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A Warming Winter Red – by David Lawrason

Sogrape Vila Regia Reserve 2006

Sogrape Vila Regia Reserve 2006

Every once in a while in day to day tastings of new wines and new vintages at the LCBO I find something that far exceeds expectations.  Recently it was a Portuguese red from the large Sogrape firm, called Vila Regia 2006 Reserva, an amazing buy at $12.50. I have rated it 89 points. Like so many peers from the Douro Valley and elsewhere in Portugal it packs terrific complexity and depth for the money.  Sometimes Portugese reds can be too tannic and ragged but this one is nicely balanced.  What’s more it’s a classic mid-winter red that will sit easily with roasts, stews, pastas – you name it.  If you haven’t explored Portuguese reds for awhile spend some time with WineAlign search.  Under Wine, enter Red, Other Red or Touriga Nacional. Under Country: Portugal or click here.  Cheers!

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Vintages Preview for Feb 6th Release (First-In-Line eReport) – by John Szabo

John Szabo, MS

The feature this week is “north of 90”, wines that have scored 90 points or better somewhere in the world. There are many cynics out there who’ll say that if you submit your wines to enough reviewers, sooner or later you’ll hit the magic number (or get a gold medal at a competition somewhere). And the truth of the matter is, they’re probably right. So how much value can you place on these scores? The answer is, ça depend.

Reviewers taste wines in a hundred and one situations: alone, in groups, blind, open, in silence or with discussion, with the winemaker standing and watching over expectantly, with food or without, in one sip or many over the course of an evening, in a hotel room or a dining room, in summer on a patio or in winter by the fireplace. Most of the time, you don’t know the context and conditions under which the wine was reviewed and scored. This makes the apparent accuracy implied by a precise numerical score a little spurious to say the least. Some tasters are more prone to shifting judgment, while many experienced tasters do a pretty good job at filtering out all of the outside influences. The better and more consistent the reviewer, the more reliable the reviews.

The point to take away is that is pays to get to know the reviewer. By following someone for a even a short while, you’ll quickly learn who is consistent and who is less so, and most importantly, with which reviewers you tend to agree the majority of the time.  That is the brilliance of the WineAlign concept. With a few cross comparisons of reviews, you can easily find the reviewer who’s tastes line up with yours. I was recently approached by a couple of long time FIL subscribers who said to me “we are completely in step on virtually all wines, but we disagree on one major point: the use of wood”. Fair enough I say. I don’t like woody wines, this couple did. We can still be friends. They can now also interpret my ratings based on this knowledge, so that if I score a wine lower because of excessive wood (in my opinion), they can likely bank on enjoying it. In the same way, I’ll almost always enjoy a Parker 88 point wine over the 92, because I’ve done the comparisons. All you need do is pick up a couple of bottles from each release, taste them, then compare what Rod Phillips, David Lawrason or I or anyone else from WineAlign had to say. Whose impressions most closely matched with yours? After several comparisons it’ll become more and more clear with whom you ‘align’, and you can set up your account preferences (Palate Profiler) to reflect this rating preferential, and filter on the wines most relevant to you.

On consistency, nearly all, and occasionally 100% of the wines reviewed for the Vintages releases are evaluated in the exact same context, at least I can speak for WineAlign’s reviews. It’s not very romantic in the LCBO laboratory. It’s white, it’s brightly lit; there’s an almost clinical, antiseptic atmosphere. No soft lighting, comfortable chairs, background sultry jazz, amiable conversation or scents of savoury goodies emanating from the kitchen. Wines are lined up side by side like convicts awaiting their turn in front of firing squad. Each taster goes through (mostly complete silence) making his or her notes and ratings, at their own pace. Discussion is strongly discouraged. Glassware is all the same (the LCBO provides ISO glasses). The only thing missing is the lab coat. It’s about as far from the average setting in which wine is enjoyed as you can get. But that’s the point. Believe me, we are not there for laughs, but to work, in concentrated silence to find the best. Every wine gets the same treatment. Let’s call it communist wine tasting (in it’s pure, theoretical form): no favoritism or influence, other than the personal history and experience that each reviewer brings to the room. Under these conditions, any wine that edges into the highly recommended, gold medal, 90+ category deserves a look. Even more so if a majority of reviewers draw the same conclusion independently.

Last week while in Chile, David Lawrason approached me after a tasting at a winery in the beautiful Elquí Valley and said: “I can’t help when tasting but to think about how these wines would fair in the context of the LCBO lab at a vintages release”. Strangely enough, I was thinking the exact same thing at that moment. Even in these stunning surroundings, with an affable winemaker passionately sharing his production techniques, as soon as the nose hits the glass, you’re transported back to that bleak whitewashed laboratory. Bloody hell, that’s a curse not a gift. We concluded that our results would not be much, if different at all. So much for the romance of the Elquí Valley.  David’s been doing this for considerably longer than I have and I consider him to be one of the most consistent tasters around. So no surprise that the standard context in which he does much of his reviewing would impose itself in as far flung a setting as northern Chile on the edge of a dessert. It’s becomes second nature, much like the ‘zone’ that a professional athlete gets into, able to exclude the screaming opposition fans at an away game. That’s what I mean by experience leading to greater consistency, and hence reliability of reviews. Everybody is entitled to an opinion, and anyone who can count to one hundred can rate a wine. But reliability is the key that I would look for in a reviewer.

All in all, in this release I found 24 wines in the 90+ range, that’s close to ¼ of the release which is an unusually high percentage. And no, I was not in a particularly buoyant mood. There are some fine wines here. But of course, it’s up to you to decide whether you agree or not. And I’m sure you can figure out what best to pour for your own Valentine’s sweetie.

Top Ten Smart Buys:
1. 2006 WYNNS COONAWARRA ESTATE CABERNET SAUVIGNON
Coonawarra, South Australia 92pts $24.95 ***
2. 2008 LAMMERSHOEK CHENIN BLANC
WO Swartland 91pts $18.95 ***
3. 2008 CONCHA Y TORO TRIO RESERVA CHARDONNAY/PINOT GRIGIO/PINOT BLANC
Casablanca Valley 89pts $12.95 ***
4. 2007 CHÂTEAU SAINT-ROCH CHIMÈRES
AC Côtes du Roussillon-Villages, Midi 91pts $19.95 ***
5. 2007 THELEMA SUTHERLAND CHARDONNAY
WO Elgin 91pts $19.95 ***
6. 2007 ALTA VISTA ATEMPORAL ASSEMBLAGE
Mendoza 91pts $19.95 ***
7. 2008 OMAKA SPRINGS PINOT GRIS
Marlborough, South Island 90pts $17.95 ***
8. 2006 JUAN GIL TINTO
DO Jumilla 90pts $21.95 ***
9. 2008 TERREDORA LOGGIA DELLA SERRA GRECO DI TUFO DOCG,
Campania 89pts $19.95 ***
10. 2007 LE SECRET DES CAPITELLES SAINT-CHINIAN
AC 88pts  $14.95 ***

To see all of my reviews click here.

Cheers,


John Szabo, MS

PS: advanced apologies for the February 20th Vintages release.  Due to a conflict with the media tasting day at the LCBO, reviews will not be posted until February 18th instead of the usual full week’s advance. Sorry for the inconvenience.

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Annual Wines of Chile Awards: Canadian Critics Choose Chile’s Top Wines – By John Szabo

John Szabo, MS

All Winners Revealed Below

The seventh Annual Wines of Chile Awards competition wrapped up in Santiago last week. It’s the principal annual tasting to determine the country’s best wines, and I was happy to take part along with a delegation of ten Canadian judges. Among the crew were most of the country’s sharpest and most experienced palates, including WineAlign colleagues David Lawrason and Rod Philips, as well as country-wide representation from the highly-respected likes of Vancouver Sun critic Anthony Gismondi and the Montreal Gazette’s William Zacharkiw. Effectively Canadian impressions were covered from coast to coast.  The Chileans welcomed us warmly, and the hospitality was world class. Three days and 460-odd wines later, the medal winning and category champion wines were announced at the annual Gala party, with much of the Chilean wine industry in attendance (and an on-screen appearance from Madonna). There was much rejoicing, celebration and dancing late into the night.

Nothing unusual so far; it’s a set-up that I’ve seen at many international wine competitions around the world. And the Chileans had the courtesy to unfold the Gala events in English, it’s assumed, out of respect for the foreigners – nice touch (imagine having to sit through 3 hours of winner announcements and speeches all in Greek – thank Dionysus for ouzo).

Yet there were a few of aspects about this competition that struck me as more than a little curious. Firstly, I expected to be sharing the panel along with Chile’s top wine experts (and critics from other countries), in a sort of cross-cultural exchange of wine impressions. It would have been highly educational for the Canadian critics to learn the about the Chilean’s impressions of their own wine from their national context, while presumably they would benefit from our extra-territory impressions and the experience that comes with living in the world’s most multicultural country. After all, Canada imports wines from every wine-producing corner of the globe. This educational exchange is the most rewarding side-benefit of attending these competitions; it’s certainly not for the romance of spending three days in a closed room slogging through flight after flight of wines poured from anonymous black plastic-wrapped bottles, with your powers of concentration and tasting discipline pushed to the max.

But as it turned out, the Canadians were the only judges at the competition. Not to be overly dramatic, but if you consider it, that means that the burden of tasting through and finding a country’s best wines was left to a group of foreigners, with less experience by definition than her countrymen. Not a single Chilean opinion on the books. It would be like inviting a group of Chilean critics to judge the Canadian Wine Awards while we sat back and watched and waited expectantly. But on deeper inspection, the cleverness of the approach became apparent. My inference is that the exercise was largely a market intelligence-grab, a way for the Chilean industry to look deep into the preferences of a single country. Canada is one of the main export markets for Chile, and for a good handful of producers both large and small, the most import market, so it makes sense to find out exactly which wines Canadians like in order to better tailor, or target, specific wine styles for our market. As I later learned, the Americans and the British (both important markets for Chile) had been invited before us to go through the same exercise, their national opinions alone used to select the country’s top wines. Pretty smart indeed; that’s the number one rule of both the Art of War and Marketing: know thy enemy (market) and know thyself, and your chances of success are assured. (For the record, we awarded more gold medals than the British, and fewer than the Americans, proving once again that Canada is a country of moderate, non-extremists.) Next year, as I understand it, there will be an international panel assembled (Canadians, Americans, British?) to judge the eighth annual Wines of Chile Awards.

The second curious aspect was that the competition was restricted to wines retailing for less than $30. This effectively eliminated all of the so-called “icon” wines of Chile, the Señas, Almavivas, Casa Reals, Don Melchors et all. Why would this be? Shouldn’t a national competition be open to all wines produced in the country, regardless of price? As it was, the entries were divided into 2 price categories, above and below $15. Couldn’t there have been an over $30 category? Wouldn’t you want to expose your foreign guests, all journalists, to the country’s presumed best wines so that we can sing their praises back home and create a trickle down, halo effect on some of Chile’s less expensive (better value) offerings? Perplexing to say the least. I suppose one can logically assume that these top, expensive wines are selling so well that they have nothing to gain, but rather everything to lose from entering into the competition. Many of the world’s most illustrious wine producers refuse to submit their wines to competitions on similar grounds, but I’ve never heard of them being banned from entering. To be fair, we were given the opportunity to taste many of Chile’s best wines outside of the competition during many of the dazzling dinner events, but it’s certainly not the same as tasting them together in a lineup of blind wines.

Thirdly, considering that Chile has nearly 118,000 hectares of vineyard (that’s a lot, about the same as Bordeaux where 10,000 petit châteaux duke it out for market share), there were only 460 wines put forward in the national competition. Where were the rest? Makes one wonder what sort of pre-selecting went on behind the scenes. I understand that each winery was limited to 6 entries, and that many of the larger brands run into the millions of cases, meaning the total number of brands available on the market is relatively small compared to vineyard area, but the number still seems a little small. Not that we were asking for more. It might not be a bad idea after all to have some pre-screening done to make the final stage of the competition run more smoothly, kind of like World Cup qualifying rounds to eliminate the bottom end. But I wonder how it was done. Was it left entirely up to the wineries to screen their own production and submit their best? Or maybe only the wines that they would expect to please the Canadian palate, or those that are already available in Canada and would stand to benefit more from a medal than a wine that is not currently exported to our country? Whatever the case, just a little more clarity on the parameters would place the whole affair on more solid ground.

I certainly don’t intend to diminish the value of the Wines of Chile Awards, merely to put it into context so that the results can be interpreted accurately. The competition logistics were professionally organized, all wines were served in strictly single blind fashion as per international norms (only price category and varietal category were known), and we worked bloody hard to select the wines that we thought were the best in each category. There were naturally some surprises (for both us and the Chileans), but many of the expected producers, recognized in Canada for their fine quality and value, rose to the top. While we can be sure that these are not necessarily the best wines in all of Chile for the reasons stated above, I would be more than happy buy and drink any of the top performers. So here below are the final results by category, with category winners followed by runners-up. Below that is the full list of Gold Medal winning wines (52 in total). As an added bonus, many of these wines are available in Canada:

Sauvignon Blanc

  1. Bravado Wines Marina García Schwaderer 2009
  2. MontGras Amaral 2009
  3. Leyda Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (2006)

Chardonnay

  1. Cono Sur 20 Barrels Limited Edition Chardonnay 2008 (2007)
  2. Maycas del Limarí Quebrada Seca Chardonnay 2007
  3. Gracia Chardonnay Ilusion Reserva lo Mejor 2007

Other White

  1. Cono Sur Vision Viognier 2009 (2008)
  2. Agustinos Reserva Privada Pinot Gris 2008

White Blend

  1. Estampa Reserve Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay/Viognier  2009
  2. El Aromo Winemaker Selection Viognier Chardonnay 2009

Pinot Noir

  1. Cono Sur 20 Barrels Limited Edition Pinot Noir 2008 (2007)
  2. Viña Mar de Casablanca Reserva Especial Pinot Noir 2008

Merlot

  1. Ventisquero Grey Merlot 2007
  2. Arboleda Merlot 2007
  3. Loma Larga Vineyard Merlot 2008

Carmenere

  1. Casa Rivas Gran Reserva Carmenere 2007
  2. Caliterra Tributo Carmenere 2008
  3. Errazuriz Carmenere Vineyard 2007

Syrah

  1. San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Syrah Cachapoal 2007
  2. Mayu Syrah Reserva Limarí Valley 2007
  3. San Pedro Castillo de Molina Shiraz 2008 Maule Valley

Cabernet Sauvignon

  1. Echeverría Founders Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
  2. Vistamar Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
  3. Viña Canepa Finisimo Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Other Red

  1. Odfjell Vineyards Orzada Carignan 2006
  2. Via Wines Oveja Negra Single Vineyard Carignan 2008
  3. Santa Helena Vernus Malbec 2008

Red Blend

  1. O. Fournier Centauri Blend 2008
  2. Falernia Carmenere/Syrah Reserva 2008
  3. Ventisquero Vertice Carmenere-Syrah 2006

Best Value White

  1. Viña Bravado Marina García Schwaderer 2009
  2. Palo Alto Sauvignon Blanc 2009
  3. Cono Sur Vision Viognier 2009 (2008)

Best Value Red

  1. Via Wines Oveja Negra Reserva Cabernet Franc Carmenere 2008
  2. Falernia Carmenere-Syrah Reserva 2008
  3. Loma Larga Vineyard Merlot 2008

Best in Show

  1. San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Syrah Cachapoal 2007
  2. Cono Sur 20 Barrels Limited Edition Pinor Noir 2008 (2007)
  3. Viña Bravado Marina García Schwaderer 2009

Gold Medal Winnning Wines (in alphabetical order)

2007 1865 Single Vineyard Syrah Cachapoal

2008 Agustinos Reserva Privada, Pinot Gris Bío Bío

2009 Agustinos Reserva Privada, Sauvignon Blanc Bío Bío

2009 Amaral Leyda

2007 Arboleda Merlot Aconcagua

2009 Aromo Winemaker Selection Viognier Chardonnay Maule

2008 Caliterra Tributo Carmenere Colchagua

2007 Canepa Finisimo Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua

2005 Carmen Reserva Petit Syrah Maipo

2008 Carmenere Gran Reserva/Family Selection Colchagua

2007 Casa Rivas Gran Reserva Carmenere Maipo

2008 Castillo de Molina Shiraz 2008 Maule Valley Maule

2008 Centauri Blend Maule

2008 Chardonnay Ilusion Reserva lo Mejor Gracia Bío Bío

2008 Chardonnay Select Reserva Porta Bío Bío

2008 Cono Sur 20 Barrels Limited Edition Chardonnay Casablanca (2007)

2008 Cono Sur 20 Barrels Limited Edition Pinor Noir Casablanca (2007)

2009 Cono Sur Vision Viognier Colchagua (2008)

2007 Cuvée Alexandre Merlot Casablanca

2008 De Martino Legado Chardonnay Reserve Limarí

2005 Echeverría Founders Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo

2007 Errazuriz Carmenere Vineyard Aconcagua

2007 Estampa Reserve Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc Colchagua

2009 Estampa Reserve Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay/Viognier Casablanca

2008 Falernia Carmenere Syrah Reserva Elqui

2008 Falernia Syrah Reserva Elqui

2007 Grey Merlot Colchagua

2007 Grey Syrah Colchagua

2007 Hacedor de Mundos Cabernet Franc Maule

2009 Leyda Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Leyda (2006)

2007 Liguai Maipo

2008 Loma Larga Merlot Casablanca

2008 Malbec Gran Reserva/Family Selection Colchagua

2009 Marina García Schwaderer Casablanca

2007 Matetic Corralillo Syrah San Antonio

2007 Maycas del Limarí Quebrada Seca Chardonnay Limarí

2007 Mayu Syrah Reserva Elqui

2008 Misiones de Rengo Cuvée Carmenere Rapel

2007 Montes Alpha Carmenere Colchagua

2006 Odfjell Orzada Carignan Maule

2008 Oveja Negra Reserva Cabernet Franc Carmenere Maule

2008 Oveja Negra Single Vineyard Carignan Maule

2009 Palo Alto Sauvignon Blanc Maule

2008 Porta Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Aconcagua

2008 Quintay Q Chardonnay Casablanca

2007 Reserva Especial Maycas del Limarí Syrah Limarí

2007 Reserva Privada Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah Maipo

2008 Santa Helena Vernus Malbec Colchagua

2008 T.H. Syrah Limarí

2006 Vertice Carmenere – Syrah Colchagua

2008 Viña Mar Reserva Especial Pinot Noir Casablanca

2006 Vistamar Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, ,

Jan 23rd Vintages Release – South America Rising – by David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

“Ironically, as I write about Vintages Argentine wine feature I am sitting on a veranda in the Apalta district of the Colchagua Valley in Chile, just over the Andes. There is great rivalry between these two South American nations, with Chile being the smaller in terms of population and wine production.  Chile is to Argentina as Canada is the USA, or perhaps New Zealand to Australia. I have been in Chile ten days and tasted 100s of wines, many as a judge at the Wines of Chile Awards. So when I read back over the Argentine notes made earlier this month I am struck by how similar the styles and elements and issues of winemaking. We are always looking to differentiate between the two countries (as the Chileans would certainly prefer) but the similarities are more important when you place South America in a global context.  Both countries are making very ripe, deeply fruited wines and using all the modern techniques of viticulture and winemaking to infuse as much lustre and balance as they can. Both countries are hinged on one or two Bordeaux-originating grape varieties (malbec in Argentina, cabernet in Chile), but are moving rapidly to other main stream grapes like syrah and sauvignon blanc. Both countries are opening up new, cooler regions – Argentina by moving vineyards higher into the Andes and south into Patagonia, Chile by moving to the coast and up the hillsides as well. Both are deep into microclimates, terroir and organic viticulture. But more important perhaps, both countries are energized by a new generation of young, educated , well travelled men and (many) women to make a huge impact in the wine world.  Chile and Argentina can no longer be dismissed by cachet-conscious North American wine consumers as poor Latin cousins.  There is seriously good wine in both countries that is way underpriced given the quality, and as nice as it may be for us to take advantage, those prices must rise in step with quality and reputation. They know they have great climate and soils for fine wine production, and they are moving quickly to take their rightful place in the World order.”

-  David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

Click here to see ranked lists and reviews of over 100 wines in this release.

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Top Value Banquet Wines – by John Szabo

John Szabo

Recently I tasted through about 70 100% VQA wines from across Canada in search of the country’s best value wines. The purpose was to select the top VQA examples that would be worthy of showcasing at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa for banquets and intermissions.

Since celebrity Chef Michael Blackie took over in the kitchen early last year, the NAC has seen significant changes on all levels and is on its way to becoming a premier dining destination in the nations’ capital. No longer is it an old-fashioned meat-and potatoes menu for quick, pre-theatre sustenance. Blackie has elevated the sophistication of the food to top standards with a very ambitious menu indeed. The wine program, evidently, needed significant revamping and updating to say the least, and I have been working with Chef Blackie and dining room manager Tegan Schioler to bring the beverage side of the operation, including service, to the same level. There is still much to be done, but I’m happy to report that it is going very well. If you haven’t been in a while, be sure to drop in, no theatre tickets required!

Having participated for the last 5 years as a judge in the Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards, The country’s best wines are certainly familiar to me. But what was most satisfying was the overall level of high quality and drinkability, knowing that these were all very reasonably priced. VQA wines are often knocked for their poor quality/price ratio relative to international stage, but this tasting belied that belief once again.

In order to select these wines, I sent out a call to tender to Canadian wineries, from which I pre-selected 70 or so samples to be tasted. It was hardly a comprehensive look at all of Canada, and many of the wines I would have liked to see were missing from the lineup, but it was still representative nonetheless. The wines were set up in flights and tasted blind, that is, I knew the style/varietal category and the wines that had been submitted, but not the order in which they were served. Not surprisingly, many of the classic good value Canadian producers emerged, along with a few unexpected surprises. In the end, a dozen whites and ten reds made the cut. Virtually all are under $15/bottles (licencee price), and many are even under $10. In the end it will be the banquet guests and intermission wine drinkers who win; you can bank on a good glass of wine at the NAC. Here are my top picks. Some are available at the LCBO, others are winery direct. If you’re looking for good ‘house wine’, this is a reliable list to start with.

White

2007 Riesling Off-Dry, Rosehall Run, VQA Ontario

2008 Chardonnay Unoaked, Palatine Hills, Niagara

2008 Chardonnay, Vineland Estates, Niagara

2007 Dry Riesling, Vineland Estates, Niagara

2008 Semi-Dry Riesling, Vineland Estates, Niagara

2008 Riesling Dry, Cave Spring, Niagara

2007 Chardonnay, Cave Spring, Niagara

2008 Sullyzwicker White, Rosehall Run, Prince Edward County

2008 Pinot Grigio ‘Ogopogo’s Lair, Prospect Winery, Okanagan Valley

2008 Sauvignon Blanc ‘Spotted Lake’, Prospect Winery, Okanagan Valley

2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Vineland Estates, Niagara

2007 Chardonnay Estate Bottled, Château des Charmes, Niagara

Rosé

2008 Huff Estates South bay Vineyards Rosé, Prince Edward County

Red

2008 Lakeshore Red, Palatine Hills, Niagara Lakeshore

2007 ‘Noirs’ (Pinot & Gamay), 13th Street, Niagara

2007 Gamay Noir, Estate Bottled, Château des Charmes, Niagara

2007 Cabernet Franc Varietal Series, Inniskillin, Niagara

2008 Pinot Noir Reserve, Pelee Island, VQA Ontario

2007 Pinot Noir Five Vineyards, Mission Hill, Okanagan Valley

2007 Cabernet-Shiraz, Dan Aykroyd, Niagara

2007 Rosewood Estate Renaceau Vineyard Merlot, Beamsville Bench

2008 Cabernet-Merlot, Pilliteri

2007 Cabernet- Merlot Five Vineyards, Mission Hill, Okanagan Valley

Filed under: News, Wine, , ,

Vintages Preview for Jan 23rd Release (First-In-Line eReport) – by John Szabo

John Szabo

The feature of the January 23rd Vintages release is Argentina, though unfortunately many of the wines were not made available to media for pre-tasting. Nor were many of the 2006 Bordeaux scheduled for release for that matter. But nonetheless I came across a solid range of sub-$20 wines to recommend in the top ten smart buys. Topping the list is an extraordinarily good chardonnay from Hungary, of all places, made in a delicately oaked, old world, food friendly version that will have your friends guessing excellent Mâcon or similar. At just $10.95, you really can’t go wrong (and this has nothing to do with the fact that my last name is about as Hungarian as they come, promise).
The Iberian peninsula makes another strong showing on the value scale, with a lovely Douro red from the elegant 2007 vintage, a rich and fruity red from further south in the Alentejo, and a solidly structured red from Spain’s Montsant DO in Catalonia. Greece, Italy and France are also represented, as is California with a reserved and mature Cabernet from the Alexander Valley. For the record the two top buys from Argentina out of those tasted were:

2008 SANTA JULIA RESERVA CHARDONNAY Mendoza $13.95 *** (88 pts)
2007 KAIKEN CABERNET SAUVIGNON Mendoza $14.95 *** (88 pts)

Top Ten Smart Buys:
10. 2007 ÈTIM NEGRE DO Montsant $14.95 **1/2 (87 pts)
9. 2008 SÃO MIGUEL DAS MISSÕES RESERVA Vinho Regional Alentejano $15.95 **1/2 (88 pts)
8. 2007 CHÂTEAU DONA BAISSAS CUVÉE PER DONA CÔTES DU ROUSSILLON-VILLAGES AC $15.95 *** (88 pts)
7. 2008 SANTA JULIA RESERVA CHARDONNAY Mendoza $13.95 ***  (88 pts)
6. 2008 CHAVET MENETOU-SALON BLANC AOC $18.95 ***  (89 pts)
5. 2004 GEYSER PEAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON Alexander Valley, Sonoma County $17.95 *** (89 pts)
4. 2008 SURANI PIETRARICCIA IGT Fiano Salento $16.95 *** (89 pts)
3. 2008 NASIAKOS MANTINIA AOC $15.95 *** (89 pts)
2. 2007 QUINTA DO INFANTADO RED DOC Douro  $23.95 **1/2 (90 pts)
1. 2007 LAKE VELENCE OAK AGED CHARDONNAY Etyek-Budai Borvidék, Hungary $10.95 ***  (89 pts)

To see all of my reviews click here.

Cheers,


John Szabo, MS

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Building a Wine Cellar – by Gary LaRose

Gary LaRose

Gary LaRose President, Rosehill Wine Cellars

Building a wine cellar is a labour of love.   It’s important that it is done properly.  At Rosehill Wine Cellars we have many years of successful custom wine cellar design and sound construction knowledge to draw on.

In constructing a cellar, the most important thing you should be concerned about is proper insulation. Then, money should be spent on a quality cooling unit. Even if initially, you simply want a passive cellar, you should still determine during the construction phase which cooling unit could be installed, and create necessary fittings for such to easily allow cooling unit to be installed in the future.

Cellar Insulation/vapour barrier is opposite to regular home construction as you want to keep the cold air in the cellar – so you need to ensure you fully understand this construction stage.  We prefer spray foam insulation in our cellars for both insulation and reduction of moisture levels.  While windows and doors are popular in cellars, they provide little R value – ensure you get sealed thermal pane.  Doors should be exterior grade with weather stripping on all four sides.

Racks should be chosen according to your collecting style & budget.  There is a wide variety of racking available on the market.

When building a wine cellar, many details have to be considered such as location of the cellar, the climate you are in, what temperature you desire your cellar to keep, among other factors.  Our aim is to provide cellar construction and preparation guidance so that your cellar will be the home your wine deserves. You may wish to refer to our web page “Design Your Wine Cellar” for racking layout assistance.   You’re welcome to visit our photo gallery or enjoy a virtual tour of one of our wine cellars.

Rosehill Wine Cellars

Our complete Wine Cellar Construction Tips document (PDF format) is available here .

To find out more about us visit:  RosehillWineCellars.com, Twitter and Facebook.

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WineAlign is one of Canada’s 50 best designed websites

We were honoured to be added to this list of great Canadian websites.  And we are definitely in some very good company.  The list is maintained by a collective of Canadian creative designers, marketing managers and online media buyers with a passion for web design.   The list was started as an ever-expanding archive of great Canadian website design.   http://web50.ca/

Canada's Web 50

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Top picks and top values from Jan 9th Vintages release – by David Lawrason

What’s Really Good Under $13?

“Wine critics can go on and on to educate, provide context and suggest how wines can be best enjoyed, but our fundamental job is to find the best quality at the lowest price. This month Vintages prices its first release of 2010 almost entirely under $20 – almost an annual tradition to combat post-Holiday financial fatigue.  Which makes my job like shooting fish in a barrel (new French oak of course).  So I have narrowed the range for Dave’s Faves down to best values under $13. And they had to score 88 points or better.  As we all know, a wine score is a numerical opinion not a mathematical fact; but in my books certain things do need to add up. To hit 88 a wine edges beyond good varietal character and balance, and peers into a realm with more complexity, depth and a touch of class. There is just that first shiver of a wow factor.  And this can apply to any grape variety or style in any part of the part of the world.  Indeed there are many wines in this release that are very good buys, from many places in the world – wines that scored 90 under $18, or 87 under $12. This a tribute to advances in winemaking, but also to Vintages buyers for being able to pick ‘em.  But here are the ones I’d be taking home with me when my cash is really strapped.”

-  David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

Click here to see ranked lists and reviews of close to 100 wines in this release.

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