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Best Buys in BC – Easter Spotlight

Peter Cottontail is en route, hopping down the bunny trail to appear either as a chocolate benefactor or an entrée, depending on your family plans (and sense of humour, I suppose). From Easter egg hunts to leisurely spring brunch to a multicourse dinner, Easter long weekend is often centered around food. As we all know at WineAlign, wine and food goes together as organically as Easter morning and treats. With that in mind, we based this month’s Best Buys picks around what we will be pairing to this long weekend’s feasting. 

BC Critic Team

Anthony Gismondi

Sunday is Easter and with the two big turkey holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) behind us, the question is, will it be ham, lamb, pork or fish and which wines should you be thinking about pairing with your choice? This month we explore some of the classic Easter matches. I know, they are no rules anymore when it comes to pairing food and wine, but as mother might say “If your friends were jump off a bridge would you do it too?” Maybe she was thinking about those people who drink shiraz with halibut and cabernet with sushi just because someone said drinking red wine is good for you. Years of experience have taught me some wines react better with certain foods than others. The trick is to know which is which.

One of Easter’s problematic matches is that handsomely glazed ham awash in sugar (pineapple) and salt. Both ingredients tend to bring out the bitterness and tannins in wine. The pairing is not insurmountable as long as you think about fruity, lighter structured reds with supple tannins. Garnacha from Spain or grenache from France should do the job. My pick is M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes du Rhône 2012, a mix of grenache and syrah it yields a juicy, fresh, peppery, black fruit flavoured red perfect with the fat and sweetness of the ham. Where white wine is in play a non-wooded or lightly wooded pinot grigio (or gris) would be equally acceptable and my pick is a local favourite: Mission Hill Pinot Gris Reserve 2012. Its round, full, fatter palate with passion fruit, pink grapefruit, and baked green apple is just the ticket to handle the busy flavours of a holiday ham.

M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes Du Rhône 2012  Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Gris 2012  Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2011 Falernia Reserva Syrah 2010

Lamb is more of a slam dunk pairing for syrah or shiraz. A roasted leg of lamb allows for plenty of manoeuvring room with red wine but the classic match is syrah or shiraz. Plenty of minty, lamb flavours call for an equally intense red to tame them and you get that with syrah or syrah blends such as the M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2011, a classic stony, savoury, umami styled Roussillon with juicy black fruit that is rich and intense. Lamb is the perfect foil. The crazy syrah value is Falernia Syrah Reserve 2010 from the Elqui Valley in Chile. Its black pepper, black cherries, chocolate and tobacco will surely melt every mouthful of lamb.

The delicate flavour of pork makes it an ideal candidate for citrus-based marinades and you can choose red or white wine for the match, but the best is riesling. One of the best new world values is the Peter Lehmann Wigan Riesling 2008 from the Eden Valley. Its juicy lime aromas, electric riesling flavours and zesty minerality will all tame the pork. Locally my pick is the Red Rooster Riesling 2012. The style is off-dry, with refreshing acidity and delicious lemon, peach and guava fruit flavours that should carve their way through the pork.

Peter Lehmann Wigan Riesling 2008  Red Rooster Riesling 2012 Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne Cono Sur 20 Barrels Limited Edition Pinot Noir 2011

Let’s see now – all that leaves is B.C.’s signature fish: the salmon. In its simplest form the pre-meal smoked salmon (and cream cheese) can be a delight to share with your dinner guests. In this case I’m sticking to sparkling wine and a classic Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne N/V. Fruity, mineral, oyster shell, nutty, floral undertones set the pace for a delicious pre-dinner aperitif that will stand up to the smoke and salmon. If salmon is the main course you may want to consider the classic B.C presentation: cedar-planked salmon. In this case the dense ‘meaty’ oily fish with its smoky flavours can play host to a rich New World pinot noir. My pick is Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2011. Clearly one of the better Chilean pinots we have tasted this year and still affordable. Look for fruit sweetness and tangy acidity pulling at each other and causing pleasing tension, perfect for salmon. Happy Easter.

DJ Kearney

I love Easter for the egg hunts, the bonnets, the 4 day weekend and especially the non-stop feasting.  Drinking, cooking and eating a wide variety of flavours from all corners of the Easter-celebrating world demands a broad range of wine styles.

8th Generation Riesling 2012Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2012Château De Sancerre Sancerre 2012A whole baked or grilled salmon can feed an extended family crowd with minimal fuss.  Whether you wrap fillets in puff pastry or simply stuff with citrus, and aromatic herbs, white wine needs to have some substance and architecture to contend with richness and intense fish flavour.  The Chateau de Sancerre 2012 offers the necessary beam of focused citrus, crunchy acidity, and persistence.

A richer partner for salmon (and excellent with baked ham too) is a Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2012 – a stunner that’s not just brilliantly priced, but an ager as well.  Make a lipsmacking, glossy lemon butter sauce for the salmon for optimal pairing magic.

Smoky, succulent sweet-salty baked bone-in ham is not only a centerpiece, it will yield a motherload of meals all week-long. A barely off-dry Riesling for the luscious texture, sweet glaze and crunchy, fatty bits like 8th Generation Riesling 2012 will keep your palate cleansed and tingling through every bite.  Add herbes de provence to the brine, darken the glaze honey and red wine, and uncork a smooth southern Rhone wine like the M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes du Rhône 2012.  And if you are roasting a rosemary-marinated leg of lamb for Easter dinner, their Côtes du Rhône will fit like a velvet-y glove.

Rhys Pender, MW

Easter is just around the corner, a time when the promise of spring is in the air, but it still can be chilly and I am not yet ready to switch wine focus to just light, crisp and chilling whites, bubbly and rosé. It is a time to sit on the fence with something refreshing for the afternoon apéro, with something a little more warming to suit the cool evenings.

Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe Palomino Fino Extra Dry SherryGérard Bertrand Château L'hospitalet 2011 Spier Signature Chenin Blanc 2012 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Easter food is also well suited to these kinds of wines. If you do lamb or ham or if the Easter bunny ends up in your pot, a softer, earthy red or a full-bodied white will do the trick. For apéro, be brave and try the Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe Fino Sherry. This slightly odd salty, bready and crisp wine grows on you with time, particularly if served with snacks of roasted nuts, olives and anything deep-fried. When moving onto Easter dinner try the Gérard Bertrand 2011 Château l’Hospitalet La Clape for its soft, savoury warmth, the similarly themed M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes du Rhône 2012 or a fuller bodied white such as the Spier Chenin Blanc 2012 from South Africa. If roast lamb is your Easter treat, the Rodney Strong Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 has the right mix of flavour intensity and structure to match well.

Treve Ring

As spring sunshine returns to BC, my mind turns towards the warmth of Spain. The extreme diversity across the land of bulls affords wines to suit all tastes and menus. Easter Brunch will be brightened with the consistent, crisp, bright (organic!) brut cava from Pares Balta – a sparkling steal of a deal with pure apple, citrus and stone. If roasted pork or rabbit is on the menu, Toro’s Elias Mora 2010 would suit, reflecting the sunwarmed heat of the renegade region through its red-fruited, unfiltered 100% tinta de toro (tempranillo). Should herb grilled lamb be making an appearance, a fitting match is Vinos de Finca’s Losada 2009 from Bierzo, highlighting the mencia grape in this lush, juniper-scented big red.

Parés Baltà Cava Brut Viñas Elias Mora 2010Losada Bierzo 2009 Domäne Wachau Terraces Grüner Veltliner 2012 Domaine Lathuiliere Pisse Vieille Brouilly 2012 Lini 910 Labrusca

But Spain doesn’t reserve all my attention this holiday weekend. The savoury Domaine Wachau 2010 Gruner Veltliner Terraces from Austria caught my memory this month, intriguing with its anise textured and honey kissed notes. Try it with the first of the halibut season. Much closer to home, Stag’s Hollow 2013 Riesling from Amalia Vineyard on Osoyoos’ west bench would make for a fantastic versatile bottle for the table; the shining peach, lime and creamy peach a match for dishes porcine, poultry or piscine. I poured the pure and structured deliciousness of Domaine Lathuiliere Brouilly Pisse Vieille 2012 for a Cru Beaujolais tasting this month, impressing the trade group with its blend of stony seriousness and berry fruitiness. This old-vine gamay would be a brilliant fit for your Easter turkey or cran-glazed ham (#GoGamayGo). If, like me, your traditions are decidedly unconventional, pick up the dry, fruity Lini 910 Lambrusco from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. The striking bottle has ripe berry depth and enough tannin to take on salmon, tuna or poultry, plus fresh acidity and lively bubbles to lend to the festivities.

Editors Note: You can find complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Championship Round: “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

Season 4 is a Wrap! Who will come out Victorious?

We have sadly come to the end of So, You Think You Know Wine? – Season 4.  This departure from the previous critic-against-critic challenge of past seasons was very exciting and full of energy. This time the competition had a game show/family feud feel with tasters battling against each other in teams, rather than individually.

Season 4 was certainly a big learning experience for us, as we had originally thought that working in teams would make it easier for the competitors to identify the wines. We soon discovered that teamwork is not always an advantage. We watched despairingly as the critics sometimes strayed from their first, and usually correct, instincts and wandered down a completely different path. But, we also saw teams almost perfectly guess certain wines, like in this, the final, episode.

Click here to watch The Final Round, as Raiders of the Lost AOC battle it out against Whole Bunch Press, or read on for highlights from the last round.



Highlights and Score from Round #8

In the second semi-final round, the last-placed (or as Rhys reminds us, “4th place”) Whole Bunch Press faced The Inglorious Bitters, who were in first place. Whole Bunch Press were on the right track when they guessed California as the place the wine came from.  They said it had “the plush texture of California.”  Unfortunately, they guessed that the grape was Merlot, not Petite Sirah, and they thought it was from Sonoma, not Napa.

The Inglorious Bitters also had a tough time identifying Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah.  Because of the high alcohol level, and very ripe, almost dried grape notes in the wine, they concluded that it was an Amarone from Veneto, Italy.

In the end, Whole Bunch Press won the round and went on to the Championship round against the Raiders of the Lost AOC.

The scoring remains the same as past episodes, with points for Variety, Country, Region, Appellation and Vintage, and a little less emphasis on Price this season. After 8 rounds the totals are in and the Semi Final match-ups have been set:

So, You Think You Know Wine? Scorecard


Season 4 For those of you new to our video series, “So, You Think You Know Wine?”, we have saved all previous episodes under the Video tab.

We hope that you found this new format entertaining and that you had as much fun watching as we did filming. As usual, please send your comments to and feel free to share this video with your friends and family.

So, You Think You Know Wine?

Special thanks to our glassware sponsor, Schott Zwiesel, for their beautiful glasses and carafes used during filming.

Previously on “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

Espisode 4.1: California Square Russian River Chardonnay

Episode 4.2: Louis M Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Episode 4.3:  Travaglini Gattinara

Episode 4.4: Finca Decero Malbec

Episode 4.5 Paul Zinck Eichberg Riesling

Episode 4:6  Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz Viognier

Episode 4:7 Semi-final #1 The Chocolate Block

Episode 4:8 Semi-final#2 Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah


Fortessa Canada Inc. Glassware sponsor to SYTYKW

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Anthony Gismondi; The Final Blend

The Nationals: Fourteen years of searching for Canada’s best wine.

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

When our judges sit down to evaluate this year’s crop of wines at the 2014 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada some in the room will have judged at all 13 preceding events. Since there is no way to convey to you how valuable that is in the tasting room we are including the chardonnay results gleaned from the first, 2001 Canadian Wine Awards held high above the Royal York Hotel in Toronto to compare with the latest 2013 chardonnay results from our stop in Niagara-on-the-Lake last summer. I think you will agree we have all come a long way.

You might say David Lawrason and I were dreamers back then, thinking that if we provided the perfect setting for an annual ‘Canadian Wine Awards’ competition, wineries would fall over themselves wanting to enter their wines and measure themselves against the opposition. Let’s just say we have learned a lot over the past 14 years.

It’s been a long process of building trust. First among ourselves to the do the job properly and then to convince Canadian producers what we are doing is worth their participation. Both David and I have worked extremely hard to hone our judges into the sharpest panels in the country. Many have cut their wine teeth judging in other shows around the world. Over the years we have worked with scores of judges looking for just the right combination of experience, tasting ability and the most important asset, the ability to work within a group, to make sure the best wines get moved forward.

Anthony Gismondi and David Lawrason - Lead Judges

Anthony Gismondi and David Lawrason

We don’t always get it right individually but with the right leadership and a room full of open minds what we try to do is make sure the group seldom, if ever, gets it wrong.

When we started the Canadian Wine Awards it was our goal to make sure the results were a three way win – for the wines, for the judges and for the awards organizers. I clearly remember returning from shows in Europe where I spent a week tasting and assessing wines for free never to be told which wines I had tasted. In Australia I learned the importance of the panel leader and the head judge and the need to develop younger apprentices. We use all this and more at The Nationals.

Over time the costs to put on the awards have crept up from some $80K to about $105K. I mention this because I have read so much about what a money grab wine awards are for the organisers. We don’t make any money on the first 1100 entries, which is why we lost money for most of the formative years and have barely balanced the budget in the remaining competitions. We always thought an iconic Canadian company would step in and sponsor the awards but so far that has yet to happen. We are not complaining or even contemplating quitting, because as Canadian hockey players would say, “It is what it is.”

That said, we remain committed to building something that will stand the test of time and celebrate the best of Canada wine. Even that in itself sounds, well, almost un-Canadian. We have other odd notions too.

NWAC13 Logo We pay our judges for a week’s work because we value their time and their input. We also fly them in and out from across the country and we feed them each day. Including the back room and volunteers, we look after 30 people for seven days. After moving about the country – Toronto, Lake Louise, Victoria and Calgary –  a few years ago we made the decision to hold the awards in wine country to shine a spotlight on various Canadian wine regions and so far we have spent some memorable weeks in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Okanagan Valley and the Annapolis Valley. Could Vancouver Island or Prince Edward County be next?

But back to the three way win.

We have a lot of happy judges because they can taste a fabulous cross-section of local wines, blind, under ideal conditions (many they wouldn’t see in their own market) and before they walk out the door at the end of the week they receive all their notes and scores along with key sheets telling them which wines they tasted that week. They are immediately free to write about any of the hundreds of wines they tasted, using their personal notes no matter what the outcome of the awards.

From a winery’s point of view, their wines are put in front of a number of top commentators from across the country and we promise to publish a permanent online note at WineAlign for all wines receiving a bronze, silver, gold or platinum medal. Of course, winery entrants can also meet the judges throughout the week and they are welcome to inspect the back room of the competition as well. We have nothing to hide.

Volunteers and wines

Separate room for Volunteers and wines

By the way, unlike many competitions done with brown bags etc. to rightfully hide the labels from judges, we opted for a much more fail-proof system. We use separate rooms so that all bottles and labels are visible to the back room staff but never seen by the judges. This is in addition to several checks throughout the system from entry to physically pouring the wine into a tasting glass that prevents any wine from ending up in the wrong flight. We also have a wonderful sponsorship with Schott Zwiesel that puts each wine in a top quality restaurant style glass, versus a tiny ISO wine glass, giving the mostly young wines some room to breathe and show off.

That brings us to the wineries that don’t enter. To be frank we don’t dwell too much on their absence because in blind tastings we don’t really know who is missing in any given flight of wines. Post competition, when the names are revealed we may ponder their absence for a moment or two, but frankly if they weren’t involved there isn’t much we can discuss or compare. My sense is consumers are more confused and doubting when they don’t see a winery’s wines in the rankings. That said we have come to learn some wineries just “don’t do competitions” for whatever reasons and in the end we respect anyone’s decision not to compete.

We can all argue about what a medal is worth but at The Nationals please know that we fret over every gold and silver medal. In the minds of our judges each is a major achievement. We also award what we term a high bronze; to keep the number of medals to a meaningful amount we only recognise the top end of the traditional bronze range, in our case 86 and 87 points. And last year we implemented the concept of ‘virtual’ medals ensuring that all gold, silver and bronze medals appear on the WineAlign website whenever anyone is searching our database.

NWAC 2013 Platinum MedalIn keeping with our attempts to add extra value to a winery entering our awards we instituted platinum medals in 2013 – see our winners here – to recognise the very best wines in the competition. They represent only one percent of the total entries and are chosen based on the highest scoring wines. In the past we highlighted the Best White, Red, Sparkling and Dessert wines of Show, but often this would be at the expense of say five or ten wines that actually scored higher than the top wine in any single class. Under the new Platinum system if the top five wines of the year are syrahs or chardonnays they will be recognised as such and stand alone above individual category winners with slightly lower scores. This reflects the tasting room mantra and the raison d’être of The Nationals: find the best wines in each flight and push them forward to be eligible for the highest medal possible.

Speaking of flights, over the years we have trimmed our average flight size and daily wines tasted and find we get better results. Today our wine flights average eight or nine wines and we taste about 80 to 90 wines each day. There are no 50-wine flights at The Nationals and there are no 200-wine days for our judges. We keep our people fresh and engaged for the six hours they work each day.

Penticton, British Columbia

Penticton, British Columbia – Home of the 2014 ‘Nationals’

And finally, the win for the third party, the organizers, WineAlign. The awards give us a chance to feed our huge audience, now more than 1.5 million unique visitors each year, with the latest information on Canadian wine. The yearly results of The Nationals are yet another way we can engage with them on a regular basis. Our results aren’t just on the radar for a day in the newspaper, or a single press release. They are built into our website and remain there for all to see. And this year for the first time, the results will also be published in French.

David and I feel great responsibility for the awards, and after 14 years we believe we are finally gaining the trust of the judges, the wineries and consumers. I guess what we are saying is we don’t take anything for granted. All we ask is that everyone else do the same and help make this the most successful year yet. The 2014 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada takes place June 20-25 in Penticton, British Columbia and David Lawrason and I can’t wait to dream again.

2001 Canadian Wine Awards



Hawthorne Mountain 2000 Gold Label Chardonnay BC, 24.95
Daniel Lenko 1999 Old Vines Chardonnay ON, 19.95


Henry of Pelham 1999 Reserve Chardonnay ON, 13.95
Inniskillin Okanagan 2000 Reserve Chardonnay BC, 14.95
Inniskillin 1999 Montague Vineyard Chardonnay ON, 16.95
Stoney Ridge 2000 Kew Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay ON, 18.95
Strewn 1999 Terroir Strewn Vineyard Chardonnay ON, 18.95
Peninsula Ridge 1999 Reserve Chardonnay ON, 24.95
Cilento 1999 Reserve Chardonnay ON, 29.95
Thirty Bench 1999 Reserve Reif Vineyard Chardonnay ON, 40.00

WineAlign 2013 National Wine Awards of Canada



Meyer Family Vineyards 2011 McLean Creek Chardonnay McLean Creek Vineyard $35 – $42
Quails’ Gate Winery 2011 Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay $35


Mission Hill Family Estate 2010 Perpetua Osoyoos Vineyard Estate $35 – $41
Henry of Pelham 2011 Chardonnay Estate $20
Mission Hill Family Estate 2011 Reserve Chardonnay $17 – $20
Norman Hardie Winery 2010 Chardonnay Unfiltered $35


Meyer Family Vineyards 2011 Tribute Series Chardonnay Old Main Road Vineyard $35 – $42
Baillie-Grohman 2011 Chardonnay Baillie-Grohman Vineyard $25
Ravine Vineyard 2011 Chardonnay $24
Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery 2011 The Census Count Chardonnay $13
Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate 2011 Delaine Chardonnay $25
Exultet Estates 2011 Chardonnay The Blessed $40
JoieFarm 2011 En Famille Reserve Chardonnay $30
Road 13 Vineyards 2011 Chardonnay $24
Burrowing Owl 2011 Chardonnay $25 – $36
Hidden Bench 2011 Estate Chardonnay $29
Upper Bench Estate Winery 2011 Chardonnay $25
Closson Chase 2011 Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard $30
Mike Weir Wine 2012 Chardonnay $25
Tawse 2010 Estate Chardonnay $38
Tawse 2010 Member Select Chardonnay $50
Niagara College Teaching Winery 2010 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay Donald Ziraldo Vineyard $19
Privato Vineyard and Winery 2011 Chardonnay $30
Lailey 2011 Chardonnay, old vines $40
Tawse 2011 Robyn’s Block Chardonnay $46
Norman Hardie Winery 2011 County Chardonnay Unfiltered $35
Wayne Gretzky Okanagan 2012 Chardonnay $16
Trius Winery at Hillebrand 2011 Trius Chardonnay Barrel Fermented $20
Painted Rock Estate 2011 Chardonnay $30

The complete results of the National Wine Awards of Canada are posted on WineAlign at: NWAC 2013 Results. The results include all the Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winners in several style and grape variety categories, plus a “performance report” on the Top 20 wineries in the country. 


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Best Buys in BC – Spring into Action

With the cherry blossoms bursting here on the coast (sorry rest of Canada), daylight savings recovered and spring’s equinox this week, we are welcoming the appearance of fresh, bright wines. We’ve started to see the first of the 2013 vintage on our shelves and over the coming weeks we will share our spring release notes, from wines at home in BC and abroad.

This week, however, we’re not waiting for the wines to come to us – we’re out in the field vineyard tasting ourselves. DJ, Rhys and I are in California, while Anthony is in Australia as part of the Peter Lehmann Wines Mentor Awards Program. We hope you can ring in spring with some of our friendly March picks below. 

BC Critic Team

DJ Kearney

Yes, the calendar says it’s Spring, but here on the best coast we never know what to expect, so I use food and wine to trick my psyche into feeling spring-like, even if it buckets in Vancouver from now ‘til the end of June.

Riesling is a very good place to start when it comes to wines that taste of verdant life and renewal. Harper’s Trail 2012 Pioneer Block Dry Riesling offers brain-rinsing acidity, edgy lime citrus and mineral essence that pairs with satay chicken skewers marinated in lemongrass, lime leaf and coconut milk. Next up, King Crab. The season started a bit late and is still going strong, so head to a great fish shop and treat yourself. To complement a simple steamed preparation I choose Jay Drysdale’s Bella West Side 2012 Sparkling wine, with its spare framework and acid verve, where pure chardonnay flavours are laid naked except for a veil of yeasty complexity. If I want to pull out all the halibut stops and pan roast with brown butter and lemon sauce, I’ll chose top oaked chardonnay like Mission Hill’s 2011 Perpetua, a wine with both heft and grace. And when a little grass-fed beef is on the menu (leaner, beneficial fatty acids and lower gluten than grain fed) and a big red calls my name, I love the (yes, still youthful, but just decant) Perseus Select Lots 2010 Invictus. There is abundant flavour, a truly scented violet character and best of all, the kind of savoury, delightful sweet green herbal element that is pure Okanagan and also very Spring-like. Bottom’s up, and in a few months, Spring might show up…..

Harper's Trail Pioneer Block Dry Riesling 2012Bella Sparkling West Side Chardonnay 2012Mission Hill Perpetua 2011Perseus Invictus 2010

Rhys Pender, MW

Spring is around the corner and wine thoughts turn to crisp rosé, picnics by the water and refreshing whites to counter the sunny days. But, spring is notoriously unpredictable, warm days, yes, but often followed by chilly nights. It feels as if the entire potential of spring is captured in the sun, and when it slips behind a cloud or a tree you are plunged, temporarily you hope, back into winter. The wines you choose need to be tempered for just such a situation. You may feel a little claustrophobic from an over abundance of cuddly, warming reds that have nursed you through winter. Yet the weather is not yet demanding uber-refreshing, high acid and racy white wines. Spring is a time to sit on the wine fence. Medium-bodied whites that are refreshing yet still have some weight work as do lighter reds with a little juiciness to match some meaty intensity. Rosé is a good bet too.

Bernard Baudry Les Granges Chinon 2011Teusner The Riebke Shiraz 2012Bougrier Vouvray 2012Louis Bouillot Perle D'aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne

Chinon can be the perfect match with a few slices of salami, pâté and some firm cheese outside on a sunny spring afternoon. The Bernard Baudry 2011 Les Granges is a great example. When the snow has been swept off the deck, something like the Teusner 2012 Riebke Shiraz will warm you through a stint in front of the BBQ on a chilly spring evening and match with whatever meaty goodness comes off the grill. For white wines, Vouvray gives a little richness, often from a touch of sugar, but also through a waxy texture and matches well with chicken, quail and meatier white fish. The Famille Bougrier 2012 Vouvray is great value. And for rosé, why not celebrate spring with a bubbly version. It goes well with sunshine and Adirondack chairs before the warmth of the sun dips behind the horizon. The Louis Bouillot N/V Cremant de Bourgogne, Rosé Brut will pair with any snacks that are conjured up.

Treve Ring

With Vancouver International Wine Fest and France fresh on my mind (and palate), the first bottle that comes to mind this month is M. Chapoutier Les Vignes Bila-Haut Blanc 2012 from Côtes du Roussillon. This bright, juicy, mineral-marked wine is made in with the same terroir-respectful, biodynamic practices that are the hallmark of Michel Chapoutier’s numerous 100-point wines in the Northern Rhône. Much closer to home, though nearly as foreign-sounding to most is Calona Vineyards Sovereign Opal. At a nearly unheard of price and from a very unheard of grape, this soft, scented wine will make you think of spring’s blossoms. The sovereign opal grape is a cross of marechal foch and golden muscat developed by Agriculture Canada to thrive specifically in the Okanagan Valley.

M. Chapoutier Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon BlancCalona Sovereign Opal Art SeriesAnna Spinato Prosecco Brut Organic Sparkling WhiteRoad 13 Honest John's Rosé 2013Bodegas Leceranas Evohé Vinas Viejas Garnacha 2010

If the last wine’s flavours make you think of spring, just looking at the Anna Spinato Prosecco Brut Organic bottle will evoke the same response. This organic prosecco’s light bright florals and citrus will have you planting lettuces for fresh-from-the-garden salad. If the evening winds are calm, fire up the BBQ (yes – we do that year round on the coast) and crack a bottle of the newly released Road 13 Vineyards Honest John’s Rose 2013. The vibrant pomegranate and structured cherry will certainly stand up to chicken burgers or veggie kabobs. And if you need a charmingly rustic, warming red to ward off the evening chill, don’t miss out on Bodegas Leceranas Evohé Garnacha Vinas Viejas 2010 from Aragon, Spain. These old vines (from 65 years through to their 2nd century!) are fermented in 100-year-old concrete vats with wild yeasts, resulting in a vibrant kirsch, red currant, fresh red, calling out for Patatas Con Chorizo.

Editors Note: You can find complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


Tinhorn Creek Crush Club

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Best Buys in BC at Vancouver Wine Fest: The World is Here!

For the wine community in BC, and especially for the BC team at WineAlign, February equals Wine Fest. There will be seven WineAligners on hand. Head Wineaux Bryan McCaw will be coming to town for the event, as will our own John Szabo MS  from Toronto and Bill Zacharkiw of Montreal. Of course the entire BC team will be on hand, leading seminars (Anthony, Rhys), overseeing the Global Focus Bubbly Station (DJ) and tasting, reconnecting, introducing and learning.  

DJ Kearney has already penned a Festival overview which you can view here. Below each BC critic shares top tips on how to navigate this huge event, what to taste and who to meet. The festival’s tagline is “The Wine World is Here.”  Our team hopes to see you in Vancouver next week as well. 

BC Critic Team

Anthony Gismondi

The 36th Vancouver International Wine Festival will be essentially sold out before it starts, making 2014 one of the most successful years since its inception back in 1979. The biggest event on the city’s wine map has managed to establish deep roots allowing it to expand far beyond its humble one-event, two-night beginning. In 2014 with France as the theme and ‘Bubble’ as the global focus the events will span eight days and include 14 countries, 178 wineries, 54 events, 29 venues, 55+ restaurants and hotels, 1,750 wines, 23,000 participants and some 30,000 bottles.

It seems that founding Chairman John Levine’s idea that each participating producer be required to send a winery principal to the show has stood the test of time attracting ever more curious wine drinkers. It’s a huge commitment for any winery to send a principal to Vancouver for four or five days and it’s expensive. Especially so for small family wineries that under the restrictive monopoly system seldom get the amount of shelf space that would justify spending so much time and money in our city. Still the little guys come and the battle of the boutiques versus the brands is an ever-fascinating part of the festival, one that frankly needs both groups to make it all happen.

This month WineAlign salutes the folks that make the festival special every year. For 2014 I have selected five wines that will lead you to the booths of some the more interesting principals taking part in the festival.

Graham 10 Year Old Tawny PortSusana Balbo Signature Malbec 2011Castaño Coleccion Cepas Viejas 2009One of Spain’s most passionate wine guys at the show is Yecla-based winery owner Daniel Castaño. Family owned, old vines, natural farming and monastrell is the Castaño mantra and Daniel Castaño will be behind the booth to bring the story of Yecla and monastrell to life. Find out how a red wine that sells for $12 can be made with dry-farmed 40 to 60 years old vines and then taste one of his best: Bodegas Castaño 2009 Coleccion.

The talented Susana Balbo, the owner winemaker at Dominio de Plata, will be behind the booth pouring her unique style of malbec. Susana knows where all the bodies are buried in Mendoza and where the wines of Argentina are headed. Stop by the booth and be sure to taste the Susana Balbo Signature Malbec 2011.

It’s hard to resist a taste of port especially Graham’s 10 Years Old Tawny Port. In this case you can enjoy it with proprietor Rupert Symington. The Symington family has a long history in the Douro dating back to 1882 when Andrew James Symington (Rupert’s great grandfather ended up in Porto) and began working in the port business. Some 125 years later the family owns many of the Douro’s icon properties including: Dow’s, Warre’s, Graham’s, Smith Woodhouse, Gould Campbell, Quarles Harris and Quinta do Vesuvio. Need any more incentive for a chat?

Tantalus Riesling 2012Frescobaldi Castelgiocondo Brunello Di MontalcinoTantalus Vineyards winemaker David Paterson is making one of the most electric wines in the country at one of the greenest wineries in BC. Paterson works with old vine plantings led by riesling planted in 1978 and pinot noir and chardonnay planted in 1985. The varieties are now Tantalus mainstays. In March 2010 the winery moved into the first LEED-certified winery in B.C. and haven’t looked back since. Stop by the booth, sip on the Tantalus 2012 Riesling and talk to David about the future of BC riesling.

You will find export director Stefano Benini at the Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi booth. Benini has a degree in Economics and Business from the University of Rome, spent time in Chicago and Napa Valley before working a number of export positions at Frescobaldi. Today he is the Export Director and a fountain of knowledge regarding Frescobaldi wines, Tuscany, Florence, olive oil and much more. A stop here must include tasting the classic Frescobaldi Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy $55

DJ Kearney

The theme is France, the world’s most celebrated fine wine region and the Festival tasting room will be super-charged with energy and anticipation. I prefer a broad-spectrum and slightly spontaneous approach when in the tasting hall. I’m never fussed by tasting whites after red, or sweets in between bubble sips, so I tend to flit from table to table and style to style. It’s a big room and you can waste precious time marching about. I believe that if you don’t seize the moment, you may not get back to a certain table to shake the hand of a principal or taste a special bottle, so be adaptable. I always scour the catalogue and map and make a list of booths not to be missed, and check it when there is half an hour left so I can dash if needed. This way one can be both spontaneous but thorough-ish.

Here are my highlights:

Giusti ProseccoPierre Sparr Réserve Brut Crémant d'AlsaceTaittinger Brut Réserve ChampagneThe Global Focus of the Festival is Bubbly! Producers have brought their sparklers with them, so be on the lookout (for all 110 of them!), but there is also a special place where you can taste selected bottles that are used as teaching tools to help understand the various styles and methods of capturing the sparkle. The Global Focus station has been my special project for a decade now, and I and my keen sommeliers are on hand to teach you the basics with wines to illustrate.

Don’t miss the refined wines of Champagne Taittinger and look for débonaire Clovis Taittinger behind the table. The house style emphasizes freshness and precision and you can bank on the charming Brut. Also a French sparkler of a different style, the Pierre Sparr Crémant d’Alsace Brut Reserve shows its warm, dry climate, aromatic grapes and fresh style. Effusive Bernard Sparr attends often and with luck, he’ll pour your taster. Guisti is a proud Canadian success story, and Joe Guisti, from Triveso via Alberta, is visiting to pour his much admired wines.  Try the Giusti Brut to get a taste of a more complex version of the widely loved Prosecco style.

M. Chapoutier Chante Alouette Hermitage Blanc 2011Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2012Seresin Leah Pinot Noir 2011One of the France’s great estates is Chapoutier. Deeply committed to biodynamics where a comprehensive range of wines translate the diverse terroir of the Rhone Valley (and the wonderful Braille label), this is must-visit booth. Michel Chapoutier is representing the family, and Hermitage Chante Alouette 2011 is a wine I deeply admire.

South Africa has a Regional section and there you can find a table with 12 captivating whites: from chenin with and without a touch of oak, crisp and serious bruts, and stylish chardonnays. A firm favourite is the Benard Series Old Vines Chenin Blanc, which seems to get better with every vintage.

One of the best days I spent in New Zealand this past October was at Seresin Estate. It’s a wee patch of biodynamic heaven within Marlborough with plow horses, jersey cows, olive trees, incredible bio preparations, and people who are as real as the wines.  There are five Sersein wines to savour, and I love, love, love the 2011 Leah Pinot Noir in particular.

Rhys Pender, MW

Two great things have happened for the 2014 Vancouver Wine Festival. First, the theme country is France. This means we will have an amazing array of wines to taste from the greatest wine producing country on the planet. The only way to improve on this is, of course, to have the theme wine as bubbly. Sounds like endless fun to me, an in depth exploration of the wine regions of France while refreshing my palate with delicious sparkling wines from around the world in between.

Looking through the lineup of wineries and wines, there are many different approaches you could follow to get the most out of the festival tasting room (which has added an additional tasting on Saturday afternoon). My first bit of advice is to not limit yourself to just one tasting. Buy tickets for two or even three tastings as, yes, there are that many great wines to discover.

Looking through the list of what is being poured, I am excited by many wines from across the globe. Here are a few I will be checking out. The Gérard Bertrand stand has some of the great value appellations from the Languedoc-Roussillon area of southern France. Minervois, Saint Chinian and La Clape (no, it is not a disease) are all represented and worth a try for their cuddly warmth.

There also appears to be a very strong showing of delicious White Burgundy on offer; Maison Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2010 and Simonnet Febvre Chablis 2012. There is also Boisset Puligny-Montrachet le Trézin 2011, Jadot Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot Clos de la Chapelle Blanc 2010 and Roux Père & Fils Meursault 1er Cru “Clos des Poruzots” Monopole 2012.

The bubbly theme also gives you a great chance to try sparkling wines from around the world. There are some delicious Crémant de Limoux on offer from Gérard Bertrand, Paul Mas, and Sieur d’Arques and some great new world bubbly from Graham Beck of South Africa. The Champagne presence is also not to be missed. Get early to the tables of Charles de Cazanove, Lanson, Laurent-Perrier, Champagne Taittinger and Thiénot to try some of their best.

Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2011M. Chapoutier La Bernardine Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010Joseph Mellot Le Tronsec Pouilly Fumé 2010Pfaffenheim Cuvée Bacchus Gewurztraminer 2011Pierre Sparr Extrem Riesling 2010Simonnet Febvre Chablis 2010

The Rhône is always a strong point for France and this year should be no different. Try the great value WineAlign World Wine Awards Category Champion Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2011 and the 2011 M. Chapoutier La Bernardine Châteauneuf Du Pape. If it is anything like the 2010 then it will be well worth the effort.

There are plenty of brand new vintages in the room with good pedigree and great value. Try the Joseph Mellot Le Tronsec Pouilly-Fumé 2012 (2010 note here), Pfaffenheim Gewurztraminer 2012 (2011 note here), Pierre Sparr Extrem Riesling 2011 (2010 note here) and the Simonnet Febvre Chablis 2012 (2010 note here).

See you in the tasting room!

Treve Ring

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the International Festival Tasting Room. After all, there are nearly 800 different wines open and available for you to taste. Each winery has a table, each table has a principal, each principal is here because they’re passionate about their product, and want to share it. Out of the festival’s 54 events, the International Festival Tasting is the heart of Wine Fest. You can preview all of the participating wineries on the VIWF website here, and when you arrive at the Vancouver Convention Centre you’ll receive the all-important Wine Fest booklet, a ringed map to all the different events, wines poured, theme region and global focus. Of course with France and Bubbly as the themes this year, I’m going to focus a great deal of my time on these areas (Champagne!) In addition, I make notes of which winemakers and winery principals I’d like to chat and taste with, and who I’m keen to catch up with again.

One such person is Garance Thiénot, head of the contemporary Champagne house Thiénot. I met the gracious Garance in Champagne and was charmed by her drive and passion as one of the most important women in Champagne. Their stylish NV Brut is fantastic value on this market, and they will be pouring a number of other lesser-seen wines from the house. While in the Champagne section, be sure to sample the elegant and pristine Taittinger Brut Reserve NV (and meet the charming Clovis Taittinger), the worldly and weighty Nicolas Feuillatte Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2005 and the expressive and floral Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut.

Hard as it is to leave Champagne, there is so much more to taste. Within France, don’t miss visiting Pierre Sparr, talking to Bernard Sparr, and tasting the powerful Gewurztraminer Froehn Grand Cru 2011. M. Chapoutier is one of the world’s greatest estates, and one of my most memorable visits and tastings. We are all fortunate to try the remarkable Chapoutier Chante Alouette 2011 in the tasting room.

Step outside France and the world is yoursthe earthy, herbal Longview Vineyard Yakka Shiraz 2011 (2010 note here) from Oz’s Adelaide Hills and Chilean Cono Sur’s terroir-focussed single-vineyard wines (and a chat with the affable Matias Rios). Italy is strong this year. Don’t miss Antinori’s Franciacorta Montenisa Brut, touring Tuscany (via Barone Ricasoli and Castiglion del Bosco) and a pause for powerful Langhe (Fontanafredda Serralunga D’alba Barolo 2009).

Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut ChampagneLongview Vineyard Yakka Shiraz 2010Fontanafredda Serralunga D'alba Barolo 2009Miguel Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon 2008Ramos Pinto Rp 20 Quinta Do Bom Retiro

In Spain, you must taste through Canadian ex-pat Nathalie Bonhomme’s wines, exemplary value at every price point, as well as a pour of Miguel Torres’ legendary and groundbreaking Mas La Plana 2009 (2008 note here).

Don’t forget to end on a sweet note. The intoxicatingly heady Ramos Pinto 20-Year-Old Tawny Port – Quinta Bom-Retiro is open, and will linger on your palate the whole way home.

Editors Note: You can find complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Vancouver International Wine Festival - Feb 27, 28 and Mar 1

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Best Buys in BC – January 2014

Happy New Year BC! All of the BC critics wish you much health, prosperity and good wine in 2014.

Whether or not you / your wallet / your waistline have recovered from the holidays, January needn’t mean depriving yourself of wine, truly one of life’s great pleasures. “Everything in moderation” is a useful adage, especially as we transition from a month of festive excess to a new year. Not that there isn’t a lot to raise a glass to in January. We’ll be toasting Robbie Burns Day (January 25), Australia Day (January 26), and ringing in the Chinese New Year (January 31). Below, the BC team share what’s on our minds and in our glasses this month. Cheers! – Treve Ring

BC Critic Team

Anthony Gismondi
Looking for Mr. Good Bargain

It’s January and it’s depressingly cold in most of Canada including vast parts of British Columbia. And with holiday bills lurking and yearly taxes not too far off, many wine drinkers are in search of bargains. Of course not any old sweet red, or oaky white will do, we want good bargains as in wines that taste like they came from somewhere and were made by someone who cares. Since we pay the most for wine in Canada and seldom see the lowest price for any wine it only makes the task bewildering for most consumers. This month I’ve chosen some weather appropriate wines that over deliver for their price. Again price is relative. You don’t necessarily want the cheapest but you always want the best value.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2011The Ned Pinot Noir 2012Pascual Toso Reserve Las Barrancas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2011CABERNET SAUVIGNON – It’s easy to reach for cabernet when the weather is cold. Its big structure and tannin is built for food and can warm you from the inside out. My pick is Pascual Toso Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Las Barrancas Vineyards 2011 from Maipú in Mendoza, Argentina $21. You don’t often get round, smooth textures on the palate of a young cabernet so grab them while you can.

PINOT NOIR – There is a juiciness about Marlborough pinot noir that makes it so appealing in the glass. A fine value is the The Ned Pinot Noir 2012, Marlborough, New Zealand $21. Sink your tongue into soft, juicy, fruit cherry berry pinot that is made for salmon.

Yalumba Organic Shiraz 2012Bonterra Zinfandel 2010RIESLING – Washington State has some of the largest riesling plantings outside of Germany and that helps with price and quality. If you are confining your food to takeout in January and Indian, Thai, Japanese and or Chinese is on the menu think Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2011, Columbia Valley, Washington, United States $17. Its full-blown style can stand up to spicy ribs or Indian curries. Good value.

SYRAH/SHIRAZ -Australia’s national day will fast be upon us so I was thinking shiraz would be in order. Organic would be even better and under $20 would seal the deal. My pick is Yalumba Organic Shiraz 2012, South Australia, Australia $17. Fresh, juicy and full-bodied but with light tannins it can work with whole roasted chicken.

ZINFANDEL – Heartwarming and friendly zinfandel often can be thought of as a favourite chair or perhaps an old pair of shoes you just can’t throw out. Great with burgers or grilled meats we like the organic grown Bonterra Vineyards Zinfandel 2010 from Mendocino County $20 where, sensibly, marijuana for personal use has long been an accepted practice.

DJ Kearney

January might as well be a month devoted to virtuous restraint – usually involving spending and eating less. We try to atone for our holiday excesses by either re-stocking the piggy bank through strategic scrimping, or by restraining our inner piggy. Here’s my strategy: a few more minutes of planking a day, a few more kilometers on the treadmill (watching the Aussie Open for inspiration) and saving precious pennies on these great bottles.

Thomas Goss Mclaren Vale Shiraz 2011Douro Porca De Murca 2012The Beachhouse Red 2011I really like this cheerful blend from the Cape – its name makes me think that summer is not too far off (but of course it is); its sunny, plummy flavours are perfect for budget winter braises; and it is not one of the sugary breed of red wines that my colleague John Szabo exposed recently. Like John, I pay close attention to residual sugar numbers in wines (reds especially), and The Beachhouse Red 2011 has a conservative 5.5 grams per litre of residual sugar, balanced by 5.3 grams of acid per litre. And at $12.99 at the BCLDB, you can pop a few coins in the piggy bank.

On my list of character-improving 2014 resolutions is to drink much, much more dry wine from Portugal – red, white and bubbly. Porca de Murça Douro Red 2012 is a fruit-packed red that sports a lot of wine for 12 bucks. Ruby-jewel red with floral, earthy nose, 3 big port grapes unleash their cassis and boysenberry juiciness on the palate. There’s a lick of dusty minerality amongst the bright fruit flavours and middling-astringent tannins that give this Douro red a nicely rustic finish. Straightforward, honest, value priced wine for easy sipping with linguica and potato stew. When you are back in the black (piggy-bank-wise), there is a handsome reserve from this estate for ten bucks more.

Australia G’Day is almost upon us. I spent many happy weeks last fall soaking up the food, wine and culture of OZ, and here’s my advice: do not underestimate this country. Even if there have been a few missteps with the critter wine hooha, there is (and always has been) brilliant wine made all over the vast country. The very best command bigger prices, but here is my favourite down undah bargain wine of the year. Made by gifted Ben Riggs (ex- Wirra Wirra) Thomas Goss Shiraz 2011 over-delivers massively and is wonderfully reflective of its maritime home of McLaren Vale.

Rhys Pender, MW

Leyda Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013Grão Vasco 2009Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet 2010With the wallet feeling a little empty after the holidays, it is a great time to seriously look at those wines that over deliver for the price. Particularly after splurging for a couple of weeks, wines that give lots of satisfaction and amaze you with their value are just what is needed.

With the winter chill still upon us, I find myself reaching for some flavoursome red wines. The Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet always over-delivers for the price. For even less money, if you are looking for something very savoury and very European, try the Grão Vasco 2009 Dão. It is a great pairing with anything gamy. A refreshing white is still also needed to wash down your appetizer and the Leyda 2013 Garuma Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc has great depth and power to refresh along with plenty of mineral complexity.

Treve Ring

January arrives and I’m in full-on hibernation mode. I travel a bit less, cook a bit more, wear sweatpants and rainboots disproportionately more often than in any other month, and am looking for comforting, rustic pours in my glass.

Peter Lehmann Portrait ShirazWente Morning Fog Chardonnay 2012So I don’t know what to pair with the sweats, but to match the rest of my month, I am looking to the wallet warming values in California, Australia and my BC backyard. Peter Lehmann Portrait Shiraz is great value year round, but I particularly appreciate the dense cassis fruit and dark chocolate spiced fruit in this rainy season. Pass the slow braised short ribs and roasted yams.

My days on the coast start off with an abundance of wet, Pacific morning fog, so Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay 2012 from Livermore Valley is on my mind. The cooling fog preserves the freshness in this fruit-forward Cali chard, and the medium-full body suits hardier winter dishes. Cock-a-leekie soup in the pot, and this in my glass.

Haywire Pinot NoirGehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2012Closer to home, and a familiar name, Gehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2012 has the concentration and spice to stand up to colourful flavours, and the citrus peel acidity to refresh the palate. I like this with vegetarian green curry over nutty amaranth.

And this year I’ll ring in Chinese New Year with a special, limited edition bottling of Haywire Pinot Noir 2012. 688 bottles of this wine have been labeled with the symbol of the horse and good fortune in celebration of the Lunar New Year and to welcome the Year of the Horse. While I have yet to try this early release of the 2012 vintage, the 2011 vintage is currently tasting fresh and fine, with dusty black raspberry, juicy cherry and cool toned plum over top of stony spice. I would pair with it miso marinated sablefish, wild mushrooms and soy glazed Asian greens. Gung hay fat choy!

Editors Note: You can find complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

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The 2nd Annual Wolf Blass Cabernet Classification

The Assignment: Put 30 of the World’s Top Cabernet Blends in front of 30 of the World’s Top Critics (seven from WineAlign), Taste Blind, Rate and Discuss

with David Lawrason, Bill Zacharkiw, Anthony Gismondi, Rhys Pender MW, Margaret Swaine, Marc Chapleau and JohnSzabo MS

Last autumn Wolf Blass of Australia conducted three identical blind tastings of the world’s top thirty cabernet-based blends for thirty of the world’s top wine critics – in Montreal, London and Melbourne. All the wines were from the 2009 vintage, and all were triple-digit priced (in Cdn$), with the first-growth Bordeaux crossing into four-digits. (Chateau Margaux 2009 is selling in Toronto for just under $2000 a bottle).

Among them was a Wolf Blass 2009 Black Label, the company’s top classic red selling for $100 in Canada.

The objectives of this tasting were as subtle and layered as the wines themselves. It was called a classification, in reference to the famous classification of 1855 that – at Napoleon III’s behest –  separated out the best chateaux of Bordeaux and established a hierarchy that still sets Bordeaux’ compass today.

The final results, which can be viewed at 2013 Master Blend Classification do provide a sense of which wines were rated more highly, but with the top 20 wines scoring between 90 and 92 points – and four ranked at 92 there is no clear-cut winner. And when you dig into the regional results there was far from unanimity on the top wines.

However, Wolf Blass Black Label finished number one in Melbourne, and was one of the four rating 92 points globally, placing second overall.

2013 Master Blend Classification

Wolf Blass winemaker Chris Hatcher, architect of the tasting, said the exercise was not so much about winning as it was generating discussion about style. “The discussion among the judges was fascinating.” he said. “Common themes were vintage conditions, the tolerance of brettanomyces in wines, use of oak and the effect of wine closure – although the views between judges often differed”.

They certainly did, and we capture some of it below among some of the seven WineAlign critics who were present at the Montreal tasting.

From Wolf Blass’s point of view, all that needed to be done in this exercise was have its wine dance the dance without falling off the stage. This event created a gusher of publicity among the world’s critics just by being held in the first place. Twitter was teeming.

But doing very well matters more to the mass market. “Wolf Blass leads the pack” said a headline on a wine story printed in both the Sudbury Star and Niagara Falls Review and doubtless other papers across Canada. At the grass-roots it was Wolf Blass in the headlines, whether the label was Black, Grey, Yellow or Red hardly mattered.

From here individual WineAlign critics draw observations and make comments. It takes you deep inside a terrific blind tasting – with all its strengths and foibles. Furthermore, our critics have uploaded their reviews for detailed tracking of who thought what about the individual wines. You can find all of the wines and reviews using this link: 2013 Master Blend Classification Wines & Reviews

David Lawrason, Toronto

The results – in terms of a classification or ranking that consumers might want to bank on – were inconclusive, and so was much of the discussion. I was surprised by the lack of unanimity among the world’s judges. Then again, everyone is different, which is why a tool like WineAlign that does not blend critical opinions is so useful.

2013 Master Blend ClassificationI was also shocked by the low scoring range, with 92 as the top average score globally, but I also understand how averaging over a narrow range of scores produces compressed, less effective results. I would have preferred to see us rank the wines (see John’s Szabo’s comments below).

Again; I was blown away by this tasting. I scored eight wines 95 or better and only three below 90. I could hardly stay in my seat as one by one these superb wines passed across my palate. My notes oft repeated words like elegant, nuanced, incredible length. Flavours barely mattered with such brilliant structure on display. Was I not being critical enough? Swept up? Perhaps. But I certainly understood why these wines commonly rank above 95 points in the world’s media.

Several wines other than Wolf Blass Black Label stood up very well to the Goliath first growths of Bordeaux – with Napa and Tuscany leading the challenges – Joseph Phelps Insignia, Opus One, Ornellaia and Ridge Montebello. And I was not at all surprised by this. Nor was I surprised to see Sassicaia finish so poorly (last globally) as I have rarely been able to muster 90 points for this wine in recent vintages.

The real question is whether Bordeaux’s top first and second growths deserve their reputation as the world’s best. My personal prejudice is that they don’t deserve anywhere near the price they command, a price set by traders and hoarders.

But that is a different argument from whether they are actually the world’s best wines. On this day in Montreal, in this vintage, in my view, they were. When it came down to my top wines, of eight I scored at 95 points or better and six of them were Bordeaux, including all the 1st Growths except Lafite-Rothschild which I scored 94. Margaux was my top wine at 98. For the record, my only non-Bordeaux 95 point or better wines were Ridge Montebello from California and yes sir, Wolf Blass Black Label.

Bill Zacharkiw, Montreal Gazette

It’s a rare occasion to find so many legendary, and expensive, bottles open at the same time. In terms of cabernet sauvignon, this was the world’s “who’s who,” and as we were tasting blind, it was a rare opportunity to see how wines from such varied terroirs stand up against one another.

But the results should be taken with a grain, actually a few grains, of salt. As we were tasting the 2009 vintage, the vast majority of these wines were in their relative infancy and quite “tightly wound.” So, were judges tasting on imagined potential, or how these wines were tasting at the moment?

A few of the bottles, most notably Sassicaia, to my tastes seemed “off.” I had the opportunity to taste the same wine a few weeks later, and with dramatically different impressions. Others, like Ridge’s Montebello, seemed to be in a state of dormancy. It is a wine I know well, and that was not the Ridge I know and have loved.

So in the end, this tasting was but a snapshot, a tasting moment, frozen in time. Would the results be the same if we did the same tasting five, ten or fifteen years from now? I doubt it.

That being said, this tasting put on by Wolf Blass, showed some serious testicular mass by the winery, taking its relatively inexpensive wine and putting it up against the greats, and in the case of Bordeaux, a pretty decent vintage.

Blass’ head winemaker Chris Hatcher told me that they decided to risk potential embarrassment, because they “just want to see where Wolf Blass stands.” Apparently, according to the results of our tasting in Montreal, it’s shoulder to shoulder with many of the world’s best.

Anthony Gismondi, Vancouver Sun

Fifteen of this country’s most experienced wine commentators and sommeliers gathered last October in Montreal to taste thirty of what arguably would be regarded as the best red Cabernet Sauvignon blends in the world. Given the difference of opinion among Canadian reviewers it’s clear there is no single style or blend that can lay claim to the world’s best Cabernet blend.

The quality gap between the vast majority of labels we tasted is closing quickly, even if their prices would suggest otherwise. But that is the beauty of blind tastings.

Anthony GismondiFor the record, the Wolf Blass organizers had a vested interest in the tasting. Among the 30 bottles of 2009 red blends selected to taste was the 2009 Wolf Blass Black Label ($100). It finished in the middle of the pack (in Canada), although given its price tag and high level of shiraz fruit, the 47/47/6 cabernet sauvignon-shiraz malbec blend gave the rest a pretty good fight.

These tastings have a limited shelf life, but they can be interesting snapshots in time, and an even more interesting insight into what turns the crank of writers from different countries, or in this case, tasters who span some 5,000 km. We were particularly tough on the Australian entries, almost all of which were out-classed on the day.

The stars, as you might expect, were the Bordeaux first growths – although I struggled to see the Grand Cru in some, given the massive amounts of smoke and heavily toasted oak currently masking much of the fruit. Chateau Margaux ($1,900) was a study of smoke and oak supported by an underlying complex mix of fruit other tasters regarded as close to perfection. I was more supportive of the Mouton Rothschild ($1,800) on the day the oak seemed less dominant. Prices are crazy.

Chris Hatcher was both gracious and humble when it came to talking about his wine. Hatcher suggested to the assembled tasters the task wasn’t about looking for champions, but rather it was a study of styles, even better to debate the many styles.

The discussion was spirited as we explored the value of pouring gobs of new French oak on some wines, while others preferred wines that related more to their terroir and climate.

The savoury, bright, red fruited wines are earning more respect at these tastings than the heavy makeup of smoke and oak dominating most Bordeaux first growths. Is Lafite Rothschild at $3,000 a great wine? Most judges agreed. But under a blanket of heavily toasted oak, I was happier to drink Chile’s Almaviva ($160), Italy’s Ornellaia ($190), or California’s Opus One ($400).

With New World wines tightening the acidity, picking earlier, shedding oak and heading down the cooler fruit road, and much of Europe turning out softer, richer, often more alcoholic versions, it is hard to know where it’s all heading.

Hatcher and the Wolf Blass team will be looking with interest at the global results, hoping to develop a blueprint that might define the Wolf Blass style for generations to come.

Rhys Pender MW, Similkameen Valley BC

The Wolf Blass Challenge was an amazing opportunity to try some of the world’s great wines, all blind, thirty of them side by side. No matter where we are in the industry and what credentials we have, tastings like these are incredibly rare.

Rhys PenderThere were also some very interesting trends that seemed to be evident in the wines. The Bordeaux was nearly all classic, structured, elegant and showcased the great 2009 vintage. But they nearly all had noticeable brettanomyces, something I personally liked in the wines as it added complexity, but something that will have others crying fault and, the way I see it, missing out on some incredibly tasty wine.

The American wines, with the exception of the Ridge, were all heading towards the sweeter, soupy style, a flavour profile associated more with introductory wines than great ones. The taste of the vineyard seems a long way away.

The Italian wines were also a surprise, very new world in their flavour profiles and seemingly heading in a similar direction to the USA style.

The Australian contingent was generally sticking with what has worked in the past, ripe fruit but retaining some savoury elements. It would be a shame if any of these great wines thought they had to buckle to the trend of soft sweetness and abandon making the wine taste like where it is from.

Marc Chapleau, Montreal

Love is Blind! As with the experience in 2012 when the Challenge was held in Toronto, this was a very instructive tasting. All the more since 2009 in Bordeaux produced very concentrated wines, often with lush fruit and tannins that gave them New World overtones.

But, again, blind tasting often confuses the issue… and it should also be remembered that this was not a real-life situation. Many of the wines would probably have fared even better (or at least differently) when consumed with fellow guests, where the ambiance and the intellect guide – or should I say, override – the senses.

Marc ChapleauAs a general rule there was a lot of wood in these big, sturdy red wines. And being quite young, they had a certain tendency to all look-alike due to that oak presence. Still, the Australian and Chilean cabernets were quite easy to pick out of the line-up, with eucalyptus and mint overtones in the former, and green notes (not unpleasant at all) in the latter.

It is sometimes said that Quebecers usually prefer Old World wines to New World ones. “Usually” is an important nuance here since, in this blind tasting, the Chilean Almaviva and the Australian Wolf Blass Black Label were among my best – even though I sensed they were not from Bordeaux. There was a great deal of rich fruit and oak in these two yet a lively freshness and some real depth. Bravo!

And so much for the so-called French palate…

Margaret Swaine, Toronto

I love a blind tasting competition like this “Master Blend Classification” when the vintage is the same and the grape varieties are akin. It’s as close as one can get to levelling the playing field and eliminating one’s own prejudices towards a certain wine region or country.

That said the New World and Old World wines do have their particular characteristics which makes it possible to guess their provenance. Like most of my colleagues however I scored the wines based on my opinion of their merits even if I felt I could guess the label. I did not favour New or Old World in my ranking and my scores showed that. Whether there was ripe rich berry or herbaceous forest floor in the taste, as long as there was balance, structure, style and length, I scored the wines high.

My very top wines each with scores of 96 were Chateau Lafite and Chateau Margaux. Next with scores of 95 came – yes – Wolf Blass Black Label, and Opus One, Joseph Phelps, and Chile’s Vina Almaviva. I gave a 94 to Leoville-Las Cases and to Ridge Monte Bello. What does it prove? For me – that both New and Old World can make stunning wines. And that Wolf Blass is right up there at the top.

John Szabo, MS, Toronto

This was certainly a very special tasting, and it was a privilege to take part in it.

One observation, weighing the exceptional quality of the line-up from the four corners of the wine world, is cabernet’s adaptability. The variety is clearly capable of performing at the highest level in a broad band of climate and soils types, and despite its otherwise rigid and imposing character, it’s flexible enough to welcome many varieties into its tightly structured folds, beyond the traditional Bordeaux blending partners, while still retaining a distinctive cabernet-ness.

John Szabo, David Lawrason, Anthony GismondiAustralia, along with southern France, have robustly shown that syrah/shiraz is a welcome collaborator in the production of fine blends, while tempranillo, and carmenere also have historical precedence at the top level. I’m excited to consider what other potentially spectacular variations on the theme of cabernet may one day be included in such a tasting – a blend with grenache, nero d’Avola, montepulciano, mencia, or touriga nacional? Or perhaps blaufrankisch, saperavi or plavac mali? Considering that cabernet sauvignon is the world’s most planted fine wine variety, and that proprietary blends and new regional blends will continue to gain prominence over varietal wines in my view, there is much to look forward to.

Another personal observation was the relative difficulty in guessing the origin of these thirty wines. As it turns out I was right for only about two-thirds. Part can be chalked up to inexperience (these are not wines I taste everyday), but part also to an international homogenization of style. It was how I imagined it must have been during Steven Spurrier’s famous 1976 tasting, in which many respected critics were repeatedly duped into believing that Californian wines were from France. Yet considering that California cabernets from that period were made to taste like Bordeaux (herbaceous flavours, <13% alcohol), it’s not that shocking.

Here, my uncertainty lay in distinguishing California, Australia and Tuscany, and I freely exchanged the origins of several iconic wines. Bordeaux, oddly enough, accused of late of becoming too “Californian”, stood out (the exceptions were Beychevelle, Montrose and Latour which I thought were from Australia, and Leoville-Las-Cases from California, a public statement that I’m sure will have me banned from these cellars for a lifetime). Chile stood out for its bay leaf and blueberry fruit, and South Africa’s medicinal note could be spotted a mile away. But elsewhere the lines were blurred. Should wines costing into the hundreds (thousands) of dollars have some distinctive regional stamp? For the record, Wolf Blass’ Cab-shiraz blend was distinctively Australian.

A more technical observation that affects the headline results is the fallacy of a consistent global scoring system. The 100-point scale that was used by all judges appears to be standard enough, but in practice is anything but, and the data can be interpreted in different ways. Even within Canada, the 100-point scale is applied with significant variations. In Québec, for example, 80 points applies to a very good wine, while in other parts of Canada, such a score would reflect a rather miserable one.

Neither interpretation of the scale is more accurate or “better” than the other. But it makes an average score less meaningful, and results in many wines with the same average score, which in turn doesn’t necessarily reflect the group’s overall preferences. The top scoring wine in Canada (Château Ducru-Beaucaillou) rated a ‘mere’ 92 points, weighed down as it were by the low-scoring judges, whereas the top scoring wines in both Melbourne (Wolf Blass Black Label) and London (Ducru-Beaucaillou) both rated 94 points, buoyed perhaps by overly enthusiastic scorers in those cities. Do Canadians judges enjoy wines less than their international peers? I think not.

I’m no statistician, but averaging out international results doesn’t take into account shifting scoring scales, and I wonder how the results might have changed had each judge’s score for an individual wine been added, instead of averaged, to arrive at a total cumulative score. There wouldn’t likely have been ties between wines in each city, and internationally, each wine would have had a total global score and thus a clear and definitive ranking of preference, while eliminating the blurring effects of rounded scores. Would Ducru Beaucaillou have finished top with 4,140 global points? Is this a better scoring method? I don’t know. Does it matter? Not sure. Just throwing it out there.

What did matter to me was how well Bordeaux performed on my score sheet, admittedly, somewhat to my disappointment. It’s far more satisfying to see the underdog win in such guerilla tastings, especially if one doesn’t have the disposable cash to lay down many thousands of dollars for a case of wine, and also far too easy to point out the distorted value equation for classified Bordeaux. But I’ll leave the question of value aside, and the pricing to the châteaux, merchants and speculators, and comment instead on quality.

In short, the Bordeaux, with the exceptions mentioned above, were spectacular. It’s certainly vintage related – 2009 was another ‘vintage of the century’ in the region. But I must also concede that there is something magical about the combination of Bordeaux’s climate, terroir and grapes, as well as validity to the historical classification of châteaux done almost 160 years ago. One can niggle over a few promotions and demotions, but overall, the top are still top. Damn.

There was some important discussion about what exactly was being scored – a wine’s current state or future potential, and most agreed that some crystal ball-gazing need be done, which is a challenging task. Yes, most were heavily influenced by oak, but with so much stuffing and structure underneath that there was no question in my mind that when the scaffolding is finally taken down, true monuments will be revealed. Would they be as great if they were fully open and ready to go now?

If spending $2000 on a bottle of wine wouldn’t cause me to wince, I’d buy the 2009 Margaux. Guess I just answered the value question.

You can find the WineAlign Critic reviews of these wines by using this link: 2013 Master Blend Classification Wines & Reviews

Prior vintages of Wolf Blass Black Label are still available in Ontario, Quebec and BC Liquors stores. You can find inventory at a store near you using these WineAlign links: 2008 at LCBO, 2007 at SAQ and 2006 at BCLDB.

Editors Note: You can find our Critics complete reviews by clicking on the highlighted link. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Photos courtesy of Master Blend Classification Gallery

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A Sparkling Countdown to New Year’s Eve (Part 3)

If you have not already bought your bubbly for New Year’s Eve take a look at this list of affordable sparklers that WineAlign critics have picked out for you. We know that 90% of the bottles will be popped in the 30 seconds before or after midnight, and that you will be more engaged in a heartfelt Auld Lang Syne than appreciating the nuances of these wines. But you can take our word for it that they offer great value. Our selections were in inventory in the Ontario, Quebec and/or BC liquor stores as of Dec 27, and many are in other provinces as well, with the vast majority under $30. For a rundown of luxury Champagnes see JohnSzabo’s article Luxe Bubbles for 2013 or explore the world of ‘growers Champagne’ with Treve Ring at Farmer Fizz.

Last Minute Affordable Sparklers

Canadian Sparklers

We lead off with Canadian bubbly, because – in case you have not been following along – it is emerging as a great ‘coast to coast’ wine style with fine examples from B.C., Ontario and Nova Scotia.

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Rosé BrutBlue Mountain BrutBlue Mountain Brut Gold Label, British Columbia

This elegant, lean, beautifully structured sparkling wine from a fine terroir and a pioneering wine family is worth seeking out. It’s reminiscent of good Champagne with a leesy/toasty, lemony nose, but shows its BC origins with pure apple and pear plus a hint of herbs. Vigorous limey acidity leads the palate charge, with zingy green apple and peach flavours, coated in lees and minerals. The bubble structure is small and persistent, and nicely shows off a long and layered nervy finish. (DJ Kearney – BC, ON, QC) 

Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catherine Brut Rose, Ontario

A lovely salmon pink colour, this bubble shows medium intense red berry, floral and citrus notes on the nose which follow through on the dry but fruity palate. Medium-bodied with fine mousse, this is a well balanced sparkler with vibrant acidity and a long red berry and pink grapefruit finish. This pinot noir based pink is one of the great bubblies being produced in Canada, pink or otherwise. (Janet Dorozynski – ON)

Gray Monk Odyssey White Brut 2010Trius BrutCave Spring Blanc De Blancs BrutGray Monk Odyssey 2010 White Brut, British Columbia

Locally there are plenty of accolades for Blue Mountain and they are well deserved but this year a wine that caught my attention with its reserved styling and persistence of flavours comes from Gray Monk, a BC VQA pioneer and family run operation. Impressive wine that would be perfect with most before dinner appetizers. Serve with some tasty BC smoked salmon. (Anthony Gismondi – BC)

Trius Brut, Ontario

This silver medalist at the National Wine Awards of Canada is an excellent value sparkling wine with a lot of class that will appeal to lovers of Champagne. It has a fine mousse with the tiny bubbles that persist well and give a creaminess to the palate. The nose is delicate with nice toasty notes to the apple lemon fruit. Best as an aperitif. (Steve Thurlow – ON)

Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut, Ontario

I poured this razor sharp chardonnay bubbly for a swish pre-Christmas corporate party and the guests loved it. Clearly sparkling has a big future in Ontario. (David Lawrason – ON)

Angels Gate Archangel Chardonnay Brut 2010Haywire The Bub Sparkling 2011Haywire 2011 The Bub, British Columbia

This is the first vintage of traditional method bubbles from the progressive team at Okanagan Crush Pad – and part of the small movement towards terroir-driven sparkling wine in the Okanagan. It pours a foamy flute of apple, stone, pear skin, and light eraser rubbings on the nose, along with tart white peach and crisp lemon in the mouth. Baked apple notes seal the finish and a crown cap seals in the freshness. (Treve Ring – BC)

Angels Gate Archangel Chardonnay Brut 2010, Ontario

A very classy, classic, elegant style here with a real Old World feel – for traditionalists – and a silver medalist in the sparkling category at this year’s National Wine Awards of Canada to boot! The Archangel name is a throwback to the property’s original ownership – the Congregation of Missionary Sisters of Christian Charity. (Sara d’Amato – ON)

Spanish Cava

Spain is one of the world’s largest producers of sparkling wines. Applying traditional method (second fermentation in bottle) production to native varieties like Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel.lo results in wines with complexity and structure and unbelievably good prices.

Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut CavaParés Baltà Cava BrutJaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava, Spain

You always need a couple of bottles of bubbly on hand for when you get those surprise visitors over the holidays, or any time of year for that matter. This is great value Cava. It is dry, fresh and crisp with a soft mousse and aromas of lees, lemon, peach and ripe golden apple with green apple and some salty, mineral notes on the medium length finish. (Rhys Pender – BC)

Parés Baltà Cava Brut, Spain

What could be better than organically grown fruit, a family operation and a great price. Pares Baltà B over delivers on all accounts and proves price doesn’t mean a great deal when it comes to sparkling wine. I’m fond of saying the annual tasting of ‘b” never disappoints although this year the tasting was in Pacs in the heart of the Penedès region that is home to Pares Baltà. The blend is a mix of organically certified (and more recently bio-dynamically grown from several sites spanning 230 to 615 metres. Good value and food friendly and the perfect wedding sparkler to boot. (Anthony Gismondi – BC, QC)

Langa Real de Aragon CavaSegura ViudasSegura Viudas Brut Reserva, Spain

This Spanish cava made from local grape varieties continues is a perennial best buy in sparkling wine, especially in the $15 range. Such complexity, poise and length for the money. Great with hors d’ouevres. (David Lawrason – ON, BC, QC)

Langa Real de Aragon Cava, Spain

Just having this pretty bottle around makes people merry. Wait until they drink it! Tremendous value for this serious, well-crafted Cava – perfect for brunch, small plates and celebrations. (Treve Ring – BC)

Other European Sparklers

Champagne is the most famous French sparkler, but other regions of Europe have been perfecting local styles for generations as well, and most are at least half the price of Champagne. Very much worth exploring; whether a fine French cremant from Bourgogne, Alsace or the Loire; or an airy prosecco from Italy.

De Chanceny Excellence Brut Vouvray 2010Vitteaut Alberti Blanc Brut Crémant De BourgogneIl ProseccoDe Chanceny Excellence Brut, France

I’m a sucker for sparkling Chenin Blanc, so I couldn’t resist this gem from Vouvray in France’s Loire Valley. It highlights the versatility of Chenin Blanc and excellent value of French sparkling wine from outside of Champagne. (Janet Dorozynski – ON)

Vitteaut Alberti Blanc Brut Crémant De Bourgogne, France

Oh-so-charming with incredible complexity for the price. Here is a wine that is sure to impress, as fine Champagne would do. Made from chardonnay, pinot noir and aligoté (for some kick), with a fullness and richness that is sure to satisfy on special occasions. (Sara d’Amato – ON)

Il Prosecco, Italy

Wearing a spiffy looking crown cap and bowling pin shaped bottle this light prosecco has a clean, fresh and simple aroma poached pears and icing sugar. It’s medium bodied, fairly soft, sweet and only lightly effervescent. (David Lawrason – ON, BC)

Other New World Countries

Around the world sparkling wine is enjoying a renaissance in quality and popularity. Here are some reasons why.

Barefoot Bubbly Pinot GrigioYellowglen Pink SparklingYellowglen Pink Sparkling, Australia

Every time I try this wine I think that these are pretty amazing everyday bubbles! This blend of pinot noir and chardonnay over delivers for the money. An orangey pink with fine bubbles that persist well with ample aromas of cherry, toffee and bread with a hint of stewed strawberry. Don’t over-chill or you will miss the fruit and aromas. (Steve Thurlow – ON, BC)

Barefoot Bubbly Pinot Grigio, California

A clean refreshing bubbly at a good price. The nose shows fresh lemon with floral jasmine and bread aromas with some mineral notes. It is quite rich and creamy and well balanced without a lot of complexity. Try as an aperitif with pastry nibbles. (Steve Thurlow – ON, BC)

Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut, California

This is a long standing personal favorite and good example of what happens when you combine Old World traditional method wine making with the New World know-how of California. (Janet Dorozynski – ON, QC)

Domaine Chandon Étoile BrutJansz Premium CuvéeTerra Andina Sparkling MoscatoJansz Premium Cuvée, Australia

One of the best value bubblies from the exciting Tasmania that is taking Australia by storm for not just bubbly but some of the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The nose is quite rich and autolytic with lots of bread, hazelnut and lees with golden apple and lemon. The finish is long. Great value and now available in BC Liquor Stores. (Rhys Pender – BC, QC)

Terra Andina Sparkling Moscato, Brazil

It’s full of fruit, tasty and it’s from Brazil! – three good reasons to try this value-priced sparkler. Overflowing with Latin exuberance and joie de vivre, it reminds me of how Brazil plays soccer – with passion, righteousness and unbridled devotion to the beautiful game. From muscat grapes grown in the north of the country in the Vale de Sao Francisco, it has energetic grapey, floral and peachy aromas and flavours with a broad and foamy palate. Though quite sweet, it’s balanced enough with fruity acidity. Give it a severe chill and pour for the brunch crowd or make a fizzy Sangria with frozen peach slices. (DJ Kearney – BC)

A Sparkling Countdown Part 1: Farmer Fizz
A Sparkling Countdown Part 2: Luxe Bubbles 2013
Complete list of recommended wines: Sparkling Countdown 2013

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve Champagne

Vancouver Wine Festival - Feb 27 - Mar 1

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Season 4, Round 5: “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

Chenin or Riesling…Riesling or Chenin…?

Season 4 of “So, You Think You Know Wine?” is a departure from the previous critic-against-critic challenge of past episodes. This time the competition has a game show/family feud feel with tasters battling against each other in teams, rather than individually. As always, the competitors have the daunting challenge of identifying the wine with only their nose, eyes, and palate – no other clues are given.

Click here to watch Round #5, or read on for highlights from the last round and a look at today’s teams.

Highlights and Score from Round #4

Last time on SYTYKW, Raiders of the Lost AOC initially started on the right track with South American malbec but slowly talked themselves into a grenache dominant blend from Southern Rhone. The Good, The Bad, and The Blind also went with a grenache dominant blend from Southern Rhone, but dug a little deeper and came up with Vacqueyras as a more specific appellation. In the end, neither team guessed correctly in this, the lowest scoring episode so far; however, both teams agreed that Finca Decero Malbec 2010 is a very good wine. David Lawrason stated that the elegant style of the wine led them to France, and the Raiders of the Lost AOC declared after the reveal, “Trust your first instinct!

The teams debate the characteristics of each wine to come to a consensus as to what they think the wine is and their conclusions are submitted to Amil in writing. Each team then announces their decision and the wine is revealed. The scoring on each wine remains similar to past episodes, with points for Variety, Country, Region, Appellation and Vintage, and a little less emphasis on Price this season. Here’s how the teams stand after 4 rounds:

So, You Think You Know Wine? Scorecard 4.4

Round #5

The teams are now starting to really gel and become more comfortable with each other, but does this help or hinder in this competition? Do they have too much respect for each other to challenge a teammate’s opinion? Watch the competition progress as The Good, The Bad, and The Blind (aka Mom, Dad, and Little Brad) take on Whole Bunch Press in this nail-biting episode.

Pour yourself a glass of wine and Watch Round #5 here.

The Good, The Bad and The Blind

David Lawrason, DJ Kearney, and Brad Royale of The Good, The Bad and The Blind, with referee Amil

So, You Think You Know Wine?

Anthony Gismondi, Janet Dorozynski, and Rhys Pender of Whole Bunch Press

We hope that you find this new format entertaining and that you have as much fun watching as we did filming. As usual, please send your comments to and feel free to share this video with your friends and family.

So, You Think You Know Wine?

Special thanks to our glassware sponsor, Schott Zwiesel, for their beautiful glasses and carafes used during filming.

Previously on “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

Espisode 4.1: California Square Russian River Chardonnay

Episode 4.2: Louis M Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Episode 4.3:  Travaglini Gattinara

Episode 4.4: Finca Decero Malbec


Penfolds Grange 2008

Fortessa Canada Inc. Glassware sponsor to SYTYKW

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WineAlign Gift Guide – BC Edition

20 Great Bottles 

Every month the BC critics at WineAlign share with you our favourite Best Bets – wines that ring up under $20 or so, are widely available and overly delicious. We take great delight in finding these value gems to drink ourselves, and share with you. But December fa-la-la’s signal celebratory holiday parties, festive galas, and seeking out that very special bottle for that very special person on your list. It’s true that special bottles aren’t always synonymous with expensive prices. However, this month we’ve thrown budget out the window in selecting our wines – ones that we would all be very happy to find under our tree. (hint hint Santa)

And if you want to embellish that gift for the wine lover on your list, limited advance tickets (at a discounted price) are on sale now for the 2014 Vancouver International Wine Festival. Canada’s premier wine show will mark its 36th anniversary of pairing wine, food and the performing arts from February 24 to March 2, 2014. It features 178 wineries from 14 countries pouring 1,750 wines at 54 events to a projected 23,000 attendees. Next year’s theme region is France, and the global focus is sparkling wine. For more information, visit hint again Santa – stocking stuffer)

The following wines are currently available in BC recommended and recently reviewed by our BC team, Rhys Pender (RP),DJ Kearney (DJK), Treve Ring (TR), and Anthony Gismondi (AG).  Here’s link to all 20 Great Bottles.  Follow the link to the full review and check out how many bottles are in stock at your nearest store.   For our Ontario friends, here’s the WineAlign Gift Guide – Ontario Edition .

WineAlign BC Critic Team

The Bubbles

Dom Pérignon By Jeff Koons 2004

Dom Pérignon 2004 ($231.88) (AG, TR)
Champagne, France
Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve Champagne

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve ($69.95) (RP)
Champagne, France

Taittinger Comtes De Champagne Blanc De Blancs Brut

Taittinger Comtes De Champagne Blanc De Blancs Brut ($169.99) (TR)
Champagne, France

Le Mesnil Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne

Le Mesnil Blanc De Blancs Brut ($54.99) (DJK)
Champagne, France

The Whites

Meyer Family Vineyards Chardonnay Micro Cuvée Old Main Road Vineyard 2011

Meyer Family Vineyards Chardonnay Micro Cuvée Old Main Road Vineyard 2011 ($54.99) (AG)
Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

M. Chapoutier Chante Alouette Hermitage Blanc 2011

M. Chapoutier Chante Alouette Hermitage Blanc 2011 ($75.99) (TR)
Northern Rhone, France

Mission Hill Perpetua

Mission Hill Perpetua Osoyoos Vineyard Estate 2010 ($34.99) (DJK)
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada


The Reds

Penfolds Grange 2008

Penfolds Grange 2008 ($599.99) (RP)
South Australia, Australia

Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino 2008

Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino 2008 ($59.99) (AG)
Tuscany, Italy

Alvaro Palacios Les Terrasses 2011

Alvaro Palacios Les Terrasses 2011($54.99) (AG)
Priorat, Spain

Emiliana Coyam 2011

Emiliana Coyam 2011($29.99) (RP)
Colchagua, Chile

Ridge Three Valleys 2011

Ridge Three Valleys 2011 ($34.99) (DJK)
Sonoma County, California, U.S.A.

Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 2009

Ridge Monte Bello 2009($169.99) (RP)
Santa Cruz Mountains, California, U.S.A.

Rioja Reserva Vina Tondonia 2001

Bodegas R. López de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Reserva 2001 ($49.99) (TR)
Rioja, Spain

Miguel Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Miguel Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($59.99) (DJK)
Penedes, Spain


The Fortifieds

Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 2011

Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 2011 ($134.99) (AG)
Douro Valley, Portugal

Nutty Solera Oloroso

Gonzales Byass N/V Nutty Solera Oloroso Sherry  ($17.99) (RP)
Jerez, Spain

Gonzalez Byass Apostoles Palo Cortado Viejo

Gonzales Byass Apostoles Palo Cortado Viejo 30 Year Old ($34.99) (TR)
Jerez, Spain

Graham's Twenty Year Old Tawny Port

Graham’s Twenty Year Old Tawny Port ($36.99) (DJK)
Douro Valley, Portugal


The Spirit

Hennessy Paradis Imperial

Hennessy Paradis Imperial ($2752.88) (TR)
Cognac, France

Here’s link to all 20 Great Bottles.

Editors Note: You can find complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008