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Forget flowers, buy rosés for Valentine’s Day

Treve Ring

Treve Ring

This Valentine’s Day show your affection to your sweetie with a bottle, or few, of rosé. Rosé wines reach from bone dry and elegant, to sparkling and celebratory and through to sweet and sultry. Just as pink is the half way hue between white and red on the colour spectrum, drinking pink offers up the best of both in the wine worlds. You get the freshness and acidity of white wines, plus the structure, berry fruit and tannin presence of reds. This matrimony of styles makes rose wines particularly food-friendly, and the darling of many sommeliers and chefs. You needn’t be either to pick a pack of rosés to suit your Valentine’s Day plans, whether it’s a romantic multicourse dinner à deux, a solo supper or a brunch with family and friends.

Forget flowers, buy rosés.


I’d put forth that sparkling is on my mind in advance of Vancouver International Wine Festival, and their Global Focus this year on Bubbly, but that would be a bit of a pink lie because bubbles are always on my mind.

Haywire The Bub Pink 20128th Generation Vineyard Confidence 2012Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Rosé BrutSegura Viudas Brut Rose

Haywire Pink Bub 2012 is a new release just in time for Valentine’s Day, a lively, crisp orange and pear blossomed traditional method bubble from a cooler mountain site near Oliver in the southern Okanagan. 8 th Generation Confidence 2012 is another Okanagan mainstay, this one in an off-dry frizzante style, topped with a crown cap and blended from merlot, pinot noir, dunkelfelder, pinot gris and viognier. Henry Of Pelham N/V Cuvee Catharine Rosé Brut from the Niagara Peninsula is a perennial favourite, a classy and classic traditional method sparkler with juicy raspberry and strawberry fruit. Segura Viudas Brut Rosé NV is a regular visitor to my fridge, a bright cava welcome for its value and consistent red apple and pomegranate fruit.

Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut ChampagneLouis Bouillot Perle D'aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De BourgogneJust released in Ontario (already in BC & Quebec) is Louis Bouillot Perle d’Aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne from Burgundy. It has all the class if not the depth of pink Champagne, at one third the price. If you have a Champagne budget this Valentine’s Day, then nothing but Champagne will do. Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut NV is as distinctive a bottle as it is in the flute; elegant and full-bodied, with fine mousse and notes of strawberry, cream, brioche, dark cherry and mineral and a lingering cherry-currant finish.


There are as many styles of still rosés out there as there are fish in the sea. I’m sure I’d make a horrible human matchmaker, but I can definitely help find the perfect rosé for you this Valentine’s Day. And who knows what wine-savvy drinker you’ll meet in the rosé aisle of your liquor store…

Marqués De Cáceres Rosado 2012Miraval Rosé 2012Joie Farm Re Think Pink Rosé 2012

Once again Spain shines with delicious, affordable selections. Marques de Caceres 2012 Rioja Rosado 
from Rioja was category champion at the 2013 World Wine Awards, and it’s no wonder with the dusty floral, stonefruit and wild strawberry notes. Pair with paella! If a Hollywood romcom Netflicks marathon and a couch is the plan for this weekend, go all out and chill a bottle of Miraval Rosé 2012, from Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s Côtes De Provence winery. No fluffy rosé here though – the Perrin family (Chateauneuf-du-Pape) are bringing their ample winemaking credibility to this delicate, aromatic, herbal wild strawberry wine. If you are looking for a fuller, creamier, more substantial rosé, BC benchmark JoieFarm Re Think Pink Rose 2012 will suit in spades. The blend shifts annually depending on grapes and vintage, but the profile always feels pleasantly familiar: a touch off-dry, with desert sage, wild strawberries and structured cherries.


Sweets for your sweetie, right? Classic sommelier pairing of like + like = like a lot? There are rivers of sweet wines out there, but I’ve selected a few with a definite rosy glow, sure to be passed along to your cheeks after a couple of glasses.

Croft Pink PortSouthbrook Farms FramboiseChambers Rosewood Rutherglen MuscatInniskillin Okanagan Estate Tempranillo Icewine 2012

Why not kick off the weekend with a cocktail? Croft Pink was the very first pink port on the market and aimed at a new generation of port drinkers. I like this fortified wine over ice with a wedge of orange. Southbrook Vineyards Framboise from Ontario does double duty, carrying cocktails with its concentrated raspberry, or as a fine match for dark chocolate. If you’re looking for a rare gem, you must fine one of Australia’s sensational stickies. Chambers Rosewood Rutherglen Muscat is an outstanding example on this market, with generous waves of raisin, dried apricot and honey. And naturally, I will suggest a Canadian icewine in case you’re pairing wines to Olympic viewing. Inniskillin Okanagan Estate Tempranillo Icewine 2012 scores a gold medal for being adventurous enough to attempt an icewine from tempranillo grapes, with tasty caramelized brown sugar and boysenberry results.


If you’re looking for a gift beyond a bottle, why not treat your special someone to tickets for the Vancouver International Wine Festival. Now in its 36th vintage, the VIWF is one of the top wine festivals in North America, offering something for every level of wine drinker, collector and trade professional. Winery principals (winemaker, proprietor, senior executive) representing 178 selected wineries from 14 countries will be in attendance to pour and discuss their wines. Every year, this international festival shines the spotlight on one country or region, and this year the country is France. As mentioned above, the global focus for 2014 is Bubbly, and many will be poured throughout the week of seminars, dinners, minglers, brunches and at the heart of the festival – the tasting room floor. NEW this year, and highly welcome, is a partnership with beVancouver. If you book a room between February 20 and March 9, 2014 at a participating downtown hotel (there are 37 to choose from), and you’ll get ONE FREE TICKET (value up to $89) to your choice of four International Festival Tastings. Book two nights, and you’ll get TWO FREE TICKETS (value up to $178).

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Treve Ring


Vancouver International Wine Festival - Feb 27, 28 and Mar 1

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Announcing the Rosé Results from the National Wine Awards of Canada

The run for rosés turned out to be a horse race

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

From dry to sweet and everything in between rosé is back in vogue with wine drinkers and the very best examples are often only exceeded by the worst, which is likely the best indication a category of wine is really hot.

This year we set a record for entries at The Nationals (nee the Wine Access CWAs) with 61 submissions. Canada is hardly a haven for rosé given our long winters and the early onset of west coast rains but when the sun comes out and the temperature rises no one is quicker to get to the patio than Canadians either in restaurants or at home. It’s this zeal that drives the rosé market and Canadian wineries are responding in droves.

If and when the warm weather finally arrives consider serving your pinks out-of-doors in the setting best suited to the nature of these wines. The driest versions can be served with fish or fowl, white meats work, so do grains and pasta and most summer produce. The off-dry and sweet bottles which tend to dominate the shelves are another choice and the advice is to serve them the same way you might use a riesling or a chenin blanc. They need to be thoroughly chilled and then mingled with big barbecue sauce covered burgers or ribs, aromatic curries and a variety of spicy Asian fare. Remember the younger and fresher the better.

At the Nationals we were impressed by some of the top scoring pinks. None tipped the gold bar but if any wine is under scrutiny at a blind competition it’s rosé. The judges were looking for freshness and balance, residual sugar isn’t a huge issue if the wine is balanced. Colour appears to be more and more of an issue, as in the lighter the better, whereas the grape variety used is not an issue at all as long as the wine is lively, fresh, and inviting on the nose and palate. If we wanted our rosé to be on the heavier side we would choose a light red hence the scoring and selection in 2013.

As we head into the depths of summer it makes no sense to delay the rosé results so we are announcing them now. We want to remind you that you will see these wines again when they are embedded in the official results of the WineAlign 2013 National Wine Awards of Canada to be released online at 1PM EST, Wednesday, September 4 at

There was no gold award this year but the top six wines were all awarded silver medals and the split was 50/50 from British Columbia and Ontario. New this year to the results are the top five best value wines in the category, in this case $15 or less.

The Silver Medal Winners:

NWAC Silver MedalFlat Rock Cellars 2012 Pinot Noir Rosé
Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $17

Gray Monk 2012 Rotberger
British Columbia $16

Peller Estates Niagara-on-the-Lake 2012 Private Reserve Rosé
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $16.75

Red Rooster Winery 2012 Reserve Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $22

Trius Winery at Hillebrand 2011 Trius Rosé
Ontario $15.75

Volcanic Hills Estate Winery 2012 Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $19

The Bronze Medal Winners:

NWAC Bronze MedalArrowleaf 2012 First Crush Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $15
“Best Value $15 or less”

Baillie-Grohman 2012 Blanc de Noirs Rosé
Baillie-Grohman Vineyard, British Columbia $19

Chateau des Charmes 2012 Rosé Cuvée d’Andrée
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario $15
“Best Value $15 or less”

Covert Farms Family Estate 2012 Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $17

Featherstone 2012 Rosé
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $15

Fielding 2012 Rosé
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $15

Gaspereau Vineyard 2012 Rosé
Nova Scotia $16

Haywire Gamay Noir 2011 Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $19

Huff Estates 2012 Rosé
Prince Edward County, Ontario $18

Inniskillin Niagara Estate 2012 Pinot Noir Rosé
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario $15
“Best Value $15 or less”

JoieFarm 2012 Re-Think Pink Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $21

Kraze Legz Vineyard and Winery Speakeasy 2012 Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $20

Lang Vineyards 2011 Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $15

Mission Hill Family Estate Five Vineyards Rosé 2012
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $15
“Best Value $15 or less”

Moon Curser Vineyards 2012 Nothing to Declare Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $22

Nk’Mip Cellars 2012 Winemaker’s Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $18

See Ya Later Ranch 2011 Nelly Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $16

Southbrook Vineyards 2012 Triomphe Cabernet Franc Rosé
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $20

Spierhead Winery 2012 Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $19

Tawse 2012 Rosé
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $16

Therapy Vineyards 2012 Pink Freud
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $16

Thornhaven Estates 2012 Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $17

Union Rosé 2012
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $14
“Best Value $15 or less”


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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for May 11, 2013

Rosé; The Doctor Recommends; Highlights From Top Ten Smart Buys

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report features a handful of rosés that shine above the rest for their quality/value/pleasure. Few producers take rosé production seriously, and finding the good stuff is like panning for gold. My selection includes a shiny range from $13 to $27; all are dry. I’ve nothing against sweet pinks – they’re great for spritzers. I also highlight a naturally low alcohol white made by a medical doctor in New Zealand who believes he’s hit on an innovative method (patent pending) to achieve full flavor at under 10% ABV, saving countless calories, livers and maybe even marriages. And the Top Ten Smart Buys this week include two astonishingly good $50 wines, which, if they hailed from Burgundy, Bordeaux or Napa, would easily cost in the $100s, plus a whole lot more. Read on.

Perilous Rosé

I know that rosé is a perilous category for wine consumers, fraught with the frustrations of trying to find what you’re looking for out of a jumble of radically different styles all lopped under the same loose heading. It’s kind of like tossing all fruits into one bin at the grocery store and letting shoppers muddle through, only they’re blindfolded and each fruit is wrapped in newspaper. Grab and hope. You’re as likely to find a green apple when looking for a juicy peach, or an avocado instead of a mango. So what can you do to navigate these murky waters? Not much I’m afraid, except find somebody you can trust who’s already tasted the wine, or stick to the regions and producers for whom rosé is not an afterthought or by-product of red wine, or worse yet, the dreaded “brand extension”. If you enjoy dry rosé with some authentic regional character, these are for you:

2012 Muga Rosé ($12.95). Garnacha, tempranillo and viura are blended in this well-priced, dry and lively rosé. 2012 was a warm and dry year in Rioja, conditions under which garnacha thrive. Muga’s vineyards in the cooler, higher elevations of the Rioja Alta also contributed to maintaining the impeccable balance here, and while this may be slightly riper than previous vintages, it’s still lean and crisp with low alcohol. Perfect for patios and paellas.

Muga Rosé 2012Château La Tour De L'évêque Rosé 2012Château Léoube Rosé De Léoube 2011No other region in the world is more closely associated with quality rosé than Provence in the south of France, and it’s still the source of the world’s best in my view. Château La Tour De l’Évêque makes regular appearances in Canadian stores and the 2012 Rosé ($18.95) is an arch-classic, dry, savoury, solidly built and concentrated example without sacrificing refreshment.

Taking it up a notch into a rarefied quality level for rosé is the 2011 Château Léoube “Rosé de Léoube” ($26.95); available through the agent The Case For Wine. Léoube is a 550 hectare property of dramatic beauty, nestled within sight of the Mediterranean with 62 hectares of organically farmed vineyards surrounded by forests and wild scrub. The English owners of Léoube launched Daylesford Organic foods in the UK over 25 years ago, so respect for the land runs deep in the house philosophy. Château Léoube’s winemaker is Romain Ott, originally of the highly respected Domaine Ott in Provence, who came to the property after the family estate was purchased by Champagne Roederer. He brings considerable experience to the Léoube project, with the know how to make rosé of the highest order. This classic blend of 40% Grenache, 40% cinsault and 10% each of syrah and mourvèdre is a rosé of considerable depth and class. Pale in colour but deep in flavour, it delivers a marvelous fragrance of white flowers, sweet herbs and fresh strawberry, while the palate offers a harmonious balance of acids and alcohol (13%), just hitting perfect drinking stride now. It’s a compelling example of how some time in bottle can do wonders for classically structured rosé, especially when built on genuine concentration rather than merely clever winemaking. Bottom line: it’s well worth the asking price.

Domaine Allimant Laugner Rosé Crémant d'AlsaceMas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Rosé 2012Next door to Provence on the other side of the Rhône delta is the AOC of Costières de Nîmes, where the Marès family has been making wine for six generations. Mas Des Bressades 2012 Cuvée Tradition Rosé ($14.95) is a reliable blend of Grenache, syrah and cinsault made in a dry style, reminiscent of Tavel with its generous 13.5% alcohol and powerful fruit.

And rounding out these five picks is the Domaine Allimant-Laugner Rosé Crémant d’Alsace ($19.95), from a region admittedly not known for rosé, but very much worth a look nevertheless because the adjectives good, bubbly, pink and under $20 are rarely found in the same sentence. Hubert Laugner is the 10th generation in a succession of winemakers in the Allimant-Laugner family farming twelve hectares spread over three villages. The Crémant rosé is a traditional method bubbly made from pinot noir, designed to be enjoyed young and fruity. It’s bright and fragrant, with red berry, raspberry, cherry and green apple aromatics, balanced palate and very good length, offering lots of pleasure.

The Doctor Recommends

Drs. John and Brigid Forrest operate Forrest winery in Marlborough, New Zealand, and also own prime parcels in the Gimblett Gravels in Hawke’s Bay, Bannockburn in Central Otago and the Waitaki Valley. Considering the Forrests’ medical training – John spent eight years at the Salk Institute studying neurology – there’s an extra measure of scientific rigor applied to the wines, along with a great deal of empiricism: learning through experimentation and observation, which has lead to many innovative techniques and new wines. The range is indeed huge and would seem impossible to stay on top of, that is, until you meet this energetic and indefatigable couple, the kind of people that make you feel as though you should’ve accomplished more today.

Dr John Forrest

Dr John Forrest, Forrest winery

John and Brigid launched the Doctors’ range to represent their growing roster of alternative grapes like arneis, gruner veltliner and St. Laurent, and to label the results of innovative winemaking techniques that have led to wines like the 2011 Forrest Estate The Doctors’ Sauvignon Blanc ($19.95). This dry wine clocks in at a featherweight 9.5% alcohol, naturally achieved, without chemical or mechanical de-alcoholization.

My conversation with Dr. Forrest on his methods quickly surpassed my knowledge of plant biology/physiology, touching on concepts such as the splitting and deviations of carbon rings as the plant grows grows – this is clearly a process that Forrest has studied deeply. He has drawn upon work done at the Geisenheim Research in Germany, where Professor Hans Schultz has been investigating methods to maintain the traditionally low alcohol style of German riesling in the face of global warming. According to Dr. Forrest, the initial step is to carefully select sauvignon blanc clones from specific vineyards and microclimates. Then, methods of vine de-vigoration are applied, such as the targeted removal of young basal leaves from vines at critical times, which are far more efficient at photosynthesis, leaving the less efficient older leaves to do all of the ripening work. The result is lower sugar accumulation but longer hang time, allowing full flavour development with less potential alcohol. This, and other “top secret” viticultural techniques, as well as less secretive winemaking techniques such as using low-efficiency yeast strains that pump out less alcohol per gram of sugar, have enabled Forrest to create this dry 9.5% alcohol sauvignon naturally, a first of its kind to my knowledge.

Forrest Estate The Doctors' Sauvignon Blanc 2011Forrest first applied his techniques to riesling with tremendous commercial success before turning his sights on Marlborough’s calling card variety. The 2012 is the third and most successful attempt to date, a wine in which he finally achieved the balance he was looking for.  Forrest needed one last little tweak: the addition of a small portion of slightly overripe/late harvested sauvignon to add a tropical fruit nuance that was missing from the previous trials.

While the Doctors’ sauvignon blanc may not make the angels sigh, I find it remarkably flavourful nonetheless, not to mention regionally and varietally accurate, for such a low alcohol wine – I have to marvel at the ingenuity of its production and the commercial potential. For anyone who enjoys Marlborough sauvignon blanc, or any other zesty-herbal white, and wants a low alcohol alternative with fewer calories and lower alcohol-related health (and moving violation) risks, this is worth trying. Forrest plans to share his research with others later this year.

Highlights From Top Ten Smart Buys

In this week’s top ten I’ve included two wines that are well above the price range normally recommended: 2010 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg ($50.00) and 2007 Manzone Gramolere Barolo ($51.95). The reason is simple: these are great value wines, period.

Weinbach Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling 2010Manzone Gramolere Barolo 2007The Schlossberg riesling is made by one of the most respected domaines in Alsace, from the world’s most noble white grape, grown in one of the top vineyard sites for the variety in all of northern Europe, in a classic vintage. $50 is actually a bargain. The 2010 is a pure marvel of the grape with a palpably gritty texture, riveting acids and striking salty minerality – this is all about vineyard expression with a minimum of winemaking interference. Be forewarned that this is not an immediately accessible wine, but rather one for both long ageing in the cellar and for terroir fanatics – a real intellectual challenge in the best sense. But those are precisely the qualities one looks for in premium wines – the fruity fluffy stuff can be made just about anywhere by anyone. (This wine is available in VINTAGES Classics Catalogue from February, so supply may be limited.)

I have a similar pitch for the Barolo: an historic estate making limited quantities of wine from Italy’s most aristocratic red grape grown in the legendary hilltop vineyard Gramolere in Monforte d’Alba, in a top, age-worthy vintage. ‘Nuff said. It’s just starting to open nicely now on the nose, showing its evident class and quality right off the top and textbook floral, red fruit, licorice, tar and violet aromatics. The palate is firm and very well structured, with wave after wave of palate-coating flavour and pleasantly grippy texture. It’s an expansive wine of genuine concentration and authentic complexity that can only derive from a unique combination of suitable conditions, i.e., a terroir wine.

Although $50 is a lofty price to pay for any bottle, I have to say that relative to the equivalent top wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Napa Valley for example, you could argue that these are outright giveaways. I’d say it’s where the smart money goes if you’re into the premium category.

See below for the link to the rest of the top ten. You’ll find more smart white wine values from the Loire and the Mosel, one of my favorites whites from Campania, sturdy reds from Calabria, Spain and the Languedoc, and one of the best values from California I’ve encountered in some time.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

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

From the May 11, 2013 Vintages release:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Rosé Selection
All Reviews

 Stags' Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

German Wine Fair - WineAlign Offer

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Wine education for us all – Rosé wine ~ Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

What’s all the blush about?  

What is rosé? Is it a red wine or a white wine?

Truth be told, it’s a little of both. With several exceptions, most rosé is made from red grapes using white winemaking methods.

There are two common ways of making the ideal summer sipper. The first is to simply crush the grapes and let them ferment with the juice for up to three days in stainless steel vats, after which the juice is ‘run off.’ Fermented at cool temperatures the same way white wine would be, the result is a very pale red (or pink) wine with a discernible white wine personality.

Chateau d’Esclans Garrus Rose

On the other hand, most of the world’s finest rosés are produced using the saignée method. This is a little more complicated. Instead of immediately crushing the grapes, they are left relatively unbroken to chill and macerate for up to two days, after which they are fermented like any other white wine; any ‘free-run’ juice is then drained from the vat and eventually bottled. Not surprisingly, this is more labour-intensive, and quality will depend on the experience and/or talent of the winemaker. Isn’t this always the case?

Chateau d’Aqueria Tavel Rose

So in what places is the best rosé produced? In France, great rosé can be found throughout virtually all southern winegrowing regions, particularly Provence, Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Southern Rhône Valley (most notably the Tavel appellation). In each case, the wine is typically a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, and Mourvèdre; though the style may vary depending on grape blends and the level of extraction involved. Delightful rosé can also be found in theLoire(the best made from Cabernet Franc), Burgundy (particularly the commune of Marsannay), and even Bordeaux. Spain and Italy also produce their fair share, under the names ‘rosado’ and ‘rosato,’ respectively. In each case, local grapes are commonly used, though Spanish versions are often more reliable, especially those made from Garnacha (Grenache).

In California, white Zinfandel was all the rage in past decades, crafted using the saignée method but with a much shorter maceration. However, the past ten years have seen white Zinfandel give way to darker-coloured, fresher, and much more potent styles. Many of these are crafted using whichever grapes the specific region is most famous for, or from whichever grapes are most widely available. Other than this, generalizations are hard to make, rosé is now so widely produced. Large-scale producers can be found throughoutCalifornia,South America,Australia,New Zealand, andSouth Africa. In each case, they will often taste much stronger and more extracted than their European counterparts, as well as possess a much darker colour. Not surprisingly, smaller producers with a good reputation are the ones to watch out for.

Most rosé can be easily enjoyed on its own, either as an aperitif on the summer patio or as an accompaniment to all sorts of dishes. While it may seem surprising, rosé pairs amazingly well, not just with seafoods and creatures formerly feathered but a wide assortment of foods. The ideal serving temperature is anywhere between 6 and 8°C. Just remember one thing: excepting champagne versions, rosé does not age. Particularly on this account, it is indeed neither a red wine nor a white wine.

Click here for a few gems from the 23 June 2012 Vintages Release.

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages May 12th Release: 90 Point Reds, Rosé, Alsace and French “Natural” Wines

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Last week colleague John Szabo covered off the featured themes in Vintages May 12 release – California, Rosé and Israel. It’s an intriguing release for the variation in its themes, and there are some very notable – if pricey – wines, especially from California. I will touch on some favourites in each theme but I have not tasted the full release this time due to an in-progress trip to France. So I also want to bring some fresh perspective to some items related to my travels. This month I am blessed to be spending one week in Alsace, one week in the southern Rhône and Provence, and a third in Burgundy. The theme of biodynamic and “natural” wines is popping up everywhere, so I have included some recent thoughts. Open a bottle of something you like and read along.

90 Point Cabs, Merlots and Blends
Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon

There are several big California reds coming out Saturday, yet another wave in a season that since Christmas has brought us dozens of heavy hitters. The best and most expensive on this release is Far Niente 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, but when looking for value I would put my money on Sequoia Grove 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley at $54.95. This house has been on the landscape for as long as I can remember, but not one that has attracted much attention. Sitting on the valley floor in Rutherford it just seems to blend in rather than stand out. But this well-structured, quite powerful and complex vintage leapt out of the line-up. 2007 was a great vintage for Napa cabs, the kind of year where you should always be looking for lesser known wines to rise up.

Recanati Reserve Single Vineyard MerlotChâteau FonplégadeSpeaking of California, have a look at the very California-like wines of Israel. The general quality level of the Israeli wines is very good, and Vintages has put together some interesting new names. Overall I was struck by the ripeness, richness and cleanness of the wines. Among the best is Recanati 2007 Reserve Single Vineyard Merlot ($28.95) from a modern winery founded in 2000. It draws grapes from several sites in Upper Galilee. I was struck by how well this wine captures merlot’s rich, soft, evenness. It could have been from Napa.

Château Fonplégade 2008 St-Émilion, Grand Cru Classé ($47.95) is actually a bit of a New World styled Bordeaux, quite ripe for 2008, very brightly made and layered in fruit. Not historically known as one of the best châteaux on the St. Émilion hillside it has fairly recently undergone a makeover and its quality has jumped.

And finally, the release also features one of the more serious Bordeaux style blends made in Ontario in 2008. This was a cool, wet vintage that, at the time, was expected to be a write off for red wines. But at Hidden Bench they practiced patience by letting healthy grapes hang as long as possible, then doing rigorous berry sorting. The result is the excellent 2008 Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage, Beamsville Bench at $35.20.

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage

In the Pink in Provence

Muga RoséChâteau d'Aquéria Tavel RoséI am writing this from a Canadian-owned Relais & Châteaux Hôtel Crillon le Brave in a medieval hilltop town at the base of Mont Ventoux, on the vinous boundary between Provence and the southern Rhône. I am wine-hosting 60 Canadians from Montreal to Vancouver who bid on a Gold Medal Plates gastro-cycling epic in support of Canadian Olympians. (We have raised almost $6 million in six years). We are in rosé country – the pale, salmon coloured wine that seduces in spirit, and brings a brisk, sometimes heady if subtle ambiance to any summery endeavour. The concept of light, dry pink wine was born in this region, made from a blend that usually includes grenache, carignane and syrah. Rosé seems to be drunk anywhere and anytime in this area, so we decided to put it to the table test, by drinking nothing but rose – some very local to the Ventoux region, some from the Côtes de Provence, and some from Tavel.

We ended our pink Provencal feast with Château d’Aquéria 2011 Tavel Rosé, being released Saturday at $18.95. This wine has come to Vintages every year of late. It’s a bright pristine example of France’s most famous pink, Tavel, a rosé that clocks in at an average of 14% alcohol, and pairs with just about any food you might want to serve on the deck. But I also want to draw your focus to a pristine, very light and crisp pink from northern Spain – which to be fair has a rosé heritage almost as robust as southern France. In terms of climate and terroir southern France and northeastern Spain are cousins – so no surprise about pink prowess. Muga 2011 Rosé from Rioja is a steal at $12.95. It is very light, dry and ultra-fresh – some may find it almost watery – but there is a fine precision at work here. Much classier than $13 suggests.

Electric 2010s of Alsace

Helfrich GewurztraminerI have just spent five days in Alsace, tasting about three hundred wines over 14 wineries. There was also a terrific tasting of over 40 biodynamic wines hosted by the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace (CIVA). I have written more about biodynamic and natural wines below, and I hope to write more in depth soon about this incredibly complex, terroir driven region. There are 13 soil types, 51 grand cru vineyard sites and over 900 producers in one of the oldest wine regions of Europe.

But I want to briefly alert you to an important and easily digestible insight. The 2010 vintage in Alsace is terrific. Growers are grumpy because bad weather at spring flowering reduced crop yields as much as 30%. But that is great for quality because it concentrated flavours in the remaining 70%. And it was a coolish year (especially compared to the ripe 2009s) and it has produced laser beam, poignant whites. I am delighted to be able to recommend Helfrich 2010 Gewürztraminer as a case in point. It is being released Saturday at only $19.95, and gewürz fans shouldn’t miss it. I tasted this wine before leaving for Europe and I was mightily impressed by its intensity and great tension.

The Motley Crus; France’s Natural Wines

I will discuss Alsace more in the weeks ahead, but I want to discuss this move to “natural” wines based on observations at a wine fair called Salons des Vins Libres that I attended in the town of Rouffach on my last day in Alsace. It brought together producers from all over France, plus Serbia. Not on my official itinerary I tagged along at the suggestion of Vincent and Brigitte Fleith who make biodynamic wines at their small family winery in Ingersheim near Colmar.

Foire Ecobio d’AlsaceWhen we arrived at the Salon I felt like I had stepped back into a farmers market in 1935. It was a completely agrarian event, and a community event, and a family event – as far removed from posh hotel ballrooms and Michelin restaurants as you could get. Although a Michelin starred sommelier from Strasbourg was there with an entourage, on a buying trip. Yes, one could buy wines! People arrived in jeans and sweaters with dollies to take wines to their Citroëns. Children played hide and seek among the stands; fromageries sold cheese; boulangers sold pastries; a chip truck sold frites in the courtyard.

And the wines were indeed an odd and motley collection of crus. I had more flawed wines in two hours than I have experienced so far this year in the Vintages tasting room. Oxidation, brettanomyces, acetic acid, bacterials and wines that smelled of stinky cheese. But – and this is a huge but – the wines had amazing structure, energy, textural perfection built of great balance, and incredible length of finish. And when I did taste examples that were also clean, the wines were thrilling.

This tasting posed serious questions about the “natural wine” movement – which is by definition organic and biodynamic. But more than that it is a philosophical, anti-establishment/anti-big movement. It is a revolt against clinical, squeaky clean wines. In a larger scope it is an agrarian revolt against urbanization, convenience and artifice.

So when do such funky wines become acceptable? I guess when one accepts them. That could take awhile in arenas like Ontario. Many of these wines would never pass LCBO tasting panel scrutiny. One producer I talked to actually had 30 cases of wines smashed by the LCBO because they contained too much of some substance that she didn’t know the name for in English, nor I in French.

For two generations now, ever since technology came to the world’s vineyards and cellars, we have become culturally attuned to cleaner and cleaner wines. And most who have invested in making these wines will not soon change their minds or abandon the world’s gleaming wine factories.

Regardless, tastes can change, and it is conceivable that this “natural” movement is the leading edge of a huge shift in wine taste. It is certainly embraced by sommeliers and writers who ferret out the latest trends, both in France and in Canada. And I will add my voice to those who are getting just a bit fatigued by the homogeny of modern wine and I will admit there is a certain appeal to the ideals of these idealists.

But how far can I go as a critic, who values purity as a cornerstone of quality? Well I certainly appreciate and enjoy the sense of energy and life in most biodynamic and “natural” wines. And I do like some degree of funk in my wines as well. But to me the fruit is sacrosanct. It too is natural, and flavours – intended or accidental – that divert my attention too far from that central pleasure, are negatives. Natural wines can’t be an excuse for bad wines, whether made out of ideological or slovenly practices.

And a Correction

In the last issue I discussed the LCBO’s new method for indicating sweetness levels in the wines, as it moves away from the numerical sugar scale. The new system measures not only sugar in the wines, but acidity as well, which gives us a much more accurate indication of how the wine actually tastes. But I made an error in saying that the acidity level reading was achieved by a taste panel. It, like the sugar, is actually measured in the lab. Watch for the new system – that indicates Extra Dry, Dry, Medium, Medium Sweet and Sweet wines to be rolled out in stores in the weeks ahead.

That’s it for this time. Onward towards Burgundy.

From the May 12th, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines

All Reviews


David Lawrason,
VP of Wine at WineAlign

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for May 12th 2012: Golden California, Spring into Pink, Limestone in Israel; Top Ten Smart Buys.

John Szabo, MS May 12th shines the spotlight back on the Golden State, though California is already golden in the eyes of LCBO-Vintages buyers – it’s the number one selling region in Vintages. I explore the secrets of their success and pick out the highlights from the release. Israel is featured with a selection of eight wines designed to underscore the country’s potential (it’s not a kosher wine feature). I take a closer look at one estate in particular, Clos de Gat, and pick out a pair of intriguing wines worth highlighting. And rosés are back on drinkers’, and LCBO buyers’ minds, with a dozen on offer May 12th. There was the usual wide variation in style, and my preferred three also made it into the top ten smart buys, covered in this report.

Top Ten Smart Buys: Rosés

Château la Tour de L'Evêque RoséRosés are featured in the May 12th release, and I found three exceptional bottles. The 2011 Château la Tour de l’Evêque Rosé Côtes de Provence is a long-time favorite and regular yearly listing at Vintages. It’s in the top-end price category (with two others at $18.95), but well worth the premium for fans of classic Provençal rosé. The château comes by its name honestly: in centuries past it was the summer residence of the Bishops of Toulon. In 1958 the property came into the hands of the Soumeire family, and in 2005 the vineyards became certified organic. The 2011, the first vintage made in a new gravity-fed facility, is typically dry and medium-full-bodied, with plenty of red berry fruit and wild Mediterranean herbal flavour, like a stroll through the Côtes de Provence at dusk.

The nearby Costières de Nîmes, on the other side of the Rhône delta, is the source of another excellent French rosé, 2011 Mas des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Rosé ($13.95). From a family with six generations of winemaking experience in vineyards from Bordeaux to Algeria, Mas des Bressandes is among the leading estates in the appellation. The rosé is a typical blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault, and is generously proportioned with ample wild herb and red berry flavour in a plumper, fuller style.

Muga RoséMas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition RoséAnd rounding out the recommended rosés, we go across the Pyrenees to Rioja and the delicate 2011 Muga Rosé ($12.95). Muga’s vineyards are in the Rioja Alta sub-region, where it’s notably cooler than the lower lying areas of the appellation. Like the French rosés, this too is based on garnacha (grenache) with 10% tempranillo and 30% of the white variety viura (aka maccabeo). The inclusion of viura makes this a particularly juicy example, bone dry, fragrant and lively, with tart, mouth-watering acids and light, red berry-strawberry-currant flavours.

Other top ten smart buys include a classic ten year-old Rioja for under $25, an excellent and characterful garnacha from the little-known Montsant DO next door to trendy Priorat, and an indigenous plavac from the Peljesac (pell-yeah-SHATZ) Peninsula in southern Croatia, a country whose wines have seen a huge surge in interest of late thanks in large measure to a visit from everybody’s favorite gastro bad boy, Anthony Bourdain, to film an episode of No Reservations. See the full Top Ten.


As mentioned in the intro, California is hot. Total US wine exports, driven 90% by California, were up over 25% by revenue from 2009 to 2010. And Canada is the number one country by value, purchasing almost $308 million worth of wine. (The entire 27 member European Union accounted collectively for $435 million, but breakdown by individual country is complicated by trans-shipments between EU members, so we’ll claim nº1).

But what’s most interesting to note is that volume of US exports to Canada was actually down by 23%, while value was up over 27% – that’s a huge swing, showing clearly that people are paying more, much more for California wine than in previous years. What’s the reason for this success? Aside from obviously very good wines with reputations to match, and a recovering economy, I’d say it has much to do with the relentless and effective marketing efforts of the California Wine Institute, of specific regional associations, and of individual wineries. Virtually every week I’m invited to at least one trade tasting of California wines, with producers or winery principals on hand to lead it. And consumers have plenty of opportunities to taste as well; for example, I’ll be co-hosting a WineAlign-promoted tasting with Etude’s (Sonoma) Jon Priest on May 16th, an event that sold out in a day at $65/person. The lessons to be learn? The market responds to education and to direct contact with wineries; marketing pays off.

But back to the wines: there’s a pair of terrific chardonnays in the May 12th release, which underscore a now-several vintages old trend towards, lighter, less oak-driven and more refreshing wines. The 2009 Talbott Logan Estate Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County ($26.95), is an excellent example, and a super value at that. Don’t worry, Cali hasn’t gone all Chablis on us; this is still rich and generous, and with 14.9% alcohol can hardly be called light and stony, but it has marvelous depth of flavour that’s certainly the equal of many wines at twice the price.

Talbott Logan Estate Sleepy Hollow Vineyard ChardonnaySonoma Cutrer Les Pierres Vineyard Chardonnay

And at about twice the price but also worthy is the 2009 Sonoma-Cutrer Les Pierres Vineyard Chardonnay ($49.95). Les Pierres has always been my favorite from Sonoma-Cutrer’s range of single vineyards, sitting atop an ancient riverbed thick with cobblestones and heavily moderated by fog off of San Pablo Bay. It consistently yields a tighter, leaner more minerally style of chardonnay. The excellent 2009 vintage resulted in a wine of distinction and class, with terrific length carried on generous but balanced 14.5% alcohol. It’s drinkable now, but will be better in 1-2 years.

Storybook Mountain Mayacamas Range Napa Estate ZinfandelRavenswood Old Vine ZinfandelOn the red side, there’s a pair of Zinfandels worthy of note, a grape to which I am rarely drawn even if it was first brought to California by a Hungarian, Agoston Haraszthy. It’s so frequently made in a likeness to motor oil (or sweet blush) that one could be forgiven for all but writing it off. If you, too, have become jaded, then try a little remedy in the form of Storybook Mountain Estate’s 2009 Mayacamas Range Napa Estate Zinfandel ($46.95). Zinfandel has been made at Storybook Mountain since 1880, and such history tends to regard current fashion with some disdain. It’s hardly inexpensive, but considering how classy, elegant, well balanced and above all lively this is, it may just make you a believer. In any case it’s a zinfandel of rare depth, intensity, minerality and freshness with a degree of complexity that should be the envy of those from the over ripe/raisined school of production.

I was happily surprised by the 2009 Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel, Sonoma County ($23.95). Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, considered one of the godfathers of California Zin, is also well known for his motto of nullum vinum flaccidum, or, “no wimpy wines”. So when I tasted this balanced example I could only guess that maybe Peterson’s getting a little wimpier (for the better) with age. This is still big and ripe to be sure, but with complexity well above the mean. There’s intriguing licorice, cherry, dried flower and spice aromas/flavours, while the palate is dense, full, well-structured but also balanced with bright acids, firm but moderate tannins and generous but not excessive (14.5%) alcohol. Terrific length, too, and well priced for discovery.

And speaking of tasting opportunities, if you missed getting a ticket to the Etude event, there’s a large Vintages-sponsored “Zinfinite Possibilities” Taste & Buy event on the same evening in Toronto where you’ll taste dozens of different wines in every style imaginable. Visit the Vintages website for details. See the full list of top rated California wines here, including wines from Shafer and Far Niente.


 Clos De Gat Ayalon ValleyClos De Gat ChardonnayIsraeli wines are also featured in the May 12th release, and though some are kosher, that’s not the theme, but rather a look at what the country can do. But despite the tight selection, there was evidence of erratic winemaking and over-exuberant use of wood. There was nonetheless enough to generate some real excitement for Israel’s potential. Of the estates on offer, Clos de Gat was clearly the most interesting, with vineyards in foothills of the Judean Mountains surrounding a 3000 year-old wine press (“Gat” is Hebrew for winepress). Thin topsoil over limestone bedrock is particularly well suited to quality grape production, and natural yeasts are used for fermentation. The 2009 Clos de Gat Chardonnay ($47.95) is an intriguing blend of old and new world style, offering generous alcohol, ripe orchard fruit flavours and full body, but underneath there’s significant minerality and marked leesy, nutty, rancid butter notes that’s more reminiscent of Burgundy. It’s well worth a look if you were under the impression that Israel couldn’t make fine wine. The red counterpart from the same estate, the 2007 Clos de Gat Ayalon Valley ($47.95), was less successful in my view. Although there’s the same sense that the terroir is really quite exceptional, the winemaking is heavy handed and obscures the potential distinctiveness.

Recanati Reserve Single Vineyard Merlot

My preferred Israeli red is the 2007 Recanati Reserve Single Vineyard Merlot, Galilee ($28.95). It’s crafted more in an old world style with marked herbal, crushed leaves and black tea flavours alongside ripe black berry fruit.

From the May 12, 2012 Vintages release:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Golden California
All Reviews


John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages May 28th – Burgundy Re-Visited, California Best Buys and Nifty Pinks by David Lawrason

Lawrason’s Take on Vintages May 28 Release – Burgundy Re-Visited, California Best Buys, Plunkett-Fowles of Oz,  Incroyable Le Croix de Gay, Alsace Muscat and Nifty Roses 
David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Burgundy Re-Visited

California and Alsace are featured on this release but I am writing this from Burgundy in France so it is difficult to not be thinking Burgundy. I am just finishing up a tour with a group of 60 Canadians from St. John’s to Vancouver who bid on an eight day trip to Provence and Burgundy through Gold Medal Plates, all to raise funds for the Canada’s Olympic athletes. We were accompanied by the young, incredibly poised and friendly freestyle skier Alexander Bilodeau, who won Canada’s first gold on Canadian soil last year in Vancouver. It was fun to watch him learning about wine – rushing out to buy his birth year vintage (1987). And it was also wonderful to watch others in the group catch the Burgundy bug and taste for themselves the intricacies of terroir, even though we all still struggle to verbalize it.  In short, if you don’t become fascinated by fine wine in Burgundy, it may not happen for you anywhere.
Domaine Latour Giraud Les Narvaux Meursault 2008Louis Jadot Beaune Clos Des Couchereaux 1er Cru 2007I had not visited for several years myself so it was great to return for a booster. Among the highlights, a preview tasting of several wines from Pascal Marchand, the Montreal-born, Burgundy raised winemaker who is now in a Burgundy-based partnership with Niagara vintner Moray Tawse (the wines will be coming to Vintages later this year).  Another highlight was visiting the small Domaine de Courcel where the charming, mischievous winemaker Yves Confuron pulled some stunning Pommards from his cellar. We also did great tastings at Chanson, Bouchard Pere et Fils and Louis Jadot, where each very generously offered wines from village to Grand Cru levels, exposing our group to the full quality range. Personally I re-discovered how much I love great white Burgundy, especially Meursault, and how fine many are from the 2008 vintage, with its great acidity. Before leaving Toronto I had made special note of DOMAINE LATOUR-GIRAUD 2008 LES NARVAUX MEURSAULT ($44.95) from the May 28 release, and now I understand why.  I also tasted several 2007 red Burgundies that if not powerful, are ripe and charming and just beginning to drink nicely. You can experience this yourself with  LOUIS JADOT 2007 BEAUNE CLOS DE LA COUCHEREAUX 1ER CRU being released Saturday at $42.95.
California Best Buys
Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2008Villa Mt. Eden Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006The May 24 release spotlights California. We have been so inundated with iconic often overpriced California labels that we are oblivious to some newer wineries, regions and styles that are emerging. This release begins to cover that territory – two excellent Sonoma pinots, Paso Robles syrahs, Lodi zinfandels, Santa Barbara chardonnay. There are a few pricy Napa wines still in the mix, and they still tend to under-deliver value-wise, but I was happy to find two exceptions. One is ROBERT MONDAVI 2008 FUMÉ BLANC from Napa Valley, at great buy at $22.95. The rest of the Mondavi portfolio has become largely uninteresting since the iconic property was purchased by Constellation, the world’s largest wine company, a few years ago.  But this Bordeaux-inspired, barrel aged blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon has held its quality course, and the price has continually declined. The other very good deal for Napa cabernet lovers is VILLA MT. EDEN 2006 GRAND RESERVE CABERNET SAUVIGNON at $24.95.  Villa Mount Eden has a long heritage as a Napa-based producer but has branched out to showcase specific varietals from specific regions.  The 2006 Napa cabernet (above) is a particularly well done for the price, with 8% malbec adding a bit of aromatic charm, and 24 months in French and American oak, providing layers of complexity.
Plunkett Fowles Stone Dwellers Merlot 2008Discovering Plunkett Fowles of Oz

Fans of New World Bordeaux-style blends should also reach for PLUNKETT FOWLES 2008 STONE DWELLERS MERLOT from the Strathbogie Ranges of Victoria in Australia. It’s a steal at $19.95. I only came to know this winery a couple of months ago when their companion Stone Dwellers Cabernet Sauvignon joined the slew of new regional Aussie wines that arrived this spring on the LCBO general list. The Plunkett family has made wine on a rolling plateau up in the Strathbogie Ranges north of Melbourne for almost 30 years, recently forming a partnership with the Fowles family. Together they opened a architectural showpiece winery and began ramping up their export program. There is just something in both their offerings so far that captures the essential, authentic character of cabernet sauvignon and merlot very well, dressed with exactly the right level of New World ripeness.

Château La Croix De Gay 2007Incroyable Le Croix de Gay
Chateau Le Croix du Gay is not one of the iconic estates of Pomerol in Bordeaux, but it is a very good property that I have followed somewhat over the years. So I was very surprised and delighted to see CHÂTEAU LA CROIX DE GAY 2007 land on this Vintages release at only $34.00. Either times are tough overall, or this specific vintage has failed to attract sales elsewhere. I suspect the latter because with all the fuss over great vintages like 2005 and 2009 those in the middle get lost.  As with the 2007 red Burgundies, I like 2007 Bordeaux in general for its ripe, charming if not highly structured style. Most of the growing season was nicely warm and dry so the grapes did ripen (the wines are not green). It was only that a cooler, wetter harvest robbed the grapes of a longer hang time and more concentration. So the 2007s are ready to drink sooner, indeed this is just heading into prime, and it is packing very good complexity.
Joseph Cattin Muscat 2009
Alsace Feature
Alsace is a mini-feature on this release with a half dozen wines that are decent, but fail to inspire. Over a long period of time I have sensed this general malaise with Vintages/LCBO selections from Alsace –most crowding just under the $20 price point. Whereas of course all of Alsace’s truly magnificent wines are more expensive (but not that much more expensive). The one that caught my eye on this release is JOSEPH CATTIN 2009 MUSCAT, a bargain at $14.95.  Muscat is always the under sung variety in Alsace, perhaps because its billowing aroma is just too exaggerated for those who with more refined and nuanced sensibilities. But whereas others in the release come across as a bit dull, this one soars, lifted by the ripeness of the fruit in 2009. It’s an ideal garden sipper when all around you is in  bloom.

Nifty Pinks

So far this season Vintages rose selection has not had many “must buys”.  There have been some good European versions, but those from the New World, including Ontario, have been all over the map. The problem, I think, is that producers in hotter climes like Chile, Australia etc just don’t know what to do with abundance fruit their regions deliver when it comes to pink wine. If they set out to make a simple, patio style of rose they have become too fruity, confected and sweet.  And they just can’t seem to make a more refined, dry style. Having just spent four days in the south of France, where I enjoyed rose at least twice a day, it is apparent that hot climates can indeed do it – with blends of the right grape varieties, including grenache, syrah etc.  So maybe the success of EMILIANA 2010 ADOBE RESERVA ROSÉ SYRAH from Chile’s Rapel Valley, has something to do with syrah as the base. Or maybe it has to do with the organic farming of the grapes. Anyway, at $11.95 this is a nifty, well balanced, restrained and fresh pink wine – the best deal so far in 2011 pink season.  For slightly more money spent closer to home you might also want to crack  a screwcap of the cabernet-based SOUTHBROOK 2010 CONNECT ORGANIC ROSÉ from the Niagara Peninsula ($18.95).
Emiliana Adobe Reserva Rosé Syrah 2010  Southbrook Connect Organic Rosé 2010
That’s it for now. Watch in the days ahead for a report on Vintages ShopOnLine selections that are going on sale.  Cheers,
To see all my ratings from the May 28th release click here.Cheers and enjoy, David

- David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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Perky Pinks – by Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d'Amato

In the world of wine, summer is inexorably linked to rosés. The refreshing nature of rosés and their versatility with both meats and fish makes them the perfect pairing for summer BBQs. For all of the many positive qualities of rosés, they have been unfortunately mistreated in North America. The perception that these wines are sweet, simple and stereotypically a “woman’s drink” is most definitely untrue as these selections below will prove. Besides, we women are complex creatures and wines worthy of our attention should present a challenge. The unfortunate reputation of rosés stems largely from the new world where the term “blush” became very fashionable more than a decade ago for sweet, inexpensive, mass-produced wines marketed mainly towards women.  However, rosé wines have been produced for far longer all over the world, in more varied and complex styles appealing to both sexes. Therefore, ladies, if the man in your life has reservations about sipping these stylish treats with you, you can tell him that only real men drink pink. In fact, in the summer in most of Europe, you’ll find just as many or more men enjoying a glass of refreshing rosé as women.

Rosé wines are most commonly produced in one of two ways. The most common way is called the saignée method, which begins the same way as all red wines do – the berries are crushed and then allowed to macerate (juice and skins remain together for the purpose of extraction of colour, tannins and flavour) before the fermentation begins. Once the desired level of pinkish colour has been achieved, the juice is separated, or “racked” from the must (skins and seeds) and the wine is allowed to ferment free of skins and seeds. Winemakers will sometimes rack away only a portion of the wine for a rosé, leaving some behind to benefit from an extra high ratio of skins and seeds, producing a concentrated red wine with a darker colour and more intense tannins.

The other method involves blending white and red wines to produce a pinkish colour. It takes only a small amount of red wine to give a white wine its pinkish hue. Most serious rosé producing regions eschew this method in favour of the saignée method.

Just in time for summer, here are some well-priced recommendations to get you energized for this most enjoyable of seasons:

Perrin Réserve Rosé 2010, Ac Côtes Du Rhône, Rhone, France, $15.95

Cono Sur Camenere Rosé Reserva 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $11.95

Malivoire Ladybug Rosé 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada, $15.95

Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Rosé 2010, Ac Costières De Nîmes Rhone, France, $13.95

Click here for a shopping list of these wines available at your nearest LCBO.

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for May 28th 2011: Chenin Blanc steals the spotlight; not so premium local rosés; avoiding Alsace, and top notch and top dollar California

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

In this article: Chenin Blanc Steals the Smart Buy Spotlight; Top Ten Smart Buys; Features Report: Where’s the Real Pink? Avoiding Alsace and Cali Confidential + Top Ten Wines from the California Feature (90+ points)

The May 28th Vintages release has a great collection of smart buys, but not one of the wines from the featured regions came close to making the list. The unlikely hero stealing the spotlight this week instead is Chenin Blanc from South Africa: 3 wines in three different styles, all valid and all superb, and though we’re all growing sick of the word, yes, they’re good value, too.

Not long ago, Chenin Blanc was maligned by South African winemakers as the ubiquitous local grape, best reserved for brandy production. It has so often been the case that natives don’t recognize the potential beauty or worldwide importance of what comes out of their own backyard precisely because it has always been there. A sort of inferiority complex sets in, and the belief that the old, the familiar and local must necessarily be inferior to something new, exciting and above all foreign. Canada, after all, certainly has no monopoly on inferiority, imagined or actual, (though I’m still quite sure that no one, inside or out of Ontario, will ever recognize Baco Noir as a world beater).

Like so many winemakers from Portugal to Italy to Greece to Hungary and elsewhere, South African winemakers disdained local grapes in favor of foreign, purportedly superior (mostly French) varieties, and chenin was all but forgotten (chenin too, is foreign, but it’s been in South Africa for so long – it was likely one of the first grapes introduced in the Cape by Jan Van Riebeeck in 1655 – and is so widely planted – still #1 with 18% of SA’s vineyard area – that I’m taking the liberty of considering it a local specialty). It certainly didn’t help that South Africans lived in relative commercial isolation until just a couple of decades ago, being effectively cut off from the exploration that would have eventually led them back home. Pretty much anything other than chenin blanc would sell on domestic markets for much higher prices, and since exports were, well, illegal, there was obviously no incentive to attempt to show the world the potential brilliance of South African chenin blanc.

Fortunately, times have changed. Today there’s a self-help group devoted to the grape with 69 members: The Chenin Blanc Association . The intro on their home page states: “It’s a little known fact, but a fact all the same, that South African Chenin Blanc wines are among the world’s finest”  Well, we are listening now. With a treasure trove of gnarly old vines, planted on some of the oldest viticultural soils in the world that impart a unique stony-minerality, and a world that is eagerly searching for some unique, distinctive regional specialties, times are indeed exciting for both chenin producers and wine drinkers.

A tremendous value not to be missed is the 2009 THE WINERY OF GOOD HOPE BUSH VINE CHENIN BLANC WO Stellenbosch $11.95. Remember: these are not intended to be loud, in-your-face wines. This one is all about grace and integration, and remarkable texture and depth. And hey, it’s 12 bucks! Can you really go wrong?

If you want a more amped-up version with power and punch, pull out an extra Sir Wilfred Laurier from your pocketbook and pick up the 2009 GRAHAM BECK BOWED HEAD CHENIN BLANC WO Paarl $17.95. This has plenty of ripe but fresh tropical fruit flavours with a stunning whack of chalky-minerality. Not a wine for your mother-in-law, in other words.

Midway in style between the intensity of the Graham Beck and the refinement of the Winery of Good Hope is perhaps the most outstanding of the three: 2009 KEN FORRESTER CHENIN BLANC WO Stellenbosch $17.95. After a start in the hotel industry, Forrester and his wife and young family purchased an old farm in Stellenbosch with a derelict Cape Dutch homestead and nearly abandoned vineyards. Most of the farm was planted to old chenin blanc vines, and rather than replant, Forrester set out instead on a quest to produce a chenin that could compete with any white wine in the world. As a founding member of the Chenin Blanc Association and a tireless international advocate for the grape, Forrester is in a sense, Mr. Chenin Blanc.
The Winery Of Good Hope Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2009 Graham Beck Bowed Head Chenin Blanc 2009  Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc 2009
Click here for the rest of the Top Ten Smart Buys, including a lovely Douro red from the excellent 2007 vintage. A brilliant traditional method bubbly for under $16, and a fantastically (and dangerously) drinkable German riesling for under $14

Features Report
As for the features this week, Cali Confidential, Alsace Alliance and Premium Ontario Rosés, here’s what you need to know:

Emiliana Adobe Reserva Rosé Syrah 2010Where’s the Real Pink?
Premium Ontario rosés? Forget it, they’re not in this release, unless a mini parade of sugary pink drinks is the new premium standard. It seems most Ontario producers are clearly focused on everything but rosé, bottling it as an afterthought, or at least engineering a medium-dry style to service the bus loads of blue haired tourists who travel annually to Ontario wine country. There’s nothing inherently wrong with selling wine, of course, though I do find it problematic to list this motley collection of white zin look-alikes under such a lofty banner. It could give folks the wrong idea. For the record, the best of the rosés in this release was in my view a wine from Chile: 2010 EMILIANA ADOBE RESERVA ROSÉ SYRAH Rapel Valley $11.95. Note that it’s also the cheapest.

Avoiding Alsace
“One of the world’s most distinctive wine regions, Alsace has a unique identity….” Says the LCBO catalogue. Agreed to be sure, it’s just that Alsace’s most unique wines will emphatically not be release on May 28th. I suppose the uncommonly challenging task of triangulating producer willingness, availability, price, agent competence and timing has eliminated all but a handful of rather mediocre Alsatian wines, the best of which is easily the 2008 TRIMBACH RÉSERVE RIESLING AC Alsace $25.95, even if it is not likely to set the world on fire. Nobody said it was easy to buy for 10 million people, and there’s no question consumers are suffering because of it.
Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2008

Cali Confidential
California, and especially the hyper-inflated luxury regions led by Napa Valley, is rarely accused of over-delivering on the quality/value scale. There’s no question that the quality is high, in fact in my books no fewer than ten wines in this release are outstanding (90+ points), from Napa, Sonoma and Santa Barbara counties. But then again, the average price in the Top Ten Wines from the California Feature is almost $46, so value remains in the eye of the beholder. Among the wines that I would consider buying is the2006 VILLA MT. EDEN GRAND RESERVE CABERNET SAUVIGNON Napa Valley $24.95. It’s an understated, balanced and refined version of Napa cabernet, in the style that anyone who has compared notes with me will recognize as the kind of wine that I’m drawn too. And at $25, it’s also more than fairly priced.

A little higher up the price ladder, but also a step or two up in concentration and complexity without sacrificing elegance, is the 2007 STAGS’ LEAP WINE CELLARS ARTEMIS CABERNET SAUVIGNON Napa Valley $49.95. I like the stylistic direction in which Stags’ Leap is heading, and now under the restrained hand of French winemaker Christophe Paubert, the wines look set to get even better. The ’07 Artemis is a cabernet of considerable refinement, not short on Napa richness to be sure, but balancing the power with a nice dose of juiciness and succulence, firm but honest and balanced tannins, and terrific length.

Devotees of syrah will want to consider the 2007 FESS PARKER RODNEY’S VINEYARD SYRAH Santa Barbara County $39.95. This is the wine’s VINTAGES debut, and it struck me with its floral, spicy, smoky and savoury character, complete with black pepper and fresh road tar in the way syrah fans love. It’s certainly rich and full but not heavy, with firm, grippy tannins, adequate acidity, and great length.
Villa Mt. Eden Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006  Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon 2007  Fess Parker Rodney's Vineyard Syrah 2007

From the May 28th Vintages release:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Top Picks from California
All Reviews

John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages May 14th – 2009 Rhônes, Rosés, Greece and VSOs

2009 Southern Rhônes, Pink Parade, Greek Whites in Bloom, A California Pinot Pair, Surprise Chilean Carignan, plus Best Buy VSOs (Vintages ShopOnLine)
David LawrasonThe May 14th Release has, as always, some pleasant surprises, which I have tried to isolate below, but in terms of value, there just seemed to be a lot of wines that are decent quality but not notably good buys, with scores regularly in the 85 to 87 range and prices hovering around $17.95, which seems to be an average Vintages price point nowadays. And fair enough if that is what the average Vintages shopper pays for a wine. The strategy for smart shopping then becomes finding the exceptions, and it often means buying a $17.95 wine from a less “important”, or “famous” or “comfortable” region. Vintages works hard to push prices of well known, and often overpriced, wines down, to which producers are likely to respond with less good quality wine (over the longer term).  Whereas, less famous wines eager for market share are likely to put as much quality into $17.95 as they can muster. Guess where I am looking.

2009 Southern Rhônes 
La Coterie Séguret 2009The selection of 2009 southern Rhônes falls firmly in the former camp. The Rhone Valley of southern France has become “important” of late. It always has been a go-to region for wine enthusiasts but it seems to be emerging now as a much more mainstream, warmer climate French region as cooler Bordeaux and Burgundy wrestle with their own style/price/quality demons.  Several good vintages in the last decade have helped the Rhône, including the now arriving and much heralded 2009s (a hot year in France). With this release however I feel that Vintages has aimed a bit low in terms of quality in order to maintain that $17.95 average, and I was never really excited by the selection.  Vintages has however been snappy about assembling this release, because less than 12 months we were all extolling the 2007s as they hit the shelves.
Part of my ho-hum response may also have been with the state of evolution of the wines. Both Vintages magazine and colleague John Szabo have explained the vintage in terms of quality and background so I won’t repeat, but it could be that these fairly ripe yet fairly sturdy wines were just reserved and quite blunt. I was seldom charmed.  But do try LA COTERIE 2009 SÉGURET CÔTES DU RHÔNE-VILLAGES ($15.95), a delicious blend that is pretty, poised and plummy and ready to go. Most of the rest need to go into the cellar, but in my books none were “must-buys”.

Rosé Steps Into Spring
Pink wines have been showing up in bits and pieces for several weeks now, but May 14 is the first full-on release. Again, I was a bit underwhelmed with the majority, because they were too simple and confected, or too weak or too one dimensional.  But I have found a pair at opposite ends of the style spectrum that have class and complexity.  MALIVOIRE 2010 LADYBUG ROSÉ from the Niagara Peninsula ($15.95) is a full throttle and well balanced blend based on cabernet franc with some background gamay and pinot noir. I love the way the cab franc redcurrant fruit is soften by strawberry/cherry from the other two varieties, and how it carries the power and presence the riper 2010 vintage creates, without too much heat. It’s a sturdy almost Tavel-like wine for summer dining, with Malivoire suggesting Mediterranean dishes like prosciutto wrapped in arugula , or warmed goat cheese on arugula and endive. The other pink pick is a nifty, much lightly, racy patio wine from northeast Italy.  I could see buying a case of  ZENATO 2010 BARDOLINO CHIARETTO at only  $11.95, and chilling it for a pool or dock get together.
Malivoire Ladybug Rosé 2010  Zenato Bardolino Chiaretto 2010

Greek Whites in Bloom
Domaine Gerovassiliou White 2009It has been Greek Week in Toronto with several producers gathering for dinners, seminars and a well attended Greek trade tasting on Wednesday. As I listened in at the well-run, trade seminar I was overwhelmed by the task Greece faces in bringing its wines to the world. There are over 300 indigenous grape varieties, with names that hard-to-pronounce, being grown in dozens of layered appellations, with names that are hard to pronounce, by over 500 wineries and 180,000 growers, with names that …..   So I guess Greece will  have to claim its share one wine at a time, capitalizing on its unique terroirs.  I would bet that many modern producers – who are as technically proficient and passionate about terroir as anyone these days – curse the day that retsina was ever invented. But every country has its Baby Duck.

Kourtaki MuscatIn the spirit of discovering something new and distinctive and very enjoyable I point you to DOMAINE GEROVASSILIOU 2009 WHITE from the region of Epanomi ($19.95). It’s an aromatic, exotic white in the gewurz/viognier camp that blends a grape called malagousia and another called assyritko, which is actually much more famous of the two. But at the seminar it was a 100% malagousia that caused the greatest stir; a variety rescued from the brink of extinction by Domaine Gerovassilou. Try this blend outdoors this summer and be amazed.  Another Greek highlight on this release is the sweet, wonderfully aromatic KOURTAKI MUSCAT from the island of Samos near the Turkish coast. Muscat of Alexandria is the most important and historic grape of the eastern Mediterranean – indeed so historic in this most historic corner of the globe – that is called the “Mother of All Grapes”.  Anyway, at $14.95 this wine just can’t be missed; chilled way down with some plain biscuits and cheese as the sun sets (or next morning for breakfast).

A Fine California Pinot Pair
Vintages is doing a good job with New World pinot noir these days.  It has become a far more exciting category (at least in the under $50 range) than Burgundy. And a good number are now emerging from California’s Sonoma Coast.  On May 14 comes a modern classic -FREEMAN 2007 PINOT NOIR.  It is not cheap at $44.95, but carefully constructed and delicious. Ken and Akiko Freeman are owners of this small winery based in Sebastapol, having spent almost twenty years preparing their dream winery, after being charmed out of Minnesota and into Sonoma. They were enamoured from the start with Sonoma coast, and sought vineyards only visited by coastal fog and planted in certain soil types.  It all seems to have paid off.  At half the price, and about five points less, I direct you to FLEUR DE CALIFORNIA 2008 PINOT NOIR  from Carneros ($19.95) as a less concentrated and complex but well balanced, perfectly drinkable and correct pinot noir for when you just want pinot but don’t feel like getting all poetic and passionate (about the wine).
Freeman Pinot Noir 2007  Fleur De California Pinot Noir 2008

Chile’s Carignan Surprise
Santa Carolina Dry Farming Carignan 2008When I was last in Chile and visited a winery called De Martino, I remember being mesmerized by a carignan-based red that had emerged from old, head pruned, non-irrigated, low yield vines on coastal hillsides far to the south, west of the Maule Valley.  At the time I was also just getting excited about the old vine carignan-grenache based wines from Priorat in Spain – to which I have been paying close attention ever since. There seems to be a whole new mid-palate dynamic to these wines – with internal combustion and tension related to power and minerality, not alcohol heat.  So I was delighted and surprised to see SANTA CAROLINA 2008 DRY FARMING CARIGNAN from the Cauquenes Valley show up on this release, and even happier to feel the force, for $16.95. The second part of the surprise was to see it coming from Santa Carolina, which has been one of the most conservative wineries of Chile, which until now has been all about cabernet, chardonnay. A corner has been turned.

Vintages ShopOnLine
And finally, for those who may have missed it, WineAlign is now reviewing the new releases of Vintages Shop On Line selections every month. Thanks indeed to Vintages for allowing all media to taste these wines, not just because it helps us expand our service, but because it gives all pundits a regular arena to keep our palates tuned to the world’s more expensive wines, to better continuously calibrate our ratings. There are very few $17.95 proficient but boring wines among this crew. But for two of the best values don’t miss Chateau La Arrivet Haut Brion 2007 Blanc from Bordeaux at $55, a magnificent, silky, barrelled blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc.  And don’t miss a 100% tempranillo, aged in French oak, from Rioja, Spain - Senorio de Cuzcurrita at only $35. Both wines scoring handily above 90 points.

To see all my ratings from the May 14th release click here.

Cheers and enjoy, David

- David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008