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Lawrason’s Take – Australia 2014

Ten Trends in Australia Right Now & Ten Great Wines
by David Lawrason

An eight day trip  to Australia in January, as co-host of a Fine Vintage Ltd tour, has changed many of my perceptions of Australian wine – as travel should.  There is a lot going on!  From afar here in Canada we get broad marketing messages from the larger wineries and associations focused on the Canadian market.  They are not inaccurate, but so generalized and softly spun that they don’t have much traction.  So I thought I would jot down some more pithy and specific perceptions, based on personal observations and those gleaned from conversations and writings with other who are deeply engaged.  So here we go, in no particular order. And don’t miss the Top Ten Wines I tasted in Australia following this article.


Vineyard at Coldstream Hills, a leading name in the evolution of Aussie pinot and chardonnay

#1 – Shiraz may not be the best grape for much of Australia, and it is over-planted in hot regions and under-planted in cooler regions. I frequently heard that syrah/shiraz was doing  very well in the moderate climate of the Yarra Valley, and in higher elevations of Victoria like the Pyrenees and Macedon Ranges. And it is also very fine in Coonawarra and Margaret River in West Australia.  Within South Australia it seems to make its finest wines in the higher altitudes of the Adelaide Hills and Eden Valley (i.e Hill of Grace). When you look globally at where shiraz excels solo the list includes moderate to cool northern Rhone, eastern Washington and the Okanagan, Stellenbosch and, in my view, Chile.  And if it is true that hot Barossa in particular is actually not ideal for shiraz what of the massive tracks of shiraz planted in the even hotter, interior Riverland regions that churn out oceans of the stuff for the lower priced market? Was this a huge miscalculation by the big companies?

#2 – South Australia is a Mediterranean region best suited varieties like grenache, mourvedre and other varieties of Spain and southern Italy Again and again in the Barossa Valley and in McLaren Vale winemakers talked of old vine grenache grown in sandy soils being their hidden treasure and secret weapon.  In Barossa I also tasted a few excellent mataros or mourvedres (Langmeil and Tuesner) or blends thereof that include grenache and shiraz.  Italian varieties like vermentino, fiano, dolcetto, nero d’avola and primitivo; plus Spanish and Portuguese varieties like tempranillo, graciano and touriga nacional are all ascending.

#3 – McLaren Vale is the most progressive, edgy region in Australia.  The medium sized region south of Adelaide on the coast of the Gulf of St. Vincent seems to be attracting its share of inquiring and passionate winemakers. There are an inordinately large number of small wineries for its size. It boasts the largest percentage of sustainably kept vineyards in Australia (over 70%) with 7% being biodynamic (led by the surprisingly large Gemtree.  There are a handful of “natural wines”, as well.  And a rash alternative white and red varieties have broken out of the experimental phase and can be readily found on restaurant lists and bottle shop shelves. Pockets of Victoria and certain producers are also pushing new boundaries.

# 4 – Medium and lighter bodied wines are hot.  Overly alcoholic, soupy, jammy big reds are on their deathbed, at least among the more expensive wines of Australia. I suspect there are many big brand, medium priced alcohol grenades still being produced, but winemakers of conscience continually talked about the lighter wines, lower alcohol and balance.    “You won’t’ find heavy wines anywhere in the restaurants of Melbourne” said Steve Weber of De Bortoli, in neighbouring Yarra Valley.

# 5 – Australia is Old World too!  Barossa in particular (along with McLaren Vale, Coonawarra and Hunter Valley)  has a deep history, heritage and old vine viticulture that must be preserved and utilized.  With vineyards like Langmeil’s Freedom and Penfolds Block 42 counting among the oldest vineyards in the world; with Seppeltsfield still selling incredible 100 year old fortified wine; with countless grower families counting back generations to the mid 19th Century when hard-working Prussians broke this hard land – one must give Australia the respect it deserves as an old world country.  And it was interesting to see adherence to and reversion to more historical wine-making techniques (open top wood fermentors, concrete – even dabblings with amphora) and respect for other European grapes.

# 6 – Australia is making outstanding pinot noirs. There are still jammy, hot pinots out there  but several enclaves are cool enough to make pinot that Burgundy lovers will enjoy. One is Tasmania, the other a circle of sites around that spoke outward from Pt Philip Bay and Melbourne on Victoria’s south coast. These include clockwise  Geelong, Macedon Ranges, Upper Yarra, Gippsland and the Mornington Peninsula.  There are also pinot cool spots in the Adelaide Hills and out west in Great Southern.

# 7 –  Terroir driven chardonnay could be Australia’s next great white. One local enthusiast – and a Master of Wine – went as far as to claim Australia may be the most exciting chardonnay region outside of Burgundy. I kept interjecting that Ontario can/will rank there too, but I must admit being very impressed with the energy, depth and minerality of many that I tasted, again largely from cooler Victoria and Tasmania (ie. Penfold’s Yattarna). And everybody, almost, claimed the era of over-oaked, high alcohol, soupy chardonnays to be dead in the water.

# 8 – Riesling is broadening its appeal.  The general perception of Aussie riesling is of powerful, petrol and lime driven examples from the Clare Valley and Eden Valley. And yes I had some great examples. But what I most enjoyed were those with some age on them.  And I  glimpsed the kinder, gentler but still fresh, vital and more stone fruit driven examples from outposts in Victoria, Tasmania and Great Southern in WA (this may be the one place that will most surprise us in the near future)

#9 – The Australian industry is at a crossroads. All this positive news is set against a backdrop of great anxiety, being felt most by the largest producers. Aussie exports have dropped over 40% since 2007 – and competition in volume and quality increasing from other nations in Europe and the New World is intense.  Even from neighbouring New Zealand.  James Haliday’s 2014 Australian Wine Companion reviews and rates 1369 properties, with that many again relegated to listing on his website.  There is a lot of wine in Australia, and believe me, they would love to export a lot more to Canada

#10 – But Canada’s liquor boards continue to befuddle, bemuse and aggravate Australian winemakers. This is not new, nor specific to Australia, but I suspect the outspoken, impatient Aussie’s find our closed system particularly irritating. Eyeballs often rolled when the monopolies were mentioned; which should make Canadian wine lovers angry.  We are not seeing a lot of Australia’s best wines as a result.

Ten Great Australian Wines

Here is a straightforward list of my top ten favourite Australian wines tasted on this tour. Full notes are on the WineAlign database, whether or not the wines are currently listed in Canada.  All deserve to be here.

Henschke Hill Of Grace Shiraz 2008

Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz 2010

Penfolds Grange 2008

Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz 2010

Yalumba The Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2009

Coldstream Hills Reserve Chardonnay 2011

Coldstream Hills Reserve Pinot Noir 2012

Bindi Quartz Chardonnay 2011

Curly Flat Chardonnay 2011

Curly Flat Pinot Noir 2011

Editors Note: You can find David’s complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critic 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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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages Feb 1 Release

Australia Encore and other Nuggets

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

At deadline I find myself jostling airline schedules and massive time zone changes as I return from eight days in Australia, where I have soaked up a refreshed perspective on the transformations underway down under while leading a tour of iconic wineries and exciting up and comers for Fine Vintage Ltd.  Australia, of course, is the major theme of VINTAGES Feb 1 release, and I covered off many of the wines in a special report published earlier this month (Australia Re-Visited). There is much more to say however as the massive Australian industry rights itself after a difficult decade in the 2000s, so I will be adding flesh to this skeleton edition in the days ahead.

Among other wines, the release really is actually rather spotty. The vast majority are lower to mid-priced wines that had to be sifted with some care to come up with the following nuggets. I regret that my notes lack the usual contextual detail this time, but you will see some of my pet themes and producers resurfacing – like Niagara riesling, obscure Italian whites, Susanna Balboa and Benmarco from Argentina, killer Montirius Vacqueyras, a very interesting tannat/petit verdot blend from South Africa, an inky sagrantino for Italy and a very fairly priced Barolo.  The selection is very much based on value, with most selections $20 or less. (As usual, you can link to my full review and score on our site).

My Aussie Red Picks

Schild Estate Old Bush Vine Grenache/Mourvedre/Shiraz 2011
Barossa, South Australia ($19.95)

Katnook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Coonawarra, South Australia ($29.95)

Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir 2012
Tamar Ridge, Tasmania ($23.95)

Schild Estate Old Bush Vine Grenache Mourvedre Shiraz 2011Katnook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Devil's Corner Pinot Noir 2012

Other Whites

Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012
Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)

Jean Marc Brocard Domaine Sainte Claire Chablis 2011
Burgundy, France ($19.95)

Beni Di Batasiolo Granée Gavi Del Commune Di Gavi 2012
Piedmont, Italy ($16.95)

Flat Rock Nadja's Vineyard Riesling 2012Jean Marc Brocard Domaine Sainte Claire Chablis 2011Beni Di Batasiolo Granée Gavi Del Commune Di Gavi 2012

Other Reds

Jekel Pinot Noir 2011
Santa Barbara County, California ($19.95)

Benmarco Malbec 2012
Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95)

Dominio Del Plata Crios De Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Mendoza, Argentina ($13.95)

Glen Carlou Petit Verdot/Tannat 2009
Paar, south Africa ($21.95)

Jekel Pinot Noir 2011Benmarco Malbec 2012Dominio Del Plata Crios De Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Glen Carlou Petit Verdot Tannat 2009

Château De Lafaurie Monbadon 2010
Côtes de Bordeaux – Castillon ($15.95)

Montirius Garrigues Vacqueyras 2011
Rhone Valley ($27.95)

Luca Bosio Barolo 2009
Piedmont, Italy ($33.95)

Villa Mora Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2006
Umbria, Italy ($19.95)

Château De Lafaurie Monbadon 2010Montirius Garrigues Vacqueyras 2011Luca Bosio Barolo 2009Villa Mora Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2006

Please enjoy, and stay tuned. For those in Ontario, you may want to check out the WineAlign VIP Access to Cuvée 2014. It’s a Grand Tasting and Wine Experience weekend showcasing the stars of Ontario’s wine and culinary scene.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the February 1, 2014 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find David Lawrason’s 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!

 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2012

Cuvée Weekend 2014 – WineAlign VIP Access

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Australia ReVisited by David Lawrason

Celebrating Australia Day 2014

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

I am off to Australia next week, hired by Fine Vintage Ltd, to co-lead a group of Canadians on a tour to some of the best classic and new wineries of the world’s oldest continent. Believe it or not I have mixed feelings about trading -15C temps for 35+C summer temps Down Under; but I am almost giddy with anticipation for tasting and dining in regions like the Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, Eden and Barossa. Australia is one of the most exciting wine nations in the world these days, striking off in many directions in terms of production techniques, styles, grape varieties and regions.

Many visitors to Australia put iconic bucket-list destinations like the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney Harbour and Ayer’s Rock near Alice Springs at the top of their itineraries. We are going straight to wine country. Indeed Australia’s wine lands, with their burgeoning restaurant and hospitality scenes, are now drawing almost as many tourists as the icon destinations. The cuisine of Australia is an often eclectic fusion of Asian and Euro sensibilities, with far more very fresh seafood than one might expect, freshwater yabbies (crayfish) plus scads of grilled lamb, beef and of course, ‘roo.

Ontarians staying home can bask in the Aussie vibe through a major mid-winter promotion now in progress. It takes the form of twenty Australian brands being featured at six different LCBO in-store Food and Wine Tastings, fifteen new wines being released in VINTAGES on February 1, and a wine trade show called “Australia Today” at the Art Gallery of Ontario on February 6, complete with a seminar led by WineAlign’s John Szabo, Master Sommelier. Ontario residents will even get the chance to win a trip to Australia. (Details here.)

In a purely practical, wine-drinking sense the mid-winter timing is ideal. In the dead of Canadian winter we actually love to drink richer, fuller, warmer wine.

In a marketing sense, the timing of this promotion is crucial. Since 2008 Australian wine has taken it on the chin in the marketplace and it is now re-tooling its wine and its message to regain its poise. The blow was a confluence of consumer fatigue with big brands whose story was shallow, and rising prices for its better wines just as recession set in. I think Aussie winemakers also faced considerable and sometimes unfair stylistic-based criticism among critics, sommeliers and other “influencers” who were tilting to lighter Euro reds.

I love Beaujolais, Barbera, Bardolino and Burgundy too, but I never stopped admiring the best of Australia’s rich reds, as long as the alcohol levels weren’t performing like booster rockets. And I have found recently that many are now keeping that in check, or at least showing better, balancing acidity and fruit depth, due to better viticultural practices. The big Aussie red section of my cellar is growing again.

The Red Wines

Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2010Château Tanunda Grand Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Katnook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Shiraz is of course the best known Australian red variety, but I would like to open this tour of grape varieties and regions represented on the Feb 1 release with the most under-rated great red wine of Australia – cabernet sauvignon. The thick-skinned, late ripening variety of Bordeaux’s left bank ripens better in Oz than in France, resulting in richer, better centred and balanced reds that don’t really need in-filling with merlot and other Bordeaux varieties. The moderate climate of Coonawarra is the heartland of great Aussie cabernet, with Katnook Estate 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($29.95) being a fine example indeed – excellent structure for the money. Château Tanunda 2011 Grand Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95) is a glimpse into the more rugged style of Barossa cabernet, although from a lighter vintage.

Shiraz – with dark ripe cherry fruit, signature pepperiness and suave tannin – remains the backbone of Australia’s brand, and the best also show both heartwarming richness and head engaging finesse. In the VINTAGES February 1 release don’t miss Penfolds Bin 128 from Coonawarra ($34.95), a wine for the cellar. For a smoother and easier drinking style that catches some of the elan of McLaren Vale, try Dandelion Lioness of McLaren Vale 2011 Shiraz ($19.95)

Dandelion Lioness Of Mclaren Vale Shiraz 2011Chapel Hill Bush Vine Grenache 2011Schild Estate Old Bush Vine GMSGrenache is a peppery sister to shiraz that is very much worth exploring. It’s a heat-seeking grape that ripens to high sugar levels (thus high alcohol) and very soft texture with seductive flavours of strawberry and cherry jam flecked with herbs. When made from old ‘head pruned’ bush vines the low-acid structure is firmed up and the wines are quite concentrated, as in Chapel Hill 2011 Bush Vine Grenache from McLaren Vale ($26.95)

Shiraz and grenache are also often blended with the firmer mourvèdre grape that brings its firm tannin to the equation. These “GSMs” or grenache-shiraz-mourvèdre blends have a long track record in the reds of the south of France (like Chateauneuf-du-Pape). Many are spice bombs, a bit paler in colour but very complex, peppery and even herbal. The Schild Estate 2011 Old Bush Vine GMS from Barossa ($19.95) is a classic with all kinds of lifted rosemary, sage character that would be great with lamb.

Devil's Corner Pinot Noir 2012Robert Oatley Signature Series Pinot Noir 2012Heartland Stickleback Red 2010In fact, blended reds are now a major focus in Australia at all price points. Cabernet and shiraz are often combined therein, as well as a whole range of new (for Australia) Italian grapes like sangiovese, Spanish grapes like tempranillo and Portuguese grapes like touriga nacional. Heartland 2010 Stickleback Red is predominantly cabernet sauvignon and shiraz with a splash of Italian dolcetto and lagrein. Lots of character for $13.95.

For the past five years I have been paying serious attention to Australian pinot noir, my favourite grape variety. Once considered too hot for fine pinot, Australia is finding more critical success centred on the maritime regions of the Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley within an hour’s drive of Melbourne. The Robert Oatley 2012 Signature Series Pinot Noir ($18.95) is a full flavoured, less expensive exploration of Yarra’s style, while Tamar’s Ridge Devil’s Corner 2012 Pinot Noir ($23.95) is a surprisingly refined and almost delicate, fruity style from Tasmania, the forest-clad island state off the south coast that provides Australia’s coolest grape-growing climate.

The White Wines

Mountadam Estate Chardonnay 2009Ad Lib Hen & Chicken Oaked Chardonnay 2010Among white grape varieties, Australia is pushing for freshness and vivacity at all costs. Gone are most of the golden, overripe, over-oaked chardonnays, being replaced with leaner wines based on higher acids attained at higher altitudes or nearer the coasts – ideally both. Mountadam Estate 2009 Chardonnay ($24.95) from the High Eden realm within Eden Valley is a terrific example of the genre. Aussies love odd names for their wine, none odder than Ad Lib Hen & Chicken Oaked Chardonnay ($19.95). This chardonnay from the cool and remote Pemberton region of Western Australia shows the region’s acidity well, although this re-released item is showing some age.

Mcwilliam's Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2006Robert Oatley Signature Series Riesling 2012Riesling has always been a strong suit of Australia, particularly from the German-settled regions of Barossa, Eden and Clare near Adelaide. Australian riesling is bone-dry, powerful with a lashing of lime-like acidity and considerable riesling ‘petrol’. Western Australia is now paying attention as well and Robert Oatley 2012 Signature Series Riesling ($17.95) from Great Southern – in the same area as Pemberton – is a fine, more delicate example.

The great, perpetually unsung white variety of Australia is Semillon, an unusual variety originating in Bordeaux where it is often blended with sauvignon blanc. The Australians blend it as well, but in certain regions like Barossa and the Hunter Valley of New South Wales. McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant 2006 Elizabeth Semillon $19.95 is a textbook example of why most critics around the world name Hunter Semillon as one of the world’s best aged whites. It has riveting acidity and depth, and is perhaps the greatest ‘discovery’ of all in Ontario’s promotion. Make that a rediscovery. Semillon, like so many of Australia’s wines, has always been there. But nowadays Australian winemakers and marketers are redesigning and even replanting the garden to let the lesser known wines bloom.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Australian Wine Promotion Featured Wines

Editors Note: You can find David Lawrason’s 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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Wish They Were Here, by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

From the Yarra Valley, The Cool of Oz

The WineAlign crew spends a lot of time on the road. We visit wine regions around the globe, learning, tasting, and experiencing first hand everything from the established classics to the latest releases. Inevitably, we come across wines we wish we could find back in our home markets, wines that engage and enthrall and tell a compelling story. Although the various Canadian provincial monopolies do their best to represent the world, full coverage is impossible and corporate selection mentality rules, that is to say, quality alone does not always earn you a spot on Canadian shelves.

We’ve created this series, Wish They Were Here, as a forum to share our adventures on the wine route, to highlight underrepresented regions, unknown producers, cuvées not yet seen in Canada, or vintages yet to be exported in the hopes that liquor board buyers, agents and private importers might tune in and get some inspiration. It’s also a mini travel guide for readers who go on their own wine safaris, offering a list of bottles to track down.

We’d love for you to share your discoveries with us, too. If you find a vinous gem along your travels, send a note to and we’ll compile the best of readers’ discoveries. It might just inspire us to embark on yet another adventure, too.

The Yarra Valley is a small, relatively cool region in the Australian state of Victoria an hour north of Melbourne. The region, an official Geographical Indication (GI), is named for the Yarra River, which flows down from the residual crinkles of the Australian Alps separating the valley from the Mornington Peninsula and Port Philip Bay. Wisteria and lilies, tracks of old growth forests and luxuriantly green pastures dotted with sheep cover the region in springtime, perfuming the air with a mixture of sweet green herbs, savoury mint and floral essence.

The pastoral Yarra Valley from Yeringberg

The pastoral Yarra Valley from Yeringberg

European settlers, and in particular a large group of Swiss émigrés, arrived in the area following the establishment of British penal colonies to farm large tracks of land and raise sheep and cattle. With them came a taste for the old world way of life and, of course, wine. The Ryrie Brothers planted The Yarra Valley’s, and indeed Victoria’s, first vineyard at Yering Station in 1838. Vineyards flourished.

But tough economic times beginning in the early 1920s saw vineyards converted to pastures. The modern era of the Yarra Valley’s wine story begins in 1963, when Wantirna Estate, the first of the new generation of wineries, was established. Soon after historic 19th century properties like Yeringberg were re-planted, and modern classics like Mount Mary, Yarra Yering and Château Yerinya (now De Bortoli) were created. The Yarra Valley gained further credibility in the mid-eighties when well-known Australian wine writer James Halliday chose Yarra to set up his now-iconic Coldstream Hills estate, and Champagne giant Moet and Chandon moved into the valley to make sparkling wine.

Chardonnay & Pinot and/or Cabernet & Shiraz?

Yarra Valley Vineyards, Yering Station

Yarra Valley Vineyards, Yering Station

Today, there are about 150 wineries farming some 2,500 hectares of grapes. With a climate midway between that of Bordeaux and Burgundy, the region offers potential for several varieties. Chardonnay and pinot noir are the region’s calling cards as well as the most planted varieties, accounting for about 40% of vineyard acreage.

It’s challenging to generalize about styles considering the variations between the valley floor and the cooler Upper Yarra, to say nothing of the richer alluvial soils of lower lying areas versus the red and grey volcanic soils of the higher elevations. But the range of chardonnays reflect a distinctive cool climate character, focused on citrus and green tree fruit, with subdued oak and high natural acids. Part of this modern expression is due no doubt to the conscious desire in Australia to move beyond the ripe, oaky, tropical fruit-flavoured chardonnays of yore that initially put the country on the map. In some cases, the pendulum has swung too far, and several chardonnays were in fact under ripe and under-oaked, with an excessively reductive character (that flinty, matchstick aroma imposed by winemakers through plenty of lees contact and oxygen deprivation). Pinot noirs vary from light and fruity to substantial and mineral, finely etched and firm, especially from the cooler sites in the upper part of the valley on volcanic soils. The top kit is among Australia’s finest.

Sandra de Pury, winemaker, Yeringberg

Sandra de Pury, winemaker, Yeringberg

Yet what most struck me during tastings were shiraz (syrah) and cabernet blends. The Yarra is capable of producing cool climate syrah to rival the finest of the northern Rhône. Whole bunch fermentation with stem contact is used to great effect to produce perfumed, structured examples with crunchy red fruit and savoury spice, yet with substantial, fleshy fruit in a style that’s utterly unique. New oak is ever more rare, with larger, old casks taking the place of barriques. Winemakers are quick to admit to inspiration from celebrated Rhône vintners like Jean-Louis Chave and August Clape.

Cabernet sauvignon and blends, once believed too difficult to ripen, can, in the right sites, produce exceptional wines. Indeed, one of the very finest cabernet blends I’ve had from the new world hails from the Yarra: Yeringberg’s 2010 flagship red. Fans of fresh, structured, delicately herbaceous and spicy versions will find happiness here.

My Wish They Were Here Yarra List

(pricing is approximate in $AUS)

Mac Forbes: artisanal and exceptional pinot noir and chardonnay from selected single vineyard sites throughout the valley, especially the cooler Upper Yarra. Mac Forbes 2010 Hoddles Creek Chardonnay ($40.00)

Coldstream Hills: very fine chardonnay and pinot noir, especially reserve and single vineyard wines.  Coldstream Hills 2011 Deer Farm Vineyard Chardonnay ($70.00)

Oakridge Wines: chardonnays that push the edge of reductiveness but stay on the right side; highly mineral, tight, crisp; brilliant and pure single vineyard and ‘Block’ series shiraz and pinot. Oakridge 2012 Local Vineyard Series Shiraz Whitsend and Oakridge Vineyards ($50.00)

Giant Steps: excellent single site chardonnays, fashioned in a purposely oxidative, rich style. Giant Steps 2012 Arthur’s Creek Vineyard Chardonnay ($45.00)

Yering Station: polished, modern pinot and chardonnay with wide appeal. Very good ‘village’ and reserve tiers.  Yering Station 2010 Reserve Chardonnay ($85.00)

Yeringberg: One of Yarra’s oldest wineries, handcrafting small batches of outstanding wines. Yeringberg 2010 Red Yarra Valley ($85.00)

DeBortoli: one of Australia’s largest family-owned operations. But despite size, the flagship wines from the Yarra are edgy and authentic, cool climate, low alcohol examples, pushing the envelope and breaking new ground for Australia. De Bortoli 2012 Reserve Section A8 Syrah ($45.00)

Yarra Yering: traditional estate making exceptional chardonnay and non-traditional red blends. Yarra Yering 2011 Red Blend Nº 3 ($85.00)


John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

Visit John Szabo’s Critic page for all of his reviews.

Editors Note: You can find our critics reviews by clicking on any of the wine names highlighted below. 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 value wines.

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Margaret Swaine’s Wine Pick: Aussie artisan wines

I highly recommend these acclaimed Aussie artisan wines from last Saturday’s Vintages release. Full of personality and taste find them via

Paxton AAA Shiraz Grenache 2010, $19.95

This McLaren Vale red from South Australia gives you a warm feeling in body and soul. Biodynamically farmed and part of an organization that donates 1% of sales to environmental causes, the wine has nice warmth to its smooth ripe berry flavours. Supple and full on the palate with notes of smoke, mocha and oak, it’s value priced and perfect for fall days.

Spinifex Papillon 2010, $29.95

Barossa Valley’s Spinifex is known for achieving Old World elegance in their New World wines. Winemaker Peter Schell has worked many vintages in France and his French born wife comes from a long line of vignerons. This blend of grenache, cinsault, carignan and shiraz has cool climate, Rhone-like flavours full of bright red berry, gamey and savoury garrigue notes. Medium bodied with supple tannins, it’s balanced and food friendly.

Yabby Lake Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, $39.95

Mornington Peninsula in Victoria is blessed with the cooling effect of the Indian Ocean and ideal soils for cool climate viticulture. This Yabby Lake chardonnay from there may be costly but it’s worth every penny. Intense, poised with Meursault-like smoky, toasty flavours, it has length and focus. Citrus and mineral notes add freshness and precision. Crack open with fine company.

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for October 13th 2012

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Image Makeover: More. Cooler. Australia; Top Ten Smart Buys and a Chilean Trio

In the span of a just few months, Australia’s image in Ontario has received a complete makeover courtesy of the LCBO’s Vintage department. It’s hard to say precisely how and why this occurred. Perhaps it’s owed to strong lobbying from Wine Australia. Or maybe it was a momentary engagement of reason and vision from Head Office. I’d like to think that it was due to the inevitable realization that Ontarian wine drinkers have grown up and want something more than a peanut butter and jam sandwich, at least once in a while. Whatever the reason, the Vintages October 13th release has a handful of absolute gems that will shift your image of Australian wines from PB&Js to haute cuisine.

The Top Ten is back of course, highlighting a quartet of sub-$15, dangerously drinkable bottles, as well as a pair of worthy $35+ wines that deliver high on the typicity scale, and a few more in between. I also recommend a trio of Chilean wines, the mini-feature of the release. Sharpen your corkscrews (or prepare to twist).

More, Cooler, Australia

The makeover started back in the summer, when a large feature covering the wines of Victoria hit the shelves at Vintages. WineAlign covered the release with undisguised enthusiasm, with both David Lawrason and I welcoming the long-awaited introduction of some of the more regionally distinctive and sophisticated wines from this cool state (re-visit my report from July 21st 2012, Australia’s New Cool). Subsequent releases have seen several more fine Australian wines trickle in, with another sizable batch arriving for the August 4th release. And now, the October 13th release features Australia yet again, moving beyond Victoria (although there are some excellent Victorian wines here again) into other regions, notably the Barossa Valley in South Australia, and Margaret River in Western Australia.

This release wasn’t the first time I have come across the wines of Spinifex in the Barossa Valley. That happy moment came courtesy of Wine Australia and educator Mark Davidson, who put on a master class dubbed the “finest shiraz tasting ever assembled outside of Australia” at the Court of Master Sommeliers first annual Conference in Pebble Beach, California in January 2010. The 2006 Spinifex Indigène Shiraz-Mourvèdre was in a line up that included wines from Wendouree, Clonakilla, Giaconda, Craiglee, Mount Langi Ghiran and of course Penfolds’ Grange, among several others, all astoundingly good producers. The point of the tasting was to remind a bunch of jaded master sommeliers that Australia has depth and diversity, not to mention class and elegance and regional diversity, within the repertoire of its flagship grape.

Spinifex PapillonSpinifex Bete NoirSo I was delighted to spot the 2010 Spinifex Bête Noir Shiraz ($49.95) and the 2010 Spinifex Papillon Grenache/Cinsault/Carignan/Shiraz ($29.95), as I walked into the LCBO lab to cover the release back in early September. Spinifex is a decade-old, micro-negociant operation run by husband and wife team Peter Schell and Magali Gely. They source fruit from small growers in the Barossa and Eden Valleys, specializing in Mediterranean varieties (shiraz, mourvèdre, grenache, cinsault, carignan, ugni blanc, grenache gris, marsanne and semillon) – Gely’s family were vignerons in the south of France for generations, and Schell has worked six of the last ten harvests in France, in regions as diverse as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Provence, and the Languedoc. They produce a wide range of varietal and blended wines, all with a guileless purity.

Not surprisingly, there’s a distinctive old world sensibility to Spinifex’s wines, a refinement that comes without sacrificing the generosity and fleshiness that defines Barossa wines. The Bête Noir is an absolutely brilliant Aussie shiraz, with significant depth and grip, smoky-black pepper character, wild herbs and faded violets, along with pure cassis and black berry flavours. The palate offers outstanding poise and balance, tight acids, refined tannins and long finish. The intriguing Papillon blend is very nearly as good, with wonderfully pure and vibrant sweet red berry, strawberry-raspberry fruit, and loads of dusty earth and savoury herb character, not to mention a beguilingly pleasant bitter tinge on the finish. Both are paradigm shifters.

Fraser Gallop in Margaret River, Western Australia, is another decade-old operation whose sights are set at the top level. Site selection with the goal of producing top Bordeaux blends as well as chardonnay commenced in 1998, with the search quickly leading to the upper Wilyabrup district of Margaret River, just 6km from the Indian Ocean. With already established neighbors like Vasse Felix, Moss Wood and Cullen, it seemed clear that this was the ideal spot to realize their goals. In 2006, former Vasse Felix winemaker Clive Otto was brought aboard to lead the winemaking team, and the results are excellent.

Fraser Gallop Cabernet SauvignonAttention to detail is evident in the three Fraser Gallop wines in this release: 2009 Fraser Gallop Cabernet Sauvignon Wilyabrup, ($45.95), 2010 Fraser Gallop Cabernet/Merlot ($29.95) and the 2011 Fraser Gallop Chardonnay ($28.95). But for my money, I’ll save up and pay the extra $15 for the spectacular, arch-Bordeaux-like 2009 Wilyabrup cabernet. Be forewarned that it needs significant air to emerge from its shell – decant for an hour ahead – or cellar for another 2-4 years. But the palate is balanced and composed, succulent and dense without excess weight. All in all, it’s a refined and polished, elegant wine with a terrifically long finish.

Over The Shoulder ChardonnayYabby Lake ChardonnayThere’s also a pair of chardonnays from Victoria well worth drawing your attention to, namely the 2010 Yabby Lake Single Vineyard Chardonnay ($39.95) and the 2011 Oakridge Over the Shoulder Chardonnay ($24.95). I had the opportunity to meet and taste with Yabby Lake founding vineyard manager Keith Harris this past July during the International Cool Climate Celebration in Niagara. Harris is a viticultural pragmatist, leaving nothing to chance, with as deep an understanding of Mornington Peninsula terroir as anyone. Tom Carson, formerly of Yering Station and Coldstream Hills in the Yarra Valley, was hired in 2006 to transform Harris’ fruit into leading regional wines. The 2010 is a polished, complex, subtle and mineral, distinctly cool climate style chardonnay, with succulent and fleshy yet focused palate and excellent length. It’s worthy of the premium price.

Oakridge was one of the pioneers of the Yarra Valley, opening up shop in 1978. The Over the Shoulder range is the estate’s entry line, aimed at delivering a fresh, vibrant, low alcohol, pure varietal expression. The 2011 Chardonnay does just that; it’s restrained, with no oak detectable, while acids are tight and taught. I love the cut and vibrancy of this, a great ceviche wine.

Highlights from the Top Ten Smart Buys

Fans of superb value, zesty, food-friendly wines should consider adding these four sub-$15 wines to their shopping lists:

2011 Beauvignac Picpoul de Pinet, Coteaux de Languedoc, France $12.95

2010 Terredora Falanghina, Campania, Italy $14.95

2010 Henry of Pelham Gamay, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula $14.95

2008 Quinta de Baixo Tinto, Bairrada, Portugal $14.95

The Beauvignac picpoul has been coming into Ontario for many years now, but this is easily the best to date. It’s delightfully fruity and fresh, with inviting citrus and just-ripe orchard fruit (pear, nectarine, white peach) flavours. Acids are brisk, and the finish remarkably long. Not at all what you’d expect from the deep south of France – a perfect seafood/shellfish wine at an unbeatable price. Terredora’s falanghina is a remarkably rich and concentrated wine for the money, with a real sense of tight minerality, ripe orchard fruit and generous body. Acids swoop in on the finish to cleanse the palate, leaving you salivating and ready for the next bite or sip.

Henry of Pelham’s 2010 gamay is a fresh and juicy, infinitely drinkable version, with tart red berry fruit and mouth-watering acids, the sort of wine you can drink all day (and night) without tiring. Bairrada’s notoriously grippy grape baga is given a softening touch of touriga nacional in Quinta da Baixo’s example, yielding a lively peppery and fruity red with gritty texture and firm, saliva inducing palate. A tidy little value here. Both wines are designed for the table, best enjoyed with a light chill.

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard ChardonnayA dollar more than these gets you another vintage of the cracking 2009 Falernia Reserva Syrah Elquí Valley ($15.95), a wine with an astonishing amount of flavour packed into a $16 bottle, as well as the 2010 Artemis Karamolegos Santorini, Aegean Islands ($15.95), a typically restrained and stony example of assyrtiko from the volcanic Island of Santorini, one of my favorite paces to go shopping for concentrated, minerally whites.

At the premium end of the value scale, Ontario is well represented by the 2009 Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($38.00).

This should be counted among Canada’s top chardonnays in my view, an intense, evidently concentrated wine from Hidden Bench’s Felseck vineyard. It has the intriguing “rancid” character of fine Meursault, with no shortage of chalky minerality to back the resemblance. While on the palate, it offers terrific flavour intensity, with plenty of nutty, hazelnut, green walnut, tart citrus fruit and green apple flavours, and on and on it goes. I’d put this in the cellar for another 1-3 years to allow it to unwind – it’s still taught and barely penetrable.

See the full top ten here, which also includes three Italian classics.

Chilean Trio

And finally, three wines from the Chile mini-theme stand out for their excellent value/quality/typicity, and are well worth a look:

2011 Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley ($24.95)

2011 Leyda Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Ledya Valley ($16.95)

2008 Tres Palacios Family Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon Fundo Santa Eugenia de Cholqui Vineyard, Maipo Valley ($17.95).

Gourmet Food & Wine Show

Don’t miss the annual Szabo vs Szabo no holds barred jiyu kumite (with wine, not swords) at the Gourmet Food and Wine Show on Friday, November 16th, 7:30-9pm.

Cutting Edge Wines
John Szabo MS & Zoltan Szabo
Renowned Sommeliers

$95 | 7:30 – 9:00 Friday November 16th, 2012

The dynamic duo of master tasters returns for what promises to be another sold-out seminar. John and Zoltan both currently work with the famed Trump Hotel in Toronto while they continue to consult, write, judge and travel. As leading sommeliers for over a decade, they are in tune with the most progressive winemakers, interesting grapes and dynamic new wine regions. Learn from Canada’s foremost wine experts as they present eight cutting-edge wines.  Order Tickets here.


John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

From the October 13, 2012 Vintages release:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Top Aussie Wines
All Reviews

Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay

The Wine Establishment - Le Nez deu Vin

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Discover the new wave of Australian wine at a real Aussie Barbie!

Buy ticket to a real Aussie BarbieDiscover the new wave of Australian wine and experience an Australian “barbie” in the heart of the city, a perfect opportunity to taste all 12 of our featured wines while nibbling on some great BBQ and grilled fare. And meet some of our winery guests!

The $50 ticket price includes:

• Passed appetizers and a variety of BBQ meats

• Five wine tasting tables pouring our 12 wines

• A chance to win great door prizes

• Silent auction

When:  June 19th 6pm – 9pm

Where:  South of Temparance (20 Adelaide St. West, Toronto)

Cost:  $50.00  (A portion of proceeds benefit Camp Oochigeas)

Click here to buy tickets to the real Aussie Barbie.

Click here to find these great wines at your local LCBO.

South Of Temperance

New Wave of Australian WineThe new wave of Australian wines

Discover the new wave of Australian wines.  Click on any wine below for more details or here to find them all at your local LCBO.

Yalumba Y Series Shiraz Viognier 2009 Yalumba Y Series Riesling 2010 Thorn Clarke Terra Barossa Merlot 2010 The Lucky Country Shiraz 2010Stone Dwellers Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 St. Hallett Gamekeeper's Shiraz Cabernet 2008

Shingleback Haycutters Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2011 Red Knot Mclaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2009Peter Lehmann Weighbridge Shiraz 2008Kangarilla Road Shiraz 2009 Emeri Pink Moscato Cooralook Pinot Gris 2010

Event partners:

Event Partners

WineAlign is a proud partner in this event.  Please be responsible and take public transit.

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Lawrason’s Take: The Re-Making of Australian Wine

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

When I first visited Australia in the mid-90s there was an ambitious export plan to make Australia the planet’s largest shipper of red wine. The world was in love with its rich, technically very good, approachable reds – led by shiraz – that offered bushels of berry fruit in a style that did not require food or ageing.  But they oversold and saturated the market, and fatigued consumers with an ocean of wine differentiated only by the type of critter on the label.  Price-quality ratios also slipped, and with the onset of global recession consumers shifted elsewhere to find something different and better value  – malbec from Argentina for example, carmenere from Chile and countless appellation reds from southern France, Italy and Spain.

Roos in a VineyardBut the proud, resourceful and derring-do Aussies are on it. They are now focusing more on what makes wine interesting, and not just a beverage or a brand – looking for diversity, new grape varieties and creative blends, a sense of place, a sense of people and sense of history. These are not new concepts, but when applied to Australia –  a massive, diverse and fascinating landscape – they are enough to infuse all kinds of new life and energy.  That energy is percolating right now in Ontario led by a LCBO one-time infusion and May promotion of over 30 new labels from Australia, all at once.  For its part Vintages has assembled a collection from Australia’s First Families of Wine, and has a public tasting events lined up in Ottawa May 4 and Toronto May 5. This particular positioning of Australian wine as historic and personal, is an integral part of the new messaging.

With all this in the works I was invited to travel to Australia in February. The invitation came from Treasury Estates (formerly Fosters Wine Estates), which owns several prominent wineries in the country – Penfolds, Wolf Blass, Rosemount – to name the largest.  Normally I do not travel on the dime of individual companies, as it can restrict the diversity of wines and viewpoints encountered. But I did taste other wines, and the Treasury portfolio is so large and geographically widespread, and so key to the Australian wine scene, that it is almost meaningless to write about Australia without their story in the mix.

Devil's Lair Margaret RiverThe Treasury strategy has been to buy up strong brands and historic wineries located in older facilities. They are now systematically upgrading of those wineries. They are delving into viticultural improvements, sustainable and/or organic farming, and the notion of regional and single vineyard expression.  And they are gathering some of the top winemakers in the country. There’s is the story of Australia’s remake in a nutshell and I am sure that many other large corporate concerns are walking the same walk.  Those who don’t will surely be left behind.

From here this article is organized by grape varieties, with an update on what is happening in terms of style and what regions are leading the way. I begin with the most important grapes in terms of how they define the changes under way. Each will be illustrated by a selection of wines reviewed on WineAlign, some at lower prices as found in the new LCBO selection, some from the First Families collection, and some from my travels.

Chardonnay’s 180-Degree Flip
Pinot Noir: Precious or Precocious?
Riesling in Overdrive
Defusing Shiraz?
Alt Italian, Spanish & Blends
Pinot Gris/Grigio or Plain PG?
Cabernet Sauvignon Soldiers On
Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon Seek Direction

Chardonnay’s 180-Degree Flip

We begin with the most maligned but most improved grape in Australia. Just ask a Decanter Magazine panel (March 2011 edition) which after tasting 116 Aussie chards “was stunned by the vibrant, serious, terroir-driven wines, the best of which equal the top white Burgundies”. Indeed there are very few heavy-handed, bloated, overly-sweet and overly-oaked chardonnays left standing in Oz.

The single best chardonnay on my travels was the magnificent, almost ethereal Devils Lair 2009 Enchantress from Margaret River, a 200-case, single block masterpiece we will likely never see in Canada.  But the “regular” Devils Lair 2009 is no slouch either, and it will show up in the months ahead.  They represent a 180-degree change in style from the old, golden, power-mongers made at this estate, before winemaker Oliver Crawford was transferred from Penfolds specifically because of his experience developing Yattarna, one of the top chardonnays in Australia. He is out beat neighbour and rival Leeuwin, whose 2008 Artist Series is indeed also terrific.

Elsewhere, I was hugely impressed by the work of Andrew Fleming at Coldstream Hills and a super elegant, nifty new single-vineyard 2009 Deer Farm Chardonnay from the upper (cooler) Yarra Valley.  Likewise with the nervy, mineral 2008 Reserve at a winery called Stonier in the Mornington Peninsula, and the more tropical but very elegant Wynn’s 2010 by Sue Hodder (the 2009 comes to Vintages May 14th).

So how to experience this new chardonnay direction in Ontario right now, at affordable prices?  Two new LCBO wines stand out: the lean pear and almond scented Next of Kin 2009 Chardonnay ($14.95) from the Margaret River, and the almost Chablis-esque Little Yering 2009 Chardonnay ($13.95) from the Yarra Valley.  Tic Tok 2008 Chardonnay that blends from cool Pemberton in southwest Australia and from Mudgee in New South Wales is very much in the new idiom as well if mild and more simple. There were no noteworthy chardonnays in the First Families release April 30; I sense we will have to wait a bit for Vintages feels comfortable purchasing some of the new higher end, very fine examples.Xanadu Next Of Kin Chardonnay 2009  Little Yering Chardonnay 2009James Oatley Tic Tok Chardonnay 2008

Pinot Noir: Precious or Precocious?
The long view on pinot in Australia (at least from abroad) has been that Oz is just too hot to make good pinot noir – an early-ripener that thrives in cool climates. And for those of us raised on Burgundy, Ontario and other cool climate pinots, Aussie pinots can indeed seem too forward and loud and precocious with too much jammy, fruit, alcohol and oak that blurs the grape’s finer points. Some in that style can be delicious red wines, but they are usually created by marketing departments, not crafted by pinot enthusiasts.

Lenswood Hills Pinot Noir 2010Increasingly these men and women are congregating in Australia’s coolest nooks and crannies: Tasmania, the Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley of Victoria, the Adelaide Hills of South Australia, and the Pemberton and Mt. Barker regions of West Australia. And there are some very serious cool climate pinots being made. Among the top twenty highest scoring Australian reds among new releases in the Feb/Mar issue of Gourmet Traveller Wine, ten were pinot noirs.

The big companies like Penfolds and Wolf Blass are getting serious, and I was very impressed with the new Penfolds Bin 23 2010 Pinot Noir from the Adelaide Hills (first vintage 2009).  Wolf Blass Gold Label Pinot from Adelaide Hills is very good as well, and I was to discover others in this gorgeous green region that is essentially an eastern suburb of Adelaide. Yet to be seen in Ontario is a fine range from high altitude Ashton Hills. But we do have Lenswood 2010 Pinot Noir, a slim, taut, juicy version just released at the LCBO.

The most well known and pioneering name for Aussie pinot however is specialist Coldstream Hills founded by wine writer James Halliday, and now in the Treasury portfolio. Coldstream 2008 Pinot Noir is one of the last we’ll see from the Yarra Valley for a while thanks to a bad fire season that smoke tainted the fruit in 2009.  St. Hubert’s 2008 Pinot Noir from the lower in the valley is beefier, but dry and intriguing.
Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008  St. Huberts Pinot Noir 2008
Elsewhere, the  volcanic Red Hills of the Mornington Peninsula, a maritime region south of Melbourne hard by the Southern Ocean, has a huge concentration of pinot focused wineries.  Here I discovered fine pinots from small wineries like Quealy, Dexter and Stonier (the latter does show up in Ontario). Tasmania may be the most exciting of all but it remains personally undiscovered except for the taut, savoury Josef Chromy 2009 Pinot Noir at Vintages.  I would also love to visit Pemberton in Western Australia, especially when it can export such a tasty little cool climate pinot like Barwick 2009 Pinot Noir, now at the LCBO. Years ago I had a Picardy Pinot Noir from this region that remains embedded in my mind despite hundreds of pinots since.

Josef Chromy Pinot Noir 2009   Barwick White Label Pinot Noir 2009

Riesling in Overdrive
Riesling is well-entrenched in Australia being first planted by Germans in the 19th Century. Most settled in the Clare, Barossa and Eden Valleys north of Adelaide, where tepid summer temperatures and the resulting wine style couldn’t be farther from the Mosel or Rheingau. They are not so much wines of racy, lacy delicacy and charm, but wines of power, austerity and bone crushing petrol, lime and minerality. Wolf Blass winemaker Chris Hatcher says that overall riesling consumption is declining in Australia, but that it is only in the market segment under $15.  The better wines are strong, and in this sphere, again and again I was shocked and impressed by Australian rieslings.

One of the best was served to kick off an elaborate lunch at the newly opened Rock Pool restaurant in Perth. It was Cherubimo 2010 Riesling from the Mt. Barker region of the deep southwest – a tight, mineral, lemon-lime and very concentrated wine that transported me back to Beamsville. In South Australia riesling thrives in the slightly higher Eden Valley, a sub-region of Barossa.  Penfolds Bin 51 2010 Riesling from Eden is a powerful and searing experience. The Clare Valley to northwest of Adelaide may be the single most important region for riesling, and I was blown away by Annie’s Lane 2009 Coppertail, from the Carsfield vineyard planted back in 1935. This is serious heritage.

Aussie rieslings currently on shelf in Ontario are led, value-wise by Clare Hills 2009 Riesling ($14.95) which teeters on the brink of austerity, but drives to excellent length.Wolf Blass 2008 Riesling that blends Clare and Eden fruit is becoming a staple at Vintages, and a very good example in a leaner, dry, juicy style (I liked the pineapple, honey, and juniper notes in the upcoming 2010). If you prefer a slightly softer, richer style that still walks on the dry side look to Yalumba 2009 Y Series Riesling at a mere $12.95.

Clare Hills Riesling 2009   Wolf Blass Gold Label Riesling 2008  Yalumba Y Series Riesling 2009

Defusing Shiraz?
The importance of shiraz to Australia’s past, and perhaps its future as well, cannot be understated. Consumers, myself included, love Aussie shiraz,  but its alcohol heat and palate numbing richness can be over the top. So as I toured Australia’s premier shiraz regions – particularly Barossa and McLaren Vale – I was searching for signs of more elegance. And often finding it.

Rosemount Diamond Label Shiraz 2009By the way, the rise in alcohol levels is directly ascribed to climate change, and Australia has been in drought for several years (until this summer’s rains). According to senior Rosemount viticulturalist Kym Ayliffe, “heat spikes and soil dehydration are the main culprits”. Planting in cooler regions and higher altitudes is an obvious response and well underway, but fine tuning the vineyards by adding subsoil compost, adjusting vine vigour and canopies is also an integral to  the solution, says Ayliffe.  Later when tasting Rosemount’s 2009 Diamond Label Shiraz (with a whopping production of 400,000 cases a year) I was impressed to note lovely floral, fruit notes, considerable elegance and very little alcohol.

Penfold's Old VinesIt was deep in the Barossa that I tasted the best shiraz, where wineries like Penfolds have been making great shiraz for a very long time (the first vintage of Grange was 1951).  As I tasted through the entire range of upcoming Penfolds 2008 reds, I was struck by their depth and elegance.  In reviewing my notes not once did I write “hot”.  Full notes will be on WineAlign when they are released here in the months ahead but I single out a new shiraz called Maranaga that comes entirely from the Waltons Vineyard in central Barossa. Drilling down to one site is a huge departure for Penfolds, that has always blended from several sites – and it is an increasingly important trend across Australia.  Nearby at Wolf Blass winemaker Chris Hatcher is also looking to make “contemporary and elegant” wines in a massive, modern new winery with rows of open-top wood fermenters designed for gentle integration across the price range. His delicious 2007 Platinum Shiraz was sourced 80% in the slightly cooler Eden Valley.

Of wines currently available in the LCBO’s new Aussie release, the Kangarilla Road 2008 Shiraz, McLaren Vale ($18.95) is the most indicative of the new, very smooth genre. The Mitolo Junior 2008 Shiraz is also very good for the money (currently on sale at $13.90) and Next of Kin 2008 Shiraz ($14.95) offers the Margaret River perspective of cooler, spicier, more mentholated shiraz.  From Vintages First Families Release check out the Yalumba 2008 Patchwork Shiraz from Barossa, with seamless, creamy texture and very bright fruit ($21.95), while Jim Barry 2008 The Lodge Hill Shiraz from the Clare Valley ($23.95) is also very stylish with giving up density and fruit depth.

Kangarilla Road Shiraz 2008   Mitolo Junior Shiraz 2008  Xanadu Next Of Kin Shiraz 2008  Yalumba Patchwork Shiraz 2008  Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz 2008

Alt Italian, Spanish & Blends
The next big trend in Australia reds will likely be Italian varieties like sangiovese and nebbiolo, as well as Spain’s tempranillo – sometimes in blends with cabernet and/or shiraz. Every vineyard I visited seemed to have an experimental batch on the go.  The reason?  I sense that the winemakers feel Australia is desperately in need of red new varieties, and further they want those to be warm climate varieties with higher natural acidity. Tempranillo in particular would seem to fit the bill given its importance in Spain.

Hardy’s The Chronicles Butchers Gold Shiraz Sangiovese 2008In Margaret River Devils Lair has a delicious tempranillo-shiraz blend called Dance with the Devil.  Rosemount has a sangiovese in its Diamond Label series, but not yet in Ontario.  At a small winery called Chain of Ponds in the Adelaide Hills an astoundingly authentic nebbiolo capped a range of Italian inspired reds. Another nifty Adelaide Hills nebbiolo from S.C. Panelli is found in area restaurants.  In the Barossa Penfolds excellent 2007 Cellar Reserve Sangiovese is from vines planted in the early 80s, and they have two different bottlings of tempranillo. And although I did not get a chance on this trip to visit and taste through the high county of Victoria, this area is a hotbed of alt-varietals being grown by smaller wineries. The genre debuts in Ontario with the very good Hardys 2008 The Chronicles Butchers Gold Shiraz Sangiovese($14.95).

Pinot Gris/Grigio or Plain PG?
Pinot Gris is the newest white grape in Australia, its presence fuelled by the global surge in popularity for pinot grigio, a simple, fresh non-challenging, indistinct wine.  The technical know-how of Australia makes it viable now, but given its roots in central Europe (Alsace, Germany, northeastern Italy) it was not a grape that sprung to mind when planting Australia 25 years ago. That may be changing, at least in the cooler regions of the country. I didn’t encounter much pinot gris in my travels, but when I did find it, I hit the motherlode, The winery is T’Gallant. It was founded by Kevin and Kathleen McCarthy in 1988, based on “the completely radical premise” that pinot gris was important. They had been influenced by a German named Max Loder from Baden. Their pursuit of pinot gris became an obsession in the years that followed, including trips to Europe. Not only did they make serious pinot gris, Kevin McCarthy undertook to re-define the sensorial appreciation of this most vague varietal, convincing scientists at the University of Adelaide to come up with a “PG style spectrum” that dispensed with the regional prejudices inherent in the terms pinot gris (French) and grigio (Italian).  It could still take years before the wine world embraces this piece of work, but it was one of the most fascinating sidebars of my journey. And his range of excellent PGs, from light and racy to opulent proved that style is as much in the eye of the winemaker as the terroir.
Cooralook Pinot Gris 2008  Rosemount Pinot Grigio 2010
There is a connection to a wine that joins the Aussie invasion in Ontario this month. Cooralook 2008 Pinot Gris is one of the great discoveries – if you like your PG rich and complex. It is made under the auspices of a winery called Yabby Lake, a Mornington Peninsula neighbour to T’Gallant.  But if you just want to try a straightforward, squeaky clean and flavourful Aussie pinot grigio give Rosemount 2010 Pinot Grigio a try at $13.95.

Cabernet Sauvignon Soldiers On
Cabernet Sauvignon remains strong in Australia with two cooler regions clearly identified as prime locales – Coonawarra and Margaret River. But many wine drinkers and winemakers figure other regions make great cab too, and that cab, not shiraz, may be the Australia’s single best red grape. Personally I would reach for an Australian cabernet before those of any other country except perhaps Chile.  Australia’s climate certainly provides the warmth to ripen this late ripening variety. And if you would doubt cab’s heritage in Australia consider that Penfolds Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard was planted in 1882, making it arguably the oldest still producing cab site it in the world,  although reseved for great vintages.

Some consider Block 42 Australia’s greatest cabernet, or at least Penfold’s Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon, which often receives fruit from Block 42.  But I would put Wynn’s Coonawarra Cabernets in that league as well.  I was very impressed by the elegance being sewn into not only the iconic Wynns 2006 John Riddoch, but also a new single-vineyard Block 91 Cabernet Sauvignon that has churned out 53 vintages to date.  And don’t forget cab-shiraz blends which Australia does better than anyone else in the world (both Penfolds Bin 389 and Wynn’s 2008 V and A Lane are great wines).

For much more affordable cabernet and blends now on shelf in Ontario I direct you to Saltram 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, ($24.95) a buxom, black and delicious cabernet from the Barossa Valley. For a more lean and elegant, juicy style try  Stone Dwellers 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, $19.95. The label uses the Southeastern Australia appellation but it hails from the Plunkett Fowles winery in granitic Strathbogie Ranges of Victoria northeast of Melbourne. For an intense, greener, classic Margaret River editon from the First Families portfolio try Howard Park Leston 2008 Cabenet Sauvignon ($29.95), or for a more affordable, more mellow but nicely made blend from the same vintage and region, look up  Devil’s Lair 2008 Fifth Leg Shiraz Cabernet Merlot.

Saltram Mamre Brook Cabernet Sauvignon 2008  Stone Dwellers Cabernet Sauvignon 2008  Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon 2008  Devil's Lair Fifth Leg Shiraz Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon Seek Direction
In discussing Australian Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion and blends thereof, one needs a bit of context. New Zealand sauvignon blanc is hugely popular in Australia, and this is not sitting well with Aussie winemakers. Imagine Canadian chardonnay successfully invading the USA and you grasp the problem. So the Australians are out to make their sauvignons brighter, cleaner, more crisp and elegant.

Like chardonnay, sauvignon blanc does not have much of legacy in Australia. It was considered a cool climate thus foreign varietal.  And who needed it with so much semillon to provide that green-tinged flavour profile?  Well they did need it commercially because semillon remains such a tough sell internationally, despite the structure, richness and age-worthiness of top examples.  So as with chardonnay, sauvignon blanc production is heading to the coolest coasts and highest elevations in search of verve and nerve.

I can’t say I was as enthused or surprised by the overall quality, as I was with chardonnay. The Margaret River region is best poised to make Sauv-Sem whites a central focus.  Devils Lair is again worth mentioning in this regard, with Fifth Leg 2009 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc ($15.95) now on shelf at the LCBO.  It is indeed a leaner, greener, nettled style with some mineral and flinty SO2 related tension.  Next of Kin Sauvingnon Blanc/Semillion 2009 is also very good.  Unfortunately Australia’s great classic semillon’s are few and far between in Ontario.  (I had a wonderful Heritage 2008 Semillon by winemaker Steve Hoff in Barossa, perhaps the most authentic Aussie white of my trip).  Now at Vintages, Tyrrell’s Lost Block Semillon 2010 from the Hunter Valley in New South Wales is a fairly priced and quite typical if mild example. One could only wish we would see more. Twenty years ago I was placing Aussie semillon atop many value white lists, but that has not been much help. Semillon seems on the decline.

Devil's Lair Fifth Leg Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2010 Xanadu Next Of Kin Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2009  Tyrrell's Lost Block Semillon 2010

Check out this this handy list of all the new Australian wines just released at the LCBO.Cheers and enjoy, David

- David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Margaret River: cooler climate and very premium ~ Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Time to learn about one of the best winegrowing areas in Oz:

Julian Hitner

Think wines from all Australian winegrowing regions essentially taste the same? If the answer is yes, you haven’t been keeping up with the latest trends from the other side of the world. These days, Australian winegrowers have taken to cooler climate regions like never before, with none other than Margaret River leading the way in terms of premium production. Located 322 kilometres (200 miles) south of Perth, the first vines in Margaret River came on stream only in the 1970s. Yet today, there are over one hundred producers – cultivating around two hundred vineyards – and some sixty grape growers, with a couple of new wineries, mostly boutique, appearing every year.

Indeed, the overall quality of wines being produced in this paradisiacal part of Australia is nothing short of astounding. Consider this: while overall production in Margaret River accounts for only 3% of the total production in all of the country (possessing only 5,000 ha of vineyards), its wines represent a staggering 20% of bottlings considered to be of premium quality. In some respects, this ought not to come as a surprise, particularly when you take into account all the highly reputed operations to be found in the area, from Moss Wood, Cullen, and Vasse Felix, each located just north of Cowaramup; to the wineries of Cape Mentelle, Devil’s Lair, and Leeuwin Estate, each located just south of the actual town of Margaret River.

Just as important, Margaret River can easily be considered one of the most stunningly serene, and downright beautiful, winegrowing regions in the world, surrounded by ancient forests of eucalyptus that seem to encircle virtually every vineyard in sight, its climate tempered by its proximity to the Indian Ocean in the west. Of soil compositions, most of the area is dominated by gravel-based loam deposits formed directly from underlying granite. As a result of these features, the region is remarkably well suited for the production of more elegantly styled wines, most importantly Cabernet Sauvignon (and Bordeaux blends), as well as, to a far lesser extent, more varietally fresh, less alcoholic Shiraz. Regarding whites, Margaret River now proudly boasts a superlative array of excellent Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blends.

A shame, then, that aside from being one of the most gorgeous winegrowing regions on planet, Margaret River is also one of the most isolated. Still, this hasn’t stopped around half a million people from visiting the region very year, taking advantage of everything this piece of paradise has to offer. For some, the world-class surfing occupies of most their visit(s), while others are drawn to the fishing – the salmon to be caught just east of Augusta at the southernmost point can be a real diversion. For restaurant-goers, the best wineries each offer a splendid establishment at which to dine, most notably the ones already mentioned. As for the actual wine to have with your order, enough said.

Click here for a few gems for collectors from the April 30th, 2011 Vintages release .

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The Flip Side of Australia – Sara d’Amato

Sara dAmato

Sara dAmato

It is hard to resist that Aussie charm especially when it comes to the abundance of affordable, easy-drinking, upfront and über-approachable styles of wines produced in that vast country. For the same reasons, many see these wines as a ‘guilty pleasure’ not worthy of sophisticated company. But just in time to prove all those naysayers wrong comes a slew of diverse, high quality, and value-minded wines in the General List category (meaning you can find them at almost any LCBO). For a good while now, there have been few new wines released in the LCBO’s Aussie category as many of the big labels that have historically done so well have dominated the shelves. However, in a joint effort by both Wine Australia and the LCBO, an abundance of new wines has hit the market in order to showcase the range of wines Australia produces and to generate a renewed interest in this category.

What is so exciting about this recent release is that these wines are extremely varied in their styles and grape varietals and showcase wines that most would not traditionally associate with Australia such as Riesling, Moscato, Pinot Gris, Sangiovese and Pinot Noir.  More and more, these grapes and styles are making waves and are now here to be appreciated. Below are my top picks of the Aussie wine rush.

Cooralook Pinot Gris 2008, Australia, $14.95

Pinot Gris, the same varietal as the affable Pinot Grigio, is produced in a French, Alsatian-inspired style which is lush, full-bodied and full of notes of peach and honeysuckle. The wine comes from the cooler Victoria region where this delicious style is becoming all the rage.

Lenswood Hills Pinot Noir 2010, Adelaide Hills, Australia, $16.95

Some of the best and most elegant examples of Pinot Noir in Australia come from the cooler climate of the Adelaide Hills region. Both lovers of New World and more traditional styles will delight in this well-balanced Pinot with plenty of finesse.

McWilliams’ Hanwood Estate Moscato N/V, South East, Australia, $13.95

Gentle bubbles, sweet fruity flavours, low alcohol and playful nature provide plenty of appeal in this Italian-style Moscato which is sure to be a hit this summer. Great as a starter a palate cleanser between courses or paired with light summery desserts.

Hardy’s The Chronicles Butchers Gold Shiraz Sangiovese 2008, Australia, $14.95

Best known as the grape of Tuscany, Sangiovese and other Italian varietals are fast gaining acclaim throughout Australia. The varietal is fresh with complex flavours and a lighter appeal which is a welcome contrast to Shiraz which can be big, bold and fleshy and lacking some vibrancy.

Kangarilla Road Shiraz 2008, McLaren Vale, Australia, $17.95

Shiraz is the flagship grape of Australia and known elsewhere as Syrah. It would not be a proper Aussie release without this characteristic grape whose generous style, richness and approachability is unmatched elsewhere in the world.

Click here for a complete list of these wines available at your local LCBO.

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008