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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for July 9th 2011: 90+ Point Wines; Sparkling Wines and the upcoming International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, or ‘i4c’

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The July 9th release brings about the annual 90+ point wine release, with a range of good if not extraordinary wines. As a WineAlign subscriber, you’re probably wondering exactly who did the scoring for these wines, since by now you know the importance of knowing the critic. This week’s Vintages catalogue in fact reads like a WineAlign manifesto: “The key to making those scores meaningful for you, the wine lover, is to learn which expert palates align most closely with your own and look to those as starting points for your discovery”. I couldn’t have said it any better.

For the LCBO, however, the “world’s top critics” turn out to be all American in this case, and principally from two sources, The Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator. Both of these publications have a largely similar scope and style preference, so it’s not exactly a representative international panel of experts with varied views (with a couple of exceptions). I’m saddened to report that there is not a single Canadian voice quoted in the catalogue despite the considerable talent in this country; makes one wonder with whom Ontarians are supposed to be aligning. I presume this is because there were no published scores from Canadian critics for these wines at the time of purchase or publication, a gap that WineAlign plans to address in the near future with even greater coverage of the world of wine. Stay tuned.

In any case, I found it enlightening to measure my interpretations against these well-known American critics. All the wines of course were tasted and scored before seeing the catalogue, and it was instructive for my own aligning to compare notes afterwards. It’s pretty clear that I’m misaligned with many, which is not surprising, given my different background and the unique context of this tasting (in a laboratory rather than with the producer in many cases). I’m rather more looking forward to comparing notes with David Lawrason when his report comes out next week.

Dominique Piron Les Pierres Morgon 2009On one wine, however, I am certainly aligned with the published critic (David Schildknecht, for whom I have much respect), the 2009 DOMINIQUE PIRON LES PIERRES MORGON CÔTE DU PY AC $22.95. This is a gorgeous wine, fresh, juicy and ripe, like a bowl of fresh red berries with a lovely floral lift, in other words serious Beaujolais. The Côte du Py is a small subzone (a climat, in Burgundian terms) of the Morgon appellation, known to produce some of the more sturdy and age worthy Beaujolais from its crumbly schist-granite soils. Though drinking beautifully now, I recommend keeping a few bottles in the cellar for a half-dozen years or so and then pour them blind to your friends. They’ll think that they’re drinking very fine Burgundian pinot noir at three times the price. Top Beaujolais has a tendency to “pinoter”, that is, to develop pinot noir-like character with age.

Domaine Des Malandes Vieilles Vignes Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2008Another accurate alignment occurred with the 2008 DOMAINE DES MALANDES VIEILLES VIGNES MONTMAINS CHABLIS 1ER CRU AC $29.95. This is a wine of classic proportions for fans of archetypical Chablis. Don’t go searching for mango and pineapple here, this is pure mineral, very restrained, beautifully poised and taught, with riveting acidity yet deceptively dense and fleshy fruit/mineral flavours to balance. It’s a classic example of minimal intervention in the winery, where the region speaks more loudly than the grape or the winemaker, which is after all the stated aim of Domain des Malandes’ winemaker Jean-Bernard Marchive.

And while we’re dealing with French archetypes, I’d like to make mention of a deliciously sub-90 point wine, a wine that was never intended to impress the “world renown critics” (though I was later alarmed to learn that it did earn a 90 point score in the Wine Spectator). It’s the 2009 JEAN-MAURICE RAFFAULT LES GALUCHES CHINON AC $16.95 . This is uncommonly ripe and fleshy cabernet franc from the Loire that clearly benefited from the generous warmth of the 2009 vintage, while still walking the fine line of freshness and vibrancy. The flavours are all red berry-raspberry-strawberry, while acids remain sharp and tannins light but firm. In essence, it’s a classic picnic wine, to be served with a slight chill, and un-sullied by big scores (or prices).

Jean Maurice Raffault Les Galuches Chinon 2009

Saltram Mamre Brook Shiraz 2008At the other end of the spectrum, for those seeking a more bold and robust experience, my pick of the big boys this week goes hands down to the 2008 SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK SHIRAZ Barossa Valley, South Australia $24.95. Though Saltram is in the so-called ‘New World”, this is a winery with history. Founder William Salter arrived in South Australia from Exeter, England aboard the Caroline in December 1839 and in 1844 he was one of the first people to purchase land in the newly opened land survey known as the Barossa Valley. Mamre Brook is named after the biblical home of Abraham, and fruit is sourced principally from the northeastern section of the Barossa Valley.

The 2008 is a lovely, savoury, well-proportioned example of Barossa shiraz that, despite it’s 15% alcohol, actually seems balanced and well assembled. There’s a fine mix of ripe fruit and spice, integrated but not excessive wood, and impressive density and concentration of fruit flavours that can only come from low yields in a balanced, mature vineyard. It’s a model to follow for the region, including the price. I’ve had the privilege of tasting some fine older vintages of this wine, and the age potential is impressive indeed.

The mini-feature of the July 9th release is sparkling wines; subscribers can view my top three picks here, including an impressive grand cru champagne at an attractive price, and a pair of beautiful rosé sparklers from South Africa and Burgundy, both under $20. And check out the full top ten smart buys here.

International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration

I know we’ve already made mention of this event, but here’s a reminder to get your tickets to one of Canada’s first big international coming out parties, to be held across Niagara from Friday July 22nd through Sunday July 24th. The ‘i4c’ will feature 9 events at wineries throughout the region, and 100 wines from 56 international winemakers from Italy, France, Austria, Germany, Canada, the US, South Africa, Chile, New Zealand and Australia.

Tickets start at $35; guests select the events they want to attend. A highlight will certainly be the keynote addresses by the insightful and entertaining Matt Kramer, acclaimed Wine Spectator columnist on Friday and Saturday night.  Kramer will also lead a panel at “The Many Faces of Chardonnay” lunch at 13th Street Winery on Saturday. Details and tickets at and at the host wineries. David Lawrason and I will be there all weekend, so stop by and say hello.

Happy Canada Day!

From the July 9th Vintages release:
Top Ten Smart Buys
Top Sparklers
All Reviews


John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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Wine Auctions in Ontario

Stephen Ranger

Most wine buyers in Ontario are happy to buy their treasures at the LCBO or through the myriad of agents offering specialty and limited supply cult wines. For those of us with a thirst for rare and spectacular older wines, Ontario has now an increasing number of charitable auctions as well as the annual Vintages auction held each fall in Toronto.

These sales offer an incredible opportunity to buy well stored older vintages often at prices significantly below retail and without having to bring purchases across the border and pay exorbitant duties.

Over the past several years the fine wine auction market has soared to new heights, despite the global recession, as bidders from Asia have been snapping up Chateau Lafite Rothschild, DRC and other blue chip wines at astonishing prices. This doesn’t mean however there are not great buying opportunities in the rest of the wine world.

How these wines come available is as diverse as the offerings themselves. Many consignors to the Vintages auction are collectors who have amassed more than they can possibly drink in their lifetime. In some instances, a collector will look at their cellar and realize that the value of the wine in their collection has appreciated significantly and they are not comfortable uncorking that Chateau Mouton Rothschild they bought  back in 1990 and is now worth over $1000. In a few cases, it’s doctors’ orders, time to downsize, or for others time to reap a return on a long term investment.

For donors to charitable auctions, the chance to donate to a good cause and to get a valuable charitable tax receipt is what is driving their gift.

Buying wine at auction is not without it’s complications. At commercial auctions, expect to pay a buyer’s premium ( a commission that goes to the auction house), as well as HST. Depending on the premium charged, usually between 15 and 20 per cent, this will add roughly 30 per cent to the hammer price of each lot. The majority of charitable sales do not charge premiums or taxes.

This column will take a look at the highlights of what is coming available at the most significant charitable and commercial wine auctions each month. As the majority of the major sales take place in the spring and fall, I will try to give you an advance look at some great wines that may be hard to get or great bargains.

Appraiser’s Biography

Stephen Ranger has over 20 years experience in the art world as an auctioneer, appraiser and consultant. Stephen pioneered the sale of Fine Wine at auction in Canada and has been involved in some of the highest grossing sales of art and wine at auction in the last ten years through his association with Ritchies, Sotheby’s and the LCBO. Stephen is a specialist in the fields of Canadian art,  textiles and furniture and has been a regular lecturer at the Royal Ontario Museum and at Sotheby’s Institute in London. In addition, Stephen is deeply committed to serving his community and contributes his services and expertise to over twenty events each year. His consultancy practice focuses on valuation and advice for institutional and private clients. Stephen currently serves as Vice President, Business Development for Waddington’s, Canada’s leading auctioneers

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The Successful Collector June 25th – By Julian Hitner ~ Château Margaux – An evening with Corinne Mentzelopoulos

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

A luxurious Château Margaux tasting and dinner: a liquid lesson on how to celebrate a special occasion in style, in this case the twentieth anniversary of Fine Wine events hosted by the Toronto Symphony Volunteer Committee. Held on 26 April 2011 at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Toronto, owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos of the illustrious Château Margaux played presenter and moderator to a sold-out master class of local, well-healed wine lovers, eager to take in every word of this luminous individual. Her first visit to Toronto in twenty years, it might very well have taken another twenty years to lure Madam Corinne from her beloved estate, had it not been for the efforts of the TSO Volunteer Committee.

Indeed, this was as much an evening for indulging in the fine wines of Château Margaux as it was for paying tribute to the resourcefulness of the charitable arm of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Sitting next to Committee President Heather Oda during the dinner that followed the tasting, it only took a few moments to learn of the great pride that goes with being a part of the workings of one of Canada’s finest orchestral institutions. For Oda and Co-Chairs Marianne Oundjian and Nazeli Clausen, there can be no mistaking the fact that, like the uncompromising goings-on that make the ‘Grand Vin’ of Château Margaux what it is, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra could not possibly function without the efforts of the Volunteer Committee – so markedly illustrated by Madame Corrine’s presence and the wines (and foods) of the evening. “Whatever you write, be sure to mention that this is all the result of [the efforts of] the Volunteer Committee,” said Clausen at the start of the event. In the end, such recognition proved perfectly warranted, for I could not recall a more agreeable way to spend a Tuesday evening in a very long time.

Corinne Mentzelopoulos

Indeed, the wines of Château Margaux, as well as the dinner pairings that followed, were nothing short of spectacular. Of the actual tasting, Madame Corinne was well advised to let the wines speak for themselves, for such offerings rarely require neither grandiose speeches nor personal soliloquies to confirm their magnificence. For her part, Madam Corrine simply remarks: “Château Margaux is a heritage that you just cannot let down.” One of only five estates granted the exalted status of ‘First Growth’ in the 1855 Classification, Château Margaux is often considered to represent the pinnacle of sophistication and elegance of super-premium claret. Situated in the appellation of the same name and comprising 78 hectares, plus 12 hectares dedicated to 100% Sauvignon Blanc, the estate is administered by world-renowned general manager (winemaker) Paul Pontallier, of whom Madam Corinne often most credits for the success of her institution. The vineyards are planted with 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Such vines are planted on soils comprised principally of heavy, ridge-based gravel deposits, among the thinnest throughout the entire Médoc, allowing the vines to extend themselves deep into the ground.

At the very top, the ‘Grand Vin’ of the estate is the Château Margaux bottling, made from only the finest batches of wine, which have been assembled in the cellar. Typically, the wine will be aged for up to 18 months, sometimes more, in almost 100% new French oak barriques (225 litres), at which point the wine will be then bottled and shipped. In the finest vintages, the Grand Vin, though nowadays often delectable when young, is capable of aging for decades. The ‘second wine’ of the estate goes by the name of ‘Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux’, and often represents incredible value for money when considering its quality. The wine is typically crafted from younger vines and batches in the cellar that are not deemed suitable for the Grand Vin. This said, Pavillon Rouge can be easily aged for well over a decade. Finally, there is the beloved white wine of the estate: Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux, easily the finest white wine to be had throughout the entire Médoc, and one that is also capable of decades-long aging. Crafted from 100% Sauvignon Blanc and drawn from a separate twelve-hectare vineyard, Pavillon Blanc is fermented and aged for about 7 or 8 months in French oak barrels. A stupendous ‘white Médoc’ year after year.

Suffice it say, tasting such wines extending back to the ’83 vintage was a rather humbling experience. As a central theme to each of the wines – both the reds and whites – what consistently stood out was their unparalleled level of vigour and finesse. Quite truly, these were wines that, crafted in the ‘intellectual’ style, each told a story. But this was nothing compared to the dinner that followed, for such wines, while brilliant on their own, were immeasurably enhanced when purposefully paired with the customized dishes that had been planned and brilliantly executed for the evening.

Comprising a superlative four-course affair that began with Atlantic butter poached lobster, tomato savarin, and a hint of Tahitian vanilla nage; such a dish was paired with the wonderfully lively, complex ’95 Pavillon Blanc. Truly, the contrast of liveliness and delicacy could not be more poignant. The main course: Ontario slow roasted venison loin noisette, accompanied by organic carrot mousseline, spring peas, and truffle jus; paired with the incredibly deep, rich ’00 Pavillon Rouge, the awesome flavour of the venison was kept finely in check by one of my favourite vintages of Margaux’s stupendous ‘second wine.’ The last two courses were both fashioned in the style of desserts: brillat-savarin cheese with walnut and raisin bread croutons, candied walnuts, grapes, poached pears, and fig marmalade; the other mignardises (small cakes), pâté de fruit, chocolate truffles, Florentine, macaroons, and tuile agrumes (dried citrus fruits). Paired with the monumental ’89 Margaux, the underlying suggestion of sweetness of an aged First Growth, not to mention its profound complexity and depth, was the perfect accompaniment to all these edible digestifs. The perfect way to end off a perfect evening.

Click here for a few gems for collectors from the June 25, 2011 Vintages release.

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages June 25th Release – Argentina Steps It Up, A Tale of Two Tempranillos, Brilliant Provence Rose, Bio-Grgich Cabernet, Wynn-Fall Shiraz, Trimbach Riesling, Deborah Paskus and the Little Fat Wino

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The fizzle seems to be going out of Fusion. Sales are still very healthy but it is no longer the buzz on the street.  The same can be said of inexpensive Argentine malbec in general.  Leading to the question: what next Argentina?  Well Vintages seems to have answered the question on this release with a dozen well chosen wines that include torrontes, tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon and blends thereof.  There are still four malbecs, but two at least are a step up from the everyday. And overall the wines presented are more interesting and higher quality than I expected.

Familia Zuccardi Organica Torrontés 2010Torrontes is a very aromatic, muscat-like white variety that thrives in Argentina. When tasting at the International Value Wine Awards in Calgary earlier this month I was pleased to encounter a flight of eight Argentine torrontes, a group that showed very well indeed. I noted two stylistic camps within the group – the racy, lifted, summer sippers and the more solid, drier weight examples that will work with food. The pair on this release illustrate the styles perfectly, and I particularly like the ultra fresh, almost dazzling FAMILIA ZUCCARDI 2010 ORGANICA TORRONTÉS at only $13.95.  A poolside winner that dances with citrus and floral flavours.  As evening sets in switch to the more reserved but powerful Alta Vista 2010 Torrontes, also $13.95, to match a meal of salads, cheese and charcuterie.

Benmarco Cabernet Sauvignon 2009At the same awards tasting there was some discussion after a very good blind flight of cabernet sauvignons, that Argentina was also a rising star for this most venerable of red grapes (that is doing extremely well indeed over the Andes in Chile). There is no reason that Argentina should not be making great cabernets. The growing season is long, warm and dry, and by pinpointing the right altitude, they can perfectly ripen cabernet sauvignon, or any grape for that matter. It’s said that every 100 metres difference in elevation is equivalent to 150 kilometres difference in latitude.  Anyway,BENMARCO 2009 CABERNET SAUVIGNON from Mendoza, is ample demonstration, with some good winemaking being brought to bear as well.  Winemaker Pedro Marchevsky is one of the most educated, experienced viticulturists in Argentina, managing vineyards for almost 30 years. For $16.95 he has delivered a minor masterpiece. Love the fruit ripeness here without sacrificing cabernet’s more herbal nature.

Terrazas De Los Andes Reserva Malbec 2008One of the malbecs is also a notch above the norm, offering great value under $20. I was particularly impressed with the structure of TERRAZAS DE LOS ANDES 2008 RESERVA MALBEC at only $17.95. While many go for exaggerated fruitiness and juiciness (often with hot alcohol in tow) this is both generous and dense yet restrained. It is from the hands of another highly experienced winemaker who knows a thing or two about malbec, as he manages over 250 hectares of it. Hervie Birnie-Scott trained at Montpellier in France, and worked in Napa and Australia before landing in Argentina in 1991 with Bodegas Chandon.  He went to co-author Cheval des Andes, a joint venture wine between Bordeaux’s Ch Cheval Blanc and Terrazes, which has become the country’s most prized and expensive collector’s red – a blend of malbec and cabernet with a splash of merlot.  This Reserva, at about one-quarter the price, is very fine and much better value.

A Tale of Two Tempranillos

There are two Argentine tempranillos on the release, an indication that Argentina is progressing with the grape that thrives in Spain’s similarly hot, arid climate.  I have always had trouble pinning tempranillo’s character, as it has chameleon-like ability to adapt its character to its surroundings. I can pick out a syrah or cabernet from anywhere due to certain distinguishing characteristics; but not so with tempranillo.  Nor does it help when oak is heaped on top, as often happens in Spain, and in both the Argentine examples offered here.  But I did find it intriguing to compare FAMILIA ZUCCARDI 2008 Q TEMPRANILLO with a Spanish tempranillo blend BARON DE LEY 2005 RIOJA RESERVA.  The similarity is in the heavy American oak influence in both wines – Zuccardi is obviously riffing on traditional Rioja styling.  The more interesting difference was in the structure, with the Argentine wine showing a very smooth, rich open-knit New World style, while the Rioja is more lean and elegant although still quite dense.  Both are very good, typical examples at the same price of $19.95.

Familia Zuccardi Q Tempranillo 2008 Baron De Ley Reserva 2005

Fine Provence Rosé

La Bastide Blanche Bandol Rosé 2010A short stay in Provence last month re-awakened me to the charms of Provencal Rosé in particular, and indeed it is quite different from others – even in the nearby Rhone Valley and Tavel. The colour is pale and less vibrantly pink, more of a glowing salmon shade. The fruit is not as obviously berryish and sweet; it’s a bit more exotic and tart like persimmon or perhaps ground cherry. Notes of herb, spices and a scent that reminds me of fresh onion skin are more dominant. And the wines are bone dry, taut and lively. There are two very good examples on this release. Chateau La Tour de Eveque 2010 is from Cotes de Provence, a large appellation whose production is 80% pink, made from typical southern French varieties like carignan, cinsault and syrah. LA BASTIDE BLANCHE 2009 BANDOL ROSÉ is a notch above, from a particular seaside, limestone-soiled appellation that demands at least 50% mourvedre. This is a very tidy, precise and dry rose that you must try with cold canapés at your next deck soiree.

Bio-Grgich Cabernet 

Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007The wines of Grgich Hills have been showing up steadily at Vintages of late, and I am very happy about that.  It is one of many great, almost legendary Napa pioneers, but to me it has always stood out for being a bit more conscientious about its wine than most, less concerned with gloss and willing to march to its own drummer, especially back in the day when Mike Grgich went all-white in the heart of Napa cab country. He did come around to cab, obviously, as GRGICH HILLS ESTATE 2007 CABERNET SAUVIGNON is featured here, at a healthy $69.95. It is a very well composed, subtle yet concentrated wine – not too oaky, not too rich and vitally honest. I think the reason lies in the bio-dynamically grown fruit. Few mainstream Napa wineries have gone so completely organic (Frog’sLeap on this release is another), and the task was even more daunting on converting 150 hectares, which was completed and Demeter certified in 2006. According to Monty Waldin’s Biodynamic Wine Guide, the impetus for conversion came in 2002 when vineyard manager Ivo Jeramaz attended a biodynamics symposium by famous French bio-promoter Nicolas Joly.  But would Grgich have converted without already having a conscience instilled by its founder? I’d bet not.  Biodynamics is as much an attitude as it is a process.

Wynn-Fall Shiraz Value

I tasted dozens of shiraz on my trip to Australia earlier this year, but none struck me as better value, in a serious, age worthy style, than WYNNS 2008 COONAWARRA ESTATE SHIRAZ. It offers up sinewy structure, density and depth well beyond its $19.95 price tag. Why? I expect it has to do with a very good vintage overlying the complex Coonawarra soils, plus the stringent work of a viticultural team led by veteran Allen Jenkins, a viticulturalist, teacher and writer with over 20 years in South Australia, and the last ten in Coonawarra specifically. He knows the region and its terra rosa soils like the back of his hand, and is heavily involved in the development of sub-appellations like Victoria and Albert Lane (or colloquially V&A Lane). I spent a fascinating two hours with him in the vineyard, and learned a great deal that had somehow escaped me over the past 25 years.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2008

Pierre Trimbach Visits Niagara

 Cuvée Frédéric Émile Riesling 2005In early June I also spent considerable time with Pierre Trimbach, the 11th generation family winemaker at perhaps the most famous riesling house in Alsace.  He was guest lecturer at Brock University’s Riesling Experience 2011, and I also met him for lunch prior to his first visit to Niagara. The Brock audience was largely comprised of winemakers so things got a bit technical over his lengthy two hour presentation. But he never let himself be drawn too deeply into explaining why he did what he did, in terms of things like yeast selection, maceration times etc.  He just seemed to know and accept what he had learned through 385 years of riesling winemaking experience. I particularly loved his response to a question about what was need to ensure riesling’s longevity, as we tasted his exquisite  CUVÉE FRÉDÉRIC ÉMILE 2005 RIESLING, then moved back to the even better 2001. “The first thing is balance” he said. “ The second thing is balance,  and the third thing is balance. The rest is just blah, blah, blah…”  I will attempt to cover more of the Brock Riesling Experience in the near future, which also brought together rieslings from the Great Lakes basin (Niagara, Ohio, New York and Michigan) but for now, the focus is on Trimbach as the wines are only available through a special offer at VINTAGES while small supplies last. I recommend the impeccably balanced 2005 Cuvee Frederic Emile ($59), and the ripe, rich yet still dry 2009 Riesling Reserve ($25.95). This wine is part of the Vintages Classics Collection. Click here for details on this offer.

Closson Chase Winemaker Deborah Paskus Awarded

Closson Chase K.J. Watson Vineyard Chardonnay 2008At the recent gala announcing the winners of the 16th annual Ontario Wine Awards (results at Ontario winemakerDeborah Paskus was given the inaugural “Larry Patterson Innovation in the Vineyard Award”.  More on Larry Patterson in a moment, but I wanted to add my two cents on how fitting it is that Deborah received this award, and to advise that you can taste her work on Saturday’s release via the incredibly rich, poised and complex CLOSSON CHASE 2008 K.J. WATSON VINEYARD CHARDONNAY grown in the Niagara River sub-appellation. Yes, it is a Niagara wine made at the Prince Edward County winery, but Paskus has had her feet planted in both regions for a very long time, and sees all of Ontario has her field of endeavour. She actually made her name back in the 90s with a low-Deborah Paskusyield, long wood aged Temkin-Paskus Niagara chardonnay made jointly with wine writer Steven Temkin, then worked at Niagara wineries like Thirty Bench, then Tawse. By the end of the 90s she was foraging for vineyard sites in Prince Edward County, well ahead of the pack, and she has continued to create some of the most controversial, unabashedly rich chardonnays in the country from both locales. On receiving the award she acknowledged Larry Paterson, and something about herself that her fans have long known.   “Knowing the truth is not enough, speaking the truth is required. The world squeezes hard for us to fall in line. Where nice is considered a character attribute, Larry Paterson spoke his truth and he had a quality I most admire: he was authentic.”  In the spirit of truth telling, I wish some of the guests had had the courtesy to zip it during the presentation of this award.

“Radical Red” Honours the late “Little Fat Wino”

The Little Fat Wino!As Deborah Paskus received her award she was given a bottle of Radical Red, a tribute bottling by Stoney Ridge winemaker Jim Warren honouring his long time friend Lawrence Peighton Paterson. For as long as I can remember Larry was much better known and embodied as the Little Fat Wino.  He passed away late in 2010 after a long career as a professional thorn in the paw of the Ontario wine establishment, including the LCBO.  He was the only LCBO staffer ever fired for breaking “the company” rules about the listing process. He was such a fierce promoter of Ontario wine that while working in the Lakefield LCBO (near Peterborough) he would drive to Niagara on weekends to bring in non-listed wines for display in the store.  Once relieved of his duties he became even more aggressive, writing in publications and on his own website, about anything he deemed stupid, arbitrary and artificial (including wine additives).

In later years he became a promoter of Ontario wine outside conventional regional and varietal boundaries, doing much to convince winemakers in fringe areas to consider new, hybrid grape varieties. One such grape called Landot (see his treatise here) became a calling card, and it is from this variety, blended with merlot, that Jim Warren has created his small lot of Radical Red. When I received the bottle from Jim Warren after the event, I thought I should keep it as a momento to Larry, but I decided to just go ahead and open it. That’s what Larry would have done, and having received the bottle as a journalist it was indeed my job to write about it.  Radical Red is not a remarkable wine. It is very good, with a richness that escapes many Ontario reds, but there is a fair bit of oak and a volatile and leathery edge to it as well, so that the fruit character is not particularly distinctive. What’s remarkable is that the wine exists, from vines grown with the greatest of patience by one of the most impatient men I have ever known.  Or at least a man impatient with anything that got in the way of his passion for the development of a unique and vibrant wine industry.

That’s a wrap. See the rest of my reviews on this release (I was not able to taste all of it) here.

And please take a moment to check out our new video series, “So, You Think You Know Wine?“.

Cheers and enjoy, David

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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New Video Series: So, You Think You Know Wine? Episode #2

WineAlign is pleased to present the second episode of our new video series: “So, You Think You Know Wine?”.  Join our critics Sara d’Amato, David Lawrason, John Szabo and Steve Thurlow as they rise to a blind tasting challenge to identify the grape, country, region, year and price of the mystery wine.

In this episode, a few classic clues help our critics zero in on an Australian icon.  The wine featured in this episode is the 2008 Mitolo Jester Shiraz.

Click here to see the second episode.

New episodes of “So, You Think You Know Wine?” will be posted on WineAlign over the coming weeks.  We hope you enjoy them as much as we did making them and encourage you to share them with your friends..

So, You Think You Know Wine - Episode #2

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Official Press Release of New Video Series – So, You Think You Know Wine?

WineAlign Premieres “So, You Think You Know Wine?” Video Series

Canada’s top wine experts challenged to prove their stuff in blind taste challenge

TORONTO, ONTARIO–(Marketwire – June 20, 2011) –WineAlign has launched the wine industry’s first blind taste test video series – So, You Think You Know Wine? The pilot series, which can be found at, features some of Canada’s most widely recognized, award-winning sommeliers and wine critics, including David Lawrason (Toronto Life), Master Sommelier John Szabo, Steve Thurlow, Sara d’Amato and others. Without any clues beyond tasting the wine, critics must correctly identify the grape, country, region, year and price of the wine.

“For a wine critic, a blind taste test is the ultimate challenge,” explains Bryan McCaw, the Toronto-based entrepreneur behind WineAlign. “This is the first time it is being captured in a video series where the viewer will know more about the wine than the critic and can marvel in the critic’s incredible skill and talent as they use their nose, eyes and palate to identify the flavours, aromas and general characteristics of a wine to correctly determine five elements about the wine.”

Initial feedback on the video series is overwhelmingly positive, and includes comments such as:

  • “I love the new video – it’s such a fun approach to learning about wine by hearing all of you discuss it together.”
  • “By just listening to the patter between the three experts as they bring their knowledge and experience to bear on the question – what’s in the glass? – they provide insights and a little humour for the viewer.”
  • “Nicely done – right length and good job by the facilitator.”
  • “Great concept! I love it. It’s always interesting to see how the ‘pros’ measure up when blind tasting. Keep the videos coming!”

WineAlign is a free community-based service for reviewing, sharing and discovering wine. It was launched in December 2008 in collaboration with several top wine critics to create a resource for consumers to find the best wines at the LCBO. WineAlign, which is growing rapidly and now has more than 20,000 registered users, answers the question: What wine do I buy? It combines reviews from multiple top-critics and community members to create an objective resource to help users find great wine. For wine lovers outside of Ontario, Canada, WineAlign provides the most comprehensive wine resource, including reviews of the latest wines and vintages from some of the country’s top sommeliers and wine critics.

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WineAlign is the ultimate service for making informed buying decisions at the LCBO. Use it before you shop from your home or office computer, or standing right in the store aisle with your mobile device. It aligns current store inventory, professional critical ratings and reviews, your budget, your food choices, your taste preferences and those of your friends. It is also a practical site, providing valuable tools to manage your own cellar and inventory and build your own personal rating system. And it is a social site allowing you to share information and discuss wine recommendations with friends and associates. For more information, visit or @WineAlign on Twitter.

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for June 25th 2011: What’s a Pure Expression? Dangerous Education; Celebrating Canada’s Birthday, and Top Ten Smart Buys

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

I’ll lead off with a couple of recommendations for celebrating on Canada’s day, from Canada, naturally. Bubbles immediately come to mind, and in the June 25th release the 2006 JACKSON TRIGGS ENTOURAGE SILVER SERIES BRUT MÉTHODE CLASSIQUE VQA Niagara Peninsula $22.95 earns top marks. It’s an impressive traditional method sparkling wine with a good deal of yeasty complexity for the money. Fill your glasses before the fireworks begin. If it’s afternoon sipping you’re after, the 2008 NO. 99 WAYNE GRETZKY ESTATES ESTATE SERIES SAUVIGNON BLANC VQA Ontario $15.95 is my top pick, and at a deliciously light 11.7% alcohol (belying serious flavour intensity), the hot afternoon can float along at a languid pace into the twilight.

Jackson Triggs Entourage Silver Series Brut Méthode Classique 2006  No. 99 Wayne Gretzky Estates Estate Series Sauvignon Blanc 2008

We’ve got reasons to celebrate as well, with the launch of our new video series, “So, You Think You Know Wine?”.  Please take a moment to review our premiere episode.

What’s a Pure Expression?

Château Saint Roch De Laurens Faugères 2007Salterio Albariño 2010‘Pure expressions’ is the main theme of the June 25th release, and for white wine fans it’s one of the best in some time. I’m not quite sure which criteria were used to define the selection, but for me, a pure expression can either be a great expression of a grape variety or better yet, a faithful expression of a place, but in neither case does the hand of the winemaker take the spotlight.
That’s not to say there isn’t a talented hand behind a pure expression, but it’s a hand with the self-confidence to know when to leave well enough alone and to let his/her grape or place tell the story – no muddling the message with extraneous flavours and textures, or imposing a style on the wine other than what your grape and place tend to naturally offer. Everything else is by my definition a commercial product, custom-engineered to meet the needs of a market. This is the wine business after all, and wineries need to sell wine, but I sincerely hope that there will always be a place in the wine world for decidedly un-commercial wines, quirky, idiosyncratic, original. The world needs more pure expressions. Just try a glass of the classy and outstanding value 2007 CHÂTEAU SAINT-ROCH DE LAURENS FAUGÈRES AC $18.95, or the spot-on 2010 SALTERIO ALBARIÑO DO Rías Baixas $17.95 to understand what I’m talking about: both marvelous combinations of grape and place, and nary a winemaker to be found.

A little Education Can Be Dangerous

Prominent institutions that offer professional degrees in oenology have been largely responsible for raising the overall level of wine quality worldwide, but they have also been responsible for the increasing homogenization of wine style. Graduates of these programs have been taught the essential technical skills of how to grow and transform grapes into wine and get it safely bottled, but they have also been taught dozens of techniques that allow them to engineer wines through chemical and physical modifications in order to fit them into a narrowly defined spectrum of accepted styles. If you are drawn as I am towards wines which taste like they come from somewhere as opposed to anywhere, this is bad news. I’m apprehensive to learn of another young graduate returning home only to toss out his/her father’s and grandfather’s equipment and techniques, relishing the opportunity to try out all of those new tricks of the trade.

Consider all of the possible manipulations from vineyard to bottle: delaying or staggering harvest, boosting alcohol by adding sugar, or removing it using specialized equipment, adjusting acidity and pH up or down with the right substance and a measuring cup, artificially concentrating via reverse osmosis, pre-determining the aromatic profile by selecting a laboratory-isolated strain of yeast with known properties and fermenting at the recommended temperature, using enzymes to enhance colour and flavour extraction, adding gum arabic to enhance mouth feel, powdered tannins to add structure or micro-oxygenating to soften tannins, sweetening by adding concentrated grape must, ageing in new oak barrels to give a creamy texture and additional flavours of coffee, chocolate and caramel… And I’m barely scratching the surface. And I’ll point out that all of these techniques and more are perfectly legal, and are in fact encouraged in the name of better wine. The end result is that too many wines taste like they were made by the same winemaker using the same vineyards and the same grapes. Technical competence yes, but no variation, no room for different, original, unique.

Fortunately, there is an underground movement launched by winemakers swimming against the current, aiming to produce ‘natural wines’ by a minimalist and non-interventionist approach. It starts, of course, with the right grape growing in the right place that doesn’t require any artificial manipulation to transform it into drinkable wine, and it ends with wines that aren’t afraid to be different. Now, ‘natural wine’ isn’t, or shouldn’t be, the lazy man’s get-out-of-jail-free card for sloppy winemaking and is no excuse for outright defects. Most can agree that vinegar is best used in salads and nail polish remover is best for, well, removing nail polish. But it’s quite a simple equation: less manipulation equals less homogenization of flavours and more originality. Period. That’s my idea of a pure expression. Beyond that, it’s up to each individual to determine how open-minded they’ll be to new or unusual flavours, and to choose which wines they’ll ultimately filter through their taste buds and liver.


In addition to the wines mentioned off the top, there was a trio of old world whites among the June 25th releases that gave me a tingling sense of place: The 2008 DR. H. THANISCH RIESLING KABINETT QmP, Bernkastel Badstube $18.95  delivers the unmistakable taste of wet slate from the Mosel that never fails to excite. Campania’s most noble white grape finds an authentic expression in the 2009 TERREDORA FIANO DI AVELLINO DOCG $18.95. It’s ripe but not heavy, with characteristic flavours of honey, hay and chamomile in addition to succulent orchard fruit. And Salomon-Undhof’s 2009 WIEDEN & BERG TRADITION GRÜNER VELTLINER DAC Kremstal $19.95 is a fine example from a fine vintage, clean and precise, with classic citrus/orchard fruit coupled with fresh turnip and lentils, underpinned by a fine streak of wet stone minerality.

Dr. H. Thanisch Riesling Kabinett 2008 Terredora Fiano Di Avellino 2009  Salomon Undhof Wieden & Berg Tradition Grüner Veltliner 2009


Overall the quality of the reds in this release less consistent, and the Argentina mini-feature was a notable disappointment (a definite shortage of purity). Worth a look however is the 2009 SALENTEIN RESERVE MALBEC Uco Valley, Mendoza $19.95. From the high altitude, cooler vineyards of the upper Uco Valley, Salentein’s malbec is distinguished by its fresh black fruit flavours, firm tannins and balanced acidity in a lineup that included plenty of clumsy, alcoholic, oaky and baked wines.

Salentein Reserve Malbec 2009

Fans of well made, classic Bordeaux will enjoy the 2005 CHÂTEAU RAHOUL AC Graves $29.95. It’s entering into peak drinking now with a broad range of flavours and complexity above the mean. 2008 WYNNS COONAWARRA ESTATE SHIRAZ Coonawarra, South Australia $19.95 is another superb example for the money from ever-reliable Wynns. Smoky, spicy, peppery aromas make this a classic syrah/shiraz expression – pure Coonawarra.

Château Rahoul 2005  Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2008
Poggio Scalette Il Carbonaione 2007

Pure expressions do not necessarily imply a higher price tag, but two of the purest expressions in this release happen to be cost far more then the average. But if you can afford it, they’re worth it. Vittorio Fiore’s 2007 POGGIO SCALETTE IL CARBONAIONE IGT Alta Valle della Greve $67.95 has consistently been one of my top Tuscan wines since I first tried it from the 1994 vintage. It’s made from the Il Carbonaione vineyard near the town of Greve just south of Florence, which was planted shortly after WW1 with the small-berried, superior sangiovese di Lamole clone. Year in and year out it’s a refined, elegant and above all authentic expression of Tuscan sangiovese, though wait at least another couple of years before opening, and I’m confident it will age gracefully into the mid-twenties if you have the patience (and the cellar), as past vertical tastings have proved.

It’s been amply shown around the world that the holistic approach of biodynamic farming is a particularly powerful tool for crafting pure expressions, and GRGICH HILLS uses it to full effect in their 2007 ESTATE CABERNET SAUVIGNON Napa Valley $69.95. This is still a long way from prime drinking, but already it gives a sense of wonderful balance and proportion, combining the generosity of Napa cabernet with discreet oak influence and deceptive underlying structure that should see it age comfortably for twenty years.
Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

From the June 25th Vintages release:
Top Ten Smart Buys
All Reviews


John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , ,

Corked wine or a Flawed perception by Tyler Philp

Tyler Philp

Tyler Philp

Not long ago, at an upscale dining establishment on the outskirts of Aurora, Ontario, my wife and I were sitting together at a table in the corner enjoying a lovely bottle of Chianti with our bruschetta and pasta entrées.  Joia Ristorante is a great place to eat, and I think that perhaps we both feel a few years younger than we really are as we sit amongst the hustle and bustle of the wait staff watching people come and go.  But it’s fun to get dressed up, ditch the kids and hit the town for a great meal paired with a good bottle of wine.

At the table adjacent to ours, a couple were engaged in a rather heated discussion with the waiter. Apparently, there were ‘bits of hard stuff’ stuck to the bottom of the cork from the bottle he had opened for them only moments before.  From my vantage-point, I was unable to identify the label on the bottle but judging by the body language and ensuing performance, it was clearly a finer choice on the wine list, which incidentally, one might mistake for an old leather-bound bible.  Within the coveted document, patrons are presented with a plethora of very fine (and expensive) choices.  But expensive wine also comes with elevated expectations, which is perfectly acceptable – if you know what to look for.  Let’s put it this way:  a 15 year old bottle from France’s Côtes du Rhône will only vaguely resemble the recently harvested Aussie Shiraz that you opened last summer to sip poolside with the burgers in the backyard.  The challenge however, is that most patrons do not recognize how significantly a bottle of wine can change with time. ‘It’s flawed’ demanded the couple, and without even tasting the contents, ‘Take it away!’

Wine Diamonds

Wine Diamonds

One of the more fascinating aspects of the great transformation which occurs inside a bottle of wine is the concept of sedimentation. Save for a minute amount of oxygen transfer, the bottle is essentially a sealed environment and while nothing has entered or left the bottle, the composition of the contents has changed; in some cases rather significantly. Colour and tannin precipitate out of the liquid solution in the form of a powder-like sediment that collects in the bottle and this formation is both natural and inevitable the longer the bottle sits. During the winemaking process however, should the bottle not be subjected to cold stabilization (which I will explain shortly) a crystal-like mineral deposit may form and settle at the bottom or in some cases, adhere itself to the cork. Though formally known as Tartrates, these crystals are also referred to as Wine Diamonds.

Normally, the crystals are dull or colourless while on other occasions they remain bright and vibrant. What you are actually looking at is mineralized tartaric acid (potassium bitartrate crystals). It’s harmless and contrary to popular belief, does not indicate a flawed bottle of wine. Wine diamonds develop only under certain conditions and are an indication of well made wine. Generally, the grapes used in the production of a wine which develops tartrates were allow to full ripen on the vine and thus contain a higher brix level (sugar content). Additionally, the fermentation process was not accelerated nor artificially tampered with to expedite the bottling process – hence, well made wine.

Wine Diamonds

Wine Diamonds

In North America, we don’t readily accept unfiltered wine as the normal; simply put, people don’t want bits of stuff floating about in their wine glass. To prevent this, the wine is filtered several times and in some cases, subjected to a process called ‘Cold Stabilization’ – it just sounds bad doesn’t it? It’s actually very straightforward: To prevent the formation of tartaric acid minerals in the bottle, winemakers rapidly cool the wine in a large stainless steel tanks. The sudden cold temperature causes the tartaric acid to precipitate out of the liquid and fall to the bottle of the vessel. The clear wine is then pumped or siphoned off the top for bottling or additional filtering, but here is the catch, for clarity does not come without cost… Purists, enthusiasts, and those who claim to taste the difference in terrior from one row of vines to the next will attest that cold stabilization and excessive filtration also strips a wine of its unique personality and the more you drink wine that has not been over-processed, the sooner you will realize that they just might be correct.

The next time you pop a cork, remember that the transformation occurring inside a sealed bottle of wine is still one of life’s great mysteries.  Don’t be so quick to find fault with the contents if something is seemingly out of place and if you discover a few diamonds in the rough, consider yourself very fortunate.


Tyler Philp is the founder of North of 9 Fine Wine, an online wine writer, and columnist for Footprints Magazine.  Visit him at

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New Video Series Premiere: So, You Think You Know Wine? Episode #1

WineAlign is pleased to present the first episode of our new video series: “So, You Think You Know Wine?”.  Join our critics Sara d’Amato, David Lawrason, John Szabo and Steve Thurlow as they rise to a blind tasting challenge to identify the grape, country, region, year and price of the mystery wine. In this first episode our host, Amil Niazi, throws a curve ball with Frescobaldi 2007 Nippozzano, a Chianti with a twist.

Click here to see the first episode.

New episodes of “So, You Think You Know Wine?” will be posted on WineAlign over the coming weeks. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do and encourage you to share them with your friends.

So, You Think You Know Wine - Episode #1

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

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

There are eleven 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. The Top 50 list features 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 Wine => Top 50 Drop Down MenuTop 50 Value Wines to be taken directly to the list.

To be included in the Top 50 for value a wine must be inexpensive while also having a high score, indicating high quality. 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 Reds
K W V Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
K W V Cathedral Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon (V) 2008KWV is a large South African wine producer that has two cabernet sauvignon from the Western Cape now on the Top 50.

KWV Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 is an improvement over the last vintage. It is an excellent young cabernet with good varietal character at an great price. The nose shows aromas of cassis with black olive and some spicy earthy tones underneath. It is midweight, vibrant with good length and has clean lines and modest ripe tannin. Just enough grip. Try with grilled red meats or meaty pasta sauces.

KWV Cathedral Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Western Cape  is a Vintages Essential and is a very classy cabernet for the money. The nose shows cassis and black cherry fruit with a minty freshness plus some mild oak spice and tea and herbal influences. The palate is fresh and lively with the fruit laying over some nice grippy tannin which shows up on the finish. Excellent length. Try with a steak or roast game.

Two new reds for Argentina are also new arrivals on my list.

Trapiche Malbec 2010, Mendoza in Argentina is a finely balanced midweight red. There is a lot going on here for the money, good depth of flavour and very good length. Expect aromas of blackberry fruit with minty freshness and a hint of prune. It is medium bodied and juicy with the fruit persisting well on the finish with some finely divided mature tannin to add a little grip. Try with roast duck or bbq ribs.

La Puerta Syrah 2010, Famatina Valley in Argentina is a fresh lively and juicy wine with the fruit well balanced by soft tannin and good acidity. The nose shows aromas of black cherry fruit with smoke and black pepper spice. It is full bodied but not heavy with the ripe fruit toned by some earthy character. Try with bbq meats.

Trapiche Malbec 2010 La Puerta Syrah 2010

New Whites

Cesari Chardonnay Delle Venezie 2010  from Italy is only $7.35 and you get a lot for the money. It is a juicy fruity clean unoaked chardonnay with modest depth of flavour and complexity but it is balanced with decent length. Expect aromas and flavours of ripe peach pear fruit with some herbal notes. Try chilled with grilled seafood or pasty based nibbles.

Trapiche Astica Sauvignon/Semillon 2010 from Argentina is another very inexpensive white which delivers more than you would expect at the price, with its depth of flavour, palate length and complexity. The two grapes that form the blend are the basis for white Bordeaux wine. Expect aromas of green apple, grapefruit and melon with celery and some hay notes. The palate is rich and creamy well balanced with good length. Perfect for cheesy pasta sauces, sautéed seafood or chicken pie. Don’t overchill; it is very rich and you might miss the good stuff.

Montes Classic Series Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Curico Valley in Chile is an excellent sauvignon blanc for a cooler region. The nose shows gooseberry, lemon, white peach and hay aromas with some mineral, dill and celery notes. The palate is racy, rich, thick with fruit yet well balanced and finishes firmly with a nice touch of celery. Very good length. Try with creamy pasta sauces or herbed chicken.

Cesari Chardonnay Delle Venezie 2010  Trapiche Astica Sauvignon/Semillon 2010 Montes Classic Series Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Limited Time Offers (LTO)

Nederburg Sauvignon Blanc 2010Santa Carolina Chardonnay Reserva 2010Every month 100 or so products at the LCBO go on sale for four weeks. As a consequence of the current LTO, two wines  joined the list.

Nederburg Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Coastal Region from South Africa is an excellent sauvignon blanc with intense aroma and flavour, maybe a little too much greeness for some but will be great with a crisp summer salad. It is medium weight, with some rounding sweetness and lemony acidity driving through to the finish. Good to very good length. Try with roast herbed poultry.

Santa Carolina Chardonnay Reserva 2010 from Chile is great value at $11.95. So on offer at $9.95 it is a great buy with its lifted nose of  intense complex aromas of peach, melon, grapefruit with honey and toffee notes and a hint of oak spice. It is rich and creamy on the palate yet there is some lovely lemony acidity which keeps it feeling light and, unlike many chardonnays these days, it is only a little sweet and finishes dry with very good length. Try with white meats, creamy cheeses and seafood.
You have until June 19, 2011 to take advantage of these price offers.

Discontinued Wines

One excellent wine has unfortunately been discontinued by the LCBO and has gone on sale to clear inventory. Domaine Bassac Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Vins De Pays Des Cotes De Thongue is a well made clean easy drinking cabernet from the Midi. The nose shows blackcurrant, herbs and earthy notes in an approachable style. It’s juicy, fresh and quite quaffable with drying tannin on the finish. Good to very good length. It is now discounted to $6.95. There are around 500 bottles left so don’t wait too long before jumping on this one.Domaine Bassac Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

New wines

Farnese 2010 Montepulciano Cerasulolo d’Abruzzo is an excellent new rose listing at LCBO which should appeal to red wine drinkers this summer. Think of it as a light red with aromas of plum, red cherry and white peach with floral and spice hints. It is medium bodied rich and creamy with lots of flavour and very good length. Try with a ham sandwich or sauteed shrimp. Don’t overchill.
Farnese Montepulciano 2010

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

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008