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Gourmet Games – October 2

Special Offer for WineAlign Members:  $15 Off the Ticket Price (Promo Code: WineAlign)

Join Azureau Wine Agency on Thursday, October 2, at the 2nd Gourmet Games to sample over 60 wines from 14 award-winning wineries from around the world.  Guest chefs from some of Toronto’s best restaurants will also conduct high concept cooking demonstrations as top sommeliers engage in a food/wine pairing competition designed to educate consumers on how wine professionals recommend enjoying wine.2014-09-11_14-00-50

“We invented the Gourmet Games as a fun way for consumers to get into the minds of top chefs and sommeliers and learn to think as they do,” says Dan Rabinovitch, President of Azureau Wine Agency. “No one is going to tell you a pairing is wrong, but our guests may learn something new about the magic that can occur when two sets of flavours and textures are combined. Of course, simply walking around and discovering new wines is also welcome at the Games.”

The Gourmet Games features world-class food & wine talent including Master of Ceremonies Bob Blumer of the Food Network, WineAlign’s Sara d’Amato (who will be moderating the Premium Experiences), Sommelier Zoltan Szabo, and chefs from perennial top Toronto restaurants Cava, George on Queen, and newcomer Cluny Bistro. Wineries from Spain, Italy, Argentina, California, Australia, South Africa, and Chile will be pouring wines that are available for order at the show or purchase at the LCBO.

Sara's New Pic_Sm

Sara d’Amato

Premium Experiences (moderated by Sommelier and WineAlign critic Sara d’Amato):

World Wine Bubbles, Exploring Non-Traditional Sparkling Wines 7-7:45 pm

The Winemaker Series by Alpha Crucis  8-8:45 pm

Vino & Smoke, Cigar and Wine Pairing with Mombacho Cigars  9-9:45 pm

Event Details:

Thursday, October 2, 2014
Location: Berkeley Church – 315 Queen St. East
Time:  6:30 to 10 pm
Tickets: $80 for General Admission/$25 for each Premium Experience

WineAlign Members receive $15.00 off ticket price – Use Promo Code: WineAlign

 Purchase Your Tickets Here

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Participating wineries include:

Bodegas Salentein/Callia – Argentina
Chalk Hill/Alpha Crucis – McLaren Vale, Australia
Armas de Guerra – Bierzo, Spain
Vega Sindoa – Navarra, Spain
Rioja Vega – Rioja, Spain
Casas del Bosque – Casablanca, Chile
Erste + Neue – Alto Adige, Italy
Antica Fratta – Franciacorta, Italy
Winery Exchange – California, USA
Bodega Rejadorada – Toro, Spain
Paca & Lola – Rias Baixas, Spain
Simonsig – Stellenbosch, South Africa

Click here for more information on the wineries and the wines they will be pouring.

About Berkeley Church:

berkeley-st-church1Built in 1871, The Berkeley Church has been transformed into Toronto’s most original event venue. Nowhere else will you find such a beautiful blend of traditional ambiance and modern decor. Details such as the original 17-foot stained glass windows, hard wood floors and Victorian Inspired bar makes the Berkeley Church a stunning escape from the ordinary. This location is accessible by TTC, taxi and Green P parking is available on all surrounding streets for responsible designated drivers.

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 2nd – Part One

Pure California: 100+ Reviews of the Best of “New” California; The Icons of Napa Cabernet, and Sandhi, A Name to Know.
by John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The theme of the report this week is pure California, the focus of the VINTAGES August 2nd release, and David Lawrason and I list our top picks (with significant alignment). Next week David will lead coverage of Alsace, the Loire Valley, Greece, and the best of the rest along with my picks (Sara d’Amato is in the south of France conducting serious research). I’ve also included a couple of outstanding Santa Barbara chardonnays tasted at the i4c last week, and I’ve finally managed to publish close to 100 reviews from landmark California tastings held last October in San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma. Find the best pinot, chardonnay, Rhône blends and so much more on WineAlign; fans of California wine, and I know there are many of you, will want to track these down. But wait, there’s more – check out this report on the very best of the best Napa Cabernets. Read on for all the gold.

A California Wine Summit

Before we get into the top picks from the VINTAGES August 2nd release, those deeply into California wines may want to consider searching further afield. I’ve published nearly 100 of my top picks (mostly current releases) from an extraordinary set of tastings held last October in California. The “California Wine Summit” was organized and hosted by the Wine Institute of California for a select group of international journalists (WineAlign’s Anthony Gismondi also attended), with the aim of sharing the radical changes and developments that have occurred within the California wine industry over the last decade or so.

These extraordinary tastings were compiled and led by some of California’s most respected critics, authors and winemakers, including Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle and his top chardonnays, Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, and her favorite Pinot Noirs, Patrick J. Comiskey, critic for Wine & Spirits magazine and terrific California blends, and a once-in-a-lifetime tasting of iconic Napa Valley cabernets led by master sommeliers Geoff Kruth and Matt Stamp. And those were just some of the formal tastings.

The New California Wine

Jon Bonné and his top Chardonnays, with Gerard Basset MS, MW, OBE

Jon Bonné and his top Chardonnays, with Gerard Basset MS, MW, OBE

Perhaps Jon Bonné has best captured the zeitgeist in his recently published book The New California Wine, which is “the untold story of the California wine industry: the young, innovative producers who are rewriting the rules of contemporary winemaking; their quest to express the uniqueness of California terroir; and the continuing battle to move the state away from the overly technocratic, reactionary practices of its recent past.” Fans of California wine are well advised to grab a copy of this book – it’s an accurate synopsis of what’s going down in the Golden State.

No stones were left unturned during the summit as we tasted through every notable grape variety and wine style that the state has to offer over the course of a week, with detailed information, expert comparative analysis and historical perspective provided along the way by the folks who know it best. Only one tasting failed to shine: “California does value”, the one area where even the best of the new California often falls short. Value is of course relative, though with few exceptions, compelling sub-$20 (CAD) wines are few are far between in my view. The majority of entry-priced brands, at least those we find on shelves in Canada, prey on the human weakness for sugar. But once again, sales figures are in diametric opposition with me, so what do I know.

Dollars aside, the new California (as well as the California that’s so old it’s new again, and the California that never followed fashions of any kind) has an extraordinary offering of wines on shelves now. If you’ve turned away from California for whatever reason, I’d suggest you give Ontario’s most important foreign wine supplier another look.

Set your WineAlign search parameters to “California” and pick your favourite grape/style to see what’s on top. Be sure to check “show wines with zero inventory” for the full list, as some wines have yet to reach our shelves.

The Best of the Best of Napa Cabernet

I’ve also posted a blow-by-blow report of a tasting of iconic Napa cabernets, including all of the rarities – it was the sort of tasting one hardly ever reads about, let alone participates in. The notes were edited only for spelling, making it a more intimate and unadulterated view of the moment, including some impressions that surprised even me.

Buyer’s Guide for Vintages August 2nd 2014: California

White

Hahn S L H Estate Chardonnay 2012Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012Alignment: Robert Mondavi 2012 Fumé Blanc, Napa Valley ($23.95)
John Szabo – One of the most reliable and consistent Fumé Blancs, not to mention the original, from California, Mondavi (and winemaker Geneviève Janssens) still leads the way and delivers wide pleasure at the right price. I like the balanced between tropical and orchard-citrus fruit, in an approachable, round and soft style. Best 2014-2018.
David Lawrason – In California’s Mediterranean climate it is difficult to make snappy, acid-driven sauvignon blanc. Robert Mondavi engineered a great alternative years ago by adding semillon and barrel ageing, and calling it Fume Blanc. It has been one of my favourite California whites ever since – uniquely spicy with intriguing green olive an evergreen notes.

Hahn 2012 S-L-H Estate Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County ($32.95). David Lawrason – Hahn has emerged as dominant player in Monterey with huge vineyards and polished fruit driven style of wines. This is unabashedly big, generous and fruit driven – as so many chards are in California – yet it retains a sense of composure

Red

AlignmentNapa Angel 2008 Aurelio’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($62.95)
John Szabo - Chilean vintner Aurelio Montes’ Napa project is a particularly dense and full cabernet sauvignon, with tightly knit dark fruit and chocolate flavours, unsurprisingly, similar in style to his top wines from Chile. This is mature and drinking well now. Best 2014-2022.
David Lawrason – If you detect a certain Chilean bloom and piquancy in this delicious, sensuous Napa cab it is due to the fact that it is made by Chilean Aurelio Montes (who makes some of grandest reds of Chile’s Colchagua Valley, including Purple Angel).  This is excellent, collectible an drinkable cabernet – complete, profound and deep.

Grgich Hills 2010 Estate Grown Zinfandel, Napa Valley ($48.95). John Szabo – Biodynamic estate Grgich Hills rarely disappoints with any of their wines, which remain, relatively speaking, fairly priced within the Napa Valley context. This is an unusually aristocratic version of zinfandel, with fruit so very lively and vibrant – a difficult thing to achieve with zin in the Napa Valley. Best 2014-2020.

Beringer 2007 Bancroft Ranch Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Bancroft Ranch Vineyard, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley ($79.95). John Szabo – The Bancroft Ranch wines are often among my favorites from the vast Beringer portfolio, which for me has more distinctive character than the (more expensive) Private Reserve, of which this cabernet is often a notable component. This 2007 has evolved nicely into a dusty-grippy, savoury and dark fruit flavoured wine with a nice streak of scorched earth and minerality from the volcanic soils of Howell Mountain. Best 2014-2020.

Seghesio 2012 Zinfandel Sonoma County, California ($29.95). David Lawrason – I am not at all happy about the sweetening and mocha-fication of California’s commercially priced zins. To rise above the soup you need to raise your price ceiling and focus on classic producers like Seghesio – a family with zin its veins for generations.

Montes Napa Angel Aurelio's Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Grgich Hills Estate Grown Zinfandel 2010 Beringer Bancroft Ranch Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Seghesio Zinfandel 2012

Sandhi: The California Wines You Want to Get to Know

It wasn’t my first exposure to the wines of Sandhi in Santa Barbara County – one, the Sandford and Benedict Vineyard bottling, had been selected by Jon Bonné for his tasting of top Chardonnays during the California Wine Summit. But it was a pleasure to sit and taste a few more wines with co-owner Rajat Parr during the i4c weekend in Niagara. Sandhi, which mean “collaboration” in Sanskrit, is a joint venture established in 2010 between Parr, then, and still, wine director of the Michael Mina restaurant group, partner in San Francisco’s landmark RN74 and one of the US’s most recognizable wine figures, Charles Bank, the former owner of Jonata and Screaming Eagle, and winemaker Sashi Mormann. The winery is focused on small lots of chardonnay and pinot noir from select vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County, particularly the cooler stretches of the AVA a few miles from the Pacific Ocean.

I was delighted but not surprised to find that Parr, an outspoken advocate for balanced, moderate alcohol wines in his buying role for Mina, has upheld his position for his own production. The Sandhi wines are all about finesse and freshness, structure and balance, well articulated without attempting to replicate European wines- the fruit is still Californian, as it should be. Sandhi wines are available through the Trialto Wine Group across Canada, as are Parr’s other joint ventures, Domaine de La Côte, also in Santa Barbara (check out the excellent syrah), and Maison l’Orée in Burgundy.

Two to Try:

Sandhi 2012 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay, California ($48.00). A vibrant, moderate alcohol, terroir-driven chardonnay. Flavours are in the ripe orchard and even lightly tropical spectrum, though this is all about the zesty acids and firm structure, including a pleasantly chalky, tacky mineral texture.

Sandhi 2011 Rita’s Crown Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County, California ($78.00). A wine of serious depth and complexity off the charts; the balance is pitch-perfect, on the upper end of the intensity scale, with terrific length. Really top-notch stuff for current enjoyment or mid-term hold. Tasted July 2014.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Aug 2nd:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews

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


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A Cult Napa Tasting – Not Your Everyday Affair

Best of California Cabernet
by John Szabo MS

John Tasting

John Szabo, MS

The following is a report on a (more than likely) once-in-a-lifetime tasting of the best of California cabernet, part of a week-long event with the rather grand title the “The California Wine Summit” organized by the Wine Institute of California last October. Admittedly, however, its grandness surpassed expectations, and this was just one of multiple landmark tastings throughout the week, if you can believe that.

The selection of wines was done simply (and cleverly) enough: the Institute asked some of California’s most respected writers, including Jon Bonné (San Francisco Chronicle), Linda Murphy (US contributor to the Oxford Companion To Wine and co-author with Jancis Robinson of American Wine), Alder Yarrow (Vinography: a wine blog), Karen MacNeil (author of The Wine Bible), and Patrick J. Comiskey (Wine & Spirits Magazine), to submit a list of their favorite Napa Cabernets, no holds barred.

The Institute then tallied up the results and the wines with the most mentions were tracked down, miraculously in some cases, and presented to our group of international wine press. All manner of rarities were included, the sort of tasting one hardly ever reads about, let alone participates in. And to make matters better, the tasting was expertly prepared and hosted by Master Sommeliers Geoff Kruth and Matt Stamp, while additional colour commentary was provided by Patrick Comiskey, Karen MacNeil and Alder Yarrow. It was extraordinarily grand, a tasting not even the great Chateaux of the Médoc could touch (not least because the Bordelais would never allow anyone else to select, let alone publicly comment on their wines, on their own dime).

A pretty nice line up of Napa Cabernet..

A pretty nice line up of Napa Cabernet…

The formal tasting was followed by dinner at Silver Oak, where more fine wines were heaped upon the table like the grandest Medieval wedding , including many older vintages of the same wines. It was a night to remember to be sure, but those later notes remain my private property.

Napa Cabernet: The Best of the Best

The reviews below were edited only for spelling, making it an intimate and unadulterated view of the moment, including some impressions that surprised even me. Wines are ordered by my score, top down; prices are approximate.

Diamond Creek 2009 Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain ($200.00)

Really pretty, lifted, floral, spicy, tar and roses-scented, almost nebbiolo-like red from the iconic Diamond Creek estate, in this case from the iron-rich red soils of the Red Rock Terrace parcel. The complexity is extraordinary to be sure. Tannins are grippy and firm, grasping your palate and leaving no doubt that this will age magnificently. The finish goes on and on. Extraordinary stuff.  Tasted October 2013. 98 points.

Dunn 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain ($90.00)

A supremely dense, spicy, lightly herbal-vegetal, scorched earth and mineral-flavoured wine within the regional, almost savage profile of Howell Mountain. The palate is rustic and thick, with firm, tannic structure – this will age magnificently no doubt – built on a solid frame, yet there’s more than enough fleshy fruit to ensure full integration over time. All in all, quite approachable considering the customary burly house style. Tasted October 2013. 95 points.

Corison 2009 Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley St. Helena ($125.00)

From Cathy Corison’s flagship, 40-year old vineyard planted on phylloxera-resistant St. George rootstock, the 2009 Kronos delivers a dense, dark-fruited, briary, highly spicy, orange peel-scented nose, with very well-integrated oak profile. It’s structurally tense, anchored on almost tart acids with ripe, almost red fruit, and old vine vinosity. Terrific length. I suspect this will be best from about 2017 on, with the potential to live well into its third decade. Tasted October 2013. 95 points.

Quintessa 2010 Napa Valley Rutherford ($145.00)

Classic, ripe black and blue fruit, with savoury forest floor, pine needle, marked but gentle wood influence, and high-toned floral notes. This is polished and elegant on a big frame, like Bordeaux in a very warm vintage, classy and complex. Best after 2015. Tasted October 2013. 95 points.

Spring Mountain 2010 Elivette Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain ($150.00)

Spring Mountain Vineyards has been producing cabernet for a century, with vineyards now farmed virtually biodynamically on the top of Spring Mountain and its volcanic and sedimentary soils. There’s a freshness and lifted floral note, more red fruit-driven, and light sweet baking spice touch alongside an earthy undertone. The palate offers excellent succulence, and fine-grained, firm tannins. A very fine and elegant wine, with depth and complexity, to be enjoyed after 2018 or so. Tasted October 2013. 95 points.

Ridge 2009 Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains ($160.00)

Apparently enough folks named the Monte Bello among their favourite wines that is was included in this otherwise all-Napa lineup. The 2009 includes about 30% merlot and petit verdot along with cabernet, offering wonderfully perfumed aromatics, high-toned, violet-floral, sweet but just ripe black berry fruit. Amazingly enough, the American oak in which this is aged is a gentle spice addition (wood is air-dried long-term). The palate is mid-weight in the usual elegant style of Ridge, with fine, succulent acids, balanced alcohol (13.5%) and terrific length. Although surprisingly approachable now, this is of course a wine with great tension and tremendous ageing potential. Best from 2019- 2039. Tasted October 2013. 95 points.

Spottswoode 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley St. Helena ($145.00)

A classically styled Napa Cabernet from the historic Spottswoode property, biodynamically-farmed, ripe yet with a distinct roasted vegetable note. Fruit is both black and blue, with a sweet core and dense concentration and very firm, ageworthy structure. Alcohol is generous. This is far from prime, I’d say this will be best after about 2018, and should last several decades after that without a stretch. Tasted October 2013. 94 points.

Scarecrow 2007 Rutherford ($500.00)

From an old plot of vines adjacent to Inglenook, planted in the 1940s. This is classy to be sure, with evident ripeness and concentration and a vinous, old wine density, excellent balance and extraordinary length. A very fine wine to be sure. There’s great precision and elegance beyond the dense masses of flavour – a wine you can truly drink and enjoy, not just sit on a pedestal. Tasted October 2013. 94 points.

Harlan Estates 2009 Oakville ($770.00)

The 2009 Harlan is quite classy and surprisingly approachable at this early stage (if still a long way from maturity), with a marvelous amalgam of earth, spice box, tobacco, leather and of course plenty of dark fruit, and dried prune, figs and dates. Tannins are bold, ripe, anchoring the masses of fruit, with excellent length. For fans of the full on, bold, dense, rich Napa style. Tasted October 2013. 94 points.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 2009 SLV Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap District ($145.00)

Quite sweet and oak-tinged on the nose, with masses of (high-quality) barrel spice notes, vanilla, bitter chocolate, espresso bean, plus dense black fruit verging on liqueur-like concentration. The palate is smooth and supple, with very ripe, plush tannins, generous alcohol and long, long finish. There’s a scorched earth, red iron-like mineral note, though this remains a wood-infused bottle for the time being. To be revisited after 2017, with longevity of a couple of decades I’d suspect. Tasted October 2013. 93 points.

Continuum 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Pritchard Hill ($175.00)

The project of Tim Mondavi, an estate (92% estate fruit) wine from about 40 acres on Pritchard Hill, with 15% cabernet franc on iron-rich volcanic-derived soil. The nose is suppressed for the moment, a dense and brooding wine, though with a surprisingly supple and approachable palate – the texture here is fully beguiling, silky, yet densely packed and high in alcohol. The finish is long but carried on alcohol vapours – more of a winemaker’s wine, yet very fine in any case. Best from 2015. Tasted October 2013. 93 points.

Bond 2009 Pluribus, Spring Mountain ($250.00)

A markedly spicy, and lifted, wood spice-driven wine, very refined and elegant, yet with high, palate warming alcohol. There’s an intriguing aromatic profile with orange peel nuances I more often associate with Italian wines. Structurally the wine is firm and fine-grained, buoyed on alcohol, with nutty, chestnut flavours lingering over ripe red and some black fruit. Great length.  Tasted October 2013. 93 points.

The iconic tower at Silver Oak

The iconic tower at Silver Oak

Silver Oak 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($110.00)

The all-American oak ageing regime of Silver Oak comes through in spades in this 2009, delivering plenty of melted butter, coconut, and sandalwood – the particular house style is well-marked. The palate is as always neither heavy nor light, with vibrant acids, nicely succulent and balanced. One gets the sense that the base material is really very fine here, though you must also enjoy the heavily wood-derived profile to enjoy the ensemble, or wait at least a decade before opening. Tasted October 2013. 91 points.

Dalla Valle Maya 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville ($N/A)

Fully ripe and raisined, evidently a forward and dense, stylized wine, complete with a touch of VA. The palate is thick, hot, very firm, almost astringent, with very good length. All in all, an exaggerated style, with challenging drinkability in my view. Tasted October 2013. 91 points.

Shafer 2009 Hillside Select, Stag’s Leap District ($275.00)

Full on blue fruit and espresso, wood-derived flavour, in an unabashedly ultra-ripe, Napa valley style. Alcohol is hot, likely over 15%, with blueberry yoghurt flavours. All in all this comes across as rather one-dimensional, not in the top league in my view, though revisit in 4-6 years. Tasted October 2013. 90 points.

Cheers,

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS


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Les bons choix de Marc – Juillet

Made in USA
par Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

En ce 4 juillet, jour de réjouissances nationales pour nos amis états-uniens, j’ai pensé qu’il serait de bon ton de jeter un œil du côté de leur production viticole.

On parle couramment de vin « américain », mais en réalité, il faudrait souvent dire vin « californien ». Le Golden State est en effet responsable d’environ 90 % de la production nationale. La Californie se trouve ainsi encore et toujours loin devant les États de Washington, de l’Oregon et de New York, qui occupent les trois places suivantes. Cela dit, ce qu’on sait moins, c’est qu’on fait du vin dans chacun des 50 États de l’Union. Même en Floride ! Et ce n’est rien : même en Alaska, où le United States Department of Agriculture recensait sept wineries, en 2013.

Autre particularité du marché états-unien, il y a encore là-bas plus d’une quinzaine de monopoles d’État de la vente d’alcool – un peu comme notre bonne vieille SAQ, eh oui. Parmi les États pour ainsi dire prohibitionnistes, qui maternent les consommateurs et les protègent du démon Alcool, on retrouve le New Hampshire, le Vermont, l’Oregon, l’Ohio, la Pennsylvanie et bien entendu aussi l’Utah, le fief des mormons.

Bons troisièmes derrière la France et l’Italie

Pour revenir à nos moutons, précisons que les vins des États-Unis, et principalement ceux de la Californie, progressent très bien au Québec. Toutefois, spécifie le rapport annuel 2014 de la SAQ, ils le font « de manière plus modérée cette année avec près de 10 % d’augmentation des ventes en volume […] tant pour les vins blancs que pour les vins rouges ». Il n’empêche que les vins américains demeurent bons troisièmes sur le plan des ventes à la SAQ, avec 13 % de parts de marché, derrière la France (31 %) et l’Italie (23 %), mais devant l’Espagne et l’Australie (respectivement 8 % et 6 %).

Les régions plus fraîches du nord de la Californie, ainsi que l’Oregon et Washington produisent de très belles bouteilles qui n’ont rien à envier à ce qui se fait de mieux en Europe et notamment en France. À l’inverse, on trouve aussi en provenance de ces chers États-Unis des Ménage à Trois et des Apothic Red sucrés, ainsi que des White Zinfandel tout aussi doucereux – qui se vendent, hélas, comme des petits pains. Le collègue Bill Zacharkiw a d’ailleurs récemment publié un article à ce propos.

Et dire qu’on est censés être une société distincte, au Québec, et avoir un palais plus raffiné… Désolé pour la digression, je n’ai pu m’empêcher, j’aimerais tellement que les rouges sucrés coca-colaesques ne marchent pas.

Surtout qu’elle est pratiquement révolue, l’époque des vins américains vanillés et archiboisés. Nos voisins y vont aujourd’hui plus mollo sur le chêne, de manière générale et en Californie, notamment. Le pays a pour ainsi dire mûri, il fait toujours partie du Nouveau Monde viticole mais comme il produit depuis plusieurs décennies, il se fait vieux un peu — et c’est bien tant mieux.

De belles bouteilles born in the USA

J’ai puisé dans mes récentes notes de dégustation et dégoté quelques bonnes bouteilles que l’on pourrait très bien ouvrir cette fin de semaine, dans la foulée de l’Independence Day.

En blanc d’abord, le Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2011 n’est pas donné, à 50 $, mais il tient la comparaison avec bien des bourgognes blancs vendus le même prix.

Du côté du vin rosé, je retiens notamment le Terre Rouge Vin Gris d’Amador 2012, un très bon rosé de saignée californien, corsé et riche mais bien appuyé par l’acidité.

En rouge, on a, encore une fois, l’embarras du choix. En y allant par ordre de prix, on se régalera avec le Schug Pinot Noir 2012 de Sonoma Coast. Clin d’œil à la France maintenant, avec le Syrah Le Pousseur Bonny Doon 2010, typé syrah et doté d’une bonne fraîcheur.

Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2011Terre Rouge Vin Gris D'amador 2012Schug Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2012Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah 2010

Du même excentrique producteur qu’est Randall Grahm, place au Cigare Volant Bonny Doon 2008, qui pastiche pour ainsi dire les vins de Châteauneuf-du-Pape mais qui ressemble davantage, avec ce 2008, à un beau rouge de la région nord du Rhône.

Deux derniers rouges états-uniens, d’un producteur vedette aussi consultant à ses heures. Plus les années passent, plus les millésimes se succèdent, et plus les vins de ce Paul Hobbs me surprennent. Imposants, concentrés, costauds même, ils ont en revanche de la fraîcheur, ils ne s’écrasent pas en bouche et n’alourdissent pas le palais – pour peu, of course, qu’on n’abuse pas.

Essayez par exemple son Cabernet Sauvignon Paul Hobbs Crossbarn 2011 Monterey, à 48 $, ou encore, dans un tout autre registre, son Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir 2011 Russian River. Ce dernier, puissant et savoureux, est vendu 62 $ et des poussières, et ma foi il les vaut !

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2008Paul Hobbs Crossbarn Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir 2011CHANDON ROSÉ

Enfin, à l’apéro ou à la fin du repas, avec des fromages pas trop puissants, on pourrait très bien opter pour le Chandon Rosé Méthode Traditionnelle, un peu dosé (sucré), il est vrai, mais l’équilibre est préservé et il s’agit simplement de le servir bien frais, pour en rehausser le fruit.

Cheers !

Marc

Note de la rédaction: vous pouvez lire les commentaires de dégustation complets en cliquant sur les noms de vins, les photos de bouteilles ou les liens mis en surbrillance. Les abonnés payants à Chacun son vin ont accès à toutes les critiques dès leur mise en ligne. Les utilisateurs inscrits doivent attendre 30 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de bons vins!


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To Kalon, Moonstruck and Mondavi

The Final Blend
by Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

For all you youngsters out there who live and die by your cell phones, iPads and touch-screen computers have you ever wondered how all that technology came about? The answer is in the race to the moon. On February 20, 1962 astronaut John Glen piloted the “Friendship 7″ spacecraft on the first, US-manned mission completing a successful three-orbit tour around the earth and the race to miniaturise computer components was on.

Some four years later in a seemingly unrelated event, the Robert Mondavi Winery at Oakville opened for business in bucolic Oakville about an hour north of San Francisco. In those days, Napa Valley was about as far away from France and the centre of the wine world, as the moon must have appeared to NASA scientists working at Cape Canaveral. Yet both were on a mission: NASA to get to the moon, and Robert Mondavi to reach for the moon. Oddly some twenty years down the road their paths would cross in a vineyard.

For Mondavi it began with the phylloxera scourge of the late 1990s in his beloved To Kalon Vineyard. Always looking to improve and always looking for an edge Robert turned to the scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California to explore the use of high altitude photography developed from space to further study vineyards.

The project was cutting edge in the day. NASA supplied the winery with high spatial resolution airborne imagery acquired in California’s Napa Valley in 1993 and 1994 as part of the Grapevine Remote sensing Analysis of Phylloxera Early Stress (GRAPES) project. Investigators from NASA, the University of California, the California State University, and Robert Mondavi Winery examined the application of airborne digital imaging technology to vineyard management, with emphasis on detecting the phylloxera infestation in California vineyards.

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As time has gone on the technology has spread to every corner of the wine world to help viticulturalists and winemakers better understand their vineyards as a whole. Knowing what’s going on in the vineyard has been at the heart of winemaking since grapes were first planted although obtaining such information required a lifetime of harvests not to mention uncountable forays into the vineyard by winemakers and viticulturalists walking the rows one-by-one. You might say Robert was on his own mission and anything that could be done to satisfy a better ending was done. Over the years Robert was often heard to say. “If you think you have a really good idea (and it doesn’t cost too much) then do something about.”

To be sure, everyone still walks the vineyards at Mondavi, but now when they enter a specific block, (before, during and after every growing season), they do so with a wealth of computer-analysed information that leaves no stone unturned, or is it that they leave every stone exactly where it should be?

As early as 2002, director of winemaking Genevieve Janssens was not just walking the rows and tasting the grapes in preparation for harvest; she was using a hand-held, wireless device to select which sides of the rows were to be picked by the crews. The notion of not picking everything at once, or the thought that To Kalon is a series of very different blocks that should be handled individually, was another Mondavi tenet that helped them to grow the quality of their now famous Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

To Kalon VineyardOver time, now across five decades, the attention to detail at Mondavi has served the wines and To Kalon Vineyard well. Certainly there is a much greater understanding of the terroir and all its minute changes in soil, microclimate, slope and drainage and how they define each block and the distinct characteristics and flavours in the grapes. Today, not only are the grapes planted in specific soils with clones and rootstocks now known to be the most simpatico, but they are spaced, watered, pruned, shoot-thinned, green-harvested, leaf plucked and generally babied until harvest all with the aid of the latest in overhead photography that can chart every inch of the vineyard’s health.

A recent three-day visit revealed that while Robert Mondavi is no longer with us his spirit still dominates the winery, the team and To Kalon Vineyard. We began our visit by tasting some of the great wines of the world made by Mondavi’s competitors. As unusual as it is to serve the opposition’s wine at your winery, the folks at Mondavi have always embraced the competition, believing fine wine producers are all part of a bigger extended family. Early on Mondavi challenged the great wines of Bordeaux, often getting tasters to try his wines blind alongside some of the best in the world. Win or lose, just being in the same row was enough to grab some recognition and more often than not his generous, well-made reds would top the tastings.

Meeting the competition head on is no longer an earth-shaking business practice but in its day, in the wine business, it was almost unheard of among marketers. The real news is nothing much has changed at the winery. In fact, under chief winemaker Genevieve Janssens and wine educator Mark de Vere with no shortage of support from the ageless Margrit Mondavi, the Robert Mondavi Winery may be more fanatical today about the To Kalon project then when it began back in 1966.

In his book Harvests of Joy, Robert Mondavi talks about his decision to build his reputation on To Kalon. The “vineyard stood head and shoulders above those around it. It was a vineyard with a distinguished history and a magical nature. Ideal soils, sunlight and rain—to my eye, the vineyard was a treasure. Walking through To Kalon, admiring its contours and vines, smelling the richness of its soil, I knew this was a very special place.”

Even the name the original founder, Hamilton Crabb, had given to this vineyard a century ago, resonated with Mondavi. “It perfectly captured my guiding ambition and spirit. In Greek, To Kalon means ‘highest quality’ or ‘highest good.’ To me that meant, simply, ‘The Best.’

To Kalon Vineyard 5Robert’s dream to build a boutique winery on the edge of Napa Valley’s Highway 29, visible to travellers passing by, changed everything about how wineries would interact with their customers for the next 50 years. Despite the current inroads being made by social media, the Mondavi roadside boutique winery with a tasting room and the ability to sell direct to its customers remains vital to the bottom line of wineries worldwide.

Robert’s fixation with varietal wine (give the consumer some information that they can latch onto) was another monumental block in the foundation of a North American wine culture. Despite his role in catapulting varietal wine to prime time world-wide Mondavi was obsessed with appellation and place long before the rest of America would come to know that all great wines come from somewhere, and for that he had To Kalon.

Parts of the 450-acre To Kalon Vineyard were originally planted by Hamilton Walker Crabb, a noted Napa Valley winegrowing pioneer in the 1860s, although the bulk of the property has been replanted several times. The ‘Region Two’ site on the Winkler Scale spreads from the gravelly/alluvial loams of the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains east to Highway 29 where the profile is deeper and contains more clay. To Kalon is a huge contributor to the Mondavi Napa Valley, Oakville District, and Reserve wine programs. At the moment two wines are vineyard designated: Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc Reserve and To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon.

In 2004, 100 acres were sold to Opus One. Beckstoffer owns 89 acres of the To Kalon Vineyard leaving total planted acres under Robert Mondavi Winery at 439 including a staggering 90 vineyard blocks with an average size of 5 acres. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the site followed by Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Semillon, and a single block of Syrah.

Over the years Mondavi would also engage in several joint ventures with international producers of great stature:  Bordeaux’s famed Baron Philippe Rothschild (Opus), with Eduardo Chadwick (Seña) in Chile and with the Frescobaldi family (Luce) in Italy. While many consider these business machinations a distraction and perhaps an indulgence that took some lustre away from the Napa operation, Mondavi’s insistence on working with other cultures and exchanging wine making information was all based on reaching for the stars.

Still my tastings (which date back to the late 1970s) do not lead me to think the wines are anything but Californian. On this issue Tim Mondavi has written, “at home in California, we have always pursued wines that reflect the richness and ripeness of our climate while adding dimensions of elegance and finesse that we associate with the great wines of the world.”

The current guardian of the style at Mondavi is chief winemaker Genevieve Janssens who launched her career in 1974, coincidentally a significant vintage at Mondavi. In those days she was working in her family’s vineyards in Corsica and France. By the mid-seventies, she ran an enology lab in Provence and served as consulting enologist to many French chateaux, eventually working in the lab at Mondavi in 1978/79. After a decade of work around California, Janssens returned to the Mondavi family in 1989 to become Director of Production at Opus One Winery. In 1997, when an opening came up at Robert Mondavi she jumped at the chance to get back and in 2000, she helped implement the To Kalon Project, the winery’s first major renovation since it was founded in 1966.

The three most prominent post phylloxera developments at Mondavi are high-density planting (the Mondavis now boast the largest collection of high-density vineyards in California), an all-oak fermentation process to complement the gentle handling from harvest through the cellar, and bottling wines without filtration. The multi-level To Kalon Fermentation Cellar features 56, large oak vat fermenters.

Robert Mondavi tastingI well remember tasting the 2000 vintage reds and noting the almost overnight changes. In a vineyard tasting of two 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon (one grown at the highest density 4’x4’ or 2700 vines per acre; the other the more normal 8’x12’ spacing or 450 vines per acres) the difference in flavour and texture were dramatic.

The high density wine was darker in colour and richer in soft tannins and fruit compared with the almost watered down flavours of the sample made from vineyards planted to a lesser density. Still reeling from that experiment I tasted another pair of 2000 Cabernet Sauvignons, this time one fermented in stainless steel and the other made in the latest oak vats at To Kalon. The results mirrored the differences noted during the high-density tasting. This time the cabernet fermented in the all-oak vats was plusher, rounder and more sensuous in the mouth, not to mention well-stuffed and surprisingly easy to sip.

Combining the two techniques over the last 13 years has yielded some impressive results. About that time Mondavi also cut production of its top end wines to further increase quality, and by default, improve all of the wines below the top end via the trickle down technique.

With nearly three decades of experiments behind it there is nothing to suggest the folks at Mondavi will change. The plan is just as Mr. Mondavi charted it back in 1966 – make the best wine you possibly can and challenge that wine every vintage to be better. After all, if you have a good idea your duty is to do something about it. Reach for the stars.

Here are what our critics have said recently about the wines of Robert Mondavi :

Robert Mondavi Napa Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard 2009, Napa Valley, California

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, California

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2012, Central Coast

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2011

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2010, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2011, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012, Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley

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


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County in the City 2014 – Try and Buy Event

Special Offer for WineAlign Members:  $5 Off the Ticket Price (Promo Code: winealign)

Join us on Thursday, April 3, for the 3rd Annual County in the City, and sample some of the best wines Prince Edward County has to offer! Many County wineries all under one Toronto roof!

County-in-the-City-Collage

At the 3rd annual “County in the City”, samples of more than 50 different wines (including many vintage and specialty wines) will be showcased from 5pm-9pm to the public. This tasting event will delight the palates of Torontonians and introduce them to some of the most enticing flavours of Prince Edward County; the world’s fastest growing wine region. Wine Spectator magazine dubbed the County as the “world’s least-known great wine zone“.

Many of the County wines showcased at the event are not available at retail wine outlets in the GTA, so guests can take part in the “Try and Buy” program and have delicious County wines delivered right to their door. Mix and match bottles from different wineries and receive FREE shipping (minimum 6 bottles).

Along with the delicious wines there will be fabulous food pairings from the Berkeley Events’ kitchen including, Butter chicken with quinoa and naan, roast beef on mini Yorkshire pudding w/ horseradish cream, Mini gourmet grilled cheese on brioche, Pierogies (bacon optional), Plus a surprise dish!

Event Details:

Thursday, April 3, 2014
Location: Berkeley Church – 315 Queen St. East
Time:  5pm to 9pm
Tickets: $49.00 in advance (includes all wine and food samples)
Tickets: $60.00 at the door (subject to availability)

WineAlign Members receive $5.00 off tickets purchased in advance – Use Promo Code: winealign

 Purchase Your Tickets Here

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Participating wineries include:

Broken Stone Winery
Casa Dea Estates Winery
Devil’s Wishbone
Grange of Prince Edward County Vineyard and Estate Winery
Harwood Estate Winery
Huff Estates Winery
Karlo Estates
Keint-He Winery and Vineyard
Lighthall Vineyard
Norman Hardie
Rosehall Run
Sandbanks Winery
Stanners Vineyard
ThreeDog Winery

 

About Berkeley Church:

berkeley-st-church1Built in 1871, The Berkeley Church has been transformed into Toronto’s most original event venue.Nowhere else will you find such a beautiful blend of traditional ambiance and modern decor. Details such as the original 17-foot stained glass windows, hard wood floors and Victorian Inspired bar makes the Berkeley Church a stunning escape from the ordinary. This location is accessible by TTC, taxi and Green P parking is available on all surrounding streets for responsible designated drivers.

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California Wine Fair 2014 – Canadian Tour

The 2014 California Wine Fair is fast approaching!2014-03-06_12-52-23

The California lifestyle embodies all the characteristics of a fine wine – vibrant, spirited and full of excitement. You are invited to drink in the famous, sun-kissed wine country of the Golden State and share the passion for liquid sunshine in a glass.

Raise a glass to California and enjoy a unique opportunity to sample a wide selection of more than 400 premium wines from 150 of California’s top producers.

This is the largest tasting tour of California wines in Canada!

Ottawa: Friday, April 4, 2014 (The Westin Ottawa)

Toronto: Monday, April 7, 2014 (Fairmont Royal York Hotel)

WineAlign Members receive $5.00 off the ticket price for the Toronto and Ottawa Shows – Use Coupon Code: WACALI
(The coupon code can be submitted on the checkout page.)

Click here for other Canadian cities.

Read about John Szabo’s and Sara d’Amato’s top picks from the California-themed March 15th VINTAGES release here.

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Top 10 Reasons to Attend the California Wine Fair

10.  Get Inspired – learning about California wines at the California Wine Fair may just inspire you to visit the Golden State in 2014.  Get help planning your trip at www.discovercaliforniawines.com.

9.  Great Value for Money! – for one fair price you can sample a myriad of wines at varying price points without having to purchase extra tasting tickets.

8.  Amazing Flavour Sensations – along with California’s most beloved varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel), get ready to taste wines made from a huge range of varieties such as Pinot Noir, Viognier, Rhone varieties, Bordeaux varieties, and Sauvignon Blanc.

7.  Appellations Abound! – drill deep into the stylistic differences of wines from a variety of appellations including Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Coast, Oakville, Sta. Rita Hills, Monterey County, Lodi, Carneros and Paso Robles, to name a few.

6.  California Wines are Eco-Friendly – the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) developed the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing in 2002 to promote environmental stewardship and social responsibility in the California wine industry.

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5.  Largest California Wine Tasting in Canada – and it’s all under one roof.  Explore the types of wines you like and experience the many flavours available at this event.

4.  Diversity of Styles – vintners will be coming from all over the Golden State and bringing a huge range of wines with them.  It’s a convenient way to learn the differences between the varieties and styles of wine.  There’s definitely something for everyone.

3.  Exciting New Wineries – explore a number of new wineries never before seen in Canada.  Check out the complete list at www.calwine.ca.

2.  More Participants than Ever – the event is bigger and better than ever before – 165 wineries, 450 wines, and numerous friends from the wineries and vineyards.

1.  Let California Sunshine Brighten your Spring! – after the winter of 2014, we could all use a little California sun this spring.  Come out to the California Wine Fair and experience sunshine in a glass.

To find more information about California wines, please visit http://www.discovercaliforniawines.com.

Purchase Your Tickets Here


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Vintages Preview for March 15th 2014

This week’s report looks at California’s record-breaking export success, and some top wines from the California-themed March 15th VINTAGES release selected by John Szabo MS and Sara d’Amato. Link also to John’s Benvenuto Brunello report on the latest releases – mainly the 2009s and the 2008 riservas – from Brunello di Montalcino, in which he examines the unofficial proposal to subdivide Montalcino into subzones, canvassing several growers for their views, reports on the 2009 vintage, and highlights over 30 top picks. Keen fans of this great Tuscan red won’t want to miss Benvenuto Brunello event in Toronto on March 10th, the first time the Brunello Consortium has come here to present new releases in a decade. Elsewhere, read John’s controversial defense of France as the birthplace of terroir.

California Wine Exports Reach All-time High in 2013

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Ontario, and Canada are very strong markets for Californian wines. We like the Golden State’s offerings well enough to rank as their second largest export market, behind only the 28-member European Union (considered a single market for statistical purposes). In 2013 we drank 454 million dollars worth, up 12% over the previous year. California is also flying high in the rest of the world, breaking all export records in 2013 and hitting 1.55 billion in winery revenues.

So what’s the secret of success? Producing excellent wines is an obvious factor. “Consumers across the globe continue to recognize the quality, diversity and value of California wines, despite significant trade barriers and heavily subsidized foreign competitors,” says Wine Institute President and CEO Robert P. (Bobby) Koch. “Our outstanding 2012 and 2013 California vintages, heralded for quality as well as quantity, were a record high so we have the ability to expand.”

But success is also due to a very organized and efficient marketing arm, with a significant budget at their disposal to spread the love of California. “We have an aggressive global marketing campaign underway that communicates California as an aspirational place with beautiful landscapes, iconic lifestyle, great wine and food, and as an environmental leader,” says Wine Institute Vice President International Marketing Linsey Gallagher.

And I’d anticipate even more California promotion over the coming year, considering that, for example, The Napa Valley Vintners’ 18th annual Premiere Napa Valley made history by bringing in a total of $5.9 million, nearly doubling the previous record of $3.1 million raised in 2012. The money raised goes into the NVVs war chest to promote the region’s wines. “We are overwhelmed by the response we saw today,” said Russ Weis, chair of the NVV Board of Directors and general manager of Silverado Vineyards. “It shows there is a renewed confidence in the fine wine market in general and in Napa Valley wines specifically.” The average wholesale price per bottle sold at the auction was a staggering $283, with bidding fueled by the fact that more than 90 percent of the lots were from the 2012 harvest, one of the most anticipated vintages in recent history.

And it’s indeed at the high-end that California performs best. In my view, great wine under $30 is as rare as rain in the dessert. Most inexpensive wines, it seems, are increasingly simple, fruity and notably off-dry, vying for market share with younger palates. But at the top end, quality, and diversity, have never been matched. The “counter-culture” wine movement driven by commentators like Eric Asimov of the New York Times and Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle, along with a new generation of well-traveled winegrowers, also influenced by young European vintners coming to do crush in California, have diversified the offering dramatically. This is excellent news; finesse and balance grow alongside power and opulence, and there’s quite literally a bottle for everyone.

John’s California Picks

Of the premium wines hitting the shelves on March 15th, and out of the latest releases from Treasury Wine Estates (Etude, Beringer, Stags’ Leap and Château St. Jean), here are the bottles to look for:

Premium chardonnay

Etude Carneros Estate Chardonnay 2011Stags' Leap Winery Chardonnay 2012Premium chardonnay is perhaps the most dramatically evolved category in California. No longer the exclusive domain of big and buttery (though there are still plenty of these), the new Cali chard marries power and finesse, ripe fruit and restrain. The 2011 Etude Carneros Estate Chardonnay Sonoma County ($39.95) is a perfect example, made by the delicate hand of John Priest. It’s harvested at relatively low brix (ripeness) by California standards to retain freshness and verve, and is fermented and aged in all old barrels resulting in a fine, lifted, vibrant wine.

2012 Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay Napa Valley ($34.95) is likewise a lovely wine by Christophe Paubert from the soon-to-be legend 2012 vintage. Paubert’s principal contribution to this wine since arriving in 2009 has been to shift fruit sources further south in Napa to the cooler AVAs, this one being exclusively from Oak Knoll and Carneros, made without malolactic fermentation, and aged in just 25% new wood, with 25% in stainless steel and 50% neutral oak. Give it 2-3 years to reach full drinking enjoyment.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Etude Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Dominus 2010Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Cab remains the mainstay of the premium segment, and the top wines have reached new levels of balance and structure, like setting the clock back to the great examples from the early 1980s, only better. Fans of elegance will already be familiar with the superb wines of Ridge in the Santa Cruz mountains, and the 2010 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains ($52.95) is a beautifully refined example.

But finesse can be done well in the heart of the Napa Valley as well, as is demonstrated by the excellent 2010 Dominus Napa Valley ($151.95) and 2010 Etude Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($100.00). Both of these cabs perfectly straddle the line between balance and power, delivering the supple, ripe, dark fruit one expects from Napa in a alongside tangy-ripe acids and supremely well-managed wood influence. Both should age magnificently, well into the late 2020s and beyond.

For those seeking slightly larger-scale, generously proportioned cabernet, I’d highlight the following trio:

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages 2009Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 20102010 Cade Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain, Napa Valley ($99.95). The Stars Align as this is recommended by both John and Sara. JS – The Cade Cabernet Sauvignon is a highly attractive, elegant but structured wine from the volcanic terroir of Howell Mountain, which should continue to evolve and improve over the next decade. The cooler-than-normal 2010 growing season resulted in a floral and nuanced expression, with ripe but fresh black berry flavours and well-chiseled tannins. SD – What exactly is so special about Howell Mountain? Using the catch phrase “above the fog”, the Mountain is gifted with long growing days of sustained temperatures due to its high elevation. It has very good drainage from rocky soils that tend to be of the nutrient deficient type, composed of volcanic ash or red clay. From this exquisite deprivation are produced these highly revered wines that are both challenging and age worthy. This cooler vintage for Cade has produced a delightfully revealing and feminine wine.

2009 Château St. Jean Cinq Cépages Sonoma County ($74.95) is the 20th release of Cinq Cépages, Château St. Jean’s flagship Bordeaux blend (77% cabernet sauvignon in this vintage). It’s just starting to move into a nice drinking window with its fully ripe, macerated black, blue and red berry fruit, light pot pourri and resinous herb flavours, and a palate that’s both structured and supple, with fine depth and length.

2010 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($149.95) is a dense, compact, dark fruit flavoured wine, dominated fully by blackberry and cassis flavours that should be best after 2016-2018.

Other Reds

Ridge Lytton Springs 2011Etude Pinot Noir Carneros Estate 2011Stags Leap Winery Ne Cede Malis Petite Sirah 2009Fans of the southern Rhône, great Bandol or Priorat, for example, will not want to miss the superb 2009 Stags’ Leap “Ne Cede Malis” Petite Sirah Napa Valley ($85.00). It’s an exceptional field blend originally planted in 1929, led by about 85% petite sirah, with another dozen or so varieties including most of the southern Rhône cultivars and even some white grapes. I love the wild berry fruit, savory and resinous herbs, and scorched earth flavours. You can drink or hold for this a couple of decades without a stretch.

For a classic Carneros expression of pinot pick up the 2011 Etude Pinot Noir Carneros Estate ($59.95), while Ridge’s 2011 Lytton Springs Dry Creek Valley ($48.95) is a zinfandel-led blend crafted in an remarkably elegant style, with very suave, supple tannins, fresh dark wildberry flavours and finely integrated wood spice.

Sara’s California Picks

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

As the highly touted 2012 and 2013 vintages begin to trickle in, California is currently facing its worst drought in decades. Grape yields in this challenging year promise to be low, and older vineyards are likely to fare best as their deep roots are able penetrate pockets of ground water. But despite the current stunted grape growth, there is no stopping the boom of growth in export sales in this heart of the US wine industry that is slated to hit 2 billion dollars by the year 2020.

The wines offered in this VINTAGES feature are a mix of the very refreshing, moderate, and progressive alongside wines that demonstrate classic heavy oak and alcohol. Much of this diversity has to do with the great variation in vintages that California has seen in the past half-decade. For example, pick up a bottle of the 2010s that we have coming in on the shelves and you’ll find evidence of a much cooler and longer growing season as wines are showing greater elegance, more acidity and because of this delicacy, a restrained use of oak to match. This type of vintage allows us a stripped-down appreciation of the sites and grapes.

More classically, 2012 proved an excellent year for many varietals, especially pinot noir. The growing season was long, sunny and saw even-keeled temperatures. Uneventful and consistent often make for the best vintages. Producers were able to pump out an abundance of high quality grapes – a dream year for growers! Speaking of pinot noir, my top picks are as follows (in addition to the Cade cabernet above which saw our palates “align”):

Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2010La Crema Pinot Noir Los Carneros 2012La Crema Pinot Noir Los Carneros 2012 ($44.95). I have largely been a great fan of this pinot noir that has proved consistently complex and an exemplary new world style. With a hefty price tag, it is fitting for both special occasion and mid-term cellaring. Straddling both the Napa and Sonoma appellations, Carneros is home to some of California’s most elegant pinots partly due to the influence of the wind and fog that keep the heat at bay and the acids from diminishing. Creamy, layered with flavour and a serene harmony that will have you foggy-headed.

Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Napa Valley ($54.95). Honest, pure and revealing – nicely reflecting the cooler 2010 vintage. Although well-structured, the wine is showing terrific complexity, unencumbered by an oaky haze. The winery refers to their iconic cabernets as “modern day liquid treasures” – a very evocative and, in this case, apt description. Named after the statuesque Sequoia trees that frame the winery, it is located on the Rutherford Bench known for its mineral rich soils and its low lying area that captures the morning fog, cooling off the vineyard and allowing for a very elegant flavour profile.

That’s all for this week. We’ll be back next week with the ‘best of the rest’ of this release.

From the Mar 15, 2014 Vintages release:

Classic California
All Reviews

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


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Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010


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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for October 12, 2013

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s release sets up a tasting of Burgundy and Barolo, two regions frequently compared for their similar philosophical approach to wine making. I recommend a pair from each with which you can make your own connections. There’s also rash of Californian wines to be stocked on shelves October 12, headlined unsurprisingly by Napa Valley cabernet. While prices are uniformly high, quality is not, and styles vary significantly. I highlight the wines that bring it all together. In the rest of the smart buys, you’ll find some fine fizz, crisp aromatic whites, and serious reds for autumn dining. Read on.

Smart Buys: Serious Reds, Crisp, aromatic whites & Fizz

This week’s smart buys feature a trio of superlative Languedoc-Roussillon reds all for under $20, an arch-classic Coonawarra cabernet celebrating its 53rd vintage, and a sumptuous Priorat from one of Spain’s most iconic names. You’ll also find a pair of very fine, $20 traditional method sparkling wines for your champagne dreams on a crémant budget, and a vibrant pair of aromatic whites, including a remarkable $14 Beamsville Bench Riesling – the best yet from this winery. See them all here.

Burgundy vs. Barolo?

One single grape, a multitude of expressions. Such is the wine making approach that philosophically binds the regions of Burgundy and Barolo. In contrast to regions such as Bordeaux or the southern Rhône Valley, Valpolicella or even Chianti where most often several grapes are enlisted, as some observers would say, to increase complexity, or less romantically, to mitigate the risks of seasonal variation, both Burgundy and Barolo rely on a single variety to articulate their respective terroirs. Furthermore, both have refined the concept of a cru, that is, a discreet parcel of land with unique characteristics and quality potential that differs even from adjacent parcels, to its most triumphal and sophisticated heights. Both regions produce wines from regional blends, from single villages, and from single superior vineyards within a village. And in both regions, producers and vintages make all the difference, and since land is strictly limited, the stakes are high.

As kindred spirits, Burgundy and Barolo both tend to attract the same souls: drinkers looking for wines that are intimately connected to the land, in which vineyard expression sings lead vocals over backup varietal character. In Burgundy, pinot noir is of course the red variety elected over centuries of trials as the maximum vector with which to reflect the nuances of the Côte d’Or, while Barolo calls upon the aristocratic nebbiolo to channel the myriad soil types and slope aspects of the Langa Hills. Yet travel in either region and you’ll notice that grapes are rarely ever mentioned. It’s more about the village, or the cru, where the wines were born.

One region thus leads inevitably to the other, linked as they are by a direct portal in the wine universe. For me, Burgundy came first, but soon after I succumbed to the spirit of Barolo. Indeed, it’s exceedingly rare to come across Burgundy lovers who don’t appreciate Barolo, or vice versa, and, tellingly, you’ll find many bottles of Barolo in the cellars of Burgundian wine producers, and vice versa. The connection is strong. So it’s not Burgundy vs. Barolo, but rather Burgundy AND Barolo.

So, if you love either one of these regions but haven’t already made the connection, tarry no longer.

Giacosa Bussia Barolo 2008Aurelio Settimo Rocche Barolo 2006From the October 12th VINTAGES release, the 2006 Aurelio Settimo Rocche Barolo ($52.95) shouldn’t be missed. It’s a classic old school Barolo from the brilliant Rocche cru in La Morra, in a powerful vintage. Vinified traditionally with long maceration in concrete followed by 2 years in large, old oak casks (2500-3500 liters), it’s garnet coloured, with superbly complex savoury, earthy, tar, pot pourri, dried red berry fruit and dried leaf character. The texture is firm and dusty – evidently not a wine for casual sipping, but rather a concentrated, intense Barolo best enjoyed at the table with savoury protein, or left in the cellar for another 3-5 years. Decant before serving in either case.

From a lighter but very pretty vintage, the 2008 Giacosa Bussia Barolo ($39.95) is another traditionally made wine from the storied Fratelli Giacosa estate (not to be confused with Bruno Giacosa; as in Burgundy, the splitting of families over centuries has resulted in multiple domaines with the same family names). In 1895, Giuseppe Giacosa learned of a prime property in Neive that had come on the market for the princely sum of three thousand lire, well beyond his means. Yet that night he had a dream, and the following morning bought a lottery ticket, playing the numbers that had come to him in his restless sleep. With his winnings he purchased the vineyards that still belong to the family.

Bussia is a large cru in the commune of Monforte d’Alba, generally regarded for its big, sturdy wine. But the cooler conditions of the ’08 vintage and gentle handling have yielded a more modestly structured Bussia, yet still authentic and pure, with typical red berry, licorice and tarry-resinous herbal flavours leading the way. This is ready to enjoy now with decanting thirty minutes or so ahead, or hold short term.

Domaine Albert Morot Beaune Aigrots 1er Cru 2009Aurélien Verdet Morey Saint Denis 2010Over in Burgundy, the 2009 Domaine Albert Morot Beaune Aigrots 1er Cru ($53.95) is my top pick of the release. Les Aigrots is on the mid-to upper slope at the southern end of Beaune’s Premier Cru vineyards, adjacent to the more famous Clos des Mouches cru towards Pommard. This is a fine example of the generous 2009 vintage, fully ripe and fleshy without slipping into the overripe/exaggerated spectrum. Tannins are silky but firm, acids balanced, and flavours firmly in the ripe red berry range. This is genuine and complex red Burgundy, best after 2015.

In general I prefer the firmer, tighter, more classic 2010 Burgundies, and the 2010 Aurélien Verdet Morey-Saint-Denis ($44.95) is a solid example. It’s a firm and grippy Morey-Saint-Denis, built on a svelte, lean frame, with brisk acids, modest concentration and extract, and light but dusty tannins. This too, will be best after 2015, though there’s no need to hold it long term.

Premium California

By press time, I’ll have just spent six days touring in the Golden State’s wine country, attending the first ever “California Wine Summit”, put on by the California Wine Institute. I’ll be issuing a special report on my discoveries towards the end of October with a focus on the future direction of Californian wine, and will be posting all of my tasting notes on WineAlign.

In the meantime, California wine sales continue to crack glass ceilings across Canada. The US leads all other imports in VINTAGES sales in Ontario, propelled by California, and especially by Napa and Sonoma. So it’s not at all surprising to see yet another sizable list of ultra-premium labels hitting the shelves on October 12th, in time for holiday excess.

As I see it, California is at a major crossroads. The prevailing mood within the wine trade (sommeliers, journalists) is that a change of philosophy is needed. At the risk of over-simplifying the situation, many producers appear content to continue along the road taken over the past fifteen or so years, banking upon the bigger-is-better model of winemaking – alcohol, ripeness, wood: the more the merrier. Any nuance of “green flavour” is morbidly feared, as though its presence were a health hazard. But the tide of preference for these wines is retreating out to sea. How long they will remain commercially popular is the question.

To be sure, the pendulum has already started to swing back from the extremes, but there are still extremists out there. Few producers resisted the commercial pressure to play the same game during this period, though they exist (see Corison below). And now, a new generation of winemakers, once marginalized as counter-culture radicals, are becoming ever more mainstream figures, and taking Californian wines in new directions.

These individuals (check out radicals like Abe Schoener of the Scholium Project, Arnot-Roberts, Brock Cellars, Donkey and Goat, for example) are eloquently demonstrating that complexity and depth needn’t come at the expense of balance and genuine freshness, even under the California sun, and they are enriching the diversity of the wine scene.

For regular WineAlign readers, my preference is clear: overripe grapes stuffed with oak don’t result in better quality. Such wines blur any regional, vineyard or varietal character in the pursuit of a stylized commercial product, and one that’s not very pleasurable to drink at that in my view. But perhaps that’s also the point. As I’ve said many times, wine is profoundly undemocratic. Without the right patch of land, even the most skilled winegrowers are handicapped from the start. So with second-rate terroir, squishing raisins into new wood may be your only option for impact if you want to break into the high stakes commercial game.

I’d like to recognize a couple of the new releases of cabernet that convey a deeper and more complex meaning of Napa. While I’d still have a hard time convincing anyone, including myself, that these are good values, they are nonetheless excellent wines in their own right.

Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2005Cathy Corison is now into her 27th vintage in the heart of the Napa Valley, farming benchland vineyards between Rutherford and St. Helena to organic standards. Her wines rarely surpass 14% alcohol, and her stated philosophy is to “make complex wines that walk the fine line between power and elegance”. I’ve tasted at least a half dozen vintages of Corison cabernet and they are always impeccably balanced and fresh, notably free of excessive pomp, elegant in an understated way. The 2005 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon ($113.95) is on offer this week, from a cool, late vintage. It’s a lovely and classic representation of the grape and region, complete with noted herbal character, lively fresh black berry fruit just starting to offer some evolved, tertiary complexity, and beautifully poised and balanced acid-tannin structure. Alcohol is a refreshing 13.6%, and the length is terrific, finishing on classy licorice and savoury black fruit notes. Enjoy now or hold another 10-15 years without a stretch – the way fine Napa cab, and wine in general, should be.

Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon 2007Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Another wine of superior depth and class, and an indelible sense of place, is the 2010 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon ($137.95). Although labeled simply as Napa Valley, this is an estate wine from vineyards planted at over 600 meters in the Spring Mountain AVA, at the northern end of the valley on the steep terraces of the Mayacamas Mountains that separate Napa from Sonoma, on a low-yielding mix of volcanic and sedimentary soils. Expect plenty of scorched earth and dried herbs, roasted red peppers and sulphurous, volcanic-like minerality on the nose among many other things. The palate is firm and juicy, structured and succulent, with superior depth and genuine complexity. This is very fine wine, expressive of place. Lovely now, but better after 2015 no doubt.

Also worth noting in this release is the 2007 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon ($83.95), a classy, high-toned, floral, elegant example of Napa cabernet, as I’ve come to expect from Heitz, with polished tannins, well-integrated oak, and long, perfumed, dusty finish. And for those wishing to spend a smaller fortune, check out the 2010 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon ($39.95), a generous, ripe, rounded style that sits about mid-way on the continuum from understated to exaggerated, and should please widely as such.

Closer to home, my WineAlign colleague David Lawrason is hosting an event with Flat Rock Cellars‘ engaging proprietor Ed Madronich and winemaker Jay Johnston. Our winemaker events have be selling out quickly, so you might want to check this out.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

Editors Note: You can find John Szabo’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names or bottle images highlighted above or by jumping to the lists with the links below. 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!

From the October 12, 2013 Vintages release:

Top Smart Buys
Burgundy & Barolo
Premium California
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Penfold's Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon


Taste Ontario - Ottawa & Toronto dates

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18 Defining California Wineries; Critic Picks

A Playbook for the California Wine Fairs coming to Canada in April

California Wine Fairs will roll through six cities across Canada in April, with over 150 participating wineries at the largest events. WineAlign has decided to profile eighteen wineries that fair-goers should visit this year – an arbitrary number on the one hand, but a somewhat realistic number for any fair-goer to tackle in one evening. And undoubtedly others will grab your attention along the way, as they should.

WineAlign critics Anthony Gismondi, John Szabo and David Lawrason have each chosen six. They had a chance to taste California in-depth during the recent five-day Vancouver International Wine Festival where California was the theme region (so there is no Vancouver fair in April). That exercise – which included several seminars and regional tastings – yielded new discoveries and rekindled some old relationships.

The reasons for their selection are varied – from appreciation of the wine style, to the philosophy and outlook of the wineries, to those who are simply doing things very well. Each has also highlighted a wine or three that can be located through WineAlign. And most will also be poured at the California wine fairs. For a full list of wineries in each city, as well as ticket information use this link to the California Wine Fair 2013 website.

Anthony Gismondi’s Six

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

Kendall Jackson, Sonoma County

Sommeliers are often a fine source of information regarding unknown obscure producers making fascinating, one-off wines but sometimes they brush off wineries they shouldn’t. Point in question Kendall Jackson. KJ as it’s known to its peeps is a vastly underrated producer of California wine that is often lumped in with large commercial producers who simply are not in the same ballpark. While some wine companies were busy acquiring other wine companies over the last two decades, KJ was busy buying land, as in 10,545 acres of coastal and mountainside vineyards. That allows the family to claim that all the chardonnay grapes used in a bevy of labels are grown on vineyards the family controls. That’s an amazing 2.4 million cases of control from vineyard to bottle. The current structure of Kendall-Jackson’s chardonnay empire (don’t bet against more evolution) begins with the calling card of Vintner’s Reserve 2010 made from individual lots of grapes blended from multiple appellations. Stepping up in intensity and complexity of flavour is the Grand Reserve label. It’s made from a severe selection estate grown grapes blended from one or two appellations, in this case Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties. Its pinnacle chardonnays are labelled Kendall-Jackson Highland Estates, wines that showcases specific estate vineyard sites located on “mountains, ridges, hillsides and benchland influenced by the cool coast of California.” Two examples well worth seeking out are the Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Grand Reserve 2010 and the newest food friendly Kendall-Jackson Avant Chardonnay 2011 (The former is an almost even split of Monterey and Santa Barbara fruit while the Avant is a slimmer juicier style that has impressed us with its early releases, the 2011 is t quite up to those releases but all in all good value.

Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay

Joseph Phelps Vineyards (Freestone), Napa Valley, Sonoma Coast

Joseph Phelps Vineyards, founded in 1973 has been around most of my wine drinking life. Founded by Joe Phelps at St. Helena in the Napa Valley, the winery now works with or owns some 375 acres of vines on eight estates in Napa Valley and in 1999 expanded that number with some ultra-cool chardonnay and pinot noir producing vines grown near the town of Freestone on the Sonoma Coast. There is no doubt the fame of Phelps is closely linked to its signature Napa Valley blend, Insignia, but there is little to suggest its Freestone estate on the western Sonoma Coast won’t become equally valued in the decades to come. The family is so pleased with the early wines it has already reworked the original Freestone winery labels adding the Joseph Phelps brand name and highlighting Freestone Vineyards as an estate designation. Joe Phelps was always a fan of the cooler weather that moderates the Sonoma Coast and he was sure that top –flight pinot noir and chardonnay could be made there. He was right. I just love the Freestone wines the electricity in the Joseph Phelps Chardonnay Freestone Vineyards 2010 is crazy good and a benchmark for the future. Similarly the red brother Joseph Phelps Pinot Noir Freestone Vineyards 2010 entices with its sleeker cooler leaner style.

Joseph Phelps Pinot Noir Freestone Vineyards

Rodney Strong Vineyards, Sonoma County

Rodney Strong, the dancer turned winemaker is long gone but his spirit and foresight remains evident at his eponymous Sonoma County winery located just outside the picturesque town of Healdsburg. What Strong started, San Francisco businessman Tom Klein seems determined to finish or at least bring to fruition. Klein has built an impressive team of people led by chief winemaker Rick Sayre. Sayre’s first harvest was 1979 and over 30 years later Rodney Strong has become a beacon of the Alexander Valley, a region often said to be too warm to produce high quality reds. Sayre’s team has dismissed that fallacy and more with a trio of excellent hillside, single vineyard reds. The iconic and now revamped Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon, the Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon and the Brothers Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon each tell a story of terroir and exposition that would make Rodney the dancer fly through the air.

Sayre is also responsible for establishing the “Winery within the Winery’ at Rodney Strong. The blocks, be they single clones, or grapes grown on a special soil type, are tracked from the minute they enter the winery until they are bottled. Sayre’s sidekick is the youthful Greg Morthole who began working at Rodney Strong in 2005, and has quickly progressed to become the “Winery within a Winery” winemaker and is now responsible for another Klein family acquisition, the boutique Russian River pinot noir and chardonnay winery Davis Bynum. If anyone winery in Sonoma has helped to turn around the image of modern California chardonnay among the masses Rodney Strong is it. There are two labels to look for: the Rodney Strong Chardonnay Chalk Hill 2010 from white ash soils of the Chalk Hills appellation, and slightly rustic but intense and ageworthy the Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon 2010.

Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay

Signorello Estate, Napa Valley

Ray Signorello Jr. appears much younger than his years but don’t be fooled by the boyish grin. Signorello has more than 25 Napa Valley vintages to his credit and that makes him more establishment than newcomer in his beloved Napa. Signorello is a student of fine wine, young and old. His experience and observation with great wines from around the globe have shaped his thinking and the steady rise of quality at Signorello Vineyards. Cabernet sauvignon is the largest single grape variety planted on the Signorello hillsides. Signorello cabernet is all about finesse and balance no easy task in a region that wrestles with ripe fruit. His goal is to make complex reds that age gracefully a la the great bottles of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo and more.

Signorello has a pair of talented Frenchmen helping him make the wine Pierre Birebent and Luc Morlet and while he says he is not making French wine, quality has its benchmarks and Bordeaux is never far from their minds. I’m a fan of understated Napa cabernet and Signorello makes just that. Padrone is a salute to his father and founding partner is fast becoming wine to reckon with in all of Napa Valley. Signorello Padrone 2009 is all Napa Valley with concentration and intensity but with finesse and restraint youthful tannins on the finish need 3-5 years to soften. Signorello Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 is a surprisingly fine wine given the difficult vintage in Napa. With only cabernet franc in the mix now the regular cab is just beginning to hit its stride.

Signorello Padrone Proprietary Red

Schug Carneros Estate, Sonoma County

Walter Schug began his winemaking career as the original winemaker at Joseph Phelps Vineyards in 1973 – think Insignia, Backus and Eisele Vineyards cabernets. His move to Carneros in 1980 signalled a longing for a cooler maritime climate and a focus his true love pinot noir and chardonnay. By 1992 he was making estate chardonnay and pinot noir and the rest is history. In 1995 Sonoma-born winemaker Michael Cox joined Walter and a year later took over the reins. Walter Schug has a clear vision of what his wines should be and it begins with elegance and finesse. Always understated and refined the Schug chardonnay was modern long before the rest of Sonoma caught on. It’s easy to say Schug is European old school until you consider he was working with some 600 independent growers and several thousand acres of prime vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties in 1966. His journey continues with his 50th crush this season and I for one can’t wait to taste his latest chardonnays and pinot noirs because they represent some of the best value, intriguing, food friendly wines in America. Schug Sauvignon Blanc 2011 is exceptional, proving that Walter Schug understands the essence of Sonoma County freshness, minerality and electricity and he has all three running through this bottle. The Schug Pinot Noir Carneros 2010 is a mix of cool Sonoma Coast vineyards: rhubarb, raspberry, carrot top and caraway mark this juicy style pinot with excellent fruit and finesse.

Schug Sauvignon Blanc

Marimar Estate, Sonoma County

You only have to meet Marimar Torres once to understand she has never taken no for an answer when it comes to wine. Fluent in six languages she made her way from Spain to America after first selling the family wines in Europe and then North America. She settled in California in 1975 and by 1986 she was planning her beloved Don Miguel Vineyard situated in the Green Valley sub-appellation of the Russian River Valley. Today the 81 acre site is planted to 30 acres of chardonnay and 30 acres of pinot noir. She also has another 20 acres of a 180-acre property planted to pinot noir between Freestone and Occidental in cool West Sonoma County. Torres is busy converting her vineyards from organic to biodynamic while technical director Bill Dyer, (Sterling Vineyards, Burrowing Owl, Church and State) is cranking out exceptional chardonnay and pinot noir. The wines are not European but like Schug, Phelps, Kendall Jackson, Rodney Strong and Signorello the wines of Miramar Torres use the California sun in measured amounts and balance that with a daily dose of cool air and fog. The result is wines you will not want to miss. Marimar Estate Pinot Noir Don Miguel Vineyard La Masia 2009 is a very complex wine from the Russian River. It could use a few years in bottle and it’s excellent value. Even more attractive is the Marimar Estate Chardonnay Don Miguel Vineyard Acero Unoaked 2010 also from the Russian River. Expect honey, floral, spicy, baked peach and orange muscat flavours that should appeal to many especially when served with Asian seafood dishes.

Marimar Estate La Masía Pinot Noir

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo’s Six

Bonny Doon Vineyard, Santa Cruz

Randall Grahm may have started out on his wine journey as an “insufferable wine fanatic” (his words) searching for the “Great American Pinot Noir”, but his path led him instead into a thicket of Rhône and Italian grapes. He purchased land in the quaintly named Bonny Doon area of the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1981, and has since gone on to create nothing short of an amazing array of wines that stretch both the palate and the mind. He is almost single-handedly responsible for the “Rhône Rangers” movement, proving that Mediterranean grapes are shockingly well suited to California, and he was recently awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Rhone Rangers organization. His philosophical musings are legendary in the wine community, and 350,000+ followers surely makes him the Ashton Kutcher of the wine twitterverse (sorry, Randall). Don’t forget to read the labels when you stop by the table to taste. The following will be at the California Wine Fair: 2010 Le Cigare Blanc Roussanne/Grenache Blanc Beeswax Vinyard; 2010 Contra Carignane/Syrah; 2009 Le Pousseur Syrah; and the 2008 Le Cigare Volant Grenache/Mourvedre/Syrah/Cinsault. (Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant 2006)

Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant

Bonterra Organic Vineyards, Mendocino County

The original vineyards now belonging to Bonterra were once part of Fetzer’s holdings in Mendocino County. Bob Blue, the founding and current head winemaker, crushed his first harvest at Bonterra in 1990. Blue had worked under seminal American organic/biodynamic winemaking figures Paul Dolan and Dennis Martin at Fetzer, and has never looked back. It’s striking that fully one-quarter of Mendocino County’s vineyards are organically farmed, compared to 3% overall in California. Bonterra now farms an astonishing 915 acres of vines both organically and biodynamically. I’ve always appreciated the freshness and balance of Bonterra’s range, as well as the value. (Bonterra Pinot Noir 2010).

Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Dierberg and Star Lane Vineyards, Santa Barbara County

I visited Dierberg and Star Lane Vineyards, owned by Jim and Mary Dierberg, in the fall of 2011. The winery is tucked up in the upper hills of Santa Barbara County in what’s known today as the Happy Canyon AVA, where conditions are ideal for Bordeaux varieties. The winery itself is a remarkable structure that would be the envy of many Napa Valley wine temples, and the wines, too, are worth the detour inland. Both the Star Lane and Dierberg labels are made at this facility, equipped with every gadget a winemaker could dream of, but Star Lane is reserved for sauvignon blanc, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, and a red blend called Astral, all grown in Happy Canyon, while Dierberg focuses on a range of chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah in the cooler AVAs of Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley and the Sta. Rita Hills. These are intense and highly polished wines. (Dierberg Chardonnay 2008)

Dierberg Chardonnay 2008

Flowers Vineyard & Winery, Sonoma County

In 1989, Joan and Walt Flower purchased 321 acres of land on a ridge top a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean in northern Sonoma. Flowers Vineyards is thus one of the ‘true’ Sonoma Coast AVA properties, and with vineyards that top out at almost 600 meters, winegrowing is extreme. The focus is (almost) exclusively on chardonnay and pinot noir, from both the Camp Meeting ridge and Seaview Ridge estate vineyards, as well as other select sites from the coolest corners of Sonoma. These are finely etched, pure and precise expressions, with more than a slight nod back to the old world. (Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2010)

Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2010

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley

Miljenko “Mike” Grgich has some history in the business. He was the winemaker of the 1973 Château Montelena chardonnay that shocked the wine world by placing first in the famous “Judgment of Paris” tasting in 1976. Grgich Hills was established shortly after in 1977, and Mike was inducted in the Vintner’s Hall of Fame in 2008. For the last decade, all of Grgich Hills’ wines are made from 100% estate fruit, farmed organically and biodynamically. The complexity derived from wild yeast fermentations and the purity encouraged by gentle oak ageing are the hallmarks of these balanced and elegant Napa wines. Stop by and pass on your best wishes to Mike, who turns 90 on April 1st. (Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2009 and Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008).

Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2009

Stags’ Leap Winery, Napa Valley

Stags’ Leap Winery (not to be confused with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars), is, unsurprisingly, in the Stag’s Leap district AVA. There’s something special about this appellation: it could be the volcanic-derived soils; it could be the cool air that funnels through in late afternoon from San Pablo Bay. In any case, the wines are distinctive, and this is a reliable producer. The wines have always been very good, but since Frenchmen Christophe Paubert took over as winemaker in late 2009, the quality has risen further. You can still expect the richness and intensity of fruit for which Napa is known, but the wines have a degree of refinement and elegance that makes these more subtle, complex and drinkable than the average. (Stags’ Leap Winery Viognier 2011Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2008Stags’ Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2008).

Stags' Leap Winery Viognier 2011

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason’s Six

Etude Wines, Sonoma County

“The state of pinot in California is strong; it’s on fire as a matter of fact. The availability of quality-based Dijon clones and matching them to micro-climates and terroirs is making all the difference. The growing range is also expanding, and it’s become so popular. It’s becoming a better wine overall”. So said Etude winemaker Jon Priest at a pinot noir seminar in Vancouver. Priest is very much at the forefront of California’s pinot revolution. With owner Tony Soter and viticulturalist Franci Ashton, he oversees a small, unique volcanic soiled vineyard in the northwest corner of the Carneros appellation. Over 20 pinot clones, including ten that he describes as ‘heirloom’ clones are planted. The pinots are big and profound yet nuanced and sensitive, and in my books, modern treasures – I have rated the 2010 Heirloom not yet available in Canada at 94 points. Etude also makes Napa cabernet, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Merlot. (Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros)

Etude Pinot Noir

Seghesio Family Vineyards, Sonoma County

Peter Seghesio is the outspoken, almost irascible winemaker of Seghesio, a family enterprise with roots in Sonoma dating back to 1895. He is also in charge of over 300 acres of vineyard in Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley – most of it zinfandel, most of it old vines. In Vancouver he compared zin to pinot noir saying “both are thin skinned, expressive of their site, have red fruit flavours, and they are high maintenance”. It was so refreshing to hear someone speak with reverence and almost fond annoyance about zin – whereas so many nowadays make cheap zin as a candy bar wine and talk about its worth in SKUs. What’s more Seghesio makes zinfandels that try so hard to transpose this grape into the glass, while sculpting them to a balanced modern style. In Vancouver I swooned over the small production single vineyard zins like the burly, granitic 2010 Rockpile grown above the fog-line in the Alexander Valley appellation, and the elegant rich and seductive 2010 Cortina Vineyard from the Dry Creek Valley. (Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel 2010Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel 2009)

Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel 2010

Heitz Cellars, Napa Valley

I have always been a big fan of Heitz, just like everyone else who cares about fine wine. Joe Heitz was a true Napa pioneer, starting into the business when Napa had only eleven wineries. He made his first vintage in 1966, from grapes purchased – to this day – from the 35 acre Oakville vineyard of Tom and Martha May. It was a later ripening site, and Joe noticed the distinctive style and quality of the cabernet that was to become Napa’s first vineyard designated wine – Martha’s Vineyard. (I tasted the silken 2001 Martha’s in Vancouver and it had barely begun its life’s journey). If they are not pouring Martha’s Vineyard freely at the Wine Fairs cut them some slack, as it’s a $215+ wine. But you should look for their Trailside and Fay Vineyard wines as well. And don’t miss the surprisingly stylish, complex and deep 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, a variety they only began to producer in 2006. I loved this sauvignon, and it put Heitz back on my radar. No currently available Heitz wines are reviewed on WineAlign, a situation we hope changes as a result of Heitz’s return to Canada through the Wine Fairs. (Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard 2001)

Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon Martha's Vineyard

Chateau St. Jean, Sonoma County

The intriguing thing about Chateau St. Jean is its historic attachment to chardonnay. Yes, I like its pinot noirs, and I understand what makes its red Bordeaux blend called Cinq Cepages a collectors favourite, even though it has never thrilled me. But this is a house – actually a very elegant chateau in Sonoma Valley – that chardonnay built. It made its reputation on single vineyard chardonnays from growers like Robert Young as far back as the early 1970s. Today they still make three vineyard designate wines – Robert Young, Belle Terre and Durell Vineyards. What I admire throughout the range, even in the widely available Sonoma County Chardonnay – that proved a challenge in Episode 3.2 of WineAlign’s blind tasting video called “So, You Think you Know Wine” is the wonderfully balanced, rich yet delicate winemaking of Margo Van Staaveren, who has made Chateau St. Jean wines for over 30 years. To me they define Sonoma chardonnay. (Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay 2011)

Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay

Justin Vineyards, Paso Robles

It has taken me a long time to “get” Justin. I found the wines odd, somehow idiosyncratic and over-marketed and over-hyped. But I have been captivated by recent releases, including the flagship 2009 Isoceles, and the “regular” 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2010 Syrah. Justin was founded in 1981 by an international banker named Justin Baldwin who at the time wanted to replicate Bordeaux in California (he was not alone in this mindset). Whether through shrewdness or dumb luck I think he may have actually ended up planting his Bordeaux varieties in an ideal site at higher, cooler elevation on the western flank of the Paso Robles appellation. Elsewhere in Paso Robles syrah and Rhone varieties are important, but syrah is only a minor part of his portfolio. Iscoceles is a “left-bank” Bordeaux inspired blend based heavily on cabernet sauvignon and it impressed me with richness, uniqueness and poise. And I almost hate to say this, but at $80 it is a very good value compared to some iconic, triple digit Napa cabs.

Justin Vineyards Isosceles

Robert Mondavi Winery, Napa Valley

A year ago I would not have included Robert Mondavi on a list like this. It’s a winery I know well and have visited and tasted often from 1978 onward, with an especially memorable pinot tasting with Tim Mondavi in 1984, then some of Napa’s first “sub-appellation tastings with Michael Mondavi during the 90s. When the ambitious, adventurous and much beloved Robert Mondavi sold to Constellation brands a few years ago, I too let go, and frankly thought the wines floundered thereafter. But after re-visiting in January 2011, then tasting Mondavi again in Vancouver in some depth, I realized I really liked at least five of the company’s wines. The flagship 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is outstanding, and so is the stunning 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve. And the Fume Blanc Reserve remains one of California’s great white wines. Then, when I gave excellent ratings to the basic 2010 Chardonnay and 2010 Pinot Noir, I realized that Mondavi, and the work of winemaker Genevieve Janssens, was actually very much worth noting.

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon


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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008