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The Beer Frontier: Brew news you can use, Toronto Beer Week edition

With Beer Pong Olympic trials, er, classes back in session, it’s time to catch you up on the course selections for the city’s annual craft beer week.

Toronto Beer Week is on now till Sept. 24, and it’s a great chance to get out and try a bunch of new beer from local brewers, talk to brewers about their craft, or to take an uninitiated friend to their first real beer event. The diversity of offerings this year is impressive, especially since the TAPS Magazine and Ontario Craft Brewers-sponsored fest is only in its second year.

You are … the experienced craft connoisseur. Test your palate at least once this week, and see if you really like what you think you do. Warning: This type of event can cause a crisis of confidence in even the most seasoned suds sipper, but isn’t it better off knowing what you actually prefer? C’est What hosts Canada vs. The World blind tastings all this week, starting with pale ales, including Muskoka Mad Tom IPA on Sept. 19.

You are … mostly a gastronome, but you’re interested in this whole beer/food pairings thing. All you need to do is pick your nosh: Try beer and sliders at Burger Bar (with beer expert Stephen Beaumont providing commentary along the way), locavore pairings with craft beer at The Abbot, or the event that has our mouths watering, Church Key’s tap takeover at sausage hot spot WVRST. We find it hard to think of anything that would pique our pairing interests more than a pint of Holy Smoke with a kangaroo sausage (and duck-fat fries). If none of those hit a sweet spot, check out one of the many other food pairing events throughout the week. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Appetizer, Wine, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Inside Toronto Article on WineAlign

David Lawrason and Bryan McCaw

David Lawrason and Bryan McCaw

Inside Toronto published an article on WineAlign yesterday, titled:  Wine website aligns consumers’ palates, preferences with critical reviews – Start-up alters wine drinkers’ buying habits

It’s an extensive story about the beginnings of WineAlign and interviews a few of the people behind the scenes.

You can read the full article here.

Filed under: News

Filming Season Two of So You Think You Know Wine: The Tournament

On September 16th we spent the day in the studio filming 11 new episodes of So You Think You Know Wine.   It was a great day working with professionals, both in front of and behind the camera.  The critics displayed their incredible wine deduction skills by scoring 10/10 several times and were also humbled on multiple occasions.   The elimination and championship rounds were riveting and the championship round took an unexpected twist.  We expect to start releasing new episodes in early October.

David Lawrason, Sara d'Amato, Steve Thurlow, Jennifer Huether MS, Zoltan Szabo, John Szabo MS

Filed under: News, Video,

The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Bordeaux 2008 – Great clarets ~ Saturday, September 17th, 2011

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Prices are high (but not ridiculously): Right now, the 2009 and 2010 Bordeaux ‘en primeur’ (futures) campaigns are in full swing. And you know what? Even for the most well heeled collectors, prices for both of these vintages, especially 2010, are ridiculous, plain and simple. Never in my wine-buying life did I ever imagine that a bottle of Château Talbot would cost more than $85, or its oft-quoted Gruaud Larose counterpart fetching more than $90. But here we are, basking the dog days of summer ’11 (when this column was outlined), courtesy of the surprisingly sultry St. Lawrence Lowlands, with no reasonably priced claret of ‘classed growth’ standing to purchase, at least not via any current futures campaign.

Chateau Haut-Bailly

Or are we? What about 2008? How did this seldom-sung vintage perform? Turns out rather well, in fact, judging by the many wines from I’ve been privy to taste. In large part, the reason for this lies in the pricing of the vintage preceding it: the rain-soaked ’07 vintage, priced at such ludicrous levels that estates were forced to bring prices back down to some sort-of echelon of sanity with the ’08 vintage, otherwise consumers would have been highly unlikely to part with their money.

Chateau Figeac

Even more important, in terms of overall quality, 2008 was actually a very good vintage throughout both the Left and Right Banks. Granted, the year started out fairly damp and unquestionably rainy, with uneven flowering and variable fruit set; yet vines were once again saved by an extremely sunny September and excellent harvesting conditions. In the end, the best producers were largely able to craft wines of serious structure and quality. Make no mistake, however: 2008 will hardly be remembered as a ‘legendary’ vintage, yet one that was (more or less) a vintage of truly great quality.

Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere

For collectors, by the way, 2008 has already been bottled; so don’t bother trying to seek out futures prices. That time has already passed. Even so, prices will probably only slightly increase when they reach LCBO shelves. Another thing to remember: while quality was fairly uniform among the best of estates, a few of the finer names really didn’t perform to their usual status. And while such châteaux shall remain nameless, your best bet is to stick with established commentators for the most accurate reviews. Shall I pay voluntary heed to the task?

Click here for a few gems for collectors from the 17 September 2011 Vintages Release

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , ,

Lawrason’s Take on Vintages Sept 17th release – Bordeaux Bashing, Off-Beat Bargains & VSO Gems

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Bordeaux 2008, Bordeaux Southern Mirrors, Super Champagne, Rabl Rousing Gruner, Off Beat Bargains, Plus VSOs: Lafond Pinot Noir, Vigorello and Saint Gayan of Gigondas

Bordeaux’s Standard: Bordeaux still enjoys a different and unwarranted standard in the world of wine.  Witness all the attention surrounding the first release of its 2008s by Vintages on September 17.  Before continuing I am not specifically picking on Vintages, as other retailers and some media are as just as guilty of overblowing this region, and ignoring how uninteresting and overpriced many of its wines can be.  The wines being offered Saturday are not bad, nor underripe nor green. The 2008 vintage seems to be okay. But this group of 15 wines squeaked out only two 90 point ratings, and most of the prices are up in the $30, $40 and $50 range.  While most are good to very good (86 to 89 points) they simply aren’t that exciting, and they are expensive. Bore-dough indeed.

Yes, Bordeaux can make great wine. I have been there often, and tasted hundreds if not thousands of its wines, and I can talk firsthand about every vintage since 1970.  I get Bordeaux; I don’t hate Bordeaux.  But its lofty position in the world really is a matter of geography and history – not intrinsically superior quality as the world has come to believe. Situated on the Atlantic coast of France, not far from England, it’s industry developed during the 18th and 19th Century – a golden age for both nations – and the British in particular took Bordeaux to their bosom – indeed having huge influence in the Bordeaux wine trade itself. And it was the British  upper class – the ultimate fine wine consumer – that later also developed the genre of wine writing. So of course they wrote about Bordeaux, and little else. We thus now live with this generationally ingrained legacy that Bordeaux is somehow premiere, to be revered above others, with a standard all its own, and worthy of endless parcing, praise and punditry.

Château St. Georges 2008And it is somehow blithely accepted that consumers should be so fascinated with Bordeaux that it deserves to have an average vintage like 2008 occupying the cover and 12 pages of Vintages magazine, under the heading “Fairy Tale in Bordeaux”.  Fairytale indeed!  Where is a dissection of Ontario’s 2009 vintage which, when you read the month by month weather reports in Vintage’s magazine, sounds very similar to Bordeaux 2008?  Or why not the same treatment for Coonawarra in Australia or Hawkes Bay in New Zealand or other places that make great wines by blending cabernet and merlot? (See below)
Château Fombrauge 2008
Having ranted, I point you to the two wines I did rate as excellent, and if you were to taste both side by side you would end up with a great tutorial in traditional versus modern winemaking approaches in Bordeaux. CHÂTEAU ST. GEORGES 2008 St-Georges St-Émilion ($29.95) is a classic large estate just beyond the Saint-Emilion appellation boundary, thus priced more reasonably. CHÂTEAU FOMBRAUGE 2008 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru  ($45.00) is an old property on the slope just outside of Saint-Emilion that has recently been restored and its wines modernized. I visited this property in 2010 and was very impressed with its wines. As it is not far from iconic properties like Chateau Ausone we are actually lucky that it is only classified as Grand Cru and not Grand Cru Classé, thus available here at half the price, and decent if not outstanding value.

Great Southern Cab-Merlots

As mentioned above, the New World has several regions that mirror Bordeaux in terms of latitude, climate, maritime influence and even soil structure – everything except heritage.  Off the top I can think of Long Island (New York), Niagara (to a degree), Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, Coonawarra and Margaret River in Australia, Stellenbosch in South Africa, and some cooler enclaves in Chile. Wines from two of those regions are available on the September 17 release, with better quality/price ratios that any from Bordeaux.  TE MATA 2007 COLERAINE from Hawkes Bay on New Zealand’s North Island is certainly not cheap at $59.95, but it is great wine from a maritime gravelly soiled region. First made in 1982 from a single plot Coleraine now comes from several vineyards within Te Mata’s estate. Some have called it NZ’s best red wine, and the Wine Advocate has rated this wine 95 points. I am not 95 point-enthralled but it is a great, modern red.  And so is WYNNS COONAWARRA ESTATE 2008 CABERNET SAUVIGNONat half the price – only $24.95.  It’s supple, refined exterior and sheer drinkability almost belies its sound structure and depth. Penfolds fans should also grab the finely structured PENFOLDS 2008 BIN 407 CABERNET SAUVIGNON at $34.95.
Te Mata Coleraine 2007  Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008  Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Marc Hébrart Brut Blanc De Blancs Champagne

Super Champagne

I could go on a similar campaign about the Champagne standard, but I will spare us all. One of the nice little surprises on this release is the quality and value of a “small” Champagne from the Marne Valley. At $41.95 MARC HÉBRART BRUT BLANC DE BLANCS CHAMPAGNE 1er Cru is pretty much at the floor price of French Champagne in Ontario, but it delivers complexity, depth and structure closer to the ceiling.  I am not an expert on the intricacies of Champagne and its hundreds of crus and growers.  I don’t know this producer other than what I could find on Google (not even their own website). But the story here is very similar to what’s happening across France as the next generation of well-travelled, well schooled winemakers take the reins at small family properties. It is a good reason to be paying attention to names we have not heard before, especially among the increasingly important world of what are called “grower” Champagnes.

Rudolf Rabl Reserve Vinum Optimum Grüner Veltliner 2009Rabl Rousing Gruner

Rudolph Rabl and family are at the top of their game in Austria, and RUDOLF RABL 2009 RESERVE VINUM OPTIMUM GRÜNER VELTLINER is flag waver for their approach. Based in Kamptal Rabl is using only top estate fruit for their Vinum Optimum wines. They come from stony hillsides with reduced crop levels. In the winery, fermentations are done at moderate (not too cold) with natural yeasts and long maceration with the solids to draw out more extract and flavours. “Thin wines are not something you will find here” says Rabl’s website. Indeed not; it is pleasantly rich and comfortable yet still precisely varietal with a refined, mineral edged finish. Great value for $19.95 .

Off-Beat Bargains

Sometimes labels just don’t tell the story well at all.  And very often prices don’t communicate well either.  The label and overall packaging of  TERRAS D’ALTER 2010 RESERVA WHITE from Alentejano in Portugal is so bland that I almost didn’t notice it in the forest of bottles at Vintages. And when I checked the price ($13.95) I actually considered not even bothering to try the wine. I expected boredom. But lo and behold it is a vibrant, complex and intriguing white that blends viognier with a local Portuguese variety called arinto. I remember being very impressed with arinto in Portugal when I travelled there, and it’s a great aromatic fit with viognier, while putting its firm acidity to good use amid viognier’s blowsiness.

Likewise, my expectations of TERRA NOBLE 2008 GRAN RESERVA CABERNET SAUVIGNON from Colchagua Valley in Chile was coloured by its old-style, almost kitchy label, and I also highly doubted the wine would deliver much of Colchagua’s quality as $15.95. Wrong again!  It is an unusual cabernet that doesn’t taste much like cabernet, but it has remarkable depth, smoothness and presence. Read my review then try one to see if you like.
Terra D'alter Reserva White 2010 Terra Noble Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

VSOs – Lafond Pinot, San Felice Vigorello & Saint Gayan Gigondas 

Lafond Pommard Clone Pinot Noir 2007Vintages released a larger batch of new wines through its Vintages Shop On Line (VSO) portal on September 8th, gearing up for the big fall buying season. There are several excellent wines here, but none better in my books than LAFOND POMMARD CLONE 2007 PINOT NOIR ($44.95) from California’s Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County. As any “Sideways” fan knows this is great territory for pinot, especially the cooler, more coastal Santa Rita Hills. In fact Pierre Lafond, a McGill University grad, opened his winery in 1962 (the first in Santa Barbara County since Prohibition) and planted in the Santa Rita Hills in 1972.  The planting of French clones of pinot noir – like the Pommard – has been part of the reason for the region’s success, and this is a wonderful example, with a sense of elegance and subtlety so often overwhelmed by California’s ripe fruit and alcohol.
San Felice Vigorello 2006

Elsewhere among the VSOs, collectors and fans of Tuscan reds should not miss San Felice 2006 Vigorello ($52.95).  It’s deep, dark, penetrating yet refined, to stow away in the cellar for a decade or more. There is an interesting historical note to Vigorello as well, as its producers claim it was the first “super-Tuscan” to blend sangiovese with cabernet and merlot, ahead of icons like Antinori’s Tignanello.

Domaine Saint Gayan Gigondas 2006And finally, for those wanting an authentic wine experience from the south of France, don’t miss Domaine Saint Gayan 2006 Gigondas. I visited this tiny, 10,000 case family estate in May and just loved its history, authenticity, purity and unassuming character of its wines – not flashy but so solid, and nuanced and balanced. It was founded in 1709 – that’s 302 years ago folks and has been in the family ever since. It makes all its wines from estate owned vines, the last in the appellation to be hand harvested. Located on bench-lands spilling down from the Dentelles Mountains, there are seven different soil types. Oak treatment is kept way in the background, mostly via old barrel and foudres. It couldn’t be a better snapshot of honest, carefully made French country wine.

That’s it for this release. Read all my reviews here and watch for the next edition before the October 1st release. And don’t forget to tune into to our latest video, episode six of So, You Think You Know Wine, as the WineAlign critics try to crack a Carrick Pinot Noir from New Zealand.

Cheers and enjoy, David

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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

So, You Think You Know Wine? – Episode #6 – Carrick Pinot Noir 2007

WineAlign is pleased to present Episode Six of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”, the last in our first season. We are filming the next season this week, so stay tuned.

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, John thinks he has correctly identified the wine after the first ‘nosing’.  However, he isn’t the one who comes closest to identifying the 2007 Carrick Pinot Noir from New Zealand.

Click here to see the sixth episode.

We’re currently filming a new series of episodes.  The second season will be in a tournament style and feature six critics instead of four.  We’ll start releasing new episodes of season two: “The Tournament” in October.

We hope you enjoy the videos as much as we did making them and encourage you to share them with your friends.

So, You Think You Know Wine - Episode #6

So, You Think You Know Wine - Episode #6

Filed under: Video, ,

Wines for Girl’s Night Out – by Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d'Amato

For the Ladies . . .

Recently I was asked to put together a short list of wines appropriate for an evening with the girls and wanted to share them here with our subscribers of the fairer sex. Below are only a few ideas that would certainly make that evening sans garçons all the more enjoyable.

McWilliams’ Hanwood Estate Moscato NV, South East, Australia, LCBO  $13.00

A gentle bubbly that won’t break the bank is a welcome to addition to any girls’ night out, or in! With only 6% alcohol and succulent tropical, honeyed fruit, this type of wine can help you keep pace without sacrificing flavour or body. Made in a traditional Moscato d’Asti style from Northern Italy, this new world version is also pleasantly sweet and can equally be used as a palate cleanser between dinner courses, as an aperitif with hors d’hoeuvres or as a pairing with light desserts. The mild fizz is also helpful in settling a stomach after a rich meal.

Terre Del Barolo Barbaresco 2006, DOCG, Piedmont, Italy, Vintages  $24.95

Barbaresco and Barolo, two adjacent appellations in Northern Italy, produce very memorable and highly coveted wine from the same grape varietal, Nebbiolo. While Barolo tends to be more muscular, masculine and more ageworthy, Barbararesco’s personality is inclined to be more sultry, sassy and feminine with elegant floral aromatics, silky tannins and great length. At a very reasonable price, this Barbaresco is a perfect accompaniment for a gathering of great female intellects.

Perrin & Fils Tavel Rosé 2010, Ac, Rhone, France,  $19.95

Tavel is no ordinary rosé, to the point where inhabitants of this charming village refuse to call this dry, pink beauty a rosé at all. With greater ageing potential than most rosés, Tavel is infused with the scents of Provence such as lavender, thyme and rosemary. It is elegant, complex and refreshing with enough substance to delight through all the seasons. Pair with plethora of appetizers, most notably smoked salmon but know that it has enough gusto to work well with dishes as potent as lamb couscous.

Find all of these wines at your local LCBO here.

Filed under: Wine, ,

Scan wine label bar-codes with Android and iPhone

Android LogoWe’re hard at work on our new iPhone app and it will be released later this year.  Shortly after that we will be releasing our Android app. While you are waiting for our native apps, which will have bar-code support, you can use a simple trick to lookup wine bar-code labels on your Android.

Point your Android browser to and bookmark/LogIn to our mobile optimized website.  Note that the barcode scanner only works with the mobile version.

Barcode ScannerAfter installing the free Android bar-code scanner (ZXing – I have version 3.6) on your Android, go into scanner’s settings and set up a CUSTOM URL to the following:

Next time you see a bottle, or even the little white label on the LCBO shelf.  Use the scanner and then click on the [Custom URL] button. It will invoke the mobile version of WineAlign and take you to the wine in question. Works very well!

Note that you can use this URL with any device and 1D bar-code scanner that supports a Custom URL.  In fact, it does work with the iPhone.

Users have reported using the Redirect feature of the QuickMark barcode reader to accomplish barcode reading.

1) Download Quickmark from the App Store.

2) In the settings, set the Custom Search URL to:

3) Scan the barcode, tap data and press Search.

Filed under: News, , ,

John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for September 17th 2011: Show-stealing New Zealand, Prête-à-Porter ’08 Bordeaux and Top Ten Smart Buys

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Top Ten Smart Buys:  This week’s top ten includes a delicious Dão red from Portugal, a Greek xynomavro that will have you guessing expensive Italian brand-name wine, a grüner of considerable class for under $20, and a savoury, organically-grown syrah-mourvèdre from Chile’s viticulturally hot Colchagua valley. See them all here.

Show-Stealing New Zealand
Te Mata Coleraine 2007Despite being relegated to opening act, mini-feature status in the September 17th release, New Zealand steals the show. All six kiwi wines included are enthusiastically recommended; four of which are three star values (with two in the top ten smart buys) and five rate 90 points or better on my enjoyment scale. Ironically, given Bordeaux’s prominence in the release, the most impressive Bordeaux blend is not from Bordeaux but rather Hawkes Bay, New Zealand’s warmest and sunniest region, with a particularly clement climate for the black grapes of Aquitaine. It’s also the country’s oldest, with grape growing stretching back to 1851, four years before Bordeaux established its famous chateau classification. 2007 TE MATA COLERAINE Hawkes Bay, North Island $59.95 is a terrifically complex, stylish and classy red, nicely mature at this stage, and full of cassis, pencil lead, wet earth and other flavours that will set the heart of any fans of classic Bordeaux aflutter.

In a previous report I’ve laid bare my unenthusiastic feelings towards New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. But if you, too, have become a little jaded about the sea of sameness of most that reach our shelves, the 2009 TERRAVIN SINGLE VINEYARD SAUVIGNON BLANC Marlborough, South Island $29.95 will rinse out your prejudice. My review describes this as tasting like “liquefied rock”, which, if you feel as I do that fruit salad belongs on breakfast buffets not in wine, is a very good thing. More standard but a fine example of the genre in any case is the 2010 MOUNT RILEY SAUVIGNON BLANC Marlborough, South Island $15.95 .

Terravin Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2009 Mount Riley Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Millton Crazy By Nature Dry Flint Chenin Blanc 2009New Zealand may not be famous for Chenin Blanc, but the 2009 MILLTON CRAZY BY NATURE DRY FLINT CHENIN BLANC Gisborne, North Island $18.95 certainly makes a compelling case for the variety on the North Island. Wine importer Mark Cuff of The Living Wine worked with biodynamic grower Millton on this blend to deliver classic chenin character – mineral, honey, wet wool, green apple – at an attractive sub-$20 price. This fairly brims with verve and energy in a pure and natural expression with excellent complexity for the money.
And finally, as though to underscore the nation’s diversity and broad stylistic suitability, there are two excellent wines that would be the envy of many Burgundian winemakers: 2008 DOG POINT CHARDONNAY Marlborough, South Island $39.95 and the 2008 CHURTON PINOT NOIR Marlborough, South Island $36.95 . No, they’re not inexpensive wines, but quality and price are equitably matched up.

Dog Point Chardonnay 2008  Churton Pinot Noir 2008

2008 Bordeaux

There is never a bad vintage in Bordeaux, only “challenging” or “winemakers’” vintages, as everybody knows. 2008 was such a year. Jancis Robinson reported that she had “ been assailed with tales of woe, of another summer that has been disappointingly cool and damp, with widespread mildew and, still, a desperate need for more warmth and sunshine. “2008 may make 2007 look pretty good,” one château owner told me ruefully last week.”

Even the Comité Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bordeaux confessed in their official report that “August was dreary. Despite seasonal temperatures, there were slightly less hours of sunshine and rainfall levels recorded were higher than the average for the past 30 years…. Ripening developed slowly and inconsistently.”

Château Beauregard 2008Miraculously, in the end, the late-harvested grapes were brought in at better-than-expected levels of ripeness and in reasonably good shape. But judging by the small sampling of 2008s selected by Vintages for the September 17th release, these are rather forward, easy-going wines of modest structure ready to enjoy now, and not worth cellaring more than short term or mid-term at best. To be fair, the 16 wines included in this feature are not top names, and range in price from as low as $13.95/bottle up to just under $70, still a modest price tag in the rarefied world of classified growth Bordeaux – this is a not a collector’s release. Nonetheless, there are some pleasurable wines on offer if top value-for-money is not your MO.

Château De Fieuzal 2008The best of the lot, and also the most expensive red wine in the release is the 2008 CHÂTEAU BEAUREGARD AC Pomerol $57.95 . It’s a respectably complex, mid-weight plummy Pomerol, with deceptive power and length. Drink or hold this a half-dozen years or so. Also pricey but excellent is the 2008 CHÂTEAU de Fieuzal AC Pessac-Léognan $70.00 . This is textbook white Bordeaux, another mid-weight example with class and complexity and enough bracing acidity to see it develop over a half decade.

Likely the most age worthy red in the feature is the 2008 CHÂTEAU MEYNEY AC St-Estèphe $47.95 . St Estèphe is generally the burliest of the Médoc communal appellations, thanks to its cooler, clay-rich soils that yield higher acid, more tannic wines in general. The Meyney is in fact still quite closed, with considerable structure and grip for the vintage. Tuck this away for at least a couple of years; this should also see its way through into the early ‘20s. My top pick of the sub-$20 Bordeaux is the 2008 CHÂTEAU SEMONLON AC Haut-Médoc $17.95 . It surely won’t set the world on fire, but it’s a Juicy, easy-drinking, light-structured Haut-Médoc, with crisp acidity, fresh berry flavours, light wood spice and decent length. See all of the Bordeaux features worth a look.
Château Meyney 2008  Château Semonlon 2008

From the September 17th Vintages release:
Top Ten Smart Buys
Top New Zealand Features
Bordeaux 2008 Features Worth a Look
All Reviews


John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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

Lawrason’s Take on Vintages Sept 10th Ontario Release – Sparkling Success, 2009 Pinots, Fine Unoaked Chardonnay, 2010 Rieslings, Baffling Red Blends and Ontario Wine Events

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Ontario wines take over the LCBO’s promotional cycle this month under the Go Local banner, so Vintages has prepared a special mini-release of 20 wines on September 10.  Actually, many stores have released the wines already so you may not need to wait until Saturday. Check availability at your local store via WineAlign.

This release is taking place amid a provincial election campaign at a time of growing public and political pressure for Ontario to expand the distribution network for Ontario’s increasingly numerous and improving wines.  PC leader Tim Hudak, MPP Niagara West-Glanbrook, is a vocal proponent.  It says right there on page 10 of the Conservative’s platform called ChangeBook that “we will increase market access for Ontario VQA wines”.

I’m all for that, but at the very least Ontario needs private stores that sell only Ontario wine – just as has successfully been done in British Columbia for years.  And while we’re at it, how about an equal number of private stores for international wines, again as in B.C.  I want complete price and selection freedom for all wines, and Ontario VQA stores are a first step in the right direction, a toe in the door.  Government should not be in the business of selecting which brands we can buy, where we can buy them, or at what price. Its only roles should be licensing, taxation, product safety and label integrity. But until that fine day…

Vintages mini-release takes a good run at presenting very good (two excellent) Ontario wines that snuggle in Vintages comfort zone of $15 to $30.  Ontario’s very best cost more than that. The selection is however an accurate snapshot of where Niagara stands (no PEC or LENS wines this time) in terms of price/quality ratio, styles and important grape varieties. It is also a good reflection of what might be considered a typical span of Ontario vintages, with a difficult rainy year (2008), a high acid, cool year (2009) and a hot, dry year (2010).  Each vintage favours some varieties and styles, and makes others less appealing. It’s complicated out there, so stayed tuned.

Sparkling Success

At the end of August I judged the Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards in Halifax. The results are weeks away but I can tell you that there was true excitement among the judges over the evolving quality of Canadian sparkling wine. And my excitement is reflected by all three wines on this release.  Ontario has the right climate (cool), soils (limestone) and grape varieties (chardonnay and pinot noir) to make fine sparklers – just like Champagne in France.  Ontario bubblies are finding true energy, vitality and finesse, with increasing flavour depth and complexity as vines and winemaking mature. 13TH STREET PREMIER CUVÉE ($29.95) is the excellent work of one of the industry leaders. Although now guided by the hand of J.P. Colas, this winery first started making serious, traditional method sparkling wine over a decade ago.  I was also impressed by the quality attained in VINELAND RESERVE BRUT ($19.95) by using the cheaper charmat method, wherein the second fermentation occurs in a capped, pressurized tank instead of in the bottle.  And the delicate ANGELS GATE ARCHANGEL PINOT NOIR BRUT ROSÉ ($25.00) demonstrates that our field of sparkling expertise is widening, with veteran winemaker Philip Dowell now in the arena as well.
13th Street Premier Cuvée  Vineland Reserve Brut 2008  Angels Gate Archangel Pinot Noir Brut Rosé 2008

Impressive 2009 Pinot Noirs 

The long, cool 2009 growing season proved difficult for later-ripening red grape varieties, but earlier ripening pinot noir fared well.  I have tasted most of Ontario’s 2009 pinots by now and I am quite impressed. Not by their weight or ripeness, but by their tension, elegance and what I call their classic cool climate cran-cherry fruit profiles.  They are highly strung to be sure thanks to 2009’s acid levels, but I suspect that they will live long. There are four 2009 pinots in this release and all are worth exploring.  LE CLOS JORDANNE 2009 VILLAGE RESERVE PINOT NOIR ($30.00) is the one to consider for the cellar; about as ripe and well stuffed as you will find in 2009 although edgy and a tad green indeed on the finish. This is the first glimpse of the long awaited 2009 Le Clos Jordanne pinots, with at least five more to come this fall from specific vineyard sites. With the Village Reserve is a barometer, I expect they will all crack the 90 point level. Other very good pinots on the release in include the intense COYOTE’S RUN 2009 RED PAW VINEYARD PINOT NOIR ($24.95) and cellar worthy LAILEY 2009 PINOT NOIR ($25.00)
Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 Coyote's Run Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009  Lailey Pinot Noir 2009

Fine Unoaked Chardonnay 
Lailey Unoaked Chardonnay 2010
Given the prominence of chardonnay in Ontario I would have expected more chardonnay on this release. But perhaps it was felt chardonnay already had its turn during the special International Cool Climate Chardonnay event and sale in July.  Anyway, it was a chardonnay that got me most excited, and I was even more impressed that it was an unoaked edition selling for only $16 – LAILEY 2010 UNOAKED CHARDONNAY.  Generally unoaked chardonnay is boring in Ontario, due to a selection – I think – of less good fruit and less ripe fruit with the better material going into the top dog barrel fermented chardonnays.  Winemaker Derek Barnett’s take is exactly what I am looking for in the genre – balance and richness combined with ripe, distinctive and distinguished chardonnay fruit character.  It could be that 2010 vintage is also responsible, but after years of tasting Derek’s wines I also know that few winemakers have a better sense of harmony.  Often this talent is masked by liberal use of oak, but here it stands in plain sight.
Fielding Riesling 2010
Riesling in 2010

Riesling and other aromatic, unoaked whites are usually the first wines released in any given vintage. In what is being hailed as another excellent, warm, dry and ripe year, I am not ecstatic with the rieslings so far. They are plenty powerful, complex and ripe, but they are also a bit thick, soft, sweet and sometimes lazy.  Riesling should be like a marathoner, not a couch potato, so to me 2009 was a better riesling year.  That said FIELDING 2010 RIESLING  ($18.95) is a very good example, having a sense of tenderness, polish and purity I have come to expect from winemaker Richie Roberts. Actually the style has been evident through three winemakers at Fielding, but Roberts has honed it best. It is the kind of riesling that will sip on the patio (not the couch) then carry to the table.

Baffling Red Blends
Vintage Ink Mark Of Passion Merlot/Cabernet 2009
Two things baffle me about the avalanche of new lower-priced, concept and lifestyle blends now breeding like bunnies in Ontario wine country. (It’s like Australia’s critter phase).  The first is why people buy them when the price/quality ratio is average.  In reality most are leftover stews not works of dazzling creativity. I know, I know – the younger generation to whom they are pitched can’t afford more expensive wines, and they are more likely to buy a label concept than a grape variety.  Which leads me to bafflement number two.  What in the name of common sense are some of this labels saying?  Take VINTAGE INK MARK OF PASSION 2009 MERLOT/CABERNET ($17.95), which is a new concept blend by Vincor Canada. I don’t get the ink to wine connection at all – both liquids maybe?  Or is that very lack of connection actually the selling feature – like naming a rock band?  So maybe I should just stick to what’s in the bottle. In this case, this is a well made 2009 Ontario red, but a sour-edged 2009 red nonetheless, despite efforts to mollify the acidity with gentle oak and fairly well polished tannin.  A decent value at $13.95 wine, not $17.95.  And it’s the same story with Henry of Pelham’s new Family Tree 2009 Red, also priced at $17.95.

Wine Country Ontario Comes to the Ritz September 19

Looking for a chance to sift through these wines, and hundreds more, for yourself?  The annual Taste Ontario event comes to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Monday, September 19 with an afternoon trade event (registration required) and a public evening event (tickets required).  Over 150 wines will be poured by over 50 wineries from Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore. Go to

A Pinot Affair October 15-16

Wherein eight Niagara pinot noir producers present eight different winery-based events focused entirely on pinot noir.  A $40 Passport ticket gets you into a variety of pinot experiences from the vineyard and winemaking, to barrel blending, to horizontal single vineyard tastings to vertical tastings. Wineries involved are Coyote’s Run, Hidden Bench, Inniskillin, Lailey, Le Clos Jordanne, Malivoire, Rosewood and Tawse.  For programs and tickets go to

Sip and Savour Ontario at Steam Whistle October 19

If you can’t make the Taste Ontario event in Sept you get another chance to dip into the Ontario wine pool at Sip and Savour Ontario, being held Wednesday, October 19 at the Steam Whistle Brewing Company at the foot of the CN Tower. This is the annual showcase of the Ontario Wine Awards that has usually been held in June. For tickets and info go to .  This year it is also a fundraiser .
That’s it for now. Watch again next week for my take on Vintages, Sept 17th release with a focus on 2008 Bordeaux.
David Lawrason
VP of Wine

See all my reviews from September 10th here.

Cheers and enjoy, David

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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