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Top 50 Value Wines from the LCBO – Steve Thurlow

In this new monthly report, we feature the Top 50 wine values available at the LCBO.  Over the past three months, WineAlign critic Steve Thurlow has tasted close to 800 wines to ensure that his reviews include the vintage of the wines currently available at the LCBO.  The wines featured in this report are often referred to as General List wines and Vintages Essentials.  This report does not cover wines that are released on a bi-weekly basis through Vintages.  The average price of wines on this list is $9.50.

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

In this report I have selected those wines that score highest while also being the least expensive – the top wine values.  Each month, as new wines arrive and wine prices change, this report will be updated so as to always reflect the Top 50 wine values. As one might expect Argentina, Southern Italy, Chile and South Africa appear often but there are value gems from France, Spain, Eastern Europe and USA.  Every wine is linked to WineAlign where you can read more, discover pricing discounts, check out inventory and compile lists for shopping at your favourite store. Never again should you be faced with a store full of wine with little idea of what to pick for best value.

Below you will find 50 recommendations for value shopping at LCBO. Among those you will find four malbecs – this month’s feature. All are from Mendoza in Argentina. These are the current four best values for malbec at LCBO.

Familia Zuccardi Fuzion Alta Reserve Malbec 2008

Farnese Negroamaro 2008Let me focus your attention on a few more highlights:  Farnese Negroamaro 2008 from Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot, is the latest addition to the lineup from this value producer. It shows beautiful ripe berry fruit aromas with a lively palate ideal for pizza or meaty pasta sauces. Casal Thaulero Pinot Grigio 2009, from nearby Abruzzo is one of the least expensive Italian pinot grigio at LCBO and one of the best; so popular that they are apparently having trouble keeping it in stock. Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2009 from New Zealand is one of the most expensive in the Top 50 but it makes the list because it is especially good this vintage. The Errazuriz Estate 2008 Chardonnay from Chile is a bold mildly oaked style that is exceptionally well made for its price. Chile is making many great chardonnay; this is just the best value among several from that country. Argentina features frequently in the Top 50 with three wines from Trapiche.Trapiche Syrah 2009 is very well priced with herbal and black pepper complexity making it ideal for bbq meats.

Click here for a complete list of the Top 50 Value Wines at WineAlign.  This list will show you all of the Top 50 Value Wines currently available at your local LCBO(s).

The 50 wines are divided into four sections below, the links below will take you to the appropriate section:
Red – Light to Medium body
Red – Medium to Heavy body
White – Light to Medium body
White – Medium to Heavy body

Steve Thurlow

About Steve:
In addition to writing for WineAlign, Steve Thurlow has been a contributor to Wine Access since 2001. He co-founded the International Value Wine Awards and every year judges at the Canadian Wine Awards, Decanter World Wine Awards and many other international competitions. Steve is the Education Director for IWEG, which delivers the WSET Education program in Ontario. WSET is accepted as the benchmark of wine education throughout the global trade. He runs Wine for Life which educates consumers and trade.  Steve will lead wine exploration trips to Australia, New Zealand, Greece, and South Africa in 2011.

Steve’s Top 50 Value Wines

Red – Light to Medium Body

Ogier Heritages Cotes Du Rhone 2007

Ogier Heritages Cotes Du Rhone 2007 – France, $12.95  89pts
A delightful southern Rhone red; midweight juicy, fresh and fruity. Expect aromas of rosehip syrup, red cherry with some nutty complexity. Soft fruity palate with enough tannin and acidity for structure. Very good to excellent length. Try with roast pork or poultry. Best 2010 to 2014.

Mezzomondo Rose Sparkling – Italy, $11.80   88pts
A delicate rose pink with a fine mousse that persists for a long time. The nose shows raspberry fruit with floral and mineral notes and a hint of cranberry jelly. The palate is soft and seductive with delicate fruit and soft acidity. Very good length. Try with poached salmon; this is much more than a celebration wine.

Casal Thaulero Sangiovese 2009 – Italy, $7.45  87pts
Another great value from the south of Italy. Deep ruby colour with a lifted nose of ripe blackberry, field herbs, dark chocolate and well integrated oak. Medium bodied quite juicy with with firm, slightly metallic acidity on the finish. Fairly decent length for this price point. Try with pizza, meaty pasta sauces and sausages.

Tini Sangiovese Di Romagna 2008 – Italy, $8.95  87pts
New to LCBO this summer. Excellent value for a very drinkable soft clean Italian red for pizza, pasta and risotto. The nose shows cherry and plum fruit with some tomato leaf notes. It is soft and fruity with enough tannin and acidity for balance and very decent length considering the price. Chill a little to give some edge. Best 2010 to 2012.

Cono Sur Merlot 2008 – Chile, $9.95  87pts
An excellent red for pizza and meaty pasta sauces or meat off the bbq. The nose is black cherry fruit with that distinctive sweet earthy Chilean tone, smoke and some beet vegetal notes. It is very juicy and flows well on to the finish. Good length. Best 2010 to 2014.

Farnese Daunia Sangiovese 2009 – Italy, $7.40  86pts
Very fruity clean and again a great buy for everyday drinking. The nose shows ripe black fruit with a spicy note and some earthy complexity. It is full bodied fairly simple on the palate with sweet ripe fruit though the finish is quite dry.

Red – Medium to Heavy Body

Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2008

Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2008 – Argentina, $13.95  90pts
This wine has captured Italian vibrancy in a very classy way, so don’t buy this is you are looking for big fruit. Masi’s Argentine project continues to develop with the best vintage to date of this malbec corvina blend using semi-dried corvina grapes. The nose shows a complex mix of cassis with vanilla, cedar, forest floor and toffee notes. It is midweight very juicy with a solid structure from firm yet smooth tannin. There are no holes it keeps focus from nose to finish. Best 2010 to 2014. Try with roast beef.

Masi Serego Alighieri Poderi Del Bello Olive 2007 – Italy, $16.45  90pts
A very stylish stately red from Masi’s venture into Tuscany with Serego Aligheri. This family is directly descended from the poet Dante Aligheri who originally came from Tuscany before settling in the Veneto in the 15th century. The nose shows ripe black cherry fruit with smoky, jammy and floral notes. It is full bodied but very gentle with the palate juicy with soft acid and fine mature tannin.. Very good length. Best 2010 to 2015.

Farnese Negroamaro 2008 – Italy, $7.95  88pts
New to LCBO and probably one of the best values in Italian red. It shows excellent varietal character with ample extraction and good length. The nose shows spicy black cherry, with floral and citrus complexity. Full bodied juicy and vibrantwith some elegance and well balanced. Best 2010 to 2012.

Bodegas Castano La Casona Old Vines Monastrell 2007 – Spain, $8.70  88pts
This is 100% monastrell (mourvedre) from the exciting region of Yecla in Alicante, Southwest Spain. It comes from three dry-farmed vineyard sites ranging in age from 40-60 years. Deep purple with aromas and flavours of floral violet, black cherry, and blackcurrant. It is a medium-bodied, full-flavoured wine with ample sweet fruit, well balanced, with the fruit persisting well onto the finish. Best 2010 to 2013. Last tasted June 2010.

Farnese Casale Vecchio Montepulciano D’abruzzo 2008 – Italy, $9.85  88pts
This is a very classy Italian red for the money. The nose shows prune and blackberry fruit toned down by some earthy leathery notes and warm spice. It is full bodied and stately with some fine tannin for structure. It would have scored higher with a longer more focused finish. Try with roast beef or a steak.

Cusumano Nero D'avola 2008

Cusumano Nero D’avola 2008 – Italy,  $9.95  88pts
A rich ripe full bodied red from Sicily. Nero d’Avola is the principal native grape of the island. The nose shows ripe black berry fruit with some spicy and earthy complexity. Full bodied very juicy with the fruit nicely held by vibrant acidity. Very good length.

Carmen Carmenere Reserva 2008 – Chile,  $10.95  88pts
A lot of flavour and structure for a wine at this price. The nose shows pure cassis fruit with some jammy notes, subtle oak spice and some leathery tones. It is full bodied with the ripe fruit balanced by some soft tannin and firm acidity. Good length. Try with a steak. Best 2010 to 2017.

Farnese Montepulciano D’abruzzo 2008 – Italy, $7.40  87pts
Deeply coloured, almost opaque. The nose is lifted spicy blueberry and licorice with some vanilla. The palate is full bodied, soft and dense with lots of fruit in quite an elegant package. Very good length. Try with roast meats. Best 2010 to 2013.

Mezzomondo Negroamaro Salento 2008 – Italy, $7.95  87pts
One of the best red values at LCBO. 2008 is another great vintage for this flavourful, fragrant red from Puglia. Redcurrant, raspberry fruit with plum jam aromas are nicely enhanced by some herbal and warm spice notes. It is midweight with the fruit well supported by some ripe finely divide tannin. Probably no one will, but this is a great cellar candidate since it will gain in complexity with a year or two in the cellar. Very drinkable now but best 2012- 2014.

Montalto Nero D’avola Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 – Italy, $8.95  87pts
A juicy vibrant red with a nose that shows red berry fruit with herbal and spicy notes. Midweight fruity and well structured with soft tannins and juicy acidity. Very good length. Well balanced except it is just a bit hot on the finish. Ideal with pizza and meaty pasta sauces.. Best 2010 to 2014.

Obikwa Shiraz 2009 – South Africa, $8.95  87pts
Shiraz is South Africa’s most promising variety. Expect smoky herbal blackberry fruit with juniper and cocoa notes. It vibrant and fruity even if there is not a lot of finesse, with a fruity chocolate finish. It’s a great buy for bbq days. Good to very good length.

Trapiche Syrah 2009 – Argentina, $9.00  87pts
A fresh lively syrah with herbal and black pepper complexity to the blackcurrant blueberry fruit aromas and flavours. it is full bodied but juicy with soft lemony acidity and very good length. Try with bbq meats. Best 2010 to 2013.

Caliterra Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2009 – Chile, $9.00  87pts
2009 is another great vintage of one of the best value reds at LCBO. It is a soft, very approachable young cabernet that is fruity with classic cabernet aromas and flavours of blackcurrant, juniper and black olive with just enough chocolate oak. Medium weight, sweetish and very smooth, with dry, velvety tannin and some herbal and mineral notes on the finish. Decent length at this price. Best 2010 to 2013

Trapiche Malbec 2009

Trapiche Malbec 2009 – Argentina, $9.00  87pts
This is a well structured finely balanced wine at a great price. The nose shows blackberry fruit with some prune notes plus mocha and forest floor notes. Midweight and juicy with some refreshing well integrated acidity. Finely balanced and focused onto the finish. Good to very good length.

Two Oceans Shiraz 2009 – South Africa, $9.95  87pts
Amazing value. This is a soft, juicy, and fragrant shiraz from South Africa with aromas and flavours of ripe black raspberry fruit, with dark chocolate, black pepper, and pine. It is midweight well balanced with decent length considering the price. Best 2010 to 2012

Mcguigan Black Label Shiraz 2009 – Australia, $10.00  87pts
The 2009 is another good vintage for this well priced Aussie shiraz with lots of aroma and flavour for the money. Raspberry fruit with plum jam, warm spice and tea aromas lead to a midweight fruity well balanced palate. Good length. Maybe a bit overripe for some so chill a little.

Beaulieu Coastal Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 – California, $9.95  87pts
This is great value in classic California cabernet for less than $10. Expect a fairly complex subtle nose of cassis, beets, gentle oak spice, with herbal and floral notes. It is midweight well balanced with some elegance and structure. Very good length with the fruit lasting well over some dry tannin.

Navarro Correas Los Arboles Malbec 2008 – Argentina, $10.00  87pts
Much improved over previous vintages with a lot of charm and flavour and a big price reduction. Expect fragrant red berry fruit with herbal and plum jam notes. The palate is approachable and there is a good edge with some bright fruit and soft tannin. Good length with enough structure to pare well with bbq meats; could even handle some mild spice. Best 2010 to 2013.

Familia Zuccardi Fuzion Alta Reserve Malbec 2008 – Argentina, $10.00  87pts
While Fuzion shiraz-malbec is good value and a runaway success story in Ontario, many don’t realize that for a couple of dollars more this 100% malbec from the same company delivers more structure, tannins and depth off flavour;  such that this is where I go on the shelf. Expect blackberry fruit with notes of mocha, dark chocolate and vanilla and a hint of prune. Medium-full bodied with good length.

Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2009 – Chile, $7.45  86pts
This is a very correct cabernet sauvignon with recognizable varietal character on nose and palate and it is less than $8. It is simple with cassis fruit yet it is well balanced with decent length considering its price. Drink while young with roast meats.

Passion Of Portugal 2009 – Portugal, $7.45  86pts
This is yummy, fruity, youthful red for current consumption and is just as good as the 2006 vintage which hit the LCBO’s shelves before Christmas. A blend of tinta roriz (tempranillo), tinta barroca and pinot noir it shows clean fresh vibrant berry fruit on the nose and palate with juicy acidity and soft tannins. Not a lot of complexity but there is much more here than you would expect at this price. Length is good, enjoy slightly chilled. Best 2010 to 2011.

Domaine Boyar Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 – Bulgaria, $7.65  86pts
Domaine Boyar is one of the top producers in Bulgaria and makes a good range of very inexpensive yet well made varietal wines like this cabernet. The nose shows cassis and plum fruit with some spicy and jammy notes. It is midweight very soft with dry tannin on the finish. Good length.

Finca Flichman Misterio Malbec 2009 – Argentina, $7.95  86pts
This is amazing value for a well balanced fully flavoured fruity malbec. Lifted aromas of blackberry fruit with floral, herbal and jammy tones lead to a medium to full bodied palate with good length. This is more than a sipping wine; try with roast meats. Best 2010 to 2012

Concha Y Toro Frontera Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2009 – Chile,  $8.00  86pts
Bright ruby red in colour with an earthy dry cherry nose. Midweight juicy fruit over the top of some sourness which comes through on the finish. Vibrant, youthful and wild it needs taming with some hearty food. Best 2010 to 2011.

White – Light to Medium Body

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2009

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2009 – New Zealand, $16.05  90pts
This is classic Marlborough sauvignon which delivers on many levels for a wine at this price. Aromas of ripe green apple, with gooseberry and grapefruit plus some dry hay, ginger and mineral notes are very enticing. The palate is elegant with lively mouthwatering grapefruit acidity and midweight richness. It finishes as it starts, fresh and clean with very good to excellent length.

Bodega Francois Lurton Pinot Gris 2009 – Argentina, $11.00  89pts
Probably the best value white on the LCBO’s list. Ample fresh aromas of lemon marmalade, baked apple with smokey and mineral notes. Midweight and fairly rich yet nicely structured with some zesty acidity. Very good length and a very pure finish. Try with sauteed seafood.

Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2009 – Chile, $9.00  88pts
A zesty fruity sauvignon for a great price with aromas and flavours of citrus, gooseberry and guava with hay and celery notes. The palate is rich and creamy with loads of flavour for the money and is well balanced with enough acidity to keep it flowing. Good length.

Cono Sur Viognier 2009 – Chile, $9.95  88pts
Fabulous value with lots of tropical fruit aromas and flavours well balanced by some firm acidity. Expect peach with floral orange and pineapple. Very good length with the fruit lingering for a while, ending up fairly dry.

Nederburg Sauvignon Blanc 2009 – South Africa,  $10.95  88pts
Excellent value in juicy sauvignon. The nose shows apple, melon fruit with a touch of grass and lemon citrus. Midweight and juicy with mouth-watering acidity and ample fruit. Good to very good length and well balanced. Try with roast chicken or veal or herby pasta dishes.

Trapiche Astica Sauvignon/Semillon 2009 – Argentina, $7.95  87pts
What a great buy this is for a semillon sauvignon blend; the basis of white Bordeaux. Loads of aroma and flavour for its price. Expect aromas of green apple, lemon and green pepper with celery and some hay notes. The palate is rich and creamy well balanced with good length. Perfect for cheesy pasta sauces or sauteed seafood.

Casal Thaulero Pinot Grigio Osco 2009 –  Italy, $8.50  87pts
Amazingly one of the least expensive Italian pinot grigio at LCBO is one of the best; so popular that they are apparently having trouble keeping it in stock. It is soft creamy flavourful, well balanced with good length. The nose shows subtle aromas of melon pear fruit, flavours which are repeated on the palate. Focus is well maintained onto the finish which is very long and lingering. This is more than a patio sipper, don’t overchill and try with seafood, mildly flavoured white meats and creamy pasta sauces.

Hardys Stamp Series Riesling/Gewurztraminer 2009 – Australia, $8.95  87pts
This off dry aromatic white shows well gewurztraminer’s characteristics of honeysuckle, lychee, orange and mild spice using riesling’s acidity to keep it in balance. It is midweight to full with good length.

Argento Pinot Grigio 2009 – Argentina, $9.95  87pts
A vibrant and fresh, quite rich pinot grigio, excellent value for its price. Expect lifted floral aromas with honey, pear and nutmeg. The palate is midweight very juicy and well balanced with a lemony end. Try with Thai food or creamy pasta sauces.

Quinta Da Aveleda Vinho Verde 2009

Quinta Da Aveleda Vinho Verde 2009 – Portugal, $9.95  87pts
This is the vinho verde to buy at the LCBO; it the best of those on offer and is the most genuine being an ideal seafood wine that will be great with salty morsels sprayed with lemon juice. It is in a pretty light blue bottle and has deliberatively been made a little sparkling. This spritz lightens it on the palate. Expect aromas and flavours of lemon, mineral and green apple. The palate is creamy smooth with plenty of flavour and the finish is very long and refreshing. Bring on the oysters.

Concha Y Toro Casillero Del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc 2009 – Chile, $10.00  87pts
Excellent sauvignon with the fruit well balanced by some racy acidity. Expect aromas of green apple, gooseberry with lime citrus and asparagus. Midweight very dry with good length.

Rocca Ventosa Trebbiano 2009 – Italy, $7.15  86pts
A clean dry fresh white wine perfectly balanced for oysters or delicately flavoured seafood. Trebbiano is a very neutral grape and it is well done here with mild aromas of dry apple and flinty stone. It is midweight with delicate apple, melon fruit well supported by soft acid. Good length. What a great buy.

KWV Chenin Blanc 2009 – South Africa, $8.00  86pts
Chenin blanc was at one time the most widely planted grape in South Africa since it lends itself there to deliver high yields per hectare for making cheap wine. This wine shows that South Africa can make good inexpensive chenin with a good depth of flavour and well structured. The nose shows apple pear fruit with lemon and mineral notes. The palate is midweight with ripe fruit balanced by lemony acidity. Good length. Try with seafood or white meats.

White – Medium to Heavy Body

Errazuriz Estate Chardonnay 2008

Errazuriz Estate Chardonnay 2008 – Chile, $11.00  89pts
A very sophisticated elegant chardonnay for an amazing price. It is hand harvested and barrel matured all for less than $11. The nose shows ripe melon, pear, peach fruit nicely enhanced by some fragrant oak. The palate is midweight super smooth with a perfect balance between oak, fruit and acidity. Very good length. Use wherever you would consider fine white Burgundy.

Feudo Arancio Grillo 2008 – Italy, $9.95  87pts
I think that grillo, an indigenous Sicilian grape, is also probably its finest. It is normally used for creating rich whites which sometimes benefit from maturation in oak. This is a milder version with a soft, clean nose of pear, pineapple and mild spice. It’s medium weight, with a fleshy feel but a nice crisp, long dry finish. Try with mildly flavoured seafood or white meats.

Big House White 2009 – California, $9.95  87pts
What a great price for this is a delightful aromatic white from malvasia bianca, muscat canelli, viognier and rousanne. Expect honeysuckle, apricot, tangerine and pear aromas to soar from the glass, so don’t chill too much or you risk missing the full effect. The palate is nicely flavoured and well balanced and there is a long lingering finish. A great summer aperitif wine or for mildly spicy bbq seafood or white meats or Thai cuisine.

Argento Chardonnay 2009 – Argentina, $10.00  87pts
The 2009 again offers great value. It is more restrained and softer than previous vintages, a little classier and better balanced for food. The nose shows aromas of ripe apple, melon with melba toast and floral notes. The palate is midweight creamy and well balanced with the oak nicely integrated. Good to very good length. A great wine-by-the-glass pour don’t overchill or you might miss some of the nuances.

Fuzion Chenin Blanc Chardonnay 2009 – Argentina, $7.45  86pts
Great value for a summer drinking white with chenin blanc dominating the blend. It is unoaked with pear and honeysuckle aromas and flavours with some mild ginger spice. It’s light to mid-weight, dry, yet creamy with lots of ripe fruit. A lot going on for the money with good length.

Dunavar Muscat Ottonel 2008 – Hungary, $7.95  86pts
Muscat ottonel is a less aromatic version of the muscat grape common to central Europe. Expect mild floral and tropical fruit aromas not unlike viognier with herbal and lavender notes. It is quite rich well balanced with good acidity and good length. Try with mildly spicy Asian cuisine.

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Sept 4th Vintages Preview – Nostradamus predicts: Astonishingly good 2007s from the Southern Rhône!!

John Szabo, MS

It’s hard to describe the sensation of traveling south from Lyons down through the Rhône Valley, whether you’re on the water or the autoroute that shadows the mighty river. In the span of a few short hours one descends from the edge of the Massif Central, like the relentless and maddening Mistral wind itself, out of the north’s tightly chiseled granite gorge, to emerge on the heaving plains of the south where scattered tracks of polished stones reveal the secret of the River’s earlier meanderings. The northern Rhône and the southern Rhône are linked only in name, connected by the thread of the River as isolated continents are linked by undersea cables. The two regions are as different as apples and oranges, or more appropriately, syrah and grenache.

In the northern Rhône, one looks up, up to the steep, craggy slopes that rise abruptly from the river’s edge, leaving only a thin sliver of land between slope and water where man has erected villages and highways. The vines of Côte Rôtie and the hill of Hermitage cling desperately to the rocky outcrops and look set to tumble down into the river at the very next souffle of the wind. The wines of the northern Rhône reflect this more severe landscape; they’re tighter and more austere, bound in on themselves as the inhabitants of the north are bound by the River and the hills.

But the south has a palpably different feel, one that overcomes you, tenderly though unmistakably, as you cross the threshold out of the narrow part of the valley into the open and undulating expanse of the south, spread out before you like a giant tablecloth at a picnic. The harsher northern climate gives way to gentle breezes, generous warmth and the ever present scent of garrigue, a heady mixture of wild scrubby herbs: rosemary, thyme, and lavender among others. The proper French of the Lyonnais slowly shifts into the oozing patois of Provence, marked by a friendly twang and words that lazily roll into one another as effortlessly as a bottle of pastis runs dry during a late afternoon round of boules. Even the quality of light seems to change, as though the sun itself feels less inclined to work hard to define the spectrum of colours and allows one shade to bleed into another in a dazzling range of soft pastels that has attracted artists for centuries.

Unsurprisingly, the wines of the southern Rhône, too, are a reflection of their landscape. Grenache is the dominant grape of over a dozen possible varieties, most often blended with meaty mourvèdre and peppery syrah. Grown in the broad plains, on gravelly mounds and gentle slopes grenache & co. deliver wines with soft edges and generous character, filling your mouth with a liberal dollop of sundrenched fruit and the perfume of the garrigue. They’re as easy-going and good-natured as the people of the southern Rhône, and as fun as a band of troubadours at a medieval party. This is, after all, a land saturated in poetry and philosophy, the land of Michel de Nostredame, nicknamed Nostradamus, whose very name, Latin for “we give what is ours”, reflects the generous spirit of the south.

And speaking of, had Nostradamus focused his eerily accurate foretelling of the future on grape growing, he would surely have presaged the confluence of factors that has made 2007 one of the most memorable vintages since he was born in 1503. Record sunshine hours (in a region that’s hardly ever short), low rainfall (but just enough) and heat without excess (consistently warm, but rarely above the temperature at which vines and workers decide to pack it in and take a siesta, delaying ripeness and road works) combined to give wines of extraordinary ripeness, intensity and depth. Even at the basic Côte du Rhône level, these wines are very good. In fact, when I was putting together the top ten smart buys it was looking like an all-Rhône show, so I opted to pull them out and create a top ten 2007 southern Rhône list, and save some space to highlight some other smart buys from the release.

Les Hauts Du Castellas Vacqueyras 2007Only a handful of the Rhône releases were substandard in my view; the rest are definitely worth a look. I’d like to point out the excellent 2007 PEYRE BLANCHE CAIRANNE CÔTES DU RHÔNE-VILLAGES $17.95 from the ever-reliable Perrin family of Beaucastel fame, as well as this release’s benchmark wine (the LCBO got it right here), 2007 LES HAUTS DU CASTELLAS VACQUEYRAS $18.95. It’s solid and concentrated and certainly age-worthy.

For Sheer value it’s tough to beat the both 2007 CHÂTEAU SAINT MAURICE LES GRÈS LAUDUN CÔTES DU RHÔNE-VILLAGES $14.95 and the 2007 RÉSERVE DES ARMOIRIES CÔTES DU RHÔNE $12.95. Both are great representations of the southern Rhône at very fair prices. All in all, this was a very good feature release.

Valentín Bianchi Famiglia Malbec 2007If you still have some disposable income after you’ve pillaged the Rhône Valley Greco-Roman style, there are a few other releases worth pointing out. Unstoppable Argentine malbec, Canada’s latest love affair, has a great representative coming out on September 4th in the 2007 VALENTÍN BIANCHI FAMIGLIA MALBEC $14.95 . I enjoyed this wine, as it was neither cynically commercial with gobs of oak and jam, nor a $10 wine masquerading as a $15 wine. It’s just pure, honest, elegant wine that’s delicious and delightful to drink. If you do like it big, then step up to the 2008 THORN-CLARKE TERRA BAROSSA SHIRAZ South Australia $15.95, a full on Barossa shiraz experience that’s equal to many at twice the price.

Huff Estates South Bay Chardonnay 2007Eastern Europe provides a couple of fine values, namely the 2008 BÉRES HÁRSLEVELU LATE HARVEST TOKAJI 88 $12.95 *** from the world’s first region to produce botrytis affected wine, and the exotic, at least in name, 2009 FIREBIRD LEGEND PINOT GRIGIO Vulcaneshti 87 $9.95 ***. It has a kitschy label and looks very cheap, and it is, but it tastes good for under a tenner. For more special occasions try the superb 2007 HUFF ESTATES SOUTH BAY CHARDONNAYVQA Prince Edward County $29.95, rapidly becoming one of the country’s best chardonnays in my view from French winemaker Frédéric Picard (we don’t hold it against him). And for lovers of Barolo like me you’ll want to grab a bottle or three of the 2005 MARZIANO ABBONA TERLO RAVERA BAROLO DOCG $36.95. Those in the know know that most good Barolo starts around $50, so to find a cru (single vineyard) wine for under $40 is a treat (thanks to Greece and the collapsing Euro). Both the 2005 vintage and the Ravera cru, located in the commune of Verduno, lend themselves to a more elegant, refined style of nebbiolo that’s just about ready to enjoy or hold mid-term.

And finally, of the mini-theme this week, Beautiful British Columbia, my top pick is the seductive2007 CEDARCREEK ESTATE CABERNET/MERLOT VQA Okanagan Valley $23.95 .

Cedarcreek Estate Cabernet/Merlot 2007

Click on the following to see my:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Top Ten 2007 Southern Rhône Wines
All Reviews


John Szabo, MS

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10th Annual Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards & John Szabo’s Personal Best

John Szabo, MS

It’s horribly cliché, but it’s true, so what can I say? The 10th Annual Canadian Wine Awards organized by Wine Access Magazine in beautiful Penticton in the Okanagan Valley was the finest showing of Canadian wines yet, at least out of the 5 years that I have been a judge. And I’m willing to venture that the first five years weren’t as strong in terms of the overall quality of wines presented. Everyone knows which way Canadian wines have been heading in the last decade: more, better, best. “A great and satisfying tasting”, said arch veteran Tony Aspler.  “I was more impressed than ever this year by the high level of quality”, had to say Véronique Rivest, one of the country’s top sommeliers, and “just an awesome week of tasting!!!” according to Alberta-based sommelier and wine buyer Brad Royale, all judges at this year’s awards. New Brunswicker Craig Pinhey was so enthused that he could hardly wait for next summer’s competition: “I think we need a winter wine competition. Shall we meet in Winnipeg? Quebec City?”.

Our own David Lawrason, judge at nine out of the ten awards, had a more philosophical take-away from the experience: “We may all have different notions about wine, and competitions, but there is something about blind tasting together that speaks to the purpose of our vocation. We have all invested so much time caring about quality and taste both on behalf of consumers and winemakers, and it’s very gratifying to share that with you all.” It’s certainly not war, or high school, or even a three-week canoe trip, but it is a real bonding experience, with but one singular purpose: to find and award the producers of Canada’s best wines (with multiple interpretations) with some deserved recognition. We obviously enjoy, but it’s for done for you the consumer, to settle the turbid waters of the vastly populated wine store shelves, as well as for all of this country’s dedicated producers, to offer a non-binding, suggestive direction of what’s working best from an assembly of people who spend their lives immersed in the subject. The ultimate goal? To further the Canadian wine industry and make wine drinking a little more pleasurable for all. Ok. And sell a few magazines, too.

But I’ll spare you the tiresome details about the grueling tastings of 100s of wines over the course of a week, the long nights of great camaraderie with colleagues from across the country, the welcoming and generous Okanagan hosts, the outstanding locally-sourced, low pomp, high flavour dinners, and cut to the chase.

This year there were about as many entries as in previous editions, yet there are more wineries, and wines, being produced in Canada than ever before. My interpretation, born out by the results, is that wineries were more selective in their entries, submitting mostly the best stuff. It was harder than ever in the preliminary rounds to sort out the wines that should move forward to the finals from the rest. The obviously low-quality wines are easy to dismiss, but this time the majority required serious sensorial scrutinizing to separate the good from the best. And that’s a very good thing.

So what’s happening in Canada? Several things came into sharp focus for me during the week in Penticton. For one, the grape varieties that perform most consistently, and that yield the best quality wines in the right areas, became more evident. The results, or at least my interpretation, show clearly what’s working and where. Chardonnay and Riesling have become the most exciting categories to judge. From the ponderous, overly oaky and clumsy chardonnays of the bad old days to now, there were too many outstanding wines to count (well, somebody did). Lees oak, no oak, more class, elegance, finesse, minerality. Exciting stuff. And Riesling, a long time top performer, firmly entrenched itself as one of Canada’s best, particularly from Ontario. And thankfully, people are finally starting to drink it. There are certainly great examples of sauvignon blanc, viognier, pinot blanc, pinot gris, gewürztraminer and others, but the consistency across the range is not as deep.

Sparkling wines: yes we can. Aromatic white blends is another clear winning category. In my view it’s the most sensible approach to making consistently tasty, charming mostly unoaked whites in our always unpredictable climate. Bets can be hedged against any single variety, allowing maximum flexibility to take the season’s best components and craft good wine. More of this please.

For reds, pinot noir has finally taken its rightful place. For years we’ve predicted, half wishfully, that it will be one of the country’s more successful wines. It’s a tricky variety as pinotphiles know, but it’s purpose-made to grow in cooler climates – it’s a short cycle grape that ripens early – it should work here. And now that more than a handful of producers have learned to coax the best out of it in both the vineyard and the winery, there is critical mass of really good examples.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, on the other hand, were perhaps too enthusiastically planted in the early days. They simply don’t work everywhere; few and far between are the places warm enough, with sufficient frost-free days to ripen them up to the point where they become interesting on their own. Oak flavour, green tannin and alcohol alone cannot carry these monovarietal wines. This is not to take away from the top examples that are made in Canada, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule. As with whites, the smart thing to do is blend, as was shown in the reds blends category, where there were many excellent wines made from a vast array of sometimes traditional, sometimes whimsical assortments of grapes. And here there is room to grow and experiment with many fringe varieties like malbec, petit verdot, tannat and others.

Syrah/shiraz has proven now for several years that it can make top class wines, both in the peppery northern Rhône style and in the riper new world style. It has produced past red wine of the year champions. Though it must be said, BC has the strong advantage here over the rest of the country due to the warmer, drier climate of the southern Okanagan. As for cabernet franc, touted to be the best of the traditional Bordeaux grapes, I found disappointing. And red hybrids. What to do with hybrids. I may be shot for saying this, but let’s rip them out. Even the best examples (of which there are barely a handful) are merely good, never great. To paraphrase Michelangelo, the failure in life is not to have aimed high and missed it, but rather to aim low and achieve it.

For more on the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards, check out the #CWA10 hashtag on Twitter, and read the real-time reactions of judges flight by flight.

My personal, unofficial, top picks:


NV Hillebrand Trius Brut, Niagara Peninsula

No real surprise here when the bottles were unveiled after the competition, this has consistently been one of my top picks for bubbly in Canada. Classy, complex, elegant and half the price of champers.

L’Acadie Vineyards 2007 Prestige Brut, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia

Definitely a surprise. I know that Nova Scotia has the potential to make killer sparkling, and I’ve even tasted a few superb wines, but acadie bubbly? You bet. Crisp, clean, minerally and lively.

Fruit Wine

Rodrigues Winery N/V Raspberry

Raspeberries seem to lend themselves well to making fruit wines. They are among the most pure and easily identifiable, a good thing (points off if you can’t tell what fruit it’s made from when tasting blind…) This was an intense, concentrated essence of raspberry, sweet but balanced. Check it out with chocolate.


Rosewood 2009 Mead Blanc, Niagara Escarpment, Niagara Peninsula

Yes, that’s correct: mead. An alcoholic beverage made from honey. The judges requested to move the tasting into a medieval banquet hall, don Viking helmets and swap crystal for pewter, but the Penticton Lakeside Resort couldn’t accommodate so we settled for a more wine-like environment. It didn’t prevent me, however, from enjoying the super-intense honey, beeswax, pollen and propolis flavours. I actually saw open wounds heal and bacteria scatter as this was consumed. Weird I know, but if you haven’t tried it yet, you must. Totally compelling stuff. Rosewood’s Mon Cherie mead mixed with a little cherry juice is also worth checking out.


Tawse 2009 Riesling, Niagara Peninsula

Tawse is getting riesling right on. Super tight, minerally, austere, barely off dry but balanced by electrifying acidity. The way we like it

Creekside Estate 2008 Butler’s Grant Vineyard Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara

Wooly, honeyed and lemony in a German spätlese trocken style (dry late harvest). Great intensity.

Vineland Estates 2008 St. Urban Riesling, Niagara Escarpment, Niagara

Another Ontario classic, from some of the oldest riesling vines in the province. Steely, minerally, delicately honeyed, with deceptive weight and power – you need to pay attention to this and give it time in the glass (or bottle).

Thirty Bench 2009 Winemakers Riesling, Beamsville Bench, Niagara

Another fine edition from Thirty Bench. The 09 is all citrus blossom and lemon-lime flavours, sprinkled with crushed limestone. Riveting acid, saliva and appetite inducing.

Aromatic White Blends

Road 13 Vineyards 2009 Viognier-Riesling-Sauvignon Blanc, B.C.

A fullish, succulent, peach-flavored blend dominated by the viognier component. Highly satisfying.

Flatrock Cellars 2009 Twisted, Niagara Peninsula

Different from the rest of the wines in the category, this is less effusively aromatic but has great texture and minerality, and long finish.


Jackson-Triggs Okanagan 2007 SunRock Vineyard Shiraz, Okanagan Valley.

Again no surprise here; a perennial favorite of mine and most of the other judges. Peppery, cassis and smoke flavours, compelling intensity, great length. What’s the secret? I guess it’s a sunny vineyard and the grapes get ripe.

Jackson-Triggs Okanagan 2006 Grand Reserve Shiraz, Okanagan Valley.

Whoa! This smells quite simply like great wine. Mature, floral, violet, tar, red and blackberry fruit; well structured with plenty of life ahead. Top shelf.

Mission Hill 2007 Select Lot Collection Syrah, Okanagan Valley

A more elegant, peppery-floral style of syrah, the way we like it, with no shortage of sweet ripe cassis flavours and warm, satisfying palate.

Cabernet Franc

Cerelia 2008 Cabernet Franc, Cawston, Similkameen Valley B.C.

A surprise newcomer from the lesser-known Similkameen Valley (though the fruit for this wine comes from the South Okanagan), Cerelia is off to a great start. This has all of the hoped-for leafy, tobacco, wood spice and wild violet aromas and flavours that make cab franc such a fine variety.

White Single Varieties

Vineland Estates 2008 Chenin Blanc, Niagara Peninsula

One of the best of the ‘other’ varieties, Vineland’s Chenin is wonderfully wooly, honeyed, mineral and just barely off dry in a classic style.

Red Single Varieties

Twisted Tree Vineyards & Winery 2007 Tannat, Osoyoos, B.C.

There isn’t much of it in Canada, but if tannat can be this good then we should plant more (in the right places). Smoky, meaty, savoury in an old world style, yet not too rustic. Lovely stuff.

Red Blends

Cassini Cellars 2007 Maximus, Okanagan Valley B.C.

Beautiful, slightly rustic, floral and dried-herb-scented blend of cabernet, merlot and malbec. Firm, finessed, balanced and elegant.

Road 13 2008 Rockpile, Okanagan Valley, B.C.

A blend of just about everything  (8 grapes) led by syrah (not sure which genius assembled it but it works). It’s more modern in style, with notable wood influence but well within the limits of respectability, and smooth tannins. I could drink this all night. Well, I have. Just to prove the point.

Mission Hill 2007 Compendium, Okanagan Valley B.C.

Aerial infrared imagery, subsoil moisture probes, pressure bombs…. Mission Hill is on a mission, and will stop at nothing to make the best wine possible from their 900 acres of vineyards scattered throughout the Okanagan from Kelowna to Osoyoos. Compendium is a classy blend of cab sauv and franc, merlot and petit verdot full of ripe fruit, oak and spice all judiciously measured.

Chardonnay (Oaked)

Tawse 2008 Robyn’s Block Chardonnay, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara

A fabulous 08 Niagara chardonnay here, bright, fresh, restrained, mineral, with well-measured wood influence. Hate to draw vulgar comparisons, but this is like top notch Burgundy.

Henry of Pelham 2007 Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula

Absolutely top-notch effort from the Speck brothers, the exception to the rule that 2007 Ontario whites won’t age. This is a hefty, intensely flavoured wine with beguiling complexity and impressive finish.

Rosehall Run 2008 Cuvée County Chardonnay, Prince Edward County, Ontario

The County proves its suitability for first class chardonnay with this effort from Dan Sullivan of Rosehall Run. It’s more Chablis-like is style and I wondered if it should be in the oaked chardonnay category, then I stopped fussing over details and just enjoyed the lively green fruit, superb balance, wood integration and limestone minerality.

Pinot Noir

Howling Bluff 2008 Summa Quies Vineyard Pinot Noir, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley B.C.

Howling Bluff is a boutique producer on the celebrated Naramata Bench, obviously doing a superb job based on the class of this pinot, one of the best I’ve tasted in Canada.

Tawse 2008 Lauritzen Vineyard Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula

The first pinot released from Tawse from the Lauritzen vineyard, this could easily be the top wine of the vintage from Ontario. Silky, elegant, smooth, fruity and spicy, this has everything one could hope for in a pinot, and should satisfy both old world and new world palates.

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WineAlign achieves milestone – 10,000 registered users

On August 12th the 10,000th person registered for WineAlign. We feel this is a significant milestone and we are our pleased with our growth (we’ve doubled in size since November).  10,000 users is often a number associated with a ‘real’ internet business.

WineAlign Growth

Here are some interesting statistics about WineAlign at the 10,000 user mark.  97% of our users are from Ontario, the average age is 46 and about 60% of our users are male.  WineAlign has been used over 80,000 times.  Our user’s collective wine cellar contains over 10,000 bottles.  We have 9,110 different wines in our database and 4,642 active wines linked with the LCBO inventory.  Associated with those wines are 4,463 user reviews and 16,285 critic reviews.  In the last 30 days WineAlign has had 19,000 visits by 12,900 unique visitors.  Those visitors spent an average of five minutes on the site.

Our goal is to provide consumers with the most accurate and objective information available to make better wine purchase decisions. We feel that by creating a community and aggregating the reviews of multiple top critics and wine lovers we can help you to consistently make better wine purchase decisions.

We want to thank all of our users, and a special thank you to those who take the time to provide us feedback on the site.  We encourage anyone with any questions or suggestions to send us their feedback.



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Lawrason’s Take On Vintage Aug 21st Release – Signature Wines, Oregon, German Surprises, Bubbly Values and Beaucastel

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

I would like to begin with greetings from the WineAlign team gathered on the sunny shores of Lake Okanagan at the Penticton Lakeside Resort in British Columbia. This week John Szabo, Steve Thurlow and I have joined 12 other critics from across the country to judge the Canadian Wine Awards, an event now in its 10th year. I can tell you without qualm that Canadian wine has improved remarkably over that time – perhaps directly due to the quality of the feedback that these and other professional, blind competitions give to the winemakers. We are heading into the final rounds later Wednesday and Thursday, which will undoubtedly produce a slate of gold medals – especially in categories like chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah and blends. I have personally been most excited by the chardonnay and pinot flights. To give you a sense of the quality and style we are discovering I draw your attention to the classy and complex FLAT ROCK CELLARS 2008 THE RUSTY SHED CHARDONNAY from Niagara’s Twenty Mile Bench that is in the August 21 release. I am not suggesting by the way that this is a gold medalist in these awards, as none of the wines have yet been revealed, but I have rated it 90 points. Canadian Wine Awards results will likely be publicized in mid-September, and I will be authoring a full report coming later in mid-November in Wine Access magazine.

Flat Rock Cellars The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2008

Having missed one Vintages tasting opportunity this week due to the Awards in B.C., I have not quite made it through the tasting of the entire release – missing about 30 wines. I taste by regional groupings so this time I missed groups of reds from South America, Australia, north-eastern Italy and Portugal. My apologies, but you will find reviews from John Szabo.

Vintages lead theme on this release is “Signature wines”, which explores the notion that certain regions have certain grape varieties that are specialities. They are either historically important in the region or have some particular geographic or climatic affinity. It is a concept that goes right to the heart of appellation systems in France and Italy – one place making one style of wine. That basic precept still holds sway because that’s the way it has always been, but it is an idea that is under revision. Most New World wineries successfully make a wide variety of wines, even from within their holdings in one site. That’s because viticultural science has become so exact that differences in soil and micro-climate within one region, even one vineyard, can be mapped and thus planted with the most suitable varieties – as is happening here in the Okanagan in vineyards owned by Mission Hill and others. Within the region as a whole there is incredible variation with lovely Germanic style whites in the north, elegant Burgundy-inspired pinots, chardonnays and gris in the middle, and big black Bordeaux-blends and syrahs in the south.

Andrew Rich Cuvée B Pinot Noir 2007Vintages selection of “signature wines” is well chosen but contains few stars, as all except some high end Napa cabernets are under $20. I would however like to point you to the ANDREW RICH CUVÉE B 2007 PINOT NOIR from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, a deft and excellent example of Oregon pinot at a $30 price that competes with better pinots from elsewhere. Oregon, which has specialized in pinot since the first California winemakers drifted north in the mid-70s, has a reputation nowadays for being over-priced, or t least very pricy – which is one reason we have not seen many Oregon wines at Vintages. Back in the 90s, in the heyday of the now defunct Pacific Northwest Wine Fair, Toronto was the single largest export market for Oregon wines. They have all but disappeared, so its noteworthy to find a classic example like the Andrew Rich.

Two of the best “discoveries” in this release are within the smaller German feature. German riesling is of course well known, and these days it’s generally offering good value – although not so much in the handful of rieslings on this particular release. Two wines from other grapes however soar in quality and value. If you have never had Franken sylvaner that is sold in the quaint, squat “bocksbeutel”, grab the GRAF V. SCHÖNBORN 2008 SILVANER KABINETT TROCKEN HALLBURGER SCHLOSSBERG, a slightly lean yet stylish white from a Rhine tributary east of Frankfurt. And the very best value of the release is ANSELMANN 2007 HUXELREBE AUSLESE from the warmer, more southerly Pfalz region. The review itself talks about the origins of this grape, but if you like sweeter wines, do not miss this one. It has wonderful tenderness and precision.

Louis Bouillot Perle D'ivoire Brut Blanc De BlancsElsewhere in this release I was moved once again by the quality and value of a sparkling wine from Burgundy. LOUIS BOUILLOT PERLE D’IVOIRE BRUT BLANC DE BLANCS CRÉMANT DE BOURGOGNE is a charming chardonnay-based bubbly that easily competes quality-wise with Champagne, at one-third the price. There are other decent value sparklers from Alsace and nearby Luxembourg as well and at under $20 these are the type of sparklers that can be opened without pomp or celebration as you prepare your evening meal on the deck, cutting through the humidity of a hot August night.

Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2007And finally, a word on the big gun of the release, the CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL 2007 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE. This is perhaps the most famous wine of the Southern Rhône Valley, and this vintage is being heralded as one of the best in recent memory. Beaucastel is a wine that I have often found underwhelming when it’s young. Yes it is excellent, but not worth two or three times most peers in Chateauneuf or neighbouring appellations like Gigondas. Yet whenever I taste a more mature vintage I am duly impressed; so you may want to grab a bottle or two for the cellar. There will be more on the Rhone next time as Vintages unleashes some great 2007 southern Rhone reds on September 4. Save some of your wine budget for that one!

See all my reviews for the August 21st release here.


– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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August 21st Vintages Preview – ‘Signature Wines’ & Germany – by John Szabo

John Szabo, MS

As this week’s Vintages Release preview hits the web, a crew of judges will be en route to Penticton in BC’s Okanagan Valley for the Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards. We won’t be admiring the splendid sunsets as the last rays slip off the Naramata Bench, nor whiling away the afternoons sailing on Lake Okanagan, oh no. Over the course of 5 days we’ll be bunkered in a convention centre tasting our way through 1000+ wines grown exclusively in this country. It’s hard to believe that this year marks the 10th edition of what has become Canada’s most respected and trusted measure of 100% locally grown wines. All of the results will be on newsstands by late fall, just in time to help with holiday party wines and gift-giving decisions for the growing number of you tuned into how solid our industry is. I’m certainly eagerly anticipating the tasting, and uncovering this year’s best wines. It gets better every year.

Of course, you may question that it’s Canadians judging Canadian wines, and presume that a national prejudice favourably colours the results. It’s true. Canadians like their own wines better than anyone else, though that could be said of any winemaking nation. But what, you ask, does the rest of the world think of Canadian wines? Apparently quite a lot. This past week over the Decanter newswire it was announced that an astonishing three out of four Canadian wines entered into the Decanter World Wine Awards finished with a medal. That’s an impressive rate of success. Since the wines in Decanter’s awards are judged by an international panel, not just Canadians, we can infer that knowledgeable folks from around the world also find these wines worthy of serious consideration. Compare this striking result to what other areas achieved, like, say, poor old Bordeaux, which barely managed a 25% success rate, one out of four wines, in the medal hunt.

Although it’s hardly surprising to anyone that has been following the Canadian wine industry, it seems that the quality of Canadian wines have finally debunked the myth that everything here is frozen and aged in igloos. I’m not bringing this up to pull on that tired old psychological thread that ties Canadian self-respect to outside validation (an observable fact, by the way, in virtually every wine growing region in the world – no one is cursed with such self confidence that a little praise and interest from a foreigner doesn’t warm the heart). It’s only to say that A) Canadian winemakers are serious; B) Canadian winemakers are taken seriously, and C) let’s get on with it.

Graf Von Schönborn Silvaner Kabinett Trocken 2008
The mini spotlight this week is on a middling collection of German wines, of which the 2008 GRAF von SCHÖNBORN SILVANER KABINETT TROCKEN QmP $18.95 is easily the class of the lot. This Silvaner from the Franken region, the grape’s spiritual homeland, does come in that awkwardly-shaped bocksbeutel bottle allegedly modeled after a goat’s scrotum, but the wine inside is delicious, tinged with a late-harvest botrytis-like quality and evident minerality. For German classicists, my pick of the rieslings is the 2008 ALLENDORF TERROIR RIESLING KABINETT QmP $16.95 , a fine, delicate example from the Rheingau.

The principal feature in the August 21st release is on the theme of ‘signature wines’, which I take to mean wines that are nicely representative of their respective regions. But since expression of place is the sine qua non of any wine that I would consider seriously, anything else being nothing more than fermented grape juice to be drunk and not contemplated, let’s move straight on to the smart buys. These are, by my own definition, all signature wines.

Charles Heidsieck Réserve Champagne Brut
The top pick this week also goes to the wine with the highest price tag on my list: NV CHARLES HEIDSIECK RÉSERVE BRUT CHAMPAGNE AC $54.95 . This should be proof positive that there’s value up and down the price scale. After all, some things aren’t expensive, they just cost a lot. This champagne far outclasses so many others in the same price category, offering a splendidly complex, mature profile based on a high percentage of reserve wines. It’s more of a food champagne rather than an aperitif style, though I’d be caught drinking it anytime.

Local talent is well represented by the 2008 FLAT ROCK CELLARS THE RUSTY SHED CHARDONNAY VQA $24.95 . The 2008 is an excellent follow up to the superb 2007, which leads me to believe that the vines that surround the rusty shed in Flatrock’s vineyard on the Niagara Escarpment in Jordan just might be pretty special.

Flat Rock Cellars The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2008

There is an unusually rich collection of fine value, rustic European reds on the smart buys shopping list this week, perfect for those end of summer BBQs and backyard get-togethers. Back again is the excellent 2007 ÈTIM SELECCIÓN $15.00 from Spain’s northeast near Barcelona, made from a robust blend of Grenache, carignan and syrah. Also from Spain, the 2008 JUAN GIL HONORO VERA MONASTRELL $11.95 is chalk full of character and savage flavour, if not elegance, making it a classic for braises, stews and roast meats.

France puts in a good show with four good value reds, including a fine southern Rhône from the ever-reliable Perrin brothers (of Château Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape): 2007 PERRIN & FILS L’ANDÉOL RASTEAU $19.95, and a classy Bordeaux: 2006 CHÂTEAU ROQUETAILLADE VIEILLES VIGNES LA GRANGE AC Graves $21.95.

Click on the following to see my:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Wines from Germany at a Glance
All Reviews


John Szabo, MS

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Lawrason’s Take On Vintages Aug 7th Release – Dog Days, Solid Southern Italy, California Reprieve, Slovenian Rieslings

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Historically the dog days, mid-summer Vintages releases have been a ragtag collection of not very expensive or otherwise notable wines, and often the quality has been sub-par, even at the lower price points.  One theory holds that this is the time to sneak them onto the shelves while everyone is away. This year is no different, except that Vintages price points have dropped so much in recent months that this release actually doesn’t look any different on paper from all the rest.  But in the glass it does hold to the traditional summer pattern. I don’t remember scoring such a high percentage of wines under 85 in recent times. They are not all bad, but it is a bit of a minefield, making our WineAlign reviews all the more useful.

The feature theme on Central and Southern Italy is by and large solid in quality and value; which is on track with my contention that this huge region chock full of foreign appellation and grape names is one of the world leaders as a source of value, certainly the most important in Europe.  The collection of regions on the boot of Italy include Molise, Abruzzi, Puglia, Campania, Calabria and of course sunny Sicily (the California of Italian wine).  Vintages release provides a small, efficient regional cross-section of well chosen wines, none more than $17, with several scores in the 87 to 89 range.

Apollonio Copertino Rosso 2004I would like to focus your attention, to a lovely tropical yet restrained Sicilian white CARUSO & MININI TERRE DI GIUMARA 2009 INZOLIA, from a grape variety (inzolia) that sits somewhere between viognier, roussanne and cheni n blanc.  There are a handful of intriguing reds, including exotic spicy numbers from the slopes of Mt. Etna and the shores of Sardinia, but I would like to highlight  APOLLONIO 2004 COPERTINO ROSSO from Puglia, as illustrative of the modern winemaking applied to the classic grapes and very ripe style of the south.  Apollonio is a leader in the region in my books.  If you are a fan of rich New World reds but don’t mind some rustic Old World flavours, give take this maturing wine a spin.

The other official theme within the August 7th release is Summer Sippers, a marketing department umbrella for a broad and random and largely un-notable selection, although I did not get to taste some of the whites. The second theme should really have been California Reprieve.  For mid-summer there are a surprising number of more expensive, high quality whites and reds from the Golden State. And I haven’t been as encouraged by the price quality ratios in quite some time, partially because the prices are softening in the wake of the recession.

Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay 2008
The good times begin with three chardonnays scoring 90 or better. While the rest of the New World seems to be doing a mad dash away from oaked chardonnay, California continues to embrace a style it does very well. The best are finding terrific fruit-oak balance and elegance, none better than CHATEAU ST. JEAN 2008 CHARDONNAY from Sonoma County. Chardonnay has been a specialty at St. Jean since the heyday when it bottled one of the first single vineyard chardonnays from the Robert Young Vineyard. This is very good indeed for under $20 and a perfect example of Sonoma’s slightly cooler, leaner style.  Chardonnays from Beringer and Chappellet are also very much worth exploring.

Stolpman Estate Syrah 2007
The reds offer an array of $20 to $40 cabs, zins, pinots and syrahs that are priced reasonably well given their quality. There are two very expensive Napa cabernets,  and I was so impressed by the SHAFER 2006 ONE POINT FIVE CABERNET SAUVIGNON that I might actually consider spending $85.  The bottle of Cakebread 2006 Cabernet however was so disappointing  at $100 that I am delaying my rating and review until I can re-taste.  The most impressive of the lot however is STOLPMAN ESTATE 2007 SYRAH from the Santa Ynez Valley on the south central coast, a black, smoky monster with northern Rhone aromatics. I aIso really enjoyed the TANDEM 2007 AUCTION BLOCK PINOT NOIR from the  Sonoma Coast, a classy and classic modern Sonoma pinot. Nor should you overlook the 2007 RAVENSWOOD PETITE SIRAH.

Other notables among the less expensive, international offerings include a lovely, smooth, summer drinking  MONTES LIMITED EDITION 2009 PINOT NOIR from the Casablanca Valley in Chile, and one of the first very good, and very good value whites from Slovenia, a county on the move. Slip a bottle of DVERI-PAX LASKI RIZLING among a tasting of riesling aficionados.

Dveri Pax Laski Rizling 2008
See all my reviews for the August 7th release here.


– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008