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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages August 17 Release

Alt-Italy, Wines of Place, 90 Point Reds Under $20, Emmanuel Giboulot

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Every year at this time I comment on the patchy quality of VINTAGES August releases – less well known and sometimes less well made wines that need to get out on the shelf at some point. And in some cases perhaps best when fewer are watching. We are still watching at WineAlign although I admit less than full scrutiny this time as I too have missed a tasting opportunity in order to take a week by a lake. I have tasted 83 of the 139 products – missing a swath of inexpensive Ontario wines that were curiously not presented for preview to media or product consultants, as well as several from South America in particular.

Alt-Italy (aka not Tuscany, Piedmont, Veneto)

Here in the thick of summer you may not want to be drinking many of the southern Italian reds that dominate this alt-Italy selection. There are a couple of northern reds and some intriguing whites, but the bulk assembled for this dog days release are heavy sledding southern reds – some of them intellectually interesting – but in general they are thick, hot, sour-edged and unbalanced. They need lasagna and grilled Italian sausage on a chilly autumn eve.

Taurino Riserva Salice Salentino 2009Ippolito 1845 Liber Pater Cirò Rosso Classico Superiore 2010Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2011Bastianich 2011 Adriatico Friulano ($19.95) is a very classy, sumptuous yet refined white for a mellow summer evening. It is from a winery founded in 1997 and owned by Lidia and Joseph Bastianich – a mother & son team who are movers and shakers in the culinary world (owning 20 restaurants). Their goal is to give the best modern expression to the potential exotic native white varieties of Colli Orientali del Friuli in the far northeast. Friulano is one of the most well known grapes (formerly called Tocai Friulano).

Ippolito 1845 Liber Pater 2010 Cirò Rosso Classico Superiore ($14.95) from Calabrese is a big yet balanced red from one of the most rugged and isolated parts of Italy. The Ciro DOC is set in sparsely vegetated hills overlooking the Ionian Sea. It is made 100% from a grape called gaggliopo. Liber Pater is ‘an Italic wine god’. To lose you in a Google translation: “His (the wine’s) character reminds the strength of the earth from where it is said that Liber Pater, Italic god of wine and vineyard, would stretch the delicate aroma with which intoxicated the festivals in his honour”.

Taurino 2009 Riserva Salice Salentino ($14.95) is my favourite wine of the group. I have always admired the traditional wines of Taurino, based in Salento – the heartland of the Puglian wine. This is 85% negroamaro “the bitter black grape”. More importantly it is made in a traditional style that envokes all kinds of nutty, leathery character; that flirts with volatility; that overwhelms the senses and leaves most modern reds at this price in the dust in terms of its homerun length. Will you like it? Maybe. But at $14.95 you can’t afford not to find out.

Fine Whites of Place

One of the great joys and benefits of this work is visiting the places where the wines are made. It establishes such an important connection. When you go to a place, and taste heavily, you create a mental, sensorial blueprint. I have recently been to each of the locations represented by the whites and red wines below and I can personally vouch that they are prime examples of how the wines of the appellations can, should and do taste. It is the winemaker’s job to translate it well; and these all excel. At very good prices.

Blind River Sauvignon Blanc 2012ANDRÉ BLANCK & SES FILS ROSENBOURG PINOT BLANCJosé Pariente Verdejo 2012Blind River 2012 Sauvignon Blanc ($19.95) is from Marlborough, NZ, but more importantly it is from a cooler sub-region called the Awatere Valley. The winery has rightly added this information on the label, but Awatere – along with many obvious sub-regions in NZ – is not yet an official appellation. When there is such distinctive character as shown here – with a cooler region accentuating sauvignon’s greener/herbal element – the foot-dragging authorities don’t have a leg to stand on. This is Awatere sauvignon – pure, simple and very nicely balanced. Move over marketers, and let the wine speak.

André Blanck & Ses Fils 2011 Rosenbourg Pinot Blanc from Alsace, France ($14.95) shares a similar story, and demonstrates the evolution of a new site. Rosenbourg is not a “Grand Cru” classified vineyard, but as recently as the 1980s the growers near the village of Wettolsheim just south of Colmar realized that this clay limestone based hillside was producing different wines with “exotic aromas”. Indeed! This is a pinot blanc of impressive fragrance and richness. It’s hard to believe this unsung grape can achieve fruit like this. And for $15 here in Ontario!

José Pariente 2012 Verdejo ($16.95) is from a winery whose roots in the region go back to the 1960s when Jose Pariente began making 100% verdejo wines on the limestone-based soils of this high plateau of north central Spain. His daughter Victoria took over after his death in 1998. The winery is now modernized and still very focused on this grape with its “extraordinary aromatic balance of fruity and herbaceous tones”. If you have not yet ventured into verdejo you will not find a better value entrée.

Fine Reds of Place

In recent dispatches I have featured European reds, often of less well known appellations, that express a sense of purity and place. This time I highlight some very fine New World reds. New World regions are places too, and though their details may be less well evolved and defined, they are totally legit. And they are working on it!

Jules Taylor Pinot Noir 2011Elk Cove Pinot Noir 2011Kenwood Jack London Vineyard CabernetKenwood 2010 Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($37.95) is among the top wines of this release. I have written before about this single-vineyard cabernet from a hilltop site in Sonoma where the famed American author lived in a cabin while writing some of his best works, like Call of the Wild, White Fang and The Sea-Wolf, at the turn of the 20th Century. The lava soils of this site were first planted in the 1800s. Since 1976 (the early days of California’s renaissance) the site has been owned by, and the wines made by, Kenwood. The eucalypt and fruit purity here is enthralling.

Elk Cove 2011 Pinot Noir ($37.95) is from one of Oregon’s pioneering properties founded in 1974. This is very early days for Oregon pinot folks. It has been in and out of Ontario over the years, but the Adams clan, now with its second generation at the helm, has been in command all the way. This is a wine with a fine sense of proportion and balance. It is from south facing slopes on four different estate sites. That makes the vines pushing 40 years of age.

Jules Taylor 2011 Pinot Noir ($24.95) from Marlborough, NZ, is the product of the person and her place. Jules Taylor was born in Marlborough the year the vines were first planted. She’s not saying, but I am guessing 1973. She launched her own wines in 2001, with the local insight to be searching out not just certain vineyards, but nooks and crannies of certain vineyards. She is making classy, natural ferment wines with all kinds of complexity and context.

More Fine 90 Point Reds – Now Under $20

Emiliana Winemaker's Selection Syrah 2011Paxton MV Shiraz 2011Boutari Naoussa 2008Emiliana 2011 Winemaker’s Selection Syrah from Chile’s Casablanca Valley ($19.95) is one of the first syrahs I can recall from this coastal region. It hails from a vineyard high in the hills above the valley floor. And it’s a winner. Emiliana is among the leading green producers of Chile, with legendary winemaker Álvaro Espinoza Durán as a consultant. Their range includes the first biodynamic wines made in South America, and if not entirely organic their whole portfolio claims to be made with “integrated management practices”. As important, I like what this $20 syrah says about the potential of this grape in Chile.

Paxton MV Shiraz 2011 ($17.95) is another winner. Ben Paxton is a low key but focused winemaker who has set out to make his Landcross Farm one of the leading properties of McLaren Vale – all through biodynamic viticulture. I can’t establish whether this was made from his fruit but I suspect so, if only because it has a depth and energy I have come to equate with biodynamic wines. It is really remarkable to find this kind of structure and depth under $20.

Boutari 2008 Naoussa ($12.95) is a curio from Greece. You need to be a fan of traditional Euro reds to get your head around this nutty nugget, but it has quite amazing complexity, and firm structure, especially at $13. As mentioned in my tasting note, it would not be out of place in a line-up of older Barolos. It is made from the xinomavro grape grown on mixed soils in hills above the plain of Macedonia in northern Greece.

Best of the Bunch

Brochet Hervieux Premier Cru Brut Champagne 1997Brochet-Hervieux 1997 Premier Cru Brut Champagne ($72.95) is a masterpiece in mature Champagne. It is from a family property established in 1945 as the Second World War ended. Whereas so many Champagnes are made from grapes gathered throughout the region, this growers Champagne is about 80% pinot noir, from premier cru sites in the hills around Ecuil. About 45% of the final blend is of reserve or aged wine, perhaps resulting in the complexity here. But most of all I love the acidity in this outstanding Champagne – riveting stuff that is remarkably alive at over 15 years of age. And a great buy under $100.

Tasting with Emmanuel Giboulet – An i4c treat

In the hours after the chardonnay inundation at the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration the winemakers dispersed hither and yon – some going to the USA, some straight home to get back to work, some taking in the local wineries and exploring Toronto. I was pleased to spend an hour tasting with Emmanuel Giboulot who dropped by the palatial WineAlign offices on Dundas Street West en route to the airport, along with agent Martine-Garaguel O’Brien of MCO Wines. I had briefly tasted Giboulot’s steely chardonnays at i4c and was delighted to have a much more structured tête-a-tête.

Giboulot makes wines from small parcels totalling 10 hectares around the appellation of Beaune, with most of his biodynamically farmed (since 1996) parcels being from non-premier cru sites near the top of the hill on thinner, very rocky soils. (Thus their Côte de Beaune appellation). They are fermented in old oak using natural yeast and minimal sulphur dioxide. As a result they are chardonnays of scintillating tautness and minerality. I can understand how those who love generous, rich chardonnays, might find them difficult. But they certainly enforce the argument underlying i4c that chardonnay can also be very much a wine of place.

We tasted two chardonnays 2011 Pierres Blanches (92 points) and 2011 Combe d’Eve (93 points) then finished with a very fine red, Beaune 2010 La Lulune (93 Points) from a small hillside parcel facing onto Volnay. It’s hard to imagine a more terroir driven, unplugged pinot noir. I have posted my complete reviews on WineAlign. These wines are available through private order by contacting MCO.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

We invite our Premium Subscription members to use these links for immediate access to all of David Lawrason’s reviews. Paid membership to WineAlign has its privileges – this is one of them. Enjoy!

From the Aug 17, 2013 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

Stags' Leap Winery Viognier 2012

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for August 17th 2013

Italy off the beaten path (and worth knowing); Top Smart Buys

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The cicadas are singing their late summer songs, and there’s no time for meandering prose. Reach for a special bottle and enjoy the dog days before they tail off into crisp autumn afternoons. This week’s report highlights notable wines from the August 17th release, with a focus on some off-the-beaten-path Italian wines as well as more smart buys from around the world.

And for those interested in lower alcohol wines, and sulphur-free wines, read my latest article on the cutting edge research undertaken in Sicily to achieve these goals.

Other Italy

The lesser-known vinous corners of Italy, outside of Tuscany, Piedmont and the Veneto, are swept into the spotlight of the August 17 VINTAGES release. It’s a good opportunity to get to know a few of the vast number of indigenous Italian grapes that can produce memorable wine at forgettable prices.

Taurino Riserva Salice SalentinoIppolito 1845 Liber Pater Cirò Rosso Classico SuperioreVilla Mora Montefalco Sagrantino 2006The south, having undergone a massive transformation in the last couple of decades from bulk wine producer to source of highly characterful, if occasionally rustic wines, has a couple of reds to offer: Taurino’s 2009 Riserva Salice Salentino ($14.95) from the southern part of Puglia known as the Salento Peninsula, is very much in the ultra-traditional style, highly evolved, dominated by savoury-umami, cedary, resinous, earth, and pot pourri character with all fruit in the dried/baked range. The palate is mid-weight and firm, with light dusty tannins and bitter cherry finish. The 2009 has some brettanomyces (leather, horse blanket) that some will consider a defect, but as with previous vintages, there’s a hell of a lot of flavour and complexity for the money.

Ippolito’s 2010 ‘1845 Liber Pater’ Cirò Rosso Classico Superiore ($14.95) is in a similar vein, with fruit having slipped into the dried cherry/red currant spectrum while plenty of resinous herbs and earthy notes have moved in. The palate is firm and dry-astringent, in the style of the gaglioppo variety, reminiscent of a more savoury, less fruity version of sangiovese (if you can believe that). Fun, cocktail party facts: the wines of Cirò were used to toast victors at the ancient Greek Olympiads.

The flavour range of the 2006 Villa Mora Montefalco Sagrantino ($19.95) from Umbria, the “green heart” of central Italy falls into more familiar territory for most. Be sure to decant this at least thirty minutes before serving to allow some of the dust to blow off and for the palate to reveal its surprisingly fleshy and fruity side, with plump plum and black berry fruit that’s more reminiscent of a mature Napa Valley cabernet than a central Italian red. This was a bit of a conundrum admittedly to score, since this is not a classic sagrantino nor even Italian style wine, but at the price I’d say it’s definitely worth a look and should generate some interesting discussion.

Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2011Terredora Loggia Della Serra Greco Di Tufo 2011Two fine whites are worth pointing out, especially another terrific vintage of the Terredora Loggia Della Serra Greco Di Tufo ($17.95), a consistent 89-90 point wine in my estimation, at a price that hasn’t increased in at least three vintages. The 2011 offers very fine complexity yet again, mixing delicate lees notes with ripe orchard fruit, wild herbs, light sweet and savoury spice and sun-warmed lemons, while the palate is dense and fullish, with substantial flavour intensity and terrific length. This is a wine worth buying in multiple bottle lots, and alongside some mozzarella di buffala and assorted antipasti, you might just find yourself teleported to the Bay of Naples.

From the opposite end of the Italy in the north-eastern region of Friuli, the native friulano variety shines in the 2011 Bastianich Adriatico Friulano ($19.95). It has a pronounced deep golden colour and late harvest-like profile (or rather appassimento/partially dried grapes, though this isn’t specified in the technical specs, only that half of the grapes underwent an eight-hour cold soak before fermenting), and is highly complex for it. The nose mixes a wide range of ripe orchard fruit, peaches in cream, candied rose petal, cherry cobbler and lightly honeyed notes, while the palate delivers a rich and dense expression, certainly not zippy but in a concentrated ripe and creamy style. It’s the sort of substantial white for enjoyment alongside grilled white meat (chicken, veal) and similarly full-flavoured dishes.

Classic Tuscany

Volpaia Chianti Classico 2010Caparzo Rosso Di Montalcino 2010All right, for those who can’t get enough of the Italian classics, there’s a pair of Tuscan wines hitting the shelves that deliver serious enjoyment: 2010 Volpaia Chianti Classico ($24.95) and the 2010 Caparzo Rosso Di Montalcino ($19.75). Volpaia’s 2010 is one of their best yet, capturing the elegance of this vintage in a perfumed and ultra-classy style with a fine balance of dusty red fruit and polished, integrated old wood spice (large old botti). Caparzo’s Rosso is no less refined, while the palate impresses with its dense structure and juicy black cherry flavours typical of sangiovese grown around Montalcino.

More Smart Buys

Château Prieure Canteloup 2009Château Croix Mouton 2009Boutari Naoussa 2008There are eight more smart buys this week ranging from $12.95 to $19.95. At the bottom end of the price range but by no means the least impressive wine is the 2008 Boutari Naoussa Pdo Naoussa ($12.95). This will have you thinking of fine nebbiolo at a price unknown for that variety.

Another two excellent 2009 Bordeaux will be released on the 17th: the nicely mature and very pure 2009 Château Croix-Mouton ($19.85) with little excess or shortage of any components, ready to enjoy now or hold mid-term, and the substantially flavoured and structured 2009 Château Prieure Canteloup ($18.85 ), which needs another year or two minimum for the high quality oak and tannins to come together.

Bodega Del Abad Dom Bueno Crianza 2006Eidosela Albariño 2011Paxton Shiraz 2011Spain provides two excellent drinking experiences for less than $15: the 2006 Bodega Del Abad Dom Bueno Crianza ($14.95) with its amazing depth of character, intensity and old vine concentration, and the 2011 Eidosela Albariño ($13.95) with its well measured palate, fine complexity and solid dose of minerality to seal the deal.

Fans of big, full and rich Aussie shiraz should head straight to the 2011 Paxton MV Shiraz ($17.95). It’s a full-on, ripe, plump, extracted, biodynamically-farmed wine with heaps of blue and black berry flavour and the depth of many similarly styled wines at three times the price. It’s a great late summer BBQ wine.

See the full list of smart buys below.

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

John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

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

From the Aug 17, 2013 Vintages release:

Top Smart Buys
Italian Selections
All Reviews

Stags' Leap Winery Viognier 2012

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John Szabo shares some Research from Italy

Latest Research Promises Lower Alcohol Wines and Elimination of Sulphites

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The Sicilian Regional Institute of Oil and Wine (IRVOS) released the results of recent experiments to a group of professionals at the 9th Vino Vip conference, held from July the 13 -15, 2013 in Cortina d’Ampezzo, northern Italy. In response to increasing market demands for softer, lower alcohol wines, the Institute has identified and isolated a native strain of yeast, Candida zemplinina, that has been shown to yield wines that are lower in alcohol, with higher glycerol, than control samples. IRVOS also revealed protocols for the production of wines without added sulphites to address the growing percentage of the population that is sensitive or allergic to the natural preservative.

New Yeast Strain Produces Less Alcohol, Softer Texture in Wines

It’s widely agreed that global warming and the expansion of vineyards into warm regions, in addition to more efficient viticulture and the widespread cultural preference for ripe flavours in wine has led to an overall increase of average alcohol levels worldwide. Yet at the same time, growing consumer backlash against high alcohol wines has left many producers wondering how to manage their vineyards and winemaking techniques to satisfy world markets.

IRVOS panel

IRVOS panel

Daniele Oliva, head of the technical and scientific department of IRVOS began a research project with the 2005 and 2006 harvests in Sicily with the aim of identifying consistent and controllable ways to increase wine complexity using multiple strains of yeast for alcoholic fermentation, as happens during wild or indigenous fermentations, but without the associated risks of such uncontrolled fermentations. Research has shown that mixed yeast fermentations can produce more complex wines than those conducted by a single strain of inoculated yeast.

Oliva and his team set about studying the biodiversity of native Sicilian yeast populations, focusing in particular on non-Saccharomyces strains (the dominant yeast in most fermentations). Among the species identified, Candida zemplinina was one of the most abundant. IRVOS’s consulting enologist, Graziana Grassini, then conducted micro-vinifications of musts inoculated with zemplinina to assess the technological and quality characters of the strain. The researchers discovered that the Candida strain produces wine with half a percent lower alcohol and 50% more glycerol on average than the control samples fermented with Saccharomyces cerevisiae alone.

Glycerol contributes to the body and mouthfeel of wine, with increased levels associated with a fuller body and softer texture overall.

It was also determined that the inoculation of Candida zemplinina produced a fermentation in two stages; zemplinina alone couldn’t finish the fermentations, and that mixed Candida-Saccharomyces fermentations were necessary to produce fully dry wines.

Tasting experimental wines

Tasting experimental wines

From tastings conducted at Vino Vip comparing two pairs of the native Sicilian varieties frappato and nero d’Avola, one made using a mixed zemplinina-cerevisiae fermentation and the other from pure cerevisiae-inoculated must, I observed a significant difference between the frappato samples, and somewhat less pronounced differences in the nero d’Avola pair. In both cases, the zemplinina samples showed less pronounced fruit aroma/flavour, and more spice, earth character. The texture of the zemplinina frappato was markedly softer and rounder, with slightly less alcoholic warmth. The differences on the palate of the nero d’Avola samples were less obvious, findings that are consistent with the results of earlier triangle taste tests conducted by IRVOS, leading to the conclusion that the taste effects could be variety dependent. The measurable differences of alcohol and glycerol, outside of organoleptic differences, appear so far to be consistent.

Similar results have been obtained using genetically modified yeasts, but since GMOs are not permitted in the European Union, Oliva is excited to have identified a naturally occurring species with these characteristics. He cautions that it is still early days, however: “Here we are really at a completely experimental stage, because this yeast has never been produced. We are talking about experimental wines, a kind of prototype”.

Oliva knows of only two other institutes currently researching Candida zemplinina. He predicts that the yeast will be ready for sale to winemakers within three years. The commercial implications are huge; I would expect demand for non-GMO yeasts capable of producing less alcoholic, softer wines with good complexity to be extremely high. “Some Sicilian wineries are already interested in producing them, as long as the production costs are on par with those for wines made with Saccharomyces yeasts”, says Oliva. An un-named large-scale producer will begin experimenting with this yeast this year.

Protocols for Producing Suphur-Free Wines

Virtually all consumable products contain sulphites as a preservative, and wine is no exception. Sulphur is added to wine in varying amounts to protect it from oxidation and unwanted microbial activity. Even wines to which no sulphur has been added usually contain sulphites, which are naturally produced during alcoholic fermentation. Although the amount used in wine is generally below threshold, a growing number of people appear to be allergic to sulphites. Zero added sulphur wines are not new; many small producers around the world who adhere to the “natural” wine movement eschew the use of sulphur, while other large companies such as Boutari in Greece have conducted small experiments on single lots of wine made without any added SO2.

Graziana Grassini

Graziana Grassini, consulting enologist

But the Sicilian Regional Institute of Wine and Oil (IRVOS) decided to experiment with and design winemaking protocols for the production of added sulphur-free wines on a large commercial scale, and more importantly, to share those protocols with winemakers in Sicily with the aim of improving the quality and image of the large island’s wines. IRVOS is the first research institute to my knowledge that has undertaken such a project for the benefit of many rather than a single commercial enterprise.

The experiments were carried out during the 2012 harvest by consulting enologist Graziana Grassini under the guidance of Daniele Oliva. Organically grown grillo and nero d’Avola were fermented at IRVOS’s Winery in Marsala in duplicate batches to compare conventional methods using sulphur to those employing no sulphur.

Subsequent sensory analysis by 30 trained tasters was repeated several times comparing samples using duo-trio tests (two wines with added sulphites and one without) and preference tests. “During the first sensory analysis some slight differences were found, but not a preference for one or the other. From recent tastings we are convinced that these differences are decreasing”, explains Oliva. Grassini adds that “In any case, we can claim that with the use of our vinification procedure, without the use of sulphites, it has been possible to obtain wines that are just as enjoyable as those made with sulphites”.

The full details of the sulphur-free protocols have not yet been released, but according to Grassini, there are a few basic points:

1)      Grapes must be hand harvested

2)      The winery must be scrupulously clean; a quasi sterile environment is needed

3)      Grapes/grape must/wine must be protected at all times from oxidation from vineyard to bottling through the use of inert gases: argon, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Argon and CO2 are heavy gases, heavier than air, nitrogen is lighter but useful in some cases.

It’s acknowledged that red wines are easier to make without added sulphur than white wines thanks to their generally higher level of tannins, which are natural anti-oxidants.

At Vino Vip, a pair of whites made from grillo and reds from nero d’Avola were compared, one of each made without any added sulphites. In both cases I preferred the zero sulphur sample, although the white grillo evolved much more quickly in the glass and lost aromatic quality over time. The differences between red samples were less obvious, and the unsulphured red held up well in the glass.

An analogy came to mind, perhaps a little extreme, but the aromatic differences observed were like the difference in the scent of essential oils versus synthesized aromas. While synthesized aromas can be quite pretty (most perfumes and eau-de-toilet are made from manufactured aromatic compounds), there’s a purity to essential oils that can’t easily be reproduced. The unsulphured wines had a higher degree of purity, like the fruit itself rather than something that reminds you of the fruit.

The results were by no means unanimous, however. Most tasters at the conference, which included winemakers as well as importers, distributors and journalists, preferred the conventionally-made grillo, while there was more of an even split of preference for the red samples. It was acknowledged during the discussion after the tasting that both consumer and trade education is needed when approaching sulphite-free wines. It will take some learning and exposure, especially for the trade used to squeaky-clean wines, to introduce sulphur-free wines into their lexicon. Tolerance for low degrees of oxidation would have to increase.

A potential side benefit of introducing such protocols is that it might lead to better winemaking overall, given the extra attention to detail needed to succeed in making sulphur-free wines, starting in the vineyard and finishing with bottling.

But there are several other issues to consider. For one, consumers can expect to pay a premium for sulphur-free wines, as there are additional production costs involved: the use of relatively expensive materials like dry ice and inert gases like argon, the gas of choice, which costs 30% more than more commonly used nitrogen, for example, not to mention the higher labour costs that come with more attentive vineyard management, hand harvesting, and cellar micro-management to name but a few factors.

The question remains: will the value added by producing sulphite-free wines offset these extra costs? In other words, will consumers be willing to pay more? There is also the challenge of communicating the differences between un-sulphured and conventional wines without casting a negative shadow on the latter, which still represents the overwhelming majority of wines produced today.

And while I support the move towards low/no-sulphur wines, I also question the adaptability of the protocols for large-scale production: the larger the volume, the bigger the risks. Will large producers be willing to take such risks? I think it’s unlikely, unless consumer demand really grows exponentially. Also, many existing wineries, particularly old, traditional cellars constructed from materials difficult to keep scrupulously hygienic like wood, and cellars carved from natural rock may not be able create a suitably safe environment for the production of sulphur-free wines. And are corks a suitable closure for such wines? Or would the relatively greater security afforded by screwcaps or glass stoppers be preferable? And would wineries willing to make the switch?

Most agree that sulphur-free wines age more rapidly and thus have a shorter shelf life than sulphured wines, another point that needs to be delicately communicated to consumers. And importantly, there are potential issues with transportation, considering that sulphur-free wines are less stable and more susceptible to spoilage from temperature variation.

Considering these and other issues, one has to wonder if sulphur-free wines won’t remain the domain of small artisanal producers selling most of their production from the cellar door. I, for one, hope they do gain wider acceptance and distribution, as I do love the pure scent of essential oils.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

About Vino Vip

Vino Vip is a biennial conference that takes place in Cortina d’Ampezzo, northern Italy, and is organized by the Italian wine Publication Civiltà del Bere under the direction of Alessandro Torcoli. The event gathers a selection of Italy’s top producers, industry stakeholders and journalist to discuss important issues in the world of wine and examine future trends, in addition to comprehensive tastings of top Italian wines. 


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Italy Featured: Top Tuscan Wines And the Best of the 2013 Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri Awards

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Attenzione lovers of Italian wine! I know you’re out there in large numbers, and this special report is for you. It’s focused on wines from Alto-Adige to Sicily, and specifically on highlights of the recent Gambero Rosso tre bicchieri tasting, as well as a comprehensive look at Tuscany with reviews of the latest releases from Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano covering 2007-2011.

Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri 2013 

Gambero Rosso’s highly anticipated “Tre Bicchieri” (“three glasses”) tour landed in Toronto for the first time on June 5th. The event highlighted over 130 wines, including nearly 120 awarded the tre bicchieri, the highest rating given for wines in the Vini d’Italia guide, now celebrating its 27th edition. In 2013, The Vini d’Italia Guide assigned 399 tre bicchieri out of a total of 40,000 wines tasted from over 2,350 producers. Piedmont led the way with 75 tre bicchieri awards, followed by Tuscany with 68 and Veneto with 36. 
From my little corner of the Liberty Grand ballroom where I looked like the most antisocial guest in attendance, and from a handful of other agent-organized tastings pre and post the main the event, I managed to taste and review nearly 40 wines – not comprehensive admittedly, but these wines demanded attention and time to unravel. I discovered several new gems in any case, and reconfirmed affection for long time favorites.

Gambero Rosso Tre Biccieri Event

Tre Bicchieri Tour

One interesting observation is how the style of the three glass winners appears to have changed in recent years. There has of course been no stated policy change in the criteria for winning wines; the evaluations “are above all humanistic, cultural and hedonistic rather than scientific”. But it seems that hedonism has taken on a new meaning. Whereas in earlier editions of the guide it was often the most impactful, full-bodied, rich, extracted, heavily oak influenced wines that came away with a three glass rating, in 2013 there were decidedly many more leaner, more savoury, fresher, less-wooded wines that came out on top.

I discussed this with several winemakers and we share the feeling that the shift is for the better. Sergio Germano of Az. Agr. Ettore Germano in Piedmont was pleased that his 2010 Riesling Hérzu won three glasses, while his flagship, and more expensive Barolo Cerreta earned two red glasses. Stefano Bariani from San Patrignano in Emilia-Romagna was also not displeased that the estate’s mid-range “Ora” Sangiovese di Romagna garnered the highest accolade, instead of the top of the range “Avi” Sangiovese. “Next year my goal is to win three glasses for San Patrignano’s Aulente Rosso” he laughed, the winery’s entry-level, unoaked bottling. There’s evidently a cultural shift underway in Italy, returning towards more drinkable, less “important” wines, and it’s great to see a guide with the clout of Gambero Rosso driving the change, or at least recognizing that consumer preferences have shifted.

All of my reviews from the tastings, including several absolutely cracking nebbiolos from Piedmont, Burgundy-like Brunello, and many more familiar and little known gems are posted on WineAlign. Availability varies (LCBO, Consignment, Private order), but all are available from one channel or another. (You can find them by entering “Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri Event” in the search panel, top right.)

Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri Event

Tuscan Previews

For the last twenty years in late February, consortiums from each of the big three DOCGs of Tuscany – Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino – have coordinated a series of comprehensive tastings to introduce the latest vintages to the professional wine world. These have become significant events on the yearly calendar; this year over 200 journalists from 30 countries attended the Chianti Classico Collection preview in the Leopolda Train Station in Florence, and they came in even greater numbers to Benvenuto Brunello in a wet and uncharacteristically cold and snowy Montalcino. Read on for a brief report on each region along with specific recommendations.

Degustazione alla Toscana

Unlike the primeur tastings held in Bordeaux, which feature unfinished wines drawn from barrels, the vast majority of the wines presented for the Anteprime Toscane (“Tuscan Previews”) are finished and bottled, if not yet commercially released. This makes the tastings far more useful and representative of what consumers can expect to actually purchase down the line. And there is often more than one wine on hand from a single estate, considering special designations such as riserva, legally matured for longer before release than non-riserva wines, as well as special single vineyard cuvees. Add in IGTs, and other appellations like Rosso di Montalcino, Sant’ Antimo and Moscadello di Montalcino, and the list of wines available for tasting is very long indeed.

Over the four days that I attended these events – a day each in Chianti Classico and Montepulciano and two days in Montalcino – I tasted several hundred wines. Yet even still I was unable to cover everything. I wrote full reviews on some 200+, and further whittled the list down to just over 85 recommended wines from across the three regions. Many of the estates will be familiar to Canadian drinkers (at least those who drink Italian wines), so you can expect to find them available in restaurants, consignment/private import portfolios and provincial liquor board shelves in the coming year.

Sommelier Pouring in Montalcino

Sommelier Pouring in Montalcino

The format for the tastings is quite unique. Attendees are provided a catalogue of all available wines, referenced by number. Each then selects the wines they wish to taste, jotting down the numbers for one of the army of sommeliers on hand in the traditional Associazione Italiana Sommeliers attire, complete with silver tastevins hanging around the neck on a thick heavy chain. The wines are quickly brought (stunningly quickly in fact, considering the number of samples available), and poured for you at your table. All the necessities of modern tasting – WiFi, electrical outlets, bottled water – are provided. You can taste at your own pace, and cover all, or only some of the wines offered. And if you’re still in the mood for more, many of the producers are on hand in a separate room pouring yet more preview wines.

I’ve included some brief notes on each region, the conditions of the vintage previewed, and the odd observation or two on the evolution of wine styles. Following that is the list of recommended wines, broken down into categories.

Chianti Classico: A new Designation

In the news, the Chianti Classico Consortium announced some modifications to the DOCG regulations during the preview. In addition to the existing “Annata” and the “Riserva” designations, a new level of Chianti Classico, called Gran Selezione, is reserved for wines “produced exclusively and entirely by a single producer, allowing no percentage whatsoever of grapes (or wines) bought from other producers”. Gran Selezione, which takes effect from the 2010 vintage, can be released on the market 30 months after the harvest, of which a minimum of three months must be in bottle. The Riserva minimum ageing requirements remain 24 months, and 12 months for the Annata.

The announcement of the category has been met with mixed reviews. Paolo De Marchi of Isola e Olena told that “People are already confused between Chianti and Chianti Classico. I don’t really see the need for a new category unless it relates directly to wines of origin.” But Sergio Zingarelli, president of the Chianti Classico Consorzio, contends that: ‘Gran Selezione will not create any confusion. Rather, our aim – which we are certain we’ll achieve with this new type of Chianti Classico – is to give better order to our denomination and further valorise our territory’s excellent wines.’

Vittorio Fiore of Poggio Scalette believes that ‘The new denomination should be based on the differences of the region, not on shortcuts that are an end in themselves,’ while David Berry Green, Italian wine buyer for Berry Brothers & Rudd in the UK, ridiculed Gran Selezione as ‘bureaucratic tinkering’ and ‘more of a whimper’. We shall see.

Additionally, in a minor modification to the regulations for the Riserva designation, producers are now required to declare the intended classification of a wine (annata or riserva) at the beginning of the certification process, with the goal of encouraging “producers to plan more effectively which grapes they intend to use for each level wine, from the beginning of the harvest.” Previously, the riserva designation could be applied for any wines that had spent the required two years in the cellar before release, regardless of whether the quality merited such long aging or not. This should in theory tighten up quality, forcing producers to separate out the best, most ageworthy parcels from the start, and remove the temptation to retroactively apply for riserva for wines that had simply been sitting around in the cellar long enough. And considering that riserva wines currently represent 30% of the total production and 40% of the total revenue for the DOCG, this change could have a significant financial impact.

The Chianti Classico Style: Hard to Define

Over 500 wines from 150 producers in the region between Florence and Siena were presented for the Chianti Classico Collection preview 2013, mostly from 2011, 2010 and 2009. I found the quality overall to be quite spotty, with wide stylistic variations. The addition of up to 20% of grapes other than sangiovese, including both other local varieties such as cannaiolo, colorino and mammolo, and international grapes like merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah, leaves plenty of room for interpretation. Add in the variations on ageing (stainless steel, concrete, large old botti, small new barriques and everything in between, and it’s become tougher to pin down a regional or sub-regional style.


Chianti Classico Collection

I also got the impression that a lot of time, effort and money, much of which goes into the pockets of freelance consulting oenologists, has been spent on making “important” wines, with maximum extraction, concentration and structure, to compete with the world’s other perceived important wines. There’s nothing inherently wrong with aiming high, but sangiovese is not generally suited to making big, burly wines. At its best it is a refined, perfumed and delicate grape, comfortable in the medium, not full-bodied range. Perhaps if the benchmark model were Burgundy rather than Bordeaux or Napa Valley, Chianti Classico (and other sangiovese-based wines) would be much finer.

On the positive side, there are many excellent wines that do manage to capture sangiovese’s hallmark crackling acidity and fine-grained, gritty tannins, with a range of flavours that have little to do with chocolate, vanilla and coffee grounds, and everything to do with vibrant red berry fruit, savoury herbs, faded flowers and an umami-laden succulence that makes sangiovese a food-friendly wine with few equals.

Recommended Wines:

Chianti Classico

2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico

2011 Rocca di Castagnoli Chianti Classico

2011 Castello di Querceto Chianti Classico

2010 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico

2010 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico

2010 Querciabella Chianti Classico

2010 Toraccia di Presura Il Tarocco Chianti Classico

2010 Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico (Barrel sample) 

Chianti Classico Riserva

2009 Le Fonti Chianti Classico Riserva

2009 Castello di Querceto Il Pichio Chianti Classico Riserva

2008 Poggio Bonelli Chianti Classico Riserva

2009 Castello di Meleto Vigna Casi Chianti Classico Riserva

2009 Castello Vicchiomaggio Vigna La Prima Chianti Classico Riserva

2010 Tolaini Chianti Classico Riserva

2009 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva

2008 Setriolo Chianti Classico Riserva

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano


Welcome to Montepulciano

Overall I was very impressed with the Vino Nobiles presented in the Fortezza di Montepulciano, the first time that the anteprima has been held here. The wines showed considerable consistency and a lot of finesse, and they represent some of the best values coming out of Tuscany. Larger houses like Avignonesi have taken up the challenge to push quality to the outer limits, and since taking over in 2009, Valery Saverys has converted the entire estate – nearly 200 hectares and one of the appellation’s largest – to biodynamic farming. Having a driving force like Avignonesi with a strong international reputation and wide distribution will only serve the interests of the entire appellation. Already 70% of the DOCG’s production is exported, and sales are strong. The DOCG is outperforming most other sectors of the Italian economy to be sure.

“Were optimistic about the quality of our wines, which is rising every year”, says Andrea Rossi, president of the Consortium of producers of Vino Nobile. He describes the wines as “austere, wines of the interior, not the sea, with solid structure and astringent tannins”. Although admittedly, this is about the opposite of what I found at the tasting.

In general I find the 2010s to be far fresher and more balanced than the 2009s.

Recommended wines:

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Boscarelli Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Talosa Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Montemercurio “Messagero” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Croce di Febo Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Godiolo Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Corte alla Flora Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Dei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Il Conventino Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Tenuta Valdipiatta Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva & Vineyard Designated

2009 Canneto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

2010 Lombardo “Poggio Saragio” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Tenuta Valdipiatta “Vigna d’Alfiero” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Bindella “I Quadri” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2009 Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

2009 Contucci Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

2009 Corte alla Flora Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

Brunello di Montalcino

I’m a big fan of the 2008 vintage, which was the year on display at Benvenuto Brunello for the normale bottlings. According to the Consortium, the 2008 harvest took place in optimal conditions and the wines showed good acidity, with soft structures and not too aggressive tannins. “The result – declared President of the Consorzio, Fabrizio Bindocci – are wines fascinating for their aromatic intensity and for their softer characteristics. A balanced and pleasant Brunello, that can be enjoyed straightaway and that fully deserves the four stars that had been assigned to it five years ago”.

Benvenuto Brunello

Benvenuto Brunello

Today 65% of the total production of Brunello di Montalcino is exported, a significant increase since 2007. In real terms, this translates to an increase of over 2 million bottles in the last five years.

Times are indeed prosperous in Montalcino and property is hot; investment is also coming in from abroad. The Argiano estate was recently purchased by Brazilian investors, while Swiss industrialist Ernesto Bertarelli acquired the Poggio di Sotto estate in 2011 and Riccardo Illy, ex-governor of Friuli Venezia Giulia and president of the Gruppo Illy, took over the Mastrojanni Estate in 2008, to name but a few.

The wines are of course not inexpensive, but the top remain among the best in Italy and the world, and the overall median quality is very high – the stakes are just too big these days to get away with mediocre wine under the Brunello DOCG.

Recommended Wines:

Rosso di Montalcino

2004 Stella di Campalto Rosso di Montalcino

2008 Stella di Campalto Rosso di Montalcino

2010 Stella di Campalto Rosso di Montalcino

2008 Salicutti “Piaggione” Rosso di Montalcino

Brunello di Montalcino

2007 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Gianni Brunelli Le Chiuse di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 95

2008 Siro Pacenti Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Agostina Pieri Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Campogiovanni Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino

2004 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino

2008 La Fiorita Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Lisini Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Sesti Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Talenti Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino

2006 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino

2005 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Barbi Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Capanna Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino

2008 San Polino Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Val di Suga Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Annata

2006 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Annata

2008 Paradiso di Frassina Brunello di Montalcino

2007 Fornacina  Brunello di Montalcino

2007 Fattoi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello di Montalcino 

Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva & Vineyard Designated

2007 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2006 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2008 Siro Pacenti Pelagrilli Brunello di Montalcino 94

2007 Siro Pacenti PS Brunello di Montalcino

2004 Col d’Orcia Poggio al Vento Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Gianni Brunelli Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2006 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso Santa Caterina d’Oro

2007 Sesti Phenomena Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Castello di Velona Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 La Velona Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Pianrosso

2007 Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino Riserva


John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

We invite our Premium Subscription members to use the links above to read John Szabo’s complete review for each wine highlighted. Paid membership to WineAlign has its privileges – this is one of them. Enjoy!

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The Successful Collector, by Julian Hitner; Wine education for us all – understanding Italian labels

Part II: the ABCs of IGTs:

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

When the Italian DOC/DOCG system was first established in 1963, it didn’t take long for its many flaws to come to the fore. Above else, it failed to anticipate the radical changes Italian wine-making would take in terms of overall quality in the impending decades.

Let’s put it another way: though it may come as a surprise to some, with very few exceptions the wines of Italy in the 1960s weren’t all that impressive. Chianti was a weak, albeit passable concoction made of red and white grapes; Barolo was excessively tannic and unapproachable for the first two decades of its existence; and few people had ever even heard of Brunello di Montalcino or Amarone della Valpolicella. In short, the wines that Italy is most famous for today were not long ago either poorly made or barely known outside of the regions they came from.

Worst of all, the rigid regulations governing the production of such wines as Chianti Classico prevented producers from experimenting with better methods of winegrowing. By law, wines like Chianti Classico were obliged in the 1960s to contain at least 10-30% Trebbiano and Malvasia Bianca; permitted yields were a ridiculously high 80 hl/ha; and no percentage of French varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot were allowed.

TignanelloCue the Antinori family and the debut of Tignanello of 1970. Though crafted from grapes grown within the Chianti Classico denominazione, the wine could not be labeled as such because it did not follow the traditional varietal formula. The wine was 100% Sangiovese and matured in French oak barrels (Piero Antinori began adding a little Cabernet Sauvignon in 1975). As such, the wine could only be labelled as Vino di Tavola, the lowest possible ranking for Italian wines. But a bottle of Tignanello sold for more than most Italian wines. Overnight, the imperfections of the DOC/DOCG system were clear.

Even worse, it took over twenty years for a partial solution to be reached. In 1992, a new classification was put in place alongside the DOC/DOCG system: the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) system. Though not without its limitations, ‘Super Tuscans’ such as Tignanello were finally no longer obliged to be labeled as Vino di Tavola, but as IGT Toscana.

Oreno Sette PontiFast forward to 2012 and the IGT system has become almost as ubiquitous as its DOC/DOCG counterpart. For wine lovers nowadays, the most important thing to understand about the IGT system is that it is only used for wines that do not adhere to the traditional grape/winegrowing requirements as prescribed under the DOC/DOCG system. But it is not an extra guarantee of quality! Though there are plenty of premium Super Tuscans made by winemakers throughout Tuscany and other parts of Italy, the vast majority of IGT wines are fairly simple and straightforward, relatively inexpensive, and should not be confused with wines like Tignanello and Solaia (Antinori), Oreno (Sette Ponti), or Saffredi (Pupille)—a few personal favourites.

OrnellaiaJust as important, the IGT system should not be confused with wines formerly labelled as Vino di Tavola but now have their own specific DOC/DOCGs. The most significant example of this is Bolgheri DOC, where renowned estates such as Sassicaia, Ornellaia, and Le Macchiole are located. Though Sangiovese is permitted, most of these wines are made entirely from Bordeaux varietals, ranked among the best in Italy.

These points notwithstanding, the IGT system is not very difficult to grasp. Like everything else about winegrowing Italy, all it takes is a little patience, a little studiousness, and a little tasting. The latter is the most rewarding…

Have a look at all of Julian’s Successful Collector Reviews.

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Wine education for us all – Valpolicella ~ Saturday, July 7th, 2012

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Quintessentially Italian:  The most important DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) (or subregion) in the Veneto, Valpolicella is one of the most famous light-bodied reds in Italy. Located right above starry-eyed Verona, in many ways Valpolicella might remind drinkers of Chianti: easygoing, fresh, and carrying that extra degree of acidity that’s so important with food pairings.

Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico

And like Chianti, there are regrettably more bad versions than good. At the top end, Valpolicella is just as complex and meaningful as any great Italian wine. At bottom, however, the commercial versions often taste artificially sweet, underripe, and excessively acidic. Fortunately, there are nowadays many bottlings, relatively inexpensive, which provide much satisfaction. Most of these hail from the Classico (or heartland) part of the region, with vines located on the best parts of the hillsides.

Tedeschi Valpolicella Classico

According to regulations, Valpolicella must be made from 40-70% Corvina Veronese, 20-40% Rondinella, and 5-25% Molinara, with the option of up to 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Negrara, Barbera, and Sangiovese (as well as a few others). Excepting the very best bottlings, the oak influence in Valpolicella is minimal. Basic versions are usually aged for up to a year in Slavonian oak casks, while those labelled ‘Superiore’ require longer maturations. Here, the primary aim is freshness and a reasonable upgrade in complexity, not tannic extraction or more powerful flavours.

Zenato Valpolicella

Indeed, the key to appreciating good Valpolicella is discovering its gentleness and easygoing attitude. When young, aromas should include fresh cherries, red plums, light savoury nuances, cedar, underbrush, and the slightest hint of almond bitterness. On the palate, the ideal Valpolicella should emphasize these flavours while maintaining as fresh and rejuvenating a disposition as possible. Most Valpolicella should be served between 10-12°C. Though the best examples can be cellared for up to ten years or more, basic versions should be drunk young. Food pairing options are diverse, though pasta dishes (especially lasagna) and light game birds (especially Cornish hen) are a few personal favourites. When in doubt, just follow your own taste buds.

Click here for a few gems from the 7 July 2012 Vintages Release 

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Three classic reds from Italy; Steve’s Top 50 Value Wines from the LCBO – May 2012

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Italy makes some very classy wines with their fruit driven by vibrant acidity, and just enough tannin for balance and grip on the finish. Wine is made throughout Italy, mostly to be enjoyed with food since Italians are not into quaffing wines on their own, as much as they do Australia and California. Three Italian reds caught my eye this month for offering value with some old world class. They are all at the LCBO and all are great value, as is every wine on my Top 50 Value Wines list. There are five wines that are new to the list since last month. Read past the next three reds to find more bargains and then continue to read why I think Italian wine is so popular in Ontario, and to discover how the Top 50 is systematically selected.

Three Reds from Italy

Masi Serego Alighieri Possessioni Rosso 2009, Veneto $13.95 (was $14.95)
This is an elegant sophisticated red wine at a great price. It is made from corvina and sangiovese grapes matured in large cherry-wood barrels. Expect soft complex fragrant aromas of blackberry fruit with spice, leather and jammy notes. It is riper and bolder than is usual due to the vintage, with the plum and berry fruit nicely supported by tannin leading to a long lingering finish. Excellent length. Best 2012 to 2015. Try with roast duck or hard mature cheeses.

Farnese Casale Vecchio Montepulciano D’abruzzo 2010, Abruzzo $9.90
This very classy Italian red for under $10. The complex nose shows black berry fruit, toffee, plum jam with mild oak spice, hints of vanilla and a touch of mocha. It is very smooth on the palate with the clean bright fruit well balanced by soft acidity and soft tannin. Very good length. Best 2012 to 2015.  Try with roast game or roast beef.

Bolla Valpolicella 2011, Veneto $9.95 (was $11.95)
This is a classic lightweight Valpolicella, light ruby in colour with a firm dry finish and a soft fruity palate; it should appeal to pinot noir lovers. Expect aromas of dry cherry with raspberry tones and a hint of warm spice and cranberry jelly. It is lightweight with soft dry fruit, well balanced with good to very good length. Best 2012 to 2014. Try with pizza or tomato based sauces.

Masi Serego Alighieri Possessioni Rosso 2009 Farnese Casale Vecchio Montepulciano D'abruzzo 2010  Bolla Valpolicella 2011

April Top 50 Values List

There are about 1,500 wines listed at the LCBO that are always available, plus another 100 or so Vintages’ Essentials. At WineAlign I maintain a list of the Top 50 LCBO and Vintages Essentials wines selected by price and value – in other words, the best, least expensive wines. The selection process is explained in more detail below, but I review the list every month to include newly listed wines and monitor the value of those put on sale for a limited time.

New to the Top 50

Trius Riesling Dry 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula $12.95 (was $13.95)
This is a fine wine with good extraction and balance and shows just how good  inexpensive Niagara riesling can be. Expect aromas of melon with beeswax, mineral and floral complexity. The palate is dry but very full with lots of fruit and very good length. It is elegant and stately with a zesty finish. Try with cheesy sauces, sautéed seafood or white meats.

Osborne Santa Maria Cream Sherry, Jerez, Spain $10.40 (was $11.40)
This is such excellent value for a classic cream sherry from Spain with abundant aromas, great depth of flavour and excellent length. The noise shows baked apricot with honey, biscuit and candied orange aromas. The palate is well extracted and very rich and just sweet enough without being cloying. Focus is well maintained on to the finish which is very long and balanced. I often enjoy with a quarter of a fresh orange squeezed on ice as an aperitif or at the end of the meal with ripe blue cheese and walnuts.

Little Yering Chardonnay 2009, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia $10.95
A well priced lean lively chardonnay with lots of juicy fruit and gentle oak treatment. This is not what you would expect in an Aussie chardonnay of old. Aromas of lemon, ripe apple and white peach lead to the juicy yet taught palate. Very good length and extremely food friendly. Try with creamy pasta sauces, white meats and seafood. This product is discontinued at the LCBO but there are still over 4000 bottles in stores so enjoy at the 25% discounted price while it lasts.

Lurton Les Fumées Blanches Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Vin De France $10.95 (was $11.95)
This is still one of the top French white wine values at LCBO. The nose shows fresh hay, green apple, melon with mineral notes. Midweight creamy, soft and well balanced with gentle acidity and very good length. Try with delicately flavoured lemon doused white meats or seafood.

Trius Riesling Dry 2010Osborne Santa Maria Cream Sherry Little Yering Chardonnay 2009 Lurton Les Fumées Blanches Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Why is Italian wine so popular in Ontario?

A large proportion of the province’s population does have an Italian heritage, which accounts for some of the preference for Italian wines. We do also have many restaurants serving Italian cuisine from the ultra exclusive to the downright simple to cater to a wide range of budgets and dining preferences. However I believe the popularity of Italian wine is mostly due to the wide selection of inexpensive, very drinkable and usually food friendly red wines.

Italy makes some great red wines at prices to suit all. I drink a lot of Italian red wine since its mostly food friendly and it is with food that I do most of my wine drinking. Unfortunately many of the Italian whites that make it into our restaurants and that are found on store shelves are overpriced and lacking in flavour and structure. Yet they too are popular, mostly because they are served well chilled and drunk on their own. Chardonnay went out of fashion due to too much oak and sauvignon blanc does not appeal to a wide audience. So pinot grigio has filled a void in the market.

I am constantly puzzled by the success of many Italian whites, but popular they certainly are. Ten years ago it was rare on my travels around the world to find pinot grigio outside of Italy. Now it seems every winery in the world has jumped on this popular wine that hails originally from Italy.

Another Italian white I have been told recently by many importers is the inspiration for the next big thing in white wine in Ontario; moscato. Some moscato will come from Italy but most from everywhere else in the world. Soft, slightly sweet, mildly bubbly and brimming with aroma and flavour and low in alcohol, they are all loosely based on Moscato d’Asti, from Piedmont in NW Italy.

There are about ten new moscato wines that are all about to hit the patio’s of Toronto. The marketing seems to be aimed at young female non-wine drinkers, so maybe this genre will grab their attention and tempt them to try other wines. Who knows. It was yellowtail that got us drinking shiraz and Fuzion showed many the merits of malbec. Maybe moscato can be a route back to riesling? Now that would be worthy achievement.

In addition to the three reds above from Italy there are another ten wines from Italy in theTop 50; so Italy takes 26% of the list. And there are hundreds more at WineAlign.

Getting Your Feedback

Before value wine shopping remember to consult the Top 50, since it is always changing. If you find that there is a new wine on the shelf or a new vintage that we have not reviewed, let us know. Moreover if you disagree with our reviews, tell us please why we got it wrong and if you think our reviews are accurate, send us some since it’s good to hear that you agree with us.

How I Chose the Top 50

Top 50 Value WinesI constantly taste the wines at the LCBO to keep the Top 50 list up to date. You can easily find my all Top 50 Value Wines from the WineAlign main menu. Click on Wine => Top 50 Value Wines to be taken directly to the list.

To be included in the Top 50 for value a wine must be inexpensive while also having a high score, indicating high quality. I use a mathematical model to make the Top 50 selections from the wines in our database.

Every wine is linked to WineAlign where you can read more, discover pricing discounts, check out inventory and compile lists for shopping at your favourite store. Never again should you be faced with a store full of wine with little idea of what to pick for best value.

The Top 50 changes all the time, so remember to check before shopping. I will be back next month with more news on value arrivals to Essentials and the LCBO.


Steve Thurlow

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Brunello di Montalcino – Sangiovese at its greatest ~ Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

An Italian icon:  The greatest wine of Italy? While subject to debate, we can all be certain of this: other than Barolo and Barbaresco, along with the best of Sagrantino di Montefalco, there is no greater single-grape wine than Brunello di Montalcino. Crafted from 100% Sangiovese Grosso, the local strain of the grape, Brunello has fast become one of the most prestigious, most admired, and most sought-after premium Italian wines by collectors and enthusiasts.

Brunello vineyards

But would it surprise readers to learn this was not always the case? In fact, back in the 1970s few people had even heard of Brunello, and Montalcino was one of the poorest villages in this part of Tuscany. This only began to change in the 1980s, when an increasing number of producers began taking better advantage of the regional terroir of the area. Protected from summer storms by Monte Amiata, rising 5,600ft (1,700m) to the south, the conditions under which Brunello is produced are decisively different to the more northerly winegrowing regions of Tuscany, the weather much warmer and precipitation much lower.

Sangiovese Grapes

Soil compositions are also different. Containing lower quantities of the famous galestro—schist-based, or friable shaly clay—deposits found throughout much of Chianti Classico between Florence and Siena, soils throughout Brunello tend to contain higher traces of limestone marl, or alberese, as part of their makeup. Additional constituents also vary considerably throughout each unofficial ‘subzone’ of the denominazione. Brunello di Montalcino was also one of the first demarcated regions to be granted DOCG status in 1980.

Brunello di Montalcino Map

Today, with over 2,000 hectares now under vine, distinctly different styles of Brunello have begun to emerge within the subzones. North of the Montalcino village, where soils are based largely on limestone and clay, wines are not as powerful as those further south, but represent some of the most fragrant, elegant Brunellos produced. This is also due to the high elevation of the vineyards, which rise even higher south of the village, up to 1,640ft (500m). This is where some of the most prestigious operations are clustered, with Biondi-Santi, the most well-known Brunello producer, effectively leading in price.

Biondi Santi

Here, soils are more calcareous, lending greater acidity and minerality to the wine. However, one must remember that many producers will blend grapes from multiple areas to craft a more homogenous, qualitatively ‘streamlined’ type of Brunello. Though single-vineyard Brunellos are on the rise, grapes blended from multiple areas remain the norm.

Speaking of multiple areas, there are still a few other subzones worth mentioning. One of these is located in the southeast corner of the DOCG, around Castelnuovo dell’ Abate. Here, winegrowers enjoy an unusually diverse composition of soils from different geological epochs. While temperatures are warmer, elevations of up to 450m result in wines of especial complexity and breeding—both highly sought-after in the best Brunellos. Similar conditions can be found around Tavernelle, where vines are grown at lower elevations.

In contrast, vineyards around Sant’ Angelo in the deep southwest must contend with the hottest, driest conditions of the DOCG. At relatively low elevations, this is where Brunellos of distinctly powerful, ‘streamlined’ disposition are made—think Castello Banfi and Col d’Orcia, wines of high fruit concentration and alcohol.

Pieve Santa Restituta Sugarille

At present, these are the most established unofficial subzones of the Brunello denominazione. While there has been discussion of making them official, the likelihood of this is remote. The reasons are the ones you’d expect: red tape, political bickering, and petty jealousies—all deadly obstacles in a place like Italy.

But this hasn’t deterred winegrowers from striving to improve quality. From developing better clones of Sangiovese Grosso to seeking out the best sites, not just from the unofficial subzones but other areas such as the northwestern parts of the DOCG, the possibilities for crafting better Brunello seem endless.

Even now, the bar is set pretty high. While all Brunellos, harvested at a maximum of 45hl/ha, must be crafted from 100% Sangiovese Grosso and aged for at least 2 years in oak and 4 months in bottle (6 months for Riserva), the wine may only be released to the public 5 years (6 years for Riserva) after the harvest.

Fuligni Vigneti dei Cottimelli

When young, the taste of a Brunello may remind one of a finely crafted Chianti Classico Riserva, only with more depth and complexity. Aromatics are also oftentimes similar: dried wild black cherries, red plums, cedarwood, chestnuts, herbs, roasted meats, leather, Chinese black tea, and spice. In contrast, those aged in greater quantities of French oak barriques will show less cedary/savoury overtones and more mocha, vanillin, and fresher black fruits. While the choice of stylization will depend on the producer, all Brunellos ought to possess great structure, firmness, texture, and breadth.

A great Brunello should also age extremely well, better than virtually any other type of Sangiovese-based wine. After a decade in the cellar, its youthful flavours normally give way to a bouquet more dependent on cedar and wild game, complimented, if not dominated by, dried red fruits, cigar box, tobacco, and all kinds of spices. These are typically the most common types of notes to detect in a well-aged Brunello, the best of which can easily keep for over twenty years.

Of serving prerequisites, Brunello, which should always be decanted, is best enjoyed at temperatures around 15-17°C. Food pairing options are numerous: grilled and cured red meats plus wild game of all types are often quoted as being top choices, along Pecorino and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses, dried fruits, and fresh breads with olive oil. Others argue that the greatest Brunellos are best enjoyed on their own. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong approach.

Shared At:

 Click here for a few gems from the 28 April 2012 Vintages Release along with several others.

Note to readers: In my last column, on vintage port, it was written that 2005 was a widely declared vintage. That information was incorrect, as many of the best houses, in point of fact, decided not to declare; instead opting for single quinta bottlings. Apologies for the error.

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Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks: Italian reds

In this Saturday’s Vintages release, the “smart buys” collection has three Italian reds that are well priced for their pedigree.

La Pieve Barolo 2007
$28.95 (90 Points)
Italy’s wonderful Barolo wines often come with a high price tag and austere manner in need of cellaring. Not so for this beauty from a vintage known for producing svelte Barolos with sweet, alluring tannins that mix approachability with ageability. It has a firm elegance but drinks nicely now with savoury leather notes and lovely fruit and spice elements.

Fattoi Brunello di Montalcino 2006
$34.95 (92 Points)
Tuscany’s Brunello wines are majestic expressions of the sangiovese grape and rarely are available at such a good price. This has a wow bouquet — forward, earthy and intense with notes of spices, florals and fruit. Complex on the palate, it has integrated oak and earthy forest floor flavours combined with sweet spiced fruit. Structured and multi-layered, match it with meat accompanied with mushrooms.

Vicchiomaggio Ripa Delle Mandorle 2009
 $15 (89 Points)
I am particularly pleased about the release of this bargain-priced super Tuscan from winemaker John Mata’s estate. A blend of 75% sangiovese with cabernet sauvignon, it has balance and poise while delivering ripe, rich red berry flavours, subtle oak with hints of cocoa and silky tannins.

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for July 23rd – Live Austrian Duet; Top Ten Smart Buys and Italian Wine School: 7 classic wines from 7 regions

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

In a rare moment of celestial synchronicity, two of Austria’s top winemakers will be in Toronto on July 22nd to host a dinner at Cowbell Restaurant, on the eve of the release of their wines at Loimer Grüner Veltliner Trocken 2009VINTAGES. Even more remarkable is that both wines are excellent, and one, the 2009 LOIMER GRÜNER VELTLINER TROCKEN DAC Kamptal $18.95, is my number one smart buy this week. Loimer’s hands-off, natural (biodynamic, in fact) approach to wine production is much in evidence here: the nose is almost pure stony minerality the way we like it, with underlying ripe, vibrant, concentrated fruit and intriguing herbal and floral notes in textbook Grüner language. It’s a superb wine, especially at this price, and one I’d buy by the case.

Sattlerhof Sterische Klassik Morillon 2009Also revelatory, just when you thought you’ve had a lifetime’s worth of Chardonnay from every conceivable terroir, along comes another example, a real beauty in the cool climate, Chablis-esque genre. I’m willing to wager that few have had Chardonnay, or Morillon as it’s known locally, from Styria in southern Austria. If you enjoy elegant, minerally, classic old world style versions, lively and middle-weight with a fine streak of acidity, then you’ll enjoy Willi Sattler’s version: 2009 SATTLERHOF STERISCHE KLASSIK MORILLON Südsteiermark, Styria $22.95.

You can meet both Fred Loimer and Willi Sattler on the 22nd, have a fine meal, preview their excellent wines, then go and buy them on Saturday morning. That’s serendipitous synchronicity. And for even more amusement, check out how all of us expert tasters were trumped by a (decent but basic) Grüner Veltliner in the third episode of WineAlign’s So You Think You Know Wine?.

Also worth the drive to the LCBO this week is Argentina’s answer to amarone, made by one of Italy’s top amarone producers, another superb syrah from 400kms north of Santiago and a fine local rosé with which to ease back in the Muskoka chair and watch the sun set, or rise. Find the full top ten here.

An Italian Primer: 7 classic wines from 7 regions

Wine Regions of Italy

Wine Regions of Italy

The July 23rd VINTAGES Spotlight shines on Italy, a country of bedeviling complexity that never fails to instill feelings of overwhelming hopelessness in otherwise competent and dedicated sommelier students, not to mention consumers of wine. Italy’s sheer vineyard size, spanning all 20 administrative regions and locking up the world #1 spot for liters produced annually, its 1000+ native varieties that rarely grow in foreign soil, and often never even leave their local valley, and its countless wine styles make for a complex subject of study to be sure. But that’s the beauty of Italy: a lifetime’s worth of study, travel, tasting and experiencing, with no end in site.

If you’re up for the challenge, take this crash, self-taught, hopefully shared, experiential course in Italian wine: seven classic wines from seven corners of the country. Check out how marvelously diverse this country is. Seven weeks, seven days, seven hours, the length of the course is up to you. If you choose the latter duration, I recommend seven classmates, too. Total cost of materials, not including view of Positano on the Amalfi Coast, glassware, antipasti, secondi, caffé or digestivi, but including all wine, is $179.65. All bottles are available on July 23rd and I’ve listed them here.

Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2010Course 1: Alto-Adige
Aka Südtirol, the Alto Adige is nestled between the Dolomites and the Southern Alps just south of Austria, accessible via the Brenner Pass. The first, and co-official language for many inhabitants here is still German, despite Mussolini’s forced program of Italianization, and there are lots of suspiciously tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed citizens. What little agricultural land available is found along the Adige River Valley and its tributaries. You need strong calves and thighs to make wine in the Alto Adige. The region in general produces fresh, crisp whites and lively, juicy reds from a long list of grapes, though pinot grigio is the most popular, ranging from the banal to the sublime.
Homework: 2010 TIEFENBRUNNER PINOT GRIGIO DOC Südtirol-Alto Adige $17.95

Course 2: Campania

Terredora Loggia Della Serra Greco Di Tufo 2009Home to Naples, Italy’s top tailors, Mt. Vesuvius, the Amalfi Coast, limoncello and Mozzarella di Buffala, Campania is also a treasure trove of high quality native grapes. Sophisticated wine lists, chalked up on the walls of ancient wine bars and preserved under the ashes of Vesuvius’ eruption, testify to two thousand years of serious wine drinking culture (also preserved are the pictogramic “menus” of the second oldest profession, another type of fun house altogether). But it’s up in the Apennines, inland from the heat and chaos of Napoli, where the top drops originate. The cool, bucolic hills of Avellino, Benevento and Tufo are major centers of wine production. Sturdy reds from aglianico and some of Italy’s most serious whites from fiano, falanghina and Greco are worth finding.

Cantina Di Venosa Terre Di Orazio Aglianico Del Vulture 2007Course 3: Basilicata

Where for the love of Bacchus is Basilicata? You won’t find it on any tourist itineraries; it’s the forgotten region that forms the instep of the boot, sandwiched between Puglia to the east, and Calabria and Campania to the west. There’s a lovely, unspoiled stretch of Ionian coast, too. I believe that there are still more sheep living in Basilicata than Italians. As far as wine goes, there’s only one you have to know: Aglianico del Vulture, with the EMphasis on the first syllable: VUL-too-ray, to sound like you know what you’re talking about. Aglianico is the name of the grape, once thought to have come from Greece (an Italianization of ellenico-Hellenic- “Greek”), but recent studies points to origins in central Europe. It’s a savage beauty, wild and untamed, like a rustic country cousin of nebbiolo, full of tannins, acid and savoury pot pourri flavours. When grown on the slopes of the extinct Vulture volcano, it takes on a salty mineral edge.

Course 4: Abruzzo
Cantina Tollo Aldiano Montepulciano D'abruzzo Riserva 2007On the beautiful Adriatic coast, Abruzzo borders Le Marche to the north, Molise to the south, and Lazio to the west; it’s a 200km drive from Rome across the rugged Apennines. Southern Italy’s highest peak at 2,914m, the Gran Sasso d’Italia (Italy’s Big Pebble), is here. Mussolini made his daring, German special forces-assisted escape from the Campo Imperatore ski resort high on the Gran Sasso on September 12th 1943, offering him a short reprieve from the inevitable. But I digress. The viticultural action occurs outside of ski resorts at lower elevations; the best vineyards sit around 300-500 meters where the summer heat is moderated by cool mountain air. There are only two grapes of note: trebbiano is at best a pleasant quaffing white, while montepulciano can be everything from red-and-white checked tablecloth trattoria house wine to one of Italy’s most intense and flavourful reds.

Il Marroneto Brunello Di Montalcino 2005Course 5: Tuscany
Any introduction necessary? Don’t think so. Just picture Cypress tree-lined country lanes, olive groves, medieval villages floating atop rolling hills, vineyards everywhere, as well as mad Germans and Swiss driving BMWs and Mercedes’ at formula One speed, rushing to relax in some ancient castle converted into a luxury Spa. Sangiovese is the grape that grows most widely under the Tuscan sun. It has been undergoing a serious makeover in the last twenty years, and it’s no longer possible to generalize about it; it ranges in style from pale, zesty, juicy, dusty cherry-flavoured (old school-pizza pasta wine) to seriously dark, thick, oaky and more cabernet-like (modern style), especially when it’s made with cabernet. Overall, quality has risen dramatically, hand in hand with prices, but when it’s good, as in top Chianti, Brunello, Morellino and Vino Nobile, it’s really good.

Course 6: Piedmont

Franco Molino Barolo 2006Terroir spiritualists are at home in Piedmont. Piedmontese winegrowers are indeed kindred spirits of that other spiritual sect, the Burgundians, both working for the most part with single grapes, and looking to articulate and emphasize the nuances imparted by terroir with religious zeal. Nebbiolo, not the most planted but certainly the most headline-grabbing grape, is possibly the greatest red grape on the planet if such an unlikely title could ever exist. It smells like no other (well, maybe a little like Brunello or aglianico, especially after a decade or more in the bottle); it’s a trickster, setting you up to believe that you’re about to experience a light, delicate wine with its deceptive pale garnet colour. Then it hits you, full force, like a sumo wrestler or a German Panzer attack, before subsiding like a passing hurricane. As you slowly recover from the oral symphony, minutes later, with the whispering after effects still audible, you can only conclude that the experience was mesmerizing, and that you want to do it all over again (how was that for mixed metaphors? Isn’t it great what you can get away with on the internet?)
Homework: 2006 FRANCO MOLINO BAROLO DOCG $29.95

The Veneto, anchored by the watery, melting, fairytale city of Venice in the northeast, is a powerhouse of wine production. Many of Italy’s most popular regional brands are made here: Soave, Valpolicella, Prosecco, not too mention oceans of pinot grigio, among others. As you know, meaningless DOCs are no guarantee of quality: there’s sublime Soave, and then there’s the ridiculous; there’s valorous Valpolicella, and then there’s the vacuous. Knowing the right producers is important everywhere, but the need is particularly acute in the Veneto, where industrial meets artisanal on the same shelf. Admittedly, I’ve never fully understood the attraction to one of the region’s most celebrated wines: amarone. I’m fond of raisins in my cereal more than my wine, but it seems I’m the outsider so I’ll just go with the flow. There are excellent examples than even a man of my simplistic tastes can appreciate, such as the bottle suggested for your homework below.

International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4c)
Reminder to get your tickets for the i4c, Friday July 22nd through Sunday July 24th. at and at the host wineries. David Lawrason and I will be there all weekend, so stop by and say hello.

From the July 23rd Vintages release:
Top Ten Smart Buys
Italian Primer: 7 Wines from 7 Grapes & Regions
All Reviews


John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008