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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 2nd – Part One

Pure California: 100+ Reviews of the Best of “New” California; The Icons of Napa Cabernet, and Sandhi, A Name to Know.
by John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The theme of the report this week is pure California, the focus of the VINTAGES August 2nd release, and David Lawrason and I list our top picks (with significant alignment). Next week David will lead coverage of Alsace, the Loire Valley, Greece, and the best of the rest along with my picks (Sara d’Amato is in the south of France conducting serious research). I’ve also included a couple of outstanding Santa Barbara chardonnays tasted at the i4c last week, and I’ve finally managed to publish close to 100 reviews from landmark California tastings held last October in San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma. Find the best pinot, chardonnay, Rhône blends and so much more on WineAlign; fans of California wine, and I know there are many of you, will want to track these down. But wait, there’s more – check out this report on the very best of the best Napa Cabernets. Read on for all the gold.

A California Wine Summit

Before we get into the top picks from the VINTAGES August 2nd release, those deeply into California wines may want to consider searching further afield. I’ve published nearly 100 of my top picks (mostly current releases) from an extraordinary set of tastings held last October in California. The “California Wine Summit” was organized and hosted by the Wine Institute of California for a select group of international journalists (WineAlign’s Anthony Gismondi also attended), with the aim of sharing the radical changes and developments that have occurred within the California wine industry over the last decade or so.

These extraordinary tastings were compiled and led by some of California’s most respected critics, authors and winemakers, including Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle and his top chardonnays, Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, and her favorite Pinot Noirs, Patrick J. Comiskey, critic for Wine & Spirits magazine and terrific California blends, and a once-in-a-lifetime tasting of iconic Napa Valley cabernets led by master sommeliers Geoff Kruth and Matt Stamp. And those were just some of the formal tastings.

The New California Wine

Jon Bonné and his top Chardonnays, with Gerard Basset MS, MW, OBE

Jon Bonné and his top Chardonnays, with Gerard Basset MS, MW, OBE

Perhaps Jon Bonné has best captured the zeitgeist in his recently published book The New California Wine, which is “the untold story of the California wine industry: the young, innovative producers who are rewriting the rules of contemporary winemaking; their quest to express the uniqueness of California terroir; and the continuing battle to move the state away from the overly technocratic, reactionary practices of its recent past.” Fans of California wine are well advised to grab a copy of this book – it’s an accurate synopsis of what’s going down in the Golden State.

No stones were left unturned during the summit as we tasted through every notable grape variety and wine style that the state has to offer over the course of a week, with detailed information, expert comparative analysis and historical perspective provided along the way by the folks who know it best. Only one tasting failed to shine: “California does value”, the one area where even the best of the new California often falls short. Value is of course relative, though with few exceptions, compelling sub-$20 (CAD) wines are few are far between in my view. The majority of entry-priced brands, at least those we find on shelves in Canada, prey on the human weakness for sugar. But once again, sales figures are in diametric opposition with me, so what do I know.

Dollars aside, the new California (as well as the California that’s so old it’s new again, and the California that never followed fashions of any kind) has an extraordinary offering of wines on shelves now. If you’ve turned away from California for whatever reason, I’d suggest you give Ontario’s most important foreign wine supplier another look.

Set your WineAlign search parameters to “California” and pick your favourite grape/style to see what’s on top. Be sure to check “show wines with zero inventory” for the full list, as some wines have yet to reach our shelves.

The Best of the Best of Napa Cabernet

I’ve also posted a blow-by-blow report of a tasting of iconic Napa cabernets, including all of the rarities – it was the sort of tasting one hardly ever reads about, let alone participates in. The notes were edited only for spelling, making it a more intimate and unadulterated view of the moment, including some impressions that surprised even me.

Buyer’s Guide for Vintages August 2nd 2014: California


Hahn S L H Estate Chardonnay 2012Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012Alignment: Robert Mondavi 2012 Fumé Blanc, Napa Valley ($23.95)
John Szabo – One of the most reliable and consistent Fumé Blancs, not to mention the original, from California, Mondavi (and winemaker Geneviève Janssens) still leads the way and delivers wide pleasure at the right price. I like the balanced between tropical and orchard-citrus fruit, in an approachable, round and soft style. Best 2014-2018.
David Lawrason – In California’s Mediterranean climate it is difficult to make snappy, acid-driven sauvignon blanc. Robert Mondavi engineered a great alternative years ago by adding semillon and barrel ageing, and calling it Fume Blanc. It has been one of my favourite California whites ever since – uniquely spicy with intriguing green olive an evergreen notes.

Hahn 2012 S-L-H Estate Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County ($32.95). David Lawrason – Hahn has emerged as dominant player in Monterey with huge vineyards and polished fruit driven style of wines. This is unabashedly big, generous and fruit driven – as so many chards are in California – yet it retains a sense of composure


AlignmentNapa Angel 2008 Aurelio’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($62.95)
John Szabo - Chilean vintner Aurelio Montes’ Napa project is a particularly dense and full cabernet sauvignon, with tightly knit dark fruit and chocolate flavours, unsurprisingly, similar in style to his top wines from Chile. This is mature and drinking well now. Best 2014-2022.
David Lawrason – If you detect a certain Chilean bloom and piquancy in this delicious, sensuous Napa cab it is due to the fact that it is made by Chilean Aurelio Montes (who makes some of grandest reds of Chile’s Colchagua Valley, including Purple Angel).  This is excellent, collectible an drinkable cabernet – complete, profound and deep.

Grgich Hills 2010 Estate Grown Zinfandel, Napa Valley ($48.95). John Szabo – Biodynamic estate Grgich Hills rarely disappoints with any of their wines, which remain, relatively speaking, fairly priced within the Napa Valley context. This is an unusually aristocratic version of zinfandel, with fruit so very lively and vibrant – a difficult thing to achieve with zin in the Napa Valley. Best 2014-2020.

Beringer 2007 Bancroft Ranch Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Bancroft Ranch Vineyard, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley ($79.95). John Szabo – The Bancroft Ranch wines are often among my favorites from the vast Beringer portfolio, which for me has more distinctive character than the (more expensive) Private Reserve, of which this cabernet is often a notable component. This 2007 has evolved nicely into a dusty-grippy, savoury and dark fruit flavoured wine with a nice streak of scorched earth and minerality from the volcanic soils of Howell Mountain. Best 2014-2020.

Seghesio 2012 Zinfandel Sonoma County, California ($29.95). David Lawrason – I am not at all happy about the sweetening and mocha-fication of California’s commercially priced zins. To rise above the soup you need to raise your price ceiling and focus on classic producers like Seghesio – a family with zin its veins for generations.

Montes Napa Angel Aurelio's Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Grgich Hills Estate Grown Zinfandel 2010 Beringer Bancroft Ranch Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Seghesio Zinfandel 2012

Sandhi: The California Wines You Want to Get to Know

It wasn’t my first exposure to the wines of Sandhi in Santa Barbara County – one, the Sandford and Benedict Vineyard bottling, had been selected by Jon Bonné for his tasting of top Chardonnays during the California Wine Summit. But it was a pleasure to sit and taste a few more wines with co-owner Rajat Parr during the i4c weekend in Niagara. Sandhi, which mean “collaboration” in Sanskrit, is a joint venture established in 2010 between Parr, then, and still, wine director of the Michael Mina restaurant group, partner in San Francisco’s landmark RN74 and one of the US’s most recognizable wine figures, Charles Bank, the former owner of Jonata and Screaming Eagle, and winemaker Sashi Mormann. The winery is focused on small lots of chardonnay and pinot noir from select vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County, particularly the cooler stretches of the AVA a few miles from the Pacific Ocean.

I was delighted but not surprised to find that Parr, an outspoken advocate for balanced, moderate alcohol wines in his buying role for Mina, has upheld his position for his own production. The Sandhi wines are all about finesse and freshness, structure and balance, well articulated without attempting to replicate European wines- the fruit is still Californian, as it should be. Sandhi wines are available through the Trialto Wine Group across Canada, as are Parr’s other joint ventures, Domaine de La Côte, also in Santa Barbara (check out the excellent syrah), and Maison l’Orée in Burgundy.

Two to Try:

Sandhi 2012 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay, California ($48.00). A vibrant, moderate alcohol, terroir-driven chardonnay. Flavours are in the ripe orchard and even lightly tropical spectrum, though this is all about the zesty acids and firm structure, including a pleasantly chalky, tacky mineral texture.

Sandhi 2011 Rita’s Crown Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County, California ($78.00). A wine of serious depth and complexity off the charts; the balance is pitch-perfect, on the upper end of the intensity scale, with terrific length. Really top-notch stuff for current enjoyment or mid-term hold. Tasted July 2014.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Aug 2nd:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews

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


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A Cult Napa Tasting – Not Your Everyday Affair

Best of California Cabernet
by John Szabo MS

John Tasting

John Szabo, MS

The following is a report on a (more than likely) once-in-a-lifetime tasting of the best of California cabernet, part of a week-long event with the rather grand title the “The California Wine Summit” organized by the Wine Institute of California last October. Admittedly, however, its grandness surpassed expectations, and this was just one of multiple landmark tastings throughout the week, if you can believe that.

The selection of wines was done simply (and cleverly) enough: the Institute asked some of California’s most respected writers, including Jon Bonné (San Francisco Chronicle), Linda Murphy (US contributor to the Oxford Companion To Wine and co-author with Jancis Robinson of American Wine), Alder Yarrow (Vinography: a wine blog), Karen MacNeil (author of The Wine Bible), and Patrick J. Comiskey (Wine & Spirits Magazine), to submit a list of their favorite Napa Cabernets, no holds barred.

The Institute then tallied up the results and the wines with the most mentions were tracked down, miraculously in some cases, and presented to our group of international wine press. All manner of rarities were included, the sort of tasting one hardly ever reads about, let alone participates in. And to make matters better, the tasting was expertly prepared and hosted by Master Sommeliers Geoff Kruth and Matt Stamp, while additional colour commentary was provided by Patrick Comiskey, Karen MacNeil and Alder Yarrow. It was extraordinarily grand, a tasting not even the great Chateaux of the Médoc could touch (not least because the Bordelais would never allow anyone else to select, let alone publicly comment on their wines, on their own dime).

A pretty nice line up of Napa Cabernet..

A pretty nice line up of Napa Cabernet…

The formal tasting was followed by dinner at Silver Oak, where more fine wines were heaped upon the table like the grandest Medieval wedding , including many older vintages of the same wines. It was a night to remember to be sure, but those later notes remain my private property.

Napa Cabernet: The Best of the Best

The reviews below were edited only for spelling, making it an intimate and unadulterated view of the moment, including some impressions that surprised even me. Wines are ordered by my score, top down; prices are approximate.

Diamond Creek 2009 Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain ($200.00)

Really pretty, lifted, floral, spicy, tar and roses-scented, almost nebbiolo-like red from the iconic Diamond Creek estate, in this case from the iron-rich red soils of the Red Rock Terrace parcel. The complexity is extraordinary to be sure. Tannins are grippy and firm, grasping your palate and leaving no doubt that this will age magnificently. The finish goes on and on. Extraordinary stuff.  Tasted October 2013. 98 points.

Dunn 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain ($90.00)

A supremely dense, spicy, lightly herbal-vegetal, scorched earth and mineral-flavoured wine within the regional, almost savage profile of Howell Mountain. The palate is rustic and thick, with firm, tannic structure – this will age magnificently no doubt – built on a solid frame, yet there’s more than enough fleshy fruit to ensure full integration over time. All in all, quite approachable considering the customary burly house style. Tasted October 2013. 95 points.

Corison 2009 Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley St. Helena ($125.00)

From Cathy Corison’s flagship, 40-year old vineyard planted on phylloxera-resistant St. George rootstock, the 2009 Kronos delivers a dense, dark-fruited, briary, highly spicy, orange peel-scented nose, with very well-integrated oak profile. It’s structurally tense, anchored on almost tart acids with ripe, almost red fruit, and old vine vinosity. Terrific length. I suspect this will be best from about 2017 on, with the potential to live well into its third decade. Tasted October 2013. 95 points.

Quintessa 2010 Napa Valley Rutherford ($145.00)

Classic, ripe black and blue fruit, with savoury forest floor, pine needle, marked but gentle wood influence, and high-toned floral notes. This is polished and elegant on a big frame, like Bordeaux in a very warm vintage, classy and complex. Best after 2015. Tasted October 2013. 95 points.

Spring Mountain 2010 Elivette Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain ($150.00)

Spring Mountain Vineyards has been producing cabernet for a century, with vineyards now farmed virtually biodynamically on the top of Spring Mountain and its volcanic and sedimentary soils. There’s a freshness and lifted floral note, more red fruit-driven, and light sweet baking spice touch alongside an earthy undertone. The palate offers excellent succulence, and fine-grained, firm tannins. A very fine and elegant wine, with depth and complexity, to be enjoyed after 2018 or so. Tasted October 2013. 95 points.

Ridge 2009 Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains ($160.00)

Apparently enough folks named the Monte Bello among their favourite wines that is was included in this otherwise all-Napa lineup. The 2009 includes about 30% merlot and petit verdot along with cabernet, offering wonderfully perfumed aromatics, high-toned, violet-floral, sweet but just ripe black berry fruit. Amazingly enough, the American oak in which this is aged is a gentle spice addition (wood is air-dried long-term). The palate is mid-weight in the usual elegant style of Ridge, with fine, succulent acids, balanced alcohol (13.5%) and terrific length. Although surprisingly approachable now, this is of course a wine with great tension and tremendous ageing potential. Best from 2019- 2039. Tasted October 2013. 95 points.

Spottswoode 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley St. Helena ($145.00)

A classically styled Napa Cabernet from the historic Spottswoode property, biodynamically-farmed, ripe yet with a distinct roasted vegetable note. Fruit is both black and blue, with a sweet core and dense concentration and very firm, ageworthy structure. Alcohol is generous. This is far from prime, I’d say this will be best after about 2018, and should last several decades after that without a stretch. Tasted October 2013. 94 points.

Scarecrow 2007 Rutherford ($500.00)

From an old plot of vines adjacent to Inglenook, planted in the 1940s. This is classy to be sure, with evident ripeness and concentration and a vinous, old wine density, excellent balance and extraordinary length. A very fine wine to be sure. There’s great precision and elegance beyond the dense masses of flavour – a wine you can truly drink and enjoy, not just sit on a pedestal. Tasted October 2013. 94 points.

Harlan Estates 2009 Oakville ($770.00)

The 2009 Harlan is quite classy and surprisingly approachable at this early stage (if still a long way from maturity), with a marvelous amalgam of earth, spice box, tobacco, leather and of course plenty of dark fruit, and dried prune, figs and dates. Tannins are bold, ripe, anchoring the masses of fruit, with excellent length. For fans of the full on, bold, dense, rich Napa style. Tasted October 2013. 94 points.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 2009 SLV Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap District ($145.00)

Quite sweet and oak-tinged on the nose, with masses of (high-quality) barrel spice notes, vanilla, bitter chocolate, espresso bean, plus dense black fruit verging on liqueur-like concentration. The palate is smooth and supple, with very ripe, plush tannins, generous alcohol and long, long finish. There’s a scorched earth, red iron-like mineral note, though this remains a wood-infused bottle for the time being. To be revisited after 2017, with longevity of a couple of decades I’d suspect. Tasted October 2013. 93 points.

Continuum 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Pritchard Hill ($175.00)

The project of Tim Mondavi, an estate (92% estate fruit) wine from about 40 acres on Pritchard Hill, with 15% cabernet franc on iron-rich volcanic-derived soil. The nose is suppressed for the moment, a dense and brooding wine, though with a surprisingly supple and approachable palate – the texture here is fully beguiling, silky, yet densely packed and high in alcohol. The finish is long but carried on alcohol vapours – more of a winemaker’s wine, yet very fine in any case. Best from 2015. Tasted October 2013. 93 points.

Bond 2009 Pluribus, Spring Mountain ($250.00)

A markedly spicy, and lifted, wood spice-driven wine, very refined and elegant, yet with high, palate warming alcohol. There’s an intriguing aromatic profile with orange peel nuances I more often associate with Italian wines. Structurally the wine is firm and fine-grained, buoyed on alcohol, with nutty, chestnut flavours lingering over ripe red and some black fruit. Great length.  Tasted October 2013. 93 points.

The iconic tower at Silver Oak

The iconic tower at Silver Oak

Silver Oak 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($110.00)

The all-American oak ageing regime of Silver Oak comes through in spades in this 2009, delivering plenty of melted butter, coconut, and sandalwood – the particular house style is well-marked. The palate is as always neither heavy nor light, with vibrant acids, nicely succulent and balanced. One gets the sense that the base material is really very fine here, though you must also enjoy the heavily wood-derived profile to enjoy the ensemble, or wait at least a decade before opening. Tasted October 2013. 91 points.

Dalla Valle Maya 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville ($N/A)

Fully ripe and raisined, evidently a forward and dense, stylized wine, complete with a touch of VA. The palate is thick, hot, very firm, almost astringent, with very good length. All in all, an exaggerated style, with challenging drinkability in my view. Tasted October 2013. 91 points.

Shafer 2009 Hillside Select, Stag’s Leap District ($275.00)

Full on blue fruit and espresso, wood-derived flavour, in an unabashedly ultra-ripe, Napa valley style. Alcohol is hot, likely over 15%, with blueberry yoghurt flavours. All in all this comes across as rather one-dimensional, not in the top league in my view, though revisit in 4-6 years. Tasted October 2013. 90 points.


John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 19th – Part One

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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

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

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

School of cool

The School of Cool at i4c

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

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

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

Your i4c Starter Kit: Some Top Preview Picks

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

International Selections

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

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

Triple Alignment!

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

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

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

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

Double Alignment!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From VINTAGES July 19th release:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews

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



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Greek Wine Report: Outstanding 2013 Whites And Going Native

John Szabo reports on top whites (and a few reds) from Greece, land of singular flavours and excellent value, and offers compelling reasons to drink native varieties

2013 has yielded an exceptional crop of wines throughout Greece, especially whites, playing to the strengths of the country’s envious range of native varieties. According to the harvest report on the New Wines of Greece website “winemakers throughout Greece are hailing 2013 as one of the best in recent years. Favorable growing conditions, without the extreme heat that usually characterizes Greek summers were aided by cool northern winds allowing grapes to mature evenly and completely, with relatively few problems. The wines have excellent acidity and good alcohol levels with the whites showing intense aromatic qualities.”

Santorini, Greece

Santorini, Greece

A tasting in Toronto in May left no doubt of the high quality of the vintage, with many familiar estates making the finest wines I’ve tasted in the last decade. Below are some of my top picks; click on the name of each for the full review and availability.

Toronto trade out in full force to taste Greek wine

Toronto trade out in full force to taste Greek wine

Why Go Native

Although the names/varieties and regions for the majority of the recommendations will be utterly foreign, I’d urge you to go native and not to miss out. The prices remain amazingly low relative to quality, and this is your chance to discover new and intriguing flavours. And it makes sense to focus on the indigenous grapes in a country that has over 300 known varieties, and probably many more waiting to be documented. If these varieties are still around in the 21st C., there’s probably a very good reason.

Consider this: Greece has been making wine for the better part of four thousand years. Yet the actual cause of alcoholic fermentation (yeasts consuming sugars and spitting out alcohol) wasn’t discovered until Louis Pasteur took a microscope to fermenting grape juice a little over a hundred years ago. The technological bag of tricks that winemakers today have at their disposal to tweak a wine’s aromatics and structure and stabilize it against the ravaging effects of oxygen is a mere few decades old. (And new oenological products continue to emerge on the market like the latest range in a seasonal fashion catalogue.)

All of this development has enabled grape varieties to be transplanted in places around the world for which they are not naturally suited, and for commercial grade wine to be made from them. It has also allowed winemakers to customize a wine to fit a perceived market, denaturing the style that a region is naturally inclined to produce. The commercial pressure to put a popular variety on a label is often too much to resist, and indigenous grapes have often been ripped out to make way for chard, cab and co.

Now back to the Greeks and a few thousand years ago. No products, no technology, little understanding. In fact, ancient winegrowers had very little ability to materially affect the outcome of their winemaking ritual, and you can be sure that plenty of vinegar was made, even with fingers crossed and all.

Ancient Cretan winery at Vathypetro c. 1000BC

Ancient Cretan winery at Vathypetro c. 1000BC

But the one area in which they did have some control over the process was the type of vines planted in their vineyards. Good old-fashioned empirical trial and error would have led to a natural selection of varieties (distinguished easily enough by leaf shape, bunch size, and other basic morphological features – no Ph.D. required), which over time would have proved themselves to be naturally adapted to the local growing environment. And by adapted I mean that they would have been the varieties that yield naturally balanced wines – ones that would have been stable enough to last at least until the next vintage before turning to vinegar (remember, this was an era in which wine was more than a part of life, it was nothing less than a staple). By today’s standards, this means wine that doesn’t require any tinkering or chemical adjustments: crush, ferment, press, drink.

One of the most important features of a well-adapted variety is the retention of natural acidity/low pH, given that no bags of tartaric acid were available at the local supply store. This is especially critical in a generally warm, dry, Mediterranean climate where ripeness is easy to achieve – high acid/low pH is a natural defense against bacterial spoilage. You’ll find that the majority of native Greek whites from indigenous grapes are remarkably fresh and lively considering the southerly latitude on which they’re grown – a perfect illustration of natural selection.

So over the course of several thousand years, suitable grapes and places were matched up as efficiently as an online dating service: assyrtiko with the poor, wind-swept volcanic soils of Santorini, moscophilero with the cool, high mountain plateau of Mantinia, or vidiano with the arid, hot, north-facing slopes of Crete, to name but a few. Stick with the native varieties and your chances of finding, naturally well-balanced, authentic wines increase dramatically.

Although Greek winemakers of this era are as well-trained and technologically equipped as any, in some cases the grape growing and winemaking techniques employed several thousand years ago are still practiced, simply because they still work (though fewer keep their fingers crossed). I love that fact that this gives us a window on the ancient world and on what the wines sold in Athens c. 200 BC might well have tasted like.

Time to go prospecting.


This year’s harvest was one of the earliest ever in Santorini, beginning at the end of July, but because of the residual effects of a “perfect storm” (Winds over 11 Beaufort) that damaged vines during the previous 2012 growing season, production was down over 20% from last year. This year’s wines are being compared to the benchmark vintages of 2009 and 2011, and similar to these years, the 2013 wines are showing exceptional aromatic qualities, great structure, firm acidity and, of course, intense minerality, a Santorini trademark.” – NWOG Harvest Report

Vineyards, Santorini

Traditional vineyards, Santorini

Estate Argyros 2013 Santorini, Greece ($23.95) Matthew Argyros represents the 4th generation of winemaking at the family-run estate, founded in 1903 by George Argyros. The estate owns some of the oldest vines on the island, including a parcel reputed to be over 150 years old. The 2013 estate, from the oldest vines, is so distinctively Santorini with its riveting salty-sulphurous minerality, yet tightness and acidity are taken to new heights. This is quite literally crunchy and electrifying, with a perfect pitch of alcohol and dry extract, firm and gently tannic on the palate.

Similar in style to the Estate but just a narrow step below is the Argyros Assyrtiko 2013 Santorini, Greece $19.95. It’s made from the “young vines” (50-60 years old), and offers impressive density and weigh, palpable astringency from tannins even though this is made from free-run juice, and extraordinarily fresh acids, finishing on a quivering mineral-salty string. Like the estate, this really shouldn’t be touched for another 2-3 years.

Paris Sigalas

Paris Sigalas, Santorini

Paris Sigalas is another leading grower on the Island whose wines rarely fail to excite. This former mathematician applies precision to his process and the Sigalas 2013 Santorini, Greece ($22.95) is a beautifully balance, extraordinarily rich and stony example with textbook volcanic minerality – that hard-to-describe saltiness that permeates the wine from start to finish. Fruit character is as usual subdued – assyrtiko rarely exudes much more than a whiff of grapefruit-citrus-pear – this is much more about the almost sulphur hot springs-like aromatics. Given my experience with Sigalas’ wines, this should age beautifully, and likely hit peak somewhere around 6-8 years of age, if you can wait.

Rounding out the Santorini selections (although one other excellent grower, Haridimos Hatzidakis, did not present at the tasting) is the Gaia Thalassitis 2013 Santorini, Greece ($23.95). Made by the skillful hands of Yiannis Paraskevopoulos who makes the wine at Gaia Estate in Nemea and teaches oenology at the University of Athens, Thalassitis is often a little more tame than the above-mentioned wines. In this case it’s notably reductive off the top (flinty-matchstick notes) and very tightly wound on the palate with ripping acids and firm, tart, lightly tannic texture. A fine wine, best after 2016 I’d say, and should hold a dozen years in all without any stretch.


“2013 is considered by the island’s winemakers to be the best vintage in the last 20 years. In spite of the early harvest, the growing season was characterized by a stable, constant rate of grape maturity due to spring winds and moderate summer temperatures.” NWOG Harvest Report

Nikos Douloufakis is the third generation to make wine at the family estate in the village of Dafnes, a few kilometers south of Heraklion on north facing, undulating hills. The focus here is on indigenous grapes, though winemaking is clean and modern, and price/quality is excellent. The Douloufakis Femina 2013, PGI Crete, Greece ($14.95) made from malvasia is not a particularly complex wine, but is explosively aromatic, with crunchy, zesty green fruit and plenty of floral-orange blossom notes. Hard to believe this comes from Crete; it would be equally at home in Northern Italy, stylistically. A perfect match for spicy Asian fare.

Nikos Douloufakis and John Szabo in vineyards, Dafnes, Crete

Nikos Douloufakis and John Szabo in vineyards, Dafnes, Crete

A richer and more “serious” wine from Douloufakis is the Dafnios White 2013, PGI Crete, Greece ($18.95) made from 100% vidiano, one of the top white varieties on the Island. The 2013 is a fine, fruity unoaked wine that runs in the same style spectrum as, say, viognier, substantially flavoured and very ripe, with mostly yellow orchard fruit and some mango-guava-papaya tropical fruit flavours. Drink this over the short term.

Mantinia (Peloponnese)

“This year’s harvest yielded very good results for Moschofilero, although production was down 20-30% because of frost damage that occurred near the end of April. Early results indicate this year’s vintage will have excellent aromatic potential with good structure.” – NWOG Harvest Report

It took Yiannis Tselepos ten years of careful observation before deciding to establish his vineyards on the eastern foothills of Mt. Parnon on the plateau of Mantinia in 1989. He consistently produces one of the top wines in this sought-after appellation. Overnight skin contact for the Tselepos 2013 Mantinia Moschofilero, Greece ($19.95) extracts maximum aromatics, though this is anything but rustic. The 2013 is one of Tselepos’ best, wonderfully fresh and fragrant, floral and fruity in the typical moschophilero fashion, with zesty acids and mid-weight palate. Enjoy now or hold short term – this is best fresh.

Domaine Spiropoulos, Mantinia

Domaine Spiropoulos, Mantinia

The Spiropoulos family, with ties to the wine industry stretching back to the 19th century, is another top grower in Mantinia. The Domaine Spiropoulos Mantinia 2013, Peloponnese, Greece ($16.95) is made from all-estate grown moschofilero, organically farmed, and has a pale pink tinge, reflective of the dark skins of fully ripe moschofilero (like pinot gris when ripe. The palate shines with its vibrant fruity flavours in a fairly substantial and weighty expression (though still just 12.5% alcohol).

Northern Greece

Ktima Biblia Chora 2013 Assyrtico / Sauvignon, Greece ($22.95) The Biblia Chora Estate was established in 1998 by two well known winemakers, Vassilis Tsaktsarlis and Vangelis Gerovassiliou, who developed their model organic vineyard of 140 hectares at the foot of Mount Pangeon in Kokkinochori, Kavala (northeastern Greece). Assyrtiko and sauvignon blanc are common blending partners in this region, the former adding depth and structure and the latter adding its perfume and zest. The palate is rich and explosive, deep and flavourful, with tremendous intensity and length. Terrific stuff here, with evident concentration.


Angelos Iatridis, Alpha Estate, Amyndeon

Angelos Iatridis, Alpha Estate, Amyndeon

Alpha Estate 2013 Axia Malagouzia, PGI Florina, Greece ($17.95) Alpha Estate is likewise a partnership between two wine industry veterans, viticulturist Makis Mavridis and oenologist Angelos Iatridis, who, after years of consulting winemaking experience in various parts of Greece, chose the Amyndeon appellation (central-northwest Greece in the regional unit of Florina) to create his own wine. The 2013 Malagouzia is the best yet from the estate, offering all of the lovely rich, ripe fruit in the tropical spectrum that the variety is capable of, with a generous, plush texture and very good length. This will appeal to fans of generously proportioned and aromatic whites like viognier, with a little more of a cool and fresh acid kick. (The 2012 is currently in VINTAGES).

And the Reds…

And for those who can’t do without red, here are a couple of currently available standouts to track down:

Boutari 2008 Grande Reserve Naoussa, Greece ($16.95)

Alpha Estate 2009 Syrah / Merlot / Xinomavro, Macedonia, Greece ($32.50)

Thymiopoulos Vineyards Yn Kai Oupavós Xinomavro 2010, Unfiltered, Naoussa

Domaine Karydas Naoussa 2009, Dop Naoussa

Katogi Averoff 2008, Metsovo


That’s all for now. 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, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

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Prince Edward County’s New Releases Kicked off at County in the City

The Ontario Wine Report
By Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason

Prince Edward County continues to make waves in the Ontario wine scene, and its burgeoning wine region is being brought to light by unique, innovative events which include everything from art festivals to marathons to cheese festivals. This year WineAlign even ran a sold-out bus tour to the Terroir festival in Picton in May (pictures posted on Facebook)

I got my in-depth look at new releases at this year’s 3rd annual “County in the City” event held in late April at one of Toronto’s most chic and bohemian of event spaces, the Berkeley Cathedral on Queen East. It drew hundreds of local trade and Torontonians to experience over 100 wines from Ontario’s fastest growing wine region.

To give you an idea of how fast that growth actually is, the LCBO has almost tripled its selections since 2008, having gone from 20 Prince Edward County products on the shelves to 78. Sales from that period have also increased an amazing 1000% from a mere $661,471 in 2008 to now over $7 million in net sales at the LCBO.

Despite the region becoming a growing tourist destination and the LCBO stocking more and more product from the area, I still hear, all to often, “yes, Prince Edward County, where exactly is that?” So, for those in the need to know, let me regale you with more than just the physical location.

PEC Map“The County”, as it’s called, is Ontario’s most northern VQA appellation, and lies at a latitude of 44 degrees, well within the 30-50 band where grapes thrive. In fact, this is the same latitude of Bordeaux and within a mere stone’s throw of the 44-degree line lies Tuscany. For those of you who may find it hard to make it to the County without longitude to guide you, the region is situated just south of the town of Belleville toward the eastern end of Lake Ontario. It is located on a virtual island cut off from the mainland by a canal that connects the Bay of Quinte to Lake Ontario. It is about a 2.5-hour drive from Toronto, and about 3 from Ottawa.

The County is a sandy, beachy place with over 500 miles of shoreline (due to its many bays and inlets). And not only beach-goers benefit from this shoreline, but grapes do to – the lake provides a moderating effect on the climate, giving the region a long and cool growing season. The slow, long maturation of grapes is ideal for wine production, although that is not the only element of terroir that makes this place unique and appropriate for wine growing.

Most of the vineyards in the County were planted a mere 10 years ago or less. The quality they are producing at such a young age is indicative of a bright future. Pinot noir and chardonnay are making the biggest waves, and not surprisingly so given the conditions and the soil. The soils are very special here and quite different from those in Niagara. A bedrock of limestone topped by gravelly clay makes for excellent drainage in these mineral-rich soils. This drainage is key to wicking away moisture in the rainy spring, and forces the roots of the vines to dig deep to find ground water in the hot summer months. The faster and deeper those roots penetrate the ground; the more hardy the plants become and will hence produce better quality. Burgundy is home to both pinot noir and chardonnay and its soils are uncannily similar to those of the County.

CountyIf there was one thing I came away with from this year’s County in the City it is that these wines are becoming fierce competition in the Ontario premium wine drinking market. The leaps and bounds in quality are extraordinary. If you haven’t tasted wines from the County in even a few years, it’s time for another go.

Due to rather harsh winter conditions, it is not easy or inexpensive to make wine in the County, especially with young vines. It is labor intensive and premium price tags are more common than not. Boutique wineries producing high-quality juice are the niche of the region. The exploding wine community, with now just over 30 wineries, offers a great deal to explore.

Without further ado, I would like to share with you a selection of some of the many standouts among new releases at this year’s County in the City:

Casa Dea 2011 Riesling ($16.95) – Although many wineries in the County produce at least one wine made from Niagara fruit or wine partially sourced from Niagara fruit, Casa Dea produces only wines sourced 100% from their two estate vineyards in the County. A great indication of the quality of a wine is graceful maturation and this riesling is headed down this path. This dramatic wine is full of exquisite tension and a great deal of classic mineral feel and flavour – it is just beginning to exhibit an aged petrol character.

Lighthall 2012 Progression Sparkling Vidal ($20.00) – Vidal is a wonderfully hardy variety and is a grape that most Ontario producers can feel confident growing without fear of winter damage. Although most notably producing our sweet icewines and late harvests, this vidal is unusually dry and refreshing with creamy bubbles and a widely appealing palate. Having poured this for a multitude of test audiences now, you can be confident of its appeal and very happy about its price.

Rosehall Run 2011 Cuvée County Cabernet Franc ($24.95) – Rosehall Run wines have almost as much personality as their exuberant co-owners Dan and Lynn Sullivan. I have long been an admirer of the Cuvée County cabernet franc and the 2011 is no disappointment. A product of sustainable winemaking, the cabernet franc features delightful refreshment without sacrificing ripeness.

Huff Estates 2010 South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay Ontario ($29.95) – Huff Estates made the right decision in minimizing the oak influence on this lovely County chardonnay allowing the fruit, acidity and mineral to really surface. A chardonnay with world-class appeal but shows the timeless elegance that the region is so easily capable of producing now.

Keint-He 2012 Portage Chardonnay ($20.00) – Chardonnay is undoubtedly a strength of the County and this is fine example from a producer who prides itself on emulating Burgundian style pinot noir is an amazing find for $20. In case you’re wondering, as I was, as to the origin of the name Keint-He, it was the name of one of the four Seneca villages of the region. The Senecas were a native tribe of the Iroquois (one of five) whose name was francocized into Quinte of which the Bay of Quinte was named.

Norman Hardie 2012 County Unfiltered Pinot Noir ($35.00) – No wonder Norm Hardie is considered to be the pioneer of high quality pinot production in the County. This silky, brambly, expressive and complex pinot noir is one that had my adjective usage a-flowing. This is a wine that everyone can appreciate on one level or another.

David Lawrason’s White Wine Picks

Although pinot noir is the County’s calling card, many of the most interesting new releases so far this year are white wines, specifically pinot gris and chardonnay – both Burgundian cousins to pinot noir. I was impressed by several samples that seem to be showing more depth and complexity as vineyards mature. Check out full reviews on six of the most interesting by clicking the links below.

Grange Of Prince Edward Estate Pinot Gris 2012

Lacey Estates Pinot Gris Rose 2013

Exultet Pinot Grigio 2013

Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012

Long Dog Bella Riserva Chardonnay 2010

Redtail Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

Ontario’s Emerging Wine Regions: The South Coast

South Coast wineIn other news, John Szabo learns of quite possibly the first wine produced in Canada, and certainly the first in the proposed Viticultural Area called South Coast. If accepted, South Coast, an area centred around Norfolk County and the town of Port Dover on the shores of Lake Erie, would become Ontario’s fourth official wine region. He examines the region’s strengths and weaknesses, and muses on the similarities between merlot and Palm trees.

Read more

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

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

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 21st – Part Two

Great Buys and Why They Are Not Canadian
By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

I am disappointed that VINTAGES has not put more emphasis on top quality Canadian wine in this release leading up to Canada Day. As discussed last week by John Szabo in Part One of our preview there are many interesting wines under the two features themes: Old World vs New World, and Unique Grape Varieties. And we three critics have aligned on some dandy buys among the imports here in Part Two (read on). But we have not found much to write about in terms of Canadian wines because the selection is uninspired both in terms of quantity and quality. VINTAGES has “highlighted” Canadian wines with a double-page spread of six wines in its magazine, but none are highly memorable.

I have never been one to promote Canadian wine as a flag waving exercise. I have always wanted Canadian wine to succeed, but it must succeed in the glass. So since 2001 I have teamed up with others who feel the same way to run the National Wine Awards of Canada competition that unfurls Saturday through next Wednesday in Penticton B.C. (it returns to Ontario in 2015). This year we have a record 1300+ wines to sort through. Such independent competition helps both consumers and winemakers cut through all the chatter and focus on success in the glass.

Success in the glass is the only measure that will win the day for Canadian wine, and I get grumpy when political, regulatory and commercial decisions stand in the way of this success. I am not going to launch here into all the issues – current monetarilty driven VQA policies among them – that I think are more hindrance than help. But I do want to talk about the role of the LCBO in all this because it is the only non-winery retailer of Ontario wine. I am not picking on any one person in the LCBO, or even suggesting there is a “policy,” but I want to point out two huge weaknesses of the monopoly system in terms of promoting quality in Ontario wine.

First, the LCBO is forcing Ontario wine to compete in the shallow end of the pool, to go head to head, shelf facing to shelf facing, with imports both on price and selection. To gain attention Ontario winemakers must try to churn out the least expensive wine possible and in a place as expensive (and over-taxed) as Ontario that’s a recipe for mediocrity. It is also forcing wineries to compete with styles and grape varieties not necessarily best suited to Ontario. We commonly hear that Ontario is not focused, and is making too many different wines. Some of this is also due to winemaker experimentation, but the reality of selling to the LCBO is why Ontario wine is not as commercially focused as it should be on a handful of grapes and styles that we can do best.

Second the LCBO exists within an almost impossible conflict of interest. As a government agency it has a political mandate to promote Ontario wine. But it has finite shelf space and must also supply global wine to a huge market that wants more of everything. So in reality they can only take this as far as “to be seen to be promoting Ontario wine”. If you look carefully at the split of Ontario versus import on any given VINTAGES release Ontario wine is receiving only 10% of shelf space at best. Then, furthermore, the LCBO has to be seen as being fair to all Ontario wineries within that 10%, with each one ending up getting token representation. This further dilutes the quality being presented to consumers and injures the cause of Ontario wine. Such is the case with this Canada Day offering, just at a moment when more people will be patriotically moved to buy more and spend more on Ontario wine. What a pity eh.

And now on to some great buys among the imports, including two wines where all three critics have independently aligned on their recommendations

The Stars Align

Château Canteloup 2010Muga Selección Especial Reserva 2009Muga 2009 Selección Especial Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($39.95). John Szabo – This shouldn’t be missed by collectors of great Spanish wine, and well, collectors of any great wine. Muga hits that perfect balance of tradition and modernity, so often claimed but just as often meaningless. What it means here is a tempranillo-led blend (70%) with garnacha, graciano and mazuelo, evidently serious and complex right off the top, with rich dark fruit and spice, ample structure and terrific flavour intensity, and long drinking window. Best 2014-2029. Sara d’Amato – Muga’s top tier has achieved near perfection in 2009. Bold and show-stopping in character with undeniable charm. This will happily find homes in many a cellar, excellent for mid-term ageing, but would also bring a great deal of pleasure to the host of your next dinner party. David Lawrason – Not much more to add, except that collectors who normally focus on Napa cabs and super-Tuscans can safely branch out stylistically with this beauty.

Château Canteloup 2010, Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($16.95). David Lawrason - This great little ‘petit chateaux’ reached up and grabbed all three critics by the nose, then caused sticker shock of the best kind when it was revealed as a $17 wine. I chalk it up to a certain generous style of winemaking that was harnessed by the almost perfect structure of the excellent 2010 vintage. John Szabo – Sniffing this blind I would have immediately been in a far higher price category; this smells like expensive left bank Bordeaux. It may not have the structure of the top shelf, though at $17, it’s hugely satisfying and impressive, with ageing potential. Sara D’Amato – This exceptional value from Bordeaux is worthy of a spotlight. The density, richness and overall absorbing nature of this left bank blend will have you wishing you had a few bottles in reserve. I imagine this to be a very hot seller.

Château Boutisse 2010Tamaya Gran Reserva Syrah 2011Château Boutisse 2010 Saint Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France ($39.95). Sara d’Amato – A stunner of a Saint Emilion with the depth and complexity of a wine of a much greater price. Chateau Boutisse’s name pays homage to the extraction of the chalky limestone on which the village of St. Emilion is built (and built from) leaving hollow channels below the surface of the wineries that make up the famous, maze-like, underground cellars of Saint Emilion. David Lawrason – Great value in thoroughly modern merlot-based Bordeaux from a 57-acre estate revamped and largely replanted in 1996. You don’t always have to pay through the nose to get a great Bordeaux experience.

Tamaya 2011 Gran Reserva Syrah, Limarí Valley, Chile ($21.95). David Lawrason – Syrah is certainly a keeper in Chile, and seems to be finding its feet best in some of the cooler regions, like the Pacific-cooled, limestone influenced Limari Valley well north of Santiago. There is a distinctive Chilean aromatic here, but it goes well beyond with great structure, complexity and length. John Szabo – Regular readers won’t be surprised to see another Tamaya wine on my list, an estate, and a region, which offer quality above the mean. I love the balance in Limarì syrahs: savoury, minerally and gritty, with loads of spicy dark fruit. Best 2014-2020.

Yalumba Organic Viognier 2012Château D'anglès La ClapeChâteau d’Anglès 2010 La Clape Classique Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre, Languedoc, France ($14.95). John Szabo – La Clape is one of those little-known sub-regions of the Languedoc near Narbonne (soon to be an independent appellation, apparently) that regularly makes wines of great character at prices commensurate with their low notoriety. D’Anglès’ classic southern French blend has personality and depth in spades – a great “house wine” this summer. David Lawrason – There are a handful of good value Southern France wines on this release, but none offer value like this. It’s from a property situated within sight of the Mediterranean, which provides cooling evening influences in an arid region that sees 300 days of sun a year.

Yalumba 2012 Organic Viognier, South Australia, ($18.95). David Lawrason – Yalumba is one of the largest producers of viognier in Australia, if not the world. And given the passion and down-to-earth character of winemaker Jane Ferrari it is entirely in keeping that an organic version would be attempted. It seems to add layers of flavour missing in the already complex “regular” viogniers. Quite something under $20. Sara d’Amato – A rich, lust-worthy viognier that oozes the delectable, sultry and exotic character of this varietal in which Yalumba takes exceptional pride. This example is strikingly concentrated and undeniably seductive.

Sparklers, Whites & Pinks

Gruhier 2010 Extra Brut Crémant De Bourgogne, France ($18.95). John Szabo – Anytime you find quality traditional method sparkling for under $20 it’s worth considering, especially when it comes damned close to champagne. This is a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay from northern Burgundy, aged 36 months before release, the equivalent of a vintage-dated champers. A great choice for large gatherings where both price and quality matter.

Château La Mascaronne Quat'saisons Rosé 2013Rodney Strong Chardonnay 2012Gruhier Extra Brut Crémant De Bourgogne 2010Rodney Strong 2012 Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California ($19.95). Sara d’Amato – Rodney Strong has fallen off my radar of late but this compelling chardonnay is perspective changing. Rodney Strong undoubtedly sources great fruit for this wine but has a tendency to over-work the juice in the cellar. This example is hopefully, indicative of a new, fresher approach. The wine feels Burgundian in its complexity and light-handedness but very much a Sonoma chardonnay in its richness and depth of fruit.

Château La Mascaronne 2013 Quat’saisons Rosé, Côtes de Provence, France ($19.95). David Lawrason – As pink wines explode in popularity around the world more and more serious winemakers are looking to the pale, elegant, subtle roses of Provence as a template. They drink more like whites but with intriguing nuances of red fruit. This is a classic of the genre.


Alento Tinto 2011Adega De MonJim Barry The Mcrae Wood Shiraz 2009te Branco 2011 Alento Tinto, Alentejano, Portugal ($15.95). David Lawrason – Like so many modern Portuguese reds this offers terrific complexity for the money, thanks to a blend of four native grape varieties. Modern winemaking, at the hands of owner Luis Louro, who studied in Portugal and trained with his father at Quinta de Mouro and in Sonoma, has buffed any coarse edges but it still retains good structure.

Jim Barry 2009 The Mcrae Wood Shiraz, Clare Valley, South Australia ($59.95). David Lawrason - This is my top scoring wine of the June 21 release – a delicious monument to modern Aussie shiraz. Three generations of Roseworthy-trained winemakers have worked this venerable Clare Valley, with highly awarded Tom Barry, who has also worked in Europe, now at the helm. The magic to this wine is the opulence of its flavours set within well-proportioned structure, without relying on obvious alcohol heat or tannin.

Malvirà Roero 2009Hitching Post Hometown Pinot Noir 2012Hitching Post 2012 Hometown Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, California ($28.95). Sara D’Amato - Brought to fame by the movie Sideways (at least, for those of us outside of Santa Barbara), the Hitching Post founders Frank Ostini, chef of the Hitching Post and his good friend, former fisherman Gray Hartley find their inspiration for their renowned pinot noirs from inspired growers throughout the Santa Barbara County. This virtual label, of sorts, is now run out of Terravant Winery, an ultra-premium facility close to the Hitching Post II. Initially the wines were produced to serve the restaurant but more recently, have enjoyed larger commercial success.

Malvirà 2009 Roero, Piedmont Italy ($19.95). John Szabo – the sandy soils of Roero produce lighter and more perfumed versions of nebbiolo, and coupled with the warm 2009 vintage and Malvirà’s “classico” i.e. non-riserva Roero, this is already nicely mature and soft on the palate. But it’s also umami-rich, savoury, and finally compelling for the money.

And that’s a wrap for this edition. Watch next week for Part One of our Preview of the July 5th release including a feature on New Zealand. Meanwhile enjoy an entertaining read on the importance of the wine label by Anthony Gismondi. And despite my somewhat grumpy opening re Ontario wine, I urge you seek out some of the very fine wines that are being made in Niagara and Prince Edward County, perhaps as you forage in your local farmers market, where Ontario wines are now being sold.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES June 21st release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Selections
All Reviews
June 21st – Part One

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


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

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 21st – Part One

Europe vs. The New World and Unique Grapes
By John Szabo with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report considers the old world-new world divide in the wine universe, the main feature of the June 21st VINTAGES release. Where do these terms come from, and what exactly do they mean? On which side of the divide do you fall? We’ll also take a look at unique grapes – the ones you’ve probably never heard of, but are well worth discovering. Get out of the three-grape drinking rut with these recommendations and do your part to promote stylistic and genetic diversity.

Read on or jump straight to the Buyers’ Guide selections.

Old World vs. New World

The June 21st VINTAGES Release pits Europe, or the “old world”, against the “new world” of wine. There is, of course, no official definition to the terms old and new world as applied to wine. It’s rather a simplistic way of dividing up the world between the traditional winemaking countries of Europe (and the Middle East and the Caucasus, including the very cradle of wine in Georgia and Armenia), and pretty much everywhere else.

Recent archeological evidence points to some seven or eight thousand years of winemaking history in Armenia and Georgia, and four thousand or more in Greece. Wine production developed in western Europe some three thousand or so years ago thanks to the busy merchant Phoenicians (an Eastern Mediterranean civilization) plying water trade routes all the way to Jerez in Southern Spain, the Etruscans, native central Italians who were making wine long before the Romans moved north, and the Celts who made good and proper use of native grapevines in central Europe. The Greeks did their part to spread viticulture and winemaking knowledge into southern Europe, and then later, as Rome conquered the known western world, the grapevine and wine culture followed in earnest, all the way up to the limit of viable viticulture in places like Champagne, the Loire Valley and the Mosel in Germany. This is the old world of wine.

The new world, on the other hand, refers to those parts of the planet that were colonized by Europeans in the post-Columbus era. European settlers brought with them the comforts of home, including plants and animals, in order to reproduce their diet from back home, and the grapevine was invariably among their exports. Heroic efforts were often required to grow grapes, and not all vineyards flourished. Early efforts in the Caribbean, parts of Mexico and Paraguay failed miserably, while the most suitable regions, the ones we’re familiar with today, would eventually come to dominate.

It’s worth noting that despite the “new” qualification, many of these former colonies have now been making wine for centuries, like the Mexican highlands since the early 1500s, Peru, Chile and Argentina since the mid 1500s, South Africa since 1659, California since the establishment of Franciscan missions in 1779, and Australia since the arrival of the first fleet in 1788 (I also recently discovered that a wine was made in Canada in 1669, but that was more of a one-off, our time would come a bit later).

In fact, some of the most celebrated wine regions in the old world were developed much later than those in the new world, such as the Médoc area of Bordeaux, drained by Dutch engineers in 1599, or much more recently the coastal Maremma area of Tuscany, former marshlands that only became viable for viticulture in the 1930s thanks to Mussolini’s anti-malarial policy and the subsequent draining of the land.

Today, aside from a mere geographical distinction, the terms old world and new world have also come to represent broad stylistic differences between wines produced in their respective worlds. A new world wine, to use a very broad brush, features riper and bolder fruit flavours, higher alcohol and lower acidity, and very often more wood flavour than its European counterpart. An old world wine, on the other hand, is lighter, leaner, less fruity and more earthy, and often much more acid-driven and harder (more tannic) than a new world wine.

Such distinctions have featured in discussions among wine professionals since at least the dawn of the modern era of winemaking, which I’d peg somewhat arbitrarily around the mid nineteen seventies. This is the period during which countries outside of Europe began to make wine that challenged the best of what the old world had to offer, becoming genuine commercial competitors and thus necessary to talk about.

And there was a time when the old world/new world style description rang pretty much true. That most new world wine regions are warmer, drier and sunnier than those in the old world naturally led to the style differences that became stereotypes. These days, of course, such a simplistic view doesn’t even begin to accurately describe the wines of either world. There are plenty of “new world” style wines made in the old, and vice versa. The wines of Niagara are far more European in style, for example, than new world, even if we’re definitely lopped in with new world wine regions. Technology, wine additives, climate change and flying winemakers have done much to erode such crude differences.

And yet the distinction persists, as all good stereotypes do, and you’ll come across the terms in plenty of wine reviews, even on the blind tasting grid of the Court of Master Sommeliers. After all, without some sort of contextual generalization, it’s very hard to say anything meaningful about a wine. I personally still find the distinction useful in order to convey the general “feel” of the wine: is it in essence more fruity or stony/earthy? More acid or more alcoholic? Soft and plush or firm and puckering? But I’m careful to throw in the term “style” after new or old world, since geography is less and less meaningful.

Curiously enough, most consumers and even wine professionals have a leaning to one world or another. It’s possible to change “world” style preference over the course of your wine-drinking lifetime, but it’s exceedingly rare to run across someone who loves both style categories equally at the same time. So what’s your preference? Are you old or new world?

For the June 21st release I’ve paid a little homage to wines grown in the new world, the colonial upstarts and I recommend seven excellent wines. In part it’s because the new world selections were better quality in my view than their old world counterparts proposed by the LCBO (new world conspiracy?). But it’s also because I naturally tend to recommend wines from the old country, so it’s time to level the scales. You’ll find, however, that my picks give a nod back to the old world, at least stylistically. I guess I just gave away my world preference.

Unique Grapes

The other theme of the release is grapes that are “unique”, another nebulous category. Yet it’s easy to find yourself in a rut, drinking wines made from the same very small handful of grapes over and over. Pre-phylloxera there were countless thousands of varieties planted throughout the world. Today that number has been significantly reduced. Some grapes, to be sure, disappeared for good reason – they made poor quality and/or unreliable wine. But there’s no doubt we lost a massive amount of genetic diversity, and hence potential diversity of wine styles, which is lamentable.

Fortunately there’s a new sport in variety-rich countries like Portugal, Italy and Greece: rediscovering old grapes and propagating them before they disappear. And the new world, in an effort to rise above the crowded battlefield of cabernet and chardonnay and offer something unique (and perhaps better suited), has picked up the relay and is planting plenty of obscure but tasty varieties. I say we should do our part to encourage these vinous archeologists and vanguardists by at least giving their obscure grapes a try, lest we lose even more diversity. I’ve picked out a quartet that is worth a look, comparing them to a grape/style with which you’ll likely be more familiar so it isn’t so scary.

Buyers’ Guide Selections – the Stars Align

Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2012Norman Hardie 2012 RieslingNorman Hardie Riesling 2012, Ontario, Canada ($21.00). John Szabo – A lovely, open and honeyed interpretation of riesling from Hardie, with off-dry but crisp palate, well balanced and terrific length, firm and stony-dry finish. Best 2014-2020. Sara d’Amato – Riesling lovers take note! This captivating assemblage of 70% Niagara and 30% County fruit and delivers the best of both terroirs. Nervy and simmering with zesty fruit, the wine is texturally both lush and vibrant.

Ken Forrester 2012 Reserve Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($17.95). John Szabo – This wine seems to always make it onto my best buys list, and it’s hard to imagine stuffing more character into an $18 wine. This is intense and exceptionally mineral with genuine old vine (40 year old, unirrigated) complexity and depth, perfectly suited to fans of full-bodied, characterful wines at give away prices. Best 2014-2020. David Lawrason – There is a growing buzz about Cape chenin and this good value provides useful schooling. Not flamboyant but structured, even and classy from a winery that is on a mission to gain respect for this variety. And it ages. I recently had a very impressive 2006.

Erste & Neue Leuchtenburg Kalterersee Classico Superiore 2012Barone Ricasoli Rocca Guicciarda Chianti Classico Riserva 2010Erste & Neue 2012 Leuchtenburg Kalterersee Classico Superiore, Südtirol-Alto Adige, Italy ($19.95). John Szabo – The 1986 merger of the Erste (“first”) wine co-operative (founded in 1900) with the Neue (“new”) wine co-operative (founded in 1925) in the village of Kaltern means that the winery has been perfecting their version of the local vernatsch variety (aka trollinger or schiava, the most planted red grape in Alto Adige) for some time. Don’t be fooled by the pale colour – this packs quite a punch of flavour ranging from tart red mountain fruit to dark spice and cranberry. As such, this falls squarely into the zesty red wine category – think of gamay, and serve with a light chill with quail or duck for maximum effect. Best 2014-2018. Sara d’Amato – Certainly a departure from your everyday red, this northern Italian beauty is made from the local vernatsch variety which is typically light, fruity and offering moderate acidity. Easy to appreciate and versatile with food, the wine is fresh, elegant, and brimming with authentic flavours of wild berry fruit.

Barone Ricasoli Rocca Guicciarda Chianti Classico Riserva 2009, DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($24.95). Sara d’Amato – This widely appealing Chianti Classico from one of Italy’s oldest wineries benefits from the prowess of esteemed enologist Carlo Ferrini. The blend is made up of 80% sangiovese with a balance of merlot and cabernet franc giving the blend a boost of concentration. Simply put, a stunning Classico Riserva sure to impress your guests. David Lawrason – The 2010 vintage in Europe continues to impress. This is compact, complex, well integrate and even with classic, edgy Chianti sangiovese character, even though it contains up to 20% cabernet and merlot. Well priced for the quality delivered.

Szabo’s Smart Buys: The New World vs. Europe

Bachelder 2011 Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($44.95). This is an excellent, if ever-changing and evolving wine (I’ve tasted it several times now, and at each turn it reveals a different character, as natural and living wines should). It’s very much respectful of the Burgundian tradition from which Bachelder takes his cues – throw this in a line of top Côte de Beaune whites and you’ll be surprised how well it performs. Best 2014-2021.

Dog Point 2011 Pinot Noir Marlborough, New Zealand ($48.95). Dog Point is one of my reference producers from Marlborough, and indeed New Zealand, producing both sauvignons and pinot noirs far above the quality mean. I love this vivid, translucent pinot with its crackling acids and rich, spicy red and dark fruit. Hold off for another 2-4 years for maximum enjoyment, allowing the wood notes to fully integrate. Best 2016-2023.

Clos Du Val 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley USA ($39.95). The relatively cool 2010 growing season, coupled with Clos du Val’s old world-leaning style yielded an intriguingly green and zesty, fire-roasted vegetal scented Napa cabernet, succulent on the palate with long, umami-laden finish. This will provide pleasure over the mid term for fans of more reserved, old world style reds. Best 2014-2010.

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2011Dog Point Pinot Noir 2011Clos Du Val 2010 Cabernet SauvignonTar & Roses Pinot Grigio 2013Cape Point Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Tar & Roses 2013 Pinot Grigio, Central Victoria, Australia ($19.95). This is made with some skin contact, resulting in a pale pinkish tinge – from sight alone this could be mistaken for a Provençal rosé. The flavour profile, too, bears some resemblance: fruity and delicate, raspberry, strawberry, citrus and apple-scented. A well made, characterful wine all around, fairly priced.

Cape Point Vineyards 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Cape Point, South Africa ($15.95). With vineyards on the narrow Cape Peninsula and cooling influence from both the Atlantic and False Bay, this is an ideal terroir for bright and zesty sauvignon Blanc, which Cape Point Vineyards has made into a house specialty. This is a tremendous value, balanced and minerally, with added complexity from a splash of semillon and a small percentage of barrel-fermented sauvignon. A wine to be purchased by the case at this price.

Szabo’s Smart Buys: Unique Grapes

Livia Feteasca Regala 2012Alpha Estate Axia Malagouzia 2012Domaine Karydas Naoussa 2009Domaine Karydas 2009 Xinomavro, Naoussa Greece ($24.00) This xinomavro from the Macedonian appellation of Naoussa is very much worth a detour for fans of savoury old world reds – think of Italy: Piedmontese nebbiolo or Tuscan sangiovese, and you’re in the right style range. It’s mid weight, succulent and firm, with fine-grained tannic structure and saliva inducing acids, not to mention loads of umami. Best 2014-2020.

Alpha Estate 2012 Axia Malagouzia, Florina Greece, ($15.95) This hails from one of Greece’s cooler regions, northwest over the Mountains from Naoussa. Malagouzia will appeal to fans of generously proportioned, aromatic whites like viognier, with a little more of a cool climate, fresh acid kick. The 2013 is the best yet from Alpha Estate, offering all of the lovely rich, ripe fruit in the tropical spectrum that the variety is capable of, on a generous frame.

Livia 2012 Feteasca Regala, Cotesti, Romania ($14.95) Feteasca Regala (aka Kiralyleánka) grows mainly in Transylvania, Moldavia, Moldova and Hungary, and produces and soft, semi-aromatic white wine. This is a pleasant sipper, clean, fresh and delicate, with a whiff of citrus and spring flowers, light-mid-weight palate, gentle acids, and the merest impression of sweetness. Think of softer style pinot gris/grigio.

David Lawrason’s Picks

Paolo Conterno Riva Del Bric Barolo 2009Man Family Wines 2012 Bosstok PinotageMan Family Wines Bosstok Pinotage 2012, Coastal Region, South Africa ($13.95)  – Pinotage is particular to South Africa – a  hybrid pinot noir/cinsault crossing that in my mind has not been all that successful despite the sentimental attachment it holds for Cape wine fans. It’s interpretation by winemakers his all over the map. This however gets a vote of confidence; great value, rich yet still piquant red with quality far outstripping its price.

Paolo Conterno 2009 Riva Del Bric Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($42.95) – This is a fine, maturing Barolo. Not a true classic perhaps because the hotter 2009 vintages has lowered acidity, but on the other hand it has created a more approachable style that in the hands of an excellent producer delivers authentic Barolo character.

Sara d’Amato’s Picks

Vincent Raimbault 2012 Bel Air Vouvray, AC, Loire, France ($18.95) This dry Vouvray is love at first sip and although would be a treat to enjoy on its own, it has the ability to pair with substantial foods such as a creamy gratin Dauphinoise or roast poultry. Traditional, wildly complex and exceedingly satisfying.

La Tour Coste 20120 La Combe Saint Joseph, Rhone, France ($28.95) La Tour Coste is a relatively new project by celebrated winemaker Stephan Vedeau who is best known for his successful Le Ferme du Mont series from the Cotes du Rhone. The label is a step above in terms of complexity, concentration and class and exhibits a very authentic, natural feel – a superb expression of the purity of northern Rhone syrah.

Zig Zag Zin 2011 Zinfandel, Mendocino County, California, USA ($19.95). A naked zinfandel, if you will, this open and revealing wine is wonderfully approachable and stripped of heavy oak and sweetness. It boasts a welcome purity of fruit and although it is lighter in weight it is certainly not light in complexity. A sophisticated zinfandel that even fans of pinot noir will find engaging.

Vinecol 2013 Organic Bonarda, Mendoza, Argentina ($14.95). Although the varietal may be relatively unknown to us in Ontario, bornarda has been Argentina’s most widely planted grape  for some time and has only been recently supplanted by malbec. Depending on the age of the vines, wines made from this prolific varietal can range between light and full bodied, fruity and tannic. This example boasts a wildly compelling nose with huge perfumed aromatics and a lush, sultry palate with a perfectly balanced acidity. Immensely satisfying for the price.

Vincent Raimbault Bel Air Vouvray 2012La Tour Coste La Combe Saint Joseph 2010Zig Zag Zin Zinfandel 2011Vinecol Organic Bonarda 2013

Best Ontario Sommelier Competition

CAPSHave you ever been served by an amazing Sommelier? Ever wonder what it takes to be the BEST Sommelier in the Province?  Find out June 22 at the BEST ONTARIO SOMMELIER COMPETITION. Attending the competition is free. Watch as the three finalists are put through their paces with Decanting Service, Champagne Service, Food and Wine Pairing, and Blind Tasting. Following the competition is a walk-around wine tasting ($5) featuring international and Ontario wines; all proceeds go to help the winning Sommelier with travel expenses to the Americas competition (Mendoza, Argentina 2015) and hopefully the Worlds (2016).

The Gala Dinner ($150) includes a silent auction, cocktail reception and a four course dinner prepared by Oliver and Bonacini, with, of course, tons of wine, and an after party.

This event only takes place once every two years.

When:     June 22, 2014

Where:   Arcadian Court, Toronto

Competition 1:00-3:00
Wine tasting 3:00-5:00
Cocktail Reception 5:00-7:00
Dinner 7:00-10:00, After Party 10:00 -

Purchase Tickets here

Upcoming Court of Master Sommelier Courses


Toronto (Level I & II), August 23-25th, The Air Canada Centre

Level I ($525 US) Introductory Course & Exam. Includes a fast paced review for a day and a half with a theory exam at the end of the second day. Candidates should have been employed in wine service for a minimum of three years, although this is not mandatory.

Level II ($325 US)Certified Sommelier Exam, a one-day exam only with no classroom work.

Register for courses here

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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

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


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

Ontario’s Emerging Wine Regions: The South Coast

By John Szabo MS

Ontario’s First Vintage?

The year was 1669. I can’t confirm if it was indeed Ontario’s first vintage but it seems probable. The moment is recorded in the Mémoires de la Société Historique de Montréal, in a text written by explorers MM Dollier and Galinée. The intrepid duo stopped to overwinter near present day Port Dover on the north shore of Lake Erie, where they discovered wild grapevines “which grow only in the sands on the shores of lakes and rivers”, and which produce “few grapes, but as big and sweet as the best in France.” In predictable French fashion, they made wine, which Dollier used to say mass throughout the winter of ’69-’70, and which, in their words, was “as good as the wine from Grave, a big black wine just like it”, a reference to the fine wine of the Graves region in distant Bordeaux. So abundant were the vines that the explorers reckon they could have easily made 25 or 30 barriques of their nectar.

Voyage de MM. Dollier et Galinée

Yet I can only image that MM. Dollier and Galinée felt a very long way from home and very homesick, worn by the hardships endured by early Canadian explorers, maybe even delirious from tick and mosquito bites, or just plain drunk, to have drawn the hopeful comparison. I’m quite certain their wine had very little to do with Bordeaux. Even nearly 350 years later, with the benefit of technology and experience, the wines produced in the emerging Ontario wine region dubbed South Coast bear little resemblance to anything from France.

“Ontario’s South Coast” is the tourism tag applied to the shores of Lake Erie in Norfolk County centered around the summer resort town of Port Dover, and spilling over into neighboring Elgin and Haldimand counties. Drive south essentially from anywhere between Hamilton and London and you’ll pass through the region on your way to the lake. It’s also the name that the South Coast Wineries Association hopes to officially apply to their proposed Viticultural Area, a dossier that currently sits on the desk of the VQA for approval. If passed, South Coast would become Ontario’s fourth official wine region.

History & Development

This is old tobacco country, once the region’s most important crop by a country mile. But the government’s overnight elimination of tobacco quotas in 2009 sent many local farmers scrambling to find a new cash crop. Some turned to soybeans or strawberries or ginseng, others, looking north to Niagara and Prince Edward County, decided to try their luck with wine grapes. Today, this is some of the most diversified farmland in Canada.

But grapes, aside from the wild ones discovered by Dollier and Galinée, had been planted long before the great tobacco crash, perhaps in a prescient anticipation of change. The first winery to plant grapes was Quai du Vin in Elgin County north of Port Stanley way back in 1971, several years before even Kaiser and Ziraldo planted their first grapes for Inniskillin in Niagara.

Phil Ryan of Villanova Estate planted the region’s first vinifera varieties – riesling, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot – in 1996, about the same time as the first viniferas were planted in Prince Edward County. But growth has been slow and organic, and the region has yet to achieve anywhere near the notoriety of either Niagara or PEC, likely in part because of the profitability of tobacco farming.

The Current Scene


Today there are some 130 acres of vines in the proposed South Coast appellation (compared to 13,600 acres in the Niagara Peninsula, Canada’s largest region), planted in the mainly sandy soils near the lakeshore. There are eleven wineries, including two in Elgin, one in Haldimand, and eight in Norfolk County. Of these, eight are open to the public, while the other three are in various stages of opening, but all are producing wine in one form or another, from both grapes and other fruits.

The Challenges

The greatest challenge for South Coast wineries, like their neighbors further west in the Lake Erie North Shore region, is winter. Unlike the deep waters of Lake Ontario, which moderate temperatures year-round on the Niagara Peninsula and to a lesser extent in Prince Edward County, shallow lake Erie has a much weaker influence and occasionally freezes over during cold snaps. This means that vineyards are left unprotected and temperatures can drop to vine-killing depths for all but the hardiest varieties.

Planting winter sensitive grapes like merlot is as fanciful as the annual planting of palm trees on the Port Dover beach, a resort ambiance-enhancing measure necessarily repeated annually to replace the dead trees. Merlot, like the trees, stands little chance of surviving the winter – Phil Ryan of Villanova tells me he has yet to get a single crop from the merlot he planted in 1996, though he doesn’t have the heart to rip out the vines. Wineries are thus largely limited to planting cold hardy whites like Riesling, or near-indestructible hybrids like vidal, seyval, baco, foch and chambourcin.

The Annual Palm tree planting at Port Dover Beach

The Annual Palm tree planting at Port Dover Beach

The Wines and Wineries

A representative tasting hosted by the South Coast Ontario Wine Association in late May, while cruising off the waters of the coast on the charter boat Kayloe, was generally a hit and miss affair. A respectable but slightly cidery ’12 Trout Fly Riesling ($13.95) from Villanova Estate, the whimsically-named, easy-drinking ’12 Frisky Beaver White ($13.95) from Smoke and Gamble, the flinty but plush ’12 Chardonnay ($13.50) from Quai du Vin were among the better wines. Also noteworthy were some very good fruit-based wines, most notably the Gala Apple ‘wine’ from Wooden Bear L winery, and the 2011 Cranberry-Blueberry blend ($15.95) from Blueberry Hill Estates.

Doug Beatty, VP and GM of Burning Kiln Winery

Doug Beatty, VP and GM of Burning Kiln Winery

The most important and commercially successful winery to date is Burning Kiln, the only South Coast winery to have listings in the LCBO. The operation was established by a group of seven businessmen and the first vines were planted in 2007. Consulting winemaker Andrezj Lipinski (also of Colaneri, Foreign Affair, Cornerstone and his own label, Big Head Wines), known for his expertise in the appassimento method – making wine from partially dried grapes – was involved in the project from the start, with the idea of linking the tobacco farming heritage to grape growing. All of the reds at burning Kiln are air-dried in old tobacco Kilns, and the wine names, like Strip Room Merlot-Cabernet Franc or the Cureman’s Chardonnay, take their cues from the tobacco industry. The most interesting wine out of this commercially solid range for my money is the 2012 Stick Shaker Savagnin ($24.95, in LCBO), an appassimento white with fine aromatics and lush texture.

Local Interest

Yet overall, South Coast wines remain for the time being largely of local interest, unlikely to appear on Toronto restaurant wine lists anytime soon. The challenges are significant: there’s little mainstream appetite for hybrid grapes, red or white, which represent the majority of plantings. The region’s predominantly sandy soils, as observed by Dollier and Galinée, yield by and large light-structured, fruity, easy drinking wines. Yet the commercial imperative for a winery to make “important” wines (read: expensive) leads here to unbalanced, over-oaked, dried out and often charmless wines – there’s simply not enough fruit depth to extract heavily, nor structure to support long ageing in wood.

Rustic winemaking, in the form of volatile acidity and oxidation, are also not the exception. The appassimento technique used by several wineries is useful to make more consistent and ‘bigger’ wines, but is more of an imposed style, rather than a regional expression. It does little to define the uniqueness of the region outside of the heritage of the tobacco industry. Or perhaps that’s the angle? Fruit wines are a strength, but again have yet to carve out a serious commercial niche beyond the cellar door.

On the other hand, the region has an envious strength: the tourism draw. The warm waters of Lake Erie, sandy beaches including Long Point, the world’s longest natural sand spit, also a provincial park and a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, and plenty of sporting and recreational activities such as biking, birding, canoeing, kayaking and much more give tourists plenty of reasons to visit the area. Wine tourism is on the rise, and South Coast wineries are well situated to take advantage of the traffic with cellar door events, tastings and sales. In recognition of this, Burning Kiln’s sister company, Long Point Eco Adventures functions equally as a draw for the winery in a clever symbiotic relationship.

The picturesque Light House, Port Dover

The picturesque Light House, Port Dover

An Official South Coast Viticultural Area?

“Taking a cue from the European model for appellation of origin, Canada’s thriving and rapidly expanding wine industry has developed around regions that produce wines of unique character”, says the VQA website in relation to official Viticultural areas. But it’s hard to say what the unique characteristics of the proposed South Coast Viticultural Area would be, other than a geographic delimitation and a collective brand name. Few wineries produce 100% South Coast wines; most purchase and blend grapes from Niagara to supplement production. So the sampling of 100% South Coast wines is too small to even begin to talk about regionality.

It’s argued that Prince Edward County started out in the same way – with few wineries and blended PEC-Niagara wines (and many PEC wineries still supplement their harvest with fruit from Niagara). While the creation of a South Coast appellation would create a rallying point for wineries, and encourage more 100% local wines to be sure, one wonders if it isn’t still a bit premature.

For now, I’ll happily drink a well-chilled fruity South Coast white after a day on the Port Dover beach, though I won’t be dreaming of Bordeaux.

For more information visit:

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 7th – Part Two

A Bevy of Best Buys Under $25
By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Part One of our June 7 release preview published last week found considerable alignment among our critics in the featured Australian wines and Italian whites that hit VINTAGES shelves in Ontario on Saturday. Both are strong categories, with Australia mounting a comeback (see my new blog for 10 reasons why this is happening).

In Part Two we align on five wines that offer excellent value below $25 (most actually below $20) and go on to individually recommend another 13 value picks by our critics as well.

But I don’t want to leave the impression there are no fine collector wines – especially to be considered if that collector is your father. As a first time grandfather I would be personally thrilled to receive the stunning Bassermann-Jordan 2008 Deidesheimer-Hohenmorgen Riesling Auslese;  the adventurous Burrowing Owl 2010 Athene from B.C.; the delicious and refined Ridge 2011 Geyserville from Sonoma County and the sensuous Maison Roche De Bellene Vieilles Vignes 2011 Chambolle-Musigny from Burgundy. I also concur with John Szabo on the Pintas 2011 Character from Portugal as being “an example of just how good red Douro wines can be: dense and full, richly extracted and balanced”.

Here are the rest of our budget minded values.

The Stars Align

Villa Wolf Pinot Blanc 2013Château Manon La Lagune 2010Loveblock 2012 Sauvignon BlancLoveblock Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Marlborough, New Zealand ($25.95). John Szabo – The “original” Crawfords, Erica and Kim, took the money from the sale of their successful eponymous brand and patiently planned their next move: a spare no expense homage to Marlborough terroir, and specifically the cool Awatere Valley, a vineyard which Erica called her “Loveblock”. This sauvignon was picked very late yet still offers gentle green pepper flavours in a restrained, Loire-like style, yet I see this more as a textural wine, with much more weight than the average. David Lawrason – Flavours are very well focused and run to excellent length. I like the sense of containment without sacrificing flavour depth.

Château Manon La Lagune 2010, Côtes de Bordeaux – Blaye ($21.95). David Lawrason – This is exactly what I want from Blaye, a large unheralded appellation on the right bank of the Gironde Estuary. It’s a light, fresh yet characterful merlot without pretension, ambition, and perhaps no oak ageing either, and if so very little. Sara d’Amato – A generous blend made in an honest and appealing fashion. The oak is keenly integrated on the abundantly flavourful palate.  An exceptional value.  Accessible enough for immediate consumption or cellar for another 2-3 years.

Villa Wolf 2013 Pinot Blanc, Pfalz, Germany ($14.95). John Szabo – From Ernst Loosen’s Pfalz estate (home base is in the Mosel), this pinot blanc is wildly aromatic, at once fruity and grapey, with more than a nod to muscat, dry and widely appealing. It’s not too complicated but the price is attractive, and the elegant packaging will make it look like you pulled out the expensive stuff. Sara d’Amato – A striking pinot blanc with big aromatics and an engagingly tense palate. Certainly not your typical pinot blanc but one that will undoubtedly prove engrossing. The Pfalz region tends to produce drier styles of wine that benefit from greater ripeness and this rich pinot blanc is expressive of just that. David Lawrason – Must debate here; this is definitely lifted and arresting wine, but it is also very green wine that tastes like sauvignon, not German pinot blanc which, by the way, is a source of some great values nowadays.

Carignanissime De Centeilles 2010Massaya Classic Red 2011Clos Centeilles 2010 Carignanissime De Centeilles, Minervois, France ($18.95). Sara d’Amato -  A really stripped down, authentic  feeling southern French carignan that is produced from very old vines (60-100 years), handpicking, carbonic maceration and no use of oak. This relatively light treatment is befitting of this expressive and lively wine from a sunny terroir. John Szabo – I was immediately bowled over by this pure and engaging wine,  given full carbonic maceration à la Beaujolais and fermented with wild yeast and bottled after a year in stainless with no added sulphites. Think of a wild and a slightly savage cousin of sturdy cru Beaujolais and you’re in the right style zone. Don’t leave this too long in the cellar, but rather enjoy its juicy, unsullied fruit now or over the next year or so. A value that shouldn’t be missed.

Massaya 2011 Classic Red, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon ($15.95). John Szabo – It’s not surprising that this fine value red from Lebanon is reminiscent of the southern Rhône Valley, considering both the blend (60% cinsault with 20% each of cabernet and syrah), the Mediterranean climate, and the involvement of the Brunier Family (owners of Vieux Télégraph in Châteauneuf-du-Pape), investors in Massaya since 1998. At $16, it’s an attractive proposition, especially with its iron-like minerality – worth a look. Best 2014-2021. Sara d’Amato - Massaya, meaning “twilight”, is a winery with a relatively recent but curious history. The Ghosn family (current owners) was forced to leave their estate and country in the mid-70s due to Lebanon’s civil war. Seventeen years later, the two brothers returned to revitalize their family’s war ravaged estate. This entry-level label is lush, easy to appreciate and offers a great deal of flavour and intrigue for the price.

Lawrason’s Other Picks

Lanzerac 2011 Chardonnay, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($16.95). Those who do not like big, oaked chardonnay may want to take a pass, but those who can find a place for it on their deck table, with grilled poultry, pork, veal and even steak, will be amazed by its complexity, tension and depth for $16.95. I ceased being amazed by the price/complexity/concentration ratio of Cape wines after drinking them for three weeks in South Africa in March.  I have had $50 chardonnays less concentrated and structured than this.

E. Guigal 2012 Côtes Du Rhône Blanc ($18.95). Those who would prefer elegant,  unaoked fruit driven white on the patio, to refresh yet coddle a more subdued, perhaps creamy recipe should visit this lovely, classy southern Rhone white. With 70% viognier it has plenty of bloom but three other grape varieties including 8% marsanne add nuance and character. It’s different, it’s well made, and it’s a summer evening in a glass.

Königschaffhauser 2013 Vulkanfelsen Pinot Noir Rosé ($13.95). Rosé is in full flood now, and there are another seven landing on this release; most being quite good. This however was the stand-out value, from pinot noir grown on the slopes of the Kaiserstuhl – the ancient volcano that dominates the Rhine Valley in southern Baden. The volcanic soils seem to give the wines added energy, which this nicely expresses amid its lighter frame.

Lanzerac Chardonnay 2011E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône Blanc 2012Winzergenossenschaft Königschaffhausen Pinot Noir Rosé 2013Finca Flichman Expresiones Reserve Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Leone De Castris Riserva Salice Salentino 2010

Finca Flichman 2011 Expresiones Reserve Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, Argentina ($15.75). And then there will be those grilling steak, and more steak, this summer. I have always been a Flichman fan, and find their Expressione blends based on cabernet to be particularly good value, with complexity, density and girth far beyond their price. And they are not just another jammy malbec; they are bit more linear and herbal and meaty – generously but not overly oaked in French and American barrels.  I think the richness stems from their location in the Barances sub-region of eastern where it is just a bit warmer.

Leone De Castris 2010 Riserva Salice Salentino ($19.95) – One of the most highly regarded producers from the heel of Italy, delivers a very flavourful, rich yet compactly structured red from 40 year old negroamaro vines.  It will work around the BBQ as well but  I would be tempted to age it a year or so.  It delivers its origin very well, and the length is excellent.

Sara d’Amato’s Picks

Arnaud Aucoeur Côte De Py Morgon 2012Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel 2012Winzer Krems 2012 Edition Chremisa Grüner VeltlinerWinzer Krems Edition Chremisa Grüner Veltliner 2012, Niederösterreich, Austria  ($24.95). The premium “Edition Cremisa” line was created by Winzer Krems, one of Austria’s largest cooperatives, to pay tribute to the city of Krems – first mentioned in the year 995 as “urbs chremisa”. How’s that for some obscure knowledge? What will certainly not fall into obscurity in this release is this riveting grüner veltliner with a mouth-filling texture, brimming with spice and tropical fruit.

Cline 2012 Ancient Vines Zinfandel, Contra Costa County, Central Coast, California ($20.95). A seductive, feminine old vines zinfandel that I would be remiss in not calling a guilty pleasure – a Cline specialty. Despite its rich, enveloping nature, the wine achieves a feeling of pillowy lightness and more complexity than meets the eye.

Arnaud Aucoeur 2012 Côte De Py Morgon, Beaujolais, France ($19.95). This wine expresses classic Morgon with depth, density and abundant charm. The estate is named after its current owner and winemaker, a 4th generation vigneron whose lovely family, wife and three young children, make the operation a family affair. Cote de Py is the most revered of the Morgon climats and this example certainly lives up to that reputation of quality.

John Szabo’s Best Buys

Malivoire 2012 Pinot Gris, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95). A highly successful pinot gris in my view, bringing together richness and freshness, fruit and minerals, acids and structure – in short, all of the food groups are well represented. This hits a fine midway point between the Alsatian and Italian styles, and should appeal widely.

Chavet & Fils 2012 La Dame De Jacques Coeur Menetou-Salon Blanc, Loire Valley, France ($19.95). A terrific example of Menetou Salon from the reliable Chavet & Fils, who have never failed to deliver in the many vintages that I’ve tried. Perhaps not as searingly mineral as top Sancerre, but I enjoy the slightly fleshier and richer palate. Best 2014-2018.

Volcanes De Chile 2011 Pomerape Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda Valley, Chile ($14.95). As the name of the bodega implies, this is a project to highlight the volcanic terroirs of Chile, a country with close to 2000 volcanoes, a very fine idea in my view. This is a dry, very crispy and lively sauvignon from the cool Leyda Valley within site of the Pacific; you could easily add another $5 to the price for similar wines from, say, Marlborough, NZ.

Malivoire Pinot Gris 2012Chavet & Fils La Dame De Jacques Coeur Menetou Salon Blanc 2012Volcanes De Chile Pomerape Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc 2011Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas 2011Palo Alto Winemaker's Selection 2010

Adriano Ramos Pinto 2011 Duas Quintas, Douro, Portugal ($19.95). This classic two-vineyard blend, from the Quinta de Ervamoira (low altitude schist soils yielding very ripe grapes) and the high altitude granitic Quinta dos Bons Ares (contributing freshness and liveliness) is a well-proportioned red from a fabulous vintage. This hits all of the right notes for harmony, and I’d say it will be superior in 2-4 years. Best 2016-2024.

Palo Alto 2010 Winemaker’s Selection, Maule Valley, Chile ($18.95). A dense, deep, dark blend (shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, carmenere) with a very distinctive Chilean personality. Wood is a prominent feature, but then again so are the savoury-herbal, bay leaf and resinous herb flavours – a wine of genuine concentration and depth at a nice price. Best 2014-2020.

Between now and our next meeting I hope to see some of you at our sold-out WineAlign dinner at Parts and Labour in Toronto June 9 that features four winemakers from South Africa. I also hope to be at the Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton on Saturday, sampling over 125 cheeses from across the country along with wines from 15 Ontario wineries and cideries. Purchase tickets at and use the promo code CF14ALIGN for a discount. It runs both Saturday and Sunday June 7/8 from 11am to 4pm. And watch for Sara d’Amato’s imminent report on Prince Edward County and some new releases.

When we meet again in this space I will be in British Columbia hours away from the opening bell for the National Wine Awards of Canada.

Until then, Cheers

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES June 7th Release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Selections
All Reviews
June 7th – Part One
Lawrason’s Take – Australia 2014

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


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

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES June 7th – Part One

Don’t Say Aussie Shiraz!
Rediscovering Italian Whites

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Australia makes a return to the spotlight in the June 7th VINTAGES release, but take care: people in the know don’t say “Aussie Shiraz” any more. And we know you love Italian reds, but lighten up and delve into the limpid, and sometimes orange world of Italian whites, also featured. An unusual number of our recommendations align this week, so the odds of pleasure are high. Finally, if you long for more diversity in your wine selection, tell your MPP about it. Details within.

Hey, You Can’t Say “Aussie Shiraz” Any More!

The industry organization Wine Australia has done much to repair the country’s image over the last decade, shifting consumer perceptions from a simple offering of inexpensive, fruity, easy-drinking wines to one of a marvelously diverse collection of regions, grapes and expressions. The blanket description “Aussie Shiraz”, thrown about first with enthusiasm and later with disdain, doesn’t cut it any longer. Now to be accorded any credibility in the industry you have to speak more specifically of McLaren Vale shiraz, or Yarra Valley shiraz, or Clare Valley shiraz, for example, each with their own nuances and points of difference.

Drinkers less concerned with the particulars can still of course enjoy a number of branded, Australian regional blends that offer a reliable and comforting flavour profile. But those seeking the value-add enjoyment of regional distinctiveness have more and more to choose from. A visit down under last fall to attend an international symposium in Adelaide left a clear message: Australia is listening and observing the world, and changing. There’s a spirit of innovation and a willingness to move beyond the merely technically correct and widely appealing to wines of genuine personality and character. The standardized wines of twenty years ago would be almost unrecognizable to the current wave of Aussie winegrowers; when once individuality was considered a fault, now it’s embraced.

It’s interesting to note that while a radical change in wine style is often associated with a shift away from tradition in most countries, in Australia’s case it’s quite the opposite: it’s a return to tradition, or even the creation of a lasting and solid tradition built on real wines, not brands designed in boardrooms. And why not take advantage of the wealth of ancient vines, in some cases centenarian, or of climates as diverse as cool and rainy Tasmania, or maritime Margaret River, or alpine King’s Valley to trumpet diversity? The world can only benefit.

Also heartening is the epidemic spread of less interventionalist winemaking. It takes courage and experience to be able to leave well enough alone; great wines require boundless energy in the vineyard and laziness in the winery. That experience, and the courage that comes with it, has been gained, and the corporate disconnect between vineyard manager and winemaker has been repaired, at least in the wineries worth knowing.

Sadly these exciting changes are not necessarily reflected in the LCBO’s selections arriving June 7th. There are some very good wines to be sure, picked out below by the WineAlign team with uncommon consensus, but it strikes me as opportunity lost to list three wines from a single producer – Mitolo – in a feature of only fifteen wines, as well as several re-releases and mostly familiar names. In the end, there’s very little that’s new. As a producer in Australia trying to break into the Ontario market, I’d be frustrated.

If you’re willing to go the extra mile, I’d recommend tracking down wines from the likes of Tom Shobbrock – a minimalist interpretation from the Barossa – or the positively electric wines of Jamsheed in Victoria (both represented by The Living Vine), for example, or go the extra 10,000 miles for the very fine Mornington Peninsula wines of Montalto or Ten Minutes by Tractor, or the wines of Oakridge and Mac Forbes in the Yarra Valley, none of which I’ve seen in Ontario. And I barely scratch the surface.

IMG_4828 IMG_4838 IMG_4833

Call for Action: More Choice

As an aside but related, if you support diversity and choice, tell your MPP about it via an initiative launched by the Wine Council of Ontario, Pairs Perfectly, lobbying for independently owned wine shops parallel to the operations of the LCBO. See also David Lawrason’s insightful assessment of the initiative in the latest Ontario Wine Report. More choice? I’m in.

Vini Bianchi

The other feature this week is Italian whites. Again, great strides have been made in white wine quality in a country known principally for its reds. It’s statistically probable that with a speculated 1300 or so native varieties, there’d be some white gems among them. And we are the beneficiaries of the new Italian sport of rediscovering forgotten varieties and the increasing care applied to white wines. Campania is a fine starting place with brilliant grapes like fiano, greco and falanghina, but then there’s also verdicchio from Le Marche, carricante from Etna, timorasso from Piedmont, ribolla from Friuli, garganega from Soave, albana from Romagna… And I could go on.

Italy, and more specifically the northeastern corner of the country, is also the modern epicenter of skin contact whites – white wines fermented like red wines with skins and all – picking up on a method “devised” some eight thousand years ago, likely in Georgia. The Albana di Romagna in this release is such a wine, well worth discovering if you’d like to try a wine that would be familiar to Homer and Pliny (but probably better). Start your discovery with our suggestions below.

Buyer’s Guide – VINTAGES June 7th Release: Australia and Italian Whites

The Stars Align – Triple Alignment

Grant Burge The Holy Trinity Grenache Shiraz MourvédreDomaine Tournon Mathilda Shiraz 2011Domaine Tournon 2011 Mathilda Shiraz, Victoria, Australia ($19.95) John Szabo – A very peppery and reductive, zesty, post-modern style syrah from iconoclast Marc Chapoutier’s Antipodean outpost, balanced, lively and zesty. Be forewarned: those seeking the more robust Aussie style will be disappointed, but this is highly drinkable, and to be honest, I prefer it to the more expensive syrah from Tournon in this release. Drink with a light chill; best 2014- 2018. Sara d’Amato – As critics, we try to be as objective as possible when evaluating a wine and often leave our personal preferences out of the equation. However, every once in a while we take delight in finding a wine that we would happily drink all night. This French-inspired shiraz from Chapoutier really floats my boat with its peppery, floral and musky fragrance on a medium-bodied frame with a surprising amount of complexity for the price. David Lawrason – I liked this Rhonish take on shiraz so much when it was first released late last year that I decided to go to the vineyard while visiting Australia in January. And I hope soon to publish much more about Chapoutier’s adventure in the Pyrenees.

Grant Burge 2010 The Holy Trinity Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvèdre, Barossa, South Australia ($30.95) John Szabo – A big, dense, rich but juicy and balanced GSM blend from the premium range of the reliable Grant Burge. Lovely stuff and well worth a look for fans of savoury, rich reds, best 2014-2020. Sara d’Amato – Lovers of fine Châteauneuf-du-Pape, rejoice! The Holy Trinity is back on VINTAGES shelves, delivering all that wonderful southern Rhone charm in its inspired blend, with a modern and accessible feel for a very competitive price. David Lawrason – This continues to shine as one the quintessential GSMs of Australia. Great complexity here, almost an aromatic peacock’s tail with all kinds of fruity and savoury delights. Generous yet also composed.

Double Alignment

La Cappuccina 2013 Soave, Veneto Italy ($15.95) John Szabo – Clean, crisp, stony and savoury-fruity, this is a well-balanced and food-friendly Italian white with an extra measure of depth and complexity. Chill and enjoy. David Lawrason – I have had richer, deeper Soave but this tender, pretty example has charm and authenticity and it will glide beautifully with an elegant summer fish course or pasta primavera. Youthful charm here.

Tyrrell’s HVD 2012 Single Vineyard Chardonnay, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia ($23.95) Sara d’Amato – The wines of Australia’s oldest wine region, Hunter Valley, rarely fail to excite me – they are often nervy with great depth, esoteric in nature and almost always intriguing. Here is a sophisticated find that has a sensual restraint and a deliciously taught and youthful nature.  The highly decorated, Tyrell winery is one of Australia’s leading family-owned estates and one of its oldest, dating back over a century and a half. David Lawrason – HVD makes this sound like some new flat screen TV. But it is actually an ingenious take on Hunter chardonnay that takes its phrasing from Hunter semillon – lower alcohol, great acid grip and refinement. Not at all what you might expect from Aussie chard, and riveting.

Tiefenbrunner 2013 Pinot Grigio, IGT Delle Venezie, Alto Adige, Italy ($18.95) Sara d’Amato – A stunning pinot grigio (an adjective I rarely use to describe the often innocuous wine produced from this varietal) from white wine specialist Tiefenbrunner, whose estate is nestled in a picturesque alpine hamlet. The palate features an abundance of lovely, very pure fruit, authentic floral aromas, a hint of spice and a surprising amount of complexity. Enjoy as an aperitif or with seared scallops. David Lawrason – I cannot imagine a better, brighter sipping white well chilled on a hot summer day. Mountain fresh and pure from a house that has long shown the way in Italy’s sub-alpine Sudtirol.

La Cappuccina 2013Tyrrell's Hvd Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2012Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2013Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Kilikanoon Killerman's Run Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Wynns Coonawarra Estate 2010 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia ($27.95)  John Szabo – This is one wine I’m always happy to see return to the shelves. I’m a fan of Sue Hodder’s beautifully balanced wines, and the iconic Black Label cabernet is one of those rare wines you can enjoy relatively young, or forget in the cellar for a couple of decades and rediscover with a smile and the promise of a great mature wine experience. Fifty vintages have amply proven its longevity. David Lawrason – Not a hair out of place. It’s not a profound, gutsy earth-moving cabernet but it rings with authenticity and brims with fruit. Winemaker Sue Hodder has a generous yet refined touch.

Kilikanoon 2012 Killerman’s Run Cabernet Sauvignon, Clare Valley, South Australia ($19.95) John Szabo – Kilikanoon’s proprietor Kevin Mitchell isn’t afraid to throw about the term terroir, often shunned in Aussie wine circles as an unnecessary evocation of that other country. Does this reflect terroir? I’d say emphatically yes, conjuring up the cooler, high elevation vineyards of the valley and the resulting freshness and firmness. It’s not a monument to complexity, but all of the necessary components are accounted for, so drink now or hold to 2019. Sara d’Amato – Not on the radar until the late 90s, Killakanoon has fast risen to one of the most internationally exported and successful wine stories in Australia. This impressive cabernet is succulent with a lovely purity of fruit and shows restraint in both the alcohol and oak departments. Balanced, nicely structured and a wine that can both be enjoyed now or within the next five years.

Szabo’s Smart Buys

Braschi Albana Di Romagna 2012TERREDORA DI PAOLO LOGGIA DELLA SERRA GRECO DI TUFO 2012Terredora Di Paola 2012 Loggia Della Serra Greco Di Tufo, Campania, Italy ($20.95). Terredora was established by a branch of the iconic Mastroberardino family in 1978, and today offers a selection of native Campanian wines at the top end of the quality scale. The 2012 Greco in the “vineyard collection” is a little leaner than past vintages, but aromatic, stony and savoury, with a nice mix of resinous herbs and citrus fruit. This is very good, minerally wine for genuine wine drinkers, not party sippers, best 2014-2020.

Braschi 2012 Albana Di Romagna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy ($18.95). From the Braschi San Mamante ‘cru’ at 150m asl, don’t judge this wine too hastily – at first it will come across as slightly oxidized and tannic, but consider it instead in the ancient context of skin contact whites –  whites made like reds. A short period of maceration is sufficient to yield a lightly astringent, light topaz-orange – coloured wine with fruit shifted into the herbal, wet hay, cold tea and dried apricot/peach spectrum – idiosyncratic but highly compelling. Try now with protein – cheese or meat, even red meat, or revisit in 203 years for a fully developed expression.

Brokenwood Maxwell Semillon 2007Nugan King Valley Frasca's Lane Chardonnay 2012Brokenwood 2007 Maxwell Vineyard Semillon, Hunter Valley, Australia ($47.95). This wine pretty much stole the show at the LCBO lab as I tasted through the wines on offer. It’s an “In Store Discovery” so won’t be available everywhere, but for fanatics of totally unique and ageworthy whites it’s worth the drive. This is not even Brokenwood’s top Semillon (that’s the ILR reserve), but beautifully captures the spirit of the grape/place combination: still tightly wound at seven years of age, with aromatics that seem to have barely budged since bottling. There’s such tremendous length and depth, not to mention complexity, with is even more amazing considering it has just 11.5% alcohol – the voodoo-magic of Hunter Semillon. Don’t even think of opening for another 3-5 years, preferably 10.

Nugan 2012 King Valley Frasca’s Lane Chardonnay, King Valley, Victoria, Australia ($19.95). King Valley may be building a reputation for Italian varieties, but Nugan’s chardonnay is worth a look. It’s made in a fullish, rich but balanced style, with a fine, toasty-nutty note, lightly leesy and bread dough flavour, and vibrant acids. This is smart winemaking with wide appeal.

Sara D’Amato’s Picks

San Silvestro Fossili Gavi Di Gavi 2012Donnachiara 2012 Fiano Di AvellinoDonnachiara Fiano Di Avellino 2012, Campania, Italy ($21.95). I always like to make mention of a strong female presence in the wine industry and owner Ilaria Petitto is just that – young, articulate and with an accomplished business background. But besides this fact, the wine is evidence of keen winemaking and a sensitive appreciation of traditional varietals grown on home soils.  The winery focuses on the preservation of indigenous varietals and reaching back to traditional methods of production. Try with a mushroom risotto.

San Silvestro Fossili 2012 Gavi di Gavi, Piedmont, Italy ($16.95). Gavi is produced from the cortese varietal which has the potential to produce some pretty beautiful wine – lovely, feminine, floral and percolating with acidity. After many disappointing examples in previous releases, I’m please to have found an example worth recommending. This goosebump-inducing version is refreshing, challenging, sincere and classic. A terrific value.

Best Ontario Sommelier Competition

CAPSHave you ever been served by an amazing Sommelier? Ever wonder what it takes to be the BEST Sommelier in the Province?  Find out June 22 at the BEST ONTARIO SOMMELIER COMPETITION. Attending the competition is free. Watch as the three finalists are put through their paces with Decanting Service, Champagne Service, Food and Wine Pairing, and Blind Tasting. Following the competition is a walk-around wine tasting ($5) featuring international and Ontario wines; all proceeds go to help the winning Sommelier with travel expenses to the Americas competition (Mendoza, Argentina 2015) and hopefully the Worlds (2016).

The Gala Dinner ($150) includes a silent auction, cocktail reception and a four course dinner prepared by Oliver and Bonacini, with, of course, tons of wine, and an after party.

This event only takes place once every two years.

When:     June 22, 2014

Where:   Arcadian Court, Toronto

Competition 1:00-3:00
Wine tasting 3:00-5:00
Cocktail Reception 5:00-7:00
Dinner 7:00-10:00, After Party 10:00 -

Purchase Tickets here

Upcoming Court of Master Sommelier Courses

CMSMontreal (Level I) June 1-2, L’ Auberge Saint- Gabriel, 426 Rue Saint-Gabriel Old Montreal

Toronto (Level I & II), August 23-25th, The Air Canada Centre

Level I ($525 US) Introductory Course & Exam. Includes a fast paced review for a day and a half with a theory exam at the end of the second day. Candidates should have been employed in wine service for a minimum of three years, although this is not mandatory.

Level II ($325 US)Certified Sommelier Exam, a one-day exam only with no classroom work.

Register for courses here

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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

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