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VINTAGES Preview: April 26 Release (Part Two)

Four Fine Spanish Reds, A Smart Cape Cab & Sara’s Spring State of Mind
by David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

You may have sensed in last week’s preview that we found tasting VINTAGES release of “Great Value Bordeaux” to be a bit of a chore. Yes, we were collectively underwhelmed, and I must say there were several other wines on this release, particularly from California, that I found troubling too – or just not worth spending your dollars on. Were we in a bad mood, or perhaps tasting on a “root” day on the biodynamic calendar? It’s hard to say; but for my part some of the lower scores, as well as the higher scores, are part of an effort to battle “creeping scoring condensation” – that tendency to lodge the vast majority wines in a “safe” zone between 86 to 91 points.

The great advantage of the 100-point scale (which is really an 80 to 100 pinot scale) is the wider bandwidth on which to peg a numerical opinion. In my world – and I would argue in the world of WineAlign and 100-point wine scoring globally – an 80-point wine should still be drinkable even if notably compromised. And by the way, an 80-point rating is where the WineAlign “grape bunch” begins to be coloured in, our attempt to provide a quick visual representation of quality. On the flip side, many of the world’s top calibre wines should easily be scoring close to perfection above 95 points. Using the full range of 20 points provides a much clearer barometer of quality, and is thus much more helpful to shoppers.

As for why I pick certain wines to highlight in this report, value within any price range becomes the main criteria. There will be many other wines not mentioned that are also very much worth your consideration – so spend some time browsing the selections by all three of us.

The Stars Align
(wines independently recommended by two or more critics)

Domaine Du Tremblay Cuvée Vin Noble Quincy 2012Pepin Condé Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Pepin Condé 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Coastal Region, South Africa ($15.95). John Szabo – Pepin is the entry-level range from respected estate Stark-Condé established by American José Condé in Stellenbosch, named after his grandfather. It offers an authentically herbal, iodine-tinged, spicy range of aromatics on a mid-weight, light tannin and juicy acid frame, nicely balanced, stylish and savoury overall. Great price, too. David Lawrason – Both John and I have recently visited this estate in the fantastic, primordial Jonkershoek Valley, although at different times. I actually visited twice, and I was very impressed by the modern, vibrant wines, and their value. I brought their pinot home to Canada in my luggage. Hands down this beats virtually any cabernet you will find at VINTAGES or the LCBO under $20.

Lawrason’s Take

Domaine Du Tremblay 2012 Cuvée Vin Noble Quincy, Loire Valley, France ($20.95). There are many who find sauvignon blancs boringly similar. And I understand that position. So if you do like sauvignon you have to dig deeper – beyond the green – to the nuances that different terroirs offer. This little known appellation of Quincy in the Loire Valley near Sancerre is one more take, and I like its lighter, compact, shimmering appeal.

Yalumba Viognier Eden Valley 2012Oldenburg Chardonnay 2011Camelback Shiraz 2008Yalumba 2012 Viognier Eden Valley, South Australia ($24.95). On its website Yalumba trumpets that “it is the one of the most influential producers of viognier in the world”. A sweeping but carefully couched statement. And I happen to believe it’s true based on the work committed and the result in the bottle.  This is a difficult grape to grow, and to make into a widely acceptable style. I am not a personal viognier fan and would rarely buy it for myself because it’s either too blowsy or too restrained. This comes right up the middle with poise, complexity and honesty. Like it or leave it, but try this viognier if only to gauge your own tastes.

Oldenburg 2011 Chardonnay, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($22.95). The better wines of South Africa are currently offering huge value based on the weakness of the South African Rand against the Canadian dollar. Plus the fact that modern viticulture and winemaking are now as comfortable in the Cape as anywhere in the world. This bright, sleek, vibrant chardonnay picks up some of the green/herbal character of the local vegetation – called fynbos – making it just a bit different from most chardonnay peers around the world. This is a Flagship Store Exclusive.

Camelback 2008 Shiraz Sunbury, Victoria, Australia ($24.95). I was not expecting to be impressed by this wine – another critter brand on the face of it, even though camels are not indigenous to Australia (they were imported from India in the 19th C). But the combination of its age and origin in this less well-known, cooler region of Victoria (not far from Melbourne’s airport) have delivered a quite savoury, peppery yet full flavoured shiraz with Aussie weight and Euro flavours.

Viña Arana Reserva 2005Elias Mora Crianza 2009Ascheri Pisapola Barolo 2010Ascheri 2010 Pisapola Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($44.95). If you are a Barolo fan you might want to go to Ascheri’s website (www.ascherivini.it) to comprehend the new regime that has led this house to make four different Barolo starting in this 2010 vintage. It’s a reaction to a complex new regulation involving Additional Geographic Designations in Barolo. Pisapola of the Verduno region will be made every vintage. I am sure it all makes some kind of local sense – but more importantly and broadly, this is excellent wine from a very good producer of modern nebbiolos that still respect their origin.

Elias Mora 2009 Crianza Toro, Spain ($22.95). Toro is an almost other-worldly enclave in north central Spain. Perched on a cliff above the Duero River the town was once the seat of Spanish authority to which Christopher Columbus came to seek financing for his voyages to America. Out on the river plain below and into the hills beyond the tempranillo grape (locally called tinta de toro) grows in heavily gravelled and limestone soils. The arid climate builds in serious muscle yet finesse. This crianza has spent 12 months in French and American oak barrels, which just seems to sponge up the fruit without really altering it.

La Rioja Alta 2005 Viña Arana Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($39.95). Spain offers several good wines in this release. There is the Faustino 1 Gran Reserva that someone has rated 97 points, but I was not in agreement that it is that superlative. I have given a higher rating to this mature classic from one of the great traditional houses of Rioja. The 2005 vintage was fantastic, and this has matured beautifully into prime time. This is a Flagship Store Exclusive.

Szabo’s Smart Buys

Maison Roche De Bellene 2011 Montagny 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($26.95). Nicolas Potel’s negociant range, what he describes as “haute couture” Burgundy, finds its way regularly into my smart buys, achieving what so few Burgundies can: fine quality at prices well below the average for their respective appellations. The Côte Châlonnaise south of the Côte d’Or has long been a source of value red and white Burgundy (and Crémant), and applied to Potel’s formula, it’s as safe a bet as you can find. I love the green nut and mineral character of this Montagny; lovely stuff, ready to pour.

Ilocki Podrumi 2011 Premium Grasevina, Syrmia, Croatia ($23.95 ). If you like full-bodied aromatic whites in the style of, say, Alsatian pinot gris, (dry) gewürztraminer or viognier, this will fit the bill. It’s a premium-priced Croatian Grasevina (aka Welschriesling), but also very characterful, evidently concentrated, with loads of beguiling acacia and almond blossoms, ripe orchard, pear and orange flavours. Ready to enjoy.

Alvaro Palacios 2011 Velles Vinyes Les Terrasses Priorat, Spain ($46.95). Palacios’ old vines (though entry-level Priorat) has explosive wild violet and rock-rose tinged aromatics reminiscent of great Douro reds, with masses of fruit and superior extract/concentration, yet still retains a sense of proportion and grace. It’s the magic of the ancient schistous terroir of Priorat. Give this another 2-4 years in the cellar, or hold into the mid-twenties and beyond – it’s well worth the money.

Maison Roche De Bellene Montagny 1er Cru 2011Ilocki Podrumi Premium Grasevina 2011Alvaro Palacios Velles Vinyes Les Terrasses 2011Maetierra Dominum Qp 2006Château Puech Haut Prestige Saint Drézéry 2011

Maetierra 2006 Dominum QP Rioja, Spain ($22.95). The “QP” stands for quatro pagos, or four vineyards, as this is a blend of tempranillo, graciano and garnacha from four different estates in the Rioja appellation. A year and a half in new French oak gives this a spicy, heavily wood-influenced profile, but I appreciate the underlying tart red berry fruit. Ideally I’d revisit this in 3-5 years, at which point I’d expect the wonderfully savoury-herbal and spicy profile of mature Rioja to come out of its shell.

Château Puech-Haut 2011 Prestige Saint-Drézéry, Languedoc, France ($29.95). Fans of serious Rhône Valley reds should venture further west to the Languedoc, where similar conditions and essentially the same grapes, coupled with relative obscurity, often add up to great value. This is intense and concentrated, with impressive depth, and a generous helping of southern French-style scorched earth, garrigue, black fruit and licorice-spice flavours. Try again in 2-4 years to benefit from added complexity and better integration or hold till the early ‘20s.

Sara’s Sommelier Selections

Malivoire Riesling 2012Malivoire Musqué Spritz 2013Poderi Elia Moscato D'asti 2012Poderi Elia 2012 Moscato d’Asti, Piedmont, Italy ($15.95). A bouquet of fresh spring flowers is authentically presented in this affable and characteristically sweet Moscato with a great deal of charm. Winemaker Federico Stella’s strict attention to detail, sustainable practices and small lot production often make for head-turning wines.

Malivoire 2013 Musqué Spritz, Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($19.95). In a spring state of mind, I have chosen yet another floral, juicy and engaging selection that is bursting with flavour. There is a certain air of whimsy about this delightfully effervescent gem that will have you feeling carefree in no time.

Malivoire 2012 Riesling, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($15.95). Winemaker Shiraz Mottiar has rocked this riesling – a varietal that has not been the winery’s forte. Despite the untraditional bottle shape, the wine delivers a classic nervy and zesty mouthfeel, loaded with an abundance of mineral and saline.

Dürnberg Rabenstein Grüner Veltliner 2011Cascina Del Pozzo Roero Arneis 2012Dürnberg RabensteManoir Du Carra Fleurie 2010in 2011 Grüner Veltliner, Weinviertel, Austria ($24.95). Produced from 50-year-old vines perched on the high slopes of the village of Falkenstein, this delightful grüner spends a year in large barriques with fine lees gaining extra body and complexity. Traditional and very typical of the varietal with lovely peppery notes along with cool stone and juicy grapefruit. The packaging makes this an attractive host gift or a centerpiece at the table.

Cascina Del Pozzo 2012 Roero Arneis, Piedmont, Italy  ($18.95). With the warm weather finally upon us, I’m delighted to have discovered so many interesting white wines in this release. Arneis, although difficult to cultivate due to its low acid, susceptibility to mildew and its “rascally” nature, can prove a real delight when properly treated and offers notes of wildflower, fresh herbs and pear. This is truly a fresh breath of spring air.

Manoir Du Carra 2010 Fleurie, Beaujolais, France ($24.95). This cru Beaujolais really caught my eye or should I say tongue offering seductive flavours and textures while putting forth a great deal of complexity. Fleurie is often touted as the “Queen of Crus” in Beaujolais and is the most widely exported of the crus. Although this version may be light on the characteristic floral nature of Fleurie, it is certainly chalk full of flavour and energy. Ideal for short-term cellaring or immediate consumption.

Winemaker’s dinner with Inniskillin’s Bruce Nicholson in Ottawa – May 1st

Bruce Nicholson

Bruce Nicholson

Inniskillin’s Bruce Nicholson is one of Canada’s most respected and awarded winemakers, lifting Inniskillin into a 5th place finish in the 2013 National Wine Awards ‘Top Wineries’ category. He, along with the Ottawa Citizen’s Rod Phillips, will be hosting a winemaker’s dinner at Graffiti’s Italian Eatery in Kanata on May 1st, exclusively for WineAlign members. Bruce will guide you through a select offering of Inniskillin wines, each paired with a specially prepared dish. He will speak about the unique viticulture and terroir of the Niagara region and talk about the history behind the winery that brought modern Ontario wine to life. (Click here for more details)

And that’s a wrap for this edition. Watch next week as we look at VINTAGES May 10 release feature themes on South America and Germany.

Cheers,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the April 26, 2014 VINTAGES release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Picks
All Reviews
April 26 – Part One – Champagne & Bordeaux

Editors Note: You can find our Critic’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics 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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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – April 2014

Spring Seasonals and New Spirits
By Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Malibu rum sparkler, Sveva’s Orangella, Screech honey rum, Long Table London Dry and Ménage à Trois vodka are a sampling of what’s new popping up on the liquor shelves this spring. These diverse and flavour packed newbies are sure to find fans.

Sveva’s Orangella has quickly become one of my favourites. This intensely orange flavoured liqueur (like lemoncella only made with orange peels instead of lemon) from Sicily is delicious on its own served chilled or on ice. However I’ve found that made into a cocktail with prosecco and a splash of gin, it’s divine – like a grown up mimosa.

Sveva's OrangellaNEWFOUNDLAND SCREECH HONEY RUMFrom Rock Spirits in Newfoundland, Screech Honey Rum is a blend of imported Jamaican rums flavoured with honey and orange peel. These additions nicely round the sharp edges of screech.

Two premium rums from Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) in Guyana coming to our shores are El Dorado 8 Year Old and El Dorado Spiced rum. The 8 Year old is fantastic rum at a bargain price and the spiced version delivers flavours of vanilla pod and cinnamon in a nice dry style. All of the world’s fantastic Demerara rum comes from Guyana and from just one distillery, the Diamond Distillery of Demerara Distillers Limited. Demerara gets its name from the river that runs through the capital Georgetown and the region.

Demerara makes rum for dozens of other spirit companies. For their own brand, El Dorado, they produce about a dozen different, all deliciously good rums. All the rums are aged in former bourbon barrels, and they have about 90,000 barrels spread out between three warehouses.

BACARDI RESERVA LIMITADAEl Dorado Spiced RumEl Dorado 8 Yr Cask Aged Demerara RumRum is also made of course on most of the Caribbean islands. Each island produces its own distinctive style (though a number do get their young spirit from Demerara Distillers). 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. Between 850 and 1,500 people take the 45 to 90 minute tour everyday where the drinks start flowing no matter the time.

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. The Puerto Rico distillery goes 24/7 and produces 100,000 gallons of rum a day from imported molasses. At a tasting with senior brand manager William Ramos I had the joy of sampling Bacardi Reserva Limitada, a spirited blend of 10 to 16 year old rum.

Love the taste of coconut? Then give Malibu Rum Sparkler made with coconut water and rum a try. Just chill and pour into a champagne flute for a festive bubbly refresher.

MALIBU RUM SPARKLERPOMMIES DRY CIDERCider, one of North America’s oldest drinks is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. The number of Canadian cideries is growing with new ones coming on stream wherever apples are grown. Ontario has gone from two to 15 cideries in five years for example. Pommies Dry Cider crafted in Caledon uses the juice of five varieties of heritage apples.

Artisanal distilleries are also booming in Canada. Coming up Saturday, May 10, sixteen of British Columbia’s leading small-batch distilleries (plus one from the Yukon) will convene in Vancouver bringing their gin, vodka, whisky and other spirits and liqueurs for BC Distilled – the province’s premier micro-distillery festival. Spirit enthusiasts can buy tickets via Eventbrite at: BC Distilled Festival

Participants in BC Distilled include the Long Table Distillery which recently celebrated their first year of distilling in Vancouver. They just launched their London Dry Gin and Texada Vodka into Alberta and will be presenting soon to the Ontario Liquor Control Board.

Yaletown (the Mark James Group; British Columbia’s premiere collection of craft brewery restaurants) which has brewed fresh beer for close to 20 years and pioneered the craft beer movement in Vancouver is another participant. The company launched their production of handcrafted spirits on Repeal Day December 5th, 2013 marking the anniversary for the end of prohibition.  Yaletown Vodka‘s use of BC’s Peace River 2 row malt makes a distinctive vodka. Yaletown Gin is distilled with 8 botanicals.

Long Table Distillery London Dry GinLong Table Distillery Texada VodkaYaletown Craft VodkaYaletown Craft GinMenage Vodka overall 001

The Trinchero Family Estates out of California has expanded their Ménage à Trois line beyond wine to include Ménage a Trois Vodka, six times distilled and super smooth. All the spirits above give us lots of reasons to get excited this season.

Cheers!

Margaret Swaine

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

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


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Vintages Preview April 12 Release (Part Two)

Wines on the Cusp of Spring, California and Boisset
by David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Easter is late this year, which is entirely fitting because spring has been late too. It is trying to break through, and yes we are in a rush, but there is still cool weather ahead, particularly in the evenings. Not much lolling about on the deck for dinner even though the sun is not setting until almost 8pm. This week’s VINTAGES release provides a fitting selection of wines for the cusp, from springy rieslings to mellow chardonnays and pinots, to a few warm and cuddly reds. Last week John Szabo and Sara d’Amato featured Veneto’s rich smooth ripassos and amarones, and I would add two thumbs up to Monte Del Fra 2010 Lena Di Mezzo Ripasso Valpolicella And Zenato 2009 Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico in particular. But there are many more good buys out there, and I had to do some serious editing of all the wines I wanted to mention. Thankfully John and Sara have included some of them.

Before launching in however, a word on the California Wine Fair in Toronto which saw yet another year of jam-packed trade and consumer portions. There is always such buzz at this event – but from all accounts the trade portion was uncomfortably crowded. But it does explain why California wine has become the leader at VINTAGES and is moving up in the ranks on the LCBO general list as well. There was lots of back slapping and congratulating going on as the Californians and the LCBO brass took turns at the podium at the annual Toast to California lunch – and indeed the sales numbers are something to celebrate. The only negative word was by the LCBO’s Nancy Cardinal who warned, gently, that California be cautious on pricing and value in the face of hot competition. To be more blunt, I think California owns the worst price quality ratio at the LCBO today. And I might have also added a warning to dial back on the creeping sweetness in their lower end red wines in particular. I love California as much as anybody else in that room, but what I was thinking, and what others were saying in the hallways, needs to be said aloud as well.

The dashing Jean Charles Boisset dashed through Toronto as part of the California Wine Fair – where he addressed the luncheon and explained why it is that a Frenchman is so infatuated with California, and how he is tuning California’s exuberant fruit to a more elegant French sensibility at the wineries he now owns – De Loach, Raymond and Buena Vista. Before the fair he gathered local scribes to taste through some of his California and Burgundy wines under the JCB label, and they were really very fine, polished and exacting. I particularly loved a new pinot noir called Maritus that is comprised of 47% Burgundy-grown pinot shipped to California where it was blended with 53% Sonoma pinot. Very, very fine indeed! About 20 cases will be offered in Ontario in the months ahead at $123.00.

The Stars Align
(Wines independently highlighted by two or more critics)

13th Street 2011 June’s Vineyard Riesling, Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95). John Szabo – 13th Street’s June Vineyard, planted in 1999 to the less common Riesling clone 49 from Alsace is particularly rich in decomposed yellow limestone, which one supposes contributes the wet rock/limestone minerality to complement a nice mix of citrus and orchard fruit. The overall impression is less of fruit and more of savoury-earthy flavours, while the off-dry palate lingers impressively. Fine concentration and depth overall – one of the finer June’s rieslings in recent memory. David Lawrason – Of a wide international selection of rieslings on this release, the “June” is the most intriguing. Sourced from a single, limestone strewn vineyard it offers lift, complexity and structure and a particular spice I am finding more often now as Niagara’s riesling sites mature.

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2011 Rolf Binder Highness Riesling 2012 13th Street June's Vineyard Riesling 2012Rolf Binder 2012 Highness Riesling, Eden Valley, South Australia ($18.95). David Lawrason –This is a pretty, complete and bright wine. It was made by Christa Deans, daughter of founder Rolf Binder senior. She has worked in Champagne and is now focused solely on white wine making, bringing a soft touch (without resorting to exaggerated sweetness) to a genre more often displaying hard edged virility.  Sara d’Amato – The softer, more floral style of Australian riesling, in this case primarily sourced from the Eden Valley, is delightfully represented here. Certainly approachable but not a pushover, the wine delivers an abundance of nervy tension and excitement. Formerly known as “Veritus”, this well-respected house, steeped in history is now run by a dynamic duo of siblings and focuses on producing premium Barossa wines.

Bachelder 2011 Oregon Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($29.95). David Lawrason – As much as Oregonians like to see their wines as cooler and more Burgundian than California, many Oregon chards and pinots are still a bit blowsy in my books. It has taken a Canadian who has worked in Burgundy to create a wine that has some real leanness and tension. Nicely done Mr. Bachelder. Sara d’Amato – Bachelder’s Oregon chardonnay lacks immediate appeal – in fact, it is a bit of a head scratcher at first. It requires patience and an adventurous spirit to fully reap the rewards of this complex and slowly unveiling beauty. There is something quite reminiscent of Chablis in the wine’s verve and tautness along with its chalky and slightly lactic character. Be sure to sip this over the course of the evening as not to miss a moment of its quiet evolution.

Newton Johnson Pinot Noir 2012Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2011Newton Johnson 2012 Pinot Noir, Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa ($26.95). David Lawrason – Excellent value here in an authentic cool climate, pale and almost lean pinot that will intrigue Burgundy fans. In March I spent two days in this serene “Heaven and Earth” Valley near Hermanus; a breeding ground for terrific, cool climate pinots and chardonnays, and I too am now convinced that the area down the coast southeast from Cape Town – and I include Elgin and Elim – is a bona fide pinot region. John Szabo – Newton Johnson crafts elegant and refined pinot noir from the light granitic-sandy soils of the upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, and this is a fine example of the house style. Don’t be deceived by the pale colour, however, as this packs in great length and depth for the price. The region clearly has another serious player to join the ranks of pioneers like Hamilton-Russell. Best now-2018.

Domaine Drouhin 2011 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($39.95). Sara D’Amato – Everything about this bottle looks French and one could easily both purchase and consume this wine without being the wiser. Inside and out it is elegant and refined and offers a highly complex palate. Long established for over a century in Burgundy, the house of Joseph Drouhin has become a critics’ darling. Its roots in Oregon go back to the mid-80s when current winemaker Veronique Drouhin (daughter of Robert Drouhin) touched down in the state after receiving her Masters in enology. Feeling a real sense of connectedness and appreciation of place, she and her brother Philippe (viticulturalist) manage this impressive US property. John Szabo – Drouhin’s 2011 Dundee Hills pinot is a pleasantly earthy, rustic, savoury and spicy wine in the classic old world style, complete with grippy, dusty tannins and saliva-inducing acidity and minerality. Length and depth are superior. In the end, this comes off as a very well made, woodsy, old world-inflected pinot, and should appeal to pinot noir lovers from both sides of the pond. Best after 2016.

Lawrason’s Take

JCB N° 21 Brut Crémant De Bourgogne ($27.95). The JCB brand involves both California and Burgundy wines. This excellent cremant could pass for Champagne, such is its tight core and generous, complex flavours. Jean Charles Boisset said they worked on finding the right balance for eight years before finally putting this wine on the market last year.

Aquinas Philospher's Blend 2009Perrin & Fils Réserve Côtes Du Rhône Blanc 2012J C B N° 21 Brut Crémant De BourgognePerrin & Fils Réserve 2012 Côtes Du Rhône Blanc ($14.95). Since tasting Perrin’s stunning white Châteauneuf-du-Pape a couple of years ago, then subsequently the white Coudelet and even the diminutive La Vieille Ferme blanc, it has become obvious this family is turning out some of the best whites of the Rhône. No exception here – great polish, fruit and balance. At a super price!

Aquinas 2009 Philospher’s Blend, Napa Valley, California ($32.95). I approach moderately priced Napa wines with skepticism. Often they are inferior wines trading up on the Napa name. This is an example of one that delivers quality on target – very much the philosophy of this winery. Winemaker Greg Kitchens has compiled a quite elegant, complex red based 79% on cabernet with merlot and 6% petit sirah that fills in the corners.

Dominio Del Plata 2012 Crios Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($13.95). It’s not hard to find inexpensive fruit-packed malbec nowadays but it is hard to find examples with some elegance, flair and fun drinkability. Susanna Balboa has found the secret in this straightforward, well priced “Crios” brand.

Crios De Susana Balbo Malbec 2012Concha Y Toro Marques De Casa Concha Carmenère 2008Jim Barry The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Concha Y Toro 2008 Marques De Casa Concha Carmenère Peumo, Rapel Valley, Chile ($19.95). Carmenère, the late ripening cabernet-like grape that Chile has adopted as a speciality, is undervalued up and down the price spectrum. It is capable of wines of great structure, complexity and depth when it ripens well. And Peumo has turned out to be prime terroir. This wine borders on the majestic – very impressive indeed and almost sinfully cheap for the quality it delivers.

Jim Barry 2010 The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia ($26.95). Jim Barry is based in the Clare Valley but the family purchased 14 acres of old cricket pitch within the Coonawarra appellation and planted it to cabernet. Under third generation winemaker Tom Barry the wines are showing great lustre and depth and this cabernet sourced both from Coonawarra and Clare is fine example at a very fair price.

Sara’s Sommelier Picks

Fielding Estate 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Beamsville Bench, Ontario, ($18.95). An even-keeled sauvignon blanc that is just perfectly ripe without the green, overtly grassy character often associated with the varietal yet it still boasts a juicy, vibrant palate. Fielding has really struck a wonderful balance with this sauvignon blanc making it one of the best I have tasted from Niagara in recent memory (and at a price almost anyone can swallow).

Ulisse Unico 2012 Pecorino, Terre Di Chieti, Abruzzo, Italy ($19.95). Here is a wine that scores highly on everything from complexity to approachability and exhibits terrific energy and purity of fruit. Open, expressive and easy on the wallet. A romantic detail: “pecora” in Italian means “sheep” and the name of this varietal is attributed to the contribution of the sheep grazing the mountainsides where this varietal produces its most enticing berries.

Tawse 2011 Sketches Of Niagara Cabernet/Merlot, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($20.95). Classically styled but undeniably approachable, this Bordeaux blend from the careful hands of Tawse winery is a terrific value. The 2011 growing season in Niagara was a bit of a mixed bag with cool, rainy months followed by a hot and dry period and then a rainy harvest, which produced an unpredictable vintage of sorts. Tawse certainly seems to have managed well with this charming, harmonious and polished blend.

Fielding Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013  Ulisse Unico Pecorino 2012  Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Cabernet Merlot 2011  Trivento Amado Sur Malbec Bonarda Syrah 2012  Château La Croix De Gay 2010

Trivento 2012 Amado Sur Malbec/Bonarda/Syrah, Mendoza, Argentina ($16.95). A fresh, modern wine that blends three red varieties that have found solid roots in Argentina. A memorable wine with wide appeal and plenty of grip and spunk – one of the top red values in this release.

Château La Croix De Gay 2010, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France ($47.00). Not to be missed – a stunner of a Pomerol that features impressive depth and complexity, even for the price. The wine is gracefully ageing and really beginning to reveal itself at this stage so can be consumed now or, happily, over the next 5 years. As is the right bank tradition, this is primarily a merlot based red with a relatively small dose of cabernet franc. Surprisingly, this is one of only two French reds in this release.

Szabo’s Smart Buys

L'Ecole No. 41 Red Wine 2011Godelia 2009 Red BierzoGodelia Red 2009, Spain ($20.95). In the last half decade, Bierzo has emerged as one of my favorite red wine appellations in Spain. Old vines, reasonable prices and a singular freshness rarely found in other parts of Spain contribute to the appeal. This is another fine, fragrant example of mencía, replete with dark berry fruit and violets, succulent and mouth filling palate with undeniable density and genuine old vine concentration (40-80 years old). It’s the sort of wine that makes you wonder why you would ever spend $20 for a basic commercial wine with barely half as much character. Best now-2021.

L’Ecole N° 41 2011 Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($29.95). This “Red Wine” (blend), sourced from several Columbia Valley vineyards as well as the press fractions of the L’Ecole Nº41’s estate fruit, is a maturing, evidently very rich and ripe red from this Washington State pioneer. The palate is dense and compact, firmly structured, and certainly as concentrated and deep as many Californian wines at twice the price. It will definitely appeal to fans of full bodied and powerful red wines. Best now-2023.

Julicher 99 Rows Pinot Noir 2010Cuvée Benkovac 2010Julicher 99 Rows 2010 Pinot Noir Te Muna Road, Martinborough, North Island ($24.95). This is a savoury, concentrated, generously extracted but balanced Martinborough pinot noir from a vineyard on the celebrated Te Muna Road Terrace and its alluvial gravel soils, purchased by Wim Julicher in 1996. I find this captures the savoury essence and wild fruit nature of the region accurately; this won’t be mistaken for Burgundy, but so much the better for its authentic regional character. Depth and concentration are well above the mean, and this should be taken seriously by pinot noir fans of all stripes. Best now-2020.

Cuvée Benkovac 2010 Croatia ($15.95). What an intriguing value this blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, grown in the coastal Dalmatian vineyards of northern Croatia is: savoury, spicy, resinous and potpourri scented, with a touch of leathery brettanomyces and volatile acidity to be sure, yet it seems to works well in the ensemble. Tannins are light and dusty, by now more or less fully integrated, while savoury dried fruit lingers. Well worth a look for fans of savoury, traditional old world wines done well.  Best now-2019.

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

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the April 12, 2014 VINTAGES release:

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

Editors Note: You can find our Critic’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics 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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Château St. Jean Fumé Blanc 2011


Fortessa Canada Inc

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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – Spring Spirits

Bring on the White Spirits of Spring

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Spring launched with snow still on the ground in much of Canada (stop gloating Vancouver) but maybe finally it’s time to pop open the white spirits to herald in our late much desired true spring. Across Canada new distilleries are popping up like crocuses and globally new tequilas, vodkas and gins are making their debut.

Gin can be simply defined as botanically flavoured vodka. By law, juniper berries must be the chief botanical, but many others are added such as angelica, cassia bark, citrus peels and caraway. Modern gin makers have upped the ante with more and more interesting botanicals such as cucumber, rose petals, elderflower, lavender, cilantro and pepper.

Ungava, a fantastic tasting Canadian premium gin made by Domaine Pinnacle in Quebec is flavoured with indigenous Canadian botanicals of our far north such as Nordic juniper, Labrador tea leaf, crowberry, cloudberry and wild rose hips. It’s the most intriguing gin I’ve tasted and I recommend it be sipped simply chilled or on the rocks. Dillon’s in Beamsville, Ontario, makes their Gin 22, by passing vapour through 22 botanicals. It’s gentle, rounded and smooth. Perfect to make an easy going G&T. Victoria Gin, hand produced in small batches on Vancouver Island, is distilled from ten botanicals (natural and wild gathered).  Packed with personality, citrus peels come through on the nose as well as gentle juniper along with floral notes from rose petals.

Ungava Canadian Premium Gin   Dillon's Unfiltered Gin 22   Victoria Gin

Further afield, from London, Beefeater 24 in a bottle inspired by an early 20th century flask, is flavoured with 12 botanicals (including grapefruit peel, Seville orange and Japanese sencha tea) infused in grain spirit for 24 hours prior to distillation. The London #1 Gin also from 12 botanicals is a light turquoise colour derived in part from gardenia flowers and a final infusion of bergamot oil. No.3 London Dry Gin made in Holland but unmistakably traditional London Dry Gin has juniper at its heart to lend a characteristic pine and lavender overtone that I for one, absolutely love. Plymouth Gin has a higher proportion of roots such as orris and angelica in its recipe which gives it a smooth sweetness and a long finish. It’s flavourful with an array of bright distinctive lingering botanical aromas and robust power.

BEEFEATER 24  The London No. 1 Gin  No 3 London Dry  Plymouth English Gin

The original James Bond martini was based on gin and so was the first martini ever made. That being the case, a classic martini should use a gin where the juniper shines brightly such as Plymouth, Beefeater 24, or No. 3 London Dry. And easy on the vermouth. As Churchill once said “I would like to observe the vermouth from across the room while I drink my martini, leaving as much room for the gin as possible, naturally.” Chill a martini glass by putting ice in the glass. Add 2.5 oz gin and 0.5 oz (or just a few drops) dry vermouth to cocktail mixing glass filled with ice. Stir for 15 to 30 seconds to your desired dilution. Strain into cooled, empty martini glass. Garnish with lemon zest or olive speared with a toothpick.

Tromba Reposado Tequila Tromba Añejo TequilaAgave spirits have graduated in our markets from Jimmy Buffet songs and college parties to seriously delicious tipples. Tequila, produced primarily in the Mexican state of Jalisco is made from the Blue Agave plant. Blanco is unaged (but can be aged up to two months), reposado is two months to less than a year and añejo must be aged for at least a year but fewer than three.

Tromba Tequila (all 100% agave), founded by Canadian Eric Bass, Mexican master distiller Marco Cedano and others has recently got listings for their reposado and añejo in Canada. Tromba Reposado spent six months aging in Jack Daniel’s barrels and is silky smooth. Tromba Añejo was aged in Jack Daniel’s barrels for two years to give it a mellowed, honeyed agave character.

Dulce Vida Tequila is organic, 100% agave tequila that’s strong (50% alcohol) and powerful. Dulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila Blanco is intense and bright with peppery power. Dulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila Reposado is single barrel aged in American bourbon barrels for up to 11 months. Dulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila Anejo isaged for 18 to 24 months in American bourbon barrels.

Vodka, the world’s second most popular spirit continues to evolve with new flavours and artisanal production. Canada’s Iceberg Vodka, made using harvested icebergs now has a cold sensitive label that reveals a Canadian Maple Leaf when chilled down.  A new recently introduced flavour is Iceberg Chocolate Mint. Prepared to find it too syrupy, I was surprised at how good it was – like a liquid spirited after dinner mint. I’m now keen to try their other flavours namely Cucumber, and Crème Brulée which are available only in Alberta and Newfoundland so far.

Dulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila Blanco  Dulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila ReposadoDulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila Anejo Iceberg Chocolate Mint Flavoured Vodka Russian Standard Platinum Vodka

Russia may not be in our good books but so far Russian vodka still is. Russian Standard Platinum Vodka passed through an exclusive silver filtration system is ultra creamy and silky. Well chilled it makes a smooth sipping vodka martini. Let’s raise a glass to spring.

Margaret Swaine

For all of Margaret’s picks click here: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits Editors Note: You can find Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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http://www.winealign.com/wines/28154-Luxardo-Maraschino-Originale-Liqueur


County in the City

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Vintages Preview March 29 Release (Part Two)

The Stars Align over Perez Cruz Carmenere, California Fume, Loire Sauvignon, Constantia Chardonnay & Santorini Assyrtiko
by David Lawrason, with Sara d’Amato and John Szabo

We apologize for the delay in delivering this edition – the first instance I can recall since WineAlign began previewing VINTAGES releases in 2008.  The last tasting opportunity at VINTAGES normally occurs on the Tuesday prior to the release, but was  postponed until Thursday, giving our jet-lagged team less than 24 hours to taste, prepare this report and add all the reviews to the database. Sara d’Amato kicked things off last week with her look at VINTAGES entire operation, and some highlights from this release.  This week all three of us pick apart the rest of what is an “average” release in many respects, except for a couple of excellent chardonnays and a clutch of 2010 Bordeaux In Store Discoveries. There are always some gems however, and we have come together on five wines where “The Stars Align”.

WineAlign Ontario Critic Team

The Stars Align
(Wines independently highlighted by two or more WineAlign critics)

Pérez Cruz 2012 Limited Edition Carmenère, Maipo Valley, Chile ($19.95). A rare triple play as three critics put this wine in the spotlight. David Lawrason – This small estate quite high in the Andean foothills has a rock strewn terroir that imparts more compactness and tighter structure than many others, and here it nicely tones and tames the often overly exuberant nature of carmenere. Sara d’Amato – This progressive carmenere specialist rarely disappoints. This limited edition bottling features a distinctive, dark, dense and compelling carménère with notes of mocha, bright wild berries and blue fruit. Moody, brooding and potentially addictive.  John Szabo – The Pérez Cruz cabernet sauvignon has been a fixture on the LCBO list for years, but it’s a pleasure to see this dense, flavourful, very ripe but fresh example of carmenere as well. It manages plenty of concentration and depth without sacrificing balance or varietal character; solid stuff to be sure, a go-to BBQ wine.

Château St. Jean 2011 Fumé Blanc,  Sonoma County, California  ($19.95).  Sara d’Amato – Another charming California selection at a very fair price.By the way, the “Jean” is pronounced in an Anglicized way, like the pants, not our former Prime Minister Chretien. Fume Blanc is one of my favourite style/varietals produced in California. Not only is it often relatively inexpensive, it delivers oodles of complex, pleasurable, challenging enjoyment. And despite its namesake harking back to the old-world, Pouilly-Fume sauvignons of the Loire Valley, these California styles are distinct in their flavour profile offering juicy intensity and a taste of the exotic intermeshed with the smoky and flinty. David Lawrason – Ditto. Wood aged Fume Blanc is California’s best take on sauvignon and Chateau St. Jean has a long track record of success. This is stylish without being heavy.

Cave Du Haut-Poitou 2012 Vallée Loire Sauvignon Blanc, Haut-Poitou, France ($16.95). David Lawrason – This large co-op is been a go-to source for bright, great value sauvignons for as long as I can remember. Super modern, super value.  Sara d’Amato – Perhaps it is a hope for spring but I’m certainly in sauvignon blanc state of mind these days. Here is an oh-so lovely example that takes the best of the old and new worlds and melds them into a tidy but inviting package. Modern and appealing but there is nothing over-extracted or extreme here. Lovely floral aromatics of acacia and white flower are exotically enticing. Don’t miss out – I predict this to be a fast-mover!

Pérez Cruz Reserva Limited Edition Carmenère 2012Château St. Jean Fumé Blanc 2011Cave Du Haut Poitou Vallée Loire Sauvignon Blanc 2012Bayton Chardonnay 2012Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2011

 

Bayten 2012 Chardonnay, Constantia, South Africa ($17.95).  David Lawrason – The verdant Constantia Valley is now a wealthy suburb of Cape Town, with prized vineyards facing urban sprawl. The region was first planted in the 1670s, making it –arguably – the first wine region of the New World. And Bayten, formerly called Buitenverwachting, was part of the original estate. This ultra-modern, mineral tinged chardonnay from non-irrigated decomposed granite soils shows depth well beyond its price – a constant refrain of South Africa, from which both John and I have just returned. John Szabo – This lovely, ripe, soft and gentle chardonnay from the historic region of Constantia that could easily pass for a much more expensive example from the new world, and the length and depth are indeed excellent for the price category.

Estate Argyros 2011 Santorini, Greece ($22.95). John Szabo – Argyros is one of the leading producers on the island of Santorini, with an amazing collection of old vineyards, which, in some cases, are older than anyone really knows. This 2011 offers the typical, and unusual, subtle aromatics of assyrtiko grown on these desperately poor volcanic soils, though the palate tells a more straightforward tale of marvelous intensity and depth, length and structure, with palpable dry extract and fiercely salty character. An impeccable value, with the potential to age well into the next decade, this wine should not be missed by fans of minerally, characterful white wines. Sara d’Amato – Love at first sip? It is possible that you’ll experience some fatal attraction here so beware. It sounds like high praise but it is all true and besides, if you haven’t tried the product of old assyrtiko vines planted in the volcanic soils of one of the most beautiful islands on earth, Santorini, then here is your moment. A wow-worthy offering for your next soirée.

Lawrason’s Take

Château Fleur De Jean Gué 2010, Lalande-de-Pomerol, France ($24.95). This is the best value in a spate of excellent 2010 Bordeaux on this release. We have much to look forward to the 2010s roll through Vintages in the weeks ahead. I’ve highly rated in Store Discoveries Chateau Giscours, Calon-Segur and Les Haut de Pontet Canet, but they are triple digit wines for collectors. To peek inside the vintage at a much more affordable price try this deft merlot (85%) and cabernet franc from a “satellite” appellation of the famed Pomerol AOC. (Sara d’Amato also recommended this wine last week)

Maison Roche De Bellene 2011 Vieilles Vignes Chassagne-Montrachet, Burgundy, France ($49.95).  I was tasting along the row of pretty good chardonnays, and two shone way above the pack, scoring low-mid nineties. There was the more expensive Freestone also highlighted by Sara below, and this less expensive classic, modern, mouth-watering Chassagne with minerality, pure fruit and judicious oak.  Maison Roche de Bellene was established in 2005 by the highly respected Nicolas Potel who sources solely from parcels of old vine, biodynamically farmed sites. If you wouldn’t normally spend $50 on chardonnay, here is one place to consider a splurge.

Evans & Tate 2010 Metricup Road Shiraz Margaret River, Western Australia  ($22.95). The shiraz of Margaret River are always a bit more ‘cool climate’ than those of South Australia, and this example from a single vineyard within a few kilometres of the Indian Ocean, shows it perfectly, with a sleeker, slightly more tense feel. Still lots of fruit however and classic shiraz pepper.

 

Château Fleur De Jean Gué 2010Maison Roche De Bellene Vieilles Vignes Chassagne Montrachet 2011Evans & Tate Metricup Road Shiraz 2010Le Clos Jordanne Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011Gemma Giblin Riserva Barolo 2006

Le Clos Jordanne 2011 Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Pinot Noir, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($45.00) With the departure of winemaker Thomas Bachelder, the bowing out of financial and founding partner Jean-Charles Boisset from Burgundy, and the abandonment of biodynamic/organic farming principles since 2011, Le Clos Jordanne has changed since the glory days of the mid-2000s when I wrote about it in Toronto Life as the project that would put Niagara pinot on the map.  But there is a very serious, focused young French winemaker named Sébastien Jacquey now at the helm, and given all he has had to deal with, including a tough vintage in 2011, he has done a great job with this wine. It is a bit rough around the edges but it is complex and deeply flavoured and very Burgundian.

Gemma 2006 Giblin Riserva Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($40.95). This old warhorse rises up on its hind legs and almost breathes fire – in the form of some acetone and almost cringe-worthy sourness. However, the fruit centre is very much intact and it has all kinds of power, intensity and complexity. It demands strong, rustic culinary companions.  It’s an imperfect but compelling nebbiolo from a great vintage, from a small house in Serralunga d’Alba that only began producing its range of Piemontese wines in 1978 – a babe in this neck of the woods.

Sara’s Sommelier Picks

Joseph Phelps Freestone Chardonnay 2011Joseph Phelps Freestone 2011 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California ($73.95). Such obvious care has been lavished on this chardonnay! Such remarkable depth and structure! Pre-dawn grape picking ensures that that the grapes are cool when pressed and retain maximum acidity. In addition, other quality enhancing techniques have been used such as whole cluster pressing straight to barrel in which it underwent a natural ferment (using “wild yeast”). Although the wine was aged for 14 months in wood, mostly older or larger barrels were used to ensure that the spicy wood flavours were nicely restrained. Certainly no cost was spared in the production of this wine and such a price gets passed along to the consumer. In this strong vintage in Sonoma, best described by the terms long and moderate and “moderate” best describes the 2012 growing season in Sonoma which produced whites of impressive elegance such as this fine example. Lovers of Burgundian and Californian styles will find merit alike.

Casal di Serra Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico SuperioreAndretta Brunello Di Montalcino 2007Casal Di Serra 2011 Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi Classico Superiore, Marche, Italy ($17.95). The soils of the Marche in Central Italy are home to the expressive and endearing verdicchio varietal whose vibrancy, freshness and salinity come to focus in this high-quality example. Produced from 100% verdicchio (the appellation requires a minimum of 85%) and fermented with natural yeasts. Over the past 30 years Casal di Serra has focused on enhancing the quality and recognition of verdicchio in the Marche and has a uniquely keen appreciation of the varietal.

Andretta 2007 Brunello Di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy, ($53.95). A great Brunello can prove an almost out-of-body experience featuring a touch of escapism and a soupçon of the ethereal. For those looking to add to their cellar collection, there is still another 4-5 years of enjoyment here.

Szabo’s Smart Buys

Château Lafon Rochet 2010Contraste White 2012Contraste 2012 White, Douro, Portugual ($18.95). Conceito is a relatively new producer in the historic Douro Valley, but the wines, made by Rita Ferreira, show the class and elegance of much more established houses. This is a fun, fragrant, juicy and well-balanced white, an instance of the whole (the blend) being greater than the parts (the grapes). Serve now, nicely chilled with salads, fresh seafood/shellfish and similar.

Château Lafon-Rochet 2010, Saint-Estèphe, Bordeaux ($84.85). A small cache of top-level Bordeaux reds will hit the shelves on the 29th – the remnants of the 2010 futures campaign that went unclaimed – good news for collectors who missed out on the first tranche. My pick of the lot, for both quality and value goes, to Lafon-Rochet, a classy, well-balanced and elegant wine, though still highly structured and ageworthy. I’d tuck this in the cellar for another 3-5 years minimum before revisiting, but this should also reach 20-25 years of age without too many wrinkles. Best 2018-2030+

Montirius Terre Des Aînés Gigondas 2007Quinta Dos Carvalhais 2010Domaine Montirius 2007 Terre Des Aînés Gigondas, Rhone Valley, France ($24.95). A leading organic/biodynamic property in the southern Rhône, Montirius has been a personal favorite over many vintages. It’s a treat to see their mature ’07 Gigondas released now, having moved into a beautiful stage of evolution. The impressive range of flavours on offer is also proof positive that terrific, complex wine can be made without the use of oak for flavouring.

Quinta Dos Carvalhais 2010 Colheita, Dão, Portugal. ($17.95).  The Dão continues to impress with its stylish, fragrant and floral-fruity expressions of touriga nacional (and blends), with prices that remain in the 20thC. Carvalhais is a consistent over-deliverer of value in my estimation, as this 2010 ably demonstrates (try also the Duque de Viseu bottling from the same producer, released in December at just $13.95). This is just hitting a perfect zone of drinkability. Best 2014-2018.

The 2011 Ports On Sale Now

Vintages Shop on Line opened its ordering March 27 for the much vaunted 2011 Ports. The gates close April 17. Last fall WineAlign critics tasted a range of 2011s and our reviews can be found on the WineAlign database. And yes  – it is true – most are excellent to outstanding quality (93-98 point range), and so agreeable in their youth that you may be tempted to try them now. So go ahead; but do lay some away as well. You can order on line or by phone.

WineAlign Hosts a Jackson-Triggs dinner at Epic

It’s not easy being big. Jackson-Triggs is perhaps the most familiar name in Canadian wine, a very large company indeed with wines of all price points and styles readily available in the LCBO and the company’s own Wine Rack stores. But the story less obvious is the improvement in the quality since Italian winemaker Marco Picoli took over its VQA brands, especially in the range of harder-to-find Reserve wines.  On April 10 join me to explore the Reserves at a fine five-course tasting dinner at the Fairmont Hotels Epic Restaurant. Register here.

And that’s a wrap for this week. We’ll be back next week with our first look at the April 12 release that features wines from Italy’s Veneto (amarone fans can rev their engines).

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the Mar 29, 2014 Vintages release:

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

Editors Note: You can find our Critic’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics 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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Château St. Jean Fumé Blanc 2011


California Wine Fair

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LCBO Top Values and New Releases

Welcome to expanded coverage of wines on the LCBO’s “General List”. Each month there will be a report on a regional or grape variety theme, a selection of new release recommendations, and an updating of Steve Thurlow’s Top 50 Value List. (We are very sorry about the inconvenience, but due to the postponement of a VINTAGES tasting and the very recent return of David and John from a trip to South Africa, VINTAGES Preview will be published Friday at about noon)

South America’s Fountain of Value
By Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

I have just returned from a two-week trip to Chile and Argentina leading a tour group that included many WineAlign readers. All were delighted by the quality and even more pleased by the value. At virtually every winery we visited there were at least two or three outstanding value wines. Quality is evident at all price points, but at less than $16 wines from these countries dominate the shelves at the LCBO for value.

For some time now, I have been visiting this region about twice a year. South America benefits from low labour and land costs and both places have weak currencies. In many cases wineries also have low capital costs due to infrastructure paid for a hundred years ago. They compete ferociously for market share and export revenue is very important. So costs and hence prices have always been low, while quality improves in leaps and bounds. Take advantage now since it may not last for ever.

I have updated my notes with the latest vintages, including nine highly recommended wines that have made it onto my Top 50 Values list (see more below). Use WineAlign to create and print your list of those available at your local store. Furthermore, thanks to WineAlign’s inventory tracking, I can assure you that there were decent stocks available as of March 24th of all the wines below. And if you find yourself enjoying them over the next months, perhaps you might be tempted to join me when I return to South America with another group in March 2015? See www.stevethurlow.com

Top 50 White Picks

Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier 2013Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier 2013, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($9.95). This is a beautiful lightweight viognier with tropical fruit aromas with tangerine blossom, peach and baked apple fruit with spice and nutty tones. It is light to midweight with the fruit well-balanced by vibrant acidity. Great focus and very good length with a long fruity finish. Its terrific value. Enjoy on its own lightly chilled with party nibbles or at the table with poultry dishes or sautéed seafood.

Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013, Central Valley, Chile ($9.95). You get a lot of wine for your money with this juicy ripe sauvignon. It had a lively fruity palate with the passion fruit and pear fruit flavours finely balanced by soft lemony acidity. Very good length. Expect mild aromas of lime and melon fruit with mineral tones. Try with oysters or fresh goats cheese salad.

Santa Carolina Chardonnay Reserva 2012Amalaya Torrontes Riesling 2012Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2013Santa Carolina Chardonnay Reserva 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($11.95). A delicious lightly oaked chardonnay with a creamy lively palate. Expect aromas of melon, oak spice and lemon with toffee notes. It is very smooth on the palate with soft acidity which keeps it feeling light. It finishes dry and a little bitter with very good length. Try with white meats, creamy cheeses and seafood. Don’t overchill.

Amalaya Torrontés Riesling 2012, Salta, Argentina ($10.95). This is a complex aromatic white from the Salta region, in northern Argentina, which is the home of the aromatic indigenous torrontés grape. It is a blend of 85% of that grape with 15% riesling; the addition of which gives some zip to the mid palate and finish. Expect floral aromas of honeysuckle with ripe melon and canned pear fruit with ginger spice. The palate is mid-weight, rich and creamy with very good length. Enjoy as an aperitif or with mildly spicy Asian cuisine or rich seafood dishes. Delisted there are around 1000 bottles remaining.

Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Aconcagua Coast, Chile ($15.95). This is an exceptionally good sauvignon from the cool Aconcagua coastal region. Expect pure clean mineral aromas of green apple skin, nettle, dill and cucumber with lemon freshness. It’s light to midweight and well-balanced with very good to excellent length. Good focus. Try with poached fish with a tangy lemon dill sauce.

Top 50 Red Picks

Trapiche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Carmen Carmenere Reserva 2013Carmen Carmenere Reserva 2013, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($11.45). A fruity aromatic wine with fresh black cherry and plum fruit aromas and flavours. It is great value with an elegant pure fruity, vibrant palate. There is some complexity with cedar, smoke and tobacco in the mix. Well balanced and juicy with good to very good length. Best 2014 to 2018. Try with grilled meats.

Trapiche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina ($11.95). This is an opaque cabernet with none of cabernet’s greenness and a delicate nose. Expect aromas of blackberry fruit with some subtle oak spice, dark chocolate and a hint of black olive. It finishes dry with the fruit balanced by acidity and fruit. Very good length. Try with a steak. Best 2014 to 2016.

Santa Julia Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Cousiño Macul Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Santa Julia Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina ($13.00). This is a finely balanced cabernet with complex aromas and flavours. Expect violets, blackberry and prune fruit with mild oak spice and some earthy tones. It is medium to full-bodied with a balanced finish and mild tannin. Very good length. Try with a steak. Best 2014 to 2020.

Cousiño Macul Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maipo Valley, Chile $13.95 until March 30th was ($15.95). Cousino Macul has been making Antiguas Reservas for decades and it keeps getting better. Still very youthful, this is a cellar candidate that’s fine now but even better if you decant for an hour or so before serving. It is very classy with a degree of elegance rarely found in such an inexpensive wine. The nose is youthful with the cassis fruit aromas complicated by tobacco, dark chocolate, menthol and herb notes. It is medium to full-bodied and very smooth with the ripe fruit balanced by soft acidity with a little dry tannin giving some grip to the finish. Very good length. Will develop more complexity with a few years in the cellar. For now, decant for an hour and enjoy with a steak. Best 2014 to 2020.

New Releases on the LCBO General List (GL)

Here are recently encountered new releases worthy of note; sometimes for quality, sometimes for value, or because they add something new to the mix. Click on the links to see reviews by WineAlign critics.

New GL Whites

Wayne Gretzky 2012 Riesling, Niagara Peninsula ($13.95). This is a great buy with real Niagara nerve and authentic riesling persona. Low alcohol is key to its buoyancy.

Riverview 2012 Gewürztraminer Angelina’s Reserve, Niagara River ($18.95). This big, buxom and almost blowsy gewürz has been turning heads, and not just in this vintage. Alsatian gewürz fans should have a look.

Hugel 2012 Sylvaner, Alsace, France ($14.95). Always under-stated and often under-rated dry Alsatian sylvaner is offer an ideal backdrop to subtle fish and pork creations – and asparagus.

New GL Reds

Louis Latour 2011 Gamay, Burgundy, France ($18.95). Here’s a rare French gamay this is not from Beaujolais. Not a world beater but interesting for fans of this increasingly popular light red.

Michel Lynch 2011 Merlot, Bordeaux, France ($16.95). This is a decent, mid-weight fairly fleshy Bordeaux merlot (100%) from a well-regarded negociant. A but more charm than other basic Bordeaux.

Bellingham 2012 Big Oak Red, Western Cape, South Africa ($11.80). This is a fairly hefty, good value shiraz cabernet blend named for a tree on Bellingham’s property, not necessarily length of time in oak barrels.

Goats in Villages 2011 Shiraz Pinotage, Western Cape, South Africa ($12.95). This over delivers for the money – a fairly rich, smooth yet not soupy blend that captures syrah pepper and pinotage acidity and curranty fruit.

Bodega Volcanes 2012 Summit Cabernet Syrah, Rapel Valley, Chile ($10.95). Decent value for an approachable, youthful and smooth fruit centred red. Chill a bit.

Steve’s Top 50 Value Wines at LCBO

Steve's Top Value WinesThere are about 1,500 wines listed at the LCBO that are always available, plus another 100 or so VINTAGES Essentials. At WineAlign I maintain a list of the Top 50 LCBO and VINTAGES Essentials wines selected by price and value – in other words, the best least expensive wines. To be included in the Top 50 for value a wine must be inexpensive while also having a high score, indicating high quality. I use a mathematical model to make the Top 50 selections from the wines in our database. Every wine is linked to WineAlign where you can read more, discover pricing discounts, check out inventory and compile lists for shopping at your favourite store. Never again should you be faced with a store full of wine with little idea of what to pick for best value.

Once you have tried a wine, you can use the ‘thumbs up/thumbs down’ to agree or disagree with our reviews. Or better yet, you can add your own review and join our growing community of user reviewers. If you find that there is a new wine on the shelf, or a new vintage that we have not reviewed, let us know. It is very easy to do this. Click on Update This Wine or send an email to feedback@winealign.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

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 50 LCBO and Vintages Essentials Wines

Editors Note: You can find our Critic’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics 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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Quinta do Noval Tawny Port


County in the City

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Vintages Preview March 15 Release (Part Two)

The Highlight Reel and Beyond

Last week we brought you our highlights among the California wines in VINTAGES March 15 release, and they were, as usual, very tasty but very pricy. Our critics (David Lawrason, John Szabo and Sara d’Amato) combine this week to present a much wider, more eclectic and better value range of wines from around the globe. And we remind you that the wines below may be highlights, but they are not at all the whole story. Please, please spend some time searching out those wines that might be scoring 87 points at $15, or 91 points at $50 that have not quite made this value-oriented highlight reel.

WineAlign Ontario Critic Team

The Stars Align
(Wines independently highlighted by two or more critics.)

Château Le Vieux Serestin 2009Borges Reserva 2009Borges 2009 Reserva, Douro Valley, Portugal ($21.95). SD - For those who are looking to add to your cellar but are trying to stick to a budget, here is a wine that would do very well on its side for another 2-3 years. Alternatively, decanting for an hour or so would certainly be beneficial. The blend is mainly tinta roriz (tempranillo in Spain) and touriga nacional with a modern feel. Its award-winning streak is testament to its wide appeal. DL – There is not another region of Europe better poised to steal the reputation of Bordeaux for elegant, nuanced reds than Portugal’s Douro Valley. The transition from great sweet, port wines is, after all, only a change in processing. The terroir remains the same. And the arid, steep slope, granitic vineyards of the Douro are among the most important in the world.

Château Le Vieux Serestin 2009 Médoc, Bordeaux ($17.95). SD – One of the first Chateaux in Bordeaux to qualify for the new Cru Artisan qualification was re-introduced in 2006. Never heard of this classification? Not surprising – it dates back over 150 years and was forgotten until producers lobbied for EU recognition in 2004. A group of about 50 producers find themselves in this category, which is just below the classification of Cru Bourgeois and requires re-certification every 10 years. Le Vieux Serestin has been producing some exciting, eco-friendly and carefully managed wines under the direction of its current owners since the early 80s. This very good value blend is drinking at its peak now and shows both power and elegance. DL – I was completely surprised by the Bordeaux authenticity, appealing drinkability and complexity achieved under $20. Most Bordeaux of this quality are at least twice the price.

Rustenberg RM Nicholson 2010Clos La Coutale Cahors 2011Rustenberg 2010 R M Nicholson, Stellenbosch , South Africa ($19.95). JSz Here’s a fine, complex, distinctly South African cabernet sauvignon blended with shiraz, merlot and cabernet franc, named after former owner-winemaker Reg Merriman Nicholson, who lived and worked on the Rustenberg farm for 30 years. Its profile encompasses the unique earthy-medicinal flavours that will appeal to drinkers of old school, savoury wines. DL – Stellenbosch is among the most unique terroirs for cabernet in the world, a hot Mediterranean latitude air-conditioned by mountain slope altitudes and winds from False Bay on the Indian Ocean. The pre-historic granitic/sandstone soils impart a sense of iodine-like minerality that single malt lovers might appreciate. Gutsy stuff and not afraid to strut its origin.

Clos La Coutale 2011 Cahors, Southwest, France ($17.95). SD – A southwestern French treat, Cahors is made almost entirely from malbec (sometimes with a little merlot and tannat thrown in) and although stylistically very different from that of Argentina, it can be wonderfully compelling. This example is nicely representative but also quite approachable and friendly. JSz – Often a little too hard and angular for all but the most seasoned wine drinkers, this version of Cahors is rather ripe and polished, inviting and friendly, benefitting from the softening effects of 20% merlot blended with malbec. It’s a nice introduction to the region, easing outsiders (or Argentine malbec drinkers) into the structured world of Southwest France.

Lawrason’s Take

Domaine De Vaugondy Brut Vouvray Méthode Traditionnelle, Loire Valley, France ($15.95). Among  a strong selection of non-Champagne bubblies on this release, this stands out for its honest, chenin blanc authenticity delivered for a shockingly good price. The amount of bubbly produced in the Loire rivals Champagne. The production method is the same. Only the grapes are different, and yes, the price.

Zenato 2011 Sergio Zenato Lugana Riserva, Italy ($28.95). If you are a fan of rich, creamy whites but want to go sideways from chardonnay consider this bright, shiny opulent white from the trebbiano grape grown in the Lugana region at the foot of Lago di Garda. It’s a regular at VINTAGES, and deservedly so.

Domaine Masson-Blondelet 2012 Pouilly Fumé, Loire Valley, France ($26.95). In the rapidly improving New Zealand led world of sauvignon blanc this small appellation on the right bank of the Loire in central France – along with Sancerre on the opposite shore – remains the beating heart of the variety. It catches some New World brightness but doesn’t lose its sense of compactness, complexity and minerality.

Domaine De Vaugondy Brut VouvrayZenato Sergio Zenato Lugana Riserva 2011Domaine Masson Blondelet Pouilly Fumé 2012Domaine Richard Rottiers Moulin À Vent 2011Albert Morot Beaune Toussaints 1er Cru 2009

Domaine Richard Rottiers 2011 Moulin-à-Vent, Beaujolais ($24.95). The parade of delicious gamays from the ten ‘cru’ villages of Beaujolais continues. If the price seems a tad higher than others it’s because Moulin-à-Vent is considered the most “serious” of the village wines, and most ageworthy. If you want to test that proposition buy at least three, drink one bottle now then stash the remainder for up to five years. Mature Moulin begins to resemble pinot noir.

Albert Morot 2009 Beaune Toussaints 1er Cru ($59.95). Burgundy purists may regard the warm 2009 vintage as just a bit too easy going and fruity (god forbid there be fruit). This is a very well made and balanced 2009, a classic strawberry-cherry centred Beaune, from an excellent producer. And there is no shortage of complexity as it begins to sail in the waters of maturity. All with great presence.

Ridge Lytton Springs 2011Giogantinu Nastarrè 2012Giogantinu 2012 Nastarrè Isola dei Nuraghi, Sardinia ($18.95). This is the find of the release for adventurers – a rustic, classic Euro red made from local varieties like Pascale di Cagliari, Malaga and Monica Cagnulari blended with some Nebbiolo (finally a grape I know). The company’s website (Giogantinu is a large co-operative) advises drinking it young “to preserve its vivacious taste”. Vivacious is exactly right.

Ridge 2011 Lytton Springs Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County ($48.95). Last week my colleagues mentioned this lovely wine in passing – to me it is the best buy in the California feature, especially if – like me – you are a disenchanted zinfandel fan. So many lesser examples are being mocha-fied and sweetened that I was thrilled to find one that was not only authentic, but dazzling. Lytton Springs does not name zinfandel on the label because it is a “field blend” that contains portions of other varieties that may add up to more than 25%. USA regs dictate a varietal name can only be used if it has 75%.

Sara’s Sommelier Selections

Moulin Camus Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2012, Loire, France ($16.95). Produced from the melon de Bourgogne varietal, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine is generally a light, fresh wine with an abundance of mineral. This version has a little more sass and depth than is the norm. One of the best examples I can recall tasting that has come through the shelves of VINTAGES. Don’t miss out, especially at this price.

Jermann 2012 Pinot Grigio, Venezia Giulia, Friuli, Italy ($32.95). It is a pricy pinot grigio but also not your typical pinot grigio. In fact, it is more akin to the rich, textured, layered examples of Alsace. With tremendous depth and length, this vibrant, rich and substantial white is sure to turn heads.

Santa Carolina 2010 Reserva De Familia Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile ($18.95). Here is a cabernet that will make it easy to please just about any guest. Nicely representative of the aromatic Maipo style and with just the right amount of complexity to maintain intrigue. As one of Chile’s oldest vineyards and high up on the list of the country’s most profitable wineries, there is great value to be found here.

Moulin Camus Muscadet Sèvre Et Maine Sur Lie 2012Jermann Pinot Grigio 2012Santa Carolina Reserva De Familia Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Patrick Lesec Cuvée Suzon Beaumes De Venise Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2011Tenuta Stefano Farina Le Brume 2009

Patrick Lesec 2011 Cuvée Suzon Beaumes De Venise, Côtes Du Rhône Villages,  France ($19.95). Beaumes de Venise makes most people familiar with the appellation think of the sweet Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. However, the region is more recently known for their dry, red blends of grenache, syrah and mourvedre. The grapes are grown on the slopes of the foothills of the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains to the north of Avignon in the Vaucluse region. Their AOC designation was awarded relatively recently in 2005 and we certainly don’t see much of this red on our shelves in Ontario. Pleasantly surprising and a terrific example of the elegance that can come from these higher elevation plantings.

Aljibes Cabernet Franc 2007Rocca Delle Macìe Tenuta Sant'alfonso Chianti Classico 2011Tenuta Stefano Farina Le Brume 2009, Langhe, Piedmont ($17.95). Deliciously faulted with terrific depth and complexity for the price. Artisanally produced with sincerity and careful attention to detail. This is the product of great love and respect. For the romantics. A blend of barbera, nebbiolo and merlot.

Rocca Delle Macìe Tenuta Sant’alfonso 2011 Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($22.95). A solid Chianti Classico that will have wide appeal due to its bold flavours and complex structure. Wafting with Tuscan sunshine, this hearty, spicy sangiovese is best enjoyed with smoked sausage or corned beef.

Aljibes Cabernet Franc 2007, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla, Spain ($24.95). Spanish cabernet franc: if you haven’t tried it, you’re missing out! And if you haven’t tried it, you’re in the majority. The variety is not particularly common in Spain and plantings are mostly found in the region of Catalonia. If you are not familiar with the term Vino de la Tierra, it is a step below the DO designated wines, with looser restrictions. Wines from Tierra de Castilla tend to be modern and progressive and this lovely example certainly fits the bill.

Szabo’s Smart Buys

Henry of Pelham 2012 Estate Chardonnay Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95).  Short Hills Bench pioneers Henry of Pelham often fly just under the radar in discussions of quality and value, but the reality is that the range is as solid and reliable as they come in Niagara, and more than occasionally a wine stands out for well over-delivering. The 2012 Estate chardonnay is such a wine, reflecting the warm, even growing conditions of the 2012 season and offering a mouth filling amalgam of fruit and spice.

Cave Spring 2012  Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué Cave Spring Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($15.95). Another local white makes the smart buy grade this week, in this case Cave Spring’s latest version of the particularly aromatic variant of chardonnay called “musqué” (although it’s unrelated to Muscat). It’s forward, intense, and aromatically engaging, while an impression of sweetness adds to the immediate appeal. Drink now with lightly spiced Thai green curries.

Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2012Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2012Domaine Michel Juillot Clos Tonnerre Mercurey 1er Cru 2010Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

Domaine Michel Juillot 2010 Clos Tonnerre Mercurey 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($32.95). Domaine Juillot has been a leading name in the Côte Châlonnaise for many years, and I’m pleased to see that quality in this 2010 more than lives up to reputation. This shows superior density and extract, all on a paradoxically light and svelte frame, delivering depth and complexity in the way that only red burgundy seems to be able to. At the price it should be taken seriously by fans of classic Burgundy to be sure.

Castello Di Ama 2009 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($35.95). Fans of top-drawer sangiovese should consider this powerful, ripe, intense example from Castello di Ama, which is just starting to come into a nice drinking window. Tertiary spice, earth and resinous herbs mingle with sweet-tart red berry fruit in a classic regional expression.

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

From the Mar 15, 2014 Vintages release:

Classic California
Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Picks
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find our Critic’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics 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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Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010


California Wine Fair

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The Successful Collector, Julian Hitner – Ribera del Duero

One exciting winegrowing region

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Without question, Ribera del Duero is a land of extremes. How else to describe a region where summer day-/night-time temperatures vary by double digits and soil compositions are too numerable to relate. Such is the crux of Ribera, nowadays lauded as one of the most prosperous and popular names on the Spanish winegrowing scene.

An hour’s drive north of Madrid, the last twenty years have witnessed an unfathomable transformation in this 115-km stretch of the Duero River, which eventually flows into Portugal (passing the port vineyards) and empties into the Atlantic. From just a handful of bodegas in 1990 to over 200 today, vineyards continue to be planted at a breathtaking pace. While this has not been without controversy on account of too many vines being planted in overly productive sites, the result has been a growing appreciation of just how glorious Tinto Fino can be.

Ribera del DueroOtherwise known as Tinta del País (another local name for this particular strain of Tempranillo), much of Ribera’s success may be attributed to the ways in which the region’s finest growers have brought out the best qualities of this marvellous grape. Of these, lush strawberry-driven flavours (often rather fragrant), full-bodiedness, and structural acuity are particular hallmarks. Though other grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec are also permitted, the best examples usually consist of 100% Tinto Fino, sourced from extremely old vines ranging from 35 to over 100 years. Styles tend to range from the more floral and sensual to the more blatantly oak-driven and saturated.

As always, personal preference plays a role. Some may prefer a less powerful, more fruit-forward ‘Crianza’ (aged for a minimum of one year in wood and one in bottle). A wine labelled as ‘Joven’ will have had no wood ageing at all, while one marked as ‘Roble’ will have been aged in wood for well under a year. Others may opt for a more poignant, tighter structured ‘Reserva’ (aged for a minimum of one year in wood and two in bottle); while some may enjoy a full-bodied, especially complex ‘Gran Reserva’ (aged for a minimum of two years in wood and three in bottle). Finally, there are those who may prefer the increasingly celebrated single-vineyard bottlings for which many of the finest winegrowing establishments are famous. These are usually aged along more Bordelaise-style lines in French and/or American oak barrels for roughly 18 to 24 months or more.

Such wines owe as much to Tinto Fino as to the conditions in which this star grape has been able to thrive. As mentioned in the beginning, soil compositions are fretfully varied, though clay-based sands over alternating layers and limestone and marl (sometimes chalk) are generally the norm. Tinto Fino seems to do remarkably well when planted in such conditions.

Ribera del Duero

A typical vineyard in Ribera del Duero

Climate would seem to play an even more significant role. Located on the great northern plateau of the Iberian Peninsula, elevations are unusually high in this part of the country, between 750 to over 850 metres. In the summer months, this means extremely hot days (up to 36 degrees) and very cool nights (as low as 8 degrees). The result is a slow, prolonged ripening cycle, accentuating the potential flavour of the grapes without any loss of acidity. Few other places in the winegrowing world enjoy such variations in temperature. Rainfall is also notably low, usually taking place in the winter months.

All of this has lead to an incredible leap in both the overall quality and popularity of the region’s wines, not to mention a colossal proliferation of bodegas throughout the D.O. Many of these are family-owned and are supplied by estate-grown or purchased grapes. The difference between the two is a source of great pride for most winegrowers, as the former are usually considered preferable over the latter (though some growers may opt to lease vineyards via a long-term agreement).

Also not to be discounted is wine tourism, which is likely to play an increasingly prominent role in the coming years. Not surprisingly, many bodegas both old and new have invested heavily over the past decade in renovating and expanding their buildings. Though many owners are quick to point out that their primary aim is to improve quality, there is little mistaking the effect an architecturally attractive building can have on the eye. At the end of the day, the name of the game is to impress.

The excitement at the moment is certainly palpable. In just a short period of time, Ribera del Duero has gone from comparative anonymity to one of the most successful winegrowing regions in Spain, showing few signs of slowing down. How long this will last is anyone’s guess, though wine lovers everywhere stand the most grateful beneficiaries.

Top estates in Ribera del Duero:

Vega Sicilia: The most famous estate in the region, the wines of Vega Sicilia are synonymous with individuality and luxury. Under the skillful, philosophical hand of director Xavier Ausas, the estate has gone from strength to strength since its inception in the mid-19th century, having inaugurated an entirely new winemaking facility just a few years ago. Each parcel in the vineyards is now vinified separately, Ausas likening this arrangement to a painter utilizing every colour and infinite number of shades on the palate. Three wines are produced from mostly old-vine Tinto Fino: Valbuena, Único, and Único Especial (a blend of various vintages). Most estates would do well to produce wine half as fine as those crafted at Vega Sicilia.

Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5 Cosecha 2009Aalto PS 2011Vega Sicilia 2009 Valbuena 5 Cosecha ($185.00) is generally regarded as the ‘second wine’ of the bodega, boasting incredible concentration and charm. Though the flagship Único is unaffordable for most persons, the ’09 Valbuena 5 Cosecha is highly recommendable any day of the week. Decanting is highly advisable. Available through Halpern Enterprises.

Aalto: Co-owned by former Vega Sicilia winemaker Mariano Garcia and former director of the Consejo Regulador Javier Zaccagnini, Aalto has only been in existence for only fifteen years and is already widely considered one of the top bodegas in Ribera del Duero. The partnership between these two brilliant gentlemen has been a roaring success, their unsurpassed wealth of expertise bringing to bear two wines of sensational quality: Aalto and the flagship label Aalto PS. Both are crafted from 100% Tinto Fino, sourced from extremely old vines from some of the finest plots in the region. Quality is unimpeachable.

Aalto PS 2011 ($135.00) is one of my most insistent recommendations. The flagship label of the bodega, this magnificent creature (crafted from 100% Tinto Fino) delivers unparalleled concentration, structure, and flavour. I’ve even ordered a case for my own cellar. Decanting is obligatory. Available through Trialto Wine Group.

Dominio de Pingus: The boutique winery of Danish owner/winemaker Peter Sisseck, Dominio de Pingus has enjoyed cult status for some time now. The wines are crafted from 100% Tinto Fino and are worth every laurel they almost always receive: Pingus and ‘second wine’ Flor de Pingus. The philosophy at this super-small establishment is Burgundian in inclination and holistic in orientation. Grapes are sourced from extremely old vines planted in some of the best soil conditions in the region. In the mid-1990s, Sisseck made the unusual decision of selling all of his wine en primeur (i.e. before they are bottled), freeing his team up so that they may concentrate exclusively on quality. The results speak for themselves.

Dominio De Pingus Flor De Pingus 2012Dominio de Pingus 2012 Flor de Pingus ($125.00) is the ‘second wine’ of this cult operation. Though not yet bottled at time of examination, it augurs a phenomenal future. Crafted from 100% Tinto Fino, every Spanish wine lover ought to do their utmost to get their hands on this magnificent wine. Decanting is advisable. Available through Profile Wine Group.

Viña Sastre: An impeccable source for some of the most powerful examples in the region, Viña Sastre enjoys a considerable reputation these days. With access to extremely old vines (mostly Tinto Fino), the aim of co-owner/winemaker Juan Manuel is to craft wines of extraordinary concentration and depth. New oak (both French and American) is employed in abundance; and while the style might not be for everyone, the quality of the range is remarkably high. Five wines are produced: Roble, Crianza, Pago de Santa Cruz, Regina Vides, and Pesus. The oak regimens on the last three are especially marked, demanding long-term cellaring.

Bodega Rodero: Owner/winemaker Carmelo Rodero is something of a maverick when it comes to winemaking, employing a radical system of rotating vats and bins lifted by pulleys so as to avoid the use of pumps during fermentation. The results are very impressive: powerful, chewy wines crafted from old-vine Tinto Fino and small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon. A resplendent new winery and welcome centre (including a banquet room for large functions) was completed several years ago. These are wines worth getting excited about.

Pago de Carraovejas: Owned by the Ruiz family, Pago de Carraovejas is a highly estimable operation, particularly when considering its size. Quality is generally excellent, though the better balanced examples are those where the use of new oak is less apparent. Four red wines are produced from mostly Tinto Fino: Crianza, Reserva, Cuesta de las Liebres, and El Anejón. The three whites (each 100% Verdejo) are also of high quality: Quintaluna (based out of Rueda), Ossian, and Ossian Capitel (sourced from 160-year-old vines). Because whites may not be labelled as Ribera del Duero, Ossian and Ossian Capitel are marketed as Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Léon. Other large-sized establishments could learn a great deal from this producer.

Wines currently available in Vintages:

Cepa 21 Hito 2010Resalte De Peñafiel Peña Roble Reserva 2004Bodegas Vizcarra JC Vizcarra 2010Bodegas Vizcarra 2010 JC Vizcarra ($28.95) delivers a decisively beautiful amalgam of aromatic and textural characteristics, making for an outstandingly delicious offering. Having now tasted several wines from this impeccable bodega, my advice to Spanish lovers would be to stock up whenever (and wherever) possible. Decanting is advisable.

Resalte de Peñafiel 2004 Peña Roble Reserva ($31.95) is performing superbly at ten years of age, though it will keep for some time yet. Sourced from vines over twenty-five years of age, it’s wines like these that serve only to highlight the successes of Ribera del Duero as a whole. A gentle decanting for sediment is worthwhile.

Cepa 21 2010 Hito ($17.95) is an ideal recommendation for everyday drinking, though it will mellow further for those with a proper cellar. Crafted from 100% Tinto Fino, its most prominent feature is its appropriate accessibility of fruit—an often overlooked attribute for wines of this type. Decanting is likely unnecessary.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Editors Note: You can find our critics reviews by clicking on any of the links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great reviews.

Julian’s Ribera del Duero Reviews
All Julian Hitner Reviews


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Vintages Preview for March 15th 2014

This week’s report looks at California’s record-breaking export success, and some top wines from the California-themed March 15th VINTAGES release selected by John Szabo MS and Sara d’Amato. Link also to John’s Benvenuto Brunello report on the latest releases – mainly the 2009s and the 2008 riservas – from Brunello di Montalcino, in which he examines the unofficial proposal to subdivide Montalcino into subzones, canvassing several growers for their views, reports on the 2009 vintage, and highlights over 30 top picks. Keen fans of this great Tuscan red won’t want to miss Benvenuto Brunello event in Toronto on March 10th, the first time the Brunello Consortium has come here to present new releases in a decade. Elsewhere, read John’s controversial defense of France as the birthplace of terroir.

California Wine Exports Reach All-time High in 2013

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Ontario, and Canada are very strong markets for Californian wines. We like the Golden State’s offerings well enough to rank as their second largest export market, behind only the 28-member European Union (considered a single market for statistical purposes). In 2013 we drank 454 million dollars worth, up 12% over the previous year. California is also flying high in the rest of the world, breaking all export records in 2013 and hitting 1.55 billion in winery revenues.

So what’s the secret of success? Producing excellent wines is an obvious factor. “Consumers across the globe continue to recognize the quality, diversity and value of California wines, despite significant trade barriers and heavily subsidized foreign competitors,” says Wine Institute President and CEO Robert P. (Bobby) Koch. “Our outstanding 2012 and 2013 California vintages, heralded for quality as well as quantity, were a record high so we have the ability to expand.”

But success is also due to a very organized and efficient marketing arm, with a significant budget at their disposal to spread the love of California. “We have an aggressive global marketing campaign underway that communicates California as an aspirational place with beautiful landscapes, iconic lifestyle, great wine and food, and as an environmental leader,” says Wine Institute Vice President International Marketing Linsey Gallagher.

And I’d anticipate even more California promotion over the coming year, considering that, for example, The Napa Valley Vintners’ 18th annual Premiere Napa Valley made history by bringing in a total of $5.9 million, nearly doubling the previous record of $3.1 million raised in 2012. The money raised goes into the NVVs war chest to promote the region’s wines. “We are overwhelmed by the response we saw today,” said Russ Weis, chair of the NVV Board of Directors and general manager of Silverado Vineyards. “It shows there is a renewed confidence in the fine wine market in general and in Napa Valley wines specifically.” The average wholesale price per bottle sold at the auction was a staggering $283, with bidding fueled by the fact that more than 90 percent of the lots were from the 2012 harvest, one of the most anticipated vintages in recent history.

And it’s indeed at the high-end that California performs best. In my view, great wine under $30 is as rare as rain in the dessert. Most inexpensive wines, it seems, are increasingly simple, fruity and notably off-dry, vying for market share with younger palates. But at the top end, quality, and diversity, have never been matched. The “counter-culture” wine movement driven by commentators like Eric Asimov of the New York Times and Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle, along with a new generation of well-traveled winegrowers, also influenced by young European vintners coming to do crush in California, have diversified the offering dramatically. This is excellent news; finesse and balance grow alongside power and opulence, and there’s quite literally a bottle for everyone.

John’s California Picks

Of the premium wines hitting the shelves on March 15th, and out of the latest releases from Treasury Wine Estates (Etude, Beringer, Stags’ Leap and Château St. Jean), here are the bottles to look for:

Premium chardonnay

Etude Carneros Estate Chardonnay 2011Stags' Leap Winery Chardonnay 2012Premium chardonnay is perhaps the most dramatically evolved category in California. No longer the exclusive domain of big and buttery (though there are still plenty of these), the new Cali chard marries power and finesse, ripe fruit and restrain. The 2011 Etude Carneros Estate Chardonnay Sonoma County ($39.95) is a perfect example, made by the delicate hand of John Priest. It’s harvested at relatively low brix (ripeness) by California standards to retain freshness and verve, and is fermented and aged in all old barrels resulting in a fine, lifted, vibrant wine.

2012 Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay Napa Valley ($34.95) is likewise a lovely wine by Christophe Paubert from the soon-to-be legend 2012 vintage. Paubert’s principal contribution to this wine since arriving in 2009 has been to shift fruit sources further south in Napa to the cooler AVAs, this one being exclusively from Oak Knoll and Carneros, made without malolactic fermentation, and aged in just 25% new wood, with 25% in stainless steel and 50% neutral oak. Give it 2-3 years to reach full drinking enjoyment.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Etude Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Dominus 2010Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Cab remains the mainstay of the premium segment, and the top wines have reached new levels of balance and structure, like setting the clock back to the great examples from the early 1980s, only better. Fans of elegance will already be familiar with the superb wines of Ridge in the Santa Cruz mountains, and the 2010 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains ($52.95) is a beautifully refined example.

But finesse can be done well in the heart of the Napa Valley as well, as is demonstrated by the excellent 2010 Dominus Napa Valley ($151.95) and 2010 Etude Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($100.00). Both of these cabs perfectly straddle the line between balance and power, delivering the supple, ripe, dark fruit one expects from Napa in a alongside tangy-ripe acids and supremely well-managed wood influence. Both should age magnificently, well into the late 2020s and beyond.

For those seeking slightly larger-scale, generously proportioned cabernet, I’d highlight the following trio:

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages 2009Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 20102010 Cade Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain, Napa Valley ($99.95). The Stars Align as this is recommended by both John and Sara. JS – The Cade Cabernet Sauvignon is a highly attractive, elegant but structured wine from the volcanic terroir of Howell Mountain, which should continue to evolve and improve over the next decade. The cooler-than-normal 2010 growing season resulted in a floral and nuanced expression, with ripe but fresh black berry flavours and well-chiseled tannins. SD – What exactly is so special about Howell Mountain? Using the catch phrase “above the fog”, the Mountain is gifted with long growing days of sustained temperatures due to its high elevation. It has very good drainage from rocky soils that tend to be of the nutrient deficient type, composed of volcanic ash or red clay. From this exquisite deprivation are produced these highly revered wines that are both challenging and age worthy. This cooler vintage for Cade has produced a delightfully revealing and feminine wine.

2009 Château St. Jean Cinq Cépages Sonoma County ($74.95) is the 20th release of Cinq Cépages, Château St. Jean’s flagship Bordeaux blend (77% cabernet sauvignon in this vintage). It’s just starting to move into a nice drinking window with its fully ripe, macerated black, blue and red berry fruit, light pot pourri and resinous herb flavours, and a palate that’s both structured and supple, with fine depth and length.

2010 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($149.95) is a dense, compact, dark fruit flavoured wine, dominated fully by blackberry and cassis flavours that should be best after 2016-2018.

Other Reds

Ridge Lytton Springs 2011Etude Pinot Noir Carneros Estate 2011Stags Leap Winery Ne Cede Malis Petite Sirah 2009Fans of the southern Rhône, great Bandol or Priorat, for example, will not want to miss the superb 2009 Stags’ Leap “Ne Cede Malis” Petite Sirah Napa Valley ($85.00). It’s an exceptional field blend originally planted in 1929, led by about 85% petite sirah, with another dozen or so varieties including most of the southern Rhône cultivars and even some white grapes. I love the wild berry fruit, savory and resinous herbs, and scorched earth flavours. You can drink or hold for this a couple of decades without a stretch.

For a classic Carneros expression of pinot pick up the 2011 Etude Pinot Noir Carneros Estate ($59.95), while Ridge’s 2011 Lytton Springs Dry Creek Valley ($48.95) is a zinfandel-led blend crafted in an remarkably elegant style, with very suave, supple tannins, fresh dark wildberry flavours and finely integrated wood spice.

Sara’s California Picks

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

As the highly touted 2012 and 2013 vintages begin to trickle in, California is currently facing its worst drought in decades. Grape yields in this challenging year promise to be low, and older vineyards are likely to fare best as their deep roots are able penetrate pockets of ground water. But despite the current stunted grape growth, there is no stopping the boom of growth in export sales in this heart of the US wine industry that is slated to hit 2 billion dollars by the year 2020.

The wines offered in this VINTAGES feature are a mix of the very refreshing, moderate, and progressive alongside wines that demonstrate classic heavy oak and alcohol. Much of this diversity has to do with the great variation in vintages that California has seen in the past half-decade. For example, pick up a bottle of the 2010s that we have coming in on the shelves and you’ll find evidence of a much cooler and longer growing season as wines are showing greater elegance, more acidity and because of this delicacy, a restrained use of oak to match. This type of vintage allows us a stripped-down appreciation of the sites and grapes.

More classically, 2012 proved an excellent year for many varietals, especially pinot noir. The growing season was long, sunny and saw even-keeled temperatures. Uneventful and consistent often make for the best vintages. Producers were able to pump out an abundance of high quality grapes – a dream year for growers! Speaking of pinot noir, my top picks are as follows (in addition to the Cade cabernet above which saw our palates “align”):

Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2010La Crema Pinot Noir Los Carneros 2012La Crema Pinot Noir Los Carneros 2012 ($44.95). I have largely been a great fan of this pinot noir that has proved consistently complex and an exemplary new world style. With a hefty price tag, it is fitting for both special occasion and mid-term cellaring. Straddling both the Napa and Sonoma appellations, Carneros is home to some of California’s most elegant pinots partly due to the influence of the wind and fog that keep the heat at bay and the acids from diminishing. Creamy, layered with flavour and a serene harmony that will have you foggy-headed.

Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Napa Valley ($54.95). Honest, pure and revealing – nicely reflecting the cooler 2010 vintage. Although well-structured, the wine is showing terrific complexity, unencumbered by an oaky haze. The winery refers to their iconic cabernets as “modern day liquid treasures” – a very evocative and, in this case, apt description. Named after the statuesque Sequoia trees that frame the winery, it is located on the Rutherford Bench known for its mineral rich soils and its low lying area that captures the morning fog, cooling off the vineyard and allowing for a very elegant flavour profile.

That’s all for this week. We’ll be back next week with the ‘best of the rest’ of this release.

From the Mar 15, 2014 Vintages release:

Classic California
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Editors Note: You can find our Critic’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics 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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Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010


California Wine Fair

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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – Mar 2014

St. Patrick’s Day Libations 2014

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Good news for Ontario residents this upcoming St. Patrick’s Day, Writers Tears has obtained general listing and will be available year round. This Pot Still Blend Irish Whiskey recently won “Best Blend in Ireland” at the Irish Whiskey Awards.

Evocative of the style of whiskey enjoyed during the time of Yeats and Joyce a century ago in Dublin, it’s a blend of pot still malted and unmalted barley, triple distilled and matured in American ex-bourbon casks. Velvety smooth, yet bold in flavour, with malt and bourbon notes, it has nuances of ginger, treacle and apple.

Writers Tears Pot Still Blend (700ml)It’s produced by an independent Irish company, owned by the Walsh family, who also produce The Irishman brands. The Irishman whiskeys are the creations of Bernard Walsh who enjoys special access to the warehouses of certain Irish distillers. He came up with the idea for the Pot Still blend. All other Irish blends contain some proportion of grain whiskey, the output of the less traditional Coffey/Column still.

Whiskey was first distilled in Ireland (not Scotland as may be common belief), around the 7th century. By 1802 Irish whiskey represented 90% of the entire world’s whiskey and Ireland boasted over 200 distilleries. Taxes, famines, the War of Independence, Prohibition and other factors lead to the demise of most of the distillers. However in recent years Irish whiskey has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity; historic brands have been revived, some mothballed distilleries reopened and the number of independent Irish bottlings has grown.

Kilbeggan Irish WhiskeyConnemara Peated Single Malt Irish WhiskyThe Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish WhiskeyCooley (now owned by Beam Inc.) is the distillery that shook up the market in 1987.  Founded by John Telling with the goal of reintroducing the North American market to quality Irish whiskey, Cooley departed from the accepted definition of Irish whiskey as being triple distilled and unpeated. He revived historic brands such as Tyrconnell and created a family of Connemara double distilled peated single malts. Part of the Cooley brands, Kilbeggan Distillery reopened in 2007. Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey has a sweet toffee nose and malty finish.

Bushmills can with fair authority claim to be the oldest distillery in the world. The royal licence to distil in the district of Bushmills was granted in 1608. Situated in the quaint town of Bushmills, Northern Ireland, it takes its name from the River Bush and all the mills that used to be on it. Bushmills 10 Year Old matured for a minimum of 10 years mainly in bourbon seasoned barrels has aromas of sweet smoky honey, vanilla and milk chocolate. Bushmills Black Bush has a high proportion of malt whiskey matured in oloroso sherry casks.

Midleton Very Rare Whiskey (one of the Irish Distillers brands which include Jameson, Powers, Paddy and Redbreast) is an expensive treat at $179.95 but worth the money.

Bushmills Malt 10 Year OldBushmills Black Bush WhiskeyMidleton Very Rare Irish WhiskeyThose who want to delve further into the link between Irish writers and drink might well visit Ireland and go on The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl. Irish pubs are much more than a place to get a drink. Part of the fabric of everyday life they are steeped in history, referenced in literature and full of lore. Dublin has 800 of them.

It’s fitting that in the “City of Words” the best pub crawl is a literary one. Actor and author Colm Quilligan started the Dublin pub tour in 1988 and figures about 300,000 people have taken it so far. Performance is part of the tour which is led by professional actors. The tour I took began at The Duke with a song by Colm and his partner for this night, Derek Reid. Those of us on the tour were encouraged to sing the fitting chorus, “I’ll have a pint with you.”

Then the two men launched into a (well-acted) piece from Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot. The evening was filled with prose, drama and song as we followed the footsteps of literary greats into four of their favourite haunts. We learned juicy details about the lives of Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Brendan Behan as we enjoyed a few good pints ending the evening at Davy Byrnes pub.

Davy Byrnes was the setting James Joyce chose for the Lestrygonians episode of his famous novel Ulysses. Cecil Salkeld, Brendan Behan’s father-in-law was commissioned to paint the murals on the right-hand side of the main bar. Colm filled us in on Behan’s excesses quoting him as saying “I’m a drinker with a writer problem.” The Irish have such a way with words.

Sláinte

Margaret Swaine

For all of Margaret’s picks click here: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

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


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Hayman's Sloe Gin

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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008