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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 30th – Part One

Head-Scratching 90-point wines, and more importantly, Smart Buys
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

It’s time again for the yearly 90+ point wine release at LCBO-VINTAGES [yawn]. It used to cause so much excitement, including those frenzied pre-dawn lineups on Saturday morning as buyers scrambled to get their allocations of top-scoring bottles like limited concert tickets. Now, it seems to slide languidly by more like a late summer stream, eddying lazily under the weeping willows, barely causing a stir.

You can be forgiven for thinking that a 90-point score means little these days, especially when presented as virtually all retailers, including the LCBO, do. The basic protocol is to scour planetary archives for the highest score for whatever’s on sale, and drop it into the catalogue without context as though there were some international treaty defining the meaning of the 100-point scale. Anybody’s review is fair game, credible or not, only stopping short at repurposing reviews from Look long enough, and eventually you’ll find the number you’re looking for.

93 point, $13.95 grüner vetliner? I’m sure even the producer is scratching his head at that one. There are plenty of competent, well made wines in this release (like that grüner), but it would be a supreme hot yoga stretch to count them in the very top echelon of wines made around the world, as a 90+ rating would imply, at least in my context.

Ultimately this approach is a disservice to consumers. It distorts reality and sets up untenable expectations, and makes it impossible to sort out the good from the really and truly excellent. The 100-point scale loses the only value it has, which is a measure of one reviewer’s preference, within his or her relative context, and as a simple way of sorting out thousands of options to arrive at a starting point. And when scores become completely meaningless, what will those retailers do?

But rather than flog the scoring issue more than I already have, we’ll focus this report instead – like all WineAlign reports – on a handful of wines that David, Sara and I think are worth your attention, and more importantly, money, including a handful of particularly good pinot noirs in this release. You can decide what score, if any, is applicable.

Next week David will turn the spotlight on the Pacific Northwest, and BC in particular.

Buyer’s Guide LCBO-Vintages August 30th 2014: Smart Buys

New World Pinot Noir

The New World, and the Southern Hemisphere come up big in this release. Three emerging classic regions south of the equator are worth investigating, and Niagara also shows its quality, versatility, and value.

Waipara Hills Pinot Noir 2012Schubert Block B Pinot Noir 2011Schubert Block B 2011 Pinot Noir, Wairarapa, New Zealand ($55.95)
John Szabo – Schubert is one of the leaders in Wairarapa (Martinborough), and this pinot shows the depth and spiciness of which the region is capable. Although not inexpensive, to borrow a quote from Allen Meadows (, in the world of pinot “you don’t always get what you pay for, but you never get what you don’t pay for”. I can easily picture the low-yielding vines and small bunches from this naturally un-generous region (in the best, qualitative sense). This is an excellent, concentrated, very masculine pinot. Best 2016-2023.

Waipara Hills 2012 Pinot NoirCentral Otago, New Zealand ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Waipara Hills winery is on the east coast north of Christchurch; but the grapes for this wine are from Central Otago, about six hours by car farther south and inland.  The pinots achieve considerable ripeness here in this semi-arid region, showing cherry jam, a certain juiciness and warmth, and richness. This shows the style well.
Sara d’Amato – Central Otago’s distinctive power and aromatic impact is most distinctively represented in this savory Waipara Hills. Violets and spice make their way to the lush and fruity palate which remains bright and buoyant.

Innocent Bystander 2012 Pinot NoirYarra Valley, Australia ($21.95)
John Szabo – Yarra is firmly on the map as a source of excellent pinot noir, and this example from Innocent Bystander, their entry range (Giant Steps is the top, and also excellent range) is perfectly zesty and lively, spicy and fresh, all raspberry and strawberry, nicely capturing the spirit of the region at a very fair price. Best now-2017.

Familia Schroeder 2012 Saurus Select Pinot NoirPatagonia, Argentina ($19.95)
John Szabo – During my last trip to Argentina Patagonia stood out as the country’s most exciting region, especially if seeking more balanced, fresher wines. Although this is undoubtedly a full-bodied and concentrated wine, ripe and extracted relative to Innocent Bystander’s version, I do appreciate the purity and density of fruit. For fans of New World-style pinot in any case. Best 2014-2018
Sara d’Amato – A modern, but cool climate, new world style of pinot noir from the southern tip of Argentina. This generous pinot delivers a great deal of impact and impressive complexity for the price.

A To Z Wineworks 2012 Pinot Noir, Oregon USA ( $24.95)
David Lawrason – Pinot lovers knows that Oregon is an international frontrunner. To me the style nestles between California and BC which of course makes sense geographically as Oregon’s Willamette Valley lies at 45 degrees latitude. A to Z  has grown out of the Rex Hill Winery property as the vision of Oregon pinot veterans who wanted to make more affordable pinot (a noble pursuit in a region where high prices prevail)  This is not perfect but it delivers the spirit of Oregon pinot well – some weight and ripeness without the jaminess of California.

Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir 2012 Familia Schroeder Saurus Select Pinot Noir 2012 A To Z Wineworks Pinot Noir 2012 Fog Head Highland Series Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 Sperling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012

Fog Head 2012 Highland Series Reserve Pinot Noir, Monterey County, California, USA ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Between the influence of the fog and the cooler vintage, this savory, aromatic pinot noir seems to hit all the right notes. Cherry blossom, ginger, a touch of dried leaf – this compelling wine of good length is certainly a steal.

Sperling Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($27.95)
David Lawrason – The slopes on the east and west sides of the lake near Kelowna are, in my mind, prime pinot country in BC. The Sperling site is farther “inland’  and higher altitude, producing a lighter, tighter, leaner pinot style, that is still based on a “hot rock-lava”minerality I have come to pick up in this region.  Riveting, mouthwatering wine that should age very well. Sara d’Amato – Sperling’s home vineyard site in the Okanagan is home to this expressive and world-class pinot with both freshness and impact. Modern, stylish but well endowed with classic pinot charm.

Local Pinot

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Old Vines Pinot Noir 2010Rosewood Select Pinot Noir 2012Rosewood Select Series 2012 Pinot Noir, Niagara Escarpment ($21.95)
John Szabo – Of the two local pinots I recommend this week, Rosewood’s represents the light and delicate, feminine side of the grape, also in the dusty, savoury and earthy flavour spectrum. I think this style works well for Niagara, especially at the price. Think savoury Côte de Beaune style. Best 2014-2017.
Sara d’Amato -This premium series pinot noir from meadery Rosewood Estate is an impressive feat of complexity, depth and compelling texture. Long and elegant and featuring notes of exotic spice, bramble and cherry.

Château Des Charmes 2010 Estate Bottled Old Vines Pinot NoirNiagara-on-the-Lake ($18.95)
John Szabo – Compared to the Rosewood pinot, CdC’s is decidedly meaty, firm and tannic, reflective of this warmer corner of Niagara and the typical sort of rustic profile I often find in St. David’s Bench pinot. I’d let this unwind for another year or two for maximum enjoyment. Best 2015-2020.

Sparkling, White and Red

Graham Beck Brut Rosé Méthode Cap Classique, Western Cape, South Africa ($20.95)
John Szabo – This is a terrific value for money from Graham Beck, delivering substantial red berry and toasty brioche flavours in a complex ensemble.

Gaston Chiquet Brut Rosé, Champagne, France (54.95)
David Lawrason – This 23 hectare family property has delivered a quite delicate well balance pink Champagne. It is based predominantly on pinot meunier, the third cousin red grape of the region, with some pinot noir. Although not a high-strung, acid driven Champagne it does deliver gentle red fruit flavours with some charm and tenderness. Please don’t over chill this mild-mannered wine.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve Champagne, France ($64.95)
David Lawrason – This famous house delivers real finesse in its Champagnes.  It is light, elegant and racy with mature aromas of straw, honey, pear custard and spice. Very refined with great length.

Graham Beck Brut Rosé, Méthode Cap Classique Gaston Chiquet Brut Rosé Champagne Billecart Salmon Brut Réserve Champagne Evening Land Seven Springs Chardonnay 2011 Stags' Leap Winery Viognier 2013

Evening Land 2011 Seven Springs ChardonnayEola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($58.95)
John Szabo – From the vineyard of the same name and made by Canadian Isabelle Meunier (formerly assistant winemaker at Le Clos Jordanne in Niagara) under the consultancy of Dominique Lafon, this is a stellar wine, even if from relatively young vines. I love the salty, tangy, savoury profile fully shifted into the tertiary phase (i.e. not simply fruity), and wonderful textured – an authentic terroir expression. Best 2014-2021.

Stags’ Leap Winery 2013 Viognier Napa Valley, California ($34.95)
John Szabo – One of the best viogniers from this storied estate that I’ve had – the wines seem to get better here every year under Christophe Paubert. It would make a cracking match with Vietnamese dishes inflected with basil and a touch of heat. Best 2014-2019.

De Buxy Buissonnier 2011 Montagny 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($19.95)
David Lawrason – I’ve always been a fan of tender, fruity chardonnays of Montagny, a village in the Chalonnais blessed with a seam of limestone soil. This is a classic Burgundy chardonnay with pure apple, grapefruit and just a touch oak spice.

Domaine Le Verger 2012 Chablis, France ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Great value here in a basic but quite exciting taut, firm mouthwatering Chablis, just what I expect from chardonnay grown around the sleepy village in northern France.  No oak; just mouth-watering acidity and Chablis’s certain stoniness.

Domaine Cauhapé 2013 Chant Des Vignes Dry Jurancon, France ($16.95)
John Szabo – Looking for something different? Try this original wine from southwest France made from gros and petit manseng. It’s more fruity than floral, and more stony than fruity, yet with most of the action on the palate. Density and weight are great for the money, and length is also impressive. Cauhapé is a reference for the region. Best 2014-2018.

De Buxy Buissonnier Montagny 1er Cru 2011 Domaine Le Verger Chablis 2012 Domaine Cauhapé Chant Des Vignes Dry Jurancon 2013 Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2012

Creekside 2013 Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc, Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95)
John Szabo – Creekside has made a specialty of sauvignon blanc, and this 2013 from the vineyard behind the estate (the “Backyard”) delivers fine intensity and depth. It sits on the riper side of the spectrum, more guava and passion fruit than green herbs and asparagus, with lovely fleshy orchard fruit on the palate.

Penfolds 2012 Bin 128 Shiraz Coonawarra, South Australia ($34.95)
John Szabo – It would be hard to imagine a more consistent company than Penfolds, and the Bin 128, created in 1962 to reflect cooler, spicy Coonawarra shiraz, has just about everything one could want at the price. French oak, which replaced American from the 1980 vintage onward, contributes to making this a relatively restrained and elegant example, albeit definitely dense and concentrated. Best 2014-2022.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Aug 30th:

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

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


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

New at the LCBO for August

The latest general listings & current features
by Steve Thurlow with selections from Sara d’Amato

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

It may sometimes seem as though nothing really changes at the LCBO – the most popular wines are always there. But in fact new wines are constantly being added to the General List to replace wines that fail to achieve sales targets or have been removed or “delisted” for other reasons. This keeps the current number of wines available at around 1500. Over the last couple of months we have tasted about 50 new arrivals and have chosen 13 of them to highlight for you.

To check on inventory at your local LCBO set up your Favourite Store in Find Wine. You can find our complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great value wines!

Reds and a Rosé

Radio Boka Tempranillo 2012, Valencia, Spain $11.00

A midweight balanced tempranillo red from Spain’s eastern region; should be great with a rack of lamb.

Sella & Mosca Rosato 2013, Alghero, Sardinia, Italy $11.65

A deep salmon pink rose with lots of flavour, made from the cannonau or grenache grape grown throughout this Mediterranean island.

Tons De Duorum Red 2011, Douro Valley, Portugal $12.30

An excellent BBQ red; fruity, flavourful with some structure. The new wave of reds from Portugal’s port country offer some of the best values today.

Radio Boka Tempranillo 2012Sella & Mosca Rosato 2013Tons De Duorum Red 2011Vina Leyda Reserva Pinot Noir 2012

Vina Leyda Reserva Pinot Noir 2012, Leyda Valley, Chile $12.50

A soft fragrant, juicy and very flavourful pinot noir from the exciting, new cool coastal Leyda Valley.

Pessoa Da Vinha Reserva Douro 2010 Portugal $12.70

Exceptional value for a fragrant structured dense fruity red. Another great Douro buy.

Castel Freres Haury Grenache Petite Edition 2011, Vin De France $12.70

A generous, supple, spicy and flavourful grenache from the generic Vin de France appellation.

Pessoa Da Vinha Reserva Douro 2010Castel Freres Haury Grenache Petite Edition 2011Wakefield Promised Land Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Figuero Tinto 4 Tempranillo 2012

Wakefield Promised Land Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 South Australia $14.85

A soft vibrant juicy cabernet. Loads of flavour here.

Figuero Tinto 4 Tempranillo 2012 Ribera del Duero, Spain $17.75

A great price for a classy elegant red for fine dining.

Whites and a Sparkling

Periquita White 2013, Portugal $8.80

A fruity fragrant white made from indigenous Portuguese grape varieties, that is ideal for mildly flavoured seafood.

Laroche Viognier De La Chevaliere 2013 Pays D’Oc France $12.70

A rich powerful viognier – the queen of the Rhone whites varieties – with strong aromas and flavours.

Winzer Krems Sandgrube 13 Grüner Veltliner 2013 Kremstal, Austria $12.80

A good entry-level gruner – Austria’s signature white – with a typical white pepper spice tone to nose and palate.

Periquita White 2013Laroche Viognier De La Chevaliere 2013Winzer Krems Sandgrube 13 Grüner Veltliner 2013Cavas Hill 1887 BrutSilver Bay Riesling Gewurztraminer 2013

Cavas Hill 1887 Brut, Penedes, Spain $13.20

Bright, cheerful and dry sparkling Spanish Cava with a lightness befitting the warmer months.

Silver Bay Riesling Gewurztraminer 2013 VQA Ontario $13.95

New from the Speck brothers of Henry of Pelham fame, this is a fruity, fresh and fun, rather simple but with good varietal character in an elegant beachy package.


Feel free to share your feedback on these wines or on any of your favourties. We’ll be back in a few weeks time with our Top 20 Under $20. In the meanwhile  if you still need picks, check our my list of Top 50 wine values by dipping into the Top 50 LCBO and Vintages Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste.

Steve Thurlow


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 16th – Part One

Southern France
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Southern France in general, and the sprawling crescent-shaped region of the Languedoc-Roussillon in particular, is one of the smartest places to go shopping for character-filled wines at inordinately low prices. That’s the focus of this week’s report, and of the VINTAGES August 16th release. Read on for some terrific values in the robust red category and more.

Southern France: Hot Spot for Value

Southern France, or the Midi as it’s popularly known (because the scorching sun always seems to be right above your head, as at noon), continues on the trajectory towards quality wine started back in the 1990s. The bureaucracy-fraught process of identifying unique terroirs (and getting everybody to agree on where to draw the lines) continues in French wine officialdom, even if the most experienced growers in this millennial wine region have known the sources of the top wines since time immemorial.

The latest area to be granted official AOP status (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) is the Terrasses du Larzac, while La Clape awaits its promotion likely later this year, joining now fifteen table wine appellations and four fortified muscat AOPs in the Languedoc. The Roussillon is home to another three table wine and six fortified wine AOPs. In all, this massive region is incredibly varied at best, and hopelessly bewildering at worst, with terroirs as diverse as the sandy seaside AOPs like Picpoul de Pinet, to the more elevated, inland AOPs where altitude (as in the sparkling wine enclave of Limoux), and myriad soils like schist in St. Chinian, limestone in Minervois-La Livinières or sandstones in the Grès de Montpellier play an important role in wine style. Considering that together the Languedoc and Roussillon contribute nearly 30% of France’s annual wine production, there’s a lot to discover.

Sara d’Amato, who has just returned from her 27th trip to southern France, has this to say:

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

“I feel like I know it less than ever before; the region is an incredibly complex tapestry that is still being sewn. It’s both steeped in tradition and yet has some of the most progressive producers, and with every visit there are new appellations to discover (one of interest in the August 16th release is Malepère).”

But what’s also important to know is that this corner of France, perhaps because of its sheer size, its complexity and the historic reputation for inferior bulk wine that still seems to dog the region, is an excellent source for value. The Languedoc-Roussillon still has yet to really establish itself as a source of high quality in the way that many other parts of France have, and thus prices run up against the relatively low ceilings of commercial reality. Yet it’s not for lack of effort or even quality in the glass.

The climate, “one of the sunniest and driest on earth”, a bronzed Sara reminds me, lends itself to quasi de facto organic viticulture. Many of the top estates have been farming this way for generations. Large tracks of old vines are the rule rather than the exception, and the myriad of grape varieties and terroirs offer an enticing palette of styles. And most importantly, a large and growing number of vignerons, including of course locals, but also foreigners (especially English) who’ve fallen in love with the region and its climate and have been inspired to make small batches of quality wine, as well as celebrated winegrowers from other parts of France who’ve recognized the confluence of potential quality and relatively low production costs, are taking advantage of the circumstances to make excellent inexpensive wine.

For the southern France-themed VINTAGES release on August 16th, many of the same, larger producers appear again (thanks in part to their active and competent importing agents), and thus as usual many of the smaller boutique producers get pushed out. But there’s nonetheless a decent collection of wines with which to begin, or renew, your discovery. The following are recommended by one of more WineAlign critics.

Buyer’s Guide for VINTAGES August 16th: Southern France

Hecht & Bannier Minervois 2011Château De Lastours Grande Réserve Corbières 2008Guillaume Aurèle 2013 ViognierGuillaume Aurèle 2013 Viognier, Pays d’Oc, France ($13.95).
John Szabo – Here’s a delicious little value, full of typical varietal character like candied violets and succulent peach-nectarine orchard fruit. The palate remains remarkably fresh and balanced, with tingling acids and integrated alcohol. A smart buy for summer sipping outdoors, when aromatic amplitude is needed to combat gentle breezes.
David Lawrason – Viognier is always an adventure, its strong personality enchanting some, but turning others off. This one may be extra challenging – it’s savoury, powerful and dry – but I can’t believe the gumption and depth it delivers at $14. For devotees or adventurers only.

Château De Lastours 2008 Grande Réserve Corbières, France ($22.95)
John Szabo – This is an evidently ripe, modern style, but the masses of fruit should be more than enough to see it through to full integration. Although a distant analogy, it should appeal to fans of classy Napa cabernet, especially at the price. Despite six years of age, I’d still tuck this away until 2016, and then pull it out blind for your friends and wait for the superlatives to fly. Best 2016-2020.
Sara d’Amato: Corbières is the largest appellation in Languedoc-Roussillon and one of the largest in all of France. Previously known for producing inexpensive but cheerful reds, it now boasts many an interesting gem. Reds dominate, produced from 50% carignan – a variety that does best in warm, dry climates and produces wines of significant tannin, colour and ever-important acidity. Balanced and elegant but rich and full bodied, this example is immensely compelling and memorable – not to be missed!

Hecht & Bannier 2011 Minervois Ac France ($20.95)
John Szabo – The reliable negociant house of Hecht & Bannier established in 2002 rarely disappoints – this dynamic pair specializes in red wines, visiting hundreds of producers each year to select the most representative wines of each appellation, often from higher elevation sites and very old vines. 600l demi-muids preserve fruit as well as the savoury Mediterranean flavours that make these wines so interesting.
Sara d’Amato – Minervois vineyards benefit from relatively high altitude – up to 350m, near Carcassonne on the foothills of the Montaigne Noire that protects the vines from northern winds. The wines can be a little more racy and nervy than typical Languedoc-Roussillon wines and often boast delicious minerality, like this outstanding example.
David Lawrason - Minervois has always struck me as a more rugged, less refined and rustic wine. Even in the hands of these modernist winemakers, the sense is unchanged.   This is solid yet approachable, and it rings true.

Château De Treviac 2011Hecht & Bannier St Chinian 2011Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir Pic Saint Loup 2011Château De Treviac 2011 Corbières Ap, France ($17.95)
John Szabo – A deep, dark, resinous herb (bay leaf, oregano, lavender) and spicy fruit-flavoured Corbières, with no small measure of the attractive savage qualities typical of this corner of southern France, which occasionally finds a new world counterpart in Chile.
Sara d’Amato – Another great value Corbières and this time with unusually complex flavours and surprising length. Although we’ve seen this very vintage grace the LCBO shelves in the past, it remains impressive with a solid framework of tannins and a real depth of flavour.

Hecht & Bannier 2011 St-Chinian AC, France ($25.95)
John Szabo - Of the two excellent Hecht & Bannier wines in the release, the St. Chinian is the more characterful, minerally wine, almost painfully so. It’s by no means easy drinking; attentive tasting is required to fully appreciate, but I love the regionally distinctive scorched earth, schistous stoniness and firm, dusty tannins. Best after 2015 – let it unwind a bit.
David Lawrason – H&B is a relatively new, dynamic negociant that purchases grapes, juice and wine across the south of France – paying the highest prices, they claim. And they turn out intense, bright and savoury reds. I love their objective for St. Chinian: “We first focus on finding the areas where the Syrah presents a floral and licorice bouquet”. They’ve nailed it here.

Gérard Bertrand 2011 Grand Terroir Pic Saint Loup, Coteaux du Languedoc, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – One of my favourite terroirs in the Languedoc, the Pic St. Loup itself is a massive limestone ridge about 20kms from the sea that marks the transition from coastal plains to the inland hilly zone. The savoury character of this example is a direct reflection of the wildly fragrant vegetative scrub (garrigue) that covers the region. This is lovely stuff for the money, with additional capacity to improve over the next 2-3 years. Best 2014-2021.

Château De Gourgazaud Cuvée Mathilde Minervois 2011Gérard Bertrand Saint Chinian 2009Château De Cointes Marie Anne Malepère 2011Château De Cointes Marie-Anne 2011 Malepère Ac, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – Malepère marks the divide between Atlantic and Mediterranean-influenced zones, also reflected in the permitted varietal mix. This blend of 1/3 each of merlot, cabernet franc and grenache, works beautifully; I love the freshness and florality from the Bordeaux components, along with the luscious, generous and ripe side from grenache, resulting in a complete and highly appealing ensemble. Best 2014-2019.

Gérard Bertrand 2009 Saint-Chinian Syrah Mourvèdre, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – Gerard Bertrand produces some authentic feeling wines and this aged example is no exception. Saint-Chinian is known for wines that are tannic and quite muscular but have a lovely freshness and fruit spice about them. They are planted solely on slopes that face the sea, which allows them to benefit from moderating temperatures and breezes.

Château De Gourgazaud 2011 Cuvée Mathilde Minervois, France ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Gourgazaud deserves an endurance medal for holding up the Minervois category – indeed all of the Languedoc – at the LCBO for years on end. The limestone-soil based estate uses only syrah and mourvèdre, providing a lifted, linear, spicy ambiance that I have always loved. Mathilde infuses more fruit presence and richness. This is delicious and ridiculously cheap.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Aug 16th:

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

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



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

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 19th – Part Two

Guess Who’s Coming to the BBQ?
by David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo

David New 2014

David Lawrason

Every year about this time food and wine media all over the northern hemisphere like to feed into the season with features on BBQ wines – and VINTAGES magazine is no exception with the July 19th release. As if we needed help to understand that what we really want are wines to fit the relaxed, convivial mood of dining outdoors. We want fruit and balance and purity. We don’t really need nuance, and we don’t want to belabour precise matches to this or that. Nor do we want average quality wines masquerading as BBQ wines just because they are cheap. There is some art to creating balanced wine, and it is fine by me if that means they are more expensive. VINTAGES has its selections, but we only align with them on and couple in terms of quality. So we have gone beyond to suggest others that show balance, purity and flavour depth – wines that make us feel good, like an evening with friends and family, for which the BBQ is merely a prop.

Where the Stars Align

Hedesheimer Hof Weingut Beck Grauer Burgunder Kabinett Trocken 2012Paco & Lola Albariño 2012Hedesheimer Hof Grauer 2012 Burgunder Kabinett Trocken, Pfalz, Germany ($18.95).
David Lawrason – I am paying a lot of attention to pinot whites from the warmer German regions of Pfalz and Baden. This has real polish and oodles of fruit.
Sara d’Amato – Oof, the name is a bit of a mouthful but so is the wine – rich, decadent and deserving of such a grand title. To break it down, name of the grape: grauer burgunder aka pinot gris; the level of quality or sweetness: Kabinett Trocken (Kabinett is generally off-dry unless designated “trocken”). A sure-fire value.

Paco & Lola 2012 Albariño, Rías Baixas, Galicia, Spain ($18.95)
David Lawrason - The fragrant, slightly exotic albarino grape – that is making waves along the Atlantic coasts of northwestern Spain and over the border in northern Portugal’s Vihno Verde – has a very summery, garden fresh appeal. This particular example is one of the best to arrive this year.
Sara d’Amato – A terrific introduction to albarino, this textbook example is nicely packaged and offers appealing notes of dried herb, saline, pear, lime and lemon curd. Juicy and fresh but also with great presence and gumption.

Alain Jaume Grande Garrigue Vacqueyras 2012Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler 2012 RieslingDr. Pauly Bergweiler Riesling 2012, Mosel, Germany ($13.95)
David Lawrason – This is shockingly good value – a classy, super fresh and bright Mosel riesling. It may not work with grilled foods, but if your al fresco dining also includes fruit based salads and mild cheeses grab a handful.
John Szabo – Dr. Pauly’s basic QBA riesling is a terrific deal, offering all of the hallmark Mosel riesling character at a price that would make most rieslings blush. This would make a fine “house” wine for the summer.

Alain Jaume 2012 Grande Garrigue Vacqueyras, Rhone Valley, France ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Meat–meisters who want more than fruit in their red will love this rich, ripe, plummy, peppery, spicy southern Rhône. My love affair with Vacqueyras continues, but this is not for the faint of heart.
Sara d’Amato – In the shadow of the great wines of Gigondas, Vacqueyras is certainly an unsung hero of the Côtes-du-Rhône, producing some of the better values of the southern villages. This example is really quite polished, tight and refined with all the “garrigue” that title suggests. Fleshy, juicy and widely appealing.

Lawrason’s Picks

Niro 2012 Pecorino, Terre di Chieti, Abruzzo, Italy ($15.95). Pecorino – the grape not the cheese – is emerging as yet another “discovery white” among the somm set. With good reason. This is a bright, balanced, subtle yet powerful dry white – not to mention excellent value.

Rockway 2012 Small Lot Block 12-150 Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($18.95). Since Niagara College grad David Stasiuk took over the winemaking helm at Rockway the quality has rocketed at the only Ontario winery with a golf course. This has good weight, presence and depth with some refreshing stoniness.

Viña Cobos 2012 Felino Malbec, Mendoza ($19.95). Argentina will undoubtedly be drowning their soccer sorrows with great hunks of scorched beef and mugs of malbec. Commiserate with this lovely, balance beauty from the hands of California roving oenologist Paul Hobbs.

Niro Pecorino 2012 Rockway Small Lot Block 12 150 Riesling 2012 Viña Cobos Felino Malbec 2012 Brazin (B)Old Vine Zinfandel 2011 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2011 Herdade Do Sobroso Sobro Red 2012

Brazin 2011 (B)old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, California ($19.95). This has good heft and thankfully comes up just short of being overly confected and mocha-fied like so many of its modern, overly commercialized peers. The nose has some of the brambly, woodsy, outdoorsy character (the French would call it garrigue) that I like in authentic zin.

MacMurray Ranch 2011 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County ($24.95). Yes it is a borderline overly fruity, sweetish California pinot, but it actually hangs together, and has ideal out-door ease, freshness and charm. Chill lightly.

Herdade do Sobroso 2012 Sobro Red, Alentejano, Portugal ($14.95). This is a decent buy in easy drinking Portuguese red – and not often do you hear those words in the same sentence. It blends local varieties of southern Portugal with cabernet and syrah, aged just a short time of three months in barrel to maintain exuberant fruity appeal.

More Picks from Sara

Schreckbichl Colterenzio 2012 Pinot Grigio, Alto Adige, Italy ($18.95). Although we saw this come through almost a year ago, I certainly preferred it most recently. The wine has seen a lovely mini evolution and is drinking beautifully at this point.

Château Haut Dina 2010, Côtes De Bordeaux Castillon, Bordeaux, France ($15.00). A rustic, traditional blend primarily made up of merlot as is usually the case in the right bank. Undeniably charming with some lovely pleasure enhancing faults such as just a touch of brett and volatility. Such ruggedness is nicely balanced with a wide array of fruit from plum to fig. A wine with a great deal to offer at this price – Bordeaux traditionalists take note!

Chateau-Haut-Dina-2010 Perrin & Fils l'Andéol Rasteau 2011 Viña Tarapacá Gran Reserva Carmenère 2011

Perrin & Fils 2011 l’Andéol Rasteau, Côtes Du Rhône Villages, Rhône, France ($19.95). Rasteau can grow remarkable grenache on its sunbaked terrain and the varietal often makes up a good deal of the appellation’s blends. Typically a good value, the 2011 l’Andéol is immediately appealing, revealing and easy to appreciate. Its affable, supple and succulent nature makes for a terrific everyday red but it is also quite versatile and can be enjoyed from aperitif to cheese course.

Viña Tarapacá 2011 Gran Reserva Carmenère, Maipo Valley, Chile ($17.95). One of last year’s judges picks at the World Wine Awards of Canada, Tarapaca’s Gran Reserva shows no signs of loss of life. In fact, it continues to exhibit more harmony and complexity as it gently matures. Sourced from high quality vineyards throughout the Maipo, it is especially distinctive of place and variety and exhibits the structure and concentration of a wine twice its price.

Szabo’s Best Buys

Fattori Motto Piane Soave 2011

Mastroberardino Greco Di Tufo 2011

Cave Spring 2011 CSV RieslingCave Spring Riesling CSV 2011, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95). 2011 is a fine vintage for the Cave Spring CSV riesling, balancing ripeness and freshness in the usual dry and more full-bodied style favoured by winemaker Angelo Pavan. A fine wine for current enjoyment or mid-term cellaring.

Mastroberardino 2012 Greco Di Tufo, Campania, Italy ($22.00). Regional leader Mastroberardino delivers another fine example of Greco di Tufo, which, along with Fiano di Avellino, producers the region’s top whites in my view – this has character and personality in spades, and no small measure of volcanic-ash minerality.

Fattori 2011 Soave Motto Piane, Veneto Italy ($22.95). Soave is a schizophrenic region, with a large but uninteresting part of production grown on flat, overly fertile soils. The best, however, come from the poor volcanic hills to the north, like this, from a 3.9h parcel of 30-year-old garganega on Monte Calvarina. Grapes are dried for 40 days to create a full-bodied, rich and creamy, intensely flavoured example, with high alcohol (14.5%) and a whack of salty, savoury, volcanic minerality. A fine find for fans of distinctiveness and regional character.

Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2010

Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

Trimbach 2011 Réserve Pinot GrisTrimbach Réserve Pinot Gris 2011, Alsace, France ($23.95). A lovely wine in the classic, upright, firm and dry Trimbach style, with excellent intensity and length, especially considering the generally lighter and earlier maturing 2011 vintage.

Castello Di Gabbiano 2009 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($22.95). 2009 is a full and very ripe, structured and concentrated vintage for the Gabbiano Riserva, displaying almost Brunello like richness, which was my guess (and teammates Sara D’Amato and Steve Thurlow) when faced with this wine blind in the final episode of So, You Think You Know Wine?, season four. Suffice to say that it has depth and intensity above the mean.

Dei 2010 Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy ($27.95). I love the elegant wines of Dei, always seamless and refined, structured and complex, neither overly traditional nor obviously modern. The 2010 is a fine vintage, the epitome of refined sangiovese.

Domaine Berthoumieu Haute Tradition Madiran 2011

Abad Dom Bueno Crianza 2006

Château Lalande-Borie 2010, Saint-JulienChâteau Lalande Borie 2010, Bordeaux, France ($39.85). Arch-classical left bank Bordeaux from a great vintage, best after 2018, or hold until the late ’20s.

Abad Dom Bueno 2006 Crianza Do Bierzo, Spain ($14.95). Wow – what a terrific value. Most wines in this price range can only dream of this complexity. It’s fully mature, yet still holds on to attractive dark fruit and floral character. To buy by the case.

Domaine Berthoumieu 2011 Haute Tradition Madiran, Southwest France ($17.95). I first tasted the wines of Didier Barré over a dozen years ago and was impressed then, as I am now, by the way he manages to tame the rough tannins of tannat without sacrificing regional character and authenticity. This wine will appeal to fans of classic cabernet sauvignon, with which it shares similar dark berry, cassis fruit flavours and firm structure. Best suited to cuts of rare-grilled beef or lamb on the BBQ.


And that’s it for this edition. I will be missing the great i4c event this weekend due to foreign travels (a rare trip to New Zealand in winter) but John Szabo will be in Niagara flying the flag and moderating events. If you have some time to catch up on your reading don’t miss recently published articles wherein John explores the wines of Greece in-depth, and Julian Hitner raises the awareness of Haut-Medoc in Bordeaux, an especially good source of good value wines in the terrific 2010 vintage.

Until next time!

From VINTAGES July 19th release:

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews
July 19th Part One – Very Cool Chardonnay

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


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

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 19th – Part One

A Complete Starter’s Kit for the i4c and Very Cool Chardonnay
by John Szabo MS with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report features chardonnay in the key of cool, the thematic of the VINTAGES July 19th release, as well raison d’être of the upcoming International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. The i4c, as it’s better known, is just that: a celebration of chardonnay grown in cool places around the world. The WineAlign team has put together a robust preview of some of the top wines that will be poured over the course of the weekend, which runs from July 18-20th in venues across Niagara. And even if you’re not going, these chardonnays are worth knowing. Next week, we’ll cover the top picks for the obligatory backyard BBQ.

The idea for the i4c was dreamt up on a summer’s night in 2009 by a group of local winemakers lounging around a backyard fire. These winemakers believed that chardonnay, one of the most widely planted grapes in Ontario, “is deserving of a renaissance. It’s resilient and refined. It can be steely or floral, complex or focused. It expresses terroir better than any other grape we grow.” And the Niagara-based celebration of cool climate chardonnay was born.

The forward-thinking group also realized that Ontario chardonnay needed to be put into an international context, and so it was mandated that at least half of the participating wineries in the yearly celebration would be from outside of the province to ensure a truly global view of the myriad nuances of chardonnay grown in cool climates. The celebration’s clever motto – 400,000 acres can’t be wrong – tells the story of chardonnay’s dominance of the fine wine world, with Ontario seeking to establish its own niche within.

School of cool

The School of Cool at i4c

It was also determined that a respected international keynote speaker with an important outsider’s perspective would be invited each year – a show of confidence by the local industry. The inaugural celebration in 2011 welcomed Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator, Stephen Brook (Decanter) joined in 2012 and Steven Spurrier (Decanter) in 2013. Tim Atkin MW, a multi award-winning London-based wine writer and broadcaster will deliver this year’s keynote address and share his perspective on how Ontarian vintners are performing while the world is watching.

Although there is a full day of technical talk aimed at the trade on Friday the 18th at Brock University, the rest of the weekend’s events are designed for general enjoyment. Stephen Brook had this to say about the 2012 edition: “We gathered to celebrate some great cool climate wines and to explore what makes them distinctive, but we also enjoyed those wines with top international winemakers alongside great food in a delightfully informal atmosphere. The perfect blend of sophisticated appreciation and unsophisticated fun”.

Principals from fifty-eight wineries and around 2000 guests are anticipated over the course of the weekend, and I’d hope to see you among them. I’ll be moderating the technical sessions on Friday, so if you’re particularly keen, stop by with your most detailed questions. Panels of experts have been convened to discuss topics like “Yield in Context: a discussion regarding the importance of yield in producing high quality wines, in relationship to other factors (terroir, weather, mesoclimate, vine age”. It’s the sort of stuff that has kept you up at night wondering. For all of the rest of the event details and tickets visit:

Your i4c Starter Kit: Some Top Preview Picks

Unless you’re amazingly efficient and plan on staying in Niagara for the whole weekend, it’ll be tough to taste over a hundred wines. So here’s a short, if not comprehensive, list of what not to miss to get you started; even if you’re not attending the i4c, these are chardonnays worth tracking down. All recommendations will be either released through VINTAGES on July 19th, or are available directly from wineries.

International Selections

Domaine Dublère Savigny Lès Beaune Aux Vergelesses 1er Cru 2011Champy Pernand Vergelesses En Caradeux Premier Cru 2011Triple Alignment! No chardonnay celebration of any kind would be complete without wines from the spiritual and physical home of chardonnay, and Burgundy is indeed represented by several fine wines. At the top of the quality pile is the Maison Champy 2011 Pernand-Vergelesses En Caradeux 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($49.95).

John Szabo – Although En Caradeux may not be the most celebrated 1er cru in Pernand, Champy’s bottlings in recent vintages have been outstanding, and this one follows in the same vein. It also underscores the dramatic improvements that the larger negociant houses have been forced to make to keep up with the rising quality of small family-run domaines. The 2011 is an excellent success for the vintage, to be enjoyed after 2016 or held into the mid-twenties.
David Lawrason - Sitting at the foot of the Corton-Charlemagne vineyards this Pernand is one of the great underrated white wine sites of Burgundy. Combine that with much improved winemaking at the tiny negociant firm of Champy in Beaune and you get one exciting, cracking good chardonnay.
Sara D’Amato – En Caradeux is a tiny 1er Cru climat located within Pernand Vergelesses that produces both chardonnay and pinot noir, but is best known for its whites. There is great dimension and length to this wildly compelling wine with a touch of naughty volatility.

Triple Alignment!

John Szabo – The village of Savigny-les-Beaune is arguably the best of the lesser-known communes of the Côtes de Beaune, and one of my favourite hunting grounds for value, such as it exists in the Côte d’Or. The 2011 Domaine Dublère Savigny-Lès-Beaune Aux Vergelesses 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($58.95) is hardly inexpensive, but drinks like solid Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru with its restrained, firm, tightly wound, briskly mineral style.  It’s another exception to the rule of usually light and delicate 2011s, best after 2017.
David Lawrason – Savigny les Beaune and Pernand Vergelesses are adjoining AOCs, so I am assuming this hails from a site somewhere on the border. And it delivers similar quality and style to the Maison Champy Pernand, if in a slightly more sleek and tender style of Savigny.
Sara D’Amato – The Vergelesses vineyard is the closest of the Savigny-les-Beaune sites to Pernand-Vergelesses which nuzzles up to the Grand Cru sites of Corton. Expect terrific depth, poise and substance from this exceptional chardonnay that I rarely reward with such a score.  Both grand and reserved, this is an epic wine.

DECELLE-VILLA SAVIGNY-LES-BEAUNE BLANC 2012Domaine Nadine Ferrand Lise Marie Pouilly Fuissé 2011Also fine value from the same village is the Decelle-Villa 2012 Savigny-Les-Beaune Blanc, Burgundy, France ($40.95), a producer who has attended the i4c in the past. Olivier Decelle is the man behind the highly regarded fortified Roussillon wines of Mas Amiel, while Pierre-Jean Villa helped develop les Vins de Vienne, a sought-after boutique négociant in the northern Rhône. The pair has joined forces in Burgundy, where they share a cellar with Canadian Thomas Bachelder (also at i4c 2014), making wine from both purchased grapes and estate parcels all managed organically or biodynamically. Wood has been masterfully integrated into this minerally ensemble, while elegant white-fleshed fruit dominates the palate.

Domaine Nadine Ferrand Lise-Marie 2011 Pouilly-Fuissé, Burgundy, France ($27.95). Southern Burgundy is another regional hot spot where quality and value intersect. The limestone-rich soils of the hills surrounding the villages of Pouilly and Fuissé yield the region’s top crus (an official cru system is currently being proposed), and Nadine Ferrand farms 10 hectares in the heart of the appellation. In 2011 she produced a very floral Pouilly Fuissé with substantial intensity and depth. I appreciate the freshness and balance on offer, the ethereal nature without being insipid. This is simply well-balanced, genuinely concentrated, well made, regionally representative wine.

Miguel Torres Gran Viña Sol Chardonnay 2012Marimar Estate Acero Chardonnay 2012The Russian River Valley of Sonoma is not a particularly cool region admittedly, but the Marimar Estate 2012 Acero Chardonnay Don Miguel Vineyard Russian River Valley, California, USA ($29.95) is an unoaked cuvée (acero means stainless steel in Spanish) from Marimar Torres, aimed at, and achieving, freshness balanced with typically ripe Russian River fruit. I like the equilibrium of fleshy fruit and firm acids; serve it chilled to tone down generous alcohol and up the freshness.

Double Alignment!

John Szabo – And keeping it in the family, Marimar’s father Don Miguel offers the keenly priced Miguel Torres 2012 Gran Viña Sol Chardonnay, Penedès, Spain ($15.95). Cool and Spain aren’t often in the same sentence, but a case can be made for the genuinely cooler highlands of the upper Penedès region north of Barcelona where this wine is grown. It’s simple but fresh and lively, with intensity that’s more than in line with the price category.
Sara D’Amato – The grapes of this well-priced chardonnay come from the middle and upper Penedès at higher elevations (up to 800 meters above sea level) which gives the wine a cooler climate feel of lively fruit and vibrant acids. Just a touch of oak is welcome and matches the intensity of this peppery wine well.

A Banker’s Dozen Very Cool Ontario Chardonnays (All will be at the i4c)

Hidden Bench 2011 Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($38.00) From Hidden Bench, owned by the former i4c chairman Harald Thiel, this a really very fine chardonnay. The Felseck vineyard on the Beamsville Bench has consistently yielded minerally, palpably chalky-textured wines over the past several vintages and the 2011 even brings that minerally edge up a notch or two. It’s tightly wound and stony the way we like it, and surely one of the top chardonnays of the vintage.

Hillebrand Showcase Series 2012 Wild Ferment Chardonnay Oliveira Vineyard, Lincoln Lakeshore ($36.20)The Oliveira Vineyard in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation is one of the few sites below the Niagara Bench that’s capable of producing genuinely mineral and composed examples of chardonnay, as Hillebrand (now Trius) has consistently shown over several vintages. The 2012 is given royal treatment in the cellar including a ‘wild ferment’ with native yeasts, and is rich and powerful to be sure, but also poised and highly stony, with impressive balance.

Tawse 2011 Quarry Road Chardonnay, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula $34.95 The Quarry Road vineyard in the cool Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation is consistently my favorite chardonnay from the excellent Tawse range, and 2011 has yielded another first class edition. It stands out for its purity, precision and pristine fruit and limestone character.

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay 2011Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay Oliveira Vineyard 2012Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2011Malivoire Mottiar Chardonnay 2011

Malivoire 2011 Mottiar Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95) Malivoire winemaker Shiraz Mottiar spotted the site that he would eventually purchase while cycling along the Niagara Escarpment, divining that this abandoned pear orchard, directly under the limestone cliff of the Escarpment could potentially yield fine wine. He appears to have been right. It was planted in 2003, and has since proved itself to be an excellent source for mineral-suffused, true cool climate chardonnay. This 2011 version is neither rich nor lean, but offers a certain honey-slathered stone character that I find highly appealing.

Norman Hardie 2012 Unfiltered County Chardonnay, VQA Prince Edward County ($39.00) Norm Hardie has done as much as anyone to put Canadian chardonnay on the map, and his wines have become staples on top wine lists across the country. The 2012 ‘County’ offers immediate enjoyment without sacrificing the hallmark minerality and elegance of the house style. This also has a bit more weight and flesh than the mean and fills the mouth in satisfying fashion, though still clocks in at just 12.1% without a hint of green – the magic of Prince Edward County.

Lailey Vineyard 2012 Chardonnay Old Vines, VQA Niagara River, Niagara Peninsula ($40.20) This wine could certainly be included in a panel discussion on vine age vs. quality, making an eloquent that argument that older vines make better wine. From vines planted over 35 years ago, this is well-made, quality wine with integrity and honesty.

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay Unfiltered 2012Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay Old Vines 2012Cave Spring Csv Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2011Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011

Cave Spring 2011 CSV Estate Bottled Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95)A cool and composed, vintage for the Cave Spring CSV chardonnay, one of the most reliable in Ontario year after year. It’s more than fairly priced for the quality on offer.

Bachelder 2011 Niagara Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($29.95) Thomas Bachelder is an obvious chardonnay (and pinot) fanatic, making these two grapes in three countries (Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara). Just about anything under his label is worth a look, including his ‘entry level’ Niagara chardonnay blended from three blocks (Wismer, Saunders and Wismer-Foxcroft) He’ll also be pouring the excellent single vineyard Wismer chardonnay at the i4c as well.

Triple Alignment! Le Clos Jordanne 2011 Village Reserve Chardonnay VQA Niagara Peninsula ($30.00)

John Szabo – 2011 is shaping up to be a fine vintage for Le Clos’ whites, a combination of maturing vines, and winemaker Sébastien Jacquey getting more attuned to the vagaries of Niagara and the specifics of his vineyards. This is certainly no major step down from the other “crus”, so fair value to be sure.
David Lawrason - The Village reserve may be the basic “vineyard blend” in the Le Clos lineup, and perhaps lacking a bit of finesse of its more expensive stable mates, but this is solid, complex, thoughtful cool climate chardonnay.
Sara D’Amato – Liquid loveliness – this entry level chardonnay from Le Clos Jordanne benefits from a superb vintage that was, by all accounts, warm and dry but with a bit of a dicey start that may have caused some natural thinning and subsequent concentration in the resulting wines. Here is a wine with definition, with amplitude and on a path of graceful maturation – a fine example of cool climate character.

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2011Southbrook Vineyards WhimsyStratus Chardonnay 2012

And for those who like more sumptuous versions of chardonnay, there are two from the marginally warmer growing area south of Niagara on the Lake. The Southbrook Vineyards 2012 Whimsy! “Richness” Chardonnay, VQA Niagara On The Lake ($34.95) is a barrel selection of wines that fit winemaker Ann Sperling’s whimsy of the vintage. It’s from biodynamically-grown estate fruit, and is really is all about the palate: thick and dense, rich and full, as the name promises.

In a similar vein, the Stratus 2012 Chardonnay, Niagara On The Lake ($48.00) is a wine for fans of full-bodied chardonnay that coats the palate. The overall impression is highly reminiscent of California-style (more Sonoma than Napa) chardonnay, ambitiously oaked and very creamy, not surprising given the input of California consultant Paul Hobbs at Stratus.

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

From VINTAGES July 19th release:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews

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



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

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 5th – Part Two

Spain and the best of the rest
by John Szabo MS with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

This week’s report comes a bit later than usual due to a birthday celebration – Canada’s – and a postponed LCBO tasting, but here we wrap up coverage of the July 5th VINTAGES release with some cool chardonnays leading up to the highly anticipated i4c weekend (International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration) happening July 18th-20th in Niagara, of which more to come next week. We also have some picks from Spain, a couple of rosés and more to get you through the week.

The main feature of the July 5th release is New Zealand, which was admirably covered last week by David and Sara, and it’s safe to say that we have all aligned on the recommendations already set out. Many of my top producers have been highlighted, and the LCBO has done a fine job in selecting some of the top regional representatives. Spain, on the other hand, the mini feature this week, offers less excitement overall. It seems Ontarians are not yet privy to the best that this ascending country has to offer, though there are a couple worth your attention.

Chardonnay comes up strong with a half-dozen very solid wines from California, South Africa, Niagara and Burgundy, proving once again the adaptability and suitability of the world’s most planted fine white grape, while premium rosé – the real, dry, purpose-grown stuff is represented by the country that does it best: France. A few extras round out the week’s picks.


Finca Constancia 2011Star Alignment: Peique 2012 Tinto Mencía, Bierzo ($15.95). John Szabo – Another fine, fruity-savoury example of mencía from Bierzo, with balanced, succulent acids and moderate-firm tannins. This delivers all one could want from a $16 wine. Drink now or hold short-term. David Lawrason – There are plenty of pleasant fruity young (joven) reds coming out of Spain nowadays, but I often find them too soft. The mencia grape of Bierzo however has the character to infuse a bit more tension and refreshment. This is a great summer red; not recommended for power or complexity or depth, but for liveliness in the glass.

Finca Constancia 2011 Vino de La Tierra de Castillia ($18.95). This is a modern Spanish blend of tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, cabernet franc, petit verdot and graciano from vineyards near the picturesuque town of Toledo, part of the Gonzalez-Byass family of wines. It offers exuberant, ripe black berry fruit character in a modern-leaning style, though the palate is all old world with its dusty, firm tannic structure and prominent acids. This should continue to age well over the next 2-5 years, offering a more savoury expression.

Cool Chardonnay

Hamilton Russell 2012 Chardonnay, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa ($32.95). David already highlighted this wine last week, but I think it’s worth another mention. Walker Bay (Hemel-en-Aarde Valley) pioneers Hamilton Russel have led, and continue to lead the pack in this cooler region of South Africa, well-suited to chardonnay and pinot noir. The 2012 chardonnay is an exceptional bottle in every respect, hitting a pitch-perfect balance between ripeness and freshness, oak and fruit, minerals and savoury spice. A very satisfying wine all around, with excellent depth and length, a wine for fans of classically-styled, balanced, minerally chardonnay.

Ridge Vineyards 2012 Estate Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains, California ($59.95). I can’t seem to get enough of Ridge’s top wines – these are peerless in the Golden State for their authentic and regional character. The Santa Cruz Mountains are clearly a special place to grow grapes, and one trip up the narrow, winding mountain road to the estate leave an indelible impression. Failing that, have a taste of this pristine, evidently classy chardonnay which shines even more brightly in the excellent 2012 vintage. 14.5% alcohol is held in check by fresh acids and ample fruit extract, and the texture is nothing short of beguiling. This will need at least another 2-3 years to enter its prime drinking window, and should also age into the mid-twenties without a stretch.

Cave Spring Estate 2012 Chardonnay, Cave Spring Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($18.95). Angelo Pavan has done an admirable job in reeling in the generous fruit of the 2012 vintage here; I like the crisp acids that counterbalance the ripe fruit, while wood is an accent rather than feature. Fine wine at a nice price.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012Ridge Estate Chardonnay 2012Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2012Kali Hart Chardonnay 2012Caves Des Vignerons De Buxy Montagny Les Chaniots 1er Cru 2010

Kali Hart 2012 Chardonnay, Monterey County, California ($23.95). This wine from the reliable house of Talbott is a bit of a conundrum off the top admittedly, with a bit of an awkward sweet-sour tension upfront. But there’s plenty of flavour intensity and very good length to be sure, above the regional average in the price category. Ultimately this has merit, and should be revisited in 1-2 years by which time it will have knit together nicely.

Caves Des Vignerons De Buxy 2010 Montagny Les Chaniots 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($24.95). The Côte Chalonnaise, south of the Côte d’Or is one of Burgundy’s hot spots for value, and the cooperative at Buxy is a great place to start shopping. This 2010 premier cru delivers a fine dose of chalky-limestone minerality on a taught and tightly wound frame, with little interference from wood. I appreciate the vibrancy and forthrightness of this wine, made simply and honestly. Solid length, too; a fine ‘starter’ wine for those getting into white Burgundy, or for those who love it but don’t always have $40-$50 to dispose on a bottle.

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2012Melville Verna’s 2011 Estate ChardonnayMelville Verna's Estate Chardonnay 2011, Santa Barbara County ($16.95). Here’s an open, honest, characterful California chardonnay at an unusually low price. This has plenty of chalky minerality, tart acids (in the good sense), and sensible, low oak influence. This has everything but the high price tag; if I had a restaurant, I’d be pouring this by the glass.

Star Alignment: Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled 2012 Chardonnay Musqué, Niagara-on-the-Lake ($16.95). John Szabo – The aromatic musqué clone of chardonnay shines here from Chateau des Charmes in 2012, capturing the essence of the vintage nicely. Fruit is round and ripe in the orchard/tree fruit spectrum, while generous but balanced alcohol carries the finish. A pleasant, round, easy-sipping example all in all, for current enjoyment. David Lawrason – The musque clone of the chardonnay grape is a peek-a-boo performer in Niagara and seems to like the warmer vintages that coax out its more opulent characteristics. At least that’s what I like about musque. No point it tasting taut and lean like riesling, of which we have plenty of good examples. This is textbook musque.

Rosé and More

Château De Lancyre 2013 Pic Saint-Loup Rosé, Coteaux du Languedoc ($17.95). A rosé made in the Provençal style from about half grenache and syrah (with a splash of cinsault), offering genuine concentration and depth, not to mention length, while complexity stretches the rosé genre further than its used to going. A rosé for serious wine drinkers from one of the Languedoc’s most interesting appellations in my view.

Domaine De l’Hermitage 2013 l’Oratoire Bandol Rosé ($24.95). $25 may seem like a lot to pay for rosé, and it’s certainly well above the average, though then again so is the quality of the mourvèdre-based rosés from this small appellation overlooking the Côte d’Azure. This pale, delicate wine offers a fine mix of savoury herbs and bright red fruit flavours, with very good complexity and length. This is the sort of rosé I could drink all summer, and all winter long.

Château De Lancyre Pic Saint Loup Rosé 2013Domaine De L'Hermitage L'Oratoire Bandol Rosé 2013Terredora Fiano Di Avellino 2012Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013

Terre Dora 2012 Fiano Di Avellino ($21.95). Regional leader Terre Dora’s 2012 Fiano is a sultry, smoky, mineral-driven white wine with subtle grapefruit-citrus and savoury herbal notes, though this is not a fruity wine by any stretch. The palate offers plenty of palpable texture and grip, salty-saline-mineral flavours and excellent length and depth. As with many wines from volcanic terroirs, this is not a soft and easy-sipping style, but rather one that demands some attention and desire to explore the more regionally distinct variations of the wine world. Drink or hold this a half-dozen years or longer I suspect, without sacrificing any quality, on the contrary, enhancing the honeyed-stony side.

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara 2013 Riesling, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95). Here’s another fine example of Tawse’s “entry level” riesling, which has consistently performed above its price category. The 2013 is crisp, bright and green apple flavoured, in a perfectly balanced, barely off-dry style. Impressive length, too. Drink or hold short term.

Lawrason’s Take

Osborne Bailen Dry Oloroso Sherry, Jerez, Spain $16.95 – I have a habit of being mightily impressed by sherries when I taste them after a long day of working through whites and reds in Vintages lab. No exception here for this browning old chestnut. Make that a walnut. This is high strung, powerful yet refined and the complex tapestry of dried fruit, citrus, barrels and nuts flavours drift on forever.

Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico Riserva 2009Osborne Bailen Dry Oloroso SherryBordeaux 2010s: The Hits Keep on Coming

Between regular releases and some In Store Discoveries there are four very worthy 2010 Bordeaux on this release. Sure, most are pricey, but we are not talking $100s for top echelon wines here. If you are collector, or a fan, or wanting to explore the allure of Bordeaux here are four, from least to most expensive, to consider. And they cover four main regions. Check out the full reviews by clicking on the link, beginning with an under $20 merlot that over delivers:

Château Gachon 2010 Cuvée Les Petits Rangas, Montagne Saint-Émilion ($18.95)

Château Tour Maillet 2010, Pomerol ($49.00)

Château Sociando-Mallet 2010, Haut-Médoc ($57.00)

Château De Fieuzal 2010, Pessac-Léognan ($64.00)

Star Alignment: Villa Cafaggio 2009 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($26.95). David Lawrason – This is 100% sangiovese (whereas many Chiantis can now contain a small percentage of cabernet, merlot, even syrah). This is perhaps why I find this such an authentic expression of Tuscan red, with fruit bolstered by the warm 2009 vintage, then softened and given some grace by an extra year of ageing in barrel and bottle. Drinking very nicely right now. Sara d’Amato – A charming, classic example of Chianti from elevated plantings. The wine has a very natural, traditional feel and impressive length.

Sara’s Sommelier Selection

Lealtanza 2012 White, Rioja, Spain ($15.95). Fresh, zesty, pure and appealing, this unoaked viura based white offers clean refreshment at a very fair price. Lealtanza means “loyal”, i.e. loyal to tradition as the producer has an inclination to take a classic approach to their wines such as using only indigenous varietals.

Edge Wines 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast, California ($29.95). Nothing to do with U2, Edge is actually produced by Signorello wines – the high-end Napa producer with a Vancouver connection. Here is a wine that used to be a restaurant gem, unavailable to the general public. In the past 5 years, it has increased in price, but not declined in quality, and is now widely available. Despite its commercially focused appeal, the wine boasts really great structure, concentration and is perfectly dry.

Malma 2010 Reserva Malbec, Neuquén, Patagonia, Argentina ($17.95). From the cooler, southern reaches of Patagonia, Malma is a stunning malbec at a highly palatable price. This isn’t a big, boastful style of malbec but rather a stylish, sophisticated and well-balanced example that is sure to make an impression.

Lealtanza White 2012Edge Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Malma Reserva Malbec 2010Ortas L'estellan Gigondas 2011Roux Père & Fils L'ebaupin Saint Aubin 2010

Ortas l’Estellan 2011 Gigondas, Rhône, France ($24.95). A gracefully maturing Gigondas with ample southern charm, garrigue and impressive complexity. Despite its high alcohol, the wine feels in no way heavy, sweet or unbalanced. Well-priced and drinking beautifully now.

Roux Père & Fils 2010 l’Ebaupin Saint Aubin, Burgundy, France ($28.95). An uncommon find, and a lovely one at that – Saint Aubin is nestled among some of the finest white Burgdundy sites, close to Montrachet. Red is also produced in this region and this beautifully perfumed version, lean in body but with impressive complexity is a splendid example of the elegant nature of this appellation.

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

From VINTAGES July 5th release:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Selections
All Reviews
July 5th Part One – New Zealand’s Core Strengths

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



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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 5th – Part One

New Zealand’s Core Strengths
by David Lawrason, with Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The collection of wines from New Zealand on the July 5 release provides a clinic on what the tiny, green land is up to these days, and we will get right to it. But first an alert that Part Two, which will focus on Spain and some fine 2010 Bordeaux, will be delayed by about 24 hours next week as Canada Day bumps a lab tasting opportunity until Thursday, July 3. We will all be playing catch up to fill in many reviews still missing at this point. And after travels in Europe and at the just-completed National Wine Awards in B.C., John Szabo will also be back with his observations and recommendations. So tune in on Friday, July 4th.

New Zealand’s successes are undeniable; with industry and export growth galloping ahead year after year. What may be less obvious is why. Sure, there are climatic and terroir conditions that have allowed  NZ to position itself in a cooler climate niche within the New World. But behind the scenes the New Zealand industry has been focused on exporting wine of the high quality rather than trying to lure fans with very cheap prices – as several other countries have done. Winemakers have gone to school in their own country, and Australia, and worked and studied abroad; while welcoming Europeans in particular to their midst.  Although rapidly exploring and developing terroirs and appellations on a local basis, they are hesitant to stamp them officially, and over-regulate. And they have kept it simple and focused in terms of a NZ brand and worked with a handful of grapes and styles that they can grow well, in contrast to tendencies of the Canadian industry that I discussed in regards to the June 21 release.

This release presents a mini-clinic on NZ’s core strengths, although not every wine is a winner. I urge you to click on all the reviews to get the full scoop before shopping.  The recommendations below from Sara and I tell the story, and we are only missing a great NZ chardonnay from to complete the picture. We have aligned on four wines.

Clos Henri 2102 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, South Island $27.75 – David Lawrason. Such is the power of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on the global stage that is attracting investment from Henri Bourgeois, a leading producer of sauvignon blanc in Sancerre – the spiritual homeland of this grape. Having recently tasted Henri Bourgeois single vineyard bottlings from the Loire I can assure you that the NZ project has the same focus on taut, compact wines – which may be a relief to those who find Kiwi versions generally too intense. Sara d’Amato:. I’ve long admired the elegant style of Henri Bourgeois wines. The grapes on these sites in the Wairau are organically grown and produce richly flavoured wines. This sauvignon blanc is widely expressive on the nose yet remains restrained and polished on the palate. Eight months of lees stirring adds the volume, texture and complexity that makes this sauvignon stand out from the crowd.

Sileni Cellar Selection 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, South Island ($17.95) – David Lawrason - Sileni is a frequent visitor to Vintages shelves, and I have always viewed it as competent and tasty but mid-pack in terms of quality. So perhaps it is the quality of the 2013 vintage – that all NZ is talking about – that has elevated this super bright, fruit drenched yet refined offering.

Momo 2103 Pinot Gris Marlborough, South Island $19.95 – Sara d’Amato, This playful and highly gulpable pinot gris is anything but a wallflower. It boasts wonderful concentration and plenty of succulent stone fruit that lingers memorably on the finish. The Momo range of wines are sourced from three of Seresin’s biodynamically farmed vineyards and generally offer very good value. David Lawrason:  NZ Pinot Gris is all in the eye of the beholder, as different winemakers sculpt this malleable variety into something unformed that captures what the winemaker likes and what he or she thinks “the consumer” likes. But I sense, as witnessed by this example, that they are trending toward a ripe, fruit, perhaps marginally sweet style as opposed to light crisp pinot grigio. This is very successful, a great chillable summer white.

Lawson’s Dry Hills 2011 Gewürztraminer Marlborough, South Island  ($17.95) – David Lawrason.  This gets a borderline recommendation. I want you to know that NZ may be the most consistently good gewurz producer outside of Alsace, because here ripeness and opulence matter. There is even a winery called Vinoptima that makes nothing but gewurz in NZ. This example certainly catches the style, although I would rather have seen a 2012 or 2013 vintage that really blooms. Still, it is very much worth a go for gewurz fans, and Lawson is a bit of a specialist.

Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc 2012Sileni Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2013Momo Pinot Gris 2013Lawson's Dry Hills Gewürztraminer 2011Clos Henri Bel Echo Terroir Greywacke Pinot Noir 2012Staete Landt Paladin Pinot Noir 2010

Clos Henri 2012 Bel Echo Terroir Greywacke Pinot Noir, Marlborough, South Island ($28.95) – David Lawrason – I am intrigued by NZ pinot and am still working on an essay that purports there are already at least 20 fairly distinct appellations.  The upper Wairau Valley with it’s ‘greywacke” soils – a variety of sandstone that is hard, dark “grey” color, and contains quartz, feldspar and small rock fragments – is the soil involved here. And as with Clos Henri’s sauvignons, this house is all about the rocks. A superb pinot awaits folks – don’t balk, don’t walk, run to get some. Sara d’Amato: The vineyard for this wine is in a small, stony corner of Clos Henri’s property. It produces a wine with very good aromatic intensity, terrific definition, mineral, verve and purity of fruit.  The price certainly does not reflect its premium character.

Staete Landt 2010 Paladin Pinot Noir, Marlborough, South Island ($36.95) – David Lawrason: The organic/biodynamic movement has strong support in NZ, and Netherlands-born winemaker Ruud Maasdam has been a leading voice since starting Staete Landt in 2000.  Staete Landt, by the way, was the name given to New Zealand by explorer Abel Tasman in the 17th C. – a rather unimaginative moniker that translates as “land of the governor”.  Anyway, this pinot is far from dull; it’s uplifted, vibrant and elegant, all in one breath. And it’s where NZ can go and is going with pinot.

Other Whites

Talamonti Trabocchetto Pecorino 2012Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012Vina Robles 2012 Sauvignon BlancVina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles, California ($19.50) – Sara D’Amato- A lovely, slightly smoky and leesy sauvignon blanc with a great deal more complexity than you generally find in a new world version of this classic Loire varietal. Vina Robles is known for its European, old world inspired styles but this example also highlights exceptional California fruit.

Hamilton Russell 2012 Chardonnay, Wo Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa ($32.95) David Lawrason –  It’s a bit old school, but this is profound, attention-grabbing, brilliant chardonnay. Anthony Hamilton Russell, along with Peter Finlayson of Bouchard Finlayson were the founding pioneers in the Hemel-en-Aarde appellation (Heaven and Earth) in coastal Walker Bay. He is meticulous and totally quality oriented, making wines with structure and complexity above all. If you would pay $33 for white Burgundy, California or Canadian chardonnay, you will be shocked by the value here.

Talamonti Trabocchetto 2012 Pecorino, Igp Colline Pescaresi, Abruzzo, Italy ($15.95) – Sara D’Amato.  This lovely pecorino is a perfect summer treat for those looking for something a little different. If you are used to sipping on pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc, you’ll likely find this more intriguing. Pecorino is known for its intriguingly complex nose and relatively low yields compared its widely planted neighbor, Trebbiano. The wine offers enticing aromas of peach, flint, white flower and green apple with a delicately refreshing palate. David Lawrason – Not much more detail required here – this may be the best white value of the release.

Other Reds

Red Rooster Reserve Meritage 2011Redstone Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Franc 2010Red Rooster 2011 Reserve Meritage, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $24.95 (366187) – Sara d’ Amato - Having just returned from the Okanagan judging the 2014 National Wine Awards of Canada, I wanted to highlight a rare Okanagan find (at least on the shelves of the LCBO). Perched on the Naramata Bench, this red Bordelaise blend has been deftly crafted by talented winemaker Karen Gillis whose fresh approach has garnered international acclaim.

Redstone 2010 Reserve Cabernet Franc, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($29.95) David Lawrason Redstone is a new property owned by Moray Tawse. It is in the Beamsville area but as the vineyards are lower below the bench it wears the Lincoln Lakeshore appellation. Having just tasted many Canadian cab francs at the 2014 National Wine Awards I can tell you styles vary widely, as winemakers search for a groove between serious and fresh styles. This falls in the middle.  I was intrigued to note that guest NWAC judge Jamie Goode, was more enthused by Cdn cab franc than we homegrown critics.

Château Los Boldos Vieilles Vignes Syrah 2011Hidden Bench 2010 Terroir Caché MeritageHidden Bench Terroir Caché 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula $38.20.  David Lawrason: I have always been intrigued by the dogged determination of Hidden Bench owner Harald Thiel to make super-premium red Niagara “Bordeaux” blends, even more so on his cooler Beamsville Bench sites.  This assembles merlot, cab franc, cab sauvignon and malbec in a vintage that was ripe and warm and gave these varietals a fighting chance. Although I am not for a minute suggesting you should open it now, this has the density, stuffing and tension that might make one a believer.

Château Los Boldos 2011 Vieilles Vignes Syrah Single Vineyard, Cachapoal Andes, Chile ($18.95) David Lawrason – Until 2008 Chateau Los Boldos was a family-owned 190-ha property in the Andean foothills of Cachapoal. That year it was purchased by the giant (red wine focused) Sogrape company of Portugal. Syrah was certainly not among the old vines at the property compared to the cabernet dating from the 40s and 50s. But this still has all the earmarks of lush, vibrant particularly Chilean syrah. And at this price syrah fans can’t afford not to take a look.

That’s a wrap for this week. Again, please stay tuned for Part Two on July 4th, and meanwhile enjoy some upcoming reading next week when Steve Thurlow reports on 20 Under 20 values at the LCBO and Julian Hitner provides a primer for Bordeaux-lovers on the under-appreciated Haut-Medoc region.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES June 21st release:

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Selections
All Reviews

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



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

Prince Edward County’s New Releases Kicked off at County in the City

The Ontario Wine Report
By Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason

Prince Edward County continues to make waves in the Ontario wine scene, and its burgeoning wine region is being brought to light by unique, innovative events which include everything from art festivals to marathons to cheese festivals. This year WineAlign even ran a sold-out bus tour to the Terroir festival in Picton in May (pictures posted on Facebook)

I got my in-depth look at new releases at this year’s 3rd annual “County in the City” event held in late April at one of Toronto’s most chic and bohemian of event spaces, the Berkeley Cathedral on Queen East. It drew hundreds of local trade and Torontonians to experience over 100 wines from Ontario’s fastest growing wine region.

To give you an idea of how fast that growth actually is, the LCBO has almost tripled its selections since 2008, having gone from 20 Prince Edward County products on the shelves to 78. Sales from that period have also increased an amazing 1000% from a mere $661,471 in 2008 to now over $7 million in net sales at the LCBO.

Despite the region becoming a growing tourist destination and the LCBO stocking more and more product from the area, I still hear, all to often, “yes, Prince Edward County, where exactly is that?” So, for those in the need to know, let me regale you with more than just the physical location.

PEC Map“The County”, as it’s called, is Ontario’s most northern VQA appellation, and lies at a latitude of 44 degrees, well within the 30-50 band where grapes thrive. In fact, this is the same latitude of Bordeaux and within a mere stone’s throw of the 44-degree line lies Tuscany. For those of you who may find it hard to make it to the County without longitude to guide you, the region is situated just south of the town of Belleville toward the eastern end of Lake Ontario. It is located on a virtual island cut off from the mainland by a canal that connects the Bay of Quinte to Lake Ontario. It is about a 2.5-hour drive from Toronto, and about 3 from Ottawa.

The County is a sandy, beachy place with over 500 miles of shoreline (due to its many bays and inlets). And not only beach-goers benefit from this shoreline, but grapes do to – the lake provides a moderating effect on the climate, giving the region a long and cool growing season. The slow, long maturation of grapes is ideal for wine production, although that is not the only element of terroir that makes this place unique and appropriate for wine growing.

Most of the vineyards in the County were planted a mere 10 years ago or less. The quality they are producing at such a young age is indicative of a bright future. Pinot noir and chardonnay are making the biggest waves, and not surprisingly so given the conditions and the soil. The soils are very special here and quite different from those in Niagara. A bedrock of limestone topped by gravelly clay makes for excellent drainage in these mineral-rich soils. This drainage is key to wicking away moisture in the rainy spring, and forces the roots of the vines to dig deep to find ground water in the hot summer months. The faster and deeper those roots penetrate the ground; the more hardy the plants become and will hence produce better quality. Burgundy is home to both pinot noir and chardonnay and its soils are uncannily similar to those of the County.

CountyIf there was one thing I came away with from this year’s County in the City it is that these wines are becoming fierce competition in the Ontario premium wine drinking market. The leaps and bounds in quality are extraordinary. If you haven’t tasted wines from the County in even a few years, it’s time for another go.

Due to rather harsh winter conditions, it is not easy or inexpensive to make wine in the County, especially with young vines. It is labor intensive and premium price tags are more common than not. Boutique wineries producing high-quality juice are the niche of the region. The exploding wine community, with now just over 30 wineries, offers a great deal to explore.

Without further ado, I would like to share with you a selection of some of the many standouts among new releases at this year’s County in the City:

Casa Dea 2011 Riesling ($16.95) – Although many wineries in the County produce at least one wine made from Niagara fruit or wine partially sourced from Niagara fruit, Casa Dea produces only wines sourced 100% from their two estate vineyards in the County. A great indication of the quality of a wine is graceful maturation and this riesling is headed down this path. This dramatic wine is full of exquisite tension and a great deal of classic mineral feel and flavour – it is just beginning to exhibit an aged petrol character.

Lighthall 2012 Progression Sparkling Vidal ($20.00) – Vidal is a wonderfully hardy variety and is a grape that most Ontario producers can feel confident growing without fear of winter damage. Although most notably producing our sweet icewines and late harvests, this vidal is unusually dry and refreshing with creamy bubbles and a widely appealing palate. Having poured this for a multitude of test audiences now, you can be confident of its appeal and very happy about its price.

Rosehall Run 2011 Cuvée County Cabernet Franc ($24.95) – Rosehall Run wines have almost as much personality as their exuberant co-owners Dan and Lynn Sullivan. I have long been an admirer of the Cuvée County cabernet franc and the 2011 is no disappointment. A product of sustainable winemaking, the cabernet franc features delightful refreshment without sacrificing ripeness.

Huff Estates 2010 South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay Ontario ($29.95) – Huff Estates made the right decision in minimizing the oak influence on this lovely County chardonnay allowing the fruit, acidity and mineral to really surface. A chardonnay with world-class appeal but shows the timeless elegance that the region is so easily capable of producing now.

Keint-He 2012 Portage Chardonnay ($20.00) – Chardonnay is undoubtedly a strength of the County and this is fine example from a producer who prides itself on emulating Burgundian style pinot noir is an amazing find for $20. In case you’re wondering, as I was, as to the origin of the name Keint-He, it was the name of one of the four Seneca villages of the region. The Senecas were a native tribe of the Iroquois (one of five) whose name was francocized into Quinte of which the Bay of Quinte was named.

Norman Hardie 2012 County Unfiltered Pinot Noir ($35.00) – No wonder Norm Hardie is considered to be the pioneer of high quality pinot production in the County. This silky, brambly, expressive and complex pinot noir is one that had my adjective usage a-flowing. This is a wine that everyone can appreciate on one level or another.

David Lawrason’s White Wine Picks

Although pinot noir is the County’s calling card, many of the most interesting new releases so far this year are white wines, specifically pinot gris and chardonnay – both Burgundian cousins to pinot noir. I was impressed by several samples that seem to be showing more depth and complexity as vineyards mature. Check out full reviews on six of the most interesting by clicking the links below.

Grange Of Prince Edward Estate Pinot Gris 2012

Lacey Estates Pinot Gris Rose 2013

Exultet Pinot Grigio 2013

Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012

Long Dog Bella Riserva Chardonnay 2010

Redtail Vineyard Chardonnay 2012

Ontario’s Emerging Wine Regions: The South Coast

South Coast wineIn other news, John Szabo learns of quite possibly the first wine produced in Canada, and certainly the first in the proposed Viticultural Area called South Coast. If accepted, South Coast, an area centred around Norfolk County and the town of Port Dover on the shores of Lake Erie, would become Ontario’s fourth official wine region. He examines the region’s strengths and weaknesses, and muses on the similarities between merlot and Palm trees.

Read more

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

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

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 21st – Part Two

Great Buys and Why They Are Not Canadian
By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

I am disappointed that VINTAGES has not put more emphasis on top quality Canadian wine in this release leading up to Canada Day. As discussed last week by John Szabo in Part One of our preview there are many interesting wines under the two features themes: Old World vs New World, and Unique Grape Varieties. And we three critics have aligned on some dandy buys among the imports here in Part Two (read on). But we have not found much to write about in terms of Canadian wines because the selection is uninspired both in terms of quantity and quality. VINTAGES has “highlighted” Canadian wines with a double-page spread of six wines in its magazine, but none are highly memorable.

I have never been one to promote Canadian wine as a flag waving exercise. I have always wanted Canadian wine to succeed, but it must succeed in the glass. So since 2001 I have teamed up with others who feel the same way to run the National Wine Awards of Canada competition that unfurls Saturday through next Wednesday in Penticton B.C. (it returns to Ontario in 2015). This year we have a record 1300+ wines to sort through. Such independent competition helps both consumers and winemakers cut through all the chatter and focus on success in the glass.

Success in the glass is the only measure that will win the day for Canadian wine, and I get grumpy when political, regulatory and commercial decisions stand in the way of this success. I am not going to launch here into all the issues – current monetarilty driven VQA policies among them – that I think are more hindrance than help. But I do want to talk about the role of the LCBO in all this because it is the only non-winery retailer of Ontario wine. I am not picking on any one person in the LCBO, or even suggesting there is a “policy,” but I want to point out two huge weaknesses of the monopoly system in terms of promoting quality in Ontario wine.

First, the LCBO is forcing Ontario wine to compete in the shallow end of the pool, to go head to head, shelf facing to shelf facing, with imports both on price and selection. To gain attention Ontario winemakers must try to churn out the least expensive wine possible and in a place as expensive (and over-taxed) as Ontario that’s a recipe for mediocrity. It is also forcing wineries to compete with styles and grape varieties not necessarily best suited to Ontario. We commonly hear that Ontario is not focused, and is making too many different wines. Some of this is also due to winemaker experimentation, but the reality of selling to the LCBO is why Ontario wine is not as commercially focused as it should be on a handful of grapes and styles that we can do best.

Second the LCBO exists within an almost impossible conflict of interest. As a government agency it has a political mandate to promote Ontario wine. But it has finite shelf space and must also supply global wine to a huge market that wants more of everything. So in reality they can only take this as far as “to be seen to be promoting Ontario wine”. If you look carefully at the split of Ontario versus import on any given VINTAGES release Ontario wine is receiving only 10% of shelf space at best. Then, furthermore, the LCBO has to be seen as being fair to all Ontario wineries within that 10%, with each one ending up getting token representation. This further dilutes the quality being presented to consumers and injures the cause of Ontario wine. Such is the case with this Canada Day offering, just at a moment when more people will be patriotically moved to buy more and spend more on Ontario wine. What a pity eh.

And now on to some great buys among the imports, including two wines where all three critics have independently aligned on their recommendations

The Stars Align

Château Canteloup 2010Muga Selección Especial Reserva 2009Muga 2009 Selección Especial Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($39.95). John Szabo – This shouldn’t be missed by collectors of great Spanish wine, and well, collectors of any great wine. Muga hits that perfect balance of tradition and modernity, so often claimed but just as often meaningless. What it means here is a tempranillo-led blend (70%) with garnacha, graciano and mazuelo, evidently serious and complex right off the top, with rich dark fruit and spice, ample structure and terrific flavour intensity, and long drinking window. Best 2014-2029. Sara d’Amato – Muga’s top tier has achieved near perfection in 2009. Bold and show-stopping in character with undeniable charm. This will happily find homes in many a cellar, excellent for mid-term ageing, but would also bring a great deal of pleasure to the host of your next dinner party. David Lawrason – Not much more to add, except that collectors who normally focus on Napa cabs and super-Tuscans can safely branch out stylistically with this beauty.

Château Canteloup 2010, Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($16.95). David Lawrason - This great little ‘petit chateaux’ reached up and grabbed all three critics by the nose, then caused sticker shock of the best kind when it was revealed as a $17 wine. I chalk it up to a certain generous style of winemaking that was harnessed by the almost perfect structure of the excellent 2010 vintage. John Szabo – Sniffing this blind I would have immediately been in a far higher price category; this smells like expensive left bank Bordeaux. It may not have the structure of the top shelf, though at $17, it’s hugely satisfying and impressive, with ageing potential. Sara D’Amato – This exceptional value from Bordeaux is worthy of a spotlight. The density, richness and overall absorbing nature of this left bank blend will have you wishing you had a few bottles in reserve. I imagine this to be a very hot seller.

Château Boutisse 2010Tamaya Gran Reserva Syrah 2011Château Boutisse 2010 Saint Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France ($39.95). Sara d’Amato – A stunner of a Saint Emilion with the depth and complexity of a wine of a much greater price. Chateau Boutisse’s name pays homage to the extraction of the chalky limestone on which the village of St. Emilion is built (and built from) leaving hollow channels below the surface of the wineries that make up the famous, maze-like, underground cellars of Saint Emilion. David Lawrason – Great value in thoroughly modern merlot-based Bordeaux from a 57-acre estate revamped and largely replanted in 1996. You don’t always have to pay through the nose to get a great Bordeaux experience.

Tamaya 2011 Gran Reserva Syrah, Limarí Valley, Chile ($21.95). David Lawrason – Syrah is certainly a keeper in Chile, and seems to be finding its feet best in some of the cooler regions, like the Pacific-cooled, limestone influenced Limari Valley well north of Santiago. There is a distinctive Chilean aromatic here, but it goes well beyond with great structure, complexity and length. John Szabo – Regular readers won’t be surprised to see another Tamaya wine on my list, an estate, and a region, which offer quality above the mean. I love the balance in Limarì syrahs: savoury, minerally and gritty, with loads of spicy dark fruit. Best 2014-2020.

Yalumba Organic Viognier 2012Château D'anglès La ClapeChâteau d’Anglès 2010 La Clape Classique Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre, Languedoc, France ($14.95). John Szabo – La Clape is one of those little-known sub-regions of the Languedoc near Narbonne (soon to be an independent appellation, apparently) that regularly makes wines of great character at prices commensurate with their low notoriety. D’Anglès’ classic southern French blend has personality and depth in spades – a great “house wine” this summer. David Lawrason – There are a handful of good value Southern France wines on this release, but none offer value like this. It’s from a property situated within sight of the Mediterranean, which provides cooling evening influences in an arid region that sees 300 days of sun a year.

Yalumba 2012 Organic Viognier, South Australia, ($18.95). David Lawrason – Yalumba is one of the largest producers of viognier in Australia, if not the world. And given the passion and down-to-earth character of winemaker Jane Ferrari it is entirely in keeping that an organic version would be attempted. It seems to add layers of flavour missing in the already complex “regular” viogniers. Quite something under $20. Sara d’Amato – A rich, lust-worthy viognier that oozes the delectable, sultry and exotic character of this varietal in which Yalumba takes exceptional pride. This example is strikingly concentrated and undeniably seductive.

Sparklers, Whites & Pinks

Gruhier 2010 Extra Brut Crémant De Bourgogne, France ($18.95). John Szabo – Anytime you find quality traditional method sparkling for under $20 it’s worth considering, especially when it comes damned close to champagne. This is a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay from northern Burgundy, aged 36 months before release, the equivalent of a vintage-dated champers. A great choice for large gatherings where both price and quality matter.

Château La Mascaronne Quat'saisons Rosé 2013Rodney Strong Chardonnay 2012Gruhier Extra Brut Crémant De Bourgogne 2010Rodney Strong 2012 Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California ($19.95). Sara d’Amato – Rodney Strong has fallen off my radar of late but this compelling chardonnay is perspective changing. Rodney Strong undoubtedly sources great fruit for this wine but has a tendency to over-work the juice in the cellar. This example is hopefully, indicative of a new, fresher approach. The wine feels Burgundian in its complexity and light-handedness but very much a Sonoma chardonnay in its richness and depth of fruit.

Château La Mascaronne 2013 Quat’saisons Rosé, Côtes de Provence, France ($19.95). David Lawrason – As pink wines explode in popularity around the world more and more serious winemakers are looking to the pale, elegant, subtle roses of Provence as a template. They drink more like whites but with intriguing nuances of red fruit. This is a classic of the genre.


Alento Tinto 2011Adega De MonJim Barry The Mcrae Wood Shiraz 2009te Branco 2011 Alento Tinto, Alentejano, Portugal ($15.95). David Lawrason – Like so many modern Portuguese reds this offers terrific complexity for the money, thanks to a blend of four native grape varieties. Modern winemaking, at the hands of owner Luis Louro, who studied in Portugal and trained with his father at Quinta de Mouro and in Sonoma, has buffed any coarse edges but it still retains good structure.

Jim Barry 2009 The Mcrae Wood Shiraz, Clare Valley, South Australia ($59.95). David Lawrason - This is my top scoring wine of the June 21 release – a delicious monument to modern Aussie shiraz. Three generations of Roseworthy-trained winemakers have worked this venerable Clare Valley, with highly awarded Tom Barry, who has also worked in Europe, now at the helm. The magic to this wine is the opulence of its flavours set within well-proportioned structure, without relying on obvious alcohol heat or tannin.

Malvirà Roero 2009Hitching Post Hometown Pinot Noir 2012Hitching Post 2012 Hometown Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, California ($28.95). Sara D’Amato - Brought to fame by the movie Sideways (at least, for those of us outside of Santa Barbara), the Hitching Post founders Frank Ostini, chef of the Hitching Post and his good friend, former fisherman Gray Hartley find their inspiration for their renowned pinot noirs from inspired growers throughout the Santa Barbara County. This virtual label, of sorts, is now run out of Terravant Winery, an ultra-premium facility close to the Hitching Post II. Initially the wines were produced to serve the restaurant but more recently, have enjoyed larger commercial success.

Malvirà 2009 Roero, Piedmont Italy ($19.95). John Szabo – the sandy soils of Roero produce lighter and more perfumed versions of nebbiolo, and coupled with the warm 2009 vintage and Malvirà’s “classico” i.e. non-riserva Roero, this is already nicely mature and soft on the palate. But it’s also umami-rich, savoury, and finally compelling for the money.

And that’s a wrap for this edition. Watch next week for Part One of our Preview of the July 5th release including a feature on New Zealand. Meanwhile enjoy an entertaining read on the importance of the wine label by Anthony Gismondi. And despite my somewhat grumpy opening re Ontario wine, I urge you seek out some of the very fine wines that are being made in Niagara and Prince Edward County, perhaps as you forage in your local farmers market, where Ontario wines are now being sold.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES June 21st release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Selections
All Reviews
June 21st – Part One

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


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

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 21st – Part One

Europe vs. The New World and Unique Grapes
By John Szabo with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report considers the old world-new world divide in the wine universe, the main feature of the June 21st VINTAGES release. Where do these terms come from, and what exactly do they mean? On which side of the divide do you fall? We’ll also take a look at unique grapes – the ones you’ve probably never heard of, but are well worth discovering. Get out of the three-grape drinking rut with these recommendations and do your part to promote stylistic and genetic diversity.

Read on or jump straight to the Buyers’ Guide selections.

Old World vs. New World

The June 21st VINTAGES Release pits Europe, or the “old world”, against the “new world” of wine. There is, of course, no official definition to the terms old and new world as applied to wine. It’s rather a simplistic way of dividing up the world between the traditional winemaking countries of Europe (and the Middle East and the Caucasus, including the very cradle of wine in Georgia and Armenia), and pretty much everywhere else.

Recent archeological evidence points to some seven or eight thousand years of winemaking history in Armenia and Georgia, and four thousand or more in Greece. Wine production developed in western Europe some three thousand or so years ago thanks to the busy merchant Phoenicians (an Eastern Mediterranean civilization) plying water trade routes all the way to Jerez in Southern Spain, the Etruscans, native central Italians who were making wine long before the Romans moved north, and the Celts who made good and proper use of native grapevines in central Europe. The Greeks did their part to spread viticulture and winemaking knowledge into southern Europe, and then later, as Rome conquered the known western world, the grapevine and wine culture followed in earnest, all the way up to the limit of viable viticulture in places like Champagne, the Loire Valley and the Mosel in Germany. This is the old world of wine.

The new world, on the other hand, refers to those parts of the planet that were colonized by Europeans in the post-Columbus era. European settlers brought with them the comforts of home, including plants and animals, in order to reproduce their diet from back home, and the grapevine was invariably among their exports. Heroic efforts were often required to grow grapes, and not all vineyards flourished. Early efforts in the Caribbean, parts of Mexico and Paraguay failed miserably, while the most suitable regions, the ones we’re familiar with today, would eventually come to dominate.

It’s worth noting that despite the “new” qualification, many of these former colonies have now been making wine for centuries, like the Mexican highlands since the early 1500s, Peru, Chile and Argentina since the mid 1500s, South Africa since 1659, California since the establishment of Franciscan missions in 1779, and Australia since the arrival of the first fleet in 1788 (I also recently discovered that a wine was made in Canada in 1669, but that was more of a one-off, our time would come a bit later).

In fact, some of the most celebrated wine regions in the old world were developed much later than those in the new world, such as the Médoc area of Bordeaux, drained by Dutch engineers in 1599, or much more recently the coastal Maremma area of Tuscany, former marshlands that only became viable for viticulture in the 1930s thanks to Mussolini’s anti-malarial policy and the subsequent draining of the land.

Today, aside from a mere geographical distinction, the terms old world and new world have also come to represent broad stylistic differences between wines produced in their respective worlds. A new world wine, to use a very broad brush, features riper and bolder fruit flavours, higher alcohol and lower acidity, and very often more wood flavour than its European counterpart. An old world wine, on the other hand, is lighter, leaner, less fruity and more earthy, and often much more acid-driven and harder (more tannic) than a new world wine.

Such distinctions have featured in discussions among wine professionals since at least the dawn of the modern era of winemaking, which I’d peg somewhat arbitrarily around the mid nineteen seventies. This is the period during which countries outside of Europe began to make wine that challenged the best of what the old world had to offer, becoming genuine commercial competitors and thus necessary to talk about.

And there was a time when the old world/new world style description rang pretty much true. That most new world wine regions are warmer, drier and sunnier than those in the old world naturally led to the style differences that became stereotypes. These days, of course, such a simplistic view doesn’t even begin to accurately describe the wines of either world. There are plenty of “new world” style wines made in the old, and vice versa. The wines of Niagara are far more European in style, for example, than new world, even if we’re definitely lopped in with new world wine regions. Technology, wine additives, climate change and flying winemakers have done much to erode such crude differences.

And yet the distinction persists, as all good stereotypes do, and you’ll come across the terms in plenty of wine reviews, even on the blind tasting grid of the Court of Master Sommeliers. After all, without some sort of contextual generalization, it’s very hard to say anything meaningful about a wine. I personally still find the distinction useful in order to convey the general “feel” of the wine: is it in essence more fruity or stony/earthy? More acid or more alcoholic? Soft and plush or firm and puckering? But I’m careful to throw in the term “style” after new or old world, since geography is less and less meaningful.

Curiously enough, most consumers and even wine professionals have a leaning to one world or another. It’s possible to change “world” style preference over the course of your wine-drinking lifetime, but it’s exceedingly rare to run across someone who loves both style categories equally at the same time. So what’s your preference? Are you old or new world?

For the June 21st release I’ve paid a little homage to wines grown in the new world, the colonial upstarts and I recommend seven excellent wines. In part it’s because the new world selections were better quality in my view than their old world counterparts proposed by the LCBO (new world conspiracy?). But it’s also because I naturally tend to recommend wines from the old country, so it’s time to level the scales. You’ll find, however, that my picks give a nod back to the old world, at least stylistically. I guess I just gave away my world preference.

Unique Grapes

The other theme of the release is grapes that are “unique”, another nebulous category. Yet it’s easy to find yourself in a rut, drinking wines made from the same very small handful of grapes over and over. Pre-phylloxera there were countless thousands of varieties planted throughout the world. Today that number has been significantly reduced. Some grapes, to be sure, disappeared for good reason – they made poor quality and/or unreliable wine. But there’s no doubt we lost a massive amount of genetic diversity, and hence potential diversity of wine styles, which is lamentable.

Fortunately there’s a new sport in variety-rich countries like Portugal, Italy and Greece: rediscovering old grapes and propagating them before they disappear. And the new world, in an effort to rise above the crowded battlefield of cabernet and chardonnay and offer something unique (and perhaps better suited), has picked up the relay and is planting plenty of obscure but tasty varieties. I say we should do our part to encourage these vinous archeologists and vanguardists by at least giving their obscure grapes a try, lest we lose even more diversity. I’ve picked out a quartet that is worth a look, comparing them to a grape/style with which you’ll likely be more familiar so it isn’t so scary.

Buyers’ Guide Selections – the Stars Align

Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2012Norman Hardie 2012 RieslingNorman Hardie Riesling 2012, Ontario, Canada ($21.00). John Szabo – A lovely, open and honeyed interpretation of riesling from Hardie, with off-dry but crisp palate, well balanced and terrific length, firm and stony-dry finish. Best 2014-2020. Sara d’Amato – Riesling lovers take note! This captivating assemblage of 70% Niagara and 30% County fruit and delivers the best of both terroirs. Nervy and simmering with zesty fruit, the wine is texturally both lush and vibrant.

Ken Forrester 2012 Reserve Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($17.95). John Szabo – This wine seems to always make it onto my best buys list, and it’s hard to imagine stuffing more character into an $18 wine. This is intense and exceptionally mineral with genuine old vine (40 year old, unirrigated) complexity and depth, perfectly suited to fans of full-bodied, characterful wines at give away prices. Best 2014-2020. David Lawrason – There is a growing buzz about Cape chenin and this good value provides useful schooling. Not flamboyant but structured, even and classy from a winery that is on a mission to gain respect for this variety. And it ages. I recently had a very impressive 2006.

Erste & Neue Leuchtenburg Kalterersee Classico Superiore 2012Barone Ricasoli Rocca Guicciarda Chianti Classico Riserva 2010Erste & Neue 2012 Leuchtenburg Kalterersee Classico Superiore, Südtirol-Alto Adige, Italy ($19.95). John Szabo – The 1986 merger of the Erste (“first”) wine co-operative (founded in 1900) with the Neue (“new”) wine co-operative (founded in 1925) in the village of Kaltern means that the winery has been perfecting their version of the local vernatsch variety (aka trollinger or schiava, the most planted red grape in Alto Adige) for some time. Don’t be fooled by the pale colour – this packs quite a punch of flavour ranging from tart red mountain fruit to dark spice and cranberry. As such, this falls squarely into the zesty red wine category – think of gamay, and serve with a light chill with quail or duck for maximum effect. Best 2014-2018. Sara d’Amato – Certainly a departure from your everyday red, this northern Italian beauty is made from the local vernatsch variety which is typically light, fruity and offering moderate acidity. Easy to appreciate and versatile with food, the wine is fresh, elegant, and brimming with authentic flavours of wild berry fruit.

Barone Ricasoli Rocca Guicciarda Chianti Classico Riserva 2009, DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($24.95). Sara d’Amato – This widely appealing Chianti Classico from one of Italy’s oldest wineries benefits from the prowess of esteemed enologist Carlo Ferrini. The blend is made up of 80% sangiovese with a balance of merlot and cabernet franc giving the blend a boost of concentration. Simply put, a stunning Classico Riserva sure to impress your guests. David Lawrason – The 2010 vintage in Europe continues to impress. This is compact, complex, well integrate and even with classic, edgy Chianti sangiovese character, even though it contains up to 20% cabernet and merlot. Well priced for the quality delivered.

Szabo’s Smart Buys: The New World vs. Europe

Bachelder 2011 Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($44.95). This is an excellent, if ever-changing and evolving wine (I’ve tasted it several times now, and at each turn it reveals a different character, as natural and living wines should). It’s very much respectful of the Burgundian tradition from which Bachelder takes his cues – throw this in a line of top Côte de Beaune whites and you’ll be surprised how well it performs. Best 2014-2021.

Dog Point 2011 Pinot Noir Marlborough, New Zealand ($48.95). Dog Point is one of my reference producers from Marlborough, and indeed New Zealand, producing both sauvignons and pinot noirs far above the quality mean. I love this vivid, translucent pinot with its crackling acids and rich, spicy red and dark fruit. Hold off for another 2-4 years for maximum enjoyment, allowing the wood notes to fully integrate. Best 2016-2023.

Clos Du Val 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley USA ($39.95). The relatively cool 2010 growing season, coupled with Clos du Val’s old world-leaning style yielded an intriguingly green and zesty, fire-roasted vegetal scented Napa cabernet, succulent on the palate with long, umami-laden finish. This will provide pleasure over the mid term for fans of more reserved, old world style reds. Best 2014-2010.

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2011Dog Point Pinot Noir 2011Clos Du Val 2010 Cabernet SauvignonTar & Roses Pinot Grigio 2013Cape Point Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Tar & Roses 2013 Pinot Grigio, Central Victoria, Australia ($19.95). This is made with some skin contact, resulting in a pale pinkish tinge – from sight alone this could be mistaken for a Provençal rosé. The flavour profile, too, bears some resemblance: fruity and delicate, raspberry, strawberry, citrus and apple-scented. A well made, characterful wine all around, fairly priced.

Cape Point Vineyards 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Cape Point, South Africa ($15.95). With vineyards on the narrow Cape Peninsula and cooling influence from both the Atlantic and False Bay, this is an ideal terroir for bright and zesty sauvignon Blanc, which Cape Point Vineyards has made into a house specialty. This is a tremendous value, balanced and minerally, with added complexity from a splash of semillon and a small percentage of barrel-fermented sauvignon. A wine to be purchased by the case at this price.

Szabo’s Smart Buys: Unique Grapes

Livia Feteasca Regala 2012Alpha Estate Axia Malagouzia 2012Domaine Karydas Naoussa 2009Domaine Karydas 2009 Xinomavro, Naoussa Greece ($24.00) This xinomavro from the Macedonian appellation of Naoussa is very much worth a detour for fans of savoury old world reds – think of Italy: Piedmontese nebbiolo or Tuscan sangiovese, and you’re in the right style range. It’s mid weight, succulent and firm, with fine-grained tannic structure and saliva inducing acids, not to mention loads of umami. Best 2014-2020.

Alpha Estate 2012 Axia Malagouzia, Florina Greece, ($15.95) This hails from one of Greece’s cooler regions, northwest over the Mountains from Naoussa. Malagouzia will appeal to fans of generously proportioned, aromatic whites like viognier, with a little more of a cool climate, fresh acid kick. The 2013 is the best yet from Alpha Estate, offering all of the lovely rich, ripe fruit in the tropical spectrum that the variety is capable of, on a generous frame.

Livia 2012 Feteasca Regala, Cotesti, Romania ($14.95) Feteasca Regala (aka Kiralyleánka) grows mainly in Transylvania, Moldavia, Moldova and Hungary, and produces and soft, semi-aromatic white wine. This is a pleasant sipper, clean, fresh and delicate, with a whiff of citrus and spring flowers, light-mid-weight palate, gentle acids, and the merest impression of sweetness. Think of softer style pinot gris/grigio.

David Lawrason’s Picks

Paolo Conterno Riva Del Bric Barolo 2009Man Family Wines 2012 Bosstok PinotageMan Family Wines Bosstok Pinotage 2012, Coastal Region, South Africa ($13.95)  – Pinotage is particular to South Africa – a  hybrid pinot noir/cinsault crossing that in my mind has not been all that successful despite the sentimental attachment it holds for Cape wine fans. It’s interpretation by winemakers his all over the map. This however gets a vote of confidence; great value, rich yet still piquant red with quality far outstripping its price.

Paolo Conterno 2009 Riva Del Bric Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($42.95) – This is a fine, maturing Barolo. Not a true classic perhaps because the hotter 2009 vintages has lowered acidity, but on the other hand it has created a more approachable style that in the hands of an excellent producer delivers authentic Barolo character.

Sara d’Amato’s Picks

Vincent Raimbault 2012 Bel Air Vouvray, AC, Loire, France ($18.95) This dry Vouvray is love at first sip and although would be a treat to enjoy on its own, it has the ability to pair with substantial foods such as a creamy gratin Dauphinoise or roast poultry. Traditional, wildly complex and exceedingly satisfying.

La Tour Coste 20120 La Combe Saint Joseph, Rhone, France ($28.95) La Tour Coste is a relatively new project by celebrated winemaker Stephan Vedeau who is best known for his successful Le Ferme du Mont series from the Cotes du Rhone. The label is a step above in terms of complexity, concentration and class and exhibits a very authentic, natural feel – a superb expression of the purity of northern Rhone syrah.

Zig Zag Zin 2011 Zinfandel, Mendocino County, California, USA ($19.95). A naked zinfandel, if you will, this open and revealing wine is wonderfully approachable and stripped of heavy oak and sweetness. It boasts a welcome purity of fruit and although it is lighter in weight it is certainly not light in complexity. A sophisticated zinfandel that even fans of pinot noir will find engaging.

Vinecol 2013 Organic Bonarda, Mendoza, Argentina ($14.95). Although the varietal may be relatively unknown to us in Ontario, bornarda has been Argentina’s most widely planted grape  for some time and has only been recently supplanted by malbec. Depending on the age of the vines, wines made from this prolific varietal can range between light and full bodied, fruity and tannic. This example boasts a wildly compelling nose with huge perfumed aromatics and a lush, sultry palate with a perfectly balanced acidity. Immensely satisfying for the price.

Vincent Raimbault Bel Air Vouvray 2012La Tour Coste La Combe Saint Joseph 2010Zig Zag Zin Zinfandel 2011Vinecol Organic Bonarda 2013

Best Ontario Sommelier Competition

CAPSHave you ever been served by an amazing Sommelier? Ever wonder what it takes to be the BEST Sommelier in the Province?  Find out June 22 at the BEST ONTARIO SOMMELIER COMPETITION. Attending the competition is free. Watch as the three finalists are put through their paces with Decanting Service, Champagne Service, Food and Wine Pairing, and Blind Tasting. Following the competition is a walk-around wine tasting ($5) featuring international and Ontario wines; all proceeds go to help the winning Sommelier with travel expenses to the Americas competition (Mendoza, Argentina 2015) and hopefully the Worlds (2016).

The Gala Dinner ($150) includes a silent auction, cocktail reception and a four course dinner prepared by Oliver and Bonacini, with, of course, tons of wine, and an after party.

This event only takes place once every two years.

When:     June 22, 2014

Where:   Arcadian Court, Toronto

Competition 1:00-3:00
Wine tasting 3:00-5:00
Cocktail Reception 5:00-7:00
Dinner 7:00-10:00, After Party 10:00 -

Purchase Tickets here

Upcoming Court of Master Sommelier Courses


Toronto (Level I & II), August 23-25th, The Air Canada Centre

Level I ($525 US) Introductory Course & Exam. Includes a fast paced review for a day and a half with a theory exam at the end of the second day. Candidates should have been employed in wine service for a minimum of three years, although this is not mandatory.

Level II ($325 US)Certified Sommelier Exam, a one-day exam only with no classroom work.

Register for courses here

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critic 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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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008