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Celebrate with Canadian Wine on Canada Day

Maple LeafWe thought we would have some fun this Canada day and asked our critics to pick one of their favourite Canadian varietals, explain why they choose it and include a few excellent examples.   What better time to drink Canadian wine then when your toasting Canada’s 145th birthday.  Drinking local has never been easier, or more enjoyable!

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

Cabernet Franc - Janet Dorozynski

Cabernet Franc is one of Canada’s most interesting red grapes and definitely the red Bordeaux grape variety that is best-suited to our shorter growing season, even though it is often over-shadowed by Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Characteristic herbal and floral notes with a touch of spiciness are typical for well-made Cabernet Franc, with flavours trending towards red pepper, rather than green pepper, in riper vintages. In Canada, Cabernet Franc produces elegant cool climate wines and has shown that we can produce numerous very good wines from this grape. Notable producers include Featherstone, Tawse, Thirty Bench and Stratus in Ontario, along with Burrowing Owl, Pentage, Hester Creek and Tinhorn Creek in British Columbia.

Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2010

Stratus Cabernet Franc 2007

Southbrook Whimsy Cabernet Franc 2008

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Pinot Noir – David Lawrason

The thin skinned, petulant and generally difficult red grape of Burgundy has long been a favourite, not because every pinot is a glorious taste sensation, but because its variations are so markedly different; each expressing something about where it is grown. With pinot, the fun is in the chase, and Canada has emerged as a great place to be a pinot hunter. First it generally expresses a cool climate, Burgundian style of pinot. This is not a quality statement in itself, but in cooler climates the wines are lighter and more easily reflect their origin. I love good pinot from Oregon, California, New Zealand and Australia too, but in Burgundy the nuances are incredible. Canada provides a similar cool climate mirror, and it is now very obvious to me that there are different pinot terroirs here – sub regions within the Okanagan, on Vancouver Island, different pockets within Niagara and Prince Edward County, and Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley.  Where next? How about the escarpment hills above the Beaver Valley near Collingwood, or the south-facing slopes along Lake Ontario between Cobourg and Brighton. In Canada, the pinot story is only in its first chapters.

Le Clos Jordanne 2009 Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula

Inniskillin 2009 Montague Vineyard Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula

Norman Hardie 2010 County Pinot Noir, Prince Edward County

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Riesling – Sara d’Amato

Riesling has a lot in common with Canadian national identity. First, it is one of the noblest varieties on the planet, and like Riesling we are a country renown for our elite exports in the likes of Christopher Plummer, Karen Kain, and Leonard Cohen. It is also one of the most age-worthy varietals out there and like Riesling, Canadians have one of the longest life expectancies in the world, prolonged by our (albeit, underfunded) universal health care system. Riesling is incredibly nervy and dynamic, just as we are a thriving, scientifically progressive nation advancing both stem cell research and robotics. Last, we are incredibly expressive of our home soil – no explanation needed.  And if the above reasons are too much of a stretch for you then consider that Canada produces some of the most exceptional Rieslings in the world, which ought to be a source of national pride.

If that’s not enough to make you crack open a bottle of this plucky diva of a varietal, then here is one final pitch: fireworks. Riesling is a perfect embodiment of a pyrotechnic display in bottle as it is bright, vibrant, has tremendous tension and a great capacity for inspiring awe. This delicious wine with star power and shock value is sure to thrill on this most patriotic of nights. My top picks include:

A traditional, sweetened to perfection style:

Rosewood Natalie’s Süssreserve Riesling 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Canada’s iconic Riesling made by Niagara’s Riesling specialists:

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula

One of the most consistent and well-priced selections at the LCBO:

Henry Of Pelham Reserve Off Dry Riesling 2009, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula

Steve ThurlowChardonnay –  Steve Thurlow

Ontario it seems is one of the best places in world to produce fresh pure chardonnay. Our cool climate and relatively short growing season suit this grape well. Moreover as stylistic preferences have shifted from big rich honeyed heavily oaked wines to fresher lighter hardly oaked wines, Ontario is better able to perform.

In recent years the quality has improved and the 2010 vintage was especially good for chardonnay such that there are several well-priced wines in the LCBO stores.

I have chosen two that are great value and widely available. The first is un-oaked and the second is so lightly oaked that it is tough to tell the difference. So pick up a few bottles of both and enjoy lightly chilled with all manner of dishes.

Coyote’s Run Unoaked Chardonnay 2010 VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada $13.95

Jackson Triggs Black Series Chardonnay 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada $11.95

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Who to Party With on Canada Day  - John Szabo

Consider these two Niagara wines: 2010 Southbrook Triomphe Chardonnay $21.95, made by Ann Sperling, and the 2010 Ravine Vineyard Meritage $24.95, made by Ann’s husband, Peter Gamble. Both Peter and Ann are fervent believers in the superior results produced by biodynamical farming. Southbrook is Canada’s first Demeter-certified winery, and Ravine will be certified for the 2012 harvest, but has been practicing the methods for almost four years now (Ravine has been organic since the beginning). Ann’s chardonnay is a reflection of the warmer 2010 growing season and the Niagara-on-the-Lake sub-appellation, with it’s rich, soft texture and sweet caramel and baking spice flavour – a more new world style example that will appeal broadly. Peter’s Meritage is a terrifically juicy, vibrant, lively and stylish red blend, with a fine balance of ripe but grippy tannins, juicy acid and modest, sip-all-afternoon 12.5% alcohol. Together they’re a great pair to party with.

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Margaret Swaine’s Spirit Picks: Summer cocktails

These products are perfect for creating delicious summer cocktails. Find them via  WineAlign.com/MargaretsPicks.

Alizé Gold Passion
$24.95 (87 Points)
This exotic cordial, created in concert with a French family known for its jams and juices, blends passion fruit juice with cognac, French vodka and sugars. Its nose is aromatic with passion fruit, which carries through on the palate. It’s sweet but not overly so with orange juice-like notes. Add sparkling wine for a great mimosa or tequila for a margarita with a twist.

Limoné Natural Lemon Liqueur
$19.95 (86 Points)
Limoncé is Italy’s No. 1 selling limoncello. Lower alcohol at 25%, with no artificial colours or flavours, it’s all about the sweet lemon peel. A little syrupy but with a good lemon peel finish, mix with soda water and gin for a tall cool drink or vodka and cranberry juice for a Limonpolitan.

The London #1 Gin
$44.95  (93 Points)
One of a handful of super-premium gins distilled in London, its light turquoise colour is derived in part from gardenia flowers and a final infusion of bergamot oil. Triple distilled, made from high-quality English grain spirit and 12 botanicals, this is a highbrow gin. The aromatics and flavours jump out of the glass — juniper first, then citrus peels and cinnamon and liquorice in the finish. Distinctive yet smooth on the palate, enjoy in a martini, stirred not shaken.

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for July 7, 2012

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The Tour de France, Hardcore Cosmoculture and Sara’s Off the Beaten Path Whites

The 99th Tour de France runs from Saturday June 30th to Sunday July 22nd. Over the course of twenty stages and one prologue, riders (including Canadian Ryder Hesjedal) will cover a total distance of 3,497 kilometres. Vintages is likewise proposing the Tour de France as the theme of the July 7th release. You too, can do the Tour, covering only the distance between your house and the nearest Vintages store. Read on for 7 recommended stops along the way. And if you’ve still got some France left in you, then I’ll invite you on one more trip. But this time, it’s into the cosmos where you can find out how you, too, can get an energy boost from wine.  From France, we move off the beaten path with some summer white selections from my WineAlign colleague Sara d’Amato.

Your Tour de France 

1.       Rhône Valley - E. Guigal Gigondas 2009 $29.95

Pfaffenheim Cuvée Bacchus GewurztraminerE. Guigal GigondasThis is one of the better Gigondas’ from Guigal in some time in my estimation. It’s quite a pretty and perfumed example of southern Rhône grenache, with plenty of typical kirsch, freshly turned earth, saddle leather and ripe red plum. The palate is full, plush, quite firmly structured, with above average complexity and depth. Terrific length; this should continue to evolve and improve over the next 2-4 years and hold at least until the end of the decade.

2.       Alsace - Pfaffenheim Cuvée Bacchus Gewurztraminer 2010 $19.95

Textbook gewürztraminer nose here, filled with exotic jasmine flowers, freshly shelled lychee, ripe red apple and yellow orchard fruit – above average complexity. The palate is thick and unctuous, certainly off-dry, yet still balanced by a backbone of cutting acidity. Terrific length. Lovely wine for fans of the traditional expression.

3.       Languedoc - Château du Donjon Grande Tradition Minervois 2009 $12.95

Château Du Donjon Grande Tradition MinervoisJean Pierre Et Michel Auvigue Solutré Pouilly FuisséExtreme value wine from the Midi here, with superb fruit definition, dense, dark, rich and plush, inflected with wild violet perfume and an intriguing touch of garrigue. The palate is full and generous, though carries 14.5% alcohol with ease, while ripe tannins hold the fruit definition together. Exceptional length for the price category; top value.

4.       Burgundy-Mâconnais - Jean-Pierre et Michel Auvigue Solutré Pouilly-Fuissé 2010 $23.95

This is a classically styled and proportioned chardonnay from the Mâconnais, dominated by sweet floral tree fruit blossoms, ripe citrus and apple, with noted but integrated wood influence. The palate is gentle but well cut, delivering more minerality than expected. Above average length.

5.       Alps-Savoie - Jean Perrier & Fils Cuvée Prestige Mondeuse Vin de Savoie 2010 $14.95

Domaine Edmond Jacquin Altesse Roussette De SavoieJean Perrier & Fils Cuvée Prestige Mondeuse Vin De SavoieMondeuse, a Savoie specialty, is highly reminiscent of Northern Italian style wines, especially dolcetto in this case. Could have something to do with the long political dominance of the House of Savoy over Italy. In any case, this wine has pale purple colour that leads into a pleasant, fragrant nose, with aromas running in the spectrum of bright, fresh, sour red fruit, cherry blossom and blanched almond. On the palate the wine is vibrant and juicy, light and fresh, perfect for a light chill, a patio and a plate of charcuterie.

6.       Alps-Savoie - Domaine Edmond Jacquin Altesse Roussette de Savoie 2010 $17.95

Another uniquely Savoyard specialty altesse (the grape variety used in the AOC Roussette de Savoie, though “Roussette” is sometimes used as a synonym for Altesse) delivers a clean and fresh mountain white, which smells like a flowery meadow and peach-apple orchard, free from oak influence. The palate is essentially dry, though there’s a mild impression of sweetness from the peachy fruit component, balanced by a pleasant touch of bitterness on the finish. Gentle texture and easy sipping, perfect for a sandwich jambon-beurre and a hike in the Alps.

7.       Provence - Château Val Joanis Tradition Syrah Rosé 2011 $14.95

Here’s a light, delicate, fragrant, dry rosé from the Lubéron Valley made from syrah, full of cherry blossom and apple flavours. Length and depth are better than average for the price category. This is the kind of wine you can sip all afternoon with all manner of foods, or on the dock watching the sun set.

Château Val Joanis Tradition Syrah Rosé

Into the Cosmos

Domaine ViretIf you’ve still got some France left in you, then I’ll invite you on one more trip. But this time, it’s into the cosmos. Earlier this month I came across some of the most astounding wines I’ve tasted in some time. They’re produced in the Southern Rhône Valley by Domaine Viret, following a method of winegrowing known by its high priests and originators, Alain and Philippe Viret, as “Cosmoculture®”. Cosmoculture is hard core organic, biodynamic and natural winemaking rolled into one philosophically and metaphysically sound, yet scientifically questionable, package. Telluric and magnetic energy currents, and the memory capacity of water are harnessed to strengthen the life force energy of vines to produce healthy, vital grapes. The Viret’s have been able to reduce their sulfur additions to near zero; clay vessels and concrete are favoured over wood and stainless steel. But the ontological proof is in the wines: you have to taste to believe. For all the details on comosculture, read my Toronto Standard article. For specific reviews, search WineAlign for “Viret” (or click here). Wines are available by private order through Tannin Fine Wines, Nicholas Pearce (nicholas@tanninfinewines.com). The next shipment is leaving shortly, so don’t miss, the, err, shuttle.

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Off the Beaten Path Whites – by Sara d’Amato

This summer I am looking for less traditional whites to dazzle my guests. By less traditional, I don’t mean stylistically or regionally untraditional, but rather less commonplace on our Canadian tables. Wine’s role can be much more than a boost for our dishes and a sensual treat for our palates; it should also be a conversation starter. Here are my top ice breaking picks from this week’s release:

Bastianich Adriactico FriulanoThe Royal Tokaji Wine Company FurmintMt. Boucherie Estate Collection Semillon

Bastianich Adriactico Friulano 2010, Doc Colli Orientali Del Friuli, Italy $18.95

Highly accomplished couple Lidia and Joseph Bastianich were successful chefs, authors, restaurateurs and TV personalities before embarking on this exceptional Fruili wine venture that now boasts some of the oldest vines in the region. Full-bodied and floral, fruilano (formerly tocai fruilano) is an intriguing and aromatically generous varietal. This version is so incredibly sultry and flavour-packed that you’d be wise to have more than one bottle on hand.

The Royal Tokaji Wine Company Furmint 2009, Tokaji, Hungary, $13.95

The wine responsible for taking the ‘tocai’ out of fruilano is Hungary’s iconic Tokaji wine made principally from the noble furmint varietal. In 1995 European courts ruled that the term Tocai/Tokaji was proprietary to Hungary and 2007 saw the word ‘tocai’ dropped from Italian labels. This furmint, made in the region of Tokaji, is a dry table wine with only a hint of sweetness. Luscious and spicy with flavours of peach and honeydew melon, this bottle, when well-chilled, is enough to send shivers down your spine.

Mt. Boucherie Estate Collection Semillon 2008, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $19.95

This Mt. Boucherie Semillon knocked my socks off at this week’s Vintages release tasting. With powerful and complex flavours ranging from honey to sea salt and white pepper to lemon zest, this unctuous semillon shows little signs of maturity.  Mt. Boucherie is one of the founding members of the Okanagan wine industry and boasts some of the oldest vineyards in the valley. This substantial, oak-free white has the body to pair with meats that you might traditionally pair with red wine.

From the July 7, 2012 Vintages release:

Tour de France Picks
Sara’s Wine Reviews
All Reviews

Cheers,

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier


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 Sbragia Home Ranch Chardonnay 2009


International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration


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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – The Gin Game

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

The Gin Game  - The mere whiff of gin takes me to England back in the days when I used to cross the Atlantic on the famous Cunard Ocean Liners. Cunard epitomized British refinement and I loved the trips I took as a young companion to my grandmother when she was on her way to join her husband in Europe. My grandma was born a year before the Wright Brothers first successful flight and didn’t trust those flying machines. Cunard’s motto was “getting there is half the fun” and it was. I ordered caviar for breakfast, smoked salmon at lunch and enjoyed a preprandial drink every evening. (I was underage by Canadian law but as the only kid in First Class, I was indulged.) The drink was always a Pimm’s No. 1 Cup; a gin based potation with a mix of herbs said to be good for the digestion. The bartender would stir it up with lemonade in a highball glass decorated with cucumber slices and mint.

Plymouth English GinPimm's No. 1 CupPimm’s I have since found out was first introduced to England’s dandiest gents in 1823 by James Pimm at his famous Oyster Bar restaurant. Oysters and gin were a favourite pairing of the day and Pimm’s flavoured gin served in a small tankard known as a “No. 1 Cup” quickly became all the rage. By 1914 it was “Pimm’s o’clock” all across the Empire. The brand is undergoing a revival of sorts – though a recent attempt to promote it as a winter warmer was met with less than enthusiasm. As a bartender at the Balmoral Bar in Edinburgh told me as he stuffed my Pimm’s glass with strawberry, apple, blueberries and cucumber, “That Pimm’s warm up never really took off. Pimm’s will always be associated with Wimbledon and an English summer.”

Gin itself has had many ups and downs since it first appeared as a medicine in Holland in 1650. The Brits were introduced to it as Dutch Courage during the Thirty Years War. They became completely besotted though not for gin’s so called curative powers but rather for its intoxicating effect. By 1740 London had about 9,000 gin shops and enough gin in a year to pour 20 gallons per adult. Known in the 1820’s as Mother’s Milk (milk and water had become unsanitary), later in the century it was dubbed Mother’s Ruin. Eventually gin was rightly reformed and refined.

Botanicals in GinThe Plymouth Gin Distillery was once a Dominican Order monastery built in 1431 which later became the Black Friars Distillery. Located in Plymouth, the distillery claims Plymouth made the original dry martini citing 1896 documents which list it as a key ingredient. Plymouth English Gin is distilled English wheat flavoured with botanicals. Juniper is at the heart with coriander seeds, lemon peel, orange peel, angelica root, orris root and cardamom pods to give it layers of distinctive lingering tastes. This more refined gin with its subtle elegance of flavours appealed to high society then, and still does now.

During the First Cocktail Age in the 1920’s gin triumphed. The original James Bond martini was based on gin. In more recent decades the spirit languished in the shadows of vodka and other clear spirits until its latest comeback spearheaded by deluxe brands.

Victoria GinTanqueray No. TenThese premium brands have come on stream packaged in fancy bottles and focusing on their unique botanicals. Gins are like vodka with flavour – juniper being the defining classic botanical that differentiates the spirit.  Other botanicals such as roots, spices, dried fruits and herbs give each gin its unique profile. Many of the newest offer a break from the traditional recipe and downplay the juniper. Tanqueray Ten is distilled with whole-fruit fresh botanicals. Oranges, grapefruits and limes give a crisp citrus note to the juniper base made fragrant with chamomile and coriander. Hendrick’s Gin from Scotland has the unorthodox rose petals and cucumbers added to the more standard botanicals. Broker’s has ten botanicals, all fresh, no essences used, including the less common liquorice and nutmeg. Canada’s own Vancouver Island produces the unique Victoria Gin using ten locally sourced organic and wild botanicals. Bombay Sapphire is a ‘beginner’s’ upscale gin with very delicate, muted botanicals that are rounded and so gentle as to be almost bland. London No. 1 Gin made from high quality English grain spirit and 12 botanicals gets its light turquoise colour in part from gardenia flowers and a final infusion of bergamot oil. Different gins are suited for different cocktails depending upon the recipe of botanicals.

For all reviews by Margaret Swaine, click here.


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Bowmore 18 Years Old Islay

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Wine education for us all – Rosé wine ~ Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

What’s all the blush about?  

What is rosé? Is it a red wine or a white wine?

Truth be told, it’s a little of both. With several exceptions, most rosé is made from red grapes using white winemaking methods.

There are two common ways of making the ideal summer sipper. The first is to simply crush the grapes and let them ferment with the juice for up to three days in stainless steel vats, after which the juice is ‘run off.’ Fermented at cool temperatures the same way white wine would be, the result is a very pale red (or pink) wine with a discernible white wine personality.

Chateau d’Esclans Garrus Rose

On the other hand, most of the world’s finest rosés are produced using the saignée method. This is a little more complicated. Instead of immediately crushing the grapes, they are left relatively unbroken to chill and macerate for up to two days, after which they are fermented like any other white wine; any ‘free-run’ juice is then drained from the vat and eventually bottled. Not surprisingly, this is more labour-intensive, and quality will depend on the experience and/or talent of the winemaker. Isn’t this always the case?

Chateau d’Aqueria Tavel Rose

So in what places is the best rosé produced? In France, great rosé can be found throughout virtually all southern winegrowing regions, particularly Provence, Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Southern Rhône Valley (most notably the Tavel appellation). In each case, the wine is typically a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, and Mourvèdre; though the style may vary depending on grape blends and the level of extraction involved. Delightful rosé can also be found in theLoire(the best made from Cabernet Franc), Burgundy (particularly the commune of Marsannay), and even Bordeaux. Spain and Italy also produce their fair share, under the names ‘rosado’ and ‘rosato,’ respectively. In each case, local grapes are commonly used, though Spanish versions are often more reliable, especially those made from Garnacha (Grenache).

In California, white Zinfandel was all the rage in past decades, crafted using the saignée method but with a much shorter maceration. However, the past ten years have seen white Zinfandel give way to darker-coloured, fresher, and much more potent styles. Many of these are crafted using whichever grapes the specific region is most famous for, or from whichever grapes are most widely available. Other than this, generalizations are hard to make, rosé is now so widely produced. Large-scale producers can be found throughoutCalifornia,South America,Australia,New Zealand, andSouth Africa. In each case, they will often taste much stronger and more extracted than their European counterparts, as well as possess a much darker colour. Not surprisingly, smaller producers with a good reputation are the ones to watch out for.

Most rosé can be easily enjoyed on its own, either as an aperitif on the summer patio or as an accompaniment to all sorts of dishes. While it may seem surprising, rosé pairs amazingly well, not just with seafoods and creatures formerly feathered but a wide assortment of foods. The ideal serving temperature is anywhere between 6 and 8°C. Just remember one thing: excepting champagne versions, rosé does not age. Particularly on this account, it is indeed neither a red wine nor a white wine.

Click here for a few gems from the 23 June 2012 Vintages Release.

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Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks: Summer sippers

This Saturday’s Vintages release features some cool summer sippers. Find these picks via  WineAlign.com/MargaretsPicks.

Domaine de la Tourlaudière Muscadet 2010
$13.95 (89 Points)
This is a standout example of the dry Loire Valley varietal that’s perfect with oysters and fish. There are bready, floral and mineral notes on the bouquet. Medium bodied, dry yet supple and smooth on the palate, this is both lively and delicate with good length. From an excellent year, it’s softly fruity, complex and elegant.

Astrolabe Province Sauvignon Blanc 2011
$21.95 (91 Points)
From New Zealand’s Marlborough region, this is a forward, expressive white with a passion fruit and tropical cocktail bouquet. Full bodied and plump on the palate, it’s full of juicy fruit with a zesty finish. This wine handles Thai, Indian and other flavourful cuisines well.

Lucien Albrecht Reserve Pinot Gris 2010
$15.95 (89 Points)
Albrecht is amongst the pioneers of viticulture in Alsace with a wine-growing history that can be traced back to 1425. Plump, peachy and ripe with a balancing acidity, this white has honeyed notes on the palate so it tastes just off dry. Medium-full bodied, round and supple in the mouth, it’s great with Berkshire pork chops or fish in a beurre blanc sauce.

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The Fascinating Wines of Greece: An Old Soul Resonates with Modern Sensibilities – by Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Greece imparts a picture of complete serenity, spectacular visuals and unabating blissfulness. A picture of great wine, on the other hand, is more of a stretch for the average North American wine drinker. The indelible notability of Retsina, the abstruse, iconic wine infused by pine resin, is so entrenched in our consciousness that we are apt to turn a blind eye to the wines that stealthfully creep into our market on low shelves with unpronounceable monikers and brazen labels. With great relief, this is changing, as wine professionals and more and more amateur aficionados begin to dispel the stigmas and introduce consumers to the reality of Greece’s modern viticulture.

Steeped in history – Crete is home to the oldest wine press discovered dating back to the Mycenaean period

“Eternally Modern” is the new official slogan of the New Wines of Greece, the major association of Greek wine producers, and although it captures the dual qualities of a progressive winemaking culture that is also steeped in ancient tradition and history, I would offer another theme: “Old is New Again” is perhaps a more apt description of what is happening in this diverse country. With its multitude of unique and indigenous varietals, a deeply entrenched culture and impressive historical significance to every stone one may trip upon, Greece’s ancient varietals, terroirs and vineyards are giving the industry serious clout in the modern world.

The country’s strengths include an incredibly long, uninterrupted winemaking history, of a length that no other country can claim. In addition, Greece boasts over 300 indigenous, unique varietals of unparalleled quality. Slowly, these varietals are becoming known in our export market, regardless of whether consumers can pronounce them. Considering that most new world regions rely on one unique grape of distinction, such as carmènere in Chile and pinotage in South Africa, Greece would seem to be rolling in riches. With a pool of uniqueness as great as the Greeks have to draw on, they will forever have an edge. On the other hand, the sea of choice can be somewhat daunting. Among the most prominent varietals you are likely to encounter in North American markets are:

White:

Santorini’s basket trained, exceptionally old assyrtiko vines in volcanic soil

Assyrtiko: The star of Grecian whites. Bright, vibrant and expressive. Somewhat reminiscent of Riesling but less aromatic. A diva of a grape, somewhat oxidative in nature and requires careful attention both in the vineyard and the winery. Difficult to produce but perhaps one of the most noble of Greek whites. It shines most brightly in Santorini due to the unique volcanic soils giving the grape just the right pH and mineral content to reach the peak of its expression. Softer and arguably more aromatic when planted elsewhere in Greece. Producers to watch for: Sigalas, Hatzidakis, Ktima Pavlidis.

A new generation of Greek winemakers. The ladies of Porto Carras in the historic Halkidiki region

Malgousia: The undeniable up-and-coming star of Greece. Hugely aromatic, exotic, succulent and seductive with inherent viscosity. This varietal has certain Viognier-like character but with greater acidity, more expressive of soil type and added flavour layer of floral/herbal notes.  Gerovassiliou, one of Greece’s most notable winemaking figures, largely responsible for the Greek wine renaissance, rescued this varietal from imminent extinction and now it is planted throughout the country. Producers to watch for: Gerovassiliou, Porto Carras.

Athiri: An ancient varietal often blended with assyrtiko in Santorini and lends aromatics and softness to the blend. When produced on its own (which is rare), the result is an almost ethereal, pillowy wine. Producers to watch for: Sigalas,  Alexakis.

Vidiano: Spicy, floral, higher in alcohol, with flavours of peach and wild herbs, this obscure varietal is making waves in Crete. Low production still but the quality is undeniable. Producer to watch for: Alexakis.

Moschofilero: Exotic, with generous, gewurztraminer-like aromatics, this refreshing, red-skinned grape is used to produce exclusively white wines in either sweet, dry or sparkling styles. Most notable examples in the Peloponnese. Producers to watch for: Boutari, Domaine Tselepos.

Red:

Agiorgitiko: Most notably produced in the southern region of the Peloponnese, more specifically Nemea, this is one of the most dynamic red varietals made in a plethora of styles. Its acidic structure, soft tannins and richness of flavour, make it not unlike Sangiovese.  Producers to watch for: Papantonis Winery, Domaine Skouras.

The affable xinomavro expert, winemaker Stellios Boutaris of Kir Yianni Estates.

Xinomavro: One of the most exciting red varietals, this extremely ageworthy red with firm tannins and good acidic structure most strikingly resembles Nebbiolo. The Naoussa planted versions exhibit greater intensity and ageability while when produced in the neighboring Florina, the wine tends to be softer, more approachable but simpler. Producers to watch for: Ramnista, Alpha Estates, Kir-Yianni, Thymiopoulos, Boutari.

Kotsifali: Primarily grown on the island of Crete with characteristics of high alcohol, low colour and with soft tannins and acidity. It is often blended with either Mandilaria or Syrah. Fruity but with grace and plenty of charm. Producers to watch for: Alexakis, Lyrarakis.

Limnio: One of the most ancient red varietals, mentioned by Homer. This varietal is most notably grown in the northern, mountainous region of Macedonia and is akin to juicy, fruity Beaujolais with surprising depth. Producer to watch for: Porto Carras.

As aforementioned, these are a mere sampling of the unique varietals planted in Greece. Among the biggest challenges that Greece faces today in terms of consumer acceptability are the pronounce-ability of their grape names (for a pronunciation guide visit www.allaboutgreekwine.com). One can perhaps understand the temptation many producers have succumbed to in planting so called “international varietals” such as Cabernet, Syrah and Chardonnay. Some are playfully blending these varietals such as Kotsifali and Syrah in order to produce a more balanced approach. The founder of Domaine Hatzimichalis, Dimitris Hazimichalis, in Central Greece, was the first to plant international varietals back in the 70s and to use the names of varietals on the labels.

The use of these international varietals is contentious throughout Greece. From my perspective it is somewhat disappointing to see these varietals used so frequently especially given the availability of diverse, indigenous varietals, perfectly suited to local terroir. In fact, on my recent visit to Greece we North Americans were relentless in our advice to producers that our market is much more interested in indigenous varietals than these more common, international varietals. Given the choice, an American is much more likely to purchase a Californian Chardonnay or Cabernet than they would take a chance on a Greek version of either of those varietals.

Wineries such as the infamous Gerovassiliou and the remote Biblia Chora are most notably acting to preserve indigenous varietals and experiment on the best locales for growing. Although Greece has a great wine producing history, it has only been producing serious, noteworthy wines from both indigenous and international varieties for several decades. It is also experiencing a groundswell in local talent, as increasingly large numbers of Greeks travel to France and abroad to train in winemaking, returning home to put their skills into practice (rumour goes that it is not unusual to find Greeks outnumbering French in many French winemaking programs). Therefore, experimentation is at the forefront of the Greek wine renaissance.

Greece is not just home to beautiful beaches and blue seas, snow capped mountains are not unusual to see in the third most mountainous country in Europe

Some fascinating discoveries regarding these indigenous varietals is that their high acidity seemed to be at odds with the very hot and sunny climate in which they thrive – so what gives? The answer is complex and multi-faceted. In certain regions, like Santorini, the low pH in the soils and mineral content is such that it affects the acid levels in the grapes. A factor in other regions and most notably in the northern regions of Macedonia is the high altitude viticultural sites. Katogi-Averoff whose winery is located in Metsovo, boasts the highest altitude vineyard sites of anywhere in Europe at over 1,000 meters above sea level. You’ll have to visit Argentina to see vines planted at greater altitudes. And of course, another factor is the grapes themselves, which are prone to naturally high acidity. This is an extremely fortuitous and noteworthy facet of these indigenous varietals, uniquely suited to the climate (and to our modern day palate). Lastly, both the maritime climatic influence (particularly notable in the islands) and the wind that winds through the valleys, which helps to keep the vines dry and clean, also aids in keeping the temperature in check.

Surprising though it may be for wines from such a notoriously hot Mediterranean climate, Greek wines exhibit a fresh vibrancy, an extraordinary versatility with food and complexities that will rival some of the most renowned European varietals. The fact that Greece’s financial troubles have dominated the global economic news for many months now may well afford a unique opportunity for cross-pollination – all eyes are on Greece at the moment, and as the old adage goes, no publicity is bad publicity.  Those who take the time to develop a familiarity with the vocabulary of Greek wine, and who are willing to put any past prejudices behind, them will greatly benefit from what was is old becoming new again. And, fortunately, what was old now has the advantage of modern techniques and a young, highly educated, devoted new generation of winemakers to best develop their full potential. The time of Greek enlightenment and renaissance is upon us again.

My top Greek wine picks at the LCBO are listed below, or you can find them all here.

Top LCBO Picks:

Katogi & Strofilia Xinomavro, 2005, Ao Naoussa, $17.95

Kir Yianni Ramnista Xinomavro 2008, Aoqs Naoussa, $16.40

Boutari Grande Reserve 2004, Aoqs Naoussa,  $16.95

Kir Yianni Akakies Rosé 2011, Ao Amyndeon,  $11.95

Domaine Gerovassiliou White 2009, Regional Wine Of Epanomi,  $16.90

Tselepos Moschofilero Mantinia 2010, Pdo, Peloponnese,  $14.50

Boutari Santorini 2010, Aohq, Santorini,   $15.95

Tselepos Driopi Agiorgitiko 2008, Pdo Nemea, Greece, 269043, $18.95

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Lawrason’s Take On Vintages June 23rd Release

David Lawrason

Understated Euro Heat Busters

I am fatigued with media hype about “how to beat the heat”; especially those re-cycled spots every few days by breathless, bouncy meteorologists as soon as the humidex pushes over 30.  I think we all know that cool places are good; hydration is good; lakes and pools are good, lighter exercise is good. But I would love to hear them say that Spanish manzanilla is good, and what about Italian prosecco and Provencal rosé? This hit home when I was tasting in a rather tepid LCBO lab for this Saturday’s “Summer Sippers” release. Sure there were racy New Zealand sauvignons, crisp Ontario whites and a raft of New World chardonnays, but all seemed just so brash and warm and loud, compared to those calm, cool and collected Euro wines. So here is a selection to consider, not so much based on big scores (although all are very good) but because they are inexpensive – nothing over $17.95 – and they will fit neatly into a sultry, lazy evening on the deck.

Nessa AlbariñoDomaine Des Chouans SoralTiefenbrunner Pinot GrigioThere are several whites to consider but I’ll begin with a perennial favourite from northern Italy’s subalpine “Sudtirol” region. Tiefenbrunner was one of the first Italian white wine specialists to adopt crisp, clean, modern wine styling in the 90s, and he continues to capture the refreshing ambiance of his high altitude region with Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2011 ($17.95). Up and over the snowy Alps in Switzerland the white wines from the chasselas grape are trending to a lighter, gentler style. Domaine des Chouans Soral 2010 from the hills around Geneva is a pristine, effortless example ($15.95). And from the Atlantic coast of northwest Spain the 2010 Nessa Albariño ($16.00) offers the same cool charm.  Often albariño makes quite exotic and powerful whites but this edition is dialled back a bit. Served well chilled it will be like biting into a fresh honeydew melon.

Prevedello Asolo Superiore Extra Dry ProseccoPetit Rimauresq RoseDon’t not overlook sparkling wine on torrid days; perhaps the ultimate refreshment. And sure, if the occasion calls for an electrifying Champagne, open your wallet and go for it. But staying with our theme of understated, charming and inexpensive refreshers don’t miss Prevedello Asolo Superiore Extra Dry Prosecco 2010 at $16.95. It is utterly pure and delicious, almost twinkling with refreshment. And yes it is a new label by Toronto restaurateur Franco Prevedello (founder of Centro and others), who himself has a certain freshness of spirit.

The pink parade of new rosés continues Saturday and the ultimate refresher is 2011 Petit Rimauresq Rosé from Côtes de Provence. I was in this part of the world at a garden party on a very hot day just last month, and a local rosé of almost identical pale hue and zesty, mouth-watering delivery had people raving. I highly recommend this classy little number for any summer group events on your wine calendar, especially at only $13.95.

Emilio Lustau Papirusa Solera Reserva Very Dry ManzanillaWe finish off our Euro Tour of Summer Sippers with Emilio Lustau Papirusa Solera Reserva Very Dry Manzanilla at $11.95 for a half bottle.  Rarely would one ever consider a fortified wine as a summer sipper, but this bone-dry sherry – served stone cold into a slim, narrow “copita” or sherry glass will make an indelible impression. It originates from southern Spain, one of the hottest wine regions on the planet, where it is almost as natural as breathing to have a manzanilla or two just before lunch or dinner with a simple plate of olives, almonds and a chunk of salty cheese.

Great New World Reds

So now that we’ve addressed your summer mood wines, which is just about all I am drinking these days, let’s get to the meat of the matter for those of us who also like big, bold and hopefully balanced reds. There were three really exciting, top notch reds on this release that I have rated at 93 or better.

The most exciting, especially for syrah fans, is the 2007 Wind Gap Castelli-Knight Ranch Syrah from the Russian River Valley, Sonoma County – worth every penny of $59.00 if this is in your bracket. Windgap is one of several labels from Pax Mahle, a Sonoma native who has refurbished an old 1936 winery in Forestville to make a series of distinctive, small batch wines, with a focus on syrah, but dabbling with other varieties as well – all from specific vineyards. A former sommelier, he is a leader among a group of California somms who are turning to winemaking with a vision of making less bombastic and more natural and food friendly reds, and generally shaking up the California established order. In a recent video Pax was asked what wine region most excited him nowadays, and he replied, Sicily. So indeed he is thinking outside the box. And this is great syrah!

Wind Gap Castelli Knight Ranch SyrahMaysara Pinot NoirPenfolds Bin 389 Cabernet-ShirazStill on America’s west coast, and still with a more natural approach, pinot fans should not miss Maysara Estate Cuvée Pinot Noir 2008, a Demeter certified biodynamically grown Oregon pinot that fits very comfortably quality wise at $39.95. This winery was founded in 2001 by Moe and Flora Momtazi who had spied a parcel of vacant, unfarmed, organically in-tact land near McMinneville. So they have been farming biodynamically from the outset. The winemaking is now in the hands of Thamiene Momtazi, one of three daughters working at the winery. There is a great sense of style and energy to this wine.

Perhaps the best bargain among these collectible reds is Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz from South Australia. I first encountered it while doing a line-up of Penfolds 2008 reds at the winery in 2011, and it was one of my favourites of the day. For $39.95 it is monumental value. The review tells something about the winemaking, but I just want to add that I am a big fan of cabernet-shiraz blends in particular. The angularity of cabernet is softened by shiraz, and vice versa – kind of like a firm handshake between two quite different personalities. Anyway, seriously consider this for your cellar – it was a great vintage.

My Take on Bill C-311

This week the Canadian senate passed Bill C-311 at third reading, allowing individuals to carry Canadian wine, or cause it to be carried legally across provincial borders (i.e. ordered on line). The bill still needs Royal Assent but no doubt Her Majesty will wave it on through very soon. (Jump to backgrounder by WineAlign’s Janet Dorozynski)

This bill takes a huge chunk out of the moral authority of Canada’s liquor boards. When you strip wine down to its basic legally troubling element – alcohol – one can now easily ask, why not direct ship all wines? (The bill does not actually specify Canadian wine). Why not beer and spirits? Why not allow licensed (much more controllable) businesses to do the same?  Such basic questions have liquor boards and the public service union brass spinning in there swivel chairs. Undoubtedly they will dig in their heels, and come out huffing and puffing about creeping privatization and loss of tax revenues that fund other government services. And they will warn of rivers of wine falling into the wrong hands (more than is happening now?).

Bill C-311 does give provincial liquor boards the right to impose limits on how much you and I can personally transport, or order on line, between provinces. But seriously, how can they do that in practical terms? Or in other words, who or what is stopping us? It is unenforceable. Provincial customs inspectors at every crossing and terminal? I suppose they could try to come up with some sort of reciprocal, interprovincial method of auditing every tasting room carry out or courier shipment leaving wineries? But that seems just as cumbersome and costly.  So without mechanisms to curb it, and with we citizens knowing that in spirit it is morally fine to do so, wine will inexorably begin to flow more freely whether liquor boards like it or not. There is now a gaping hole in the dike.

I get to taste hundreds of Canadian wines every year that are only available from wineries directly, not the liquor boards. In this newsletter watch for reviews of Canadian wines worth buying on line. We will begin after the situation clarifies just a bit more. I do not want to mention specific wines at this point lest it be construed by the authorities that those wineries have rushed into direct shipping while it is still technically illegal.

International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration

Chardonnay Re-Boot Camp

I am looking forward to joining WineAlign colleague John Szabo in Niagara on Saturday, July 20 to present a session at the second annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, or as it is known, I4C. What do I foresee for this event? Despite the original Boot Camp name I am betting on a pretty laid back summer event – although John is talking about ten push ups for all between each wine. I like to think of it more as Chardonnay Re-Boot camp, especially given that our audience will exclusively be tech savvy WineAligners. I want to discuss exactly why Chardonnay’s reputation is being re-booted after a decade or two of the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) sentiment. We are going to examine this as we take you through a range of great international and Canadian chardonnays, the exact wines to be decided as I4C organizers portion the hundreds of wines among several events. We hope to meet you there.   Find more details on this special offer to WineAlign members here.

And that’s it for now. I will be adding reviews for other June 23 wines over the weekend, but you can check out 60+ new reviews below. Cheers!

From the June 23rd, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

David Lawrason
VP of Wine


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Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks: Chile

Vintages most recent release focuses on food-friendly Chilean wines. Find these picks via WineAlign.com/MargaretsPicks.

Caliterra Tributo Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011
$14.95 (88 Points)
From the newer region of Leyda Valley close to the Pacific Ocean, this medium-bodied white is distinctive and expressive with a citrus hit and notes of white asparagus and grapefruit. Refreshing with good intensity of flavour, it lingers pleasantly on the palate. Enjoy this with seafood salads, ceviche or grilled veggies.

Oveja Negra The Lost Barrel 2008
$24.95 (89 Points)
Quite dense, plush on the palate, with spiced dark berry (blueberry, blackberry, blackcurrant) aromas and tastes, this ready-to-enjoy red has been aged one year in French oak. A blend of mainly syrah and old vine carignan with some carmenère and a dollop of petit verdot, its hints of tar, smoke and oak make it a good match with grilled meats.

Pérez Cruz Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
$15.95 (88 Points)
This bargain-priced Vintages Essential from Maipo Valley is a customer favourite. Ripe with spiced red berry flavours, mocha overtones and a touch of herbs, it expresses the typical cabernet character of its region. Rounded on the palate, it has smooth tannins with a good grip in the finish. Have with burgers and kebabs fresh off the barbecue.

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for June 23rd, 2012

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Update on Austria and Life After Grüner, plus Partying on Canada Day, Top Austrian buys and Top Ten Smart Summer Sippers.

Fresh from a stay at the Imperial Residences in magnificent Vienna, and (unofficial) tastings conducted in horse-drawn carriages, I’m pleased to share a few discoveries on the burgeoning Austrian wine scene. I offer a quick look at the challenges and advantages facing Austrian wine, and introduce a few alternative wines to look out for; call it life after grüner veltliner (though life with grüner is still fine by me).

The Vintages theme for the June 23rd release is summer sippers, not a subject you have to ask me twice to look into – I do a lot of it. I’ve dedicated the entire Top Ten to the best, most sippable wines in this release. You’ll find a top notch Pouilly-Fumé, a pair of Marlborough sauvignons above the mean, an intriguingly smoky white from Campania, plus delectable Gavi, pinot grigio, vinho verde and more. And finally, I’ve picked out a pair of biodynamic local wines from a dynamic duo, with which to party on Canada’s birthday.

Who to Party With on Canada Day

Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe ChardonnayRavine Vineyard MeritageConsider these two Niagara wines: 2010 Southbrook Triomphe Chardonnay $21.95, made by Ann Sperling, and the 2010 Ravine Vineyard Meritage $24.95, made by Ann’s husband, Peter Gamble. Both Peter and Ann are fervent believers in the superior results produced by biodynamical farming. Southbrook is Canada’s first Demeter-certified winery, and Ravine will be certified for the 2012 harvest, but has been practicing the methods for almost four years now (Ravine has been organic since the beginning). Ann’s chardonnay is a reflection of the warmer 2010 growing season and the Niagara-on-the-Lake sub-appellation, with it’s rich, soft texture and sweet caramel and baking spice flavour – a more new world style example that will appeal broadly. Peter’s Meritage is a terrifically juicy, vibrant, lively and stylish red blend, with a fine balance of ripe but grippy tannins, juicy acid and modest, sip-all-afternoon 12.5% alcohol. Together they’re a great pair to party with.

Celebrating Austrian Wine at Vie Vinum

Vie Vinum at Hofburg Palace

Vie Vinum at Hofburg Palace

Another edition of Vie Vinum, Austria’s bi-annual celebration of Austrian wine wrapped up last week at the magnificent Hofburg in central Vienna. The city itself is a splendid baroque masterpiece, evoking 18th century charm and grandeur –perfect for strolling or horse-drawn carriage rides. But it would be hard to top the setting of the wine fair itself, spread across multiple salons in the former Imperial Residences. The Hofburg is an extensive palatial complex in the heart of the city that was, up until 1918, the seat of political power for the Austro-Hungarian empire. Where the Emperor Franz Joseph once held audiences, now journalists and sommeliers from around the world gathered to swirl and sip their way through the evolving landscape of Austrian wine. I joined a crew of Canadians for the regular pilgrimage to Vienna to check in on what’s happening.

In sum, things are going well for Austrian wine. 2011 saw exports of quality wine reach an all-time high, based principally on the strength of new markets discovering the quality and variety of Austrian wine (Germany, Switzerland and the US are the three largest importers, Canada is a distant 16th). Not just quality, but timing is also at least partly responsible for this success, as world tastes shift slowly but inexorably towards lighter, lower alcohol, fresher, leaner and more minerally styles of wines. Austria is indeed well suited to the production of such wines, though within their typically cool climate range there’s plenty of diversity and nuance to discover. Despite growing commercial success, the structure of the Austrian wine industry remains decidedly small scale with 23,000 registered wine growers cultivating just 46,000 hectares of total vineyard land. Out of these, 6,000 producers bottle wine. Compare this to, say Australia, where just 2,000 bottlers draw from almost four times as much vineyard land (164,000 ha) and you get the picture.

The Challenging Side

As for other wine producing nations with a similar structure, diversity and marked regional character is both the greatest strength and the greatest challenge for Austrian vintners. For such a small country, Austria has a bewildering, highly fractured system of nomenclature for its wines that’s on the path to clarity, but is most definitely still a work in progress. Under the current system, wines are divided, as per standard EU regulatory framework, into wines with and without geographical indications.

DAC - Districtus Austriae Controllatus

The latter, formerly known throughout the EU as simply “table wine”, is insignificant, at least from a Canadian perspective. But under the quality wine category with geographical indication, where all of the fun is, there are four “generic” wine growing regions: Niederösterreich, Burgenland, Steiermark and Vienna, in order of vineyard acreage. And within these, there are no fewer than 16 separate “specific” wine regions. And within some of the regions, there has been further sub-division into specific DACs (Districtus Austriae Controllatus, the equivalent of a French AOC or Italian DOC). Like its European counterparts, each DAC designates the delimited growing area, permitted grape variety(ies) and wine style(s), among other technical details. So already quite a lot to absorb, especially if you were just figuring out where Austria sits on the world map.

But it gets better. Super-imposed on this new regional-based framework is the old framework, which followed the Germanic system of labeling by ripeness at harvest, i.e. kabinett, spätlese, auslese, beerenauslese, ausbruch and trockenbeerenauslese. These terms, especially the lower designations of ripeness are disappearing slowly but surely (the sweeter designations from beerenauslese and up are still firmly entrenched) as the country moves to purely geography-based naming. Yet both systems still coexist. And the confusing situation is further exacerbated within certain regions, where regional associations have devised their own ripeness-at-harvest designations, most notably in the Wachau, where you’ll find mentions on labels of (in increasing degrees of ripeness) steinfeder, federspiel and smaragd. Other associations like the Traditional Wineries of Austria (ÖTW) have special vineyard classifications, “erste lage” or “first growths”, which are not recognized officially within Austrian wine law (and can only be used by association members). And finally, most of the DACs also have separate categories and requirements for “klassik” and “reserve” wines, distinguished mainly by ripeness, alcohol level and ageing parameters. Oh, and did I mention about at least a dozen grapes to consider within all of this?

In short, it takes a bit of background research to fully understand the Austrian wine scene, enough in fact to drive sommelier students (and teachers) crazy. Thankfully, the Austrian Wine Marketing Board is also among the most organized associations in the wine world, and their website is an absolute wealth of useful information. If you’re detail oriented, check it out: www.austrianwine.com. If not, let’s just get on to what matters most: great wine.

The Good Side: What to Look For

The positive side is that all of this confusion translates to marvelous diversity and so much to discover. Regular WineAlign readers and avid wine consumers will already be familiar with grüner veltliner, Austria’s flagship white grape, which accounts for about 1/3 of the country’s vineyard acreage. It has long been the darling variety of switched-on sommeliers around the world, not least for its astonishing capacity to pair seamlessly with a myriad of different food flavours and textures. And while I could go on about the nuances of flavour profile between grüners grown on the primary rock terraces of the Wachau vs. the deep loess soils of the Kamptal or the Traisental, for example, I’d like to bring your attention instead to a few new Austrian wines worth discovering, the future darling wines.

Austrian Reds: Fashionably Middleweight

Yes, Austria makes fine red wine. Although the country is unquestionably better suited in most regions for white wine production, certain areas, more specifically the warmer eastern region of Burgenland along the Hungarian border, is where you’ll find the majority of fine red wine action. Red grapes share equal vineyard acreage here with whites (whites dominate by far in every other Austrian region). Headline local varieties are blaufränkisch, St. Laurent, and zweigelt, along with a mixture of international varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir that were brought into Austria in the 1980s and 1990s when nobody believed that local grapes could make top kit.

Weingut Feiler-Artinger

Feiler-Artinger Winery

In my view, of these, blaufränkisch is the most interesting (full disclosure – I also grow blaufränkisch in my vineyard in Hungary), followed closely behind by St. Laurent, a descendant of pinot noir believed to have been brought by Cistercian monks to the Danube valley in the 11th century. On a pre Vie Vinum side trip to the Neusiedlersee area of Burgenland, I was treated to some remarkable blaufränkisch tastings at Henrich, Wenzell and Feiler-Artinger that firmly underscored my view that the grape is extremely sensitive to site and soil, and delivers nuanced, vineyard specific expressions when allowed to do so, much like pinot noir is capable of (my preference is for blaufränkisch grown on limestone, aged in old, large, 500l barrels, for the record). Stylistically, blaufränkisch is firm, fashionably medium-bodied with juicy acids, more red than black fruit and dense, tightly knit tannins that make the best highly age worthy. Leithaberg, Mittleburgenland and Eisenberg are the principal DACs. The names to seek out are the three mentioned above, plus Moric, Uwe Schiefer, Kollwentz, Anita & Hans Nittnaus, and Judith Beck.

Riesling: The Essence of Primary Rock

Grüner gets the airtime, but Austria makes some of the world’s greatest riesling. The grape is not widely planted (just 1,600ha compared to grüner’s 17,400ha), which explains why it’s known only to the lucky few who can get their hands on the better bottles. It reaches its maximum expression in the Danube Valley, in the regions of Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal, especially in vineyards planted on hard, primary rock where the mineral flavours literally scream at you from the glass. At its best, it is extraordinarily age worthy, as a tasting some years ago of wines going back to the early 1950s comfortably demonstrated. Names to look for: Nikolaihof, Hirztberger, Knoll, Rudi Pichler, F.X. Pichler, Domäne Wachau, Jäger, Lengsteiner, Prager, Alzinger, Loimer, Bründlemayer, Gobelsburg, Jurtschitsch.

Steiermark’s Intense Sauvignon Blanc

Vineyards of Steiermark (Styria)

Vineyards of Steiermark

In Steiermark (Styria), the vine-covered rolling hills of southern Austria, sauvignon blanc reigns supreme. It’s not the historic variety of the region – that honour goes to the unusually tart but tasty blauer wildbacher grape made into a type of rosé called schilcher that rarely leaves the region. But for fans of sauvignon, especially the great examples from neighboring Friuli in northern Italy, this area is worth checking out. The breakthrough for sauvignon in Steiermark came in 1990, when the Tement Winery’s “Klassik” and Zieregg vineyard sauvignons took first and second place out of nowhere in an international sauvignon blanc competition. Today, virtually every winery in the region grows sauvignon. The style is indeed midway between the steeliness of the Loire and the exuberant, passion fruit and guava of the new world, with more than a dash of minerality thrown in. Look for: Tement, Sattlerhof, Polz.

Thermenregion’s Smoky Rotgipfler

From the southern edge of the Vienna Woods to south of the town of Baden, the Thermenregion is a thermal water rich region (hence the name) where the vine has been cultivated since Roman times. Two white grapes, zierfandler and rotgipfler are regional specialties, and it was the latter that captured my attention while tasting wines from the region. The grape is an old cross between roter veltliner and traminer that bears the exotic aromatics of its parentage, but on a tighter, leaner frame with an inviting, salty, smoky mineral edge. Names to look for: Stadlmann, Freigut Thallern, Alphart.

Click here for Austrian wines currently available (either consignment or LCBO), which are worth tracking down.

From the June 23, 2012 Vintages release:

Top Ten Summer Sippers
All Reviews

Cheers,

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier


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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008