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Canadian Wine: A November to Remember for Moray Tawse – By David Lawrason

It was a good month for Niagara’s Moray Tawse.  In early November his Beamsville Bench Tawse Winery took top honours as Canada’s Winery of the Year – for the second year in a row – at the Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards. Sort of like the Grey Cup of Canadian wine.  And the same week he debuted a range of fabulous Marchand-Tawse red Burgundies for trade and media at Le Select Bistro in Toronto.

It was a career- defining one-two punch, and both the Niagara and Burgundy have fed off each other, and are responsible for each other’s success.

Moray Tawse

Moray Tawse

When I first met Moray Tawse on Toronto’s tasting circuit about 15 years ago he was a Burgundy man to his pips – and not interested in Ontario wine. But like anyone who loves pinot noir and chardonnay he became aware that Niagara had potential with these varieties, and soon enough he met up with a young Canadian-born winemaker working in Burgundy named Pascal Marchand, who visited Niagara and saw the potential too.

At the turn of the millennium Moray Tawse took the plunge, and with Marchand at his side as a consultant, he opened Tawse Winery in Beamsville. In his first vintage 2001 he made 200 cases. The original intent was to focus narrowly on Burgundy varieties, with high density plantings of organically farmed chardonnay and pinot. But he bought some old riesling vines too, and as he acquired other plots – both adjacent to the estate and other sites on the Bench like Quarry Road – other varieties came into the mix.

With 25,000 cases Tawse now has one of the broadest and deepest portfolio’s in Niagara, with several single vineyard bottlings of some varieties. And as a result his wines have become a study in Niagara terroir, partially because they are extremely well made by Niagara College oenology grad Paul Pender, and assistant winemaker René Van Ede.

Tawse Winery

Tawse Winery

That combination of breadth, depth and quality earned Tawse the Winery of the Year honours, the first non-British Columbia winery to take the title since the awards began in 2001. Tawse won six golds; the largest gold haul in the history of the competition. And because wineries are ranked by the medal weight of the top six wines they entered, Tawse took the crown with ease. No matter that he took another seven silvers and eleven bronze, and that his under $20 Sketches of Niagara Riesling (see below) was White Wine of the Year.

As they were building toward success in Niagara Tawse and Marchand began plotting their partnership in Burgundy. Marchand had been making wine for others for several years, including the prestigious Domaine de la Vougeraie, an ambitious company assembled by Jean-Charles Boisset in the ‘90s. It proved an inspiration for the outward looking Marchand, who not only wanted to make his own wines in Burgundy but also in Niagara and Australia.

The arrangement in Burgundy is a bit complicated. Only Marchand’s name appears on the labels, but the company is called Marchand-Tawse. It makes wines from over 30 single vineyard plots in the Cote de Beaune and Cotes de Nuits, with Moray Tawse recently purchasing vineyards in the hallowed Chassagne-Montrachet appellation (mostly chardonnay).

Like the Niagara wines, the Marchand – Tawse Burgundies are top drawer. I had a sneak peek at the 2009 whites in France last spring, then a good run through of the 2009 reds at Le Select Bistro. There is a wonderful sense of refinement and appellation accuracy in all the wines. And, even though they are expensive, we should be thankful that Tawse’s local connection should make them fairly easy to acquire here down the road.

Here are a handful of some of my recently tasted favourites from both Niagara and Burgundy, with reviews, ratings and prices at www.WineAlign.com.

Marchand-Tawse Morey Saint Denis 1er-Cru-Les-Faconnieres 2009

Marchand-Tawse Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Feussolottes 2009

Tawse Quarry Road Vinemount Ridge Chardonnay 2009

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2010

Tawse Grower’s Blend Pinot Noir Niagara Escarpment 2009

Tawse Laundry Vineyard Lincoln Lakeshore Cabernet Franc 2009

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , ,

Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks: Celebratory bottles

Today marks my 200th wine column for the Post and the launch of “our finest” in Vintages today. Find these celebratory wines for gifting or getting via WineAlign.com/MargaretsPicks.

Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1997
$119.95
This expresses California ripeness with verve. Aging well, it drinks beautifully now but still has plenty of life for further cellaring. Full of character and flavour, it has a lovely cassis bouquet and layers of spiced berry elegance with good concentration and acidity. Among the best Beringer has produced, it has power and balance.

Henschke Mount Edelstone Vineyard Shiraz 2005
$99.95
Henschke makes iconic Australian reds and Mount Edelstone is their ultimate expression of superb shiraz. Concentrated yet not overpowering, lots of ripe berry and dried fruit are in the terrifically complex bouquet and taste. Elegant and layered, it’s intense with formidable length. Best to sip slowly and savour every drop.

Quintarelli Rosso Ca’ del Merlot 2002
$84.95
Giuseppe Quintarelli makes some of my very favourite reds of Italy. His wines are hand-crafted with extreme skill and dedication. This single-vineyard merlot is full bodied and supple with a lovely savoury, cedary, ripe berry nose that carries through on the palate with additional notes of cocoa, dried fig and hints of underbrush. Yummy, concentrated and layered.

Filed under: Appetizer, Wine, , ,

Canadian Wine Site Rankings – We’re Number Three! (and we’re okay with that)

The following list was compiled Dec 6th, 2011 using a popular web-ranking tool:  Alexa.com.   According to Alexa, WineAlign is the third largest wine website in Canada.   Only the massive provincial monopoly sites in Ontario and Quebec have more visitors.  This has already caused celebrations with the WineAlign contributors (as if we need an excuse to celebrate).

The top five wine sites in Canada are:

1) SAQ.com (Canada Rank: 1,141)
2) LCBO.com  (1,164)
3) WineAlign.com (4,260)
4) BCLiquorStores.com (6,449)
5) Vintages.com (7,770)

Below are the top 43 sites in Canada.

Canadian Web Wine Ranking  6Dec11

Canadian Web Wine Ranking 6Dec11 - Source Alexa.com

Source:  Alexa.com, Dec 6th, 2011

Filed under: News

The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Blanc de Blancs – My favourite type of champagne ~ Saturday, November 26th, 2011

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Chardonnay only: – Crafted solely from Chardonnay, Blanc de Blancs is my favourite type of champagne. Built around the well-established notion that Chardonnay contributes finesse, delicacy, freshness, texture, and style to the blend—remembering that most champagne is a combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier—Blanc de Blancs, while perhaps not as richly structured or fruit-oriented as some might prefer, constitutes the greatest features I adore in champagne.

Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs

So how should top quality Blanc de Blancs taste, of which the best grapes hail from the Côte des Blancs, just south of Épernay? While generalizations are easier to summarize than specifics, most experienced champagne drinkers will often detect aromas of profound yeasty biscuits, or even French toast if they’re fortunate enough, at the outset. Typically, in Blanc de Blancs, this should gently subside to reveal a vast array of different notes related to green fruits, citrus elements, exotic spices, and delicate nuts, also sometimes truffles—all extremely pure yet agile at the same time. Indeed, the greatest examples of Blanc de Blancs should always be immensely complex, yet present themselves to the taster in such a way that makes their most important aromas, such as those previously mentioned, easily discernable. In my experience, such is the mark of a truly great Blanc de Blancs.

Salon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blanc

On the palate, these same aromas, like any other type of wine, should be clearly repeated in the form of detectable flavours. In the case of Blanc de Blancs, however, the main differences to watch out for, such as when comparing it any other type of champagne, are finesse, delicacy, freshness, texture, and style. Perhaps a comparison will add light to the issue: Salon versus Krug.

Krug Grande Cuvee

Compared to the Krug Grande Cuvée, which will often taste weightier, deeper, and ever-so slightly more fruit-driven (courtesy of the Chardonnay being typically outweighed by the two Pinots), and rounder—the result, among other things, of being a multi-grape blend—a glass of Salon will typically possess a greater degree of purity and expression from being crafted solely from Chardonnay. Such characteristics, I would submit, are best discovered when analysing the features previously mentioned.

As for aging potential, a bottle of premium Blanc de Blancs should have little trouble keeping for several decades, depending on the preference of the collector. Like other types of champagne, an old bottling of Blanc de Blancs will often remind one of an old white Burgundy, perhaps even (still) slightly effervescent. Seriously, what could be better?

Click here for a few gems from the 26 November 2011 Vintages Release and other items

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , ,

Lawrason’s Take on Vintages November 26th Release: An Embarrassment of Riches, Mature New World Classics, Napa Mountain Cabs, Masi Amarones, Les Grand Clos, Bargain Whites

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

With great names like Sassicaia, Beaucastel, Pontet Canet, Dunn and many, many others, Vintages release on Saturday, November 26th is enough to make wine lovers crazy. Either deliriously happy if you can afford these iconic wines, perhaps morosely depressed if you cannot. So allow me to temper the insanity around the world’s most sought after wines by saying one thing – they are not really worth the money.  There – feel better?

I am not saying this to be an anti-wine snob snob. The fact is that the process of being able to taste all these triple-digit wines side by side in the clinical, comparative environment of the LCBO tasting lab, reveals them to be merely mortal. Sure, they are excellent, sometimes even outstanding. But so are many wines under $50, or even under $25.

You are paying a huge premium for their fame. And that fame is usually derived from being not only excellent quality, but having a story that at one point thrust them into the spotlight. A notoriety often backed the force of personality or wealth of the winemaker or owner. And there is nothing wrong with all that, as long as you know what you are paying for.

I did not get to taste this entire release but I have picked off the big names, because it is in this snack bracket that objective critique is most useful.  And within this set I have isolated a couple of themes of interest (I hope).  My picks are not necessarily the highest scoring or most famous kids on the block.

Mature New World Classics

One sub-plot of this release is the opportunity to try mature icon reds from the New World – at prices equal or less than current vintages. We get so accustomed to tasting young and delicious California, Australian and other New World reds that we tend to forget they, too, can age.

Barossa Valley Estate E & E Black Pepper Shiraz 2005 I am often asked “how do you know a wine will age well?” The answer has nothing to do with where it comes from. It is always a matter of fruit depth and balance, which needs to be clearly evident when the wine is young. The more depth or density the longer the wine will age (which is particularly pertinent to New World wines). And the better the balance the more gracefully the wine will age.  If a New World wine is too hot (high in alcohol), overly ripe, volatile, or low in acid it will probably never be much better down the road.

Henschke Mount Edelstone Vineyard Shiraz 2005 A pair of 2005s from Australia begin to tell the tale. Six years of age is hardly old times for big Australian reds but again, given our fixation with new releases, it is fascinating to watch the early development of these wines, with leather beginning to creep into the flavour mix, and tannin softening a bit. BAROSSA VALLEY ESTATE 2005 E & E BLACK PEPPER SHIRAZ ($89.95) – an old favourite of mine (and many others) – is very complex, with great tension and depth. Even more fascinating are the symphony of both youthful and maturing flavours in HENSCHKE 2005 MOUNT EDELSTONE VINEYARD SHIRAZ from the Keyneton sub-district of the Eden Valley in South Australia ($99.95). If I had just $100 to spend on one wine in this release; this would be my pick.


Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1997
Stepping back almost a decade, BERINGER 1997 PRIVATE RESERVE CABERNET SAUVIGNON from California’s Napa Valley ($119.95) is ageing very nicely. The company’s top wrung cabernet has faced criticism for being a bit too oaky, obvious and generous in its youth, but fourteen years after it is showing engaging richness, considerable complexity and still bright, perfectly ripened if maturing fruit – more than just berries and cream.

Over to Europe now, into the fairly tale world of Quintarelli – who I have always pictured to  be the magical gnome-like smith in some Italian children’s storybook. A man and a wine, living in another time, where time itself is the meaning of all existence. When have you ever had a young Quintarelli wine? And if everyone reveres and loves his wine so much why are so few wines made this way nowadays?   QUINTARELLI 2002 ROSSO CA’ DEL MERLO, Veneto ($84.95) is firstly not a merlot. It is a blend of native corvine and other varieties from a single vineyard called Merlo. And it is wonderful, heady experience.

Quintarelli Rosso Ca' Del Merlo 2002

Napa Valley’s Mountain Reds

Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Cuvaison Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 The line-up of big name California reds is powerful and deep enough to field against the New York Yankees – Pahlmeyer, Far Niente, Peter Michael, Philip Togni, Aventura – etc. As I tasted down the line I was struck not by how seductive and succulent they were but by how understated they were. Most were impressively smooth and sculpted but not very arresting of challenging – until I hit DUNN VINEYARDS 2007 HOWELL MOUNTAIN CABERNET SAUVIGNON from Napa Valley ($96.95). Here was a cabernet with more personality, with something to say about the gutsy nature of the cabernet grape, and the classic man vs nature conflict inherent in its creation. Those other overpaid $100 players from Napa’s floor seemed almost wimpy, or at least effete, in comparison. Then, out of the minor leagues (under $50) came another mountain-grown Napa cab that sealed the deal. CUVAISON 2007 CABERNET SAUVIGNON from vineyards high on Mount Veeder ($49.95) did not have quite the depth of the Dunn, but it had the same dark, brooding black fruit presence and sense of sinew, for half the price.

Masi’s $100 Single Vineyard Amarones

Sandro Bosciani of Masi is one of the most engaging and interesting winemakers on the planet – and one of the most travelled and hardest working too. His career is a litany of innovations. Most importantly, Campofiorin, Italy’s first “ripasso” red made by refermenting Valpolicella after adding the lees left over from amarone fermentations. Then there were creative new blends from native, sometimes obscure Veneto varieties in wines like the white Masianco. He aged his Serego Aligheri Valpolicella in cherry wood instead of oak. He expanded into Tuscany where he tried intriguing new blends (again with indigenous varieties). He went to Argentina and applied ripasso technique to a corvina malbec blend called Passo Doble. And all these wines are available at the LCBO!

Masi Mazzano Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2004 Masi Campolongo Di Torbe Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2004 Most importantly he has fostered greatness with amarone, Veneto’s signature red made from dried or appasimento grapes. On Saturday Vintages releases his two great single vineyard amarones from the very good but not great 2004 vintage. They are MASI MAZZANO 2004 AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO and MASI CAMPOLONGO DI TORBE 2004 AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO, both selling for $99.95. I was immediately struck by how much these wines do not fit the common perception of amarone as a sumptuous, lavishly rich smooth and raisiny red. They really came across more like powerful, nuanced, firm and cellar-worthy dry reds with great acid structure.

“This is the future of amarone”, said Sandro Boscaini, when he visited Toronto in October. Well that might be true, but it was statement made with as much hope as actual foresight. Amarone has become hugely popular and profitable, it’s style and quality now widely dispersed and diluted. Having unleashed the beast he is still trying to tame and focus it, on quality.

Le Clos Jordanne’s Top 2009s

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2009 Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Pinot Noir 2009 Les Grand Clos – the king and queen of Jordan – are being set out for the public on Saturday, the matching pair white and red – chardonnay and pinot noir – from the top vineyard site of Le Clos Jordanne. This is the proud and earnest project, established in Niagara’s Jordan area almost a decade ago in a joint venture between Boisset of Burgundy and Vincor Canada. Since then Vincor has been purchased by U.S giant Constellation Brands, and Boisset has quit the project, but LCJ carries on as earnestly as ever when it comes to the winemaking under Sebastien Jacquey. He is achieving finesse and nuance that still escapes many in Niagara.  LE CLOS JORDANNE 2009 LE GRAND CLOS CHARDONNAY ($75) is a very fine piece of work – very elegant and almost ethereal. In my mind, after five full vintages, chardonnay remains a stronger performer at Le Clos than pinot noir. LE CLOS JORDANNE 2009 LE GRAND CLOS PINOT NOIR, also $75, is also the best of single vineyard pinot offerings, but showing an edginess and tartness in this vintage that I am not sure will ever be transcended.

Great New World Whites Under $20

Terrazas De Los Andes Reserva Torrontés 2010 And now a quick sip of three delicious, pure and inspired whites that should be in your cabinet for the holidays, or sipping next spring.TERRAZAS DE LOS ANDES 2010 RESERVA TORRONTÉS ($14.95) from the northern Salta province of Argentina  is as fine and elegant version of this floral, citrusy white grape as I ever come across. Terrazes is, in my mind, one of the great producers of Argentina, with a French sensibility that brings refinement to their reds and (now) their whites.

Momo Pinot Gris 2010 I don’t often get excited about pinot gris/grigio but MOMO 2010 PINOT GRIS ($18.95) from New Zealand’s Marlborough regions  is as exacting, pure and delicious as you are ever likely to find in a commercially priced example. Momo is a line of organically made wines from Seresin, this pinot gris being partial fermented with wild yeast and partially aged a short spell in French oak. The fruit remains wonderfully expressive of pinot gris despite these techniques.

And from Stellenbosch, South Africa, have a look at the surprising complex, elegant and deep AMANI 2009 CHARDONNAY, a steal at $17.95. It was made by Carmen Stevens, who since 2005 has made the wine for owner Jim Atkinson. Since purchasing a prime site in Stellenbosch in 2001 he and his family have been busy replanting to high density viticulture. I love the website’s description of the benefit. “The vines being planted so closely together create a bonsai effect causing the berries to be smaller and bursting with flavours”.

Amani Chardonnay 2009

So You Think You Know Wine? Ep# 2-2

So You Think You Know Wine? Ep# 2-2

And that’s it for this edition; check out reviews on over 60 wines from the November 26th release here. And don’t forget to watch episode two of season two of So You Think You Know Wine?

Cheers and enjoy, David

- David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign


Filed under: News, Wine, , , ,

So, You Think You Know Wine? Season Two – The Tournament Episode #2-2

Welcome to episode two of season two of “So, You Think You Know Wine?” – The Tournament.  Join our critics as they rise to a blind tasting challenge to identify the grape, country, region, year and price of the mystery wine.  Season two is in a tournament format, with six preliminary rounds for ranking and two elimination semi-finals leading to a championship round.

We’ve increased the number of participants from four to six.  Back from season one are David Lawrason, John Szabo MS, Steve Thurlow, Sara d’Amato and host Amil Niazi who are now joined by master sommelier Jennifer Huether and sommelier Zoltan Szabo.

We’ve also introduced a formal scoring structure of up to 10 points for a wine.  There are four parameters the critics are scored on:
• Varietal = up to 3 points for varietal or style
• Location = up to 3 points (2pts for Country and 1pt for Region)
• Vintage = up to 2 points (2pts for exact year, 1pt for +/- 1 year)
• Price = up to 2 points (2pts for +/- 2.5% of price, 1pt for +/- 10% of price)

Episode 2-2 features the Perrin Réserve 2009 from the Côtes Du Rhône region of France.  The Perrin Réserve is a common Southern Rhône blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre (GSM).

Click here to see the episode two of “The Tournament”.

So, You Think You Know Wine - Episode #2-2

So, You Think You Know Wine - Episode #2-2


Filed under: News

Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks: Vintages treasures

Last Saturday’s Vintage release had so many treasures. These are three more I feel are irresistible. Find them via WineAlign.com/MargaretsPicks.

Asolo Extra Dry Prosecco 2010
LCBO No. 262881; $16.95
It’s easy to be charmed by good Prosecco. There’s even more reason to love this one, the first offering from Canadian restaurateur Franco Prevedello. Lively with some florals, fresh citrus and white peach flavours, it’s well made with good length and finer fizz than the average.

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2008
LCBO No. 73072; $41.95
Burrowing Owl in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley continues to produce stunning full-bodied reds, such as this one from syrah grapes. Velvety textured with dark chocolate, spiced black berry and kirsch tastes, it’s like a liquid Black Forest cake without the heavy sweetness. Big alcohol (15%) with a year of barrel aging, it will cellar for several years or have it tonight with pepper steak.

Chateau Seguin 2008
LCBO No. 245837; $47.95
Good red Bordeaux is always a classy accompaniment to a fine meal. The trick is finding quality without high prices. This flavoursome blend of 60% cabernet sauvignon with merlot from Pessac-Léognan hits the right notes with elegance and structure. From a sleeper vintage, it’s medium-full bodied with classic flavours of underbrush, minerals, blackberry and cassis. Still firm on the palate, it will age well.

Filed under: Appetizer, Wine, , ,

Szabo & Szabo Cutting Edge Global Wine Tour at the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo 2011

John Szabo & Zoltan Szabo

2010 Prevedello Prosecco Asolo Superiore Extra-Dry, Veneto, Italy

Agent: Paul Mathews <paul@pmwine.com>

2009 Sattlerhof Morillon Klassik, Steiermark, Austria

Agent: Bernard Stramwasser <bernard@lesommelier.com>

2009 Bodegas Valdesil Godello Sobre Lías, Valdeorras, Spain

Agent: Rick Kitowski <ric@thewinecoaches.com>

2009 Pyramid Valley Pinot Blanc, Canterbury, New Zealand

Agent: Mark Cuff <thelivingvine@bell.net>

2008 Domaine Labet Fleur de Savagnin Côtes du Jura 2008

Agent: N/A

2007 Chelti Winery Saperavi, Kvareli District, Kakheti Region, Republic of Georgia

Agent: Irakli nikolashvili <irakli.organic@gmail.com>

2006 Bodegas y Viñedos Pablo Vidalillo, Cariñena, Spain

Agent: Ken Hayden <kenhayden@appellationwines.ca>

2007 Podere Il Carnasciale “Carnasciale” IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy

Agent: Bernard Stramwasser <bernard@lesommelier.com>

2008 Keint-He Pinot Noir Sauvage, Prince Edward County, Ontario

Agent: Geoff Henricks <geoff@keint-he.ca>

2009 Stéphane Tissot Chardonnay Arbois AOC

Agent: N/A

Filed under: Wine, , ,

John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for November 26th 2011 – My Finest Dozen; People and Wine Matching; Top Ten Smart Buys

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The theme for the November 26th release is the annual “Our Finest”, VINTAGES’ opportunity to bring out the year’s most expensive collection of big names and big wines. Out of 100+ wines tasted on two occasions, I found the quality to be by no means universally high, even if prices are. I also found marked stylistic differences in the top tier price category, which will make for intriguing comparative analysis between WineAlign critics and offer an opportunity for members to more clearly ‘align’. I’ve set out my personal Finest Dozen wines for quick reference, along with the usual Top Ten Smart Buys, and a list of additional wines for gifting this holiday, matched with the right people.

My Finest Dozen

Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2007Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon 2008Out of a range of sometimes overdone wines, one of the finest in my view is the exceptional 2007 DUNN VINEYARDS HOWELL MOUNTAIN CABERNET SAUVIGNON Howell Mountain, Napa Valley 95pts $96.95 ***. Randy and Lori Dunn have been Cabernet specialists since founding the property in 1978, and this 2007 is made from 100% ‘mountain’ fruit’ grown in the Howell Mountain AVA. Napa insiders often discuss the differences between fruit grown on the valley floor and on the hillsides flanking either side: the former generally softer and more approachable, the latter, firmer, tighter, more concentrated and age worthy. This is an extraordinary effort from the hills, dense and rich and hugely concentrated, yet with a scarcely believable [moderate] 13.9% alcohol and remarkable freshness. It’s a model of class and complexity, and at under $100 in a world of triple-digit prices, can even be considered fine value for collectors – this should age nicely for a couple of decades or longer.

Also among my finest selections is another Napa Cabernet born on a mountainside:2008 PHILIP TOGNI CABERNET SAUVIGNON Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley 93pts $123.95 **. This too is a Fine fragrant and elegant wine, with an excellent range of aromas, marked mineral flavours and expansive finish, which will appeal to both classicists and modernists alike.

People and Wine Matching: Giving Wine as a Gift

The FAQ most often put to wine experts at this time of year is which wine to buy as a gift. It’s a simple and innocent enough question, but the answer is anything but. You see, wine is a personal thing, so it’s sort of like asking someone to set up a blind date for somebody they’ve never met. Does your friend like tall, short, thin, intellectual, or sporting types? Do they have a preference for men or women? The would-be wine recommender needs to know not only about the characteristics of the wine, but also a little about the eventual drinker, in order to make a successful match.

So to help avoid mutual embarrassment, I’ve outlined a variety of foolproof wine/people combinations that should cover most of the characters on your wine gift list. The recommended wines are all in the November 26th release.

Young Sophisticates

For the casual imbiber recently graduated from beer or ready-to-drink coolers looking to appear more sophisticated…

Castellani Poggio Al Casone La Cattura 2009Concha Y Toro Winemaker's Lot 115 Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Red is your best bet here, as it is perceived as more sophisticated than white. Avoid those austere, traditional, old world style wines that are built on tannins and acids. Generous fruit and alcohol are key, giving the wines a plush and sweet, mouth-filling impression: “Now that is serious wine!” Look to warm climates in the new world, and new world-style wines from the old, such as Chile’s Maipo Valley, Argentina’s Mendoza, Barossa or McLaren Vale in South Australia, most parts of California, southern Spain, Italy (esp. Tuscany) and France. Widely recognized producers, regions and grapes are also considered a positive. Recommended spend: $10-$20.

Try these:
2009 CASTELLANI POGGIO AL CASONE LA CATTURA IGT Toscana 86pts $18.95
2008 CONCHA Y TORO WINEMAKER’S LOT 115 CABERNET SAUVIGNON Palo Santo Vineyard, Rapel Valley 86pts $17.95 *1/2

Hipsters

For thirty-something Queen West-type hipsters who are familiar with Merlot, Cabernet and Chardonnay and are ready to delve deeper…

Duca Di Salaparuta Passo Delle Mule Nero D'avola 2008 Palacio De Sada Crianza 2006 This can be a tricky category, as it covers a vast swath of newly minted wine drinkers with varying preferences. In general, they are open minded, but not quite ready for the tightly wound, austere, subtle or delicate wines that are difficult to “get.” Safe bets include boldly flavoured “fringe classics,” which will be familiar but not necessarily tasted before. Malbec from Argentina, Carmenère from Chile, Nero d’Avola and Montepulciano from Italy, Tempranillo from Spain, and Touriga Nacional from Portugal fit the bill. Quality matters more than obscurity, so familiar grapes grown in “new classic” places can also work, like Cabernet from Tuscany or Pinot Noir from California’s Russian River valley. Recommended spend: $15-$30.

Try these:
2008 DUCA DI SALAPARUTA PASSO DELLE MULE NERO D’AVOLA IGT Sicilia 89pts $19.95
2006 PALACIO DE SADA CRIANZA DO Navarra 89pts $14.95 ***

The (Wo)Man Who Has Everything

For the man or woman with lots of money but little time to research their preferences, the kind who would hire a personal shopper or concierge to do their gift buying…

Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2009 Kistler Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay 2009 This type is the easiest to buy for, but also the most expensive (avoid having too many of them in your life). Perceived scarcity, rarity and reputation impress most. Size matters: bigger is better. Name-brand appellations and producers are also key. Go straight to the Vintages section or the locked cabinets. Look for classified Bordeaux, super-Tuscans, expensive Napa Cab and cult Australian Shiraz. Cite Robert Parker, Wine Spectator or WineAlign scores with a knowing wink as you deliver. Recommended spend: $50-$100.

Try these:
2009 CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPEAC 93pts $89.95 **1/2
2009 KISTLER SONOMA MOUNTAIN CHARDONNAY Sonoma Mountain 92pts $72.95 **
2005 HENSCHKE MOUNT EDELSTONE VINEYARD SHIRAZKeyneton, Eden Valley, South Australia 92pts $99.95 *1/2
Henschke Mount Edelstone Vineyard Shiraz 2005

Wine Geeks

For the wine geek in your life, who subscribes to magazines, has taken a few evening wine courses and vacations in wine country; attends wine tastings, throws around terms like mid-palate, tannicity, bouquet, and malolactic fermentation at dinner parties, and generally fancies him/herself a wee bit of a con-WAH-sir…

These are challenging recipients, as a little bit of knowledge is always dangerous. It is virtually impossible to impress them, as they already know everything. Avoid easy targets for their wrath such as big commercial brands, labels with critters on them, Merlot from anywhere (unless it’s Pomerol), new world Pinot Noir and off-dry wines. This type will appreciate wines from classic growing regions, or future classic regions that they might have read about.  Recommended spend: $25-$45.

Try these:
2007 PESQUERA TINTO RESERVA DO Ribera del Duero 91pts $41.95 **1/2
2006 Ascheri Barolo Pisapola DOC Barolo 91pts $43.95 **1/2

Pesquera Tinto Reserva 2007  Ascheri Barolo Pisapola 2006

The Professor

For the quiet, humble, truly well informed wine expert who has dazzled you by correctly identifying that Volnay 1er Cru Taillepieds (“too perfumed and delicate for a Côtes de Nuits”) or the 2009er Ürziger Würztgarten Riesling Spätlese  (riper than the 2008s and too spicy to be a Wehlener Sonnenuhr…”)…

Not as tough to impress as you think. They will be pleased by any thoughtful gift, so do some research. Seek out something unusual; you’ll score huge bonus points if you find a grape variety they’ve never heard of, or a little-known but up-and-coming region/producer. Colour doesn’t matter, as long as the wine smells and tastes of the place it was grown. Value matters, as does subtlety, delicacy and balance. Don’t bother with most wines that you would buy for The Rich. If there are no unusual specialties available, go for foolproof “wine lover’s wines” like top German Riesling, respectable Burgundy, Barolo/Barbaresco, Grüner Veltliner from the Wachau, or anything else that smells and tastes of rocks. Old vintages are appreciated. Champagne never fails, especially grower champagne rather than big brand. Recommended spend: $20-$50.

Try these:
2009 ATA RANGI PETRIE CHARDONNAY Wairarapa, North Island 93pts $33.95 ***
2007 MIGUEL TORRES MAS LA PLANA CABERNET SAUVIGNON DO Penedès 92pts $46.95 ***
EMILIO LUSTAU EAST INDIA SOLERA SHERRY DO Jerez (375ml) 91pts $16.95 ***
2009 GROTTA DEL SOLE FALANGHINA DEI CAMPI FLEGREI DOC 88pts $15.95 ***
2009 CAVE DE ROQUEBRUN LA GRANGE DES COMBES SAINT-CHINIAN-ROQUEBRUN AC 90pts $16.95 ***

Ata Rangi Petrie Chardonnay 2009  Miguel Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon 2007  Emilio Lustau East India Solera Sherry  Grotta Del Sole Falanghina Dei Campi Flegrei 2009  Cave De Roquebrun La Grange Des Combes Saint Chinian Roquebrun 2009

From the November 26th Vintages release:

Top Ten Smart Buys
John’s Finest Dozen
All Reviews

Cheers,

John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier


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Nouveau est Arrivé! Beaujolais Nouveau – by Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d'Amato

As the clock quickly approaches the stroke of midnight on the third Thursday of November, bars and bistros all over the world prepare to serve the very first wine of this year’s harvest.

It is difficult to believe that mere weeks ago, these grapes were still clinging to the vines and now they find their way, across great oceans, to our dinner tables and into our glasses. This tradition of celebrating the barely fermented first wine of the harvest is an old one but has been more recently commercialized and with great success largely due to the keen marketing of Georges DuBoeuf.

Unfortunately, this celebratory trend is waning here in Canada and there is less and less excitement about this festive time. In recent years the selection available has been pared down and wines take weeks rather than days to fly off the shelves. Has this fad finally gotten the better of us? Has our savvy made us snobs in the face of these sweet, fun and simple little wines?

Perhaps we have lost sight of the fact that these wines are not meant to be scrutinized and held to the standards of more perfected bottles but rather used to make toasts to the new vintage yet upon us and be cause for merriment and relief. So, whether you love them or hate them, they are here and must be enjoyed quickly!

This year’s Nouveau release includes nine wines and, interestingly, only three of them are from Beaujolais, where the tradition began. Two are Italian selections, only one offering is from Ontario this year, hailing from Reif Estates, and the rest are from the Pays d’Oc region of France as well as a Gamay from the Ardèche. At 9:30 am on November 17th, 11,000 cases of these Nouveau wines will be distributed among more than 400 LCBO locations, ready for immediate consumption.

The only question now remaining is out of these nine selections, what to choose? Among the several wine critics who tasted these wines last Tuesday,  only one consensus could be assumed – they were all extremely varied and would appeal to a great range of tastes. What they have in common, though, is what fans have come to love about Nouveau wines – a simple, easy-drinking, un-manipulated style with fresh, fruity flavours and a playful nature.

If you approach with this mindset, you will not be disappointed. Fortunately the prices are still all under $15 and despite the fact that some may argue that even at these prices, they would not touch the stuff, one could conceivably buy a bottle of each and turn this event into a great tasting party. For the large majority of you who would rather discretely enjoy one bottle at home, here are a few highlights:

Joseph Drouhin 2011 Beaujolais Villages Nouveau
Beaujolais, France
Score 89, $14.95, LCBO #113266

The leader of the pack, Drouhin’s Beaujolais Villages Nouveau shows elegance and even mild complexity, which is most definitely to be celebrated in a wine so young.

Duboeuf 2011 Gamay Nouveau
Beaujolais
, France,
Score 88, $8.95, LCBO # 891846

The top value pick comes from the iconic Nouveau producer DuBoeuf who uses the grape of Beaujolais, Gamay, but produces this just outside the appellation. Fragrant, lush, fruity and playful this is the quintessential Beaujolais Nouveau (without actually being able to call itself so).

Giocale 2011 Novello
Terre Di Chieti
, Abruzzo, Italy
Score 87, $8.95, LCBO #271759

This well-priced Novello from Abruzzo is a delicious, non-traditionally French example with considerable depth and approachability. I predict this will be the first to sell out of the release.

For a list of the Beaujolais Nouveau wines locally available, click here.

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@WineAlign

WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008