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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – September

Fall for Dark Spirits – the apple of my eye
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

As we head into fall, I start sipping more dark spirits. None speaks of the season in Canada to me better than Calvados, the wonderful apple brandy best known from Normandy. Our apple harvest means freshly baked apple pies, hot apple cider and the tangy crunch of newly picked apples. We also have a few distillers making apple eau-de-vie or brandy.

Dillon’s Distillers in Ontario is working on an apple eau-de-vie and has recently come out with a pear one made from Niagara Bartlett pears. Michel Jodoin Calijo is an apple brandy from Quebec. Canados (play on the word Calvados) mainly distilled from BC Hyslop crab apples and aged in oak, made by Okanagan spirits in BC is an apple brandy that I’ve enjoyed in the past. As soon as I get samples to critique them for WineAlign, I’ll be posting reviews.

Meanwhile I have a selection of fine Calvados to recommend. Normandy in northwest France is the home of Calvados, the world’s premier apple brandy as well as a Norman cuisine rich in cream and butter. Between dishes and meals, a calvados — or “Trou Normand” — is said to aid digestion. All over the region, producers will happily invite you in for a nip. Boulard, one of the most famous, has a restaurant onsite with tables inside giant barrels. www.calvados-boulard.com

Pâpidoux Fine Calvados Calvados Lecompte 5 Year Old Calvados Boulard Pays d'AugeThe finest Normandy apple brandy bears the Appellation Calvados Pays d’Auge Contrôlée label and is produced only from apples grown in the Pays d’Auge. The quality and variety of the Auge apples is second to none and the small size of the area is constantly kept in check, enhancing the rarity factor. In addition, the production of cider and the required double distillation must be carried out within the geographical boundaries of the Auge region in order to be considered part of the appellation d’origine contrôlée or “AOC”.

Founded in 1825, the company Calvados Boulard has been passed down from generation to generation and is now in the hands of Vincent Boulard, the great great grandson of founder Pierre-Auguste. Grand Solage Boulard Calvados Pays d’Auge is double distilled in copper stills over an open flame, from up to 120 different apple varieties, then matured in oak.

Calvados Lecompte 5 Year Old, is aged 5 years in oak, double distilled and from the revered Calvados de Pays d’Auge appellation too. Calvados Domaine Dupont V.S.O.P. from Pays d’Auge has subtle yet persistent cider apple notes with a cognac like character. Pâpidoux Calvados Fine has a youthful apple and alcohol hit best showcased in a cocktail.

The most recognized type of brandy is made from grapes of course. Remy Martin of France, which has been making cognac (from distilled grapes of the region) since 1724, is one of the most famous. Remy Martin VSOP, the leader in Europe and North America in the VSOP segment of the cognac market, is a classic which while lovely on its own, but also makes a superb cocktail.

Remy Martin VSOP Cognac Carlos I Gran Reserva E&J XO Brandy

A sweeter, more old wood, mellow style can be found in Spanish brandies especially Carlos I Gran Reserva from Jerez at about half the price. E&J XO Brandy from Gallo in America is so smooth and sweet it almost tastes candied.

Vintages in Ontario teamed up with Dalmore Highland single malt earlier this year to present a rare Constellation Collection tasting at the National Club in Toronto. Master Blender Richard Paterson led the tasting of four single-vintage, single cask bottlings from 1992, 1989, 1973 and 1966. Cost for the dinner evening at $495 per person might have seemed steep, if one didn’t know the price of these bottles. Starting at $5,266 a bottle for the 1992 up to $48,297 for the 1966 the offer was an event exclusive so I won’t tease you with my in-depth tasting notes. Suffice to say the flavours namely the porty, chocolate notes of the 1992, the marmalade hit of the 1989, the more oaky cognac like 1973 and the cinnamon, coffee, nutmeg aspects of the 1966 were all distinctive and memorable.

Drambuie Dalmore 12 Years Old Highland Single MaltWhether they are worth the cost is relative to the depth of your wealth. The only 200 bottles of this 1966 were produced for the world. A complete Dalmore Constellation Collection of 21 individual bottles created between the years 1964 and 1992 (not all years are represented and some are twice but from different casks) goes for $300,000 and apparently buyers in BC and Alberta have already ponied up. This was the collections first foray into Ontario. No word yet on how much sold but the LCBO did have buyers waiting to pounce.

Dalmore established in 1839 north of Inverness on the shores of the Cromarty Firth is a classic Highland malt. The distillery warehouses feature some of the oldest whisky stocks in the world. Dalmore 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt, the epitome of the Dalmore style is the more accessible, affordable spirit in its line-up.

Another great Scottish drink is Drambuie – I always have a bottle in my liquor cabinet for making cocktails. To make a hot apple toddy with this elixir of scotch, spices and heather honey: mix two ounces of Drambuie with 6 ounces of hot apple cider. Squeeze in the juice of one lemon wedge, add a cinnamon stick and serve in a coffee glass.

Sláinte!

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can read Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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Ontario wine is busting out all over.. and our critic’s pick their fave’s

Ontario Wine Report – 2014 VintageSept. 11, 2014

by David Lawrason with notes Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

It’s that time of year to zero in on the fruits of labours past, and Ontario winemakers and wine lovers should be pretty pleased at the moment. On to vintage 2014 in a moment, but we are now enjoying some cracker cooler clime 2013 whites and richer 2012 reds (the best balanced hot vintage wines to date).

But first to tasting and buying opportunities. On Saturday VINTAGES releases a chunk of notable Ontario wines, which John Szabo covered right here. Meanwhile the folks across the hall on the General List side of the soon-to-be-sold LCBO HQ launched an Ontario TasteLocal promotion of their own, with a youth-oriented tasting on Queen Street West before Labour Day, and a release of new wines as well, although many are marketing driven commercial blends or less expensive varietals of little real interest.

Looking ahead, The Niagara Grape and Wine Festival launches Sept 13 with three full weekends of tastings and events at www.niagarawinefestivals.com. And Wine Country Ontario is gearing up for its big annual downtown Toronto VINTAGES-sponsored tasting of over 100 wines at the Royal Ontario Museum on October 2. See Taste Ontario at www.vintages.com. So no excuses not to find wine to taste.

On a political level, things are also perking along for wider distribution of Canadian wine. At the recent premiers conference in Charlottetown PEI,  B.C. Premier Christy Clark managed to squeeze a commitment out of Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne that within a year Ontario would do something about opening its borders to the direct import of B.C. wine for personal consumption. (B.C. already allows Ont wine to be direct shipped). We await the details and timelines, but as I have said all along – go ahead and order it anyway. The feds made it legal in June 2012.

Just before that announcement, the C.D. Howe Institute endorsed greater competition and privatization of wine sales in the province http://www.cdhowe.org/uncorking-a-strange-brew-the-need-for-more-competition-in-ontarios-alcoholic-beverage-retailing-system/27217, which would suit The Wine Council of Ontario just fine. It has rightly and bravely been promoting the sale of both domestic and imported wines in private wine shops in Ontario at www.pairsperfectly.com.

And finally, in the vineyard, where it all counts for quality, Ontario winemakers are also breathing a bit easier for the 2014 vintage. The frigid winter played havoc with exposed (un-buried) vines, reducing crop levels, and severely damaging winter sensitive varieties like merlot, sauvignon blanc and syrah. Some Lake Erie vineyards will have only 10% of their normal crop! A late spring and coolish summer had ripening set back by a couple of weeks, with enough rain and humidity to make it a typically challenging Ontario season. But the last ten days of above average temperatures have helped. Harvesting of earliest varieties could be underway momentarily. C’mon September, play nice!

As you contemplate all this, and decide to enjoy Ontario wines along with Ontario corn, tomatos, peaches and plums, Sara and I offer our thoughts on some of the more interesting Ontario wines encountered this season – no matter where and how encountered – although we draw heavily from the platinum and gold medal ranks of the WineAlign National Wine Awards judged in June (full results here). Some may be on the shelf under your nose, others might require some web-surfing or a weekend in wine country. Some are ground-breaking, some are controversial, some are excellent quality – but none are boring.

David Lawrason’s Picks

Hidden Bench 2011 Tete De Cuvee Chardonnay,
Beamsville Bench, $45.20
Hubbs Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2011 Peller Estates Private Reserve Gamay Noir 2012 No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason DziverTasting blind, I didn’t know what had hit me during the preliminary round of the National Wine Awards but this brilliant, profound and concentrated chardonnay almost knocked me out of my chair – as it did panel mate Bill Zacharkiw of Montreal. So how it missed a platinum in the second round – and settled for gold – is beyond me. Maybe however it won’t sell out as quickly. Don’t you miss it if you get a chance.

Peller Estates 2012 Gamay Reserve, Niagara Peninsula, $18.90
With an Ontario Lieutenant-Governor’s Award and a gold at the National Wine Awards of Canada, Peller’s Reserve Gamay by winemaker Katie Dickenson (who took over in 2012)  leaps to the head of a genre in Ontario that many are yet to embrace.  During the LG Awards a panelist asked if one could really take this out into the world as an example of excellence in Ontario wine. To which I replied – yes, and I would take it straight to Beaujolais.

Hubbs Creek 2011 Pinot Noir, Prince Edward County, $28.90
I put this National Wine Awards silver medalist on my list not so much for what it is now (a solid 90 point, beautifully integrated county pinot) but for what it represents and will be.  The 2012 awaiting release in the months ahead is clearly a 90+, and it stems from committed high density viticulture by owner John Battista Calvieri.  Although the 1000 case winery has only produced three vintages, some of the vines, planted in some of the County’s stoniest soils on Danforth Road, date back to 2002.  The ring of County authenticity is loud and clear.

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver

Exultet 2013 Pinot GrigioExultet Pinot Grigio 2013, Prince Edward County, $30.00
I had three head turning experiences with mineral driven County pinot gris this summer – a finely tuned 2013 by Hubbs Creek above, an excellent Alsatian styled, mineral-driven Grange of Prince Edward 2012 and this amazing and delicious and profound yet light on its feet “Grigio” by Exultet.  It is the best pinot gris I have yet had from Ontario and yes, worth the brave price of $30.

Tawse 2012 Carly’s Block Riesling,  Beamsville Bench, $31.95
With a second consecutive Lt Governors Award and a Platinum at the National Wine Awards there can be little doubt that Carly’s Block – named for Moray Tawse’s daughter –  planted in 1978 and now farmed biodynamically, is one of the greatest riesling sites in the province.  This is scintillating riesling, and particularly notable for 9.8%, a direction more Niagara riesling producers need to go.

Sara D’Amato’s Picks

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason DziverTawse 2011 Robyn’s Block ChardonnayNo Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver, Twenty Mile Bench, ($45.95)
This is a serious cool climate endeavor; one that has helped put Ontario on the map as a world-class chardonnay producer. With locally trained winemaker Paul Pender at the helm, the wines of Tawse are afforded a real sense of place and benefit from a superb collection of carefully chosen sites.  The Robyn’s block is the oldest of the winery’s estate plantings and is home to 30 year-old chardonnay vines. The quality of the fruit is immediately evident on the nose alone as is the quality of the French oak in which it spends a full year. Rich and with enviable depth and complexity, this top local chardonnay is one of those wines I like to bring abroad to showcase what we do best.

Eastdell Estates 2011 Black Label Shiraz By Diamond Estates, Niagara Peninsula, ($19.95)
Cool climate syrahs certainly turned heads at the National Wine Awards this year and the category was one of my favourite to judge. Syrah’s pepper, musky loveliness can be muted in warmer years or climates. It takes a very sensitive understanding of the varietal to find just the right location where it will thrive and a deft hand to know when it is ready to harvest. This lip-smacking, sensually inviting example from a longer growing season, delivers exotic spice, freshly ground pepper, black fruit and succulent sour cherries to the palate. Finish of great length is pleasantly earthy and musky.

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason DziverFlat Rock Cellars 2012 Gravity Pinot NoirNo Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver, Twenty Mile Bench, ($30.15)
There are so many astounding, utterly compelling pinot noirs to be found now as the ages of vines increases in Niagara and as we focus more fine-tuning and small batch production. Flat Rock Cellars Gravity pinot noir is one of those iconic examples, which offers terrific complexity, lovely dimension, and, in this warmer vintage, a beautifully lifted nose of wildflowers and cherry. Locally trained Winemaker Jay Johnston has made his rounds of Ontario wineries and has now settled into this well-suited role at Flat Rock producing expressive wines with grace and poise.

Chateau Des Charmes 2012 Cabernet Franc, St. David’s Bench Vineyard, Niagara, ($25.95)
The Bosc family has been producing wine in their well-established locale in St. David’s Bench, just outside Niagara-on-the-Lake, for over 35 years. One of the founding families of quality wine production in Ontario, and developers of new and unique clones, appealing wines with “charm” have become a hallmark of their portfolio. This lovely cabernet franc exhibits grace, balance and elegance along with the pepper and perfume typical to perfectly ripened cool climate styles.

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason DziverHidden Bench 2012 Roman’s Block Rosomel Vineyard RieslingNo Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver, Beamsville Bench,  ($32.00)
Such a small amount of this site specific riesling was produced and we should all be glad this project came to fruition. This impressive result features a palate which is zesty and pure with an abundance of mineral and delicate layers of floral and tender fruit. Ethereal, nervy and distinctively Niagara.

Niagara College Teaching Winery 2012 Dean’s List Prodigy Icewine, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario ($43.00)
Niagara College Teaching Winery has graduated many of Ontario’s most talented winemakers and has a fully operational winery teaming with students anxious to learn the ropes. Birthed from such a dynamic and experimental setting comes this exquisite Icewine. So much complexity has been coaxed out of this vidal, a grape known more for its hardiness than its intricacy, delivering concentrated notes of honey, dried herbs, soy sauce and balsamic. A distinctive and truly memorable feat exhibiting terrific balance which makes you feel like you can have more than just a sip or two.

And that’s it for now. In the days ahead John Szabo will be publishing a special report on Niagara riesling, which many claim is the single best wine that Ontario makes.

Cheers
David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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


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Natural Wine may be an idea, but it’s a good one

The Caveman Speaks
By Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

I had a few friends over for dinner when one of my buddies started to grill me about my love for Beaujolais. These aren’t wine connoisseurs, rather folks who just to love to eat and drink. I went on  about the greatness of good Bojo but tasting is believing, so I went down to my cellar and brought up a 2006 Moulin à Vent from one of my favourite wine makers, Yvon Métras.

I poured everyone a glass. The bouquet hovered somewhere in between geranium leaves, beet juice and bacon. “This is weird,” was the first comment offered up.

I told everyone to chill out, swirl their glass a bit, and as the wine opened up, the fruit started to show itself, alongside an intense minerality. The initial aromatic weirdness drifted into the background and each sip seemed to offer up some variation on the theme. The wine was at times challenging, but after the bottle was emptied, the consensus was that while strange, this was one of the more memorable wines they had drunk.

I wonder if I wasn’t there, how many people would have got past that first sniff. “Are all Beaujolais like this?” I was asked. My response, “Well, not exactly.”

Métras makes what is loosely defined as “natural wine.” While organics and biodynamics are concerned primarily with the way that grapes are grown, “natural wine” is all about the wine making. Influenced by French wine maker Jules Chauvet in the 1970’s, proponents of this approach believe that the wine maker should intervene as little as possible when making their wines. In a perfect world, that would mean harvesting and crushing the grapes, allowing them to ferment with indigenous yeasts, ageing the wine in whatever vessel the wine maker chooses, and then putting it in bottle with as little sulfites as possible, or preferably, none at all.

This is the image that the wine industry wants the consumer to have about winemaking. The reality is that modern day winemakers have an arsenal of tools at their disposal to make their wines. Some of these are relatively innocuous and are considered as much a part of making wine as crushing grapes. Cultured yeasts are used to do such things as boost aromatics and finish ferments of high alcohol wines. Sulfur Dioxide and sterile filtration stabilize the wine by removing any lingering bacteria. Tartaric acid is added to adjust over-ripe grapes, as is powdered tannin. Sugar is used to raise alcohol levels (chapitalization), or simply sweeten the wine.

But there are many others which are even more intrusive. Enzymes are added during fermentation to do everything from help clarify the wine to boosting aromatics. Water is used to dilute over concentrated juice, woodchips and oils are employed to flavour the wine. Gum arabic adds texture. Products like Mega Purple colour, flavour and alter the texture of the wine. I could go on and on. And this is not even going into more mechanical interventions such as reverse osmosis (used to concentrate wines), de-alcoholizing machines, and micro-oxydation (adding oxygen during fermentation to soften tannins).

Thierry Allemand

Thierry Allemand in Cornas – a great example of a winemaker who makes wines as natural as possible

And these interventions are not limited to inexpensive bulk wines. Reverse Osmosis and micro-oxydation machines are rampant all over Bordeaux. In California, Ridge’s Paul Draper has spoken out against all the monkeying around with high end wines in California, and has voluntarily added ingredients on his wine’s back labels.

While many believe that wine has never been better, I’m not one of them. I taste a minimum 100 wines a week, have done so for years, and while my chief complaint would be that I find a standardized taste and texture, which bores the hell out of me, some are in fact so incongruent that they are bad.

This is what has led me to my love for more “natural” wines. Now there are probably more critics of these wines than there are proponents. Most revolve around the “I’ve tasted natural wines and they are shit.” Fine, but bad wines are everywhere.

I have drunk hundreds of such bottles over the years, and different bottles of the same winemaker and from the same vintage can vary, at times quite a lot. While a small percentage have definitely taken the wrong fork in the road, especially those without added SO2, the vast majority have what I look for in a wine: complexity, drinkability and while difficult to translate, a certain energy. These wines just feel alive.

The other criticism is that unlike organics, there are no rules, no certification, no real definition as to what is a natural wine. The latest criticism I read was by Tom Wark on his blog Fermentations, where he once again decried the lack of a definition as to what is “natural wine.” You can read the post here.

Wark made one very interesting observation: that “natural wine” is an idea, and not a thing. And in that he is dead-on, even though he sees this as a negative. What is wrong with an idea, especially in the context of how the bulk of wines are being made today? More and more people are gravitating towards natural wines, and I believe it is because they want less standardization, less additives, and a truer sense of place and time.

Disregarding those natural wines that are poorly made, and they do exist, logic says to me that by not manipulating the juice, and by using the yeasts that are there, will offer up a truer picture of the vineyards and the vintage. Of course this means that good grape growing becomes even more important, but that’s another issue.

This flies in the face of the philosophy of the modern wine industry, which often places more importance on reducing the variations from vintage to vintage than showing them. Consumers, the industry believes, want a consistent taste from one bottle to the next. They might be right.

But not me. I understand that wine is a business, and the approach that natural wine makers take cannot be copied by large-scale wineries. There is too much risk. Too much money involved. But the aim should be to translate the uniqueness of each growing site into the eventual wine. I could care less if the wine is faultless. If only more took to heart the spirit of Chauvet’s disciples: as natural as possible.

So what to drink? If you have a wine bar near you that specializes in these wines, go and try them. And if you are looking for a few wines to try at home, here are some wines where the winemakers do it right. (Contact the Agent listed if you are having trouble finding these wines in your province.)

Azienda Agricola Cos Cerasuolo Di Vittoria Classico 2010Domaine Thymiopoulos XinomavroFrom Greece, this wine has mentioned a number of times by myself and my fellow critics.  Thymiopoulos does makes non-sulphured wines, but they all go to Paris. But try his Jeunes Vignes, in Quebec, we are lucky to have it at the SAQ.

One of my favourite wines I have tasted over the last 2 years is COS’ 2010 Cerasuolo. Beaujolais-cru like in texture and fruit. Simply delicious.

No discussion about natural wine is complete without mentioning the name of Marcel Lapierre. While he has passed on, his son Mathieu has taken the reigns and is making wine in a way which honours his dad. While best known for his Morgon, his Vin de Pays Raisins Gaulois Gamay is equally fresh and delicious. Keep this at 14C and enjoy!

If you want a bigger wine, look no further than Vieille Julienne’s 2012 Côtes du Rhône, Clavin. Drinks well now and will celler admirably. Bring on whatever meat you want.

On a similar track as the Vieille Julienne is Château Trolliet Lafite’s 2009 Côtes De Bergerac. It’s the Bordeaux varieties but with a southern rusticity. Interesting, flavourful and eminently drinkable.

Like cabernet franc? Try Chateau Yvonne’s La Folie,  The more evocative and delicate side of the grape that drinks well on its own, yet still shows enough muscle for the table. Try it with chicken brochettes and tatziki!

Domaine Marcel Lapierre Raisins Gaulois 2013Domaine De La Vieille Julienne Lieu Dit Clavin 2012Château Trolliet Lafite 2009Château Yvonne La Folie 2011Domaine Baudry Les Grezeaux 2010Christophe Pacalet Chiroubles 2011

For readers from British Columbia, my colleague Treve Ring has suggested these natural beauties that are available in your province: Try Domaine Baudry Les Grezeaux 2010 or Christophe Pacalet Chiroubles 2011.

Until next time.

Bill

“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

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


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New at the LCBO for August

The latest general listings & current features
by Steve Thurlow with selections from Sara d’Amato

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

It may sometimes seem as though nothing really changes at the LCBO – the most popular wines are always there. But in fact new wines are constantly being added to the General List to replace wines that fail to achieve sales targets or have been removed or “delisted” for other reasons. This keeps the current number of wines available at around 1500. Over the last couple of months we have tasted about 50 new arrivals and have chosen 13 of them to highlight for you.

To check on inventory at your local LCBO set up your Favourite Store in Find Wine. You can find our 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 newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great value wines!

Reds and a Rosé

Radio Boka Tempranillo 2012, Valencia, Spain $11.00

A midweight balanced tempranillo red from Spain’s eastern region; should be great with a rack of lamb.

Sella & Mosca Rosato 2013, Alghero, Sardinia, Italy $11.65

A deep salmon pink rose with lots of flavour, made from the cannonau or grenache grape grown throughout this Mediterranean island.

Tons De Duorum Red 2011, Douro Valley, Portugal $12.30

An excellent BBQ red; fruity, flavourful with some structure. The new wave of reds from Portugal’s port country offer some of the best values today.

Radio Boka Tempranillo 2012Sella & Mosca Rosato 2013Tons De Duorum Red 2011Vina Leyda Reserva Pinot Noir 2012

Vina Leyda Reserva Pinot Noir 2012, Leyda Valley, Chile $12.50

A soft fragrant, juicy and very flavourful pinot noir from the exciting, new cool coastal Leyda Valley.

Pessoa Da Vinha Reserva Douro 2010 Portugal $12.70

Exceptional value for a fragrant structured dense fruity red. Another great Douro buy.

Castel Freres Haury Grenache Petite Edition 2011, Vin De France $12.70

A generous, supple, spicy and flavourful grenache from the generic Vin de France appellation.

Pessoa Da Vinha Reserva Douro 2010Castel Freres Haury Grenache Petite Edition 2011Wakefield Promised Land Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Figuero Tinto 4 Tempranillo 2012

Wakefield Promised Land Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 South Australia $14.85

A soft vibrant juicy cabernet. Loads of flavour here.

Figuero Tinto 4 Tempranillo 2012 Ribera del Duero, Spain $17.75

A great price for a classy elegant red for fine dining.

Whites and a Sparkling

Periquita White 2013, Portugal $8.80

A fruity fragrant white made from indigenous Portuguese grape varieties, that is ideal for mildly flavoured seafood.

Laroche Viognier De La Chevaliere 2013 Pays D’Oc France $12.70

A rich powerful viognier – the queen of the Rhone whites varieties – with strong aromas and flavours.

Winzer Krems Sandgrube 13 Grüner Veltliner 2013 Kremstal, Austria $12.80

A good entry-level gruner – Austria’s signature white – with a typical white pepper spice tone to nose and palate.

Periquita White 2013Laroche Viognier De La Chevaliere 2013Winzer Krems Sandgrube 13 Grüner Veltliner 2013Cavas Hill 1887 BrutSilver Bay Riesling Gewurztraminer 2013

Cavas Hill 1887 Brut, Penedes, Spain $13.20

Bright, cheerful and dry sparkling Spanish Cava with a lightness befitting the warmer months.

Silver Bay Riesling Gewurztraminer 2013 VQA Ontario $13.95

New from the Speck brothers of Henry of Pelham fame, this is a fruity, fresh and fun, rather simple but with good varietal character in an elegant beachy package.

*****

Feel free to share your feedback on these wines or on any of your favourties. We’ll be back in a few weeks time with our Top 20 Under $20. In the meanwhile  if you still need picks, check our my list of Top 50 wine values by dipping into the Top 50 LCBO and Vintages Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste.

Cheers,
Steve Thurlow


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Spirits to Sing About

The Spirits Review
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

For another man it would be a hard act to follow. When Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Sammy Hagar expanded his repertoire to launch Cabo Wabo tequila he struck it rich, very rich. The brand was inspired by his Cabo Wabo nightclub which opened in 1990 in Cabos San Lucas. It’s a rocking party place that’s a must go for everyone who visits the Baja California peninsula in Mexico.

Said Hagar, “Cabo Wabo is a lifestyle. Something that requires only a willingness to enjoy your life and embrace all that makes you happy.” And oh boy do people party there, I can attest.

Cabo Wabo Tequila was born in 1996 on the back roads of Guadalajara when Hagar went searching for a tequila exceptional enough to serve inside his cantina in Cabo San Lucas. He partnered with a tequila-making family with over 80 years of experience where the agave used to make Cabo Wabo is grown, cultivated and harvested by this same family.

In May, 2007 Hagar sold an 80% interest in Cabo Wabo Tequila to Gruppo Campari, the world’s sixth-largest spirits company, for $80 million. In in 2010, Sammy Hagar sold his remaining 20% stake in Cabo Wabo to Campari for $11 million.

Sammy's Beach Bar RumThat’s a pretty profit. The 66 year old now ranks among the highest-net-worth rock stars. So what’s he doing now? For act two in the spirit world, he’s launched a rum from Maui, Hawaii called Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum. Distilled from two year old Maui Gold Sugar Cane using unique column stills it’s bound to be a success.

When I asked Hagar, the multi-platinum former front man of hard rock champions Van Halen, if he was going to write a rum song, he said “After Mas Tequila, it’s a hard act to follow.” (Cabo Wabo Cantina was where the video for the 1999 hit song “Mas Tequila” from the Red Voodoo album was filmed.) I’m not sure I believe him. His next acts seem as strong if not stronger than the previous ones.

I had the pleasure to meet the fun loving Hagar in Toronto during his promotional tour for the launch of his rum in Canada. He quipped, “When you work for me it’s mandatory to drink.” Where do I sign up? For more on him go to: www.redrocker.com

Hagar’s right on target with today’s tastes. All deluxe white spirits are trending up: rum, vodka and gin.

Barbancourt 5 Stars 8 Year Old Reserve takes pride in producing rum from sugar cane juice instead of molasses which is the norm. Barbancourt rum produced in Haiti since 1862 is double distilled in pot stills and aged in French Limousin oak barrels. This well-aged version is lovely.

Appleton Estate ReserveRhum Barbancourt 5 Stars 8 Yo Special ReserveAppleton Estate Reserve rum is a smooth, full and flavoursome rum. Visiting the estate itself is more on the rough side. The distillery is in the picturesque Nassau Valley in St. Elizabeth in the interior of the island. Almost as soon as we left the protective walls of the Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall (our base on the island), we were in what I like to call the un-sanitized Caribbean.

The narrow, twisting road had a raging case of potholes, with sharp edges that slashed at our tires (and did manage to puncture one). The verdant countryside was teaming with life: huge bamboo groves, towering palms, fruit trees of all sorts and fields of agricultural crops. Amidst the green were houses – many wood shacks in colourful shades of robin egg blue, chartreuse, bright yellow and the like with corrugated zinc roofs; others imposing cement McMansions with several storey’s either completed or in the works and not yet painted. Cows, goats and chickens scurried about the yards.

Along with schools, each town we passed had its share of churches, largely Seventh-day Adventist and charismatic types where singing and dancing are part of the service. Beside just about every church was a rum bar, many painted with the slogan “Show me the Wray”. (Wray and Nephew Ltd own Appleton Distillery.) “We like to sooth both spirits,” explained Joy Spence, master blender at Appleton.

This colourful countryside was a captivating prelude to our Appleton Tour and almost before we knew it we had arrived. Joy met us and began our tour by taking us up the hillside to gaze upon the over 4,000 hectares of sugar cane fields owned by the distillery. These fields supply the entire base product needed for Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum. This single estate in a small circumscribed geographic area makes Appleton one of the few rum brands in the world to claim a “terroir”.

And the “terroir” of the Nassau Valley is unique. The valley’s fertile fields enjoy a regular afternoon rain shower and warm sunshine – the optimum conditions to grow sugar cane – a giant grass belonging to the genus saccharum. The valley is also part of Jamaica’s world famous Cockpit Country, a Karst formation which was formed over millions of years. (Karst is a generic name given to limestone that has been eroded by the chemical action of rain.)  There are just three Cockpit Karst formations in the world; the others are in Montenegro and China. The hilly landscape looks like an egg carton turned upside down.

Once the cane is harvested, it’s brought to the factory where the sugar manufacturing process begins. Animals are not encouraged to go anywhere near this factory. We saw a sign that proclaimed “Goats will be shot, cows impounded.” When asked about that, Joy replied with a laugh, “Jamaicans like curry goat a lot more than beef.”

The cane is washed, chopped and milled to extract the cane’s sweet juice. The juice that is extracted is boiled to make a syrup. The fibres (bagasse) that are left behind after the juice is extracted are used to fuel the factory’s boilers. Sugar crystals are spun out of the syrup and molasses is left; the latter is what’s used to make rum.

Ten tons of sugar cane makes one ton of sugar and 0.4 tons of molasses. From that 30 cases of rum can be made.

As part of the tour we got to grind the juice out of some sugar cane and sample the result. We also tasted the syrupy mixture of sugar crystals and molasses. We toured the distillation area with its pot stills and continuous stills; a hot part of the plant filled with the aromas of molasses. We cooled down in the aging cellar, stacked with old barrels and intriguing smells of its own.  Then of course it was time to sip the range of rums. Joy called her seminar “The Joy of Rum” no pun intended.

We learned that sugar cane was brought from Papua New Guinea to the Caribbean in 1493 by Christopher Columbus. The first documented rum production at Appleton was in 1749. By 1893 there were 148 distilleries in Jamaica producing 73 million litres of rum. In 2011 there were just six distilleries left but they manage to produce 20.5 million litres.

Bacardi AñejoAppleton Estate VXThe secret to many exceptional rums is blending- a creative step that demands a true artist of the palate. Master Blender, Joy Spence, the first woman to be appointed Master Blender in the world, uses many different types and styles of rum to create each blend that has the Appleton Jamaica Rum name. Pot still rums are more aromatic and flavourful. Continuous still rums have subtle fruit notes and lightness. Aging in former American bourbon barrels adds notes of vanilla, coffee and toasted almond. Joy can pick from 240,000 barrels of aging rum at Appleton.

Of the Appleton rums available in Canada, the best all-rounder is Appleton Estate V/X, the flagship brand of the rum family.

Bacardi Anejo has a soft open style and light bronze hue. On a recent trip to Puerto Rico I visited the Bacardi rum distillery. The company’s free distillery tour in San Juan includes two drinks per person so no surprise that it draws crowds from morning to closing. The Puerto Rico distillery goes 24/7 and produces 100,000 gallons of rum a day from imported molasses. Bacardi was founded by Don Facundo Bacardí Massó in Cuba in 1862. Now the largest privately held, family-owned spirits company in the world, it set up distilleries in other countries (including in Brampton, Ontario) after the Cuban Revolution.

Let’s all sing to the success of rums throughout the world. Maybe if we pen the right words or create the perfect spirit we’ll make a fortune. If not, at least we’ll be happy.

 

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on the link below:

Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can read Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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The Successful Collector – Old World Riesling

The most undervalued white grape?
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Placed in the hands of even the most lacklustre of attorneys, a compelling court case could be made for convincing wine jurists that riesling is the greatest, most versatile white grape in Europe. The fact that other types of wine fetch higher prices at the premium end is neither here nor there. Granted, the best dry white Burgundy and Bordeaux may cost a great deal more, but one could easily argue this is more a result of rarity and present consumer trends than a reflection of comparative worth. Not that the quality of top Burgundy or Bordeaux has been exaggerated, more that prices for top riesling in many parts of the Old World are at present comparatively low, almost to the point of unreasonableness. As a result, there are more bargains for exemplary riesling than virtually any other type of white wine.

In the twenty-first century, few would deny that Alsace, Austria, and the most acclaimed winegrowing regions of Germany represent a sort of vinous triumvirate of unique places where riesling is able to thrive. At the premium level, the types produced in each area are at their greatest distinctiveness.

Alsace

Rows of vines in Alsace

Rows of vines in Alsace

In Alsace, the greatest rieslings usually hail from single-vineyard Grand Cru sites on steep hillsides, oftentimes (though not exclusively) consisting of sand and clay. Site variation in this part of the winegrowing world is extreme, with increasing numbers of producers vinifying and bottling specific parcels within their vineyards as separate wines. Relative dryness and higher alcohol (usually 12.5 per cent or more) remain essential hallmarks, though many top wines will often possess considerable richness, extra body, and some residual sugar. While flavour profiles are hard to generalize, the finest Alsatian rieslings tend to possess a resounding concentration of citrus-infused orchard fruits (such as peaches and pears), taking on more honeyed and kerosene-like tendencies as they age. The greatest bottlings may be easily kept for up to two decades or more. Current prices in VINTAGES for the best bottlings tend to range from $55-85, though many extremely good wines may be found for less than thirty bucks.

Austria

In Austria, the emerging style in the most famous regions for riesling (such as Wachau, Kremstal, and Kamptal) is one of astonishing minerality and heightened gradations of dryness. In most cases, the greatest wines derive from single vineyards, oftentimes bottled as single-parcel cuvées, grown on incredibly steep slopes facing the Danube.

Riesling vines along the Danube

Riesling vines along the Danube

Unlike Alsace or Germany, these vineyards are not officially ranked, though the best sites, usually based on granite, gneiss, and mica-schist, have long enjoyed widespread recognition over their less exalted counterparts. Alcohol levels are even higher than in Alsace (and much higher than in Germany), sometimes reaching up to 15 per cent. Compared to Alsace or Germany, the flavour of fine Austrian riesling is often much more low-keyed in youth, usually consisting of steely green fruits intermixed with lemon citrus, herbs, and an abundance of minerals. With age, more honeyed, kerosene, and nut-driven impressions seem to take over. Cellaring capability for the finest wines easily match those of Alsatian or Germanic extraction. Current availability of Austrian riesling in VINTAGES is profoundly lacking, with prices ranging from around $15-35.

Germany

For many, Germany is where riesling finds its greatest expression. As with Alsace and Austria, the best wines are those of single-vineyard persuasion, from the slate-dominant sites of the Mosel to the more clay-based areas of the Mittelhaart of the Pflaz. Styles are traditionally measured according to sweetness via the QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat) system. From driest to sweetest: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, and Trockenbeerenauslese. The best wines of the Mosel and its tributaries the Saar and Ruwer tend to reflect this system more concisely than most, while producers throughout the Rheingau, Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz are increasingly crafting their best single-vineyard wines in drier styles. Such wines are often labelled as ‘Grosses Gewächs,’ and invariably contain higher levels of alcohol at the expense of residual sugar. This said, the QmP system is just as useful for understanding different styles throughout most riesling-dominant regions. On the label, a stated vineyard is usually preceded by the village with which it is affiliated.

Riesling vines along the Mosel

Riesling vines along the Mosel

To this day, consumers continue to have difficulty comprehending the meaning behind different types of German wine labels. But this should not prove a barrier to obtaining some of the most underappreciated, undervalued types of riesling in Europe. Currently in VINTAGES, extremely fine, ageworthy examples logging in as low as 8 per cent alcohol (depending on the region) may be found for as little as $20, with top bottlings fetching up to $70. The sweetest versions such as Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese, not to mention Eiswein, are prodigiously more expensive, and are not exactly meant for everyday drinking.

Of more off-dry examples such as Kabinett and (to a lesser extent) Spätlese, flavours often include an addictive cornucopia of white peaches, green fruits, lemon citrus, and traces of kerosene, the latter becoming more pronounced and honeyed as time wears on. As white wines go, the capacity of German riesling to age is incredible, though Kabinett versions are at their best around the vicinity of ten years. Great Auslese, on the other hand, whose special nature places it more in the medium-sweet camp, may keep for decades and decades in the right conditions. Tragically, these types of wines are not nearly as popular as they once were. This may largely be attributed to both lax and unintelligible German wine laws, along with the plain fact that many enthusiasts continue to believe that all German wine, regardless of what is stated on the label, tastes excessively sweet.

A Comeback is Coming

In some respects, this would suggest that German riesling is long overdue for a comeback, particularly as examples in Alsace and Austria continue to enjoy an increasing number of successes. The quality is there, the ageability substantial, the prices even for moderately premium versions beyond modest. What’s more, with legions of ‘wine civilians’ being dutifully summoned every day as serious enthusiasts, it is only a matter of time before this collective jury of palates renders a verdict in riesling’s favour. Impatient as some wine commentators might be, it is only a matter of time.

My top choices:

Trimbach 2010 Réserve Riesling has been recommended more than once this past year, for there are still a reasonable number of bottles remaining in LCBO outlets. From one of the greatest white wine producers in Alsace, this is exactly what great Old World Riesling is all about. Drink now or hold for five years or more. 

Léon Beyer 2005 Cuvée des Comtes de d’Eguisheim Riesling is the top label (in dry format) from this particular Alsace-based establishment. Though nearing ten years of age, it is still endowed with an abundant sense of liveliness, intensity, and harmony. Only just over two dozen bottles remain in LCBO outlets. Drink now or hold for up to nine years or more. 

Zilliken 2011 Saarburg Rausch Riesling Kabinett logs in at a miniscule 8% alcohol, at the same time possessing outstanding roundness, harmony, and weight. Somewhat off-dry, few wines of the Saar (a tributary of the Mosel in Germany) manage to combine such gracefulness with such ferocity of character. Drink now or hold for up to twelve years. 

Schloss 2008 Schönborn Macrobrunn Riesling Kabinett is a premium type of German (Rheingau) Riesling at a remarkably reasonable price. Crafted in an off-dry style, wines like this were all the rage throughout much of the twentieth century and preceding eras. There is no reason why they should not be again. Drink now or hold for up to eight years.

Domäne Wachau 2011 Achleiten Riesling Smaragd hails from the Wachau, easily the most prestigious winegrowing region (at least for whites) in Austria. Retaining remarkable vibrancy and balance, this invigorating example is precisely why premium Austrian Riesling, alongside Grüner Veltliner, is becoming so popular. Drink now or hold for seven years or more.

Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2010Léon Beyer Cuvée Des Comtes D'eguisheim Riesling 2005Zilliken Saarburg Rausch Riesling Kabinett 2011Schloss Schönborn Macrobrunn Riesling Kabinett 2008Domäne Wachau Achleiten Smaragd Riesling 2011

Readers may want to take note that there are many other exemplary wines currently available in VINTAGES and the SAQ that have not been listed as recommendations. This is because I either do not have evaluations for them, or because they are wines from alternate vintages that are no longer available in stores. All price ranges have been researched so as to reflect current availability.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

P.S. Stay tuned next month for my exciting summary of top riesling vineyards of the Wachau, Austria’s most prestigious white winegrowing region.

Editors Note: You can find Julian’s complete 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!

All Julian Hitner Reviews


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Top 20 under $20 at the LCBO (July update)

Your Guide to the Best Values, Limited Time Offers and Bonus Air Miles selections at the LCBO this month

by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

It was fun again this month finding 20 wines under $20 for this report. Some new wines joined  my Top 50 Best Values and there are some monthly discounts (LTOs) from the LCBO as well as a slew of Bonus AirMiles (BAMs) making some wines even more attractive for the next four weeks or so; all making your summer drinking more affordable.

The Top 20 under $20 are best buys among the 1600 or so wines in LCBO Wines and the Vintages Essentials Collection. I select some from Steve’s Top 50, a standing WineAlign list based on quality/price ratio. You can read below in detail how the Top 50 works, but it does fluctuate as new wines arrive and as discounts show up through Limited Time Offers (LTOs).

The discount period  for this report runs until August 17th – so don’t hesitate. Thanks to WineAlign’s inventory tracking, I can assure you that there were decent stocks available when we published.

Editors Note: You can find our 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 value wines!

Reds

Citra Sangiovese Terre Di Chieti 2013, Abruzzo, Italy $7.75 + 4BAMs – Italian flavour and character at a good price for a food balanced wine.

Casal Thaulero Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Abruzzo, Italy $7.75, New to Top 50 – A simple red for enjoying with pizza and meaty tomato pasta sauces.

Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2011, Chile $7.95 + 4BAMs, Top 50 – A solid midweight red for enjoying with roast or bbq meats.

Citra Sangiovese Terre Di Chieti 2013 Casal Thaulero Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2011 Fonseca Periquita 2012 Santa Carolina Merlot 2012

Fonseca Periquita 2012, Peninsula De Setubal, Portugal $8.95, New to Top 50 – Dependable value medium bodied red with a spicy side to the fruit.

Santa Carolina Merlot 2012, Chile $8.95 + 4BAMs, Top 50 – A very drinkable red at a good price for everyday enjoyment.

Argento Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina $9.95 + 4BAMs – A well made pure cabernet that has not been adulterated with over-oaking and sweetness.

Castillo De Monseran Garnacha 2013, Carinena, Spain $9.95 + 5BAMs – An exciting youthful red finely balanced for enjoying with many foods.

Quartetto 2009, Alentejano, Portugal $10.30 + 4BAMs – A full bodied red made from four Portuguese grapes with some elegance – rare for this price.

Argento Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Castillo De Monseran Garnacha 2013 Quartetto 2009 Pelee Island Lighthouse Cabernet Franc 2011 Montes Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Pelee Island Lighthouse Cabernet Franc 2011, Ontario $11.95 was $12.95, New to Top 50 – A soft fruity sweetish midweight red that’s balanced with good length.

Montes Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Colchagua Valley, Chile $13.40 + 4BAMs – An easy drinking ripe cabernet with lots of flavour. Very tasty.

Pascual Toso Malbec 2013, Mendoza, Argentina $13.95 + 5BAMs – A juicy fairly complex malbec with very good length.

Fifth Leg Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Merlot 2011, Western Australia $16.00 + 5 BAMs – A cool climate elegant red with a long juicy finish.

Las Rocas Garnacha 2011, Do Calatayud, Spain $16.75 + 8BAMs – An aromatic midweight red with good length and complexity.

Pascual Toso Malbec 2013 Fifth Leg Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Merlot 2011 Las Rocas Garnacha 2011 Jacob's Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Graham's Late Bottled Vintage Port 2008

Jacob’s Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coonawarra, South Australia $16.95 + 10 BAMs – Classic Coonawarra cabernet at a good price. Finely balanced with some ageing potential.

Grahams Late Bottled Vintage Port 2008 Douro Valley, Portugal $16.95, New to Top 50 – A soft powerful fragrant Port with the alcohol finely balanced by fruit and acidity.

Whites

Periquita White 2013, Portugal $8.80, New to Top 50 – A fruity fragrant white for mildly flavoured seafood.

Dunavar Muscat Ottonel 2012, Hungary $8.95 + 3BAMs, Top 50 – Great value for an aromatic flavourful juicy white for Asian cuisine or rich poultry.

Two Oceans Chardonnay 2012, Western Cape, South Africa $10.25 + 6BAMs, Top 50 – The 2012 is a big improvement. Lots of ripe flavours yet crisp and fresh. Great value.

Periquita White 2013 Santa Carolina Chardonnay Reserva 2013 Goats Do Roam White 2013

Santa Carolina Chardonnay Reserva 2013, Casablanca Valley, Chile $11.95, New to Top 50 – The new vintage is just as good. A mildly oaked vibrant juicy chardonnay.

Goats Do Roam White 2013, Western Cape, South Africa $11.95 + 5BAMs, Top 50 – An aromatic rich dry white, great as an aperitif or with Asian cuisine.

How does a wine get selected for the Top 20 under $20.

There are three ways that a wine gets into this monthly report of wines that are always in the stores either on the LCBO “General List” or the Vintages Essential Collection.

On Sale (LTO’s or Limited Time Offers): Every four weeks the LCBO discounts around 200 wines  I have looked through the current batch and have highlighted some of my favourites that offer better value at present…. so stock up now.

Bonus Air Miles (BAM’s): If you collect Air Miles then you will be getting Bonus Air Miles on another 150 or so wines…a few of these have a special appeal for a while.

Steve’s Top 50: Wines that have moved onto my Top 50 Best Values this month. This is on an-on going WineAlign selection (Top 50,) that mathematically calculates value by comparing the price and rating of all the wines on the LCBO General List. You can access the report any time and read more about it now.

The Rest of Steve’s Top 50

Steve's Top Value WinesThere are another 39 wines on the Top 50 list so if you did not find all you need above for your current needs dip into the Top 50 LCBO and Vintages Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste.

To be included in the Top 50 for value a wine must be inexpensive while also having a high score, indicating high quality. I use a mathematical model to make the Top 50 selections from the wines in our database. I review the list every month to include newly listed and recently tasted vintages of current listings as well as monitoring the value of those put on sale for a limited time.

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

How I Choose the Top 50

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

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

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

Cheers!

Steve Thurlow

Top 20 Under $20 for July
Top 50 Value Wines

Editors Note: You can find our 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 value wines!


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Cool White Spirits

by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Vodka in North America once was a colourless flavourless way to booze up orange or tomato juice. Then came the flavoured vodkas often used to add jazz to cocktails. Now along comes a Swedish vodka created specifically to max out flavour without the addition of flavourings. Just pure unfiltered distilled grain – albeit distilled 34 times – and best served unadulterated by anything but water.

Master Blender Thomas Kuuttanen travelled recently to Canada to present his Purity Vodka to bartenders and spirit writers. Kuuttanen who has worked for over 25 years as a distiller of whisky, eau-de-vie and liqueurs said “I didn’t like what vodka had become over the years – colourless, tasteless and odorless.”

He set about developing an old school style vodka that played by the rules (i.e. could not according to regulations be solely made in a pot still) but had texture, aroma and flavour. To do this he had to invent his own distillation method and his own distillation apparatus which took over a year to create (a pot still and two special distillation towers).

Purity VodkaVodka can be made with any agricultural ingredient however most use wheat. Kuuttanen used a combo of winter wheat and two-row organic malted barley (the same type used for whisky) for Purity. The 34 extremely slow distillations over several days are what make the biggest difference. He uses only the finest 10% distillate and he doesn’t filter his vodka (it’s so pure there’s no need he says).

The result is the first vodka to score a perfect 100 points (organic category, The Vodka Masters 2011) and is the most awarded ultra-premium vodka in the world with over 80 gold medals. At the tasting I attended we compared Purity with Smirnoff (the biggest selling vodka in the world), Grey Goose, Stoli Elit and Absolut Elyx. Smirnoff as could be expected was the most neutral, Purity the most aromatic and deep with flavour and Stoli Elit the prettiest and silkiest.

He presented a vodka flavour chart to demonstrate which vodkas fell where on the scale of neutral to complex and light to rich. In the quadrant of complex and rich were such vodkas as Stoli Elit, Ketel One, Belvedere Intense, Vermont Gold and right up at the top, Purity.

Kuuttanen’s signature cocktail for Purity is 3 parts vodka, one part water stirred over ice and strained out into a martini glass. To make a smoky martini he recommends using the same formula but swirling Laphroaig in the martini glass first. Then toss out the whisky, rub an orange peel on the top of the glass and pour in the vodka/water mix.

Spud Potato vodka is another interesting vodka to come to Canada. Made in Poland from distilled potatoes grown without chemicals or pesticides, its creamy texture works well in highball drinks. It’s also free of additives. (Many vodkas contain additives such as glycerine, sugars or softeners to make the vodka taste better.)

Spud Potato VodkaBroken Shed VodkaI Spirit VodkaGrey Goose VX

Additive free Broken Shed Vodka from New Zealand currently has a small distribution in British Columbia through Indigo Hospitality Solutions (www.tasteindigo.com) with a view to grow its presence throughout Canada. It’s also making a name for itself in the US. Its unusual twist is that it’s made from whey.

The Italian vodka, I Spirit Vodka debuted in 2009, a project of three Italians: Arrigo Cipriani of Harry’s Bar, Lapo Elkann (from the Fiat family)and wine producer Marco Fantinel.

Available only in Duty Free in Canada, Grey Goose VX is silky, smooth and exceptional.

Deluxe gins are trendy in Canada. In Ontario those in the over $32 category are up 80 per cent. That said it’s good to see value priced ($27.95) elegant and citrus crisp Hayman’s London Dry Gin on the shelves too. Hayman’s Old Tom Gin is a lovely old style juniper dominant, ginny gin.

Hayman's London Dry GinHayman's Old Tom GinBombay Sapphire East

From Islay in Scotland, The Botanist Dry Gin has nine classic gin botanicals plus an astonishing 22 local herbs and flowers to flavour it. Bombay Sapphire East has an addition of Thai lemongrass and Vietnamese black peppercorns to lend it an exotic flare. For a most refreshing G&T press 3 small bulbs of lemongrass and a lime wedge into the base of a glass. Add 1.5 ounces Bombay Sapphire East Gin, Fever Tree Tonic (less sweet than standard commercial sodas) and ice to the glass and stir. Garnish with a sprinkle of cracked peppercorn and a stem of lemongrass.

Auchentoshan 12 Years Old Single Malt Scotch WhiskyThose who prefer a brown spirit for their cocktails or just for sweet summer sipping on the rocks by the dock should stock up on triple distilled Auchentoshan.

For an alternative to a G&T; mix a good quality ginger beer with 1.5 ounces Auchentoshan in a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with an orange slice. This single malt Lowland scotch is smooth yet distinctive. Ideal like those gins and vodkas above to mellow out and relax on a midsummer day.

Cin cin, salud, santé, cheerio, skål, slainte – whatever your toast – have a cheer filled summer.

 

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on the link below:

Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can read Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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The Successful Collector – The Haut-Médoc

Stomping grounds for value
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

If there’s one problem Bordeaux has yet to overcome, it’s convincing enthusiasts that great claret need not break the bank. Yet many less-esteemed appellations throughout one of France’s most celebrated winegrowing areas are nowadays consistently able to combine both quality and ageability with youthful scrumptiousness and value. Of these, the Haut-Médoc is arguably at the forefront.

The largest appellation on the Left Bank of the Gironde, the Haut-Médoc surrounds the far more renowned appellations (excluded like a jigsaw puzzle from the map shown right) of Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac, and St-Estèphe, each home to the lion’s share of the most famous estates in Bordeaux. The others are situated further upriver, just south of the city of Bordeaux, in the appellation of Pessac-Léognan. As a result, the finest estates of the Haut-Médoc are routinely overlooked.

But this has begun changing for some time, particularly in parts of the Haut-Médoc most blessed with higher gravel mounds on which to plant vines. As with the finest sections in the more celebrated appellations mentioned above, these gravel mounds represent one of the most significant characteristics of the greatest terroirs on the Left Bank. While regrettable, estates with vines sourced from lower-level locations simply cannot make the same wines.

The boundaries of the Haut-Médoc are extensive. Extending only several kilometres into the hinterland, the appellation begins just northeast of the city of Bordeaux along the Left Bank of the Gironde. It concludes several kilometres north of St-Estèphe, where the gravel mounds finally give way to lower-lying vineyards located in an appellation known simply as Médoc. Merlot tends to play a much greater role in the blends at this point along the river, with Cabernet Sauvignon habitually used in much smaller amounts.

Throughout much of the Haut-Médoc, Cabernet Sauvignon is used in fairly generous proportions, reinforced by Merlot and small percentages of Cabernet Franc. Petit Verdot may be found from time to time, while Malbec may turn up in extremely small sums here and there. While the most illustrious estates may employ hand pickers at harvest time, many estates will often bring in their grapes via mechanical harvesters. Unlike the most famous estates of Margaux or Pauillac, many establishments in the Haut-Médoc are unable to afford such a luxury. The use of new French oak barriques will also vary according to financial constraints and/or quality of the grapes.

Of rankings, the Haut-Médoc contains only five estates belonging to the famous yet contentious 1855 Classification, each varying in quality and typically ranging in VINTAGES and the SAQ from $45-100. In terms of overall value, better examples may be found among the numerous estates ranked as Cru Bourgeois, the chief ranking category of the appellation. With the odd exception, prices in this category usually range from $20-40.

In the past, the majority of such wines were excessively lean and required years of cellaring in order to blossom. Not anymore. As a result of better winegrowing techniques and changes in climatic conditions (think global warming), the best Cru Bourgeois wines nowadays routinely offer immediate, concentrated appeal, and may be kept for up to ten years or more in the cellar. What’s more, their prices are strikingly reasonable, unlike their counterparts in St-Julien or St-Estèphe, where estates included in the 1855 Classification have all but been cordoned off except to the most well-heeled of buyers.

In the twenty-first century, never before has the winegrowing region of Bordeaux made such sizeable quantities of excellent wine. Yet the consequences of celebrity have grown all too apparent in appellations like Margaux or Pauillac, where wines once considered reasonable have become anything but. For diehard claret lovers, therefore, the fast-improving Haut-Médoc could not be more of a lifesaver.

My top choices:

Château Peyrabon 2010 Haut-Médoc is situated in the commune of St-Sauveur (just to the east of Pauillac) and represents terrific value for money. Although a rather oak-driven affair, all the component parts of this sumptuous claret are in marvellous alignment. Drink now or hold for up to ten years or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Sénéjac 2009 Haut-Médoc is situated in the commune of St-Pian (located in the southern part of the appellation) and is easily the most serious vintage I’ve tasted from this estate to date. Regrettably, only a handful of bottles are left in VINTAGES at time of publication. Drink now or hold for up to eight years or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Peyrabon 2010Château Senejac 2009Château Larose Trintaudon 2010Château Moulin De Blanchon 2009Château De Gironville 2009

Château Larose-Trintaudon 2010 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of St-Laurent (just to the east of St-Julien) and is the largest estate on the Left Bank. Though quality has been limited for many years, recent vintages such as the ’10 have been excellent. Drink now or hold for up to eight years. Decanting is recommended.

Château Moulin de Blanchon 2009 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of St-Seurin (just to the north of St-Estèphe) and represents a sincerely beautiful outing. From a part of the Haut-Médoc with some extremely fine wineries, it’s wines like these that typify the future of the appellation. Drink now or hold for up to six years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château de Gironville 2009 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of Macau (just to the south of Margaux) and is a truly delicious affair. Containing 10% Petit Verdot (unusual for a Haut-Médoc), there are only a handful of bottles left in VINTAGES at time of publication. Drink now or hold for up to eight years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château La Lagune 2010Château Belgrave 2009Château Belgrave 2009 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of St-Laurent (just to the east of St-Julien) and is ranked as a Fifth Growth in the 1855 Classification. Though twice the cost of a standard Cru Bourgeois, the ’09 really is an outstanding claret. Drink now or hold for up to fourteen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château La Lagune 2010 Haut-Médoc is based out of the commune of Ludon (located in the southern part of the appellation) and is ranked as a Third Growth in the 1855 Classification. This is widely regarded as one of the finest wines of the Haut-Médoc, and is highly recommended for serious collectors. Drink now or hold for up to twenty years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Readers may want to take note that there are many other exemplary wines currently available in VINTAGES and the SAQ that have not been listed as recommendations. This is because I either do not have evaluations for them, or because they are wines from alternate vintages that are no longer available in stores.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Editors Note: You can find Julian’s complete 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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Top 20 under $20 at the LCBO (July 2014)

Your Guide to the Best Values, Limited Time Offers and Bonus Air Miles selections at the LCBO this month

by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

I always get a great deal of pleasure finding the 20 wines under $20 for this monthly report, and this time was even more pleasurable as I was in Portugal last week visiting wineries. I was impressed to find some modern fresh reds and whites at great prices to add to the selection below. They should make excellent summer drinking.

The Top 20 under $20 are best buys among the 1600 or so wines in LCBO wines and the VINTAGES Essentials collection. I select some from Steve’s Top 50, a standing WineAlign list based on quality/price ratio. You can read below in detail how the Top 50 works, but does fluctuate as new wines arrive and as discounts show up through Limited Time Offers (LTOs) and Bonus Air Miles (BAMS).

The current discount period runs until July 20th. So don’t hesitate. Thanks to WineAlign’s inventory tracking, I can assure you that there were decent stocks available when we published. You can also use WineAlign to create and print your list of those available at your local store.

[Stay tuned: John Szabo will be up next with his observations and recommendations on the July 5th VINTAGES release.]

Reds

Mezzomondo Negroamaro 2011, Salento, Puglia, Italy. $8.95 + 5 BAMs, Top 50 – An easy drinking flavourful red.

Obikwa Shiraz 2012, Western Cape, South Africa. $9.45 + 5 BAMs – An excellent inexpensive BBQ shiraz

P K N T Carmenere Reserve 2012, Central Valley, Chile. $9.95 was $10.95, Top 50 – A full-bodied red with supple juicy fruit, not at all spicy, as might be suggested by the label.

Mezzomondo Negroamaro 2011Obikwa Shiraz 2012P K N T Carmenere Reserve 2012Trapiche Cabernet Sauvignon 2013Nederburg Winemaster's Reserve Shiraz 2012

Trapiche Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Mendoza Argentina. $9.95, New to the Top 50 – An amazingly good cabernet for the money. Enjoy with BBQ meats.

Nederburg Winemaster’s Reserve Shiraz 2012, Western Cape, South Africa. $11.95 + 7 BAMs, New to the Top 50 – A fullbodied red with freshness from minerality and vibrant acidity.

Thelema Mountain Red 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa. $11.95, New to the Top 50 – Shiraz plus five other grapes in a dense complex red.

Boschendal The Pavillion Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Western Cape, South Africa. $11.95, New to the Top 50 – A lightly oaked savoury ripe red with a lot of complexity for the money.

Pezoules Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Peloponnese, Greece. $12.60 + 4 BAMs – A fresh midweight cabernet ideal for BBQ meats.

Thelema Mountain Red 2011Boschendal The Pavillion Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Pezoules Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Pessoa Da Vinha Reserva Douro 2010Stoney Ridge Pinot Noir 2011Quinta Do Encontro Q Do E 2011

Pessoa Da Vinha Reserva 2010 Douro Valley, Portugal. $12.95 New to the Top 50 – An opaque purple with a fragrant fruity nose, that’s full-bodied. Try with a steak.

Stoney Ridge Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario. $13.95 + 6 BAMs – A fruity pinot with some spice and smokey complexity.

Quinta Do Encontro Q do E 2011, Bairrada, Portugal. $14.25 + 4 BAMs – An elegant structured red.

Whites

Citra Trebbiano D’abruzzo 2012, Abruzzo, Italy. $7.45 New to the Top 50 – A good inexpensive fruity white.

Periquita White 2013, Portugal. $8.80 – A fruity fragrant white for mildly flavoured seafood.

Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013, Central Valley, Chile. $9.95 Top 50 – A juicy very ripe sauvignon blanc with lots of balancing acidity.

Citra Trebbiano D'abruzzo 2013Periquita White 2013Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013Carl Reh Riesling Kabinett 2012

Carl Reh Riesling Kabinett 2012, Mosel, Germany. $11.95 New to the Top 50 – An elegant balanced off-dry white ideal for Thai food.

Santa Carolina Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013, Leyda Valley, Chile. $11.95 New to the Top 50 – A fresh floral creamy sauvignon blanc.

The Wolftrap White 2013, Western Cape, South Africa $13.95 + 5 BAMs, Top 50 – An intensely flavoured white.

Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay Reserve 2013, Adelaide Hills, South Australia $14.95 + 10 BAMs – New style Aussie chardonnay; fresher, crisper and less oak.

Alpine Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand $14.95 + 10 BAMs – Good value for a typical kiwi sauvignon blanc

Brancott Estate Letter Series B Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Southern Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand $19.95 + 10 BAMs – Classic Marlborough sauvignon blanc, elegant, fresh, pure and mouthwateringly delicious.

Santa Carolina Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013The Wolftrap White 2013Jacob's Creek Chardonnay Reserve 2013Alpine Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2013Brancott Estate Letter Series B Sauvignon Blanc 2013

How does a wine get selected for the Top 20 under $20.

There are three ways that a wine gets into this monthly report of wines that are always in the stores either on the LCBO “General List” or the Vintages Essential Collection.

On Sale (LTO’s or Limited Time Offers): Every four weeks the LCBO discounts around 200 wines  I have looked through the current batch and have highlighted some of my favourites that offer better value at present…. so stock up now.

Bonus Air Miles (BAM’s): If you collect Air Miles then you will be getting Bonus Air Miles on another 150 or so wines…a few of these have a special appeal for a while.

Steve’s Top 50: Wines that have moved onto my Top 50 Best Values this month. This is on an-on going WineAlign selection (Top 50,) that mathematically calculates value by comparing the price and rating of all the wines on the LCBO General List. You can access the report any time and read more about it now.

The Rest of Steve’s Top 50

Steve's Top Value WinesThere are another 39 wines on the Top 50 list so if you did not find all you need above for your current needs dip into the Top 50 LCBO and Vintages Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste.

To be included in the Top 50 for value a wine must be inexpensive while also having a high score, indicating high quality. I use a mathematical model to make the Top 50 selections from the wines in our database. I review the list every month to include newly listed and recently tasted vintages of current listings as well as monitoring the value of those put on sale for a limited time.

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

How I Choose the Top 50

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

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

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

Cheers!

Steve Thurlow

Top 20 Under $20 for July
Top 50 Value Wines

Editors Note: You can find our 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 value wines!


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