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Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks: Lovely bubbles

This month, Vintages has released some lovely bubbles, an ideal way to toast TIFF. Find these picks via

Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve Champagne
$54.95 (93 Points)
Fleshy, complex and deep, this house style is achieved by the use of 40% older reserve wines in the blend of one third each of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. Masculine and structured, it has toasted brioche and apricot flavours and a creamy texture. A citrus backbone keeps it vibrant. A bubbly for gourmands.

Piper Heidsieck Brut Champagne 2004
$75.95 (95 Points)
Classic, feminine, poised and fresh, achieved by a careful selection of pinot noir (50% of this vintage’s blend; the rest is chardonnay) and a smaller percentage of youngish reserve wines. Elegant, harmonious and dynamic, its bouquet is blossoms and minerals. The fine- textured palate is lively with crunchy Asian pear and citrus confit flavours. A dazzler.

Domaine de Vaugondy Brut Vouvray
$16.95 (89 Points)
If Champagne is too pricey, this 100% chenin blanc grape bubbly from France’s Loire Valley is a great alternative. Made in the traditional method of second fermentation in the bottle, it’s pale straw in colour with good varietal flavours of quince, pear and citrus. Assertive with fine bubbles and floral and mineral notes, it has personality to spare.

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Wine education for us all – decanting wine ~ Saturday, September 1st, 2012

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

There are many thoughts on decanting—the act of pouring wine out of the bottle and into another glass vessel. While many traditionalists hold to the idea that all red wines and even certain whites should always be decanted, others believe decanting to be an unnecessary procedure, one that should only be carried out under the strictest of circumstances.

At any rate, there are really only three reasons to decant. The first is to rid the wine of sediment, the undesirable solid components that have built up over time (most apparent in older wines). The second is to raise the temperature of the wine—important when the bottle has been taken out of a cool damp cellar. The third reason is to aerate the wine in order to enhance its aromas. For the vast majority of wine lovers, this is the most common impetus for decanting, as most us do not regularly serve twenty-year-old bottles.

But what are the steps for undertaking a proper decanting, particularly for aeration? First and foremost, check to see of your decanter is clean, that you do not smell anything coming from the inside the bowl. Once this is established, make sure you have all your other tools at the ready, namely your corkscrew and a clean cloth. A few wine glasses are also advisable.


Using the miniature knife on your corkscrew, cut the foil on the top of the bottle. Once you have carefully uncorked the wine, pour half an ounce into one of your wine glasses to taste the wine for yourself; we do this to make sure the wine is clean and devoid of faults. If you are satisfied the wine is clean, you are almost ready to decant. But before you empty the entire contents of the bottle into the decanter, pour in only an ounce and then swish the decanter around in a circular motion. This will ‘season’ the decanter and make the introduction of the rest of the wine less of a shock. Once this step is completed, pour this ounce out into your wine glass, or drink it if you feel so inclined. While it will not taste as good as what is to follow, there is no sense in wasting it.

Decanting Wine

Finally, you are ready to decant your wine. Holding the bottle comfortably in your hand, gently pour the remaining contents into the decanter. Most sommeliers tend to hold the decanter in their hands while carrying this out, while others prefer keep the decanter on the table. Both ways are perfectly acceptable.

As you are pouring, decant the wine more vigorously if you believe it will benefit from a more aggressive aeration. Be sure to continually use your clean cloth to wipe off the lip of the bottle after every pour, otherwise small amounts of liquid will dribble to the bottom of the bottle and onto your hands, and eventually the table.

Lastly, distribute the contents of the decanter liberally into your glass and those of your companions. In the end, the fruits of one’s labours are most enjoyed when partaken by all.

Click here for a few gems from the 1 September 2012 Vintages Release 

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Lawrason’s Take On Vintages Sept 1st Release

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Russian River Gold, NZ Beyond Sauvignon, Great Bargain Whites and Petit Verdot

The last Vintages release of the summer or the first of fall (you decide) is a large and rambling affair, as usual. As I tasted through the Vintages lab lineup there seemed to be so many wines scoring in the predictable 84 to 88 range, many lumped into Vintages Outdoor Entertaining feature. But then along would come a nugget of value, or a surprising high end wine. And speaking of high end I hope you don’t mind if I pass on featuring the triple-digit TIFF Champagnes. They are the wines you want to be seen enjoying, not really wines you want to have to pay for yourself. Actually, colleague John Szabo has nicely isolated the pair under $100 that do offer plenty of character and might be a better fit financially.

Rush to Russian River

The most exciting mini-theme in this release is the snapshot of California’s Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. All of California’s wine regions are achingly beautiful, and worth a visit, but for me, when I add in the wine excitement factor, the Russian River comes out on top. And yes, that means I would rather visit and taste in the Russian River than Napa, Paso Robles or Santa Barbara. The fact that this Pacific cooled, forest clad and vineyard carpeted region is all about pinot noir and chardonnay is a big reason that I am so attracted. Visit the website ( for the Russian River Winegrowers Association (featuring 85 wineries), and you can read all about the climate, topography and history that makes the region special. But to really understand the attraction, treat yourself to some of the top notch wines Vintages has assembled for this release. I only wish there were more.

De Loach Green Valley Pinot NoirPaul Hobbs ChardonnayPaul Hobbs 2009 Chardonnay ($44.95) is a beautiful piece of work by a now famous global wine consultant who learned all he knows in the Russian River (even though he grew up in Niagara County NY and planted family vineyards during the summer as a teen). He describes his modus operandi as “meticulous vineyard management followed by minimally-invasive winemaking”. There is nothing new in this philosophy – nor in using techniques like natural yeast fermentation and no fining or filtering. But having the ability, patience and vision to do everything required is perhaps what sets him apart. This is a lovely chardonnay.

I was also delighted by the very fine De Loach Green Valley Pinot Noir 2011 ($44.95). This is one of the pioneering Russian River wineries, planted in 1973 at the beginning of California wines rennaissance. When it was purchased 30 years later by Boisset, the largest wine company of Burgundy, there was concern about the direction it would take. But the doubters under-estimated Jean-Charles Boisset’s commitment to quality among top wines. Merry Edwards Pinot Noir(He was the French impetus behind Niagara’s Le Clos Jordanne in Niagara). He converted the property to bio-dynamic viticulture, installed open top fermenters, and in this bottling has created a most elegant, very Burgundian pinot. The Russian River pinot style, by the way is quite rich and floral with raspberry-cherry fruit; this one is just a touch leaner.

On the other hand, Merry Edwards 2009 Pinot Noir ($64.95) is full-on Russian River pinot – a drop dead gorgeous wine from one of the leading properties. Merry Edwards has been a marquée California winemaker from the days she founded Matanzas Creek in the 80s, to the opening of her own pinot-focused winery in the Russian River in 2008. There are five single vineyard bottlings, with this Russian River label being an assemblage of left overs. I don’t often quote winemaker/marketers descriptions of their own wines but the following nicely captures what I experienced when tasting this wine. “The largesse of the fruit spills over into the palate resulting in a deeply succulent mouth-feel. There is a sophisticated balance here, found in the seamless evolution of this wine from start to finish”

New Zealand Beyond Sauvignon

Momo Pinot GrisThere are some snapping good New Zealand sauvignon blancs on the Sept 1st release, but there are also three very good non-sauvignons. Have you noticed, by the way, the growing presence of New Zealand wines in Vintages and on the LCBO general list? The tiny green land is starting to feel like a major force in the marketplace, thanks I suspect, to the generally very clean, generous and precise varietal character of its wines. There are few negative surprises.

Momo 2011 Pinot Gris ($19.95) is a great example of the purity, generosity and drinkability of NZ whites in particular. Momo is an off-shoot brand of Seresin, using grapes from bio-dynamically farmed sites. The grapes were fermented with natural yeasts and 70% was put in barrel for five months to build palate weight. Works very well too, as I describe this has having almost Alsatian pinot gris feel and richness, without oak even crossing my mind. It is delicious.

Trinity Hill SyrahMohua Pinot NoirTrinity Hill 2010 Syrah from Hawkes Bay on the North Island is stupendous value at $20.95. This much awarded property, founded by veteran winemaker John Hancock (ex Morton Estate) and British partners in the 90s, focused on the Gimblett Gravels sub-region of Hawkes Bay. Given the huge portfolio they should be more prevalent in Ontario, but perhaps that time is coming. Anyway, if their $20 syrah made from several Hawkes Bay sites can offer such terrific syrah purity and richness, I can’t wait to try their iconic Hommage Syrah that sells for $120 in New Zealand.

Mohua 2009 Pinot Noir from Central Otago ($25) is from a line of less expensive wines by Peregrine Winery, one of the icon labels of this now fashionable and exciting pinot noir region, located in the mountainous interior of the South Island at 45 degrees of latitude. (Prince Edward County by the way is at 44ish). This wine doesn’t have the depth or seamless finesse to score 90, but it handily expresses all the complexity and energy I have come to love about Otago. It’s a great pinot for autumn drinking at a fair price.

Petit Verdot Struggles for Respect

Southbrook Winery in Niagara has a petit verdot very cleverly and aptly called “So Who are you Calling Petit?” It perfectly captures the false bravado of wines made from this difficult red grape. When it does fully ripen its wines can be riveting, statuesque and powerful; but it hardly ever achieves this because it ripens later than most others. Thus its name, which loosely translates as “small green one”. The result is wines with impressive colour, great aromatics (including signature graphite and some meatiness) and very good density. But they also can have searing acidity and astringency. It is a real problem in cooler Bordeaux where it is one of the five blending varieties. But in warmer climes, where ripening should be easier, there is growing interest in PV, and I have noticed growing presence at Vintages, including three on this release.

Casa De La Ermita Idílico Crianza SelecciónThorn Clarke Shotfire Petit VerdotRuca Malen Reserva Petit VerdotMendoza, Argentina is one region that has great potential. Ruca Malen, a modern enterprise founded by French partners in the Uco Valley is one winery taking a serious shot. The 2010 Ruca Malen Reserva Petit Verdot ($17.95) is a huge wine, thick and drenched with flavour, yet still unmistakeably sinewy on the finish. Stick some in the cellar.

Tepid Australia should also be ideal for PV, and wineries like Pirramimma have made it a real success (with their PV joining the general list this autumn). Thorn-Clarke 2010 Shotfire Petit Verdot ($25) from an eight hectare block in the Eden Valley sub-region of Barossa, once again starts full of promise but loses its way with a leaner, angular palate.

So maybe the answer, as always has been done by most Petit Verdot practitioners, is to blend. One of the most successful examples has turned up from a surprising source. Casa de la Ermita 2006 Idílico Crianza Selección ($19.95) is from the hot Jumilla region of eastern Spain. There is some confusion on the company website about the use of petit verdot in this blend with mourvedre, but it certainly appears to contain petit verdot, and tastes as if does, with classic PV graphite. But finally, here, there is fine sense of poise and balance.

Bargain White Trio

As summer draws to close I can’t resist one last shot at highlighting some terrific white wine bargains.

Schloss Reinhartshausen Erbacher Schlossberg RieslingChâteau Ka Source BlancheSchloss Reinhartshausen Erbacher Schlossberg Riesling Spätlese 2005 is a remarkable value at $19.95. Schloss Reinhartshausen (est 1337) is the largest privately owned estate in the Rheingau with 15 vineyards totalling 80 ha. Which explains why it has had the inventory to continually send older vintages our way. This brilliant, classic is a late-picked (spatlese) riesling from a single 15 ha “monople” vineyard wholly owned by the Schloss. If Niagara was turning out riesling like this for under $20 we would all be howling with amazement.

Pedro Escudero Fuente Elvira VerdejoChâteau Ka Source Blanche 2010 from the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon is the surprise white of the release – partially because of its origin in tumultuous Lebanon; but also because of its composition and success at only $15.95. Lebanese native Akram Kassatly opened the winery in 2005, but only after a long career in wine making and selling that saw him working in Burgundy as well as Lebanon. It is actually a perfect late summer wine with flowery but subtle muscat, viognier and sauvignon blanc elements calming together very nicely.

Pedro Escudero Fuente Elvira Verdejo 2010 from Spain’s Rueda region is a wonderful expression of the verdejo grape at only $14.95. Its soaring, exotic, semi-tropical aroma transported me back a year to my visit to this region northwest of Madrid, and how I was impressed by the growing importance of the regions wines. The Pedro Escudero clan has owned over 30ha of old vine verdejo for several generations, which explains the concentration and complexity in this wine.

WineAlign Welcomes Grant Burge

As far as I am concerned Labour Day is the New Year’s Eve of the wine world. The harvest is days away (depending on where you live) and the marketplace begins its slow build toward the Holiday crescendo. It promises to be a very busy autumn for WineAlign, starting September 13 with a special tasting event with Australia’s Grant Burge at the terrific new Arcadian Lofts.

Grant Burge LogoI had the pleasure of sitting down with Grant at a similar trade tasting about a year ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him. As a pioneer of Barossa and still one of its most successful family wineries, he has much to say about Australian wine past and present, and makes no bones about speaking his mind. And you will come away feeling immersed. The tasting will be co-hosted by WineAlign’s Sara d’Amato, who promises to be the perfect foil for the garrulous Mr. Burge as he leads you through eight wines. For a sneak peek, whether you can make it to the event or not, don’t miss Grant Burge Miamba Shiraz 2010 arriving any day on the LCBO general list.

That’s it for this edition. I’ll be back next week with a special update on happenings in B.C. following two weeks of travel in August centred on the Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards. My thanks to Sara for stepping in to cover the Aug 18 release.

From the Sept 1st, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews


David Lawrason
VP of Wine


Wolf Blass Red Label Shiraz Grenache

The Wine Establishment - Stealth Cork Screw

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Exclusive Penfolds Single Bottle Dinner with winemaker Peter Gago – Sept 17th, Toronto

Penfolds Logo

WineAlign is pleased to present a unique Penfolds Single Bottle Dinner, hosted by chief winemaker Peter Gago.


Peter Gago

During the course of this intimate evening, you will have the opportunity to share in a varied collection of Penfolds wines, brought to the dinner by each guest. To participate, please bring along a back vintage or current release from Penfolds Annual Luxury Release.  Your wine, together with the wine that your fellow collectors bring, will be served during the course of the evening with a specially prepared meal by Chef Jean Paul Lourdes.

We encourage you to share the history behind your bottle of Penfolds wine, for as everyone knows – behind every great bottle of wine is a great story.

WineAlign’s David Lawrason will be the MC for the evening.


Monday September 17, 2012  |  7:00pm Dinner
House of Moments, 104C – 388 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, M4M 2T4


This event is complimentary for collectors of Penfolds luxury wine.  Please select the number of tickets (guests) here and you will be asked to supply information about the bottle of wine you will be bringing.  One of the following bottles provides admission for two guests: Grange, BIN 707, RWT, Block 42, BIN 60A, BIN 169, Cellar Reserve Cabernet Shiraz. If you are interested to attend this event and have already enjoyed your Penfolds collection, bottles of Penfolds 2005 and 2006 Grange are currently available at select LCBO stores.

Click here to register for this unique event.


Penfolds Luxury Group

Penfolds Luxury Group

IMPORTANT:  Our last few winemaker events have sold out quickly.  If you are interested in attending then we advise you to purchase your tickets as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

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An Exclusive Event with Grant Burge – Sept 13th, Toronto

WineAlign is pleased to kick off our fall events program with an exclusive tutored tasting with the legendary Grant Burge.

Grant Burge is a fifth-generation Barossa Vigneron. Throughout his career, Grant has been one of the most respected and innovative forces in the Australian wine industry. The history of the Burge family and their long association with winemaking in the region can be traced back to March 1855, today Grant and his family now carries the winemaking traditions into the 21st century.

Grant Burge

Grant Burge

Grant Burge Wines was formed in 1988 by Grant and his wife Helen, and is located in the heart of the Barossa Valley on the banks of Jacobs Creek and is still proudly family owned. Continuing the family tradition, Grant and Helen have now brought the sixth generation into the fold. All three children share Grant and Helen’s vision to continue this long family tradition of bringing exceptional wines to the world.

“I am a romantic, and I have a real sense of my family history, of my father and grandfather, and what they achieved.” Grant Burge

WineAlign’s Sara d’Amato will MC the evening:  “Grant Burge draws on a wealth of extensive family experience and passion to produce wines from some of the most revered vineyard sites in the Barossa.”

Purchase tickets here

Date & Time:
Sept. 13th, 6-9pm
6-6:45pm: Reception w/Canapes
6:45-8pm: Seated Tutored Tasting
8-9pm:  Enjoy wines with Hors D’Oeuvres

Arcadian Lofts
401 Bay Street, Simpson Tower, 8th Floor, Toronto

$65 + Fees + HST

Moscato Frizzante (reception)
5th Generation Shiraz
5th Generation Cabernet Merlot
Miamba Shiraz (Vineyard Range)
Summers Chardonnay (Vineyard Range)
The Holy Trinity Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre (Wines of Distinction)
Filsell Shiraz (Wines of Distinction)
Corryton Park Cabernet Sauvignon (Wines of Distinction)

Purchase tickets here

Rated 5 RED STAR Winery 5 Years in a row.   James Halliday, 2013 Australian Wine Companion

Click on the wine bottles for a brief video featuring Grant:

Summers Chardonnay Click for Video Miamba Shiraz Click For Video

IMPORTANT:  Our winemaker events have been consistently and quickly selling out.  If you are interested in attending then we advise you to purchase your tickets as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

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Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks: Delicious bottles from Down Under

These reds from Down Under released in Vintages on Aug. 18 are smooth and ready to drink. Find them via

Tar & Roses Shiraz 2010
$21.95 (89 Points)
From grapes grown on the deep red Cambrian soils of the cooler Heathcote area in Victoria, this Oz red is medium full and smooth with ripe blackberry and spice flavours. Rounded on the palate with hints of chocolate, it has a long, savoury finish. Have with grilled red meats.

No. 8 Wines Marnie’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
$24.95 (88 Points)
Canadians Marnie Griffith and Peter Whitney purchased this vineyard in Hawke’s Bay in 2009. Marnie died while pursuing their dreams in New Zealand and this wine is a homage to her. It’s gentle, elegant and smooth. Medium bodied, it has cassis and red berry flavours along with earthy notes of sweet tobacco, minerals and herbs. A nice match for grilled duck breast.

Oyster Bay Pinot Noir 2011
$19.95 (88 Points)
From Marlborough on New Zealand’s South Island, this pinot noir is pale ruby in colour with an attractive, earthy, ripe cherry nose (hints of cigar box, too). Matured in a mix of new and older French barrels, the oak is well integrated and subtle. Tangy ripe cherry flavours and silky tannins make it a smooth, flavourful tipple ready for plank barbecued salmon.

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for September 1st 2012

A-List Champagne for the TIFF; Resto Wine Lists: Creative Expression or Esoteric Alienation? Top Ten Smart Buys.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Since you’re probably not even reading this, unless there’s WiFi on the dock or at your campsite, I’ll be brief. In fact, I’m camping, and would rather hear from you instead of writing a lot. If late summer leisure allows extra-curricular thoughts to displace your common concerns, I’d like to know what you think about restaurant wine lists.

There’s a sea of change underway across the city and across North America, and wine lists have never been so diverse and unique. But maybe in some cases they’ve become too esoteric? Do you want comfortable old friends or an introduction to someone new when you dine out? Let me set it up for you to comment below.

I’ve also got a couple of A-list champagnes at B-movie prices (relatively), and the Top Ten End of Summer Smart Buys from the September 1st VINTAGES release. Happy camping.

Smart Buys

Marimar Estate La Masía Don Miguel Vineyard ChardonnayAntica ChardonnaySéguinot Bordet Vaillons ChablisSince we’ve already established that it’s cool again to like chardonnay: here’s a trio of fine examples:

2010 Séguinot-Bordet Vaillons Chablis 1er Cru ($29.95)
2010 Antica Chardonnay Napa Valley ($35.95)
2008 Marimar Estate la Masía don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma County ($25.95)

All three are regional classics, with an extra degree of class and balance at fair prices. But if provenance and recognizability are trumped by extreme value for you, than check out the following:

2010 Château Ka Source Blanche Bekaa Valley, Lebanon ($15.95)
2010 Jean Perrier & Fils Abymes Cuvée Prestige, Savoie, France ($12.95)
2010 Tbilvino Tsinandali Dry White Kakheti, Georgia ($12.95)

Château Ka Source BlancheJean Perrier & Fils Abymes Cuvée PrestigeTbilvino Tsinandali Dry White

These won’t set the world on fire (when’s the last time the world was ablaze from a $13 wine?), but are well worth a look for everyday-delicious wines from not-so-everyday places and grapes.

Also in the top ten you’ll find a solid, neither overly traditional nor modern Rioja (this one’s juuust right), a meaty, savory southern French red, an exceptionally classy pinot blanc for less than $14, and a fine local Riesling made by (labeled under the name of) a Canadian sports hero.

Check them out here.

And How Would You Like That Wine List, Sir?

From the days of house red and white, to comfortable lists with recognizable regions, grapes and brand names, to lists filled with esoteric, limited production wines from obscure places or virtually extinct varieties known only to a small handful of sommeliers, the restaurant wine list has undergone almost as dramatic a revolution as menus have since the bad old seventies. Many voices, pro and con, have weighed in on the subject, particularly in the United States where the likes of Jon Bonné in a recent article for the San Francisco Chronicle and Eric Asimov for the New York Times have examined the development of wine lists in recent years (a change that has been mirrored here in Canada, albeit to a lesser extent thanks to our archaic, diversity-hindering monopolistic system of alcohol distribution), and raised some interesting questions about the direction many wine directors are taking.

In the most recent rounds of thoughtful criticism, both Bonné and Asimov take New York Post writer Steve Cuozzo to task for his controversial rant entitled Sour Grapes, railing against unfamiliar wine lists. Cuozzo begins his discourse: “Wine is one of dining’s, and life’s, great pleasures. Yet it can seem anything but when an esoteric or pretentious list leaves you stumped over what to order. You’re at the mercy of a sommelier determined to teach you a thing or two, when all you want is a nice, affordable Bordeaux to go with chicken and summer greens.”

He continues: “Ordering wine can be a nuisance even in the easiest case. You’re making a pricey decision that will affect everyone’s meal. You poke through the list under guns of time and noise in an under-lit room while thirsty friends beg you to get on with it. Seasoned diners can cope. What’s tougher is when a restaurant sets out to prove a point with its “wine program,” a strategy that results in a list that’s 100-percent inscrutable.”

Cuozzo’s argument amounts essentially to the belief that diversity beyond a handful of well-recognized grapes and brand names, is a hindrance for diners. So the real question is, should all restaurants offer something for everyone, or, are some restaurants smart to stay true to a unique vision, even if the inscrutable vision will likely alienate some guests?

Asimov counters Cuozzo’s argument with: “Restaurants are not intent on annoying people. Even the proudest, most rigid chef wants you to share a vision, not walk away unhappy. I treasure restaurants that do not pander as long as they succeed on their own terms. The same questions apply to wine. Must a restaurant offer bottles that even the most timid diner will recognize? Or can a wine list reflect a restaurant’s best conception of itself, no matter how unconventional? The world is dominated by the ordinary and the mass-market. Most restaurants, even in New York City, conform to a mainstream vision of food and wine. For that reason alone we should celebrate the departures, not feel threatened by them. If a restaurant is so unorthodox that you feel discomfited, plenty of more conventional choices beckon.”

The Wine List PleaseIt’s interesting to note that discussions of mainstream versus innovation and diversity used to be centered on food menus. Most reasonable people seemed ready to accept a chef’s right to remain uncompromisingly true to his or her culinary vision. The ultra successful Terroni Group of Restaurants (including five in Toronto and one, soon to be two, in Los Angeles) is a case in point. Owner Cosimo Mammoliti is infamous for his no modifications, no substitution policy. They wont even cut your pizza for you at Terroni. Why? “We simply want our customers to have the experience of eating those dishes in the same way that they’ve been enjoyed for generations” is the answer. The implication is that if you don’t want to eat what Italians have been eating for generations, there are plenty of other restaurants you can go to. (Incidentally, the wine list is also filled with inscrutable wines you won’t find anywhere else, since Terroni imports dozens of Italian wines exclusively, which doesn’t seem to deter diners from drinking.) Terroni’s success vindicates their no mods policy.

So why should wine directors and sommeliers be accorded any less latitude to express a vision than a chef/owner? If it doesn’t work, they won’t be in business for long in any case.

The Canadian dining landscape is ever more interesting. Young chefs who have trained under our most celebrated culinary artists are opening restaurants at an alarming (comforting) rate, adding culinary multiplicity to the dining scene of myriad neighborhoods. It’s virtually a pre-requisite for survival in the hyper-competitive market. And so many young, and seasoned, sommeliers are seeking to reflect that diversity and distinctiveness with the beverage program.

So, the question is, are you as afraid of unknown wines as you are of unknown ingredients? Or is dining out an adventure in discovery? Let me know what you think.

Leave a comment

[Ed. note: At the bottom of all WineAlign articles you will see this comment box. Go ahead; engage John! Leave your thoughts on his blog below. All you need is a free Disqus account and you can chat with us anytime!]

Oxymoron: Value Champagne for TIFF

Cristal Brut ChampagneCharles Heidsieck Brut Réserve ChampagneVINTAGES is splashing out (or re-splashing) on champagne for the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival, which runs from September 6th – 16th. After all, champagne is a virtual sine qua non for the A-list beat. You, too, may have champagne wishes and caviar dreams, but reluctantly live in reality. And for you, I have two “value” options from the release. In lieu of the predictable names on offer, namely Dom Pérignon 2003 (which was not available to taste), and the really very fine 2005 Cristal Brut Champagne (any wine at nearly $300 could scarcely be considered a value), head instead to the Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve Champagne for $54.95. This has long been one of my favorite non-vintage champagnes with vintage-like quality, and might rightly fall in the value realm. The secret is a significant proportion of reserve (old) wines, which gives the Charles its distinctly toasty, fully mature profile. Add to that a rich, creamy, dry but generous, mouth filling impression packed with peach cobbler and toasted oat flavour, and you’ve got a serious bubbly that could easily pass for one of the pricier labels.

Piper Heidsieck Brut ChampagneVery nearly as good but stylistically contrarian is the 2004 Piper Heidsieck Brut Champagne ($75.95). The same company owns both Heidsiecks, and there’s a purposeful division of style between labels: Piper is the lighter, fresher, more citrusy bubbly, and the 2004 vintage is true to form. I particularly liked the rare combination of power and elegance. And again, considering the price of most vintage champagne, this could almost be considered in the value category. For A-listers, this would be embarrassingly cheap.

From the September 1st, 2012 Vintages release:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Champagne Picks


John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS


Wolf Blass Premium Selection Shiraz

The Wine Establishment - Le Nez deu Vin

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John Szabo’s Canadian Wine Awards 2012 Dozen Smart Buys from Ontario

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The 12th annual Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards wrapped up last week in Pentiction, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. A record number of entries – 1266 – were submitted this year. According to several of the 17 judges from 7 provinces across the country, this was the strongest showing for Canadian wines overall in the competition’s 12 year history. The most exciting categories, such as chardonnay, riesling, pinot, cabernet franc and syrah, among others, further solidified the varieties and wine styles that perform best in the country. Full, official results will be published in the Dec/Jan. issue of Wine Access, but here are a dozen of my top picks from Ontario, wines that are worth seeking out before results are published and the wines snapped up by collectors.

(Note that all wines were tasted blind in their category – identities were revealed after the competition when each judges’ score sheets were returned – these picks reflect only my top scoring wines and may not necessarily be the competition winners.)

Check with wineries for availability and pricing. In no particular order:

2011 Riverview Cellars Gewürztraminer, Niagara River, Niagara Peninsula
2010 Hidden Bench Roman’s Block Riesling Rosomel Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula
2010 Tawse Sketches Riesling, Niagara Peninsula
2011 Angel’s gate Pinot Gris Beamsville bench, Niagara Peninsula
2011 Vineland Estates Unoaked Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula
2010 Huff Estates South Bay Vineyard Chardonnay, Prince Edward County

2010 Peller Estates Niagara Private Reserve Merlot, Niagara Peninsula
2010 Southbrook Poetica Red, Niagara Peninsula
2009 Henry Of Pelham Pinot Noir Estate, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula
2010 Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula
2010 Rosewood Winery and Meadery Cabernet Franc, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula

2010 Colaneri “Profondo Fumoso Bianco” Sauvignon Blanc Recioto Style, St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula

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Vinho Verde: Perfect For Summer Sipping

Rod Phillips

Rod Phillips

Most of us know vinho verde as a fairly simple white wine — crisp and fruity, usually with a little spritziness – that’s often perfect for sipping on its own or with light, summer food. Apart from its other virtues, it tends to be low in alcohol, and that’s a big plus in the summer heat.

Vinho verde (pronounced VEE-nyo VERD)  means ‘green wine’, and there are several theories as to why it has the name. One is that the white wine has a greenish tint, another is that the wine is meant to be drunk young, or green. A third, suggested when I was in Vinho Verde country recently, is that the ‘green’ refers to the lush, verdant landscape of the region, which stretches north from Porto to the border with Spain.

Take your pick. Frankly, none of these explanations seems particularly convincing to me, but if I had to choose, I’d go with the second.

Vinho Verde Region

Vinho Verde Region

Vinho Verde is not only a style of wine, but a designated appellation – the largest in Portugal. To be labelled ‘Vinho Verde’, a wine has to be made from grapes grown in the region, and from about three dozen varieties. One of the most common white varieties is alvarinho – the same grape as albariño, the variety generally associated with Rias Baixas, the Spanish region just across the border from Vinho Verde. Other prominent white varieties are trajadura, loureiro, avesso and arinta.

Although 85 per cent of vinho verde is white, reds are also produced, many from the vinhão variety. They tend to have fairly high acidity and dense, pungent flavours. (Some are a bit reminiscent of baco noir.) A very small volume of vinho verde rosé is produced,.

Most of the vinho verde wines on the market have quite low alcohol levels of around 11 or 12 per cent – something that could a real selling-point these days, when there is some concern about rising alcohol levels in wine – and the alcohol level of vinho verde is strictly regulated. Generic vinho verde must have a minimum of 8 per cent alcohol but must not exceed 11.5 per cent. If it’s labelled as one of the nine designated sub-regions of Vinho Verde, the minimum is 9 and the maximum 14 per cent. Finally, vinho verde made from alvarinho must have at least 11.5 and at most 14 per cent alcohol.

Most of us wouldn’t think of 14 per cent as low in alcohol, and it suggests that there’s more to vinho verde than the easy-going whites we’re used to. Not only are there variations according to variety and sub-region, but winemaking practises like barrel-aging and letting wines rest on lees contribute different textures to wines. You can hardly fault producers for wanting to improve quality and create distinctive wines, but it could be counterproductive if they lost sight of the fact that vinho verde’s success rests on its being straightforward and uncomplicated.

One constant is that vinho verde wines – which we would think of as perfect candidates for screwcaps – are sealed with natural cork when they’re destined for the local market. That’s hardly surprising, when you think of the importance of cork to Portugal’s economy. But producers are ready to use screwcaps for exported vinho verde.

Although vinho verde is very popular in Portugal, where 70 per cent of it is consumed, it’s making solid gains elsewhere. Fifteen per cent of production was exported in 2000, and that has doubled in a decade. Canada is vinho verde’s fourth most important market, and we should expect to see more and more wineries represented here. Right now, you’ll find producers such as Aveleda, Lixa, Gomariz, Muros Antigos, Aliança, and Morgadio da Torre.

Click here to find Vinho Verde available at the LCBO.

Vinho Verde

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Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks: Southern Rhone reds

Vintages released a selection of southern Rhone reds today tailor-made for barbecued meats. Find these picks via

Domaine de Pierre Pape Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010
$37.95 (91 Points)
This is a full-bodied Rhône from Vignobles Maynard, a fifth-generation family-run estate. Vines are an average of 45 years old with grenache the dominant grape; the rest are syrah and cinsault. Deep with ripe berry and prune flavours, and notes of pinecone and garrigue, it’s a good match for grilled lamb or steak.

Domaine Grandy Vacqueyras 2010
$18.95 (89 Points)
A blend of 60% grenache with the rest syrah and mourvèdre, this vintage scored a gold medal at the Concours des Vins à Orange 2011. Tannins are velvety and the bouquet is of ripe berry with notes of wild herbs and chocolate. Mouth-filling with ripe strawberry/cherry flavours and hints of meaty bacon while a lively acidity keeps all in balance. Have with grilled duck breast.

Domaine Le Clos des Cazaux La Tour Sarrasine Gigondas 2010
$26.95 (91 Points)
This blend of largely grenache with syrah and mourvèdre grapes is sustainably grown on a family estate at the foot of the mountain range les Dentelles de Montmirail at Gigondas. It’s medium-full bodied, complex and spiced, yet remarkably balanced with silky tannins. Pair with game meats such as venison and wild boar.

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008