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20 Under $20 in BC : October 2015

Cool nights, warming wines

Looking over our picks this month it’s clear that the team is starting to layer on the sweaters and fill our glasses with some warming reds and whites (save for DJ Kearney, currently on the road in Portugal). Simple and easy – on the pocketbook and palate – these 20 will match to autumn’s foodstuffs and sliding temperatures. Bonus – all of these lightly tannic, fruity reds and weightier whites will work with your Thanksgiving turkey plans.

~ TR

BC Crictic Team

Anthony Gismondi

It’s mushroom season again. Just like sausages, there are very few inexpensive red wines that don’t taste better paired with them. Today’s cross-section of picks spans the wine world and all should provide just the right flavour and weight to carry a cool fall evening.

Montepulciano is a great transition wine to winter and the Colle Secco Rubino Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2010 with its clean fresh red fruit and licorice root flavours is the perfect mushroom quiche wine.

From Chile, the Santa Carolina Reserva Pinot Noir Casablanca Estate 2013 is soft and sippable but with enough fruit and spice to stand up to those earthy mushroom flavours of a creamy chanterelles pasta dish.

Tollo Colle Secco Mentepulciano D'abruzzo 2010 Santa Carolina Reserva Pinot Noir 2013Famille Perrin Côtes du Rhone Réserve 2012Pierre Henri Morel Signargues Côtes du Rhône Villages 2012Kismet Karma 2013

Is there better value red wine in Canada at the moment than Cotes du Rhone? Debatable – especially if we’re talking about the Famille Perrin Côtes du Rhône Rouge Réserve 2012. Fresh and inviting, the juicy palate brims with plummy, ripe raspberry fruit flavours, spice and dried herbs.

On the same theme, the Pierre Henri Morel Signargues Cotes du Rhone Villages 2012 and its savoury garrigue flavours match up well with a heady mushroom risotto.

Locally, look to an almost Bordeaux blend from the south Okanagan. Kismet Estate Karma 2013 adds syrah to the classic varieties and makes for a rounder, softer red. Works very well with lamb and mushroom kebobs.

Rhys Pender MW

I feel like I’ve had some pretty interesting wines lately. The stores seem full of lighter, juicier reds and whites and restaurant lists in Vancouver are much more interesting than I’ve experienced in the past. People are getting a little creative. And luckily there are some very drinkable and very interesting wines for under $20.

The Zenato 2013 Soave Classico is a good example of what Soave should be. Crisp, fresh but still with a bit of weight to make it a versatile food wine.

Of similar style, and a great example of what BC can do with the grape, is the Joie Farm Pinot Blanc 2014. It is interesting, crisp, yet still with weight and a nice grip to stand up to many dishes. I wish more people took pinot blanc seriously and made these kind of great value wines.

Zenato Soave Classico 2013 Joie Farm Pinot Blanc 2014 Rilento Nerello Mascalese 2013 Jean Maurice Raffault Les Galuches Chinon 2013 Gabriel Meffre Plan De Dieu St Mapalis 2013

Onto the light, fresh and juicy reds. The first is the Rilento 2013 Nerello Mascalese. So light and lively and very quaffable. Along the same lines is the Jean Maurice Raffault Les Galuches Chinon 2013. This time cabernet franc, but ticks all the same boxes.

A lot bigger and riper and richer is the well priced Gabriel Meffre Plan De Dieu St Mapalis 2013. Pruney and full-bodied, it brings a nice range of flavours for the price.

Treve Ring

No matter the weather, it’s always a good idea to have a few fizz in the fridge. They pair with everything, including autumn days. The modern styled (and white-wrapped stylish) Anna de Codorníu Blanc de Blancs NV is a killer way to start the meal with its racy green apple, almonds, grass, lemon pith and peel and a sprinkle of sea salt. Bright, lively and finessed. BC’s St. Hubertus Frizzante Rosé 2014 brings off-dry, lightly sparkling rosé to your canapés hour. Strawberry jam, mandarin and cherry gummies are lifted with a zip of spritz, while rhubarb tartness reins in the sweetness. The Lini Lambrusco Rosso 910 NV has enough red berry depth, plum compote and tannin to tackle lighter proteins and heavier root vegetables, plus fresh and taut acidity to carry them. All this with gentle fizz – never a negative.

Okanagan Falls’ Meyer Family Winery is best known for their chardonnay and pinot noir, so don’t let their off-dry, Asian pear and white pepper laced Riesling 2014 slip under your radar.

Codorniu Anna De Codorniu Brut St Hubertus Frizzante Rose 2014 Lini 910 Labrusca Lambrusco Rosso Meyer Riesling 2014 Clos Du Soleil Grower's Series Pinot Blanc 2014

For a richer, creamier white, look west to the Similkameen, and Clos du Soleil Grower’s Series Pinot Blanc Middle Bench Vineyard 2014. Perfumed orchard fruits carry onto the bright palate, where subtle honey, lightly creamy lees and ample fine stony spice comes into play. Lovely, stone-driven, elegant and bright example of what pinot blanc, handled well, can achieve.

Parker Station Pinot Noir 2014 bills itself the tastiest pinot noir you can afford to drink, and who’s to argue? Pinot noir from Monterey, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo are blended into this perfumed, easy pinot, packed with fragrant and ripe raspberry, strawberry and cherry, while a riff of light toasty tannins keeps everything in place.

Always a great value, Mission Hill 5 Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013 can do double duty with your turkey dinner and the leftover turkey cranberry sandwiches the next day. The juicy, easy red carries fine black tea tannins, ripe black cherry, light earthiness and plump plummy fruit with light cedar spices on the finish. An identifiable and approachable pinot noir for under $20 – challenging no matter what part of the world you’re from, but particularly impressive from high-cost BC.

Parker Station Pinot Noir 2014 Mission Hill 5 Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013 The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2013 Errazuriz Estate Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Vinas Don Martin Los Dos Corte D'oro 2012

From the Western Cape of South Africa, Boekenhoutskloof The Wolftrap 2013 is a medium bodied blend of syrah, mourvèdre and viognier. Perfumed black plums, cassis, cracked spices and black pepper comes courtesy of syrah, which rules the packed palate. Ample tannins tend slightly sticky, but support well the ripe, wild, perfumed fruit. An impressive twist on your typical syrah, and impressive value.

If you’re going for a hearty roast beef or lamb to warm you, reach for the excellent value Chilean Errazuriz Estate Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. This firm Maipo Valley cabernet carries graphite, cassis, black cherry across a savoury, structured frame. Or pop across the Andes and crack the top on Vinas Don Martin Los Dos Corte d’Oro 2012, a high altitude (1000m) malbec from Mendoza. Though the density here is undeniable, so is the lifted affect of altitude – the freshness propping up all the brooding black cherry, wild blackberry, black plum and undercurrent of tar.


WineAlign in BC

In addition to our popular 20 Under $20 shopping guide, we publish the monthly Critics’ Picks report and include the wines across any price point and channel that excite us each month, the BC Wine Report, a look at all things in the BC Wine Industry, as well as Treve’s Travels,  a periodic trip to the world’s wine regions. Lastly, Anthony Gismondi closes out each month with his Final Blend column – an expert insight into wine culture and trends, honed by more than 25 years experience as an influential and global critic.

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Painted Rock Estate Winery

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It’s all about Value at the World Wine Awards of Canada

by David LawrasonOctober 7, 2015

Announcing the Results

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Quick, name the top five Best Value Cabernet Sauvignons sold in Canada. Would you have guessed Errazuriz Estate from Chile; Mission Hill Reserve from B.C., Ringbolt from Western Australia, Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva from Chile, and Wolf Blass Yellow Label from Australia?

Yes, that Wolf Blass, that for years was one of the top selling reds in the county, now re-tooled with fruit drawn from Langhorne Creek, a region that makes some of the most fragrant cabs in the world. And Mission Hill Cab Reserve, that is gaining stature every passing vintage as vineyards mature. And Santa Rita Medalla Real that has been wowing value seekers for years with its full throttle flavours. And if you have not yet tried Ringbolt from Margaret River, well you simply must.

Who owns bragging rights as Outstanding Value Winery retailing in Canada? That would be Errazuriz of Chile. This winery entered eleven wines in the WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada and took seven value medals – three gold, three silver and one bronze. Right behind is Cono Sur another Chilean winery Canadians coast to coast have long recognized as great value. In third spot is Ontario-based Magnotta that makes VQA and international wines (they own vineyards in Chile) only available in their private stores. In fourth spot is Wolf Blass, with a strong showing with their increasingly regionalized brands. Fifth spot goes to B.C’s Gray Monk Estate Winery with their range of pristine whites and reds.

WineAlign has announced the results of the 10th Edition of the World Wine Awards of Canada. The name has changed over the years but the intent has always been the same – to assemble Canada’s leading palates and taste through hundreds of wines that sell somewhere in Canada for less than $50. In fact, the vast majority of this year’s entries were under $25.

As a professional rating service we have scored each wine using a metric based on experienced palates and a detailed blind judging system designed to be as fair as can be to the wines entered. Here’s a video explaining the judging system.

This year however the reporting and medalling was simplified. Price and country categories were eliminated (most countries make most styles). Price and judges scores were fed into a complex formula that provided a value rating for each wine – resulting in a gold, silver or bronze value medal.

WWAC15 Gold Value MedalWWAC15 Silver Value MedalWWAC15 Bronze Value Medal

Because in the end that is how we all shop. We look at what we want to buy and pick the one we perceive to be the best value, based on our individual metrics.

​”This year we decided to take a mathematical, objective approach to the often subjective concept of value” said Bryan McCaw, Head Wineaux of WineAlign. “Using a formula developed with a Mathematics and Statistics graduate from SFU, we were able to evaluate all of the wines based on a combination of price AND score”.

WWAC15 Apprentice Judge - Steve Robinson WWAC15 Judges Table

The judging was held over five days in late August at the Toronto Don Valley Hotel and Suites. We assembled 18 judges from across Canada and spent five days tasting through just shy of 1000 wines, with the top 40% of the medal winners getting a second look in the last two days to sort out their ranking. As we have now done for the past three years we also included two rigorously vetted apprentice judges (Steve Robinson and Jules Garton), whose scores did not count this year – but they will next year.

The great beauty of the 10th World Wine Awards is that you can go to any variety/style category and instantly see which wines rose to the top, as we did with the cabernets above. Or, you can browse alphabetical lists by winery of the gold, silver and bronze value winners, to see where some of your favourites stack up against what the pro’s think.

WWAC15 World Wine Awards WWAC15 Judge - Bruce Wallner MS

What’s your hot button style – riesling from anywhere, sangiovese from Italy, tempranillo from Spain? You could end up spending a great deal of time parsing our lists and reading about each wine. You can link easily to any one wine and read the reviews of multiple critics, and look at their individual ratings as well an “aggregate” WineAlign rating.

Happy bargain hunting, and toast to drinking good wine that you can really afford.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

World Wine Awards of Canada (Links to 2015 Results)

Results Summary Page

Outstanding Value Winery

Gold Value Medal Winners

Silver Value Medal Winners

Bronze Value Medal Winners

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great value wines!


We would like to acknowledge Fortessa Canada for the Schott Zwiesel glassware used throughout the judging. A special thank you to Jason Dziver for the above images, as well as for each and every Awards bottle image appearing our site. You can see more of his work at Jason Dziver Photography.

WWAC15 Judges and Staff - Jason Dziver Photographer

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Soif d’ailleurs avec Nadia – De la subjectivité

par Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier - New - Cropped

Nadia Fournier

La notion de qualité est élastique et varie selon les goûts et les repères de chacun. J’en ai encore eu la preuve la semaine dernière en parlant avec un ami et amateur de vin qui questionnait mes notations, précisant que quatre étoiles c’était un peu « abusif » pour des vins grecs alors que je n’avais donné guère mieux qu’un maigre 2 ½ étoiles à un vin californien « très bien coté ».

Mais bien côté par qui ? Et pourquoi ?

Qu’on déguste à l’aveugle ou non, la critique est forcément subjective puisqu’elle fait appel aux goûts de celui ou de celle qui l’émette. On est d’accord ou on ne l’est pas. Et tant mieux si tous ne partagent pas les mêmes goûts. Ça garde le débat animé et ça justifie que nous soyons si nombreux au Québec à écrire pour vous, amateurs fidèles en quête d’aubaines ou de saveurs nouvelles.

Bien entendu, l’exercice de la critique implique aussi de reconnaitre qu’un vin, même s’il ne nous fait pas vibrer, est techniquement irréprochable. En gros, il faut savoir faire abstraction de ses propres goûts, mais sans s’y perdre. Sans y laisser son âme, diraient certains.

Ceux qui me lisent depuis quelques années connaissent peut-être maintenant mes préférences : pas de vin sucre – sauf dans le riesling, bien sûr –, pas d’infusion de bois neuf ni de concentration à outrance et le moins de manipulations possibles. C’est comme ça, je n’y peux rien. Comme tant de mes collègues, j’ai un faible pour les vins singuliers qui ont une histoire à raconter.

Et de belles histoires, il y en a plusieurs dans cette nouvelle édition du magazine CELLIER. Plein de belles bouteilles, toutes vendues à moins de 25 $ et d’autant plus recommandables qu’elles sont pour la plupart fidèles à leurs origines. 

Josmeyer, Pinot blanc 2014, Mise du Printemps :
Parmi les exceptions qui confirment la règle du pinot blanc, il faut désormais inclure ce vin absolument délicieux, biologique (biodynamique même), issu de vignes d’altitude et élaboré avec sagesse et sobriété, sans fard inutile.

Equis, Crozes-Hermitage 2013, Equinoxe :
Très bon Crozes-Hermitage élaboré par Maxime Graillot (Domaine Alain Graillot) et son associé Thomas Schmittel. Déjà savoureux, il pourrait encore révéler des surprises d’ici 2019.

Josmeyer Mise Du Printemps Pinot Blanc 2014Equis Equinoxe Crozes Hermitage 2013Triennes Viognier Sainte Fleur 2013Château Juvénal La Terre du Petit Homme 2013Domaine d'Aupilhac Lou Maset 2013

Domaine de Triennes, Viognier 2013, Sainte-Fleur, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence :
Propriété provençale appartenant notamment à Aubert de Villaine (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti) et à Jacques Seysses (Domaine Dujac). Très bon vin blanc méridional, élégant, juste assez gras et des saveurs florales expressives, sans aucune démesure. Des viogniers comme ça, on en voudrait plus.

Château Juvénal, La Terre du Petit Homme 2013, Ventoux :
Nez très typé sud du Rhône, entre fruits très mûrs, poivre, réglisse et garrigue. Bouche tendre, chair fruitée ample, veloutée et caressante, mais sans mollesse. Sensation chaleureuse en finale.

Domaine d’Aupilhac, Lou Maset 2013, Languedoc :
Peut-être un peu plus discret cette année, moins affriolant et sans la générosité de fruit des dernières années, mais un bon vin du Midi, assez solide et chaleureux, idéal pour les soirs de semaine.

Damien Coquelet, Fou du Beaujo 2014, Beaujolais-Villages :
Le beau-fils de Georges Descombes en est à ses premières armes en tant que vigneron, mais il fait déjà parler de lui. Gourmand et savoureux, son 2014 est le vin de soif par excellence. Tout indiqué pour les charcuteries.

Damien Coquelet Fou du Beaujo 2014Redstone Cabernet 2012Bachelder Chardonnay Mineralité 2012Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay 2013Clos Des Fous Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Redstone Winery, Cabernet 2012, Niagara Peninsula :
Le nez revèle les parfums de poivron vert propres au cabernet sauvignon (25 % de l’assemblage, l’essentiel étant composé de cabernet franc); la bouche est droite, franche et solide. Encore jeune, relativement abordable, et au moins aussi bon que nombre de cabernets modernes produits plus au sud.

Bachelder, Chardonnay 2012, Minéralité, Niagara Peninsula :
Tant au Clos Jordanne que sous sa propre étiquette, Thomas Bachelder nous a donné des vins blancs toujours impeccablement équilibrés. Il poursuit dans la même lignée avec cette nouvelle cuvée, et ce malgré la nature chaleureuse de l’été 2012. Une aubaine à ce prix!

Lailey Vineyard, Chardonnay 2013, Niagara Peninsula :
La famille Lailey jouit d’une excellente réputation. Son vignoble s’étend sur une dizaine d’hectares en bordure de la rivière Niagara et produit notamment ce chardonnay mûr et habilement boisé.

Clos des Fous, Cabernet sauvignon 2012, Grillos Cantores, Alto Cachapoal :
Ce vin m’a réconciliée avec le cabernet au Chili. Très typé, tant par ses goûts fumés qui évoquent la cendre mouillée, le paprika, que par sa structure à la fois ferme et enrobée. Très agréable à boire, savoureux et digeste.


Nadia Fournier

Présentation de la fonction CELLIER

Nouvel arrivage CELLIERAfin de vous guider encore mieux dans vous achats et faciliter vos emplettes, nous avons ajouté une fonction spéciale au site Chacun son vin pour nos membres Privilège.

Chaque fois que la SAQ met en vente ces nouveaux arrivages, vous n’aurez qu’à visiter notre site et cliquer sur l’onglet «Vin» puis sur «Nouvel arrivage CELLIER», dans le menu déroulant. Aussi simple que cela !

Vous pourrez ainsi lire mes notes de dégustation sur tous les vins du CELLIER, en un seul et même endroit.


CELLIER d’octobre

Note de la rédaction: Cet accès exclusif, ainsi que la possibilité de lire dès leur publication tous les commentaires de dégustation publiés sur Chacun son Vin, est offert à nos membres Privilège pour la somme de 40 $ par année. (Les membres inscrits bénéficiant d’un accès gratuit doivent, pour leur part, attendre 60 jours avant de pouvoir accéder à tout notre contenu.)


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Washington State – Meet the Neighbours

Treve’s TravelsOctober 5, 2015

by Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Treve Ring

With America’s second largest wine region, Washington State, bordering BC’s Okanagan Valley, one would imagine there would be some strong similarities and synergies. Amazingly, not so much. An intensive tour and tasting through Washington State’s wines earlier this year cemented that they share far less than their neighbouring geography would indicate.

The 49th Parallel is a mysterious barrier. On the Canadian side, you have some of the Okanagan’s most heralded and pricey vineyards, almost touching the border. As soon as you cross that invisible force field and enter into Washington State, you’ve got – well – desert scrubland. It takes a couple of hours in the car before you reach the northernmost edge of Lake Chelan AVA or Colombia Valley AVA, and the density of wineries that exist in the eastern half of the state.

To Situate : BC vs WA

With 20,000 HA under vine and more than 850 wineries, Washington trumps BC by far; we’ve just under 4000 HA and approximately 275 wineries. Size aside, there are parallels as well as divergence. Washington’s first wine grapes were planted at Fort Vancouver by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1825, with BC’s first grapes planted shortly thereafter, in 1859, by Father Charles Pandosy at the Oblate Mission in Kelowna. On this side of the border, we have more than 75 varieties planted, while Washington reports more than 45, though the white/red split in both regions is very close (53% white / 47% red in WA versus 49% white / 51% red in BC).

Pinot gris and merlot are BC’s top white and red grapes by acreage, while riesling and cabernet sauvignon lead for WA. We have five designated geographical indicators (GI’s) plus “emerging regions”, while Washington has thirteen American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). BC’s 2014 tonnage was nearing 38,000, while WA bested 227,000 tons in 2014.


BC’s main wine regions, the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys, share similar climatic growing conditions to eastern Washington, where the vast majority of wine grapes are grown. Osoyoos is the northernmost point of a network of dry, desert-like pockets that stretch from the southern Okanagan down through the USA into Mexico. Annual precipitation ranges from 7-12 inches in eastern Washington and 12-16 inches in the Okanagan Valley, while the ample long-day sunlight hours and massive diurnal shift contribute both to choice potential ripening and freshness. There is ample water found in rivers, lakes and underground aquifers, although water rights in Washington State can preclude vineyard expansion and development.

One convergence is with the soils, and the formation of them. Both regions are a diverse network of volcanic and glacial spread soils, with a wide mix of sedimentation, alluvial (stream deposited) and colluvial (gravity deposited), complexing microclimates further. Washington State’s geology was additionally altered 15,000 years ago by the Missoula floods, the catastrophic walls of water that rushed west from Idaho’s Lake Missoula when ice dams would break during the Ice Age, releasing waves up to 400 feet of water. Successive breaks deposited nutrients all over eastern Washington, up to 1200 feet above sea level. Each flood equaled the volume of all the world’s rivers combined, so you can imagine how much debris it swept west. You can find Missoula flood sediments up to 100 feet deep in some vineyards today. This rests atop basalt bedrock that was laid down by a river of lava that carved out the Columbia Valley 12 million years ago. Classic, typically seen soils today are comprised of wind-blown loess over granitic deposits from the Missoula floods, atop the ancient basalt bedrock. Vine root heaven.

Washington Taste: Driven by Type, Terroir, or Both?

For all their divergence, there are certainly parallels between BC and Washington’s wine regions, especially with regards to the intrinsics: climate and soils. So what contributes to the massive stylistic differences? I reckon Type. In The Science of Wine, Dr. Jamie Goode notes that “Most definitions of terroir rule out human intervention as part of the equation, but could winemaking play a role in maintaining type?” It certainly appeared the case during my travels and tasting, with many (*note I’m generalizing here for an overview, I’m not stating all) wineries striving for a riper, fuller, richer, dare-I-say Napa-esque, Parker-driven type. Of course, type depends on the intrinsics – the heat, sunlight, diurnal shift and soils – but when many winemakers across a wide area use similar techniques to achieve common styles, you have a distinctive, regional type. With the abundance of favourable weather and sun, a full, rich, voluptuous type is natural and achievable. Some winemakers nurture this nature further, with very late picking, overripe grapes with high sugar and alcohol content and the practice of watering back. The procedure involves leaving grapes hang until they are super ripe, up to 28 Brix (or more?), and then diluting with water so alcohol is not in the fortified range. This keeps most of the ripe, opulent fruit while satisfying alcohol demands. Of course, one adjustment soon leads to another, and acid adjustments often are necessary. Though I observed watering back to be widely used and discussed in Washington, it is a controversial practice that is seen unfavourably in many other wine regions. Dr. Goode goes on to say “Winemakers could also be adapting their techniques to best exhibit regional differences. This type, owing more to human intervention than classical definitions of terroir, is still of merit because it helps maintain the sort of stylistic regional diversity that makes wine so interesting.”

The abundance of all the grape-friendly resources, like sun, soils and water, have allowed for a wide range of grapes to be planted. So much so that Washington vintners themselves have a hard time when asked to pick a signature grape. “We do them all so well” was a common reply to the question. “Everything grows so well, so easily here.” Of course, with such a young wine region, ascending commercially since the 1970’s, experimentation is healthy and expected. While Bordeaux red varieties lead the day (especially in the ratings race), syrah is a strong contender, and frame or complete most of my top red wines. With whites, riesling rules, with Chateau Ste. Michelle making more riesling than any other winery in the country  – 1.1 million cases. Chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, both oaked and unoaked but all with a richer, riper core, follow.

AVA’s : The Where and the What to Know About

I’ve isolated a few of the AVA’s and some key points of difference.

Yakima Valley
The first recognized AVA, established in 1983, it contains more than one-third of Washington’s vineyards. Yakima is the largest sub-appellation of the Columbia Valley and contains three distinct sub-appellations within: Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain and Rattlesnake Hills. Vineyards stretch across nearly 100 miles, encompassing a wide range of sites and climates, from cooler sites that specialize in riesling and chardonnay, to warm areas where ripe red-fruited merlot and promising syrah shine.

Red Mountain
The smallest AVA, established in 2001, is less of a mountain than a steep, southwest facing slope. This is a premium site for red grapes, especially full, dense, dusty and tannic cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and syrah. Very arid region, with water rights entirely dictating plantings. Red Mountain came into news in 2013 when BC’s Aquilini Group swept in and purchased 670 acres for a cool $8.3M at auction.

Arid landscape of Red Mountain

Arid landscape of Red Mountain

Snipes Mountain
The second smallest AVA, Snipes Mountain was established in 2009. Vineyards have been planted on these slopes since 1914. Its elevated topography and unique soils make it distinct; many small gravel deposits left by the ancient flow of the Columbia River dot the vineyards, and a larger percentage of soils are Aridisols, low in organic matter and aid to reduce vine vigor and naturally increase fruit concentration.

Horse Heaven Hills
Established in 2005, this region is naturally bounded by the Yakima Valley AVA to the north, and by the moderating Columbia River at the south. Many vineyards are planted on south-facing slopes, at altitudes up to 550m. Significant winds are common, toughening grape skins and concentrating prized cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

Walla Walla
From a Native American term for ‘many waters’ Walla Walla is well known for its rich, supple reds and its postcard picturesque, tourism-ready main street. Established in 1984, Walla Walla now has the highest concentration of wineries in the state. Syrah shows distinct smoked meat, and earth, while cabernet sauvignon demonstrates ripe blackberry and ample structure. An amazing cobblestone riverbed runs along the extreme south, dipping below the WA/OR border into a very exciting sub-appellation known by the sexy name of The Rocks District of Milton Freewater AVA. The Rocks, nested within Washington’s Walla Walla AVA, lies entirely within Oregon; a case of AVA’s following geographical rather than political boundaries, and a somewhat controversial area to label for both Oregon and Washington wineries.

Unique terroir of The Rocks

Unique terroir of The Rocks

Columbia Gorge
The region is defined by the Columbia River Gorge, a dramatic narrow corridor carved into basalt bedrock and flanking the Columbia River as it slices through the Cascades en route to the Pacific. A relatively cooler region, where white grapes outnumber red – quite rare for Washington. Vineyards range from near sea level to up to nearly 600m elevation, and encompass more maritime climates in the west (dry-farming is possible here – another extreme rarity) to continental in the east. Very exciting area due to relatively lower vineyard land value and innovative winemakers drawn to experimentation with acidity and altitude.

Who: Wineries to Watch

The 49th parallel does more than just end stop the Okanagan wine region. It also prevents many of these recommended wines from reaching our shelves. That said, some will have limited distribution in pockets across Canada, and you can always search them out while you’re Stateside. Here are some of the highlights tasted during my visit in May 2015.

W. T. Vintners
I’ve followed Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen rise through the ranks of sommeliers into one of the top wine directors in Washington State, overseeing the list at Seattle’s RN74. Talented, whip smart and humble, he began making wine in 2007 with a friend out of a home garage, developing his passion into W.T. Vintners. Now he makes 1300 cases of wine with a friend out of a slightly larger garage, in the Woodinville Warehouse district (“wine ghetto”). His elegant, expressive single-vineyard wines were the highlight of my trip. 

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 10.13.58 AM

2014 Grüner Veltliner, Underwood Mountain Vineyard: One of the rare few working with grüner in Washington, which is a pity. At 379 cases, this is his largest production wine, sourced from Columbia Gorge. Reductive notes blow off to reveal green apple, crisp lemon pith and beauty, precise minerality. Bright and lean, with herbal meadow florals and finely rasped white pepper on the finish. 89 points.

2012 Red Blend Stonyvine Vineyard Dalliance: This GSM is sourced from Walla Walla AVA. Wild black cherry, herbal cured meats and distinct sea salt scents entice to perfumed raspberry, strawberry and an underlay of herbal sweet sap. Bright, seamless acidity carries the layers of herbal perfumed fruit across finely textured tannins. Unfined and unfiltered. 92 points.

2011 Damavian Sryah Les Collines Vineyard: Loving the cooler 2011 vintage here. Expressive blacked pepper, cracked clove and thorny cassis opens this beauty syrah from Walla Walla, made with 50 percent whole cluster. Thorn and perfumed violets continue onto the firmly structured, finely textured palate, with wild black cherry and broken stones lifted with bright, effortless acidity. Power plus finesse. 93 points. 

Gramercy Cellars
Master Sommelier Greg Harrington worked high-flying restaurant positions across the States for 15 years when he decided to come to Walla Walla for holiday in 2004. He liked it so much he put down roots, quite literally, opening Gramercy Cellars the following year. His 8000 case winery focuses on Rhone and Bordeaux varietals, all with detailed precision, authenticity and verve.


2010 Lagniappe Syrah: A treat to taste this Columbia Valley syrah with some age on it (2012 is current vintage), allowing all the expressive black cherry, mineral salts and time-worn savoury notes to shine. Perfumed cassis, thorns and violets are veined with iron and framed with firm, finely grained tannins. Very fine black pepper lingers on the finish. Beauty precision and finesse here, and a wine still with 5+ years to go. 93 points.

2012 l’Idiot de Village Mouvédre: Lovely fragrant cracked spices, floral cassis, perfumed violets, lavender and thyme swirl through the depth of this fine grained, finessed red. Smoked meats and medicinal tinged currants linger on the spicy finish. 91 points

IMG_2160Savage Grace
Working out of a small space (right next door to Jeff at W.T. Vintners) in the Woodinville Warehouse district, recording-studio owner turned wine-nut Michael Savage is a true garagiste vintner, produces 2000 cases a year from grapes sourced across Washington.

2013 Chardonnay Celilo Vineyard: 40-year-old vines from Colombia Gorge are split between stainless and neutral french oak. Lovely creamy shoulders, with fine lees, subtle apple moving with gossamer fluidity and lingering with fine spices on the finish. Finessed and delicate. 92 points.

2013 Pinot Noir Underwood Mountain: One of the most impressive pinot noirs of my trip. Dry farmed, high altitude, volcanic slope soils in Colombia Gorge. Fragrant raspberry, perfumed cherry and ripe, wild strawberry flow across very finely textured tannins. Elegant and melodic. 91 points.  

Hedges Family Estate
One of the first to really cement Red Mountain as an area for serious, finessed wines, the family views themselves as guardians of this special terroir, preserving and protecting the area for future generations. Now into the second generation with siblings Christophe (in the vineyards) and Sarah (in the winery) continuing to farm biodynamically and produce low interventionist, authenticity-seeking wines.

2012 Hedges Red Mountain Cuvee Marcel Dupont Les Gosses Vineyard: Alluring iodine, earthy herbals, and fragrant violets open this finessed, elegant syrah. Wild cassis, thorn and black cherry are textured with anise and dried herbs, framed with quietly firm tannins. Great length and presence. 93 points. 

IMG_2231 IMG_2365

Long Shadow
Allen Shoup has long been a driving force in the Washington wine industry, growing Chateau Ste. Michelle as CEO for 17 years and tirelessly developing wine culture through organizing associations to support, unite and promote wineries. He continues to draw attention to Washington’s wine potential with his Long Shadows project, drawing influential winemakers from around the globe to each make one label in the project. Michel Rolland, Randy Dunn, Ambrogio and Giovanni Folinari, John Duval, Philippe Melka and Armin Diel each make one distinct wine.

2012 Feather Cabernet Sauvignon: Randy Dunn was the winemaker for this Columbia Valley cabernet. 22 months in 90% new French oak barrels has built a structured, integrated and complete wine, showing very well in youth but with reams of potential ahead. Perfumed cassis, black raspberries, wild cherry and anise is carried upon those structured, lightly grippy tannins. Tight and spicy on the end, with a potent, peppery, lingering finish. One to hold 5-10 years. 91 points. 

IMG_2108Betz Family Winery
When Steve and Bridgit Griessel purchased Betz Family Winery from Bob and Cathy Betz in 2011 they insisted Bob remained on as the winery’s “patriarch” and winemaker for at least 5 years. When you take over the keys to a hallowed project like Betz, there could be no other apparent solution. The team has continued to make very small amounts (5500 cases) of highly lauded, individual wines, sourced from across the state.

2012 Bésoleil : The generous 2012 vintage was captured in this very well knit Southern Rhone inspired red, a blend of grenahce, cinsault, mourvedre and syrah sourced from Yakima Valley, Red Mountain and Snipes Mountain. Sweet herbs, thistle, wild strawberries and thorny blackberries open this characterful, medium bodied red. Though edges are soft and rounded, there is a bamboo firmness to the backbone, with cured meats and wild herbs texturing gentle red fruits and perfumed florals. Confident depth, lifted with fresh acidity to the lingering finish. 91 points.

Syncline Wine Cellars
When Poppie and James Montone moved to the Pacific Northwest to get into vineyards and winemaking it was after a great deal of travelling (her) and studying (him) and with a huge passion for wine. They met working at a custom crush facility in Oregon, and decided to move to Columbia Gorge to start their own project, releasing Syncline’s first vintage in 1999. Their 6000 case winery focuses on Rhone varietals.

2013 Grenache Carignan: Sourced from the Horse Haven Hills AVA, this bright, savoury red carries raspberry, wild strawberry, cherry and candied strawberry gracefully along very fine tannins. White pepper and dried herbs texturize the medium-bodied palate, finishing with a subtle salted plum note. 90 points.





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10th Annual Chilean Wine Festival – October 27, 2015

Discover the Flavours of Chile

Wines of Chile and the Trade Commission of Chile (ProChile) present their annual grand tasting and celebration of wine and food in Toronto – the Chilean Wine Festival taking place Tuesday, October 27th at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Wines of Chile

Chilean Wine Festival Special Offer

WineAlign readers are invited to discover the flavours of Chile with a special offer. Purchase your tickets using the promotional code WineAlign and you will get $10 off the regular admission price of $75. (details below)

Explore new wines

Chile’s outstanding diversity of wines stems from the country’s extraordinary geography and unique climate. Regionality is the key to Chile’s stylistic development and winemakers are striving to reflect the different terroirs that the country can offer, especially in the cooler coastal areas and in the Andean foothills. Avid wine consumers today recognize the names Casablanca, Maipo and Colchagua, but these are just the beginnings of a host of appellations. It is this mosaic of appellations and wineries that composes Wines of Chile.

An outstanding set of 30 wineries bring Toronto more than 120 wines for this tasting. Guests will also enjoy a special Chilean fusion menu prepared by Daniel and Daniel catering and authentic Chilean empanadas prepared by The Empanada Co. The 2015 tasting will feature two new theme tables, one featuring a collection of Sparkling Wines and another showing wines that demonstrate Innovation in winemaking.

Chilean Wine Festival

Experience live entertainment including Chilean cultural dancing by Grupo Chile Dance Co. and a live acoustic performance by Farrucas Latin Duo.

Special guest Chef Andres Michel will design and prepare a special menu of Chilean inspired dishes.

Participating wineries include:

Arboleda, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Bisquertt, Caliterra, Carmen, Casas del Toqui, Cono Sur, Concha y Toro, Emiliana, Errazuriz, Indomita, Koyle, Leyda, Montes, MontGras, Morandé, Pérez Cruz, San Esteban, San Pedro, San Rafael, Santa Alicia, Santa Ema, Santa Rita, Siegel, Tabali, Tarapaca, Terraustral, Ventisquero, Veramonte, VIA.

Chilean Wine Festival

Event Details

WineAlign readers are invited to discover the wines of Chile with a special offer. Purchase your tickets using the promotional code WineAlign and you will get $10 off the regular admission price of $75.

Date & Time:

Tuesday October 27th, 2015
Walk-About Tasting – 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm


Royal Ontario Museum, Peter F Bronfman Hall, 2nd level
100 Queens Park, Toronto, Ontario

Price: $75 regular, $65 with the promotional code WineAlign

Save $10 now

Wines of Chile Event


Peter F. Bronfman Hall is located on the second level of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Guests will enter from the main doors on Queen’s Park and access the second level from either the north or south staircases or the elevator. Proceeds from the event will be donated toward ROM’s highest educational priorities.

AdvertisementChilean Wine Festival

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 3, Part Two

Spain and Thanksgiving
by John Szabo MS, with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week, the WineAlign Crü takes a look at VINTAGES’ first serious crack at raising the profile, and average price, of Spanish wines in Ontario, with a handful of top buys and multiple “triple alignments” between us. And since Thanksgiving is around the corner, we’ve also assembled our favorites from the October 3rd release, laid out in handy menu format; just plug and play.

Welcome Back, Spain

Consider for a moment some of Spain’s contributions to world culture. The country is a mecca for students of architecture, offering an encyclopaedic range from Frank Gehry’s landmark Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, to Antonio Gaudi’s magnificent designs in Barcelona, the spellbinding high Renaissance masterpiece El Escorial near Madrid by Juan Bautista de Toledo, the serene beauty of the Moorish magnum opus Alhambra Palace in Granada, the radical juxtaposition of Islam and gothic Catholicism in Córdoba’s Mezquita, countless medieval churches and monasteries, and even one of the old world’s best-preserved Roman aqueducts in Segovia.

The world’s first novel was penned here – Cervantes’ El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, while the international molecular gastronomy movement had its genesis in a small restaurant called elBulli in the hamlet of Roses overlooking the Costa Brava in Catalonia, inspiring a wave of culinary exploration both domestically and internationally. And where would we be with jamón Ibérico, hands-down the world’s best, or those tasty little charred padrón peppers that seem to be popping up on restaurant menus across Ontario, or Marcona almonds or hard Spanish sheep’s cheese in all of it’s kaleidoscopic variety? I haven’t even touched the legions of painters, dancers, filmmakers, musicians….

But what of Spanish wine? Spain of course produces wine, quite a lot of it in fact. The country has more acreage under vine than any other on the planet, and its production history stretches back to the earliest days of trade in the Mediterranean. So why is it you know so much about Spain, but so little about Spanish wine?

For one, Spain was a very latecomer on the international wine scene, having slept through a good part of the 20th century for various, mostly political reasons. It wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that Spanish wine awoke from its 19th century slumber. Alejandro Fernandez and his Tinto Pesquera from Ribera del Duero started to turn heads in the mid-1980s. René Barbier, Álvaro Palacios and their band of radical friends wagered on the immense potential of remote Priorat in the early 1990s, where Carthusian monks had been drawing precious drops from withered old vines clinging to bare rock for centuries in quasi secrecy. Their long odds came in, and they won large.

Soon after, bagpipe-playing vignadores in northern “Green” Spain, more familiar looking to Gaels then Andalucíans, realized that they had a treasure in their aromatic albariño grown in the misty maritime hillsides of Rias Baixas. Their neighbours in Bierzo likewise awoke at the turn of the millennium to find that nobody had replanted a vine for the last century, leaving vast tracks of ancient bush vine mencía for the current generation to exploit, capable of producing Spain’s most elegant reds.

The alarm reverberated throughout the country like the peeling of church bells on Sunday morning. The ripples eventually reached even the sleepiest regions like Calatayud, Campo de Borja and Cariñena, where there, too, they found acre upon acre of ancient hills covered in bonsai-like old garnacha vines, inexpensive to transform into a rich and heady style of wine that the world wants more and more of. The old classics like Rioja and Sherry were compelled to dust off their images and start producing better wines. Viticulture has never been sharper, and terroirs better understood in Rioja then they are today, and their brief, rebound fling with thick and soupy internationalized wines has more or less ended, sagely returning to the marvellously mid-weight, vibrant and savoury, eminently age-worthy reds for which the region is so well suited. And sherry gains new converts every day, at least among smart drinkers who know where to lay down their money to get the most singular and complex drinking experience for the least outlay.

All of these developments, and many more, have been simmering away in Spain for a couple of decades now, but admittedly, you would have been hard-pressed to know it living in Ontario. Few of the exciting wines were imported, and little promotion was done. But, it seems the pot has finally come to a boil.

Last night, Wines from Spain and LCBO-Vintages held the first significant tasting of Spanish wines in Toronto in longer than I can remember. A pre-tasting seminar sold out in short order, and some 350 people crowded into the Roundhouse to sample the wares of nearly three-dozen producers covering a fine cross-section of the industry. Just the week before, the LCBO launched a Spanish Specialty Store, the third in the laudable “Products of the World” initiative (read David’s report about it, and we’re planning a full review of the Spanish selection, triple the previous number of products available). And to line up everything neatly, the October 3rd VINTAGES release features a collection of Spanish wines.

What’s different from previous Spanish releases is the evident effort to shift consumers up-market; the average price of the featured wines is about $30. And while Spain has plenty of excellent wines in the sub-$20 range, those few extra dollars allow you tap into some of the more regionally distinctive and representative wines – the stuff that makes a country unique – as you’ll see in the category-leading Terras Gauda Rias Baixas or the comfortingly classic Viña Real Rioja Gran Reserva. It also permits exploration of some innovative curiosities that aren’t just weird but also wonderful, like the pure Rufete from Bodegas Bhilar, one of the most memorable discoveries at last night’s event.

Let’s hope this is the beginning of a more regular and representative selection of what Spain has to offer, so Ontarians can add wine to the list of Spain’s world culture contribution.

Speaking of Sherry

Love sherry? Or think you might? Check out the Canadian premier screening of Sherry and The Mystery of Palo Cortado, this Sunday October 4th, part of the Eatable Film Festival in Toronto (drinking sherry and eating pintxos is part of the deal). Go all in and have dinner at Bar Isabel after the screening with a crazy collection of sherries presented by winery principals.

Buyers Guide for October 3rd 2015: Spain 

Terras Gauda 2013 O Rosal Blanco, Rías Baixas, Spain ($24.95)
David Lawrason – When I first visited this region I remember being so impressed by examples that combined dancing, exotic fragrance and freshness with grounded structured and great depth. This is one of those wines, the best albarino of the year, giving full expression to the grape and the maritime terroir of Galicia.
Sara d’Amato – The O Rosal Blanco is blended from native varieties of albariño, loureira, and caiño blanco and fermented with wild yeast. This complex and highly pleasurable white is perfect for pairing with Thanksgiving fare although I plan to enjoy it all on its own.
John Szabo – Terras Gauda has been a Rias Baixas reference for me for many years now, and this O Rosal (sub-regional designation) may just be the finest yet. A splash of Loureiro adds additional aromatics to albariño’s impressive floral-fruity range, while caiño blanco chisels and tightens the palate with its stony wash. I love the salty taste, too, like the Atlantic mist-infused air of Galicia.

Viña Real 2008 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($36.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a lovely, succulent, deliciously savoury Rioja, salty and infinitely drinkable. Unlike most in the traditional camp (in which this wine can be included as well), this is not dripping in spicy American oak flavour, but finds a balance between fruit, wood, and developed spicy-earthy character. Length is excellent, too. Drink or hold a dozen years without concern.
David Lawrason – Grand indeed! This traditional Rioja is so elegant, tidy, refined and surprisingly youthful – with subtle floral notes among cherry fruit and fine oak vanillin. Great weave and finesse, and still able to age. Predict peak about 2020.
Sara d’Amato – Opulent and modern with velvety tannins, this Gran Reserva is a standout from other Riojas in this release. Offering the characteristic concentration and ageability of a wine at this level with only a hint of maturity. A cooler weather wine best enjoyed with hearty stews or braised red meats.

Marqués De Cáceres 2009 Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($24.95)
John Szabo – Firm, succulent, juicy, genuinely savoury and saline Rioja from the ever-reliable Marqués de Cáceres, this has firmness and cut, mouth-salivating acids and marked minerality. I’d tuck this away for another 3+ years for maximum enjoyment, or hold another decade.

Terras Gauda O Rosal Blanco 2013 Vina Real Gran Reserva 2008 Marqués De Cáceres Reserva 2009 Phinca Encanto Rufete 2011 Baron De Ley Gran Reserva 2008

Bodegas Bhilar 2011 Phinca Encanto Rufete, Sierra de Francia, Spain ($32.95)
David Lawrason – This is incorrectly indicated as a Rioja in Vintages catalogue (the winery is based in Rioja but the fruit is from a less well known region in central-northwest Spain).  It is a delicious and fascinating wine. Winemaker David Sampedro Gil (“DSG” is its brand) is a young gun from a 5th generation of vintners who is on mission is recover indigenous varieties.  Rufete is an early-ripening, well-under-the-radar red grape centred in the Duero/Douro region of Spain/Portugal. It is all tangy cranberry (making it a great Thanksgiving turkey pick as well).
Sara d’Amato – A rather unusual find, this 100% Rufete (also known as tinta pinheira in Portugal) is a real stunner. Although my reference for this a wine such as this is quite low, the grape is known for producing wine with high acids and tannins and thus with great ageing potential. This example is immensely compelling offering verve and intensity with a complex array of flavours from clove and plum to kirsch and violets.
John Szabo – Damned if this isn’t both intriguing, and high quality. I can’t say classic rufete (can anyone?) nor even classic Spanish style, but fans of sharper, mid-weight reds – think nebbiolo, or cool climate syrah or pinot noir – will get into this. Tannins are still a bit burly, but there’s enough weight and density to envision future harmony, after 2017 or so I’d speculate. An exciting find.

Baron de Ley 2008 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – Because a Gran Reserva must be held back for at least five years, older releases such as this 2008 are not uncommon. This traditional version from a reliable producer delivers great intensity and power for the price. Still quite youthfully rugged, the wine deserves time in a decanter or another 2-3 years tucked away before it can be optimally enjoyed.

Buyers’ Guide For October 3rd 2015: Thanksgiving dinner 

Bubbles to start 

Jansz Premium Cuvée TasmaniaJansz Premium Cuvée, Australia ($26.95)
John Szabo – Along with Ontario, and Crémant de Bourgogne, Tasmania should be on your list of sources for fine value, traditional method sparkling. Jansz is among the most reliable (and regularly available) names in Ontario, a bright, lively and fresh version. I like the vibrant citrus-orange zest and freshly baked white bread aromatics, and the well-measured crisp-dry-balanced palate. Fine length, too. 

White & Rosé

2013 Bründlmayer Kamptaler Terrassen Grüner Veltliner Dac Kamptal, Austria ($24.95)
John Szabo – A terrific, arch-classic grüner from Bründlemayer, at once fleshy and lean, richly flavoured but sharply defined and stony. This hits the mark, with expansive finish and broad flavour range, a perfect segue from aperitif into first course.

2014 Coffin Ridge Bone Dry Riesling VQA Ontario Canada ($17.00)
John Szabo – The best yet from young Coffin Ridge Crisp, this is bone dry (as advertised), lime-flavoured Riesling, uncompromising, reminiscent of the Clare Valley in Australia (a good reference). Ready to crack open your taste buds.

Angels Gate 2010 Mountainview Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Ontario, Canada ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – I was pleasantly surprised by the outstanding value this Beamsville Bench chardonnay delivers with appealing viscosity, great concentration of fruit and very good length of finish. The oak is a tad showy but also seductive and integrated. A rich offering that will prove a decadent addition to a Thanksgiving feast.

Seresin 2012 Chardonnay, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This profound, complex chardonnay has the stuffing to match the big bird and all its stuffing.  In fact flavour-wise it is not dissimilar, with buttered asparagus, corn, tobacco, nutmeg and barley sugar. It is biodynamically farmed, giving it great energy and depth.

Bründlmayer Kamptaler Terrassen Grüner Veltliner 2013 Coffin Ridge Bone Dry Riesling 2014 Angels Gate Mountainview Chardonnay 2010 Seresin Chardonnay 2012 Gassier Sables d'Azur Rosé 2014

Gassier 2014 Sables d’Azur Rosé, Côtes De Provence, Provence, France ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – We don’t often see a rosé featured this late in the year but it is a welcome addition to this week’s release. Just in time for Thanksgiving, this style of wine makes a versatile pairing for fish, poultry, pork or as a pre-dinner sipper. Well-priced, from a reliable house and offering a dry, crisp palate with a pleasant salinity and notes of lavender and savory herbes de Provence.

Lighter Reds

Herdade do Sobroso 2013 Sobro Red, Alentejano, Portugal  ($14.95)
David Lawrason – I was just about finished a large tasting when along came this lively, smooth and juicy wine packed with sour red fruit, herbs and spices. It was invigorating and pleasant, and just the right weight for a turkey dinner.  Then I looked at the price.  If your table will be including extended family and friends this year, you can afford three or four bottles of this one.

Stephane Aviron 2012 Vieilles Vignes Morgon Côte du Py, Beaujolais, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a terrific cru Beaujolais, firm, meaty, substantially flavoured with an authentic and natural twist. Oenologists may dither about the touch of volatile acidity, but for me, it lifts the earth into the floral sphere and extends the back end. This is no carbonic fruity style, but traditional, old school, worldly gamay with legs to run another half dozen years or more. It’s the cranberry sauce on your Thanksgiving turkey.

Herdade do Sobroso Sobro Red 2013 Stephane Aviron Vieilles Vignes Morgon Côte du Py 2012 Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2013 Castello di Volpaia Riserva Chianti Classico 2012

Cave Spring 2013 Cabernet Franc, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($19.95)
David Lawrason – I hunted through this large release for a great Thanksgiving turkey pinot noir, but couldn’t find one rating highly that was ready to drink.  But this charming, lighter weight, pure and well-balanced cab franc will do the trick. Cave Spring is known for riesling but its reds are impressing of late.

Castello Di Volpaia 2012 Riserva Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($41.95)
John Szabo – This is great vintage for Volpaia – maturing beautifully now – high-toned, floral, savoury and herbal, arch-classic Chianti Classico with elegance, depth and staying power on the palate. Drinking now, or with any Thanksgiving dinner up until the early ‘20s.

Domaine La Tour Vieille Reserva Banyuls Tenuta San Vincenti Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2011 Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013Medium-Full Reds

Le Vieux Donjon 2013 Châteauneuf-Du-Pape, Rhône, France ($58.95)
John Szabo – If you’re going big, you might as well go really big with this dense and rich, full, fat, sweet and savoury, generously proportioned yet finely tuned CdC  – it has the full package. A top vintage for Vieux Donjon. Decant an hour ahead of dinner at least.

Tenuta San Vincenti 2011 Gran Selezione Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($54.95)
Sara d’Amato – The “Gran Selezione” is a relatively new qualitative rank representing the peak of the pyramid and about 10% of the Chianti Classico produced. This mid-weight red is no lightweight when it comes to flavour and impact. It is wildly complex and its tannins are supple enough for immediate drinking pleasure.


Domaine La Tour Vieille Reserva Banyuls, Roussillon, France ($29.95)
David Lawrason – We see so little Banyuls that it’s almost a must for the curious. It’s a deep amber-brown, fortified ‘vin doux naturel’ with a lifted nose of prunes, walnuts, molasses, and a touch of earthy oxidation. It’s medium-full bodied, sweet, well balanced yet nicely dry and dusty. A wine for meditation after dinner, or with nut and dried fruit based desserts.  

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Oct 3rd, 2015

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

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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LCBO Opens Spanish Specialty Location

by David Lawrason

Long-time readers know my enduring criticism of the LCBO has been lack of selection depth compared to any other major wine consuming market in the world, where private retailing rules. Well I am not about to change my tune and say the LCBO actually should exist, but I will give credit where due and happily say they are doing something about deepening their selection by creating regional specialty selections.

A Greek specialty location opened in Toronto’s Greektown at 200 Danforth Ave in June, followed by a Portuguese specialty store at 2151 St. Clair west (Stockyards) in July. Last week a Spanish location opened at the newly expanded location at 2946 Bloor St West at Royal York (Kingsway) in Etobicoke.

Spanish selection at LCBO Royal York Store

All three “Products of the World” locations are stocking all ‘General List’ and VINTAGES selections, as well as products purchased from agents who have wines in the Consignment program. The huge pool of consignment wines until now has been earmarked for direct sales by the case to restaurants and consumers. But at the new LCBO specialty locations you can buy single bottles off the shelf.

The Spanish “boutique” on Bloor West boasts over 150 selections, although the start-up, opening day inventory was not quite up there. I counted about 120. The new “Kingsway exclusive” selection is not some rarefied portfolio of expensive wines. They range from $11 to over $50. And some are available for sampling in-store at the recently installed tasting bar. I managed to taste most of the “Kingsway exclusives”. Links to some of the best buys and featured wines are below. They may not all show up in the LCBOs on-line inventory, so you may have to visit the store now and then and have a look.

Kingsway Exclusives

Tandem Ars In Vitro 2011, Navarra ($11.45)

Tandem Ars in Vitro

Bodegas Costers Del Sio Celistia Tierra 2013, Costers Del Segre ($13.80)

Bodegas Costers Del Sio Celistia Tierra 2013 side

Legón Reserva 2010, Ribera Del Duero ($22.85)

Legón Reserva 2010 side

From the VINTAGES Oct 3rd Spanish Release

(Read more on Spain in John’s Oct 3rd VINTAGES Article)

Terras Gauda 2013 O Rosal Blanco, Rías Baixas, Spain ($24.95)

Terras Gauda O Rosal Blanco 2013 side

Viña Real 2008 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($36.95)

Vina Real Gran Reserva 2008 side

Bodegas Bhilar 2011 Phinca Encanto Rufete, Sierra de Francia, Spain ($32.95)

Phinca Encanto Rufete 2011 side

LCBO General Lists Values

Bordón Gran Reserva 2005

Faustino V I I Blanco 2014, Rioja ($12.95)

Faustino V I I Blanco 2014


Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Store photo courtesy of LCBO


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Les bons choix de Marc – Cellier d’octobre

par Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

Plusieurs bons vins, dans l’arrivage Cellier mis en vente en succursales aujourd’hui, 1er octobre. Et il y en aura quelques autres de très recommandables avec la deuxième vague, offerte celle-là dans deux semaines – avec, comme à l’habitude, une prévente en ligne à compter de jeudi prochain. Mais chaque chose en son temps. Ceux que vous pouvez vous procurer dès maintenant ou cette fin de semaine, d’abord.

Les blancs, pour commencer. Avec un petit bijou : le Pinot Blanc Mise du Printemps Josmeyer 2014, vin d’Alsace bien engageant au nez, des notes de tabac, un peu de volatile, de la pêche aussi, juste un soupçon. La bouche est à l’avenant, toute en fraîcheur sans être dépourvue de richesse. Miam ! À 21 $, un incontournable.

Autre très bon vin, de Provence celui-là, le Domaine de Triennes Viognier Sainte-Fleur 2013. Un viognier sur la retenue, pas du tout exubérant ni parfumé comme beaucoup de ses congénères. Néanmoins convaincant, relativement fin, bien construit, bien structuré. À 22 $, on ne se trompe pas.

Pour amateurs de chardonnay, maintenant. Mais de chardonnay lui non plus pas expansif, discret au nez même, avec une pointe d’acidité volatile et un boisé en bride. Sans briller par son éclat, ce Bachelder Chardonnay Minéralité 2012, de la vallée du Niagara, a des saveurs délicates et harmonieuses, qui convainquent.

Josmeyer Mise du Printemps Pinot Blanc 2014 Triennes Viognier Sainte Fleur 2013 Bachelder Chardonnay Mineralité 2012

C’est la manne du côté des rouges, également.

Et mon coup de coeur est allé pour le Domaine de la Pinte Poulsard de l’ami Karl 2013 en appellation arbois, dans le Jura. Des amis comme ça, moi, j’en veux tout plein. Quel beau vin ! Original, cela dit, qui peut dérouter les non-initiés. La couleur est en effet rouge avancée, presque tuilée, en tout cas bien orangée ; pour un peu, et à l’aveugle total, on pourrait croire que le bougre est tranquillement en train de passer l’arme à gauche. Sauf qu’en bouche, il est on ne peut plus en vie ! Goûteux, nerveux, rafraîchissant, léger et poivré. Une sorte de pendant d’un beaujolais, en moins friand, en plus sérieux, mais en terriblement convaincant.

Parlant de gamay, le Damien Coquelet Fou du Beaujo 2014 est d’un rouge violacé pâle, son nez est fin, légèrement herbacé, floral également, il y a de la griotte aussi là-dedans. La bouche suit, tout en fruit et en délicatesse, avec une agréable finale saline. Super vin de soif ! À siroter donc pour lui-même, à l’apéro, ou avec un viande blanche rôtie ou grillée.

Autre rouge sinon de soif, du moins rafraîchissant et très avenant, le Domaine d’Aupilhac Lou Maset 2013, un coteaux-du-languedoc floral, vif, fruité, à peine corsé. À seulement 16,15 $, un excellent rapport qualité-prix.

Domaine de La Pinte Poulsard de L'ami Karl 2012 Damien Coquelet Fou du Beaujo 2014 Domaine D'aupilhac Lou Maset 2013 Château Juvénal La Terre du Petit Homme 2013 Redstone Cabernet 2012

Plus corsé, beaucoup plus même, le ventoux Château Juvénal La Terre du Petit Homme 2013 est marqué par la syrah au nez, un arôme plein, lourd, engageant. Les saveurs sont pleines également, le taux d’alcool tourne autour de 15 pour cent, c’est presque capiteux, mais voilà, l’ensemble garde de la tension, du tonus. Il s’agira de le boire légèrement rafraîchi, et de sortir, peut-être pas l’artillerie lourde, mais les mets assez relevés et jusqu’au gibier, sans hésiter.

Enfin, on revient chez nous, dans le Niagara c’est-à-dire, avec le Redstone Cabernet 2012 élaboré par la réputée maison Tawse. Plutôt finement typé cabernet (légère odeur de poivron), des notes vanillées (boisées) en sourdine, du corps, une bonne charpente et une indéniable fraîcheur. Très réussi !

À boire, aubergiste !

On se calme, on se calme. L’aubergiste vient de vous en suggérer tout plein d’entrée de jeu, des vins à boire.

Je vous laisserai seulement avec cette pensée : vous vous souvenez, il y a un mois à peine, on ne donnait pas cher de la peau de la SAQ ? Privatisation, démantèlement, refonte en profondeur, et ainsi de suite.

Ça va peut-être se faire, remarquez. Sauf que pour le moment, les chiens ont à peu près fini d’aboyer. Et la caravane, bien, j’ai l’impression qu’elle est passée…

Allez, une bonne bouteille, de bons copains, une bonne discussion, et on lui règle son cas, au monopole.

Santé !


Présentation de la fonction CELLIER

Nouvel arrivage CELLIERAfin de vous guider encore mieux dans vous achats et faciliter vos emplettes, nous avons ajouté une fonction spéciale au site Chacun son vin pour nos membres Privilège.

Chaque fois que la SAQ met en vente ces nouveaux arrivages, vous n’aurez qu’à visiter notre site et cliquer sur l’onglet «Vin» puis sur «Nouvel arrivage CELLIER», dans le menu déroulant. Aussi simple que cela !

Vous pourrez ainsi lire mes notes de dégustation sur tous les vins du CELLIER, en un seul et même endroit.


CELLIER d’octobre

Note de la rédaction: Cet accès exclusif, ainsi que la possibilité de lire dès leur publication tous les commentaires de dégustation publiés sur Chacun son Vin, est offert à nos membres Privilège pour la somme de 40 $ par année. (Les membres inscrits bénéficiant d’un accès gratuit doivent, pour leur part, attendre 60 jours avant de pouvoir accéder à tout notre contenu.)

Les vins du Sud-Ouest de la France

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The Question of Ageing, and an Unlikely Protagonist

Szabo’s Free RunSeptember 29, 2015

Text and photographs by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Consider this more of an around-the-water-cooler type of conversation, neither the first nor certainly the last word on what is a devilishly complex subject: the ageability of wine. At least, this is the sort of thing we chit-chat about around the water cooler at the WineAlign office. I trust your conversations are a tad racier and more interesting.

What prompts these reflections is a recent deep dive into the small sea of Hunter Valley Semillon, arguably the southern hemisphere’s most unique white wine (read about my adventure with WineAlign regular judge Brad Royale here). For every other wine, there is a compass that points north to somewhere in the old world, some original paradigm or model to follow. For Hunter semillon, there is no model; no other region in the world produces semillon in even a remotely similar fashion (or the Hunter has become the magnetic pole). And it’s also one of the world’s most unlikely, most age worthy whites. Just why and how this is so was cause for pause.

A couple of hours north of Sydney by car, the Hunter Valley is an improbable place to make fine wine. It’s blistering hot in the summer. The mercury pushing past 40ºC is a common sight, as are big fluffy white, and frequently dark, clouds. The semi-tropical climate means rot-inducing high humidity and rain, and especially harvest rain, which arrives with Swiss dependability. The most memorable comment from my first visit to the Hunter several years ago came from Scott McWilliams of Mount Pleasant Wines, in answer to my question of how he makes the decision to harvest: “mate, we know it’s time when it’s bucketing rain outside”. (In equally memorable fashion, when I brought up the comment on this visit, Stuart Hordern of Brokenwood didn’t miss a beat with his own quip: “sounds like he was a day late, mate”.)

Braemore Vineyard

The point is that the season is compact. Semillon is harvested at a potential alcohol of around 10%-11%, or it rots. The majority is fermented completely dry with little to no skin contact in stainless steel, and bottled young with no exposure to oxygen. The result is a bone dry, low alcohol, high acid (low pH) wine with slim body and slight structure, vaguely fruity (unless some aromatic yeast strain is used to make a sauvignon blanc look-alike, but left to it’s own devices, semillon is a far less aromatic variety). According to the textbooks, this, like most light, dry, reductively-made wines (in the absence of oxygen) should be in the DYA category, a “drink youngest available” sort of proposition. What could such a wine possibly gain over time? The answer, in this case, is everything.

Back to Ageing Basics

The understanding of the mechanisms of wine ageing has progressed considerably in the last couple of decades, though the mystery is far from fully unraveled. Numbers alone do not tell the whole story. There’s the science of wine, and then there’s the reality of wine.

According to conventional wisdom, phenolics, acid/pH, sugar and alcohol are the key components that modulate the ageability of wine. Complex polyphenolic compounds, mostly tannins and colour pigments extracted from grape skins, are what give (mostly red) wines their “structure”. But more importantly, according to researchers, polyphenols are anti-oxidants, which is to say they scavenge and neutralize oxygen molecules that inevitably make their way into wine, preventing them from doing their nefarious work of oxidizing everything else. The more polyphenols, the more soldiers in the war on oxygen. This explains why red wine, which is made by soaking skins in the juice and thus richer in polyphenols, is by and large more ageworthy than white wine made with little or no skin contact.

Acidity, and closely related pH, are also critical for wine’s longevity. Generally the more acid (lower pH), the better for long term cellaring. Like oxygen, acids are responsible for catalyzing a whole series of reactions that create new aromas/flavours from existing “precursors” (stuff already present in grape must/wine). The pH level sets the tempo in which these reactions unfold. Lower pH also makes wine inhospitable to spoilage organisms (yeasts and bacteria) that would otherwise hasten a wine’s demise, or at least send it terribly sideways.

The preservative effects of alcohol are well known. The discovery sometime in the 18th century (or perhaps even earlier) that a generous shot of brandy added to casks of wine would “fortify” (i.e. stabilize and protect) them for long sea journeys under sub-optimal cellaring conditions, to say the least, quite literally changed the world of wine. And sugar, while a great source of nourishment for yeasts and bacteria, also seems to stabilize and slow the ageing process, while contributing a wide range of desirable traits in old sweet wines.

John Szabo and Brad Royale ready for Benchmark tasting. (photo: Damien Harrison, Brokenwood)

John Szabo and Brad Royale ready for Benchmark tasting. (photo: Damien Harrison, Brokenwood)

So, wine with all four of these elements in generous measure, like, say, a sweet, fortified wine such as vintage Port or especially Madeira, are certainly good bets for forgetting in the cellar. Conversely, wine with none or just one of these elements usually heads downhill straight after bottling. Hunter Valley semillon, propped by nothing but acidity, should fall apart.

It’s important to note at the same time that all of these elements can be added to any wine. Tannins come in convenient powdered form that can be dosed into wine at will. Acid, too, can (and is regularly) added by the bag-full into vats of wine to raise total acidity and lower pH. Sweetness is an easy fix, usually in the form of concentrated grape must added to adjust a wine’s flavor profile before bottling. And when added in its crystallized form during fermentation, in an old technique called Chaptalization (a bag of standard Redpath will do) you can subsidize nature’s shortfall and boost a wine’s final alcohol level, if dumping brandy into the wine seems too drastic.

Other techniques can improve a wine’s potential for ageing, such as clarifying juice (by settling, centrifuging) before fermentation begins, thereby essentially removing many of the compounds that will otherwise oxidize somewhere down the line. Critical decisions around bottling can also make a big difference, namely dosing out sulphur dioxide, the great wine preserver, or in many cases, particularly with white wine, bottling with some dissolved carbon dioxide, either natural CO2 from fermentation still trapped in the wine, or added on the bottling line, which keeps oxygen at bay. Closure, too makes all the difference, ranging from synthetic cork (the worst, which allows the most oxygen in), to cork (with huge variability in “oxygen transmission rate” – generally the longer the cork the less oxygen gets in), to near oxygen-proof Stelvin screw caps.

Brokenwood bottles

So, with all of the possible chemical tinkering and other techniques that can be used to extend shelf life, would it not be possible to tailor-make a wine for long-term cellaring? By this logic, even the most humble wines made by a competent winemaker who knows basic chemistry should be able to survive as long as the grandest of cru classé Bordeaux. But this is patently not the case.

The Anti-democratic Nature of Wine

Here’s where science get’s left behind and the magic comes in. The amazingly complex biochemical stew that is wine is an entirely a dynamic system. Everything affects every other thing. Many, but certainly not all, of the reactions are known. Measuring, and therefore predicting the outcome of ageing is staggeringly complex, and programming it reliably is beyond the grasp of current wine science.

Mount Pleasant Lovedale

What is clear is that a natural balance and relative abundance of these elements is what makes wine ageworthy. In other words, there’s no substituting what nature provides. Competent farming is thus a sine qua non, but it also follows that only certain regions have the right basic conditions to yield naturally balanced grapes, which stand a chance of being turned into ageworthy wine. As I’ve said before, the wine world is profoundly undemocratic; try as you might, if your region is too hot, cold, wet, dry, cloudy or sunny, you are naturally disadvantaged from the get-go (and you’ll probably have to tinker in the winery). If on the other hand the climate is conducive to yielding fully ripe grapes with a balance of components, naturally, then you have no excuses.

There are also un-measurable elements that work mysteriously to lengthen a wine’s lifespan. One of these is genuine flavor concentration, the kind that comes often, but not exclusively, from low yields and old vines. I call it the “invisible force shield of flavour” that protects wines, ensuring that they don’t just survive, but also improve over time. In other words, a wine needs stuffing. That’s why not all wines from great regions age well – it takes some effort, and expense, to get the stuffing in.

Then there’s the contribution of the soil – structure and chemistry, which is very difficult to quantify (especially chemistry). But yet, it’s as plain as day. Some vineyards naturally produce more ageworthy wines than adjacent ones, with the same macroclimate, and clones/rootstocks/vine age, farmed and vinified in precisely the same fashion. Call it the magic of terroir. Every winemaker with more than one site knows this. Swimming around in the biochemical soup of the greatest, most ageworthy wines is a group of unidentified vigilantes  – the mineral gang – coming to the aid of official forces to protect their turf from time.

The Lovedale vineyard, planted 1946

The Lovedale vineyard, planted 1946

All of which brings me back to Hunter Valley semillon. There’s something magic about the combination of grape and place that makes this wine so well suited to ageing, against all odds. The closest paradigm is riesling (there’s good reason why Hunter semillon was called Hunter Riesling for years before the days of official appellations), with the difference that riesling is aromatic and can be enjoyed young. Hunter semillon is neutral and frankly boring before it’s 5th year. Acid is of course a big factor, as is SO2, CO2 and the almost exclusive use of screwcaps. But since none of these things are exclusive to the Hunter Valley, there has to be something more. It’s the ability to reach full ripeness (full flavour potential or phenolic maturity) at high acid/low pH (Champagne, Chablis, Mosel anyone?), thanks to high heat, regular cloud cover, free-draining sandy soils and no doubt a bunch of other unique factors that happen to suit semillon. You can harvest semillon in the Barossa Valley at 11% alcohol to approximate the Hunter style, but the flavours are green and the wines no where near as age ageworthy. As Stuart Hordern, senior winemaker for Brokenwood says quite simply, “you can’t fake it”.

Of course not all Hunter semillon ages gracefully for twenty years (and some wines have acid added to them, I was shocked to learn), but the overall track record of the majority proves the case. Then there are particularly special places, like Mount Pleasant’s extraordinary Lovedale vineyard, which only starts to get moving after a decade. According to winemaker Adrian Sparks, “Lovedale [planted in 1946] has a much lower pH at picking than younger vines, and also retains more of its natural acidity. And the naturally low cropping levels of these wines produce an intensity of fruit [and a large gang of mineral vigilantes] that can age for decades.” He’s not exaggerating. After a decade or so, great Hunter semillon blossoms from relative neutrality into a wildly unique and delicious mix of hot buttered toast slathered in honey, wrapped in a wool blanket and left in a spearmint patch.

So, extrapolating this knowledge to answer the age-old question: “which wines should I age”, my best advice is to check the track record of the region first, and then specific producer. You probably already knew that, but maybe understand now why it’s so important. This may sound unfair to young regions, but frankly without a minimum of 30-40 years history (15-20 for vineyards to mature, plus another 20 to see how wines age afterwards), it’s mostly speculative.

Buyers’ Guide: Hunter Semillon for the Cellar (or mature wines to enjoy now)

Note: availability varies across Canada, but pretty much any semillon from Brokenwood, Tyrrell’s and Mount Pleasant (McWilliams) is worth a look, and time in the cellar.

McWilliam’s 2007 Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon
Mcwilliams 2007 Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon
Brokenwood 2014 Hunter Valley Sémillon
Brokenwood 2009 Latara Vineyard Semillon
Tyrrell’s 2010 Vat 1 Hunter Semillon
Tyrrell’s 2013 Brookdale Semillon 2013

Mcwilliam's Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2007 Mcwilliams Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2007Brokenwood Hunter Valley Sémillon 2014 Brokenwood Latara Vineyard Semillon 2009Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon 2010 Tyrrell's Brookdale Semillon 2013

Read more on ageing in these great Wines & Vines articles What Really Makes Wine Age Well? and Winemakers’ Views On Why Wines Age by Tim Patterson.

At WineAlign we strive to provide some guidelines on ageing in our reviews – check the drink from/to dates – based on our knowledge of the region and experience with specific producers. But sometimes it’s an educated guess. Have you found any surprisingly ageworthy wines? Let us know in the comments section. (Another of mine is Muscadet.)

Oh, and lastly, once you have one of those ageworthy wines, make sure you store it properly. But that’s a whole other water cooler conversation.

That’s all for this Free Run. See you over the next (old) bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

Catena Malbec & Catena Cabernet Sauvignon

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Le Sud-Ouest – Au-delà des terroirs battus

par Marc Chapleau28 sep 2015


Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

Je n’ai pas vraiment hésité, quand on m’a demandé d’écrire un texte sur le Sud-Ouest.

Et ça n’a rien à voir avec le fait que j’ai déjà été — oh my god ! ça fait longtemps — intronisé dans l’Ordre de la Dive Bouteille de Gaillac. À l’époque du journal Voir, c’était. Tu te souviens, Dominique-Ann ? « Boivons, boivons, pâ-pom pâ-pom, boivons, boivons… ce saint clystèreeeeee de qualité, ohé ! » Et là, après avoir chanté devant un parterre d’invités endimanchés, il fallait faire cul sec avec un immense verre à vin bien rempli genre pot à fleurs ou aquarium, dans ces eaux-là. Épique, la soirée.

Mais trêve de sentimentalisme.

L’idée d’aborder le Sud-Ouest m’a souri d’emblée parce que c’est toujours agréable, pour nous autres chroniqueurs, de parler de vins et de régions moins bien connues et dans l’ombre, si on parle par exemple de la France, du Bordelais, de la Bourgogne, du Rhône et même du Languedoc. Même si, cela dit, il se vend à la SAQ moins de vins de la vallée du Rhône, de la Loire ou de l’Alsace que du Sud-Ouest.

Quel est le problème, alors ? Pourquoi, les ventes montrant pourtant le contraire, la notoriété de la région ne semble pas être ce qu’elle devrait être ? C’est à cause du nom, j’ai l’impression : une banale juxtaposition de points cardinaux. Voilà qui n’interpelle pas beaucoup, et qui ne fait pas vraiment rêver.

Ajoutons un peu d’eau au moulin. Nommez-moi la ville centre de cet important vignoble. Pas évident, n’est-ce pas ? Même bibi, pourtant rompu à ces pirouettes géographico-municipales, je ne suis pas certain. Toulouse ? Vérification faite, oui, c’est bien elle.

Et cependant, malgré cette méconnaissance, malgré cette situation pour ainsi dire en demi-teinte par rapport aux autres grands vignobles français, le Sud-Ouest propose des vins particuliers, à la fois originaux, généreux et souvent droits comme des i, qui incitent à la découverte.


Beaucoup de cépages autochtones

Car les atouts de la région sont bien palpables. À commencer par le réservoir de cépages autochtones qu’elle constitue, dont certains, le lauzet et le camaralet, tous deux aux arômes épicés, ont été réintroduits il n’y a pas si longtemps à Jurançon. Il y a aussi les valeurs sûres, depuis longtemps utilisées : le mauzac et le len de l’el (« loin de l’œil » en langue d’oc, ainsi appelé parce que la grappe pend loin du bourgeon du fait d’un pédoncule plus long — vous me suivez ?), le mauzac et l’autre bigleux disais-je, deux cépages blancs du Gaillacois ; le fer servadou, de la famille des carmenets comme le cabernet-sauvignon et utilisé en assemblage à Saint-Mont, Gaillac et Madiran mais presque à 100 % à Marcillac, où il est souvent appelé mansois ; le courbu, associé aux mansengs [man-sein] grand et petit de même parfois qu’à l’arrufiac pour donner les moelleux d’appellation jurançon et pacherenc-du-vic-bilh [pache-rinque-du-vic-bile] ; et aussi bien sûr la négrette, cultivée pour l’essentiel autour de Toulouse et qui entre dans l’élaboration des vins du Frontonnais.

Sans oublier, évidemment, les autres cépages emblématiques que sont le tannat à Madiran et le malbec à Cahors.

Des rouges moins tanniques qu’avant

À ce propos, il s’est passé une sorte de révolution dans le secteur du Madiran et celui de Cahors, au tournant des années 2000.

Les vins de ces deux régions, des rouges, demeurent toujours relativement costauds mais ils sont désormais en quelque sorte plus amènes, moins tanniques. Les vignerons s’organisent en effet pour vinifier de manière à ne pas accentuer l’astringence naturelle, sans pour autant renier la personnalité des vins.

Résultat : les madirans, cahors et cie sont toujours des vins de repas par excellence, auxquels la nourriture riche et roborative va comme un gant — les magrets et les confits, notamment. Mais, ils sont plus accessibles en jeunesse, on n’a pas, comme avant, à attendre une bonne dizaine d’années pour qu’ils s’assagissent.

On trouve aussi des blancs secs, des blancs moelleux, des blancs liquoreux et des rosés, dans le Sud-Ouest.

Les jurançons d’Henri Ramonteu et de Charles Hours, par exemple, continuent à briller, tandis que les pacherenc-du-vic-bilh — la version en blanc des madirans —, ceux d’Alain Brumont, notamment, font d’excellents compagnons de table entre autres avec les fromages de la région : bleu des Causses, ossau-iraty, tomme des Pyrénées, etc.


Y aller

De mon dernier passage là-bas dans le Sud-Ouest, j’ai rapporté quelques bonnes adresses.

Mais d’abord, pour traverser l’Atlantique et choisir un bon point de chute pour sillonner le vignoble, Toulouse est bien indiquée (surtout via un vol direct avec Air Transat). On peut aussi atterrir à Bordeaux ou à l’aéroport Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrénées (en transitant par Orly).

Suggestions pour l’hébergement — et outre le désormais incontournable Airbnb : l’hôtel Central, à Pau, un sympathique deux-étoiles au très bon rapport qualité-prix et situé au coeur de la ville. À Cahors, l’Inter-Hôtel de France, un trois-étoiles près du fameux pont Valentré. Ou sinon, à Cahors toujours mais en périphérie, on peut s’offrir le grand chic au restaurant-hôtel du Château de Mercuès, établi dans une forteresse du 13e siècle.

Le tourisme : Rocamadour et Saint-Cirq-Lapopie sont deux très beaux villages historiques du Sud-Ouest, accrochés sur des falaises. J’ai personnellement préféré Saint-Cirq [saint-cirre], plus paisible et plus coquet bien que très fréquenté aussi.

À boire, aubergiste !

Voici une série de bons rouges du Sud-Ouest, pour l’essentiel sélectionnés à partir d’une dégustation organisée par l’agence Sopexa, qui veille aux intérêts des vins de la région, notamment au Québec.

Château Eugénie 2011 Cahors (15,95 $) : À petit prix, un cahors très satisfaisant, déjà fondu et prêt à boire, rien de complexe ni de compliqué mais on ne va pas chipoter, la matière est là, et ça goûte bon tout en étant conforme aux normes de l’appellation.

Domaine Rotier Renaissance 2011 Gaillac (22,15 $) : Violacé moyen, nez attrayant de fruit bien mûr, des notes épicées ; un rouge mi-corsé, souple en bouche mais avec du tonus, une bonne acidité. Convaincant, et rafraîchissant, sans être dépourvu de longueur.

Château Eugénie 2011Domaine Rotier Gaillac Renaissance 2011Causse Marines Les Peyrouzelles 2013Château De Haute Serre Malbec 2009

Causse-Marines Les Peyrouzelles 2013 Gaillac (21,15 $) : Violacé plutôt pâle, un peu de réduction au nez, d’assez intenses notes de cuir et de poivre blanc. Bouche à l’avenant, un brin « sauvage », résolument épicée jusqu’à la finale. Mi-corsé par ailleurs, et un léger reste de gaz carbonique. Original et rafraîchissant.

Château de Haute-Serre 2009 Cahors (25,25 $) : Un cahors qui a bien vieilli, a caractère fondu, en souplesse, cependant que le vin demeure charpenté et avec une solide dose de fruit. Tout à fait à point, bref, et on aime bien l’amertume finale, qui appelle la nourriture.

Château Bouscassé 2010 Madiran (21,25 $) : Très madiran, très tannat, tannique c’est dire, mais avec une bonne assise acide, qui apporte de la fraîcheur. Le vin demeure toutefois pour l’heure monolithique, bien qu’il ait déjà cinq ans bien sonnés. À carafer plusieurs heures à l’avance, ou à mettre de côté quelques années.

Château Montus 2010 Madiran (30,25 $): Profondeur manifeste dès l’étape du nez, il y a du bois, c’est normal, mais aussi beaucoup de fruit. La bouche suit, bien bâtie, bien serrée, avec de la minéralité. Déjà très bon, et un excellent candidat pour la cave (horizon 2018-2020).

Château Bouscassé Madiran 2010Château Montus 2010Château Les Hauts D'aglan Cuvée A Cahors 2009Château Montauriol Tradition 2013

Château Les Hauts d’Aglan Cuvée A 2009 Cahors (26,95 $) : De la complexité au nez, des accents herbacés également, réglissés aussi. Bouche à l’avenant, concentrée et fondue, en souplesse.

Château Montauriol Tradition 2013 Fronton (15,40 $) : Caractère engageant au nez, très sur le fruit ; saveurs à l’avenant, pas très corsées, nerveuses, tout en fruit. Rien de compliqué, mais on en a pour son argent, vraiment.

Santé !


P.S. L’équipe de Chacun son Vin s’est réunie il y a quelques semaines, le temps d’une dégustation de vins du sud-ouest de la France.
Pour voir la gamme complète des vins goûtés, cliquez sur : Les vins du Sud-Ouest de la France

Note de la rédaction: vous pouvez lire les commentaires de dégustation complets en cliquant sur les noms de vins, les photos de bouteilles ou les liens mis en surbrillance. Les abonnés payants à Chacun son Vin ont accès à toutes les critiques dès leur mise en ligne. Les utilisateurs inscrits doivent attendre 60 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de bons vins !

Les vins sud ouest france

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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008