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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages June 26th Release – by David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

My Gee20 Ontario Wineries, Exotics from Southern Italy, Craggy Strikes Again and Seriously Pink

Last weekend I was invited to present an evening with Prince Edward County wines at a small conference at Queens University in Kingston. It  brought together some distinguished folks of arts and letters from across Canada.  Most had no idea that nearby Prince Edward County made wine, as its small production is yet to radiate far from the shores of Lake Ontario.  But this wine friendly crowd was aware that Ontario wine in general is “finally turning the corner to respectability”.   I was engaged by a bright, loquacious woman – a leader in Canada’s “culture” industry – who professed great pride in Ontario wines and asked which wineries I thought were doing the best work – a really important question.  I gave her my picks; but she hadn’t heard of any of them.

So in honour of Canada Day I would like to contribute to the learning on Ontario wines by naming names of those leading the way – something we are loathe to do as Canadians in fear of offending those not named.    These are picked solely on dedication to quality – with history, size, clout, value and style be-damned.  They make wines that that challenge me, excite me or at least make me stand up straight and pay attention.  They make wines I want to own, even in occasional imperfection.  They are wineries that are leading by example and entirely capable of putting Ontario on the global stage.  Call them my Gee20!

They are, in alphabetical order:   Cave Spring, Closson Chase, Creekside, Daniel Lenko, Fielding, Flat Rock, Henry of Pelham , Hidden Bench,  Huff Estate,  Le Clos Jordanne,  Long Dog,  Malivoire,  Norman Hardie,  Ravine,  Rosehall Run,  Southbrook,  Stratus, Tawse,  Thirty Bench and Vineland Estates.  There are another ten or so that are knocking at the door, most of them very new, or just in transition toward a top quality focus – so maybe next year.  I am sure I will hear about others who feel they should be on the list.

Vintages June 26 “Happy Canada Day” release contains some wines from some of these Gee 20 wineries.  Do try the terrific Tawse 2009 Sketches of Niagara Riesling, which is a double steal at $17.95, as well as the Daniel Lenko 2007 Unoaked Chardonnay and Flat Rock 2009 Rosé.

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2009

Di Majo Norante Contado Aglianico 2007I would like to move on to a mini-theme within the release that was probably not intended, and certainly not promoted. There is an intriguing batch of inexpensive whites and reds from indigenous varieties in southern Italy.  That country is just chock-full of virtually unknown, local grapes, many rooted in antiquity and some of them quite exotic.  TakeDi Majo Norante 2007 Aglianico from the Adriatic region of Molise. This progressive winery is taming and framing a grape variety that can be very complex and intriguing, but also ruggedly tannic and sinewy. This one finds a great balance.  Then there is a fine white, the Vesevo 2008  Falanghina  from a new appellation in Campania called Sannio, located in the Apennine Mountains inland from Naples, Vesuvius and the Amalfi Coast.  The distinctive falanghina grape is rightfully becoming a fave of sommeliers who seek out the new and the inexpensive.  And still in southern Italy don’t miss the great value Illuminati Riparosso 2008 Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, again from a very good winery.  The producer is always the pivotal piece in defining quality.

 Capçanes Costers Del Gravet 2006Still in Europe, I return again to the Priorat and neighbouring Montsant regions of Spain as being one of the most exciting new/old terroirs in the world.  Capçanes 2006 Costers Del Gravet from  Montsant  captures the unique balance of nerve, finesse and complexity consistently  being delivered in this rugged, mountainous region by blending of several varieties like carignan, grenache, syrah, merlot and cabernet.  The outcome is something like a cross between pinot noir and nebbiolo with an extra energy and virulence.

Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Merlot 2007Not long ago I waxed on about the wines of Craggy Range in New Zealand, and there is reason to do so again with the arrival of theCraggy Range 2007 Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Merlot from Hawkes Bay. I can’t think of anyone in New Zealand doing a better job of highlighting varietal and regional exactness while delivering wines that are both poised and powerful. If you have strayed away from merlot, this is a great way to get re-focused on what it should be like.

A  tip of the hat to Vintages for its on-going barrage of new rosés.  There are all shades of pink and price and quality out there on the shelves this season – lots to choose from.  But occasionally one comes along that is more about being a fine wine than a pink wine.  Some may balk at paying over $20 for a rosé but  La Bastide Blanche 2009 Bandol Rosé from the south of France is a must buy; a wine of deceptive paleness, subtlety and mildness that finishes with a firmness and minerality of any terroir-driven thorougbred.

 La Bastide Blanche Bandol Rosé 2009

And finally, I want to thank all those who turned out to Wednesday evening’s Up Close and Personal Event with Wolf Blass winemaker Chris Hatcher.  It is always refreshing and enlightening to get the goods from someone who is so experienced and practical and straightforward. And it was truly touching to see so many long time friends from the original Wine Access and First in Line days, and to meet those who are following our efforts on WineAlign. Some of you had gentle advice for me that I have taken to heart.


See all my reviews for the June 26th release here.

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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Hot Value Summer Wines – by John Szabo

John Szabo, MS

Hot Value wines to cool the summer heat, take on the BBQ and dance the night away on the dock.

In June I spent a week at the University of Calgary along with a group of top tasters from across the country tasting through over 1100 wines. The purpose? To find Canada’s top wines under $25 dollars. The competition is called the International Value Wine Awards and is run by Wine Access magazine. Considering that probably over 95% of wines sold in this province are under $25, it seemed a sensible and useful exercise. All of the wines were tasted blind, with only the variety or blend revealed to judges, important of course to contextualize each wine. The results are always fascinating when prejudice against region, producer and price are removed. What is most striking is how little difference in score there is between a $12 wine and one that costs $20 when all you have to go by is what’s in the glass. So forget the label and jump into any of the wines listed below for top value for your money in a range of styles from across the planet. These wines are not official winners, but 20 of my personal picks from the 100s of wines tasted. Official results will be revealed in the fall issue of Wine Access magazine.

We’ve created a convenient list of all of these wines for you.   To find these wines at YOUR local LCBO store just click here .



This shocking Magyar value tastes like old school champers. If they could only play footie as well.


There’s more than enough yeasty-toasty character and creamy elegance here to satisfy fans of serious bubbly.


CONO SUR RIESLING 2009 Chile $9.95

Damned Chileans do it again: top juice, bottom price. Classy and elegant, and organically grown to boot.


C’mon Speck brothers! Get along! This is good juice. Guzzle a bottle each and work it out.

BIG HOUSE WHITE 2009 California  $9.95

Big ass aroma and flavour from malvasia, viognier and muscat, propped up by chard and chenin.


Super-classy and elegant local chard. You’d never believe it was made by a guy named “Big Ed”.


Dangerously drinkable, lively and fresh, like a slap in the face that you asked for.


Classic citrus and wet stone flavours delivered by laser sharp acidity; drinks like a $20+ dollar SB.

YALUMBA VIOGNIER 2008 Australia $22.95

Full on viognier character, gutsy, fat and full – it’s a peach festival in your mouth


07 Boutari NAOUSSA Greece  $11.95

Warning: not for fruit cakes. This all is dusty tea leaf, iron, wet earth; firm and rustic. Love it, with protein in your mouth.

EVANS & TATE SHIRAZ 2007 Australia $19.95

Smoky and peppery in the old world style from cooler western OZ.

TRAPICHE RESERVE MALBEC 2008 Argentina $11.95

Another hot value from Canada’s newest best friend, Argentina. This is authentic and well balanced without the ponderous alcohol and wooden furniture factory flavours of the cheap bad examples.


Rodney delivers a big mouthful of black fruit and spicy oak in an almost Spanish style cab.


Super exotic, wild flowers, dusty, earthy, spicy – this syrah from the Limarí has more than you can ask for at this price.

FUNKY LLAMA SHIRAZ 2009 Argentina  $9.90

Believe me, nobody was more shocked when the label was revealed on this baby. I’m opposed to fuzzy animal wines, but the bloody Funky Llama lives up to its name. Neither woody nor jammy, hard nor overly rustic; just succulent, floral, black peppery shiraz. Gulp gulp. NB – the Funky Llama merlot and pinot got lost in the mountains.

ST. HALLETT FAITH SHIRAZ 2007 Australia  $19.95

Never thought I’d say it, but this has sexy American oak flavour in spades in a fullish and succulent mouthful.


Halfway between old world and new world style, Beck’s cabernet is full of intense, savoury herbs and charred fruit, like a vuvuzela in your mouth.


Instant vacation in a glass: this smells and tastes like the south of France (a very good thing).



You can’t possibly stuff any more flavour into a $13 wine. Forget your grandmother’s sideboard and get into this epic quality/pleasure/intensity/price ratio.

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Worldwide synchronized tasting: South of France – by John Szabo

John Szabo, MS

Sud de France, the umbrella brand for wine and food products from Languedoc-Roussillon celebrates its 4th anniversary today with a worldwide synchronized tasting of wines from the region. 90 bloggers in 24 countries were each sent the same 5 wines to review and comment (though only 4 wines made it to this reviewer). Each of the reviewers was asked to post his/her notes at the same time, 11am in my case. There was no pressure from the organization to post anything but honest opinion. Reviewers were asked to “focus your comments on the overall community of Sud de France wines”, since this is not supposed to be promotion for individual brands.

Sud de France WinesIt’s an interesting concept and positive use of technology to bring together a myriad of voices from across the planet for a single tasting, and thus in one initiative compare the impressions of opinion leaders in two dozen markets. I can only imagine what a logistical challenge it must have been to coordinate it all. What might have been even more interesting would have been to incorporate a live video element to the synchronized tasting, to have critics discuss and describe their views in an open forum to which anyone could tune in, but don’t ask me how to do that. Perhaps a panel of selected critics together at Sud de France headquarters tasting and discussing, with the possibility of video phone-in comments from other participating critics and spectators. As it stands, it’s still entertaining for readers to surf the world and compare views of identical wines across a broad spectrum of tasters.

For all the views visit:

I spent the summer of 1998 in the Languedoc working in the kitchen of the now-defunct Michelin-starred restaurant Chez Léonce in Florensac, a small town located between Montpellier and Béziers in the heart of wine country. Though I was not a sommelier at the time, I spent most of my days off touring wine regions and tasting local wines, with a great deal of guidance from Chez Léonce’s passionate sommelier. It was a great time of discovery, just when the region was experience a serious renaissance. There were dozens of producers emerging on to the scene making some pretty fine wine at interesting prices. The early part of this decade then saw a commercial boom for the Languedoc-Roussillon in Ontario, with many of the top names finding their way to the LCBO’s shelves (Ontario’s government-run alcohol distribution monopoly). The excitement has since waned and the selection somewhat dwindled, but I still consider the Languedoc-Roussillon as a source of characterful and flavourful wines at reasonable prices.

Tasted Wines

Unfortunately, the selection offered here failed to excite. But I can appreciate the difficulty of selecting specific wines to use in generic promotional campaigns. So while the reviews and scores here are not glowing, don’t take this as representative of the region. I know there are better wines out there.

Sieur d’Arques, AOC/AOP Crémant de Limoux, Grande Cuvée 1531

Considered one of the oldest sparkling wines in the world, Crémant de Limoux is made using the traditional method in the cooler upper Valley around the town of Limoux in the northern Languedoc. Sieur d’Arques is one of the leading cooperatives in the region. This is made from Chardonnay and the local Mauzac variety. The wine is light and crisp, quite dry, with simple flavours ranging from green apple to citrus. Of modest depth and complexity overall, this is for basic patio sipping without too much reflexion or contemplation. 85 pts

Cigalus, VDP/IGP Pays d’OC, cuvée 2008, Gérard Bertrand

Chardonnay, viognier and sauvignon blanc are cultivated using biodynamic principals by leading southern French vigneron/négociant Gérard Bertrand, and aged in small oak for 6-8 months. The nose is rather simple but very pretty, led by the peach and apricot notes of viognier and the grassy-citrus side of sauvignon blanc. Wood is well integrated. The palate is mid-weight, balanced, with decent acid and generous alcohol, leading into a short finish. Correct, but at $25 euros retail (from one internet retailer), a little overpriced for the depth and complexity offered. 87 pts

Fruité Catalan, AOC/AOP Côtes du Roussillon

The south of France, particularly Provence, is well known for rosé production; the Roussillon less so, but no less capable with its similar Mediterranean climate and well-adapted grapes. But this example is made in a clearly commercial mold, with plenty of up front candyfloss, banana and strawberry. On the palate it’s simple and straightforward with a pinch of residual sugar and a bitter finish. All in all, this is basic, commercial wine, and it’s probably commercially successful, but it represents everything that I hate about rosé. It seems a purely market-driven afterthought of more serious red wine making. I’d love to see some characterful, dry, food versatile rosés hit our market as opposed to tarted-up commercial plonk. 82 pts

Mas de Madame, AOC/AOP Muscat de Frontignan, cuvée

The vins doux naturels of the Languedoc-Roussillon are among the world’s undervalued wines, over-delivering pleasure for a very reasonable price. The nose is absolutely classic, effusively perfumed Muscat, full of orange blossom, fresh grapes, rose water and honey, while the palate is sweet but not excessively cloying, with a lingering, Turkish Delight-flavoured finish. VDNs are hardly popular wines these days, but they deserve to be better known for the sheer pleasure they deliver. Try as an afternoon aperitif, or with savoury, intensely flavoured pakoras, lightly-curried chicken salad, blue cheese or not-too-sweet apricot or peach tart.  88 pts

Note to Ontario residents: click here to find the top-rated Languedoc-Roussillon wines at your local LCBO store.

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June 26th Vintages Preview – Competing with nature on the intensity scale – by John Szabo

John Szabo, MS

The June 26th release at Vintages is an eclectic mix of grapes, regions and wine styles from all over the world, as reflected by my top ten smart buys. I’ve highlighted wines from 7 different countries and 10 different grapes or blends of grapes to showcase the diversity of the offering, loosely based on the theme of “outdoor entertaining”.

In my view, the finest wines are best served indoors. When the BBQ or campfire is lit, the smell of smoke or roasting meat tends to overwhelm all else. Even without fires burning, wet grass or damp earth or pine trees or any of the other wonderful smells of the outdoors distract the senses and leave little chance for the appreciation of subtle or nuanced wines. And gentle breezes will steal away with that delicately vinous perfume and leave you wondering why you’re not enjoying that expensive wine as much as you’d hoped you would. But that’s just fine. Eating and drinking outdoors is not about fine crystal and raised pinkies, it’s a much more primordial and visceral pleasure, one that links us back to the rituals of sustenance developed at the dawn of mankind (which of course coincides with the discovery that fermented grapes juice tastes pretty good and makes you happy).

2009 MIGUEL TORRES VIÑA ESMERALDASo leave the top kit in the cellar for a few more months, and enjoy some of these rustic wines, as intensely flavoured and aromatic as your natural surroundings. Aromatic whites perform especially well outside, such as the marvelously perfumed 2008 PUKLUS TOKAJI YELLOW MUSCAT (88pts, $14.95) from Hungary, or the always reliable and fine value 2009 MIGUEL TORRES VIÑA ESMERALDA (87pts, $12.95). The latter is a blend of aromatic varieties that beguiles the senses with a blast of floral and grapey aromas and flavours; both can challenge the great outdoors for your nose’s attention.

2008 VIÑA GARCÉS SILVA AMAYNA SAUVIGNON  BLANCFans of more substantial whites will appreciate the 2008 VIÑA GARCÉS SILVA AMAYNA SAUVIGNON BLANC (89pts, $17.95). The controversial 15+% alcohol in this Chilean wine raised some discussion among the wine scribes in the tasting lab, and while I think it’s certainly exaggerated, I couldn’t deny the incredible concentration of flavour and balancing acidity that make this worth a look. Just wait until the sun goes down before cracking it.

Niagara’s Flatrock Cellars delivers a fine quaffing rosé in the 2009 FLAT ROCK CELLARS PINOT NOIR ROSÉ (88pts, $14.95), delivering all of the expected red berry flavours in a dry style.

Two solid value, sub-$14 French wines in the release seem tailor made for backyard BBQs: 2008 DOMAINE DE PIERREDON CÔTES-DU-RHÔNE-VILLAGES-SIGNARGUES (88pts, $13.95), and 2007 CLOS LA COUTALE CAHORS (88pts, $13.95). Both are fully representative of their respective regions and grapes, offering the flavour density and firmness required to dance alongside grilled meat.

Château Du Pavillon Haut Gros Bonnet 2006Lovers of classic Bordeaux should take note of the excellent value 2006 CHÂTEAU DU PAVILLON HAUT-GROS-BONNET (89pts, $15.95). This is a wine from the small AOC of Canon-Fronsac on Bordeaux’s right bank, where some of the region’s best values often fly below the radar. At under $16, this drinks like Bordeaux at twice that price or more from one of the better-known appellations.

Zinfandel lovers may like to take a detour to taste the 2007 BOVIN VRANEC (88pts, $13.95). Macedonia is off the beaten fine wine track to be sure, but I was drawn to the super ripe, even slightly raisined fruit and spicy wood flavours that drove the complexity and intensity measurements into the smart buy category.

And topping the smart buy list this week are two 90 point wines from two of Italy’s most classic regions: Tuscany and Piedmont. The 2007 TENUTA BIBBIANO CHIANTI CLASSICO (90pts, $18.95) is not one of the new wave blockbuster styles of Chianti that taste like they could be from California or Australia or anywhere in between, but rather offers an elegant and complex earth-spicy-dusty cherry style that made the region famous in the first place. And the 2006 MARCHESI DI BAROLO BARBARESCO (90pts, $24.95) is a very well-priced entry level Barbaresco with easily-recognizable nebbiolo flavour and character.

1998 MONTIVERDI VIGNETO CIPRESSONE  CHIANTI CLASSICOAlso worth a mention is a wine that would have been included in the top ten if the theme hadn’t been outdoor entertaining: 1998 MONTIVERDI VIGNETO CIPRESSONE CHIANTI CLASSICO (90pts, $24.95). Montiverdi is an estate that has the luxury of being able to hold back wines until the winemaker deems them ready to enjoy, a costly policy that has accountants at corporate-run wineries wringing their hands in despair of imminent ruin. To come across a fine quality, 12-year old wine that has been properly cellared for you at the estate and released at peak maturity for under $25 is a rarity indeed. If you enjoy the aromas and flavours of mature wine, don’t miss this one.

Just a reminder to join us at our first WineAlign event, an exclusive evening sampling premium Wolf Blass wines with winemaker Chris Hatcher.  It’s being held at Canoe in Toronto on June 23rd and there are only a few tickets still available. For more details and to purchase tickets click here .

Click on the following to see my:

Top Ten Smart Buys
All Reviews


John Szabo, MS

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Lawrason’s Take: Austria’s Struggle in Ontario – by David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

A few weeks ago I missed the annual Austrian Wine Fair, but the Austrian Consulate came through recently with an opportunity for WineAlign critics to taste some fair “leftovers”.  It was a very impressive collection of 2009 grüner veltliner, rieslings and chardonnays, (I was not much impressed by the small sampling of reds).  The wines in general were racy, pristine and varietally correct – absolutely delicious and fascinating  I could drink grüners and rieslings from producers like Diem, Huber and Jurtschitsch, all summer long, and winter too. And I loved the unusual Satterhof 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. Problem is, virtually none are currently available through the LCBO or Vintages.

It remains a mystery to me why Austrian wine is not making deeper inroads in the Ontario market. The wine press and trade have been hyping Austrian wine for years; most of us have travelled to the Danube and the annual Vie Vinum fair in Vienna.  The Toronto fair has been an annual showcase for the trade for as many years as I can remember.  Maybe the problem is that Austrian wine is just not percolating through  to consumers.  The LCBO won’t invest much shelf space without  consumer demand, so there needs to be increased effort from importers and buyers to create that demand.

Grooner Grüner Veltliner 2009

Grooner Grüner Veltliner 2009

Winzer Krems Sandgrube 13 Grüner Veltliner 2009

Winzer Krems Sandgrube 13 Grüner Veltliner 2009

There is however a glimmer of hope –  a wedge in the door –  at LCBO with two wines that caught me by surprise with their quality and price. Winzer Krems 2009 Sandgrube 13 Gruner Veltliner is surprisingly peppery, loaded with citrus zest and shows great structure for $10.95.  The 2009 vintage should be coming into the LCBO in the days and weeks ahead. Then there is the new Grooner 2009 Grüner Veltliner, packaged with a kitchy “yodeling fräulein” label.  The label is a bit silly and re-enforces a stereotype that Austria needs to change.  But inside the bottle there is a decent wine for $12.95 – a lemony lightweight compared to the majestic wines that Austria can produce – but it does catch gruners basic character in a clean, mouth-watering style.

If you have not tried grüner, both are a place to start, then watch at Vintages for others that step higher in quality. Check out the –meagre – Austrian Grüner Veltliner selection at a store near you by by clicking here.


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Introductory Sommelier Course & Exam and Certified Sommelier Exam

Court of Master Sommelier
Introductory Sommelier Course & Exam and Certified Sommelier Exam
September in Toronto

The Court of Master Sommeliers will be conducting the Introductory Sommelier Course & Exam on Saturday, September 11th; Sunday, September 12th and the Certified Sommelier Exam on September 13th at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, ON.

The Introductory Course is the first tier of education and examining conducted by the Court of Master Sommeliers. This two day program consists of tastings and a fast paced review all the world’s major wine regions, viticulture and vinification, spirits, and proper wine service. The Deductive Tasting Method, used in all upper level Master Sommelier examinations, is also introduced and extensively practiced. The course culminates with a written 70 question theory examination.

The intention of the Introductory Sommelier Course is to provide a hospitality professional with a very well-rounded beverage expertise following the most rigorous standards. In preparation, it’s recommended that students acquire a good encyclopedia, such as The Wine Bible, by Karen McNeill. The basic points of beer and spirits production should be covered as well.

The Certified Sommelier Exam is the second tier in the Court of Master Sommeliers four tiers of exams. The Certified Sommelier Exam, a one-day exam only with three portions: a blind wine tasting of two wines, a written examination of twenty-five questions covering the world of wine, and a service exam requiring the candidate to exhibit sales and service skills, including the safe and correct opening of a champagne bottle. There is no classroom work involved so we strongly suggest you have a minimum if three years in the industry for this program. Not having any industry background at this level will make the exam extremely challenging.

Please note, it is the policy of the American Chapter of the Court that everyone, without exception, must pass the Introductory Course & Exam before sitting the Certified Sommelier Examination. Candidates can register for just the Introductory Course & Exam or the Introductory and Certified Sommelier Exam. If however you do not successfully complete the Introductory Exam you cannot sit the Certified and all but a $40 (US) administrative fee will be refunded.

If registering for both levels we strongly recommend you are proficient in wine theory, service and tasting skills.

The Master Sommelier credential is the most internationally recognized credential for beverage sales and service. The Introductory Sommelier Course is open to all beverage professionals who are interested in pursing the highest standards of wine service and product knowledge in a dining room setting. Candidates come from restaurant, wholesale and retail backgrounds.

The Introductory Sommelier Course, with a 95% pass rate, is the prerequisite for the Certification Sommelier Exam, which has a 62% pass rate and the Advanced Course & Examination which has an average pass rate approximately of 25%. Candidates who pass the Advanced Course are then qualified to take the Master Sommelier Examination itself. The pass rate for the M.S. exam is approximately 5% of the candidates.

Invitation and Registration Information
We invite you to participate in the Court of Master Sommeliers Introductory Sommelier Course taking place September 11-12, 2010 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, ON. The cost for the program and exam is $495.00 US.

To register with Visa, MasterCard or Discover, please visit the website at and complete the online registration form. To register by check, please print the online form and mail with check or money order in the amount of $495.00 US to the address below:
Court of Master Sommeliers
Attn: ON Introductory Course
PO Box 6170
Napa, CA 94581

For inquiries about this program please visit the website or contact Kathleen Lewis, Executive Director at

Thanks for reading and I hope you can join us in Toronto in September.


John Szabo, MS

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Winners of the ARTEVÏNO 2010 Wine Awards

News from Prince Edward County:


Winners of the ARTEVÏNO 2010 Wine Awards from the Quinte Arts Council Press Release

The medalists of the sixth annual 2010 ARTEVÏNO Wine Competition Awards were released today, with five wines earning gold medals by rating 90 points or better in a blind tasting competition open to wines produced in Prince Edward and Northumberland counties.

On May 10, 2010 a panel of eight judges led by WineAlign’s David Lawrason gathered at the Inn at Huff Estate to blind taste more than 75 entries. Others on the panel included Master Sommelier and WineAlign critic John Szabo, Michael Pinkus of the Ontario Wine Review, Billy Munnelly of Billy’s Best Bottles, Tony Aspler, wine book author, broadcaster and recipient of the Order Of Canada, Konrad Ejbich of CBC Radio, Remy Charest of Quebec City, and Shari Darling of the Peterborough Examiner.

The gold, silver and bronze medalists plus other wines from the wineries involved in the competition will be poured on June 19 at the ARTEVÏNO Art and Wine Festival being held at Picton’s Crystal Palace from noon to 4 pm. This year there will be a record number of artists, wineries and restaurant/caterers involved to showcase the creative talents of the entire Quinte region represented at ARTEVÏNO . The top scoring white and red wines as well as the recipient of the Jonathan Welsh Memorial Award, named for the co-founder of ARTEVÏNO, will be announced at the June 19 event.

Look for special ARTEVÏNO Award-Winning Dinner menus, featuring the award-winning wines, paired with delicious three-course dinners, created by the chefs of many of these restaurants, which will be held on Saturday, June 19 after the event at the Crystal Palace.  Check out

Tickets are $35 for the afternoon at the Crystal Palace, and are available online.  Tickets can also be purchased at the Quinte Arts Council, 36 Bridge Street East, Belleville (call 613-962-1232), at the Prince Edward County Arts Council, 280 Main Street, Suite 103, Picton, at participating wineries and at many other locations that will be listed on the website. For $95 you can enjoy the ARTEVÏNO art, wine and food festival, plus a dinner at a restaurant of your choice, which must be booked in advance.  See for details of this exciting celebration.

The Results:

Hillier Creek Estates 2007 Vidal Icewine
Huff Estates  2007 South Bay Vineyards  Chardonnay
Rosehall Run 2008 Chardonnay Cuvee County
Rosehall Run 2008 Pinot Noir Cuvee County
Rosehall Run 2008 Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard
Casa Dea Estates 2008 CD Rosso
Exultet Estates 2009 Dolce Ghiacciato
Huff Estates  2008 Riesling Reserve
Huff Estates 2006 Cuvee Peter F. Huff
Norman Hardie 2008 County Pinot Noir
Norman Hardie 2009 Riesling
Rosehall Run 2008 Cabernet  Franc Cold Creek
Rosehall Run 2008 Chardonnay Rosehall Vineyard
Rosehall Run 2008 Sullyzwicker Red
Sandbanks Estates 2008 Cabernet  Franc
The Grange of  PEC 2008 GPE Chardonnay
The Grange of PEC Grange2007 Sparkling Brut
Waupoos Estates 2008 Icewine
Black Prince 2008 Terroir Elite Chardonnay
Casa-Dea Estates 2008 Dea’s Cuvee
Casa-Dea Estates 2009 Cabernet Franc Rosé
Casa-Dea Estates 2009 Pinot Gris
Harwood Estate 2008 Pinot Gris 2008
Hillier Creek Estate 2008 Chardonnay
Hillier Creek Estate 2009 Rosé
Hillier Creek Estates 2007  Gamay
Hillier Creek Estates 2008 Chardonnay Estate
Hillier Creek Estates 2009 Riesling
Huff Estates 2008 Gamay Reserve
Huff Estates 2009 South Bay Vineyards Rosé
Huff Estates Winery 2007 First Frost
Karlo Estates 2008 Chardonnay
Karlo Estates 2008 Malbec
Lacey Estates 2008 Baco Noir
Lacey Estates 2009 Gewurztraminer
Rosehall Run 2008 Gamay Cuvée County
Rosehall Run 2008 Sullyzwicker White
Rosehall Run 2009 Chardonnay Musqué
Rosehall Run 2009 Sullyzwicker Rosé
Sandbanks 2008 Waves Chardonnay
Sandbanks 2009 Dunes Vidal Riesling
The Grange  of PEC 2008 Trumpour’s Mill Cabernet Franc
The Grange of PEC 2008 Trumpour’s Mill Pinot Noir
The Grange of PEC 2009 Trumpour’s Mill Rosé

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages June 12th Release: Soccer, Pinotage, Carmenere, Bargain reds and Tokaji

David LawrasonCompared to some of my wine writing colleagues who discuss soccer during Vintages tastings with considerably more passion than they discuss pinotage, I am a football neophyte.  I admire and know the game to a point – playing it in school leagues as a teen and coaching my sons’ teams. I am not ignited by soccer however (loved to see original six Chicago win the Stanley Cup) and will not be watching much of the FIFA extravaganza unfolding in South Africa.  But I will be keenly watching what FIFA means to South African wine. In the next two weeks the world’s vinous haze will shift to Cape wine more intently than at any time since the lifting of apartheid also began lifting South African wine into the modern era.  When I last visited there in January 2009 FIFA fever was already launched.

And what will the world find in South African wine bottles?  Those wanting safe, soft, familiar and comfortable wines will be perplexed and disappointed.  Those searching for anything but safe, soft and comfortable will be richly rewarded.  If wine truly does reflect a place and its culture, South African wine is almost painfully honest.  It is often rugged and tense, at times awkward, always more complex and challenging than you expect, and at times majestic.  It’s spirit runs deep into land, catching a sense of parched minerality from the aged weather worn mountains, and often wafting the aromas of the feinbos – a collective name for indigenous vegetation so richly concentrated in the Cape wine lands. Then there all those burnt rubber and rusty notes that modern purists hex as faulted winemaking, but are so inured as Cape flavours that some like them, and consider them as much a part of the terroir as the cooling ocean breezes  and blazing blue sky.

MORGENHOF ESTATE 2008 CHENIN BLANCVintages June 12 release of several South African wines is not jam-packed with great wines and wow values. In fact none are over $20 which denies us finding some of the Cape’s truly great wines.  It also re-enforces a negative, cheap image for South African wines. The selection is however intriguing and surprising. So if you are in a explorative move try the Morgenhof Estate 2008 Chenin Blanc and the Spier 2006 Pinotage.

SPIER 2006 PINOTAGESpeaking of Pinotage, I recently enjoyed a South African Wine Society dinner with Lammershoek winemaker Paul Kretzel who makes a very good pinotage but doesn’t like the grape at all, in the vineyard or the glass.  As a crossing of early ripening pinot noir and late ripening cinsault it always struggles to ripen evenly in South Africa.  According to Kretzel if it is left too late to overripen and if it is over-worked in the winery it develops its infamous burnt rubber character. If picked too soon it is too bitter. His version from 45 year old bush vines in the granite soils of the Swartland region is deep, ripe with non-rubbery black raspberry, toast and licorice. His best wine from this great windswept, organically farmed site – that he likens most to France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region – is a shiraz, grenache, carignan, mourvedre blend called Roulette Rouge. He has also done a Zinfandel-Syrah blend that shows better zinfandel definition than most from California. The wines are available by the case on consignment from

The night before going to press (so to speak) with this newsletter I attended Vintage’s South African Braii event at the Wychwood Barns, a nicely done event that brought several Cape winemakers to town. It was a taste and buy event, with most wines not offered in Vintages stores (except those on the June 12 release).  Unsold allocations are usually offered to the public a few days later, and I will be watching for this announcement and providing some direction for WineAlign readers. I tasted most of the wines but will not be doing thorough reviews as this kind of venue does not provide the kind of focus I need to come up with accurate ratings and descriptions.

Taurino Salice Salentino 2006 RiservaVintages new recession-driven policy of focusing on wines under $20 often yields dividends but they are not automatic. You still have to pick and choose among many average wines.  As always the best place to find them is off the beaten path in places like southern Italy and Portugal.  For years I have been a fan of a Puglian wines from an appellation called Salice Salentino, where the local negroamaro anchors quite rich, complex often rustic reds. And my favourite producer of the DOC is Taurino. When I saw Taurino Salice Salentino 2006 Riserva at only $15.00 I knew I was going to buy and I will.  I did not have the same expectation from Monte Alentejano 2005 Reservafrom Portugal’s hot, arid Alentejo region, but it over-delivers too, with all kinds of complexity set it in a rich, dense style. It is quite tannic but when drinking with rich red meats you won’t notice. You’ll be too focused on the fact you only paid $12.95.

MICHEL GASSIER 2007 LES PILIERS SYRAHThe other region that is hot, hot, hot for value is the sprawling, impossibly large swath of southern, Mediterranean France from Provence in the east to Roussillon in the west.   Mark July 24 on your calendar because there is terrific selection of Languedoc Roussillon bargains set to be released that day.  For immediate gratification don’t miss Michel Gassier 2007 Les Piliers Syrah, from the Costières de Nîmes.  This appellation is officially in the Rhone Valley but I have always thought of it as a Languedoc region for the distinctive, lifted, peppery, spicy take on syrah (where as neighbouring Rhônes are rounder, grenache-based blends.  Anyway, Les Pilliers is a classic of the genre from a very quality focused, modern producer.

MONTGRAS ANTU NINQUÉN 2007 CABERNET SAUVIGNON/CARMENÈREIf you are still grappling with the controversial late-ripening thus often under-ripe, green carmenere grape of Chile, there are three very well made examples on this release that could turn the tide.  Carmenere is a Bordeaux variety, and a cousin to cabernet sauvignon, so blending with cabernet is a natural fit and a way to take the edge out of carmenere.  For seamless integration, finesse and complexity don’t miss Montgras 2007 Antu Ninquén Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenère, a $17.95 blockbsuter value from the Colchagua Valley. The amiable owner Hernan Gras once made wine in Ontario.  For a more pure and more expensive expression that puts the grape’s depth and complexity front and centre look at Concha Y Toro’s 2006 Terrunyo.  And for a carmenere that beautifully showcases the grape’s blackcurrant fruit, try the much improved Vina Tarapaca 2008 Gran Reserva. The arrival of California winemaker Ed Flaherty has transformed the rugged wines of this large Maipo estate.

TAWSE SKETCHES OF NIAGARA 2009 ROSÉThe river of pink wines continues to flow this release, including one of the best of the season. You may be surprised to hear that is from Niagara – Tawse 2009 Sketches Of Niagara Rosé.  I actually stopped in surprise when I first tasted it, then remembered really liking the 2008 edition as well. It combines all the best weight and complexity of the best from southern France, with a piquancy and freshness that is signature Niagara.  Really like the new label as well, very classy.

ROYAL TOKAJI 2005 TOKAJI ASZÚ BLUE LABEL 5 PUTTONYOSTo close on a sweeter note, don’t miss a pair of sensations from central Europe. Hungary’s Royal Tokaji 2005 Tokaji Aszú Blue Label 5 Puttonyos is fantastic value, a glorious sweet wine with incredible tension and complexity. It has such finesse that you should probably enjoy it solo has an evening sipper , even an aperitif, rather than with dessert.  And consider the same  moments for the exquisite, very refined  160887 Kloster Eberbach Steinberger Riesling Spätlese Steinberger is one of the great single vineyard sites on the Rheingau. And like most top estate rieslings from Germany these days, it is also a steal.

Just a reminder to join me at our first WineAlign event, an exclusive evening sampling Wolf Blass wines with winemaker Chris Hatcher.  It’s being held at Canoe on June 23rd and there are only a limited number of tickets available. For more details and to purchase tickets click here.


See all my reviews for the June 12th release here.

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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WineAlign’s First Community Event – An exclusive tasting of premium Wolf Blass wines with winemaker Chris Hatcher

We’re very pleased to announce our first WineAlign community event.  Members are invited to an exclusive Wolf Blass premium wine tasting with winemaker Chris Hatcher at Canoe. This is not a public event and attendance is limited to WineAlign members. Cost is $65 and only a limited number of tickets are available here: .

David Lawrason

I have tasted with Wolf Blass winemaker Chris Hatcher twice, and few winemakers in the world are so down to earth, so well spoken and so influential.  He has quietly shaped three major trends in Australian wine; the quest for regionality, the quest for elegance and the use of screwcaps. Chris is generally considered to be one of Australia’s premium wine makers and one of the country’s most respected wine show judges. Quite a feat for a preacher’s son who was warned that alcohol is evil.

Chris Hatcher

Chris Hatcher, Winemaker, Wolf Blass

I invite WineAlign members to join me at an exclusive and intimate tasting that demonstrates Chris’ talent and success – the  Wolf Blass Gold Label regional varietals, the incredible value Grey Labels, and the ultra-premium Black Label and Platinum reds.  The sit down, guided tasting will be followed by an informal mingle with small plates from one of Toronto’s great chefs, Anthony Walsh, and a surprise mystery wine or two.

Please join us for the first WineAlign community event.

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine, WineAlign

Please click here to purchase tickets.

The Wolf Blass wines tasted will include:
Wolf Blass WinesPlatinum Shiraz
Black Label Cabernet Shiraz Malbec
Grey Label McLaren Vale Shiraz
Grey Label Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon
Gold Label Shiraz, Barossa Valley
Gold Label Shiraz Viognier, Adelaide Hills
Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra
Gold Label Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills
Gold Label Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills
Gold Label Riesling, Eden Valley/Clare Valley

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June 12th Vintages Preview – South Africa’s Staggering Beauty

John Szabo, MS

There is lots of excitement building around South Africa and the FIFA World Cup, when the eyes of the world will be on the Cape. For the record, according to the leading odds-makers, Spain is favoured to win, followed by Brazil, England, Argentina and the Netherlands. South Africa is ranked 22nd at 150-1.  So while South Africa is not a safe bet to win the cup, when it comes to finding value, the odds are in your favour. Four of the top ten smart buys in the June 12th release are from SA. It’s definitely a golden opportunity for the country to showcase the advancements that have occurred in winemaking over the last 20 or so years since the end of Apartheid.

Readers’ Sommelier World Cup Contest: Win South African Wine!

WOSA World Cup of SommeliersThis past May, sommeliers from 12 countries, including 30 from Canada, participated in the first Sommelier World Cup sponsored by Wines of South Africa (WOSA). The event consisted of a series of questions and blind tastings with initial and final rounds. The top sommeliers from each country will be heading to South Africa this fall to compete in the world finals, and Canada will be represented by the incomparable Véronique Rivest from Ottawa-Gatineau.  Any readers wishing to pit their knowledge against the world’s best are invited to tackle the 20-question multiple choice exam that the sommeliers had in the first round.  The top scorer will receive two bottles of South African wine (sorry, no trip to South Africa, after all, the sommeliers weren’t able to use Google for their answers…) Ties will be decided by a draw.

A South Africian Wine Primer

Table MountainFirst time visitors to the winelands of the Cape will be struck by the staggering beauty of the area, among the most picturesque winegrowing regions on the planet. You’ll see rugged granite-capped mountains sitting atop ancient crumbled shales and sandstones, rising up to over 1000m from the shores of False Bay just 20 kms to the south. Across the western horizon stands the unmistakable landmark of Table Mountain, with its near-permanent wisps of cloud covering the leveled summit like a 1960’s Beatles mop-top. Inland you’ll see vine-covered slopes and lush green valleys covered with strange, beautiful and infinitely varied native flowers. The Cape Floral Kingdom is, after all, the smallest yet richest of the six floral kingdoms in the world. The Cape alone contains more biodiversity than the entire northern hemisphere, some 9,600 unique species. This incredible natural richness is being protected through an innovative “biodiversity and wine” initiative  (, whereby for each hectare of (diversity-destroying monoculture) vineyard, 1.1 hectares are set aside as conservation land to preserve the fynbos and renosterveld (indigenous vegetation) unique to the Cape.

In 1652, the Dutch East India Company set up a provisioning outpost at the Cape of Good Hope. The purpose was to supply fresh fruit and vegetables to passing ships on their way between Europe and the East, and Cape wine would soon be one of the eagerly sought-after local products. The Cape celebrated 351 years of winemaking this past February 2nd. It was on this day in 1659 that under Jan van Riebeeck, representative of the Dutch East India Company, the first wine grapes grown in the Company Gardens in Cape Town were pressed. The sweet wines of Constantia were among the most famous and sought after in the world in the 18th-19thC. So a fair bit of history to drawn on.

Wine MapNo doubt you have been seeing and hearing more about South African wines in recent years, as exports have increased from 20% of total production to over 40% in the decade 1997-2007. Of course, prior to the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994, virtually no wine was exported at all. The majority of what is shipped to Ontario falls into the category of cheap and often cheerful, establishing South Africa as a good source of value wine, but overshadowing the fact that it also produces top notch kit, too.

A few points of interest: In the last 15 years there has been a dramatic change in the make-up of South African vineyards, moving from predominantly white wine production (much of it destined for distillation into brandy) with as much as 80% of vineyards planted to white varieties, to today’s shift to red, now accounting for 45% of all plantings.

Old World vs. New World: The wines of South Africa are often described as being somewhere between old world and new world in style, combining the generous ripe fruit of warm, new world regions with the distinctly earthy-minerally character more common in the old world. This still holds true. South Africa can boast of some of the oldest viticultural soils in the world, in some cases over 500 millions years old, in addition to a truly staggering array of flora and fauna, which no doubt contribute to this unique flavour profile.

Morgenhof Estate Chenin BlancSome of the most exiting wines include the white blends based on the wealth of old-vines Chenin Blanc found in many regions, mixed with intriguing, more recently-introduced Rhône varieties such as Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and Clairette, as well as the useful partners Semillon and Sauvignon. These have the potential to truly captivate a world audience. Varietal Chenin Blanc, still the most planted grape in SA, remains an outrageous value for the most part. Prices are still suffering from the grape’s earlier reputation as being suitable only for bulk wine or brandy. Old bush vines planted in the right soils and microclimates display a fabulous range of styles from steely-wooly Loire valley-like, to lush, tropical fruit salad-flavoured versions. Try the 2008 MORGENHOF ESTATE CHENIN BLANC to get the picture.

Morgenhof Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2008Sauvignon Blanc is the variety on which many producers are pinning their export hopes. From cool, coastal areas like Walker Bay and Elgin, to warmer inland vineyards in Stellenbosch and Franshhoek, the grape can range from the popular, pungently green/herbal/ canned asparagus style, to riper, more passion fruit and guava-scented versions. I liked the 2008 MORGENHOF ESTATE SAUVIGNON BLANCfrom this release, another great value from this producer.

2007 POST HOUSE PENNY BLACK On the red side, it is the blends again that generate the most excitement for me, in which Bordeaux and Rhône varieties together yield more complex, complete wines together than on their own. The solid and firm 2007 POST HOUSE PENNY BLACK is a good starting point; it’s a blend of shiraz, merlot, cabernet, petit verdot and chenin blanc. But single grape wines like the 2007 FLAGSTONE DARK HORSE SHIRAZ also impress for their value.

Spier Vintage Selection Pinotage 2006And finally Pinotage, you’ll be pleased to learn, does not simply smell and taste like rusty nails in burnt rubber boots. Top quality examples have depth, richness, ripe dark fruit character and an uncanny ability to age. The 2006 SPIER VINTAGE SELECTION PINOTAGE certainly has some meaty, smoky character, but it a compelling way.

For more info on the Wines of South Africa, visit:

Smart Buys

Beyond South Africa, The world’s soccer powers put in a good showing on the top ten smart wine buys. Italy gives the strongest performance, taking the two top spots with the excellent2006 TAURINO SALICE SALENTINO RISERVA, a wine full of character and complexity for under $16, and the 2004 FRATELLI TOCCHI SAGRANTINO DI MONTEFALCO, a cellar candidate to be sure. Sagrantino is by nature a tannic grape, so even at 6 years old, this dense wine is still abundantly chewy and firm. I was shocked by the $18.95 price, as most sagrantino from around the Umbrian town of Montefalco start at about $30. As Spain edge their way to the World Cup final, sip a super-value 2005 TORRES GRAN SANGRE DE TORO RESERVA. Or if dark horse Portugal look to upset, there’s a fine, infinitely drinkable (especially at $11.95) 2009 ANSELMO MENDES MUROS ANTIGOS ESCOLHA DOC Vinho Verde with which to celebrate.

Click on the following to see my:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Feature Wines at a Glance: South Africa
All Reviews


John Szabo, MS

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008