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

Santorini Through the Years with Paris Sigalas

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

It’s no secret that I have fallen under the spell of the remarkable wines of Santorini, made from the assyrtiko variety. Santorini was in fact the first Greek wine that captured my attention several years ago, and set me on a journey of discovery to uncover more unusual Greek specialties with multi-millennial histories. Many

Paris Sigalas

Paris Sigalas

trips to Greece and her vineyards later, I’ve ended up as a sort of a Greek Wine expert in Canada by default, from a thin field to be sure, and, for the record, I have written articles and hosted many educational seminars on behalf of the Greek government [though this piece was not commissioned]. I am happy to report that I am still fascinated by the grapes, places and history of Greek viticulture, and look forward to further discoveries.

Well-known Santorini winemaker Paris Sigalas was in Toronto in May as part of the Greek Wine Road show, and the opportunity was taken to put together a fairly comprehensive vertical tasting of his remarkable wines for the first time in Canada. Following are a few quick notes on the region and the wines.

Santorini Greece

Santorini Greece

A Truly Unique Terroir

Few places in the world have the unusual grape growing conditions that exist on Santorini, giving rise to one of the world’s truly unique regional specialties. The intense sunlight and fierce winds dictate the vine trellising method: here grapes are not trained up posts and wires as is common, but are rather woven into baskets that literally sit on the ground so that the grape bunches can grow within, protected from the wind and wind blown stones, and from the sun by the canopy of leaves overtop.

The soil is pure volcanic pumice, very poor, with virtually no organic matter. Most vineyard pests, moulds and mildews are virtually unknown, making many vineyards de facto organic, whether certified or not. Such a hostile environment has the kept the island phylloxera-free, meaning that vines are grown on their own rootstocks; many vineyards are decades old and in some cases much older. It is speculated that the root systems of some vines may be 100 years or even older – nobody is really quite sure, as when the baskets become to large to manage, the vine trunk is cut off at the surface and new shoots are allowed to grown, renewing the weaving process.

Santorini Vineyard

Santorini Vineyard

Thus while on the surface the vines may appear young, the root systems may in fact be centuries old.

Santorini Vines

Santorini Vines

Yields fromold vines in these extreme conditions are not surprisingly absurdly low, in the range of 15-25 hectoliters per hectare. Rain rarely falls during the growing season. The only moisture the vines receive is from humidity born by sea breezes and deposited during cooler nights, absorbed and retained by the porous pumice stones. Assyrtiko, the principal whites grape on the island, is a variety of unquestionable class. Its unique feature is the ability to retain high acidity (and low pH) even when fully ripe; up to 14% alcohol is quite common. This is a particularly useful characteristic in the extreme conditions on Santorini. The variety is aromatically discreet, with vague citrus-grapefruit and occasionally riper orchard fruit aromas, but has a remarkable ability to transmit the intense minerality of the soils on the island. It often smells of freshly crushed volcanic rock. Assyrtiko from Santorini also often has a palpably astringent texture from very high levels of dry extract, a fact that, when coupled with high acidity-low pH and relatively high alcohol makes santorini an uncommonly age worthy white white.

Harvest on Santorini begins as early as the first week of August in some years. At Sigalas, grapes are hand sorted and refrigerated. A part of the harvest may then be cold macerated before vinification, the percentage of which is dependent on the vintage conditions and health of the grapes; the remainder is whole bunch pressed. Fermentation is kept around 15º-16º, using selected neutral yeast. Malolactic fermentation rarely occurs, given the already low malic acid content of the grapes. Sigalas also uses lees stirring to broaden the texture of the wine. Bottling takes place early in the new year following harvest, except for the barrel aged versions.

Tasting Notes
(note that the wines are not scored , though my preference is indicated by *-*****):

(wines with prices are available through The Kolonaki Group; contact: Steve Kriaris, older vintages are very limited)

2010 Sigalas Assyrtiko/Athiri, $17.95

Athiri is blended in here to boost the discreet aromatics of assyrtiko, though this remains a subtle wine. The nose shows some light grapefruit and lemon-citrus; the principal feature is minerality. The palate is full and fleshy, with relatively generous alcohol. Solid length. **

2007 Assyrtiko/Athiri $N/A

Beginning to show some advanced aromas, leaning towards some blond caramel, bruised apple. Creamy, lower alcohol, decent length. Drink soon. *

2010 Santorini, $23.95 (14.2%, 3.14 pH)

Discreet, yet highly spicy, stone fruit and intense minerality, salty on the palate. Long finish. A fine vintage; reminiscent of classic dry German Riesling. ****

2009 Santorini $23.95 (13.3%, 2.91 pH),

Showing beautifully now, with a honeyed-peachy ripeness, with precise acidity, minerality, and hazelnut notes. A full, concentrated vintage, with great ageing potential. *****

2008 Santorini $24.95  (14.2%, 3.05 pH)

More evolved grapefruit peel, honey hazelnut, with full, rich body, lightly astringent texture, a more rustic version. (90% was cold soaked). ***

2007 Santorini $29.95 (13.5% alc, 3.05 pH)

Round and creamy, soft, starting to show some age – a quickly maturing vintage. ***

2006 Santorini $34.95 (13.7% 3.10 pH)

Still fresh, marked by pure minerality, with a rich, full, fleshy palate – A wine of great intensity and length – remarkable. *****

2005 Santorini $39.95 (13.7% alc, 3.04 pH)

A full, firm, fleshy, lightly astringent vintage, with tons of dry extract and extraordinary length. Well constructed. Honeyed, succulent peach, nutty, hazelnut. ****1/2

2003 Santorini $39.95 (13.6%, 3.00 pH)

Smells like old school champagne, quite advanced, and oxidative. Not a perfect bottle? Deferred judgment.

Barrel Fermented Santorini

2003 Santorini Barrel Fermented

Quite remarkably fresher than the 2003 non-barrel, in fact quite amazing. The palate is rich, full, creamy, almost sweet, with sweet baking spice, like top notch white Burgundy, with intense, underlying minerality. Though generally opposed to ageing these wines in wood, this wine could make a believer out of me. ****1/2

2009 Santorini Barrel Fermented

Quite discreet wood influence, striking acidity and minerality, the wine here dominates any barrel notes. Full, rich, concentrated and creamy, long finish. Very well managed wood. ****

2008 Santorini Barrel fermented

Slightly clumsy and oxidative, seems to be ageing quite quickly; wood is notable, more so than the 2009. Fruit is moving into the candied citrus spectrum, though underlying acidity keeps this in shape. This might surprise in time. **1/2

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

Lawrason’s Take on Vintages May 28th – Burgundy Re-Visited, California Best Buys and Nifty Pinks by David Lawrason

Lawrason’s Take on Vintages May 28 Release – Burgundy Re-Visited, California Best Buys, Plunkett-Fowles of Oz,  Incroyable Le Croix de Gay, Alsace Muscat and Nifty Roses 
David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Burgundy Re-Visited

California and Alsace are featured on this release but I am writing this from Burgundy in France so it is difficult to not be thinking Burgundy. I am just finishing up a tour with a group of 60 Canadians from St. John’s to Vancouver who bid on an eight day trip to Provence and Burgundy through Gold Medal Plates, all to raise funds for the Canada’s Olympic athletes. We were accompanied by the young, incredibly poised and friendly freestyle skier Alexander Bilodeau, who won Canada’s first gold on Canadian soil last year in Vancouver. It was fun to watch him learning about wine – rushing out to buy his birth year vintage (1987). And it was also wonderful to watch others in the group catch the Burgundy bug and taste for themselves the intricacies of terroir, even though we all still struggle to verbalize it.  In short, if you don’t become fascinated by fine wine in Burgundy, it may not happen for you anywhere.
Domaine Latour Giraud Les Narvaux Meursault 2008Louis Jadot Beaune Clos Des Couchereaux 1er Cru 2007I had not visited for several years myself so it was great to return for a booster. Among the highlights, a preview tasting of several wines from Pascal Marchand, the Montreal-born, Burgundy raised winemaker who is now in a Burgundy-based partnership with Niagara vintner Moray Tawse (the wines will be coming to Vintages later this year).  Another highlight was visiting the small Domaine de Courcel where the charming, mischievous winemaker Yves Confuron pulled some stunning Pommards from his cellar. We also did great tastings at Chanson, Bouchard Pere et Fils and Louis Jadot, where each very generously offered wines from village to Grand Cru levels, exposing our group to the full quality range. Personally I re-discovered how much I love great white Burgundy, especially Meursault, and how fine many are from the 2008 vintage, with its great acidity. Before leaving Toronto I had made special note of DOMAINE LATOUR-GIRAUD 2008 LES NARVAUX MEURSAULT ($44.95) from the May 28 release, and now I understand why.  I also tasted several 2007 red Burgundies that if not powerful, are ripe and charming and just beginning to drink nicely. You can experience this yourself with  LOUIS JADOT 2007 BEAUNE CLOS DE LA COUCHEREAUX 1ER CRU being released Saturday at $42.95.
California Best Buys
Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2008Villa Mt. Eden Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006The May 24 release spotlights California. We have been so inundated with iconic often overpriced California labels that we are oblivious to some newer wineries, regions and styles that are emerging. This release begins to cover that territory – two excellent Sonoma pinots, Paso Robles syrahs, Lodi zinfandels, Santa Barbara chardonnay. There are a few pricy Napa wines still in the mix, and they still tend to under-deliver value-wise, but I was happy to find two exceptions. One is ROBERT MONDAVI 2008 FUMÉ BLANC from Napa Valley, at great buy at $22.95. The rest of the Mondavi portfolio has become largely uninteresting since the iconic property was purchased by Constellation, the world’s largest wine company, a few years ago.  But this Bordeaux-inspired, barrel aged blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon has held its quality course, and the price has continually declined. The other very good deal for Napa cabernet lovers is VILLA MT. EDEN 2006 GRAND RESERVE CABERNET SAUVIGNON at $24.95.  Villa Mount Eden has a long heritage as a Napa-based producer but has branched out to showcase specific varietals from specific regions.  The 2006 Napa cabernet (above) is a particularly well done for the price, with 8% malbec adding a bit of aromatic charm, and 24 months in French and American oak, providing layers of complexity.
Plunkett Fowles Stone Dwellers Merlot 2008Discovering Plunkett Fowles of Oz

Fans of New World Bordeaux-style blends should also reach for PLUNKETT FOWLES 2008 STONE DWELLERS MERLOT from the Strathbogie Ranges of Victoria in Australia. It’s a steal at $19.95. I only came to know this winery a couple of months ago when their companion Stone Dwellers Cabernet Sauvignon joined the slew of new regional Aussie wines that arrived this spring on the LCBO general list. The Plunkett family has made wine on a rolling plateau up in the Strathbogie Ranges north of Melbourne for almost 30 years, recently forming a partnership with the Fowles family. Together they opened a architectural showpiece winery and began ramping up their export program. There is just something in both their offerings so far that captures the essential, authentic character of cabernet sauvignon and merlot very well, dressed with exactly the right level of New World ripeness.

Château La Croix De Gay 2007Incroyable Le Croix de Gay
Chateau Le Croix du Gay is not one of the iconic estates of Pomerol in Bordeaux, but it is a very good property that I have followed somewhat over the years. So I was very surprised and delighted to see CHÂTEAU LA CROIX DE GAY 2007 land on this Vintages release at only $34.00. Either times are tough overall, or this specific vintage has failed to attract sales elsewhere. I suspect the latter because with all the fuss over great vintages like 2005 and 2009 those in the middle get lost.  As with the 2007 red Burgundies, I like 2007 Bordeaux in general for its ripe, charming if not highly structured style. Most of the growing season was nicely warm and dry so the grapes did ripen (the wines are not green). It was only that a cooler, wetter harvest robbed the grapes of a longer hang time and more concentration. So the 2007s are ready to drink sooner, indeed this is just heading into prime, and it is packing very good complexity.
Joseph Cattin Muscat 2009
Alsace Feature
Alsace is a mini-feature on this release with a half dozen wines that are decent, but fail to inspire. Over a long period of time I have sensed this general malaise with Vintages/LCBO selections from Alsace –most crowding just under the $20 price point. Whereas of course all of Alsace’s truly magnificent wines are more expensive (but not that much more expensive). The one that caught my eye on this release is JOSEPH CATTIN 2009 MUSCAT, a bargain at $14.95.  Muscat is always the under sung variety in Alsace, perhaps because its billowing aroma is just too exaggerated for those who with more refined and nuanced sensibilities. But whereas others in the release come across as a bit dull, this one soars, lifted by the ripeness of the fruit in 2009. It’s an ideal garden sipper when all around you is in  bloom.

Nifty Pinks

So far this season Vintages rose selection has not had many “must buys”.  There have been some good European versions, but those from the New World, including Ontario, have been all over the map. The problem, I think, is that producers in hotter climes like Chile, Australia etc just don’t know what to do with abundance fruit their regions deliver when it comes to pink wine. If they set out to make a simple, patio style of rose they have become too fruity, confected and sweet.  And they just can’t seem to make a more refined, dry style. Having just spent four days in the south of France, where I enjoyed rose at least twice a day, it is apparent that hot climates can indeed do it – with blends of the right grape varieties, including grenache, syrah etc.  So maybe the success of EMILIANA 2010 ADOBE RESERVA ROSÉ SYRAH from Chile’s Rapel Valley, has something to do with syrah as the base. Or maybe it has to do with the organic farming of the grapes. Anyway, at $11.95 this is a nifty, well balanced, restrained and fresh pink wine – the best deal so far in 2011 pink season.  For slightly more money spent closer to home you might also want to crack  a screwcap of the cabernet-based SOUTHBROOK 2010 CONNECT ORGANIC ROSÉ from the Niagara Peninsula ($18.95).
Emiliana Adobe Reserva Rosé Syrah 2010  Southbrook Connect Organic Rosé 2010
That’s it for now. Watch in the days ahead for a report on Vintages ShopOnLine selections that are going on sale.  Cheers,
To see all my ratings from the May 28th release click here.Cheers and enjoy, David

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , ,

The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Alsatian Riesling and Gewurztraminer – not to be forgotten ~ May 28th, 2011

The best source in France for two mesmerizing grapes:

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Taking out a scrap piece of paper from my recycling bin, now and then I enjoy spending a few minutes creating lists about my favourite types of wine. These lists I sometimes format according to grape, other times by region or country, and/or on occasion by their ranking as ‘established growths.’ Of the former, my list usually ends up being something like this: for reds, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Syrah; for whites, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc, the very latter of which I most take pleasure in when it is blended with Sémillon and, excepting Hunter Valley, aged judiciously in French oak barriques.

Of the middle category, my often-wandering mind invariably settles on France, my most beloved winegrowing nation on Earth. From then on, it becomes a simple matter of picking my three favourite regions: Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhône. Such an effort to leave out Champagne! As for my favourite ‘classed growths,’ suffice it to say that I have rather luxurious tastes, and we shall leave it at that.

Yet, regarding my regional/country list, notice how I omitted the ‘subject region’ shown, quite clearly, in the title of this column? No, this was not done in error, but in a rather humourous literary fashion; for Alsace is, without a shred of doubt, one of those winegrowing areas that oftentimes seems forgotten when compared to all its other, more famous counterparts in France. A sad thing, really, for my very favourite type of white wine, alongside white Burgundy and Bordeaux, hails from none other than this marvellously understated, yet undeniably beautiful, part of the country. This grape, of course, is Riesling, the darling varietal of sommeliers and wine commentators, worldwide.

Aside from Germany, there truly is no other place in the Old World where Riesling is crafted to such a remarkable level of dexterity, fullness, originality, and refinement. Accounting for roughly 21.9% of all vines grown in Alsace, or about 3,350 hectares, Alsatian Riesling has historically been fermented to full dryness and crafted in such a style that best accentuates the overall minerality, vibrancy, and unique intensity of flavour(s) of the varietal. In Alsace, the best Riesling vineyards, typically cultivated with greater restrictions (ex. lower yields) on Grand Cru sites, are most often found on soils comprising sandy clay and loam. Common aromatics in youth? Think of fresh lemon, citrus peel, green apples, white peaches, melon, minerals, and spice (just to name a few). Just as important, the finest Alsatian Rieslings can easily age for a good deal more than just a couple of years, with some wines even requiring at least a decade to reach their full potential. As for dessert versions, such as Vendange Tardive (late harvest, often with a touch of botrytis) and Sélection de Grains Nobles (fully botrytized), let’s just say that I’ve enjoyed several extraordinary examples over thirty years of age. How I adore Alsatian Riesling!

This said, I couldn’t bring this column to a close without mentioning another Alsatian-based grape of absolutely marvellous character: Gewurztraminer. Quite possibly the spiciest, most ‘exotic’ varietal on the planet; in Alsace, Gewurztraminer (spelled without the umlaut) is sometimes even claimed to rival Riesling in terms of overall prestige. Comprising around 18.6% of all planted vineyards, of which, like Riesling, the Grand Cru sites will often yield the best results, Gewurztraminer is one of those grapes adaptable to all sorts of differing soil conditions, though clay and mineral-heavy deposits will often play a role in the best examples. Common aromatics? In Gewurztraminer, they are so identifiable, even the most amateurish of wine lovers should get these right: fresh rose (and tea) pedals, abundant lychees, honeysuckle, bergamot, lemon, jasmine, melon, and Asian spice. Also not to be overlooked is the fact that the best bottlings can easily age for well over a decade, with the more ‘entry range’ versions even able to withstand a few years’ worth of cellaring. Almost makes me wish I’d added Alsace to my list … so where did I put that scrap of paper?

Click here for a few gems for collectors from the May 28th, 2011 Vintages release .

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

Perky Pinks – by Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d'Amato

In the world of wine, summer is inexorably linked to rosés. The refreshing nature of rosés and their versatility with both meats and fish makes them the perfect pairing for summer BBQs. For all of the many positive qualities of rosés, they have been unfortunately mistreated in North America. The perception that these wines are sweet, simple and stereotypically a “woman’s drink” is most definitely untrue as these selections below will prove. Besides, we women are complex creatures and wines worthy of our attention should present a challenge. The unfortunate reputation of rosés stems largely from the new world where the term “blush” became very fashionable more than a decade ago for sweet, inexpensive, mass-produced wines marketed mainly towards women.  However, rosé wines have been produced for far longer all over the world, in more varied and complex styles appealing to both sexes. Therefore, ladies, if the man in your life has reservations about sipping these stylish treats with you, you can tell him that only real men drink pink. In fact, in the summer in most of Europe, you’ll find just as many or more men enjoying a glass of refreshing rosé as women.

Rosé wines are most commonly produced in one of two ways. The most common way is called the saignée method, which begins the same way as all red wines do – the berries are crushed and then allowed to macerate (juice and skins remain together for the purpose of extraction of colour, tannins and flavour) before the fermentation begins. Once the desired level of pinkish colour has been achieved, the juice is separated, or “racked” from the must (skins and seeds) and the wine is allowed to ferment free of skins and seeds. Winemakers will sometimes rack away only a portion of the wine for a rosé, leaving some behind to benefit from an extra high ratio of skins and seeds, producing a concentrated red wine with a darker colour and more intense tannins.

The other method involves blending white and red wines to produce a pinkish colour. It takes only a small amount of red wine to give a white wine its pinkish hue. Most serious rosé producing regions eschew this method in favour of the saignée method.

Just in time for summer, here are some well-priced recommendations to get you energized for this most enjoyable of seasons:

Perrin Réserve Rosé 2010, Ac Côtes Du Rhône, Rhone, France, $15.95

Cono Sur Camenere Rosé Reserva 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $11.95

Malivoire Ladybug Rosé 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada, $15.95

Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Rosé 2010, Ac Costières De Nîmes Rhone, France, $13.95

Click here for a shopping list of these wines available at your nearest LCBO.

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , ,

John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for May 28th 2011: Chenin Blanc steals the spotlight; not so premium local rosés; avoiding Alsace, and top notch and top dollar California

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

In this article: Chenin Blanc Steals the Smart Buy Spotlight; Top Ten Smart Buys; Features Report: Where’s the Real Pink? Avoiding Alsace and Cali Confidential + Top Ten Wines from the California Feature (90+ points)

The May 28th Vintages release has a great collection of smart buys, but not one of the wines from the featured regions came close to making the list. The unlikely hero stealing the spotlight this week instead is Chenin Blanc from South Africa: 3 wines in three different styles, all valid and all superb, and though we’re all growing sick of the word, yes, they’re good value, too.

Not long ago, Chenin Blanc was maligned by South African winemakers as the ubiquitous local grape, best reserved for brandy production. It has so often been the case that natives don’t recognize the potential beauty or worldwide importance of what comes out of their own backyard precisely because it has always been there. A sort of inferiority complex sets in, and the belief that the old, the familiar and local must necessarily be inferior to something new, exciting and above all foreign. Canada, after all, certainly has no monopoly on inferiority, imagined or actual, (though I’m still quite sure that no one, inside or out of Ontario, will ever recognize Baco Noir as a world beater).

Like so many winemakers from Portugal to Italy to Greece to Hungary and elsewhere, South African winemakers disdained local grapes in favor of foreign, purportedly superior (mostly French) varieties, and chenin was all but forgotten (chenin too, is foreign, but it’s been in South Africa for so long – it was likely one of the first grapes introduced in the Cape by Jan Van Riebeeck in 1655 – and is so widely planted – still #1 with 18% of SA’s vineyard area – that I’m taking the liberty of considering it a local specialty). It certainly didn’t help that South Africans lived in relative commercial isolation until just a couple of decades ago, being effectively cut off from the exploration that would have eventually led them back home. Pretty much anything other than chenin blanc would sell on domestic markets for much higher prices, and since exports were, well, illegal, there was obviously no incentive to attempt to show the world the potential brilliance of South African chenin blanc.

Fortunately, times have changed. Today there’s a self-help group devoted to the grape with 69 members: The Chenin Blanc Association . The intro on their home page states: “It’s a little known fact, but a fact all the same, that South African Chenin Blanc wines are among the world’s finest”  Well, we are listening now. With a treasure trove of gnarly old vines, planted on some of the oldest viticultural soils in the world that impart a unique stony-minerality, and a world that is eagerly searching for some unique, distinctive regional specialties, times are indeed exciting for both chenin producers and wine drinkers.

A tremendous value not to be missed is the 2009 THE WINERY OF GOOD HOPE BUSH VINE CHENIN BLANC WO Stellenbosch $11.95. Remember: these are not intended to be loud, in-your-face wines. This one is all about grace and integration, and remarkable texture and depth. And hey, it’s 12 bucks! Can you really go wrong?

If you want a more amped-up version with power and punch, pull out an extra Sir Wilfred Laurier from your pocketbook and pick up the 2009 GRAHAM BECK BOWED HEAD CHENIN BLANC WO Paarl $17.95. This has plenty of ripe but fresh tropical fruit flavours with a stunning whack of chalky-minerality. Not a wine for your mother-in-law, in other words.

Midway in style between the intensity of the Graham Beck and the refinement of the Winery of Good Hope is perhaps the most outstanding of the three: 2009 KEN FORRESTER CHENIN BLANC WO Stellenbosch $17.95. After a start in the hotel industry, Forrester and his wife and young family purchased an old farm in Stellenbosch with a derelict Cape Dutch homestead and nearly abandoned vineyards. Most of the farm was planted to old chenin blanc vines, and rather than replant, Forrester set out instead on a quest to produce a chenin that could compete with any white wine in the world. As a founding member of the Chenin Blanc Association and a tireless international advocate for the grape, Forrester is in a sense, Mr. Chenin Blanc.
The Winery Of Good Hope Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2009 Graham Beck Bowed Head Chenin Blanc 2009  Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc 2009
Click here for the rest of the Top Ten Smart Buys, including a lovely Douro red from the excellent 2007 vintage. A brilliant traditional method bubbly for under $16, and a fantastically (and dangerously) drinkable German riesling for under $14

Features Report
As for the features this week, Cali Confidential, Alsace Alliance and Premium Ontario Rosés, here’s what you need to know:

Emiliana Adobe Reserva Rosé Syrah 2010Where’s the Real Pink?
Premium Ontario rosés? Forget it, they’re not in this release, unless a mini parade of sugary pink drinks is the new premium standard. It seems most Ontario producers are clearly focused on everything but rosé, bottling it as an afterthought, or at least engineering a medium-dry style to service the bus loads of blue haired tourists who travel annually to Ontario wine country. There’s nothing inherently wrong with selling wine, of course, though I do find it problematic to list this motley collection of white zin look-alikes under such a lofty banner. It could give folks the wrong idea. For the record, the best of the rosés in this release was in my view a wine from Chile: 2010 EMILIANA ADOBE RESERVA ROSÉ SYRAH Rapel Valley $11.95. Note that it’s also the cheapest.

Avoiding Alsace
“One of the world’s most distinctive wine regions, Alsace has a unique identity….” Says the LCBO catalogue. Agreed to be sure, it’s just that Alsace’s most unique wines will emphatically not be release on May 28th. I suppose the uncommonly challenging task of triangulating producer willingness, availability, price, agent competence and timing has eliminated all but a handful of rather mediocre Alsatian wines, the best of which is easily the 2008 TRIMBACH RÉSERVE RIESLING AC Alsace $25.95, even if it is not likely to set the world on fire. Nobody said it was easy to buy for 10 million people, and there’s no question consumers are suffering because of it.
Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2008

Cali Confidential
California, and especially the hyper-inflated luxury regions led by Napa Valley, is rarely accused of over-delivering on the quality/value scale. There’s no question that the quality is high, in fact in my books no fewer than ten wines in this release are outstanding (90+ points), from Napa, Sonoma and Santa Barbara counties. But then again, the average price in the Top Ten Wines from the California Feature is almost $46, so value remains in the eye of the beholder. Among the wines that I would consider buying is the2006 VILLA MT. EDEN GRAND RESERVE CABERNET SAUVIGNON Napa Valley $24.95. It’s an understated, balanced and refined version of Napa cabernet, in the style that anyone who has compared notes with me will recognize as the kind of wine that I’m drawn too. And at $25, it’s also more than fairly priced.

A little higher up the price ladder, but also a step or two up in concentration and complexity without sacrificing elegance, is the 2007 STAGS’ LEAP WINE CELLARS ARTEMIS CABERNET SAUVIGNON Napa Valley $49.95. I like the stylistic direction in which Stags’ Leap is heading, and now under the restrained hand of French winemaker Christophe Paubert, the wines look set to get even better. The ’07 Artemis is a cabernet of considerable refinement, not short on Napa richness to be sure, but balancing the power with a nice dose of juiciness and succulence, firm but honest and balanced tannins, and terrific length.

Devotees of syrah will want to consider the 2007 FESS PARKER RODNEY’S VINEYARD SYRAH Santa Barbara County $39.95. This is the wine’s VINTAGES debut, and it struck me with its floral, spicy, smoky and savoury character, complete with black pepper and fresh road tar in the way syrah fans love. It’s certainly rich and full but not heavy, with firm, grippy tannins, adequate acidity, and great length.
Villa Mt. Eden Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006  Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon 2007  Fess Parker Rodney's Vineyard Syrah 2007

From the May 28th Vintages release:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Top Picks from California
All Reviews

John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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

Exclusive Tasting & Tapas with Laurie Hook, Chief Winemaker at Beringer Vineyards

Laurie Hook

Laurie Hook

In collaboration with Beringer Vineyards, we are very pleased to present an exclusive WineAlign event:  “A Tasting & Tapas with Laurie Hook, Chief Winemaker at Beringer Vineyards.”

Join us and share an intimate evening with one of California’s most celebrated winemakers and experience the Napa Valley with a special selection from the Beringer luxury tier.

Tuesday May 24th, 2011
Sassafraz Restaurant
100 Cumberland Street, Bellair Room (upstairs)

6:30PM Reception | 7:00PM Seated Tasting & Tapas

Cost $55 per person including tax + gratuity

ONLY 30 seats. Tickets are required.

Our apologies, this event is SOLD OUT.

Purchase tickets here:

Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

The wines will include:

  • Beringer Founders’ Estate Chardonnay 2009
  • Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay 2009
  • Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay 2008
  • Beringer Napa Valley Pinot Noir 2008
  • Beringer Napa Valley Merlot 2009
  • Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
  • Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
  • Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Last June we did a similar event with our friends at Wolf Blass and their winemaker, Chris Hatcher.  Here’s a link to a video about that event.

Marsten Vineyard

Marsten Vineyard

Beringer Tunnels

Beringer Tunnels

Filed under: Events, News, , , ,

Greening Wine: an interview with Monty Waldin – By John Szabo

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

“Next time you ask the sommelier for a minerally Chardonnay, make sure you get one from a vineyard which is not treated with weed killers”, says wine writer, winemaker and biodynamic specialist Monty Waldin. Herbicides, you see, are also poisonous to soil microbes, and microbes are one of the keys to delivering authentic terroir wines. Read on to learn what biodynamic farming is, and how it can lead to more regionally distinctive wines, according to Waldin.

Monty Waldin

Monty Waldin

Monty Waldin visited Toronto recently during the Biovino organic/biodynamic wine show in April 2011, invited by show organizers to give talks on biodynamics and pour his latest Tuscan wines. After the show I had a chance to chat with him over a couple of bottles of biodynamic wine (naturally) at the Atlantic Restaurant on Dundas west and learn about the path that led him to where he is today – a recognized world expert and advocate for biodynamics.

Waldin’s latest book, Monty Waldin’s Biodynamic Wine Guide 2011, is easily the most complete book on biodynamic wines I have come across. It’s not for general consumption, as Waldin is quick to point out, but is a rather reference tome that should be the library of every winemaker and wine lover’s with even a passing interest in the wild and often misrepresented world of biodynamic agriculture. (The book is available from Lulu here.)

Following is a Q&A, (edited for length by me).

JSZ: What initially sparked your interest in biodynamics?

My interest was sparked when I tasted a biodynamic wine for the first time. It was 1993 and I was working as a bucket-scrubber and general dogsbody in a small château in backwoods Bordeaux. The château’s owners had a long time friend who was a winemaking consultant, a gentle, owlish Frenchman in his mid-sixties. Over the years he’d been hired under the radar by all the top Bordeaux estates to help fix various problems.

This guy used to come to lunch with us one or twice a week. One day over goose liver paté with endive salad and still-warm French baguettes, he suggested I go and visit Paul Barre of Château La Fleur Cailleau in the little-known Fronsac sub-region. He knew I was a big fan of greener, more organic ways of growing wine, and that’s why he gave me Paul Barre’s name.

I had been complaining – as opinionated young men tend to do – that most of the critically-acclaimed 100-point wines coming out of Pomerol and St Emilion at that time were formulaic, and resembled Californian wine more than Bordeaux: lots of colour (red Bordeaux is called “claret” precisely because it is NOT a deep coloured red…!), lots of tannic extract, lots of new oak and high levels of alcohol. For me these wines did not add up; I went to look at the vineyards… there was never a blade of grass in sight because they’d been weed-killed. The vines looked tired and feeble because they were getting regular doses of powerful, sap-penetrating fungicides. My sense was that the vines were weak, and that their grapes were weak too – which could explain why they needed this style of super-extractive, super-oaky winemaking, to cover the lack of character in the grapes.

Paul Barre’s wine just had what I can only describe as an inner brightness and vibrancy that I had not seen in any other Bordeaux to that point. I asked Barre how he could make such a wine. He shrugged his shoulders – he’s French, so that’s normal – and replied “oh, nothing much. I just pick the grapes, I put them in the tank, they ferment into wine, then I bottle the wine and that’s it.”

I said “come on, you must be doing something to make a wine like this. I want to see the vines.” I actually think I dragged him off to his vines rather than the other way around. Arriving in Barre’s vineyard was like arriving in the Promised Land. This was the first Bordeaux vineyard I had seen where the vines really looked like they meant business. The vine shoots and leaves had a robustness about them I had not seen before. I could actually put my hands into the earth it was so friable.

The elite vineyards I had been looking at in Pomerol and St Emilion, treated with synthetic fertilizers and weed killers, had cement-like soils. Barre’s was the first Bordeaux vineyard I had seen where the wine tasted exactly as you’d expect– robust, bright, layered, textured, vibrant, a wine that was different and enjoyable and above all digestible.

JSZ: Have your views on biodynamics changed much since the first visit to Paul Barre’s Bordeaux property in the early 1990s? If so, how?

I thought then and I still think now that biodynamics is the best tool I have come across to make the highest quality wine. Biodynamic consultant Alan York from California has a great line which goes something like “biodynamics can give you wines which taste of garden quality farming”, meaning wines that taste as if you grew them yourself in your own back yard, like mom’s tomatoes.

When I worked in a conventional vineyard that was weed-killed and treated with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, whenever necessary, I’d just have a pee on the soil and carry on with my vineyard work without giving it a moment’s thought.

When I worked in an organic vineyard I’d always pee under a vine, thinking “hey, in an organic vineyard it makes sense to recycle my pee by using it to water a vine.” So I’d pee and then give myself a pat on the back for being so green.

When I worked in a biodynamic vineyard I’d ask myself a whole bunch of questions before I peed like ‘If I pee in the vineyard will any residues in my man-made urine benefit or even interfere with the vines or change the terroir?” Realizing that everything you do in the vineyard, no matter how small, will have an effect at some stage on the wine is the first phase in becoming a better farmer. I think biodynamics allows you, forces you even, to understand and accept that. That’s why a key component in biodynamics is to make your farm more polycultural, like a self-sustaining organism.

JSZ: What does that mean?

It means encouraging weeds and native plants to grow beneath the vines so you get rid of the weed killers/herbicides. These plants make pest and disease control easier – flowering weeds attract beneficial insects to balance the non-beneficial ones. Weeds also stop erosion and allow rainwater to get deeper into the soils, so vines stay refreshed and healthy – all at zero cost. You can use sheep to mow the weeds overwinter, chickens to eat pesky soil bugs or run cows in spare paddocks to provide manure for compost. Worm-rich compost is the best thing you can give you soil. After oxygen (air), light (sun) and water (rain), worms (earth) are the source of life. They allow your vineyard soils to come to life.

Worms and other microbes are what transmit the taste of terroir, that site-specific character that the best wines have. Soil microbes live on vine roots and do two things – they eat tiny amounts of both the roots and the soil. They take sugar from the vine roots and transfer it the soil so worms can get it, and they take minerals from the soil and put them into the vines, which put them into the grapes. Next time you ask the sommelier for Chardonnay which has a “mineral-edge” make sure the sommelier brings you a Chardonnay from a vineyard which is not treated with weed killers because these are poisonous to soil microbes.

In organics you switch from buying in chemical fertilizer pellets to organic fertilizer pellets. That is not sustainable. The biodynamic way is to generate as much of what you need on your farm or vineyard yourself.

JSZ: How did your own experience making wine in the south of France and Italy change or consolidate your views on conventional vs. organic vs. biodynamic agriculture?

The main thing it did was to re-affirm what I knew already: wine growing is incredibly hard work but also incredibly rewarding. You get to make wine once a year, so maybe in a lifetime you get to make forty wines. I think wearing protective masks and gloves because you are spraying toxic chemicals in your vineyard is like being in a loveless marriage. You love your vines but the way you are behaving towards them is like there is this big gap between you.

Local French and Italian wine-makers could not believe I’d drink some of the same teas I would spray on the vines or my vegetable garden (like chamomile or nettle tea). But once they see you do it they lean over the fence and say things like “Hey, my grandfather did that, he used to spray nettle on his carrots when they got white fly…” and so on. It’s life affirming when you hear things like that. They make the hard work you are doing more enjoyable.

JSZ: Why did you write this book?

I have a new book idea approximately once a day! In a nutshell the book aims to do two things:

Monty Waldin’s Biodynamic Wine Guide 2011

Monty Waldin’s Biodynamic Wine Guide 2011

Part One, called ‘The Biodynamic Tools’, aims to give the A-Z on how biodynamics works on a practical level. There is a bit of biodynamic ideology, but I think there is too much ideology in the world today and not enough real farming stuff gettin’ done. I wanted a book wine-growers and even farmers and gardeners could use in the field when doing biodynamic tasks like composting, making vineyard teas and weed manures, or even following lunar cycles when planting or pruning vines (or other garden plants) or bottling wine. The book is very detailed and precise, I hope. I studied all the biodynamic thinkers and do-ers and condensed the best of what they had to say with my own vineyard experiences – I have worked in Bordeaux, Chile, Germany, Tuscany and California in conventional, organic and biodynamic vineyards. So I hope it’s a good mix of ideas practical tips.

Part Two of the book – ‘The Biodynamic Growers’ – aims to show readers which wine-makers really are biodynamic, which ones are biodynamic-organic, which are organic-biodynamic, and also which ones are just talking biodynamic without really doing it. There are around 1,500 wineries profiled in all.

About Monty Waldin

Waldin was born in the UK but now lives with his Italian wife Silvana and son Arthur in a small hamlet just outside of Montalcino in Tuscany. He has been writing about wine since the mid-nineties, and is considered the first serious international author to specialize in green issues surrounding the wine industry, long before it became fashionable. He has written over a half dozen books and has contributed to multiple publications in several countries, and was featured in the documentary Château Monty on the UK’s Channel 4 (broadcast in 2008), following his biodynamic winemaking exploits over the course of a year from pruning to bottling in the Roussillon in southern France.

Today, he is doing a lot of public speaking on biodynamics, working on a biodynamic home gardening handbook, and doing more TV filming and radio, plus winemaking of course.

Filed under: Featured Articles, , , , ,

The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Châteauneuf-du-Pape – The Pride of the Southern Rhône ~ Saturday, May 14th, 2011

Grenache (most often blended) at its finest:

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

The most prestigious appellation in the southern Rhône, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC unquestionably ranks as one of the most evocative appellations in all of France – a sun-soaked area of incredible admiration and renown. Comprising 3,150 hectares and located around 40 kilometres north of the marvellous, formally papal city of Avignon on the cusp of Provence, it goes without saying that winegrowing has been taking place in this part of France for many hundreds of years. Of more modern times, forward-looking Baron Le Roy of Château Fortia (1890-1967) first conceived of the actual appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in 1923; and since then, the area seems to have gone from strength to strength in a fashion one cannot help but admire.

To the casual observer, what separates Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the surrounding area is its famously round, heat-absorbing stones, proudly referred to (in the plural) as the galet by writers, sommeliers, and wine drinkers, everywhere. While these stones, in reality, only comprise just a small part of the entire winegrowing area in the appellation, the galet are able to able to obtain heat from the sun during the day and retain this same heat during the night, thus keeping the temperature of the vines at a more comfortable level of warmth. Concerning the actual soils, themselves, deposits tend to vary in high proportions of (often red) clay and sand, while others may tend to have a greater mixture of loam and pebbles.

Of statistics, a total of thirteen different varietals (plus two other in white versions) are permitted to be cultivated in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, though only three of them are most commonly used in the blend. Of these, Grenache Noir (henceforth Grenache) holds top spot, followed by Syrah and Mourvèdre. As for the others, some may be familiar to wine lovers, others the exact opposite: Cinsault, Counoise, Vaccarèse, Picardin, Terret Noir, Picpoul Noir (and Blanc), Clairette, Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and Muscardin. Each year, the appellation churns out an astonishing 13 million bottles.

But what makes the taste of a fine bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape so special? Why is it that collectors are always so eager to lay their hands on the latest vintages, with or without a high score from a famous wine critic? In large part, the answer lays in the fact that wine lovers have come to expect power, and at the same time finesse, from Châteauneuf more than anything else. With an unusually high legal minimum for alcohol at 12.5%, the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape – which often log in at no less than 14.5% – are most often characterized by their almost singular ability to combine richness with a type of delicacy that most other warm-climate winegrowing regions fail to achieve. In the end, what could be more pleasing?

Click here for a few gems for collectors from the May 14th, 2011 Vintages release .

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

Lawrason’s Take on Vintages May 14th – 2009 Rhônes, Rosés, Greece and VSOs

2009 Southern Rhônes, Pink Parade, Greek Whites in Bloom, A California Pinot Pair, Surprise Chilean Carignan, plus Best Buy VSOs (Vintages ShopOnLine)
David LawrasonThe May 14th Release has, as always, some pleasant surprises, which I have tried to isolate below, but in terms of value, there just seemed to be a lot of wines that are decent quality but not notably good buys, with scores regularly in the 85 to 87 range and prices hovering around $17.95, which seems to be an average Vintages price point nowadays. And fair enough if that is what the average Vintages shopper pays for a wine. The strategy for smart shopping then becomes finding the exceptions, and it often means buying a $17.95 wine from a less “important”, or “famous” or “comfortable” region. Vintages works hard to push prices of well known, and often overpriced, wines down, to which producers are likely to respond with less good quality wine (over the longer term).  Whereas, less famous wines eager for market share are likely to put as much quality into $17.95 as they can muster. Guess where I am looking.

2009 Southern Rhônes 
La Coterie Séguret 2009The selection of 2009 southern Rhônes falls firmly in the former camp. The Rhone Valley of southern France has become “important” of late. It always has been a go-to region for wine enthusiasts but it seems to be emerging now as a much more mainstream, warmer climate French region as cooler Bordeaux and Burgundy wrestle with their own style/price/quality demons.  Several good vintages in the last decade have helped the Rhône, including the now arriving and much heralded 2009s (a hot year in France). With this release however I feel that Vintages has aimed a bit low in terms of quality in order to maintain that $17.95 average, and I was never really excited by the selection.  Vintages has however been snappy about assembling this release, because less than 12 months we were all extolling the 2007s as they hit the shelves.
Part of my ho-hum response may also have been with the state of evolution of the wines. Both Vintages magazine and colleague John Szabo have explained the vintage in terms of quality and background so I won’t repeat, but it could be that these fairly ripe yet fairly sturdy wines were just reserved and quite blunt. I was seldom charmed.  But do try LA COTERIE 2009 SÉGURET CÔTES DU RHÔNE-VILLAGES ($15.95), a delicious blend that is pretty, poised and plummy and ready to go. Most of the rest need to go into the cellar, but in my books none were “must-buys”.

Rosé Steps Into Spring
Pink wines have been showing up in bits and pieces for several weeks now, but May 14 is the first full-on release. Again, I was a bit underwhelmed with the majority, because they were too simple and confected, or too weak or too one dimensional.  But I have found a pair at opposite ends of the style spectrum that have class and complexity.  MALIVOIRE 2010 LADYBUG ROSÉ from the Niagara Peninsula ($15.95) is a full throttle and well balanced blend based on cabernet franc with some background gamay and pinot noir. I love the way the cab franc redcurrant fruit is soften by strawberry/cherry from the other two varieties, and how it carries the power and presence the riper 2010 vintage creates, without too much heat. It’s a sturdy almost Tavel-like wine for summer dining, with Malivoire suggesting Mediterranean dishes like prosciutto wrapped in arugula , or warmed goat cheese on arugula and endive. The other pink pick is a nifty, much lightly, racy patio wine from northeast Italy.  I could see buying a case of  ZENATO 2010 BARDOLINO CHIARETTO at only  $11.95, and chilling it for a pool or dock get together.
Malivoire Ladybug Rosé 2010  Zenato Bardolino Chiaretto 2010

Greek Whites in Bloom
Domaine Gerovassiliou White 2009It has been Greek Week in Toronto with several producers gathering for dinners, seminars and a well attended Greek trade tasting on Wednesday. As I listened in at the well-run, trade seminar I was overwhelmed by the task Greece faces in bringing its wines to the world. There are over 300 indigenous grape varieties, with names that hard-to-pronounce, being grown in dozens of layered appellations, with names that are hard to pronounce, by over 500 wineries and 180,000 growers, with names that …..   So I guess Greece will  have to claim its share one wine at a time, capitalizing on its unique terroirs.  I would bet that many modern producers – who are as technically proficient and passionate about terroir as anyone these days – curse the day that retsina was ever invented. But every country has its Baby Duck.

Kourtaki MuscatIn the spirit of discovering something new and distinctive and very enjoyable I point you to DOMAINE GEROVASSILIOU 2009 WHITE from the region of Epanomi ($19.95). It’s an aromatic, exotic white in the gewurz/viognier camp that blends a grape called malagousia and another called assyritko, which is actually much more famous of the two. But at the seminar it was a 100% malagousia that caused the greatest stir; a variety rescued from the brink of extinction by Domaine Gerovassilou. Try this blend outdoors this summer and be amazed.  Another Greek highlight on this release is the sweet, wonderfully aromatic KOURTAKI MUSCAT from the island of Samos near the Turkish coast. Muscat of Alexandria is the most important and historic grape of the eastern Mediterranean – indeed so historic in this most historic corner of the globe – that is called the “Mother of All Grapes”.  Anyway, at $14.95 this wine just can’t be missed; chilled way down with some plain biscuits and cheese as the sun sets (or next morning for breakfast).

A Fine California Pinot Pair
Vintages is doing a good job with New World pinot noir these days.  It has become a far more exciting category (at least in the under $50 range) than Burgundy. And a good number are now emerging from California’s Sonoma Coast.  On May 14 comes a modern classic –FREEMAN 2007 PINOT NOIR.  It is not cheap at $44.95, but carefully constructed and delicious. Ken and Akiko Freeman are owners of this small winery based in Sebastapol, having spent almost twenty years preparing their dream winery, after being charmed out of Minnesota and into Sonoma. They were enamoured from the start with Sonoma coast, and sought vineyards only visited by coastal fog and planted in certain soil types.  It all seems to have paid off.  At half the price, and about five points less, I direct you to FLEUR DE CALIFORNIA 2008 PINOT NOIR  from Carneros ($19.95) as a less concentrated and complex but well balanced, perfectly drinkable and correct pinot noir for when you just want pinot but don’t feel like getting all poetic and passionate (about the wine).
Freeman Pinot Noir 2007  Fleur De California Pinot Noir 2008

Chile’s Carignan Surprise
Santa Carolina Dry Farming Carignan 2008When I was last in Chile and visited a winery called De Martino, I remember being mesmerized by a carignan-based red that had emerged from old, head pruned, non-irrigated, low yield vines on coastal hillsides far to the south, west of the Maule Valley.  At the time I was also just getting excited about the old vine carignan-grenache based wines from Priorat in Spain – to which I have been paying close attention ever since. There seems to be a whole new mid-palate dynamic to these wines – with internal combustion and tension related to power and minerality, not alcohol heat.  So I was delighted and surprised to see SANTA CAROLINA 2008 DRY FARMING CARIGNAN from the Cauquenes Valley show up on this release, and even happier to feel the force, for $16.95. The second part of the surprise was to see it coming from Santa Carolina, which has been one of the most conservative wineries of Chile, which until now has been all about cabernet, chardonnay. A corner has been turned.

Vintages ShopOnLine
And finally, for those who may have missed it, WineAlign is now reviewing the new releases of Vintages Shop On Line selections every month. Thanks indeed to Vintages for allowing all media to taste these wines, not just because it helps us expand our service, but because it gives all pundits a regular arena to keep our palates tuned to the world’s more expensive wines, to better continuously calibrate our ratings. There are very few $17.95 proficient but boring wines among this crew. But for two of the best values don’t miss Chateau La Arrivet Haut Brion 2007 Blanc from Bordeaux at $55, a magnificent, silky, barrelled blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc.  And don’t miss a 100% tempranillo, aged in French oak, from Rioja, Spain – Senorio de Cuzcurrita at only $35. Both wines scoring handily above 90 points.

To see all my ratings from the May 14th release click here.

Cheers and enjoy, David

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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

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

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

There are eight new wines on the Top 50 this month as a result of recently tasted wines, new additions to the LCBO’s selection and new vintages of existing listings. . Here I feature the wines commonly referred to as General List and Vintages Essentials.  I constantly taste the wines at the LCBO to keep this report up to date. You can easily find my Top 50 Value Wines from the WineAlign main menu. Click on Wines => Top 50 Value Wines to be taken directly to the list. 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.

The Pelee Girls 2008 Cabernet Merlot 2008The new vintages of two wines from Ontario are a big improvement and so they join the Top 50 list. Pelee Island is Canada’s most southern vineyard.The Pelee Girls 2008 Cabernet Merlot VQA js made from 60% cabernet franc, a variety that does especially well in this region of Ontario.  The nose shows delicate aromas of red berry fruit with a hint of tobacco and some beet notes. The midweight palate is velvety smooth and very fruity with crab-apple jelly and raspberry tea flavours and nice balancing acidity and grippy tannins and a notion of elegance. I am not sure why it is called Girls;  I think it should be equally liked by all genders!
Angels Gate Riesling Sussreserve 2009Angel’s Gate 2009 Riesling Sussreserve VQA is a nicely balanced fresh pure wine that is dry and lively with some nice racy acidity. It is common in Germany to add unfermented sweet grape juice (sussreserve) to finished wines before bottling to better balance the acidity. The technique here works really well since the slightly sweet edge holds the acidity in check allowing the fruit to come through. Quite delicious; enjoy with a wide range of mildly flavoured dishes.

Late Bottle Vintage (LBV) port is a fortified wine made from the grapes of a single vintage that has been aged in wooden barrels to accelerate the maturation process that happens in-bottle with vintage ports, which are bottled soon after the harvest. Graham’s 2005 Late Bottled Vintage Port is delicious LBV with a fragrant nose and soft creamy texture. The considerable alcohol is delicately balanced and this sumptuous wine would be an excellent introduction for those not familiar with this style of wine.
Graham's Late Bottled Vintage Port 2005

Limited Time Offers (LTO)
Every month 100 or so products at the LCBO go on sale for four weeks. As a consequence of the current LTO, two wines from Australia joined the list.  Deen de Bortoli 2008 Vat 8 Shiraz is a well structured balanced wine with the its smoky dry black cherry fruit well integrated with oak spice. It is full bodied with good mature tannins and the juicy fruit keeps it flowing nicely on to the long finish.  Wyndham Estate 2009 Chardonnay is a lightly oaked soft yet rich chardonnay with baked apple and peach fruit that carries well on to the finish with a creamy feel to the palate. Quite sumptuous and well balanced for such an inexpensive wine.
Deen De Bortoli Vat 8 Shiraz 2008  Wyndham Estate Bin 222 Chardonnay 2009
You have until May 22, 2011 to take advantage of these price offers.

Discontinued Wines
Two excellent wines have unfortunately been discontinued by the LCBO and have gone on sale to clear inventory.
Domaine de Serame 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from the south of France is a ripe, compact and very smooth cabernet with soft tannins, great focus and very good length. More complexity and depth of flavour than you would expect for such an inexpensive wine. Almost 1000 bottles remain in the system; grab a few before it is all gone.
Domaine De Serame Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Passion of Portugal 2009 Rose is on sale presumably to make way for the 2010 vintage. It is in perfect drinking condition with aromas of flowering cherry and strawberry. It is midweight dry yet quite rich with a beautiful creamy texture and good to very good length. Don’t chill too much or the flavour will be locked in, and enjoy with a ham or chicken sandwich. Over 3000 bottles remain; so buy a few to enjoy over the coming months.
Passion Of Portugal Rose 2009

There are five wines from Australia on the Top 50 Values list. I have already mentioned two above on LTO. Wines from Australia have been falling out of fashion in recent years, and the category at the LCBO had become quite tired. It has just been exquisitely revitalized by the addition of more than 30 new wines during the month of April. I will write more about this soon, but one of these wines jumps straight into the Top 50.  Lenswood Hills 2010 Pinot Noir from the Adelaide Hills is a fruity juicy pinot with a degree of elegance not often seen at this price point. Expect aromas of red cherry with raspberry plus some subtle oak spice and a touch of pine. It is midweight and very fruity with the ripe fruit well balanced by acid and tannin. Best served with a slight chill.

Two more wines from Australia have been in the Top 50 for months and are worthy of a mention.  Hardys 2009 Stamp Series Riesling Gewurztraminer is an exceptional value off-dry aromatic white that shows well gewürztraminer’s characteristics of honeysuckle, lychee, orange and mild spice using riesling’s acidity to keep it in balance. Chill well and enjoy with bbq chicken or sip with salty nuts or chips. Australia makes some excellent fortified wines, many in a style similar to sherry from Spain.  Emu Amontillado Medium Dry Sherry is a delightful light, slightly sweet, sherry with aromas of candied orange peel, honeysuckle and baked apricot. It is lightweight with good acidity and finishes dry so would work well with cold creamy sweet red pepper and tomato soup, or enjoy well chilled on its own or with biscotti while watching TV. It is also perfect with Chinese sweet and sour dishes slightly chilled.
Lenswood Hills Pinot Noir 2010 Hardys Stamp Series Riesling/Gewurztraminer 2009 Emu Amontillado Medium Dry Sherry

Please 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. 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

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , ,


WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008