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Portugal The Refuge: A Hot Spot For Diversity

Szabo’s Free RunNovember 3, 2014

Text and photographs by John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Most European countries are fiercely proud of their indigenous grapes. Unique local varieties provide a critical point of difference on the over-crowded shelves of wine shops and attract the attention of sommeliers. But the term “indigenous”, so frequently used in the world of wine, is, as it turns out, often incorrectly applied to grape varieties. Technically, an indigenous plant originates in the region in question, a true native as it were. Most European grapes are more correctly termed endemic varieties, that is, belonging exclusively to or confined to a certain place, even if they are not originally from there.

The true origins of most Vitis vinifera varieties is almost certainly somewhere in the Middle East. Over the course of millennia, vines moved from the East throughout continental Europe, each finding their ideal growing environment, first through Nature’s, and later man’s vast experiments of trial and error during domestication. Many varieties have since become confined to relatively small areas.

Although the line is purely arbitrary, most would consider a grape that has been growing somewhere for more than a few hundred years to be indigenous, even if it is really only endemic. Sure, it will have adapted to local conditions, but its origins are nonetheless elsewhere. The distinction may seem overly academic, and it surely is, though in a wine world increasingly hungry for diversity and originality, the discrepancy may one day take on some importance.

Truly Indigenous

And if such is the case, then recent research just might give Portuguese winegrowers a marketing leg up on their competitors, arming them with unassailable proof that the country’s 250-odd grapes can truly be called both unique and indigenous. The discovery of wild grape vines growing in southern Portugal has led researchers to hypothesize that this corner of the Iberian Peninsula was a so-called refuge for Vitis vinifera during the last ice age.

Vineyards in the Cima Corgo, Douro Valley-3428

Vineyards in the Cima Corgo, Douro Valley

Until some 12,000 years ago, Europe and Central Asia (and North America) were covered under a vast ice sheet, and had been for over 100,000 years. During this period, it’s believed early man built underground refuges to survive and escape the cold. Grapevines, of course, had no such recourse, and many of the wild European grapevine species known as Vitis vinifera sylvestris would have perished during the endless cold like merlot on a frigid Niagara night.

It had long been speculated that only the area around the Middle East and the Caucasus Mountains was spared the worst of the Ice Age, enabling plants such as grapevines to survive. The scientists call these areas “refuges”, and many of today’s popular grapes can trace their DNA breadcrumbs back to this Middle Eastern refuge. Yet there’s increasing evidence that the grapevine found refuge elsewhere in Europe. Southern Italy, for example, displays genetic diversity not found in the Middle East. But the scientific jury is still out.

But a refuge on which the scientists do seem to have recently agreed is the southwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula. The proof? “Most native Portuguese varieties are not found in the Middle East, or anywhere in between the two presumed refuges”, says António Graça, the technical director for the Sogrape Wine Group, one of Portugal’s largest wine companies.

Growing Wild

António Graça

António Graça

What’s more, several populations of wild grapevines have been discovered in the southern half of Portugal, covering more territory than any other population found so far in Western Europe. The vines were found growing up trees in woods near riverbanks that regularly overflow. The repeated flooding is believed to have kept phylloxera out, the louse that may otherwise have killed the wild vines, as it did virtually all of Europe’s commercial vineyards around the turn of the 20th century.

And according to Graça, “recent advancements in DNA studies have confirmed that many of Portugal’s unique native varieties are more closely related to these wild Iberian plants than to anything found in Eastern Europe or the Middle East”. This leads to the tempting suggestion that the vines must have originated there, otherwise they would show more genetic similarities to other common European grape varieties.

This evidence is corroborated by Swiss researcher Dr. José Vouillamoz, co-author with Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW of the monumental tome Wine Grapes, published in 2012. Vouillamoz quotes via email that “According to Arroyo-García et al. (2006), over 70% of the grape varieties of the Iberian Peninsula display chlorotypes (i.e. categories of chloroplastic DNA) that are only compatible with their having derived from western Vitis vinifera subsp. silvestris populations of wild grapevines, thus suggesting a secondary domestication centre. This is backed up by Cunha et al. (2009) who found a predominance of chlorotype A both in wild populations and cultivars in Portugal, and by Lopes et al. (2009) who have found evidence for a gene flow between local wild grapevine populations and domesticated vines in Portugal, suggesting that this region was a possible refuge during the last glaciation, giving rise to many of the Western European cultivars.”

Continued Research To Preserve Diversity

Although Graça and others have already spent years studying the native grapes of Portugal, the research is set to continue with the establishment of a far-reaching program called PORVID, whose aim is to preserve, protect and evaluate the commercial potential of Portugal’s rich vine biodiversity.

PORVID, founded in 2009, is a public-private funded association composed of universities, technical groups, wine companies, municipalities and the Ministry of Agriculture. 110 hectares of public property have been set aside outside of Lisbon to establish a vine conservation park for a 50-year term. 50,000 clones of 250 native varieties have been planted in the park, with vine cuttings taken from Portugal’s enviable collection of old, and in some cases abandoned, vineyards. “About a quarter of native Portuguese varieties have already been studied extensively”, says Graça, “but there’s still a lot of work to be done”.

Over the next 50 years each of the varieties and their clones will be grown and observed, and made into wine, and the results of the research will be shared with the industry.

I consider this critically important work, especially considering the erosion of vine diversity that has occurred across Europe since the era of phylloxera, and the predominance of a small handful of grapes transplanted outside of Europe. In the end, the world can only benefit from preserving vine, and thus wine, diversity.

Biodiversity in a Glass and the Benefits of Government Non-Intervention

New high density, field blend planting at Quinta das Carvalhas-3413

New high density, field blend planting at Quinta das Carvalhas

Origins aside, no one would argue that Portugal has a marvelous collection of unique varieties. And one reason why such a deep repertoire of vine diversity was retained is the fact that up until the 1970s, virtually all of Portugal’s vineyards were planted to field blends, rather than the monovarietal plantations that came to dominate in the rest of Europe. The persistence of these valuable field blends was the unanticipated benefit of Portugal pretty much missing the industrial revolution, as well as other international developments during the 20th century under the Luso-centric dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar, whose introverted right-wing government ruled Portugal until 1974.

It was during the period of post war growth that many of Europe’s vineyards were “rationalized” and mechanized for industrial agriculture, and converted to monocultures. Portugal (and Spain) followed a different path, and even today there are many old vineyards in the Douro Valley, for example, that still contain over 50 different grapes co-planted. By comparison, the top 20 most planted grapes in France in the 1950s represented just over 50% of vineyard area. Today, that figure is over 90%, as local specialties have been replaced with more “popular” grapes.

Back to the Future

But now the benefits of interplanted cultivars are (re)gaining recognition. Among other advantages, mixed plantings confer greater resistance to disease, thanks to genetic diversity. In monocultures, a single pathogen can wipe out an entire vineyard. But with mixed plantings, usually only some, but not all plants succumb. Mixed plantings could lead to a reduction in pesticide use.

Many also claim that field blends make for better, more complex wines, which is logical enough – more instruments make for a richer sounding orchestra.

Alvaro Martinho Dias Lopes extolls the virtues of old field blends, Quinta das Carvalhas-3420

Alvaro Martinho Dias Lopes extolls the virtues of old field blends, Quinta das Carvalhas

The most common disadvantage cited is that the ripening times between varieties differ, leading to complicated harvests and an inevitable mix of under and overripe grapes. But Cristiano Van Zeller, a leading figure in the Douro Valley at his Quinta Vale Dona Maria, points to empirical evidence that the ripening cycles of grapes harmonize over time, leading to more uniform ripeness (Jean-Michel Deiss, another proponent of mixed plantings, has observed the same phenomenon in Alsace). Van Zeller has vowed only to plant field blends in the traditional style in the future. “The results are far superior”, he says, and he’s far from alone in his belief.

Alvaro Martinho Dias Lopes, the man responsible for viticulture at the Quinta das Carvalhas – the jewel in the crown of the Real Companhia Velha in the Douro – is also a believer. “The best parcel we have every year is the old vine field blend”, he tells me. The site, a north-facing slope down towards the river produces the exceptional Quinta des Carvalhas Vinhas Velhas [old vines], one of the Douro’s top red table wines, so the evidence is compelling. All future plantings at Carvalhas will be field blends of at least a dozen varieties, Martinho reveals, pointing to a recently re-planted parcel to prove the point.

There are many more great wines from field blends yet to come it seems, something I look forward to seeing.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Oporto at dusk-3820Vila Nova de Gaia at sunset-3806

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Les bons choix de Nadia – octobre

Cellier octobre 2e vague
par Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier - New - Cropped

Nadia Fournier

D’entrée de jeu, mes excuses pour le léger retard à vous donner mes impressions sur les vins relâchés jeudi dernier dans le cadre de la promotion du Cellier d’octobre. J’étais occupée à temps on ne peut plus complet à terminer la rédaction du Guide du vin 2015. Voilà qui est fait. La 34e édition est maintenant entre les mains de l’imprimeur et devrait arriver en librairie dès le 5 novembre prochain!

N’ayez crainte, tous les produits sont encore disponibles en bonne quantité dans le réseau de la SAQ. Dans le lot, une belle sélection de vins rouges et blancs portugais. Encore trop peu représenté au Québec et évoluant encore dans l’ombre de son voisin espagnol – la popularité ne va pas toujours au mérite –, le Portugal a beaucoup à offrir à l’amateur de vin en quête d’aubaines et de dépaysement, surtout.

Le pays est méridional et le soleil tape fort, mais les vignobles bénéficient aussi de l’effet modérateur de l’océan Atlantique. Le charme de ces vins réside donc dans leur caractère authentiquement chaleureux, mais néanmoins digeste, ce qui les rend en fait de bons compagnons de table.

Quinta Da Romaneira 2009 Quinta Da Ponte Pedrinha 2005D’abord connu pour le porto, le Douro produit aujourd’hui plus de grands vins de table que toute autre région viticole portugaise. Le Sino da Romaneira (20,20 $), deuxième vin de cette vieille quinta gérée par l’équipe de Quinta do Noval (AXA Millésimes), en est un bel exemple. Passablement riche en 2009, mais façonné dans un style plutôt dépouillé, assez strict et tannique, il sera mis en valeur par une viande rouge saignante.

Si les vins de table du Douro ont été la révélation portugaise des années 1990, ceux du Dão pourraient bien être celle de la présente décennie. Avec les investissements soutenus dont elle bénéficie depuis une vingtaine d’années, cette région, qui a beaucoup souffert du monopole de coopératives instauré sous la dictature (1933-1974), est en voie de réhabilitation. Il reste encore beaucoup de travail à faire au vignoble, mais le potentiel est énorme.

Dégusté à au moins cinq ou six reprises depuis 2010, ce vin rouge du Dão produit par Quinta da Ponte Pedrinha (24,60 $) ne cesse de me surprendre. De retour dans le même millésime cette année encore – apparemment les stocks de 2005 sont inépuisables – il m’a paru étonnamment jeune et frais. Déjà ouvert, il devrait tenir la route jusqu’en 2017, au moins.

Esporao Reserva 2013 Herdade Do Sobroso 2010Plus au sud, à une centaine de kilomètres à l’est de Lisbonne, le vaste vignoble de l’Alentejo donne des vins rouges généreux, comme celui de Herdade do Sobroso (24,30 $). Plus chaleureux que vraiment complexe, il plaira à l’amateur de vin gorgé de soleil.

Créé au début des années 90, ce domaine de l’Alentejo est l’un des plus imposants du Portugal. L’œnologue australien David Baverstock y produit des vins rouges passablement concentrés, mais aussi de bons vins blancs, comme ce Esporão Reserva 2013 (21,60 $), issu d’un assemblage d’antão vaz, d’arinto, de roupeiro et de sémillon. Une autre preuve qu’en cultivant des cépages adaptés à leur terroir, on peut obtenir des vins frais et équilibrés, et ce, même dans le sud de l’Europe.

Basque ou Breton ?

Originaire du pays basque, le cépage cabernet franc compte une multitude de clones et donne, par conséquent, des vins de style très différent. S’il joue un rôle de second plan dans la Gironde, c’est dans la vallée de la Loire qu’il prend toute son importance, surtout en Touraine (Bourgueil et Chinon), où on le nomme « breton ». On en tire tantôt des vins souples, vigoureux et coulants fruités, vifs et avant tout fruités; tantôt des vins de garde, profonds et concentrés.

Même s’il a changé de propriétaire en 2008, le Château de la Grille demeure fidèle au style classique et ferme qui a fait sa renommée. En 2009, on a produit un très bon vin de Chinon (29,55 $), plus charnu que la moyenne, mais d’un très bel équilibre.

Dans un autre millésime compliqué – ils se succèdent dans la Loire depuis quelques années –, Yannick Amirault et son fils ont bien tiré leur épingle du jeu, puisque leur Bourgueil 2012, La Coudraye (21,90 $) ne fait preuve d’aucune verdeur ni rusticité. L’agriculture biologique y est-elle pour quelque chose ? Peut-être, peut-être pas. Mais ce qui ne fait aucun doute, c’est que l’amateur de cabernet franc se régalera pour pas cher !

Château De La Grille 2009 Yannick Amirault La Coudraye 2012 Domaine De La Taille Aux Loups Clos De Mosny 2012 Château De Brézé Clos David 2011 Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2013

On voudra aussi retenir cet excellent vin blanc de Jacky Blot, l’artisan qui a donné ses lettres de noblesse à l’appellation Montlouis-sur-Loire, trop longtemps dans l’ombre de son illustre voisine : Vouvray. Loin d’être un pis-aller, la qualité des vins de Montlouis égale et surpasse parfois celle de Vouvray. Pour s’en convaincre, il suffit de goûter le délicieux Clos de Mosny 2012 (34,25 $), produit au Domaine de la Taille aux Loups. Un vin de texture, hyper harmonieux et promis à un bel avenir.

Conduit en agriculture biologique, le Château de Brézé, à Saumur, est sous la gouverne d’Arnault et d’Yves Lambert depuis 2009. Leur Saumur 2011, Clos David (26,30 $) mise avant tout sur la vitalité du chenin. Le compagnon idéal des huîtres, rehaussées d’un trait de citron.

Toujours en chenin, mais dans un autre hémisphère. Implanté dès le 17e siècle par les huguenots qui trouvèrent refuge en Afrique du Sud, le chenin blanc représentait 32 % de l’encépagement national en 1990. Peu à peu remplacé par des variétés rouges, il ne couvre aujourd’hui que 18 % du vignoble national, mais les vignerons qui ont décidé de le conserver en tirent des vins savoureux, comme le Bellingham Vieilles vignes Bernard Series 2013 (24,95 $), soumis à un élevage en barrique qui apporte un bel enrobage à l’acidité caractéristique du cépage. Cette winery a d’ailleurs été fondée en 1693 par un couple de huguenots franco-hollandais et ressuscitée par Bernard Podlashuk, d’où le nom de la cuvée.

Pour en finir avec le pipi de chat

« Pipi de chat sur buisson de groseille », vous connaissez ? Des petits comiques ont inventé cette expression pour décrire le parfum parfois rustique et, avouons-le, désagréable – de certains sauvignons blancs.

Cantina Terlano Winkl Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Domaine Fouassier Les Grands Groux Sancerre 2011Rassurez-vous, il n’y a pas de pipi de chat qui tienne pour décrire cet excellent sancerre, mais une palette aromatique singulière et une fraîcheur qui appelle un second verre. Ce domaine familial connaît une certaine renaissance depuis l’arrivée en poste, au début des années 2000, de Benoit et Paul Fouassier – représentants de la dixième génération – qui ont notamment converti le vignoble à l’agriculture biologique, puis biodynamique. Leur Sancerre 2011 (25,25 $) étonne d’abord par son registre aromatique singulier, puis par son envergure en bouche. Complexe et nuancé, c’est l’un des bons vins de l’appellation goûtés cette année.

Au cours des dernières années, j’ai souvent été étonnée par la profondeur et de la diversité aromatique des bons sauvignons blancs de l’Alto Adige, dans le nord de l’Italie. Celui-ci, produit par la cave coopérative de la commune de Terlano dépasse même toutes les attentes. Pas étonnant que cette cave fondée en 1893 soit reconnue à juste titre comme l’une des plus qualitatives du pays. On voudra apprécier le Winkl 2013 dès maintenant pour la complexité de son registre aromatique, mêlant le thé vert japonais aux notes de poivre blanc et d’agrumes, et reposant sur une texture juste assez vineuse pour laisser en bouche une sensation de plénitude. À 25 $, on se régale encore plus!

À la vôtre!

Nadia Fournier

Note de la rédaction: vous pouvez lire les commentaires de dégustation complets en cliquant sur les noms de vins, les photos de bouteilles ou les liens mis en surbrillance. Les abonnés payants à Chacun son vin ont accès à toutes les critiques dès leur mise en ligne. Les utilisateurs inscrits doivent attendre 60 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de grands vins!

Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 11th – Part One

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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

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

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

Buyer’s Guide VINTAGES October 11: Piedmont

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buyer’s Guide VINTAGES October 11: White Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Oct 11th:

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

Celebrating Wolf Blass

Champions Tasting

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Sept 27th – Part One

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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

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

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

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

Buyer’s Guide VINTAGES September 27th 2014:

Thanksgiving Whites

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

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


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

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


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

Tegernseerhof Smaragd Bergdistel Grüner Veltliner 2012

Castello Di Neive Montebertotto Arneis 2012

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

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

Rich and Satisfiying

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

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

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


Deu La Deu Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2013

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

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

Quinta Do Côa Vinho Tinto 2012

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

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

Bordeaux For the Cellar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Sept 27th:

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

Sbragia Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

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Ce bon vieux porto

Hors des sentiers battus
par Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

« Les gens ont peur du porto… Pourtant, une bouteille de Vintage à quatre, ça se boit très bien au cours d’une soirée. »

Ainsi s’exprimait Rupert Symington, de la célèbre famille du même nom, alors que la soirée se prolongeait jeudi dernier à la Quinta do Bomfim, à Pinhao, en plein coeur du Douro. Le clan Symington, rappelons-le, possède des maisons prestigieuses comme Graham’s, Dow’s, Warre’s, Quinta do Vesuvio et Smith Woodhouse.

Nous parlions, lui et moi, de la baisse des ventes de portos au Québec – un marché qu’il connaît bien puisque c’est lui, dans le groupe, qui supervise les activités en Amérique du Nord. Après avoir atteint un sommet de popularité vers la fin des années 1990 (environ 230 000 caisses), les ventes du célèbre vin fortifié n’ont cessé de régresser, au point où on en est aujourd’hui à environ 95 000 caisses écoulées par année, tous types de portos confondus.

Quinta de Roriz

La vue depuis la Quinta de Roriz, dans le Douro, où sont notamment élaborés les vins du partenariat Prats & Symington, tel le fameux Chryseia.

« La demi-bouteille est peut-être la solution pour relancer l’intérêt, ai-je avancé. Moins chère, plus facile à écluser. » Rupert Symington de faire la moue : la 375 ml vieillit trop vite à son goût et quel est le problème avec la bouteille, de toute façon ! Et d’y aller ensuite avec l’affirmation placée en tête de cet article.

La star des années 1990

Sans trop qu’on sache pourquoi, le porto était en effet sur toutes les lèvres, il y a une quinzaine d’années. On disait même du Québec que c’était le marché le plus sophistiqué au monde pour ce type de vin.

Que s’est-il donc passé ?

Bien malin qui pourrait tout expliquer. Lentement mais sûrement, une sorte d’indifférence s’est installée. Même le gourou du porto, le chroniqueur de La Presse, Jacques Benoit, n’en parle aujourd’hui que de loin en loin.

Certains, j’en suis, croient que la sévérité des campagnes contre l’alcool au volant a tué l’engouement. Après le blanc à l’apéro et une couple de rouges à table, en mangeant, le porto, avec ses 20 % d’alcool par volume, donnait le coup de grâce…

Repenser notre approche

Tout n’est cependant pas perdu pour le vin issu d’une des plus vieilles régions viticoles du monde. À preuve, des jeunes – à commencer par mon propre fils – se passionnent pour le porto et ne le voient pas comme le diable en personne.

Julien ChapleauQui a dit que le porto était un truc ringard, juste bon pour les vieux ? Julien Chapleau, 24 ans, digne fils de votre chroniqueur, trippe avec quelques copains à lui sur le porto au point où il s’est de son propre chef rendu dans le Douro, au début de juin. Son père, alerté, n’a bien sûr pas pu résister à aller le chaperonner jusque là-bas…

Chose certaine, le fils et moi avons bu du porto tous les jours durant une semaine, quand nous étions là-bas. Et pas un seul lendemain, malgré qu’on ait même éclusé un soir un 750 ml de Vintage à trois, nous sommes-nous levés avec un mal de cheveux. Malgré le sucre, malgré l’alcool !

Il faut dire qu’avant de faire sa fête à ce porto, nous n’avions bu à quatre personnes qu’un verre de blanc et une seule bouteille de vin rouge sec. Peu d’effet cumulatif, c’est dire, et des papilles bien alertes pour siroter le porto sur deux bonnes heures – en devisant, pas toujours paisiblement, sur la situation du commerce des vins et spiritueux au Québec…

Quelques bons choix

Du côté des portos de type Vintage, c’est-à-dire rouges, vieillis surtout en bouteilles et moins dans le bois (que les tawnys), on se régalera avec le

Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve le Dow’s LBV 2009 ainsi que le Taylor’s LBV 2008 celui-là plus puissant, moins sucré, davantage marqué par l’alcool.

Graham's Six Grapes Reserve PortDow's Late Bottled Vintage 2009Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Port 2008

Veut-on élever la barre et se frotter aux grands Vintage, on pourrait aller vers le superbe Fonseca Vintage 2000 d’une élégance rare et déjà très bon à boire. Également à considérer, encore meilleur m’a-t-il semblé, à la fois fin et puissant, le Croft Vintage 2003.

Du côté des tawnys, ces portos qui doivent à un long vieillissement dans le bois leur couleur roussâtre, tant le Taylor’s 20 ans que le Graham 20 ans méritent qu’on s’y attarde – le premier, dans le style préconisé par la maison, étant plus masculin, plus fougueux. Mais le Graham’s, attention, est délicieux !

Fonseca Vintage 2000Croft Vintage 2003Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny PortGraham's 20 Year Old Tawny PortGraham 10 Year Old Tawny Port

Enfin, moins cher, moins suave peut-être un peu, le Graham’s 10 ans est par contre particulièrement réussi.


Voici, en quelques mots, alors que nous attendions dans son hors-bord pour franchir une écluse sur le Douro, comment Rupert Symington décrit les styles de chacune des maisons que contrôle sa famille :

Graham’s : « Plus sucré, plus riche »

Dow’s : « Plus sec, plus svelte »

Quinta do Vesuvio : « Corsé, qui sent bon les bleuets et la garrigue »

Warre’s : « Floral, plus féminin, et plus léger que Dow’s et Graham’s »

Cockburn’s : « Plus sec lui aussi, et marqué par la cerise maraschino »

Smith Woodhouse : « Une sorte de baby Graham’s »

Gould Campbell (une marque) : «Pas très loin du Dow’s, comme style »


Température de service : frais, toujours. Là-bas, les producteurs eux-mêmes aiment par exemple boire leurs tawnys directement sortis du frigo. On boira les type Vintage et LBV moins froids, mais après tout de même une bonne heure au réfrigérateur – surtout l’été, par temps chaud.

Bouteille entamée : les types Vintage (rouges) vont se garder quelques jours au frigo, tandis que les tawnys, surtout les « 10 ans » et les plus âgés encore, environ un mois – si on est bien sûr capable de se retenir tout ce temps.

Quel type de verre ? Trop petit, comme ces mini-verres INAO, on ne sent rien ; trop gros, l’alcool risque de monter au nez et le vin lui-même, de réchauffer trop vite. La solution : un verre du type Expert Tasting.

Santé !


Note de la rédaction: vous pouvez lire les commentaires de dégustation complets en cliquant sur les noms de vins, les photos de bouteilles ou les liens mis en surbrillance. Les abonnés payants à Chacun son vin ont accès à toutes les critiques dès leur mise en ligne. Les utilisateurs inscrits doivent attendre 30 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de bons vins!

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 24 – Part Two

Spring Pinks and Great Red Values from France, Spain, Portugal
by David Lawrason with John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The finest whites of VINTAGES May 24 offering were unveiled last week in Part One of our ongoing double-barreled reports on each and every VINTAGES release. You can also check out the best of the southern Rhônes, which I felt was a strong group value-wise overall, even if a couple of higher end 2011 Châteauneufs were disappointing. But as always happens, the Rhône overshadows the wines of the neighbouring appellations in Languedoc-Roussillon, two of which make my highlight reel this week along with a lovely pinkie from the inlandish (not outlandish) Fronton appellation. Big reds from Spain and Portugal also figure very strongly on the menu between John Szabo and I, including an exhilarating, ridiculously inexpensive Madeira. Sara’s selections range farther and wider, with whites, pinks and somewhat lighter reds, including a pleasant home-grown surprise.

The Stars Align

Les YeusesQuinta Do Vale Meao 2011 Meandro Do ValeMeandro Do Vale Meão 2011, Douro, Portugal ($24.95). Although this label does not have a long history, its excellent vineyards do – at one point contributing to Portugal’s legendary red called Barca Velha. There are several indigenous grape varieties involved, as well as soil types within the vineyard. The fruit complexity and concentration are front and centre in the cellar-worthy red. David Lawrason.  This has been a regular feature on my best buys list, and the 2011 vintage was outstanding in the region to be sure. I suspect that perhaps the best grapes from Vale Meão were mostly directed to make vintage port (understandably), or their top dry Douro red cuvée; but in any case the 2nd wine “Meandro” shows a nice measure of freshness and vibrancy, balanced tannins and decent length and depth – an infinitely drinkable wine with solid regional character and class. John Szabo

Domaine Les Yeuses 2011 Les Épices Syrah, IGP Pays d’Oc, Languedoc, France ($14.95). Here’s another fine value syrah from Les Yeuses, which has been on my best buys lists every time it has been released. Although the price has crept up slightly, this delivers pure syrah character in the form of cold cream, black pepper, wood smoke, espresso bean and more. How that much flavour is stuffed into a $15 bottle is a happy mystery. John Szabo.  I have hit on this great syrah value before. Can’t believe the price/quality ratio! It’s old vine syrah grown on 70 hectares of calcareous soils very near the Mediterranean. Very good weight, density, a real garrigue based Mediterranean red. (Keen eyed label gazers will note this now uses the new EuroUnion IGP designation instead of the former French term IGT.)  David Lawrason.

Lawrason’s Take

Château Bellevue La Forêt 2013 Rosé, Fronton, Southwest France ($14.95). I continue to be impressed by the value emanating from this 112 ha estate that lies west of Toulouse, midway between the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Several varieties grow well in this middle zone, with this rosé being composed of negrette (a deeply coloured red thought to be the same as mavro from Crete), gamay and cabernet franc. The combo creates an intriguing aromatic collage, nicely delivered in a very fresh style. Since 2008 this property has been owned by Philip Grant, a businessman who earned his WSET diploma while flitting around the globe.

Domaine De Bila-Haut 2011 Occultum Lapidem, Côtes de Roussillon-Villages ($25.95). Michel Chapoutier is the world’s leading producer of organic reds made from syrah, grenache and carignan, with vineyards in the Australia, the Rhône Valley and Roussillon, a hot corner of southern France famous for its tough, terraced terrain. This is a behemoth – very powerful, highly structured and complex. Not advised for summer sipping. If you want to dial down a notch try little brother M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila-Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages that is also on this release. Or buy both and compare.

Bodega San Roque De Le Encina 2010 Monte Pinadillo, Crianza, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($19.95). I am generally not a huge fan of heavily oaked reds. There needs to be enough fruit stuffing and richness to carry the load, which this 100% tempranillo provides. I was surprised by the depth actually especially at the price, and even more surprised to discover later that it is from a co-operative winery that claims to be one of the first in what is now one of the “hottest” regions of Spain. This could work around the BBQ this summer, later in the evening.

Château Bellevue La Forêt Rosé 2013 Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2011  Monte Pinadillo Crianza 2010Altocedro Año Cero Malbec 2011Broadbent Rainwater Medium Dry Madeira

Altocedro 2011 Año Cero Malbec La Consulta, Mendoza, Argentina ($21.95). Founded by an Argentine family in 1989, this single vineyard estate in the higher La Consulta region, with its cool nights and rocky soils has caught my attention before. They use an artisan, vineyard driven approach which delivers bushels of fruit within a quite streamlined framework. Many Argentine malbecs can be powerful, but coarse. This has some poise.  There were other good value Argentine and Chilean wines on this release as well.

Broadbent Rainwater Medium-Dry Madeira, Portugal ($20.95). Madeira is considered by some to be one of the planet’s great wines, although in this day and age it is considered an antique. I can only suggest that if you are a lover of flavour rather than style that you give Madeira a try before it becomes extinct. The famous British wine writing Broadbent family have made it their mission to preserve this natural treasure. This is scintillating and delicious with outstanding length. And the price is ridiculously cheap.

Szabo’s Smart Buys

Telmo Rodriguez Lz 2012Castro Ventosa 2010 El Castro De ValtuilleCastro Ventosa El Castro De Valtuille 2010, Bierzo, Spain ($27.95). Regular readers will already know of my fondness for the wines of Bierzo. The predominance of old bush-trained vines, the moderate, fresh climate, and the quality of the mencía variety itself are all contributing factors; then add in one of the regions top winegrowers, Raúl Pérez of Castro Ventosa to the mix, and the results are irresistible. I was first introduced to the wines of this estate by the sommelier from El Bulli during a conference in Spain a few years ago, and have sought out them out ever since. This is a really cracking value, for fans of finesse and elegance with genuine substance and depth. Best 2014-2022.

Telmo Rodriguez 2012 LZ, Rioja, Spain ($15.95). What a fine and delicious value from Telmo Rodriguez, lively and juicy, balanced and fresh, not to mention infinitely drinkable, especially with a gentle chill. (Psst, I like it too – DL)

Sara’s Selections

Bernard Massard Cuvée De l’Écusson Brut Rosé, Luxembourg ($21.95). Bernard Massard is the largest producer of traditional method sparkling wines in Luxemburg and exports a great deal of their wine to Canada, most notably to Quebec. The winery and vineyards are located along the banks of the Moselle river that forms part of the German-Luxembourg border. The soil is made up of limestone in the north of the valley which is ideal for sparkling wine production. This is not the first time I’ve recommended a bubbly from this Luxemburg house that seems to consistently over-deliver. Pleasant, succulent and boasts above average quality for the price.

Mission Hill Family Estate 2012 Reserve Pinot Gris, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, ($14.75). Here is yet another selection that I find consistently appealing and of terrific value. The style is dry and weighty, reminiscent of Alsace but the palate is clean, neat and rather generous giving the wine a unique B.C. character.

St. Supéry 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California ($22.95). The patriarch of the Skalli family, owner of St. Supéry, come from a long line of Southern French wine producers. He fell in love with Napa in the 1970s around the time of the legendary “Judgement of Paris” – the catalyst for the rise of US wine. The winery now owns an astounding 1,500 acres of which they primarily focus on cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc. This example is uniquely expressive of Napa’s propensity to produce sauvignon of great depth and character, especially when planted in cooler, more elevated areas.

Bernard Massard Cuvée De L'écusson Brut RoséMission Hill Family Reserve Pinot Gris 2012St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc 2012Henry Of Pelham Family Tree Red 2012Château Saransot Dupré Cru Bourgeois 2010

Henry Of Pelham 2012 Family Tree Red, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($18.95). The 2012 Family Tree Red is half Rhône and half Bordeaux (48% syrah and the rest traditional Bordelaise varietals). What caught me off-guard was the wonderfully wild and complex nose of dried herbs, pepper, earth and dark fruit. It is very approachable, and intentionally so, but offers a little unexpected challenge that will please the more discerning wine drinker of the house.

Château Saransot Dupré 2010, Listrac, Bordeaux, France ($28.95). It is worth taking note of this wonderfully distinctive and harmonious Bordeaux. The blend offers great concentration with a solid core of fruit and expertly ripened tannins. Wood is seamlessly integrated in a fashion mastered by the Bordelaise and the wine is full of pepper, black fruit and musk. A touch of carmenere may go unnoticed but it surely adds to the complexity of the whole.

Château D'aquéria Tavel Rosé 2013Château Camp De La Hire 2010Château Camp De La Hire 2010, Castillon Côtes De Bordeaux, France ($16.95). This malbec dominant Bordeaux from the lesser-known right bank appellation of Castillon is both classic and compelling but still quite tightly wound. If you’re looking for an affordable addition to your cellar that will come to maturity in the next 3-4 years, look no further – but be sure to decant if immediate enjoyment is your goal.

Château d’Aquéria 2013 Tavel Rosé, Rhône Valley, France ($21.95). A perennial favourite, Château D’Aquéria’s 2013 is a classic example of the dry, powerful, complex and nervy roses that can only come from Tavel. Despite the increase in price, the wine delivers both the charming garrigue of the Southern Rhône and the touch of austerity that are distinctive of the house.

And that is a wrap for this edition. If you have not yet done so please check out Steve Thurlow’s new report on new releases and promotions from the LCBOs General List, and stay tuned next week for John Szabo’s look at VINTAGES’ Australian feature in the June 7 release. At that time I will also be publishing a WineAlign feature on Ten New Perceptions of Australia following a visit earlier this year. Until then: They say “money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy wine, and that’s pretty much the same thing”.

Until next time,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES May 24 Release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Selections
All Reviews
May 24 – Part 1

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


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

John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for April 13, 2013

Iconic New Zealand; Bargain Portugal; Smart Buys from the Jura and for the Cellar, and more.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

New Zealand is the main feature of the April 13 VINTAGES release, but of eleven wines offered, only four producers are represented, and ten of the wines are from Marlborough. A fair representation it is not, and it comes across as a very corporate assortment. Nevertheless, Cloudy Bay and Dog Point are the clear quality leaders, and I highlight their best releases in this report.

And where the LCBO falls short, private consignment agents have stepped in to fill the gaps. For those interested in the true inside scoop on what to buy, stay tuned for a comprehensive report on New Zealand’s top producers by region, all represented in Ontario, to be released prior to the upcoming New Zealand Wine Fair. For more background, re-visit my piece on what it’s like to travel in New Zealand, and for the really keen, my piece with thoughts on the New Zealand wine industry.

Pairing Food & Wine for DummiesThis report also highlights five fine values from Portugal, the other theme of the release, as well as the Top Ten Smart Buys, including a pair for the cellar and a fantastic ‘terroir’ wine from the little-known Jura. Pour yourself a glass and check out my video interview on “Pro and Kon” with writer and CBC radio host Konrad Ejbich about Pairing Food and Wine [for Dummies].

Highlights From Top Ten Smart Buys

Sommelier’s Choice: The Jura

The Jura is a small, 80-kilometer long sliver of eastern France opposite Burgundy’s Côte d’Or on the other side of the Bresse plain, framed to the east by the foothills of the Alps and the nearby Swiss border. It belongs to the greater region known as Franche Comté, once part of the Duchy of Burgundy, but later under Spanish rule thanks to the expansion of Carlos V’s empire. The Spanish influence of this period is still felt strongly in the peculiar wine style for which the Jura is known, Vin Jaune, a savagnin-based wine aged under a veil of yeast, just like Fino Sherry.

Vin Jaune Ageing in Barrel

Vin Jaune Ageing in Barrel

But chardonnay, planted in the Jura since the 15thC, can also be extraordinary, not surprisingly, since the Jura is, after all within sight of Burgundy with similar limestone-based soils. Yet wine style and labeling confusion has held exports in check. Chardonnay from the Jura comes in either the sherry-like oxidative style called locally “typé or traditionelle“, while others are more modern and reductive, called “fruité” or “floral” in local parlance. Both can be excellent, but often there’s no way to know what to expect from the label alone. So Jura wines remain largely insiders’ picks for those in the know, at least for now. They’re what sommeliers love to drink on their days off, given the remarkable terroir expression at non-Burgundian prices.

Château-Châlon Vineyards

Château-Châlon Vineyards

Henry Le Roy is the Paris-born owner of Domaine de l’Aigle à Deux Têtes in Vincelles, in the southern part of the region. I had lunch with him in Château Châlon last fall – he’s a quietly confident man who competed in two world kayaking championships. He’s still fit.

Le Roy fell in love with the Jura, as many who come here to holiday do. But it wasn’t easy to make the move from Paris and establish his domaine. “An outsider is someone who comes from more than 10kms away” he remarks somewhat sardonically. “To be considered a local you must have at least five generations in the cemetery.” Being from Paris makes him the ultimate outsider, but he has managed to acquire some top terroirs and is crafting excellent wines.

Le Roy’s 2009 ‘En Griffez’ Chardonnay Côtes Du Jura ($23.95) is made from 50+ year old vines planted on a ludicrously steep, 40% south facing grade with fully calcareous stony soils and fermented with wild yeast (bien sûre). It’s a lovely, earthy-mineral wine, with slightly soft texture thanks to the warm 2009 vintage, and beautifully integrated old wood spice flavours. 12.6% alcohol is deceptive – this is powerful and stony wine for fans of top notch Burgundian style chardonnay and shouldn’t be missed.

Comparative Tasting

Bachelder Bourgogne ChardonnayAnd speaking of Burgundian chardonnay, for a truly decadent and educational soirée, compare the En Griffez above with the 2010 Bachelder Bourgogne Chardonnay ($29.95) from Canadian Thomas Bachelder. He’s another outsider who has found a home, at least part of the time, in Burgundy, that is when he isn’t making chardonnay in Niagara or in Oregon. This is a very fine Bourgogne Blanc to be sure, from a vintage I like very much, well above the average quality for the generic appellation. It offers intriguing green peach and nectarine, green walnuts and lime-lemon citrus flavours alongside old wood spices like cinnamon and cassia bark, with really well-balanced, mid-weight palate, crisp but also creamy, and exceptional length for the category.

A Pair For the Cellar

Collectors seeking age worthy wines should consider this pair that will make for brilliant drinking in a decade. The 2009 Château Latour Martillac, Pessac-Léognan, Cru Classé ($53.85) is a refined and aristocratic Bordeaux, in which the ripeness and concentration of the 2009 vintage is evident. It has perfectly ripe but fresh red and black fruit tied to the warm earth/terra cotta notes typical of Péssac, classically styled, yet still supple and balanced. It’s temptingly delicious now, though will really be in full swing by the end of the decade.

Château Latour Martillac 2009Domaine Durieu Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010The 2010 Domaine Durieu Châteauneuf-Du-Pape ($35.95) is likewise an intense, dense and terrifically complex southern Rhône, traditionally styled, aged entirely in large concrete vats. It offers rich, succulent black cherry and baked strawberry fruit allied to black olive tapenade, dried resinous herbs and orange peel spice, while tannins are firm but fully coated in fruit extract, acids balanced and alcohol generous but also in check (14.5% declared). This should be best after 2018.

Also featured in the top ten you’ll find an excellent Rioja, a well-priced, classically styled Bourgogne Rouge, solid and satisfying reds from Mendoza and Sicily, and a pair of wonderfully fragrant whites from cool climate Europe. See them all here.

Marlborough, New Zealand: The Connection between Cloudy Bay and Dog Point Vineyards

Cloudy Bay, and especially Dog Point, are the wines from New Zealand to look for on April 13th, and there’s an interesting connection between them. Cloudy Bay Vineyards, established in 1985 by David Hohnen, co-founder of Cape Mentelle in Western Australia, is the winery that put Marlborough on the world map back in the late 1980s. The style of sauvignon blanc for which the region would become famous was developed by winemaking team of Ivan Sutherland, James Healy, and Kevin Judd. Much of the fruit for Cloudy Bay’s celebrated sauvignon came from Sutherland’s personal property at the convergence of the Brancott and Omaka Valleys in the southern part of the region, which he and his wife Margaret purchased and planted in 1979.

Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2012Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2010Dog Point Chardonnay 2011Sutherland and Healy stayed at Cloudy Bay until 2003, when the pair left to launch Dog Point Vineyard. Today, their 100 hectares, including some of the original plantings, are farmed organically and hand picked (a rarity in Marlborough). Some of the fruit still goes to Cloudy Bay, but according to Sutherland and Healy, they (sensibly enough) keep the top, hillside vineyard fruit for Dog Point. The style is intense and edgy, with lots of lees contact and wild yeast complexity, some of the finest wines in the region in my view.

Kevin Judd, incidentally, also left Cloudy Bay in 2009 to start his own, very good label called Greywacke, and he gets 95% of his fruit from the Sutherland vineyard, and makes his wine at the Dog Point winery.

Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon BlancCloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2012Cloudy Bay remains a top player in the region, however. The iconic winery was bought by luxury goods firm LVMH in 2003, the same year Healy and Sutherland moved on. And after a dip in quality when production of the sauvignon blanc was ramped up to over 100,000 cases by the end of the decade, Cloudy Bay appears to be back on form with a strong set of recent releases. The 2012 sauvignon is the classic one to watch for, while the Te Koko Sauvignon, wild fermented in barrel with full malolactic, is a relatively new expression of Marlborough sauvignon, one that is gaining in popularity as producers look to distinguish their offerings and move away from the ubiquitous (and rather homogenous) pungently grassy style.

Wines to try:

2009 Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc ($47.95)

2012 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($29.95)

2011 Dog Point Chardonnay ($39.95)

2010 Dog Point Vineyard Section 94 ($39.95)

2012 Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($23.95)

Five Best Buys From Portugal

Portugal is the other theme of the April 13 release and there are some excellent bargains on offer. Topping the list for value is the 2010 Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas ($16.95). It’s a typical Douro blend of tinta roriz, touriga franca and touriga nacional from two (duas) farms (quintas): the Quinta de Ervamoira in the heart of the Douro with its warm micro climate and schist soils, and the Quinta dos Bons Ares at cooler elevation and on granite soils. The result is a wine with terrific complexity and structure for the money.

2009 Quinta De Ventozelo Reserva Douro Tinto ($21.95) is a more bold and ripe, intensely fruity and expressive blend of mainly touriga nacional with 20% each of touriga franca and tinta roriz (tempranillo) that drinks nicely now. The palate is suave and polished, yet with sufficient grip and structure to ensure development over at least the short to mid term.

Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas 2010Quinta De Ventozelo Reserva Douro Tinto 2009Delaforce Touriga Nacional 2009Monte Vilar Reserva 2011Deu La Deu Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2011

Also worth a look from the Douro is the 2009 Delaforce Touriga Nacional ($18.95), while the 2011 Monte Vilar Reserva Vinho, Regional Alentejano ($14.95) from further south delivers plenty of character and satisfaction for under $15. Fans of bright, fragrant-floral whites will enjoy the 2011 Deu La Deu Alvarinho, Vinho Verde ($19.95).

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

John Szabo, MS

From the April 13, 2013 Vintages release:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Best Buys from Portugal
All Reviews


Stags' Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Malbec World Day

County in the City

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages May 26th Release

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Bargain Portuguese Reds, Fine Pinots, Great Whites and Bordeaux VSOs

Vintages has assembled yet another collection of 90 point wines for this release; with 90 points being the magical tipping point for guaranteed sales success. Frankly, 90 points is no longer a big deal – I am routinely awarding 90 point “excellence”. Ten years ago this was the realm of the world’s most iconic wines; now we have 90 pointers everywhere. One reason is that wine quality continues to increase around the globe, and across wine styles. So I am going to ignore the 90 point theme this time and skip right to some bargains, at any price or rating.

Bargain Reds Under $20

Portugal has always been a place to search for bargains and although there are no truly profound wines or 90 point examples in this Portugal “mini-thematic”, there are some very good wines for not much money. This has always been the case with Portugal – and it is having a very tough time breaking through into the limelight and being “cool”. With stalwart reliance on native grapes that mean nothing to most Canadians, Portugal plods stoically along. But take a moment on this release to acquaint yourself with the three basic styles of Portuguese reds – from Douro in the north, Dao in the centre and Alentejo in the south. As always, wine styles make climatic sense.

Monte Vilar ReservaCunha Martins ReservaPorca De Murça Reserva TintoPorca de Murça 2008 Reserva Tinto is a fine example of Douro red for $16.95. I always look for a Bordeaux-like sense of refinement in Douro reds, if with a bit more density that most Bordeaux. This delivers very nicely. From the green, mountainous Dão region in the centre I look for more forest and earthy complexity and nerve (dare I say a bit more like Burgundy) and Cunha Martins 2008 Reserva is a very good example at only $14.95, if just a bit commercialized with some cocoa/clove flavouring. The hot arid Alentejo in the south produces dense, soft very ripe reds and Monte Vilar 2008 Reserva at $15.95 catches the spirit very nicely while fencing with raisiny over-ripeness common in this zone.

Pierre Henri Morel Signargues Côtes Du Rhône VillagesDi Majo Norante RamitelloBefore leaving well priced, under $20 European reds, there two others that you should try. One of my weeks in France was spent in the southern Rhône and Provence, and I just loved the quality of many of the local wines, especially from the 2009 vintage. And we have had our share come through Vintages in recent months. Here’s another, for drinking early and often. Pierre Henri Morel Signargues 2009 Côtes du Rhône-Villages is simply delicious, if not profound, at $15.95. And from Italy, one of my favourites year after year is Di Majo Norante 2009 Ramitello Biferno Rosso. Hailing from the Adriatic province of Italy’s calf, Molise is a transition point between central Italian sangiovese-based reds and southern montepulciano-based reds, and a quintessentially Italian glass for all occasions at $15.95

Fine Pinot Noirs

La Crema Pinot NoirDomaine Des Tilleuls Clos Village Gevrey ChambertinAfter spending last week in Burgundy – pinot’s homeland – I came away even more of a pinot fan, if that is possible. This is ground zero of the grape that cabernet and syrah fans hate to love, and love to hate. I was personally blown away by the overall quality of red Burgundy, from the larger companies like Bouchard Père et Fils, Chanson and Champy, to the smaller producers like Domaine Maume and Pascal Marchand (more another time on the Tawse/Ontario connection to these wines), Dominique Laurent, Joseph Roty and Bruno Clair. The overall level of winemaking in Burgundy is better than I remember from visits in the 80s and 90s.

Boedecker Athena Pinot NoirIf you want to taste it for yourself, try Domaine des Tilleuls 2009 Clos Village Gevrey-Chambertin. It is not cheap at $49.95 but it is a terrific example of Gevrey, of which I tasted several samples last week. The Gevrey pinots here have a certain tension, minerality, grit and power, all built around fruit that resembles black currant, more than say cherry. It’s a cooler climate feel which – as an Ontario pinot fan – I was picking up on right away. If you want, broader, richer pinots look to the west coast of the USA. La Crema 2010 Pinot Noir ($29.95) from the Sonoma Coast is an old favourite that returns to form in this vintage with a certain brightness. And from Oregon’s Willamette Valley Boedecker Athena 2008 Pinot Noir ($36) is my first encounter with wines from Stewart and Athena Boedecker, and it is very impressive. That’s the thing about pinot; it keeps luring so many interesting and passionate people into the field. The Boedeckers are focused on making handcrafted, sustainably grown pinots from French clones in French barrels. But unlike the French they close their pinots with screwcaps.

White Highlights

Adega Deu La Deu Alvarinho Vinho VerdeI have not tasted every wine on this release but there are three whites that I found particularly interesting – not necessarily as bargains. Portugal’s Adega Deu la Deu Alvarinho 2010 Vinho Verde expresses surprising complexity and structure for a wine style usually defined as being a summery spritzer. Part of the reason is the alvarinho grape variety, perhaps better known over the Spanish border as albariño where it can deliver quite rich, aromatic wines. One might shy away from spending $19.95 on a Vinho Verde but it is a very classy wine.

Trimbach RieslingRobert Mondavi To Kalon Estate Reserve Fumé BlancAnd so is Trimbach 2009 Riesling from Alsace at $18.95. From a classic producer staunchly proud of its dry styling, this riesling shows great poise, fruit and nerve, which is especially interesting given it is from the ripe 2009 vintage. I have not been all that enthused with Vintages Alsatian purchases recently, even more so now that I have spent five days tasting in Alsace I know what great quality and value abounds. The 2010s in particular are scintillating and the prices seem reasonable. How about a special release of biodynamic Alsatian 2010s?

The third notable and excellent white is Robert Mondavi To Kalon Estate Reserve Fumé Blanc 2009 from Napa Valley. It may surprise many to see a California sauvignon blanc priced at $44.96 but this is one of California’s great whites – an old vine, low yield, barreled blend of sauvignon and semillon that roughly emulates white Bordeaux. Robert Mondavi himself was a fan of the genre, parcelling a fairly large chunk of his best cabernet vineyard to make Fumé back in the 60s. Indeed he coined the name Fumé Blanc – a double entendre referencing the smokiness of barrel ageing and the Fumé in the Loire Valley’s famous sauvignon called Pouilly-Fumé.

Bordeaux VSOs

Once a month or so I get a chance to taste new releases through Vintages Shop Online stream – wines available for purchase Online with delivery to your local LCBO store. The selection ranges across the world but Bordeaux seems to have the lion’s share. That, plus a special recent media tasting of Bordeaux still “available in stores and warehouse” indicates that Vintages is in thick with mid-level Bordeaux, especially from three middling vintages – 2006, 2007 and 2008 – and that they are trying to move them out to make room for the oncoming, well hyped 2009s. Anyway, there are some good buys among these wines, so check out my recent reviews of Château Larcis Ducasse 2008, Château Gazin 2008, and Château Belle-Vue 2008. I have also recently tasted Château Troplong Mondot 2007 and Château Langoa-Barton 2006. I have not tasted all the wines on the May 26 release but will attempt to catch up with some in the days ahead.

Cheese Please

On the weekend of June 1- 3 I will be in Picton helping with the wine program at the Great Canadian Cheese Festival. Several Prince Edward County wineries will be pouring on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, as well as at the Cooks and Curds Gala on Saturday night that features eight chefs from across Canada. I attended the inaugural event last year and enjoyed it so much I wanted to get involved. I’ll be leading a seminar on matching cheese and wine on Saturday afternoon, and after three weeks in France with a daily diet of cheese and wine I am feeling particularly primed for the task. Other seminars focus on cheeses of Quebec, B.C. and cheddars from across the country. Check it out by clicking on the ad below.

From the May 26th, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

David Lawrason

VP of Wine

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

The Great Canadian Cheese Festival

Terrior - a County Celebration

The Wine Establishment

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Profile on the Douro – John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for May 26th 2012

Portugal is the other theme of the May 26th Vintages release, with a selection of wines from four different regions. I take an in depth look at the Douro Valley below and I’ve included a link to some Smart Portugal Buys from both the LCBO release and private import channels.

The Douro Valley

The Douro Valley is easily the most recognized wine region in Portugal. Its fame was of course established as the source of one of the world’s great fortified wines, Porto. The strong, sweet red and white wines of DOC Porto are still, three centuries after their creation, considered among the world’s best and immediately associated with the country that makes them. It was the early commercial success of port and the resulting need to protect its reputation that led to the Douro’s demarcation in 1756, making it one of the oldest appellations in the world.

The fame and reputation of port lives on, but early into the 21st century, it’s the dry white and especially red table wines (in the sense of unfortified) that are making headlines. No less than half of the region’s grapes are destined for table wines today, and increasingly they are sourced from some of the region’s finest vineyards and oldest vines, too, which in the past were reserved exclusively for port. In the short span of 30 years since the DOC for table wines was granted in 1979, Douro wines have become the most admired in Portugal, and increasingly respected around the world.

Picturesque Douro River

The region itself takes the ideal image of picturesque vineyard landscapes to a new level of jaw-dropping beauty. No visitor can fail to marvel at the ingenuity, or perhaps madness of man to have endeavored and succeeded to tame the rugged, tortuously twisted course of the river into a viable agricultural landscape. From its source in Spain, the Río Duero takes a name change to the Douro as it comes crashing over the border on its 200km journey through Portugal down to the Atlantic Ocean. On either bank, hundreds of kilometers of carefully contoured, walled terraced vineyards rise up to 700m, some on seemingly impossibly steep slopes dynamited into submission straight out of the bedrock. The surface is littered with fractured pieces of stone, creating a dazzling yet blinding shimmer of reflected sunlight. Handsome but rugged manor houses made of the grey stone dot the sides and crests of hills, commanding impressive views over the river and its vine-covered banks. So unique is the region that UNESCO declared the Douro a World Heritage Site in 2001, describing it as a “cultural, evolving live landscape” worthy of protection.

The river, and later the train track that follows its course were once the only way to access this remote region, and the further up river one travelled, the more remote and wild the surroundings became. A nearly completed four-lane highway makes visiting the Douro much easier these days. Yet as wild as the Douro Valley still appears today, the region’s climate is perhaps even less hospitable.

Often characterized as ‘severe’ by vine growers in the resigned way that only a lifetime’s worth of agriculture can validate, the temperatures inland towards the Spanish border regularly reach 50ºC in the dead of summer. Rainfall is scant here too, and one wonders how the vine even survives at all.

Steep slopes of the Douro Valley

The secret lies in a curious geological phenomenon: at some distant period in the past, a thick layer of underlying pre-Cambrian schistous rock was upended vertically, breaking through the upper layers of granite that otherwise dominate in this part of the world. As viewed from above, the Douro Valley looks much like a sort of schist sandwich with thick slices of granite bread surrounding it, and indeed the irregular boundaries of the Port and Douro DOCs follow almost precisely this queer rocky outcropping. Laid horizontally, schist is one of the most impenetrable geological formations for even the most persistent vine roots. Vertically, however, the strata of rock are more like tiles stacked side-by-side, with fissures between each that encourage roots to penetrate tens of metres into the ground where coolness, nutrients and moisture can be found. Thus not only do vines survive, they also thrive, as attested to by the significant number of ancient vineyards in the region, some dating from as far back as the late 19th century.

Quinta Do Portal Grande ReservaThe part of the Douro Valley relevant to wine growers stretches 100 kilometres from the Spanish border to near the town of Mesão Frio, in the eastern foothills of the Serra do Marão. This range of hills offers protection from the Atlantic, but nonetheless this part of the valley, referred to as Baixo Corgo (Lower Corgo), receives the most rainfall and experiences the coolest temperatures. Wines, too, tend to be less dramatic, a little softer and fresher. The central part of the valley, or Cima Corgo (Upper Corgo), runs from Régua, taking in the unofficial capital of Douro wine country, Pinhão, perched on a hillside at what looks from a distance like the end of the river until you see it take a sharp turn to the southeast. This is the heartland of the appellation where many of the Douro’s finest vineyards are situated. Then, further eastward from Numão to the Spanish border is the area known as the Douro Superior (Upper Douro), with its bitterly cold winters, blistering summers and low rainfall. Once extremely remote and inhospitable, vineyards are much more recent here. With modern vineyard management techniques to cope with the extremes, and more gentle gradients that make mechanization possible in some places, the area is fairly exploding with development.

Portugal is well known for its wide array of grape varieties, but nowhere is the diversity more dazzling than in the Douro. In the not-too-distant past, here, as elsewhere in the country, grapes were co-planted in the same parcels following folk wisdom and empirical knowledge handed down through generations. It is still common today to find old vineyards planted with 40, 50 or even more varieties all jumbled and harvested together. The frenzy of vineyard industrialization and rationalization into neat rows of single varieties that gripped the rest of post-war Europe seems to have spared this part of the continent.

According to DOC rules, no less than 54 white grape varieties and some 77 red grapes are authorized for Douro wine production. Yet for all but the prized wines from old vine parcels, in practice, the number of grapes in common use has been significantly reduced over the last 30 years and the first monovarietal vineyards were planted in 1981.

Quinta Do Infantado RedThe most promising grapes singled out were Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão. Of this elite group, most producers consider the first three to be the Douro’s marquee red grapes. Admittedly, it would be a great shame to lose the diversity that makes the Douro’s wines so unique. And fortunately, there are several producers committed to maintaining variety in the face of fashion. While the VR Duriense appellation covers over 45,000 hectares, the land entitled to the DOC Douro is just over 38,000 hectares, and that for port, is more restricted still, at 32,000 hectares. The individual vineyard sites of the Douro have been carefully classified over time, in a system that dates back to mid-17th century, when measures were put in place to protect the reputation of port wine. The rating of each vineyard is based on physical attributes such as altitude, aspect, elevation, varieties planted, planting density, vine age, and soil type. They are rated from A (excellent) to G (unsuitable), with significant potential quality differences between each level. As in Champagne, the better the rating, the higher the prices paid for grapes, and the more port wine they are permitted to produce. Officially the system relates only to port wine production, but a vineyard’s real estate value and the price commanded for its grapes remains nonetheless valid for whatever style of wine will be produced.

On the production side, the romantic vision of stone lagares, the ancient shallow troughs used to crush grapes by foot power since Roman times, is not as distant a memory as one might believe. Many producers in the Douro proudly describe their wines, port or table, as “foot trodden,” claiming that modern technology has yet to devise a better system of extraction. The original adherence to this method was based on simple pragmatism: unlike most red table wine, port wine spends little time in contact with the skins (two to three days), given the need to fortify and press to separate skins and partially fermented juice early on in the process (or risk extracting really harsh tannins in such a high alcohol milieu). Yet in order to last a half-century or more in barrel or bottle, the wine needs to be richly extracted. So how to achieve that extraction in such a short period? Continual treading by foot is the answer, in a shallow vessel with high skin-to-juice contact ratio. The foot is gentle enough to avoid splitting grape seeds and releasing harsh green tannin, all the while maximizing the colour, tannin and flavour extraction.

Porca De Murça ReservaThe traditional technique has spilled over into Douro table wine production, resulting in wines with uncommonly deep purple colour and intense extraction, capable of significant aging. Naturally, modern vinification facilities with stainless steel tanks using pump-over or punch down extraction methods are found throughout the region, as are more modern versions of the lagar, made from stainless steel and equipped with temperature control and robotic pistons designed to reproduce the effects of the human foot. Yet it’s hard to shake the quixotic image of a band of harvesters rinsing their dusty feet at the end of the day and plunging, thigh deep, into a pulpy purple mass of juice and skins, linking arms and dancing to the sound of an accordion in between occasional swigs of stamina-inducing bagaceira (Portuguese grappa) until the wee hours.

Aging takes places either entirely in stainless steel for the immediately fruity reds designed for early consumption, or in wood (often 225 litre barrels these days, but the larger 550 litre pipes and other sizes are in common use). The term reserva on a label guarantees a minimum of one year in wood. In addition, the wine must receive a higher score on the blind tastings conducted by the Port and Douro Wine Institute (IVDP) during the appellation approval process. Notably, the overall rejection rate for Douro wines by the IVDP is on average 17%, one of the highest in Europe.

That’s the background detail, but the proof is in the wines. Here’s a list of smart Portugal buys, currently available, to make sense of it all.

Smart Portugal Buys


John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Filed under: News, Wine, , , ,

The Successful Collector ~ Portuguese wines: regional grapes make the grade ~ Vintages March 19th – By Julian Hitner

Who needs Cabernet when you’ve got Touriga Nacional?

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

In the past, the most people knew about winegrowing in Portugal was that this endearing little Iberian nation produced, by and large, the most celebrated fortified wines in the world, as well as a popular sweet-styled rosé wine called Mateus (the bottle – at least judging by my parents – often used for candlesticks when emptied). Then, around the mid-1990s, everything changed: Portugal began producing and exporting one exemplary table wine (particularly red ones) after another. These wines were often (and still are) very reasonably priced, fully flavoured, and crafted almost exclusively from regional grapes – in other words, wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah weren’t being made (such as in Italy or Spain) in the same dramatic abundance.

Prats + Symington ChryseiaFast-forward to 2011, and such wines keep getting better and better, with such regions as those of the Douro and Dão almost irrefutably leading the way. Indeed, the former – the mighty Douro DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada) – can now lay serious claim to being the top region for the production of quality red table wines in all of Portugal, not to mention one of the most stupendously gorgeous winegrowing regions in the world. The grapes used? Most commonly: Touriga Nacional (unquestionably the star grape of Portugal), Tinta Roriz (the same grape as Tempranillo in Spain, also referred to as ‘Aragonês’ in the southern part of the country), Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, and Tinta Cão; for the most part, however, the three very former grapes are the ones most often used to make excellent red table wines. At their best, these wines are often quite full-bodied, fully flavoured and firm, and can easily age for up to a decade or more (sometimes much more).

Quinta Do Crasto Old Vines Reserva 2007Head south into the Dão DOC and quality, while perhaps not as uniform as the Douro, is still decisively high. In this area, many of the same grapes are used (along with Alfrocheiro Preto), with the best (bottled) examples tasting very much like their more northerly counterparts, though perhaps just a shade less firm and complex (excluding the finest examples). Heading west of the Dão, however, we come to a region with a most interesting red grape: the Baga varietal. Quite arguably the most tannic grape in existence (along with Tannat in Southwest France), the finest examples are found in the Bairrada DOC, located only a short distance inland from the Atlantic coast. Enticing yet elusive in youth, wines made from Baga often need to be aged at least several years (oftentimes much more) in order for both the tannins to soften and the full varietal flavours to be brought forth. Indeed, collectors with suitable wine cellars should not be without a case or two of Bairrada-based wines as part of their inventories – the rewards of aging such wines are seldom short of unremarkable.

Finally, proceeding south yet again (readers really ought to have their wine atlas at hand), the last serious region – that is, to be mentioned here (time seems to allow for only so much discussion) – for the production of fine red table wine is (arguably) the Alentejo DOC, a very large region of rolling hills and acutely hot temperatures. Over the past several years, quality has decidedly taken a turn for the better, with such grape varietals as Aragonês (Tempranillo) and Trincadeira (a local speciality) remaining the most prized. At the same time, the Alentejo DOC is also home to an abundance of majestic cork trees that supply most of the world’s best (and worst) bottle stoppers. Quite an accomplished little winegrowing nation, isn’t it?

Click here for a few gems for collectors from the March 19th, 2011 Vintages release.

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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008