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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for October 26, 2013

2013 Ontario, 2010 Bordeaux, Oregon & Top Ten Smart Buys

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

There are still lots of red grapes hanging in Ontario vineyards, but producers are already talking about the quality of the vintage. I’ve canvassed growers from Niagara and Prince Edward County for a sneak preview of what we can expect from 2013. In the meantime, the annual Taste Ontario event last week provided an opportunity to taste current releases, and I share a handful of my favorites in this week’s report. The VINTAGES October 26th release features 2010 Bordeaux, heralded as a great vintage, and I’ve highlighted the best values, as well as a pair from the Oregon mini-feature and the usual Ten Smart Buys.

Top Ten Smart Buys

This week’s top ten includes a candidate for wine of the vintage in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and a gorgeous 2008 Barolo at the premium end of value; a pair of glorious fortified wines for cool weather enjoyment from opposite ends of the price spectrum, as well as brilliant white Burgundy, zesty grüner veltliner and a South Australian roussanne with complexity well above what the price category demands. See them all here.


Elk Cove Pinot Gris 2012Evening Land Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2011Oregon is the minor feature of the October 26th release, with a handful of wines hitting the shelves. Of these, two caught my attention: 2011 Evening Land Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, ($33.95) and the 2012 Elk Cove Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley ($24.95). Canadian-born winemaker Isabelle Meunier makes the wines at Evening Land’s Oregon operation (wine is also made in California and Burgundy) with the consultation of Burgundian guru Dominique Lafon, and the wines feature elegance and finesse across the board. The 2011 is a pretty, red fruit flavoured pinot with supple but dusty tannins, succulent acidity and a marked savoury edge. This is classy stuff, for fans of old world style pinot with minerality and depth without heaviness.

I’ve recommended wines from Elk Cove in the past, one of Oregon’s oldest vineyards planted in 1977. Pinot Gris is the state’s signature white grape, and this 2012 is classically styled (in the Alsatian sense), just off-dry with fine flavour intensity and length. It would make a great match with lightly spiced fare or dishes with a sweet-sour-salty profile (think Chinese sweet-sour sauces).

2013 Ontario: “A long, Cool Season with the Potential For Excellence”

It’s of course premature to make any definitive statements about a vintage that isn’t even finished yet, but if you believe in the adage that great wines are made in the vineyard, then the majority of the work is done, and the initial reports are highly positive. Growers still have their fingers crossed for fine weather to bring the later ripening reds like cabernet sauvignon and syrah to full ripeness, but with much of the harvest already fermenting, there are smiles about.

Niagara Peninsula

“Overall, 2013 resembles 2011 and 2009. It was a bit cooler than ’11 and a bit warmer than ’09”, reports Tom Penachetti from Cave Spring Vineyard. “Riesling is still a work in progress, but appears to have the potential for true excellence, with great balance of sugars and acids and very complete flavour development. And Cabernet Franc is also shaping up beautifully. If all goes well, the wines will be ripe and aromatic, with a good balance of tannin and ripe yet still bright fruit character”, says Penachetti. And even more good news is that there will be plenty of wine to go around: “Yields are larger than average, like in 2011, but the flavours are complex and quality excellent.”

Paul Pender of Tawse is equally enthusiastic: “I am loving what’s coming out of the 2013 vintage. It’s definitely my kind of vintage. The longer, cooler growing season has produced some remarkable flavours in the Pinot, Chards and Rieslings. Acids are great and alcohols moderate”, he says.

Full flavour development alongside moderate alcohol levels, at least for white varieties, seems to be a common thread across the province, a feature that I find particularly exciting about 2013. Rob Power from Creekside Estate confirms: “the whites have great flavour intensity and classic Niagara acidity. This physiological ripeness was not matched by super-high grape sugars, so the wines will have good old-fashioned alcohol levels in the low 12s.” Bruce Nicholson of Inniskillin agrees on the strength of the whites: “Aromatic whites look very good with the help of some nice September sunshine”.

Growers were initially concerned about the late start to the growing season – bud burst came a couple of weeks later than the average – though warm weather in June, and additional warm periods again in August and September allowed grapes to catch up. And while there was a lot of precipitation during the growing season, according to Penachetti, “it came in short bursts and was never followed by hot, humid weather. Instead, it was almost always brisk and sunny after the rain, which minimized disease pressure and allowed for quick drying”.

It remains to be seen how the later reds will fair. “We are enjoying a great fall that has helped us catch up with a cool summer, but patience is still the name of the game this year especially for reds”, cautions J-L Groux of Stratus, well known for harvesting his reds into November even in warm years. “We now have great Chards, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and Rieslings in the winery but reds will be a November affair”. Michèle Bosc of Château des Charmes is optimistic: “thus far we have been delighted at the maturity of the fruit, and if the forecast is to be believed we could be equally as delighted with the late reds as we are with the whites/early reds.”

Prince Edward County

In Prince Edward County where virtually all varieties (early ripening grapes like pinot noir and chardonnay) have been picked, Rosehall Run’s Dan Sullivan reports a more challenging growing season. Frequent disease pressure required attentive canopy management, but Sullivan has similar enthusiasm regarding quality, thanks to a late season period of warm, dry weather. “Although the year started late with a bud break 10-14 days later than 2012, the season really picked up speed and the generally glorious weather over the last month has made the vintage” he says. Bruno François of The Old Third describes conditions in September and early October as “absolutely perfect for viticulture”.

The ever optimistic Norm Hardie makes the claim that 2013 is “the best yet”, while Sullivan, although reluctant to make as definitive a prediction, states that “it’s fair to say we expect the 2013 vintage to be very good to excellent. Our Chardonnay and Pinot (667 clone in particular) are some of the best I’ve seen in my 10 crushes at Rosehall Run.”

Stay tuned, and join winemakers in a little prayer for sun.

Taste Ontario

While we’re waiting for our first tastes of the 2013s, here are some recommended current releases available at the LCBO or direct from the winery:

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De BlancCharles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 20122012 Charles Baker Wines Charles Baker Ivan Vineyard ($27.00)

Baker has done a fine job with the Ivan Vineyard in 2012, the best from this site to date. He seems to have coaxed an extra dimension of minerality from the vines while maintaining freshness, vibrancy and verve. I like the palpable astringency, from low yielding vines and genuine concentration no doubt, capturing the ripeness of 2012 without any hint of heaviness or sweetness. The finish lingers on admirably. This might just give the generally superior Picone Vineyard bottling a run for the money this year. Best now-2020+.

2008 Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc de Blanc ($44.95)

A fine, tight, bracing, dry bubbly that takes its place alongside the best of the province, but patience required. The 2008 is considerably more tart, lean and austere then the inaugural 2007, accurately reflecting the far cooler vintage conditions, and I suspect this will continue to age, and improve, slowly in the bottle and ultimately outlast the first edition. I’d tuck this in the cellar for another year or two minimum to allow some softening and evolution.

Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2011Rosewood Select Series Semillon 20122012 Rosewood Estates Winery Select Series Semillon ($18.00)

The 2012 Semillon from Rosewood steps it up a notch (or two) from the 2011, offering considerably more ripeness and depth, with fruit moving into the tropical spectrum: pineapple, melon, and guava. There’s also a fine blast of fresh lime-citrus to freshen up the ensemble, along with a plush and flavour-rich mid-palate. A top-notch effort from Ontario with this rather rare and difficult grape, but one that proves that it can be done in the right sites with the right handling.

2011 Fielding Estate Winery Cabernet Franc ($21.95)

Fielding delivers a classic cool climate cabernet franc in 2011, complete with fresh cut grass, wet hay, damp earth and roasted green pepper. Wood has been used to good effect to fill in some flavour gaps, adding its smoky, spicy, meaty nuances, while the palate is medium-full, fresh and lively, with firm dusty tannins but more than enough fruit and other flavours to see this through to positive evolution. Best after 2015.

2011 Thomas Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir, St. David’s Bench ($53.95)

Bachelder’s 2011 Lowery Vineyard pinot from one of the oldest pinot sites on the escarpment offers a delightful nose of cinnamon-spiced cherries and cranberry chutney, ably integrating old barrel spice with fine fruit concentration in this challenging vintage. I think he’s nailed this one on the head with the supple, rich texture, yet structured palate, with moderate tannins fully enveloped in fruit extract. The length and flavour depth are also exceptional. Lovely wine, for drinking now, or hold up to a half dozen years or so.

Malivoire M2 Small Lot Gamay 2012Lailey Cabernet Franc 20112011 Lailey Vineyard Wines Cabernet Franc ($25.00)

Here’s a fragrant pure, complex and inviting wine from Derek Barnett that surpasses expectations for the price category. There’s a fine mix of high-toned red and black fruit, floral, fresh tobacco leaf and delicate baking spice nuances that come together nicely. The palate delivers substantial flavour and length on a light to mid-weight frame, with lively acids and fine-grained tannins. Terrific length for the money.

2012 Malivoire Wine Company Small Lot Gamay ($19.75)

An arch-typical, zesty, cold cream and tart red berry-flavoured gamay from specialists Malivoire, whose gamays are, year in and year out, among the best in the country. I love the bright, crunchy currant and pomegranate flavours, the black pepper and the saliva-inducing acids. Fine length, too. Well worth a look for fans of the grape/genre.

Bordeaux 2010

There is much hype surrounding the Bordeaux 2010s, which along with 2009 and 2005 are considered the best vintages of the last decade, if not the last thirty years. For a more comprehensive view, see Sara d’Amato and Julian Hitner’s posting from February of this year.

To sum up, the 2010s are tight, firm and unyielding. Compared to the 2009s, they are downright austere. Indeed, 2010 couldn’t be more different than 2009. Whereas the 2009s are all about plush fruit and supple tannins in an immediately seductive style, 2010 was an extreme, drought-ridden growing season influenced by the El Niño weather pattern. A cool August and September kept acidities high, while water stress resulted in shriveled berries, robust tannins, high alcohol and big concentration overall. In a positive light, these are wines that will age slowly over the long term. But for all but the most basic bottles, forget about them for at least half a dozen years.

There are just under a dozen 2010s to be released on October 26th, all under $30 and mostly from satellite appellations, so it’s not a representative collection of the top stuff. But it’s enough to get a sense of how austere and unfriendly some wines are. Raisined fruit flavours were a frequent feature, along with high alcohols (15% alc Bordeaux?) and the occasional exaggerated use of wood flavour. But to be fair, I’d say that it’s a tough period of evolution in which to be tasting these, and I had the sense that many wines, even at entry price points, were going through a ‘dumb’ (non-expressive) stage. It will be fascinating to follow them as they age.

Here’s a short list of the Château that seemed to have managed the stress well, yielding balanced, albeit well structured wines. Click to read full reviews, and note the recommended drink from and to dates.

2010 Château Rahoul, AC Graves ($29.95)

2010 Château De Maison Neuve, Montagne Saint-Émilion ($19.95)

2009 Château Reynon, AC Premières Côtes de Bordeaux ($23.85)

2010 Château La Couronne, AC Saint-Émilion Grand Cru ($24.95)

2010 Château Doms, AC Graves ($17.00)

John Szabo, A Master Class

I hope you can join me at the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo for an insider’s tour through the world of wine. I’ve selected an outstanding lineup of up-and-coming grapes, regions, producers and styles – the stuff you wouldn’t likely know about unless you are immersed in the wine trade – that are ripe for discovery. Pick up some tips on how to taste, serve and pair wine and food like a master sommelier along the way. See more details and get your tickets here.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

From the October 26, 2013 Vintages release:

Top Smart Buys
Bordeaux Selections
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find John Szabo’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!

Penfold's Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon

Fortessa Canada Inc.

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The Successful Collector, by Julian Hitner: Wine education for us all – Bordeaux prices explained

As mentioned in our previous posting entitled: Bordeaux 2010: Yet Another Vintage of the Century?in this subsequent article Julian goes a little further to explore Bordeaux pricing. 

Justifying costs:

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

As the cost of premium claret continues to skyrocket, many collectors are asking why once-affordable estates are nowadays habitually so prohibitive. Is it unprecedented demand? Increasing costs of production? Or is it simply good old-fashioned extortion at work?

Whatever the reason, the need to justify such exorbitant prices has never been greater. On the part of the Classed Growths and even non-classified estates, voracity is but one excuse. For those in the business, few would deny that the cost of crafting a bottle of Fourth Growth Branaire-Ducru would be higher than a bottle of Cru Bourgeois Larose-Trintaudon. From the number of employed workers and the procurement of the finest equipment to harvesting at much lower yields and engaging in far stricter gape/parcel selection, Classed Growths will almost always be more dependent on higher revenues to live up to their reputations than their less eminent counterparts. But how much is enough to cover costs and make a reasonable profit? What is the fine line between Branaire-Ducru owner Patrick Maroteau’s overheads and a respectable return?

Chateau Branaire-DucruOn the other hand, there are those who would argue that Maroteau’s prices are merely a reflection of what the market will bear. Take away the romance and the glamour, and estates like Branaire-Ducru (a favourite of mine) are essentially glorified businesses, operated with the sole aim of exacting as much money from the purchasing public as possible. What fault of it is Maroteau’s if wine lovers are willing to pay over one hundred dollars for his stunning ’10? So long as people are willing to pay, owners might as well set their prices as high as they choose.

And why not? There are nowadays more willing customers than ever. For the past several years, new markets, particularly in Asia, have fomented greater demand for top-end Bordeaux than pundits could have ever predicted. With each passing year, buyers in Hong Kong and elsewhere along the Pacific Rim have been increasingly on the lookout for the best estates/finest vintages wherever possible; and estate owners have responded with unheralded prices.

Rauzan-SéglaBut wine lovers should remember that they have more power than they think—and more astute estate owners should know this. Should prices rise too swiftly, or remain high for particularly mediocre vintages (such as in 2011 and 2012), many claret collectors will simply stop buying. This even includes markets in Asia, where local merchants began experiencing backlash shortly after initial release prices of the 2010s were deemed too excessive. Estates such as Second Growths Châteaux Lascombes and Rauzan-Ségla learned this the hard way, and have since lowered their costs to more palatable levels. At least in principle, serious collectors and casual wine enthusiasts should always have the last word.

Here are a few gems for collectors from the 2010 Bordeaux collection:

Château Figeac 2010Château Figeac 2010, St-Emilion, AOC Premier Grand Cru Classé, $425.00

When the most recent revisions to the St-Emilion Classification (now more controversial than ever) were announced in September 2012, it was something of shock that Angélus and Pavie both got the nod to ‘A’ rank while Eric d’Aramon’s beloved Château Figeac did not. Consider the near-perfect ’10 vintage. Opaque ruby in colour, the wine exhibits exhilarating, masterful aromas of dark mocha, currants, crème de cassis, dark cherries, kirsch liqueur, slightly sinewy black fruits, spring flowers, crushed rocks, vanilla, and spice. Extremely complex, dispensing multilayered, fantastical fruit, very firm tannins, balanced acidity, and a finesse-filled, wondrous hint of concentrated black fruits, dark mocha, and charcoal on the finish. Astonishing pedigree, balance, harmony, and breed; why this estate wasn’t promoted shall forever confound me. 35% Cabernet Franc, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% Merlot. Now-2050++. Score 98 (Julian Hitner, The Successful Collector, November 2012)

Château La Conseillante 2010Château La Conseillante 2010, Pomerol, $379.00

Along with the near-perfect ’09, the 2010 Château La Conseillante is a legend in the making—harmonious, supple, and unbelievably addictive. Extremely dense black-ruby in colour, this magnificent claret delivers dazzling, entirely unencumbered aromas of espresso, crème de cassis, plummy currants, dark mocha, asphalt/charcoal, licorice, cherry and blackberry compote (non-excessive), vanilla, and spice. Incredibly complex, wielding prodigiously elegant, full-bodied chewy fruit, very firm tannins, balanced acidity, and a fabulous, gorgeously interwoven hint of espresso, blackberry treacle/plummy currants, and minerals traces on the finish. With abundant energy, pedigree, and finesse, this is one bottling every serious collector must somehow obtain in profusion. According to one source: 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. Now-2050++. Score 97 (Julian Hitner, The Successful Collector, November 2012)

Château Léoville Barton 2010Château Léoville Barton 2010, St-Julien, $169.00

While I have yet to taste the Ducru-Beaucaillou or Léoville-Las Cases, for the moment at least the 2010 Château Léoville Barton ranks as the greatest St-Julien produced from this fabulous vintage—not to mention one of the finest wines the Barton family has ever created. Opaque ruby in colour, it discloses substantially elegant, enticing aromas of currants, blackberries, dried blueberries, licorice, spring flowers, delicate espresso, forest floor, minerals, vanilla wafers, and spice. Extremely complex, featuring robust, seamlessly attuned fruit, very firm tannins, balanced acidity, and a magnificent hint of currants, blackberries, and mineral elements on the finish. Luminous, characterful, and totally harmonious; a wine like this one reminds me of why I got into this business in the first place. 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc. Now-2046+. Score 96++ (Julian Hitner, The Successful Collector, November 2012)

Château Lynch Bages 2010Château Lynch Bages 2010, Pauillac, $229.00

Though the wines of Lynch Bages have always been stellar (even in average vintages), the 2010 may very well gone down in the estate’s history as the unbeatable outing, surpassing even the colossal ’09, the resplendent ’05, and the already-legendary ’00. Opaque ruby in colour, it demonstrates wondrous aromas of crème de cassis and alternate black fruits; making way for dark cherries, kirsch, Oreo Cookies®, mocha, licorice, spring flowers, graphite, charcoal, vanilla, and spice. Incredibly complex, delivering well-structured, near-perfect fruit, very firm tannins, balanced acidity, and a classic, impactful hint of black cherried currants, spring flowers, and crushed rocks on the finish. Magnificently textured, conveying incredible finesse, dimension, and harmony; easily a thirty-year proposition. 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. Now-2045++. Score 96 ++ (Julian Hitner, The Successful Collector, November 2012)

Château Rauzan Ségla 2010Château Rauzan-Ségla 2010, Margaux, $215.00

A new plain of excellence for this fast-improving estate, the 2010 Rauzan-Ségla is not just the greatest wine this estate has ever produced; it is also one of the finest wines of the vintage for the Margaux appellation. Opaque ruby in colour, this intoxicating claret displays exemplary aromas of fragrant raspberries, currants, and black fruits; making way for blackberries, violets, licorice, forest floor, wild game elements, minerals, vanilla, and spice. Extremely complex, delivering incredibly refined, gorgeously concentrated fruit, very firm tannins, balanced acidity, and a poignant, eternally graceful hint of black currants, raspberries, and mineral deposits on the finish. So delicious, generous, and elegant; this will likely keep much longer than any vintage preceding it. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 3.5% Petit Verdot, and 1.5% Cabernet Franc. Now-2045+. Score 96 (Julian Hitner, The Successful Collector, November 2012)

For more reviews: 2010 Bordeaux

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages Oct 27th Release

Bordeaux 2009s, California Boutiques, Super Tuscans and Discoveries

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The LCBO’s annual Fine Wine Auction – held last weekend – has become the symbolic kick-off for Vintages fine wine season. From here through mid-December we will be inundated and titillated by big name wines and big vintages, at big prices.

The October 27 release gets it rolling with the 2009 Bordeauxs, California “boutique” wines and some super-Tuscans, which I will take on in due course. But I must warn you at the outset that I am getting pretty cynical about all this. My gripe is that these over-hyped wines are just too expensive and the value is not there.

I also sense that the glory days of collector wines from Bordeaux, California and Tuscany in particular, are just about over. Quality has become so good at lower price points, great wine has become global, and there is a new generation of winemakers who care more about expressing their place in the world, than what price they will fetch at the next auction. At the same time wine consumers are smarter and wiser and ready to make their own decisions; which is why my job is now more about aiding discovery rather than re-enforcing the status quo. And I will get to “discoveries” below.

Vintages’ Bordeaux 2009s Disappoint

Let the hype begin, with this Robert Parker mouthful reprinted by Vintages. “Given the overall style of the 2009s, which combine creamy voluptuous textures and sensational fruit-driven opulence, with remarkable finesse, precision and vibrancy, the best of the little wines will be delicious young, as will many of the classed growths. This is a magical vintage” 

So where is the magic in this Oct 27 spate of “little” chateau wines? I was disappointed on my first taste through. I figured that maybe I was just grumpy that day so I returned to the Vintages lab three weeks later and tasted them all again. They are average 85 to 89 point wines that for the most part are over-priced. Three reach 90 points, none surpass. Some did show that sense of ripeness and fine structure that Monsieur Parkaire extols above, but styles were all over the map. There were overripe wines and green wines; soft wines and lean wines; funky wines and clean wines. This really points out the problem with vintage hype. Climate is only a framework, a barometer of how easy it is, or isn’t, to ripen the grapes. From that point there are hundreds of human-controlled variables that have a more dramatic influence on the final quality and taste.

Château De CruzeauChâteau Sénéjac 2009Château La Gravette Lacombe 2009But if you want to dip your toe into 2009 Bordeaux, here are my picks. Cru Bourgeois Château la Gravette Lacombe from the Médoc, is quite a savoury, smoky young wine in a very modern style, and excellent value at $19.95. Château Sénéjac, Haut-Médoc is a bit more traditional, complex and nicely balanced and fair value at $28.85. My personal favourite of the batch is Château de Cruzeau, Pessac-Léognan, again a modern wine with nicely lifted, well integrated, classic Pessac currant, pine and wood smoke, that is a decent price at $27.95.

California Boutiques

To boutique or not to boutique? That is a good question nowadays. It is such a seventies term. And it carries other freight as well – namely the insinuation that small is beautiful (thus big is not). Actually small, family wineries are often stylistically idiosyncratic and patchy quality-wise, depending on the winemaker’s motivations and experience. Wines from big wineries that have to compete tooth and nail in the big bad world, cannot afford to be idiosyncratic or poor quality. They may be more predictable, and commercial, and have sameness, but they are usually well made.

PB Hein Cabernet SauvignonBeringer Cabernet SauvignonWhich is the theme in this Tale of Two Napa cabs. PB Hein 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($46.95) caught my attention for delivering all kinds of classic if edgy cabernet character. It’s from a small winery opened very recently by Paul Hein, a fifth generation Napan whose forebearers had vines on Mount Veeder. Contrast this to the very well layered, subtle, more corporate Beringer 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($39.95) which is also excellent quality, if in a more familiar and likely more broadly appealing style.

There are several big name California cabernets on the release, notably Dunn Howell Mountain 2005 and Chateau Montelena 2008 that are excellent quality, but disappointing at the price. Which goes back to my gripe with hype. These wines were all the rage and highly coveted in the 1980s and 1990s as newly wealthy boomers latched onto the California wine revolution. They have managed to maintain their inflated prices because they have name recognition, but frankly I, for one, am simply not that interested. And they have a ton of new competition.

The competition was very evident at the eye-opening Rogers and Company consignment portfolio tasting held this month at Brassai. Rogers has always been a leading importer of high end California wines, but the selection unleashed this day was truly impressive. There was one table devoted to triple digit “boutique” mid-90s scoring “super premium” California wines with names I did not recognize: like Tim Mondavi’s Continuum, Kapscandy’s Endre, O’Shaughnessy Howell Mountain Cab, Tierra Roja, Ovid and Dancing Hares. Another table of more mainstream California reds featured the likes of Caymus Special Selection, Quintessa and Ehlers 1886 Cabernet. I would have loved to spend two days tasting this portfolio, which also spanned Italy, France and Australia. The quality was very high across the board – even among less expensive wines. So if you aren’t on Rogers list of customers and “invitees” you may want to get in touch at

Super-Tuscan Time

Tenuta Sette Ponti CrognoloRocca Delle Macìe Tenuta Sant'alfonso Chianti ClassicoAntinori Solaia 2009The October 27 release also features super-super Tuscan Antinori 2009 Solaia, a ground breaking cabernet launched in the eighties when the notion of cabernet in Italy was still revolutionary. And the 2009 is an excellent 92 point wine, in my books anyway. It has very modern, California influenced, French oak driven “international” styling, and carries it off well atop impressive structure. But the price is a choker at $251.95! I would much rather buy a case of Rocca delle Macìe’s 2009 Tenuta Sant’Alfonso Chianti Classico at $21.95, or nine bottles of Tenuta Sette Ponti 2009 Crognolo at $32.95.  Sette Ponti is a great little property by the way, making very stylish mini-super Tuscans. And there are many more, very fine up-and-coming estates in them thar olive and vine strewn Chianti hills – indeed all over Italy – that are begging for your attention.

And allow me one last be-labouring of my point, based on vertical tasting of Luce that I was invited to this week. Luce was created out of a handshake deal back in 1993 when Napa’s Tim Mondavi went to the Frescobaldi family in Florence in search of a joint venture project. This was in Mondavi’s era of global outreach, also forming partnerships with the Rothschilds of Bordeaux, and Chadwicks (Errazuriz) of Chile. So Luce too was revolutionary – a new wine – combining Tuscany’s sangiovese with upstart merlot, grown in Montalcino, a bastion of Brunello-based tradition. It was newsmaker! And today the 2009 vintage is selling at Vintages for $99.95.

In a previous tasting, I had not reviewed the 2009 Luce Della Vite all that kindly and I tried it yet again to lead off the vertical tasting led by Lamberto Frescobaldi at Trattoria Giancarlo in Toronto’s Little Italy on College West. And again it was very oaky and somehow too loose and hot. The ten vintages preceding it were all of similar international style, but they improved with age as the wine “digested” the obvious oak – a very apt observation by Lamberto. My favourite vintages were the more mature 2006, 2004 and 2001, where the structure and Italianess of the wines shone through, and alcohol levels were a bit lower. And by the way, the Luce partnership dissolved in 2004 when Constellation wines purchased Robert Mondavi. “It’s not that (Constellation) aren’t nice people” said Lamberto, “but the magic was gone” Indeed.


So enough harping on the old order. Time for some value-surfing and discoveries from the October 27 release.

Fess Parker Viognier 2010Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc 2011Among whites, three very aromatic, pure and bright wines caught my eye. Fess Parker 2010 Viognier ($24.95) from California’s Santa Barbara County is a tactful model of exotic viognier fruit expression and charm, without being overly heavy. Jules Taylor 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($19.95) from New Zealand’s Marlborough region explodes with complex aromas and delivers on a very racy chassy. Mas des Bressades 2011 Cuvée Tradition Blanc ($14.95) compiles a terrific, juicy and firm blend of four grapes from the south of France – grenache blanc, roussanne, marsanne and viognier.

Domaine Cros De Romet Cairanne Côtes Du Rhône VillagesMalivoire Albert's Honour Old Vines FochAmong reds, we start on the home front with Malivoire Albert’s Honour 2010 Old Vines Foch at $24.95. It struck me as I tasted this that very few hybrid red table wines remain on the market in Ontario, but this complex, rogue red proves there is room for well made, old vine editions, and there perhaps should be more of them in a region starved for “big reds”.

From Hawkes Bay New Zealand Alpha Domus 2010 The Barnstormer Syrah ($22.95) is indeed a barnstormer. Not in the sense of being a big, thick, rich Aussie-style shiraz but for its aromatic very Rhonish syrah punch. And still with syrah, Domaine Cros de Romet 2010 Cairanne Côtes du Rhône-Villages is yet another syrah-based star out of the southern Rhone, and a great buy at $21.95. And finally Palacios Remondo 2011 La Vendimia from Rioja, Spain is about as friendly a little sipping red as you are likely to find, and a steal at $14.95.

That’s a wrap for this time. Happy shopping, with WineAlign at your side and in your pocket. I am a recent convert to iPhone by the way, and I love using our WineAlign app while at the LCBO!

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the October 27th, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2010

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for October 27th 2012

Bordeaux 2009; Top Ten Smart Buys; A Trio for Collectors 

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

’09 Bordeaux: The Real and True Vintage of the Century

As early as Spring 2010, the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux was being heralded as yet another “vintage of the century”, after the same was said previously of 2000 and 2005 (and later of 2010) – it’s been quite a century so far. Within the wine trade, such Bordelaïc hyperbole (my invented word) has become an old and overused joke. But more alarmingly, it has required wine writers to resort to the thesaurus in search of new words to describe the ever-greater grandeur (splendor, magnificence, majesty…) of the real and true vintage of the century. It’s sort of like the problem one runs into after scoring a wine a perfect 100 points, only to come across an even better wine later on, an inconvenience that can only be resolved by arbitrarily raising the bar to 110 points. Perhaps in another 20 years we will all be scoring on James Halliday’s 200 point scale.

Read on for more industry commentary on the 2009 vintage, and my best bets of the 20-odd Bordeaux in the October 27th Vintages release. You’ll also find some cracking values in the Top Ten Smart Buys, and a trio of highly collectible reds for the cellar.

In Praise of 2009

You, and everyone else, can be forgiven for the largesse of praise heaped on 2009 Bordeaux. With comments such as the following from respected industry leader Paul Pontallier, speaking of his 2009 Château Margaux: “2009 combines qualities that I have never scene: power and concentration. Our ‘09 is the most powerful wine we have ever made, including the legendary 1961 and 1947. These are undoubtedly the best young reds in the Médoc ever tasted”

It would be hard not to get excited. Other towering figures from the Bordeaux wine scene like Christian Moueix, of Pétrus, among other châteaux, joined the rally with “I have never seen anything like it in my career”, while Thomas Dô-Chi-Nam, winemaker at Pichon-Lalande, one of my personal favorite châteaux, said more matter-of-factly: “It is my best harvest ever”. [The last two quotes lifted from the Wine Spectator’s 2009 harvest report; Pontallier’s quotes are from my interview with him in May of 2010].

So is 2009 all that special after all, or just a very good vintage that needed a little marketing hype to help inflate prices after the softening of 2007 and 2008?

This would be tempting to believe, were it not for an equal measure of outsider excitement. 2009 was rather unique in that the main wine critics on both sides of the Atlantic were unanimous in their praise of the vintage and seemed to agree on the top wines. This is in contrast to many previous vintages in which the wines were more polarizing, underscoring “Euro” and “American” palate differences. But Robert Parker, the only man who really matters on the subject, had this to say: “[2009] may turn out to be the finest vintage I have tasted in 32 years of covering Bordeaux.”  Not unequivocal words, but not particularly ambiguous, either. He was excited.

Scraping the Barrel for Value

Vintages Bordeaux Futures 2009One thing is certain: the 2009s are expensive. The prices of the top wines are well beyond the LCBO-Vintages price range, and mine too (for which I don’t blame the châteaux entirely; Bordeaux pricing is the most convoluted in the world of wine, and in some cases, a wine may pass through four hands or more from château to consumer). Even the futures [pre-release] prices were staggering; the first growths all hovered around $1300 per bottle (see the original Vintages Futures offer here)

So with your financial well being at heart, Vintages has selected a middling range of moderately priced 2nd labels, or second or third tier châteaux from appellations beyond the marquee names, to fill out the October 27th release. About twenty 2009 Bordeaux will be hitting the LCBO Vintages shelves, giving you a chance to decide for yourself whether the vintage really is all that. Though keep in mind that it’s not a full view of 2009; the top kit is most definitely not here. Yet in such great vintages, even the unheralded wines are supposed to shine, aren’t they? Admittedly, I saw little evidence of that in this release.

Closing Down

To give some benefit of the doubt, I’ll say that in general, despite the apparent immediate deliciousness of the 2009s out of barrel when all of the above comments were made, many wines seemed to have closed down, and are currently going through the ‘dumb phase’ that you often read about. But it’s not mere double talk to excuse poor wines; no one can adequately explain why, but certain wines unquestionably go through a period when they are less expressive and less pleasant to drink. In late September 2012, most of the 2009s offered little aromatic intensity or complexity, just an awkward amalgam of fruit and oak. Palates were often hard, tight and unyielding. It was not an enjoyable tasting. The best of even these relatively inexpensive wines need half a dozen years or more to fully knit together; I can only imagine the top wines are even more unruly at the moment. I suspect that tasting this same range in 2018 would yield much more pleasurable results (and probably higher scores, too).

Californian Bordeaux

But on the other hand, looking back at my notes, I’ve written time and again “a-typical Bordeaux” and “outside the box”. In fact, strip away the names of the wines and read only the tasting notes, and I could easily convince myself that I had been tasting a flight of California cabernet blends: “ultra ripe fruit”; “plum jam”; “raisined fruit”; “hot and harsh”; “thick, mouth-coating tannins”, and similar, turns of phrase rarely applied to “classic” Bordeaux. Or maybe I’m just behind the times, and this is what 21st century Bordeaux is all about. Whatever the case, I think it’s a shame. If I wanted California-style flavours and intensity, I’d rather buy California, since they do it better and more consistently. Where once California did everything possible to emulate Bordeaux (and failed, thankfully), now the reverse appears to be happening, and doomed to the same failure. Bring on the 2006 and 2008 Bordeaux, those were fun wines.

The Best Bets of the Lot

Château De Cruzeau BlancLa Dame De MalescotThere are nonetheless a few ‘09s in this release worth buying, if only to later prove myself wrong. Funnily enough one of my favorite wines of the release was a white, the Château de Cruzeau Blanc, Pessac-Léognan ($27.95). Cruzeau is a familiar label for LCBO customers, a wine from the Lurton stable that has been in the province for years. I loved the marvelously perfumed nose, a textbook example of the region, with its basil and tarragon-inflected lemon/citrus fruit, bees’ wax and soft pear and nectarine notes. A classy wine all around, for fans of classic Bordeaux blanc.

At the upper end of the price scale, my pick goes to the La Dame de Malescot, Margaux ($49.95), the 2nd Wine of Château Malescot St-Exupéry. There’s little to go by on the nose – all wood and black cherry notes for now – but the palate is obviously densely packed with flavour, abundant tannins and balanced acidity and alcohol. It has the stuffing to improve significantly over the next 3-5 years and beyond, though will likely never attain the finesse for which Margaux is known I suspect.

Christian Moueix PomerolChâteau Larose TrintaudonBetter value overall is the Château Larose Trintaudon, Haut-Médoc ($24.95), a rare ’09 Bordeaux with a little more freshness and refinement than many, without excessive oak or concentration. Tannins and acid work in harmony on the palate to create a pleasant, grippy but appealing texture; a refined, stylish wine all around, better in 2-4 years.

And very nearly as good value is the Christian Moueix Pomerol ($29.95). This wine has rarely excited in the past; it’s always solid but never remarkable. But in this obviously high-potential vintage it seems the Moueix family was too busy trying to stuff as much as possible into their other more expensive wines, and simply left this moderately priced Pomerol to do its thing. Fruit is ripe to be sure, but stays on the right side of the ripeness continuum, while wood supports rather than dominates – a prime example of how a wine aimed at a modest end of the market can over-deliver in a vintage such as 2009. Drink now or hold for a decade – such is the nature of well-balanced wines. (See the rest of the Best Bets from 2009 Bordeaux here.)

Top Ten Smart Buys: Highlights


Tarlant Zero Brut Nature ChampagneBisol Crede Brut Prosecco Di Valdobbiadene SuperioreFans of bone-dry, slightly idiosyncratic champagne will want to pick up some of the Tarlant Zéro Brut Nature Champagne ($44.95). It has a terrific nose chalk full of minerality with a well-measured mix of citrus, floral, wet hay, honey, and nutty-almond character. Zéro means no dosage (no sugar added) and the palate is indeed bone dry as advertised, though the wine is anything but lean and shrill. There’s a fine, vinous quality, with sufficient richness and flavour intensity to soften the edges while retaining the riveting tightness of the un-dosed style. A wine lover’s champagne, at a great price for the quality on offer.

Prosecco drinkers will rejoice with the Bisol Crede Brut Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore ($19.95). Bisol is always a step above the mean, and this, their “entry level”, has marvelous perfume, classic for the variety, full of fragrant pear and green apple, lemon blossom and fresh, sweet green herbs. The palate is fullish, creamy yet fresh, with excellent intensity and vinosity. This is certainly priced in the premium range for the category, but well worth it in my view; when I was purchasing this on consignment for restaurant clients it was several dollars more; it appears the LCBO effectively squeezed the producer and agent.

New Zealand Reds

New Zealand delivers are pair of fine values: 2010 Alpha Domus The Barnstormer Syrah, Hawkes Bay, ($22.95) and 2010 Hunter’s Pinot Noir, Wairau Valley ($21.95). The former is classic cool climate syrah with smoky character, and no small measure of black pepper, cassis and fresh black berry fruit flavours, while the latter is a clearly ripe and substantial example, meaty and succulent, though with recognizable kiwi pinot noir character.

Old World Duo

There are two fine, mid-week priced reds to watch out for: the soft, fruity, highly pleasant, easy-drinking modern Rioja from Palacios Remondo 2011 La Vendimia, ($14.95), and the wild, savoury, southern France 2010 Domaine Puig-Parahy Cuvee Georges, Côtes du Roussillon ($15.95), quite a ride for $16. Think fall/winter braised dishes. (See the full Top Ten here.)

Alpha Domus The Barnstormer SyrahHunter's Pinot NoirPalacios Remondo La VendimiaDomaine Puig Parahy Cuvee Georges

For the Cellar

And finally, collectors with some disposable income should consider these three highly cellar-worthy reds (with my estimated prime drinking window):

2008 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($144.95, drink 2018-2030)
2009 Antinori Solaia, Tuscany ($251.95, drink 2018-2034)
2007 Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (375ml $39.95, drink 2015-2025)

Gourmet Food & Wine Show

Don’t miss the annual Szabo vs Szabo no holds barred jiyu kumite (with wine, not swords) at the Gourmet Food and Wine Show on Friday, November 16th, 7:30-9pm.

Cutting Edge Wines
John Szabo MS & Zoltan Szabo
Renowned Sommeliers

$95 | 7:30 – 9:00 Friday November 16th, 2012

The dynamic duo of master tasters returns for what promises to be another sold-out seminar. John and Zoltan both currently work with the famed Trump Hotel in Toronto while they continue to consult, write, judge and travel. As leading sommeliers for over a decade, they are in tune with the most progressive winemakers, interesting grapes and dynamic new wine regions. Learn from Canada’s foremost wine experts as they present eight cutting-edge wines.  Order Tickets here.


John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

From the October 27, 2012 Vintages release:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Best Bet Bordeaux
All Reviews

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2010

Filed under: News, Wine, , , ,

The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Collecting French Wine – Part I (Bordeaux and Burgundy) ~ Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Collectors and top regions of France:  Not all wine buyers are the same.

In the Information Age, where everything and everyone is divided—and then subdivided—into unique demographics and groups, there isn’t one type of wine buyer, but many. However, to list them all here would be impossible, not to mention superfluous. For the purpose of this column, our subject is wine collectors and, with special emphasis, top regions and estates to buy from.

Speaking of which, what are collectors? And how do their wine buying habits most significantly differ from others?

At its simplest, a wine collector is a buyer that seeks out fine wine, usually to cellar for the long term. Types of wines purchased? While not a prerequisite(!), usually ones with higher prices and top critics’ scores, sourced from very specific regions in countries throughout the world.

But what are these countries and regions? And is there one country whose regions stand out above the rest?

For most collectors, this would be France. The reasons for this are complex. Some have attributed it to France’s having identified and categorized its best winegrowing regions and most famous wines so early on—a by-product of French culture, whose standards in gastronomy remain in essence unmatched. Others have pointed to the remarkable types of terroir found throughout France, as if the French were meant to lead the world in fine winegrowing since time immemorial.

Whatever the case, collectors are the beneficiaries.

Of regions, Bordeaux and Burgundy vie for top spot. On the Left Bank of the Gironde, the Cabernet-blends of Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac, and St-Estèphe are most lauded. On the Right Bank, the best Merlot-dominant wines of St-Emilion and Pomerol are eagerly sought out. In Pessac-Léognan, the finest Cabernet-dominant reds and Sauvignon-centric whites are increasingly the talk of the wine world. And let’s not forget Sauternes and Barsac, where collectable stickies crafted predominantly from Sémillon are the order of the day.

With just a few exceptions, the most esteemed wines, or estates, in the Médoc are part of the 1855 Classification. In Margaux, the eponymous First Growth Château Margaux leads the way, closely followed by Château Palmer. Other must-haves are Châteaux Rauzan-Ségla, Brane-Cantenac, Kirwan, Giscours, d’Issan, Malescot-St-Exupéry, and Cantenac-Brown. In St-Julien, the greatest estate, and First Growth pretender, is Léoville-Las Cases, followed by Châteaux Ducru-Beaucaillou, Léoville Barton, Gruaud Larose, Léoville-Poyferré, Branaire-Ducru, Langoa Barton, Talbot, St-Pierre, and Beychevelle.

Châteaux Latour & Lafite Rothschild

In Pauillac, the three First Growths of Châteaux Latour, Lafite Rothschild, and Mouton Rothschild are among the most fought-over wines at auctions and en primeur campaigns every year. These are closely followed by the likes of Pichon-Comtesse and Pichon-Baron, Lynch-Bages, and Pontet-Canet; which, in turn, are closely matched by Châteaux Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Duhart-Milon, and Clerc Milon. Also stockpiled by collectors are wines from Châteaux d’Armailhac, Haut-Batailley, Batailley, and Haut-Bages Libéral, to name but several of the best estates in most collectors’ opinion.

In St-Estèphe, Château Cos d’Estournel nowadays heads up the company, with Montrose consistently hot on its heels. Other estates collectors routinely watch out for are Calon-Ségur, Lafon-Rochet, and Cos Labory.

Then, there are the Médoc estates not included in the 1855 Classification. In St-Estèphe, the most esteemed names are Châteaux Haut-Marbuzet, Phélan Ségur, and Les Ormes de Pez. In Pauillac, these are Pibran and Fonbadet. In St-Julien, Château Gloria stands out. In Margaux, Châteaux Siran, Clos des Quatre Vents, and Marojallia each have their own followers.

Châteaux Sociando-Mallet

As if this wasn’t enough, a few estates outside these four appellations, in both the Médoc and Haut-Médoc, are also greatly acclaimed. In the former, top châteaux are Sociando-Mallet and Potensac. In the latter, Poujeaux and Chasse-Spleen, both based out of Moulis, are seldom overlooked.

Châteaux Ausone

On the Right Bank in Merlot-dominant St-Emilion, choices are almost as prolific. At the very top of the St-Emilion Classification (last revised in 2006), Châteaux Ausone and Cheval Blanc, the only two estates granted Premier Grand Cru Classé (A) status, are both universally revered. Next in line are those of Premier Grand Cru Classé (B) status, of which Châteaux Angélus, Pavie, and Figeac routinely rank highest in terms of veneration and price. Other collectibles of equal official status include Beau-Séjour Bécot, La Gaffelière, Magdelaine, Pavie-Macquin, Troplong Mondot, and Bélair-Monange (formerly Bélair). Rounding out the ‘B’ category are Châteaux Canon, Clos Fourtet, Beauséjour (Duffau-Lagarrosse), and Trottevieille.

However, some of these names are often outshone by wines of Grand Cru Classé ranking or lower. La Mondotte, a single-vineyard wine owned by Stephan von Neipperg, along with Grand Cru Classés Canon-la-Gaffelière, Tertre-Rôteboeuf, Pavie Decesse, and Monbousquet; plus garagiste operations Valandraud, La Gomerie, and Le Dôme are just such examples. Other St-Emilions of similar, slightly less expensive disposition are Grand Cru Classés Larcis Ducasse, L’Arrosée, Destieux, and La Couspaude; as well as Grand Cru estates Bellevue-Mondotte, Gracia, Rol Valentin, and Moulin St-Georges. There are at least a dozen others.

Châteaux Petrus

Over in Pomerol, where there is no official ranking, collectors also have their hands full. More talked about than drunk, Château Petrus is widely considered the Holy Grail of claret collectibles, matched/surpassed in price by Château Le Pin. Then, there are all the other estates Pomerol is famous for. From a standpoint of quality and price, the most sought-after are Châteaux Lafleur (almost as expensive as Petrus), Trotanoy, Vieux Château Certan, L’Eglise-Clinet, L’Evangile, and La Conseillante. Other star estates of considerable acclaim include La Fleur-Pétrus, Hosanna  (formerly Certan-Giraud), Clinet, Latour à Pomerol, Clos L’Église, Certan de May, Le Gay, Le Bon Pasteur, and Gazin. Not to be left out, La Providence, La Clémence, Petit Village, Beauregard, Rouget, Nenin, and Bourgneuf all command serious prices. All of these, plus several others, are arguably considered the greatest collectibles in Pomerol.

Châteaux Haut Brion

In Pessac-Léognan, where the best whites, crafted from Sauvignon Blanc (usually predominant) and Sémillon, are as highly valued as the best reds (crafted largely along Médoc Lines), certain favourites emerge. Sparring for top honours annually, First Growth Château Haut Brion and leading Graves Cru Classé La Mission Haut-Brion lead the way—both the red and white versions are treasures. Pricewise, these two estates are followed by the reds and whites of Cru Classés Pape Clément, Haut-Bailly (red only), Smith Haut Lafitte, and Domaine de Chevalier. Other red/white estates routinely on collectors’ circuits are Châteaux Malartic-Lagravière, Carbonnieux, and de Fieuzal. In the Graves AOC, Château Branon is very expensive.

Châteaux d'Yquem

Next come the stickies of Sauternes and Barsac, of which the legendary Premier Cru Supérieur Château d’Yquem is considered unbeatable. After this are the best of the Premier Crus, usually Châteaux Climens (second only to d’Yquem), Rieussec, Suduiraut, Coutet, and Lafaurie-Peyraguey; Château de Fargues and Raymond-Lafon, both non-classified, are also considered gems. Other Premier Crus of high regard are Châteaux Guiraud, Sigalas Rabaud, and La Tour Blanche. Of the Deuxièmes Crus, Doisy-Daëne and Doisy-Védrines are must-haves.

Indeed, the choices of collectable clarets seem endless. However, when collecting Bordeaux, quality and price at time of purchase, while both paramount, are not the only factors at play. Nowadays, collectors have an extra reason for laying their hands on the best bottles: investment.

A relatively new trend, many collectors seek out specific clarets from great vintages that, having been scored highly—usually by very specific critics—will likely increase in value over the long term. Such wines are often bought be the case, to be sold down the road. As blue chip investments, some analysts have referred to such wines as ‘alternative investments,’ much like jewellery or works of art.

To a lesser extent, the same goes for Burgundy, where the world’s greatest Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays are produced. Here, however, collectors already have their hands full in just trying to memorise the best vineyards and domaines.

For white Burgundy fanatics, the most highly prized are the Grand Crus and best Premier Crus of Puligny- and Chassagne-Montrachet, Meursault (only Premier Crus), Pernand-Vergelesses and Aloxe-Corton (Corton-Charlemagne), and Chablis. There are a few others, but these are the standouts.

Joseph Drouhin Montrachet

In Chassagne-Montrachet, the Premier Crus of Caillerets, Ruchottes, and Morgeot are usually considered best. In contrast, shared between Chassagne- and Puligny-Montrachet, the Grand Cru of Le Montrachet has long been considered immortal, closely followed by Chevalier-Montrachet and the more variable Bâtard-Montrachet; the seldom-seen Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet and Les Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet are also both potentially stunning. In Puligny-Montrachet, Premier Crus Les Pucelles, Les Caillerets, Les Folatières, Les Combettes, Les Perrières, and Clavoillon are all considered superb. In Meursault, Les Perrières and Les Genevrières lead the way, closely followed by the upper parts of Les Charmes; Les Poruzots and Les Gouttes d’Or are also superb. In Pernand-Vergelesses and Aloxe-Corton, the finest examples of Corton-Charlemagne are often lauded as some of the greatest of white Burgundies. Finally, in Chablis the Grand Crus of Les Clos, Les Preuses, and Vaudésir, to name but three favourites, all have an earnestly loyal following.

For red Burgundy connoisseurs, the choices are even more varied. By price, the best Grand Crus and Premier Crus of the Côte de Nuits, located between Beaune and Dijon, tend to attract the most serious collectors. From south to north, the most lauded Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards are located in the villages of Nuits-St-Georges (Premier Crus only), Vougeot, Chambolle-Musigny, Morey-St-Denis, and Gevrey-Chambertin. Within Beaune and throughout the rest of the Côtes de Beaune, the finest Premier Crus in Pommard, Volnay, Meursault (listed as Volnay-Santenots), and Chassagne-Montrachet are also much in demand.

Grand Crus La Romanée-Conti

In Nuits-St-Georges, the Premier Cru of Les St-Georges is ranked highest, followed by Les Vaucrains, Les Cailles, Les Porrets, and Aux Boudots. In Vosne-Romanée, both Grand Crus La Romanée-Conti and La Tâche, both solely owned by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, are among the most expensive wines in the world; while the best examples of Le Richebourg and Romanée-St-Vivant often outstrip demand. Not to be outdone, the Grand Crus of La Romanée and La Grande Rue, respective monopolies of Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair and Lamarche, are nowadays prohibitive in claim. On a much more variable level, the same can be said of the best wines of Grand Crus Les Grands Echézeaux and the even more variable Les Echézeaux. Finally, the Premier Crus of Aux Malconsorts, Les Suchots, Les Beaux Monts, Cros Parantoux, and Aux Brûlées routinely sell for small fortunes when denoted by case.

Comte de Vogue Musigny

Heading northward to the next commune, in Vougeot the Grand Cru of Clos de Vougeot is world famous; though collectors are well advised to stick with only the best, most reliable producers. In Chambolle-Musigny, the Grand Cru of Musigny, a top collectable, is widely considered the most seductive of red Burgundies; in the same village, the Grand Cru Les Bonnes Mares is also remarkably extolled, while Premier Crus Les Amoureuses, Les Charmes, Les Fuées, and Les Cras are all greatly admired. In Morey-St-Denis, wines from the Grand Cru of Clos de la Roche take top honours, followed by Les Bonnes Mares (a tiny part), Clos de Tart, Clos des Lambrays (a virtual monopoly of Domaine des Lambrays), and Clos St-Denis. The Premier Crus of Clos de la Bussière, Les Charmes, and Monts Luisants also possess collectable attributes.

Armand Rousseau Chambertin

In Gevrey-Chambertin, wines from the legendary Grand Cru Chambertin vie with La Romanée-Conti, La Tâche, and the finest Musignys for consideration as the most omnipotent of all red Burgundies. On occasion, those of neighbouring Chambertin Clos de Bèze also merit the same adulation. Then there are the remaining seven Grand Crus of the commune. Though subject to debate, most view Mazis-Chambertin, Griotte-Chambertin, and Ruchottes-Chambertin as the next best three, followed by Charmes-Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, Chapelle-Chambertin, and Mazoyères-Chambertin. Of Premier Crus, Clos St-Jacques is in a league of its own, while Les Cazetiers, Lavaut St-Jacques, and Les Varoilles are all ranked highly.

Lafarge Volnay Clos de Chenes

South in the Côte de Beaune, there remains a bevy of lighter-styled selections for which this particular part of Burgundy is famed. In Beaune, top Premier Crus collectors routinely watch out for are Les Grèves, Clos de Mouches (lower slopes for Pinot Noir), Les Fèves, Les Teurons, Les Marconnets, and Clos du Roi. In Pommard, the best parcels of Premier Crus Les Epenots and Les Rugiens are hugely adored. In Volnay, Premier Crus Clos des Chênes and Les Caillerets are infallibly seductive. In Meursault, the Premier Cru reds, on occasion excellent, are labelled as Volnay-Santenots. Skipping Puligny-Montrachet (no reds allowed), in Chassagne-Montrachet the most collectable reds generally hail from La Boudriotte, Morgeot (also known for great whites), and Clos St-Jean. As with all other communes, there are invariably too many vineyards to list.

La Tache

Yet surprisingly, once getting past all the top vineyards to memorize, there are far fewer famous domaines and négociants to account for when compared to Bordeaux, as virtually all winegrowers have plots in multiple vineyards. Still, to help readers out, many labels of the crème de la crème have been included in this column possible.

And yet, Bordeaux and Burgundy are but the tip of the iceberg. For many collectors, no cellar would be complete without a proper selection of wines from the Rhône and Champagne, not to mention all the other regions that make France the greatest winegrowing nation in the world. But such regions, I am afraid, would take up far more than the one sentence I have left—which I shall simply conclude by raising my own glass, filled with claret, to the two titan regions of the French winegrowing world; without you, there’d be no point.

Click here for a few gems from the 31 March 2012 Vintages Release along with several others

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Pauillac – Ground zero for collectors ~ Saturday, March 17th, 2012

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Not just three First Growths:

Lafite. Mouton. Latour. By this measure alone, Pauillac should be considered the most significant appellation in Bordeaux. And rightly so. For claret collectors, there is no other place where there are three—count them, three—châteaux of such grandeur, such luxury, such expense; where compromise is forbidden, where the standard of each wine, each and every vintage, is scrutinized to obsession.

But this column is not about the First Growths. To discuss them here would take up too much space, and other estates would not get their fair shake. No, this article is about Pauillac, that is, the commune, its terroir, and the many other non-First Growths that comprise it.

At its simplest, Pauillac is one of four world-famous appellations on the Left Bank, bordered by St-Julien to the south and St-Estèphe to the north. With around 1,215 hectares (ha) of vineyards, the traditional blend is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, backed up by Merlot and small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Exact percentages shall vary from château to château.

At its finest, Pauillac is the most ‘Bordelaise’ of all claret. According to Hugh Johnson, “It is the virile aesthete; a hypnotizing concurrence of force and finesse.” For claret lovers, the wines of Pauillac represent the epitome of all that is illustrious about Bordeaux.

Though neither as flattering nor as powerful as top St-Emilions or Pomerols, a great Pauillac is the most commanding of clarets, particularly in terms of intensity, weight, dimension, flavour, and aging capacity. When young, a typical Pauillac should exhibit forthright, inviting aromas of currants, blackberries, plums, black cherries, toasted oak, moderate mocha, pencil shavings, vanilla, and spice. These are the most common scents I have often had the pleasure of detecting in a young Pauillac. As it matures, the same wine should exhibit more cedary overtones, laced with cigar boxes, tobacco, savoury nuances, and dried fruits. On the palate, generosity of the most important elements is key: body, flavour, finesse, structure, length—all of these should be of the best sort. A Pauillac should never taste green (underripe), coarse, lean, loose, or excessively acidic. Such traits, undesirable in most wines, are inexcusable here.

Granted AOC status in 1936, the boundaries of Pauillac are fairly easy to follow. Bordering the Gironde to the east, Pauillac is separated from St-Estèphe to the north by the Jalle du Breuil—a jalle in the Médoc is a stream. The same partially applies in the south, where the Ruisseau de Juillac divides part of the commune between Pauillac and St-Julien; while the southwest borders of the appellation, along with the entire stretch of its western boundaries, are demarcated by specific vineyards. It should also be noted that there are a few vineyards allowed to be named Pauillac just beyond the official boundaries of the appellation.

Like much of the Left Bank, the soils are based largely on gravel deposits, mixed with aeolian sands and clay (even limestone in the case of Lafite), which rise to form mounds, or croupes, in the landscape. These are among the closest geographical features that resemble hills in the Médoc, and constitute some of the most valued vineyards in Pauillac. Not surprisingly, most of these are owned by the First Growths, though Château Pontet-Canet also possesses vineyards that rise to 100ft (30m)—Argentinean heights by Médoc standards. More than anything, these mounds, along with nearby streams, provide vineyards with invaluable drainage in times of excessive rainfall, such as during the troublesome 2007 vintage.

Just as important is Pauillac’s geographical situation. Located in a maritime climate, temperatures here, like the other major appellations of the Left Bank, are largely moderated by its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. This provides for mild winters and warm summers. At the same time, Pauillac is protected by the forests of the Landes du Médoc to the west from strong Atlantic salt winds and excessive precipitation. Finally, its proximity to the Gironde helps stabilize day/night-time temperatures and helps reduce the risk of frost.

But it takes more than great physical terroir to make great wine. What remains is the human element, the devotion of estate owners toward crafting the most outstanding wines possible. This is where Pauillac is particularly special, for few châteaux in Pauillac could ever be accused nowadays of slacking off, at least virtually none included in the 1855 Classification.

When the 1855 Classification was established, eighteen estates in Pauillac were included. These are divided into three First Growths, two Second Growths (Châteaux Pichon-Longueville Baron and Comtesse de Lalande), one Fourth Growth (Duhart-Milon), and twelve Fifth Growths (Châteaux d’Armailhac, Batailley, Clerc Milon, Croizet-Bages, Grand-Puy Ducasse, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Haut-Bages Libéral, Haut-Batailley, Lynch-Bages, Lynch-Moussas, Pedesclaux, and Pontet-Canet).

But after the First Growths, which ones are the best? Which are the estates whose wines most excite us collectors, us keen Bordeaux admirers?

While personal taste does play a role, not to mention status within the 1855 hierarchy, there are arguably four châteaux that stand above the rest. Going by price, the first of these is Château Pichon-Comtesse (84ha). Bordering Château Latour (66ha) and possessing vineyards adjacent to St-Julien, this is generally considered the most ‘feminine’ of Pauillacs, offering more fragrance and finesse than is typical of the appellation. Each year, whenever I have an opportunity of enjoying this wine, it is oftentimes impossible to tear myself away from my glass.

Sometimes, however, its neighbour across the road crafts superior claret. This is Château Pichon-Baron (70ha), one of the most archetypal Pauillacs of them all. With one of the most beautiful châteaux in Bordeaux, Pichon-Baron seems to be getting fuller and sturdier with each passing vintage. And with continuous investment under its present owners, its future is well ensured.

Of equal acclaim is Château Lynch-Bages (100ha). A Second Growth in everything but title, Lynch-Bages is a perennial favourite amongst Pauillac lovers and collectors. For decades, this incredible Fifth Growth has performed brilliantly even in poor years. Like Pichon-Baron, it is quintessential Pauillac, and refuses to rest on its laurels. Indeed, recent vintages seem to have witnessed a tightening-up of its structure and greater attention paid toward exacting greater complexity. The ’09 was the best Lynch-Bages ever.

Not to be outdone, Château Pontet-Canet (79ha) has improved by leaps and bounds over the past dozen years, nowadays matching Lynch-Bages for price, if not in quality. For me, Pontet-Canet has become one of the more magisterial of Pauillacs—seamlessly concentrated, refined, and extremely smooth. Its flavour profile and texture are also unique, but this may have more to do with the location of its vineyards; the estate is located in the northern half of the commune. Along with Château Guiraud in Sauternes, this exceptional Fifth Growth is also the only Classified Growth to be certified biodynamic.

After these four wineries, the style becomes a little less weighty, as does the price. Still, the profile largely remains the same, making for wines of unmistakable prowess, pedigree, and focus. On the top rung is Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste (55ha), yet another Fifth Growth placed at least two notches below its class. Owned by the same family as Château Ducru-Beaucaillou in St-Julien, this is a wine worth collecting year after year. Full-bodied, elegant, and ‘Pauillac’ to the core, it is seldom overpriced.

Next comes Château Duhart-Milon (67ha). Owned by the same family as Château Lafite Rothschild (the two châteaux are adjacent), prices for this wine have soared over the past several years. It was acquired by Lafite (100ha) in 1962, and essentially had to be rebuilt from scratch. With no expense spared, the wine now possesses a certain ‘iron grip’ one cannot help but adore. Before the price becomes totally unreasonable, collectors should stock up.

In the same vein, Château Clerc Milon (32ha) has a similar background. The estate was acquired in 1970 by its neighbour Château Mouton Rothschild (82ha), and like Duhart-Milon the vineyard had to be rebuilt from scratch. Once again, no expense was spared, and today the wines are better than ever: harmonious, finely balanced, and taut. Unlike Duhart-Milon, prices have remained steady.

After these three estates, we arrive in my opinion at the next tier of Pauillacs. These are châteaux that, while not on the same substantive level as their more expensive counterparts, are nonetheless fully capable of providing immense pleasure. One of these is Château d’Armailhac (50ha). Purchased in 1933 by its neighbour Mouton Rothschild, at claret tastings it is often shown alongside Clerc Milon. Often the lighter of the two, the wine typically contains a higher percentage of Cabernet Franc. Both the ’05 and ’09 are exquisite.

In contrast to d’Armailhac, Château Haut-Batailley (22ha) is about the most typical of Pauillacs one can find at this still-excellent of level of quality. With familial connections to Ducru-Beaucaillou, one might be surprised to learn that its wines are usually tastefully priced. Indeed, ‘taste’ is the operative word, for few young Pauillacs are as inviting or as gloriously mellow as a tall glass of Haut-Batailley.

Similar in style is its neighbour Château Batailley (55ha). Like Haut-Batailley, though bordering St-Julien, there is nothing ‘St-Julien’ about it. But any general similarities to Haut-Batailley end there, for Batailley is definitely the more tannic and reserved of the two. But the quality is there, and the wine ages extremely well. Sadly, the past decade has witnessed too many occasions where the wine has been overpriced. Before this, the wine was a staple for Pauillac lovers everywhere. A shame this has ended.

Now and then, the same can be said of Château Haut-Bages Libéral (28ha). With vineyards bordering Château Latour, quality has steadily risen over the past dozen years. Classic Pauillac with an extra dimension of fragrance on occasion, Haut-Bages Libéral often does well in blind tastings. However, prices in top vintages can be dissuading.

Rounding out this tier, we turn to Château Grand-Puy Ducasse (40ha). A real beauty in the best years, this estate continues to suffer from an identity crisis. This hasn’t been helped by decades of poor quality, which only began to be remedied in the mid-1990s. Recent vintages, however, have shown what can be accomplished here. When done right, these are excellent mid-weight Pauillacs.

Now for the remaining estates. To be fair, it would be of grievous error to dismiss these châteaux as unworthy of praise simply because they are being mentioned last. Over the past decade, some have worked hard to improve quality. And nowhere has this been more evident than at Château Lynch-Moussas (55ha). Under the same ownership as Batailley, standards have quietly risen apace since the mid-1990s. In the best years, Lynch-Moussas now represents excellent value for money. Its ‘Pauillac’ affiliations are self-evident, this in spite of possessing vineyards east of the commune.

Château Pedesclaux (12ha) has also shown promise. The smallest of the Classified Growths in Pauillac, its principle market has traditionally been Belgium, but has recently begun appearing more regularly elsewhere. The lightest of all Pauillacs, this estate has shown notable improvement since the late-1990s. As prices have remained reasonable, this is a good introductory wine for enthusiasts just beginning to learn about Pauillac.

Last but not least is Château Croizet-Bages (28ha). Neighbouring Lynch-Bages, recent improvements have not gone unnoticed. At best, the wines are appropriately tannic, ‘Pauillac’ in disposition, and age well. If prices were lower, I’d probably seek it out regularly.

Such are the estates that make Pauillac great, the wines that collectors aggressively pursue year after year, along with a handful of non-Classified Growths (ex. Château Pibran). Such wines represent the epitome of excellence in winemaking in this part of Bordeaux. They are the benchmarks by which so many wines from around the world, crafted from the same grapes, are both cultivated and judged. In short, they are the reason why Pauillac, ground zero for collectors, is so exalted and famed.

Click here for a few gems from the Vintages 17 March 2012 Release along with several others

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Cabernet Franc ~ Saturday, February 18th, 2012

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

More important than meets the blend:

It’s hard being taken for granted, whether you’re a letter carrier, a sanitation employee, or in this case a noble red grape. Like its two human counterparts, we just expect them to do their job and be done with it. It’s when they’re missing that we notice their absence. And such, in a nutshell, is the current lot of Cabernet Franc, a grape that is expected to do its job in the Bordeaux blend with little in the way of collectors’ acknowledgment. Take it away, however, and most premium claret would not be nearly as good, and then we’d get just as upset as when our birthday cards don’t arrive and/or two weeks’ worth of refuse remains uncollected.

Cabernet Franc Grapes

And make no mistake: the presence of Cabernet Franc is seldom nothing short of critical when crafting Bordeaux. Ripening earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc has historically been utilized as a type of ‘insurance grape’ against cooler growing seasons—nowadays much less of an issue as a result of climate change. On both the Left and Right Banks, its key contribution is fragrance, adding perfume to the blend in such a manner that cannot be accomplished by Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot on their own.

Chateau Cheval Blanc

On the Right Bank, in particular, where Cabernet Sauvignon has great difficulty fully ripening, Cabernet Franc is considered invaluable in this respect, with even a few estates using up to or more than 50% of it on occasion. Notable examples include Ausone (possessing 55% in 2009), Cheval Blanc (containing 56% in 2010), Lafleur (boasting 57% in 2009), and Angelus (carrying 40% in 2009). Other high(er) users of Cabernet Franc are Figeac and Canon-la-Gaffelière, both of which used 35% in 2010, Beauregard (25% in 2010), Canon (25% in 2009), Le Gay and Pavie (both used 20% in 2010), and La Conseillante (19% in 2009).

Chateau d'Armailhac

On the Left Bank, Cabernet Franc nowadays ranks third in importance, with Merlot assuming a much greater role than ever before. Still, there are a few estates that continue to use slightly more Cabernet Franc than others, including: d’Armailhac and du Tertre (both used 15% in 2010), Kirwan (13% in 2009), Montrose and Léoville-Las Cases (both 9% in 2009), Malescot-St-Exupéry (8% in 2009), and Brane-Cantenac (8% in 2010). For each of these châteaux, by the way, there is a slightly greater percentage of Cabernet Franc in their vineyards.

So much for Bordeaux, but what about the rest of France, or the rest of the world for that matter? For most enthusiasts, Cabernet Franc reaches its greatest individualistic expression in certain parts of the Loire, in particular Chinon and Bourgueil, plus St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil. Here, when full ripeness occurs, the grape seems to thrive, taking on wonderful silky overtones and aromas of fragrant black currants and raspberry traces. Such wines are typically lighter-bodied, the best medium, and will keep for up to ten years when conditions permit.

Henry of Pelham Cabernet Franc Icewine

In other places, Cabernet Franc often has trouble standing up on its own. While a few examples in California and Australia sometimes have the potential of making heads turn, the grape simply doesn’t seem to inspire on its own. Places were Cabernet Franc might hold greater potential? New Zealand will always be a contender, but with Kiwis’ becoming better and better at mastering Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, it’s increasingly likely that Cabernet Franc will become less significant over time. Surprisingly, the grape just may have a bright future in Canada, where early ripeners are precisely the ticket in so cold a climate. For now, however, it seems the most desirable Cabernet Franc in Ontario is made into late harvest and icewine; though there are a few excellent dry table wine versions available. The reason? My guess: the wine would probably not be all that drinkable in any other state. Not that the sweet versions taste bad. On the contrary, the best examples are often quite superb, though they shall always remain something of an novelesque oddity.

Thus, we arrive back at Cabernet Franc’s most purposeful raison d’être, its primary reason for being: to serve as an invaluable component in the Bordeaux blend. May it continue to serve in this noble capacity for centuries to come, never deviating, never disappointing, and always there when we need it.

Click here for a few gems from the 18 February 2012 Vintages Release along with several others

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages February 4th Release: A Global Survey of Bordeaux Envy

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

With only one shot at tasting Vintages Feb 4th release I zeroed in on the featured California cabernets, and every other Bordeaux name-sake and/or look alike on the roster. That included reds from Bordeaux itself; cabernets, merlots and blends thereof from the four corners of the globe, malbecs from Argentina and carmenere from Chile. In total there are 29 wines on this release that have their roots in the world’s most famous wine region, 42% of all the red wines on offer.  So obviously there is still huge demand for Bordeaux-inspired wines, but how are they doing out there? Who is doing what the best?  And what about that thorny issue of pricing? After pinot noir, Bordeaux-inspired blends are among the most expensive and in my view overpriced in the market

Napa’s Pricy Cabernets

Mondavi's To-Kalon Vineyard The genesis of this exercise actually came last week when I was in a Napa Valley vineyard called To-Kalon, largely owned by Robert Mondavi Winery.  I was with a group of Canadian wine writers and sommeliers. We had just come from a Napa cabernet tasting comparing young and older vintages of six prominent properties –  Staglin Family, Clos du Val, Silver Oak, Silverado, Cliff Lede and the famous Mondavi Reserve (the 2007 is released Saturday at a mere $140).  Our Mondavi field trip guide and “educator” slipped into reverent tones when he called To-Kalon a “first growth vineyard”, conferring the status of the vaunted 1st growths of the Medoc (Chateau Margaux, Mouton-Rothschild etc).  I am not doubting this is a great site – the yet to be released 2008 To-Kalon Cabernet is outstanding – but the Bordeaux wannabe game is one which Mondavi and Napa have been playing for more than a generation, and the rest of the cabernet-merlot wine world almost as long.

I had looked forward to the Napa portion of the trip and especially the cabernet tasting precisely to conduct a Napa/Bordeaux reality check. I have been disenchanted with the direction of modern Napa cabernets – becoming too fruity, unfocused, confected and hot (high in alcohol).  I accord Napa some stylistic leeway in this debate because it is a warm Mediterranean climate compared to Bordeaux’s more moderate maritime climate.  But still, if you are going to call yourself the Bordeaux of the New World, price your wines at Bordeaux’ nose bleed altitude, and live the rich and famous lifestyle, your wines should have some of class, elegance, nuance and refinement of Bordeaux’s best.  Recently I have found some Napa cabs to be more like convenience store confections. (Check out the $70 Caymus chocolate bar on this release).

At the seminar we first tasted through the older vintages from late 80s to early 90s, and it was immediately apparent that they were very much more like Bordeaux than anything I had had recently. It was not just a matter of maturity. Alcohol was lighter, fruit less jammy and harmony better. Then came the younger wines from 2008 and 2007, and some were as I expected and described above, including the Mondavi Reserve 2008.  However, perhaps through the sharper lens of the older wines I did pick up some of cabernet’s unique, firm tannic structure, and a sense that these new wines too might age well.  In other words, I did find a bit of Bordeaux, as well as in some other cabernets I would later taste in Napa and in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley from Rodney Strong and Stonestreet.  This included a vertical tasting of Chateau St.Jean’s Cinq Cepages, and a tasting of the $500 Verité 2008 Le Desir which Robert Parker rated 100. I was a mere 96 but more importantly it steered on the Bordeaux/California axis to perfection.

I was also able to carry the examination forward into the Napa cabernets being released on February 4, and  I found some promising structure there as well. Perhaps it was vintage 2009, but I really like the sense of proportion and potential in DUCKHORN 2009 DECOY CABERNET SAUVIGNON which is reasonably priced at $32.95; and even more so in FROG’S LEAP 2009 CABERNET SAUVIGNON ($58.95) the latter having more typical, less jammy blackcurrant fruit and firm structure. But hands down the best Napa cab on Feb 4th is DUNN VINEYARDS 2007 NAPA VALLEY CABERNET SAUVIGNON! It is not cheap at $87.95 but easily far better value than the Mondavi. My other confirmation in California was how well mountain grown cabernet performs; embossing the classic, lean structure of this tannic grape and filling its middle with more fiery minerality, foliage and fruit.
Duckhorn Decoy Cabernet Sauvignon 2009   Frog's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2009   Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Cabernet Elsewhere

Maycas Del Limarí Especial Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 L.A. Cetto Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 The Feb 4th release also has cabernets from other regions: cooler climates like Niagara and northeast Italy plus warm zones like Australia, Mexico and Chile. In general the cool climate editions wimped out and showed some greenness and vegetative character which is now generally reviled by most New World winemakers. It is also increasingly frowned upon in Bordeaux where modern viticulture strives to minimize unripe leafiness. But in warmer areas cabernet takes on the depth and density that it handles so well. One of the best examples is MAYCAS DEL LIMARÍ 2007 ESPECIAL RESERVA CABERNET SAUVIGNON from the Chile’s Limarí Valley ($19.95). This one will cellar, another marker for good cabernet. There is also surprising depth if not the firmness in the $12 L.A. CETTO 2009 CABERNET SAUVIGNON from the Guadalupe Valley in Mexico’s Baja California.

Muddled Merlot 

Merlot is the great red grape of Bordeaux’s right bank and there is actually a very fine example of Bordeaux merlot in LA GRAVETTE DE CERTAN 2009, the second wine of Vieux Château Certan in Pomerol, even if it is rather expensive at $69.95.  Out in the wider world few merlot producers compare their merlots to Bordeaux. Merlot is more malleable than cabernet and it is being shaped more by the forces of climate, terroir and commerce.  And lacking the same cachet and structure of cabernet it rarely achieves high prices in the New World either, which is a good thing.

La Gravette De Certan 2009

Merlot’s image was devastated in the pinotphile movie called Sideways a few years back, but according to one winemaker in California the damage was largely to the mass cheap, merlot market, and that those serious about the grape are soldiering on.  Indeed, I have been enjoying merlot more of late, and I am starting to sense a rebirth of respect. I especially noted this in a recent trip to Argentina, witnessed in this release by VIÑA COBOS FELINO 2010 MERLOT from Luján de Cuyo at $19.95. Good merlots are popping up from New Zealand and California as well.  In Chile merlot is quite rare, having been supplanted by carmenere, the late ripening Bordeaux variety that has become a signature in the long thin land. In this release and in many other examples inexpensive carmeneres are often too confected.

Viña Cobos Felino Merlot 2010

Marvellous Malbec

Don Nieto Senetiner Don Nicanor Malbec 2008 Malbec is another story, a grape that is rare in Bordeaux itself but ascending globally thanks to its success in Argentina, and increasingly in other warm, dry climates with long growing seasons.  Bordeaux itself is too cool for this late ripening grape, and despite the fact it is hanging tough in warmer inland Cahors, I have never really been a fan of the very black, lean, tannic wines it produces there (Excellence Du Château Bladinières 2008 on this release is a case in point). So no one compares New World malbec to Bordeaux, indeed the Argentines are distancing from Bordeaux by saying their clone of malbec (the Argentino clone) is different from the French clone.  In Argentina it is the number one red grape by far, and there is a real movement afoot to upgrade it through higher elevation sites and improved viticulture. In Argentina its strength is its softness, this sense of creamy velvet and wonderful fruit density in the best examples. NIETO SENETINER 2008 DON NICANOR MALBEC from Mendoza is a great example and a huge value at $17.95.  The other great benefit of malbec from Argentine is that very few have the pricing pretention of Bordeaux.

A Pair of Fine Whites

It has become a tradition to end up with a couple of dandy whites. Again, I did not taste most of them so check out the picks from my WineAlign colleagues.  But here are a couple that dazzled, both having a connection to Italy’s Friuli region. GRAN LURTON 2010 CORTE FRIULANO  from the higher altitude Uco Valley in Mendoza, Argentina, is surely a new southern star and a great buy at $19.95.  The grape is from Italy’s northeast where it was once, but no longer, confusingly called Tocai de Friulano. BORGO CONVENTI 2010 PINOT GRIGIO is from the appellation of Isonzo del Friuli itself. It is an excellent value at  $16.95, and a testament to the modern brightness of Italy’s whites.

Gran Lurton Corte Friulano 2010  Borgo Conventi Pinot Grigio 2010

That’s all for this edition. If you haven’t checked out our latest episode of “So You Think you Know Wine?” tune in and watch me get stumped by a too funky Sicilian nero d’avola. And check next week for our Sweet Sara’s take on Valentine’s Day

Check out reviews on over 100 wines from the February 4th release here.

David Lawrason,
VP of Wine at WineAlign

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Merlot and Bordeaux – as an ingredient and star ~ Saturday, December 10th, 2011

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

I remember it well: the first time I began to learn about different grape varietals. It was probably about ten years ago. I was around eighteen years of age, and for whatever reason I shall never know, I took it upon myself to reorganize and categorize my father’s wine collection in his cellar. Hardly a simple task, believe me, considering I knew absolutely nothing about how to read and understand wine labels at the time. There were a few concepts I could follow, things such as the name of the country, white versus red … come to think of it, that was pretty much all I knew.

Merlot grape

However, I also knew the names of a few grapes. These were Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. As for the rest, I had no idea what they were; though it did not take me long to realize what Shiraz was—my father seemed to own a ton of it, all from Australia. And so, it took me a while to learn that there was also a grape that was often actually blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. This grape, of course was, and is, Merlot.

Ten years later, I have since learned more about this indispensable grape than I ever thought possible. And Merlot is indispensable, most notably in Bordeaux, where there are more plantings (56%) of it than any other grape, even Cabernet Sauvignon. But its distribution is far from equal, planted to approximately 60% and 80% respectively in the most important Right Bank appellations of St-Emilion and Pomerol; but plays second fiddle to Cabernet Sauvignon throughout the most important appellations of the Left Bank (Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac, and St-Estèphe) and Graves (Pessac-Léognan).

Chateau Petrus Pomerol

Essentially, the most important reasons for this relate to soil and climate. In St-Emilion and Pomerol, with their cooler, clay-dominant soils (though sand will also be present), Merlot does far better than Cabernet Sauvignon, which much prefers the more gravel-based deposits of the Left Bank. This goes a long way, for instance, in explaining the magic of Château Pétrus in Pomerol, where iron-rich soils make for one of the most magnificent, costliest wines on the planet. Merlot also buds and ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, a useful feature when considering that the Right Bank is more prone to cooler nights and frosts, compared to the more maritime climatic conditions of the Left Bank.

Chateau Angelus St-Emilions

Likewise, it should also stand to reason that the Merlot-based clarets of the Right Bank would taste decisively different than their Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant counterparts on the Left. As a generalization, the best wines of St-Emilion and Pomerol, while capable of being cellared just as long as the best of the Médoc, tend to taste more flattering than, say, Pauillac or St-Estèphe. This also means that St-Emilions and Pomerols are typically much more approachable in youth, something that many modern Bordeaux enthusiasts seem to prefer. Furthermore, changes in climatic conditions nowadays throughout the Right Bank have also resulted in noticeable increases in alcohol, a trend North Americans do not seem to mind, either; though plenty have written in dismay about this very fact. Just take the 2010 Château Troplong Mondot: crafted to 83% Merlot (plus 14% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc), the wine logs in at a staggering 15.5% alcohol, almost rivalling even the most powerful Napa Cabernets!

Chateau Lafleur Pomerol

Still, it should be noted that not all wines in St-Emilion and Pomerol are crafted with such high percentages of Merlot. On the contrary, châteaux such as Cheval Blanc (56% CF in 2010) and Lafleur (62% CF in 2010) tend to use just as much Cabernet Franc in their blends as Merlot. In wines as prestigious as these, the results are wines of unbelievable fragrance and finesse—an unbelievable treat for those with the means to taste them. For the most part, however, percentages for Cabernet Franc are almost always much lower.

In the Médoc and Graves, the blend is much different. Around here, there is little question that Cabernet Sauvignon is king, with Merlot making up around 25% of the final bottling. What does it add to the blend? As would be expected, its greatest contributions pertain to roundness, softness, as well as additional fruit. For its part, Cabernet Sauvignon takes care of the structure and textural elegance (both extremely important) of the wine, while Cabernet Franc adds perfume, and small quantities of Petit Verdot contributes colour plus additional structure and fragrance. Malbec seems to be rarely seen these days throughout the Left Bank.

Also to be expected is the fact that some estates choose to use more Merlot in their wines than others. In 2010, Château Palmer went so far as to make Merlot the dominant grape in the blend, adding up to 54% of the total; Cabernet Sauvignon came in second with 40%. Other notables from 2010? Châteaux Pape Clément (50% M), La Mission Haut-Brion (37% M), Montrose (37% M), Haut-Bailly (36% M), Talbot (33% M), Brane-Cantenac (30% M), and Pontet-Canet (30% M). The percentages vary.

As for how Merlot tastes, most would agree that Merlot is undoubtedly one of the easiest grapes in the world to enjoy. On the nose: finely, but not excessively, oaked versions tend to feature enticing aromas of plumy currants, black cherries, blackberries, blueberries (on occasion), mocha, pencil shavings, and spice—extremely similar to the aromatic profile of Cabernet Sauvignon. On the palate: smoothness and suppleness are the expected norms, with firm yet more approachable tannins and generous finishes. Of course, these are but generalizations of how Bordeaux should taste. As with all wines, the best, and most fun, way to learn is to taste as different examples as possible.

Click here for a few gems from the 10 December 2011 Vintages Release and other picks

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages October 1st Release: White Bordeaux Redemption, Big Ticket Cellaring Reds, Scintillating Syrah & Under $20 Bargains

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Welcome the first of a half dozen Vintages fall releases stuffed with tempting wines bound to strain your budget and your will power.  It is that time of year, when the majority of the world’s fine wine is actually purchased, and so the run of heavy hitters begins.  Not every wine on this release is a world beater however, indeed there are number of difficult wines that I am rating under 85, so watch carefully.

White Bordeaux Redemption

Last time out I bashed over-priced, boring red Bordeaux, and I heard not one complaint from readers. (But I may now be on no-fly list for visits into the Medoc). I am delighted therefore to report that Bordeaux has risen to become one of my favourite white wine regions on the planet. There are three essential styles of white Bordeaux, all represented on this release. At its most basic it is straightforward vibrant, non-oaked white, usually bearing the basic Bordeaux AOC label.  Historically these were often painfully dull and sour wines but with the likes of DOURTHE 2010 LA GRANDE CUVÉE BLANC ($14.95) show that Bordeaux’s world is changing too. It is incredibly vibrant while steering a course somewhere north of bombastic New Zealand style. The next level is the barrel fermented semillon-sauvignons from appellations like Graves and Pessac-Leognan. Anti-woodistas may groan at this style, but barrels are by and large being used very well nowadays and the wines are brighter and more elegant than ever. Witness the wonderful, superb value LE G DE CHÂTEAU GUIRAUD 2009 $23.95. It too bears the Bordeaux appellation, but because it is a dry wine made within the Sauternes appellation by one of its leading estates. And finally, I have always loved Bordeaux’s sweet Sauternes, Barsacs and other “ac’s” (Loupiac, Cadillac, Monbazillac). Vintages has a small but very good selection of half bottles in this release; and if prepping for some holiday gatherings where you want to walk a different path, I highly recommend CHÂTEAU DOISY-VÉDRINES 2007  Sauternes, 2eme Cru at $29.00/375ml.
Dourthe La Grande Cuvée Blanc 2010    Le G De Château Guiraud 2009   Château Doisy Védrines 2007

Big Ticket Cellaring Wines

Ornellaia 2008Vintages has put together a collection of what it considers cellar worthy wines, for beginners. The basic information they provide on ageing and cellaring conditions is quite detailed and useful and by the book. But if you are seriously thinking about starting a cellar or collection, you should ask yourself some basic questions before you begin planning your route and space. The most important is whether or not you actually like the taste of mature wine. Cellaring and ageing was essential in years gone by as the only way to make young, raw and rudimentarily made wines palatably smooth. And so a whole industry and set of rules and lore evolved to serve this aspect of wine appreciation. Nowadays, with winemaking having worked out the major kinks, most wines are actually quite enjoyable when they are young. They have all that carefully ripened fruit thanks to more attentive viticulture. The wine is then carefully fermented to preserve its character, then carefully aged to gain accents from the barrels. So will you actually like it when the leathery, earthy more oxidative notes begin to take hold?  Many people don’t, and you just might save yourself a lot of time and money.

Dow's Vintage Port 1997This notion ran through my mind as I tasted two of the big ticket reds on this release. ORNELLAIA 2008 from Tuscany’s Bolgheri region is one of the collected and expensive wines ($184.95)  of Italy. And it is downright delicious; a piece of haut couture with fabulous gloss, nuance and depth. I really just wanted to sit back and enjoy a bottle right then and there. Time in a decanter would have solved any real issue around grate of fine tannin.  Same when I tasted the delicious DOW’S 1997 VINTAGE PORTat $84.95. Vintage port is historically the most aged of all wines – laid away from grandchildren and all that – yet here I was swooning over the richness, suppleness and charm of a 1997 babe in arms.

With both these wines, had I the money to collect multiple bottles, I would want to protect them to preserve their youth with proper storage conditions.  But that’s a very different – and much more liberating – notion than feeling you have to put wines down until they become good enough to drink. Most are just fine right now.

Scintillating Syrahs

Domaine De Bonserine La Sarrasine Côte Rôtie 2008
WineAlign colleague John Szabo has done a fine tutorial on the two schools of syrah and shiraz featured in the October 1 release. My fascination with syrah is only eclipsed by my fascination with pinot noir. To me syrah is pinot noir on steroids, more obvious but intriguing nonetheless. And both express their sense of place well, which is the sub-text of this release. There are syrahs from several specific appellations where this grape shines: the northern Rhone of course, the south of France, Tuscany, McLaren Vale and Barossa in Australia and Santa Barbara in California. (Too bad there are none from BC and Washington because the Pacific Northwest is, to me, the great undiscovered syrah region.)
Fess Parker The Big Easy Syrah 2007

Overall the selection is of high quality, and my only complaint is the overpriced Elderton Command Shiraz which is a bit of a throwback to a very jammy, high alcohol style that defined Aussie shiraz in the 90s.  Elsewhere, I am leaning to a classic DOMAINE DE BONSERINE LA SARRASINE 2008 CÔTE-RÔTIE as my favourite red of the release. It’s no steal at $49.95, but the quality edges toward outstanding, and it is textbook Cote Rotie.  New World syrah fans should not miss FESS PARKER 2007 THE BIG EASY SYRAH from Santa Barbara County at $34.95 – again a classic of this region that has been intriguing me with lush, black, smoked meat and tarry syrahs ahead of any region in California. And one the great values on the release is vibrant, peppery little-big number from the south of France. DOMAINE LES YEUSES 2008 LES ÉPICES SYRAH from Vins de Pays d’Oc is all fireworks at  $14.95.
Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2008

Under $20 Bargains

There are at least three excellent buys under $20 from diverse parts of the world on this release. TAWSE SKETCHES OF NIAGARA 2009 CHARDONNAY from Niagara is a huge value at $19.95, a mini-Meursault for fans of white Burgundy style chardonnay. From New Zealand don’t miss WILD ROCK 2008 GRAVEL PIT RED ($17.95) from the Gimblett Gravels appellation of Hawkes Bay. Great modern winemaking going on here from the folks who bring us Craggy Range. And finally back over to France, and the next chapter in the year-long saga of fine little Beaujolais from the glorious 2009 vintage. Don’t miss CHÂTEAU DE PIERREUX 2009 BROUILLY at  $18.95.
Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Chardonnay 2009  Wild Rock Gravel Pit Red 2008   Château De Pierreux Brouilly 2009

Profile Wine Group Portfolio Tasting 

Profile Wine Group‘Tis the season for agents to showcase their Consignment and Private Order wares for the hundreds of trade buyers looking to beef up stocks for the busy Holiday Season. On Tuesday this week I attended a large annual portfolio tasting for Profile Wine Group one of the larger independent agencies in Toronto. The week prior I attended a similar tasting for  The Stem Group, and this week I hope to attend a tasting for Oakville-based BND Wines and Spirits. Then on Thursday, October 27 there is the big Grand Cru Event for Halpern Wines with 70 wineries in town, featuring an auction that helps raise funds for Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation, combined with a series of great chefs dinners on Oct 29. For details go to

I am always amazed to be reminded at these events how many wines are sold in Ontario without appearing at Vintages or the LCBO.  Many of the producers I encountered at the Profile Tasting were recognizable, but usually just for one or two wines that might appear at Vintages, on occasion. Here wineries poured their entire line-ups, making it easier to put the wines in context in terms of style and quality. I ran through the line-ups of several producers including Washington’s Columbia Crest/Chateau St Michelle, Pierre Sparr of Alsace, Falernia in Chile’s remote Elqui Valley and several Piedmont and Tuscan producers. I spent the most time on Tuscany but I would like to save comments for next time because Tuscany is featured in Vintages October 15 release, and I have been working on Tuscany for an upcoming article in Toronto Life.

So I leave you with a hot tip of the week – Falernia of Chile.  This is an innovative, pioneering producer hewing a great reputation from the rocky, steep vineyards of the remote Elqui Valley, the most northern wine region in the county. “My wines are different from all others in Chile”, proclaimed winemaker Giorgio Flessati. “It’s a combination of different fruit from the Elqui and my Italian winemaking background”.  When the Falernia 2007 Syrah Reserva blew through Vintages at $15 in June I raved about its depth and classic styling. At this tasting I was very impressed by the whites, including a racy tank sample of  rare 2011 Pedro Ximinez, a grape normally used to make sweet wines in southern Spain. Likewise with a steely, riveting Sauvignon Blanc, a rich semi-ripasso style carmenere and new cab-merlot-syrah blend called Number One.  The prices are great folks, check it out at

That’s it for this edition. I’ll be back prior to the October 15th release. See all my reviews for October 1st here.

Cheers and enjoy, David

- David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008