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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 8th – Part One

Sparkling, Whites and Fortified Wines
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

As the end-of-year releases start to roll out, the selections broaden and prices edge up. With nearly 170 products hitting (or re-hitting) shelves for the November 8th VINTAGES release, the media tasting was mercifully split over two days rather than the usual one. We’ll report this week on some of the top sparkling, white and fortified wines on offer, and next week we’ll follow up with red wines and other sundry specialties.

I’d like to make special mention of the fortified wines – sherry and port. I know these aren’t terribly popular categories these days, and I myself am guilty of not reaching into the dark and dusty corner of my cellar where I keep these wines often enough. But a recent visit to both Jerez de la Frontera, the heart of sherry country, and the Douro Valley where port is made, reminded me of just how astonishingly satisfying these wines can be.

And then there’s of course the value equation – few would argue that sherry and port are among the most complex wines on the planet for the money. Moreover, considering the ageing has already been done for you at the winery (with the exception of vintage port), so that you can stop in on the way home from work to buy a bottle of ten or twenty year old wine and enjoy a glass that same night, it’s a wonder that sales aren’t far more brisk.

So if it’s been awhile since you’ve experienced the mesmerizing range of savory, nutty flavours delivered by the best wines in the fortified category, try one of the recommendations below.

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images. You can also find the complete list of each VINTAGES release under Wine >> New Releases. Remember, however, that to access this list and to read all of the reviews you do need to subscribe (only $40/year). Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Sparkling

Tawse 2012 Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling Sparkling Wine

Fleury Fleur De l’Europe ChampagneFleury Fleur De l'Europe Champagne, France ($63.95)
John Szabo - The first, and one of still very few certified biodynamic producers in the region, Fleury is a reliable name in the grower champagne arena. The house style is one of very mature, toasty, highly complex wines, and considering the excellent range of flavours on offer, I’d serve this at the table with suitably elegant dishes involving, nuts, cream, mushrooms, flavourful grains like barley or kasha, or other savoury, umami-rich plates.

Tawse 2012 Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling Sparkling Wine, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($19.95)
John Szabo - Sparkling wine may not be the house specialty at Tawse, but this is a well-priced, riesling-based bubbly from the newly acquired Limestone Ridge vineyard on the Beamsville Bench. It’s crisp and very dry, fresh and fruity, with a dash of mineral flavour to enhance the overall interest. All in all, a widely appealing bubbly for the aperitif slot.

Whites

Cathedral Cellar 2013 Chardonnay, Western Cape, South Africa ($15.95)
John Szabo - The KWV, the much derided former government-controlled cooperative, has quietly ratcheted up quality over the last few years to the point where just about everything produced is worth a look. This is fine entry-level chardonnay that ticks all of the boxes at an attractive price.

Hidden Bench 2012 Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($28.95)
John Szabo - Hidden Bench moves from strength to strength, and the latest range from 2012 shows a mature and steady hand at the helm. The generosity of the vintage was reeled in beautifully while still capturing the full, concentrated house style. And at this price Bourgogne drinkers should take note.
David Lawrason – Hidden Bench is oft highlighted as one of Ontario’s best producers; but owner Harald Thiel has always maintained that he’s striving to be among the best in the world. This tied with a much pricier Burgundy as the best chardonnay of the release.
Sara d’Amato - Hand-picked grapes, whole bunch pressed, cold fermented using indigenous yeast – all care was taken in the vineyards and in the cellar to produce this fine and classic chardonnay whose price is well matched to its high quality. Showing impressive integration of flavours, complexity and harmony, this slightly restrained chardonnay begs for another sip.

Cathedral Cellar Chardonnay 2013 Hidden Bench 2012 Chardonnay Rene Muré Signature Gewürztraminer 2012 Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay 2012

Rene Muré 2012 Signature Gewurztraminer, Alsace, France ($21.95)
John Szabo - A textbook Alsatian gewurztraminer, full-bodied, succulent, rich and intensely aromatic with lush, plush texture and off-dry styling.
David Lawrason - This has all the opulence, smoothness and generosity you could ask of Alsatian gewurz at the price. What really caught my eye was its sense of purity and brightness. A touch sweet, but very nicely done.

Beringer 2012 Private Reserve Chardonnay, Napa Valley, USA ($44.95)
John Szabo - I’ve tasted this wine a few times now, and grow more and more fond with each sip. It’s unquestionably a big, rich, creamy chardonnay in the unabashed California style, yet winemaker Laurie Hook has managed to sneak in a measure of reserve and balance. Considering the high-stakes game of Napa chardonnay, this is a relative bargain to be sure, for fans of the plus-sized genre.

Menade 2013 Verdejo, Rueda, Spain ($16.95)
John Szabo - Here’s a great ‘party pour’ over the holidays for your sauv blanc-loving friends if they’re open to something different. It’s reminiscent of sauvignon from warmer climes with a kiss of wood, while the palate is soft and round, smooth and easy drinking.

Menade Verdejo 2013 Andre Delorme Bourgogne Chardonnay 2010 Jean Max Roger Cuvée Les Chante Alouettes Pouilly Fumé 2013 Domaine Du Grand Tinel Chateauneuf Du Pape Blanc 2012

Andre Delorme 2010 Bourgogne Chardonnay, Burgundy, France ($19.95)
David Lawrason – The great thing about great vintages like 2010, is how they elevate “lesser” wines. Fans of traditional white Burgundy will be clicking their heels to find such a good example at $20.

Jean Max Roger 2013 Cuvée Les Chante Alouettes Pouilly Fumé, Loire, France ($28.95)
Sara d’Amato - A textbook Pouilly-Fumé, this elegant wine exhibits notes of mineral, lemon, flint and saline. Makes for a very conversational aperitif wine or an exquisite match for shellfish.

Domaine Du Grand Tinel 2012 Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc, Rhone, France ($49.95)
Sara d’Amato - Many consumers don’t appreciate the existence of white Châteauneuf–du-Pape and given that less than 7% of Châteauneuf production is white, it is not surprising. Grenache blanc, roussanne , marsanne and clairette are dominantly used in the production of these wines that can range from bright and minerally to rich and savory. This lovely example leans more towards the former with lovely verve and freshness along with a very appealing peppery quality – quite compelling.

Fortified Wines

(JSz -For a quick primer on sherry styles, see my latest article in CityBites Magazine.)

Dalva Colheita Port 1995

Emilio Lustau East India Solera SherryEmilio Lustau East India Solera Sherry, Jerez Spain ($22.95)
John Szabo – This is a case in point of how amazingly complex sherry can be at near give-away prices. It’s technically a cream sherry, meaning a sweetened oloroso, which hits all of the expected, nutty, roasted, caramel, marmalade, dried fig/date/raisin, old furniture polish and antique shop notes typical of the genre. To be sipped or served alongside roasted nuts and blue cheese.

Dalva 1995 Colheita Port, Douro, Portugal ($32.95)
John Szabo – A delectable treat, this is a port from a single harvest (“colheita”) that has been in cask since 1995 and bottled this year (Vintage ports are bottled no later than 2 years after harvest, while tawny ports are a blend of vintages). Technical details aside, this is authentically mature in both colour and aromatics, and smells as I imagine an old wooden, weather-beaten and repeatedly stained sailing vessel might.
David Lawrason  - A colheita is a vintage-dated tawny port made only in the best years – and in Portugal they are as prized as great vintage ports but sell for much less. This is a slightly rugged version that has amazing complexity.
Sara d’Amato - This colheita Port benefits from longer than typical ageing contributing to its distinctive character and swoon-worthy effect. There is something quite absorbing about this wine that slowly unveils itself in the glass.

Sandeman 2011 Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal ($70.00)
John Szabo – Buy this as a 21st birthday gift for someone born in 2011, or a 25th year wedding anniversary gift for a couple married in the same year, or for yourself as a test of patience. But in any case, DO NOT TOUCH THIS WINE FOR AT LEAST 20 YEARS. It’s a belligerent vintage port, one of the most impenetrably deep-coloured wines I’ve seen in my career, with a brutal and savage palate, all hard acid and rasping tannins for the moment. But when it comes around, it will be a stunner. Best 2031-2071.
David Lawrason – Sandeman is a large company with a mid-size reputation overall, but 2011 is such a great vintage for port that this stands shoulder to shoulder with the best. So refined and rich.

Noval 10-Year-Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal ($34.95)
John Szabo – Noval’s latest ten year-old is still quite fruity and powerful in the house style, with marked sweetness checked by residual tannic grip. An excellent hard cheese or blue cheese option.
Sara d’Amato – There is very good value to be found in this intriguing 10 Year Old Tawny with an abundance of character. Nutty and figgy with a silky texture and a finish of freshly baked sticky buns.

Sandeman Vintage Port 2011 Noval 10 Year Old Tawny Port Dow's Late Bottled Vintage Port 2009 CLA Special Reserve Porto

Dow’s 2009 Late Bottled Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal ($17.95)
David Lawrason – LBV’s continue to be undervalued in my books, increasingly so as top labels strive for the finesse that marks their much more expensive vintage ports. This is fine example from a leading label, and a steal at $17.95.

CLA Special Reserve Porto, Douro, Portugal, $29.95
Sara d’Amato - A lush, dense port which is generous, creamy and very appealing. Clean and full-bodied, very smooth but also gutsy and satisfying. Break out the good chocolate for this one.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Nov 8th:

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


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Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 25th – Part Two

Chile’s Fine Cabernets, Value Reds (and oh yes, Modernizing the LCBO)
by David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo MS

David New 2014

David Lawrason

A huge release of 154 new products awaits on Oct 25. Last week John Szabo penned an article about the Tuscany feature, and we also suggested some fine whites. This week we move on to the second, smaller feature – Chile, and we offer our thoughts on other good value reds as well. But as this is also an historic week that sets a new compass for the LCBO, I hope you will indulge a brief digression. Or you can skip to our reviews below.

Queen’s Park announced this week it is ready to embark on the “modernization of the LCBO”, based on a panel review headed up by TD Bank CEO Ed Clark. Premier Kathleen Wynne has accepted his report with gusto. The current LCBO retailing model is essentially a one-shop-fits-all system of neighbourhood stores – some larger, some smaller. A modernized LCBO would include Costco-like box stores, specialty boutiques, sales in grocery outlets and expanded private stores for Ontario wine. It all adds up to far more shelf space, so the end game should be vastly larger and on-going selection of both favourites and obscurities. I would set a goal of triple the selection that Ontarians now have – more in line with such radical locales as Alberta and B.C. We could also aspire to be like Chicago or New York but let’s not go crazy.

I am disappointed that Kathleen Wynne won’t really do the right thing for Ontario consumers and taxpayers – take on the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), sell off the LCBO completely and let the private enterprise do the modernization. I understand that a large constituency in Ontario still believes Ontario will make more money by owning the ship (rather than by licensing and taxing alcohol to collect as much as it needs). And that others believe alcohol is more safely retailed by government stores. But they are beliefs that ignore the facts. As witness I give you THE WAY IT WORKS IN THE REST OF THE WORLD, including five other Canadian provinces. But hey, if we have to take this baby step of “modernization” I am all for it, and for doing it well. So we need architects of modernization who will think big, far and wide.

Chile’s Unique Cabernets

On October 30 Eduardo Chadwick of Errazuriz will be in Toronto for a sold-out VINTAGES-hosted gala dinner to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Berlin Tasting, which pitted top Chilean cabernet sauvignon-based wines against the best cabernets of the world.  Similar tastings then rolled out to major wine capitals around the world – Hong Kong, Dubai, London, Toronto (2006), New York and Beijing to name some. Throughout the ten-year project Chilean wines placed among the top three in 20 of the 22 tastings, achieving a remarkable 90 per cent preference rate by over 1,400 participating key palates from around the world.  All of which would indicate that Chile is perfectly capable of making outstanding expensive wine.

But what about the less expensive $12 wine that we open on Tuesday night or the $25 bottle on Saturday night? I have recently had an opportunity in preparation of the Toronto Life Eating and Drinking Guide to taste a lot of Chilean wine at this level, and whenever I do that I come back to the same conclusion that the quality level is very high at any price point. And another recent experience with just one wine – a five year vertical of Santa Carolina’s Reserva de Familia – proved that Chilean cabernet not only ages well, it shows quite distinct vintage variation. Just like that other region where cabernet thrives – Bordeaux.

There is a sense of purity and freshness and vibrancy to Chilean wine that is quite unique among New World wines, and it’s based on Chile’s intriguing position as a maritime region blessed with almost endless sun during the growing season. It’s cool and bright at the same time, the fruit ripens well but does not lose its acidity. I find this particularly true and important for Chile’s later ripening cabernet sauvignons and cousin carmenere, which are of course the backbone of Chile’s wine industry. Yes, it can also be experienced in the emerging syrahs and the whites, but Chilean cabernet is to me among the very best in the world.  Few other regions in the world capture cab’s aromatic essence so well (I would include Coonawarra and Margaret River in Australia).

So Chilean reds are where we begin our picks this week, and I only wish the selection were larger.

Miguel Torres Cordillera De Los Andes Syrah 2010

Morandé Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Emiliana 2011 CoyamEmiliana Coyam 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($29.95)
John Szabo – I’ve long admired Emiliana; the majority of production is certified organic and biodynamic from vineyards stretching from Casablanca in the north to Bío-Bío 500kms further the south. Coyam is the top-of-the-line, Demeter-certified blend (2/3 Syrah and Carmenere, 1/3 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with a drop of Mourvedre and Malbec) that stands out for its complexity, appealing savouriness and firm, age worthy structure. Best 2016-2021.
David Lawrason – Coyam is a biodynamically grown blend from a single property in the heart of Colchagua. It captures that vibrant, juicy blackcurrant essence of Chilean cabernet perfectly; with less of the mentholated greenness found in Maipo versions.
Sara d’Amato – The word “coyam” refers to the oak trees which surround the estate’s hand-harvested vineyards. This approachable and supple blend features lovely notes of violets and pepper a long with a local spice called “boldo” (aromatically, a cross between verbena and oregano).

Morandé 2011 Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile ($17.00)
David Lawrason –
 This is a Maipo classic from a cooler vintage, so expect a strong updraught of almost pine/balsam greenness around the blackcurrant fruit. Morandé’s main site is the Romeral Estate, a 50ha property in Alto Maipo, at higher elevation in the Andean foothills. The vineyards were only planted in the mid-2000s, indeed this modern winery was only founded in 1996.
John Szabo – This is a rare Chilean cabernet aged in large foudres rather than the more usual barriques, and is all the more fruity and savoury for it. This will appeal to drinkers who prefer earthy, resinous (old world style) wines over chocolate-vanilla-tinged examples. Yet it’s still distinctly Chilean with its succulent fruit core.  Best 2014-2019.

Miguel Torres 2010 Cordillera De Los Andes Syrah, Maule Valley, Chile ($19.95)
John Szabo - The reliable house of Torres has been in Chile since 1979, and today owns 400ha of vineyards on six properties. The Cordillera syrah is selected from Maule Valley fruit several hundred kms south of Santiago, and is crafted in a balanced and firm, typically smoky style, more savoury than fruity. Best 2014-2020.
Sara d’Amato – This sensual syrah from Torres’ Cordillera line (small batch production with more careful attention to detail) exhibits cool climate elegance and very mild oak spice. Great finesse here for the price.
David Lawrason – One of the difficulties with Chilean syrah is that some are almost as green on the nose as cabernet or carmenere. This avoids that scenario, perhaps because the vines planted in the lee of the low coastal Cordillera in southern Maule. It shows nicely ripe lifted, grapy/blueberry fruit; good weight, density and acidity. Wanted a bit more length, but it is fair enough at the price.

Montes Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Caliterra Tributo 2011 Single Vineyard CarmenèreCaliterra Tributo Single Vineyard Carmenère 2011, Colchagua Valley ($16.95)
David Lawrason – This took a Judges Choice in the World Wine Awards of Canada offering very good value. One of the great attributes of carmenere is its complexity, and here the quite lovely fresh currant fruit is nicely fitted with spice, chocolate and a touch of fire ember smokiness.

Montes 2013 Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc, Zapallar Vineyard, Aconcagua Valley ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – The Outer Limits attempts to push boundaries in terms of viticulture – planted in a coastal area of Aconcagua, only 7 kilometers from the ocean, this unique site offers an intense freshness and appeal. Compounding that cooler climate is a cooler vintage. The wine feels like a classy Marlborough sauvignon blanc at a very competitive price.

Other Red Highlights

Henry Of Pelham 2012 Estate Cabernet/Merlot, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($24.95)
John Szabo – One of the best cabernet-merlots from the Speck brothers in some time. The warmth and generosity of the 2012 vintage shines through, yielding an arch-classic, cool(ish) climate wine that hits all the right notes. Best 2014-2022.

Heartland 2012 Shiraz, South Australia ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This is drawn from vineyards in Langhorne Creek and Limestone Coast, both cooler areas of South Australia, perhaps lending the very lifted, appealing aromatics of menthol and blackcurrant/blackberry fruit with well integrated pepper and oak. It’s full bodied, dense, linear and vibrant with excellent focus and length, especially for the money.

Alpha Crucis 2010 Titan Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia, ($23.95)
Sara d’Amato – Alpha Crucis is the “boutique” label of Chalk Hill winery (no relation to the California winery). There is some impressive depth here for the dollar and despite the wine’s big, unctuous profile, it remains balanced and varietally characteristic.

Henry Of Pelham 2012 Estate Cabernet Merlot Heartland Shiraz 2012 Alpha Crucis Titan Shiraz 2010 Domaine Des Bacchantes Côtes Du Rhône 2012 Famille Perrin Les Christins Vacqueyras 2012

Domaine Des Bacchantes 2012 Côtes Du Rhône, France ($16.95)
John Szabo - Here’s a keenly priced, organically-farmed, satisfying and authentic Côtes du Rhône to buy by the case to enjoy over the winter with comfort food like braised meat dishes and stews. Best 2014-2019.

Famille Perrin 2012 Les Christins Vacqueyras, Rhone Valley, France, ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – A highly appealing, romantic southern French red that is sure to sweep you off your feet. Perrin has been hard at work attempting to define the quality appellations of the southern Rhone by making this line of appellation specific wines. Vacqueyras has begun to give its more esteemed neighboring appellation, Gigondas, a run for its money as of late and this is a terrific example of the finesse, restraint as well as the appealing peppery spice and garrigue offered by this fine region.

Château Rigaud 2012 Faugères, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – Faugeres is a southern French appellation located just north-east of the city of Beziers and gets unfortunately overlooked in terms of quality appellations. Lucky for us, the prices remain extraordinarily reasonable for these schist grown wines that offer a surprising amount of complexity, depth and often exhibit a charming, meaty character. The 2012 Chateau Rigaud is certainly a find worthy of your attention.

Pelissero 2012 Munfrina Dolcetto d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy  ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This is one of the best dolcettos of recent memory –  a fresh, firm and engaging youngster with fairly lifted, complex aromas of blueberry, pickled beet and black pepper, with a touch of smokiness. It’s from a single site (Munfrina) planted in 1980 near the village of Treiso.

Château Rigaud 2012 Pelissero Munfrina Dolcetto D'alba 2012 Quinta De Cabriz Seleccionada Colheita 2011 Andreza Reserva 2011 Viticultors Del Priorat Vega Escal 2008

Quinta De Cabriz 2011 Seleccionada Colheita, Dão, Portugal ($15.95)
John Szabo -
I find touriga nacional-based blends from the Dão to be more floral and fresh than their Douro counterparts, and this example delivers the business at an attractive price. Tinta roriz (tempranillo) contributes its succulent acids and fresh red fruit, while alfrocheiro adds its own savoury dark fruit. Enjoy over the next 1-3 years.

Andreza 2011 Reserva Douro, Portugal ($16.95)
John Szabo –
2011 was a superb vintage in the Douro (a widely declared vintage port year), and this smart value will satisfy fans of big and impactful wines, with more power than finesse. Best 2014-2018.
David Lawrason – Ditto, great value!

Vega Escal 2008 Priorat, Spain ($21.95)
David Lawrason – Top Priorats can weigh in at five times this price; so at $22 I was not expecting the great structure, tension and depth that makes Priorat so intriguing. But this more diminutive example captures the essential elegance of the appellation very nicely, and it has achieved the right state of maturity.

Wines of ChileAnd that’s a wrap for this edition. In November the VINTAGES releases grow even larger, with press tastings divided in two and scheduling becoming more erratic. We will do our best to follow the bouncing ball and review as many as possible. Remember that only by subscribing will you get instant access to our reviews, which is especially critical at this busy time of year when wines move quickly. Hopefully one day soon – if indeed the LCBO does modernize as described above – the supply and demand issues we face will become evened out.

In the meantime, WineAlign Toronto area readers are invited to discover the diversity of Chilean wines with an exclusive offer. The Chilean Wine Festival is returning to the Royal Ontario Museum this coming October 28th. Purchase your tickets using the promotional code WINEALIGN and you will get $10 off the regular admission price of $75.  (details here)

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES October 25th release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Oct 25th Part One – Tuscany and Miscellaneous Top Whites

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


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Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

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Bourgogne Lovers Part II: Finding Value in Bourgogne

By John Szabo MSOctober 18, 2014

 

Some Regions & Producers to Seek Out, and a Buyer’s Guide of Currently Available Wines

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Part I last week surveyed some of the challenges facing La Bourgogne. But despite the doom and gloom outlined, all hope is not lost for Bourgogne lovers. In fact, there are several pockets within the region that remain relatively good value in this high stakes game, and the quality of Bourgogne wines in general is better than anytime before in history. Not even Bourgogne’s lauded name on a label is sufficient to sell mediocre wines in today’s hyper competitive market. Ironically, Bourgogne’s versions of chardonnay and pinot noir remain the yardstick for the majority of producers globally, even if not all will admit it, so there are plenty of excellent alternatives from every coolish climate between Ontario and Tasmania to buy instead of poor quality Bourgogne. So even the homeland has had to keep apace qualitatively.

But it’s important to be realistic: you’ll never find great sub-$20 red Burgundy, or sub $15 white. And $30 and $20 respectively are more probable entry prices. I’ll never tire of quoting Burghound Allen Meadow’s brilliant observation about pinot noir pricing: “you don’t always get what you pay for, but you never get what you don’t pay for”. This is true not only in Burgundy, but just about everywhere else, too. So here, I’m talking value at the premium end of the wine spectrum, relative to the oft-inflated prices of wines from any well-known region. For the best of the originals, look for these regions and producers, or skip to directly to the Buyers’ Guide for wines currently available somewhere in Canada.

Chablis: Get It While You Can

For reasons I fail to fully understand, Chablis remains both a world reference for chardonnay as well as perhaps the single best value within La Bourgogne. Considering that many, including me, believe Chablis to be the world’s most unique, effortless expression of cool climate chardonnay, it’s puzzling, and even more so now that demand outstrips supply. How long can this last?

The Latest Developments

Guillaume Michel of Domaine Louis Michel

Guillaume Michel of Domaine Louis Michel

If 1980 was a critical turning point for Chablis in the cellar, with the widespread arrival of stainless steel tanks (enamel-lined tanks or wood vats predominated before), the most important recent changes have occurred in the vineyards. “The pruning has changed quite dramatically”, Guillaume Michel of Domaine Louis Michel tells me. “Today, it’s much shorter, as there’s much less risk of frost damage.” Global warming has been keenly felt in this part of France, and production is more regular now than in the past, even if average quantities are down as a result.

Overall, viticulture has also improved dramatically. “Thirty years ago, Chablis was like the moon”, continues Michel, referring to the widespread use of herbicides. “Nobody ploughed their vineyards. Now it’s commonplace.” Bernard Ravenau, one of the region’s most celebrated vignerons, further explains: “Twenty years ago, the top producers were the ones who had the balls to harvest late. Now, the top producers are the ones who harvest earliest. The goal is not a wine with 14% alcohol”.

Bernard Raveneau

Bernard Raveneau

Raveneau’s extraordinary 2010s weigh in at around 12.5%, so it’s clearly not just talk. The net result, at least in the top tier, is better wine than Chablis has ever produced before. And there’s little excuse for thin, mean and acidic Chablis, unless you’re greedy with yields.

At its best, Chablis captures an inimitable profile and bottles its essence. It’s that electrifying structure and palpable minerality that blatantly defies the naysayer scientists who claim that soil cannot possibly impart the taste of its rocks to a wine, which keeps me coming back.

Yet even Chablis’ grandest expressions, a Raveneau or a Dauvissat grand cru for example, cost a half or a third of a top grand cru from the Côte de Beaune, for a sensory experience you simply can’t find anywhere else. These are not cheap wines – c. $250 is a hell of lot to pay for any bottle – but all things considered, they are awesome value in the rarefied realm of fine wine.

Maybe it’s because of Chablis’ relatively large size (just over 3,300ha producing a little more than 25m bottles annually), which is double the size of the whole Côte de Nuits, where yields per hectare are also much lower on average than in Chablis. Or perhaps it’s because the quality of the region’s bottom-tier wines is bad enough to scuff the luster of the entire appellation, keeping average prices down (about 40% of regional production is still made by négociants), or that the silly money of the punters is spent mostly on red wine.

Whatever the case, learn a few reliable names, and buy their wines. $20 gets you fine quality entry-level village Chablis ($30 in BC), while an additional $10 or $15 gets you into premier cru territory. $70 gets you Chablis from one of the seven grand cru climats, with most still under $100. I realize we’re talking about the ultra premium wine category here, but if you’ve read this far, you’re interested enough to know the deal.

Recommended Producers (Not an exhaustive list)

Domaine François Raveneau and Domaine Vincent Dauvissat

I include these two producers more as a reference – you’ll be lucky to ever find a bottle from either. Production is tiny, and every last drop disappears quickly into the cellars of the enthusiasts lucky enough to get an allocation. The quality of both Bernard Ravenau’s and Vincent Dauvissat’s (and increasingly his daughter Etienette’s) recent and future releases experienced during a tasting in May 2014 confirms the iconic status of these two producers. Don’t miss a chance to taste either; the Raveneau 2010 Montée de Tonnerre is about as fine a white wine as I’ve ever had. [Barrel Select, ON]

Domaine Louis Moreau

Moreau is a sizable 50ha domaine with an enviable collection of five grand cru parcels, the jewel of which is the Clos de l’Hospice, a 0.4ha duopole within the Les Clos grand cru, shared with kin Christian Moreau. Although wood was experimented with in the past, it has been abandoned for all but the Clos de L’Hospice, which is fermented in 500l barrels and aims at a richer style. Louis Moreau believes that wood fermenting/ageing sacrifices both finesse and the mineral signature of each cru, a sentiment heard frequently, if not uniformly, in the region. The left bank Vaillons is considered the most delicate 1er cru in the Moreau range, though even it shows satisfying depth. [Vins Balthazard Inc., QC; Lorac Wine, ON].

Domaine Louis Michel et Fils

Guillaume Michel works on 25 hectares spread over all four appellations in the region (Petit Chablis, Chablis, 1er cru and grand cru) including six premier crus totalling 14ha, of which the highly priced Montée de Tonnerre is the largest. The house style has not changed here since Guillaume’s Grandfather Louis abandoned wood altogether in 1969. “He spent his time in the vineyards and didn’t have time to mess around in the cellar” says Guillaume. Wines ageing in wood are much more likely to go sideways than those sitting in a neutral environment like stainless steel.

The Michel style is all about tension and precision. From Petit Chablis to grand cru, everything is made in the same way: long, cool fermentations with wild yeast. Lees contact depends on the vintage: in 2012, for example some lees were retained to add texture, even if these are never remotely fat or creamy wines. The 2010 Grenouilles grand cru is a particularly special wine, though the 2012 Montée de Tonnerre and the 2011 Forêts are also excellent. [H.H.D. IMPORTS, ON]

Domaine de Pattes Loup

Thomas Pico, Domaines Pattes Loup

Thomas Pico, Domaines Pattes Loup

Thomas Pico is a rising star in the region. This fast-talking (literally) winegrower was born into the métier; both his father and grandfather made wine. Pico returned to the family estate in 2004 after oenology studies in Beaune and took over control of eight hectares, a part of his father’s Domaine Bois d’Yver. Control of the remaining Bois d’Yver vineyards will slowly shift to Thomas from his father; it was too much to take over all at once, and “my father had existing markets and relationships to respect” he says.

Pico immediately converted his parcels to organic farming (certified ECOCERT in 2009) and created the Domaines de Pattes Loup. Today he makes four premier crus and a village wine, including a delicate and mineral Vaillons and a rich and a powerful Butteaux (a 1er cru within the larger Montmains cru). Everything is barrel-fermented and aged in old wood, though like in all great barrelled Chablis, wood is rarely, or only very subtlely, detectable. The impact is rather more layered and textured, managing a seemingly mutually exclusive combination of richness and density with laser-sharp precision and freshness. I suspect Pico will be considered among the very best in the region in short order. It’s a shame that he refuses to deal with Ontario: “trop compliqué” he says, a familiar refrain from top growers who could sell their production twice over to importers who pay up within a reasonable time frame. (Oenopole, QC; The Living Vine, ON).

La Chablisienne

The cooperative La Chablisienne is well deserving of inclusion on this list. Established in 1923, this association of nearly 300 producers represents 25% of the entire production of the region (c. 2 million bottles), with an enviable collection of vineyards including eleven premier crus and five grands crus, of which the prized Château de Grenouilles vineyard is the coop’s flagship. It counts among France’s best-run and highest quality cooperatives, which, considering it’s size and relative influence on the image of the appellation, is a very good thing for everyone in the region.

The Venerable La Chablisienne Coop since 1923, with winemaker Vincent Bartement

The Venerable La Chablisienne Coop since 1923, with winemaker Vincent Bartement

Beyond the usual approach to quality of reduced yields and attentive viticulture, La Chabliesienne follows a couple of other notable qualitative protocols, such as extended ageing even for the ‘village’ wines, La Sereine and Les Vénérables, which spend a minimum of one year on lies in stainless vats and barrels, and the bottling of all wines in a single lot (as opposed to bottling to order). According to Hervé Tucki, Managing Director of La Chablisienne, “the aim is not to make fruity wine”.

Indeed, these are not simple green apple flavoured wines – chalkiness and minerality are given pride of place. The range is highly competent across the board from the “Pas Si Petit” Petit Chablis up to the Château Grenouilles Grand Cru. Of the 2012s tasted in May, I was especially enthusiastic about the left bank Montmains 1er Cru, 95% of which comes from the Butteaux climat, and the right bank Vaulorent 1er Cru, adjacent to the grand cru slope. Though it must be said that the “basic” Chablis “Les Vénerables Vieilles Vignes”, made from vines aged between 35 and over 100 years, is a terrific value and fine entry point to the region. [Vinexx, ON]

Northern Burgundy: Grand Auxerrois

I’m willing to guess that this is the least-known part of Burgundy. The “Grand Auxerrois” is a collection of regional appellations all beginning with prefix “Bourgogne”: Chitry, Côte-Saint-Jacques, Côtes d’Auxerre, Coulanges-la-Vineuse, Épineuil, Tonnerre, and Vézelay. The exceptions are the appellations of Saint Bris, the only AOC in Burgundy where sauvignon blanc is permitted and obligatory, and Irancy, an AOC for red wine made from Pinot Noir and, more rarely, César.

Pre-phylloxera, this part of the l’Yonne department was heavily planted; I’ve read that some 40,000 hectares were once under vine. But the region was all but forgotten subsequently. Yet now with global warming, this could once again become an important source of Bourgogne.

Jean-Hugues et Guilhem Goisot

Rocks and fossils on display at Domaine Goisot

Rocks and fossils on display at Domaine Goisot

Goisot is a multi-generational family Domaine with 26.5 hectares in Saint Bris and Irancy. After Guilhem Goisot had discovered biodynamics first in Australia and subsequently in France, he began trials on the family vineyards in 2001. In 2003 he converted the entire domaine and received the first certification in 2004. According to Goisot, a measured, deliberate thinker and speaker, biodynamics helps to “temper climatic variations”. After hail, for example, it used to take a couple of weeks for the vines to re-start the growing process. “Now with arnica applications, the vines get back to work after just two days” says Goisot.

All wines are bottled in single lots, and I’m reassured that place matters by the collection of rocks and fossils from different vineyard sites that Goisot has on display in the small tasting room. I have a terrific tasting here – from the tightly wound Irancy Les Mazelots  on highly calcareous soils, to the darker and spicy Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre La Ronce from a south-facing site on kimmeridgean blue marnes, each wine is clearly marked by soil, each like a window on the earth, pure and totally transparent. [Le Maître de Chai Inc., QC]

Marsannay: Last Refuge of the Côte de Nuits

As mentioned in Part I, top Côtes de Nuits wines are scarce. One village that remains accessible, however, is Marsannay, just south of Dijon. For myriad reasons the wines of Marsannay, the only Côte d’Or communal appellation to permit red, white and rosé wines, have failed to achieve as much renown as those from the villages to the south. Yet the name of the climat “Clos du Roy”, (formerly the “Clos des Ducs”) gives some insight on the degree to which certain vineyards were esteemed in the past. There are no official premier crus for the time being (the proposal has been made), but for single-parcel wines the appellation may be followed by the name of the climat as in “Marsannay Clos du Roy”. There are some 17 growers in the village with an average of 10 hectares each, far above the average for the rest of the Côte d’Or and one of the reasons that Marsannay is still reasonably priced and available. Stylistically the [red] wines of Marsannay resemble those of neighboring Fixin and Gevrey, which is to say pinots of darker fruit and spice character, and marked minerality, if lighter than most Gevrey.

Domaine Jean Fournier  

Laurent Fournier, Domaine Jean Fournier

Laurent Fournier, Domaine Jean Fournier

Jean and his son Laurent Fournier currently farm 17 hectares principally in the village, but also 1.5 in Gevrey, 1.5 in Côte de Nuits Village near Brochon and a half-hectare in Fixin, with another three being planted in Marsannay. Fournier began with biodynamics in 2004 and the domaine was certified in 2008.

On arrival I like the vibe immediately; the young Laurent Fournier is energetic and enthusiastic, the sort of vigneron who brings a smile to your face. It’s all the more pleasing when the wines, too, live up to expectation, and the range chez Fournier is uniformly excellent. The Clos du Roy and Longerois are the two red house specialties, the former made from vines over 40 years old on average, 50% whole bunch, aged in large tonneaux (half new) for 18 months and very grippy on the palate, a wine for cellaring another 3-5 years minimum, and the latter a more generously proportioned, plush and immediately satisfying wine. My favorite on the day however is the outstanding Côte de Nuits Village Croix Violettes Vieilles Vignes, from a half-hectare parcel of vines planted straight on the bedrock near Brochon between 1937 and 1943 in the days before tractors, and thus super high density.  It’s made with 80% whole bunch and delivers marvellous spice and firm tannins and minerals on the palate.

A Word on Coteaux Bourguignons AOC

In 2011, a new regional appellation called Coteaux Bourguignons was created. It covers essentially the former unfortunately-named Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire AOC, as well as Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains. Grapes can be sourced from anywhere within the four départements that make up greater Bourgogne. It was created in part to deal with the shortage of pinot noir over the last few vintages; even basic Bourgogne Rouge will be scarce and certainly more expensive – examples under $30 in CAD will be very hard to find. “The grapes have become too expensive” Thibault Gagey tells me, the man at the head of the formidable Maison Louis Jadot in Beaune. “In many cases the price of a pièce [a 228l barrel] have more doubled.”

But wines under this appellation will need to be selected with care. At the bottom end, Coteaux Bourguignon will become a dumping ground for poor quality gamay from the Beaujolais, while the best will incorporate a high percentage of pinot, or at least good quality gamay. Jadot’s very good version, for example is three-quarters gamay, but includes several declassified cru Beaujolais, including Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent from the Château des Jacques.

La Côte Châlonnaise: From the Miners to the Majors

Half way between Dijon and Mâcon, La Côte Chalonnaise, which is sometimes referred to as the “third Côte”, lies south of the Côte de Beaune a few kilometers from Santenay. It is the geological continuation of the Côte d’Or, sitting on the same fault line that gave rise to the Jurassic limestone and marls underlying the great wines of La Bourgogne, as well as those across the Sâone Valley in the Jura. The hillsides of the Côte Chalonnaise meander more erratically than the more uniform southeast-facing slopes of the Côte d’Or and this irregular topography means that site selection becomes critical.

Vineyards of the Côte Chalonnaise

Vineyards of the Côte Chalonnaise

And the feel of the region changes too. The more compact, well-appointed villages of the Côte d’Or, fairly dripping with the prosperity of the last decades gives way to more sparsely populated villages worn with time. Former grandeur shows the cracks of neglect, like aristocratic Vieille France in need of a makeover. The countryside is beautiful, but the charm is decidedly more rural than cosmopolitan, and one gets the sense that this was once a more important place that has somehow been left behind, like a former capital after the politicians and ministers have decamped with their expense accounts.

It was more a series of historic circumstances, rather than inferior wine quality, that led to the relative obscurity in which the Côte Chalonnaise lies today. For one, the villages of the Côte Chalonnaise are far enough away from Dijon to have been overlooked by the Ducs de Bourgogne – it’s about 70 kilometers from Bouzeron to Dijon, a long road to travel by horse-drawn carriage.  And during the industrial revolution, the miners of the nearby mines of Montceau and Creusot and slaked their unquenchable thirst on the wines of the region, leaving little for outsiders, and little incentive for local vignerons to break their backs for quality. Phylloxera, too, dealt its decisive blow, and the region has never fully recovered. Today less than 50% of the previous surface area is planted.

Yet the miners and the dukes are gone, replaced by insatiable worldwide markets for Bourgogne wines. And considering the shortage of wine, for reasons outlined above, now is the time for the Côte Chalonnaise to recapture its former position of importance and realize its quality potential in the major leagues. This after all, the geographic heart of viticultural Burgundy.

Wines of the Côte Chalonnaise

Wines of the Côte Chalonnaise

From north to south the Côte Chalonnaise encompasses the communal appellations of Bouzeron, Rully, Mercurey, Givry and Montagny as well as the regional Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise AOC. Each is authorized to produce both red and white wines from pinot noir and chardonnay, with the exception of Bouzeron, an appellation reserved for whites from aligoté – the only one in Bourgogne – and Montagny, which is exclusively white from chardonnay. Whites dominate reds overall.

Styles of course vary widely, but in general the wines are endowed with an exuberant and appealingly fruity profile, the reds redolent of fresh raspberries and the whites full of pear and apple. The entry-level wines are for the most part accessible and immediately pleasing, while wines of the top echelon deliver a minerality that has nothing to envy the Côte d’Or. I’d pick Givry and Mercurey as the two most reliable villages for red wines, and Rully and Montagny for whites. Considering that prices are about half to two-thirds of equivalent quality wine from further north, the value quotient is high.

Climats de la Côte Chalonnaise

An association of nine quality-minded, family-run domaines was formed in 2010 with the aim re-positioning the region in its rightful place of respect. Known as “Les vignerons des Climats de la Côte Châlonnaise”, the group is hoping that 2012 will be their breakout vintage. The vintage was excellent in the region, and both it and members of this association are an excellent starting point to discover the wines of the “third côte”.

Côte Chalonnaise Producers

Domaine Jean-Marc Joblot, Givry

Jean-Marc Joblot, Givry

Jean-Marc Joblot, Givry

Although not part of the association, Jean-Marc Joblot, a fourth generation winemaker, has been a quality leader in the village of Givry, and in the region, for years. It was in fact the wines of Joblot that first turned me on to the Côte Chalonnaise back in the 1990s, when he was already well-known and respected in Canada, especially in Québec. Joblot farms thirteen hectares including nine premiers covering both red and white. Vines are meticulously tended and he is a self-declared “constructionist”, believing that wine is “the result of a hundred things that are interdependent”. Little is left to chance, but although he approaches winemaking with the mind of a scientist, he is not an interventionist, nor a technocrat. “When you make an apple or a peach pie, you won’t go and analyse the fruit. You taste it. It’s that simple”, he says. Seasonal rhythms are strictly respected; if you show up for a visit in May for example, a period Joblot considers critical for vineyard work, don’t expect the door to open no matter who you are.

Admittedly I find his insistence on 100% new wood for all of his crus curious, and in youth they are certainly marked by wood influence, yet the fruit depth and structure to ensure harmony over time is clearly there  – I’ve had ten year-old examples that prove the point.  Indeed, these are wines built on tension and intended for ageing, not immediate enjoyment. He most representative crus are the Clos de la Servoisine and Clos du Cellier aux Moines, both best a minimum of five years after vintage.

Domaine A et P de Villaine, Bouzeron

Purchased by Aubert and Pamela de Villaine (of Domanine de La Romanée Conti) in 1971, Domaine A et P de Villaine is run today by Pierre de Benoist, the nephew of de Villaine. This is a leading domaine, and both de Villaine and de Benoist were instrumental in the establishment of the association « Les Climats de la Côte Chalonnaise ». Of the 21 hectares under vine, ten are devoted to aligoté, coinciding with outcrops of granite where aligoté is most happy. Bouzeron is considered by most to yield the finest examples of this lesser-known variety in Bourgogne.

Pierre de Benoist, Domaine A&P de Villaine, Bouzeron

Pierre de Benoist, Domaine A&P de Villaine, Bouzeron

De Benoist reflects back on a 1964 Bonneau de Martray aligoté that was life changing – it was then he realized than Aligoté, treated with care, could produce mesmerizing wines. Unfortunately over-cropping and the negative association with crème de cassis (to sweeten and soften the shrill acids of over-productive vines) in the infamous Kir cocktail reduced aligoté to anecdotal acreage. Even today the entire appellation of Bouzeron counts less than sixty hectares (even Puligny-Montrachet is over 200ha), so don’t expect a revolution any time soon. Though I wish there were more Bouzeron of this quality to go around.

In an interesting twist, the INAO has asked several times for local producer to assemble a dossier of 1er crus in Bouzeron, but de Benoist has refused each time. “It would be a shame to ruin the quality-price rapport of the appellation” he says in uncharacteristic anti-capitalist fashion.

But the domaine isn’t all aligoté; there are also exceptional pinots and chardonnays, especially the marvellously mineral Rully Blanc Les Saint Jacques, the fragrant and fruity Bourgogne Côte Châlonnaise Rouge La Fortune, and the structured and brooding Bourgogne Côte Châlonnaise La Digoine from 65 year-old vines.

Domaine Paul et Marie Jaquesson, Rully

Henri Jacqusson established this domaine in 1946 in the wake of WWII when vineyards had been abandoned. Today Henri’s son Paul has passed the baton on to his daughter Marie to manage the thirteen hectare estate in the AOCs of Rully, Bouzeron and Mercurey. The Rully Blanc 1er Cru Grésigny is a particularly fine and layered white Bourgogne.

Domaine Ragot, Givry

Nicolas Ragot took over the family domaine from his father Jean-Paul, making him the 5th generation to farm vineyards in Givry. Nine hectares are divided between red and white all within the commune, and the wines are elegant, structured and refined in the old school style. The Givry Rouge 1er Cru Clos Jus is especially impressive, succulent and structured.

Stéphane Aladame, Montagny

This domaine was created in 1992 by Stéphane Aladame, and counts today eight hectares under vine of which 7 are in premier crus. Aladame favours freshness and minerality, particularly in the Montagny 1er Cru  Selection Vieilles Vignes from over 50-year-old vines (partially fermented in steel).

Cellier aux Moines, Givry

Originally established by Cistercian monks in 1130, the Cellier aux Moines is run today by Philippe and Catherine Pascal. There are seven hectares under vine including five in the original clos surrounding the ancient cellar. Wines are classically styled and built to age, with the Mercurey Blanc Les Margotons and the Givry Rouge 1er Cru Clos du Cellier aux Moines particularly fine and sinewy examples.

Château de Chamirey, Mercurey

Château de Chamirey

Château de Chamirey

The most important property in Mercurey since the 17th century, the Château de Chamirey is owned today by Amaury and Aurore de Villard. They are the fifth generation in this long family story, having taken over from their father Bertrand, who in turn succeeded from his father-in-law, the marquis de Jouennes. The style is more international, aimed overall at wide commercial appeal, though the Mercurey Rouge 1er Cru Les Ruelles is particularly sumptuous and satisfying.

Domaine de la Framboisière (property of Faiveley), Mercurey

The Domaine de la Framboisière is the recently re-launched domaine of the Faiveley family, formerly called simply “Domaine Faiveley”. La Maison Faiveley was founded in 1825, and the family remains one of the largest landowners/negociants throughout La Bourgogne. George Faiveley set up he first “ en fermage” contract with a Mercurey grower in 1933, and Guy Faiveley bought the family’s first property in 1963 in the same village. The domaine has since expanded into Montagny and Rully and counts now 72 hectares – one of the largest in the Côte Chalonnaise. The quality has improved greatly here in recent years with the arrival of a new winemaker. The style is pure, clean and generously fruity, perhaps not the most profound wines of the Côte Chalonnaise, but frightfully drinkable. The 1er cru monopole La Framboisière from which the domaine takes its name is especially enjoyable.

Domaine François Raquillet, Mercurey

Roots run deep in Mercurey; the Raquillet family has been here since at least the 15th century according to local archives. François officially established the domaine in 1963 and ceded control to his son, also François, in 1983. I find the house style a little heavy-handed, with grapes verging on overripe and the use of oak overly generous, though the wines are certainly not without appeal. The Mercurey Blanc 1er Cru Les Veleys is the best of the lot.

Buyer’s Guide: Top Smart Buys

The following recommended wines are currently available somewhere in Canada (Merci to Nadia Fournier for adding her picks from the SAQ). Click on each for the details.

John’s Picks:

Jean Marc Brocard Vau De Vay Chablis 1er Cru 2012

Domaine Du Chardonnay Chablis Vaillons Premier Cru 2010

Louis Michel & Fils Chablis 2012

Sylvain Mosnier Vieilles Vignes Chablis 2010

Domaine Le Verger Chablis 2012

Jean Marc Brocard Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2011

Domaine Chenevières Chablis 2012

Domaine Laroche Chablis Saint Martin 2011

La Chablisienne Sauvignon Saint Bris 2013

Maison Roche De Bellene Côtes Du Nuits Villages 2011

Bouchard Père & Fils Côte De Beaune Villages 2011

Maison Roche De Bellene Montagny 1er Cru 2011

Caves Des Vignerons De Buxy Montagny Les Chaniots 1er Cru 2010

Les Choix de Nadia:

Jean Claude Boisset Bourgogne Les Ursulines 2012

Jean Claude Boisset Bourgogne Chardonnay Les Ursulines 2010

Domaine René Bouvier Bourgogne Pinot Noir Le Chapitre 2012

Domaine Faiveley La Framboisiere 2010

Jadot Couvent Des Jacobins Bourgogne 2011

Domaine Michel Juillot Bourgogne 2012

Domaine Michel Juillot Mercurey

Domaine Goisot Bourgogne Aligoté 2012

Domaine De La Cadette La Châtelaine 2012

Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis 2012

Domaine Louis Moreau Petit Chablis 2012

Domaine Stéphane Aladame Montagny Premier Cru Sélection Vieilles Vignes 2012

Pierre Vessigaud Mâcon Fuissé Haut De Fuissé 2012

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Part One: The Challenges

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names. Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Photo credit to John Szabo MS


Le Serein, the river that runs through Chablis Looking west onto Chablis from the top of Les Clos grand cru

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 25th – Part One

Tuscany and Miscellaneous Top Whites
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report covers top smart buys from Tuscany and recommended white wines from the October 25th VINTAGES release. Next week’s report will follow-up with the best from Chile and more red wines.

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images. You can also find the complete list of each VINTAGES release under Wine >> New Releases. Remember, however, that to access this list and to read all of the reviews you do need to subscribe (only $40/year). Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

The Tuscan “Wine Miracle”

Despite intense competition from other regions of Italy, I’d rank Tuscany as Italy’s most improved wine region of the last generation, at least the last half of the 20th century. In time, regions like Campania or Sicily may claim that title for the first half of this century, but it’s hard to argue with Tuscany’s miraculous turnaround since WWII. Sure, Tuscany has a history of fine wine, and indeed Chianti was one of the first demarcated wine zones in the world (1716), but overall quality has exploded over the last fifty years.

In the aftermath of World War II, when most of Italy had been reduced to rubble, the country underwent a period of miraculous growth – what economists called il miracolo economico. In barely more than a decade, Italy shifted from a rural, agriculture nation to a major world industrial power. But this led to a massive exodus from the countryside, and many wine estates were all but abandoned, even in beautiful Tuscany, and there was little money to focus on top quality production.

Montalcino counted barely a handful of producers, and the majority of Chianti was harsh, acidic red wine sold in a straw-covered flagon.

But from the 1970s on, everything changed. “Super Tuscan” wines emerged from the ashes thanks to the vision of producers like Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia) and Antinori (Tignanello). These wines were so radical that Italy’s entire appellation system would have to be overhauled to accommodate them.

Tuscany - The view south from Montalcino; Photo: John Szabo MS

Tuscany – The view south from Montalcino

Sangiovese, Tuscany’s most planted red grape, along with other local varieties became the objects of serious research in the sixteen-year project called “Chianti Classico 2000”, an effort to identify the viticultural parameters (clones, rootstocks, planting density, soil characteristics, clones, etc.) that would raise quality. The full benefits of this research are just now coming to a wine glass near you.

Money trickled into the region, then flowed, from within the region and other regions in Italy, and eventually from foreign sources. Today the list of wine estate owners in Tuscany is as international as the starting lineup for a Serie A football club. Land prices have skyrocketed; if only my parents had bought a little Tuscan villa with vineyards back in the 1970s.

Montalcino, for example, has grown to over 200 producers making premium quality, and priced, wines, while the baseline quality of Chianti Classico today would be mostly unrecognizable to farmers of the pre-war generation.

The coastal Maremma, and especially Bolgheri, essentially swamps up until the time of Mussolini, have emerged among the world’s most suitable sites for premium wine. Montepulciano has seen the rapidly changing landscape and has been pulled into the quality upswing. And many other regions, like the Val d’Orcia, Cortona, Montecucco, Val di Cornia or Suvereto, among many more, have become serious sources worth investigating. In short, the last generation could be characterized as il miracolo del vino Toscano.

With fame comes higher prices, but the top entry-level Chianti remains one of the best sub-$20 values in the world of wine, especially if you like eating while you sip. And even at the high-end, $40 or $50 for top Chianti Classico or Vino Nobile, or $60+ for Brunello, in light of the average prices for Bordeaux, Burgundy or Napa, are also relative bargains. You can of course easily spend over $100 for fine Tuscan wine, but I don’t recommend it – it’s not necessary. There’s so much unmatchable pleasure in the sub-$50 category; any higher spend is mostly name-brand label buying.

Here are several excellent, sub-$50 wines hitting shelves on October 25th.

Buyer’s Guide October 25th: Tuscany

Antinori Badia A Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

Soffocone Di Vincigliata 2011Soffocone Di Vincigliata 2011, Tuscany, Italy ($34.95)
John Szabo – From the stable of Bibi Graetz, one of Tuscany’s most lauded vintners and a man who believes in purity and authenticity, this sangiovese (with a splash of other local varieties) is a wonderfully elegant and pure, savoury and balanced wine of haunting beauty. If that’s not intriguing enough, then perhaps the label will be – it was banned in the US for it’s overt sexual imagery. Best 2014-2023.
Sara d’Amato - Here is a wine with sex appeal, literally. The secluded vineyards near Vincigliata, where the grapes are sourced for this utterly pure, edgy and verve-filled wine, offer scenic views of Florence and are also knows as the local “make-out point” where “soffocone” (fellatio) inevitably happens (hence the erotic imagery on the label). This largely sangiovese based blend is made from 40-year-old vines that deliver serious structure and lovely musky spice. Keep this one for Valentine’s Day.

Antinori 2009 Badia A Passignano, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($44.95)
John Szabo – A former monastery established in 891 (not 1891), Badia a Passignano has been in the Antinori family since 1987. It’s a gorgeous property in Sambuca Val di Pesa, with vineyards stretching up to 300m, producing a reliably excellent Chianti Classico from old sangiovese clonal material cut from the nearby Tignanello estate. This 2009 is a fine example of Chianti Classico’s new top-level classification called Gran Selezione; tasted blind I’d be far more likely to guess Brunello. Best 2016-2024.
Sara d’Amato - This gracefully maturing Chianti Classico Riserva produced from the serene monastery of Badia A Passignano is drinking quite beautifully now. Notes of plum, prune and delicate, exotic spice linger nicely on the finish of this sophisticated wine.

Poggio Verrano Chance 2006

Avignonesi 2011 Vino Nobile Di MontepulcianoAvignonesi Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Tuscany, Italy ($35.95)
John Szabo - A terrific, balanced, pure, perfumed and savoury, firm and dusty Vino Nobile here from the storied house of Avignonesi, under new ownership since 2009. The entire estate has been converted to biodynamic farming and the positive results are beginning to show in the 2011. Best 2014-2021.

Poggio Verrano 2006 Chance, Tuscany, Italy ($37.95)
John Szabo - For fans of Super Tuscans, this is an exceptional blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc at a fine price within the genre. Poggio Verrano releases this wine at full maturity, a rarity in the world of Tuscan wine, and this is a ready-to-enjoy wine of considerable class. Best 2014-2021.
David Lawrason – This is very good value in a mature (but not at all tired) Tuscan red from an excellent vintage. It spent its first five years ageing at the winery. Verrano is a relatively new venture founded in 2000, based on a 17 ha site in Maremma only 15km from the sea that grows cabernet sauvignon and franc, merlot and sangiovese.

Castello D’albola 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Here’s a balanced, authentic and appealing Chianti. I was struck by its freshness as it embarks on its sixth year, with most of its first two years spent in barrel in the cellars of this classic, old property near Radda. Good value for a Riserva.

Ca’marcanda 2011 Promis, Tuscany, Italy ($48.95)
David Lawrason - From the coastal Tuscan property of Angelo Gaia in the Maremma zone comes a real beauty, an exquisite, very fragrant and complex thoroughly modern expression of Tuscany. It is comprised of 55% merlot, 35% syrah, 10% sangiovese that are fermented separately and aged 18 months in new and one year old barrels.

Castello D'albola Riserva Chianti Classico 2008 Ca'marcanda Promis 2011 Livio Sassetti Pertimali Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 Ornellaia 2011

Livio Sassetti Pertimali 2007 Brunello Di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($45.95) –
David Lawrason – The Sasseti family has been turning out classic Brunello from their 16 has site for three generations. Aged 36 months at the winery, this somewhat lighter vintage has now matured to ideal drinking condition – very complex, very smooth yet braced by fine acidity. Classic styling.

Ornellaia 2011, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy ($189.95)
Sara D’Amato – An interesting vintage proved 2011 – mainly hot and dry with a period of cooler temperatures in mid-summer. Thus this marked wine shows a great deal of character, colour and richness of fruit but has also preserved an elegant vein of acidity. Classic, highly appealing and worth tucking away for at least the near future.

Buyer’s Guide VINTAGES October 25th: White Wines

Vincent Prunier Saint Aubin La Chatenière 1er Cru 2011Gunderloch Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett 2013

Domaines Schlumberger 2010 Saering RieslingDomaines Schlumberger Saering Riesling 2010, Alsace Grand Cru, France ($30.95)
John Szabo - The sandstones and marls of this 27ha grand cru are tailor-made for riesling, especially dry and floral styles. 2010 was a terrific vintage, and this wine shows an advanced, earthy, very stony, terroir-driven character on a bone dry, mid-weight frame. Best 2014-2022.

Gunderloch 2013 Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett, Rheinhessen, Germany  ($21.95)
Sara D’Amato – Old vines, low yields and plantings on unique red slate soils produce this compelling wine brimming with energy, vibrancy and appealing mineral. Excitingly bright with terrific balance and a great deal of staying power.

Vincent Prunier 2011 Saint-Aubin La Chatenière 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($48.95)
John Szabo - Still very youthful and even reductive (flinty), this has depth and intensity above the mean for both the vintage and the appellation, and would sit comfortably alongside more expensive white Burgundy from loftier appellations. Best 2016-2021.
Sara D’Amato – Saint Aubin is known for its floral character and delicacy but this example has much more riveting appeal with racy crispness bolstered by mineral and nicely balanced by saline and stone fruit – a class act.

Dog Point 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)
John Szabo -  Another superior wine from Dog Point, one of the clear leaders in the region. The 2013 has beautiful purity and depth, still in the typical house style of flinty and lightly reductive (matchstick notes), while the palate is beautifully balanced and crystalline with terrific length. Best 2014-2020.

Andrew Murray 2012 RGB Camp 4 Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley, California, USA ($29.95) John Szabo – Andrew Murray is a Rhône-fanatic; he sources Rhône varieties exclusively from a long list of vineyards in Santa Barbara and Paso Robles, a sort of micro-negociant. RGB is an equal parts blend of roussanne and grenache blanc with surprising verve and vitality. I like the interplay of ripe orchard fruit, with almost viognier-like perfume and richness, not to mention glycerous mouthfeel, with underlying acids prop up the ensemble. For those who like it both big and balanced. Best 2014-2020.

Castello Della Sala 2013 Bramìto Del Cervo Chardonnay, Umbria ($21.95) David Lawrason –  This is the junior, unoaked chardonnay from Antinori’s excellent white wine estate in Umbria, not far from the classic town of Orvieto. Bramito has long been personal favourite –  stylish, yet light on its feet and fresh, with integration ration of chardonnay apple/pear, lemon and light toasty and nutty notes.

Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Andrew Murray Rgb Camp 4 Vineyard 2012 Castello Della Sala Bramìto Del Cervo Chardonnay 2013 Loimer Grüner Veltliner 2013 Yalumba The Y Series Viognier 2013Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2011

Loimer 2013 Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal, Austria ($19.95)
David Lawrason – From one of the leading producers of Austria comes a beauty gruner made in an easier, simpler style. Fine structure and elegance if not great complexity or depth, but the fruit aromas ring true and run long on a spine of firm acidity.

Yalumba 2013 The Y Series Viognier  South Australia ($16.95)
David Lawrason – What amazing finesse and freshness (and value) for a wine with so much fruit power. Yalumba has taken on viognier as a cause celebre in Australia, and along the way has emerged as leading global producer of the beguiling perfumed white grape that originated in the south of France.

Le Clos Jordanne 2011 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario, Canada ($40.00)
Sara D’Amato – A bold chardonnay with poise and presence and a great deal of crunchy, textural appeal. Non-believers in the excellence of our local wine – take note!

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Oct 25th:

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

Photo courtesy of John Szabo, MS


AdvertisementsStags' Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2011

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 11th – Part Two

Sonomania and Red RavesOct 9, 2014

by David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo MS

David New 2014

David Lawrason

Today’s publishing date coincides with the arrival of the Sonoma County Vintners wine fair in Toronto, and the WineAlign team will be there. But while we evidently can’t publish additional Sonoma wine recommendations on time in the traditional fashion, we’ve set up an instagram account where we’ll be posting pics of more great picks from the County: http://instagram.com/winealign. Follow the link to see what else we’ve unearthed; availability and price will be included.

It’s almost needless to say that the number of wines at the Sonoma exposition far outstrips the number that are actually, or ever will be, available at the LCBO. I only point that out to say I still find that as irritating as I always have – 30 years later. But despite the retail bunker erected by our one-shop-fits-all monopoly, the Sonoma winemaker delegations keep coming back – and thanks for that. It is something the Sonoma Wineries Association has done diligently over many years as a brand building exercise. And that’s an important exercise when you live next door to world famous Napa Valley.

So what is the Sonoma brand – the difference-maker? They like to promote Sonoma’s geographic and varietal diversity – an easy catch phrase.  But it is an over-used idea, and not really all that useful in a hyper-diverse world. So what really leaps to front of mind for Sonoma here in 2014?

Well for me it is chardonnay. The rest of California could stop making chardonnay without causing me any grief, because Sonoma finds a sweet spot offering bright tree fruit, freshness, some firm acidity yet California suppleness and warmth. In the coolest coastal regions you can find leaner, more mineral driven Burgundy-inspired styles, but if I want that style I will buy Burgundy, or Niagara or Prince Edward County chardonnays. With Sonoma chards I am still looking for some California fruit generosity tempered by just-right freshness and tension (and not too much oak).

8.5 x 5.5_Postcard.indd

Where goes good chardonnay, so goes good pinot noir, and I must say that personally I love drinking the aromatically lofty, texturally rich Sonoma pinot noirs – a bit deeper in colour, with riper often raspberry-scented fruit aromas decked out in the finest new oak spice and vanillin and perhaps a hint of evergreen from the coniferous coastal environment. They are also fairly soft and warm, but the best also trail some minerality and acidity. This is the profile of the many Carneros and Russian River pinots, with the tautness of the latter increasing as sites move into the Sonoma Coast. But as with chardonnay I am not expressly seeking Burgundian stone-sucking minerality in Sonoma pinot; I want California fruit richness too.

Beyond this dynamic duo the brand of Sonoma becomes more fractured. I do anticipate good things from zinfandels coming out of the warmer Dry Creek Valley, but again there are many other sites across the state that also produce very good zins so Sonoma is not so special in this regard. There are also some impressive Bordeaux reds from the warm sites of the Alexander and Knights Valleys, with especially good examples coming from the hilltops. They have a bit more tension than most Napa cabs, but their main attraction is better value, simply because they are not Napa. And that’s about where I start to run out of solid ideas about what Sonoma is. To me it is simply the best one-two chardonnay-pinot punch in California.

Beyond the Sonoma selections below, we have come up with an intriguing selection of other reds. We assembled our white picks and Piedmont reviews in Part One last week.

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images below. You can also find the complete list of each VINTAGES release under Wine >> New Releases. Remember, however, that to access this list and to read all of the reviews you do need to subscribe (only $40/year). Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Sonoma Selections

Benziger Chardonnay 2012

Flowers 2012 Sonoma Coast ChardonnayFlowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2012 ($64.95)
John Szabo – Flowers’ vineyards are perched on the coastal ridges facing the Pacific in the far out, “true” Sonoma Coast, one of the first sites planted in the area in 1991, and they’ve been leaders ever since. The 2012 is an elegant, stylish, firm and fresh, ripe and concentrated wine with well-measured wood and tight acids, the way we like them.
David Lawrason   This is quintessential, brilliant, layered subtle chardonnay with centering acidity and minerality. Pricy but a benchmark, with the wherewithal that makes the best Burgundies intriguing, plus a bit of bravado.
Sara d’Amato  This Burgundian styled chardonnay climate features lovely vibrancy, structure and harmony. Refined and sophisticated for the classiest of affairs.

Benziger 2012 Chardonnay Sonoma County ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is the best value Sonoma selection, white or red on the release, and I chalk that up to organic-based winemaking philosophy, even though the label avoids using the term while delivering lots of green-speak. This is a well-integrated, balanced, enjoyable wine with well-tailored California opulence.
John Szabo – Long time followers of organic/biodynamic and sustainable winegrowing, Benziger is a reliable name for balanced and elegant wines. This is a particularly well-priced chardonnay in the realm of oft-inflated California pricing, stylish, savoury, and judiciously oaked, hitting a fine balance between fruit and spice on a well-proportioned frame.

Pahlmeyer Pinot Noir 2011

Kunde Zinfandel 2012Ridge Lytton Springs 2012Pahlmeyer 2011 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($100.95)
David Lawrason – Some might gasp and/or guffaw at the price, but this Sonoma pinot borders on perfection. It’s a very modern, typical Californian take on pinot, and done very well, with impressive poise for its size and excellent to outstanding length. It is everything I love about Sonoma pinot, if sadly I can’t afford it. Those who can will be pleased.
Sara d’Amato – The cooler vintage was beneficial to this lovely pinot noir brimming with cherry, crab apple, bramble and cedar. An elegant, new world style with a broad palate and exceptional length. Grace and refinement best characterize this incarnation of Pahlmeyer’s pricey pinot noir.

Kunde 2012 Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley ($23.95)
John Szabo – Zach Long is the highly competent winemaking steward of the Kunde Family’s considerable estate in the Sonoma Valley AVA, now in the hands of the fifth generation. This is the entry-level version, but it’s a wholly satisfying, generously proportioned example that should appeal widely. It’s a bit boozy at 14.7% alcohol declared, but it works within the context of large-scaled wine.
David Lawrason – This is a generous, ripe zin that has some chocolate-ness, but it is not overly confected. It is full, sweet and sour with some tension and even minerality. Following on a very good value Kunde Chardonnay last time out I am paying more attention to this property.

Decoy Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2011Ridge 2012 Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley ($52.95)
Sara d’Amato – The 115-year-old vines of the Lytton Springs property are used to produce some pretty impressive, high-caliber wines which feature little manipulation and pure, honest and expressive fruit. The 2012 is elegant and lingering with pretty herbal notes and forest fruit and makes for an undeniably memorable experience.
John Szabo – An excellent vintage for Ridge’s Lytton Springs zinfandel blend, 2012 has yielded an open and pure wine in the hands of non-interventionist of Paul Draper, with full palate, woolly tannins (un/minimally filtered) and great length. I appreciate the purity and forthrightness here – there’s no winemaking artifice, just fine, fermented grapes.

Ravenswood 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel, Sonoma County, ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – Ravenswood is a pioneer of California’s signature grape and continues to champion this varietal – still their most successful product. Here is a very characteristic and honest example of pure zinfandel with plenty of succulence and vibrant acids to balance the fleshy fruit.

Decoy 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County ($33.95)
John Szabo – A second wine of sorts from Duckhorn, the Decoy cabernet over-delivers in the category in the excellent 2012 vintage. This has some grit and substance and a solid range of flavours. Best 2014-2022

Other Reds

Monte Del Frá 2013 Bardolino, Veneto, Italy ($13.95)
David Lawrason – It’s back!  One of my all-time favourite easy drinking, lively reds– a lightweight Veneto that effortlessly diagrams the purity and freshness this northern region can render – without getting all fussed up in rispasso-ness. Some lessons here. Killer price – I might consider a case.

Adelsheim 2012 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($34.95)
David Lawrason – Here is the best Adelsheim I can recall, and that’s saying something as David Adelsheim was an Oregon pinot pioneer who I interviewed in Toronto in the 90s. Impressive depth and energy here most of all, if not yet elegant, refined and ethereal. But that too may appear in a couple of years.

Carabella 2011 Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($37.95)
John Szabo – 
It was a toss-up between two fine Oregon pinots in this release (the other was the 2012 Adelsheim, $34.95) and both are fine, though the edge goes to this ambitious, fullish, natural-feeling pinot noir. It’s not perfectly limpid and aromatics are slightly muddled, though it’s all the more characterful for it. The palate delivers substantial flavour and depth, and I like the raw, honest feel. Best 2014-2023.

Monte Del Frá Bardolino 2013 Adelsheim Pinot Noir 2012 Carabella Pinot Noir 2011 Domaine Clos De Sixte Lirac 2011

Domaine Clos De Sixte 2011 Lirac, Rhone, France, ($24.95)
Sara  d’Amato – Lirac is a large appellation in the southern Rhone close to Tavel that produces some exceptional value. Their reds and roses are largely GSM (grenache-syrah-mourvedre) based such as this rather polished example. Sophisticated with concentration and complexity well above the norm.

Bodega Noemía 2012 A Lisa, Patagonia, Argentina ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This is from one of the most far-flung corners of the biodynamic wine world in lower Patagonia (half way to the Atlantic Ocean) along the Rio Negro – and it’s terrific. Very zesty, vibrant and quite particular. Powerful jammy flavours.

Viña Tarapacá  2012 Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile ($17.95)
David Lawrason – Great power, piquancy and complexity here – an amazing cab fireworks display for $18!  It hails from a massive single estate in the middle Maipo where winemaking is overseen by Californian Ed Flaherty.  No country is doing cab this good for this price. Would be a good buy at $30. For the cellar.

Bodega Noemía A Lisa 2012 Viña Tarapacá Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Henry Of Pelham 2012 Reserve Baco Noir Lealtanza Reserva 2009

Henry Of Pelham 2012 Reserve Baco Noir, Ontario  ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This may be the closest Ontario will ever come to making southern Rhone red – rugged, complex, voluminous. Is there is a quiet baco revolution afoot at H of P?  The 2013 “regular” baco on the general list is also dandy.

Lealtanza 2009 Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($20.95)
David Lawrason – Rioja is such a confused patchwork of ideas. This wine gets closest to the spirit of this maritime-continental region – a lighter fresh and fruity wine nicely framed by spicy wood and some earthiness. Not too much extraction, not too much oak resin and vanillin. Not too firm, not too soft. Well handled in a warmer vintage.

Champions Tasting LogoTo read reviews all our reviews from the bountiful October 11 release subscribers can follow the links below. And I wish you a bountiful Thanksgiving weekend. For those of you in Toronto, don’t miss the chance to join the WineAlign team at the ROM on October 16th. It’s WineAlign’s inaugural Champions Tasting where you get the opportunity to taste only the top award wining wines from The Nationals and The Worlds.

 

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES October 11th release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Oct 11th Part One – Piedmont and Miscellaneous Top Whites

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


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Saltram Mamre Brook Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Troubling Times for Bourgogne Lovers

By John Szabo MSOctober 7, 2014

 

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Short crops in the last four vintages, skyrocketing demand, rising land prices and the threat of a serious region-wide vineyard disease is just some of the troubling news coming out of La Bourgogne, one of the world’s most famous wine regions. Burgundy lovers are faced with the very real and unpalatable prospect of having to look elsewhere for their fix, or at least pay a hell of a lot for the genuine article. Considering that Canada is the fourth largest importer of Burgundy by value, that’s a serious concern in this country.But there’s also a silver lining: these unfortunate developments will give some of La Bourgogne’s lesser-known corners a chance to emerge from the giant shadow of the most famous Côte d’Or villages. There is, believe it or not, good value red and white Bourgogne still to be had. And at the same time, the very best of the region is better than ever before.

In part I of this report I’ll examine some of the challenges facing La Bourgogne, and follow that up in subsequent postings with a look at a few of the regions/appellations and producers where quality and value intersect: Chablis and Grand Auxerois, Marsannay, La Côte Chalonnaise and the Maconnais. Each section will include a Buyer’s Guide of the best kit currently available, somewhere in Canada.

(Editorial note: the anglicised name of the region, “Burgundy”, has been dropped from all marketing material by the BIVB, so I’ll respectfully follow suit and use the French name – after all, no other French wine region uses a different English name.)

Part One: The Challenges

A String of Small Vintages

The most serious immediate issue facing growers in Bourgogne is the loss of a significant proportion of the crop in all of the last four years, with certain regions also down significantly in 2014. The main culprits have been poor flower set and especially hail, and nowhere has been hit harder than the Côte de Beaune, with Beaune itself, Volnay and Pommard particularly unlucky, as well as Chablis.

Giles Burke-Gaffney, Buying Director for Justerini & Brooks, a British wine & spirit merchant established in 1749, has this to report in his introduction to the 2012 offer:

Gerard Boudot of Etienne Sauzet has been making wine since 1974 and has never known such a small vintage, his Folatieres is just one example – he made two barrels instead of the usual ten. 2013 is also terribly small, and with 2011 and 2010 being short crops, too, Burgundy has effectively produced the equivalent of two decent sized vintages in four years. Cellars up and down the Côte d’Or look empty”.

Old Vinetages at Domaine Henri Gouges, one of the First Domaines in the Côte d'Or to estate bottle wine

Old Vintages at Domaine Henri Gouges, one of the First Domaines in the Côte d’Or to estate bottle wine

Hugues Pavelot of Domaine Pavelot in Savigny-lès-Beaune confirms the situation: “the last four vintages have been the equivalent volume of two average years”, he tells me, referring to the years 2010-2013. It’s late May 2014 as he speaks these words, inadvertently forgetting to touch the wood of the bistro table at La Ciboulette restaurant in Beaune where we’re lunching. A month later, the Côte de Beaune would be struck yet again by devastating hail on June 28th, further compounding growers’ woes.

Estates from Beaune to Meursault reported damage affecting up to 40% of the potential 2014 harvest, after golf ball sized hailstones destroyed leaves, grape bunches and canes. Some areas were even less fortunate, like the famous Clos Des Mouches vineyard in Beaune where up to 90% of this year’s harvest was obliterated in a matter of minutes.

Even more discouraging is that the hail fell despite measures in place to prevent it. Thirty-four ‘hail cannons’ had been deployed every 10 kilometres in the storm-prone areas, which shoot particles of silver iodide and copper acetylacetone into threatening clouds to disperse hail pellets or reduce their size. But the measures ‘failed to work’ according to Thiebault Huber of Domaine Huber-Verdereau and also president of the Volnay Wine Council, or at least didn’t work well enough. This year’s damage has prompted discussions on other anti-hail measures like netting, as is practiced in Argentina. But hail nets are both expensive and reduce sunlight exposure – an estimated 10%-30% – which is not a problem in the intense sunlight of Argentina, but is a genuine concern in far less sunny Burgundy. In any case official INAO approval could be years away.

The slight increase in the 2013 harvest over 2012 is of little consolation for many growers, considering that 2012 itself was exceptionally small. Taking the average of the last five years, 2013 was down 7% and 12% for reds and whites respectively, and also down 12% for Crémant de Bourgogne.

For many, this could spell financial ruin, Thiebault Huber tells Decanter.com. “We have lost the equivalent of two harvests over the last three years”, he says, echoing Pavelot’s and many other grower’s difficult situation. Ultimately prices will have to keep rising to keep domaines solvent.

High Demand

And it seems the unprecedented demand for top Burgundy around the world will encourage and sustain those prices. “I’m not sure why you’re here”, Frédéric Mugnier says to me immediately after arriving at his highly-regarded domaine in Chambolle-Musigny. “I have nothing to sell”. It’s perhaps not a dramatic change of attitude, but noticeable nonetheless, from when I first started travelling to Burgundy in the late 1990s. Back then, doors at all but the very top estates were still open.

The essential tourist photo at Domaine de la Romanée Conti

The essential tourist photo at Domaine de la Romanée Conti

But now Mugnier’s wines, like all of the top wines from the Côte d’Or and especially the Côte de Nuits, are on tight allocation, with importers/distributors bemoaning the few cases they are allotted to broker. Most growers are reluctant to even open their doors to prospective clients (or journalists), knowing that fueling more demand just causes more headaches. The world can’t get enough of sought after appellations like Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée, Chambolle-Musigny, Nuits-St-Georges and Morey St.-Denis (and of course all of the premiers and grand crus within them).

Exports to Hong Kong have tripled since 2008 when taxes on products with less than 30% alcohol were abolished, and growth shows no signs of abating with the first part of 2014 up another 12%. At the same time, Hong Kong importers have set up distribution in Mainland China, which has also increased demand. And it’s not just a handful of prestigious labels – Bourgogne is second only to Bordeaux now in China in terms of the number of different labels offered on average at points of sale.

Elsewhere, the United States remains the number one market for Bourgogne by value and is increasing despite a strong euro and weak dollar, indicating a buy-at-any-price attitude, while Canada also continues to grow, fuelled mainly by Québec, which accounts for 70% of Bourgogne sales by volume in the country. In the UK, allocations for the top wines are ever-tighter. Giles Burke-Gaffney of Justerini & Brooks warns prospective buyers of 2012s in no uncertain terms:

2012 is an extremely small vintage, one of the smallest on record, and in many cases wine will have to be allocated to customers. The crop ranges from 20-90% down on 2011. Add this to furious, ever-increasing demand and we have quite a shortage on our hands and producers will inevitably have to put prices up.”

That pretty much sums it up. Bourgogne lovers and collectors, buy what you can, while you still can.

Flavescence Dorée: The Phylloxera of the 21st Century?

Another spectre is haunting La Bourgogne and threatening to reduce quantities further: Flavescence Dorée. “La Flavescence” is a deadly vine disease – a phytoplasm to be more accurate (parasitic bacteria) – which first appeared in France in the 1950s in Armagnac. It has since spread across the south and into Northern Italy and beyond, and is moving further northwards. There is no cure for the disease, which spreads from plant to plant on vector insects, more specifically the sap-sucking “cicadelle de la vigne” (Scaphoideus titanus) or leafhopper, that also arrived in france in the 1950s, likely on vine rootstocks imported from the Great Lakes region of North America. Once a cicadelle becomes infected with the bacteria, which is harmless to the insect, it will in turn infect the plants with which it comes into contact, including grapevines. Flavescence remains asymptomatic for a year, making early detection difficult, but the bacteria then works quickly to kill the vine within a year or two.

Clos des Epenaux, Pommard

Clos des Epenaux, Pommard

Jean-Philippe Gervais, Technical Director of the BIVB (Bureau Interprofessionelle des Vins de Bourgogne), tells me that Flavescence Dorée first appeared in Burgundy in the late nineties near Puligny but was quickly eliminated. More recently it appeared again but in a much larger area in northern Mâcon around 2011 and has spread. He considers the disease a threat on par with phylloxera: “it’s really epidemic”, he says. “It multiplies almost exponentially. In the beginning you have one vine infected; by the following year, thanks to the movement of the cicadelle, you can infect all of the surrounding vines”. It’s believed that many phytoplasm-infected vines were sold by nurseries up to the mid-nineties, before obligatory hot water treatment was introduced to kill the bacteria. Thus nurseries unwittingly helped to spread the disease to many parts of France. And now with the increasing population and movement of leafhoppers, there is a very real danger that Flavescence Dorée could spread out of control.

Ironically, it’s been the dramatic reduction of insecticide use in Bourgogne over the last 15 years that has allowed the population of leafhoppers to grow virtually uncontrolled. It’s estimated that Bourgogne has 100x more leafhoppers than some other affected regions. The solution to the problem is two-fold: 1) identify and rip out all of the vines infected with the bacteria, and 2) reduce the population of leafhoppers with insecticide sprays.

Rolling barrels at Domaine Philippe Pacalet

Rolling barrels at Domaine Philippe Pacalet

Action last year was swift and decisive, some would argue excessive and reactionary, others necessary. In 2013, all communes of the Saône-et-Loire and Côte d’Or départments (covering a large part of Bourgogne the wine region) were ordered to spray three times against the insect. “We didn’t know how many infected areas there were”, reveals Gervais “there wasn’t time to inspect the entire region. But there were definitely large areas – eleven hectares [in Mâcon] were ripped out after all”. A commune-by-commune inspection of every single vine was also ordered to be carried out just before the 2013 harvest, when the symptoms are most visible. The inspections were preceded by work shops for vignerons on how to identify the symptoms of the disease: coloration of the leaves (reddish for pinot noir, yellow for chardonnay), poor lignification of canes and withering of berries, for example.

The action was considered largely successful, and in 2014, only thirteen communes in the southern part of the Côte d’Or, in which or near which Flavescence was detected, were required to spray, and even then only according to a 1+1 strategy, meaning that a second treatment is required only if the cicadelle population remains above a certain threshold. In the regions where the greatest incidences of Flavescence have been detected, namely in Mercurey (Côte Châlonnaise) and the northern Mâconnais, two obligatory treatments were ordered this year, with a possible third if deemed necessary. “The goal of course is to reduce treatments”, says Gervais. Nobody wants to spray insecticides unecessarily”.

But despite the seriousness of the problem, the severe approach has not been universally lauded, as could be expected from hundreds of individual vignerons each with varying winegrowing philosophies. The highest profile case involved organic/biodynamic grower Emmanuel Giboulot, who refused outright to spray insecticides on his grapes, though he was not alone. Even more dangerous are the countless growers who feigned to follow orders, purchasing the insecticide spray in order to be able to show the authorities the receipt, yet never used it.

Although Flavescence appears to be under control, the danger is still present. And the stakes are very high.

Land Prices Beyond Reach

Another long-term problem, but without any solution, is the skyrocketing cost of land in Bourgogne, some of France’s, and the world’s, most expensive vineyards. According to government figures, vineyard prices in the Cote d’Or rose by 5% on average last year versus 2012, to €515,600 per hectare, though the top grand crus can change hands for the princely sum of €9.5m per hectare ($14m CAD). Headlines were made when luxury goods giant LVMH purchased the 8.66 hectares of the Clos des Lambrays grand cru for a reported €100m.

Priceless grand cru vineyards, Côte de Nuits

Priceless grand cru vineyards, Côte de Nuits

This of course puts upward pressure on the cost of wines from the most prestigious sites. But even more seriously, it puts into question the long-term viability of family-run domaines. According to French inheritance laws, descendants pay 40% of property value in taxes in the succession from one generation to the next. Considering the astronomical value of the top estates, few families will be able to afford the taxes without serious succession planning.

“Our concern is that, in a couple of years, family domaines will have to sell their vineyards to big financial groups,” Caroline Parent-Gros, of Domaine AF Gros, said in the July issue of Decanter magazine.

Benjamin Leroux standing in the Clos des Epeneaux (He has sinced moved on to focus his own wines under his name)

Benjamin Leroux standing in the Clos des Epeneaux (He has sinced moved on to focus his own wines under his name)

The large number of family-run domaines in Bourgogne is one of the defining features of the region, compared to more corporate-run regions such as Bordeaux or Champagne. The family estates have also been instrumental in pushing up average quality across the region over the last couple of generations, in what was before a market dominated entirely by négociants and cooperatives. To see the region fall predominantly into the hands of large multinationals would indeed be a shame.

Impossibly high land prices also stifle development. Anyone with less than a massive fortune can only dream of buying vineyards in the famous communes of the Côte d’Or, which makes the region the playground of a small elite. The only way in for any outsiders is through the route of the “micro negociant”, a business model whereby individuals purchase small lots of grapes or juice, or finished wines in barrel or bottle to sell under their own label, like Canada’s own Thomas Bachelder. And even in this case, you need to be extremely well connected to have access to the best lots, like Benjamin Leroux for example, former régisseur at Compte Armand in Pommard from 1998 until this year, who’s striking out on his own, or Nicolas Potel, whose father, Gérard Potel ran Domaine de La Pousse d’Or in Volnay, who now operates a negociant business under the Maison Roche de Bellene label, and offers an impressive collection of crus. But they are luckier than most.

Part II next week takes a look at where to find value in Bourgogne, along with a buyer’s guide of the top, currently available wines.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Part II: Finding Value in Bourgogne


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 11th – Part One

Piedmont and Miscellaneous Top Whites
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The VINTAGES October 11th release features Sonoma County and Piedmont. But since the Sonoma County Vintners will be in town next week and we’ll be out tasting many more wines beyond what’s on offer at the LCBO, we’ve decided to hold off on that theme to bring you more market coverage – David will lead off with that next week.

Piedmont is one of the regions in which you could lock me up for a long time with little hardship felt, except if I could only drink the wines hitting LCBO shelves on October 11th. This week we’ll cherry pick the best of a middling release. We’ll also highlight a handful of miscellaneous but superior white wines, with reds to come next week.

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images. You can also find the complete list of each VINTAGES release under Wine >> New Releases. Remember, however, that to access this list and to read all of the reviews you do need to subscribe (only $40/year). Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Buyer’s Guide VINTAGES October 11: Piedmont

Borgogno 2012 Langhe Freisa, Piedmont, Italy ($21.95)
John Szabo – If there’s one wine from Piedmont worth buying in this release, this is it, especially for fans of traditional and authentic regional specialties. Freisa is a rare local variety, a relative (likely a parent according to DNA) of nebbiolo, and the stylistic similarity is obvious. The colour is pale, the texture is firm and dusty, acids are juicy and the flavours run in the fresh tobacco red berry (freisa means strawberry) spectrum. It’s the sort of wine I could sip all evening with a wide variety of food based on protein, fat and salt, like charcuterie. Best 2014-2018.
Sara d’Amato - There’s more to the reds of Piedmont than nebbiolo and barbera and if you’ve never heard of freisa, this example is not to be missed. The variety is similar to nebbiolo in its bitter and tannic character and is known for its polarizing effect among wine drinkers and critics alike. Regardless, this version delivers serious impact and great complexity for only a small investment.

Sobrero 2009 Ciabot Tanasio Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($37.95)
John Szabo – This reasonably priced Barolo is assembled from three cru sites in Castiglione Falletto: Ornato, Piantà and Valentino, aged in large Slavonian botti in the traditional style. The warm 2009 growing season is reflected in the ripe, supple fruit, even if the palate delivers significant structure, firm and dusty tannins; power and length are impressive. Best 2016-2023.
Sara d’Amato - An absolutely breathtaking Barolo at a steal of a price – I imagine this will fly off the shelves. This compelling find features graceful maturity, near perfect harmony and real elegance. David Lawrason – It’s not the ringer of the year by any means, but it’s certainly decent value in the pricey Barolo category – a maturing 100% nebbiolo from a more approachable vintage aged two years in 50hl barrels.

Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2012 Sobrero Ciabot Tanasio Barolo 2009 Prunotto Mompertone 2011 Prunotto Mompertone 2011 Dolianum San Maté Dogliani 2011 Gaja Sito Moresco 2012

Prunotto 2011 Mompertone, Monferrato, Piedmont, Italy ($18.95)
David Lawrason – I have also been a fan of the reds from Monferrato, a verdant region of eastern Piedmont where Italian and French varieties blend effortlessly. This 60% barbera, 40% syrah blend has verve and style – a little less edgy than its nebbiolo neighbours but still energetic. Excellent value from a great house.

Travaglini 2008 Gattinara, Piedmont, Italy ($29.95)
David Lawrason – This is about the only wine we ever see from Gattinara, one of a handful of small appellations northwest of Milan in the Novara Hills region where nebbiolo presides. Barolo and Barberesco are from further south in the Langhe hills. I find the aromatics to be absolutely emblematic of Piedmont reds with reserved but complex sour currant, tomato leaf, cinna-clove spice, chinoot and fresh herbs. Ready to drink.

Dolianum 2011 San Maté Dogliani, Piedmont, Italy, ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato - A delightful, solo-sipping crowd pleaser with easy appeal. This is a wonderful expression of the soft, fruity dolcetto grape and a very good value.

Gaja 2012 Sito Moresco, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy, ($61.95)
Sara d’Amato - This sophisticated but unusual nebbiolo, merlot and cabernet blend offers a great deal of fruit, elegance, structure and succulence. Beautifully balanced with lovely notes of rose and black pepper on the youthful but approachable palate.

Buyer’s Guide VINTAGES October 11: White Wines

Argyros 2013 Assyrtiko, PDO Santorini, Greece ($19.95)
John Szabo – I highlighted another wine from Argyros, the outstanding 2013 Santorini Estate, in a recent posting on Greek whites, and this wine is very nearly as compelling. Yields were down at the estate in 2013 resulting in wines of singular density and weigh, and there’s palpable astringency from tannins even though this is made from free-run juice (according to the estate manager, the dry extract here is off the charts). At the same time, acids are extraordinarily fresh and crisp, almost electric, and the finish quivers on a mineral-salty string. So tightly wound, this will last 10+ years without any stretch, and really shouldn’t be touched for another 2-3 years.

Studert-Prüm 2012 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany ($28.95)
John Szabo - A gorgeous, lively, slatey, classic Mosel riesling with that inimitable pitch-perfect balance of acids and sugars (this is an off-medium-dry wine) that keeps you coming back for more. Best 2016-2024.

Argyros Assyrtiko 2013 Studert Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2012 Jean Max Roger Cuvée Les Caillottes Sancerre 2012 Le Clos Jordanne Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 André Blanck Et Ses Fils Altenbourg Gewurztraminer 2013

Jean-Max Roger 2012 Cuvée Les Caillottes Sancerre AC, Loire, France ($25.95)
John Szabo - A step up from the 2011 in intensity and ripeness, as well as complexity, the 2012 Les Caillottes (named for the particular soil type in which these grapes grow), is a marvellous wine of place rather than grape. It’s full of very organic, natural wet wool and decaying stone aromas, and waxy, lanolin and honeyed notes. Best 2014-2019.

Le Clos Jordanne 2011 Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Chardonnay VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($40.00)
John Szabo – The 2011 Clos Jordanne chardonnays (and pinots) have taken some time to come around, but are showing plenty of purity and finesse at the moment. This wine is all about filigree texture and fine length, without the drive and power of some vintages, but all the more refined for it. Cellar for another 2-3 years for a fully mature, savoury, integrated, old world style expression.

André Blanck Et Ses Fils 2013 Altenbourg Gewurztraminer AC Alsace, France ($19.95)
John Szabo - The Altenbourg is a great site for gewurztraminer, and this example from André Blanck captures the depth and the richness potential nicely at the price.

Cave Spring 2012 Estate Bottled Gewürztraminer Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($17.95)
John Szabo – Very nearly as good as the above, and in a similar vein, Cave Spring’s 2012 gewürztraminer is a full, lush, exuberant example, off-dry but balanced by both acids and a pleasant phenolic bitterness, one of the region’s best.

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Gewürztraminer 2012 Solar Das Bouças Loureiro 2013 No Unauthorized Reproduction @Jason Dziver Albert Schoech Réserve Gewurztraminer 2012

Solar Das Bouças 2013 Loureiro, Vinho Verde, Portugal ($13.95)
John Szabo – For pre-dinner sipping it’s hard to beat the top stuff coming out of Vinho Verde, Portugal’s most improved region in the last decade. The keenly priced Solar das Bouças, belonging to the Van Zeller family, comes from south facing vineyards on the north banks of the Cávado River. The floral loureiro variety speaks loudly in this wine, offering an enticing bouquet of citrus and apple blossom alongside tart green apple fruit.

Nk’mip Qwam Qwmt 2012 Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Nk’Mip finished a strong third overall in the 2014 National Wine Awards of Canada (it’s consistently in the top ten), and this great value took home a silver medal.  Winemaker Randy Picton and his assistant winemakers from the Osoyoos Band are doing some great work and this bright, ripe and rich peachy chardonnay is a case in point – and very good value.

Albert Schoech 2012 Réserve Gewürztraminer, Alsace, France ($17.95)
David Lawrason – Alsatian gewurz gets snapped up a great rate – whenever I go looking for textbook examples to pour in my WSET classes, the shelves are bare. I expect this new arrival to suffer the same fate. Great value in a very fine gewurz that is not as oily and rich as some but has great aromatics and freshness. Welcome Albert Schoech to Ontario for the first time – and come again.

That’s all for this week. For those of you in Toronto, don’t miss the chance to join the WineAlign team at the ROM on October 16th. It’s WineAlign’s inaugural Champions Tasting where you get the opportunity to taste only the top award wining wines from The Nationals and The Worlds.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Oct 11th:

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


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Celebrating Wolf Blass


Champions Tasting

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Niagara Riesling: Making the Case

Ontario Wine Report
John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Is riesling Niagara’s most reliable grape? Aside from indestructible hybrids like vidal, most local growers point to either riesling or chardonnay as the best performing white grapes in Ontario. And I’d argue that while top Niagara Chardonnays are surely excellent, they also come at a price, usually $25 and up for the best, and often over $50. Fine riesling on the other hand, can regularly be had for under $15, while even at the very top end prices have yet to exceed $40.

The style and flavor spectrums for chardonnay and riesling are of course not comparable, but if you’re looking for regional and varietal paradigms, riesling wins on value every time. And when it comes to ageability, riesling is hard to beat. I recently tried a 1989 Vineland semi-dry riesling that was astonishingly good, a wine that cost well under $10 on release.

Some of the oldest vines in Niagara are riesling, with several parcels planted back in the late 1970s still producing. These old vines are the origin of some of Niagara’s best. Geeks will revel in discussions over clones and the subtly different wines they produce; Weiss 21 brought by Hermann Weiss to Vineland Estates from the Mosel is the most widely planted, producing a tighter, leaner more citrus-driven style. The so-called Clone 49, an Alsatian clone, delivers a broader, fuller, more pear-flavoured riesling in my experience. But of course it’s the dirt that matters most, a fact put into clear relief after a recent riesling-focused tour through Niagara wine country.

Vertical Tastings of some of the best Niagara Rieslings

According to Tom Penachetti of Cave Spring, vine age and soil depth are critical quality factors. “The sweet spot is on the bench under the Escarpment”, he says, referring to mainly the Beamsville Bench and Twenty Mile Bench Sub-appellations. Hydrology, or water availability, is one of the reasons, with the best sites benefitting from the springs and ground water that drain off of the Niagara Escapment.

Soils are thinner on top of the escarpment, Penachetti continues, and can dry out too quickly, or retain too much water. He believes the sites with heavier clays are best for riesling. But there are exceptions, such as the excellent Charles Baker’s Picone vineyard Riesling and Tawse’s Quarry Road Riesling, both from the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation on top of the Escarpment.

Soils further from the Escarpment, down by shores of Lake Ontario tend to be more sandy, with less clay and limestone, and tend to produce softer, fruitier, more peachy Rieslings. Yet even here, a few patches of heavier clays such as the vineyard at Back Ten Cellars, what the locals call “the brickyard”, yield more nervy, compact wines.

In any case, Niagara has much to offer in a range of styles. Here are a few to seek out to conduct your own tour of Niagara Riesling. Click on each for full tasting notes.

Top Values: Both Inexpensive and Representative

Vineland Estates 2013 Dry Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench ($13.95). A regional paradigm, with apple cherry blossom and green apple aromatics, lovely crisp acids and surprising depth.

Vineland Estates 2013 Semi-Dry Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench ($13.95). All from the original St. Urban’s Vineyard planted in the late 1970s. Although semi-dry, this is beautifully balanced between  generous and fleshy texture and lean and taught acids. There’s a fine, elegant bitterness from phenolics, which also helps to dry out the palate.

Vineland Estates 2013 Dry Riesling Vineland Estates Riesling Semi Dry VQA 2013 No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver Cave Spring Estate Riesling 2012

Château des Charmes 2012 Riesling Old Vines, Niagara-on-the-Lake ($16.95). This wine captures the richer style of riesling from the warmest part of Niagara (mostly St. David’s Bench fruit), widely appealing in the fuller and broader riesling category.

Cave Spring 2012 Riesling Estate, Beamsville Bench ($17.95). A very fine vintage for this reliable wine, ripe and verging on exotic, even if winemaker Angelo Pavan doesn’t use any aroma-enhancing enzymes, believing that it sacrifices too much texture (enzymes split sugars and make them unavailable for fermentation and hence glycerol/alcohol production).

Top Escarpment/Bench Sites: A Glassful of Limestone

Tawse 2012 Carly’s Block, Twenty Mile Bench ($31.95). From Tawse’s oldest riesling block planted in 1978, this is one of the top Rieslings of the vintage in my view. Considering its track record, this should age beautifully – I’d revisit after 2016 for maximum enjoyment.

Tawse 2012 Quarry Road Vineyard, Vinemount Ridge ($23.95). Quarry Road is on top of the Niagara Escarpment, planted 50-50 with Clone 49 and Weiss 21. I’ve tasted the 2012 a couple of times now, and the wine seems to be gaining in tightness and freshness, amazingly enough. Relative to the Carly’s Block, this is a tight and angular expression, though the balance is pitch perfect.

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2012 Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2010 Fielding Estate Lot 17 Riesling Fielding Vineyard 2013

Cave Spring 2010 CSV Riesling, Beamsville Bench ($29.95). Another Niagara classic, the CSV is always built to age. It’s one of the broader and fuller styles of Ontario riesling, and the 2012 reflects both the later harvest (full ripeness) policy of the house and the warm vintage. I’d suggest enjoying this anytime over the next half dozen years.

Fielding Estate 2013 Riesling Lot 17, Beamsville Bench ($27.95). From 17 rows of the oldest riesling on the estate planted in 2000 with clone 49, this is very pear-driven, off-dry, zesty and crisp, though edging to a drier style with each vintage it seems. It’s the finest riesling from Fielding to date.

Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Riesling Wood Post ($30); Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Riesling Steel Post ($30); Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Riesling Triangle Vineyard ($30). Here’s a chance to do a perfect side-by-side comparative tasting of three different vineyards all made in the exact some way, all from the estate vineyards on the Beamsville Bench, from vines of approximately the same age. Thirty Bench has done in-depth studies on their terroir and there are indeed measureable differences, so it’s not just your imagination.  See if you can pick up the The “Wood Post’s intriguing herbal-pine needle nuances, the Steel Post’s perfect pitch and green apple citrus-lime character, and the richness of the Triangle Vineyard, the most forward and generous of the series.

Thirty Bench Small Lot Wood Post Riesling 2012 Thirty Bench Small Lot Steel Post Vineyard 2012 Thirty Bench Small Lot Triangle Vineyard Riesling 2012Showcase Ghost Creek Riesling 2012Back 10 Cellars The Big Reach Riesling 2012

Top Lakeshore/Niagara-on-the-Lake Rieslings – The broader, fuller styles

Trius 2012 Showcase Ghost Creek Riesling, Four Mile Creek ($25). Ghost Creek is one of the original Hillebrand vineyards planted in the 1980s, though this hails from a more recent planting with clone 49. The vineyard sits on an old, very stony, dried up creek bed with shale and limestone and thus good drainage. The 2012 is a full and fleshy, ripe and substantial wine, one of the best from the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation.

Back 10 Cellars 2012 The Big Reach Riesling, Lincoln Lakeshore ($25). The Back Ten Cellars vineyard sits on heavy red clay soils in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation, in which yields of a measly 2 tons per acre are considered successful. For this wine only free-run juice is used. It’s quite a broad and full wine with evident concentration, denser and more compact than Bench Rieslings.

Vinemount Ridge – for acid Freaks

Charles Baker 2012 Riesling Picone Vineyard, Vinemount Ridge ($35). From now 35 year old vines in this vintage, the 2012 is rivetingly tight and pure, concise and focused, in my view the finest Picone Vineyard riesling to date, even after the excellent 2011.

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver

Flat Rock Nadja's Vineyard Riesling 2013

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012Flat Rock Cellars 2013 Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench ($19.95). Nadja’s vineyard was planted in 2000, a two-ha parcel just under the top of the Escarpment and Flatrock’s coolest site, ripening up to two weeks later than the parcel below the winery. This is fragrant and pretty, lean and tightly wound example of Niagara Riesling.

2027 Cellars 2012 Falls Vineyard Riesling, Vinemount Ridge ($25). Falls vineyard is 2027 Cellars’ tightest and most riveting riesling, true to sub-appellation, with significant minerality.

The Stylistic Outlier

Pearl-Morissette 2012 Riesling Cuvée Foudre “Black Ball”, Twenty Mile Bench ($25). This wine is not yet released and it remains to be determined whether it will be labeled as VQA Riesling, or VQA at all, as François Morissette tells me it has already been rejected twice by the VQA tasting panel, even though it has past the laboratory analysis and been deemed chemically stable. (It was also rejected in past vintages, which is the origin of the cuvée name “Black Ball). In any case, it doesn’t fall into any known model of Ontario riesling, being at once fully dry with malolatic fermentation fully finished, and aged in large old foudres from Alsace and bottled unfined and unfiltered with minimal sulphur. It’s a wine of texture more than aromatics, and you’ll need to think along the lines of other stylistic outliers like, say André Ostertag in Epfig or Clemens-Busch in the Mosel, to really get this.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Remember, however, that to read all of the reviews you do need to subscribe (only $40/year). Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


 

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , , , ,

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Sept 27th – Part Two

Big Bird Reds & Rhône FindsSept. 25, 2014

by David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo MS

David New 2014

David Lawrason

I have written before that the Thanksgiving feast may not be the ideal place to enjoy wines of great nuance and subtlety. There is a lot of competition from plates heaped high, the hubbub of assembled family young and old, and the family dog, denied scraps, whimpering in the corner. And certainly among a larger group of diners there will be some that could care less what they are drinking. So unless you have Thanksgiving dinner completely under control I would lean to more mid-priced priced, vibrant, juicy and flavourful wines. And despite turkey being a bird – I would go with reds to wade into the gravy, savoury dressing and especially the dark meat. So please see some of our selections from our critics below. But if it’s white you are after read John Szabo’s Part One preview here, plus reviews from the Portugal feature and an unexpected line-up of decent Bordeaux.

Sometimes we follow VINTAGES themes in these reports, sometimes not. There was nothing to add to the magazine’s “Groundbreakers” theme, so we strike off on our own, having found a wine or two or three from a region that just can’t be ignored. This happened for Sara, John and I in this release, when we tasted two terrific Rasteau from the southern Rhône, plus others from nearby appellations. These Rhône villages – dotted like stones on a necklace below the jawline of the toothy Dentelles Mountains on the eastern flank of the valley – continue to offer great values. Alas the Rasteau are In-Store Discoveries only to be found in a few larger stores, but they are very much worth seeking out.

And again, as you create your shopping list I want to remind you that wines we highlight below are by no means the only wines worth considering from this mammoth release. Subscribers can check out our complete takes – critic by critic – by clicking here.

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images below. You can also find the complete list of each VINTAGES release under Wine >> New Releases. Remember, however, that to access this list and to read all of the reviews you do need to subscribe (only $40/year). Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Thanksgiving Reds

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2012

Burrowing Owl 2012 Cabernet FrancBurrowing Owl 2012 Cabernet Franc, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia  ($43.95)
David Lawrason – The fruit ripeness, the savoury sage notes and the plush feel of this fine cab franc should make it a turkey shoe-in. Burrowing Owl reds continue to be a go-to. But you may be interested and chagrined to know this wine is selling for $33 at the winery. LCBO policy that treats BC wines as imports are a major reason why BC wines are not better represented here. This behaviour by a government agency in Canada is just not right.

Hamilton Russell 2012 Pinot Noir, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa ($44.95)
John Szabo – For those seeking a more gentle Thanksgiving red that still has enough plush fruit and spice to manage the most overcooked of turkeys, try this pinot from the Walker Bay pioneer. Nearly thirty years on, Anthony Hamilton-Russell still leads the pack in the region crafting in 2012 a pinot of distinctive fruit intensity, depth, length and concentration. Best 2016-2024.

Errazuriz 2012 Aconcagua Costa Syrah, Chile $24.95
David Lawrason – I am still not universally smitten by Chilean syrah, and it is a wine still evolving. I think that new vineyards in the cooler coastal regions are the right direction. This has a hugely lifted aroma of blackcurrant, mint and chocolate. It’s slimmer than many Chilean syrahs but loaded with flavour and very bright. So very juicy!

Vignerons De Bel Air Hiver Gourmand Morgon 2012

Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Syrah 2012Vignerons De Bel Air 2012 Hiver Gourmand Morgon, Beaujolais, France ($17.95)
Sara D’Amato –
Sensually spiced and light enough to pair with bird of any kind, this well-priced Morgon is a sophisticated addition to a Thanksgiving table. A fine expression of gamay’s versatility and wildly appealing nature.

Alto Moncayo 2011 Veraton DO Campo de Borja, Spain ($29.95)
John Szabo – Riffing off of a similar theme, this old vine grenache, some over 100 years old, from northern Spain is a terrific bargain for those who like it big. The bodega is a joint venture that includes US wine importer Jorge Ordoñez, and the stylistic direction clearly takes it’s cue from the new world. Massive concentration, high 15.5% alcohol, and a year and a half in America oak combine to create this rich, sweet, mouthfilling wine that manages to retain miraculous balance and appeal. Best 2016-2021.

Guenoc 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County, California $19.95
David Lawrason – From a large but hidden gem property in Lake County north of Napa, this has some stuffing; as cabernet should – and the classic, cassis fruit, roasted red pepper, tobacco and cedar will work well with turkey. Great value, precisely because it’s not from somewhere more famous, but this is a wonderful site.

Plowbuster 2012 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA ($25.95)
John Szabo - Named to honour the challenge of farming vineyards in the Willamette Valley strewn with large basalt boulders, Plowbuster’s 2012 is a fine and well-priced pinot. It straddles the old/world stylistic divide, showing lightly oxidative character and firm tannins further tightened by high acids, yet also succulent and concentrated, juicy fruit. Best 2015-2022.

Alto Moncayo Veraton 2011 Guenoc Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Plowbuster Pinot Noir 2012 Badia A Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2010 Stoney Ridge Cranberry Wine 2011

Badia A Coltibuono 2010 Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($24.95)
John Szabo - For a cranberry meets cranberry pairing, try this simple but classy, regionally representative example of Chianti Classico made from organically-grown grapes. I appreciate the zesty acids and light dusty tannins in the Tuscan idiom. And if you need a story to tell around the table, you can mention that Badia a Coltibuono has been around for a while, since 1051 to be precise. That was the year in which the monks of Vallombrosa began construction on this property, named literally “the abbey of good harvests”. Best 2014-2020.

Stoney Ridge 2011 Cranberry Wine, Ontario, $17.95
Sara D’Amato – A long-time producer of fruit wines, under the direction of former winemaker and fruit wine enthusiast, Jim Warren, Stoney Ridge continues to produce its most popular fruit wine just in time for the holidays. The winery claims that this release is “better than ever” and I would have to agree. It isn’t sweet nor is it too tart or intense. It is light, very flavourful and nicely balanced. With an alcohol level at just over 10%, this lighter wine can help you keep pace throughout your celebration and will nicely compliment that turkey.

Rhône Finds

Domaine Les Aphillanthes 2012 “1921” Côtes Du Rhône-Villages Rasteau, Rhône Valley, France ($37.95)
Domaine Grand Nicolet Les Esqueyrons Rasteau 2012 Domaine Les Aphillanthes 1921 2012John Szabo – Plush, spicy, grenache-based reds from the southern Rhône are terrific with roast turkey, and there’s no better example in the release than this one. From a biodynamically certified estate (Biodivin since 2007), this is exceptional Rasteau made by the husband and wife team of Danielle and Hélène Boulle is a powerful and complex wine, easily the equal of many Chateauneufs at 1.5x the price. Drink during this thanksgiving dinner, or anytime over the next decade.
David Lawrason – This is a refined, generous and delicious. Ambitiously priced for Rasteau and some may want a bit more structure but it is precisely appointed with florals, fruit and spice and has great concentration. Yet there is an almost airy feel unusual in the Rhône.

Domaine Grand Nicolet 2012 Les Esqueyrons Rasteau, Rhône Valley, ($35.95)
David Lawrason – This is a very impressive Rasteau, by a family domain with 16 ha in the appellation. Les Esqueyrons is a southeast facing site on clay limestone, comprised of 50% grenache from 60-year-old vines, and 50% syrah from 30year old vines – harvested at a very low 20 hls/hectare.  The nose is a bit shy but it somehow still oozes fruit richness with plum, olive and even some cranberry lift. What focus and concentration!

Domaine Jean Deydier & Fils Les Clefs D'or Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010

Domaine Brusset Tradition Le Grand Montmirail Gigondas 2012

Domaine Des Andrines 2012, Côtes Du RhôneDomaine Des Andrines Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Rhône Valley, France  ($17.95)
Sara D’Amato – Located just outside Avignon, the city of Popes, Domaine des Adrines grows their old vine syrah, grenache and carignan on premium terra rossa soils topped with the large galets common to the top sites of the south.  With very little notable oak, fine balance and appealing peppery fruit, this affable blend is an excellent value.
David Lawrason – Straight up great value in a young approachable Rhône

Domaine Brusset 2012 Tradition Le Grand Montmirail, Gigondas, Rhône Valley ($29.95)
Sara D’Amato – Planted on the foothills of the “Dentelles de Montmirail” at 250 meters, this traditional, handpicked grenache based blend offers lovely freshness, pepper and garrigue. Exhibiting an authentic sense of place, this solidly built Gigondas shows excellent focus and age-worthiness.

Domaine Jean Deydier & Fils 2010 Les Clefs d’Or Tradition Vieilles Vignes, Châteauneuf Du Pape, Rhône Valley ($44.95)
Sara D’Amato – Grenache reigns supreme in this traditional Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend. Ripe fruit, savory notes and big perfume make for an intense blend that is still quite youthful.

And that’s it for this issue. We return next week with Part One of another sprawling release that features Sonoma, dovetailing with VINTAGES Sonoma event at the Royal Ontario Museum on October 9th. If you are looking for Ontario wine country action this weekend head to Prince Edward County Saturday for TASTE community grown as some of the region’s finest chefs, winemakers, craft beer producers and farmers gather from 11am to 5pm at the Crystal Palace in Picton. Newly named (formerly Taste the County) it is broadening its appeal beyond the wineries, and includes seminars on starting a brewery, foraging the County, mixology and more.

I look forward to seeing many of you at the Rarer Than Unicorn event on Oct 8th at Crush Wine Bar where agent Alto Vino will showcase some examples of the rare wines they represent. (Find out more about their wine and get your tickets here)

Cheers

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES September 27th release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Sept 27th Part One – Thanksgiving Whites, Value Portugal & Bordeaux

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


AdvertisementsBeringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Sept 27th – Part One

Whites for Thanksgiving, Value Portugal and Bordeaux for the Cellar
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The September 27th VINTAGES release is rich with choice, like a groaning table at a Thanksgiving feast. And with Thanksgiving around the corner, we’ll look at some of the best white wine options to consider for the holiday, with reds to follow next week.

I’ll still be in Portugal by the time this report is published, a trip that coincides unintentionally with VINTAGES mini-thematic on this outer sliver of the Iberian Peninsula. I’ve long considered Portugal fertile hunting ground for value thanks to the confluence of numerous factors, not least of which include a wealth of little-known but high quality indigenous grapes, the tremendous stylistic diversity born of multiple terroirs from the scorching Alentejo to the cool, green Minho in the north, the technical proficiency acquired in the post Salazar, post coop-dominated era, and the complexity of untangling it all which slows commercial success and results in lower price to quality ratios. There are a couple of enticing values that are worth your attention in this release.

And finally, we’ll cover a particularly strong range of Bordeaux red hitting the shelves on the 27th, highlighting some top candidates for mid or long-term ageing mainly from the excellent 2010 vintage. The 2010s seems to once again be revealing their true potential after an initial “closed” period when they were obviously angry for being awoken prematurely from their slumber. You can of course spend really big money on 2010 Bordeaux, into triple digits and beyond, but we’ve found a handful at $60 or under that should satisfy the most discerning palates. But, patience required.

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images. You can also find the complete list of each VINTAGES release under Wine >> New Releases. Remember, however, that to access this list and to read all of the reviews you do need to subscribe (only $40/year). Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Buyer’s Guide VINTAGES September 27th 2014:

Thanksgiving Whites

I find that whites with just a pinch of sweetness, or at least the impression of sweetness (not fully desert-style), make for some of the best pairings with a traditional Thanksgiving Turkey. All those side dishes often have a sweet taste of their own, like the sweet-sour tang of cranberry sauce, or that sweet potato mash, which will turn most bone-dry wines sour and hard. Then there’s the turkey meat itself: lean, dry (often too dry from over-roasting), in need of an acid snap and some succulence and fat from the wine. Enter the perfectly balanced, off-dry genre.

Try one or more of these recommendations out, either in the off-dry, floral/fragrant/ fruity, or rich and satisfying categories, each with engaging character.

Off-dry:

Wegeler 2012 Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett, Rheingau Germany ($24.95).
Clos Le Vigneau Vouvray 2012 Wegeler Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett 2012John Szabo – One of the great vineyards of the Rheingau, this example of the Berg Schlossberg is terrifically mineral, fresh, crisp and off-dry, with great length and depth. Everything is in picture-perfect balance. Best 2014-2022.

Clos Le Vigneau 2012 Vouvray, Loire, France ($19.95).
John Szabo – Made by well-respected winemaker Alexandre Monmousseau, this is a Vouvray of superior complexity and balance. I appreciate the purity and freshness, the fine-tuned balance between a modest pinch of sugar and tight acids, and the lingering finish. Classy and elegant; best 2014-2020.

Floral/Fragrant/Fruity

Tegernseerhof 2012 Grüner Veltliner Bergdistel Smaragd, Wachau Austria ($24.95).
John Szabo – “Smaragd” is a regulated term in the Wachau which refers to ripeness at harvest and finished alcohol – it’s the richest category after Steinfeder and Federspiel (it comes from the word “emerald”, which in turn describes the colour of the lizards that sun themselves on the warmest rocks of the region). Tegerseerhof has mad a terrific 2012, evidently ripe and concentrated, full-bodied and plush yet briskly acidic. This has layers and layers of flavour, and superior complexity. Best 2014-2020.

Tegernseerhof Smaragd Bergdistel Grüner Veltliner 2012

Castello Di Neive Montebertotto Arneis 2012

La Guardiense Janare Senete Falanghina 2012Castello Di Neive 2012 Montebertotto Arneis, Piedmont, Italy ($18.95).
John Szabo – Castello di Neive regularly over-delivers (they make a fine Barbaresco for the money, too), and this is a pleasantly fragrant example of the aromatic arneis variety. I enjoy the vibrant apple and pear flavours, slipping over into an engaging floral range. Enjoy now.

La Guardiense 2012 Janare Senete Falanghina Sannio, Campania, Italy ($14.95)
David Lawrason – I was very taken with this wine; with it’s fine sense of florality and freshness. But its southern hot climate weight and richness should make if a good candidate for heaviness of a Thanksgiving meal. Sannio is new appellation (est 1997) that confines viticulture to cooler hillside locations to ensure better structure in the wines.

Rich and Satisfiying

Bonterra 2012 Viognier, Mendocino & Lake Counties, California, USA ($19.95).
Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay 2012 Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay 2011 Bonterra Viognier 2012John Szabo – An intense, very floral and ripe viognier dripping with peach and apricot jam, violets, apple purée and ginger spice – tailor made for Thanksgiving dinner. The palate is full and gives an impression of sweetness, while the finish is long. Enjoy now.

Gloria Ferrer 2011 Chardonnay, Carneros, California ($24.95)
David Lawrason – I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to open two or three bottles of this for a Thanksgiving banquet, (as long as red (pinot) is open as well.  The richness and weight of California chardonnay is ideal in this setting. This is a somewhat mild mannered, very well balanced edition that will appeal widely before and during your Thanksgiving dinner.

Shafer 2012 Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay, Carneros, California ($67.95)
David Lawrason – If you want to go big with your Thanksgiving dinner – and also show some largesse –  this is a beauty. Not too fat and sweet; not to lean and green. Great balance and depth here. Very polished as well. Red Shoulder Ranch is large single vineyard of 68 acres near San Pablo Bay; and has long been one of my favourite California chardonnays.

Portugal

Deu La Deu Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2013

Quinta De Pancas Selecção Do Enólogo 2010Deu La Deu 2013 Alvarinho Vinho Verde, Monção e Melgaço, Portugal ($19.95).
John Szabo – Albariño, as it’s known in Spain, has by now gained some mainstream traction thanks chiefly to the fine wines emerging from the Rias Baixas region of Galicia. But northern Portugal, and particularly the vineyards around the towns of Monçao and Melgaço that are just across the river from Spain, are quickly catching up on quality. This is a perfumed, lime and lemon-scented example, with apple blossom and other pretty white floral notes, more full-bodied and drier than the basic level of Vinho Verde. Sara d’Amato – A head-turner in the tasting lab at the LCBO last week, this terrific Vinho Verde is sure to have wide appeal. This fresh, vibrant wine’s release begs for an Indian Summer! Notes of Asian pear, green apple, starfruit and tender floral blossoms linger on the finish of this full-flavoured wine.

Quinta De Pancas 2010 Selecção do Enólogo, Lisboa, Portugal ($18.95).
John Szabo – A particularly spicy, black pepper scented blend of touriga nacional, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and alicante that could pass for syrah tasted blind. The palate is fullish and plush, ripe but balanced, with succulent acids and genuine depth. Drink now. David Lawrason – Quinta de Pancas is fine 50 ha property north of Lisbon that has been producing wine for over 500 years, most recently focused on combining native varieties like touriga and alicante with cabernet and merlot. This is packs notable complexity and depth for the money – great value!

Quinta Do Côa Vinho Tinto 2012

Casa Da Passarella 2010 Somontes RedCasa Da Passarella Somontes Red 2010, Dão Portugal ($13.95).
John Szabo – The Dão is one of my favourite regions in Portugal. It’s cooler here than in either the Alentejo or most parts of the Douro, and consistently yields wines of character, elegance and class. This is a cracking value blend of touriga nacional, tinta roriz (tempranillo), alfrocheiro and jaen (mencía), firm and juicy, fresh and pleasantly herbal. Best 2014-2017.

Quinta Do Côa 2012 Vinho Tinto, Douro, Portugal ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – Producer of the better known “Carm” series of wines, Quinta do Côa’s “estate” series is equally appealing as is exemplified in this expressive touriga nacional based blend. With the balance, weight, concentration and structure of a much more expensive wine, you’ll be sure to impress with this divine Douro.

Bordeaux For the Cellar

Château Rol Valentin 2010, Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux, France ($61.85).
John Szabo –  A big, full, solidly composed, densely structured and very ripe Saint Emilion here, with palate warming alcohol declared at 14%, and abundant but very ripe tannins. This is massive and concentrated, still years away from prime drinking. Try after 2018, or hold until 2030 or beyond.

Château Fonréaud 2010, Listrac-Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($30.95).
John Szabo – A classic and structured left bank Bordeaux from the less-celebrated Listrac AOC, and hence fine value, over-delivering on all levels. This should develop nicely over the next 2-4 years or so, and drink well into the mid-twenties.

Château Rol Valentin 2010 Château Fonréaud 2010 Château St. Georges 2010

Château St. Georges 2010, St-Georges St-Émilion Bordeaux, France ($39.95).
John Szabo – this is an evidently ambitious and ripe, concentrated “satellite” Saint Emilion, which could be mistaken for Napa cabernet out of context with its 14.5% declared alcohol and dense, ultra ripe dark fruit flavour. Yet there’s still acid and tannic grip underlying the ensemble, which should allow much better integration over the next 3-5 years. Best 2018-2030. David Lawrason – And while we are on the subject of venerable properties producing undervalued great wine, don’t miss Chateau St. Georges.  The chateau itself, which sits back on the plateau a few kms from St. Emilion the town, is one of the great monuments in all of Bordeaux.  And given the  class, depth and youth of this wine (thanks in part to the 2010 vintage) it clearly belongs in the company of the classed growths. Our gain price-wise that is not in the official hierarchy

Château Grand Corbin-Despagne 2010, Saint-Émilion Bordeaux, France ($46.85).
John Szabo – This wine is for the more classically-inclined, refined, old school drinkers. Admittedly I enjoy such structured and dusty examples, with firm texture and zesty acids. This should develop fine complexity over the next 3-5 years or more. Best 2018-2028.

Château Grand Corbin Despagne 2010 Château d'Aiguilhe 2010 Château Des Moines 2008

Château d’Aiguilhe 2010, Côtes De Bordeaux Castillon, Bordeaux, France ($42.85)
Sara d’Amato – A long time favourite of mine, this high end Castillon from the right bank gives the region the due attention it deserves. The price may appear steep but its quality easily matches some of the best in St. Emilion. David Lawrason – This large estate may not enjoy the luxury of sitting in St.Emilion but the property itself, as well as the current family owners –Count Stephan von Neipperg – has a lineage dating back hundreds of years. There are 50 ha of vines here (80% merlot) that sit on clay-limetone soils, which lends real elegance amid all kinds of fruit and barrel complexity. The great 2010 vintage also adds structure. If this wine was produced in St. Emilion I am sure it would be double the price.

Château Des Moines 2008, Lalande De Pomerol, Bordeaux, France ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – In a right bank state of mind, here is another gem that holds merlot to high standards. Many estates in and around Pomerol have less ingratiated and historically prominent backgrounds. Chateau des Moines’ real wine-growing history doesn’t begin until the 1960s despite its proprietors’ ancestry of coopers. Its more humble beginnings (or reinvention) have forced the estate to work hard to achieve recognition among houses with greater status. As a result, an excellent value product is now on our shelves – sleek with great structure and longevity.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Sept 27th:

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


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