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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for July 20th 2013

Cool Chardonnay and Top Smart Buys

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report celebrates cool climate chardonnay, in time to coincide with the 3rd annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4c) that runs from July 19 - 21 at various venues throughout the Niagara Peninsula. See all the details on our Rebirth of Cool blog.

Cool chardonnay is also the theme of the July 20 VINTAGES release, and I’ve picked out a half-dozen premium bottles to highlight. There are also several more Smart Buys for you to choose from.

400,000 Acres Can’t be Wrong!

As one of i4c’s clever tag lines puts it, “400,000 acres can’t be wrong”. Chardonnay is the most planted fine wine grape on earth, and there’s a simple reason for that: the variety makes quality wine. Although I’m a champion of the indigenous and often obscure, chardonnay has spread around the world (occasionally at the expense of local varieties) for its reliability and consistency, not to mention adaptability to many different climates and soils, and supreme quality in the right places. From the grower’s perspective, chardonnay provides about as reliable a crop as any, and it’s far less fickle than pinot noir, alongside which it is often grown. It’s also well-known and easy to sell. It’s as close to money in the bank as it gets in the wine business.

Courtesy of Flowers Vineyard & Winery, Sonoma Coast

Flowers Vineyard & Winery, Sonoma Coast

And for wine lovers, chardonnay is rarely undrinkable. It’s occasionally rather neutral and dull, or overworked, but almost never an outright failure. For those enthused by terroir, chardonnay is like an x-ray machine, able to penetrate all but the thickest layers of oak to reveal the outlines of its dirt and climate of origin. As Prince Edward County winegrower and chardonnay specialist Norman Hardie puts it, “When grown with love and fermented with care, Chardonnay is one of the few varietals that truly showcases the terroir it is grown on.”

But despite wide adaptability, most serious wine drinkers, this one included, prefer the results when chardonnay is ripened slowly and evenly in a cool place. And cool can come from any one or more of several factors: higher latitudes, (like Ontario or Champagne or Central Otago in New Zealand), high elevation (like the Adelaide Hills in Australia or parts of Mendoza), or coastal/maritime influence (as in the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, or the Mornington Peninsula, to name but a few). So fortunately, the options to grow cool chardonnay around the world are as abundant as road construction sites in a Toronto summer, only with more efficient results. That’s reason to celebrate.

Chardonnay Boot Camp, Photo by Steven Elphick & Associates

WineAlign Cool Chardonnay Boot Camp

Hence the creation of the i4c, to celebrate chardonnay from the world’s coolest places. Shortly after last year’s event I wrote: “So when it all comes together, cool climate, great dirt and savvy hands, the results are sensational. And there’s no world monopoly – dozens of regions, Ontario included, are making fine chardonnay in the key of cool. If you missed this year’s i4c, be sure to sign up next year (scheduled for July 19-21, 2013). Because if you think you know chardonnay, it’s time to drink again.”

Well, it’s time to sign up. This year’s keynote speaker is Steven Spurrier, a prominent British figure in the international wine trade for almost 50 years, and I look forward to hearing his insights on both Canada’s place in the wine world, and on chardonnay in general. Sixty-two wineries from Canada and abroad will be pouring 120 chardonnays over the weekend throughout a series seminars, tastings, lunches, as well as the feature event, the Cool Chardonnay World Tour and Dinner on Saturday evening. Just prior to the World Tour, David Lawrason and I will be leading a not-too-be-missed WineAlign-exclusive Cool Chardonnay Boot Camp (at David’s insistence to be renamed the “Chardonnay Sandal Camp”, since we’ll be sitting outdoors under a massive old tree at the Vineland Research Institute – a gorgeous setting). So we hope to see you there on Saturday at 4pm. (Click here for details and our promo code.)

In the meantime, I’ve picked out a half-dozen cool chardonnays from the premium end of the spectrum.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2011Billaud Simon Vaillons Chablis 1er Cru 20092011 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay, South Africa ($32.95). Anthony Hamilton Russell focuses exclusively on pinot noir and chardonnay on his cool, maritime-influenced 52 hectares of stony, clay-rich, shale vineyards in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley at the southern tip of Africa. This superb 2011 chardonnay is crafted in a very old world style with bright acids, integrated oak and no small measure of earthy-mineral character, with a real sense of palate presence and genuine depth.

2009 Billaud-Simon Vaillons Chablis 1er Cru, France ($35.95). I visited this domaine a little over a decade ago and was impressed then by the purity and precision of these highly traditional Chablis. I’m happy to report that not much has changed since, other than the vines have grown older. The ’09 Vaillons, from a south-southeast facing cru on the left bank of the Serein River facing the grand crus has excellent depth and concentration, and quite full and plush texture in line with the warm vintage, though underpinned by significant acidity and leesy-minerality. I’d say this is near peak – ’09 is not the vintage to lay down in most cases, but this is premium Chablis to be sure.

Château Genot Boulanger Clos Du Cromin MeursaultBachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 20102010 Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay ($44.95). Bachelder’s Wismer Vineyard chardonnay delivers better freshness than many 2010 Niagara chardonnays in addition to great complexity, offering a broad range of flavours covering the cedar, baking spice, green walnut, candied citrus and fresh brioche (yeasty-lees character) spectrum. But it’s every bit as much about the texture: fullish, rich and creamy, with balanced acid-alcohol and excellent length. Drink this now, or hold 3-5 years.

2010 Château Genot-Boulanger Clos Du Cromin Meursault ($49.95). Here’s a fine example of Meursault, mixing the expected earthy mineral notes of the region with dusty wood character and plaster dust, incense and other wood-derived flavours. Acids are sharp, almost but not fully balanced by fleshy fruit, though this should knit together nicely over the next 2-3 years.

Brewer-Clifton Santa Rita Hills ChardonnayFramingham Chardonnay 20092010 Brewer-Clifton Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay, California ($45.98). This is a style of chardonnay I appreciate: balanced, tight, mineral driven, with notable lees influence in a quasi-reductive style, crisp acids, and very good to excellent length. Wood is very moderate (just 30% new oak), while green apple and citrus-pear flavours dominate. A classy wine from one of Santa Barbara’s top outfits. (Available in Ontario through Barrel Select)

Framingham Chardonnay 2009, Marlborough, South Island, Marlborough, New Zealand 91 $19.95. This is an edgy style, yet another example of very fine Kiwi chardonnay, perhaps the most under rated, successful variety for the country, reflected in the very reasonable price. It has some funky-leesy notes that add significant complexity to an already rich and concentrated palate, with very good to excellent length, not to mention structure and complexity. (Mar 30 Release)

Top Smart Buys

This week’s smart buys includes five fantastic whites ranging from $20.95 for the finest Auxerrois you’ll likely ever taste, to a tidy little South African Chenin Blanc for an enticing $12.95, passing through a pair of superior Kiwi sauv blancs and a re-release of a dynamite Spanish Godello priced in VINTAGES sweet spot at $15.95. Red drinkers will regale with a pair of substantial wines from the Douro Valley and its steep slate slopes, one each for the traditionalists and the modernists. Click through the links below to see all of the details.

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


John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

We invite our Premium Subscription members to use these links to find all of John Szabo’s reviews. Paid membership to WineAlign has its privileges – this is one of them. Enjoy!

From the July 20, 2013 Vintages release:

Top Smart Buy and Cool Chards
All Reviews

Photo credits: Flowers Vineyard & Winery; Steven Elphick & Associates


Stags' Leap Winery Viognier 2012

Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake

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I4C and our Exclusive WineAlign Chardonnay Boot Camp

Tour the world with one glass …

Cool ChardonnayThe International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (I4C) is three days spent exploring seductive shades of the most planted grape on earth. Join 60 of the world’s “coolest” winemakers as they present 120 Chardonnays from ten countries alongside the exceptional cuisine that pairs with it so well. With intimate vineyard luncheons, culinary showcases and the Cool Chardonnay World Tour, you can custom-blend your own unforgettable chardonnay weekend. Decanter Magazine’s Steven Spurrier joins Food Network Chef Vikram Vij as the Guest Hosts of the 2013 event which runs from July 19-21. Click here for a complete schedule of the week-end’s events.

Signature Event - Saturday, July 20

The Cool Chardonnay World Tour – the signature event of the i4c – is the only event of the weekend where every wine will be presented in one area. The Tasting and Dinner package begins with a 2-hour walk-around tasting in the scenic rhododendron gardens, where premium chardonnays from Domaine Drouhin, Maison Louis Jadot, Kistler, Flowers Vineyard and thirty other international producers join exciting Ontario vintages including Bachelder, Pearl Morissette and Hidden Bench Vineyard. Click here for a full list of producers and wines.

Following the tasting, guests will enjoy a reception featuring the world-renowned Champagne house, Taittinger, who will present three of their top Champagnes alongside other Champagne & Sparkling producers from France and Ontario. And for the perfect pairing, a 40-foot custom-built oyster bar will feature oyster varieties from both Canadian coasts.

The al fresco dinner – led by Food Network Chef Vikram Vij and the chefs of the Canadian Food & Wine Institute – will feature a global menu crafted from Ontario’s premium farm-grown bounty.

Chardonnay Boot Camp – Exclusive for WineAlign Members

Last year's WineAlign Chardonnay Boot Camp

The idyllic setting for our Chardonnay Boot Camp

Kick off your Cool Chardonnay World Tour with the return of WineAlign’s popular “Chardonnay Boot Camp” session with David Lawrason and John Szabo.  John and David will lead a structured tasting of Chardonnays from six different regions – wines presented exclusively at this session. Learn about what makes each of these wines (and regions) exemplars of the 5 aspects of “cool” – latitude, altitude, marine influence, microclimate, and winemaking style.

WineAlign Chardonnay Boot CampThe “Chardonnay Boot Camp” begins at 4:00pm, with the “Cool Chardonnay World Tour” commencing at 5:30pm, followed by the reception and dinner as listed above.

All events are at the beautiful grounds of the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Vineland, Ontario.

Tickets are $150 (+HST). To purchase tickets, visit and select the Cool Chardonnay World Tour – Tasting & Dinner.

Be sure to enter the Promo code WINEALIGN to be registered for this Exclusive preview event.

Cool Chardonnay Boot Camp

Filed under: Events, News, Wine, , , ,

John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for November 24th 2012

A Pre-Preview; Winter Whites and a Trio of Chardonnays

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

November 24th is a massive release of fine wine, spirits and gifts for the holidays. So big is the release, that the LCBO had to spread the trade tastings over several sessions with the final one scheduled for November 20th.

Rather than have you wait until next week, here’s a little Pre-Preview highlighting the Vintages white wines which have already been tasted. (I will post a follow-up piece on Nov 23rd.)

Take a look at this trio of top chardonnays, including two from Ontario.

Le Clos Jordanne 2009 Le Grand Clos Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench

The 2009 Grand Clos is evolving beautifully, still holding on to youthful citrus and lemon custard notes while the wheat, wet hay, honey and wet limestone notes are beginning to take the lead. The palate is mid-weight, balanced on a pin-point between crunchy acidity, moderate alcohol and significant flavour depth. Excellent length. Very classy to be sure.

Philippe Colin 2008 Chassagne-Montrachet Les Chaumées 1er Cru, Burgundy, France

Here’s a classy, textbook white Burgundy of a very high level, with tremendous complexity and depth. The intense minerality is more reminiscent of Puligny than Chassagne, pronounced and intense, as opposed to the often rounder fruitier style of typical Chassagne, but I’m hardly complaining. Terrific length; top notch and enjoyable now, but this has the structure and acidity to carry forth to the end of the decade and beyond.

Malivoire 2009 Moira Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Beamsville Bench

Here’s an elegant, refined, minerally example, with a terrifically broad palate and notable chalky mineral taste and texture. Wood is well integrated and forms a subtle backdrop to citrus and tree fruit, though it’s really the limestone that dominates – a very good thing. Excellent length. Drink now or hold mid-term – this has the structure to improve. One of Malivoire’s strongest chardonnays to date.

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2009Philippe Colin Chassagne Montrachet Les Chaumées 1er CruMalivoire Moira Chardonnay 2009

All of the wines from the November 24th release, including these white wine reviews, are posted on our site as usual. However, you will have to wait until next week to see the red wine reviews and the Top Ten Smart Buys.

Come down to the Gourmet Wine & Food Expo and do some pre-release tasting for yourself.  We would love to meet you at the WineAlign booth #222.


John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

All November 24th Reviews


Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Rosehill Wine Cellars

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner; Wine education for us all – Chardonnay; November 10th, 2012

Wooded vs. Unwooded

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

The world’s most famous white grape, Chardonnay is crafted in two major styles, with many shades of grey in between. The first includes Chardonnay where wood, usually oak, is used at some point during the winemaking process. The other is where no oak is used at all.

For winegrowers, the decision to use oak, typically French, is a very personal one, dictated principally by precedent, growing conditions, and winemaking inclinations. In Burgundy, the contrasts between Chardonnay containing oak and ones that do not could not be more transparent. On the one hand, you have the famous white Burgundies of the Côte de Beaune, where whites from the best vineyards such as Domaine LeflaiveLe Montrachet and Corton-Charlemagne fetch some of the highest prices in the world. In virtually all cases, such wines are both fermented and matured in French oak barrels. On the other, you have the most prized vineyards of Chablis, where no oak is usually the norm, although some producers are now using small amounts for their best wines. Here, most wines are fermented and matured in stainless steel casks or ‘neutral’ oak barrels.

Chardonnay GrapesAnd therein lays the most fundamental difference between wooded and unwooded Chardonnay: the use of oak for fermentation and/or maturation. While generalizations are hard to establish, most Chardonnays containing oak are usually more concentrated and complex than their counterparts (the main exception being Chablis). At their finest, such wines usually contain a vast array of entrancing aromas, including subtle butterscotch/caramel, pears, green apples, apricots, quince, orange zest, hazelnuts, white flowers, lemon, and mineral nuances.

For winegrowers, the key thing is to ensure that the oak component in Chardonnay does not overwhelm the other components in the wine. This has been a cause for considerable concern among wine lovers and evaluators for well over a decade now—that too much emphasis is being placed on the use of oak in the winemaking process, resulting in Chardonnay tasting too buttery and one-dimensional, not to mention overtly oaky and (oftentimes) excessively tropical.

Leeuwin Estate ChardonnayThis is why many winegrowers have over the past several years decided to use less oak and concentrate on developing better fruit aromas instead. Some have even opted to use no oak in Chardonnay at all. While often much more simplistic than wines having been fermented and/or matured in oak barrels, such wines are nonetheless capable of delighting an eager audience in search of unoaked versions.

But a little oak influence can go a long way in this most malleable of grapes. As such, many producers have decided to adopt a ‘partial oak’ stance in their wines, fermenting their Chardonnay in stainless steel casks and then maturing it in oak barrels for only short periods of time. While such wines will often contain many of the same flavour characteristics as fuller-oaked bottlings, the undesirable butteriness, oakiness, and excessive tropical flavours are kept healthily in check. The best advice: taste every single Chardonnay in the world before deciding on a favourite. Alternatively, stick only with my recommendations and those of my fellow publishers…

Click here for a few gems from the November 10th Vintages Release

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , ,

John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for August 4th 2012

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

What’s Your Favourite?; Germany’s Secret Society; Reflections on Cool Chardonnay

The Vintages theme for the August 4th release is “customer favourites”. Although my top smart buys don’t line up with what the LCBO has identified as favourites, this report highlights no less than a baker’s dozen of three star values, with all but 3 wines under $20 and a half dozen under $15. Most of these wines have come through our system in previous years, so perhaps there’s a parallel pattern of my favourites emerging. You’ll find all the details in the Top Ten Smart Buys, as well as the secret about German wines, the mini-theme of the release. And to round it off, I share a few things I learned about cool climate chardonnay, having just returned from Niagara for the 2nd annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4c). It was a spectacular event, the best industry and consumer tasting to be held in Ontario thus far. I’m already looking forward to next year.

The Stars of the Stars: Highlights from the Top Ten Smart Buys

Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices SyrahThere’s an excellent line up of value wines hitting the shelves on August 4th. Topping the smart buy list this week is a repeat of a previous favourite, the 2009 Domaine les Yeuses les Épices Syrah ($13.95). The previous two vintages of this wine were also top smart buys, so this is clearly more than a one-off success. The 2009 is a little riper, richer and more noticeably oaky than the previous editions, definitely edging towards a more new world style, thanks no doubt to the warm 2009 growing season. The cuvée is selected from the oldest and lowest vines on the property, situated on gentle limestone hillsides a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean. It’s quite amazing how much flavor is packed into this wine at the price.

Château D'anglès La Clape ClassiqueThe Languedoc continues its streak of over-delivering with the 2007 Château d’Anglès la Clape Classique ($14.95). The story of this estate reads like a clichéd fairy tale, with proprietor Eric Fabre trading in his career in Bordeaux (including eight years as wine maker at Château Lafite Rothschild) to settle in an idyllic Château in the south of France over-looking the Mediterranean. But I suspect it was more than rural beauty and architecture that attracted the Fabres, as there’s clearly something special about the dirt, too. Although this is only the entry-level “classique” range, it’s a delightfully mature, smoky, savoury, syrah-driven southern French red, with well above average complexity for the money and engaging garrigue and dusty fruit flavours. A very attractive value all in all that’s ready to roll anytime.

Tormentoso Old Vine Chenin BlancAnother fine value comes from South Africa and the not-so-fashionable chenin blanc variety: 2011 Tormentoso Old Vine Chenin Blanc ($14.95). But it’s precisely because of its out-of-vogue status that you should be checking it out, especially when it comes from an un-irrigated, bush vine vineyard planted on dry, rocky-shale soils 35 years ago. Tormentoso is the premium range of vineyard-focused wines made by Man Vintners, a successful partnership between three men (MAN is an acronym from the first letter of each of their wives first name) based in Stellenbosch. The wine delivers well-measured barrel influence (40% barrel fermented), lively acids and marked minerality, all stuffed into a sub-$15 wine. Lemon and green apple flavours simmer under the light oak spice and cream. Great length for the money and this even has the stuffing to hold on in the cellar for a few years, too.

Terre Dora Fiano Di AvellinoAnother personal favourite comes from Campania, Italy: 2010 Terredora Fiano di Avellino ($18.95). I’ve long been a fan of fiano, widely considered one of southern Italy’s best white grapes. Terredora has been using exclusively estate grown grapes since 1994, focusing on the indigenous varieties of the region. Indeed, when the famous Mastroberardino family of Campania divided up the family wine business, one part kept the historic name, while the Terredora faction kept the top vineyards. This wine is intriguingly smoky despite being oak-free, with lemon zest and fresh, sweet green herbs, fresh earth, honey and dried hay, all well within the typical fiano spectrum. The palate is medium-full bodied, with bright, tart acids, significant flavour depth and excellent length. It’s a serious, and age worthy, example, that I’d recommend stuffing in the cellar for another year or two for maximum enjoyment.

Fielding Estate Cabernet FrancInniskillin Winemaker's Series Montague Vineyard ChardonnayAnd lastly it’s worth drawing your attention to two fine Ontario wines in the top smart buys this week: 2010 Inniskillin Winemaker’s Series Montague Vineyard Chardonnay ($18.95) and 2010 Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc ($21.95). Inniskillin winemaker Bruce Nicholson has been slowly but surely pushing the Montague chardonnay towards more refinement and elegance as opposed to the buttered popcorn style of early vintages, following a trend that’s occurring worldwide. In 2010 he seems to have hit the mark, avoiding the temptation to harvest over ripe grapes in Ontario’s hottest vintage on record (we’ll see about 2012…) and crafting instead a textbook, modern, new world style, mouth filling example. Wood and buttery notes are well reigned in, allowing ripe orchard fruit to dominate. Fielding’s cabernet franc is likewise another fine paradigm for the province, capturing the ripeness of 2010 while still retaining the sweet herb, tobacco, violet and spice character that gives the variety its noble profile.

Germany’s Secret Society

You might not be aware, but there’s a secret society of German riesling lovers across the world. They’re not easy to spot on the street, but you’ll be able to identify them by how they refer to themselves: sommelier. I’ve yet to meet a savvy sommelier who doesn’t have a disproportionate love for German riesling, especially when you add value to the equation.

Markus Molitor Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling SpätleseKönigschaffhausener Vulkanfelsen Trocken Pinot GrisIf there’s still lingering doubt in your mind, try the 2008 Markus Molitor Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese Prädikatswein ($26.95), a textbook Mosel riesling with perfectly ripe peach-apricot-nectarine, jasmine, light honey, fresh quince and orange peel, aromas, and on and on it goes. How you can put that much intensity on such a light frame is the eternal mystery of the Mosel.

Two other rieslings are included in my quartet of recommend German wines, but the star value has to be the 2011 Königschaffhausener Vulkanfelsen Trocken Pinot Gris. Forget trying to pronounce it; the wine really is as much of a mouthful as the name leads to believe. It has wonderful orchard fruit flavours enveloped in a succulent, rich texture, and drinks like a top notch Alsatian pinot gris for a mere $14.

Chardonnay: Reflecting on Cool

The second annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4c) weekend held in Niagara July 20-22nd was an unqualified success (nice to see some of you at the WineAlign Boot Camp led by David Lawrason and me).

WineAlign Member Experience at the 14c

Cool Chardonnay Boot Camp

Perfectionists might argue that winemakers are more useful in a winery than under a tent cooking food for guests (as occurred on Saturday night at the marquee event), but all in all, the spirit was terrific, the attendees enthusiastic, the winemakers from here and around the world utterly devoted to the cause, and the wines, well, simply excellent.

Here are some things I learned over the weekend:

1. There are Many Ways to be Cool.

Several factors can make for cool vineyards. Latitude is the most obvious, as the further you move from the equator, the thicker your thermal underwear needs to be. Exemplifying this were the very fine champagnes of Ayala (especially the Pearl d’Ayala Nature). Champagne sits at 50º-north latitude, about as far north as you can go and still ripen grapes sufficiently to make wine. Under 10% alcohol is common for base wines in the region, which is why sparkling wine makes most sense. Elevation can be cool, too, as shown by Pablo Sanchez of Catena Zapata in Argentina and his White Bones Chardonnay, grown in the Adrianna Vineyard at 1500m elevation, in the shadow of Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Americas. And where latitude and elevation aren’t so cool, water can chill things out. Coastal vineyards can be heavily moderated by cold bodies of water, such as those of Yabby Lake in the Mornington Peninsula, Australia, near the Bass Straight, and Flowers Vineyard, way out on the Sonoma Coast near the frigid Pacific Ocean.

2. Chardonnay Needs to be Cool

David Lawrason posed the question during the Friday morning technical session on extreme winemaking: Does chardonnay need to grow in a cool climate, or is it just the style of wine that we all like? Well, the technical answer to that is yes, at least according to several winemakers present over the weekend. Aside from that cool, prickly feeling chardonnay lovers get when drinking crisp, minerally versions, the most scientifically rigorous explanation (and justification of what we already sensed) came from David Ramey of Ramey Wine Cellars in Sonoma. Ironically during one of the hottest lunches I have ever sat through, held in a greenhouse on a 33ºC afternoon (closer to 40ºC inside), he described chardonnay as a “short cycle” variety, one that reaches maturity over a relatively short growing season. The trouble with hot climates is that chardonnay ripens too quickly; sugars (and potential alcohol levels) accumulate rapidly, before much flavour has had a chance to develop, and acidity falls. The result is a simple, sweetish, soft, tropical fruit flavoured version of the grape that may be pleasant enough, but will never be extraordinary.

Stephen Brook

i4c Keynote Speaker
Stephen Brook

Great chardonnay needs a longer, cooler growing season to reach the type of flavour complexity that gets us all so excited about it in the first place. As Stephen Brook, author, Decanter Magazine contributor and i4c keynote speaker observed in his speech, “The consequences of coolness are well known to us all: higher natural acidity, a good attack on the palate, a crispness to the mouthfeel, a more taut structure, and good length of flavor.” I’ll drink to that.

3. Coolness Alone Is Not Enough, and Dirt Makes A difference

“Coolness itself is no guarantor of quality”, continued Brook. And yes to be sure, featureless green wine, absent other qualities, is hardly great wine. The trouble is, chardonnay is a rather boring grape. It’s not particularly aromatic, but rather more understated. It’s greatest strength is its marvelous ability to articulate the composition of the dirt in which it’s grown. “It’s not an intrinsically interesting variety. Paradoxically, its very blandness is its strength”.

So aside from a cool climate, chardonnay also needs the right terroir. They’ve known this in Burgundy for centuries: how seemingly minor variations in composition and depth can make for significant differences in the glass. Chardonnay grown in a vineyard better suited to potato farming will never make great wine, no matter how clever the winemaker is or how cool the climate. Burgundy is not an extreme region by any stretch. It’s neither cold nor hot, rainy nor dry, though it does have more or less the right climate for a short cycle grape like chardonnay. But it’s the soil that makes the difference, that has made Burgundy the reference, the mother ship, the yardstick against which all other chardonnay are still measured. The variations on a terroir theme from Chablis to Corton to Meursault or Puligny translate into fantastic complexity and nuance in the glass.

“I don’t have any clear idea of what Chardonnay should smell or taste like,” reveals Brook. “I can pin down certain manifestations of Chardonnay – a Chablis, a Meursault, a Kendall Jackson Vintners Reserve – but they emerge from specific conditions.” In other words, it’s about both climate and soil working in tandem.

4. Heavy Hands Make for Homogeneous Wine

And since chardonnay is such a neutral grape, there’s a strong temptation for the winemaker to impose his or her style. Late harvesting can eradicate the climate effect, while other techniques can expunge the soil’s signature. At the i4c there was little evidence of over bearing winemaking, I suppose precisely because those that came all the way to Niagara to attend the celebration know that it’s all about the climate and the dirt. Winemakers here seemed to get it, that over oaking kills site specificity, and with it, what makes wine different from all other manufactured beverages. Anybody can make a fruity-oaky wine. Only some people have the right vineyards to make distinctive wines, and only a few of those know enough to step back and let nature take over.

So when it all comes together, cool climate, great dirt and savvy hand, the results are sensational. And there’s no world monopoly – dozens of regions, Ontario included, are making fine chardonnay in the key of cool. If you missed this year’s i4c, be sure to sign up next year (scheduled for July 19-21, 2013). Because if you think you know chardonnay, it’s time to drink again.

From the Aug 4, 2012 Vintages release:

Top Ten Smart Buys
German Quartet
All Reviews


John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier


Penfolds Thomas Hyland Chardonnay

The Wine Establishment - Le Nez deu Vin

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David Lawrason’s Take on Vintages July 7 Release

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The World Comes to Niagara, the Lieutenant Governor’s Honour Roll, Great Reds Under $30 and Exotic Whites Under $20!

From July 20 to 22 Ontario wine country is hosting 27 winemakers from six countries who will pour their wine at the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, or I4C. This is a public showcase involving several seminars, winery lunches and grand tastings, including a Chardonnay “Re-Boot Camp” exclusively for WineAligners, hosted by John Szabo and I. The USA sends the largest contingent of visiting producers with ten, followed by France with seven. There will also be winemakers from Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina. And Canada presents 26 wineries from B.C., Prince Edward County and Niagara.

International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration

I4C is the first international wine event hosted by the Ontario wine industry, and the fact that so many good international producers are coming (actually some are returning after the inaugural I4C last year) is a statement of faith in the quality and direction of Canada’s industry. So now it’s up to us to make the visitors welcome, show them a good time, and take the time to learn about their wines. They are not just here to make us feel world class. They wouldn’t mind a bit of commerce too.

So the LCBO has done the right thing by featuring some of those chardonnay producers in this Saturday’s release – just to give us a taste, and help out those who may not be able to attend I4C itself. And I want to quickly point them out as well – four wines earning 90-plus points.

Ponzi Reserve ChardonnayPascal Marchand MeursaultWe begin with a Canadian connection to a stunningly good Burgundy – 2010 Pascal Marchand Meursault, which in my books is very much worth $57.95. Pascal Marchand is a Montreal-born winemaker who after 20 years in Burgundy is carving out a huge reputation with a range of domain and negociant wines now being made in two re-vamped wineries in Nuits-Saint-Georges. His partner in the enterprise is Niagara’s Moray Tawse, for whom Marchand also consults in Ontario. The Marchand wines were first presented in Toronto, to great acclaim, last year at a trade tasting; and I revisited them in May in Burgundy. Again, very impressive! The style here is pristine and racy; the complexity and depth are remarkable.

From Oregon, Ponzi Reserve Chardonnay 2009 ($38.95) is downright historic. Celebrating 42 years since its founding in 1970, there is only one winery in Oregon that is older –  The Eyrie Vineyard founded in 1966 (first vintage 1970). Ponzi is now in the hands of the second generation and still turning out wines of terrific depth, complexity and power – organically grown, barrel fermented and aged for up to 18 months.

Flowers Sonoma Coast ChardonnayKumeu River Estate ChardonnayFlowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2010 ($59.95) is from one of the hottest, cool properties in Sonoma County – both literally and figuratively. Before 1989 Walt and Joan Flowers ran in nursery business (no kidding) in Pennsylvania. With fine wine growing on their mind they discovered a hilltop for sale only two miles from the Pacific Ocean in Sonoma County, with its ridge high enough to escape much of the fog that blankets the coast line – leaving them a hotter site in a cool climate. In the years since their vibrant, pure, organically grown chardonnays and pinots have climbed to the top of the charts.

Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2008 ($34.95) from Auckland, on the North Island of New Zealand is historic as well. The Brajkovich family emigrated from Croatia to New Zealand and first planted vines near Auckland, the capital, in 1944. In 1986, under the direction of the second and third generations, the family re-named the winery Kumeu River and began to focus on Burgundy inspired chardonnay, now grown in five distinct sites. The area is almost sub-tropical, but situated on a narrow peninsula with the Pacific on one side and the Tasman Sea on the other, the climate is surprisingly cool.  This is a profound and powerful chardonnay.

The Lieutenant Governor’s Honour Roll

Just after filing this newsletter I headed off to Niagara College to judge in the 2012 Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Ontario Wines. Like I4C, this is the second year for this event. Unlike the numerous other competitions in which Ontario wines are entered (Cuvée, Ontario Wine Awards, Canadian Wine Awards, Intervin and the All Canada Wine Championships), the Lieutenant Governor’s Awards has no commercial ramifications for the winery (no entry fees). Nor does it have magazines to sell, or events to fill thereafter. There is simply the honour of winning among a select few. Wines are tasted blind in varietal/style groups but no matter the category, winners must achieve an “excellent” rating to be awarded. Of the 277 wines entered last year only 12 made the Honour Roll. The full list is available here on the Lieutenant Governor’s website. I must say that the process turned in some strong candidates, along with a caveat that all have aged one year since they won. In yet another demonstration of timely co-operation, Vintages July 7 release features three of the winners from last year.

Huff Estate Cuvée Peter F. Huff SparklingCharles Baker Picone Vineyard RieslingMalivoire Pinot Noir

Huff Estate Cuvée Peter F. Huff Sparkling 2008 ($39.95) from Prince Edward County was the only PEC wine to make the honour roll in 2011. I have had this wine several times and it is evolving quickly with complex nutty, brioche flavours, partially due to the fact it was from a lighter vintage (the 2007 hasn’t been released yet). I love the light, tight County feel!

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2009 from the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation of Niagara ($35.20) is a very worthy winner indeed, a searingly tight and pure riesling from a “virtual winery” based at Stratus that makes nothing but riesling.

I have been following Malivoire Pinot Noir 2009 from Niagara as well ($29.95), and it is now maturing into a very good place with considerable woodsy complexity and a sensibility that reminded me of Beaune in Burgundy.

Five Great Reds Under $30

This is actually a very strong release overall – lots of wines of interest – and several themes I could extract. But let’s just get at it, with some terrific international reds for under $30. There are some excellent reds over $30 too, so check out the full list.

Seppelt Chalambar ShirazDomaine E. & J. Durand Les Coteaux St. JosephDomaine E. & J. Durand 2009 Les Coteaux St. Joseph ($28.95) from the northern Rhône Valley of France is a syrah purist’s syrah. Eric and Joel Durand have 13 hectares of sustainably farmed vineyard in St. Joseph – an undervalued appellation that faces Hermitage across the river – as well as in Cornas. Les Coteaux is a 7 hectare site, and interestingly the wines are “raised” in enamel-lined concrete (not oak barrels) for 12 months. This may speak to the purity of the syrah flavours.

Seppelt Chalambar Shiraz 2008 from the Grampians/Bendigo region of Victoria ($24.95) is one of the historic shiraz of Australia, first made in 1953. (Penfolds Grange first commercial vintage was 1952). Seppelt itself is one of the pioneering wineries of Australia, now revived under the leadership of young winemakers like Emma Wood and Jo Marsh, who have acquired several winemaking honours in Australia.

Château SénéjacFonterutoli Chianti ClassicoAlvaro Castro RedI am delighted to include a well-priced, very finely tuned Bordeaux in this under $30 hit parade. Château Sénéjac Haut-Médoc 2008 ($23.95) over-achieves in an “average” vintage. The 39 hectare vineyard was refurbished in the eighties, with cabernet and merlot leading in the blend. But I think it is 11% cabernet franc and 4% petit verdot that give this fine Bordeaux its fetching aromatic lift and tension.

Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2009 ($25.95) is one of the great buys of this release. Such fragrance, finesse and poise at such a good price, from a family that has owned the Tuscan property since the 15th Century. Undoubtedly the ripeness of the 2009 vintage has provided the fruit richness that is so appealing, but it is not at all overripe, heavy or ponderous. Very stylish modern winemaking here; and this is the “second wine” after the Castello di Fonterutoli to which we still can look forward.

Perhaps the best value of all comes from the Dão region of Portugal. Alvaro Castro 2008 Red delivers great vibrancy, intensity and complexity at $16.95. Some pundits consider him the best winemaker of the region, now joined by his daughter Maria who began working with her father in 2000. Dão is always on my radar for delivering distinctive, sometimes tough reds full of evergreen, woodsy character.              

Five Exotic Garden Whites Under $20

Sella & Mosca Monteoro Vermentino Di Gallura SuperioreThe Royal Tokaji Wine Company FurmintJoseph Cattin MuscatAlsatian dry muscat has long been one of my hidden pleasures, but most of the world could care less about this genre. Winemakers in Alsace do sing its praises, especially in springtime asparagus season, and they always punctuate their comments with an exclamation about its value. No matter how good, it never sells for more than riesling, gewurz or pinot gris. Which helps explains why this $14.95 example, Joseph Cattin Muscat 2010, can bring down a score of 91. The 2010 vintage was outstanding, and this growing producer is building a solid reputation.

My experiences with table wine made from Hungary’s famous dessert wine grape have been mixed over the years, but The Royal Tokaji Wine Company Furmint 2009 is stunningly good. And at $13.95 the value quotient is almost silly. It is crisp and dry yet packed with flavours with an orchard of aromas and flavours.

Equally surprising given its modest price, and equally surprising in terms of the quality delivered is the 2011 Sella & Mosca Monteoro Vermentino di Gallura Superiore ($15.95). I have always enjoyed the crisp lemony vermentinos of Italy’s coastal Liguria, but I am not sure I have ever experienced an aromatic fireworks display like this. The nose is staggeringly perfumed and exotic, but the palate is clean as a whistle. Sardinia’s Vermentino di Gallura is said to be the very best expression of this late-ripening grape.

Bastianich Adriactico FriulanoBastianich Adriactico Friulano 2010 ($18.95) is yet another aromatic surprise. Bastianich was founded in 1997 to bring expressive, modern winemaking to unique grapes and climate the Colli Orientali Del Friuli in the northeast (Friuli’s Eastern Hills) where a combination of elevation and proximity of the Adriatic Sea contribute cool nights that help boost aromatic intensity. Friulano (formerly called tocai friulano) is a signature of the area, and this fine example puts forward some very intriguing scents, again in a dry style.

Mt. Boucherie Estate Collection SemillonAnd we end up back home with another grape variety that struggles for respect – especially in the vineyards of Canada, where it is actually quite rare. Mt. Boucherie Estate Collection Semillon 2008 from B.C.s Okanagan Valley offers plenty of complexity and power for $19.95. A collection of exotic scents is made even more interesting by the fact that this is a maturing white with some honeyed and even earthy tones. Yet it remains vibrant and fresh on the palate.

And that’s it for this edition. I’ll return in the days ahead with a special look at the wines of Australia’s state of Victoria ahead of a feature on the July 21 release. See all my July 7 reviews below, and watch for a few additions after the release on Saturday.

From the July 7th, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

David Lawrason
VP of Wine


 Sbragia Home Ranch Chardonnay 2009


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Lawrason’s Take On Vintages June 23rd Release

David Lawrason

Understated Euro Heat Busters

I am fatigued with media hype about “how to beat the heat”; especially those re-cycled spots every few days by breathless, bouncy meteorologists as soon as the humidex pushes over 30.  I think we all know that cool places are good; hydration is good; lakes and pools are good, lighter exercise is good. But I would love to hear them say that Spanish manzanilla is good, and what about Italian prosecco and Provencal rosé? This hit home when I was tasting in a rather tepid LCBO lab for this Saturday’s “Summer Sippers” release. Sure there were racy New Zealand sauvignons, crisp Ontario whites and a raft of New World chardonnays, but all seemed just so brash and warm and loud, compared to those calm, cool and collected Euro wines. So here is a selection to consider, not so much based on big scores (although all are very good) but because they are inexpensive – nothing over $17.95 – and they will fit neatly into a sultry, lazy evening on the deck.

Nessa AlbariñoDomaine Des Chouans SoralTiefenbrunner Pinot GrigioThere are several whites to consider but I’ll begin with a perennial favourite from northern Italy’s subalpine “Sudtirol” region. Tiefenbrunner was one of the first Italian white wine specialists to adopt crisp, clean, modern wine styling in the 90s, and he continues to capture the refreshing ambiance of his high altitude region with Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2011 ($17.95). Up and over the snowy Alps in Switzerland the white wines from the chasselas grape are trending to a lighter, gentler style. Domaine des Chouans Soral 2010 from the hills around Geneva is a pristine, effortless example ($15.95). And from the Atlantic coast of northwest Spain the 2010 Nessa Albariño ($16.00) offers the same cool charm.  Often albariño makes quite exotic and powerful whites but this edition is dialled back a bit. Served well chilled it will be like biting into a fresh honeydew melon.

Prevedello Asolo Superiore Extra Dry ProseccoPetit Rimauresq RoseDon’t not overlook sparkling wine on torrid days; perhaps the ultimate refreshment. And sure, if the occasion calls for an electrifying Champagne, open your wallet and go for it. But staying with our theme of understated, charming and inexpensive refreshers don’t miss Prevedello Asolo Superiore Extra Dry Prosecco 2010 at $16.95. It is utterly pure and delicious, almost twinkling with refreshment. And yes it is a new label by Toronto restaurateur Franco Prevedello (founder of Centro and others), who himself has a certain freshness of spirit.

The pink parade of new rosés continues Saturday and the ultimate refresher is 2011 Petit Rimauresq Rosé from Côtes de Provence. I was in this part of the world at a garden party on a very hot day just last month, and a local rosé of almost identical pale hue and zesty, mouth-watering delivery had people raving. I highly recommend this classy little number for any summer group events on your wine calendar, especially at only $13.95.

Emilio Lustau Papirusa Solera Reserva Very Dry ManzanillaWe finish off our Euro Tour of Summer Sippers with Emilio Lustau Papirusa Solera Reserva Very Dry Manzanilla at $11.95 for a half bottle.  Rarely would one ever consider a fortified wine as a summer sipper, but this bone-dry sherry – served stone cold into a slim, narrow “copita” or sherry glass will make an indelible impression. It originates from southern Spain, one of the hottest wine regions on the planet, where it is almost as natural as breathing to have a manzanilla or two just before lunch or dinner with a simple plate of olives, almonds and a chunk of salty cheese.

Great New World Reds

So now that we’ve addressed your summer mood wines, which is just about all I am drinking these days, let’s get to the meat of the matter for those of us who also like big, bold and hopefully balanced reds. There were three really exciting, top notch reds on this release that I have rated at 93 or better.

The most exciting, especially for syrah fans, is the 2007 Wind Gap Castelli-Knight Ranch Syrah from the Russian River Valley, Sonoma County – worth every penny of $59.00 if this is in your bracket. Windgap is one of several labels from Pax Mahle, a Sonoma native who has refurbished an old 1936 winery in Forestville to make a series of distinctive, small batch wines, with a focus on syrah, but dabbling with other varieties as well – all from specific vineyards. A former sommelier, he is a leader among a group of California somms who are turning to winemaking with a vision of making less bombastic and more natural and food friendly reds, and generally shaking up the California established order. In a recent video Pax was asked what wine region most excited him nowadays, and he replied, Sicily. So indeed he is thinking outside the box. And this is great syrah!

Wind Gap Castelli Knight Ranch SyrahMaysara Pinot NoirPenfolds Bin 389 Cabernet-ShirazStill on America’s west coast, and still with a more natural approach, pinot fans should not miss Maysara Estate Cuvée Pinot Noir 2008, a Demeter certified biodynamically grown Oregon pinot that fits very comfortably quality wise at $39.95. This winery was founded in 2001 by Moe and Flora Momtazi who had spied a parcel of vacant, unfarmed, organically in-tact land near McMinneville. So they have been farming biodynamically from the outset. The winemaking is now in the hands of Thamiene Momtazi, one of three daughters working at the winery. There is a great sense of style and energy to this wine.

Perhaps the best bargain among these collectible reds is Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz from South Australia. I first encountered it while doing a line-up of Penfolds 2008 reds at the winery in 2011, and it was one of my favourites of the day. For $39.95 it is monumental value. The review tells something about the winemaking, but I just want to add that I am a big fan of cabernet-shiraz blends in particular. The angularity of cabernet is softened by shiraz, and vice versa – kind of like a firm handshake between two quite different personalities. Anyway, seriously consider this for your cellar – it was a great vintage.

My Take on Bill C-311

This week the Canadian senate passed Bill C-311 at third reading, allowing individuals to carry Canadian wine, or cause it to be carried legally across provincial borders (i.e. ordered on line). The bill still needs Royal Assent but no doubt Her Majesty will wave it on through very soon. (Jump to backgrounder by WineAlign’s Janet Dorozynski)

This bill takes a huge chunk out of the moral authority of Canada’s liquor boards. When you strip wine down to its basic legally troubling element – alcohol – one can now easily ask, why not direct ship all wines? (The bill does not actually specify Canadian wine). Why not beer and spirits? Why not allow licensed (much more controllable) businesses to do the same?  Such basic questions have liquor boards and the public service union brass spinning in there swivel chairs. Undoubtedly they will dig in their heels, and come out huffing and puffing about creeping privatization and loss of tax revenues that fund other government services. And they will warn of rivers of wine falling into the wrong hands (more than is happening now?).

Bill C-311 does give provincial liquor boards the right to impose limits on how much you and I can personally transport, or order on line, between provinces. But seriously, how can they do that in practical terms? Or in other words, who or what is stopping us? It is unenforceable. Provincial customs inspectors at every crossing and terminal? I suppose they could try to come up with some sort of reciprocal, interprovincial method of auditing every tasting room carry out or courier shipment leaving wineries? But that seems just as cumbersome and costly.  So without mechanisms to curb it, and with we citizens knowing that in spirit it is morally fine to do so, wine will inexorably begin to flow more freely whether liquor boards like it or not. There is now a gaping hole in the dike.

I get to taste hundreds of Canadian wines every year that are only available from wineries directly, not the liquor boards. In this newsletter watch for reviews of Canadian wines worth buying on line. We will begin after the situation clarifies just a bit more. I do not want to mention specific wines at this point lest it be construed by the authorities that those wineries have rushed into direct shipping while it is still technically illegal.

International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration

Chardonnay Re-Boot Camp

I am looking forward to joining WineAlign colleague John Szabo in Niagara on Saturday, July 20 to present a session at the second annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, or as it is known, I4C. What do I foresee for this event? Despite the original Boot Camp name I am betting on a pretty laid back summer event – although John is talking about ten push ups for all between each wine. I like to think of it more as Chardonnay Re-Boot camp, especially given that our audience will exclusively be tech savvy WineAligners. I want to discuss exactly why Chardonnay’s reputation is being re-booted after a decade or two of the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) sentiment. We are going to examine this as we take you through a range of great international and Canadian chardonnays, the exact wines to be decided as I4C organizers portion the hundreds of wines among several events. We hope to meet you there.   Find more details on this special offer to WineAlign members here.

And that’s it for now. I will be adding reviews for other June 23 wines over the weekend, but you can check out 60+ new reviews below. Cheers!

From the June 23rd, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

David Lawrason
VP of Wine


 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Chardonnay

The Wine Establishment

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Celebrate the i4c with an exclusive “Cool Chardonnay Boot Camp” with WineAlign’s John Szabo and David Lawrason

Cool Chard Banner

Celebrate the i4c with an exclusive “Cool Chardonnay Boot Camp” with WineAlign’s John Szabo and David Lawrason

WineAlign is pleased to offer its members an exclusive “Chardonnay Boot Camp” session with John Szabo and David Lawrason on Saturday on July 21st in Niagara.

As a part of the 2nd annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4c),  you will spend an afternoon with WineAlign’s David Lawrason and John Szabo as they take you on a global tour of cool climate chardonnay.  John and David will lead a structured tasting of Chardonnays from New Zealand, South Africa, Austria, Italy, Burgundy, Chablis, California, Oregon, BC and Ontario.  Learn about what makes each of these wines (and regions) exemplars of the 5 aspects of “cool” – latitude, altitude, marine influence, microclimate, and winemaking style.

After “Boot Camp”, join in the i4c celebrations at the Cool Chardonnay World Tour tasting of up to 110 different cool climate chardonnays from 55 international producers, followed by the “Beyond the Barrel” al fresco dinner.

Your WineAlign Experience ticket includes our “Chardonnay Boot Camp” (4:00pm), the “Cool Chardonnay World Tour” (6:00pm) and “Beyond the Barrel Dinner” (8:00pm).  All events are at the beautiful grounds of the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, in Vineland, Ontario.

Tickets are $150 (+HST).

To purchase tickets, go to and select “WineAlign Member Experience” on the Tickets page (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Here’s a cool video about the event.

Cool Chardonnay

13 amazingly “cool” events. 12 stunning vineyard locations. 110 international cool climate chardonnays.

The 2nd annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration – experience the Rebirth of Cool…

 The International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration is a collegial event that enables wine enthusiasts to interact directly with the winemakers or proprietors and their wines. Whether at a communal table during an i4c luncheon or at the grand tasting events, winemakers/proprietors will be pouring their wines throughout the weekend.

Guests of the i4c are invited to “Blend their own Chardonnay Experience”.  All events are a la carte, which means that guests can either sip or immerse themselves in this chardonnay extravaganza.

The Keynote Speaker for the 2012 event is Stephen Brook, renowned columnist for London’s Decanter Magazine.

Tickets and information are available at

The International Cool Climate Chardonnay Association is a not-for-profit group of 28 inspired Ontario winemakers and winery owners devoted to the renaissance of chardonnay and is proudly supported by Founding Sponsors Wine Country Ontario, The Grape Growers of Ontario and the LCBO|VINTAGES.

 The Signature Event…The Cool Chardonnay World Tour

Saturday, July 21st, 2012
6:00pm – 11:00pm
The grounds of the Vineland Research & Innovation Centre
650 guests

Tour the world with one glass…in one amazing night! The Cool Chardonnay World Tour is the only event where you can taste all of the wines being presented at the 2012 celebration. Enjoy a leisurely 2-hour tasting in the stunning rhododendron garden, while enjoying sumptuous hors d’ouevres from Quebec’s renowned Maison du Gibier. 

Following the World Tour tasting, enjoy our signature “Beyond the Barrel” al fresco dinner. Featured winemakers Brian Schmidt (Vineland Estates), Craig McDonald (Hillebrand), Philip Dowell (Angels Gate), Ross Wise (Flat Rock Cellars), Harald Thiel (Hidden Bench), Ron Giesbrecht (Henry of Pelham) and Dan Sullivan (Rosehall Run) will turn in their corkscrews for whisks, tongs and spatulas as they join Chef Erik Peacock and to present a fabulous regional feast.

Dine under the stars, mixing and mingling with the participating winemakers, then finish the night with a “Blanc de Blanc” bar and a live band in the heart of Niagara’s wine country.

2012 Participating Wineries:

Catena Zapata (Mendoza)   Pablo Sanchez – Assistant Winemaker

Printhie Wines (Orange, NSW)   Ed Swift – Owner/Winemaker
Yabby Lake (Mornington Peninsula)   Keith Harris - Chief  Viticulturalist

Blue Mountain Vineyards (BC)   Matt Mavety & Christie Mavety - Winemaker
Meyer Family Vineyard (BC)   JAK Meyer & Chris Carson - Owner & Winemaker
13th Street Winery (Niagara Escarpment)   Jean Pierre Colas - Winemaker
Angels Gate Winery (Niagara Escarpment)   Philip Dowell - Winemaker
Bachelder Niagara (Niagara Escarpment)   Thomas Bachelder - Winemaker and Owner
Cave Spring Cellars (Niagara Escarpment)  Angelo Pavan - Vice president/Winemaker
Flat Rock Cellars (Niagara Escarpment)  Ross Wise - Winemaker
Henry of Pelham  Estate Winery (Niagara Escarpment)  Ron Giesbrecht - Winemaker
Hidden Bench Vineyards (Niagara Escarpment)  Marlize Beyers - Winemaker
Malivoire Wine Company (Niagara Escarpment)   Shiraz Mottiar - Winemaker
Pearl Morissette Estate Winery (Niagara Escarpment)  Francois Morissette – Winemaker & Principal
Rosewood Estates Winery (Niagara Escarpment)   Natalie Spytkowsky - Winemaker
Vineland Estates Winery (Niagara Escarpment)   Brian Schmidt - Winemaker
Coyote’s Run Estate Winery (Niagara-on-the-Lake)   Jeff Aubry – Owner
Hillebrand (Niagara-on-the-Lake)   Craig McDonald - Winemaker
Inniskillin Wines (Niagara-on-the-Lake)   Bruce Nicholson - Winemaker
Jackson-Triggs Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake)  Marco Piccoli - Winemaker
Lailey Vineyard Winery (Niagara-on-the-Lake)  Derek Barnett - Winemaker
Le Clos Jordanne (Niagara-on-the-Lake)   Sebastien Jacquey – Winemaker
Peller Estates Winery (Niagara-on-the-Lake)
Pondview Estate Winery (Niagara-on-the-Lake)  Lou Puglisi - Proprietor
Ravine Vineyard (Niagara-on-the-Lake)   Shauna White - Associate Winemaker
Southbrook Vineyards (Niagara-on-the-Lake)   Ann Sperling - Director of Winemaking /Viticulture
Stratus Vineyards (Niagara-on-the-Lake)   J-L Groux - Winemaker
Closson Chase Vineyards (Prince Edward County)  Deborah Paskus - Winemaker
Huff Estates Winery (Prince Edward County)  Frederic Picard – Winemaker
Norman Hardie Winery (Prince Edward County)  Norman Hardie - President & Winemaker
Rosehall Run (Prince Edward County)   Dan Sullivan - Proprietor / Winemaker

Vina Concha Y Toro S.A. (Chile)  Felipe del Solar - Country Manager – Canada
Vina Haras de Pirque (Chile)  Maria Cristina Cifuentes, Director – Americas
Vina Quintay S.A. (Chile)   Alajandro Abarca - Managing Director

Decelle-Villa (Burgundy)   Jean Lupatelli - Winemaker
Dom. Chanson Pere & Fils (Burgundy)  Gilles de Courcel - President
Dom. Marchand-Tawse (Burgundy) Pascal Marchand - Owner/ Winemaker
Domaine des Clos (Burgundy)   Gregoire Bichot - Gerant
Domaine Emmanuel GIBOULOT (Burgundy)  Emmanuel Giboulot - Proprietor
Domaine Laroche (Burgundy)   Sandrine Audegond - DirectorExport
Champagne Ayala (Champagne)  Raymond Ringeval - Export Director
Domaine Jean Bourdy (Jura)   Jean-Francois Bourdy - Co-Owner

Felton Road (Central Otago)   Blair Walter & Nigel Greening - Winemaker
Kumeu River (Kumeu/Auckland)  Michael Brajkovich MW - Winemaker
Villa Maria (Hawkes Bay)   Justin Harrison - Market Manager – Canada

Chamisal Vineyards (Edna Valley, California)   Fintan du Fresne - Winemaker
Dutton Goldfield (Russian River Valley, California)   John Schultz - National Sales Director
Flowers Winery (Sonoma Coast, California)   Jason Jardine - President, Director of Winemaking
Ramey Wine Cellars (Russian River Valley, California)  David Ramey - Owner/ Winemaker
Lamoreaux Landing (Finger Lakes, New York)   Josh Wig - Owner/ Winemaker
A to Z Wineworks/Rex Hill (Willamette Valley, Oregon)   Cheryl Francis - Co-Founder, consulting winemaker
Chehalem Vineyards (Willamette Valley, Oregon)   Harry Peterson-Nedry - Founder
Firesteed Cellars (Willamette Valley, Oregon)   Bryan Croft – Winemaker
Hamacher Wines (Willamette Valley, Oregon)   Eric Hamacher - Owner/ Winemaker
Ponzi Vineyards (Willamette Valley, Oregon)    Luisa Ponzi - Winemaker 

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Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks: Chameleon Chardonnay

Chardonnay’s a chameleon grape that reflects the terroir, climate and winemaking to perfection when handled right. Find these quality Vintages picks via

Hartford Court Four Hearts Vineyards Chardonnay 2009  $47.95 (93 Points)

From vineyards in the heart of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, barrel fermented and stirred on the lees, this is unmistakable Californian with lots of style. Unfined and unfiltered, it’s concentrated with ripe fruit (tropical, tangerine, peach) and spicy oak in the bouquet and palate. A solid core of bright acidity, minerality and layers of flavours that linger raise this to a sublime level capable of seducing even non-chard lovers.

Seresin Chardonnay 2008 $24.95 (92 Points)

Seresin in New Zealand’s Marlborough region on the South Island achieves great local character in their wines from organically and biodynamically grown hand-picked grapes. Wild yeast fermented, aged in French barriques with one year on the lees, this is full bodied, stylish and textured. Flavourful and complex with well integrated oak, this has the ripe stone fruit of New World with an Old World subtle toastiness and refreshing acidity.

La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 2009  $24.95 (90 Points)

A good solid delivery of France’s classic Chablis style from a well regarded cooperative established in 1923. The aromatic, fragrant bouquet has good minerality which carries through on the palate. Medium bodied it has no oak treatment to cover its fine citrus and terroir character that speaks of its fossilized limestone and marl soil.

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages March 3rd Release: On Carmenère’s Case, Zinfandel’s Too; Miramar’s Bargain Chardonnay, The Curiosity of Andrezj Lipinski

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

I am dispatching this newsletter from Vancouver where I am spending the week at the 34th Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. As a consumer/wine lover experience it is unparalleled in this country. The range of wines, wineries and winemakers on parade in the grand tastings is extraordinary. As is the variety of side events from dinners, seminars, grazing events and even speed dating exercises – all done with a sense of grace, class and community. No one minds paying the freight at Playhouse because one never feels ripped off. I am making a week in Vancouver an annual busman’s holiday. If you love wine you should too.

Whither Carmenère?Montes Purple AngelCasa Silva Reserva CarmenèreConcha Y Toro Terrunyo Block 27 CarmenèreI was not able to taste all of the March 3rd release but I did get to the Chilean carmenères, and I see many more in my immediate future. Chile is this year’s theme country here at Playhouse. So I will get a chance to test drive the theory I put forward below about the direction these wines should be going. I was underwhelmed by Vintages carmenère selection – almost bored – until I finally tasted Montes 2009 Purple Angel at $56.95.  But should it take $50 to deliver exciting carmenère? Here is a grape with all the potential tools – a propensity to show excellent depth and concentration, firm structure based on its thick skinned nature, and complexity to spare when properly ripened – when its green tendency is subsumed by ripe fruit and judicious oak treatment. Yet Chile seems fixated on hitting a “market” under $20 which in turn doesn’t allow carmenère to hit its potential.  This is Chile’s self appointed signature variety – a claim to fame and distinction. Give us a reason to buy it, other than it being inexpensive. Concha Y Toro 2008 Terrunyo Block 27 Carmenère from the Peumo Vineyard in the Cachapoal Valley is one example of a carefully ripened and thoughtfully made carmenère that maintains its sense of value at $29.95. Of the selections under $20 I liked Casa Silva 2009 Reserva Carmenère from the Colchagua Valley ($15.00) for its sense of unplugged authenticity, if lacking some grace. But at $15 one doesn’t expect great polish.

Et Tu California Zinfandel?
Ridge Three ValleysAs carmenère is the signature of Chile, zinfandel is the signature of California, and this release contains a terrific example from a leading producer – Ridge 2009 Three Valleys from Sonoma County. It is not cheap at $34.95 but I like it for its honesty and authenticity as well as its quality. The story of California’s “heritage” grape is oft’ told – its origins in Adriatic Europe, its emigration to California with Italians who joined the Gold Rush in the 1850s, and its renaissance as finer wine over a century later when folks like Paul Draper from Ridge began to source from pockets of old vines around the state.

To me Zinfandel makes sense in California simply because it is a Mediterranean grape and California has a Mediterranean climate. And it generally makes more sense in California than cabernet, merlot and pinot.  What’s more, it works wonderfully well when blended with other Mediterranean varieties like petite sirah, carignan and mourvèdre that provide structural ballast and more flavour complexity.

That is the formula in the Ridge Three Valleys, and in many of the better zinfandels I recently tasted at the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) love-in in San Francisco. There were over 500 zins from 204 wineries at this event, and it was attended by over 8,000 people.  The scope was stunning! One attendee called it the “University of Zinfandel”. Indeed, and the morning I spent there was a crash course on the many different winemaking perspectives on this grape.  It’s a minefield out there, but I have decided that like carmenère I really don’t like cheap zinfandel and that too many of the large producers treat it as a third class citizen. It too deserves more respect.

Miramar Torres and Sonoma Chardonnay
Speaking of California, the best white wine value of the release is Marimar Estate 2007 La Masía Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County – a stunning value at $19.95.  I had lunch with Miramar Torres and her agents (Family Wine Merchants) at Crush Wine Bar recently and discovered that this was a “one- off deal” at half the regular price. I don’t like to get mixed up in the pricing of wine, but like wine scores, prices are numbers too. And prices are suggestive of the producer’s, distributer’s or retailer’s opinion of the wine.  What does 50% off suggest to you about the situation of the wine and winery?  And will you still buy it when the price returns to $40?

Marimar Estate La Masía Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay 2007
In this case I would, because the wine is quite riveting and intriguing. The 2007 is mature, and I can see why there might be some rush to “move it”. But it remains a vital, complex and interesting wine made in a somewhat free-spirited, unconventional style that has defined Miramar’s biodynamic approach ever since she left her Torres family operation in Spain to venture into the New World in the 80s.  She was never really alone in this endeavour – her family always mentored and encouraged.  More so, she was unconventional within California, which is generally a very “safe” place for winemaking. She likes to say her approach is Burgundian, which to me defines a traditional, non-technical ambiance – and I certainly get that here. As I encountered in the 2008 La Masia coming next fall at closer to $40, and the splendid unoaked 2009 Acero Chardonnay now available through Family Wine Merchants.

Hartford Court Four Hearts Vineyards ChardonnayThe other interesting subtext bound up in a glass of Miramar La Masia is its origin in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley appellation. Her property is actually in the sub-region of Green Valley – a bit closer to the Pacific coast, a bit cooler and greener. There is no question in my mind that coastal Sonoma is a leading locale globally for chardonnay. Having visited Sonoma recently and having participated in several California chardonnay tastings and seminars, it is obvious that great attention is being focused on this grape in Sonoma, and in the Russian River in particular. If you want to understand why, try the Hartford Court 2009 Four Hearts Vineyards Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, at $47.95. It and many others are very classy indeed, as was the Rodney Strong Reserve 2009 on the previous release.

The Curiosity of Andrejz Lipinski
The Organized Crime GewurztraminerOne of the most interesting and controversial whites of this release is The Organized Crime 2009 Gewürztraminer from the Niagara Peninsula ($22.20). It is barrel fermented and aged gerwurz, a very unorthodox treatment for this aromatic variety and one that purists will not appreciate.  I too think it pushed an already big and powerful wine a bit too far to the point of being out of balance. But I do like the added flavour complexity and dimension, because winemaker Andrejz Lipinski has done a good job meshing the wood.  More than that, I simply enjoy tasting Lipinski’s wines precisely because they do challenge. Oaking gewürztraminer is not his only notoriety; he is better known for his work with making appassimento-styled wines (both red and white) from grapes dried after harvest (as in amarone). He first tried this style at A Foreign Affair, but has since moved on to ply this particular craft at Organized Crime, Colaneri, Cornerstone and the new Burning Kiln winery near Port Dover on Lake Erie. The latter winery is on former tobacco lands where there is a surplus of old tobacco drying kilns now converting to grape drying. I simply like his curiosity and creativity, something that is quite rare in mainstream winemaking these days.

March 8 VSOs Reviews Coming Up
There has been a bit of a hiatus in tasting of Vintages Shop-on-Line releases but I was able to taste some from the March 8 release – largely a selection of grand cru classé Bordeaux from 2005 and 2008. As these wines were not posted on Vintages site at our press time we are not able to create finished listings on Wine Align. But watch next week for my reviews to appear, with notification via Twitter.
Back to the Playhouse……

David Lawrason,
VP of Wine at WineAlignCheck out reviews on over 100 wines from the March 3rd release here.

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