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Les choix de Nadia – Juillet

Cool Chardonnay !
par Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier

La fin de semaine prochaine, du 18 au 20 juillet, la région de la péninsule de Niagara sera l’hôte de la quatrième édition du i4c (International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration), un festival dédié au chardonnay de climat frais.

À l’approche de ce rassemblement auquel je participerai, plusieurs questions me sont venues en tête quant à la définition même de la « fraîcheur ». Qu’est-ce qui distingue un chardonnay de climat frais du reste de l’océan de chardonnays produits sur la planète ? Et au fond, sur quoi repose réellement cette sensation de fraîcheur que procurent certains vins ? Est-elle simplement attribuable à la teneur en acidité du vin ou plutôt aux familles d’arômes qui s’en dégagent ? Est-ce que la fraîcheur est attribuable exclusivement au lieu d’origine des raisins ou est-ce que la signature du vigneron joue aussi un rôle important ?

Autant de questions mériteraient sans doute une longue réponse complexe et nuancée. Pourtant, après mûre réflexion, j’en suis venue à une conclusion plutôt simple. Pour moi, la définition du chardonnay de climat frais pourrait se résumer à un mot : minéralité.

Malheureusement, la définition de ce terme largement utilisé dans le jargon des critiques de vins – dont je suis – demeure certainement aussi vague, sinon plus, que la notion de fraîcheur, puisqu’il repose sur un concept encore plus abstrait.

INTERNATIONAL COOL CLIMATE CHARDONNAY ASSOCIATION - Célébrations

« On peut produire des gros chardonnays boisés un peu partout dans le monde, mais ce qui nous intéresse au i4c, ce sont des vins digestes qui traduisent les subtilités de leurs terroirs d’origine. » Thomas Bachelder, vigneron globe-trotter et l’un des fondateurs de l’International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration.

« Antidote à l’ennui »

En faisant quelques recherches, j’ai retrouvé une réflexion sur la minéralité qu’avait diffusée Denis Dubourdieu, professeur à la faculté d’œnologie de Bordeaux. Dubitatif devant cette perception qui ne s’appuie sur aucune recherche scientifique, Dubourdieu émettait quelques hypothèses après avoir longuement cogité sur la question. En voici un résumé :

« La minéralité caractérise certainement le goût d’un vin inspiré par le refus de la facilité, dicté par l’ambition de faire un vin inimitable associé à un lieu et à nul autre. [...] Minéral dans votre esprit s’oppose à pâteux, complaisant, sucré, alcooleux, sur boisé [...] et est alors synonyme de pur, aérien, frais, serré, tendu, complexe et mystérieux. [...] Minéral fait aussi référence à l’effort. Quand la vigne est facile à cultiver, le vin est ennuyeux à déguster. La quête de la minéralité est finalement celle de l’antidote à l’ennui, que les vins complaisants finissent toujours par susciter. »

Mais comment donc obtient-on ce goût minéral ?

L’histoire a depuis longtemps prouvé que les vins fins et subtils provenaient généralement de régions où le climat n’avait rien d’excessif. Juste ce qu’il faut de chaleur pour que le raisin mûrisse lentement, mais sûrement.

Dans les régions torrides, le fruit mûrit sans peine chaque année, mais donne rarement des vins subtils ou profonds. Voilà pourquoi la Bourgogne donne des chardonnays infiniment plus complexes que ceux de la Baja California, au Mexique.De là l’idée de planter les cépages à leurs limites géographiques : le plus au nord possible dans l’hémisphère nord, le plus au sud possible dans l’hémisphère sud. Et de miser, dans les régions montagneuses, sur les terroirs d’altitude et les coteaux protégés du soleil.

Le type d’agriculture a aussi une incidence sur la complexité d’un vin. En bannissant les d’engrais chimiques et les désherbants et en travaillant les sols, on favorise l’enracinement profond de la vigne et l’apport minéral. Aucune étude scientifique ne le prouve, mais le résultat dans le verre, lui, ne fait aucun doute.

Enfin, loin de se limiter au sol, la minéralité tient aussi de l’état d’esprit qui anime le vigneron. Car entre les mains d’un vigneron paresseux ou trop ambitieux, même un grand terroir de Bourgogne peut être réduit à la banalité. Trop de bois ou de bâtonnage, une vigne mal entretenue, des rendements trop élevés, une vendange trop précoce, trop tardive, etc. Autant de détails qui font toute la différence entre le vin ordinaire et le vin mystère…

De Rougemont à Auckland

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2011Bachelder Bourgogne Chardonnay 2011Coteau Rougemont Chardonnay La Cote 2012Vendredi dernier, histoire de m’amuser un peu, j’ai servi à l’aveugle quelques vins blancs québécois à des amis amateurs de vins qui étaient venus prendre l’apéro à la maison. Dans le lot, le Chardonnay 2012 La Côte de Coteau Rougemont (23,95 $). À l’aveugle, tous étaient persuadés qu’il s’agissait d’un vin européen. Je ne tomberai pas dans les superlatifs faciles, mais je dirai seulement que quelqu’un a évoqué la Bourgogne… À suivre!

Le Montréalais Thomas Bachelder, ancien vinificateur du Clos Jordanne (Niagara), a démarré une activité de négoce transatlantique, spécialisée dans le chardonnay et le pinot noir, en Bourgogne, en l’Oregon et à Niagara.

Stylistiquement à mi-chemin entre Meursault et un Chablis Premier cru, le Beaune blanc 2010, Les Longes(43,25 $) est un heureux mariage de vivacité et de gras. Pas donné, mais excellent!

Sans avoir la même dimension aromatique, son Bourgogne Chardonnay 2011 (27 $)mérite une mention spéciale pour sa tenue en bouche et son volume. À moins de 30 $, c’est un achat avisé.

Encore disponible dans quelques succursales au moment d’écrire ces lignes, le Chardonnay 2011, Wismer Vineyard(41,25 $) est l’archétype d’un bon chardonnay de climat frais. Dégusté à nouveau la semaine dernière, le vin faisait preuve d’une tension remarquable en bouche, avec une finale rassasiante tant par sa texture que par sa vigueur. 

Chablis, quintessence du chardonnay ?

De l’avis de plusieurs, le chablis est la quintessence du cépage chardonnay. Grâce à leur acidité naturelle et à leur équilibre, les meilleurs peuvent être conservés plusieurs années.

À la tête du domaine familial Louis Moreau depuis 1994, Louis Moreau est aussi président du comité interprofessionnel des vignerons de Chablis. De manière générale, les vins sont très fidèles à l’idée de pureté et de franchise propres à l’appellation.

À la fois vigoureux et vineux, agrémenté de saveurs cristallines et doté d’une franche tension minérale, le Chablis Premier cru Vaulignot 2011 a tous les éléments recherchés dans un chablis ! Fort belle réussite aussi pour le Chablis 2012. Parfaitement sec et suffisamment vineux.

Enfin, de l’aveu de Louis Moreau, le Petit Chablis 2012 est naturellement plus friand, souple, fruité et moins minéral qu’un chablis courant. N’empêche, c’est l’un des beaux exemples du genre offerts sur le marché.

Louis Moreau Chablis Vaulignot Premier Cru 2011Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis 2012Domaine Louis Moreau Petit Chablis 2012La Sœur Cadette Bourgogne 2012

Au Domaine de La Cadette, Jean Montanet est un pilier de la région de Vèzelay, dans l’Yonne (au sud de Chablis), où il pratique une agriculture biologique depuis plus de 10 ans. Sa « petite » cuvée, La Sœur Cadette, est issue à la fois des vignes du domaine et d’achat de raisins. Encore plus complet que le 2011 dégusté l’an dernier et toujours vendu à moins de 20 $. Une aubaine à saisir! 

Le chardonnay aux antipodes

Carmen Chardonnay Reserva 2012De Martino Legado Reserva Limari Chardonnay 2012Œnologue de la maison De Martino, Marcelo Retamal est l’un des plus brillants œnologues chiliens de sa génération. Il a mené plusieurs études des sols de la vallée centrale qui sont désormais une référence pour les nouvelles plantations. Persuadé que la cordillère des Andes représente l’avenir du vignoble chilien, il préconise un retour à la viticulture d’altitude.

À l’ouverture, son Chardonnay 2012, Legado – produit dans la région fraîche de Limari –peut presque passer inaperçu. Car ce n’est vraiment qu’après quelques heures qu’il se révèle à sa juste valeur. On découvre alors un chardonnay très pur, à des lieues des cuvées lourdes et exagérément boisées. À moins de 20 $, on en ferait son vin blanc quotidien !

Depuis quelques années, Viña Carmen – une cave appartenant au groupe Santa Rita, mais gérée de manière autonome – ne cesse de me surprendre par la qualité de ses vins, qui offrent généralement un excellent rapport qualité-prix. Pour une bouchée de pain, ce Viña Carmen Chardonnay 2013 (13 $) vendu dans l’ensemble du réseau est un modèle du genre. Rien de bien profond ni de minéral, mais un très bon vin blanc sec, équilibré et agréable à boire.

Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2009Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2009En Nouvelle-Zélande, au nord de l’île du Nord et en périphérie de la région métropolitaine d’Auckland, Kumeu River, le domaine de famille Brajkovich, est réputé à juste titre pour produire quelques-uns des vins les plus fins du pays. Animé par la volonté d’obtenir un vin pur et fidèle au goût du lieu, Michael Brajkovich a opté pour une approche peu interventionniste, qui a certainement contribué au caractère singulier de ses cuvées.

Disponible en bonnes quantités à la SAQ, le Chardonnay 2009, Estate (34,25 $) est une valeur sûre. Un peu moins complexe et intense que les cuvées parcellaires du domaine, mais tout aussi élégant. Il a aussi un bon potentiel de garde.

Encore disponible dans quelques succursales dans les régions de Montréal, Québec et Sherbrooke, le Hunting Hill (40 $) est la preuve que la Bourgogne n’est pas la seule à donner à ce cépage ses lettres de noblesse. Le chardonnay conjugué au plus-que-parfait !

Au plaisir de vous rencontrer la fin de semaine prochaine à Niagara.

Santé !

Nadia Fournier

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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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 19th – Part One

A Complete Starter’s Kit for the i4c and Very Cool Chardonnay
by John Szabo MS with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report features chardonnay in the key of cool, the thematic of the VINTAGES July 19th release, as well raison d’être of the upcoming International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. The i4c, as it’s better known, is just that: a celebration of chardonnay grown in cool places around the world. The WineAlign team has put together a robust preview of some of the top wines that will be poured over the course of the weekend, which runs from July 18-20th in venues across Niagara. And even if you’re not going, these chardonnays are worth knowing. Next week, we’ll cover the top picks for the obligatory backyard BBQ.

The idea for the i4c was dreamt up on a summer’s night in 2009 by a group of local winemakers lounging around a backyard fire. These winemakers believed that chardonnay, one of the most widely planted grapes in Ontario, “is deserving of a renaissance. It’s resilient and refined. It can be steely or floral, complex or focused. It expresses terroir better than any other grape we grow.” And the Niagara-based celebration of cool climate chardonnay was born.

The forward-thinking group also realized that Ontario chardonnay needed to be put into an international context, and so it was mandated that at least half of the participating wineries in the yearly celebration would be from outside of the province to ensure a truly global view of the myriad nuances of chardonnay grown in cool climates. The celebration’s clever motto – 400,000 acres can’t be wrong – tells the story of chardonnay’s dominance of the fine wine world, with Ontario seeking to establish its own niche within.

School of cool

The School of Cool at i4c

It was also determined that a respected international keynote speaker with an important outsider’s perspective would be invited each year – a show of confidence by the local industry. The inaugural celebration in 2011 welcomed Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator, Stephen Brook (Decanter) joined in 2012 and Steven Spurrier (Decanter) in 2013. Tim Atkin MW, a multi award-winning London-based wine writer and broadcaster will deliver this year’s keynote address and share his perspective on how Ontarian vintners are performing while the world is watching.

Although there is a full day of technical talk aimed at the trade on Friday the 18th at Brock University, the rest of the weekend’s events are designed for general enjoyment. Stephen Brook had this to say about the 2012 edition: “We gathered to celebrate some great cool climate wines and to explore what makes them distinctive, but we also enjoyed those wines with top international winemakers alongside great food in a delightfully informal atmosphere. The perfect blend of sophisticated appreciation and unsophisticated fun”.

Principals from fifty-eight wineries and around 2000 guests are anticipated over the course of the weekend, and I’d hope to see you among them. I’ll be moderating the technical sessions on Friday, so if you’re particularly keen, stop by with your most detailed questions. Panels of experts have been convened to discuss topics like “Yield in Context: a discussion regarding the importance of yield in producing high quality wines, in relationship to other factors (terroir, weather, mesoclimate, vine age”. It’s the sort of stuff that has kept you up at night wondering. For all of the rest of the event details and tickets visit: www.coolchardonnay.org

Your i4c Starter Kit: Some Top Preview Picks

Unless you’re amazingly efficient and plan on staying in Niagara for the whole weekend, it’ll be tough to taste over a hundred wines. So here’s a short, if not comprehensive, list of what not to miss to get you started; even if you’re not attending the i4c, these are chardonnays worth tracking down. All recommendations will be either released through VINTAGES on July 19th, or are available directly from wineries.

International Selections

Domaine Dublère Savigny Lès Beaune Aux Vergelesses 1er Cru 2011Champy Pernand Vergelesses En Caradeux Premier Cru 2011Triple Alignment! No chardonnay celebration of any kind would be complete without wines from the spiritual and physical home of chardonnay, and Burgundy is indeed represented by several fine wines. At the top of the quality pile is the Maison Champy 2011 Pernand-Vergelesses En Caradeux 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($49.95).

John Szabo – Although En Caradeux may not be the most celebrated 1er cru in Pernand, Champy’s bottlings in recent vintages have been outstanding, and this one follows in the same vein. It also underscores the dramatic improvements that the larger negociant houses have been forced to make to keep up with the rising quality of small family-run domaines. The 2011 is an excellent success for the vintage, to be enjoyed after 2016 or held into the mid-twenties.
David Lawrason - Sitting at the foot of the Corton-Charlemagne vineyards this Pernand is one of the great underrated white wine sites of Burgundy. Combine that with much improved winemaking at the tiny negociant firm of Champy in Beaune and you get one exciting, cracking good chardonnay.
Sara D’Amato – En Caradeux is a tiny 1er Cru climat located within Pernand Vergelesses that produces both chardonnay and pinot noir, but is best known for its whites. There is great dimension and length to this wildly compelling wine with a touch of naughty volatility.

Triple Alignment!

John Szabo – The village of Savigny-les-Beaune is arguably the best of the lesser-known communes of the Côtes de Beaune, and one of my favourite hunting grounds for value, such as it exists in the Côte d’Or. The 2011 Domaine Dublère Savigny-Lès-Beaune Aux Vergelesses 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($58.95) is hardly inexpensive, but drinks like solid Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru with its restrained, firm, tightly wound, briskly mineral style.  It’s another exception to the rule of usually light and delicate 2011s, best after 2017.
David Lawrason – Savigny les Beaune and Pernand Vergelesses are adjoining AOCs, so I am assuming this hails from a site somewhere on the border. And it delivers similar quality and style to the Maison Champy Pernand, if in a slightly more sleek and tender style of Savigny.
Sara D’Amato – The Vergelesses vineyard is the closest of the Savigny-les-Beaune sites to Pernand-Vergelesses which nuzzles up to the Grand Cru sites of Corton. Expect terrific depth, poise and substance from this exceptional chardonnay that I rarely reward with such a score.  Both grand and reserved, this is an epic wine.

DECELLE-VILLA SAVIGNY-LES-BEAUNE BLANC 2012Domaine Nadine Ferrand Lise Marie Pouilly Fuissé 2011Also fine value from the same village is the Decelle-Villa 2012 Savigny-Les-Beaune Blanc, Burgundy, France ($40.95), a producer who has attended the i4c in the past. Olivier Decelle is the man behind the highly regarded fortified Roussillon wines of Mas Amiel, while Pierre-Jean Villa helped develop les Vins de Vienne, a sought-after boutique négociant in the northern Rhône. The pair has joined forces in Burgundy, where they share a cellar with Canadian Thomas Bachelder (also at i4c 2014), making wine from both purchased grapes and estate parcels all managed organically or biodynamically. Wood has been masterfully integrated into this minerally ensemble, while elegant white-fleshed fruit dominates the palate.

Domaine Nadine Ferrand Lise-Marie 2011 Pouilly-Fuissé, Burgundy, France ($27.95). Southern Burgundy is another regional hot spot where quality and value intersect. The limestone-rich soils of the hills surrounding the villages of Pouilly and Fuissé yield the region’s top crus (an official cru system is currently being proposed), and Nadine Ferrand farms 10 hectares in the heart of the appellation. In 2011 she produced a very floral Pouilly Fuissé with substantial intensity and depth. I appreciate the freshness and balance on offer, the ethereal nature without being insipid. This is simply well-balanced, genuinely concentrated, well made, regionally representative wine.

Miguel Torres Gran Viña Sol Chardonnay 2012Marimar Estate Acero Chardonnay 2012The Russian River Valley of Sonoma is not a particularly cool region admittedly, but the Marimar Estate 2012 Acero Chardonnay Don Miguel Vineyard Russian River Valley, California, USA ($29.95) is an unoaked cuvée (acero means stainless steel in Spanish) from Marimar Torres, aimed at, and achieving, freshness balanced with typically ripe Russian River fruit. I like the equilibrium of fleshy fruit and firm acids; serve it chilled to tone down generous alcohol and up the freshness.

Double Alignment!

John Szabo – And keeping it in the family, Marimar’s father Don Miguel offers the keenly priced Miguel Torres 2012 Gran Viña Sol Chardonnay, Penedès, Spain ($15.95). Cool and Spain aren’t often in the same sentence, but a case can be made for the genuinely cooler highlands of the upper Penedès region north of Barcelona where this wine is grown. It’s simple but fresh and lively, with intensity that’s more than in line with the price category.
Sara D’Amato – The grapes of this well-priced chardonnay come from the middle and upper Penedès at higher elevations (up to 800 meters above sea level) which gives the wine a cooler climate feel of lively fruit and vibrant acids. Just a touch of oak is welcome and matches the intensity of this peppery wine well.

A Banker’s Dozen Very Cool Ontario Chardonnays (All will be at the i4c)

Hidden Bench 2011 Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($38.00) From Hidden Bench, owned by the former i4c chairman Harald Thiel, this a really very fine chardonnay. The Felseck vineyard on the Beamsville Bench has consistently yielded minerally, palpably chalky-textured wines over the past several vintages and the 2011 even brings that minerally edge up a notch or two. It’s tightly wound and stony the way we like it, and surely one of the top chardonnays of the vintage.

Hillebrand Showcase Series 2012 Wild Ferment Chardonnay Oliveira Vineyard, Lincoln Lakeshore ($36.20)The Oliveira Vineyard in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation is one of the few sites below the Niagara Bench that’s capable of producing genuinely mineral and composed examples of chardonnay, as Hillebrand (now Trius) has consistently shown over several vintages. The 2012 is given royal treatment in the cellar including a ‘wild ferment’ with native yeasts, and is rich and powerful to be sure, but also poised and highly stony, with impressive balance.

Tawse 2011 Quarry Road Chardonnay, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula $34.95 The Quarry Road vineyard in the cool Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation is consistently my favorite chardonnay from the excellent Tawse range, and 2011 has yielded another first class edition. It stands out for its purity, precision and pristine fruit and limestone character.

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2011Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay Oliveira Vineyard 2012Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011Malivoire Mottiar Chardonnay 2011

Malivoire 2011 Mottiar Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95) Malivoire winemaker Shiraz Mottiar spotted the site that he would eventually purchase while cycling along the Niagara Escarpment, divining that this abandoned pear orchard, directly under the limestone cliff of the Escarpment could potentially yield fine wine. He appears to have been right. It was planted in 2003, and has since proved itself to be an excellent source for mineral-suffused, true cool climate chardonnay. This 2011 version is neither rich nor lean, but offers a certain honey-slathered stone character that I find highly appealing.

Norman Hardie 2012 Unfiltered County Chardonnay, VQA Prince Edward County ($39.00) Norm Hardie has done as much as anyone to put Canadian chardonnay on the map, and his wines have become staples on top wine lists across the country. The 2012 ‘County’ offers immediate enjoyment without sacrificing the hallmark minerality and elegance of the house style. This also has a bit more weight and flesh than the mean and fills the mouth in satisfying fashion, though still clocks in at just 12.1% without a hint of green – the magic of Prince Edward County.

Lailey Vineyard 2012 Chardonnay Old Vines, VQA Niagara River, Niagara Peninsula ($40.20) This wine could certainly be included in a panel discussion on vine age vs. quality, making an eloquent that argument that older vines make better wine. From vines planted over 35 years ago, this is well-made, quality wine with integrity and honesty.

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2012Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay Old Vines 2012Cave Spring Csv Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011

Cave Spring 2011 CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95)A cool and composed, vintage for the Cave Spring CSV chardonnay, one of the most reliable in Ontario year after year. It’s more than fairly priced for the quality on offer.

Bachelder 2011 Niagara Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($29.95) Thomas Bachelder is an obvious chardonnay (and pinot) fanatic, making these two grapes in three countries (Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara). Just about anything under his label is worth a look, including his ‘entry level’ Niagara chardonnay blended from three blocks (Wismer, Saunders and Wismer-Foxcroft) He’ll also be pouring the excellent single vineyard Wismer chardonnay at the i4c as well.

Triple Alignment! Le Clos Jordanne 2011 Village Reserve Chardonnay VQA Niagara Peninsula ($30.00)

John Szabo – 2011 is shaping up to be a fine vintage for Le Clos’ whites, a combination of maturing vines, and winemaker Sébastien Jacquey getting more attuned to the vagaries of Niagara and the specifics of his vineyards. This is certainly no major step down from the other “crus”, so fair value to be sure.
David Lawrason - The Village reserve may be the basic “vineyard blend” in the Le Clos lineup, and perhaps lacking a bit of finesse of its more expensive stable mates, but this is solid, complex, thoughtful cool climate chardonnay.
Sara D’Amato – Liquid loveliness – this entry level chardonnay from Le Clos Jordanne benefits from a superb vintage that was, by all accounts, warm and dry but with a bit of a dicey start that may have caused some natural thinning and subsequent concentration in the resulting wines. Here is a wine with definition, with amplitude and on a path of graceful maturation – a fine example of cool climate character.

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011Southbrook Vineyards WhimsyStratus Chardonnay 2012

And for those who like more sumptuous versions of chardonnay, there are two from the marginally warmer growing area south of Niagara on the Lake. The Southbrook Vineyards 2012 Whimsy! “Richness” Chardonnay, VQA Niagara On The Lake ($34.95) is a barrel selection of wines that fit winemaker Ann Sperling’s whimsy of the vintage. It’s from biodynamically-grown estate fruit, and is really is all about the palate: thick and dense, rich and full, as the name promises.

In a similar vein, the Stratus 2012 Chardonnay, Niagara On The Lake ($48.00) is a wine for fans of full-bodied chardonnay that coats the palate. The overall impression is highly reminiscent of California-style (more Sonoma than Napa) chardonnay, ambitiously oaked and very creamy, not surprising given the input of California consultant Paul Hobbs at Stratus.

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

From VINTAGES July 19th release:

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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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 5th – Part Two

Spain and the best of the rest
by John Szabo MS with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

This week’s report comes a bit later than usual due to a birthday celebration – Canada’s – and a postponed LCBO tasting, but here we wrap up coverage of the July 5th VINTAGES release with some cool chardonnays leading up to the highly anticipated i4c weekend (International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration) happening July 18th-20th in Niagara, of which more to come next week. We also have some picks from Spain, a couple of rosés and more to get you through the week.

The main feature of the July 5th release is New Zealand, which was admirably covered last week by David and Sara, and it’s safe to say that we have all aligned on the recommendations already set out. Many of my top producers have been highlighted, and the LCBO has done a fine job in selecting some of the top regional representatives. Spain, on the other hand, the mini feature this week, offers less excitement overall. It seems Ontarians are not yet privy to the best that this ascending country has to offer, though there are a couple worth your attention.

Chardonnay comes up strong with a half-dozen very solid wines from California, South Africa, Niagara and Burgundy, proving once again the adaptability and suitability of the world’s most planted fine white grape, while premium rosé – the real, dry, purpose-grown stuff is represented by the country that does it best: France. A few extras round out the week’s picks.

Spain

Finca Constancia 2011Star Alignment: Peique 2012 Tinto Mencía, Bierzo ($15.95). John Szabo – Another fine, fruity-savoury example of mencía from Bierzo, with balanced, succulent acids and moderate-firm tannins. This delivers all one could want from a $16 wine. Drink now or hold short-term. David Lawrason – There are plenty of pleasant fruity young (joven) reds coming out of Spain nowadays, but I often find them too soft. The mencia grape of Bierzo however has the character to infuse a bit more tension and refreshment. This is a great summer red; not recommended for power or complexity or depth, but for liveliness in the glass.

Finca Constancia 2011 Vino de La Tierra de Castillia ($18.95). This is a modern Spanish blend of tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, cabernet franc, petit verdot and graciano from vineyards near the picturesuque town of Toledo, part of the Gonzalez-Byass family of wines. It offers exuberant, ripe black berry fruit character in a modern-leaning style, though the palate is all old world with its dusty, firm tannic structure and prominent acids. This should continue to age well over the next 2-5 years, offering a more savoury expression.

Cool Chardonnay

Hamilton Russell 2012 Chardonnay, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa ($32.95). David already highlighted this wine last week, but I think it’s worth another mention. Walker Bay (Hemel-en-Aarde Valley) pioneers Hamilton Russel have led, and continue to lead the pack in this cooler region of South Africa, well-suited to chardonnay and pinot noir. The 2012 chardonnay is an exceptional bottle in every respect, hitting a pitch-perfect balance between ripeness and freshness, oak and fruit, minerals and savoury spice. A very satisfying wine all around, with excellent depth and length, a wine for fans of classically-styled, balanced, minerally chardonnay.

Ridge Vineyards 2012 Estate Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains, California ($59.95). I can’t seem to get enough of Ridge’s top wines – these are peerless in the Golden State for their authentic and regional character. The Santa Cruz Mountains are clearly a special place to grow grapes, and one trip up the narrow, winding mountain road to the estate leave an indelible impression. Failing that, have a taste of this pristine, evidently classy chardonnay which shines even more brightly in the excellent 2012 vintage. 14.5% alcohol is held in check by fresh acids and ample fruit extract, and the texture is nothing short of beguiling. This will need at least another 2-3 years to enter its prime drinking window, and should also age into the mid-twenties without a stretch.

Cave Spring Estate 2012 Chardonnay, Cave Spring Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($18.95). Angelo Pavan has done an admirable job in reeling in the generous fruit of the 2012 vintage here; I like the crisp acids that counterbalance the ripe fruit, while wood is an accent rather than feature. Fine wine at a nice price.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012Ridge Estate Chardonnay 2012Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2012Kali Hart Chardonnay 2012Caves Des Vignerons De Buxy Montagny Les Chaniots 1er Cru 2010

Kali Hart 2012 Chardonnay, Monterey County, California ($23.95). This wine from the reliable house of Talbott is a bit of a conundrum off the top admittedly, with a bit of an awkward sweet-sour tension upfront. But there’s plenty of flavour intensity and very good length to be sure, above the regional average in the price category. Ultimately this has merit, and should be revisited in 1-2 years by which time it will have knit together nicely.

Caves Des Vignerons De Buxy 2010 Montagny Les Chaniots 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($24.95). The Côte Chalonnaise, south of the Côte d’Or is one of Burgundy’s hot spots for value, and the cooperative at Buxy is a great place to start shopping. This 2010 premier cru delivers a fine dose of chalky-limestone minerality on a taught and tightly wound frame, with little interference from wood. I appreciate the vibrancy and forthrightness of this wine, made simply and honestly. Solid length, too; a fine ‘starter’ wine for those getting into white Burgundy, or for those who love it but don’t always have $40-$50 to dispose on a bottle.

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2012Melville Verna’s 2011 Estate ChardonnayMelville Verna's Estate Chardonnay 2011, Santa Barbara County ($16.95). Here’s an open, honest, characterful California chardonnay at an unusually low price. This has plenty of chalky minerality, tart acids (in the good sense), and sensible, low oak influence. This has everything but the high price tag; if I had a restaurant, I’d be pouring this by the glass.

Star Alignment: Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled 2012 Chardonnay Musqué, Niagara-on-the-Lake ($16.95). John Szabo – The aromatic musqué clone of chardonnay shines here from Chateau des Charmes in 2012, capturing the essence of the vintage nicely. Fruit is round and ripe in the orchard/tree fruit spectrum, while generous but balanced alcohol carries the finish. A pleasant, round, easy-sipping example all in all, for current enjoyment. David Lawrason – The musque clone of the chardonnay grape is a peek-a-boo performer in Niagara and seems to like the warmer vintages that coax out its more opulent characteristics. At least that’s what I like about musque. No point it tasting taut and lean like riesling, of which we have plenty of good examples. This is textbook musque.

Rosé and More

Château De Lancyre 2013 Pic Saint-Loup Rosé, Coteaux du Languedoc ($17.95). A rosé made in the Provençal style from about half grenache and syrah (with a splash of cinsault), offering genuine concentration and depth, not to mention length, while complexity stretches the rosé genre further than its used to going. A rosé for serious wine drinkers from one of the Languedoc’s most interesting appellations in my view.

Domaine De l’Hermitage 2013 l’Oratoire Bandol Rosé ($24.95). $25 may seem like a lot to pay for rosé, and it’s certainly well above the average, though then again so is the quality of the mourvèdre-based rosés from this small appellation overlooking the Côte d’Azure. This pale, delicate wine offers a fine mix of savoury herbs and bright red fruit flavours, with very good complexity and length. This is the sort of rosé I could drink all summer, and all winter long.

Château De Lancyre Pic Saint Loup Rosé 2013Domaine De L'Hermitage L'Oratoire Bandol Rosé 2013Terredora Fiano Di Avellino 2012Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013

Terre Dora 2012 Fiano Di Avellino ($21.95). Regional leader Terre Dora’s 2012 Fiano is a sultry, smoky, mineral-driven white wine with subtle grapefruit-citrus and savoury herbal notes, though this is not a fruity wine by any stretch. The palate offers plenty of palpable texture and grip, salty-saline-mineral flavours and excellent length and depth. As with many wines from volcanic terroirs, this is not a soft and easy-sipping style, but rather one that demands some attention and desire to explore the more regionally distinct variations of the wine world. Drink or hold this a half-dozen years or longer I suspect, without sacrificing any quality, on the contrary, enhancing the honeyed-stony side.

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara 2013 Riesling, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95). Here’s another fine example of Tawse’s “entry level” riesling, which has consistently performed above its price category. The 2013 is crisp, bright and green apple flavoured, in a perfectly balanced, barely off-dry style. Impressive length, too. Drink or hold short term.

Lawrason’s Take

Osborne Bailen Dry Oloroso Sherry, Jerez, Spain $16.95 – I have a habit of being mightily impressed by sherries when I taste them after a long day of working through whites and reds in Vintages lab. No exception here for this browning old chestnut. Make that a walnut. This is high strung, powerful yet refined and the complex tapestry of dried fruit, citrus, barrels and nuts flavours drift on forever.

Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico Riserva 2009Osborne Bailen Dry Oloroso SherryBordeaux 2010s: The Hits Keep on Coming

Between regular releases and some In Store Discoveries there are four very worthy 2010 Bordeaux on this release. Sure, most are pricey, but we are not talking $100s for top echelon wines here. If you are collector, or a fan, or wanting to explore the allure of Bordeaux here are four, from least to most expensive, to consider. And they cover four main regions. Check out the full reviews by clicking on the link, beginning with an under $20 merlot that over delivers:

Château Gachon 2010 Cuvée Les Petits Rangas, Montagne Saint-Émilion ($18.95)

Château Tour Maillet 2010, Pomerol ($49.00)

Château Sociando-Mallet 2010, Haut-Médoc ($57.00)

Château De Fieuzal 2010, Pessac-Léognan ($64.00)

Star Alignment: Villa Cafaggio 2009 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($26.95). David Lawrason – This is 100% sangiovese (whereas many Chiantis can now contain a small percentage of cabernet, merlot, even syrah). This is perhaps why I find this such an authentic expression of Tuscan red, with fruit bolstered by the warm 2009 vintage, then softened and given some grace by an extra year of ageing in barrel and bottle. Drinking very nicely right now. Sara d’Amato – A charming, classic example of Chianti from elevated plantings. The wine has a very natural, traditional feel and impressive length.

Sara’s Sommelier Selection

Lealtanza 2012 White, Rioja, Spain ($15.95). Fresh, zesty, pure and appealing, this unoaked viura based white offers clean refreshment at a very fair price. Lealtanza means “loyal”, i.e. loyal to tradition as the producer has an inclination to take a classic approach to their wines such as using only indigenous varietals.

Edge Wines 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast, California ($29.95). Nothing to do with U2, Edge is actually produced by Signorello wines – the high-end Napa producer with a Vancouver connection. Here is a wine that used to be a restaurant gem, unavailable to the general public. In the past 5 years, it has increased in price, but not declined in quality, and is now widely available. Despite its commercially focused appeal, the wine boasts really great structure, concentration and is perfectly dry.

Malma 2010 Reserva Malbec, Neuquén, Patagonia, Argentina ($17.95). From the cooler, southern reaches of Patagonia, Malma is a stunning malbec at a highly palatable price. This isn’t a big, boastful style of malbec but rather a stylish, sophisticated and well-balanced example that is sure to make an impression.

Lealtanza White 2012Edge Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Malma Reserva Malbec 2010Ortas L'estellan Gigondas 2011Roux Père & Fils L'ebaupin Saint Aubin 2010

Ortas l’Estellan 2011 Gigondas, Rhône, France ($24.95). A gracefully maturing Gigondas with ample southern charm, garrigue and impressive complexity. Despite its high alcohol, the wine feels in no way heavy, sweet or unbalanced. Well-priced and drinking beautifully now.

Roux Père & Fils 2010 l’Ebaupin Saint Aubin, Burgundy, France ($28.95). An uncommon find, and a lovely one at that – Saint Aubin is nestled among some of the finest white Burgdundy sites, close to Montrachet. Red is also produced in this region and this beautifully perfumed version, lean in body but with impressive complexity is a splendid example of the elegant nature of this appellation.

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

From VINTAGES July 5th release:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Selections
All Reviews
July 5th Part One – New Zealand’s Core Strengths

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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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.

Cheers,

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


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Stags' Leap Winery Viognier 2012


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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 www.coolchardonnay.org 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

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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.

Cheers,

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

All November 24th Reviews


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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

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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

Cheers,

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier


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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


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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
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David Lawrason
VP of Wine


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 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Chardonnay


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