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Buy The Case: Noble Estates Wine and Spirits

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

BuyTheCaseLOGOimageAs a regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single importing agent. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in our Buy The Case report.

Importers pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines.

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

October – Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Noble Estates is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, an accomplishment in itself in this tough, government-constrained market, but there are plenty of more recent developments to toast. The company profile has risen substantially in the short time since Craig de Blois purchased Noble Estates in December of 2013; prior to this the focus was almost exclusively on sales via the LCBO’s retail network. De Blois, a respected wine industry veteran with over a decade’s experience with Lifford Wine Agency, a company he helped build into the one of the most successful agents in the province, has rebalanced Noble’s strategy to include a substantial consignment portfolio as well as continuing to source products for the government monopoly. The rapid increase in sales directly to licensees and private clients has allowed Noble to grow their allocated consignment space, while also expanding into the high volume consignment (HVC) and LCBO Licensee only programs. All of this is welcome news for both restaurateurs and private buyers.

Multiple high-profile wineries have been added to the portfolio in the meantime, such as Far Niente, Sonoma Cutrer, Torbreck, Kanonkop, Ken Forrester, Hundred Acre, and Malivoire, adding to an already solid core of well-respected brands. There are now nearly 60 suppliers on the Noble books, and the company is also the largest supplier of classified Bordeaux to the province via negociant Nathaniel Johnston. Ten new employees were hired in the first year, including two certified sommeliers, a marketing manager with a wine MBA from Bordeaux, and a former LCBO buyer. If this all sounds very ambitious, that’s because it is. “We inherited a great company, and our goal from the start was to be the best wine agency”, says De Blois.

The WineAlign team sat down to taste nearly two-dozen Noble Estates selections in late September, finding plenty to recommend, filling most of our “reasons to buy” categories.

Restaurant Pours by the Glass

Harlow Ridge 2012 Zinfandel, California ($18.99)Fontanafredda Eremo Langhe Rosso 2012 Harlow Ridge Zinfandel 2012

David Lawrason – This is a nicely bright, lifted zinfandel that delivers fresh cran-raspberry fruit, green tea, even peppermint aromas and flavours, and thankfully avoids oak confection. Very approachable and quite delicious, exactly the kind of wine that restaurants can pour by the glass as a sipper or with casual pub fare.

Fontanafredda 2012 Eremo Langhe Rosso, Piedmont, Italy ($22.99)

David Lawrason – This is an ideal, good value red either as a house pour in an Italian restaurant, or to have stocked at home for get togethers involving Italian cuisine – i.e. pizza and game night. This mid-weight, lively and juicy nebbiolo. Not as refined and deep as neighbouring Barolo, but it gives a great sense of what nebbiolo is all about at half the price.

Cellaring Wine

Hedges Cuvee Marcel Dupont Syrah Red Mountain Les Gosses Vineyard 2012, Washington, USA ($49.99)

David Lawrason – A central tenet of collecting is to stock a great, age-worthy wine that will not often come your way. Washington syrah is so much under the radar, but this is one to shout from the rooftops. Not only is it wild and edgy, it has some cool textural elegance and minerality on the palate. And great depth, internal combustion, density and outstanding length. Best 2017 to mid-2020s.
Sara d’Amato – Admittedly, I have a weakness for syrah, for expressive cooler climate styles that rock you with spicy pepper, earth and an undercurrent of vibrancy. I find all of this in this complex, swoon-worthy example from Washington’s Hedges Cuvée Marcel Dupont. Sensual, musky and oh-so memorable.
Michael Godel – This has the je ne sais quoi of Syrah meets Red Mountain AVA, in fact it has the JNSQ of anywhere in the Syrah diaspora. A 10 year cellar-worthy syrah.

Collectible WineEn Route Les Pommiers Pinot Noir 2013Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle Grand Cuvée Hedges Cuvee Marcel Dupont Syrah Red Mountain Les Gosses Vineyard 2012

Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Grand Cuvée, Champagne, France ($199.00)

John Szabo – This is expensive like all premium champagnes, but the emphasis here is on premium. This is a terrifically elegant, vivacious, very refined and beautifully detailed Grand Siècle, the very essence of delicacy, up there alongside the greatest and worthy of a splurge. I’d leave this in the cellar for another 2-3 years to develop a little more toasty complexity.
David Lawrason – It would great to have a bottle or two in your cellar, but this is too good to be poured only in celebration (where the celebration is centre stage). This Grand Siecle is gorgeous! So rich yet refined with subtle, layered aromas of fresh peach, lemon poppyseed loaf, a hint of vanillin and slivered almond. Such great weave!
Sara d’Amato – Hands-down, a Champagne worth the investment. The Grand Siècle Cuvée is blended from various vintages of Grand Cru wines and offers, sophistication and complexity. Impressive – fresh and lifted with exceptional length.

En Route 2013 Les Pommiers Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California, USA ($99.99)

Sara d’Amato – My husband couldn’t stop sipping on this when I brought it home after review – it is an addictive pinot noir with all that is glorious and catchy about the new world style. Beautifully executed with flavours of wild flower, smoke, plum and dark cherry fruit.  Organically farmed to boot!

Seasonal Wines

Umani Ronchi 2012 San Lorenzo Rosso Conero, Le Marche, Italy ($19.99)

John Szabo – This Montepulciano-based red from Le Marche is compellingly dark and savoury, woodsy, resinous, and swarthy, delivering great character for the money. It’s a perfect autumn wine, when game and wild mushrooms hit the table.

Personal House Wines

Domaine Pfister 2013 Pinot Blanc, Alsace, France ($22.99)

John Szabo – I often find myself short on reasonably priced, versatile white wines in the cellar (because I always drink them), and this Alsatian pinot blanc, fresh and delicate, full of white flowers and white-fleshed fruit, fits the bill nicely. Gentle acids and balanced palate make this suitable for just about any occasion, and it’s fully ready to enjoy now, or hold for another year or two without concern.
Michael Godel – I have tasted this 2013 more than 15 times and it always come up the same; clean, polished and lithe. Sips alone and swallows alongside much varied gastronomy.
David Lawrason – This a nifty wine priced well enough to be your house white, or served at a somewhat upscale function. Perhaps even a restaurant pour buy the glass, if you think your clientele will venture into Alsace. It is a classic pinot blanc with a compelling combination of breadth and richness yet focus and minerality for good measure.

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)

Michael Godel – Unique, as always and very gamay. Will lead you to gulp and giggle with #GoGamayGo delight. Might best be typecast as a M-T-W-T-F-S-S wine.

Umani Ronchi San Lorenzo Rosso Conero 2012 Domaine Pfister Pinot Blanc 2013 13th Street Gamay Noir 2013Fontanafredda La Rosa Barolo 2008 Xavier Cuvée Anonyme Châteauneuf Du Pape 2011

Wine Pooling

Fontanafredda 2008 Barolo La Rosa, Piedmont, Italy ($64.95)

John Szabo – This is precisely the type of wine I love to have around for occasions when something above the mean is needed, though a full case will make a dent. Solution: share the case with 2-3 friends and keep a small cache. It’s drinking beautifully at the moment – sleek and sensual, with a terrific range of savoury, resinous, floral and earthy notes in the classic nebbiolo register – though will also sail gracefully for a few more years.
David Lawrason – This is a real find in the sense that it is an excellent Barolo that is now moving into prime, at a reasonable price in the Barolo-sphere. Love the lifted nose with roasted chestnuts, leather, chinotto, caraway, dried roses and warmed cherry jam fruit. So yes you might want to share a case and cellar a bottle or three at home – it will hold for five years. But it really deserves to reside on fine Italian wine list.

Xavier 2011 Cuvée Anonyme Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France ($62.95)

David Lawrason – Chateauneuf is certainly a cellarable wine but Xavier is making a smooth, elegant, silky style that is approachable now as well. And it is delicious. I would love a handful of bottles in my cellar but not a full case at the price. It is a case I would split with two or three friends.
Sara d’Amato – A gutsy and traditional Châteauneuf-du-Pape with great body and concentration. The blends builds nicely to an epic climax that will have you quaking. Age-worthy and quite special.

Curio Selections

Planeta 2014 Etna Bianco, Sicily, Italy ($31.99)Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2014 Planeta Etna Bianco 2014

John Szabo – Regular readers are familiar with my fascination for wines grown on volcanoes, but this wine goes beyond the merely volcanic curio into fine white wine territory. 2014 was a terrific vintage for Planeta’s Etna Bianco, the finest yet in my experience. I love the crisp, tense structure, the evident salinity-minerality – a rare unoaked white with genuine drive and power. Drink now, or even better, hold for another 2-3 years to allow the more visceral, salty-stony character of the volcano to emerge.
Michael Godel – This is a near perfect vintage for such a wine, made from carricante, one of the most ancient of Sicilian grape varieties. Ideal for splitting a case with one or two friends.
Sara d’Amato – Made from the carricante varietal, a staple of the wines of the volcanic soils of Mount Etna. Vivacious by nature, it is often tamed by malolactic fermentation, lees ageing and some oak. This example was picked at the peak of ripeness and needs little intervention save some partial fermentation in oak. Nervy with great minerality, perky lemon and saline featured on the palate. A wine sure to whisk you off to a beautiful realm. Good news, it is available now, by consignment.

Planeta 2014 Cerasuolo, Sicily, Italy ($28.99)

David Lawrason – It is perhaps pricy as an everyday, personal house wine, but it is a curio that will appeal to wine explorers, so I would buy a case to share/gift to those who you think might be interested. It is delicious and charming. A fresh, grapey, soft yet poised red that blends nero d’avola and frappato, the former a much more well-known Sicilian variety than the latter. I thought of Spanish garnacha but it is livelier.
Sara d’Amato – A wine that will shortly be available by consignment and worth the wait so it is recommended to order soon. This reminded me of a really good Cru Beaujolais aped up with saline, dried mint and a deliciously smoky character.
John Szabo – Like my chronic shortage of versatile whites, light and spicy, crunchy reds also disappear with alarming speed from my cellar. If only I had more cases of wines like this nero d’avola-frappato blend, a lovely, fresh, floral, finely detailed, seamless, and silky red, I’d have fewer moments of disappointment. But this is not just simple and easy-drinking; it also has exceptional depth and length.

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

This report was sponsored by Noble Estates Wine & Spirits. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. Noble Estates has provided the following agency profile with more details on their consignment program and delivery options.

About Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Noble Estates Wine & SpiritsNoble Estates Wine & Spirits is an independently owned company that has been serving the Ontario market for 25 years. Our small team is comprised of people who are deeply passionate about wine, and we have managed to find the perfect balance of young, dynamic energy and established, seasoned experience.

We are proud to represent a unique portfolio of hand-selected wines and spirits. Our range includes many of the top producers from around the world as well as a number of small, independent producers with a focus on outstanding quality. We pride ourselves on building and maintaining strong, long-term relationships with all of our suppliers and our customers.

We strive to offer the wines that we are passionate about in order to provide our customers with the best offering available. Our very successful and rapidly growing restaurant business is proof of this passion. In just over a year, we have managed to triple this business allowing us to offer our restaurant customers with a wider selection of quality wines.

For more information, please visit website at

How to order:

For customers living in Downtown Toronto, wine can be delivered directly to you at a charge of $8 per case. For customers living elsewhere in the GTA, we can offer direct delivery for $14 per case. If you are living in the Ottawa/Kingston area, direct delivery is possible for a charge of $18 per case.

For all customers, we can also offer delivery to any LCBO of your choice at no extra cost. This will usually take 2-4 weeks, but may take up to 8 weeks in peak season or based on distance. The cases will arrive pre-paid and the store should contact you when they arrive. A copy of your invoice will be emailed to you for your reference.

If you have any questions, you can direct them to Ian at

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Washington State – Meet the Neighbours

Treve’s TravelsOctober 5, 2015

by Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Treve Ring

With America’s second largest wine region, Washington State, bordering BC’s Okanagan Valley, one would imagine there would be some strong similarities and synergies. Amazingly, not so much. An intensive tour and tasting through Washington State’s wines earlier this year cemented that they share far less than their neighbouring geography would indicate.

The 49th Parallel is a mysterious barrier. On the Canadian side, you have some of the Okanagan’s most heralded and pricey vineyards, almost touching the border. As soon as you cross that invisible force field and enter into Washington State, you’ve got – well – desert scrubland. It takes a couple of hours in the car before you reach the northernmost edge of Lake Chelan AVA or Colombia Valley AVA, and the density of wineries that exist in the eastern half of the state.

To Situate : BC vs WA

With 20,000 HA under vine and more than 850 wineries, Washington trumps BC by far; we’ve just under 4000 HA and approximately 275 wineries. Size aside, there are parallels as well as divergence. Washington’s first wine grapes were planted at Fort Vancouver by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1825, with BC’s first grapes planted shortly thereafter, in 1859, by Father Charles Pandosy at the Oblate Mission in Kelowna. On this side of the border, we have more than 75 varieties planted, while Washington reports more than 45, though the white/red split in both regions is very close (53% white / 47% red in WA versus 49% white / 51% red in BC).

Pinot gris and merlot are BC’s top white and red grapes by acreage, while riesling and cabernet sauvignon lead for WA. We have five designated geographical indicators (GI’s) plus “emerging regions”, while Washington has thirteen American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). BC’s 2014 tonnage was nearing 38,000, while WA bested 227,000 tons in 2014.


BC’s main wine regions, the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys, share similar climatic growing conditions to eastern Washington, where the vast majority of wine grapes are grown. Osoyoos is the northernmost point of a network of dry, desert-like pockets that stretch from the southern Okanagan down through the USA into Mexico. Annual precipitation ranges from 7-12 inches in eastern Washington and 12-16 inches in the Okanagan Valley, while the ample long-day sunlight hours and massive diurnal shift contribute both to choice potential ripening and freshness. There is ample water found in rivers, lakes and underground aquifers, although water rights in Washington State can preclude vineyard expansion and development.

One convergence is with the soils, and the formation of them. Both regions are a diverse network of volcanic and glacial spread soils, with a wide mix of sedimentation, alluvial (stream deposited) and colluvial (gravity deposited), complexing microclimates further. Washington State’s geology was additionally altered 15,000 years ago by the Missoula floods, the catastrophic walls of water that rushed west from Idaho’s Lake Missoula when ice dams would break during the Ice Age, releasing waves up to 400 feet of water. Successive breaks deposited nutrients all over eastern Washington, up to 1200 feet above sea level. Each flood equaled the volume of all the world’s rivers combined, so you can imagine how much debris it swept west. You can find Missoula flood sediments up to 100 feet deep in some vineyards today. This rests atop basalt bedrock that was laid down by a river of lava that carved out the Columbia Valley 12 million years ago. Classic, typically seen soils today are comprised of wind-blown loess over granitic deposits from the Missoula floods, atop the ancient basalt bedrock. Vine root heaven.

Washington Taste: Driven by Type, Terroir, or Both?

For all their divergence, there are certainly parallels between BC and Washington’s wine regions, especially with regards to the intrinsics: climate and soils. So what contributes to the massive stylistic differences? I reckon Type. In The Science of Wine, Dr. Jamie Goode notes that “Most definitions of terroir rule out human intervention as part of the equation, but could winemaking play a role in maintaining type?” It certainly appeared the case during my travels and tasting, with many (*note I’m generalizing here for an overview, I’m not stating all) wineries striving for a riper, fuller, richer, dare-I-say Napa-esque, Parker-driven type. Of course, type depends on the intrinsics – the heat, sunlight, diurnal shift and soils – but when many winemakers across a wide area use similar techniques to achieve common styles, you have a distinctive, regional type. With the abundance of favourable weather and sun, a full, rich, voluptuous type is natural and achievable. Some winemakers nurture this nature further, with very late picking, overripe grapes with high sugar and alcohol content and the practice of watering back. The procedure involves leaving grapes hang until they are super ripe, up to 28 Brix (or more?), and then diluting with water so alcohol is not in the fortified range. This keeps most of the ripe, opulent fruit while satisfying alcohol demands. Of course, one adjustment soon leads to another, and acid adjustments often are necessary. Though I observed watering back to be widely used and discussed in Washington, it is a controversial practice that is seen unfavourably in many other wine regions. Dr. Goode goes on to say “Winemakers could also be adapting their techniques to best exhibit regional differences. This type, owing more to human intervention than classical definitions of terroir, is still of merit because it helps maintain the sort of stylistic regional diversity that makes wine so interesting.”

The abundance of all the grape-friendly resources, like sun, soils and water, have allowed for a wide range of grapes to be planted. So much so that Washington vintners themselves have a hard time when asked to pick a signature grape. “We do them all so well” was a common reply to the question. “Everything grows so well, so easily here.” Of course, with such a young wine region, ascending commercially since the 1970’s, experimentation is healthy and expected. While Bordeaux red varieties lead the day (especially in the ratings race), syrah is a strong contender, and frame or complete most of my top red wines. With whites, riesling rules, with Chateau Ste. Michelle making more riesling than any other winery in the country  – 1.1 million cases. Chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, both oaked and unoaked but all with a richer, riper core, follow.

AVA’s : The Where and the What to Know About

I’ve isolated a few of the AVA’s and some key points of difference.

Yakima Valley
The first recognized AVA, established in 1983, it contains more than one-third of Washington’s vineyards. Yakima is the largest sub-appellation of the Columbia Valley and contains three distinct sub-appellations within: Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain and Rattlesnake Hills. Vineyards stretch across nearly 100 miles, encompassing a wide range of sites and climates, from cooler sites that specialize in riesling and chardonnay, to warm areas where ripe red-fruited merlot and promising syrah shine.

Red Mountain
The smallest AVA, established in 2001, is less of a mountain than a steep, southwest facing slope. This is a premium site for red grapes, especially full, dense, dusty and tannic cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and syrah. Very arid region, with water rights entirely dictating plantings. Red Mountain came into news in 2013 when BC’s Aquilini Group swept in and purchased 670 acres for a cool $8.3M at auction.

Arid landscape of Red Mountain

Arid landscape of Red Mountain

Snipes Mountain
The second smallest AVA, Snipes Mountain was established in 2009. Vineyards have been planted on these slopes since 1914. Its elevated topography and unique soils make it distinct; many small gravel deposits left by the ancient flow of the Columbia River dot the vineyards, and a larger percentage of soils are Aridisols, low in organic matter and aid to reduce vine vigor and naturally increase fruit concentration.

Horse Heaven Hills
Established in 2005, this region is naturally bounded by the Yakima Valley AVA to the north, and by the moderating Columbia River at the south. Many vineyards are planted on south-facing slopes, at altitudes up to 550m. Significant winds are common, toughening grape skins and concentrating prized cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

Walla Walla
From a Native American term for ‘many waters’ Walla Walla is well known for its rich, supple reds and its postcard picturesque, tourism-ready main street. Established in 1984, Walla Walla now has the highest concentration of wineries in the state. Syrah shows distinct smoked meat, and earth, while cabernet sauvignon demonstrates ripe blackberry and ample structure. An amazing cobblestone riverbed runs along the extreme south, dipping below the WA/OR border into a very exciting sub-appellation known by the sexy name of The Rocks District of Milton Freewater AVA. The Rocks, nested within Washington’s Walla Walla AVA, lies entirely within Oregon; a case of AVA’s following geographical rather than political boundaries, and a somewhat controversial area to label for both Oregon and Washington wineries.

Unique terroir of The Rocks

Unique terroir of The Rocks

Columbia Gorge
The region is defined by the Columbia River Gorge, a dramatic narrow corridor carved into basalt bedrock and flanking the Columbia River as it slices through the Cascades en route to the Pacific. A relatively cooler region, where white grapes outnumber red – quite rare for Washington. Vineyards range from near sea level to up to nearly 600m elevation, and encompass more maritime climates in the west (dry-farming is possible here – another extreme rarity) to continental in the east. Very exciting area due to relatively lower vineyard land value and innovative winemakers drawn to experimentation with acidity and altitude.

Who: Wineries to Watch

The 49th parallel does more than just end stop the Okanagan wine region. It also prevents many of these recommended wines from reaching our shelves. That said, some will have limited distribution in pockets across Canada, and you can always search them out while you’re Stateside. Here are some of the highlights tasted during my visit in May 2015.

W. T. Vintners
I’ve followed Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen rise through the ranks of sommeliers into one of the top wine directors in Washington State, overseeing the list at Seattle’s RN74. Talented, whip smart and humble, he began making wine in 2007 with a friend out of a home garage, developing his passion into W.T. Vintners. Now he makes 1300 cases of wine with a friend out of a slightly larger garage, in the Woodinville Warehouse district (“wine ghetto”). His elegant, expressive single-vineyard wines were the highlight of my trip. 

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2014 Grüner Veltliner, Underwood Mountain Vineyard: One of the rare few working with grüner in Washington, which is a pity. At 379 cases, this is his largest production wine, sourced from Columbia Gorge. Reductive notes blow off to reveal green apple, crisp lemon pith and beauty, precise minerality. Bright and lean, with herbal meadow florals and finely rasped white pepper on the finish. 89 points.

2012 Red Blend Stonyvine Vineyard Dalliance: This GSM is sourced from Walla Walla AVA. Wild black cherry, herbal cured meats and distinct sea salt scents entice to perfumed raspberry, strawberry and an underlay of herbal sweet sap. Bright, seamless acidity carries the layers of herbal perfumed fruit across finely textured tannins. Unfined and unfiltered. 92 points.

2011 Damavian Sryah Les Collines Vineyard: Loving the cooler 2011 vintage here. Expressive blacked pepper, cracked clove and thorny cassis opens this beauty syrah from Walla Walla, made with 50 percent whole cluster. Thorn and perfumed violets continue onto the firmly structured, finely textured palate, with wild black cherry and broken stones lifted with bright, effortless acidity. Power plus finesse. 93 points. 

Gramercy Cellars
Master Sommelier Greg Harrington worked high-flying restaurant positions across the States for 15 years when he decided to come to Walla Walla for holiday in 2004. He liked it so much he put down roots, quite literally, opening Gramercy Cellars the following year. His 8000 case winery focuses on Rhone and Bordeaux varietals, all with detailed precision, authenticity and verve.


2010 Lagniappe Syrah: A treat to taste this Columbia Valley syrah with some age on it (2012 is current vintage), allowing all the expressive black cherry, mineral salts and time-worn savoury notes to shine. Perfumed cassis, thorns and violets are veined with iron and framed with firm, finely grained tannins. Very fine black pepper lingers on the finish. Beauty precision and finesse here, and a wine still with 5+ years to go. 93 points.

2012 l’Idiot de Village Mouvédre: Lovely fragrant cracked spices, floral cassis, perfumed violets, lavender and thyme swirl through the depth of this fine grained, finessed red. Smoked meats and medicinal tinged currants linger on the spicy finish. 91 points

IMG_2160Savage Grace
Working out of a small space (right next door to Jeff at W.T. Vintners) in the Woodinville Warehouse district, recording-studio owner turned wine-nut Michael Savage is a true garagiste vintner, produces 2000 cases a year from grapes sourced across Washington.

2013 Chardonnay Celilo Vineyard: 40-year-old vines from Colombia Gorge are split between stainless and neutral french oak. Lovely creamy shoulders, with fine lees, subtle apple moving with gossamer fluidity and lingering with fine spices on the finish. Finessed and delicate. 92 points.

2013 Pinot Noir Underwood Mountain: One of the most impressive pinot noirs of my trip. Dry farmed, high altitude, volcanic slope soils in Colombia Gorge. Fragrant raspberry, perfumed cherry and ripe, wild strawberry flow across very finely textured tannins. Elegant and melodic. 91 points.  

Hedges Family Estate
One of the first to really cement Red Mountain as an area for serious, finessed wines, the family views themselves as guardians of this special terroir, preserving and protecting the area for future generations. Now into the second generation with siblings Christophe (in the vineyards) and Sarah (in the winery) continuing to farm biodynamically and produce low interventionist, authenticity-seeking wines.

2012 Hedges Red Mountain Cuvee Marcel Dupont Les Gosses Vineyard: Alluring iodine, earthy herbals, and fragrant violets open this finessed, elegant syrah. Wild cassis, thorn and black cherry are textured with anise and dried herbs, framed with quietly firm tannins. Great length and presence. 93 points. 

IMG_2231 IMG_2365

Long Shadow
Allen Shoup has long been a driving force in the Washington wine industry, growing Chateau Ste. Michelle as CEO for 17 years and tirelessly developing wine culture through organizing associations to support, unite and promote wineries. He continues to draw attention to Washington’s wine potential with his Long Shadows project, drawing influential winemakers from around the globe to each make one label in the project. Michel Rolland, Randy Dunn, Ambrogio and Giovanni Folinari, John Duval, Philippe Melka and Armin Diel each make one distinct wine.

2012 Feather Cabernet Sauvignon: Randy Dunn was the winemaker for this Columbia Valley cabernet. 22 months in 90% new French oak barrels has built a structured, integrated and complete wine, showing very well in youth but with reams of potential ahead. Perfumed cassis, black raspberries, wild cherry and anise is carried upon those structured, lightly grippy tannins. Tight and spicy on the end, with a potent, peppery, lingering finish. One to hold 5-10 years. 91 points. 

IMG_2108Betz Family Winery
When Steve and Bridgit Griessel purchased Betz Family Winery from Bob and Cathy Betz in 2011 they insisted Bob remained on as the winery’s “patriarch” and winemaker for at least 5 years. When you take over the keys to a hallowed project like Betz, there could be no other apparent solution. The team has continued to make very small amounts (5500 cases) of highly lauded, individual wines, sourced from across the state.

2012 Bésoleil : The generous 2012 vintage was captured in this very well knit Southern Rhone inspired red, a blend of grenahce, cinsault, mourvedre and syrah sourced from Yakima Valley, Red Mountain and Snipes Mountain. Sweet herbs, thistle, wild strawberries and thorny blackberries open this characterful, medium bodied red. Though edges are soft and rounded, there is a bamboo firmness to the backbone, with cured meats and wild herbs texturing gentle red fruits and perfumed florals. Confident depth, lifted with fresh acidity to the lingering finish. 91 points.

Syncline Wine Cellars
When Poppie and James Montone moved to the Pacific Northwest to get into vineyards and winemaking it was after a great deal of travelling (her) and studying (him) and with a huge passion for wine. They met working at a custom crush facility in Oregon, and decided to move to Columbia Gorge to start their own project, releasing Syncline’s first vintage in 1999. Their 6000 case winery focuses on Rhone varietals.

2013 Grenache Carignan: Sourced from the Horse Haven Hills AVA, this bright, savoury red carries raspberry, wild strawberry, cherry and candied strawberry gracefully along very fine tannins. White pepper and dried herbs texturize the medium-bodied palate, finishing with a subtle salted plum note. 90 points.





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LCBO Opens Spanish Specialty Location

by David Lawrason

Long-time readers know my enduring criticism of the LCBO has been lack of selection depth compared to any other major wine consuming market in the world, where private retailing rules. Well I am not about to change my tune and say the LCBO actually should exist, but I will give credit where due and happily say they are doing something about deepening their selection by creating regional specialty selections.

A Greek specialty location opened in Toronto’s Greektown at 200 Danforth Ave in June, followed by a Portuguese specialty store at 2151 St. Clair west (Stockyards) in July. Last week a Spanish location opened at the newly expanded location at 2946 Bloor St West at Royal York (Kingsway) in Etobicoke.

Spanish selection at LCBO Royal York Store

All three “Products of the World” locations are stocking all ‘General List’ and VINTAGES selections, as well as products purchased from agents who have wines in the Consignment program. The huge pool of consignment wines until now has been earmarked for direct sales by the case to restaurants and consumers. But at the new LCBO specialty locations you can buy single bottles off the shelf.

The Spanish “boutique” on Bloor West boasts over 150 selections, although the start-up, opening day inventory was not quite up there. I counted about 120. The new “Kingsway exclusive” selection is not some rarefied portfolio of expensive wines. They range from $11 to over $50. And some are available for sampling in-store at the recently installed tasting bar. I managed to taste most of the “Kingsway exclusives”. Links to some of the best buys and featured wines are below. They may not all show up in the LCBOs on-line inventory, so you may have to visit the store now and then and have a look.

Kingsway Exclusives

Tandem Ars In Vitro 2011, Navarra ($11.45)

Tandem Ars in Vitro

Bodegas Costers Del Sio Celistia Tierra 2013, Costers Del Segre ($13.80)

Bodegas Costers Del Sio Celistia Tierra 2013 side

Legón Reserva 2010, Ribera Del Duero ($22.85)

Legón Reserva 2010 side

From the VINTAGES Oct 3rd Spanish Release

(Read more on Spain in John’s Oct 3rd VINTAGES Article)

Terras Gauda 2013 O Rosal Blanco, Rías Baixas, Spain ($24.95)

Terras Gauda O Rosal Blanco 2013 side

Viña Real 2008 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($36.95)

Vina Real Gran Reserva 2008 side

Bodegas Bhilar 2011 Phinca Encanto Rufete, Sierra de Francia, Spain ($32.95)

Phinca Encanto Rufete 2011 side

LCBO General Lists Values

Bordón Gran Reserva 2005

Faustino V I I Blanco 2014, Rioja ($12.95)

Faustino V I I Blanco 2014


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!

Store photo courtesy of LCBO


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Pinotage: South Africa’s Impossible Grape

Editors Note: Three WineAlign critics – Michael Godel, Remy Charest and I – are currently in South Africa tasting at @CapeWine2015. Watch for our reports this fall on what’s happening in this exciting, progressive wine region. Meanwhile enjoy this perspective on pinotage by David Lawrason, who spent considerable time in South Africa last year, and will be returning in March 2016. – Treve Ring.

by David LawrasonSept 16, 2015


David Lawrason

David Lawrason

For as long as I have been tasting South African wine (since the early 80s – pre sanctions) pinotage has been a perplexing, controversial and divisive wine. Personally I have never wholeheartedly embraced it, but I have spent a lot of time trying to understand it, and I have occasionally been impressed. But more often disappointed and frustrated. Now at least I think I know why.

My latest opportunity to put pinotage under the tasting scope came in South Africa in March 2014, when colleague John Szabo and I sat in a Stellenbosch cellar at Asara Estate with 18 examples assembled for us by Wines of South Africa. For me it capped an extended three-week sojourn in the Cape wine lands where I had come across pinotage almost daily at various wineries and restaurants. And where it continued to perplex.

There were several different styles in the WOSA line-up. I had specifically asked not to have any mocha-coffee inspired samples that have become so popular at lower price points, but are despised by many winemakers in South Africa who have any respect for this distinctive South African variety. But I was perhaps mistaken to exclude this type – it’s a bona fide commercial success at least, and just the latest chapter in the search to figure out what to do about pinotage.

Pinotage is a vinifera hybrid that was created in 1925 by University of Stellebosch professor Abraham Perold, by cross-pollinating pinot noir and cinsault. Its story has been often penned and is easily Googled, so I am not going to divert you down the path. Its parentage is important to the story of course, but I am more interested in its present and future.

The tasting presented varying styles of pinotage, and this alone was troubling. Some were heavily oaked and smoked; some flirted with the above mentioned mocha-fication; some were heavy, raisiny and over-ripe; some had been transformed into more elegant so-called “Cape Blends” with cabernet, merlot and shiraz – but they were no longer pinotage. (One Cape Blend labelled as a tribute to Perold was not even a majority pinotage). And then some, surprisingly, were vibrant, juicy and really delightful.

About half way through the tasting it hit me. We were tasting different regional examples as well as winemaking examples and the better wines – again in my view – were from cooler, coastal climates like Walker Bay, Hamal-en-Aarde and Elgin. They had vibrancy, brighter fruit and gosh – they were more like pinot noir, the king of cool climate reds. Remember that pinot noir puts the pinot in pinotage.

This further led me to consider whether the tinkering of Prof Perold was inherently flawed, creating a most unlikely and essentially unsuccessful pairing of cool climate Burgundy-grown pinot, with heat seeking Mediterranean-grown cinsault. Pinot’s more ethereal spirit was being dragged down by the bull headedness of the not very flavourful, tannic and rustic cinsault – and the combination could never result in wines with innate harmony.

Kanonkop has long been a Pinotage champion

Kanonkop has long been a Pinotage champion

And this of course explains the long history of meddling by winemakers – searching, searching for that elusive balance. In the early days pinotage was considered a great cellaring wine, perhaps because it was the only way to make it balanced and smooth. But that also brought on oxidative, leathery and often bretty characters that are less acceptable today. Indeed some unfairly blamed the grape for the volatile and funky characters they didn’t like. And it may contribute more so than other varieties but I don’t understand why (except that pinot noir can easily volatilize as well). I still think its problems had much more to do with poor cellar and barrel hygiene.

In the 90s Beyers Truter at Kanonkop brought fruit forward/new oak California philosophy to bear, going for extraction and polish, and it sort of worked. There are some good wines of this genre, but they miss pinotage’s edge. Then came the Cape blends that can be very tasty wines in their own right, but are not bona fide pinotage. Some have made decent pinotage rosé. And now we have the almost cloying and artificial mocha monsters.

So Where is Pinotage Going?

You will get several opinions on the future of pinotage in South Africa, and many who prize it are perhaps more sentimental about it. It has always had its loyal followers – there is even a Pinotage Association for that purpose – but I really think they have an emotional fondness for the idea of pinotage – and perhaps a commercial stake – rather than a love for its taste. And that’s okay too – there is no right or wrong about what one likes or why.

Despite all its incarnations in its 60+ year commercial history pinotage has never risen to stardom and icon status – certainly not price-wise, and certainly not internationally. And even as an inexpensive “braii” or BBQ wine it has problems with all that stylistic variance that is not at all self-evident to buyers. Then at lower prices quality can vary greatly as well.

The answer, if there is one, would seem to lie in defining a true and authentic pinotage style, warts and all. To stop trying to make it conform, and let it be what it is.

Anthony Hamilton Russell is one who actually believes in the character of pinotage, so much so that he has designed a dedicated pinotage winery called Southern Right next to his more famous pinot noir vineyard in the Hamal En Aarde Valley near the coastal town of Hermanus. (Southern Right is the species of whale that come to winter in Walker Bay). And he has made a compelling 2012.

“The instrinsics of pinotage are fascinating” Hamilton Russell says, “but I am worried about the future because it is considered part of the old guard South Africa and the young guns of the next generation are not paying it the attention it needs”.

But let’s assume that authenticity is its ticket to ride. This means laying way back on oak – kicking away that crutch. And if that is to be done, and the wine has to walk on its own two feet, it is critical to achieve the best possible natural balance in the vineyard. I think that begins with planting it in the cool to moderate regions that will produce lighter reds that bring out its pinot side. When did you last even see a varietally labelled “cinsault” let alone really enjoy a Rhône blend from anywhere with cinsault as the lead varietal.

Coastal areas bring out the pinot in pinotage

Coastal areas bring out the pinot in pinotage

Having now visited most of the Cape’s regions, even if superficially, it is apparent to me that pinotage should be grown near the coast, perhaps from as far south and east as Elim, up through Stanford, Walker Bay, Hamal-en-Aarde, Bot River, Elgin, Constantia, Durbanville Hills and perhaps in the coolest sub-regions of Stellenbosch. Once farther inland in Franschoek, Paarl, Swartland then over the mountains in Robertson, I think the cinsault genes begin to dominate and take over pinot’s gentler side, and the wines just get to burly and coarse. There can be a real bitter streak to pinotage.

Examples that Show the Way

So where to set the compass among existing wines. I would dial straight into the Beaumont 2012 Pinotage from Bot River. Sebastian Beaumont has decided to focus on pinotage as the most natural expression of red wines that are uniquely South African. His mother Jayne first made pinotage from estate vines in this shale area in 1993 and the vines are now broaching 40 years of age.

Incredibly this wine would sell for under $20 in Canada, and if it can be done this well cheaply there is nothing wrong with pinotage being a kind of everyday country red (I kept thinking of sangiovese). But if I were a producer looking to safeguard the reputation of pinotage I would price it higher; or at least go for a reserve level that relies more on low yield and fruit, rather than new oak, for its balance and depth.

What others stood out? All from the same coastal area east and south of Cape Town, the above mentioned Hamilton Russell Southern Right 2012 from the Hamal-en-Aarde Valley is excellent. I also admired Springfontein Jonathan’s Ridge 2012 from the same small valley. And although a bit heavily wooded the Wildekrans 2011 also from Bot River shows core authentic pinotage character. And from nearby coastal Elgin the lively if tart edged slightly green Spioenkop Battle of Spioenkop Pinotage 2012.

Spot successes from elsewhere included Manley 2011 Pinotage from the more remote Tulbagh region; Durbanville Hills 2012 Rhinofields Pinotage, and MAN Family Bosstok Pinotage 2012 from a single vineyard in the Jonkershoek sub-region of Stellenbosch.

Again, the answer to me would be let pinotage be its rather coarse, wiry, sour-edged self. It’s allure is within its oddity.  Stop trying to make it conform to some smooth, svelte rich international taste profile.  And if it never becomes a global  darling – so be it.  That’s where merlot and syrah come in.

David Lawrason


Vines, fynbos, rock and blue sky define Cape terroir

Vines, fynbos, rock and blue sky define Cape terroir

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No Compromises at B.C.’s Painted Rock

A WineAlign Winery Profile
Written by WineAlign

When John Skinner first planted the seed for shifting out of his fast-paced stockbroker career and into the wine business in the late 1990’s, he did so with that singular promise in mind, one that continues to guide his philosophy and the direction of Painted Rock Estate Winery today.

After a few years of searching out the best site in the Okanagan, he and his wife Trish alighted on a sloping bench site east of Skaha Lake south of Penticton, nestled between the climate-moderating lake below and the heat-radiating bluffs behind. The property had been an apricot orchard since the early 1900’s until the late 1980’s, laying fallow until Skinner acquired it in 2004 and began planting in 2005.

This feature was sponsored by Painted Rock Winery.

Proprietors John and Trish Skinner

During their site research, they noticed the unique air movement across the site, and since the land had been unplanted for 17 years, they were able to contour the entire property, harnessing the natural air movement and working with the landscape. In line with Skinner’s quest for excellence, he brought in renowned viticulturists and wine consultants from California, France and the Okanagan to advise. They decided to focus on Bordeaux varieties, bringing in clones direct from France of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and petit verdot. They also planted syrah, inspired by the grape’s early potential in the Okanagan Valley, as well as chardonnay, their sole white grape. All of their wines are made from these estate grapes.

Along with the site, instrumental to Skinner’s plan of making the very best wines was to work with the very best. To that end, Painted Rock’s winemaking and viticultural team has been overseen by Bordeaux-based and globally renown consultant Alain Sutre since 2006. With Sutre’s belief that “the unique nature of the Okanagan will soon yield wines as identifiable as those from Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Napa – distinctly Okanagan wines, rich in flavour and character”, the opportunity and challenge to create ultra-premium wines in a young, pioneering region was welcome. Cellar master Gabriel Reis and Vineyard Manager Barry Green oversee the 24 hectare site year-round.

The wines came out of the gate strong and powerful, with natural comparisons to Napa’s cult wines in their richness and structure. That said, Skinner recognizes the importance of vintage and annual expression, and provides a helpful vintage / cellaring chart on the Painted Rock website to further consumers’ enjoyment of their wines. These were always meant to be serious wines, built for aging, though with recent vintages and aging vines, the wines are settling into themselves more and more, reflecting their site.

Arial of Tasting Room

The site, like the vines and wines, has continued to grow and expand since the first vintage, eight years ago. An architecturally stunning tasting room opened in the fall of 2013, upping the game for winery tasting rooms not only in Okanagan, but worldwide. The sleek, white Dominic Unsworth of Robert Mackenzie-designed space has walls opening directly onto the lawn and overlooking Skaha Lake below, a backdrop for tasting as well as private events. And this year, the second generation has joined the operation, with daughter Lauren Skinner coming on board full time as Business Development Manager after completing her MBA in Luxury Brand Management, Food and Wine from INSEEC Bordeaux.

The quest for excellence has paid off. Earlier this year, Richard Hemming MW of reviewed the Painted Rock wines, grading them “superior” and amongst the upper echelon of Canadian wines reviewed, and the winery was named InterVin International Winery of the Year 2014/2015. Amidst all the acclaim, Skinner remains steadfast that his wines are for all Canadians. Their popular Wine Club offers the opportunity to purchase first any limited releases with only a six bottle annual commitment.

On the eve of 2015 harvest, WineAlign put some questions to John Skinner about where Painted Rock is now, and where they are focusing next, without compromise.

Has your site changed the vision for your wines, now that you’ve had all these years learning about the specifics of the soils, climate, etc. Did you imagine making different wines initially, versus what you are making now? And if so, why the shift. 

Absolutely. The site is validating itself beyond our wildest expectations. Now that we are attaining vine age the nuances of the terroir are starting to show through at 11th leaf. We have implemented some aggressive strategies in the vineyard to achieve balance that have paid off in spades. Our primary focus was and is the creation of an exceptional terroir driven Okanagan Blend (our Red Icon). As the blending formula changes it allows us to produce select small lot offerings of our wines. In the 2013 vintage we produced 160 cases of spectacular Cabernet Franc which we offered exclusively to our wine club. In 2014 we are contemplating Petit Verdot.

Arial of Tasting Room 2

In your opinion, how do your wines age? Of course this is a broad and sweeping question, but would appreciate your thoughts on this. 

Ageability of our wines was wonderfully validated last year when we did our first ever vertical of our Red Icon with 10 of Canada’s top wine minds. Across the board the 2007 Red Icon had a minimum of 10 more years (to go yet) with many suggesting as much as 15. The finish continued to be particularly long and expressive with no vegetal characteristics showing.

You proudly ship wines to all Canadians, and are well known in this country. What are your goals on the international market? The winery participates in tastings outside of Canada more so than many of your peers. Why do you think other wineries shy away from this? And do you have specific countries that you are targeting?  

We are currently available in China/UK/USA/Japan and we hope to be in Europe soon. Painted Rock is very determined to work with other like-minded Canadian wineries to grow the profile and reputation of Canadian wines on the international scene and wine business for our Canadian industry. We have led an initiative to London this past May when 34 Canadian wineries proudly showed our wines at Canada House. This was followed by very flattering reviews by Jancis Robinson and her colleague Richard Hemming. This was a fantastic start. But as I have encouraged my brethren the first call is a cold call. The second call is a warm call. We must return next year. There are different business plans in the wine industry, our is one predicated on getting better not bigger. We are 100% estate and in order to earn a higher price point, the value of our wines must be earned in the international marketplace.

How often is Alain Sutre out to the winery?

Alain comes six times a year and communicates with my staff constantly. Our team works seamlessly under his direction. Alain oversees everything in its entirety from vineyard to winery.

Brief thoughts on the 2015 vintage? When are you planning to begin harvest? 

Balance in the vineyard for 2015 is spectacular. The weather has been wonderful but as all winery owners know, it’s not a vintage until the fruit is in the tank. We will certainly have all fruit harvested before the end of October.

This feature was sponsored by Painted Rock Winery. The wines were independently reviewed by several WineAlign critics.  

Click on the links below for complete, multiple reviews by WineAlign critics for recent Painted Rock Winery releases:

Painted Rock 2013 Syrah

“…the 2013 is a wine of more finely detailed nuances, certainly still tightly wound … but already wonderfully perfumed in the typical cool climate register of cracked white and black pepper, lavender and mediterranean scrub.”

Painted Rock 2013 Red Icon

“This is a lean, elegant and dusty, dry young blend of merlot (33%), cabernet franc (21%), petit verdot (21%), malbec 12% and cab sauv (5%)… mid-weight, elegant, dense, dry and youthfully tannic. It is well structured and has real finesse, but needs time still.”

Painted Rock Syrah 2013 Painted Rock Red Icon 2013 Painted Rock Cabernet Franc 2013Painted Rock Chardonnay 2014

Painted Rock 2013 Cabernet Franc

“A very fine, light, savoury and well balanced example of cabernet franc from the southern Okanagan, lively, energetic, wildly aromatic and succulent.”

Painted Rock 2014 Chardonnay

“I love the acid drive to this wine that so well supports the fruit driving through to the finish. Good focus plus a rich creamy texture…”

Painted Rock 2012 Merlot

“A ripe but tension-filled, sinewy and lean, very linear merlot with persistent drive across the palate.”

Painted Rock Merlot 2012 Painted Rock Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Painted Rock Estate Rosé 2014

Painted Rock 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

“Therapeutic, aromatic potpourri…Plums and burnt orange, bramble and mace. Tons of fruit and the fullest of palates”

Painted Rock 2014 Estate Rosé

“This orange-hued, substantial rosé is firm and succulent with a wildly aromatic nose. Punchy, potent and impressively complex…”

This feature was sponsored by Painted Rock Winery. See below for more details provided by the winery. 


More from Painted Rock

Painted Rock Estate WineryAt Painted Rock Estate Winery, we are dedicated to the production of ultra-premium, terroir driven Okanagan wines. We produce both single varietals and a signature Bordeaux blend that we believe are representative of the amazing potential of the Okanagan Valley as well as our vineyard. To receive the latest news, information about upcoming releases and event invitations, sign up for our newsletter:

Newsletter: (Bottom of the page)

Our exclusive wine club at Painted Rock is about more than just wine. It is about access to Painted Rock unavailable any other way – and it is for our members only. Find out more:

Wine Club:


Order instructions: Please order wines through our website ( or contact our Sales department by phone 1-604-765-4538 or by email:


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Buy The Case: Da Capo Wines

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

BuyTheCaseLOGOimageAs a regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single importing agent. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in our Buy The Case report.

Importers pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines.

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

September – Da Capo Wines

Looking for a couple of great unsung Barbarescos to fill out the Piedmont section of your cellar? How about a classic Napa chardonnay and cabernet that rarely show up at the LCBO – ideal for holiday season gifts? Or a dandy young Roussillon red to pour by-the-glass or keep on hand as a fall house wine? The WineAlign Toronto team recently unearthed the following gems during a Buy the Case tasting of wines offered by Da Capo Wines.


Albino Rocca Ronchi Barbaresco 2011

Albino Rocca Duemilaundici Barbaresco 2011Albino Rocca 2011 Duemilaundici Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy $65.76  (six bottle case)
All five tasters aligned on the impressive Barbareco as the hit of the show.

John Szabo – This is just the kind of premium, but not untouchable, wine that you’d like to have at least a few bottles of on hand for that special (wintry) occasion. Albino Rocca crafts nebbiolo in a tender, fruity and polished modern style, without sacrificing any of the variety’s beguiling perfume to overripeness or wood influence.
Steve Thurlow – Very classy classic Barbaresco with elegance. It is a pale garnet red with fine seamless aromas of red cherry and plum fruit with a dried herbal tone, leather, dark chocolate and pine cone.
Michael Godel – Rocca’s Ronchi (below) leaves a distinct, single-focused impression but the “normale” vineyard blend is even that much more remarkable. It is a best of all worlds Barbaresco, from vineyard fruit in the eponymous town, along with Neive and Alba’s San Rocca Seno D’elvio. A Nebbiolo to drink for upwards of two decades.
David Lawrason – This nervy young Barbaresco shows impressive flavour intensity and length!
Sara d’Amato – This profound Barbaresco was housed in large, non-traditional oak barrels for 20 months to round out some austerity, which it still exhibits, and integrate its complex array of flavours. Notes of violets, pomegranate and leather spike the elegant nose creating a captivating first impression.

Albino Rocca 2011 Ronchi Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy ($75.75) (six bottle case)

John Szabo – Unlike Rocca’s immediately engaging “Duemilaundici” vineyard blend above, the single vineyard 2011 Ronchi, from old vines (50-70 years old), is deep, dark and sinewy, with youthfully firm, unyielding palate, miles from prime enjoyment. I’d tuck this in the cellar for at least another 2-4 years before revisiting, yet already the balance between fruit intensity, savoury-floral nebbiolo perfume, densely-knit tannins and seamless acids augurs well.
David Lawrason –  It’s rather constricted and tannic now but I expect impressive results when you crack a bottle somewhere after the turn of the decade.


Rombauer Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Rombauer Chardonnay 2013Rombauer Chardonnay 2013, Carneros, California  ($65.75)

David Lawrason –  Rombauer is an iconic Napa label that first shot to stardom in the 1980s, but rarely shows up in Ontario. This is a very typical, full on California style chardonnay. It’s medium-full bodied, elegant, refined and quite juicy. There is some sweetness but the acid leverage is just right, leaving a tight, slightly mineral finish.
Sara d’Amato – From the cooler, southern reaches of Napa Valley, this elegant yet fleshy chardonnay straddles an old and new world style. There is great definition on the palate and a mineral/saline component that is more reminiscent of Burgundy. However, the buttery component and ample viscosity is uniquely Californian. This best of both worlds find is widely appealing.
Michael Godel – Not everyone wants a big red and sometimes it’s hard to pick out a high end white when that is what the gift requires. This Chardonnay does not re-invent the wheel but move over Napa Valley, Carneros can do classic, sun-shining Chardonnay too. More interesting than many Napa counterparts as well.
Steve Thurlow – If you love California chardonnay then this classic is for you with its unmistakable style. It has a complex nose of baked apple and pineapple fruit with toffee, cream corn, baked lemon and oak spice. It is a little sweet but that goes with the style and there is ample acidity for balance; medium to full bodied, elegant, and very classy.

Rombauer Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California, $95.75

David Lawrason – It’s pricy but it nicely captures the essential richness and ripeness of Napa cabernet, although youthfully oaky and tannic at this point. Lifted cabernet aromatics include blackcurrant, peppermint, menthol, violets plus oak vanillin and toast. It’s full bodied, dense, juicy and warm, with considerable tannin. It needs some age. Best 2017 to 2025.


Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013, Carneros, California $42.75

David Lawrason – The Frank Family owns a whopping 450 acres in various sub-regions of Napa. The cool Carneros site produces this generous, smooth and slightly soft pinot. There is a certain rusticity to the Frank Family line-up and real generosity and complexity with almost autumnal flavours. Steve Thurlow – The nose is quite complex with cherry and raspberry fruit with ripe beets plus baked bell pepper. It is very smooth and quite soft with lots of ripe but not overripe fruit. Very good length. Chill a bit and enjoy on its own or with mildly flavoured cheese dishes.

Frank Family Zinfandel 2012, Napa Valley, California, USA $42.75

David Lawrason –  This is a fairly rustic zin, if a bit sweet and hot and earthy but it is certainly generous, with ripe plummy/raisiny fruit, spicy, cedary oak and some pencil eraser. It’s full bodied, loosely knit, hottish and a bit rugged, but it thankfully does not resort to the sweetness and mochafication that is endemic to California zin nowadays.
Michael Godel – It’s important to house a few high-end seasonal wines for specific times, like when you plan to grill a Tomahawk Chop or a few racks of the best ribs you’ve ever purchased. This Zinfandel has so many barbecue forms and fetishes written into its DNA. It is just the right kind of red to pull out with a special autumn meal.
Sara d’Amato – High priced zinfandel from Napa can often blow you over with blockbuster flavours that make the varietal character indistinct. What is so lovely about this zinfandel is that it is juicy, aromatic and refreshingly transparent. Very expressive of the cheerful and approachable nature of the varietal while respecting its mid-weight character.

Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013 Frank Family Zinfandel 2012 Mas Las Cabes Côtes Du Roussillon 2012


Mas Las Cabes Côtes Du Roussillon 2012, Ac Côtes Du Roussillon, Languedoc-Roussillon, France $19.75 

Michael Godel – A treat for the senses, not unlike the rugged beauty of Roussillon, in the Pyrenees-Orientales area, one of the sunniest wine regions in southwest France. Solid protein red for any day of the week and a candidate for restaurant list partner.
Sara d’Amato – A very funky but traditional blend that is immensely compelling with its minty edge, notes of pine resin and fresh fig. There is wildness about this organic blend of syrah, grenache, carignan and mourvèdre that begs for another sip. Aged more in concrete than oak, it also pleasantly expressive of its terroir.
Steve Thurlow – This is all about the south of France and I love its rustic charm. It is not pure and clean but it is very authentic. It is lively on the palate with vibrant acidity making it feel lighter than it is. Try with liver and onions. Best 2015 to 2019.
David Lawrason – This is savoury, generous, smooth and engaging red with lifted aromas of basil, evergreen, pomegranate/currant fruit, syrah pepper and some meaty character. It is medium-full bodied, juicy, vibrant fruit and appealing for drinking now. Delish!


For more reviews, visit the agent’s profile page on WineAlign: Da Capo Wines. Because these wines are not all in stores, remember to click “All sources” and “show wines with zero inventory” to see all of the reviews.

Da Capo Wines

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

This report was sponsored by the Da Capo Wines. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. Da Capo has provided the following agency profile with more details on their consignment program and delivery options.


Da Capo Wines

Da Capo WinesDa Capo Wines is a boutique wine agency based in Toronto, Ontario. We proudly represent premium and luxury consignment brands for the Ontario market. From prestige single vineyards in Napa, to small, family-owned estates in Piedmont our wines represent passion, terroir, and quality. Our clients range from private collectors, fine restaurants, as well as private clubs across the province. We focus on delivering the best products and support for our customers large, and small. At Da Capo we are proud of the strong relationships we have fostered with our producers across the world and work towards finely tuning our brands year-over-year. We are passionate about wine and consummate professionals to better serve our discerning clientele.

General Inquiries and Orders:

Order Minimums are 1 case (12 bottles) per product. Wines over $50 per bottle are sometimes available in cases of six. Delivery within 3-4 business days. Delivery charges may apply.

For inquiries about wines available, upcoming arrivals, and prices, please contact:

Sales Director
Maryanne Terzis

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It’s all Greek to Godello

Till I reach Achaia groundSept 4, 2015

by Michael Godel

Michael Godel

Michael Godel

Man I wish I was there right now. Have you recently pondered or are you considering a visit to Greece? Have the sensational media reports of the last months cast a shadow of doubt on your travel plans? Are you worried about economic crises, ATM line-ups, looting and civil unrest? Don’t be. Do not fall victim to dictum on such reports. You should go. Greece is just fine thank you very much. She welcomes visitors with open arms. This is what she wants and what she needs.

Crisis, what crisis?

I am no John Maynard Keynes, have never rooted with Milton Friedman and can’t confidently say that my economic stars align with Paul Krugman, but on my recent trip to Athens and Achaia I saw nary a sign of unparalleled and utter economic disaster, of panic, anarchy or civil disobedience. I had many a conversation about government, taxes and the Euro. I learned that no is the new yes, “but whatever…” and that Greek wine aligns with the functions of the European union.

Write your problems down in detail Take them to a higher place

I am inclined to say, with indubitable and unequivocal doubt that Greece is the safest, most affordable and stupidly beautiful place on the planet. There is adventure, breathtaking vistas and scarcely, if commensurately discovered antiquity at every turn. And there is wine. Exceptional wine. Singular wine. Mythological wine. I can tell you five things I learned about the 21st century state of things Greece.

Athens is a busy, hot, labyrinthian metropolis that somehow feels like an ancient village. It may just be the most unassailable and secure Gotham I have ever encountered. It did not leave me tired, on the contrary, it fuelled invigoration.

Encounters with beautiful, nurtured and erudite folks along the course of a given day affords an equipotentiality to reaffirm faith in humans. Doors are always open.

Bad governance may lead to civil jeremiad and global media strategies built upon the inevitable crumbling foundations of sensationalism and hyperbole, but Greece’s main concern is just that. Bad governance. Business carries on as usual, albeit with a noticeable reduction in smoking and petrol usage, but restaurants, cafes, coffee shops and shopping are not on hold. Centuries have seen such woe and yet Greece persists, remains and progresses. “Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear.” America may have long ago entered its Last Great American Whale period but Greece? Not even close. “They say things are done for the majority” and in the case of Greece, that just may be true. In a time of crisis, there are many business opportunists. Hard times? Grow better grapes. Can’t sell them at home? Export more than before and make better money.

The combination of mountains, ocean, beaches and the symbiotic proximity of the appositeness is nothing short of mind-altering, awe-inspiring and soul-asservating.

Forget the idea that Greek wine offers up some of the best values, anywhere. Consider that sort of posturing a given and or inconsequential in consideration of the adage that good wine is good wine, period, regardless of price. The wine producing regions of Santorini (Aegean), Thessaloniki/Naoussa (Macedonia) and Nemea (Peloponnese) have made wide inroads on the global scene. Yet how many of you have ever heard of Achaia and Patras in the northern Peloponnese? It is on the verge of breaking out. Obscurity no longer. Uncertainty be gone.

At the pass

Greece has been mired in waiting, or depending on your level of positivity and how to spin, poised to break out. The Greek wine industry is securely fastened in a place somewhere between the relic glow of early period brilliance and the cusp of legacy defining, career opus penning compositions. It is a work in process and the best is yet to come. The wines of Achaia are entirely indicative of this intellection. Antiquity is an amazing tourist attraction and in Achaia, as in the entirety of Greece, you can’t blink without stumbling upon a metaphorical doric this or an allegorical ionic that. Cradles of civilization just have a certain den xéro̱ ti and Greece is the world super-power. The question begs. How does this apply to wine?

Like so many wine producing nations not called France, Germany or Italy, Greece is poised for modern greatness but it has one distinct advantage. It lays ownership to some absolute conditions that easily separate it from emerging and developing, New World regions, but also from European peers. The first is obvious and that of course is a centuries old tradition of making wine. The second may come as a surprise, especially as it relates to wine. Mythology covets a paradigmatic relationship with Greek culture, however intangible it can be quantified. A visit to Achaia offers tantamount proof of such a notion. This from New Wines of Greece: “The fascinating archaeological sites with the notable museums and the grape-growing and wine-making history directly tied to the myth of Hercules are just some of the attributes that will appeal to those who indulge in wine tourism in the Peloponnese.”

Accidental tourists at the Archaeological Museum of Patras

Accidental tourists at the Archaeological Museum of Patras

Then there is the confluence from the slopes of Egialia, said to form the centre of the triangle of Ancient Delfi, Olympia and Epidavros. It was not long ago that I connected the divine and the allegorical with Greek wine. I quote myself. “Me, I’ll concentrate on the divine mythology of Greek wine, of its place in the fractal world, how it can beautify and simplify, through recursion in dynamic systems, the bleak chaos of wine landscapes. Like the Morai, Greek wines are thread with motherly nurturing. For mere mortals, they direct fate from the birth of their drinking days to death. They are a highly independent bunch, unobstructed and driven by necessity.” It would be obtuse to ignore the hyper-reality of all these extraordinary things, to discount the divined revelation through profound symbols of religious myth. To see the analogy and pertinency with the mathematics of wine; pH, sugar, acidity and alcohol. Not exactly Pythagorean, certainly not Orphic, but mysterious somehow.

The Achaia advantage: From PGI to PDO and endemic varietals

The Peloponnese is located in the southernmost section of continental (western) Greece, its western and northern borders lining the Ionian Sea and the Corinthian Gulf. Homer called it Ampeloessa, meaning “full of vines.” The Achaian advantage is more than just a matter of slope and soil. The Nazi attrocities committed at Kalavryta will always be remembered as the darkest of Peloponnese days but neither war nor Phylloxera has truly interrupted centuries of growth and tradition.

View of the mountains of Achaia from Tetramythos Winery and Homestay, Ano Diakopto of Aegialia, on the slopes of Mount Chelmos, Peloponnese

View of the mountains of Achaia from Tetramythos Winery and Homestay, Ano Diakopto of Aegialia, on the slopes of Mount Chelmos, Peloponnese

Achaia is one of Greece’s largest wine regions and its 31 wineries accounts for approximately 10 percent of the national wine output. The mesoclimate of Achaia is determined by a combination of mountain and sea. Erymanthos, Panachaikos and Chelmos range for vines at up to 850m though in Egialia grapes grow as high as 1050m. There are slopes here with a northern aspect, a factor which is not lost on the winemaker in search of cool-climate viticulture. The mountain man of Eigalia Angelos Rouvalis points to the hills and talks of  “a rare terroir, where facing north can achieve a significant drop in temperatures, creating specific vine balances, which is difficult to achieve in other places.” It is also here that the waters of the gulfs (Patras and Corinth) cool and temper the climate. Stronger winds ward off the warmer streams blowing up from Africa, creating a much cooler viticultural area than Patras.

The northern Peloponnese vineyards are divided into four distinct viticultural locales. In the east, in the areas of Egialia (Aegialia) and Kalavryta, the PGI Egialia wines are produced. Egialia’s temperate climate and northerly orientation on (250 to 850m) slopes are protected by the cool summer sea breezes of the Gulf of Korinthos (Corinth). Pausanias was a Greek traveler and geographer of the 2nd century AD, who lived in the times of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. He referred to the villages of Egialia as ideal for cultivating vines. Egialia soils vary from white calcareous to fertile sandy loam with good drainage.

Konstantinos Lazarakis M.W. and Sofia Perpera, New Wines of Greece at the Sailing Club Restaurant, Patras

Konstantinos Lazarakis M.W. and Sofia Perpera, New Wines of Greece at the Sailing Club Restaurant, Patras

It is in Egialia that the endemic white and highly aromatic variety roditis ripens ever so gently. In the lower Patras vineyards (450 to 500m) the climate is similar but roditis grown here makes for wines of fully body. Lower Patras slopes are positioned for another indigenous grape, the red varietal mavrodaphne. Traditionally purposed for desert wine, modern usage of the “black” daphne is happening for dry table wine, as is the black of kalavryta (mavro kalavryta), from grapes grown on slopes close to the tourist town of kalavryta. The coastal flatlands between Patras and Rio to the east are dominated by the white muscat. The varietal watch is on for mavro kalavryta, a grape that performs like gamay or perhaps cabernet franc. In the hands of a winemaker like Panayiotis Papagiannopoulos it will be a wine to help mark the act of Achaia’s second renaissance. Konstantinos Lazarakis M.W. sees it as “the best gamay that is not gamay.” This is a grape that will define fresh and further down the Peloponnese road for red wines and begin to separate from itself from other red attempts. Its future will see the establishment of plots into crus, to make simple fruity reds to drink and also more serious wines, to experiment and to use some older barrels and to envision the future when it has been given some age.

The four officially recognized PDO‘s are Muscat of Patras, Muscat of Rio Patras, Mavrodaphne of Patras and Patras. The first three are produced in the central and western section of Achaia. The local muscat is known to the world as muscat blanc à petits grains and in Achaia as moschidi. Under the regulations of both Muscat PDOs the wines may be vin naturellement douxvin doux or vin doux naturel. PDO Patras is made from 100 percent roditis, though there are several clones of this variety. Specific clones are generally chosen based on altitude, as each variant has been proven to work on particular slopes. The top wines are produced from a red roditis, also known as alepou. The PDO Mavrodaphne of Patras (fortified, vin de liqueur) can be fashioned with up to 49 percent dried and rehydrated corinthian raisin (black currant) in the mix.

Black Corinth Grapes

Black Corinth Grapes

Despite the fact that the predominant amount (almost 99 percent) of black corinth ends up in a pouch full of currants, its agricultural significance continues to play a role in the sweet red Mavrodaphne of Patras. Top quality vineyards have historically been cultivated with the black corinth because they fetch as much as 300 percent more money than wine grapes. The bizarre terroir-varietal-trade flow chart is changing for the better but the raisins remain a long way from extinction. Slopes that face the sun perpetuate the propagation. Then there is the unusual scenario of the earthquake factor. “In Patras we are either raisining or shaking,” quips Lazarakis.

Other white varieties grown in the region include the extremely rare sideritis (only two producers for the variety that shares a name in common with a flowering plant known as Greek Mountain Tea), malagousia, lagorthi, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Other red grapes cultivated include agiorgitiko, xinomavro, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah. The wines of Achaia are built upon an alcohol premise that keeps them stable, in balance and immune from oxidation. Their attitude fights the life work of Louis Pasteur and Jean-Antoine Claude Chaptal. If the wines lost some footing due to the trending towards bacteria and sugar mien, now, with the world peeling back from manipulated wines, the Achaian style is poised to grab their market share.

Achaia Love

The variegated landscape of Achaia, from Selinous to Kalavryta, from Patras to Ano Diakofto, are to a winemaker a place of great passion, history and in many respects, a supernatural calling from the processes of human imagination. It is here where the great Greek paradox is lived, like mysticism and mathematics conjoined, in the attitude of Greek philosophical winemaking. The work is achieved through the dichotomy of platonic thought and Socratic character. Making wine from endemic or indigenous grapes is a calling to a higher love, in spite of harsh conditions, geographical difficulties and the relative channels of global obscurity.

The Achaian winemaker is a geometer and a mystic. They engage in rational winemaking coupled with the sound of an inner voice.

Winemakers do not worry or care about what stands in their way. Here they make wine because that is what they know from, but now it is more than that. Today the younger, aspiring viti-viniculturists have European oenology degrees and come armed with a profane, ecumenical arsenal to make clean and progressive wines. The whole consolidation is awesome and yet Greek wine will never be mainstream. The people just like to drink their own wine. They export less than five percent of their output and in Achaia, the number is even lower. It is high time for the world to sing bring me Achaia love. 

The wineries


The most modern facility in all of Achaia, re-built after a fire destroyed the property more than 10 years ago. Owned and operated by the brothers Aristos and Stathis Spanos.

Tetramythos Winery, Ano Diakopto of Egialia

Tetramythos Winery, Ano Diakopto of Egialia

Oenologist since 1999 is Panayiotis Papagiannopoulos, a winemaker who may just have been separated from twin Frank Zappa at birth. Located at Ano Diakopto of Egialia, on the slopes of Mount Chelmos, the 14 hectares of vineyards (450-1,000m) are farmed organically (and have been since 1997). Bush vines make up 80 percent and endemic varieties (85 percent) cultivated (plus some expatriates) are roditis, malagousia, sauvignon blanc, mavro kalavryta, agiorgitiko, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The total production is 13,000 cases with export to foreign markets (80 percent) that exceeds peers by a wide margin.

Panayiotis Papagiannopoulos, Tetramythos Winery

Panayiotis Papagiannopoulos, Tetramythos Winery

Tetramythos Roditis 2014, PDO Patras

Tetramythos Roditis 2008, PDO Patras

Tetramythos Mavro Kalavryta 2014


Founded in 1974 by oenologist Athanassios Parparoussis who works as winemaker while daughters Erifili and Dimitra support on the business and marketing side. The winery is located in Patras and the property includes 10 hectares at Movri Achaias. Grapes are farmed organically and Parparoussis is one of only two vintners in the region making wines from the rare and indigenous sideritis. Parparoussis farms organically in principal but is not certified, nor is Athanassios concerned with the designation. It’s a matter of being devoutly pragmatic. “The soil is alive, so why kill it.”

Athanassios Parparoussis and Moschato Vines, Domaine Parparoussis

Athanassios Parparoussis and Moschato Vines, Domaine Parparoussis

Parparoussis Sideritis Dons De Dionysos 2014, Peloponnese, Greece

The 2014 “gift of Dionysus” is herbal, arid, directly unassuming and fixed with a very savoury, nearly resinous pastel palate. The wind blows rosemary and lavender and truthfully it’s like a naturally cured red feeling in a white package. All lemon citrus at the tail. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted July 2015

Oenoforos (Rouvalis)

Aneglos Rouvalis and WineAlign's DJ Kearney

Aneglos Rouvalis and WineAlign’s DJ Kearney

Eonologist is Angelos Rouvalis, a winemaker with an encyclopedic knowledge of every hill and slope in the mountains above Patras and where each variety grows best. Established in 1990 by Rouvalis, a Bordeaux-trained winemaker, recognized internationally as a pioneer in the renaissance that has taken place in the Greek wine industry in recent years. In 1994 Yannis Karabatsos, an agricultural engineer and expert in Greek viticulture joined the winery. “The Oenoforos winery consists of five levels on the slopes of Aigialeia in the village of Selinous. It combines monastic simplicity with state-of-the-art technology.”

Oeneforos Roditis ‘Asprolithi’ 2014, PDO Patras

Oenoforos Cabernet Sauvignon Ianos 2004, Peloponnese

Antonopoulos Vineyards

The winery was founded by the late visionary winemaker, Constantinos Antonopoulos near the city of Patras in the northwestern of Peloponnese. Constantinos saw the vast, untapped potential of this diverse landscape, especially the mountainous region of Achaia and the unique winemaking opportunities it presented. A new up to-date winery has been built recently at Vasiliko, Achaia, where the majority of the winery’s vineyards are. Indigenous Greek varieties are the focus. All three Antonopoulos wines tasted at the winery Achaia Clauss were clearly achieved through very serious work. Though clean beyond the pale, they all exhibit slightly to more than leesy and all finish with so much salinity and limestone inflection. The only thing missing is the crustaceous accent.

Antonopoulos Vineyard wines

Antonopoulos Vineyard wines

Acheon Winery

Sosanna Katsikosta is Oenologist and General Manager while Katerina heads up business and marketing operations. The sisters are carrying on a winemaking tradition passed on to them from their late father. Konstantinos Katsikostas carried the torch from his father Luke who founded the winery in 1946 in the area of Palaiokamares of Aegio. Annual production of 2,000 cases. Katsikosta is desperately, passionately practicing, experimenting, trying to stir up vinous ghosts and find their way back to ancestry, to ways of elders, to bring to light what used to be and to establish an identity for the world to see.

Karelas Winery

Mega Spileo Mavrodaphne and Karelas Mavrodaphe Reserve 2009

Mega Spileo Mavrodaphne and Karelas Mavrodaphe Reserve 2009

Karelas Winery was founded in 1936 by Georgios Karelas. Using the native ‘mavrodaphne’ grape, the company is renowned for it’s sweet, dessert style Mavrodaphne wine.


Perhaps most famous for their local production of spirits, namely Tentura and Mastic, Loukatos does a bang up job with dessert wines, especially in their handling of Muscat from Patras.

Loukatos Muscat of Patras and Mavrodaphne of Patras

Loukatos Muscat of Patras and Mavrodaphne of Patras

Loukatos Muscat NV, PDO Muscat of Patras

Crisis? Let me tell you, no one’s going to bring Greece down. Now that I’ve experienced this special part of the Peloponnese I am already thinking about getting back there. For now I will raise a glass of roditis or mavrodaphne, ’till I once again reach Achaia ground.


Michael Godel

For more on Michael’s trip to Greece, including many more wines reviews, visit

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John Szabo’s Free Run – Digging for Minerality

By John Szabo MSAugust 24, 2015


John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

There’s ample anecdotal and empirical evidence that soils affects the smell, taste and texture of wine. Scientists, however, still struggle to pinpoint exactly why and how these differences arise – the direct and indirect effects of soil chemistry on wine are challenging to identify and even harder to quantify with scientific certainty. It’s nearly impossible to isolate soil mineral content alone as the difference between the chemical content of wines, as the number of variables is staggering. But knowing empirically that soils play an important role, it seems impossible not to attribute and connect differing characteristics to a wine’s geological origins, sketchy science and all.

Under the umbrella of minerality, myriad geological formations such as slate, shale, schist, granitic, basalt, tuff, limestone, chalk, river bed and countless more have been called into action to explain the unique flavor profile that certain, invariably much admired, wines have. How else to distinguish the very good from the very best in an ever-increasing worldwide offering? Wines with minerality have a sacred link to their place of birth, presumably thanks to the special geology of their origins, and are thus more valuable than other wines. The trouble is, there’s very little evidence to support this. Yet scientists be damned. So far, their efforts to explain wine character have been as effective as the laws of physics have been to explain psychology. Minerality does exist, but perhaps not in the way you thought.

Defining Minerality

The main trouble with the term minerality is that it has no definition. There’s no consensus among either winemakers or wine tasters on what exactly constitutes minerality. Researcher Jordi Ballester at the Centre des Sciences du Goût in Dijon among others has studied the use of the term, and found widespread differences in a large sampling of tasters in when and how it was applied. For some it’s an aroma (flint, wet stones, riverbed, oyster shell, etc.), for others it’s a taste (salty, metallic, or a particularly vibrant type of acidity). Yet others claim to detect minerality in the texture of a wine, offering supporting terms like chalky or granitic, which evoke additional geological mental images.

What it Isn’t

What is abundantly clear is that minerality doesn’t exist in the literal sense. The above-mentioned characteristics don’t arise directly from geological minerals in wine, as nice and neat as that would be. Alex Maltman, Professor of the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences at the University of Wales, is a well-known debunker of the minerality myth, and has written convincingly on the impossibility of actually tasting minerals in wine. “Whatever minerality is, it cannot literally be the taste of minerals derived from the vineyard geology”, he concludes. Minerals themselves have no taste. According to Maltman, the levels of even the most abundant elements in wine like calcium, potassium, sodium and magnesium are present at sub-threshold levels: “Potassium rarely exceeds a few hundred parts per million (ppm) with a few tens of ppm for calcium and magnesium… these are tasteless anyway and their concentration in wine are below sensory thresholds measured in water. In fact, the total inorganic content of wines typically ranges between only 0.15 and 0.4%”, he continues. Categorically, says Maltman, there is no direct link between rocks and wine flavour.

Professor Alex Maltman

Professor Alex Maltman excitedly debunking minerality at the i4c conference in Niagara this past July 2015. Photo credit: Steven Elphick (L) @TheWineSisters (R)

As he and others quite rightly point out, the aromas and flavours associated with minerality – seashells or gunflint or wet stones or whatever – are due to organic compounds, not the minerals these things are made of. But unlike, say, descriptions such as “vanilla” or “butter” or “green pepper” for which scientists have identified the main source compounds that cause these sensations in wine (vanillin, diacetyl and methoxypyrazines, respectively), the compounds responsible for “minerally” flavours aren’t as clear. Plenty of suspects have been put forth, such as volatile sulphur compounds derived from reductive winemaking (flinty, matchstick), or the esters formed by the interaction of alcohol and organic acids, or volatile thiols, the precursors for which are naturally present in certain grapes (such as Benzenemethanethiol (BMT) in sauvignon blanc, which apparently smells like gunflint). Of course none of these derive directly from soil. And logically, until everyone agrees on what minerality is, a single cause for it can’t be found.

So really, it’s time to redefine minerality. It doesn’t arise from a collection of measurable inorganic chemicals, sucked from rocks through vine roots and finishing up in a glass of wine to give it a special taste.

Metaphorical Minerality

But scientists have missed the point, missing the forest for all the trees. Minerality needn’t be taken so literally. All wine description is based on metaphor and analogy – there’s no other way to describe a sensory experience. And science is incapable of expressing such things in a helpful way. When a wine is described as floral or peachy, no one thinks for a moment that flowers or peaches were used in its production. Similarly, “minerality” and all its variations are helpful to describe and convey differences, and even suggest the quality associated with a distinctive personality, without implying that geological minerals somehow ended up in the wine.

Minerality is a useful umbrella term to describe wines that don’t fall into basic fruity, floral or spicy categories. There will probably always be multiple definitions. Its derivatives help further express even finer nuances. Used metaphorically, it’s as valid and useful at expressing the essence of a wine as any other descriptive term. Just be clear on how it’s used.

And Besides, Minerals do Affect Flavour!

Although the connection between a sensation of minerality in wine and vineyard geology cannot be literal and direct, we shouldn’t give up on minerals affecting wine flavor just yet. Not even Maltman closes the door on the role of mineral nutrients: “It may turn out with further research that the nutrient minerals of geological origin in vines and wines − minuscule in concentration and virtually flavourless though they may be themselves – are pivotal in determining wine character and flavour.” I know a thousand winemakers who would agree.

Citing just one of the possible ways in which minerals might influence flavour, Dr. Jamie Goode points out that it seems plausible, even likely, that varying concentrations of mineral nutrients could alter gene expressions in the vine, and hence the chemical composition of its grapes and the wines made from them.

I’d argue, contrary to Maltman, that there are cases in which elements like potassium, magnesium and iron do affect wine taste and flavour, and likely texture, too. In my travels and research for my upcoming book on wines from (invariably mineral-rich) volcanic soils, I’ve come across many examples of notably salty wines, my personal signature for minerality, a sensation too temptingly linked to particularly high levels of soil potassium. And I’ve seen the chemical analyses that also show shockingly high levels of potassium in the finished wines. Could the saltiness be potassium in its salt form, even if some would precipitate out during winemaking? It’s worth further investigation. (In some cases, admittedly, the salty sensation comes from run-of-the-mill sodium chloride from high water tables, or comes right out of thin air, deposited directly on grapes in seaside vineyards.) In another interesting twist, high potassium in soils is known to buffer wine acids and raise pH, yet the best of these wines remain fresh, thanks at least in part to their salinity – perhaps it’s that tangy, electric acid sensation that many associate with minerality.

Chemical analysis on Olivier Humbrecht’s masterful Riesling Rangen de Thann Grand Cru from Alsace, a “terroir” wine if there ever was one, also had measurably more mineral ash (sugar-free dry extract) than rieslings from his other sites. Is the wine distinctive? You bet. Does the mineral ash play a role? Unquestionably.

The influence of soil chemistry is surely complex and circuitous and much research is needed, but in the end “minerality” makes its contribution. There’s simply too much evidence to ignore. All those winemakers and wine tasters claiming that the geology influences flavour may one day be scientifically vindicated after all. But in the end, who cares. Let’s just go and have a glass of singular, minerally wine.

Szabo’s Guide to Minerally Wines:

Maximin Grünhäuser Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett 2012

Benjamin Bridge Nova Scotia Brut 2009

Benjamin Bridge Nova Scotia Brut 2009, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia, Canada – Yes, Nova Scotia does minerality, especially in the careful hands of Benjamin Bridge, one of Canada’s most serious bubbly producers. Each year the vineyard team turns in grapes with the sort of analytical numbers that are dreamed of in champagne. Even this, their non-reserve brut, has surprising weight and even a touch of fat – call it vinosity – to soften the stony impact.

Maximin Grünhäuser 2012 Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany – A dazzling Mosel Kabinett from arch-traditionalist Maximin Grünhäuser, barely off-dry but balanced by crackling acids, driven more by honey-slathered wet slate than mere fruit. Best 2015-2027.

Argyros 2014 Santorini Assyrtiko, Greece – A superb Santorini, bone dry with electric acids, and a finish that shows the future salinity that will dominate this wine in time, in another 1-3 years, along with the ash taste that marks so many volcanic wines.

Domaine Laroche 2013 Chablis Saint Martin, Burgundy, France – Regionally accurate and representative wine here from Domaine Laroche, on the broader side of the Chablis spectrum, fullish and ripe, but still sufficiently tight and minerally to satisfy purists.

Domaine Drouhin 2012 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Oregon, USA – A fleshy and fullish, well-balanced and generously proportioned pinot noir from the iron rich, red volcanic soils of the Dundee Hills, with distinctive sanguine tang and salinity.

Argyros Santorini Assyrtiko 2014 Domaine Laroche Chablis Saint Martin 2013Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2012Aglianico del Vulture Elena Fucci Titolo 2011Fontanafredda Barolo 2010

Elena Fucci 2011 Aglianico Del Vulture Titolo, Basilicata, Italy – Titolo, the sole wine made from Fucci’s 6 hectares – among of the highest and oldest vines on Mount Vulture, an extinct volcano – is an extraordinarily dense and complete wine, with a staggering streak of iron-graphite like minerality and palpable saltiness. Don’t touch for several years. (The equally excellent 2012 is available in consignment in Ontario through Le Sommelier).

Fontanafredda 2010 Barolo, Piedmont, Italy – A terrific buy for Barolo fans, and indeed for fans of all savoury, firmly structured, minerally, complex and succulent reds. This is the best yet from Fontanafredda.

Bonus Round

I asked several Oregonian winemakers for their thoughts on minerality. Here are a few of the more interesting answers:

“I use the term minerality to describe aromas and tastes that remind me of rock (flint, chalk, crumbled stone). Unlike “earthiness,” which is deeper in tone, minerality is a high note that is often accentuated by a resonant “electricity” in the wine, often (but not always) related to the acid backbone.” – Anthony King, (formerly of Lemelson Vineyards)

“It smells like minerals/stone. Sometimes it is almost dusty and sometimes it smells like the first rain on dry rocks. Elusive. Am aware of a growing number of voices declaring that there is no such thing. I think that there is-I can smell it and I know what minerals and rocks smell like, but like so many words, it has been overused ad nauseam. There is no way words can accurately describe this quality.” – Kelley Fox, Kelley Fox Wines

“One aspect of complexity is certainly minerality, though I admit that the word is probably used to describe many different things.  Some sites are generally fruit-driven, but many of our vineyards show earthy aromas and flavors that range from dark, loamy earth to wet stones.  We tend to use the word minerality to describe the more ‘wet stone’ style of earth.  We see it in many varieties, usually from volcanic sites. It seems to be more than just an aroma or flavor.  At its best, it seems to also be part of the structure and texture of the wine, a quality that you can feel as well as taste.” – Dave Paige, Adelsheim

Keep digging.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

NOVA 7 - The Toast of Nova Scotia

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Buy The Case: Cavinona Wine Agency

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario


Each month we will taste wines submitted by one importing agent. WineAlign core critics will independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews will be posted to WineAlign. We will then independently recommend wines to appear in our Buy The Case report. Importers pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines.

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

July – Cavinona Wine Agency

Cavinona was launched close to a decade ago as an independent business mainly to supply the Terroni Group of restaurants with unique Italian wines. The original company remit was to fill the gaps in selection of Italian wines then available through the consignment program in Ontario, which at the time was heavily skewed towards the usual name brand appellations. Traditional producers in under-represented regions were the focus, especially from the south. Such was the success that the portfolio was expanded significantly, and now covers a broad swath of the Peninsula (still exclusively Italian). Demand has also led to direct-to-consumers sales. But Cavinona’s emphasis on small-scale, regionally authentic producers, with few exceptions, remains largely intact. The wines provided to WineAlign for review represent just a fraction of the portfolio; the full selection can be sampled at any of the Terroni locations in Toronto, with many available by the glass. – JS   [Disclosure: John Szabo used to consult for the Terroni Restaurant Group]

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

Cellaring Wine

Fattoria Di Milziade Antano Montefalco Sagrantino 2011

Fattoria Di Milziade Antano Montefalco Sagrantino 2011John Szabo – Sagrantino is a burly wine at the best of times, but in the hands of ultra-traditionalist Francesco Antano, following in his father Milziade’s footsteps, this example is a massive grizzly bear of a wine, with Amarone-like dried fruit extract. And at 15.5% alcohol there’s a significant dried grape component to be sure. This is how I imagine wine might have been made in Umbria in the 16th century (although probably sweeter). Tannins are thick and chewy – you’ll need a chain saw to carve a path to the finish if you open it now. It’s not to be touched without a giant roast of beef or lamb on the table, or hard cheese, or anything with salt and protein to soften the impact. Better yet, tuck this away for a decade; it will reward patience. For the Cellar.

David Lawrason – This is pricey, but not out of the realm at $50. This traditionally rendered example is 100% sagrantino aged over three years in large oak, and several months in bottle before release. It pours deep ruby black. The nose is chock full of blueberry/prunish and black olive fruit well framed by spicy, woodsy oak and licorice. It’s full bodied, dense and firmly tannic and drying yet surprisingly, not too austere. The length is excellent. Ready to drink now despite the tannins suggesting otherwise. They will melt into a hearty stew or lasagna.

Steve Thurlow – Though this is fine to drink now it will surely improve in the cellar over the next decade if one can resist. It is a deep almost opaque ruby red made from the sagrantino grape with an appealing elegant nose of black cherry fruit with a floral tone plus licorice, black olive, prune and tar. The fullbodied palate is well balanced by soft acidity making it feel lighter and adding to the elegance. The finish is dry with the fruit persisting well. Excellent length. It is fine now but will reward from some time in the cellar.

Fattoria Di Milziade Antano 2011 Montefalco Rosso Riserva

Fattoria Di Milziade Antano Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2011David Lawrason – Proprietor and winemaker Francisco Antano is making quite traditional, concrete fermented, long aged reds in Montefalco. The ‘Riserva’ is based on 65% sangiovese with sagrantino, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, aged 36 months in large barrels. This is a very seductive, rich but old-styled, slightly oxidative and volatile red. The bouquet nicely weaves complex leather, dusty wood, forest notes and curranty fruit, with a touch of acetone. It’s full bodied, dense and smooth with impressive texture. The acetic notes creeps on the finish. The length is excellent. Needs a rich meat dish.

Michael Godel – The WineAlign team tasted three wines by Milziade side by side by side. This was a great learning experience and a portal into their style. It also allowed us to imagine the aging potential of these monster reds from Umbria. This is Italian wine to define the meaning of provinciale, deeply ingrained for place, history and tradition. This Riserva is a perfect candidate for up to 10 years in the cellar.

Function Wines

Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Rosé, Lombardy

Steve Thurlow – This is a very classy rose bubbly that would be a sure hit at an upmarket reception if those attending are Champagne lovers. It is a pale caramel in colour but there is little sign of worrisome oxidation to its complex nose of white cherry fruit with mineral and brioche aromas plus some floral and mild toffee notes, which could easily be mistaken for real Champagne. The palate is lightweight with a touch of sweetness and lively vibrant acidity. Finely balanced with very good to excellent length.

David Lawrason – This very pale, almost pearl pink traditional method rose is made from 60% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir, part of which was aged in barrel as a first wine. Together they were aged 24 months on the lees. It has a fairly generous, vaguely sour cherryish fruit, bready and mineral nose that could easily be mistaken for Champagne. It’s light-bodied, slim and quite elegant with a touch of sweetness. Really very tender, but not soft. The length is very good to excellent. Good value in elegant rose bubbly.

Micheal Godel – Franciacorta is not the most well-known or understood bubbles but it can be fascinating stuff. This is a total, classical, storied package of gastronomy in a bottle. Not so much Rosé as much as bubbles with a fostered history of age.

La Cavalchina 2014 Bardolino Chiaretto, Veneto

La Cavalchina Bardolino Chiaretto 2014 Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta RoséMichael Godel – It’s summer and with outdoor functions in full swing, every host needs to have a Rosé on hand. Bardolino from Verona in the Italian Veneto does blush in a beautifully subtle way. This Chiaretto is a true food Rosé. It has everything you might want or need to pair with a feast of cuisine.

David Lawrason – This pale coppery, onion-skin shaded rose is from the shores of Lago di Garda in northeast Italy. Chiaretto is the local name for the rose genre in this area. It has mild and subtle nose of dried strawberry and herbs. It’s light to medium bodied with firm but not tart acidity, a hint of background sweetness yet a dry, slightly mineral and earthy finish. Nice sense of poise and polish, with very good length.

Personal House Wines

Terre Di Giurfo 2013 Kudyah Nero d’Avola, Sicily

John Szabo – This is a pretty, floral, rather elegant version of Sicily’s flagship red variety, with fine-grained, dusty tannins and lively acids. I love the freshness and balance here, often missing in many over-wrought versions of nero d’avola. It’s the sort of versatile, easy-drinking, but authentic and characterful wine you want to have around at all times. Drink with a light chill.

Michael Godel – Kudyah is the arabic name for the Sicilian town of Licodea Eubea nearest to the producer Terre di Giurfo’s vineyards. Nero d’Avola not shrouded in oak, full of red fruit and all about simple, direct pleasure. A stress reliever. What else can you ask to get out of a house wine?

Contadi Franciacorta N/V Brut, Lombardia

John Szabo – No house should be without a stock of bubbly on hand, and this Franciacorta plays double duty: classy (and expensive) enough to impress on special occasions, yet not so far out of reach that grabbing a bottle on Tuesday night will end in financial ruin. Contadi (est. 1987) is a quality spin-off operation from the excellent Bellavista winery in the same region (under the Terra Moretti umbrella), a lovely fullish and fleshy Franciacorta, on the richer side of brut to be sure, ample, mouthfilling and satisfying.

David Lawrason – Franciacorta is considered the finest classic method sparkler of Italy. It’s a nicely slim, fairly intensely flavoured bubbly with a hint of sweetness cushioning the tart acidity. Expect complex aromas of dried pear/apple fruit, almond, light toast and an undercurrent of mushroomy earthiness. Lively, light and pleasant on the palate, with serious flavour depth. Excellent length; very good value.

Terre di Giurfo Kudyah Nero d'Avola 2013Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta BrutCarvinea Frauma 2008

Gifting Wines

Carvinea 2008 Frauma, IGT Salento Rosso, Puglia

John Szabo – Although this is a thoroughly modern wine made by consulting oenologist Riccardo Cotarella in his unabashedly international style, and has little to do with Pugliese traditions, it’s nonetheless a bottle with massive appeal that will impress widely. The blend of 60% Aglianico, and 40% Petit Verdot yields plenty of dark, ultra ripe fruit, very dense, battling with generous lashings of coffee-flavoured oak for domination on the palate. This could handily compete with many in the super Tuscan genre; be sure to share with your naysaying friends who believe that Italy begins and ends in Florence.

David Lawrason – Wow – great aromatic fireworks here, with considerable depth and elegance. No wonder it has earned a rare three glasses from Gambero Rosso. The winery is small but consulting winemaker Riccardo Cotarella is a big name in Italian wine. Love the lifted, complex riot of dried currant/pruny fruit, soya, balsamic, olive and smoked herbs. It’s full bodied, intense yet silky on the palate, with excellent to outstanding focus and length. Love the mineral/pencil lead trail petit verdot leaves on the finish.

Steve Thurlow – This is an excellent complex Italian red that would be a good restaurant wine by the glass since it is from a relatively unknown region and is consequently well priced for such a complex wine and would benefit from some promotion (plus any wine remaining in an opened bottle would probably improve over several days). It has a very enticing nose of dried blackcurrant, black cherry and prune fruit with smokey bacon, dried herbs, kelp and tobacco. The palate is midweight and very juicy with fine balancing tannin and vibrant acidity. Excellent length and great focus. Will gain in complexity as the tannins fold into the wine.


For more reviews, visit the agent’s profile page on WineAlign: Cavinona Wine Agency. Because these wines are not in stores, remember to click “All sources” and “show wines with zero inventory” to see all of the reviews.

Cavinona Wine Agency

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

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


Cavinona Wine Agency

Cavinona Wine AgencyCavinona is an Ontario-based wine agency that imports Italian wines.

Cavinona has handpicked over fifty wine producers throughout the Italian peninsula and distributes their wines exclusively to the Terroni family of restaurants and to private consumers through our online store at

We seek out small regional producers who are driven by passion for quality and devotion to traditional Italian culture. All our wines come from producers who go against the grain of mass marketing and the homogenization of wine. Rather, they strive to uphold the principles of regional diversity. Our producers create wine that reflects the indigenous grape varieties and the soils and climate of their region.

Our goal is to offer the best expressions of Italy’s enormous range of native grape varieties. From vintners whose winemaking philosophies tend toward tradition and minimal intervention, we invite you to discover wines that are true to the grape, the people and the place.

For consumers living within the Toronto area we offer daytime delivery to your home or office starting at $10.50 for the first case (5 cases or more are free). For clients living outside of the Toronto area we can also ship wines to an LCBO of your choice at no extra cost. The shipment usually takes 2-4 weeks, but may take up to 8 depending on the business of the season and distance the case must travel. Your chosen LCBO store will give you a call to let you know when your order has arrived.

You can subscribe to our Newsletter here. – (416) 203-6108


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Argentina Part I : Rewarding Freshness

by Treve Ring, Sara d’Amato & Rhys PenderJune 22, 2015


Over the past seven months, five of our WineAlign contributors travelled to Argentina. We are all familiar with the Canadian wine industry’s version of Argentina wines, based on what we see on our shelves and tables. That said, we realize we’re tasting through a filter shaped by trends, markets and, often, laziness. So each of us journeyed south to discover for ourselves what was really happening, beyond what our importers and our borders allow entry. What we found was enlightening, affirming and interesting, enough so that we want to share our discoveries with you. If you’re not seeing these wines and themes on your shelves, ask for them. Seek them out. The only way to change the flow is to be in the know.In the first of our two-part series, we cast an appreciative, closer look at the fresher, brighter wines being produced in Argentina. Sara d’Amato saw very well the results of this trend as a judge at the 2015 Argentina Wine Awards, especially within the iconic and omnipresent malbecs. Diving deeper, Rhys Pender, MW trumpets the country’s new found freshness through their greater use of altitude and lesser use of oak. ~ TR


Canucks in Argentina


Sara d’Amato
Judging the “Empowerment of Women” Argentina Wine Awards of 2015

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Earlier this year, I was invited to judge the best of Argentina’s wines over a week’s stay in Mendoza followed by a whirlwind tour of the country’s extensively spread-out wine regions. Beyond the obvious lure of the offer, what was most intriguing was the topic of the awards: “The Empowerment of Women in Wine”. For the past nine years, the Argentina Wine Awards have chosen a yearly theme. For example, a previous year’s theme involved exclusively Masters of Wine as judges and another year, a panel made up entirely of journalists. This year, women were to exclusively make up the judging panel, an opportunity I could not pass up.

For ten years now I’ve been judging wine competitions and I am often the sole woman on any individual panel, partially due to the fact there are far fewer women in the industry than men. However, the tide is rapidly changing, especially in North America. Here in Ontario, the enrolment in the Niagara College Wine & Viticulture program this year is 17 women to 17 men.

Tasked with the challenge of choosing the best wines of Argentina, I think we women of the jury were also hoping to find some insights into women and wine, and to explore the age-old question of whether women taste differently than men.

We were aided by a guest judge from the Argentinian industry on each of our panels. Some were winemakers and winery owners such as the influential and formidable Susana Balbo and Laura Catena and others were top sommeliers such as Flavia Rizzuto at CAVE in Buenos Aires. Our ability to pick up on regional subtleties was largely due to the guidance of these very talented and in-the-know locals.

The Empowerment of Women in Wine

As for the jury, I would be remiss not to mention the names of each of the 12 members of the international jury as they make up some of the most important voices in the industry today. I was joined by two highly accomplished fellow Canadians: Barbara Philip MW, European Portfolio Manager for the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB) and Shari Mogk Edwards, Vice President Sales, Products and Merchandising LCBO; from the UK, Jancis Robinson MW herself led the charge and from Germany, Felicity Carter, Editor of one of Europe’s most influential wine publications, Meininger’s; from Finland, Essi Avelan, who is easily the world’s foremost expert on sparkling wine; from the US, Christy Canterbury MW, writing for top publications such as Decanter, TimAtkin and Wine Enthusiast along with Senior Editor of Wine Enthusiast, Susan Kostrzewa; from Asia, Megumi Nishida, Tokyo’s leading female wine voice, writer and importer along with Annette Scarfe MW from Singapore; from South America, Suzana Barelli, leading Sommelier from San Paolo, Brazil and winemaker Cecilia Torres Salinas of Chile. Needless to say, I was in excellent company.


Jane Hunt MW, Sara d’Amato & Jancis Robinson MW

We had five days in which to carefully examine 700 wines, an exacting, stamina-testing and very difficult assignment. As you can imagine, malbec was center stage and with judging as many big red wines as we did in the day, palate fatigue presents a challenge – hence the need for big lunches and capping the wines to 60-90 daily.

When all was said and done, the Awards were announced at an energy-charged evening ceremony and more than a few trends manifested themselves:

Malbec and Medals

IMG_0042Malbec is Argentina’s highest card and it is played throughout the country’s vast regions. The grape’s most esteemed expression is that of the high altitude Uco Valley in Mendoza. Over the course of the week, our panel learned to discern characteristics of these high altitude plantings that expressed the best vibrancy, sometimes a leaner profile and peppery, wild flower aromatics. Indeed, many of our highest scoring wines came from this region. One of our top finds was from the Tupungato region of the west Uco Valley from Rigolas winery. The project is being consulted on by Paul Hobbs who is a prolific advisor in Mendoza outside of his own project of Vina Cobos. The Quinto malbec took home top honors with a memorably aromatic richness of fruit and exceptional balance.

Surprisingly, not one single malbec was awarded a “regional trophy”, given to the highest scoring wine of a particular region. Other varietals like petit verdot and cabernet franc along with red blends were given top billing. The malbecs were incredibly varied mainly based on the multitude of sub-regions in which they are produced. Not until very recently have these sub-regions been listed on the label and we are already beginning to see them in Canada. Many more smaller producers rather than large conglomerates received awards, with leaner, drier more aromatic styles of malbec favoured.

The results beg the question, did these dramatic differences from previous years have anything to do with “the female palate” or did they have more to do with stylistic changes related to producers and changing tastes worldwide? Did the fact that this year proved the lowest scoring year in terms of gold medals awarded have anything to do with a more “discerning female palate”? They certainly could but I would tend to weight the changing worldwide styles and preferences of critics and consumers just as heavily or more than any differences due to the sex of the tasters.

The only true difference I can state as to our female judging is that, as master organizer Jane Hunt MW of the Argentina Wine Awards can attest, the women of the jury were able to achieve consensus more rapidly than previous years, were more decisive and diplomatic with each other, were able to stay focused and were more cohesive in their scores.


What made us most excited? A real shocker to many of us: tannat. Outside of France, it is rare to find enough of this grape produced in a single varietal to make up a whole flight of wines. These examples should have been tough and mean but instead were generous, aromatic and appealing and still characteristically forceful. What a difference in expression here! A top, gold medal example came from the northern reaches of Argentinian wine producing country, from the small, high altitude dessert valley of Cafayate in the vineyards of El Porvenir de Cafayate. At these altitudes of well over 2,000 meters, the UV index is high but the diurnal temperature shift is extreme with frigid nights contributing to the preservation of acids. In this region, cabernet sauvignon also is divinely expressed but so little is produced in comparison with the rest of the country that few will find their way abroad.



Argentina’s workhorse grape, bonarda, has only recently been usurped by malbec as Argentina’s most planted varietal. It is a vigorous varietal that can take a great deal of sunlight. Top examples can be produced with little effort. Not surprisingly, these wines are often of great value, fruity, approachable and easy to appreciate although often lacking in complexity. From the Santa Rosa region of eastern Mendoza, densely packed by an extraordinary number of wineries and plantings, our top bonarda, Guarda from winery SinFin, finds its home. SinFin is a mid-size, family-owned boutique producer focused on high quality production that was well recognized in this year’s competition. At a lower elevation of 700 meters, such as this example, bonarda thrives in the heat and sunlight offering generous fruit for a relatively small price.


Torrontés proved to be a much smaller category than expected. Many of the top examples come from the smaller northern producing regions of Salta and Cafayate. At those extreme elevations, torrontés not only has impressive aromatics but also more acidity and often more subtlety. The Mendozian examples often lacked character and were sometimes manipulated with oak to add flavour and richness at the expense of delicacy and purity of fruit.


Finally, the value in sparkling wine could not be overlooked. With close to 80 wineries now producing sparkling wine in Argentina and big hitters such as Moet & Chandon in the picture, Argentina’s quickly burgeoning bubbles continued to take us by surprise. Although we found that in some cases, the sweetness levels were questionable even in the Brut Nature or Extra Brut categories, many fine, honest examples did exist such as the top scoring Brut Nature from Trivento winery from Mendoza’s Uco Valley.

So at the end of the day, do we women taste differently? Although the variables were too great to come to any sort of fact-based conclusion, I do believe that our diplomatic approach to tasting in groups of women was unique and that our commitment to finding balance and freshness in wine was unwavering. In the end, I was much less interested in the answer than I was to begin with. Although the results may have been surprising to some, I think most would agree that the strong, experienced and dynamic group of judges were able to pull, from the multitude of entries, the finest examples from across the country, regardless of the sex of the tasters.

Rhys Pender, MW
Argentina’s New Found Finesse

IMG_0172Finesse and Argentina are not words that have traditionally been used together. In fact, Argentinian wine shot to popularity in Canada because of the fact that its wines were full bodied, rich and red at a time when big body, big alcohol, big oak and jammy big ripeness was what consumers were looking for. However, times have changed in Canada and elsewhere, and big is no longer better. Argentinian winemakers are looking to find a new, lighter, elegant side to their wines, and they are having some success.

It is not necessarily an easy task to make lighter, more refreshing wines in what is a warm to hot climate. Picking early may result in lower alcohol but if the tannins and flavours are not ripe the resulting wine will not be any good. There needs to be a balance and the Argentines need to find that sweet spot of keeping their naturally generous fruit flavours without being over the top.

The number one way that Argentina is finding success is by going up, up in altitude or to wherever the cooler weather naturally keeps more acidity and slows down ripening. Hot spots right now are the Uco Valley and Luján de Cuyo, sub-regions of Mendoza, Pedernal in San Juan and new areas being explored far to the north at staggering altitudes in Salta province around Cafayate and Molinos. The cooler temperatures allow the grapes to be harvested while ripe but with lower alcohol levels and the flavours are less jammy and more elegant. Combine this with mineral soils in some areas and the wines are much fresher. Argentinian appellations can be confusing but if you see any of the above mentioned names on the label you should be looking at the more restrained side of the country’s offerings.

Another big trend that is encouraging to see and one that is having a big impact on the wines is the use of oak, or the non-use of oak to be exact. Many producers reported pulling back and using both less oak as well as larger and older barrels to avoid overpowering the wines and allowing the bright, vibrant fruit to show through. Wines such as Trapiche Pure are testament to the success of this shining new style.


Many have questioned if there is such a thing as Argentina beyond big, ripe, rustic malbec. Based on my travels and tasting, it certainly seems there is. Smart producers are figuring out how not to throw out the baby with the bath water, by keeping the fruit ripeness that comes naturally but stopping it from being too much. The wines, as a result, are fresher, more finessed and infinitely more drinkable than ever before.


Next month: In Part II of this series, David Lawrason shines a light on cabernet franc’s ascension, while Anthony Gismondi takes us on a latitudinal tour of Argentina, spotlighting locations along the way. I will take a look at wines that may be outside of your current viewfinder, like Argentine sparkling.

Treve Ring

Wines of Argentina - Wine Jam & BBQ

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008