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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

Bill

“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!


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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!


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Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

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Bourgogne Lovers Part II: Finding Value in Bourgogne

By John Szabo MSOctober 18, 2014

 

Some Regions & Producers to Seek Out, and a Buyer’s Guide of Currently Available Wines

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Part I last week surveyed some of the challenges facing La Bourgogne. But despite the doom and gloom outlined, all hope is not lost for Bourgogne lovers. In fact, there are several pockets within the region that remain relatively good value in this high stakes game, and the quality of Bourgogne wines in general is better than anytime before in history. Not even Bourgogne’s lauded name on a label is sufficient to sell mediocre wines in today’s hyper competitive market. Ironically, Bourgogne’s versions of chardonnay and pinot noir remain the yardstick for the majority of producers globally, even if not all will admit it, so there are plenty of excellent alternatives from every coolish climate between Ontario and Tasmania to buy instead of poor quality Bourgogne. So even the homeland has had to keep apace qualitatively.

But it’s important to be realistic: you’ll never find great sub-$20 red Burgundy, or sub $15 white. And $30 and $20 respectively are more probable entry prices. I’ll never tire of quoting Burghound Allen Meadow’s brilliant observation about pinot noir pricing: “you don’t always get what you pay for, but you never get what you don’t pay for”. This is true not only in Burgundy, but just about everywhere else, too. So here, I’m talking value at the premium end of the wine spectrum, relative to the oft-inflated prices of wines from any well-known region. For the best of the originals, look for these regions and producers, or skip to directly to the Buyers’ Guide for wines currently available somewhere in Canada.

Chablis: Get It While You Can

For reasons I fail to fully understand, Chablis remains both a world reference for chardonnay as well as perhaps the single best value within La Bourgogne. Considering that many, including me, believe Chablis to be the world’s most unique, effortless expression of cool climate chardonnay, it’s puzzling, and even more so now that demand outstrips supply. How long can this last?

The Latest Developments

Guillaume Michel of Domaine Louis Michel

Guillaume Michel of Domaine Louis Michel

If 1980 was a critical turning point for Chablis in the cellar, with the widespread arrival of stainless steel tanks (enamel-lined tanks or wood vats predominated before), the most important recent changes have occurred in the vineyards. “The pruning has changed quite dramatically”, Guillaume Michel of Domaine Louis Michel tells me. “Today, it’s much shorter, as there’s much less risk of frost damage.” Global warming has been keenly felt in this part of France, and production is more regular now than in the past, even if average quantities are down as a result.

Overall, viticulture has also improved dramatically. “Thirty years ago, Chablis was like the moon”, continues Michel, referring to the widespread use of herbicides. “Nobody ploughed their vineyards. Now it’s commonplace.” Bernard Ravenau, one of the region’s most celebrated vignerons, further explains: “Twenty years ago, the top producers were the ones who had the balls to harvest late. Now, the top producers are the ones who harvest earliest. The goal is not a wine with 14% alcohol”.

Bernard Raveneau

Bernard Raveneau

Raveneau’s extraordinary 2010s weigh in at around 12.5%, so it’s clearly not just talk. The net result, at least in the top tier, is better wine than Chablis has ever produced before. And there’s little excuse for thin, mean and acidic Chablis, unless you’re greedy with yields.

At its best, Chablis captures an inimitable profile and bottles its essence. It’s that electrifying structure and palpable minerality that blatantly defies the naysayer scientists who claim that soil cannot possibly impart the taste of its rocks to a wine, which keeps me coming back.

Yet even Chablis’ grandest expressions, a Raveneau or a Dauvissat grand cru for example, cost a half or a third of a top grand cru from the Côte de Beaune, for a sensory experience you simply can’t find anywhere else. These are not cheap wines – c. $250 is a hell of lot to pay for any bottle – but all things considered, they are awesome value in the rarefied realm of fine wine.

Maybe it’s because of Chablis’ relatively large size (just over 3,300ha producing a little more than 25m bottles annually), which is double the size of the whole Côte de Nuits, where yields per hectare are also much lower on average than in Chablis. Or perhaps it’s because the quality of the region’s bottom-tier wines is bad enough to scuff the luster of the entire appellation, keeping average prices down (about 40% of regional production is still made by négociants), or that the silly money of the punters is spent mostly on red wine.

Whatever the case, learn a few reliable names, and buy their wines. $20 gets you fine quality entry-level village Chablis ($30 in BC), while an additional $10 or $15 gets you into premier cru territory. $70 gets you Chablis from one of the seven grand cru climats, with most still under $100. I realize we’re talking about the ultra premium wine category here, but if you’ve read this far, you’re interested enough to know the deal.

Recommended Producers (Not an exhaustive list)

Domaine François Raveneau and Domaine Vincent Dauvissat

I include these two producers more as a reference – you’ll be lucky to ever find a bottle from either. Production is tiny, and every last drop disappears quickly into the cellars of the enthusiasts lucky enough to get an allocation. The quality of both Bernard Ravenau’s and Vincent Dauvissat’s (and increasingly his daughter Etienette’s) recent and future releases experienced during a tasting in May 2014 confirms the iconic status of these two producers. Don’t miss a chance to taste either; the Raveneau 2010 Montée de Tonnerre is about as fine a white wine as I’ve ever had. [Barrel Select, ON]

Domaine Louis Moreau

Moreau is a sizable 50ha domaine with an enviable collection of five grand cru parcels, the jewel of which is the Clos de l’Hospice, a 0.4ha duopole within the Les Clos grand cru, shared with kin Christian Moreau. Although wood was experimented with in the past, it has been abandoned for all but the Clos de L’Hospice, which is fermented in 500l barrels and aims at a richer style. Louis Moreau believes that wood fermenting/ageing sacrifices both finesse and the mineral signature of each cru, a sentiment heard frequently, if not uniformly, in the region. The left bank Vaillons is considered the most delicate 1er cru in the Moreau range, though even it shows satisfying depth. [Vins Balthazard Inc., QC; Lorac Wine, ON].

Domaine Louis Michel et Fils

Guillaume Michel works on 25 hectares spread over all four appellations in the region (Petit Chablis, Chablis, 1er cru and grand cru) including six premier crus totalling 14ha, of which the highly priced Montée de Tonnerre is the largest. The house style has not changed here since Guillaume’s Grandfather Louis abandoned wood altogether in 1969. “He spent his time in the vineyards and didn’t have time to mess around in the cellar” says Guillaume. Wines ageing in wood are much more likely to go sideways than those sitting in a neutral environment like stainless steel.

The Michel style is all about tension and precision. From Petit Chablis to grand cru, everything is made in the same way: long, cool fermentations with wild yeast. Lees contact depends on the vintage: in 2012, for example some lees were retained to add texture, even if these are never remotely fat or creamy wines. The 2010 Grenouilles grand cru is a particularly special wine, though the 2012 Montée de Tonnerre and the 2011 Forêts are also excellent. [H.H.D. IMPORTS, ON]

Domaine de Pattes Loup

Thomas Pico, Domaines Pattes Loup

Thomas Pico, Domaines Pattes Loup

Thomas Pico is a rising star in the region. This fast-talking (literally) winegrower was born into the métier; both his father and grandfather made wine. Pico returned to the family estate in 2004 after oenology studies in Beaune and took over control of eight hectares, a part of his father’s Domaine Bois d’Yver. Control of the remaining Bois d’Yver vineyards will slowly shift to Thomas from his father; it was too much to take over all at once, and “my father had existing markets and relationships to respect” he says.

Pico immediately converted his parcels to organic farming (certified ECOCERT in 2009) and created the Domaines de Pattes Loup. Today he makes four premier crus and a village wine, including a delicate and mineral Vaillons and a rich and a powerful Butteaux (a 1er cru within the larger Montmains cru). Everything is barrel-fermented and aged in old wood, though like in all great barrelled Chablis, wood is rarely, or only very subtlely, detectable. The impact is rather more layered and textured, managing a seemingly mutually exclusive combination of richness and density with laser-sharp precision and freshness. I suspect Pico will be considered among the very best in the region in short order. It’s a shame that he refuses to deal with Ontario: “trop compliqué” he says, a familiar refrain from top growers who could sell their production twice over to importers who pay up within a reasonable time frame. (Oenopole, QC; The Living Vine, ON).

La Chablisienne

The cooperative La Chablisienne is well deserving of inclusion on this list. Established in 1923, this association of nearly 300 producers represents 25% of the entire production of the region (c. 2 million bottles), with an enviable collection of vineyards including eleven premier crus and five grands crus, of which the prized Château de Grenouilles vineyard is the coop’s flagship. It counts among France’s best-run and highest quality cooperatives, which, considering it’s size and relative influence on the image of the appellation, is a very good thing for everyone in the region.

The Venerable La Chablisienne Coop since 1923, with winemaker Vincent Bartement

The Venerable La Chablisienne Coop since 1923, with winemaker Vincent Bartement

Beyond the usual approach to quality of reduced yields and attentive viticulture, La Chabliesienne follows a couple of other notable qualitative protocols, such as extended ageing even for the ‘village’ wines, La Sereine and Les Vénérables, which spend a minimum of one year on lies in stainless vats and barrels, and the bottling of all wines in a single lot (as opposed to bottling to order). According to Hervé Tucki, Managing Director of La Chablisienne, “the aim is not to make fruity wine”.

Indeed, these are not simple green apple flavoured wines – chalkiness and minerality are given pride of place. The range is highly competent across the board from the “Pas Si Petit” Petit Chablis up to the Château Grenouilles Grand Cru. Of the 2012s tasted in May, I was especially enthusiastic about the left bank Montmains 1er Cru, 95% of which comes from the Butteaux climat, and the right bank Vaulorent 1er Cru, adjacent to the grand cru slope. Though it must be said that the “basic” Chablis “Les Vénerables Vieilles Vignes”, made from vines aged between 35 and over 100 years, is a terrific value and fine entry point to the region. [Vinexx, ON]

Northern Burgundy: Grand Auxerrois

I’m willing to guess that this is the least-known part of Burgundy. The “Grand Auxerrois” is a collection of regional appellations all beginning with prefix “Bourgogne”: Chitry, Côte-Saint-Jacques, Côtes d’Auxerre, Coulanges-la-Vineuse, Épineuil, Tonnerre, and Vézelay. The exceptions are the appellations of Saint Bris, the only AOC in Burgundy where sauvignon blanc is permitted and obligatory, and Irancy, an AOC for red wine made from Pinot Noir and, more rarely, César.

Pre-phylloxera, this part of the l’Yonne department was heavily planted; I’ve read that some 40,000 hectares were once under vine. But the region was all but forgotten subsequently. Yet now with global warming, this could once again become an important source of Bourgogne.

Jean-Hugues et Guilhem Goisot

Rocks and fossils on display at Domaine Goisot

Rocks and fossils on display at Domaine Goisot

Goisot is a multi-generational family Domaine with 26.5 hectares in Saint Bris and Irancy. After Guilhem Goisot had discovered biodynamics first in Australia and subsequently in France, he began trials on the family vineyards in 2001. In 2003 he converted the entire domaine and received the first certification in 2004. According to Goisot, a measured, deliberate thinker and speaker, biodynamics helps to “temper climatic variations”. After hail, for example, it used to take a couple of weeks for the vines to re-start the growing process. “Now with arnica applications, the vines get back to work after just two days” says Goisot.

All wines are bottled in single lots, and I’m reassured that place matters by the collection of rocks and fossils from different vineyard sites that Goisot has on display in the small tasting room. I have a terrific tasting here – from the tightly wound Irancy Les Mazelots  on highly calcareous soils, to the darker and spicy Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre La Ronce from a south-facing site on kimmeridgean blue marnes, each wine is clearly marked by soil, each like a window on the earth, pure and totally transparent. [Le Maître de Chai Inc., QC]

Marsannay: Last Refuge of the Côte de Nuits

As mentioned in Part I, top Côtes de Nuits wines are scarce. One village that remains accessible, however, is Marsannay, just south of Dijon. For myriad reasons the wines of Marsannay, the only Côte d’Or communal appellation to permit red, white and rosé wines, have failed to achieve as much renown as those from the villages to the south. Yet the name of the climat “Clos du Roy”, (formerly the “Clos des Ducs”) gives some insight on the degree to which certain vineyards were esteemed in the past. There are no official premier crus for the time being (the proposal has been made), but for single-parcel wines the appellation may be followed by the name of the climat as in “Marsannay Clos du Roy”. There are some 17 growers in the village with an average of 10 hectares each, far above the average for the rest of the Côte d’Or and one of the reasons that Marsannay is still reasonably priced and available. Stylistically the [red] wines of Marsannay resemble those of neighboring Fixin and Gevrey, which is to say pinots of darker fruit and spice character, and marked minerality, if lighter than most Gevrey.

Domaine Jean Fournier  

Laurent Fournier, Domaine Jean Fournier

Laurent Fournier, Domaine Jean Fournier

Jean and his son Laurent Fournier currently farm 17 hectares principally in the village, but also 1.5 in Gevrey, 1.5 in Côte de Nuits Village near Brochon and a half-hectare in Fixin, with another three being planted in Marsannay. Fournier began with biodynamics in 2004 and the domaine was certified in 2008.

On arrival I like the vibe immediately; the young Laurent Fournier is energetic and enthusiastic, the sort of vigneron who brings a smile to your face. It’s all the more pleasing when the wines, too, live up to expectation, and the range chez Fournier is uniformly excellent. The Clos du Roy and Longerois are the two red house specialties, the former made from vines over 40 years old on average, 50% whole bunch, aged in large tonneaux (half new) for 18 months and very grippy on the palate, a wine for cellaring another 3-5 years minimum, and the latter a more generously proportioned, plush and immediately satisfying wine. My favorite on the day however is the outstanding Côte de Nuits Village Croix Violettes Vieilles Vignes, from a half-hectare parcel of vines planted straight on the bedrock near Brochon between 1937 and 1943 in the days before tractors, and thus super high density.  It’s made with 80% whole bunch and delivers marvellous spice and firm tannins and minerals on the palate.

A Word on Coteaux Bourguignons AOC

In 2011, a new regional appellation called Coteaux Bourguignons was created. It covers essentially the former unfortunately-named Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire AOC, as well as Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains. Grapes can be sourced from anywhere within the four départements that make up greater Bourgogne. It was created in part to deal with the shortage of pinot noir over the last few vintages; even basic Bourgogne Rouge will be scarce and certainly more expensive – examples under $30 in CAD will be very hard to find. “The grapes have become too expensive” Thibault Gagey tells me, the man at the head of the formidable Maison Louis Jadot in Beaune. “In many cases the price of a pièce [a 228l barrel] have more doubled.”

But wines under this appellation will need to be selected with care. At the bottom end, Coteaux Bourguignon will become a dumping ground for poor quality gamay from the Beaujolais, while the best will incorporate a high percentage of pinot, or at least good quality gamay. Jadot’s very good version, for example is three-quarters gamay, but includes several declassified cru Beaujolais, including Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent from the Château des Jacques.

La Côte Châlonnaise: From the Miners to the Majors

Half way between Dijon and Mâcon, La Côte Chalonnaise, which is sometimes referred to as the “third Côte”, lies south of the Côte de Beaune a few kilometers from Santenay. It is the geological continuation of the Côte d’Or, sitting on the same fault line that gave rise to the Jurassic limestone and marls underlying the great wines of La Bourgogne, as well as those across the Sâone Valley in the Jura. The hillsides of the Côte Chalonnaise meander more erratically than the more uniform southeast-facing slopes of the Côte d’Or and this irregular topography means that site selection becomes critical.

Vineyards of the Côte Chalonnaise

Vineyards of the Côte Chalonnaise

And the feel of the region changes too. The more compact, well-appointed villages of the Côte d’Or, fairly dripping with the prosperity of the last decades gives way to more sparsely populated villages worn with time. Former grandeur shows the cracks of neglect, like aristocratic Vieille France in need of a makeover. The countryside is beautiful, but the charm is decidedly more rural than cosmopolitan, and one gets the sense that this was once a more important place that has somehow been left behind, like a former capital after the politicians and ministers have decamped with their expense accounts.

It was more a series of historic circumstances, rather than inferior wine quality, that led to the relative obscurity in which the Côte Chalonnaise lies today. For one, the villages of the Côte Chalonnaise are far enough away from Dijon to have been overlooked by the Ducs de Bourgogne – it’s about 70 kilometers from Bouzeron to Dijon, a long road to travel by horse-drawn carriage.  And during the industrial revolution, the miners of the nearby mines of Montceau and Creusot and slaked their unquenchable thirst on the wines of the region, leaving little for outsiders, and little incentive for local vignerons to break their backs for quality. Phylloxera, too, dealt its decisive blow, and the region has never fully recovered. Today less than 50% of the previous surface area is planted.

Yet the miners and the dukes are gone, replaced by insatiable worldwide markets for Bourgogne wines. And considering the shortage of wine, for reasons outlined above, now is the time for the Côte Chalonnaise to recapture its former position of importance and realize its quality potential in the major leagues. This after all, the geographic heart of viticultural Burgundy.

Wines of the Côte Chalonnaise

Wines of the Côte Chalonnaise

From north to south the Côte Chalonnaise encompasses the communal appellations of Bouzeron, Rully, Mercurey, Givry and Montagny as well as the regional Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise AOC. Each is authorized to produce both red and white wines from pinot noir and chardonnay, with the exception of Bouzeron, an appellation reserved for whites from aligoté – the only one in Bourgogne – and Montagny, which is exclusively white from chardonnay. Whites dominate reds overall.

Styles of course vary widely, but in general the wines are endowed with an exuberant and appealingly fruity profile, the reds redolent of fresh raspberries and the whites full of pear and apple. The entry-level wines are for the most part accessible and immediately pleasing, while wines of the top echelon deliver a minerality that has nothing to envy the Côte d’Or. I’d pick Givry and Mercurey as the two most reliable villages for red wines, and Rully and Montagny for whites. Considering that prices are about half to two-thirds of equivalent quality wine from further north, the value quotient is high.

Climats de la Côte Chalonnaise

An association of nine quality-minded, family-run domaines was formed in 2010 with the aim re-positioning the region in its rightful place of respect. Known as “Les vignerons des Climats de la Côte Châlonnaise”, the group is hoping that 2012 will be their breakout vintage. The vintage was excellent in the region, and both it and members of this association are an excellent starting point to discover the wines of the “third côte”.

Côte Chalonnaise Producers

Domaine Jean-Marc Joblot, Givry

Jean-Marc Joblot, Givry

Jean-Marc Joblot, Givry

Although not part of the association, Jean-Marc Joblot, a fourth generation winemaker, has been a quality leader in the village of Givry, and in the region, for years. It was in fact the wines of Joblot that first turned me on to the Côte Chalonnaise back in the 1990s, when he was already well-known and respected in Canada, especially in Québec. Joblot farms thirteen hectares including nine premiers covering both red and white. Vines are meticulously tended and he is a self-declared “constructionist”, believing that wine is “the result of a hundred things that are interdependent”. Little is left to chance, but although he approaches winemaking with the mind of a scientist, he is not an interventionist, nor a technocrat. “When you make an apple or a peach pie, you won’t go and analyse the fruit. You taste it. It’s that simple”, he says. Seasonal rhythms are strictly respected; if you show up for a visit in May for example, a period Joblot considers critical for vineyard work, don’t expect the door to open no matter who you are.

Admittedly I find his insistence on 100% new wood for all of his crus curious, and in youth they are certainly marked by wood influence, yet the fruit depth and structure to ensure harmony over time is clearly there  – I’ve had ten year-old examples that prove the point.  Indeed, these are wines built on tension and intended for ageing, not immediate enjoyment. He most representative crus are the Clos de la Servoisine and Clos du Cellier aux Moines, both best a minimum of five years after vintage.

Domaine A et P de Villaine, Bouzeron

Purchased by Aubert and Pamela de Villaine (of Domanine de La Romanée Conti) in 1971, Domaine A et P de Villaine is run today by Pierre de Benoist, the nephew of de Villaine. This is a leading domaine, and both de Villaine and de Benoist were instrumental in the establishment of the association « Les Climats de la Côte Chalonnaise ». Of the 21 hectares under vine, ten are devoted to aligoté, coinciding with outcrops of granite where aligoté is most happy. Bouzeron is considered by most to yield the finest examples of this lesser-known variety in Bourgogne.

Pierre de Benoist, Domaine A&P de Villaine, Bouzeron

Pierre de Benoist, Domaine A&P de Villaine, Bouzeron

De Benoist reflects back on a 1964 Bonneau de Martray aligoté that was life changing – it was then he realized than Aligoté, treated with care, could produce mesmerizing wines. Unfortunately over-cropping and the negative association with crème de cassis (to sweeten and soften the shrill acids of over-productive vines) in the infamous Kir cocktail reduced aligoté to anecdotal acreage. Even today the entire appellation of Bouzeron counts less than sixty hectares (even Puligny-Montrachet is over 200ha), so don’t expect a revolution any time soon. Though I wish there were more Bouzeron of this quality to go around.

In an interesting twist, the INAO has asked several times for local producer to assemble a dossier of 1er crus in Bouzeron, but de Benoist has refused each time. “It would be a shame to ruin the quality-price rapport of the appellation” he says in uncharacteristic anti-capitalist fashion.

But the domaine isn’t all aligoté; there are also exceptional pinots and chardonnays, especially the marvellously mineral Rully Blanc Les Saint Jacques, the fragrant and fruity Bourgogne Côte Châlonnaise Rouge La Fortune, and the structured and brooding Bourgogne Côte Châlonnaise La Digoine from 65 year-old vines.

Domaine Paul et Marie Jaquesson, Rully

Henri Jacqusson established this domaine in 1946 in the wake of WWII when vineyards had been abandoned. Today Henri’s son Paul has passed the baton on to his daughter Marie to manage the thirteen hectare estate in the AOCs of Rully, Bouzeron and Mercurey. The Rully Blanc 1er Cru Grésigny is a particularly fine and layered white Bourgogne.

Domaine Ragot, Givry

Nicolas Ragot took over the family domaine from his father Jean-Paul, making him the 5th generation to farm vineyards in Givry. Nine hectares are divided between red and white all within the commune, and the wines are elegant, structured and refined in the old school style. The Givry Rouge 1er Cru Clos Jus is especially impressive, succulent and structured.

Stéphane Aladame, Montagny

This domaine was created in 1992 by Stéphane Aladame, and counts today eight hectares under vine of which 7 are in premier crus. Aladame favours freshness and minerality, particularly in the Montagny 1er Cru  Selection Vieilles Vignes from over 50-year-old vines (partially fermented in steel).

Cellier aux Moines, Givry

Originally established by Cistercian monks in 1130, the Cellier aux Moines is run today by Philippe and Catherine Pascal. There are seven hectares under vine including five in the original clos surrounding the ancient cellar. Wines are classically styled and built to age, with the Mercurey Blanc Les Margotons and the Givry Rouge 1er Cru Clos du Cellier aux Moines particularly fine and sinewy examples.

Château de Chamirey, Mercurey

Château de Chamirey

Château de Chamirey

The most important property in Mercurey since the 17th century, the Château de Chamirey is owned today by Amaury and Aurore de Villard. They are the fifth generation in this long family story, having taken over from their father Bertrand, who in turn succeeded from his father-in-law, the marquis de Jouennes. The style is more international, aimed overall at wide commercial appeal, though the Mercurey Rouge 1er Cru Les Ruelles is particularly sumptuous and satisfying.

Domaine de la Framboisière (property of Faiveley), Mercurey

The Domaine de la Framboisière is the recently re-launched domaine of the Faiveley family, formerly called simply “Domaine Faiveley”. La Maison Faiveley was founded in 1825, and the family remains one of the largest landowners/negociants throughout La Bourgogne. George Faiveley set up he first “ en fermage” contract with a Mercurey grower in 1933, and Guy Faiveley bought the family’s first property in 1963 in the same village. The domaine has since expanded into Montagny and Rully and counts now 72 hectares – one of the largest in the Côte Chalonnaise. The quality has improved greatly here in recent years with the arrival of a new winemaker. The style is pure, clean and generously fruity, perhaps not the most profound wines of the Côte Chalonnaise, but frightfully drinkable. The 1er cru monopole La Framboisière from which the domaine takes its name is especially enjoyable.

Domaine François Raquillet, Mercurey

Roots run deep in Mercurey; the Raquillet family has been here since at least the 15th century according to local archives. François officially established the domaine in 1963 and ceded control to his son, also François, in 1983. I find the house style a little heavy-handed, with grapes verging on overripe and the use of oak overly generous, though the wines are certainly not without appeal. The Mercurey Blanc 1er Cru Les Veleys is the best of the lot.

Buyer’s Guide: Top Smart Buys

The following recommended wines are currently available somewhere in Canada (Merci to Nadia Fournier for adding her picks from the SAQ). Click on each for the details.

John’s Picks:

Jean Marc Brocard Vau De Vay Chablis 1er Cru 2012

Domaine Du Chardonnay Chablis Vaillons Premier Cru 2010

Louis Michel & Fils Chablis 2012

Sylvain Mosnier Vieilles Vignes Chablis 2010

Domaine Le Verger Chablis 2012

Jean Marc Brocard Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2011

Domaine Chenevières Chablis 2012

Domaine Laroche Chablis Saint Martin 2011

La Chablisienne Sauvignon Saint Bris 2013

Maison Roche De Bellene Côtes Du Nuits Villages 2011

Bouchard Père & Fils Côte De Beaune Villages 2011

Maison Roche De Bellene Montagny 1er Cru 2011

Caves Des Vignerons De Buxy Montagny Les Chaniots 1er Cru 2010

Les Choix de Nadia:

Jean Claude Boisset Bourgogne Les Ursulines 2012

Jean Claude Boisset Bourgogne Chardonnay Les Ursulines 2010

Domaine René Bouvier Bourgogne Pinot Noir Le Chapitre 2012

Domaine Faiveley La Framboisiere 2010

Jadot Couvent Des Jacobins Bourgogne 2011

Domaine Michel Juillot Bourgogne 2012

Domaine Michel Juillot Mercurey

Domaine Goisot Bourgogne Aligoté 2012

Domaine De La Cadette La Châtelaine 2012

Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis 2012

Domaine Louis Moreau Petit Chablis 2012

Domaine Stéphane Aladame Montagny Premier Cru Sélection Vieilles Vignes 2012

Pierre Vessigaud Mâcon Fuissé Haut De Fuissé 2012

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Part One: The Challenges

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names. 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!

Photo credit to John Szabo MS


Le Serein, the river that runs through Chablis Looking west onto Chablis from the top of Les Clos grand cru

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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 !

Marc

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!


Publicité
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


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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!

Reds

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.

Whites

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.

Cheers!

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.

Anthony

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: www.waltercaesar.com/find-us

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.

Cheers!

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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Turkey time with bill zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Thanksgiving weekend folks. Time to pull out they sweaters and tuques, rake the leaves and stick that Turkey in the oven. But what to drink? A few weeks back I spent a day in the kitchen putting together a pre-Thanksgiving, traditional turkey feast for the purpose of trying out different pairing ideas. There was roast turkey, stuffing, mushroom gravy, cranberry sauce, brussel sprouts and mashed potatoes.

Aside from being a great excuse to pack back some Champagne and other refreshers during the day, my aim was to test drive some wines and see what are the range of options we have when it comes to matching wine with the big bird. The results? While it confirmed what I usually suggest, there were a few surprises.

Big Bird theory

Now I am not a turkey hater, but like most poultry, turkey is a rather neutral meat. Okay, the dark meat can have a touch more flavour, but all in all, there’s not much there. So the more flavourful stuff tends to come more from what it is served with the meal than from the bird itself.

So the pairing is about the accompaniments. For most of us that means cranberry sauce (which adds fruit, sweetness and acidity), stuffing and sauces (both which can add richness and flavour). We want our wines to either add something or support what’s on the table.

The first wine style that we can dismiss are young tannic red wines. Turkey is low in fat which is why when it is cooked it can get a bit dry. Because there is little fat, there is nothing for the tannins of a very young red wine to grab on to, so I would leave the powerful, more tannic wines for another meal. This does not necessarily mean that your favourite Bordeaux and high-octane Californian cabernets are out, but they had better have a bit of age under their belts.

One of my favourite wines was a pink Champagne. It had the body for the bird, the acidity to match up the cranberry and was just plain fun to drink. One of the best value Champagnes at the SAQ is from Ayala, so if you want to go classy this weekend, try the Rosé Majeur.

Ayala Rosé MajeurChâteau Laffitte Teston Ericka 2012Hugel Gewurztraminer 2012

If you aren’t big on cranberry, but love lots of gravy, then a rich white can also do the trick. Most chardonnay will work, but if you want something more exotic, especially with aromatic stuffing, then try the 2012 Pacherenc du Vic Bilh Ericka from Lafitte Teston.

If you like lots of cranberry as well as stuffing, then a gewurtraminer will do the trick. Hugel’s 2012 is exceptional.

But most of you want red. The best wines too choose are lighter styled reds – Beaujolais and pinot noir, which have bright fruit, low tannin and good acidity to play off the cranberry sauce. So any light fruity wine will do, but as it’s a holiday, it’s the perfect time for Burgundy.

Jean Claude Boisset Bourgogne Les Ursulines 2012Domaine René Bouvier Bourgogne Pinot Noir Le Chapitre 2012Hoya De Cadenas Reserva Tempranillo 2010Tardieu Laurent Les Becs Fins 2012Fattoria Casa Di Terra Mosaico 2010

I tasted two excellent and well priced generic Burgundy recently. Try with the 2012 Ursuline from Boisset or La Chapitre from Rene Bouvier. Both are under $25 and work exceptionally well with everything on the table.

If you have a lot of people, this can be a pricey affair if you are paying for the wine. At under $13, the 2010 reserva from Hoya de Cadenas blew me away for its finesse. Pinot noir-esque in many ways despite being made with tempranillo.

If you want more substance and pinot isn’t your thing, then try the 2012 Les Becs Fins from Tardieu Laurent. Fruit driven Cote du Rhone where freshness is up front and then tannin is ripe and round.

And finally, if you want a wine that incredible elegance and finesse, but still juicy and will work at the table, splurge on the Mosaico from Fattoria Casa di Terra. The 2010 might be one of the best wines I have tasted over the past few months.

Enjoy the long weekend folks!

Bill

“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!


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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008