Find the right wine at the right price, right now.

Lawrason’s Take on the October 30th Vintages release – California Steals the Show

California Showstopper, Syrah’s Great Hope, Beefcake Barolo, Pristine Riesling Value, Dao Does it Again.
David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Vintages October 30 release is a tour de force of California – the best selection from the Golden State in quite some time.  Not just in terms of breadth, but quality depth. In fact the overall quality level of the other New World regions is so average that one almost suspects a conspiracy to stack this release (and the resulting coverage it might receive).  But that’s fine; everyone gets a turn at the LCBO; that’s the nature of our very Canadian beast.

The catalogue divides the selections by regions and hits on the grapes that have now evolved to best express those regions.  The most exciting selections to my mind come from California’s more southerly regions of the Central Coast.  I haven’t travelled to Paso Robles and Santa Barbara for a very long time, but the time I spent there was quality – spending a self-drive week back in the mid-eighties – long before the movie “Sideways” put the region on the map in 2003.  It was very fringy back then with enterprises like Zaca Mesa dabbling with syrah, a winery called Sanford daring to believe that pinot noir might thrive in the coastal Santa Rita Hills.  Farther north in Paso Robles there was also talk of syrah and other Rhone varieties as well, but it was a joke to the establishment in San Francisco and Napa.  I’ll never forget laughing along with a Wine Spectator cover that dressed Syrah producer Randall Graham in a Lone Ranger gear and called him the Rhone Ranger.  I have since wondered what took California so long to realize that the syrah, mourvedre and grenache are better grapes, state-wide- for its climate than cabernet and merlot.  The snobbery of the Bordeaux varietals was just too hard to resist.

Austin Hope Family Vineyard Syrah 2008A young man from Paso Robles named Austin Hope was not among those star struck by the Medoc.  His family had planted vines in Paso Robles in 1978 and he worked on the property until a great Cote Rotie syrah from the northern Rhone changed his life.  He began to replant the site, located on calcerous soils in the cooler hills of the Templeton Gap not too far from the Pacific Ocean.  He dense planted syrah (for lower yield per plant) and several clones of syrah, plus mourvedre and grenache.  The result of all this passion and vision can be tasted in AUSTIN HOPE FAMILY VINEYARD 2008 SYRAH, a monumental syrah that packs incredible northern Rhone syrah flavours into a powerful, rich, but not too jammy California structure.

Sanford Pinot Noir 2008My other favourite from the Central Coast is the luscious yet refined SANFORD 2008 PINOT NOIR from the fog-cooled Santa Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County.  The Sandford and Benedict Vineayrd was planted in 1971 – the first pinot acreage in the region. The first wine was made in 1976. But it wasn’t until 2001 that the Santa Rita Hills earned its official American Viticultural Area (AVA) appellation status.  Sandford is now in the hands of the Terlato Family, with production centred at a new facility at the La Riconada Vineyard.  Production is now larger, partially thanks to demand created by “Sideways”, but to me this wine has not lost that special style and flavour that made people take notice in the first place.

Roederer Estate Brut Sparkling WineThere many other excellent wines in the release, including great Napa chardonnays from Vine Cliff and Grgich Hills, but I would like to focus on the excellent ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT SPARKLING WINE from the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County. While traveling in this isolated green coniferous valley  during the same period I heard that Roederer of Champagne was moving into the hood. It was a good idea, I thought, at the time. If a Champagne house was going to venture into California (to catch the New World wave) the Pacific-cooled Anderson Valley would seem the best bet. I have been happily recommending Roederer Estate Brut as the best California bubbly ever since. My latest encounter during a Roederer dinner to launch 2004 Cristal, proved yet again that this wine is great value.  You can buy at least six bottles at $44.95, for the price of one bottle of Cristal. A no-brainer!

Margrain River's Edge Pinot Noir 2008The only other non-Californian New World red to catch my fancy was New Zealand’s MARGRAIN 2008 RIVER’S EDGE PINOT NOIR from the Martinborough region of North Island. It’s no secret that the Kiwis have made pinot a cause celebre, but what’s now evident are regional styles within New Zealand.  Marlborough tends to make smooth, sweet very berryish pinots while Central Otago makes more powerful, structured, cherry-scented editions.  But if you are a fan of more traditional Burgundian pinots, replete with more foresty and farmy flavours you should look to Martinborough, New Zealand’s first pinot region, located an hour or so northeast of the capital of Wellington. I am sure that local winemakers will say that the terroir is responsible for Martinborough’s profile, but I wonder also if the Burgundy legacy pursued by the first pinot pioneers has contributed to the flavour profile.

The only other region to seriously compete with California on this release is Italy. There are several very to excellent wines, with Tuscany once again weighing in with fine Brunellos, Chiantis and blends. But I want to focus your attention on Barolo, as there are two examples that I have scored over 90 points. This should not be noteworthy for one of Italy’s most expensive wines, but in this case both are under $50, and classics of the genre.  PODERI COLLA 2005 BUSSIA DARDI LE ROSE BAROLO is textbook, with all kinds of layered complexity, structure and depth – rating 93.

Poderi Colla Bussia Dardi Le Rose Barolo 2005

So far these picks are rather expensive wines, which is very much a theme in Vintages pre-holiday releases.  So I draw your attention to a pair of great values under $20. DR. PAULY-BERGWEILER 2008 RIESLING KABINETT from the famous Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard of  Germany’s Mosel Valley is a wonderful expression of riesling, rating 91 at only $16.95.  It is pristine, delicate, balanced on a pinhead and classic riesling with perfectly proportioned petrol, peach, citrus and mineral flavours.

Dr. Pauly Bergweiler Riesling Kabinett 2008
And for red wine fans looking to slip some bargains into the cellar, Portugal once-again springs to mind. QUINTA DO CABRIZ 2007 RESERVA from the Dão region in the centre of the country has structure and complexity well beyond its $16.95 price tag.  Founded in 1990 at the site of a 17th chapel, Quinta do Cabriz is a leader in the transition of Dao into a modern region. Always known for complex powerful but often brutally tannic, rustic wines the Dao is really coming alive with brighter, cleaner wines that have not given up on local varieties.

Cabriz Reserva 2007
That’s it for now. There is much more to come as Vintages pulls out many of its big guns in the November releases.

See all my reviews for the October 30th release here.


– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , ,

Article on WineAlign in BlogTO

BlogTO Our friends at BlogTO posted a nice article about WineAlign today. Read the article here.

Filed under: News,

John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for October 30th, 2010 – California’s Hot, and I’m Dreaming

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Palate cleanser (also to help you get through this intro):ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT SPARKLING WINE Sonoma County $28.95 .Roederer Estate Brut Sparkling Wine

The Golden State is in a golden era of winemaking. As a region, it has matured considerably in the first decade of the 21st century. Of course, fine wine has been made in California virtually since going to work meant grabbing the pick-axe, gold pan and shotgun. The original epicenter of quality wine was Sonoma County, driven in large part by the Hungarian Count Haraszthy (had to slip that in). The Count brought hundreds of European vine clippings from the imperial vine nursery in Vienna and established his Buena Vista Winery, the first commercial winery in California, in 1857. As early as the late 19th century, the unique Italian-Swiss colony in Asti, also Sonoma County, was collecting international prizes for its wines (including a ‘best in show’ equivalent for a California Champagne in Europe, the first of many vinous affronts to come from the colonial upstarts).

Founded in 1881 by Andrea Sbarboro, the Italian-Swiss Agricultural Colony was initially established to help Italian and Swiss immigrants settle in their new land, many of whom were experienced grape growers back in the old country. The colonists quickly realized that their lands, located in the northern end of the Alexander Valley, were a goldmine for quality grape growing.  Or rather, that the real gold lay in transforming their grapes into wine.  After a shaky first vintage when the entire harvest turned to vinegar, the Colony became one of the leading wineries in America.

Italian SwissThe Italian-Swiss Colony was a pioneer in more ways than one, single-handedly launching the era of winery tourism and cellar-door sales. Some years saw more than 400,000 visitors come through the winery in Asti, numbers that would please any winery accountant today. During prohibition, the Colony continued to make wine for sacramental purposes, yet found an ingenious way to maintain supply to their loyal customers and to keep afloat. Throughout the 1920s they shipped thousands of gallons of concentrated grape juice around the country with a packet of yeast attached. The package bore the admonishing caution to the effect of: “warning: do not add water and keep contents away from yeast, otherwise alcohol may result”. I also have to venture that this hearty group of immigrants were possibly the first to celebrate harvest by throwing a party for three days and three nights straight, in a wine tank. Not just any old fermentation vat, but an underground, concrete, cavernous 500,000 gallon tank. We can only imagine.

Today the old Italian-Swiss Colony at Asti is the home of Cellar Nº8 and Souverain wines, both owned by Treasury Wine Estates, a collection of about 50 top wineries from around the world recently carved off from the Foster’s Group. The place simply oozes history from its old cracked walls (in the original parts at least), and when you visit, be sure to look closely, you may just still find an old flask of grappa carefully hidden between the walls by Giuseppe or Giorgio for those mid-shift little nips.

Cali ChampagneBack to the present. The point is that California has history. Lots of it, and its fascinating. But it has taken nearly a century and a half, world wars, prohibition, economic crisis, obsessions variously with Hearty Burgundy, California champagne, wood flavours, ripeness, aromatic yeast strains and clonal selections and guerilla-style tastings in Paris and elsewhere to arrive at the point where California sits today: a mature and confident region. Its strength is its diversity, and that diversity is growing. Slowly but surely, each AVA (American Viticultural Area, or appellation) and its best-suited grapes are coming into focus, as well as the breadth of styles that are obtainable from the same grape in different climates and soils. The most frequently lobbed criticism of Californian wines in the 80s and 90s was their one-dimensional-ness, that is, cabernets and merlots, chardonnays and sauvignon blancs that all tasted the same. But even a short visit today to the Golden State will reveal a vastly different reality: wines of character and sense of place, from cool, moderate or warm climates, from volcanic, alluvial, gravelly or sandy soils, these are wines that taste like a place. And yes of course they sit alongside on shelves next to the generic wine of California-designated branded wines, which, through the miracle of economic meltdown, have actually become quite good value in many cases.

But on to the important stuff: The LCBO’s October 30th spotlight reveals some superb wines from California, with a little something for everyone. You’ll think that I may have spilled some wine on my keyboard causing the nº9 key to stick in the score column of my tasting spreadsheet, but no, it’s not a technical malfunction. No fewer than 12 out of 22 wines in my view were in the very good to outstanding category.

Rhône Rangers should head directly to two excellent wines from Paso Robles: 2006 EDWARD SELLERS COGNITO $26.95 and the 2007 ADELAIDA CELLARS ANNA’S ESTATE VINEYARD SYRAH $26.95. Both are savoury, succulent examples that will have you dreaming of scrub-covered hillsides in the Mediterranean. Fans more inclined to dream of Barossa shiraz in South Australia will appreciate the 2008 AUSTIN HOPE FAMILY VINEYARD SYRAH $39.95 .

Edward Sellers Cognito 2006 Adelaida Cellars Anna's Estate Vineyard Syrah 2007 Austin Hope Family Vineyard Syrah 2008

Pinotphiles won’t be disappointed with the release, with three 90+ wines to choose from. The pinot that most convincingly reached down to touch my inner sommelier was the outstanding 2008 BELLE GLOS CLARK & TELEPHONE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR Santa Barbara County $48.95 . This wine is as cool as a cucumber and a game-changer if you still think that all pinot noir has to taste like it comes from Burgundy.
Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008

Napa valley cabernet is of course well represented, with the excellent French-leaning 2006 STAGS’ LEAP WINERY CABERNET SAUVIGNON $49.95, the more classic west-coast 2007 JOSEPH PHELPS CABERNET SAUVIGNON $74.95, and the simply ultra-fantastic-biodynamic 2006 GRGICH HILLS CABERNET SAUVIGNON $74.95 .

Stags' Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2006  Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Beyond the Golden State, I have more for you. After WineAlign’s recent user poll (and thank you for responding), we now know your inner vinous secrets. We know why you drink, when you drink what you drink and where. (Can it be true that nobody is drinking sparkling wine? What’s wrong with the world?). The answers to the question “Have you ever traveled to a specific region because of their wine? And if yes, where?” revealed many many subscribers with a love of travel and wine tourism. Though it also exposed my ignorance. I know India is making wine, and quite a lot of it, but I didn’t know that Greater New Dehli [sic] is a wine region worth traveling to!

Not surprisingly, nearly 70% of you regularly spend between $10-$25 on a bottle of wine for yourselves. But almost as many of you are willing to shell out between $20-$40 dollars when buying a wine as a gift for someone else. So, to make things easy, from this release I’ve put together a top ten smart buys for you (all under $25, half under $15), and then singled out 6 top smart buys for someone else, that’ll make you look like a rock-star sommelier.

Click on the following to see my:

Top Ten Smart Buys (for you)
Top Smart, Gift-Worthy Wines (for someone special other than you)
90+ California
All Reviews


John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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

Lawrason’s Take On Vintages Oct 16th Release – Bordeaux, Bubbles and Bargains

Red Bordeaux Bores but Whites Ignite, Nifty French Bubbles, Rustic California Reds? A South African Rising Star, A Portuguese Bargain, and Fine Aussie Chenin Blanc.

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

There is something for everyone in Vintages large October 16th release, but most fall somewhere between museum piece quality and bargain basement steals.

Château Grand Maison Cuvée Spéciale 2006The Bordeaux feature sets that middling tone, among the reds at least. It is abundantly clear from this selection that Vintages sees $15 to $35 as its bailiwick, which confines its customers to somewhat ragtag collection of petits chateaux.  This is not to say they don’t offer better value than those lofty grand cru classé, but in this price range quality and style vary greatly, so read the reviews carefully. There is also a mix of vintages, dominated by the leaner, greener often brittle 2006s, with a sprinkling of riper, better structured 2005s.  There are old-school wines with some gaminess and “brett”; there are some green wines, and there are some more elegant, modern berry scented reds as well. It really depends what you like.  I was a bit hard pressed to come up with one wine that I would run out and buy, but I have selected the Wine of the Month, the CHÂTEAU GRAND-MAISON 2006 CUVÉE SPÉCIALE Côtes de Bourg, which is a real steal at $16.95.  But you have to like some gamy, cigar-like character, which I do as long it is not the whole story. This packs decent fruit as well and quite rich texture for the money. The runner up was Chateau Reverdi 2006 Listrac from the Medoc, which actually scored a couple of points higher for $10 more.

Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2007My interest picked up considerably with the white Bordeaux, including the sweet wines, and I can only wish there were more being offered. When I was in Bordeaux last May I was impressed time and again by the quality and style of the barrel-aged, sometimes barrel-fermented sauvignon blancs and sauvignon-semillon blends.  There is a refreshing foresty, spicy greenness I am finding very appealing and refreshingly different from oaked chardonnay. I am also encountering it increasingly well rendered in Ontario “fume blancs” from wineries like Hidden Bench and Peninsula Ridge. There is even a brand new Fume Blanc version from Grange of Prince Edward in Prince Edward County that is doing very well.   Anyway, if you want to sample one the best quality, and best value editions don’t miss CHÂTEAU DE CRUZEAU 2007 BLANC from Pessac-Léognan in Bordeaux. I have always admired the value in the wines from this Lurton property; a kid brother or sister to Chateau La Louviere, but made with the same generousity, cleanliness and attention to detail. There is something in the terroir of this pine-forested Pessac region that just seems to soak into white wines.

The other theme in this release is French sparkling wines – that are not Champagnes.  It is a great place to dabble if you are finding yourself enjoying sparkling more as an everyday option. I was recently at a Roederer dinner in Toronto that showcased the release of 2004 Cristal – perhaps the world’s most famous luxury vintage Champagne, and certainly the oldest, having first been produced for Russian czar in 1876. It was truly a wonderful glass of wine with great aromatic piquancy, generosity and finesse. But at $285 I am never going to actually sit around and enjoy a bottle for the hell of it. But I might easily do that with the fine LOUIS BOUILLOT PERLE RARE BRUT 2006 CRÉMANT DE BOURGOGNE for only $19.95. Made from the same pinot noir and chardonnay grapes in similar limestone-based soils albeit in the slightly warmer (than Champagne) Burgundy region, it offers a similar nutty, brioche, toasty flavour profile; good acidity, grip and length. Psst, don’t pass up the fine little Cabernet Franc-based MONCONTOUR BRUT CRÉMANT DE LOIRE ROSÉ.

Louis Bouillot Perle Rare Brut Crémant De Bourgogne 2006 Moncontour Brut Crémant De Loire Rosé

Tokara Director's Reserve Red 2006During the South African Wine Fair back in June I was able to share a beer with one of the brightest, savviest young winemakers I have met recently, from anywhere.  Miles Mossop is at the helm of Tokara, a small, fairly new and already important winery in Stellenbosch that is sparing no expense to bring the best technology and minds to bear. Miles is no stranger to wine; his recently deceased father Tony Mossop was one of the Cape’s few Masters of Wine, a winemaker himself, and a prolific wine writer.  So Miles grew up steeped in wine and wine conversation and has become incredibly well versed in every nook and cranny of the subject. I remember being impressed with his wines at the show, especially a big red  called TOKARA 2006 DIRECTOR’S RESERVE RED, a $26.95 wine I’ve rated 91 points. Cabernet Sauvignon takes centre stage here at 80%, with a relatively high and adventurous percentage of Petit Verdot (11%) kicking in some of its lift and sinew. It is impressive for its complexity and power at the price, as is theTokara 2009 Sauvignon Blanc being released at only $14.95.

Barra Of Mendocino Pinot Noir 2006Rustic California Reds??  Really? That’s an idea that would send most modern California winemakers onto the therapist’s couch. The wines of the Golden State are among the most urbane, slick and approachable in the world. But California does have its true gritsters as well, and there seems to be quite a little collection – intended or not – in this release.  The wine that caught my fancy is typical of salt-of-the-earth, often Italian-raised winemakers who have been in California for generations. Some of them like Ernest and Julio Gallo, Robert Mondavi and Louis Martini went to mass market stardom and literally built the industry. Others like Charlie Barra, now 83, grew grapes in farflung places like Mendocino County and only began making wine in 1997.  I really love the rustic honesty BARRA OF MENDOCINO 2006 PINOT NOIR of Redwood Valley, and how much complexity, wamrth and out-front California pinot character it delivers.Madrigal 2006 Petite Sirah is a salt-of-earth, organically produced Napa wine too, as the less successful, organically grown, funky La Rocca 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Chateau Montelena 2007 Zinfandel might be considered a bit rustic as well, and although the delicious Paul Dolan 2007 Zinfandel is as modern and fruit forward as you can get, it too is grown organically.

Quinta Da Falorca Colheita Seleccionada 2005There is no wine nation on earth that has to deal more with “a rustic image” than Portugal. I have always been a big fan of the complexity and depth that Portugal can pack into its red wines for a pittance; but I don’t actually open them for my own drinking enjoyment often – just not wanting to fight the astringency I guess. But Portugal is well on its way to finding more fruit and finesse – the effort first led by big internationally focused companies like Sogrape and Fonseca. When it starts to show up in wines like QUINTA DA FALORCA 2005 COLHEITA SELECCIONADA from a small family domain in the heart of Dão – perhaps the most conservative region in Portugal – you know the trend is well entrenched. This is a wonderful little, big red with all kinds of ripeness, smoothness yet good structure for $13.

I have been tasting DOWIE DOOLE CHENIN BLANC since it was first made in the mid 90s in the McLaren Vale of South Australia. I have let it slide off the radar; but it bleeped back on with the 2009 edition. In particular I liked the way it delivered classic Loire inspired chenin quince and honey fruit ripened to the max and flirting with Aussie tropicality, without losing its chenin bearing. That can only be the result of excellent farming and when I got re-acquainted via the website it all made sense. The grapes were grown on 40 year old vines, on sandy soils on a higher slope in coastal MacLaren Vale. Furthermore, the vineyards are tended as organically as possible. It’s a delicious, polished, fairly priced white that drinks like a charm.

Dowie Doole Chenin Blanc 2009

See all my reviews for the October 16th release here.


– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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


Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , ,

Oct 16th Vintages Preview – Reveal your True Colours: Are you Bordeaux or Burgundy?

Disclaimer: the views expressed in this posting do not necessarily reflect the views of WineAlign nor any of the wine reviewers associated therewith.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

There’s a clear dividing line between serious wine drinkers. You can’t see it; it isn’t painted anywhere. It’s not a secret, yet nor is it often discussed outside of inner circles. Nonetheless, this imaginary line, this philosophical divide, neatly cleaves the followers of Bacchus into two irreconcilable factions. It’s the equivalent of a two-party political system, whereby anyone deeply engaged in the democratic process has a clear allegiance to one side or the other. No fence sitting, no floor crossing or flip-flopping. In order to expose the vinous leaning of a stranger at a dinner party, without intention to outwardly offend, one must employ the same tentative, indirect line of questioning that might be used to draw out someone’s position on a potentially explosive issue such as abortion or capital punishment. A few oblique inquiries, carefully crafted will inevitably draw out the truth, just as border guards employ are trained to employ a befuddling succession of seemingly irrelevant questions in order to back you into a corner and eventually cause you to admit your transgressions. I don’t have space here to beat around the bush, so I’ll just brazenly come right out and ask: are you Bordeaux or Burgundy?

If affirmative on the former, grab a bottle of 2004 CHÂTEAU DE LAMARQUE AC Haut-Médoc $28.95, a superb wine from a less-heralded vintage, which means value opportunity. If you lean to the latter, then the 2007 DOMAINE BOUCHARD PÈRE & FILS BEAUNE DU CHÂTEAU AC 1er Cru $39.95, is your wine. Same score, but anything but equal pleasure. As the French love to say, ça dépend.
Château De Lamarque 2004  Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Beaune Du Château 2007
You see, you may switch cell phone companies, belong to more than one airline rewards program, or even go back and forth between PC and Mac. But if you are true to yourself, you can’t be both a Burgundy lover and a Bordeaux lover at the same time, not if you’re serious about wine. One can’t truly argue logically and soundly for supremacy of one over the other, only passionately. Despite being geographically within the borders of the same country, and the language spoken in both regions is, on the surface, substantially similar, Bordeaux and Burgundy occupy two entirely separate universes. Both regions grow grapes and are virtually synonymous with wine. Both strive to make wine that will be admired around the world and poured at the best tables. Both regions have become standard-bearers and archetypes for their respective styles. And both believe that their wine is the best. But the similarities end there.


Pichon Lalande, Pauillac, Bordeaux

Pichon Lalande, Pauillac, Bordeaux

For starters, Bordeaux is maritime, Burgundy is continental. But that’s the least of the differences. The heart of the differences lies in the philosophy. As has been repeatedly written over the centuries, Bordeaux speaks to the intellect, Burgundy speaks to the heart. The Bordelais are clever: they use a blend of grapes to mitigate the effects of changing weather patterns and flatten the inconsistency curve in a marginal climate. The Bourguignons channel all of their hope, their yearly prosperity, through a single grape, red or white. The Bordelais, or more correctly the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce drew up the famous 1855 classification hierarchy based purely on the commercial success of each château; nary a soil profile hole was dug, nor slope angle measured. The Burgundians, or more correctly the Cistercian monks of the local abbeys, spent about 700 years empirically examining every square inch of the Côte d’Or, vinifying each plot of vines separately and evaluating through the vector of a single transparent grape the differences that emerged, before drawing the lines around the good, better and best vineyards. The domaine, or producer, doesn’t even factor in; only the land speaks.


Domaine Michel Lafarge, Burgundy

Domaine Michel Lafarge, Burgundy

In Bordeaux to increase the production of your Grand Cru, all one need do is purchase more vineyards. Any vineyards within the same appellation. In Burgundy, to increase the production of your Grand Cru, you must purchase more vines, in the same demarcated grand cru-rated vineyard, not adjacent, not next door, not above or below. Bordeaux wine prices fluctuate like the stock market, Burgundy prices don’t, because they’re not publicly traded. You have to know someone who knows someone to even make an offer. In Bordeaux, money talks. In Burgundy, you can talk, but nobody listens because they’re probably out in the vineyard working. In Bordeaux, the wine world heavy weights are invited for one week every year in March or April to taste raw, unfinished wine from barrel in order unofficially re-draw the château rankings like a top 100 pop chart, or to put money down on the barrel head to secure precious allocations of the top kit. In Burgundy, the other half of the wine world heavyweights are invited for three days each November to raise money for charity and then seriously party.

If you love Bordeaux, than you also love super Tuscans, Amarone, Napa Valley cabernet, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, cuvee prestige champagne, Barossa shiraz, Maipo Valley cabernet, Priorat in Spain, Portugal’s Alentejo, and anything in magnums and even larger format bottles. From this release you’ll enjoy the excellent 2007 TORRES SALMOS DOCa Priorat Spain $33.95,  the rich and flavourful 2008 PAUL HOBBS CHARDONNAY Russian River Valley California $44.95, and the sturdy, densely-packed-for-the-money 2008 FINCA FLICHMAN RESERVA MALBECMendoza Argentina $12.95.

Torres Salmos 2007 Paul Hobbs Chardonnay 2008 Finca Flichman Reserva Malbec 2008

If you love Burgundy, then you also love German riesling, northern Rhône syrah, Vouvray, Barolo and Barbaresco, Sonoma Coast or Santa Barbara, Chile’s San Antonio or Leyda Valleys, South Australia’s Adelaide Hills and the Clare/Eden Valleys, Spain’s El Bierzo, the Dâo and Douro in Portugal. From this release you’ll enjoy the spicy and complex 2004 LA VELONA BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO DOC Tuscany $43.95, the bio-dynamically grown 2008 MILLTON RIVERPOINT VINEYARD CHARDONNAY New Zealand $17.95, and the characterful and surprisingly ageworthy 2008 CUATRO PASOS MENCÍA DO Bierzon Spain $16.95 .
La Velona Brunello Di Montalcino 2004 Millton Riverpoint Vineyard Chardonnay 2008 Cuatro Pasos Mencía 2008

See more top picks including the customary top ten smart buys (for both sides), as well as my top ten Bordeaux, the main theme of the release, and the top five bubblies from France the mini-thematic of October 16th.

Of course, as a professional taster, at least when I’m being paid to taste wines, the lines are erased and two worlds collide. But on my dime, the lines are drawn, the distinction is clear. Have you guessed which side I’m on?

Click on the following to see my:
Top Ten Smart Buys
Top Ten Bordeaux
Top Five French Fizz
All Reviews


John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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

Steve’s Top 50 Value Wines from the LCBO – October 2010

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

This is the second edition of our monthly report which features the Top 50 wines by value available at the LCBO. WineAlign critic, Steve Thurlow, constantly tastes the wines at the LCBO to keep this report up to date. We feature the wines commonly referred to as General List and Vintages Essentials. We do not cover the bi-weekly Vintages releases here. The average price is less than $10.00.

To be included in the Top 50 for value a wine must have a high score, indicating high quality, while being inexpensive. We use a mathematical model to make the Top 50 selections from the wines in our database.

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.

New this month

Five wines are new editions this month to the Top 50. Three are from Portugal and the other two from Argentina. Portugal is making some excellent inexpensive wines mostly from indigenous grapes and it is a section of the LCBO to checkout.  Meia Encosta Red Dao 2007 is a new listing from the Dao region in northern Portugal where Sogrape Grao Vasco Dao 2007 also comes from. The 2007 is a new vintage and is a big improvement. The third wine to look out for is Caves Alianca Vista Tr Tinta Roriz 2006 made with Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo).
Meia Encosta Red 2007 Sogrape Grao Vasco Dao 2007 Caves Alianca Vista Tr Tinta Roriz 2006

The new vintages of two favourites from Argentina are both improvements over previous years which puts them in the Top 50 for the first time. Pascual Toso Malbec 2009, Mendoza and Familia Zuccardi Fuzion Shiraz Malbec 2009, Mendoza, were both popular already and deservedly join the Top 50 this month.

Pascual Toso Malbec 2009 Familia Zuccardi Fuzion Shiraz Malbec 2009

Limited Time Offers (LTO)

Every month 100 or so products at LCBO go on sale for 4 weeks. As a consequence of the current LTO, one wine  Cono Sur Pinot Noir 2009 makes it on to the list since its price is reduced from $10.95 to $9.95. You have until October 10th to take advantage of the sale price.
Cono Sur Pinot Noir 2009

Finding Top Value Wines

Wines are often well priced when their origin or grape components are unusual. It is often wise to look on the LCBO’s shelves for minority wine producing regions using unfamiliar grapes when seeking value. So it is not surprising that there are many such wines in the Top 50. Here are four that I recommend.

One Vintages Essential wine, Bodegas Castano Hecula Monastrell 2008, also joins the Top 50 this month. It is made from monastrell, the Spanish name for a grape known as mourvedre or mataro elsewhere in the world. Last week I was in Sicily visiting the beautiful winery near Sambuca di Sicila that produces Feudo Arancio Grillo 2008, which is made from grillo, an indigenous Sicilan grape that is one of the best white grapes in Italy and deserves much more attention than it gets. Next week I will be in Hungary and will meet with the producers of Dunavar Muscat Ottonel 2008. Hungarian wines offer good value and this is exceptionally well made from the Muscat Ottonel grape. Carmenere is a grape originally from Bordeaux that has found a more accommodating home in Chile where it ripens more consistently and winemakers have learnt how to manage its severe tannins. Carmen Carmenere Reserva 2008 is well made and a perfect wine for a steak.

Bodegas Castaño Hécula Monastrell 2008 Feudo Arancio Grillo 2008 Dunavar Muscat Ottonel 2008 Carmen Carmenere Reserva 2008

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).

Steve Thurlow

Filed under: News, , , ,


WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008