newton Johnson (pork belly is all the rage in South Africa, too)

Lunch at Newton Johnson (pork belly is all the rage in South Africa, too)

Overall, the wines at Newton Johnson are pristine and perfumed, finely crafted, elegant, with a minimum of extraction and emphasis on elegance, precisely what the lighter soils in this middle section of the valley are best suited to produce. Research and experimentation continues. “Nobody has more than 30 years experience growing pinot in South Africa. We have so much to learn”, Bevan reveals.

As an aside, the restaurant at Newton Johnson is one of the finest in the Cape and certainly Michelin star-quality. Don’t miss a chance to dine here if you find yourself in the area.

Creation Wines. Husband and wife team Jean-Claude (JC) and Carolyn Martin run this tidy operation in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge ward. The couple started from the ground up, converting a sheep farm under the imposing Babylon Mountain peak to vineyards in 2002, and following that with a cellar and restaurant in 2007. This part of the valley is about ten kilometers from the sea and at 300m elevation. And the climate is notably more continental: “midnight is always 12ºC cooler than the daytime high” JC tells me, and “harvest is two weeks later than the lower part of the Valley”.

Jean-Claude Martin, Creation Wines

Jean-Claude Martin, Creation Wines

More clay surfaces here amidst the 450 million-year-old Bokkersfeld shale soils, as it does lower down, favouring more structured wines. The Martins have forty hectares planted principally to pinot noir, with a mix of other varieties including chardonnay, syrah and grenache. 

Over lunch we’re treated to a first hand dose of Ridge weather. From calm, hot and sunny on arrival, within a matter of minutes a large front moves in from the north. Weather events hit here about a day after they move through Stellenbosch and Paarl as fronts curl around the cape and head up the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. The wind picks up and guest quickly scurry inside as the restaurant staff scrambles to lower umbrellas and close the sliding doors. Rain is imminent. The weather can change here in five minutes.

Carolyn Martin, Creation Wines, with her fancy double decanting device

Carolyn Martin, Creation Wines, with her fancy double decanting device

Safely inside, we sit down to a well-orchestrated wine and food pairing. Correctly speaking, Creation doesn’t have a restaurant, I’m told, but rather a “degustation room”. Carolyn is emphatic about ensuring that everything works to highlight the wines. On the menu, every dish is accompanied by a wine – in fact ordering food without wine is frowned upon (there’s a separate playroom for children – a brilliant idea that should be emulated the world over in my view – so that the adults can play in peace). Carolyn works daily with the chef, fine tuning dishes to pair with Creation wines, and everything is expertly done with love and care, down to proper serving temperature (reds are served cool) and double decanting wines when necessary. We have an excellent experience.

JC, who is of Swiss-French origin, is no less precise on the winemaking side. These are skillfully crafted and widely appealing wines, to the point that one almost wishes for a hair to be out of place. But there isn’t – every bottle is neatly coloured within the lines, a reasonable feat considering a production of 200,000 bottles under the Creation label, and another 150,000 bottles under the Whale Pod, made mostly from purchased fruit “and bits and pieces” of estate fruit. There are three tiers: Creation Estate, Creation Reserve, and the two top wines labeled “The Art of Chardonnay” and “The Art of Pinot Noir”. And JC tells me that his clones of pinot noir are virus-free, unlike the majority in the valley, meaning that as they age the full potential of Hemel-en-Aarde terroir may be revealed.

Also Noteworthy:

Peter Finlayson

Peter Finlayson

Sumaridge. A quality producer in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, owned by the Bellingham Turner family. Chardonnays here are a little denser and riper than the average in the region. Look also for the excellent “Epitome” cuvée, a shiraz-pinotage blend reminiscent of the southern Rhône.

Bouchard Finlayson. Although quality is highly variable from wine to wine and vintage to vintage, the estate is worth a mention as one of the longest-established in the region after Hamilton Russell, where Peter Finlayson was winemaker until the early 1990s. The 2007 and 2011 Galpin Peak pinot noir are among the best I’ve tasted from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, while the Overberg unoaked chardonnay is also worth a look.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Part One: Revolution in the Swartland; Buyer’s guide to South African Wines

Bad cop, good cop - Québec journalist Jessica harnois and Laurel Keenan of Wines of South Africa

Bad cop, good cop – Québec journalist Jessica Harnois and Laurel Keenan of Wines of South Africa

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New at the LCBO for August

The latest general listings & current features
by Steve Thurlow with selections from Sara d’Amato

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

It may sometimes seem as though nothing really changes at the LCBO – the most popular wines are always there. But in fact new wines are constantly being added to the General List to replace wines that fail to achieve sales targets or have been removed or “delisted” for other reasons. This keeps the current number of wines available at around 1500. Over the last couple of months we have tasted about 50 new arrivals and have chosen 13 of them to highlight for you.

To check on inventory at your local LCBO set up your Favourite Store in Find Wine. You can find our complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great value wines!

Reds and a Rosé

Radio Boka Tempranillo 2012, Valencia, Spain $11.00

A midweight balanced tempranillo red from Spain’s eastern region; should be great with a rack of lamb.

Sella & Mosca Rosato 2013, Alghero, Sardinia, Italy $11.65

A deep salmon pink rose with lots of flavour, made from the cannonau or grenache grape grown throughout this Mediterranean island.

Tons De Duorum Red 2011, Douro Valley, Portugal $12.30

An excellent BBQ red; fruity, flavourful with some structure. The new wave of reds from Portugal’s port country offer some of the best values today.

Radio Boka Tempranillo 2012Sella & Mosca Rosato 2013Tons De Duorum Red 2011Vina Leyda Reserva Pinot Noir 2012

Vina Leyda Reserva Pinot Noir 2012, Leyda Valley, Chile $12.50

A soft fragrant, juicy and very flavourful pinot noir from the exciting, new cool coastal Leyda Valley.

Pessoa Da Vinha Reserva Douro 2010 Portugal $12.70

Exceptional value for a fragrant structured dense fruity red. Another great Douro buy.

Castel Freres Haury Grenache Petite Edition 2011, Vin De France $12.70

A generous, supple, spicy and flavourful grenache from the generic Vin de France appellation.

Pessoa Da Vinha Reserva Douro 2010Castel Freres Haury Grenache Petite Edition 2011Wakefield Promised Land Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Figuero Tinto 4 Tempranillo 2012

Wakefield Promised Land Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 South Australia $14.85

A soft vibrant juicy cabernet. Loads of flavour here.

Figuero Tinto 4 Tempranillo 2012 Ribera del Duero, Spain $17.75

A great price for a classy elegant red for fine dining.

Whites and a Sparkling

Periquita White 2013, Portugal $8.80

A fruity fragrant white made from indigenous Portuguese grape varieties, that is ideal for mildly flavoured seafood.

Laroche Viognier De La Chevaliere 2013 Pays D’Oc France $12.70

A rich powerful viognier – the queen of the Rhone whites varieties – with strong aromas and flavours.

Winzer Krems Sandgrube 13 Grüner Veltliner 2013 Kremstal, Austria $12.80

A good entry-level gruner – Austria’s signature white – with a typical white pepper spice tone to nose and palate.

Periquita White 2013Laroche Viognier De La Chevaliere 2013Winzer Krems Sandgrube 13 Grüner Veltliner 2013Cavas Hill 1887 BrutSilver Bay Riesling Gewurztraminer 2013

Cavas Hill 1887 Brut, Penedes, Spain $13.20

Bright, cheerful and dry sparkling Spanish Cava with a lightness befitting the warmer months.

Silver Bay Riesling Gewurztraminer 2013 VQA Ontario $13.95

New from the Speck brothers of Henry of Pelham fame, this is a fruity, fresh and fun, rather simple but with good varietal character in an elegant beachy package.


Feel free to share your feedback on these wines or on any of your favourties. We’ll be back in a few weeks time with our Top 20 Under $20. In the meanwhile  if you still need picks, check our my list of Top 50 wine values by dipping into the Top 50 LCBO and Vintages Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste.

Steve Thurlow


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Spirits to Sing About

The Spirits Review
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

For another man it would be a hard act to follow. When Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Sammy Hagar expanded his repertoire to launch Cabo Wabo tequila he struck it rich, very rich. The brand was inspired by his Cabo Wabo nightclub which opened in 1990 in Cabos San Lucas. It’s a rocking party place that’s a must go for everyone who visits the Baja California peninsula in Mexico.

Said Hagar, “Cabo Wabo is a lifestyle. Something that requires only a willingness to enjoy your life and embrace all that makes you happy.” And oh boy do people party there, I can attest.

Cabo Wabo Tequila was born in 1996 on the back roads of Guadalajara when Hagar went searching for a tequila exceptional enough to serve inside his cantina in Cabo San Lucas. He partnered with a tequila-making family with over 80 years of experience where the agave used to make Cabo Wabo is grown, cultivated and harvested by this same family.

In May, 2007 Hagar sold an 80% interest in Cabo Wabo Tequila to Gruppo Campari, the world’s sixth-largest spirits company, for $80 million. In in 2010, Sammy Hagar sold his remaining 20% stake in Cabo Wabo to Campari for $11 million.

Sammy's Beach Bar RumThat’s a pretty profit. The 66 year old now ranks among the highest-net-worth rock stars. So what’s he doing now? For act two in the spirit world, he’s launched a rum from Maui, Hawaii called Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum. Distilled from two year old Maui Gold Sugar Cane using unique column stills it’s bound to be a success.

When I asked Hagar, the multi-platinum former front man of hard rock champions Van Halen, if he was going to write a rum song, he said “After Mas Tequila, it’s a hard act to follow.” (Cabo Wabo Cantina was where the video for the 1999 hit song “Mas Tequila” from the Red Voodoo album was filmed.) I’m not sure I believe him. His next acts seem as strong if not stronger than the previous ones.

I had the pleasure to meet the fun loving Hagar in Toronto during his promotional tour for the launch of his rum in Canada. He quipped, “When you work for me it’s mandatory to drink.” Where do I sign up? For more on him go to:

Hagar’s right on target with today’s tastes. All deluxe white spirits are trending up: rum, vodka and gin.

Barbancourt 5 Stars 8 Year Old Reserve takes pride in producing rum from sugar cane juice instead of molasses which is the norm. Barbancourt rum produced in Haiti since 1862 is double distilled in pot stills and aged in French Limousin oak barrels. This well-aged version is lovely.

Appleton Estate ReserveRhum Barbancourt 5 Stars 8 Yo Special ReserveAppleton Estate Reserve rum is a smooth, full and flavoursome rum. Visiting the estate itself is more on the rough side. The distillery is in the picturesque Nassau Valley in St. Elizabeth in the interior of the island. Almost as soon as we left the protective walls of the Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall (our base on the island), we were in what I like to call the un-sanitized Caribbean.

The narrow, twisting road had a raging case of potholes, with sharp edges that slashed at our tires (and did manage to puncture one). The verdant countryside was teaming with life: huge bamboo groves, towering palms, fruit trees of all sorts and fields of agricultural crops. Amidst the green were houses – many wood shacks in colourful shades of robin egg blue, chartreuse, bright yellow and the like with corrugated zinc roofs; others imposing cement McMansions with several storey’s either completed or in the works and not yet painted. Cows, goats and chickens scurried about the yards.

Along with schools, each town we passed had its share of churches, largely Seventh-day Adventist and charismatic types where singing and dancing are part of the service. Beside just about every church was a rum bar, many painted with the slogan “Show me the Wray”. (Wray and Nephew Ltd own Appleton Distillery.) “We like to sooth both spirits,” explained Joy Spence, master blender at Appleton.

This colourful countryside was a captivating prelude to our Appleton Tour and almost before we knew it we had arrived. Joy met us and began our tour by taking us up the hillside to gaze upon the over 4,000 hectares of sugar cane fields owned by the distillery. These fields supply the entire base product needed for Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum. This single estate in a small circumscribed geographic area makes Appleton one of the few rum brands in the world to claim a “terroir”.

And the “terroir” of the Nassau Valley is unique. The valley’s fertile fields enjoy a regular afternoon rain shower and warm sunshine – the optimum conditions to grow sugar cane – a giant grass belonging to the genus saccharum. The valley is also part of Jamaica’s world famous Cockpit Country, a Karst formation which was formed over millions of years. (Karst is a generic name given to limestone that has been eroded by the chemical action of rain.)  There are just three Cockpit Karst formations in the world; the others are in Montenegro and China. The hilly landscape looks like an egg carton turned upside down.

Once the cane is harvested, it’s brought to the factory where the sugar manufacturing process begins. Animals are not encouraged to go anywhere near this factory. We saw a sign that proclaimed “Goats will be shot, cows impounded.” When asked about that, Joy replied with a laugh, “Jamaicans like curry goat a lot more than beef.”

The cane is washed, chopped and milled to extract the cane’s sweet juice. The juice that is extracted is boiled to make a syrup. The fibres (bagasse) that are left behind after the juice is extracted are used to fuel the factory’s boilers. Sugar crystals are spun out of the syrup and molasses is left; the latter is what’s used to make rum.

Ten tons of sugar cane makes one ton of sugar and 0.4 tons of molasses. From that 30 cases of rum can be made.

As part of the tour we got to grind the juice out of some sugar cane and sample the result. We also tasted the syrupy mixture of sugar crystals and molasses. We toured the distillation area with its pot stills and continuous stills; a hot part of the plant filled with the aromas of molasses. We cooled down in the aging cellar, stacked with old barrels and intriguing smells of its own.  Then of course it was time to sip the range of rums. Joy called her seminar “The Joy of Rum” no pun intended.

We learned that sugar cane was brought from Papua New Guinea to the Caribbean in 1493 by Christopher Columbus. The first documented rum production at Appleton was in 1749. By 1893 there were 148 distilleries in Jamaica producing 73 million litres of rum. In 2011 there were just six distilleries left but they manage to produce 20.5 million litres.

Bacardi AñejoAppleton Estate VXThe secret to many exceptional rums is blending- a creative step that demands a true artist of the palate. Master Blender, Joy Spence, the first woman to be appointed Master Blender in the world, uses many different types and styles of rum to create each blend that has the Appleton Jamaica Rum name. Pot still rums are more aromatic and flavourful. Continuous still rums have subtle fruit notes and lightness. Aging in former American bourbon barrels adds notes of vanilla, coffee and toasted almond. Joy can pick from 240,000 barrels of aging rum at Appleton.

Of the Appleton rums available in Canada, the best all-rounder is Appleton Estate V/X, the flagship brand of the rum family.

Bacardi Anejo has a soft open style and light bronze hue. On a recent trip to Puerto Rico I visited the Bacardi rum distillery. The company’s free distillery tour in San Juan includes two drinks per person so no surprise that it draws crowds from morning to closing. The Puerto Rico distillery goes 24/7 and produces 100,000 gallons of rum a day from imported molasses. Bacardi was founded by Don Facundo Bacardí Massó in Cuba in 1862. Now the largest privately held, family-owned spirits company in the world, it set up distilleries in other countries (including in Brampton, Ontario) after the Cuban Revolution.

Let’s all sing to the success of rums throughout the world. Maybe if we pen the right words or create the perfect spirit we’ll make a fortune. If not, at least we’ll be happy.


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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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008