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Discover diversity at this year’s Chilean Wine Festival – Oct 28th

Wines of Chile and the Trade Commission of Chile (ProChile) are pleased to present their annual celebration of wine, food, music and culture – the Chilean Wine Festival in Toronto at the Royal Ontario Museum this coming October 28th.

Wines of Chile banner

Chilean Wine Festival Exclusive Offer

WineAlign readers are invited to discover the diversity of Chilean wines with an exclusive offer. Purchase your tickets using the promotional code WINEALIGN and you will get $10 off the regular admission price of $75. (details below)

Explore new wines

Approximately 120 wines will be available for tasting from more than 23 wineries travelling from Chile for this exciting event. Many of the wines will be featured in Canada for the first time. Guests will be treated to a truly rare cultural experience as they discover, taste and learn about the world of Chilean wine.

In a casual relaxed setting, guests will enjoy Chilean fusion cuisine prepared by Daniel and Daniel catering and different styles of red and white wines from the many regions of Chile. A collection of Latin American music will be performed live by Farrucas Latin Duo.

Themed tables will feature Trophy Winners from the 11th Annual Wines of Chile Awards, Top Wines for Licensees (Trade Tasting below) and Cool Climate wines.

Chilean Wine Festival Chilean Wine Festival

Participating wineries include: Calcu, Carmen, Cono Sur, Cousiño Macul, Concha y Toro, Emiliana, Errazuriz, Indómita, Leyda, Maquis, Montes, MontGras, Morandé, Pérez Cruz, Reqinqua, San Esteban, San Pedro, Santa Alicia, Santa Carolina, Santa Rita, Tarapacá, Siegel, Undurraga, Ventisquero, VIA, Volcanes de Chile.

Event Details

WineAlign readers are invited to discover the wines of Chile with an exclusive offer. Purchase your tickets using the promotional code WINEALIGN and you will get $10 off the regular admission price of $75.

Date & Time:

Tuesday October 28th, 2014
Walk-About Tasting – 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm


Royal Ontario Museum, Peter F Bronfman Hall, 2nd level
100 Queens Park, Toronto, Ontario

Price: $75 regular, $65 with the promotional code WINEALIGN

Click here to purchase tickets

Wines of Chile - Purchase Tickets

Attention Trade & Media

Qualified members of the food and beverage industry and journalists are invited to register for 2 special events earlier in the day:

Trade & Media Seminar, 11:30 – 1:00 pm. Topic: Cool Climate Wines. Special Guest: Hector Vergara, Master sommelier and president of the sommelier association in Chile

Trade Walk About Tasting, 1:00 – 5:00 pm: 11th AWoCA Trophy and Gold medal winners, Cool Climate Wines & Top Wine Picks for Licensees.

Trade and Media are asked to register online at or RSVP to Lisa Ulrich at


Chilean Wine Festival

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

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES May 10 – Part One

South America, Germany and Rosé
By John Szabo with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s Buyers Guide to VINTAGES (note our new name) features wines from South America, Germany and the annual spring fling with rosé. I’m pleased to report that there are plenty of good values, and good wines in the release, and the stars align on a handful. David Lawrason and Sara D’Amato also add their personal recommendations. Read on to see the top picks.

South America

The South American feature is a well-chosen selection that for the most part thankfully avoids the raft of over-made wines that have plagued offers from Chile and especially Argentina in the past. There’s a focus instead on balance and drinkability, and the best selections deliver genuine character and class. It’s also pleasing to see far fewer ludicrously heavy bottles – the kind that weigh a kilo empty – that were once all the rage on the continent.

The Stars Align

Valle Secreto First Edition Carmenère 2011Achaval Ferrer Malbec 20122012 Achaval Ferrer Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($24.95). John Szabo – Since 1999 Achaval Ferrer has been making some of Argentina’s best wines under the guidance of Italian oenologist Roberto Cipresso. If I had to choose one word to describe the estate’s wines it would be purity, though I’d also want to add in elegance and refinement. I find this, their entry-level bottling from three vineyards in Mendoza ranging from 13 to 86 years old, to be one of the most attractive buys in Argentina. One can’t help but be drawn in by the freshness of fruit, the delicate, suave and supple palate and the exceptional concentration and length. Best 2014-2020. Sara d’Amato –  A fresh and elegant malbec that smacks of sophistication for a price that is easy to swallow. A combination of old vines and high elevations makes this a wine to covet for your cellar. Compared to its single vineyard siblings, this entry-level is an undeniable value.

2011 Valle Secreto First Edition Carmenère, Cachapoal Valley, Chile ($18.95). John Szabo –  Carmenère is often a love-it-or-hate-it variety, a late ripener that can be quite burly and green even in Chile’s warm climate. Though this example has its share of wintergreen and fresh bay leaf, it’s nicely balanced and backed by plenty of and black and blue fruit – a solid and satisfying drop. Best 2014-2019. Sara d’Amato – This is a modern carmenère that has fallen into careful hands. It’s beautifully ripened and offers a slowly unveiling palate of rich black fruit, salinity and hint of dried herbs. The unique terroir of the upper Cachapoal has afforded this wine a really delicate balance between alcohol, tannins and fruit that play so effortlessly together on the palate.

John Szabo Recommends

2010 Altos Las Hormigas Terroir Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95). Another pair of Italians, Alberto Antonini and Attilio Pagli, are responsible for the exceptional wines of Altos Las Hormigas, a winery founded in Luján de Cuyo in 1995. The Malbec Terroir hails from the higher, and cooler, Uco Valley, highlighting the appealing floral side of the grape. Best 2014-2018.

2011 Ojo De Agua Cuvée Spéciale, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95). Dieter Meier is an enterprising Swiss artist and musician, the man behind the electronic music group Yello, as well as a professional poker player and formerly a member of the Swiss national golf team, as I learned from his Wikipedia page. In his spare time, he also runs a restaurant in Zurich, and raises cattle and grows organic grapes and produces wine in Mendoza – now that’s a well-rounded CV. His lovely Cuvée Speciale made from half malbec with cabernet sauvignon and franc, is fine, fresh and honest stuff, best 2014-2018.

2010 Maycas Del Limarí Reserva Especial Chardonnay, Limarí Valley, Chile ($19.95). I’m pleased to see this re-released and back on the shelves of the LCBO, drinking beautifully at the moment. The limestone-rich Limarí Valley in Northern Chile is the finest region in the country for chardonnay in my view, suffusing wines with a distinctively salty minerality, while the cool coastal breezes from the Pacific just a few kilometers away keep grapes fresh and focused.

2009 Tabalí Reserva Especial Limarí Valley, Chile ($22.95). But the Limarí is not just about fine chardonnay, as this blend of 3/4 syrah, with merlot and cabernet from Tabalí clearly shows. I’ve been regularly impressed with the full range from this estate, which I visited several years ago, now celebrating 21 years in business. This is also a re-release from last year, when it was also recommended. The extra year of age has conferred softer tannins and better wood integration, making it even more appealing. Best now-2019.

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Terroir 2010  Ojo De Agua Cuvée Spéciale 2011  Maycas Del Limarí Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2010  Tabalí Reserva Especial 2009  Maipe Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

More from Sara d’Amato

Maipe Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95). At over 3,000 feet above sea level where this delectable cabernet is grown, you can bet that the winds can be felt. The name Maipe means of the “Lord of the Wind” which is still called upon frequently to tame the summer heat. This entry-level cabernet delivers impressive depth and intensity all the while remaining open, honest and expressive.

Lawrason’s Take

Montes Purple Angel 2011Hermanos De Domingo Molina Hermanos Torrontés 2012Hermanos De Domingo Molia 2012 Torrontés Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina ($12.75). Torrontes must be the most obvious wine on the planet, with a peacock’s tail of perfumed aromatics. Some will hate it, others won’t. But whatever your stance, this is a textbook example. And at only $12.75 you can afford to find out where you stand.

Montes 2011 Purple Angel, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($59.95). For several years this has stood as an icon for Chile’s aspirations to make “great, global wine”. And as much as you might balk at spending $60 on Chilean red, I urge you to divert $60 from the purchase of any mainstream Bordeaux or California reds. And take the time to decant and delve into the fine nuances offered within its rich framework.


Riesling is still king in Germany, made in a style that I’ve yet to find reproduced anywhere else in the world, while pricing remains utterly attractive. Consider that barely a century ago, the top vineyards fetched higher prices than Bordeaux’s classified growths. Personally, I’m delighted with the situation – I’ll happily buy a hundred bottles of great riesling for the cost of one first growth. But the country offers more than just riesling, as David and Sara reveal.

The Stars Align

2011 C.H. Berres Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany ($18.25). John Szabo –  Rich, heady and ripe, as is frequently the case for rieslings from this astonishingly steep, perfectly oriented vineyard and its red volcanic soils, this is a real beauty. Have a look at the picture I took of the Würzgarten and marvel at the fact that anyone even bothers to grow grapes on this precipitous slope, and imagine the effort required to produce this wine. Then consider the price – I can say honestly say that $18 wouldn’t begin to cover my danger pay, though the vineyard workers surely have impressive calves. There’s enough dry extract, noble bitterness and lively acids to dry out the finish, making this off-dry wine seem virtually dry. Best 2014- 2023. Sara d’Amato – This prime Mosel house claims an impressive legacy: since 1510, twenty-one generations have worked the estate. Fermented with natural yeasts and afforded all the luxuries that riesling could ever want (and devoid of almost any interference), the result is a wonderfully expressive and highly intriguing wine – a steal!

C.H. Berres Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese 2011  Max Ferd. Richter Riesling Kabinett 2007Heinrich Vollmer Altum Spätburgunder Dry 2008  Königschaffhausener Vulkanfelsen Trocken Pinot Gris 2012  Werner Anselmann Edesheimer Rosengarten Siegerrebe Spätlese 2012

John Szabo Also Recommends

2007 Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany ($19.95). The Sonnenuhr (Sundial) is one of the Mosel’s great vineyards, combining perfect exposure with well-drained, pure slate soils that consistently yield startling fresh and balanced Riesling. This 2007 was first released in August 2009, and amazingly five years on since my first tasting, the fruit has advanced, but not much, and there’s still a delicious sapidity and freshness to the orchard fruit, not to mention a large dose of classic Mosel slatey minerality. Ahh, the magic of Mosel Riesling, truly timeless wines.

More from Sara d’Amato

Looking down to the Mosel River from the Würzgarten

Looking down to the Mosel River from the Würzgarten

2008 Heinrich Vollmer Altum Spätburgunder Dry, Qualitätswein, Pfalz, Germany ($19.95). You say spätburgunder and I say pinot noir – it’s all the same and yet completely different when planted in the almost Mediterranean climate of the Pfalz. Here vines ripen more quickly, benefitting from sunnier days and a drier climate than much of winegrowing Germany. This pinot will surprise you with its complexity and brooding smokiness.

Lawrason’s Take

2012 Königschaffhausen Vulkanfelsen Trocken Pinot Gris, Baden, Germany ($14.95). One of the great revelations from a trip to Baden in southern Germany last summer was the quality, style and depth of their pinot gris and pinot blanc. Not surprising really given these varieties also thrive over the Rhine River border in Alsace; but I think the best examples from Baden – like this great value – bring a certain slender elegance and polish often missing in Alsace.

2012 Anselmann Edesheimer Roséngarten Siegerrebe Spätlese, Pfalz, Germany ($16.95). Not unlike the Argentine torrontes in this release, this has incredible aromatics – very heady stuff.  Indeed that is siegerrebe’s claim to fame. And as with torrontes some may find it over the top, but I guarantee there will be occasions as our weather warms and you are enjoying a citrus or tropical fruit based salad where a chilled bottle of this modestly priced wine will be just perfect.

John on Rosé

Rosé wines are hot in Canada. Consumption has grown by 38 per cent in the last five years, and a recent Vinexpo study forecasts another 45% increase in sales by 2016. Most of these impressive gains are driven by cheap sweet blush to be sure, but I was happy to taste through the range of releases for May 10th, a solid collection of mostly dry, serious, food-friendly wines. Nearly half of the features are recommended by one or more of the WineAlign cru. Southern France remains the region where I do most of my shopping – I love those pale, delicate, dry, aromatic versions – though there are some fine contenders from elsewhere, too.

2013 Château La Tour De l’Évêque Rosé, Provence, France ($18.95). I could cut and paste just about any previous review for this wine without misleading – this is consistently solid, arch-classic Provencal rosé, and 2013 continues in the same lineage, if perhaps a little riper than average with its generous 13.5% alcohol.

2013 Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé, Languedoc, France ($19.95). Bertrand’s entire collection of wines, a considerable portfolio, is invariably worth a look. Part of your money goes no doubt to cover the cost of the attractive bottle with the bottom molded like a rosé flower, but the wine inside is also of premium quality, in the pale, dry, savoury and fruity southern French style. I’m inclined to pay the premium, and think of the designs you can make in the sand on the beach this summer.

2013 Château Val Joanis Tradition Syrah Rosé, Luberon, France ($15.95). This vineyard in the Luberon sits on round pudding stones like much of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, though the higher elevation yields lighter and more finely detailed flavours. This is pale, dry and fruity-savoury in the classic southern French style, gentle and delicate.

2013 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé, Coastal Region, South Africa ($12.95). Be thankful that the Swedes, who guzzle countless thousand cases of Mulderbosch’s rosé, saved us a few. This is nicely priced, simple but well-balanced cabernet rosé, with the merest hint of sweetness but lots of juicy acids to keep it firm and focused.

2013 Château La Tour De l'Évêque Rosé  Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé 2013 Château Val Joanis Tradition Syrah Rosé 2013 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2013  Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Rosé 2013

Lawrason and d’Amato Align

2013 Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Rosé, Costières de Nîmes, Rhône Valley, France ($15.95). David Lawrason – This nicely captures the basic appeal of southern French rosé – and despite the great pink leaps being made the world over the Rhône still owns this style, with classic fruit so deftly accented by fennel, pepper and that general sense of shrubby “garrigue”. Very well-balanced and priced. Sarah d’Amato – Consistently a bargain, this dry, classic, southern Rhône rosé brimming with spice and pepper is sure to bring the sunshine to you. Costières de Nîmes is located where the Rhône and Languedoc meet (and has changed sides of the border once already), and although the wines tend to be similar to those of the Southern Rhône (with that pleasurable garrigue and blasted by sunshine and heat), they do exhibit greater freshness due to the region’s proximity to the sea. No summer street festival of the South could do without.

Zenato Bardolino Chiaretto Rosé 20132013 Famille Perrin Tavel RoséAlso Recommended by Sara d’Amato

2013 Famille Perrin Tavel Rosé, Rhône, France, ($19.95). With Tavel on the shelves summer can’t be far behind (despite the fact that most of us are still waiting for spring). This small appellation surrounding the picturesque cliffside village of Tavel produces exclusively pink wines (and don’t dare call them rosé!), always dry, aromatic and savory. The Famille Perrin’s is super snappy and taught in an exciting and nervy way with Provençal herbs, lavender and perfectly ripened strawberries.

Lawrason’s Take

2013 Zenato Bardolino Chiaretto Rosé, Veneto, Italy ($14.95). This is utterly charming, and if that’s not what you want from rosé perhaps you are being too demanding. Based on the corvina grape, Bardolino is known for its light, fragrant charming reds and this ‘chiaretto’ is simply a lighter shade of pale. Very fresh, balanced and chock full of fruit and freshness.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
All Reviews

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


Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , ,

Chilean Wine Festival returns to Toronto October 8th

Chilean Wine Festival

Wines of Chile and the Trade Commission of Chile (ProChile) are pleased to present their annual celebration of wine, food, music and culture – the Chilean Wine Festival. Approximately 120 wines will be available for tasting from more than 20 wineries who will be traveling from Chile to Toronto for this exciting event.

Exclusive Offer

WineAlign readers are invited to discover the wines of Chile with an exclusive offer. Purchase your tickets using the promotional code WINEALIGN and you will get $10 off the regular admission price of $75. (details below)

Discover why Chile’s Diversity Lies in its Terroir

Chile’s outstanding diversity of wines stems from the country’s extraordinary geography and unique climate. Regionality is the key to Chile’s stylistic development and winemakers are striving to reflect the different terroirs that the country can offer, especially in the cooler coastal areas and in the Andean foothills.

Avid wine consumers today recognize the names Casablanca, Maipo and Colchagua, but these are just the beginnings of a host of appellations. It is this mosaic of terroirs and wineries that composes Wines of Chile.

Explore New Wines

Many of the wines will be featured in Canada for the first time. Guests will be treated to a truly rare cultural experience as they discover, taste and learn about the world of Chilean wine. In a casual relaxed setting, guests will enjoy Chilean fusion cuisine and meet with representatives from the wineries as they sample from an array of red and white varietals.

Wines of ChileThemed tables will feature Trophy Winners from the 10th Annual Wines of Chile Awards and Natural Choice “Green” wines. Participating winery tables include: Calcu, Carmen, Cousiño Macul, Concha y Toro, Emiliana, Errazuriz, Maquis, MontGras, Morandé, Pérez Cruz, San Esteban, San Pedro, Siegel, Terraustral, Ventisquero, VIA, Villaseñor, Volcanes de Chile, Santa Rita, Santa Carolina.

Catering will be provided by Daniel et Daniel and a collection of Chilean music will be styled by Bellosound.

Event Details

WineAlign readers are invited to discover the wines of Chile with an exclusive offer. Purchase your tickets using the promotional code WINEALIGN and you will get $10 off the regular admission price of $75.

Date & Time:

Tuesday October 8th, 2013
Walk-About Tasting – 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm


Royal Ontario Museum, Peter F Bronfman Hall, 2nd level
100 Queens Park, Toronto, Ontario

Price: $75 regular, $65 with the promotional code WINEALIGN

Click here to purchase tickets

Wines of Chile - Purchase Tickets

Attention Trade & Media

Qualified members of the food and beverage industry and journalists are invited to register for 2 special events earlier in the day:

Trade & Media Tutored Tasting, 12:15 – 1:45 pm: Effects of Green Viticulture on Taste, Cost and Consumer Appeal.

Trade Walk About Tasting, 2:00 – 5:00 pm: Featuring Trophy Winners from the 10th Annual Wines of Chile Awards, Top Wines for Licensees and Natural Choice “Green” wines.

Trade and Media are asked to register online at or RSVP to Lisa Ulrich at


Wines of Chile 2013

Filed under: Events, News, Wine, , ,

John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for October 13th 2012

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Image Makeover: More. Cooler. Australia; Top Ten Smart Buys and a Chilean Trio

In the span of a just few months, Australia’s image in Ontario has received a complete makeover courtesy of the LCBO’s Vintage department. It’s hard to say precisely how and why this occurred. Perhaps it’s owed to strong lobbying from Wine Australia. Or maybe it was a momentary engagement of reason and vision from Head Office. I’d like to think that it was due to the inevitable realization that Ontarian wine drinkers have grown up and want something more than a peanut butter and jam sandwich, at least once in a while. Whatever the reason, the Vintages October 13th release has a handful of absolute gems that will shift your image of Australian wines from PB&Js to haute cuisine.

The Top Ten is back of course, highlighting a quartet of sub-$15, dangerously drinkable bottles, as well as a pair of worthy $35+ wines that deliver high on the typicity scale, and a few more in between. I also recommend a trio of Chilean wines, the mini-feature of the release. Sharpen your corkscrews (or prepare to twist).

More, Cooler, Australia

The makeover started back in the summer, when a large feature covering the wines of Victoria hit the shelves at Vintages. WineAlign covered the release with undisguised enthusiasm, with both David Lawrason and I welcoming the long-awaited introduction of some of the more regionally distinctive and sophisticated wines from this cool state (re-visit my report from July 21st 2012, Australia’s New Cool). Subsequent releases have seen several more fine Australian wines trickle in, with another sizable batch arriving for the August 4th release. And now, the October 13th release features Australia yet again, moving beyond Victoria (although there are some excellent Victorian wines here again) into other regions, notably the Barossa Valley in South Australia, and Margaret River in Western Australia.

This release wasn’t the first time I have come across the wines of Spinifex in the Barossa Valley. That happy moment came courtesy of Wine Australia and educator Mark Davidson, who put on a master class dubbed the “finest shiraz tasting ever assembled outside of Australia” at the Court of Master Sommeliers first annual Conference in Pebble Beach, California in January 2010. The 2006 Spinifex Indigène Shiraz-Mourvèdre was in a line up that included wines from Wendouree, Clonakilla, Giaconda, Craiglee, Mount Langi Ghiran and of course Penfolds’ Grange, among several others, all astoundingly good producers. The point of the tasting was to remind a bunch of jaded master sommeliers that Australia has depth and diversity, not to mention class and elegance and regional diversity, within the repertoire of its flagship grape.

Spinifex PapillonSpinifex Bete NoirSo I was delighted to spot the 2010 Spinifex Bête Noir Shiraz ($49.95) and the 2010 Spinifex Papillon Grenache/Cinsault/Carignan/Shiraz ($29.95), as I walked into the LCBO lab to cover the release back in early September. Spinifex is a decade-old, micro-negociant operation run by husband and wife team Peter Schell and Magali Gely. They source fruit from small growers in the Barossa and Eden Valleys, specializing in Mediterranean varieties (shiraz, mourvèdre, grenache, cinsault, carignan, ugni blanc, grenache gris, marsanne and semillon) – Gely’s family were vignerons in the south of France for generations, and Schell has worked six of the last ten harvests in France, in regions as diverse as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Provence, and the Languedoc. They produce a wide range of varietal and blended wines, all with a guileless purity.

Not surprisingly, there’s a distinctive old world sensibility to Spinifex’s wines, a refinement that comes without sacrificing the generosity and fleshiness that defines Barossa wines. The Bête Noir is an absolutely brilliant Aussie shiraz, with significant depth and grip, smoky-black pepper character, wild herbs and faded violets, along with pure cassis and black berry flavours. The palate offers outstanding poise and balance, tight acids, refined tannins and long finish. The intriguing Papillon blend is very nearly as good, with wonderfully pure and vibrant sweet red berry, strawberry-raspberry fruit, and loads of dusty earth and savoury herb character, not to mention a beguilingly pleasant bitter tinge on the finish. Both are paradigm shifters.

Fraser Gallop in Margaret River, Western Australia, is another decade-old operation whose sights are set at the top level. Site selection with the goal of producing top Bordeaux blends as well as chardonnay commenced in 1998, with the search quickly leading to the upper Wilyabrup district of Margaret River, just 6km from the Indian Ocean. With already established neighbors like Vasse Felix, Moss Wood and Cullen, it seemed clear that this was the ideal spot to realize their goals. In 2006, former Vasse Felix winemaker Clive Otto was brought aboard to lead the winemaking team, and the results are excellent.

Fraser Gallop Cabernet SauvignonAttention to detail is evident in the three Fraser Gallop wines in this release: 2009 Fraser Gallop Cabernet Sauvignon Wilyabrup, ($45.95), 2010 Fraser Gallop Cabernet/Merlot ($29.95) and the 2011 Fraser Gallop Chardonnay ($28.95). But for my money, I’ll save up and pay the extra $15 for the spectacular, arch-Bordeaux-like 2009 Wilyabrup cabernet. Be forewarned that it needs significant air to emerge from its shell – decant for an hour ahead – or cellar for another 2-4 years. But the palate is balanced and composed, succulent and dense without excess weight. All in all, it’s a refined and polished, elegant wine with a terrifically long finish.

Over The Shoulder ChardonnayYabby Lake ChardonnayThere’s also a pair of chardonnays from Victoria well worth drawing your attention to, namely the 2010 Yabby Lake Single Vineyard Chardonnay ($39.95) and the 2011 Oakridge Over the Shoulder Chardonnay ($24.95). I had the opportunity to meet and taste with Yabby Lake founding vineyard manager Keith Harris this past July during the International Cool Climate Celebration in Niagara. Harris is a viticultural pragmatist, leaving nothing to chance, with as deep an understanding of Mornington Peninsula terroir as anyone. Tom Carson, formerly of Yering Station and Coldstream Hills in the Yarra Valley, was hired in 2006 to transform Harris’ fruit into leading regional wines. The 2010 is a polished, complex, subtle and mineral, distinctly cool climate style chardonnay, with succulent and fleshy yet focused palate and excellent length. It’s worthy of the premium price.

Oakridge was one of the pioneers of the Yarra Valley, opening up shop in 1978. The Over the Shoulder range is the estate’s entry line, aimed at delivering a fresh, vibrant, low alcohol, pure varietal expression. The 2011 Chardonnay does just that; it’s restrained, with no oak detectable, while acids are tight and taught. I love the cut and vibrancy of this, a great ceviche wine.

Highlights from the Top Ten Smart Buys

Fans of superb value, zesty, food-friendly wines should consider adding these four sub-$15 wines to their shopping lists:

2011 Beauvignac Picpoul de Pinet, Coteaux de Languedoc, France $12.95

2010 Terredora Falanghina, Campania, Italy $14.95

2010 Henry of Pelham Gamay, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula $14.95

2008 Quinta de Baixo Tinto, Bairrada, Portugal $14.95

The Beauvignac picpoul has been coming into Ontario for many years now, but this is easily the best to date. It’s delightfully fruity and fresh, with inviting citrus and just-ripe orchard fruit (pear, nectarine, white peach) flavours. Acids are brisk, and the finish remarkably long. Not at all what you’d expect from the deep south of France – a perfect seafood/shellfish wine at an unbeatable price. Terredora’s falanghina is a remarkably rich and concentrated wine for the money, with a real sense of tight minerality, ripe orchard fruit and generous body. Acids swoop in on the finish to cleanse the palate, leaving you salivating and ready for the next bite or sip.

Henry of Pelham’s 2010 gamay is a fresh and juicy, infinitely drinkable version, with tart red berry fruit and mouth-watering acids, the sort of wine you can drink all day (and night) without tiring. Bairrada’s notoriously grippy grape baga is given a softening touch of touriga nacional in Quinta da Baixo’s example, yielding a lively peppery and fruity red with gritty texture and firm, saliva inducing palate. A tidy little value here. Both wines are designed for the table, best enjoyed with a light chill.

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard ChardonnayA dollar more than these gets you another vintage of the cracking 2009 Falernia Reserva Syrah Elquí Valley ($15.95), a wine with an astonishing amount of flavour packed into a $16 bottle, as well as the 2010 Artemis Karamolegos Santorini, Aegean Islands ($15.95), a typically restrained and stony example of assyrtiko from the volcanic Island of Santorini, one of my favorite paces to go shopping for concentrated, minerally whites.

At the premium end of the value scale, Ontario is well represented by the 2009 Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($38.00).

This should be counted among Canada’s top chardonnays in my view, an intense, evidently concentrated wine from Hidden Bench’s Felseck vineyard. It has the intriguing “rancid” character of fine Meursault, with no shortage of chalky minerality to back the resemblance. While on the palate, it offers terrific flavour intensity, with plenty of nutty, hazelnut, green walnut, tart citrus fruit and green apple flavours, and on and on it goes. I’d put this in the cellar for another 1-3 years to allow it to unwind – it’s still taught and barely penetrable.

See the full top ten here, which also includes three Italian classics.

Chilean Trio

And finally, three wines from the Chile mini-theme stand out for their excellent value/quality/typicity, and are well worth a look:

2011 Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley ($24.95)

2011 Leyda Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Ledya Valley ($16.95)

2008 Tres Palacios Family Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon Fundo Santa Eugenia de Cholqui Vineyard, Maipo Valley ($17.95).

Gourmet Food & Wine Show

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

Cutting Edge Wines
John Szabo MS & Zoltan Szabo
Renowned Sommeliers

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

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


John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

From the October 13, 2012 Vintages release:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Top Aussie Wines
All Reviews

Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay

The Wine Establishment - Le Nez deu Vin

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

Chilean Wine Festival returns to Toronto with an Exclusive offer for WineAlign members

Chile Chile Logo

Wines of Chile and the Trade Commission of Chile (ProChile) present their 9th annual grand tasting and celebration of wine and food – the Chilean Wine Festival. An outstanding set of 30 wineries bring 150 wines for this tasting. In a Chilean Wine Festivalcasual yet sophisticated setting, guests can mingle with winemakers while sampling from an array of red and white varietals and a selection of food pairings and gourmet cheeses.

Explore the Regions

Chile’s outstanding diversity of wines stems from the country’s extraordinary geography and A Mosaic of Terroirsunique climate. Regionality is the key to Chile’s stylistic development and winemakers are striving to reflect the different terroirs that the country can offer, especially in the cooler coastal areas and in the Andean foothills.

Avid wine consumers today recognize the names Casablanca, Maipo and Colchagua, but these are just the beginnings of a host of appellations. It is this mosaic of terroirs and wineries that composes Wines of Chile.

Meet the Winemakers

The 2012 Toronto tasting will feature two focus tables: Chile: The Natural Choice and 9th Annual Wines of Chile Awards Winners and the following participating wineries:

Apaltagua, Arboleda, Caliterra, Carmen, Concha Y Toro, Cono Sur, Cousino Macul, De Martino, Dos Andes, Emiliana, Errazuriz, Los Maquis, Discover ChileMaipo, Montes, Mont Gras, Morandé, Pérez Cruz, Requingua, San Esteban, San Pedro, Santa Alicia, Santa Carolina, Santa Ema, Santa Rita, Seña, Siegel, Valdivieso, Ventisquero, VIA Wines and Vistamar.

Exclusive Offer

WineAlign readers are invited to discover the wines of Chile with an exclusive offer. Purchase your tickets using the promotional code WINEALIGN and you will get $10 off the regular admission price of $75.

Date & Time:

Tuesday October 2nd, 2012 Toronto, Ontario
Walk-About Tasting – 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm


Royal Ontario Museum, Peter F Bronfman Hall, 2nd level
100 Queens Park, Toronto

Price: $75 regular, $65 with the promotional code WINEALIGN

Click here to purchase tickets

Wines of Chile - Purchase Tickets

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Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks: Chile

Vintages most recent release focuses on food-friendly Chilean wines. Find these picks via

Caliterra Tributo Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011
$14.95 (88 Points)
From the newer region of Leyda Valley close to the Pacific Ocean, this medium-bodied white is distinctive and expressive with a citrus hit and notes of white asparagus and grapefruit. Refreshing with good intensity of flavour, it lingers pleasantly on the palate. Enjoy this with seafood salads, ceviche or grilled veggies.

Oveja Negra The Lost Barrel 2008
$24.95 (89 Points)
Quite dense, plush on the palate, with spiced dark berry (blueberry, blackberry, blackcurrant) aromas and tastes, this ready-to-enjoy red has been aged one year in French oak. A blend of mainly syrah and old vine carignan with some carmenère and a dollop of petit verdot, its hints of tar, smoke and oak make it a good match with grilled meats.

Pérez Cruz Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
$15.95 (88 Points)
This bargain-priced Vintages Essential from Maipo Valley is a customer favourite. Ripe with spiced red berry flavours, mocha overtones and a touch of herbs, it expresses the typical cabernet character of its region. Rounded on the palate, it has smooth tannins with a good grip in the finish. Have with burgers and kebabs fresh off the barbecue.

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Lawrason’s Take On Vintages June 9th Release

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Hot Times, Chile’s Rhône-ifcation, Tempting Tempranillos, Nifty Whites, and Stratus Meets Paul Hobbs  –  

Breaking News – On to Vintages June 9 release momentarily, but first, Parliament last night unanimously passed Bill C-311 opening up personal carrying and shipping of Canadian wine between provinces. The Canadian wine landscape just shifted. I am planning to write about reaction and ramifications in the days ahead, but in the meantime congratulations to Okanagan MP Dan Albas for getting his private members bill passed into law. WineAlign has been reviewing many winery-only BC wines for some time, and BC shoppers as well as those from other provinces can find a wealth of Ontario wines as well. Stay tuned!

Chile is the featured country in this release, and as colleague John Szabo has already pointed out – it is a very strong line-up. And I echo his praise for Concha Y Toro as the engine behind the quality of this particular group of wines, and perhaps Chile as a whole. To have such a powerful and conscientous leader sets the bar high for and inspires the rest of the country. Indeed I would argue that collectively the top companies of Chile – including Santa Rita/Carmen, Errazuriz and Montes – have done their country very proud as they have brought it into the forefront of the wine world in the past generation. I will return to Chile momentarily with an observation about its Rhone-ification, but first to the South of France itself.

Hot Times for Mediterranean France

If you have only recently registered for WineAlign you may not be aware that in the past year our critics have been doing handsprings over the red wines from the Rhône Valley and the South of France. It began with the arrival of the near-perfect 2009 vintage, and it continues with the excellent 2010s. The theme re-appears in this release with very well priced reds from various appellations in Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence. I would have grouped Saturday’s Rhône releases in this bunch as well because the Rhône Valley is at the heart of the matter, located between Provence and Languedoc, and using the same gang of grape varieties – with grenache, syrah, mourvedre, carigan and cinsault leading the way.

Provence vineyards near Mt. Ventoux

Bordeaux is about refinement, Burgundy is about energy, Mediterranean France is about richness and warmth. I spent a week in Rhône/Provence last month, and I can still feel the sun on my skin, smell the lavender scented garrigue in the air, and taste the ripe plum fruit, hot stones and melted licorice on my palate. I was staying near the foot of Mont Ventoux, only a few kilomtres from the beginning of a “wine road” that passes through Côtes du Rhône villages that are nestled against the hillsides of the Dentelles de Montmirail. Outings took me often through appellations like Beaumes-de-Venise, Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Sablet, Seguret and Rasteau;  and I have begun to deliniate their individual styles, and to bond with them. I really enjoy Gigondas, for example, where limestone soils and slightly northwest skew imbue a certain finesse to the otherwise rich and lush wines. Seek out one of the last 80 remaining bottles of Pierre Amadieu Domaine Grand Romane Cuvée Prestige Gigondas that was released last December. The Chateau du Trignon 2006 being released Saturday is a good showcase for the finesse of Gigondas if missing a bit of depth.

Montirius Le Clos VacqueyrasRomain Duvernay VacqueyrasBut Vacqueyras, which was only granted Appellation d’Origin Contrôlée status in 1990, is the region that has somehow gotten deepest under my skin. It is the most rugged, warm and Rhônish – perhaps more like Châteauneuf-du-Pape the iconic appellation it faces across the flatter ground dissected by the Rhône River. But Vacqueyras wines are half the price of Châteauneuf. It’s aspect tilts more to the south, around the bend from Gigondas, and gets less effect of the northerly Mistral winds that cool. The soils here are very sandy, dry and stony creating wines that are very ripe, powerful and somehow dusty, like the excellent Romain Duvernay Vacqueyras 2009 ($24.95). The conditions here also attract organic and biodynamic winemakers, and although I have not yet tasted grenache-based Montirius le Clos Vacqueyras 2007 ($28.95), I will buying a few bottles Saturday to add to my dwindling batch of 2006 purchased last year. This is beefy, deep bio- red indeed!

Mont Tauch Le Tauch FitouHegarty Chamans No. 2The huge, rambling Languedoc-Roussillon region to the west of the Rhône Valley offers even better value than the Rhône itself – but I would need to stay there a year to figure out the complex permutations of soil, aspect, maritime proximity and altitude (hmm, not a bad idea). “The Midi” was a land that time seemed to forget as modern-day fine wine production focused on other regions of France and the New World, but it is now emerging – largely thanks to sons and daughters and few foreigners – to take its rightful place. By and large its wines are still priced under $25, which might make some shy away in fear that the wines might be inferior. Well most are actually under-priced, like Mont Tauch Le Tauch 2009 from the appellation of Fitou, which given its rich, succulent melted licorice palate is a steal at $19.95. Likewise the 2009 Hegarty Chamans No. 2 from Minervois at $21.95. I have not scored/reviewed this at press time due to a hint of cork taint in one bottle but it is a hugely impressive, rich red farmed biodynamically on 15 ha of clay-limestone surrounded by woodlands on the slopes of the Montaigne Noir in Minervois. I will re-taste on release.

Chile’s Rhone-ification

We have all come to associate Chile with Bordeaux varieties like cabernet sauvignon, carmenère and merlot, largely because these varieties were all that mattered in the wine world when the various waves of European immigrants arrived, first in the post-phylloxera era of the late 19th Century, then 100 years later when the Bordelais (Rothschilds) and Californians (Mondavi) flew in to create iconic Bordeaux-inspired blends. If you wanted to be a “somebody” in the wine world in the 80s and 90s you had to make great cabernet-based wine.

But Chile, as a scan of the atlas will tell you, is more Mediterranean in clime, and so is California for that matter. That means the aforementioned Rhône grape varieties should do very well in Chile, and they do.  But the first syrah was only planted by Errazruiz in 1993! My greatest revelation in Chilean wine came about three years ago when I was tasting at De Martino, which brought out some wonderfully, rich, fragrant and ripe Viejas Tinajas harvested from 100 year old carignan vines planted in heart red soils in coastal mountains in the Itata region far to the south.

Maycas Del Limari Reserva Especial SyrahOveja Negra The Lost BarrelEmiliana Signos de Origen la Vinilla 2010 are Rhone varieties, and at $19.95 it offers great value in buxom grill-ready white, and an intriguing flavour journey where the spicy persimmon-like marsanne and anise scented viognier in particular hold their own. I would love to see the result without any chardonnay mollification.

Among reds 2008 Oveja Negra The Lost Barrel ($24.95) is a successful composite of 40% syrah, 40% old vine carignan, plus carmenère and petit verdot from a new project in the Maule Valley by Edgard Carter, formerly of Errazuriz. And finally, we witness the return of Maycas del Limari Reserva Especial Syrah 2008 ($19.95) from the Limarí Valley of northern Chile. Syrah in particular seems well suited to this region, where direct coastal influence sweeps inland across rolling terrain that is underpinned by limestone soils that are fairly rare in Chile.

Tempting Tempranillos

Zuccardi Q TempranilloI’ve always had a hard time nailing the character of Spain’s tempranillo grape. This is partially because it is such a chameleon in its homeland, changing its personality according to its terroir, quite naturally so. But Spain’s historical penchant for ageing its reds a long time in oak and subsuming the fruit doesn’t help. Wouldn’t you know that it has taken a couple of off-shore tempranillo’s to help with the task. First came Tar & Roses 2011 Tempranillo from Victoria, Australia that will be released in July (watch for a special WineAlign report on Victoria). Amid this less oaked version I found the bright cherry fruit I recognized as tempranillo (especially in young less oaky wines from Ribera del Duero). Then, on this release, came Zuccardi Q Tempranillo 2008($19.95) from the Santa Rosa Vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina. It too is heavily oaked in a nod to the old country, but the fruit is so ripe and rich in sunny Mendoza that it shines through, again with the brightness of a fresh baked cherry pie (if with mocha nut ice cream on the side). Love the rich texture here too, by the way – this slightly different style of big red is ideal for the barbecue.

Fernández De Piérola ReservaIf your tastes lean more to the classical interpretation on tempranillo a la Rioja, don’t miss the riveting Fernández de Piérola Rioja Reserva 2004 at $25.95. With its share of farmy funk, and mature nutty, oaky character it will not appeal to all perhaps, but as mentioned before I like some farmy funk in my wines as long as it doesn’t send the fruit out to pasture. And this has lovely cherry-currant fruit and all kinds of other complexity set in an elegant, piquant frame.

Nifty Summer Whites

It’s becoming a tradition to group some of my favourite whites into a little corner of their own. I might add that whites of this type – meaning bright, purely reflective of their origins and inexpensive – find their way onto my personal shopping lists more than reds – especially at this time of year. My white wine fridge is always full, indeed sometimes choked up with favourites from releases last year or the year before. And yes I have a separate 60 bottle white wine unit with temperature lowered for immediate drinking – the best cellaring/wine enjoyment strategy I have ever employed.

Coyote's Run Black Paw Vineyard ChardonnayHunter's Jane Hunter Sauvignon BlancLes Piliers Viognier 2010Ontario of course is prime territory for crisp, pure summer whites. On this release I refer you to Coyote’s Run Black Paw Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 ($21.95) from the Four Mile Creek appellation in Niagara.  Winemaker David Sheppard, who worked many years for Inniskillin, can turn out some fine, elegant wines. Sometimes I feel Coyote’s Run is trying to make too many wines (they are not alone in Niagara in this) but I always pay attention to their single vineyard Black Paw offerings, one of the finest little “crus” in Niagara. From Marlborough, New Zealand don’t miss Hunter’s Jane Hunter Sauvignon Blanc 2011, a crisp, crunchy, mouth-watering steal at $19.95. And here we are back in the south of France to close out the selection. Les Piliers Viognier 2010, wearing nothing but the new Vin de France appellation label, offers very good viognier character, purity and ease of drinking for only $15.95. In 2010 Vin De France was created to allow varietal labelling of wines that might have been blended from anywhere in France. Critics at the time bemoaned the loss of ‘heritage’ and predicted French wine would become as homogenized as Coca-Cola, which of course is alarmist sound-bite nonsense. This is indeed a nifty viognier indeed, and still as French as can be.

Stratus Debuts at the ROM

J-L Groux and Paul Hobbs

Next Thursday, June 14, Stratus Vineyards is holding a tasting at C5 Restaurant at the Royal Ontario Museum that debuts three new wines, each made in consultation with California and Argentina-based oenologist Paul Hobbs. All from 2009, they include a Chardonnay, Malbec and Syrah.  Other new releases will also be featured. For tickets ($45), which include food by ROM chef Corbin Tomaszeski, click here.

I was able to taste the wines and meet Paul Hobbs in Toronto in late April. The very talented Californian, who I have been following since he made his first pinots in Sonoma over 20 years ago, did not have much direct influence on the Stratus 2009s as his contract only began that year. But he has already had impact in terms of viticultural methods to lower yields and introducing winemaker J. L Groux to techniques to handle fermentation with native yeasts. Hobbs said in April that he is very keen on chardonnay in Ontario, and also sees potential for malbec and syrah. He actually grew up in wine country –  Niagara County, New York.

To check out my reviews on many of the new Stratus wines, simply type Stratus into the WineAlign Search field and scroll away (or click here).

Wynns Tasting with Sue Hodder

A few tickets remain for the WineAlign exclusive tastings with Wynn’s winemaker Sue Hodder in Ottawa (June 19) and Toronto (June 20). Rod Phillips will lead the Ottawa event at the Empire Grill, I will host Sue in Toronto at the Arcadian Lofts. I have met and tasted with this fine winemaker several times, most recently on her turf in Coonawarra, South Australia in 2011. The day was a revelation. She will modestly tell you that much of the great improvement to Wynn’s wines has come from incredible viticulture research by the Wynn’s team, but there is a certain natural polish, richness and elegance that reflects the winemaker too.  The full list of wines to be tasted, plus ticket purchasing info is available here .

And that’s it for this edition. I have tasted about 60% of this release (missed the rosés and sparklers), but I will attempt to fill in the holes in the days ahead after the wines are released.

From the June 9th, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

 Wolf Blass Premium Selection Shiraz

 Toronto Wine & Spirit Festival

Aussie Barbie

The Wine Establishment

Filed under: Wine, , , , , ,

John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for June 9th 2012

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Chile is hot, but Concha y Toro is hotter, plus the Top Ten Smart Buys – The report for June 9th focuses on some excellent buys from Chile, one of the strongest themed releases at Vintages in recent memory. Without adjusting my usual criteria for the top ten smart buys  – where quality and price intersect – an impressive six Chilean wines made the cut. And not surprisingly for those in the know, a single company, the nearly 130 year-old Viña Concha y Toro, is responsible for the majority. How does such a corporate behemoth pull off such consistent quality? Read on to learn more and find the best deals from Chile, maybe even something for your Father to celebrate with on the 17th.

Aside from Chile, The Top Smart Buys this week includes a terrific South African Chardonnay from the southernmost point of the Cape, a superb rendition of the Godello grape from Spain, which is rapidly gaining international acclaim as the country’s next great white, yet another impressive Georgian wine, a country with a longer wine growing history than just about any other and more exposure of late than in the last 7,000 years, and a rare but intriguing red from Italy’s Adriatic coast that will remind you of your grandmother, in a good way.

Chile Is Hot, But Concha y Toro is even Hotter

Wine Regions of Chile

Click to enlarge

I can scarcely remember being so uniformly impressed by a Vintages theme. The buying team at the LCBO has assembled a broad range of styles and grapes/blends that offer quality and character well above the mean at fair prices. Of the 16 wines on offer, I’d say fully ten are recommendable (and one wine was not made available for tasting); two out of three wines are pretty good odds. What’s also notable is the variety of the offering. It’s no longer just cabernet sauvignon and merlot, though there are some very good ones to be sure, there are also red and white blends, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, carmenère and syrahs and to recommend. The vinous landscape in Chile is diversifying nicely.

Concha Y Toro Wines

Concha Y Toro Wines

On the other hand, an Ontario wine buyer might complain that a single company dominates that landscape, and it’s true. 60% of my recommended buys from Chile, six out of ten, are made by a single company, Concha y Toro or its subsidiary brands, Maycas del Limarì and Cono Sur. It’s also true that the lion’s share of the Wines of Chile marketing budget comes from CyT, so the company has some pull on export markets and the financial wherewithal to guarantee placements for its wines. But if this were just another instance of a large company bullying everyone else out of the playground in order to push through its mediocre wines, then I would be up in arms crying foul – as long time WineAlign readers know I’m the first to champion small, independent producers making original wines. But in this case, I have to tip my cap to the team at Concha y Toro for the impressive quality and consistency of the range from entry to ultra-premium. Sometimes big is good.

And CyT is big. To give you just one example, they’re the official “wine partner” of Manchester United Football Club, one of the richest sports franchises in the world – I’m sure partnership doesn’t come cheap. It would take far more column inches then I’m permitted just to list the full range of brands and brand extensions of the parent and subsidiary companies. Their wines could fill a Chilean supermarket, and there’d be enough labels to satisfy the majority of consumers.

Don Melchor

Don Melchor, founder

Concha y Toro is a remarkable business story. Since Don Melchor de Concha y Toro first brought grapevines from Bordeaux to plant in Pirque, Maipo Valley, in 1883, it has grown to one of the largest wine companies in the world. It‘s publically traded, and in 2010 sold 29m cases of wine in over 135 countries. Aside from the parent company, the principal subsidiaries in Chile are Viña Cono Sur, Viña Maipo, Viña Palo Alto, and Viña Maycas del Limarí. The company also jointly owns the premium Viña Almaviva estate with Baron Philippe de Rothschild, a clever play to gain access to the deluxe end of the market. Outside of Chile, CyT owns Trivento Bodegas y Viñedos in Argentina, that country’s second largest exporter by volume, and recently acquired Fetzer Vineyards in California, a top ten US brand by volume with 2.2 million cases sold, and tellingly, a leader in sustainable agriculture on a large scale. I’d wager that if you drink wine regularly, you’ve tasted something from Concha y Toro’s stable at some point.

Though it’s not business at all costs at Concha y Toro, there’s also a sense of corporate responsibility. The company has edged towards sustainable development and has undertaken energy audits of its cellars and estimates of its carbon footprint (they’re currently working on a water footprint). They also moved towards the use of lighter bottles to mitigate the environmental impact of transportation. One of the major subsidiaries, Cono Sur, is predicated on organic vineyards and carbon neutral delivery, too, and the addition of Fetzer vineyards, a US leader in sustainability, appears to be another move in that direction.

It’s hard to tell of course how much is corporate spin and how much is substance, but it’s at least reassuring that the company is aware of the importance that consumers, retailers, distributors and even governments now put on sustainable practices in the wine industry. The website even has an area devoted to ethics, with a company code of conduct and ethics posted, as well as a “whistle blower” page where employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders and anyone else can make anonymous and confidential complaints regarding matters related to accounting and internal control of financial reports, among others things. How far the wine business has come.

But impressive business acumen aside, the platform of success is clearly wine quality. And to pull it off on such a large scale is no mean feat. One factor surely contributing to consistency is control from grape to bottle. The company now farms a total of 9500 hectares in Chile, making it the third largest winery in the world in planted acreage. Ongoing investments have been made in the cellars, too, with facilities in all of the major valleys in order to reduce transportation times and keep grapes in their region of origin. The company owns as astonishing 50 thousand barrels. And yet another critical facet of quality is the talent to operate all those facilities.

Ignacio Recabarren

Winemaker Ignacio Recabarren

I’d rate winemaker Ignacio Recabarren as one of the company’s strongest assets. Recabarren is responsible for the exception value Trio line (try: 2011 Trio Reserva Sauvignon Blanc $13.95), the mid-range, excellent Terrunyo series (try: 2009 Terrunyo Vineyard Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Block Las Terrazas, $29.95) as well as the premium chardonnay Amelia, and arguably Chile’s best carmenère, Carmín de Peumo. Recabarren pulls off amazing consistency and quality from the $14 to $100+ range with equal ease, a rare skill set indeed.

In 2005 Concha y Toro purchased the Francisco de Aguirre Winery in the northern region of the Limarí Valley, and launched Viña Maycas del Limarí with the 2007 vintage. Led by veteran winemaker Marcelo Papa and assistant Javier Villarroel, the Maycas wines have become, in a remarkably short time, some of Chile’s best for my money, offering an uncommon freshness and minerality not frequently encountered in Chile’s generously ripe and fruit forward style wines. Try both of the Maycas wines in this release, 2010 Maycas del Limari Reserva Especial Chardonnay and 2008 Maycas del Limari Reserva Especial Syrah. At $19.95 both are smart buys.

Since it’s inception in 1993, Cono Sur has been dedicated to eco-friendly practices. Beginning with forty hectares in the Colchagua Valley, Cono Sur has grown to 300 hectares of certified organic vineyards, including the Campo Lindo Estate in Leyda, San Antonio Valley, as well as the original Peralillo Estate in Colchagua. The company was also recently certified CarbonNeutral®. Try the rich and flavourful 2008 Cono Sur Limited Edition 20 Barrels Chardonnay ($24.95) for an example of the estate’s quality.

Concha Y Toro Trio Reserva Sauvignon BlancConcha Y Toro Terrunyo Vineyard Selection Cabernet SauvignonMaycas Del Limari Reserva Especial ChardonnayMaycas Del Limari Reserva Especial SyrahCono Sur Limited Edition 20 Barrels Chardonnay

Back at the original estate of Don Melchor, now on the outskirts of Santiago, sits a grand old manor house that retains the charm and atmosphere of turn of the 20th century high society Chile. Architecturally, it’s Bordeaux meets colonial Spain, surrounding by a magnificent French-inspired garden. In the elegant dining room hangs a distinguished portrait of Don Melchor, whose name graces one of the company’s flagship cabernets. I wonder what Don Melchor would have to say about the company he founded. I’m guessing he’d be very proud.

Learn more about Concha Y Toro at and Chilean Wine at

From the June 9, 2012 Vintages release:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Top Scoring Chilean
All Reviews


John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Tutored Tasting with Wynns Sue Hodder

The Great Canadian Cheese Festival

Aussie Barbie

The Wine Establishment

Filed under: News, , , , , ,

The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Carmenère – A grape with limits ~ Saturday, August 6th, 2011

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

At home in Chile (but with provisions):  Why is it that emerging fine winegrowing nations seem to need a ‘trump grape’ to promote themselves? Is to stand out from the crowd? A way of crafting something of singular quality, as in the case of (premium) Malbec grown in Argentina? Perhaps it’s a little of both. Either way, for Chile, the ‘trump grape’ is Carmenère. In centuries past, Carmenère was found throughout Bordeaux and other parts of southern France, but was phased out at the beginning of the twentieth century. How it found its way to Chile will always remain something of a mystery, though it was probably brought over sometime in the nineteenth century, along with all the other multi-thousand cuttings that were transported during this period. Until 1996, however,Chilean winegrowers had just assumed Carmenère was a variation of Merlot. The two grapes do look awfully alike, though for the written record I think Merlot is vastly superior.

Carmenere Grapes

However, this is not to suggest that Carmenère is incapable of being crafted into truly great wine. On the contrary, when grown in the right places – it should never be irrigated and must always be planted in the driest of spots – Carmenère can really come into its own. Of particular importance is to keep yields as low as possible, otherwise the wine will taste of nothing but green pepper and underripe cassis. Such aromatics and flavours have often led me to believe that Carmenère is best suited for marginal blending, rather than playing a dominant role in the wine. And it does blend extremely well, especially with Cabernet Sauvignon, adding a lovely perfume to the wine, provided, once again, that the grape is cropped as minimally as possible.

Montes 2007 Alpha Carmenere

On its own, however, Carmenère almost always seems to show its limitations. In fact, I would even go so far as to state that Carmenère is a grape that needs to be blended. On the premium end, even ten percent Cabernet Sauvignon can result in an entirely different wine, one that will not only taste better, but will also age longer. Except for only the most expensive examples, I have often observed that Carmenère will not age for more than just a couple of years. Perhaps this will change, particularly as all the new plantings since 1996 become more mature. In the meantime, what should Carmenère taste like? Make no mistake: the cassis is always there; however, as long as it’s phenolically ripe, the wine should taste great, offering other aromatics of pseudo-fragrant plums, blackberries, light herbs, and spice. These notes should extend well onto the palate, of which Carmenère should always reward with full-bodied flavours, firm tannins, and a reasonably lengthy finish. After all, like I mentioned before, Carmenère is, indeed, fully capable of producing truly great wine.

Click here for a few gems for collectors from the 6 August 2011 Vintages Release.

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for August 6th 2011: Good things come in pairs and Three-star values from Chile

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Thoughts of Work Recede Like Early Morning Dreams:  Deep in the heart of another hot and languid southern Ontario summer, when most are sitting by the lake, or dreaming that they were, it’s tough to get excited about anything that doesn’t involve afternoon naps, backyard BBQs or just soaking up the sun. The thought of 100+ wines lined up for tasting in a window-less laboratory on a gloriously sunny day was starting to seem like work, an alarming thought. Yet against all odds, tasting through the new releases for August 6th, I was impressed, even excited, by wine after wine: there is a fine collection of top quality and value stuff on offer this week. Evil thoughts of work quickly receded like early morning dreams, and it was back to business as usual, sniffing, sipping and marveling at the remarkable variations on a theme of fermented grape juice. So if you can drag yourself momentarily away from mid-summer nights’ musings, check out a few of these selections – it’s worth it.

Good Things Come in Pairs
A fine way to get familiar with a grape is to taste a few examples side by side – this way you can directly compare and contrast variations in terroir and winemaking techniques, and learn more about the range of possibilities within the category – context is key. This week there are a few pairs of wines worth tasting for educational purposes (maybe you can write it off as “cultural development”?), and more than a little pleasure.

Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007Chalk Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 20061. 2007 SIGNORELLO ESTATE CABERNET SAUVIGNON Napa Valley, Unfiltered $59.95 & 2006 CHALK HILL ESTATE CABERNET SAUVIGNONSonoma County $44.95. Ray Signorello is a guy who gets it. He has one of the most extraordinary personal wine collections I have ever come across (and, err, plundered on one happy occasion), without a single average quality bottle – every wine is a reference point for its region/appellation/grape, so he clearly understands what fine wine is all about. His also understands international markets, and prices his wines to sell, not to finance another sports car. His full range of Napa wines favors finesse and elegance over sheer power and heft, so unsurprisingly his 2007 Napa cabernet has more than a nod back to the old world. This is about structure, complexity and elegance, with superb architecture and depth, and a finish that lingers on endlessly.

In 1972, the natural amphitheatre carved into the hills of eastern Sonoma that would become the Chalk Hill Estate was discovered by Fred Furth, while piloting his plane over the Russian River. He had a hunch that those slopes could produce fine quality grapes, and it seems he was right. Despite Sonoma’s reputation for producing more restrained wines than Napa, the 2006 Chalk Hill Estate cabernet is more forward, plush, ripe and immediately pleasing than Signorello’s version. It too offers a fine blend of fruit, earth, spice, herb, floral and oak notes, but with a bit more new world-style palate density. Both, in any case, are classy, and within the high-flying context of premium California cabernet, pretty fair value.

Domaine Piron Lameloise Quartz Chenas 2009JEAN-PAUL BRUN CÔTE DE BROUILLY2. 2009 DOMAINE PIRON-LAMELOISE QUARTZ CHENAS AC $22.95 & 2009 JEAN-PAUL BRUN CÔTE DE BROUILLY AC $18.95 . We’ve been spoiled of late with several releases of excellent Beaujolais from the memorable 2009 vintage, and though I’ve already mentioned a couple in recent reports, I can’t resist pointing out this opportunity to compare two of the top ‘crus’ of the region from a pair of fine producers. In 2004, an 8.5-hectare property was taken over by a pair of well-known winegrower-restaurateurs, and Domaine Piron-Lameloise was launched. The property has seams of quartz running through it, hence the name of this cuvee, and the evident minerality right off the top. The Chenas cru in general, with it’s steep granitic soils, is reputed for its structured and sturdy examples of gamay, similar to Moulin-à-Vent next door, and this wine from Piron-Lameloise should age well for a half-dozen years thanks to its uncommon depth and richness and light but firm, grippy tannins.

“This is the best quality I’ve ever seen… nearly perfect,” said Jean-Paul Brun of the 2009 vintage. It’s been compared to the legendary vintages of ’47, ’49 and ’76. Brun is at the forefront of the natural wine movement that is sweeping through Beaujolais, and the world. Though he’s hailed in serious wine drinking circles as a genius, known for making particularly pure, fruity and delicate wines, he has had on-going difficulties with the French appellation authorities. Several of his wines have been denied Beaujolais appellation status in the past for their ‘atypical’ character. Well, if you consider the typically, insipid, mass-market Beaujolais “typical”, then I suppose they are right. Try this beguilingly floral, fresh yet fleshy Côte de Brouilly with the inimitable lightness and depth that epitomizes fine gamay, and decide for yourself.

Salcheto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2005Montaro Rosso Di Montalcino 20063. 2005 SALCHETO VINO NOBILE DI MONTEPULCIANO DOCG $23.95 & 2006 MONTARO ROSSO DI MONTALCINO DOC $17.95 .  This pair of Tuscan sangiovese shares more similarities than differences. Both are farmed using organic/biodynamic methods with a strong commitment to the environment. Salcheto in fact is launching a carbon-neutral winery this year using the latest water and energy conservation technology. The Montaro is the wine to try first; made from vineyards within the Brunello di Montalcino appellation but aged for a shorter period than required by law to quality for the designation, it’s released as the lighter and fruitier Rosso di Montalcino. The ’06 is absolutely delicious, juicy, and energetic, with light dusty tannins and fruit flavours solidly in the red berry spectrum, complemented by resinous herbs and dried flowers. It’s a wine I could happily drink any day (or every day) of the week.

Salcheto’s ’05 Vino Nobile from the nearby hilltop town of Montepulciano is a slightly more evolved, serious and complex example, with the integrated vestiges of new wood evident alongside some lovely floral notes, ripe berry fruit, spice, earth, savoury herbs. The palate is silky smooth yet firm and taught, with juicy acidity and exceptional length/depth at this price. This wine I’ll save for Sunday afternoons.

Other top smart buys this week include an unlikely but lovely blend of half-a-dozen mostly aromatic white grapes from Niagara’s 13th Street, a superior Spanish bubbly at just $13.95, and aMediterranean white (Adriatic, technically) tailor-made for grilled fish drizzled in extra-virgin oil with lemon and herbs. See them all here.

Chile is in the spotlight on August 6th, and not surprisingly there’s a whole shopping cart full of three-star values ranging from $13 to $30/bottle and from a half-dozen different grapes and different regions. The most exiting development in Chile in the last decade has been its growing diversity; it’s no longer just Maipo Valley cabernet that’s winning fans worldwide, but an expanding collection of grapes intelligently matched to varying terroirs spanning a thousand kilometers north to south. And there is so much to discover. Start with my Top Ten Smart Buys.

From the August 6th Vintages release:
Top Ten Smart Buys
Three-Star Values from Chile
All Reviews

John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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