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The Answer is Wine. What was the Question? June 2016

by Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

Welcome to the second installment of “The Answer is Wine. What was the Question?” With the popularity of wine and easy access to information and education on all things wine, there still seem to be queries and questions that many wine drinkers have but are afraid to ask. This is your chance to ask about all things vinous that weigh heavy on your mind and see if the answer shows up in this column.  And remember, there are no stupid questions.

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions and please keep them coming. Email your queries to or tweet them with the hashtag #AskDrJDo.

Q: PH Asks: What are the 3 most planted red and white wine varieties in Mexico?

A: Ah Mexico – one of my favourite travel destinations though not really well known for wine. That being said, Mexico is actually the oldest wine producing country in the Americas with production dating back to the arrival of Spanish colonialists in the 1500s who were used to drinking wine and having it part of Catholic religious ceremonies. To encourage wine growing and making, Governor Cortés declared that all new settlers plant 1,000 vines for every 100 Mexicans on the land that had been granted to them. King Carlos V of Spain also decreed that all ships headed to the Americas include grape vines on their Atlantic passage.

In fact, the first commercial production of wine in the Americas was made in Mexico in 1597 at the Mission of Santa Maria de la Parras, which is now the Casa Madero winery. Commercial wine production became so successful and prolific that by the end of the 1600s, the rulers in Spain limited production to sacramental wine in order to protect the Spanish wine industry.

Fast forward to phylloxera in the late 1800s which had a devastating effect on the Mexico wine industry with vineyard land amounting to no more than several hundred hectares at the beginning of the twentieth century. Fifty years later there were just over a dozen wine producers.

The modern Mexican wine industry is relatively recent and has gone through periods of expansion with a huge surge of plantings taking place in the 1960s to meet the demand for domestic brandy production, and thanks to foreign investment from multinational producers such as Martell and Allied Domecq, to retraction, due most recently to the free trade agreement with the EU in 1989 and the onslaught of low priced wines from Europe.

Wine is produced in seven states in Mexico, with the long skinny peninsula of Baja, California in the northwest being the most important in terms of size and quality wine production. A number of grape varieties are grown both within Baja California and other regions with the main red grapes being Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot along with Mediterranean varieties well suited to the hot dry growing conditions such as Grenache, Syrah, Barbera, Tempranillo, Zinfandel and perhaps best known to the Canadian wine market, Petit Sirah. Main white grape varieties include Colombard, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.

One Mexican winery who has made its way to the LCBO and SAQ on occasion, is L.A. Cetto. Click on the images below to see if one is available at a store near you.

L.A. Cetto Private Reserve Nebbiolo 2010 L.A. Cetto Don Luis Selecion Reserveda Terra 2010 L.A. Cetto Petite Sirah 2013 L.A. Cetto Private Reserve Chardonnay 2014


Q: LP Asks:  We have recently retired and would like to take some wine trips further afield which combine wine, art and culture. We are long time wine lovers and are particularly interested in going to wine regions that have interesting and major cities nearby, as well as to regions with wine museums or exhibits. Do you have any suggestions?

A: If you fancy a visit to the Bilbao with a jaunt to Rioja, or a hike up Table Mountain in Cape Town and vineyard excursion to Walker Bay, then the Great Wine Capitals Global Network is a good place to start planning your next getaway. Although wine route travel planners and regional websites abound, the Great Wine Capitals is a network of nine major global cities located in the northern and southern hemispheres and nearby both “Old” and “New” World wine regions, all of which are situated nearby internationally known wine regions. The cities and wine regions include: Adelaide and South Australia, Bilbao and Rioja in Spain, Bordeaux – the city and its neighbouring wine regions, Cape Town and the Cape Winelands, Mainz and the Rheinhessen in Germany, the city and wine region of Mendoza in Argentina, the city and wine region of Porto in Portugal, San Francisco and the Napa Valley and Valparaìso Chile and the neighbouring Casablanca Valley wine region.

Speaking of great wine capitals, the Cité du Vin has recently opened in Bordeaux. If preliminary reviews are anything to go by, the museum, both outside and inside, is a feast for the senses and a reason to visit or re-visit Bordeaux. In addition to the exhibits, the museum boasts a fabulous roof top wine bar with a panoramic view of Bordeaux and the river Gironde, a reading room, gift shop, restaurant and  tapas bar and of course a wine store that will stock bottles from ‘between 70 and 80 countries from the opening. There is also a 250 seat auditorium that will screen Euro 2016 football matches, accompanied by wine tastings of the competing countries.


Thanks to everyone who submitted questions and please keep them coming. Email your queries to Janet Dorozynski at or tweet them with the hashtag #AskDrJDo.


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BC Report – June 2016

BC Report – June 2016

Rhys Pender

Rhys Pender MW

As I write this month’s BC Report, a number of interesting things are happening in British Columbia. We are in the midst of, yet again, the hottest season on record with temperatures in early June already having reached 38°C or more on a few occasions in BC wine country. Wineries are also mulling over an important industry plebiscite with a deadline of June 30th titled “Recommended Changes to the British Columbia Wines of Marked Quality Regulation as Proposed by the BC Wine Appellation Task Group”. I wrote about the Task Group in November 2015. If you are a winery and are reading this and haven’t voted, make sure to do it before the deadline!

Wine industry plebiscite: what you need to know #bcwinevote

Another issue that continues to provide interest, intrigue and controversy is the changing of liquor laws and how wine is sold in BC, particularly with the transfer of many VQA store licenses to grocery stores and buying groups forming amongst the private retailers. This is a topic for later when a few of these issues have clarified and settled a little.

This month’s column though is about an exciting time for BC wine in the world. I am calling this the end of the big wine era.

The End of the Big Wine Era

Every now and then trends in the wine world align themselves perfectly for a region or a country. Wine is fluid, not just in the way it flows from glass to palate, but also in the way that it changes and evolves. Consumer tastes change, styles of wine evolve and, heck, even climate seems to be changing. The wine world has to evolve along with these changes but not every region can produce every style of wine. A hot climate will never produce fresh delicate wines just as surely as a cool climate will never fulfill lovers of big, jammy reds. Occasionally we see the happy coincidence when the style of wine that a region naturally produces matches the trends of what consumers are looking for. And I think British Columbian wine is at the beginning of that happy period.

If you aren’t sure that wine evolves as much as I’m claiming, think about the trends of the last 40-50 years. In the 1960s and 1970s, fortified wines were the rage. Sherry, Port, Madeira and copies of these from the New World were as much as three-quarters of all wine sales at the time. Witness the poor fate of Sherry that saw an initial unquenchable demand result in acreage soaring to 56,000 acres (22,600 hectares) in the late 1970s before a sudden plummet and the region having to evolve and retreat back to around 16,000 acres (6,500 hectares) today.

As people moved away from fortified wines to table wines we have seen many trends, most of which would benefit the rise of the New World wines that offered something richer, softer and fruitier than what most of Europe produced. After Sherry it was wines like the soft and fruity Liebfraumilch of Germany and Mateus Rosé of Portugal before trends such as ripe, rich Aussie shiraz, New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Argentinian malbec and, currently, sweet red Californian blends and bland pinot grigio. Who could have ever predicted the order and diversity of these trends?

The kind of massive global success of these examples won’t ever happen for BC wine, simply because there will never be enough wine to do it. But there is another opportunity in a growing part of the global market. People are trading up for better and more interesting wine and willing to pay more for it. There is more and more demand for interesting indigenous grape varieties and sommeliers in top restaurants in places like London, New York, San Francisco, Melbourne and Tokyo are also looking to pepper their lists with good quality, small production oddities. Quality Canadian wine produced on a small scale fits perfectly with this growing trend.

Where BC wine is really hitting its stride though is in the style of wine it naturally produces. In short, BC wine falls somewhere in style between the savoury, earthy old world and the ripe, plush new world. This is a very good place to be. Consumers want fruity wines but they want freshness with it. Too ripe and too big is, finally, too much and the search for elegance over size is finally creeping back into winemaking. The days of a constant search for ways to make wines bigger to be better are over.

The climate in British Columbia is perfect to provide this style that sits nicely amidst the better known wines of the world. Long sunlight hours and warm summers give lots of fruit yet cool nights preserve natural acidity. Grapes like syrah can hold on to their peppery characteristics and juiciness while still offering richness. Chardonnay can be both fruit driven yet elegant and fresh at the same time. There are many other examples. When international experts get a taste of BC wine they are often surprised and impressed with this balance.

The risk is that the industry doesn’t embrace this chance. Some producers are still trying to push a wine either towards the old world style or the riper new world style and not letting the wines be what they naturally want to be. BC winemakers need to stop trying to force the square peg into the round hole.

The other risk is to go down the path of manufacturing wines that speak to the masses but say nothing about the place in which they are grown. Following the trends of sweetening up red wine and practically everything else, I believe, will be a short-lived fad that will result in a few easy bottle sales through the tasting room door now, but a long hangover and a hit to the quality reputation that will be difficult to rebound from for a long time.

The facts with BC wine are simple: we can’t make “cheap” wine. Yields of 10-20 tons per acre are not possible and never will be in our climate, nor are the low labour cost and cheap material inputs needed to make wine to compete in the $10 to $15 price range. Where we can compete though is on value. If you have $20 or $30 burning a hole in your pocket, go to the wine store and in any given category I would argue that the BC wines will be equally as good or better than many of the international wines at the same price. Try comparing a $25 or $30 BC chardonnay or pinot noir to what you can get from Burgundy or California for the same price. Or a Bordeaux blend that you could put down in the cellar and be confident that it will still be delicious in 10 years time. In BC that will cost you $35-45 and probably double that for something from France or California. There will be some obvious exceptions, but very, very often BC wine will provide great value at its main price points in that $18-50 range.

BC wine has to look at this time as an opportunity. Sales are growing, supply isn’t. Consumers are trading up in quality and BC wine can offer delicious wines in a style that falls naturally between those of the old world and the new. Any future BC wine will have to be built on quality so it is time to figure out what that direction is and go for it. The end of the big wine era has come and BC is well positioned to make the most of it.

Rhys Pender MW


WineAlign in BC

In addition to Rhys Pender’s BC Report, we publish the popular 20 Under $20 shopping guide and the Critics’ Picks report which highlights a dozen of our favourites from the last month (at any price point). Treve Ring pens a wandering wine column in Treve’s Travels, capturing her thoughts and tastes from the road and, lastly, Anthony Gismondi closes out the month with his Final Blend column – an expert insight into wine culture and trends, honed by more than 25 years experience as an influential critic.


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Savour Australia’s History

Wine Australia – Where have all the critters gone?
by Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

It’s easy to forget Australia’s nearly two centuries of winemaking history given most wine writing barely spans two generations of work at a time, but many ‘new’ world producers are not all that new and in a fast changing, internet-fuelled world where change and technology is inevitable, there is something comforting about the history of people and place that can be reassuring and useful.

That’s not to say you will be seeing any rush to a new round of critter labels any time soon because that isn’t going to happen. This time around the reinvention of Australia is more about evolution and revolution but it is all under way with an eye to the past. The history of vineyards and producers in Oz are rich and deep and there is no need to discard that legacy in the rush to another revolution.

One need only look to the ancient soils of Australia to remember this place is steeped in history; decomposed wind-blown rock dates back in some spots to 500 million years ago. As old as as the soils are, the investigation of what is going on beneath the surface is as new as it gets in geological time. While it’s easy to say farmers/growers have a strong connection to their land, much of the new world is only beginning to look at its regions and sub regions with a microscope.

It took as late as 2008, and a couple of sub-regional tastings featuring single-vineyard shiraz, before Barossa got the bug. With so many wines tied to historical ‘parishes’ within the Barossa, I suspect in the years to come historic names like Gomersal, Williamstown, Lyndoch, Rowland Flat, Barossa Foothills, Vine Vale, Light Pass, Greenock, Moppa, Seppeltsfield and Marananga will slowly appear on labels.

There’s a rush to be new and different in Australia but make no mistake, the place is steeped in history. Barossa, Coonawarra, McLaren Vale and Victoria and New South Wales are not unlike the Cote de Nuit or the Haut Medoc of France. In fact, it is only with more study that we can come to know all the nuances of Down Under in the same way we might discuss the styles of wine coming out St. Estephe or Pauillac or Santenay for that matter.

Today, local winemakers and viticulturists are currently collating soil, and climatic and historical data to try and figure out what is going on across the country. I’m sure what they will find are many similarities interrupted by differences in soil type, elevation, rainfall, meso-climates, temperature, soil fertility and much more.

Another big advantage of a long history is old vines. In fact, the Barossa Valley is home to some of the oldest continuously producing vineyards in the world. After a lot of thought and study at Yalumba, owner Robert Hill-Smith put forth an Old Vines Charter to protect Barossa’s and the rest of Australia’s most precious assets after an ill-considered vine pullout scheme triggered the end of so many magnificent vineyards in the 1980’s.

Barossa Ancestor Vine

Today under the Charter, vines 35 years of age or more can be named Barossa Old Vines. Those over 70 will be Survivor Vines; 100 years will be Centurion Vines; 125 years Ancestor Vines. Since 2009 the region has moved to establish an old vine register to protect all of these treasures.

Robert Hill-Smith may be onto something when he suggests, “In the perception of the serious wine-drinker, the old world owns the integrity to old vineyards. To take an Old Vine Charter to the world will cause a lot of people that take Australia for granted to think again. This charter is about integrity; about hoping that the wines we put in front of people express the place and the variety. It is a necessary evolution that signifies the growing up of Australia.”

It’s hard to argue that logic. As for the oldest Ancestor Vines, at least 125 years old and now growing under protection, my advice is to seek them out at all cost and enjoy the history they can bring to your glass.

In Canada there are a few bottles of wine that evoke the history of Australia while pointing to what is surely a bright future. Here are some historical names or vineyards in the market, making modern wine.

Wakefield St Andrews Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 This single vineyard Clare Valley cabernet sauvignon is sourced from the historic St. Andrews property, first planted in 1892. Classic terra rossa soils atop a limestone base yield a refined cabernet Sweet spices and warm ripeness (14.5 percent alcohol) gives this a generosity that is well suited to roast pork if drinking now. Otherwise, continue to cellar for another few years.

Wolf Blass Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 It’s been thirteen years since we last saw this wine. In those days it was cork finished; not anymore. Classic Coonawarra on the nose with an aromatic mix of brambles and spice with a juicy cherry menthol entry.

Wakefield St Andrews Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Wolf Blass Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2013Two Hands Bella's Garden Shiraz 2013Heartland Directors' Cut Shiraz 2012

The Two Hands Bella’s Garden Shiraz 2013 is one of six shiraz in the Garden Series set bottled to expose the terroir of individual approved South Australia wine regions. The fruit is bought under long term contract. Bella’s is the largest production and but in 2013 is a picture of density and sweet fruit over pepper and brown spices with a long warm persistent finish. An old site for a new wine.

Heartland Directors’ Cut Shiraz 2012 is the most powerful expression of the winery’s Langhorne Creek shiraz. A soft and drinkable blockbuster with a big, warm finish. Drink or hold a decade. Best with a steak grilled medium rare.

Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache 2014 Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard Trueman Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Pewsey Vale Riesling 2014Fellow Wine Align critic Treve Ring was impressed with the Pewsey Vale Single Vineyard Estate Riesling 2014 Englishman Joseph Gilbert planted the Pewsey Vale vineyard in 1847 but it wasn’t until 1961 Geoff Angas-Parsons and Wyndham Hill Smith fully develop the historic vineyard site into the contoured Pewsey Vale Vineyard –  a single vineyard dedicated to the single variety – riesling. 

Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard Trueman Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is the work of Australian winemaker Charlie Seppelt and American Chris Carpenter. The pair have combined their talents at Hickinbotham to produce what they term is the pinnacle of Clarendon cabernet. Elegance and intensity is the hallmark of this deliciously style red with perfectly crafted tannins to bring structure and frame but with no toughness or dryness. Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard was first planted by Alan Hickinbotham in 1971 in McLaren Vale, and over the years has been the source of fruit for some of Australia’s finest wines including Penfolds Grange and Hardy’s Eileen Hardy. it was purchased and refurbished by Jackson Family Farms beginning in 2000 but the history lives on.

Another Treve Ring pick is the classic from low yielding gnarly old vine grenache from the Barossa is the Yalumba Old Bush Vine Grenache Barossa 2012 shows its concentration and depth of fruit here through the mulberry, kirsch and menthol blackberry ripeness and fine, ample persistent peppery spice.

Anthony Gismondi


The History, Evolution & Revolution of Australian Wine

This article is one of a three-part series taking a look at the history, evolution and revolution of Australian wine on the page and in the glass. Please link to the other two articles below:

A Lesson in Evolution, by John Szabo, MS

A Lesson in Evolution, by John Szabo, MS

The Fire of Revolution, by Bradley Royale

The Fire of Revolution, by Bradley Royale



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Savour Australia’s Evolution

Wine Australia: A Lesson in Evolution
By John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Change is a constant in the wine business, even if the opportunity for a major shift happens only once a year. Even the most established wine producing regions reinvent themselves from time to time – witness Chianti Classico, or Soave, or even most of Germany over the last half dozen years. So, although it can be said that all countries experience some degree of evolution and upheaval, I’d argue that Australia has had the deepest re-think of its entire industry, and the most impressive evolution, of any country worldwide in the last decade.

The reasons are several. For one, they had to. After spectacular success that surprised no one more than the Australians themselves in the 1990s, achieving the industry-established export goals decades before anyone thought it possible, came an almost equally spectacular commercial crash. The world had moved on, Australia had not. But the Aussie wine industry is also particularly resilient. They’ve experienced, and survived, crashes before – the collapse of the sweet/fortified market on which the original, mid-19th century industry was founded, for example.

And they’re also particularly well-organized and cohesive, operating on a national level with awe-inspiring efficiency, rather than, as most established wine producing countries do, on a divisive regional, or even sub-regional or individual basis. This makes wholesale change possible, and much more rapid than, say a country in which it’s every winemaker for himself. That’s not to say that Aussies don’t have individual character, as anyone who’s met more than a stereotyped Crocodile Dundee understands. But they also seem to get the sensible notion that the rising tide lifts all boats.

So when things started to go south in the early 2000s, the industry collectively rolled up its sleeves and set about fixing the problems. The national marketing message was quickly re-tooled to match the modern Zeitgeist of drinkers. It shifted away from celebrating reliable sunshine in a bottle, fun but not serious, to instead focusing on unique regional expressions, positing the potential of the myriad terroirs of a country into which, after all, all of Europe comfortably fits with plenty of acreage left to spare.

For this reality to be reflected in the bottle of course took more time; radical stylistic changes require at least a few vintages to get right. But don’t forget that the Aussie industry is one of the most technologically savvy and advanced, and the understanding of how to achieve a more authentic regional expression (or avoid homogenized ones) was hardly lacking. A little canopy management alteration, different (often fewer) interventions in the winery, and voilà, regional Australia was (re-)born.

Mark Davidson, Global Education Manager

Mark Davidson presenting a Masterclass in Singapore

“The last 10 years have seen a dramatic shift in attitude and approach”, confirms Mark Davidson, Global Education Manager for the trade association Wine Australia, which represents the industry worldwide. Davidson has been on the front line for years re-shaping Australia’s story, and has witnessed all of the changes up close and personal. “Chardonnay and pinot noir have never looked better and regional differentiation is more transparent than ever before. Shiraz is grown in virtually every region in Australia and recognition of that geographic diversity is being expressed more clearly. There is also an increased interest in new varieties and styles which is not being led by fad and fashion but by environmental suitability,” he continues, listing just some of the most obvious changes.

Whereas once you might have been able to get away with saying “Aussie Shiraz”, as though they were all made from the same vat, now the blanket moniker is all but meaningless. Instead you talk about Clare Valley, or Barossa, or Heathcoat or Hunter Valley shiraz, to call out but a few. And now you talk about the relative merits of fiano or vermentino or aglianico or nero d’Avola, and not just chardonnay and shiraz.

So what does this mean for the consumer? The landscape of Australian wine has never looked more diverse and exciting. The evolution has been nothing short of spectacular.

Here are a few currently available wines that neatly encapsulate the Australian revolution.

Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2014, Margaret River, Western Australia

Chardonnay in Australia has undergone perhaps the biggest makeover in the last ten year. From reliably thick, soupy, tropical and wood infused, to fresh, flinty and balanced, the transformation has been remarkable. The first winery to plant in the Margaret River, in 1967, Vasse Felix has always been on the more elegant, cool-leaning side abetted by the maritime-influenced climate of Margaret River, but recent vintages have really tuned chardonnay to a fine quiver. Filius is the excellent “entry level”, open and refreshing. For the maximum expression try top-of-the-line Heytesbury Chardonnay, a strikingly flinty, tightly wound expression.

Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2014, Adelaide Hills

Yes, from the extremely successful man who is more than partly responsible for putting Australia on the world wine map since the early eighties, the radical turn-around for Wolf Blass’ chardonnay is perhaps the most emblematic, high profile evidence of change. Once fashionably oaky and jammed with tropical fruit, made from chardonnay sourced throughout Southeastern Australia, the Gold Label (and even more so the step-up White Label) has been transformed into a model of balance and refinement. It’s now sourced entirely from the relatively cool Adelaide Hills, the fruit is crunchier, wood dialed back, and pleasure ramped up. It doesn’t shy away from the sunshine of South Australia, it’s just painted in a more early morning/late afternoon portrait.

Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2014 Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2014 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Coonawarra

Wynns is another classic producer that has always marched to a delicate beat, so no radical evolution was required to bring this into line with modern tastes. It’s just that much more appreciated now. The classic Black Label is a brilliant (and brilliant value) representation of Coonawarra and its special little patch of red terra rossa soil, and capable of ageing magnificently.

Josef Chromy Sparkling 2010, Tasmania

Tasmania has been a big part of the Evolution Australia story, charging onto the scene with terrific sparkling wines as well as stylishly lean chardonnay and pinot noir. Much fruit is now sourced from the cool island to blend into some of Australia’s most iconic chardonnays, for example, unheard of in the ‘90s. Czech immigrant Joseph Chromy’s tale is a heartwarming rags to riches sort of story, now as reliable a producer as they come. Winemaker Jeremy Dineen crafts one of the finer, more consistent Tassie bubblies.

Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz 2013, Clare Valley

Jim Barry is one of the old guard who has managed to adapt to the times – not that radical change was needed here either, but this latest expression of shiraz is particularly fragrant and well-chiseled. It’s not the most edgy new wave style, finding a lovely balance between ripe dark fruit and, more frequently these days, a fine, lifted medicinal-spicy-peppery note. Wood is as comfortably part of the ensemble as a pro surfer is at one with his board.

Josef Chromy Sparkling 2010 Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz 2013 Alpha Box & Dice Xola Aglianico 2011

Alpha Box & Dice 2011 Xola Aglianico, McLaren Vale

Although not currently available, I thought this delicious wine worth a mention in the context of evolution Australia. It demonstrates the outside-of-the-commercial marketing-box thinking that is redefining the country. Aglianico is hardly a household name, but its region of greatest expression, southern Italy, is not dissimilar in climate to South Australia. So why not give it a try? Brothers Justin and Dylan Fairweather did just that, though found that a cash flow-punishing 4 years in old wood were necessary to tame the ferocious tannic nature of this first effort. But the results are so very promising indeed, their version leaning towards the more elegant and savoury versions from Mount Vulture in Basilicata. How’s that for an obscure reference. Check it out, along with the rest of the fine range (montepulciano, barbera, grenache, etc.), from these passionate young vintners. (

John Szabo, MS


The History, Evolution & Revolution of Australian Wine

This article is one of a three-part series taking a look at the history, evolution and revolution of Australian wine on the page and in the glass. Please link to the other two articles below:

Where have all the critters gone? by Anthony Gismondi

Where have all the critters gone? by Anthony Gismondi

The Fire of Revolution, by Bradley Royale

The Fire of Revolution, by Bradley Royale



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Savour Australia’s Revolution

Wine Australia – The Fire of Revolution:
by Bradley Royale

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ― R. Buckminster Fuller

Bradley Royale

Bradley Royale

The Australian wine market needed to light a fire, a purposeful one, a big one. A fire that would reach wide and far and fertilize the future via its destruction. A fire that would destroy recent memory and bring fresh growth, consume the dead foliage, and make way for fresh saplings. In preparation for the fire, they needed to take only a few items with them before setting everything ablaze. Memories filed in framed pictures of Barossa shiraz, newspaper clippings of Hunter Valley semillon, a favourite McLaren Vale grenache ball cap, a Rutherglen Sticky t-shirt that was a go-to on the weekends and a few post cards reminiscing of Yarra Valley pinot noir and Margaret River chardonnay… plus a few other odds and ends packed neatly into a couple of suitcases is all that was needed. Empty the jerry can, light the match, step away and gawk as the flames scorch the moon and melt everything around you. This is the only way to clean the image and force the infestation of animals back into the woodlands, where they belong.

Fire brings with it fuel for the future, the ashes providing nutrients for the earth. This reawakening of the Australian soil is much needed. The coma-like conditions of the Australian wine market in the last decade are ripe for a coup d’état and that is exactly what’s happening. For the first time since Max Schubert destroyed the notion of Shiraz, we are seeing wines like no one has ever seen before. The wines that are emerging from the Australian landscape are not only new to Australia, but are new to the entire known universe.

Brad Hickey. He moved from New York to McLaren Vale for a single harvest and ended up not only falling in love with McLaren Vale, but also his future wife, Nicole Thorpe. Together Brad and Nicole started the Brash Higgins winery, a winery title taken from Brad’s Australian nickname. Hickey spent a spell in NYC as a sommelier at Bouley and Danube and always had a taste for wines that intrigued, but paired well with food. His passion for Italian grapes led him to zibibbo, sourced from Riverland, and grafting over shiraz vines to nero d’avola (a first for McLaren Vale). He ferments both in locally-made McLaren Vale clay amphora (if this doesn’t blow your mind, you should check your pulse) and leaves both wines for extended post fermentation maceration ― like 6 months long. The resulting wines are lithe, bouncy, crisp and precise. His zibibbo is perhaps the finest example of yellow grapefruit aromatics to date in the wine world, while the nero d’avola sings of camphor, purple licorice strings and crunchy blackberries straight from the fridge. Hickey’s chenin blanc, farmed in Blewitt Springs from the Willamba vineyard, is picked in January, capturing a shy 10.3% alcohol. While the area is best known for intensely structured grenache (Clarendon Hills grenache is capable of an easy couple of decades of cellaring), this chenin blanc maintains balance with inherent acidic structure acting as a skeleton and fruit draped like healthy nubile flesh.

Brash Higgins Nero D'avola Amphora Project 2015Brash Higgins Chenin Blanc 2015 

For Hickey the Australian wine market was a place where anything could happen and would happen as far as he was concerned. “I didn’t move to McLaren Vale to make friends” he notes. “I moved there to be with a woman I love and to make bold wines, stuff that reflected how radical it was to turn my whole life upside down.” Hickey found his true wine maker in a region that not only allowed him to do so, but celebrated him for his visionary outlook. Jim Morrison once stated, “The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are”. Try moving to Bordeaux to be free spirited and good luck with that. (

Mac Forbes. The best winemaker in Australia? Perhaps. Dr. Jamie Goode made that prediction half a decade ago and while it’s hard to gauge given the mind blowing talent that roams the continent, I do know for certain one thing; I want to be just like him when I grow up. Forbes’s talent for precision winemaking is evident with his single vineyard renderings of Coldstream and Woori Yallock, with the Coldstream showing a precocious open knit structure and charming fruit, characteristic of the lower Yarra. The Woori Yallock, from the cooler upper Yarra, is more obtuse and shy to come to the door; it’s not exactly agoraphobic in youth, but will certainly require the therapy of a cellar.  His precision when required for terroir’s sake is notable.

While we certainly could have included the above wines in John Szabo’s article ‘A Lesson on Evolution’, for the general consumer these wines represent something completely new. To see wines with such fine lines, such poise and elegance is rare from anywhere on planet Earth. I pour Mac Forbes Yarra Chardonnay by the glass in our restaurants in Calgary. The initial response to Australian Chardonnay is, “No thanks, I don’t like oak.” We pour it for them anyway, forcing them to taste it. You can see the lines in their faces relax and smiles bloom as the lemon-scented river bed of flavor flows across their tongue.  “Well, that’s lovely…you can leave the bottle.”  Yes, of course.

Coldstream Hills The Esplanade Pinot Noir 2012 Coldstream Hills Deer Farm Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 Mac Forbes Woori Yallock Pinot Noir 2013 Mac Forbes Yarra Chardonnay 2014

Forbes’s mainstay line up for most is revolutionary, but it is his EB (Experimental Batch) range that takes things completely into the jungle. His 2013 whole cluster riesling shook my world. The wine spent 14 days in a sealed vessel, was then foot stomped, and sent to barrel for about a year. Who else does this to riesling? No one, ever. The resulting wine is a glorious array of burnt orange peel, water-rinsed clove, cumin, walnut shell and white pepper. It was drunk by the case at chez Royale with whole roasted trout all last summer. The 2014 Chardonnay ‘The Beast’ was left on skins for 9 months in older barrels. The wine is ferociously tannic for white or red standards and will need patience in the cellar. Forbes states on his label, “…this Chardonnay is still a beast at the time of bottling. We really have no idea if we will like this but we can only hope.” There are few wineries in the world who release wines they admittedly may not even like, but for revolution sake, this must be done. There are no shy warriors when it comes to storming the palace. (

Taras Ochota. I met this man in the hills of Adelaide. His house is perched in a valley on a soft hillside surrounded by forest. There are electrical lines nearby that house white Australian cockatoos, a part of the parrot family. There is a reason that flocks of parrots are called a Pandemonium because they wreak havoc from above (Death From Above 1979 comes to mind). The Pandemonium that lives above Taras and Amber Ochota’s house sounds exactly like a bus filled with screaming old men; the only difference is that these old men have wings and fly above your head. They are merciless.

Ochota Barrels vineyards Ochota Barrels I Am The Owl Syrah 2015Ochota Barrels The Green Room Grenache Syrah 2014

The surrounding noise gives entrance to Taras Ochota’s background. Originally a travelling winemaker, he spent time in Central and Southern Italy and various points in California, all the while touring with a punk band named Kranktus. Taras worked for a few massive wineries after oenology school, giving him a technical skill set, a skill set he has mostly tried to forget. I asked him about his view of winemaking. “If I hadn’t melted so many brain cells since studying oenology all those years ago, I would probably remember what I learnt at university and my wines would be more 101 conventional. Hence, my wife’s nickname for me, ‘Colonial Goldfish’. I just try to fit in with Mother Nature in the vineyard. She helps me shape our wines. And she knows if no one else will drink them then I will…with absolute pleasure, so I try to push the envelope to fill my personal cellar.” This practice shines in his 2015 Syrah ‘I am the Owl’ (the name taken from a Dead Kennedy’s song). The wine is made with 100% whole bunch from one ton of fruit sourced from the loamy vineyard site Mount Barker. I am amazed at the purity of this Syrah. Bouquets of violets float around your head like a hot air balloon while streams of bacon scented stratus saunter through your nostrils. It is perfect wine, and a style of Syrah that did not exist 10 years ago in Australia. Want to buy the wines? Of course you do. The Ochota Barrels website shopping area looks like an apocalyptical drug store. It’s been ravaged: everything is gone with nothing for sale. I can’t ever remember looking at that page and not seeing sold out beside everything. The Dead Kennedy’s sang, “Went to a party, I danced all night, I drank 16 beers, and I started a fight.” Taras started a fight with everything “normal” in the Australian wine industry…in the most gentle, prettiest way possible. (

BK Wines Skin & Bones White 2015 BK Wines One Ball Chardonnay 2013Gil Scott-Heron famously wrote ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, and this Australian revolution will also not be televised (mostly due to current laws regarding TV advertising). But it will present itself to you in the form of wine on shelves and in restaurants. Look for these wines and names like BK Wines, Alpha Box and Dice, Lucy Margaux, Spinifex and Battle of Bosworth. When you show up to restaurants, demand to taste revolutionary wines, and show no mercy in your relentless pursuit of “newness”. Leap from the trees and take down the sommelier, ordering her to bring you deep jungle wine from Australia, then light everything on fire (just your evening, nothing physical of course). The hills and valleys and forests are all rich in amphorae bubbling over with skin fermented whites with ocean air purity (BK Wines Savagnin will make you eat raw fish even if you don’t want to) and stainless steel tanks mothering carbonic syrah, dolcetto and nero d’avola. The revolutionaries are attacking; they have climbed the gates and they will seize the palace. They’re so close you can taste it.


Bradley Royale


The History, Evolution & Revolution of Australian Wine

This article is one of a three-part series taking a look at the history, evolution and revolution of Australian wine on the page and in the glass. Please link to the other two articles below:

Where have all the critters gone? by Anthony Gismondi

Where have all the critters gone? by Anthony Gismondi

A Lesson in Evolution, by John Szabo, MS

A Lesson in Evolution, by John Szabo, MS



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Bordeaux, France – Official Opening of La Cité du Vin

Spenser Massie, of Similkameen Valley’s Clos du Soleil winery was on the ground today in Bordeaux for the official opening of La Cité du Vin, a new museum based on the culture of wine. Massie was the Canadian representative for wineries from coast to coast, and the participating regional bodies. Here is a brief release from him ~ TR

Bordeaux, France – Official Opening of La Cité du Vin
May 31st, 2016

Canada’s fine wines and emerging regions were part of the excitement around the opening of La Cité du Vin today here in Bordeaux. French President Hollande, who opened this major new museum dedicated to wine and the world’s wine regions, noted that one-third of tourists who visit France come for wine and gastronomy.

©Anaka – La Cité du Vin


Spencer Massie, Founder of Clos du Soleil Winery in Keremeos BC, an artisan winery focused on a small production of ultra-high end fine wines, was in attendance at the Inaugural visit.

“It was fantastic for us to be invited here as an industry – based on the budding international recognition for the quality of wines coming from our country. Very honoured to be the Canadian representative, on behalf of all the wineries that participated in the vanguard of this relationship:

©Anaka – La Cité du VinBlack Hills Estate Winery – Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Cave Spring Cellars – Niagara Escarpment Ontario
Château Des Charmes – Niagara on the Lake Ontario
Clos du Soleil Winery – Similkameen Valley British Columbia
Culmina Family Estate Winery – Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate – Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Laughing Stock Vineyards – Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Legends Estates Winery – Niagara Escarpment Ontario
Nk’Mip Cellars– Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Painted Rock Winery – Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Pelee Island Winery – Pelee Island Ontario
Sea Star Winery – Gulf Islands British Columbia
Summerhill Pyramid Winery – Okanagan Valley British Columbia
Unsworth Winery – Vancouver Island British Columbia
Vignoble Carone – Lanaudière Valley Quebec
Vista D’Oro Winery – Fraser Valley British Columbia

These wineries stepped up to the plate on behalf of the industry and are hopefully just the initial wineries participating, with the objective of introducing the estimated 450,000 Wine Tourism visitors expected to visit La Cité annually, to learn about Canadian Wines, appreciate them, and eventually come visit us.”

Just north of the City of Bordeaux, this impressive, architecturally significant building set adjacent to the Garonne River is stunning – and reminiscent in form of a fine wine decanter. La Cité opens to the public tomorrow.

For more information


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From Riesling to Rosé – Rhys’ European Wine Adventure

Text and photos by Rhys Pender MW

Rhys Pender_Portrait_2015

Rhys Pender

Learning about the world of wine can be more confusing than enlightening, especially when learning about wine regions. Things are complicated and it is no wonder wine is intimidating. Everything seems clear after diligent studying of textbooks, encyclopedias and sitting through wine classes. But when you start to delve deeper into what makes a wine region tick, and look at the different aspects, altitudes, soils and more, you find that the more you try to generalize about any one place, the less accurate those simplifications become. Not only is it impossible to learn all the nuances that make a region unique but there is also the fact that things are always changing and evolving – wine styles, people and even climate. To understand a region properly, there is no better way than to jump in your car or on a plane and go there and find out for yourself what is really happening. That is really the only way to know what is going on.

Wine writers and educators spend a lot of time travelling, trying to answer those questions that exist only between the lines in our textbooks. We want to give current and accurate information in our articles and lectures, and believe me, keeping up with the world of wine is a full-time job.

A few months ago I took a fascinating journey that I recommend to anyone: a wine adventure from the homelands of riesling in Germany, south through Alsace and Burgundy, into the embrace of Beaujolais’s lovely gamay and to the refreshing jugs of rosé in the south of France. I learned a lot, answered a lot of questions, and created many more.

With daily flights from various parts of Canada to Frankfurt, Germany, this is a wine route that is well suited for Canadians to get a taste of many different styles of European wine. The only difficulty is that at the end you are stuck in the south of France and you need to get back to Frankfurt. Or, maybe, you could just stay there, something I have been tempted by many times before. Here is part 1 of what I found out is happening on my road trip from Riesling to Rosé.


I set off on my trip in March with a visit to ProWein in Germany. ProWein is the annual trade wine show in Düsseldorf where the wine world, literally, comes to Germany. Talking to producers, it seems this show has become number one on the international calendar. I had two and half days to work through 5,800 wineries. As you can imagine, you need to have a plan and having appointments is highly recommended. But if you are in the trade, ProWein is definitely your one stop shop for accessing the world of wine.

I had never been to German wine country before this trip and was completely blown away by the severity of some of the vineyards, particularly in the Mosel and Rheingau. It is inconceivable today that anyone would plant vineyards on sheer, near-vertical cliffs, and even more so that anyone in this modern age would work them. I drove around for hours mesmerized by the staked vines clinging tenuously to the rock. It is not surprising that in some areas these steep vineyards are being abandoned, but the best of them make wine that is too good to ignore. The industrious Germans have found a way to make it work with trolley systems to transport grapes, and equipment strung up between the vines.

Rheingau VineyardRheingau Soil or rocks more like

Germany is one of those countries that seems to always be a step or two ahead of what is written in any textbook. Thankfully, most of us have managed to get over the misconception that Germany is all about cheap, sweet, fruity white wines, and most people now think of good quality, low alcohol, delicate yet intense Riesling that nicely walks the tightrope between residual sugar and vibrant acidity. This is the image of Germany through textbooks, but the reality on the ground is something different again. These sweeter wines are still made but most of it is for the export market. The Germans are drinking dry (trocken), powerful Rieslings that often are closer in style to those of Alsace or Austria than the German stereotype. They have been at it for a long time in Germany and change is inevitable. The kids running around at Peter Jakob Kühn winery were the 13th generation. I wonder how many guises German wine has been through in that time?

The other misconception is that Germany produces almost exclusively white wine. Riesling still, thankfully, has 22.9% of the acreage but Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) is up to 11.5% and Dornfelder up to 7.8%. Red varieties now account for over 35% of production, but we rarely see these in Canada (Canada is Germany’s fifth largest export market by value) because the Germans drink it all themselves. In Germany, you will get to try some pretty tasty Pinot Noir (See David Lawrason’s take on Germany and Pinot Noir here). Thirty years ago, at a time when many north Americans formed their opinions about German wines, red grapes made up only 13%. This is quite a significant change for the world’s tenth largest producer of wine.

VDP_Faehnchen_braun_RGBKünstler Hochheimer Hölle Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2013 Künstler Hochheimer Stielweg Old Vines Riesling Trocken 2013There is also a move away from the traditional Prädikat labelling (terms like Kabinett, Spätlese, etc.) to more of a single vineyard focus. The VDP (Verband Deutscher Qualitäts- und Prädikatsweingüter), known by its black eagle logo that appears on member’s bottles, is an association that has always focused on the combination of producer, site and quality. It uses a Burgundian model based on vineyard site, with the top wines known as Erste Lage or Grosse Lage, the Grand Crus of the movement. The dry wines from a Grosse Lage vineyard will be labelled Grosses Gewächs and be labelled Qualitätswein Trocken. Sweeter versions use the Prädikat terms.

A lot of the best wines I tasted are not available in Canada but a few of the producers I visited that do appear from time to time are Auguste Kesseler, Baron Knyphausen, Kloster Eberbach and Künstler. There were also delicious sparkling wines from Schloss Vaux but I haven’t seen these in Canada yet.

After Germany it is a just a few hours drive across a deserted border into France and Alsace.

France – Alsace

Being in Alsace is like being in a fairy tale, at least in some villages. It is a cross between Germany and France, therefore becoming its own unique world. The food is brown, hearty and German. But for wine, Alsace is like no other place on earth. It is not just the stunning terroir of near vertical vineyards but also the attitude of the people. Alsace is a bit of a hub for the natural, the biodynamic, for those who want their wines to express the terroir without the winemaker sticking his bag of tricks in the way. Certainly not all Alsatian wine is of this low-manipulation style but there are enough producers to make it a movement rather than just a novel rarity.

The best quality wines of Alsace, in my opinion, come in two different styles. There are those like Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Domaine Weinbach, Bott-Geyl and Barmès-Buecher who make incredibly interesting wines that vary from vintage to vintage and are never boring. The other style of top Alsatian wine is a little more predictable and is based on purity of flavours and intensity. I would put the wines of Domaine Zinck and Trimbach in this category.

There is a lot of character in the different terroirs of Alsace and these will often show through in the wines. Acidity, power, complexity, body and minerality all vary considerably from site to site and many producers make an impressive number of different wines.

Riesling is king, and to me, makes the best wines, but the Gewurztraminer is also something that can be very special in Alsace. Gewurz better suits the sweetness that the warm, dry, sunny Alsatian climate gives, handling it better than Pinot Gris, which can be overblown in alcohol levels. The Alsatians like to drink their Gewurz with a bit of age, something we don’t really do much in Canada, but a bit of time in the bottle serves to give a nice savoury edge and the wine drinks a little drier than the overt floral, fruity sweetness it often shows in its youth.

It can be hard work tasting in Alsace, not because the wines aren’t delicious, but because the curiosity of the producers means that many of them make dozens of different wines. At Zind-Humbrecht I tasted through 14 wines and it was amazing how different each wine was, showing how much terroir can differ within a region and how much it can influence the wines. Winemaking at Zind-Humbrecht is pretty hands off. It isn’t religiously “natural” winemaking in the extreme sense but the farming is biodynamic and basically the wines are left to do their own thing in big old vats, sometimes taking a year or more to finish fermenting in the cool cellar (the ambient temperature is about 8°C in winter) and often stopping with a smidge of residual sugar. The wines are always intensely flavoured, interesting and most of all have a wonderful texture that is hard to match in Riesling from other parts of the world.

Domaine Weinbach Furstentum Grand Cru Gewurztraminer 2011 Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Cuvée Laurence 2012I learned some interesting things about using horses in the vineyard too. Zind-Humbrecht uses two horses as part of their viticulture program, but to do the entire vineyard they would need 10-12 horses. The animals need feeding three hours before working and then can only work for three hours. It is slow going too, taking about one week to plow one hectare of vines. Basically it takes a horse five days to do what a tractor could in half a day. They now match the soil conditions to the choice of tractor or horse. In some cases the tractor can be too powerful and do more damage than good. I found this pretty fascinating stuff. For viticulture geeks there was plenty of ground breaking (no pun intended) stuff at Zind-Humbrecht; the most important thing about organic or biodynamic viticulture is how close the grower observes what is happening in the vineyard and can adapt unique management to the unique situations.

At Domaine Weinbach (a tasting of 13 wines) the wines are of a similar style to Zind-Humbrecht. They make wine from 120 different plots, and all the wines show intensity of flavour, rich textures and complexity. The Riesling and the Gewurztraminer again stood out for me as well as the delicious 2014 Sylvaner Reserve. Two of the Gewurztraminer are now available in BC, the delicious Cuvée Laurence 2012, and the crazy Furstentum Grand Cru 2011.

My next stop was at Bott-Geyl where I notched up a tasting of 19 wines. The single vineyard and Grand Cru Rieslings showed amazing minerality and great richness of texture. These wines are also wild ferments and spend up to a year in old wood before bottling.

Domaine Barmès Buecher Crémant 2012 Domaine Barmes Buecher Riesling Alsace Grand Cru Steingrübler 2011At Barmès-Buecher, the dynamic family team of Geneviève Barmès and her children Sophie and Max are creating some eclectic and often delicious naturally inspired wines from some of the old vineyards that came together when Geneviève Buecher and her late husband François Barmès started the winery in 1985, incorporating vineyards that had been in the families since the 17th century. The family was hit with tragedy in 2011 when François passed away, but his children Max and Sophie came to the rescue to help their mother and I don’t think I have ever met a nicer, more generous and more energetic family in the wine business. I tasted through another 19 wines with the three of them and found more rich, delicious, textured and layered Riesling showing off a number of different terroirs (nine different vineyards including three Grand Cru sites). Quebecers get the best selection including the tasty 2011 Riesling Steingrubler GC. The 2012 Crémant d’Alsace Brut is also a good value bubbly.

My final Alsace visit was at Domaine Zinck, in Eguisheim. I thought that storks’ nests on top of fairy tale-like buildings hundreds of years old was something only of movies and imagination, but in Eguisheim it is alive and well. So is the young family of Phillippe & Pascale Zinck of Domaine Zinck. The winery was started by Phillippe’s father Paul, and now runs 20 hectares of grapes spread over 50 plots ranging in size from the largest at 1.7 ha down to just 0.06 ha. It sounds like a logistical nightmare, but 15 ha is located around the town of Eguisheim. Phillippe was born in Eguisheim and is a strong believer that 80% of the flavour in the wine comes from the grapes. They mostly work with stainless steel but are slowly incorporating larger oak casks into the mix. Phillippe talks of the difficulty in making Pinot Gris, saying there is only a small window to harvest when you get the right balance. They must be pretty good at finding this because their Pinot Gris Portrait 2012 won the International Trophy Best Off-Dry at the 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards.

Paul Zinck Cremant d’Alsace Domaine Zinck Portrait Series RieslingThe Portrait Series Riesling 2013 is a good value choice and is available in BC through private stores. There is also a little bit of the Grand Cru Riesling around and both the Pfersigberg 2012, a chalky, mineral, laser wine, and the Eichberg 2012, plusher, richer and more exotic, were delicious. It is worth putting these away for a few years. As Phillippe puts it, “when the Grand Cru wines are young you can’t smell the terroir, it takes about 5 years and then you have both the fruit and the aged complexities.” There is also the delicious Zinck Cremant d’Alsace which is excellent value at just over $20 in BC.

I feel like in Western Canada we are missing a lot of the best of Alsace. The top wines are definitely the Rieslings but the market seems keener on the Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer here. It would be nice to see more people try these intense, mostly dry, mineral driven Rieslings and see what they are missing out on. 

Part 2 will see the adventure continue south into Beaujolais…


Rhys Pender, MW


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BC Report – May 2016

BC Report – May 2016

Rhys Pender

Rhys Pender MW

Starting this month, May 2016, I will be writing a monthly column on WineAlign, the BC Report. Up until now we have been sharing the BC Wine Report amongst the BC critics but starting fresh this spring, like so much in the vineyard, I will be writing this one on my own. Living on an organic vineyard, in the heart of the Similkameen Valley, and farming and producing wine simply and sustainably undeniably roots me to the local wine industry.

I thought I would take this first installment to introduce the concept and goals for what I would like to achieve. I see the BC Report as a chance to get into the nitty gritty of issues affecting the BC wine world. It will be a chance to discuss everything from controversial and divisive topics to sharing industry successes, plus everything in between.

There is plenty to discuss: our place in the wine world, wine quality, finding the best combination of grape and place and the creation of sub-regions, shipping wine freely across the country, how and where we sell our wine and so much more. Right now we are once again in the midst of a very warm and very early spring with budbreak having already taken place on some varieties.

I want the BC Report to be something where everyone can have their say so please both send me ideas ( for topics and give your opinions in the comments section to encourage debate.


Rhys Pender MW


WineAlign in BC

In addition to Rhys Pender’s BC Report, we publish the popular 20 Under $20 shopping guide and the Critics’ Picks report which highlights a dozen of our favourites from the last month (at any price point). Treve Ring pens a wandering wine column in Treve’s Travels, capturing her thoughts and tastes from the road and, lastly, Anthony Gismondi closes out the month with his Final Blend column – an expert insight into wine culture and trends, honed by more than 25 years experience as an influential critic.


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Celebrating New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Text and photos by Steve Thurlow
(with introduction by Treve Ring)

It was the Steve & Treve show representing WineAlign in Marlborough earlier this year, crossing paths at the International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration along with 300 sommeliers, trade, producers and journalists from around the globe. Steve details the Celebration and Kiwi translation of Sauvignon Blanc below, but I wanted to start with a little primer into the distinctive grape itself.

SAUVIGNON BLANC {SOH-vin-yohn BLAHNGK; soh-vee-nyawn BLAHN}

also known as “Cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush.”

#SauvBlancThat was my initial introduction to sauvignon blanc. For a budding wine enthusiast this was at once terrifying (you want me to drink what?) and relieving (finally wine descriptors that make sense!), and now even as a gnarly vine wine enthusiast that description has stuck with me. Of course, sauvignon blanc is so much more than that memorable phrase. This green-skinned grape most likely hails from France’s Loire Valley, where it can blindingly shine in the Kimmeridgian limestone and Silex flint. As the third most planted white variety in France, sauvignon blanc (from the French for sauvage, meaning wild), is also comfortably at home in Bordeaux, blending in harmony with Semillon; as well as throughout Languedoc-Roussillon, contributing greatly to lean and tart Pays d’Oc IGP. The highly vigorous grape is widely adaptable, spreading as easily worldwide as its tangled and aggressive foliage. All things green are its hallmark: grass, hedge, meadow, asparagus, kiwi, green peppers, gooseberries, as well as passion fruit and elderflower in slightly warmer climates. Crisp, piercing acidity permeates all wines, save for those harvested in the hottest regions, and helps preserve freshness and zest in late harvest or oaked examples. As Steve writes below, the grape rocketed to fame over the past 20 years in New Zealand, finding a prime home for a concentrated, pungent, fresh and unoaked style.

May 6th marks the 7th annual International Sauvignon Blanc Day and celebrations will kick off in New Zealand and travel around the globe in restaurants and bars, and on social media. You can share in the celebrations by using the hashtag #SauvBlanc on Twitter and Instagram – all in fun to share the love for New Zealand’s most popular grape. May also brings us the Great New Zealand Wine Tiki Tour with trade and consumer events being held in Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto. You can find complete details here, including a special offer for WineAlign members.

~ TR

Celebrating Sauvignon Blanc

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Marlborough sauvignon blanc has been a runaway success story. No other country has been able to enter the modern world of wine with a premium priced product and grow its market share like New Zealand. Other recent arrivals on the scene like Chile, Argentina and South Africa have brought us value wines, but are still struggling to get us to buy their premium priced products. No wonder everyone wants to emulate New Zealand’s success.

In Canada, New Zealand, and in particular Marlborough, has been the reference for sauvignon blanc for the last ten years or so and its very distinctive style has become the benchmark for producers across the world. Previously it was the steely, minerally sauvignon from Sancerre in France that winemakers were aiming to emulate, but that has been replaced by NZ as the benchmark by most of the New World producers.

I first visited New Zealand in 2004 and have been back there almost every year since, closely watching the growing success of this far-away wine producer. So I was delighted to be among 300 people from all over the world who gathered in Marlborough in February of this year at the first ever International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration (#SauvignonNZ). Since they are the current world leaders in this variety, it was appropriate that we all met there (and it was also a good time for me to escape a Canadian winter).

Before I recount what I discovered on this visit, let’s examine why Marlborough sauvignon blanc has been so successful. To start with, this grape has one good thing going for it. As Matt Kramer told us in his keynote address to the conference, “Sauvignon blanc is the world’s most reliably good dry white wine.” Notice he did not say it was the greatest white wine, just that it was reliable. An excellent go-to-wine when you just want something white to drink that is predictable.

But Marlborough sauvignon blanc is not just any sauvignon blanc; it has its own special distinctive signature. So distinctive that even those unblessed with great vinous skills are usually able to recognize it. It is this distinctiveness that is one of its greatest attributes and why it is emulated by winemakers around the world.

From the moment in life that you first approach a juicy succulent Marlborough sauvignon blanc you will always remember those gooseberry-tinged, green apple, passion fruit, green pepper, green grass, blackcurrant leaf aromas touched by honey that have become its signature. You will soon then notice that your palate is entranced by that lime or grapefruit mouthwatering acidity and its fresh, clean, slightly bitter finish, all wrapped with just enough sweetness to make it delicious.

New Zealand did not start making wine until around 1980, making its wine industry approximately 45 years old. Its success is totally tied up with the success of Marlborough sauvignon blanc, which represents nearly 80% of what they produce. With New Zealand population levels modest, it has, by necessity, been an export driven success.

Being distinctive and popular has facilitated the growth of a brand. I noticed about five years ago that there was a similarity developing within this brand. Every producer was aiming for the same thing and by 2010 they were mostly getting there. The wines were starting to taste and look the same and sell for about the same price, which is understandable when you have seen such success. Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with this; the wines were delicious and it demonstrated the ability of growers and winemakers to deliver a consistent product to meet growing demand. And since no other region is able to replicate your brand, why not make hay while the sun shines?

At the conference I detected the sense that wineries were reaching a mid-life crisis. They need to be sure of the path to take to continue to be successful. There seemed to be two major pitfalls that will need to be considered, price and premiumisation.

In the last five years I have been tasting some sauvignons from elsewhere that are starting to replicate the Marlborough style. Some wines from the Leyda Valley and the coastal Aconcagua Valley in Chile, from Darling in the Western Cape in South Africa and Carcassonne in Southern France are getting there. These are not high cost producers so there is a vulnerability here for New Zealand to watch since it is a high cost producer. Another danger of such distinctiveness is the difficulty to establish more premium brand extensions. That is to say, how do you improve on the accepted norm and get people to spend more money, when they are happy with the status quo.

Wairau Valley Marlborough

Wairau Valley Marlborough

The conference and the weeks of personal travel that followed were a great opportunity to see where things were going. As in all successful wine regions that produce a single varietal wine, there has been a steady trajectory for more site-specific wines. The success of many of the early wines from the region was down to complexity created by blending grapes from different parts of the region. In Marlborough, somewhat simplistically, there were originally two basic regions: The cooler Wairau River to the north and the Southern Valleys holding the tributary rivers of the Wairau River to the south, where it is warmer and drier with different soils. Further south over the hills, there was little planted in the nearby Awatere Valley. It’s a different landscape now, with massive planting in the last ten years in the Awatere. So today, three places provide the fruit that goes into the regional blends to create the distinctive wine that we all know. And it’s a wine that is largely made with little manipulation by winemakers. It is the growers and those who blend the wines from different sources who have made  Marlborough what it is today.

There is a movement for more site-specific wines and the three large regions are being delineated as wineries bottle wines from these subregions. In time, I am sure people will start to put boundaries on viticultural maps and give these places names that we will come to recognize. I will look at some of these wine growing activities later on, but first let’s look at what winemakers are doing.

Marlborough sauvignon blanc is mostly made today without maturation in oak barrels and using cultivated yeasts. The techniques employed have been perfected to produce the fresh, clean, pure, flavourful and balanced wines that put the place on the map. So it is also a natural that winemakers are starting to experiment with new styles using natural yeast fermentation, oak maturation and other techniques to enhance what nature, soil and climate have so far delivered. I was most anxious to see these efforts and there were certainly some promising results.

However, I do want first to recognize and give credit to the big players who have put the region on the world map, as they inevitably do in any successful wine region. These are the companies with an international reach and established sales channels who can also, because of economies of scale, make very good, inexpensive wine. The success of Marlborough would not have been possible without their presence and they will continue to open new markets in places yet to experience the delight of Marlborough sauvignon blanc. They will also be able to make better blends and fight off any emerging international competition. Pernod Ricard New Zealand, with its Brancott and Stoneleigh wines, Constellation with Nobilo and Kim Crawford, Delegats with Oyster Bay and Villa Maria, along with others, have played a vital role in today’s success.

As well as continuing to develop new international markets, these big organizations are leading the search for the next big thing. They are bottling site-specific wines and providing resources to their winemakers to make even better wines. A recent development is surely designed to attract the drinkers of lightly sparkling wines – wines like Prosecco from Italy that are so popular recently. Lightly sparkling sauvignon blanc is being made by a few wineries now. These wines are very appealing, simple and sweetish and are very drinkable as a party or reception wine. This may be a hook to get these folks to try the more traditional brands.

Anyway let’s start looking at specific producers and wines that illustrate what I have been talking about. Most wineries these days are making more than one sauvignon blanc. There is usually an entry level wine, often a regional blend, and then others at a premium price that are from a single site, or have been enhanced by the winemaking techniques already mentioned.


This is one of the best known and most popular NZ brands in Canada. Their sauvignon blancs are mainly sourced from the Stoneleigh vineyard in the central part of the Wairau Valley region. The gravelly river soils in this region augment the stonefruit aromas and flavours and add mouthwatering grapefruit acidity to the Stoneleigh 2015 Sauvignon Blanc making it lively and exciting to drink. The Stoneleigh 2015 Latitude Sauvignon Blanc is more understated, maybe classier, with some complex aromas and more crunchy green apple flavours.

However it was the Stoneleigh 2015 Sauvignon Blanc Wild Valley that really excited me. Marlborough sauvignon blanc is traditionally made with a cultured yeast once the natural yeasts have been killed off following crushing. This wine, however is fermented naturally using the yeast that lives in the vineyard with the grapes. Winemaker Jamie Marfell uses this to give the wine added texture and enhanced flavour. The natural process is slower which allows the wine to develop texture along with more complex flavours.

More Stoneleigh wines reviewed here.

Jamie Marfell Winemaker at Stoneleigh

Jamie Marfell Winemaker at Stoneleigh

Brancott Estate

The southern side of the Wairau Valley, where the Brancott Vineyard is situated, has a higher clay content than the river bed soils further north. It is also warmer and drier with less stone and more nutrients. The Brancott brand is relatively new to Canada and the very impressive Brancott Estate 2015 Letter Series B Sauvignon Blanc has just arrived at the LCBO. It is a complex wine that has benefited from an elaborate winemaking process. About 20% of the fruit is handpicked and then wild fermented. The other 80% is machine harvested, which seems better at preserving the components that yield the elevated passion-fruit, grapefruit and tropical aromas (thiols) that characterize Marlborough sauvignon blanc. A small percentage of the machine picked fruit is matured in oak vessels. It is a delicious well priced white that is elegant and complex with a mineral tone and lovely lively fruity palate.

More Brancott Estate wines reviewed here.

Brancott Estate Marlborough

Brancott Estate Marlborough

Villa Maria

Villa Maria was founded by George Fistonich in 1961. It has been a major contributor to the wine industry ever since and seems to win more awards for its wines than any other winery. As one travels around New Zealand one meets countless winemakers and viticulturists who at some time in their careers have worked at Villa Maria. Everyone has phenomenal respect and admiration for the founder and his winery which remains a family business.

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc has always been one of the best value sauvignons and it is deservedly one of the most popular. The Villa Maria 2015 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc is consistent and faithful to the successful distinctive style with classic aromas of gooseberry, passion fruit, grapefruit, white pepper and delicate fresh herbal notes of green peas and dill.

For a few dollars more one can upgrade to the Villa Maria 2015 Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanca very classy Marlborough sauvignon with lifted classic aromatics. The nose and palate are pure and fresh with a rich creamy texture.

Villa Maria 2015 Lightly Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc is a charming well-made, pure, fresh bubbly with aromas of passion fruit with grapefruit, mint and nettles. It is creamy smooth with a hint of sweetness and is very refreshing. Not that complex but quite delicious as a party or reception wine.

More Villa Maria wines reviewed here.

Villa Maria Auckland Winery2

Villa Maria Auckland Winery


Whitehaven winery was founded in 1994 by the late Greg White. His widow, the energetic Sue White, manages the operation which has expanded considerably in recent years. They make two wines from sauvignon blanc. Whitehaven 2015 Sauvignon Blanc is a classic fresh, fruity style, quite herbaceous with a nice mineral salty tang and excellent length.

Whitehaven 2015 Greg Reserve Sauvignon Blanc is a single vineyard wine from the Alton Downs Vineyard in the Awatere Valley. It is well structured and quite mineral with aromas and flavours of gooseberry and guava fruit with spearmint, peapod and lemon tones. Designed for short term ageing, it still needs another year or two of bottle age before it hits prime time.

More Whitehaven wines reviewed here.

Awatere Valley

Awatere Valley

Dog Point Vineyard

This winery was founded by two veterans of the NZ wine business, James Healy and Ivan Sutherland. These pioneers met at Cloudy Bay where they worked together for many years, Ivan growing the grapes and James making the wines. In 2004 they decided to create Dog Point and since then have become a beacon of excellence in the region. Several family members are actively involved in the affair and they now export their wines to over 40 countries – pretty remarkable for a 30,000 case winery founded so recently. When you sample their wines it soon becomes clear that this is a haven for high quality wine produced by passionate people.

They produce two wines from sauvignon blanc. Dog Point 2015 Sauvignon Blanc was the best traditional sauvignon that I tasted this spring in New Zealand. It is textbook Marlborough, made 80% from cultured yeast with stainless steel maturation. The palate is lively and brimming with mouthwatering grapefruit acidity and juicy tropical fruit. The other wine is made 100% from sauvignon blanc but it is called Dog Point 2013 Section 94 after its source in their vineyard. It is fermented with wild yeast in oak barrels and has intense flavours and full bodied fruit. This is another powerful wine best sampled in a few more years when it will become better integrated and age has softened some of its hard edges.

More Dog Point wines reviewed here.


This winery, owned by Kevin Judd, shares the winery facilities of Dog Point. Kevin is another veteran winemaker who also spent many years perfecting his technique at Cloudy Bay. Additionally, he is one of New Zealand’s best vineyard landscape photographers and his pictures are widely used to celebrate the beauty of the NZ wine regions. I have been tasting his wines for many years and have almost always been mega-impressed. The Greywacke 2014 (Kevin Judd) Sauvignon Blanc is in stores in Ontario at present. Quebec and BC also buy this wine each year.

He has another wine in stores in Ontario currently, the Greywacke 2012 Wild Sauvignon Blanc. This is a very impressive and beautiful sauvignon blanc made using wild fermentation in a mixture of new and used oak barrels. The majority also goes through malolactic fermentation and it spends its life prior to bottling on its lees. In effect, it’s made like many chardonnays and as a consequence is a long way from traditional Marlborough style. Complex, elegant and subtle and highly recommended. I also tasted the 2014 vintage of this wine and it was one of the best sauvignon that I tasted on my latest visit. Made largely the same way except very little went through malolactic fermentation and only 7% spent time in new oak. Such was the difference between the 2014 and 2012 harvests. We will have to wait and hope that this vintage also comes to Canada.

More Greywacke wines reviewed here.

Before I conclude, there is need to mention sauvignon blanc produced elsewhere in New Zealand. The Sacred Hill, Craggy Range, C.J. Pask and Sileni wineries located in Hawke’s Bay on the North Island produce sauvignon blanc in both Hawke’s Bay and in Martinborough, as do many other wineries, though the total quantity is small compared to Marlborough. Many of these wineries also have vineyards in Marlborough and so it interesting to compare the pairs of wines from the same vintage and same winemaker.

The other regions tend to be warmer and so the fruit is more tropical, the greenness less strident and the acids softer. For me, the non-Marlborough sourced wines do not have much of a distinctive character such that in blind tastings I have often been unsure of their origin, whereas I think that Marlborough’s  unique signature leads me to guess their origin more surely. Though maybe in future a Leyda Valley or Darling wine might throw me in the wrong direction.

Marlborough sauvignon blanc is one of the great successes of the New World wine industry over the last few decades. It is distinctive, pure and easily recognizable and will, I am sure, remain the go-to wine for many. Provided costs and prices remain reasonable, it will continue to prosper and be the backbone for the entire NZ wine industry.

Innovation and site selection, as we have seen, are being applied to make more interesting and hence more premium wines. There isn’t a formula for these, as there is for the basic brand, and there doesn’t need to be. I will keep watching closely and look forward to returning in 2019 for the next edition of #SauvignonNZ. Meanwhile, I will be focusing on January 2017 which sees the next edition of the Pinot Noir NZ Celebration.

Next week Treve will report on the New Zealand Sparkling and Chardonnay Symposium.

Steve Thurlow

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Whitehaven Vineyard

Whitehaven Vineyard

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Buy The Case: The Vine’s Hidden Gems

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

Buy the CaseIn this regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single importing agent. Our critics independently, as always, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in our Buy The Case report. Importers pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines. 

For an explanation of the program, the process and our 10 Good Reasons to Buy the Case, please click here

The Vine Agency

Sometimes we fantasize about Ontario being populated with fine wine shops owned by some of the top wine importers and Ontario wineries – people who love wine, select their portfolio’s with pride, and sell them with diligence and the utmost in customer service. While there are many “agencies” that we can envision in this role, we suspect that The Vine Agency would end up being among the most popular and successful. Owner Rob Groh founded The Vine with the goal of bringing Ontario wine drinkers and restaurateurs a fine selection of wines from Italy and California (primarily). We tasted a selection of new arrivals for this feature, and it was a delightful experience.

The Vines mantra (taken from their website) is “Authenticity, Distinction, Character” and for a glimpse into how this is achieved consider their approach to their relationship with their suppliers. “When we take on representation, our view is long term. Because we insist on the highest standards, we visit the wineries and get to know the people. We look for relationships where we connect both personally and professionally, and only work with those who meet these criteria”. We suspect they deal with their customers with similar sincerity and thoroughness.

Sometimes you buy a product because it is specifically the product you want; sometimes because you like and trust the store. Here are our critics picks from current Consignment offerings at The Vine.

Podere le Boncie Le Trame 2012, Tuscany, Italy ($59.95)

Tenuta Cocci Grifoni Le Torri 2010

Podere Le Boncie Le Trame 2012Michael Godel – Giovanna Morganti makes Le Trame, from southeastern Tuscany in San Felice just outside of Castelnuovo Beradenga. It is essentially Chianti Classico but labeled IGT, known as “the intrigues” and that it surely is. It will drink into longevity up there with some of the best Brunello, Vino Nobile and Gran Selezione. A Cellaring Wine
John Szabo
– Fans of elegant/delicate sangiovese should line up for this gorgeous example, organically/biodynamically farmed in the heart of Chianti Classico. It’s elegant, an expression of pure finesse, all ripe and vibrant red berry fruit flavoured, exhaling faded roses and spice. A supremely pretty wine with soaring grace all in all, to enjoy now or forget for a decade.
David Lawrason – This is an estate grown sangiovese with great energy and fruit depth. Balanced to drink now but will stretch beyond 2020. It is available in six packs, so just go for it. It is so good that you might regret splitting it with friends. It’s also an ideal size for trying it out on a wine list.
Sara d’Amato – An authentic Tuscan blend from an organically farmed vineyard planted at high density. Predominantly wild yeast fermented sangiovese, this sophisticated find is absolutely captivating. Drink on its own but best with roasted pork.

Tenuta Cocci Grifoni 2010 ‘Le Torri’ Rosso Piceno Superiore, Marche, Italy(21.95)

John Szabo – A leading estate from Le Marche, Cocci-Grifoni’s montepulciano-sangiovese blend is an engaging, dark, earthy-spice, roasted coffee, and bitter chocolate flavoured red, succulent and satisfying. It’s a big and robust mouthful of wine perfect for big cuts of roasted/grilled meat.
David Lawrason – It’s a bit rustic and may not appeal to all tastes – so I would be wary of buying for by-the-glass pours or occasions where you don’t know your guests tastes. But this is delicious in its way; ready to drink and a great match for stews. Buy a case for autumn and winter drinking and split with like-minded friends. Great value from one of the best estates of the region.
Steve Thurlow – This is quite delicious with a delicate nose of black cherry fruit with mineral, herbal and spicy notes. It is complex on the palate also with the delicate fruit finely balanced by soft acidity and gentle tannin. This is ready for fine dining with roast meats or bold mature cheese. Buy a case and enjoy a bottle from time to time over the next few years.

La Mozza I Perazzi Morellino di Scansano 2014, Tuscany, Italy ($24.95)

Valdibella Kerasos Nero D'avola 2014

La Mozza I Perazzi Morellino Di Scansano 2014Michael Godel – One of the freshest and most exciting examples of Morellino di Scansano to come across the consignment channels of the Ontario market. A project of Mario Batali and the Bastianich family, this is one of the best examples of humble decadence in their portfolio. Should very much be considered when bringing tutta la famiglia al tavolo. Consider wine pooling.
David Lawrason – From a modern estate in the southwest corner of Maremma this good value is a blend 85% Morellino (the local name for Sangiovese in Maremma), 5% Syrah, 5% Alicante, 2% Colorino and 3% Ciliegiolo. Sangiovese turns in a riper, darker performance in this area, with a certain plushness and richness. But it’s also quite lively and fresh. It could be my Tuscan house wine, or a decent pour by the glass in an Italian restaurant.

Valdibella 2014 Kerasos Nero d’Avola, Sicily, Italy (19.95)

John Szabo – Here’s a particularly lovely, lively, floral and vibrant version of nero d’Avola, organically grown. I love the energy and tension, the vibrancy and genuine flavour concentration. Dark spice, earth and ash flavours linger.
Michael Godel – Truly modern Sicily here from Valdibella, a.k.a. the “cherry tree”. Its wide ranging flavours make it a limitless match for so many different foods and because it’s amenably virtuous in so many ways. Restaurant pour by the glass. 

Château de Saint Cosme 2013 Gigondas, Rhône, France($57.95)

Von Strasser Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Chateau De Saint Cosme Gigondas 2013David Lawrason – Of all the Cotes du Rhône villages Gigondas often produces wines with the most finesse. Power too, but there is a textural evenness thanks to limestone marl in the soils. It becomes Chateauneuf-like, and is priced in that realm as well. But still good value for fans of southern Rhône. It comes in a six-pack, ideal for a home or restaurant cellar.
John Szabo
– Saint Cosme has crafted a savoury grenache-based masterpiece here in 2013, massively concentrated, but not heavy, structured and full of black pepper and spice. This has enough of an acid lift to keep fruit and spice focused, with abundant but fine and dusty tannins that lend grip. I’d love to see this again in another 3-5 years; there’s more than enough stuffing to see this blossom.
Sara d’Amato – A very old, revered and consistent producer. Grenache and very peppery syrah make up the majority of this spirited and well structured blend. Many great Gigondas keep step with the best of Chateauneuf du Pape and here is a spot-on example.
Steve Thurlow – There is great finesse to this wine with a very fresh pure yet complex nose of black cherry fruit with some sweet herbs a hint of licorice and a floral hint. It is midweight and delicate on the palate with the fruit well balanced by acidity and fine tannin. Excellent length.

Von Strasser Winery 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California (89.95)

John Szabo – This is another terrific vintage from Rudy von Strasser, making the most of his superb volcanic terroir on Diamond Mountain. It’s a classic Napa ‘mountain’ cabernet, which is to say dark and swarthy, ripe and firmly structured to be sure, with serious depth and length, and significant black fruit extract. Broad shouldered but flexible, this has all angles covered, best after 2018.
David Lawrason – This has terrific presence and structure with lifted aromas of blackcurrant, green cedar/conifer, earth, mineral and dusty, spicy oak – all well integrated. It’s full bodied with some heat and tannin to be sure, but fine acidity as well. The focus and length are excellent. I would age it another three years to calm the tannin. Best 2019 to 2030. Split a case with cab collecting friends.

Groth Hillview Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, California ($56.95)

De Conciliis Selim Spumante Brut

Groth Hillview Vineyard Chardonnay 2014Michael Godel – From a 44-acre Yountville vineyard founded in 1982 and (mostly) re-planted in 1996. This is a perfect and prime example of all the right directions Napa Chardonnay has taken in the last 10 years, with kudos to Suzanne Groth for embracing the ideal, from restraint, for elegance and in balance. Gifting Wine.
Sara d’Amato – If you are suffering chardonnay fatigue, this ought to spice things up! Whole cluster pressed, fermented in fine French oak but offering youthfully exuberant fruit. A chardonnay worth its weight in coin.
Steve Thurlow – This is a beautiful classic California chardonnay that’s fine now but will improve in integration and complexity with a few more years in the cellar. Expect aromas of pineapple and cantaloupe melon, with smoky, nutty and buttery tones with hints of caramel. It is full bodied but feels slimmer due to soft lemony acidity. Excellent length.
David Lawrason – This is a very classy, rich and well honed chardonnay that’s delicious now but could also age nicely for five years. Agree with Michael that it would be a great gift item for chardonnay fans, or introducing casual California chardonnay drinkers to the real thing!

De Concilis Selim Spumante Brut, Campania, Italy ($32.95)

Sara d’Amato – Here is something you don’t come across that often, a tank method sparkler from Campania based on local fiano and aglianico grapes. Pricey for a curio find but the result of this winemaking effort is most definitely rewarding. Available in a six bottle case.

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

This report was sponsored by The Vine Agency. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. The Vine has provided the following agency profile.

About The Vine Agency

The Vine AgencySince we took the leap to start The Vine in 2000, our goal has never been to be the biggest, most all-encompassing wine agency in the province or the country. Instead, we set out to offer a focused selection of wines that reflect our personal taste and interests. We believe that smaller wineries – estate oriented and family-owned – provide the best source of characterful wines that deserve our attention. We also place a high value on trust: yours.

To that end, we strive to deliver outstanding customer service, trustworthy recommendations and informed conversation. But ultimately, the portfolio speaks for itself – this is a collection of great wines, selected and supported by people who know the people behind the wines. Most of the winery owners we represent in Ontario are people we are proud to consider friends.

Join our Mailing List

If you wish to have your name added to our mailing list (to be notified of featured wines, tastings or events) please call 416-693-7994, email or write to The Vine, 105 – 625 Queen St. East, Toronto ON M4M 1G4

All the wines are sold in cases of 12 bottles, unless noted otherwise. Unfortunately, mixed cases are not possible due to LCBO regulations. We quote prices per bottle, excluding
Refundable Bottle Deposit. HST is included in Retail prices. Delivery charges may apply.

Nobody home to receive your delivery? No problem – just give us 36 hour’s notice — we’ll have your wine ready for drive-by pick-up. You’ll barely have to slow down. Our office is on Queen St. East, immediately opposite the ramp to northbound DVP. Call as you drive up, we’ll run your wine out to the car, and load it in while you stay warm & dry.



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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008