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The British Columbia Wine Report – October

Natural Wine in BC?
by Rhys Pender MW

Rhys Pender MW

Rhys Pender MW

One of the trends to hit the wine world, or at least its enthralled fringes, in recent years is the provocative subject of “natural” wine. The term itself belies definition as what it means and is largely in the eyes of the beholder; purists demand nothing at all be added or taken away while others have a less dogmatic view. In any case, the concept is linked with not messing around with the wine and guiding, rather than forcing, a wine down its chosen path. Before we enter a heated natural wine debate, and that is not what this article is intended to be about, we should skip to the topic: how this trend has spread beyond the tradition-steeped regions of the old world and is now taking place in our own British Columbian backyard.

BC wine, like that of so many new world countries, has grown up surrounded by whizz kid winemakers with the gleaming technology to steer a wine down whichever style road they may choose. Again, like all new world countries, BC has come to the point of realization where fancy winemaking tricks can only take you so far. Yes, very good wines can and are made with a heady dose of technology and intervention but they are more technically good than they are exciting, evocative, interesting and inspiring. A heavy hand of winemaking rarely results in something that is seamless, elegant and has that elusive complexity and sense of place. To gain the level of intricacy necessary to make the leap to really interesting wines, it is all about the quality of the grapes and letting them show their true merits through gentle guiding rather than trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

Dwight Sick

Dwight Sick, winemaker at Stag’s Hollow

Natural wine takes this logic even further, eschewing even things like yeast, nutrients, fining and filtration and in the most extreme cases of natural wine devotion, any addition of sulfur. For some, even that is not enough and only eliminating technology altogether is natural enough. Wine is now being made in many countries, including here in BC, by essentially just dumping grapes into clay amphora and letting them ferment and age, skins and all, until they have cleaned themselves up and are deemed ready to stick in the bottle. Winemaking as the Greeks or Romans might have known it.

Obviously not all natural wine is good or even interesting. Things can go badly and some wines are either faulty, or intriguing but a bit of an acquired taste, much like Fino Sherry, Vin Santo, Vin Jaune and some of the oxidized fortified wines. What does it come down to? Good grapes. Good, clean, quality grapes are the best bet to end up with a successful, natural wine. Organic and biodynamic grapegrowing seems to be more common and it is not surprising to see many winemakers already playing around with wild yeasts, lees and other “hands off” techniques to try to make something a little more complex. The techniques of natural winemaking, which are often just leaving the wine be, creates flavours that are interesting and they usually seem well integrated into the wine because they come naturally.

Darryl Brooker, winemaker of CedarCreek Estate Winery

Darryl Brooker, winemaker of CedarCreek Estate Winery

Some of you might be thinking that natural winemaking is some kind of bonkers, idealistic craziness, but there is some science behind it too. Doing nothing to a wine often means little goes wrong, providing the grapes were sound in the first place. On the other hand, over-winemaking to try to steer a wine against its will often creates a series of reactions that need to be treated. The result can be a long path of one adjustment after another, an ongoing series of winemaker created imbalances and corrections.

In spite of the new world image of winemaking in BC there are a number of wineries adopting natural techniques. It is exciting to see Canadian winemakers playing around with natural winemaking and it will only benefit the industry in seeing what is possible and what nuances of flavour can result. BC is the ideal place to do it as we have plenty of natural acidity, nature’s protection against many evils, and dry weather and sunshine, the best way to get clean, healthy grapes. Nobody expects to convince the current breed of sweet red wine drinker that skin fermented white wine is what they should be drinking every night, but these small batch wines sure add an interesting element to what BC is offering.

Darryl Brooker, winemaker of CedarCreek Estate Winery was inspired to make a natural wine by drinking some Italian reds saying that he “fell in love with the texture and silkiness of the wines.” These wines were made in amphora, giving Brooker enough encouragement to order an unlined 500-litre amphora (they are often lined with beeswax but he wanted to keep things as natural as possible). Into the amphora went the best cabernet sauvignon that CedarCreek grows. The science behind it? “I basically wanted to see if the tannin could be softened/changed by the amphora. It is very permeable to oxygen, so I had a hunch it would,” says Brooker. The grapes went in, the lid went on and they waited. No yeast, no sulfur, nothing. The wine was not touched for 8 months until it had completed primary and malolactic fermentation. “The original plan was to put it in a neutral barrel for about 1 year and then see the wine. But we were so impressed with it that we decided to bottle it as it was, straight from the amphora after settling in stainless steel for a few weeks. The wine was bottled unfiltered without any additives at any stage, including no sulfur at any point.” The wine tastes fresh, intense and juicy with great, soft tannins. The plan is to hold it in bottle for a year to see how it evolves.

David Enns

David Enns, winemaker and co-owner of Laughing Stock

David Enns, winemaker and co-owner of Laughing Stock, was also playing around with an amphora in 2013. The VRM is a viognier, roussanne and marsanne blend that spent 4 weeks aging on skins and fermenting wild with sulfur only added later on. It is rich, concentrated with some tannic grip from the skin contact and has plenty of flavour intensity. Dwight Sick, winemaker at Stag’s Hollow in Okanagan Falls, has been interested in natural wines for a while. “I have always been fascinated with oxidative winemaking but have never had the courage to attempt it. This was my maiden voyage into this style.” Sick took the 2013 vintage viognier and marsanne from a Penticton vineyard, destemmed it and put the whole berries into a tank with no enzymes or sulfur. It started fermenting on its own after 48 hours and then spent 14 days on the skins before being lightly pressed. As of October, a year later, it is still sitting on its lees, having received only a little sulfur in the summer and is scheduled for bottling in December.

Okanagan Crush Pad concrete eggs; photo CA Jessiman,WineAlign

Okanagan Crush Pad concrete eggs

Okanagan Crush Pad, Valley pioneers of things such as concrete eggs and constantly pushing towards more and more natural winemaking, also have a couple of amphorae fermenting away, one pinot noir and one pinot gris. Both are on their skins and expected to stay there for about six months. These follow on from a 2013 sauvignon blanc/chardonnay blend that spent 7.5 months on the skins and was bottled unfiltered. While the technology might be old, it has many great properties. Winemakers Mike Bartier and Matt Dumayne talk scientifically about benefits such as thin walls to keep fermentations cool, the slow oxidation through the porous material, the great environment for yeast in the wild ferment and many more complex reactions including things like convective currents, cap compression and protein and cold stabilization, things that sound more futuristic than rustic and ancient.

With wines becoming dumbed down to meet the tastes of a generation of pop-swilling consumers with added sugar, tannins, acid and various concoctions, it is only logical there will be a push in the complete other direction. Reverse osmosis, spinning cones, micro-oxygenation, oak products, enzymes, flavour, and bacteria? Not necessary. While nobody expects lines of stainless steel tanks to be replaced by exotic clay versions, at least some of this experimentation will find its way into the larger production wines and as a result make something more interesting and characterful. And after all, to backlash against so many overly made, cookie cutter wines, going natural is only natural.

Rhys Pender MW

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Bill’s Best Bets – October

Rediscovering Chianti
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

The mere mention of Chianti evokes images of bottles in straw baskets which were later made into lamps, red-checkered table cloths and a big bowl of spaghetti. But few regions are as synonymous with wine as is Chianti. Located in the centre of Tuscany, it is the most prolific region in all of Italy, exporting over 900 million litres of wine per year.

But how many of you drink the stuff?

I do. The best examples are solidly built wines that have exceptional cellaring capability. It ’s a wine that combines aromatic complexity with elegance, and is one of the world’s most versatile wines. But many examples can be, well, rather banal. So what is the real Chianti and why is there such a difference in quality between bottles?

The fiasco: A short history

First, let’s deal with the straw basket, ironically called a “fiasco” in Italian. The English translation of the word might be a better descriptor of the modern history of Chianti. The first significant event in the region took place in 1713, when it became one of the first wine-producing area in the world to define the laws governing wine production. But while the decree touched on production methods, more importantly it was the first of many expansions of the geographic boundaries of what is considered Chianti.

Chianti’s modern history began in 1932 with a massive expansion that increased the size of the appellation to more than 22,000 hectares, twice the size of modern-day Bordeaux. Chianti was divided into seven sub-regions, the most notable called “Classico,” which included the original Chianti-producing area from the 1713 decree. However, after the expansion, this original area made up only 40 per cent of this new “Classico” appellation and only 10 per cent of the total Chianti region.

The Chianti classico region

The Chianti Classico region

With such a large growing area, it became increasingly difficult to identify a Chianti style. In 1967, the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) was enacted. This was another opportunity for producers to jump on the bandwagon, so the area was further expanded by another 10 per cent.

While 1967 DOC law further concretized the importance of sangiovese, the stringent laws left little room for experimentation. One of Chianti’s most famous families, the Antinoris, had long experimented with Bordeaux varietals cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, dating to as early as 1900, when Piero Antinori purchased the now famous Tignanello vineyard. This culminated in 1971, when his grandson Piero decided to market a sangiovese-based wine from this vineyard that also contained both cabernets. Although the Tignanello vineyard was in the heart of Chianti, because the wine included cabernet but did not have white grapes, it could not be called Chianti. Instead, it was labelled as a simple “Vino da Tavolo.”

But it was a resounding success. In response, a new denomination called Denominazione di Origine Controllatae Garantita (DOCG) was created in 1984 to allow for more experimentation. Yields were lowered to increase quality and, while the percentage of sangiovese as a part of the blend was maintained, winemakers could now use up to 20 per cent of other grapes in the blend, including international varieties like the cabernets, merlot and syrah.

Drinking Chianti

Despite the change of rules, Antinori never labelled its Tignanello a Chianti. Who could blame him? So many poor quality Chiantis had cheapened the name of the appellation. Chianti at that moment was not synonymous with “fine wine.” And while it seems that every major winery now has its own “super Tuscan,” their fame and success have also inspired a number of more traditional winemakers to make a better Chianti.

Quebec born Paula Cook makes wine and owns Chianti producer Le Miccine

Quebec born Paula Cook makes wine and owns Chianti producer Le Miccine

In the 1990s, the Riserva classification was created for wines aged a minimum of 24 months in oak, and at least three months in bottle prior to being put on the market. And in 2005, a decree raised the minimum percentage of sangiovese to 80 per cent of the final blend with the possibility of using 100-per-cent sangiovese.

Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 Castello Di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 San Felice Il Grigio 2010The increased role of the sangiovese grape is important in a world dominated by international varietals. For me, it is distinctly Italian. Sangiovese’s signature flavour profile is a blend of cherry and plum flavours combined with leather and other earthier notes. Its relatively high acidity and good tannins make it an ideal wine for long cellaring when yields are low. And when made into less expensive wines, providing attention is paid to bringing in ripe grapes, the wines can show great acidity combined with vibrant fruits and floral notes, making it one of the more versatile wines on the shelves.

If you are looking for Chiantis that can age exceptionally well, look no further than the fantastic 2010 vintage wines of  Il Grigio , Castello di Volpaia and Gabbiano. All three will reward you with a minimum of 3-5 years of patience, and can hold much longer.

For a more modern approach to Chianti, which still shows everything that is good about the region, try the 2011 Riserva from Le Miccine or the 2012 from Isole e Olena. Both wines have the accent on the fruit and while they can hold for longer, can be enjoyed right now.

If you are looking Chianti to drink right away, the 2010 Villa Antinori shows great complexity with  traditional styling. Equally interesting is Banfi’s 2011 Riserva. Again, a more modern touch but just rocks with spaghetti and meat sauce.

And finally, while they don’t come in a straw basket, you can still find quality Chianti for under $20. Try the 2010 Azienda Uggiano, one of my favourites I have tasted recently.

Le Miccine Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 Antinori Villa Antinori Toscana 2010Isole E Olena Chianti Classico 2012 Banfi Riserva Chianti Classico 2011 Azienda Uggiano Casa Di Dante 2010


“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

Editors Note: You can find Bill’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Premium subscribers to Chacun son vin see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva

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Les bons choix de Nadia – octobre

Cellier octobre 2e vague
par Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier - New - Cropped

Nadia Fournier

D’entrée de jeu, mes excuses pour le léger retard à vous donner mes impressions sur les vins relâchés jeudi dernier dans le cadre de la promotion du Cellier d’octobre. J’étais occupée à temps on ne peut plus complet à terminer la rédaction du Guide du vin 2015. Voilà qui est fait. La 34e édition est maintenant entre les mains de l’imprimeur et devrait arriver en librairie dès le 5 novembre prochain!

N’ayez crainte, tous les produits sont encore disponibles en bonne quantité dans le réseau de la SAQ. Dans le lot, une belle sélection de vins rouges et blancs portugais. Encore trop peu représenté au Québec et évoluant encore dans l’ombre de son voisin espagnol – la popularité ne va pas toujours au mérite –, le Portugal a beaucoup à offrir à l’amateur de vin en quête d’aubaines et de dépaysement, surtout.

Le pays est méridional et le soleil tape fort, mais les vignobles bénéficient aussi de l’effet modérateur de l’océan Atlantique. Le charme de ces vins réside donc dans leur caractère authentiquement chaleureux, mais néanmoins digeste, ce qui les rend en fait de bons compagnons de table.

Quinta Da Romaneira 2009 Quinta Da Ponte Pedrinha 2005D’abord connu pour le porto, le Douro produit aujourd’hui plus de grands vins de table que toute autre région viticole portugaise. Le Sino da Romaneira (20,20 $), deuxième vin de cette vieille quinta gérée par l’équipe de Quinta do Noval (AXA Millésimes), en est un bel exemple. Passablement riche en 2009, mais façonné dans un style plutôt dépouillé, assez strict et tannique, il sera mis en valeur par une viande rouge saignante.

Si les vins de table du Douro ont été la révélation portugaise des années 1990, ceux du Dão pourraient bien être celle de la présente décennie. Avec les investissements soutenus dont elle bénéficie depuis une vingtaine d’années, cette région, qui a beaucoup souffert du monopole de coopératives instauré sous la dictature (1933-1974), est en voie de réhabilitation. Il reste encore beaucoup de travail à faire au vignoble, mais le potentiel est énorme.

Dégusté à au moins cinq ou six reprises depuis 2010, ce vin rouge du Dão produit par Quinta da Ponte Pedrinha (24,60 $) ne cesse de me surprendre. De retour dans le même millésime cette année encore – apparemment les stocks de 2005 sont inépuisables – il m’a paru étonnamment jeune et frais. Déjà ouvert, il devrait tenir la route jusqu’en 2017, au moins.

Esporao Reserva 2013 Herdade Do Sobroso 2010Plus au sud, à une centaine de kilomètres à l’est de Lisbonne, le vaste vignoble de l’Alentejo donne des vins rouges généreux, comme celui de Herdade do Sobroso (24,30 $). Plus chaleureux que vraiment complexe, il plaira à l’amateur de vin gorgé de soleil.

Créé au début des années 90, ce domaine de l’Alentejo est l’un des plus imposants du Portugal. L’œnologue australien David Baverstock y produit des vins rouges passablement concentrés, mais aussi de bons vins blancs, comme ce Esporão Reserva 2013 (21,60 $), issu d’un assemblage d’antão vaz, d’arinto, de roupeiro et de sémillon. Une autre preuve qu’en cultivant des cépages adaptés à leur terroir, on peut obtenir des vins frais et équilibrés, et ce, même dans le sud de l’Europe.

Basque ou Breton ?

Originaire du pays basque, le cépage cabernet franc compte une multitude de clones et donne, par conséquent, des vins de style très différent. S’il joue un rôle de second plan dans la Gironde, c’est dans la vallée de la Loire qu’il prend toute son importance, surtout en Touraine (Bourgueil et Chinon), où on le nomme « breton ». On en tire tantôt des vins souples, vigoureux et coulants fruités, vifs et avant tout fruités; tantôt des vins de garde, profonds et concentrés.

Même s’il a changé de propriétaire en 2008, le Château de la Grille demeure fidèle au style classique et ferme qui a fait sa renommée. En 2009, on a produit un très bon vin de Chinon (29,55 $), plus charnu que la moyenne, mais d’un très bel équilibre.

Dans un autre millésime compliqué – ils se succèdent dans la Loire depuis quelques années –, Yannick Amirault et son fils ont bien tiré leur épingle du jeu, puisque leur Bourgueil 2012, La Coudraye (21,90 $) ne fait preuve d’aucune verdeur ni rusticité. L’agriculture biologique y est-elle pour quelque chose ? Peut-être, peut-être pas. Mais ce qui ne fait aucun doute, c’est que l’amateur de cabernet franc se régalera pour pas cher !

Château De La Grille 2009 Yannick Amirault La Coudraye 2012 Domaine De La Taille Aux Loups Clos De Mosny 2012 Château De Brézé Clos David 2011 Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2013

On voudra aussi retenir cet excellent vin blanc de Jacky Blot, l’artisan qui a donné ses lettres de noblesse à l’appellation Montlouis-sur-Loire, trop longtemps dans l’ombre de son illustre voisine : Vouvray. Loin d’être un pis-aller, la qualité des vins de Montlouis égale et surpasse parfois celle de Vouvray. Pour s’en convaincre, il suffit de goûter le délicieux Clos de Mosny 2012 (34,25 $), produit au Domaine de la Taille aux Loups. Un vin de texture, hyper harmonieux et promis à un bel avenir.

Conduit en agriculture biologique, le Château de Brézé, à Saumur, est sous la gouverne d’Arnault et d’Yves Lambert depuis 2009. Leur Saumur 2011, Clos David (26,30 $) mise avant tout sur la vitalité du chenin. Le compagnon idéal des huîtres, rehaussées d’un trait de citron.

Toujours en chenin, mais dans un autre hémisphère. Implanté dès le 17e siècle par les huguenots qui trouvèrent refuge en Afrique du Sud, le chenin blanc représentait 32 % de l’encépagement national en 1990. Peu à peu remplacé par des variétés rouges, il ne couvre aujourd’hui que 18 % du vignoble national, mais les vignerons qui ont décidé de le conserver en tirent des vins savoureux, comme le Bellingham Vieilles vignes Bernard Series 2013 (24,95 $), soumis à un élevage en barrique qui apporte un bel enrobage à l’acidité caractéristique du cépage. Cette winery a d’ailleurs été fondée en 1693 par un couple de huguenots franco-hollandais et ressuscitée par Bernard Podlashuk, d’où le nom de la cuvée.

Pour en finir avec le pipi de chat

« Pipi de chat sur buisson de groseille », vous connaissez ? Des petits comiques ont inventé cette expression pour décrire le parfum parfois rustique et, avouons-le, désagréable – de certains sauvignons blancs.

Cantina Terlano Winkl Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Domaine Fouassier Les Grands Groux Sancerre 2011Rassurez-vous, il n’y a pas de pipi de chat qui tienne pour décrire cet excellent sancerre, mais une palette aromatique singulière et une fraîcheur qui appelle un second verre. Ce domaine familial connaît une certaine renaissance depuis l’arrivée en poste, au début des années 2000, de Benoit et Paul Fouassier – représentants de la dixième génération – qui ont notamment converti le vignoble à l’agriculture biologique, puis biodynamique. Leur Sancerre 2011 (25,25 $) étonne d’abord par son registre aromatique singulier, puis par son envergure en bouche. Complexe et nuancé, c’est l’un des bons vins de l’appellation goûtés cette année.

Au cours des dernières années, j’ai souvent été étonnée par la profondeur et de la diversité aromatique des bons sauvignons blancs de l’Alto Adige, dans le nord de l’Italie. Celui-ci, produit par la cave coopérative de la commune de Terlano dépasse même toutes les attentes. Pas étonnant que cette cave fondée en 1893 soit reconnue à juste titre comme l’une des plus qualitatives du pays. On voudra apprécier le Winkl 2013 dès maintenant pour la complexité de son registre aromatique, mêlant le thé vert japonais aux notes de poivre blanc et d’agrumes, et reposant sur une texture juste assez vineuse pour laisser en bouche une sensation de plénitude. À 25 $, on se régale encore plus!

À la vôtre!

Nadia Fournier

Note de la rédaction: vous pouvez lire les commentaires de dégustation complets en cliquant sur les noms de vins, les photos de bouteilles ou les liens mis en surbrillance. Les abonnés payants à Chacun son vin ont accès à toutes les critiques dès leur mise en ligne. Les utilisateurs inscrits doivent attendre 60 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de grands vins!

Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

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Harmonies, dissonances et cie

Hors des sentiers battus
par Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau sm

Marc Chapleau

J’ai vu d’étranges bouteilles que je crois contenir du vin, récemment, dans une épicerie. Avec des noms d’aliments écrits en gros sur les étiquettes et à peu près juste ça comme information…

Déjà qu’il y a eu naguère une levée de boucliers quand les Français avaient fait mine de laisser tomber les appellations pour les noms de cépages, histoire de simplifier les étiquettes et mieux concurrencer le Nouveau Monde, eh bien cette fois on va encore plus loin : jusqu’à gommer carrément la carte d’identité du vin.

Remarquez, en épicerie, ce n’est plus ce que c’était. On y trouve des crus très honnêtes, comme en témoigne le test que nous avons fait récemment au magazine Protégez-Vous. Sûrement même que ceux vendus par le sommelier François Chartier, ceux aux désignations invraisemblables et quasi exclusivement alimentaires, sont potables.

Le malaise n’est pas là, mais plutôt dans cette « culinarisation » à outrance, une tendance lourde amorcée voilà une vingtaine d’années. Comme si, parce que le vin se boit le plus souvent à table, tout devait tourner autour de son appariement avec les mets.

pecheJe ne suis pas en train de dire, attention, qu’on peut boire n’importe quoi en mangeant n’importe quoi. Mais il suffit de maîtriser quelques règles de base pour s’en sortir la plupart du temps.

Alors un vin « Boeuf, Noix de Coco, Chocolat » (je pastiche et j’invente à dessein), non merci, aucun intérêt, j’ai déjà tout ça dans mon panier.

D’autant que ce type d’étiquette, ainsi libellé, ne fait que nous suggérer où devrait atterrir le vin, avec quoi dans l’assiette. Alors qu’à l’exact opposé, on aime en général d’abord savoir d’où il vient, le rattacher à un terroir, éventuellement une histoire, etc.

L’argument imparable à cette objection : les gens, demandez-le aux conseillers dans les SAQ, veulent d’abord et avant tout savoir quoi boire avec tel ou tel plat ; les cépages, les appellations, les particularités de telle ou telle bouteille, ça ne les intéresse pas vraiment.

Moralité : suivons le mouvement et proposons-leur des étiquettes délirantes annonçant du rosbif, des pâtes et des sushis en bouteille… Comme ça, le vin est réduit à la portion congrue, il devient un simple liquide pour mieux faire passer le solide.

Un procédé d’autant plus discutable que, posons-nous la question, à la maison, à table, les consommateurs s’attardent-ils seulement à constater si oui ou non l’accord en question fonctionne, s’il y a ou non création d’un faux goût, d’une sensation désagréable en bouche ? Ma main au feu que non, dans 99,9 pour cent des cas. Une fois rassurés au moment de l’achat, ils boivent ensuite à gorge déployée, sans vraiment goûter ni discriminer.

Autrement dit, l’information communiquée, même si elle peut par ailleurs s’avérer fondée et pertinente, ne leur est au fond d’aucune utilité.

Loin de les aider, toutes ces palabres autour des accords ne font qu’accroître la distance entre eux et le vin, que rendre ce dernier plus mystérieux. « Retenez “Agneau, Thym et Carotte”, bonnes gens, c’est un excellent vin, ne posez pas de questions. »

J’aurais pour ma part envie de dire aux consommateurs de laisser couler, plutôt, libérez-vous du carcan des accords prémâchés. Si vous y tenez, contentez-vous par exemple d’apparier la couleur du vin à la couleur du plat, dans les grandes lignes. Vous serez surpris : ça fonctionne très souvent.

À boire, aubergiste !

À présent, une série de bonnes bouteilles goûtées récemment, et provenant d’un peu partout sur la planète Vin.

Maintenant, qu’on règle une certaine question tout de suite : vous prendrez les blancs à l’apéro, pour eux-mêmes, ou sinon avec des bouchées ou des fruits de mer. Avec les rouges, pas difficile : n’importe quelle viande grillée, rouge ou même blanche, et le tour sera joué. Voilà.

Pas de quoi. ~

Des bulles et des blancs, d’abord. En provenance du Luxembourg, ce qui n’est pas coutume, le Crémant Poll Fabaire Brut se distingue par son caractère fin et nerveux. Un saut en Alsace et voici le Pinot Blanc/Muscat Bestheim 2013, un bon assemblage marqué par le tabac blond au nez suivi de saveurs relativement concentrées.

Poll Fabaire Brut Crémant De Luxembourg Bestheim Pinot Blanc Muscat 2013 Velenosi Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi 2013 Beni Di Batasiolo Granée Gavi Del Commune Di Gavi 2013

D’Italie, le Verdicchio Dei Castelli di Jesi Velenosi 2013, malgré son nom un peu long, s’avère à la fois généreux et rafraîchissant. On quitte les Marches et on remonte plus au nord pour aboutir au Piémont avec le Beni di Batasiolo Gavi del Commune di Gavi 2013, assez corsé tout en étant bien soutenu par son acidité.

Du côté des rouges, on s’accroche à l’Italie avec, pour commencer, le Masseria Setteporte 2010, un délicieux rouge sicilien aux accents bourguignons. Plus costaud et plus boisé tout en demeurant équilibré, on a le Velenosi Brecciarolo Gold 2011, une valeur sûre année après année.

Masseria Setteporte 2010 Velenosi Brecciarolo Gold 2011 Altesino Rosso Di Montalcino 2012 Sella & Mosca Riserva Cannonau Di Sardegna 2010

De Toscane, j’ai bien aimé le Altesino Rossi di Montalcino 2012, qui marie habilement le bois et le fruit. Enfin, de Sardaigne, cette île qui voisine la Corse, le classique Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva 2010 arbore déjà une certaine patine, il est souple, fondu et savoureux.

Santé !


Note de la rédaction: vous pouvez lire les commentaires de dégustation complets en cliquant sur les noms de vins, les photos de bouteilles ou les liens mis en surbrillance. Les abonnés payants à Chacun son vin ont accès à toutes les critiques dès leur mise en ligne. Les utilisateurs inscrits doivent attendre 60 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de grands vins!

Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 25th – Part One

Tuscany and Miscellaneous Top Whites
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report covers top smart buys from Tuscany and recommended white wines from the October 25th VINTAGES release. Next week’s report will follow-up with the best from Chile and more red wines.

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images. You can also find the complete list of each VINTAGES release under Wine >> New Releases. Remember, however, that to access this list and to read all of the reviews you do need to subscribe (only $40/year). Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

The Tuscan “Wine Miracle”

Despite intense competition from other regions of Italy, I’d rank Tuscany as Italy’s most improved wine region of the last generation, at least the last half of the 20th century. In time, regions like Campania or Sicily may claim that title for the first half of this century, but it’s hard to argue with Tuscany’s miraculous turnaround since WWII. Sure, Tuscany has a history of fine wine, and indeed Chianti was one of the first demarcated wine zones in the world (1716), but overall quality has exploded over the last fifty years.

In the aftermath of World War II, when most of Italy had been reduced to rubble, the country underwent a period of miraculous growth – what economists called il miracolo economico. In barely more than a decade, Italy shifted from a rural, agriculture nation to a major world industrial power. But this led to a massive exodus from the countryside, and many wine estates were all but abandoned, even in beautiful Tuscany, and there was little money to focus on top quality production.

Montalcino counted barely a handful of producers, and the majority of Chianti was harsh, acidic red wine sold in a straw-covered flagon.

But from the 1970s on, everything changed. “Super Tuscan” wines emerged from the ashes thanks to the vision of producers like Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia) and Antinori (Tignanello). These wines were so radical that Italy’s entire appellation system would have to be overhauled to accommodate them.

Tuscany - The view south from Montalcino; Photo: John Szabo MS

Tuscany – The view south from Montalcino

Sangiovese, Tuscany’s most planted red grape, along with other local varieties became the objects of serious research in the sixteen-year project called “Chianti Classico 2000”, an effort to identify the viticultural parameters (clones, rootstocks, planting density, soil characteristics, clones, etc.) that would raise quality. The full benefits of this research are just now coming to a wine glass near you.

Money trickled into the region, then flowed, from within the region and other regions in Italy, and eventually from foreign sources. Today the list of wine estate owners in Tuscany is as international as the starting lineup for a Serie A football club. Land prices have skyrocketed; if only my parents had bought a little Tuscan villa with vineyards back in the 1970s.

Montalcino, for example, has grown to over 200 producers making premium quality, and priced, wines, while the baseline quality of Chianti Classico today would be mostly unrecognizable to farmers of the pre-war generation.

The coastal Maremma, and especially Bolgheri, essentially swamps up until the time of Mussolini, have emerged among the world’s most suitable sites for premium wine. Montepulciano has seen the rapidly changing landscape and has been pulled into the quality upswing. And many other regions, like the Val d’Orcia, Cortona, Montecucco, Val di Cornia or Suvereto, among many more, have become serious sources worth investigating. In short, the last generation could be characterized as il miracolo del vino Toscano.

With fame comes higher prices, but the top entry-level Chianti remains one of the best sub-$20 values in the world of wine, especially if you like eating while you sip. And even at the high-end, $40 or $50 for top Chianti Classico or Vino Nobile, or $60+ for Brunello, in light of the average prices for Bordeaux, Burgundy or Napa, are also relative bargains. You can of course easily spend over $100 for fine Tuscan wine, but I don’t recommend it – it’s not necessary. There’s so much unmatchable pleasure in the sub-$50 category; any higher spend is mostly name-brand label buying.

Here are several excellent, sub-$50 wines hitting shelves on October 25th.

Buyer’s Guide October 25th: Tuscany

Antinori Badia A Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

Soffocone Di Vincigliata 2011Soffocone Di Vincigliata 2011, Tuscany, Italy ($34.95)
John Szabo – From the stable of Bibi Graetz, one of Tuscany’s most lauded vintners and a man who believes in purity and authenticity, this sangiovese (with a splash of other local varieties) is a wonderfully elegant and pure, savoury and balanced wine of haunting beauty. If that’s not intriguing enough, then perhaps the label will be – it was banned in the US for it’s overt sexual imagery. Best 2014-2023.
Sara d’Amato - Here is a wine with sex appeal, literally. The secluded vineyards near Vincigliata, where the grapes are sourced for this utterly pure, edgy and verve-filled wine, offer scenic views of Florence and are also knows as the local “make-out point” where “soffocone” (fellatio) inevitably happens (hence the erotic imagery on the label). This largely sangiovese based blend is made from 40-year-old vines that deliver serious structure and lovely musky spice. Keep this one for Valentine’s Day.

Antinori 2009 Badia A Passignano, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($44.95)
John Szabo – A former monastery established in 891 (not 1891), Badia a Passignano has been in the Antinori family since 1987. It’s a gorgeous property in Sambuca Val di Pesa, with vineyards stretching up to 300m, producing a reliably excellent Chianti Classico from old sangiovese clonal material cut from the nearby Tignanello estate. This 2009 is a fine example of Chianti Classico’s new top-level classification called Gran Selezione; tasted blind I’d be far more likely to guess Brunello. Best 2016-2024.
Sara d’Amato - This gracefully maturing Chianti Classico Riserva produced from the serene monastery of Badia A Passignano is drinking quite beautifully now. Notes of plum, prune and delicate, exotic spice linger nicely on the finish of this sophisticated wine.

Poggio Verrano Chance 2006

Avignonesi 2011 Vino Nobile Di MontepulcianoAvignonesi Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Tuscany, Italy ($35.95)
John Szabo - A terrific, balanced, pure, perfumed and savoury, firm and dusty Vino Nobile here from the storied house of Avignonesi, under new ownership since 2009. The entire estate has been converted to biodynamic farming and the positive results are beginning to show in the 2011. Best 2014-2021.

Poggio Verrano 2006 Chance, Tuscany, Italy ($37.95)
John Szabo - For fans of Super Tuscans, this is an exceptional blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc at a fine price within the genre. Poggio Verrano releases this wine at full maturity, a rarity in the world of Tuscan wine, and this is a ready-to-enjoy wine of considerable class. Best 2014-2021.
David Lawrason – This is very good value in a mature (but not at all tired) Tuscan red from an excellent vintage. It spent its first five years ageing at the winery. Verrano is a relatively new venture founded in 2000, based on a 17 ha site in Maremma only 15km from the sea that grows cabernet sauvignon and franc, merlot and sangiovese.

Castello D’albola 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Here’s a balanced, authentic and appealing Chianti. I was struck by its freshness as it embarks on its sixth year, with most of its first two years spent in barrel in the cellars of this classic, old property near Radda. Good value for a Riserva.

Ca’marcanda 2011 Promis, Tuscany, Italy ($48.95)
David Lawrason - From the coastal Tuscan property of Angelo Gaia in the Maremma zone comes a real beauty, an exquisite, very fragrant and complex thoroughly modern expression of Tuscany. It is comprised of 55% merlot, 35% syrah, 10% sangiovese that are fermented separately and aged 18 months in new and one year old barrels.

Castello D'albola Riserva Chianti Classico 2008 Ca'marcanda Promis 2011 Livio Sassetti Pertimali Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 Ornellaia 2011

Livio Sassetti Pertimali 2007 Brunello Di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($45.95) –
David Lawrason – The Sasseti family has been turning out classic Brunello from their 16 has site for three generations. Aged 36 months at the winery, this somewhat lighter vintage has now matured to ideal drinking condition – very complex, very smooth yet braced by fine acidity. Classic styling.

Ornellaia 2011, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy ($189.95)
Sara D’Amato – An interesting vintage proved 2011 – mainly hot and dry with a period of cooler temperatures in mid-summer. Thus this marked wine shows a great deal of character, colour and richness of fruit but has also preserved an elegant vein of acidity. Classic, highly appealing and worth tucking away for at least the near future.

Buyer’s Guide VINTAGES October 25th: White Wines

Vincent Prunier Saint Aubin La Chatenière 1er Cru 2011Gunderloch Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett 2013

Domaines Schlumberger 2010 Saering RieslingDomaines Schlumberger Saering Riesling 2010, Alsace Grand Cru, France ($30.95)
John Szabo - The sandstones and marls of this 27ha grand cru are tailor-made for riesling, especially dry and floral styles. 2010 was a terrific vintage, and this wine shows an advanced, earthy, very stony, terroir-driven character on a bone dry, mid-weight frame. Best 2014-2022.

Gunderloch 2013 Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett, Rheinhessen, Germany  ($21.95)
Sara D’Amato – Old vines, low yields and plantings on unique red slate soils produce this compelling wine brimming with energy, vibrancy and appealing mineral. Excitingly bright with terrific balance and a great deal of staying power.

Vincent Prunier 2011 Saint-Aubin La Chatenière 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($48.95)
John Szabo - Still very youthful and even reductive (flinty), this has depth and intensity above the mean for both the vintage and the appellation, and would sit comfortably alongside more expensive white Burgundy from loftier appellations. Best 2016-2021.
Sara D’Amato – Saint Aubin is known for its floral character and delicacy but this example has much more riveting appeal with racy crispness bolstered by mineral and nicely balanced by saline and stone fruit – a class act.

Dog Point 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)
John Szabo -  Another superior wine from Dog Point, one of the clear leaders in the region. The 2013 has beautiful purity and depth, still in the typical house style of flinty and lightly reductive (matchstick notes), while the palate is beautifully balanced and crystalline with terrific length. Best 2014-2020.

Andrew Murray 2012 RGB Camp 4 Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley, California, USA ($29.95) John Szabo – Andrew Murray is a Rhône-fanatic; he sources Rhône varieties exclusively from a long list of vineyards in Santa Barbara and Paso Robles, a sort of micro-negociant. RGB is an equal parts blend of roussanne and grenache blanc with surprising verve and vitality. I like the interplay of ripe orchard fruit, with almost viognier-like perfume and richness, not to mention glycerous mouthfeel, with underlying acids prop up the ensemble. For those who like it both big and balanced. Best 2014-2020.

Castello Della Sala 2013 Bramìto Del Cervo Chardonnay, Umbria ($21.95) David Lawrason –  This is the junior, unoaked chardonnay from Antinori’s excellent white wine estate in Umbria, not far from the classic town of Orvieto. Bramito has long been personal favourite –  stylish, yet light on its feet and fresh, with integration ration of chardonnay apple/pear, lemon and light toasty and nutty notes.

Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Andrew Murray Rgb Camp 4 Vineyard 2012 Castello Della Sala Bramìto Del Cervo Chardonnay 2013 Loimer Grüner Veltliner 2013 Yalumba The Y Series Viognier 2013Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2011

Loimer 2013 Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal, Austria ($19.95)
David Lawrason – From one of the leading producers of Austria comes a beauty gruner made in an easier, simpler style. Fine structure and elegance if not great complexity or depth, but the fruit aromas ring true and run long on a spine of firm acidity.

Yalumba 2013 The Y Series Viognier  South Australia ($16.95)
David Lawrason – What amazing finesse and freshness (and value) for a wine with so much fruit power. Yalumba has taken on viognier as a cause celebre in Australia, and along the way has emerged as leading global producer of the beguiling perfumed white grape that originated in the south of France.

Le Clos Jordanne 2011 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario, Canada ($40.00)
Sara D’Amato – A bold chardonnay with poise and presence and a great deal of crunchy, textural appeal. Non-believers in the excellence of our local wine – take note!

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Oct 25th:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
All Reviews

Photo courtesy of John Szabo, MS

AdvertisementsStags' Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2011

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British Columbia Critics’ Picks October 2014

Each month we write our critics’ picks individually, based on what we’ve tasted and been thinking about. Some months, like this one, it’s obvious how aligned our WineAlign collective thoughts are. October has us reflecting on warming, interesting wines, the majority of which are red, with a rich aged sparkling, heady creamy white and a potent and characterful port in the pack. It’s obvious that the wet west coast’s October have us reaching for wines that invite a bit more contemplation, preferably near a fireplace.

Hoping these wines, and your fireplace, will help warm you this month.

Cheers ~ Treve Ring

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

A Thanksgiving Day dump of rain, over 50mm, signals the end of a great summer and fall and has me thinking bigger, richer, warmer wines as the rain and damp weather returns to the coast. Further inland it will only get colder so this month’s picks are designed to offset the arrival of fall and winter across the country.

Taylor Fladgate Quinta De Vargellas Vintage Port 1998 Rock Wall Wine Co. Zinfandel Monte Rosso Vineyard 2012 Ravenswood Besieged 2013I caught up with Joel Peterson (Ravenswood) last week and had a chance to taste through several new releases. One that caught my eye and taste buds was the Ravenswood 2013 Besieged from Sonoma County, a delicious blend of petite sirah, carignane, zinfandel, syrah, barbera, alicante bouschet and mourvèdre grown across Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Valley, Russian River Valley, Knights Valley and Sonoma Mountain. Try this with a favourite ribs recipe.

Still on the Zinfandel theme, Kent Rosenblum has emerged from the ashes of a Diageo sale and a non-compete clause to finally launch Rock Wall Wine Co. in Canada. I just love the Rock Wall Wine Co. 2012 Monte Rosso Vineyard release made from two favourite blocks Gallo gives to him based on his reputation and history of making this wine and celebrating the vineyard. Just a baby but you can drink now with a steak or wait five to seven years for it to fully blossom. Real Zinfandel.

Finally at the end of any cold weather meal or for that snowy weekend afternoon by the fireplace I recommend Taylor Fladgate 1998 Quinta de Vargellas. This is a ‘single quinta’ port that is made exactly as Taylor’s ‘vintage’ but in this case the fruit is restricted to the individual Vargellas property. I can feel the day slipping away.

DJ Kearney

These three wines made my thoughts spin in a few directions – and surely that is part of wine’s purpose and delight – to stimulate the senses, the intellect and the imagination.

Nexus One 2012

Rabl St Laurent 2009

Summerhill Pyramid Winery 1998 Cipes ArielSummerhill Pyramid Winery 1998 Cipes Ariel is a mesmerizing sparkling wine that defies expectations. Its complexity and elegance is off the charts, just as distinctive as the elongated pyramid-shaped bottle. Sipping it made me think of rich macaroon-y champagnes I have known and loved, of Maillard reactions and bubble nucleation theory.

Saint Laurent (or Sankt Laurent) is a conundrum. Pinot-like, Cab Franc-y, Nerello-ish… it’s juicy and fresh, but also velvety and soft. Rabl 2009 St. Laurent manages to showcase fruitcake and tangy cranberry all in the same mouthful.

Nexus 2012 One from harsh Ribera del Duero presents a modern face of tempranillo. The modern part is the freshness and purity of this well-priced wine, where fruit rather than wood is the star, which also has the benefit of allowing terroir to have a voice. Is wood aging (especially in American oak barrels) a moral imperative to which Spanish wines must stay shackled? This wine makes one think about the fruit:wood:terroir dialectic.

Rhys Pender MW

Black Hills Nota Bene 2012 Longview Devil's Elbow Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico 2009Lately I’ve had a chance to taste a lot of verticals and some older wines so I have been thinking about ageability. These three wines are all worth picking up 6-12 bottles and laying some down for a few years. They are pretty tasty to drink now but will open up in terms of complexity in just 2-3 years.

The Fontodi 2009 Chianti Classico is the perfect counter to slow cooked meat at this time of the year as the weather cools. Savoury, meaty and delicious.

The Longview Devil’s Elbow 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon already has a few years of age on it too but should keep going for quite a few more. This wine shows the lighter, cool climate side of Aussie wine in an intense way.

Closer to home and with great ageing pedigree is the Black Hills 2012 Nota Bene. This is one of the best yet and having just sat through a vertical going back to the first wine in 1999 this will undoubtedly reward cellaring for a few years and up to 10-15.

Treve Ring

Just as I anticipate wrapping my warm woolen sweaters around me in autumn, I look forward to cozying up with warming reds. Fall is the season when I reflect on the importance of time; the shift in the year to reacquaint myself with wines that benefit from decanting, and foods that require lengthy roasting. After a glorious summer filled with rosé and the BBQ, I’ve been appreciating the return of shorter days, longer nights, and wines like these.

Campolargo Baga Bairrada 2010

Greywacke Pinot Gris 2013

Bodega Noemia’s 2012 A Lisa MalbecBodega Noemía A Lisa 2012 comes from the far reaches of our winemaking map – Patagonia. The pristine environment, streaking sun and windswept landscape produces pristine, fresh and articulate wines, like this memorable malbec.

From another southern latitude comes one of my favourite white wines of the last month – a surprise from a NZ producer typically lauded for their sauvignon blanc. Greywacke 2013 Pinot Gris has the creamy, lees-rich, honeyed herbal intensity of Alsace, but with a stone fruit and citrus freshness that is all New Zealand.

Portugal has long been a favourite country for intriguing, authentic reds, and Campolargo 2010 Baga is no exception. From Bairrada, this spicy red is 100% baga, expressed in a fresh and herbal vein. If traditional, untamable baga tannins have scared you off in the past, I urge you to seek out this modern example.


About the BC Critics’ Picks ~

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

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!



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Top 20 under $20 at the LCBO (October)

Your Guide to the Best Values, Limited Time Offers and Bonus Air Miles selections at the LCBO this month

by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

There’s lots to tell you this month about wine values at the LCBO. Firstly many wines on my Top 50  Best Values list are discounted and some have Bonus Air Miles that apply, making these wines even more attractive for the next four weeks or so. Secondly, from among the many wines I have tasted since I last reported to you, I have found 8 new wines to join the Top 50; all making your fall drinking more affordable.

The Top 20 under $20 are best buys among the 1600 or so wines in LCBO Wines and the Vintages Essentials Collection. I select most from wines on Steve’s Top 50, a standing WineAlign list based on quality/price ratio. You can read below in detail how the Top 50 works, but it does fluctuate as new wines arrive and as discounts show up through Limited Time Offers (LTOs).

The discount period runs until November 9th. So don’t hesitate. Thanks to WineAlign’s inventory tracking, I can assure you that there were decent stocks available, when we published, of every wine that I highlight.

Editors Note: You can find our complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great value wines!


Santa Carolina Merlot 2012, Chile $8.95 plus 4 BAMs
TOP50OCTOBER – A pure fruity clean red that’s simple but generously flavoured.

K W V Contemporary Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2013 Western Cape South Africa $9.45
NEW TO TOP50 – A juicy fruity red blend from the Cape at a great price.

Apelia Agiorgitiko 2012 (1000ml) Greece $9.95 plus 4 BAMs
TOP50OCTOBER – A clean fresh red that is fruity, midweight, well balanced; a good everyday wine. Agiorgitiko is one of Greece’s best red grapes .

Santa Carolina Merlot 2012 K W V Contemporary Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2013 Apelia Agiorgitiko 2012 Boschendal The Pavillion Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Fuzion Alta Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Castillo De Monseran Garnacha 2013

Boschendal The Pavillion Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Western Cape South Africa $9.95 was $11.95
NEW TO TOP50 – I love the zippy juicy vibrant palate to this exuberant red with a touch of spice to the fruit.

Fuzion Alta Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Mendoza Argentina $9.95
NEW TO TOP50 – A soft and flavourful cabernet from high altitude vineyards in Argentina.

Castillo De Monseran Garnacha 2013 Carinena Spain $9.95 plus 6 BAMs
An exciting youthful very drinkable red. Chill lightly and enjoy with burgers, sausages or ribs.

Cusumano Syrah 2013 Sicily, Italy $10.45 was $11.95
TOP50OCTOBER – A seductive complex nose with raspberry jam, blueberry and prune aromas leads to a balanced fruity palate. Great value.

Carmen Reserva Carmenere 2013 Colchagua Valley, Chile $10.45 was $11.45
TOP50OCTOBER – Fresh black cherry, plum and herbal sage aromas make this aromatic fruity red very appealing.

Cusumano Syrah 2013 Carmen Reserva Carmenère 2013 Santa Carolina Carmenère Reserva 2012 Farnese Casale Vecchio Montepulciano D'abruzzo 2012

Santa Carolina Carmenère Reserva 2012, Cachapoal Valley, Chile $10.95 was $12.95
TOP50OCTOBER – A complex balanced carmenere from the Peumo region of the Cachapoal Valley. Fragrant, full bodied and elegant with lots of ripe fruit flavour.

Farnese Casale Vecchio Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2012, Abruzzo, Italy $10.95 plus 4 BAMs
TOP50OCTOBER – A classy Italian red for fine dining at a great price.

Root:1 Carmenere 2012 Colchagua Valley, Chile $11.80 was $12.80
NEW TO TOP50 – A ripe, fresh and very smooth carmenere with none of the greenness sometimes associated with this grape.

La Vieille Ferme Red 2013, Ventoux, Rhone Valley, France $11.90 plus 4 BAMs
A consistent favourite that’s a very versatile red wine well balanced for food.

Root1 Carmenère 2012 La Vieille Ferme Red 2013 D'arenberg The Stump Jump Grenache Hardys Chronicle No. 3 Butcher's Gold Shiraz Sangiovese

D’Arenberg The Stump Jump Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvèdre 2011 South Australia $13.95 was $14.95
NEW TO TOP50 -A delicious fresh fragrant plummy red. Chill a little and enjoy on its own or with grilled meats.

Hardys Chronicle No. 3 Butcher’s Gold Shiraz Sangiovese 2012 South Australia $14.95 plus 6 BAMs
Sangiovese, the Chianti grape from Italy, is blended here with shiraz to deliver a fresher more vibrant wine than one normally expects from this region.


Poquito Moscato Sparkling (375ml) Spain $2.85 was $5.00+ 3 BAMs
DISCONTINUED AT LCBO (Over 10,000 in inventory currently) – This floral sweet summer bubbly listing is coming to an end so this half bottle has gone on sale and as an added incentive there are 3 Bonus AirMiles. Pick up an armfull, chill well and enjoy as an aperitif.

Citra Trebbiano D’abruzzo 2013 Abruzzo Italy $7.75
NEW TO TOP50 – More flavour than most Italian whites at this price; the 1.5L bottle for $12.95 is even better value.

Apelia Moschofilero 2013 (1000ml) Greece $9.95 plus 4BAMs
TOP50OCTOBER – A good example of Moschofilero, one of Greece’s best indigenous grapes, with its lifted floral aromas and dry fruity minerally soft palate.

Poquito Moscato Sparkling Citra Trebbiano D'abruzzo 2013 Apelia Moschofilero 2013 Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2011 Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2011 Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2011 Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $9.95 was $11.95
A rich creamy full-bodied chardonnay that is nicely mature and well integrated.

Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2011, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario $13.95 plus 5BAMs
TOP50OCTOBER – I love how the subtle oak flavours add to the structure and complexity of this charming balanced chardonnay.

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand $14.95 was $16.95
TOP50OCTOBER – The 2013 vintage in Marlborough was one of the best in recent years, consequently we have a classic wine from Villa Maria.

How does a wine get selected for the Top 20 under $20.

There are three ways that a wine gets into this monthly report of wines that are always in the stores either on the LCBO “General List” or the VINTAGES Essential Collection.

- On Sale (LTO’s or Limited Time Offers): Every four weeks the LCBO discounts around 200 wines  I have looked through the current batch and have highlighted some of my favourites that offer better value at present…. so stock up now.

- Bonus Air Miles (BAM’s): If you collect Air Miles then you will be getting Bonus Air Miles on another 150 or so wines…a few of these have a special appeal for a while.

- Steve’s Top 50: Wines that have moved onto my Top 50 Best Values this month. This is on an-on going WineAlign selection (Top 50,) that mathematically calculates value by comparing the price and rating of all the wines on the LCBO General List. You can access the report any time and read more about it now.

Steve Top50The Rest of Steve’s Top 50

There are another 33 wines on the Top 50 list so if you did not find all you need above for your current needs dip into the Top 50 LCBO and Vintages Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste.

To be included in the Top 50 for value a wine must be inexpensive while also having a high score, indicating high quality. I use a mathematical model to make the Top 50 selections from the wines in our database. I review the list every month to include newly listed and recently tasted vintages of current listings as well as monitoring the value of those put on sale for a limited time.

Before value wine shopping remember to consult the Top 50, since it is always changing. If you find that there is a new wine on the shelf or a new vintage that we have not reviewed, let us know. Moreover if you disagree with our reviews, tell us please us. And if you think our reviews are accurate, send us some feedback since it’s good to hear that you agree with us.

How I Choose the Top 50

I constantly taste the wines at the LCBO to keep the Top 50 list up to date. You can easily find all of my all Top 50 Value Wines from the WineAlign main menu. Click on Wine =>Top 50 Value Wines to be taken directly to the list.

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

The Top 50 changes all the time, so remember to check before shopping. I will be back next month with more news on value arrivals to Essentials and the LCBO.


Steve Thurlow

Top 20 Under $20 for October
Top 50 Value Wines

Editors Note: You can find our complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great value wines!


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A Year in the Life of Wine or Why Vintage Matters

Anthony Gismondi’s Final Blend

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

As the 2014 harvest winds down across the northern hemisphere I wanted to take a moment to speak to the notion of vintage. The harvest is the culmination of a year’s work for any winery, or to be more specific, the viticultural team that is responsible for growing the grapes. For all the tastings, all the notes and all the scores there is really only one number (four digits) that relates directly to an individual wine and that’s its vintage.

You can think of it as a birthday of sorts but unlike the yearly marker that defines us, a wine’s vintage defines its life in the vineyard and can tell you a lot about the rest of its life in bottle. If you didn’t know by now, I’m a bit of a vintage fiend, especially when I’m spending more than $15 or $20 on a bottle of wine.

I mention this because there is a certain malaise in the wine industry to dismiss vintage. I suspect it’s because it takes time, energy and money to keep track of it throughout a wine’s life. Many large retailers and wineries seem to be conspiring to quietly remove the concept of vintage from their daily life by promoting every wine from every year as being equal. As mentioned, there is a cost to keeping track of the vintage, in the literature and marketing bumpf, on the label (imagine the savings of printing a decade of labels with no vintage listed), changing UPC codes, catalogues et al, but we say, so what? The provenance of a wine includes its vintage and any attempt to obfuscate vintage only reveals a lack of commitment to the soul of wine.

J2272x1704-00937No matter the bother of tracking vintage, we look at it as part of the job. It’s a matter of respect; something fundamental to buying, selling or drinking wine. If a company is too lazy to correctly identify a wine by its vintage it should probably be in another business.

When I first started tasting wine some 35 years ago there was only one harvest of note in the wine world, and that was in Bordeaux. The Bordelais were the masters of vintage, seldom commenting about any harvest until the wines were fermented and sitting in the cellar. Often they would say nothing until the next spring, when their en primeur or advance sale of the recently finished vintage took place for the trade.

In those days, knowledge of growing conditions were confined to a handful of folks; given the difficulty of communicating that knowledge worldwide in a short period of time, it didn’t really affect sales all that much. Vintages were usually graded good, better or best and the price went up regardless.

You could say the laissez-faire attitude surrounding vintages changed after 1982 with arrival of Robert Parker and his yearly proclamations on the health, quality and aging potential of Bordeaux wine. In fact, it was Parker who gave collectors the buy signal for 1982 Bordeaux, when many others critics were panning the vintage. One naysayer included noted American reviewer Robert Finnegan, who after telling consumers to avoid the harvest, was never a serious player in the review business again.

IMG_6412The notion of ‘vintage’ was long suppressed in the New World because back in the day we learned that every year was a good year in California, Chile, South Africa and Australia. It was always warm and sunny, hence no need to ask if it was a good year. It seemed a clear advantage over the wet springs and falls that could plague Western European vineyards. We now know better.

“Warm and sunny” comes in degrees, if you’ll pardon the pun. Even in benign climes we have come to learn that some years are better than others, especially as temperatures rise in many winegrowing regions chosen, shall we say less judiciously, in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

Today we have come to admire the quality of grapes and wine that are grown on cooler, more marginal sites. That said, the truly poor vintage has all but been eliminated by science and viticultural techniques that were not available to winegrowers as little as two decades ago.

For many wineries, harvest reports (including live video via vineyard cams) are more about public relations than any real pronouncement regarding the quality of the grapes picked. Interviews with the owner or winemaker and daily updates from the vineyard have taken the legs out from under the old good-versus-bad vintage assessments once only issued by tight-lipped wine buyers and a few respected tasters, deep from within the vineyards.

IMG_7096Without doubt, growing fruit inside an appellation ideally suited to the grapes helps reduce the failure rate, as do better clones, better farming practices, low yields, and a host of tools available to the modern grape grower. It even appears possible to smooth out the rough edges of the vintage just by being diligent or, even better, passionate about what you are doing.

Some would argue the result of all this work is better wine year after year and less variation in quality, so why should consumers worry about the vintage? We agree today’s harvest is much less of a mystery than it used to be, and much less risky to buy, but vintage goes to the soul of every wine and noting those four digits on every bottle, sales sheet, shelf sticker and wine list adds perspective and respect to a year’s worth of work.

Even so, just when you think you have a handle on it all, global warming is turning parts of Europe and Canada into the likes of the Napa or Barossa Valley. Modern-day harvest reports speak about the lack of rainfall and rising temperatures throughout the growing season. Seasons that are too dry and too warm are challenging everything we know about growing grapes each new vintage.

IMG_7213As the calendar winds down in 2014 two vintages will come to an end. The first finished up six months ago in the southern hemisphere, the second will be completed next month across the northern latitudes. All of which leads us to the story of those four digits.

I like knowing that all things being equal, the 2012 and 2013 Okanagan vintages were superior to the 2010 and 2011. I take pride in knowing the balance from day one of the 1982 Bordeaux, placed it at the same level as the great 1961, 1959 and 1945s, considered by some the finest Bordeaux vintages ever. Why would you buy a 2004 Burgundy off a wine list if there was 2005 listed alongside it?

The best thing about vintages are you live through them. You can remember them, collect them, cellar them and drink them. They are a part of the mystery and complexity of wine. Why anyone would want to strip all that flavour from a wine is beyond us.

Surely in a digital world that seems to know everything there is to know about us 24/7 we could manage to keep track of four little digits as they pertain to a wine’s life. Think of it as commitment to your job, a sign of respect to the customer, the grower and most of all the wine.


Photos courtesy of Treve Ring

Bridlewood Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – October

Whiskies, Walter and Caesars
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

The falling leaves and cooler days have me gravitating back to spicy Caesars, whiskies and hot toddies as my drinks of choice. Thus recently I was delighted to find an all-natural handcrafted Caesar mix that makes a delicious premium Caesar in a snap.

Walter Caesar Mix, the brainchild of Aaron Harowitz and Zack Silverman of Vancouver, took over a year to develop. The ingredients are vine ripened tomatoes, grated horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, clam juice, sea salt, onion and garlic powder and organic sugar. The result is a thick, hearty juice that has a “homemade” taste.

In the “Mildly Spiced” version, the tomato and clam flavour jumps forth while there’s still enough of a kick to need nothing more than the addition of a spirit of choice. Ketel One Vodka is my pick. In the “Well Spiced” version the horseradish and hot sauce dominate the sweet tomato notes. To me which you go for is just a matter of the mood you’re in.

Walter Trio Ketel One VodkaI’m just glad there’s an alternative to the ubiquitous Mott’s Clamato. I love that Mott’s pretty much drove the popularity of Caesars across Canada. (In 1969 the Duffy Mott Company developed Clamato, a tomato-clam cocktail that became the mixer of choice for bloody Caesars.) I don’t love the added MSG, glucose-fructose, artificial colours and PET bottles it’s sold in.

Walter is now available in Canada in over 600 select grocers, shops and bars. The current up-to-date listing can be found by visiting:

If you want to add your own creativity to the drink, start with Walter and then play around with the spirit (try gin or tequila), the flavour additions (maybe olive brine, pickle juice or soy sauce) and the garnish (cured meats, cheese, whatever).

With the garnish, it seems the sky’s the limit. Hopgood’s Foodliner in Toronto for example offered a Caesar topped with fresh BC spot prawn, salami and jalapeño pepper when the prawns were in season this spring. Score on Davie Street in Vancouver was inspired by the idea of cheeseburgers on Bloody Marys to come up with their versions for a Caesar. The sixty dollar Checkmate Caesar which has been selling out since it was put on the menu features a jaw dropping roasted chicken, pulled pork hot dog, Score burger, pork slider, hot wings, onion rings and a brownie to cap off the meal on a glass.

The newly reopened and renamed Eaton Chelsea Hotel in Toronto has an entire menu of homemade Caesars. The “checkout” includes bacon strips, a pickle spear, half a hard-boiled egg and a cherry tomato. Restaurants on ski resorts across Canada also seem to vie for the best dressed Caesar in town. At Whistler they hold the annual Bearfoot Bistro World Oyster Invitational and Bloody Caesar Battle. The competition keeps all establishments creative with their Caesars: at Christine’s Mountain Top Dining, I had half a delicatessen on my drink.

Whiskies of course have so much character they need no garnish and in truth I like mine neat, on the rocks or in a simple cocktail.

Bain's Cape Mountain Whisky Tomatin 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt Tullibardine 228 Burgundy Finish Highland Single MaltDeanston Virgin Oak Single Malt Scotch

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky from South Africa is an easy to drink introduction to the whisky world. From Scotland, Tomatin 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt gets its gentle, delicate character from its soft water source and sherry wood finishing. Tullibardine 228 Burgundy Finish Single Malt has spent part of its aging in Chateau de Chassagne Montrachet red Burgundy casks. Deanston Virgin Oak is finished in freshly charred new oak bourbon barrels.

Tomintoul 16 Years Old Speyside Glenlivet Single Malt Scotch Whisky Isle Of Arran Machrie Moor Single Malt Scotch Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey Knappogue Castle 12 Years Old Irish Single Malt Whiskey

Tomintoul 16 Year Old Speyside Glenlivet Single Malt from master distiller Robert Fleming is ultra-smooth and inviting.

Those who love a gently peaty malt should try Isle of Arran Machrie Moor Single Malt. For a full on whack of peat there’s Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt.

Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth George Dickel RyeTeeling Small Batch Irish Whisky has the gentle, sweet beguiling style of Ireland’s whiskies enhanced by finishing in rum barrels. Triple distilled Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Irish Single Malt aged in bourbon casks has notes of nougat.

Should you want a whisky cocktail, I recommend George Dickel Whisky made from 95% rye mash mixed with Carpano Antica Formula to make a wicked Manhattan.

Whether it’s an awesome Caesar or a sipping whisky enjoy your drink in the fading light of autumn. Winter is coming.

For those of you in Toronto, don’t miss the chance to join the WineAlign team at the ROM this Thursday, October 16th. It’s WineAlign’s inaugural Champions Tasting where you get the opportunity to taste only the top award wining wines from The Nationals and The Worlds. You can still get tickets here.


Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can read Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!



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“Champions Tasting” this week! Taste Only the Best

Taste Only the Best

Please join us at our inaugural “Champions Tasting” to be held at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) on Thursday October 16th, 2014 at 6:30pm.

Our Champions Tasting is unique compared to other tastings in that all wines being poured are “Champions” from our 2014 wine awards.

These include only Platinum and Gold winning wines from the 2014 National Wine Awards of Canada, as well as, Top Value, Category Champion and Best of Country wines from the 2014 World Wine Awards of Canada.

When combining both award competitions our judges tasted 2,433 wines blind.  The wines eligible to pour at the tasting represent only 7% of all of the wines entered.  In short, nothing but the best.

Winery and wine agency representatives will be pouring and discussing their award winning wines.  WineAlign critics will be presenting their “Judges’ Choice” selections. These are wines that they scored particularly high.

Champions Tasting LogoHere’s only a sample of the over 80 award winning wines that you will taste:
– Ascheri 2009 Barolo
– Big Head Wines 2013 Chenin Blanc
– Domaine Laroche 2012 Chablis Saint-Martin
– Domaine Marchand-Grillot 2012 Morey-Saint-Denis
– Edna Valley vineyard 2012 Paragon Chardonnay
– Martin Berdugo 2009 Reserva Ribera del Duero
– Norman Hardie 2011 Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir
– Peller Estates 2012 Private Reserve Gamay Noir Carlton Vineyard
– Poplar Grove 2010 Merlot
– Quails’ Gate 2012 Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay
– Redstone Winery 2010 Syrah Redstone Vineyard
– Stags’ Leap Winery 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
– Stoneboat Vineyards 2011 Pinotage
– Tawse 2012 Riesling Carly’s Block
– Villa Ponciago 2012 Beaujolais-Villages
– Winzer Krems ’13’ 2013 Gruner Vetliner

This isn’t just about tasting great wines, it’s also opportunity to buy great wines. There will be a system in place to help facilitate wine purchases after the event.

The ROM is the perfect setting to showcase such high-quality wines. In keeping with the evening’s focus on only the best, caterer par excellence, Daniel et Daniel will prepare gourmet food for your enjoyment. Look forward to Rare Roast Beef Sandwich, Buffalo Chicken Crackling, Whitefish Tacos, Maple Smoked Salmon and many more tasty treats.


Click to Purchase tickets

Event Details:
Date: Thursday, Oct 16th, 2014
Location: Royal Ontario Museum (100 Queens Park, Toronto)
Trade: 3pm to 5pm (by invite only)
Public: 6:30pm to 9pm (purchase)
Tickets: $100.00 (includes all fees & taxes)

Click to Purchase tickets

Champions Tasting

Photo credits: Wine tasting, courtesy of the Wine Sisters; The ROM, courtesy of The ROM

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008