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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for August 6th 2011: Good things come in pairs and Three-star values from Chile

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Thoughts of Work Recede Like Early Morning Dreams:  Deep in the heart of another hot and languid southern Ontario summer, when most are sitting by the lake, or dreaming that they were, it’s tough to get excited about anything that doesn’t involve afternoon naps, backyard BBQs or just soaking up the sun. The thought of 100+ wines lined up for tasting in a window-less laboratory on a gloriously sunny day was starting to seem like work, an alarming thought. Yet against all odds, tasting through the new releases for August 6th, I was impressed, even excited, by wine after wine: there is a fine collection of top quality and value stuff on offer this week. Evil thoughts of work quickly receded like early morning dreams, and it was back to business as usual, sniffing, sipping and marveling at the remarkable variations on a theme of fermented grape juice. So if you can drag yourself momentarily away from mid-summer nights’ musings, check out a few of these selections – it’s worth it.

Good Things Come in Pairs
A fine way to get familiar with a grape is to taste a few examples side by side – this way you can directly compare and contrast variations in terroir and winemaking techniques, and learn more about the range of possibilities within the category – context is key. This week there are a few pairs of wines worth tasting for educational purposes (maybe you can write it off as “cultural development”?), and more than a little pleasure.

Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007Chalk Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 20061. 2007 SIGNORELLO ESTATE CABERNET SAUVIGNON Napa Valley, Unfiltered $59.95 & 2006 CHALK HILL ESTATE CABERNET SAUVIGNONSonoma County $44.95. Ray Signorello is a guy who gets it. He has one of the most extraordinary personal wine collections I have ever come across (and, err, plundered on one happy occasion), without a single average quality bottle – every wine is a reference point for its region/appellation/grape, so he clearly understands what fine wine is all about. His also understands international markets, and prices his wines to sell, not to finance another sports car. His full range of Napa wines favors finesse and elegance over sheer power and heft, so unsurprisingly his 2007 Napa cabernet has more than a nod back to the old world. This is about structure, complexity and elegance, with superb architecture and depth, and a finish that lingers on endlessly.

In 1972, the natural amphitheatre carved into the hills of eastern Sonoma that would become the Chalk Hill Estate was discovered by Fred Furth, while piloting his plane over the Russian River. He had a hunch that those slopes could produce fine quality grapes, and it seems he was right. Despite Sonoma’s reputation for producing more restrained wines than Napa, the 2006 Chalk Hill Estate cabernet is more forward, plush, ripe and immediately pleasing than Signorello’s version. It too offers a fine blend of fruit, earth, spice, herb, floral and oak notes, but with a bit more new world-style palate density. Both, in any case, are classy, and within the high-flying context of premium California cabernet, pretty fair value.

Domaine Piron Lameloise Quartz Chenas 2009JEAN-PAUL BRUN CÔTE DE BROUILLY2. 2009 DOMAINE PIRON-LAMELOISE QUARTZ CHENAS AC $22.95 & 2009 JEAN-PAUL BRUN CÔTE DE BROUILLY AC $18.95 . We’ve been spoiled of late with several releases of excellent Beaujolais from the memorable 2009 vintage, and though I’ve already mentioned a couple in recent reports, I can’t resist pointing out this opportunity to compare two of the top ‘crus’ of the region from a pair of fine producers. In 2004, an 8.5-hectare property was taken over by a pair of well-known winegrower-restaurateurs, and Domaine Piron-Lameloise was launched. The property has seams of quartz running through it, hence the name of this cuvee, and the evident minerality right off the top. The Chenas cru in general, with it’s steep granitic soils, is reputed for its structured and sturdy examples of gamay, similar to Moulin-à-Vent next door, and this wine from Piron-Lameloise should age well for a half-dozen years thanks to its uncommon depth and richness and light but firm, grippy tannins.

“This is the best quality I’ve ever seen… nearly perfect,” said Jean-Paul Brun of the 2009 vintage. It’s been compared to the legendary vintages of ’47, ’49 and ’76. Brun is at the forefront of the natural wine movement that is sweeping through Beaujolais, and the world. Though he’s hailed in serious wine drinking circles as a genius, known for making particularly pure, fruity and delicate wines, he has had on-going difficulties with the French appellation authorities. Several of his wines have been denied Beaujolais appellation status in the past for their ‘atypical’ character. Well, if you consider the typically, insipid, mass-market Beaujolais “typical”, then I suppose they are right. Try this beguilingly floral, fresh yet fleshy Côte de Brouilly with the inimitable lightness and depth that epitomizes fine gamay, and decide for yourself.

Salcheto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2005Montaro Rosso Di Montalcino 20063. 2005 SALCHETO VINO NOBILE DI MONTEPULCIANO DOCG $23.95 & 2006 MONTARO ROSSO DI MONTALCINO DOC $17.95 .  This pair of Tuscan sangiovese shares more similarities than differences. Both are farmed using organic/biodynamic methods with a strong commitment to the environment. Salcheto in fact is launching a carbon-neutral winery this year using the latest water and energy conservation technology. The Montaro is the wine to try first; made from vineyards within the Brunello di Montalcino appellation but aged for a shorter period than required by law to quality for the designation, it’s released as the lighter and fruitier Rosso di Montalcino. The ’06 is absolutely delicious, juicy, and energetic, with light dusty tannins and fruit flavours solidly in the red berry spectrum, complemented by resinous herbs and dried flowers. It’s a wine I could happily drink any day (or every day) of the week.

Salcheto’s ’05 Vino Nobile from the nearby hilltop town of Montepulciano is a slightly more evolved, serious and complex example, with the integrated vestiges of new wood evident alongside some lovely floral notes, ripe berry fruit, spice, earth, savoury herbs. The palate is silky smooth yet firm and taught, with juicy acidity and exceptional length/depth at this price. This wine I’ll save for Sunday afternoons.

Other top smart buys this week include an unlikely but lovely blend of half-a-dozen mostly aromatic white grapes from Niagara’s 13th Street, a superior Spanish bubbly at just $13.95, and aMediterranean white (Adriatic, technically) tailor-made for grilled fish drizzled in extra-virgin oil with lemon and herbs. See them all here.

Chile is in the spotlight on August 6th, and not surprisingly there’s a whole shopping cart full of three-star values ranging from $13 to $30/bottle and from a half-dozen different grapes and different regions. The most exiting development in Chile in the last decade has been its growing diversity; it’s no longer just Maipo Valley cabernet that’s winning fans worldwide, but an expanding collection of grapes intelligently matched to varying terroirs spanning a thousand kilometers north to south. And there is so much to discover. Start with my Top Ten Smart Buys.

From the August 6th Vintages release:
Top Ten Smart Buys
Three-Star Values from Chile
All Reviews

John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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David Lawrason on Canada AM – BBQ Wines

David had a guest appearance on Canada AM this morning.  First, David walked host Coleen Christie through a blind tasting of two refreshing summer wines.  Later he went to on to describe some great, non-traditional pairings of wines for the BBQ.

You can watch the entire video clip here.

David Lawrason and Coleen Christie on Canada AM

David Lawrason and Coleen Christie on Canada AM

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Phylloxera – A near apocalypse averted ~ Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

The greatest threat to winegrowing in history: Phylloxera: not your average piece of viticultural trivia. In the mid-nineteenth century, this apocalyptic disease was on the verge of destroying practically all vineyards in the world. Well, not all vineyards, just the ones that consisted of vitis vinifera(European) vines. A hellish scenario, indeed: no more Margaux, no more Montrachet, no more Malmsey, no more Clos de Mesnil, no more (ghastly underrated) Monbazillac, no more Madiran, no more Macvin du Jura (a real treat), no more marvellously magnanimous wines comprising just one letter of the western alphabet. If you ask me, why go on living? And yet, this was the precise situation facing growers throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, one that threatened to decimate over two thousand years’ worth of toil, terroir, and tradition.


But what is, exactly, phylloxera? About a millimetre in length, phylloxera is a small yellow aphid (or plant louse) capable of devastating vineyards with relentless rapidity as it feeds on the root of the vine. As it consumes the sap, the root is infected with swellings called ‘galls,’ which eventually prevents the sap from circulating, causing the infected root to die and leave the actual vine without sustenance. In human anatomical terms, think of your mouth being sewn shut so that you cannot receive nutrients. In vinous format, the vine shuts down, as its leaves turn yellow, whither, and fall. Three years later, the vine is usually dead.


Indigenous to the eastern United States, the louse first appeared on European shores in 1863, when vineyards in southern England and around the mouth of the Rhône were discovered to be infected. How did it get there? The most likely scenario: it was able to survive the Atlantic crossing via the advent of steamships, perhaps underfoot of an unsuspecting passenger, one who had only recently visited an American farm (or vineyard) before boarding the ship, then visiting a vineyard on the other side of the Atlantic shortly after disembarking. Another scenario: during this same period, vast quantities of North American plants were also being transported across the Atlantic for experimentation and replanting. No doubt a little phylloxera tagged along for the ride. Either way, in centuries past, this would not have been a problem, as the phylloxera louse would not have been able to survive the multi-week journey on-board wooden sailing ships. Almost makes one think of phylloxera as the Titanic of viticultural tragedies, then.

And tragic it was. In short order, it struck Portugal in 1871, Austria in 1872, Germany and Switzerland in 1874, Spain in 1877, and Italy in 1879. In France, alone, subsequent to the widespread devastation of vineyards throughout the Rhône, Province, and the Midi, phylloxera hit Bordeaux in 1868, Burgundy in 1875, the Loire in 1878, and Alsace and Champagne in 1890. Even worse, the phylloxera menace was not just confined to Europe. In 1873, it hit California. In 1877, it appeared in Australia, hitting New South Whales and Victoria shortly thereafter. By 1885, it struck South Africa. By 1890, even New Zealand was invaded. The word’s best vines were being destroyed at an astonishing rate! What was to be done?

In the end, it was renowned French botanist Jules-Émile Planchon (1823-1888) who, in conjunction with several other persons of note, finally discovered (or confirmed) the solution, likely sometime between 1869 and 1873: grafting European vines onto phylloxera-resistant (eastern) American rootstocks. A radical solution, to be sure, and one that took several decades to fully implement. Needless to say, the cost of completely replanting most of the vineyards of Europe, alone, was enormous. Yet, to this very day, virtually all vines in Europe – the wines we hanker after from Burgundy or Bordeaux, just to name my two favourites (along with Champagne and the Rhône) – are grafted onto American rootstocks. Hard to believe how close the greatest vineyards in the world once came to complete destruction. I shudder to think how we’ll handle climate change ….

Click here for a few gems for collectors from the July 23, 2011 Vintages release.

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Lawrason’s Take On July 23rd Vintages Release – Chardonnays of the World Unite, Refined Italian Whites, Great Gigondas, New VSO Releases, Video Feedback

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Chardonnays Unite at I4C:  I foresee that Niagara’s long awaited International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration this weekend will be seriously, meltingly warm.  Ontario in July – it must have been expected. Glad we are not tasting cabernets!  For those of you who may have been posted to Siberia for the last three months, the heavily promoted “I4C” is an historic event for Ontario’s wine industry, as the wineries of Niagara host chardonnay producers from around the globe – our first international big deal. And there are still tickets for most events on Saturday (go here for an update) then a Vintages-sponsored taste-around at Roy Thomson Hall on



Sunday afternoon ($95).  I will report after the fact on how all this worked out, but if I can join the promo bandwagon for a moment, this is the moment for reluctant wine lovers to put in a little extra effort – especially boomers with long memories of Ontario wine and enough cash in the bank to get reacquainted with Ontario’s best.  And for those who have already signed up, and know that Ontario has turned the corner, never mind all the chatter about serious coolness, world classiness and such. Keep your nose to the glass; this is about the wine, which I fear may get overlooked in the rush to pronounce judgments on the events themselves.  Having already tasted most Ontario offerings I am going to focus on new wines from the many international wineries who have so eagerly decided to join this shindig, travelling from exotic locales as far away as Tasmania, South Africa and B.C.

For those who will not be in Niagara or at the Roy Thomson Hall tasting this weekend Vintages is releasing seven I4C chardonnays from producers that will be in Niagara. Three are very much worth your attention, and as I look at the selection it clearly shows a bit of a personal stylistic preference when it comes to chardonnay. I am looking for cool, complex, understatement, not bombast on the one hand or simplicity on the other. Chardonnay is a most malleable grape with an ability to absorb and coddle flavours from the soil, from yeasts and from barrels like no other. And the best winemakers always find a way to handle all these elements and hold them in mutual respect.  From Burgundy, don’t miss  JEAN FÉRY & FILS LES NOSROYES 2008 PULIGNY MONTRACHET ($52.95).  From Oregon’s chardonnay specialist try out ARGYLE 2008 RESERVE SERIES NUTHOUSE CHARDONNAY ($39.95).  And Niagara’s ever-improving COYOTE’S RUN 2009 BLACK PAW VINEYARD CHARDONNAY, a bargain at $21.95.

Jean Féry & Fils Les Nosroyes Puligny Montrachet 2008  Argyle Reserve Series Nuthouse Chardonnay 2008  Coyote's Run Black Paw Vineyard Chardonnay 2009

Refined Italian Whites
Terredora Loggia Della Serra Greco Di Tufo 2009The diversity of Italy’s indigenous grapes is the main theme of this release – a noble and ambitious exercise to be sure. But it’s hard to bring this notion together at the popular $15 to $25 price points to which Vintages seems ever more enslaved.  I wasn’t thrilled by this assemblage of wines; it felt like a marketing driven composition of odds and ends that needed a push. That said, there are highlights, especially among the whites.

Marco Felluga Mongris Pinot Grigio 2009I keep coming back to this idea that white winemaking has improved so much that it has given a whole new life to Italy’s indigenous white varieties; and it has given consumers a whole new portfolio of  food friendly white wine flavours and options that travel beyond the ubiquitous profiles of chardonnay, sauvignon and riesling. I personally love to drink the new Italian whites, especially on tepid summer days. Trouble is I still have several purchased last summer that I should be drinking now. Anyway, I draw your attention to TERREDORA LOGGIA DELLA SERRA 2009 GRECO DI TUFO, a steal from Campania at $17.95. I also must point out one of the best pinot grigio’s of the year MARCO FELLUGA 2009 MONGRIS PINOT GRIGIO ($22.95) from one of the best producers of Italy’s most famous unknown white wine appellation called Collio. By the way, we almost never hear about the importers who supply the wines to Vintages – because they are never part of Vintages publications (maybe they should be), but both these whites come from the estimable portfolio of Halpern Enterprises, one of Ontario’s largest and best suppliers of estate wines from Europe and the New World.

Great Gigondas 

Dentelles, Gigondas

Dentelles, Gigondas

In May I spent four days in the southern Rhone Valley, in the shadows of the estimable Mount Ventoux (the pinnacle leg of the Tour de France) as well as the saw-toothed Dentelles – a Jurassic outcropping of stones that have become a signature for the wine villages of the southern Rhone.  The village of Gigondas (pop  800) can claim to be the soul of the Dentelles, as its vineyards run deep into the folds and benches just below the dramatic escarpment (see photo).  The combination of limestone soil content and slightly higher altitude of the best sites impart a bit more acidity and finesse to Gigondas than most of the other villages – although I will also look more closely at directly adjacent Sablet and Seguret which also hug this rock formation.  The problem with Gigondas, from a producers point of view, is that it plays second fiddle to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and is under-appreciated. But in a day and age that is beginning to question the usefulness of hot vintages and hot wines, Gigondas is poised for a breakthrough. Until then, the good new is that it is also underpriced.

To my point, there are three fabulous Gigondas waiting to be discovered at Vintages. DELAS FRÈRES 2007 LES REINAGES GIGONDAS ($29.95) is released July 23, from a northern Rhone-based producer that occasionally delivers brilliant wines.  The other two were released through Vintages ShopOnLine selections. Both these are from Domaine Saint Damien, a small family property with access to sixty year old grenache vines that dominate in these single vineyard cuvees.  I slightly prefer the  more sleek, supple DOMAINE SAINT DAMIEN 2009 LES SOUTEYRADES ($31.95) over the more rustic but powerful La Louisiane. But it is splitting hairs. More important is the huge value they represent when you compare them to basic $35 Chateauneuf.

Delas Frères Les Reinages Gigondas 2007 Domaine Saint Damien Les Souteyrades Gigondas 2009

Vintages Shop on Line
Seventeen new wines were plugged into inventory on July 14, and they were presented the same day for media tasting.  VSO wines are purchased in relatively small quantities that can’t be effectively/fairly shoe-horned into the in-store retail system. How they differ from In-store Discoveries that do get released without pre-tasting by media is another discussion.  The new VSO selections are from the Rhone Valley – including good buys other than those from Gigondas already mentioned above;  from California, including some powerful by maturing chardonnays, from Burgundy and from Tuscany, where I highly recommend the great value, maturingCASALVENTO 2006 CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA, a great value at $28.95. Reviews for all are available here.
Casalvento Chianti Classico Riserva 2006

Feedback on So, You Think you Know Wine
David LawarsonI have been getting some very positive and friendly personal feedback on our new series of WineAlign blind tasting videos’ and with the latest episode released this week I am also seeing an upswing in discussion and comment on Twitter. And some of it is starting to indicate debate and a deeper connection and concern over the process than I foresaw. Fair enough.

Regarding episode 4, where the mystery wine was Louis Jadot 2009 Bourgogne Chardonnay, one viewer gently chided me for not going with my first instinct (which happened to be right) and guessing instead that it was pinot gris from New Zealand. He is correct; first instincts are usually right in blind tasting because the nose (once trained) knows, and the fickle mind is too easily fooled by extraneous influences. In this case I was waylaid by what I thought was a high shoulder Bordeaux bottle shape beneath the wrapping.  Chardonnay is usually bottled in low shoulder Burugndy bottles, which this actually was too. My nose is better than my eyesight.

Twitter CommentsAnother viewer tweeted “Thats pretty funny, 4 points each & not one got France! I think she lowers the bar each episode!”  Well in case you didn’t notice from previous episodes, this is a friendly exercise and no one is actually keeping score.  We are debating whether to put a more formal scoring structure in place when we shoot the next batch in September, but personally I don’t really see the point. This is much less a competition between us as it is a forum for wine education and a bit of entertainment for viewers.

Another viewer tweeted “These make me think of poker games and shady business…”.  Well there certainly is that element of gamesmanship, and the dramatic, dark lighting and in-our-faces camera work does that leave the feeling. But just in case anyone thinks that all this is a set up in terms us knowing the wines in advance; you are wrong. The identity of the wines is very carefully secret prior to the taping.

And by the way, our videos are starting to get some wider notice in TV land. A clip was shown on CHCH in Hamilton prior to a Steve Thurlow interview, and on Monday morning I will be on Canada AM demonstrating blind tasting as well – unless of course we get bumped by some far more serious breaking news. Stay tuned.

Cheers and enjoy, David

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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

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So, You Think You Know Wine? Episode #4 – Louis Jadot Bourgogne Chardonnay 2009

WineAlign is pleased to present the fourth 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, our experts are tested by a French Chardonnay whose identity is obscured by a poor wrapping job and a warm vintage.

Click here to see the fourth 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 #4

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for July 23rd – Live Austrian Duet; Top Ten Smart Buys and Italian Wine School: 7 classic wines from 7 regions

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

In a rare moment of celestial synchronicity, two of Austria’s top winemakers will be in Toronto on July 22nd to host a dinner at Cowbell Restaurant, on the eve of the release of their wines at Loimer Grüner Veltliner Trocken 2009VINTAGES. Even more remarkable is that both wines are excellent, and one, the 2009 LOIMER GRÜNER VELTLINER TROCKEN DAC Kamptal $18.95, is my number one smart buy this week. Loimer’s hands-off, natural (biodynamic, in fact) approach to wine production is much in evidence here: the nose is almost pure stony minerality the way we like it, with underlying ripe, vibrant, concentrated fruit and intriguing herbal and floral notes in textbook Grüner language. It’s a superb wine, especially at this price, and one I’d buy by the case.

Sattlerhof Sterische Klassik Morillon 2009Also revelatory, just when you thought you’ve had a lifetime’s worth of Chardonnay from every conceivable terroir, along comes another example, a real beauty in the cool climate, Chablis-esque genre. I’m willing to wager that few have had Chardonnay, or Morillon as it’s known locally, from Styria in southern Austria. If you enjoy elegant, minerally, classic old world style versions, lively and middle-weight with a fine streak of acidity, then you’ll enjoy Willi Sattler’s version: 2009 SATTLERHOF STERISCHE KLASSIK MORILLON Südsteiermark, Styria $22.95.

You can meet both Fred Loimer and Willi Sattler on the 22nd, have a fine meal, preview their excellent wines, then go and buy them on Saturday morning. That’s serendipitous synchronicity. And for even more amusement, check out how all of us expert tasters were trumped by a (decent but basic) Grüner Veltliner in the third episode of WineAlign’s So You Think You Know Wine?.

Also worth the drive to the LCBO this week is Argentina’s answer to amarone, made by one of Italy’s top amarone producers, another superb syrah from 400kms north of Santiago and a fine local rosé with which to ease back in the Muskoka chair and watch the sun set, or rise. Find the full top ten here.

An Italian Primer: 7 classic wines from 7 regions

Wine Regions of Italy

Wine Regions of Italy

The July 23rd VINTAGES Spotlight shines on Italy, a country of bedeviling complexity that never fails to instill feelings of overwhelming hopelessness in otherwise competent and dedicated sommelier students, not to mention consumers of wine. Italy’s sheer vineyard size, spanning all 20 administrative regions and locking up the world #1 spot for liters produced annually, its 1000+ native varieties that rarely grow in foreign soil, and often never even leave their local valley, and its countless wine styles make for a complex subject of study to be sure. But that’s the beauty of Italy: a lifetime’s worth of study, travel, tasting and experiencing, with no end in site.

If you’re up for the challenge, take this crash, self-taught, hopefully shared, experiential course in Italian wine: seven classic wines from seven corners of the country. Check out how marvelously diverse this country is. Seven weeks, seven days, seven hours, the length of the course is up to you. If you choose the latter duration, I recommend seven classmates, too. Total cost of materials, not including view of Positano on the Amalfi Coast, glassware, antipasti, secondi, caffé or digestivi, but including all wine, is $179.65. All bottles are available on July 23rd and I’ve listed them here.

Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2010Course 1: Alto-Adige
Aka Südtirol, the Alto Adige is nestled between the Dolomites and the Southern Alps just south of Austria, accessible via the Brenner Pass. The first, and co-official language for many inhabitants here is still German, despite Mussolini’s forced program of Italianization, and there are lots of suspiciously tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed citizens. What little agricultural land available is found along the Adige River Valley and its tributaries. You need strong calves and thighs to make wine in the Alto Adige. The region in general produces fresh, crisp whites and lively, juicy reds from a long list of grapes, though pinot grigio is the most popular, ranging from the banal to the sublime.
Homework: 2010 TIEFENBRUNNER PINOT GRIGIO DOC Südtirol-Alto Adige $17.95

Course 2: Campania

Terredora Loggia Della Serra Greco Di Tufo 2009Home to Naples, Italy’s top tailors, Mt. Vesuvius, the Amalfi Coast, limoncello and Mozzarella di Buffala, Campania is also a treasure trove of high quality native grapes. Sophisticated wine lists, chalked up on the walls of ancient wine bars and preserved under the ashes of Vesuvius’ eruption, testify to two thousand years of serious wine drinking culture (also preserved are the pictogramic “menus” of the second oldest profession, another type of fun house altogether). But it’s up in the Apennines, inland from the heat and chaos of Napoli, where the top drops originate. The cool, bucolic hills of Avellino, Benevento and Tufo are major centers of wine production. Sturdy reds from aglianico and some of Italy’s most serious whites from fiano, falanghina and Greco are worth finding.

Cantina Di Venosa Terre Di Orazio Aglianico Del Vulture 2007Course 3: Basilicata

Where for the love of Bacchus is Basilicata? You won’t find it on any tourist itineraries; it’s the forgotten region that forms the instep of the boot, sandwiched between Puglia to the east, and Calabria and Campania to the west. There’s a lovely, unspoiled stretch of Ionian coast, too. I believe that there are still more sheep living in Basilicata than Italians. As far as wine goes, there’s only one you have to know: Aglianico del Vulture, with the EMphasis on the first syllable: VUL-too-ray, to sound like you know what you’re talking about. Aglianico is the name of the grape, once thought to have come from Greece (an Italianization of ellenico-Hellenic- “Greek”), but recent studies points to origins in central Europe. It’s a savage beauty, wild and untamed, like a rustic country cousin of nebbiolo, full of tannins, acid and savoury pot pourri flavours. When grown on the slopes of the extinct Vulture volcano, it takes on a salty mineral edge.

Course 4: Abruzzo
Cantina Tollo Aldiano Montepulciano D'abruzzo Riserva 2007On the beautiful Adriatic coast, Abruzzo borders Le Marche to the north, Molise to the south, and Lazio to the west; it’s a 200km drive from Rome across the rugged Apennines. Southern Italy’s highest peak at 2,914m, the Gran Sasso d’Italia (Italy’s Big Pebble), is here. Mussolini made his daring, German special forces-assisted escape from the Campo Imperatore ski resort high on the Gran Sasso on September 12th 1943, offering him a short reprieve from the inevitable. But I digress. The viticultural action occurs outside of ski resorts at lower elevations; the best vineyards sit around 300-500 meters where the summer heat is moderated by cool mountain air. There are only two grapes of note: trebbiano is at best a pleasant quaffing white, while montepulciano can be everything from red-and-white checked tablecloth trattoria house wine to one of Italy’s most intense and flavourful reds.

Il Marroneto Brunello Di Montalcino 2005Course 5: Tuscany
Any introduction necessary? Don’t think so. Just picture Cypress tree-lined country lanes, olive groves, medieval villages floating atop rolling hills, vineyards everywhere, as well as mad Germans and Swiss driving BMWs and Mercedes’ at formula One speed, rushing to relax in some ancient castle converted into a luxury Spa. Sangiovese is the grape that grows most widely under the Tuscan sun. It has been undergoing a serious makeover in the last twenty years, and it’s no longer possible to generalize about it; it ranges in style from pale, zesty, juicy, dusty cherry-flavoured (old school-pizza pasta wine) to seriously dark, thick, oaky and more cabernet-like (modern style), especially when it’s made with cabernet. Overall, quality has risen dramatically, hand in hand with prices, but when it’s good, as in top Chianti, Brunello, Morellino and Vino Nobile, it’s really good.

Course 6: Piedmont

Franco Molino Barolo 2006Terroir spiritualists are at home in Piedmont. Piedmontese winegrowers are indeed kindred spirits of that other spiritual sect, the Burgundians, both working for the most part with single grapes, and looking to articulate and emphasize the nuances imparted by terroir with religious zeal. Nebbiolo, not the most planted but certainly the most headline-grabbing grape, is possibly the greatest red grape on the planet if such an unlikely title could ever exist. It smells like no other (well, maybe a little like Brunello or aglianico, especially after a decade or more in the bottle); it’s a trickster, setting you up to believe that you’re about to experience a light, delicate wine with its deceptive pale garnet colour. Then it hits you, full force, like a sumo wrestler or a German Panzer attack, before subsiding like a passing hurricane. As you slowly recover from the oral symphony, minutes later, with the whispering after effects still audible, you can only conclude that the experience was mesmerizing, and that you want to do it all over again (how was that for mixed metaphors? Isn’t it great what you can get away with on the internet?)
Homework: 2006 FRANCO MOLINO BAROLO DOCG $29.95

The Veneto, anchored by the watery, melting, fairytale city of Venice in the northeast, is a powerhouse of wine production. Many of Italy’s most popular regional brands are made here: Soave, Valpolicella, Prosecco, not too mention oceans of pinot grigio, among others. As you know, meaningless DOCs are no guarantee of quality: there’s sublime Soave, and then there’s the ridiculous; there’s valorous Valpolicella, and then there’s the vacuous. Knowing the right producers is important everywhere, but the need is particularly acute in the Veneto, where industrial meets artisanal on the same shelf. Admittedly, I’ve never fully understood the attraction to one of the region’s most celebrated wines: amarone. I’m fond of raisins in my cereal more than my wine, but it seems I’m the outsider so I’ll just go with the flow. There are excellent examples than even a man of my simplistic tastes can appreciate, such as the bottle suggested for your homework below.

International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4c)
Reminder to get your tickets for the i4c, Friday July 22nd through Sunday July 24th. at and at the host wineries. David Lawrason and I will be there all weekend, so stop by and say hello.

From the July 23rd Vintages release:
Top Ten Smart Buys
Italian Primer: 7 Wines from 7 Grapes & Regions
All Reviews


John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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Steve Thurlow on CHCH Morning Live

On July 7th Steve Thurlow appeared on CHCH Morning Live.  Steve conducts and impromptu blind tasting with host Bob Cowan and demostrates our upcoming barcode scanning technology.  Here’s a link to the video clip.

Steve Thurlow on CHCH Morning Live

Steve Thurlow on CHCH Morning Live

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John Szabo on Breakfast TV

John appeared on Breakfast TV Wednesday morning.  He spent time with Dina Pugliese explain the importance of chilling all wines (reds too!) and provided some great tips for pairing wines with food.   Here’s a link to the segment featuring John.   His part begins around the 10 minute mark.

John Szabo on Breakfast TV

John Szabo on Breakfast TV

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Steve’s Top 50 Value Wines from the LCBO – July 2011 – 12 New Summer Wines

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

There are twelve 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.

Recent additions to the Top 50

I have recently tasted many new vintages of wines and some new listings which resulted in twelve wines joining my Top 50 list.


Villa Sandi Pinot Grigio 2010Masi Serego Alighieri Possessioni Rosso 2009Villa Sandi Pinot Grigio 2010 is an excellent pinot grigio for a great price, lots of flavour and well structured for food, with no oak. The nose shows melon pear fruit with mineral and herbal complexity. It`s midweight and quite fat with very good length. Don`t overchill or you might miss the good stuff. Try with seafood veal or poultry.

Masi Serego Alighieri Possessioni Rosso 2009 is an elegant sophisticated red wine at a great price. It is made from corvina and sangiovese grapes matured in large cherry wood barrels. Expect soft complex fragrant aromas of blackberry fruit with spice, leather and jammy notes. It is ripe and bolder due to the vintage than is usual, with the plum and berry fruit nicely supported by tannin leading to a long lingering finish. Excellent length. Try with roast duck or hard mature cheeses.

Castillo De Monseran Garnacha 2010Candidato Oro 2007Castillo De Monseran Garnacha 2010 is a delicious unoaked, simple yet exuberantly fruity red with aromas of plum and raspberry fruit plus a hint of white pepper and cranberry jelly. The palate is full and juicy with some sweetness and soft tannin, which is most noticeable on the dry finish. Chill lightly and enjoy with burgers, sausages and ribs. Very good length.

Candidato Oro 2007 is a soft lightweight fruity red that should appeal to lovers of pinot noir. The nose is harmonious with red berry fruit nicely integrated with gentle oak spice. The palate is clean well balanced and simple with modest tannin. It finishes dry with very good length. A versatile food wine for meats and cheese dishes.


Catedral Reserva 2007 arrives at the LCBO this month. It is an elegant fresh vibrant red recently debuted at LCBO. It has a lot of complexity and flavour for the money. The perfumed nose of blueberry/blackberry fruit plus vanilla and mild oak spice and chocolate is very appealing. It is midweight and velvety smooth with bright lively fruit and modest supportive tannin. Very good length. Try with roast red meats, game or hard mature cheese.
Catedral Reserva 2007


P K N T Carmenere 2010 is another newcomer to the LCBO. It is a vibrant well balanced red with good varietal character. Expect earthy black cherry fruit with some warm spicy and tobacco notes. The palate is super smooth and full bodied with supple juicy fruit not at all spicy as might be suggested by the label. It is clean and fresh with very good length. Try with mildly spicy bbq meats.

Cono Sur Tocornal Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2010 is a full bodied and fairly vibrant wine with modest aromas of cassis fruit with a hint of black pepper and dark chocolate. The palate is full with the ripe fruit toned by firm tannin and fresh lemony acidity. Good length. Try with lamb cutlets. It comes in a 1500ml bottle; so make sure you have friends on hand to enjoy.

Casillero Del Diablo Carmenere 2010 is the best value among the Casillero reds. It is quite complex for a wine at this price point. The nose is very harmonious with red cherry, plum and raspberry fruit plus well integrated oak spice with dark chocolate, cranberry jelly and mocha notes. The palate is well balanced midweight and quite elegant with good focus and very good length. Try with roast lamb or beef.
P K N T Carmenere 2010 Cono Sur Tocornal Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 1500ml 2010  Casillero Del Diablo Carmenere 2010

Ontario VQA

Pelee Island Blanc de Blanc 2009Pelee Island Lighthouse Riesling 2009Ontario VQA means that the wine was made 100% from grapes grown in Ontario. Two wines from  Pelee Island winery join the Top 50. This winery is much improved and they have many good value wines in addition to these two whites.

Pelee Island Blanc de Blanc 2009 is much improved over earlier vintages and that’s probably because it is now vidal and riesling blend. It is a very versatile food wine for white meats, cheesy sauces and seafood. Expect zesty lemony apple-pear fruit aromas and flavours with a rich full palate with some fruit sweetness but it finishes dry with very good length.

Pelee Island Lighthouse Riesling 2009 is just off dry with a perfumed nose of rose with orange and white peach notes. The palate is very smooth and rich with fruit and it is balanced by soft lemony acidity. Very good length with the fruit persisting well. Enjoy lightly chilled as an aperitif or match with seafood, creamy pasta sauces, roast poultry or braised veal.

BBQ Reds

We are into BBQ season at last; now is the time to enjoy simple inexpensive reds outdoors with friends and family. Four regions of the world are supplying most of the Top Value wines at present. Here are four reds, all for around $8, that are great for enjoying with BBQ meats; one from each of those regions.

Tini Sangiovese Di Romagna 2009 is a very drinkable soft clean Italian red for pizza, pasta and risotto. The nose shows cherry and plum fruit with some herbaceous notes. It is soft and fruity with enough tannin and acidity for balance and very decent length considering the price. Chill a little to give some edge and enjoy with bbq meats.

Obikwa Shiraz 2010 is a great value shiraz from South Africa; its most promising variety. Expect smoky herbal blackberry fruit with pine and mocha notes. It vibrant and fruity and very easy to drink with a fruity dry dark chocolate finish. It’s a great buy for pizza, bbq meats or an inexpensive party wine.

Trivento Tribu Syrah 2010 from Argentina offers a lot of flavour for a wine at its price. It shows ripe fruit yet is balanced by soft tannin and juicy acidity and has very good length with the fruit persisting well. The nose is a bit slender with some blackberry fruit with tobacco notes. Try with meaty pasta sauces, pizza or bbq meats.

Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2010 is quite an amazing wine considering it’s price. It is a very correct Bordeaux blend from Chile with good balance and decent length and even a little complexity. The nose shows black cherry fruit with some spice and leathery tones and a hint of beet. It is midweight dry with good acidity and fine ripe tannin. Try with bbq meats.
Tini Sangiovese Di Romagna 2009  Obikwa Shiraz 2010 Trivento Tribu Syrah 2010  Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2010

Please click here for a complete list of the Top 50 Value Wines 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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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Grenache – as noble as the greatest of grapes ~ Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

A wonderful grape – but how to best appreciate it? The most widely planted red grape in the world, yet unfortunately one of the most abused, Grenache – also known as Garnacha in Spain – has experienced something of a renaissance in recent years. Reaching new heights in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Priorat, and Australia, collectors and casual wine lovers are slowly realizing that not all Grenache is overly alcoholic and excessively tarry. On the contrary, when yields are kept down and excessive oak is kept to a minimum, the best examples of Grenache, whether crafted on its own or (more often) blended, can easily rank among the finest red grapes in existence, from Pinot Noir and Syrah to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Grenache Grapes

Grenache Grapes

In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Grenache is found everywhere. Typically planted on hot, dry soils that possess good drainage, the famous galet roulés stones of the appellation would seem to be a natural fit for this heat-loving varietal. Elsewhere, such as in Rioja and Priorat, Grenache takes very well to more schist-based terrains. Either way, for Grenache to make the finest wine possible, yields should always be kept reasonably low, otherwise the wine will simply not be as good.

And this is precisely why Grenache has had such a hard time garnering more respect: too many mediocre wines from high-yielding, poorly managed vines. Such wines can be found in plenty of places, so at least no one winegrowing nation, or region, is entirely to blame. The most guilty culprits, however? Probably Spain, southern France, California, and (even) Australia. In such places, Grenache is often mass-produced and tends to taste very straightforward and alcoholic. Granted, Grenache can make for some great rosé – particularly those found in Navarra and Tavel – even when harvested at excessively high yields, yet this hardly atones for all the lousy red table wine produced from this same grape.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vineyard in French Wine Country

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vineyard in French Wine Country

On the premium side of the spectrum, however, Grenache really is like nothing else. In Châteauneuf-du-Pape (and Roussillon, to a remarkable extent), where Grenache is commonly blended with Syrah and Mourvèdre, the finest youthful examples will often give off extraordinary aromas of fresh dark raspberried currants and plums, blackberries, leather, Provencal herbs, mocha shavings (sometimes roasted coffee beans), minerals, and spice. On the palate: these same wines are distinctly full-bodied, carrying lots of ‘dark’ fruit and firm, yet accessible tannins. As for cellaring potential, the best examples of Grenache should be able to age for at least ten years, oftentimes much more.

Old Bush Vine

Old Bush Vine

In other places, such as Priorat in southern Spain, the best bottlings of Grenache will often contain a dollop of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Compared to Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Roussillon, I have often found these wines to be far more robust and oak-driven as a whole, yet the quality of the finest examples is unmistakable. Indeed, collectors should be on the lookout for these wines, as they will give great pleasure over the short and long term.

Heading to Australia, quality tends to vary significantly. As is often the case elsewhere, the best bottlings are those that have been blended with other varietals. In the case of Oz, the blending partners are Syrah and Mourvèdre. For collectors and wine lovers, however, the thing to remember is that the ‘entry range’ Grenache-based wines from Australia are seldom worth buying. This all changes, though, as you enter the more premium spectrum. This is where the Grenache-based wines of Australia have a tendency to shine, with the finest examples, while typically the reversal of inexpensive, often reminding me of a fruitier, New World, Aussie-styled version of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. High praise, to say the least.

Click here for a few gems for collectors from the July 9, 2011 Vintages release.

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008