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Favourites from the National Wine Awards of Canada

Canadian Riesling Resonates in Montreal and Vancouver

Each week between now and the announcement of the results of the NWACs after Labour Day, WineAlign will feature each of the 18 judges, their thoughts on Canadian wine, and their personal favourite wine of the competition. Selection of a wine does not necessarily mean it was a top medal winner, and the scores (if given) reflect the opinion of the taster, not its final mark in the competition.

This week judges from opposite ends of the country land on the same page – riesling – adding credibility to the notion that it is one great Canadian grape.  With our northerly latitude and intriguing mineral-driven soils in the east and west, this makes a whole lot of sense.

Bill Zacharkiw, Montreal

I’ve been writing the Saturday wine page in the Montreal Gazette since 2007. And while I am new to WineAlign, I’m not new to judging national awards. I judged five editions of the previous Canadian Wine Awards.

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

To truly understand a wine region, it must be viewed over generations, and Canadian wine is barely getting into its second. But despite the small sample size, what excites me more and more after judging each competition is that I am starting to see the definition of regional wine “styles.”

A style is defined by more than a single wine or vintage. Its character is a result of a collection of wines, all made in a single region, with the same grapes, and by a number of different people. If the wines are consistently good year after year after year, and show a similar expression, then that region ascends to another level. It joins others whose expression of a particular grape or grapes have become archetypes. We can start talking about it in the same breath as, for example, chardonnay in Chablis, assyrtiko from Santorini, Northern Rhône syrah.

The style can’t be imposed; it has to come from the grapes, from the land. And to the credit of Canadian winemakers, every year I feel that more of them are figuring that out. The wines seem less forced. Maybe they are starting to trust the land more, or maybe, like parents, they have accepted who their children really are, and not what they want them to be.

It’s the big leagues. But by becoming a member of this prestigious club comes higher expectations that wineries in that region will always produce good quality wine, good or bad vintage, and at a price that is fair.

I believe we have one region and style that has made it to this next level – Niagara’s riesling. Every year it is by far the strongest category. Its character seems to rise above the vagaries of vintage variation, and price. Fruity and mineral, Cave Spring’s Tom Pennachetti says the style is reminiscent of Nahe. And it certainly echoes it. But it is Niagara – distinct and delicious.

Others are getting closer. British Columbia is starting to make great riesling, and the drier style is an interesting counterpoint to Niagara. Both chardonnay and pinot noir are settling in for the long haul. Chardonnay might be a bit further along. But whether we are talking Prince Edward County, Niagara or the Okanagan, great and distinctive wines are being made. However they are still too inconsistent. We’ll see as these vines age if the region’s wines truly are “world class,” or if just a small handful of wineries in each region are capable of doing it year after year.

And for the rest, there is good reason to believe that we will find other grapes that will put even more Canadian wine regions on the international map. Winemakers are still struggling to find out what Syrah can be, but there are some very good wines being made. There was an upturn with merlot this year. It’s simply a hard grape to do very well and possibly even more site specific than we give it credit. Other grapes are still works in progress, but the key word here is progress, and that’s a good thing.

Orofino Riesling 2011Tawse Échos Riesling 2010My wines of the competition? I’ll pick two. They are not my highest scoring wines. What they have in common is that they are under $20 and when I taste them, I feel that connection to where the grapes are grown. These are the wines I love to champion. So “chapeau” to following:

Tawse’s 2010 Échos Riesling once again reveals that mineral and fruity Niagara style, in its most straightforward, un-complicated, and utterly gulpable incarnation.

Orofino’s 2011 Riesling from the Similkameen Valley made me stop, think, taste and re-taste. In the final riesling flight, where the vast majority of the wines were exploding with sweet fruit, this glass of “rock juice” stood out for all of its intensity, and to an extent, weirdness. If this is the Similkameen “style,” then there is a lot to be excited about for riesling in this corner of B.C. If it isn’t, then it’s a damn intriguing wine for $20.

DJ Kearney, Vancouver

The very engaging DJ Kearney of Vancouver officially joins the WineAlign team this month. Watch for her debut article in the days ahead as well as her first critic reviews.

DJ Kearney

DJ Kearney

Riesling is a great, great grape for Canada. Fullstop. Traversing the style spectrum from bone-crunchingly dry to vaguely off-dry to honey-sweet, this grape is a brilliant transmitter and translator of Canadian regionality. Nova Scotia, Ontario and BC are all make scintillating versions that have added something new and profoundly different to the global Riesling canon.

It’s an excruciating task to select one favourite above all others and as I thumb through my notes, there is a quartet of rieslings in the final round that have 90+ scores and lavish adjectives in my usually blunt notes. Three of these proved to be B.C. rieslings and the succulent Synchromesh 2011 Storm Haven Riesling with its astonishing tension, purity of fruit and drama was the most arresting. The nose showed classic petrol, peaches and exotic citrus plus explicit mineral whiffs. The palate possessed the kind of head-snapping steely intensity that makes you yelp (I’m sure I did) with dazzling green apple, lime and stonefruit flavours. But it was the high-wire tension of ripe fruit sweetness and laser-beam acidity that lit up my palate… this clinched it as my favourite amongst favourites. The finish was a sweet-tart sword fight that didn’t let up for ages. And all this magic at just 9.3 % alcohol.

Mission Hill Reserve Riesling 2011Synchromesh Riesling Storm Haven Vineyard 2011I can’t help but add that the Mission Hill Estate Riesling 2011 bagged the same 91 score in my notes, an absolutely sensational wine with colossal concentration that at just $20.00 was in very fine company with the Synchromesh Storm Haven.

Photo credits from NWAC: Jason Dziver Photography

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

National Wine Awards of Canada

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages May 25 Release

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

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

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

Pinot Noir Globalization

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

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

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

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

Might Fine Mosel Riesling

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

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

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

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

Other Wines of Interest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loire Private Order Finds

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

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

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

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

International Chardonnay Day May 23

If you open this newsletter in time on May 23 you could take part in the Global Virtual Chardonnay tastings being held in Ontario and around the world in advance of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration coming up July 19-21. All the participating I4C wineries – 62 in all from eleven countries and sixteen regions are being encouraged to join in by posting tasting notes, photos and chardonnay recipes to social media sites.  The Twitter account is @coolchardonnay; with hashtags #chardday and #i4c2013 for International Chardonnay Day. The Facebook site is https://www.facebook.com/#!/CoolChardonnayCelebration. The Pininterest site is http://pinterest.com/i4c/cool-chardonnay/. So pour yourself a glass of Chardonnay and get Social!

Macleans “Wine in Canada” Special Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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

From the May 25, 2013 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews


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Matua Valley Estate Series Paretai Sauvignon Blanc 2012


German Wine Fair - Toronto May 28


Mclean's Wine in Canada

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German Wine Fair – Welcomes Trade and Consumers – May 28

Riesling & Co. World Tour stops in Toronto on May 28th at the Arcadian Loft

German Wine Fair - Toronto May 28To highlight their wines’ surprising flavours and top level food friendly versatility, the Riesling & Co. 2013 German wine fair returns to Toronto this spring.

On May 28 over 25 celebrated German winemakers and winery principals, offering 100+ wines, will assemble at the Arcadian Loft to offer guests the most extensive German wine tasting in Canada.

The “walk about” trade fair is open for attendance by professionals from the retail, media, and hospitality sectors during the day and by consumer wine enthusiasts during the evening. (See special offer for Wine Align subscribers below)

“What better way to discover the versatility of German Riesling and Pinots, than when matched with the passion of the visiting winemakers,” notes Ulrike Lenhardt of the German Wine Institute, who will be in Toronto for the event.

German Wine Queen and winemaker Julia Bertram

Julia Bertram

Winemaker Julia Bertram German Wine Queen

Guests will also have an opportunity to meet a real live QUEEN – German Wine Queen and winemaker Julia Bertram who will be attending to educate visitors on German wines!

German wines are generally heralded as great food friendly wines. This is a very bold statement, but most sommeliers and other food and wine professionals will agree.

Germany’s wines, while following strict wine laws, offer among the most variety, and one can find a wine for any occasion, matching any food and satisfying almost anyone.

The not-really secret here is the variety in styles (dry to sweet, sparkling or still), grape varieties (Riesling and Pinot Noir, to name the top ones of either white or red) and the distinct levels of richness (light to full, to honey-like) plus, based on the cooler climate, the wines generally have a good amount of acidity (considered vital for a great food wine) and lower levels of alcohol than warmer climate peers.

Another great thing about German wines with the higher acidity levels is that the wines last better than any other wines after they are opened. Hence don’t hesitate to open more than one bottle, taste and decide what will be the best for the occasion and return the other opened bottles to the refrigerator for later enjoyment.

Ours Sponsors“If you don’t love German wines, you just have not yet found the right one for you.”

Much has been written about food and wine pairing suggesting what goes and what does not go together. In the belief that enjoyment of food and wine is a very personal experience, we encourage everyone to experiment -and what better place than at the German Wine Fair!

To add to the fair, food pairings will be catered by Oliver and Bonacini and live music will be styled by BELLOSOUND.

And as an added incentive to join us, all trade and consumer registrants are eligible to win Rimowa Luggage valued $595.

Date and Location:

Tuesday, May 28th  – Arcadian Loft, 8Th Floor, 401 Bay Street, Toronto

Trade Tasting

2:00PM to 5:00 PM

Media and Trade professionals interested in attending the walk-about are encouraged to register at: www.germanwinefair.ca

NEW: Consumer Tasting

Calling all wine lovers! Meet over 25 winemakers and winery principals  and taste over 100 wines with food pairings by Oliver & Bonacini

7:00PM to 9:30 PM

Tickets $65 — all food and wine samples included

Wine Align subscribers receive $10.00 off the regular ticket price of $65.00.
Enter promo code: winealign

Order Tickets Here

Wine lovers are encouraged to visit: www.germanwinefair.ca for more information.


German Wine Fair - Toronto, May 28

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Alsatian Riesling and Gewurztraminer – not to be forgotten ~ May 28th, 2011

The best source in France for two mesmerizing grapes:

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Taking out a scrap piece of paper from my recycling bin, now and then I enjoy spending a few minutes creating lists about my favourite types of wine. These lists I sometimes format according to grape, other times by region or country, and/or on occasion by their ranking as ‘established growths.’ Of the former, my list usually ends up being something like this: for reds, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Syrah; for whites, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc, the very latter of which I most take pleasure in when it is blended with Sémillon and, excepting Hunter Valley, aged judiciously in French oak barriques.

Of the middle category, my often-wandering mind invariably settles on France, my most beloved winegrowing nation on Earth. From then on, it becomes a simple matter of picking my three favourite regions: Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhône. Such an effort to leave out Champagne! As for my favourite ‘classed growths,’ suffice it to say that I have rather luxurious tastes, and we shall leave it at that.

Yet, regarding my regional/country list, notice how I omitted the ‘subject region’ shown, quite clearly, in the title of this column? No, this was not done in error, but in a rather humourous literary fashion; for Alsace is, without a shred of doubt, one of those winegrowing areas that oftentimes seems forgotten when compared to all its other, more famous counterparts in France. A sad thing, really, for my very favourite type of white wine, alongside white Burgundy and Bordeaux, hails from none other than this marvellously understated, yet undeniably beautiful, part of the country. This grape, of course, is Riesling, the darling varietal of sommeliers and wine commentators, worldwide.

Aside from Germany, there truly is no other place in the Old World where Riesling is crafted to such a remarkable level of dexterity, fullness, originality, and refinement. Accounting for roughly 21.9% of all vines grown in Alsace, or about 3,350 hectares, Alsatian Riesling has historically been fermented to full dryness and crafted in such a style that best accentuates the overall minerality, vibrancy, and unique intensity of flavour(s) of the varietal. In Alsace, the best Riesling vineyards, typically cultivated with greater restrictions (ex. lower yields) on Grand Cru sites, are most often found on soils comprising sandy clay and loam. Common aromatics in youth? Think of fresh lemon, citrus peel, green apples, white peaches, melon, minerals, and spice (just to name a few). Just as important, the finest Alsatian Rieslings can easily age for a good deal more than just a couple of years, with some wines even requiring at least a decade to reach their full potential. As for dessert versions, such as Vendange Tardive (late harvest, often with a touch of botrytis) and Sélection de Grains Nobles (fully botrytized), let’s just say that I’ve enjoyed several extraordinary examples over thirty years of age. How I adore Alsatian Riesling!

This said, I couldn’t bring this column to a close without mentioning another Alsatian-based grape of absolutely marvellous character: Gewurztraminer. Quite possibly the spiciest, most ‘exotic’ varietal on the planet; in Alsace, Gewurztraminer (spelled without the umlaut) is sometimes even claimed to rival Riesling in terms of overall prestige. Comprising around 18.6% of all planted vineyards, of which, like Riesling, the Grand Cru sites will often yield the best results, Gewurztraminer is one of those grapes adaptable to all sorts of differing soil conditions, though clay and mineral-heavy deposits will often play a role in the best examples. Common aromatics? In Gewurztraminer, they are so identifiable, even the most amateurish of wine lovers should get these right: fresh rose (and tea) pedals, abundant lychees, honeysuckle, bergamot, lemon, jasmine, melon, and Asian spice. Also not to be overlooked is the fact that the best bottlings can easily age for well over a decade, with the more ‘entry range’ versions even able to withstand a few years’ worth of cellaring. Almost makes me wish I’d added Alsace to my list … so where did I put that scrap of paper?

Click here for a few gems for collectors from the May 28th, 2011 Vintages release .

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for January 22nd – Purple-stained teeth and compacted crustaceans: Madiran and Limarì, where else?

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

In this posting, check out my top smart buys, which include a highlight from each of Southwest France & Chile, the themes of the January 22nd release. As a treat for terroir fanatics, I’ve included a video from my recent trip to Chile where Javier Villarroel explains the uniqueness of the soils of the recently re-discovered Limarì Valley.

Smart Buys
This week’s smart buys include a pair of excellent German rieslings: 2008 MARKUS MOLITOR RIESLING SPÄTLESE $22.95 and 2006 KRUGER-RUMPF RIESLING SPÄTLESE $16.95. Both offer that incomparable combination of vague sweetness perfectly balanced by riveting acids and pronounced stony flavours, the way we love it.  But not to be upstaged, Niagara secures a spot in the top ten with a Riesling their own, the lovely 2008 CREEKSIDE ESTATE BUTLER’S GRANT RIESLING VQA $15.95. It’s lightly honeyed, sweet grass-flavoured white at a superb price.

Markus Molitor Riesling Spätlese 2008 Kruger Rumpf Riesling Spätlese 2006 Creekside Estate Butler's Grant Riesling 2008

Elsewhere, Portugal and Southern France earn two spots each in the smart buys, Spain offers a rare but vibrantly delicious Rioja made from 100% graciano (usually just a small component of the traditional blend), and Oregon comes through with a lovely, old world style pinot noir at just $21.95, a great value, as fans of Oregon pinot will attest. See the full list here.

Southwest France – Madiran
Southwest France is a land of, plains and plateaus, lazy rivers, hearty duck-based cuisine (confit, foie gras, cassoulet etc.), prunes and Armagnac, Henry the IV, muskateers and Gascon swashbucklers. The accent is so thick down here that it is barely intelligible even to fluent French speakers. Once I was in Paris watching the news. A French reporter was interviewing a French farmer from what the rest of France calls la France profonde, or “deep France”, that is the deep southwest, and the farmer’s words were subtitled in French. At first perplexed, I turned quickly thankful, as I would have otherwise understood less than half. I didn’t feel badly though as evidently even Parisians are unable to fully comprehend the accent of their own countrymen. I suppose it’s much like speaking to an old Newfoundlander from the interior or a Quebecer from some lost little village.

Château Peyros

Château Peyros

Southwest France is far off most modern tourist itineraries and as such has been able to preserve an air of timelessness. It’s like a sort of time capsule that one could step into today and travel back 10, 20, 50 or a hundred years ago without noticing much change, other than perhaps fewer cars and sneakers and more horses and knee-high leather boots. And despite efforts to modernize and adapt to current fashions, the wines, too, seem caught up in an eddy of the past and unable to surge forward into the 21st century. But that’s a good thing. There’s enough of the commonplace, standardized international wines available elsewhere. I’m more interested in these regional relics, the dark firm wines of Cahors, the sweet, quirky whites of Jurançon, the stolid reds of Madiran.

Lovers of fruity, creamy-textured wines will likely run screaming from the tough malbec-based wines of Cahors and straight on to Mendoza. Ditto the wines of Madiran, made predominantly from tannat, a variety whose very name derives from its abundance of tannins and marked acidity. One of the toughest barrel tastings I’ve ever done was during a reconnaissance trip to southwest France. My partner and I had stopped in to see a Madiran producer; it was a sunny, hot June day with the mercury hovering above 30ºC, and air as still as a lake at dawn. We stepped into a somewhat cooler cellar filled with barrels stained deep purple-red, an ominous sign already. The vintner drew some inky-black liquid into his permanently stained pipette and let fall a viscous stream of wine into our glasses. With trepidation, we proceeded to taste some of the thickest, darkest, most tannic young red wine I have ever sunk teeth into. It was like swishing a mouthful of moist sand and gravel, leaving your mouth drier than the Sahara. After just three wines I was shattered and my teeth were more purple than if I had been sucking on a grape-flavoured lollipop all day. It was great. We agreed to start importing the wines immediately, knowing that in time, a long time, these wines would be outstanding. Then we repaired to the air-conditioned car parked under a tree for the entire afternoon until the saliva returned to our mouths.
Château Peyros Madiran 2005
The wines of Madiran were once well-known to outsiders, as this lost corner of France lies along the ancient pilgrimage route that leads across the Pyrenées all the way to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. But you need not walk a thousand kilometers to have a taste. Just jump in your car and head down to the LCBO on January 22nd and pick up a bottle, or a case, of the 2005 CHÂTEAU PEYROS MADIRAN 14.95. Château Peyros is part of Lesgourgues vineyards, a collection of six estates that cover terroirs from Bas Armagnac to Uruguay, and from Madiran to Bordeaux and the heart of the Graves. The name Peyros means “a stony place” in Gascon language, as the château’s terroir is loaded with rolled pebbles churned up by glaciers. Vines are cultivated through sustainable agriculture and enriched by organic manure from a herd of 300 ewes that walks around the vineyard from October until May. The 2005 on offer here should appeal to fans of mature Bordeaux at a fraction of the price. It’s nicely mature, savoury, complex and earthy, with terrific complexity for the money.

Chile’s Limarì Valley

Chile Wine MapThe other theme of the release is Chile, a country that by now needs little introduction for Canadian drinkers. My value highlight of the release, however, hails from a region that won’t be as familiar as the Maipo or Casablanca Valleys; I’m talking about the Limarì Valley.

The Limarí Valley lies 400kms north of Santiago. Though once the center of the Inca Empire, and considering that vines were first planted as early as 1548 (by a Franciscan monk named Limarì), in terms of quality, export-worthy wine, it has only recently hit the map. Many of Chile’s terroir hunters (Concha y Toro, Undurraga, De Martino, among others) have been persuaded to take a fresh look at the valley and explore its potential to make intense but elegant and mineral reds and whites.

Like other cooler coastal regions in Chile, fog from the Pacific Ocean, called the Camanchaca in Limarì, settles into the valley each morning, cooling and nourishing the vines, only to be burned off by mid-morning as the sun rises over the Andes and bathes the vines in pure sunlight all afternoon. The coastal mountains are lower here than further south, resulting in an even more marked marine influence. Strong wind is near-constant, and with less than 4 inches of rainfall per year, drip irrigation is essential here, as elsewhere in Chile.

Tabalí Reserva Carmenère 2008Yet it’s not so much the climate that differentiates the Limarì Valley, but rather its unique soils. This is one of the few regions in Chile where active calcium carbonate (limestone) is close enough to the surface that vine roots can reach down and extract a little magical chalky flavour. This gives the wines of Limarì a distinctive mineral signature, and for me, ratchets up the excitement. Watch Javier Villarroel describe the soils of the Limarì here in this short video, shot last January during my visit to Chile (sorry for the Blair Witch Project-like shakiness, it’s not meant to be a horror show).

Almost half of the nearly 1700 hectares of vineyards is planted to cabernet sauvignon, but for my money, chardonnay, syrah and carmenere are the most interesting. My pick from the release is the 2008 TABALÍ RESERVA CARMENÈRE $14.95. Tabalì was among the first modern wineries to plant vines in 1993, and this signature grape shows an extra degree of class and complexity in the price category, with a savoury-mineral element and elegant proportioning overall.

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Cheers,

John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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Austria’s Best Whites – The Latest Report From Central Europe – by John Szabo

John Szabo, MS

The Austrians know how to put on a good show. The biannual VieVinum event took place this year from May 28-31 in the majestic court palace rooms of the Wiener Hofburg in downtown Vienna. Over 850 international journalists, importers, agents and sommeliers were invited to Vienna to taste as assess the recent vintages and get an up-to-date picture on the Austrian wine scene. In total, over 14,000 wine enthusiasts from all over Austria took the opportunity to taste the new vintages from Austrian wine producers during the three-day event.

From nearly zero in the mid-eighties, Austrian vintners have enjoyed a near-constant increase in exports over the last 25 years. Exceeding all expectations, even in the last troublesome couple of years exports of bottled wine (87% of total exports) have continued to grow, particularly in value, up 4.4% from last year. Germany is still the most import market by a large margin at nearly 60% of all exports.

Sadly, Canada does not even figure in the top ten list of export destination countries, a pity given the extraordinary quality of the recent releases. One can’t even blame the LCBO for lack of availability, as a quick scan of available Austrian wines reveals an impressive collection of some of the most sought after names currently on sale in Ontario. I can only surmise that it is simply lack of awareness about the beauty of these extremely versatile and food-friendly wines that relegates them to the dark corners of the Vintages Shop Online program and the occasional dialed in agent who’s ahead of the learning curve. Why aren’t Canadians buying more Austrian Wines?

Grüner Veltliner GrapesAustrian wine production is dominated by white wine, with white grape varieties representing over 68% of total vineyard plantings (latest stats from 2007). Of these Grüner Veltliner (or “grooner, or ‘gru-vee”) is easily the flagship grape, accounting for nearly 1/3 of all grapes planted. (Riesling, though represented on only 3.6% of vineyard acreage, qualifies for me as Austria’s second most important white grape in sheer qualitative terms.) Grüner is an amazingly flexible grape that comes in a range of styles from light, bright and peppery to rich, lush and full bodied. Most are aged without recourse to oak, allowing purity of fruit and mineral flavours to shine through. I’ve done considerable experimentation matching grüner with food, and I find it to be one of the most friendly and flexible wines out there. From classic European-style fish and seafood preparations to sushi and sashimi, Thai, Chinese dim-sum and lightly spiced Indian curries, grüner seems to handle it all with aplomb. Just ask Vikram Vij of the celebrated Indian restaurant Vij’s in Vancouver (a certified sommelier). “We prefer fresh, crisp whites without too much oak”. Enter grüner (and a fine collection of German white, too). My experience consulting on the list for the Aman Patel of the Indian Rice Factory in Toronto led to much the same conclusions.

To find the top kit, look to the trio of appellations bordering the Danube to the west of Vienna, north of the River: Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal. With variations in elevation, aspect and most importantly soil type, the grüners from these areas can be astonishingly mineral-flavoured or succulently juicy with lively citrus and stone fruit (green peach, apricot). The signature of the grape, however, is a totally unique herbal-spicy-vegetal nuance that many liken to white pepper, though I’m most often reminded of turnip, parsnip or even fresh lentil flavours as well as sweet green herbs like tarragon or basil. Whatever the case, these are some of the most original wines in the world.

Terraced Vineyards WachauThe historic vineyards of Austria share a philosophical link with Burgundy and Germany, in that over the course of centuries, specific vineyards with marked individual character have been identified, named, vinified and bottled separately in order to highlight the terroir. It’s not surprising given that Cistercian and Benedictine monasteries have been established in the Danube River Valley for nearly a thousand years. Monks, with their envious spare time, affinity for contemplation and singular purpose of exalting God through their work, were well positioned to dissect the land and champion each vineyard’s individual character. And grüner veltliner, like pinot noir and riesling, is a perfect vector for articulating the land. Some of these monasteries have been making wine continuously for centuries, such as the Stift Göttweig (11thC) and Schloss Gobelsburg (12thC).

The result for modern drinkers is a sometimes-bewildering array of names on labels that takes more than a bit of knowledge to untangle, but it’s well worth the effort. For more information on Austrian wines, visit www.winesfromaustria.com. It is an excellent, well organized resource. In the meantime, here is a brief lexicon of Austrian wine terms to aid in deciphering the labels of the recommended wines below:

Trocken: dry

Trockenbeerenauslese: “dried out selected grapes”, ie. Botrytis affected, resulting, confusingly, in very sweet wine.

Ried: “single Vineyard”. The name following the term ried refers to the name of the vineyard, as in “Ried Lamm”, where Lamm is the name of the site in which the grapes are grown.

Steinfeder, federspiel, smaragd: three terms exclusive to the Wachau region, referring to increasing levels of ripeness. Steinfeder describes the lightest style, usually with about 11.5% alcohol, moving up the scale to smaragd, the most full bodied wines often tipping in at over 14% alcohol, with corresponding intensity of flavour, body, etc.

Terrassen: “terraces”. The steepest parts of the Danube Valley have been carved into terraces in order to make winegrowing possible. Terraces help to reduce erosion and make vineyard management a little easier.

Berg: “hill”. Often used in conjunction with a vineyard name, as in Käferberg or Loibner Berg. These steep sites offer excellent drainage and sun exposure, yielding excellent quality wines. In order to be labeled as bergwein, the site must have a slope of at least 26º (subject to verification).

Weingut: winery; the producer’s name

Recommended Wines from LCBO, Vintages and Vintages Shop Online:

Grooner Grüner Veltliner 2009GROONER GRUNER VELTLINER 2009 $12.95

LAURENZ UND SOPHIE SINGING GRÜNER VELTLINER 2008 $14.95

DOMÄNE WACHAU TERRACES GRÜNER VELTLINER 2008 $15.95

SALOMON UNDHOF SALOMON GROOVEY GRÜNER VELTLINER 2009 $12.95

WEINGUT RABL G. GRÜNER VELTLINER 2006 $26.20

RABL KÄFERBERG GRÜNER VELTLINER 2006 $29.00

LOIMER GRÜNER VELTLINER 2007 $16.95

LOIMER LANGENLOIS TERRASSEN GRÜNER VELTLINER 2007
$35.00

LOIMER LANGENLOIS TERRASSEN TROCKEN RIESLING 2007 $35.00

NIKOLAIHOF IM WEINGEBIRGE GRÜNER VELTLINER TROCKEN 2006 $65.00

F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Loibner Klostersatz 2007F.X. PICHLER GRÜNER VELTLINER FEDERSPIEL LOIBNER KLOSTERSATZ 2007$35.00

F.X. PICHLER GRÜNER VELTLINER SMARAGD LOIBNER BERG 2007 $59.00

F.X. PICHLER GRÜNER VELTLINER SMARAGD URGESTEIN TERRASSEN 2007$45.00

HUBER GRÜNER VELTLINER BERG 2007 $39.00

KRACHER GRAND CUVÉE TROCKENBEERENAUSLESE NO. 6 NOUVELLE VAGUE 2001 $79.00

RUDI PICHLER KOLLMÜTZ SMARAGD GRÜNER VELTLINER 2007 $54.00

RUDI PICHLER SMARAGD TERRASSEN GRÜNER VELTLINER 2007 $39.00

RUDI PICHLER STEINRIEGL SMARAGD RIESLING 2007 $66.00

Salomon Undhof Pfaffenberg Riesling 2007SALOMON UNDHOF PFAFFENBERG RIESLING 2007 $24.00

SALOMON-UNDHOF WIEDEN TRADITION GRÜNER VELTLINER 2007$23.00

SCHLOSS GOBELSBURG KAMMERNER LAMM GRÜNER VELTLINER 2007$45.00

SCHLOSS GOBELSBURG KAMMERNER RENNER GRÜNER VELTLINER 2007 $29.00

WEINGUT BRÜNDLMAYER STEINMASSEL RIESLING 2006 $29.00

WEINGUT NIGL PRIVAT GRÜNER VELTLINER 2007 $49.00

Cheers,


John Szabo, MS

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