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Vintages Preview for Jan 9th release (First-In-Line eReport) – by John Szabo

John Szabo

Happy New year!

As the last bubbles of champagne burst and fade away like early morning dreams in the hazy distance of memory, the first release of the new year brings a sobering dose of reason, that is, reasonable prices. The customary ‘good value’ lineup has been trotted out by the LCBO, designed to keep you imbibing though the pocket book be little slimmer (even though you may not be). And also as expected, the countries with a reputation for offering a solid mouthful for a fair a price top the list of the top ten smart buys, namely places like Chile and Australia. Benign climates and low production costs mean that decent wine can be made for prices well below those of countries with more variable, marginal climates and higher labour and production costs. While the New World generally has the edge in this category, you’ll also notice a couple of Old World countries in the top ten list: Portugal and Greece. Both of these wine producing nations are in the fringe of consumer consciousness, but should certainly front of mind for savvy consumers looking for a more traditional flavour profile at attractive prices.
All in all, there is more than enough sunshine-filled wines to choose from to keep you satisfied through the coldest months, while you await the return of verdant landscapes promised by the ancient pagan symbol of an evergreen tree in your living room.

Top Ten Smart Buys:

10. 2008 PAÇO DE TEIXEIRÓ BRANCO Vinho Regional Minho $12.95 *** (87 pts)
9. 2007 LOS VASCOS CABERNET SAUVIGNON Colchagua $13.95 *** (88 pts)
8. 2004 TSANTALI RESERVE RAPSANI AO $18.95 **1/2 (89 pts)
2006 GROVE STREET CABERNET SAUVIGNON Sonoma County $17.95 *** (89 pts)
6. 2007 ZEEPAARD SHIRAZ Western Australia $16.95 *** (89 pts)
2006 QUINTA DO RONCÃO RESERVA DOC Douro $13.95 *** (88 pts)
4. 2008 VIÑA MAIPO RESERVA CARMÉNÈRE Rapel Valley $12.95 *** (88 pts)
3. 2008 TABALÍ RESERVA SAUVIGNON BLANC Limarí Valley $12.95 *** (88 pts)
2. 2005 LA FÉE VIOLINE CAHORS AC $12.95 *** (88 pts)
1. 2008 D’ARENBERG THE STUMP JUMP GRENACHE/SHIRAZ/MOURVÈDRE McLaren Vale, South Australia $14.95 *** (89 pts)


John Szabo

You can see all of John’s reviews for the almost 100 wines in January 9th Vintages release here.

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , ,

The New Wine Map 2010 – By John Szabo

John Szabo

Every new vintage changes the world’s winescape. Winners and losers are fashioned by weather, wine trends and market whims. New regions distinguish themselves, classics are re-established or plummet in popularity. What was new becomes old and what was unknown becomes hot. It’s my job to track those changes, and here’s a short list of next year’s countries, regions and wines to watch.


Loyal readers are already tuned in to great Canadian wine, but this year saw some major upheavals that will change things for the better still. First there was the CIC debacle. In case you missed it, the ball got rolling when the story was broken that Vincor, our largest wine company and official sponsor for the Vancouver Olympics, would be passing off non-Canadian wine to unsuspecting consumers using the perfectly legal but devilishly misleading “Cellared in Canada” designation for their Olympic wine, Esprit. These wines can contain up to 70% foreign grapes and still qualify as “Cellared in Canada”, which appears to all but the seriously pedantic as “Canadian” wine. Major embarrassment for Vincor, Olympic organizers, and Canada. They’ve since agreed to put only VQA (100% local) wine into Esprit.

But the PR fiasco, along with irreconcilable differences with 100% VQA producers, have led Vincor and the 6 other major companies dependent on CIC revenues to withdraw from the Wine Council of Ontario, the industry’s promotional organization. With them goes 20% of the WCO’s promotional budget. But the WCO may finally be cured of its split personality disorder, the mutually exclusive agendas of satisfying both the gods of CIC (more powerful) and VQA (only demi-gods, financially). Now the WCO can get down to promoting local juice exclusively. Labeling and signage in provincial monopoly stores will also be tidied up (a clear separation between VQA and ‘international blends’), and consumers will finally no longer (we hope) be duped.  Now we can focus on our great Canadian wines; check out for the results of the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards.

South Africa

FIFA World Cup fever hits South Africa next June, when the world’s attention will be squarely focused on the Cape. Local wine producers know that this is their 15 minutes, so expect dozens of over-delivering values from the bottom to the top shelf. If you’re traveling to see the Cup, you can have wines matched up with the Big 5 game animals. Yes, that’s right. Wines of South Africa has undertaken to train 2010 front line servers by 2010 to deliver the message of SA wine to football fans, a tall order, considering that few locals have any wine knowledge. But WOSA has devised a clever training program in which the major grapes are compared with African animals to make wine more accessible, a way of teaching that makes sense to the African wine un-educated. Doesn’t cabernet sauvignon remind you of elephants? Huge, thick hide, lives for a long-time, long backbone, king of animals… Or Shiraz, the rhino of the wine world, the feisty, spicy one with the horn…

South Africa is already known as a source of hot values, from the traditional areas of Stellenbosch and Franshhoek to more cutting edge regions like the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Elgin, and the dry-farmed vineyards of Swartland. I’m betting on crisp sauvignon blanc, characterful chenin Blanc and innovative Rhône-style red and white blends to win the crowds over.


Dog stranglers, fly droppings, little rats, sheep’s tails and bastards are just a few of the over 350 evocatively-named grapes from this sliver of the Iberian Peninsula to try out. Remember that Portugal pretty much checked out of the 20th century politically speaking, and thus thankfully avoided the industrialization and globalization that took place in the rest of post-war Europe. Chard, cab and co. are thankfully just footnotes in vineyard registers here, and indigenous grapes have pride of place. Some of the vineyards in traditional areas like the Douro Valley and Dão look as though they haven’t changed in a century. Maybe that’s because they haven’t. Ancient vines in mixed plantations, the way grandpa used to do it, means that distinctive, uniquely flavoured and densely concentrated wines are commonplace, and sold at no-name (or at least, what-the-hell-is-that?) pricing. Look to Vinho Verde for vibrant, sashimi and ceviche-friendly whites, Dão for finely etched, elegant reds, The Douro Valley for massively concentrated beauties (and of course port), and Alentejo and the Sétubal Peninsula for pocket-friendly, internationally appealing red and whites. And stop worrying about which bloody grapes and their precise percentages are in each blend. Many producers don’t know, and don’t care. All I care about is whether it tastes good and if it’s worth the money (yes is the answer to both generally).

John’s Essential Vintages Essentials:

2007 Hillebrand Trius Red, Niagara Peninsula, $21.95

2007 Malivoire Chardonnay Estate, Beamsville Bench, $19.95

2006 Cave Spring Indian Summer Select Late Harvest Riesling, Niagara Peninsula, $24.95/375ml

2007 Goats do Roam Red, Costal Region, South Africa, $12.95

2008 Crasto Vinho Tinto, Douro Valley, Portugal $14.95

2006 Quinta dos Carvalhais Duque de Viseu Dão Tinto, Portugal, $13.95

2006 Esporão Tinto Reserva, Alentejo, Portugal, $24.95

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , ,

Reluctantly into 2010 – by David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The end of 2009 is upon us. The last year has been so intense and consuming and exciting that I don’t quite want it to end; the busiest, most stimulating and rewarding of my 20+ years as a wine critic and educator.

The single most important reason has been WineAlign. It has been rejuvenating, and it has re-focused me on the simple goal of tasting and reviewing as much wine as possible, and presenting it in a new, exciting and meaningful format to thousands of people.  (See some newly added picks below).  By December 27, after just one year, we hit 6,000 registered users, far beyond the start up numbers for any wine writing project with which I have been involved.

WineAlign has also pulled me deeper into  social media and the online world; teaching me to use Google, Twitter, Facebook and blogging to greater effect. It would have been easy – as a long time newspaper and magazine writer – to dismiss all these new channels as chatter and noise. There is a lot of that, but these media are rapidly re-shaping my professional landscape and I am glad I have at least one foot on the running board.  Their information gathering and disseminating power is immense.

The other great pleasure of 2009 was travelling  often within Canada, and grasping the depth of the quality of our people, our food and our wine. As wine advisor to Gold Medal Plates – a culinary competition that has so far raised $3.5 million for Canadian Olympians –  I travelled to six cities and tasted the work of over 50 chefs, and 65 different winemakers.  Corporate events took me to other top restaurants across the land.  I fell in love with Quebec City and the Eastern Townships on a weeklong culinary excursion.  I could barely keep up with the flood of new wines on my doorstep in Prince Edward County, where the number of wineries is doubling to 30 in the 2009/2010 season. And a week in Niagara in December revealed an unending push to improve despite all the woe around surpluses and ruckus about Cellared in Canada wines.

I have used a lull over the holidays to add or update the vintages of about 50 LCBO general listings on WineAlign.  Many have been inexpensive reds, plus some sparklers and winter warming ports.

Warre’s 10 Year Old Otima Port

On Christmas day someone on Facebook asked what her friends were drinking that day.  I had several wines during a large family gathering, but I responded that none was a more perfect match than Warre’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port with a sticky toffee and  date cake.  Port is so sadly overlooked nowadays, perhaps because its sweet and high in alcohol (yet at 20% it’s only half that of spirits). But if you are not driving – as the vast majority are not  – what’s the downside?  Check out other easily available port buys at WineAlign by searching Graham’s and Taylor’s. My personal favourite is the Ferreira Dona Antonia, that bridges tawny and fruit port styles.

Pol Roger Extra Cuvée De RéserveI did some sparkling wine tasting as well, but nothing jumped out.  If there is one readily available French Champagne to take to a New Years celebration  I would make it Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve, which is elegant, generous and complex . It captures some of the glory and balance and subtlety of the world’s best bubbly region at a comparatively fair price.  Moet & Chandon 2003 Vintage Champagne is very fine indeed, but a stretch at $85 and on New Year’s Eve it’s subtlety will be completely missed.

The red wine tastings over the holidays were focused at a much more modest price level. Under $10, check out the following: Cusumano 2008 Nero d’Avola from Sicily,  Flichman 2008 Misterio Malbec from Argentina, Passion of Portugal 2008, and Long Flat Shiraz 2008 from Australia.  Over $10 look for Angus the Bull 2006 Shiraz from Australia and the Quinta dos Carvalhais 2006 Duque de Viseu from Portugal.

In the first week of 2010 watch for my reviews of the January 9 release, wherein almost no selections are over $20.

And may your New Years Eve and 2010  turn out exactly as you wish them to be.


Filed under: News, ,

Le Clos Jordanne Showcases 2007s – By Lesley Fraser

Lesley Fraser

There was considerable buzz in Toronto in anticipation of Le Clos Jordanne’s recent media launch of their 2007 wines at Sassafraz restaurant in Yorkville. With many winemakers and pundits calling the 2007 vintage the best Ontario vintage in living memory, all were keen to taste through the line-up of what is one of Ontario’s most exciting producers. (Reviews of those released through Vintages are at

Le Clos Jordanne  is the boutique lovechild of two global giants: Canada’s Vincor, now owned by Constellation Brands, and Burgundy’s powerful Boisset family. The unwavering goal from the beginning (first vintage 2003) was to produce wines that would rank among the world’s finest: Burgundian-style wines that express their unique Niagara terroir.  Armed with high standards and generations of tradition, LCJ approached the project from scratch: they bought the best sites they could find (thanks mother companies!) and planted Boisset clones, taking complete control of the wine from start to finish, without having to rely on or cajole contracted growers.

It was a treat to taste through the 2007s, not the least because winemaker Thomas Bachelder, his assistant viticulturalist and winemaker Sebastien Jacquey, and Jean-Charles Boisset are such engaging and informative presenters. They spoke with something close to awe about the 2007 vintage: warm and dry, the crop was smaller than normal and so were the grapes, ensuring flavour intensity and varietal character. Hot days and cool nights resulted in ripeness that’s balanced by fresh acidity and terrific aromatics, especially in the pinots. In the reds, the big tannins will need considerable time to resolve — these are definitely wines for the cellar.

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Pinot Noir 2007

In keeping with Burgundian tradition, we tasted the reds before the whites, starting with the Village Reserve. Bachelder sometimes refers to it as the “sacrificial lamb,” offering it up first to non-believers to prove what’s possible and prep them for what’s to come. From there we moved to the single vineyards: the muscular Talon Ridge, the perfumed La Petite Colline and the over-achieving Claystone Terrace (which often rivals Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard and neighbouring  Le Grand Clos). We finished with Le Clos and Le Grand Clos. Both are fantastic and neither is anywhere close to expressing its full potential. These are complex, elegant and distinguished wines that now set the bar for Ontario pinot.

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2007

The whites, although somewhat overshadowed by the pinots, are great expressions of what is possible in Ontario chardonnay. Again, we started with the Village Reserve, then moved through the Talon Ridge, Claystone Terrace, Le Clos and Le Grand Clos. Made in the traditional oxidative style of Burgundy (no stainless steel for these guys), they have Niagara’s typical perfume and more tropical fruit than you’d ever find in white Burgundy, but Bachelder hopes that trait will quiet down as the vines mature and develop more complexity. No more than 10–15% of the wine is aged in new oak – unlike many other new world producers who mask chardonnay’s character with excessive amounts of oak, LCJ uses new oak judiciously, as seasoning. For them the goal is to age the barrels till they’re a few years old — at which point the barrels work to preserve the intense minerality and acidity of the wines.

The 2008 and 2009 Vintages

Bachelder took time to discuss the newer vintages now in barrel at the winery.  The 2008 vintage was more difficult with plenty of rain at harvest, making it more typical of Niagara and perhaps Burgundy as well.  Careful viticulture and sorting was necessary, but Bachelder and Jacquey report that the perfume is explosive and there is great definition between the different vineyards. These will be wines for short- to mid-term cellaring.

David Lawrason of WineAlign tasted the 2008 range in early December from barrel and reports that the pinots are lighter weight and paler but show classic sour red fruit fragrance, and are built like 2006.  Although not released until 2010 they it could be a vintage to enjoy sooner than the top pinots from 2007. The whites from 2008 are racy, complex and very stylish – an exciting vintage.

Surprisingly, for those who lived through the 2009 vintage it is very promising. Despite the seemingly endless summer rain, September’s weather was ideal, and the fruit that was harvested was the cleanest Bachelder and Jacquey have ever seen – there was no rot whatsoever. The long, slow ripening was ideal for both the pinot and the chardonnay, and although they’ll need time in barrel to round off, they could prove to be classically old world in style.

David Lawrason reports that the colour, density and freshness of the 2009s make it one of the best vintages he has tasted. He predicts that debate will rage for years as to which is better – 2009 or 2007.

This is all very exciting stuff – to think that something already so good will only get better as LCJ continues to experiment and understand their vineyards, their acreage is maximized, and the vines get older and the vineyards articulate their distinct terroirs.

Filed under: Events, , , ,

The Grower Champagne Revolution – by John Szabo

John Szabo

Champagne is perhaps the most anomalous region in the world of wine. Certainly, at least, in the world of French wine. In complete contrast to the rest of France, which is divided and sub-divided into dozens and in some cases hundreds of appellations covering tiny patches of land with presumably distinctive characteristics, Champagne has just one single official AOC covering a massive 34,000ha. Compare that to the world’s other extreme, Burgundy, where there are over 450 AOCs for about a quarter of the acreage of champagne.

Clearly everyone inside and even many outside of the region is aware that not all of champagne’s vineyards are created equal. From the Marne Valley to the Montagne de Rheims or the Côtes des Blancs, soil and climate differences account for the planting of different varieties and the resulting variations in wine styles. Yet these variations rarely have the opportunity to be articulated on a bottle. The companies who control the region have little interest in officially parceling up the region into distinct AOCs.

Champagne is dominated by a handful of big names with big interests. The majority operates on the financial platform established by the strength of their non-vintage blends, made from grapes grown throughout the region in huge quantities running into the millions of bottles per annum. Creating new, more distinctive AOCs would only lessen the perceived value of these non-vintage cuvees, in the same way that generic bourgogne rouge or blanc sells for considerably less than a village or cru burgundy – how many producers can get $60 for their generic (imagine even non-vintage) bourgognes?

The trouble is, the only way to make a consistent house styles year after year in a marginal region like Champagne is to blend from as many grapes and parcels as possible (not to mention different vintage years). Consistency of style is, in fact, a point of pride for most houses, and consumers have come to rely on the standardized taste of the big non-vintage cuvees.

The négociant houses and the region’s cooperatives account for over 80% of the region’s wines between them, yet own only 12% of the vineyards. This means that the vast majority of their production is made from purchased grapes, under the complex price-structure put in place by the Inter-professional Committee of Champagne Wines (CIVC). There’s nothing inherently evil about making wine from purchase grapes, but it’s also not coincidental that virtually all of the world’s distinctive wines are made by passionate people who grow their own grapes.

The less well-known side of champagne is represented by the grower-producers, distinguishable from the negociants by the presence of the tiny letters “RM” on the label (Récoltant-Manipulant) as opposed to the letters “NM”, which stand for Négociant-Manipulant. Most of the growers operate small estates, farming their own parcels and producing their own wine. Since their vineyard holdings are almost always located in the same sub-region, their wines reflect the particular characteristics of their zone. That’s the definition of distinctive: different from the wines made by your neighbor next door, and vastly different from the wines made on the other side of a 34,000 hectare region. Individual personalities are allowed to show through in a way that a team of winemakers and board of directors could never allow when the stakes are so high. It also means different styles from year to year. Even the non-vintage wines of may growers actually come from a single harvest, since few have the means or indeed the space to store back vintages for later blending.

Let’s be clear: smaller doesn’t always mean better. In fact, many small producers suffer from a lack of capital and any economy of scale to invest in the latest equipment or top expertise and never reach their full potential. You may not even consider distinctiveness or variation from year to year a positive attribute in your champagne. But I encourage you to try them out and see for yourself. Here below are a couple well worth checking out:

NV R&L Legras Brut Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs

R&L Legras is the house pour in more Michelin 3 star restaurants than any other champagne house. This non-vintage is made from fruit from the Grand Cru village of Chouilly in the Côte des Blancs. The nose is clean, highly fragrant but delicate, with fresh croissant, white chocolate, and hazelnut aromas. The palate is bright and crisp, essentially dry, with tight acid and really fine yeasty, fresh, half-baked brioche flavours. A wine of great finesse for fans of the classic blanc de blancs style. 93 $55

2004 David Léclapart Blanc de Blancs L’Artist Premier Cru Extra Brut

Léclapart is a biodynamic producer from the village of Trépail with a maniacle devotion to his vineyards. He learned his trade from the legendary Anselm Selosse, biodynamic practioner and proselytizer for a totally natural way of farming. All wines chez Léclapart do malolactic, and are finished with zero dosage and no sulphur. The Artiste cuvee is fermented partly in stainless and part in barrel. This is all from the 2004 vintage, but it’s not declared as such on the label. This is a dramatically different style of champagne from the norm, with pure and precise green apple and wet stone aromas, almost more like Chablis with bubbles than champagne. This has a real vinous quality. The palate has vibrancy and intensity that goes beyond most of the wines in the category, with intense apple, mineral and fresh yeast flavours. A real tour de force that should age beautifully for a couple of decades or more. But be forewarned: these are not champagnes for everyone. They demand some serious intellectual exercise. 96 $120

2002 Guy Charlemagne Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs

Charlemagne’s cellar is across the street from Champagne Salon in Le Mesnil-sur-Ogier. For his 2002 vintage, half goes through malo in small wood, the other half sees only stainless steel. This has a highly exotic nose of orange blossom, acacia honey, marzipan, and candied lemon. The palate has explosive intensity and power, beautifully balanced by minerality. A wine of fabulous intensity and length, with broad enough appeal to bring lots of smiles to the party. Drink now or hold 20+ years. Even though it’s $115/bottle, this still spells excellent value in the world of high-end champagne. 96 $115

These champagnes are imported by:

Stephen Cohen of Groupe Soleil,

Fueled by his personal passion, Stephen Cohen has set out across the region to de-niche the region’s best, from small producers who own their own vines.

You can find out more about John Szabo by visiting his website or his WineAlign profile.

Filed under: Wine, ,

WineAlign – One year old today!

Just wanted to take a moment to sincerely thank everyone who has joined our service over the last year.

We really appreciate the passion people have about wine and our site.   I want to reiterate our commitment to our users that we are dedicated to providing wine consumers with the most accurate and objective wine information available.  We want to present that information to you in a useful, interactive way that helps you make better purchase decisions.  We are also building a community of wine lovers and we want to help you interact and share your wine interest with others.

We are constantly updating and improving the site.  At this time we are doing this largely based on suggestions and feedback from our users.  I think business is very simple, listen to your customers and service the hell out of them.  We’re here to listen as our business success depends on it.   If you have a good idea then please share it with us and it WILL become part of our offering.

We’ve got some big plans for 2010.  Expect to see us expand out of our home province and find even more ways to help consumers find wines they like.

Tonight I’m going to celebrate with a glass (who am I kidding… a bottle) of great wine!


Bryan McCaw


Uncork Solutions Inc.


Filed under: News

Penfolds Graces December 5th Release – by David Lawrason

“Vintages December 5th release features three excellent 90pt-plus  Penfolds reds from Australia – the heart of their Bin Number batting order:  Bin 28 2006 Kalimna Shiraz, Bin 389 2006 Cabernet/Shiraz, and  St. Henri 2005 Shiraz.  Others have been released by Vintages in recent weeks and reviews can be found at WineAlign by simply searching Penfolds.  As well, the astounding 98 pt Grange 2004 is sold out in the Classics Catalogue at $499 – a wine that could make or break Christmas single-handedly. I have always admired the Penfolds reds for the bridge they build back to Europe. They are Australian to their bootstraps with a confident swagger – big, broad-shouldered and richly fruited. Yet they have counterpointing composure, restraint and sophistication too.  What’s most interesting is that this feel for the wines has been passed down through four winemakers since founder Max Schubert returned from the Rhone to make Grange Hermitage in South Australia in the early 50s.  Since 2002 they have been shepherded by Peter Gago, who has the same openness and depth as his wines.  He speaks with poise, precision and enthusiasm.  You could listen to him all day – a born teacher.  Indeed he was a teacher until he left the classroom at age 29 and followed wine.  It’s hard perhaps to grasp the idea that a person or ideal can translate to a liquid in a bottle but I encounter it time and again, and urge you to grab these Bin wines to experience it yourself over the holidays.  Decant them, give them breathing room, pour them into a big, fine wine glass, and let them move you – for hours.

Elsewhere, this is simply a huge release with a broad, shotgun selection designed to churn volume in the pre-Christmas rush.  Some are pigeon-holed by Vintages as Holiday Dinner selections, but there is nothing about the selection per se that makes them better food wines.  It’s all about a certain level of class, price and availability. Unfortunately I was not able to personally taste about half the wines for this release however John Szabo’s reviews for the entire release can be found in WineAlign’s Vintages Preview section. I did get to taste the sparklers in the release and have included three top picks in Dave’s Faves.”

–  David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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

Dave’s Faves

Georges Gardet Cuvée Saint Flavy Brut
Georges Gardet Cuvée Saint Flavy Brut Champagne, France  $39.95  92pts

Roederer Estate Brut Sparkling Wine
Roederer Estate Brut Sparkling Wine, Anderson Valley, California, $28.95  91pts

No. 1 Family Estate Cuvée No. 1 Blanc De Blancs
No. 1 Family Estate Cuvée No. 1 Blanc De Blancs, Marlborough, New Zealand, $36.95  91pts


Herencia Remondo 2006 La Montesa
Herencia Remondo 2006 La Montesa, Rioja, Spain
$19.95  90pts

Domaine De La Madone Le Perréon 2008 Beaujolais-Villages
Domaine De La Madone Le Perréon 2008 Beaujolais-Villages, Beaujolais,
$14.95  89pts

Fairview 2008 The Goatfather
Fairview 2008 The Goatfather, Coastal Region, South Africa, $13.95  89pts

Filed under: News, , , ,

WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008