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Buy The Case: Hobbs and Co.

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by Michael Godel

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

Hobbs & Co.

I have been following the portfolio of Margaret Hobbs of Hobbs & Company for the past five years and have seen what was once a modest but carefully chosen registry of wineries grow in breadth without any compromise to quality. There are no duds in the Hobbs cache. Every producer is a star, has the potential or is well on the road to becoming one. Hobbs is a model of consistency in the importing agency world of Ontario.

The family owned and operated merchant has been delivering fine wines to the Ontario marketplace since 1993. Her Twitter page notes, “chief, cook and bottle washer at Hobbs & Co. My father’s daughter.” I asked Margaret what that means. “Perhaps that should read,” she told me, “I am striving to be my father’s daughter! My dad, Bill, was a highly principled gentleman, with an incredible sense of integrity and a strong work ethic.” Margaret Hobbs is clearly someone who believes in tradition, legacy and carrying the torch. She also believes in progress.

I asked Margaret if she could briefly comment on what the company’s goals were 10 years ago and how they have changed to what they are now. Her answer was this:

“A lot has changed in 10 years! In 2007, we were focused almost exclusively on selling Consignment wine, mainly to restaurants throughout the province. And selling wine was relatively easy – we were well established with a great portfolio and a loyal client base, the consignment program rules were more flexible at that time and the economy was booming. Then 2008 hit…Given that our revenue was driven by sales to restaurants that were severely impacted by the recession, we were heavily impacted as well. Ever since, my priority has been to build greater resilience into our business model. While we retain a great passion for promoting relatively small production Consignment wines that we have sourced from around the world, we also have a fantastic and growing portfolio of wines that are sold through LCBO retail (General List, VINTAGES Essentials and VINTAGES). And we have diversified our portfolio to include well-crafted beer, cider and spirits. We have found interesting synergies between these categories, with the common element being the wonderful stories behind each brand that we represent. Our tag line – A story with every glass – sums it up well.”

With respect to maintaining a portfolio’s level of consistency and excellence during the last five years (give or take) period of growth, here is what Margaret had to say:

“We have an awesome sales team that drives our revenue and our growth. They have varied backgrounds – most have come from the Food Service & Hospitality Industry and many have formal wine-beer-spirits education and training. They are instrumental in helping to maintain the consistency and excellence of our portfolio. Almost all decisions regarding the wines we carry on our list are made through blind tastings with this incredible group of professionals.”

Hobbs and Company’s diverse portfolio is truly a global affair, ranging to New World locales like Chile and Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and with an intense focus on South Africa, home to some of the best wine values anywhere. In the Old World Germany and Portugal are represented but it is Italy, Spain and especially France where the Hobbs representation really stands tall.

Though the Ontario importer enjoys a strong global presence, their work with wineries in both Ontario and British Columbia is exceptional. Quails’ Gate and Tantalus Vineyards are two important and essential figures in B.C. and have both received great accolades at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. Here in Ontario Hobbs is partnered with Creekside Estates Winery, a Jordan outfit of great respect and an extremely diverse portfolio. Hobbs has also helped to develop and market Creekside’s participation in the Wine on Tap from stainless steel keg program. Creekside is one of the most successful producers in the field.

While we always enjoy our tasting sessions together, knowing that a Hobbs and Company set of wines was waiting in the WineAlign tasting room gave reason to really look forward to the day’s work. This portfolio offered up high anticipation for John Szabo, Steve Thurlow, David Lawrason and I. As usual with this Buy the Case feature – when discussing wines only available by the case – we offer some thoughts on how you might consider using the wines you purchase.

Sparkling & White

Beaumont des Crayères Grand Prestige Brut Champagne, France ($58.00)

Tinpot Hut Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Beaumont Des Crayères Grand Prestige ChampagneSteve Thurlow – This is a mature fairly intense complex Champagne for a good price (for Champagne). It is made from a fairly common blend of the three Champagne grapes, chardonnay 40%, pinot noir 40% and pinot meunier 20%. Expect harmonious aromas of dried pear and pineapple fruit with toasted nuts, brioche, and lemon. It is medium bodied and finely balanced with excellent length. Given the depth of flavour and its savoury nature plus the vibrant acidity, this is a wine to dine with. Try with rich seafood dishes or white meats with creamy sauces. Tasted August 2016. Good for Wine Pooling.
Michael Godel – This is Brut non millésimé Champagne of Old world spirit with new world personality. The complicated whole made up of interconnected parts is both dense and ethereal, ideological and post-ideological. I agree with Steve. Get some friends together, split the case four ways and open one every four years.

Tinpot Hut Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Marlborough, New Zealand ($23.00)

David Lawrason – This is lively sauvignon loaded with passion fruit on the nose, plus gentle greens like celery leaf and snow pea. It’s quite light bodied and a little softer than many Marlborough sauvignons, with a touch of sweetness. It should have wide appeal, and do well by-the-glass if competitively priced.
Michael Godel – From winemaker Fiona Turner off of her own Home Block vineyard this is sauvignon blanc of high acidity but with so much pungent and forthright fruit the balance is spot on. The kind of Kiwi white to make restaurant goers say “wow” and “yum” when poured to them by the glass.

Reds

Lucien Lardy Beaujolais Villages 2015, Beaujolais, France ($21.50)

Salcheto Rosso di Montepulciano 2014 Lucien Lardy Beaujolais Villages 2015David Lawrason – Here’s a very pleasant, well balanced gamay that has the character of a Beaujolais cru. It has a pretty, floral, blueberry character with shadings of earthy beetroot and pepper. It’s light to medium bodied, nicely balanced with fine acidity and checked alcohol. It could do well on a French focused wine list.
John Szabo – Lighter reds, and especially Beaujolais, are all the rage these days, and this bottling, from a vineyard planted in 1951 on pink-tinged granite in the northern part of the appellation near the cru of Fleurie, is crafted in a lovely, juicy, engaging, fruity, carbonic-style. There’s plenty of typical candyfloss and strawberry flavour, ripe and juicy. I’d call this a regional paradigm, immediately identifiable, hitting all of the right notes.

Salcheto Rosso di Montepulciano 2014, Tuscany, Italy ($25.00)

David Lawrason – This is a rare rosso from Montepulciano, made from the same clone of sangiovese as Vino Nobile, but aged for a shorter period. It’s a quite lively, sour-edged, a touch meaty and volatile red – a style that fans of traditional Italian wine will appreciate. Should work nicely by-the-glass on an eclectic Italian list.
John Szabo – Here’s an authentic, savoury-earthy-spicy-floral, sangiovese-based red from around the town of Montepulciano and a fine producer dedicated to sustainability at every level,. It’s very aromatically engaging, with brisk and saliva-inducing acids, light and dusty tannins, and very good length and overall complexity for the price category. A classic Tuscan red all in all, tailor-made for the table.
Michael Godel – Salcheto’s Rosso exists as a gateway vial to its rich, unctuous and more mature Vino Nobile and like the grand wine this Rosso will appeal to two sides of sangiovese lovers. There is enough volatility and tart earthiness to reach back old school and the kind of ripe fruit to seek some modern appeal. It’s almost buzzing with energy and the tongue is lashed with a peppery jolt. Solid Rosso for any day of the week house wine service.

Hartenberg 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, South Africa ($35.00)

David Lawrason – Here’s a big, meaty and complex cabernet with classic Stellenbsoch iodine minerality caked around the very ripe cassis fruit, graphite and vaguely minty notes. It’s dense yet vibrant with considerable acidity and firm tannin. It’s very Euro in one sense, but has the classic power of the Cape. IT should age nicely for a decade, so consider splitting a case with other collectors.
Michael Godel – Deliciously and devilishly dry cabernet sauvignon from deep red Hutton and Avalon soils in Stellenbosch. Built to live a long and healthy life so see this as a big red with maturation potential. The vintner claims 15-20 years from vintage. That’s not a stretch though the next five will be the best. I tasted many similar 1995-2005 reds from Stellenbosch in Cape Town last September. This Hartenberg will occupy an important section of your cellar.

Schubert 2014 Pinot Noir, Wairarapa, New Zealand ($37.00)

John Szabo – This is an elegant, spicy-savoury and structured pinot from a fine producer in New Zealand’s North Island – Wairarapa, perfumed and floral, dark and swarthy in the best way. Tannins are refined and sophisticated, acids perfectly in balance, and the length exceptional. Really fine stuff, and fine value in the rarefied realm of pinot noir. Drink or hold into the early ’20s.
David Lawrason – Schubert is one of the pioneering pinot noir estates of the Martinborough region. This is a delicious, warmer climate, youthful pinot with lovely ripe blueberry/cherry fruit, violets, plus some foresty and gently spicy complexity. It’s medium weight, almost silky smooth with very fine tannin. The sheer deliciousness gives it a place as an upper-end wine by the glass. I bet more than one glass gets ordered.
Steve Thurlow – This is a lovely pinot that is so typical of Martinborough in a good year. Expect aromas of cherry and plum fruit with floral, spicy and herbal complexity. It is midweight and so finely balanced with the velvety smooth fruit driven by vibrant acidity on to the long lingering finish. Excellent length. Elegant and classy. It is a little hot on the finish otherwise would have scored higher. Great buy. Best 2016 to 2021. Tasted August 2016. A good personal house wine.

Hartenberg Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Schubert Pinot Noir 2014 Roger Belland Maranges La Fussière 1er Cru 2014

Roger Belland Maranges La Fussière 1er Cru 2014, Burgundy, France ($44.00)

John Szabo – Fine value from the southernmost commune of the Côte d’Or, plump, sappy, ripe, nicely proportioned, with finely-tuned, elegant tannins and balanced acids. A really successful wine for the vintage, made with evident care and ambition. And to find red 1er cru Burgundy at this price is a treat; restaurants should take notice.
Michael Godel – Belland from Santenay makes pinot noir from 23 hectares of vineyards spread throughout several appellations and La Fussiere is considered the best vineyard in Maranges with the Belland plot located mid-slope. As a result here is a mid-weight Maranges with bright cherry scents foiled by sweet, musty earth. Tart acidity adds further brightness and the vintage leaves fewer bitters behind. This will age gracefully for up to seven plus years. Not all Burgundy cellar space needs got be occupied by the rich and famous. Some space should be allotted to lesser known but certainly not lesser quality Cru.


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

Hobbs & Co.About Hobbs & Co

Hobbs & Co was born out of a passion for wine and a desire to share the stories of wines discovered and enjoyed by the Hobbs family in their travels. We have been fortunate to be able to grow our business gradually, with an emphasis on exceptional personal service and on quality wines of exceptional value. The fledgling company that began 23 years ago has flourished.

 

While we celebrate each new vintage from our roster of long-standing, noteworthy producers, our portfolio continues to evolve and expand to meet changing consumer tastes. And today, in addition to wine, that ‘story with every glass’ includes an exciting list of Hobbs-endorsed beer, cider and spirits.

We look forward to sharing with you the remarkable wines we love.

Join our Mailing List

If you would like to be notified when we have new wines arriving or when we are sampling wines from our portfolio, please subscribe to our monthly newsletter or follow us on Twitter @hobbsandco

To learn more about Hobbs & Co and our all of our remarkable beverages, please visit us at www.hobbsandcompany.com

If you have questions about any of our products or services, please contact Alisa by email alisa@hobbsandcompany.com or by phone 416.694.3689

 


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(Re-)Discovering Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene

Text and photos by John Szabo MS
with additional notes by Treve Ring

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Prosecco may very well be the most successful wine story in all of Italy, and surely one of the most successful sparkling wine stories in the world. What’s the secret? For one, at its most basic, prosecco is inexpensive, easy to understand, and even easier to drink. It’s light-bodied (c. 11%-11.5% alcohol on average), engagingly fragrant (fresh pear and green apple are signature aromatics), more gently effervescent than traditional method sparkling wines, and just sweet enough to appeal widely, without tripping over into genuine sweetness.

The name is easy to say, and at once brings a grape, place and wine style to mind without unnecessary complications. And at under $20 / bottle in general, and with many cuvees under $15, it fills an important niche in both the on and off-trade: everybody needs an affordable bubbly to pour by the glass, or to sip with friends or serve at parties when champagne is not in the budget. It would be unthinkable to spend a day in Venice without stopping in for a glass of prosecco as you wander along the canals.

So it’s no wonder that sales have increased year on year for as long as I can remember, nearly tripling in just the last half-decade. In 2010, about 130m bottles were sold, by 2015, sales had jumped to c. 306m bottles and the retail value was 515 million Euros. 44 percent of that was for the export market, led by Germany, Switzerland, UK, USA, Austria and Canada.

The Region: Starts with the Soils

The surface simplicity of the prosecco world belies a much more complex and intriguing reality. For many, basic Prosecco DOC, produced in industrial quantities from the flat lands north of Venice, will remain the daily bread and butter. But for those ready to take the next step into the more artisanal world of prosecco, one that’s rapidly expanding thanks to a growing cadre of ambitious producers bankrolled by the region’s sales juggernaut, there’s plenty to explore.

Giuseppe - Welcome to Prosecco

Giuseppe – Welcome to Prosecco

You’ll want to start in the historic heart of the production zone, a hilly area nestled between the towns of Conegliano in the east and Valdobbiadene in the west, a little more than an hour due north of Venice. The the two towns are approximately 40km away from each other, the terroir is markedly different. Conegliano in the east is a mix of clay-rich glacial, alluvial and morainic soils, yielding richer, fruity and structured wines. In the west, in Valdobbiadene, the soils are ancient seabeds veined with moraine and sandstone, resulting in finessed, finer, floral-scented wines. The landscape gets progressively more hilly and steep heading east to west in the zone, and by the time you’ve reached Valdobbiadene, slopes can be downright precipitous. Vineyard work hours also rise precipitously, from some 120 hours/hectare/year in the plains to over 800 hours in the steepest parcels.

This is where the finest wines have always originated, and in fact where prosecco the sparkling wine was born, thanks to Antonio Carpenè Malvolti over a century ago. Malvolti also founded Italy’s first school of oenology in the town of Conegliano in 1876, which contributed in no small measure to the rise in wine quality in the region, and throughout the peninsula.

Antonio Carpenè Malvolti, Oenology school, Conegliano

Antonio Carpenè Malvolti, Oenology school, Conegliano

The Prosecco Pyramid : Climbing Higher in Quality

There are five quality levels of Prosecco. Prosecco DOC and Prosecco DOC Treviso (556 and 95 municipalities, respectively) make up the largest group, at the base of the pyramid. Atop of that rests the Colli Asolani DOCG Prosecco Superiore, a thin layer with 17 municipalities from the hilly area of northern central Veneto. From there, you move into the heartland of production, which in other parts of Italy would have been called the “Classico” zone, but in prosecco’s case could not be because of the possible confusion with metodo classico, or traditional method sparkling wines, which prosecco is mostly not. Officially recognized in 2009 as the Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, this covers about 6800 hectares across 15 municipalities. Here, free-draining hillsides and cooler temperatures result in higher natural acids and greater aromatic development, compared to grapes grown on the plains. But there’s more to it than that; vine age is also older on average, and there’s much greater genetic diversity – more variations on glera, the principal grape (re-baptized in 2009 from prosecco) – from centuries of massale selection, and about 10% of vineyards are planted to other local authorized grapes, like verdiso, bianchetta, perera and glera lunga, which each add their unique twist to blends. Plantings on the plains are generally much more recent and composed of a small handful of glera clones, so the same degree of complexity and balance is nearly impossible to achieve.

Entering Valdobbiadene-3763

Entering Valdobbiadene

Digging a little deeper, and climbing higher in the quality pyramid, are an additional 43 single vineyards or crus. These single vineyard Rive (the Venetian dialect for “steep slopes”), have been identified within the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore zone, and often found on the choicest part of the best hillsides. Rive proseccos, by law, are made from lower yields and hand harvested grapes, and must be vintage dated. Some are shared between producers, others are monopoles.

At the top of the pyramid, one large, south-facing hillside area, historically recognized as producing the very top proseccos, has its own appellation: Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG. Prosecco from the 107 ha Cartizze hill is the most expensive in the appellation, often three or four times more than a producer’s regular cuvée. Producers can label their wines Superiore di Cartizze, without the word “prosecco”, to futher emphasize the special site. In addition, Cartizze must only be vinified within the Valdobbiadene municipality.

Sunset over Cartizze Hill-3783

Sunset over Cartizze Hill

The most vexing thing about Cartizze, however, is that the cru has been historically made in a ‘dry’ version, which is of course to say quite sweet, with up to 32 grams of residual sugar, a tradition that most producers still seem content to follow. In the past, Cartizze was surely the one zone where grapes would ripen sufficiently and consistently enough to produce a rich, off-dry style wine, a distinctive trait. But today, with sugar ubiquitous, anyone can make sweet prosecco. And adding sugar has the effect of homogenizing, if not fully eliminating, any nuance that comes from place. Admittedly I have found few Cartizzes I’d been willing to pay for – if you want sweet, you may as well by a straight Prosecco DOC ‘Dry’ for a fraction of the price. The sweeter the wine, the less regionally distinctive it tends to be.

The Future : Dryer, Site-Specific Wines

Compared to the gloried Cartizze, Rive proseccos, on the other hand, come much more frequently in brut versions (maximum 12 grams of sugar). For me, this category represents the future for Prosecco, especially if the goal is to trade consumers up to more distinctive wines at higher prices. That’s not to say that cru proseccos are uniformly better, however. There’s much to be said about the advantage of blending from multiple vineyards to create a better-balanced, complete wine. But the Rive category at least moves prosecco out of the simple commodity market and into a space where meaningful discussion about regional variations in terroir can take place.

One heartening trend overall is the move towards more truly dry styles. Over the last 20 years the Brut category has grown dramatically, representing about 40% of total production; dry versions now represent less than 10%, while the in-between Extra-dry category (with 12-17 grams of sugar) accounts for about half of all production.

Vineyards, Valddobbiadene-3759

Vineyards, Valdobbiadene

Col Fondo prosecco is another ancient style that is regaining popularity. “Col Fondo is the oldest version of prosecco”, Maurizio Favrel of Malibràn tells me. “It’s the type that existed before the charmat method became popular, born surely from a mistake”. Favrel claims to be the first producer to revive the style commercially, which was essentially an ancestral method sparkling wine made by bottling still-fermenting must. “It was the wine we had at home. It would be a pity to lose this tradition”, Favrel continues.

Today the process is not left to chance. Favrel makes his from a dry, still base wine, bottled with sugar and yeast as for traditional method sparkling, but the wine is not disgorged or filtered so remains cloudy, like bottled-fermented ale. Malibràn’s is bone dry and with under three bars or pressure, less than classic prosecco, and only about half the effervescence of traditional method bubbly. About half a dozen producers are making Col Fondo style prosecco today, though the category is sure to grow.

So, if you’ve relegated prosecco exclusively to the fun and frivolous category until now, it’s time to explore what the historic region has to offer. Quality, availability, and stylistic diversity have never been better. Start your exploration by tracking down some of the bottles below.

Strada del Prosecco-3747

Strada del Prosecco

Buyers’ Guide to Prosecco

These wines may not currently be available in your province, but if you have a chance to taste them, we recommend you do.

2013 Ruggeri Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut Vecchie Viti

Ruggeri’s superb Vecchie Viti (“Old Vines”) is harvested from individual old vines (mixed in with younger plantings), selected from 12 growers in 12 different parcels, some 2500 individual vines in all. This may sound like excessive labour, but the results are clearly worth it – this wine ranks in the very top echelon in the region year after year. The 2013 offers terrific aromatics, really just starting to emerge, while the palate is dry but rich, full, substantial. I love the mouth filling density and the range of white-fleshed fruit flavours, ginger spice, fresh green herbs. Excellent length. Lovely wine all in all. 5000 bottles made annually. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 94

Villa Sandi Cartizze Brut Vigna la Rivetta Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Brut

Although aromatic intensity is relatively modest, Villa Sandi’s Cartizze, a rare brut from this celebrated hillside (most are made in a dry style, which is to say, sweeter), is all about texture and mouthfeel. It’s a clearly ripe and generous wine, barely off-dry, at the upper end of brut, very vinous and complex, and with very good length. I’d put this clearly in a superior quality category, less for titillating aromatics, but rather for its genuine complexity and depth. I’d love to see more Cartizze wines take this drier, more site-driven approach. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 93

2009 Bisol Relio Metodo Classico Extra Brut VSQ

This is a fairly rare traditional method glera, aged three years on lees, yet shockingly fresh, with little obvious autolysis. The palate is delicate, silky, seamless, very surprising – this is amazingly complete and lively. The florality of glera has been only partially sacrificed, while white-fleshed fruit still dominates. Very good length. I love the salty-sapidity – the most mineral glera I’ve come across. 12% alcohol, 4 grams dosage. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 93

2013 La Farra Brut millesimato Rive di Farra di Soligo Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore

Crafted in a gently oxidative-floral, style, this is a big, more concentrated, powerful version of prosecco overall, firm and well balanced, very dry, with terrific intensity and length. A top example. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 92

Vineyards, morning, Conegliano-3742

Vineyards, morning, Conegliano

2014 Adami Vigneto Giardino Rive di Colbertaldo Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

From the Rive di Colbertaldo, a south east facing, hilly site 220-300m in altitude comes this generous, dry (20 g/l RS) fizz. The sweetness is deftly handled by a racy backbone of acidity, bringing a nimble briskness to the palate. Generous cushion of asian pear, light yellow apple, macedonia (fruit salad) finishes entirely asciutto – grippy, drying and fresh. A beauty. Treve Ring – 92

2014 Ruggeri Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut Giustino B. Extra Dry

The Giustino B. bottling is assembled in March following the vintage, a selection of the top vineyard lots, including some old vine lots. The 2014 is still tightly wound on the nose, but the palate is rich, off-dry as advertised, peachy and pear-flavoured, with very good length, an excellent wine all in all, which, along with Ruggeri’s Vecchie Viti, can be counted among the region’s best. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 92

2014 Valdo Brut Cuvèe del Fondatore millesimato Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore

This fairly deeply coloured prosecco offers intriguing riesling-like florality, with peach-apricot, pear, and pineapple aromatics, while the palate is vinous and fleshy, with higher intensity and density than the mean, with more generous alcohol. This is clearly a more concentrated and serious example, though oxidation is starting to creep in, so enjoy now or over the near-term. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 91

Col Vetoraz Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry

Here’s a textbook example of Cartizze made in the traditional ‘dry’ style (which means of course that it’s off-dry), though with better balance than the mean, built more on acids than sweetness alone. It shows as a lovely, particularly elegant wine, with beguiling aromatics, all fresh white-fleshed fruit and white blossom florality. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 91

Panaroma from Cartizze Hill-3789

Panaroma from Cartizze Hill

2013 Malibràn Cinque Grammi Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut

Malibràn’s Cinque Grammi (“Five Grams”, referring to the low sugar, virtually dry style), is crafted in a powerful, ripe, full bodied style within the prosecco category, focused less on aromatics, and more on fruit ripeness and concentration, and palate richness and extraction. It comes across as a slightly more rustic wine than the mean from Valdobbiadene, but highly characterful, a strong personality, and one that certainly appreciate. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 91

Adami Col Credas Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Rive Farra di Soligo

Serious Prosecco. Think single vineyard, steep sloped, ‘cru’ Prosecco, sustainably farmed old vines from 300-350 metres rooted in poor, dry clay soils. The Adami family have been farming these soils for three generations, more than 90 years of experience in the terroir of Valdobbiadene {say it with me: val-dough-bee-add-den-nay}. The dedication shows in dry, characterful wines like this one. Brut (only 4 g/l residual sugar, with tight green apple, light almond, faint white acacia, bitter citrus pith and stone. The nimble palate rips along with driving acidity, leaving just a bit of textured mineral stoniness in its fresh wake. Tasted December 2015 – Treve Ring – 91

2014 Bisol Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry

Bisol’s bottling of Cartizze is on the drier side of ‘Dry’  (23 grams of sugar), lighter on the aromatics, but well-endowed with flavour intensity on the palate. Acids are quite high, balancing the sugar, and brought further into equilibrium by the relatively rich and full body. Good to very good length. A fine prosecco all in all, though at a considerable premium price. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 90

Sorelle Bronca Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut

A flagrantly aromatic, very floral, almost muscat-like expression of prosecco here from the Bronca sisters, full of orange peel and orange blossom aromatics, alongside more classic fresh, white fleshed fruit, pear and apple. The palate offers a vaguely sweet impression thanks mostly to ripe, concentrated fruit, in a widely appealing style. All in all this is lovely and fullish prosecco with genuine character and style, and very good length. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 90

2014 Malibràn Sottoriva Col Fondo Per Tradizione Vino Frizzante Colli Trevigiani IGT

Col Fondo is the prosecco designation for what’s essentially an ancestral method sparkling wine, bottled before the primary fermentation has finished. Spent yeast cells remain in the bottle, and the pressure is slightly lower than standard charmat method prosecco. Malibràn produces their version from pure glera grown in their vineyards all within the DOCG zone, though because it’s bottle under crown cap, it looses appellation status. The 2014 is very lightly cloudy, crisp, dry, appley, bone dry in fact, very pure and pleasant to drink. Although the complexity is ultimately modest, I love the purity on offer – this is delicious stuff. It’s a wine for the table, served alongside something like boudin blanc or fatty sausage.  Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 90

2014 Masottina Extra Dry Rive di Ogliano millesimato Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore

The touch of sugar here in Masottina’s Extra-Dry single vineyard prosecco really lifts the aromatics; this is highly fragrant, reminiscent of off-dry riesling, one of the most fragrant in its class. Although it’s not terribly complex overall, it appeals above the average with its gentle and easy drinking manner. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 89

Vineyards, Conegliano-3743

Vineyards, Conegliano

Sommariva Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut

Sommariva could be called a” grower prosecco”, with sufficient estate vineyards around the town of Conegliano to supply all of their grape needs. This a classic Brut Superiore, bottled one month ago, composed of mostly 2014 vintage, with a touch of 2015 blended in to refresh. Grapes from a mix of old and young vines are given a short maceration before fermentation with selected yeast, and the wine is bottled with 10 grams residual sugar. The result is a rather dry, fleshy, flavourful, classically pear flavoured bubbly. Concentration and density are above the mean, as is the length. Textbook prosecco. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 89

2014 Astoria Brut Casa Vittorino Rive di Refrontolo millesimato Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore

Astoria’s single vineyard bottling is done in a lightly oxidative and floral style, with gentle spring blossoms and pear/apple fruit mixing with more exotic tangerine-mandarin notes. The palate fullish and balanced-fresh, indeed nicely crisp and essentially dry. Gently effervescent drives the finish, of very good length. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 89

Tenuta degli Ultimi Brut Biancariva Rive di Collalto Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore

Ultimi’s Biancariva offers relatively subtle aromatics on a dry, attractively svelte and tight frame. I like the tighter and more upright style, firm and coiled, with lots of tension but also elegance. Authentic. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 89

Vettori Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut

A classically light, oxidative-floral-lemon peel scented prosecco, like a refreshing gin & tonic, while the palate is dry, pleasantly lean and tight, balanced, crisp and lively. Solid substance and length. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 89

Costadilá Prosecco Col Fundo

This will change your perception of Prosecco. “Col fundo” signifies ancestral method, and is a style that a number of independent, adventuresome producers are exploring in Prosecco. Costadilá has made this wine naturally – no added sulphites or sugar, and with one fermentation in bottle (as it was in past times). Dry, crisp and exacting, with ample oxidative notes, apple cider, delicate stone, dried grasses, white peach blossom and delicate shortbread notes. Very light frizzante bubbles (3.5 bars of pressure) to gently lift the 11 percent alcohol. The bottle is not disgorged and has fine sediment in the bottom of the bottle. The winemaker recommends decanting, but I prefer to gently tilt the bottle back and forth to mix the sedimentary lees throughout. The result is a cloudy pour, but one with texture and interest. Tasted February 2016 – Treve Ring – 88

Desiderio Bisol-3768

Desiderio Bisol

Bisol Desiderio Jeio Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

The Bisol family has been farming the famed hill of Cartizze since the 16th century. This, their lower entry tier of wines, is named for Desiderio Bisol, the current winemaker. Glera makes up the majority of this cuvée, accompanied by verdiso, pinot bianco and chardonnay. Crisp and bright, with the 9 g/l RS gobbled up by crunchy acidity. An appealingly dry riff of peach fuzz lingers on the finish. Treve Ring – 88

2014 Canella Prosecco Superiore di Conegliano Valdobiadene

Crisp apple, light stone and apple open this fresh prosecco, and carry on to the bright palate along with tight lemon blossoms, peach and pear. Subtle hint of bitter melon before a kiss of sweetness on the finish. Lovely for brunch or with prosciutto wrapped melon. Treve Ring – 88

Nino Franco Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

Nino Franco was founded in 1919 and is one of the oldest wineries in Valdobbiadene, and the winery is now overseen by the forth Franco generation. Fresh and juicy, with golden apple, white peach, tight pear and subtle hay. Lime pith acidity cuts the residual sugar handily, leaving the finish crisp and dry. Treve Ring – 88

Ruggeri Santa Stefano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Dry DOCG
Fresh peach, pear and pink grapefruit blossoms fill the mouth of this ‘Dry’ prosecco from the high-altitude sub-zone of Santo Stefano. The bracing acidity handles it very well, leaving an impression of mandarin orange. From one of the steeper and higher sub-zones in Valdobbiadene, most of the Santo Stefano fruit goes to the Ruggeri. The residual sugar in this prosecco ranges from 17 to 32g/l making it more of a patio sipper preferably with panettone or even fruit but you could pair it up with some spicy Asian rolls. Tasted February 2016 – Treve Ring – 88

2013 Ruggeri Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Giustino B

Ringed with crisp, pithy pink grapefruit acidity and tight minerality, this extra dry prosecco is sourced from the hilltop ridges bordering the Dolomites. Refined and bright, with green apple and orchard pear, this carries the 16 g/l RS very well, leaving only pithy citrus in its wake. Pair with salads or sashimi. Tasted February 2016 – Treve Ring – 88

Giusti Asolo Prosecco Superiore Extra Dry

Sourced from vineyards in the hills of Asolo, this pretty prosecco is extra dry, though it’s not overtly noticeable though the pithy pink grapefruit acids. Peach fuzz, red apple, pear blossom and gentle acacia fill the palate, one cushioned by the sugars and streamed by the high acidity, especially when kept nice and chilled. Melon and prosciutto, here you are. Tasted February 2016 – Treve Ring – 88

2014 Foss Marai Prosecco Superiore Guia Millesimato Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

The steep hilled vineyard was first planted in the early 1900s by winemaker Carlo Biasiotto’s grandfather. A garden of white flowers and fine, green apple in this finessed Brut. Brisk pithy pink grapefruit acidity snaps on the finish. A delicate, feminine style. Tasted February 2016 – Treve Ring – 88 

Bisol-3772

Bisol – Valdobbiadene

Bisol Jeio Prosecco Colmei Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore Extra Dry

Jeio is the nickname for Desiderio, the founder of Bisol and the grandfather of the current generation, also Desiderio, to run the family company. This cuvée was first made in 1999. This bottling is all from the 2014 vintage (though labelled as NV), from grapes grown across the DOCG in both Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. Stylistically it’s on the more fragrant and floral side of the spectrum, offering light spice, ginger and fresh herbs, while the palate is noticeably off-dry (with 16 grams of residual sugar), which broadens the appeal, but in a more commercial sense. Perfectly serviceable and fairly priced in any case, even if I’d love to see a brut version of it. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 87

Valdo Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Marco Oro

This consistent extra dry Prosecco comes from the heartland of the region, Valdobbiadene DOCG. Candied grapefruit acidity gobbles up the sugar fairly well in this extra dry style (from 12-17 g/l RS), leaving an impression of sugared pear, candy apple, juicy peach, white flowers and candy necklace. Treve Ring – 87

Sorelle Bronca Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore Particella

The 68 on the label refers to the official land registry plot number for the exact part of the hill in Colbertaldo where these grapes are grown, 250-320m high. Glera is splashed with Bianchetta and Perera, here creating a near-dry fizz with light white flowers, lemon peel, tight pear and yellow apple. Some powdered stone texture and bitter pear skin closes out the light palate. Treve Ring – 87

Bottega Gold Prosecco

Even though the distinctively blinged out Bottega Gold doesn’t carry DOCG on the label, it is entirely DOCG quality fruit. A quirk in the appellation laws dictate that the bottle has to be made of clear glass in a limited range of shades. Blingy, to be sure, but it’s what inside that counts. Very concentrated nose, with yellow apple, ripe pear and light toast throughout the creamy, gently frothy palate, and a perfumed floral note that floats the finish. Presents on the upper sweetness level for Brut. Unlike most charmat-produced Prosecco, Bottega Gold Bottega Gold is obtained from Glera grapes, but unlike other standard Proseccos, it is produced to order via just one fermentation in the winery’s specialized pressurized cuve close tanks for forty days. Treve Ring – 87

Terra Serena DOC Prosecco Treviso Frizzante

Ripe pear, pink florals and a fine pink grapefruit pith carry this simple, light (10.5 percent) Prosecco. Hints of almond tuck in on the bright palate, finishing with a brisk peach fuzz bitterness. Chill, use in cocktails or enjoy solo at breakfast/brunch. Tasted August 2016 – Treve Ring – 86

Follador Extra Dry Prosecco

Very perfumed florals, apple blossoms and pear throughout this sweeter prosecco (18 g/l RS). Tight citrus and crunchy pear acidity, finishes bright but with a twist of bitter fruit. Simple, chilled, for breakfast or tea time. Tasted June 2016 – Treve Ring – 86

 


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If I could buy only one – Aug 20th, 2016 VINTAGES Release

As part of our VINTAGES recap for August 20th, we asked our critics:

If you could buy only one wine from this release – which one would it be and why?

Here’s what they had to say about the release. You can find their complete reviews, scores and store inventory by clicking the highlighted wine name or bottle image below.

John Szabo – Great value whites are always in demand, at the tail end of summer, and always. And Soave is fertile hunting ground, where quality has risen astonishingly since the turn of the millennium, with prices yet to follow suit. La Cappuccina 2014 Soave is a fine example of the value to be found, a gentle but fresh and nectarine-flavoured wine with appreciable character and evident depth and concentration, not to mention an extra dimension of stony-minerality on the long finish.

La Cappuccina Soave 2014

David Lawrason – I have known Norman Hardie’s pinots from the beginning, watched his evolution in the County over the years, and tasted every vintage multiple times. So call me a homer if you want, but there is an aromatic thrill in this pinot that I don’t get anywhere else. And I will never tire of it.  As in my review – gorgeous, impeccable pinot nose with vibrant cherry/strawberry, light spice, lazy woodsy smokiness and wet stone.  You can judge its weight or lack thereof as you will, but great wine captivates on the nose. And this is great value in the pinot firmament, even at its new $45 price.

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2014

Michael Godel – The label on this four endemic varietal red blend from the Douro tells us it’s “unoaked.” This seemingly insignificant bit of marketing is simply brilliant. Such knowledge is power and usually reserved for whites, especially chardonnay. Why not tell us your red wine spent no time in barrel? This is nothing short of awesome for the consumer. And so we have pure fruit and a simple, unadulterated experience. Quinta Nova de Nossa 2011 Senhora do Carmo is a terrific summer red (especially with grilled chicken on the BBQ) when procured with a chill that will serve and protect your palate and your will. At five years of age it has held up beautifully, a testament to hands off and trustworthy winemaking.

Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo Colheita Tinto 2011

Articles covering the VINTAGES August 20th release:

Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES


For Premium Members, use these quick links for immediate access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release including John Szabo’s First-In-Line.

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
All August 20th Reviews

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

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


 

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A Rendezvous with BC Riesling

BC Report – August 2016

Rhys Pender

Rhys Pender MW

I’m recently back from a trip to Seattle where I was attending Riesling Rendezvous, a big love-in for riesling geeks from around the world. These riesling homages take place on a rotating schedule between Washington, Germany and Australia. My wife and I were there pouring our Little Farm Riesling but I was also there with my media hat on, filling my boots with what is happening in the world of riesling. A number of Canadian producers were pouring their wines alongside established heavyweights from Germany, Australia, France, Austria, New Zealand and all corners of the USA. In short, Canadian rieslings showed particularly well, raising many eyebrows when the wines were unveiled in the blind tastings and clearly showing that Canadian riesling is a serious, important wine that can stand up proudly on the global stage.

Riesling, as most of us know, has had its challenges in life. It has spent much of its existence being misunderstood. Its current status is a far cry from its early heady days in the late 19th and early 20th century when German riesling was considered one of the greatest wines in the world and its reputation and prices held equal to or above such illustrious wines as Burgundy and Bordeaux. I’ve always wondered how a grape with such history – that can be so crisp, refreshing, citrusy and lively – cannot gain widespread appeal amongst the masses, especially considering varieties like sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and even moscato somehow managed to become immense global brands. Surely riesling has all the elements to have similar appeal? But no, it has never happened and the much-written-about pending riesling revival or revolution has never materialized. I finally figured out at Riesling Rendezvous why this is. It is because riesling is just too complicated. Too complicated to be simple enough for casual wine drinkers to make sense of it. It is too complex in its flavours and too diverse in its styles. It simply can’t be reduced to a single simple message. Its strengths as a grape also turn out to be its weaknesses.

In fact, the only time riesling was close to being a massive global success was during the 70s and 80s when it firmly established the unfortunate and misleading image that it is always cheap, sweet, fruity and, for the most part, German. These stereotypes have held strong to this day despite the fact that this style seems to be on the decline. Ernie Loosen summed up riesling’s fight very well when he said, “it feels like we are hitting our head against a brick wall. The wall was built by us. But we are making progress.” Riesling producers are stubborn and will not give up easily. Many of us still think of German riesling as sweeter, light and delicate in style although this style is less and less popular in Germany. As John Haeger reports in his book Riesling Rediscovered, more and more German riesling is made in a dry style, and sweeter styles are mostly made for a North American market that is hanging on to the preconceived image. Germans themselves now drink mostly dry styles of riesling, similar to what North Americans would associate with wines coming from Alsace or Australia. Loosen talked of rebuilding the noble reputation of the grape and dealing with new markets and generations who might not hold negative preconceived ideas. Riesling may never be a great mass success but it certainly can build its quality reputation, and getting it in people’s mouths and letting them see what riesling really is all about is the answer.

Riesling Rendevous

But this is the BC Report and I am deviating off topic. Time to come back to BC and BC riesling. Things are looking pretty good in BC. There are now a number of producers making serious efforts to produce top quality riesling, and the results are impressive. At Riesling Rendezvous, Tantalus, Synchromesh, Kitsch, Martin’s Lane, Cedar Creek, Mission Hill and Little Farm were joined by Cave Springs and Hidden Bench from Ontario. Not surprisingly given the limited export reach of Canadian riesling, nobody in the international crowd picked out any of the BC wines (Tantalus, Synchromesh and Martin’s Lane) in the blind tastings (20 wines blind two days in a row) but all wines were heavily praised and there was pleasant surprise when the wines were revealed. One speaker commented that the quality of Canadian riesling might be the key takeaway message from the event. That’s quite the honour amongst hundreds of great rieslings from around the world.

Plantings of riesling in BC have actually grown strongly over recent years. There were 511 acres of riesling planted in 2014 (the last survey) making up 10% of the white variety plantings and 5% of overall acreage. It has grown 116% from 236 acres in 2004, but is still only the fourth most planted white behind pinot gris, chardonnay and gewurztraminer. The good news is that less and less of these grapes are being turned into wines made to the global riesling-stereotype style and instead are more focused on intense, serious, high quality wine. These could be in the bone dry, high acid style or the equally successful styles that balance racy acidity with residual sugar, but always with a powerful intensity of flavour. Serious wines.

Gray Monk Riesling 20138th Generation Riesling 2015La Frenz Riesling Freedom 75 2015Lake Breeze Winemaker's Series Riesling 2012Mt. Boucherie Riesling Estate 2013Oak Bay Gebert Family Reserve Riesling 2013Synchromesh Riesling Thorny Vines Vineyard 2015

It feels to me that the last few years have seen a really strong focus towards quality in BC. Not that good wines weren’t made, but most of the riesling seemed to be aimed at being a low price, broad crowd pleaser. More and more wines are a little pricier but a lot more intense and quality focused. This was evident in the recent judging of the National Wine Awards of Canada. To be honest, Ontario riesling has pretty much always been superior to BC in these competitions and while there were still many great Ontario wines, this year things were different and many of the best rieslings I personally tasted in my flights were from BC. Less simple, fruity wines and more serious, intense and concentrated examples. Seven of the top ten riesling overall were from BC this year including the Gray Monk 2013 Riesling which won a Platinum medal. An impressive showing.

This all bodes well for the future of the grape in BC. With the wine world taking notice and new generations coming along with open minds there is room for BC winemakers to explore just how good this complex grape can be.

Rhys Pender MW

~

WineAlign in BC

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

 


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If I could buy only one – Aug 6th, 2016 VINTAGES Release

As part of our VINTAGES recap, we asked our critics this question:

If you could buy only one wine from this release – which one would it be and why?

Here’s what they had to say. You can find their complete reviews, scores and store inventory by clicking the highlighted wine name or bottle image below.

John Szabo – This is for all of you who believe that a wine’s first duty is to be red. For many reasons, some of which I don’t understand, white wine has developed a reputation of being lighter, simpler and more easy-drinking than red wine, a more “serious” expression of fermented grapes. Here’s a wine that belies that nonsense. Fiano has been prized since at least the first century (it was widely planted in Pompeii, for example), and this example from Romano Clelia, one of the finest vignerons in the region, is extraordinary. It’s from the small village of Lapio in Avellino where the grape is believed to originate and where the best and most ageworthy wines from volcanic ash-sprinkled soils are produced. It’s very ripe and smoky, dense and concentrated, lightly salty. I’d buy a few bottles to watch it evolve over the next decade; I suspect this will be at it’s finest sometime around 2020, with lots of pleasure on either side. In any case, it has every bit the depth and complexity of any fine, serious red wine. I’d even serve this with steak.

Colli Di Lapio Fiano Di Avellino 2014

David Lawrason – They say that wine is like music, with one sip able to transport you to a time and place. This very good cabernet franc did just that. It beamed me right back into the vineyards of Bourgueil in 1984, on a cloudy September day, when the ripe grapes were heavy on the wine. There was a heady earthy scent in the air. It was the first time I had set foot in a French vineyard. I tasted the ripe grapes. And this wine tastes exactly as I remember. It has a very lifted, woodsy/leafy nose with juicy blackcurrant, red peppers and evergreen notes. Very countryside fresh. It’s quite tart-edged and dry but that same juicy generosity floods onto the palate. The Vignoble des Robinières l’Alouette Bourgueil is charming and authentic, and under $20 I may buy more than one, just for memory’s sake.

Vignoble Des Robinières L'alouette Bourgueil 2014

Michael Godel – Whilst we find ourselves suspended in the throes of a scorching Ontario summer there can never be such a thing as too many thirst quenching white wines. Greece is the word and in terms of go to Greek whites moschofilero may play second violi to assyrtiko but Mantinia is a special place for the aromatic Peloponnese variety. This ripping example from Troupis should not be missed. At this price ($17) the value quotient is simply crazy good, bordering on ridiculous. Assyrtiko by the sea? Sure. Moschofilero by the lake or the pool? Bring it on.

Troupis Mantinia Moschofilero 2015

 

From VINTAGES August 6th, 2016

Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Premium 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!


For Premium Members, use these quick links for easy access to all the top picks in our New Releases:

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
All August 6th Reviews


 

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Buy The Case: Vintage Trade’s Global Reach

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by David Lawrason

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

Vintage Trade

I have known David Thompson of Vintage Trade from his beginnings in the wine industry in Ontario many years ago. He is a man smitten by the grape to be sure, but also meticulous and keen to succeed in the difficult task of running a small, quality focused importing agency in Ontario.

“Some people say I have the best job in the world.” David says, “In some ways that may be true, but keeping wines available and working through the LCBO provides great challenges. The ‘best’ part of my job is finding interesting, and often, unique wines that deliver more than you expect. I am actively travelling to seek out new gems”.

David is joined by three accomplished wine professionals, Alex Hamilton in Toronto, John Kent in Waterloo, and Aaron Shaw in Ottawa, the latter a former winner of Tony Aspler’s “Ontario’s Best Professional Blind Taster” award.

Vintage Trade has a thoroughly global view of the wine world – with representation in this offering from Italy, Australia, Austria, New Zealand and France. So I was very curious to have this opportunity to sit down with John Szabo, Steve Thurlow and Michael Godel at WineAlign, to taste some of the portfolio Vintage Trade is offering to Ontario licensees and consumers.

As usual with this Buy the Case feature – when discussing wines only available by the case – we offer some thoughts on how you might consider using the wines you purchase.

To order any of the following wines please visit Vintage Trade, contact cheryl@vintagetrade.com or call 1 (866) 390-8745.

Whites

Rabl 2015 Grüner Veltliner Spiegel, Kamptal, Austria ($17.95)

David Lawrason – This fine young gruner veltliner has some delicacy yet excellent tension, with classic grüner white pepper, lemon blossom and waxy notes, with some pear fruit. Certainly a fine summer wine (this summer or next). Moderately priced to pour by the glass, from a highly reputed Austrian producer. Move customers and friends up and over from pinot grigio.
John Szabo – 2015 is turning out to be a very appealing vintage in central Europe, and Austria has turned out some lovely, ripe and immediately friendly gruner, such as this one from Rudi Rabl, a perennial favourite in the Vintage Trade portfolio. It offers plenty of fleshy, ripe but fresh orchard fruit, Asian pear, spiced apple and nectarine, with crunchy acids and length very good. This would make a terrific house pour this summer.
Michael Godel – Rabl’s Spiegel is so young and fresh it pops and spins in grüner veltliner mineral centrifuge, easily and clearly speaking in the classic nature of the variety. It’s time to go grüner on the patio, dock or any space in the afternoon sun. House Wine.
Steve Thurlow – Spiegel grüner is dry and quite rich with zesty lemony acidity and, as usual, it’s good value for money.

Feudo Disisa 2015 Grillo, Sicilia ($19.95)
Steve Thurlow – Grillo is in my opinion the finest of Sicily’s many indigenous white grapes and this is an excellent unoaked example. Expect fine aromas of pear, melon and pineapple fruit with floral and ginger spice notes. The palate is very smooth with the fruit well balanced by firm vibrant acidity. Long lingering fruity dry finish. Excellent length. Try with baked salmon or roast veal.
David Lawrason – This fine grillo has aromas mindful of fresh fig, even banana peel, with hints of exotic elderflower and anise. It’s medium weight, dry, yet fleshy with pleasant grapefruit bitterness and stoniness on the finish. Very nicely balanced with excellent focus and length. Worth exploring by the case and sharing a few with friends. although you might decide to keep it all for yourself.

Rabl Gruner Veltliner Speigel 2015 Feudo Disisa Grillo 2015 Giusti Prosecco Rosalia Middle Earth Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Giusti Prosecco Rosalia, Veneto, Italy ($14.95)

Michael Godel – Really lively Prosecco to sip alone, by mimosa or in a fraises. Can’t think of any reason not to pour it whenever bubbles are required. Restaurant pour by the glass.
David Lawrason – A decent Prosecco at the price in a category where qualitative differences are measured by a hair’s breadth. Chill and dispense liberally at large functions.

Middle Earth 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Nelson, New Zealand ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This is a crisp, compact Nelson sauvignon blanc – not as intense and brash as many from neighbouring Marlborough, and leaning green with aromas of green pepper/asparagus, green apple and a slightly earthy note. It’s bright, lively and fresh with a touch of rounding sweetness. Another by the glass summer selection. Nelson, by the way, may not be technically Middle Earth in the Tolkien-esque sense, but it is the middle geographic point of New Zealand.

Reds

Rust en Vrede 2012 Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($59.95)

David Lawrason – My highest scoring wine (93) from the Vintage Trade collection is from a classic Stellenbosch estate. It’s medium-full, slender and with riveting acidity and structure, plus excellent to outstanding length. A bargain for those who normally spend way more on classic Bordeaux style reds.
John Szabo – Cape classic Rust en Vrede crafts fine traditional wines, and this 2012 estate cabernet-shiraz blend, with a splash of merlot, is a classy beauty. The nose is chalk-full of ripe but fresh dark fruit and spice, integrated, high-quality barrel notes, and the first signs of mature, bottling ageing, savoury aromatics. This expands impressively on the back end, and complexity is already solid, and will only get better. Try after 2018 for a fully evolved and complex expression; well worth the premium price.
Steve Thurlow – This is a beautiful red blend from one of the Cape’s top estates. It is classically styled and like many South African wines sits between old and new world. The palate is smooth and rich and very even with a beautiful structure to the fruit. It is very harmonious and very elegant with excellent length.
Michael Godel – A big, hearty and beefy mess of an iron-rich cabernet sauvignon and syrah dominated red blend, massive and balanced. It can be done, especially when Stellenbosch is rendered in such a clean way. Will drink in perpetuity. I’d be happy to open this and reminisce in 2027. Cellaring Wine.

Rust En Vrede Estate 2012Giusti Antonio 2014Chateau De La Charriere Santenay 1er Cru Les Gravieres 2014

Giusti 2014 Antonio, Veneto, Italy ($39.95)

John Szabo – The most impressive wine in the Giusti portfolio, this is a polished, stylish, modern Venetian red blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and little-known local variety recantina. It’s more elegance than power, with fine-grained tannins and lovely crisp acids. This is fine wine, not yet at peak; in 2-4 years this will be very seductive I’m sure.
David Lawrason – Here’s an unusual, delicious and well structured red for the esoteric Italian wine list or collector’s cellar. Quite lovely, with lifted floral plummy, berry aromas – quite floral actually. It’s medium weight, fresh and lively but also shows some elegance and restraint.
Steve Thurlow – This is a delicious full-bodied red still very youthful with the oak not yet well integrated on nose and palate. The palate is well balanced with firm acidity and mature tannin. Very good to excellent length.

Chateau de la Charriere 2013 Santenay 1er Cru “Les Gravieres”, Burgundy, France ($51.95)

Michael Godel – Les Gravieres has always been for me a Santenay climat that gives generously, of sweet red fruit and the balancing underlay of earth. It also does so with organza texture and litheness. Charriere’s 2014 matches that ideal. This is fine and exemplary Gravieres with five healthy years ahead. Gifting Wines of Six Packs – please.
David Lawrason – We so seldom see Santenay – the more moderately priced yet serious pinot from the southern end of the Cote de Beaune. Collectors might want to grab a case, and split – or not. This mid-weight pinot nicely combines the elegance of fine Beaune red with the somewhat chunkier character expected of Santenay. The length is excellent. Approachable now, should hold through 2022.

Bibi Graetz NV Casamatta Rosso, Tuscany, Italy ($17.95)

John Szabo – An intriguing, ‘solera’ style red blend where younger wine is blended with older wine to develop complexity and smooth out vintage variation. This is not your average sub-$20 new Tuscan release to be sure, but rather one for fans of mature, savoury pleasantly rustic reds. Tannins are light and dusty, and this would best be served at the table with some salty protein, salami and the like. An idiosyncratic wine perhaps, but elegant and highly appealing, not to mention fine value.

Bibi Graetz Casamatta Rosso Zorzal Terroir Único Malbec 2014 Hamelin Bay Shiraz Merlot Cabernet Rampant Red 2012

Zorzal Terroir Unico Malbec, Gualtallary, Uco Valley, Argentina ($17.95)

David Lawrason – Grown in one the highest sites in Mendoza this young malbec has a lovely, lifted, almost floral nose with mulberry jam, some fresh sage/thyme and vaguely earthy notes. It is medium-full bodied, with great energy, acidity and life. A little extra lift here in a category than can be too heavy-handed. By the glass in a steakhouse or BBQ restaurant.

Hamelin Bay 2012 Rampant Red, Margaret River, Australia  ($22.95)

David Lawrason – This is an easy going blend of shiraz, merlot and cabernet from a WA property dating back to 1992. A bit pricey but it’s has generous, slightly candied Aussie blackcurrant, menthol/eucalyptus, black pepper and oak spice. It’s mid-weight, loosely structured and tannins are quite soft. By the glass and BBQ red, lightly chilled.

 

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 Vintage Trade. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. Vintage Trade has provided the following agency profile.

About Vintage Trade

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

by Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 


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BC Report – June 2016

BC Report – June 2016

Rhys Pender

Rhys Pender MW

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

Wine industry plebiscite: what you need to know #bcwinevote

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

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

The End of the Big Wine Era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhys Pender MW

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WineAlign in BC

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

 


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Savour Australia’s History

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

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barossa Ancestor Vine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony Gismondi

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The History, Evolution & Revolution of Australian Wine

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

A Lesson in Evolution, by John Szabo, MS

A Lesson in Evolution, by John Szabo, MS

The Fire of Revolution, by Bradley Royale

The Fire of Revolution, by Bradley Royale

 


 

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Savour Australia’s Evolution

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Davidson, Global Education Manager

Mark Davidson presenting a Masterclass in Singapore

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

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

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

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

Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2014, Margaret River, Western Australia

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

Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2014, Adelaide Hills

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

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

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Coonawarra

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

Josef Chromy Sparkling 2010, Tasmania

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

Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz 2013, Clare Valley

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

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

Alpha Box & Dice 2011 Xola Aglianico, McLaren Vale

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

John Szabo, MS

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The History, Evolution & Revolution of Australian Wine

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

Where have all the critters gone? by Anthony Gismondi

Where have all the critters gone? by Anthony Gismondi

The Fire of Revolution, by Bradley Royale

The Fire of Revolution, by Bradley Royale

 


 

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008