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It’s Oyster Time: Revisiting the Classics and Finding Some Outliers

Text and photographs by John Szabo, MS
December 18, 2015

It’s December, and oysters are at their plump and flavourful best. Both east and west coast varieties are outstanding. If you are an oyster fan, this is your favorite time of year.

A recent chance conversation on the current deliciousness of bivalve mollusks with Julius Chapple, Front of House manager at Rodney’s Oyster House, led to a brilliant idea: assemble a group of savvy tasters, pull together a wide range of wines, and shuck a bunch of oysters. The ostensible plan was to revisit classic wines – the ones traditionally served with oysters – and confirm their supremacy, while at the same time throwing a few outliers into the mix to see if we might find some future classic matches. Although it’s hardly ground breaking work, it is nevertheless instructive from time to time to test assumptions, and, well, attempt to break new ground. I know, I know. Somebody has to do it.

The results? Often comforting, occasionally shocking, rarely disappointing. It’s true that the best matches for oysters fall into a fairly narrow band of wine style: crisp, dry white wine, with or without bubbles. But the nuances between different oyster species and the subtleties of each grape within that narrow band proved fascinating. And then there was the surprise red wine, and just off-dry whites… If you’re looking for the perfect wine and oyster pairing, read on.

The Venue: Rodney’s Oyster House, 469 King St. West, Toronto

Rodney's Oyster House-3930

Rodney’s Oyster House

Rodney Clark is the original Toronto Oysterman. His father asked him to deliver his first box of oysters in the late 1970s. And then, “I took it a little overboard”, says Rodney. His eponymous oyster house on King West has become a Toronto institution, responsible in no small measure for spawning Toronto’s great oyster culture over the last twenty years. Julius Chapple is the affable Front of House Manager, in charge of the tight but well-chosen wine list. Treat yourself to an afternoon/evening of oysters soon at this oyster paradise.

The Panelists:

Jamie Drummond, Director of Programs/Senior Editor at Good Food Media. Jamie is one of Toronto’s best-known faces in the wine world, and best-known accents (he’s from Edinburgh, Scotland). Before co-launching the weekly online publication Good Food Revolution in 2010, Drummond’s CV includes Wine Director at the posh Granite Club, and later, for Jamie Kennedy’s restaurant empire, including the legendary JK Wine Bar, now sorely missed. Those who know him well, both love, and fear, his sense of humour as well as his propensity for delivering TMI.

Charles Baker, Director of Sales, Stratus Wines (and much more). Born on the wrong side of the vineyard, CB has scrapped his way from the damp tourist bistros of Quebec City, ripe with the stench of pisse-dru, to find himself peddling wine to the freshly tattoed sommeliers of Toronto. He attempts to empty the warehouse that Stratus fills every vintage with the fruit of its Niagara-on-the-Lake vineyard, forages lost riesling from the Niagara Escarpment for the Charles Baker Wines project, and scours the planet to bring home wines made from grapes no one can pronounce for Cru Wine Merchants. In his spare time, he dreams of the wines of the Roussillon through a fledgling project, picks up Lego, and taste-tests scones for Baker and Scone.

Jamie Drummond-3967 Charles Baker-3975

Magdalena Kaiser, Director of PR, Wine Marketing Association of Ontario. Daughter of Inniskillin co-founder Karl Kaiser, a Canadian wine pioneer, Magdalena was literally born into the wine industry. At the age of five she was dragged into child labour to bottle wine, before achieving a paying position at Inniskillin as a young teen. Today, MK proudly showcases Ontario wine to top wine media and trade from home and abroad for WMAO (“wham-oh”!). Still apparently longing for hardship, she is currently enrolled in the Masters of Wine program.

Chris McDonald, Author, Consulting Chef. Chef McDonald is one of Toronto’s most respected, and sharpest knives in the kitchen. He established himself as a Toronto culinary pillar at Avalon in the 1990s, a top 5 Toronto establishment, until Hooters moved in across the street and ruined the neighborhood. Chef then moved on to beloved Cava Restaurant, the city’s most authentic Spanish restaurant (and more). McDonald is currently writing a highly anticipated book on sous-vide cooking techniques and recipes, while dreaming up his next restaurant venture. On the side, he has a disproportionate love for tafelspitz and Austrian wines.

Magdalena Kaiser-3970 Chris McDonald

Dr. Ian Martin, Ph.D., ex-university professor, sports dome operator, future restaurateur. Dr. Martin (full disclosure: my former University of Toronto Italian professor) is a lifelong culinary researcher, accomplished home chef, and well-travelled, discerning wine lover. Based in Ottawa, Martin spends his time collecting money from sports teams playing in his facility, the Ottawa Coliseum, and teaching friend and Top Chef Canada winner Rene Rodriguez how to make a proper spaghetti carbonara. Dr. Martin is also regularly spotted in wine cellars across Europe, his bicycle parked outside. Stay tuned for his restaurant venture, coming soon to Ottawa.

Stephen Cohen, owner, Groupe Soleil Imports. Over the last decade, Stephen has slowly, quietly but assuredly, amassed Canada’s most impressive collection of grower champagnes in his import portfolio, representing highly sought after names like Cedric Bouchard and Pascal Agrapart, among many others, as well as other top names from around the wine world with particular strengths in Italy and France. He is clearly a man of taste. Also an avid cyclist, Stephen enjoys the challenge of the notoriously steep and twisty roads of the Langhe hills in Piedmont.

Ian Martin-3963 Stephen Cohen-3972

John Szabo, Master Sommelier and Principal Critic, WineAlign. You didn’t think I’d just watch, did you?

Guest Panelist and chief shucker: Julius Chapple, Front of House Management, Rodney’s Oyster House

John Szabo, MSJulius Chapple, FOH

The Wines:

The selection was based on acknowledged classics of the oyster genre, made by benchmark producers. There are, of course, dozens of others that would have fit the bill, but the list was purposely capped at a baker’s dozen (not a Charles Baker) to make the exercise manageable. Jamie Drummond was overheard lamenting, “I wish I had grabbed some Vouvray, Vinho Verde, Cartizze Prosecco, or Picpoul to bring along…” We’ll save those for oyster pairing 2.0. Below is the final list of wines, collectively selected by the panelists out of about 20 initial options brought on the day, minus one tragically corked bottle of champagne.


Henry of Pelham 2008 Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($44.95)


Charles Baker 2014 Riesling, Ivan Vineyard, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($27.00)

Raventos I Blanc 2014 Silencis Xarel-lo, Conca del Riu Anoia, Catalonia ($24.95)

Servin 2012 Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre, Burgundy, France ($39.95)

Ken Forrester 2014 Chenin Blanc Old Vines, Stellenbosch, South Africa (17.95)

Domäne Wachau 2012 Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Kellerberg, Wachau, Austria

Domaine de L’Ecu 2013 Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine ‘Orthogneiss’, Loire Valley, France ($25)

Pascal Cotat 2014 Sancerre Les Monts Damnés, Loire Valley, France ($66)

Gaia 2014 Thalassitis Santorini Assyrtiko, Greece ($23.95)

Rodney’s “Sea Legs” White, Niagara Peninsula (a proprietor’s blend made by Cave Spring, available only at Rodney’s)

Loimer 2007 Riesling Langenlois Steinmassel, Kamptal


Arianna 2013 Occhipinti Frappato IGT Terre Siciliane, Sicily, Italy ($36.95)

Malivoire 2014 Gamay “Le Coeur”, Niagara Escarpment, Canada (Approx. $20)

The top lineup of wines-3977

The Plan

Each panelist was assigned one type of oyster, and tasked with finding the top three pairings from the wines available. The panel then sat collectively to taste through each oyster/wine combinations and vote on the ultimate match.

The Oysters, And Top Matches

1 – Onset Bay (Crassostrea Virginica), Bourne, Massachussetts

A plump and meaty east coast oyster with pronounced salinity, beige-coloured belly and pale green, deeply frilled gills.

Cotat 2014 Sancerre
Charles Baker 2014 Riesling Ivan Vineyard

“I love the herbaceousness and the complexity the oyster brings to the fore in the wine”, said Chris Macdonald of the Sancerre, which beat out the Riesling by the narrowest of margins, thanks to Baker voting against his own wine. “The fruit was enhanced (by the salinity of the oyster), but lowered the perception of complexity”, said Baker of his Riesling.

2 – Pemaquid Select (Crassostrea Virginica), Damariscotta River Estuary, Maine

A particularly tender oyster, with a large, sweet-buttery adductor muscle, balanced saltiness

Cotat 2014 Sancerre
Occhipinti 2013 Frappato

This was another very close call. The more moderate salinity of the Pemaquid opened the door to a red wine pairing, and indeed the Frappato was several panelists’ top choice. In the end, the Sancerre edged into top place again, proving that it is one of the wine world’s gifts to oysters and a very safe bet.

3 – Totten E.C. (Crassostrea Virginica), Totten Inlet, Puget Sound, Washington State

Very plump meat with large adductor muscle delivering pronounced cucumber and melon rind flavours, minerally-copper notes, and a sweet-creamy alkaline finish.

Ken Forrester 2014 Old Vines Chenin Blanc
Domaine de L’Écu 2012 Muscadet

These were both excellent matches, and a close call. The richness and minerality of the oyster played beautifully with the maturing, stony and unusually dense muscadet. But the old vines vinosity of the Forrester, coupled with a vague impression of sweetness from ripe fruit on the palate won the day. The majority of panelists were enthused by the exceptional length and creamy mouthfeel produced by the oyster-wine combination on the palate.

Sand Dunes-39504 – Sand Dune (Crassostrea Virginica), Souris, Prince Edward Island

A very large, plump and meaty oyster (which could technically be called a Malpeque, but the Rolls Royce version) with mild salinity and sweet, pleasantly grassy flavor.

Charles Baker 2014 Riesling, Ivan Vineyard
Henry of Pelham 2008 Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche

The majority favoured the CB Riesling for the combination of residual sugar, high acid and youthful citrus fruit in the wine, which harmonized magnificently with the plump, mildly saline Sand Dune. Fruit and herbs washed over the palate in balance, the oyster fattening up the wine, the wine slicing through the meatiness of the oyster. The bubbly Carte Blanche was, for similar reasons, a very close second (I personally preferred it, finding the effervescence to lift he oyster to another dimension).

5 – Mystic (Crassostrea Virginica), Mystic River, Long Island Sound, Connecticut

A small sized, deep-cupped oyster, with pronounced earthy-truffle flavor, high salinity, and toothsome texture.

Occhipinti 2013 Frappato
Loimer 2007 Riesling Steinmassel

This was perhaps the biggest surprise of the tasting. The Frappato was a clear winner, a lighter Sicilian red to be sure, but one with solid, fine-grained tannic structure. Contrary to urban legend, the red didn’t turn into a tinny, bitter mess, but rather, the brininess of the oyster both softened its texture and exposed the wonderful sweet cherry fruit. The finish lined up the savoury-earthy flavours of both the wine and the oyster for perfect harmony. The excellent Loimer Riesling, with its mature flavours, candied citrus and pinch of sweetness, performed admirably against the tough competition, however.

Marina's Top Drawer-39486 – Marina’s Top Drawer (Crassostrea Gigas), Cortes Islands, British Columbia

A classic west coast oyster, intensely flavoured with cucumber and melon rind, and a strong copper-mineral finish.

Servin 2012 Chablis 1er Cru
Domäne Wachau 2012 Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Kellerberg

Another close call, though in the end it was not surprising that the Chablis took this classic match – Gigas is the most common species grown in France, and they’ve been serving Chablis with their oysters there for centuries. It was a perfect match of texture and weight, harmonized mineral tastes, with the lean and stony wine gaining fruit, and the crunchy oyster gaining flesh and creaminess.

7 – Kumomoto (Crassostrea Sikamea), Netart’s Bay, Oregon, and Puget Sound, Washington State

Very small but notoriously intensely flavoured and complex oysters, often ascribed everything from honeydew to cucumber and avocado, and even nutty flavours. “I often avoid ordering them”, confessed Jamie Drummond, referring to the challenge of finding a successful wine match.

Cotat 2014 Sancerre
Forrester 2014 Chenin Blanc

Here the brilliance of this excellent Sancerre really shone through, for me (but not all), the finest Sancerre-oyster combination on the day. Complexity begs for complexity, and each met their match with this combination. Martin commented: “the sequence between the flavor profiles was seamless. It was a complete match”. Forrester’s chenin stood up well, though the kumomoto subdued all but its tropical fruit flavours, turning it into a pleasant but simple white.

Summary and Conclusions

Oysters and crisp white wines are happy partners in general – there were very few disappointing pairings. But the complex nuances of both invite more precision if you’re after a truly memorable experience. The variable texture, salinity and subtleties of flavor that arise in different species of oysters grown in varying conditions (and harvested in different seasons), has a marked impact.

Higher salinity oysters, for example, bring out more fruit in the wine, so pair with a stony, low fruit wine; already very fruity wines lose all nuance. There are many that fit this bill, like a classic muscadet, or champagne/traditional method sparkling.

Herbal-cucumber and mineral flavours (iron, copper, zinc), common in many oysters, find harmony with similar flavours in wine, hence the success of sauvignon blanc and Sancerre in particular, the wine that garnered the most votes overall.

A pinch of residual sugar in wine also works well with particularly briny-saline oysters, as with the ripe Grüner or off-dry Riesling. Indeed, the original oyster and champagne pairing came about when all champagne was made sweet.

Red wines can quickly turn bitter and rusty when up against an oyster, which is why they are traditionally avoided. But as we discovered, certain high acid, fine tannin styles can find a place. The oyster’s salinity can soften tannins (as salt in any food can), while also enhancing fruit. The Frappato in this case sought out similar earthy nuances in the oyster to positive effect. Gamay, light pinot noir, trousseau, etc.. there are several options worth investigating. Low tannins, slightly sweet new world reds would be my next line of investigation.

In the end, of course, the most fun is had by experimenting. So what are you waiting for?

That’s it for this oyster. See you over the next bottle and bivalve.

John Szabo, MS

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Mission Hill Family Estate Winery – Drilling Down in the Okanagan

A WineAlign Winery Profile
By David Lawrason

Mission Hill Family Estate WineryAs 2016 dawns Mission Hill Family Estate is by now no stranger to anyone who has pulled a cork in Canada. Mission Hill wines have been available since the 1970s, although profoundly evolved since then. They are available in every province and territory in the country, from a store in Haines Junction in the Yukon to Carbonear in Newfoundland.

What’s remarkable is that the wines are not only very good quality and thus good value at the lower price range, but also often exceptionally good in the upper ranges. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, consider that Mission Hill, in blind tastings judged by Canada’s top critics, has been named Winery of the Year four times since 2001. The latest victory – over 200+ wineries entered – came in 2015 at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.

Mission Hill Winery Entrance and Keystone

Mission Hill Winery Entrance and Keystone

I will get to the many reasons for that, but I want to talk first about perceptions. A winery that has been around so long, and that is so widely available, is a natural target of some consumer apathy and cynicism, especially when hundreds of other smaller wineries have built their followings in direct competition in the meantime. Yet Mission Hill persists, prospers and continues to try to perfect.

That impetus and wherewithal must come from the top down, and it is by now well known that owner Anthony von Mandl is the man behind this mission. Vancouver-born, Europe-raised and back in B.C. to cut his teeth as a wine merchant in the 1970s – when BC wine was in its infancy – Von Mandl has parlayed it all into an impressive domain.

Mission Hill Family Estate Winery

Mission Hill Family Estate Winery

His mountain-perched, neo-monastic winery is the symbol of Mission Hill’s aspiration and ascendancy. And it is a grand and awe-some place (in the truest sense of the word). But the winery is in its way a one-point-in-time statement, and the real challenge has been to maintain and elevate quality in the vineyards and the bottle – over many years, over many price points. Von Mandl has succeeded by careful selection of people, by careful winemaking and careful marketing and messaging. It has allowed Mission Hill to succeed as a business in many different price and quality arenas.

The Winemakers and Vineyards

I don’t want to dwell on history that is available elsewhere, but you must know that since 1991 winemaking has been in the hands of New Zealander John Simes, who has brought a sense of brightness, best possible ripeness, tension and layering to the wines. Over a decade ago his focus turned to the vineyards as Mission Hill put together five distinct sites, with the two largest in the warmer southern Okanagan. Yet Simes remained the winemaking overseer.

Darryl Booker Head Winemaker

Darryl Booker Head Winemaker

Until six months ago when Australia-born, educated and trained Darryl Brooker was appointed head winemaker, taking over the production of the 2015 vintage. He came into the Mission Hill fold with the acquisition of CedarCreek Winery in 2014, but prior to that he worked in Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula, first at Flat Rock Cellars, then at Andrew Peller-owned Trius. I have known Brooker since his arrival in Canada, and I can tell you that he is smart, open-minded, amiable and very good at his job. And he is excited about taking Mission Hill down the inevitable path of terroir-driven wines.

“The biggest thing for me is to go out into the vineyards with John and absorb what he knows about all these sites, and blocks and rows” said Brooker in a recent interview. “John continues and will continue to be deeply involved with the vineyards.”

Of the five vineyards, two in the north Okanagan are smaller and focused on riesling, pinot noir and chardonnay. Naramata Ranch in the central Okanagan is a gem producing a wide range of white varieties plus pinot and merlot. While the two much larger sites on the warmer, drier Black Sage Bench and Osoyoos regions are more proficient with merlot, cab franc, cab sauvignon and syrah – and yes some chardonnay, the grape that made Mission Hill famous when their chardonnay stunned the world by capturing the Avery Trophy for World’s Best Chardonnay in 1994 in London, England.

Mission Hill Okanagan Valley Vineyard

Mission Hill Okanagan Valley Vineyard

Brooker’s arrival and the focus on vineyards comes at an interesting time in B.C.; when serious discussions about sub-appellations are entering the ‘brass tacks’ phase.  With its vineyards up and down the Okanagan, Mission Hill is not only poised to contribute to the sub-app discussion in all the main Okanagan regions, but to demonstrate it in the bottle.

But the Terroir Series wines – which are only available direct from the winery drill down even deeper than that. “We are sourcing from our very best plots within these five vineyards”, said Brooker.  “They tend to be older blocks between 15 and 30 years of age”.

Brooker was candid about the challenge of drilling down. “Look, Mission Hill is historically known for large production and blending from different sites” (eg the Five Vineyard varietals) he explained. “It is more difficult to narrow down into small batch winemaking that terroir wines demand. So I was very surprised when I walked in here and found so many small batch tanks”.

This year Mission Hill added some concrete eggs to its vessel repertoire, and is considering larger concrete tanks in the immediate future. They are also experimenting with stainless steel barrels. “We are dialling into everything to see what works” Brooker explained.

The Wines

Mission Hill 5 Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013Mission Hill 5 Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2014There are five price/quality Mission hill tiers. (They do not include the recently acquired Von Mandl Estates properties that include CedarCreek, Checkmate and Martins Lane). In recent weeks WineAlign has reviewed wines from across the portfolio – many being included in the National Wine Awards. Below we present links to some of the better buys and most representative wines but we urge you to look beyond.

Five Vineyards Series
These are moderately priced, fruit first varietals blended from any of the five family owned sites. They are available Canada-wide.

Mission Hill 5 Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2014
Mission Hill 5 Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013

Reserve Series
Also sourced and blended from any of the five estate vineyards, these varietal wines are from selected blocks of grapes. They spend longer time in barrel with more lees stirring. They are mid-priced and some are widely available across the Canada.

Mission Hill Reserve Riesling 2014
Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Mission Hill Reserve Chardonnay 2013
Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz 2013

Mission Hill Reserve Riesling 2014Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013Mission Hill Reserve Chardonnay 2013Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz 2013

Terroir Collection
This new range of varietally labelled wines express distinct viticultural aspects of the vineyard estates driven by soil, clone, climate, and precision farming. The back labels explain the source. They are gradually replacing the SLC (Small Lot Collection) range. The reds are premium priced and currently only available direct from the winery.

Mission Hill Terroir Collection No. 16 Southern Cross Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Mission Hill Terroir Collection No.23 Crosswinds Syrah 2012
Mission Hill Terroir Collection No.21 Splitrail Merlot 2012

Mission Hill Terroir Collection No. 16 Southern Cross Sauvignon Blanc 2012Mission Hill Terroir Collection No.23 Crosswinds Syrah 2012Mission Hill Terroir Collection No.21 Splitrail Merlot 2012Mission Hill Compendium 2012Mission Hill Perpetua Osoyoos Vineyard Estate 2011

Legacy Series
There are four wines in this pinnacle series: Compendium, Quatrain, Perpetua and Oculus. They are branded blends rather than labeled by varietal or vineyard. They are high priced and available at fine wine shops and restaurants in many Canadian markets.

Mission Hill Compendium 2012
Mission Hill Perpetua Osoyoos Vineyard Estate 2011

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.

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Privilege members receive first access to limited releases, exclusive access to our members-only dining salon, and priority access to our signature Concert Series.
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The Douro Boys

By John Szabo MS

The Douro Boys

The Douro Boys – photo Pedro Lobo

Among the countless unofficial winery associations worldwide, the group of five estates from the Douro Valley in Portugal – Quinta do Vallado, Niepoort, Quinta do Crasto, Quinta Vale D. Maria and Quinta do Vale Meão – known as the Douro Boys, have had disproportionate success. Since forming in 2003, they’ve succeeded in raising not only their own profiles internationally, but also the image of the entire Douro Valley.

The group holds regular joint tastings, seminars and presentations around the world, like the one in Toronto in October, aimed at celebrating the Douro Valley along with their own unique histories. Although each produces port wines, the goal is above all to raise the profile of dry wines, and the collective quality of their portfolios, among the best in the Douro, gives their message strength and credence to be sure.

Dirk Niepoort

Dirk Niepoort

But what makes this group particularly compelling is how unlikely an association they are. Five more distinctive personalities would be hard to script. And the wine styles that result from their fiercely independence natures and individual ideas about how best to interpret the Douro’s great terroir clearly reflect that. It’s as though they gather around the table to discuss how to be different, rather than the typical association approach of trying to harmonize styles and messages. As a result, the Douro Boys’ story is a complex one, with multiple endings, like a choose-your-own-adventure.

On the one extreme lies Dirk Niepoort and his wines of uncommon delicacy and finesse, produced from a collection of high elevation sites, some north facing, harvested a good deal earlier than the mean. Of all the Douro boys, Niepoort is perhaps the greatest outlier, content to operate in his own space, confident enough to push extremes. His influence on the rest of the valley, and Portugal, cannot be under-estimated.

On the other extreme lies the Roquette family’s Quinta do Crasto in the Douro Superiore, an estate favouring density, ripeness and power, abetted by the terroir, and unapologetically generous use of toasty new wood in the modern style. Crasto’s wines have been highly successful abroad, especially in Canada and the US.

The Meandering Douro Valley

The Meandering Douro Valley

Cristiano Van Zeller’s Quinta Vale Dona Maria plays a little in both spectrums, producing powerhouses like the Estate Douro red on the one hand, and the exceptionally perfumed and refined single vineyard Vinha da Francisca Douro red on the other. The way forward for Van Zeller, he tells me on a visit last fall, is a return to co-planting field blends of multiple varieties, which was standard practice before the mid-twentieth century. I eagerly await the results.

João and Francisco Ferreira’s Quinta do Vallado follows a similar pattern, variously expressing a wide palette of vineyards, with old and young vines. Vallado crafts some unusual specialties like a pure souzão, zesty and bright, as well as a pure touriga nacional, open, honest and very natural. A stay at the Quinta’s hotel with its mesmerizing view over the Douro River is highly recommended.

Morning in the Douro

Morning in the Douro

Francisco Olazabal’s Quinta Vale Do Meão (he also makes the wine at Vallado; the Ferreiras are cousins), one of the great historic properties of the Douro where the first great dry Douro red was born, Barca Velha, finds a comfortable via di mezzo. His wines perform a balancing act of depth and power without exaggeration, offering ripe but fresh fruit and carefully measured wood influence. Uniquely for the Douro, the quinta straddles a fault line, on the one side of which is strikingly pure granite bedrock, and on the other, more typical schist. Olazabal puts the granite on display in the Monte Meão red, pure touriga from the granites, charmingly rustic, grippy, tight and high-toned. When combined with grapes from the schists as in the estate Red, the quinta’s maximum expression shines.

That, at least, is how I see it. But if there’s one thing these producers do have in common, it’s a fierce desire to safeguard Douro traditions and grape varieties, a very worthy mission.

Below are my top picks from each portfolio, out of the wines presented in October. Check WineAlign for availability.

Foot stomping in traditional lagars Quinta Vale Dona Maria

Foot stomping in a traditional lagar at Quinta Vale Dona Maria

Buyer’s Guide: Douro Boys

Quinta do Vale Meão (Available in Ontario via Trialto)

Quinta do Vale Meão 2014 Meandro White, Douro Valley ($20.00)

2014 was just the second vintage for this new white addition to the Vale Meão portfolio, and it’s terrific. Made from high elevation vineyards and (acid-retaining) arinto and rabigato, this is crisp and highly perfumed, lovely and fresh, succulent and savoury, with mesmerizing herbal notes, sage and lemongrass. Fruit runs in the bright citrus range, while cleverly measured lees influence adds a touch of flintiness. Wood is not a factor – this is all about the fruit, floral and herbal perfume, and at the price, makes for an attractive buy to be sure.

Quinta do Vale Meão 2013 Meandro, Douro Valley ($25.00)

Made from about 30% each touriga nacional, franca, tinta roriz, plus 10% other grapes. 2013 was an elegant year in the Douro, with a little more acidity than the mean, yielding a fresh and pure example. This is a great vintage for the Meandro. In 5 years this will be spectacular. Best 2018-2024.

Quinta Do Vale Meão Meandro White 2014Meandro Do Vale Meão 2013Quinta Do Vale Meão Estate Wine 2012

Quinta do Vale Meão 2012 Estate Wine, Douro Valley ($110.00)

From the oldest vineyards of mainly touriga nacional and touriga franca, this is a substantial, ripe, perfumed, fullish and succulent Douro red, with lovely mid-palate pitch and generous but reeled in fruit. It offers balance and freshness, modest wood influence, plenty of floral perfume, bright citrus and terrific length. Over several vintages, the estate red appears to have evolved into a wine of greater finesse and politeness. The Quinta has been gradually replanted from the 1960s onwards. Best 2018- 2035+

Niepoort (Available in Ontario via FWP Trading)

Niepoort 2014 Redoma Branco, Douro Valley ($35.50)

Classically refined in the Niepoort house style, with terrific texture and great palate presence. I love the silky-suave mouthfeel, genuine depth and concentration, and sleek, elegant styling. Terrific length. Top stuff and a great value in the context. Best 2015-2022.

Niepoort 2013 Coche Branco, Douro Valley ($124.00)

Made from a typical Douro field blend, the oldest vines in the Niepoort collection, over 100 years old, on the edge of the Douro zone where the percentage of granite is higher than in the rest of the region. Inspired by Burgundy legend Jean-François Coche-Dury, The Niepoort “Coche” offers notable sulphides in the fashionably reductive style, and is allowed to go through full malolactic. The palate is superb, with multiple layers and beguiling texture, tremendous depth and length. Wood is magically integrated. This should be revisited in another 2-3 years I suspect for the best expression of this exceptional wine, or decant before serving. This is a new Douro white wine paradigm. Best 2017-2025.

Niepoort 2001 Colheita Port, (bottled in 2014), Douro Valley ($74.00)

An unusually long-aged Colheita (only 7 years are required by law, this saw double that), with supremely elegant texture, fine-grained and filigree, mouth filling and pure, with a sort of savoury-saltiness that draws you in for another sip, or more. In the context of great wines, and complex wines, this is very comfortably in the top value category – this is precisely what you want to have on hand for those elegant and sophisticated finishes to a great meal. Best served lightly chilled to enhance the elegance further.

Niepoort Redoma Branco 2014Niepoort Coche Branco 2013Niepoort 2001 Colheita PortNiepoort Batuta 2012Niepoort Charme 2013

Niepoort 2012 Batuta, Douro Valley ($118.00)

Batuta, Dirk Niepoort’s more structured and robust red wine, is made with virtually no stem inclusion, and using very little extraction, though is left for several weeks on skins. The source of its typically more structured profile is the vineyard, according to Niepoort. Unusually for this house, it’s aged in barriques, including a small percentage of new wood, 20-30%, even if the wood influence remains very modest. The 2012 is relatively closed on the nose at the moment; the palate is mid-weight but full-flavoured, with plenty of dark fruit character. Tannins are abundant but relatively fine-grained, giving this solid architecture, yet in a more refined style than is typical from the Douro. So, although this is Niepoort’s more firm and bold expression, in the larger world context, it remains an elegant, sagely ripened red with plenty of finesse. Best 2018-2030.

Niepoort 2013 Charme Red, Douro Valley ($118.00)

Charme, Niepoort’s most elegant, refined red, is made with 100% stems, and a short extraction period. The 2013 is magical, already open and elegant on the nose, perfumed, all finesse and refinement. This is an absolutely beautiful wine, a monument of grace and sleek styling, so savoury and fine, fabulously silky, and with terrific length. In my view this is the finest Charme yet, which regularly tops my list of favourite Douro reds, albeit in an atypical, almost Burgundian style. It may disappoint those seeking a bolder Douro expression focused on power and extract, but for fans of finesse, the buck stops here. Best 2015-2030.

Quinta do Crasto (Available in Ontario via FWP Trading)

Quinta do Crasto 2012 Reserva Old Vines, Douro Valley ($45.50)

Quinta do Crasto’s old vines reserve is a reliably fine wine, hitting the right balance between power and elegance. It’s more reserved and less obviously woody than the ‘regular’ Crasto estate red, and even more refined than previous vintages, heading it seems into a realm of more elegance, relatively speaking, with clearly very ripe fruit, but ultimately balanced. As usual, this delivers tremendous impact and depth for the money, the equal of many wines in the same genre at far higher prices. Best 2017-2027.

Quinta Vale Dona Maria (Available in Ontario via FWP Trading)

Quinta Vale Dona Maria 2012 Rufo Red, Douro Valley ($20.00)

A terrific ‘entry-level’ red from the Douro Valley, fresh, lightly reductive, juicy, ripe and satisfying, with decent grip and depth. I like the succulent acids and the balance. Serve with a light chill for maximum effect – an infinitely drinkable style. Best 2016-2020.

Quinta Do Crasto Old Vines Reserva 2012Quinta Vale Dona Maria Rufo Red 2012Quinta Vale Dona Maria Vinha Da Francisca 2012Quinta Do Vallado Touriga Nacional 2012

Quinta Vale Dona Maria 2012 Vinha da Francisca, Douro Valley ($139.00)

A perfumed and edgy Douro red, the most elegant in the Dona Maria range in my view, still slightly reductive and a touch stemmy, with firm, tight tannins to match. Acids are likewise firm and the texture tight and palate gripping. I like the genre-bending aspect of this wine, but it will need at least another 4-6 years to start shifting into the lovely savoury-leathery range of flavours that make aged wine so engaging. Superb stuff in any case. Best 2020-2035.

Quinta do Vallado (Available in Ontario via FWP Trading)

Quinta do Vallado 2012 Touriga Nacional, Douro Valley ($42.00)

A wild and fruity, honest and open, natural smelling wine with a light oxidative (attractive) quality. The palate is fullish, pure, and fruity with a fine touch of earth and herbal character, and decent length. A fine, honest, balanced red wine, neither over nor under wrought. Wood is not a significant factor. Best 2015-2024.

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: Treasury Wine Estates

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

BuyTheCaseLOGOimageIn this 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

Treasury Wine Estates

Treasury Wine Estates is one of the world’s largest premium wine producers. They grow, vinify and market wines, mostly from world renowned estates in California and Australia, such as Stag’s Leap, Beringer, Penfolds, Wolf Blass and Rosemount. They also have estates in New Zealand, Argentina and Italy. Many of their wines can be found at the LCBO and VINTAGES but others are available by the case through their consignment program.

The WineAlign Toronto team recently unearthed the following gems during a late November Buy the Case tasting of wines offered by Treasury Wine Estates.

Two of the wines tasted were selected by all 5 writers, so if you are looking for a couple of great wines to have on hand by buying or splitting a case then check out Stags’ Leap 2012 Napa Valley Petite Sirah and Wynns 2013 The Gables Cabernet Shiraz.

Most also thought that Stags’ Leap 2012 Napa Valley Merlot would be a great addition to anyone’s cellar.

If you are selecting wines for a restaurant list, three wines Chateau St. Jean 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Pepperjack 2013 Shiraz and Gabbiano 2012 Solatio would all be good wine-by-the-glass selections.

Below are recommended picks and suggested reasons why you might consider buying by the case.

Stags’ Leap 2012 Petite Sirah,Napa Valley ($39.95)

2015-12-03_16-57-25David Lawrason – As the black colour indicates this is very full bodied, dense, tannic and chewy. And like so many petite sirahs the nose is nothing to write home about – closed and curmudgeonly, with overripe dark fruit, raisiny fruit, damp wood and chocolate. But it has very good concentration and complexity. Needs some time (maybe three to five years). A winter warmer with game, stews and roasts. Split a case with like-minded lovers of big red.
Steve Thurlow – I have always liked this wine from Stags’ Leap for its elegance and pureness. The nose like many petite sirah (aka durif) is not that interesting with aromas of dusty black cherry but the palate is super smooth and very finely balanced with a wonderful poise and very good length. Try with roast beef. Best 2015 to 2020.
Sara d’Amato – Petite sirah can often be overwhelmingly the opposite of petite – dark, intense and tannic. Despite the black, smoky fruit notable in this example, it is also refreshingly open and there is a lightness here that makes it ready to drink and inviting. Pretty, elegant and with complex aromatics.
Michael Godel – A clear distinction can be ascertained from the Stag’s Leap house style across the varietal reds, even in an example like the devilishly rich Petite Sirah. This is quite restrained for the expatriate French variety (called durif), balanced and alcohol gentle, relatively speaking. The Stag’s Leap achieves that rare combination of big and easy. Would make for a good change of pace, either as a curio or a split a case selection.
John Szabo – A perennial favourite of mine from Stags’ Leap, this savage and savoury petite sirah offers a fine mix of earth, fruit, resinous herbs and dark fruit character. Tannins are still firm and burly, but there’s more than ample fruit to ensure proper integration in time. A cellar selection, best after 2018.

Wynns The Gables 2013 Cabernet Shiraz, Coonawarra, Australia ($19.95)

Steve Thurlow – This is a very fine classic Coonawarra cabernet shiraz blend with appealing aromas of blackberry and blueberry fruit with prune, lemon, tobacco and earthy tones. The palate is very pure with clean firm lines and juicy blackberry fruit finely balanced by finely divided tannin and lemony acidity. It will gain in complexity as the tannins fold into the wine if given further bottle age developing more savoury notes in the future. Best 2015 to 2025. Very good length. Though drinking well now this is a great cellar candidate and is awesome value.Wynns Coonawarra Estate The Gables 2013
Sara d’Amato – Possibly the best value of the lot, “The Gables” cabernet sauvignon offers wild and savoury flavours consistent with cabernets produced in the region’s rich, terra rossa soils. A touch of eucalyptus and pine on the finish adds typicity and charm.
Michael Godel – In ode to one of the architectural icons of the Wynns estate, this has classic Coonawarra looks and suave charisma. It’s also electric and alive and represents terrific Cabernet Sauvignon value from an Australian region where that continues to become the norm, not the anomaly. Would make an excellent restaurant pour by the glass with rich winter braises.
John Szabo – There’s nothing from Wynns I wouldn’t happily drink, and this well-priced cabernet offers fine character and genuine depth, complexity and balance. I appreciate the fresh mint-tinged cassis fruit and brambly pine needle flavours. A highly versatile wine to have around the house for all occasions.
David Lawrason – Great value for a modest home cellar and weekend drinking with steaks. This is a generously flavoured yet compact cab-shiraz with black cherry, pepper, cedar and vaguely iron-like minerality typical of Coonawarra. It’s medium-full bodied and vibrant with considerable tannin. Australia can do this grape combo better than most, and Coonawarra leads the pack. Best 2017 to 2022.

Stags’ Leap 2012 Merlot,Napa Valley ($39.95)

David Lawrason – Merlot always plays second fiddle to cab in Napa, but this highly structured version rises up to cab stature – for less. It is a full bodied, fairly firm and dense merlot, with excellent length. Some grit and tension here so worth cellaring. Best 2020 to 2025.
John Szabo – A well crafted example from a reliable Napa name, Stags’ Leap’s 2012 Merlot is a dense and plummy, fruity and spicy wine, with bright, lively acids and moderate, lightly grippy tannins. All elements are in proportion and harmony, and length and depth are superior to the mean. A premium selection to gift to, or share, with special friends.
Steve Thurlow – An elegant classy mid-weight merlot with aromas of plum and red berry fruit with mild nicely integrated oak plus some earthy tones. The palate is juicy and mid-weight with fine tannins and vibrant acidity. Very good length. Try with roast beef. Best 2015 to 2019.

Stags' Leap Winery Merlot 2012Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Chateau St. Jean 2012, Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95)

Michael Godel – Composed from fruit drawn out of the North Coast and Central Coast, this Cabernet Sauvignon works in the simplest, apropos ways. Highly aromatic, well-structured, righteously crafted and respectfully restrained. Would proudly pour any night of the week as a house wine.
Steve Thurlow – This is a pretty very appealing cabernet with some nice floral tones to the cassis fruit and oak spice. The mid-weight palate is soft and juicy and dry with some mild tannin on the finish. Good to very good length. A good wine by the glass selection.

Pepperjack Shiraz 2013, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($24.95)

David Lawrason – Here’s a great wine for a premium by-the-glass pour. It’s authentically Barossa, deep and even yet not as brutish as some, making it enjoyable as a sipper or with food. Love the sultry nose of cassis, vanilla cream, mossy earthiness, subtle ginger and chocolate. It’s full bodied, fairly dense yet elegant.
Sara d’Amato – A very peppery Barossa shiraz, dense with a terrific concentration of black fruit. Firing on all cylinders here, there is no shortage of bang but with less oak than expected. The delicate smokiness compliments the fruit. Rich, savoury, and dry with notable balance. Very good length.

Pepperjack Shiraz Saltram Of Barossa 2013Gabbiano Solatio 2012

Gabbiano Solatio 2012, Tuscany, Italy ($16.95)

David Lawrason – This delivers basic Tuscan character and some charm at a fair price, so consider a case for by-the-glass pours, banquets or larger home or office gatherings. It is light to medium bodied red with vague floral notes, some grainy/malty character, plus some nougat and chocolate. Quite sleek with fresh acidity and fine tannin. Approachable now.
Steve Thurlow – This is a red blend of 50% syrah, 45% cabernet franc and 5% sangiovese with aromas of black cherry fruit with prune, lemon and mild oak spice. It is mid-weight and soft with the ripe fruit balanced by soft tannin and gentle acidity. The finish is a little hot from alcohol but the length is very good. A powerful wine for hearty stews. Best 2015 to 2018.

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

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

Consignment at Treasury Wine Estates:

treasury_wine_estatesWe are passionate about providing our clientele with the very best wines and service in the industry. We provide daytime delivery to your residence or office within the Greater Toronto Area. This service is completely complimentary, regardless of the volume purchased. We strive to ensure that all orders are delivered within five business days.

Our consignment program has been designed to make the procurement of our fine wines simple and bespoke. Wines can also be delivered to an LCBO store of your choice at no additional cost. This service usually takes two to four weeks however, could take longer based on the geographical location of the clientele’s LCBO of choice. The cases arrive pre-paid and we simply email an invoice or credit card slip in advance. The store will then call to notify you when the requested wine has arrived.

Throughout the process, your personal consignment concierge is only a phone call or email away if there are any questions.

Phone: 905-337-6217 | Mobile: 416-358-0177 |

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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 Lifford 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.

Exciting ways to explore Garnacha locally.

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

Love entertaining and discovering new wines? Explore Garnacha!

Did you know that Garnacha is one of the world’s oldest and most widely planted wine grapes? Originating from eastern Spain, most of Garnacha’s production remains in its original birthplace and it is the only mainstream grape with red and white varieties, making it one of the most versatile and diverse varietals on the market, and in the world. Most experts agree that Garnacha conveys the expression of soil, landscape and climate like no other wine. With that combination you’ll find that Garnacha wines are always fruit forward and the wines range from intense aromas with lush red fruits in the red Garnacha, to strawberry flavours, minerality and petrol notes in rosé and white Garnacha wines, respectively.

Let’s toast with these two opportunities to Explore Garnacha!

Win an at Home Chef Experience with Wines of Garnacha

Roll up your sleeves and pour yourself a glass as special guest Chef Justin Van Der Berg designs and prepares a special menu of Spanish inspired dishes, with your help of course, all in your own home! You and four friends will cut, julienne, braise and enjoy a four course custom meal paired with a variety of private, consignment and vintage Garnacha Wines.

Like the Wines Of Garnacha Facebook page and get the chance to live this unique experience.

Attend a Garnacha Wine Fair

WineAlign readers are invited to discover the Wines of Garnacha. Partnering with the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, Wines of Garnacha will conduct a 4 hour intensive sampling with an outstanding set of 4 wineries paired with 3 menu options that complement the Garnacha grape. Get inspired with your holiday entertaining this season and converse with our chef on-site. Take home the authentic recipes and your favourite bottles. Guests will also enjoy Spanish music and a walk through tutorial from our Garnacha Educators and learn even more about this fascinating varietal.

Date & Time: Saturday December 5th from 11:30 am till 3:30 pm.

Venue:  LCBO: 321 Cornwall Rd, Oakville, ON

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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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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008