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John Szabo’s Free Run – Digging for Minerality

By John Szabo MSAugust 24, 2015


John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

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

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

Defining Minerality

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

What it Isn’t

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

Professor Alex Maltman

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

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

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

Metaphorical Minerality

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

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

And Besides, Minerals do Affect Flavour!

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

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

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

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

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

Szabo’s Guide to Minerally Wines:

Maximin Grünhäuser Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett 2012

Benjamin Bridge Nova Scotia Brut 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Round

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

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

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

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

Keep digging.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

NOVA 7 - The Toast of Nova Scotia

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Buy The Case: Cavinona Wine Agency

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario


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

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

July – Cavinona Wine Agency

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

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

Cellaring Wine

Fattoria Di Milziade Antano Montefalco Sagrantino 2011

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

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

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

Fattoria Di Milziade Antano 2011 Montefalco Rosso Riserva

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

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

Function Wines

Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Rosé, Lombardy

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

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

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

La Cavalchina 2014 Bardolino Chiaretto, Veneto

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

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

Personal House Wines

Terre Di Giurfo 2013 Kudyah Nero d’Avola, Sicily

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

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

Contadi Franciacorta N/V Brut, Lombardia

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

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

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

Gifting Wines

Carvinea 2008 Frauma, IGT Salento Rosso, Puglia

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

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

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


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

Cavinona Wine Agency

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

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


Cavinona Wine Agency

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Argentina Part I : Rewarding Freshness

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


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


Canucks in Argentina


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

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

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

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

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

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

The Empowerment of Women in Wine

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


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

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

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

Malbec and Medals

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

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

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

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


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



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


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


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

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

Rhys Pender, MW
Argentina’s New Found Finesse

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

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

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

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


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


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

Treve Ring

Wines of Argentina - Wine Jam & BBQ

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Introducing a new Mobile Version of WineAlign

We’re pleased to announce that our new Mobile Version of WineAlign is now available.

LoginBased on the feedback from our recent (and ongoing) member survey we now better understand the need for an improved mobile experience. So we’ve decided to accelerate the release by making this version available today. Yes, it’s still BETA – but we believe it’s quite good and we’ve been enjoying it for the last month.

The website,, has been optimized for the mobile browsing experience and is ideally suited for use while you are shopping for wine at the LCBO, SAQ, or BC Liquors Stores.

The site is bilingual and supports shoppers across Canada.

It’s as easy as 1,2,3 to bookmark this site on your mobile phone and then access it like an app.

Mobile WineAlign1-ListMobile Details

Okay, so how do you access our new mobile site on your phone?  It’s super simple:

Point your phone’s browser to or

Login to site using your WineAlign credentials.

Steps illustrated below (iPhone):

1) Select the Share icon at the bottom of your screen

2) Click on Add to Home Screen

3) WineAlign Icon will show up on your device


Click on image for larger version

Steps for Android: 

Point your phone’s browser to or

Login to site using your WineAlign credentials.

Follow the same steps above and create a bookmark/link/icon on your screen.


Click on image for larger version


Click on image for larger version

Note: If are accessing the regular WineAlign site via your phone you should logout of that first before attempting to bookmark the new site.

FREE apps are coming for Apple and Android!

We are currently working on incorporating this new site into a downloadable application but it’s not quite ready yet. We know you’ve heard this from us before. The fact is that it’s a massive job to write applications from scratch for each of the mobile platforms. We started down that path several years ago and had released an Apple app and had an Android app in beta testing. When Apple upgraded their mobile operating system last year it broke our app and the cost to fix the app was almost more than what it cost to develop it in the first place. At that time we decided to pull the Apple app and find a better approach.

Luckily in the four years since we started down the mobile development path the tools to build mobile apps have advanced light years.  We’re now using those tools and our highest priority project is incorporating our new mobile site into apps for Android and Apple. The new app will include bar-coding support and it will be FREE. Our Shop & Scan app should be ready for major platforms in the next month.

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy the new Mobile Version of WineAlign. If you have any questions or concerns, please drop us a note at

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Buy The Case: Treasury Wine Estates

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario


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

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

June – Treasury Wine Estates

Treasury Wine Estates is a global wine company with a large portfolio including some of the world’s most recognised wine brands. Names like Penfolds, Stags’ Leap Winery, Etude, Wynns and Wolf Blass are regularly found in the LCBO and VINTAGES, but in addition many others are available through their consignment program. Four WineAlign critics sat down in late May to taste a dozen Treasury submissions. Here are our recommendations, grouped loosely under reasons why we would buy the wine by the case.

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

Restaurant Pours by the Glass

Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011, Tuscany, Italy ($22.95)

Etude Pinot Gris 2013 Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011Steve Thurlow – A very typical Chianti with mild aromas and a soft midweight fruity palate that will work well with a wide variety of meat and cheese dishes. It is supple and smooth on the palate but there is just the right amount of acidity for freshness and some firm tannin for grip. It finishes dry with good to very good length. Best with food.
Michael Godel – This Tuscan offers the best of both worlds, in two ways. First, this is Sangiovese made by an old wine making family steeped in tradition under the conglomerate ownership of a very large wine company that supports with modern infrastructure. Second, the wine is rich, modern and approachable with accents that reek of old world style. Sometimes wine with a foot each in the past and the present is a very good thing. Ideal for the licensee in need of wines with broad, immediate and accessible appeal.

Cellaring Wine or Gifting Wine

Etude 2013 Pinot Gris, Carneros, California ($39.95)

John Szabo – Etude is one of the classier operations in Carneros, always focused on elegance and refinement. This is a wine to buy a case of, keep a few bottles for yourself, and give the rest away to your close, wine-savvy friends with a nudge and a wink (they wouldn’t likely spend $40 on a bottle of California pinot gris, which means they would miss out on this lovely wine, perfect at the table with anything lightly spiced and aromatic herb-infused). You’ll become their go-to wine source, if you weren’t already.
Michael Godel – If not the first to do so, this Carneros offers a rare comparison in the way it intimates with near pitch-perfect exactitude the kind of Pinot Gris experience that comes from a similarly priced, lieu-dit, ‘premier cru’ Alsatian. Etude’s stylish PG should be considered a case buy without hesitation, to enjoy once a year for the next dozen. Or, convince a wine geek friend or two to split the case with you.

Function Wines or Personal House Wines

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

Colores Del Sol Malbec 2012 Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon 2012John Szabo – This is a smart option when a foolproof, widely appealing wine is required, like those larger functions (with decent budgets) with important but unknown guests that you need to impress. This has the star power of both California and cabernet sauvignon, coupled to name brand recognition amongst those in the know, for a powerful and attractive combination.
Sara d’Amato – A touch pricey for an everyday house wine but one to stock up on for when barbecued steak is on the menu. There is an impressive amount of substance and depth here and without sweetness or the use excessive oak.
Steve Thurlow – This is a pretty cabernet with some nice floral tones to the cassis fruit and oak spice. The midweight palate is soft and juicy and dry with some mild tannin on the finish. Good to very good length. Good value for an appealing Californian cabernet.
Michael Godel – Having first tasted this at dinner with winemaker Margo Van Staaveren, what stood out so profoundly was this simple, ‘entry-level’ California Cabernet Sauvignon’s ability to mimic and transition to Chateau St. Jean’s more expensive and increasingly complex Cabernets. At this price you can pour at will to crowds large and small.

Seasonal Wines

Colores del Sol 2012 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($11.95)

John Szabo – A perfectly serviceable, soft and fruity, easy drinking malbec, which fulfills the party or BBQ wine role nicely. At this price you can serve generously, while your guests will think you spent more on this fashionable bottle, as Argentine Malbec continues to garner recognition and sales.
Steve Thurlow – This is a soft somewhat overripe malbec with some high toned aromas on top of the blueberry fruit with peppermint and honey. The palate is soft and fruity with some tannin showing up on the finish. Good to very good length. Try with burgers or grilled sausage.

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2012 Devil's Lair Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Six Packs Please

Devil’s Lair Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Margaret River, Australia, $49.95

Sara d’Amato – Dry, full-bodied and most importantly balanced, this fleshy cabernet from Devil’s Lair has preserved an impressive amount of acidity contributing to a solid, age-worthy wine. What is most compelling, however, is the wine’s savory, floral nose with notes of mint, black fruit and purple flower. Available in an easy to swallow 6-pack case.

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2012, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia ($29.95)

Sara d’Amato – Beautifully developed, this cool climate pinot noir from select parcels throughout the Yarra Valley delivers a round, appropriately rich and appealing palate with impressive complexity. Offered in a 6-pack case, it will be easy to find friends who are willing to split.

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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Acclaimed UK Wine Journalist Jamie Goode joins the Judging Team for the Nationals

National Wine Awards of Canada 2015May 19, 2015


We are delighted to announce that, for the second year in a row, acclaimed UK-based wine journalist Dr. Jamie Goode will be a part of our panel of judges in Niagara Falls, Ontario at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.

Jamie Goode new

Dr. Jamie Goode

Jamie’s experience in wine very much mirrors that of our regular judges, which made for a seamless fit inside the tasting room in 2014. Of course another view, and one from Europe, should prove useful to those wineries engaged in the competition and hoping to expand their export horizons.

Jamie first visited Ontario wine regions in 2013 during The International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration and British Columbia wineries during his time at the Nationals in 2014. This year, he will again visit Ontario wineries as part of the judges’ tour.

After last year’s trip to the Okanagan to judge the National Wine Awards of Canada 2014, Jamie published “Thinking out loud about Canadian wine” on his blog He had this to say about the Nationals:

“The WineAlign judges are highly competent and well travelled, and it was painless judging with them. The organization of these wine awards, which involved opening over 4,000 bottles, pouring flights for each judge, and then collating the results in real time, was superb. Which means that judges can get on with the process of judging wine. The process was thorough, and every wine was given respect and time to show its best.” – Dr. Jamie Goode

Dr. Goode completed a PhD in plant biology and worked as a science editor before switching careers to wine writing. He’s a book author (The Science of Wine and Authentic Wine – both with University of California Press), writes a weekly wine column for a national newspaper (The Sunday Express), and blogs daily at, one of the world’s most popular wine websites. An experienced wine judge, he’s a panel chair for the International Wine Challenge each year, and has judged wine in France, Australia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia. He tweets as @jamiegoode.

National Wine Awards of Canada 2015

The National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC), held annually in June, is only open to wines grown and produced in Canada. The goal of ‘The Nationals’ is to expose Canadian wine drinkers to the best in Canadian wines. There is no restriction on price, leaving each winery the opportunity to compete with and against the best wines in the country. More importantly, as barriers to ship wines across the country come down, the combination of winning recognition at The Nationals and WineAlign’s ability to display the results alongside your key retail outlets, from the winery direct to across the country, makes it the only competition with enduring post competition sales opportunities.

The 2015 tastings will take place from June 23 to 27 in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Registration is now open. Click here for more information and to register.

The Judges

There are subtle changes to our panel each year but for the most part the judges are comprised of some of Canada’s leading wine writers, journalists, sommeliers, buyers and industry professionals. The competition also seeks out new and emerging talent in the industry to be part of the panel. This blend of experience and enthusiasm, brought by judges from many regions across Canada, ensures a comprehensive view of the wine world’s most current state. (NWAC15 Judges)

You can follow the 2015 NWAC and our judges’ tweets from start to finish on Twitter @WineAlign and look for the hashtag #NWAC15 .

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Buy The Case: Trialto Wine Group

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario


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

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

May 2015 – Trialto Wine Group

Trialto is Canada’s largest national purveyor of premium wines. Their Consignment selection in Ontario is quite extensive. Three WineAlign critics sat down in late April to taste 15 Trialto submissions. Italy has shone through in this report. Here are our recommendations, grouped loosely under reasons why we would buy the wine by the case.

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

Restaurant Pours by the Glass

Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barbera D'alba 2013

Joseph Faiveley 2012 BourgogneJoseph Faiveley Bourgogne 2012, France ($23.95)

Sara d’Amato – A dynamite entry-level Burgundy offered in an easy-to-swallow 6-pack case. If you’re a lover of pinot noir, you’ll know that you can spend a great deal of time and money finding a great example, so take advantage of this pre-screened beauty.
Michael Godel – Crafted as if to the letter of entry-level Bourgogne law. Bright, animated, ripe, affable, under-currant earthy and wholly, purposefully, decidedly approachable.

Borgogno 2013 Barbera D’alba, Piedmont, Italy ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This is a classic barbera; such a great food wine. It’s jammed with berry fruit that assuages the grape’s natural acidity. This a classy yet friendly wine to stock for casual Italian dinners. Should be on any Italian wine list, and even personal house wine for any Italian food lover. It’s available in six-bottle cases, but I would buy 12.
Michael Godel – Popping Barbera full of strapping substantial fruit, mind-meddling acidity and thankfully, playful rhythm and blues chords.

Cellaring Wine

Montresor 2011 Castelliere delle Guaite Primo Ripasso

Neal Cabernet 2009 SauvignonNeal Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, California ($59.00)
Michael Godel – Spirited, elevated tones and full, fleshy fruit endow this Neal with long-term capabilities. Somehow you just yet know it will evolve in this exact state for another 10 years…cellaring or gifting wine.

Montresor 2011 Castelliere delle Guaite Primo Ripasso, Valpolicella Superiore, Italy ($24.95)
Michael Godel – So much flavour and a Quintarelli style, of rust, antiquity and liqueur. Buy a case, wait up to 10 years and drink it over the next 10. You’ll revel in telling everyone how much you paid in back in 2015…curio selections or cellaring wine.

Function Wines

Pares Balta Brut Cava, Spain ($13.95)

David Lawrason – This is a rare organically produced cava, that captures both a light, racy feel and complex flavours. With good stony acidity and only 11.5% alcohol there is a fine sense of tenderness and raciness. Excellent pricing here. Purchase by the case for a larger function where guests will be impressed by something a bit different.

Vietti 2012 Perbaco Nebbiolo Delle Langhe, Piedmont, Italy ($28.95)

David Lawrason – Perbacco is a fine value intro to Piemontese nebbiolo. It could lead off the Piedmont nebbiolo section of an Italian wine list, or in-fill a personal cellar with a shorter term Piemonte red.  It is actually a de-classified Barolo, from 35-year-old vines in the Barolo region. Balanced to drink now with some aeration but this will age nicely through 2020.
Michael Godel – A prevailing and concurrent nebbiolo presence, of tar and roses, is modern, magnified and inextricably tied to its declassified single Barolo vineyard. Makes for great value in young nebbiolo (think classy Italian wedding).
Sara d’Amato – A ready-to-drink nebbiolo with softer than the norm tannins but delivering loads of concentration. Entice your friends to pool funds with the explanation that this is a declassified Barolo offering a great deal of complexity at a much better price.

Parés Baltà Cava Brut Vietti Perbacco Langhe Nebbiolo 2012 Terras Gauda Abadia San Campio Albariño Rias Baixas 2014 Montresor Valpolicella 2012

Seasonal Wines

Terras Gauda Abadia San Campio 2014 Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain ($21.95)

Michael Godel – Highly complex aromatics, as if by blend. Lingers for longer than expected. A bright, spirited, fine example of Albariño and ideal for the warm months.

Personal House Wines

Montresor 2012 Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy ($12.95)
David Lawrason – If I was running an Italian/Mediterranean restaurant this would be my bargain priced ace-in-the-hole red for those ordering lighter fare. It is classic/traditional Valpolicella, and great value! It’s only mid-weight but carries a sense of compactness and balance. Not a sipping red. 12 bottle case.
Sara d’Amato – Frankly, Valpolicella, from the northeastern region of Veneto, is not often the most exciting of Italian reds nor is it highly coveted. I was thus doubly surprised when I tasted this well-priced and impressive example from Montresor. Punchy, flavourful and easy to drink, keep this around for everyday pasta and pizza nights.

Curio Selections

Montresor Capitel Alto 2013

Giacomo Borgogno & Figli No Name 2011Giacomo Borgogno & Figli 2011 “No Name”, Piedmont, Italy ($39.95)
Sara d’Amato – Purposefully unnamed as to protest Italian wine bureaucracy, here’s a great find for pre-demonstration drinks or election watching. Not only is it a compelling wine made from Northern Italy’s choice grape varietal, nebbiolo, but it is available in a rare 3-bottle case making it a much more affordable prospect.

Montresor 2013 Capitel Alto Soave, Veneto, Italy ($16.95)

David Lawrason – Soave may be known for inexpensive, everyday whites but better examples like this offer weight, substance and complexity. Performs above its price, and should work well with richer white meat and risotto dishes. A hand-sell in restaurants but worth it; home chefs will find it a great addition to the repertoire. Available in a six bottle case.
Sara d’Amato – ‘Tis the season for delectable whites and if the recent heat doesn’t melt you than this doozy of a Soave will certainly do the trick. Despite its refreshing nature, it is certainly not light and trivial – there is real power and character here that will make the most refined palate take note.
Michael Godel – Quite the salubrious Soave, purveyor of good feelings and with the words party pleaser inscribed across its Veronese face.

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

Trialto Wine Group

TrialtoTrialto is a team of passionate wine professionals representing the most prestigious premium wines from around the world, and serving the Canadian market by helping liquor boards, retailers and restaurants source, market and sell these wines. We are a small independent company, run by the owners and built to serve the small and medium sized family owned wineries we represent; helping them succeed in a world that is increasingly becoming dominated by vertically integrated, global giant corporations. Trialto works exclusively with premium wines; no beer, no volume spirits, no bulk wines. We have 60 employees in offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal and “feet on the street” in 12 major cities.

Trialto represents “wine of people, place and time”. Our wines tell a story about people; the families who make the wine, their values, history and culture. We connect the people who make the wine to the people who buy, sell, drink and write about the wine; our relationships and networks are our business. Wines that authentically represent a place play an important role in preserving the culture and history of that place. We are all about telling a story through place, and allowing people to experience place through wine.  At Trialto our goal is to spend time with the people behind the wines, learn their stories, and convey their stories through the wines we represent.

Liquid Art Selections is Trialto’s dedicated portfolio of rare, special and allocated wines. A separate portfolio of some of the world’s most sought after wines supported by a team of Canada’s finest wine professionals. Liquid Art began with just a handful of undiscovered producers in 1989 and has since grown to represent some of the world’s most sought-after estates, from the traditional to the cutting edge. Behind the Liquid Art success story is a well-defined goal of providing lovers of fine wines with top quality products that consistently deliver. We are the exclusive representatives for our Partner producer’s wines in our markets and have grown to be one of our market’s most respected wine importers, specializing in sourcing impeccably cellared examples of the world’s greatest and most sought-after wines.

You can subscribe to Trialto’s newsletters and receive exclusive offers here.

How to order wine from Trialto:

For consumers living within the GTA area we offer daytime delivery to your home or office free of charge, regardless of how many cases are purchased. For clients in in the outer GTA/Oakville/Mississauga/Brampton/Burlington/Hamilton we offer delivery for a $15 flat rate (including HST), regardless of case volume. For all other parts of Ontario we offer delivery for a $25 flat rate (including HST) regardless of case volume. Generally orders can be delivered within 5 business days.

For all clients we can also ship wines to an LCBO of your choice at no extra cost. The shipment usually takes 2-4 weeks, but may take up to 8 in peak seasons or based on distance. The cases arrive pre-paid, we e-mail you the invoice and credit card slip and the store should give you a call to let you know they’ve arrived.

If you have any questions, you can direct them to us at Trialto Wine Group at (416)532-8565 or by email at


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Introducing WineAlign’s Buy The Case Program

A Backgrounder to WineAlign’s Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario, and ten good reasons to buy the case.

Each month WineAlign reports on recommended wines that can only be purchased by the case from importers registered in the LCBO’s Consignment Program. They are ‘already landed and stocked’ wines that can be direct delivered to your restaurant, home or office within days of ordering.

BuyTheCaseLOGOimage“Consignment” was established by the LCBO primarily to allow restaurateurs access to a far greater selection of wines than is available in-store via VINTAGES and the “General List”. And there are at least as many, if not more, brands in this channel as there are on the shelf – thousands! Individuals can purchase these wines too, but you must order by the case. The LCBO has dictated this, but the economic practicality is that because the wines are delivered direct it is not cost-effective to deliver smaller lots and single bottles.

This month’s Featured Agency: Cavinona Wine Agency

Buying a case can be a great approach if it’s affordable, especially when you find a wine you really like. It is actually a well-entrenched model for wine purchasing around the world. But if you don’t do it already, there are actually many good and practical reasons to buy a case. Indeed our report will be using 10 Good Reasons as a way to identify where and how you might get the most of them.

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

Buy the Case

There will also be, in each issue, a paragraph introducing the importer and any particularities of the ordering process. WineAlign is not acting as an agent nor involved in the ordering and delivery process. We are simply bringing our objective reviewing experience to bear, and letting you know what is out there that might be worthy of your consideration.

Ten Good Reasons to Buy A Case

1. Restaurant Pours by the Glass
There are many reasons restaurants would want to buy a case, or more, but finding higher volume wines that are enjoyable by the glass is at the top of their list.  This means the wine should be ready to drink, without further cellaring, whether being used as an aperitif sipper or with food.

2. Cellaring Wine
Many wines will come into better balance and gain complexity with age. Restaurants and individuals with existing cellars know all about it.  Try a bottle when the case arrives then watch it evolve.  You get to know it, and bond with it, and ‘own’ it, and get to know when you will most enjoy it – and similar wines – down the road.

3. Collectible Wine
Wines that have some degree of rarity and perhaps re-sale value are usually traded in case lots.  The consignment program does offer wines of this calibre from time to time.

4. Function Wines
Whether it’s a wedding, retirement, business conference or something in between, there are many occasions where volume purchases are required.  Usually there are budgetary limitations so we will be on the lookout for lower prices wines that deliver the goods

5. Seasonal Wines
With four distinct seasons of about three months each, Ontario is a prime locale for seasonal by the case drinking. Drinking a case of 12 in a three-month period is actually a very tidy fit and doable. We will also be assuming the wine is suitable for drinking now, in the season just upon us.

6. Personal House Wines
We all want one or two of these around the house, a good quality wine in a style we personally really like, that induces a sense of comfort and relaxation. It’s actually difficult to make a judgment on which will be an ideal house wine and for whom.  But we will attempt to pick wines with universal appeal. A house wine should be ready to enjoy without cellaring and be reasonably priced.

7. Gifting Wines
The idea here is to put forward very good examples of popular, recognizable and appreciated regional/varietal wines that may be priced above your normal (personal) range.  You can buy a case and give a bottle or two to various friends and associates. This is about largesse.

8. Wine Pooling
These are high quality wines you really want to own, but cannot necessarily afford a whole case of 12.  Bu you also know that key friends and family members would also like to be part of a co-operative purchase.

9. Curio Selections
There are always unique, intriguing, off the grid wines that just don’t fit anywhere else. They are not necessarily collectibles in a monetary sense, but they will appeal to wine enthusiasts and explorers, who may want to pool. Or it might a wine you just want to own because it speaks to you.

10. Six Packs Please
Some consignment wines are sold in six bottle cases, usually more expensive wines or those that for some reason are a harder sell through. We will endeavour to isolate these for you.

Featured Agencies:

Treasury Wine Estates (June 2015)

Trialto Wine Group  (May 2015)

Cavinona Wine Agency (July 2015)

We welcome your feedback on our Buy the Case program.

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , ,

New Zealand’s 24 Pinot Noir Appellations

New Zealand has six regions whose names (appellations) appear on pinot noir wine labels. This article proposes there are another eighteen sub-regions/appellations within the original six that could/should appear on the labels. And that there will be many more in the years ahead. It’s a perspective from an engaged visitor from Canada, not an NZ industry insider. Grab a glass, crack the cap on an NZ pinot and read along.

by David Lawrason, WineAlignMay 6, 2015


 David Lawrason

David Lawrason

In the past two years I have been to New Zealand three times, drawn not by sauvignon which I do enjoy, but by pinot noir. During three weeks in 2013 I visited six pinot noir growing regions, 35 wineries and capped it with the four day NZ Pinot 2013 conference in Wellington. I tasted at least 300 hundred pinots and I became familiar enough with the range to suggest that there about 18 sub-regions distinct enough to be considered separate pinot appellations. And that is only an interim guesstimate. My most recent visits in 2014 and 2015 were not as intensive but I returned once more to Martinborough, and twice to Marlborough and Central Otago – the three largest pinot regions.

Premises and Overviews

What follows are observations based on an important premise. Interesting pinot noir is not cheap – I will be talking about wines for the most part that cost more than $30 in Canada or other markets outside of New Zealand. At this level pinot noir’s fascination is in the way its expresses its place of origin. And those who are going to spend more than $30 are interested. They want to know where the wine comes from, and they will pay for that individuality. They want to taste it and discuss it. So I am talking about NZ pinot noir as one of the world’s most engaging wines, not a commercial commodity.

New Zealand’s regulators are slow to address this issue. They are not yet properly identifying regions on the labels. Some argue that it is early days for New Zealand pinot noir; that sub-regionalization is a work in progress, that vineyards need to mature, that winemakers need more time to experiment in and define terroirs; that consumers are not ready to digest sub-regions; that New Zealand needs to present a simple, unified and easily understood face to the world. There are certainly logical arguments in all this, from a marketing perspective.

6 Otago Bannockburn

Bannockburn, Central Otago

This discussion is not about marketing. In the glass New Zealand pinot is already speaking in sub-regional dialects and its winemakers are too; indeed the whole theme of the NZ Pinot 2013 conference in Wellington was regionality. And as a pinot keener parachuting into the country to get to the bottom of NZ pinot noir it was abundantly evident that pinot noir is every bit as capable of expressing the details of terroir in NZ as it is in Burgundy, which has built its entire reputation on precisely the same foundation.

Some Kiwis seem to almost fear the Burgundy association. During the presentations at the Pinot Noir conference Burgundy became the “B word”, barely speakable. They argued their style is different, with which I agree – altho’ NZ pinot style is closer to Burgundy in fact that some other pinot regions. But style has nothing to do with my point; I’m talking about distinctions based on terroir. And instead of shunning Burgundy associations New Zealand should be embracing and emulating what Burgundy has accomplished in terms of putting terroir in the glass.

Some argue that sub-regionalization or Burgundization of New Zealand will make it too complicated. I ask, for whom?  Not those willing to pay for individualized wines – i.e. Burgundy lovers of which there are legions around the world

Some might argue that New Zealanders don’t want to play into the Burgundy snob factor. They want to be more populist and definitely more casual about it all. Yet they are busily building a distinct kiwi, barefoot and cut-off shorts pinot culture of their own.  It’s the way of the world, as natural as terroir itself and they need to get used to the fact they can be, and are, special.  No time for modesty and self-deprecation!

Generalizations and Stats

The Six Existing NZ Pinot RegionsIn 2013 New Zealand had 5,125 hectares of pinot noir (up 300ha over 2012), placing it in 4th in the world – after France, the USA and Germany. It is the largest production red wine in NZ, and second largest overall after sauvignon blanc. It represents only 9% of NZ’s production and 6% of its exports, but it is rapidly gaining traction outside of New Zealand. In the past five years pinot exports have increased 129%, and Canada remains a strong market – 4th after Australia, the UK and the USA.

The generalized view of NZ pinot noir is that is a fruitier, softer, jammier, higher alcohol and more approachable style than Burgundy, but lighter and leaner than California or perhaps even Oregon pinot. I would agree with this, but that style is more prevalent at lower price points where wines are expected to be drunk young.

Many NZ pinot winemakers are actually not fans of jammy, hottish pinots, and blame the local wine shows and writers for promoting that style earlier on. At the closing tasting at the Pinot Conference 2013 in Wellington – a tasting of wines considered to epitomize the top quality from each region – virtually are the wines were leaner, well structured, more savoury and age-worthy wines that were very high quality but rather brittle in their youth, despite considerable aeration in proper pinot glassware. They were quite Burgundian.

That particular tasting lined up two wines from each of the “established” pinot regions – the regional names that you will see on labels. And there were indeed different nuances of fruit expression (from currants to black cherry) and texture (from lean to rich). So let’s make these regions the starting point of the terroir exploration, arranged in geographic position from north to south. Within each I will discuss sub-regional differences that I encountered based largely on varying soil structures.

New Zealand Wine Regions

The Pinot Noir Regions and Sub-Regions (North to South)

1. Hawke’s Bay

311 pinot hectares
one potential sub-region

It may be odd to be opening a discussion of pinot noir with a region that is far better known for merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah. Indeed Hawke’s Bay is a warmish and rather humid coastal area to be growing rot-prone pinot, but there are some successful vineyards farther inland on terraces and south of the Heretaunga Plains in bordering hills where limestone and sandstone can be found. Lime Rock Vineyard has had notable success with its pinot on a 10ha, north-facing site in the Waipawa district. Sileni, Trinity Hill, Greyrock (Flying Sheep) and Osawa are all producing good pinot. From limited personal experience I expect Hawke’s Bay pinots to be fairly deeply coloured and soft with ripe raspberry fruit. Next trip I hope to look more closely at Hawke’s Bay. Don’t count it out.

2. Wairarapa

478 pinot hectares
three sub-regions
Te Muna Road

1 Wairarapa Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard

Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard, Wairarapa

The Wairarapa Valley is large, long pastoral valley up and over the Tararua Ranges about 90 minute drive from Wellington at the southern tip of the North Island. It was one of the first regions to plant pinot noir back in the early 80s, so some vineyards in the core sub-region of Martinborough are now passing their 20 year mark. It is a region of small wineries, none larger than 100,000 cases, most well below 10,000 cases.

Wairarapa is something of an unfortunate name in terms of marketability. It’s difficult to pronounce and similar to the Waipara Valley, another wine region on the South Island, of which more in a moment. For this reason it’s natural for most to refer to it as Martinborough, the name of a small town that centres the most well-established, and greatest number of wineries. But there is more to Wairarapa than Martinborough.

The climate of Wairarapa is relatively even, warm and dry in the rain shadow of the Tararua range on the west, and lower hills that screen maritime influence on the east. The lower end of the Wairarapa is a bit cooler as it is closer to the coast and influenced by a large lake that pools the waters of the Huangarua River. The soils of Wairarapa’s pinot vineyards are largely stony terraces over which the river once flowed. In some places the stones are very large, densely strewn about and running several metres deep.

3. Martinborough

The notion of sub-regions in Wairarapa is tenuous. But no one disagrees that Martinborough is the central region. The wineries are tightly clustered around the town on flat, but very stony soils. It’s wines are ripe with black cherry, quite thick, lush and silky textured, and often showed notable alcohol heat. Many also carried a savoury note and dusty character on the finish. Many wineries show this style: Ata Rangi, Te Kairanga, Shubert, Magrain, Vynnfields, Archer McCrae, Alxander, Alana, Brodie, Elder and Escarpment – many of them dotted along Nelson and Huangarua Roads on the edge of town.

4. Te Muna Road

The locals are starting to distinguish wines from newer plantings on very densely-gravelled Te Muna Road that lies about 5km from Martinborough. This includes a huge new planting by Craggy Range below an embankment on the river’s edge. And I did taste a leaner more vibrant, style in a couple of single vineyard samples with fruit more in the blackcurrant spectrum from Julicher, Kusuda, Craggy Range Te Muna and Big Sky.

Dry River Terraces which lies west of Te Muna and marginally closer to the coast might also be considered a separate region, but production is virtually limited to one winery called Dry River, a pioneering winery with a reputation and price rising well above all others in Wairarapa indeed amongst the most expensive in New Zealand. Nearby are the relatively large holdings of Murdoch James. Their 32 acre site is on limestone based hillside (the only significant sloping and limestone driven site in the region) from which they bottle another vibrant currant pinot called Blue Rock.  It too might one day be a sub-app.

5. Gladstone

This is a smaller region about 30 kilometres up the valley and farther inland from Martinborough, where the climate may be slightly warmer. Gladstone Vineyards, first planted in 1986, anchors a cluster of small wineries on stony terraces at the edge of the Ruamahanga River; with neighbouring Borthwick having major acreage as well. (Nova Scotia born, Brock University educated Alexis Moore took over winemaking in 2013 at Gladstone Vineyards). From a small sampling I found the pinots somewhat paler in colour, with good weight and strawberry/cherry fruit character – not as dense and powerful somehow as those of Martinborough. Masterton is yet another nearby sub-region that will one day seek its own appellation.

6. Marlborough

2,397 pinot hectares (largest in NZ)
three sub-regions (arguably more)
Wairau River
Southern Valleys
Awatere Valley

2 Marlborugh Brancott Valley,

Brancott Valley, Marlborough

At the 2013 Pinot conference I was most surprised by the quality of the pinot coming out of Marlborough, over any other region. The surprise had something to do with preconceptions. I had always had an elevated view of Martinborough (above) as one of the original, pioneering regions, and likewise a high expectation of Otago as being the colourful wild west region. Marlborough was supposed to be the commercial pinot centre with big companies trotting out friendly, simple, raspberry-scented pinots.

But the real story delves much deeper, beginning with the fact that Marlborough has a cool-moderate climate latitude at 41.8 degrees – warmer than Burgundy or Ontario, but cooler than California. Add in coastal influence and it is cool climate indeed, although blessed with generous doses of intense sunlight from a “hole in the clouds” that seems to reside over the region. A sweet spot indeed – but then even within Marlborough there is considerable climatic and soil diversity. I have only listed three sub-regions for now, but there could easily be another five to ten claimed in the years ahead.  And a reminder here that many larger volume pinots could be and are blended from more than one sub-region.

7. Wairau Valley

The Wairau Valley forms the heartland of Marlborough, narrow upstream where hills pinch in on the Wairau River, then it broadens into a wider river plain as it finds its outlet into Cloudy Bay. The river course sits tight against the Richmond Ranges on the north and can be susceptible to more rain. But the soils here are very stony, and there are excellent vineyards sites along Rapaura Road. In an area called the Golden Mile there are also old riverbed terraces. Some sites are thick with often very large stones that radiate heat into the vines. Both Golden Mile and Rapaura Road could easily be claimed as appellations in their own right.  Out towards Cloudy Bay the soils get sandier and lighter, and in the other direction up river, some sites are creeping up into the hillsides, so again more fodder for future appellations. There are almost too many wineries to mention in this area but those making some higher end pinots from Wairau fruit and more familiar in Canada would include (listed from west up the valley eastward down to the coast) Clos Henri, Oyster Bay, Seresin, Forrest, Nautilis, Geisen, Staete Landt, White Haven, Stoneleigh, Cloudy Bay, Hunters and St.Clair.

8. Southern Valleys

On the south side of the Wairau Valley the flat lands poke like fingers into the Wither Hills in a series of five valleys: Ben Morven, Brancott, Omaka, Fairhall and Waihopai. Cold air descends from the Wither Hills into these valleys creating a cooler, later ripening climate than on the northern side of the Wairu plain, so the pinots tend to be a bit leaner.  Each of the valleys could one day be named as individual appellation, based largely on micro-climate and distance from Cloudy Bay on the Cook Strait. In general the soils are quite similar with significant stone content but they also have higher levels of clay than the other sub-regions. And then of course there is a rapid growth of planting into the hills and ridges that separate the valleys, and wineries located thus – like Churton for example – are clearly in the belief that separate Southern Hills appellations make sense, especially those that have limestone outcrops.

3 Marlborough Churton Vnyd, Southern Hills, Marlborough

Churton Vineyard, Southern Valleys

What I noticed while tasting pinot from the Southern Valleys, is that many are already being labeled with individual valley and vineyard names – St. Clair’s Omaka, Delta’s Hatter Hills, Wither Hills Benmorven, Wither Hills Taylor River, Fromm’s Brancott Valley. Individual appellations cannot be far off.  Wineries situated in and using predominantly Southern Valleys fruit include Marisco, Spy Valley, Omaka Springs, Fromm, Dog Point, Brancott, Auntsfield, Wither Hills and Lawsons. Given the number of larger and more well-known wineries in this list, I think the responsibility to delineate the different potential sub-regions in this diverse area – and to promote sub-apps in NZ as a whole – rests largely on their shoulders of the larger Marlborough producers. Go for it!

9. Awatere Valley

Of any Marlborough sub-region Awatere is clearly the most deserving, and perhaps closest to achieving distinct appellation status. Southeast of the Wairau, over the Wither Hills and closer to the Pacific coast, the vineyards of the Awatere experience a cooler, drier and windier growing season. The area can be more exposed to occasional cold weather from the south than the other sub-regions, which tends to create a later ripening crop and even longer growing season. The soils are typically alluvial gravel on wind-borne loess, often exhibiting a diverse composition of stone materials. The pinots from Awatere are some of the leanest, greenest and nervy of New Zealand with cranberry-curranty fruit. Many still get blended into “Marlborough” pinots but keep your eyes peeled for pinots from Yealands, Vavasour etc. There are also new plantings even farther down the coast past Awatere.

10. Nelson

193 pinot hectares
two sub-regions
Waimea Plain
Moutere Hills

The Nelson region sits atop the South Island one range of mountains to the west of Marlborough, at the same latitude. It is at the head of long sound that runs off of Cook Strait. So it is a moderate to cool region, very well known locally for its orchard fruits and cold water seafood.  It is also a thriving arts community with a rapidly evolving culinary scene. In terms of viticulture there are two regions for now the Waimea Plain and Moutere Hills, although some would argue for a third Moutere Coast region at the western edge where the Moutere Hills come down to meet the ocean.

11. Waimea Plain

This is the largest region of Nelson, the flattest and closest to the town. The flats come off a large tidal basin and extend inland for about ten kilometres, narrowing as they come up against the hills. The Waimea River carves a path through the region but is not big enough to have much climatic influence. The plain is cooler and sandier closer to the ocean. Pinot Noir is grown here but sauvignon blanc, riesling are more important. The pinots tend to lighter, floral and quite racy. Important pinot noir wineries in the region include Waimea Estate, TeMania/Richmond Plains, Seifried, Kaimara Estate.

12. Moutere Hills

This is a scenic area of rolling hills framing the western boundary of the Waimea Plain. The hills run up from the coast, rising in altitude the farther inland they reach. The region is generally cooler than the Waimea plain, but more importantly the soil structure changes to include more rock, including some limestone. The cool climate and limestone combine to create some of the most fragrant and elegant pinots of New Zealand, particularly at Neudorf, which is rising to become one of the iconic small producers of New Zealand. Woollaston, Harakeke Farm, Kina Cliffs, Sea Level and Rimu Grove are other notable producers of pinot. The latter, Rimu Grove, is making great pinots from an unusual site where the hills meet a coastal inlet. Rimu Grove and neighbours near the sea could rightly achieve a Moutere Coastal appellation at some point.

13. Canterbury/Waipara

334 pinot hectares
two sub-regions (north to south)
Waipara Hills
Waipara Valley
Canterbury Plains
Waitaki Valley

Spanning 200 kms along the eastern coast of the South Island Canterbury/Waipara is still in formation as a pinot region, and needs some official and difficult sorting out of names. Canterbury is the best known regional/political name, describing the region around the city of Christchurch where the first winery opened in 1978. But since then there has been a massive shift of viticulture to the Waipara Valley north of the city, and subsequently into the hills on both sides of the valley floor. It makes most sense to me, in terms of appellations to use the three different specific sub-regions below (all within Canterbury). It is a cool climate region and generally dry within the rain shadow of the Southern Alps. Hot northwesterly winds often blow here. But it is also coastal, and it is fairly common for cooler, more humid winds to blow up from Antarctica and change the weather.

14. Waipara Valley

About 40 kms north of Christchurch, which lies on the edge of flat coastal plain, a cluster of low hills rise directly on the coast. But behind them runs the north-south Waipara Valley, which is increasingly being planted with very large vineyards.  There is the gamut of cool climate grape varieties, but aromatic whites like riesling, gewurz and pinot gris are important, as well as pinot noir. The flats of the southern Waipara Valley are largely sandy and alluvial with gravel patches from current and former river bed soils and terraces. Pegasus Bay and Torlesse are the pioneering spirits, but Bellbird Springs is achieving international star status as well. And Mud House has recently opened at large winery here.

4 Waipara Valley

Waipara Valley

15. Waipara Hills

The Waipara Valley is framed by hills on three sides, and pinot viticulture in particular is moving into these areas. To the north the valley splays and melts into hills that pinch in from the coast and the interior as the mountains begin to veer east toward the sea.  To the west the land rises into foothills leading to the Weka Pass. As with all hill areas there are varying aspects, elevations and soil strata. And so the pinot terrain becomes quite complex with limestone derived clay, stone and even some areas of limestone outcrop, particularly inland in the Waikari region pioneered by the highly regarded Pyramid Valley and Bell Hill. And the limestone soiled Omihi Hills region could angling for sub-appellation as well. There are a surprising number wineries here, most quite small.  Crater Rim, Muddy Water, Mt Beautiful, Alan McCorkingdale, Bishop’s Head, Dancing Water and Mountford are all producing interesting pinots  with structure and depth.

16. Canterbury Plains

The flat Canterbury Plains surrounding Christchurch may have given birth to wine in the region, but is arguably becoming less important as a wine region as development takes strong hold in Waipara. It has a slightly cooler climate than Waipara due to direct exposure to the sea. The plains are comprised of mainly of shallow free-draining stony soils with varying alluvial deposits thanks to a large number of creeks and rivers crossing the plain now, and in former eras. West Melton, Banks Peninsula and Rolleston are all sub districts of this area, where white wines are much more prevalent than pinot. I have had not had enough pinot grown here to establish a wine style but I have sense a lighter touch, more foresty touch.

17. Waitaki Valley

Inland and south of Christchurch the west-east oriented Waitaki Valley is generating considerable pinot excitement and rapid expansion. Climatically it is more like Otago than Canterbury, but falls geographically and administratively on the edge of the Canterbury line. It is farther south thus cooler but being farther inland (60 kms from the ocean) it experiences less humidity, warm summers and typically, long dry autumns. The main draw here however is the limestone-ridden/schist soils on the hills above the valley floor.  The vineyards are planted on north-facing (sun-facing) slopes along the south bank of the river near the town of Kurow. I have been very taken with the fragrance, energy, depth and minerality of the few Waitaki pinots I have tried, including Ostler’s great Caroline Pinot. Other wineries to watch include Valli, Q Wine and Otiake. A star is emerging, very much worthy of its own appellation/regional status.  It isn’t Otago and it isn’t Canterbury, so let it be its own very special pinot haven.

18. Central Otago

1,356 pinot hectares
Six sub-regions
Gibbston Valley
Cromwell Basin (Pisa/Lowburn)

Central Otago burst onto the NZ and international pinot scene through the 2000s; with wines and attitudes as brash and bold as the landscape – a magnificent mix of mesas/terraces, rivers and reservoirs back-dropped by snow-capped mountains. On my first trip to New Zealand in the mid 1990s I was asked if I would be interested in tasting pinot noir from a man named Alan Brady who had pioneered a winery called Gibbston Valley way down on the South Island near Queenstown. He would bring the wines to my B&B in Auckland.  Of course I agreed, and I remember being struck by the nerve, energy and fragrance of his wines. As well as by his passion for the future of Central Otago.

Today there are almost 100 wineries in Central (as they call it locally), all making pinot noir (plus riveting chardonnay, riesling and pinot gris). Pinot noir is 70% of Otago’s wine production. But as I quickly discovered during my first trip there in 2013, Otago is not one place, indeed there are at least six sub-regions. They are however united by latitude – a frost-prone 45-47 degrees (Niagara is 43.5, Burgundy is 47). It is claimed to be the most southerly wine region in the South Hemisphere.

They are also united by fairly high altitude in the arid lee of the Southern Alps (not unlike B.C.s Okanagan Valley at 49 degrees). So it is a cool region indeed, on paper. But the growing season can be hot and sunny indeed. Central Otago is more prone to make ripe-fruited pinots that often have high alcohol but also  good acidity thanks to cool night-time temperatures. Long cool and usually dry autumns also allow longer hang time and more flavour development.

It is the only continental climate pinot noir region in New Zealand!

The soils of Otago are essentially loess and gravel, which means they are quite well drained, even more so as most vineyards are some degree of slope. Shaped by glaciers and now carved by lakes, rivers there are a wide range of soils across the various sub-regions, comprised of schist, clay, silt loams, gravels, windblown sands and loess. The majority have stony sub-soils, with schist or greywacke bedrock.

Many Otago wineries have vineyards in more than one sub-region, and may blend regions. So the Central Otago appellation is widespread.

19. Gibbston Valley

5 Otago Gibbston Valley

Gibbston Valley, Central Otago

The Gibbston Valley is the first wine region visitors encounter when leaving Queenstown to explore Otago wineries. It was also the first place planted to produce a commercial pinot noir by Alan Brady back in 1987. The region is more like a shelf, bench or porch than a valley, running above the spectacular Kawarau Gorge that eventually tumbles into the Cromwell Basin. It is the highest sub-region of Otago and its cooler climate and north-facing hillside vines ripen later than neighbouring sub-regions. The soils are heavily schisted, and the combination produces pinots that are somewhat lighter, more elegant and stony than many Otago peers. Gibbston Valley was the original winery but others like Peregrine, Amisfield and Chard Farm are making some exciting wines

20. Wanaka

Lake Wanaka, with vineyards along its shoreline near the charming town of Wanaka, lies 80km and a couple of mountain ranges north of Queenstown. Rippon’s spectacular vineyard has become an iconic photo-opp for New Zealand wine, thanks to the backdrop of snow-capped peaks. Wanaka is a bit cooler and slightly wetter than other sub-regions, but the lake does reflect heat and helps prevent frosts. Rippon, an excellent biodynamic producer, anchors the small Wanaka region, but Mt Maude and Atiku are making wines of elegance as well.

21. Cromwell Basin (Lowburn/Pisa)

The large “central” valley of Central Otago winegrowing is defined by Lake Dunstan, a man-made 25km long reservoir with the orchard town of Cromwell at its south end. The lower altitude vineyards near Cromwell tend to be defined as coming from the Lowburn, while those from sloping sites and terraces on the lower slopes of the Pisa Range are defined as Pisa.  One might argue for two separate appellations here but there is a blurring of sites in my mind at least. It’s a warmer, earlier ripening area on sandier soils and overall I find the wine style to be quite ripe, fruit forward and fragrant with a certain juicy drinkability. Many Otago wineries have acreage here, but of those located in the Cromwell Basin look for Quartz Reef and Surveryor Thomson (both biodynamic), Rockburn, Archangel, Wooing Tree and Aurum.

22. Bendigo

Northeast of Cromwell, on slopes and terraces on the east side of Dunstan Lake,  Bendigo is possibly the warmest of all the sub-regions (although Alexandra is too) with vines planted on north facing slopes on stony and wind-blown loess soils. Some are at 220 metres, others higher up at 330 metres. At any rate, it’s rather wild country, with hot days and cool nights. I find the wines quite powerful, broad and chunky with a ripe fruit and garrigue (masculine as opposed to a more feminine style across the way in Pisa/Lowburn). Impressive wineries based on some personal experience are Misha’s Vineyard, Tarras, Mondillo and Prophet’s Rock.

23. Bannockburn

Bannockburn is perhaps the most well-established and well known of the Otago sub-regions, thanks to founding of three wineries in the 1990s that went on to carve out a great quality reputation outside of New Zealand – Felton Road, Carrick and Mount Difficulty.  The vineyards lie south of Cromwell (and removed from moderating effect of Lake Dunstan) on terraces and hills that have been carved into some breathtaking land forms. The region was once heavily mined for gold. This is a warm, dry region, producing powerful, age-worthy, distinctive and complex pinots, often with a note of wild thyme. Aside from Felton Road, Carrick and Mount Difficulty, look also for pinots from Hawkshead, Bannock Brae, Terra Sancta, Akarua, Georgetown and Wild Earth.

7 otago Alexandra

Alexandra Basin, Central Otago

24. Alexandra Basin

The most southerly sub-region of Otago, and perhaps the most southerly pinot region in the world actually had a winery in the 1860s, and the old walls still stand. The Clutha River drains out of the Cromwell Basin and flows south through a gorge into the Alexandra Basin.  It is very hot here during the summer but the nights are also very cool. The landscape is scenically average until you come upon some almost lunar-like outcroppings of decomposing schist, around which vineyards are often planted. I found the pinots here to be very ripe, rich and often possessing glorious cherry fruit.  Two Paddocks by actor Sam Neal is one of the most well-known Alexandra wineries, although tiny Grasshopper Rock is very much on my radar too. There are several other small wineries as well.

And that is a wrap for now. Hopefully this gives NZ pinot fans something of a more cohesive framework that begins to make some sense of what you are experiencing in the glass from New Zealand pinot noir. I urge NZ winemakers to get their regions onto the labels anyway they can to help the consumer cause. And I expect that over the next decade we will see many more appear.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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Northernlands : The Great Canadian Wine and Craft Beer Adventure

Treve’s Travels
by Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Earlier this spring, all wine, beer and spirit routes led to Edmonton. Yes, Edmonton. Over 60 craft producers from coast to coast headed to our country’s belly to share wares, feast well and collaborate on ideas. The sprouted brainchild of the city’s wine guru, and past WineAlign national judge Gurvinder Bhatia, Northernlands transformed the bustling city into a Canadian food and wine nexus. For a few days, Edmonton was THE place to learn about, taste, drink our boozy bounty and feast on our culinary riches, all the while raising funds for the High School Culinary Challenge and the Edmonton Community Foundation Grateful Palate Fund.

Anyone who knows Gurvinder – and is there anyone in the industry that doesn’t know this popular television / radio / magazine / retail personality and amaro promoter? – knows that his vision is only matched by his commitment. I shouldn’t have been so surprised then, when this inaugural festival was so complete and organized and so well attended by presenters and consumers. I was able to participate both behind the scenes as a wine judge (which I can attest to is an entire event in itself) and a seminar presenter (let’s do some food and wine mythbusting, plus a look at Canadian sparkling coast to coast) as well as a public imbiber at the main Meet Your Makers event (another freestanding, massive event to coordinate and execute, including a kick ass ping pong tournament!)


The fact that Gurvinder organized and orchestrated both of these, as well as wine dinners with guest and local chefs for 800 consumers (!!) around the city of Edmonton, as well as a series of public educational wine and food seminars – over the space of a few short days – still leaves me gobsmacked, and entirely impressed with his vision and his close knit team of family and friends who supported him.

“As a first year festival we were very pleased on a number of levels”, reflects Gurvinder a few days post event. “Only a handful of the 800 seats at 20 producer dinners occurring simultaneously around the city on the Friday night were not filled, over 800 guests (with another 200 on the waitlist) attended the Meet Your Makers event on the Saturday night and the majority of the seminars were either sold out or close to sold out. Most importantly, by the response I’ve received from the participating wine producers, craft breweries, chefs, national and international judges/journalists and guests, we’ve taken significant steps in the right direction to achieve the festival’s mandate which is to raise the profile of the Canadian wine and culinary industries nationally and internationally; celebrate the individuals responsible for the innovation and quality evolution of the Canadian wine, craft beverage and culinary industries; bring producers and chefs together from coast to coast and create opportunities for discussion and collaboration; help to evolve the wine and culinary culture of our community and country; bring attention to Edmonton as a culinary destination; and raise funds for two very important community charitable organizations.”

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Indeed, the sunny spring weekend left attendees and participants on a high – a welcome and encompassing, high quality festival that encourages participation and collaboration and helps to make quality Canadian wines more familiar and accessible to the general population.

Of course, Gurvinder’s vision doesn’t end here. “I am hoping that we can grow the event to encourage even greater participation from producers across the country and encourage attendance from guests across not just western Canada, but the entire country, north-western United States and even beyond. I’d like to get greater involvement from the trade, both locally and across the region. I’d also like to expand the number of international judges/journalists invited to accelerate the global exposure of the Canadian wine, craft beverage and culinary industries. We can be proud of what our country is producing. We need to let the rest of the world know and we also need to have outside eyes helping to let us know where we stand compared to the rest of the world.”

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The plan for the next instalment would be for two years from now, and once all the feedback and financials are tallied, Gurvinder will make the final decision later this year. He notes, “If the initial response is any indication (the producers have to see the value in what we are trying to accomplish with respect to the big picture in order for the festival to continue), we will make every effort to do it again.”

And if Gurvinder envisions Northernlands in 2017, you should clear your calendar now.


The Wine Competition saw just under 200 entries from Vancouver Island to Nova Scotia, and was judged by a panel of Canadian and International judges over a period of two days. The category winners, and my personal tasting notes, are below:


Best Red Wine: Road 13 Jackpot Syrah 2011, Okanagan Valley BC

Best White Wine : Tawse Sketches Riesling 2013, Niagara Peninsula Ontario

Best Sticky : Henry of Pelham Special Select Late Harvest Vidal 2013, Ontario

Runner Up : Tawse Winery Riesling Icewine 2013, Niagara Peninsula

Best Bubbles : Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Sparkling Riesling 2013, Twenty Mile Bench Ontario

Runner Up : Henry of Pelham Family Estate Cuvee Catharine Brut NV, Niagara Peninsula Ontario

Benjamin Bridge Brut 2009, Gaspereau Valley Nova Scotia 


Best Merlot : 8th Generation Vineyard 2012, Okanagan Valley BC

Runner Up : Tinhorn Creek Vineyards Oldfield Series 2011, Okanagan Valley BC

Best Red Blend : Clos du Soleil Celestiale 2012, British Columbia

Runner Up : Road 13 Fifth Element 2011, Okanagan BC

Best Pinot Noir : Meyer Family Vineyards ‘McLean Creek Vineyard’ 2013, Okanagan Valley

Runner Up : JoieFarm Winery 2012, Okanagan BC

Best Cabernet Franc : Burrowing Owl 2011, Okanagan BC

Runner Up : Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery 2012, Okanagan BC

Best Syrah : Road 13 Jackpot 2011, Okanagan BC

Runner Up : Church and State Winery Coyote Bowl 2011, Okanagan BC

Best Pinot Gris : Lake Breeze Vineyards 2014, Okanagan BC

Runner Up : 50th Parallel Estate 2014, Okanagan BC

Best Chardonnay : Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2013, Okanagan BC

Runner Up : JoieFarm Winery Reserve “En Famille” 2012, Okanagan BC

Best Riesling : Tawse Sketches 2013, Niagara Peninsula Ontario

Runner Up : 8th Generation Vineyard Riesling Classic 28 Year Old Vines 2013, Okanagan BC



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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008