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WineAlign passes 5,000 registered users

Yesterday morning we had our 5,000th person register for WineAlign.   We think this is a significant threshold and we are happy with our recent growth (we’ve grown by 28% in the month of  November alone!).  We want to thank all of our users, and a special thank you to those who took the time to provide us feedback on the site.

Our vision is simple:  We want to provide consumers with the most accurate and objective information available to make better wine purchase decisions.   We feel that by collecting the opinions of multiple top critics we can create a consensus view on wine and, on balance, help you find better wine for your money.

Mark Evans was one of our early social media consultants on the project and has a write up on this milestone.

We continue to actively develop our wine community.   We encourage anyone with any questions or suggestions to send us their feedback.  We are building this service for YOU, simply let us know what you want!

Filed under: News

Newfoundland Wine Scene is Progressive – by David Lawrason

Travels across Canada this fall with the Gold Medal Plates Olympics fundraising program have confirmed that we are several nations when it comes to retailing of wine. And I just can’t believe that Canadians are so different in their needs and tastes to warrant such varied and arbitrary treatment. Nor that we should be restricted from shipping and buying wine across provincial boundaries, which is a real detriment to showcasing Canada’s best wines coast to coast.

Government retailing authorities still exist in all provinces except Alberta, but private retails of imported wine now co-exist in five of Canada’s ten provinces (BC, AB, MB, QC, NS).

NLCMy most recent sojourn was to Newfoundland, where the government still runs a liquor and wine monopoly, but where there is obviously some forward thinking. Two thirds of the stores are actually privately run agency stores dictated to sell core Newfoundland Liquor Commission (NLC) listings, but they also have some flexibility to list some wines selected outside the central buying program; just enough of a window to make them responsive to local community needs.

I visited the flagship NLC store in St. John’s, an outlet responsible for over 15% of the sales in the province. It is almost as large as the largest in Toronto. It’s bright and clean if a bit sterile, with a wine selection rivalling the best in the country. And it is located – like most new NLC stores – adjacent to a large supermarket. Makes perfect sense to me, but inside the supermarket would be better.

In-store shelving is logical and helpful. Within will signed regional sections, all wines regardless of price and stock levels are displayed side by side (as is also done in B.C.), so that consumers know where they are buying along the price/quality curve.  The least expensive wines tend to be on lower shelves, more expensive higher up at eye-level, to promote up-selling.

Also, as in B.C., there is no separate “specialty” or “Vintages” area, nor bi-monthly releases of new products. Brands ebb and flow with those that sell better likely to be re-purchased. Some very expensive wines are behind glass within the rare wine area at the back of the store. I was most impressed here to see vertical collections of some of top wines.

VinomaticThe niftiest thing in the store is a self-serve “vinomatic” that dispenses sample tastings of about 20 different wines. You purchase a card, insert it in the machine, then press a button for the wine you want to taste. I put it through its paces tasting six wines, of which two showed oxidation despite being under gas (confirming my mistrust in these machines). I was told the selection is changed every five days.

My visit to St. John’s was not long enough for more in-depth study of the system, but the wine climate seems invigorated.  One local wine agent reported that the annual four-day wine festival in October drew capacity crowds.

Filed under: News, ,

Nov 21st Vintages Release – The No-Brainer Collection

The No-Brainer Collection

“After extolling the great value the wine world is now awash in all through the year, it comes time again to consider the world’s best-known luxury-priced wines, annually trotted out by Vintages for gifting season. The line-up for Saturday’s release reads like the roster for the New York Yankees. Call it the No-Brainer George Steinbrenner Collection, and it can be yours, as long as your bank account plumbs deep enough. One trip to the store with a blank cheque will give you an instant showpiece cellar (although it will be missing top Bordeaux and Burgundy, which remain lodged in the on-line obscurity of Vintages Classics and Exclusive programs). California weighs in big with icons like Opus OneChateau Montelena Cabernet and Caymus Special Selection. Italy struts Solaia and the ultra-refined Luce. Australia brandishes D’Arenberg Dead Arm and the stunning Elderton Command Shiraz. From France, Beaucastel 2007 is one of the most impressive in years. And this year Ontario’s top guns stand confidently alongside the terrific Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos 2007 Pinot Noir and Tawse 2007 Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc.

It was great fun to taste all these wines (not hard to get out of bed that day), and for the most part they live up to their hype, with a rash of mid-90s scores. The tasting also confirmed that the other, less expensive wines we encounter all year do not usually deserve ratings that are prone to creeping inflation. There is definitely a price-quality relationship threaded through the global wine world, and sometimes it is just as comforting to confirm that as it is exciting, and sometimes depressing, to find the exceptions – which remains Job One as consumer critic. Dave’s Faves (formerly David’s Half Dozen) sorts through this huge release to separate my top three icon picks and top three values from the rest of the pack, with full reviews of the other 122 at WineAlign. Take your financial pulse then head to Vintages Saturday.”

–  David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign
Click here to see ranked lists and reviews of over 100 wines in this release.

KURT DARTING 2007 RIESLING KABINETT Dürkheimer Michelsberg, Pfalz, Germany, $16.95 91pts

Barossa, South Australia $89.95  97pts

LUCE DELLA VITE 2006 LUCE Tuscany, Italy $99.95  95pts

Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula $70.00  93pts


Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina $17.95  91pts

Russian River Valley, Sonoma County  $21.95  90pts

Filed under: News, , , , ,

WineAlign Acquires WineAccess’ First-In-Line eReport

    TORONTO – Nov. 18, 2009 – WineAlign today announced that they have acquired the First-In-Line eReport business from RedPoint Media, the publishers of Wine Access magazine. The First-In-Line eReport, authored by Master Sommelier and one of Canada’s most well respected Wine Critics, John Szabo, provides subscribers with advanced commentary reviews and recommendations for all LCBO Vintages Releases. John Szabo, will continue to work on the First-In-Line service going forward as a member of the impressive group of WineAlign professional wine critics.

    “We are delighted to welcome all of John’s First-In-Line subscribers to the WineAlign community,” said Bryan McCaw, president of WineAlign. “WineAlign will continue to provide all First-In-Line customers with advanced reviews and recommendations for all Vintages releases as well as access to 1000s of reviews from multiple professional critics.”

Filed under: News

Six Solid Wineries from Argentina – by David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

If price is all the matters drink Fuzion at $7.45.  Tens of thousands do and it is actually decent value. But there are better values under $10 from Argentina when you factor quality into your thinking.  And of course Argentina is capable of much better beyond the $10 threshold. The nation’s wine quality and value cannot be doubted, and in a moment six wineries doing a great job in this regard.

They were among 26 wineries at the Argentina wine fair at the Design Exchange in Toronto in early November. The event itself was yet another example of far too much wine in too short a time, but with nose to the glass it was possible to focus, somewhat. Thank goodness organizer Monica Ralphs gave media a private run through a wide range of malbecs before the main event.  I was also able to have dinner later with Luis Cabral de Almedia, winemaker at Finca Flichman, one of the leading producers of Mendoza.

Before my top six I want to quickly discuss a notion that Argentina is producing too much wine that is too similar. Is it the Achilles heel of the world’s 5th largest wine producing country?  In this arid land with its searing desert days, chilled mountain nights and pin-pointed irrigation, there is very little variation of climate and terroir, thus wine style.  The only real differential is vineyard altitude, which explains the land rush up the slopes of the Andes, and why producers like Flichman are stating altitude on their labels, and blending wines from varying altitudes.

I tasted the stylistic sameness of Argentine wine all afternoon – very ripe dense fruit, high alcohol, and dusty dry tannin.  There is a bluntness to many Mendoza wines once you get passed their density and volume. The problem is more significant for Argentina if the market place is indeed shifting from heavy, high alcohol reds to lighter, higher acid reds.  More than one colleague talked about Argentina being perfectly set up to fall into Australia’s trap once prices begin to rise and value begins to evaporate.

With styles being similar, one looks to individual producers and winemakers to define the differences, and there were six that stood out for me this day. Not that I managed to taste all 26.

Finca Flichman has been a favourite in recent years, a company mindful of Penfolds in Australia that has a knack for creating solid, big wines that also possess complexity, balance and flavour depth well beyond their price. From the basic Misterio 2008 Malbec (that at $7.95 duels with Fuzion in the bargain basement) to the fine Expresiones range (currently on last legs after Sept. release at Vintages), to the deep yet very elegant Dedicado, there isn’t a single Flichman wine that isn’t worth almost double its price (not that I advocate sudden price hikes). When I discovered that winemaker Luis Cabrial de Almeida was originally the winemaker at Sogrape in Portugal the light went on.

Pascual Toso Malbec

Pascual Toso Malbec

Pascual Toso also has a hot hand, the style being a bit more svelte, feminine and fruity than Flichman, but also possessing depth and balance beyond its price. On the LCBO general list, the 2007 Malbec2007 Merlot and 2008 Sauvignon Blanc all over deliver at $12.95.  The Reserve Cabernet 2006 was another hit now sold out at Vintages and the 2008 Malbec Reserve which is en route is also very good. So what is the winemaking strength behind Toso?  Could be the consultancy of Californian Paul Hobbs who has specialized in Mendoza for many years, as well as having his own winery in Sonoma. (He has also just signed with Stratus in Niagara).

Nieto Senetiner was the surprise of the day at the Argentine fair. There have had spot listings in Vintages the past, but nothing currently shows at the LCBO (agent is Cipelli Wines).  At only $11.95 the 2008 Malbec was the best value of the day, with classic floral, blackberry malbec fruit aromas set in a fine, firm structure. And at $17.95 the Don Nicanor 2007 from 40 year old vines was a gentle giant, with girth and depth worth more like $30. Consulting winemaker here is Italy’s Alberto Antonini.

Another winery that impressed is Trivento, which has been through Vintages in the past and has a real gem coming down the pipe January 10th.   At this tasting the focus shifted away from malbec to syrah, and the unbelievable good value 2008 Reserve Syrah ($12.95, 90 pts) with all kinds of pepper, licorice and dark fruit.  A 2008 Syrah Malbec ($12.95, 85 pts) was a bit meaty on the nose, but might come around.   The winemaking connection here is back to parent company, Concha Y Toro of Chile, which in my mind is making some of the most varietally correct and delicious wines in the world.

Luigi Bosca Reserva Malbec 2006

Luigi Bosca Reserva Malbec 2006

Luigi Bosca tilts to a Euro style – less opulently fruity than Trivento or Toso above, with a leather, spice and peppery notes taking the spotlight. But as with Nieto Senetiner the structure is what really counts; admirable density supported by firm acidity and tannin and sense of elegance. The 2006 Malbec Reserva ($17.95, 89 points) looks to be sold out, but a slate of six others are coming in January and February.

And what’s a wine fair without at least one brand new star. For me it was Bodega NQN from Patagonia with a delicious 2006 Coleccion Malbec that spoke real finesse, abetted by great French oak. Stylistically it was clearly not from Mendoza, but it had surprising poise and structure from vineyards not yet 10 years of age.  It was not represented in Ontario when the fair opened, but I bet it is now.

Filed under: News

Wines Spectator Top 100 Wines of 2009

Score Release Price
1 Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Reserve 2005 95 $27


2 Numanthia-Termes Toro Termes 2005 96 $27 [ ]
3 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau 2007 95 $70 [ ]
4 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2007 95 $52 [ ]
5 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Castello di Brolio 2006 96 $54 [ ]
6 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Signature 2006 94 $42 [ ]
7 Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco 2005 96 $44 [ ]
8 Fontodi Colli della Toscana Centrale Flaccianello 2006 99 $110 [ ]
9 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley 2007 96 $29 [ ]
10 Brancaia Toscana Tre 2007 93 $20 [ ]
11 Poggio Il Castellare Brunello di Montalcino 2004 96 $50 [ ]
12 Saxum Broken Stones Paso Robles 2006 96 $45 [ ]
13 Fattoria di Felsina Toscana Fontalloro 2006 95 $52 [ ]
14 Two Hands Shiraz Barossa Valley Bella’s Garden 2007 94 $60 [ ]
15 Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Brunello di Montalcino Castelgiocondo 2004 95 $65 [ ]
16 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino 2004 97 $65 [ ]
17 Carlisle Syrah Russian River Valley Papa’s Block 2007 98 $43 [ ]
18 Argyle Extended Tirage Willamette Valley 1999 95 $60 [ ]
19 Landmark Syrah Sonoma Valley Steel Plow 2006 94 $30 [ ]
20 Hall Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Kathryn Hall 2006 96 $75 [ ]
21 Neyers Chardonnay Carneros 2007 93 $29 [ ]
22 Tensley Syrah Santa Barbara County Colson Canyon Vineyard 2007 94 $38 [ ]
23 Lewis Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2007 95 $48 [ ]
24 Penfolds Shiraz South Australia St. Henri 2005 95 $65 [ ]
25 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Russian River Valley Reserve 2006 94 $40 [ ]
26 Cayuse Syrah Walla Walla Valley Cailloux Vineyard 2006 95 $65 [ ]
27 La Massa Toscana Giorgio Primo 2007 97 $65 [ ]
28 Brancott Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Reserve 2008 92 $18 [ ]
29 Chalone Chardonnay Chalone 2007 92 $25 [ ]
30 Sette Ponti Toscana Crognolo 2007 93 $35 [ ]
31 Domaine St.-Préfert Châteauneuf-du-Pape Collection Charles Giraud 2007 98 $75 [ ]
32 Bodega Colomé Malbec Calchaquí Valley 2007 92 $25 [ ]
33 Novelty Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2006 92 $25 [ ]
34 Joseph Swan Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Cuvée de Trois 2007 93 $28 [ ]
35 Viticcio Chianti Classico Riserva 2006 93 $32 [ ]
36 Efeste Syrah Red Mountain Ceidleigh 2006 93 $29 [ ]
37 Petrolo Toscana Torrione 2007 94 $40 [ ]
38 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills Canoe Ridge Estate 2006 92 $28 [ ]
39 Yalumba Viognier Eden Valley 2008 92 $19 [ ]
40 Château Haut-Bages-Libéral Pauillac 2006 92 $39 [ ]
41 Kumeu River Chardonnay Kumeu Estate 2007 92 $35 [ ]
42 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007 97 $115 [ ]
43 Schild Shiraz Barossa 2007 92 $20 [ ]
44 The Royal Tokaji Wine Co. Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos Red Label 2005 94 $41 [ ]
45 Allram Grüner Veltliner Qualitätswein Trocken Kamptal Strassertaler 2007 93 $12 [ ]
46 I Greppi Bolgheri Greppicante 2007 92 $28 [ ]
47 Orin Swift The Prisoner Napa Valley 2007 92 $35 [ ]
48 Quinta do Vale Meão Douro Meandro 2006 92 $28 [ ]
49 Tenimenti Luigi d’Alessandro Syrah Cortona Il Bosco 2006 95 $70 [ ]
50 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Paso Robles 2006 93 $45 [ ]
51 Shoofly Shiraz Adelaide 2007 91 $14 [ ]
52 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir Hemel-en-Aarde Valley 2007 93 $44 [ ]
53 Celler Mas Doix Priorat Salanques 2006 92 $40 [ ]
54 Peter Lehmann Shiraz Barossa 2006 91 $16 [ ]
55 Trimbach Riesling Alsace 2007 91 $18 [ ]
56 Provenance Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2008 91 $19 [ ]
57 Viña Santa Rita Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley Medalla Real Special Reserve 2006 91 $20 [ ]
58 Red Car Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2007 94 $45 [ ]
59 Thorn-Clarke Shiraz Barossa James Goddard 2006 92 $33 [ ]
60 Spring Valley Uriah Walla Walla Valley 2006 93 $50 [ ]
61 Monte Antico Sangiovese-Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon Toscana 2006 90 $12 [ ]
62 Loosen Bros. Riesling QbA Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Dr. L 2008 90 $12 [ ]
63 Concha y Toro Carmenère Peumo Terrunyo 2006 92 $41 [ ]
64 Château Léoville Barton St.-Julien 2006 94 $75 [ ]
65 Paloma Merlot Napa Valley 2006 93 $54 [ ]
66 Barnard Griffin Riesling Columbia Valley 2008 90 $8 [ ]
67 Peter Michael Chardonnay Sonoma County Ma Belle-Fille 2007 95 $85 [ ]
68 Heartland Viognier-Pinot Gris South Australia 2007 91 $16 [ ]
69 Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec Mendoza 2007 91 $22 [ ]
70 St.-Michael-Eppan Pinot Grigio Alto Adige 2008 90 $15 [ ]
71 Bodegas Bilbainas Tempranillo Rioja Viña Zaco 2006 90 $15 [ ]
72 The Magnificent Wine Company Syrah Columbia Valley 2006 91 $20 [ ]
73 Jacob’s Creek Riesling South Australia Reserve 2008 90 $13 [ ]
74 Waterbrook Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Reserve 2006 91 $22 [ ]
75 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon-Villages Les Vignes de Bila-Haut 2008 90 $14 [ ]
76 Clos La Coutale Cahors 2007 90 $14 [ ]
77 King Estate Pinot Gris Oregon Signature Collection 2008 90 $17 [ ]
78 Gloria Ferrer Brut Sonoma County Sonoma NV 90 $20 [ ]
79 Livio Felluga Pinot Grigio Collio 2008 91 $24 [ ]
80 Argiano Toscana Non Confunditur 2007 91 $25 [ ]
81 Paolo Scavino Barolo Carobric 2005 95 $90 [ ]
82 d’Arenberg Shiraz McLaren Vale The Stump Jump 2008 90 $11 [ ]
83 Bodegas Juan Gil Jumilla 2006 90 $16 [ ]
84 Château Malmaison Moulis 2006 90 $18 [ ]
85 Domaine de Montvac Vacqueyras 2007 91 $21 [ ]
86 Mas du Soleilla Coteaux du Languedoc La Clape Les Bartelles 2007 92 $35 [ ]
87 Wittmann Riesling Qualitätswein Trocken Rheinhessen Westhofener S 2007 93 $48 [ ]
88 Churchill Touriga Nacional Douro 2007 91 $28 [ ]
89 Perrin & Fils Vinsobres Les Cornuds 2007 91 $22 [ ]
90 R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja White Viña Tondonia Reserva 1990 93 $49 [ ]
91 Four Vines Zinfandel Paso Robles Biker 2007 91 $25 [ ]
92 Tohu Pinot Noir Marlborough 2007 91 $30 [ ]
93 Bründlmayer Grüner Veltliner Qualitätswein Trocken Kamptal Langenloiser Berg-Vogelsang 2007 92 $38 [ ]
94 J.F. Gonon Pouilly-Fuissé Vieilles Vignes 2007 90 $30 [ ]
95 Louis Roederer Brut Champagne Premier NV 91 $43 [ ]
96 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou St.-Julien 2006 95 $145 [ ]
97 Evening Land Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills Seven Springs Vineyard 2007 92 $48 [ ]
98 Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne 2006 94 $150 [ ]
99 Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero 2006 91 $27 [ ]
100 Les Vins de Vienne Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Sotanum 2007 93 $66


Filed under: News, Wine

Bar Sign – Telling it as it is (some of the time)

Wine: How Classy People Get Hammered

Sign from bar on Queen St. West in Toronto

Courtesy of

Filed under: News

The Ottawa Crush by David Lawrason

The annual human crush known as the Ottawa Wine and Food Show was held last weekend at Lansdowne Park in the nation’s capital. At peak hours Friday and Saturday night, it was a mass of throbbing bodies, young men and women turned out in their best mating wear, having one helluva good time at the cocktail party of the year. At some points it was so crowded there was no room for anyone to fall over drunk – they’d never have hit the floor. Which might have been why so many people were draped over each other.

Anyway, it was all good fun and very warm and fuzzy – unless you were an exhibitor who had spent a lot of money and an entire weekend in the hope of creating some brand recognition, just to end up slinging juice. More than one person lamented this to me. But there was also the balancing viewpoint from seasoned veterans that the afternoon periods on Friday, Saturday and Sunday were much more controlled and the audience more mature and interested than in years past. So it is really two shows in one – it’s just too bad that both have to be in the same spot.

New show owner, Joan Culliton, has taken some steps to address the issue and keep exhibitors happy, like creating the separate Tasting Gallery that ran Friday and Saturday from 5pm to 7pm. This offered better wines and substantial food to those willing to pay an additional one-time, up-front charge. It too got very crowded by 7pm, and several agents ran out of wine, but it was nothing like the seething mass downstairs.

To avoid the main floor Saturday night, I ducked into a seminar on Chilean wines hosted by friend and WineAlign colleague John Szabo. This was nicely done and caught the fun spirit of the evening, especially since it brought food into the mix. The wines were paired with the Spanish cuisine of Ottawa chef Rene Rodriguez, from a Byward Market restaurant called Navarra.


Chef Charlie Ayers

It was a stated aim this year to make food a larger part of the event, and this was best executed by Wines of California: they brought in chef Charlie Ayers, who oversees the kitchen at Calafia restaurant in Palo Alto and was the executive chef for Google until 2005. He presided at a bar-restaurant that was set up on the show floor where, for $30, show-goers could be seated and enjoy a three-course meal and matched wines, with running commentary on the dishes and pairings. Organizer Rick Slomka of the California Wine Institute admitted that the costs were high given the relatively few people who could be accommodated over the weekend, but he was adamant that it sent all the right messages about food and wine and that thousands who didn’t participate saw it going on. It laid out a vision for what these public shows could and should be.

I was there to do a couple of seminars in the Tutored Tasting area, on behalf of Wine Access magazine. I wonder if we shouldn’t banish that phrase from Ontario’s wine lexicon? Does anyone really want to be tutored these days? Not many it seems, because attendance was lacklustre – not just at my events, but for most of the tastings. At least one was cancelled. I’m not sure of the reason, but I expect lack of adequate promotion played a role. This one needs a re-think.

Finally, what were my wine picks of the show? I was asked several times but always had the same answer: I was simply not paying that much attention and certainly was not making notes. The atmosphere is just not conducive.

Having said that, I did taste three great buys in my Wine Access Value Wines Seminars: Marqués de Riscal 2008 Rueda from Spain, Concha Y Toro 2008 Casillero del Diablo Carmenère from Chile, and Boekenhoutskloof The Wolftrap 2007 from South Africa.

Marqués de Riscal 2008 Rueda

Marqués de Riscal 2008 Rueda

Concha Y Toro 2008 Casillero del Diablo Carmenère

Concha Y Toro 2008 Casillero del Diablo Carmenère

Boekenhoutskloof The Wolftrap 2007

Boekenhoutskloof The Wolftrap 2007

Filed under: News,

Joy to the World

“Okay, early November is a bit too soon for Christmas carols. In fact, Dec. 21 (which is just about when I start to think about Christmas shopping) would be okay by me as the official start of the Christmas season.  But Vintages is already rolling out the Holidays with an “affordable party wines” theme for its Nov. 7 release.  For the most part, the selection is well chosen, with wines that combine approachability, quality (with a number in the 87–90 point range), and value. All are under $20. I may have issues with the LCBO – including its right to exist –  but when buyers do their jobs well on our behalf they deserve recognition.  In traditional LCBO fashion, it is also a worldly selection (another thing our favourite monopoly does well), so that you can explore new regions and styles with some degree of comfort.  Underlying all this is the fact that winemaking is becoming so good, on a global scale, that the quality and value of wine just can’t help but go up. So it is truly the season of joy to the world for all who simply want a good glass of wine among family and friends. There are a few expensive, notable, and excellent wines in this release – like Italy’s legendary Sassicaia 2006, but it just doesn’t cut it at $180. Not because we are in a recession, but because what’s in the bottle doesn’t measure up. I have rated it 91 points, but at this price it should be a swooning 99. Elsewhere at the upper end, Cliff Lede 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa gets close to justifying its price ($68, 93 pts), as does Le Clos Jordanne 2007 Claystone Terrace Pinot Noir from Niagara ($40, 91 pts). But this time out, all selections in David’s Half Dozen are focused on value and affordability. The party is up to you.”

–  David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign
Click here to see ranked lists and reviews of over 100 wines in this release.


David’s Half Dozen

Yalumba Viognier 2008
Yalumba Viognier 2008,
Eden Valley, South Australia
$22.95  92 pts

Arboleda Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Arboleda Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Leyda Valley, Chile
$15.95  90pts

Zenato Lugana 2008
Zenato Lugana 2008, Doc San Benedetto Lombardy, Italy  $14.95  89pts


Les Vignerons Du Castelas Côtes Du Rhône 2007
Les Vignerons Du Castelas Côtes Du Rhône 2007
Rhone Valley, France
$13.95  90pts

Thorn Clarke Terra Barossa Cuvée 2007
Thorn Clarke Terra Barossa Cuvée 2007,
Barossa, Australia
$14.95  89pts

Château De Gourgazaud Cuvée Mathilde 2006
Château De Gourgazaud Cuvée Mathilde 2006
Minervois, France
$14.95  89pts

Filed under: Featured Articles, News, Wine, , , , , , ,

Masi 2006: The Five Star Vintage – by David Lawrason

Dr. Sandro Boscaini is a man smitten by wine – in particular the Veronese wines of his homeland in north eastern Italy.  The word passion is over-worked in winedom these days, but this gentleman has it bad.  He is also inquiring, restless, worldly and very intelligent – all of which has led to one innovation after another, and a great ability to educate and inspire and promote.

He recently presented a media tasting in the cavernous, temple-cellar of Aaron Barberian’s Steakhouse on Elm St in Toronto, focusing on Masi’s five star vintages, of which there have only been seven with the last in 1997.  It is not an official DOC vintage classification but detailed study of growing conditions, the appassimento process (see below) and the taste of the wine results in a dependable grading that many neighbours use.

Masi Costasera Amarone 2006

Masi Costasera Amarone 2006

Masi Campofiorin 2006

Masi Campofiorin 2006

Given the quality of his “basic” 2006 Costasera  Amarone and 2006 Campofiorin now available on Ontario’s general list, the classification seems to have nailed it.  Earlier this year when tasting for the Toronto Life Eating and Drinking Guide I noted that the 2006 Campofiorin “ was much improved over the previous vintage” with an 89 rating compared to 86 for the 2005.  Not bad for a $17 wine (see review here).

In tasting the Costesera 2006 in Barberians cellar I was moved by the elegance, depth and latent complexity to score it 91 (see review here).  Given the track record of the 1997 and 1995 vintages tasted alongside  the young’uns  are very much worth laying down for ten years or more, but they don’t need to be aged to enjoy them. The 1990 Costasera is a minor masterpiece with another decade to live.

Both the Costasera Amarone and Campofiorin are results of Boscaini’s innovative spirit.  Although he did not invent the appassimento technique of drying grapes to create amarone, he perfected it by regulating the environment as much as possible to prevent mould while the berries dry and shrivel for up to three weeks after harvest, concentrating sugar and flavour. He also makes seven different amarones including the expensive single vineyard labels like Massano, Vaio Armaron, and Camplolongo di Torbe.

Sandro Boscaini is currently very concerned about a dilution of the image of amarone, with which I concur.  In tasting amarone over the past couple of years at Vintages lab I have often been disappointed.  From under 20 amarone producers a generation ago there are now over 250, and Boscaini and others are so concerned about the lowering of the quality that they have formed a new association of family producers with standards that far surpass those of the DOC.

His greatest innovation however is Campfiorin, created in 1964. It was the prototype of the ripasso style, that beefs up and rounds off basic Valpolicella by re-fermenting the wine on the dried skins remaining after pressing amarone. It too has become incredibly popular and prevalent in the marketplace, with some of the same dilution of quality present.  (Ripasso and Amarone are  separate categories on WineAlign so you can isolate all those currently in the market.)

In other achievements he has rescued and promoted indigenous, virtually extinct Veronese grape varieties and  he has combined native and French varietals in wines like Masianco, a delicious white. He has lead Verona in modernizing basic table wines like the charming Modello white and red.

His work also extends beyond Italy, including the delicious Masi Passo Doble of Argentina, a ripasso blend of corvina and malbec.  And he is sharing his expertise in many other countries.  He provided advice and research material to Len Crispino of Niagara, who using appassimento techniques on a wide variety of white and red grapes at a new winery called A Foreign Affair.

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008