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Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks: New Zealand whites

Vintages focuses this Saturday on some vibrant whites of New Zealand. Find these choice picks via

Dog Point Chardonnay 2009
$39.95 (92 Points)
From older vineyards of Marlborough’s Wairau Valley on the South Island, this medium-full-bodied white is quite Burgundian in character. It has a lovely, toasty, ripe fruit nose, which follows through on the fruity palate with notes of toasted nuts. It possesses great grip and a long crisp finish. This wine would bring a touch of class to any dinner.

Spy Valley Pinot Gris 2011
 $19.95 (89 Points)
Another Marlborough region beauty from low-yielding vines, this has an amazingly fruit-forward bouquet. Full bodied with ripe tropical and stonefruit flavours of mango, apricot and peach, it tastes just off dry with a honey-spiced finish. Plump and rich on the palate, it can handle dishes with spices and fruits.

Two Rivers of Marlborough Convergence Sauvignon Blanc 2011
$29.95 (91 Points)
Taking its name from the rivers that feed the wine-growing heart of Marlborough’s Wairau and Awatere Valleys, this has all the exuberance of a great New Zealand sauvignon blanc: a lovely forward nose with tastes of lime, gooseberry, passion fruit and other tangy flavours all in balance. Aged on yeast lees for three months in French barrels, this has complexity, intensity and elegance.

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Brunello di Montalcino – Sangiovese at its greatest ~ Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

An Italian icon:  The greatest wine of Italy? While subject to debate, we can all be certain of this: other than Barolo and Barbaresco, along with the best of Sagrantino di Montefalco, there is no greater single-grape wine than Brunello di Montalcino. Crafted from 100% Sangiovese Grosso, the local strain of the grape, Brunello has fast become one of the most prestigious, most admired, and most sought-after premium Italian wines by collectors and enthusiasts.

Brunello vineyards

But would it surprise readers to learn this was not always the case? In fact, back in the 1970s few people had even heard of Brunello, and Montalcino was one of the poorest villages in this part of Tuscany. This only began to change in the 1980s, when an increasing number of producers began taking better advantage of the regional terroir of the area. Protected from summer storms by Monte Amiata, rising 5,600ft (1,700m) to the south, the conditions under which Brunello is produced are decisively different to the more northerly winegrowing regions of Tuscany, the weather much warmer and precipitation much lower.

Sangiovese Grapes

Soil compositions are also different. Containing lower quantities of the famous galestro—schist-based, or friable shaly clay—deposits found throughout much of Chianti Classico between Florence and Siena, soils throughout Brunello tend to contain higher traces of limestone marl, or alberese, as part of their makeup. Additional constituents also vary considerably throughout each unofficial ‘subzone’ of the denominazione. Brunello di Montalcino was also one of the first demarcated regions to be granted DOCG status in 1980.

Brunello di Montalcino Map

Today, with over 2,000 hectares now under vine, distinctly different styles of Brunello have begun to emerge within the subzones. North of the Montalcino village, where soils are based largely on limestone and clay, wines are not as powerful as those further south, but represent some of the most fragrant, elegant Brunellos produced. This is also due to the high elevation of the vineyards, which rise even higher south of the village, up to 1,640ft (500m). This is where some of the most prestigious operations are clustered, with Biondi-Santi, the most well-known Brunello producer, effectively leading in price.

Biondi Santi

Here, soils are more calcareous, lending greater acidity and minerality to the wine. However, one must remember that many producers will blend grapes from multiple areas to craft a more homogenous, qualitatively ‘streamlined’ type of Brunello. Though single-vineyard Brunellos are on the rise, grapes blended from multiple areas remain the norm.

Speaking of multiple areas, there are still a few other subzones worth mentioning. One of these is located in the southeast corner of the DOCG, around Castelnuovo dell’ Abate. Here, winegrowers enjoy an unusually diverse composition of soils from different geological epochs. While temperatures are warmer, elevations of up to 450m result in wines of especial complexity and breeding—both highly sought-after in the best Brunellos. Similar conditions can be found around Tavernelle, where vines are grown at lower elevations.

In contrast, vineyards around Sant’ Angelo in the deep southwest must contend with the hottest, driest conditions of the DOCG. At relatively low elevations, this is where Brunellos of distinctly powerful, ‘streamlined’ disposition are made—think Castello Banfi and Col d’Orcia, wines of high fruit concentration and alcohol.

Pieve Santa Restituta Sugarille

At present, these are the most established unofficial subzones of the Brunello denominazione. While there has been discussion of making them official, the likelihood of this is remote. The reasons are the ones you’d expect: red tape, political bickering, and petty jealousies—all deadly obstacles in a place like Italy.

But this hasn’t deterred winegrowers from striving to improve quality. From developing better clones of Sangiovese Grosso to seeking out the best sites, not just from the unofficial subzones but other areas such as the northwestern parts of the DOCG, the possibilities for crafting better Brunello seem endless.

Even now, the bar is set pretty high. While all Brunellos, harvested at a maximum of 45hl/ha, must be crafted from 100% Sangiovese Grosso and aged for at least 2 years in oak and 4 months in bottle (6 months for Riserva), the wine may only be released to the public 5 years (6 years for Riserva) after the harvest.

Fuligni Vigneti dei Cottimelli

When young, the taste of a Brunello may remind one of a finely crafted Chianti Classico Riserva, only with more depth and complexity. Aromatics are also oftentimes similar: dried wild black cherries, red plums, cedarwood, chestnuts, herbs, roasted meats, leather, Chinese black tea, and spice. In contrast, those aged in greater quantities of French oak barriques will show less cedary/savoury overtones and more mocha, vanillin, and fresher black fruits. While the choice of stylization will depend on the producer, all Brunellos ought to possess great structure, firmness, texture, and breadth.

A great Brunello should also age extremely well, better than virtually any other type of Sangiovese-based wine. After a decade in the cellar, its youthful flavours normally give way to a bouquet more dependent on cedar and wild game, complimented, if not dominated by, dried red fruits, cigar box, tobacco, and all kinds of spices. These are typically the most common types of notes to detect in a well-aged Brunello, the best of which can easily keep for over twenty years.

Of serving prerequisites, Brunello, which should always be decanted, is best enjoyed at temperatures around 15-17°C. Food pairing options are numerous: grilled and cured red meats plus wild game of all types are often quoted as being top choices, along Pecorino and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses, dried fruits, and fresh breads with olive oil. Others argue that the greatest Brunellos are best enjoyed on their own. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong approach.

Shared At:

 Click here for a few gems from the 28 April 2012 Vintages Release along with several others.

Note to readers: In my last column, on vintage port, it was written that 2005 was a widely declared vintage. That information was incorrect, as many of the best houses, in point of fact, decided not to declare; instead opting for single quinta bottlings. Apologies for the error.

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages April 28th Release: How Sweet it is, New Zealand Whites, Veneto my Veneto and more!

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

How Sweet It Is – or Isn’t   Before launching into Vintages April 28th release, some seismic news from the LCBO that will affect millions of Ontario wine buyers (actually more than you might think).

As of Sunday the LCBO will be replacing its infamous numeric Sugar Code scale. Soon we will no longer buy that Barolo because it is a “zero”. Instead, we will see it described as “extra dry” and we will be able to read the actual sugar content as expressed in grams per litre.

And some day our children will no longer have to endure the stupefied stares of restaurant servers outside of Ontario who have no concept of our question: ‘is this wine a zero?’

For generations Ontario has been the only jurisdiction, to my knowledge, to classify its wines by a number reflecting measurement of the actual sugar content of the wine. That changes as of April 29. Now shelf tags at both the LCBO and Vintages stores will verbalize sweetness as: Extra Dry (XD), Dry (D), Medium (M), Medium Sweet (MS) and Sweet (S). This determination will be arrived at by both laboratory and sensorial analysis – the latter taking mitigating factors like acidity and alcohol into account. It is indeed high time this more accurate and human determination of wine taste was put into service, a project in the works at the LCBO for the past three years in a process that involved staff and consumer focus groups and the development of algorithms to harmonize fact and perception.

But for those who want the numbers for dietary and health reasons, the actual sweetness measured in grams per litre will also be on the shelf tag. The general threshold for perceiving sweetness in wine is at about 7 grams per litre of sugar. A wine that reaches over 45 grams per litre will be classified as sweet, but up to 45 grams the sweetness descriptor will take sensory experience – i.e the taste – into account.

The new shelf tags will be rolled out in the upcoming weeks, but will only apply to table wines. Sparkling, dessert and fortified wines will not be included in the program at this point – but we confidently predict that dessert wines will be rated “S”.

New Zealand White Tour de Force
Eradus Sauvignon BlancLet’s play “Desert Island”. If you could have only one region supply white wines to your desert island for the rest of your life, what region would that be? Well, Ontario is an option for sure. As is northern France, and Austria. But for sheer, brilliance, exuberance, refreshment and flavour New Zealand would be my choice. Saturday’s mini-release of New Zealand wines is supporting the upcoming New Zealand Wine Fair in Ottawa May 8 and Toronto May 10. The wines are a tour de force across several white grape varieties – sauvignon blanc of course, chardonnay, gewürztraminer and pinot gris (but no riesling this time). I have scored five of the six wines 90 points or better.

Eradus Sauvignon Blanc 2010 marks the second appearance from this small family winery in the Awatere Valley, a slightly cooler, more maritime sub-region of Marlborough on New Zealand’s South Island. How small is Eradus? Well according to the website “The Eradus Wines Team comprises of Hanna (mum), Michiel (dad), Poppy and Ana (2 beautiful girls), and Homer the dog”. Then there is “Jeremy, ‘the Viti with the Midas touch’, and Jules, the Winemaker.” But there is nothing cute about the wine. It is bold, powerful yet balanced, a great expression of sauvignon with a green edge. And very good value at $17.95. The Two Rivers Of Marlborough Convergence Sauvignon Blanc 2011 is also excellent.

Spy Valley Pinot GrisDog Point ChardonnayColleague John Szabo has also sung the praises of Dog Point Chardonnay 2009 from Marlborough. At $39.95 it joins the growing ranks of complex, powerful, mineral-driven international chardonnays that are ambitiously positioning themselves at the head of chardonnay’s renaissance. Ontario’s best chardonnays are right in the midst of this movement as well; indeed Ontario will once again host the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration in Niagara July 20-22. The Dog Point Chardonnay splendidly captures all the complexity, nuance and minerality of the genre, with that little extra booster of ripe, sub-tropical New Zealand fruit.

In a world increasingly moving to mild, subtle but often indistinct pinot grigio, Spy Valley Pinot Gris 2011 ($20.95) from Marlborough is almost a shocker. Grown on low yielding vines on a stony riverbed the grapes are left to ripen fully and are partially fermented in old oak. All of which explains why such ripe, lush fruit also contains a hint of spice and a cool mineral finish. This reminds me of some of the most opulent pinot gris from Alsace. Just as the Lawson’s Dry Hills Gewürztraminer 2009 reminds me of Alsace as well.

Veneto, Veneto Wherefore Art Thou?
If you have ever visited Verona, Italy, the wonderful walled town of bridges and balconies that provided the backdrop for Romeo and Juliet, you will have some appreciation of the region’s classicism. At one point its wines – led by fresh Valpolicella on the one hand and stately, rich Amarone on the other – were the perfect conveyance of the region’s moods. But nowadays the twin forces of internationalism and ripasso (making wine by refermenting in contact with dried grape skins) have collided and set off an uncontrolled explosion of wines that confuse the vinous landscape. It has become very difficult to surmise what the wine will be like stylistically given the information on its label, and quality of course varies even more.

Farina Amarone Della Valpolicella ClassicoWhile tasting Vintages selection I found myself attracted to the more traditional styles. By that I mean, wines that are not just about gobs of ripe fruit, French oak and alcohol; wines that are smooth but have nuances of leather, marzipan and chestnut. Yes old flavours, both in terms of more mature wine, and the style that dominated a generation ago. There are four wines on the release that fit this bill, with Farina Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2008 ($34.95) being the poster child. You can tell by the classical label that this will be a classic wine (a good trick for sorting Italian wine styles, by the way). The wine is made by very traditional techniques, but the key to the flavour perhaps is three years ageing in old Slavonian oak barrels (not new French barriques).

Monte Del Frá Tenuta Lena Di MezzoBrigaldara ValpolicellaAmong the lighter table reds my favourite and the best value is Brigaldara Valpolicella 2010 at a mere $14.95.  What’s most interesting is that this very young, honest wine drinks with both vibrancy and richness. A little investigation revealed some sangiovese in the blend amid the Veneto grapes like corvina, rondinella and molinara – perhaps bringing a bit more liveliness. Monte Del Frá Tenuta Lena di Mezzo 2008 Valpolicella Classico Superiore($15.95) is another wine that over-delivers on price, with some maturity adding complexity to a very well made wine. I really like this estate that is based on the shores of Lago di Garda in the Bardolino DOC. In fact Monte Del Fra Bardolino 2010 released April 15 at a mere $12.95 is still on the shelves and highly recommended as a great little summer red.

Burgundy’s Vincent Girardin
In 1980, nineteen-year-old Vincent Girardin took over a small family parcel of vines in Santenay that had been in the family since the 18th Century. From that moment he tended his vines and made wines in “a simple and natural way”, and in the intervening years he built his business into an enterprise based on 20 hectares throughout the Côte de Beaune, which is no small feat in Burgundy where vineyard holdings are impossibly small and ownership fractured. The winery is now based in Meursault, with the great whites of the Côte de Beaune a focal point of his efforts, but a range of reds and whites that span the Côte d’Or and now reach south into the Chalonnaise and Macon. His very polished, pure style of winemaking came onto my radar a few years ago when his wines started to show up at Vintages, imported by Halpern Enterprises. They have been making quite regular appearances ever since, and finding their way frequently onto my best buy lists.
Vincent Girardin Vieilles Vignes Mâcon FuisséVincent Girardin Santenay Les Gravières

I stop to pay special attention this time because there are two significantly good buys. The first is Vincent Girardin Vieilles Vignes 2009 Mâcon-Fuissé at only $19.95. It sports wonderful elegance, depth and minerality for Macon, perhaps because it is sourced from vineyards in the Fuissé commune, near the more famous Pouilly-Fuissé appellation. The second is Vincent Girardin 2009 Santenay Les Gravières 1er Cru, which is a very fine pinot noir buy at $38.95. Les Gravièries is one of five vineyards that Vincent Girardin works in his home turf at the southern end of the Côte de Beaune.

Mendel Malbecs 
Mendel MalbecOn my trip to Argentina in December many of my Mendoza tastings were set up with several producers convened at one property to present their wines in a “mini-fair” format. This speed dating exercise required considerable focus and attention when all the external factors ganged up to distract you. It was in such a setting that I first encountered Mendel, a very serious new winery based in the classic region of Lujan de Cuyo. I remember being impressed with the wines, but the experience was brought closer to home when, to my surprise, I found that Canadian Richard Dittmar was on hand presenting the wines. Based in Vancouver, where I had met him often at the Playhouse Wine Festival, Dittmar was a key figure in setting up a fine wine agency called Trialto in the west, which is now in Ontario as well. Unknown to the general populace in Ontario, the importers actually have a powerful role in establishing which wines end up on the shelves, and I have come to have a general sense of the quality and focus of many of the agents in Ontario. Trialto ranks very near the top, because they are professional and passionate about wine. When I tasted Mendel 2009 Malbec ($24.95) in the LCBO lab I had forgotten all about the Richard Dittmar connection, and the fact that he was personally spending time in Argentina on the Mendel project. But I was very impressed by the wine!  By the way, there are actually two Mendel malbecs released Saturday, with the Mendel Lunta Malbec 2009 being a bit less expensive and concentrated but still very good.

Run Sister’s Run
Sister's Run Epiphany ShirazOr, as the old saying has it – you go girl! I was just about finished my tastings at the LCBO, working through the last of the Australian wines. I looked at the rather plain label and the $15.95 price of Sister’s Run 2008 Epiphany Shiraz and I was prepared to be bored. But wow, an epiphany indeed! It knocked my socks off for the price, and not because it was wonderfully smooth, layered and refined, as might be expected from a lady winemaker. (I can often identify wines made by women for just this reason and I truly believe they have gentler touch than male winemakers). This was different – a big, burly, black and masculine shiraz with depth and complexity far beyond its price. I did some research when I got home and read the story of Sister’s Run – a new (almost) all-girl enterprise in McLaren Vale, with a motif of a high heel shoe beside a work boot.

To pull from the website: “Sister’s Run is serious fun. Our talented young winemaker Elena (Brooks) wears steel cap work boots every day of course, but carries a pair of high heels in back of the ute, only for emergencies, like last minute invitations to accept trophies at gala wine show dinners and the like. Returning from a ‘knees-up’ at midnight, mid vintage, she managed to kick off one high heel and slip back into a boot’ just as the cellar crew cried out, ‘Run Sister Run’; and exactly then our winemaker and label took flight!”

Upcoming Ontario Wine Events
Jon PriestAnd that’s it for this time. But I want to draw your attention to some interesting Ontario wine events in the days and weeks ahead. Check out the results of the Ontario Wine Awards after the Awards dinner in Niagara-on-the-Lake on May 4; Somewhereness (trade only) at the MARS centre in Toronto May 8; Terroir in Prince Edward County on May 26; and finally the Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton June 1 to 3. I am involved in selecting PEC, and hopefully some B.C. and Niagara wines for this event, and conducting a Cheese and WinePairing seminar.

And finally, don’t forget about the WineAlign rare inside track opportunity to meet with Jon Priest of California’s Etude winery at a sit-down tutored tasting at Sassafraz on May 16th. In my mind he is one the great unsung winemakers of California, making great pinots and chardonnays at his Carneros-based winery.

From the April 28, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines

All Reviews

David Lawrason,
VP of Wine at WineAlign

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An Exclusive Event with Etude’s Winemaker Jon Priest – May 16th, Sassafraz, Toronto

WineAlign is delighted to offer its members an exclusive tutored tasting and reception with Winemaker Jon Priest of Etude Wines. Join us for a rare opportunity to try Etude’s portfolio of wines – each based on sustainable vineyard management and minimal winemaking intervention.

Jon PriestWith varieties modeled on the best from Burgundy and Bordeaux, these wines speak clearly of their contemporary California origins, combining rich, ripe fruit with an elegant structure and opulent mouthfeel. Etude’s Pinot Noirs, including a highly esteemed bottling made from rare heirloom selections and single-vineyard offerings, are vinified from grapes grown on the Etude Estate Vineyards in the cool Carneros region.  Fruit for the winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from the warmer, northern half of the Napa Valley. The consistent high quality of grapes Etude grows and sources, combined with the skill and experience of the winemaking team, explains why Etude wines consistently earn the highest accolades from consumers, trade and wine critics, resulting in wines with authentic varietal expression.

“Is Jon Priest one of California’s great unsung winemaking stars?  On a recent 23 winery tasting tour through California his Etude pinots and chardonnays topped my charts, and his cabernet is mighty fine too.”
– David Lawrason

The sit-down tutored tasting will held at Sassafraz and co-hosted by WineAlign’s Master Sommelier, John Szabo. Enjoy the great Sassafraz food in an informal tapas style.

Etude Event

Purchase tickets here.

IMPORTANT:  Our last few winemaker events have sold out in a matter of hours.  While we’ve increased capacity for this event we still expect it to sell out quickly.  If you are interested in attending then we recommend you purchase tickets as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

Event Details: 

Winery: Etude Wines
Winemaker:  Jon Priest
Quote:  “Inspired grape growing diminishes the need for winemaking intervention.”

Date: Wednesday May 16th, 2012
6:00pm Reception with hors d’oeuvres
6:30-7:45pm  Tutored Tasting
7:45-8:30pm  Tapas – served family style
9:00pm  Event concludes.

Venue: Sassafraz restaurant, Yorkville, Toronto
Seats: 60
Fee: $65 (+HST)

Etude Estate Pinot Gris, Carneros
Etude Estate Chardonnay, Carneros
Etude Rosé of Carneros Pinot Noir
Etude Estate Pinot Noir, Carneros
Etude Deer Camp Pinot Noir, Carneros
Etude Heirloom Pinot Noir, Carneros
Etude Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Purchase tickets here.

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Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks: Classic flavours at exceptional value

This trio delivers classic flavours at exceptional value. Find them via

 Tyrrell’s Brookdale Semillon 2011 $19.95 (91 Points)

The semillon grown in Hunter Valley, New South Wales, considered the best region in Australia for this varietal, is built to last. Medium bodied with good acidity and a firm structure this bone dry white has majesty. Lemon lime flavours are delivered with elegance and length. Age it if you want a honeyed roundness to come out.

 Château Beauséjour 2009  $14.95 (89 Points)

This is a great little Bordeaux from the Fronsac appellation. Medium full bodied, structured with ripe fruit, it has both charm and depth. A blend of mainly merlot with cabernet franc it has notes of earthy underbrush. Ready to drink with whatever red meat you throw on the grill.

 Caves de Gigondas le Dit de la Clapassière Séguret 2009  $14.95 (89 Points)

This generous Côtes du Rhône-Villages red composed mainly of grenache with some syrah is plump, sweet and open. Velvety on the palate with yummy ripe berry flavors and a dollop of spice it has warmth from its 15 per cent alcohol and appeal. Perfect with a leg (gigot) of lamb or grilled duck breast.

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for April 28th 2012: Alice Feiring on Natural Wine; A Tale of Two Sauvignons, Cheap Venetians; Top Ten Smart Buys.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

April 28th shines the spotlight on New Zealand and the Veneto, Italy’s powerhouse region that gave the world Prosecco, Valpolicella, Soave and Amarone. But despite some big names and pricey wines, it’s the value end of the scale that shines from the latter in this release, whereas New Zealand delivers a trio of exceptional wines in the +$20 range. Read on for the highlights of the Top Ten Smart Buys.

As a follow-up to my last report on understanding sustainable/organic/biodynamic winegrowing practices, and a lead-in to the upcoming Terrior Symposium on April 23rd in Toronto, New York-based Author Alice Feiring joins me to answer a few questions on the who, what, where and when of natural wines, the growing movement towards non-interventionalist winemaking. Alice will be speaking at the symposium on the topic of: “Natural Wine: Highest Respect or Simply Neglect?” Tickets are available on the Terrior website. See the interview below.

Top Ten Highlights: New Zealand, A tale of two sauvignons (and a chardonnay)

Admittedly it’s been some time since I’ve been genuinely excited by Marlborough sauvignon blanc. It seemed like quality was slipping as production expanded to meet demand, and there was a dull sameness regardless of price. And I wasn’t alone in noticing; leading producer John Forrest of Forrest wines in Marlborough was recently quoted in Decanter saying: “Bulk production, combined with the excessive harvest of 2009 and a subsequent loss in quality has become an issue in Marlborough over the last five years”. Forrest advocates a self-imposed appellation system with strict controls over yield and quality, a forward thinking, bottom-up strategy with the potential to make a difference, a similar model to the highly successful and widely recognized VDP association in Germany.

Seresin Sauvignon BlancTwo Rivers Of Marlborough Convergence Sauvignon BlancAnd it’s clear that great wines are possible, as I was quickly reminded when I came across this pair of distinctive, characterful examples: 2011 Two Rivers of Marlborough Convergence Sauvignon Blanc ($29.95) and 2010 Seresin Sauvignon Blanc ($21.95).

Two Rivers, so named for the Wairau and Awatere Rivers of Marlborough, was established in 2004 by veteran winemaker David Clouston. Clouston made wine in the US, Australia, France, Spain and Chile before returning to New Zealand to focus on hand-crafted, varietal wines with purity and concentration well above the mean. The 2011 sauvignon delivers terrifically vibrant grapefruit and citrus peel flavour, neither over nor under ripeness, with added textural complexity from a small portion aged in barrel on the lees. It’s a rare example with the stuffing to age as well.

Michael Seresin’s wines are long-time favorites of mine. He has farmed organically since the estate’s first plantings in 1992, and later converted to biodynamics. Seresin’s philosophy is simple: sound grapes and minimal intervention in the winery. The 2010 sauvignon has an honest, no nonsense feel to it (wild yeast ferment) and bears only a distant relationship to typical Marlborough sauvignon. Pungent grassiness is traded instead for honey, wax and wet stone flavours, while the palate delivers considerable intensity and fine length.

Marlborough is not just about sauvignon blanc, as the excellent 2009 Dog Point Chardonnay ($39.95) eloquently shows. It’s an evidently premium wine from the first sniff, offering a fine balance of ripe orchard fruit and classy barrel influence, with a side order of minerals. The palate likewise delivers a first class mouthful: intense, perfectly balanced, excellent length. I’d confidently put this on the table against top chardonnays from anywhere around the world.

Dog Point Chardonnay

Cheap Venetians

And now over to the Veneto, where the more glamorous appellations are overshadowed by the humble. Regular WineAlign readers are already aware of my skepticism regarding the process of drying grapes for concentration as is done for Amarone. (An alarming, growing trend in Ontario, too; as CBC radio host Konrad Ejbich recently said to me: “cryo-extraction [artificially freezing grapes] is not permitted for Icewine, so why is kilning grapes ok for table wines?” Good question.) And while some Amarones are extraordinary (e.g. Quintarelli, Masi’s top kit), so many are simple raisin-prune flavoured wines at exorbitant prices compensating for a lack of genuine complexity and concentration by artificial drying.

Brigaldara ValpolicellaMaculan Brentino Merlot Cabernet SauvignonSo it’s refreshing to come across a wine that’s content to be just a joyful, delicious, fruity, food-friendly drop, harkening back to the days before big scores and competitions when the stuff was made to be drunk. Brigaldara’s 2010 Valpolicella ($14.95) is such a wine; fantastically vibrant and juicy, full of fresh, tart red berry fruit, strawberry, pomegranate, red currants and wildflowers, with no interference from wood. It’s the sort of lean, light, honest wine to serve with a chill, which can be enjoyed all afternoon alongside just about anything. It’s Valpolicella doing what Valpolicella does best.

In a similar fashion, the immaculate Fausto Maculan’s 2009 Brentino Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.95) delivers a highly enjoyable blend in a classy, elegant style. Its bright red and black berry fruit, moderate wood character, light tannins and bright acids probably won’t win any competitions, unless it’s a race to see which bottle is emptied first on the table.

In the rest of the top ten you’ll find a local riesling, a Georgian classic, a rare cabernet franc from northern Argentina, a classy malbec from Mendoza and a modern Spanish beauty. See them all here.

Alice Feiring on Natural Wine

As stated on her website, Alice Feiring is “hunting the Leon Trotskys, the Philip Roths, the Chaucers and the Edith Whartons of the wine world. I want them natural and most of all, I want them to speak the truth even if we argue. With this messiah thing going on, I’m trying to swell the ranks of those who crave the differences in each vintage, celebrate nuance and desire wines that make them think, laugh, and feel welcome.” She is the author of The Battle for Wine and Love, or How I Saved The World From Parkerization (Harcourt) and Naked Wine, Letting Grapes do What Comes Naturally (Perseus Books). Here’s what she has to say:

JSZ: What does the designation ‘natural wine’ mean (to you)?

AF: Starting with organic viticulture and then made with the philosophy of nothing added or taken away.

JSZ: When and where did this movement, if it can be called that, get started?

AF: It started in the Beaujolais, in Villié-Morgon in the late 70s when Marcel Lapierre hooked up with Jules Chauvet and Jacques Néauport. The wine was loved, others followed. A friend told a friend. There you go.

Alice FeirlingJSZ: Why have you become such a fervent supporter of natural wines?

AF: It just sort of happened, because it is certainly not a position I applied for. I started writing about wines that I loved. In the year 2000 I stumbled into a more rarified world, where I found a gathering of real wines, made by real people, I drank, I wrote, and then one day, I’d been writing about it longer than just about anyone. My first book barely had the word natural in it. To me the wines were just great wines.

JSZ: Do government agencies (like our LCBO) have a responsibility to set parameters for acceptable commercial wines? Or should the market decide what’s acceptable?

AF: Would be great if they’d set some parameters. I’d like to see an ingredient list that recognized grape concentrate, enzymes, tannins, and oak dust as ingredients and additives. It would be great to have to add if alcohol was removed. Lowering sulfur would be great, too. But I don’t believe there should be panels deciding if a wine is ‘correct’ enough to have the appellation. Tastes shouldn’t be standardized.

JSZ: Is the general definition of ‘good wine’ becoming too restricted, marginalizing other styles that fall outside this definition?

AF: See above. The wonderful thing about the blossoming of natural wine is that there is plenty of variety, with many different shapes, weights, colors and tastes.

JSZ: Is natural wine making possible on a large commercial scale, or will it forever be the province of small artisanal producers?

AF: Real Natural is the provenance of small. It’s difficult to pull off at lets say 100,000 bottles, which, by the way, is huge for someone who really works naturally. But it is certainly possible to do good honest work at a huge level, look at Chateau Musar or Lopez de Heredia. And it’s not impossible. What must be sacrificed is this notion that wine must taste a certain way and be standardized.

Soon to arrive, however, is industrial natural. Wineries will just focus on getting rid of sulfur but replacing it with something else. As Josko Gravner said, “To make natural wine, you have to be natural yourself.”

JSZ: Do you expect natural wine to gain in popularity? Has it already? Or will it remain an ultra-niche market segment?

AF: It’s way out of niche now. There’s not enough of the good stuff to go around. This is the little engine that could, but a little like me, it had no idea it was an engine. The people working this way just wanted to make a living, work honestly and make great wine. How can something authentic like that be a fad?

JSZ:  Are there any health risks associated with natural wines, as some claim for food products like raw milk cheese?

AF: It has alcohol and sometimes so delicious it’s hard to stop drinking.

JSZ: How can more naturally made wines be identified on a shelf or restaurant list?

AF: For this we rely on the wisdom of the shop or barkeep. Here in the states a good clue is the importer as several of them focus on these kinds of wines. I’m sure Canada has a similar situation. A biodynamic or organic wine certification is close, but still no guarantee. The best hope is to go to places with great wine lists and to shops that know their stuff so you can be guided to the wines you like.

JSZ: What aspects of natural wine do you intend to discuss at the Terroir symposium and what is the message that you hope everyone will take home?

AF: Where it came from, where it is and where it’s going. Why definition in this instance is identify and destroy. And most importantly, I hope people leave understanding that there should be no double standard with food and wine, they both offer the most satisfaction when as pure as possible, grown and handled with care, delivered to the plate with honesty and love.

You can read more from Alice on her website The Feiring Line, or better yet, meet her in person on April 23rd at the Arcadian Court in Toronto during the 4th annual Terrior Symposium.

From the April 28, 2012 Vintages release:

Top Ten Smart Buys
All Reviews

John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks: Argentinian finds

The focus of this Saturday’s Vintages release is gorgeous Argentina. Find these expressive, great value wines via

Filus Torrontés 2011  $13.95 (87 Points)

From Salta province where this aromatic white grape shines, this is a pretty version with a fragrant bouquet. Fairly dry and fresh with flavours of pink grapefruit and tangerine, it’s medium light on the palate. A wine that sings of spring, have with light fare such as seafood salads, ceviche or just sip while you sit outdoors in the sun.

Fabre Montmayou Riserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2009  $14.95 (89 Points)

This Mendoza winery in Lujan de Cuyo was founded in the early 1990s by a Bordeaux native. The pure cabernet sauvignon wine is from 30 year old vines, hand harvested and aged a year in French oak. Deep opaque red, the bouquet is spiced and fruity. Velvety and full bodied it has ripe red berry and prune flavours with a touch of vanilla and spice in the finish. Have with grilled meats.

Joffré E Hijas Grand Malbec 2007  $17.95 (89 Points)

From Mendoza’s Uco Valley a higher altitude area that’s home to a number of Argentina’s top producers this red has matured 10 months in French oak. It’s a rich, ripe and concentrated red that’s full of fruit such as fresh figs and purple plums with notes of chocolate. Full bodied with soft tannins this is ready to drink with duck, venison or flavourful cheeses.

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Vintage Port ~ Saturday, April 14th, 2012

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

What you need to know:   Made only in the best years, vintage port is special. Like claret or champagne, it is the benchmark by which all other fortified wines of similar type are judged. It has always been this way. It will always be this way.

But how did it get this way? Compared to other types of fortified wine, what makes vintage port so special? Logically, the best way to begin is to briefly examine the history of port as a whole, how this remarkable type of wine came to be developed, and how this development eventually resulted in a strict set of standards regarding its production; making vintage port one of the most esteemed fortified wines in the world.

The history of port, vintage or otherwise, dates back to the seventeenth century. During this period, when France and England were constantly at war, thirsty Brits turned to Portugal, a nation with which they had historically been on good terms, for their wine. Their attention quickly turned to the as yet untamed inland area of the Douro, attracted by its powerful wines that seemed an appropriate substitute for their favourite red wine—claret.

Dow's 2007 Vintage Port

However, in order for the wine to survive its Atlantic journey back to England, it was soon discovered that adding brandy to the wine helped stabilize it. This discovery is attributed to a Liverpool wine merchant, who sent his sons to Portugal in 1678 to purchase wine for distribution in England. At the town of Lamego, they came across a wine-producing monastery whose abbot added brandy during fermentation, thus killing off the active yeasts and making for a strong, perceptibly sweeter style of red wine.

Just as important, in 1703 the Methuen Treaty between England and Portugal was signed. Under the terms, Portuguese wines were granted lower duties than those of France or Germany; and it was not before long that port became one of the most widely consumed types of wine throughout England.

Warre's 2007 Vintage Port

Likewise, it was only a matter of time before specific, identifiable levels of quality began to emerge. In 1756, a series of measures were established by Portuguese authorities to regulate the production and sale of port, with specific boundaries drawn up delimitating the area where port vines could be cultivated. At the time, these extended to the Tua tributary of the Douro (now as far east as the Cachão da Valeira), the easternmost portion of the Cima Corgo—the most prestigious subregion in which port is produced. Each vineyard was also eventually graded from a system of A to F, determined by altitude, location, yield, soil, inclination, and orientation; along with the age, density, training, and the types of grapes cultivated on it.

Fonseca Vintage Port

Today, the best vintage port is sourced from the most renowned of these vineyards, from soils composed primarily of schist, a type of slate-like metamorphic rock. In baking hot summer conditions, when temperatures often exceed 35°C, in what can only be viewed as defiance against nature vines seem to thrive. The best of these for port production have been identified as Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinto Cão, and Tinta Barroca.

Graham's 2003 Vintage Port

Harvested by hand, grapes are traditionally placed into square woven cane baskets and then brought to the winery. At this point, grapes likely destined for vintage port are then placed into large stone troughs, called lagares, to be treaded by foot. Alternatively, this may be more cheaply accomplished by devices referred to as ‘robotic lagares,’ which imitates the gentle pressing of the human foot and thus prevents the pips from being crushed and releasing bitter-tasting phenolics into the wine. With fermentation already partially underway, the wine is then transferred to another lagar or vat.

When fermentation has reached the halfway mark, neutral grape spirit, called aguardente, is added to the wine, causing the fermentation to cease. Transferred to vat (usually stainless steel), it will remain here until the spring following the harvest, when the wine will be transferred downstream to the port lodges of Oporto, or across the river to those located in Vila Nova de Gaia. Here, a decision will be made whether or not to ‘declare’ a vintage. If the wine is deemed good enough, it will then be blended and aged in wooden barrels for a minimum of 22 months (max. 31) and then bottled for release. At its simplest, this is how vintage port is made.

Quinta do Noval 1994 Nacional Vintage Port

As a general rule, vintage port is only produced in the best years, totalling about three vintages per decade. However, with better cultivation methods, modern technologies, and climate change, the best houses are nowadays declaring with much greater frequency. In the eighties, ’80, ’83, and ’85 were widely declared. In the nineties, these were ’91, ’92, ’94, and ’97. Then, in the twenty-first century a record five vintages were widely declared by the greatest port houses: ’00, ’03, ’05, ’07, and ‘09—each one of impeccable quality and character.

For most connoisseurs, vintage port has no business being drunk young. While such wines are often delectable in youth, many drinkers find them too ‘compact,’ tannic, and drenched in their own youthful flavours for their own good. The aromas and flavours at this stage, however, have become increasingly beguiling with better viticulture and winemaking: brambling black fruits, dark chocolate, mahogany wood, fruitcake, forest floor, walnuts, mint, and sometimes flowers—just to name some of the more common aromas one might possibly pick up.

Croft 2003 Vintage Port

All the same, a minimum of twenty years’ aging or longer can be much more beneficial. Carefully decanted, aged vintage port represents the epitome of patience recompensed. By this time, the best examples, adequately softened, tend to bask in their own mellowness and richness, their beguiling youthful aromas replaced, if not complimented, by more mature perfumed notes of cedarwood, dried fruits, tobacco, and exotic spices. The best examples can often survive more than a century.

As for food pairings, the classic accompaniment to vintage port is cheese, preferably saltier, crumblier versions like Stilton or Roquefort; while dark chocolate, walnuts, dried figs and apricots, and caramel-coated ice cream all partner terrifically. Usually served after the main course of a meal, vintage port is best enjoyed at temperatures around 16-18°C.

Just remember: when decanting old bottles of port, the cork tends to crumble and disintegrate. When this happens, most people tend to put the wine through a filter to rid the wine of cork sediment. However, the use of port tongs makes this unnecessary. Simply heat the port tongs over an open flame, such as a gas stovetop, until they are as hot as possible. Then attach the tongs around the upper part of the bottle, above the liquid but under the bottom end of the cork, for about a minute. Using a wet rag, grasp the top part of the bottle, which should then cleanly crack away. Your vintage port is now ready for decanting. Like all great wines, a little extra effort goes a long way.

Click here for a few gems from the 14 April 2012 Vintages Release along with several others.

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages April 14th Release: Argentina Spotlight

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Tuesday, April 17th has been dubbed Malbec World Day by a marketing whiz within an organization called Wines of Argentina. It is a promotional exercise to focus the world’s attention on malbec specifically and Argentina’s wines in general, with events being held in over 40 countries. What’s most impressive is that 2012 is only the second year for Malbec World Day – and there has been a huge “buy-in” to the concept. Our very own Vintages stores are featuring several Argentine releases on April 14th. On April 12th there are trade and consumer events in Ottawa, and next week – on the 17th  – there will be trade and consumer events in Toronto. I look forward to leading the panel discussion and tasting for the Toronto trade, having visited Argentina with Rod Philips late last year. The two of us will also be collaborating on a regional tour in a WineAlign feature next week.

Mapema Malbec 2009Malbec still occupies more vineyard space, and head space, than any other variety in the country. I faced a malbec inundation, especially in Mendoza when I was there. But I was intrigued to begin to discover different takes on malbec based on differences in appellation and vineyard altitude, and I did find more expensive editions reaching for more finesse. But in the broader context malbec remains a big, cuddly, creamy red that delivers that essential mood just as easily in cheap wines as it does in expensive versions. Indeed, expensive malbecs often seem to not deliver that much extra for the additional money being asked. But at the other end of the scale, very inexpensive malbecs can become boring. So my general advice would be to target malbecs in the $17 to $25 range, like Mapema Malbec 2009 at $21.95, a proto-typical example that is balanced, fairly complex and rich.

Chakana Yaguareté Collection BonardaLa Puerta Alta BonardaI was more energized by some of the other varieties that play in malbec’s shadow, especially the dark skinned bonarda. This grape originated in sub-alpine Savoie region of France where it is known as corbeau, and it is found widely in sub-alpine regions of northern Italy (Piedmont and Lombardy). Fans of obscure California wines will know it as charbono. It has long been grown at high yields in Argentina to make fruity, simple jug wines, but it is now being made at lower yields, at higher altitudes, and/or barrel aged to bring it into premium quality levels. I love the florality and juicy exuberance of bonarda as best expressed by the simple Chakana Yaguareté Collection 2010 at only $12.95. The La Puerta Alta 2009 from the Famatina Valley in La Rioja, is a bit more rich and complex, and still great value at $14.95.

The release also has some decent Argentine cabernets and blends, but I was disappointed to find that there was a tasting sample mix-up with the Decero 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. A different vintage and bottling was presented in the lab, so I will taste it after release. Decero is a very good producer indeed.

Aussie Semillon Ain’t Getting Respect

St. Hallett SemillonTyrrell's Brookdale SemillonSemillon is the grape that some people love to hate, and many others simply choose to ignore. For as long as I have been writing about wine, semillon from Australia (in particular) has been on my radar as one of the great, unsung values among white wines. But the unique, often petrol/fusel scent inherent in most semillons takes some getting used to, along with the lime and minerality. Semillon seems to flat line in the fruit department. But the best also have great structure, proportion and depth, sometimes riding on remarkably low alcohol. And as they age they morph into exciting, quite rich and honeyed wines. If you are nimble you can own one of the last eight bottles remaining of Mt. Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2003 ($59), that is still available through Vintages ShopOnLine – an iconic, kick-in-the-senses masterpiece! Or you can purchase Tyrrell’s Brookdale Semillon 2011 from the Hunter Valley on Saturday. It is textbook Semillon and very much worth an experiment at $19.95; so grab at least three bottles, one to try now, two for the cellar. St. Hallett Semillon 2006 gets you part way down the maturity track at $19.95, but this Barossa example does not have the same energy. To ease you gently into Aussie semillon try the Devils Lair Fifth Leg Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2010 that resides on the LCBO general list, and is currently $14.95 with $1 off until April 29. And finally if your interest is piqued, I also point you to Stratus White 2008 from Niagara-on-the-Lake, a multi-grape barrel aged blend that has promoted semillon into a more dominant role this vintage.

Stratus White

A McLaren Vale Clinic

Brokenwood ShirazSometimes themes just present themselves. I was merrily tasting through the line-up of Australian reds when I came upon Brokenwood Shiraz 2009($29.95). ‘Rather light and quite charming for shiraz’ I thought to myself, after wading through a couple of other typically dense, creamy and rich Aussie reds. I paid closer attention to the origin and read McLaren Vale/Beechworth, South Australia/Victoria on the label – a statement of intent to move to slightly cooler regions. Beechwood is a higher altitude, almost mountainous area of central Victoria, while McLaren Vale is a much more well known, maritime area near Adelaide in South Australia.

Shottesbrooke Cabernet SauvignonPirramimma KatungaAs it happened the next two wines were also from McLaren Vale, and I noted a similar lightness of step. Shottesbrooke Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($21.95) is a quite elegant yet firm cabernet; while Pirramimma Katunga GTS 2007($24.95) is solid yet refined red with impressive layered complexity and length. GTS in this instance does not refer some ‘60s roadster, but to the very creative and effective blend of grenache, tannat and shiraz. To be clear, these are not lean, tart, mineral-driven cool climate wines; they are still smooth, ripe and Australian to their core. But by being just a little less texturally ponderous they open themselves up to more prolonged drinking pleasure with a wider palette of culinary options.

Best Power Reds

For those on the prowl for powerful, dense and cellar worthy reds allow me to point you to three New World offerings that have easily surpassed 90 points. But before delivering the good news, how about even better news? You could buy 2.5 bottles of all three of them (8 bottles total), or buy one bottle of Solaia 2008 at $249. For those who may not know, Solaia is an excellent, modern Tuscan cabernet by Antinori, one of the first great modern cabernets of Italy, for which it gained almost legendary notoriety, with price following suit. The 2008 vintage is excellent indeed if not quite as sensuous as I expected.

Spier Creative Block 3Grant Burge The Holy TrinityWith the first of the three power reds we stay in Australia, and the terrific Grant Burge The Holy Trinity Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvèdre 2008 from Barossa, which I think is an excellent buy at $33.95. You are owning a bit of history here because Holy Trinity, which is patterned on Châteauneuf-du-Pape in France’s southern Rhône Valley, was one of the early GSMs (first vintage 1997). But most of all I love the sense of evenness and depth once the richness washes off – this is very nicely focused wine. The 2008 Spier Creative Block 3 from South Africa is very impressive and a huge value at $19.95. It too is a Rhône blend, but this time with shiraz, mourvèdre and a splash of viognier. And finally, I strongly urge Napa cab collectors to peer over the hills into Sonoma’s Alexander Valley – another cabernet hot spot. Alexander Valley VineyardsCyrus 2007 at $59, is a best blocks blend of 66% cabernet sauvignon, 23% cabernet franc, 6% merlot and 5% petit verdot. It’s named after Cyrus Alexander, a 19th century homesteader on the current AVV property, who lent his surname to the entire region. So you are buying a bit of history here as well, (and I scored it the same as Solaia).


Bargain Whites

Guy Saget Marie De Beauregard VouvrayLa Cappuccina SoaveVineland Estates Chardonnay MusquéAs has become almost a habit each release, we finish with a miscellany of great white wine values. I am a big white wine fan and as I have probably said before, more attentive and more technological winemaking is making it much more common to achieve great purity of fruit expression, which is the essence of white wine. That purity is readily apparent right here at home with Niagara and County whites too, and I am very impressed by Vineland Estates Chardonnay Musqué 2010 from the Niagara Escarpment, a great buy at $17.95. Musqué should be aromatic and floral but this fine effort releases new levels of aromatic complexity. Italy’s native white grapes are great benefactors of the quality revolution, when basic wines like La Cappuccina Soave 2011 can turn out such pristine, charming flavours at only $13.95. And over in France don’t miss what is textbook Loire Valley chenin blanc in Guy Saget Marie de Beauregard Vouvray 2009 at only $17.95.

Prince Edward County Showcase

You can take the boy out of the County, but you can’t take the County out of the boy. On Tuesday, 13 Prince Edward County wineries poured their wares at the Berkeley Church in Toronto, and I managed to taste most of the wines offered. I had not done this kind of comprehensive tasting since moving to Toronto from Belleville 18 months ago, and I was immediately transported back to that distinctive County essence. There continues to be winemaking issues in the County, largely traced to sour-edged volatile acidity, but the energy, flavour depth and distinctive minerality remain hugely exciting.

If you have not been to the County yet – and a surprising number of wine-interested Torontonians have not – then there are two prime opportunities coming up. The first is the annual Terroir Festival on Saturday, May 26 at the Crystal Palace in Picton. The second is one weekend later at the Great Canadian Cheese Festival June 1st to 3rd – same location. I will be helping to co-ordinate the wines for this event, with over a dozen County wineries on board. Between now and then I am hoping to post several new reviews of County wines right here on WineAlign. As most are not in the LCBO, search by winery name in the Search field.

And that’s a wrap, for now. To see all my reviews from April 14 please click here.


David Lawrason,
VP of Wine at WineAlign

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Four ‘not to be missed’ reds from Argentina; Steve’s Top 50 Value Wines from the LCBO – April 2012

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

I am just back from a trip to Argentina where they are making some really great red wines. During my trip it became very clear to me that Argentina is not just all about malbec. It is true that they are making the best malbec in the world, but then so little is planted elsewhere. The next challenge for this wine region is to get us drinking their other reds; which also compete well on the world stage against some formidable well established regions. While I was there I found some amazing cabernet sauvignon and great syrah as well as some delightful red blends. The four wines below are all at the LCBO and all are great value, as is every wine on my Top 50 Value Wines list. There are 12 wines that are new to the list since last month. Read past the next four reds to find more bargains and then continue to discover how these wines are systematically selected and hear more about my time in South America.

Four Reds from Argentina

Trapiche Syrah ReservaTrapiche Cabernet Sauvignon ReservaTrapiche Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2010, Mendoza $11.95
This is an opaque elegant cabernet with lots of flavour and a delightful nose. It’s a big improvement over previous vintages. Aromas of cassis and blackberry fruit are complicated by some subtle oak spice, dark chocolate and a hint of black olive. The perfumed nose is a perfect introduction to the seamless juicy palate with finely divided tannin tickling the tongue. It finishes dry with the alcohol balanced by acidity and fruit. Very good to excellent length. Try with duck confit or rare roast beef. Another year in the cellar may well improve it. Best 2013 to 2016.

Trapiche Syrah Reserva 2010, Mendoza $11.95
A soft juicy syrah with aromas of blueberry and blackberry fruit plus dark chocolate and vanilla notes. It is midweight and creamy smooth with the fruit flavours balanced by soft lemony acidity and gentle fine tannin. Good to very good length. A very classy wine at a great price. Try with bbq meats or mature cheddar. Best 2012 to 2015.

La Posta Cocina Tinto BlendTrapiche Cabernet SauvignonLa Posta Cocina Tinto Blend 2010, Mendoza $12.95
This red blend of malbec with syrah and bonarda is an opaque purple wine with aromas of blackberry jello, blueberry and prune fruit with herbal and floral tones. It is full bodied, flavourful and well structured with some firm tannin giving grip and acidity for vibrancy. Very good length. Try with a steak. Will gain in complexity with a year or two of bottle age, but fine now. Best 2013 to 2016.

Trapiche Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mendoza $8.95 (and $15.95 1500ml)
Great value for very drinkable cabernet that is much more than a fruit bomb. Expect fresh aromas of red cherry and black plum fruit with mild spice plus some herbal tones. It is midweight with lots of flavour from the soft red fruit and with just enough tannin to give it grip and sufficient vibrant acidity to drive it on to the dry finish. Good to very good length. Try with bbq meats. Best 2012 to 2015.

April Top 50 Values List

There are about 1,500 wines listed at the LCBO that are always available, plus another 100 or so Vintages’ Essentials. At WineAlign I maintain a list of the Top 50 LCBO and Vintages Essentials wines selected by price and value – in other words, the best least expensive wines. The selection process is explained in more detail below, but I review the list every month to include newly listed wines and monitor the value of those put on sale for a limited time.

New to the Top 50

Errazuriz Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Aconcagua Valley, Chile $11.95
This has nicely lifted sauvignon aromatics of hay, lemon, gooseberry and melon. It is elegant, creamy and well balanced with very good length with some vibrant passion fruit flavour. Try with sautéed scallops with a lemongrass dressing.

Nederburg Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Western Cape, South Africa $10.95
This is a classy sauvignon at a great price. Expect mild aromas of lemon, green apple and hay with a hint of white mushroom. It is midweight and very smooth with soft balancing acidity and very good length. There is a degree of elegance not often seen in such an inexpensive wine. Try with sautéed seafood, veal or roast pork.

Errazuriz Estate Sauvignon BlancNederburg Sauvignon Blanc

Dunavar Muscat Ottonel 2010, Hungary $8.00
The 2010 vintage is similar to the 2009 and again offers excellent value for this wine made from muscat ottonel, a less aromatic version of the muscat grape common to central Europe. Expect nicely lifted floral and tropical fruit aromas similar to viognier with herbal and lavender notes. It is quite rich well balanced with good acidity and good to very good length. This will work well with mildly spicy Asian cuisine or rich poultry dishes.

Cono Sur Organic Chardonnay 2011, San Antonio Valley, Chile $10.95 on sale until April 29th normally $11.95.
A lively zesty unoaked chardonnay with a lot of flavour for the money. Expect aromas of lemon, white peach and pineapple fruit with mineral overtones. It is very rich and creamy with lots of flavour and very good length. Well balanced. Try with sautéed seafood, roast chicken or creamy pasta sauces.

Dunavar Muscat OttonelCono Sur Organic Chardonnay

Cono Sur Tocornal Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2011, Chile (1500ml) $14.45
The 2011 is another good vintage for this great value red blend. The harmonious nose shows ripe black cherry and plum fruit with tobacco, raspberry jam and smoky complexity. It is midweight and very juicy with the fruit nicely balanced. Good length and focus. Try with roast meats or mature cheese. Best 2012 to 2015.

Fonseca Periquita 2009, Terras Do Sado, Portugal $7.95
The 2009 is another good vintage of this bargain priced red from Portugal that must have been on the shelves for 20 years or more. Expect red cherry and plum aromas with some spicy tones and beet notes. It is mid weight, dry and well balanced with the fruit ripeness toned by earthy and leathery flavours. Quite delicious with grilled lamb cutlets or calf liver and onions. Best 2012 to 2015.

Cono Sur Tocornal Cabernet Sauvignon/ShirazFonseca Periquita

Trumpeter Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza, Argentina $12.95
This cabernet from Argentina is such great value with a complex nose of black cherry fruit with black olive soft oak spice plus herbal and leather tones. It is fresh and vibrant with the mature fruit well balanced by acidity and soft tannin. Very good length. There is a degree of elegance and it is perfectly balanced for roast or bbq meats.

Fuzion Alta Malbec Reserva 2010, Mendoza, Argentina $9.95
The 2010 vintage of this 100% malbec delivers a lot of structure and depth of flavour for a wine under $10. Expect lifted currant fruit with tea and herbal notes, mild oak spice and a hint of prune. It is elegant and quite rich, medium-full bodied with good to very good length.

Trumpeter Cabernet Sauvignon Fuzion Alta Malbec Reserva

Why was I in Argentina in March?
There were two major reasons. First to check out the latest wines. It is difficult today to imagine our store shelves without wines from Argentina but it has only been a few years since they arrived in force. They were quickly recognized as “the” value for money wines and were a major factor in redefining quality in the less than $10 section. To say that they alone dragged down prices is to over simplify, since the stronger loonie and the recession also helped, and credit should also be given to the LCBO buying team. But we have today better wines for the same money as 5 years ago and Argentina malbec has been a big part in that.

Today it’s time to move above $10 and to look beyond malbec since Argentina delivers quality wines at all price points. Anyone looking for value and quality should be spending time in this section of the LCBO or scanning the Argentina section of any wine list. In addition to the four reds above there are another six wines from Argentina in the Top50; so Argentina takes 20% of the list. And there are hundreds more on the WineAlign site.

The other reason for my trip to Argentina was to make final plans for my WineforLife tour to Chile and Argentina in March 2013.

I constantly taste the wines at the LCBO to keep the Top 50 list up to date. You can easily find my all Top 50 Value Wines from the WineAlign main menu. Click on Wine => Top 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. I use a mathematical model to make the Top 50 selections from the wines in our database.

Every wine is linked to WineAlign where you can read more, discover pricing discounts, check out inventory and compile lists for shopping at your favourite store. Never again should you be faced with a store full of wine with little idea of what to pick for best value.

The Top 50 changes all the time, so remember to check before shopping. I will be back next month with more news on value arrivals to Essentials and the LCBO.


Steve Thurlow

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008