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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – Spring Spirits

Bring on the White Spirits of Spring

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Spring launched with snow still on the ground in much of Canada (stop gloating Vancouver) but maybe finally it’s time to pop open the white spirits to herald in our late much desired true spring. Across Canada new distilleries are popping up like crocuses and globally new tequilas, vodkas and gins are making their debut.

Gin can be simply defined as botanically flavoured vodka. By law, juniper berries must be the chief botanical, but many others are added such as angelica, cassia bark, citrus peels and caraway. Modern gin makers have upped the ante with more and more interesting botanicals such as cucumber, rose petals, elderflower, lavender, cilantro and pepper.

Ungava, a fantastic tasting Canadian premium gin made by Domaine Pinnacle in Quebec is flavoured with indigenous Canadian botanicals of our far north such as Nordic juniper, Labrador tea leaf, crowberry, cloudberry and wild rose hips. It’s the most intriguing gin I’ve tasted and I recommend it be sipped simply chilled or on the rocks. Dillon’s in Beamsville, Ontario, makes their Gin 22, by passing vapour through 22 botanicals. It’s gentle, rounded and smooth. Perfect to make an easy going G&T. Victoria Gin, hand produced in small batches on Vancouver Island, is distilled from ten botanicals (natural and wild gathered).  Packed with personality, citrus peels come through on the nose as well as gentle juniper along with floral notes from rose petals.

Ungava Canadian Premium Gin   Dillon's Unfiltered Gin 22   Victoria Gin

Further afield, from London, Beefeater 24 in a bottle inspired by an early 20th century flask, is flavoured with 12 botanicals (including grapefruit peel, Seville orange and Japanese sencha tea) infused in grain spirit for 24 hours prior to distillation. The London #1 Gin also from 12 botanicals is a light turquoise colour derived in part from gardenia flowers and a final infusion of bergamot oil. No.3 London Dry Gin made in Holland but unmistakably traditional London Dry Gin has juniper at its heart to lend a characteristic pine and lavender overtone that I for one, absolutely love. Plymouth Gin has a higher proportion of roots such as orris and angelica in its recipe which gives it a smooth sweetness and a long finish. It’s flavourful with an array of bright distinctive lingering botanical aromas and robust power.

BEEFEATER 24  The London No. 1 Gin  No 3 London Dry  Plymouth English Gin

The original James Bond martini was based on gin and so was the first martini ever made. That being the case, a classic martini should use a gin where the juniper shines brightly such as Plymouth, Beefeater 24, or No. 3 London Dry. And easy on the vermouth. As Churchill once said “I would like to observe the vermouth from across the room while I drink my martini, leaving as much room for the gin as possible, naturally.” Chill a martini glass by putting ice in the glass. Add 2.5 oz gin and 0.5 oz (or just a few drops) dry vermouth to cocktail mixing glass filled with ice. Stir for 15 to 30 seconds to your desired dilution. Strain into cooled, empty martini glass. Garnish with lemon zest or olive speared with a toothpick.

Tromba Reposado Tequila Tromba Añejo TequilaAgave spirits have graduated in our markets from Jimmy Buffet songs and college parties to seriously delicious tipples. Tequila, produced primarily in the Mexican state of Jalisco is made from the Blue Agave plant. Blanco is unaged (but can be aged up to two months), reposado is two months to less than a year and añejo must be aged for at least a year but fewer than three.

Tromba Tequila (all 100% agave), founded by Canadian Eric Bass, Mexican master distiller Marco Cedano and others has recently got listings for their reposado and añejo in Canada. Tromba Reposado spent six months aging in Jack Daniel’s barrels and is silky smooth. Tromba Añejo was aged in Jack Daniel’s barrels for two years to give it a mellowed, honeyed agave character.

Dulce Vida Tequila is organic, 100% agave tequila that’s strong (50% alcohol) and powerful. Dulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila Blanco is intense and bright with peppery power. Dulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila Reposado is single barrel aged in American bourbon barrels for up to 11 months. Dulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila Anejo isaged for 18 to 24 months in American bourbon barrels.

Vodka, the world’s second most popular spirit continues to evolve with new flavours and artisanal production. Canada’s Iceberg Vodka, made using harvested icebergs now has a cold sensitive label that reveals a Canadian Maple Leaf when chilled down.  A new recently introduced flavour is Iceberg Chocolate Mint. Prepared to find it too syrupy, I was surprised at how good it was – like a liquid spirited after dinner mint. I’m now keen to try their other flavours namely Cucumber, and Crème Brulée which are available only in Alberta and Newfoundland so far.

Dulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila Blanco  Dulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila ReposadoDulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila Anejo Iceberg Chocolate Mint Flavoured Vodka Russian Standard Platinum Vodka

Russia may not be in our good books but so far Russian vodka still is. Russian Standard Platinum Vodka passed through an exclusive silver filtration system is ultra creamy and silky. Well chilled it makes a smooth sipping vodka martini. Let’s raise a glass to spring.

Margaret Swaine

For all of Margaret’s picks click here: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits Editors Note: You can find Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the 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 spirits!


County in the City

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Best Buys in BC – Spring into Action

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

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

BC Critic Team

DJ Kearney

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

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

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

Rhys Pender, MW

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

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

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

Treve Ring

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

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

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

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


Tinhorn Creek Crush Club

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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – Mar 2014

St. Patrick’s Day Libations 2014

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Good news for Ontario residents this upcoming St. Patrick’s Day, Writers Tears has obtained general listing and will be available year round. This Pot Still Blend Irish Whiskey recently won “Best Blend in Ireland” at the Irish Whiskey Awards.

Evocative of the style of whiskey enjoyed during the time of Yeats and Joyce a century ago in Dublin, it’s a blend of pot still malted and unmalted barley, triple distilled and matured in American ex-bourbon casks. Velvety smooth, yet bold in flavour, with malt and bourbon notes, it has nuances of ginger, treacle and apple.

Writers Tears Pot Still Blend (700ml)It’s produced by an independent Irish company, owned by the Walsh family, who also produce The Irishman brands. The Irishman whiskeys are the creations of Bernard Walsh who enjoys special access to the warehouses of certain Irish distillers. He came up with the idea for the Pot Still blend. All other Irish blends contain some proportion of grain whiskey, the output of the less traditional Coffey/Column still.

Whiskey was first distilled in Ireland (not Scotland as may be common belief), around the 7th century. By 1802 Irish whiskey represented 90% of the entire world’s whiskey and Ireland boasted over 200 distilleries. Taxes, famines, the War of Independence, Prohibition and other factors lead to the demise of most of the distillers. However in recent years Irish whiskey has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity; historic brands have been revived, some mothballed distilleries reopened and the number of independent Irish bottlings has grown.

Kilbeggan Irish WhiskeyConnemara Peated Single Malt Irish WhiskyThe Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish WhiskeyCooley (now owned by Beam Inc.) is the distillery that shook up the market in 1987.  Founded by John Telling with the goal of reintroducing the North American market to quality Irish whiskey, Cooley departed from the accepted definition of Irish whiskey as being triple distilled and unpeated. He revived historic brands such as Tyrconnell and created a family of Connemara double distilled peated single malts. Part of the Cooley brands, Kilbeggan Distillery reopened in 2007. Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey has a sweet toffee nose and malty finish.

Bushmills can with fair authority claim to be the oldest distillery in the world. The royal licence to distil in the district of Bushmills was granted in 1608. Situated in the quaint town of Bushmills, Northern Ireland, it takes its name from the River Bush and all the mills that used to be on it. Bushmills 10 Year Old matured for a minimum of 10 years mainly in bourbon seasoned barrels has aromas of sweet smoky honey, vanilla and milk chocolate. Bushmills Black Bush has a high proportion of malt whiskey matured in oloroso sherry casks.

Midleton Very Rare Whiskey (one of the Irish Distillers brands which include Jameson, Powers, Paddy and Redbreast) is an expensive treat at $179.95 but worth the money.

Bushmills Malt 10 Year OldBushmills Black Bush WhiskeyMidleton Very Rare Irish WhiskeyThose who want to delve further into the link between Irish writers and drink might well visit Ireland and go on The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl. Irish pubs are much more than a place to get a drink. Part of the fabric of everyday life they are steeped in history, referenced in literature and full of lore. Dublin has 800 of them.

It’s fitting that in the “City of Words” the best pub crawl is a literary one. Actor and author Colm Quilligan started the Dublin pub tour in 1988 and figures about 300,000 people have taken it so far. Performance is part of the tour which is led by professional actors. The tour I took began at The Duke with a song by Colm and his partner for this night, Derek Reid. Those of us on the tour were encouraged to sing the fitting chorus, “I’ll have a pint with you.”

Then the two men launched into a (well-acted) piece from Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot. The evening was filled with prose, drama and song as we followed the footsteps of literary greats into four of their favourite haunts. We learned juicy details about the lives of Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Brendan Behan as we enjoyed a few good pints ending the evening at Davy Byrnes pub.

Davy Byrnes was the setting James Joyce chose for the Lestrygonians episode of his famous novel Ulysses. Cecil Salkeld, Brendan Behan’s father-in-law was commissioned to paint the murals on the right-hand side of the main bar. Colm filled us in on Behan’s excesses quoting him as saying “I’m a drinker with a writer problem.” The Irish have such a way with words.


Margaret Swaine

For all of Margaret’s picks click here: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can find Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the 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 spirits!

Hayman's Sloe Gin

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

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

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

BC Critic Team

Anthony Gismondi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DJ Kearney

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

Here are my highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

Rhys Pender, MW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you in the tasting room!

Treve Ring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The 36th Vancouver International Wine Festival 2014 uncorks…

The Wine World is Here

DJ Kearney

DJ Kearney

Here on the west coast we are very proud to host one of Planet Wine’s most-beloved, best-attended, and long-established consumer wine shows. Yes, it’s a big deal in North America, but it is also massively well-known and respected around the globe. We Wine Align critics travel far and wide and often cross paths with winemakers, owners, growers, and export pros who have shared the magic of Vancouver’s ‘Winefest’, as it’s affectionately known. And as our own Anthony Gismondi says, “As always, it’s the visiting principals that set this show apart…”

What draws the wine world’s heavyweights to Lotusland year after year? Well, the mountains and ocean don’t hurt, nor does the vibrant dining scene, relaxed sporty lifestyle, or proximity to California (usually the next stop on producers’ itineraries). But the big appeal is the BC wine lover, the dedicated drinkers who (despite the highest price markups in the country) are respected for their knowledge, discernment, passion and great taste.

Vancouver International Wine FestivalFrance is the show piece in 2014 with 52 top estates in town to share a glass with us. Principals I’m particularly excited to see are Michel Chapoutier, Etienne Hugel, Bernie Sparr, Clovis Taittinger, plus Fritz Hasselbach from Gunderloch, Miguel Roquette from Quinta do Crasto and Susana Balbo from Dominio del Plata. Also in the spotlight are Australia, South Africa, and BC with their own special sections. On the eight-day roster there are wine dinners, grazings, minglers, blind tastings, speed tastings, boardroom tastings in addition to the three grand Festival tasting sessions. A measurement of success:  all but a handful of the 54 events have long sold out.

Each year the Festival targets a different grape or style, and this year it‘s “Bubbly!”. There are over 110 different sparklers to sample in the tasting room, from Champagne, to Crémant, Cava, Prosecco, Moscato and a bevy from the new world. I’m proud to have manned the Tasting Room education booth for a decade, and together with my sommelier team will be pouring great examples of sparkling wines, using an interactive sensory display to teach how they’re made and what makes then different. A few other WineAlign critics are on hand too – John Szabo MS, Rhys Pender MW, and Mr. Gismondi are here to share their expertise.

Vancouver International Wine FestivalThe numbers say it all: Over winefest week 1,750 wines (that’s an astonishing 30,000 bottles) will be deployed and enjoyed from 14 countries and 177 quality wineries at 54 events. The turnstiles to the Festival Tasting room will click 23,000 times, and over 50 restaurants and hotels get in on the action. And the typical Festival attendee? Around 39 years old, university-degreed, over 100K income, a repeat visitor, and not surprisingly (since gals shop for wine more often than guys) women (57.8%) edge men (42.2%) in attendance. As the Festival’s motto says: “The wine world is here”.  So is WineAlign’s TEAM BC. Watch for our Festival tips and picks and be sure to subscribe to get them delivered directly to your inbox. It’s valuable insider intel!

Watch this space on Friday, Feb 21 for a special festival-goers edition of BC Best Buys, when all four B.C. WineAlign critics weigh in with strategies for navigating the Festival, which wines to try and who you should meet.

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Forget flowers, buy rosés for Valentine’s Day

Treve Ring

Treve Ring

This Valentine’s Day show your affection to your sweetie with a bottle, or few, of rosé. Rosé wines reach from bone dry and elegant, to sparkling and celebratory and through to sweet and sultry. Just as pink is the half way hue between white and red on the colour spectrum, drinking pink offers up the best of both in the wine worlds. You get the freshness and acidity of white wines, plus the structure, berry fruit and tannin presence of reds. This matrimony of styles makes rose wines particularly food-friendly, and the darling of many sommeliers and chefs. You needn’t be either to pick a pack of rosés to suit your Valentine’s Day plans, whether it’s a romantic multicourse dinner à deux, a solo supper or a brunch with family and friends.

Forget flowers, buy rosés.


I’d put forth that sparkling is on my mind in advance of Vancouver International Wine Festival, and their Global Focus this year on Bubbly, but that would be a bit of a pink lie because bubbles are always on my mind.

Haywire The Bub Pink 20128th Generation Vineyard Confidence 2012Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Rosé BrutSegura Viudas Brut Rose

Haywire Pink Bub 2012 is a new release just in time for Valentine’s Day, a lively, crisp orange and pear blossomed traditional method bubble from a cooler mountain site near Oliver in the southern Okanagan. 8 th Generation Confidence 2012 is another Okanagan mainstay, this one in an off-dry frizzante style, topped with a crown cap and blended from merlot, pinot noir, dunkelfelder, pinot gris and viognier. Henry Of Pelham N/V Cuvee Catharine Rosé Brut from the Niagara Peninsula is a perennial favourite, a classy and classic traditional method sparkler with juicy raspberry and strawberry fruit. Segura Viudas Brut Rosé NV is a regular visitor to my fridge, a bright cava welcome for its value and consistent red apple and pomegranate fruit.

Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut ChampagneLouis Bouillot Perle D'aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De BourgogneJust released in Ontario (already in BC & Quebec) is Louis Bouillot Perle d’Aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne from Burgundy. It has all the class if not the depth of pink Champagne, at one third the price. If you have a Champagne budget this Valentine’s Day, then nothing but Champagne will do. Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut NV is as distinctive a bottle as it is in the flute; elegant and full-bodied, with fine mousse and notes of strawberry, cream, brioche, dark cherry and mineral and a lingering cherry-currant finish.


There are as many styles of still rosés out there as there are fish in the sea. I’m sure I’d make a horrible human matchmaker, but I can definitely help find the perfect rosé for you this Valentine’s Day. And who knows what wine-savvy drinker you’ll meet in the rosé aisle of your liquor store…

Marqués De Cáceres Rosado 2012Miraval Rosé 2012Joie Farm Re Think Pink Rosé 2012

Once again Spain shines with delicious, affordable selections. Marques de Caceres 2012 Rioja Rosado 
from Rioja was category champion at the 2013 World Wine Awards, and it’s no wonder with the dusty floral, stonefruit and wild strawberry notes. Pair with paella! If a Hollywood romcom Netflicks marathon and a couch is the plan for this weekend, go all out and chill a bottle of Miraval Rosé 2012, from Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s Côtes De Provence winery. No fluffy rosé here though – the Perrin family (Chateauneuf-du-Pape) are bringing their ample winemaking credibility to this delicate, aromatic, herbal wild strawberry wine. If you are looking for a fuller, creamier, more substantial rosé, BC benchmark JoieFarm Re Think Pink Rose 2012 will suit in spades. The blend shifts annually depending on grapes and vintage, but the profile always feels pleasantly familiar: a touch off-dry, with desert sage, wild strawberries and structured cherries.


Sweets for your sweetie, right? Classic sommelier pairing of like + like = like a lot? There are rivers of sweet wines out there, but I’ve selected a few with a definite rosy glow, sure to be passed along to your cheeks after a couple of glasses.

Croft Pink PortSouthbrook Farms FramboiseChambers Rosewood Rutherglen MuscatInniskillin Okanagan Estate Tempranillo Icewine 2012

Why not kick off the weekend with a cocktail? Croft Pink was the very first pink port on the market and aimed at a new generation of port drinkers. I like this fortified wine over ice with a wedge of orange. Southbrook Vineyards Framboise from Ontario does double duty, carrying cocktails with its concentrated raspberry, or as a fine match for dark chocolate. If you’re looking for a rare gem, you must fine one of Australia’s sensational stickies. Chambers Rosewood Rutherglen Muscat is an outstanding example on this market, with generous waves of raisin, dried apricot and honey. And naturally, I will suggest a Canadian icewine in case you’re pairing wines to Olympic viewing. Inniskillin Okanagan Estate Tempranillo Icewine 2012 scores a gold medal for being adventurous enough to attempt an icewine from tempranillo grapes, with tasty caramelized brown sugar and boysenberry results.


If you’re looking for a gift beyond a bottle, why not treat your special someone to tickets for the Vancouver International Wine Festival. Now in its 36th vintage, the VIWF is one of the top wine festivals in North America, offering something for every level of wine drinker, collector and trade professional. Winery principals (winemaker, proprietor, senior executive) representing 178 selected wineries from 14 countries will be in attendance to pour and discuss their wines. Every year, this international festival shines the spotlight on one country or region, and this year the country is France. As mentioned above, the global focus for 2014 is Bubbly, and many will be poured throughout the week of seminars, dinners, minglers, brunches and at the heart of the festival – the tasting room floor. NEW this year, and highly welcome, is a partnership with beVancouver. If you book a room between February 20 and March 9, 2014 at a participating downtown hotel (there are 37 to choose from), and you’ll get ONE FREE TICKET (value up to $89) to your choice of four International Festival Tastings. Book two nights, and you’ll get TWO FREE TICKETS (value up to $178).

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Treve Ring


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

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Best Buys in BC – January 2014

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

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

BC Critic Team

Anthony Gismondi
Looking for Mr. Good Bargain

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

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

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

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

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

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

DJ Kearney

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

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

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

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

Rhys Pender, MW

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

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

Treve Ring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DJ Kearney’s Holiday Wine Picks 2013

DJ Kearney

DJ Kearney

A bottle of wine is about as ideal as gift-giving gets. Easy, always received with delight, and actually fun to choose if you get into the spirit. And the holidays are here, so the spirit part should be easy. (Note: Not all wines are available in all provinces, but BC should be well covered!)

Best Buy Wines for a Party

So it’s the neighbourhood street party, or your zumba or soccer team holiday shindig and you’re on wine detail. You want to take lots because a) you’re a generous person and b) as an insurance policy against having to drink your goalie’s home-made plonk when the bottle you brought is emptied. The brief: delicious and appetizing wine that’s a great deal, priced so a full case won’t break you. Up-front fruit for broad appeal is a good idea, without too much thick oak or sugary sweetness. You’ll look good if you think a little outside the box and try one of these colossal values. Must go with easy, convenient party food like a supermarket shrimp ring, zesty chicken wings or molten brie in pastry. And these affordable gems make great gift bottles for lucky people: dog walker, barber, butcher, mechanic etc.

Natalie Bonhomme ‘El Petit Bonhomme’ 2012 ($13.99)

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Clásico 2012 ($15.99)

Boekenhoutskloof  Wolftrap White ($14.99)

Castello de Monseran Garnacha 2012 ($9.99)

El Petit Bonhomme Blanco 2012Altos Las Hormigas Malbec 2012The Wolftrap White 2012Castillo De Monseran Garnacha 2012

Local Heroes:

It feels good to support our local bounty. Ontario and BC each produce minuscule amounts of wine in the context of world production. BC bottles 1.5 million cases of VQA wine per year from about 10,000 acres of vineyards, and Ontario manages a million more from 15,000 acres of land devoted to wine grapes. Very little production of either province is exported, so wine locavores have fantastic access to the best of the best.

Meyer Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2011 ($40.00)

Wild Goose Stoney Slope Riesling 2011 ($20.00)

Burning Kiln Gewurztraminer 2012 ($24.95)

Blue Mountian Pinot Blanc ($17.95)

Stag’s Hollow Grenache ($29.99)

Meyer Family Pinot Noir Mclean Creek Road Vineyard 2011Wild Goose Riesling Dry Stoney SlopeBurning Kiln Table Gang Gewurztraminer 2012Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc 2012Stag's Hollow Grenache 2012

Special Pressie wines:

Hors Classe  – meaning wondrously outside-the-box gems  -  wines for the esoteric wine lover or adventure-drinker. There are times when you need an ‘out there’ wine, for the wine smarty pants in your office, or to wean a friend off their usual plonk with the taste of something diverting. These wines brim with character, singularity, and stories galore. They’re also sensational dinner wines, and if we all buy, drink and love them regularly, we can do a lot to encourage everything that is authentic and precious in the world of wine.

Jean Bourdy Cremant de Jura N/V ($35.99)

Quinta do Ameal Escolha White 2011 ($34.99)

Agicola Azienda COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2010 ($40.95)

Jean Bourdy Cremant de JuraQuinta Do Ameal Escolha White 2011Azienda Agricola Cos Cerasuolo Di Vittoria Classico 2010

Wines for the Big Dinner OR Pressies to Impress:

The Holiday Dinner needs wines that can embrace an expansive range of flavours from oysters on the half shell; meaty roast (turkey, goose, duck, beef, pork); pungent vegetables like Brussels sprouts; luscious richness like roast or scalloped potatoes, sausage stuffing; and sweet-tart cranberry sauce. And all of this liberally anointed with the tastiest gravy known to mankind. Rich reds with a deft balance of fruit and structure work well, and whites need a broad palate with ample fruit, spice and body. Don’t forget rosé and sparkling wines which can bridge multiple flavours and solve all your wine pairing dilemmas. Each of these splendid wines make perfect pressies: they look swanky, have great pedigrees and you’ll look as good as the wine tastes.

Mas la Plana 2008 ($56.99)

Domaine Du Gros Noré Bandol Rosé 2012  ($32.50)

Ridge Three Valleys 2010 ($34.99)

Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino di Sardinia 2012 ($19.99)

Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut ($54.99)

Miguel Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon 2008Bandol Rose Domaine Du Gros Nore 2012Ridge Three Valleys 2011Argiolas Costamolino 2012Le Mesnil Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne

Editors Note: You can find DJ Kearney’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!

WineAlign Gift Certificates

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WineAlign Gift Guide – BC Edition

20 Great Bottles 

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

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

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

WineAlign BC Critic Team

The Bubbles

Dom Pérignon By Jeff Koons 2004

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

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

Taittinger Comtes De Champagne Blanc De Blancs Brut

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

Le Mesnil Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne

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

The Whites

Meyer Family Vineyards Chardonnay Micro Cuvée Old Main Road Vineyard 2011

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

M. Chapoutier Chante Alouette Hermitage Blanc 2011

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

Mission Hill Perpetua

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


The Reds

Penfolds Grange 2008

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

Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino 2008

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

Alvaro Palacios Les Terrasses 2011

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

Emiliana Coyam 2011

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

Ridge Three Valleys 2011

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

Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 2009

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

Rioja Reserva Vina Tondonia 2001

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

Miguel Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

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


The Fortifieds

Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 2011

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

Nutty Solera Oloroso

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

Gonzalez Byass Apostoles Palo Cortado Viejo

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

Graham's Twenty Year Old Tawny Port

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


The Spirit

Hennessy Paradis Imperial

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

Here’s link to all 20 Great Bottles.

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

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A Sparkling Countdown to New Year’s Eve (Part 1)

Over the next three weeks WineAlign will explore the fabulous world of fizz. Today Treve Ring goes to the heart of the matter with a look at ‘growers Champagne’.  Next week John Szabo goes top drawer to illuminate the glittering world of luxe Champagnes.  And just before New Year’s WineAlign critics combine to recommend affordable sparklers for those making a mad dash before the midnight hour.

Farmer Fizz
by Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Farmer Fizz. Champagne of Terroir. Artisanal Champagne. Récoltants-Manipulants. Authentically Vintage Champagne. All terms I’ve come across to describe Grower Champagne. So – what is it? Well, in the simplest of forms, it’s Champagne made from growers. Easy, right? But let me break it down a bit further. I travelled extensively through Champagne this fall, tasting with a mix of growers, producers, grand houses and major négociants. I tasted exemplary Champagne, across all levels and sources. While it’s not true that Grower Champagnes are intrinsically better, they are inherently characterful, singular and relevant. This is especially timely in this wine age when consumers are asking questions, searching for a sense of place and talking terroir like never before. Champagne made on a much smaller scale, by the people who work the soils and tend the vines is a welcome contrast to the large mass-market houses with seemingly unlimited marketing budgets and unbalanced priorities.

When I visited growers, the sense of family was paramount. I was welcomed into homes, sat on couches and surrounded by family photos. At Gimonnet & Fils, in the village of Cuis, I spent an afternoon with Didier Gimonnet in the “living room” of the winery, the house where he and his brother Olivier grew up. The house is now utilized for business and holds the tasting room, but the warm and welcoming environment perfectly reflected the tone of the afternoon and the gracious nature of my host. Wine and life organically, naturally intertwined.

It can’t be stated enough – Champagne comes ONLY from the delineated Champagne region in France. Not all sparkling wine is Champagne – far from it. Other places around the world, including Canadian soils, craft fine sparkling wines (we share the 49th Parallel with the Champagne region). Producers can follow the same painstaking and lengthy process and use the same grapes – mainly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – just like Champagne. But unless you’re one of the 300,000 or so specific vineyard plots in northeast France where it is legal to plant Champagne grapes on over 34,000 specifically delineated hectares, and then follow to the letter the AOC rules for aging and release, you’re simply not Champagne. So, don’t use the term, sil vous plait.

Growers Champagne by Numbers

Champagne vineyardToday 90% of all of the vineyards in Champagne are owned by independent growers – about 19,000 of them – and nearly 2000 of these growers make and sell their own wine, “Grower’s Champagne”, accounting for approximately 22% of the sales. The vast majority of exports however are controlled by the large négociants. The big houses own just 10% of the vineyard area of Champagne, but control a mind-boggling 97% of exports. Since these global powers own only a small fraction of the vineyard acreage collectively, sourcing grapes and wine is a major priority. The 10 largest houses account for over 50% of the region’s sales, which are considerable. In 2012, Champagne revenue was 4.4 billion Euros. Bubbles are big business, to be sure.

To keep on top, large houses have no choice but to send out ample consistent product to consumers on every corner of the globe. For NV champagne, the flagship product of the house, the consistency of that bottle (the ‘house style’) is of the utmost importance. From year to year, country to country and restaurant to restaurant, that bottle is meant to taste the same. One very large négociants I visited this fall boasted that the cork was popped on their NV champagne every 1.7 seconds somewhere around the world. I can see why Jancis Robinson was prompted to wonder “Is champagne a wine or a brand?”

The large houses, with millions of bottles lining kilometers of cellars, drive the lion’s share of that revenue, and have the budgets and backing for marketing their luxury product – one that has become somewhat of a standardized commodity. Grower Champagne, by contrast, is the opposite. Small growers, usually family owned and operated, are opting to produce their own Champagne rather than sell to the négociants. These small-scale wines are made and bottled from the grower’s own grapes, with an allowance of 5% of purchased grapes if required. While blending (of vintage, vineyards, grapes) is still very much part of the production, vintage variation is a given, and among many wine professionals, a bonus.

Since individual vineyard holdings are small, Grower Champagnes, by nature and default, focus on a certain region. Vineyards may be clustered around a single village, thus the Champagne reflects that village’s terroir. In contrast, for the large brands’ consistent house style, grapes may be blended from vineyard plots across the entire Champagne region.

Grower Champagnes are often released younger than their large house counterparts due in part to the greater financial resources that would be needed for long-term aging and storage. Since production is small, many growers can try new things and push the envelope a bit. Lower dosage wines are common, with zero dosage (brut nature, brut zéro or non-dosé) on trend. I tasted biodynamic champagne and single plot champagne – something that you wouldn’t see on a large-scale.

Differing aim, differing targets. One is looking for site (and vintage) expression, and the other consistency, no matter the year. Both producers are telling a story, but through entirely diverse plotlines, with vastly opposite budgets and completely divergent endings.

Recognizing Grower Champagne

Pierre Paillard Blanc de BlancsGrower Champagnes can be identified by the initials that appear before a number on the wine label. Look for a miniscule RM on the label, denoting Récoltant-Manipulant. This means the producer grows and makes Champagne from their own vines (minimum 95%). The initials NM (Négociant-Manipulant) appear on the labels of champagne producers that bottle and market champagne using grapes purchased from other growers. This is where the large Champagne houses fit in. CM (Coopérative-Manipulant) is a co-operative of growers who blend the product of their collective vineyards to sell under one or more brands. RC (Récoltant-Coopérateur) is a wine sourced from a single grower but made entirely for him by a co-operative winemaking facility. SR (Société de Récoltants) is a registered firm set up by two or more growers who share the same winery which they use to make wine to sell under their own label. This designation differs from a CM in that the growers almost always have significant involvement in the winemaking process. And MA (marque d’acheteur) is a buyer’s own brand, as for a supermarket, for example.

Since production of Grower Champagnes is much smaller, you often have to seek them out in specialty stores or savvy restaurants. Befriend the sommelier and ask questions – your hunt will be rewarded.

Two Producers to Seek Out

The appeal to these artisanal, personal Grower Champagnes lies in their sense of place and the growers who produce them. One such producer is Pierre Gimonnet & Fils. Quiet spoken, quick-witted and genuine in his hospitality, Didier Gimonnet explained how his grandfather, Pierre, began the winery after the Depression in the 1920’s ceased the sale of grapes. The family had been farming vines in the village of Cuis since the 1750’s, selling to négociants. When the market for grapes dried up with the economy, Pierre decided to produce his own wines. Pierre’s scientist son, Michel, oversaw the winery from 1955 to 1996, focusing specifically on vineyard sites and expressions of terroir as the benchmark for the winery.

Today, the house of Gimonnet is run by Pierre’s grandsons – Didier and Olivier. They own 30 hectares in total; 16 hectares are Premier Cru from the village of Cuis. A high percentage of their vineyards are Grand Cru (averaging 40 years in age) and cover 12 hectares in total, spread across the villages of Cramant, Chouilly, Oger and Aÿ. All of their wines go through primary fermentation and malolactic fermentation in stainless steel, and reserve wines are stored in bottle as opposed to tank (the norm in Champagne). This is done to slow down the evolution process and maintain freshness. As Didier explained to me, “We are not winemakers, we are the interpreters of the vineyard.” Lutte raisonnée guides their philosophy, old vines are treasured and vinification is “as simple as humanly possible.” He prefers fining over filtration, to respect the protein of the wine, and doesn’t employ battonage because he wants to produce delicate lees. “The origin of the grapes really determines the house style,” notes Didier, who clearly sees his role in conveying what is in the chalky, limestone mineral-driven Côte des Blancs. That’s not to say Didier wants to vinify a single plot on its own, forsaking quality for site. “In general, I am against a single plot, or single terroir Champagne for Gimonnet. Blends provide balance.” Therefore he sources grapes from across his 30 HA, basing his selections on the vintage and the wine he aims to create. All share the Gimonnet hallmarks – vivacity, crystalline purity, linear precision and stunning finesse of Chardonnay from the Cotes des Blanc.

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut Blanc De Blancs 'cuis' 1er Cru

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut Cuis 1er Cru NV

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Gastronome Blanc De Blancs Brut

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut “Gastronome” 2008

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut "Fleuron" 2006, Champagne

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut “Fleuron” 2006

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut "Spécial Club" 2005

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut “Spécial Club” 2005

I also spent an afternoon in the tasting room/storage facility/vine showcase/photo gallery winery with Quentin Paillard, a youthful and confident 8th generation of vine grower. Quentin carries on the family tradition as winemaker, along with this brother Antoine and father Benoît. The Paillard family has been growing vine and making wine in Bouzy since 1768, and making wine under the Pierre Paillard name for four generations. Situated in the heart of the Montagne de Reims, Bouzy is a renowned Grand Cru village for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Here they own all Grand Cru vineyards, 11HA in total, composed of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, exclusively cultivated on its own roots, and without clones. Sustainability governs the winemaking, malolactic fermentation is not blocked and natural ferments are encouraged. Quentin eloquently notes, “We think that a great wine is built in the vineyards and that the winemaker is an artist who uses creativity to elaborate the most beautiful cuvées.” The blends are key to the house’s unique style – rare because of their high percentage of Chardonnay in an area known primarily for Pinot Noir. Dozens of stainless steel tanks of all shapes and sizes fill the winery. As Quentin explains, they vinify each small plot separately, and then collectively decide what to blend and when, for each wine.

Chardonnay’s freshness acts as a perfect counterpart to the fuller, fruitier Pinot Noir typical of Bouzy’s deep soils and exposure. Pierre Paillard’s fuller, more powerful style is also due to extended aging on the lees and up to 10 years of bottle aging in the underground cellars prior to release. These wines are broodingly graceful and powerfully elegant, with a subtle underlying fruitiness throughout.

Quentin, rather humbly, typifies this new generation of Grower Champagne. Travelled, studied, inquisitive and inspired, he welcomes new ideas in winemaking while grounding everything he does in tradition, just like seven generations before him. There is a tight, collective culture across the entire Champagne region. When I chatted about whom else I was visiting on my trip, both Didier and Quentin knew every winemaker, every house, every position from the smallest operation up to the largest luxury producer. On some level they all discuss, collaborate and cooperatively share information – amazingly all while existing in a highly competitive market. I left a week in Champagne feeling certain that it is a wine, not a brand, and thankful to the growers for reminding me so.

Champagne Pierre Paillard N/V Grand Cru Brut

Champagne Pierre Paillard N/V Grand Cru Brut

Champagne Pierre Paillard N/V Grand Cru Brut Rosé

Champagne Pierre Paillard  N/V Grand Cru Brut Rosé

For more information on Grower Champagne, visit Les Champagnes de Vignerons

For more information on the Champagne region, visit

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

A Sparkling Countdown Part 2: Luxe Champagne
Complete list of recommended wines: Sparkling Countdown 2013

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