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LCBO Announces First Regional Specialty Store

by John Szabo, WineAlign

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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Brugal : Rum Runs Dry

Treve’s Travels
Text and photographs by Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Treve Ring

I was never much one for rum.

Too sweet. Too boozy. Too kitschy. Too much in cocktails with little umbrellas and large fruits, and marketed with little bikinis and large – melons.

So up until last year, I didn’t give too much thought to rum. Sure, I have warmed myself with a good Dark n’ Stormy, wrote (and passed) a WSET Diploma spirits exam on rum manufacturing, and could blind taste and ascertain the acute differences between rums from Jamaica, Barbados, Puerto Rico and Martinique.

But I hadn’t given this Caribbean spirit its due. Study and mimicry is one thing, but it wasn’t until I realized and understood that rum can be DRY, that the spirit took my attention. And it took winging down to Dominican Republic to realize it.


Rum is made from sugarcane byproduct molasses by a process of fermentation and distillation. The distillate, a clear liquid, is then usually aged in oak and other barrels. Style differentiation comes through distillation method, barrel aging and blending. The grades used to describe rum depend on where it was produced. These vary from location to locations, but generally follows these categories:

IMG_4448Light Rums. Also known as silver rums and white rums. In general, has very little flavour aside from a general sweetness, and serves accordingly as a base for cocktails.

Gold Rums. Also known as amber rums. Medium-bodied and generally aged, these gain their dark colour from aging in wooden barrels (usually the charred white oak barrels that are the byproduct of Bourbon Whiskey). They have more flavour, and are stronger tasting than Silver Rum, and can be considered a midway-point between Silver/Light Rum and the darker varieties.

Spiced Rum. These rums obtain their flavour through addition of spices and, sometimes, caramel. Most are darker in colour, and based on gold rums.

Dark Rum. Also known as black rum. Generally aged longer, in heavily charred barrels. Dark rum has a much stronger flavor than either light or gold rum, and hints of spices can be detected, along with a strong molasses or caramel overtone.

Premium Rum. As with other sipping spirits, a market exists for premium and super-premium boutique-branded rums. They have more character and flavour than their “mixing” counterparts, and are generally consumed without the addition of other ingredients.


Brugal Rum was an anomaly to me, and apparently to me (and Canadians) only – it’s the number one rum brand in the Caribbean and Spain and the third largest international rum brand in the world.

Founded in the Dominican Republic over 125 years ago in 1888 by Don Andres Brugal Montaner, an immigrant via Sitges, Spain, the family today remains the brand’s only Maestros Roneros (Master Rum blenders), five generations strong. A member of the family must approve each blend. Even after Brugal was acquired by Scottish spirits giant The Edrington Group in 2006, it was decreed that the Brugal family would remain as shareholders, continue their active role in maintaining quality and preserving tradition, and that production would continue within the Dominican Republic. Today, the humble, close-knit family are revered almost as royalty on the Island, heralded for their commitment to the country, and of course, for the company’s large quantity of high quality rums.


4th & 5th Generation Brugal Family & Master Blenders

When Don Andres founded the company, he broke from the traditional styles of the time to create a distinctively different rum all his own. A dry rum. Similar to single malt whisky, flavours, richness and depth come via cask aging, a process greatly expedited by the extremely hot and humid conditions in the Caribbean. The angels are happy in these warehouses; a significant portion of the liquid evaporates over time. In a hot climate like the Dominican Republic, they lose on average 9-12% of their liquid per year, which is about twice the amount lost in cooler spirit producing regions, like Scotland. The Brugal double distillation process leaves the spirit completely clear, piercingly pure (the heaviest alcohols and ugliest congeners are removed), bone dry and less sweet. Their tag line is “the refreshingly dry rum”, and their digital call #RumRedefined – tidy and tight snapshots of their message and goals.


The farm to bottle process starts 100 miles east of the massive, modern-meets-historic production and bottling facility in Puerto Plata. Here, skilled workers harvest sugarcane from an astonishing 16,000 HA farm. The plants are high, the temperature higher, yet the skilled machete-yielding workers seem cool as a cucumber as they chop, slice and stack the fibrous sweet crop. An experienced harvester can do 3 tons/day, whereas I could barely lift the sharp machete. The cut canes are transported to the La Romana sugar mill, where it is crushed, clarified, heated and centrifuged into the thick, inky, potent black molasses. From there it begins the fermentation with Brugal-developed yeast that can stand up to the black base and convert the sugar into alcohol. The vino (fermented mash) then enters the distillation columns, where the pure flema (clear liquid alcohol) comes off at 180 proof (90% abv) before being cut with water to 65% abv. This clear, hydrated alcohol is the base for every Brugal rum, and what enters directly into wood barrels in the aging warehouse. The final product is dependant on the type, toast and time commitment of the barrel regime.


It’s the aging that sets the style, and cements the commitment to quality. Aging is expensive, but there’s no substitute for it. By the distillery’s estimates, if you stack all of the rum that Brugal loses to evaporation every year in barrels, it would be 30 Empire State Buildings tall. Most of the 250,000 barrels are the traditional ex-Bourbon, American oak, though Brugal is now experimenting with aged Sherry, Whisky casks and cherry wood – a benefit of Edrington’s Scottish parentage.

The end result is a product as smooth as you’d expect a super-premium vodka, gin or tequila to be. Unfortunately, the road to recognition as a premium dry rum is not nearly as smooth. While premium vodka, gin and most recently tequila has emerged as spirits worth solo sipping and singular appreciation, rum has struggled, held back by visions of tattooed sailors, anchors and aforementioned bikini clad revelry. Brugal has embarked on a major marketing promotion in North America to show the dry depths of and quality of their Dominican rum.

They sum it up succinctly: Brugal Rum. It’s about time.


Spent barrels in the colourful ‘barrel graveyard’

Brugal Extra Dry
For the crystal clear Brugal Extra Dry, after 2-5 years in cask, the spirit is triple filtered through activated charcoal, removing the colour but preserving the depth and intensity of time. This clean, creamy and silken spirit shows a natural skiff of sweetness for appeal, but is exceptionally dry through the persistent light citrus and subtly spiced finish. It can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or substituted for white spirits in cocktails.

Brugal Añejo
This is the same as the Brugal Extra Dry, without the triple filtration to remove the colour. Light amber in hue with light wood, gentle char and delicate caramel and vanilla. Light charcoal dust before a very smooth, bone dry palate with a hint of biscuit and a fine holiday spice finish.

Brugal XV
This is the newest product in the portfolio, showcasing two types of aging. The spirit spends time in ex-Bourbon casks and then time in ex-Pedro Ximeneth casks from Jerez, for a total of 3-8 years aging. Deeper amber in hue, with lengthy, contemplative tears. Beautiful burnished orange notes, light caramel, dried apricot and golden raisins. There are slight wood and honeyed toast picked up before a spiced peach fuzz finish. Very smooth, with light caramel biscuit sweetness and a silky, very long finish.

Brugal Especial Extra DryBrugal AnejoBrugal XVBrugal 1888 Gran Reserva Familiar RumPapá Andrés

Brugal 1888
This premium rum is aged in medium-toast American white oak casks for up to 8 years, followed by a second maturation in ex-Oloroso barrels for 2-6 years. That’s up to 14 years of tropical double aging and cascades of complexity. Very long and lingering tears to a deep amber hue. The heady nose and full palate show honey and fine baking spices, orange peel, dried fruit and tobacco leaf. Mouth filling, with layers of orange, silken caramel, coffee, anise, faint passion fruit and dried exotic herbs. Aged, worn wood shows on the exceptionally long finish.

Papá Andrés
This newly released, exclusive bottling has been a private affair until now. Papá Andrés is the Brugal family’s personal bottling, created and enjoyed for special occasions of the family for five generations. Only 36 hand-selected casks were selected, a blend of Oloroso, Pedro Ximénez and Bourbon wood. The limited edition bottles (500 released in 2013) are $1200 USD each, with profits redirected to Brugal’s philanthropic aims in the Dominican Republic.

Freshly cut sugar cane

Freshly cut sugar cane


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15 Great South African Wine Values

Photos and text by David Lawrason
with notes from John Szabo and Steve Thurlow

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

In a recent Newsletter called the New World Order (VINTAGES Jan 10) I made the statement that South Africa currently heads the list of the best sources of wine value in the world; followed by Argentina and Chile. I stand by that statement and want to elaborate, then to point out 15 South African wines currently at the LCBO or VINTAGES Stores that stand as evidence. The WineAlign team recently had an opportunity to taste the entire South African General List category, plus some recent VINTAGES releases.

First, I want to define value. It doesn’t solely mean wines that are the lowest price. Value juxtaposes quality and cost, at any price level. Quality I define as true, balanced, complex and generous expression of grape and place. The problem for South Africa – and in the end for consumers – is that so many of the wines bought by the LCBO are based on low price only. They will claim we consumers won’t pay more for South African wine. I contend that we will gladly pay more once exposed to the right wines. I spent three weeks in South Africa last year, and was stunned by how many “more expensive” wines showed great quality, and were still good value. And I tasted hundreds.

This is of course the age-old problem with the LCBO one-buyer monopoly system. They simply don’t have shelf space for more than a token representation from any one country and to be fair to all they must list wines from all countries. South Africa has suffered most from this because their supply and quality was interrupted when in 1987 Canada stopped buying to protest racist Apartheid policies. To regain market share after the sanctions were lifted in 1994 the LCBO bought the cheapest and often least good quality wines – which left a poor impression. The industry was stuck in a quality rut during the sanctions period, which I witnessed on my first visit just after Nelson Mandela was elected president.

South Africa

Fynbos, a collective term for the varied native vegetation of the Cape, can lend its wild aromas to the wines.

But those days are history, and since then quality has improved dramatically, particularly in the last five years. I noticed it during a visit in 2011, and by the time I visited again last March it was crystal clear. The same conclusions have been reached by all WineAlign colleagues who have also recently been to South Africa – John Szabo, Anthony Gismondi, Steve Thurlow and Janet Dorozynski. Each of them has come back writing about how South Africa has turned the corner. You can scan our archives for their articles.

The current situation is that the LCBO selection is still ridiculously small given what is available to the buyers; and the selection is still governed to a large degree by low prices, with some loyalty being shown to brands that have just always been around, which makes entry more difficult for new brands that are upping their game. Even VINTAGES, with its average bottle price of $18.95, lists few South African wines that are over $20. But, the good news is that quality within that price band has increased a great deal. To me the average $15 Cape wine is on a quality level of the average $30 French or California wine.

The complex terrain of Stellenbosch creates many sub-appellations

The complex terrain of Stellenbosch creates many sub-appellations

The quality surge has everything to do with better, often more natural grape growing. I was impressed by the level of ecological awareness in South Africa. It is also a result of better winemaking, with far fewer faulted “meaty and rubbery” wines. And there is also much more attention being paid to better location of specific varieties in the right climatic zones. I could go on and on about the latter in particular – the emergence of well-defined wine regions and regional styles – but that has already been covered before by our correspondents. And I will shortly be posting a detailed essay on pinotage which, by example, demonstrates these themes.

For now, I simply want to encourage those of you who have not tried South African wines to do so. To dip into our list of the best values on the shelf today. If you want an opportunity to sample first, some LCBO stores will be doing that on Saturday, Feb 14; and LCBOs with event kitchens will be staging mini-South African fairs.

And if you really want to dig into this subject by flying to South Africa itself, Wines of South Africa has a contest running until March 3rd that will send two people to the Cape with airfare, accommodation, meals and wine tours included. Enter at

The Whites

Goats Do Roam White 2013

The Wolftrap 2013 WhiteThe Wolftrap White 2013, Western Cape ($13.95)
Steve Thurlow – This is an amazing white for the money with its intensely flavoured palate and pure complex nose. Expect aromas of melon and baked pear fruit with lemongrass and floral heather plus some typical South African minerality. The palate is intense and very solid with some bitter tones nicely closing the finish. It’s a bit chunky and does not have the elegance of the 2012 vintage. Very good to excellent length. Match with sautéed pork chops.
David Lawrason – Totally agree on the value quotient of this intriguing white blend that is built around viognier (60%),  chenin blanc (21%) and less seldom seen grenache blanc (19%). It’s a combination of warmer climate (Rhone)varieties that provide opulence anchored in chenin blanc acidity. Partial fermentation and ageing in French oak adds even ore layers.  The emergence of Rhone varieties grown in inland areas is one of the great stories of the new South Africa

Goats do Roam 2013 White, Western Cape ($11.95)
John Szabo
– The first vintage of this whimsically-named, Rhône-inspired blend was 1998, and the quality has steadily risen. And now that the vines are over 15 years old, there’s more than enough complexity to put this into the sharp value category. It’s about 2/3rds viognier with roussanne and grenache blanc, mainly from the Fairview property in Paarl with a small percentage from Swartland, delivering pleasant citrus-pear-apple fruit, savoury herbs and light floral-blossom aromatics on a mid-weight, essentially dry and fleshy frame. This will please widely.
Steve Thurlow – This is a consistently great value white. I love the pureness and the vibrancy of the 2013 vintage. It is an aromatic blend of three white grapes with lifted floral fruity aromas and an intensely flavoured palate. The nose shows apple and custard with pasty, floral orange and white peach fruit. It is medium-full bodied with firm balancing acidity and a long firm finish. Very good length. Enjoy as an aperitif with pastry nibbles or try with mildly spicy Asian cuisine.

Fleur du Cap 2013 Chardonnay, Western Cape ($12.85)
Steve Thurlow – This wine has been sadly absent from our market for a few years and it is a welcome return to the LCBO list. It is an oaked chardonnay with just enough oak to add complexity to the nose and palate. Expect aromas of baked apple with vanilla, caramel, with lemon and cinnamon notes. The palate is rich and very smooth with intense flavours and very good length. It is old school but well done. Try with fish and chips.

Mulderbosch 2012 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape  ($14.95)
John Szabo
– Mulderbosch is happy to pay a premium price for this fruit, sourced almost exclusively from bush vines, many over 30 years old and all dry farmed (Swartland, Malmesbury). The extra concentration shows through on the palate with its rich, succulent texture and very good to excellent length. 20% gets barrel treatment, though wood is not a player in the profile, and this is virtually bone dry. A wine with genuine depth and character, drinking now, but better in a year or two.

Boschendal The Pavillion 2014 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, ($10.95)
John Szabo
– Here’s a lovely little value from Boschendal, one of South Africa’s oldest farms founded in 1685 and set in the dramatic Drakenstein Valley surrounded by the Cape’s staggeringly beautiful landscape. There’s genuine substance on the palate and plenty of ripe citrus, pineapple and melon flavours bolstered by a welcome impression of sweetness. I’d happily sip this, a wine to keep around the house to pull out on those ‘whenever’ occasions.

Fleur Du Cap Chardonnay 2013 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2012 Boschendal The Pavillion Chenin Blanc 2014 Simonsig Chenin Avec Chêne Chenin Blanc 2012 K W V Contemporary Collection Chenin Blanc 2014

Simonsig Chenin 2012 Avec Chêne Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch  ($25.95)
David Lawrason – This is a fine example of Cape chenin, a quite full bodied, fleshy yet balanced example with classic green pear/honeydew melon fruit sewn with subtle fine French oak spice  and vanilla in the background. With chenin’s growing popularity, different styles are also proliferating, with varying levels of oak involvent. So check out labels before you buy. VINTAGES Feb 7.

K W V Contemporary Collection 2014 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape ($9.45)
Steve Thurlow – This is a delicious amazingly well priced alternative for pinot grigio lovers. The 2014 vintage of this wine shows that South Africa can make good inexpensive chenin with a good depth of flavour and well structured. The nose shows fresh melon pear fruit with grapefruit and mineral notes. The palate is midweight with ripe fruit balanced by lemony acidity. Very good length with a nice bitter tone to the finish. Try with seafood or white meats.

The Reds

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2013

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2013Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2013, Swartland, Swartland ($14.95)
John Szabo
– Mark Kent of Boekenhootskloof settled in the Franschhoek Valley, but has slowly come to terms with the fact that it’s a difficult region in which to grow grapes. Slowly but surely he’s pulled out vineyards (with the exception of some exquisite, old vine semillon) and replanted in other regions, especially Swartland, which he believes has enormous potential. And this all-Swartland syrah is a very strong argument in his favour, a wine that delivers all one could want at the price and more. The palate is rich and mouth filling, ripe but still grippy, with substantial flavour intensity and depth, as well as length. You won’t go wrong here.
David Lawrason – Not much to add here except “a high five”, especially if you are one who likes your syrah meaty, big and bouncy. This has been going strong since WineAlign first went on the air – scoring 87 points or better in every vintage since 2007.

The Wolftrap 2013 Syrah Mourvedre Viognier, Western Cape ($13.95)
John Szabo – Although a small step below Boekenhootskloof’s Porcupine Ridge range in terms of depth and complexity (and price), this is a thoroughly delicious, savoury-fruity, well-balanced blend that hits all of the right notes. It’s also less oak-influenced, and as such will appeal to fans of classic Mediterranean blends (i.e. Côtes du Rhône). Infinitely drinkable all in all, especially with a light chill.
Steve Thurlow – This wine captures in each vintage the essence of a Rhone red and this is probably the best yet. It is made mostly from syrah with about 30% mouverdre and a splash of viognier. There are no jammy tones and the palate is firm with acid and tannin for balance. The tannins are ripe which gives it structure for food balance. Expect earthy black cherry and bramble fruit aromas with some smoke and black pepper spice and hints of dark chocolate. The palate is full-bodied yet it feels lighter and the length is very good to excellent. Try with BBQ meats.

Thelema 2012 Mountain Red, Stellensbosch ($12.95)
Steve Thurlow – This delightful blend of shiraz and 5 other grapes comes from high mountain vineyards above Stellenbosch. The lifted nose shows ripe blackberry and blueberry fruit with black pepper, mild oak spice and floral complexity. It is very smooth and quite dense with a degree of elegance. Very good length. Try with pizza or burgers.
David Lawrason – Excellent value, once again from a leading producer that was among the first to upgrade its style and quality in the post-Apartheid era. (I first tasted and was thoroughly impressed by their wines at a trade tasting in Toronto in 1995 – I believe). The blending of several grapes is very much in vogue in South Africa and this a good example.

Goats do Roam 2013 Red, Western Cape  ($11.95)
Steve Thurlow – Fantastic value here. The 2013 is another excellent vintage with its lifted aromas of plum and black cherry, dark chocolate, mild oak spice, and smokey blackberry jam. It is midweight and well balanced with lively acidity and spicy black fruit and soft tannin. Very good to excellent length. It is a great food wine to be enjoyed with a wide variety of meat and cheese dishes.

Thelema Mountain Red 2012 Goats Do Roam Red 2013 Boschendal The Pavillion Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Avondale Jonty's Ducks Pekin Red 2011

Boschendal The Pavillion 2013 Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch ($11.95)
Steve Thurlow – I love the zippy juicy vibrant palate to this exuberant red. It is midweight with aromas of red cherry with white pepper spice, and modest oak treatment, so the fruit shines through. The fruity palate is well balanced by soft tannin and some racy acidity makes it feel quite light. Good focus and very good length. Try with grilled meats.

Avondale Jonty’s Ducks 2011 Pekin Red, Paarl ($14.95)
John Szabo –
Well, this is quite a wine for $15. John and Ginny Grieve, owners of Vital Health Foods, bought the 300 year-old Avondale farm in 1997 and set about converting it to organic/biodynamic culture (actually, they’ve invented their own system called BioLogic). The same balanced approach is taken in the winery. And the results? Well, everything I’ve tasted from Avondale has been worth a look. Jonty’s Ducks is a second label of sorts, which blends about 2/3 Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon with the rest of the Bordeaux grapes. It’s wholly satisfying and highly drinkable, either on its own for contemplation or with roasted meat preparations.

K W V Roodeberg 2012

Rustenberg 2011 ShirazRustenberg Shiraz 2011, Stellenbosch ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is from of the oldest wine estates in Stellenbosch that first bottled wine in 1892!  It is also the site of one of the finest restaurants and tasting facilities in South Africa (I was stunned by the sophistication of the hospitality scene in and around Stellenbosch.) Because Rustenberg is a classic old-school estate expect leaner, very Euro and very complex reds. VINTAGES Feb 7.

K W V 2012 Roodeberg, Western Cape ($12.45)
Steve Thurlow – This is a medium bodied Cape classic that as usual offers good value with the 2012 vintage. It is well balanced and quite complex. It is styled like a French southern Rhône red with red and black cherry fruit, white pepper, with herbal and mineral tones. Good to very good length, try with rack of lamb.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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!

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Treve’s Travels – Australia Today – Part 1

Australia Today – Part IJanuary 28, 2015

Text and photographs by Treve Ring

IMG_8093I spent three solid weeks in Australia last fall, hopping across wine regions in search of Australia TODAY – what’s really happening in the exciting wine world of Oz. It’s as easy to be inspired by what I tasted – unbridled, original, innovative and fearless wines – as it is the landscape and wildlife. YES there are kangaroos everywhere. And sightings of wombats, koalas and other crazy creatures (did you know they have wild camels in Australia?!)

There is a distinct energy, even amongst established producers, that authentic Australia’s time has come. Seems redundant, albeit necessary to state that Australia today is not Australia of the past. Respecting wine tradition and embracing modern technology while relentlessly striving forward with the pluck of Aussie pride equals interesting, authentic wines.

Striking labels of Longview

Striking labels of Longview

This two-part series overviews the main regions and highlights a few producers and wines that are worthy to know about. Of course, with Vancouver International Wine Festival around the corner, and the theme region being Australia, I will make special note of the producers and wines available for tasting at VIWF.

But First, A Brief History

New World my ass.

Australia has been making wine for 200 years, with vines arriving with the First Fleet in 1788. The first significant vineyards were established in the early 1800s, but it wasn’t until James Busby’s European vine souvenir trip in 1831 that the industry really started to self root. Busby returned to Australia with 362 varieties, cuttings of which spread throughout South Eastern Australia and to which many of the country’s old vines have traceable lineage to today. That’s Old World.

And old soils – as an individual landmass for over 100 million years, Australia claims title to the oldest, and therefore most eroded continent, with very ancient and complex soils. The oldest things on earth are found in Australia – dating back 4.4 billion years. Eons of younger soils of sand, limestone, volcanic and all variants within are found, and today increasingly planted to grapes and styles that specifically suit both soils and climate.

Of course, the Australian wine industry was not always as selective, at least on a large scale, and subsequently became a victim of its own success. A wine sea of cheap and cheerful critter labels, multiregional blends and globally omnipresent bottles created an image of low quality, cheap, industrial wines and a consumer backlash that persists today. There’s no denying that Aussie wine is big business; however, there are also signs that consumers are ready to accept Australia’s diverse wine regionality, progressive modernity and adventuresome spirit.

The average value of Australian wine exports into Canada continues to rise, while quantity in litres has dropped. Data obtained from Wine Australia (Dec. 2014) shows that quantity of bottled exports to Canada is down 3% to 30 million litres. However, the average value of bottled exports increased by 2% to A$5.22 per litre. Exports priced at above A$5 per litre, a more premium category, increased by 5% to 12.6 million litres. Trading up, education, exploration all play a part in this trending, raising Australia’s image and widening exposure for small scale, quality producers.

Remarkable Regionality

Just as one would think it impossible to typify the wines of France, or even Burgundy, it’s insane to characterize the wines of Australia. In fact, if you laid a map of Europe on Australia, you can easily fit in the top of the UK down to the north of Egypt, and from the ocean west of Portugal across past Ukraine.

Australia Map w Europe Overlay

Australia’s huge diverse wine community is divided into more than 65 recognized regions, known as Geographic Indications (GI). These regions support more than 100 grape varieties, and winemakers have been studiously dialing in what works well where and why. Most of Australia is currently untouched by phylloxera, meaning most quality vines are self-rooted and ungrafted. The absence of wide-spread phylloxera also means that Australia is home to some of the oldest producing vines in the world, dating back to the mid 1800s.

Here in Part I, I’ve highlighted a few regions in Western Australia and South Australia along with producers and wines I recommend seeking out.

VIWF indicates wines and/or producers present at Vancouver International Wine Festival.

Wish You Were Here is part of WineAlign’s ongoing series signifying wines not yet available in Canada.

Wines without titles means you can purchase this wine in Canada now.


Margaret River

This relatively recent wine region (established in the 1970s) is geographically isolated on the far south west corner of Australia. Brisk ocean breezes and a marked maritime climate contribute to the acclaim for its stylish, elegant Cabernet Sauvignon and concentrated Chardonnay.

Devil’s Lair Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Vasse Felix Heytesbury 2011


IMG_8810Clare Valley

Clare Valley rocks. Literally and physically. Undulating, picturesque hills of twisting gumtrees cover a patchwork of highly varied soils, spanning alluvial plains up through rocky ridges in the northern Mt. Lofty Ranges. Resting in one of the highest sunshine areas in Australia contributes to Clare Valley’s stunning, generous and weighty rieslings, structured and finessed shiraz and dark chocolate, dark berried and lengthy cabernet sauvignon.

Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Wish They Were Here
Grosset Wines Polish Hill Riesling 2014


In the vineyard with John Duval

In the vineyard with John Duval

Barossa Valley

This historic wine region reaches back to 1842, and preserves and protects their aged vines through the Barossa Old Vine Charter, an initiative by Australia’s oldest family owned winery, Yalumba (now in 6th generation). Full bodied, pure-fruited and plush shiraz rules here, making up 50% of plantings. GSM blends also shine with their well knit spicy, peppery and ripe red fruits.

Yalumba The Scribbler Cabernet Shiraz 2012
Peter Lehmann Wines Stonewall Shiraz 2009
Teusner Wines Avatar 2013
John Duval Wines Plexus 2012
Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz 2009

Wish They Were Here
Spinifex Wines Esprit 2012


Drinking Contours Riesling in Contours Vineyard

Drinking Contours Riesling in Contours Vineyard

Eden Valley

This verdant high country is part of the Barossa Zone, beginning in altitude (380m) where Barossa Valley ends. Cooler climate, with bloody cold whistling winds helps preserve vibrant acidity in Eden’s pristine lime-laced rieslings and peppery, sage and cassis imbued shiraz.

Pewsey Vale The Contours Old Vine Riesling 2009

Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2012



Adelaide Hills

The Adelaide Hills are alive. Alive with crisp sauvignon blanc, fragrant pinot noir and vibrant chardonnay. As the name implies, the region is very hilly, cooler climate and remarkably picturesque; a hidden treasure. The relative youth of this wine region means there are many envelope-pushing folks here. Exciting stuff.


Longview Vineyard, Adelaide Hills

Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay 2013
Longview Vineyard Saturnus Nebbiolo 2012
Wolf Blass Gold Label Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2013

Wish They Were Here
BK Wines Skin & Bones White 2013
Ochota Barrels The Fugazi Vineyard Grenache 2013


McLaren Vale

The ocean influences all parts of this valley, nestled between the Mount Lofty Ranges and the sandy beaches of the Gulf of St Vincent. The dramatic, hilly and diverse landscape affords it the name of the greenest wine region, both in scenery and in organic and biodynamic viticulture (nearly every plot is used for grapes). While pure, dark berry, spicy shiraz is king, grenache is gaining acclaim through its striking raspberry scented fruit and juicy liveliness.

Serafino Wines Sorrento Dry Grown Grenache 2012
Yangarra Roussanne 2012
Nugan Matriarch Shiraz 2006

Wish They Were Here
Dodgy Bros Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot 2012
*Dodgy Bros has recently been picked up by a BC agent, so watch for this winery on our shelves this spring! Success!


Langhorne Creek

This flat, river delta landscape is nestled amongst gum trees on the Bremer and Angas rivers. The fertile, deep sandy loam soils produce soft, accessible and chocolatey cabernet sauvignon and shiraz, oft utilized to plump out blends.

Bleasdale Mulberry Tree Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

In Australia TODAY Part II, I will continue east to Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania.

~ Treve

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!

Very cool stuff from Adelaide Hills - BK Wines & Ochota Barrels

Very cool stuff from Adelaide Hills – BK Wines & Ochota Barrels

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The Successful Collector – The First Growths of Bordeaux

Julian Hitner reports on some of the top châteaux of Bordeaux after visiting one of France’s most celebrated winegrowing regions in 2014. Read on to learn more about the classifications of Bordeaux, a typical visit to first-class estate and an overview of some of the region’s most revered properties.

A spiritual experience:
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

A visit to a First Growth is unlike any other wine pilgrimage. The closest thing it resembles is a pseudo-religious experience: setting foot on sacred vineyards, entering sanctified estate interiors and partaking of wines officially consecrated as the best of the best, the latter a deceptively secular means of declaring such contents divine. Of course, this is mere melodramatic testament to perfectionist winegrowing, acknowledged by centuries of near-universal adulation, exorbitant price structuring and begrudged rarity of genuine appreciation by all but the most deep-pocketed of wine collectors. Yet these are the terms in which the most illustrious estates of Bordeaux must be understood, in that they are grandiose, that they are picture-perfect, and that the wines they produce are among the greatest in the world.

But how does one account for this situation? For wine historians, the success of Bordeaux’s greatest estates has as much to do with the quality of their flawless vineyards as it does with the long-standing endurance of the classification systems to which they belong. Of these, the most famous is the 1855 Classification of the Médoc (or Left Bank) and Sauternes-Barsac. This is the classification, or hierarchy, that includes the most prized châteaux of the Left Bank as First Growths: Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild (promoted in 1973), Margaux and Haut-Brion (the latter based out of the appellation of Pessac-Léognan in the Graves). All other estates fortunate enough to be included belong to four other categories: Second Growth, Third Growth, Fourth Growth and Fifth Growth. In Sauternes-Barsac, there are three categories: Premier Cru Supérieur (a status enjoyed only by Château d’Yquem), Premier Cru and Second Growth.

Château Lafite Rothschild vines and buildings

Château Lafite Rothschild vines and buildings

In the Graves, the appellation of Pessac-Léognan employs a one-category classification of Grand Cru Classé, or variations thereof, for both its red and white wines. Unlike the Left Bank, where all whites must be labeled, appellation-wise, as generic ‘Bordeaux’ and may not even mention the estate’s official ranking, those of Pessac-Léognan are permitted to state the actual name of the appellation as well as the official classification of the estate. All of this stands in contrast to the much larger, reds-only classification system of St-Emilion, the most significant appellation of the Right Bank sector of Bordeaux. Subject to revision every ten years or so, a sizeable number of estates are placed into four categories. The first is Premier Grand Cru Classé A, widely considered the equivalent of the First Growths of the Left Bank. For the longest time, only Châteaux Ausone and Cheval Blanc were ranked as such, having recent been joined (not without controversy) by Angélus and Pavie. Following this are Premier Cru Classé B, Grand Cru Classé and Grand Cru. Over the border in the appellation of Pomerol, there is no classification system in place, though few would dispute that immortal Château Petrus along with a few others may be considered equals to the First Growths of the Left Bank or St-Emilion.

Fairy Tale Second Growth Château Pichon-Longueville Baron

Fairy Tale Second Growth Château Pichon-Longueville Baron


All spiritual jargon aside, there is indeed something to be said for visiting nearly all of the First Growths of Bordeaux, along with a host of other magnificent properties, in only roughly one week. As appearances go, such properties are immaculately tended, with luxurious gardens, aristocratic exteriors and interiors and perfectly tended vines. Yet strangely enough, visiting the finest châteaux is not an entirely complicated concern, for most estates nowadays are eager to accept visitors. Advanced planning is key. Appointments must be made well ahead of time, in some cases as much as several months, and travel by car or perhaps bicycle is highly recommended. Most estates have special sections on their website on how they may be contacted for making an appointment. Furthermore, most estates, First Growths included, now retain public relations staff in their employ, many of whom are extremely courteous and knowledgeable. Excepting fellow winegrowers and professional journalists, it is highly unlikely that visitors will be greeted by the owner, chief viticulturalist or director of winemaking.

From personal experience, the course of a visit seldom varies from one château to another: a tour of the vineyards and cellar, followed by a tasting of the latest vintage, typically from barrel. The length of one’s stay depends almost entirely on one’s depth of interest. In most cases, First Growths are extremely large properties, consisting of substantial vineyard parcels, work-specific and residential buildings, elaborate garden spaces and below-ground cellars. Any self-respecting claret lover should make a point of viewing as many of these components as possible. Photos are almost always permitted.

Château Latour pigeon house and vines

Château Latour pigeon house and vines


As it so happens, those expecting an abundance of different wines to taste will be left out in the cold. Except on rare occasions, even professional journalists are only provided with a sample of the latest vintage to taste. Compared to many other types of wineries, many of which possess a vast range of wines on offer, most Bordeaux estates produce only a handful of wines every vintage. In the case of First Growths, this may consist of as a little as two wines: the grand vin (the top wine of the estate) and the second wine (usually crafted from parcels or vat selections deemed to be of lesser quality). Those that also produce white wines, such as Château Margaux or Haut Brion, seldom make these available for tasting, as they are produced in very small quantities. This said, tasting the latest vintage of Margaux or Cheval Blanc is anything but immaterial, for such wines are nowadays remarkably appreciable and understandable even in infancy, providing enthusiasts with invaluable insight into the reasons for which these estates are held in such sensational regard.

Unfortunately these days, the greatest names of Bordeaux are entirely unaffordable, demand far outstripping supply even for the second wines, a single bottle of which now cost at least a few hundred dollars. Not that such wines were ever low-cost, there was nonetheless a time, only a decade or two ago, when enthusiasts could put aside a few monies and lay their hands on a bottle or two for the cellar. This makes a pilgrimage to the First Growths all the more singular, for it is genuinely the only means nowadays of partaking of a small quantity of ostensibly hallowed wines traditionally reserved for a select few. As it appears, pseudo-religiosity knows very few bounds when discussing First Growths.

The greatest estates:

The First Growths of the 1855 Classification:

Château Latour:

Château Mouton Rothschild 2012 Château Lafite Rothschild 2001 Château Latour 2004As name recognition goes, Château Latour is perhaps the most famous of the First Growths, a name that evokes not unfounded notions of regality, grandeur and longevity. Owned by François Pinault, much of this 78-ha estate is located on the southern boundary of Pauillac, right across from Second Growth Léoville-Las Cases in St-Julien. The director of winemaking is Frédéric Engerer. The second wine is Les Forts de Latour. The estate also produces a third wine known as Pauillac de Château Latour, which has been produced every year since 1990.

Not long ago, Latour stunned the wine world by announcing that it is no longer participating in the annual en primeur (futures) programme, instead releasing specific vintages direct from the château only when they believe the wine is ready to be drunk. This is meant to discourage price speculation, bolster traditional markets and ensure the best possible quality for the connoisseur. Enthusiasts everywhere may look upon this as a positive development.

Château Latour 2004, Pauillac hails from one of the most classic vintages of the new century, possessing wondrous precision, harmony, layering and breed. Like so many other vintages before it, those fortunate enough to possess a bottle or two need not fear of carefully cellaring it for a few decades, perhaps for a child’s graduation. Drink now or hold through 2050 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Lafite Rothschild:

The epitome of pedigree and positive life forces, Château Lafite Rothschild may be considered the very embodiment of great claret production, for centuries compared and contrasted with Latour as the more aristocratic and graceful of the two. Owned by Baron Eric de Rothschild, this 112-ha property is situated on the northern boundary of Pauillac, directly across from Second Growth Cos d’Estournel in St-Estèphe. The director of winemaking is Charles Chevalier. The second wine is Carruades de Lafite.

Over the past decade, prices for Lafite have risen considerably in many parts of the world, mainly (though not exclusively) a result of its burgeoning popularity among well-heeled buyers in Asia. Although the wines of Lafite were never cheap, this dilemma has certainly shed light on the growing contrast of prices between those of the First Growths and its counterparts lower down the ladder. No solution has yet to be found.

Château Lafite Rothschild 2001, Pauillac is quite possibly the greatest wine of the vintage. Retaining indomitable authority, harmony, structure and gorgeousness, every claret enthusiast should discover the means of appreciating, if only once in a lifetime, a wine such as this, preferably on an occasion lending itself to quiet reflection and the company of one or two good persons. Drink now or hold through 2060 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Mouton Rothschild:

First Growth Château Mouton Rothschild has the extraordinary honour of being the only estate to have ever been promoted in the 1855 Classification, a status to which few would dispute it is rightly entitled. Owned by Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, this 84-ha establishment is bordered next to Lafite in the northern sector of Pauillac, where wines of miraculous depth, exuberance and breed are produced to worldwide acclaim. The director of winemaking is Hervé Berland. The second wine is Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild. The estate also produces small amounts of white wine known as Aile d’Argent, largely regarded as a work in progress.

For every vintage since 1945, Mouton has commissioned some of the world’s most famous artists to design the front label of the bottle, including Salvador Dalí, Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and acclaimed director John Huston. Few châteaux are as creative and dynamic as Mouton Rothschild.

Château Mouton Rothschild 2012, Pauillac is a wine like few others, delivering unbelievable structure, radiance, harmony and breed. For decades, Baron Philippe de Rothschild (1902-1988) worked tirelessly to have Mouton promoted from Second to First Growth, finally achieving his dream in 1973. Nearly forty vintages later, wines like ’12 prove precisely why this advancement was necessary. Drink now or hold through 2065 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Haut-Brion:

Château D’yquem 2011 Château Margaux 2008 Château Haut Brion 2007Based out of the appellation of Pessac-Léognan in the Graves, Château Haut-Brion is the only estate outside of the Left Bank to be included in the 1855 Classification. Owned by Prince Robert of Luxembourg, this 46-ha estate is by far the oldest of the First Growths in terms of name recognition and quality. Long-established hallmarks for both reds and whites (the latter produced in extremely small quantities) are precociousness of texture, sophistication and fragrance. The director of winemaking is Jean-Philippe Delmas. The second wine is Le Clarence de Haut-Brion.

In 1983, Haut-Brion managed to acquire the 26-ha Château La Mission Haut-Brion from across the road, running the property as a separate entity yet with the same perfectionist standards. In some ways, La Mission may be rightly deemed a sixth First Growth, for the quality of its wines, both red and white, is virtually identical to that of Haut-Brion (to which it is most often compared) and the four others. For now, however, the estate is only included in the one-category classification system of Pessac-Léognan. The second wine is La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion.

Château Haut-Brion 2007 Pessac-Léognan is very possibly the most inspiring claret from this difficult vintage. Tasted twice (most recently at the estate), it is probably the most ‘backward’ of the graduating class, featuring mindboggling layering, texture, elegance and harmony. With almost as much merlot as cabernet sauvignon, it is approachable even at present, though it will cellar for an extremely long time. Drink now or hold through 2060. Decanting is recommended.

Château Margaux:

Unequivocally the most sensual of the First Growths, Château Margaux is renowned for is unsurpassed spirituality of fragrance, elegance and structural dimension. Owned by Corinne Mentzelopoulos, this 92-ha estate is located in the appellation of the same name, with vineyards scattered among the choicest locations. The director of winemaking is Paul Pontallier. The second wine is Pavillon Rouge, and the estate also produces very small quantities of a miraculous white wine known as Pavillon Blanc.

Like many of the other First Growths, Margaux has spent the past several years tightening up quality, in the process creating a third wine, Margaux du Château Margaux. Now that two of five estates have launched such a label, it is likely only a matter of time before the rest of the pack does the same. Reactions to this development have been mixed. While quality of the Grand Vin and second wines are bound to go up, prices are likely to ascend just as rapidly.

Château Margaux 2008 Margaux is a claret of sensational layering, precision, harmony and grace. In many ways, it is a testament to the colossal aptitude of Paul Pontallier, Margaux’s managing director for nearly twenty-five years. Yet even Pontallier is the first to admit that his role at Margaux comes at a distant second to the estate’s unmatched terroirs. A very modest individual. Drink now or hold through 2050 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château d’Yquem:

Not only the greatest sweet wine producer in France, Château d’Yquem is easily one of Bordeaux’s most lauded and legendary institutions. Owned by luxury goods group LVMH, this 110-ha property is the only estate in Sauternes to be designated as Premier Cru Supérieur, its wines considered, at least historically, to be so much finer than any of its peers that to rank them as equals was unthinkable. The director of winemaking is Sandrine Garbay. Although there is no second wine, a small amount of dry table wine, known as Ygrec, is produced every vintage.

For the extremely challenging 2012 vintage, d’Yquem generated a great deal of controversy by announcing that it would not be producing a sweet wine. This has placed other estates in Sauternes and Barsac in a difficult position, with many winegrowers lamenting the effect d’Yquem’s decision has had on the market and overall expectations. While some producers have stayed the course and claim to have made excellent wines, others such as Rieussec, Suduiraut and Raymond-Lafon have gone the way of d’Yquem. Instead, many will only be bottling a wine under their second label. Was d’Yquem’s course of action justified? Time will hopefully tell.

Château d’Yquem 2011 Sauternes clearly reflects the quality of this magnificent vintage, delivering astounding glamour, harmony, energy and decadence. Put simply, few other estates in Bordeaux, France or any other part of the world are capable of routinely crafting wines of this type at such a stupendous level of excellence. A shame one vine at d’Yquem averages only a single glass of wine. Drink now or hold through 2060 and beyond.

Other illustrious estates:

Château Léoville-Las Cases:

Château Palmer 2004 Château Ducru Beaucaillou 2001 Château Léoville Las Cases 2008Were the 1855 Classification ever revised, Second Growth Château Léoville-Las Cases would likely join the ranks of the First Growths in a heartbeat. Owned and operated by Jean-Hubert Delon, this 98-ha institution is located in northern St-Julien, just opposite Château Latour in Pauillac. For decades, its wines have overwhelmed connoisseurs with their immaculate sense of structure, refinement and capability. The second wine is Le Petit Lion du Marquis de Las Cases, while another, more famous wine known as Clos du Marquis is sourced from extremely high-grade parcels adjacent to the main holdings of the estate.

The Delon family is also the proud owner of Château Potensac in the appellation of Médoc, one of the greatest overachievers in this rather northerly part of the Left Bank. Planted on atypically gravelly soils at slightly higher elevations (unusual in much of this appellation), wines from this 84-ha property are routinely of extremely high quality and are rarely overpriced. If only more entities were as perfectionist as Léoville-Las Cases and its sister property.

Château Léoville-Las Cases 2008 St-Julien is one of the most affordable wines I have ever encountered from this estate in modern times, at least judging by the profound reverence for which this Super Second is held. Sustaining spectacular harmony, layering, style and pedigree, it begs the question why the 1855 Classification has only once been meritoriously revised to accommodate Mouton Rothschild. Drink now or hold through 2050. Decanting is recommended.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou:

Along with Léoville-Las Cases, Second Growth Château Ducru-Beaucaillou is the pride and joy of St-Julien, an appellation with no First Growths yet possessing an awfully impressive résumé of revered properties. Owned and operated by Bruno Borie, this 50-ha establishment nowadays yields wines of prodigious finesse, harmony and excitement. The second wine is La Croix de Beaucaillou.

An overachieving Second Growth, Ducru-Beaucaillou is one of the most sought-after of the ‘Super Seconds,’ a nickname used to describe estates in the 1855 Classification that either perform well above their rank and/or are much more expensive than their peers. These include: Léoville-las Cases in St-Julien; Second Growths Cos d’Estournel and Montrose in St-Estèphe; Third Growth Palmer in Margaux; and Second Growths Pichon-Longueville Baron and Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac. Also worthy of mention are Lynch Bages and Pontet-Canet, two Pauillac Fifth Growths of Super Second quality and cost.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 2001 St-Julian is now entering its peak, possessing uncanny sophistication, harmony, refinement and breed. From one of the most underappreciated vintages of the new millennium, wines like these serve as a valuable reminder that premium clarets need not nowadays be aged for decades on end in order to be fully appreciated. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Palmer:

Though only ranked as a Third Growth, Château Palmer has been known to eclipse even neighbouring Château Margaux in some vintages. Owned by the Sichel and Mähler-Besse families, this 55-ha property has for decades produced wines of irrepressible beauty, profoundness and harmony. The director of winemaking is Thomas Duroux. The second wine is Alter Ego.

Although cabernet sauvignon is usually the most significant grape throughout the most prestigious appellations of the Left Bank, some estates like Palmer prefer to use near-equal amounts of merlot in the final blend, contributing extra concentration and beguilingly velvety textures to the wines. As of 2014, the estate also switched to 100% biodynamic farming. The future of Palmer has never shone brighter.

Château Palmer 2004 Margaux is already ten years old and yet only just beginning to open up. Endowed with astounding posture, refinement, harmony and style, its best days are still well ahead of it. For claret enthusiasts with the means of acquiring a bottle or two, it is thus a prime candidate to lay aside for the birth of a grandchild or long-awaited natural passing of a reviled in-law. Drink now or hold through 2050 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Cheval Blanc:

Vieux Château Certan 2012 Château Cheval Blanc 2006Along with Château Ausone (not visited), Château Cheval Blanc has long been recognized as the leading estate of St-Emilion, ranked as Premier Grand Cru Classé A in the appellation’s classification system. Owned by luxury goods group LVMH, this 37-ha establishment is situated on the border with Pomerol, and is known for wines of extraordinary pedigree, durability and envelopment. Prices are routinely equal or higher than the First Growths of the Left Bank. The director of winemaking is Pierre Lurton. The second wine is Le Petit Cheval.

In 2011, the estate completed a major renovation and expansion of its main building and adjacent facilities. Reactions to its unapologetically ultramodern design have been mixed, with some (mostly Cheval Blanc affiliates) lauding its savvy technological features, while others have bemoaned its outward ostentation and contrast with the traditional appearance of neighbouring estates. So long as quality remains the same, or is even enhanced, such developments are likely of small consequence to claret enthusiasts.

Château Cheval Blanc 2006 St-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé A is one of the most majestic wines I have tasted from this estate to date, conveying spellbinding structure, pedigree, texture and balance. Containing 55% merlot and a whopping 45% cabernet franc, it is unquestionably the qualitative equivalent of a Left Bank First Growth, albeit one derived from a distinctly different set of winegrowing criteria. Drink now or hold through 2055 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Vieux Château Certan:

With absolutely no classification system, claret aficionados are entirely left to their own devices when ranking the estates of Pomerol. Even still, few would disagree that Vieux Château Certan is one of a handful of estates meriting highest standing. Owned and operated by Alexandre Thienpont, this 14-ha property has for decades borne wines of magnificent stature, elegance and authority. The second wine is La Gravette de Certan.

Unlike other prestigious appellations in most other parts of Bordeaux, châteaux in Pomerol are often small-scale affairs, with vineyards typically only adding up to several hectares. Usually family-owned, there is an almost peasant-like mentality in how winegrowers view their properties. At Vieux Château Certan, Monsieur Thienpont takes a very hands-on approach, personally receiving visitors and sharing his ideas with them. If only top estates elsewhere could assume a similar attitude, though property sizes in many cases renders this unrealistic.

Vieux Château Certan 2012 Pomerol was grabbed right off the bottling line by Alexandre Thienpont during a recent visit. Possessing tremendous harmony, attitude, elegance and breed, it almost singlehandedly defies the difficulties many winegrowers faced throughout this troublesome vintage. From one of Pomerol’s most historically renowned estates, if only there were more of its wines to go around. Drink now or hold through 2048 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Stay tuned next month for my report on the 2012 vintage. Plenty of choices for both the budget-minded and serious collectors alike.


Julian Hitner

Click here for Julian’s massive list of Bordeaux red wine recommendations

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!

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

A History, a Lesson and a Tour…

Whites from Loire & Bordeaux
by Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

While Bordeaux may be better known for its classified growth red wines and the Loire Valley for Sancerre, both regions have long been producing white wines, across a range of styles. Dry white blends from sauvignon blanc and sémillon are found throughout Bordeaux and the “other whites” from chenin blanc and melon de bourgogne are common in the western end of the Loire Valley.

I revisited both regions this past spring after a long absence and many changes in the French and global wine industry. Although France is now again the largest wine producer in the world, with 46 million hectolitres (more than 6 billion bottles) in 2014, according to latest International Organisation of Vine & Wine (OIV) figures (see infographic @, this news comes amid a decline in global and French wine consumption and the lingering economic crisis of the last decade. In spite of this, dry white Bordeaux blends and wines from chenin blanc are experiencing renewed interest among both wine producers and the wine cognoscenti around the globe.

What follows is a brief history of these storied and savoured white wines of the Loire and Bordeaux, plus suggestions where and when you can pair these whites throughout the winter season.


Chenin Blanc, Queen of the Loire

Chenin blanc is currently one of the darling white grapes among sommeliers, due in part to the quality wine focus in places where it is widely planted like South Africa and the US, as well as along the western reaches of the Loire Valley from Blois to Savennières, where chenin reigns.

Chateau Angers Chenin vines

Chateau Angers Chenin vines

The Anjou region is south and southwest of the city of Angers, where Château d’Angers houses the hauntingly beautiful Apocalypse Tapestry series of the late 14th century. Here, 140 chenin grape vines were planted atop and within the fortressed walls as a testament of King René the First of Anjou’s interest in this noble grape. It is in this part of the Loire where chenin blanc, known locally as pineau de la Loire, is made into a range of wine styles including the fascinating dry Savennières, the long-lived botrytis-affected sweet wines from Bonnezeaux, Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume, and méthode traditionelle sparkling wines known as Crémant de Loire.

Chenin when it Sparkles

Bouvet Ladubay, of the adjacent Saumur appellation, has been making sparkling wine since 1851 when the family purchased eight of the hundreds of kilometers of underground tunnels resulting from excavations to build the Loire’s famous castles and palaces. These passageways now house the maturation cellars for the chenin blanc-based sparkling wines of the region. In the late 1800’s, Bouvet Ladubay was the largest shipper of sparkling wine in the world and has continued with a specialization in sparkling wine in a range of styles. In addition to a visit and tasting at the winery, visitors can get a sense of history and space thanks to a guided bicycle tour of their sparkling wine cave carved deep into the tuffeau limestone underneath the winery and vineyards. Bouvet Ladubay Brut de Blancs Saumur is a great introduction to this house.

While a number of grape varieties can be used to make Crémant de Loire, chenin blanc is the most common. Naturally, sparkling is well-suited to festive occasions but because crémant tends to be well-priced, it is also a perfect everyday wine and ideal as an aperitif. Crémant blanc matches well with seafood such as oysters and crab, while crémant rosé is a good partner for spicy Chinese dishes, salmon carpaccio and vegetable or meat terrines.

Dry and Complex Loire Whites

Beyond bubbles, chenin blanc is also responsible for the region’s impressive dry and sweet white wines. Domaine des Baumard, whose property has been in the family since 1634, produces a series (Clos de St. Yves and the Clos du Papillon) of dry, structured and nervy whites from the Savennières appellation, sweet wines from the Quarts de Chaume and Coteaux du Layon, along with Crémant de Loire – white and rosé, in both dry and off-dry styles. Like many estates in this part of the Loire, the majority (80%) of their production is dedicated to white wine, with sparkling comprising over half of overall production.

Others such as Pithon-Paille are newer to the scene and since 2008 have been negociants in addition to wine growers, producing predominantly dry white wines from chenin blanc, with a smattering of red from cabernet franc and grolleau. Although their production is small (approximately 7000 cases a year), they export slightly more than 50%; Quebec is their largest market with the 2010 Chenin Blanc and 2011 La Fresnaye available.

Chateau-de-La-Roche-aux-Moines---Coul-e-de-SerrantSavennières is also home to famed biodynamic producer Nicolas Joly of Château de la Roche-aux-Moines. Originally an investment banker in the US and UK, he took over the family estate in the late 1970s and produces just three wines: Les Vieux Clos from the Savennières appellation, Clos de la Bergerie from the Savennières-Roche-aux-Moines appellation and Clos de la Coulée de Serrant from the Savennières-Coulée-de-Serrant appellation, a seven hectare appellation d’origine protégée (AOP) of its own, under vine since it was planted by Cistercian monks in 1130 and belonging all to Joly. A vertical tasting of Clos de la Coulée de Serrant in the 1990s was my first Road to Damascus moment in wine, so it was a special treat to taste recent vintages and meet the man behind the wines. In recent years Joly has handed over much of the winemaking and management of the estate to his daughter Virginie.

The whites of Savennières show depth, concentration and richness and with higher levels of acidity, can definitely benefit from longer aging in bottle, These are rich, medium-to-full bodied, dry white wines, with no oak and a backbone of palate cleansing acidity. Because of this, they are well suited to hearty winter dishes such as fish in cream or butter sauces, grilled and roasted pork dishes or veal in a creamy mushroom sauce.

Maritime Muscadet

Just west of Anjou near the mouth of the Loire River is the Pays Nantais. This is France’s largest white wine appellation and the region known for Muscadet made from the melon de bourgogne grape. In contrast to the full-bodied dense whites of Savennières, Muscadet is lighter in body and style, displaying a tangy crispness and salty (some would say maritime) influence. Due to the process of aging on the lees or sur lie, many of the wines like the Château du Cléray Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre et Maine are crisp but layered with good complexity though often overlooked in favour of similar trendier wines like Albariño. A newer generation of winemakers, such as Rémi Branger of Domaine de la Pépière, are also making complex and age-worthy Muscadet using a combination of new and traditional techniques and lower yielding clones. Standouts include the Cru Clisson and Château-Thébaud, benefitting from older vines, stony well-draining soils, 2 to 3 years of lees contact and stirring.


Boosting Bordeaux

Bordeaux is an historic area for premier wine production in France. Unfortunately, this history also works to its disadvantage; the region is often thought of as being too complex, with too many appellations, and in the case of North American consumers, no varietal labelling to indicate what grapes are in the bottle. Though the region is better known for red blends, ranging from good value generic Bordeaux to stratospherically priced first growths, dry whites have been made in Bordeaux for centuries and outpaced red wine production up until the 1970s. Currently, dry white wine production represents around 8% of the total of AOP wines in Bordeaux.

As with other wine regions in France and throughout the world, the Bordelais are interested in attracting new consumers, in particular, seizing new-found market opportunities in China and throughout Asia. A new international promotional and branding campaign focused on authenticity, diversity and innovation aims to stimulate curiosity and a re-discovery of Bordeaux as a world reference in terms of wine quality and expertise. While much of the focus centers on the region’s red wines, there is a tacit acknowledgement that dry Bordeaux whites are not as well-known as they could be. Since consumers have globally embraced sauvignon blanc the goal is to promote the “original” white Bordeaux blends from sauvignon blanc and sémillon as exceptionally food friendly and emulated by winemakers from Australia to Canada.

Sauvignon blanc is the main white grape planted in Bordeaux (55% of all white plantings), followed by sémillon (34%) and muscadelle (7%). It is thought that sauvignon blanc originated in Bordeaux. Furthermore, the Faculty of Oenology at the University of Bordeaux, led by Denis Durbourdieu, has conducted extensive research on sauvignon blanc aromas and the ways in which viticultural and wine making practices can enhance quality wine production and aging potential.

Back to (Bordeaux) School

A good start to learn about Bordeaux whites, or any of the wines from this region, is by going to wine school. Bordeaux’s École du Vin de Bordeaux in the city centre is where professionals and consumers alike can learn about the region, history, grape varieties and winemaking, while tasting examples of the main wine styles.

Ecole du Vin Bordeaux

Courses at the École du Vin range from two-hour workshops to intensive multi-day technical courses that include vineyard visits and dinner at a wine estate. If you can’t make it to the École du Vin, check out their partner schools and global tutors and find out more information on their website.

Winter Weight Whites from Bordeaux

While most shift to heavy, full-bodied reds during the cold winter months, there is still a place at the table for the two main styles of dry Bordeaux whites. The first is the fresh and vibrant whites such as Bordeaux Blanc, Entre-Deux-Mers and Cotes de Bordeaux. These generally are unoaked, light in body and made to be drunk young with lighter lunchtime fair such as salads or grilled fish or platters of oysters from the nearby Bay of Arcachon.

The second style is the richly textured and well-structured dry whites from the Graves and Pessac-Léognan appellations. They tend to be medium to full-bodied, usually vinified and aged in oak and can benefit from aging as well as decanting when served. This type of wine makes a great accompaniment to creamy soups and fish in cream sauces.

A Sea of Lively Whites

Entre-Deux-Mers is a pretty region located between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, hence the name meaning “between two seas”. After Bordeaux Blanc, it is the largest appellation for dry white wines, which are made predominantly from sauvignon blanc with sémillon added for weight and complexity and muscadelle for aroma. Producers like Château Sainte-Marie also add some pink-skinned sauvignon gris to their Entre-Deux-Mers for mouthfeel and aromatics. Most Entre-Deux-Mers are fermented and aged in stainless steel, resulting in dry, crisp and fruity wines with floral and citrus aromas. They are meant to be uncomplicated and consumed within a year or two of release. Chateau Sainte-Marie Entre Deux Mers Vieilles Vignes 2013 is a more stately example, not to be missed.

White Graves and Pessac-Léognan

The region of Graves and the well-known appellation of Pessac-Léognan lie to the south of the city of Bordeaux, encompassing some of its southern suburbs and on the left bank of the Garonne River. While Graves is considered the origin of red Bordeaux wines, dating back to the Middle Ages, the appellation of Pessac-Léognan is a relatively new addition created in 1987. Both reds and whites are produced in Graves and Pessac-Léognan, with white grapes accounting for approximately 20% of the vineyards of the latter.

This is an area of powerful, complex and aromatic dry white wines that spend a considerable time aged in oak barrels and continue to evolve and deepen in colour as they age in bottle. Sémillon and sauvignon blanc make up the blend, with appellation rules stipulating that sauvignon blanc must comprise at least 25% of the blend.

André Lurton is the owner of Château La Louvière, one of the key figures driving change in the area and behind the creation of the Pessac-Léognan appellation. Château La Louvière was the first winery to use screw caps in Bordeaux and they currently bottle their wines under both cork and screw cap, depending on the market of sale. The Château La Louvière Blanc is predominantly sauvignon blanc, with a small portion of sémillon depending on the vintage. The 2009 is 100% sauvignon blanc and though barrel fermented and aged, manages to retain a crisp freshness set against a backdrop of spicy, toasty notes with good depth and finish.

Although plantings of sauvignon blanc are more recent in this region, sémillon vines and vineyards are considerably older, with some reaching 120 years of age. Château Latour-Martillac oenologist Valerie Vialard explained that only the sémillon portion of the blend will undergo skin contact during fermentation to extract more flavour and add concentration, a move that has proven great success. So much so that Denis Dubourdieu, consultant to the winery, is considered responsible for the widespread use of skin contact for sémillon for white Bordeaux wines.

Old Vine Chenin Chateau Latour Martillac

120 year old sémillon at Chateau Latour Martillac

Bordeaux’s Golden Whites

Not all of the white wines from the Graves are dry and lovers of sweet wines are likely familiar with the golden elixirs of Sauternes and Barsac. The same grapes used for dry white Bordeaux are also used here, with sémillon being the principal grape, since it is particularly susceptible to “noble rot” Botrytis cinerea. Due to the grape’s desiccation, the shrivelled grapes produce intensely flavoured juice that results in concentrated sweet wines. The yield is much lower than for dry wines and the production process more labour intensive; botrytis does not affect each vine or bunch at the same time or way, so wineries are required to hand-pick the affected bunches or berries by passing through the vineyard up to a half-dozen times to complete the harvest.

100ml Sauternes tubes Chateau Guiraud

100ml Sauternes tubes Chateau Guiraud

Sweet wine production here dates back centuries though most Sauternes producers also make a dry white, which takes the first letter of the name of the Château, such as the Le G de Château Guiraud 2013. Although the golden sweet wines are revered by wine lovers across the globe, sales and exports have shown a decline since the financial crisis. According to Caroline Degrémont of Château Guiraud, the effect of the crisis seems to have been longer for Sauternes because these were “the first wines that you stopped drinking and the last that you start to drink again”. To make the wine accessible and affordable, the Château sells 100ml “tubes” of Sauternes in their tasting room which go over well with visitors.

Holding a slightly different view, Fabrice Dubordieu, a fourth generation family member of Château Doisy-Daëne in Barsac, hasn’t felt the impact of the crisis as much. He believes that the “sweet wine consumer is not your average wine consumer and is less concerned with showing off and more concerned with pleasure”. Dubordieu also explained that “to create a market for sweet wine, you need to create a ritual around it and a ritual for the food served with it”. Seems like timely advice as many of these wines have intense flavours that shout out for rich foods that you might only eat on special occasions and holidays. Think about Sauterne’s classic pairing with foie gras or Roquefort cheese, the less conventional pairing with sweetbreads that I once had in Sauternes (delicious!) or with a roasted pineapple tart to end a meal.

With the long winter ahead there are many whites from the Loire and Bordeaux, dry, sweet and sparkling and in a range of price points that will make your winter a little warmer.

Stay warm!

Janet Dorozynski

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