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British Columbia Critics’ Picks October 2014

Each month we write our critics’ picks individually, based on what we’ve tasted and been thinking about. Some months, like this one, it’s obvious how aligned our WineAlign collective thoughts are. October has us reflecting on warming, interesting wines, the majority of which are red, with a rich aged sparkling, heady creamy white and a potent and characterful port in the pack. It’s obvious that the wet west coast’s October have us reaching for wines that invite a bit more contemplation, preferably near a fireplace.

Hoping these wines, and your fireplace, will help warm you this month.

Cheers ~ Treve Ring

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

A Thanksgiving Day dump of rain, over 50mm, signals the end of a great summer and fall and has me thinking bigger, richer, warmer wines as the rain and damp weather returns to the coast. Further inland it will only get colder so this month’s picks are designed to offset the arrival of fall and winter across the country.

Taylor Fladgate Quinta De Vargellas Vintage Port 1998 Rock Wall Wine Co. Zinfandel Monte Rosso Vineyard 2012 Ravenswood Besieged 2013I caught up with Joel Peterson (Ravenswood) last week and had a chance to taste through several new releases. One that caught my eye and taste buds was the Ravenswood 2013 Besieged from Sonoma County, a delicious blend of petite sirah, carignane, zinfandel, syrah, barbera, alicante bouschet and mourvèdre grown across Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Valley, Russian River Valley, Knights Valley and Sonoma Mountain. Try this with a favourite ribs recipe.

Still on the Zinfandel theme, Kent Rosenblum has emerged from the ashes of a Diageo sale and a non-compete clause to finally launch Rock Wall Wine Co. in Canada. I just love the Rock Wall Wine Co. 2012 Monte Rosso Vineyard release made from two favourite blocks Gallo gives to him based on his reputation and history of making this wine and celebrating the vineyard. Just a baby but you can drink now with a steak or wait five to seven years for it to fully blossom. Real Zinfandel.

Finally at the end of any cold weather meal or for that snowy weekend afternoon by the fireplace I recommend Taylor Fladgate 1998 Quinta de Vargellas. This is a ‘single quinta’ port that is made exactly as Taylor’s ‘vintage’ but in this case the fruit is restricted to the individual Vargellas property. I can feel the day slipping away.

DJ Kearney

These three wines made my thoughts spin in a few directions – and surely that is part of wine’s purpose and delight – to stimulate the senses, the intellect and the imagination.

Nexus One 2012

Rabl St Laurent 2009

Summerhill Pyramid Winery 1998 Cipes ArielSummerhill Pyramid Winery 1998 Cipes Ariel is a mesmerizing sparkling wine that defies expectations. Its complexity and elegance is off the charts, just as distinctive as the elongated pyramid-shaped bottle. Sipping it made me think of rich macaroon-y champagnes I have known and loved, of Maillard reactions and bubble nucleation theory.

Saint Laurent (or Sankt Laurent) is a conundrum. Pinot-like, Cab Franc-y, Nerello-ish… it’s juicy and fresh, but also velvety and soft. Rabl 2009 St. Laurent manages to showcase fruitcake and tangy cranberry all in the same mouthful.

Nexus 2012 One from harsh Ribera del Duero presents a modern face of tempranillo. The modern part is the freshness and purity of this well-priced wine, where fruit rather than wood is the star, which also has the benefit of allowing terroir to have a voice. Is wood aging (especially in American oak barrels) a moral imperative to which Spanish wines must stay shackled? This wine makes one think about the fruit:wood:terroir dialectic.

Rhys Pender MW

Black Hills Nota Bene 2012 Longview Devil's Elbow Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico 2009Lately I’ve had a chance to taste a lot of verticals and some older wines so I have been thinking about ageability. These three wines are all worth picking up 6-12 bottles and laying some down for a few years. They are pretty tasty to drink now but will open up in terms of complexity in just 2-3 years.

The Fontodi 2009 Chianti Classico is the perfect counter to slow cooked meat at this time of the year as the weather cools. Savoury, meaty and delicious.

The Longview Devil’s Elbow 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon already has a few years of age on it too but should keep going for quite a few more. This wine shows the lighter, cool climate side of Aussie wine in an intense way.

Closer to home and with great ageing pedigree is the Black Hills 2012 Nota Bene. This is one of the best yet and having just sat through a vertical going back to the first wine in 1999 this will undoubtedly reward cellaring for a few years and up to 10-15.

Treve Ring

Just as I anticipate wrapping my warm woolen sweaters around me in autumn, I look forward to cozying up with warming reds. Fall is the season when I reflect on the importance of time; the shift in the year to reacquaint myself with wines that benefit from decanting, and foods that require lengthy roasting. After a glorious summer filled with rosé and the BBQ, I’ve been appreciating the return of shorter days, longer nights, and wines like these.

Campolargo Baga Bairrada 2010

Greywacke Pinot Gris 2013

Bodega Noemia’s 2012 A Lisa MalbecBodega Noemía A Lisa 2012 comes from the far reaches of our winemaking map – Patagonia. The pristine environment, streaking sun and windswept landscape produces pristine, fresh and articulate wines, like this memorable malbec.

From another southern latitude comes one of my favourite white wines of the last month – a surprise from a NZ producer typically lauded for their sauvignon blanc. Greywacke 2013 Pinot Gris has the creamy, lees-rich, honeyed herbal intensity of Alsace, but with a stone fruit and citrus freshness that is all New Zealand.

Portugal has long been a favourite country for intriguing, authentic reds, and Campolargo 2010 Baga is no exception. From Bairrada, this spicy red is 100% baga, expressed in a fresh and herbal vein. If traditional, untamable baga tannins have scared you off in the past, I urge you to seek out this modern example.

*****

About the BC Critics’ Picks ~

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.

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 60 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 – October

Whiskies, Walter and Caesars
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

The falling leaves and cooler days have me gravitating back to spicy Caesars, whiskies and hot toddies as my drinks of choice. Thus recently I was delighted to find an all-natural handcrafted Caesar mix that makes a delicious premium Caesar in a snap.

Walter Caesar Mix, the brainchild of Aaron Harowitz and Zack Silverman of Vancouver, took over a year to develop. The ingredients are vine ripened tomatoes, grated horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, clam juice, sea salt, onion and garlic powder and organic sugar. The result is a thick, hearty juice that has a “homemade” taste.

In the “Mildly Spiced” version, the tomato and clam flavour jumps forth while there’s still enough of a kick to need nothing more than the addition of a spirit of choice. Ketel One Vodka is my pick. In the “Well Spiced” version the horseradish and hot sauce dominate the sweet tomato notes. To me which you go for is just a matter of the mood you’re in.

Walter Trio Ketel One VodkaI’m just glad there’s an alternative to the ubiquitous Mott’s Clamato. I love that Mott’s pretty much drove the popularity of Caesars across Canada. (In 1969 the Duffy Mott Company developed Clamato, a tomato-clam cocktail that became the mixer of choice for bloody Caesars.) I don’t love the added MSG, glucose-fructose, artificial colours and PET bottles it’s sold in.

Walter is now available in Canada in over 600 select grocers, shops and bars. The current up-to-date listing can be found by visiting: www.waltercaesar.com/find-us

If you want to add your own creativity to the drink, start with Walter and then play around with the spirit (try gin or tequila), the flavour additions (maybe olive brine, pickle juice or soy sauce) and the garnish (cured meats, cheese, whatever).

With the garnish, it seems the sky’s the limit. Hopgood’s Foodliner in Toronto for example offered a Caesar topped with fresh BC spot prawn, salami and jalapeño pepper when the prawns were in season this spring. Score on Davie Street in Vancouver was inspired by the idea of cheeseburgers on Bloody Marys to come up with their versions for a Caesar. The sixty dollar Checkmate Caesar which has been selling out since it was put on the menu features a jaw dropping roasted chicken, pulled pork hot dog, Score burger, pork slider, hot wings, onion rings and a brownie to cap off the meal on a glass.

The newly reopened and renamed Eaton Chelsea Hotel in Toronto has an entire menu of homemade Caesars. The “checkout” includes bacon strips, a pickle spear, half a hard-boiled egg and a cherry tomato. Restaurants on ski resorts across Canada also seem to vie for the best dressed Caesar in town. At Whistler they hold the annual Bearfoot Bistro World Oyster Invitational and Bloody Caesar Battle. The competition keeps all establishments creative with their Caesars: at Christine’s Mountain Top Dining, I had half a delicatessen on my drink.

Whiskies of course have so much character they need no garnish and in truth I like mine neat, on the rocks or in a simple cocktail.

Bain's Cape Mountain Whisky Tomatin 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt Tullibardine 228 Burgundy Finish Highland Single MaltDeanston Virgin Oak Single Malt Scotch

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky from South Africa is an easy to drink introduction to the whisky world. From Scotland, Tomatin 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt gets its gentle, delicate character from its soft water source and sherry wood finishing. Tullibardine 228 Burgundy Finish Single Malt has spent part of its aging in Chateau de Chassagne Montrachet red Burgundy casks. Deanston Virgin Oak is finished in freshly charred new oak bourbon barrels.

Tomintoul 16 Years Old Speyside Glenlivet Single Malt Scotch Whisky Isle Of Arran Machrie Moor Single Malt Scotch Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey Knappogue Castle 12 Years Old Irish Single Malt Whiskey

Tomintoul 16 Year Old Speyside Glenlivet Single Malt from master distiller Robert Fleming is ultra-smooth and inviting.

Those who love a gently peaty malt should try Isle of Arran Machrie Moor Single Malt. For a full on whack of peat there’s Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt.

Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth George Dickel RyeTeeling Small Batch Irish Whisky has the gentle, sweet beguiling style of Ireland’s whiskies enhanced by finishing in rum barrels. Triple distilled Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Irish Single Malt aged in bourbon casks has notes of nougat.

Should you want a whisky cocktail, I recommend George Dickel Whisky made from 95% rye mash mixed with Carpano Antica Formula to make a wicked Manhattan.

Whether it’s an awesome Caesar or a sipping whisky enjoy your drink in the fading light of autumn. Winter is coming.

For those of you in Toronto, don’t miss the chance to join the WineAlign team at the ROM this Thursday, October 16th. It’s WineAlign’s inaugural Champions Tasting where you get the opportunity to taste only the top award wining wines from The Nationals and The Worlds. You can still get tickets here.

Cheers!

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 60 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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British Columbia Critics’ Picks September 2014

Focusing on the WineAlign World Wine Awards

The results of the World Wine Awards are about to be released, and co-Head Judge Anthony Gismondi is busy finalizing the results and preparing for the announcement, so the rest of the BC team is reporting on BC Critics’ Picks for September, and reflecting on some of our favourite themes and wines that came out of last month’s competition.

Anthony’s Final Blend column will be posted tomorrow, along with the full results. I can’t wait to see what we all had to say, collectively. In the meantime, these picks may give you a little sneak peek!

Cheers, Treve Ring

BC Team Version 3

DJ Kearney

Chile rocks. My wine picks were inspired by two events:  our recent WineAlign World Awards which re-invigorated my palate for global flavours, and spending a little time with Pedro Parra, Chile’s charismatic geologist/terroir hunter.   Pedro is helping to decode the relationship between grapes and rocks and consults not just throughout Chile, but around the world, including here in British Columbia (at Okanagan Crush Pad).

Carmen Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2012 Koyle Reserva Syrah 2011So with Pedro’s passionate rants echoing in my ears, I looked at my WWAC notes and instantly remembered the Koyle Syrah Reserva 2011.  It can age a few years more but will be nicely tamed by a smoked brisket or herby lamb braise.

Just as evocative of regional identity is Cono Sur’s 2012 Single Vineyard Block 21 Pinot Noir, with its cool-climate racy acidity, but gorgeous fruit sweetness and mineral twang.  Salmon wine par excellence given mild tannins and leafy savour.

Cabernet Sauvignon is Chile’s most planted grape (over 40,000 hectares of it) and I loved the classic correctness of Carmen’s Gran Reserva Alto Maipo 2011 cab with its chewy black cassis, hint of mint and quiet power.  Built for a prime steak and a few years of bottle-ageing too, for the Alto Maipo’s gravelly signature to emerge fully.

Rhys Pender MW

Having spent the best part of the week sifting through my tasting notes from the World Wine Awards of Canada (WWAC), it is obvious that there are some great wines available around the country and often great value for money. Below are a few of my selections that really hit the mark in the under $15, under $25 and over $25 price categories.

Miguel Torres Sangre De Toro 2012 wine_50012_web San Pedro 1865 Limited Edition Cabernet Syrah 2011It is great seeing wineries breaking the mold with less traditional blends that just work really well. Chile has historically been very Bordeaux variety focused but syrah is making waves in its short history in the country. The blend of cabernet sauvignon and syrah is common in Australia and seems to work well in Chile is the San Pedro 1865 Limited Edition Cabernet Syrah 2011. Serious wine for just under $25.

Another top class wine, worth every penny of its $40, is the Wolf Blass White Label Chardonnay Adelaide Hills 2010. This is classy chardonnay showing the big changes that have happened in Aussie chardonnay. Don’t expect toasty oak, butter and bigness but rather a very complex, subtle and restrained wine with plenty of elegance.

We are all looking for great wine deals and sometimes they come along right under your nose. For under $15 you can get the Miguel Torres Sangre De Toro 2012. You have probably had this wine in the past, and it isn’t always overly exciting, but the 2012 vintage offers a great blend of fruit and savoury complexity to make it bat above its weight.

Treve Ring

For me, a valuable and rewarding part of the competition is finding out that you prefer – sometimes overwhelmingly – a wine in the under $15 category more than one in the over $25 category.

Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012 Laurenz V und Sophie Singing Grüner Veltliner 2012 Brumont Gros Manseng Sauvignon 2013One particularly appealing lean, bright, mountain herb and smoked stone white that I enjoyed was Alain Brumont’s characterful 2013 Gros Manseng-Sauvignon blend from Southwest France’s Gascony area. Though just a shade over $15 on our market, it settles under the $15 mark in other provinces – a steal at this mark.

Sometimes wines stand out in a flight for all the wrong reasons. In the case of Laurenz V und Sophie Singing Gruner Veltliner 2012 from Austria however, this grape stood out and shone in its flight, memorable for its green fig, herbal spice and tangerine peel notes.

It’s always comforting to see that local wines can command high scores in a mixed international flight, and I was duly rewarded to see that one particularly graceful and elegant young pinot was Vancouver Island’s Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012.

About the BC Critics’ Picks ~

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 British Columbia.

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 60 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 – September

Fall for Dark Spirits – the apple of my eye
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

As we head into fall, I start sipping more dark spirits. None speaks of the season in Canada to me better than Calvados, the wonderful apple brandy best known from Normandy. Our apple harvest means freshly baked apple pies, hot apple cider and the tangy crunch of newly picked apples. We also have a few distillers making apple eau-de-vie or brandy.

Dillon’s Distillers in Ontario is working on an apple eau-de-vie and has recently come out with a pear one made from Niagara Bartlett pears. Michel Jodoin Calijo is an apple brandy from Quebec. Canados (play on the word Calvados) mainly distilled from BC Hyslop crab apples and aged in oak, made by Okanagan spirits in BC is an apple brandy that I’ve enjoyed in the past. As soon as I get samples to critique them for WineAlign, I’ll be posting reviews.

Meanwhile I have a selection of fine Calvados to recommend. Normandy in northwest France is the home of Calvados, the world’s premier apple brandy as well as a Norman cuisine rich in cream and butter. Between dishes and meals, a calvados — or “Trou Normand” — is said to aid digestion. All over the region, producers will happily invite you in for a nip. Boulard, one of the most famous, has a restaurant onsite with tables inside giant barrels. www.calvados-boulard.com

Pâpidoux Fine Calvados Calvados Lecompte 5 Year Old Calvados Boulard Pays d'AugeThe finest Normandy apple brandy bears the Appellation Calvados Pays d’Auge Contrôlée label and is produced only from apples grown in the Pays d’Auge. The quality and variety of the Auge apples is second to none and the small size of the area is constantly kept in check, enhancing the rarity factor. In addition, the production of cider and the required double distillation must be carried out within the geographical boundaries of the Auge region in order to be considered part of the appellation d’origine contrôlée or “AOC”.

Founded in 1825, the company Calvados Boulard has been passed down from generation to generation and is now in the hands of Vincent Boulard, the great great grandson of founder Pierre-Auguste. Grand Solage Boulard Calvados Pays d’Auge is double distilled in copper stills over an open flame, from up to 120 different apple varieties, then matured in oak.

Calvados Lecompte 5 Year Old, is aged 5 years in oak, double distilled and from the revered Calvados de Pays d’Auge appellation too. Calvados Domaine Dupont V.S.O.P. from Pays d’Auge has subtle yet persistent cider apple notes with a cognac like character. Pâpidoux Calvados Fine has a youthful apple and alcohol hit best showcased in a cocktail.

The most recognized type of brandy is made from grapes of course. Remy Martin of France, which has been making cognac (from distilled grapes of the region) since 1724, is one of the most famous. Remy Martin VSOP, the leader in Europe and North America in the VSOP segment of the cognac market, is a classic which while lovely on its own, but also makes a superb cocktail.

Remy Martin VSOP Cognac Carlos I Gran Reserva E&J XO Brandy

A sweeter, more old wood, mellow style can be found in Spanish brandies especially Carlos I Gran Reserva from Jerez at about half the price. E&J XO Brandy from Gallo in America is so smooth and sweet it almost tastes candied.

Vintages in Ontario teamed up with Dalmore Highland single malt earlier this year to present a rare Constellation Collection tasting at the National Club in Toronto. Master Blender Richard Paterson led the tasting of four single-vintage, single cask bottlings from 1992, 1989, 1973 and 1966. Cost for the dinner evening at $495 per person might have seemed steep, if one didn’t know the price of these bottles. Starting at $5,266 a bottle for the 1992 up to $48,297 for the 1966 the offer was an event exclusive so I won’t tease you with my in-depth tasting notes. Suffice to say the flavours namely the porty, chocolate notes of the 1992, the marmalade hit of the 1989, the more oaky cognac like 1973 and the cinnamon, coffee, nutmeg aspects of the 1966 were all distinctive and memorable.

Drambuie Dalmore 12 Years Old Highland Single MaltWhether they are worth the cost is relative to the depth of your wealth. The only 200 bottles of this 1966 were produced for the world. A complete Dalmore Constellation Collection of 21 individual bottles created between the years 1964 and 1992 (not all years are represented and some are twice but from different casks) goes for $300,000 and apparently buyers in BC and Alberta have already ponied up. This was the collections first foray into Ontario. No word yet on how much sold but the LCBO did have buyers waiting to pounce.

Dalmore established in 1839 north of Inverness on the shores of the Cromarty Firth is a classic Highland malt. The distillery warehouses feature some of the oldest whisky stocks in the world. Dalmore 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt, the epitome of the Dalmore style is the more accessible, affordable spirit in its line-up.

Another great Scottish drink is Drambuie – I always have a bottle in my liquor cabinet for making cocktails. To make a hot apple toddy with this elixir of scotch, spices and heather honey: mix two ounces of Drambuie with 6 ounces of hot apple cider. Squeeze in the juice of one lemon wedge, add a cinnamon stick and serve in a coffee glass.

Sláinte!

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 60 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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Natural Wine may be an idea, but it’s a good one

The Caveman Speaks
By Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

I had a few friends over for dinner when one of my buddies started to grill me about my love for Beaujolais. These aren’t wine connoisseurs, rather folks who just to love to eat and drink. I went on  about the greatness of good Bojo but tasting is believing, so I went down to my cellar and brought up a 2006 Moulin à Vent from one of my favourite wine makers, Yvon Métras.

I poured everyone a glass. The bouquet hovered somewhere in between geranium leaves, beet juice and bacon. “This is weird,” was the first comment offered up.

I told everyone to chill out, swirl their glass a bit, and as the wine opened up, the fruit started to show itself, alongside an intense minerality. The initial aromatic weirdness drifted into the background and each sip seemed to offer up some variation on the theme. The wine was at times challenging, but after the bottle was emptied, the consensus was that while strange, this was one of the more memorable wines they had drunk.

I wonder if I wasn’t there, how many people would have got past that first sniff. “Are all Beaujolais like this?” I was asked. My response, “Well, not exactly.”

Métras makes what is loosely defined as “natural wine.” While organics and biodynamics are concerned primarily with the way that grapes are grown, “natural wine” is all about the wine making. Influenced by French wine maker Jules Chauvet in the 1970’s, proponents of this approach believe that the wine maker should intervene as little as possible when making their wines. In a perfect world, that would mean harvesting and crushing the grapes, allowing them to ferment with indigenous yeasts, ageing the wine in whatever vessel the wine maker chooses, and then putting it in bottle with as little sulfites as possible, or preferably, none at all.

This is the image that the wine industry wants the consumer to have about winemaking. The reality is that modern day winemakers have an arsenal of tools at their disposal to make their wines. Some of these are relatively innocuous and are considered as much a part of making wine as crushing grapes. Cultured yeasts are used to do such things as boost aromatics and finish ferments of high alcohol wines. Sulfur Dioxide and sterile filtration stabilize the wine by removing any lingering bacteria. Tartaric acid is added to adjust over-ripe grapes, as is powdered tannin. Sugar is used to raise alcohol levels (chapitalization), or simply sweeten the wine.

But there are many others which are even more intrusive. Enzymes are added during fermentation to do everything from help clarify the wine to boosting aromatics. Water is used to dilute over concentrated juice, woodchips and oils are employed to flavour the wine. Gum arabic adds texture. Products like Mega Purple colour, flavour and alter the texture of the wine. I could go on and on. And this is not even going into more mechanical interventions such as reverse osmosis (used to concentrate wines), de-alcoholizing machines, and micro-oxydation (adding oxygen during fermentation to soften tannins).

Thierry Allemand

Thierry Allemand in Cornas – a great example of a winemaker who makes wines as natural as possible

And these interventions are not limited to inexpensive bulk wines. Reverse Osmosis and micro-oxydation machines are rampant all over Bordeaux. In California, Ridge’s Paul Draper has spoken out against all the monkeying around with high end wines in California, and has voluntarily added ingredients on his wine’s back labels.

While many believe that wine has never been better, I’m not one of them. I taste a minimum 100 wines a week, have done so for years, and while my chief complaint would be that I find a standardized taste and texture, which bores the hell out of me, some are in fact so incongruent that they are bad.

This is what has led me to my love for more “natural” wines. Now there are probably more critics of these wines than there are proponents. Most revolve around the “I’ve tasted natural wines and they are shit.” Fine, but bad wines are everywhere.

I have drunk hundreds of such bottles over the years, and different bottles of the same winemaker and from the same vintage can vary, at times quite a lot. While a small percentage have definitely taken the wrong fork in the road, especially those without added SO2, the vast majority have what I look for in a wine: complexity, drinkability and while difficult to translate, a certain energy. These wines just feel alive.

The other criticism is that unlike organics, there are no rules, no certification, no real definition as to what is a natural wine. The latest criticism I read was by Tom Wark on his blog Fermentations, where he once again decried the lack of a definition as to what is “natural wine.” You can read the post here.

Wark made one very interesting observation: that “natural wine” is an idea, and not a thing. And in that he is dead-on, even though he sees this as a negative. What is wrong with an idea, especially in the context of how the bulk of wines are being made today? More and more people are gravitating towards natural wines, and I believe it is because they want less standardization, less additives, and a truer sense of place and time.

Disregarding those natural wines that are poorly made, and they do exist, logic says to me that by not manipulating the juice, and by using the yeasts that are there, will offer up a truer picture of the vineyards and the vintage. Of course this means that good grape growing becomes even more important, but that’s another issue.

This flies in the face of the philosophy of the modern wine industry, which often places more importance on reducing the variations from vintage to vintage than showing them. Consumers, the industry believes, want a consistent taste from one bottle to the next. They might be right.

But not me. I understand that wine is a business, and the approach that natural wine makers take cannot be copied by large-scale wineries. There is too much risk. Too much money involved. But the aim should be to translate the uniqueness of each growing site into the eventual wine. I could care less if the wine is faultless. If only more took to heart the spirit of Chauvet’s disciples: as natural as possible.

So what to drink? If you have a wine bar near you that specializes in these wines, go and try them. And if you are looking for a few wines to try at home, here are some wines where the winemakers do it right. (Contact the Agent listed if you are having trouble finding these wines in your province.)

Azienda Agricola Cos Cerasuolo Di Vittoria Classico 2010Domaine Thymiopoulos XinomavroFrom Greece, this wine has mentioned a number of times by myself and my fellow critics.  Thymiopoulos does makes non-sulphured wines, but they all go to Paris. But try his Jeunes Vignes, in Quebec, we are lucky to have it at the SAQ.

One of my favourite wines I have tasted over the last 2 years is COS’ 2010 Cerasuolo. Beaujolais-cru like in texture and fruit. Simply delicious.

No discussion about natural wine is complete without mentioning the name of Marcel Lapierre. While he has passed on, his son Mathieu has taken the reigns and is making wine in a way which honours his dad. While best known for his Morgon, his Vin de Pays Raisins Gaulois Gamay is equally fresh and delicious. Keep this at 14C and enjoy!

If you want a bigger wine, look no further than Vieille Julienne’s 2012 Côtes du Rhône, Clavin. Drinks well now and will celler admirably. Bring on whatever meat you want.

On a similar track as the Vieille Julienne is Château Trolliet Lafite’s 2009 Côtes De Bergerac. It’s the Bordeaux varieties but with a southern rusticity. Interesting, flavourful and eminently drinkable.

Like cabernet franc? Try Chateau Yvonne’s La Folie,  The more evocative and delicate side of the grape that drinks well on its own, yet still shows enough muscle for the table. Try it with chicken brochettes and tatziki!

Domaine Marcel Lapierre Raisins Gaulois 2013Domaine De La Vieille Julienne Lieu Dit Clavin 2012Château Trolliet Lafite 2009Château Yvonne La Folie 2011Domaine Baudry Les Grezeaux 2010Christophe Pacalet Chiroubles 2011

For readers from British Columbia, my colleague Treve Ring has suggested these natural beauties that are available in your province: Try Domaine Baudry Les Grezeaux 2010 or Christophe Pacalet Chiroubles 2011.

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!


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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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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008