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A simple resolution for 2015

The Caveman Speaks
By Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

It’s not December 31 quite yet but it is never too early to make a few resolutions. If you are looking for a bit of inspiration, and want to do something good for the wine industry, then here’s a suggestion as to how you can make the wine world a better place.

Be courageous – choose indigenous grapes.

By indigenous grapes I mean grape varieties that have a history firmly entrenched in a particular region, having been grown there for a long period of time. While travelling the world’s wine regions over the last few years, I have seen old vine sylvaner in Alsace ripped out to make room for pinot gris. One hundred year old carignan in the Languedoc replaced with syrah. I could go on but the list is long and littered with dead vines.

While in some cases replacing the vines made sense, and made for better wine, in most cases it was simply a question of economics. Grape growers can get more money with well-known grapes, even if they are less well suited to that climate and soil type.

The reason they are doing this is because consumers, especially in North America, tend to drink the same grape varieties – cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay etc… And this makes me sad. With each indigenous varietal that is replaced, another thread of the wonderfully complex tapestry that is the world’s wine culture becomes a touch less colourful (read – the wines are less good.)

In many wine producing countries, people tend to drink locally as opposed to internationally. They drink wines from their own region, or if they branch out, from their own country. We are fortunate here in Canada to have a choice of wines from all over the world.

But with choice comes responsibility. Wine stores, whether they be government controlled monopolies or privately owned, might take a chance on a wine once but if it doesn’t sell, the wine will not be reordered.

So this leads me to you, the wine lover.

These wines might be made with unfamiliar grapes, or come from places you have never heard of, but that’s what so interesting about wine. Will you like everything? Not necessarily, but exposing your palate to different textures, flavours and aromas will merely expand your wine horizons. And my bet is that you will discover wines that you absolutely love.

The tide is starting to turn. In many of these regions, especially with younger winemakers, they are looking at their own indigenous varieties with more respect. I have seen winemakers searching out these old vines and protecting them rather than replanting them. They have started to understand that these grapes are not only part of their heritage, but what makes them distinctive.

So in 2015, forsake the familiar and make one out of every three bottles you buy something you’ve never tried before. Give the wine a chance. Try and understand it. You will be helping the wine industry, and you will make yourself a better and more knowledgeable drinker.

If you need some suggestions, then here are a few wines currently available in BC, Ontario or Quebec that you can try. As I mentioned sylvaner, try the 2011 from René Muré. Works as an exceptional aperitif as well as with lighter seafood. Another white in a similar vein comes from Greece and Domaine Gerovassiliou. The 2013 Assyrtiko/Malagousia is a beautiful example two indigenous grapes working hand in hand. The rare freisa grape gets a solo show in the juicy, earthy tobacco leaf layered Borgogno Langhe 2012 Freisa from Piedmonte. Pair with charcuterie and sip throughout the night. Of course, if you really want to support indigenous wines, pick up a bottle of sherry and support not only native grapes, but method as well. Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana, a Manzanilla from Sanlucar De Barrameda is 100% palomino fino grape, and a bone dry tangy, salty, nutty sipper to signal festivities.

René Muré Sylvaner 2011 Domaine Gerovassiliou White 2013 Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2012 La Gitana Manzanilla

Looking for a really interesting white with body to spare? Elisabetta Foradori’s 2012 Manzoni Bianco will satisfy the most curious white wine drinker. Made with extended skin contact, which is unusual for white wines, it combines body and aromatics like few wines I have tasted this year. Similarly, Mastroberardino’s 2012 Greco Di Tufo showcases the stony, waxy power of the greco grape, by way of the volcanic soils throughout Campania. And Telmo Rodriguez 2013 Basa Blanco combines the familiar – sauvignon blanc – with the curious – verdejo and viura – in this herbal, citrus-driven, linear white.

Foradori Fontanasanta Manzoni 2012 Mastroberardino Greco Di Tufo 2012 Telmo Rodriguez Basa Blanco 2013

On the red side, the choice for indigenous grapes is just as interesting. Hailing from the region of Marcillac in France’s southwest, Lionel Osmin’s 2012 Mansois offers up delicate fruit and lots of exotic spice with fine, razor-sharp tannins.

One of my favourite reds from the past year is Arianna Occhipinti’s SP68. From Sicily’s DOCG appellation of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, it combines delicate fruit with beautiful acidity. Sicilian Beaujolais!

Marcillac Mansois 2012 Occhipinti S P 68 2013 Quinta Da Pellada Àlvaro Castro Reserva 2011 Tilenus Envejecido En Roble Mencía 2010

And if you are looking for a bigger red wine, try a blend of alfrocheiro, tinta roriz and touriga national. Alvaro Castro’s 2011 Dao is a beautiful example of how the region can produce finessed, yet very powerful wines. Rustic winter stews and casseroles were made to be served alongside a wine like Tilenus 2010 Envejecido En Roble, from Bierzo, Spain. The mencia grape’s wild and succulent black fruit and firm tannins might become a new cold weather favourite.

Happy holidays and new year folks!

Bill

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

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critic’s reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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British Columbia Critics’ Picks December 2014

Supersized Sparkling Special

One of the things we love to do at WineAlign is to drink sparkling wine at every opportunity we get and I can honestly say, we never really get bored doing it. When you taste thousands of wines a year (somebody has to do it) you crave the freshness and acidity that is the hallmark of most great sparkling wines just to keep your palate sharp. Yet even if they are soft and perhaps slightly sweet à la prosecco, or pink and fizzy a la rosé the more you taste the more you come to really appreciate what is one of the most diverse categories of wines made in the world. So in the spirit of the holidays we’ve gifted you with a supersized Sparkling Special, with some of our favourite festive fizzes selected from hundreds of picks we tasted this year from under $15 to well over $200.

Cheers,
Anthony

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

One of the great benefits of bubbles is sparkling wine’s ability to make most any dish it is served with taste better. How can you beat that? All you have to do is be ready and by that we mean keep a couple of bottles of your favourites in the refrigerator chilled and ready to go.

The Parés Baltà Cava Brut, is my go-to Spanish sparkler. So sophisticated and clean, it works with most foods and the grapes are 100 percent organically grown. Green never tasted so good.

Many of you will know the quality and consistency of Blue Mountain Brut NV, but to really experience the best of BC sparkling wine you have to try the Blue Mountain Blanc de Blancs R.D. 2007. Like the 2006, this one hundred percent chardonnay is pure elegance and a wonderful expression of less is more. Cheese please.

A delightful surprise from Germany this year is the Selbach-Oster Riesling Brut 2011. Expect crunchy, crisp, Mosel fruit that runs from the front of the glass to back and will have your guests lining up for more. You can pair this with oysters, cheese straws, sashimi and more.

Parés Baltà Cava Brut Blue Mountain Blanc De Blancs R.D. 2007 Selbach Oster Riesling Brut 2011 Jansz Premium Cuvée

The current star of Oz bubble in the market is the Jansz Premium Cuvée N/V from Tasmania. We love its creamy textures and bright fruit.  A compelling drink for the price.

The prosecco prance is waning a bit but there is always room for the best and the Mionetto Il Moscato N/V is one of them. Well balanced and refreshing its peach flavours and baked apple mineral fruit are all in harmony with the bubbles. We love the crown cap.

A California classic and all class is the Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2009. Rich but austere it’s as close to champagne as it gets at half the price.

Mionetto Il Moscato Schramsberg Blanc De Blancs Brut 2009 Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne Möet & Chandon Dom Pérignon Vintage Brut Champagne 2004

Speaking of Champagne we finish with two stars. The Bollinger Special Cuvée N/V  is no ordinary multi-vintage champagne with its high percentage of reserve wines. Complex and powerful it is a spectacular food wine from charcuterie to chicken or sashimi.

Finally perhaps for New Year’s we suggest the Champagne Dom Pérignon 2004. Winemaker Richard Geoffrey, never at a loss for the perfect words to describe his wine, has called the ’04 Dom Pérignon ‘tactile, dark and chiselled’. In the glass this wine is all serious a brooding sparkler whose lees and sparkle have yet to fully knit into what will surely be one of the great seamless Dom’s of the decade if not the first half of the decade. Happy New Year, for sure.

DJ Kearney

Henkell Riesling Dry Les Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain ChampagneThere’s nothing like bubbly to get the heart thumping, the eyes twinkling and the appetite fully stimulated. Obviously famous for toasting special moments and milestones, sparkling wines also happen to be some of the most adept and deserving partners for food. I posit that we should drink sparkling more often for this reason alone – not just when a major celebration demands it.

For moments when I crave champagne, my two must-have’s are Henriot Brut Souverain and Le Mesnil’s unbeatable value Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, both non-vintage wines that over-deliver on price, complexity and deliciousness.  I love the Henriot with briney oyster bisque and Le Mesnil with Dungeness crab eggs Benny.

For a crowd when lots of jolly fizz is needed, try the Dry Riesling from Henkell – it’s full of fresh and soft citrus appeal. Give it a frosty chill and serve as a welcome wine to break the ice and spark conversation.

Two more sparklers I find indispensable with food are both crémants. The surprisingly complex Paul Zinck Cremant d’Alsace – with some tender cheesy gougères , and Jean Bourdy Cremant de Jura is a minerally marvel paired with rustic pâté de champagne or frico.

Paul Zinck Cremant d’Alsace Jean Bourdy Cremant du Jura Bottega Gold Brut Prosecco Benjamin Bridge Nova Scotia Brut 2009

Finally two wines that dazzle for different reasons. The gleaming bowling pin bottle of Bottega Gold Prosecco, and the astonishing Benjamin Bridge Brut 2009 that elevates Nova Scotian hybrids to unheard of heights. It’s bubble or nothing for me this Christmas.

Rhys Pender MW

Bubbly should be consumed throughout the year, but over the Christmas holidays there seems to be many more great excuses to pop a cork.

At this time of year it is always worth spending some money on a bottle or two of delicious Champagne. There are many big Champagne brands out there but just because they are Champagne doesn’t mean they are all equally good. For me, one of the best and most consistently excellent from year to year is the Piper-Heidsieck Brut. Delicious for a $60 splurge. For a few more dollars you can get into some really interesting grower Champagne. Biodynamic, wild yeasts, 100% Pinot Noir, neutral oak and just delicious is the Marie-Courtin 2007 Efflorescence Extra Brut.

BC is stepping up its game when it comes to bubbly production with more and more traditional method wines coming on to the market and they are often a lot less expensive than Champagne. Many wines don’t see long lees aging but they have plenty of flavour, freshness and the trademark BC acidity. Try the Bella 2013 Westbank Sparkling Rosé for a good crisp example to help with those afternoon snacks with family and friends.

Piper Heidsieck Brut Marie Courtin Efflorescence Extra Brut Pinot Noir 2007 Bella 2013 Westbank Sparkling Rosé Summerhill Pyramid Winery Cipes Blanc De Noir 2008 Benjamin Bridge Nova Scotia Brut 2009Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava

For a BC bubbly with a little more toastiness from long lees aging, try the Summerhill Pyramid Winery Cipes Blanc De Noir 2008. It is quite complex and interesting and richer in style, perfect with richer canapés.

From the other side of Canada, exciting things are happening with bubbly in Nova Scotia. Benjamin Bridge is leading the way. The 2009 Brut has plenty of verve and intensity and complexity from a good few years of age. Think hybrid grapes can’t make good wine? This will change your mind.

With people dropping in over the holidays you should always have some bubbly on hand to greet them. After all, it is the festive season. The Segura Viudas Brut Reserva is good wine and the price is right so you can pour generously without breaking the bank. Go out and buy a case now. You won’t be disappointed.

Treve Ring

Domaine Carneros Brut 2008 No Unauthorized Reproduction @Jason DziverThose who know me can well attest to the fact I’m an avowed sparkling wine drinker. There are always bubbles chilling in my fridge, I have a secret stash (shh) hidden for impromptu celebrations (Tuesday!) and I’ve been known to pair sparkling wine to BBQ pork chops (a delight). My heart is in Champagne; for me, Champagne is not just the pinnacle of the sparkling world, but the pinnacle of the wine world. That said, my favourite thing about sparkling wine is its diversity; across region, grape and method, there is a style to fit every personality, budget, and yes – food.

From the west coast, one of the most singular sparklers is Road 13 Vineyards Sparkling Chenin 2011, with its racing acidity, green fig, green apple and chalk notes, it’s an ideal wine to crack (crown cap) with west coast oysters.

Our neighbours to the south, in California, know a bit about wine. And Domaine Carneros knows much more than a bit about sparkling wine. The Carneros winery was founded by Champagne Taittinger and holds close ties with the illustrious Champagne house today. Pick up the Domaine Carneros Brut 2008 for Champagne’s tradition, at half the price.

One huge benefit about the prosecco boom is that consumers are discovering there is more than one style, and importers are responding. I’ve noticed quite a few new interesting proseccos on our market recently, including the well priced, fuller bodied Terre Prosecco Extra Dry, the elegant, crisp and fresh Vaporetto Prosecco Brut and the generous, stylish Giusti Prosecco Brut. ‘Tis the season for brunching!

Terre Prosecco Extra DryVaporetto Prosecco Brut Giusti Prosecco Brut Lini 910 Labrusca Lambrusco Rosso Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Rosé Champagne

It’s also the season for celebrating with friends. The Lini 910 Lambrusco is a jolly red hue, fruity and bright, and a great casual pour with pizza or cranberry decked poultry.

Sometimes, when the situation calls for Champagne, nothing else will do. I recommend picking up Champagne Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Rosé NV, an elegant, subtly fruited grower Champagne, ideal for cheersing any festivities or for gifting to that special (lucky) someone.

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 – December

A Gift of Spirit for the Holidays
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

The holiday season and Christmas will be upon us before we know it. I always feel a slight frisson when December hits knowing that there will be too much to do and not enough time. To make your gift giving a little easier, here are some suggestions for those spirit lovers on your list. Brown spirits and especially Cognac really max out in popularity during the winter months. The high end XO level for example sees almost half of its annual sales in November and December in many markets.

The city of Cognac in southwest France lies 110 km north of Bordeaux, close to the Marrenes-Oléron Atlantic basin where half of France’s oyster beds lie. The town thrived in olden days as an established centre of the salt trade, an activity which dates back to the 11th century. The Charente River winds through giving access to merchant boats. Early on the traders of northern Europe discovered the thin acidic wine which they brought back from there after delivering salt, survived the voyage better if distilled, and even more so when held in oak barrels. This improved “burnt wine” named after its city of origin is so much in demand today that most of it sells outside of France.

The top growing areas (crus) are named Grande and Petite “Champagne”, after the chalky whitish calcium rich soil. Beyond these two crus (known as Fine Champagne when combined in the bottle), are the Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Borderies. Ugni blanc is the main variety grown, a grape generally best when distilled. The young, always double distilled, grape spirit gives off floral aromas. Oak from French forests, toasted by fire when the barrels are made, add their aromas of vanilla, brioche and cocoa. Then slow oxidation in these barriques puts the final touches of mushroom, Roquefort cheese and leathery/nutty “rancio” to the mix.

Rémy Martin XO Excellence Cognac Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal CognacRémy Martin, founded in 1724, is the sole great cognac house to use only eaux-de-vie from the two best crus of the region namely Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne. Their latest product launch is the 1738 Accord Royal, named after the decree granted on that date to King Louis XV to plant new vines on his Fine Champagne land. Rémy Martin XO Excellence Cognac is an opulent blend of 85 per cent Grande Champagne with 15 per cent Petite Champagne containing up to 28 years of vintages.

Hine located in Jarnac and founded in 1763, is one of, if not the biggest Cognac house outside of the big dominant four of Hennessy, Martell, Rémy Martin and Courvoisier. Its vintage-bent also gives it a caché. (I have a vintage bottle from my birth year given to me when I toured the distillery with Bernard Hine, a descendent of the founder. It’s a rarity I’m savouring slowly. A barrel from this particular vintage was named the vintage of the century by cellar master Eric Forget and bottled as Hine 250 to celebrate that anniversary of the company. Check out what vintage was selected for Hine 250 and you’ll know mine.)

H by Hine VSOP in an elegant long bottle housed in a beautiful metallic red box is ready made for gifting. It’s a harmonious blend of 20 cognacs aged for a minimum of 4 years, from grapes grown in the Grande Champagne and the Petite Champagne. Hine Rare VSOP a Fine Champagne blend of over 25 cognacs (more than fifty percent from Grande Champagne) is sophisticated and elegantly fruity.

H By Hine Vsop Hine Rare VSOP Chabasse XO

Chabasse is an historic 17th century cognac estate in the depths of Saint-Jean d’Angely. This family run business is in the hands of Réné-Luc Chabasse, the ancestor of the founder of the estate, Jean-Baptiste Chabasse. The Chabasse XO is big, full and delicious with toasted hazelnut and toffee notes.

The cognac house Meukow was acquired by Michel Coste in 1979, who created the panther bottle – today the emblem of the brand. Still a family business now run by son Philippe Coste, the famous logo of the luxury cognac brand, the black panther, can be seen on all its products. Meukow Feline is ultra-smooth and creamy textured.

Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary Blend Meukow Feline VSOP CognacThose who want to gift a special Canadian brown spirit should look no further than our own good old Crown Royal – namely the new 75th Anniversary Limited Edition Canadian Whisky. In 1939 the Royal Couple, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, made history when they became the first reigning monarchs to journey across North America, travelling the vast distance by train. To honour the pair, a Canadian entrepreneur crafted a whisky to suit the occasion by sampling over 600 blends and reviewing hundreds of different types of glass, labels and caps. He cloaked his perfected blend in a purple bag to represent the purple robe of royalty and called the whisky Crown Royal.

Seventy five years later, Crown Royal’s master blender has created a velvety smooth limited edition whisky to commemorate the brand’s monumental anniversary. Crown Royal 75th Anniversary Blend cloaked in an embroidered silver bag combines hand-picked whiskies from the brand’s extensive stock including that from the historic Coffey rye still, in Gimli, Manitoba.

They may not like our tar sands oil in the US but they like our traditional whiskies. Crown Royal is the number one selling Canadian whisky brand in the US by value.

In the single malt scotch category, there’s a fascinating newcomer. It’s the Glenlivet’s first crowd-sourced whisky, “Guardian’s Chapter” chosen exclusively by The Guardians of The Glenlivet. Tastings were conducted in 19 markets, including Canada and over 3,500 votes were cast to select The Guardians’ Chapter Single Malt Whisky. Some critics say it’s the proverbial camel horse made by committee. I say it’s a triumph but not for the weak of heart.

Glenlivet Guardians ChapterEau Claire Three Point VodkaDillon’s Pear Eau De VieQuartz Vodka

Not all like a dark spirit. For the white spirit aficionados on your gift list there are several Canadian top-drawer newbies. This is a bit of a tease as they are available only in their province of origin or via the distillery online but what could be more local than that.

Eau Claire Distillery is Alberta’s first craft distillery located in Turner Valley, not far from Calgary. The distillery uses locally-farmed ingredients and clear water from the nearby Rocky Mountains. Summer 2014 marked its first-batch release. Eau Claire Three Point Vodka, its initial product launched in June is creamy smooth and crystal clear. For the moment you’ll have to go to Alberta to buy it via the distiller or in Calgary liquor retail stores such as Willow Park.

In Ontario Dillon’s has come out with Dillon’s Pear eau-de-vie that’s made from locally grown Niagara Bartlett pears that is soft and gently pear. From Quebec comes Quartz Vodka, a joint venture with Domaine Pinnacle and Lise Watier. Crafted from ESKA water sourced in northern Quebec, it’s micro-distilled five times.

Luxardo Maraschino Originale Liqueur Hayman's London Dry Gin Chartreuse Green LiqueurI’ll leave you now with my favourite cocktail recipe of late. It’s not new, but it’s a classic that’s been overlooked for too long. Slightly green in hue, it’s right for the festive moment and a knock out on all levels. It’s called The Last Word and it is. Be warned two of these and you’ll be flat on your back. But with no regrets in the morning or at least you won’t remember enough to be sorry. That’s my story.

A balance of sweet and sour with a strong herbaceous tone, it’s made with equal parts of gin, fresh lime juice, maraschino liqueur and Chartreuse. You won’t go wrong with Hayman’s London Dry Gin and Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur for the other spirits. Divine. Decadence. Merry celebrations.

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 November 2014

Our critics have been on the move this month – crossing paths, and crisscrossing seasons between Vancouver, Similkameen, Okanagan, Whistler, Argentina and Australia. Whether we’ve just been in spring (flowering and bud break in the southern hemisphere) or dreaming of spring (the earliest icewine harvest ever for many in BC), the wines we’ve individually selected will warm you. Naturally, since we’re all crazy for food, our finds specifically pair with meals that will comfort.

Cheers ~ TR

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

Wind, rain, snow and cold is all on its way and that makes it easier to slide into some richer wines from warmer climates to help warm up your disposition.

Zuccardi Q Tempranillo 2010 Beringer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Chateau de Caraguilhes Classique 2012From southern France my pick is a delicious organic Corbières: Chateau de Caraguilhes 2012. Believe me it is far easier to drink than to pronounce.

This syrah/grenache/mourvèdre/carignan blend is textured with savoury licorice undercurrent and makes a great match for fall’s cassoulets.

A tough year in Napa was no problem at Beringer where several vineyards from the valley floor to the mountain top contributed to a fresh and aromatic Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, ready to drink now with your steak.

If lamb is on your fall menu the Zuccardi Q Tempranillo 2010 will stand up to its wild flavours and impress with its richness, power. A bargain red for all you year-round barbecue fanatics this juicy and round high altitude (620m) is the best yet from Zuccardi. Impressive now but will age easily for five years.

DJ Kearney

Drinking whites in the winter is something I anticipate each year with the kind of deep-seated pleasure that stirs my soul and tastebuds. Earthy, savoury, botanical, spicy, broad wines embrace flavours in a bearhug of body and warming alcohol. Wines like creamy oaked chardonnay, ripe white Rhones, mineral-drenched Wachau gruners, honeyed Alsatians, Italians like arneis, top soave and vermentino, and even the right kind of rich, leesy, toasty champagne are perfect. The dishes that I crave and cook for these cool-weather whites are leek risotto, cream-braised endive, veal and mushrooms, roast pork with onion soubise, cauliflower and cheese, roast chicken with truffle oil…  you get the picture? Here are three whites that I am drinking now to warm palate and spirit.

Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2013

La Spinetta Vermentino 2012

Verus Vineyards Pinot Gris 2012Wolf Blass Gold Label Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2013 is broad and surging, with lemon curd, crème brulée and gingerbread flavours kept fresh and crisp with succulent acidity. Worth keeping for a few years for the oak to snuggle into the exotic fruit density, but will be delicious now with lemongrass risotto or winter baked fish with rich Mornay sauce.

La Spinetta Vermentino 2012 is a remarkable wine with savory flavours and emollient texture, held together with just enough acidity to coat the wine sleekly. Completely fascinating and serious vermentino for winter dinners or savouring by the fire.

An attention-getting smoky nose opens Verus Vineyards Pinot Gris 2012 from Slovenia before impressive mineral heft and complexity, reminding me of both Alsace and Soave. It’s a sign of the high calibre wines that Slovenia is capable of, and we want more sent our way, please.

Rhys Pender MW

With the holidays rapidly approaching, it is time to think about starting to loosen the purse strings a little bit and treating yourself.  You want to avoid the wines that are expensive on reputation ahead of quality, and hopefully we steer you on the right track with our winealign.com notes. Of course, there are many great wines that are worth the occasional splurge. There are also some great value alternatives if you look to some lesser-known regions.

Boutari Grande Reserve 2007 Poderi Di Luigi Einaudi Barolo Terlo 2009 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2013Chardonnay is still the greatest white wine and it turns up top quality wines in surprising places. Take the Hamilton Russell 2013 Chardonnay from the cool, coastal part of South Africa where it achieves wonderful elegance but still with some new world gumption.

One wine that is nearly always worth a splurge is Barolo. And not to just have a few sips, you need to sit with a big glass full and let it open up over time to enjoy all the nuances and complexities that lie hidden in its slowly evolving self. The Luigi Einaudi 2009 Barolo Terlo does just that.

Okay, we can’t all afford Barolo and there are some wines that offer a pretty good facsimile at much more approachable prices. The best bet for me is Xinomavro from Naoussa in northern Greece. While we don’t get a lot of good Greek wine options in BC, one stalwart on many BC Liquor Stores shelves is the Boutari Grande Reserve 2007 Naoussa. Great complexity for $23.

Treve Ring

When I approach pairing wines with food (or with seasons), it’s not so much about the flavours or the hue; it’s all about texture. My November wines are much like my November wardrobe – thick and layered, cozy and familiar, with grippy fabric, warming thread throughout and a comforting, lingering memory. Pass the wool scarf – I mean semillon!

Ferrari Carano Chardonnay 2012

Bartier Bros. Semillon Cerqueira Vineyard 2012

Alvear Pedro XimenezFerrari-Carano Chardonnay 2012 from Sonoma’s Alexander Valley is one such wine, full bodied and weighted on the palate, built with creamy pear and hazelnut paste, and primed to partner with your white sauced pastas or fish.

Bartier Bros. Semillon is another such wine that has palatable texture and depth that seems to grow each time I taste it. Though the 2013 is on the shelves now, I recently opened a 2012 (these wines age beautifully) and was impressed by its thorny, herbal wildflower spice and chalky, tactile acidity. Pair with pork belly, savoury risotto or scallops with herbed leeks.

And it’s hard to think of a more textured wine than pedro ximenez, some rumoured to be so thick and unctuous you can take with a spoon. Alvear Solera 1927 Pedro Ximenez is unapologetically and confidently a bit of a conundrum; exceptionally sweet, and overtly salty with baked figs, coffee and cloves that linger far past a single sip. Try this memorable PX with (or over) vanilla bean ice cream and cracked black pepper for a dessert you won’t forget.

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 – November

A Plethora of Great Spirits
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

As we head towards winter, more and more great spirits are being launched from our Canadian distilleries and coming to our shores from abroad. Recently I talked with Dave Broom, author of the World Atlas of Whisky about this boom in spirits.

Broom has been writing about spirits for 25 years. Two of his eight books (Drink! and Rum) won the Glenfiddich award for Drinks Book of the year. The Whisky Atlas (an updated 2nd version which includes Canada) is a visually gorgeous, well written book that would make an excellent gift for the whisky lover. You can find it on Amazon or in Chapters Indigo (indigo.ca).

Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% RyeBroom told me he’s a huge fan of Canadian whisky and the innovative spirit that drives our distilleries. When I showed him Canadian Club’s new Chairman’s Select 100% Rye Whisky he said he had to get a bottle before he returned to the UK. It’s distilled at Alberta Distillers who really know their rye. “Alberta Distillers makes more rye whisky than anyone else in North America. They are the experts,” said Broom.

“The rye boom has just started in Europe,” he said. “The new wave of distilleries are using rye. There are three great ones from distilleries in England now for example.”

As to Scottish whisky, he said we really haven’t seen such a distillery boom since the 1890’s. There are now 114 distilleries in Scotland with another ten in the planning. “My fear is that soon after the 1890 boom there was a bust. I hope this time people are looking properly to the long issue. It’s a long term business,” Broom said.

Ireland has about 20 new distillery applications and there are now even 7 distilleries in England (four years ago there was only one).

The trend to “finish” a scotch in a barrel that’s different from the traditional ex-bourbon barrels is starting to slow down according to Broom and that’s a good thing. “Barrel finished when it works is great. Sadly it doesn’t as frequently as it should,” he said. I just tasted Tullibardine 225 Sauternes Finish Single Malt and would say this is one that does.

Tullibardine Sauternes 225 Finish Single Malt The Balvenie 12 Year Doublewood Old Pulteney 12 Year Old Hghland Single Malt Scotch Bowmore 12 Years Old Islay Single Malt Ardbeg Supernova Islay Single Malt

Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year Old is matured first in American bourbon barrels, then oloroso sherry oak casks. Keep your eyes out for Balvenie Tun 1509, a single barrel sherry cask version that is expected to sell for around $163.

I’m glad to see the lovely Old Pulteney 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt from Inverness Distillers back on the shelves. Bowmore Islay 12 Year Old Single Malt is another classic but with the peaty, briny, smoky Islay character. For a powerful hit of peat, Ardbeg Supernova Islay Single Malt delivers it in a big way.

Mount Gay Rum Black BarrelIn other brown spirits, Mount Gay Rum has just launched Black Barrel, a small batch blend of matured double pot distillates and aged column distillates finished in deeply charred bourbon casks.

Angostura is well known the world over for its Angostura bitters and for its rums. It all began in 1824 when founder Dr. Johann Siegert first produced aromatic bitters in Angostura, Venezuela (today called Ciudad Bolivar). In the 1870’s, Dr. Siegert’s three sons migrated to Trinidad and transferred the Angostura business there.  Over the years, Angostura Aromatic Bitters became a required product on every bar around the world as an integral ingredient in premium cocktails. (Bitters have become a huge trend today with many other companies making their versions.)

The family’s Siegert Bouquet Rum became a Trinidadian tradition up until the early 1960’s and part of the company’s rich rum heritage. By 1965, Angostura was making more money from rum than from their bitters according to master distiller John Georges. In the 1970’s, Angostura expanded, acquiring the Fernandes family distillery, which was founded in the 1890’s by Manuel Fernandes, an immigrant from Portugal, and known for making high quality rums. This year marks the 190th anniversary of Angostura.

The company aims for subtlety and finesse in their products by using high quality molasses, a proprietary yeast isolated in 1947, continuous still distillation and aging in charred American first fill bourbon oak casks Angostura 5 Year Old aged a minimum of five years, is a light blend made for cocktails. Angostura 1919, a blend of rums up to eight years old, is pretty, delicate and silky. Angostura 1824 aged for a minimum of 12 years is a deeper, heavier, “chewable” rum.

Angostura Anejo 5 Year Old Rum Angostura 1919 8 Years Old Rum Angostura 1824 Aged 12 Years Rum

Cocktail lovers might want to download the free Angostura app of excellent cocktail recipes. A dash of bitters in your drink is sweet heaven.

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 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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