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Best Buys in BC – Easter Spotlight

Peter Cottontail is en route, hopping down the bunny trail to appear either as a chocolate benefactor or an entrée, depending on your family plans (and sense of humour, I suppose). From Easter egg hunts to leisurely spring brunch to a multicourse dinner, Easter long weekend is often centered around food. As we all know at WineAlign, wine and food goes together as organically as Easter morning and treats. With that in mind, we based this month’s Best Buys picks around what we will be pairing to this long weekend’s feasting. 

BC Critic Team

Anthony Gismondi

Sunday is Easter and with the two big turkey holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) behind us, the question is, will it be ham, lamb, pork or fish and which wines should you be thinking about pairing with your choice? This month we explore some of the classic Easter matches. I know, they are no rules anymore when it comes to pairing food and wine, but as mother might say “If your friends were jump off a bridge would you do it too?” Maybe she was thinking about those people who drink shiraz with halibut and cabernet with sushi just because someone said drinking red wine is good for you. Years of experience have taught me some wines react better with certain foods than others. The trick is to know which is which.

One of Easter’s problematic matches is that handsomely glazed ham awash in sugar (pineapple) and salt. Both ingredients tend to bring out the bitterness and tannins in wine. The pairing is not insurmountable as long as you think about fruity, lighter structured reds with supple tannins. Garnacha from Spain or grenache from France should do the job. My pick is M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes du Rhône 2012, a mix of grenache and syrah it yields a juicy, fresh, peppery, black fruit flavoured red perfect with the fat and sweetness of the ham. Where white wine is in play a non-wooded or lightly wooded pinot grigio (or gris) would be equally acceptable and my pick is a local favourite: Mission Hill Pinot Gris Reserve 2012. Its round, full, fatter palate with passion fruit, pink grapefruit, and baked green apple is just the ticket to handle the busy flavours of a holiday ham.

M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes Du Rhône 2012  Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Gris 2012  Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2011 Falernia Reserva Syrah 2010

Lamb is more of a slam dunk pairing for syrah or shiraz. A roasted leg of lamb allows for plenty of manoeuvring room with red wine but the classic match is syrah or shiraz. Plenty of minty, lamb flavours call for an equally intense red to tame them and you get that with syrah or syrah blends such as the M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2011, a classic stony, savoury, umami styled Roussillon with juicy black fruit that is rich and intense. Lamb is the perfect foil. The crazy syrah value is Falernia Syrah Reserve 2010 from the Elqui Valley in Chile. Its black pepper, black cherries, chocolate and tobacco will surely melt every mouthful of lamb.

The delicate flavour of pork makes it an ideal candidate for citrus-based marinades and you can choose red or white wine for the match, but the best is riesling. One of the best new world values is the Peter Lehmann Wigan Riesling 2008 from the Eden Valley. Its juicy lime aromas, electric riesling flavours and zesty minerality will all tame the pork. Locally my pick is the Red Rooster Riesling 2012. The style is off-dry, with refreshing acidity and delicious lemon, peach and guava fruit flavours that should carve their way through the pork.

Peter Lehmann Wigan Riesling 2008  Red Rooster Riesling 2012 Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne Cono Sur 20 Barrels Limited Edition Pinot Noir 2011

Let’s see now – all that leaves is B.C.’s signature fish: the salmon. In its simplest form the pre-meal smoked salmon (and cream cheese) can be a delight to share with your dinner guests. In this case I’m sticking to sparkling wine and a classic Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne N/V. Fruity, mineral, oyster shell, nutty, floral undertones set the pace for a delicious pre-dinner aperitif that will stand up to the smoke and salmon. If salmon is the main course you may want to consider the classic B.C presentation: cedar-planked salmon. In this case the dense ‘meaty’ oily fish with its smoky flavours can play host to a rich New World pinot noir. My pick is Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2011. Clearly one of the better Chilean pinots we have tasted this year and still affordable. Look for fruit sweetness and tangy acidity pulling at each other and causing pleasing tension, perfect for salmon. Happy Easter.

DJ Kearney

I love Easter for the egg hunts, the bonnets, the 4 day weekend and especially the non-stop feasting.  Drinking, cooking and eating a wide variety of flavours from all corners of the Easter-celebrating world demands a broad range of wine styles.

8th Generation Riesling 2012Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2012Château De Sancerre Sancerre 2012A whole baked or grilled salmon can feed an extended family crowd with minimal fuss.  Whether you wrap fillets in puff pastry or simply stuff with citrus, and aromatic herbs, white wine needs to have some substance and architecture to contend with richness and intense fish flavour.  The Chateau de Sancerre 2012 offers the necessary beam of focused citrus, crunchy acidity, and persistence.

A richer partner for salmon (and excellent with baked ham too) is a Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2012 – a stunner that’s not just brilliantly priced, but an ager as well.  Make a lipsmacking, glossy lemon butter sauce for the salmon for optimal pairing magic.

Smoky, succulent sweet-salty baked bone-in ham is not only a centerpiece, it will yield a motherload of meals all week-long. A barely off-dry Riesling for the luscious texture, sweet glaze and crunchy, fatty bits like 8th Generation Riesling 2012 will keep your palate cleansed and tingling through every bite.  Add herbes de provence to the brine, darken the glaze honey and red wine, and uncork a smooth southern Rhone wine like the M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes du Rhône 2012.  And if you are roasting a rosemary-marinated leg of lamb for Easter dinner, their Côtes du Rhône will fit like a velvet-y glove.

Rhys Pender, MW

Easter is just around the corner, a time when the promise of spring is in the air, but it still can be chilly and I am not yet ready to switch wine focus to just light, crisp and chilling whites, bubbly and rosé. It is a time to sit on the fence with something refreshing for the afternoon apéro, with something a little more warming to suit the cool evenings.

Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe Palomino Fino Extra Dry SherryGérard Bertrand Château L'hospitalet 2011 Spier Signature Chenin Blanc 2012 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Easter food is also well suited to these kinds of wines. If you do lamb or ham or if the Easter bunny ends up in your pot, a softer, earthy red or a full-bodied white will do the trick. For apéro, be brave and try the Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe Fino Sherry. This slightly odd salty, bready and crisp wine grows on you with time, particularly if served with snacks of roasted nuts, olives and anything deep-fried. When moving onto Easter dinner try the Gérard Bertrand 2011 Château l’Hospitalet La Clape for its soft, savoury warmth, the similarly themed M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes du Rhône 2012 or a fuller bodied white such as the Spier Chenin Blanc 2012 from South Africa. If roast lamb is your Easter treat, the Rodney Strong Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 has the right mix of flavour intensity and structure to match well.

Treve Ring

As spring sunshine returns to BC, my mind turns towards the warmth of Spain. The extreme diversity across the land of bulls affords wines to suit all tastes and menus. Easter Brunch will be brightened with the consistent, crisp, bright (organic!) brut cava from Pares Balta – a sparkling steal of a deal with pure apple, citrus and stone. If roasted pork or rabbit is on the menu, Toro’s Elias Mora 2010 would suit, reflecting the sunwarmed heat of the renegade region through its red-fruited, unfiltered 100% tinta de toro (tempranillo). Should herb grilled lamb be making an appearance, a fitting match is Vinos de Finca’s Losada 2009 from Bierzo, highlighting the mencia grape in this lush, juniper-scented big red.

Parés Baltà Cava Brut Viñas Elias Mora 2010Losada Bierzo 2009 Domäne Wachau Terraces Grüner Veltliner 2012 Domaine Lathuiliere Pisse Vieille Brouilly 2012 Lini 910 Labrusca

But Spain doesn’t reserve all my attention this holiday weekend. The savoury Domaine Wachau 2010 Gruner Veltliner Terraces from Austria caught my memory this month, intriguing with its anise textured and honey kissed notes. Try it with the first of the halibut season. Much closer to home, Stag’s Hollow 2013 Riesling from Amalia Vineyard on Osoyoos’ west bench would make for a fantastic versatile bottle for the table; the shining peach, lime and creamy peach a match for dishes porcine, poultry or piscine. I poured the pure and structured deliciousness of Domaine Lathuiliere Brouilly Pisse Vieille 2012 for a Cru Beaujolais tasting this month, impressing the trade group with its blend of stony seriousness and berry fruitiness. This old-vine gamay would be a brilliant fit for your Easter turkey or cran-glazed ham (#GoGamayGo). If, like me, your traditions are decidedly unconventional, pick up the dry, fruity Lini 910 Lambrusco from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. The striking bottle has ripe berry depth and enough tannin to take on salmon, tuna or poultry, plus fresh acidity and lively bubbles to lend to the festivities.

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


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Best Buys in BC – Spring into Action

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

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

BC Critic Team

DJ Kearney

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

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

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

Rhys Pender, MW

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

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

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

Treve Ring

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

BC Critic Team

Anthony Gismondi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DJ Kearney

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

Here are my highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

Rhys Pender, MW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you in the tasting room!

Treve Ring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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The 36th Vancouver International Wine Festival 2014 uncorks…

The Wine World is Here

DJ Kearney

DJ Kearney

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Sara’s Sommelier Selections – Feb 1, 2014

Amorous Reds for Valentine’s Day

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

It’s never too soon to start planning for that special day that means more to most partners then they are willing to admit.

My advice: treat your lovely to a blind tasting of some of the most exotic reds of this release. Or, plan a menu around these wines with aphrodisiac pairings.

And you’ve guessed it – all of the pairings this week have titillating appeal and are meant to result in an evening best spent at home.

Chapel Hill Bush Vine Grenache 2011
Mclaren Vale, South Australia ($26.95)

Chapel Hill Bush Vine Grenache 2011

A completely seductive and compelling offer from the old bush vines of Australia’s founding wine region – McLaren Vale. Bush vines are generally older vines that were never trellised (put on wires) and grow almost wild in bush like formations. Although the wine may be named after the 19th century chapel turned parish school that now houses the winery and gallery, it is anything but pious – offering a sinful blend of exotic spice and rich fruit.

Food match: Pulled pork with mole sauce

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

Schild Estate Old Bush Vine Grenache Mourvedre Shiraz 2011

Since I’m in a bush vine state of mind, here is another lovely example that can make for an interesting comparative tasting with the last. Although largely made up of juicy grenache, it is blended with shiraz and mourvedre, a traditional southern Rhône combination that is known in Australia as a GSM. Here is a terrific value for just under $20 that wowed me at first sip.

Food match: Beef tenderloin with vanilla-soy sauce

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

Devil's Corner Pinot Noir 2012

This release features an impressive selection on Oceanic wines and this devilish pinot noir offers a wickedly delectable from cherry to pepper with just right amount of restraint. The cool-climate island of Tasmania features an ideal climate for the picky pinot noir, delivering some surprising examples.

Food Match: Seared tuna with blood orange

Syrousse 2011 Côtes Du Roussillon Villages
Southwest, France ($16.95)

Syrousse 2011

Romance fills the air with perfume and hot sunny days in the south of France and this lovely, traditional blend of syrah, grenache and carignan made in a ‘naked’ style (i.e. without the use of oak). “Rousse” refers to the colour of the iron rich soils of Rousillon but the word also means “redhead” and suggests the colour red – the colour of love, certainly fit for a valentine’s setting.

Food match: Chicken curry with basil

Thymiopoulos Vineyards Yn Kai Oupavós Xinomavro 2010
Naoussa, Naoussa, Greece ($19.95)

Thymiopoulos Vineyards Yn Kai Oupavós Xinomavro 2010

The Greeks love completely, as Plato once wrote: “The madness of love is the greatest of heaven’s blessings”. It is tough to find a sexier grape than that of xinomavro – it has all the intrigue of pinot noir and the intensity of nebbiolo rife with exotic spice and crushed black fruit. This progressive producer from the northern and ancient winemaking region of Macedonia strikes a fine balance in this sumptuous red that is certain to prove an intriguing new discovery.

Food match: Roasted duck breast stuffed with figs and almonds

Wishing you happy entertaining!

Sara d’Amato

From the Feb 1, 2013 Vintages release:

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

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


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Best Buys in BC – January 2014

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

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

BC Critic Team

Anthony Gismondi
Looking for Mr. Good Bargain

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

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

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

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

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

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

DJ Kearney

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

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

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

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

Rhys Pender, MW

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

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

Treve Ring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sara’s Sommelier Selections – Dec 7, 2013

Flying Solo – Wine Without Food

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

One of our many roles as Sommeliers is to match food with wine in fine dining establishments in order to enhance the experience of the diner. However, Sommeliers are employed in many different ways such as a consulting in building wine lists for new or established restaurants and bars, providing insight to private collectors about the contents of their cellars, and generally helping consumers find exactly what they are looking for to enhance every occasion.

As of late, I have had requests to both pair wines to specific occasions, but more insistently to recommend wines that can be drunk on their own – i.e. do not necessitate food pairings. Although many of the wines I have recommended from previous releases could fly solo as well, here is a list of wines that can be enjoyed outside of dinnertime.

What to look for in a wine that can be enjoyed on its own? Firstly, a wine should be optimally balanced and feel harmonious. Ratios such as acid-to-sweetness, fruit-to-oak and tannins-to-fruit should be proportional such that they match intensity and are nicely integrated on the palate.

Secondly, look for wines with smooth tannins and rounded acids. Youthful rieslings that have throat-ripping acids or tough Napa cabernets are best reserved for foods that can mellow those properties, or else they need to spend some time in bottle so that the structural components can soften and integrate.

Thirdly, and perhaps counter-intuitively for some, wines work best in an aperitif/cocktail setting if they are dry or just slightly off-dry. Sweet wines are best when paired with salty, creamy or fatty foods and occasionally fruit or desserts. On their own, more than a glass or two may result in a difficult subsequent morning or, more immediately, palate fatigue.

Fourthly, a wine should be “ready to drink”, either because it has been allowed time in the bottle to mature, or it was produced deliberately for immediate consumption (a great deal of wines on the shelf fall into this category).

Conversation pieces! Wines can be icebreakers especially if they come from lesser-known regions or are made from grapes that are less common.

The final principals are reserved for those who are entertaining or a choosing a wine for a cocktail party style gathering.

Reach for a crowd-pleasing, easy-drinking wine as opposed to something esoteric, experimental or something weirdly wonderful. Often, we critics will use this language in our reviews, which should nudge you in that direction.

The last overarching consideration is affordability! With the exception of very specific circumstances, or if you have a great collection that you would like to share, most people, especially around this time of the year, are looking to stretch their dollar and get the best bang for their buck when a larger group is involved. Fortunately, there is a good deal of selection in this category. I would particularly direct you to Steve Thurlow’s 50 Best Value LCBO picks.

Here are some suggestions from today’s release that should prove most enjoyable “seule” and the reasons for why they were chosen:

De Wetshof Finesse Lesca Estate Chardonnay 2012 ($18.95)
BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Chardonnay is an incredibly versatile variety in terms of the styles and flavour profiles it can express, where it can be produced around the world and its ability to match an array of foods and situations. It is also becoming a la mode again (and arguably, was it ever really out of fashion?) I always like to have one familiar choice in a group setting as it sets people at ease right away. In addition, Chardonnay is the ultimate comfort wine, especially when lightly oak-aged, offering a touch of vanilla, warm butter, and butterscotch to compliment the warming alcohol. You also don’t have to worry too much about temperature here as much Chardonnay can often be very enjoyable even close to room temperature. So go ahead, leave it on the counter and finish off the bottle!

De Wetshof Finesse Lesca Estate Chardonnay 2012

Saltram Mamre Brook Shiraz 2010 ($26.95)
Barossa, South Australia

Wines that are big and bold are often best left on their own as opposed to pairing with food. They risk upstaging your cuisine, whereas served solo, these wines will take center stage. The only caveat is that they can be filling so if serving before mealtime or in large quantities, be wary of this. This Saltram Shiraz consistently over-delivers – it is bold and rich but not overbearing – terrific on its own.

Saltram Mamre Brook Shiraz 2010

Quinta Dos Carvalhais Duque De Viseu Red 2009 ($13.95)
Doc Dão, Portugal

A romantic comedy on the agenda or perhaps a hopeful nightcap? Wines of the Dao are my aphrodisiac and their complex, delicate flavours are perfectly suited to appreciation without food. In addition, the wines tend to be dry, concentrated but not overly tannic, so they are ideal sans-dinner!

Quinta Dos Carvalhais Duque De Viseu Red 2009

Pecan Stream Chenin Blanc 2012 ($14.95)
Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa

When I first tasted this prior to release – I immediately described it as a crowd-pleasing aperitif wine. Well-made, friendly and flavourful but not overly challenging, it will have you or your guests pleasantly satisfied and for a price that won’t break the bank. A side party tip – drinking white wine, or even just finishing with a glass of white, can mitigate the red lips/teeth and tongue problem that is oh so apparent in lively discussions at cocktail parties.

Pecan Stream Chenin Blanc 2012

Veramonte Primus 2011 ($19.95)
Colchagua Valley, Chile

Blends! Blends are often made to create a balanced wine. Many traditional blends have been established because of the grapes’ ability to compliment each other. I was particularly fond of this lush and savory blend of carmenere and syrah, which tastes a lot pricier than the tag reads.

Veramonte Primus 2011

Wishing you happy entertaining!

Sara d’Amato

From the Dec 7, 2013 Vintages release:

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

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


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Canada’s Wine & Food Culture: Something’s Missing

Rhys Pender, MW

Rhys Pender, MW

Admittedly, this article is a bit of a rant, a lot of head scratching, reflection and question asking, all blended with opinions. It is about Canadian wine and food culture, or the lack of it.

The Canadian wine and food scenes have come an incredibly long way over recent decades. Until recently there was no real Canadian cuisine, and the wine industry was set more on maximizing subsidies than making quality wine. Now there are  exciting, regionally driven, locally supported wine industries to be proud of in four provinces. However, in spite of this achievement, and wines that continue to climb higher and higher in terms of quality, there is something missing in wine and food culture in most of Canada (perhaps with the exception of Quebec). What is missing is where the two cultures come together, the understanding and, more importantly, the pairing and enjoying wine and food as one as common practice.

There are certainly many reasons why the culture of matching wine and food in Canada is not as advanced as in some parts of the world, but that doesn’t make the fact that culture is lacking any less disappointing. While chefs, farmers and the media have worked hard to build an enviable local-based Canadian food scene and passionate winemakers and grape growers have followed on from the hardworking pioneers to produce wines that are starting to be a real, and really interesting, reflection of their Canadian terroir, there has been very little crossover between the two fields. It begs the question why?

One might ask, isn’t this the job of sommeliers? Trained sommeliers, working across the country in restaurants, are doing their bit to help the cause, but their playing field is almost exclusively high end restaurants and clubs, circumventing most Canadians who can’t afford to eat out in top spots. The low end restaurants, where the Joe average can afford to eat regularly, generally have terrible wine lists, seemingly purchased purely on price, and staff who know little about the food or the wine they are serving. The customer, with little guidance, ends up settling for some large, uninspiring brand and the likely overall restaurant food and wine experience is unmemorable. It is not surprising then, when glancing at diners in a restaurant, to see so many tables going without wine altogether. There is no incentive to develop any food and wine culture in this environment. Contrast this with restaurants in most of Europe where even the inexpensive and casual places have staff who seem to know, at least, the local wines and wine is so part of the meal it is regularly included in the affordable prix-fixe menus.

pairings restaurantThe culture of pricing wine in restaurants also does little to encourage consumers to embrace food and wine pairing. Most restaurants choose to use a percentage markup system, essentially punishing their customers by taking higher profits as they order better wines. The result of this? Consumers will dumb down their purchases, ending up with a lesser quality pairing experience and no gains made to the advancement of wine and food culture. Could a flat rate per bottle not encourage greater interest and passion, not to mention maybe more bums on seats in the restaurant? Restaurants in most other western countries get by with much lower wine margins and seem to survive. I know I personally would eat out more often if wine was not so expensive.

The media, too, has done little to join wine and food, typically focusing its attentions on one area or the other. When trying, as so many media outlets seem to end up doing to survive, to become “lifestyle” publications, they generally end up doing a terrible job of covering both. Watching cooking shows in the United Kingdom, Australia or New Zealand, there is always a link to wine and how it pairs with whatever has just been cooked, but in North America this is a rarity.

Why is Quebec seemingly an exception to all this? It is not only the ties to the culture of the French, the famous devourers of all things food and wine, but some stronger link to and passion about their terroir. A wine and food culture is deeply engrained not just in fine restaurants but also in the home. And a true wine and food culture can only exist when it is part of daily life, not a one off experience.

The pairing culture in Quebec seems to penetrate all walks of life. Wine lists in Montreal are loaded with food friendly, crisp and mineral whites and juicy, savoury red wines that are made for the table. Contrast this with lists in much of Canada centred around big brands and big wines that are generally the worst for successful food and wine pairings. Culture can’t be forced on us and it certainly takes time to evolve. Many of the diverse cultures who settled Canada, and made it the patchwork quilt it is today, still maintain strong food traditions. Maybe, simply, it was only the Quebecers who were settled with any wine culture?

If we want to start the cultural change for Canada’s wine and food culture to develop, more needs to be done from all angles. Some of the less expensive restaurants could benefit from some consulting and staff training to get a basic, but interesting, wine program together. I think it is fair that if a server expects to be tipped then it is fair that they should know a little bit more about what they serve, both wine and food. Media needs to help bring the culture of wine and food into the home and sommeliers and educators need to promote wine and food as a part of everyday life, not some snobby form of luxury lifestyle.

The liquor laws in Canada have certainly not helped. Provincial liquor boards and licensers have somehow managed to make buying and drinking wine feel Rhys BC storesomehow morally wrong, giving the feeling that the prohibitionists are watching, looking down their noses at you. Exorbitant percentage based markups again have the effect of dumbing down the experience. This has the effect of driving the sales to the low priced big brands, those often doing little to support or care about quality driven, terroir based wines and great food and wine experiences. And the profits are usually sent out of the country to large corporations.

What if liquor boards focused their attention on interesting, high quality, hand picked wines, had a flat per bottle markup and then trained staff to be able to share information on the wines? The result would be better experiences for the customer and lower prices in restaurants. Sales of wine might increase in all channels, helping to further a culture of quality. Unfortunately the provinces are addicted to the profits rather than building any culture.

There are some positive trends, but they always end up preaching more to the already converted. Winemakers’ dinners and programs like Gold Medal Plates help to celebrate Canadian bounty, both wine and food. The British Columbia Wine Institute has launched a Perfect Pairings program to promote the best of BC, but none of these reach regular Canadians and let them see how much benefit, both gastronomically and on a larger scale of things that matter, great local wine and food combinations can bestow.

Maybe at the end of the day regular Canadians don’t care. But if they don’t, the erosion of wine and food culture will continue, and the proliferation of increasingly dumbed down wine and food experiences will intensify. Money will flow to the big corporations and small and local will become even smaller. Hope springs from mini success stories such as the rise of organic foods and success of farmers’ markets and city gardens.

The wine world seems to be going in two ways, simplified, sweet and manipulated wines are growing their market share at an alarming rate while at the same time a counter culture of quality, terroir driven and individual wines are fighting back, winning small successes. The trick is getting these stories to the masses, getting people to care and feel good both about where they are spending their money, and discovering the joy that wine and food culture can bring. The food and wine Canada is growing and making is certainly deserving of a culture around its enjoyment.

Cheers!

Rhys Pender, MW

If you have comments on this article and other thoughts on this topic please share them below via Disqus. 

 

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Sara’s Sommelier Selections – Nov 23, 2013

Living Local over the Holidays

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

As a Sommelier and wine critic, travel is part and parcel of our life. And as the holidays approach, travel is on the agenda for many of you as well. When I travel, I always bring with a bottle of something local for my host. And with all due respect to the maple syrup industry, that particular iconic Canadian product is now available almost across the globe. Something truly unique and often unavailable across the globe, however, is a piece of local terroir – a snapshot of a particular and specific time and place which evolves uniquely over time. If you’re travelling near or far over the holidays, why not bring a piece of your home to another’s? Certainly a one-of-a-kind gift!

If the price point seems a bit higher on these recommended wines, there is good reason. This week’s release is a massive collection of high-end wines from many exceptional producers making up the “Our Finest” feature. As we approach the holiday season, consumers tend to spend a little more on wines as the occasions to entertain friends and family increase significantly. Secondly, wines at this price point are often game changers for those skeptics of local products. If entertaining at home, try pouring these wines into a decanter and serving them ‘blind’ – you are certain to surprise and impress (and what better way to make for a memorable evening). As you may have heard many times, what we do best in Canada is small, scale, high quality wine production – these should be a point of reference.

Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2012 ($24.95)
BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, sustainably-minded producer Tinhorn Creek has grown from humble beginnings to a 150 acre estate. Produced from relatively old gewürztraminer vines, this wine reminds me of a French woman (and pardon the generalization) who appears so effortlessly put-together. Similarly, this wine flows so seamlessly and achieves such elegant balance that it can be easy to overlook the complex layers and care that went into achieving such a result.  Highly recommended!

Food pairing: Holiday cheese platter

Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2012

Stratus White 2010 ($44.20)
Niagara On The Lake, Ontario

An iconic Niagara blend, made up mostly of semillon and sauvignon blanc with a touch of chardonnay and the aromatic viognier. Serious but also intriguing, there is no denying its deserved wide appeal. As Canada’s reputation is unfortunately taking a hit in the media, it’s time to put the focus back on what we do extraordinarily.

Food Pairing: Fried risotto balls (arancini di riso)

Stratus White 2010

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2011 ($32.95)
Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

A bombshell of a pinot noir – a descriptor that doesn’t often go hand in hand with such a terrific example of this varietal but this muscular pinot noir is show-stoppingly complex and quite riveting. Decant before serving as it is quite tightly wound.

Food Pairing: Pork chops stuffed with cherry and walnuts

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2011

Stratus Red 2010 ($44.20)
Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, Canada

Such a terrific vintage for Niagara and for Stratus – the 2010 is possible the most impressive blend yet for this iconic winery. Although this is a second recommendation from the same winery, the dynamic duo in this release is too difficult to choose between. My colleagues, apparently, feel the same way.

Food Pairing: Beef Wellington

Stratus Red 2010

Palatine Hills Neufeld Vineyard Meritage 2010 ($29.95)
Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario, Canada

Neufeld vineyard continues to produce some spellbinding reds. This historic sloping, vineyard site, owned and maintained by the Neufeld’s themselves who have long been grape growers in the region is brought to life by winemaker Jeff Innes who has crafted a truly impressive blend from an exceptional year. All the pieces are in place to make this wine quite special.

Food pairing: Osso Bucco or Szechuan Beef

Palatine Hills Neufeld Vineyard Meritage 2010

Santé!

Sara d’Amato

From the Nov 23, 2013 Vintages release:

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

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


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We Are Drinking Canada’s Best Wines Too Soon

WineAlign’s Rhys Pender explains why our wines can age well and picks examples of successfully aged wines.The answer” he argues, “could be to follow the Bordeaux model and essentially sell futures to maintain cash flow, but it will take the market a while to have enough confidence in the wines for this to become a reality”

Rhys Pender, MW

Rhys Pender, MW

Are we drinking our best Canadian wines too early? I’m sure the majority of the best British Columbian and Ontario wines get quaffed down barely a year or two after they are bottled and I’m also sure that this is not when they show their greatest qualities. Being a young industry without centuries of tradition as to how the wines age and develop, consumers and winemakers have taken the cautious approach and underestimated the potential for the best wines to mature into something special.

It is easy enough to understand that winemakers wouldn’t want to come straight out and, at risk of appearing arrogant, say these wines will not peak for a decade when so many of the wineries are not even that old themselves. But too often producers are not giving the wines the credit they deserve. For wines to be good candidates for long ageing a few things are required, and Canadian wines have these in spades.

Why should French and Italian wines be able to age and Canadian wines not? Acidity, the great preservative, is retained naturally in Canadian wines to the point where many other world regions are openly jealous. When combined with concentrated fruit flavour and, in the case of many BC red wines, firm tannins, all the components are there for great potential in the cellar.

So knowing that the wines have the structure and the fruit to age, why aren’t consumers buying by the case and patiently waiting for the wines to evolve and mature? All that is lacking is the confidence, both from producers and consumers. There is simply not enough track record.

But as the number of wineries with 10 or more years of experience increases and the old guard is being pushed to greater and greater quality by a new ambitious band of young wine producers, confidence is starting to grow. There are more and more wines made to a high level through quality vineyard management giving intensely flavoured and structured grapes. In short, the grapes are getting better and so, therefore, are the wines. Many wineries now have enough vintages to run internal vertical tastings of their wines and the results are very positive and increasing their confidence.

Winemaking has also evolved and advanced having an impact on how Canadian wines age. In some cases, modern winemaking that fiddles and interferes with the natural composition of the must makes wines that taste approachable when young but their longevity is questionable. In other cases, respect for the fruit from vineyard through to bottle has resulted in wines more naturally balanced and concentrated and that age gracefully and interestingly.

Vintage variation, something that has been quite extreme in Canada in recent years could have an impact on the ability of wines to age but even the coolest vintages seem to develop nicely. I have had many good experiences with wines that were a little linear, light and not very generous in their youth that, after about 8-10 years, turned into something interesting, soft, balanced and very enjoyable. Riper, richer vintages also seem to age well. A Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon from the hot 1998 vintage tasted a mere baby at 10 years of age. Yet an Estate Syrah from Mission Hill from 1999 (BC’s coolest vintage on record) was still elegant and beautiful after 13 years.

How do we make the swing and get consumers to start cellaring more Canadian wine? It is going to take a lot of education and for producers to be confident and stand behind the ageability of their wines. It is too much to expect the producers to hold back the wine themselves for release at a later date (although a few places are doing this) as cash flow is always an issue and storage space at a premium. To have four, five or six vintages at different stages of their life in the cellar would cost a fortune.

The answer could be to follow the Bordeaux model and essentially sell futures to maintain cash flow, but it will take the market a while to have enough confidence in the wines for this to become a reality.

The best white grape varieties for ageing seem to be riesling and chardonnay, although chardonnay’s lifespan is shorter. Chardonnay becomes nutty, rich and soft while riesling can stay fresh for decades adding baking spice and petrol notes to all the citrus and tree fruit intensity.

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Nichol Vineyards Syrah 2010For reds we have pinot noir, syrah and the Bordeaux varieties and blends. Merlot, known in most of the world as a soft, mellow wine is much more structured and capable of ageing as a stand-alone variety from the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys. Bordeaux blends, after a few years, start to soften in texture and complex secondary flavours start to emerge while the often overzealous tannins melt away. Pinot Noir can become amazingly gamy, earthy and full of spice while the meaty and peppery notes in syrah develop layers and layers of complexity.

When you look at the price of Canadian wines they also look like a pretty good bargain compared with other international wines that are capable of improving for a decade or more. A $35 Canadian red blend will often outperform $35 Bordeaux or other similarly priced wines from around the world.

Successful Examples of Aged Canadian Wines

Some of the successfully aged Canadian wines I’ve been lucky enough to have in the cellar or taste include a 1994 Syrah from Nichol Vineyards tasted at 16 years old. It still had life and was amazingly complex. The current vintage, 2010, should age quite well too.

Blue Mountain Pinot Noir 2011Blue Mountain Pinot Noir Reserve 2010Tasting the aforementioned Burrowing Owl 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon at 10 years of age was quite a bizarre experience as there were no signs yet of any age. The 2010 might not be quite as concentrated but should open up nicely in 6-8 years.

Even many of the less expensive Cabernet-Merlot or Merlot wines have aged favourably. Recent positive experiences with a 1996 Mission Hill Merlot at 17 years of age showed a nice, complex meaty, vegemity, spicy wine still with lots of flavour.

Pinot Noir, not surprisingly due to its crisp acidity and flavour concentration, ages very well from Canada. Old examples of Blue Mountain Pinot Noir in both the regular and reserve tier have been delicious at 10 years of age. The 2011 Pinot Noir and 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir are both very good candidates for the cellar.

A 1991 Henry of Pelham Riesling tasted just this year was very developed but still had honeyed fruit, richness and spice and was drinking beautifully.

Summerhill Cipes Ariel 1998Sumac Ridge Steller's Jay Brut Sparkling Wine 2008Sparkling wine seems a natural candidate for ageing as grapes are picked early and with high acidity. Recent tasting of older vintages (1997/1998) of Sumac Ridge Steller’s Jay Brut has shown they get more interesting over time. The 2007 and current 2008 may well do the same. Summerhill only recently released a 1998 Cipes Ariel. This enigma of a wine always receives mixed reviews but when a fresher bottle is uncorked it has endless complexity and plenty of the goût anglais for those who appreciate that style.

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2011There has been the odd anomaly too. A Quails’ Gate Family Reserve 1994 Chardonnay tasted at 14 years old was still holding on nicely. This wine had been rated highly in its youth and outlived the expectations of most chardonnays in the world. The current 2011 Stewart Family Reserve is excellent and has the intensity and acidity to age.

I could go on and on with all the positive experiences drinking older Canadian wines. There really is something unique about the structure that comes from the unique growing conditions, matched nowhere else in the world. I think it is time for people to embrace that these wines age well, producers should now be confident in recommending cellaring and consumers should start putting bottles away to experience the best of what Canadian wines have to offer.

Cheers!

Rhys Pender, MW

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

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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008