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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

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , ,

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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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for March 19th, 2011 – California & the Iberian Peninsula

Californian hurricane rips through France & Italy, smiling barrel salesmen in the Iberian Peninsula & smart buys

John Szabo, MSIn this article: a Californian hurricane rips through France and Italy, leaving many unopened and unsold bottles in its wake; south of the Pyrenees it’s hit and miss in the Iberian peninsula, though barrel salesmen are smiling. Also at a glance: Top Ten Smart BuysTop Californian, wines not to miss at the annual California Wine Fair and Top Iberian Wines.

California Devastates the Establishment
A recent press release announced the big news that US wines have overtaken those of both France and Italy to become the number one category in LCBO-Vintages. In the past year, net sales of US wines, which means of course Californian wines, were up 21.5% to almost $71m, which equals just over 1/5 of Vintages total turnover. The American juggernaut has edged out long-time leaders France, with 19.6% market share, and Italy at 18.8%.
“There has been an unprecedented demand for California wines in VINTAGES,” says Tom Wilson, Vice President, VINTAGES, which accounts for over 96% of US wines sales. “California wines offer superb quality and value at all price points and more and more customers are buying premium and super-premium wines, priced from $35 to $150 a bottle.”
Krug Grande Cuvée Brut ChampagneValue at $150 you say? Certainly at the super-premium end of the scale we can talk quality, but value remains a more contentious issue in my view, up and down the scale. Not that I don’t understand relative value. It doesn’t take long to realize that everything in the world is relative, including value. Value doesn’t mean inexpensive. Value exists at all price levels. Krug Grande Cuvée ($254.15) is far better value than Krug Clos d’Ambonnay Blanc de Noirs 1995 ($4529.00), just as Château Margaux 2006 ($799.00) is better value than 2006 Pétrus ($2000.00).
But this relative argument only holds true if you define value purely in terms of elemental wine quality, that is, the pleasure derived exclusively from the liquid, stripped of the warm fuzzy cognitive pleasure you get from drinking something that no one else can find or afford. Knowing that this is almost never the case, that most of the wine drinking public (and some pro wine reviewers, too) get at least some percentage of pleasure from the label or scarcity or back story or some other positive association with the country/region/grape/producer/etc. beyond the liquid, Mr. Wilson’s comment makes more sense. If exclusivity rocks your world, Pétrus or Clos d’Ambonnay is the way to go. I believe that the perceived value in California wine is, in some cases, tied to some image of the Sunshine State and not the juice in the bottle.
You see, Ontarian’s are generally giddy at the thought of California. First it was the reliably warm and sunny weather, then it was gold, and then it was the weather again that attracted people. The western world’s entertainment capital, Hollywood is here, and it’s full of famous and glamorous people. You can find beaches, deserts, forests, grassy plains, valleys and snowy mountains, and go surfing, snorkeling, camping, skiing and snowboarding pretty much all in the same day. The eat-local craze started there in the 1970s, as did flower power. Its citizens are confident (or scared) enough to vote a super action hero into their highest office. And if that’s not enough to alight those butterflies in your stomach, there’s even a life-sized Mickey Mouse at Disneyland. Who doesn’t want the California lifestyle?
SlomkaRick Slomka (left), Canadian Director for California Wines, one step ahead as usual, nailed it: “California vintners have always prided themselves on staying true to their west coast roots by creating world-class wines that add enjoyment to life. It’s thrilling to see how VINTAGES customers have embraced that one-of-a kind California lifestyle and brought it into their homes.”
To be sure, there’s no guilty pleasure in enjoying a bottle for reasons beyond the wine. Indeed, we all do it and it’s part of the human condition. It almost can’t be otherwise, unless you live in a bubble and have a benevolent friend or neighbor who’s willing to buy all of your wines and serve them to you in a paper bag so that all you can hope to enjoy is the liquid.
But if it’s really the liquid you’re interested in more than the lifestyle, here’s my position on the March 19th Vintages release and the wines to avoid and those that excite beyond a warm remebrance of Mickey Mouse:
Wines of genuine excitement:
2007 DOMINUS Napa Valley $119.95
2005 OJAI BIEN NACIDO SYRAH Santa Barbara $47.95
Dominus 2007 Ojai Bien Nacido Syrah 2005 Beringer Bancroft Ranch Single Vineyard Merlot 2005
Wines of questionable value:
2007 OPUS ONE Napa Valley $339.95
Full list of Top Californian wines in the release here.
California Wine FairIf you’re heading to the annual California Wine Fair on Monday April 4th at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto, or Wednesday April 6 at The Westin Ottawa ($70 for 400+ wines; click here for tickets), here’s a sneak preview of the wines that should be on your list to taste:
• 2007 Vineyard 7 & 8 Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 93  NA
• 2006 Peju Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 92  $65.00
• 2005 Kenwood Vineyards Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 92  $78.95
• 2005 Heitz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 92  $220.00
• 2006 St. Michelle Wine Estates Villa Mount Eden Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 92 NA
• 2002 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 91  $33.95
• 2006 Oakville Ranch Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 91  $45.00
• 2007 E&J Gallo Frei Ranch Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County 90  $34.95
• 2007 Brandlin Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder Napa Valley 90  $85.95
• 2007 Chimmey Rock Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 90 NA
And if you care what the rest of Ontario is drinking in the California category, here are the stats. Not surprisingly, Cabernet Sauvignon is the top seller, +27% this year, followed by Chardonnay (+33% – ABC movement? Yah right), and Zinfandel (+40%).
Top performing brands in sales growth in the VINTAGES Essentials Program over the last year (clearly not related to WineAlign’s influence) were: Riverstone Chardonnay from J. Lohr, +88% ($18.95, 2009 vintage not rated by WineAlign), Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon from J. Lohr, +29% ($21.95, 87 points Steve Thurlow), Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Beringer, +15% and Toasted Head Chardonnay from R.H. Phillips, at +8% (2009 not rated).Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon remains a consistent top seller ($18.95, 2008 vintage 86 points John Szabo).
Happy Barrel Salesman in the Iberian Peninsula
The other theme to the March 19th Vintages release is the Iberian Peninsula, namely Spain and Portugal. Long time readers know that I’m a fan of Iberian wines, though I can’t help pointing out that both of these countries are in many respects lagging behind the rest of Europe, and many parts of the new world, in terms of their winemaking maturity. In the initial stages of establishing a modern wine industry (forget the 3000 years of ancient wine history), there’s a tendency to be overly enthusiastic in order to capture that craved international attention. Many feel that have to scream the loudest to be heard.
In wine terms, screaming means more: more ripeness, more wood, more extract, more alcohol. Australia and California, for example, have largely been there and done that, but have since matured to the point where they are confident in their terroir, their grapes and their abilities to let the wines speak in a more ‘indoor’ voice. Having checked out for most of the 20th century for political reasons, Spain and Portugal have much catching up to do, and are still working out what they can do best and what the world wants – it’s a painful process.
When they get it right, however, the Iberian Peninsula is a source of extreme value. This release highlights both sides, the confident and the insecure. Several of the wines were hard, hot, harsh, and overly woody and raisined – I half wish I were a barrel salesman working the Iberian territory as I suspect I’d be doing pretty well. Others wines were balanced and integrated, quietly self-assured. If you prefer the latter, try this pair of fine values from the same corner of the peninsula: 2009 VARANDA DO CONDE ALVARINHO/TRAJADURA VINHO VERDE DOC, Sub-Região Monção e Melgaço $13.95 and 2009 PEIQUE TINTO MENCÍA DOCBierzo $13.95. Click here for the full list of recommended wines from Spain and Portugal.
Varanda Do Conde Alvarinho/Trajadura Vinho Verde 2009 Peique Tinto Mencía 2009
From the March 19th Vintages release:

Top Sunshine State Wines

Top Iberian Wines

All Reviews


John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for November 13th (Part II): The Iberian Peninsula Takes on Tuscany: A Value Battle

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Compare these two wines, preferably blind: 2005 JULIÁN CHIVITE GRAN FEUDO VIÑAS VIEJAS RESERVA $19.95 and 2007 LUCE DELLA VITE LUCE $99.95. The former, an elegant wine, not a blockbuster, but complex, spicy and juicy; the latter, impressively big and woody, even jammy, in an international style that even experienced tasters would have trouble placing in Tuscany. Both rate 90 points in my view, but for different reasons. These wines are worlds apart, though it’s not that far from Northeastern Spain to Tuscany. One’s $20, the other $100. Which delivers more pleasure-per-penny? When the label is obscured, all bets are off.

 Julián Chivite Gran Feudo Viñas Viejas Reserva 2005 Luce Della Vite Luce 2007

I spent some time living and studying in both Tuscany and southern Spain in the mid-nineties, during one of those formative periods of your life where everything seems to matter more, to have more impact. I’m sure I’ll still be able to vividly recall the midnight tapas bar adventures around the Plaza Nueva in Granada, up the Paseo de Los Tristes, with the spot-lighted Alhambra Palace watching over us from the hill above between the ducks into tiny doorways leading into even tinier bars; the glasses of fino and who knows-what-other reds and whites poured by the draught from cask or tap with a mini bocadillo sandwich of succulent jamón Ibérico de bellota; I’ll remember walking one steamy summer afternoon, leaving Siena in the pouring rain, wandering 42 kms across country on rural routes through the Tuscan countryside past olive groves, cypress trees, vineyards and fortified hilltop towns before finally reaching the towers of San Gimignano and that first glass of cool, crisp vernaccia di San Gimignano; I’m sure I’ll still remember those moments long after I’ve forgotten the names of my grandchildren, should I be so lucky.

So, I have a soft spot for both Italy and Spain, it’s true. Who wouldn’t. I’m always delighted to taste wines from that part of the world. But heart rendering nostalgia aside, when the critic’s cap goes on and I’m looking for value, my Tuscan friends are abandoned to their luxury hilltop villas and renaissance art galleries. The Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal, is where I’m holidaying on the cheap and loving it. Tuscany isn’t Italy, and there’s plenty of extreme value to be found all over the Italian Peninsula to be sure, but it’s not generally in Tuscany where one goes treasure hunting. There’s too much money, foreign and Italian. It’s where everyone from the Swiss to the Germans, English, Americans and anybody else who’s made a fortune in some other business goes to buy land to live their own Under The Tuscan Sun dreams, and wine is invariably part of that dream. Land is expensive, wines are highly sought after, and prices are inflated.

Most parts of Spain (with a couple of notable exceptions) are far less well known. Foreigners who fall in love with Spain and buy property there tend to be life-loving bohemians, not industrialists, sort of modern-day members of the red brigade fighting for freedom, in this case not from fascism but from the tyranny of pretentiousness, since the Spanish are anything but pretentious. It also helps that the Spanish economy makes even the Greeks feel not so bad about their troubles, that there’s huge over-production, and that their shoes are not as highly coveted as designer Italians, and hence the country maintains a lower profile. Not even World Cup victory has changed that. Spain, and Portugal, are chalk-a-block with value.

As if to inadvertently highlight this little useful bit of insider’s knowledge, the LCBO has put out a fine range of expensive, in some case very good, but generally poor value Tuscan wines in the November 13th release, alongside a clutch of outstanding wines from Spain (and one from Portugal). I know it’s an unfair comparison, but all’s fair in love, war and wine, especially when it’s my dollar on the line.

I found the 2008 LAS ROCAS GARNACHA $14.95 and the 2007 RAIMAT ABADIA CRIANZA $14.95 to be outstanding values for under $15, though there’s nothing to compare them to because nothing’s under $15 from the Tuscan release. The closest, decent value is the 2008 DOGA DELLE CLAVULE MORELLINO DI SCANSANO $16.95, made by the elegant Elisabetta Gnudi, also owner of Caparzo in Montalcino and Borgo Scopeto in Chianti Classico.

Las Rocas Garnacha 2008 Raimat Abadia Crianza 2007 Doga Delle Clavule Morellino Di Scansano 2008

I did enjoy the 2006 ANTINORI BADIA A PASSIGNANO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA $43.95, a solid, neither traditional nor modern Chianti, though pound for pound it can’t touch the 2007 QUINTA DE VENTOZELO TOURIGA NACIONAL $18.95, a very rich yet fine example of the Douro’s marquee red grape.

Antinori Badia A Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2006 Quinta De Ventozelo Touriga Nacional 2007

At the higher end, the 2005 MIGUEL TORRES MAS LA PLANA CABERNET SAUVIGNON $44.95, is as reliable as ever, delivering an intriguing style somewhere between Bordeaux, Napa and Provence, which is, well, just about where Spain sits geographically, philosophically and climatically. Also 92 points, but somewhat lesser value, compare the 2007 ANTINORI SOLAIA $249.95. Your call.

Miguel Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Antinori Solaia 2007

Click on the following to see my:

Smart Buys From the Iberian Peninsula
Top Tuscans
Top Eight Smart Buys
All Reviews


John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview – Sept 18th release – Ontario’s Signature Styles & Douro Reds

John Szabo, MS

I’ve written recently here on WineAlign about the Canadian Wine Awards and what I think are the signature styles emerging in Canada, and Ontario in particular, and, well, this Vintages release gets it spot on. Out of 18 Ontario wines on offer here, there are 4 rieslings, 4 chardonnays, 4 pinot noirs, 4 Icewines and 2 sparkling wines. While I may not agree with all of the particulars, I have to say that if LCBO head office had called me to plan an Ontario release (it has yet to snow in the underworld) and gave me 18 spots to fill I would likely have come up with the same plan-o-gram. These are the styles in which Ontario excels, which I buy, and which I drink with pleasure. Obviously there are many excellent wines in other categories, but if you’re talking signature, these are the categories to start with.

That Ontario is a world leader in Icewine there is no doubt. My personal view, however (not necessarily reflected by other WineAlign critics), is that the industry is too reliant on Icewine. There is too much produced, too much of dubious quality, and the market simply isn’t there. True, it’s our only significant export product and the international emblem of the Canadian wine industry, and when it sells the profit margins are extremely attractive, but I wonder how dumping poor quality Icewine in Asia and elsewhere will affect the industry long term. The rest of the world just doesn’t drink much of it; folks love it at the winery tasting bars when it’s free or very cheap, but I wager that the majority that’s actually purchased is destined to be a gift for someone else, or sits in the cellar waiting for that special day that hasn’t come yet. How many glasses of Icewine have you consumed in the last year? (please do comment on this posting and let me know. Maybe I’m dead wrong). At least in the restaurant market, I see sweet wine sales reports and they are not encouraging. Most is given away as a “comp” (not in the restaurants where I have a hand in the beverage program, ‘cause that’s illegal), or sales are tied in to desserts or tasting menus. Otherwise Icewine bottles collect dust.

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that Icewine is and should be a signature style for Ontario. There are some glorious examples. But that’s the point. I’d love to see less of it made, more of it of top quality, and tighter controls on which bottles get the VQA seal of approval from the tasting panel. Make it truly the exclusive, prestigious, signature product it has always wanted to be.

Cave Spring Csv Cave Spring Vineyard Riesling 2008All of this is really just my week attempt to justify the fact that I didn’t make it to taste the Icewines in this release. There was simply too much other good wine on which to focus. My top three Ontario picks are unsurprisingly all rieslings, led off by the outstanding 2008 CAVE SPRING CSV RIESLING VQA, Beamsville Bench, $29.95. Always a classic, this old vines wine achieves signature expression in 2008. Château des Charmes delivers the best value Ontario wine, with the killer 2007 CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES OLD VINES RIESLING VQA, Niagara-on-the-Lake, $16.95. This is one of the most compelling 2007 rieslings out there, mature but not tiring as many of the 07s are, delivering beautiful minerality and depth for under $17. Also superb but needing some time in the cellar is yet another ‘old vine’ Riesling,2008 VINELAND ESTATES ST. URBAN RIESLING VQA, Niagara Escarpment, $19.95.

Chardonnay, Ontario’s other signature white variety, puts in a good showing, filling up the next two spots in the top ten Ontario list. The really top stuff is missing from the release, likely due to questions of price or availability or both, but I definitely enjoyed the 2009 FLAT ROCK CELLARS UNPLUGGED CHARDONNAY VQA,Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, $15.95, a fresh, crisp, Chablis-esque example that goes down real easy, unplugged, unoaked and no batteries required. If you do prefer a little plugging into barrels, then you’ll enjoy the 2008 TAWSE SKETCHES OF NIAGARA CHARDONNAY VQA, Niagara Peninsula, $19.95. Le Clos Jordanne’s 2008 TALON RIDGE VINEYARD CHARDONNAY VQA, Niagara Peninsula, Vinemount Ridge $37.00 is the most ‘serious’ example, which needs another 2-3 years in the cellar to reach peak, I’d estimate.

The disappointment from the release is the selection of pinot noirs. There are some real beauties in Ontario as I have written earlier, but they’re not here, perhaps because of that price/availability thing again. The only one in the top ten is the 2008 NORMAN HARDIE COUNTY PINOT NOIR VQA, Prince Edward County, $35.20, which is a light, delicate, finessed style that’s highly drinkable overall, but lean and leafy at the end of the day. As most know I’m not a bigger-is-better drinker, but for $35 I expect a little more depth and complexity. I know that Hardie’s not pocketing fat margins at our expense – it’s costly to grow grapes in the County – the vines just need to grow older and the sun needs to shine a little more.

Montepeloso Eneo 2006Have a perusal of the non-Ontario wines in the top ten smart buys list. I’ve included some higher-than-usual priced wines, but they still represent value. In particular, fans of Tuscan wines  can’t miss the astonishingly good 2006 MONTEPELOSO ENEO IGT, Toscana $44.95. This was my first encounter with Montepeloso (where have I been all these years?), and just when you rekon that the last thing the world needs is yet another expensive super Tuscan made by some well-heeled foreigner looking to live the Under-the-Tuscan-Sun dream (Montepeloso was purchased from Willi and Doris Neukom in 1998 by the quality-obsessed Swiss-Italian historian Fabio Chiarelotto), along comes this stunner. After a taste of this, I was struck as if by the Ebola virus, immediately and irremediably (although in a better way), and suddenly, I was dreaming of owning a Tuscan property with vines and writing a book. The Montepeloso estate is situated on what some consider to be one of the finest terroirs in Italy, on a gentle, chalky, gravel-clay hillside just above Tua Rita (another famed property) in Suvereto near the Tuscan coast. Eneo is not the top cuvee of the estate, but this montepulciano and sangiovese-dominated blend aged in 2nd and 3rd year barrels is a fantastically pure expression that oozes class at a mini-Tuscan price.

The other mini-theme of the release is Red Hot Douro reds, which merits a section of its own. There are so many outstanding table (dry) wines being produced in the Douro these days that it’s hard to keep track. In some cases the prices have crept above the $100 mark, but the selection here is definitely still in the value category. Even my top pick, the 2007 QUINTA DO CRASTO OLD VINES RESERVA DOC, Douro at $34.95 can be considered extraordinary value, considering the mixed ancient vines parcels on ultra-steep slate slopes where this hails, not too mention the quality of the wine itself. Look for my full article on the wines of the Douro to be posted shortly on WineAlign, originally written for the Sommelier’s Guide to Portuguese wines commissioned by ViniPortugal.

Quinta Do Crasto Old Vines Reserva 2007

Click on the following to see my:
Top Ten Smart Buys
Top Ten Ontario Wines
Top Douro Reds
All Reviews


John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008