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Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks: 90-point plus bottles

By Margaret Swaine

These three from this Saturday’s Vintages release are to me all 90 point-plus wines at giveaway prices for the value. Find them via WineAlign.com/MargaretsPicks.

Brisebarre Brut Vouvray
LCBO No. 226241; $18.95
Made in the traditional (bottle fermented) method in Loire, France, from chenin blanc grapes, this is a terrific Champagne alternative. Gently aged in the region’s ancient troglodytic caves, it’s dry with lovely tangy fruit and an aromatic bouquet. Firm and fresh, it lingers nicely on the palate. Tasty as an aperitif or with fish or fowl.

Le G de Chateau Giraud 2009
LCBO No. 231878; $23.95
Chateau Giraud makes impressive dry white Bordeaux. Made from sauvignon blanc with 20% semillon, it’s matured in former sauternes barrels for more than six months, including several months of stirring on the lees. The result: rich layers of flavours with nuances of honey, herbs and good fruit. The nose is fascinating — whiffs of white flowers, gooseberry, thyme and citrus.

Beckett’s Flat Margaret River Shiraz 2005
LCBO No. 585869; $21.45
From older vines grown in Western Australia and aged 21 months in French and American oak, this is full bodied yet vibrant and balanced. Rich with dark berry, chocolate, smoke and a long spiced finish, it’s a mouthful of flavour that doesn’t cloy. Have with pepper steak, Mexican mole sauced chicken or other richly seasoned dishes.

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Syrah-Shiraz – The grape of champions ~ Saturday, October 1st, 2011

A grape like no other:

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

“The grape that’s easy to love.” Such, in a nutshell, is what Syrah-Shiraz is all about—that and a few other things. But when push comes to shove, there are few other red grapes worthy of the same adulation as this marvellous multi-named varietal. At home in virtually every warm-climate region in the world, though a few cooler places are also giving it a go, Syrah-Shiraz (the two names are the same) unquestionably ranks as one of the wine world’s greatest treasures.

Syrah Grapes

For the record: Syrah-Shiraz does not originally hail from the (now-) pariah nation of Iran, which just so happens to contain a city named Shiraz. In fact, Syrah-Shiraz originally hails from the northern Rhône, where it is simply called ‘Syrah.’ From more serious oenophiles, its parents are Dureza (red) and Mondeuse Blanche. In this part of France, and this part of the Old World for that matter, there is no question that Syrah reaches its greatest zenith of quality, depth, intensity, and refinement. In the northern Rhône, this vigourous varietal is often best suited to being planted on relatively south-facing, well-drained, rockier soils. Though heat is seldom a problem, Syrah will also react to overly excessive temperatures by ripening too quickly. A few facts well worth remembering.

Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage

Top appellations? Think Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, and Cornas. Throughout the very former, Syrah often takes on more fragrant, slightly smoky (even ‘roasted’) overtones. It is often softened with a small percentage of Viognier, which has the additional effects of adding to the fragrance and colour of the wine. In Hermitage, on the other hand, Syrah becomes much more powerful, concentrated, and extremely ageworthy. Taking very well to new French oak, as it does in Côte-Rôtie, young Hermitage will often display beguiling aromas of blackberries and fresh saddle leather, laced with an assortment of black fruits, subtle chocolate, and spice; as it ages, more gamy and cedary overtones tend to take over, yet the best wines will almost never lose their sense of richness, concentration, and raw power. As for Cornas, wines from this sometimes-underrated appellation tend to have more in common with Hermitage than collectors might think. Primary differences are namely greater ruggedness and more of a brooding attitude, and (perhaps) slightly less complexity. Either way, for top examples of Syrah, one need look no further than these three appellations.

In the southern Rhône, Syrah takes on more of a supplementary role than a predominant one. In the top appellations of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas, it accompanies Grenache—along with a dollop of Mourvèdre—in the blend. In other parts of southern France, Syrah often plays a similar role, adding structure and perfume to the wine.

Outside of France, there is no shortage of places where this marvellous grape excels; yet few are more famous than the winegrowing regions of Australia. In this part of the world, the grape is almost always called ‘Shiraz,’ and tastes extremely different when compared to its counterparts in the Rhône. For those seeking sheer power, the Barossa Valley is your best bet. Here, centenarian vines provide for the most powerful, most concentrated, most alcoholic, and most flavourful Shiraz anywhere on earth. Oftentimes infused with eucalyptus, common aromas to watch out for, particularly in youthful examples, are rich dark (or milk) chocolate, black fruits, dark cherries, leather, vanilla, and spice. In the past, many Australian winemakers used to age Shiraz in American oak; though many are now switching to French in order to bring out fresher fruit characteristics and greater elegance in their wines.

Two Hands Bella's Garden Shiraz

Outside of Barossa, Shiraz can be found almost everywhere in Australia. In South Australia—where the Barossa Valley is located, by the way—McLaren Vale often yields ever-so-slightly less powerful, oftentimes more velvety examples; while the Clare Valley tends to offer finer fruit clarity and precision, if not wines of similar weight to Barossa. In Coonawarra, more mint- and mineral-laden, as well as less alcoholic, wines tend to be found. Switching states, in New South Wales, Hunter Valley Shiraz, while not as widely available as its South Australian colleagues, can be just as rich and extracted, though oftentimes offering just a bit more grace and silkiness. In Western Australia, Margaret River Shiraz is not to be missed: like Coonawarra, this is a much cooler climate, only with much greater clarity and forwardness of fruit, plus less concentration and alcohol—a much more restrained style, if you ask me. As one can see, the choices for Shiraz in Australia are endless; and there are a host of other regions I have not even mentioned!

Fess Parker 2007 Rodneys Syrah

After Australia, California comes next on the list of great New-World Syrah-Shiraz producers. For the most part, the grape goes by the name of ‘Syrah,’ with the best examples commonly bringing out the more white peppery, brambleberried, and ‘forested’ aromas of St-Joseph or Crozes-Hermitage in the northern Rhône, while at the same time tasting much riper, more supple, and assuredly higher in alcohol. And even then, the differences are easy to decipher: richer oak influence, more profound, purer varietal aromatics, and something of the reverse in terms of ‘Old World reservedness.’ Best regions for Californian Syrah? At present, most point to Paso Robles and Santa Barbara (and all of the sub-regions), yet Syrah can be found in various quantities throughout most winegrowing areas in California.

As for the rest of the world? In Washington State, excellent Syrah can also be had, tasting just as rich as its Californian counterparts, yet at the same time possessing more balanced levels of acidity; not to mention a sort-of ‘coolness’ that perhaps comes as a result of significant day/night-time conditions. In South America, Chile has also shown enormous potential for crafting some of the best bottlings in the Southern Hemisphere, outside of Australia. Though it hasn’t even been twenty years since the first plantings were assembled in the Aconcagua Valley, Syrah has since taken Chile by storm, the finest examples brimming with intense varietal characters, while concurrently often featuring amazing overtones of crème de cassis, ripe flowers, and (or course) new oak influences. In Argentina, even more Syrah is grown, though it has been said that excessive yields have only made for a handful of notable examples thus far. In South Africa, where the grape is sometimes labelled ‘Shiraz,’ promising endeavours have also begun to emerge. And even New Zealand is beginning to get the hang of Syrah, particularly in Hawkes Bay, with the best bottlings, though still rather peppery, managing to impress with their overall fruit clarity, structure, and refinement of texture.

Ending our thoughts on this grape, even other places in Europe outside of France have shown remarkable results with ‘Syrah,’ as the grape is widely called in most regions. In Italy, premium—as well as some very cheap and downright lousy—examples can be found in most provinces. In Tuscany, up to twenty percent Syrah may be used in the Chianti blend; though Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are more common international grapes. At the same time, there is nowadays no shortage of Syrah-dominant (or exclusive) wines to be bought, especially throughout Tuscany, many with personalities all of their own. And the rest of Europe? Let’s just say there are plenty of other places not listed here. But what with the locales already mentioned, each with their own take on the grape, what does it matter?

Click here for a few gems from the 1 October 2011 Vintages Release

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages October 1st Release: White Bordeaux Redemption, Big Ticket Cellaring Reds, Scintillating Syrah & Under $20 Bargains

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Welcome the first of a half dozen Vintages fall releases stuffed with tempting wines bound to strain your budget and your will power.  It is that time of year, when the majority of the world’s fine wine is actually purchased, and so the run of heavy hitters begins.  Not every wine on this release is a world beater however, indeed there are number of difficult wines that I am rating under 85, so watch carefully.

White Bordeaux Redemption

Last time out I bashed over-priced, boring red Bordeaux, and I heard not one complaint from readers. (But I may now be on no-fly list for visits into the Medoc). I am delighted therefore to report that Bordeaux has risen to become one of my favourite white wine regions on the planet. There are three essential styles of white Bordeaux, all represented on this release. At its most basic it is straightforward vibrant, non-oaked white, usually bearing the basic Bordeaux AOC label.  Historically these were often painfully dull and sour wines but with the likes of DOURTHE 2010 LA GRANDE CUVÉE BLANC ($14.95) show that Bordeaux’s world is changing too. It is incredibly vibrant while steering a course somewhere north of bombastic New Zealand style. The next level is the barrel fermented semillon-sauvignons from appellations like Graves and Pessac-Leognan. Anti-woodistas may groan at this style, but barrels are by and large being used very well nowadays and the wines are brighter and more elegant than ever. Witness the wonderful, superb value LE G DE CHÂTEAU GUIRAUD 2009 $23.95. It too bears the Bordeaux appellation, but because it is a dry wine made within the Sauternes appellation by one of its leading estates. And finally, I have always loved Bordeaux’s sweet Sauternes, Barsacs and other “ac’s” (Loupiac, Cadillac, Monbazillac). Vintages has a small but very good selection of half bottles in this release; and if prepping for some holiday gatherings where you want to walk a different path, I highly recommend CHÂTEAU DOISY-VÉDRINES 2007  Sauternes, 2eme Cru at $29.00/375ml.
Dourthe La Grande Cuvée Blanc 2010    Le G De Château Guiraud 2009   Château Doisy Védrines 2007

Big Ticket Cellaring Wines

Ornellaia 2008Vintages has put together a collection of what it considers cellar worthy wines, for beginners. The basic information they provide on ageing and cellaring conditions is quite detailed and useful and by the book. But if you are seriously thinking about starting a cellar or collection, you should ask yourself some basic questions before you begin planning your route and space. The most important is whether or not you actually like the taste of mature wine. Cellaring and ageing was essential in years gone by as the only way to make young, raw and rudimentarily made wines palatably smooth. And so a whole industry and set of rules and lore evolved to serve this aspect of wine appreciation. Nowadays, with winemaking having worked out the major kinks, most wines are actually quite enjoyable when they are young. They have all that carefully ripened fruit thanks to more attentive viticulture. The wine is then carefully fermented to preserve its character, then carefully aged to gain accents from the barrels. So will you actually like it when the leathery, earthy more oxidative notes begin to take hold?  Many people don’t, and you just might save yourself a lot of time and money.

Dow's Vintage Port 1997This notion ran through my mind as I tasted two of the big ticket reds on this release. ORNELLAIA 2008 from Tuscany’s Bolgheri region is one of the collected and expensive wines ($184.95)  of Italy. And it is downright delicious; a piece of haut couture with fabulous gloss, nuance and depth. I really just wanted to sit back and enjoy a bottle right then and there. Time in a decanter would have solved any real issue around grate of fine tannin.  Same when I tasted the delicious DOW’S 1997 VINTAGE PORTat $84.95. Vintage port is historically the most aged of all wines – laid away from grandchildren and all that – yet here I was swooning over the richness, suppleness and charm of a 1997 babe in arms.

With both these wines, had I the money to collect multiple bottles, I would want to protect them to preserve their youth with proper storage conditions.  But that’s a very different – and much more liberating – notion than feeling you have to put wines down until they become good enough to drink. Most are just fine right now.

Scintillating Syrahs

Domaine De Bonserine La Sarrasine Côte Rôtie 2008
WineAlign colleague John Szabo has done a fine tutorial on the two schools of syrah and shiraz featured in the October 1 release. My fascination with syrah is only eclipsed by my fascination with pinot noir. To me syrah is pinot noir on steroids, more obvious but intriguing nonetheless. And both express their sense of place well, which is the sub-text of this release. There are syrahs from several specific appellations where this grape shines: the northern Rhone of course, the south of France, Tuscany, McLaren Vale and Barossa in Australia and Santa Barbara in California. (Too bad there are none from BC and Washington because the Pacific Northwest is, to me, the great undiscovered syrah region.)
Fess Parker The Big Easy Syrah 2007

Overall the selection is of high quality, and my only complaint is the overpriced Elderton Command Shiraz which is a bit of a throwback to a very jammy, high alcohol style that defined Aussie shiraz in the 90s.  Elsewhere, I am leaning to a classic DOMAINE DE BONSERINE LA SARRASINE 2008 CÔTE-RÔTIE as my favourite red of the release. It’s no steal at $49.95, but the quality edges toward outstanding, and it is textbook Cote Rotie.  New World syrah fans should not miss FESS PARKER 2007 THE BIG EASY SYRAH from Santa Barbara County at $34.95 – again a classic of this region that has been intriguing me with lush, black, smoked meat and tarry syrahs ahead of any region in California. And one the great values on the release is vibrant, peppery little-big number from the south of France. DOMAINE LES YEUSES 2008 LES ÉPICES SYRAH from Vins de Pays d’Oc is all fireworks at  $14.95.
Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2008

Under $20 Bargains

There are at least three excellent buys under $20 from diverse parts of the world on this release. TAWSE SKETCHES OF NIAGARA 2009 CHARDONNAY from Niagara is a huge value at $19.95, a mini-Meursault for fans of white Burgundy style chardonnay. From New Zealand don’t miss WILD ROCK 2008 GRAVEL PIT RED ($17.95) from the Gimblett Gravels appellation of Hawkes Bay. Great modern winemaking going on here from the folks who bring us Craggy Range. And finally back over to France, and the next chapter in the year-long saga of fine little Beaujolais from the glorious 2009 vintage. Don’t miss CHÂTEAU DE PIERREUX 2009 BROUILLY at  $18.95.
Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Chardonnay 2009  Wild Rock Gravel Pit Red 2008   Château De Pierreux Brouilly 2009

Profile Wine Group Portfolio Tasting 

Profile Wine Group‘Tis the season for agents to showcase their Consignment and Private Order wares for the hundreds of trade buyers looking to beef up stocks for the busy Holiday Season. On Tuesday this week I attended a large annual portfolio tasting for Profile Wine Group www.profilewinegroup.com one of the larger independent agencies in Toronto. The week prior I attended a similar tasting for  The Stem Group www.stemwinegroup.com, and this week I hope to attend a tasting for Oakville-based BND Wines and Spirits. Then on Thursday, October 27 there is the big Grand Cru Event for Halpern Wines with 70 wineries in town, featuring an auction that helps raise funds for Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation, combined with a series of great chefs dinners on Oct 29. For details go to www.grandcru.ca.

I am always amazed to be reminded at these events how many wines are sold in Ontario without appearing at Vintages or the LCBO.  Many of the producers I encountered at the Profile Tasting were recognizable, but usually just for one or two wines that might appear at Vintages, on occasion. Here wineries poured their entire line-ups, making it easier to put the wines in context in terms of style and quality. I ran through the line-ups of several producers including Washington’s Columbia Crest/Chateau St Michelle, Pierre Sparr of Alsace, Falernia in Chile’s remote Elqui Valley and several Piedmont and Tuscan producers. I spent the most time on Tuscany but I would like to save comments for next time because Tuscany is featured in Vintages October 15 release, and I have been working on Tuscany for an upcoming article in Toronto Life.

So I leave you with a hot tip of the week – Falernia of Chile.  This is an innovative, pioneering producer hewing a great reputation from the rocky, steep vineyards of the remote Elqui Valley, the most northern wine region in the county. “My wines are different from all others in Chile”, proclaimed winemaker Giorgio Flessati. “It’s a combination of different fruit from the Elqui and my Italian winemaking background”.  When the Falernia 2007 Syrah Reserva blew through Vintages at $15 in June I raved about its depth and classic styling. At this tasting I was very impressed by the whites, including a racy tank sample of  rare 2011 Pedro Ximinez, a grape normally used to make sweet wines in southern Spain. Likewise with a steely, riveting Sauvignon Blanc, a rich semi-ripasso style carmenere and new cab-merlot-syrah blend called Number One.  The prices are great folks, check it out at www.profilewinegroup.com.

That’s it for this edition. I’ll be back prior to the October 15th release. See all my reviews for October 1st here.

Cheers and enjoy, David

- David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign


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John Szabo: Ontario 2009 Pinot Noir living up to expectations

Postmedia File Photo

By John Szabo

For several years now industry followers have been touting pinot noir as one of Ontario’s most promising varieties. It’s a “short cycle ripener” meaning that it should be well suited to Ontario’s relatively compact growing season, able to reach full maturity before getting clipped by frost. Many parts (but not all) of Niagara and Prince Edward County also have the right soils that in theory should yield fine wines.

Yet until recently quality has been spotty, with the occasional bright exception, but too many substandard examples damned by faint praise along the lines of “this shows promise”. It’s been a clear of case of wishful thinking sullying sincere beliefs, as though everyone were willing pinot from Ontario to be as good as they wanted it to be. The highly regarded 2007 vintage has turned out to be a disappointment in my view, with many pinots yet, and likely never, to shed a burly cloak of tannins from either overenthusiastic extraction or simply overly thick, rain-starved berries full of sugar but unripe polyphenols. Read the rest of this entry »

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Margaret Swaine’s wine picks: Well-priced pleasers

By Margaret Swaine

These nicely packaged general list wines are designed to please at a good price. Find them via WineAlign.com/MargaretsPicks.

Yellow Tail Bubbles Rosé
LCBO No. 229047; $13.95
This relaunch features a resealable bottle, great for enjoying sparkling wine a glass at a time. The festive pink version has a touch of sweetness and soft pleasant strawberry flavours. Frothy with a fresh finish, it’s so easy to quaff you might never test out how many days the bubbles stay perky.

STLTO White 2010
LCBO No. 232322; $11.95
With its glitter cap closure, sleek bottle and stiletto image on the label, this white is a fashion statement that grabs the eye. What’s inside the bottle lives up to the stylish promise. A pure, unoaked chardonnay, it’s picked from 40-year-old vines in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Medium light and dry, its bright fruit flavours have overtones of grapefruit.

Mission Hill Five Vineyards Cabernet Merlot 2009
LCBO No. 145102; $16.45
From five distinct vineyards within the Okanagan Valley, this medium-full bodied red has good grip and nice smooth depth. A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc with a dollop of petit verdot, its forward berry bouquet has hints of fresh sage. The taste is juicy, fruity with subtle integrated oak. Stylish with notes of vanilla and spice, this is more than easy to enjoy.

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Steve Thurlow’s Top 50 value picks: Sept. 2011

By Steve Thurlow

There are seven new wines on the Top 50 this month as a result of recently tasted wines, price changes, new additions to the LCBO’s selection and new vintages of existing listings. The Top 50 list features the wines commonly referred to as General List and Vintages Essentials. I constantly taste the wines at the LCBO to keep this report up to date. You can easily find my Top 50 Value Wines from the WineAlign main menu. Click on Wine > Top 50 Drop Down MenuTop 50 Value Wines to be taken directly to the list.

To be included in the Top 50 for value a wine must be inexpensive while also having a high score, indicating high quality. We use a mathematical model to make the Top 50 selections from the wines in our database.

Every wine is linked to WineAlign where you can read more, discover pricing discounts, check out inventory and compile lists for shopping at your favourite store. Never again should you be faced with a store full of wine with little idea of what to pick for best value.

In addition to the great value wines below, please check out the season finale of our video series.  We just finished recording season two and we’ll be releasing new episodes from season two: “The Tournament” through-out the fall. Read the rest of this entry »

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John Szabo’s Vintages preview for Oct. 1

By John Szabo

Top Ten Smart Buys:  The Top Ten wines for savvy buyers this week includes a terrific $20 Niagara chardonnay from the winemaker who is setting the pace for the grape in Canada, a very fine 1er Cru Chablis for $26.95, a single vineyard Barolo from the great 2004 vintage for just $33.95, and a Chilean Malbec that will have the Argentines across the border questioning their South American domination of the grape. See them all here. Read the rest of this entry »

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for October 1st – A Turkey Shoot, Shiraz/Syrah School & Top Smart Buys

The Shotgun Approach to Thanksgiving, Two Schools of Syrah/Shiraz: Where do You Fit In?  & Top Ten Smart Buys

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Top Ten Smart Buys:  The Top Ten wines for savvy buyers this week includes a terrific $20 Niagara chardonnay from the winemaker who is setting the pace for the grape in Canada, a very fine 1er Cru Chablis for $26.95, a single vineyard Barolo from the great 2004 vintage for just $33.95, and a Chilean Malbec that will have the Argentines across the border questioning their South American domination of the grape. See them all here.

Thanksgiving Wine Menu

My approach to drinking over long thanksgiving meals is to dispense with the rigidity of specific wines with specific courses, and take the ‘shotgun’ approach instead (the scattergun variety, un-rifled for less accuracy but greater coverage): lay out a bunch of different bottles on the table at the same time, and let family and guests taste whatever, and in whichever order they wish. If your shotgun is well loaded with buckshot and the spray wide enough, you’ll hit at least a bullseye or two. No matter if some innocent dishes or wines get hurt along the way – this is convivial family dining, not a matter of life and death after all. I take this approach mostly because at my place, a myriad of dishes are thrown onto to the table at the same time and my plate fills with dozens of disparate and distinct flavours, making a single sniper shot impossible. I like to include a wide range of flavours and textures, while at the same time selecting wines that are versatile enough to play nice with most of the dishes. This means generally bright, fresh, palate-cleansing acidity, minimal oak (except in the fireplace, where it belongs), light tannins that won’t dry out that over-cooked bird any further, and occasionally a pinch of sweetness to take on that sweet potato or pumpkin pie. Here are four reasonably priced but respectable, versatile, virtually failsafe wines that I’d be happy to have on my table this thanksgiving, pulled from the October 1st VINTAGES release:

NV BRISEBARRE BRUT VOUVRAY AC Touraine, Méthode Traditionelle $18.95
2008 DR. HERMANN RIESLING KABINETT QmP, Erdener Treppchen $16.95
2008 ROSEHALL RUN COLD CREEK CABERNET FRANC VQA Prince Edward County $22.95
2006 ROYAL TOKAJI BLUE LABEL 5 PUTTONYOS TOKAJI ASZU Hungary  $19.95

Brisebarre Brut Vouvray Dr. Hermann Riesling Kabinett 2008  Rosehall Run Cold Creek Cabernet Franc 2008 Royal Tokaji Blue Label 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszu 2006

Two Schools of Syrah/Shiraz: Where do You Fit In?

The feature this week is Syrah and Shiraz from around the world. Given the radical variations in style of which the grape is capable, it’s more than a little misleading to lop them all under the same category on a wine list, or put them side by side on a wine store shelf. Even the name used on the label, i.e. shiraz vs. syrah, can mislead you into expecting a certain style; remember the wine is often named by accidental geography or by the marketing department, not by the winemaker or after the most appropriate “style school”.

The variety in question may be identical, but it’s a long way from the northern Rhône Valley to the Barossa Valley, and the wines could hardly be more different, save for a couple of common features such as deep purple colour and a telltale whiff of black pepper. Beyond that, alcohol can range from 12% to 15+%, flavours from fresh black berry to fully jammy and medicinal, and texture from soft and cuddly to ferociously firm.

There’s little secret which style I prefer drinking, and if you’d like to ‘align’ your palate with syrah/shiraz schools from around the world, take this little taste test. Find some friends (ideally), pick up the 6 representative wines listed here below, open and put them in a paper bag (grab them at the LCBO checkout counter), have someone else number the bags at random so everyone is equally in the dark, then taste, compare and record the ones that set your taste buds racing.
Then it’s time for the revelation; if your top wines included the 2005 BECKETT’S FLAT MARGARET RIVER SHIRAZ Margaret River, Western Australia $21.95, the 2007 GUIGAL CROZES-HERMITAGE AC $24.95 or the 2008 DOMAINE LES YEUSES LES ÉPICES SYRAH Vins de Pays d’Oc $14.95, you’re a fan of what I call the “old school”: more reserved, spicy, fresh and firm syrah.

Beckett's Flat Margaret River Shiraz 2005  E. Guigal Crozes Hermitage 2007  Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2008

If your top wines included 2007 FESS PARKER THE BIG EASY SYRAH Santa Barbara County $34.95, the 2009 PÉREZ CRUZ LIMITED EDITION SYRAH Maipo Alto, Maipo Valley $19.95 or the 2009 THORN-CLARKE TERRA BAROSSA SHIRAZ Barossa, South Australia $16.95, then you’re in the ‘new school’ camp, alongside lovers of rich, ripe, bold and heady shiraz. For some additional education, check out what I and the other WineAlign critics had to say about these wines, and you’re alignment (and ours) will become clearer.

Fess Parker The Big Easy Syrah 2007  Pérez Cruz Limited Edition Syrah 2009  Thorn Clarke Terra Barossa Shiraz 2009

From the October 1st Vintages release:
Top Ten Smart Buys
Three Old School Syrah
Three New School Shiraz

Thanksgiving Picks
All Reviews

Cheers,

John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier


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Preliminary Ontario 2009 Pinot Noir Report: Wines living up to expectations at last – by John Szabo

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

For several years now industry followers have been touting pinot noir as one of Ontario’s most promising varieties. It’s a “short cycle ripener” meaning that it should be well suited to Ontario’s relatively compact growing season, able to reach full maturity before getting clipped by frost. Many parts (but not all) of Niagara and Prince Edward County also have the right soils that in theory should yield fine wines.

Pinot NoirYet until recently quality has been spotty, with the occasional bright exception, but too many substandard examples damned by faint praise along the lines of “this shows promise”. It’s been a clear of case of wishful thinking sullying sincere beliefs, as though everyone were willing pinot from Ontario to be as good as they wanted it to be. The highly regarded 2007 vintage has turned out to be a disappointment in my view, with many pinots yet, and likely never, to shed a burly cloak of tannins from either overenthusiastic extraction or simply overly thick, rain-starved berries full of sugar but unripe polyphenols.

2008 was problematic for other reasons, namely high disease pressure from mildews, which has resulted in early maturing, browning, volatile wines, many of which are redolent of kitchen compost and slipping past prime already.

Pinot Noir Grapes

Pinot Noir Grapes

Then along comes 2009: cooler than 2007, drier and sunnier than 2008 yet with sufficient rainfall, and the results are nothing short of very good, and in some cases, excellent. The perfect storm of maturing vines, more experienced winemaking, good vintage conditions and a critical mass of serious and dedicated producers have finally converted potential into reality. Ontario is on the map for pinot lovers. The specific sub-regions best suited to quality pinot are also coming clearly into focus. In my view, the Niagara Escarpment (including the St. David’s, Twenty Mile, Short Hills and Beamsville Bench sub-appellations) is the most consistent and concentrated source of high quality in the Niagara Peninsula, while in a relatively short time Prince Edwards County has established itself as perhaps the pre-eminent source of delicate, minerally pinot. I suspect we’ll soon be discussing sub-regions in PEC, too.

Below are some of my top picks from recent tastings, not a comprehensive report, but enough to cause rejoicing among fanatic pinot lovers. (Prices listed where available; check WineAlign.com for additional details on availability)

Closson Chase CCV Pinot Noir 2009 Prince Edward County 

Closson’s 2009 pinot is a light, herbal, mineral and vibrantly zesty example with terrific persistence and delicate fruit flavours. This highlights the County’s terroir nicely, emphasizing fruit freshness and limestone and oyster shell-like stoniness; tannins are light, firm and grippy, acid is saliva-inducing, and length impressive. Wood is barely detectable. Lovely wine in a refined mould. Tasted September 2011. 91 Drink 2011-2015

Hardie Wines Limited County Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2009 Prince Edward County, $35

Hardie’s 2009 County pinot is his best yet in my view. It spent 11 months in small barrels, of which 40% were new, though the wood is barely detectable here. The texture is pure silk and elegance, with lovely fresh and delicate tart red fruit, vibrant and pure, with energetic acidity, very fine-grained tannins, and a wonderfully refreshing 11.5% alcohol. Flavours run to the wild strawberry and morello cherry spectrum. Very compelling, inviting constant sips. Tasted February 2011.  92 Drink 2011-2015

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery Black Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara-on-the-Lake

This is more closed and tightly wound than the Red Paw Vineyard pinot from Coyote’s Run, with considerably more structure and grippy tannins. Fruit spans the red and black berry spectrum, and flavour intensity and depth are impressive. Solidly structured and age worthy all in all. Best after 2012. Tasted September 2011. 90 Drink 2012-2018

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2009 Beamsville Bench

Very open, perfumed, fresh and fragrant, with wood noted alongside highly concentrated, vibrant red and even black berry fruit. Tannins and wood are indeed still marked, and this needs time to integrated, another 1-3 years I’d speculate. Tasted September 2011. 90 Drink 2012-2017

Rosewood Estates Winery Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara Escarpment & Twenty Valley 

Here’s a clean, bright, high-toned, juicy red fruit-flavoured pinot from Rosewood Estates, crafted as with most of Natalie Spytkowski’s wines in an elegant and refined style. The palate is suave and silky, with light tannins and bright acid. Fine, lingering finish; very pretty. Tasted September 2011. 90 Drink 2011-2014

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara-on-the-Lake

The 2009 Red Paw Vineyard pinot is firmly in the lighter red berry fruit spectrum of flavours, with notable high-toned cherry and a touch of earthy-funk that’s well within normally acceptable bounds. Tannins are firm and grippy, bolstered by crisp acids, though the wine is well-balanced all around. Impressive length. Tasted September 2011. 89 Drink 2011-2014

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara-on-the-Lake $24.95

This is evidently a serious and ambitious example of pinot noir, with generous oak influence – abundant baking spice, chocolate and fresh coffee grounds. The palate is juicy and savoury, with substantial intensity and long, warm finish. A meaty and savoury wine all in all, one of the finest estate pinots yet from Coyote’s Run. Tasted September 2011. 89 Drink 2011-2015

Tawse Winery Grower’s Blend Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara Escarpment & Twenty Valley  $30

The Tawse Grower’s Blend Pinot is currently closed on the nose but reveals a good deal of depth and flavour intensity on the palate. There’s generous density and weight for the vintage, while acidity is balanced and crisp, and tannins are grippy and dusty. All in all, a fine, well made wine that should improve over the next 2-3 years in the cellar. Tasted September 2011. 89 Drink 2012-2016

Casa Dea Estates Winery Pinot Noir 2009 Prince Edward County 

Here’s a light, tight, juicy and mineral example of County pinot in the style that excels in the region. The palate is light and flavour intensity modest, but this displays a good dose of limestone minerality and delicate freshness that should be allowed to characterize the wines of the area. For current consumption or short term hold.  Tasted September 2011. 88 Drink 2011-2013

Closson Chase Church Side Pinot Noir 2009 Prince Edward County 

The Churchside pinot is the burliest and most evidently woody of Closson’s 09 Pinots (if such a thing can be said). Flavours are in the darker fruit spectrum, and chocolate-coffee flavours linger on the finish. I think in time this will integrate nicely; try in 1-2 years. Tasted September 2011. 89 Drink 2012-2015

Twenty Twenty Seven Cellars Queenston Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, VQA St. David’s Bench $30

Made from 10 year old vines in the Queenston Road vineyard, one of the warmest in Niagara, Panagapka’s 2009 pinot is a delightfully pale ruby colour with modest intensity aromas in the subdued red berry spectrum. Additional compost, wet earth and sweet baking spice from 14 months in oak (30% new, French) provide complexity. The palate is deceptively powerful, with light, ripe tannins, balanced acidity, quite serious depth and weight, and a forceful, lingering finish. Quite a fine example here, dinking well now but even better in 1-2 years I suspect. Tasted August 2011. 90 Drink 2012-2015

2009 Flat Rock Cellars The Rogue Pinot Noir, Twenty Mile Bench

The Rogue, made in honour of owner Ed Madronich’s father, is a pinot noir made white, or at least a little “gris”. This looks like a well oxidized, old white wine. The nose offers high quality barrel notes up front (30% new) alongside lees; this smells like fine chardonnay. The palate is quite ripe, creamy, with crisp-balancing acidity, and long finish. Well done, a new paradigm for the variety in Ontario. 89+ Drink 2011-2013

2009 Rosehall Run Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, Prince Edward County

100% estate-grown fruit from Hillier in PEC, this has a really lovely and pure red fruit/berry character, red currant, red cherry, with a fine measure of florality. This was aged 50% in new barrels, and wood spice is certainly a feature if not exaggerated, though a measure less wood influence would have made this even more enticing and allowed the minerality and delicate fruit to shine through. The palate is light and lean in the good way, with brisk but not excessive acidity, moderate alcohol and light, fine-grained tannins. Solid length. 89 Drink 2011-2014.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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Steve’s Top 50 Value Wines from the LCBO – September 2011

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

There are seven new wines on the Top 50 this month as a result of recently tasted wines, price changes, new additions to the LCBO’s selection and new vintages of existing listings. The Top 50 list features the wines commonly referred to as General List and Vintages Essentials.  I constantly taste the wines at the LCBO to keep this report up to date. You can easily find my Top 50 Value Wines from the WineAlign main menu. Click on Wine => Top 50 Drop Down MenuTop 50 Value Wines to be taken directly to the list.

To be included in the Top 50 for value a wine must be inexpensive while also having a high score, indicating high quality. We use a mathematical model to make the Top 50 selections from the wines in our database.

Every wine is linked to WineAlign where you can read more, discover pricing discounts, check out inventory and compile lists for shopping at your favourite store. Never again should you be faced with a store full of wine with little idea of what to pick for best value.

In addition to the great value wines below, please check out the season finale of our video series.  We just finished recording season two and we’ll be releasing new episodes from season two: “The Tournament” through-out the fall.

Additions to the Top 50

When I started this report more than a year ago VQA wines from Ontario were not a major feature in the list. This month I am pleased to report that four of the seven new wines on the list are VQA from Ontario, which is a notable achievement.

Limited Time Offers (LTO)

Every month about 100 products at the LCBO go on sale for four weeks. As a consequence of this temporary price reduction, three wines have joined the Top 50. All are VQA wines from Ontario.

Alvar 2008 Cabernet Merlot 2008Angels Gate Riesling Sussreserve 2009Alvar 2008 Cabernet Merlot 2008, Ontario VQA $12.45 is a cabernet franc dominated wine from Pelee Island. This winery seems to be on a roll with this variety. It is a delicious flavourful structured wine made from 60% cabernet franc, 30% merlot, 10% zweigelt. The nose shows delicate aromas of red berry fruit with a hint of tobacco and some beet notes. The midweight palate is velvety smooth and very fruity with crab-apple jelly and raspberry tea flavours and nice balancing acidity and grippy tannins and a notion of elegance. Very good length.

Angels Gate Riesling Sussreserve 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula $12.95 is made using a technique often used in Germany. Unfermented grape juice is added just before bottling to boost sweetness and fruit. This is a nicely balanced fresh pure wine that is dry and lively with some nice racy acidity. Expect aromas of green apple with a touch of ginger. It is mid-weight, nicely rounded and well balanced with lemon and pear on the finish. Good aperitif style.

Pelee Island Lighthouse Riesling 2009, VQA Ontario $10.95 is just off dry with a perfumed nose of rose with orange and white peach notes. The palate is very smooth and rich with fruit and it is balanced by soft lemony acidity. Very good length with the fruit persisting well. Enjoy lightly chilled as an aperitif or match with seafood, creamy pasta sauces, roast poultry or braised veal.
Pelee Island Lighthouse Riesling 2009

You have until October 9th to take advantage of the lower prices.

New Arrival on the Top 50 List

Four wines join the Top 50 this month.
Rigal Les Terraces Malbec 2009Inniskillin Varietal Series Pinot Noir 2009Rigal Les Terraces Malbec 2009, Cahors, France $12.95 has just arrived on shelf at LCBO and jumps straight on to the Top 50 list. It is only $1 more than the Original Rigal malbec; well worth it. Expect aromas of blackberry, with cassis jam and floral notes with a hint of oak spice. It is medium bodied well structured with lovely mouthwatering fresh acidity and soft tannin. There is a degree of elegance and it is very well balanced with the fruit persisting well on the finish. Very good length. Try with a steak.

Inniskillin Varietal Series Pinot Noir 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula $13.95 is one of the best values in pinot noir at the LCBO. It shows good pinot noir character with a nose of  delicate cherry cranberry fruit with some beet and spice notes. It is fresh clean and fruity with good balance and good to very good length.

Bodegas Castaño Hécula Monastrell 2008Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2009Bodegas Castaño Hécula Monastrell 2008, Yecla Spain $13.95 joins the list but will soon depart since it is just lost its Vintages Essential status. About 500 bottles remain in stores in Ontario. It is a well structured fruity wine with elegant aromas and flavours. The nose shows blackcurrant and blackberry fruit with chocolate, floral violet with some mineral tones. The palate is graceful, very smooth with the fruit well supported by acid and tannin.

Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2009, Mendoza Argentina $13.95 seems more Tuscan than Argentine. Which is perhaps not surprising given Masi’s Italian heritage. It is vibrant and midweight with dry berry fruit flavours soft grapefruit acidity and is balanced by velvety dry tannin; so don’t buy this is you are looking for big fruit. The nose shows blackberry and prune fruit with cedar, smoke, forest floor and mushroom notes. Good to very good length. Best 2011 to 2015. Try with roast beef.

Please click here for a complete list of the Top 50 Value Wines at your local LCBO. The Top 50 changes all the time, so remember to check before shopping. I will be back next month with more news on value arrivals to Essentials and the LCBO.

Cheers!
Steve Thurlow


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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008