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BC Critics’ Picks August 2014

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

Focusing on the WineAlign World Wine Awards

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

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

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

Cheers, Treve Ring

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

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

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

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

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

DJ Kearney

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

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

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

Rhys Pender MW

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

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

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

Treve Ring

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

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

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

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

*****

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

Cheers,

Treve Ring

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


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Spirits to Sing About

The Spirits Review
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

For another man it would be a hard act to follow. When Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Sammy Hagar expanded his repertoire to launch Cabo Wabo tequila he struck it rich, very rich. The brand was inspired by his Cabo Wabo nightclub which opened in 1990 in Cabos San Lucas. It’s a rocking party place that’s a must go for everyone who visits the Baja California peninsula in Mexico.

Said Hagar, “Cabo Wabo is a lifestyle. Something that requires only a willingness to enjoy your life and embrace all that makes you happy.” And oh boy do people party there, I can attest.

Cabo Wabo Tequila was born in 1996 on the back roads of Guadalajara when Hagar went searching for a tequila exceptional enough to serve inside his cantina in Cabo San Lucas. He partnered with a tequila-making family with over 80 years of experience where the agave used to make Cabo Wabo is grown, cultivated and harvested by this same family.

In May, 2007 Hagar sold an 80% interest in Cabo Wabo Tequila to Gruppo Campari, the world’s sixth-largest spirits company, for $80 million. In in 2010, Sammy Hagar sold his remaining 20% stake in Cabo Wabo to Campari for $11 million.

Sammy's Beach Bar RumThat’s a pretty profit. The 66 year old now ranks among the highest-net-worth rock stars. So what’s he doing now? For act two in the spirit world, he’s launched a rum from Maui, Hawaii called Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum. Distilled from two year old Maui Gold Sugar Cane using unique column stills it’s bound to be a success.

When I asked Hagar, the multi-platinum former front man of hard rock champions Van Halen, if he was going to write a rum song, he said “After Mas Tequila, it’s a hard act to follow.” (Cabo Wabo Cantina was where the video for the 1999 hit song “Mas Tequila” from the Red Voodoo album was filmed.) I’m not sure I believe him. His next acts seem as strong if not stronger than the previous ones.

I had the pleasure to meet the fun loving Hagar in Toronto during his promotional tour for the launch of his rum in Canada. He quipped, “When you work for me it’s mandatory to drink.” Where do I sign up? For more on him go to: www.redrocker.com

Hagar’s right on target with today’s tastes. All deluxe white spirits are trending up: rum, vodka and gin.

Barbancourt 5 Stars 8 Year Old Reserve takes pride in producing rum from sugar cane juice instead of molasses which is the norm. Barbancourt rum produced in Haiti since 1862 is double distilled in pot stills and aged in French Limousin oak barrels. This well-aged version is lovely.

Appleton Estate ReserveRhum Barbancourt 5 Stars 8 Yo Special ReserveAppleton Estate Reserve rum is a smooth, full and flavoursome rum. Visiting the estate itself is more on the rough side. The distillery is in the picturesque Nassau Valley in St. Elizabeth in the interior of the island. Almost as soon as we left the protective walls of the Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall (our base on the island), we were in what I like to call the un-sanitized Caribbean.

The narrow, twisting road had a raging case of potholes, with sharp edges that slashed at our tires (and did manage to puncture one). The verdant countryside was teaming with life: huge bamboo groves, towering palms, fruit trees of all sorts and fields of agricultural crops. Amidst the green were houses – many wood shacks in colourful shades of robin egg blue, chartreuse, bright yellow and the like with corrugated zinc roofs; others imposing cement McMansions with several storey’s either completed or in the works and not yet painted. Cows, goats and chickens scurried about the yards.

Along with schools, each town we passed had its share of churches, largely Seventh-day Adventist and charismatic types where singing and dancing are part of the service. Beside just about every church was a rum bar, many painted with the slogan “Show me the Wray”. (Wray and Nephew Ltd own Appleton Distillery.) “We like to sooth both spirits,” explained Joy Spence, master blender at Appleton.

This colourful countryside was a captivating prelude to our Appleton Tour and almost before we knew it we had arrived. Joy met us and began our tour by taking us up the hillside to gaze upon the over 4,000 hectares of sugar cane fields owned by the distillery. These fields supply the entire base product needed for Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum. This single estate in a small circumscribed geographic area makes Appleton one of the few rum brands in the world to claim a “terroir”.

And the “terroir” of the Nassau Valley is unique. The valley’s fertile fields enjoy a regular afternoon rain shower and warm sunshine – the optimum conditions to grow sugar cane – a giant grass belonging to the genus saccharum. The valley is also part of Jamaica’s world famous Cockpit Country, a Karst formation which was formed over millions of years. (Karst is a generic name given to limestone that has been eroded by the chemical action of rain.)  There are just three Cockpit Karst formations in the world; the others are in Montenegro and China. The hilly landscape looks like an egg carton turned upside down.

Once the cane is harvested, it’s brought to the factory where the sugar manufacturing process begins. Animals are not encouraged to go anywhere near this factory. We saw a sign that proclaimed “Goats will be shot, cows impounded.” When asked about that, Joy replied with a laugh, “Jamaicans like curry goat a lot more than beef.”

The cane is washed, chopped and milled to extract the cane’s sweet juice. The juice that is extracted is boiled to make a syrup. The fibres (bagasse) that are left behind after the juice is extracted are used to fuel the factory’s boilers. Sugar crystals are spun out of the syrup and molasses is left; the latter is what’s used to make rum.

Ten tons of sugar cane makes one ton of sugar and 0.4 tons of molasses. From that 30 cases of rum can be made.

As part of the tour we got to grind the juice out of some sugar cane and sample the result. We also tasted the syrupy mixture of sugar crystals and molasses. We toured the distillation area with its pot stills and continuous stills; a hot part of the plant filled with the aromas of molasses. We cooled down in the aging cellar, stacked with old barrels and intriguing smells of its own.  Then of course it was time to sip the range of rums. Joy called her seminar “The Joy of Rum” no pun intended.

We learned that sugar cane was brought from Papua New Guinea to the Caribbean in 1493 by Christopher Columbus. The first documented rum production at Appleton was in 1749. By 1893 there were 148 distilleries in Jamaica producing 73 million litres of rum. In 2011 there were just six distilleries left but they manage to produce 20.5 million litres.

Bacardi AñejoAppleton Estate VXThe secret to many exceptional rums is blending- a creative step that demands a true artist of the palate. Master Blender, Joy Spence, the first woman to be appointed Master Blender in the world, uses many different types and styles of rum to create each blend that has the Appleton Jamaica Rum name. Pot still rums are more aromatic and flavourful. Continuous still rums have subtle fruit notes and lightness. Aging in former American bourbon barrels adds notes of vanilla, coffee and toasted almond. Joy can pick from 240,000 barrels of aging rum at Appleton.

Of the Appleton rums available in Canada, the best all-rounder is Appleton Estate V/X, the flagship brand of the rum family.

Bacardi Anejo has a soft open style and light bronze hue. On a recent trip to Puerto Rico I visited the Bacardi rum distillery. The company’s free distillery tour in San Juan includes two drinks per person so no surprise that it draws crowds from morning to closing. The Puerto Rico distillery goes 24/7 and produces 100,000 gallons of rum a day from imported molasses. Bacardi was founded by Don Facundo Bacardí Massó in Cuba in 1862. Now the largest privately held, family-owned spirits company in the world, it set up distilleries in other countries (including in Brampton, Ontario) after the Cuban Revolution.

Let’s all sing to the success of rums throughout the world. Maybe if we pen the right words or create the perfect spirit we’ll make a fortune. If not, at least we’ll be happy.

 

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on the link below:

Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can read Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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Cool White Spirits

by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Vodka in North America once was a colourless flavourless way to booze up orange or tomato juice. Then came the flavoured vodkas often used to add jazz to cocktails. Now along comes a Swedish vodka created specifically to max out flavour without the addition of flavourings. Just pure unfiltered distilled grain – albeit distilled 34 times – and best served unadulterated by anything but water.

Master Blender Thomas Kuuttanen travelled recently to Canada to present his Purity Vodka to bartenders and spirit writers. Kuuttanen who has worked for over 25 years as a distiller of whisky, eau-de-vie and liqueurs said “I didn’t like what vodka had become over the years – colourless, tasteless and odorless.”

He set about developing an old school style vodka that played by the rules (i.e. could not according to regulations be solely made in a pot still) but had texture, aroma and flavour. To do this he had to invent his own distillation method and his own distillation apparatus which took over a year to create (a pot still and two special distillation towers).

Purity VodkaVodka can be made with any agricultural ingredient however most use wheat. Kuuttanen used a combo of winter wheat and two-row organic malted barley (the same type used for whisky) for Purity. The 34 extremely slow distillations over several days are what make the biggest difference. He uses only the finest 10% distillate and he doesn’t filter his vodka (it’s so pure there’s no need he says).

The result is the first vodka to score a perfect 100 points (organic category, The Vodka Masters 2011) and is the most awarded ultra-premium vodka in the world with over 80 gold medals. At the tasting I attended we compared Purity with Smirnoff (the biggest selling vodka in the world), Grey Goose, Stoli Elit and Absolut Elyx. Smirnoff as could be expected was the most neutral, Purity the most aromatic and deep with flavour and Stoli Elit the prettiest and silkiest.

He presented a vodka flavour chart to demonstrate which vodkas fell where on the scale of neutral to complex and light to rich. In the quadrant of complex and rich were such vodkas as Stoli Elit, Ketel One, Belvedere Intense, Vermont Gold and right up at the top, Purity.

Kuuttanen’s signature cocktail for Purity is 3 parts vodka, one part water stirred over ice and strained out into a martini glass. To make a smoky martini he recommends using the same formula but swirling Laphroaig in the martini glass first. Then toss out the whisky, rub an orange peel on the top of the glass and pour in the vodka/water mix.

Spud Potato vodka is another interesting vodka to come to Canada. Made in Poland from distilled potatoes grown without chemicals or pesticides, its creamy texture works well in highball drinks. It’s also free of additives. (Many vodkas contain additives such as glycerine, sugars or softeners to make the vodka taste better.)

Spud Potato VodkaBroken Shed VodkaI Spirit VodkaGrey Goose VX

Additive free Broken Shed Vodka from New Zealand currently has a small distribution in British Columbia through Indigo Hospitality Solutions (www.tasteindigo.com) with a view to grow its presence throughout Canada. It’s also making a name for itself in the US. Its unusual twist is that it’s made from whey.

The Italian vodka, I Spirit Vodka debuted in 2009, a project of three Italians: Arrigo Cipriani of Harry’s Bar, Lapo Elkann (from the Fiat family)and wine producer Marco Fantinel.

Available only in Duty Free in Canada, Grey Goose VX is silky, smooth and exceptional.

Deluxe gins are trendy in Canada. In Ontario those in the over $32 category are up 80 per cent. That said it’s good to see value priced ($27.95) elegant and citrus crisp Hayman’s London Dry Gin on the shelves too. Hayman’s Old Tom Gin is a lovely old style juniper dominant, ginny gin.

Hayman's London Dry GinHayman's Old Tom GinBombay Sapphire East

From Islay in Scotland, The Botanist Dry Gin has nine classic gin botanicals plus an astonishing 22 local herbs and flowers to flavour it. Bombay Sapphire East has an addition of Thai lemongrass and Vietnamese black peppercorns to lend it an exotic flare. For a most refreshing G&T press 3 small bulbs of lemongrass and a lime wedge into the base of a glass. Add 1.5 ounces Bombay Sapphire East Gin, Fever Tree Tonic (less sweet than standard commercial sodas) and ice to the glass and stir. Garnish with a sprinkle of cracked peppercorn and a stem of lemongrass.

Auchentoshan 12 Years Old Single Malt Scotch WhiskyThose who prefer a brown spirit for their cocktails or just for sweet summer sipping on the rocks by the dock should stock up on triple distilled Auchentoshan.

For an alternative to a G&T; mix a good quality ginger beer with 1.5 ounces Auchentoshan in a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with an orange slice. This single malt Lowland scotch is smooth yet distinctive. Ideal like those gins and vodkas above to mellow out and relax on a midsummer day.

Cin cin, salud, santé, cheerio, skål, slainte – whatever your toast – have a cheer filled summer.

 

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on the link below:

Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can read Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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The Successful Collector – The Haut-Médoc

Stomping grounds for value
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

If there’s one problem Bordeaux has yet to overcome, it’s convincing enthusiasts that great claret need not break the bank. Yet many less-esteemed appellations throughout one of France’s most celebrated winegrowing areas are nowadays consistently able to combine both quality and ageability with youthful scrumptiousness and value. Of these, the Haut-Médoc is arguably at the forefront.

The largest appellation on the Left Bank of the Gironde, the Haut-Médoc surrounds the far more renowned appellations (excluded like a jigsaw puzzle from the map shown right) of Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac, and St-Estèphe, each home to the lion’s share of the most famous estates in Bordeaux. The others are situated further upriver, just south of the city of Bordeaux, in the appellation of Pessac-Léognan. As a result, the finest estates of the Haut-Médoc are routinely overlooked.

But this has begun changing for some time, particularly in parts of the Haut-Médoc most blessed with higher gravel mounds on which to plant vines. As with the finest sections in the more celebrated appellations mentioned above, these gravel mounds represent one of the most significant characteristics of the greatest terroirs on the Left Bank. While regrettable, estates with vines sourced from lower-level locations simply cannot make the same wines.

The boundaries of the Haut-Médoc are extensive. Extending only several kilometres into the hinterland, the appellation begins just northeast of the city of Bordeaux along the Left Bank of the Gironde. It concludes several kilometres north of St-Estèphe, where the gravel mounds finally give way to lower-lying vineyards located in an appellation known simply as Médoc. Merlot tends to play a much greater role in the blends at this point along the river, with Cabernet Sauvignon habitually used in much smaller amounts.

Throughout much of the Haut-Médoc, Cabernet Sauvignon is used in fairly generous proportions, reinforced by Merlot and small percentages of Cabernet Franc. Petit Verdot may be found from time to time, while Malbec may turn up in extremely small sums here and there. While the most illustrious estates may employ hand pickers at harvest time, many estates will often bring in their grapes via mechanical harvesters. Unlike the most famous estates of Margaux or Pauillac, many establishments in the Haut-Médoc are unable to afford such a luxury. The use of new French oak barriques will also vary according to financial constraints and/or quality of the grapes.

Of rankings, the Haut-Médoc contains only five estates belonging to the famous yet contentious 1855 Classification, each varying in quality and typically ranging in VINTAGES and the SAQ from $45-100. In terms of overall value, better examples may be found among the numerous estates ranked as Cru Bourgeois, the chief ranking category of the appellation. With the odd exception, prices in this category usually range from $20-40.

In the past, the majority of such wines were excessively lean and required years of cellaring in order to blossom. Not anymore. As a result of better winegrowing techniques and changes in climatic conditions (think global warming), the best Cru Bourgeois wines nowadays routinely offer immediate, concentrated appeal, and may be kept for up to ten years or more in the cellar. What’s more, their prices are strikingly reasonable, unlike their counterparts in St-Julien or St-Estèphe, where estates included in the 1855 Classification have all but been cordoned off except to the most well-heeled of buyers.

In the twenty-first century, never before has the winegrowing region of Bordeaux made such sizeable quantities of excellent wine. Yet the consequences of celebrity have grown all too apparent in appellations like Margaux or Pauillac, where wines once considered reasonable have become anything but. For diehard claret lovers, therefore, the fast-improving Haut-Médoc could not be more of a lifesaver.

My top choices:

Château Peyrabon 2010 Haut-Médoc is situated in the commune of St-Sauveur (just to the east of Pauillac) and represents terrific value for money. Although a rather oak-driven affair, all the component parts of this sumptuous claret are in marvellous alignment. Drink now or hold for up to ten years or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Sénéjac 2009 Haut-Médoc is situated in the commune of St-Pian (located in the southern part of the appellation) and is easily the most serious vintage I’ve tasted from this estate to date. Regrettably, only a handful of bottles are left in VINTAGES at time of publication. Drink now or hold for up to eight years or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Peyrabon 2010Château Senejac 2009Château Larose Trintaudon 2010Château Moulin De Blanchon 2009Château De Gironville 2009

Château Larose-Trintaudon 2010 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of St-Laurent (just to the east of St-Julien) and is the largest estate on the Left Bank. Though quality has been limited for many years, recent vintages such as the ’10 have been excellent. Drink now or hold for up to eight years. Decanting is recommended.

Château Moulin de Blanchon 2009 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of St-Seurin (just to the north of St-Estèphe) and represents a sincerely beautiful outing. From a part of the Haut-Médoc with some extremely fine wineries, it’s wines like these that typify the future of the appellation. Drink now or hold for up to six years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château de Gironville 2009 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of Macau (just to the south of Margaux) and is a truly delicious affair. Containing 10% Petit Verdot (unusual for a Haut-Médoc), there are only a handful of bottles left in VINTAGES at time of publication. Drink now or hold for up to eight years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château La Lagune 2010Château Belgrave 2009Château Belgrave 2009 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of St-Laurent (just to the east of St-Julien) and is ranked as a Fifth Growth in the 1855 Classification. Though twice the cost of a standard Cru Bourgeois, the ’09 really is an outstanding claret. Drink now or hold for up to fourteen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château La Lagune 2010 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of Ludon (located in the southern part of the appellation) and is ranked as a Third Growth in the 1855 Classification. This is widely regarded as one of the finest wines of the Haut-Médoc, and is highly recommended for serious collectors. Drink now or hold for up to twenty years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Readers may want to take note that there are many other exemplary wines currently available in VINTAGES and the SAQ that have not been listed as recommendations. This is because I either do not have evaluations for them, or because they are wines from alternate vintages that are no longer available in stores.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

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

All Julian Hitner Reviews


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BC Critics’ Picks July 2014

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

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

Cheers, Treve Ring

BC Team Version 3

Respect – from DJ Kearney

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

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

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

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

Attitude Shifts – from Rhys Pender MW

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

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

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

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

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

Tour de Canadian Force – from Treve Ring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – June 2014

Rum and Summer Cocktails
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

The rums are rolling in just in time for summer festivals and cool cocktails. Some rums are new while others are repackaged or reinvented to refresh our palates and our days. Rum has a slew of legendary drinks; the Daiquiri, Cuba Libre, the Zombie, Piña Colada and the Mojito to name several with long histories. Get on island time with these smooth spirits and join the festivities.

Bacardi is launching a new campaign “Bacardi Untameable Since 1862” to highlight their origins in Santiago de Cuba in 1862 and famous rum drinks such as the Cuba Libre, the original name given to the now ubiquitous rum and coke with a lime wedge. (According to various reports, the Cuba Libre was first mixed at a Cuban bar in August 1900 by a member of the U.S. Signal Corps.) Bacardi’s biggest seller is Bacardi Superior Blanco, a light bodied white rum that’s tailor made for cocktails.

Bacardi Superior RumJuly 3 – 6th sees the launch of Bacardi Festival Libre, a multi-day festival in Toronto followed by consecutive events in Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal. The five day kick-off festival takes place in Toronto’s Distillery District with live music, dancing, stalls of local artisans and vendors, samplings and Cuban food stations.

Bacardi’s bat logo has also been redesigned based on hand-drawn designs from the early 1900’s and the Bacardi word mark has been updated, influenced by the Cuban Art Deco style from the late 1920’s to 1930’s.

Mount Gay made in Barbados has also gone through a recent redesign. Barbados is called the birthplace of rum: it’s believed rum was made there as early as 1493. It’s often said that the spirit got its name in the taverns of Bridgetown, where life was “rumbustious”. The island still plays homage to its heritage. When I last visited Barbados they boasted 1,600 rum shops, about six to every square kilometre. Luckily Barbados is blessed with rum’s other vital ingredient; pure, clean and abundant water, naturally filtered by the coral which makes up its land mass.

Mount Gay Rum Extra Old RumMount Gay EclipseMount Gay was created by Sir John Gay in 1703 and for over 300 years the distillery has remained true to their signature style of aging and blending single and double distillates matured in toasted oak barrels. Eclipse has two to seven year rums and a distinctive banana aroma. Enhance the banana character by making a Rum Runner cocktail: one ounce Eclipse, quarter ounce each of blackberry and of banana liqueurs, two ounce orange juice and a splash of grenadine poured over crushed ice. Silky long aged Mount Gay XO just poured over ice goes down very smoothly indeed.

There’s also been a relaunch for the Dominican Republic’s Brugal rum range (including 1888, Añejo and Especial Extra Dry) with package redesign and new rums introduced. Those visiting Puerto Plata in DR should include a visit to nearby Brugal to taste on location. (Puerto Plata is much more of a real city with a history compared to the Punta Cana area that’s mainly a string of over 80 resorts spread along 60 kilometres of east coast beaches.) In the mid-19th century Spaniard Andrés Brugal Montaner settled in Puerto Plata and founded Brugal Distillery in 1888. His rum-crafting skills have been passed through five generations of Maestros Roneros in the Brugal family. Brugal rums have a distinctive dry, woody taste profile that have helped make them the number one selling rum in the Caribbean and the third largest rum brand worldwide.

BRUGAL ANEJOBRUGAL EXTRA DRYBrugal 1888 Gran Reserva Familiar RumIn the distillation process for all Brugal rums the heavy alcohols and congeners which give most rums their characteristic sweetness are removed. The rums are then aged in high quality oak casks – an element that’s important to brand owner Edrington which acquired the company in 2008 and also has top whisky brands such as The Macallan and Highland Park.

Brugal Añejo is aged two to five years in American oak casks. Brugal Especial Extra Dry is a white rum aged up to five years. Brugal 1888 is aged in medium-toasted American white oak for up to eight years, followed by a second maturation in Spanish sherry-seasoned oak. All the rums have the characteristic dry woody Brugal signature.

For refreshing summer sipping I leave you with the Golden Mojito recipe courtesy of Brugal. Ingredients: 1.5 ounces Brugal Añejo, ¾ ounce fresh lime juice, ½ ounce sugar syrup, 10 mint leaves, ginger ale and one lime wedge. Add lime juice, sugar syrup, mint and rum to a glass and muddle at the bottom of the glass. Fill with crushed ice and stir. Top up with ginger ale and garnish with the lime and a sprig of mint.

Salud!

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can read Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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The Caveman Speaks in May

Welcome to The Caveman Speaks. Bill Zacharkiw’s monthly rants and raves from the world of wine.

Drink Different: Go Greek!
By Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Funny thing happened last week. I went to a wine tasting and left re-invigorated, hopeful, enthusiastic. I was, yes, happy. No, I wasn’t tasting a vertical of Romanée Conti or some other absurdly priced member of the pantheon of mythical wines. I wasn’t awash in top end Napa Cabernet or 95-point Bordeaux. That would have made me even more cynical, though admittedly that brings me a certain degree of happiness as well.

I was at a tasting of Greek wines.

There were around 120 wines, a couple dozen winemakers and a plethora of great value wines that, and this is the kicker, weren’t loaded with sugar or tasted as if they were the made in a laboratory. They spoke of a place. They were different. They were tasty. And very few were over $25. Most, in fact, were under $20.

Yes, I can hear you out there. “Ewww, Retsina sucks!” Well, in Retsina’s defense, when done well, it doesn’t. Cheap, weedy cabernet also sucks but I don’t see people refusing to explore the Niagara or BC wine regions because of it. And anyways, Greece is much more than the pine-resin infused Retisna. Unfortunately, cheap Retsina has become Greece’s version of lousy Liebfraumilch: known by many, loved by few.

So let’s wipe the slate clean here. Greece is a paradise for the inquisitive wine lover. While there are some good examples of international varietals – you can find quality cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, syrah and the rest – it’s the indigenous grapes which are the strength of the industry.

Savatiano grape grown just outside of Athens

Savatiano grape grown just outside of Athens

There are hundreds of indigenous varieties, many of which have been grown for thousands, yes thousands, of years. Finding the right grape for the right place takes time, so we can safely presume that after millenia, the Greeks have done their due diligence. Many of these grapes are grown only in a single region, or sometimes, on a single island.

But as most people have never heard of these varieties, it requires a certain leap of faith. I made that leap a few years ago. One of the greatest red wines I have ever tasted was made with vertzami, which only grows on a small island called Lefkada. Slap that sucker in a blind tasting of Cru Bordeaux and watch it shock and awe. Malagousia, roditis, robola, assyrtiko? All are unique in terms of their aromas and flavours. And the vast majority are very accessible, both in taste and even more importantly, price.

And that is what makes Greece so easy to explore. Taking a chance on a $16 bottle is a lot easier than one that costs $25. The wine making is decidedly European, built along classic lines of acidity and tannin.

So where to start? How about dealing with this Retsina question. When I was last in Greece, I visited Vassilis Papagiannakos, who makes wine just outside of Athens in the region of Attica. These have been the vineyards of Athens before the time of Socrates. It is also the birthplace of Retsina and the savatiano grape which acts as its base. Papagiannakos makes an excellent Retsina, and he explained that by adding the pine sap during the initial fermentation, it integrates into the wine. The result is that the pine flavouring remains subtle, bringing an almost minty freshness to the wine. I challenge anyone to find a wine that matches better than a well-made Retsina while sitting in the sun, and eating traditional Greek entrées like tatziki, olives, and taramasalata.

Tselepos Mantinia Moschofilero 2013Boutari Moschofilero 2013Papagiannakos Savatiano 2013I couldn’t get enough, and maybe one day it will be available here in Quebec. But what is available is Papagiannakos’ straight savatiano, and his 2013 is one of the best I have tasted. Fresh, subtle and with texture. Think of a blend of Petit Chablis with viognier if you want an idea of the style, and at just over $16, it’s hard to beat.

Further south in the Peloponnese, the peninsula which makes up the southern part of the country, another more aromatic white grape is grown, Moschofilero. The appellation is Mantinia, and the wines are strikingly similar to pinot grigio. Perhaps a touch less aromatic, the wines show a striking freshness, as well as a rich mouthfeel depending on where it was grown.

Try Boutari’s 2013 for a good entry priced version or if you want to spend a touch more, for $19 you can pack back Tselepos’ 2013, which is a touch more aromatic and richer textured.

No discussion about Greek whites is complete without mentioning assyrtiko. While it can be found throughout Greece, it’s greatest expression is on the volcanic island of Santorini. Winemaking here dates back to 1000BC. With 3000 years of growing experience, I have never come across such an enduring history between a place and a grape.

Want “old vines” ? Here in Canada, an “old vine” might have been planted 20 or 30 years ago. In Burgundy, 40 to 50 years is generally considered the beginning of old age. But on Santorini, it’s not hard to find vines over 200 years old. Some are even closing in on 500.

Gaia Thalassitis Assyrtiko 2013Tsantali Rapsani 2011Boutari Grande Reserve 2008 bottleThe result is a synergy between a grape and a place which should be considered in the same breadth as chardonnay in Chablis, sauvignon blanc in Sancerre, or pinot noir in Burgundy. Its comparative is in fact sauvignon blanc, though less aromatic and more mineral. Try Gaia’s Thalassitis as a great example of how good it can be.

Red wine lovers can also explore on the cheap. The undisputed king of red grapes is xinomavro. Grown in the northern part of the country, it tastes like a cross between nebbiolo and dolcetto. Red fruit, structured and aromatic. Look for notes of oregano and sun-dried tomato as well.

No lack of selection available. A good entry point is Tsantali’s Rapsani. Grown at the foot of Mount Athos, this blend of xinomavro, krassato and stavroto is fruity and incredibly interesting. And at $12, hardly a risky purchase.

The home of xinomavro is in the northwestern region of Naousa. There are still a few bottles left of Boutari’s exceptional, 2008 Grand Reserve if you want to taste for yourself how well xinomavro can age. That’s $19 folks and it will easily age another decade. Very traditionally styled with red fruit, herbs and a touch of tobacco.

Gaia Agiorgitiko NemeaThymiopoulos Vineyards Yn Kai Oupavós Xinomavro 2011Domaine Thymiopoulos XinomavroFor a less serious but exceptionally tasty version of the grape, Thymiopolous’ Jeunes Vignes has become a staple at my house. The 2012 shows brilliant fruit and garden herbs, and exceptional finesse. And again, it will cost you under $19.

For those of you in Ontario, who want a serious deal, there are still some of his 2010 Terre et Ciel available. At $19.95, compared to $29.90 at the SAQ, the LCBO is practically giving this away.

There are many more but I’ll stop with one last recommendation. Gaia’s Agiorgitiko is Barbera styled, red fruit driven, and perhaps the best version I have tasted of this grape. For more Greek wines and reviews, set you “Find Wine” country filter to Greece and explore the possibilities at a store near you.

Until next time.

Bill

“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

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

 

Fields of 200+ year old assyrtiko vines on Santorini

Fields of 200+ year old assyrtiko vines on Santorini

 

Greece photos courtesy of Bill Zacharkiw

 


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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – May 2014

Sip the Waters of Life
By Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Eaux-de-vie, the “waters of life” produced from distilling fruits, wild forest berries, flowers, tree buds, grape pomace and other sometimes very rare botanicals are the Cinderella’s of the spirit world. Hard to find but beautiful, waiting for their moment to shine. I search them out whenever I travel and encourage spirit lovers and our liquor boards to do the same. The treasure hunt is worth it.

There are the fruit and wild berry based eaux-de-vie of Switzerland, France, Austria and other European countries, the apple based Calvados from Normandy France, the schnapps of the German speaking countries, slivovitz (plum) of the Slavic regions, the marc based grappa of Italy and much more. These eaux-de-vie are the very essence of the plant from whence they come – no need for added ‘natural flavour’, lab made aromatics or the cloak of sugar.

Alsace in the northeast corner of France produces some of the highest quality and varied of all the eaux-de-vie. Getting there is simple now with a high speed TGV train which goes directly from Charles de Gaulle Paris airport to Strasbourg in two hours twenty minutes.

Wine lovers know the region for the Alsace Wine Route, one of the oldest, prettiest and most historic of such routes. The route, founded in 1953, starts outside of Strasbourg and meanders by medieval castles, vineyards and through picture-postcard villages for 170 kilometres. About one thousand wine producers are along the way, 100 villages and some 50 wine festivals take place from April though to October.

Route des Eaux-de-VieA good number of the wine producers also sell eaux-de-vie, though most often, even if under their own label, the spirit is made by one of the distilleries who dot the landscape such as G. Miclo in Lapoutroie, Massenez in Dieffenbach-au-Val, Metté in Ribeauvillé and Meyer in Hohwarth. There’s even a “Route des Eaux-de-Vie” in Vallée de Villé which takes in Boutique Miss Massenez, Distillerie Jos. Nusbaumer, Distillerie Au Feu de Bois and Distillerie Meyer.

I visited Distillerie Meyer, established in 1958 in the tiny town of Hohwarth, for my insight and tasting of what can and will be distilled in Alsace. The Meyer family makes over 30 varieties of distillates including from rarities such as elderberry, service berry, rose hips, pine tips, holly berry and bilberry. (They also make smooth pure malt whisky aged in sauternes barrels and pastis with a cumin punch.) On an annual basis they go through over 600 to 700 tons of fruit, mostly local.

G.E. Massenez Vieux CalvadosTree fruits are fermented an average of three to five weeks and then distilled. The small wild berries are macerated in alcohol. The top of the line such as their Poire Grand Reserve which has won many gold medals, are aged four years before release. Apparently the fruit flavour becomes more pronounced with time while the spirit remains crystal clear and colourless.

But this is a tease to my readers really as even though the distillery told me they export a third of their production, they did not believe any has reached Canada (something they would be more than happy to remedy if there’s interest).

There are thankfully other eaux-de-vie which have reached our shores. I have found products by Massenez in Canada – the best selection is in Quebec which has a dozen of their products including pear, apple, ginger and plum. The Massenez Vieux Calvados in Ontario, which has an apple imprisoned in the bottle, has truly fantastic cider apple flavours that linger intensely. I put a few bottles of this on the bar for my step-daughter’s wedding and everyone who tried it fell in love.

DOMAINE DUPONT FINE RESERVE CALVADOS DU PAYS D'AUGEG. Miclo Coeur de Chauffe Framboise SauvageG. Miclo Poire Williams Grande ReserveG. Miclo Poire Williams Grande Réserve Eau De Vie in Ontario’s Vintages has a true clean pear nose and distinct pear flavours throughout with a nice dry but lingering pear finish. Their Coeur de Chauffe Framboise Sauvage which I’ve found in Quebec is the very essence of raspberry, taken from the heart of each distillation of the wild raspberry.

From Normandy, Calvados Domaine Dupont Fine Reserve made from double distilled cider aged in oak, has subtle yet persistent cider apple notes with a cognac like character.

Italy is best known for distilling grape pomace into grappa. The distillate, created over 500 years ago by peasants as a way to make use of the grape pits, skins and stalks left over after wine making, had a past reputation for tasting like firewater.  Today many are as elegant as the finest cognacs; presented in hand blown bottles whose exquisite design are art forms in themselves.

Top producers craft their grappas often from single wines, or a single grape variety sometimes even from a single designated vineyard.  Some are aged in wood of various sorts for up to ten years, and others contain the distillate of much grape juice as well as the pomace; a modern aqua vitae which expands the expression of these spirits. Jacopo Poli, is one of the world’s most famous grappa producers today. His Po’ di Poli Morbida Grappa is a beautifully perfumed distillate of the pomace of orange blossom muscat and white muscat.

Pò Di Poli Morbida Smooth Moscato GrappaNonino Amaro QuintessentiaGrappa Distilla CamomillaGiannola Nonino of Percoto in Udine province has been called by friends “our lady of grappa”.  Married in 1962 to aqua vitae producer Benito, she decided to transform grappa into an aristocratic beverage with delicate, softness which women could drink without embarrassment.  To do this she used pot stills and fresh pomace which went against the current of the times when continuous stills were adopted to cut costs and pomace was stocked for lengthy periods after harvest.

In 1984, she made another innovation.  Called Ùe, it was the first ever distillate of the whole grape (skin, pulp and juice) which she packaged in a splendid hand-blown bottle of transparent crystal by Venini of Murano. Nonino also makes fruit distillates from pear, raspberry, plum and cherry. (I’ve found the pear on occasion in Quebec.) More available on our shores now is Nonino’s amaro. (Other of her grappas I will review in a subsequent newsletter.)

Nonino Amaro Quintessentia di Erbe Alpine is a medium-sweet bitter made from grape distillate aged in barriques and married with mountain herbs.

Italcoral Distilla e Camomilla Grappa is sweetened with sugar and thus I would classify it more as a liqueur but it’s an interesting infusion of grappa with camomile that’s sweetly harmonious.

You might well find it a sometimes frustrating search to unearth these eaux-de-vie treasures but here’s hoping we’ll see more of them in the future. Lucky for us some Canadian distilleries such as Okanagan Spirits in BC with its Poire Williams for example are coming on stream with their versions.

Nonino RecipeMeanwhile I leave you with a fine summer cocktail courtesy of Nonino. Put 3 parts Nonino Amaro Quintessentia with 1.5 parts pear eau-de-vie, two parts each fresh lemon and orange juice, 3 parts grapefruit juice and one part super fine sugar in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well and strain into a tumbler filled with ice cubes. Squeeze grapefruit zest over the cocktail and enjoy.

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

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


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Bill Zacharkiw’s World of Wine

The “Anti-primeur” Bordeaux guide
By Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

“En primeur” has wrapped up for another year, and the news out of Bordeaux is that the 2013 vintage will likely mean a drop in profits for all those involved. Boo-hoo. Why am I reporting on the financial repercussions of this year’s version of “Wine meets Wall Street” instead of the quality of the wines? It’s because this whole event is mostly about money.

For those of you unfamiliar with “en primeur,” it’s the annual tasting event where the top 5% of châteaux in Bordeaux give critics, brokers and négociants a sneak peek at their most recent vintage. The wines are still in barrel, mind you, so they still need to be aged more, blended,  bottled and then aged some more. They are unfinished wines, but that’s besides the point.

Unlike the rest of the wine world, top end Bordeaux are not sold directly by the châteaux to agents in their respective countries. They use a tiered system of courtiers and négociants, essentially resellers and middlemen, who buy and resell or simply broker the wines.

St-Émilion 2This system was created because the nobility that owned many of these châteaux wanted little to do with the dirty work of selling their wines, so négociants would buy the wines while in barrel, bottle them and then resell them. Interesting to note that one of the reasons wines started to be bottled at the châteaux was in response to unscrupulous négociants who were caught putting crap wine in bottles and sticking labels of the top châteaux on them. Château Mouton Rothschild was the first to do this back in the 1920’s for quality assurance.

But back to “en primeur.” The way it works is that the château will set the initial prices of their wines while they are still in barrel. Bordeaux is one of the few places where prices fluctuate dramatically dependent upon vintage. The courtiers will then resell to négociants who will then take these wines, and resell them as futures.

The Bordelais are masters of marketing their wines. And much of this hype is based on these initial barrel samplings. Remember that these are unfinished wines so what you, the client, are ultimately getting when the wines are eventually released might not be truly representative of what was tasted.

But at this point it doesn’t matter. If certain critics confirm that the vintage is indeed excellent, the hype machine kicks into high gear. Wineries will release small amounts of their production, testing the market to see if it will accept these prices. If they do, there is a good chance that the next release will cost even more.

St-ÉmilionBoth the châteaux and négociants love this system as they are paid deposits on their wines well before the wines are sent to market. What happens afterwards depends on the economy and consumer interest, so the consumer at this point is taking all the risk. Will the bottles be cheaper or more expensive in the future? It’s like paying the stock market, and as happened with many 2005 bottles, as the market crashed in 2008, so did wine prices.

Château Latour pulled out of “en primeur” two years ago, deciding that they would be best served to hold onto their wines and release them when they felt they would be ready. In effect, they were saying that they want a larger part of the profits that come from the appreciation of their wine’s value.

This has many business interests concerned. As reported by Decanter magazine in the UK, Patrick Bernard of Bordeaux wine merchant Millésima, told a crowd of journalists and châteaux owners that they were boycotting Latour.

“We believe what Latour is doing undermines the whole system, and that a château that doesn’t sell en primeur does not respect how Bordeaux works,” he said.

Poor Patrick. Add to this that initial prices look like they will be significantly lower than in previous years due to a poor vintage in 2013, profits for all will be lower. Maybe the system can go back to screwing us next year.

Château Fougas Maldoror 2010Vieux Château Champs De Mars 2009Château Le Puy 2008While I take a certain morbid pleasure in their losing profits, the reality is that these wines are priced way out of most wine lover’s comfort zone. But the balance sheets of the corporations that own these Châteaux and négociants are not the only victims here. I know many wine lovers who have simply stopped looking to Bordeaux for their wines. Some because they perceive the wines being over priced, some due to the manipulated and overly-polished nature of many of the wines.

My Bordeaux includes very good and affordable wines, made by people who make and sell their own wines. So in their honour here is my “Anti-Primeur” guide. Finished wines, with age, and character.

One of my “go to” wines is from the Bordeaux Côtes de Francs appellation, from Château le Puy. Made with organically grown grapes, the 2008 is ready to drink and offers exceptional finesse and florals. And it is for $27, a bargain.

Another great organic producer is Château Vieux Champs de Mars. Their 2009 Côtes de Castillon ($23) shows the hallmarks of the ripe vintage, but without going overboard. A touch of Brett will make you animal lovers happy.

Château Maison Blanche 2009Château Cailleteau Bergeron 2011Château Rauzan Despagne 2011If you want a wine that will cellar well, the 2010 Côtes de Bourg, Maldoror from Château Fougas ($30.50) offers immediate pleasure, but will easily gain complexity over the next 10 years. Organic as well, it shows perfectly ripe fruit, refreshing acidity and a grooving mineral note.

For you bargain hunters, I found two under $20 wines that show that Bordeaux can make very satisfying wines at the entry level. Both from the 2011 vintage,  Château Rauzan Despagne’s Bordeaux Reserve and Château Cailleteau Bergeron’s Blaye, are pretty wines, accenting the florals, red fruit and freshness that are the hallmarks of the 2011 vintage.

And finally, for those who like a softer textured, more modern-styled wine, Château Maison Blanche’s 2009 Médoc offers the fruit, oak and texture that will please all, without sacrificing it’s Bordelais roots.

Until next time.

Bill

“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

Editors Note: You can find our Bill’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers 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!

IMG_4138

Bordeaux photo credits: Nadia Fournier and Rémy Charest


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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – April 2014

Spring Seasonals and New Spirits
By Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Malibu rum sparkler, Sveva’s Orangella, Screech honey rum, Long Table London Dry and Ménage à Trois vodka are a sampling of what’s new popping up on the liquor shelves this spring. These diverse and flavour packed newbies are sure to find fans.

Sveva’s Orangella has quickly become one of my favourites. This intensely orange flavoured liqueur (like lemoncella only made with orange peels instead of lemon) from Sicily is delicious on its own served chilled or on ice. However I’ve found that made into a cocktail with prosecco and a splash of gin, it’s divine – like a grown up mimosa.

Sveva's OrangellaNEWFOUNDLAND SCREECH HONEY RUMFrom Rock Spirits in Newfoundland, Screech Honey Rum is a blend of imported Jamaican rums flavoured with honey and orange peel. These additions nicely round the sharp edges of screech.

Two premium rums from Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) in Guyana coming to our shores are El Dorado 8 Year Old and El Dorado Spiced rum. The 8 Year old is fantastic rum at a bargain price and the spiced version delivers flavours of vanilla pod and cinnamon in a nice dry style. All of the world’s fantastic Demerara rum comes from Guyana and from just one distillery, the Diamond Distillery of Demerara Distillers Limited. Demerara gets its name from the river that runs through the capital Georgetown and the region.

Demerara makes rum for dozens of other spirit companies. For their own brand, El Dorado, they produce about a dozen different, all deliciously good rums. All the rums are aged in former bourbon barrels, and they have about 90,000 barrels spread out between three warehouses.

BACARDI RESERVA LIMITADAEl Dorado Spiced RumEl Dorado 8 Yr Cask Aged Demerara RumRum is also made of course on most of the Caribbean islands. Each island produces its own distinctive style (though a number do get their young spirit from Demerara Distillers). On a recent trip to Puerto Rico I visited the Bacardi rum distillery. The company’s free distillery tour in San Juan includes two drinks per person so no surprise that it draws crowds from morning to closing. Between 850 and 1,500 people take the 45 to 90 minute tour everyday where the drinks start flowing no matter the time.

Bacardi was founded by Don Facundo Bacardí Massó in Cuba in 1862. Now the largest privately held, family-owned spirits company in the world, it set up distilleries in other countries (including in Brampton, Ontario) after the Cuban Revolution. The Puerto Rico distillery goes 24/7 and produces 100,000 gallons of rum a day from imported molasses. At a tasting with senior brand manager William Ramos I had the joy of sampling Bacardi Reserva Limitada, a spirited blend of 10 to 16 year old rum.

Love the taste of coconut? Then give Malibu Rum Sparkler made with coconut water and rum a try. Just chill and pour into a champagne flute for a festive bubbly refresher.

MALIBU RUM SPARKLERPOMMIES DRY CIDERCider, one of North America’s oldest drinks is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. The number of Canadian cideries is growing with new ones coming on stream wherever apples are grown. Ontario has gone from two to 15 cideries in five years for example. Pommies Dry Cider crafted in Caledon uses the juice of five varieties of heritage apples.

Artisanal distilleries are also booming in Canada. Coming up Saturday, May 10, sixteen of British Columbia’s leading small-batch distilleries (plus one from the Yukon) will convene in Vancouver bringing their gin, vodka, whisky and other spirits and liqueurs for BC Distilled – the province’s premier micro-distillery festival. Spirit enthusiasts can buy tickets via Eventbrite at: BC Distilled Festival

Participants in BC Distilled include the Long Table Distillery which recently celebrated their first year of distilling in Vancouver. They just launched their London Dry Gin and Texada Vodka into Alberta and will be presenting soon to the Ontario Liquor Control Board.

Yaletown (the Mark James Group; British Columbia’s premiere collection of craft brewery restaurants) which has brewed fresh beer for close to 20 years and pioneered the craft beer movement in Vancouver is another participant. The company launched their production of handcrafted spirits on Repeal Day December 5th, 2013 marking the anniversary for the end of prohibition.  Yaletown Vodka‘s use of BC’s Peace River 2 row malt makes a distinctive vodka. Yaletown Gin is distilled with 8 botanicals.

Long Table Distillery London Dry GinLong Table Distillery Texada VodkaYaletown Craft VodkaYaletown Craft GinMenage Vodka overall 001

The Trinchero Family Estates out of California has expanded their Ménage à Trois line beyond wine to include Ménage a Trois Vodka, six times distilled and super smooth. All the spirits above give us lots of reasons to get excited this season.

Cheers!

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can find our Critic’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!


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