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VINTAGES Preview for March 29th 2014 (Part One)

Welcome to VINTAGES!

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

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

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

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

To break it down:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sustainability

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

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

goLocal

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

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

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

French Frenzy

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

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

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

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

Sara d’Amato

From the Mar 29, 2014 Vintages release:

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

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


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Château St. Jean Fumé Blanc 2011

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Vintages Preview February 15th with David Lawrason, John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

New Format, Same Great Picks and Values + The Stars Align

We are re-tooling the editorial plan at WineAlign in the days ahead to make better use of our vast array of talent, and bring you more timely, comprehensive and authoritative reviews and articles. This is partially due to the imminent addition of four top wine critics from Quebec, who join our four writers in B.C. and six in Ontario. You will see a wider range of topics and viewpoints – some geared specifically to helping you shop wisely with WineAlign, others to bring you the wide world of education and perspective.

Our coverage of VINTAGES twice-monthly releases in Ontario will be changing but not diminishing. Before each release there will still be two separate previews with combined contributions from David Lawrason, John Szabo and Sara d’Amato.

David Lawrason, John Szabo & Sara d'Amato

The first preview, published eight days ahead of the release, will go into depth on the theme that VINTAGES sets out, providing alternative, more objective coverage than found in their magazine. It will be authored by one critic, with review inputs from the team. It may also include wines on the same theme that are available through the LCBO general list, VINTAGES new Shop Online platform (see below) or on consignment. See the first edition on French wines by John Szabo published last week.

The second preview will present non-themed picks from the VINTAGES release from all three critics – David, John and Sara. And where we independently converge on a specific wine it will be singled out in a section called “The Stars Align”. Today marks the first edition of this preview.

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

Thorn Clarke William Randell Shiraz 2010Castorani Amorino Montepulciano D'abruzzo 2007Fleur De California Pinot Noir 2011Fleur De California Pinot Noir 2011 ($19.95) gets two thumbs up from David and Sara. One of the prettiest versions of this cooler climate pinot noir in recent memory and one that hasn’t increased in price from 2008 – also refreshing. Light, fragrant but with surprising complexity – certainly worth a go at this price (SD). Nice crossover of cool and warm climate styles – eminently drinkable, good value pinot from a Carneros expert (DL).

Castorani Amorino 2007 Montepulciano D’abruzzo  Casuria ($27.95) was scored 90+ by both John and David. A fully mature, flavourful, complex example of montepulciano, which brings to mind very good level Brunello di Montalcino with its similar range of savoury, ripe, dusty red berry-cherry aromatics and wild herbal notes (JSz). Certainly more sophistication and complexity than most wines from Abruzzi (DL).

2010 Thorn-Clarke William Randell Shiraz Barossa ($43.95). A hugely satisfying shiraz in the old Barossa style: full-blown, ripe, jammy, buttery and generously proportioned. This makes no concessions to the modern wave of leaner, tighter Australian wines, yet a sense of proportion is nonetheless maintained (JSz). The best wine I have ever tasted from this flavour-forward house – this is Barossa on steroids (DL).

Lawrason’s Take

Whites

Wente Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc 2011Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2012Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2012Burning Kiln 2012 Stick Shaker Savagnin, Ontario ($24.95) is something you just must try. Savagnin, the great white grape of Jura, is rare in Ontario, and in the hands of boundary pushing winemaker Andrejz Lipinski (also Big Head, Cornerstone) it hits amazing heights. Burning Kiln is the new, smart winery on Lake Erie near Port Dover.

Tawse 2012 Sketches Of Niagara Riesling, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95) is the new vintage of one of the winningest little rieslings in Ontario’s history. While Tawse makes single vineyard, older vine rieslings that have more complexity and minerality, this simpler version lights up with pitch-perfect acid-sugar balance and purity.

Wente 2011 Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc, Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay ($17.95). You may be surprised to see a California sauvignon in this list, because it is not a strong variety in the Golden State. This hails however from some of the oldest SB vines in the state, in a forgotten area that has been turning out solid white Bordeaux – styles wines for almost 40 years. A steal given the complexity it packs.

Reds

Montefino Tinto Reserva 2005Tasca D'almerita Cygnus Nero D'avola Cabernet Sauvignon 2009Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2011Mission Hill 2011 Reserve Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, B.C. ($24.95). Mission Hill stunned the world last year when its Martin Lane’s single vineyard pinot from a site near the winery in Westbank captured a Decanter trophy for best pinot under £15. Given the vitality, nerve and complexity of this less expensive Reserve from the same vintage, I am no longer surprised. Nor, in this context, am I surprised by Mission Hill’s recent acquisition of CedarCreek, which owns plenty of good pinot noir vineyard across the lake.

Tasca d’Almerita 2009 Cygnus Nero d’Avola/Cabernet Sauvignon, Sicily, Italy ($19.95) is a huge value and an intoxicating wine, in the best way. Great wine carries a sense of place and the ebullient fragrance of this blend transported me instantly to the cool, hilltop site of one of the best wineries in all of Italy. It’s unusual so don’t load up until you try it for yourself; but it is a savoury red to be reckoned with.

Montefino 2005 Tinto Reserva , Alentejano, Portugal ($17.95) is a must buy for any fans of mature Euro reds. It is so fragrant, complex and seamlessly built. I just can’t believe the price given its quality and age! Portugal has long suffered from under-valuation, but that is our gain as consumers if you are willing to buy off the grid.

John Szabo’s Smart Buys

Whites

Quinta Das Marias Encruzado 2011Boutari Santorini 2012Colomé Torrontés 2012Waterkloof Circle Of Life 2011

Quinta Das Marias 2011 Encruzado Dão ($16.95). A complex and flavourful encruzado, one of the star indigenous grapes in a country with over two hundred. It’s reminiscent of viognier with its unctuous, glycerous texture and very ripe orchard and tropical fruit flavours, well suited to full flavoured dishes, cream sauces and white meats, even lightly spiced coconut curries.

Boutari 2012 Santorini ($17.95). Characteristically shy on the nose, but the palate delivers significant weight and flesh, density and the particular salty flavour derived from the volcanic soils of the island. Grapefruit and lemon rind notes linger.

Colomé 2012 Torrontés Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina ($13.95). A smart value in a simple, pungent, highly aromatic white wine, with genuine acids and cut. Complexity may be modest, but the flavour impact and length are satisfying at the price.

Waterkloof 2011 Circle Of Life ($24.95). Not especially aromatic, but the palate delivers impressive concentration and a wide range of flavours, not least of which is a scorching streak of minerality. Despite richness and alcoholic warmth, there’s sufficient underlying acidity to prop up the ensemble and keep it balanced if not exactly fresh, but in any case this is a wine of texture and depth, not freshness.

Pier Rio Sordo Barbaresco 2009Saltram Limited Release Winemaker's Selection Shiraz Tempranillo 2010Reds

Saltram 2010 Limited Release Winemaker’s Selection Shiraz Tempranillo Barossa Valley, Australia ($44.95). This is like a warm sweater on a cool winter’s night, enveloping, comforting, satisfying. Plush, intense dark fruit combines with generous but balanced alcohol and great length. Drinking well now, though will hold until the end of the decade and easily beyond.  An innovative blend.

Pier Rio Sordo 2009 Barbaresco ($28.95). This is a long way from prime drinking, but the palate shows excellent promise, with very good structure and depth, not to mention length. I’d revisit this in 2-4 years – it has classic firmness and pleasant rusticity.

Sara’s Sommelier Picks

White and the Reds

Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2012 Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario ($22.95). A medalist at the National Wine Awards this year, the Southbrook Whimsy chardonnay earned top scores among critics. The Triomphe is Southbrook’s more reasonably priced ranged aimed at everyday entertaining. Carefully produced from organically grown grapes, this chardonnay delivers exceptional balance and class for a fair price. Not to be missed.

Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2012Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate Grand Reserve Shiraz 2011Malivoire Gamay 2012Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate Grand Reserve Shiraz 2011 Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($24.95). No doubt about it – Jackson Triggs knows its way around this grape varietal that has proven a bit of a gamble in Niagara. However, this cool climate style is quite riveting and is a testament that Niagara’s perseverance can result in show stopping results. This traditional Rhone varietal can actually thrive in slightly cooler climates and expresses itself in a peppery and enticing aromatic way.

Malivoire Gamay 2012 Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($17.95). #GoGamayGo – fans of Niagara wines have been touting the greatness of this varietal in Niagara for several years now. Personally, I hope to see much more of this “Cru style” on the shelves of the LCBO in years to come as it is such an exciting, food friendly and locally expressive varietal. Besides, Malivoire’s winemaker has one of the best names in the business: Shiraz Mottiar!

Artezin Zinfandel 2011, Mendocino County, California ($21.95). As the name suggest, Artezin has focused on this one varietal but has recently branched out to petit sirah as well. In fact, this zin contains a small dose of the aforementioned, robust varietal. Nevertheless, the wine remains true to varietal character with zesty raspberry is medium-bodied and boasts a plethora of authentic berry fruit flavours. The oak is spicy rather than sweet making this both commercially appealing but also a bit a challenging. The producer works closely with sustainable and family-owned growers across California. Great value.

Kilikanoon Killerman's Run Shiraz Grenache 2011Hess Collection 19 Block Cuvée 2009Artezin Zinfandel 2011Hess Collection 19 Block Cuvée 2009 Napa Valley, California ($47.95). Mount Veeder’s slopes are home to some of the most sought after wines in Napa. With the lowest yields of the region and a rugged terrain featuring volcanic soils that require careful hand harvesting and little to no mechanization, you can bet there is a price tag to match. This is certain to make any collector quite happy.

Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz Grenache 2011 ($19.95). Australia has been a major focus of the LCBO as of late and it is delightful to see a greater range of these lighter, fresher and more reserved, “new age” wines hit the shelves. I was fortunate to sit down with Kilikanoon’s proprietor, and renowned storyteller, Nathan Waks, who has long been a fan of this pared down style. Although this amount of delectable pepper is a product of the cool 2011 vintage in Clare Valley, the vibrancy, succulent mouthfeel and balance is quite characteristic. Will delight both fans of the Old World and New.

VINTAGES ReLaunches Online Sales Platform

WineAlign is not the only website on the move it seems. VINTAGES has just re-launched its Shop Online purchasing platform to consolidate its entire web-based business. VintagesShopOnline.com makes good sense to us, and we look forward to easier use of it ourselves and hopefully providing more and more reviews of the wines that appear on the Shop Online site. Ordering for a new slate of Classic Catalogue items begins February 20.

And that is a wrap for this edition. We look forward to your feedback. And watch WineAlign in the days ahead as we head into the home stretch before the Vancouver International Wine Festival. If you have never been, you might want to seriously consider booking a spur of the moment weeks holiday, or long weekend getaway.

From the February 15, 2014 Vintages release:

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

Editors Note: You can find our critics 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


Cuvée Weekend 2014 – WineAlign VIP Access

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The Successful Collector, Julian Hitner – VSO wines and biodynamic winegrowing

VSO Wines – A Friendly Reminder:

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

For those unfamiliar with the Vintages Shop Online (or VSO) programme, several years ago the LCBO began offering wines exclusively over the internet, with all payments to be made directly online. As mentioned previously, the programme has not been all that successful, due in no small part to the fact that so few wine aficionados are even aware of its existence. An additional problem is that all purchases must be picked up at local LCBO outlets of customers’ choice, for there is currently no home delivery. Finally, it was only a year or two ago that the LCBO even began permitting members of the press to taste VSO wines in the lab at Queens Quay on a regular basis.

Last month, we at WineAlign were privy to examine a neat selection of VSO wines at reduced prices. In contrast, recommendations for this month are a bit more pricy (at least in some cases), but no less worthy of purchase. Curious buyers – not to mention those willing to go through the drudgeries of creating a VSO account (a prerequisite for participating in the programme) – will be sufficiently rewarded.

Shop On-lineCritic reviews for many of the VINTAGES Shop Online wines can be found on WineAlign. The wines can be identified by this shopping bag symbol. Clicking on the symbol will take you directly to the VINTAGES website where you confirm availability and place your order.

Great Wines of all Types

Gabriel Meffre Laurus Gigondas 2010Baigorri Reserva 2005Gabriel Meffre 2010 Laurus Gigondas ($30.00) comes from one of the finest appellations in the Southern Rhône, from a producer that has shown steady improvement over the past several vintages. A blend of Grenache and Syrah (percentages unknown), a vigourous decanting is well advised if consumed young.

Baigorri 2005 Reserva Rioja ($38.00) is crafted from 100% Tempranillo and represents a growing trend in Rioja toward placing greater emphasis on freshness and body instead of excessive maturation in oak barrels. Of considerable quality, many of the best reds nowadays are derived from much better fruit and will probably keep much longer in the cellar than many of their more ‘traditional’ counterparts. From the best vintage of the mid-2000s (along with 2004 for those who are interested), decanting is highly advisable.

Jean Fannière Grand Cru Extra Brut ChampagneDomaine Du Grand Tinel Cuvée Alexis Establet Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010Domaine du Grand Tinel 2010 Cuvée Alexis Establet Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($54.00) is crafted from 100% Grenache and hails from one of the most celebrated appellations in France. For cravers of full-bodied red wines, a great Châteauneuf-du-Pape is hard to beat, and will often perform brilliantly even in youth. Just be sure to enjoy at the proper temperature (around 17°C or perhaps slightly lower), otherwise the alcohol may seem a tad overwhelming. Decanting is almost always recommended.

Jean Fannière NV Origine Grand Cru Extra Brut Champagne ($62.00) has got to be tasted to believed. Based out of Avize in the Côte des Blancs, I have only examined a handful of champagnes from this small-scale producer, yet they have all been of exceptional quality. Crafted from 100% Chardonnay, what really stands out is the frothiness. I hope to taste more from Fannière sooner rather than later, as well as add a few bottles to my personal collection.

Biodynamic winegrowing

For those unfamiliar with the subject, Biodynamic winegrowing is best described as an extreme form of organic wine production, replete with environmentally friendly initiatives and (more controversially) a wide range of holistic practices. These days, an increasing number of quality-minded producers are embracing Biodynamic principles in order to improve the quality of their vineyards and make better wines.

Demeter InternationalThe principles of Biodynamic winegrowing were first promulgated by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) in the mid-1920s. Nowadays, in order for an estate to be certified as Biodynamic, they must apply to one of several institutions, the most common being Demeter, an organization formed in 1928. Though it may come as a surprise to some, official government regulation of “Biodynamic” (a registered trademark of Demeter) practices is essentially minimal in most jurisdictions, with France being a major exception.

So what are some of those quirky rules we’ve all heard about in order for an estate to earn their Biodynamic certification? As pointed out by Caroline Gilby MW, perhaps the most seemingly bizarre of these is the practice of inserting specially treated cow manure into a horn (also of a cow) and burying it in the ground. The reason: to stimulate root growth and humus formation. However, at roughly one horn per hectare, more than a handful of individuals have claimed this to be an entirely bogus procedure. Another questionable practice? The spraying of specially prepared (or ‘dynamised’) herbal teas onto compost in order to make nutrients more available to the vines. According to Demeter: “The preparations develop a strong yet subtle power whose effect may be compared to that of homeopathic remedies.” Take from this what you will. For my part, I have absolutely no idea what this means, nor do I exactly comprehend the reason for which the use of teas and cow components are only administered at certain times of the year, according to “life forces” dictated by the phases of the moon.

These reservations notwithstanding, there is absolutely no question that Biodynamic practices have resulted in an incredible improvement in quality at many estates. I just don’t attribute these to cow horns or teas (the jury that comprises my brain cells is still out on the moon stuff). Instead, the vast improvements in winegrowing at estates fully or partially engaged in Biodynamic procedures may be largely attributed to a colossal leap in what many of us in the business would simply call “conscientious winegrowing.” This involves placing far less emphasis on the need for aggressive fertilizers, pesticides, and unnecessary machinery. Instead, winegrowers seek to utilize more natural means of crafting better wines, from managing pests by intentionally introducing predatory insects to using horse-drawn ploughs in lieu of tractors to deal with the soil.

(Two Biodynamic examples worth a look: Château Maris Las Combes Minervois Cru La Livinière 2009 and Domaine Zind Humbrecht Calcaire Gewürztraminer 2009)

The moral of the story? While Biodynamic certification might look good on a winery’s résumé, many of the holistic practices are perhaps better omitted than included. At very least, they merit a more scientific, less “dynamised” examination.
Cheers,

Julian Hitner

P.S. “Dynamisation” is the practice of rapidly stirring mixtures in one direction to create a vortex and then quickly reversing the direction. This is carried out for roughly one hour, the purpose of which is to “energize” the mixture.

Editors Note: You can find our critics reviews by clicking on any of the links. 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 reviews.

Julian’s VSO Wines
All Julian Hitner Reviews

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Time to Revisit VINTAGES Shop Online

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

For those unfamiliar with the VINTAGES Shop Online (or VSO) programme, several years back the LCBO began offering wines exclusively over the web, with all payments to be made directly online. As mentioned in a previous column, the programme has only enjoyed mixed success, due mainly to the fact that so few wine lovers know about its existence. An additional problem is that all purchases must be picked up at local LCBO outlets of customers’ choice. There is no home delivery.

On a positive note, the VSO programme often features vast quantities of bin ends on sale, wines that never reach LCBO shelves for one reason or another. On average, price reductions range from 15-25% per bottle, which in some cases represent fabulous deals. At time of publication, there are 95 bin ends available for ordering on the VSO website. Here are a few favourites:

Great Value Whites:

Dunham Cellars Shirley Mays Chardonnay 2009Alkoomi Wandoo Semillon 2005Alkoomi 2005 Wandoo Semillon ($24.75) has been reduced from $32.95 and is a marvellous choice. Though the Hunter Valley in New South Wales is much more famous for its own versions of immaculate dry Semillon, the grape seems to do extremely well in many other parts of Australia, from the Barossa Valley in South Australia to Frankland River in Western Australia. The ’05 Wandoo is finely aged and full of vitality and flavour.

Dunham Cellars 2009 Shirley Mays Chardonnay ($20.05) has been reduced from $24.00 and is a neat, refreshing offering. On the whole, my familiarity with Washington State whites is somewhat minimal, as this particular part of the Pacific Northwest really is more famous for its reds. Perhaps I’ll have more to say about this matter in the future. In the meantime, the ’09 Shirley Mays should find favour with many fellow wine lovers.

Top Choice Reds:

Fall Line Cabernet SauvignonChâteau Des Erles Fitou 2004Fall Line 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($21.00) has been reduced from $27.00 and represents incredible value for money. Sourced from the Yakima Valley, it seems remarkably youthful for a wine already six years old, at least when examined in the LCBO tasting lab. At 15% alcohol, it demands appreciable quantities of food. Decanting is also merited.

Château des Erles 2004 Fitou ($31.45) has been reduced from $51.00 and is a brilliant example of a properly aged Roussillon. A blend of Grenache, Carignan, and Syrah (percentages unknown), it hails from an appellation worth getting to know. Located just south of Corbières not excessively far from the border with Spain, Fitou was granted appellation status as early as 1948. Decanting is highly recommended.

Coriole Lloyd Reserve ShirazCoriole 2007 Lloyd Reserve Shiraz ($37.90) has been reduced from $49.00 and has a very long life ahead of it. The Flagship label of Coriole, I have tasted many vintages of this wine over the past several years. Immensely pleasurable now, the ‘07 will easily keep for another ten years, provided it is cellared in the proper conditions. Decanting is definitely advisable.

Upcoming Postings:

For the past two years, I have been painstakingly preparing notes of my favourite wines for publication on WineAlign. It has been a very slow process, as most of my notes cover a vast premium spectrum of fine wine production. However, a few months ago I finally began visualizing a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Long story short: there are great quantities of notes on the way!

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

We invite our Premium Subscription members to use these links for immediate access to Julian Hitner’s reviews. Paid membership to WineAlign has its privileges – this is one of them. Enjoy!

Bin Ends Sales
All Julian Hitner Reviews

VINTAGES Shop OnlineCritic reviews for many of the VINTAGES Shop Online wines can be found on WineAlign. The wines can be identified by this shopping bag symbol. Clicking on the symbol will take you directly to the VINTAGES website where you confirm availability and place your order.

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The Successful Collector, by Julian Hitner: Wine education for us all – Visiting Vinho Verde

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Having experienced my fill of wine travels over the past several months, it is with an acute sense of relief that summer has arrived. Like many of my fellow Ontarians, I adore this time of year: business matters mostly come to a halt, many of my more boisterous neighbours go on extended vacations, and wine discussions with my associates tend to take on more relaxed, less caustic overtones. If I had anything in the way of long hair, I would let it down — please see column photo.

Early in June, I ended off my springtime travels on a high note with a visit to the Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) of Vinho Verde in northern Portugal. Famous for its dry, oftentimes slightly effervescent, whites, the wines of Vinho Verde popularly conjure up images of refreshing, inexpensive wares to enjoy in warmer weather, usually with seafood.

Vinho VerdeThough I am mostly of this opinion, it is now clear to me that the region’s finer bottlings merit closer examination, particularly ones crafted from 100% Alvarinho. Better known by its Spanish name of Albariño (the grape is grown to great success in Galicia across the border), the best wines crafted from this promising, intensely mineral-laden varietal seem to reflect a growing sense of confidence among the region’s many producers, most of which have only very recently begun to craft wine of any serious worth. After all, few people outside of Portugal had ever even heard of Vinho Verde as recently as fifteen years ago, never mind all the other recommended white grapes used to make the wine — Loureiro, Trajadura, Avesso, Azal Branco, and Padernã.

But things are changing very quickly. Sales of Vinho Verde are soaring, vineyards and winemaking facilities are being revamped, and increasingly better wines are being produced at all price levels. Granted, there is immense room for improvement, especially at the lower end, where quality is anything but uniform. Yet if there’s one thing I learned about the winegrowers in this part of Portugal, it’s that they recognize the need for pressing forward. If only all the world’s winegrowing regions embraced this virtue in equal measure.

One more remark:

At the present time, the LCBO carries only a handful of Vinho Verde wines. Of those available, wines from Aveleda are generally respectable (if not a tad rudimentary), though the finer Portuguese restaurants in our city will likely have far more interesting offerings. After a quick search online, the best place appears to be Salt Wine Bar (225 Ossington Ave.), which even includes the Soalheiro 2011 Alvarinho — not to be missed.

VINTAGES Shop Online 

For several years now, WineAlign critics have reviewed wines available via the VINTAGES Shop Online portfolio whenever possible. For those unfamiliar with the programme, a couple of years ago the LCBO (or VINTAGES) began offering select wines exclusively over the internet, on a separate website, to be picked up at a local store of customers’ choosing.

Taken as a whole, the programme has enjoyed mixed success. While many of the wines are of impeccable quality (with prices ranging from around $25 to $200), consumers have yet to embrace the on-line purchasing platform. In my opinion, this is due in no small part to the fact that the wines are not available for home delivery, but must be picked up at a local outlet.

This aside, WineAlign is pleased to announce that its critics — spearheaded by me in this case — will be reviewing wines from the VINTAGES Shop Online programme on a much more regular basis, as more of these wines are being put forward for critics to taste in the LCBO lab. This initiative also applies to the VINTAGES In-Store Discovery programme, of which critics are now permitted to taste, as well.

Here are a few gems currently available on VINTAGES Shop Online:

Dr. Bürklin Wolf Hohenmorgen G.C. Riesling TrockenDomaine La Garrigue La Cantarelle VacqueryasDr. Bürklin Wolf Hohenmorgen G.C. Riesling Trocken 2007 : Sourced from the famed Hohenmorgen vineyard (based out of Deidesheim), the 2007 Riesling Trocken GC delivers wonderful character, style, finesse, and harmony. Light lime in colour with a trace of yellow (extremely faint), it reveals tremendously elegant, enticing scents of lemon citrus, lime cordial, dried white peaches, minerals, and plenty of spice. Complex, with exceptional Alsatian-like fruit, balanced acidity, and a soothing yet vibrant hint of lemon citrus and minerals on the finish. Outstanding performance, a wine of this calibre may be kept for the next ten years or more. Now-2023++.

Domaine La Garrigue La Cantarelle Vacqueryas: Likely the most powerful Vacqueyras I’ve ever examined (logging in at 15.5% alcohol), the 2010 La Cantarelle is both well-structured and decadent. Opaque ruby in colour, it delivers alluring, powerful aromas of seaweed-infused blackberry compote, plums, dried cherries, pencil lead, forest floor, vanilla, and spice. Very complex, with concentrated fruit, very firm tannins, balanced acidity, and a forceful, lasting hint of blackberry compote, garrigue, and seaweed-like characteristics on the finish. Massively outlined, this beauty represents excellent value for money. 85% Grenache and 15% Syrah. Now-2025.

Nicolas Joly Les Vieux Clos 2009La Roquète L'Accent de la RoquèteAustin Hope Family Vineyard Syrah 2010Austin Hope Family Vineyard Syrah 2010: My only note from this winery, the 2010 Hope Family Vineyard Syrah is sourced entirely from a site located within the Templeton Gap region (just west of the Paso Robles AVA). Opaque ruby in colour, the wine is finely toasted, with inviting aromas of blackberries, plums, incense, tobacco, forest floor, vanilla, and spice. Complex, boasting delicious forward fruit, fairly supple tannins, mild acidity, and a long, satisfying hint of blackberries, incense, and tobacco on the finish. Bold, lengthy, and balanced (despite 15% alcohol). Now-2017++.

La Roquète l’Accent De La Roquète: Top wine of the domaine, the 2009 L’Accent de La Roquète is crafted from vines roughly sixty years of age. Dark ruby in colour, the ’09 presents appetizing aromas of dark raspberries, currants, and figs; switching to dried cherries, underbrush, and a hint of savoury herbs and spice. Complex, boasting delicious, ‘deceptively midweight’ fruit, firm tannins, balanced acidity, and a terrific hint of dried red fruits/figs, raspberries, and underbrush on the finish. Great character, balance, and structure. According to their website: mainly Grenache, plus roughly 10% Mourvèdre. Now-2020++.

Nicolas Joly Les Vieux Clos: Nicolas Joly’s obsession with biodynamic/holistic winegrowing is well known, for which the weird and wonderful 2009 Les Vieux Clos serves as testament. Light-medium yellow-lime in colour (plus a little haze), it reveals entirely idiosyncratic scents of baked Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples (both in pie format); switching to cinnamon, apple cider/strudel, smoke, and alternate bruised fruits. Very complex, with beautiful fruit, balanced acidity, and a wholly original, endearing hint of baked apples (in cider- and pie-like format) on the finish. Excellent job, the planets must have really been in sync when this wine was produced. Now-2016++.

At WineAlign, the choices for subscribers keeps on expanding. Cheers!

For more reviews visit our Critics profile page: Julian Hitner

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages Sept 17th release – Bordeaux Bashing, Off-Beat Bargains & VSO Gems

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Bordeaux 2008, Bordeaux Southern Mirrors, Super Champagne, Rabl Rousing Gruner, Off Beat Bargains, Plus VSOs: Lafond Pinot Noir, Vigorello and Saint Gayan of Gigondas

Bordeaux’s Standard: Bordeaux still enjoys a different and unwarranted standard in the world of wine.  Witness all the attention surrounding the first release of its 2008s by Vintages on September 17.  Before continuing I am not specifically picking on Vintages, as other retailers and some media are as just as guilty of overblowing this region, and ignoring how uninteresting and overpriced many of its wines can be.  The wines being offered Saturday are not bad, nor underripe nor green. The 2008 vintage seems to be okay. But this group of 15 wines squeaked out only two 90 point ratings, and most of the prices are up in the $30, $40 and $50 range.  While most are good to very good (86 to 89 points) they simply aren’t that exciting, and they are expensive. Bore-dough indeed.

Yes, Bordeaux can make great wine. I have been there often, and tasted hundreds if not thousands of its wines, and I can talk firsthand about every vintage since 1970.  I get Bordeaux; I don’t hate Bordeaux.  But its lofty position in the world really is a matter of geography and history – not intrinsically superior quality as the world has come to believe. Situated on the Atlantic coast of France, not far from England, it’s industry developed during the 18th and 19th Century – a golden age for both nations – and the British in particular took Bordeaux to their bosom – indeed having huge influence in the Bordeaux wine trade itself. And it was the British  upper class – the ultimate fine wine consumer – that later also developed the genre of wine writing. So of course they wrote about Bordeaux, and little else. We thus now live with this generationally ingrained legacy that Bordeaux is somehow premiere, to be revered above others, with a standard all its own, and worthy of endless parcing, praise and punditry.

Château St. Georges 2008And it is somehow blithely accepted that consumers should be so fascinated with Bordeaux that it deserves to have an average vintage like 2008 occupying the cover and 12 pages of Vintages magazine, under the heading “Fairy Tale in Bordeaux”.  Fairytale indeed!  Where is a dissection of Ontario’s 2009 vintage which, when you read the month by month weather reports in Vintage’s magazine, sounds very similar to Bordeaux 2008?  Or why not the same treatment for Coonawarra in Australia or Hawkes Bay in New Zealand or other places that make great wines by blending cabernet and merlot? (See below)
Château Fombrauge 2008
Having ranted, I point you to the two wines I did rate as excellent, and if you were to taste both side by side you would end up with a great tutorial in traditional versus modern winemaking approaches in Bordeaux. CHÂTEAU ST. GEORGES 2008 St-Georges St-Émilion ($29.95) is a classic large estate just beyond the Saint-Emilion appellation boundary, thus priced more reasonably. CHÂTEAU FOMBRAUGE 2008 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru  ($45.00) is an old property on the slope just outside of Saint-Emilion that has recently been restored and its wines modernized. I visited this property in 2010 and was very impressed with its wines. As it is not far from iconic properties like Chateau Ausone we are actually lucky that it is only classified as Grand Cru and not Grand Cru Classé, thus available here at half the price, and decent if not outstanding value.

Great Southern Cab-Merlots

As mentioned above, the New World has several regions that mirror Bordeaux in terms of latitude, climate, maritime influence and even soil structure – everything except heritage.  Off the top I can think of Long Island (New York), Niagara (to a degree), Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, Coonawarra and Margaret River in Australia, Stellenbosch in South Africa, and some cooler enclaves in Chile. Wines from two of those regions are available on the September 17 release, with better quality/price ratios that any from Bordeaux.  TE MATA 2007 COLERAINE from Hawkes Bay on New Zealand’s North Island is certainly not cheap at $59.95, but it is great wine from a maritime gravelly soiled region. First made in 1982 from a single plot Coleraine now comes from several vineyards within Te Mata’s estate. Some have called it NZ’s best red wine, and the Wine Advocate has rated this wine 95 points. I am not 95 point-enthralled but it is a great, modern red.  And so is WYNNS COONAWARRA ESTATE 2008 CABERNET SAUVIGNONat half the price – only $24.95.  It’s supple, refined exterior and sheer drinkability almost belies its sound structure and depth. Penfolds fans should also grab the finely structured PENFOLDS 2008 BIN 407 CABERNET SAUVIGNON at $34.95.
Te Mata Coleraine 2007  Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008  Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Marc Hébrart Brut Blanc De Blancs Champagne

Super Champagne

I could go on a similar campaign about the Champagne standard, but I will spare us all. One of the nice little surprises on this release is the quality and value of a “small” Champagne from the Marne Valley. At $41.95 MARC HÉBRART BRUT BLANC DE BLANCS CHAMPAGNE 1er Cru is pretty much at the floor price of French Champagne in Ontario, but it delivers complexity, depth and structure closer to the ceiling.  I am not an expert on the intricacies of Champagne and its hundreds of crus and growers.  I don’t know this producer other than what I could find on Google (not even their own website). But the story here is very similar to what’s happening across France as the next generation of well-travelled, well schooled winemakers take the reins at small family properties. It is a good reason to be paying attention to names we have not heard before, especially among the increasingly important world of what are called “grower” Champagnes.

Rudolf Rabl Reserve Vinum Optimum Grüner Veltliner 2009Rabl Rousing Gruner

Rudolph Rabl and family are at the top of their game in Austria, and RUDOLF RABL 2009 RESERVE VINUM OPTIMUM GRÜNER VELTLINER is flag waver for their approach. Based in Kamptal Rabl is using only top estate fruit for their Vinum Optimum wines. They come from stony hillsides with reduced crop levels. In the winery, fermentations are done at moderate (not too cold) with natural yeasts and long maceration with the solids to draw out more extract and flavours. “Thin wines are not something you will find here” says Rabl’s website. Indeed not; it is pleasantly rich and comfortable yet still precisely varietal with a refined, mineral edged finish. Great value for $19.95 .

Off-Beat Bargains

Sometimes labels just don’t tell the story well at all.  And very often prices don’t communicate well either.  The label and overall packaging of  TERRAS D’ALTER 2010 RESERVA WHITE from Alentejano in Portugal is so bland that I almost didn’t notice it in the forest of bottles at Vintages. And when I checked the price ($13.95) I actually considered not even bothering to try the wine. I expected boredom. But lo and behold it is a vibrant, complex and intriguing white that blends viognier with a local Portuguese variety called arinto. I remember being very impressed with arinto in Portugal when I travelled there, and it’s a great aromatic fit with viognier, while putting its firm acidity to good use amid viognier’s blowsiness.

Likewise, my expectations of TERRA NOBLE 2008 GRAN RESERVA CABERNET SAUVIGNON from Colchagua Valley in Chile was coloured by its old-style, almost kitchy label, and I also highly doubted the wine would deliver much of Colchagua’s quality as $15.95. Wrong again!  It is an unusual cabernet that doesn’t taste much like cabernet, but it has remarkable depth, smoothness and presence. Read my review then try one to see if you like.
Terra D'alter Reserva White 2010 Terra Noble Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

VSOs – Lafond Pinot, San Felice Vigorello & Saint Gayan Gigondas 

Lafond Pommard Clone Pinot Noir 2007Vintages released a larger batch of new wines through its Vintages Shop On Line (VSO) portal on September 8th, gearing up for the big fall buying season. There are several excellent wines here, but none better in my books than LAFOND POMMARD CLONE 2007 PINOT NOIR ($44.95) from California’s Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County. As any “Sideways” fan knows this is great territory for pinot, especially the cooler, more coastal Santa Rita Hills. In fact Pierre Lafond, a McGill University grad, opened his winery in 1962 (the first in Santa Barbara County since Prohibition) and planted in the Santa Rita Hills in 1972.  The planting of French clones of pinot noir – like the Pommard – has been part of the reason for the region’s success, and this is a wonderful example, with a sense of elegance and subtlety so often overwhelmed by California’s ripe fruit and alcohol.
San Felice Vigorello 2006

Elsewhere among the VSOs, collectors and fans of Tuscan reds should not miss San Felice 2006 Vigorello ($52.95).  It’s deep, dark, penetrating yet refined, to stow away in the cellar for a decade or more. There is an interesting historical note to Vigorello as well, as its producers claim it was the first “super-Tuscan” to blend sangiovese with cabernet and merlot, ahead of icons like Antinori’s Tignanello.

Domaine Saint Gayan Gigondas 2006And finally, for those wanting an authentic wine experience from the south of France, don’t miss Domaine Saint Gayan 2006 Gigondas. I visited this tiny, 10,000 case family estate in May and just loved its history, authenticity, purity and unassuming character of its wines – not flashy but so solid, and nuanced and balanced. It was founded in 1709 – that’s 302 years ago folks and has been in the family ever since. It makes all its wines from estate owned vines, the last in the appellation to be hand harvested. Located on bench-lands spilling down from the Dentelles Mountains, there are seven different soil types. Oak treatment is kept way in the background, mostly via old barrel and foudres. It couldn’t be a better snapshot of honest, carefully made French country wine.

That’s it for this release. Read all my reviews here and watch for the next edition before the October 1st release. And don’t forget to tune into to our latest video, episode six of So, You Think You Know Wine, as the WineAlign critics try to crack a Carrick Pinot Noir from New Zealand.

Cheers and enjoy, David

- David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign


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Lawrason & Szabo on Vintages September 3rd Release: Henry of Pelham 90s, Great Napa Cab, Hand-crafted wines from South Africa, John’s Top Ten Smart Buys and Killer Value VSOs.

Summer holidays – bless them – interfered with our tasting schedule for Vintages September 3rd Labour Day weekend release, leaving David and John one small, last minute window to taste as much as possible on August 30 alongside Vintages products consultants. So for this report they present a joint effort – each picking their own highlights. Sara d’Amato did a great job covering most of the wines and presented her picks and reviews last week (link). And to make matters even more confusing watch for a report next week on the Vintages Sept 10th special release of Ontario wines.

We’ll start with David’s take on the release with John’s following (or click here).


David Lawrason
David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Double 90s for Henry of Pelham Reds - It’s fitting to whet your appetite for next week’s special Ontario release with a pair of 90-point Ontario reds from Henry of Pelham. About ten years ago a very accomplished palate and Niagara industry leader told me that no 90-point Niagara reds had been made to that point. Well all that has changed, with top reds routinely hitting that mark as new high end, quality focused wineries explode onto the Ontario landscape. What is even more significant about the pair of 90s from Henry of Pelham is that they are $20 and $25 wines, not $50 wines. And it is also significant that they come from an original family winery that has been toiling for almost 25 years, consistently maintaining very good quality and commanding respect from consumers and pundits alike. One of the chief reasons is the red winemaking prowess of Ron Giesbrecht, who long ago turned the fortunes of baco noir around by taming this ribald hybrid with the patience of a father – lowering yield to make it work harder and ageing in good wood for many months as a reward. The HENRY OF PELHAM 2009 RESERVE BACO NOIR ($24.95 ) is a delicious, robust autumn red, and very likely to age as well as the lush 2007 and several earlier vintages still showing well. The other 90 pointer is HENRY OF PELHAM 2007 RESERVE CABERNET/MERLOT, a great buy at $20.55. Patience is once again a virtue, with this 2007 (an excellent vintage) now rounding into fine shape with a real sense of class and balance. And I suspect it will live another five years with the greatest of ease.
Henry Of Pelham Reserve Baco Noir 2009  Henry Of Pelham Reserve Cabernet/Merlot 2007

Great Napa Mountain Cabernet
Brandlin Cabernet Sauvignon 2007The September 3 release is strong in California cabernets, specifically some higher ticket Napa labels. This is not remarkable as Napa cabernet continues to be a marquee brand, an easy sell, and prices have been coming down! What I found interesting about the selection is that there are new labels, or at least wines I have not seen before at Vintages. The most exciting is BRANDLIN 2007 CABERNET SAUVIGNON - not cheap at $84.95, but qualitatively right on the zone for wines pushing $100, and is one that collectors should seriously consider. It hails from old vines planted by the Brandlin family atop Mount Veeder in 1926 (the family actually first arrived and grew grapes in the area in the 1870s – New World huh?). In 1998 the property was purchased by Cuvaison, with cash and 30 years experience in Napa working to upgrade the vineyard and winemaking. But Chester Brandlin still lives on the property. To quote from the website “Respectfully maintaining the integrity of the estate, only a fraction of the land has been planted to vineyards carefully designed to honour the integral beauty of the property. Glens of old oak trees and sustainable viticultural practices support natural biodiversity and abundant wildlife”. This great 2007 mountain red is 92% cabernet spiced with small parcels of cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec.

Killer Value VSO French Reds
On August 25 a handful of new wines were released at Vintages Shop on Line (the LCBOs on-line ordering program). See VintagesShopOnLine.com “Just Released”. I tasted all of them (except Atalon) the next day and the reviews are now posted on WineAlign.

Montirius Vacqueyras Le Clos 2006I would like to direct your attention to a pair of great value French reds.MONTIRIUS 2006 LE CLOS VACQUEYRAS is nothing short of breathtaking, and a steal at $28.00. I read about this estate when I visited the southern Rhone in the spring, but after tasting this astonishingly rich, svelte and compelling southern Rhone blend I had to dig deeper, and I discovered it has been knocking the socks off other pundits as well. The estate is farmed by a very earnest couple named Christine and Eric Saurel, who began converting the rather non-descript looking vineyard to biodynamic viticulture ten years ago. They credit their complex soil layers for the quality – about two metres of pebbly ‘garrigue’ soil atop blue clay, atop a sandstone clay. I was further intrigued to discover they do not age their wines in oak barrels, so what you get is all fruit and terroir driven – and it is riveting stuff.
Domaine Mouton Les Grands Prétans Givry 1er Cru 2009
The other very good value is for pinot lovers – a lovely, sensuous if not very profound DOMAINE MOUTON 2009 LES GRANDS PRETANS 1ER CRU ($29) from the village of Givry, and often overlooked (thus less expensive) appellation the Chalonnaise. This is very pretty wine that is finely enough textured to approach now (decant an hour) or hold for three to five years in the cellar. Those 2009 Burgundies continue to charm..

See all my reviews from September 3rd here.

Cheers and enjoy, David

- David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign


John Szabo
John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

No time for shoe shines this week; let’s get right to it. My top ten smart buys for September 3rd covers a Technicolor array of grapes, styles and places. Highlights of the highlights include a Burgundy lovers’ Burgundy at Beaujolais prices, $33 Tuscan red very nearly as delicious as its $99 stable mate, sub-$15 aglianico from a volcano that’ll have you dreaming of Barolo, and a bona fide Barbaresco at aglianico prices. See them all here.

Hand-Crafted South African Wines
Though the mini-theme of this release is the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, initiated by Giuseppe Garibaldi and his band of one thousand merry men in redshirts who landed in Marsala, Sicily, on May 11th 1860, my personal mini-theme takes us to a country already 200 years into viticulture by the time Italy became Italy: South Africa. Indeed, the first wine grapes were pressed in South Africa on February 2nd, 1659.

First time visitors to the winelands of the Cape will be initially struck by the staggering beauty of the area, among the most picturesque winegrowing regions in the world. You’ll see rugged granite-capped mountains, vine-covered slopes and lush green valleys covered with strange, beautiful and infinitely varied native flowers. The Cape Floral Kingdom is, after all, the smallest yet richest of the six recognized floral kingdoms; the Cape alone contains more biodiversity than the entire northern hemisphere, with some 9,600 unique species.

There are four excellent South Africa wines in this release, two from the country’s best known region, Stellenbosch, as well as a pair from a region you’ll be hearing a great deal more about in the future: Swartland. All share the characteristics of small-production and minimal intervention in the winery, natural expressions of SA’s ancient soils.
Mullineux Syrah 2008First up is the 2008 MULLINEUX SYRAH WO Swartland $28.95 . Mullineux is a small family winery surrounded by savage, rolling hills and the outcrops of rock that form the Paardeberg, Riebeek Kasteel and Piketberg Mountains. I rarely quote producer websites, but Mullineux’s is particularly well-written: “It is not an easy place to establish vines, and is a region that has as much of an influence on the vineyards and people who farm there as the people have on the land itself. This brings to mind what film director David von Ancken has to say about the old American West: “The primal, universal power of the landscape strips away everything but the truth of men’s souls.” In much the same way, we feel the Swartland landscape bares the souls of grape vines, and in those varieties that can take the ruggedness, true personality of site is revealed.”

This syrah bears more than a passing resemblance to northern Rhône syrah, with smoke, bacon fat, and ample black pepper coupled with generous and succulent fruit flavours. The minerality from vines planted on shale, schist, decomposed granite and iron-rich soils is palpable, and preserved by no fining or filtration.
Lammershoek Roulette 2006

Also from Swartland is the 2006 LAMMERSHOEK ROULETTE WO Swartland $25.95, another family-run operation. Legend has it that Lammershoek, (“lamb’s corner”), was so-named for the ewes and their young lambs that sought shelter in the surrounding forests when threatened by the Black Eagle – “Lammervanger” in Cape Dutch. Never one to miss a Hungarian connection, in the 1970s the Lammershoek farm was visited by Hungarian aristocrat and winemaker Desiderius Pongrácz, who encouraged the owner to plant such “exotic” varieties as harslévelü, tinta barocca, carignan and grenache. Some of that old vine carignan and grenache now makes its way into the Roulette blend, along with syrah and mourvèdre. The result is a ripe and modern wine, with sweet ripe cassis, evident but not exaggerated wood, and a distinctive herbal-garrigue profile, what the South African’s would call “fynbos”. This will appeal widely to both traditional and modern drinkers alike.

Rust En Vrede Estate 2007De Toren Z 2008Two classic Bordeaux blends from Stellenbosch also arrested my taste buds: 2007 RUST EN VREDE ESTATE WO Stellenbosch $37.95 and 2008 DE TOREN Z WO Stellenbosch $32.95 . The 315 year-old estate of Rust en Vrede, established by the Governor of the Cape, Willem Adrian van der Stel, for whom the town of Stellenbosch is named, is, as you might expect, a traditional operation. The 2007 Estate red offers a typically South African balance between old and new world styles: the nose is all herbs, garrigue and savoury fruit, while the palate reveals plush, generous texture and ample structure. The result is harmonious and impressive, with length and depth to spare.

De Toren, on the other hand, spares no expense in the technology department. They’ve dug and analyzed 80 soil holes over a 5.4 hectare property allowing for more accurate matching of cultivars, rootstocks and clones to soil types, and make extensive use of Infrared Aerial Imaging to identify areas of different vine vigour. The merlot-based “Z” blend reflects the modern approach, delivering a rich, ripe, generously oaked example with plenty of high-quality oak flavours (coffee, chocolate) and firm, tight, acid-driven palate. This should improve over 1-3 years.

From the September 3rd Vintages release:
Top Ten Smart Buys
South African Features
All Reviews
Cheers,

John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier


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Lawrason’s Take On July 23rd Vintages Release – Chardonnays of the World Unite, Refined Italian Whites, Great Gigondas, New VSO Releases, Video Feedback

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Chardonnays Unite at I4C:  I foresee that Niagara’s long awaited International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration this weekend will be seriously, meltingly warm.  Ontario in July – it must have been expected. Glad we are not tasting cabernets!  For those of you who may have been posted to Siberia for the last three months, the heavily promoted “I4C” is an historic event for Ontario’s wine industry, as the wineries of Niagara host chardonnay producers from around the globe – our first international big deal. And there are still tickets for most events on Saturday (go here for an update) then a Vintages-sponsored taste-around at Roy Thomson Hall on

I4C

I4C

Sunday afternoon ($95).  I will report after the fact on how all this worked out, but if I can join the promo bandwagon for a moment, this is the moment for reluctant wine lovers to put in a little extra effort – especially boomers with long memories of Ontario wine and enough cash in the bank to get reacquainted with Ontario’s best.  And for those who have already signed up, and know that Ontario has turned the corner, never mind all the chatter about serious coolness, world classiness and such. Keep your nose to the glass; this is about the wine, which I fear may get overlooked in the rush to pronounce judgments on the events themselves.  Having already tasted most Ontario offerings I am going to focus on new wines from the many international wineries who have so eagerly decided to join this shindig, travelling from exotic locales as far away as Tasmania, South Africa and B.C.

For those who will not be in Niagara or at the Roy Thomson Hall tasting this weekend Vintages is releasing seven I4C chardonnays from producers that will be in Niagara. Three are very much worth your attention, and as I look at the selection it clearly shows a bit of a personal stylistic preference when it comes to chardonnay. I am looking for cool, complex, understatement, not bombast on the one hand or simplicity on the other. Chardonnay is a most malleable grape with an ability to absorb and coddle flavours from the soil, from yeasts and from barrels like no other. And the best winemakers always find a way to handle all these elements and hold them in mutual respect.  From Burgundy, don’t miss  JEAN FÉRY & FILS LES NOSROYES 2008 PULIGNY MONTRACHET ($52.95).  From Oregon’s chardonnay specialist try out ARGYLE 2008 RESERVE SERIES NUTHOUSE CHARDONNAY ($39.95).  And Niagara’s ever-improving COYOTE’S RUN 2009 BLACK PAW VINEYARD CHARDONNAY, a bargain at $21.95.

Jean Féry & Fils Les Nosroyes Puligny Montrachet 2008  Argyle Reserve Series Nuthouse Chardonnay 2008  Coyote's Run Black Paw Vineyard Chardonnay 2009

Refined Italian Whites
Terredora Loggia Della Serra Greco Di Tufo 2009The diversity of Italy’s indigenous grapes is the main theme of this release – a noble and ambitious exercise to be sure. But it’s hard to bring this notion together at the popular $15 to $25 price points to which Vintages seems ever more enslaved.  I wasn’t thrilled by this assemblage of wines; it felt like a marketing driven composition of odds and ends that needed a push. That said, there are highlights, especially among the whites.

Marco Felluga Mongris Pinot Grigio 2009I keep coming back to this idea that white winemaking has improved so much that it has given a whole new life to Italy’s indigenous white varieties; and it has given consumers a whole new portfolio of  food friendly white wine flavours and options that travel beyond the ubiquitous profiles of chardonnay, sauvignon and riesling. I personally love to drink the new Italian whites, especially on tepid summer days. Trouble is I still have several purchased last summer that I should be drinking now. Anyway, I draw your attention to TERREDORA LOGGIA DELLA SERRA 2009 GRECO DI TUFO, a steal from Campania at $17.95. I also must point out one of the best pinot grigio’s of the year MARCO FELLUGA 2009 MONGRIS PINOT GRIGIO ($22.95) from one of the best producers of Italy’s most famous unknown white wine appellation called Collio. By the way, we almost never hear about the importers who supply the wines to Vintages – because they are never part of Vintages publications (maybe they should be), but both these whites come from the estimable portfolio of Halpern Enterprises, one of Ontario’s largest and best suppliers of estate wines from Europe and the New World.

Great Gigondas 

Dentelles, Gigondas

Dentelles, Gigondas

In May I spent four days in the southern Rhone Valley, in the shadows of the estimable Mount Ventoux (the pinnacle leg of the Tour de France) as well as the saw-toothed Dentelles – a Jurassic outcropping of stones that have become a signature for the wine villages of the southern Rhone.  The village of Gigondas (pop  800) can claim to be the soul of the Dentelles, as its vineyards run deep into the folds and benches just below the dramatic escarpment (see photo).  The combination of limestone soil content and slightly higher altitude of the best sites impart a bit more acidity and finesse to Gigondas than most of the other villages – although I will also look more closely at directly adjacent Sablet and Seguret which also hug this rock formation.  The problem with Gigondas, from a producers point of view, is that it plays second fiddle to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and is under-appreciated. But in a day and age that is beginning to question the usefulness of hot vintages and hot wines, Gigondas is poised for a breakthrough. Until then, the good new is that it is also underpriced.

To my point, there are three fabulous Gigondas waiting to be discovered at Vintages. DELAS FRÈRES 2007 LES REINAGES GIGONDAS ($29.95) is released July 23, from a northern Rhone-based producer that occasionally delivers brilliant wines.  The other two were released through Vintages ShopOnLine selections. Both these are from Domaine Saint Damien, a small family property with access to sixty year old grenache vines that dominate in these single vineyard cuvees.  I slightly prefer the  more sleek, supple DOMAINE SAINT DAMIEN 2009 LES SOUTEYRADES ($31.95) over the more rustic but powerful La Louisiane. But it is splitting hairs. More important is the huge value they represent when you compare them to basic $35 Chateauneuf.

Delas Frères Les Reinages Gigondas 2007 Domaine Saint Damien Les Souteyrades Gigondas 2009

Vintages Shop on Line
Seventeen new wines were plugged into www.VintagesShopOnline.com inventory on July 14, and they were presented the same day for media tasting.  VSO wines are purchased in relatively small quantities that can’t be effectively/fairly shoe-horned into the in-store retail system. How they differ from In-store Discoveries that do get released without pre-tasting by media is another discussion.  The new VSO selections are from the Rhone Valley – including good buys other than those from Gigondas already mentioned above;  from California, including some powerful by maturing chardonnays, from Burgundy and from Tuscany, where I highly recommend the great value, maturingCASALVENTO 2006 CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA, a great value at $28.95. Reviews for all are available here.
Casalvento Chianti Classico Riserva 2006

Feedback on So, You Think you Know Wine
David LawarsonI have been getting some very positive and friendly personal feedback on our new series of WineAlign blind tasting videos’ and with the latest episode released this week I am also seeing an upswing in discussion and comment on Twitter. And some of it is starting to indicate debate and a deeper connection and concern over the process than I foresaw. Fair enough.

Regarding episode 4, where the mystery wine was Louis Jadot 2009 Bourgogne Chardonnay, one viewer gently chided me for not going with my first instinct (which happened to be right) and guessing instead that it was pinot gris from New Zealand. He is correct; first instincts are usually right in blind tasting because the nose (once trained) knows, and the fickle mind is too easily fooled by extraneous influences. In this case I was waylaid by what I thought was a high shoulder Bordeaux bottle shape beneath the wrapping.  Chardonnay is usually bottled in low shoulder Burugndy bottles, which this actually was too. My nose is better than my eyesight.

Twitter CommentsAnother viewer tweeted “Thats pretty funny, 4 points each & not one got France! I think she lowers the bar each episode!”  Well in case you didn’t notice from previous episodes, this is a friendly exercise and no one is actually keeping score.  We are debating whether to put a more formal scoring structure in place when we shoot the next batch in September, but personally I don’t really see the point. This is much less a competition between us as it is a forum for wine education and a bit of entertainment for viewers.

Another viewer tweeted “These make me think of poker games and shady business…”.  Well there certainly is that element of gamesmanship, and the dramatic, dark lighting and in-our-faces camera work does that leave the feeling. But just in case anyone thinks that all this is a set up in terms us knowing the wines in advance; you are wrong. The identity of the wines is very carefully secret prior to the taping.

And by the way, our videos are starting to get some wider notice in TV land. A clip was shown on CHCH in Hamilton prior to a Steve Thurlow interview, and on Monday morning I will be on Canada AM demonstrating blind tasting as well – unless of course we get bumped by some far more serious breaking news. Stay tuned.

Cheers and enjoy, David

- David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign


Click here to see ranked lists and reviews of over 100 wines in this release.


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Vintages Shop On Line Items Are on Sale

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

On June 2 Vintages reduced the prices by up to 25% on fifty wines sold through its Vintages ShopOnLine service.   WineAlign critics have reviewed about half the sale items (those with larger inventories) and those notes are now published.  Move quickly to ensure you get what you want!

Vintages Shop On Line allows you to browse and purchase from a selection of items that are purchased in much smaller quantity than regular Vintages in-store releases.  Once you have set up an on-line account with Vintages, you pay full price up front for your selections (the wines are already landed in Ontario) and your order is shipped to an LCBO store near you. The website indicates two to four week delivery, at which point you will be phoned by store staff to pick up your purchase.

In recent weeks Vintages has begun to allow wine media to preview these wines at the LCBOs HQ in downtown Toronto, and WineAlign is fully dedicated to bringing you our selections in a timely fashion to help you take advantage before stocks dwindle.

The “Sale” selection spans the globe. They are wines that have not sold quickly for any number of reasons – often I think because they are less well known. Going off the beaten path is not a natural tendency when one considers more expensive wine, but this is exactly where some of the best value are to be found.  And we are glad to be able to help you understand what you are getting from these more obscure labels.

The one concern always when buying wines on sale, is whether they are heading “over the hill”. I did find several instances of maturing wines, but only one – a 2001 Cenntanaio Archibaldo – was clearly past its best. On the whole, most are right in their drinking window, and don’t require a lot more cellaring.  I would certainly be drinking the whites over the next year.

It was a fascinating tasting, so we have gathered three WineAlign critics to go into a bit more detail on two wines (each) that they found particularly intriguing and/or worth your serious consideration:

Sara D’Amato’s Picks

Chateau Musar White 1995 from Lebanon’s most famous winery is, admittedly, not a wine for everyone. However, it is difficult not to find something fascinating about this rare, aged white blend that is drinking spectacularly at its peak. From its deep ambered colour to it exotic, layered nose and sensual cornucopia of flavours, Chateau Musar certainly delivers and with the VSO sale price, the temptation is ripe. This was has already been cellared for you, all that is left is to enjoy. A sure-fire conversation piece, Musar’s 1995 white is certain to create a lasting memory. Was $85.00. Now $67.00.

Joseph Drouhin Puligny Montrachet Folatières 1er Cru 2007Joseph Drouhin 2007 Puligny Montrachet Les Folatières 1er Cru from Burgundy is most definitely a wine with exceptional cellaring potential and would make a fine, a very reasonably priced addition to any Burgundy collection. Although 2007 proved to be a challenging growing season for much of Burgundy, it was saved by meticulous viticultural practices and thoughtful foresight turning its irregularities into a surprisingly remarkable vintage.  Drouhin’s style focuses on purity of fruit and expression of terroir. In order to achieve this outcome the house commits to practices such as wild yeast fermentation, primarily use of older oak and controlling every aspect of the process such as the length of time barrel staves are weathered.  Was $89.00. Now $69.00.

John Szabo’s Picks

Reinhold Haart Riesling Spätlese 2004 Piesporter Goldtröpchen from the  Mosel-Saar-Ruwer in Germany is already comfortably inside the perfect window of drinking enjoyment. And since it was already undervalued, an additional 25% off makes this totally irresistible. Top German rieslings, it seems, are still a tough sell. For me, and many who have tasted broadly from around the world, Mosel riesling is the epitome of the grape, with a profile that really can’t be reproduced anywhere else. (See my report on the June 11th Vintages release with a focus on the Mosel for more details.)  It’s just that their inimitable style is out of step with the times. The majority drinkers, especially those new to the pleasures of wine, are still looking for bigger, bolder, riper wines. This wine, and the Mosel in general, is quite simply the antithesis, or the antidote, if you will, to mass market preferences. If finesse, delicacy, vibrancy and astonishing minerality are in your drinking lexicon, this wine is for you – a superb example all in all. Was $39.00. Now $29.00.

Château La Garde 2007 Pessac Léognan Bordeaux, France.  While Bordeaux never seems to make me quiver with the same happiness as certain other regions, I’m definitely susceptible to the pleasures offered by a well-made example with ample regional typicity and above average class and depth. Ask a very fair price, and I’m even more interested. I take some satisfaction knowing that 2007 is supposed to be, by all accounts, a “second rate” vintage, lost within a decade in which there were multiple “vintages of the century”. It all depends on your definition of great vintage I suppose. The hype surrounding the big years in Bordeaux drives average prices up to ludicrous levels like nowhere else on earth, and like lambs to the slaughter they go.  Happily for me, I tend to prefer the more slender years, which also correspond to lower prices. The ’07 Château La Garde is a beautifully proportioned wine, drinking wonderfully now. But will likely not last 30 years, so if you’re planning that far ahead, this isn’t for you. I’m going to be drinking tonight, or within a couple of years, and I’ll enjoy immensely this complex, savoury, smoky, spicy Péssac-Léognan, tending to a lighter, more elegant expression. Tannins are fine-grained, acid is fresh and finish is fragrant. A classic expression of Graves all in all, and for just $25, a top value at that. Was $33.00. Now $25.00.

David Lawrason’s Picks

Rimu Grove 2007 Pinot Noir Bronte from Nelson in New Zealand was already a good buy at $25, but at $19 it’s irresistible to a pinot fan like yours truly. My order is already in, and yes I left some for others but only about four cases remain.  I have been paying very close attention to New Zealand pinots lately, especially those more complex examples from Otago,  Martinborough and Nelson. (I am finding that most Marlborough pinots are pretty enough but lack complexity beyond their raspberry fruit).  And I like Nelson pinots in particular because this seaside enclave on the northwest corner of the South Island tends to impart a certain vibrancy. (Otago is more power, Martinborough is finesse).  Nelson is one cool place, climatically and metaphorically, a small town at the head of the Waimea Estuary that makes its living from bountiful orchards, vineyards and seafood fished on from the cold ocean at its doorstep.  Rimu Grove’s was founded in 1995, with vineyards perched on a hill on the Bronte Peninsula, virtually surrounded by the sea. Perhaps the location is responsible, but there is just something compelling and powerful about this wine. Was $25.00, Now $19.00.

Telmo Rodriguez 2006 Lanzaga from Rioja, Spain is a thoroughly modern approach in one of the world’s bastions of tradition. I first met Telmo Rodriguez, the young dynamo and impassioned proponent of Spanish wine, this spring when I was at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. Spain was the theme country, and Telmo sat on several panels where he crusaded on the behalf of obscure Spanish grapes and regions and respect for Spanish lands and heritage. His wines meanwhile spoke of brightness, elegance and depth, with wonderful fruit purity. I met him again at the Lifford Grand Tasting in Toronto in May where both he and his wines once again shone and charmed.   I will say no more, except that if you have not yet tried his wines, here is a great opportunity to do so, at a more than reasonable price.  Lanzaga is a 100% bush vine blend of tempranillo, graciano and garnacha from the Rioja Alavesa region.  Was $29.00. Now $22.00.

Get the most complete coverage of Vintages Shop On Line new releases as they arrive, every month.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers and enjoy, David

- David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008