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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for March 5th, 2011 – Our most feminine Master Sommelier, South Americans from the fringes & a shocking VINEXPO study

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

In this article:
• Canada’s first female master sommelier: Jennifer Huether;
• March 5th Vintages Preview with more great ‘fringe’ South American wines – Top 5 ChileTop 5 Argentina –  and a rare specialty of the Dolomites.
• What are we, and the world, drinking? A world wine market update with a smattering of Top Smart Buys

Canada’s newest Master Sommelier
What do 180 talented, knowledgeable, dedicated, evidently wine-crazed, relentless and single-minded wine industry professionals from around the world have in common? They’ve put themselves through, and emerged successfully on the other side, of one of the world’s most rigorous set of examinations, administered by the Court of Master Sommeliers. After years of preparation and a nail-biting three‐stage oral exam (no pun intended), these candidates proved they have what it takes to attain the highest level of standards of wine theory, beverage service and tasting ability.

Jennifer Huether, Master SommelierSo grab a glass of LE MESNIL BLANC DE BLANCS BRUT CHAMPAGNE AC, Grand Cru $52.95 (from the February 19th release) and join me in a toast. It was with both admiration and delight that I greeted the news of Jennifer Huether MS’s success last week in Irving, Texas, when she became Canada’s first female master sommelier, and one of still only three in the country (Bruce Wallner of Paese Ristorante in Toronto was Canada’s second MS). Jennifer has been a pillar of the wine community in Ontario for over a decade. I still recall our days tasting together back in 1999-2000 ‘after hours’ in the LCBO lab with Claudius Fehr, then buyer of European wines for Vintages, for the Wine & Spirits Education Trust diploma course in Toronto. She was frighteningly sharp even then.  Today she’s head sommelier for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, so you can enjoy top-level service, and of course some fine wines, at places like the Air Canada Centre Platinum Cluband E11even where her team of sommeliers (including our own Sara d’Amato) is unparalleled in the province. Rumour has it that she will begin using WineAlign reviews on their new iPad wine menus to help dinners navigate through the list, so you know she’s on top of her game….

South America
There’s no question that South American wines, especially from Chile and Argentina, are hot. And not just in Canada: Chile’s international exports were up 57% in the period 2005-2009, making that thin sliver of a country the world’s fifth largest exporter by volume, behind France, Italy, Australia and the US. In Canada, Chilean imports rose 33% in the same period, making them also our country’s 5th most important wine trading partner.

Argentina does not yet figure among our top 8 sources for imported wines, but watch out. Those tango-dancing, Fernet-swigging Euro-Latinos enjoyed the most spectacular export growth of all, up 114% internationally from 2005-2009. Given the ramped-up excitement surrounding Argentine wines, it’s just a matter of time.
Concha Y Toro Maycas Del Limari Reserva Syrah 2009This week’s top South American release as well as the undisputed numero uno smart buy is the astonishingly good 2009 CONCHA Y TORO MAYCAS DE LIMARI RESERVA SYRAH Limarí Valley $14.95 (91pts). Yes, that’s right, 91 points for a $15 dollar wine. I nearly fell over, too, after tasting this wine and checking, and double-checking, the price.  I reported earlier this year on the unique soils and characteristics of the Limarì Valley, some 400kms north of Santiago, so click here if you’d like to read up. There’s also a video of the assistant winemaker from Maycas del Limarì describing the soils.

Two more of the top five from Chile in this release also happen to come from the Limarì Valley, proving that something special is going on there. From the same producer, try the 2007 CONCHA Y TORO MAYCAS DEL LIMARI RESERVA ESPECIAL CHARDONNAY Limarí Valley $19.95 . It’s a classy, barrel-fermented chardonnay that stands out for it’s pronounced minerality and lively natural acids; leave it another year in the cellar to show at it’s best. Also smart value is the 2008 TABALÍ RESERVA CABERNET SAUVIGNON Limarí Valley $14.95 . It’s chalk full of smoky, mineral, savoury flavours, making it a fine picnic-tablemate for the upcoming BBQ season.

Concha Y Toro Maycas Del Limari Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2007 Tabalí Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

In Argentina, like in Chile, it’s the ‘fringe’ zones that are causing the most excitement. I also reported in detail on the Argentine wine scene recently, following a two-week R&D adventure, so click here to read the news. While over ¾ of the country’s production comes from Mendoza, and there are of course many spectacular examples, in this release it’s all about the newly emerging areas to the far north and south. Try the 2007 MALMA RESERVA MALBEC Neuquén, Patagonia  $15.95 to get a sense. There’s an uncommon freshness to the black fruit flavours, fine, natural balance and salty-mineral flavours that distinguish the wines of Patagonia in general.

Malma Reserva Malbec 2007

Colomé Amalaya 2008A couple thousand kilometers to the north in Salta province is the home of Donald Hess’s Bodega Colomé project. Founded in 1831, it’s considered the oldest winery in Argentina, but it’s also cutting edge. Hess family Estates bought the farm in 2001, which included 11 hectares of pre-phylloxera vineyards, with some vines almost 150 years old and still producing. Hess also planted an experimental vineyard at a neighboring estate at the extraordinary elevation of 3,111 meters above sea level, the highest vineyard in the world to my knowledge. Check out the 2008 COLOMÉ AMALAYA Calchaquí Valley, Salta $18.95 from this release. It’s the excellent entry level wine from Colomé, principally malbec with some supporting grapes, offering a fine floral-violet fragrance and vibrant acidity. Another year or two in the cellar will allow the wood to better integrate.

World Wine Trends:
In case you didn’t know, Canada’s wine consumption will continue to grow
Robert Beynat, CEO of VINEXPOWhat will you be drinking tonight? Chances are I already know, at least statistically, thanks to the results ofVINEXPO’s 9th study on Global current and future trends to 2014: consumption, production, distribution and international wine and spirits trade were revealed last week in Toronto. And there’s at least a good chance that you will be drinking wine, as the study puts Canada’s wine consumption growth rate at six times the world average. According to the study, wine sales volumes are expected to grow 19% by 2014, while average worldwide volume growth totals 3.18%. “In the span of 10 years, Canada’s wine consumption will have grown 6 times faster than the world average,” explained Robert Beynat, CEO of VINEXPO.

Between 2005 and 2009, Canadians increased their wine consumption by over 22.5%, and from 2010 to 2014, wine consumption is forecasted to increase by 7.9 million cases, which would place Canada third behind China and the United States, in the running for the title of most improved wine consumers. We’re talking volume here, but even in terms of value, Canada should more than double the world’s growth projections (+18.58% vs. +6.73%). Not only do we like to drink more and more, but we also like to trade up to better wines: Canada is the 4th largest market worldwide for sales of wines priced more than US$10 per bottle, behind the U.S., UK and France. I’m guessing that there are few food products – aside from perhaps braised pork belly, poutine or gourmet burgers – that could claim such growth.

Despite our modest population, relatively to our envious size, Canada now ranks as the world’s 5th biggest wine importing country by volume, and imports are increasing steadily (+16% predicted to 2014). In 2009, imported wines represented 72% of your total wine consumption, with France still leading but trending down almost 2% in 2005-2009. But don’t be mistaken. France is making better wines than ever. It’s just that competition, which once did not exists, is now getting stiffer and stiffer. There are no fewer than 5 French wines in my top ten smart buys this week; for a sip of Gallic greatness try the 2008 DOMAINE DE LA TOUR CHABLIS MONTS-MAIN 1ER CRU $29.95. It will remind you of how good chardonnay can be. The 2009 CHAVET MENETOU-SALON BLANC $18.95 and 2009 CHÂTEAU DE LA GREFFIÈRE MÂCON-LA ROCHE VINEUSE $14.95 are also smart buys in the French white department.

Domaine De La Tour Chablis Monts Main 1er Cru 2008 Chavet Menetou Salon Blanc 2009 Château De La Greffière Mâcon La Roche Vineuse 2009

Italy is currently Canada’s second largest source for imported wines, but with a +23% increase over the same period 2005-2009, looks set to edge out the French for our greatest foreign affection. The mini theme in the March 5th release is northern Italy, and there’s a very tasty red from an obscure indigenous variety grown in the shadow of the pointy Dolomites to highlight: 2008 PISONI TEROLDEGO IGT Vigneti Delle Dolomiti $14.95. It’s food friendly in the typical Italian style, and fresh and lightly herbal, like cool climate cabernet franc mixed with syrah.

Pisoni Teroldego 2008

Despite these imports, we’ve not forgotten about our heroic local vintners: in the next five years domestic wines will see a 26% increase, meaning that Canadians will be knocking back a respectable 14.6 million cases of locally-produced wine. Though compared to the world’s average annual production of 3.083 billion 9-litre cases, Canada’s output remains a drop in the proverbial bucket. A drop worth buying this week is the 2009 TWENTY TWENTY-SEVEN CELLARS FEATHERSTONE VINEYARD RIESLING VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula 91 $24.95 ***, from young talented winemaker Kevin Panagapka. It’s made in an uncompromisingly tight, lean austere style, the way we like it.

Twenty Twenty Seven Cellars Featherstone Vineyard Riesling 2009

Red and Rosé: Red Hot
Red wine consumption has grown by 23% between over the last five years, and the VINEXPO study expects a further 20% increase in the next five. In 2010, over two-thirds of wines consumed in Canada were red. Also notable is the dramatic rise in rosé consumption, even if they only account for 3.5% of all wines drunk by Canadians. Pink was up 43.85% between 2005 and 2009, and will continue to grow by over 50%. There’s no worthy rosé in the March 5th release, but a smart red buy is the 2009 ST. GERVAIS RÉSERVE CÔTES DU RHÔNE AC $13.95 .

St. Gervais Réserve Côtes Du Rhône 2009

Other interesting worldwide tidbits:
Pull your weight, eh: C’mon you maritimers and you mid-westerners, you’re not pulling your weight. 90% of all wine drunk in Canada is consumed in just 4 provinces: Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta.
That Euro-lifestyle: half the world’s wine comes from France, Italy and Spain.
Betcha didn’t know: China ranks seventh in the world for wine production and nº1 in terms of growth expected: +77% between 2010 and 2014.
400M cases disappear each year: In 2009, more than 31.5 billion bottles of wine were consumed worldwide, up 4.5% compared to 2005. That equals 2.626 billion 9-litre cases. But average worldwide production is 3.083 billion 9-litre cases. So where did the other 400 million cases go?
A new arms race, but this time it’s a corkscrew: The VINEXPO study forecasts a moderate increase in world wine consumption of 3.18 %, ¾ of which is driven by just three countries: the U.S., China and Russia
The wine-spangled banner: The U.S. will become the world’s leading wine market in 2012, ahead of Italy and France.
Not enough sparkle: In 2009, still light wines accounted for 92.6% of all wine consumed across the world.
But there’s hope: in 2010, sparkling wines accounted for 7.4% of all wines drunk worldwide, with consumption is expected to grow by 5.61% (compared to the 2.98% growth rate of still wines) between now and 2014.
Think pink: of all wine categories, consumption of rosé wines will increase the most in the next five years.
Not just more, but better: total wine sales consumption by value in 2009 was up 9.25% compared to 2005, while over the same period, the volumes of still light wines consumed grew by 4.2%. The trend is expected to continue to 2014.
Forza Azzurri: Italy is the leading world exporter of wines by volume
But, vive les Bleus, too: France remains the leading world exporter of wines by value
Threat from other down unders: Chile’s is +33% in Canada putting them into 5th position in terms of volume. South Africa is Canada’s 7th largest supplier, but enjoyed the greatest increase 2005-2009: +62%. Other countries to watch: Argentina, up 114% internationally from 2005-2009, Spain and USA up by 42% in Canada.
More than just a body shot: Tequila has enjoyed the fastest growth of all spirits in the last five years, up 36% and ahead of vodka and bourbon (+23%). Cognac/Armagnac and Scotch whisky were the biggest losers at -7% and -6% respectively.

From the March 5th Vintages release:
Top Ten Smart Buys
Top Five Chile
Top Five Argentina
All Reviews


John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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Wine & Chocolate – Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d'Amato

Valentine’s Day is over, Easter is fast approaching and we have now entered the season of the chocolate flood. With chocolate everywhere you look, what’s a gal to do? My vote is to meld two indulgences, wine and the decadent product of the cocoa bean. As wonderful of a match as this might sound, it can be rather tricky to pull it off successfully. Chocolate is full of elements that can make it quite difficult to pair with wine including tannins, sweetness and intense flavours. However, it can be done if you’re willing to embark on the arduous ask of tasting an array of combinations.

In order to get the most out of this experience, I recommend experimenting with different matches and getting your friends involved. This makes a great bridal shower activity or just a novel post-meal diversion.  The following recommendations are meant to give you a starting point but it is great fun to find new and exciting pairings through experimenting on your own.

Regardless, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind:

1)      The sweeter the chocolate, the more difficult it will be to pair with a dry wine

2)      The intensity of the chocolate should match the intensity of the wine

3)      If all else fails, look to fortified wines and liqueurs

Dark, Bitter Chocolate with high cocoa content are best paired with full-bodied wines with plenty of structure. In this category, I have had most success with California Cabernets and Zinfandels as well as appassimento style wines (made from partially dried grapes giving lush, concentrated flavours) such Italian Amarone. A few recommendations include:

Ravenswood Barricia Zinfandel 2007, Sonoma, California, USA $39.95

La Chamiza Polo Profesional Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Argentina,  $12.95

Zenato Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2006, 375ml, Veneto, Italy, $24.95

*Tip: adding an artisinal sea salt such as Hawaiian red clay or black lava salt to your chocolate, helps to make the pairing more interesting as it softens the tannins in the wine and takes away from the bitterness of the chocolate.

Milk Chocolate is generally much sweeter than darker styles but has also less intensity. Lush, new-world styles of Pinot Noir can often provide smooth matches but simple ruby style Port and similar fortified sweet wines from the new world provide very pleasurable and almost fail-proof pairings. For a more exotic pairing try a rich Pinotage such as the decandent and chocolately Diemersfontein below:

Quinta Do Portal Fine Ruby Port 2008, Portugal, $15.95

Diemersfontein Pinotage 2009, Wellington, South Africa, $19.95

White Chocolate is usually the lightest in terms of intensity as well as the sweetest style. Success in this category has been mainly with bubbles such as Demi-Sec Champagne and the more modestly priced choice of Italian Moscato d’Asti. Occasionally, a rich, buttery Chardonnay from Australia or California can also provide a deliciously creamy experience but the results are less certain. Recommendations include:

Bailly Lapierre Réserve Brut Crémant De Bourgogne, Burgundy, France, $17.95

Ghione Anna Moscato D’asti 2009, Piedmont, Italy, $15.95

Happy Tasting! To access a shopping list of these wines available at your nearest LCBO location, click here .

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The Successful Collector ~ Cabernet Sauvignon – The world’s greatest red grape?

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Perhaps only Pinot Noir and Syrah/Shiraz can even pretend to match it for fame (and Merlot is still licking its wounds after its best-left-forgotten cinematic thrashing), but Cabernet Sauvignon continues to remain the undisputed champion of red grapes throughout much of the modern wine-drinking world. Found in virtually every winegrowing nation on Earth, our unflinching affection for this most compromising and flexible of grapes never ceases to both inspire our palates and ‘internationalize’ our wine flavour profiles.

Opus One

Opus One 2006

The reasons? Compared to most other red grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon (henceforth Cabernet) tends to perform well in an unusually wide variety of locations. As long as temperatures are warm enough, it will flourish virtually everywhere. More importantly, because of its assertive demeanour and identifiable personality (this in spite of the fact that it is almost always blended with other varietals), Cabernet has become one of the easiest grapes to identify and appreciate on the part of consumers. In the end, the world just can’t seem to get enough of it, from the finest (blended) examples on the Left Bank (and Graves) of Bordeaux to their more robust, fruit-forward counterparts throughout California and Washington State. And that’s just for starters: when it comes to Cabernet, there are so many places that can lay claim to crafting superior wine, not the least of which are Italy (particularly blended Super Tuscans), Spain (most significantly Penèdes), Australia (especially Margaret River, Coonawarra, and Clare Valley), Chile, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand (most notably blended examples from Hawkes Bay and Waiheke Island), and the Okanagan in British Columbia (just to name a few).

Elsewhere, Cabernet often serves as a not-insignificant part of the blend in a host of assorted wines that contain a different predominant grape, from Chianti Classico (Sangiovese) in Italy to Rioja in Spain. This is because even a small amount of Cabernet can make the difference between just an ordinary wine and something with a lot more body, power, and length. Not surprisingly, though, when sommeliers often taste such wines, they will almost always be able to tell if Cabernet has been added to the blend.

As a result, it has been argued that the allowance of too great a portion of Cabernet in a wine where another grape (and its characteristics and flavours) is supposed to predominate has resulted in too many wines that seem to taste the same – hence the ever-increasing prevalence of the ‘international flavour,’ a term used to illustrate the fact that so many wines seem to nowadays taste the same.

In the end, however, most wine enthusiasts would agree that Cabernet Sauvignon remains one of the most glorious grape varietals in existence, a grape that (while often superlative in its own right) takes to blending as if by second nature – an attribute the vinous world can be forgiven for taking advantage of to (sometimes) excessive degrees. Quite truly, then, when it comes to the finest Classed Growths of the ‘Left Bank’ of Bordeaux to the top wines of the Napa Valley and elsewhere, there is truly no greater shining star of a grape than Cabernet Sauvignon.

See all of my review here.

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages February 19th Release – The Cabernet Dilemma & Here Come the 2009 Rhones

Cabernet Sauvignon, France’s 2009 Rhones Roll In, Kosher Kicks it Up a Notch, Super Bubbly, Quenching Quincy and Cheap Burgundy for the Cellar

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Vintages releases another 125 wines on Saturday, with relatively few highlights among them in terms of quality or value.  There seemed to be a lot of wines between $13.95 and $18.95, with middle of the road scores of 84 to 87 to match.  And this general sense permeated the wines in the cabernet feature too. There are a couple of expensive and excellent 90 point plus entries from Napa and Bordeaux, but as the field spreads out things get rather mundane.


The Trouble with Cabernet

Part of this feeling may be rooted in my difficult relationship with cabernet. It has never been my go-to big red grape, and I have always wondered how it ever got to be crowned as the king of grapes, at least by anyone who was paying attention to what was in the glass.  The coronation likely had far more to do with its pre-eminence on the Medoc Peninsula of Bordeaux, whose grand cru classé properties ruled the wine world for generations.  But even in Bordeaux cabernet sauvignon was always blended with merlot to fill in its gaps.  It rarely stands alone because it can be abrasive and often just too green (hard to ripen fully), with its famous “hole in the middle”.   In other words, it has a great nose, great initial impression of weight and power, then this disappointing acid-borne-lack-of-fruit leanness just before its burly tannins fill out the finish.

Cabernet’s  stature in Bordeaux made it the “gold standard” for winemakers who had any aspirations to greatness  elsewhere in the world.  And generally speaking, the warmer New World regions like California, Australia, South Africa and Chile are better locales for this grape, with extra fruit ripeness filling in the hole.  But other troubles surfaced.  First, these new world cabernets had to be labelled by grape variety (they couldn’t say Bordeaux), and in most places local regulation dictated a minimum content of 75% or 85%  of the grape stated on the label.  (Whereas in Bordeaux it was blended as needed given varying vintage conditions).   This meant that many New world cabernets were still too “cabby”.

Katnook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 The other problem was proliferation in itself. Everyone planted cabernet sauvignon everywhere in order to cash in.  So it was planted in places not necessarily well suited (Canada springs to mind) and made in high volumes from high yielding, often young vines in order to hit affordable price points. The result has been a sea of mediocre cabernet.  I detest weedy, cooked, tea-like  cheap cabernets from hot valley floors anywhere in the world, and as a general rule I don’t buy cabernet sauvignon under $25 to avoid disappointment. However, there are specific locales in the world where I do look more closely including Napa and the Alexander Valley in California, Stellenbosch in South Africa, the Maipo Valley in Chile, and the Coonawarra region of South Australia.  All of sunny Australia, in fact, is quite well suited to cabernet. I have just returned from a whirlwind  ten-day, seven –region tour and found very good cabernets everywhere.  But the tiny, remote Coonawarra region that sits in a relatively cooler climate in unique “terra rosa” (red clay over limestone) soils has long been Australia’s signature region.  For a lesson in the glass, and the best value, truly authentic cabernet don’t miss  KATNOOK ESTATE 2006 CABERNET SAUVIGNON $29.95 .

France’s 2009 Rhône’s Roll In

The 2009 vintage in France is being hyped as one of the greats, especially in Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley.  The current issue of Decanter,  the authentic and authoritative British wine magazine (not the Globe and Mails’ shamelessly named Wednesday wine section)  features “Rhône 2009: Your guide to the south’s superb, balanced vintage”.  I have not been to the Rhône or Bordeaux to taste the 2009s for myself but I do have some faith that Decanter has a handle on this. Author John Livingston-Learmouth states “The 2009 vintage takes a confident place among the very good, robust vintages of the Southern Rhône vintages of the past decade. Commercially, it has perhaps seen overdone reflected glory from Bordeaux 2009. Qualitatively, its best wines from the top vineyards are classy, backed a good cast of supporters from leading domaines in all appellations. Classy, pure and stylish describe the fruit in my favourite wines”

It is the supporting cast that makes its debut on this release, with five 2009 southern Rhônes, plus a splendid blend from nearby Minervois.  VIGNOBLES DAVID  2009 LE MOURRE DE L’ISLE CÔTES DU RHÔNE ($15.95) is not a stunning wine in any sense, but it does telegraph the ripeness, roundness and a certain elegance that will be the hallmark of the vintage among the most careful producers. It is the kind of vintage that will also see its share of over-ripe and over-extracted wines, and this thankfully, is not among them.  There is alsoa lovely, light 2009 Bordeaux on this release if you want to dip your toe into that pool for the first time.  At $14.95 CHÂTEAU LA PATACHE 2009 CABERNET SAUVIGNON from the Médoc is a very affordable advance scout.
Vignobles David Le Mourre De L'isle Côtes Du Rhône Kp 2009 Château La Patache Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Whether Kosher Or Not

Normally I have not paid much attention to Kosher wines because  they have been not very good, nine times out of ten.  So Kosher has been a flag to meant stay away, which has caused its own set of problems as a reviewer lest my position be viewed as motivated by something other than what’s in the bottle. So it’s with some relief that I can say, this time, that the Kosher selection is quite good.  Do not let the designation deter you from trying most of the selections being offered, including the two Israeli reds from  Galil.  The above-mentioned Cotes du Rhone is indeed Kosher, as is the BACKSBERG 2010 CHARDONNAY from the Paarl region of South Africa  Paarl, a bright, racy and surprisingly complex chardonnay for only $16.95.

Backsberg Chardonnay Kpm 2010

Sparkling Value of the Year (so far)

GLORIA FERRER 2005 BLANC DE BLANC from the cool Carneros region in California is plain and simple a great buy at $24.95.  It was tasted in the context of several other bubblies on the release, including the excellent LE MESNIL BLANC DE BLANCS BRUT CHAMPAGNE at $56.95 that may be good value in the context of French Champagne, but is still twice the price of the Gloria Ferrer.  If the quality of this chardonnay-based, traditionally produced sparkling wine comes as some surprise, it won’t when you understand the background.  Gloria Ferrer also makes pinot noir and chardonnay table wine, but it is a sparkling wine specialist; a subsidiary of Spain’s giant Freixnet, the world’s largest producer of bubbly. That may conjure up notions of industrial boringness, but Freixnet is still family owned and focused; and the California operation is a tiny off-spring compared to the parent company.

Gloria Ferrer Blanc De Blancs 2005 Le Mesnil Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne

A Great Little Sauvignon Not from New Zealand

Domaine Des Ballandors Quincy 2008 Another recent observation from my trip to Australia was that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has become the dominant white wine of choice in Australia. And the Aussie winemakers are none too pleased about that. Try to imagine Canadian chardonnay supplanting California chardonnay in the USA and you understand the scope of the problem.   Indeed NZ sauvignon is everywhere around the world these days and if not literally, at least in terms of its influence on the winemaking style of sauvignon blanc. And this is a good thing!  This is a grape that begs to make bright, crisp and zesty wines, and no variety does it better, not even riesling.  The NZ style has transformed the heavy handed, dull examples of places like Chile, South Africa and California.  And it has caused the French in the Loire Valley to examine their tradition and frankly clean up their act. The wines of Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé, Touraine and small appellations like Quincy now seem just a bit brighter and fruitier, yet the best still have a certain finesse and compactness that many in New Zealand are not yet achieving. To see what I mean, try DOMAINE DES BALLANDORS 2008 QUINCY a great modern sauvignon and a great value at $18.95.

Budget Burgundy for the Cellar

Have you noticed the surge in inexpensive, global pinot noirs in the past two years?  This grape is now mainstream, whether due to the effect of the movie Sideways, or a general  consumer hankering for lighter, flavourful red wine as a versatile food choice. I tend to think it is more the latter, and that Sideways is overly credited with turning the world onto pinot noir.  Anyway, the predictable result of becoming mainstream and affordable is a wide variation in style and quality. I like many of the New world offerings but I am paying more attention to finding true value in a style that I consider more authentic or traditional. Call it Burgundian style if you wish but Burgundy is becoming diverse too.  So there was just something that caught my eye about RENÉ BOUVIER LE CHAPITRE 2008 BOURGOGNE at $19.95.  It’s tightly wound, not very dense or lush, but it has a certain compact balance and style that I think will really show in about three years. We tend to forget that pinot can often take time to reveal itself. Here’s one I’d put my money on.

René Bouvier Le Chapitre Bourgogne 2008

See my notes on all the wines in the February 19th release here, and enjoy shopping.

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for February 19th, 2011 – Top Smart Buys, Cabernet & Kosher wines

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

In this article: Fine Kosher wine? No, fine wine that happens to be kosher: just learn your KPs from your KPMs: Recommended Kosher wines. Also, Recommended Cabernets for all occasions and all pocketbooks, and the customary Top Ten Smart Buys including a killer value for fans of bubbles, local wines with class and elegance, a textbook oyster wine and value(!) Bordeaux.

Gloria Ferrer Blanc De Blancs 2005This week’s top smart buy is a bubbly, and it’s not from Champagne, or even France, but it is made in the champagne method. It’s the 2005 GLORIA FERRER BLANC DE BLANCS Carneros, California, Méthode Champenoise $24.95. No doubt about it, this is top notch sparkling wine for the money, and I’d defy anyone not to guess champagne, or at least very expensive traditional method sparkling wine, if handed a flute of this flavourful bubbly ‘blind’. It shouldn’t, of course, be surprising. By now, the Carneros region of Sonoma County is well known for it’s quality sparkling wines as well as more elegant style still pinots and chardonnays. And Gloria Ferrer has been doing it for longer than anybody else: The Ferrers have been winegrowers in Spain since the 1500s; they are the family behind the world’s largest sparkling wine producer, Freixenet. José Ferrer, husband of Gloria, and his son Pedro moved from Barcelona to Sonoma in the 1980s and established the Gloria Ferrer winery in 1986 at a time when there were no other sparkling wine houses in the region. The 2005 Blanc de Blanc spent over three years on the lees to develop those beguiling yeasty-toasty-brioche flavours.

Ironically in this release there’s also an outstanding champagne: LE MESNIL BLANC DE BLANCS BRUT CHAMPAGNE AC, Grand Cru $52.95. One might argue that it’s more poised and complex that the Gloria Ferrer, but then again it’s twice the price. I say buy a bottle of each to compare, and decide for yourself if it’s worth the premium. See the full top ten here.

Le Mesnil Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne

The main feature of this release is “Cabernets”. By now I reckon you already know a fair bit about the grape (deep colour, firm structure, black fruit and herbal flavours, or more jammy in warm climates, age-worthy, etc.), where it grows (everywhere), typical price range ($10-$10,000), and so on. So let’s just cut to the highlight reel:

Top Wine:
2007 NAPANOOK Napa Valley $53.95
Best value under $25:
Best value under $15:
Premium dinner selection:
2006 ST. FRANCIS CABERNET SAUVIGNON Sonoma County $28.95

Napanook 2007 Marchesi De' Frescobaldi Tenuta Di Castiglioni 2008 La Chamiza Polo Profesional Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 St. Francis Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Weeknight/casual dinner selection:

Domaine De Gourgazaud Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Château La Patache Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 

Here’s a link to all my Recommended Cabernets.

Kosher for Passover (read on even if you’re not kosher)
It’s not that long ago that shabbat-observant Jews had little choice other than Manischewitz for the Passover celebration, which may well have encouraged a whole generation to avoid wine, outside of religious celebration, for a lifetime. Today, there’s an impressive range of KP (“Kosher for Passover”) and KPM (“Kosher for Passover Mevushal”) wines from which to choose, from places as diverse as Argentina, Australia, Austria, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain and the United States, among others. In fact, a quick query of the LCBO database reveals no fewer than 133 products listed as “KP” or “KPM “. (Be sure to use “KP” as your search word, since the word “kosher” curiously only brings up 96 products, including one with a tasting note that reads “Enjoy with grilled-rare sirloin, thinly sliced, and served with kosher salt…”, which, of course, does not refer to a kosher wine at all. In the WineAlign database, it’s safe to search for “Kosher, KP or KPM”, as tasting notes are not queried in the search function, just wine names.) So aside from the sentimental attachment, I’m sure that the sweet, grapey, foxy flavours of Manischewitz made from local concord grapes in the northeastern US won’t be missed terribly (it’s still available of course at the LCBO, $12.95 for 1500ml, but I have no tasting note).

Yet despite the variety and high quality of many kosher wines available today, I suspect that the majority of drinkers are still weary and suspicious of them. It’s also likely that anyone who’s not specifically looking for kosher wines will avoid such-designated products altogether. This is a shame. Admittedly, fearing the bias in myself lurking from previous bad experiences, I made sure when reviewing NOT to reference the notes provided by the LCBO distinguishing the Feb. 19th feature kosher wines, and thus all products were treated equally. In the end, three of the kosher wines reviewed in the release scored a fair and square 88 points and higher.

Perhaps it’s not obvious: simply because a wine is Kosher does not mean that it’s inferior, or that it’s not worth a look even if your motivation to try it is not religious. I was in Israel a few years ago, and aside from the happy discovery of many superb wines, one of my most clearly-etched memories was the common refrain of so many producers wishing to distance themselves from the kosher-non-kosher argument, and to just focus on making great wine. Many wines I tasted on that journey were not kosher (it’s another fallacy that all Israeli wines are kosher), and in other cases, I tasted many excellent wines, which just happened to be kosher. But that wasn’t the point. The wine was good.

Kosher SymbolsSo what’s the story with Kosher wine? It’s worth pointing out that within the kosher category, not all wines are created equally. Here it’s important to distinguish between straight kosher and kosher-mevushal products. Myriad absorbing details aside, the important thing to know is that mevushal wines are pasteurized (mevushal means literally “cooked”), while regular kosher wines are not. The history and reasoning behind this, like all rabbinical laws, is complicated but fascinating. I “asked the expert” to get the story:

“In the past wine was often used by pagans in their offerings to idol gods. When something good happened, you’d pour some wine out on the ground as a symbolic thank you (if you were an idol worshipper, that is). The rabbis who set up the rules for kosher wine wanted to make sure that Jews never got a glass of wine that had been associated with an idolatrous offering, so they required that only Jews be involved in handling kosher wine. 

Even after these rules were set up, some people worried that if you had a nice glass of kosher Chardonnay at a Jewish wedding, it’s possible that the non-Jewish waiter or waitress might have spilled some of your Chardonnay in an idolatrous practice, while your back was turned. The solution: Mevushal wine. (Shulhan Arukh, YD 123). Mevushal wine has been heated to the point that idol worshippers wouldn’t use it for their nefarious purposes. It turns out even idol worshippers had standards for their wine. They wouldn’t use wine for an offering if it had been boiled because boiling wine removes much of the flavor. So the rabbis ruled that in order to avoid the possibility of a Jew ever drinking wine that was idolatry-associated, only cooked wine could be served to a Jew by a non-Jew.” (Source: )

So, if you are an idolatrous non-observer and you’re invited to a kosher house for Passover dinner, expect cooked wine, or at least don’t touch any bottles that aren’t mevushal – you’ll spoil the celebration.

But back to the point: when it comes to quality, the reality is that it’s tough to make top notch wines when you have to pasteurize them. Although wine is no longer boiled to remove all of the flavour as it once was – it’s sufficient to flash pasteurize for less than a minute, reds up to 82ºC, whites slightly lower – yet anytime you raise the temperature of wine you lose many of the fresh, fruity, attractive aromas and flavours. The wines taste literally cooked in some cases, e.g. “wet hay and damp earth aromas”, as extracted from one of my reviews of a KPM wine (before I knew it was mevushal).

Regular kosher wines simply have to be handled from crushing through to bottling by Shabbat-observant Jews. So aside from some logistical problems for non-observant winemakers (who can’t draw barrel samples themselves for visiting journalists), and the fear of un-weary, non-observant visitors accidentally bumping into tanks or barrels of wine and deconsecrating them (“you touch it, you bought it..”), there’s no de facto compromise of quality in the winemaking process. Thus there are lots of great wines that just happen to be kosher.

Regardless of your beliefs, if you’re still not convinced that kosher wines can be very good, try this pair of wines, which just happen to be both kosher, non-mevushal and from Israel: 2006 GALIL MOUNTAIN YIRON KP Upper Galilee $33.95 . 2009 ELLA VALLEY SAUVIGNON BLANC KP Judean Hills $22.00 . Upper Galilee is not exactly a cool climate, but it is a little cooler than the rest of the country due to elevation, and Galil Mountain winery sits atop one of Israel’s highest mountain ranges. The modern facility was established in 2000 as a joint venture between the Kibbutz Yiron and the Golan Heights Winery, Israel’s first premium boutique winery which itself has been around since 1982. Yiron is one of Galil’s flagship offerings. It’s a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah made in a full and voluptuous style with super ripe, savoury, baked red fruit and dried herb flavours that’s reminiscent of modern southern Rhône Valley wines. Tellingly, the word kosher is not mentioned anywhere on the English part of Galil Mountain’s website.

Galil Mountain Yiron Kp 2006 Ella Valley Sauvignon Blanc Kp 2009

The Ella Valley winery is located in the valley of the same name, which connects the plains of Israel to the limestone Judean Hills. The Valley has a long history of vine growing and wine producing: archeological digs in the area have uncovered wine presses and clay amphorae dating from 3,300 BCE, and wine bottles from the area were found in the tombs of the pharaohs from the First and Second Dynasties.  Ella Valley’s sauvignon blanc is grown in the 
Nes Harim vineyard at a altitude of 700 meters, at the foot of Moshav Nes Harim, in the Judean Hills. The soils here are rich in limestone, contributing to this wine’s marked minerality. It’s crafted in an old world style: think less of pungent New Zealand, and more of ripe, white Bordeaux styling. There’s plenty of character and depth here in any case.

5 Stones Sauvignon Blanc Kp 2010

If mevushal is essential, however, the best of the lot in this release is the 2010 5 STONES SAUVIGNON BLANC KPM Margaret River, Western Australia $23.95. It’s a soft, round, creamy example from Margaret River in Western Australia, with simple but pleasant fermentation aromas (banana, pear) – perfectly drinkable all around, just not worth the premium price in my view.

From the February 19th Vintages Release:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Recommended Cabernets
Recommended Kosher wines
All Reviews


John S. Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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Bring Romantic Destinations home this Valentine’s Day – by Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d'Amato

As the big day for romance approaches, there is, alas, no slowing down for busy moms with busy schedules. For most of us, our carefree, jet setting days are now behind us and although we may not have the fortune of leaving our domestic lives for a weekend of bliss with our partners, we can do our best to bring home that same feeling.

Let’s take a trip to some of the world’s most romantic destinations, which just so happen to be some of the world’s most exciting wine regions, in an effort bring back some of that bottled love into our homes on this most romantic of days.  So, tuck in the kids, pull out your corkscrews and get ready to smell the aromas of Provence, feel the sunshine of Tuscany and envision the spectacular vistas of California.

Click here for a handy list of the wines featured in this column and their availability at your your local LCBO.

Tuscan Hillside

Tuscan Hillside

Top Picks from Tuscany

Ahh, the charm of sun-baked Tuscany with its rolling hills, olive groves, rustic but exquisite cuisine and of course, its delicious wine. Reds from this region are generally based on the indigenous grape Sangiovese which is a versatile and elegant varietal that exudes the Tuscan charm that it has absorbed from the soil. Sometimes this grape is blended with more substantial French varietals such as Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. My recommendations include a sensuous and aromatic Chianti Classico from a producer situated in the heart of the region between Florence and Sienna as well as a forward, fleshy and winsome wine from the picturesque hilltop village of Montalcino.

Isole e Olena Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy, 2007

Abbadia Ardenga Rosso Di Montalcino 2007

Isole e Olena Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy, 2007,  $26.95

Abbadia Ardenga Rosso Di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy, 2007, $19.95


Morning fog yields to the sunshine over California’s top sites

Top Picks from California

California’s striking coastline and Mediterranean climate make both an ideal vacation destination and a noteworthy residence for some of the world’s most elite vineyards. However, warm weather and spectacular landscapes are not all that California has to offer its vineyards, those vineyards located along the coast, in particular, are shrouded in a cloud of fog for much of the morning which lifts dramatically in the early afternoon to reveal the warm sunshine. This morning cooling effect helps the grapes retain acids which give vibrancy and intrigue to otherwise sun-drenched wines. My top choices for Valentine’s day include a plush, decadent Chardonnay full of tropical fruit and exotic spice that is sure to get you in the mood as well as a California’s signature grape, Zinfandel, rich with black raspberry and cracked pepper.

Kali Hart Chardonnay, Monterey County, California, USA,  $21.95

Stonehedge Diamond Ridge Reserve Zinfandel, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley, California, USA, $17.95

Hot, dry, rocky soils of Southern Rhone

Hot, dry, rocky soils of Southern Rhone

Top Picks from Provence

Wild herbs, lavender and hot stones are some of the enticing aromas that Provence exudes. Another sun-baked region, Provence boasts more sunshine hours than anywhere else in Western Europe. Scorching heat and drought in the summer stress the vines to the point of providing richly concentrated and dynamically complex flavours. The wines of southern France are often blended from several indigenous varietals ooze charm and aromatics. My top passionate picks include a succulent white blend from the Southern Rhone and a generous, lavish and full-bodied red from the dramatic red ochre hills of Roussillon.

Ferraton Pere & Fils Samorens Blanc, Cotes du Rhone, France, 2009, $13.95

Domaine Gardies Mas Las Cabes Rouge, Cotes du Rousillon, France, 2009, $15.95

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Steve’s Top 50 Value Wines from the LCBO – February 2011

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

In February 2011 sixteen new wines join the current Top 50 as a result of recently tasted wines, new editions to the LCBO’s selection and new vintages of existing listings. In this report we feature the wines commonly referred to as General List and Vintages Essentials. We do not cover the bi-weekly Vintages releases here. I constantly taste the wines at the LCBO to keep this report up to date.

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

Fabiano Valpolicella 2009 from the Verona area in Italy captures the essence of the appellation, being a light fruity structured red with mild red berry aromas. It does come in a big 1.5 L bottle, so have friends on hand when you try it.  Eclipse Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo 2008, from the south of Italy, is probably the best value red at the LCBO. At this low price it is unusual to see a wine with such structure, complexity and palate length. The 2007 vintage of Vila Regia from the Douro Valley in Portugal is a big improvement over previous vintages and delivers a lot of elegance for a wine at its price.

Fabiano Valpolicella 2009 Eclipse Montepulciano D' Abruzzo 2008  Vila Regia 2007

Limited Time Offers (LTO)

Every month 100 or so products at LCBO go on sale for four weeks. As a consequence of the current LTO four wines joined the list.

Masi Serego Alighieri Possessioni Rosso 2008 is an elegant sophisticated red wine made from corvina and sangiovese grapes from the Veneto in northern Italy. Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2009 is a juicy fruity midweight wine with well integrated oak from South Africa. It is a Vintages Essential and is always available in the Vintages section.

Grenache is known as garnacha in Spain and in Italy as cannonau. Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva 2006 is made from the grape on the Italian island Sardinia. It is a soft flavourful midweight red similar to the wines of the Southern Rhone with a lot of complexity and harmony considering its modest price. It is also a Vintages Essential item.  Errazuriz Estate Merlot 2008 is a well balanced wine from Chile with a good depth of flavour and palate length.

Masi Serego Alighieri Possessioni Rosso 2008 Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2009 Sella & Mosca Cannonau Di Sardegna Riserva 2006  Errazuriz Estate Merlot 2008

You have until February 27, 2011 to take advantage of these price offers.


Chile contributes 11 wines to the Top 50 with four notable additions this month. Quality from this South American country continues to improve and prices seem to creep lower all the time.

Santa Carolina has three new wines in the Top 50. This winery continues to make improvements to the quality of its wines in both the Reserva and regular ranges. Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2010 is a very correct Bordeaux blend with good balance and decent length and even a little complexity and is great value. Santa Carolina Carmenère Reserva 2009 is a well made juicy carmenere, with the greeness often associated with this grape well tamed. Santa Carolina Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2010 is a beautiful wine with passion fruit, gooseberry and hay aromas and flavours and loads of mouthwatering acidity; something we thought until recently that only New Zealand could deliver from the new world.

PKNT Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 is an excellent cabernet sauvignon though not as spicy as the label might lead you to believe. It’s ample fruit is well balanced by gentle acidity and soft tannin.

Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2010 Santa Carolina Carmenère Reserva 2009 Santa Carolina Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2010 PKNT Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Ontario Chardonnay

Chardonnay is gradually being recognized as one of the consistently better wines made in Ontario. Internationally, until recently, it was Icewine for which Ontario was best known. That is still the case but Ontario chardonnay, with its wider appeal and less expensive price, is now featuring frequently in the international wine media.

There are two chardonnays from Ontario in the Top 50 which offer great value, both are lightly oaked with good fresh acidity to keep them light on the palate. Chateau Des Charmes Chardonnay Sur Lie 2007 is a soft, yet rich wine that will appeal to a wide range of taste. Jackson Triggs Proprietors’ Reserve Chardonnay 2008 has a creamy fruity palate with just enough oak for structure. Expect to see many more Ontario winesfeatured in WineAlign in the coming months.

 Chateau Des Charmes Chardonnay Sur Lie 2007 Jackson Triggs Proprietors’ Reserve Chardonnay 2008

Since many new wines joined the Top 50, sixteen have slipped off since last month, maybe to reappear in the future due to a price reduction, or an improved vintage or maybe an LTO. 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 Top 50 changes all the time, so remember to check before shopping. I will be back next month with more news on value arrivals to Essentials and the LCBO.


Steve Thurlow

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The Successful Collector – Understanding German wine labels – By Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

It’s actually quite tragic when you think about it: the fact that so many wine enthusiasts find understanding German wine labels so difficult. In fact, most people seem to give up after determining the grape, which is most often Riesling, the undisputed star varietal of the land – even the most fledgling wine learners ought to know this! And yet, it would probably surprise many to learn that understanding German wine labels isn’t so hopeless, as long as you know how the system works.

For the most part, the German labelling system for fine wine falls under a format called Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (henceforth QmP), which is based strictly upon the amount of residual sugar left in the wine after fermentation, thus reflecting both the level of maturity and sweetness of the wine. From lowest to highest are Kabinett (fully ripe grapes, often off-dry), Spätlese (harvested later, therefore more ripe), Auslese (very ripe grapes, oftentimes partly botrytized – affected by ‘noble rot’), Beerenauslese (extremely ripe grapes, often fully botrytized, and deliciously sweet), and Trockenbeerenauslese (individually picked fully botrytized grapes, exceedingly rare and expensive), which almost always appear after the name of the grape (alternatively somewhere else on the front of the bottle). Added to this category is Eiswein, made from fully frozen grapes, with a legal minimum for must weight (potential alcohol) at the time of harvest. From above-right, you can see, then, that this particular wine from Dr. Loosen is labelled Riesling Spätlese, which means that it will (probably) taste off-dry but not so sweet as to leave your mouth coated with sugar. As a general rule, by the way, the finest German Kabinetts, Spätleses, and Ausleses should almost never leave your mouth feeling saturated but refreshed.

Also on the label, many QmP wines will often list the name of a specific vineyard from which the grapes are derived. This is exceedingly similar to the system used to identify the fine wines of Burgundy, the only major difference being the omission of (with certain important exceptions – called ‘Erstes Gewächs’, or First Growths) recognized Premier Cru and Grand Cru sites on the label. Above-right, then, we see that this particular Dr. Loosen 2007 Riesling Spätlese hails from the Ürziger Würzgarten vineyard, the most immediate village being Ürzig (+ ‘er’), located in the ‘Middle’ part of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer winegrowing region of Germany. Feeling a bit better about German wine labels now?

With these points in mind, there also exists another type of German wine labelling system: this is called the Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (henceforth QbA) system, which indicates neither the level of sweetness of the wine nor the exact vineyard site from which the grapes are derived. All it will indicate is the grape varietal (the finest most often being Riesling) and the winegrowing region it comes from. What’s more, unlike QmP wines, which are not allowed to be chaptalized, QbA wines may be fermented with additional sugar to increase its alcoholic content. At their best, QbA wines are often quite suitable for everyday drinking, though can hardly be considered comparable to their QmP counterparts.

Ultimately, these are the two most important categories within the German wine labelling system. Indeed, many German wine labels can seem incredibly complicated at times (especially those containing really long names), yet it actually works remarkably well, because so much depends on the level of natural sweetness in the wine (especially for a grape as transcendent as Riesling), as well the vineyard site from which the wine hails. For wine lovers, then, all it takes is a little extra wine reading and a whole lot of tasting.

Click here for a list to all of the wines I have reviewed from the February 5th Vintages release, including inventory at your local LCBO.

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , ,

Lawrason’s Take on Vintages February 5th Release: Defining Modern Tuscany

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Tuscany ain’t what it used to be. Whether that is for better or worse depends on your point of view, but there is no debate that the wines of Italy’s foremost wine kingdom have become more complicated and more international in style in recent years. Tuscany used to be simply defined by Chianti and Brunello with a dash of Vino Nobile.  Now there are DOCs popping up all over the place, especially on the warmer coast.  Tuscany used to be defined by sangiovese, but now French grapes like merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cab franc and syrah – and any number of combinations with or without sangiovese – have become mainstream.  Tuscany also used to be defined by traditional, yes rustic, winemaking with ageing in old casks or cement vats. Nowadays many are modern, polished, super-ripe, extracted and bathed in new French oak. And it is becoming even more  difficult to know what you are getting because the thousands of wineries are each making several labels of different style, varietal, blend and price point.

Vintages Feb 5th release brings bring many new Tuscan wines onto Ontario’s shelves. I like the effort to branch out, and the number of new and unfamiliar labels is exciting. But it also contributes to my sense that Tuscany is careening out of control, and I wish I could say that I was thrilled with the quality of all the wines. They are patchy, and when you overlay prices, Tuscany is clearly not a value seekers paradise, as always happens when a wine region gets famous. Given the region’ global reputation as humankind’s gastronomic Mecca it is definitely famous.

One result of being a global hot spot is the internationalization of Tuscany’s wine style. It seems to have been amplified by the 2007 vintage that has pumped more ripeness and body into the wines. Some border on pruny over-ripeness, which often coincides with over-oaking and notes of volatility.  Tuscany’s appeal, to me, has always been about a certain lightness, tension and vibrancy.  Only one wine on the release ISOLE E OLENA 2007 CHIANTI CLASSICO ($26.95) – a standard bearer of quality and authenticity for as long as I can remember – sings that classic tune really well.  Among the more international style wines  BRANCAIA TRE 2007 ($24.95) is a lovely example based on three different grape varieties sourced from three different regions – a true regional wine.

Isole E Olena Chianti Classico 2007 Brancaia Tre 2007

A Tale of Two Syrahs

I don’t actually drink a lot of syrah day to day, perhaps because it can be a bit heavy for many of my home meals.  But I love to taste it and I love it when it captures the northern Rhone profile. It’s a very Mediterranean taste with ripe dried cherry/black olive fruit, licorice, black pepper and smoked meat.  To experience what I think it a classic of this genre pick up a bottle of DOMAINE BELLE LES PIERRELLES 2007 CROZES-HERMITAGE at $22.95, with bang-on varietal and regional character. Then also pick up a bottle of DUNHAM CELLARS 2005 SYRAH from Washington’s Columbia Valley. It is more expensive at $44.95 but it is also very impressive, more powerful wine, and the similarity to northern Rhone syrah flavour is unmistakeable. The northern Rhone and Washington may seem world’s apart but both are continental climate regions that sit on the boundary between hot climate and cool – with hot dry, summers but cooling influences in the shoulder seasons.

Domaine Belle Les Pierrelles Crozes Hermitage 2007 Dunham Cellars Syrah 2005

Blue Mountain’s Beauty Brut

Blue Mountain BrutI tasted a handful of Feb 5th sparkling wines lined up in Vintages tasting – a mixed lot including bargain-priced French Champagnes, and pretty Valentines Day pinks from, Alsace, Tasmania and Ontario’s 13th Street. But the best of the batch was the finely tuned, quite concentrated BLUE MOUNTAIN BRUT from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia ($32.95).  Blue Mountain is an iconic but reclusive central Okanagan winery that was among the first to create premium priced, high quality, cool climate and somewhat French styled wines in B.C. –  focused on pinot noir, pinot gris, chardonnay and bubbly. Meticulous vineyards on a magnificent bench site near Okanagan Falls hold the key, but there has historically been a certain aloofness by the Mavety family in terms of presenting their wines to the public. An appointment has always been required to visit the winery.  Blue Mountain wines have been very rare in Ontario, but now that they are showing up at Vintages, and being represented by Lifford Agencies, perhaps more will come our way. And that’s a good thing. The wines capture a bit more structure and finesse than many from B.C.

Cono Sur Vision Single Vineyard Riesling 2010Chile’s Bio Bio

I know that I have mentioned this region before, but a pair of new wines from Cono Sur are further etching Bio Bio in my mind as a new hot spot for aromatic varieties like riesling and gewurztraminer.  The second most southerly region of Chile has fairly long, warm growing days, but cooler nights and more rain fall than more arid regions to the north. CONO SUR VISION 2010 SINGLE VINEYARD RIESLING from Quiltramán in the Bío Bío Valley ($14.95) is a great riesling and  an excellent buy for those who want classic petrol and citrus, along with more floral, tropical melon notes. I personally like this style, and sometimes want more fruit and body in riesling than I get from Germany or Niagara, so I will stock a few bottles. But as with other New World rieslings from places like Australia’s Eden Valley, Bio Bio faces an uphill battle for acceptance in Ontario due to the strength of Ontario’s examples.

Königschaffhauser Pinot Gris Trocken 2009Stylish Pinot Gris from Baden

Pinot Gris seems to adapt its style to local conditions more than any other grape I know. In the New World, Argentina is making very ripe tropical peachy examples, while B.C. is making a medium body, dry and leaner style. In Europe, the pinot grigio’s of northern Italy tend to be light and crisp; those of Alsace are fat and sometimes oily. So it’s no surprise that Germany’s examples (where the grape is sometimes called rulander) are lighter and sweeter, and furthermore, that those of Baden in southern, warmer Germany are a hybrid yet again, reflecting both German delicacy and Alsatian power.  KÖNIGSCHAFFHAUSER 2009 PINOT GRIS TROCKEN ($13.95) is a classic and very stylish example. It is also great value.  I love the sleek texture and ripe fruit, but the real surprise is the added complexity and concentration that I believe comes from the Vulkanfelsin vineyards on the slopes of an ancient volcano called the Kaiserstuhl that rises on the edge of the Rhine Valley.

That’s it for now. This report is dispatched from Perth, Australia where I am embarking on a whirlwind tour of seven wine regions over ten days. I haven’t been here since 1995 so I’ll be a sponge on new developments, trends and regions.  And given the lovely, crisp verdelho enjoyed with a seafood dinner last night as we looked across to the impressive Perth skyline, I am going to be paying a lot of attention to Australia’s white wines.

See all my reviews for the February 5th release here.


– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008