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Wish They Were Here : Oregon Pinots and Beyond

The WineAlign crew spends a lot of time on the road. We visit wine regions around the globe, learning, tasting, and experiencing first hand everything from the established classics to the latest releases. Inevitably, we come across wines we wish we could find back in our home markets, wines that engage and enthrall and tell a compelling story. Although the various Canadian provincial monopolies do their best to represent the world, full coverage is impossible and corporate selection mentality rules, that is to say, quality alone does not always earn you a spot on Canadian shelves.

We’ve created this series, Wish They Were Here, as a forum to share our adventures on the wine route, to highlight underrepresented regions, unknown producers, cuvées not yet seen in Canada, or vintages yet to be exported in the hopes that liquor board buyers, agents and private importers might tune in and get some inspiration. It’s also a mini travel guide for readers who go on their own wine safaris, offering a list of bottles to track down.

Wish They Were Here: Oregon Pinots and Beyond
By Treve Ring

Based in Victoria, I’m fortunate to visit Portland and the Willamette a few times annually. In fact, the driving time from Vancouver is about the same to the Willamette as it is to the Okanagan (five hours, not counting the US/CAN border). But to me, these two west coast regions couldn’t be more different; different scale, scope and result.

Treve drinking Pinot among the Pinot vines, Dundee Hills

Treve drinking Pinot among the Pinot vines,
Dundee Hills

The Willamette is where I retreat to recharge, to reconnect and to disconnect, to eat deliciously prepared and unpretentious food, walk in the vineyards and really talk with the winemakers. Sure, there are big producers in the valley, and we see their wines on our shelves at home. But I’m most interested in seeking out the smaller players, those with handcrafted wines, generally farmed sustainably and produced collaboratively, and the price reflects the quality – notwithstanding the cross-border tax. Smaller production plus the aforementioned markups mean that we rarely see the great stuff on our markets.

Drink Pinot Think Oregon. The tagline of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association, much like the wineries themselves, is direct, confident and B.S.-free. The WVWA is a non-profit dedicated to achieving recognition for Oregon’s Willamette Valley as a premier pinot noir producing region, and planted roots back in 1986 with 11 member wineries. First officers at inception included iconic names in Oregon wine history today: Dick Erath, Bill Blosser and David Lett. These pioneering wineries are still members today (along with nearly 200 others wineries) and undeniably their names stand synonymous with pinot noir.

Pinot Noir coming in at Sokol Blosser Vineyards

Pinot Noir coming in at
Sokol Blosser Vineyards

Yes, absolutely, Oregon makes outstanding pinots – some of the pinot noir I’ve tasted in the Willamette stand shoulder to shoulder to Burgundy, in my humble opinion, and are among my favourite pinots in the world. But Oregon is much more than pinot. On recent trips I’ve been blown away by riesling (intense, vibrant, electric), chardonnay (freshness, elegance, restraint) and pinot gris (creamy, focused, concentrated). Throughout travels in Oregon I’ve also been enamored with pinot blanc, viognier, grüner veltliner, blaufrankish, tempranillo, syrah, counoise, barbera, cabernet franc, müller-thurgau and muscat.

Sounds unfocused? Sounds akin to BC’s wine history to me: new regions, diverse geography, unproven soils, let’s plant stuff and see what happens. Winemaking in Oregon really took root in the 1960s, with UC Davis students heading north to practice this “cool climate viticulture” they’d studied. Between 1965 and 1968, David Lett, Charles Coury, and Dick Erath brought their families to the North Willamette Valley, established vineyards, and were the first to plant pinot noir, pinot gris, chardonnay and riesling – the four top varieties for Oregon. These first vineyards are still producing fruit – highly sought after fruit – now. After sanitizing my shoes in a footbath to prevent the spread of phylloxera (many vineyards are own rooted, with wineries fending off the root louse’s spread as long as they can) I walked through The Eyrie Vineyard with David’s son Jason Lett. This sacred slope is THE original site of pinot noir and chardonnay planted in the Dundee Hills in 1966, and the site of the first pinot gris planted in America.

Many more pioneering families followed suit – Adelsheim, Ponzi and Sokol Blosser are just a few familiar names. However it wasn’t until David Lett, a.k.a. Papa Pinot, entered his Oregon Pinot Noir in the 1979 Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades and won top honors against Burgundy’s best, that the world began to recognize little outback Oregon as a serious winemaking region.

Dundee Hills

Dundee Hills

Since those early days, not that long ago, Oregon has grown into 15 approved winegrowing regions and more than 300 wineries producing wine from over 70 grape varieties. The Willamette Valley is the heart of Oregon wine, and is a huge and varied appellation that includes six sub-appellations; Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill Carlton. I noted three major types of soils across the valley: marine sedimentary, Jory (volcanic, red, basalt) and loess/silts. In general, I found pinot noir from the Dundee area’s Jory soils to be more perfumed, delicate, fruited-floral and feminine, while Pinot Noir from Yamhill Carlton and Ribbon Ridge’s marine sedimentary soiled areas to be stonier, more structured, minerally and masculine.

The valley streams south-west from Portland, nested between Oregon’s Cascade Mountains and the Coast Range, and is more than 100 miles long and spanning 60 miles at its widest point. Travel is easy (wine country is a quick 30 minute drive from Portland), towns are small and close together, the highways are lined with vines, Christmas tree farms, hazelnut groves and farms, and the foodstuffs as genuine and authentic as it comes. The Willamette Valley feeds the fervent locavore Portland food scene – see Portlandia for backgrounder.

As with the foodstuffs, sustainability governs the viticulture. In the 2011 vintage, 47% of Oregon’s vineyards were certified sustainably farmed, the most common programs found being LIVE, Organic, and Biodynamic. Every year I’ve been visiting I encounter more and more practicing biodynamics, and for the first time this past harvest, met winemakers producing natural and orange wines as well.

And finally, Oregon is simply a beautiful place, very easy to immerse yourself in. When you head on down yourself, seek out these wines and the people who make them. And please, when you Think Oregon, don’t just Drink Pinot.

My Willamette Wish They Were Here List:

Matello Wines Whistling Ridge Pinot Noir 2011
Matello is my favourite Oregon producer, and Marcus Goodfellow is one of my favourite winemakers period, determined to not “dumb down” his wines, end quote. This beautiful mineral-driven small lot (100 cases) is from Ribbon Ridge and its marine sedimentary soils.

Love & Squalor Fancy Pants Riesling 2010
Matt Berson sees himself a “fruit preservationist” first, and it propels his search for stellar vineyard sites around the Willamette from which to blend his wines.

Johan Vineyards Drueskall Pinot Gris 2012
This biodynamic estate in Rickerall received Demeter biodynamic certification, and is a breeding ground for not only biodynamic groundbreaking in Oregon, but also for exciting grape varieties (Melon de Bourgogne, Blaufrankish, Gruner Veltliner). Drueskall is an intriguing orange wine.

Matello Wines Whistling Ridge Pinot Noir 2011Love & Squalor Fancy Pants Riesling 2010IMG_0347

The Eyrie Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2010
Established 1966, home to David “Papa Pinot” Lett, and the place that literally put Oregon wine on the world stage. Operations are now ably overseen and led by next generation Jason Lett. Their Estate Pinot Noir 2010 is from their ‘younger’ vineyards, planted in the 1980s.

Westrey Wine Company Abbey Ridge Pinot Noir 2011
Westrey Wine Company was founded in 1993 by co-winemakers Amy Wesselman and David Autrey, today, two of the Willamette’s leading wine resources. Abbey Ridge is one of the older sites in the Dundee Hills, and the 2011 Pinot Noir exemplifies the perfumed Dundee style.

Minimus Wines No. 5 Reduction
Chad Stock doesn’t release vintages, just experiments. Minimus is a series of one-offs, centered on satisfying Chad and his wife Jessica’s insatiable curiosity, and founded on their bare-bones philosophy of making “fermented grape juice in a bottle.” Reduction is Experiment #5 in the series.

The Eyrie Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2010Westrey Wine Company Abbey Ridge Pinot Noir 2011Minimus Wines No. 5 Reduction

Other Willamette Wineries to Watch For :

Archery Summit
Andrew Rich Wines
Big Table Farm
Brooks Wines
Domaine Drouhin Oregon
Elk Cove
Evening Land Vineyards
J.K. Carriere Wines
Ken Wright Cellars
Montinore Estate
Patricia Green Cellars
Sokol Blosser
Shea Wine Cellars
Stoller Family Estate Vineyards
Owen Roe
Walter Scott Wines

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , ,

Lawrason’s Take on Vintages August 3 Release

Syrah’s New Frontiers, 90pt-09 Bordeaux, Wise Buys, Lifford’s Pinot Fête

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

This is a large and rambling release. In three visits to the VINTAGES lab I managed to taste and review 102 of the 132 new wines on offer. It seemed to take an eternity – perhaps I am in summer slow-mo. Or perhaps dragging after the deluge of chardonnays at the terrific International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration in Niagara (congrats to all who made it happen), and subsequent trade tastings like Lifford’s excellent global pinot noir ensemble (see below). But onward, largely bypassing the French white feature that John Szabo has already nicely covered. We tour new syrah regions, re-visit 2009 Bordeaux and point out some wise buys in whites and reds for your summer enjoyment.

Syrah’s New Frontiers

I love tasting syrah/shiraz, perhaps more than any grape except pinot noir. I actually don’t drink a lot of syrah however, perhaps because it is too heavy for most situations I am in – certainly in the summer, unless grilling red meat. But I do love it when I have great examples, and that happened recently during a trade dinner with Australia’s Jim Barry Wines at an Asian restaurant called Ki Modern Japanese in downtown Toronto. Grandson Tom Barry poured several great cabs and shiraz that will be making their way to VINTAGES in the months ahead (already posted to WineAlign). Their signature shiraz called The Armagh is considered one of the icons of Australia, and the silky, ultra-rich and layered 2008 vintage gave a virtuoso performance this night, matched with sweet and spicy Korean short ribs. In Australia, which is much closer to the Asian culinary scene than here in Canada, big shiraz is regularly being recommended with richer Asian cuisine by sommeliers – and I get it.

J. Lohr South Ridge Syrah 2011Il Castagno Cortona Syrah 2011Peninsula Ridge Reserve Syrah 2010This release does have some good Aussie shiraz, as well as northern Rhone classics. But I want to stop briefly in regions new to this black grape. It is generally considered a warm climate grape, but actually it seems to perform well in “moderate” climates as well (which is how I would characterize the northern Rhone). One region hoping to prove this is Niagara. Against all prevailing wisdom a decade ago syrah is a growing concern here, especially when we are blessed with warm vintages like 2010 and 2012. Peninsula Ridge 2010 Reserve Syrah ($24.95) is a textbook example of the lighter, black pepper laden Ontario style, with some ripe black cherry fruit showing through. It is not a deep or riveting wine, but it is definitive syrah, and its lighter style could prove very appropriate at the summer table.

Another moderate non-traditional region where syrah is showing real promise is Tuscany, and on this release there are no less than two syrahs from eastern Tuscany sub-region of Cortona, a region crowned with a medieval hill town of the same name. The very smooth, dense and fruit driven Il Castagno 2011 Cortona Syrah is a great buy at $20.95. It is the flagship wine (first made in 2003) from a small Cortona estate owned by Fabrizio Dinosio, who has carried on his father’s work in creating a two-vineyard winery on the hillside below the town. This whole area of central Italy – including neighbouring Umbria could be great syrah country.

The warmer, somewhat inland Paso Robles region of California’s Central Coast is a locally well known as good syrah country, but it still suffers from lack of wider recognition due to the long shadow cast by Napa and Sonoma, and cabernet sauvignon. California in general, in my opinion, is still lagging in the syrah department because it is still considered a fringy variety. Too bad, because so much of California is ideal for this grape. But there is hope when one sees a fine, smooth, well-priced example like J. Lohr 2011 South Ridge Syrah hit the shelves at $19.95. J. Lohr is a large company with great reach.

2009 Bordeaux at 90+ 

There are nine Bordeaux arriving August 3, split between the main release and In Store Discoveries (smaller quantities in a few larger locations). And all are from the vaunted, hotter 2009 vintage, which provides a useful mini-clinic on how the wines are developing after four years. Most are quite dense (for Bordeaux), rich and ripe. They are showing first signs of evolution but could still age another year or three as tannins tend to be quite firm. A couple of examples proved overripe and almost raisiny and also showed hints of volatility associated with the breakdown of the fruit before fermentation – the main problem with the vintage in my view, and good reason to taste before you buy when approaching lesser known names.

But there are some dandies here – five at 90 points or better – and they are the result of excellent winemaking. As much as I like to bash Bordeaux for excessive pricing at the top end, and inconsistent style and quality at the low end, there are obviously many skilled winemakers working the middle ground and actually offering decent value between $25 and $50. Above all else Bordeaux is focused and deeply experienced with the cab-merlot family of vines, and the result are wines that very often have a sweet spot of elegance, depth and complexity.

Château Goulee 2009Château La Vieille Cure 2009Château Goulee 2009 Médoc is a shining example and a very good buy at $42.85 (ISD). It hails from an unremarkable Medoc property, but the winemaking has been handled by the folks at Cos d’Estournel, one of the great second growths of Bordeaux. It is a model of refinement and modern sensibilities and techniques.

Château La Vieille Cure 2009 from the right bank appellation of Fronsac ($36.85 ISD) is yet another example. I have followed this 50 hectare property for several years and recommended its wines here before. It was purchased and refurbished and the vineyard (merlot 74%) was partially replanted by American investors in the mid-eighties, but its oldest vines remain intact. The dominant soil base here is limestone, and to me that is creating the lovely lift and fragrance in this wine.

Château d'Aurilhac 2009Château Joanin Bécot 2009Château Joanin-Bécot 2009 ($42.85, ISD) is another very pretty merlot based wine, this time from limestone-based soils in my favourite little sub-region of Castillon upriver from St. Emilion. It too was purchased and refurbished, this time in 2001, by the Becot family of St. Emilion. Juliette Becot has overseen the employment of all the tricks of the trade to help ensure quality from hand harvesting to double sorting, cool pre-fermentation maceration, manual cap punching and ageing in new, medium toast French oak for 15 months.

Château d’Aurilhac 2009 Haut-Médoc ($23.85) has proven difficult to research, but it is very likely a cabernet sauvignon dominated left bank blend. It has impressive richness and depth for its price and station. It is an example straying toward over-ripeness but it holds on. Not quite as polished as its peers above but it has some hedonistic appeal.

Wise Buys in Oaked Whites

As mentioned, there are several interesting French whites on this release, but none are great buys, except for the complex, tight Chablis-esque J.J. Vincent 2010 Marie-Antoinette Pouilly-Fuissé at $26.95.  So I want to take you elsewhere for some well-priced whites you might not think of buying otherwise. All are well structured, judiciously oaked whites that you might want to pair with grilled seafood or poultry.

Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2011Ritual Sauvignon Blanc 2011Lua Cheia Em 2011  Vinhas Velhas Ken Forrester 2011 Reserve Chenin Blanc ($17.95) from Stellenbosch, South Africa is a very well made, solid yet elegant barreled chenin. It doesn’t spell out oak on the label (and I think it should) but it is at least well-handled oak that gives some breathing room to chenin’s quince fruit.  I really like the structure and finish of this wine. Ken Forrester is leading proponent of chenin – South Africa’s signature white, which is commonly made in both oaked and unoaked styles.

Ritual 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($19.95) from Chile’s Casablanca Valley has similar sense of restraint and class.  It is a newish label from Veramonte, one of the pioneers of Casablanca under Augustin Huneeus who took a particular interest in sauvignon from the region. Ritual is made from a selection of best estate vineyards, with the wine aged five months in French oak, for a dash of spice around the tropical fruit and gentle herbal notes.

Lua Cheia Em 2011 Vinhas Velhas ($15.95) from Portugal’s Douro Valley is the most intriguing of the three, and a bit more idiosyncratic.  Lua Cheia Em is a very new label, created in 2010 through a partnership of three Douro winemakers who set up shop in temporary facilities to make small lots from growers without their own wineries – sort of like the Okanagan Crush Pad concept. In this case, the wine is made from a field blend of unspecified varieties, aged in barrel.  Excellent structure with a dash of exoticism!

Wise Buys in Summer Reds

Penley Estate 2010 Condor Shiraz Cabernet SauvignonClavesana 2011 Dolcetto Di DoglianiLe Plan Classic Côtes Du Rhône 2011I have recently been enjoying lighter, fruit driven, non-oaked or lightly oaked reds for summer evening meals. Two more appeared on my radar in this release, plus a rich, succulent and smooth Australian for grilled red meat (lamb) or late evening sipping.

Le Plan Classic 2011 Côtes Du Rhône ($15.95) is all you could ask in smooth and easy and dare I say “racy” grenache-based (60%) blend from France’s southern Rhone.  Le Plan is a new collection by former Dutch race car driver Dirk Vermeersch.  I’ll give this one the green flag despite octane of 14.9%. Chill it a bit. No burnt rubber on the nose!

Clavesana 2011 Dolcetto Di Dogliani ($15.95) is the largest production dolcetto in Piedmont, Italy, the product of a co-op of over 350 growers that work about 1350 acres in the area around the town of Clavesana in the heart of the Dogliani appellation. I am surprised that such a large enterprise is turning out such a clean, fresh and high quality example. Chill lightly and enjoy with charcuterie.

Penley Estate 2010 Condor Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra, South Australia pours with pure seduction, and it was made in smooth, fruity style to achieve just that end. Normally I would simply pass right by this style of wine but this arrested me with its very intense, florid cassis aromas, and the fact it is not relying on residual sweetness to deliver the fruit. It’s the real McCoy and combining shiraz (52%) and cabernet has inlaid some complexity as well.

Best of the Bunch

Chanson Père & Fils 2010 Clos Du Roi Beaune 1er Cru
Burgundy, France  $48.95, 93 Points

Chanson Père & Fils 2010 Clos Du Roi Beaune 1er CruMy BOB vote goes to this brilliant red Burgundy, from what may turn out to be the best vintage of recent times. The arriving 2011s are quite good as well if perhaps not built for long ageing.  With rain problems in 2012 and now reports of serious hail damage in the Cotes de Beaune in 2013, supplies of good Beaune could become scarce and expensive in the near future. So you might want pick some age-worthy 2010s while you can.

Beaune is always one of the most approachable of the serious southern red Burgundy appellations (along with Volnay and Pommard) and because it is larger it is a bit less expensive.  This particular 1er Cru is one of the best on the slope, and Chanson, a small historic house within the ramparts of the city, is turning out some great wines in recent vintages. It was purchased by Bollinger of Champagne in 1999, and Jean- Pierre Confuron was installed as winemaker.  I have done four tastings of their portfolio in the past three years and they just keep getting better it seems.

Lifford’s Fête de Pinot Noir

There are few wine importers in Canada that could single-handedly put together a showcase of some of the world’s best pinot noirs, with the winemakers present. But on July 23rd Lifford Wines & Spirits/Ponte Wine & Spirits poured 43 different pinots from 13 producers in five countries – Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand and the USA (California and Oregon). They were smart to take advantage of some producers who had been at the International Cool Climate Celebration the weekend before pouring, because where there is chardonnay (smoke) there is often pinot noir (fire).

David Lawrason at Fête de Pinot Noir

David Lawrason at Fête de Pinot Noir

I tasted about 90% of the wines. Most are private order – meaning they are ordered for future shipment by the case (most are in six bottle cases). I have not published “review quality” notes and ratings given the circumstances of the tasting, but I certainly got a heads up on the most exciting wines. Please contact for further information and ordering.

The Canadian contingent was particularly interesting and strong and newsworthy, with the trade debut of wines from Niagara’s new Domaine Queylus, the first Ontario pinots from Bachelder Wines, the first Toronto showing (to my knowledge) of Foxtrot pinots from the Okanagan Valley’s Naramata Bench, as well as pinots from Tawse, including the intriguing 2010 from the Lauritzen Vineyard ($44.95).

Domaine Queylus will open soon in the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation atop the Niagara Escarpment. It is owned by Gilles Chevalier of Montreal, with the first wines from the 2010 and 2011 vintages made by Thomas Bachelder. Fruit for the two price tiers – Tradition ($29) and Reserve ($39) – come from a Beamsville site planted in 2007, and a Jordan site planted in 2002. Pinot keeners may be interested to know the latter is the same as the Le Clos Jordanne vineyard called La Petite Colline. These are immediately serious pinots that move into Niagara’s top echelon.

Thomas Bachelder and Jacques Lardière

Thomas Bachelder (Bachelder Wines) and Jacques Lardière (Louis Jadot)

Thomas Bachelder was pouring his wines from Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara. He has separate contract winemaking facilities in all three countries and travels to each to make a range of single vineyard pinots.  I was particularly impressed by the 2011s from Burgundy, with a single site 2011 Nuits-Saints-George La Petite Charmotte ($56.95) being among the stars of the day. It was also fun to taste his 2011 Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir ($53.95), from one of the oldest pinot sites in Niagara just below St. Davids.

Foxtrot is a relatively new, premium producer of pinot, chardonnay and viognier based on the Naramata Bench in B.C. I really enjoyed the complexity and tension of the pinots, even if not the most refined.  Owner Gustav Allander showed the 2010 Erickson Vineyard ($74.95) and 2010 Foxtrot Vineyard ($91.95). In B.C. those same wines are priced at $46.15 and $56.40 respectively, which makes the point as to why many Ontarians are direct-ordering from B.C.

One of the great and most pleasant surprises was the St. Innocent 2010 Momtazi Vineyard ($56.95), an Oregon pinot of amazing aromatic presence, elegance and outstanding length from a quite cool side with some maritime influence. Elsewhere in the U.S. contingent I was most impressed by the Schug 2010 Carneros ($46.50) from California, the Sequana Dutton Ranch 2009 from Sonoma’s Green Valley ($65.95) and the Freestone 2011 Pinot from Sonoma Coast ($79.95).

Among European pinots the stand outs were the Louis Jadot 2010 Clos Vougeot Grand Cru ($187.95), the much less expensive Jadot 2010 Beaune 1er Cru Theurons ($64.95) and from Italy the Podere Monastero 2011 La Pineta ($43.95). The latter is a small single vineyard, single clone (177) pinot with considerable muscle and Tuscan tension. There was another lighter, more supple Tuscan pinot from Frescobaldi from an estate vineyard in the Pomino appellation ($34.95).

That’s a wrap for this edition. August – the doldrums of wine activity in the northern hemisphere at least – promises to be quieter, and may even hold a week’s vacation, before I head to Germany on a rather esoteric exploration of German pinot noir and the state of organic/biodynamic winemaking. But I will be back with a look at VINTAGES Aug 17 release before I go.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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

From the Aug 3, 2013 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All August 3 Reviews

Photos courtesy of: Ponte Wine & Spirits

 Stags' Leap Winery Viognier 2012

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages May 25 Release

Pinot Globalization, Mighty Fine Mosel, Wines of Interest, a Private Loire Tour

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The two features of VINTAGES May 25 release provide a demonstration how commerciality affects wine quality, price and value. Pinot Noir has become globalized and commercialized and I was generally disappointed by the price-sensitive selection assembled. German riesling is not commercial at all these days and every single wine in the line-up is huge value. Elsewhere in the release I have scoured for surprising Wines of Interest; and I also veer off into the hidden world of Private Orders to present a slate of excellent Loire Valley whites to grace your summer table.

Pinot Noir Globalization

The heartbreak grape is now a global commodity, and along with that comes the demand to produce it in larger volumes at lower prices. It also means that it is being produced in places where the grape doesn’t work as well; that it’s being made in a wider variety of styles, and being made by people who are less experienced with it and sensitive to it. The result on the shelf, and on this release, is disappointing quality and value. VINTAGES mini global tour includes pinots from Ontario, Oregon, California, New Zealand, Chile and Burgundy, and the only wines I highly recommend are actually from Burgundy.

Some might say that makes me a pinot noir snob; that I am intolerant of and biased against New World style pinots. This is not true at all. I do like pinot noirs with nerve and elegance, which do tend to come from cooler climates, but I also like softer, riper styles from California (which I have followed since 1984), Oregon and Australia – and when they are well made, like Merry Edwards 2010 Pinot Noir from Sonoma, I have no problem scoring them well into the 90s. What I don’t like is excessive sweetness and alcohol in wines like Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot Noir that is commercially driven to appeal to a wider audience, and in the process disrespects pinot’s delicate fruit (the thing that makes it special in the first). And then there are high volume pinots like A To Z Wineworks 2011 Pinot Noir from Oregon that are just made with less care.

Domaine Chofflet Valdenaire Givry 2009Michel Picard Volnay 2010As to the Burgundies on the release, I am recommending two out of three, and they are of different styles. Domaine Chofflet-Valdenaire 2009 Givry 1er Cru ($26.95) is very much a traditional, edgy and meaty style that is packed with flavour. This is from an eleven hectare property in the hands of the Chofflet family for over 100 years – hardly a commercially-driven pinot.

And I very highly recommend Michel Picard 2010 Volnay ($41.95), especially as a pinot noir for the cellar. 2010 is a terrific, sturdy and tight vintage and this wine packs all kinds of fruit that will one day explode across the palate. With over 130 hectares spread across five appellations, this third generation family company is obviously of a more commercially viable size. This has helped keep the price relatively low (Volnay is among the prized Burgundy appellations).

Might Fine Mosel Riesling

Germany’s rieslings are of course not very commercial. The style is particular, the audience narrow. Germany has long lamented and analysed why its rieslings do not command a wider berth in the market, and converts keep forecasting a renaissance, that is not happening. And I have come to the conclusion that is just fine. Riesling is not a mass market grape anywhere it is grown (Niagara comes closest), and German riesling is even more idiosyncratic. But it is made by people who generally care a lot about their favourite grape, and that translates into high quality.

Markus Molitor Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling KabinettDr. Hermann Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling AusleseVollenweider Wolfer Riesling 2011There are six new German rieslings on the May 25 release (including one In Store Discovery or ISD). They provide a golden opportunity for riesling fans to indulge, and for newcomers to explore at a very high level. Five of them are mighty fine Mosels that provide a clinic on wine purity and balance. All but two score 90 points or better, (the others score 89) so take your pick. How about a mixed six-pack, that will only set you back $116.75. You can spend the next six sultry evenings in June exploring hamlets like Urzig, Wolf, Krov and Wehlen.

You could experience the brilliant, clarion freshness of Vollenweider 2011 Wolfer Riesling ($19.95), or – by the same rising star producer – the richer, more mature but still pristine Vollenweider 2007 Kröver Steffensberg Riesling Spätlese ($24.95). You could lose yourself in the silken, almost creamy texture and honeyed nuances of the maturing Dr. Hermann 2005 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese ($21.95). And you could take a wild ride with Markus Molitor 2011 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett ($29.95 ISD), a wine that is both shrill, gutsy and profound.

And if you somehow miss trying these fine Mosels, make time to attend the German Wine Fair May 28 in Toronto for dozens if not hundreds of examples. Read our recent posting for a promo code that gives WineAlign subscribers receive $10.00 off the regular ticket price.

Other Wines of Interest

As always, in the thick of “The Main Release” there were several wines that caught my eye as Wines of Interest – wines that surprise, wines that instruct and wines that offer value. The selection is not just about the highest scores.

Vineland Estates Pinot Grigio 2011Saint Clair Pioneer Block 10 Chardonnay 2010Vineland Estates 2011 Pinot Grigio from the Niagara Escarpment ($16.95) gets a tip of the hat for offering classic Niagara white wine freshness. The racy higher-acid 2011 whites from Ontario are just settling in to prime, and Vineland’s clean winemaking provides a fine showcase for the style and for the quite generous peachy pinot gris fruit.

Saint Clair 2010 Pioneer Block 10 Chardonnay from Marlborough, New Zealand is modern, cool climate beauty and well worth $25.95. On recent travels to NZ the quality of Marlborough chardonnay was one of my pleasant surprises, but producers are generally too busy with sauvignon blanc or tinkering with pinot gris. Still others think that chardonnay is passé (which it is not). But this single block offering from the Omaka Valley sub-region amply demonstrates that Marlborough has the wherewithal to be a great chardonnay region (too).

Cabriz Rosé 2012Sicilia Fiano Miopasso 2011Miopasso 2011 Fiano from Sicily, is the oddball white of the release – with a totally unexpected richness and sense of exotica. The low yielding fiano grape is more well-known over on the mainland in southern Italy – especially in Campania. I have always expected a certain honeyed ripeness and sometimes nuttiness from fiano, but this goes well beyond into a state akin to lightly fortified aperitif wine (without excess alcohol). At $14.95 you can’t afford not to explore. And by the way, Fiano fans should also note the Australian version being released as an ISD. Saltram 2011 Winemaker’s Selection Fiano is rather pricey at $32.95 for what’s delivered.

Quinta De Cabriz 2012 Rosé from Dão, Portugal is the most interesting of the pink wines on this release and a snap up at $12.95. Regular readers will know that the reds of this higher altitude, granite soiled and forested region in the centre of Portugal have been catching my eye for their complexity, tension and value.  This rosé from a prominent producer has exactly the same attributes, minus the colour and weight. I really like the subtle evergreen nuance herein.

Lornano Chianti Classico 2009Tedeschi Capitel San Rocco Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore 2011Lornano 2009 Chianti Classico offers fine Tuscan authenticity and a certain rugged appeal and depth that is remarkable for $16.95.   It is an estate-grown wine from the 180 hectare Lornano estate of Castellina in Chianti near Siena. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel but all the ageing is underground in older wood, which I think is providing the slightly rustic but very complex flavours.

After generally ragging on the appassimento process in a report last month, wouldn’t you know that one comes along to make me eat my words. Tedeschi 2011 Capitel San Rocco Valpolicella Ripasso ($18.95) has impressive power and tension as well, and excellent length – a marked improvement for this label after disappointments in the 2008 and 2009 vintages. Anyway, this embraces an authentic, richly textured, leathery style of Italian red that I really enjoy.

John Glaetzer John's Blend Margarete's No. 13 Shiraz 2008Château Lyonnat Emotion 2006Château Lyonnat 2006 from the right bank, merlot dominated Bordeaux appellation of Lussac Saint-Émilion offers surprising depth and complexity for $19.95.  And it is now entering prime time, offering a dandy mature claret experience. I was able to taste several wines from this producer during the Hobbs & Co portfolio tasting in April in Toronto, and I was impressed by the winemaking throughout.

John’s Blend No. 14 2008 Margarete’s Shiraz is from the Langhorne Creek region of South Australia. The area is very maritime and salty, on the shores of Lake Alexandrina formed at the mouth of the Murray River and only separated from the ocean by a sand spit.  I swear I can taste some saltiness in this wine, but it actually works well within the larger, much larger framework of complex flavours. It’s a big, rollicking and rich cabernet from John Glaetzer, the former winemaker at Wolf Blass. And at $39.95 if offers good value in the big cab universe.

Loire Private Order Finds

As Ontarians faced what was made to sound like a certain LCBO strike, I also doubted I would get to taste much of the May 25 release due to the cancellation of a VINTAGES Product Consultants tasting just before the strike deadline. So I went off to seek alternate sources of writing material at a small, very civilized showcase of Loire Valley whites available on private order through Nuray Ali of Ex-Cellars Wine Services.

I entered a condo function room at a swish address in North York and met with Christophe Garnier,  himself a wine producer, but also the head of a small export group of organic  minded Loire estates. The eight wines shown were almost all of excellent quality, with great Loire energy and depth – muscadets, sauvignon blancs and chenin blancs that would make for very stylish summer drinking.

The hitch with Private Order wines however is that you must order by the case (six bottle cases in this instance) and you might have to wait weeks for their arrival. There is still time for their arrival this season, and the quality is such that the wines will drink well next summer as well. Only one is currently in stock through the Consignment Warehouse – Pierre-Luc Bouchaud Pont Caffino 2011 Muscadet de Sevre & Main Sur Lie. As it was among my favourites, and very well priced at $17, I purchased a case.

To view other offerings from this agent, visit their profile page on WineAlign: Ex-Cellars Wine Services. You can narrow your search by choosing “Loire”, but remember to check “All Sources” and “zero inventory” as these wine are not in the retail stores.  Or use these links to go directly to my reviews: Domaine Valery Renaudat (Reuilly), Domaine de la Rossignole (Sancerre), Yvon & Pascal Tabordet (Pouilly Fume); Domaine du Viking (Vouvray) and Pascal Pibaleau (Vouvray).

International Chardonnay Day May 23

If you open this newsletter in time on May 23 you could take part in the Global Virtual Chardonnay tastings being held in Ontario and around the world in advance of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration coming up July 19-21. All the participating I4C wineries – 62 in all from eleven countries and sixteen regions are being encouraged to join in by posting tasting notes, photos and chardonnay recipes to social media sites.  The Twitter account is @coolchardonnay; with hashtags #chardday and #i4c2013 for International Chardonnay Day. The Facebook site is!/CoolChardonnayCelebration. The Pininterest site is So pour yourself a glass of Chardonnay and get Social!

Macleans “Wine in Canada” Special Issue

The country’s most outspoken news magazine has launched a special 147 page perspective on Canadian wine. Its top news writers and editors have brought Maclean’s professional, pot-stirring perspective to the subject, aided by a troupe of younger wine writers/sommelier insiders – three of whom are aligned with WineAlign: John Szabo of Toronto, Rhys Pender of the Similkameen and Treve Ring of Victoria.

I like the way Macleans has parsed the Canadian wine story, ferreting out key topics and bringing their outsiders journalistic sensibility to bear. Thank goodness it is not another gushing, bland wine country travel guide. The Canadian Wine Annual, which I co-founded, and which died last year with Wine Access magazine, was a far deeper tome of useful information than Maclean’s offering, but it did not tell the story as well.

Maclean's Wine in CanadaWhat I don’t like is a tone that suggests Macleans is the first publication to think about and report the Canadian wine story. It may be shiny and new to them, but it is not news to an entire previous generation of Canadian wine journalists and publishers who have slogged deeper, tasted more and toiled through the much harder, formative years. And I am sure there will be a whole battery of rightfully disgruntled B.C. winemakers and readers incensed at the editing muddle that buries Vancouver Island in the Similkameen Valley.

Omissions and small gaffes aside, the publication feels right – tempered to the times. It takes on the loony, legalistic morass of inter-provincial wine shipping. It hits all the buttons regarding the future, what we should be doing and where we go from here. The piece on Quebec exquisitely lays out the tensions brought on by its razor thin wine making climate. And the photography is superb. I am assuming from the masthead that photographer John Cullen is the man; and if so congratulations John for transcribing the character and inspiration that is required to make wine in this country.

And thanks to Macleans in general for turning the Canadian wine story up a notch. Canada’s winemakers should be very pleased indeed. When mainstream publishing thinks it can profit from a subject, you know you have arrived.

And that’s it for this edition. I’ll be back for the June 8 release. Meanwhile don’t miss the latest Episode 3-6 of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”, wherein Jennifer, Zoltan and I tangle with a Napa Cabernet that doesn’t really behave like a Napa cabernet.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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

From the May 25, 2013 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

Matua Valley Estate Series Paretai Sauvignon Blanc 2012

German Wine Fair - Toronto May 28

Mclean's Wine in Canada

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages Sept 29th Release

Super Tuscans, Power Pinots, Giants of South America and Bargain Whites

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Vintages September 29 release is in most respects a tour de force – with brilliant if small collections from the hills of Tuscany, the pinot fields of Australia and New Zealand, the energized valleys of Chile and Argentina, and arguably from a laid back California (although hardly a good value selection in this instance except for the 2010 Artezin Zinfandel).

There are also many interesting whites and reds from the various corners of Europe, making this a release to pore over carefully as you research your purchases on WineAlign, then pour generously when the time comes to indulge.

Tuscany Defined

I very much enjoy both tasting and drinking Tuscan reds. And it goes deeper than all that Tuscan romance – you know – those warbling tenors strolling amid the olive groves, non-chalantly leaning against crumbling stone walls and soulfully serenading star-crossed lovers in village trattorias. I like to taste Tuscan reds because they are challenging and complicated, and I like to drink them with food for exactly the same reason. They are almost never boring,  even if they can sometimes go the other way and become too jarring.

Vintages has done a fine job collecting some excellent examples while presenting a cross section of prices, styles, regions, big names and little names. Someone really thought this through; in fact if I were to conduct a one-day course on Tuscany I would grab each and every one. So its rather hard to isolate a very few to highlight here (I have gone for value), and I urge you spend time researching all the selections.

Remember that most are variations on a sangiovese theme, a grape with an often tart and impudent reputation. Some are aged longer, some shorter, some in old Slavonain oak, some in new French barriques, some blended with merlot, cabernet and syrah to in-fill sangiovese’s aggressiveness, some straight-up. The only thing relatively new under the Tuscan sun are the cabernet-merlot sangiovese-free reds from the coast in Bolgheri.

Poggio Al Tesoro SondraiaSo let’s begin in Bolgheri with the very sensous 2008 Poggio Al Tesoro Sondraia, which beautifully defines ultra-modern sensibilities at a comparatively reasonable price of $44.95. The most famous wines of the region – Sassicaia and Ornellaia – are five times this price, and believe me, they are not five times better. (I recently scored 08 Sassicaia under 90). Sondraia was made by a young Nicola Biasi, working at a new winery founded recently in part by the Allegrini family of Verona in northeast Italy. Knowing this after having tasted put the style very much into perspective. Allegrini wines are always sleek, layered and accessible. This one also has impressive depth that belies its sculpted ease.

Rocca Delle Macìe Chianti RiservaLivio Sassetti Brunello Di MontalcinoBy contrast, Livio Sassetti 2005 Brunello Di Montalcino is more rustic, mature and typically Tuscan. And in the world of Brunello, Tuscany’s “biggest” sangiovese, it is very well priced at $39.95. There are two other excellent brunellos on the release as well but this conveys a bit more excitement and sensuality, which is something Tuscan red should always have. Grown on the Pertamali estate owned by the Sassetti family for three generations, this is traditionally made 100% sangiovese grosso aged three years in old Slavonian barrels.

The 2008 Rocca Delle Macìe Chianti Riserva at $15.95 is a more basic Chianti, but this repeat listing gets a mention once again due to its great value. It is indeed lighter and shorter than the more expensive wines above, and it does rely on quite generous oak. But in behind the lushness lurks a finesse and again, sensuality, that rarely found in any wine at this price.

Aussie & Kiwi Power Pinots

After buying all the Tuscans, I would love to buy virtually every pinot noir on this release too.  Vintages has focused on a mittful from the Mornington Peninsula of Victoria, Australia and Central Otago in New Zealand, and there is an excitement factor across the range that should convince the last die-hard Burghound that there are great pinot sites in the New World. Indeed all of them up the wattage over Burgundy, without sacrificing the nuance and complexity that makes pinot noir so intruiging in the old country.

Kooyong Estate Pinot NoirRiorret Merricks Grove Vineyard Pinot NoirKooyong Estate 2010 Pinot Noir from the Mornington Peninsula is one of several bottlings en route to Ontario from this cool climate pinot specialist. The others are single vineyard wines made at the striking Port Philip Estate winery situated in the Red Hill area in the heart of Mornington. It is powerful, riveting, bold fruited yet natural pinot that should be cellared, but it captures amazing character $49.95.

Riorret Merricks Grove Vineyard 2009 Pinot Noir, also from Mornington Peninsula, is the real sensualist. Riorret, which is “terroir” spelled backwards, is a line of single vineyard pinots from giant De Bortoli of the Yarra Valley. Merricks Grove is a cooler, north-facing, red soiled site in central Mornington planted in 1992. This is a very complex, intriguing, and almost haunting, offering plenty of funky character at $34.95

Tarras The Canyon Single Vineyard Pinot NoirThe 2008 Tarras The Canyon Single Vineyard Pinot Noir ($46.95) from Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island is perhaps the most intense and heady. Tarras, named for a nearby town, only ramped up in 2007, and almost immediately won a slew of international honours. The Canyon vineyard is on terraced high ground on a Bendigo sheep station that was planted to several French clones in 2003.

91+ South American Reds

Still below the equator, Chile and Argentina each put forward intriguing wines in this release. I have visited both countries in recent years and I am keenly aware of the huge resources, talent, energy and ambition that is at work on both sides of the Andes. Anyone who still views South American winemaking as a third world enterprise needs to give their head a shake. The advances are shocking in their scope and velocity.

Catena Zapata Nicasia Vineyard La Consulta MalbecLuca MalbecIn Argentina, much of this has been driven by a huge company called Catena, but nowadays dozens of others have picked up the baton. One of the great challenges facing Argentina is to convince the world it can make top tier reds to compete with the best of France, California, Italy and California. It’s easy to slap a big price on the wine but it has to excel in the glass, and usually expensive Argentine reds do not.  So at $89.95 the success of Catena Zapata 2008 Nicasia Vineyard La Consulta Malbec is critical. Many will still balk at $90, but I must tell you that it has rare elegance, layering and precison for malbec that is all the more impressive given its richness and weight. The 2009 Luca Malbec, also from the Catena fold, and from the Uco Valley, is one-third the price at $29.95 but still very impressive and an opportunity to school yourself on the discussion.

Polkura SyrahTerranoble Gran Reserva CarmenèreOver in Chile two great values piqued my interest. I approached the Terranoble 2009 Gran Reserva Carmenère from the Maule Valley with little expectation, but was greeted with a wonderful nose that effortlessly combined deep seated fruit, luscious oak and carmenere’s distinctive herbaceousness. Quite elegant and a great buy at $17.95.

While yet another lesser known house has delivered the astounding Polkura 2009 Syrah for only $23.95. Polkura is a syrah project, founded by Chilean winemaking friends who had travelled together in the south of France. In 2004 they planted a 14 ha syrah vineyard sculpted within a crater-like hillside in the lee of the coastal ranges of western Colchagua. It doesn’t get full-on Pacific influence but enough that you will recognize the cool climate black pepper side of syrah. More importantly, it has some poise amid that drenching of cassis/cherry fruit.

Bargain Whites Under $20 Picks

And as usual I would like to quickly point you to three terrific white wine values. This is becoming a regular habit, and I hope a useful feature. And I have noticed it tends to highlight more Euro whites than new New world whites. If there is a bias at work it is unintentional, but it probably has to do with the higher level of acidity and lower level of alcohol in the Euro whites. As well, modern winemaking is now giving greater freedom to express the subtle aromas of white grapes and preserve their inherent freshness.

Markus Molitor RieslingRudolf Rabl Löss Grüner VeltlinerChampy Signature Chardonnay BourgogneMarkus Molitor 2011 Riesling is a cracker, dry Moesl riesling at only $18.95. As much as I technically admire the complex, riveting Molitor single vineyard rieslings, I do find them overbearing at times. While this is one to reach for every day and still be impressed. Likewise with the apparently simple 2011 Rudolf Rabl Löss Grüner Veltliner from Kamptal, Austria at a mere $13.95. It is very well made, subtle and well balanced – the ideal chef’s white when preparing your evening meal. And chardonnay fans shouldn’t miss Champy Signature 2009 Bourgogne at only $18.95, a wine with surprising complexity and depth under $20. I visited this very small negociant property in Beaune in May. Under new owndership since 2007, it is in the midst of restoring its reputation with some brilliant winemaking and by aggressively buying vineyards to build its domain portfolio.

Up Coming Events:

Next week is a big one for wine events.

The annual Chilean Wine Festival runs Tuesday evening, October 2nd at the Royal Ontario Museum and WineAlign readers can still take advantage of a savings through a promotional offer here. Presented by Wines of Chile and the Chilean Trade Commission, over 30 wineries will be pouring over 150 wines – a great chance to explore varieties, regions and meet winemakers themselves. Those attending the afternoon trade-only session will enjoy a seminar moderated by WineAlign’s Janet Dorozynski, who will also write a wrap up piece here next week.

The very next evening, October 3rd, you can attend Sip and Savour Ontario at the Distillery District. This is the annual event that showcases winners of Tony Aspler’s Ontario Wine Awards and raises funds for This year there is a new twist as about 30 Ontario wineries are joined by six celebrity chefs. Full details and tickets are available at

That’s a wrap for this week. From here through December the Vintages releases get bigger and even better, so don’t go away.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the September 29th, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews


Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2009

Chilean Wine Festival

The Wine Establishment - Code 38 Stealth

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New Zealand Wine Fairs Showcases Latest Trends – by Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

The New Zealand Wine Fair recently made its way across Canada, touching down in Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto. As Ottawa is often overlooked for these types of events, I was delighted to take part in the trade tasting and a winemaker’s dinner, which was part of the Visa Infinite Dinner Series.

This year’s Wine Fair has certainly reinforced that New Zealand as a wine region is at the top of its game, and that its best wines are yet to be discovered. While exports to Canada continue to grow at a steady pace, it is obvious that Kiwi winemakers are not resting on the laurels of their success with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, but have ambitiously embraced innovation and are looking towards a future that will include other impressive whites and red grape varieties.

Astrolabe Voyage Sauvignon BlancChurton Sauvignon Blanc 2010The main trade tasting featured wine from 23 producers and was, not surprisingly, dominated by New Zealand’s current flagship white and red, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. The standout Sauvignon Blancs included the (almost over the top) Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (to be released in Vintages in June), Churton Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (in Vintages this July) and Waimea Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from Nelson, available through Churchill Cellars. In addition to the crisp unwooded Sauvignons, with characteristic gooseberry and tropical notes, there were a number made in the Fume Blanc style (i.e. partially or fully oaked). Some, like The Brothers Sauvignon Blanc 2010 from Giesen Estate (Michael Andrews Brands), with a modest five percent of the blend matured in older French oak, were intriguing and had a creamy richness. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if there had to be a better way to diversify or invigorate the Sauvignon Blanc category, rather than subjecting this aromatic and crisp cool climate white to varying degrees of butter and toast.

Trinity Hill Homage Syrah 2009The reds I tasted were mostly Pinot Noir, both from well-known Central Otago, as well as from lesser-known (for Pinot), but equally appealing, Marlborough. The Mount Difficulty Pinot Noir 2010, available through the Small Winemakers Collection for $43.75, and the TeMara Estate Mount Pisa Pinot Noir 2009, both from Central Otago, were particularly enjoyable, with the vibrant fruit and complexity one has come to love in Central Otago Pinots. The Rock Ferry Pinot Noir Bendigo 2009, also from Central Otago, and in fact most of the wines from this small winery looking to make inroads into the Canadian marketplace, also stood out and are worth keeping an eye out for (

The success and focus of the New Zealand wine industry, along with the overall quality of the wines, has been nothing short of remarkable over the past decade or two. We can see however, the desire to branch out and become known for more than just Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. It was in this vein that the self-pour format wine seminar for the trade highlighted some of the country’s up and coming aromatic white varieties – Pinot Gris (and thankfully not Grigio), Riesling and Gewürztraminer, along with Syrah, whose plantings and interest from winemakers has been dramatically outpacing that of other white and red varieties over the past decade. The well-priced Waipara Hills Pinot Gris 2011 ( and Waimea Nelson Dry Riesling 2006 ( stood out for me among the aromatic whites, with a good buzz among the trade.

As for the Syrah from Hawkes Bay and Waiheke Island, the stunning Trinity Hill 2009 Homage Syrah from Gimblett Gravels ( and John Forrest Collection 2007 Syrah (, also from Gimblett Gravels, both showed a “Northern Rhone” finesse and elegance, along with bright and spicy fruit flavors, which the Waiheke Island Syrah didn’t have.

Babich Sauvignon BlancVilla Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2009The multi-course dinner was held at SideDoor Contemporary Kitchen and Bar, with Executive Chef Jonathan Korecki at the top of his game. We began dinner with a glass of Oyster Bay Cuvee Rose NV “methode”, which is what New Zealanders call sparkling wine. We also tasted wines from well-known producers Villa Maria, Babich and Coopers Creek, alongside the new kid on the block (for Canada anyway), Marlborough-based Rock Ferry. The torched Albacore tuna sashimi was a perfect companion for the fresh and lively Babich Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from Marlborough, which offers great value at $14.95. With the delicious roasted New Zealand lamb rack, we tried the Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2009, also from Marlborough and coming to Vintages, which drove home the point that Central Otago is not the only place where good Pinot Noir can be made in New Zealand

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So, You Think You Know Wine? Season Two – The Tournament – Episode #3 – Keint He Pinot Noir 2007

Welcome to episode three of season two of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”.  Join our critics as they rise to a blind tasting challenge to identify the grape, country, region, year and price of the mystery wine.

Season two is in a tournament format, with six preliminary rounds and two elimination semi-finals leading to a championship round.

We’ve increased the number of participants from four to six.  Back from season one are David Lawrason, John Szabo MS, Steve Thurlow, Sara d’Amato and host Amil Niazi who are now joined by master sommelier Jennifer Huether and sommelier Zoltan Szabo.

We’ve also introduced a formal scoring structure of up to 10 points for a wine.  There are four parameters the critics are scored on:
• Varietal = up to 3 points for varietal or style
• Location = up to 3 points (2pts for Country and 1pt for Region)
• Vintage = up to 2 points (2pts for exact year, 1pt for +/- 1 year)
• Price = up to 2 points (2pts for +/- 2.5% of price, 1pt for +/- 10% of price)

Totals after round 2-2

Episode 2-3 marks the half-way point of the preliminary round.  After two rounds played John is in the lead. However, Sara is yet to enter the fray. To see how Sara, Jennifer and David do in round three of “The Tournament” click here. This episode features the Keint He Little Creek Pinot Noir 2007 from Prince Edward County in Ontario.

So, You Think You Know Wine - Episode #2-3

Click on the above image or here. to see Episode 2-3.

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John Szabo: Ontario 2009 Pinot Noir living up to expectations

Postmedia File Photo

By John Szabo

For several years now industry followers have been touting pinot noir as one of Ontario’s most promising varieties. It’s a “short cycle ripener” meaning that it should be well suited to Ontario’s relatively compact growing season, able to reach full maturity before getting clipped by frost. Many parts (but not all) of Niagara and Prince Edward County also have the right soils that in theory should yield fine wines.

Yet until recently quality has been spotty, with the occasional bright exception, but too many substandard examples damned by faint praise along the lines of “this shows promise”. It’s been a clear of case of wishful thinking sullying sincere beliefs, as though everyone were willing pinot from Ontario to be as good as they wanted it to be. The highly regarded 2007 vintage has turned out to be a disappointment in my view, with many pinots yet, and likely never, to shed a burly cloak of tannins from either overenthusiastic extraction or simply overly thick, rain-starved berries full of sugar but unripe polyphenols. Read the rest of this entry »

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Preliminary Ontario 2009 Pinot Noir Report: Wines living up to expectations at last – by John Szabo

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

For several years now industry followers have been touting pinot noir as one of Ontario’s most promising varieties. It’s a “short cycle ripener” meaning that it should be well suited to Ontario’s relatively compact growing season, able to reach full maturity before getting clipped by frost. Many parts (but not all) of Niagara and Prince Edward County also have the right soils that in theory should yield fine wines.

Pinot NoirYet until recently quality has been spotty, with the occasional bright exception, but too many substandard examples damned by faint praise along the lines of “this shows promise”. It’s been a clear of case of wishful thinking sullying sincere beliefs, as though everyone were willing pinot from Ontario to be as good as they wanted it to be. The highly regarded 2007 vintage has turned out to be a disappointment in my view, with many pinots yet, and likely never, to shed a burly cloak of tannins from either overenthusiastic extraction or simply overly thick, rain-starved berries full of sugar but unripe polyphenols.

2008 was problematic for other reasons, namely high disease pressure from mildews, which has resulted in early maturing, browning, volatile wines, many of which are redolent of kitchen compost and slipping past prime already.

Pinot Noir Grapes

Pinot Noir Grapes

Then along comes 2009: cooler than 2007, drier and sunnier than 2008 yet with sufficient rainfall, and the results are nothing short of very good, and in some cases, excellent. The perfect storm of maturing vines, more experienced winemaking, good vintage conditions and a critical mass of serious and dedicated producers have finally converted potential into reality. Ontario is on the map for pinot lovers. The specific sub-regions best suited to quality pinot are also coming clearly into focus. In my view, the Niagara Escarpment (including the St. David’s, Twenty Mile, Short Hills and Beamsville Bench sub-appellations) is the most consistent and concentrated source of high quality in the Niagara Peninsula, while in a relatively short time Prince Edwards County has established itself as perhaps the pre-eminent source of delicate, minerally pinot. I suspect we’ll soon be discussing sub-regions in PEC, too.

Below are some of my top picks from recent tastings, not a comprehensive report, but enough to cause rejoicing among fanatic pinot lovers. (Prices listed where available; check for additional details on availability)

Closson Chase CCV Pinot Noir 2009 Prince Edward County 

Closson’s 2009 pinot is a light, herbal, mineral and vibrantly zesty example with terrific persistence and delicate fruit flavours. This highlights the County’s terroir nicely, emphasizing fruit freshness and limestone and oyster shell-like stoniness; tannins are light, firm and grippy, acid is saliva-inducing, and length impressive. Wood is barely detectable. Lovely wine in a refined mould. Tasted September 2011. 91 Drink 2011-2015

Hardie Wines Limited County Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2009 Prince Edward County, $35

Hardie’s 2009 County pinot is his best yet in my view. It spent 11 months in small barrels, of which 40% were new, though the wood is barely detectable here. The texture is pure silk and elegance, with lovely fresh and delicate tart red fruit, vibrant and pure, with energetic acidity, very fine-grained tannins, and a wonderfully refreshing 11.5% alcohol. Flavours run to the wild strawberry and morello cherry spectrum. Very compelling, inviting constant sips. Tasted February 2011.  92 Drink 2011-2015

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery Black Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara-on-the-Lake

This is more closed and tightly wound than the Red Paw Vineyard pinot from Coyote’s Run, with considerably more structure and grippy tannins. Fruit spans the red and black berry spectrum, and flavour intensity and depth are impressive. Solidly structured and age worthy all in all. Best after 2012. Tasted September 2011. 90 Drink 2012-2018

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2009 Beamsville Bench

Very open, perfumed, fresh and fragrant, with wood noted alongside highly concentrated, vibrant red and even black berry fruit. Tannins and wood are indeed still marked, and this needs time to integrated, another 1-3 years I’d speculate. Tasted September 2011. 90 Drink 2012-2017

Rosewood Estates Winery Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara Escarpment & Twenty Valley 

Here’s a clean, bright, high-toned, juicy red fruit-flavoured pinot from Rosewood Estates, crafted as with most of Natalie Spytkowski’s wines in an elegant and refined style. The palate is suave and silky, with light tannins and bright acid. Fine, lingering finish; very pretty. Tasted September 2011. 90 Drink 2011-2014

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara-on-the-Lake

The 2009 Red Paw Vineyard pinot is firmly in the lighter red berry fruit spectrum of flavours, with notable high-toned cherry and a touch of earthy-funk that’s well within normally acceptable bounds. Tannins are firm and grippy, bolstered by crisp acids, though the wine is well-balanced all around. Impressive length. Tasted September 2011. 89 Drink 2011-2014

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara-on-the-Lake $24.95

This is evidently a serious and ambitious example of pinot noir, with generous oak influence – abundant baking spice, chocolate and fresh coffee grounds. The palate is juicy and savoury, with substantial intensity and long, warm finish. A meaty and savoury wine all in all, one of the finest estate pinots yet from Coyote’s Run. Tasted September 2011. 89 Drink 2011-2015

Tawse Winery Grower’s Blend Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara Escarpment & Twenty Valley  $30

The Tawse Grower’s Blend Pinot is currently closed on the nose but reveals a good deal of depth and flavour intensity on the palate. There’s generous density and weight for the vintage, while acidity is balanced and crisp, and tannins are grippy and dusty. All in all, a fine, well made wine that should improve over the next 2-3 years in the cellar. Tasted September 2011. 89 Drink 2012-2016

Casa Dea Estates Winery Pinot Noir 2009 Prince Edward County 

Here’s a light, tight, juicy and mineral example of County pinot in the style that excels in the region. The palate is light and flavour intensity modest, but this displays a good dose of limestone minerality and delicate freshness that should be allowed to characterize the wines of the area. For current consumption or short term hold.  Tasted September 2011. 88 Drink 2011-2013

Closson Chase Church Side Pinot Noir 2009 Prince Edward County 

The Churchside pinot is the burliest and most evidently woody of Closson’s 09 Pinots (if such a thing can be said). Flavours are in the darker fruit spectrum, and chocolate-coffee flavours linger on the finish. I think in time this will integrate nicely; try in 1-2 years. Tasted September 2011. 89 Drink 2012-2015

Twenty Twenty Seven Cellars Queenston Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, VQA St. David’s Bench $30

Made from 10 year old vines in the Queenston Road vineyard, one of the warmest in Niagara, Panagapka’s 2009 pinot is a delightfully pale ruby colour with modest intensity aromas in the subdued red berry spectrum. Additional compost, wet earth and sweet baking spice from 14 months in oak (30% new, French) provide complexity. The palate is deceptively powerful, with light, ripe tannins, balanced acidity, quite serious depth and weight, and a forceful, lingering finish. Quite a fine example here, dinking well now but even better in 1-2 years I suspect. Tasted August 2011. 90 Drink 2012-2015

2009 Flat Rock Cellars The Rogue Pinot Noir, Twenty Mile Bench

The Rogue, made in honour of owner Ed Madronich’s father, is a pinot noir made white, or at least a little “gris”. This looks like a well oxidized, old white wine. The nose offers high quality barrel notes up front (30% new) alongside lees; this smells like fine chardonnay. The palate is quite ripe, creamy, with crisp-balancing acidity, and long finish. Well done, a new paradigm for the variety in Ontario. 89+ Drink 2011-2013

2009 Rosehall Run Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, Prince Edward County

100% estate-grown fruit from Hillier in PEC, this has a really lovely and pure red fruit/berry character, red currant, red cherry, with a fine measure of florality. This was aged 50% in new barrels, and wood spice is certainly a feature if not exaggerated, though a measure less wood influence would have made this even more enticing and allowed the minerality and delicate fruit to shine through. The palate is light and lean in the good way, with brisk but not excessive acidity, moderate alcohol and light, fine-grained tannins. Solid length. 89 Drink 2011-2014.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages April 16th – NZ Pinots, Awatere Sauv Blanc & Other Goodies.

New World Pinot Parade, NZ’s Awatere Sauvignon, Refined Old Champagne, Not so Petite Sirah, Ace Aglianico & Deluxe PX

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

April 16 brings another very large, diverse release of wines from across the globe. There are features on New Zealand and Easter Wine, although as always with these holiday theme releases  I really am at a loss to discuss what makes a wine an Easter wine. So please excuse me while I ignore the idea.  And more on New Zealand in a moment but let me just say that of the 120 wines I have reviewed most are very good 86 to 89 pointers selling at about $16 to $24.  They are pitched right into Vintages’ wheelhouse nowadays, and as always our job as critics is to find those wines that are homeruns.  It seems that not many meet that challenge in this release but I have highlighted some of the right stuff below.

New World Pinot Parade

 Carrick Pinot Noir 2007New Zealand is the feature theme on this outing, with a strong battery of three Otago pinot noirs leading the way.  But the pinot parade is not limited to NZ – there are some strong Australian, Californian and Niagara pinots as well.  New World pinot has actually been a very strong trend over recent months at Vintages, a sure sign that Burgundy’s  grape has gone global.  Burgundy pinot fans may still gripe that New World pinot is too obvious, too cherry bomb and too gussied up by French oak. And some do come across that way.  But they are also quite delicious and more technically sound than many Burgundies, and this kind of reliability is rather important when one begins to mete out $30, $40 or $50 for a bottle.  The hit and miss heartbreak nature of Burgundy has become so in-grained as part of its mystique, that it has become almost a positive. I am not so sure most consumers these days are buying into that polemic.
Josef Chromy Pinot Noir 2009

But back to New Zealand, which is clearly positioning itself as the Burgundy of the New World, at least in the sense that pinot is its flagship red. Clear style distinctions are emerging among Marlborough (straightforward and juicy), Martinborough (coy and complex) and Otago (bold and beautiful). I am really taken by the sheer presence, brightness and depth of these Otago pinots. They present themselves with deceptive ease whereas the best are also well structured, deep and complex. If you can afford a fast $100 to buy one of each of the three on this release I highly recommend it.  If you can only afford one, I slightly preferred the savoury complexity and great structure of CARRICK 2007 PINOT NOIR ($34.95).  But I also direct your attention to yet another pinot from Tasmania, the Australian state that lies across the sea at roughly the same latitude as Otago. JOSEF CHROMY 2009 PINOT NOIR ($27.95) is wonderfully spry and invigorating – with its cran-raspberry fruit very much a testament to the cooler climate and familiar to Ontario pinot fans.

Awatere Shines Among New Zealand Sauvignons

Eradus Sauvignon Blanc 2009The batch of a half-dozen NZ sauvignons on the April 16 release are by and large average to disappointing, with one notable exception below. The general malaise seems to be that the wines lack vitality, vigour and balance – perhaps because they are arriving at Vintages at mid-teen price points.  You are better off to seek Vintages Essentials like Kim Crawford 2010 and Oyster Bay 2010, both very similar and very good.  But before you take that familiar route, stop off at ERADUS 2009 SAUVIGNON BLANC ($17.95). This is a bright, elegant, compact and more mineral driven style from a small family winery (Eradus is the family surname) located in the Awatere Valley.  This smaller Marlborough sub-appellation lies southeast of the main Wairu Valley. It has lower rainfall, somewhat cooler temperature and poor, stony soils, especially nearer the Awatere River. The region is known to make leaner, greener sauvignons akin to Sancerre in France’s Loire Valley. Which is very much the profile here, with just a hint of orange  that the Loire seldom attains.
And don’t forget the New Zealand Wine Fair is looming on Thursday, May 12. It’s always a great event, flush with bright, interesting wines. It is being held at the Design Exchange in downtown Toronto, with a trade portion at 2:30 and a consumer event from 7:00 to 9:00pm.

Refined Old Champagne

Speaking of small family wineries turning out very classy wines, take a look at LACOURTE-GODBILLON 2002 BRUT CHAMPAGNE, a steal at $54.95 in the realm of vintage-dated Champagnes – heck any Champagne.  It’s fresh, tender and refined and still very much alive at almost ten years of age. It really is the miracle of Champagne that such light wine made in such a marginal climate can be infused with such fine balance and flavour depth that it can withstand such long ageing. Winemaker Geraldine Lacourte is the fourth generation to make wine at her family domain, and she has obviously acquired the skill and got the touch. This is delicious.
 Lacourte Godbillon Brut Champagne 2002

Not so Petite Sirah

Napa Ridge Petite Sirah 2007 Petite Sirah is a singular grape variety, similar enough to syrah to have created confusion when grown in Califorina in the early days.  It is actually the durif grape, which is a kind fly-by cousin to syrah.  Apparently durif originated as a cross of syrah pollen germinating a peloursin plant, and it was discovered growing in a vineyard near Montpelier in the south of France by a botanist named Francois Durif.  Petite Sirah has syrah’s deep black colour, often meaty ambiance and dense texture.  In fact there is nothing petit about it, at least in terms of palate presence.   My complaint against petite sirah has always been its rather blocky texture and an aromatic promise of riches that never seems to translate on the finish.  NAPA RIDGE 2007 PETITE SIRAH breaks that pattern with impressive depth indeed, and all kinds meaty, smoky character that will have syrah fans all excited. It won nine silver or gold medals in competitions in 2010.  Have at look at only $20.

 Villa Matilde Rocca Dei Leoni Aglianico 2007Ace Aglianico

Italy’s aglianico grape has always been on the radar of wine buffs, especially those with a historical bent. It is an ancient variety said to originate in Greece, but it has had residency for over 2,000 years in the south of Italy, notably in Campania (near Naples). It was apparently responsible for a red wine called Falernum in Roman times, and surely planted at Pompei.  It likely achieved prominence for its sturdiness (acidity and tannin) at a time when niceties like bottles, stainless steel tanks and oak barrels did not exist to preserve fruit freshness. Clay amphorae were the closest they could come to refrigeration. Anyway, aglianico’s age-worthiness and vibrancy has been the backbone of obscure of an expensive wine called Taurasi, long held to be the most noble red wine of southern Italy. But Taurasi was hardly generous and approachable.  On the other hand, VILLA MATILDE 2007  ROCCA DEI LEONI AGLIANICO from Campania at only $19.95 manages to deliver all that missing charm. It is the product of a historic and scenic vineyard that sits on volcanic soils at 400 metres above sea level.

Deluxe PX

 Gonzalez Byass Elegante Palomino/Pedro Ximénez Sweet CreamAt the end of March I was at the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival (another huge success this year) where Spain was the featured country. I attended four different seminars on Spanish wine, each featuring up to ten winemakers at the podium.  I actually missed the sherry seminar itself but I did catch up with a sensational Alvear PX Cream Montilla from a solera begun in 1927. I tasted it at the end of one seminar, then again after dinner at a ‘happening’ new restaurant called L’Abbatoir in Gastown. I was impressed that such a youth oriented place would have PX Cream (PX is the pedro ximenez grape) on the list in the first place, let alone the same 1927.  Anyway, I had forgotten how gorgeous this molten molasses and raisin brew could be – it was stunning. And so it was with refreshed enthusiasm that I tasted GONZALEZ-BYASS ELEGANTE PALOMINO/PEDRO XIMÉNEZ SWEET CREAM at Vintages the following week. You can read my tasting notes, or pick up a half bottle for yourself at the unbelievably low price of $15. It is for those moments when the sweet tooth rages, but just a little late night sip will do.

Enjoy these highlights, and the rest of my reviews on over 100 other wines on this release here.

Cheers and enjoy, David
- David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for April 16th 2011: New Zealand & Southern Italy

New Zealand’s flagship grape: A One-Hit Wonder or Opening Act? The Danger of Cookie Cutter Wines; Top Ten Smart Buys; New Zealand’s star values; Two from southern Italy

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Among the top ten this week, there’s an exceptional sauvignon blanc (not from New Zealand): 2009 GRGICH HILLS FUMÉ BLANC Napa Valley, Made from Biodynamic Grapes $29.95, as well as a super value southern Italian white made from a blend of indigenous grapes, fiano, falanghina and Greco, the 2009 TRIADE BIANCO IGT Campania  $12.95. Those who enjoy drinking $30 California Cabernet but would rather spend half that should pick up the 2008 GROVE STREET CABERNET SAUVIGNON Sonoma County $15.00. See the rest of the top ten here. And now, on to New Zealand.
Grgich Hills Fumé Blanc 2009  Triade Bianco 2009 Grove Street Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
The Vintages release for April 16th is headlined by New Zealand, a kindred spirit nation for Canadians (we both live next to a big, domineering neighbour). Canadians are quite fond of New Zealand wines: we’re the country’s 4th largest export market for wine and growing, up an incredible 41% over last year, attributed in part to a very successful Vancouver Playhouse Festival 2010 when New Zealand was co-host country alongside Argentina. (Bulk wine exports were also a factor in this increase, so beware all of those non-VQA sauvignons that smell suspiciously New Zealand-like.)

Despite our enthusiasm, the New Zealand wine industry is going through unprecedented difficult times. “Ultra-competitive markets, over-stocked inventories, exchange rate fluctuations, excise increases and rising costs conspire to drain profitability from the sector”, according to the 2010 annual report from New Zealand. That’s the business side of things, but from a quality perspective the news is better – I think this is one of the strongest releases ever from the island nation in Ontario. The range of grapes on offer is limited, but more importantly, the wine is generally very good. But it’s not universally good. Several mediocre wines are clearly hanging on the coattails of the truly good ones, banking on New Zealand’s solid reputation to inflate their prices.

Though you’ll be in the minority, grab a glass of the delightfully sip-able 2009 ANT MOORE PINOT NOIR Central Otago, South Island $24.95, full of juicy red berry fruit, and read on to sort out the boring from the best in this release.

 Ant Moore Pinot Noir 2009

Total Domination

New Zealand broke into international export markets in the 1990s with one particular wine type. But is their on-going focus a positive or negative? No other significant wine-producing nation is more heavily dominated by a single grape variety than New Zealand. Not even Argentina’s Malbec or Chile’s Cabernet Sauvignon come close. If you’ve ever had a Kiwi wine, then you’ve already guessed it; the statistics are remarkable. Sauvignon blanc dominates so thoroughly that you could be forgiven for not knowing that New Zealand produces wine from a dozen and a half other grapes, albeit in confidential quantities.

New Zealand Wine Map

New Zealand Wine Map

There are four times more hectares planted to Sauvignon than the next most planted grape, pinot noir. But if you consider yields, pinot drops to third place, while the generous producing sauvignon blanc squirts out almost 7x more wine than the second most voluminous variety, chardonnay.

And that’s just the internal story. When it comes to exports, sauvignon dominates even more: 8 out of every 10 glasses of New Zealand wine poured abroad are unmistakably pungent and grassy. And the second most exported grape? Pinot noir, but by the same scale would represent less than half a glass for every 10 glasses. And if anything, this domination looks more entrenched than ever, given that the 2010 sauvignon harvest was nearly stable relative to 2009, while chardonnay and pinot noir both dropped by double digits.

So what?  Does the offer begin and end with Sauvignon? All the marketers will tell you that focus is good, and they’re probably right. If you view New Zealand more like a region, say, like Burgundy or Champagne where only a couple of grapes dominate large areas, the focus makes perfect sense (New Zealand has approximately the same area under vine, 33,000ha, as Champagne). But then again, if you look at those same regions you can already predict future trouble. There are plenty of examples of poor quality champagne and burgundy that bank on their region’s storied reputation to sell their products. And in the end they have ultimately damaged the reputations of those regions.

The Danger of Cookie Cutter Wines

It seems the market is awash with bottles of New Zealand sauvignon from the same region, made in the same style and offered at similar prices (a quick search for “New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc” on the LCBO database currently shows no fewer than 73 wines, virtually all between $15 and $22). Some are exciting, but many are boring, cookie-cutter like. With such a range available, it’s becoming a burden for the consumer to sort out the bottles that built and continue to build New Zealand’s reputation for quality, from the ones that are simply capitalizing on that reputation and looking for easy money.

It’s easy to see why New Zealand growers and producers love and rely on sauvignon blanc. It yields generously, is dead easy to make, requires no expensive wood or long cellaring. It’s just harvest-crush-ferment-filter-bottle-ship-collect. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s not as though the wine industry is so devilishly profitable – like banks or insurance companies –  that we should protest against the products that can potentially earn winemakers an honest living. But there is the danger that consumers will become jaded by standard stuff that sells at the same price as the good stuff. For an example of truly exciting sauvignon from this release, try the 2008 SERESIN SAUVIGNON BLANC Marlborough, South Island $21.95. This is a wine of genuine character and distinctive personality, well beyond the second-rate facsimilies at similar prices. Also worth knowing is the 2009 JULES TAYLOR SAUVIGNON BLANC Marlborough, South Island $18.95.

Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 2008  Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc 2009

I’m happy to have been introduced to New Zealand wines through Sauvignon, but aside from a handful of exceptional wines, I’m ready to move on. And there is more to discover to be sure, like New Zealand’s second most important grape, pinot noir. The April 16th release is a nice snapshot of the quality now emerging after years of predicting future greatness. Two strong vintages back-to-back, 2008 and 2009, have certainly helped. In addition to the Ant Moore recommended above, two other top pinots in the release are: 2008 AMISFIELD PINOT NOIR Central Otago, South Island $44.95, and 2007 CARRICK PINOT NOIR Central Otago, South Island $34.95. In the relatively pricey world of pinot, these are well positioned, but for sheer value and pleasure, try the 2009 LONE KAURI RESERVE PINOT NOIR Marlborough, South Island $16.95. I overheard one of my colleagues during the tasting exclaim “if Canada could make pinot noir of this quality at this price we’d all go crazy for it”.

 Amisfield Pinot Noir 2008 Carrick Pinot Noir 2007 Lone Kauri Reserve Pinot Noir 2009

It’s clear that New Zealanders are forward thinking – just look at their commitment to the environment: the industry has collectively agreed to aim for 100% of the country’s vineyards to be farmed sustainably by 2012 (93% of land already is). They’ve made sustainability part of the national brand; aside from helping to sell wine, it’s also the right thing to do. And chardonnay, riesling, pinot gris, syrah, merlot… New Zealand has lots more to offer, and the future is positive. I can only hope that growers continue to focus on sauvignon blanc made in the areas best suited to the most distinctive wines, and not get complacent. The country’s reputation is at stake. And beyond sauvignon, continue to introduce wines and regions with quality that will truly dazzle the world and justify the world’s highest average export prices.

Click here to register for the New Zealand Wine Fair, which will be held on May 12th at the Design Exchange in Toronto, and discover for yourself.

From the April 16th Vintages release:
Top Ten Smart Buys
New Zealand Star Values
Two to Try from Southern Italy

All Reviews


John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008