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VINTAGES Preview: April 26 Release (Part Two)

Four Fine Spanish Reds, A Smart Cape Cab & Sara’s Spring State of Mind
by David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

You may have sensed in last week’s preview that we found tasting VINTAGES release of “Great Value Bordeaux” to be a bit of a chore. Yes, we were collectively underwhelmed, and I must say there were several other wines on this release, particularly from California, that I found troubling too – or just not worth spending your dollars on. Were we in a bad mood, or perhaps tasting on a “root” day on the biodynamic calendar? It’s hard to say; but for my part some of the lower scores, as well as the higher scores, are part of an effort to battle “creeping scoring condensation” – that tendency to lodge the vast majority wines in a “safe” zone between 86 to 91 points.

The great advantage of the 100-point scale (which is really an 80 to 100 pinot scale) is the wider bandwidth on which to peg a numerical opinion. In my world – and I would argue in the world of WineAlign and 100-point wine scoring globally – an 80-point wine should still be drinkable even if notably compromised. And by the way, an 80-point rating is where the WineAlign “grape bunch” begins to be coloured in, our attempt to provide a quick visual representation of quality. On the flip side, many of the world’s top calibre wines should easily be scoring close to perfection above 95 points. Using the full range of 20 points provides a much clearer barometer of quality, and is thus much more helpful to shoppers.

As for why I pick certain wines to highlight in this report, value within any price range becomes the main criteria. There will be many other wines not mentioned that are also very much worth your consideration – so spend some time browsing the selections by all three of us.

The Stars Align
(wines independently recommended by two or more critics)

Domaine Du Tremblay Cuvée Vin Noble Quincy 2012Pepin Condé Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Pepin Condé 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Coastal Region, South Africa ($15.95). John Szabo – Pepin is the entry-level range from respected estate Stark-Condé established by American José Condé in Stellenbosch, named after his grandfather. It offers an authentically herbal, iodine-tinged, spicy range of aromatics on a mid-weight, light tannin and juicy acid frame, nicely balanced, stylish and savoury overall. Great price, too. David Lawrason – Both John and I have recently visited this estate in the fantastic, primordial Jonkershoek Valley, although at different times. I actually visited twice, and I was very impressed by the modern, vibrant wines, and their value. I brought their pinot home to Canada in my luggage. Hands down this beats virtually any cabernet you will find at VINTAGES or the LCBO under $20.

Lawrason’s Take

Domaine Du Tremblay 2012 Cuvée Vin Noble Quincy, Loire Valley, France ($20.95). There are many who find sauvignon blancs boringly similar. And I understand that position. So if you do like sauvignon you have to dig deeper – beyond the green – to the nuances that different terroirs offer. This little known appellation of Quincy in the Loire Valley near Sancerre is one more take, and I like its lighter, compact, shimmering appeal.

Yalumba Viognier Eden Valley 2012Oldenburg Chardonnay 2011Camelback Shiraz 2008Yalumba 2012 Viognier Eden Valley, South Australia ($24.95). On its website Yalumba trumpets that “it is the one of the most influential producers of viognier in the world”. A sweeping but carefully couched statement. And I happen to believe it’s true based on the work committed and the result in the bottle.  This is a difficult grape to grow, and to make into a widely acceptable style. I am not a personal viognier fan and would rarely buy it for myself because it’s either too blowsy or too restrained. This comes right up the middle with poise, complexity and honesty. Like it or leave it, but try this viognier if only to gauge your own tastes.

Oldenburg 2011 Chardonnay, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($22.95). The better wines of South Africa are currently offering huge value based on the weakness of the South African Rand against the Canadian dollar. Plus the fact that modern viticulture and winemaking are now as comfortable in the Cape as anywhere in the world. This bright, sleek, vibrant chardonnay picks up some of the green/herbal character of the local vegetation – called fynbos – making it just a bit different from most chardonnay peers around the world. This is a Flagship Store Exclusive.

Camelback 2008 Shiraz Sunbury, Victoria, Australia ($24.95). I was not expecting to be impressed by this wine – another critter brand on the face of it, even though camels are not indigenous to Australia (they were imported from India in the 19th C). But the combination of its age and origin in this less well-known, cooler region of Victoria (not far from Melbourne’s airport) have delivered a quite savoury, peppery yet full flavoured shiraz with Aussie weight and Euro flavours.

Viña Arana Reserva 2005Elias Mora Crianza 2009Ascheri Pisapola Barolo 2010Ascheri 2010 Pisapola Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($44.95). If you are a Barolo fan you might want to go to Ascheri’s website (www.ascherivini.it) to comprehend the new regime that has led this house to make four different Barolo starting in this 2010 vintage. It’s a reaction to a complex new regulation involving Additional Geographic Designations in Barolo. Pisapola of the Verduno region will be made every vintage. I am sure it all makes some kind of local sense – but more importantly and broadly, this is excellent wine from a very good producer of modern nebbiolos that still respect their origin.

Elias Mora 2009 Crianza Toro, Spain ($22.95). Toro is an almost other-worldly enclave in north central Spain. Perched on a cliff above the Duero River the town was once the seat of Spanish authority to which Christopher Columbus came to seek financing for his voyages to America. Out on the river plain below and into the hills beyond the tempranillo grape (locally called tinta de toro) grows in heavily gravelled and limestone soils. The arid climate builds in serious muscle yet finesse. This crianza has spent 12 months in French and American oak barrels, which just seems to sponge up the fruit without really altering it.

La Rioja Alta 2005 Viña Arana Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($39.95). Spain offers several good wines in this release. There is the Faustino 1 Gran Reserva that someone has rated 97 points, but I was not in agreement that it is that superlative. I have given a higher rating to this mature classic from one of the great traditional houses of Rioja. The 2005 vintage was fantastic, and this has matured beautifully into prime time. This is a Flagship Store Exclusive.

Szabo’s Smart Buys

Maison Roche De Bellene 2011 Montagny 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($26.95). Nicolas Potel’s negociant range, what he describes as “haute couture” Burgundy, finds its way regularly into my smart buys, achieving what so few Burgundies can: fine quality at prices well below the average for their respective appellations. The Côte Châlonnaise south of the Côte d’Or has long been a source of value red and white Burgundy (and Crémant), and applied to Potel’s formula, it’s as safe a bet as you can find. I love the green nut and mineral character of this Montagny; lovely stuff, ready to pour.

Ilocki Podrumi 2011 Premium Grasevina, Syrmia, Croatia ($23.95 ). If you like full-bodied aromatic whites in the style of, say, Alsatian pinot gris, (dry) gewürztraminer or viognier, this will fit the bill. It’s a premium-priced Croatian Grasevina (aka Welschriesling), but also very characterful, evidently concentrated, with loads of beguiling acacia and almond blossoms, ripe orchard, pear and orange flavours. Ready to enjoy.

Alvaro Palacios 2011 Velles Vinyes Les Terrasses Priorat, Spain ($46.95). Palacios’ old vines (though entry-level Priorat) has explosive wild violet and rock-rose tinged aromatics reminiscent of great Douro reds, with masses of fruit and superior extract/concentration, yet still retains a sense of proportion and grace. It’s the magic of the ancient schistous terroir of Priorat. Give this another 2-4 years in the cellar, or hold into the mid-twenties and beyond – it’s well worth the money.

Maison Roche De Bellene Montagny 1er Cru 2011Ilocki Podrumi Premium Grasevina 2011Alvaro Palacios Velles Vinyes Les Terrasses 2011Maetierra Dominum Qp 2006Château Puech Haut Prestige Saint Drézéry 2011

Maetierra 2006 Dominum QP Rioja, Spain ($22.95). The “QP” stands for quatro pagos, or four vineyards, as this is a blend of tempranillo, graciano and garnacha from four different estates in the Rioja appellation. A year and a half in new French oak gives this a spicy, heavily wood-influenced profile, but I appreciate the underlying tart red berry fruit. Ideally I’d revisit this in 3-5 years, at which point I’d expect the wonderfully savoury-herbal and spicy profile of mature Rioja to come out of its shell.

Château Puech-Haut 2011 Prestige Saint-Drézéry, Languedoc, France ($29.95). Fans of serious Rhône Valley reds should venture further west to the Languedoc, where similar conditions and essentially the same grapes, coupled with relative obscurity, often add up to great value. This is intense and concentrated, with impressive depth, and a generous helping of southern French-style scorched earth, garrigue, black fruit and licorice-spice flavours. Try again in 2-4 years to benefit from added complexity and better integration or hold till the early ‘20s.

Sara’s Sommelier Selections

Malivoire Riesling 2012Malivoire Musqué Spritz 2013Poderi Elia Moscato D'asti 2012Poderi Elia 2012 Moscato d’Asti, Piedmont, Italy ($15.95). A bouquet of fresh spring flowers is authentically presented in this affable and characteristically sweet Moscato with a great deal of charm. Winemaker Federico Stella’s strict attention to detail, sustainable practices and small lot production often make for head-turning wines.

Malivoire 2013 Musqué Spritz, Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($19.95). In a spring state of mind, I have chosen yet another floral, juicy and engaging selection that is bursting with flavour. There is a certain air of whimsy about this delightfully effervescent gem that will have you feeling carefree in no time.

Malivoire 2012 Riesling, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($15.95). Winemaker Shiraz Mottiar has rocked this riesling – a varietal that has not been the winery’s forte. Despite the untraditional bottle shape, the wine delivers a classic nervy and zesty mouthfeel, loaded with an abundance of mineral and saline.

Dürnberg Rabenstein Grüner Veltliner 2011Cascina Del Pozzo Roero Arneis 2012Dürnberg RabensteManoir Du Carra Fleurie 2010in 2011 Grüner Veltliner, Weinviertel, Austria ($24.95). Produced from 50-year-old vines perched on the high slopes of the village of Falkenstein, this delightful grüner spends a year in large barriques with fine lees gaining extra body and complexity. Traditional and very typical of the varietal with lovely peppery notes along with cool stone and juicy grapefruit. The packaging makes this an attractive host gift or a centerpiece at the table.

Cascina Del Pozzo 2012 Roero Arneis, Piedmont, Italy  ($18.95). With the warm weather finally upon us, I’m delighted to have discovered so many interesting white wines in this release. Arneis, although difficult to cultivate due to its low acid, susceptibility to mildew and its “rascally” nature, can prove a real delight when properly treated and offers notes of wildflower, fresh herbs and pear. This is truly a fresh breath of spring air.

Manoir Du Carra 2010 Fleurie, Beaujolais, France ($24.95). This cru Beaujolais really caught my eye or should I say tongue offering seductive flavours and textures while putting forth a great deal of complexity. Fleurie is often touted as the “Queen of Crus” in Beaujolais and is the most widely exported of the crus. Although this version may be light on the characteristic floral nature of Fleurie, it is certainly chalk full of flavour and energy. Ideal for short-term cellaring or immediate consumption.

Winemaker’s dinner with Inniskillin’s Bruce Nicholson in Ottawa – May 1st

Bruce Nicholson

Bruce Nicholson

Inniskillin’s Bruce Nicholson is one of Canada’s most respected and awarded winemakers, lifting Inniskillin into a 5th place finish in the 2013 National Wine Awards ‘Top Wineries’ category. He, along with the Ottawa Citizen’s Rod Phillips, will be hosting a winemaker’s dinner at Graffiti’s Italian Eatery in Kanata on May 1st, exclusively for WineAlign members. Bruce will guide you through a select offering of Inniskillin wines, each paired with a specially prepared dish. He will speak about the unique viticulture and terroir of the Niagara region and talk about the history behind the winery that brought modern Ontario wine to life. (Click here for more details)

And that’s a wrap for this edition. Watch next week as we look at VINTAGES May 10 release feature themes on South America and Germany.

Cheers,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the April 26, 2014 VINTAGES release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Picks
All Reviews
April 26 – Part One – Champagne & Bordeaux

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


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Vintages Preview for April 26, 2014 (Part One)

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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

The Stars Align on the Champagne/Sparkling Feature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bordeaux Rouge Release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happening at WineAlign

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

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

From the April 26, 2014 VINTAGES release:

Champagne/Sparkling
Bordeaux Rouge
All Reviews
April 26 – Part Two

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


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Vintages Preview April 12 Release (Part Two)

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

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawrason’s Take

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sara’s Sommelier Picks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Szabo’s Smart Buys

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

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

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

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

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

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the April 12, 2014 VINTAGES release:

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

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


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Château St. Jean Fumé Blanc 2011


Fortessa Canada Inc

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Vintages Preview for April 12th 2014 (Part One)

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

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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

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

Appassimento from Sordato.it

Appassimento from Sordato.it

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

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

CCOVI Greenhouse

CCOVI Greenhouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Style

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

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

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

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

Balancing Tradition with Modernity

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

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

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

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

Sara’s Appassi-Picks

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

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

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

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

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

Ontario’s Appassimentos

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

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

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

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

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

Marco Piccoli, Jackson-Triggs

Marco Piccoli, Jackson-Triggs

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

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

John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

From the April 12, 2014 Vintages release:

Wines of Veneto
All Reviews

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


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Château St. Jean Fumé Blanc 2011


Fortessa Canada Inc.

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

Vintages Preview March 29 Release (Part Two)

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

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

WineAlign Ontario Critic Team

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Lawrason’s Take

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Sara’s Sommelier Picks

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

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

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

Szabo’s Smart Buys

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

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

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

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

The 2011 Ports On Sale Now

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

WineAlign Hosts a Jackson-Triggs dinner at Epic

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

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

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the Mar 29, 2014 Vintages release:

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

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


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Château St. Jean Fumé Blanc 2011


California Wine Fair

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

VINTAGES Preview for March 29th 2014 (Part One)

Welcome to VINTAGES!

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

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

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

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

To break it down:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sustainability

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

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

goLocal

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

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

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

French Frenzy

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

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

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

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

Sara d’Amato

From the Mar 29, 2014 Vintages release:

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

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


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Château St. Jean Fumé Blanc 2011

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

Vintages Preview March 15 Release (Part Two)

The Highlight Reel and Beyond

Last week we brought you our highlights among the California wines in VINTAGES March 15 release, and they were, as usual, very tasty but very pricy. Our critics (David Lawrason, John Szabo and Sara d’Amato) combine this week to present a much wider, more eclectic and better value range of wines from around the globe. And we remind you that the wines below may be highlights, but they are not at all the whole story. Please, please spend some time searching out those wines that might be scoring 87 points at $15, or 91 points at $50 that have not quite made this value-oriented highlight reel.

WineAlign Ontario Critic Team

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

Château Le Vieux Serestin 2009Borges Reserva 2009Borges 2009 Reserva, Douro Valley, Portugal ($21.95). SD - For those who are looking to add to your cellar but are trying to stick to a budget, here is a wine that would do very well on its side for another 2-3 years. Alternatively, decanting for an hour or so would certainly be beneficial. The blend is mainly tinta roriz (tempranillo in Spain) and touriga nacional with a modern feel. Its award-winning streak is testament to its wide appeal. DL – There is not another region of Europe better poised to steal the reputation of Bordeaux for elegant, nuanced reds than Portugal’s Douro Valley. The transition from great sweet, port wines is, after all, only a change in processing. The terroir remains the same. And the arid, steep slope, granitic vineyards of the Douro are among the most important in the world.

Château Le Vieux Serestin 2009 Médoc, Bordeaux ($17.95). SD – One of the first Chateaux in Bordeaux to qualify for the new Cru Artisan qualification was re-introduced in 2006. Never heard of this classification? Not surprising – it dates back over 150 years and was forgotten until producers lobbied for EU recognition in 2004. A group of about 50 producers find themselves in this category, which is just below the classification of Cru Bourgeois and requires re-certification every 10 years. Le Vieux Serestin has been producing some exciting, eco-friendly and carefully managed wines under the direction of its current owners since the early 80s. This very good value blend is drinking at its peak now and shows both power and elegance. DL – I was completely surprised by the Bordeaux authenticity, appealing drinkability and complexity achieved under $20. Most Bordeaux of this quality are at least twice the price.

Rustenberg RM Nicholson 2010Clos La Coutale Cahors 2011Rustenberg 2010 R M Nicholson, Stellenbosch , South Africa ($19.95). JSz Here’s a fine, complex, distinctly South African cabernet sauvignon blended with shiraz, merlot and cabernet franc, named after former owner-winemaker Reg Merriman Nicholson, who lived and worked on the Rustenberg farm for 30 years. Its profile encompasses the unique earthy-medicinal flavours that will appeal to drinkers of old school, savoury wines. DL – Stellenbosch is among the most unique terroirs for cabernet in the world, a hot Mediterranean latitude air-conditioned by mountain slope altitudes and winds from False Bay on the Indian Ocean. The pre-historic granitic/sandstone soils impart a sense of iodine-like minerality that single malt lovers might appreciate. Gutsy stuff and not afraid to strut its origin.

Clos La Coutale 2011 Cahors, Southwest, France ($17.95). SD – A southwestern French treat, Cahors is made almost entirely from malbec (sometimes with a little merlot and tannat thrown in) and although stylistically very different from that of Argentina, it can be wonderfully compelling. This example is nicely representative but also quite approachable and friendly. JSz – Often a little too hard and angular for all but the most seasoned wine drinkers, this version of Cahors is rather ripe and polished, inviting and friendly, benefitting from the softening effects of 20% merlot blended with malbec. It’s a nice introduction to the region, easing outsiders (or Argentine malbec drinkers) into the structured world of Southwest France.

Lawrason’s Take

Domaine De Vaugondy Brut Vouvray Méthode Traditionnelle, Loire Valley, France ($15.95). Among  a strong selection of non-Champagne bubblies on this release, this stands out for its honest, chenin blanc authenticity delivered for a shockingly good price. The amount of bubbly produced in the Loire rivals Champagne. The production method is the same. Only the grapes are different, and yes, the price.

Zenato 2011 Sergio Zenato Lugana Riserva, Italy ($28.95). If you are a fan of rich, creamy whites but want to go sideways from chardonnay consider this bright, shiny opulent white from the trebbiano grape grown in the Lugana region at the foot of Lago di Garda. It’s a regular at VINTAGES, and deservedly so.

Domaine Masson-Blondelet 2012 Pouilly Fumé, Loire Valley, France ($26.95). In the rapidly improving New Zealand led world of sauvignon blanc this small appellation on the right bank of the Loire in central France – along with Sancerre on the opposite shore – remains the beating heart of the variety. It catches some New World brightness but doesn’t lose its sense of compactness, complexity and minerality.

Domaine De Vaugondy Brut VouvrayZenato Sergio Zenato Lugana Riserva 2011Domaine Masson Blondelet Pouilly Fumé 2012Domaine Richard Rottiers Moulin À Vent 2011Albert Morot Beaune Toussaints 1er Cru 2009

Domaine Richard Rottiers 2011 Moulin-à-Vent, Beaujolais ($24.95). The parade of delicious gamays from the ten ‘cru’ villages of Beaujolais continues. If the price seems a tad higher than others it’s because Moulin-à-Vent is considered the most “serious” of the village wines, and most ageworthy. If you want to test that proposition buy at least three, drink one bottle now then stash the remainder for up to five years. Mature Moulin begins to resemble pinot noir.

Albert Morot 2009 Beaune Toussaints 1er Cru ($59.95). Burgundy purists may regard the warm 2009 vintage as just a bit too easy going and fruity (god forbid there be fruit). This is a very well made and balanced 2009, a classic strawberry-cherry centred Beaune, from an excellent producer. And there is no shortage of complexity as it begins to sail in the waters of maturity. All with great presence.

Ridge Lytton Springs 2011Giogantinu Nastarrè 2012Giogantinu 2012 Nastarrè Isola dei Nuraghi, Sardinia ($18.95). This is the find of the release for adventurers – a rustic, classic Euro red made from local varieties like Pascale di Cagliari, Malaga and Monica Cagnulari blended with some Nebbiolo (finally a grape I know). The company’s website (Giogantinu is a large co-operative) advises drinking it young “to preserve its vivacious taste”. Vivacious is exactly right.

Ridge 2011 Lytton Springs Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County ($48.95). Last week my colleagues mentioned this lovely wine in passing – to me it is the best buy in the California feature, especially if – like me – you are a disenchanted zinfandel fan. So many lesser examples are being mocha-fied and sweetened that I was thrilled to find one that was not only authentic, but dazzling. Lytton Springs does not name zinfandel on the label because it is a “field blend” that contains portions of other varieties that may add up to more than 25%. USA regs dictate a varietal name can only be used if it has 75%.

Sara’s Sommelier Selections

Moulin Camus Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2012, Loire, France ($16.95). Produced from the melon de Bourgogne varietal, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine is generally a light, fresh wine with an abundance of mineral. This version has a little more sass and depth than is the norm. One of the best examples I can recall tasting that has come through the shelves of VINTAGES. Don’t miss out, especially at this price.

Jermann 2012 Pinot Grigio, Venezia Giulia, Friuli, Italy ($32.95). It is a pricy pinot grigio but also not your typical pinot grigio. In fact, it is more akin to the rich, textured, layered examples of Alsace. With tremendous depth and length, this vibrant, rich and substantial white is sure to turn heads.

Santa Carolina 2010 Reserva De Familia Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile ($18.95). Here is a cabernet that will make it easy to please just about any guest. Nicely representative of the aromatic Maipo style and with just the right amount of complexity to maintain intrigue. As one of Chile’s oldest vineyards and high up on the list of the country’s most profitable wineries, there is great value to be found here.

Moulin Camus Muscadet Sèvre Et Maine Sur Lie 2012Jermann Pinot Grigio 2012Santa Carolina Reserva De Familia Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Patrick Lesec Cuvée Suzon Beaumes De Venise Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2011Tenuta Stefano Farina Le Brume 2009

Patrick Lesec 2011 Cuvée Suzon Beaumes De Venise, Côtes Du Rhône Villages,  France ($19.95). Beaumes de Venise makes most people familiar with the appellation think of the sweet Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. However, the region is more recently known for their dry, red blends of grenache, syrah and mourvedre. The grapes are grown on the slopes of the foothills of the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains to the north of Avignon in the Vaucluse region. Their AOC designation was awarded relatively recently in 2005 and we certainly don’t see much of this red on our shelves in Ontario. Pleasantly surprising and a terrific example of the elegance that can come from these higher elevation plantings.

Aljibes Cabernet Franc 2007Rocca Delle Macìe Tenuta Sant'alfonso Chianti Classico 2011Tenuta Stefano Farina Le Brume 2009, Langhe, Piedmont ($17.95). Deliciously faulted with terrific depth and complexity for the price. Artisanally produced with sincerity and careful attention to detail. This is the product of great love and respect. For the romantics. A blend of barbera, nebbiolo and merlot.

Rocca Delle Macìe Tenuta Sant’alfonso 2011 Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($22.95). A solid Chianti Classico that will have wide appeal due to its bold flavours and complex structure. Wafting with Tuscan sunshine, this hearty, spicy sangiovese is best enjoyed with smoked sausage or corned beef.

Aljibes Cabernet Franc 2007, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla, Spain ($24.95). Spanish cabernet franc: if you haven’t tried it, you’re missing out! And if you haven’t tried it, you’re in the majority. The variety is not particularly common in Spain and plantings are mostly found in the region of Catalonia. If you are not familiar with the term Vino de la Tierra, it is a step below the DO designated wines, with looser restrictions. Wines from Tierra de Castilla tend to be modern and progressive and this lovely example certainly fits the bill.

Szabo’s Smart Buys

Henry of Pelham 2012 Estate Chardonnay Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95).  Short Hills Bench pioneers Henry of Pelham often fly just under the radar in discussions of quality and value, but the reality is that the range is as solid and reliable as they come in Niagara, and more than occasionally a wine stands out for well over-delivering. The 2012 Estate chardonnay is such a wine, reflecting the warm, even growing conditions of the 2012 season and offering a mouth filling amalgam of fruit and spice.

Cave Spring 2012  Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué Cave Spring Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($15.95). Another local white makes the smart buy grade this week, in this case Cave Spring’s latest version of the particularly aromatic variant of chardonnay called “musqué” (although it’s unrelated to Muscat). It’s forward, intense, and aromatically engaging, while an impression of sweetness adds to the immediate appeal. Drink now with lightly spiced Thai green curries.

Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2012Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2012Domaine Michel Juillot Clos Tonnerre Mercurey 1er Cru 2010Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

Domaine Michel Juillot 2010 Clos Tonnerre Mercurey 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($32.95). Domaine Juillot has been a leading name in the Côte Châlonnaise for many years, and I’m pleased to see that quality in this 2010 more than lives up to reputation. This shows superior density and extract, all on a paradoxically light and svelte frame, delivering depth and complexity in the way that only red burgundy seems to be able to. At the price it should be taken seriously by fans of classic Burgundy to be sure.

Castello Di Ama 2009 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($35.95). Fans of top-drawer sangiovese should consider this powerful, ripe, intense example from Castello di Ama, which is just starting to come into a nice drinking window. Tertiary spice, earth and resinous herbs mingle with sweet-tart red berry fruit in a classic regional expression.

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

From the Mar 15, 2014 Vintages release:

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

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


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Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010


California Wine Fair

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

Vintages Preview for March 15th 2014

This week’s report looks at California’s record-breaking export success, and some top wines from the California-themed March 15th VINTAGES release selected by John Szabo MS and Sara d’Amato. Link also to John’s Benvenuto Brunello report on the latest releases – mainly the 2009s and the 2008 riservas – from Brunello di Montalcino, in which he examines the unofficial proposal to subdivide Montalcino into subzones, canvassing several growers for their views, reports on the 2009 vintage, and highlights over 30 top picks. Keen fans of this great Tuscan red won’t want to miss Benvenuto Brunello event in Toronto on March 10th, the first time the Brunello Consortium has come here to present new releases in a decade. Elsewhere, read John’s controversial defense of France as the birthplace of terroir.

California Wine Exports Reach All-time High in 2013

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Ontario, and Canada are very strong markets for Californian wines. We like the Golden State’s offerings well enough to rank as their second largest export market, behind only the 28-member European Union (considered a single market for statistical purposes). In 2013 we drank 454 million dollars worth, up 12% over the previous year. California is also flying high in the rest of the world, breaking all export records in 2013 and hitting 1.55 billion in winery revenues.

So what’s the secret of success? Producing excellent wines is an obvious factor. “Consumers across the globe continue to recognize the quality, diversity and value of California wines, despite significant trade barriers and heavily subsidized foreign competitors,” says Wine Institute President and CEO Robert P. (Bobby) Koch. “Our outstanding 2012 and 2013 California vintages, heralded for quality as well as quantity, were a record high so we have the ability to expand.”

But success is also due to a very organized and efficient marketing arm, with a significant budget at their disposal to spread the love of California. “We have an aggressive global marketing campaign underway that communicates California as an aspirational place with beautiful landscapes, iconic lifestyle, great wine and food, and as an environmental leader,” says Wine Institute Vice President International Marketing Linsey Gallagher.

And I’d anticipate even more California promotion over the coming year, considering that, for example, The Napa Valley Vintners’ 18th annual Premiere Napa Valley made history by bringing in a total of $5.9 million, nearly doubling the previous record of $3.1 million raised in 2012. The money raised goes into the NVVs war chest to promote the region’s wines. “We are overwhelmed by the response we saw today,” said Russ Weis, chair of the NVV Board of Directors and general manager of Silverado Vineyards. “It shows there is a renewed confidence in the fine wine market in general and in Napa Valley wines specifically.” The average wholesale price per bottle sold at the auction was a staggering $283, with bidding fueled by the fact that more than 90 percent of the lots were from the 2012 harvest, one of the most anticipated vintages in recent history.

And it’s indeed at the high-end that California performs best. In my view, great wine under $30 is as rare as rain in the dessert. Most inexpensive wines, it seems, are increasingly simple, fruity and notably off-dry, vying for market share with younger palates. But at the top end, quality, and diversity, have never been matched. The “counter-culture” wine movement driven by commentators like Eric Asimov of the New York Times and Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle, along with a new generation of well-traveled winegrowers, also influenced by young European vintners coming to do crush in California, have diversified the offering dramatically. This is excellent news; finesse and balance grow alongside power and opulence, and there’s quite literally a bottle for everyone.

John’s California Picks

Of the premium wines hitting the shelves on March 15th, and out of the latest releases from Treasury Wine Estates (Etude, Beringer, Stags’ Leap and Château St. Jean), here are the bottles to look for:

Premium chardonnay

Etude Carneros Estate Chardonnay 2011Stags' Leap Winery Chardonnay 2012Premium chardonnay is perhaps the most dramatically evolved category in California. No longer the exclusive domain of big and buttery (though there are still plenty of these), the new Cali chard marries power and finesse, ripe fruit and restrain. The 2011 Etude Carneros Estate Chardonnay Sonoma County ($39.95) is a perfect example, made by the delicate hand of John Priest. It’s harvested at relatively low brix (ripeness) by California standards to retain freshness and verve, and is fermented and aged in all old barrels resulting in a fine, lifted, vibrant wine.

2012 Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay Napa Valley ($34.95) is likewise a lovely wine by Christophe Paubert from the soon-to-be legend 2012 vintage. Paubert’s principal contribution to this wine since arriving in 2009 has been to shift fruit sources further south in Napa to the cooler AVAs, this one being exclusively from Oak Knoll and Carneros, made without malolactic fermentation, and aged in just 25% new wood, with 25% in stainless steel and 50% neutral oak. Give it 2-3 years to reach full drinking enjoyment.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Etude Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Dominus 2010Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Cab remains the mainstay of the premium segment, and the top wines have reached new levels of balance and structure, like setting the clock back to the great examples from the early 1980s, only better. Fans of elegance will already be familiar with the superb wines of Ridge in the Santa Cruz mountains, and the 2010 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains ($52.95) is a beautifully refined example.

But finesse can be done well in the heart of the Napa Valley as well, as is demonstrated by the excellent 2010 Dominus Napa Valley ($151.95) and 2010 Etude Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($100.00). Both of these cabs perfectly straddle the line between balance and power, delivering the supple, ripe, dark fruit one expects from Napa in a alongside tangy-ripe acids and supremely well-managed wood influence. Both should age magnificently, well into the late 2020s and beyond.

For those seeking slightly larger-scale, generously proportioned cabernet, I’d highlight the following trio:

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages 2009Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 20102010 Cade Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain, Napa Valley ($99.95). The Stars Align as this is recommended by both John and Sara. JS – The Cade Cabernet Sauvignon is a highly attractive, elegant but structured wine from the volcanic terroir of Howell Mountain, which should continue to evolve and improve over the next decade. The cooler-than-normal 2010 growing season resulted in a floral and nuanced expression, with ripe but fresh black berry flavours and well-chiseled tannins. SD – What exactly is so special about Howell Mountain? Using the catch phrase “above the fog”, the Mountain is gifted with long growing days of sustained temperatures due to its high elevation. It has very good drainage from rocky soils that tend to be of the nutrient deficient type, composed of volcanic ash or red clay. From this exquisite deprivation are produced these highly revered wines that are both challenging and age worthy. This cooler vintage for Cade has produced a delightfully revealing and feminine wine.

2009 Château St. Jean Cinq Cépages Sonoma County ($74.95) is the 20th release of Cinq Cépages, Château St. Jean’s flagship Bordeaux blend (77% cabernet sauvignon in this vintage). It’s just starting to move into a nice drinking window with its fully ripe, macerated black, blue and red berry fruit, light pot pourri and resinous herb flavours, and a palate that’s both structured and supple, with fine depth and length.

2010 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($149.95) is a dense, compact, dark fruit flavoured wine, dominated fully by blackberry and cassis flavours that should be best after 2016-2018.

Other Reds

Ridge Lytton Springs 2011Etude Pinot Noir Carneros Estate 2011Stags Leap Winery Ne Cede Malis Petite Sirah 2009Fans of the southern Rhône, great Bandol or Priorat, for example, will not want to miss the superb 2009 Stags’ Leap “Ne Cede Malis” Petite Sirah Napa Valley ($85.00). It’s an exceptional field blend originally planted in 1929, led by about 85% petite sirah, with another dozen or so varieties including most of the southern Rhône cultivars and even some white grapes. I love the wild berry fruit, savory and resinous herbs, and scorched earth flavours. You can drink or hold for this a couple of decades without a stretch.

For a classic Carneros expression of pinot pick up the 2011 Etude Pinot Noir Carneros Estate ($59.95), while Ridge’s 2011 Lytton Springs Dry Creek Valley ($48.95) is a zinfandel-led blend crafted in an remarkably elegant style, with very suave, supple tannins, fresh dark wildberry flavours and finely integrated wood spice.

Sara’s California Picks

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

As the highly touted 2012 and 2013 vintages begin to trickle in, California is currently facing its worst drought in decades. Grape yields in this challenging year promise to be low, and older vineyards are likely to fare best as their deep roots are able penetrate pockets of ground water. But despite the current stunted grape growth, there is no stopping the boom of growth in export sales in this heart of the US wine industry that is slated to hit 2 billion dollars by the year 2020.

The wines offered in this VINTAGES feature are a mix of the very refreshing, moderate, and progressive alongside wines that demonstrate classic heavy oak and alcohol. Much of this diversity has to do with the great variation in vintages that California has seen in the past half-decade. For example, pick up a bottle of the 2010s that we have coming in on the shelves and you’ll find evidence of a much cooler and longer growing season as wines are showing greater elegance, more acidity and because of this delicacy, a restrained use of oak to match. This type of vintage allows us a stripped-down appreciation of the sites and grapes.

More classically, 2012 proved an excellent year for many varietals, especially pinot noir. The growing season was long, sunny and saw even-keeled temperatures. Uneventful and consistent often make for the best vintages. Producers were able to pump out an abundance of high quality grapes – a dream year for growers! Speaking of pinot noir, my top picks are as follows (in addition to the Cade cabernet above which saw our palates “align”):

Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2010La Crema Pinot Noir Los Carneros 2012La Crema Pinot Noir Los Carneros 2012 ($44.95). I have largely been a great fan of this pinot noir that has proved consistently complex and an exemplary new world style. With a hefty price tag, it is fitting for both special occasion and mid-term cellaring. Straddling both the Napa and Sonoma appellations, Carneros is home to some of California’s most elegant pinots partly due to the influence of the wind and fog that keep the heat at bay and the acids from diminishing. Creamy, layered with flavour and a serene harmony that will have you foggy-headed.

Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Napa Valley ($54.95). Honest, pure and revealing – nicely reflecting the cooler 2010 vintage. Although well-structured, the wine is showing terrific complexity, unencumbered by an oaky haze. The winery refers to their iconic cabernets as “modern day liquid treasures” – a very evocative and, in this case, apt description. Named after the statuesque Sequoia trees that frame the winery, it is located on the Rutherford Bench known for its mineral rich soils and its low lying area that captures the morning fog, cooling off the vineyard and allowing for a very elegant flavour profile.

That’s all for this week. We’ll be back next week with the ‘best of the rest’ of this release.

From the Mar 15, 2014 Vintages release:

Classic California
All Reviews

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


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Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010


California Wine Fair

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Vintages Preview March 1st 2014 – Part 2

Wines of Israel, The Stars Align on Trimbach Riesling & JP Brun Beaujolais
by David Lawrason, with Sara D’Amato and John Szabo

Welcome to the second VINTAGES release preview featuring our new format for previewing the best buys. Last week we presented a look at the featured wines – what VINTAGES magazine calls the Fab Cabs. And despite a couple of gems like Hedges Family Estate Three Vineyards Red and La Parde De Haut-Bailly, we were not overly excited by the offering. Today we move on to the rest of the release, where you will find some very appealing wines and must-buys. And it might just be my mood, but I sense spring around the corner, and our selections seem to have a lighter touch this time.

Ontario Critic Team

But first a word about the mini-spotlight on kosher wines from Israel. The good news is that five of the six wines were bright, modern and not weird in any way. The bad news is similar – the wines are bright, modern and do not stand apart because they are from Israel. There is no sense of terroir here. They could be from any warm climate in the new world, most akin perhaps to California. Indeed, like California, Israel is focused on cabernet, merlot and chardonnay, whether or not these are the best suited varieties.

Teperberg Family Estate Meritage 2011Galil Mountain Alon 2010In Israel (which I have not visited) the best vineyards are in higher altitudes of Upper Galilee. But this does not translate into “cool climate” acid structure as we know it here in Ontario. The wines are full, soft, ripe and unfortunately, some of them have bought into that pervasive new world tendency to sweeten and mocha-fy. The one wine that seemed to nicely avoid this, while providing some complexity was a blend of cabernet and syrah: Galil Mountain 2010 Alon KP ($19.95).

Sara d’Amato highlights Teperberg Family Estate 2011 Meritage KP ($23.95) from the Elah Valley, as easily the best value selection of the lot. Teperberg is one of the oldest of the new era wineries of Israel and also one of the largest in the country. Despite its size, it manages to produce some intriguing, high quality reds such as this delectable and neatly composed Bordelaise style blend. (SD)

The KP designation stands for Kosher for Passover, which means it has been made under the supervision of a rabbi and with processes and ingredients that conform to Jewish dietary laws.

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

Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2010Jean Paul Brun Terres Dorées Côte De Brouilly 2012Trimbach 2010 Réserve Riesling, Alsace, France ($27.95) JS – I first tasted this exceptional Réserve Riesling with Jean Trimbach back in November in Alsace, and was equally impressed more recently back home in the far less pleasurable setting of the LCBO lab. It hails from the village of Ribeauvillé, from mainly old vines (40 years average), on clay-limestone soils. 2010 was a lean, austere vintage in the best sense, yielding a very tightly wound example, flinty on the nose, with tart, tartaric acids, but really intense flavour extract. This in fact has more dry extract than the Cuvée Frédéric Emile riesling in the same vintage, for reasons Trimbach can’t explain. In any case, it’s a wine of terrific intensity and vibrancy, and great length. DL – This riesling captures and effortlessly displays delicacy and strength – a rare combination. John has rated it highly, I am even higher.

Jean-Paul Brun 2012 Terres Dorées Côte De Brouilly, Beaujolais, France ($20.95) JS – The highly respected Jean-Paul Brun delivers yet another very fine, crispy, crunchy red fruit flavoured Côte de Brouilly, a little lighter than the average for this Beaujolais cru, but highly drinkable. Cranberry, pomegranate and apple flavours lead the way, with saliva-inducing acids and good to very good length. For fans of light and bright reds, best now-2017. Classic stuff. DL This is what great gamay is all about, with briskness and delicacy, and the clarity of cool, sunny autumn morning. You can almost smell the fruit on the vine and the soil below – in this case granite soils from one of the most famed slopes in Beaujolais.

David Lawrason’s Picks

Casa Do Valle 2012 Grande Escolha, Vinho Verde, Portugal ($15.95). The whites of Vinho Verde continue to surprise, with the best estate-grown bottlings offering complexity and depth far beyond what we have grown to expect via the slightly fizzy, inexpensive “green” wines at the LCBO. This rivals Chablis structurally with some intriguing herbal and maritime complexities. Wine has been made at this property since the 18th C, but the brand was created 20 years ago.

Villa Girardi 2011 Bure Alto Ripasso Valpolicella Classico, Italy ($17.00). This is absolutely delicious and shockingly good value. Ripasso is all over the stylistic map nowadays with many trying to be amarone. The weight and balance are so natural here I wasn’t even sure it was ripasso. Lovely elegant and pure expression of Valpolicella. Villa Girardi is consistently one of best producers of Veneto in my books.

Castle Rock 2011 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($19.95). Castle Rock makes wines in 12 west coast appellations in Washington, Oregon and California, with a stated goal of “high quality affordable wines”. It’s the kind of slogan hundreds of wineries use, but having tasted a more lighthearted, firm and fragrant style of pinot than I expect from Oregon, I am inclined to believe they have put their money where their mouth is. A little research reveals that the winemaker August “Joe” Briggs is actually a pinot specialist, having worked at Alpine in Oregon and La Crema in California. This is not profound pinot, but certainly great value at $20.

Casa Do Valle Grande Escolha 2012Villa Girardi Bure Alto Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2011Castle Rock Pinot Noir 2011Domaine La Fourmone Sélection Maître De Chais VacqueyrasJim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz 2012

Domaine La Fourmone 2009 Sélection Maître De Chais Vacqueyras ($23.95). Okay it’s official, Vacqueyras is my favorite appellation of the Southern Rhône – for complexity, power, honesty and value. The Combe family has been growing grenache, syrah and mourvedre in this sustainably farmed 20 hectare plot of sandy, rocky limestone for several generations. They join a list of Vacqueyras producers that I have recently begun to follow closely. This is a classic, and ready to drink.

Jim Barry 2012 The Lodge Hill Shiraz, Clare Valley, South Australia ($26.95). VINTAGES catalogue already quotes my review of this excellent shiraz. I had actually forgotten my previous note when I tasted it in the lab, and I doled out the same rating. There is such a fine sense of clarity and definition which can be hard to achieve in bigger wines. Winemaker Tom Barry is third generation at one of the founding estates of Clare. Lodge Hill is a vineyard largely planted to riesling with one north facing (warmer) section at the summit planted to shiraz.

John Szabo’s Picks

Rustenberg 2012 Chardonnay, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($19.95). This drinks like $30 chardonnay from other, perhaps more fashionable, parts of the planet. It’s made in a firm, ripe, fleshy but balanced new world style, riding a measured, moderate climate line, with very good length and well above average depth for the price category. Best 2014-2018.

Maison Adrien Vacher 2012 Les Adrets Altesse Roussette De Savoie, France ($16.95). It might have been the hoped-for, imminent arrival of spring, but I’d swear this roussette grown in the French Alps smells and tastes like a mountain meadow blanketed in spring flowers. Green apple freshness and above average flavour intensity, length and depth make this a smart buy and well worth discovering, especially when that spring finally arrives.

Maison Roche De Bellene 2011 Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay, France ($18.95). Savvy negociant Nicolas Potel continues to defy the value equation in Burgundy, offering here a ‘generic’ chardonnay that rivals many village-level examples at a terrific price. This has just the right mix of fruit and old spicy oak influence, crisp acids and balanced palate, not to mention very good length. A very safe bet for fans of classic white Burgundy. Best 2014-2017.

Rustenberg Chardonnay 2012Maison Adrien Vacher Les Adrets Altesse Roussette De Savoie 2012Maison Roche De Bellene Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay 2011Lan Crianza 2010Castello Di Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva 2010

Lan 2010 Crianza Rioja ($15.95). The ever-reliable Bodegas Lan provides a juicy, fruity, well-balanced 2010 Rioja crianza with plenty of regional character and moderate oak influence, for current pleasure.

Castello Di Querceto 2010 Chianti Classico Riserva ($29.95). 2010 was an excellent Tuscan vintage offering the magical mix of ripeness and freshness, and Querceto’s Riserva is a beautiful example. It’s savoury, solidly built and well-balanced, with exceptional density and complexity, delivering all that one could hope for from the region in a traditional-leaning style. Drinkable now, but better in 2-3 years, or hold till the end of the decade.

Sara d’Amato’s Picks

Pierre Sparr Réserve Brut Crémant d’Alsace ($16.95). Pierre Sparr is easily the most recognizable Alsatian wine on the shelves at the LCBO and the house often turns out solid values that can be appreciated by a wide audience. Despite some misses here and again, I am pleased to report that this lovely Cremant d’Alsace, made of pinot blanc using the traditional Champenois method, remains utterly charming and certainly consistent in its quality. Lovely with everything from eggs benedict to sushi.

Prà 2012 Soave, Veneto, Italy ($19.95). A Soave Classico quality for the price of a Soave, this delightfully surprising find features quality well beyond expectations. Under screwcap, the wine is fresh and exhibits pitch perfect balance. Graziano Pra is a small, artisanal organic grower and producer of highly revered Soave (Classico) and Amarone – located just on the outskirts of Verona. Pan-seared sea scallops is your best-bet pairing.

Le Clos Jordanne 2011 Village Reserve Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula ($30.00). One of the best of the Village Reserve Pinot Noirs from Clos Jordanne tasted in recent memory. At half the price of the Cru series, this is a terrific value delivering a great deal of depth, complexity and appeal. An Ontario pinot that is perfect to wow those skeptical of our local wines.

Pierre Sparr - Cremant D'alsace Brut ReservePrà Soave 2012Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011Domaine Vincent Prunier Volnay Les Mitans 1er Cru 2010Pico Maccario Lavignone Barbera d'Asti 2011

Domaine Vincent Prunier 2010 Volnay Les Mitans 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($57.95). The delicate, aromatic and ethereal nature of Volnay makes it a wine for romantics. Just because Valentine’s Day is past, it doesn’t mean that grand, romantic gestures go unappreciated and this wine is sure to sweep someone off their feet. Vincent Prunier is somewhat of a romantic as well – he is a part of a younger generation of winemakers with reverence for the old ways and tries to impart a sense of rich tradition to his wines.

Pico Maccario Lavignone 2011 Barbera d’Asti, Piedmont, Italy ($17.95). Here is a simply delicious Barbera d’Asti. Call it a guilty pleasure, perhaps, but it is chock full of personality, flavour and will make your dinner guests take note. This type of quality and approachability is not surprising from Pico Maccario who dedicates the majority of its production to barbera and has come to be known as a specialist in the varietal. Their barbera vineyard is one single parcel of over 70 hectares and is the largest solely owned vineyard in the Piedmont region.

And that’s a wrap for this edition – a diverse and delicious selection. We have reviewed virtually all the wines on this March 1st release so please continue your exploration using the links below. Until next time, when we take on some heavy hitter Californians from the March 15 release.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the Mar 1, 2014 Vintages release:

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

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


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Saltram Winemaker's Selection Shiraz Tempranillo 2010

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Vintages Preview March 1st 2014

Top Cabernets, Napa 2010s, Novelties vs. Classics, and Drinking in New York
by John Szabo, with Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

This week’s report looks at the trending of little known grapes and regions in North America, and their place within the pantheon of classic wines. Do rarities and obscurities deserve the respect sommeliers are giving? Read on below. On the flip side, the VINTAGES March 1st release focuses on the world’s most planted grape, cabernet sauvignon. I’ve highlighted my top picks, as has Sara d’Amato. And David Lawrason offers thoughts on 2010 Napa cabernets tasted this week. Then for those wondering how New York is failing to live up to its reputation, as well as where the cool kids eat, drink and buy wine in the Big Apple, click for my brief NYC journal and photo essay.

Celebrating Cabernet Sauvignon (and Blends)

San Fabiano Calcinaia Cabernet Sauvignon 2008Hedges Family Estate Three Vineyards Red 2011Regular readers of this report know that I certainly relish new discoveries and enjoy sharing them; no stones should be left unturned in the quest for good wine. But there’s also a reason why some grapes have gained prominence over others in the course of history. So, in the spirit of celebrating the world’s most planted fine wine variety, cabernet sauvignon, and leading up to the VINTAGES March 1st cab-themed release, here are some cabernets (and blends) deserving of their vaunted cultivar pedigree. Although cabernet is known for its imposing personality, what’s great about these wines is their distinctive expression, one in which variety and region fuse together to create unique wine.

Hedges 2011 Family Estate Three Vineyards Red, Washington ($32.95). The Stars Align as this is recommended by both John and Sara. It is a terrific example of the balance of fruity and savoury components, not to mention ripeness and freshness, which is possible with careful vineyard management in the right terroir, in this case Washington’s premium Red Mountain AVA. It’s solidly structured and stands to gain considerable complexity in time, so tuck it in the cellar for a couple of years. Best 2016-2022. (JS). There is no denying that Hedges is a serious force in the industry. They have a romantic past that brings an American athlete and traditional polished, French finishing school graduate together against all odds. Their children now contribute significantly to the business and the results are certainly fruitful. Both polish and power shine through harmoniously in this cabernet. (SD)

Château Pey La Tour Réserve Du Château 2009Delaforce 2007 Touriga Nacional CabernetSan Fabiano 2008 Calcinaia Cabernet Sauvignon, Toscana, Italy ($27.95). Much more regionally Tuscan in style than varietal cabernet sauvignon, this wine has the brick/terra cotta shade reminiscent of Tuscan sangiovese, not to mention its dusty resinous herbs, fresh earth and leather notes. The palate is generous and very flavourful, with high intensity and great length, finishing on very Italianate dusty tannins. Nicely priced for the complexity and depth on offer. Best 2014-2018, with rare-grilled, salted meats.

Château Pey La Tour 2009 Réserve Du Château Bordeaux Supérieur ($19.95). A very ripe, plush, wood-influenced Bordeaux, perfectly in line with the general style of the 2009s, with generous dark fruit and spice character and no small measure of sweet oak influence. Yet the ensemble stays in balance, as you’d expect from fine Bordeaux. One of the best wines from this château in memory. Drink now, though better in 2-3 years, or hold into the early 2020s.

Delaforce 2007 Touriga Nacional/Cabernet, Douro, Portugal ($24.95). Not pure cabernet evidently, but a fine wine in any case, and an eloquent argument in favour of broadening cabernet’s typical blending partners. This is deep, very ripe, jammy in the new world style, with a dense and rich, hugely satisfying palate. A lovely blend of old and new world expressions, in which boozy port meets savoury cabernet. Best 2014-2020.

Sara D’Amato’s Cabernet Picks

Amidst a fleet of ho-hum selections in this month’s feature, there are a few standouts that are impactful and, dare I say, soulful. What impressed me most were wines with restrained alcohol, brightness, purity of fruit and aromatic intrigue – basically wines that reigned-in the cosmetics and focused on the grape and freshness of flavour. The following recommendations will both withstand the test of time and provide oodles of intrigue:

Château Picard 2009Angove Vineyard Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Dry Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Dry Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Sonoma County, California ($25.95). Dry Creek Valley excels at their ability to produce elegant, almost Old World, Bordelais-style wines that tend to temper blends (historically poached by Napa and Sonoma wineries alike). Located in the northern Sonoma, this is a region to which paying attention to will likely pay off before too long. With 83% cabernet sauvignon and the balance, Bordelais varietals, this typifies the great cabernet coming out of this region and for a reasonable price.

Angove 2010 Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia ($22.95). Coonawarra’s relatively cooler climate, iron-rich soils and uniquely produced wines stand out from the crowd. Five generations of family business are rarely seen in the New World but at Angove, the family is still passionately involved and belovedly traces their ancestry back from a tonic seeking ancestor to a winegrowing dynasty. Exhibiting delightful restraint and distinctive flavour. Terrific value.

Château Picard 2009, Saint Estèphe, Bordeaux, France ($32.95). Saint-Estèphe produces unique wines among those of the Médoc with grapes that can withstand longer ripening or vine hang time and produce greater colour, often firmer tannins and a more robust nature than its prestigious neighbours. It can sometimes come off as rustic, edgy but full of personality. Embodying these characteristics is this slowly maturing cabernet based blend that is incredibly striking. Decant for immediate enjoyment or cellar for 3-5 years.

Napa’s Unusual 2010 Cabs
David Lawrason

This week four prominent California wineries in the portfolio of Australia-based Treasury Wine Estates trekked to Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver in just three days to present their new releases. Those wineries are Chateau St. Jean, Etude, Stags’ Leap Cellars and Beringer. In Toronto three different events for media, trade and consumers focused on chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon from each property, the latter from the 2010 vintage. This was one of the coolest vintages in recent memory. Wine Enthusiast magazine from the U.S. summed it up this way: “It’s possible we will see that most rare species of Napa Cab: elegant, low alcohol and approachable—or flip a coin: green, vegetal, thin wines. Buyer beware.”

Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Stags' Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Etude Cabernet Sauvignon 2010I really had to work at these wines but after tasting them twice in one day, and giving them time to open, I finally “got them”. All three were initially tight, sinewy, tannic and each showed a wisp of uncharacteristic greenness – especially when tasted from unyielding, small bowled ISO glasses. But once they began to open – towards the end of an excellent dinner at Sassafraz in Yorkville – they presented great fragrance, bright red and blackcurrant, and a tightly coiled balance and depth that suggests long ageing potential. I can see a California audience missing the suppleness and ripeness that Napa often presents, but anyone comfortable with cooler climate cabernets from Bordeaux, Niagara or B.C. should be quite enamored, and during the next decade they could provide immense satisfaction.

Check out my reviews of the following wines, with the Stags’ Leap 2010 being currently available as a VINTAGES Essential. The Beringer 2010 Private Reserve is being released March 15 in Ontario.

Etude Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Stags’ Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Novelties vs. Classics
John Szabo

New York City, February 2014 – I’m just back from three full days of repeated exposure to what’s hot in one of the most dynamic, fastest-moving wine markets in the world. If you think like the city’s top sommeliers and wine buyers, your notion of fine wine has expanded well beyond the rows well traveled; the obscure has moved from fringe to virtually mainstream. While it’s not accurate to say that cabernet and chardonnay are dead (especially when it comes to cool, “mountain” cabs grown off the valley floor in Napa, or, of course, trend-proof white Burgundy), it is true that the world’s most recognizable grapes and regions are increasingly required to share shelf and list real estate with far more novel and obscure grapes in the city’s most trendsetting spots.

It’s clear that a strong contingent of the city’s highest profile sommeliers and coolest wine shop owners are embracing, and in some cases leading, this trend with manifest enthusiasm, relishing the chance to share their new discoveries and win customers over by acting as the conduit to novel flavours. Relatively unknown grapes and wines from the dark corners of the old world like Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia, Georgia, Greece and others are increasingly recommended with pride and a savvy wink, along with the even rarer examples of the same obscure old world grapes that somehow made it to places like California, rediscovered by maverick winemakers growing amongst tracks of old vines, or in the epilogues of vine nursery catalogues.

But the shift is not universally praised. Robert Parker for his part, posted a rant on his website accusing the anti-establishment (open-minded?) wine trade “absolutists” of “a near-complete rejection of some of the finest grapes and the wines they produce.” “Instead” says Parker, “they espouse, with enormous gusto and noise, grapes and wines that are virtually unknown. That’s their number one criteria – not how good it is, but how obscure it is… they would have you believe some godforsaken grapes that, in hundreds and hundreds of years of viticulture, wine consumption, etc, have never gotten traction because they are rarely of interest… can produce wines (in truth, rarely palatable unless lost in a larger blend) that consumers should be beating a path to buy and drink.”

Jancis Robinson, who is regularly at odds with Parker’s views, shares in this instance a little of his dirge in a recent Financial Times article, albeit in a more measured and eloquent way: “America’s increasingly powerful sommeliers really do seem to be going further and further off-piste when making their selections. Diners on both sides of the Atlantic may search for classic Bordeaux or full-blooded California Chardonnay in vain.”

She continues: “There is a kernel of truth in [Parker’s] plea to celebrate the classics of the wine world”, but then smartly shifts the argument from one of rejection based on obscurity to the need to consider quality first: “I could not be more enthusiastic about indigenous grape varieties and the need to retain maximum biodiversity in the vineyard”, but I agree with Parker that viticultural rarity does not necessarily bestow wine quality.”

Quality is, of course, critical, a notion few would argue with. But so is value, as anyone who buys and sells wine, especially in shops and restaurants, lives and breathes daily. Wine, like any other commodity is priced in part on recognition, and seeking value often requires going off-piste, like tracking down the next fashion icon in a dodgy garment district warehouse. (Robinson suggests that “value-conscious wine lovers ignore [the lower reaches of] Bordeaux at their peril.”

But let’s leave aside the important question of value, and re-focus on quality. The trouble is, how do you define quality? Parker is derided in the wine trade for the lamentable homogenizing effect he has had on wine style, with only those that fall into his narrow bandwidth of “quality” receiving his important praise. The rest of the world’s myriad styles, and the grapes/regions that produce them, are left to languish in obscurity. His influence over the past thirty+ years has been such that it can be said, without much exaggeration, that he’s defined, and very tightly, the notion of quality for a generation of consumers.

But the world has changed. Robinson’s definition of quality is clearly far broader and encompasses a much wider range of grapes and styles. And perhaps going a step further, America’s, and Canada’s, leading sommeliers offer a similarly free-range definition of quality, one that’s far more inclusive of diverse flavours and textures. To say that anything outside of one individual’s definition of good quality is necessarily the opposite goes contrary to the notion of taste in the first place.

And obscurity in the wine world as defined by Parker and others is also a matter of perspective – geographic and historical – and one can easily succumb to taking too auto centric a view. Blaufränkisch (aka kékfrankos), for example, one of the obscure varieties targeted in Parker’s post, may be considered rare in the US, but it’s the most planted grape in Hungary, and is Austria’s second most planted red grape. In both these countries, cabernet sauvignon could be considered the exotic, rare foreign grape adored by local sommeliers (which it often is). Given this generation’s unprecedented access to information and multiculturalism, what future is there in looking at the world from such a singular, narrow perspective?

Similarly, the mention of grapes like Greece’s assyrtiko or xinomavro will surely garner blank stares from all but the most switched on wine industry folk. But the reason for their (decreasing) obscurity outside of Greece has much more to do with the fact that most of the wine, until recently, was consumed at home, and thus not available to become well-known on international markets. Obscurity was also maintained by the fact that the British, largely responsible for international wine trade over the past couple of centuries, never established strong wine trading ties with Greece as they did with, say, Bordeaux. It has nothing to do with any inherent deficiencies in quality. In fact, I’d rate these grapes among the world’s best. Apparently the Venetians of the late middle age felt the same way, given the volume of wine trade they did in the Aegean. If hip Venetian sommeliers were looking for something obscure and exotic, they might have tried one of those godforsaken wines made in the hinterland of Bordeaux.

While there are undoubtedly sommeliers and wine buyers who are seduced by rarity for rarity’s sake, the majority of those with whom I’ve come into contact use quality as their compass. Yet they are also open minded, and willing to push back the boundaries of the known world of quality wine. If a fine wine happens to come from a lesser-known variety or a country that most don’t even know produce wine, then so much the better – there’s nothing like finding a new source of potential drinking pleasure. At the same time, I’ve also seen plenty of poor quality obscurities scorned by these same hipsters with as much vehemence as they’d heap upon the most ubiquitously commercial cab or chard.

So while a smart business caters to its customers, and will likely fail by alienating them with an inscrutable collection of wines, a little broadening of the acceptable spectrum of wines styles benefits everyone. The smartest places will also have lots of classics to choose from, too, which no right-minded wine professional would totally ignore.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

From the Mar 1, 2014 Vintages release:

Cabernet Picks
All Reviews

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