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Sara d’Amato’s Vintages Preview for Sept 3rd, 2011: Bodacious Blends, Italian Unite and International Bonnes Affaires

Sara d'Amato

Sara d'Amato

[Editor’s Note:  Due to scheduling difficulties John was unable to taste the wines in time for this newsletter. The eminently qualified Sara d’Amato is pinch-hitting for John this week. John’s reviews and picks for this release will be available on WineAlign before September 3rd.]Le Monteil D'arsac 2006

The main theme of the Vintages’ release this week focuses on blended reds with bold, intense flavour profiles.  The broad-ranging series includes prized wines such as Quintessa and Yalumba’s The Signature.  Among the less celebrated labels however, one wine that grabbed my attention was the2006 LE MONTEIL D’ARSAC AC Medoc $16.95. This wine stood out not only for its price but for its subtlety, elegance and complexity.  As well, it certainly exceeds expectations in terms of longevity and quality, especially coming from a somewhat challenging and troubled vintage.

An interesting mini-feature of this release are wines celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Italian unification. Although the exact date of the unification is debatable, it is generally recognized that in 1861, Italy, which had previously been divided and ruled by several European nations after the collapse of the Roman Empire and the disintegration into various city states, became one country under the rule of King Victor Emmanuel II. Although the wines have different vintage dates, they have all been released in 2011, the generally accepted anniversary. A terrific value in this release is the 2006 TERRE DEL BAROLO BARBARESCO Piedmont $24.95 which is just beginning to come into its own. In addition, the 2006 POGGIO VALENTE MORELLINO DI SCANSANO RISERVA Tuscany $34.99 is drinking superbly now but also has the staying power to cellar. This celebratory wine release is a great excuse for a themed party in commemoration of this unity.
Terre Del Barolo Barbaresco 2006  Poggio Valente Morellino Di Scansano Riserva 2006

Wohlmuth Blaufränkisch 2007Mullineux Syrah 2008The general release is a great mélange of international and local selections with several intriguing odds and ends. The 2007 WOHLMUTH BLAUFRÄNKISCH AC Burgenland Austria $15.95, for example, is a well-priced introduction to the world of Austrian red wine. Blaufränkisch finds its home in the eastern realm of Austria in Burgenland close to the Hungarian border where it is otherwise known as Kékfrankos. Although the variety is often compared to Pinot Noir, this example is more akin to a beefy Gamay with similar spice, floral and cherry notes.

Delivering a big impact, seductiveness and style is the 2008 MULLINEUX SYRAH WO Swartland South Africa $28.95. A mere 50 km from Cape Town, in the Western Cape, Swartland’s vineyards are free of irrigation and are home to some of South Africa’s top and most progressive wineries. Named after the dark “rhino bush” (Swart, meaning black) the region is best known for its success with Rhone varietals and blends.

Finally, a modern style and wonderfully complex Chardonnay from the cooler region of Central Victoria is not to be missed. The 2010 MCPHERSON BASILISK CHARDONNAYCentral Victoria Australia $17.95 is inviting and refreshing with an almost perfect natural balance. Sustainably produced, this Chardonnay boasts beautiful floral aromatics, zesty citrus notes and steely minerality.
 Mcpherson Basilisk Chardonnay 2010

Cin Cin! Happy tasting and enjoy what is left of this tempestuous summer,

From the September 3rd Vintages release:

Sara’s Top 5 Smart Buys
Sara’s Featured Wines
All Reviews


Sara d’Amato

-WineAlign Critic

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

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

There are nine 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.In addition to the great value wines below, please check out the links to our new video series. I’m excited to be part of this series and we’ll be releasing new episodes through-out the summer.

Recent additions to the Top 50
I have recently tasted many new vintages of wines and some new listings which resulted in nine wines joining my Top 50 list.

Limited Time Offers (LTO)
Every month about 100 products at the LCBO go on sale for four weeks. As a consequence of this temporary price reduction, five wines have joined the Top 50.

Boutari Moschofilero 2010Graham's Late Bottled Vintage Port 2005 I am pleased that, for the first time ever, a wine from Greece is in the Top 50. Boutari 2010 Moschofilero from Mantinia in the Peloponnese. I will be leading a group of wine lovers from Ontario there in a few weeks time and I look forward to congratulating the winemaker on this achievement in Ontario. Moschofilero is deservedly becoming Greece’s signature aromatic white and this is a great value ambassador with its orange blossom, apricot, peach and pear aromas. The palate is rich and creamy, yet it is soft well balanced and flavourful with the orangey acidity becoming more evident on the finish. Very good length. Try with mildly spicy Asian cuisine.

Graham’s 2005 Late Bottled Vintage Port  has a beautiful fragrant nose of blueberry jam, licorice, pine, and dark chocolate. It’s full-bodied velvety smooth, with a soft, creamy texture yet light on the palate despite the considerable alcohol. Very good to excellent length.

Shingleback Haycutters Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2009 Pelee Island Cabernet Franc 2009Shingleback 2009 Haycutters Sauvignon Blanc Semillon is a recent arrival at the LCBO. It is a classic Bordeaux white blend with subtle oak and fresh hay, apple, green olive and beeswax aromas. It is silky smooth with the lively fruit well supported by racy acidity. Very good to excellent length. A lot of complexity and a beautiful texture will make you come back for more. Try with roasted poultry or sauteed veal.

Pelee Island 2009 Cabernet Franc is an excellent well priced Ontario cabernet franc, midweight and lively with the bright fruit well balanced by mature tannin and lemony acidity. The nose shows some delicate raspberry and cherry fruit aromas with some earthy and jammy tones. It is very vibrant on the palate; it almost has an Italian feel, with the berry fruit persisting well on the finish. Try with rack of lamb or juicy sausages. Very good length.

Santa Carolina 2009 Merlot Reserva has lots of flavour and complexity for a wine at this price. It is a deep purple red with lifted plum and raspberry fruit aromas with mild oak spice vanilla and chocolate notes. It is full bodied with great balancing acidity which keeps the palate light and modest ripe tannin. Very good length. Try roast meats or game.

Santa Carolina Merlot Reserva 2009
You have until September 11th to take advantage of the lower prices.

Chile and Argentina Wine MapChile and Argentina
I spent the last three weeks in Chile and Argentina visiting wineries and exploring the new regions that are being established to produce the many new high quality wines that are arriving in Ontario.

Great value wines first started arriving in our stores from Chile in the late 80s. The best were undoubtedly from cabernet sauvignon mostly from the Maipo Valley close to Santiago. This historical region  was established in the 19th century. Other varieties came to us from the Central Valley, but the same quality was not evident, however they sold well because they were cheap. Recently vineyards have been established in new locations, quality and value have soared and other grape varieties are joining cabernet sauvignon in the top value category.  Carmenere and sauvignon blanc are the two which seem to be doing the best but chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah and merlot are not far behind.

Carmenere is one of the red grapes that can be part of a Bordeaux blend, but very little is used in French wines these days. The grape is widely planted in Chile where until 10 years ago most vines were thought to be merlot, indeed it is only in the last 5 years or so that wineries have learnt how to make good wine from this late ripening variety. Amazingly several wineries top red is now made from carmenere. Quite a turn around for a grape that I once thought would never make good wine. There are three wines in my current Top 50 made from this grape.

P K N T Carmenere 2010 is a recent 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.

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.

Santa Carolina 2009 Carmenere Reserva is a well made juicy carmenere. The greeness often associated with this grape is well tamed. The lifted nose is blackberry fruit with dark chocolate and soft spice with a nice touch of vanilla.. The palate is juicy midweight and lively and the finish shows modest tannin and lots of juicy fruit. Very good length. Try with bbq and roast red meats, casseroles or mature hard cheese.
 P K N T Carmenere 2010  Casillero Del Diablo Carmenere 2010    Santa Carolina Carmenère Reserva 2009

Sauvignon Blanc
In the last five years we have started to see sauvignon blanc wines from Chile’s cooler coastal regions in our market. In the past most wines made from this grape came from the warmer Central Valley where sauvignon vert was also often included in the wine to detrimental effect. I have just spent a few days exploring the Leyda Valley and the San Antonio coastal wine region as well as Casablanca. Here you can smell the sea and sauvignon blanc is making great wines. Four of which are in the current Top 50.

The Errazuriz 2010 Sauvignon Blanc shows nicely lifted sauvignon aromatics of hay, lemon, green apple and melon. It is elegant creamy and well balanced with very good length. Try with sautéed scallops with a lemongrass dressing.

Santa Carolina 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from the cool Leyda valley is an improvement over previous vintages. It is a very well made sauvignon with aromas of gooseberry, green apple fruit with hay and dried herbs. The palate is firm and flavourful with lots of fruit well supported by acidity driving through to a long finish. Very good length.

J. Bouchon 2010 Sauvignon Blanc is a fresh ripe sauvignon that will work well with seafood and mild white meats. This is a very ripe style of sauvignon with aromas of lemon citrus and white peach fruit with hay notes. It is very rich on the palate with lots of peach, melon and pear flavour and some tangerine notes. The finish is dry and lingering with a lot of fruit sweetness.

Montes 2010 Classic Series Sauvignon Blanc has a nose that 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.
Errazuriz Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2010  Santa Carolina Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2010  J. Bouchon Sauvignon Blanc 2010   Montes Classic Series Sauvignon Blanc 2010

It was in 2006 that large numbers of wines from Argentina started appearing on LCBO shelves, mostly made from malbec; the current darling red grape. There are 21 malbecs for less than $15 at the LCBO and three make it onto the current Top 50. However Argentina is not just malbec and I sampled many good wines from other grapes during the last two weeks when I was travelling in Argentina. For me, the most exciting finds were cabernet sauvignon, unfortunately so few are available here. However syrah/shiraz is also doing well, especially from the San Juan wine region two hours drive to the north of Mendoza.

There are three wines from this grape in the current Top 50.

Trivento Tribu Syrah 2010Trivento Tribu Syrah 2010 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 Graffigna Centenario Shiraz Reserve 2008blackberry fruit with tobacco notes. Try with meaty pasta sauces, pizza or bbq meats.

Graffigna 2008 Centenario Shiraz Reserva shows fragrant aromas of blackberry fruit with dark chocolate and herbal and spicy complexity. It is understated with an elegant balanced palate and very good length. Still youthful with a long lingering finish. Try with duck breast with a savoury cassis sauce.

La Puerta 2010 Syrah has its name changed from shiraz in 2009 to syrah with this the 2010 vintage, yet the wine is very similar. It is fresh lively and juicy 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.
 La Puerta Syrah 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 ~ Bordeaux 2010 futures – Why I’m not buying ~ Saturday, August 20th, 2011

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Even collectors have limits: For almost eight years, I have bought Bordeauxen primeur (on futures) every spring. It is almost a springtime ritual: waiting for the Decanter reviews to come in, along with a few other publications, and making my selections accordingly, or even tasting the wines, my self. It is a tradition that virtually all serious collectors eagerly undertake. Even in years, such as 2007, there have always been wines, such as white Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes, worth purchasing in advance.

Vieux Chateau Certan Label

Until now.

Have (most) premium claret producers gone insane? With the 2010 en primeur campaign now in full swing, I have never come across so many preposterously overpriced futures in my life! Even the historically reasonable Château Talbot is, courtesy of the LCBO, being tagged at a ridiculous $95 per bottle. A few other examples: Pontet-Canet ($239); Léoville-Poyferré ($199); and Beychevelle ($129). Is the Asian market truly that hot?

Chateau La Conseillante

By all measures, the prices for 2010 futures are unreasonably inflated. Consider this: the American economy remains in shambles; the European Union is still fighting to keep some of its member nations afloat; and as forJapan, the largest market inAsia, let’s just say they have other problems to worry about than buying premium claret. So, aside from Canada and a few other significant buyer-nations, that really just leaves Hong Kong and China to absorb all the futures that would have otherwise been bought up by the Americans or, to an even greater extent, the British. Are the Chinese really willing to pay such exorbitant prices for their claret? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Hence, can someone please tell me why prices so high? In short, the answer comprises a mixture of both vintage quality and speculation. Of the former, estates are playing the odds that, if the quality of the 2010 vintage is labelled as ‘one of the best vintages ever,’ the wines will simply sell themselves. And in all truthfulness, 2010 is, in fact, a superlative vintage, despite the unprecedented levels of alcohol to be found in St-Emilion. As a result, many producers are speculating that collectors shall be willing to write larger cheques in the hopes of securing their allotments of this ‘must-have’ vintage of the century.

But seeing as how most years are being labelled as ‘vintages of the century’ these days, the sheer novelty of it all is starting to catch up with collectors like my self. After all, if 2005 and 2009 were ‘vintages of the century,’ what need have I of another one at the present time? I already have plenty, either in my cellar or on order, from both of these vintages; so I might as well buy 2008, a seriously good vintage, much more realistically priced, and devoid of (many of) the trappings of speculation. After all, even serious collectors have limits.

Click here for a few gems for collectors from the 20 August 2011 Vintages Release

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages August 20th Release: Surprising Southern France, Alt-California, Curious Leyda Sauvignon, Penfolds Iconic Bins, Amiable Oregon Pinot and Dapper Douro.

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The Sunny, Unpredictable South of France:  Vintages major theme this release is the massive arc of vineyard hugging the entire south coast of France from Italy in the east to Spain in the west. It is one of the most dynamic and exciting wine regions in the world today – a true tippler’s and explorers paradise, as long as you are fine never knowing exactly what’s in that next bottle. With literally thousands of producers large and small spanning dozens of appellations the permutations are endless. Among the more well known appellations in the arc – Provence, the Rhone Valley, Costieres de Nimes, Coteaux du Languedoc, Minervois, Corbieres and Roussillon.

All share the same essentials.  Red wines made from the ‘Rhone’ varieties – syrah, grenache, mourvedre and carignan (to name the most important) – dominate the landscape.  The region also makes a lot of very good, dry rosé from these same varieties, plus a few, improving and sometimes intriguing whites from indigenous varieties like roussanne, grenache blanc and picpoul.  Foreign northern grapes like merlot, cabernet and chardonnay can be grown here but they are gathered under a single appellation of Vin de Pays d’Oc, which to me is a kind of so-what appellation, marketing driven rather than terroir driven.  The AOC wines from the native varieties are far more interesting, especially when derived from older, dry farmed vineyards which abound in this age-old area.

Château L'argentier Vieilles Vignes De Carignan 2007The region is quite hot and dry, resulting in deeply coloured, full bodied wines stuffed with ripe fruit, lots of alcohol and tannin – that can be a struggle to control. Raisiny over-ripeness, hot alcohol, blustery tannins and acetic volatility always lurk as dangers. There is a certain rusticity to many of the wines, or put another way, elegance is not their strong suit.  But they make up for it with complexity and depth, and a certain amount of intrigue.  Another result of the hot, dry Mediterranean climate is the widespread use of organic and biodynamic viticulture and winemaking, which when properly applied, renders even more interesting, deep and better balanced wines.  When not done well expect some earthy, tannic monsters.

Domaine La Croix Belle Syrah 2009Vintages has done a good job in this release in putting together a selection that catches the diversity and personality  – warts and all – of the south of France.  The other important theme is that the wines are all relatively inexpensive and affordable to anyone with the slightest curiosity.  It was difficult to pick which wines to feature here, but I ended up going for authenticity and value. CHATEAU L’ARGENTIER 2007 VIEILLES VIGNES DE CARIGNAN from the Vin de Pays du Gard ($19.95) bursts with Mediterranean character, having a distinctive and wonderful aroma of what the locals call garrigue (wild herbs and flora) that somehow blends rosemary, lavender and carignan’s distinctive sour plum/rhubarb scent.  It is made at an organically tended 24 hectare property founded in 1937 and now owned by Elisabeth and Francois Jourdan. And for sheer value, in a slightly more familiar flavour profile, I also draw your attention to DOMAINE LA CROIX BELLE 2009 SYRAH, a delicious, juicy rendition from another naturally farmed family property, at the impossibly low price (for this quality) of $12.95.

Drilling Down in Alt-California 
Ampelos Gamma Syrah 2006I was also intrigued by Vintage’ selection for the California mini-feature. It  features some smaller, less well known producers, non-cabernet/merlot based wines, and again some being organically produced.  California, like the south of France, is Mediterranean in climate and temperament.  And I have long maintained that if the California industry had been far less focused on chasing the Bordeaux model, they would have been a lot farther ahead – or at least true to their sense of place – by making delicious southern France inspired reds . It is sure where I look for value in California, which despite recessionary pricing and currency parity with the Canadian dollar, remains one of the world’s most expensive wine regions.  Proof in the pudding is AMPELOS 2006 GAMMA SYRAH from the Santa Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County ($27.95), a powerful yet fine biodynamically produced wine by Peter and Rebecca Work, who planted in 1999 and began making wine in 2004 along with their son Don.  Production is small at 3,500 cases, but the wine is big hearted and delicious.
Chalone Monterey County Chardonnay 2009

The whites in the California feature are all chardonnay, again with an organics theme in the subtext.  Chardonnay has of course been California’s white strong suit all along, and it’s not about to fade away anytime soon – although cheap California chardonnay is being challenged by cheap pinot grigio. Serious, more expensive chardonnay is often excellent, especially from carefully chosen, cooler sites affected by proximity to the Pacific, or higher altitude.  The pioneering Chalone estate benefits from both influences, with the original property founded at 1800 metres in limestone laced Gavilan Mountains above the Salinas Valley in 1919.  The vineyards were expanded in 1946, then in the modern era vineyards on the Pacific-cooled valley floor were added. The latter is the source for the great value CHALONE 2009 MONTEREY COUNTY CHARDONNAY being released Saturday at a remarkable price of  $16.95. In fact, all four chardonnays in this feature are very well priced and quite good buys.

Chile’s Unusual Leyda Sauvignons
Montes Limited Selection Leyda Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2010I spent quite awhile lingering over MONTES 2010 LIMITED SELECTION LEYDA VINEYARD SAUVIGNON BLANC from Chile. Not because I was trying to decide on its quality, which is excellent, but trying to decipher its off-beat aromas, and trying to decide how much I personally liked it. It’s the kind of deliberation that is required when a new region and/or genre surfaces. I am familiar with Chile’s coastal Leyda Valley, indeed I was surprised by the massive scale of sauvignon planting when I visited in 2009. And I love the lightness and liveliness expressed in the wines; so much more interesting, refreshing and pure than in the clumsy, overripe sauvignons grown in the warmer Central Valley appellations a decade ago. They are also a bit more elegant and tidy than most from New Zealand’s Marlborough region.  The  closest comparisons would be sauvignons from Chile’s Casablanca Valley, but even here the Leyda editions seem even lighter and somehow more ethereal. But this doesn’t mean they are less flavourful. The Montes is a great example, packing in all kinds of complexity and flavour intensity with fresh herbs, citrus and exotic sub-tropical fruit. And it is clean as whistle, it dances and it lasts and lasts on the palate. I almost found it overwhelming in its flavour intensity.  Anyway, at a mere $14.95 I invite you to try it, spend some time as well, and do your own familiarization tour.

Oregon’s Bon Anne Amie
Anne Amie Cuvee A Pinot Noir 2008After several minutes on the website of Anne Amie I could not unearth the unusual naming of this winery. But I did discover much more.  Anne Amie is the reincarnation of Chateau Benoit, an early days property in the northern Willamette Valley that got off to  a bit of false start by focusing on riesling and muller-thurgau due to a prevailing wisdom deemed Orgeon’s and Washington’s “northern climate” (compared to California) to be most suitable for Germanic varieties.  Those old vineyards still remain but in 1999 it was purchased by a Portland businessman, philanthropist and writer named Dr. Robert Pamplin, who wanted to join the pinot movement that was by then thoroughly ensconced in the region. He funded a major renovation of vineyards, staff and winery and we are now seeing some excellent results. To quote the website, Cuvee A pinot is a lower priced “selection of our most forward and charming barrels of Pinot noir, blended in a style meant to capture their bright, fresh flavors and aromas”.  American critics are scoring it in the 87 point range. I was more enthused at 90 points. The 2008 vintage was cool and late in Oregon, perhaps resulting in a lighter, less ripe, more tart, cranberry-fruited style deemed less typical by the American tasters. And perhaps due to me being from Ontario I liked it more, rating it 90. Anyway, ANNE AMIE 2008 CUVEE A PINOT NOIR  is a very fine, cool climate pinot noir at a decent price.

Penfolds 2008 Bin 128
Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2008It has always been a personal peeve of mine that Vintages can’t or won’t release Penfolds excellent Bin wines altogether, and keep them in stock.  To me they are not only excellent, they are a tour de force regional and varietal education.  Over the years I have had several opportunities to taste the Bins side by side, and I have marvelled at the consistent quality, within the variation presented by the various regional origins. They have helped me understand Australia, and wowed me at the same time. In February I tasted the entire 2008 range at the original Penfolds homestead site in the Barossa Valley – a long, detailed, tutored tasting by senior, veteran winemaker Steve Lienert.  It was a great tasting of an excellent vintage, and it is interesting to note that PENFOLDS 2008 BIN 128 SHIRAZ from Coonawarra ($34.95) was poured fairly early in the line-up to highlight it’s “lighter, more elegant” style.  When tasting it beyond this context at Vintages or anywhere else it hard to imagine this is lighter wine, but indeed there is just a bit more tension and refinement than its Bin peers, a result I ascribe to Coonawarra’s slightly cooler, more southerly location. Anyway, it is a very fine, well structured wine, and if you are one of those who has strayed from Australian shiraz because it is just all too much, I recommend re-grounding here.

A Douro Gem
Quinta De Ventozelo Touriga Nacional 2007And speaking of big reds with finesse don’t miss QUINTA DE VENTOZELO 2007 TOURIGA NACIONAL from Portugal’s Douro Valley at only $19.95. I have highlighted previous vintages from this enterprise before, based on the lovely sense of refinement and complexity it achieves at the price. Quinta de Ventozelo encapsulates the now well-embedded transition of Portugal’s famous port wine area to the production of dry, table reds.  For decades this Quinta (estate) supplied A-grade grapes to top port producers. In 1999 it was purchased by a Spanish wine group called Proinsa bent on developing it is a brand in itself, and introducing not only dry table wines, but single varietal wines from the region’s excellent grapes whose individual character had been locked away in aged ports for decades. So now we get to experience what touriga nacional is actually like, (others like tinto roriz and touriga franca are bottled separately as well). It produces very aromatic, almost floral, deeply fruited wines that are not as tannic as one might expect. No wonder touriga it occupies such a central place in the production of port!

And that’s it for now.  Happy sipping through the remaining days of summer.  I am off to judge the Canadian Wine Awards in Halifax next week, and get the lowdown on what’s happening on yet another up and coming Canadian wine region. Stay tuned.

See all my reviews from August 20th here.

Cheers and enjoy, David

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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The Beer Frontier: Whisky in a jar, sure, but in a barrel of dark beer?

Some say oak-aging of stronger beers could be the next big trend in brewing. This week, Jason Rehel and Nathalie Atkinson took a test quaff of a local Ontario example, aged for 120 days.

Jason: I have to admit, Nathalie, that I’m a massive skeptic when it comes to beer aged in liquor casks or barrels — be they bourbon, rum or whisky. There’s something about the way that even a smidge of the hard stuff can overpower delicate malts or utterly mask the bitterness of hops. I have nothing against aging, per se, which can allow burnt malt flavours or fruity active yeasts to fully assert themselves in a carefully brewed beer, but flavoured-barrel brews just strike me as a marketing strategy and not much more. But all that is a long way of saying no one was more surprised than me at the nuance, smoothness and integrity of Cameron’s Oak Aged Series — American Whiskey Barrel ($12.95/750mL). Cameron’s, which is based in Oakville, Ont., is known widely for its distinctive cube boxes of beer, and to me for their bang-on Auburn Ale and Dark 266 lager. But given that you’re an aficionado of dark beers, what was your take on this 7.4% begging for barbecue pairings beast?

Nathalie: I, too, am a big fan of the Cameron’s Auburn. But since in wine I generally prefer the new un-oaked chardonnay, this was a departure for me. One of my favourite summertime stouts is the Inn at Lake on the Mountain’s draft oatmeal stout (they don’t sell it, it’s only on tap at their Prince Edward County pub) because unlike say, Guinness, it’s doesn’t drink like a meal and there’s no tinfoil chocolate aftertaste. Same goes for this Oak Aged. And is it me or is there a pleasant bit of caramel toffee finish? Read the rest of this entry »

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for August 20th 2011: A Year in Provence & The Midi, New-Age Californian Quartet and Top Ten Smart Buys

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

A Year in Provence & The Midi – There are many wines worth highlighting this week, many of which are part of the LCBO’s main theme for the August 20th release: Provence and the Languedoc. Those of you who’ve read Peter Mayle’s 1989 classic A Year in Provence need only recollect the whimsical tale of a British couple who move to Provence and spend their first year getting used to the mighty Mistral wind, the life-changing pace of life, the expected delays for everything from house repairs to buying bread, driving to the coast or driving out house guests, and the generally art-inspiring beauty of the region, to get in the mood for this release. Those who haven’t can simply pick up the whimsically-shaped bottle that contains the 2010 L’AMPHORE DE PROVENCE ROSÉ AC Côtes de Provence $13.95 and start your own day-dreaming of a new life, inspired by the inimitable pale salmon-rose coloured lens of Provençal rosés.

But don’t buy a house in the Lubéron just yet if value for money is your MO: the majority of the top buys hail not from Provence but from the other side the Rhône, down towards the Pyrenees and the Spanish Border. It may not be as sexy as Provence, but there are plenty of fine wines to discover.

Languedoc-Roussillon MapThe Languedoc-Roussillon has that image of a once derided, then accepted, but never fêted region, a source of good sturdy country wines of better-than-average value. Despite more than a little exporting success, the Languedoc never seems to have really broken into mainstream consciousness in Canada, for reasons that remain obscure to me.

The wine world is nothing if not tradition-bound, slow to change and evolve and embrace new things, I suppose. Likewise, the absence of any kind of true fine wine history, in a country absolutely dripping with centuries-old elevated wine culture, has surely hindered the Languedoc’s progress. The wisps of smoke from burning Cathars during the 12thC Albigensian Crusades, lingering immovably in the region like smog in Mexico City and forever linking Languedociens with heretics, can’t help either. Then there’s the mess of appellations, wide range of permitted grapes, difficulty in identifying typical regional styles, and to be fair, lots of mediocre wine attempting to masquerade as some new world varietal brand. I guess I just answered my own question. But forget all that and believe that the Midi is well worth investigating.

Gérard Bertrand Réserve Spéciale Viognier 2009The 2009 GÉRARD BERTRAND RÉSERVE SPÉCIALE VIOGNIER Vin de Pays d’Oc $14.95 is a fine starting point if you enjoy textbook viognier character, with appealing floral, honeysuckle, cherry and apple blossom plus ripe peach and apricot aromas and flavours. I was struck by the class, concentration and varietal accuracy of this wine for the price. Bertrand’s is a sizable 250 hectare operation in the Languedoc, spread over five estates. He made his first wine at the age of 10 alongside his father, and while in the process in of building up his mini wine empire, found time to play professional Rugby for a decade. Most of the wines from his portfolio are worth a look.

Chateau De L'ille Cuvée Angélique Corbières 2008A top smart buy for red wine drinkers is the 2008 CHATEAU DE L’ILLE CUVÉE ANGÉLIQUE CORBIÈRES AC $15.95 . Move beyond the kitschy label and get into this open, old school, authentic and aromatic expression of the Corbières, made from a blend of 60% syrah and 40% Grenache. The vineyards sit right on the Mediterranean coast and thus benefit from the cooling effect of sea breezes, moderating the fierce southern French sun. You’ll enjoy inviting aromas of wild violet, dried wild herbs, mature black raspberry and bramble berry, in other words, fine complexity at the price, while the palate delivers a fullish and juicy expression with enough firmness to keep its shape.

There are at least another half dozen southern French reds worth trying, stylistically spanning the range from ultra-modern, new world style wines to more authentic, classic regional expressions. That’s part of the beauty of being from a region that’s inventing itself as it goes along. See the full list of recommended Provence and Midi wines here.

New Age California
Chalone Monterey County Chardonnay 2009The other mini-theme of the August 20th release is California, and there’s a quartet of fine wines to write about. Notwithstanding Oz Clark’s recent assertion in Decanter Magazine that “big, creamy [Californian] wines are here to stay” (link to article) – and he’s probably right – along comes the remarkable 2009 CHALONE MONTEREY COUNTY CHARDONNAY Monterey County $16.95. It’s delightful for its lightness, freshness and pronounced acidity, with little oak influence and plenty of stony flavours, not at all bland or boring. Considering that it was selected by an LCBO panel of tasters working for 10 million Ontarians, and not some rogue sommelier for his/her three equally esoteric wine-loving friends, I’d say that the contrary trend to lightness identified by other industry watchers might be influencing our provincial selections, and happily so.

There’s also much talk in the press about the glut of syrah in California due to over-enthusiastic planting in recent years, but it’s hard to imagine why these wines aren’t being bought up with equal enthusiasm when you taste a pair like the 2007 MORGAN SYRAH Monterey County $24.95 and the 2006 AMPELOS GAMMA SYRAH Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara $27.95 . Morgan’s version is the more immediately appealing of the two, with a well-measured mix of sweet dark berry fruit, baking spice and spicy smoked paprika notes. The Ampelos, made from organically grown grapes, offers a more ‘classic’ profile, with marked black pepper character, smoke, tar, cold cream and wild herbs. Yours to discover.
Morgan Syrah 2007  Ampelos Gamma Syrah 2006

 Bonterra Zinfandel 2009And finally, if you’ve previously steered clear of California’s own grape, zinfandel, for fear of encountering either a sweet pink drink, a breakfast topping for your toast, or a liquid better re-purposed to power the shuttle into space, try the 2009 BONTERRA ZINFANDEL Mendocino County $19.95 . This is a fruity, savoury, and above all, well-balanced example of the grape, fully red-coloured and with a modest 14.5% alcohol. One wonders whether Bonterra’s organic farming methods might have a little to do with the natural balance in this wine.

Please note that due to scheduling conflict, my next newsletter covering the September 3rd Vintages release will be published on August 31st instead of August 26th.

From the August 20th Vintages release:
Top Ten Smart Buys
Provence & Midi Picks
Californian Quartet
All Reviews


John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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So, You Think You Know Wine? Episode #5 – Arboleda Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

In this episode, our experts come within a valley of correctly identifying ALL the attributes of a Chilean cabernet.

Click here to see the fifth 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 #5

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Carmenère – A grape with limits ~ Saturday, August 6th, 2011

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

At home in Chile (but with provisions):  Why is it that emerging fine winegrowing nations seem to need a ‘trump grape’ to promote themselves? Is to stand out from the crowd? A way of crafting something of singular quality, as in the case of (premium) Malbec grown in Argentina? Perhaps it’s a little of both. Either way, for Chile, the ‘trump grape’ is Carmenère. In centuries past, Carmenère was found throughout Bordeaux and other parts of southern France, but was phased out at the beginning of the twentieth century. How it found its way to Chile will always remain something of a mystery, though it was probably brought over sometime in the nineteenth century, along with all the other multi-thousand cuttings that were transported during this period. Until 1996, however,Chilean winegrowers had just assumed Carmenère was a variation of Merlot. The two grapes do look awfully alike, though for the written record I think Merlot is vastly superior.

Carmenere Grapes

However, this is not to suggest that Carmenère is incapable of being crafted into truly great wine. On the contrary, when grown in the right places – it should never be irrigated and must always be planted in the driest of spots – Carmenère can really come into its own. Of particular importance is to keep yields as low as possible, otherwise the wine will taste of nothing but green pepper and underripe cassis. Such aromatics and flavours have often led me to believe that Carmenère is best suited for marginal blending, rather than playing a dominant role in the wine. And it does blend extremely well, especially with Cabernet Sauvignon, adding a lovely perfume to the wine, provided, once again, that the grape is cropped as minimally as possible.

Montes 2007 Alpha Carmenere

On its own, however, Carmenère almost always seems to show its limitations. In fact, I would even go so far as to state that Carmenère is a grape that needs to be blended. On the premium end, even ten percent Cabernet Sauvignon can result in an entirely different wine, one that will not only taste better, but will also age longer. Except for only the most expensive examples, I have often observed that Carmenère will not age for more than just a couple of years. Perhaps this will change, particularly as all the new plantings since 1996 become more mature. In the meantime, what should Carmenère taste like? Make no mistake: the cassis is always there; however, as long as it’s phenolically ripe, the wine should taste great, offering other aromatics of pseudo-fragrant plums, blackberries, light herbs, and spice. These notes should extend well onto the palate, of which Carmenère should always reward with full-bodied flavours, firm tannins, and a reasonably lengthy finish. After all, like I mentioned before, Carmenère is, indeed, fully capable of producing truly great wine.

Click here for a few gems for collectors from the 6 August 2011 Vintages Release.

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages August 6th release – Spotlight on B.C., Building Bridges to Nova Scotia, Grand Carmeneres, California Chardonnay, Vibrant Vinho Verde, An Innovative Tuscan

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The August 6th release has a “mini-feature” of six B.C. wines. Which is better than nothing, and a good quality selection.  But the general lack of B.C. wine in Ontario remains a big political issue because, a) the LCBO doesn’t have enough room for it along with wines from the rest of the world, and b) B.C. wineries can’t ship direct to Ontario consumers, and vice versa, due to a law craftily crafted to protect provincial interests (er, taxes) and certain business interests back in 1928.  Nor can citizens privately carry wine from province to province.  So at the end of July I happily broke this stupid, arcane law by purchasing wine, including B.C. wine, in Alberta and driving it over the Rockies into B.C. to enjoy on the deck during a one week vacation in the Columbia Valley.  By the way, while on vacation I also dropped in at a wine and tapas bar called Casa Vino owned by the mayor of Radium Hot Springs – a nifty establishment targeted to locals and weekend Calgarians who own most of the lakeside properties around Radium, Invermere and Windermere.  The wine list was very strong on B.C. wine with some international selections as well. I had Quails’ Gate Chasselas with melted gorgonzola on toast, then Domaine Jean Bousquet Malbec from Argentina with cheddar stuffed, pancetta wrapped dates.  This is what Canadian wine needs; good wine on good wine lists within a world context.
Laughing Stock Blind Trust Red 2008

But I digress, somewhat.  British Columbia has earned a reputation for its big reds and this release offers a current state-of-the-art example with LAUGHING STOCK 2008 BLIND TRUST RED ($40.00) made at a winery operated by Vancouver stock broker David Emms and his wife Cynthia.  (Laughing Stock, Blind Trust and their top red is called Portfolio –  hope the penny has dropped).  In the glass, Blind Trust pretty much defines big B.C. red nowadays. It has deep colour, good density and hot alcohol, with ripe jammy, sometimes almost fig like fruit. Yet despite all this B.C. reds still have an edge of cool climate acidity thanks to their residency at the 49th degree of latitude. Nowhere else in the world are they making such big reds at the frontier of viticulture!
Ann Sperling

An interesting B.C. white  also slips into a few Vintages stores this month as part of the In-Store Discovery program.  Sperling Vineyards 2009 Gewurztraminer ($28.95) is the first release in Ontario from a new Kelowna winery managed by winemaker Ann Sperling and her family. The Sperlings have Canada’s oldest family estate vineyard, first planted on the benches of east Kelowna in 1925.  Ann, however, has practised most of her career in Ontario, first at Malivoire and now at Southbrook.  So in this regard she is perhaps the only true national winemaker in the country.  Add the fact that her husband Peter Gamble consults to the new Benjamin Bridge project in Nova Scotia (see next item) and that together they have a winery in Mendoza. But back to the Sperling wines (an excellent riesling is also available via private order via Trialto ( Both show off Ann’s texturally delicate touch very nicely while pumping out impressive varietal purity and flavour depth.  The Gewurztraminer is in a sweeter style so plan menus accordingly.

Ann is also a leading proponent of biodynamic viticulture in Canada, and is a feature speaker at The Organic Biodynamic Viticulture Workshop coming up August 23 at Niagara College. She will be joined by Monty Waldin, the world’s foremost wine writer on things green and author of the 2011 Biodynamic Wine Guide. The full agenda and registration for this event are at

Building Bridges to Nova Scotia
Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2010Later this month I am joining the 11th Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards in Nova Scotia, the first judging held in Atlantic Canada.  I am very pleased about this!  Those who have been to Halifax know that it is an utterly charming, natural and friendly city. The farther east you travel in Canada the closer you come to an older, more European feel.  I am also pleased because this gesture by the CWAs acknowledges the growing importance of Nova Scotia wines. Not that proportionately we will taste a large number, but it recognizes that there are carefully made, terroir-driven, cool climate wines in Nova Scotia, that winter hardy hybrids do deserve respect, and that there future is about to bust wide open with sparkling wine leading the way.  There are two very fine producers of sparkling wine at the moment – L’Acadie Vineyard and Benjamin Bridge.  The latter has been founded in the Gaspereau Valley (a spur of the Annapolis Valley near Wolfville) by a Halifax businessman who hired Niagara’s Peter Gamble (also Ravine, and ex-Stratus) to carry out the sparkling vision. Gamble in turn hired a Champagne-based winemaker Jean-Benoit DesLauriers accustomed to dealing with vines at the cold edges. In its Ontario debut BENJAMIN BRIDGE 2010 NOVA 7 ($25.00) is the forerunner of more serious classic method sparklers to come. It is in a lighter, sweeter hybrid-based, moscato-style with only 7% alcohol, but it has electric acid tension and utterly distinctive currant fruit.

Grand Chilean Carmeneres
Chile grabs the main spotlight on the August 6th release, with a range of white and red varietals, most from smaller and/or new wineries.  Interestingly, Vintages magazine showcases the fact that the wines were chosen by its own buyers and consultants (as opposed to being selected based on the scores of American critics?).  In any event it is a good selection, and I am happy to note that nowhere is the selection more interesting than with the several carmeneres.  There are good examples ranging from $12.95 to $49.95, indeed it is terrific opportunity to follow this grape’s performance through various price levels. One appreciates why this late ripening, powerful varietal is currrently offering some of the best value New World reds on the planet. Although the very impressive Montes 2007 Purple Angelmakes a return visit, I have chosen to feature CONCHA Y TORO 2007 TERRUNYO BLOCK 27 CARMENÈRE, from the Peumo sub-appellation of the Cachapoal Valley.  Spend some time with this wine – decant, swirl and savour – and you will quickly appreciate the balance and complexity woven within, despite its weight and richness – all for $29.95!

Concha Y Toro Terrunyo Block 27 Carmenère 2007

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Arcadia Chardonnay 2007
California’s Big Chardonnays
In the wake of Ontario’s International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration it was rather ironic to be tasting several, big warm and fuzzy California chardonnays on this release, plus one from Washington and B.C’s very good Burrowing Owl. The selection served to point out that chardonnay does not need to be all nervy acidity and minerality to be very good.  When the almost tropical fruit ripeness is nicely fitted with oak richness they can be very impressive. But for me there comes a tipping point with California chardonnay when out-of-control alcohol creates too much afterburn on the finish. I also noted that they were maturing rather quickly, as in the otherwise splendid Kistler 2008. My personal favourite among the selection is STAG’S LEAP WINE CELLARS 2007 ARCADIA CHARDONNAY from Napa Valley.  At $54.95 it is not cheap, but this single vineyard, hillside grown wine is holding onto its vibrancy very nicely at five years of age. It does lean a bit to the cool climate spectrum but I was most impressed by its length.

Vibrant Vinho Verde

Rich chardonnay is actually not what we are likely to reach for during the dog days of summer, so may I also recommend a lovely, spry and refreshing Portuguese alvarinho.  When tasting AVELEDA 2010 FOLLIES ALVARINHO I was immediately transported to a lakeside Muskoka chair beneath a stately white pine, perhaps with a chilled shrimp cocktail ring on the side.  There is a wonderful sense of place – the maritime, forested hills of northern Portugal – in this wine, with its crisp acidity and fresh green evergreen/mint. And it’s great value at only $15.95.

Aveleda Follies Alvarinho 2010

Another Innovative Tuscan
Petra Zingari 2008Very often when I approach a new Tuscan wine that has blended French grapes with native sangiovese, I get a feeling or expectation something like “there goes the neighbourhood”.  I especially worry when the wine is only $16.95.  But that longing for authenticity tends to overlook the innovative spirit and passion one often finds in Italy. So I was very pleasantly surprised by PETRA 2008 ZINGARI, an IGT that blends sangiovese with merlot, syrah and petit verdot. It is solid, complex and well balanced, easily reaching the 90 points ascribed by Robert Parker’s Italian palate Antonio Galloni.  The Petra winery is an architectural showpiece located in southwest Tuscany’s Survereto region, an area full of innovative wineries taking advantage of warmer temps and some maritime influence to make slightly richer wines than in the hills of Chianti.  Speaking of those hills, there are other very good, more classic Tuscan red on this release as well. Have a look at Salcheto 2005 Vino NobileCasalvento 2007 Chianti Classico and Rocca Delle Macie 2006 Chianti Classico.

And that’s it for now. I trust you are enjoying your favourite summer wines and finding some time to chill.  See all my reviews from August 6th here.

Cheers and enjoy, David

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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Cool Whites for Hot Nights – by Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d'Amato

It’s hot, muggy and sweaty and the only thing that seems like relief is a cold shower. These are the nights when a carefully chosen bottle of chilled white wine can relieve more than just the heat and can make all seem right with the world again. Contrary to popular practice, beer does not have to dominate your cooler space this summer as white wine can provide equal if not greater refreshment and flavor. So, get ready to cool off by popping open one of these chilly treats.

The Italians are masters at staying cool over the heat of the long summer months as are most Southern Europeans. Roses and whites prevail during this time and both men and women enjoy these colours equally. Dinners are taken later in the evening as the sun sets and the temperature drops thereby making the experience more pleasurable and increasing one’s appetite. Lunch is often followed by a long nap in order to avoid the hottest part of the day. In addition, both of these meals are accompanied by a cool glass of wine and plenty of water.

The following wines are sure to provide some relief whether it be during the hottest part of the day or in the evening when the setting sun quells the heat.

La Cappuccina Soave 2010, Doc, Veneto, Italy, $13.95

Soave wines can range from bland to wines of exceptional value. Here is an example of the latter: a flavor-packed Soave made from the Garganega grape, grown most notably in the northeastern Italian region of Veneto (well-known for its Valpolicella reds and Amarones).

Terredora Loggia Della Serra Greco Di Tufo 2009, Docg, Campania, Italy, $17.95

Greco is a rich, flavourful grape produced in Southern Italy whose substantial flavours can stand up to most summer barbequed foods.

Marco Felluga Mongris Pinot Grigio 2009, Doc Collio, Friuli, Italy, $22.95

A well-known and well-respected producer that churns out consistently mouthwatering Pinot Grigios that are well worth the price.

Loimer Grüner Veltliner Trocken 2009, Dac Kamptal, Austria, $18.95

The Southern Europeans are not the only ones that know what it takes to produce a refreshing white. The Gruner Veltliner varietal is crisp and aromatic with characteristic flavours of white pepper, almonds and delicate floral notes.

Bodegas Shaya Verdejo 2009, Do Rueda, Spain, $18.95

This quenching Spanish white is made from the crisp and aromatic Verdejo varietal that is often compared to Sauvignon Blanc.

For a shopping list of wines that are available at your local LCBO, click here.

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008