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BC Critics’ Picks August 2014

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

Focusing on the WineAlign World Wine Awards

This week the BC WineAlign team has invaded Toronto, convening with colleagues from across the country to judge the World Wine Awards of Canada (WWAC14). This competition is open to wines from any country (Canada included), as long as they’re sold some where on Canadian soil. We’ve divided the categories by grapes, and also by price point (under $15, $15-25, $25 and up) so we can compare apples to apples, or more correctly, merlot to merlot.

Tasting the wines by grape(s) and price point allows us to taste wines fairly in the company of their contemporaries. While price is not always an accurate reflector of quality, it is how the vast majority select the wines they’re going to purchase. Our job this week is to find the best wines in each category – be it a viognier over $25 or a pinot noir under $15. We’re here to separate the wheat from the chaff, and make shopping and drinking decisions easier. By the end of the week, each winning wine will have been tasted blind at least a dozen times and by all the judges to ensure that it’s worthy of top place in this competition.

To be clear, we are not yet revealing the winners from the 2014 judging. But as we’re lining up our palates to taste these international flights, we’ve been reflecting on the strengths from past competitions and our predictions for this year’s competition. Follow along on twitter at #WWAC14 to see how this year’s competition unfolds in the days ahead.

Cheers, Treve Ring

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

One of the privileges of being head judge of the Wine Align World Wine Awards is you get to see what goes in each and every flight, watching wines progress through flights taking on all comers and judges to become a Category Champion or Judges Choice. There are always pleasant surprises every year and then there are wineries that have proven themselves year after year to become dependable go to labels for almost any occasion.

Mission Hill Martin's Lane Riesling 2012Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2012Robert Mondavi Fumé BlancRobert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012 is one such wine, and the 2012 vintage as good as any in recent memory. Robert Mondavi wasn’t getting the attention for his sauvignon blanc he thought it deserved back in the 1980s so he looked to the French Loire Valley standard ‘Pouilly Fumé’ and came up with the Fumé Blanc moniker and the rest as they say is history.

Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay is another wine that needs little introduction. Once an advertisement for oak barrels this wine has evolved into a serious bottle of chardonnay and the 2012 vintage proves that Australian chardonnay deserves your attention, and respect.

Respected, and proven names in the wine world separately, Okanagan Valley’s Mission Hill Family Estate and German Rheinhessen star Fritz Hasselbach have come together to collaborate on the Martin’s Lane project bringing another layer of complexity to British Columbia riesling. Juicy and refined the Martin’s Lane 2013 Riesling is sure to continue to turn heads.

DJ Kearney

Trivento Reserve Cabernet Malbec 2012Glen Carlou Grand Classique Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2010Florina Alpha Estate Turtles Vineyard Syrah 2008The World Wine awards are such a treat and pleasure to judge. There are always joys and hidden gems like the best Greek wine at last year’s awards, Averoff’s 2008 Xinomavro from Naoussa. I also really admire the wine from Alpha Estates in the north western fringes of Amyndeon, an impressive and ambitious project with fine vineyard land, a striking modern winery and state of the art equipment. Their single vineyard syrah is distinctive and the 2008 vintage is on the BCLDB shelves.  A little age has integrated a bold amount of oak very nicely.

A South African wine that never fails to delight is Glen Carlou’s Grand Classique.  The current release in BC is the 2010 and it manages to taste as Bordeaux-like as ever, yet full of ripe and forward fruit.

Trivento’s Golden Cabernet Sauvignon underscores an important truth:  the cabernets are doing well in Mendoza. Full-bodied and fruit packed, it’s a lot of wine for the price. These three wines were some of my palate tune-ups for the judging.

Rhys Pender MW

Montresor Capitel Della Crosara Valpolicella Ripasso 2011Cono Sur Single Vineyard Rulos Alto Block 23 2013Devil's Lair The Hidden Cave Chardonnay 2013Chardonnay is successful at awards in many different styles but trends are changing in the world. The days of over oaked, buttery monsters is largely gone (thankfully with a few hanging on because sometimes we just really want these wines) and a new version of chardonnay built around restraint is the next generation. The Devil’s Lair 2013 The Hidden Cave Chardonnay is a good example of this.

Another grape successful around the world is riesling. You might not associate Chile with the grape, but there is some serious stuff coming out of the cool climate southern Bio Bio region. The Cono Sur 2013 Single Vineyard Block No. 23 Rulos del Alto Riesling is one I recommend trying to taste some of Bio Bio’s extreme, pristine fruit.

Italy always turns up some winners in the competition in a huge variety of styles. For a good combination of fruitiness and some earthy Euro-ness, try the Montresor 2011 Capitel della Crosara Valpolicella Ripasso.

Treve Ring

As I mentioned in my introduction, we sift through over the 1100 wines entered this week to find consumers the best wines in each category. Looking back over last year’s WWAC results, it’s pretty evident that our thorough judging system, checks and balances, works.

Warre’s 10 Year Old Otima PortUnsworth Vineyards Rose 2012Trapiche Pure Malbec 2012In the Under $15 category, Trapiche Malbec Reserve 2012 took top honours for Best of Variety. I’m hopeful that we’ll run into the Trapiche Pure Malbec 2012 this week – a fantastic example of adventuresome winemaking using wild yeasts, concrete vats and sourced from high altitude vineyards in the foothills of the Andes.

In the $15-25 group, Vancouver Island’s Unsworth Rosé proved a hometown hero and took a Judge’s Choice Award. Let’s hope the streak continues with the 2013 vintage, a fresh, dry marine influenced pinot noir rosé.

It’s a shame that more people don’t drink fortified wines on a regular basis. Don’t be mortified about fortified! Especially when you have a wine like last year’s $25+ Fortified Category award winner, the Warre’s Otima 10 Year Old Tawny Port. This contemporary tawny is from a classic and highly reputed house, spends an average of a decade aging in cask, with some parts of the blend upwards of 40 years old. A steal.

*****

Check out our BC team’s value-focused Top 20 under $20 in early September, along with my special Back to School report on Wine Education in BC.

Cheers,

Treve Ring

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


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20 under $20 in British Columbia (August 2014)

Monthly Picks from our West Coast Critic Team

Even though we’ve just made it through the National Wine Awards, our national judges are already preparing – mentally at least – for the The World Wine Awards of Canada (WWAC14), coming up in a few short weeks. These recognize the best wines SOLD in Canada anywhere, regardless of where they are from. They are judged in categories under $15, $15 to $25, and over $25 to a maximum of $50. What’s so fantastic about these awards is that we are judging Canada blind beside wines from France, Australia, Chile, Spain and beyond.

While we’re gearing up for Toronto mid-month, our BC critics have been reflecting on World Wine Awards from past years and anticipating what terrific values we might be seeing in our glasses in competition this year. Our 20 Under $20 wines are readily available in BC Liquor Stores and VQA stores across the province for your shopping convenience.

Cheers ~ Treve Ring

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

Looking back at 2013 “Sauvignon Blanc” results from the World Wine Awards, the top five labels were: Robert Mondavi 2011 Fume Blanc, Napa, Mapu 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Chile, Giesen Sauvignon Blanc 2012, New Zealand, Arboleda 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Chile and The Ned Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. There’s no telling how the 2014 results will go but here are five of my current favourite white sauvignons to finish off the summer on the patio.

The Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012 is easily the best value sauvignon in the country.

No less impressive, save for it drab packaging and Don Max designation, is the Errazuriz Sauvignon Blanc Don Max Reserva 2013, it’s mix of citrus and dried herbs with enough passion fruit to give it a fruity underbelly. It is delicious.

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012 Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Blue Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Nobilo Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Leon De Tarapaca Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Locally, the Blue Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2013 is a fresh, electric-style sauvignon with grassy, grapefruit, gooseberry flavours.

You can spell the Nobilo Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc Regional Collection 2013 c-l-a-s-s-i-c, with no shortage of passion fruit, melon and bell pepper notes.

Finally the big steal is León de Tarapacá Sauvignon Blanc 2012, the perfect luncheon-style sauvignon that is a kinder gentler version of New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

DJ Kearney

Wine’s greatest strength is its diversity – and it’s such an exciting time to be a wine lover when diversity can come at a bargain price.

At last year’s Awards the 2012 Monkey Bay Pinot Grigio absolutely shone in the Under $15 category. The 2013 is pretty darn tasty too, especially with a frosty chill and gourmet nachos.

One of my favourite regions to drink from is Austria and I’ve got my fingers crossed that this alpine, landlocked country will be well-represented at the August judging. The Domaine Wachau Gruner Veltliner Terraces 2012 is a crisply taut dry white with subtle fruit and a saline aspect that’s tasty with cheese, or brined then grilled prawns.

Monkey Bay Pinot Grigio 2013 Domäne Wachau Terraces Grüner Veltliner 2012 Trivento Amado Sur Torrontes Viognier 2013 Falernia Reserva Syrah 2010 The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvèdre Viognier 2013

Trivento’s Amado Sur Blanco 2013 is a dry and joyful blend of torrontés, viognier and chardonnay that demonstrates how fresh and lively Argentine whites can be.  It’s a great price that’s slashed to $12.99 in BC Liquor Stores until August 30th.

I admire the Falernia Syrah Reserva 2010 every time I encounter a bottle. From the 2010 earthquake vintage, it’s a moving wine to drink, and is showing black fruit, pepper and the sinewy qualities of cool-climate syrah. A runaway winner at last year’s Worlds, I sure hope to see more of Falernia’s range at the WWAC14.

Finally another staple of mine, especially when the charcoal grill is hot and smoky baby back ribs are getting their final burnish, bring on the Wolftrap Red 2013.

Rhys Pender MW

The Rhône valley always seems to feature well in the World competition, the soft and rich texture of both the red and white wines appealing to the judges. An impressive and well priced Rhône red tasted recently that is worth seeking out is the Cave De Rasteau La Domelière Rasteau 2010.

The WWAC judging always turns out some amazing value discoveries, wines you should buy by the case. There was no pinot blanc in the winners list last year but this variety does consistently offer excellent value. The Inniskillin Okanagan Pinot Blanc 2012 is a great crisp, fresh summer white.

Malbec is no stranger to the limelight in the value price points but most of it comes from Argentina. There is also serious, if slightly lighter and fresher, malbec being grown over the hills in Chile. A great value example is the Viu Manent 2012 Estate Collection Malbec from Colchagua Valley in Chile.

Cave De Rasteau La Domelière Rasteau 2010 Inniskillin Okanagan Pinot Blanc Reserve 2012 Viu Manent Estate Malbec 2012 Quails' Gate Chenin Blanc 2013 Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris 2013

The WWAC is always a good chance for some of the lesser known grapes to get some attention. The Red Single Varieties and White Single Varieties categories see some exciting entries from all over the world. Chenin Blanc is not the rarest but surely not that well known either. A great example tasted recently is the Quails’ Gate 2013 Chenin Blanc. It is explosive, powerful and crunchy and great value.

Always a consistent performer is the Tinhorn Creek Vineyards Pinot Gris. The 2012 vintage was a judges’ choice at last years WWAC and it will be interesting to see how the 2013 vintage does. It is richer, rounder and more lush than previous vintages offering something a little different and will stand up well to mild curries, poultry and rich white fish.

Treve Ring

As I noted in my intro, the great thrill of the World Wine Awards is seeing how Canada stacks up blind against wines from all corners of the globe. One Canadian wine that excelled last year in its category was Wild Goose Mystic River Pinot Gris 2012, proving pinot gris needn’t be bland and banal or expensive.

Another Okanagan winery that held its weight (and earned its weight in medals) is the Gray Monk Riesling 2011, from a winery forging Germanic roads in BC for decades, and always for a reasonable price.

Wild Goose Pinot Gris Mystic River 2012 Gray Monk Riesling 2011 Campo Viejo Reserva 2008 Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava Sogrape Gazela Rosé

Outside of Canada, we always expect certain countries, and regions to fare well in the under $25 category. While many countries are strong here (Chile, Argentina, South Africa and Australia amongst them), right now Spain and Portugal’s values are second to none, and I think both countries will be big contenders in this year’s competition. Rioja’s Campo Viejo Reserva 2008 value is extremely hard to beat year over year, as the classic tempranillo and graciano blend is traditional and modern all at once.

Of course, Cava is practically equivalent to amazing value, and Segura Viudas Brut NV is top of the heap for taste, value, consistency and availability in any market, worldwide.

And I’m particularly keeping a close eye on Portugal this year, a country category buoyed by a very strong showing in B.C. This summer, there is often a bottle of Gazela Vinho Verde Rosé around, and with good reason. Easy, breezy, off-dry, interesting and pink – what more could you ask for in a $10 patio wine?

****

Follow along as WineAlign’s BC critics, as well as all of our national critics, tweet, facebook and instagram live daily from the World Wine Awards of Canada (#WWAC14) from August 18-22.

20 Under $20 in British Columbia

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


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20 under $20 in British Columbia (July 2014)

Monthly Picks from our West Coast Critic Team

We’re well into summer now, and priorities have distinctively shifted into summer holiday mode. We’re still tasting as much as ever, though patios, beaches, campsites, parks, docks and boats play heavily on our choices now. As Ella so soulfully and rightfully crooned, it’s Summertime, and the livin’ is easy

Our 20 Under $20 wines are readily available in BC Liquor Stores and VQA stores across the province for your shopping convenience.

Cheers ~
Treve Ring

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

It’s amazing how a few warm days can transform a lightweight, fruity wine into a quenching patio favourite that has everybody asking to see the label. Remember light and fruity doesn’t have to mean flavourless and flabby nor should the wine possess a finish that lasts longer than a weekend round of golf.

Case in point, Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2012 from Washington’s Columbia Valley. Or, from further south, the simple, juicy and off-dry Fetzer Quartz Winemaker’s Favourite White Blend 2012. Chill them down, find a deck chair and away you go.

Equally refreshing – and local – is Grant Stanley’s 50th Parallel Estate Riesling 2013 from British Columbia Lake Country with its bright acidity and tension. Think grilled pork.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2012 Fetzer Quartz Winemaker's Favourite White Blend 2012 50th Parallel Riesling 2013 Bold Vine Old Vine Zinfandel 2012 Château Peyros Tannat Cabernet 2009

Barbecue freaks often reach for red, and this juicy example from California will match many al fresco meals. Bold Vine Old Vine Zinfandel 2012 is a catchy, friendly fresh, easy-sipping style for lighter grilled dishes, plus tapas, cheese and pizzas.

Finally, it’s fun to explore new grapes, blends and region in the summer and  Chateau Peyros Madiran Tannat Cabernet Franc 2009 qualifies on all counts.

This very interesting tannat /cabernet franc blend from southwest France’s Madiran region will expand your wine knowledge, and your big meaty BBQ pairing options.

DJ Kearney

White wines from the Southern Hemisphere typically bring a trio of satisfying factors:  generous fruit, lush texture and killer value. I’ve chosen five bottles from south of the equator that are lovely summertime wines for relaxed outdoor dinners.

Giesen Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 brings brisk and cheeky to a new level, with tropical notes, grassy freshness and dusty minerals for a tossed salad of local goat’s cheese, grapes, kiwi and baby greens. Use the wine in the vinaigrette as the acid for complete harmony.

South Africa’s Cape winelands have embraced sauvignon blanc in a bearhug, and are sending lovely trim wines to market, like the Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2013. Savoury with nettles and crunchy gooseberries, it’s a dry and earthy companion for chilled cucumber soup.

Giesen Wine Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Miss Molly By Moreson Hoity Toity Chenin Blanc 2012 Yalumba The Y Series Viognier 2012 Concha Y Toro Marques De Casa Concha Chardonnay 2012

Chenin Blanc is the Cape’s most planted white grape and in Miss Molly Hoity Toity 2012, a jolt of perfumed viognier romps through the blend.  Lemony fresh with a peachy finish, it’s built for simple grilled chicken skewers.

Yalumba makes a wide range of wonderful wines, and led the charge planting Viognier in Oz.  Organic, floral and gorgeous, the Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2012 is for grilled salmon and stonefruit salsa.

Finally, a Chilean looker that is under $20 by just a penny, but it over-delivers even at this price.  Stately and rich, I want Concha Y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2012 with steamed Dungeness crab and Meyer Lemon butter.

Rhys Pender MW

Summer is finally here and in a dramatic fashion. At the time of writing this, temperatures in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys were in the high 30s. The body wants to slow down, shade and water are sought after and crisp, dry and refreshing wines are in order. Fortunately there are many great wines that have the perfect level of refreshment.

My first recommendation this month is not a grape variety and place that we often associate and maybe that is why the Nederburg The Winemaster’s Reserve Riesling 2012 is such a great deal at $10 (BC)!

Summer also means dry rosé time. Few wines are as well suited to lounging in the shade on a hot day than very cold, light pink rosé from the south of France. The Domaine Saint Ferréol Les Vaunières 2013 and the Bieler Père et Fils 2013  are both perfect.

Nederburg The Winemaster's Reserve Riesling 2012 Domiane St Ferreol Les Vaunieres 2013 Bieler Père & Fils Sabine Rosé 2013Baldes & Fils Château Labrande 2010 Trapiche Pure Malbec 2012

Red wine may also be necessary at this time of the year and particularly later in the evening when it finally cools off and you want to grill big chunks of red meat. A good red wine for this must have character but not be overly boozy or heavily laden with oak. And don’t be afraid to chill them down in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour. The Château Labrande 2010 Cahors Malbec is a good choice.

Another important red wine that is bucking a lot of the trends of sweetness and chocolatey oak is the Trapiche 2012 Pure Malbec from the cool Uco Valley part of Argentina’s Mendoza. The vineyard is managed to slow ripening and the grapes are picked a little earlier to avoid jamminess. The wine then sees no oak staying fresh, juicy and lively. And it works.

Treve Ring

Vive le Juillet! Tour de France and this week’s Bastille Day celebrations have me in a distinctively French frame of mind. While many people – erroneously – consider French wines to be expensive and intimidating, I argue that the amazing diversity of regions, styles, grapes – and price points – makes France a wine buyers (and drinker’s) delight.

Everyone loves bubbles, especially when they are pink, fresh, fruity, easy and $16. The Loire Valley’s Remy Pannier Royal de Neuville Rose is a gentle, off-dry example that matches summer’s rosy sunset.

If you prefer your pinks dry, pick up the Chateau de Brigue Côtes de Provence Protégée Rose 2013, a crisp and refined syrah and cinsault blend that will fit patio sipping or your albacore tuna niçoise.

Tour de France riders spent a couple of days in the Vosges mountains, undoubtedly satisfied to slake their thirsts with juicy, fruity, round whites like Kuhlmann Platz Gewurztraminer 2012.

Remy Pannier Royal De Neuville Petillant RoseChateau De Brigue Rose 2013Kuhlmann Platz GewurztraminerCave De Rasteau La Domelière Rasteau 2010 Cote Mas Languedoc Reserve 2012

A GSM blend is always a good bet for summertime suppers, so two must be doubly as good, right? True when we’re talking about Cave de Rasteau La Domelière 2010 from AC Rasteau. This savoury grenache, syrah, mouvedre blend is from one of the oldest wineries in the Rhone valley and demonstrates its pedigree now with a few years patina.

In a younger, fresher vein is the Cote Mas Languedoc Reserve 2012, from Languedoc AC. Here, Grenache, syrah and mouvedre are joined by the charismatic and secretive carignan, resulting in a savoury and garrigue-imbued herbal cherry wonder, ideal for dusky nights al fresco.

Keep cool out there BC – we’ll be back next month to satisfy your wallets and your palates with a special edition 20 Under $20 focused on The World Wine Awards of Canada.

20 Under $20 in British Columbia

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


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Behind the scenes at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada 2014

A Quality Affair

Last month WineAlign converged on Penticton, British Columbia for the National Wine Awards of Canada. For five full days the ballrooms of the Penticton Lakeside Resort were transformed into a world class stage to judge the country’s best wines.

While we are busy tabulating the results – which will be announced later this month – we thought you might enjoy this insider’s look at what goes on behind the scenes of one of the best wine competitions in the world.

It’s as good as it gets!


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BC Critics’ Picks July 2014

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

Our small but mighty BC Team has a lot of big themes on our mind this month to guide our palates and dictate our choices. Here are some wines we’re excited to share with you.

Cheers, Treve Ring

BC Team Version 3

Respect – from DJ Kearney

Respect is the common thread for my picks, and in a world of commodity wines, it can feel like a rare and precious ingredient. Respect for a grape, respect for a terroir, respect for a tradition, respect for a style. You know when you are drinking a wine that exudes respect – it’s expressive of something palpable, meaningful and enduring. The wine has a message, and it is immediately understood by the drinker.

The Italian coastal calcareous clays of the Marche’s Jesi hills are carpeted with verdicchio, often cropped at preposterously high yields for the neutral, lemon and almondy vino of the region. Not so at Villa Bucci, where the local grape receives respect and care, allowing it to defy expectations. Whites from Villa Bucci show a naturalness that always delights and amazes me; the Riserva Verdicchio ages magnificently and is a triumph of a humble grape, a fine terroir and a respectful family. The Bucci Classico 2012 is a more modest version, and easier to find too, but it has similar values and vinous earthiness of the flagship Riserva.

Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz 2010Cave Saint Désirat Syrah 2012Villa Bucci Verdicchio Classico Dei Castelli Di Jesi Doc 2012Respect is also when you find an honourable country wine made with all the purpose and quality of a fine appellation wine, for less than $15. That’s the case with Cave Saint Désirat’s streamlined syrah, from fruit grown just a granite pebble’s throw from St. Joseph’s heavy hitting vineyards. It’s light, trim and thirst-quenching in a way that should be encouraged.

And how about respect for a style, for a tradition of multi-regional blending that has given us one of the great, great wines of the world. Penfolds St. Henri 2010 with its gloriously ripe shiraz fruit and distinctive old oak élévage possesses an identity and style that’s recognizable but also wonderfully unexpected from Australia. Developed in the 1950’s as a riposte to the all-new American oak of first growth stable-mate Penfolds Grange, St. Henri presents a restrained, understated Euro-style wine that has stayed faithful from the beginning. The 2010 is a miracle of potency, texture, structure and longevity. There’s not much of it around, but for $65 a bottle, the quality to price ratio is simply ludicrous. Respect.

Attitude Shifts – from Rhys Pender MW

Caught up in world cup fever it is increasingly hard to be productive. Luckily this only happens every four years. Over two weeks in and things are shaping up to be very exciting. It seems more teams are giving youth a chance and playing less cautious, attacking football, a treat for the fans.

There are some parallels with the barrage of goal scoring and what is happening in the wine world. A previous stubbornness to change, kind of the equivalent of playing too many of the experienced but slowing statesmen on the football pitch, seems to be giving way to an enlightened attitude that just focuses on making the best wine.

Tablas Creek Esprit De Tablas Paso Robles 2011Black Hills Syrah 2011Domaine Marcel Deiss Riesling 2010On a recent visit to California, it was refreshing to see this kind of attitude in the upcoming Paso Robles AVA. Tablas Creek in particular has pioneered Rhône varieties and following a great pedigree, thanks to their links with the Perrin family, is now enjoying the energy of the next generation farming organically and biodynamically and making fantastic wine. The Tablas Creek Esprit De Tablas 2011 captures the spirit perfectly.

While Canada didn’t make the cut for Brazil, at least many of the wines are starting to find their own personality, no longer trying to copy the style of other wine countries around the world. A good example of this is BC Syrah, now embracing its moderate climate encouragingly. Try the Black Hills Syrah 2011 for an example of just how BC should be approaching this great grape.

The French had an impressive first outing at the world cup. And there are many impressive wines that show the same, cavalier, attacking attitude. One producer who has been known as a little controversial at times, but making great wines nonetheless, is Michel Deiss. The Domaine Marcel Deiss Riesling 2010 shows what the right attitude can achieve.

Tour de Canadian Force – from Treve Ring

Though it’s easy to be distracted by the end of school and the start of summer (and yes, World Cup), at this time of the year I’m laser focused on one thing: wine judging. It’s prime time for wine in my calendar, with numerous wine competitions happening before summer fully sets in.

My June kicked off with the Lieutenant Governor Awards of Excellence in BC Wine, followed by WineAlign’s National Wine Awards of Canada with my coast to coast colleagues, and shortly I head to Seattle to judge the SIP Northwest Magazine Best of the NW Awards. People ask me all the time if my palate gets tired, if I can’t taste anything after a day of 120 wines or if I’m sick of wine. My honest answer is No (with a little bit of yes). Yes – I love a cold beer, refreshing cocktail or healing amaro after a day of wine judging, but I’m up and ready to taste at 8am the following morning. My senses sharpen with each flight and my nose and palate are tuned on a finer frequency with each passing day of competition. I relish these days, plus I love the opportunity to taste a cache of wines in one sitting that I would never have access to otherwise.

With Canada Day high on my mind, I’m thinking about the delicious wines across Canada from beyond my BC borders. Fortunately these favourites are now currently available on our store shelves.

DOMAINE PINNACLE ICE CIDERBenjamin Bridge Brut Methode ClassiqueTawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2010One longtime favourite is Tawse, a repeat Canadian Winery of the Year winner and a leader in organic and biodynamic viticulture, both in their Niagara Escarpment region and for Canada. Though the current vintage on BCLDB shelves is 2010 (the 2013 is released in Ontario), the Tawse Sketches of Niagara Riesling is still alive with juicy grapefruit, lemon zest and zippy minerality, buoyed with vibrant acidity.

I was thrilled to see that Benjamin Bridge wines were finally being imported into BC, allowing local drinkers to experience premium wines from our other coastal wine region – Nova Scotia. The 2009 Brut is a stunning and serious traditional method sparkler, made from decidedly untraditional grapes : L’Acadie, Chardonnay and Seyval.

There is much more to this country’s dessert wine than ice wine. Quebec specializes in ice cider, and Domaine Pinnacle is a rich, golden, full-bodied example of the style. Produced from a hand-picked blend of 6 varieties, these tree fruits are harvested after frost and extracted naturally over the winter months.

Check out our BC team’s Top 20 under $20 coming up mid-July, with Rhys Pender MW’s BC Wine Report and The Final Blend from Anthony Gismondi to follow later in the month.

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


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One look at the label is worth a thousand words

Final Blend
by Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

Okay I admit to watching the television series Elementary if only because anything to do with Sherlock Holmes has always fascinated me. Deductive reasoning is a fabulous life skill to acquire, hone, nourish and improve upon over life and well, damned useful if you are interested in wine.

Mr. Holmes would suggest great detectives use everything at their disposal to solve a mystery and it is that kind of mindset required to deduce all the information a wine label has to offer. How much information is that you say? Well, now that you ask, quite a lot. In fact, if you know where to look and how to interpret the clues, a label will tell you a great deal about the juice inside the bottle. I might add that what’s missing on the label could be equally valuable to a knowledgeable buyer.

There is no doubt labels have become a major focus of marketers over the last decade. Labels have become so important to some it’s not a stretch to suggest some are created before the wine. In my thirty plus years of tasting I can say with confidence that after a site visit the label is the single most important information source about a wine and likely the number one memory source for consumers.

Which begs the question, why do producers continually take part in dinners and tastings where the wine bottles are regularly removed from the room before consumers walk in. It has become so routine not to see bottles at tastings I often wonder if it’s part of the training at WSET and or its equivalent programs where staff are instructed to make sure ‘no one sees the bottles’. But I digress.

Some labels reveal a wealth of information about the wine while others use technical innovations like QR codes to send you to online videos and websites to learn more about the bottle in your hand.

My favourite QR codes send you to a short video, say 30-40 seconds, where you meet the winemaker, they are standing in the vineyard where the grapes are grown, and he or she says something that makes you want to taste the wine.

From hugely informative to completely dumbed down there is an ever varying selection of labels on wine bottles. The trick is to sidestep the marketing, if you can, and learn how to interpret the front and back label to be able to grab the information you need to make an informed buying decision. This month we look at some of the information most likely to help you when you are looking at any wine label and how you might go about deducing what’s important, especially when it appears on a bottle you don’t know all that well.

WHO MADE IT

Chapoutier Marius 2011 LabelThere is no underestimating that knowing something about the producer can be extremely useful when buying wine. It doesn’t mean an unknown grower/producer should be shunned but all things being equal, say price and vintage, it is often safer to choose a bottle from a known leader in the region. So, if you can pick up a bottle of Cotes du Rhone red from Famille Perrin or M. Chapoutier versus an unknown grower the choice is obvious. In Burgundy, if your choice is Faiveley or Drouhin versus another unknown shipper well, you get the picture. Reputations count over time. To demonstrate the theory Michel Chapoutier star of the Rhone is the man behind M. Chapoutier 2011 Marius Grenache Syrah 2011, Languedoc, South of France. In fact it doesn’t get more real at $15.

WHEN WAS IT MADE

I’m a bit of a vintage freak no matter what I’m spending on a bottle of wine and it doesn’t take much to learn a bit about current vintages. For instance 2010 was an excellent vintage in Australia better than ’08 or ’09 and ’11 and ’12 so given the choice take the 2010 red when you are shopping. In the Rhone, 2011 was good but 2009 and 2010 were outstanding. Again all things equal you would choose the ’09 or ’10 before the 11. Locally in the Okanagan 2012 and 2013 will be much better years than either ’09, ‘10’ or ’11.

Taittinger Brut Reserve LabelWhat if there is no vintage on the label? What is the message? Usually the wine is a blend of years and it’s often done to improve weaker vintages. In the cased of multi-vintage champagne it is done to add complexity to the blend. As for the date itself, the vintage will tell you how old or how young a wine is giving you more keys about to what to expect when you age or pour the wine. In the case of many fine red wines seven to ten years is a normal amount of time it can spend in bottle before it begins to hit its stride.

In the case of  the Taittinger N/V Brut Reserve, a favourite go-to bubble of mine, it is a mix of several vintages that when combined give the wine an added bit of underlying complexity that comes with age. In this case non-vintage is really multi-vintage.

APPELLATION /CLASSIFICATION

Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Bougros Côte Bouguerots Grand Cru 2011 labelYou will need more specific knowledge of appellations or classified wines if you want to know what is inside bottles of European wines but with a little reading and a bit of memory much can be revealed. In Italy, DOCG Barolo means it is made with the nebbiolo grape. AOC Burgundy means pinot noir (red) or chardonnay (white), while the D.O. Rioja could mean any combination of tempranillo, garnacha, mazuelo and graciano. On another level many sites or vineyards are classified. Terms like Grand Cru, Premier Cru point you to the best terroir while Gran Reserva, at least in Spain speaks to the amount of ageing in barrel and bottle a wine is given. Almost all are clues to a wine’s pedigree and worth. It takes a lifetime to embrace this information but knowing the classification means knowing the wine. It’s all on the label.

At Chablis the pinnacle of production is among the seven officially delineated Grand Cru climats, covering an area of 100 hectares.  The sites, Bougros, Les Preuses, Vaudésir, Grenouilles, Valmur, Les Clos, Blanchot are all located on a single, southwest facing hill overlooking the town of Chablis. A recent William Fèvre 2011 Chablis Bougros Côte Bouguerots Grand Cru reminded me of how sublime Grand Cru Chablis can be in top vintages.

VARIETAL/BLEND

Black Hills Nota Bene labelIt never hurts to know which grapes are the bottle. If it’s a varietal wine the mystery is easily solved because the grape variety is almost always printed on the label. But did you know a great deal of varietal wine contains more than one single grape. Adding 10 percent syrah or merlot to cabernet sauvignon can really change the style. Carefully check the labels, front and back, for additional mentions about other grapes in the blend it will help you better ascertain what you are buying. The latest release of Black Hills 2012 Nota Bene is a good example of why you might want to read the back label. The 2012 blend is 57/35/8 merlot/cabernet sauvignon/cabernet franc. It is the first time in more than a decade merlot has taken the lead in the blend. It explains the softer textures and rounder mouthfeel.

TASTE

Haywire Pinot Gris labelConsumers says taste descriptors help the most when purchasing wine so be sure to read that back label and look for any clues to what the style of the wine may be based on the verbiage. Among the plethora of words and sentences look for information about grapes: were they organically grown or perhaps employing biodynamic principles. What about the fermentation (in wood, or stainless steel, or concrete). How long is it aged, again in wood or tank, how much new wood is used? Is it better with seafood or steak, appetizers or dessert? These are all valuable clues as to what is inside the bottle. Famed Italian wine consultant Alberto Antonini is working with B.C.’s Haywire 2012 Pinot Gris Switchback Vineyard, Raised in Concrete. The wine is fermented in concrete eggs known to build texture and volume in the mouth and enhance minerality in wines.

ALCOHOL

VIÑA COBOS BRAMARE CABERNET SAUVIGNONAll wine labels display an alcohol level that on its own isn’t that useful. You should know that studies have shown that most wineries under report the level of alcohol in their wines taking advantage of various regulations that permit up to a one degree difference in amounts reported. Wines with 13.5 percent alcohol and higher can often be characterized by slightly glossier textures and as having a slightly sweeter palate or at least the sensation of being smoother and softer and richer. The lower the level of alcohol the more refreshing and light the wine can be as in 8 percent Mosel riesling. At the other end of the scale a 15.5 percent Amador county zinfandel can overpower your palate quickly without food. The point is you can assess a wine or producer’s style by paying attention to the alcohol on the label as mention that is often understated by anywhere from .5  to 1 percent. American Paul Hobbs is known for working with ripe fruit and often his wines are rich in alcohol. His philosophy is everything in balance. So big fruit and big tannin can handle big acid and big alcohol as you will find in his Bramare 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon by Vina Cobos. Break out the steaks.

CORKS/SCREWCAPS HEAVY BOTTLES

cloudy bay labelIt’s no longer easy to interpret a wines quality by the use of cork, thanks to the widespread use of screwcaps. On the other hand the old adage that screwcap wines are cheap no longer holds any weight. I take my cues from the wine. If it’s young, fresh and light in style be it red, white or rosé, a screwcap might signal an enlightened producers. Corks on expensive wines signal serious intentions but screwcaps on expensive wines means that producer is not afraid to make changes he or she thinks are good for the wine. Bottle weight is unfortunately still being used by too many producers to indicate “this is highly regarded wine.” Either way a ‘heavy’ bottle can be used as a signal that this is one of the producer’s best efforts or you may want to eschew the bottle for ignoring what is best for the environment. Light bottles on the other hand no longer mean cheap wine but more likely an environmentally conscious producer. Think back to the start of screwcaps, New Zealand, sauvignon blanc and an icon: Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand. A benevolent vintage yields a super fresh and tropical sauvignon blanc that needs a grilled piece of fish or cheese to tame its fairly overt acidity. Still a benchmark.

I feel as if I have only scratched the surface of suggesting how one might decipher a wine label. As you have read there is a mountain of information available on most every wine label. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover but you may be able to figure out what’s inside a bottle of wine by studying the label with just a bit more attention. As Holmes would say: It’s elementary my dear Watson, elementary.

Anthony Gismondi

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


 

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Top 20 under $20 in BC (June 2014)

It’s Father’s Day this month (June 15 – mark your calendars kids), and no matter your father’s personal tastes, he wants you to save your pennies. This month’s 20 Under $20 selections will satisfy both dad’s thriftiness, and palate. In addition, June kicks off the World Cup, welcomes the official start to summer, sends out eager graduates into the world and blooms with rosé season – all great reasons to crack a cap or pop the cork on one of these great values this month. Our 20 Under $20 wines are readily available in BC Liquor Stores and VQA stores across the province for your shopping convenience.

Cheers ~
Treve Ring

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

Summer is a great time to move off your standard wines picks and spread your tasting wings a bit. Gazela Vinho Verde is Portuguese classic. At 9% alcohol and crazy fresh citrus note sit will slay the heat.

On a similar theme the Trivento Amado Sur Torrontés Viognier 2012 will enliven any patio party. Think chicken and seafood salads all summer or sip solo.

My last white pick is a ridiculous value chardonnay Finca Los Primos Chardonnay 2013 from Argentina. Stylish beyond its price.

Gazela Vinho VerdeTrivento Amado Sur Torrontes Viognier 2012Finca Los Primos Chardonnay 2012Gayda Pays D'oc Grenache 2011Quarisa Caravan Petite Sirah 2012

 

Still with out-of-doors dining and barbecue a sip of Gayda Grenache 2011 and its juicy fruit and spice will transport you to the south of France for the evening.

Finally 100% durif or petit sirah, Caravan Petite Sirah 2012, is a barbecue head turner not to mention a new experience for shiraz and cabernet fans.

DJ Kearney

I’ve chosen a killer pool of World Cup wine contenders, in honour of the highly anticipated pageantry of the Beautiful Game that starts next week. They all deliver champion value and express an admirable sense of place as well.

Argentina has been in four World Cup finals since the tournament’s inception in 1930, netting two victories in 1986 and 1978.  It’s been gratifying to see more and more well-made examples of perfumed Torrontés on our shelves, and the Anko Torrontes 2012 is one of the finest.  It will get you in the South American spirit as you sip along to the opening ceremonies.

Germany is a football juggernaut, making the final match seven times and winning twice. In a tough pool this year with Portugal, Ghana and ever-improving USA, German nerves will be as taut as this refreshing, gulpable riesling.  The Rudolf Muller Bishop of Riesling 2012 is fruity and forward, but it’s got a jolt of Riesling’s lick-smacking acidity to keep it between the goalposts.

Italy, home of unmatched wine diversity, has four World Cup trophies in 6 attempts, last in 2006.  The knockout Cavit Alta Luna Phases Dolomiti 2010 is a cheerful, snappy red that delivers both interest and great value.

Anko Salta Torrontes 2012Muller Bishop Of Riesling Bernkastel Riesling 2012Cavit Alta Luna Phases 2010Zontes Footstep Peacock's Tail Shiraz GrenacheLouis Bernard Cotes Du Rhone Villages 2012

Australia may never win the World Cup, but they have qualified for this heroic tournament four times (unlike our great nation!) and you just have to cheer for a team called the ‘Socceroos’.  Easy to cheer for the honest Zonte’s Footsteps Peacock’s Tail 2011 from McLaren Vale, showing a fruity first half, but a savoury finish.

Then there is France, still smarting from the notorious headbutt incident and their emotional penalty kick loss to Italy in the 2006 final. I’d prescribe some chewy/silky, village-level Côtes du Rhône Village 2012from Louis Bernardas a consolation prize; it’s restorative in every way.

Rhys Pender MW

Selecting wines under $20 that are worthy of a spot in this guide is no easy task. There are many wines that are okay in this price range but few that are exciting and really qualify as a best buy. Quite a number of wines need to be sifted through in order to find those that offer the best value and the most interest for $20. With summer just around the corner, I have recommended five white wines that are very interesting without breaking the bank.

Cheap Chardonnay can be bland and boring and is usually overtly simple. For just $14 in BC, the Inniskillin Okanagan Estate 2012 Chardonnay is fantastic value, made in the modern, restrained oak, nutty and fresh style.

There is more and more top-notch Riesling coming out of BC and the Stag’s Hollow Amalia Vineyard Riesling is a great example of an off-dry style that can still pack some punch. It is fresh, crisp, mineral and long lasting on the palate.

Of the sea of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc out there, one of the best value bottles is Stoneleigh. The 2013 vintage is very crisp, racy and refreshing with a nice leanness making it perfect for spring, particularly during asparagus season.

Inniskillin Okanagan Estate Chardonnay 2012Stag's Hollow rieslingStoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc 2013Bordeaux Blanc Grand Bateau 2012Pfaffenheim Gewurztraminer 2012

For a different take on Sauvignon Blanc and offering great value is the Grand Bateau Bordeaux Blanc 2012. Still very young but showing the potential to be very good, the use of oak and the Semillon proportion of the blend give it a little more weight and texture making it perfect with roast chicken or rich white fish.

Gewurztraminer is a pretty distinctive beast and not for every occasion. But where it comes into its own is for rich Asian dishes, particularly Indian curries. The best value out there is undoubtedly the Pfaffenheim Gewurztraminer 2012. It is rich and just off-dry enough to handle a bit of spice in a dish.

Treve Ring

June’s sunshine has me donning glasses – rosé coloured glasses. When the daylight stretches into the evening and the solstice peaks, fresh rosés feel like a natural fit. Here are 5 dry 2013 rosés that circle the colour spectrum and the globe.

The juicy peach blossom, red currants and tangerine of the dry Pasión de Bobal 2013 from DO Utiel-Requena will bring the sun through the clouds with its fresh acidity and bright fruit.

With the outback energy to stand up hefty grilled foods, Lillooet’s Fort Berens Pinot Noir Rosé 2013 will make a welcome addition to the BBQ pit this summer.

Another wine that craves food is the savoury and crunchy Bieler Père & Fils Sabine Rosé 2013 from Coteaux D’Aix En Provence. Think grilled salmon or prosciutto wrapped melon.

Pasión De Bobal Rosé 2013Fort Berens Rose 2013Bieler Père & Fils Sabine Rosé 2013The Wild Olive Rosé 2013Domaine Houchart Côtes De Provence Rosé 2013

From the folks behind The Grinder wines comes this brand new release and label. The Wild Olive Rose 2013 is a punchy WO Coastal Region blend with sappy tree fruit, prickly pear and bitter melon notes.

I adore the hue, silkiness and structure of the Domaine Houchart Côtes De Provence Rosé 2013 from Côtes De Provence. Perfect with a patio, plate of charcuterie, warm herbed olives and a sunset.

That’s it for this month’s 20 Under 20. For more on what’s happening in British Columbia, be sure to read DJ Kearney’s recent post on the 2013 vintage. Later this month we will be back with more Critics’ picks at any price.

Top 20 Under $20 in British Columbia

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


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BC Critics’ Picks May 2014

Our monthly Critics’ Picks column is the place to find recent recommendations from our intrepid and curious BC critics, wines that cross geographical boundaries, toe traditional style lines and may push limits – without being tied to price or distribution channel of the BCLDB or VQA stores. But are all currently available for sale in BC. Here are 20 wines we’re excited to share this month. Click on the links or bottle images to find out more.

Cheers, Treve Ring

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi’s Pacific Rim Summer Whites

It’s a big wine world out there with limitless options for the curious. This month I propose five very different wines, all made in the western reaches of North America that will transport you into summertime. In this case the task is to be cool, white, refreshing and food-friendly. Freshness as in acidity is a must, wood is tolerated but not necessary. Finally a sense of minerality or electricity to raise it above the ordinary was my goal to make this month’s picks.

We begin with the latest Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay 2012. This Willamette Valley will grab you attention first with its floral, nutty lees nose and then its fresh and creamy green apple, citrus and nectarine skin flavours. Oregon has the potential to make the best chardonnay in North America and this is one to watch. Halibut anyone?

Just up the road in Washington State, Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2012 comes in a slimmed down version with floral, lime juice notes. Is Ernie Loosen’s riesling work at Eroica trickling down to CSM, you bet it is. Love the watery, quaffing edge with candied red apple and lime flavours. For lighter summer style foods.

Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay 2012Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2012Mission Hill S.L.C. Sauvignon Blanc 2011Clos du Soleil Growers Series Pinot Blanc 2012Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012

Every vintage of Mission Hill Select Lot Sauvignon Blanc 2011 has been a head turner. Love the crisp, juicy, elegant styling, bright fruit and a wonderful nervous tension that brings it altogether. I’m thinking a Cobb salad is the ticket here. A little further south and west Clos du Soleil Grower’s Series Baessler Pinot Blanc 2013 is a Similkameen star mixing honey, citrus, pears all with a stony mineral ending. Try it with you favourite sashimi.

Now south to California where the Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012 is perhaps the best they have made. Fruity, stony and flecked with dried herbs it cause the all-important saliva flow that you can’t control. It’s a sure sign of minerality and freshness. Complex and food friendly, pair this with ahi tuna dishes. Life doesn’t get better.

The Unexpected from DJ Kearney

This month I have chosen wines that surprise and delight and show a different side of a wine, grape or place. Take Cherveny, for example, a little known appellation in the watery, dulcet Loire Valley. We expect dry crisp wines defined by the absence of oak and the Puzelat-Bonhmme Cherverny 2011 conforms to that ideal, but it offers two chance delights:  a sauvignon blanc wine that shows subtlety seldom seen, and a historic grape, Menu Pineau (an ancient Loire grape that’s related to Gouais Blanc) which adds a little fat to sauvignon’s lean frame.

Portugal truly owns ‘unexpected’. This country is ascending, and with her 250+ indigenous grapes it is THE place to seek drinking adventures and discoveries. Luis Pato has been giving us remarkable wines for decades now (lavishing respect and care on the Baga grape, for example) and tasted blind, I guarantee you’ll be all over the French map with the Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas Vinho Branco 2012 which shows a little Burg-ish and a little Rhone-ish.

It’s an unexpected treat when a $15-ish wine punches far above its weight, and that’s what you can expect from the great Brent Marris’ new vintage of The Ned Waihopai River Sauvignon Blanc 2014. A warmer growing season, 2014 saw full flavour development arrive at fairly low sugars, giving the wines a completeness and succulence that’s really compelling.

Puzelat Bonhomme Cheverny 2011Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas Vinho Branco 2012The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2014Nederburg The Motorcycle Marvel 2010Penfolds Bin 9 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

If you’ve been drinking Nederburg wines like I have for decades, the quality of the Nederburg The Motorcycle Marvel 2010 will be in step with your expectations, but if not, get ready for a dense and harmonious Rhone-y wine that’s brambly, wild and full of South African character.

Finally, illustrious Penfolds, so famous for shiraz wines like the powerful Grange and thoroughbred St. Henri, is also responsible for some majestic cabernet sauvignon. There’s the wondrous Bin 707, of course, and the more affordable Bin 407 which both immortalize cabernet, but new to the shelves is Penfolds Bin 9 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, surprising with earthy, savoury restraint.

Old Favourites from Rhys Pender MW

There are some wines in the world that you just keep going back to because they are just so eternally satisfying and so rarely disappointing. One of my favourites is Chablis. It is racy, steely, tastes like oyster shells and is immensely refreshing. The Domaine Christian Moreau 2012 Chablis Vaillon 1er Cru is a textbook example of this most electric wine style.

Another wine that I seem to regularly guzzle with great enjoyment south of the border but don’t seem to find quite enough in Canada is the Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs bubbly from California. Of all the California bubblies I’ve had this seems time and time again to be the best and while not cheap at around $50 it can give most Champagnes a run for their money.

Some things about wine are excessively frivolous, betraying any history a wine or region might have to jump on the latest bandwagon and mimic whatever is the current trend that might short-sightedly sell off a few cases. Thankfully, there are some wines that are like bedrock, wines that plod along successfully using the techniques and following the styles that have always worked, always been admired and always made delicious juice. They don’t have to follow trends because they were good wines in the first place and when you make good wine, you should not change. Penfolds may well be the kings of stubborn-ness to change and for that we are grateful. The Penfolds 2010 Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon is a great example giving great bang for its buck, American oak warts and all. It just plain delicious.

Domaine Christian Moreau Chablis 1er Cru Vaillon 2012Schramsberg Blanc De Blancs Brut 2009Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Luigi Einaudi Barolo 2009Muga Reserva 2008

Two final wines that I just can’t help splurging on far too often are each classics of Italy and Spain. Barolo is just so charming, in spite of its vigorous tannins and acidity, and even young and rough around the edges it often has so much complexity of flavour and aroma that you can’t just drink it but need to think about it as well. The Luigi Einaudi 2009 Terlo fromBarolo is a great example of this youthful intrigue.

The Muga 2008 Reserva Rioja is also a wine that really works the mind with its complexity, ticking boxes in every tasting sphere from fruits, to plants and the earth and many things in between. The Muga is a fantastic savoury version that will have you wearing out your aroma wheel with overuse.

Treve’s Travels with her Corkscrew

I’ve been on the road much of this month, so my picks were influenced by where I’ve visited and what I’ve tasted en route.

In Penedès, after a long day wandering hillside forest vineyards and navigating the Catalan language, it’s nice to put your feet up and your cares away with a glass of Miguel Torres Floralis Moscatel Oro. This golden elixir has been made by the Torres family since 1946, and this heady, honey blossom sip does double duty as an apres (the Spanish don’t eat dinner until 10pm after all) or dessert wine.

The delicate and sensual Floralis is in stark contrast to the otherworldly landscape of Priorat, and the wild, dramatic reds produced there. Parés Balta Gratavinum 2πr appears on our market from time to time, though sadly, never lasts long because of high demand. The Garnacha and Carignena blend transmits the minerality of Priorat’s soils into a powerful, memorable and long-lasting memory.

A skip across the Tyrrhenian Sea and I was lost amidst the endless rolling hills of Tuscany. Though Barone Bettino Ricasoli (1809 – 1880) is credited with perfecting the ‘recipe’ for Chianti in 1872, his heir, 32nd generation Barone Francesco Ricasoli has continued to search for the secrets to the “mischievous” Sangiovese grape today. In the Ricasoli Colledilá Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010, it is expressed though this single varietal Sangiovese, a pure, structured and regal wine that embraces modernity as well as history. (click here for background on the new Gran Selezione Chianti Classico category)

Torres Floralis Moscatel OroGratavinum 2πr 2009Barone Ricasoli Colledilà Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010Castiglion Del Bosco Rosso Di Montalcino 2011Poggiotondo Toscana Bianco 2013

When have the most beautiful Tuscan grilled bread, olive oil, charcuterie and hunks of cheese in front of you (as is oft the case when travelling the wine roads of Italy), a bottle of Castiglion Del Bosco Rosso Di Montalcino 2011 is exactly what you need. Lively, tight and bright, with sun-warmed cherry and smoked salt, this juicy, everyday red will help inject a little la dolce vita into your day.

It’s always such a massive delight to find a dry, textured, intriguing white blend in a Tuscan sea of reds – especially one that clocks in under $15 back on our BC shelves. The Poggiotondo Bianco Toscana IGT 2013 does exactly that – and more – under the experienced and intuitional hands of Alberto Antonini. The indigenous Vermentino, Ansonica and Malvasia blend is fresh and exciting, full of motion and promise, and calls for the local spot prawns hitting tables across BC this week.

That’s a wrap for this edition of Critics Picks. Check out our Top 20 under $20 coming up in two weeks, and get DJ Kearney’s lowdown on the 2013 vintage in BC, an excellent year after some ups and downs – Treve Ring

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


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To Kalon, Moonstruck and Mondavi

The Final Blend
by Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

For all you youngsters out there who live and die by your cell phones, iPads and touch-screen computers have you ever wondered how all that technology came about? The answer is in the race to the moon. On February 20, 1962 astronaut John Glen piloted the “Friendship 7″ spacecraft on the first, US-manned mission completing a successful three-orbit tour around the earth and the race to miniaturise computer components was on.

Some four years later in a seemingly unrelated event, the Robert Mondavi Winery at Oakville opened for business in bucolic Oakville about an hour north of San Francisco. In those days, Napa Valley was about as far away from France and the centre of the wine world, as the moon must have appeared to NASA scientists working at Cape Canaveral. Yet both were on a mission: NASA to get to the moon, and Robert Mondavi to reach for the moon. Oddly some twenty years down the road their paths would cross in a vineyard.

For Mondavi it began with the phylloxera scourge of the late 1990s in his beloved To Kalon Vineyard. Always looking to improve and always looking for an edge Robert turned to the scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California to explore the use of high altitude photography developed from space to further study vineyards.

The project was cutting edge in the day. NASA supplied the winery with high spatial resolution airborne imagery acquired in California’s Napa Valley in 1993 and 1994 as part of the Grapevine Remote sensing Analysis of Phylloxera Early Stress (GRAPES) project. Investigators from NASA, the University of California, the California State University, and Robert Mondavi Winery examined the application of airborne digital imaging technology to vineyard management, with emphasis on detecting the phylloxera infestation in California vineyards.

To Kalon Vineyard 3

As time has gone on the technology has spread to every corner of the wine world to help viticulturalists and winemakers better understand their vineyards as a whole. Knowing what’s going on in the vineyard has been at the heart of winemaking since grapes were first planted although obtaining such information required a lifetime of harvests not to mention uncountable forays into the vineyard by winemakers and viticulturalists walking the rows one-by-one. You might say Robert was on his own mission and anything that could be done to satisfy a better ending was done. Over the years Robert was often heard to say. “If you think you have a really good idea (and it doesn’t cost too much) then do something about.”

To be sure, everyone still walks the vineyards at Mondavi, but now when they enter a specific block, (before, during and after every growing season), they do so with a wealth of computer-analysed information that leaves no stone unturned, or is it that they leave every stone exactly where it should be?

As early as 2002, director of winemaking Genevieve Janssens was not just walking the rows and tasting the grapes in preparation for harvest; she was using a hand-held, wireless device to select which sides of the rows were to be picked by the crews. The notion of not picking everything at once, or the thought that To Kalon is a series of very different blocks that should be handled individually, was another Mondavi tenet that helped them to grow the quality of their now famous Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

To Kalon VineyardOver time, now across five decades, the attention to detail at Mondavi has served the wines and To Kalon Vineyard well. Certainly there is a much greater understanding of the terroir and all its minute changes in soil, microclimate, slope and drainage and how they define each block and the distinct characteristics and flavours in the grapes. Today, not only are the grapes planted in specific soils with clones and rootstocks now known to be the most simpatico, but they are spaced, watered, pruned, shoot-thinned, green-harvested, leaf plucked and generally babied until harvest all with the aid of the latest in overhead photography that can chart every inch of the vineyard’s health.

A recent three-day visit revealed that while Robert Mondavi is no longer with us his spirit still dominates the winery, the team and To Kalon Vineyard. We began our visit by tasting some of the great wines of the world made by Mondavi’s competitors. As unusual as it is to serve the opposition’s wine at your winery, the folks at Mondavi have always embraced the competition, believing fine wine producers are all part of a bigger extended family. Early on Mondavi challenged the great wines of Bordeaux, often getting tasters to try his wines blind alongside some of the best in the world. Win or lose, just being in the same row was enough to grab some recognition and more often than not his generous, well-made reds would top the tastings.

Meeting the competition head on is no longer an earth-shaking business practice but in its day, in the wine business, it was almost unheard of among marketers. The real news is nothing much has changed at the winery. In fact, under chief winemaker Genevieve Janssens and wine educator Mark de Vere with no shortage of support from the ageless Margrit Mondavi, the Robert Mondavi Winery may be more fanatical today about the To Kalon project then when it began back in 1966.

In his book Harvests of Joy, Robert Mondavi talks about his decision to build his reputation on To Kalon. The “vineyard stood head and shoulders above those around it. It was a vineyard with a distinguished history and a magical nature. Ideal soils, sunlight and rain—to my eye, the vineyard was a treasure. Walking through To Kalon, admiring its contours and vines, smelling the richness of its soil, I knew this was a very special place.”

Even the name the original founder, Hamilton Crabb, had given to this vineyard a century ago, resonated with Mondavi. “It perfectly captured my guiding ambition and spirit. In Greek, To Kalon means ‘highest quality’ or ‘highest good.’ To me that meant, simply, ‘The Best.’

To Kalon Vineyard 5Robert’s dream to build a boutique winery on the edge of Napa Valley’s Highway 29, visible to travellers passing by, changed everything about how wineries would interact with their customers for the next 50 years. Despite the current inroads being made by social media, the Mondavi roadside boutique winery with a tasting room and the ability to sell direct to its customers remains vital to the bottom line of wineries worldwide.

Robert’s fixation with varietal wine (give the consumer some information that they can latch onto) was another monumental block in the foundation of a North American wine culture. Despite his role in catapulting varietal wine to prime time world-wide Mondavi was obsessed with appellation and place long before the rest of America would come to know that all great wines come from somewhere, and for that he had To Kalon.

Parts of the 450-acre To Kalon Vineyard were originally planted by Hamilton Walker Crabb, a noted Napa Valley winegrowing pioneer in the 1860s, although the bulk of the property has been replanted several times. The ‘Region Two’ site on the Winkler Scale spreads from the gravelly/alluvial loams of the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains east to Highway 29 where the profile is deeper and contains more clay. To Kalon is a huge contributor to the Mondavi Napa Valley, Oakville District, and Reserve wine programs. At the moment two wines are vineyard designated: Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc Reserve and To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon.

In 2004, 100 acres were sold to Opus One. Beckstoffer owns 89 acres of the To Kalon Vineyard leaving total planted acres under Robert Mondavi Winery at 439 including a staggering 90 vineyard blocks with an average size of 5 acres. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the site followed by Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Semillon, and a single block of Syrah.

Over the years Mondavi would also engage in several joint ventures with international producers of great stature:  Bordeaux’s famed Baron Philippe Rothschild (Opus), with Eduardo Chadwick (Seña) in Chile and with the Frescobaldi family (Luce) in Italy. While many consider these business machinations a distraction and perhaps an indulgence that took some lustre away from the Napa operation, Mondavi’s insistence on working with other cultures and exchanging wine making information was all based on reaching for the stars.

Still my tastings (which date back to the late 1970s) do not lead me to think the wines are anything but Californian. On this issue Tim Mondavi has written, “at home in California, we have always pursued wines that reflect the richness and ripeness of our climate while adding dimensions of elegance and finesse that we associate with the great wines of the world.”

The current guardian of the style at Mondavi is chief winemaker Genevieve Janssens who launched her career in 1974, coincidentally a significant vintage at Mondavi. In those days she was working in her family’s vineyards in Corsica and France. By the mid-seventies, she ran an enology lab in Provence and served as consulting enologist to many French chateaux, eventually working in the lab at Mondavi in 1978/79. After a decade of work around California, Janssens returned to the Mondavi family in 1989 to become Director of Production at Opus One Winery. In 1997, when an opening came up at Robert Mondavi she jumped at the chance to get back and in 2000, she helped implement the To Kalon Project, the winery’s first major renovation since it was founded in 1966.

The three most prominent post phylloxera developments at Mondavi are high-density planting (the Mondavis now boast the largest collection of high-density vineyards in California), an all-oak fermentation process to complement the gentle handling from harvest through the cellar, and bottling wines without filtration. The multi-level To Kalon Fermentation Cellar features 56, large oak vat fermenters.

Robert Mondavi tastingI well remember tasting the 2000 vintage reds and noting the almost overnight changes. In a vineyard tasting of two 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon (one grown at the highest density 4’x4’ or 2700 vines per acre; the other the more normal 8’x12’ spacing or 450 vines per acres) the difference in flavour and texture were dramatic.

The high density wine was darker in colour and richer in soft tannins and fruit compared with the almost watered down flavours of the sample made from vineyards planted to a lesser density. Still reeling from that experiment I tasted another pair of 2000 Cabernet Sauvignons, this time one fermented in stainless steel and the other made in the latest oak vats at To Kalon. The results mirrored the differences noted during the high-density tasting. This time the cabernet fermented in the all-oak vats was plusher, rounder and more sensuous in the mouth, not to mention well-stuffed and surprisingly easy to sip.

Combining the two techniques over the last 13 years has yielded some impressive results. About that time Mondavi also cut production of its top end wines to further increase quality, and by default, improve all of the wines below the top end via the trickle down technique.

With nearly three decades of experiments behind it there is nothing to suggest the folks at Mondavi will change. The plan is just as Mr. Mondavi charted it back in 1966 – make the best wine you possibly can and challenge that wine every vintage to be better. After all, if you have a good idea your duty is to do something about it. Reach for the stars.

Here are what our critics have said recently about the wines of Robert Mondavi :

Robert Mondavi Napa Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard 2009, Napa Valley, California

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, California

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2012, Central Coast

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2011

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2010, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2011, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley

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


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Top 20 under $20 in BC (May 2014)

There are many reasons to celebrate May in BC : Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, the Victoria Day long weekend, the kick of to Spot Prawn Season and ever longer daylight hours. We’re also celebrating the kick off to our new monthly column, 20 Under $20, where our BC critics bring you 20 wines readily available in BC Liquor Stores and VQA stores across the province.

Cheers ~

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

You don’t get much for $20 in government because most of that money is tax, shipping, packaging and well just about anything but the juice but I’m knocked out by the pinot character in the 2013 Lomas del Valle Pinot Noir from Casablanca, Chile

Looking for a party riesling? The 2012 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling from Washington State is fresh and skinny with quaffing, candied, red apple and lime flavours. Drink all summer.

Italian pinot grigio gets a bad rap but your pals will be rapping if you share a bottle of 2013 Oxford Landing Pinot Grigio from South Australia. Juicy, slightly sweet palate with light lees, lemon, butter, peach and grapefruit flavours shouts grilled pizza.

Lomas Del Valle Pinot Noir 2013  Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2012  Oxford Landing Pinot Grigio 2013  M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2012  Vina Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block 25 Syrah 2012

How about a delicious example of bio-dynamically grown fruit at a giveaway price that you can serve to crowds. Reach for the 2012 M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Rouge packed full of plummy, wild smoky, peppery, fruit flavours.

Back to Chile for the 2012 Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block 25 Syrah from Valle de San Antonio $20. Great value in a single vineyard offering with fresh plummy peppery fruit roast pepper flavours.

DJ Kearney

Riesling from the sunny Pfalz usually guarantees generous ripe fruit, and the off-dry Rudolf Muller Bunny Riesling 2012 does exactly that for under $15 bucks.

Try these two local rosés next time you are ordering Vietnamese or Thai take away; the SpierHead Rosé 2013 is dry, snappy and brimming with Okanagan identity, while the Hester Creek Rose 2013 shows a brashly fruit-forward style and will take on incendiary chili heat.

Rudolf Muller Bunny Riesling 2012  Spierhead Winery Rosé 2013  Hester Creek Rose 2013  Grooner Grüner Veltliner 2012 Bodegas Castano La Casona Old Vines Monastrell 2013  Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Sometimes a few glasses of friendly light white is what you need to get to know a new grape.  Austria’s signature white variety Gruner Veltliner embraces a range of styles from rain-water fresh and delicate, to bone crunchingly dry and austerely mineral.  The Meinhard Forstreiter Grooner 2012 sits at the lighter end of the spectrum; value-priced, crisp and screwcapped for freshness.

The new vintage of Bodegas Castaño’s La Casona Monastrell 2013 shows great line and length for under 10 bucks and is a staggering value here in BC.  Bring out the best in old vine monastrell with a smoky burger or spicy-tangy grilled chorizo.

In the category of great bargains that fly under the radar, Nederburg Winemaster’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 does what real wines should do:  show grape and place with ease and confidence.

Rhys Pender MW

Californian Cabernet seems to either be sweet and candied or just too expensive so the Louis Martini 2012 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon is quite refreshing. A little old school with lots of oak but also lots of fruit and it is dry.

A lighter, fresher and juicier option is the Mt. Boucherie 2012 Family Reserve Gamay Noir. There isn’t much acreage of Gamay in BC, surely there should be more?

Another crisp juicy red that embraces rather than fights the cool 2011 BC vintage is the Bartier Scholefield 2011 Red. Try it slightly chilled on a warm afternoon.

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Mt. Boucherie Family Reserve Gamay Noir 2012  Bartier Scholefield Red 2011Errazuriz Max Reserva Syrah 2011 Segura Viudas Brut Rose

There is lots of excitement about cool climate Syrah and Chile is one of the best positioned to make this style. Try the Errazuriz Max Reserva 2011 Syrah to see what it is all about.

Right about now I need some bubbly (which is true whenever you might read this) and the Segura Viudas Brut Rosé Cava is always a great value. Serve it on its own or with just about anything that isn’t red meat.

Treve Ring

If you are a Food Network fan, search out Entwine Chardonnay 2011 from Californaia. Karl Wente, 5th generation winemaker, teamed up with the Food Network’s executive chef to concoct an approachable, modern chardy to pair with food.

Many aromatic white blends are a cacophony of grapes. In Stoneboat Chorus 2012 however, the old vine Germanic grapes come together in complete melodic harmony.

You can enjoy the classic flavours of Mosel Riesling at an amazingly affordable price with the dependable and consistent Dr. Pauly Bergweiliger Riesling 2012. Pass the spot prawns!

There is no mistaking the spring sunshine and fresh cut grass in this vibrant glass of The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2013 from Marlborough’s Waihopai Valley. It could be spring in the middle of winter if you’re drinking this.

Entwine Chardonnay 2011  Stoneboat Chorus 2012  Dr. Pauly Bergweiler Riesling 2012  The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2013

That’s a wrap for this first edition of 20 Under $20. Stay tuned for our Critics Picks Buyers Guide coming the third week in May – a round up of the most interesting wines our intrepid B.C. team has tasted in recent weeks.

Editors Note: You can find complete critic 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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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008