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Buy The Case: Lifford Wine and Spirits

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

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

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

Lifford Wine & Spirits

Proprietor Stephen Campbell has been a fixture on the Ontario restaurant and wine importing scene for more than four decades. Since 1978, Lifford has been bringing an exceptional portfolio of wines into Ontario and was purchased by Campbell in 1995. Two recent acquisitions in 2010, Saverio Schiralli Agencies and Prevedello and Mathews, have cemented Lifford as one of the premier agencies not just in Ontario, but across Canada. They now represent several hundred meticulously chosen producers in four provinces out of “a truly international collection of the world’s finest wines and spirits.”

Lifford is a provincial pioneer of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s consignment program and is arguably the largest supplier of premium wine to licensee restaurant accounts. Though the major areas of concentration of more than 125 producers are from France, Italy and California, with 16 total countries represented, Lifford’s is truly of a global portfolio.

This year their combined companies will sell more than 800,000 cases in Canada, cementing their work as a market leader in Ontario and the largest supplier of premium wines to the LCBO.

Below our critics have assembled their picks submitted for tasting in November, and they suggest reasons why you might consider buying by the case.

Australian Icon

Brokenwood Shiraz 2013Brokenwood 2013 Shiraz, Hunter Valley, Australia ($39.99)

John Szabo – Brokenwood is a Hunter Valley leader, and their shiraz a reliable and regular favourite of mine. The 2013 is full of elegance and grace in a style quite unique to Australia, where acids and elegance, and mid-weight, balanced wines seem to come together naturally. This has almost no detectable oak influence other than the rounding and softening effect on the palate; tannins are super fine grained and acids bright. This should age beautifully; buy a case now and follow its evolution over the next dozen years. Cellar Wine.
David Lawrason – From one of the great houses of the Hunter Valley, this shiraz has a lovely, pure and focused nose of blueberry/black cherry fruit, pepper, granitic earthiness and graphite. It’s medium-full bodied, very smooth, sweetish and engaging, with very fine tannin. If you are a fan of Aussie shiraz here is case to have on hand in your personal cellar, perhaps splitting with a friend or two.
Michael Godel – It may be the younger brother to the Graveyard but it comes from the same mother. A rare opportunity to enjoy Australian Shiraz of restraint and elegance. An excellent candidate to ask around and split a case with two or less.
Sara d’Amato – A classic and very elegant shiraz that is both fresh and fleshy. Very well structured but also not austere or bracingly youthful. Friends can help mitigate the cost of a case so buddy up and pool for this cellar-worthy find.

Welcome to the Age of the New Spanish Vigneron

Telmo Rodriguez 2014 Rueda Basa, Castilla y Léon, Spain ($16.99)

John Szabo – Telmo Rodriguez crafts some of Spain’s best, and best value wines from nine distinct regions throughout the peninsula. Against the odds, quality, and consistency are exemplary across the board. Basa is his rendition of Verdejo from Rueda, made here into a clean, semi-aromatic, floral and fruity white with no wood. Light CO2 spritz elevates the freshness. A fine house white or restaurant by-the-glass option. By-theGlass/House Wine
Michael Godel – Acts more like native Verdejo than ever before in ’14, with its very specific grape tannin effect. You must concentrate on the nuances to get this wine. This should hold a rightful white by the glass spot on every geeking out restaurant wine list.

Telmo Rodriguez 2013  Gaba do Xil Mencia, Valdeorras, Spain ($18.99)

John Szabo – Spain’s great red grape mencía continues to gather momentum, with both increasing numbers of quality producers, and consumers who appreciate them. Telmo Rodriguez (see Basa, above) highlights the lovely fragrant, floral and herbal side of the variety, with fresh red and blue fruit and no evident wood. All in all, this is a genuine mouthful, nicely proportioned, with great length and complexity at the price, full of joy and happiness. Drink with a light chill. By-theGlass/House Wine
David Lawrason – Made by young gun Telmo Rodgriguez, this charming, fruity red is from the mencia grape that is carving out a great reputation in northwestern Spain.  The treatment here is not as ‘serious’ as in Bierzo where it makes more dense, age-worthy wines, but I really like the juiciness, freshness. It reminds me of Beaujolais.  It’s price and style make a good by-the-glass restaurant pour but only to adventurous clientele. I would stock a case for warm weather sipping.
Michael Godel – A fluid, medium-rare red, perfect for a house wine to go with a mid-week steak. Year in and year out this is Rodriguez’ base and necessary expression for the “the freshness of Galicia.” Shares an aromatic commonality with Cabernet Franc though its gait is more Northern Rhône Syrah. Anti-serious, easy wine, existing as “a link to the past.”

Giro Ribot NV Cava Brut Reserva, Penedes, Spain ($18.99)

John Szabo – Quality sub-$20 sparkling wine, as Ben Franklin might have said, is a necessity of life. It’s even better when you find a traditional method, complex bubbly under $20, like this Cava. It’s crafted in the lightly oxidative style, with bruised apple and dried mango/tropical fruit flavours blending with yeasty/brioche notes, essentially dry, with succulent acids and very good length. House wine.
David Lawarson – This good value, well structured cava has a clean, mild nose that gently weaves subtle aromas of pear, wet stone, caraway and fresh baked scones. It’s light to mid-weight, firm with great acidity and minerality. Priced well as an upscale reception and oyster and tapas wine for mid-size functions. And a bit of talking point as well.
Michael Godel – Far from your average, every day, cookie-cutter Cava, the wealth of personality and character here is really refreshing. Though it is certainly steeped in tradition and a touch of oxidation, the amount of flavour will appeal to a diverse crowd at many different types of functions. Choose it for parties and sparkling needs at home.
Sara d’Amato – The name “giro robot” supposedly references the gyropalette which is the automated machine now used to riddle bottles of Champagne or sparkling wine in an even and efficient manner. And like Champagne, this Cava is leesy and complex with both verve and substance. Terrific value here, don’t miss out. House wine.

Basa Blanco 2014Gaba Do Xil Mencía 2013Giro Ribot Brut Reserva Ab Origine

Red Hot Value from Chile

Echeverria Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014Viña Echeverria 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, Chile ($14.99)

David Lawrason – This is a very smooth, quite supple, simple and vaguely sweetish young cabernet designed for immediate enjoyment. I like the balance and charm here, with some jammy fruit, very fine tannin. Very good length.  Screw cap assists its cause as a tippler that should stay fresh as a by-the-glass restaurant pour.
Michael Godel – Fresh, reductive, ripping and ready to pour for the masses Cabernet Sauvignon. Its versatility makes it an excellent choice for Chilean red by the glass to pair with a restaurant menu of many pages.
Sara d’Amato – Priced for everyday enjoyment, Echeverria’s cabernet sauvignon is refreshingly devoid of big oak and filling alcohol. Its meaty, earthy and minty profile is classically Chilean and its mid-weight profile allows it to be more versatile with food than your typical cab. Restaurant pour by the glass.


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 Liffird Wine & Spirits. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. Lifford Wine & Spirits has provided the following agency profile.

About Lifford Wine & Spirits

lifford-logoIf you’ve only heard of one agency that specializes in consignment sales by the case in Ontario, there’s a good chance it’s Lifford.

As a pioneer of the LCBO’s consignment program, Lifford has grown to be the largest supplier of premium wine to restaurants and discerning consumers in the province.

Founded in 1978, Lifford was purchased by Steven Campbell in 1995. As a seasoned restaurateur of twenty years, Steven was passionate about wine and jumped at the opportunity to acquire a small but excellent portfolio of Californian, Australian and Italian wines. Eager to expand the portfolio, Steven travelled the international wine roads to find regional superstars whose families owned the land, tilled the soil and breathed life and vitality into their wines.

Today the portfolio represents a myriad of meticulously chosen producers, a truly international collection of the world’s finest wines and spirits at every price point, with a special emphasis on family-owned producers.

Whether it’s iconic wines from regions like the Napa Valley and Tuscany, excellent values from countries like Chile and Spain, or exciting new discoveries like sparkling wine from England and Nova Scotia, you can find it all in the Lifford portfolio.

Sign up for their weekly e-newsletter at to learn more about their excellent portfolio, and browse their e-commerce enabled website to purchase wine for delivery direct to your door in Ontario.



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Discover the Flavours: Wines of Garnacha

What is Garnacha?
by Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

Sara d'Amato and Michael Godel

Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

Garnacha – never heard of it? Well, you’ve very likely tasted it whether you realized it or not. Otherwise known as grenache, this grape is planted liberally in the south of France, making up a major component in the blends of Côtes du Rhône and even the revered Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation. But it was the lure of Spanish garnacha that whisked me and fellow WineAligner Michael Godel off to the northeastern city of Zaragoza to absorb as much as we could about this amiable variety. Along with Vines Magazine Editor Christopher Waters, we set off on a whirlwind tour offered by the Wines of Garnacha, a not-for-profit organization for the promotion of Garnacha wines.

One week, all garnacha and nothing else. Palate fatigue was a real possibility but luckily, garnacha comes in many forms, including the most familiar red, a notably underused and underrated variety of white garnacha, as well as several appealing and popular rosé styles. As I tend to have a strong appreciation for the grenache-dominant wines of southern France along with a fondness of the delicious and super affordable reds, whites and rosés of northern Spain, I was particularly delighted for the opportunity for an in-depth exploration of the birthplace of this variety. Michael Godel, the consummate adventurer, now quite well known for his poetic articulation and vocab savvy exposés, was equally keen to appreciate what makes these wines tick.

Garnacha is a grape variety easy to love. It is abundantly fruity and often has a sweet smelling, inviting nose of strawberry jam or cotton candy. It is high in alcohol and soft in tannins and acids due to its larger berry size and thinner skin. Garnacha often produces a ready-to-drink style of wine best consumed young and fresh. Although the average lifespan of a typical garnacha is 3-5 years, Michael Godel was determined to find more age-worthy examples which he subsequently highlights. In fact, we found many examples of deeper, darker garnacha than we could have imagined. We discovered that in particular vintages and in lower-yielding regions, darker and denser versions of garnacha were quite common.

Our tour took us through the four Aragon PDOs (appellations) of Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Somontano and Calatayud and one Catalan PDO, Terra Alta that make up the association of Wines of Garnacha. Following the Ebro River, we trekked high planes, hillsides and low valleys in search of the finest examples of garnacha. In the shadow of the mountain of Moncayo and through the current of the Cierzo wind, we discovered great personality in this expressive grape variety. We’ve summarized our adventures, step-by-step through these individual and varied regions of southeastern Spain.

Campo De Borja: The Empire of Garnacha
Through the lens of Michael Godel

Of the five DO’s (Denominación de Origen) that comprise the collective wine growing region that is Aragon, in the province of Zaragoza, none walk with a swagger like Campo de Borja. President Eduardo Ibañez Aranda and Secretary José Ignacio “Nacho” Gracia Lopez rule the Empire of Garnacha, a self-proclaimed stewardship for the grape and for Campo de Borja as the centre of its universe.

The Empire of Garnacha

The two proud men have reason to state such territorial claim. Campo de Borja will play host to Grenaches du Monde. “The Weekend of Garnachas,” organized by the Roussillon Inter-professional Wine Council of France (CIVR). Grenaches of the World was held in France in its first three years. In 2016, Campo de Borja plays host to the competition.

In Aragon, diverse soils, altitude, slopes and prevailing winds all contribute to grape growing excellence. Campo de Borja’s trump card is a mountain. Other regions such as Cariñena find benefit from Moncayo, but nowhere does its 2,315m in altitude have an effect on vines as it happens in Campo de Borja.

More than 2,000 hectares are 30+ yr-old vines. The climate receives an Atlantic influence and above all else there is the famous wind. El Cierzo blows 234 days a year, the “strong wind” blows after the rain, dries out the vines, eradicates disease and elicits increased probabilities for grape concentration. The saying goes “today is raining, tomorrow it will blow.” El Cierzo, as it has been called for 2,000 years, “has lunch and dinner lasts for a fortnight.” No one knows why. Maybe the Zaragozan Virgin of Pilar knows.

Campo de Borja is described as a “homogeneous physical space capable of producing wines with peculiarities.” Much of its viticulture, in kinship with the other four Aragonese DO’s, perpetuates the viñedo en vaso, “vines in a glass,” or bush vines, calculated at 2000 plants per hectare in density with three metres between rows.

Great fluctuations happen in this D.O., located 30 miles west of Zaragoza, where the earliest maturing, lowest section habituates the Ribera del Ebro at 239m and yet other vines are planted up to 1000m. At low altitudes (200-300m) there are finer, lighter soils. In between the vineyards of Ainzon, Borja and Fuendejalon are situated between 450 and 550 metres above sea level, occupied by the terraces of  La Huecha river, a tributary of the Ebro with soils composed of stones and ferrous-clay. The D.O’s top plantations are in the upper reach, Moncayo foothills area of Alta de Ainzon and Fuendejalon, as well as the municipalities of Tabuena, El Buste and Vera. At these higher climes (up to 900-1000m) there is more limestone and iron, so darker soils with obvious increase of mineral.

Yields are quite low (30-35 hL/L), very vintage dependent and in some areas, in certain years it can be as low as 20-25. Yields are the key to understanding the value of wines from Campo de Borja, that and the iron-rich soil minerality.

Vines here see long cycles, with late maturing fruit of soft tannins and high glycerol concentration. Garnacha is a pro at climate and poor soil adaptation. It can be picked well into November and despite the lower tannins, treated properly it possesses the flexibility to develop complexity with short-term aging.

Every Grenache growing region of the world (The Rhone, Australia, South Africa) have their own special aromatic identity, whether it by garrigue, earthy reduction or soil-driven funk. A mountain herb called tomillo (thyme) grows everywhere around Moncayo. In Aragon there is an expression “when it is foggy in the morning there will be walking in the evening” and when it rains there is an all-encompassing scent in the air. That perfume is what gives these wines their special something. The amalgamation of mineral, earth and herb.

Top picks include:

Santo Cristo Seleccion Garnacha 2013, DO Campo de Borja, Spain

Bodegas Pagos del Moncayo 2012, DO Campo de Borja, Spain

Bodegas Aragonesas Garnacha Centenaria Coto de Hayas 2014, DO Campo de Borja, Spain

Through the lens of Sara d’Amato

It would stand to reason that the region of Cariñena in Aragon would be dominated by the grape variety of the region’s namesake, otherwise known as carignan. However, due to the popularity and demand for garnacha, the variety now dominates the land under vine. So, what is Cariñena garnacha all about? There exist a multitude of producers and a vast array of styles in this region that are widely exported. If you live in Ontario, you will benefit from a profusion of great value garnacha. Garnacha in Cariñena is produced in abundance and, like many of the PDO’s in Aragon, dominated by co-ops.

Cariñena is one of the oldest wine appellations in Europe with its DO status granted in 1932.  Sitting on the vast plains of the Ebro valley of up to 800 meters in altitude, the region experiences an extreme continental climate. The wines were favourites of royalty and poets, most notably of Ferdinand I and Voltaire.

rock glass

Rock in a glass – a symbolic representation of terroir in the wines of Cariñena

Châteauneuf-du-Pape often comes to mind when visiting these regions of Aragon whose top variety is the heat seeking garnacha. A premium-growing region for the variety, the southern Rhone’s climate is similar and so are the rocky, round pebbly soils that reflect sunlight and provide the ideal drainage for this rather drought resistant variety.  The Cierzo, the named wind of the area that races through the Ebro Valley, influences these regions in a similar fashion as the Mistral in the Rhône Valley. The wind helps bring down the temperature, most notably in the evening, contributing to slower ripening in this otherwise hot, dry and temperamental climate. That hint of freshness that exists in these Cariñena garnachas is refreshingly importance to the balance of these fruity, high alcohol reds.

There is a lovely story that was related to us about this region involving the visit of King Phillip II in the late 16th century. Upon his arrival at the town of Carinena, the residents filled the magnificent fountain of the town square with wine instead of water. To this day, the tradition is repeated at the annual festival of wine in September to commemorate the occasion.

Top picks include:

Anayón 2012 Garnacha, Cariñena, Spain

Paniza 2014 Garnacha Rosé, Cariñena, Spain

Care 2012 Finca Bancales Vinas Viejas Garnacha, Cariñena, Spain

Through the lens of Michael Godel

The centuries have seen to winemaking in Somontano though it was not until April 30th, 1984 that the protected designation of origin was granted by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture. What has transpired, transformed and transmogrified in 31 short years is astonishing.

The proof lies in a day of Somontano pudding. First a 130 km drive north out of Zaragoza, to the place they call “at the foot of the mountains” and a visit to the D.O office in the regional capital of Barbastro. A perfectly pressed early morning café and an overture of origen by local el presidente Mariano Beroz Bandrés sets the denominational stage. Second, a hike along with viticulturist José Antonio through the highest bush vines vineyard belonging to Secastilla of Viñas del Vero.


Secastilla Vineyard

Next, a round table presentation, tasting and discussion at cellar door slash naturally lit, modernist Bodega Pirineos. Finally, remedying and restorative lunch at state of the art, colossal tanks and all, wine bottle art gallery installation, architecturally brilliant Vinos Enate.

The DO Somontano region is located at a height of between 350 and 1,000 metres above sea level and from Secastilla’s vineyard the six castles visible on peaks and throughout the Secastilla valley spread across the blue demure of a brilliant mid-autumn day. The view from Enate is nothing special, that is unless you are the kind of person that is moved by the awesome splendour of foothills and peaks fronting the drama of the Pyrenees.

In the hills of Somontano low-fertility, brown limestone soil and its soft, permeable underbelly encourages roots to penetrate the earth, to extract just the right amount of limestone. The surrounding mountains protect the vines from the extreme cold and the rain.

Somontano is planted to 4200 hectares (of a total 205,000, 95,000 of it agricultural). There are 20,000 inhabitants, 43 villages, 424 growers, 31 wineries, 15 varietals, 200 wines and 15,000,000 bottles produced annually. Of that total, 70 per cent sold are domestically. The wide range of grape varieties cultivated are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Syrah, Parraleta, Moristel, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Macabeo (Alcañón), Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Red and White Garnacha. Six of these last varietal wines are involved in the Wines of Garnacha program. Mariano Beroz Bandrés talks about the collective approach for their wines. “Market niche, medium-high price, fresh, fruity, touch of oak, for young and innovative consumers.”

Viñas del Vero La Miranda Secastilla Garnacha Blanca 2013, DO Somontano, Spain

Pirineos Garnacha 2013, DO Somontano, Spain

Vinas del Vero Secastilla Garnacha 2010, DO Somontano, Spain

Through the lens of Sara d’Amato

Calatayud is a region of extremes and contrasts. From low to high elevations, from rugged flatlands to impressive rocky slopes. “extreme viticulture “ is the region’s slogan and it is no stretch. It is also somewhat impecunious and certainly lacking the international recognition it deserves. But the stewards of this land who run the PDO are astute and un-resigned to its slow abandonment due to lack of profitability in recent times. The best lands of Calatayud are high in elevation with fractured slate, quartz and limestone soils. The steep, high elevation slopes are treacherous to climb and to farm but offer some tremendous views. Many of these sites house vines that are over 100 years old. The growers, for all of their hard labour, receive only 1 Euro per kilo, each old vine producing scarcely 1 kilo each. The vines are planted in bush style, are hardy and seem to refuse to falter even if deserted by their custodians.  We were afforded the opportunity to taste the fruit of these aged, neglected vines which were thrillingly concentrated.

100 Year Old Vines

100 year old vines in Calatayud

Our guide, Javier lázaro Guajardo, Secretary of the Calatayud PDO, afforded us views of low, mid and high elevation sites within Calatayud. It is hard to describe the absolutely captivating nature of this man whose soulful, wild but wise eyes betrayed the struggle of those who undertake the unforgiving but admirable task of the cultivation of these impressive lands. It is bewildering to think that these wines fetch prices in the neighborhood of only $12. Changing the market perception of a land that is so little known and understood on the international market is an obstacle that is worth surmounting.

Much of the fruit now comes from low to mid elevation sites, hot but with mountainous surroundings that provide some protection for the harsh winds and intensity of sunny exposures. Calatayud is largely a co-operative based PDO for the obvious reason that it takes the investment of a group to be profitable. These dedicated co-ops work hard to showcase the natural expression of garnacha in these poor, stressed soils and sites perfectly suited to the variety.  A most notable example is the co-operative of Cruz de Piedra, many of whose 650 hectares of vines are located in high elevations of up to 1,000 meters. The growers are in the process of converting to organic viticulture and are fervently devoted to producing high quality expressions of this unique terroir. The idiosyncratic wines of Calatayud, worth seeking out, have greater intensity and ageability due to the darker, thicker skins yielded by the terroir.

Cruz de Piedra Albada 2013 Tinto Garnacha Vina Viejas, Calatayud, Spain

Las Rocas Garnacha 2012, Do Calatayud, Spain

Langa Tradicion Centenaria Garnacha 2012, Do Calatayud, Spain

Terra Alta
Through the lens of Michael Godel

Crossed off the bucket list is a visit to the land of Garnatxa Blanca, Catalonian of the heart, in drive and from desire. The journey from Zaragoza to the furthest afield of Aragon’s five D.O’s passes through vast stretches of landscapes in painted desserts and sculpted of mountain congeries. Soon the valleys begin to wind and snake their way between the limitless hills, tracing paths carved out in memory of long ago raging, ancient glacial rivers. The road slices through terraced panal, the spongy soils of Terra Alta, davenports to vines cultivated by the most prolific producers of white Grenache in the world. In Terra Alta, that number occupies 49 percent of the total Spanish production.

Terra Alta

Terra Alta

Terra Alta can be found in the southwest corner of the northeast corner of Spain. In a nutshell it may be incongruously defined as a large geographical area, “la más meridional de Cataluña,” with a small population of a mere 12,000 inhabitants. The prevailing winds, el Cierzo from the north and the summer Garbinades, “the Arab wind” from the southeast, add humidity, to protect from vine disease and to help finish a grape’s ripening process. Unlike its Aragonese brethren, the grape varieties grown in Terra Alta at times need a little help from their friends. To that end, five years ago an irrigation system was created, useable from May to September, to also help with the ripening process.

It is fascinating to note that when Pablo Picasso was sick he came to Terra Alta for the air. He also came for the wine. He drank what was called vino brisat, skin macerated white wine, somewhere between orange and straw wine. After his health was restored, he returned three years later and apparently developed his cubist style in Terra Alta. Picasso, innovator and oenophile privy to 21st century thought, knowing that white wines produced with a maceration step contain significantly more health restoring and promoting polyphenols than those produced in a more traditional way. Records show that Garnacha has been grown in Terra Alta dating back to 1647.

Terra Alta’s trump soil card is the panal, with its ability to retain moisture with nary rock or stone encumbrance. There are also soils imbued of limestone richness and a lack of organic material. The mediterranean climate combines abundant sunshine with little rainfall. Of the 6,000 total hectares planted, 1,400 is devoted to Garnatxa Blanca and the average annual production is seven million kg of grapes or, 50 hectolitres per hectare.

The DO “Terra Alta” (DOTA) was recognised provisionally in 1972. Together with Alella, Conca de Barberà, Empordà, Penedès, Priorat and Tarragona it is one of the seven historic denominations of origin of Catalonia. The first label noted as D.O. Terra Alta was 1984 and that wine was white. And so, today there are two symbols of guarantee, one for the D.O. as a whole and the other granted for whites. “SOM Terra Alta Garnatxa Blanca – 100×100.” More than simply a guarantee of 100 per cent Garnatxa Blanca composition, these wines must be deemed to score at least 85 out of 100 points in sensorial quality by the Consell Regulador. “Or you don’t get the sticker,” says proprietor of Altavins Viticultors de Batea Joan Arrufí, current president of the D.O. “Everyone is on board because it is necessary to put Terra Alta on the map.” The credo is “Cuerpo Y Alma,” or in Catalan, “Cos I Anima.” Body and soul.

What is so curious about the White Grenache here is that more than any other Garnacha, red or white, produced in the five D.O’s of Aragon, the Blanca of Terra Alta has proven its ability to age. Arrufí tasted a 2001 the day before we arrived, saying “it’s perfect,” having changed from white fruits (banana, apple, apricot) to frutos secos (nuts), honey and almond flowers.

Winemakers presenting in today’s market are mostly young, the children of the older generation, adding freshness, elegance, new blood and a willingness to embrace technology. Unique to Terra Alta, the new generation is taking over the winemaking. Ask one how to prevent oxidation? Hand-pick, before the sun hits mid-sky, ferment at low temps and protect with lees. Good plan.

Celler Batea Vall Major Garnatxa Blanca 2014, DO Terra Alta, Spain

Lafou Celler Garnatxa Blanca 2014, DO Terra Alta, Spain

Altavins “IL” Ilercavònia Garnatxa Blanca 2014, DO Terra Alta, Spain

Although garnacha has the unfortunate reputation of yielding simple, friendly expressions on its own, it is blended to produce some of the most memorable wines on the planet. We uncovered that garnacha, produced even as a single varietal wine, is much more complex and varied that we had ever expected. Thanks to the efforts of our exceptional guides Sofía González Martínez and Ivo Alho, we were introduced to magnanimous people and an astounding culture of food and wine.

The garnachas of northeastern Spain, the cradle of this variety, are worth every penny, and in fact much more – value is an understatement. If this article, in any way, helps to highlight this merit than we have done our due diligence.


Michael Godel and Sara d’Amato

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Quality over quantity in the basin of Catalan culture

What is the Roussillon?
by Bill Zacharkiw

Let’s start with where is it. The Roussillon is the most southern of France’s wine regions, shaped like an amphitheatre and bordered by Spain to the south, and nestled in between the western coast of the Mediterranean and three mountain ranges – the Corbières to the North, the Pyrenees to the West and the Albères to the South.

Its northern border is the beginning of France’s largest wine producing region, the Languedoc, which it was “fusioned” with in the 1970’s. So for many wine lovers, when they hear Roussillon, it is often as part of this greater entity. But while the Roussillon shares certain soil and climate characteristics with parts of the Languedoc, it is a very different place.

The Roussillon, which came into France as a province in 1659 and became the department of the Pyrenees-Orientales, is the basin of the Catalan culture in France.

Historically, the Roussillon made a name for itself with fortified wines, and up until as recently as the 1970’s, fortified wines represented over 80% of all wine made in the region. The reason might be that the first patent for the process of “mutage” was granted to a Catalan doctor Arnaud de Villeneuve at the end of the 13th century.

baie de paulilles-®BravoMaza

Baie de Paulilles ®BravoMaza

As fortified wines have shown a drop in sales over the years, wineries gradually have shifted production towards table wines, but fortified wines still represent an important part of the region’s identity, and most wineries offer one or more of the five designated AOPs (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) for fortified wines: Rivesaltes, Muscat de Rivesaltes, Maury, Banyuls and Banyuls Grand Cru.

Maury and Banyuls

Maury and Banyuls can be made with white grapes, but are made primarily with grenache noir, often with a touch of carignan and to a much lesser extent, syrah and mourvedre. Like vintage Port, some Banyuls and Maury are aged for over a year without contact with oxygen and then continue to age in bottle. These wines are called “Rimage,” in Banyuls, and “Vendange” or “ Vintage” in Maury.

The dominant style, however, are the oxidized wines, much like Tawny Port. The wine is exposed to oxygen and acquires a “nutty” aroma. In both appellations, many wineries will use a technique of leaving all, or part, of the fortified wines outside in the sun in glass containers for up to two years. The combination of heat and sun speed up the oxidation process, which adds complexity and gives them their unique character.

These wines are arguably the ideal pairing for chocolate, though they can also be drunk on their own or with stronger cheeses.

Rivesaltes and Muscat de Rivesaltes

The rest of the Roussillon is covered by the two AOP’s for fortified wines: Rivesaltes and Muscat de Rivesaltes. As the name suggests, Muscat de Rivesaltes is made with muscat grapes: muscat petits grains and muscat of Alexandria. These are primarily sold young and offer up a host of tropical and citrus notes.


Canigou Mountain and Vineyards ®civr

The family of Rivesaltes are made with both white and red grapes, and all are aged oxydatively. Amber Rivesaltes are aged a minimum of 30 months, and made entirely with white grapes. Tuilé Rivesaltes are also aged a minimum of 30 months, but can be a mix of red and white grapes. Rivesaltes Hors d’Âge is an Amber or Tuilé Rivesaltes with a minimum of 5 years of age, and sometimes much more. These wines can live for decades, and even centuries as I discovered during a recent trip to the region.

The Dry Wine Revolution

Many wineries have now shifted the majority of their production to table wines. While there was little in terms of tradition with respect to making “dry” wines, the region’s grapes and terroir are ideally suited to making this style of wine.

What the Roussillon has going for it is a complex mosaic of quality soils, and a warm climate that is fairly constant. Name a famous soil type, from limestone to schist, and you will find it in the region. Many of the vineyards are grown at higher altitudes, or by the sea, which both act to temper the heat and allow for the grapes to keep great acidity and show solid, though ripe, tannin.


Caramany ®civr

But the greatest strength in terms of quality and uniqueness is that the Roussillon is a treasure trove of old vines, specifically carignan and grenache noir in red, and grenache blanc, grenache gris and macabeo in white grape varieties.

There are three main AOP’s covering dry wines: Côtes de Roussillon, Côtes de Roussillon Villages and Collioure. Côtes de Roussillon includes red, white and rosé. Côtes de Roussillon Villages is exclusively red wine and can include five named villages:  Caramany, Latour de France, Lesquerde, Tautavel and Maury sec (dry Maury). Collioure which can be red, white and rosé and is the AOP which covers the same region which produces Banyuls.

All of the red wines must be blends and have a minimum percentage of syrah or mourvedre, which are newcomers to the region, alongside the carignan and grenache. The style tends to be riper wines, with alcohol levels often around 14% but with exceptional acidity. I often call them the perfect median between classic European structure and riper styled, new world wines.

The hidden gem might be the region’s white wines. With its limestone and schist soils, grenache gris and blanc perform extraordinarily well. Those who believe that minerality is reserved for northerly growing areas will be taken aback by the sheer rockiness that one finds in these wines. These wines can age with the best of them, and are a truly unique.

And perhaps unique is the best word to describe what has become one of my favourite wine regions in the world. The Roussillon is visually stunning, with a deep history in winemaking, its own culture, and a region which specializes in quality over quantity. Any true wine lover deserves, and needs, to discover what I believe is one of France’s most dynamic regions.

Discover the wines

Here’s a short list of some Roussillon wines that have been reviewed recently either by me or my WineAlign colleagues. You can find many more available at your favourite store by searching this tag: Vins du Roussillon.

Domaine de Rancy Ambré Rivesaltes 1948 “At 65 years of age, remarkably fresh and surprisingly delicate.” – Bill Zacharkiw

Domaine La Tour Vieille Reserva Banyuls “Barely sweet, and remarkably fresh. One of the better dessert wines out there.” – Bill Zacharkiw

Château Saint Roch Chimères 2013 “Seductive, ripe plummy, peppery nose nicely finished with subtle oak.” – David Lawrason

Domaine Lafage Côté Est 2013 “This is a lovely, exotic, bloomy and spicy young white” – David Lawrason

Domaine Lafage Cuvée Nicolas Vieilles Vignes Grenache Noir 2013 “A very rich grenache brimming with aroma and character.” – Sara d’Amato

Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2014 “A lovely, succulent fruity and spicy, oak-free red blend” – John Szabo MS

Domaine De Rancy Ambré Rivesaltes 1948Domaine La Tour Vieille Reserva BanyulsChâteau Saint Roch Chimères 2013Domaine Lafage Côté Est 2013Domaine Lafage Cuvée Nicolas Vieilles Vignes Grenache Noir 2013M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2014

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

Photo credits: Vins du Roussillon

Vins du Roussillon

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Culmina: No Stone Unturned

A WineAlign Winery Profile
By David Lawrason

Many of the world’s most iconic wines have taken single word names that evoke classicism and ring with entendre. Many end with the letter “a” –  Solaia and Ornellaia from Italy for example, or Insignia from California. I am wary of such wines as often the names can portend more than the wines deliver. It is much easier to sound important than be important.

Culmina, the latest ‘single-word-ending-with-an-a-winery’ from B.C.s Okanagan Valley is indeed important to B.C. and Canadian wine! As I sat with the range recently at the WineAlign offices I kept telling myself that they were clearly in a state of grace (literally) that many from B.C. have not yet attained. There is a sense of detailing and compactness that is actually quite rare in wines so recently out of the gate.

(At the bottom of this report, WineAlign critics have included some top picks from a recent Culmina tasting.)

culmina_table_crop4450_4 (1)

That may be because Culmina is not really new. The winery is new, the vineyards are new and the name is new, but the wines are truly the culmination of the careers of three men and two women with deep roots in winemaking, and who have brought not only experience, but a particular understanding of what it takes to make wine in the southern Okanagan.

The founders of Culmina are Donald and Elaine Triggs, whose surname still appears on more bottles of wine than any in Canada. After the partnership of Alan Jackson and Donald Triggs dissolved within a series of corporate acquisitions in the 1990s and 2000s, Donald was left to his own devices. He could have retired as a grandfather, but instead he and Elaine launched into a new project that would bring their years of experience to bear.

Part of that experience was having overseen the launch of Osoyoos-Larose in the southern Okanagan. Osoyoos-Larose was a joint venture between Vincor (of which Donald was president at the time) and Groupe Taillan of Bordeaux, and from the outset it was conceived as a “one wine” house focused on a red blend of Bordeaux varieties. In other words, ‘très serieux’.

Triggs hired two Bordeaux trained specialists for that project. One was renowned French viticulturalist Alain Sutre, the other was winemaker Pascal Madevon. Together these men knew the soils on the bench lands overlooking the valley; knew about temperature ranges at various elevations and about air and frost drainage; and knew the vagaries and caprices of vintages in this northern latitude. Madevon, through ten years of blending, had honed his ability to create excellent wine on a consistent basis.

Both men would become instrumental in the creation of Culmina. With Sutre’s help the search for a southern Okanagan site ideal for Bordeaux varieties began in 2006, with the first section of the current property being purchased in 2007 (of which more in a moment), with higher altitude benchlands being acquired in 2009.

Much of Donald Triggs experience and skill was administrative and operational – in building, brand development and marketing – tasks which he shares now with Elaine and daughter Sara. Elaine had been very hands on when the couple purchased and farmed the Delaine Vineyard in the Niagara River sub-appellation in 1998, turning it into one of Niagara’s best vineyards for sauvignon blanc and syrah. Daughter Sara, the youngest of three children, earned her Masters in Wine Business from Adelaide University in Adelaide, Australia and brings her very wine focused business and marketing skills to the table. In fact, I have rarely seen such careful, well-timed and sustained marketing efforts in Canada


The Vineyards

I first visited Culmina’s vineyards on the Golden Mile Bench in 2014, while in the Okanagan to judge the WineAlign National Wine Awards. I climbed into a truck with Donald and Madevon, and we stopped first near the winery at a site that once contained 12 acres of vines belonging to a previous winery (in total 44 acres were purchased, but the rest had not been planted). There were some red Bordeaux vines immediately identified as unsuitable, but also a tempting patch of chardonnay. The first tough decision Triggs had made was whether to keep them, which would give him some immediate production, or start again with his own vision. He decided to rip them out.

Culmina’s vineyards sit on the western slope of the valley with south-east-facing vineyards that capture early morning light when temperatures are cool, and are shaded when late afternoon-evening sun is hot. Their height above the valley floor was also a major draw; the Margaret Vineyard is the highest in the south Okanagan, a decidedly cool site that doesn’t qualify for the new appellation Golden Mile Bench boundary because it is above the mapped altitude line.

But knowing the basics was not enough. Triggs set up 20 temperature stations. He dug 66 pits to explore the soils of the site. He then mapped the site based on micro-climates and soil types, coming up with 45 different blocks of about 1.25 acres each. Once this information was analyzed he had a good idea of not only which grape varieties to plant but which rootstocks to use as well. No stone unturned.

That first vineyard – called Arise Bench – has similar heat-summation degree days to Bordeaux and is planted to cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot, with a touch of syrah and malbec in its warmest location. Cabernet franc was also placed in the areas containing soil with high calcium content, while the merlot was planted in areas nearest to the mountain shadow to protect the variety’s delicate aromas

Back in the truck we climbed steeply to a vineyard that curved along a long terraced bench. Out at its edge there was a rocky promontory which we climbed on foot to absorb one of the most spectacular views of the south Okanagan, from Oliver in the north clear to Osoyoos in the south. Out on this rock edge Donald Triggs was actually so excited that he danced a quick jig, kicking up dusty soil.

Donald Triggs

We were on Margaret’s Bench, a cooler site with heat summation closer to Burgundy. Three white varieties – chardonnay, riesling and Austria’s grüner veltliner – were selected, with soil variations further determining the placement of each clone and rootstock combination on the Bench. Grüner veltliner was chosen for the schist-like soil areas, whereas riesling was planted on stonier soils.

Back in truck we drove across (south) to Stan’s Bench. Here again they planted riesling, and chardonnay on the cooler, higher sections, but then decided to plant late ripening varieties of petit verdot and malbec in the lower areas, with the highest number of degree days on the property. And surprisingly at the far end of this patch, on a very steep slope he showed us the most daring of his vineyard exploitations – a patch of head pruned, unirrigated vines. This too was a culmination, the crescendo in a carefully orchestrated grape-growing scheme.

The Winemaking

With the combined experience of Donald Triggs and Pascal Madevon, Culmina’s winemaking is grounded in both tried and true methods and some new pieces of technology. Born in Paris, France, winemaker Pascal completed a Technician’s Degree in Viticulture and Oenology and went on to complete an Oenology National Diploma from the University of Bordeaux in 1989. He came to the Okanagan in 2002.

His philosophy revolves around two principles: gentle handling of fruit and minimal intervention of wine. All of the grapes harvested from the estate are picked by hand. They are then protected in small stacked bins so that their own weight does not cause their skins to break before they reach the winery. Upon arrival, the fruit is hand-sorted on a vibrating table so that the fruit is gently deposited into the de-stemmer. The grapes are processed in a gravity-flow designed winery, built into the side of a hill – allowing for pump-less rackings and transfers from the fermentation hall into the barrel room.

The winery’s simple design also allows for each tank to only be used once each vintage. By allowing the fermented wine to sit on the skins for up to 24 days after the fermentation is completed creates wines with softer and more approachable tannins.

Lastly, a simple basket press is also used for all pressings. Even though this kind of press is less efficient yield-wise, and is much more time consuming and manually intensive to operate, its gentle pressing ensures that stems and seeds are never pressed so hard that they crack, thereby preventing unwanted green tannins from being added into the pressed wine.

Among more high-tech processes, Culmina uses a Bucher Oscillys de-stemmer from France – the first of its kind in Canada – that allows more gentle handling during the crushing and destemming of fruit. In addition, modern, stainless steel, temperature-controlled conical red fermentation tanks were imported from France. And when a pump is required (pumping over) they use a peristaltic pump, the kind used to transfer live fish at aquariums from one tank to another.

The Wines

Full reviews by several WineAlign critics can be viewed by following the links below.

I have sat down with the range twice in the last year, and both times, as I mentioned at the outset, I was impressed by the sense of poise and layering.

The flagship of the range is a red blend called Hypothesis, based on merlot (as are many southern Okanagan reds) with cabernet sauvignon and cab franc.  It is not the most expensive of its sort in the Okanagan, but it is easily among the best, especially the 2013 to be released next year.  Three years does not quite a vertical tasting make, but the 2013 has a fine sense of fragrance and poise, whereas the currently available and quite ripe 2012 is a bit more powerful and youthfully tense at the moment. The 2011, the debut vintage from a cool year is quite refined, more subdued and showing subtle evolution. The less expensive blend called R&D Red is quite lively, complex if a bit more sinewy. And the 2014 rosé blend from the red wine shows considerable finesse and liveliness as well.

Culmina 2014 Saignée

“It has a very pretty, gentle nose of red currant jam, raspberry and fresh herbs. It’s medium weight, elegant, smooth yet nicely fresh with a dry finish.” David Lawrason

Culmina 2013 R & D Red Blend 

“Begins like elegiac poetry, with a Bordeaux sensibility and a nod to blends distinguished by site.” Michael Godel

Culmina 2012 Hypothesis 

“The palate offers an abundance of black cherry, plum and blackberry fruit along with graphite and saline. Excellent concentration with flavours that build like crescendo.” Sara d’Amato

Culmina Saignée 2014 RoséCulmina R & D Red Blend 2013Culmina Hypothesis 2012Culmina Decora 2014Culmina Dilemma 2013

Most people discussing Culmina whites leap onto the fact that Donald Triggs has planted the Austrian variety grüner veltliner – a rarity in Canada – and he has done an amazing job extracting varietal veracity.  The wine is called Unicus, and it was an immediate hit, selling out the  2013 and 2014 vintages. I am just as impressed by the bold, taut riesling called Decora, again with vineyard altitude imparting unexpected tension for South Okanagan riesling. The chardonnay, called Dilemma, is richer of course, but also based on fine acidity and minerality.

Culmina 2014 Decora

“Dynamic and age-worthy.” Sara d’Amato

Culmina 2013 Dilemma 

“I like the freshness and the balance here – acids snap and crackle on the palate, while concentration and density are genuine, weaving in some intriguing resinous-savoury-herbal character into citrus and white fleshed orchard fruit.” John Szabo, MS

The production at Culmina is relatively small, and clearly pointed to the premium end of the market – although fairly priced given the quality. So it may not be as easy to find as many in our national audience might like. But again, for a young project the family Triggs is keenly aware of the need to get their wines out to key buyers across the country. Their website provides points of contact.

As a regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the winery profile. Wineries 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 WineAlign. See below for more details provided by the winery.


Culmina is pleased to offer complimentary shipping across Canada to WineAlign Members on purchases of 12 or more bottles.
Have the warmth of the South Okanagan shipped directly to your door just in time for the holidays. All shipments are temperature-controlled to assure the integrity of your order. Purchase by Monday December 14th to best ensure delivery by December 24th.
We’ve exclusively made two cases of our sold-out 2013 Dilemma (Chardonnay) to WineAlign Members from our library (maximum two bottles per order). Try a mixed-case with our 2014 Decora (Riesling), 2014 Saignée (Rosé), and flagship 2012 Hypothesis (Bordeaux-Style blend) to share with friends and family.
Buy Now Here:

Have any questions? Call the winery directly at (250) 498-0789.
To ensure access to upcoming limited production releases – such as our first single varietal red, the 2013 Merlot, and 2015 Unicus (Grüner Veltliner) – become a complimentary Member to receive your own Allocation. No commitment is required.
Become a Member Here:
Creating wines of excellence through the blending of art and science.

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Buy The Case: Azureau Wines and Spirits

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

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

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

November – Azureau Wines & Spirits

Where are some of the world’s great new white wines lurking? That would be Spain, from grape varieties like grenache blanc, viura, godello and albarino being grown (often organically) on old vines ekeing out their existence in very rocky granitic and slate soils. Very few of this new breed of well made, minerality-studded whites are finding their way to the LCBO, but a couple of gems lurk right under our noses in the portfolio of Azureau Wines & Spirits. There are two huge Spanish white bargains among a diverse collection that also includes an affordable, cellarable Napa cabernet and other new world reds.

Below our critics have assembled their picks submitted for tasting in October, and they suggest reasons why you might consider buying by the case.

Or you can try them for yourself on November 17 at “The Gourmet Games”, a public tasting and food pairing event created by Azureau. The event is typical of CEO Dan Rabinovitch’s role as an importer. “Moving beyond the traditional agency’s role of simply representing a winery to a customer, Azureau also takes on the role of managing the entire brand experience of the winery in Canada. This entails developing engaging experiences–such as winemaker dinners and special events–in this market where consumers can taste the wine and get a taste for the passion that went into its creation”. (Special to WineAlign subscribers, a ticket purchase ($95) includes a $25 gift certificate redeemable towards a wine purchase the evening of the Games.)

The Spanish Collection

Señorio del Bierzo 2012 Godello, Bierzo, Spain ($24.95)

Mas Igneus White 2013 Senorio del Bierzo Godello 2012John Szabo – Excitement has been gathering in this cool northwest corner of Spain for some years now, mostly for the red wines, but indigenous whites are proving to be just as compelling. This is a fine and flavourful, rich and minty example from 100 year-old vines, with evident depth and concentration. Partial barrel ageing contributes more texture than flavor and the aromatic range is impressive. An affordable curio that over-delivers in the premium white wine category.
David Lawrason – This is a very nicely made, smooth yet fresh and almost elegant white from the local godello grape in the Bierzo region of northwest Spain. Quite exotic ripe yellow fruit (melon/pineapple) aromas are gently infused with herbs, wet stone, fennel and lemon meringue. The flavours have good focus and continuity; the length is excellent. A curio to be sure, but also priced for fine meals and gatherings at home.
Sara d’Amato – The modish winery of Senorio del Bierzo aims to promote the indigenous varieties of mencia and godello in the most expressive fashion possible. This clean and tangy example is pleasantly smoky with a mineral and saline component that adds freshness as well as a food-friendly character. The wine from these 100-year old vines is aged on the lees contributing additional body and complexity. A lovely “anything but chardonnay” house wine to have on hand for unexpected guests or for personal nighttime drinking pleasure.
Michael Godel – The rise of the Galician white grape Godello is happening, in part because it’s new and exciting to those who don’t know about it. But it’s also vindication for those who do. This example is both enervating and profoundly complex. It has the kind of white to make it a real autumn white wine. Fine as a restaurant pour as well.

Mas Igneus 2013 White, Priorat, Spain ($39.95)

David Lawrason – Whites are rare in Priorat, but perhaps should be more prevalent. When I visited the region in May I was taken again, and again, by the whites. I love the tension here from the slate soils, the sense of balance and finesse. It’s aromatically generous with oak spice, stone and vague green melon/pear fruit. It’s medium-full bodied with a sense of power yet restraint. I was reminded flavour-wise of a fine white Bordeaux.
Sara d’Amato – White Priorat is a rare treat to find in Ontario but this 100% white garnacha happily fills the gap. Brimming with nervy zest and energy and showing delicious purity of fruit, this is a sophisticated find that will have you mourning its quick departure from your glass. Sharing a case is the way to go with this premium priced curio selection.
Rioja Vega 2013 Paco & Lola Prime Albarino Lias 2011John Szabo – Split a case of this with a like-minded friend who finds occasions from time to time at the table for a heady and sumptuous white, like, say, with that roast lobster or wild mushroom risotto. Priorat may be far better known for its reds, but this organically-grown white is outstanding, very ripe and intense, wood-tinged, and amazingly complex. It’s is the sort of wine you can spend a lot of time tasting and unraveling, and enjoying its savoury, succulent saltiness.
Michael Godel – Garnatxa Blanca (Grenache Blanc) is one of northern Spain’s best kept secrets and one of the world’s wondrous whites. Whether from Aragon or here in Priorat, when it refreshes while walking the oxidative wire with intensity and complexity, it is a real treat.

Paco & Lola 2011 Prime Albarino Lias, Rias Baixas, Spain ($29.95)

Sara d’Amato – The Adega of Paco & Lola is one of the largest in the DO whose distinctive polka dot bottles have taken the export market by storm.  The Lias is a step-up from their entry albarino. This version is made from the free run juice winery’s oldest vineyards is aged on fine lees for 6 months. Although it sees no oak, it is lightly creamy, round and fleshy.  Due to its attractive packaging and price point, it makes an excellent gifting selection.

Rioja Vega 2013 Rioja, Spain ($15.95)

John Szabo – A great little house red or by the glass pour here, not your grandfather’s Rioja but rather a fresh and fruity, young and vibrant red for immediate enjoyment. A touch of CO2 prickle boosts the impression of liveliness.
David Lawrason – This is a fresh, young Rioja with minimal barrel ageing if any, letting the lift floral, raspberry/strawberry fruit of tempranillo shine through. It is light to medium weight, with some sense of fruit density and smooth texture, but it is the liveliness and evenness that is most memorable. Not much tannin here, but there is fresh acidity and lovely berry fruit jam on the finish. Ideal house red for casual meals and restaurant pours.

New World Reds

Girard 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa County, California ($44.95)

Salentein Numina Spirit Vineyard Gran Corte 2012 Girard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012David Lawrason – In the over-hyped world of Napa cabernet, it’s pretty rare to find authenticity at a decent price. I am finding many 2012 Napa cabs a bit shut down and blocky at the moment, but this has all the right cabernet blackberry/currant fruit, sage, oak spice and vanillin. A touch earthy as well. It’s full bodied, fairly dense, warm and a touch sweet, with considerable tannin. A wine to cellar for sure; best 2018 to 20122.
Michael Godel – This is the kind of Napa Cabernet that offers a generous amount of wine for the money. Really stylish Napa Cabernet at a very affordable price. The kind of recognizable wine to split a case with friends.

Salentein 2012 Numina Spirit Vineyard Gran Corte, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($34.95)

Sara d’Amato – A favourite at the Argentina Wine Awards early this year, Salentein winery is located high up in the Uco Valley and focuses on premium, sustainably produced wine along with fostering an economically stable community by creating fair wage jobs. This high elevation blend of five Bordeaux varieties is a unique style which is most expressively found in Argentina’s wine regions of Mendoza and Salta. Peppery and floral with an abundance of blue and black fruit, the tannins are ripe and silky but there is a fresh backbone which gives the wine lift and elegance.

Alpha Crucis 2012 Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($74.95)

David Lawrason – Named for the brightest star in the Southern Cross, this  is from a single limestone based vineyard in central McLaren Vale. It was made by Rebecca Willson, who also makes the wine at Bremerton, and she has gone the unusual and effective route of ageing in Hungarian oak barrels. This is certainly a big, rich and complex shiraz but within its weight class I still found considerable elegance and great fruit depth that manages to hide its 15% alcohol. Very impressive concentration and excellent length. I would age it another year or three. Given the price, split a case with like-minded fans of premium Aussie shiraz.

Casa Viva 2013 Carmenere, Rapel Valley, Chile ($15.95)

David Lawrason – Excellent value here in a fairly smooth yet vibrant young carmenere, but you need to enjoy the grape’s greener side. It offers up typical black and red currant fruit, vanillin, the fresh green herbs/juniper for which carmenere is known, and Chile’s familiar meaty note. It’s mid-weight, even and fairly soft, with easy tannin, making it easy going for immediate enjoyment. By the glass.
Sara d’Amato – A juicy, very pleasant carmenere showing some distinct varietal character such as dried herbs, soy and spice. Rather plush with velvety tannins and good colour. Nicely concentrated, open and generous. Ready-to-drink.

Alpha Crucis Titan Shiraz 2012 Casa Viva Carmenere Reserva 2013 Cocchi Vermouth di TorinoVarnelli Sibilla Amaro

And the Grand Finale

Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Italy $29.95

John Szabo – Artisanal vermouths are making a big comeback in the cocktail world, with bartenders ditching the industrial stuff for fortified/aromatized wines with genuine complexity, made from a quality base. Cocchi’s vermouth should be on hand in every liquor cabinet for those more sultry cocktails, like a smoky Manhattan, or in fact anything with bourbon or rye, with its intensely medicinal, beeswax and honey, burnt orange peel and caramel flavours. But it’s also interesting and bold enough to be the main show itself, served over ice.

Varnelli Sibilla Amaro, Marche, Italy

Margaret Swaine – Made since 1868, the first product of founder Girolamo Varnelli, from herbs, roots and barks (including quinine from the cinchona tree) and local honey, this is medium brown in hue. Intense aromas of coffee, vanilla, black walnuts and herbs overlaid with honey carry through on the palate. Coffee and honey linger on the finish. An elegant amaro with lots of personality and complexity; long aging and decanting help to give it smoothness with just the right touch of bitterness. This is great as a digestive after a hearty winter meal or on the rocks with lemonade in summer.

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

About Azureau Wines & Spirits

Azureau Wines & SpiritsAzureau Wines & Spirits was founded on a basic principle: Inspire Loyalty. From the quality of products to their price to the sales person who represents them, a standard must be upheld that keeps clients coming back for more. Company founder, Dan Rabinovitch, learned the value of this credo from his years as a marketing manager at Vincor where he managed the Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin brands. “I learned this business at the feet of giants in Canadian wine sales. Pioneers like Don Triggs, Allan Jackson, and Donald Ziraldo understood how competitive this business is and how we have to over-deliver every day to keep our clients happy,” explains Rabinovitch.

Azureau began in 2007 with a handful of boutique wineries from the Mediterranean. Hence the name: Azure for blue and Eau for water. “I have found the wines of Southern France, Spain, and Italy to be some of the most exciting and best values out there today,” says Rabinovitch whose portfolio covers every notable region in Spain including the Iconic Bodegas Roda, Rioja Vega, and Enrique Mendoza.

The agency’s focus has broadened over recent years with the addition of several best-in-class wineries like Casas del Bosque (Chile), Clos Pegase (Napa), Giullio Cocchi  (Piedmont), and Bodegas Salentein (Argentina). “We don’t feel our portfolio needs to be everywhere; just excellent wherever we are,” Rabinovitch says with pride. The agency has a comprehensive process for vetting new suppliers which includes pre-tasting any wines with its network of leading Toronto sommelier-buyers. The agency turns away many more wineries and distilleries than it eventually works with in this process to ensure every product that comes to market is outstanding. “Our products have become an important component of some of Ontario’s leading restaurants; places like Bar Raval, Patria, and the Distillery Group of Restaurants. I don’t think you can achieve that without hard work and eye for quality,” concludes Rabinovitch.

Azureau Wines & Spirits has six sales representatives covering the province of Ontario.

How to order:

Order by E-mail: or Phone: 416.940.1641



Gourmet Games - Nov 17th

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13th Street Winery: Giving a Voice to the Vines

A WineAlign Winery Profile
Written by WineAlign

Although long known for its coveted, small-batch production, by 2007 it was high time for 13th Street to take it to the next level. This is when Doug and Karen Whitty along with friends and partners John and June Mann purchased the old winery with the full intention of stepping it up a notch. From 1500 to now 13,000 cases, finally, the lineups of cult followers are satisfied and more than just select collectors and restaurateurs can get in on the game.

Although the winery has undergone change, most notably with new winemaker Jean-Pierre Colas bringing decades of Burgundian and Niagara winemaking experience, it has been able to retain its reputation as a small, artisanal winery with a highly coveted product. The wines have been traditionally rustic in character, full of charm and intrigue and have evolved into wines that are more sophisticated and express themselves more fully.

The 13th Street vineyards are a collection of older estate vineyards plus those new to the portfolio from Whitty’s farm and subsequent new holdings. They are varied parcels in age and in aspect but provide a complete tapestry of grapes on which to draw on for the winery’s various labels and levels. It is this collection of unique vineyards sites that makes the wines of 13th Street stand apart. (Following this report, WineAlign critics have included some top picks from a recent 13th Street tasting.)

This feature was commissioned by 13th Street Winery.

13 Street Winery

This mosaic of vineyards sites is responsible for the both the complexity, concentration and age-worthy character in the wines. Some of these sites are considered historic in Niagara, such as the original 13th Street vineyards yielding estate fruit planted as far back as 1976, some of the oldest working vinifera in the province. Here, limited quantities of riesling, pinot noir and cabernet franc are selected for premium, reserve level wines.  Sandstone vineyard in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation in Niagara, planted in 1983, is managed by friends of the winery, Erv, Esther and Eric Willms and provides the fruit for the wild and unique reserve level gamay as well as chardonnay. The gamay in particular has notably contributed to the winery’s elevated profile, exposing the variety’s unique expression in Niagara. Along with producers such as Malivoire Estate and gamay’s long time champion in Niagara, Chateau des Charmes, the grape is seen as expressing unique character in our hot and cold Niagara climate. Our gamays have been subject to wide critical acclaim and have created and contributed to a significant cult following of the variety in the province. This has led to a much greater presence of gamay than ever before on more widely available commercial channels, such as the LCBO.

Jean-Pierre Colas, former winemaker at Peninsula Ridge, has leant a unique touch to the wines of 13th Street since his arrival in 2009. Striving to meet the expectations of the winery’s followers, the historic nature of the estate and improving quality while drastically increasing quantity has been the great challenge. He has been able to accomplish this task due to new facilities, but also through a singular goal – the respect for fruit, for terroir, for history and a zeal for the continued improvement of the wines of the portfolio. Jean-Pierre knows that this change cannot come about overnight and in his patient, French way, has developed a unique understanding for individual parcels and how best to facilitate the expression of the fruit in the bottle. In recent conversation with Colas, he has spilled some of his secrets and his hopes for his long apprenticeship with the unique  terroir that makes up 13th Street. Colas tends to put all of himself, full–throttle into new projects and enjoys the challenge of new situations. Always learning and experimenting, he is fully invested in understanding the vineyard and adjusting practices to specific needs of the parcel. His work extends far beyond the cellar, into the birthplace of quality wine: the vineyard.

Jean-Pierre Colas

You have a breadth of experience working in cellars both in France in Niagara and worldwide. What is unique about your experience with 13th Street?

The story itself of 13th Street is unique – a little hobby winery shared by four different individuals open only on Sunday with a few special openings during the year. It was small with a good reputation and had consumers lining up at the door. It had old vines and a very special portfolio of sparkling, gamay, riesling and a little pinot noir. A little private gem, not known by a lot of people save the sommelier community and a solid reputation with the trade. So, I arrived here and was taking over a portfolio that I was not very familiar with. Although I had made gamay for a few years in the past in Morgon when I was a student, it was a long time ago and with different conditions. Besides that, I didn’t have big experience with riesling – I had only done one or two small batches in the past. Sparkling, I had no experience at all and no specific taste for sparkling, really, nor was I a consumer of sparkling. So it was a pretty big challenge for me, similar to when I started at Peninsula Ridge and had never done rosé in my life or sauvignon blanc. I decided to do it in my own way, to work on my feelings, my base and my experience to translate that to a different varietal without having made it before. It was a big, crazy challenge.

To develop volume at the same time while maintaining the quality was my task. I try to stay on the same wavelength and quality level while maintaining public and professional recognition. Even in 2009, when I arrived, we started with 4500 cases which was already twice the volume they were doing before, always with the same kind of flagship wine: riesling, gamay, sparkling. Now I have introduced more chardonnay. With pinot noir, I try to stay with the same spirit as they were doing before – of course, I reduced the sugar on the riesling, on the sparkling and on the rosé to remain true to my own taste and feeling but we try to follow what was done before. But, we need volume to be present in the market so things are a bit different now. They have planted the new vineyards but also have still been working with old Sandstone fruit. Now, much of the production is coming from younger vineyards.

You have been well known for your work with sauvignon blanc and syrah in Niagara, in this most recent chapter, you take on chardonnay and gamay. Why are these varietals so important to you and to the region?

Riesling is renown and exhibits great behavior in Niagara, in Ontario and is a perfect fit. We have new vineyards and we have old, established vineyards that now have about 30 years of age. We have a traditional way of dealing with them. Of course, now I am working a little bit differently at managing maturity at picking, the amount of extraction and vinifying less sweet. Stewart Piggot gave us recognition for this 2012 [riesling] cuvée – he was totally crazy about it but we are basically continuing something that has already been done. We also have June’s Vineyard which is over 15 years old with very special soil. You don’t need to be a genius at winemaking to make riesling in Ontario. If you don’t screw it up, it should be ok. It is a bit more difficult to make it great but we have largely good results.

On gamay, I continue to work with the Sandstone old vines coming from Niagara on the Lake. I am still convinced that there is only one vineyard like that – it is very special, very unique. No clonal selections because it was planted from cuttings, we don’t know exactly what they are but the results are great. I think I have moved, changed the style a little bit with better control of the oak. They were not really oak people [previously at 13th Street], they were more focused on riesling and sparkling.


I remember that one of my best bottles from Niagara was an old Sandstone gamay when I arrived here in Ontario. But, I realized that with different choice of barrels, better selection, if we did better work on it we could refine and bring this cuvée to a different level.

Gamay is a naturally good cropper and it is working very, very well in Ontario. 13th Street has a good 15 years of experience with gamay and we continue to be able to deliver quality year after year. Between Chateau des Charmes and Malivoire, the top traditional producers of gamay, producers at large have been convinced that gamay can work and that it is working. We have to work in the vineyard for sure, it is a very productive, fertile, vigorous varietal but if you do the job in the vineyard, you can deliver very good bottles. This group of three producers was there before anybody but now, what a surprise, all the other wineries want to have gamay in their portfolio, everyone wants to produce gamay. Gamay at the LCBO, at Cellier at the SAQ is now more readily found. There is a buzz about gamay this summer buzz and for the last 2-3 years. Not only is it a varietal working well in the vineyards and in the wineries but the consumers are starting to realize that we can produce gamay and we don’t have to wait for the crappy Beaujolais Nouveau every year.

What is your take on the use of oak in wine? How did you bring oak culture to 13th Street? 

You know, everyone wants to put chardonnay in oak but you have to have a special affinity with the oak barrels and have a bit of practice. Through my experience in Chablis, I have worked a lot with barrels, with different coopers, with different forest selections and I was dong lots of special tasting, calibrations with the coopers and colleagues. I have a pretty extensive knowledge of barrels, fermentation, treatments, etc.,. It has always been very interesting for me but even finding the right barrel is nothing more than finding a tool for winemaking. You have to find the right tool, the right barrel to fit with the wine you are going to make. The barrel has to be there to reveal the wine, to reveal the signature of the soil, the power of the wine and not to act as makeup. Too many people use barrels to put oak flavour in their wine.

For the Sandstone chardonnay, I have a brand new selection of barrels now after 2009 and because of the nature of the farm, the nature of the grapes, my choice of barrels will be used to bring the wine to lightness, to make it fresher, avoiding a fat and heavy feeling. To choose the right barrels, you have to understand your vineyard and your wines first. Oak shouldn’t hide the wine; it is there to help you to showcase your wine and not the reverse. 

13th Street Winery HarvestWhat do you look for in high-quality fruit at harvest? 

Firstly, the sanitary aspect – clean fruit and free of disease is the prerequisite for high-quality fruit. It is through maturity control, twice a week that you continue to see the evolution of the classic three: sugar, acid and pH, but also, the evolution of the flavour. You have to understand your vineyard, you have to understand your grapes and you have to taste your grapes.

The real key is that you have to understand your vines first and understand what wine the grapes can give you. You are going to make the wine that nature gives you; you are not going to try to re-invent something that the vines are not going to be able to give you. If you try to make a bold wine with big extraction and tannins when you have grapes at the limit of unripe then that it is a mistake. You don’t have to decide that you are going to make a wine in a certain way; instead you have to discover the real potential of the grapes. And the potential of the grapes is not what you want, the potential of the grapes is what nature and the field and the vintage gives you.

Could you describe, briefly, your sustainable production program?

The vineyard is pretty simple, we don’t have the pretention to say and to follow some kind of organic structure because I am not totally convinced – we need to be more clever than that. If you are just dogmatic, it is not going to help. We have to be more reactive. So we are not doing that [organics] but we try to be as clean and respectful as possible. I have always been convinced that you have to protect your own tool and your first tool is your vineyard. You have just to protect your vineyard, your soil to be in good shape so you have good growth and a good crop, not to saturate it with some pesticide or herbicide – you need to be efficient. We are just trying to do the smartest thing on different levels.

Blending and experimenting tends to be important to you. Can you share some of your current projects?

When I arrived, I was given a big project of creating an aromatic white blend that became “White Palette”. The blend is riesling-based and we have included a few other varietals like gewürztraminer, chardonnay musqué and pinot gris. My biggest challenge in terms of blending right now is more on the sparkling side, with work on the base wines – the pinot and the chardonnay with a little bit of gamay on the cuvée rosé. I am working with the percentages of reserve wine integration, how to work the reserve differently and even working the base wine with oak.

Experimenting for the sake of experimenting doesn’t make any sense – it is just a waste of time and money. I am still doing new experiments and am taking some risks but those risks have to be calculated and the results anticipated. Temperature, yeast, length of maceration, so many things, the kinetic of fermentation on the reds, the combination between delestage and pumpover along with experimenting on different equipment are day to day life. Now on riesling, I have clones with enough production now that I can keep them separate. New single vineyard definition based on individual clones leads to a better understanding of your farm (this side of the block is reacting differently, how are you going to work with these specifics during growing and after in the winery.)

Finally, could you share some thoughts on the 2015 vintage?

First, and you are not going to be surprised, it is a short crop. It was a cold winter and the outcome is dependent upon location as the cold hit Niagara inconsistently. Around us and going west to Beamsville, Jordan and Vineland, is one of the worst spots in Niagara this winter. We are seeing a great deal of inconsistency in the vineyards, even among one varietal in the same block, from clone to clone and from year of planting. Even riesling and gamay have been badly hurt. Adjacent areas can be as different as 25% crop loss to a full loss. We don’t really have an explanation for that at that moment. It is too early. After two years in a row of bad winters, the vines are getting weaker and weaker. If you take the example of merlot which is an area at the corner of 7th Street and the North Service road, a 15 year old vineyard – last year it was just devastated by the winter, we have no crop, nothing. But, on the vineyard that we rebuilt from the trunk, coming from the suckers that we rebuilt from 2014 winter, we will probably have 80% crop on the same block this year even if it was colder. We are going to pick the grapes and we are happy to have some but I don’t have the explanation. It is a little bit surprising.

13th Sparkling

The old vine gamay at Sandstone farm was picked this year in September – never before has it been so early. That is pretty surprising. You also have varietals that are later than usual and some that are just reacting totally differently. Mother Nature decided to do what she wanted and sometimes we cannot plan for it. It is not because this one is ready early that this one is going to be ready too.

Besides that, the grapes we do have are pretty good. It is not going to be crazy maturity but we have good flavours, good balance. There has even been a bit of botrytis due to a recent rainy weekend. If we don’t have the crop or yield this year, at least we variation and surprising quality.

This feature was commissioned by 13th Street Winery. As a regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the winery profile. Wineries 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 WineAlign.

Click on the links below for complete, multiple reviews by WineAlign critics for recent 13th Street Winery releases:

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013

“Nicely structured, with ripe fruit and fine tannin-acid balance. Some earthy-clay notes add depth and interest. Great depth.” – Platinum Medal winner at The Nationals

13th Street 2012 Meritage

“Rich and nicely ripened with freshness and traditional old world appeal. Clean and with notable focus, this well-structured wine shows a progressive layering of flavours showing off complexity and elegance rather than power.”

13th Street 2010 Essence Pinot Noir

“…delivers fresh, crisp, red apple, strawberry leaf, red cherry fruit, light cinnamon spice…a fine range of aromatics, and bold, densely concentrated palate.”

13th Street Gamay Noir 201313th Street Meritage 201213th Street Essence Pinot Noir 201013th Street Essence Syrah 201213th Street Essence Cabernet Franc 2011

13th Street 2012 Essence Syrah 

“Loads of freshly cracked black pepper and black fruit… This makes a good argument for syrah in Ontario, in the right places it certainly matures very well.”

13th Street 2011 Essence Cabernet Franc

“This is a quite intense yet elegant, nicely maturing cabernet franc with fine, complex aromas of forest floor, tobacco, leather and fine strawberry/raspberry fruit nicely framed by oak.”

13th Street 2007 Grande Cuvée Blanc de Noirs

“…creamy texture and outright tuber vigour and backbone…a slow-simmered chalk breathes limestone and then ginger…”

13th Street Cuvée Rosé Brut

“A lovely traditional method rosé from pinot noir and chardonnay with a maturing colour. Notes of strawberry and cherry on a palate that is clean and rather rich.”

13th Street Grande Cuvée Blanc De Noirs 200713th Street Cuvée Rosé Brut13th Street Cellar Door Members Selection Pinot Gris 201213th Street Sandstone Reserve Chardonnay 2011

13th Street 2012 Cellar Door Members Selection Pinot Gris

“This ripe, rich pinot gris from the warmer 2012 vintage is showing some of the opulence of Alastian styles.”

13th Street 2011 Sandstone Reserve Chardonnay

“There is beautiful colour to this rich and delicately matured chardonnay. Notes yellow apple, pear, brioche and honey.”


This feature was commissioned by 13th Street Winery. See below for more details provided by the winery. 

More from 13th Street Winery

13th Street WineryLocated in the Creek Shores sub-appellation of the Niagara Peninsula, 13th Street Winery is devoted to the creation of world-class wines that provide an authentic expression of our local terroir.

Our boutique winery, set among 25 acres of estate vineyards, is located just minutes west of St. Catharines and minutes from the QEW (exit at 7th Street).

Don’t have time for a visit to the winery but want to restock some of the fabulous wines you tasted on your last visit? Or perhaps you enjoyed some 13th Street wine at one of the many fine restaurants that feature our products and would like some for home?

Ordering online is easy and convenient!

13th Street Order Online

Wine Clubs

Join one of our WINE CLUBS and enjoy the convenience of having 13th Street wines automatically sent to your home or office plus many other great benefits including access to our Member’s Selection exclusive bottlings and two complimentary tickets to all our Wine & Food Seminars!

13th Street Wine Clubs

We have two different clubs to choose from:  Cellar Door Wine Club and Staff Picks Wine Club

Explore 13th Street Winery and awaken all your senses!


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East coast swing 2015: Foot bridge to grand L’Acadie

Time, tides and wineOctober 14, 2015

by Michael Godel

Michael Godel

Michael Godel

Time, tides and wine. In a place like the Bay of Fundy, the three intertwine with nearly inexplicable lightness of being. The traveller covets these things in wistful retrospection. East coast movement, water and the new frontier for viniculture. “Each day the tides carried us to promulgate layovers, to begin flowing again each seriate day, at the hour of its reversal.”

The wineries of the Annapolis Valley are few and yet not very far between. It feels as though you could tread, sans automobile, to Lightfoot & Wolfville, over Benjamin Bridge, back to Domaine De Grand Pré Vineyards and up the hill to L’Acadie Vineyards. Foot bridge to grand L’Acadie. All in a day’s walk.

While the exercise of a vinous walking tour would seem to fitly tread the boards of Nova Scotia’s watery ways, even more so for stations achieved by bicycle, a car makes possible the desire to learn more in less time. The roads in Nova Scotia wine country lay out as an inferential and navigable labyrinth, in the Gaspereau Valley and along the shores of the Minas Basin, from Wolfville to Grand-Pré of King’s County. There, unbeknownst to who knows how many zonked global winos, the wines of Nova Scotia not so much hide as crouch. They are a real, new deal, fervidly expensive to those who don’t yet understand them, free to those who do. They are poised to join the ranks along with Canada’s best.

Peter Gamble has reached out a major hand to three essential facets for Nova Scotia’s wine renaissance. His consultancy has raised the profile and the bar for Sparkling wine from Benjamin Bridge Vineyards. He has been instrumental  in the creation of the provincial appellative blend Tidal Bay, a regionally defining and commercially essential white wine. Ontario has fallen behind in not seeking out to create the same. Gamble’s work with the vinifera producing wines of Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards is the single most important revolution to happen in the Canadian wine industry in 20 years. I wrote this last summer. “What he will touch in his new appointment at Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards will make Nova Scotia history.”


Courtyard of Le Caveau at Domaine de Grand Pré Vineyards

Courtyard of Le Caveau at Domaine de Grand Pré Vineyards


Over the course of two days in late July I foraged through a second annual investigation into the Wines of Nova Scotia. It began with a tasting through the Domaine De Grand Pré Vineyards portfolio led by Hanspeter Stutz. The estate’s Vintner’s Reserve Riesling 2013 was recently awarded one of three Awards for Excellence in Nova Scotia Wines at the recent Lieutenant Governor’s Vice-Regal Wine Awards. The other two winners were Blomidon Estate Winery Cuvée L’Acadie 2010 and Avondale Sky Winery Martock 2012. Blomidon and Avondale Sky are two estates at the top of my WONS bucket list I have yet to visit.

Post anything but haste tasting with HansPeter dinner then followed at the estate’s incomparable Le Caveau Restaurant, in the company of L & W’s Mike, Jocelyn and Rachel Lightfoot, with Chef Jason Lynch manning the stoves.

The following morning I sat down with Rachel and winemaker Josh Horton at Lightfoot, then travelled shotgun with Mike to taste at Bruce Ewart’s L’Acadie Vineyards. The estate’s Cuvée Rosé 2011 was awarded a Silver medal and the Vintage Cuvée 2012 a Bronze at the 2015 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC15). We then paid a visit to Benjamin Bridge to peruse a Sparkling meets still appraisal with head winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and vineyard manager Scott Savoy.

“Smell the slate and taste the natatory saliva, like liquid shells from the grape that transmits nascent maritime theology. Consider this variety that accentuates the terroir and reaches beneath the mud, to imagined aquifers for deep-rooted flavour”

L’Acadie the grape variety harbours one of the great acidity secrets on the planet. Sparkling wine is possessive of dramatic excellence in Nova Scotia. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are moments away from certain greatness.

Domaine De Grand Pré Vineyards

“The wines of Nova Scotia could not be drunk in the 1990’s. None of them.” These are the words of a now very proud Hanspeter Stutz, who in 1993 purchased the estate and re-planted 30 acres. The doors opened in 2000. In can be argued that no one in Nova Scotia has accomplished more and furthered the credibility of hybrid-produced wines than Hanspeter and (winemaker-son) Jürg Stutz.


Godello and Hanspeter Stutz at Domaine de Grand Pré Vineyards

Godello and Hanspeter Stutz at Domaine de Grand Pré Vineyards


Domaine de Grand Pré 2013 Riesling Vintner’s Reserve
Domaine de Grand Pré 2014 Tidal Bay

Domaine de Grand Pré Tidal Bay 2014 and Riesling Reserve 2013

Domaine de Grand Pré Tidal Bay 2014 and Riesling Reserve 2013

Domaine de Grand Pré 2013 Seyval Blanc
Domaine de Grand Pré 2013 Baco Noir
Domaine de Grand Pré 2014 Castel Vintner’s Reserve
Domaine de Grand Pré 2012 Cabernet Foch
Domaine de Grand Pré 2012 Foch Vintner’s Reserve
Domaine de Grand Pré NV Tom Tom
Domaine de Grand Pré 2013 Riesling Icewine

The reds of Domaine de Grand Pré Vineyards

The reds of Domaine de Grand Pré Vineyards

L’Acadie Vineyards

“Tirage and terroir,” asserts Bruce Ewart, a pile of vineyard rocks and stones separating he and I on the tasting counter between us. The rocks are quarried out of slopes in the Gaspereau Valley spilling down towards the Bay of Fundy, from vineyards built of glacial till in the soil mixed with clay and loam. “Mineral flavours from mineral soils,” adds Ewart. Then we taste.


Godello and Bruce Ewart of L'Acadie Vineyards

Godello and Bruce Ewart of L’Acadie Vineyards


L’Acadie is the signature grape of the L’AV command. When sourced from clay-loam it produces fruitier wines, from still to sparkling. The mineral increases from out of the glacial till. L’Acadie is certified organic and all of their wines are made with 100 per cent Nova Scotia grapes.


Glacial till stones of L'Acadie Vineyards

Glacial till stones of L’Acadie Vineyards


Bruce goes straight for the critical jugular and pulls out the best Sparklers in his portfolio. Make no mistake, no matter the hybrid content, the wines are cogent sticks of Nova Scotian dynamite with unprecedented levels of balance. They are as unheralded as any in North America. The only other house with less attention yet paid to its méthode traditionnelle programme that I have encountered is Sparkling Pointe on the North Fork of Long Island. Yet another example for a cool-climate region’s reason to make bubbles.

L’Acadie Vineyards 2009 Prestige Brut Estate
L’Acadie Vineyards 2012 Vintage Cuvée
L’Acadie Vineyards 2011 Cuvée Rosé
L’Acadie Vineyards 2014 Rosé
L’Acadie Vineyards 2013 Estate L’Acadie
L’Acadie Vineyards 2012 Passito
L’Acadie Vineyards 2012 Alchemy

Sparkling wines of L'Acadie Vineyards, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia

Sparkling wines of L’Acadie Vineyards, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia

Benjamin Bridge

Jean Benoit Deslauriers, along with viticulturalist Scott Savoy leads Mike Lightfoot and I through a transaction of Sparkling and still wines in the BB portfolio. Deslauriers offers a concise dissertation on phenolic maturity as a journey incarnate, out of the Gaspereau Valley’s long growing season, mitigated by the east west corridor. He talks on moisture vs heat and the dichotomy of swelling berries. “Its not California here” he says with a wry smile and I can tell he’s pleased with his winemaking lot in life. Here it’s real, tapping into hang time, phenolics and utterly eccentric levels of dry extract.

Benjamin Bridge 2008 Nova Scotia Brut

Tasting at Benjamin Bridge, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia

Tasting at Benjamin Bridge, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia

Benjamin Bridge 2004 Brut Reserve Methode Classique
Benjamin Bridge 2008 Brut Reserve
Vēro 2014 and Vēro 2013
Benjamin Bridge 2014 Cabernet Franc Rosé
Benjamin Bridge 2014 Nova 7 

Benjamin Bridge Vēro 2013 and 2014

Benjamin Bridge Vēro 2013 and 2014

Lightfoot & Wolfville

Natural challenges, winter temperatures in the -20 range, late frosts, hurricanes. Welcome to growing grapes in Nova Scotia. And yet Lightfoot & Wolfville is producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Mike Lightfoot attributes vine survival to nutritional balance in the natural systems through organic and biodynamic viticulture.

The pioneering activities do not end there. L & W has also added 4.5 acres of rare and classic vinifera to their “Corton” Oak Island vineyard. Chenin Blanc, Scheurabe, Sauvignon Blanc, Kékfrankos just to name a few. “These grapes were chosen based on climate and soil chemistry,” with the future in mind, for sparkling, still, and sweet wines.

These are the wines I tasted (from bottle and tank/barrel samples) in July with winemakers Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot.

A sneak peak at Lightfoot and Wolfville's Tidal Bay

A sneak peak at Lightfoot and Wolfville’s Tidal Bay

Lightfoot & Wolfville 2014 Tidal Bay
Lightfoot & Wolfville 2014 Rosé
Lightfoot & Wolfville 2013 Ancienne Chardonnay
Lightfoot & Wolfville 2013 Ancienne Pinot Noir
Lightfoot & Wolfville 2014 Rosé

Ancienne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir 2013 with a glass of soon to be released Rosé

Ancienne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir 2013 with a glass of soon to be released Rosé

The recent releases of Lightfoot & Wolfville’s Tidal Bay and Rosé 2014 were met with much ado in the Halifax wine bars, just like the reception given the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay one month before. Naysayers (including some critics who have tasted these wines) want to burst the bubble, not because of truth but out of a closed mind set that will not allow for change, or evolution. The treatment in contempt of possibility is born of narrow, jaded vision. Despite the exceptional and opprobrious hurdles that climate places on vinifera and its attempted journey to phenolic ripeness, L & W, Benjamin Bridge, Domaine de Grand Pré and L’Acadie Vineyards are ripening grapes, beyond and along with winter-resistant hybrids. Advanced viticulture and winemaking prowess are primed for the new Nova Scotia millennium, on the new frontier. Pay a visit and see for yourself. Then get ready for a policy change of the mind.

Good to go!

Michael Godel

For more on Michael’s trip to Nova Scotia, including many more photos and reviews, visit

Related – The tides that bind: East Coast swing

Related – Consider the Gaspereau Valley

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

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Buy The Case: Noble Estates Wine and Spirits

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

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

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

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

October – Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

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

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

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

Restaurant Pours by the Glass

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

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

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

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

Cellaring Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seasonal Wines

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

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

Personal House Wines

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

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

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

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

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

Wine Pooling

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

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

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

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

Curio Selections

Planeta 2014 Etna Bianco, Sicily, Italy ($29.99)Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2014 Planeta Etna Bianco 2014

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

Planeta 2014 Cerasuolo, Sicily, Italy ($28.99)

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

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

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

About Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Noble Estates Wine & Spirits is an independently owned company that has been serving the Ontario market for 25 years. Our team is made up of passionate and knowledgeable wine lovers who proudly represent a unique portfolio of hand-selected wines and spirits. Our range includes many of the top producers from around the world. We pride ourselves on building and maintaining strong, long-term relationships with all of our suppliers and our valued customers.

For more information, please visit our website at

How to order:

If you have any questions, or would like to place an order, please contact Ian at Delivery options vary depending on your location.

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Washington State – Meet the Neighbours

Treve’s TravelsOctober 5, 2015

by Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Treve Ring

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

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

To Situate : BC vs WA

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arid landscape of Red Mountain

Arid landscape of Red Mountain

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

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

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

Unique terroir of The Rocks

Unique terroir of The Rocks

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

Who: Wineries to Watch

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 10.13.58 AM

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2231 IMG_2365

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

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

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

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

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

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





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LCBO Opens Spanish Specialty Location

by David Lawrason

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

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

Spanish selection at LCBO Royal York Store

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

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

Kingsway Exclusives

Tandem Ars In Vitro 2011, Navarra ($11.45)

Tandem Ars in Vitro

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

Bodegas Costers Del Sio Celistia Tierra 2013 side

Legón Reserva 2010, Ribera Del Duero ($22.85)

Legón Reserva 2010 side

From the VINTAGES Oct 3rd Spanish Release

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

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

Terras Gauda O Rosal Blanco 2013 side

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

Vina Real Gran Reserva 2008 side

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

Phinca Encanto Rufete 2011 side

LCBO General Lists Values

Bordón Gran Reserva 2005

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

Faustino V I I Blanco 2014


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

Store photo courtesy of LCBO


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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008