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Acclaimed UK Wine Journalist Jamie Goode joins the Judging Team for the Nationals

National Wine Awards of Canada 2015May 19, 2015


We are delighted to announce that, for the second year in a row, acclaimed UK-based wine journalist Dr. Jamie Goode will be a part of our panel of judges in Niagara Falls, Ontario at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.

Jamie Goode new

Dr. Jamie Goode

Jamie’s experience in wine very much mirrors that of our regular judges, which made for a seamless fit inside the tasting room in 2014. Of course another view, and one from Europe, should prove useful to those wineries engaged in the competition and hoping to expand their export horizons.

Jamie first visited Ontario wine regions in 2013 during The International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration and British Columbia wineries during his time at the Nationals in 2014. This year, he will again visit Ontario wineries as part of the judges’ tour.

After last year’s trip to the Okanagan to judge the National Wine Awards of Canada 2014, Jamie published “Thinking out loud about Canadian wine” on his blog He had this to say about the Nationals:

“The WineAlign judges are highly competent and well travelled, and it was painless judging with them. The organization of these wine awards, which involved opening over 4,000 bottles, pouring flights for each judge, and then collating the results in real time, was superb. Which means that judges can get on with the process of judging wine. The process was thorough, and every wine was given respect and time to show its best.” – Dr. Jamie Goode

Dr. Goode completed a PhD in plant biology and worked as a science editor before switching careers to wine writing. He’s a book author (The Science of Wine and Authentic Wine – both with University of California Press), writes a weekly wine column for a national newspaper (The Sunday Express), and blogs daily at, one of the world’s most popular wine websites. An experienced wine judge, he’s a panel chair for the International Wine Challenge each year, and has judged wine in France, Australia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia. He tweets as @jamiegoode.

National Wine Awards of Canada 2015

The National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC), held annually in June, is only open to wines grown and produced in Canada. The goal of ‘The Nationals’ is to expose Canadian wine drinkers to the best in Canadian wines. There is no restriction on price, leaving each winery the opportunity to compete with and against the best wines in the country. More importantly, as barriers to ship wines across the country come down, the combination of winning recognition at The Nationals and WineAlign’s ability to display the results alongside your key retail outlets, from the winery direct to across the country, makes it the only competition with enduring post competition sales opportunities.

The 2015 tastings will take place from June 23 to 27 in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Registration is now open. Click here for more information and to register.

The Judges

There are subtle changes to our panel each year but for the most part the judges are comprised of some of Canada’s leading wine writers, journalists, sommeliers, buyers and industry professionals. The competition also seeks out new and emerging talent in the industry to be part of the panel. This blend of experience and enthusiasm, brought by judges from many regions across Canada, ensures a comprehensive view of the wine world’s most current state. (NWAC15 Judges)

You can follow the 2015 NWAC and our judges’ tweets from start to finish on Twitter @WineAlign and look for the hashtag #NWAC15 .

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Buy The Case: Trialto Wine Group

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario


Each month we will taste wines submitted by one importing agent. WineAlign core critics will independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews will be posted to WineAlign. We will 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.

These recommended wines can only be purchased by the case from importers registered in the LCBO’s Consignment Program. They are ‘already landed and stocked’ wines that can be delivered directly to your restaurant, home or office. For an explanation of the program, the process and our 10 Good Reasons to Buy the Case, please click here.

May 2015 – Trialto Wine Group

Trialto is Canada’s largest national purveyor of premium wines. Their Consignment selection in Ontario is quite extensive. Three WineAlign critics sat down in late April to taste 15 Trialto submissions. Italy has shone through in this report. Here are our recommendations, grouped loosely under reasons why we would buy the wine by the case.

Click on the wine name or bottle image to see full reviews by the WineAlign team. Prices shown below are retail and do not include taxes (licensee prices may be less). Trialto has submitted their agency profile with more details below.

Restaurant Pours by the Glass

Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barbera D'alba 2013

Joseph Faiveley 2012 BourgogneJoseph Faiveley Bourgogne 2012, France ($23.95)

Sara d’Amato – A dynamite entry-level Burgundy offered in an easy-to-swallow 6-pack case. If you’re a lover of pinot noir, you’ll know that you can spend a great deal of time and money finding a great example, so take advantage of this pre-screened beauty.
Michael Godel – Crafted as if to the letter of entry-level Bourgogne law. Bright, animated, ripe, affable, under-currant earthy and wholly, purposefully, decidedly approachable.

Borgogno 2013 Barbera D’alba, Piedmont, Italy ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This is a classic barbera; such a great food wine. It’s jammed with berry fruit that assuages the grape’s natural acidity. This a classy yet friendly wine to stock for casual Italian dinners. Should be on any Italian wine list, and even personal house wine for any Italian food lover. It’s available in six-bottle cases, but I would buy 12.
Michael Godel – Popping Barbera full of strapping substantial fruit, mind-meddling acidity and thankfully, playful rhythm and blues chords.

Cellaring Wine

Montresor 2011 Castelliere delle Guaite Primo Ripasso

Neal Cabernet 2009 SauvignonNeal Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, California ($59.00)
Michael Godel – Spirited, elevated tones and full, fleshy fruit endow this Neal with long-term capabilities. Somehow you just yet know it will evolve in this exact state for another 10 years…cellaring or gifting wine.

Montresor 2011 Castelliere delle Guaite Primo Ripasso, Valpolicella Superiore, Italy ($24.95)
Michael Godel – So much flavour and a Quintarelli style, of rust, antiquity and liqueur. Buy a case, wait up to 10 years and drink it over the next 10. You’ll revel in telling everyone how much you paid in back in 2015…curio selections or cellaring wine.

Function Wines

Pares Balta Brut Cava, Spain ($13.95)

David Lawrason – This is a rare organically produced cava, that captures both a light, racy feel and complex flavours. With good stony acidity and only 11.5% alcohol there is a fine sense of tenderness and raciness. Excellent pricing here. Purchase by the case for a larger function where guests will be impressed by something a bit different.

Vietti 2012 Perbaco Nebbiolo Delle Langhe, Piedmont, Italy ($28.95)

David Lawrason – Perbacco is a fine value intro to Piemontese nebbiolo. It could lead off the Piedmont nebbiolo section of an Italian wine list, or in-fill a personal cellar with a shorter term Piemonte red.  It is actually a de-classified Barolo, from 35-year-old vines in the Barolo region. Balanced to drink now with some aeration but this will age nicely through 2020.
Michael Godel – A prevailing and concurrent nebbiolo presence, of tar and roses, is modern, magnified and inextricably tied to its declassified single Barolo vineyard. Makes for great value in young nebbiolo (think classy Italian wedding).
Sara d’Amato – A ready-to-drink nebbiolo with softer than the norm tannins but delivering loads of concentration. Entice your friends to pool funds with the explanation that this is a declassified Barolo offering a great deal of complexity at a much better price.

Parés Baltà Cava Brut Vietti Perbacco Langhe Nebbiolo 2012 Terras Gauda Abadia San Campio Albariño Rias Baixas 2014 Montresor Valpolicella 2012

Seasonal Wines

Terras Gauda Abadia San Campio 2014 Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain ($21.95)

Michael Godel – Highly complex aromatics, as if by blend. Lingers for longer than expected. A bright, spirited, fine example of Albariño and ideal for the warm months.

Personal House Wines

Montresor 2012 Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy ($12.95)
David Lawrason – If I was running an Italian/Mediterranean restaurant this would be my bargain priced ace-in-the-hole red for those ordering lighter fare. It is classic/traditional Valpolicella, and great value! It’s only mid-weight but carries a sense of compactness and balance. Not a sipping red. 12 bottle case.
Sara d’Amato – Frankly, Valpolicella, from the northeastern region of Veneto, is not often the most exciting of Italian reds nor is it highly coveted. I was thus doubly surprised when I tasted this well-priced and impressive example from Montresor. Punchy, flavourful and easy to drink, keep this around for everyday pasta and pizza nights.

Curio Selections

Montresor Capitel Alto 2013

Giacomo Borgogno & Figli No Name 2011Giacomo Borgogno & Figli 2011 “No Name”, Piedmont, Italy ($39.95)
Sara d’Amato – Purposefully unnamed as to protest Italian wine bureaucracy, here’s a great find for pre-demonstration drinks or election watching. Not only is it a compelling wine made from Northern Italy’s choice grape varietal, nebbiolo, but it is available in a rare 3-bottle case making it a much more affordable prospect.

Montresor 2013 Capitel Alto Soave, Veneto, Italy ($16.95)

David Lawrason – Soave may be known for inexpensive, everyday whites but better examples like this offer weight, substance and complexity. Performs above its price, and should work well with richer white meat and risotto dishes. A hand-sell in restaurants but worth it; home chefs will find it a great addition to the repertoire. Available in a six bottle case.
Sara d’Amato – ‘Tis the season for delectable whites and if the recent heat doesn’t melt you than this doozy of a Soave will certainly do the trick. Despite its refreshing nature, it is certainly not light and trivial – there is real power and character here that will make the most refined palate take note.
Michael Godel – Quite the salubrious Soave, purveyor of good feelings and with the words party pleaser inscribed across its Veronese face.

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 Trialto Wine Group. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. Trialto has provided the following agency profile with more details on their consignment program and delivery options.

Trialto Wine Group

TrialtoTrialto is a team of passionate wine professionals representing the most prestigious premium wines from around the world, and serving the Canadian market by helping liquor boards, retailers and restaurants source, market and sell these wines. We are a small independent company, run by the owners and built to serve the small and medium sized family owned wineries we represent; helping them succeed in a world that is increasingly becoming dominated by vertically integrated, global giant corporations. Trialto works exclusively with premium wines; no beer, no volume spirits, no bulk wines. We have 60 employees in offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal and “feet on the street” in 12 major cities.

Trialto represents “wine of people, place and time”. Our wines tell a story about people; the families who make the wine, their values, history and culture. We connect the people who make the wine to the people who buy, sell, drink and write about the wine; our relationships and networks are our business. Wines that authentically represent a place play an important role in preserving the culture and history of that place. We are all about telling a story through place, and allowing people to experience place through wine.  At Trialto our goal is to spend time with the people behind the wines, learn their stories, and convey their stories through the wines we represent.

Liquid Art Selections is Trialto’s dedicated portfolio of rare, special and allocated wines. A separate portfolio of some of the world’s most sought after wines supported by a team of Canada’s finest wine professionals. Liquid Art began with just a handful of undiscovered producers in 1989 and has since grown to represent some of the world’s most sought-after estates, from the traditional to the cutting edge. Behind the Liquid Art success story is a well-defined goal of providing lovers of fine wines with top quality products that consistently deliver. We are the exclusive representatives for our Partner producer’s wines in our markets and have grown to be one of our market’s most respected wine importers, specializing in sourcing impeccably cellared examples of the world’s greatest and most sought-after wines.

You can subscribe to Trialto’s newsletters and receive exclusive offers here.

How to order wine from Trialto:

For consumers living within the GTA area we offer daytime delivery to your home or office free of charge, regardless of how many cases are purchased. For clients in in the outer GTA/Oakville/Mississauga/Brampton/Burlington/Hamilton we offer delivery for a $15 flat rate (including HST), regardless of case volume. For all other parts of Ontario we offer delivery for a $25 flat rate (including HST) regardless of case volume. Generally orders can be delivered within 5 business days.

For all clients we can also ship wines to an LCBO of your choice at no extra cost. The shipment usually takes 2-4 weeks, but may take up to 8 in peak seasons or based on distance. The cases arrive pre-paid, we e-mail you the invoice and credit card slip and the store should give you a call to let you know they’ve arrived.

If you have any questions, you can direct them to us at Trialto Wine Group at (416)532-8565 or by email at


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Introducing WineAlign’s Buy The Case Program

A Backgrounder to WineAlign’s Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario, and ten good reasons to buy the case.

Each month WineAlign reports on recommended wines that can only be purchased by the case from importers registered in the LCBO’s Consignment Program. They are ‘already landed and stocked’ wines that can be direct delivered to your restaurant, home or office within days of ordering.

BuyTheCaseLOGOimage“Consignment” was established by the LCBO primarily to allow restaurateurs access to a far greater selection of wines than is available in-store via VINTAGES and the “General List”. And there are at least as many, if not more, brands in this channel as there are on the shelf – thousands! Individuals can purchase these wines too, but you must order by the case. The LCBO has dictated this, but the economic practicality is that because the wines are delivered direct it is not cost-effective to deliver smaller lots and single bottles.

This month’s Featured Agency: Trialto Wine Group

Buying a case can be a great approach if it’s affordable, especially when you find a wine you really like. It is actually a well-entrenched model for wine purchasing around the world. But if you don’t do it already, there are actually many good and practical reasons to buy a case. Indeed our report will be using 10 Good Reasons as a way to identify where and how you might get the most of them.

First however, a note on our tasting and selection process. Each month we will taste wines submitted by one importing agent. WineAlign core critics will independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews will be posted to WineAlign. We will 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.

Buy the Case

There will also be, in each issue, a paragraph introducing the importer and any particularities of the ordering process. WineAlign is not acting as an agent nor involved in the ordering and delivery process. We are simply bringing our objective reviewing experience to bear, and letting you know what is out there that might be worthy of your consideration.

Ten Good Reasons to Buy A Case

1. Restaurant Pours by the Glass
There are many reasons restaurants would want to buy a case, or more, but finding higher volume wines that are enjoyable by the glass is at the top of their list.  This means the wine should be ready to drink, without further cellaring, whether being used as an aperitif sipper or with food.

2. Cellaring Wine
Many wines will come into better balance and gain complexity with age. Restaurants and individuals with existing cellars know all about it.  Try a bottle when the case arrives then watch it evolve.  You get to know it, and bond with it, and ‘own’ it, and get to know when you will most enjoy it – and similar wines – down the road.

3. Collectible Wine
Wines that have some degree of rarity and perhaps re-sale value are usually traded in case lots.  The consignment program does offer wines of this calibre from time to time.

4. Function Wines
Whether it’s a wedding, retirement, business conference or something in between, there are many occasions where volume purchases are required.  Usually there are budgetary limitations so we will be on the lookout for lower prices wines that deliver the goods

5. Seasonal Wines
With four distinct seasons of about three months each, Ontario is a prime locale for seasonal by the case drinking. Drinking a case of 12 in a three-month period is actually a very tidy fit and doable. We will also be assuming the wine is suitable for drinking now, in the season just upon us.

6. Personal House Wines
We all want one or two of these around the house, a good quality wine in a style we personally really like, that induces a sense of comfort and relaxation. It’s actually difficult to make a judgment on which will be an ideal house wine and for whom.  But we will attempt to pick wines with universal appeal. A house wine should be ready to enjoy without cellaring and be reasonably priced.

7. Gifting Wines
The idea here is to put forward very good examples of popular, recognizable and appreciated regional/varietal wines that may be priced above your normal (personal) range.  You can buy a case and give a bottle or two to various friends and associates. This is about largesse.

8. Wine Pooling
These are high quality wines you really want to own, but cannot necessarily afford a whole case of 12.  Bu you also know that key friends and family members would also like to be part of a co-operative purchase.

9. Curio Selections
There are always unique, intriguing, off the grid wines that just don’t fit anywhere else. They are not necessarily collectibles in a monetary sense, but they will appeal to wine enthusiasts and explorers, who may want to pool. Or it might a wine you just want to own because it speaks to you.

10. Six Packs Please
Some consignment wines are sold in six bottle cases, usually more expensive wines or those that for some reason are a harder sell through. We will endeavour to isolate these for you.

Featured Agencies:

Trialto Wine Group  (May 2015)


We welcome your feedback on our Buy the Case program.

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New Zealand’s 24 Pinot Noir Appellations

New Zealand has six regions whose names (appellations) appear on pinot noir wine labels. This article proposes there are another eighteen sub-regions/appellations within the original six that could/should appear on the labels. And that there will be many more in the years ahead. It’s a perspective from an engaged visitor from Canada, not an NZ industry insider. Grab a glass, crack the cap on an NZ pinot and read along.

by David Lawrason, WineAlignMay 6, 2015


 David Lawrason

David Lawrason

In the past two years I have been to New Zealand three times, drawn not by sauvignon which I do enjoy, but by pinot noir. During three weeks in 2013 I visited six pinot noir growing regions, 35 wineries and capped it with the four day NZ Pinot 2013 conference in Wellington. I tasted at least 300 hundred pinots and I became familiar enough with the range to suggest that there about 18 sub-regions distinct enough to be considered separate pinot appellations. And that is only an interim guesstimate. My most recent visits in 2014 and 2015 were not as intensive but I returned once more to Martinborough, and twice to Marlborough and Central Otago – the three largest pinot regions.

Premises and Overviews

What follows are observations based on an important premise. Interesting pinot noir is not cheap – I will be talking about wines for the most part that cost more than $30 in Canada or other markets outside of New Zealand. At this level pinot noir’s fascination is in the way its expresses its place of origin. And those who are going to spend more than $30 are interested. They want to know where the wine comes from, and they will pay for that individuality. They want to taste it and discuss it. So I am talking about NZ pinot noir as one of the world’s most engaging wines, not a commercial commodity.

New Zealand’s regulators are slow to address this issue. They are not yet properly identifying regions on the labels. Some argue that it is early days for New Zealand pinot noir; that sub-regionalization is a work in progress, that vineyards need to mature, that winemakers need more time to experiment in and define terroirs; that consumers are not ready to digest sub-regions; that New Zealand needs to present a simple, unified and easily understood face to the world. There are certainly logical arguments in all this, from a marketing perspective.

6 Otago Bannockburn

Bannockburn, Central Otago

This discussion is not about marketing. In the glass New Zealand pinot is already speaking in sub-regional dialects and its winemakers are too; indeed the whole theme of the NZ Pinot 2013 conference in Wellington was regionality. And as a pinot keener parachuting into the country to get to the bottom of NZ pinot noir it was abundantly evident that pinot noir is every bit as capable of expressing the details of terroir in NZ as it is in Burgundy, which has built its entire reputation on precisely the same foundation.

Some Kiwis seem to almost fear the Burgundy association. During the presentations at the Pinot Noir conference Burgundy became the “B word”, barely speakable. They argued their style is different, with which I agree – altho’ NZ pinot style is closer to Burgundy in fact that some other pinot regions. But style has nothing to do with my point; I’m talking about distinctions based on terroir. And instead of shunning Burgundy associations New Zealand should be embracing and emulating what Burgundy has accomplished in terms of putting terroir in the glass.

Some argue that sub-regionalization or Burgundization of New Zealand will make it too complicated. I ask, for whom?  Not those willing to pay for individualized wines – i.e. Burgundy lovers of which there are legions around the world

Some might argue that New Zealanders don’t want to play into the Burgundy snob factor. They want to be more populist and definitely more casual about it all. Yet they are busily building a distinct kiwi, barefoot and cut-off shorts pinot culture of their own.  It’s the way of the world, as natural as terroir itself and they need to get used to the fact they can be, and are, special.  No time for modesty and self-deprecation!

Generalizations and Stats

The Six Existing NZ Pinot RegionsIn 2013 New Zealand had 5,125 hectares of pinot noir (up 300ha over 2012), placing it in 4th in the world – after France, the USA and Germany. It is the largest production red wine in NZ, and second largest overall after sauvignon blanc. It represents only 9% of NZ’s production and 6% of its exports, but it is rapidly gaining traction outside of New Zealand. In the past five years pinot exports have increased 129%, and Canada remains a strong market – 4th after Australia, the UK and the USA.

The generalized view of NZ pinot noir is that is a fruitier, softer, jammier, higher alcohol and more approachable style than Burgundy, but lighter and leaner than California or perhaps even Oregon pinot. I would agree with this, but that style is more prevalent at lower price points where wines are expected to be drunk young.

Many NZ pinot winemakers are actually not fans of jammy, hottish pinots, and blame the local wine shows and writers for promoting that style earlier on. At the closing tasting at the Pinot Conference 2013 in Wellington – a tasting of wines considered to epitomize the top quality from each region – virtually are the wines were leaner, well structured, more savoury and age-worthy wines that were very high quality but rather brittle in their youth, despite considerable aeration in proper pinot glassware. They were quite Burgundian.

That particular tasting lined up two wines from each of the “established” pinot regions – the regional names that you will see on labels. And there were indeed different nuances of fruit expression (from currants to black cherry) and texture (from lean to rich). So let’s make these regions the starting point of the terroir exploration, arranged in geographic position from north to south. Within each I will discuss sub-regional differences that I encountered based largely on varying soil structures.

New Zealand Wine Regions

The Pinot Noir Regions and Sub-Regions (North to South)

1. Hawke’s Bay

311 pinot hectares
one potential sub-region

It may be odd to be opening a discussion of pinot noir with a region that is far better known for merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah. Indeed Hawke’s Bay is a warmish and rather humid coastal area to be growing rot-prone pinot, but there are some successful vineyards farther inland on terraces and south of the Heretaunga Plains in bordering hills where limestone and sandstone can be found. Lime Rock Vineyard has had notable success with its pinot on a 10ha, north-facing site in the Waipawa district. Sileni, Trinity Hill, Greyrock (Flying Sheep) and Osawa are all producing good pinot. From limited personal experience I expect Hawke’s Bay pinots to be fairly deeply coloured and soft with ripe raspberry fruit. Next trip I hope to look more closely at Hawke’s Bay. Don’t count it out.

2. Wairarapa

478 pinot hectares
three sub-regions
Te Muna Road

1 Wairarapa Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard

Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard, Wairarapa

The Wairarapa Valley is large, long pastoral valley up and over the Tararua Ranges about 90 minute drive from Wellington at the southern tip of the North Island. It was one of the first regions to plant pinot noir back in the early 80s, so some vineyards in the core sub-region of Martinborough are now passing their 20 year mark. It is a region of small wineries, none larger than 100,000 cases, most well below 10,000 cases.

Wairarapa is something of an unfortunate name in terms of marketability. It’s difficult to pronounce and similar to the Waipara Valley, another wine region on the South Island, of which more in a moment. For this reason it’s natural for most to refer to it as Martinborough, the name of a small town that centres the most well-established, and greatest number of wineries. But there is more to Wairarapa than Martinborough.

The climate of Wairarapa is relatively even, warm and dry in the rain shadow of the Tararua range on the west, and lower hills that screen maritime influence on the east. The lower end of the Wairarapa is a bit cooler as it is closer to the coast and influenced by a large lake that pools the waters of the Huangarua River. The soils of Wairarapa’s pinot vineyards are largely stony terraces over which the river once flowed. In some places the stones are very large, densely strewn about and running several metres deep.

3. Martinborough

The notion of sub-regions in Wairarapa is tenuous. But no one disagrees that Martinborough is the central region. The wineries are tightly clustered around the town on flat, but very stony soils. It’s wines are ripe with black cherry, quite thick, lush and silky textured, and often showed notable alcohol heat. Many also carried a savoury note and dusty character on the finish. Many wineries show this style: Ata Rangi, Te Kairanga, Shubert, Magrain, Vynnfields, Archer McCrae, Alxander, Alana, Brodie, Elder and Escarpment – many of them dotted along Nelson and Huangarua Roads on the edge of town.

4. Te Muna Road

The locals are starting to distinguish wines from newer plantings on very densely-gravelled Te Muna Road that lies about 5km from Martinborough. This includes a huge new planting by Craggy Range below an embankment on the river’s edge. And I did taste a leaner more vibrant, style in a couple of single vineyard samples with fruit more in the blackcurrant spectrum from Julicher, Kusuda, Craggy Range Te Muna and Big Sky.

Dry River Terraces which lies west of Te Muna and marginally closer to the coast might also be considered a separate region, but production is virtually limited to one winery called Dry River, a pioneering winery with a reputation and price rising well above all others in Wairarapa indeed amongst the most expensive in New Zealand. Nearby are the relatively large holdings of Murdoch James. Their 32 acre site is on limestone based hillside (the only significant sloping and limestone driven site in the region) from which they bottle another vibrant currant pinot called Blue Rock.  It too might one day be a sub-app.

5. Gladstone

This is a smaller region about 30 kilometres up the valley and farther inland from Martinborough, where the climate may be slightly warmer. Gladstone Vineyards, first planted in 1986, anchors a cluster of small wineries on stony terraces at the edge of the Ruamahanga River; with neighbouring Borthwick having major acreage as well. (Nova Scotia born, Brock University educated Alexis Moore took over winemaking in 2013 at Gladstone Vineyards). From a small sampling I found the pinots somewhat paler in colour, with good weight and strawberry/cherry fruit character – not as dense and powerful somehow as those of Martinborough. Masterton is yet another nearby sub-region that will one day seek its own appellation.

6. Marlborough

2,397 pinot hectares (largest in NZ)
three sub-regions (arguably more)
Wairau River
Southern Valleys
Awatere Valley

2 Marlborugh Brancott Valley,

Brancott Valley, Marlborough

At the 2013 Pinot conference I was most surprised by the quality of the pinot coming out of Marlborough, over any other region. The surprise had something to do with preconceptions. I had always had an elevated view of Martinborough (above) as one of the original, pioneering regions, and likewise a high expectation of Otago as being the colourful wild west region. Marlborough was supposed to be the commercial pinot centre with big companies trotting out friendly, simple, raspberry-scented pinots.

But the real story delves much deeper, beginning with the fact that Marlborough has a cool-moderate climate latitude at 41.8 degrees – warmer than Burgundy or Ontario, but cooler than California. Add in coastal influence and it is cool climate indeed, although blessed with generous doses of intense sunlight from a “hole in the clouds” that seems to reside over the region. A sweet spot indeed – but then even within Marlborough there is considerable climatic and soil diversity. I have only listed three sub-regions for now, but there could easily be another five to ten claimed in the years ahead.  And a reminder here that many larger volume pinots could be and are blended from more than one sub-region.

7. Wairau Valley

The Wairau Valley forms the heartland of Marlborough, narrow upstream where hills pinch in on the Wairau River, then it broadens into a wider river plain as it finds its outlet into Cloudy Bay. The river course sits tight against the Richmond Ranges on the north and can be susceptible to more rain. But the soils here are very stony, and there are excellent vineyards sites along Rapaura Road. In an area called the Golden Mile there are also old riverbed terraces. Some sites are thick with often very large stones that radiate heat into the vines. Both Golden Mile and Rapaura Road could easily be claimed as appellations in their own right.  Out towards Cloudy Bay the soils get sandier and lighter, and in the other direction up river, some sites are creeping up into the hillsides, so again more fodder for future appellations. There are almost too many wineries to mention in this area but those making some higher end pinots from Wairau fruit and more familiar in Canada would include (listed from west up the valley eastward down to the coast) Clos Henri, Oyster Bay, Seresin, Forrest, Nautilis, Geisen, Staete Landt, White Haven, Stoneleigh, Cloudy Bay, Hunters and St.Clair.

8. Southern Valleys

On the south side of the Wairau Valley the flat lands poke like fingers into the Wither Hills in a series of five valleys: Ben Morven, Brancott, Omaka, Fairhall and Waihopai. Cold air descends from the Wither Hills into these valleys creating a cooler, later ripening climate than on the northern side of the Wairu plain, so the pinots tend to be a bit leaner.  Each of the valleys could one day be named as individual appellation, based largely on micro-climate and distance from Cloudy Bay on the Cook Strait. In general the soils are quite similar with significant stone content but they also have higher levels of clay than the other sub-regions. And then of course there is a rapid growth of planting into the hills and ridges that separate the valleys, and wineries located thus – like Churton for example – are clearly in the belief that separate Southern Hills appellations make sense, especially those that have limestone outcrops.

3 Marlborough Churton Vnyd, Southern Hills, Marlborough

Churton Vineyard, Southern Valleys

What I noticed while tasting pinot from the Southern Valleys, is that many are already being labeled with individual valley and vineyard names – St. Clair’s Omaka, Delta’s Hatter Hills, Wither Hills Benmorven, Wither Hills Taylor River, Fromm’s Brancott Valley. Individual appellations cannot be far off.  Wineries situated in and using predominantly Southern Valleys fruit include Marisco, Spy Valley, Omaka Springs, Fromm, Dog Point, Brancott, Auntsfield, Wither Hills and Lawsons. Given the number of larger and more well-known wineries in this list, I think the responsibility to delineate the different potential sub-regions in this diverse area – and to promote sub-apps in NZ as a whole – rests largely on their shoulders of the larger Marlborough producers. Go for it!

9. Awatere Valley

Of any Marlborough sub-region Awatere is clearly the most deserving, and perhaps closest to achieving distinct appellation status. Southeast of the Wairau, over the Wither Hills and closer to the Pacific coast, the vineyards of the Awatere experience a cooler, drier and windier growing season. The area can be more exposed to occasional cold weather from the south than the other sub-regions, which tends to create a later ripening crop and even longer growing season. The soils are typically alluvial gravel on wind-borne loess, often exhibiting a diverse composition of stone materials. The pinots from Awatere are some of the leanest, greenest and nervy of New Zealand with cranberry-curranty fruit. Many still get blended into “Marlborough” pinots but keep your eyes peeled for pinots from Yealands, Vavasour etc. There are also new plantings even farther down the coast past Awatere.

10. Nelson

193 pinot hectares
two sub-regions
Waimea Plain
Moutere Hills

The Nelson region sits atop the South Island one range of mountains to the west of Marlborough, at the same latitude. It is at the head of long sound that runs off of Cook Strait. So it is a moderate to cool region, very well known locally for its orchard fruits and cold water seafood.  It is also a thriving arts community with a rapidly evolving culinary scene. In terms of viticulture there are two regions for now the Waimea Plain and Moutere Hills, although some would argue for a third Moutere Coast region at the western edge where the Moutere Hills come down to meet the ocean.

11. Waimea Plain

This is the largest region of Nelson, the flattest and closest to the town. The flats come off a large tidal basin and extend inland for about ten kilometres, narrowing as they come up against the hills. The Waimea River carves a path through the region but is not big enough to have much climatic influence. The plain is cooler and sandier closer to the ocean. Pinot Noir is grown here but sauvignon blanc, riesling are more important. The pinots tend to lighter, floral and quite racy. Important pinot noir wineries in the region include Waimea Estate, TeMania/Richmond Plains, Seifried, Kaimara Estate.

12. Moutere Hills

This is a scenic area of rolling hills framing the western boundary of the Waimea Plain. The hills run up from the coast, rising in altitude the farther inland they reach. The region is generally cooler than the Waimea plain, but more importantly the soil structure changes to include more rock, including some limestone. The cool climate and limestone combine to create some of the most fragrant and elegant pinots of New Zealand, particularly at Neudorf, which is rising to become one of the iconic small producers of New Zealand. Woollaston, Harakeke Farm, Kina Cliffs, Sea Level and Rimu Grove are other notable producers of pinot. The latter, Rimu Grove, is making great pinots from an unusual site where the hills meet a coastal inlet. Rimu Grove and neighbours near the sea could rightly achieve a Moutere Coastal appellation at some point.

13. Canterbury/Waipara

334 pinot hectares
two sub-regions (north to south)
Waipara Hills
Waipara Valley
Canterbury Plains
Waitaki Valley

Spanning 200 kms along the eastern coast of the South Island Canterbury/Waipara is still in formation as a pinot region, and needs some official and difficult sorting out of names. Canterbury is the best known regional/political name, describing the region around the city of Christchurch where the first winery opened in 1978. But since then there has been a massive shift of viticulture to the Waipara Valley north of the city, and subsequently into the hills on both sides of the valley floor. It makes most sense to me, in terms of appellations to use the three different specific sub-regions below (all within Canterbury). It is a cool climate region and generally dry within the rain shadow of the Southern Alps. Hot northwesterly winds often blow here. But it is also coastal, and it is fairly common for cooler, more humid winds to blow up from Antarctica and change the weather.

14. Waipara Valley

About 40 kms north of Christchurch, which lies on the edge of flat coastal plain, a cluster of low hills rise directly on the coast. But behind them runs the north-south Waipara Valley, which is increasingly being planted with very large vineyards.  There is the gamut of cool climate grape varieties, but aromatic whites like riesling, gewurz and pinot gris are important, as well as pinot noir. The flats of the southern Waipara Valley are largely sandy and alluvial with gravel patches from current and former river bed soils and terraces. Pegasus Bay and Torlesse are the pioneering spirits, but Bellbird Springs is achieving international star status as well. And Mud House has recently opened at large winery here.

4 Waipara Valley

Waipara Valley

15. Waipara Hills

The Waipara Valley is framed by hills on three sides, and pinot viticulture in particular is moving into these areas. To the north the valley splays and melts into hills that pinch in from the coast and the interior as the mountains begin to veer east toward the sea.  To the west the land rises into foothills leading to the Weka Pass. As with all hill areas there are varying aspects, elevations and soil strata. And so the pinot terrain becomes quite complex with limestone derived clay, stone and even some areas of limestone outcrop, particularly inland in the Waikari region pioneered by the highly regarded Pyramid Valley and Bell Hill. And the limestone soiled Omihi Hills region could angling for sub-appellation as well. There are a surprising number wineries here, most quite small.  Crater Rim, Muddy Water, Mt Beautiful, Alan McCorkingdale, Bishop’s Head, Dancing Water and Mountford are all producing interesting pinots  with structure and depth.

16. Canterbury Plains

The flat Canterbury Plains surrounding Christchurch may have given birth to wine in the region, but is arguably becoming less important as a wine region as development takes strong hold in Waipara. It has a slightly cooler climate than Waipara due to direct exposure to the sea. The plains are comprised of mainly of shallow free-draining stony soils with varying alluvial deposits thanks to a large number of creeks and rivers crossing the plain now, and in former eras. West Melton, Banks Peninsula and Rolleston are all sub districts of this area, where white wines are much more prevalent than pinot. I have had not had enough pinot grown here to establish a wine style but I have sense a lighter touch, more foresty touch.

17. Waitaki Valley

Inland and south of Christchurch the west-east oriented Waitaki Valley is generating considerable pinot excitement and rapid expansion. Climatically it is more like Otago than Canterbury, but falls geographically and administratively on the edge of the Canterbury line. It is farther south thus cooler but being farther inland (60 kms from the ocean) it experiences less humidity, warm summers and typically, long dry autumns. The main draw here however is the limestone-ridden/schist soils on the hills above the valley floor.  The vineyards are planted on north-facing (sun-facing) slopes along the south bank of the river near the town of Kurow. I have been very taken with the fragrance, energy, depth and minerality of the few Waitaki pinots I have tried, including Ostler’s great Caroline Pinot. Other wineries to watch include Valli, Q Wine and Otiake. A star is emerging, very much worthy of its own appellation/regional status.  It isn’t Otago and it isn’t Canterbury, so let it be its own very special pinot haven.

18. Central Otago

1,356 pinot hectares
Six sub-regions
Gibbston Valley
Cromwell Basin (Pisa/Lowburn)

Central Otago burst onto the NZ and international pinot scene through the 2000s; with wines and attitudes as brash and bold as the landscape – a magnificent mix of mesas/terraces, rivers and reservoirs back-dropped by snow-capped mountains. On my first trip to New Zealand in the mid 1990s I was asked if I would be interested in tasting pinot noir from a man named Alan Brady who had pioneered a winery called Gibbston Valley way down on the South Island near Queenstown. He would bring the wines to my B&B in Auckland.  Of course I agreed, and I remember being struck by the nerve, energy and fragrance of his wines. As well as by his passion for the future of Central Otago.

Today there are almost 100 wineries in Central (as they call it locally), all making pinot noir (plus riveting chardonnay, riesling and pinot gris). Pinot noir is 70% of Otago’s wine production. But as I quickly discovered during my first trip there in 2013, Otago is not one place, indeed there are at least six sub-regions. They are however united by latitude – a frost-prone 45-47 degrees (Niagara is 43.5, Burgundy is 47). It is claimed to be the most southerly wine region in the South Hemisphere.

They are also united by fairly high altitude in the arid lee of the Southern Alps (not unlike B.C.s Okanagan Valley at 49 degrees). So it is a cool region indeed, on paper. But the growing season can be hot and sunny indeed. Central Otago is more prone to make ripe-fruited pinots that often have high alcohol but also  good acidity thanks to cool night-time temperatures. Long cool and usually dry autumns also allow longer hang time and more flavour development.

It is the only continental climate pinot noir region in New Zealand!

The soils of Otago are essentially loess and gravel, which means they are quite well drained, even more so as most vineyards are some degree of slope. Shaped by glaciers and now carved by lakes, rivers there are a wide range of soils across the various sub-regions, comprised of schist, clay, silt loams, gravels, windblown sands and loess. The majority have stony sub-soils, with schist or greywacke bedrock.

Many Otago wineries have vineyards in more than one sub-region, and may blend regions. So the Central Otago appellation is widespread.

19. Gibbston Valley

5 Otago Gibbston Valley

Gibbston Valley, Central Otago

The Gibbston Valley is the first wine region visitors encounter when leaving Queenstown to explore Otago wineries. It was also the first place planted to produce a commercial pinot noir by Alan Brady back in 1987. The region is more like a shelf, bench or porch than a valley, running above the spectacular Kawarau Gorge that eventually tumbles into the Cromwell Basin. It is the highest sub-region of Otago and its cooler climate and north-facing hillside vines ripen later than neighbouring sub-regions. The soils are heavily schisted, and the combination produces pinots that are somewhat lighter, more elegant and stony than many Otago peers. Gibbston Valley was the original winery but others like Peregrine, Amisfield and Chard Farm are making some exciting wines

20. Wanaka

Lake Wanaka, with vineyards along its shoreline near the charming town of Wanaka, lies 80km and a couple of mountain ranges north of Queenstown. Rippon’s spectacular vineyard has become an iconic photo-opp for New Zealand wine, thanks to the backdrop of snow-capped peaks. Wanaka is a bit cooler and slightly wetter than other sub-regions, but the lake does reflect heat and helps prevent frosts. Rippon, an excellent biodynamic producer, anchors the small Wanaka region, but Mt Maude and Atiku are making wines of elegance as well.

21. Cromwell Basin (Lowburn/Pisa)

The large “central” valley of Central Otago winegrowing is defined by Lake Dunstan, a man-made 25km long reservoir with the orchard town of Cromwell at its south end. The lower altitude vineyards near Cromwell tend to be defined as coming from the Lowburn, while those from sloping sites and terraces on the lower slopes of the Pisa Range are defined as Pisa.  One might argue for two separate appellations here but there is a blurring of sites in my mind at least. It’s a warmer, earlier ripening area on sandier soils and overall I find the wine style to be quite ripe, fruit forward and fragrant with a certain juicy drinkability. Many Otago wineries have acreage here, but of those located in the Cromwell Basin look for Quartz Reef and Surveryor Thomson (both biodynamic), Rockburn, Archangel, Wooing Tree and Aurum.

22. Bendigo

Northeast of Cromwell, on slopes and terraces on the east side of Dunstan Lake,  Bendigo is possibly the warmest of all the sub-regions (although Alexandra is too) with vines planted on north facing slopes on stony and wind-blown loess soils. Some are at 220 metres, others higher up at 330 metres. At any rate, it’s rather wild country, with hot days and cool nights. I find the wines quite powerful, broad and chunky with a ripe fruit and garrigue (masculine as opposed to a more feminine style across the way in Pisa/Lowburn). Impressive wineries based on some personal experience are Misha’s Vineyard, Tarras, Mondillo and Prophet’s Rock.

23. Bannockburn

Bannockburn is perhaps the most well-established and well known of the Otago sub-regions, thanks to founding of three wineries in the 1990s that went on to carve out a great quality reputation outside of New Zealand – Felton Road, Carrick and Mount Difficulty.  The vineyards lie south of Cromwell (and removed from moderating effect of Lake Dunstan) on terraces and hills that have been carved into some breathtaking land forms. The region was once heavily mined for gold. This is a warm, dry region, producing powerful, age-worthy, distinctive and complex pinots, often with a note of wild thyme. Aside from Felton Road, Carrick and Mount Difficulty, look also for pinots from Hawkshead, Bannock Brae, Terra Sancta, Akarua, Georgetown and Wild Earth.

7 otago Alexandra

Alexandra Basin, Central Otago

24. Alexandra Basin

The most southerly sub-region of Otago, and perhaps the most southerly pinot region in the world actually had a winery in the 1860s, and the old walls still stand. The Clutha River drains out of the Cromwell Basin and flows south through a gorge into the Alexandra Basin.  It is very hot here during the summer but the nights are also very cool. The landscape is scenically average until you come upon some almost lunar-like outcroppings of decomposing schist, around which vineyards are often planted. I found the pinots here to be very ripe, rich and often possessing glorious cherry fruit.  Two Paddocks by actor Sam Neal is one of the most well-known Alexandra wineries, although tiny Grasshopper Rock is very much on my radar too. There are several other small wineries as well.

And that is a wrap for now. Hopefully this gives NZ pinot fans something of a more cohesive framework that begins to make some sense of what you are experiencing in the glass from New Zealand pinot noir. I urge NZ winemakers to get their regions onto the labels anyway they can to help the consumer cause. And I expect that over the next decade we will see many more appear.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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Northernlands : The Great Canadian Wine and Craft Beer Adventure

Treve’s Travels
by Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Earlier this spring, all wine, beer and spirit routes led to Edmonton. Yes, Edmonton. Over 60 craft producers from coast to coast headed to our country’s belly to share wares, feast well and collaborate on ideas. The sprouted brainchild of the city’s wine guru, and past WineAlign national judge Gurvinder Bhatia, Northernlands transformed the bustling city into a Canadian food and wine nexus. For a few days, Edmonton was THE place to learn about, taste, drink our boozy bounty and feast on our culinary riches, all the while raising funds for the High School Culinary Challenge and the Edmonton Community Foundation Grateful Palate Fund.

Anyone who knows Gurvinder – and is there anyone in the industry that doesn’t know this popular television / radio / magazine / retail personality and amaro promoter? – knows that his vision is only matched by his commitment. I shouldn’t have been so surprised then, when this inaugural festival was so complete and organized and so well attended by presenters and consumers. I was able to participate both behind the scenes as a wine judge (which I can attest to is an entire event in itself) and a seminar presenter (let’s do some food and wine mythbusting, plus a look at Canadian sparkling coast to coast) as well as a public imbiber at the main Meet Your Makers event (another freestanding, massive event to coordinate and execute, including a kick ass ping pong tournament!)


The fact that Gurvinder organized and orchestrated both of these, as well as wine dinners with guest and local chefs for 800 consumers (!!) around the city of Edmonton, as well as a series of public educational wine and food seminars – over the space of a few short days – still leaves me gobsmacked, and entirely impressed with his vision and his close knit team of family and friends who supported him.

“As a first year festival we were very pleased on a number of levels”, reflects Gurvinder a few days post event. “Only a handful of the 800 seats at 20 producer dinners occurring simultaneously around the city on the Friday night were not filled, over 800 guests (with another 200 on the waitlist) attended the Meet Your Makers event on the Saturday night and the majority of the seminars were either sold out or close to sold out. Most importantly, by the response I’ve received from the participating wine producers, craft breweries, chefs, national and international judges/journalists and guests, we’ve taken significant steps in the right direction to achieve the festival’s mandate which is to raise the profile of the Canadian wine and culinary industries nationally and internationally; celebrate the individuals responsible for the innovation and quality evolution of the Canadian wine, craft beverage and culinary industries; bring producers and chefs together from coast to coast and create opportunities for discussion and collaboration; help to evolve the wine and culinary culture of our community and country; bring attention to Edmonton as a culinary destination; and raise funds for two very important community charitable organizations.”

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Indeed, the sunny spring weekend left attendees and participants on a high – a welcome and encompassing, high quality festival that encourages participation and collaboration and helps to make quality Canadian wines more familiar and accessible to the general population.

Of course, Gurvinder’s vision doesn’t end here. “I am hoping that we can grow the event to encourage even greater participation from producers across the country and encourage attendance from guests across not just western Canada, but the entire country, north-western United States and even beyond. I’d like to get greater involvement from the trade, both locally and across the region. I’d also like to expand the number of international judges/journalists invited to accelerate the global exposure of the Canadian wine, craft beverage and culinary industries. We can be proud of what our country is producing. We need to let the rest of the world know and we also need to have outside eyes helping to let us know where we stand compared to the rest of the world.”

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The plan for the next instalment would be for two years from now, and once all the feedback and financials are tallied, Gurvinder will make the final decision later this year. He notes, “If the initial response is any indication (the producers have to see the value in what we are trying to accomplish with respect to the big picture in order for the festival to continue), we will make every effort to do it again.”

And if Gurvinder envisions Northernlands in 2017, you should clear your calendar now.


The Wine Competition saw just under 200 entries from Vancouver Island to Nova Scotia, and was judged by a panel of Canadian and International judges over a period of two days. The category winners, and my personal tasting notes, are below:


Best Red Wine: Road 13 Jackpot Syrah 2011, Okanagan Valley BC

Best White Wine : Tawse Sketches Riesling 2013, Niagara Peninsula Ontario

Best Sticky : Henry of Pelham Special Select Late Harvest Vidal 2013, Ontario

Runner Up : Tawse Winery Riesling Icewine 2013, Niagara Peninsula

Best Bubbles : Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Sparkling Riesling 2013, Twenty Mile Bench Ontario

Runner Up : Henry of Pelham Family Estate Cuvee Catharine Brut NV, Niagara Peninsula Ontario

Benjamin Bridge Brut 2009, Gaspereau Valley Nova Scotia 


Best Merlot : 8th Generation Vineyard 2012, Okanagan Valley BC

Runner Up : Tinhorn Creek Vineyards Oldfield Series 2011, Okanagan Valley BC

Best Red Blend : Clos du Soleil Celestiale 2012, British Columbia

Runner Up : Road 13 Fifth Element 2011, Okanagan BC

Best Pinot Noir : Meyer Family Vineyards ‘McLean Creek Vineyard’ 2013, Okanagan Valley

Runner Up : JoieFarm Winery 2012, Okanagan BC

Best Cabernet Franc : Burrowing Owl 2011, Okanagan BC

Runner Up : Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery 2012, Okanagan BC

Best Syrah : Road 13 Jackpot 2011, Okanagan BC

Runner Up : Church and State Winery Coyote Bowl 2011, Okanagan BC

Best Pinot Gris : Lake Breeze Vineyards 2014, Okanagan BC

Runner Up : 50th Parallel Estate 2014, Okanagan BC

Best Chardonnay : Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2013, Okanagan BC

Runner Up : JoieFarm Winery Reserve “En Famille” 2012, Okanagan BC

Best Riesling : Tawse Sketches 2013, Niagara Peninsula Ontario

Runner Up : 8th Generation Vineyard Riesling Classic 28 Year Old Vines 2013, Okanagan BC



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LCBO Announces First Regional Specialty Store

by John Szabo MS, WineAlignMay 3, 2015


There will be some happy Greeks on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue!

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The LCBO, in a progressive move, has confirmed it will be moving ahead with a pilot project to create regional specialty stores across the GTA. LCBO Executive VP Dr. George Soleas shared the development with WineAlign, revealing that the concept will be trialled in store 4, the flagship location on the Danforth in the heart of the Greek community, starting May 25th.

According to Soleas, “90-100 Greek wines and spirits will eventually be stocked in their own prominent section, including up to 50 pulled directly from the consignment program, ranging in price from about $15 to $50″.

This nearly triples the current offering in LCBO stores, and several of the consignment wines recently reviewed by WineAlign will soon be on shelves. It’s the first time that wines from the consignment warehouse, restricted to case lot sales and often subject to delays and delivery charges, will be incorporated into LCBO stocks. Mr. Soleas says, the move is designed to increase the selection in under-served categories, in the demographic areas where demand is highest.

According to Steve Kriaris of the Kolonaki Group, Ontario’s largest importer of Greek wines & spirits, “the additional benefit is not only larger selection, but also, finally, that premium Greek wines will be available by the bottle. Until now consumers have had to buy most of the premium offerings in full case lots, which, of course, is limiting”.

Dr. Soleas revealed that Portugal is scheduled next, and if the pilot proves successful, other stores will be designated to carry a deeper selection, including consignment products, from specific countries and regions. He said he has been working on this initiative for some time and is pleased that it is going ahead.

For me, while it’s not as progressive as fully privatized specialty shops, it’s a welcome move, opening up consumer access to the vast range of wines available in the province that fly under the radar in consignment. WineAlign will endeavour to review as many of these wines as possible, especially through our new consignment wine review program called “Buy the Case” that is launching imminently.

Over 30 Greek wines carried by the LCBO were reviewed and posted to WineAlign last week, many of which are featured in my report called Confident wines from Original Vines: Reasons to Drink Greek. Many will also be available for tasting by trade and media at the annual Wines of Greece fair May 5 in Toronto.


John Szabo, MS

John Sazbo, MS

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Confident wines from Original Vines: Reasons to Drink Greek

Text and Photos by John Szabo MS
(with poetic quotes from Michael Godel)

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Wines that fulfill the original purpose of fermented grapes are rare birds. If you discount it as a water substitute (wine was a much safer alternative to dodgy water sources before modern municipal services were introduced), wine’s preeminent raison d’être has always been to show up at mealtime, as a counterpart to food, contrasting, complementing or simply rinsing between bites, occasionally fueling conversations or sparking poetic soliloquies around the table.

Yet many producers today feel compelled to make their wines a meal in themselves, isolated monuments, seeking not only to earn a living but also make a personal statement. Such wines can surely be impressive, stuffed full of everything, ageworthy, expensive. Others, at the opposite end of the spectrum, focus on blatantly commercial offerings, pandering to our primal love of easy, soft and sweet, making wines that seem designed to fulfill the role of a guilty, mid-afternoon muffin or unneeded dessert (and make lots of money).

Fewer, it seems, are those making wines to satisfy a simple but vital role at the table. Neither soft and easy nor intended to induce genuflection, these are wines of fervent character that don’t look to steal the show. They’re comfortably moderate in every way, confident enough to leave the house without makeup, and seek to be monuments to nothing other than a tradition or a grape or a place. They’re anything but one-note songs and not necessarily inexpensive (cheap), but by my definition need to make financial sense on a Tuesday night. These are the wines I want to drink while I’m eating. And I do that a lot.

If you share a love for such wines, then we probably already “align” on WineAlign. And if so, you’ll want to consider some of the recommended Greek wines coming out over the next couple of months in LCBO and VINTAGES Greek-themed releases.

Greece is after all a country steeped in the traditions of wining and dining. In fact, a glass of wine (or ouzo) on an empty table is a heretical modern phenomenon, sure to inspire a conspiracy theory, which the Greeks are expert at dreaming up. Greek wine producers have the domestic market to contend with, and in order to win over local consumers, wines need to deliver their pre-destined, food friendly character. Besides, anything else would be counter-nature, considering that Greece’s impressive collection of native grapes has been winnowed over millennia through natural selection aimed at delivering desired characteristics: vibrant acids, moderate alcohol and the sort of savoury, herbal, umami-rich, faded fruit flavours that resonate with food. How often do you see fresh fruit on your main course plate?

Despite domestic difficulties, or perhaps because of, Greek wineries are reporting strong export gains over the last couple of years. This coincides, not coincidentally, with the gathering worldwide momentum behind wines with high drinkability factor and some unique regional or varietal proposition. Greece is a rich source of original vines with singular flavours. Add in the Tuesday night pricing and the offer is strong.

Buyer’s Guide: Greece

(Note: the following wines are, or will shortly be available at the LCBO or consignment. Check WineAlign for current inventory or contact the agents for details.)

To find more Greek wines available at a store near you, please click here.

The Peloponnese 


The angular vine-and-olive-grove-covered hills of the northern Peloponnese are home to Greece’s largest red wine appellation, Nemea, and one of its most significant and charming varieties: agiorgitiko. The Boutari Agiorgitiko 2013 is a fine introduction, delivering plenty of exuberant strawberry and raspberry fruit, and big smiles, for the money. Also on the lighter side and best served with a light chill, the Mountain Fish Agiorgitiko 2012 is the sort of honest and lively, fruity and savoury type of wine I’d hope to encounter at this price, free from obtrusive wood flavor and focused on food-friendly acids and an herbal-resinous twang. The product is considerably better than the kitschy label would imply.

Boutari Agiorgitiko 2013 Mountain Fish Agiorgitiko 2012 Gaia Agiorgitiko Nemea 2013

A window on the potential grandeur of the grape is offered by the Gaia Agiorgitiko Nemea 2013 – a more genteel, polished red from a regional leader. The texture is all silk and the wine fills the mouth nicely with dark fruit and floral flavours on a back beat of salinity.

Other producers in Canada to watch for: Domaine Tselepos, Lantides Estate, Cavino, Parparoussis


Tselepos Classique Mantinia Moschofilero 2013 Boutari Moschofilero 2014The most celebrated white wine region in the Peloponnese is called Mantinia, the appellation named after the 650 meter-high plateau where the grape moscophilero delivers its most fragrant expression. This is Greece’s slightly more exotic equivalent to pinot gris/grigio, light, crisp and fragrant, as demonstrated by the ever-reliable Boutari Moschofilero 2014. This is perfect for al fresco dining.

When fully ripe, the skins of moscophilero turn pinkish-red (like pinot gris), and top examples often have a slight pinkish hue, as with the Tselepos Classique Mantinia Moschofilero 2013. Like Yiannis Tselepos himself, this is a forceful, boisterous wine, particularly aromatic with an almost muscat-like perfume, and uncommonly rich, mouth filing palate (this has 13% alcohol declared, a good 1% higher than the regional average). It’s perfect with lightly spiced, aromatic fare, southeast Asian-style. “An example for racing Moschofilero against Pinot Grigio and passing it on the stretch from the outside lane”, suggests Michael Godel. “World turning acidity and length as long as the Nestani’s walk to Demeter’s Temple.”

Other producers in Canada to watch for: Spiropoulos

Northern Greece

Naoussa (Macedonia) 

As an introduction to northern Greece and its more earthy, angular reds, try the Kir Yianni Paranga 2012, a blend of local xynomavro complemented by syrah and merlot. It’s a consequential, firm and plummy wine with uncommon depth and concentration for under $15, ideal for roasts and BBQs. From the same producer but a step up in complexity and structure, the Ktima Kir Yianni 2011 is an assertive, powerful estate blend of 60% xinomavro and 40% merlot. It’s redolent of freshly turned earth, savoury herbs, and dusty red fruit, in other words, very much like a modern Tuscan sangiovese blend. But the texture is firm and puckering – there’s definitely no pandering to commercial soft and cuddly tastes here. An authentic and tight, chewy and rustic red wine in the old world style.

For a taste of xynomavro is its pure and traditional form, Boutari does it as well as anyone else. The Boutari Grande Reserve 2008 is crafted under the watchful eye of chief winemaker Yiannis Voyatzis, who has xynomavro planted in his own small project and knows it intimately. Anyone used to paying $30+ for Barolo or Barbaresco should take note: this is a terrific bargain for fans of distinctive, leather-bound, old world reds with its dusty, herbal flavours and firm tannins and acids. Considering the bottles I’ve had from Boutari back to the mid-1980s, this will age very well.

Kir Yianni Paranga 2012 Ktima Kir Yianni 2011 Boutari Grande Reserve 2008 Kir Yianni Akakies Rosé 2013

West across the mountains from Naoussa is Amyndeon PDO, the only appellation in Greece for rosé. Xynomavro is called to action again, a grape supremely well-equipped to produce versions in the dry, tart and herbal spectrum, as in the spunky Kir Yianni Akakies Rosé 2013.

Other producers in Canada to watch for: Thymiopoulos, Domaine Karydas

Epanomi (Thessaloniki)

The vineyards of Epanomi south of the city of Thessaloniki would remain largely unknown in the broader world were it not for the pioneering, and ongoing work of Vangelis Gerovassiliou. Widely acknowledge as one of Greece’s top winegrowers, he rescued the now much-admired malagousia grape from near extinction (or, “resurrected it like a Greek Jesus”, in Godel’s vision) and continues to produces its most distinctive version, the superb Domaine Gerovassiliou Malagousia Vieilles Vignes 2013. This terrific old vines cuvée is an intensely aromatic, pungent, floral, viognier-like white wine with full body and stacks of tropical fruit. It’s for fans of rich and thick whites, though marked salinity and a streak of underlying acids keep it lithe and lively. “It would be hard not to fall for this Adonis of Greek whites, a strikingly beautiful Phoenician whose drops of liqueur turn to liquid alloy in a glass”, continues Godel.

Malagousia gets palate-stretching drive and an acid kick from assyrtiko in the Domaine Gerovassiliou White 2014 – a very fine, weighty, fleshy and fruity 50-50 blend. Some barrel notes are still marked for the time being, but there’s ample fruit intensity to ensure full integration in time, another 6 months-one year should be sufficient.

Domaine Gerovassiliou Malagousia Vieilles Vignes 2013 Domaine Gerovassiliou White 2014 Domaine Glinavos Primus Zitsa 2013

Zitsa (Ioannina, Northwestern Greece)

Zitsa PDO near the northwestern border of Greece is obscure even by Greek standards. Domaine Glinavos is the standard-bearer for the region, and the Domaine Glinavos Primus Zitsa 2013 nicely captures the lightly floral and herbal, resinous (terpenic) notes of the local debina grape in a crisp and dry style. For the money, this is a more than adequate food friendly white.

The Aegean Islands

The Caldera, Santorini-0127


Of all the Greek wines that have made it to international markets, none have equalled the impact of Santorini. These are whites of majestic power and frighteningly electric, salty-minerality, the kind that catches the uninitiated completely unawares. They’ve caused more than a few sprained palates along the way. If you’ve yet to experience the forces of nature that are distilled through a few drops of assyrtiko grown on the pure volcanic rock and pumice soils of the island, ease your way in through the Argyros Atlantis White 2014. The vines for this assyrtiko-based wine with a splash of athiri (another indigenous Santorini grape) are from the “younger” parcels on the island, less than 50 years old (many vines on the island are speculated to be over two centuries old), yielding a wine focused on freshness with a streak of salty character that highlights white-fleshed grapefruit flavours.

Argyros Atlantis White 2014 Santo Assyrtiko 2014 Argyros Santorini Assyrtiko 2014

A middle ground is provided by the Santo Wines Assyrtiko 2014 an excellent example from the much-improved cooperative, the largest producer on the island. This is crafted in a lighter, fruitier style than the mean for Santorini, relatively speaking of course, but still highly distinctive. Michael Godel describes it more evocatively as “Assyrtiko seemingly dredged in volcanic tuff erosion and tightly wound by straight-shooting citrus smack.”

Then when you’re ready to step it up, introduce your tongue to the searing, razor-sharp, bone-dry beauty of the Argyros Assyrtiko 2014 Santorini. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly open, fragrant and pretty aromatics buoyant fruit – the wine is not yet ready for you and will change. A couple more years are required for the volcanic smoke to clear and for the crackling acids and marine flavours to mellow, morphing into a dopplegänger of your favorite white wine (think Chablis, Mosel or Alsatian Riesling, Wachau grüner veltliner… you can fill in the blank).

Other producers in Canada to watch for: Domaine Sigalas, Gaia Estate

To find more Greek wines available at a store near you, please click here.

GreeceJSYianni Paraskevopolous, Gaia Estate, and a very old vine, Santorini-0261

For more exciting news for Greek wines, the LCBO has announced a pilot project to create regional specialty stores. The first one is planned for the flagship location on the Danforth in the heart of the Greek community. Read more here: LCBO Announces First Regional Specialty Store

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

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!

Sunset from Imerovigli, Santorini-0231

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Quelques trouvailles au Salon des vins de Québec

par Rémy Charest

Rémy Charest

Rémy Charest

Ce qui est à la fois génial et frustrant, dans un évènement comme le Salon international des vins de Québec, c’est qu’on goûte plein de choses différentes et parfois inattendues – mais qu’il en reste toujours plus qu’on ne réussira pas à goûter. La quatrième présentation du salon se poursuit jusqu’à demain, 17h, et elle s’est lancée hier dans la bonne humeur, alors que les professionnels y faisaient le tour des tables, souvent en groupes, pour voir ce que les nombreux agents et producteurs sur place avaient à offrir.

On pourrait passer les trois jours sur place et toujours avoir plein de trucs à découvrir. En un après-midi, hier, j’ai fait de belles trouvailles et des rencontres sympathiques, dont je partage quelques-unes ici.

Un arrêt en Bourgogne

IMG_9016Côté Bourgogne, j’avais bien apprécié ma visite à la maison Jean-Claude Boisset, l’été dernier, en compagnie de l’oenologue en chef Gregory Patriat, qui me faisait défiler des premiers crus à une vitesse presque étourdissante. J’ai continué à apprécier d’autres cuvées de ce genre de négoce haute couture, depuis, et c’est pourquoi je suis allé échanger quelques minutes avec Laure Guilloteau, également oenologue chez Boisset, pour goûter quelques cuvées: un aligoté 2013 élevé en barriques, qui renforce mon préjugé favorable envers ce cépage, un pouilly-fuissé excellent, équilibré, qu’on pourrait donner en exemple parfait de l’appellation, un chorey-les-beaune sympathique et surtout, un gevrey-chambertin 2012 puissant, équilibré, avec de belles acidités et des tannins bien placés, qu’on pourrait bien mettre à la cave pour plusieurs années.

Du Pic-Saint-Loup, avec ça?

François Chartier est au rendez-vous tout le weekend pour présenter sa gamme de vins, et les vignerons avec qui il s’est associé sont également IMG_9008en ville. Roger Mézy, du Clos des Augustins, responsable entre autres du blanc Chartier en IGP Languedoc, est au rendez-vous pour parler non seulement des vins de Chartier, mais aussi de deux cuvées à lui, produites dans les environs de Pic-Saint-Loup, l’appellation la plus septentrionale du Languedoc. Son Bambins blanc 2013 est un assemblage inhabituel de vermentino, de chardonnay et de roussanne, qui combine bien la nervosité du premier et la structure du dernier. Le rouge, qui réunit syrah, grenache et mourvèdre, offre la générosité – mais aussi ce petit côté herbacé bien particulier à Pic-Saint-Loup. Deux cuvées qui ont de la personnalité à revendre.

Les mystères du romorantin

IMG_9009Un des plus anciens cépages de la vallée de la Loire, le romorantin, est aussi un des plus beaux – et des plus rares. Il vit dans une appellation qui lui est exclusivement consacrée, cour-cheverny, représenté au Salon par le Domaine des Huards, dont quatre vins sont présentés – tous disponibles en SAQ. Paulina Gendrier (qu’on voit sur la photo en compagnie de Cyril Kérébel, le patron de l’agence La QV), m’a présenté deux cuvées distinctes, le Romo 2010 et le François 1er 2008, qui m’ont frappé par leur différences marquées, le premier étant nerveux et fringant, l’autre d’une profondeur exceptionnelle. Les deux cuvées sont travaillées de la même manière – en cuve inox – la différence entre les deux étant selon elle essentiellement attribuable à l’âge des vignes, plus vieilles dans le François 1er. Les deux sont très bien, en tout cas, et capables de passer de belles années à la cave – pour un prix modéré, en plus.

Un grüner qui fait ton bonheur?

IMG_9010Du côté sud de la salle, quelques kiosques sont consacrés à des régions: Émilie-Romagne, Afrique du Sud et Autriche, entre autres. De belles occasions de se faire une idée sur ce qui fait bouger ces zones viticoles et sur les cépages qui les caractérisent. Mon ami et excellent sommelier Kler-Yann Bouteiller étant derrière la table autrichienne, j’ai goûté plusieurs vins faits des cépages typiques du pays, à premier titre le grüner veltliner et le blaufränkisch. Mon préféré du lot, le blaufränkisch de chez Prieler, expansif et généreux, avec tout le fruit noir et l’épice typiques du cépage, disponible en SAQ pour 25$ et des poussières. Kler-Yann et moi avons beaucoup discuté du grüner veltliner de Pichler-Krutzler, dense et puissant, très serré, que personnellement j’aimerais revoir dans 5, 10 ou même 15 ans. Un vin de dessert botrytisé de chez Feiler-Artinger, élégant et complexe, vaut aussi le détour. Allez goûter par là, vous serez agréablement surpris, si vous n’avez pas encore goûté ce qui sort de ce pays.

Du vin de quoi?!!?

IMG_9015Dans la catégorie étonnement total, il y a aussi chez l’agence Les Contrebandiers, des vins de clémentine, d’orange et d’orange sanguine produites dans la région de Séville, en Espagne. Des goûts d’agrumes prononcés, avec un peu d’amertume rappelant un peu la marmelade. Est-ce que j’en boirais tout seul? Je ne sais pas trop. Par contre, en cocktail sur du gin ou de la vodka, voire même pour donner un côté orangé à un cocktail à base de bourbon, ça pourrait probablement être vachement intéressant…

J’ai également profité du salon pour goûter plusieurs cuvées à moins de 20$, dont celles du Vignoble Sainte-Pétronille, toujours très réussies, et des trucs agréables d’Argentine, de Grèce et de Vénétie. Je vous en reparle dans notre chronique mensuelle des 20 bons vins à moins de 20$, à la fin du mois.

Il y en aurait eu bien d’autres, aussi, avec un peu plus de temps disponible. Par exemple, j’aurais bien aimé aller déguster les bourgognes du domaine Meix-Foulot, dont le vigneron est présent sur place, ou parler de l’appellation Vinsobres avec Anthony Jaume, regoûter les vins du Loup Blanc avec Alain Rochard, ou poser quelques questions à Jorges Guimaraes de Sogrape, la grande (et solide) entreprise viticole du Portugal. Pour n’en citer que quelques-uns.

Ramenez des bouteilles à la maison

Nouveauté au salon, cette année: on peut commander sur place des bouteilles de vin en importation privée. Alors que, normalement, l’achat d’importation privée se fait seulement à la caisse, le Salon est une occasion de faire exception et de découvrir des vins qu’on ne trouve pas dans les succursales de la SAQ, de façon accessible et simple. J’ai croisé hier quelques amis qui se réjouissaient de remplir leurs bons de commande avec des trouvailles « exclusives ». Si vous avez le béguin pour un vin méconnu, c’est une belle occasion de le ramener à la maison.

Et si vous faites des découvertes, pourquoi ne pas les partager ici-même ou sur notre page Facebook?

Santé et bon salon!


Quelques idées pour une visite réussie

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Salon des vins de Québec : quelques idées pour une visite réussie

par Rémy Charest

Rémy Charest

Rémy Charest

À Québec, il est attendu, le Salon des vins et spiritueux, qui en est cette année à sa quatrième présentation. Pour vous donner une idée, l’édition précédente, en 2013, avait accueilli 12 500 visiteurs, ce qui est environ la même fréquentation que la Grande dégustation de Montréal (13 000, en octobre dernier) – alors que cette dernière a lieu dans un marché cinq fois plus grand, en termes de population.

Il faut dire qu’il est un peu seul de sa gang – pas de Raspipav, de salon des vins italiens et tutti quanti, à Québec – ce qui le rend d’autant plus attendu, quand il revient une fois aux deux ans. Et le Salon sait aussi faire appel à des personnalités bien en vue et appréciées du public, comme la porte-parole Jessica Harnois ou encore Ricardo Larrivée, qui sera sur place samedi et dimanche pour faire goûter sa gamme de vins. François Chartier y sera également, tant pour une animation sur les accords mets-vins avec son complice Stéphane Modat (présentée samedi à 16h avec vins Chartier et bouchées Modat à la clé), que pour la finale du Grand défi des chefs Ribera del Duero – Cacao Barry, où trois chefs (sur soixante participants) viendront présenter les recettes d’inspiration chocolatée conçues pour cette compétition originale (dimanche à 16h).

Il y aura aussi bon nombre de conférences, sur des régions comme l’Afrique du Sud ou la Loire, sur des produits comme le cidre de glace (avec François Pouliot, de la Face cachée de la pomme), ou encore sur la biodynamie, avec le vigneron Friedrich Schatz qui travaille, comme son nom ne l’indique pas, en Espagne. La liste complète des activités est disponible sur le site du Salon des vins.

le Salon international des vins et spiritueux de Québec

Des dizaines de domaines, provenant d’une trentaine de pays (un record, nous dit l’organisation) ont également envoyé des représentants vers Québec, des maisons bordelaises bien connues comme Joseph Janoueix à des producteurs chiliens qui le sont moins comme Villaseñor. Parmi ceux-ci, je vous suggère notamment d’aller piquer une jasette avec :

– Isabelle Meunier, excellent vigneronne québécoise installée en Oregon, qui était jusqu’à récemment chez Evening Land, et qui représentera les vins de Willamette Valley, en compagnie de représentants des maisons Chehalem et Cristom.

– Jean-Pierre Colas, sympathique vigneron ontarien, qui officie chez 13th Street Winery, dans le Niagara.

– Géraud Bonnet, de la Ferme apicole Desrochers, dont les hydromels vont vous épater, si vous ne les avez pas déjà goûtés.

– Mathieu Mercier, le maître de chai de la maison Osoyoos-Larose, qui produit des assemblages bordelais de grande finesse dans la vallée de l’Okanagan, en Colombie-Britannique.

Anthony Jaume, du domaine du même nom, qui produit dans la belle appellation de Vinsobres – et qui est aussi un des complices de François Chartier dans sa gamme de vins vendue tant en SAQ que chez IGA.

– Paulina Gendrier, une québécoise qui travaille avec son mari Alexandre dans la Loire, et qui pourra vous parler en particulier des merveilles du cépage romorantin.

Jérome Quiot, de la famille du même nom, qui produit plusieurs belles cuvées dans la vallée du Rhône.

Il y en a des paquets d’autres, aussi, qui seront sûrement étourdis à la fin du weekend, à force de verser à gauche et à droite à quantité d’amateurs, tout au long de la fin de semaine.

Salon international des vins et spiritueux de Québec

À part ça? Partez à l’aventure. Goûtez des trucs que vous ne connaissez pas, des régions que vous ne regardez même pas, habituellement : sortez de vos ornières. L’intérêt d’avoir accès à 1 500 produits ouverts à la dégustation, c’est justement de vous permettre de sortir de l’ordinaire.

Si vous faites des découvertes au Salon, n’hésitez pas à nous en faire part en partageant vos notes et photos sur la page Facebook de Chacun son vin.


Quelques trouvailles au Salon des vins de Québec


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The Successful Collector – Bordeaux 2012 Futures

Julian Hitner reports on one of the most inconsistent and overpriced vintages Bordeaux has faced in recent years.

A question of value:
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

If there is one lesson claret connoisseurs may take from the 2012 vintage, it is that it pays to be selective. To best understand this, we must briefly turn our attention to the back-to-back vintages of 2009 and 2010. Widely hailed as two of the most luxurious, most ageworthy harvests Mother Nature has ever bestowed, most estates and négociants experienced little compunction in raising their prices by hitherto ludicrous margins. Considering the quality, collectors and casual buyers both played along, and sales went extremely well. Then came 2011, a vintage of middling quality that should have brought prices back to levels similar to 2008 – ironically the most underrated vintage of the 21st century. It didn’t, and sales were anything but vigorous.

This brings us back to 2012, a vintage of even more variable quality. For most of us, common sense would dictate that estates and négociants, smarting from a sharp decline in 2011 sales, would deign to adjust their prices to something mimicking 2008. Once again, this did not happen, leaving many claret lovers to ask, especially when considering how mediocre 2013 is purported to be: when will Bordeaux wise up?

Hence the importance of selectiveness in 2012, in patronizing only the best wines from a select few estates and négociants with the audacity to sell at reasonable prices. For the record: a surprising number of estates did in fact manage to produce some really attractive, freshly flavoured wines, making it doubly unfortunate that 2012 is most likely to be remembered along the same lines as 2011 or 2007: two deceptively average years plagued more by price gouging than precipitation or pestilence put together. In the end, only a handful of top performers got their acts right.

The Left Bank:

In terms of consistency, Margaux is the standout appellation, with more wines than naught retaining remarkable freshness, definition and fragrance. Clarity of fruit is essential in a vintage like 2012, particularly where new oak is often (and advisably) used in lesser amounts. Those that had problems with ripeness suffered in spades, not just in Margaux but in many other places. In St-Julien, many estates seem to have publicly defied the challenges of the harvest, crafting wines of impeccable fruit orientation and layering. By contrast, Pauillac is more of a mixed bag, where only the really illustrious properties seem to have produced wines of exceptional body, structure and class. More than anything, this is likely to do with problems in fully ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, a factor on which great Pauillac almost always significantly depends. In St-Estèphe, many châteaux seem to have compensated by using larger percentages of earlier-ripening Merlot, crafting some truly appetizing, approachable wines.

Château Kirwan, Margaux

For bargain hunters, however, the appellations of Moulis-en-Médoc and Listrac-Médoc rank as top picks. Without the same name recognition as their above-mentioned counterparts, prices for the best wines, crafted with undeniable scrutiny and care, seem strikingly rewarding and reasonable. Though not exactly as fulsome and cellarable as the best of Margaux or St-Julien, the most promising examples (crafted from larger percentages of Merlot) clearly possess more than enough freshness, structure and durability for both youthful enjoyment and long-term accumulation. Such is the theme of most overvalued yet underappreciated vintages: it gives underdogs a rare chance to shine.

The Graves:

Along with at least several parts of the Left Bank, the reds of Pessac-Léognan are largely hit-and-miss affairs. The whites, on the other hand, are a different matter entirely. Though I was only able to record formal notes on a handful of them (same with the reds), it seems 2012 will be remembered as an extremely successful vintage for white Graves. Crafted mostly from Sauvignon Blanc with Sémillon as accompaniment (along with a few drops of Muscadelle), a great glass of white Pessac-Léognan certainly ranks one of Bordeaux’s most under-celebrated types of premium wine. Like top white burgundy, the best examples are both fermented and matured in oak barrels, resulting in impeccable concentration, complexity and long-term cellaring potential. In 2012, many estates produced truly exceptional, sophisticated examples.

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Sauternes

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the sweet whites of Sauternes and Barsac, with several estates opting out of even declaring a vintage. This is has generated a great deal of controversy, with many arguing such a move serves only to discourage buyers from patronizing the vintage in any way whatsoever. On the other hand: there is general consensus that most estates experienced enormous difficulties in 2012, with only a small number of properties managing to craft really rejuvenating, desirable versions. Thankfully these days, prices for Sauternes and Barsac are almost always agreeable, especially when considering the amount of labour that goes into producing this type of wine.

The Right Bank:

In this neck of the woods, where wines are mostly crafted from Merlot and small amounts of Cabernet Franc, there is no question that Pomerol is the winner, with many estates producing wines of impeccable beauty, harmony and charm. Like their counterparts on the Left Bank, the best examples shall easily keep for two decades or more, though may be enjoyed now with unfettered enthusiasm. Unfortunately, many of these same properties also seem to have taken the same misguided cue in pegging their wines at markedly high prices. As a result, one must use the same level of caution when selecting from Pomerol as with Margaux, St-Julien or white Graves.

Château Gazin, Pomerol

Across the border in St-Emilion, the same generalizations regarding quality are almost impossible to make. On the one hand, there are a good number of estates that steered clear of overt Parkerization (excessive extraction), crafting wines of beautiful smoothness, opulence and pedigree. On the other, you have countless establishments that seem to have lost their way, their wines possessing more in common with port than with claret. While these same wines may be awarded high scores, their injudicious use of new oak and prolonged hang-time on the vine to promote extra ripeness and higher levels of alcohol (particularly inadvisable in 2012) serves only to distort the origins and singular qualities of the wines themselves, not to mention fails to disguise any phenolically underripe grapes that may have been picked. After all, what is the point of growing wine in St-Emilion when they all start tasting like they originated from Napa? In a year like 2012, the creation of such supercharged, overpriced wines does little to boaster long-term support for one of Bordeaux’s most dynamic appellations.

Final thoughts:

For many wine lovers nowadays, Bordeaux continues to harbour an image problem. For some, the estates and their wines are too stuffy, too obsessed with their own self-worth, charging exorbitant prices for bottles that may not even be opened for a decade or more. This makes the pricing structure of a vintage like 2012 all the more problematic, in that it only feeds into such sentiments. If claret is to remain relevant, its countless producers must never forget that its wines are unique, that it is short-sighted to produce wines like those of the Upper Douro or Napa Valley, and that it is especially important for premium estates to significantly lower their prices in non-legendary years. For an underappreciated vintage like 2012, most simply failed to recognize this.

Top picks:

Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2012 Pessac-Léognan hails from one of the most consistent, most proficient producers of premium white Graves. Retaining exemplary palate roundness, harmony and refinement, the Perrin family is yet again to be commended for its superior efforts. Drink now or hold for up to a decade. 

Château Kirwan 2012 Margaux may be easily justified as one of the top premium picks of the appellation, if not the entire vintage. A wine of remarkable purity, fragrance and freshness, it’s a miracle VINTAGES isn’t charging more for this. Drink now or hold for up to two decades. Decanting is recommended.

Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2012 Château Kirwan 2012 Château Siran 2012 Château Prieuré Lichine 2012

Château Siran 2012 Margaux comes from one of the friendliest, most accessible estates in its neck of the woods. Though not included in the 1855 Classification, this deliciously fruity and flavourful claret is easily one of the best bargains of the vintage. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Prieuré-Lichine 2012 Margaux hails from one of the most fragmented estates on the Left Bank, with as many as forty different parcels scattered throughout the appellation. Over the past several years, quality has risen considerably, its latest outing showing exceptional structure and precision. Drink now or hold for eighteen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Maucaillou 2012 Moulis-en-Médoc is unquestionably one of the best bets for the budget-minded, demonstrating outstanding precision, style and harmony. Owned by the Dourthe family since 1929, quality at this estate has risen much over the past several years. Drink now or hold for fifteen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Poujeaux 2012 Moulis-en-Médoc is capable of going head-to-head with many more famous names throughout the Left Bank. Possessing remarkable harmony, precision and build, the Theil family has every reason to be proud of all they’ve accomplished. Drink now or hold for up to eighteen years. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Maucaillou 2012 Château Poujeaux 2012 Château Sociando Mallet 2012 Château Coufran 2012

Château Sociando-Mallet 2012 Haut-Médoc comes from one of the most adept, most undervalued estates on the Left Bank. Possessing remarkable structure and class, wines from this exemplarily situated property are always reasonably priced and delicious. Let’s hope this never changes. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Coufran 2012 Haut-Médoc is a great choice for the budget-minded, containing far more Merlot than Cabernet Sauvignon in the final blend – a reflection of vineyard conditions. Owned by the Miailhe for a very long time, this is one property to watch. Drink now or hold for up to a decade or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Saint-Pierre 2012 St-Julien is definitely one of the year’s highlights, possessing extraordinary layering, structure and elegance. One of the smallest estates included in the 1855 Classification, this impeccable Fourth Growth is seldom sold in VINTAGES, only through its futures programme. Drink now or hold for two decades or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Haut-Bages Libéral 2012 Pauillac hails from one of very few estates in this vintage with the gumption to set its prices correctly. A claret of marvellous framework, balance and appellation character, a wine like this merits our patronage. Drink now or hold for up to eighteen years. Decanting is recommended.

Château Saint Pierre 2012 Château Haut Bages Libéral 2012 Château Gazin 2012 Château Lafaurie Peyraguey 2012

Château Gazin 2012 Pomerol has all the makings of an exemplary red wine, crafted at one of largest, most greatly improved estates on the appellation’s plateau. Exhibiting impeccable layering, structure and breed, it is unfortunate loyal admirers were only given a perfunctory break on the price. Drink now or hold for two decades or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2012 Sauternes regrettably represents one of few sweet wines for which I had time to write formal notes. Even so, few would deny that this particular specimen ranks as one of the most sensational, most lusciously stylish of the bunch. Reasonably priced when considering the amount of labour involved. Drink now or hold for three decades or more. 


Julian Hitner

Click here for Julian’s complete list of 2012 notes

Editors Note: You can find our 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!

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008