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Vintages Preview for April 26, 2014 (Part One)

Champagne and Bordeaux 2009-2010
By John Szabo with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Three out of five featured Champagnes in the VINTAGES April 26th are outstanding. But the main feature, red Bordeaux from 2009 and 2010, has a far less impressive hit rate. This is not the first time I’ve been disappointed by wines from these two celebrated vintages; many fall on the overripe, hard and violently oaky side, and it’s not just youthful exuberance. It’s a reminder of the clear and present danger of ‘calling’ a vintage across an entire (in this case, enormous) region. David Lawrason agrees, describing the release as “really slim pickings”. I’ve nevertheless highlighted a trio of engaging wines at fair prices, while Sara d’Amato and David also share their top picks.

The Stars Align on the Champagne/Sparkling Feature

There was plenty of synchronicity this week, with critics aligning on three of the five Champagnes on offer (with recommendations from at least two critics), and one trifecta, as close to a guarantee of quality as we can provide.

Marguet Père & Fils Grand Cru Brut Champagne 2006Moutard Père & Fils Cuvée Des 6 Cépages Brut Champagne 2006Fleury Blanc De Noirs Brut ChampagneMarguet Père & Fils 2006 Grand Cru Brut Champagne, France ($65.95). John Szabo – The vineyards are all grand cru, with Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs and Pinot Noir from old vines in the Montagne de Reims. Ageing on the lees for five years gives this a rich and powerful, nicely yeasty-toasty profile, while a lovely mix of orchard fruit and citrus/orange, along with toasted almonds, dried flowers and brioche notes to amp up the complexity. Dosage and acidity are nicely lined up and the length is terrific; lovely stuff, for current enjoyment or mid-term hold. Sara D’Amato – A powerful Champagne, classic, leesy and oozing with charm, it’s hard to tear yourself away from such a compelling bottle. Marguet prides itself on using sustainable and organic methods of production throughout their range. David Lawrason – This fine Champagne is a clinic on how well top vintage Champagnes can age. And it is much less expensive than many vintage Champagnes from the larger companies. This family firm in Ambonnay has been making Champagne for five generations.

Moutard Père & Fils Cuvée Des 6 Cépages Brut Champagne 2006, France ($87.95). John Szabo – An extra $20 buys you the top bottle on my list. The Moutard-Diligent family can trace its history in the southern part of Champagne known as the Côte des Bar as far back as 1642. But while most of the region has moved on to focus on just three varieties – pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay, this estate still grows three almost forgotten (but still authorized) champagne grapes: arbanne, petit meslier and pinot blanc. These are blended with the big three to make the “Cuvée des Six Cépages”. The 2006 is beautifully mature and toasty at this stage, with dazzling hazelnut, white chocolate and brioche aromas, and wonderfully creamy, intensely flavoured palate. It’s a very classy and refine champagne, drinking beautifully now. Sara D’Amato – Perhaps my top pick of this rather impressive sparkling feature. A must taste if Champagne is your weakness.

Tawse Spark Riesling 2012Schloss Reinhartshausen Brut Riesling Deutscher SektCharles De Cazanove Brut Rosé ChampagneChampagne Fleury Blanc De Noirs Brut, France ($54.95). John Szabo – The Côte des Bar is home to the first, and still one of the very few biodynamic vineyards in Champagne, converted in 1989. This cuvée has been made every vintage since 1955 when, it was created by Robert Fleury. The reserve pinot noir wines used to assemble this cuvée are aged in large oak foudre, adding a notably burnished, pleasantly oxidative flavour profile: toasted almonds and hazelnuts, dried fruit  and plenty of toasted wheat bread with honey. This will appeal to fans of traditional, mature Champagnes, or what the French call “le gout anglais”, suitable for sipping but even better for the table, and, say, a hazelnut-encrusted sea bass. Sara D’Amato – Looking for a bubbly to serve with your main course? This pinot noir Champagne offers a heavier weight and more substantial profile that can live up to a versatile assortment of main courses from fatty fishes to roast pork. I love the wild complexity of this highly memorable Champagne and its statement making character.

Charles De Cazanove Brut Rosé Champagne, France ($54.95). David Lawrason – This large one-million bottle company has been through several ownership changes and now belongs to a family-owned group. This quite delicate wine catches the essential, subtle fruity charm I look for in rosé Champagne. It’s a blend of 50% pinot noir, 20% pinot meunier, 15% chardonnay and 15% coteaux champenois rouge.

Schloss Reinhartshausen Brut Riesling Deutscher Sekt, Rheingau, Germany ($17.95). David Lawrason – It is very rare to see quality German sekt at VINTAGES, and not only is this a good example, it is very well priced. Riesling sparklings are often a bit one-dimensional with riesling’s acidity the focal point (eg Tawse’s Spark). In this example I actually found some Rheingau-based complexity and minerality, a fine German riesling with bubbles.

Tawse Spark Riesling 2012, Limestone Ridge Estate Vineyard, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($19.95). Sara d’Amato – A great sparkling riesling delivers a punch that traditional chardonnay based Champagnes just can’t quite achieve. Here is a lovely example of such a punchy, dynamic sparkler from a producer who focuses on Niagara’s star grape varieties. Both elegant and energetic with the sophistication worthy of a classy affair or decadent pairing with oysters.

The Bordeaux Rouge Release

While the 2009 and 2010 are widely considered to be back-to-back “vintages of the century”, and there are some absolutely monumental wines (see for example my review of the 2009 Château Margaux, tasted in a blind lineup last October), neither vintage offers carte blanche to buy across the board.

As Sara d’Amato points out, “this rather unremarkable release will have you happy you are a WineAlign subscriber, as it has but a few well-priced and satisfying wines. Heavy demand for these vintages means that they have been likely picked over and we are seeing what remains.”

Tasting the collection from the April 26th release, as well as many others that have come through in the last year or so, I find the quality spotty. Certainly in some cases at least the wines have moved into a dark period when the hatches are all battened down and there’s little pleasure to be had – in such cases patience is required – but they’ll be fine wines when they finally unwind.

But a good many of the ‘petit’ and mid-range châteaux appear to have been overly enthused by the clement weather, gleefully allowing ripeness and extraction to get away while they were busy placing big orders with local barrel makers to up the percentage of new wood in anticipation of uncommon fruit intensity. The end results are often baked, rippingly tannic and oaky, quite the opposite of what I’d hope for from Bordeaux (I can find that style of wine elsewhere for a fraction of the cost). Where a more even-handed, reasoned approach was applied, however, the results are excellent, and in some cases offer fine value.

Château La Croix Chantecaille 2009Château Haut Selve 2010Château Donissan 2010Over on the right bank, a château that seems to have gotten everything right without going over the top is Château La Croix Chantecaille and its 2009 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru ($29.95). John Szabo – This merlot dominant (2/3, with 1/3 cabernet franc), velvet-textured St. Émilion is certainly satisfying, ripe and plush, but with well-measured wood spice and enough succulent acidity to keep the palate focused. Best 2015-2026.  Sara D’Amato – Bordering the region of Pomerol, at a mere couple hundred meters from the vineyards of Petrus, Château La Croix Chantecaille produces some exceptional wines consulted on by Michel Rolland’s team. This is perhaps the most impressive wine of this Bordelaise feature which expresses the modern appeal of the 2009 vintage. Be prepared to carry away more than a bottle or two, especially at this price.

The Graves AOC south of Bordeaux on the left bank of the Garonne/Gironde (and the smaller more prestigious Péssac-Léognan enclave within it) are the source of some of the most reliable pleasure-price ratios in the region, as evinced by such wines as the 2010 Château Haut Selve, Graves ($21.95). John Szabo – A property established only late last century, yesterday in Bordeaux terms, Haut Selve has quickly become one of the leading players in the Graves, collecting an impressive haul of international medals of late. The 2010 perfectly strides that knife-edge of ripeness and freshness, allowing neither aspect to dominate, while delivering finesse and subtlety. This should be best after 2016 and hold into the mid ‘20s.

For solid sub-$20 Bordeaux, consider the 2010 Château Donissan, Listrac-Médoc ($17.95). John Szabo – It’s a firm, nicely balanced, lean but juicy Médoc, with dusty tannins, lively acids, and a nice mix of red and black berry fruit. Best now-2020.

Château Lamartine 2010Château Le Bourdillot Séduction 2009Château Le Bourdieu 2010Château Le Bourdieu 2010, Médoc ($20.95). David Lawrason – This is one of the more charming and better value entries in an otherwise rather underwhelming release of petits châteaux Bordeaux. No great depth or structure but it nicely shows the light-hearted elegance of the sandier soils near the Gironde estuary on the northern tip of the Medoc peninsula.

Château Le Bourdillot Séduction 2009, Graves ($18.95).  Sara d’Amato – The name is not wrong – the wine is rather seductive with impressive depth and structure for the price not to mention a voluptuous body and nicely integrated exotic spice. Somewhat modern and certainly appealing which is more a trait of the vintage than the region. Produced from 20-year-old vines and a straight 70/30 cabernet sauvignon and merlot blend.

Château Lamartine 2010, Castillon Côtes De Bordeaux ($16.95 ). Sara d’Amato – Castillon is a lesser-known appellation on the right bank of Bordeaux on the way to the city of Bergerac, near St. Émilion. It often produces wine of very good value from heavier, clay-based soils that are more suited to merlot-dominant blends. Surprisingly very good quality stems from this entry-level wine that has been machine harvested followed by grape sorting, cold maceration and finally 18 months ageing in concrete vats (an old world norm that produces consistently, solid results without unnecessary flavours of oak). I loved the traditional feel of this slightly earthy, sweaty blend brimming with charm.

Happening at WineAlign

Inniskillin logoFor our Ottawa area members, there’s an opportunity to join us for an exclusive dinner at Graffiti’s Italian Eatery in Kanata. Hosted by WineAlign’s Rod Phillips, Inniskillin winemaker Bruce Nicholson will guide you through a select offering of Inniskillin wines, each paired with a specially prepared gourmet dish. Bruce will speak about the unique viticulture and terroir of the Niagara region and talk about some of the history behind one of Niagara’s most iconic wineries. (Click her for more details)

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

From the April 26, 2014 VINTAGES release:

Champagne/Sparkling
Bordeaux Rouge
All Reviews

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


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Vintages Preview April 12 Release (Part Two)

Wines on the Cusp of Spring, California and Boisset
by David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Easter is late this year, which is entirely fitting because spring has been late too. It is trying to break through, and yes we are in a rush, but there is still cool weather ahead, particularly in the evenings. Not much lolling about on the deck for dinner even though the sun is not setting until almost 8pm. This week’s VINTAGES release provides a fitting selection of wines for the cusp, from springy rieslings to mellow chardonnays and pinots, to a few warm and cuddly reds. Last week John Szabo and Sara d’Amato featured Veneto’s rich smooth ripassos and amarones, and I would add two thumbs up to Monte Del Fra 2010 Lena Di Mezzo Ripasso Valpolicella And Zenato 2009 Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico in particular. But there are many more good buys out there, and I had to do some serious editing of all the wines I wanted to mention. Thankfully John and Sara have included some of them.

Before launching in however, a word on the California Wine Fair in Toronto which saw yet another year of jam-packed trade and consumer portions. There is always such buzz at this event – but from all accounts the trade portion was uncomfortably crowded. But it does explain why California wine has become the leader at VINTAGES and is moving up in the ranks on the LCBO general list as well. There was lots of back slapping and congratulating going on as the Californians and the LCBO brass took turns at the podium at the annual Toast to California lunch – and indeed the sales numbers are something to celebrate. The only negative word was by the LCBO’s Nancy Cardinal who warned, gently, that California be cautious on pricing and value in the face of hot competition. To be more blunt, I think California owns the worst price quality ratio at the LCBO today. And I might have also added a warning to dial back on the creeping sweetness in their lower end red wines in particular. I love California as much as anybody else in that room, but what I was thinking, and what others were saying in the hallways, needs to be said aloud as well.

The dashing Jean Charles Boisset dashed through Toronto as part of the California Wine Fair – where he addressed the luncheon and explained why it is that a Frenchman is so infatuated with California, and how he is tuning California’s exuberant fruit to a more elegant French sensibility at the wineries he now owns – De Loach, Raymond and Buena Vista. Before the fair he gathered local scribes to taste through some of his California and Burgundy wines under the JCB label, and they were really very fine, polished and exacting. I particularly loved a new pinot noir called Maritus that is comprised of 47% Burgundy-grown pinot shipped to California where it was blended with 53% Sonoma pinot. Very, very fine indeed! About 20 cases will be offered in Ontario in the months ahead at $123.00.

The Stars Align
(Wines independently highlighted by two or more critics)

13th Street 2011 June’s Vineyard Riesling, Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95). John Szabo – 13th Street’s June Vineyard, planted in 1999 to the less common Riesling clone 49 from Alsace is particularly rich in decomposed yellow limestone, which one supposes contributes the wet rock/limestone minerality to complement a nice mix of citrus and orchard fruit. The overall impression is less of fruit and more of savoury-earthy flavours, while the off-dry palate lingers impressively. Fine concentration and depth overall – one of the finer June’s rieslings in recent memory. David Lawrason – Of a wide international selection of rieslings on this release, the “June” is the most intriguing. Sourced from a single, limestone strewn vineyard it offers lift, complexity and structure and a particular spice I am finding more often now as Niagara’s riesling sites mature.

Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2011 Rolf Binder Highness Riesling 2012 13th Street June's Vineyard Riesling 2012Rolf Binder 2012 Highness Riesling, Eden Valley, South Australia ($18.95). David Lawrason –This is a pretty, complete and bright wine. It was made by Christa Deans, daughter of founder Rolf Binder senior. She has worked in Champagne and is now focused solely on white wine making, bringing a soft touch (without resorting to exaggerated sweetness) to a genre more often displaying hard edged virility.  Sara d’Amato – The softer, more floral style of Australian riesling, in this case primarily sourced from the Eden Valley, is delightfully represented here. Certainly approachable but not a pushover, the wine delivers an abundance of nervy tension and excitement. Formerly known as “Veritus”, this well-respected house, steeped in history is now run by a dynamic duo of siblings and focuses on producing premium Barossa wines.

Bachelder 2011 Oregon Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($29.95). David Lawrason – As much as Oregonians like to see their wines as cooler and more Burgundian than California, many Oregon chards and pinots are still a bit blowsy in my books. It has taken a Canadian who has worked in Burgundy to create a wine that has some real leanness and tension. Nicely done Mr. Bachelder. Sara d’Amato – Bachelder’s Oregon chardonnay lacks immediate appeal – in fact, it is a bit of a head scratcher at first. It requires patience and an adventurous spirit to fully reap the rewards of this complex and slowly unveiling beauty. There is something quite reminiscent of Chablis in the wine’s verve and tautness along with its chalky and slightly lactic character. Be sure to sip this over the course of the evening as not to miss a moment of its quiet evolution.

Newton Johnson Pinot Noir 2012Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2011Newton Johnson 2012 Pinot Noir, Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa ($26.95). David Lawrason – Excellent value here in an authentic cool climate, pale and almost lean pinot that will intrigue Burgundy fans. In March I spent two days in this serene “Heaven and Earth” Valley near Hermanus; a breeding ground for terrific, cool climate pinots and chardonnays, and I too am now convinced that the area down the coast southeast from Cape Town – and I include Elgin and Elim – is a bona fide pinot region. John Szabo – Newton Johnson crafts elegant and refined pinot noir from the light granitic-sandy soils of the upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, and this is a fine example of the house style. Don’t be deceived by the pale colour, however, as this packs in great length and depth for the price. The region clearly has another serious player to join the ranks of pioneers like Hamilton-Russell. Best now-2018.

Domaine Drouhin 2011 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($39.95). Sara D’Amato – Everything about this bottle looks French and one could easily both purchase and consume this wine without being the wiser. Inside and out it is elegant and refined and offers a highly complex palate. Long established for over a century in Burgundy, the house of Joseph Drouhin has become a critics’ darling. Its roots in Oregon go back to the mid-80s when current winemaker Veronique Drouhin (daughter of Robert Drouhin) touched down in the state after receiving her Masters in enology. Feeling a real sense of connectedness and appreciation of place, she and her brother Philippe (viticulturalist) manage this impressive US property. John Szabo – Drouhin’s 2011 Dundee Hills pinot is a pleasantly earthy, rustic, savoury and spicy wine in the classic old world style, complete with grippy, dusty tannins and saliva-inducing acidity and minerality. Length and depth are superior. In the end, this comes off as a very well made, woodsy, old world-inflected pinot, and should appeal to pinot noir lovers from both sides of the pond. Best after 2016.

Lawrason’s Take

JCB N° 21 Brut Crémant De Bourgogne ($27.95). The JCB brand involves both California and Burgundy wines. This excellent cremant could pass for Champagne, such is its tight core and generous, complex flavours. Jean Charles Boisset said they worked on finding the right balance for eight years before finally putting this wine on the market last year.

Aquinas Philospher's Blend 2009Perrin & Fils Réserve Côtes Du Rhône Blanc 2012J C B N° 21 Brut Crémant De BourgognePerrin & Fils Réserve 2012 Côtes Du Rhône Blanc ($14.95). Since tasting Perrin’s stunning white Châteauneuf-du-Pape a couple of years ago, then subsequently the white Coudelet and even the diminutive La Vieille Ferme blanc, it has become obvious this family is turning out some of the best whites of the Rhône. No exception here – great polish, fruit and balance. At a super price!

Aquinas 2009 Philospher’s Blend, Napa Valley, California ($32.95). I approach moderately priced Napa wines with skepticism. Often they are inferior wines trading up on the Napa name. This is an example of one that delivers quality on target – very much the philosophy of this winery. Winemaker Greg Kitchens has compiled a quite elegant, complex red based 79% on cabernet with merlot and 6% petit sirah that fills in the corners.

Dominio Del Plata 2012 Crios Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($13.95). It’s not hard to find inexpensive fruit-packed malbec nowadays but it is hard to find examples with some elegance, flair and fun drinkability. Susanna Balboa has found the secret in this straightforward, well priced “Crios” brand.

Crios De Susana Balbo Malbec 2012Concha Y Toro Marques De Casa Concha Carmenère 2008Jim Barry The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Concha Y Toro 2008 Marques De Casa Concha Carmenère Peumo, Rapel Valley, Chile ($19.95). Carmenère, the late ripening cabernet-like grape that Chile has adopted as a speciality, is undervalued up and down the price spectrum. It is capable of wines of great structure, complexity and depth when it ripens well. And Peumo has turned out to be prime terroir. This wine borders on the majestic – very impressive indeed and almost sinfully cheap for the quality it delivers.

Jim Barry 2010 The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia ($26.95). Jim Barry is based in the Clare Valley but the family purchased 14 acres of old cricket pitch within the Coonawarra appellation and planted it to cabernet. Under third generation winemaker Tom Barry the wines are showing great lustre and depth and this cabernet sourced both from Coonawarra and Clare is fine example at a very fair price.

Sara’s Sommelier Picks

Fielding Estate 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Beamsville Bench, Ontario, ($18.95). An even-keeled sauvignon blanc that is just perfectly ripe without the green, overtly grassy character often associated with the varietal yet it still boasts a juicy, vibrant palate. Fielding has really struck a wonderful balance with this sauvignon blanc making it one of the best I have tasted from Niagara in recent memory (and at a price almost anyone can swallow).

Ulisse Unico 2012 Pecorino, Terre Di Chieti, Abruzzo, Italy ($19.95). Here is a wine that scores highly on everything from complexity to approachability and exhibits terrific energy and purity of fruit. Open, expressive and easy on the wallet. A romantic detail: “pecora” in Italian means “sheep” and the name of this varietal is attributed to the contribution of the sheep grazing the mountainsides where this varietal produces its most enticing berries.

Tawse 2011 Sketches Of Niagara Cabernet/Merlot, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($20.95). Classically styled but undeniably approachable, this Bordeaux blend from the careful hands of Tawse winery is a terrific value. The 2011 growing season in Niagara was a bit of a mixed bag with cool, rainy months followed by a hot and dry period and then a rainy harvest, which produced an unpredictable vintage of sorts. Tawse certainly seems to have managed well with this charming, harmonious and polished blend.

Fielding Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013  Ulisse Unico Pecorino 2012  Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Cabernet Merlot 2011  Trivento Amado Sur Malbec Bonarda Syrah 2012  Château La Croix De Gay 2010

Trivento 2012 Amado Sur Malbec/Bonarda/Syrah, Mendoza, Argentina ($16.95). A fresh, modern wine that blends three red varieties that have found solid roots in Argentina. A memorable wine with wide appeal and plenty of grip and spunk – one of the top red values in this release.

Château La Croix De Gay 2010, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France ($47.00). Not to be missed – a stunner of a Pomerol that features impressive depth and complexity, even for the price. The wine is gracefully ageing and really beginning to reveal itself at this stage so can be consumed now or, happily, over the next 5 years. As is the right bank tradition, this is primarily a merlot based red with a relatively small dose of cabernet franc. Surprisingly, this is one of only two French reds in this release.

Szabo’s Smart Buys

L'Ecole No. 41 Red Wine 2011Godelia 2009 Red BierzoGodelia Red 2009, Spain ($20.95). In the last half decade, Bierzo has emerged as one of my favorite red wine appellations in Spain. Old vines, reasonable prices and a singular freshness rarely found in other parts of Spain contribute to the appeal. This is another fine, fragrant example of mencía, replete with dark berry fruit and violets, succulent and mouth filling palate with undeniable density and genuine old vine concentration (40-80 years old). It’s the sort of wine that makes you wonder why you would ever spend $20 for a basic commercial wine with barely half as much character. Best now-2021.

L’Ecole N° 41 2011 Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($29.95). This “Red Wine” (blend), sourced from several Columbia Valley vineyards as well as the press fractions of the L’Ecole Nº41’s estate fruit, is a maturing, evidently very rich and ripe red from this Washington State pioneer. The palate is dense and compact, firmly structured, and certainly as concentrated and deep as many Californian wines at twice the price. It will definitely appeal to fans of full bodied and powerful red wines. Best now-2023.

Julicher 99 Rows Pinot Noir 2010Cuvée Benkovac 2010Julicher 99 Rows 2010 Pinot Noir Te Muna Road, Martinborough, North Island ($24.95). This is a savoury, concentrated, generously extracted but balanced Martinborough pinot noir from a vineyard on the celebrated Te Muna Road Terrace and its alluvial gravel soils, purchased by Wim Julicher in 1996. I find this captures the savoury essence and wild fruit nature of the region accurately; this won’t be mistaken for Burgundy, but so much the better for its authentic regional character. Depth and concentration are well above the mean, and this should be taken seriously by pinot noir fans of all stripes. Best now-2020.

Cuvée Benkovac 2010 Croatia ($15.95). What an intriguing value this blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, grown in the coastal Dalmatian vineyards of northern Croatia is: savoury, spicy, resinous and potpourri scented, with a touch of leathery brettanomyces and volatile acidity to be sure, yet it seems to works well in the ensemble. Tannins are light and dusty, by now more or less fully integrated, while savoury dried fruit lingers. Well worth a look for fans of savoury, traditional old world wines done well.  Best now-2019.

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

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the April 12, 2014 VINTAGES release:

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

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


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Championship Round: “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

Season 4 is a Wrap! Who will come out Victorious?

We have sadly come to the end of So, You Think You Know Wine? – Season 4.  This departure from the previous critic-against-critic challenge of past seasons was very exciting and full of energy. This time the competition had a game show/family feud feel with tasters battling against each other in teams, rather than individually.

Season 4 was certainly a big learning experience for us, as we had originally thought that working in teams would make it easier for the competitors to identify the wines. We soon discovered that teamwork is not always an advantage. We watched despairingly as the critics sometimes strayed from their first, and usually correct, instincts and wandered down a completely different path. But, we also saw teams almost perfectly guess certain wines, like in this, the final, episode.

Click here to watch The Final Round, as Raiders of the Lost AOC battle it out against Whole Bunch Press, or read on for highlights from the last round.

RaidersAOC

WholeBunch

Highlights and Score from Round #8

In the second semi-final round, the last-placed (or as Rhys reminds us, “4th place”) Whole Bunch Press faced The Inglorious Bitters, who were in first place. Whole Bunch Press were on the right track when they guessed California as the place the wine came from.  They said it had “the plush texture of California.”  Unfortunately, they guessed that the grape was Merlot, not Petite Sirah, and they thought it was from Sonoma, not Napa.

The Inglorious Bitters also had a tough time identifying Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah.  Because of the high alcohol level, and very ripe, almost dried grape notes in the wine, they concluded that it was an Amarone from Veneto, Italy.

In the end, Whole Bunch Press won the round and went on to the Championship round against the Raiders of the Lost AOC.

The scoring remains the same as past episodes, with points for Variety, Country, Region, Appellation and Vintage, and a little less emphasis on Price this season. After 8 rounds the totals are in and the Semi Final match-ups have been set:

So, You Think You Know Wine? Scorecard

 

Season 4 For those of you new to our video series, “So, You Think You Know Wine?”, we have saved all previous episodes under the Video tab.

We hope that you found this new format entertaining and that you had as much fun watching as we did filming. As usual, please send your comments to feedback@winealign.com and feel free to share this video with your friends and family.

So, You Think You Know Wine?

Special thanks to our glassware sponsor, Schott Zwiesel, for their beautiful glasses and carafes used during filming.

Previously on “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

Espisode 4.1: California Square Russian River Chardonnay

Episode 4.2: Louis M Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Episode 4.3:  Travaglini Gattinara

Episode 4.4: Finca Decero Malbec

Episode 4.5 Paul Zinck Eichberg Riesling

Episode 4:6  Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz Viognier

Episode 4:7 Semi-final #1 The Chocolate Block

Episode 4:8 Semi-final#2 Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah

 


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Vintages Preview for April 12th 2014 (Part One)

Dried Grape Wines Back in the Spotlight
by John Szabo, with notes by Sara d’Amato

Judging by the recent flurry of releases, first from Ontario (see the February 15th release) and now from Italy, appassimento wines – made from grapes partially dried before fermentation – are a hot commodity. April 12th puts the Veneto, the world’s reference region for dried grape wines, in the spotlight, with VINTAGES offering a competent selection of both traditional and modern styles of ripasso, Amarone and other IGT blends. I offer a half-dozen recommended wines, including three Amarones, loosely categorized by style. Sara d’Amato adds her picks, and we have dug up a handful of Ontario examples still in stock at VINTAGES. The rest of the highlights for the April 12th release will reach your inbox next Thursday.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The Veneto region in Italy’s northeastern corner is the epicenter of production of appassimento wine. The term, derived from the Italian verb appassire, to wither or dehydrate, refers to wines made from grapes that are partially dried before being pressed and fermented. Cassiodoro, minister to King Theodore of Ravenna (in today’s Emilia-Romagna), described the technique in meticulous detail in the early 6th century, and the wine he references, acinaticum, is the archetype for today’s Recioto della Valpolicella.

Cassiodoro recommended hanging grape bunches on metal hooks from the rafters in a draughty barn, ensuring that each bunch was kept separate and well ventilated, lest unwanted rot set in. But while this romantic image of withering grapes in old barns with open windows may still be conjured up by the mention of Amarone or Recioto, modern appassimento methods resemble more research laboratory than medieval farmhouse.

Appassimento from Sordato.it

Appassimento from Sordato.it

Speak to Amarone producers today and they’ll tell you about dehydration and metabolic kinetics, and the interaction of withering time and speed on wine composition. The metabolic changes that occur during drying – malic acid degradation, oxygen consumption and CO2 production, the formation of various alcohols, acetic acid and aromatic compounds like terpineol (floral, lilac perfume) are far better understood than Cassiodoro could have ever fathomed. Most estates have laboratory-like temperature and humidity controlled drying rooms, with ventilators that run continuously, not just when the evening breezes pick up, so that precise characteristics can be sought. Such a highly prescribed appassimento process yields a much cleaner, more reliable product than even just a few decades ago, with far less loss due to rot and other cryptogrammic diseases. Amarone drinkers rejoice, unless of course you had a penchant for the funky old days.

Here in Ontario, appassimento is gaining in popularity, with at least ten wineries now experimenting with dried grape wines, as well as one each in Nova Scotia and Québec. These numbers will surely swell when The Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) at Brock University reveals the results of an ongoing, in-depth research project in partnership with industry to evaluate and compare different appassimento techniques, now in its 4th of five years. Ontario may be poised to become the second epicenter of appassimento.

CCOVI Greenhouse

CCOVI Greenhouse

Using cabernet franc from one vineyard, CCOVI is comparing the results of drying grapes (to 26º and 28º brix) in a barn with windows and fans (at Cave Spring), in a re-purposed tobacco kiln with a propane heater and fans (at Reif Estate), in a greenhouse (European Planters in Niagara-on-the-Lake) and using a specialized drying chamber developed by Vineland Research Station CEO Jim Brandle and bio-systems engineer Bernard Goyette in conjunction with Graham Rennie of Rennie Estates and John Young of Kew Vineyards and Angels’ gate.

A trial was also initiated this year to answer the age-old question of whether noble rot (botrytis), at least in small percentages (up to 10%), is desirable, while a promising yeast strain, isolated at Brock from the skin of Icewine grapes, is being tested to see if levels of acetic acid and acetone – two regular but unwanted features of appassimento wines – can be naturally reduced.

Sensory evaluation of the resulting wines is underway and will be compared to the wine made from control grapes left on the vine to ripen to the same level, as well as to wine made from the same fresh grapes.

“It’s already clear that each technique brings different results”, says research director Dr. Debbie Inglis. “Even grapes dried off the vine continue to undergo biochemical activity, meaning that there’s more than just dehydration (water loss) going on”. Glycerol increases and acids decrease at different rates according to treatment, and each variety will surely bring its own set of curves to the graphs.

In the end, CCOVI’s goal is simply to quantify the differences of the various techniques, not to say which makes better wine or which grapes to use. “We will give winemakers the information of what happens and how much it costs so they can decide which works best for them. It’ll be up to the industry to determine which style of wine they’d like to pursue” continues Inglis.

COVVI is also in discussions with the VQA technical committee, with the ultimate goal of assisting in developing industry standards, though anything formal is still years away.

In the meantime, get your appassimento fix with these recommended wines from the ancestral home, coming to you on April 12th at VINTAGES.

Traditional Style

Think of these as the more savoury, rustic, earthy styles, for fans of traditional European wines.

Bertani Villa Novare Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2010 Michele Castellani Colle Cristi Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2008Brigaldara Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2009 2009 Brigaldara Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico ($49.95). The Cesari family purchased the villa and surrounding lands that is now Brigaldara in 1929, though wine has only been made here since 1979. The sensibility is, however, firmly old school, as this dried fruit, nuts, herbs and pot pourri-scented Amarone reveals. There’s even a pleasantly earthy, underbrush/dried peach note reminiscent of late harvest/botrytis affected wines (possible?), nicely balanced by the typical bitter dark chocolate flavours of classic Amarone. Not at peak yet to be sure, this should hit full stride within the next 5-7 years or so.

Michele Castellani 2008 Colle Cristi Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico ($45.95). This is a relatively light and delicate, savoury, old school example of Amarone from Castellani’s Cà del Pipa vineyard in the heart of the Classico appellation, with loads of charm and great balance. Tannins are fine and dusty, almost but not fully resolved, so tuck this away for another 2-4 years minimum for maximum enjoyment.

Bertani 2010 Villa Novare Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore ($19.95). Bertani, formerly known as Villa Mosconi, is credited with labeling the first bottle of Amarone in 1940. It’s not surprising then that this storied house produces an arch-traditional example of ripasso, and all the more complex and interesting for it. The palate is firm and juicy, wonderfully balanced, coming across as neither excessively raisined nor simple and fruity – the way old school ripasso should be. Best 2014-2020.

Balancing Tradition with Modernity

These wines manage a fine balance of clean, bright fruit alongside more traditional savoury flavours in a style that should appeal broadly.

Zeni Costalago 2012 Tommasi Crearo Della Conca d'Oro 2010 Zenato Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2009 Zenato 2009 Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico ($49.95). Zenato’s Amarone offers substantial caramelized fruit, herbal liqueur, bitter chocolate and spent coffee ground type flavours – in other words, complexity comfortably above the average, while the palate is thick, rich and viscous, densely knit, with superior concentration and length. Overall this is a fine bottle of wine, which will continue to evolve and improve over the next 4-7 years no doubt, and hold into the late ’20s without a stretch.

Tommasi 2010 Crearo Della Conca d’Oro ($19.95). Though labeled as an IGT Veronese, this wine hails from the heart of the Valpolicella Classico zone in what’s referred to as the Conca d’Oro, the golden amphitheater with its volcanic clay soils referred to locally as crearo. It’s the addition of cabernet franc to classic corvina and local oseleta that takes this out of the traditional appellation. In any case, the wine is quite fine, fresh, supple, succulent and balanced, with a fine mix of both fresh and raisined fruit, dried herbs and flowers and gentle baking spice. Complexity is above the mean, and I’d say this will continue to evolve and gain interest over the next 2-4 years and beyond. Best 2014-2020.

Zeni 2012  Costalago, IGT Rosso Veronese ($15.95). Of the entry level appassimento wines on offer this release, this blend of corvina, corvinona, plus cabernet and merlot is the smartest buy. It’s a nice mix of modern and traditional, fresh and gently raisined fruit, retaining an inviting liveliness and juiciness. Length and depth are modest, though appeal is broad. Best 2014-2017.

Sara’s Appassi-Picks

Tenuta Sant’antonio 2010 Selezione Antonio Castagnedi Amarone Della Valpolicella ($43.95). Four brothers, 50 hectares of vineyards and a heck of a lot of experience are responsible for this very good value Amarone named after the late Castagnedi patriarch. Here is a wine with the structure, presence and intensity you would expect from a wine of this style. Put away for another 3-5 years for best enjoyment.

Monte Zovo 2011 Sa’ Solin Ripasso Valpolicella ($17.95). A polarizing wine – ripe and rich but with more depth that character than immediately meets the tongue. I absolutely loved the notes of cherry, bramble, sandalwood, dried leaf, tobacco, plum, and wild blackberry that came to life on the palate. Its long, smoky finish proved sensual and compelling. I’ve tasted this vintage twice now over the span of two years and continue to derive great enjoyment from its lush and penetrating flavours. At this price, it is worth a gamble.

Tenuta Sant'antonio Selezione Antonio Castagnedi Amarone Della Valpolicella 2010  Monte Zovo Sa' Solin Ripasso Valpolicella 2011 Tedeschi Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2009  Zenato Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore 2010

Tedeschi 2009 Amarone Della Valpolicella ($39.95). Tedeschi’s style has been on the thick and sweet side of the Amarone as of late and certainly modern. I tend to shy away from this overt and filling style and so I was delightfully surprised to taste this latest incarnation from the 2009 vintage. It is bold and appealing but also feminine, floral and with a plethora of distinct flavours that can be progressively discerned. Widely appealing and deservedly so.

Zenato 2010 Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore ($25.95). Finally, Zenato’s Ripassa struck a chord with me. This is an expensive Ripasso, as the style goes, but one which consistently over-delivers for the price. The elegant vintage showed some real restraint on the palate and a judicious use of oak that was quite welcome among many flaming examples in this feature. A smart buy.

Ontario’s Appassimentos

The following appassimento reds made in Ontario are also still in stock at VINTAGES. Click the links to read full reviews.

The Foreign Affair 2011 Dream, Niagara Peninsula ($28.95)

The Foreign Affair 2009 Temptress, Niagara Peninsula ($44.95)

The Foreign Affair 2012 The Conspiracy, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)

Burning Kiln 2012 The Strip Room Merlot/Cabernet Franc, Ontario ($24.95)

Marco Piccoli, Jackson-Triggs

Marco Piccoli, Jackson-Triggs

Speaking of Ontario, you might want to buy one of the few remaining tickets for this week’s Winemaker’s dinner. David Lawrason and Jackson-Triggs winemaker Marco Piccoli will guide you through a select offering of Jackson-Triggs wines, each paired with a specially prepared gourmet dish at EPIC restaurant in Toronto. Marco will speak about the unique viticulture and terroir of the Niagara region and talk about some of the history behind one of Niagara’s most iconic wineries. Find out more here.

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

John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

From the April 12, 2014 Vintages release:

Wines of Veneto
All Reviews

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


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Château St. Jean Fumé Blanc 2011


Fortessa Canada Inc.

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Vintages Preview March 29 Release (Part Two)

The Stars Align over Perez Cruz Carmenere, California Fume, Loire Sauvignon, Constantia Chardonnay & Santorini Assyrtiko
by David Lawrason, with Sara d’Amato and John Szabo

We apologize for the delay in delivering this edition – the first instance I can recall since WineAlign began previewing VINTAGES releases in 2008.  The last tasting opportunity at VINTAGES normally occurs on the Tuesday prior to the release, but was  postponed until Thursday, giving our jet-lagged team less than 24 hours to taste, prepare this report and add all the reviews to the database. Sara d’Amato kicked things off last week with her look at VINTAGES entire operation, and some highlights from this release.  This week all three of us pick apart the rest of what is an “average” release in many respects, except for a couple of excellent chardonnays and a clutch of 2010 Bordeaux In Store Discoveries. There are always some gems however, and we have come together on five wines where “The Stars Align”.

WineAlign Ontario Critic Team

The Stars Align
(Wines independently highlighted by two or more WineAlign critics)

Pérez Cruz 2012 Limited Edition Carmenère, Maipo Valley, Chile ($19.95). A rare triple play as three critics put this wine in the spotlight. David Lawrason – This small estate quite high in the Andean foothills has a rock strewn terroir that imparts more compactness and tighter structure than many others, and here it nicely tones and tames the often overly exuberant nature of carmenere. Sara d’Amato – This progressive carmenere specialist rarely disappoints. This limited edition bottling features a distinctive, dark, dense and compelling carménère with notes of mocha, bright wild berries and blue fruit. Moody, brooding and potentially addictive.  John Szabo – The Pérez Cruz cabernet sauvignon has been a fixture on the LCBO list for years, but it’s a pleasure to see this dense, flavourful, very ripe but fresh example of carmenere as well. It manages plenty of concentration and depth without sacrificing balance or varietal character; solid stuff to be sure, a go-to BBQ wine.

Château St. Jean 2011 Fumé Blanc,  Sonoma County, California  ($19.95).  Sara d’Amato – Another charming California selection at a very fair price.By the way, the “Jean” is pronounced in an Anglicized way, like the pants, not our former Prime Minister Chretien. Fume Blanc is one of my favourite style/varietals produced in California. Not only is it often relatively inexpensive, it delivers oodles of complex, pleasurable, challenging enjoyment. And despite its namesake harking back to the old-world, Pouilly-Fume sauvignons of the Loire Valley, these California styles are distinct in their flavour profile offering juicy intensity and a taste of the exotic intermeshed with the smoky and flinty. David Lawrason – Ditto. Wood aged Fume Blanc is California’s best take on sauvignon and Chateau St. Jean has a long track record of success. This is stylish without being heavy.

Cave Du Haut-Poitou 2012 Vallée Loire Sauvignon Blanc, Haut-Poitou, France ($16.95). David Lawrason – This large co-op is been a go-to source for bright, great value sauvignons for as long as I can remember. Super modern, super value.  Sara d’Amato – Perhaps it is a hope for spring but I’m certainly in sauvignon blanc state of mind these days. Here is an oh-so lovely example that takes the best of the old and new worlds and melds them into a tidy but inviting package. Modern and appealing but there is nothing over-extracted or extreme here. Lovely floral aromatics of acacia and white flower are exotically enticing. Don’t miss out – I predict this to be a fast-mover!

Pérez Cruz Reserva Limited Edition Carmenère 2012Château St. Jean Fumé Blanc 2011Cave Du Haut Poitou Vallée Loire Sauvignon Blanc 2012Bayton Chardonnay 2012Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2011

 

Bayten 2012 Chardonnay, Constantia, South Africa ($17.95).  David Lawrason – The verdant Constantia Valley is now a wealthy suburb of Cape Town, with prized vineyards facing urban sprawl. The region was first planted in the 1670s, making it –arguably – the first wine region of the New World. And Bayten, formerly called Buitenverwachting, was part of the original estate. This ultra-modern, mineral tinged chardonnay from non-irrigated decomposed granite soils shows depth well beyond its price – a constant refrain of South Africa, from which both John and I have just returned. John Szabo – This lovely, ripe, soft and gentle chardonnay from the historic region of Constantia that could easily pass for a much more expensive example from the new world, and the length and depth are indeed excellent for the price category.

Estate Argyros 2011 Santorini, Greece ($22.95). John Szabo – Argyros is one of the leading producers on the island of Santorini, with an amazing collection of old vineyards, which, in some cases, are older than anyone really knows. This 2011 offers the typical, and unusual, subtle aromatics of assyrtiko grown on these desperately poor volcanic soils, though the palate tells a more straightforward tale of marvelous intensity and depth, length and structure, with palpable dry extract and fiercely salty character. An impeccable value, with the potential to age well into the next decade, this wine should not be missed by fans of minerally, characterful white wines. Sara d’Amato – Love at first sip? It is possible that you’ll experience some fatal attraction here so beware. It sounds like high praise but it is all true and besides, if you haven’t tried the product of old assyrtiko vines planted in the volcanic soils of one of the most beautiful islands on earth, Santorini, then here is your moment. A wow-worthy offering for your next soirée.

Lawrason’s Take

Château Fleur De Jean Gué 2010, Lalande-de-Pomerol, France ($24.95). This is the best value in a spate of excellent 2010 Bordeaux on this release. We have much to look forward to the 2010s roll through Vintages in the weeks ahead. I’ve highly rated in Store Discoveries Chateau Giscours, Calon-Segur and Les Haut de Pontet Canet, but they are triple digit wines for collectors. To peek inside the vintage at a much more affordable price try this deft merlot (85%) and cabernet franc from a “satellite” appellation of the famed Pomerol AOC. (Sara d’Amato also recommended this wine last week)

Maison Roche De Bellene 2011 Vieilles Vignes Chassagne-Montrachet, Burgundy, France ($49.95).  I was tasting along the row of pretty good chardonnays, and two shone way above the pack, scoring low-mid nineties. There was the more expensive Freestone also highlighted by Sara below, and this less expensive classic, modern, mouth-watering Chassagne with minerality, pure fruit and judicious oak.  Maison Roche de Bellene was established in 2005 by the highly respected Nicolas Potel who sources solely from parcels of old vine, biodynamically farmed sites. If you wouldn’t normally spend $50 on chardonnay, here is one place to consider a splurge.

Evans & Tate 2010 Metricup Road Shiraz Margaret River, Western Australia  ($22.95). The shiraz of Margaret River are always a bit more ‘cool climate’ than those of South Australia, and this example from a single vineyard within a few kilometres of the Indian Ocean, shows it perfectly, with a sleeker, slightly more tense feel. Still lots of fruit however and classic shiraz pepper.

 

Château Fleur De Jean Gué 2010Maison Roche De Bellene Vieilles Vignes Chassagne Montrachet 2011Evans & Tate Metricup Road Shiraz 2010Le Clos Jordanne Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011Gemma Giblin Riserva Barolo 2006

Le Clos Jordanne 2011 Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Pinot Noir, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($45.00) With the departure of winemaker Thomas Bachelder, the bowing out of financial and founding partner Jean-Charles Boisset from Burgundy, and the abandonment of biodynamic/organic farming principles since 2011, Le Clos Jordanne has changed since the glory days of the mid-2000s when I wrote about it in Toronto Life as the project that would put Niagara pinot on the map.  But there is a very serious, focused young French winemaker named Sébastien Jacquey now at the helm, and given all he has had to deal with, including a tough vintage in 2011, he has done a great job with this wine. It is a bit rough around the edges but it is complex and deeply flavoured and very Burgundian.

Gemma 2006 Giblin Riserva Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($40.95). This old warhorse rises up on its hind legs and almost breathes fire – in the form of some acetone and almost cringe-worthy sourness. However, the fruit centre is very much intact and it has all kinds of power, intensity and complexity. It demands strong, rustic culinary companions.  It’s an imperfect but compelling nebbiolo from a great vintage, from a small house in Serralunga d’Alba that only began producing its range of Piemontese wines in 1978 – a babe in this neck of the woods.

Sara’s Sommelier Picks

Joseph Phelps Freestone Chardonnay 2011Joseph Phelps Freestone 2011 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California ($73.95). Such obvious care has been lavished on this chardonnay! Such remarkable depth and structure! Pre-dawn grape picking ensures that that the grapes are cool when pressed and retain maximum acidity. In addition, other quality enhancing techniques have been used such as whole cluster pressing straight to barrel in which it underwent a natural ferment (using “wild yeast”). Although the wine was aged for 14 months in wood, mostly older or larger barrels were used to ensure that the spicy wood flavours were nicely restrained. Certainly no cost was spared in the production of this wine and such a price gets passed along to the consumer. In this strong vintage in Sonoma, best described by the terms long and moderate and “moderate” best describes the 2012 growing season in Sonoma which produced whites of impressive elegance such as this fine example. Lovers of Burgundian and Californian styles will find merit alike.

Casal di Serra Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico SuperioreAndretta Brunello Di Montalcino 2007Casal Di Serra 2011 Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi Classico Superiore, Marche, Italy ($17.95). The soils of the Marche in Central Italy are home to the expressive and endearing verdicchio varietal whose vibrancy, freshness and salinity come to focus in this high-quality example. Produced from 100% verdicchio (the appellation requires a minimum of 85%) and fermented with natural yeasts. Over the past 30 years Casal di Serra has focused on enhancing the quality and recognition of verdicchio in the Marche and has a uniquely keen appreciation of the varietal.

Andretta 2007 Brunello Di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy, ($53.95). A great Brunello can prove an almost out-of-body experience featuring a touch of escapism and a soupçon of the ethereal. For those looking to add to their cellar collection, there is still another 4-5 years of enjoyment here.

Szabo’s Smart Buys

Château Lafon Rochet 2010Contraste White 2012Contraste 2012 White, Douro, Portugual ($18.95). Conceito is a relatively new producer in the historic Douro Valley, but the wines, made by Rita Ferreira, show the class and elegance of much more established houses. This is a fun, fragrant, juicy and well-balanced white, an instance of the whole (the blend) being greater than the parts (the grapes). Serve now, nicely chilled with salads, fresh seafood/shellfish and similar.

Château Lafon-Rochet 2010, Saint-Estèphe, Bordeaux ($84.85). A small cache of top-level Bordeaux reds will hit the shelves on the 29th – the remnants of the 2010 futures campaign that went unclaimed – good news for collectors who missed out on the first tranche. My pick of the lot, for both quality and value goes, to Lafon-Rochet, a classy, well-balanced and elegant wine, though still highly structured and ageworthy. I’d tuck this in the cellar for another 3-5 years minimum before revisiting, but this should also reach 20-25 years of age without too many wrinkles. Best 2018-2030+

Montirius Terre Des Aînés Gigondas 2007Quinta Dos Carvalhais 2010Domaine Montirius 2007 Terre Des Aînés Gigondas, Rhone Valley, France ($24.95). A leading organic/biodynamic property in the southern Rhône, Montirius has been a personal favorite over many vintages. It’s a treat to see their mature ’07 Gigondas released now, having moved into a beautiful stage of evolution. The impressive range of flavours on offer is also proof positive that terrific, complex wine can be made without the use of oak for flavouring.

Quinta Dos Carvalhais 2010 Colheita, Dão, Portugal. ($17.95).  The Dão continues to impress with its stylish, fragrant and floral-fruity expressions of touriga nacional (and blends), with prices that remain in the 20thC. Carvalhais is a consistent over-deliverer of value in my estimation, as this 2010 ably demonstrates (try also the Duque de Viseu bottling from the same producer, released in December at just $13.95). This is just hitting a perfect zone of drinkability. Best 2014-2018.

The 2011 Ports On Sale Now

Vintages Shop on Line opened its ordering March 27 for the much vaunted 2011 Ports. The gates close April 17. Last fall WineAlign critics tasted a range of 2011s and our reviews can be found on the WineAlign database. And yes  – it is true – most are excellent to outstanding quality (93-98 point range), and so agreeable in their youth that you may be tempted to try them now. So go ahead; but do lay some away as well. You can order on line or by phone.

WineAlign Hosts a Jackson-Triggs dinner at Epic

It’s not easy being big. Jackson-Triggs is perhaps the most familiar name in Canadian wine, a very large company indeed with wines of all price points and styles readily available in the LCBO and the company’s own Wine Rack stores. But the story less obvious is the improvement in the quality since Italian winemaker Marco Picoli took over its VQA brands, especially in the range of harder-to-find Reserve wines.  On April 10 join me to explore the Reserves at a fine five-course tasting dinner at the Fairmont Hotels Epic Restaurant. Register here.

And that’s a wrap for this week. We’ll be back next week with our first look at the April 12 release that features wines from Italy’s Veneto (amarone fans can rev their engines).

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the Mar 29, 2014 Vintages release:

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

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


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Château St. Jean Fumé Blanc 2011


California Wine Fair

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Ontario Wine Report: Cuvée 2014 and Brock’s Experts Tasting

This is the first of our monthly reports on Ontario wine by WineAlign’s Ontario-based critics.  Both Sara d’Amato of Toronto and Janet Dorozynksi of Ottawa attended the ever-growing Cuvée and Experts Tasting events earlier this month and file their reports. It was announced during this year’s event that Brock University’s CCOVI program will be managing this event going forward, with proceeds going into wine industry training and research programs.

Cuvée Winemakers Showcase Their Best
by Sara D’Amato

Cuvee 2014Set in the Grand Ballroom of the Niagara Fallsview Casino, this 26th anniversary of Cuvée event showcased wines from 41 different Ontario wineries and a solid group of critically acclaimed Chefs. What was particularly exciting for guests of this annual event is that they are afforded the opportunity to fraternize with all of the participant Winemakers and Chefs. In addition to the Gala event on the night of February 28th, “Cuvée en Route” allowed pass-holders to take advantage of “red carpet” or exclusive tastings at the individual wineries all through.

This year’s Gala followed last year’s format which allowed winemakers to choose only a single wine per winery to showcase at the event (despite some grumbling that the wines were not always chosen by the winemaker). Regardless, I’ve warmed up to this approach for a number of reasons. One wine per winery is much easier to conquer and keep straight – let’s face it, not all of us are critics who are spitting at this event. In addition, this format allows the winery to put its best foot forward and to showcase wines that often get overlooked, expressing some personality along the way. Finally, the atmosphere feels less competitive and much more convivial as it is free of the constrains of awards and “best of” categories of years past.

I did very much enjoy the amped up décor, grandiose feel and terrific food this year which included the likes of Chef Erik Peacock’s Lamb Belly Man Tao (who subsequently was awarded a Promote the Promoters Award at CCOVI’s Experts Tasting). Such offerings certainly deserve a resplendent setting – not to mention the lovely company, dressed to their nines. But enough about style and backdrop and on to the wines . . .

Cuvee 2014It’s no wonder so many producers chose to showcase their 2010 reds at Cuvée this year, as it was a warm, near perfection year for darker hued wines. But reds were not the only stars of the show – pinot gris was shockingly good. Chardonnay was also striking and both pinot noir and sauvignon blanc made a strong presence.

Despite some minor variation, the wines largely showed very well and the choices were smartly made by the wineries. I would have loved to taste every offering, but unfortunately conversation and a real time impediment always seems to prevent such a monumental task. It was great to see so many WineAlign members at the event as well. And I extend a special thank you to Dan Trcka from Grape Selections who has shared his photos with us. (You can view more of Dan’s Cuvée pictures and his event summary at: http://grapeselections.com/cuvee-2014/ )

All WineAlign Critic and member reviews of the winery offerings can be found on under the tag: Cuvée 2014.

Stratus Red 2010 ($110- magnum) This awe-worthy offering from the hands of J-L Groux at Stratus is a wine of immense complexity and impact. Still young and a bit tight, the palate shows notes of wild dried herbs, rose petal, black fruit, vanilla, cedar and tobacco. Elegant, balanced and superbly knit. This rich tapestry of flavour set on a sophisticated and carefully coaxed structure is sure to provide enjoyment over the next half decade and more. Harmonious and brilliantly integrated are the hallmarks of J-L’s assemblages.

Cuvee 2014Lakeview Cellars 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Niagara, Ontario ($29.95) A gold medal winner in the National Wine Awards of Canada, this rich, ripe and highly gulpable cabernet sauvignon is a testament to the fact that we shouldn’t give up on this varietal in Ontario. In a warm, favorable vintage such as 2010, cabernets can be showcased proudly as a single varietal bottling. Notes of blackberry, a little bramble and pepper make up the palate bolstered by firm tannins. Acidity is mild but present and pleasantly balances the wine.

Ridge Road 2013 Pinot Gris ($16.95) A mere six weeks in bottle and this lovely pinot gris is already starting to show its colours – literally speaking it is a pretty pink hue (as the skins of this grape are actually pink) but also boasts a really sensual aromatic profile that includes notes of peach, honeysuckle and rosewater. Just off-dry, elegant and nicely balanced. Medium-bodied with a food friendly attitude. Notes of fresh green herbs linger on the finish. Relatively new to the scene, Ridge Road came to be a winery in its own right in 2009 on a 100-year-old established vineyard site on the western extremity of the Niagara region in Stoney Creek.

Calamus 2013 Pinot Gris ($16.95) It would appear that 2013 was a terrific vintage for Ontario pinot gris. Here is a wonderful example of such elegance of this cool climate style – Alsatian in feel with just a touch of sweetness. Creamy with notes of peach, pear, honeysuckle and white pepper. Mid-weight with great balanced. Pretty, lingering and honest.

Peninsula Ridge “Wismer Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc ($19.95) A very impressive sauvignon blanc from the superb Wismer vineyard site. This harkens back to the days of Jean-Pierre Collas when sauvignon blanc reigned supreme at Peninsula Ridge. The winery is currently under the winemaking direction of Jamie Evans who has coaxed the maximum expression from these lovely grapes and has done so with a sensitive hand. The wine is hugely aromatic featuring complex and compelling notes. The palate is impressively succulent and nervy, fresh, classically built with notes of gooseberry, lemongrass and thyme. Clean, vibrant and with terrific length and at a very fair price.

Cuvee 2014Domaine Queylus 2011 Pinot Noir Reserve, Niagara, Ontario ($45). Domiane Queylus is a unique project spearheaded by winemaker Thomas Bachelder that has taken many years to come to fruition and involved good friends with a common goal. Without sounding sentimental, there is a great deal of love in this bottle. An impressively grand pinot noir that makes a real textural impression on the palate – with a feathered tickling of the tongue, the tannins are present but unobtrusive. Classically styled in the Burgundian tradition but with Niagara feel that brings a greater juiciness and a touch more lushness to the palate. Nicely ripened, the palate features notes of cran-cherry, sweet tomato, a slight smokiness and bergamot. However, the wine evolves so quickly in the glass that more is revealed with each sip – a wine to keep in your glass throughout the evening.  Should be very interesting so feel this evolve over the next 3-5 years.

The evening came to a conclusion with Sun Media Après Cuvée Party which saw most of the guests dancing the night away with Icewine & bubbles or sampling an array of local craft beer, charcuterie and cheeses. Cuvée 2014 proved to be another terrific celebration of VQA wines with a greater sense of camaraderie and local pride than ever before. For more information visit the Cuveé website at: http://cuvee.ca/grand-tasting and maybe we can meet there next year!

The Experts Tasting at CCOVI
By Janet Dorozynski

The annual Experts Tasting at Brock University’s Cool Climate and Oenology Institute is one of the highlights of the trade tasting calendar in Ontario, with this year’s 25th anniversary edition being no exception. Each year the tasting focuses on a particular theme, for example a wine style, grape variety or a specific region/appellation in Ontario. This is my ninth or tenth year to attend this annual event and I have to say that this benchmarking exercise is always very informative and instructive. It is a means to see how wines being made in Ontario fare against one another, as well as against the foreign wine ringers that are always thrown in.  Many of the wines are from current releases or vintages but we also get to taste back vintages which show the evolution and how each wines are maturing.

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

This year’s tasting boasted a record attendance of over 150 members of the trade, media and wine industry, with a bus load of Toronto sommeliers brought in courtesy of Wine Country Ontario and Will Predhomme, former sommelier extraordinaire at Toronto’s Canoe Restaurant and now wine guy about town.

The 25th anniversary tasting focused on grape varieties and wine styles that are noteworthy for Ontario and we had the opportunity to taste through flights of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and red blends from Bordeaux grape varieties. There was also the final “Wine Options” flight, based on the Australian blind tasting sport or a multiple choice test on the wines tasted, where we worked in teams to identify the grape variety, appellation, region or country of origin, vintage and price for five different wines. Sadly I wasn’t part of the winning table but we did put in a respectable showing with a final score of 85 out of a total of 120 points.

We started the tasting with a flight of Riesling “breakfast wines” with several stellar examples from Niagara and a ringer from the Finger Lakes. There were three Rieslings from Charles Baker, from the Picone Vineyard in the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation in Niagara, which is the farthest away from Lake Ontario at the top of the Niagara Escarpment and, some might say, the least forgiving in terms of climate and terrain. However, from what we tasted, Riesling seems to have found a home in this sub-appellation, with the slightly off-dry styles of Charles Baker Riesling showing great intensity, finesse and ageability.  The 2009 Riesling was especially impressive, with spicy citrus and pear notes, coupled with typical Riesling petrol notes and a long stony finish.

The Cool ABC flight, which stood for Appealing, Balanced Chardonnay, shone the spotlight on what many believe to be Niagara’s and Ontario’s signature white grape variety.  Most of the wines showed cool-climate deliciousness with good restraint of oak usage. Notwithstanding, the Kittling Ridge 2012 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay from Niagara Peninsula showed more generous oak with intense floral and citrus and stone fruit flavours in an overall appealing package.  And at $16.95, it certainly had many in the room wanting to have another look at a winery that was recently sold to Magnotta Wines.

Brock's Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute Experts TastingThe two red flights featured Pinot Noir and red blends, made predominantly from well-known Bordeaux grape varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  Pinot Noir, which we learned from CCOVI’s newest oenologist and scientist Belinda Kemp, is a decidedly “unfunny” (read difficult and pernicious)  grape in the flight  entitled “You’ve been Pinot’d”,  showed a range of aromatics and flavours, from light and floral red fruit flavours, to deeper, grippy dark berry flavours, depending on the vintage, site and of course, winemaker.  A contrast in styles and approach is evident between the Inniskillin 2011 Pinot Noir Reserve and Foreign Affair 2009 Pinot Noir, the latter comprised of 40% appaissimento or dried berries in the blend, resulting in dense dark fruit and intense flavours, while the former showed very enjoyable but leaner red berry and current flavours with fresh acidity and a long chalky finish. Most of this Pinot flight, and in fact, many of the wines tasted, were very good indeed, with many showing the range and diversity of Ontario wines.

The red blend flight put the question to the tasters – “are we on the right track?” and had us determining if Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Merlot was the dominant grape in the blend. With Merlot comprising the  dominant majority in a number of the blends, notably the Konzelmann Heritage Reserve 2012, Trius Red 2011 and Truis Grand Red 2010, which showed juicy and dense dark fruit, with the slightest hint of bell pepper flavours that could be coming from the Cabernet Franc or Sauvignon,  or from the Merlot itself.  The 2004 Meritage from Creekside Estate Winery and  2002 Henry of Pelham Reserve Cabernet Merlot, both showed remarkably lively flavours and intensity and are proof that Ontario red blends can be worthy of ageing.

The final “Wine Options” flight featured all the above varieties and red blends with a Lake Erie North Shore Syrah thrown in, an experimental bottling called North Shore Project, which is collaboration between Hinterland Wines in PEC and Will Predhomme, with fruit sourced from the vineyards of Colio Estates. The goal is to put LENS or Ontario Syrah on our radar and judging from this example, Syrah has a bright future in Ontario’s southern-most appellation.  Next year’s Expert’s tasting will focus on significant wine styles and emerging grape varieties in Ontario and I’m sure will prove as equally interesting as this year’s tasting.

In addition to an instructive tasting, the winners of the Promote the Promoters Awards were given out to recognize those who promote, in an exemplary manner, VQA wines in Ontario. This year’s winners included William Mancini, a product consultant from Toronto and a posthumous award to the LCBO’s David Churchill in the LCBO category; Erik Peacock, from Wellington Court Restaurant in the category of Hospitality; Shawn McCormick of UnCorkOntario.com in the category of Promoter-at-Large; Lloyd Schmidt, viticulturist and Canadian wine pioneer for Lifetime achievement and to Wine Align’s VP of Wine, David Lawrason in the Media Category.  For more information on the Award winners and a complete list of the wines tasted at this year’s Expert’s Tasting see here: http://www.brocku.ca/ccovi/outreach-services/experts-tasting

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


 

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Five-Course Tasting Menu with Wine Pairings guided by Jackson-Triggs Winemaker Marco Piccoli

WineAlign is delighted to present a five-course tasting menu with wine pairings on Thursday, April 10 featuring the wines of Canada’s award-winning Jackson-Triggs Winery.  

Join us for an exclusive dinner at EPIC with winemaker Marco Piccoli, as he guides you through a select offering of Jackson-Triggs wines, each paired with a specially prepared gourmet dish. Marco will speak about the unique viticulture and terroir of the Niagara region and talk about some of the history behind one of Niagara’s most iconic wineries.

Marco will be joined by WineAlign’s David Lawrason.

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Event Details:

Thursday, April 10, 2014
Location: EPIC (The Fairmont Royal York Hotel)
Reception: 6:30 – 7pm
Dinner: 7:00pm – 9:30pm
Tickets: $95.00 (plus taxes and fees)

Please note tickets are limited to 50, so book early to avoid disappointment.

Purchase Your Tickets Here

 

Menu

Reception Wine:

Entourage Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc

Sweet Pea & Dungeness Crab
Davinci Caviar, Double Smoked Bacon, Spruce

Wine pairing:  Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc

Wild Ontario Mushroom & Ricotta Ravioli
Maitake, Honey & King Oyster Mushrooms, Cipolini Onion, Cress, Butternut Squash Emulsion

Wine pairing:  Grand Reserve Pinot Noir

Butter Poached Lobster Claw
Monforte Chevre Polenta, Chili Spiked Lobster Broth

Wine pairing:  Grand Reserve Gewurztraminer

“Yorkshire Valley” Organic Cornish Hen “Coq Au Vin”
Winter Savory, Pearl Onions, Asparagus Tips, Patty Pan Squash, Rye Berry Risotto, Cabernet Jus

Wine pairing:  Grand Reserve Merlot

Lemon Lime
Lemon Lime Curd, Steamed Meringue

Wine Pairing:  Riesling Icewine

*There are no substitutions*

 

About Marco Piccoli:

marco_piccoli_2

Marco Piccoli

Growing up in Northeastern Italy in one of the world’s most established wine regions, it is hardly surprising that Marco Piccoli’s interest in winemaking started at an early age. However, it wasn’t until his late teens that his true passion was fully realized.

In 1995, after completing high school where he specialized in agriculture, Marco started work as a cellar hand at a local winery called Bidoli Vini. Recognized for his unbridled enthusiasm and keen desire to learn, he soon assumed more supervisory roles, including winery assistant. He then spent the next few years working at wineries and receiving a joint masters degree in grape growing and winemaking from the University of Udine in Italy and the University of Applied Science in Wiesbaden-Geisenheim, Germany.

Prior to beginning his master’s studies in Germany, Marco jumped at the opportunity to come to Canada when a new partnership between the University of Udine and the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University was announced. Keen to learn more about new world winemaking, and the unique terroir of the Niagara Peninsula, Marco set his sights on returning to Canada to pursue a career as a winemaker.

In September 2004, Marco accepted an internship at the Inniskillin Niagara Estate Winery and was then rewarded the position of assistant winemaker at Vincor International. While there, he heard about the winemaker opportunity at Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery and eagerly applied. Marco has been part of the Jackson-Triggs team since September 2005 and has worked diligently to bring Jackson-Triggs recognized style to each wine that he makes.

About EPIC

Located in The Fairmont Royal York Hotel, EPIC takes a reputation for innovation and quality and infuses it with premium quality regional elements. EPIC’s fluid, contemporary design is an effective backdrop for a menu that features the best of Ontario’s growers. Seasonally, hand-nurtured herbs from the rooftop garden, 15 stories above Front Street brighten each dish. Desserts are flavoured with hand-harvested roof top honey. And as a certified Ocean Wise restaurant, EPIC’s fish and shellfish choices contribute to sustainable oceans for generations to come.

Note: Our winemaker events have been consistently and quickly selling out.  If you are interested in attending then we advise you to purchase your tickets as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

 

Purchase Your Tickets Here

 

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VINTAGES Preview for March 29th 2014 (Part One)

Welcome to VINTAGES!

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

As my jet-setting colleagues are currently re-discovering South Africa, I remain on solid ground and am happy to keep you grounded as well with the best picks from the upcoming VINTAGES release feature.

So, “Welcome to VINTAGES”!  That is the title of the upcoming VINTAGES release. If you’re asking yourself what this feature title is all about, you’re not alone – I was equally confused. I jumped to the conclusion that this was a collection of wines new to the VINTAGES category that were being “welcomed” in. It turns out, though, that the theme behind this month’s release is to showcase wines that represent what VINTAGES is “all about.” Some of these wines are big names; others more obscure, and the remaining represent popular styles. If these three categories define what we see in VINTAGES, this might provide some insight into what we should expect to see in the near future.

VINTAGES March 29 Release CoverIt also offers a good opportunity to provide some background about the sometimes mysterious VINTAGES collection. What is VINTAGES? Most people think of it as the rear portion of their LCBO shop with finer shelving and more intimidating pricing. Basically, VINTAGES tries to entice those who are willing to spend a little more on higher quality and better names, and encourage them to discover something new. Whether they achieve this is perhaps an interesting academic question, if also somewhat beside the point, since there is no other outlet for such a selection of international wines in the province.

To break it down:

- VINTAGES is the premium category of spirits and wine at the LCBO, to be contrasted with the regular LCBO shelves that are known as the “general list”. Over 5,000 new products are introduced through VINTAGES every year and these are delivered to consumers through over 600 LCBO stores across Ontario.

- There are about one hundred “VINTAGES Essentials” that are continuously available but the vast majority of VINTAGES’ selections are one-shot purchases that will not re-appear for months, or years, if ever.

- Between 100-150 wines are released every two weeks through VINTAGES. It is the most dynamic and, arguably, rewarding category at the LCBO, and as you may know, we at WineAlign endeavor to taste all these wines and bring you the best of VINTAGES’ releases in newsletters every two weeks.

- VINTAGES Shop On Line is a virtual retail outlet for smaller lots of often more rare wines. You place orders on-line and wines are delivered to your store. This program now includes frequent releases of VINTAGES Classics Collection catalogue wines, as well as themed collections such as Bordeaux Futures. WineAlign also reviews these wines when we can gain access to tastings (See Bordeaux 2011 from earlier this year).

With the possible exception of a few of the big LCBO “flagship” stores the selection will always vary from store to store – which makes WineAlign’s “favourite store” feature very useful. Those of you who shop the VINTAGES already know that the quantities in each store will vary and that some wines sell out quickly. Product consultants at each individual VINTAGES store manage their inventory and choose the majority of wines they will receive from each release. (They also have authority to put slow-moving wines from previous releases on sale)

This is why making friends with your product consultant can come in handy, especially when you are hoping to see something chosen for your local store.

Let them know your preferences and what you’d like to see on the shelves. And of course, bring along your WineAlign previews to help guide you through the best of what’s available in your local shop.

Now, let me explore some upcoming VINTAGES trends emerging from this month’s “Welcome to VINTAGES” feature:

Sustainability

Rutherford Ranch Chardonnay 2012Social and environmental concerns are a mandate that LCBO has been promoting as of late. One example is the Lightweight Glass Wine Standard that requires wineries to conform to a 420 gram weight limit or else incur an additional per-bottle fee. This practice started in January 2013 for bottles under $15 (which is LCBO shorthand for high-volume wines). In addition, the LCBO has made a deliberate effort in the past few years to bring more organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines into their fold. VINTAGES catalogues will feature an organic symbol next to certified organic wines and product consultants have been briefed to field questions about such wines and guide customers. Expect to see more of these sustainably produced wines in the year to come.  (WineAlign uses an Organic/Biodynamic tag well to help you search.)

Rutherford Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley, California ($20.95). Sustainability is at the core of wines at Rutherford Ranch, which impressively boasts 100% sustainably produced products. Some of their initiatives include the encouragement of predator mites and birds to rid the vines of potential, unfavorable outbreaks along with water reclamation/reuse and the encouragement of biodiversity. Although not a showstopper, this elegant Chardonnay is also indicative of the new trend of more progressive, less oaky, showy and sweet style chardonnays that focus more on the purity of the fruit and balance of the components. This wine, therefore, fits nicely into two new trends I have observed and described below.

goLocal

This is an LCBO mandate focusing on increasing the visibility and availability of Ontario wines. An environmental initiative rather than one of national pride, its emphasis is on lowering energy consumption by shipping more wine from closer locations. And although the following wine does not quite fit the mold, given its cross—country provenance, the national spirit is inspiring. The second selection in this category is not inclusive in this feature but is one in this release that is certainly worthy of proving the point that we need not go further than our doorstep for satisfying wines:

Gray Monk Pinot Noir 2011Tawse Gamay Noir 2012Gray Monk Pinot Noir 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($19.75). Pinot noir in Ontario is so inspiring to me that I often poo-poo examples from our western neighbors who tend to bowl me over with their syrah. Well, here is an example impossible to overlook and well worth the relatively modest price. Old world inspired, gnarly, lovely and aromatic here is a classic pinot noir that will provide a great deal of satisfaction for Burgundy lovers. Gray Monk’s name comes from one of the first grape varieties that they produced - Pinot Gris. 
In Austria and Hungary, this grape is called ‘Grauar Mönch’ hence the translation to ‘Gray Monk’. 
Don’t miss out!

Tawse Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($18.95). Tucked into this release but not part of the “Welcome to Vintages” feature, Tawse really hits the mark with this stellar gamay that makes one wonder why we ever venture outside of the province for our wine. This gamay, with its wide appeal and regional distinctiveness fits the bill of what VINTAGES “is all about”.

French Frenzy

France is back in a big way, and better than ever. Bordeaux under $30 can often be a drag but this example will change your perspective. I have been decidedly impressed over the past few months by examples from this most distinguished region of France in the $25 and under category. Although there may have been a lull, this category is experiencing a recent resurgence – France is up in market share by in VINTAGES and threatens to rival the ever-climbing California share. All this to say, don’t be surprised to see great value on the French front and more to come!

Domaine La Guintrandy Vieilles Vignes Cairanne 2009Château Fleur De Jean Gué 2010Château Fleur De Jean Gué 2010, Lalande De Pomerol, Bordeaux, France ($24.95). A nice example of the value we will hopefully, increasingly see in the VINTAGES portfolio. This merlot-based, right-bank blend delivers both intensity and elegance for, dare I say, a bargain. The vineyards are located on the very outskirts of the Pomerol appellation and impart similar characteristics of dried wild berries and licorice.

Domaine La Guintrandy Vieilles Vignes Cairanne 2009, Côtes Du Rhone Villages, Rhône, France ($19.95). This village appellation located in the Vaucluse region of the southern Rhône, just north of Orange is known for its rugged climate producing wines of great fortitude, sometimes rustic and certainly age worthy. At under $20, this delightful example is infused with all of the gnarly garrigue that one would hope to see in such a charming wine.

Stay tuned for our collective column on the ‘best of the rest’ from the March 29th release. Until next week, Santé!

Sara d’Amato

From the Mar 29, 2014 Vintages release:

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

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


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Château St. Jean Fumé Blanc 2011

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Sara’s Sommelier Selections – Mar 2014

On Air with Mike Chalut

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Some of you may have heard John and I on what is becoming a regular contributing spot every month or so on Mike Chalut’s food and wine inspired Friday radio show on 103.9 Proud FM. We are certainly proud to have the opportunity to reach out to such a wide audience and chat about which wines make us tick. Mike Chalut is an extremely busy personality whether it be hosting World Pride Events in England, contributing to various publications such as “On the Go” and “PIE” magazines or hosting the Food Network celebrity stage at the Delicious Food Show. And despite having interviewed stars such as: Lady Gaga, Olly Murs, Carly Rae Jepsen, Linda Evangelista, Hugh Jackman, and Bethenny Frankel, he still seems to find us interesting enough to invite back every month. This is a feature that takes the stuffiness out of wine and makes it real for all of us.

Today we are speaking about overcoming the springtime blues. In the spirit of the celebrating the imminent arrival of the aforementioned season instead of mourning our collective misfortune, which has been this winter in Ontario, I propose drinking well-priced bubblies in order to improve your mood. Let’s stop drinking big reds by the fireside and instead, enjoy bubbles by the new, longer light of day. Please don’t roll your eyes at my optimism until you try these smile-worthy finds for yourself.

Sparklers that are sure to put a spring in your step from the Mike Chalut Show, airing Friday March 28th, 2014:

Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti 2012
Piedmont, Italy ($14.75)

Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d'Asti 2012

Mont Marçal Extremarium Reserva Brut Cava
Catalunya, Spain ($20.95)

Mont Marçal Extramarium Reserva Brut Cava

Chateau Des Charmes Brut Methode Traditionelle
Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, Canada, ($22.95)

Chateau Des Charmes Brut Methode Traditionelle

Rotari Rosé
Trentino, Italy, $17.95

Rotari Rosé

Here’s an easy link to all the wines mentioned in this and past articles: Sara’s Sommelier Selections

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


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Round 8 – Semi Final #2: “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

Will they Crack Under Pressure in the Second Semi-Final?

Watch the competition progress as the first place Inglorious Bitters take on the fourth place Whole Bunch Press in the second of two semi-final rounds.  Pour yourself a glass of wine and watch to see which team will move forward to the final round to battle it out against The Raiders of the Lost AOC.

Click here to watch Round #8 – Semi Final #2, or read on for highlights from the last round.

The Inglorious Bitters

Whole Bunch Press

Highlights and Score from Round #7

Last time on SYTYKW, The Good, The Bad, and The Blind faced the Raiders of the Lost AOC in the first semi-final round.  The Good, The Bad, and The Blind immediately jumped on South Africa as the country the wine came from.  At one point, they almost wavered but decided to stick with their first impressions.  “Go with the guts…and the liver…,” they said.  Their final answer was a 2008 Syrah from South Africa because of the “classic, wonderful, iodiny, smoky, meaty notes” to The Chocolate Block 2010.

Raiders of the Lost AOC also quickly concluded that the wine was South African.  They guessed that the wine was a Shiraz, Cab, Pinotage blend with Shiraz as the dominant grape “because of the peppery notes, and the coffee, and the chocolate.”  While both teams were very close in their guesses, the Raiders of the Lost AOC pulled ahead by one point because they were closer on the vintage.

The scoring remains the same as past episodes, with points for Variety, Country, Region, Appellation and Vintage, and a little less emphasis on Price this season. After 6 rounds the totals are in and the Semi Final match-ups have been set:

So, You Think You Know Wine? - Scorecard

Season 4

For those of you new to our video series, “So, You Think You Know Wine?”, we have saved all previous episodes under the Video tab. Season 4 is a departure from the previous critic-against-critic challenge of past seasons. This time the competition has a game show/family feud feel with tasters battling against each other in teams, rather than individually. As always, the competitors have the daunting challenge of identifying the wine with only their nose, eyes, and palate – no other clues are given.

We hope that you find this new format entertaining and that you have as much fun watching as we did filming. As usual, please send your comments to feedback@winealign.com and feel free to share this video with your friends and family.

So, You Think You Know Wine?

Special thanks to our glassware sponsor, Schott Zwiesel, for their beautiful glasses and carafes used during filming.

Previously on “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

Espisode 4.1: California Square Russian River Chardonnay

Episode 4.2: Louis M Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Episode 4.3:  Travaglini Gattinara

Episode 4.4: Finca Decero Malbec

Episode 4.5 Paul Zinck Eichberg Riesling

Episode 4:6  Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz Viognier

Episode 4:7 Semi-final #1 The Chocolate Block

 


Fortessa Canada Inc. Glassware sponsor to SYTYKW

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008