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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 buyareview.com. 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 (burghound.com), 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!


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 16th – Part Two

Malbec and Mighty Fine Whites
by David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo MS

David New 2014

David Lawrason

Argentine malbec is a secondary feature in the August 16th release (south of France was featured in Part One). There are six wines that range from $15.95 (the price many are used to paying) up to $74.95 (which will undoubtedly cause some to question the new world order). And in between there are malbecs at $22.95 and $45.95. The more expensive wines do indeed show elevated quality. In fact the Colomé Reserva ($74.95) may be the best red of the release, at least on par with two just-under-$100 Bordeaux that are In Store Discoveries. But it will likely gather moss on the shelf. Which outlines the huge difficulty New World nations face in establishing the cred that Europeans (and now Napa) takes for granted. Wine reputations take time; and it takes courage to keep putting them out there. I am delighted that VINTAGES has purchased this wine, and so should Argentina be delighted.

But what of Argentine malbec in general – as reflected by half of the lower priced entries? Malbec was a wine that swept to power in the late 2000s as a tasty and affordable red just as the market for pricey wine was going into a recessionary tailspin. But now that the dust is settling we are taking a harder look. It is, if nothing else, big – at a time when sensibilities are lightening up. And you can’t just make malbec lighter with the flip of a switch. You can try to make balanced, complex and more refined malbecs, but this is difficult if you have to sell them under $20. Sweetening and oaking become key tools to impart drinkability, and then they all tend to taste the same. The homogeny of cheap Argentine malbec has become its biggest obstacle. So my mission now is to seek out, and be prepared to pay more for more expensive malbecs from producers focused on making higher quality, smaller batch, regional examples.

Meanwhile, there are several other wines worth a look on this release, including a bevy of nifty Italian and other Euro whites that superbly catch the sultry mood of August. We actually have triple alignment on the enchanting Basa Rueda from Spain. There are also excellent aged German rieslings, and Ontario chips in with a great Norman Hardie chardonnay. Plus there is an assortment of other reds put forward Sara d’Amato, John Szabo and I. Happy hunting!

Argentine Malbec

Colomé 2010 Reserva Malbec, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina  ($74.95)
David Lawrason – This very serious red hails from a historic winery in the province of Salta, far to the north of Mendoza. It registers excellent to outstanding depth, complexity and overall quality, but what I find intriguing is the different, more compact and linear demeanour that it demonstrates compared to Mendoza malbec peers.
Sara d’Amato – Colomé is one of Argentina’s oldest wineries and is home to the world’s highest elevation vineyards (we’re talking 3000 meters above sea level) – no wonder they can produce a wine of such balance, brightness and depth. This highly recommended example, although pricey, is both cellar worthy and undeniably memorable.

Decero 2011 Remolinos Vineyard Malbec, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina ($22.95)
David Lawrason – This is a refined, even keeled malbec from a single vineyard in the sub-region of Agrelo which lies in the heart of Mendoza south of the city. The Remolinos site is at 1050 metres, at the highest point of the region, where ripening is slowed thanks to cooling winds that sweep down from the Andes at night.

Colomé Reserva Malbec 2011 Decero Remolinos Vineyard Malbec 2011 Viña Cobos Bramare Malbec 2011 Graffigna Grand Reserve Malbec 2010

Viña Cobos 2011 Bramare Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina, ($45.95)
Sara d’Amato – Here is a wine that will bring out the fiery tango dancer in you. This is a riveting malbec with the depth and complexity to rival the best in this category. Unctuous and texturally intriguing with the elusive “sweet spot” of balance masterfully achieved. Vina Cobos is a shared partnership between renowned American oenologist Paul Hobbs and Argentine winemaking partners Andrea Marchiori and Luis Barraud.

Graffigna 2011 Grand Reserve Malbec, San Juan, Argentina, ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – In the best value category of this feature, this San Juan gem is refreshingly dry, a little tart and pleasantly fruity. A malbec you needn’t fear will overwhelm your main course but also one that is sure to please a crowd.

Whites

Norman Hardie Niagara ChardonnayBasa Blanco 2013Basa Blanco 2013, Rueda Spain ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This is a lovely, lively verdejo from great Spanish winemaker Telmo Rodriguez. Rueda whites are based on a terrific white grape called verdejo, that often is blended with a bit of sauvignon blanc. That was the formula for Basa as well, but in 2013 the sauvignon was replaced by 8% viura, a high acid native Spanish variety that has perhaps given this wine its amazing freshness.
John Szabo – Another fine edition, perhaps one of the best yet, of the Basa Rueda signed by Telmo Rodriguez. This smells like quality sauvignon blanc, or more accurately fumé blanc, with its gentle sweet herbal aromas and fruit shifting into the tropical – melon, guava, passion fruit spectrum.
Sara d’Amato – A sophisticated blend of verdejo and viura by iconic producer Telmo Rodriguez who is well-known for his work promoting indigenous varietals and delving into lesser known regions. This wine benefits from his keen and gentle touch and delivers a generous dose of zest, mineral and pure, refreshing fruit to the palate. A fabulous summer treat!

Norman Hardie 2012 Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)
John Szabo – It’s more often Hardie’s County wines that excite me, but this 2012 Niagara chardonnay is a beauty – a wine of serious substance and minerality, and terrific depth. I love how he can stuff so much flavour into a wine with under 13% alcohol – a lesson that should be absorbed by more winemakers everywhere. Best 2014-2020
David Lawrason – This took a gold medal at the 2014 National Wine Awards of Canada. Both it and its County counterpart are stunningly good in 2012, wowing both local and international critics at i4c. Having followed Norm Hardie from day-one I am not surprised by his success, but in 2012 his chardonnays have leapt to a new level.

Dr. Hermann 2005 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Auslese, Mosel, Germany ($23.95)
John Szabo – What a great price for this superb, mature auslese, by no means at the end of life, with abundant minerality, succulent fruit and gentle spearmint notes (a flavour I often get in aged German riesling) – hard to beat this.
David Lawrason – This mature, sweet, honeyed riesling offers character far beyond its price. It is almost a must-buy for anyone who needs a bit of education on riesling’s ability to age. (no image available)

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012 Alana Tokaj Tokaji Harslevelu 2005 Beyra Vinhos De Altitude 2012 Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay 2012

Vineland Estates 2012 Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – This continues to prove a top-caliber riesling, not only for Niagara, but is also a world-class example. This picture of elegance and power stems from an esteemed vineyard site from the Vineland estate itself planted in 1979. Vibrant, nervy and energetic – here is a firecracker of a riesling.

Alana-Tokaj 2005 Tokaji Dry Harslevelu Tokaj, Hungary ($24.95)
John Szabo – And here’s another beautifully mature wine that still has lots of life left, from an artisanal producer in Tokaj. Although the label says dry, it’s more like a gentle late-harvest style with the merest sensation of sweetness, and complexity is off the charts. Look for the saliva-inducing saltiness of volcanic terroir underlying the weighty ensemble – for $25 this is a real tour de flavour. Best 2014-2018.

Beyra Vinhos De Altitude 2012, Beiras Interior, Portugal ($13.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a brilliantly lively and perfumed blend of local varieties siría and fonte cal, like Chablis meets Sancerre. Vineyards at 700m on the schist soils of inland Portugal (just south of the Douro) are cool enough to yield this perfectly ripe wine at just 12% alc, focused on delicate citrus and sweet green herbs, with a killer streak of wet stone minerality.

Valdespino Inocente Single Vineyard Fino Dry SherryMiopasso Fiano 2012Beringer 2012 Private Reserve ChardonnayNapa Valley, California ($44.95)
David Lawrason – In a field of generally boring, over-oaked Calfornia chardonnays, this classic stood out for its poise and complexity – combining all the elements and expressing them with both authority and restraint. I am often hard on California wines for its pricing – this one is worth the money, perhaps even good value.

Miopasso 2012 Fiano Terre Siciliane, Sicily, Italy ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – The Miopasso range of wines focuses on indigenous varietals from southern Italy. This 100% fiano is flinty, smoky and mineral with a burst of citrus and delicate floral aromas. It is totally refreshing and immensely pleasurable.

Valdespino Inocente Single Vineyard Fino Dry Sherry, Spain ($22.95)
John Szabo – So salty and savoury, this is like an aperitif and an appetizer wrapped into one. Fantastic nuttiness, green olive brine, fresh bread and waxy citrus fruit flavours, in short, tremendous complexity, is apparently not for everyone (considering slumping sherry sales). But why would you spend the same $23 or more on a me-too generic cabernet from anywhere? Bring on the tapas.

Other Reds

Carvalhais 2011 Duque De Viseu Red, Dão, Portugal ($13.95)
Sara d’Amato – Portugal once again proves to be the land of great value. At under $14, this lightly perfumed and characteristically spicy wine from Dao is full-bodied and chalk full of perfectly ripened fruit. This lovely specimen will serve you well from aperitif to main course.
David Lawrason –
About halfway through tasting this dark, delicious, fruit-packed red I paused to check its price and just fell off my chair in surprise.  Enough said. You must try it.

Ninin De Antonino Izquierdo 2009Ribera del Duero Spain ($23.95)
John Szabo – Coming into its own now, I like the florality reminiscent of reds from further north in Spain like Bierzo, and the fine, pleasant bitterness. Best 2014-2019.

López De Haro 2008 CrianzaRioja Spain ($15.95)
John Szabo – It’s hard to ask for more for a $16 wine, especially if you’re a fan of old school Rioja. The resemblance to great traditionalist Lopez de Heredia Bodega doesn’t stop at the name and label design. This is an authentic regional wine. Best 2014-2020.

Carvalhais Duque De Viseu Red Ninin De Antonino Izquierdo 2009 López De Haro Crianza 2008 Apollonio Copertino Rosso 2007 Abad Dom Bueno Mencía 2008 Domaine De L'olivette Excellence Chusclan Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2012

Apollonio 2007 Copertino Rosso, Puglia, Italy ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This mature, rustic Italian country red will work better with a winter stew (the website actually recommends horse meat as a potential food much), but grab some now. It’s a blend of negroamaro 70% and montepulciano 30% that is absolutely stuffed with mouth-filling flavour and it has surprising harmony.

Abad Dom Bueno 2008 Mencía, Bierzo, Spain ($16.10)
David Lawrason – Here is yet another mencia-based red that performs well above its price with the power, structure and depth found in $40 reds from more famous regions of Spain and indeed the rest of Europe. The more I taste Bierzo the more I am convinced the mencia grape belongs in the gallery of the worlds best red wine grapes – up there with cabernet,syrah and company.

Domaine De l’Olivette 2012 Excellence Chusclan Côtes Du Rhône Villages, Rhône, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Chusclan is a tiny village appellation of only 250 hectares located on the banks of the Cèze river, a minor tributary of the Rhône and close to the town of Orange. This is a hot a sunny appellation, heavy in grenache, commonly known for its juicy, easy drinking reds and Tavel-style roses. This example from l’Olivette was a delight to discover with delicious botanical notes and distinctive garrigue.

****

That’s a wrap for this edition. Watch next week for our first Preview of the August 30 release, and don’t forget to check out Steve Thurlow’s round-up of the best new LCBO General List arrivals. Our national WineAlign team is convening in Toronto to judge the World Wine Awards of Canada. Busy times indeed.

Until next time!

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES August 16th release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
August 16th Part One – Southern France

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 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!


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 2nd – Part Two

The Mid-Summer Acid Test – Riesling, Sauvignon and Chenin
by David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo MS

David New 2014

David Lawrason

A small selection of whites from France’s Loire Valley and Alsace regions have been grouped as a mini-feature in VINTAGES Aug 2 release. (John covered off the main California feature last week). I thought I would elaborate on the essential concept of these whites from northern France – pure acidity set against pure fruit. No oak to soften or spice. No alcohol (hopefully) to numb the freshness. No blending or oxidation to mask personality. Whites that draw a line through a tepid evening like an ice-cube down the spine.

Three important high acid grape varieties do that better than any other – riesling, sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc – and they grow far and wide beyond France as well. To experience them at their best, open a bottle before dinner is served so you can focus entirely on what’s in the glass. Yes they should be chilled, but when quality is in place they may actually suffer from over-chilling. Whet your appetite with these values, then read on to other whites and reds that John and I have flagged as great buys as well. We have aligned on four wines, most notable perhaps a killer syrah from Chile.

Pierre Sparr Granit Riesling 2010Hidden Bench 2013 Estate RieslingHidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($23.95).
John Szabo - One of the province’s top riesling producers, Hidden Bench regularly delivers quality far above the average, underscoring that there’s simply no substitute for meticulous farming. Even though this is the “mere” estate blend, it could easily sit among the top single vineyard bottlings in the region, at a nice price.
David Lawrason – A cooler vintage like 2013 is ideal for Niagara’s acid driven whites. This is a very fine, firm, subtle and dry riesling. It needs a year or two to open, but it is solid and well-structured with minerality and excellent length.

Pierre Sparr 2010 Granit Riesling, Alsace, France ($16.95). Riesling’s acid core makes it perhaps the best of the hot weather whites. And when acid combines with minerality, and a highly structured vintage like 2010 in Europe the effect is doubled (and so is the value quotient). This has core minerality and firmness that is front and centre, just slightly coarse and tart but nervy and solid. DL

Fournier Père & Fils 2012 Les Deux Cailloux Pouilly-Fumé ($26.95).
David Lawrason – This is a solid, not at all heavy, sauvignon from a lighter vintage that showcases freshness. Almost tingling acidity and a hint of C02 on the palate with dry, bitter grapefruit and stony finish.
John Szabo – A stony, very natural-smelling Pouilly Fumé, with excellent density and concentration. Best 2014-2020.

Jean-Max Roger 2012 Cuvée C.M. Sancerre Blanc ($27.95).
John Szabo - The “C.M” comes from “Caillottes” and “Kimmeridgian Marls”, two of the three prevalent terroirs in the Sancerre AOC. According to Roger, the “caillottes” give the wine its floral and fruity notes, along with its lightness and freshness, while the “terres blanches” (Kimmeridgian marls) provide structure, richness and power. This is a fine synthesis of the two.
David Lawrason – a particularly delicate classic indeed from a staunch producer of quality sauvignon.

Fournier Père & Fils Les Deux Cailloux Pouilly Fumé 2012Jean Max Roger Cuvée C.M. Sancerre Blanc 2012Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2013Ventisquero Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2013Domaine Du Vieux Vauvert Vouvray 2012

Greywacke 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95). Just back from Marlborough, I can attest that not all kiwi ‘savvies’ are brash and vegetal. The best, like this fine example, are nicely composed, compact and firm, positioning green herbs (celery leaf), passion fruit, grapefruit and pepper. Fine sense of levity and quench here from Kevin Judd, whose been doing Marlborough sauvignon for as long as anybody. DL

Ventisquero 2013 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($13.95). This is particularly good value. Chilean sauvignon can be heavy and blunt, but this nicely balanced effort from cooler Casablanca blends guava topicality fresh green herbs and pepper. While in NZ I read an article in a local wine industry mag alerting New Zealanders to the rise of Chilean sauvignon. Here’s why. DL

Domaine Du Vieux Vauvert 2012 Vouvray ($15.95). So often I find the chenin blancs of Vouvray bothered by some earthy/fungal character and sulphur. This textbook, great value is squeaky clean with classic quince/pear fruit, light florality and beeswax. Gentle, poised and delicious. There is a hint of sweetness but it does not dull the effect. DL

Other Whites

Domaine Du Chardonnay Chablis 2012Loan Wines 2005 Special Reserve Semillon UnoakedLoan Wines Special Reserve Semillon 2005, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($16.95). The previous vintage of this wine was also a spectacular value, and one wonders how you can get so much flavour in a wine for $17. Admittedly the flavour profile won’t appeal to all (don’t buy it for the wedding party), but this is well worth a look for fans of original, regional specialties. JS

Domaine Du Chardonnay 2012 Chablis ($21.95). A textbook regional Chablis, and a perfect oyster wine, the kind I’d like to be sipping every Sunday afternoon. JS

Reds

Matetic 2011 Corralillo Syrah, San Antonio Valley, Chile ($23.95).
David Lawrason - Here is a big, juicy, ultra fresh syrah from a biodynamic producer lodged in the coastal ranges of Chile. There is an obvious juiciness here, but it is also solid and circumspect. Huge blackcurrant fruit is etched with fresh forest greens, pepper, meatiness, dark chocolate graphite. One can argue successfully it is not like syrah from France, or anywhere else for that matter. But does it have to be? This is Chilean to its stirrups.
John Szabo - Cool, coastal Chile is a hot spot for sauvignon blanc, and increasingly, syrah. And make no mistake: this is not shiraz, but much more old world in style. Matetic is certified organic and biodynamic (Demeter), and their vineyards are in the Rosario Valley (a subdivision of the San Antonio Valley), an enclosed valley that runs perpendicular to the Pacific. I love the savoury herbal-bay leaf flavours, reminiscent of native Chilean trees like Quillay, Maitén, Boldo and Peumo that grow in the area. Cellar this for another 2-3 years for maximum enjoyment.

Ascheri 2011 Fontanelle Barbera D’alba Podere Di Rivalta ($17.95). Ascheri nicely buffs the tart edges of barbera, without sacrificing the grape’s natural vibrancy or fruit. The secret seems to be finer tannin management. This has a lifted nose of redcurrant/cherry (pinot fans will like it), a touch of leathery/meatiness and gentle vanillin. Could work lightly chilled on a summer eve with a cold pasta salad. DL

Boutari 2009 Naoussa, Greece ($13.95). As always, an attractively priced, savoury old world red from Boutari, their ‘regular’ bottling of Naoussa (made from xinomavro). To put this into context, think of traditional style sangiovese from Chianti and you’re in the right style zone. JS

Matetic Corralillo Syrah 2011 Ascheri Fontanelle Barbera D'alba 2011 Boutari Naoussa 2009 Santa Alicia Gran Reserva De Los Andes Carmenère 2011c

Santa Alicia 2011 Gran Reserva De Los Andes Carmenère, Maipo Valley, Chile ($15.95). I am studying carmenère closely these days because they continue – through complexity and depth – to offer good value. Then, if they are well balanced too, they can be huge value. The world has not yet caught on to this so many remain underpriced – as is the case with solid, savoury example. DL

Domaine La Fourmone 2011 Le Fauquet Gigondas, Rhône Valley, France ($28.95). There is a certain amiable freshness and vibrancy here but set within the Rhône’s comfy framework. Not at all heavy or thick – a fine drink-anytime red with class and some elegance. Gigondas offers more finesse than any of the other fine villages strung out along the base of the saw-toothed Dentelles in the southern Rhône. DL

****

And speaking of the southern Rhône, Sara d’Amato and family have been camped out there for July, so expect some thoughts from her when she returns. Other upcoming works include an article by Julian Hitner on the value to be found in classic, dry European rieslings.  And John Sazabo returns next week with the first preview of the Aug 19 release. May your Civic Holiday weekend be wonderfully civil.

Until next time!

From VINTAGES August 2nd release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews
August 2nd Part One – Pure California

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 Aug 2nd – Part One

Pure California: 100+ Reviews of the Best of “New” California; The Icons of Napa Cabernet, and Sandhi, A Name to Know.
by John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The theme of the report this week is pure California, the focus of the VINTAGES August 2nd release, and David Lawrason and I list our top picks (with significant alignment). Next week David will lead coverage of Alsace, the Loire Valley, Greece, and the best of the rest along with my picks (Sara d’Amato is in the south of France conducting serious research). I’ve also included a couple of outstanding Santa Barbara chardonnays tasted at the i4c last week, and I’ve finally managed to publish close to 100 reviews from landmark California tastings held last October in San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma. Find the best pinot, chardonnay, Rhône blends and so much more on WineAlign; fans of California wine, and I know there are many of you, will want to track these down. But wait, there’s more – check out this report on the very best of the best Napa Cabernets. Read on for all the gold.

A California Wine Summit

Before we get into the top picks from the VINTAGES August 2nd release, those deeply into California wines may want to consider searching further afield. I’ve published nearly 100 of my top picks (mostly current releases) from an extraordinary set of tastings held last October in California. The “California Wine Summit” was organized and hosted by the Wine Institute of California for a select group of international journalists (WineAlign’s Anthony Gismondi also attended), with the aim of sharing the radical changes and developments that have occurred within the California wine industry over the last decade or so.

These extraordinary tastings were compiled and led by some of California’s most respected critics, authors and winemakers, including Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle and his top chardonnays, Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, and her favorite Pinot Noirs, Patrick J. Comiskey, critic for Wine & Spirits magazine and terrific California blends, and a once-in-a-lifetime tasting of iconic Napa Valley cabernets led by master sommeliers Geoff Kruth and Matt Stamp. And those were just some of the formal tastings.

The New California Wine

Jon Bonné and his top Chardonnays, with Gerard Basset MS, MW, OBE

Jon Bonné and his top Chardonnays, with Gerard Basset MS, MW, OBE

Perhaps Jon Bonné has best captured the zeitgeist in his recently published book The New California Wine, which is “the untold story of the California wine industry: the young, innovative producers who are rewriting the rules of contemporary winemaking; their quest to express the uniqueness of California terroir; and the continuing battle to move the state away from the overly technocratic, reactionary practices of its recent past.” Fans of California wine are well advised to grab a copy of this book – it’s an accurate synopsis of what’s going down in the Golden State.

No stones were left unturned during the summit as we tasted through every notable grape variety and wine style that the state has to offer over the course of a week, with detailed information, expert comparative analysis and historical perspective provided along the way by the folks who know it best. Only one tasting failed to shine: “California does value”, the one area where even the best of the new California often falls short. Value is of course relative, though with few exceptions, compelling sub-$20 (CAD) wines are few are far between in my view. The majority of entry-priced brands, at least those we find on shelves in Canada, prey on the human weakness for sugar. But once again, sales figures are in diametric opposition with me, so what do I know.

Dollars aside, the new California (as well as the California that’s so old it’s new again, and the California that never followed fashions of any kind) has an extraordinary offering of wines on shelves now. If you’ve turned away from California for whatever reason, I’d suggest you give Ontario’s most important foreign wine supplier another look.

Set your WineAlign search parameters to “California” and pick your favourite grape/style to see what’s on top. Be sure to check “show wines with zero inventory” for the full list, as some wines have yet to reach our shelves.

The Best of the Best of Napa Cabernet

I’ve also posted a blow-by-blow report of a tasting of iconic Napa cabernets, including all of the rarities – it was the sort of tasting one hardly ever reads about, let alone participates in. The notes were edited only for spelling, making it a more intimate and unadulterated view of the moment, including some impressions that surprised even me.

Buyer’s Guide for Vintages August 2nd 2014: California

White

Hahn S L H Estate Chardonnay 2012Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012Alignment: Robert Mondavi 2012 Fumé Blanc, Napa Valley ($23.95)
John Szabo – One of the most reliable and consistent Fumé Blancs, not to mention the original, from California, Mondavi (and winemaker Geneviève Janssens) still leads the way and delivers wide pleasure at the right price. I like the balanced between tropical and orchard-citrus fruit, in an approachable, round and soft style. Best 2014-2018.
David Lawrason – In California’s Mediterranean climate it is difficult to make snappy, acid-driven sauvignon blanc. Robert Mondavi engineered a great alternative years ago by adding semillon and barrel ageing, and calling it Fume Blanc. It has been one of my favourite California whites ever since – uniquely spicy with intriguing green olive an evergreen notes.

Hahn 2012 S-L-H Estate Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County ($32.95). David Lawrason – Hahn has emerged as dominant player in Monterey with huge vineyards and polished fruit driven style of wines. This is unabashedly big, generous and fruit driven – as so many chards are in California – yet it retains a sense of composure

Red

AlignmentNapa Angel 2008 Aurelio’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($62.95)
John Szabo - Chilean vintner Aurelio Montes’ Napa project is a particularly dense and full cabernet sauvignon, with tightly knit dark fruit and chocolate flavours, unsurprisingly, similar in style to his top wines from Chile. This is mature and drinking well now. Best 2014-2022.
David Lawrason – If you detect a certain Chilean bloom and piquancy in this delicious, sensuous Napa cab it is due to the fact that it is made by Chilean Aurelio Montes (who makes some of grandest reds of Chile’s Colchagua Valley, including Purple Angel).  This is excellent, collectible an drinkable cabernet – complete, profound and deep.

Grgich Hills 2010 Estate Grown Zinfandel, Napa Valley ($48.95). John Szabo – Biodynamic estate Grgich Hills rarely disappoints with any of their wines, which remain, relatively speaking, fairly priced within the Napa Valley context. This is an unusually aristocratic version of zinfandel, with fruit so very lively and vibrant – a difficult thing to achieve with zin in the Napa Valley. Best 2014-2020.

Beringer 2007 Bancroft Ranch Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Bancroft Ranch Vineyard, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley ($79.95). John Szabo – The Bancroft Ranch wines are often among my favorites from the vast Beringer portfolio, which for me has more distinctive character than the (more expensive) Private Reserve, of which this cabernet is often a notable component. This 2007 has evolved nicely into a dusty-grippy, savoury and dark fruit flavoured wine with a nice streak of scorched earth and minerality from the volcanic soils of Howell Mountain. Best 2014-2020.

Seghesio 2012 Zinfandel Sonoma County, California ($29.95). David Lawrason – I am not at all happy about the sweetening and mocha-fication of California’s commercially priced zins. To rise above the soup you need to raise your price ceiling and focus on classic producers like Seghesio – a family with zin its veins for generations.

Montes Napa Angel Aurelio's Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Grgich Hills Estate Grown Zinfandel 2010 Beringer Bancroft Ranch Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Seghesio Zinfandel 2012

Sandhi: The California Wines You Want to Get to Know

It wasn’t my first exposure to the wines of Sandhi in Santa Barbara County – one, the Sandford and Benedict Vineyard bottling, had been selected by Jon Bonné for his tasting of top Chardonnays during the California Wine Summit. But it was a pleasure to sit and taste a few more wines with co-owner Rajat Parr during the i4c weekend in Niagara. Sandhi, which mean “collaboration” in Sanskrit, is a joint venture established in 2010 between Parr, then, and still, wine director of the Michael Mina restaurant group, partner in San Francisco’s landmark RN74 and one of the US’s most recognizable wine figures, Charles Bank, the former owner of Jonata and Screaming Eagle, and winemaker Sashi Mormann. The winery is focused on small lots of chardonnay and pinot noir from select vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County, particularly the cooler stretches of the AVA a few miles from the Pacific Ocean.

I was delighted but not surprised to find that Parr, an outspoken advocate for balanced, moderate alcohol wines in his buying role for Mina, has upheld his position for his own production. The Sandhi wines are all about finesse and freshness, structure and balance, well articulated without attempting to replicate European wines- the fruit is still Californian, as it should be. Sandhi wines are available through the Trialto Wine Group across Canada, as are Parr’s other joint ventures, Domaine de La Côte, also in Santa Barbara (check out the excellent syrah), and Maison l’Orée in Burgundy.

Two to Try:

Sandhi 2012 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay, California ($48.00). A vibrant, moderate alcohol, terroir-driven chardonnay. Flavours are in the ripe orchard and even lightly tropical spectrum, though this is all about the zesty acids and firm structure, including a pleasantly chalky, tacky mineral texture.

Sandhi 2011 Rita’s Crown Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County, California ($78.00). A wine of serious depth and complexity off the charts; the balance is pitch-perfect, on the upper end of the intensity scale, with terrific length. Really top-notch stuff for current enjoyment or mid-term hold. Tasted July 2014.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Aug 2nd:

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!


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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!


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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: www.coolchardonnay.org

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!


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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.

Spain

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.

Cheers,

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!


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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.

Reds

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.

Cheers,

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!


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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008