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Buy The Case: Noble Estates Wine and Spirits

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

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

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

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

October – Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

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

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

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

Restaurant Pours by the Glass

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

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

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

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

Cellaring Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seasonal Wines

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

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

Personal House Wines

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

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

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

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

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

Wine Pooling

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

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

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

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

Curio Selections

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

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

Planeta 2014 Cerasuolo, Sicily, Italy ($28.99)

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

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

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

About Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

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

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

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

For more information, please visit website at

How to order:

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

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

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

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 17, Part One

Strength in Napa and World Whites
by Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason and John Szabo MS

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Napa: the elite of the American wine world, the region that made zinfandel chic and cabernet king. This small but mighty wine region exploded onto the wine world in the mid 70s when the area wasn’t considered quite so elite. Its transformation since that time has been fraught with challenges and continuing hardships but with true western American gusto, it has persevered and triumphed.

Next week’s substantial VINTAGES release is ripe with the fruits of Napa and puts some of the region’s best results forward but also highlights what makes the region vulnerable and its style open to question. (John Szabo has also suggested several non-LCBO selections from agents with broad Californian portfolios below. )

So the questions I put forward are, what makes Napa great? Does it deserve the prestige is commands?

Recently, I was afforded the opportunity to visit this illustrious valley and discover for myself what makes it pulsate. For the most part, producers were frank, welcomed discussion and graciously answered when put to task on difficult and skeptical questioning. For that generosity I was sincerely grateful.

Let’s start with the basics. Napa is located just north of San Francisco and just inland of Sonoma. It is a great deal smaller in area than Sonoma, warmer but still benefits from the influence of the San Pablo Bay fog brought in by cool winds from the south. The fog created by these cool winds and inner warmth is most notably influential in the valley floor. In contrast, the diurnal temperature fluctuations due to altitude affect the hillside sites. Hillsides vs. valley floor make up the most dramatic differences in terroir that affect style and flavour in the wines.

Fog rolling in below Spring Mountain at Cain Vineyards

Fog rolling in below Spring Mountain at Cain Vineyards

The relatively small valley, about 50 km long and 8 km wide is dotted with impressive peaks that produce inspired wines with tension and impact. This “mountain fruit” from the hillsides is fresher with its own particular brand of “garrigue” – leafy and shrubby herbs such as laurel can be found on the hillsides as well as the idiosyncratic tarweed, which lend notes of jasmine and citrus to the aromatic profile of the wines. Much of this varied shrub growth is maintained and encouraged in order to prevent erosion of these poor soils.  In contrast, Napa’s valley floor is able to produce distinguished wine of great power, concentration and longevity. Morning fog cover of the valley keeps the temperature low before it is hit by warming sunshine in the afternoon, allowing for definition in the wine.

Throughout our Napa Valley Vintners wine experience, my Canadian and UK colleagues and I got to experience Napa from all angles – from being put to work in wineries during harvest, to intimate dinners with winemakers, to chats with industry pioneers amongst the Redwoods. At one such “fireside chat” mediated by MS Matt Stamp, our preconceptions were disarmed.

Producers were asked to talk about the pursuit of balance that turned into a discussion of the “pursuit of acidity.” In Napa the element most challenging in the production of a balanced wine is certainly a lack of acidity. That acidity is hard to come by in warmer conditions and to hold on to it can be fraught with complex choices for winemakers. Vintage dependent, producers may have to take a hit on the phenolic ripeness of the grape in order to preserve enough natural acidity for perfect poise. Acidification can be a default position but it is not ideal, often resulting in unnatural flavours and textures.  This balance is more easily achieved at higher elevations with a greater diurnal temperature shift.

View of Napa Valley from above

View of Napa Valley from above

However, Cathy Corison, a much admired and longstanding winemaker/owner of Corison Vineyards in the Valley, has the following to say about ripeness and alcohol being a representation of terroir in Napa: “In my opinion, the high alcohol, extracted style of Napa Cabernet is a stylistic choice and fashion comes and goes in wine styles. Grown right, cabernet can achieve phenolic ripeness at lower sugars. Balanced vines on well-drained soils where there is enough heat to ripen cabernet, have managed to get the right amount of air and light in to the fruit, yield ripe tannins.” In other words, Corison suggests that preserving acidity as well as phenolic ripeness in Napa is possible in most years but requires a thorough understanding of soils. Every wine region has its challenges, it is how winegrowers have evolved and adapted to their environment that dictates the potential for great wines.

When challenged to dispel the myth that Napa only creates big, “bombtastic” (i.e., explosions of a fantastic nature) wines, producers had mixed opinions. The most brazen owned up to the fact that “bombtastic” was part of their unique character, the very cultural definition of their wine that is a natural product of their terroir. Others agreed that because of the region’s almost effortless ability to produce bold wines, careful vigor management and site selection along with earlier harvest dates had to be controlled. The human element of terroir might just be the most complex component and the most variable. Thus, what we discovered in Napa was a range of wine with varied interpretations of Napa’s terroir.

Beth Novak Milliken, CEO of Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery had the following to say regarding challenging preconceptions of Napa Valley wine: “ . . . we want to make sure that Napa Valley is not somehow defined as a region that produces only ripe, oaky, full-throttle cabernets that cost a great deal. . . . there are many great wines made here that, thankfully, do not fit that monolithic stylistic profile. This needs to be communicated.”

The most ardent difference is felt in the wines of the weirdly wet and cooler 2011 vintage. These wines are characteristically earthy, herbal and refreshingly lean. Some, in fact, were too lean and others showed remarkable elegance and a transparency that was welcome. These best examples, often from the hillsides with better drainage, were like portals, a quick, rare and intimate peek into the inner workings of the complex structure and character of Napa wine. This is not a vintage that has been critically lauded; it is atypical with mixed reviews but also compellingly unusual. When botrytis on cabernet sauvignon makes an appearance you can be sure that Napa producers were shaken up in a refreshingly topsy-turvy way (most enjoyed the challenge!) What came of this vintage is that elegance, transparence and freshness is now on the radar. For some, this may even influence future growing and winemaking decisions but only time will tell.

Different but still unusual, the 2015 vintage has been rife with irregular fruit set, “coulure” and uneven ripening. Producers will likely see a shortfall in quantity and varied quality. Good quality wines will demonstrate very good concentration and a dark, inky colour. There are a multitude of reasons why 2015 has been such a difficult vintage to manage but some of it has to do with irregular temperatures as well as the long drought faced by Napa.

An unending drought, a looming risk of the incurable Pierce’s disease and continued strain with transitioning old, non-Phylloxera resistant rootstocks does not make Napa safe under the sunshine and forces it to be innovative and non-complacent. From this, Napa producers draw strength, forced to find new and creative ways to adapt to changing realities.

That being said, Napa is not a place to look for value. Given our economic climate and the dollar giving us close to 15% less than it did at this time last year, the price reflects that increase and we can feel that increase in this release. Further to this, value is not part of the equation in Napa. It is a premier region with such a reputation that the value of the name Napa on the label guarantees a higher return.  Almost everything that is produced is “haut de gamme” from small wineries. Although California produces 90% of US wine, only 4% comes from Napa. It is a place, however, to look for wines of impressive crescendos that deliver broad, bold strokes. If managed properly and all conditions favorable, Napa wines can take us to great heights and blow off their international competition as it has done in the past.

Welcome to Napa Valley

Although fashion, fad and trends have floated Napa wine to the top, its international emergence had nothing to do with trend. In fact, the very opposite, California wine was the dark horse. The judgment of Paris in 1976 that slotted California’s few and finest against much more highly lauded wines France had a transformative effect on the region. No longer were American wines the underdogs, they, in a spectacular showing due to a convalescence of favorable factors; made an even stronger showing than their prestigious French counterparts. In this regard, Napa is a true American dream story with great cultural resonance.

So whether it be empathy for the underdog, a desire for bold flavours, an attraction to the prestige or a simply a love for these expressive wines with potential for development over decades, Napa can hook you, if you can afford it. Certainly look outside of the shelves of the LCBO for a greater selection of these wines that can deliver surprising freshness, balance and restraint. Now enough from me and on to the top picks from our thirsty critics.

(John Szabo has also suggested several non-LCBO selections from agents with broad Californian portfolios below . )

Buyers’ Guide to Oct 17th: Napa Valley

Chateau Montelena 2013 Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($62.95)

John Szabo – For fans of more reserved and composed Napa chardonnay, crafted in the traditional Montelena style. This gives little on the nose for now, but compelling depth and structure on the palate, so tuck it away for another couple of years at least. But the bottle shows depth and poise, already well-integrated wood and bright, sharp acids. Best 2017-2025.
Sara d’Amato – Characteristically elegant, this chardonnay does not disappoint offering finely integrated French oak, lemon and crisp green apple. Richly textured but a touch austere at present. Let this one develop for another 2-3 years.

Stonehedge 2013 Reserve Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($22.95)

Sara d’Amato – One of the better values in this release, I love how the fruit take center stage here, how the oak plays a supportive role and that a beautiful floral element is expressed. Elegant but not without the distinctive concentration of Napa Valley.

Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2013 Stonehedge Reserve Chardonnay 2013 Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Joseph Phelps 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, St. Helena, Napa Valley ($51.95)

John Szabo – Admittedly Napa sauvignon rarely excites – it’s simply too warm to make wine of genuine interest, and the prices are astronomical, but here’s the exception that proves the rule. Although from a warm area – the Spring Valley Home Ranch in St. Helena, in a warm vintage, this manages to stay sharp and finely detailed. It’s ripe to be sure – fruit is comfortably in the gently tropical and ripe orchard categories, and wood is noted but well rounded and integrated, but acids are seamless. Best 2015-2021.
David Lawrason – This is a gorgeous, well structured, Bordeaux-like barreled sauvignon. Sauvignon does not produce intense NZ style wines well in Napa, but every Napa winery achieved this level of quality, it could replace chardonnay as the white of choice. Terrific wine; only at Flagship LCBO stores.

Black Stallion 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($32.95)

John Szabo – The best value Napa cabernet in the release, rich, ripe and generously proportioned, black fruit-dominated, ready to drink or hold short term. Best 2015-2020.
David Lawrason – Black Stallion is hoeing a difficult row in trying to make high quality, value oriented Napa cabernet, which is now almost by definition one of the world’s priciest wines. This does a decent in a quite gentle, elegant if not deep style. I like the sense of restraint, dryness and attention to detail. Best yet from Black Stallion. Tasted Oct 2015

Black Stallion Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Freemark Abbey Merlot 2012

Heitz Cellar 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($89.95)

John Szabo – The classiest cabernet in the release comes from the aristocratic Heitz winery, a notably lively and even lightly herbal 2010, in a positive sense, with fine balance and genuine zestiness. This should age well, too. Best 2015-2025.
David Lawrason – Compared to many other iconic Napa cabs that command well over $100, this is a bargain. It is such a refined, tense and deep young cabernet, with the benefit of having some bottle age. Lovely texture and vibrancy.

Paul Hobbs 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($99.95)

John Szabo – Paul Hobbs has crafted the most opulent and voluptuous cabernet in the release, with impressive density, weight, and depth, yet still nicely defined. This is a complete and appealing package within the bold Napa genre. Best 2015-2026.

Freemark Abbey 2012 Merlot, Napa Valley ($39.95)

David Lawrason – Freemark Abbey has just sort of been hanging around in Napa, rarely rising to great heights. But this textbook merlot at a decent price. Nice complexity, well structured, firm and hitting very good to excellent length.
Sara d’Amato – A wine with old world sensitivities, both compelling and charming. Dried leaf and cigar box compliment the gracefully maturing fruit on the palate. There is a great deal to love here at a relatively reasonable price.

Beringer 2012 Quantum, Napa Valley ($69.95)

Atalon Pauline's Cuvée 2012 Beringer Quantum 2012Sara d’Amato – A bolder, more muscular style, this cabernet blend delivers a great deal of impact and opulent flavours. Beringer’s Quantum is a blend of small parcels intended to deliver a complex result with vintage variation.

Atalon 2012 Pauline’s Cuvée, Napa Valley ($36.95)

David Lawrason – This is 63% merlot, 31% cab franc and 6% cabernet sauvignon – with the cab franc component adding great lift to the aromas. This is very pretty, medium weight, elegant, racy and smooth with good energy.  Decent value to boot.
Sara d’Amato – A largely merlot blend with gorgeous aromas and tannins that have yielded enough for immediate drinking pleasure. There is a complex, feminine character to this wine that draws on right bank Bordeaux for inspiration.

Buyers’ Guide to Oct 17th: World Whites 

Jané Ventura 2010 Reserva de la Musica Brut Nature, Cava, Penedès, Spain ($17.95)

John Szabo – Terrific cava for the money, bone dry, sharp, toasty, tight and riveting. Aperitif hour calls.

Tawse 2014 Sketches of Niagara Riesling, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($17.95)

John Szabo – A perennial value favourite that delivers yet again in 2014: crisp and pure, barely off-dry and appley, nicely representative of Niagara.

Zolo 2013 Torrontés, Mendoza, Argentina ($13.95)

Sara d’Amato – Torrontés is most often good value but the best examples show restraint and elegance with brightness on the palate to balance what can be cloying sweetness. This example is on the dry side of the spectrum with discreet floral notes and upbeat fruit on the palate. Easy-drinking, pretty and pleasant.

Jané Ventura Reserva de la Musica Brut Nature 2010 Tawse Sketches of Niagara Riesling 2014 Zolo Torrontés 2014 Bischöfliche Weingüter Trier Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett 2012

Bischöfliche Weingüter Trier Scharzhofberger 2012 Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany ($22.95)

David Lawrason – It’s almost the complete opposite of the stolid Trimbach riesling above. This is light, pristine and tender off-dry riesling with classic, quite ripe aromas of MacIntosh apple/peach, white flowers and honey.
John Szabo – An absolutely cracking, riveting, off-dry, fleshy, flavourful, genuinely concentrated Saar riesling at a giveaway price. Would be hard to imagine stuffing more flavour onto an 8.5% alcohol frame. Best 2015-2025.

Louis Moreau 2013 Vaulignot Chablis 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($34.95)

John Szabo – Beautifully detailed, lean, bright, sharp and minerally, with textbook nutty notes. This delivers all one could want from the region, with real depth, drive and power, and capacity to age a decade. Stock up on the 2013s while they’re around – 2014 was much more challenging – and while Chablis remains the best value in white Burgundy. Best 2015-2023.

Louis Moreau Chablis Vaulignot Premier Cru 2013 Trimbach Riesling 2012 Beyra Vinhos De Altitude 2014 Domaine Jaeger Defaix Rabourcé Rully 1er Cru 2012

Trimbach 2012 Riesling, Alsace, France ($21.95)

David Lawrason – Another classic, solid performance in a dry riesling designed to age. It gathers all of aromatic and structural attributes into one very focused and complete wine. A clinic on Alsatian styling that should fabulous with roast pork and richer fish dishes, now through 2019ish.

Beyra 2014 Vinhos de Altitude, Beiras, Portugal ($12.95)

Sara d’Amato – We seem to still have a few nice days left for sipping on light, fresh and fabulous whites. This lovely value hails from the Beiras region of interior of Portugal – an area whose wines have little representation in Ontario but are worthy of attention.

Domaine Jaeger-Defaix Rabourcé 2012 Rully 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($35.95)
David Lawrason – I am paying a lot of attention to chardonnays coming from the Chalonnaise villages of Rully. Montagny and Mercurey. The value quotient is very high. They may lack the sheer power and depth of Meursault and co. but nor do I also want power. This is poised and stylish with lovely complexity.


Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES October 17, 2015

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
All Reviews

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

And More Napa
by John Szabo, MS

There’s a much deeper selection of Napa wines available in Ontario then what’s on shelves at the LCBO. I spent a week in Napa earlier this year researching my upcoming book on volcanic wines and have added another 50 top wine reviews to the WineAlign site. Set your filter to California and search away (just make sure the maximum price bar is set high). Here is a handful of producers to search for in particular, with their Ontario agents listed, who also have some of the richest Napa wine portfolios in the province. Visit their respective sites to view their full selections.

– Cliff Lede (Halpern Enterprises)
– Corison (Kylix)
– Diamond Creek Vineyards (Lifford)
– Grgich Cellars (Rogers & Co.)
– J. Davies (The Vine – Rob Groh)
– Michael Mondavi Family Estate (Mark Anthony Brands)
– Peter Franus (Profile Wine Group)
– Storybook Mountain (The Vine – Rob Groh)
– Viader (Small Winemakers)

One Night in Napa Valley: VINTAGES Around Tasting, Toronto, October 26th, 2015

Those who like to taste before buying (a smart strategy when the stakes are high) will want to mark October 26th on the calendar. You’ll taste 70 wines from over 30 Napa producers under one roof. I’ll be there to lead a sit-down tasting beforehand (sorry, sold out), but stop by to say hello after and get some insiders tips on what to try. Participating wineries include Araujo Estate, Cakebread Cellars, Cliff Lede Vineyards, Dalla Valle Vineyards, Duckhorn Vineyards, Far Niente, Heitz Cellars, Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Pahlmeyer, Paul Hobbs Winery, Shafer Vineyards, Spottswoode Winery and more. See more at:


Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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20 Under $20 in BC : October 2015

Cool nights, warming wines

Looking over our picks this month it’s clear that the team is starting to layer on the sweaters and fill our glasses with some warming reds and whites (save for DJ Kearney, currently on the road in Portugal). Simple and easy – on the pocketbook and palate – these 20 will match to autumn’s foodstuffs and sliding temperatures. Bonus – all of these lightly tannic, fruity reds and weightier whites will work with your Thanksgiving turkey plans.

~ TR

BC Crictic Team

Anthony Gismondi

It’s mushroom season again. Just like sausages, there are very few inexpensive red wines that don’t taste better paired with them. Today’s cross-section of picks spans the wine world and all should provide just the right flavour and weight to carry a cool fall evening.

Montepulciano is a great transition wine to winter and the Colle Secco Rubino Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2010 with its clean fresh red fruit and licorice root flavours is the perfect mushroom quiche wine.

From Chile, the Santa Carolina Reserva Pinot Noir Casablanca Estate 2013 is soft and sippable but with enough fruit and spice to stand up to those earthy mushroom flavours of a creamy chanterelles pasta dish.

Tollo Colle Secco Mentepulciano D'abruzzo 2010 Santa Carolina Reserva Pinot Noir 2013Famille Perrin Côtes du Rhone Réserve 2012Pierre Henri Morel Signargues Côtes du Rhône Villages 2012Kismet Karma 2013

Is there better value red wine in Canada at the moment than Cotes du Rhone? Debatable – especially if we’re talking about the Famille Perrin Côtes du Rhône Rouge Réserve 2012. Fresh and inviting, the juicy palate brims with plummy, ripe raspberry fruit flavours, spice and dried herbs.

On the same theme, the Pierre Henri Morel Signargues Cotes du Rhone Villages 2012 and its savoury garrigue flavours match up well with a heady mushroom risotto.

Locally, look to an almost Bordeaux blend from the south Okanagan. Kismet Estate Karma 2013 adds syrah to the classic varieties and makes for a rounder, softer red. Works very well with lamb and mushroom kebobs.

Rhys Pender MW

I feel like I’ve had some pretty interesting wines lately. The stores seem full of lighter, juicier reds and whites and restaurant lists in Vancouver are much more interesting than I’ve experienced in the past. People are getting a little creative. And luckily there are some very drinkable and very interesting wines for under $20.

The Zenato 2013 Soave Classico is a good example of what Soave should be. Crisp, fresh but still with a bit of weight to make it a versatile food wine.

Of similar style, and a great example of what BC can do with the grape, is the Joie Farm Pinot Blanc 2014. It is interesting, crisp, yet still with weight and a nice grip to stand up to many dishes. I wish more people took pinot blanc seriously and made these kind of great value wines.

Zenato Soave Classico 2013 Joie Farm Pinot Blanc 2014 Rilento Nerello Mascalese 2013 Jean Maurice Raffault Les Galuches Chinon 2013 Gabriel Meffre Plan De Dieu St Mapalis 2013

Onto the light, fresh and juicy reds. The first is the Rilento 2013 Nerello Mascalese. So light and lively and very quaffable. Along the same lines is the Jean Maurice Raffault Les Galuches Chinon 2013. This time cabernet franc, but ticks all the same boxes.

A lot bigger and riper and richer is the well priced Gabriel Meffre Plan De Dieu St Mapalis 2013. Pruney and full-bodied, it brings a nice range of flavours for the price.

Treve Ring

No matter the weather, it’s always a good idea to have a few fizz in the fridge. They pair with everything, including autumn days. The modern styled (and white-wrapped stylish) Anna de Codorníu Blanc de Blancs NV is a killer way to start the meal with its racy green apple, almonds, grass, lemon pith and peel and a sprinkle of sea salt. Bright, lively and finessed. BC’s St. Hubertus Frizzante Rosé 2014 brings off-dry, lightly sparkling rosé to your canapés hour. Strawberry jam, mandarin and cherry gummies are lifted with a zip of spritz, while rhubarb tartness reins in the sweetness. The Lini Lambrusco Rosso 910 NV has enough red berry depth, plum compote and tannin to tackle lighter proteins and heavier root vegetables, plus fresh and taut acidity to carry them. All this with gentle fizz – never a negative.

Okanagan Falls’ Meyer Family Winery is best known for their chardonnay and pinot noir, so don’t let their off-dry, Asian pear and white pepper laced Riesling 2014 slip under your radar.

Codorniu Anna De Codorniu Brut St Hubertus Frizzante Rose 2014 Lini 910 Labrusca Lambrusco Rosso Meyer Riesling 2014 Clos Du Soleil Grower's Series Pinot Blanc 2014

For a richer, creamier white, look west to the Similkameen, and Clos du Soleil Grower’s Series Pinot Blanc Middle Bench Vineyard 2014. Perfumed orchard fruits carry onto the bright palate, where subtle honey, lightly creamy lees and ample fine stony spice comes into play. Lovely, stone-driven, elegant and bright example of what pinot blanc, handled well, can achieve.

Parker Station Pinot Noir 2014 bills itself the tastiest pinot noir you can afford to drink, and who’s to argue? Pinot noir from Monterey, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo are blended into this perfumed, easy pinot, packed with fragrant and ripe raspberry, strawberry and cherry, while a riff of light toasty tannins keeps everything in place.

Always a great value, Mission Hill 5 Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013 can do double duty with your turkey dinner and the leftover turkey cranberry sandwiches the next day. The juicy, easy red carries fine black tea tannins, ripe black cherry, light earthiness and plump plummy fruit with light cedar spices on the finish. An identifiable and approachable pinot noir for under $20 – challenging no matter what part of the world you’re from, but particularly impressive from high-cost BC.

Parker Station Pinot Noir 2014 Mission Hill 5 Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013 The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2013 Errazuriz Estate Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Vinas Don Martin Los Dos Corte D'oro 2012

From the Western Cape of South Africa, Boekenhoutskloof The Wolftrap 2013 is a medium bodied blend of syrah, mourvèdre and viognier. Perfumed black plums, cassis, cracked spices and black pepper comes courtesy of syrah, which rules the packed palate. Ample tannins tend slightly sticky, but support well the ripe, wild, perfumed fruit. An impressive twist on your typical syrah, and impressive value.

If you’re going for a hearty roast beef or lamb to warm you, reach for the excellent value Chilean Errazuriz Estate Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. This firm Maipo Valley cabernet carries graphite, cassis, black cherry across a savoury, structured frame. Or pop across the Andes and crack the top on Vinas Don Martin Los Dos Corte d’Oro 2012, a high altitude (1000m) malbec from Mendoza. Though the density here is undeniable, so is the lifted affect of altitude – the freshness propping up all the brooding black cherry, wild blackberry, black plum and undercurrent of tar.


WineAlign in BC

In addition to our popular 20 Under $20 shopping guide, we publish the monthly Critics’ Picks report and include the wines across any price point and channel that excite us each month, the BC Wine Report, a look at all things in the BC Wine Industry, as well as Treve’s Travels,  a periodic trip to the world’s wine regions. Lastly, Anthony Gismondi closes out each month with his Final Blend column – an expert insight into wine culture and trends, honed by more than 25 years experience as an influential and global critic.

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

Painted Rock Estate Winery

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It’s all about Value at the World Wine Awards of Canada

by David LawrasonOctober 7, 2015

Announcing the Results

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Quick, name the top five Best Value Cabernet Sauvignons sold in Canada. Would you have guessed Errazuriz Estate from Chile; Mission Hill Reserve from B.C., Ringbolt from Western Australia, Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva from Chile, and Wolf Blass Yellow Label from Australia?

Yes, that Wolf Blass, that for years was one of the top selling reds in the county, now re-tooled with fruit drawn from Langhorne Creek, a region that makes some of the most fragrant cabs in the world. And Mission Hill Cab Reserve, that is gaining stature every passing vintage as vineyards mature. And Santa Rita Medalla Real that has been wowing value seekers for years with its full throttle flavours. And if you have not yet tried Ringbolt from Margaret River, well you simply must.

Who owns bragging rights as Outstanding Value Winery retailing in Canada? That would be Errazuriz of Chile. This winery entered eleven wines in the WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada and took seven value medals – three gold, three silver and one bronze. Right behind is Cono Sur another Chilean winery Canadians coast to coast have long recognized as great value. In third spot is Ontario-based Magnotta that makes VQA and international wines (they own vineyards in Chile) only available in their private stores. In fourth spot is Wolf Blass, with a strong showing with their increasingly regionalized brands. Fifth spot goes to B.C’s Gray Monk Estate Winery with their range of pristine whites and reds.

WineAlign has announced the results of the 10th Edition of the World Wine Awards of Canada. The name has changed over the years but the intent has always been the same – to assemble Canada’s leading palates and taste through hundreds of wines that sell somewhere in Canada for less than $50. In fact, the vast majority of this year’s entries were under $25.

As a professional rating service we have scored each wine using a metric based on experienced palates and a detailed blind judging system designed to be as fair as can be to the wines entered. Here’s a video explaining the judging system.

This year however the reporting and medalling was simplified. Price and country categories were eliminated (most countries make most styles). Price and judges scores were fed into a complex formula that provided a value rating for each wine – resulting in a gold, silver or bronze value medal.

WWAC15 Gold Value MedalWWAC15 Silver Value MedalWWAC15 Bronze Value Medal

Because in the end that is how we all shop. We look at what we want to buy and pick the one we perceive to be the best value, based on our individual metrics.

​”This year we decided to take a mathematical, objective approach to the often subjective concept of value” said Bryan McCaw, Head Wineaux of WineAlign. “Using a formula developed with a Mathematics and Statistics graduate from SFU, we were able to evaluate all of the wines based on a combination of price AND score”.

WWAC15 Apprentice Judge - Steve Robinson WWAC15 Judges Table

The judging was held over five days in late August at the Toronto Don Valley Hotel and Suites. We assembled 18 judges from across Canada and spent five days tasting through just shy of 1000 wines, with the top 40% of the medal winners getting a second look in the last two days to sort out their ranking. As we have now done for the past three years we also included two rigorously vetted apprentice judges (Steve Robinson and Jules Garton), whose scores did not count this year – but they will next year.

The great beauty of the 10th World Wine Awards is that you can go to any variety/style category and instantly see which wines rose to the top, as we did with the cabernets above. Or, you can browse alphabetical lists by winery of the gold, silver and bronze value winners, to see where some of your favourites stack up against what the pro’s think.

WWAC15 World Wine Awards WWAC15 Judge - Bruce Wallner MS

What’s your hot button style – riesling from anywhere, sangiovese from Italy, tempranillo from Spain? You could end up spending a great deal of time parsing our lists and reading about each wine. You can link easily to any one wine and read the reviews of multiple critics, and look at their individual ratings as well an “aggregate” WineAlign rating.

Happy bargain hunting, and toast to drinking good wine that you can really afford.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

World Wine Awards of Canada (Links to 2015 Results)

Results Summary Page

Outstanding Value Winery

Gold Value Medal Winners

Silver Value Medal Winners

Bronze Value Medal Winners

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


We would like to acknowledge Fortessa Canada for the Schott Zwiesel glassware used throughout the judging. A special thank you to Jason Dziver for the above images, as well as for each and every Awards bottle image appearing our site. You can see more of his work at Jason Dziver Photography.

WWAC15 Judges and Staff - Jason Dziver Photographer

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Soif d’ailleurs avec Nadia – De la subjectivité

par Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier - New - Cropped

Nadia Fournier

La notion de qualité est élastique et varie selon les goûts et les repères de chacun. J’en ai encore eu la preuve la semaine dernière en parlant avec un ami et amateur de vin qui questionnait mes notations, précisant que quatre étoiles c’était un peu « abusif » pour des vins grecs alors que je n’avais donné guère mieux qu’un maigre 2 ½ étoiles à un vin californien « très bien coté ».

Mais bien côté par qui ? Et pourquoi ?

Qu’on déguste à l’aveugle ou non, la critique est forcément subjective puisqu’elle fait appel aux goûts de celui ou de celle qui l’émette. On est d’accord ou on ne l’est pas. Et tant mieux si tous ne partagent pas les mêmes goûts. Ça garde le débat animé et ça justifie que nous soyons si nombreux au Québec à écrire pour vous, amateurs fidèles en quête d’aubaines ou de saveurs nouvelles.

Bien entendu, l’exercice de la critique implique aussi de reconnaitre qu’un vin, même s’il ne nous fait pas vibrer, est techniquement irréprochable. En gros, il faut savoir faire abstraction de ses propres goûts, mais sans s’y perdre. Sans y laisser son âme, diraient certains.

Ceux qui me lisent depuis quelques années connaissent peut-être maintenant mes préférences : pas de vin sucre – sauf dans le riesling, bien sûr –, pas d’infusion de bois neuf ni de concentration à outrance et le moins de manipulations possibles. C’est comme ça, je n’y peux rien. Comme tant de mes collègues, j’ai un faible pour les vins singuliers qui ont une histoire à raconter.

Et de belles histoires, il y en a plusieurs dans cette nouvelle édition du magazine CELLIER. Plein de belles bouteilles, toutes vendues à moins de 25 $ et d’autant plus recommandables qu’elles sont pour la plupart fidèles à leurs origines. 

Josmeyer, Pinot blanc 2014, Mise du Printemps :
Parmi les exceptions qui confirment la règle du pinot blanc, il faut désormais inclure ce vin absolument délicieux, biologique (biodynamique même), issu de vignes d’altitude et élaboré avec sagesse et sobriété, sans fard inutile.

Equis, Crozes-Hermitage 2013, Equinoxe :
Très bon Crozes-Hermitage élaboré par Maxime Graillot (Domaine Alain Graillot) et son associé Thomas Schmittel. Déjà savoureux, il pourrait encore révéler des surprises d’ici 2019.

Josmeyer Mise Du Printemps Pinot Blanc 2014Equis Equinoxe Crozes Hermitage 2013Triennes Viognier Sainte Fleur 2013Château Juvénal La Terre du Petit Homme 2013Domaine d'Aupilhac Lou Maset 2013

Domaine de Triennes, Viognier 2013, Sainte-Fleur, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence :
Propriété provençale appartenant notamment à Aubert de Villaine (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti) et à Jacques Seysses (Domaine Dujac). Très bon vin blanc méridional, élégant, juste assez gras et des saveurs florales expressives, sans aucune démesure. Des viogniers comme ça, on en voudrait plus.

Château Juvénal, La Terre du Petit Homme 2013, Ventoux :
Nez très typé sud du Rhône, entre fruits très mûrs, poivre, réglisse et garrigue. Bouche tendre, chair fruitée ample, veloutée et caressante, mais sans mollesse. Sensation chaleureuse en finale.

Domaine d’Aupilhac, Lou Maset 2013, Languedoc :
Peut-être un peu plus discret cette année, moins affriolant et sans la générosité de fruit des dernières années, mais un bon vin du Midi, assez solide et chaleureux, idéal pour les soirs de semaine.

Damien Coquelet, Fou du Beaujo 2014, Beaujolais-Villages :
Le beau-fils de Georges Descombes en est à ses premières armes en tant que vigneron, mais il fait déjà parler de lui. Gourmand et savoureux, son 2014 est le vin de soif par excellence. Tout indiqué pour les charcuteries.

Damien Coquelet Fou du Beaujo 2014Redstone Cabernet 2012Bachelder Chardonnay Mineralité 2012Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay 2013Clos Des Fous Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Redstone Winery, Cabernet 2012, Niagara Peninsula :
Le nez revèle les parfums de poivron vert propres au cabernet sauvignon (25 % de l’assemblage, l’essentiel étant composé de cabernet franc); la bouche est droite, franche et solide. Encore jeune, relativement abordable, et au moins aussi bon que nombre de cabernets modernes produits plus au sud.

Bachelder, Chardonnay 2012, Minéralité, Niagara Peninsula :
Tant au Clos Jordanne que sous sa propre étiquette, Thomas Bachelder nous a donné des vins blancs toujours impeccablement équilibrés. Il poursuit dans la même lignée avec cette nouvelle cuvée, et ce malgré la nature chaleureuse de l’été 2012. Une aubaine à ce prix!

Lailey Vineyard, Chardonnay 2013, Niagara Peninsula :
La famille Lailey jouit d’une excellente réputation. Son vignoble s’étend sur une dizaine d’hectares en bordure de la rivière Niagara et produit notamment ce chardonnay mûr et habilement boisé.

Clos des Fous, Cabernet sauvignon 2012, Grillos Cantores, Alto Cachapoal :
Ce vin m’a réconciliée avec le cabernet au Chili. Très typé, tant par ses goûts fumés qui évoquent la cendre mouillée, le paprika, que par sa structure à la fois ferme et enrobée. Très agréable à boire, savoureux et digeste.


Nadia Fournier

Présentation de la fonction CELLIER

Nouvel arrivage CELLIERAfin de vous guider encore mieux dans vous achats et faciliter vos emplettes, nous avons ajouté une fonction spéciale au site Chacun son vin pour nos membres Privilège.

Chaque fois que la SAQ met en vente ces nouveaux arrivages, vous n’aurez qu’à visiter notre site et cliquer sur l’onglet «Vin» puis sur «Nouvel arrivage CELLIER», dans le menu déroulant. Aussi simple que cela !

Vous pourrez ainsi lire mes notes de dégustation sur tous les vins du CELLIER, en un seul et même endroit.


CELLIER d’octobre

Note de la rédaction: Cet accès exclusif, ainsi que la possibilité de lire dès leur publication tous les commentaires de dégustation publiés sur Chacun son Vin, est offert à nos membres Privilège pour la somme de 40 $ par année. (Les membres inscrits bénéficiant d’un accès gratuit doivent, pour leur part, attendre 60 jours avant de pouvoir accéder à tout notre contenu.)


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10th Annual Chilean Wine Festival – October 27, 2015

Discover the Flavours of Chile

Wines of Chile and the Trade Commission of Chile (ProChile) present their annual grand tasting and celebration of wine and food in Toronto – the Chilean Wine Festival taking place Tuesday, October 27th at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Wines of Chile

Chilean Wine Festival Special Offer

WineAlign readers are invited to discover the flavours of Chile with a special offer. Purchase your tickets using the promotional code WineAlign and you will get $10 off the regular admission price of $75. (details below)

Explore new wines

Chile’s outstanding diversity of wines stems from the country’s extraordinary geography and unique climate. Regionality is the key to Chile’s stylistic development and winemakers are striving to reflect the different terroirs that the country can offer, especially in the cooler coastal areas and in the Andean foothills. Avid wine consumers today recognize the names Casablanca, Maipo and Colchagua, but these are just the beginnings of a host of appellations. It is this mosaic of appellations and wineries that composes Wines of Chile.

An outstanding set of 30 wineries bring Toronto more than 120 wines for this tasting. Guests will also enjoy a special Chilean fusion menu prepared by Daniel and Daniel catering and authentic Chilean empanadas prepared by The Empanada Co. The 2015 tasting will feature two new theme tables, one featuring a collection of Sparkling Wines and another showing wines that demonstrate Innovation in winemaking.

Chilean Wine Festival

Experience live entertainment including Chilean cultural dancing by Grupo Chile Dance Co. and a live acoustic performance by Farrucas Latin Duo.

Special guest Chef Andres Michel will design and prepare a special menu of Chilean inspired dishes.

Participating wineries include:

Arboleda, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Bisquertt, Caliterra, Carmen, Casas del Toqui, Cono Sur, Concha y Toro, Emiliana, Errazuriz, Indomita, Koyle, Leyda, Montes, MontGras, Morandé, Pérez Cruz, San Esteban, San Pedro, San Rafael, Santa Alicia, Santa Ema, Santa Rita, Siegel, Tabali, Tarapaca, Terraustral, Ventisquero, Veramonte, VIA.

Chilean Wine Festival

Event Details

WineAlign readers are invited to discover the wines of Chile with a special offer. Purchase your tickets using the promotional code WineAlign and you will get $10 off the regular admission price of $75.

Date & Time:

Tuesday October 27th, 2015
Walk-About Tasting – 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm


Royal Ontario Museum, Peter F Bronfman Hall, 2nd level
100 Queens Park, Toronto, Ontario

Price: $75 regular, $65 with the promotional code WineAlign

Save $10 now

Wines of Chile Event


Peter F. Bronfman Hall is located on the second level of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Guests will enter from the main doors on Queen’s Park and access the second level from either the north or south staircases or the elevator. Proceeds from the event will be donated toward ROM’s highest educational priorities.

AdvertisementChilean Wine Festival

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 3, Part Two

Spain and Thanksgiving
by John Szabo MS, with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week, the WineAlign Crü takes a look at VINTAGES’ first serious crack at raising the profile, and average price, of Spanish wines in Ontario, with a handful of top buys and multiple “triple alignments” between us. And since Thanksgiving is around the corner, we’ve also assembled our favorites from the October 3rd release, laid out in handy menu format; just plug and play.

Welcome Back, Spain

Consider for a moment some of Spain’s contributions to world culture. The country is a mecca for students of architecture, offering an encyclopaedic range from Frank Gehry’s landmark Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, to Antonio Gaudi’s magnificent designs in Barcelona, the spellbinding high Renaissance masterpiece El Escorial near Madrid by Juan Bautista de Toledo, the serene beauty of the Moorish magnum opus Alhambra Palace in Granada, the radical juxtaposition of Islam and gothic Catholicism in Córdoba’s Mezquita, countless medieval churches and monasteries, and even one of the old world’s best-preserved Roman aqueducts in Segovia.

The world’s first novel was penned here – Cervantes’ El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, while the international molecular gastronomy movement had its genesis in a small restaurant called elBulli in the hamlet of Roses overlooking the Costa Brava in Catalonia, inspiring a wave of culinary exploration both domestically and internationally. And where would we be with jamón Ibérico, hands-down the world’s best, or those tasty little charred padrón peppers that seem to be popping up on restaurant menus across Ontario, or Marcona almonds or hard Spanish sheep’s cheese in all of it’s kaleidoscopic variety? I haven’t even touched the legions of painters, dancers, filmmakers, musicians….

But what of Spanish wine? Spain of course produces wine, quite a lot of it in fact. The country has more acreage under vine than any other on the planet, and its production history stretches back to the earliest days of trade in the Mediterranean. So why is it you know so much about Spain, but so little about Spanish wine?

For one, Spain was a very latecomer on the international wine scene, having slept through a good part of the 20th century for various, mostly political reasons. It wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that Spanish wine awoke from its 19th century slumber. Alejandro Fernandez and his Tinto Pesquera from Ribera del Duero started to turn heads in the mid-1980s. René Barbier, Álvaro Palacios and their band of radical friends wagered on the immense potential of remote Priorat in the early 1990s, where Carthusian monks had been drawing precious drops from withered old vines clinging to bare rock for centuries in quasi secrecy. Their long odds came in, and they won large.

Soon after, bagpipe-playing vignadores in northern “Green” Spain, more familiar looking to Gaels then Andalucíans, realized that they had a treasure in their aromatic albariño grown in the misty maritime hillsides of Rias Baixas. Their neighbours in Bierzo likewise awoke at the turn of the millennium to find that nobody had replanted a vine for the last century, leaving vast tracks of ancient bush vine mencía for the current generation to exploit, capable of producing Spain’s most elegant reds.

The alarm reverberated throughout the country like the peeling of church bells on Sunday morning. The ripples eventually reached even the sleepiest regions like Calatayud, Campo de Borja and Cariñena, where there, too, they found acre upon acre of ancient hills covered in bonsai-like old garnacha vines, inexpensive to transform into a rich and heady style of wine that the world wants more and more of. The old classics like Rioja and Sherry were compelled to dust off their images and start producing better wines. Viticulture has never been sharper, and terroirs better understood in Rioja then they are today, and their brief, rebound fling with thick and soupy internationalized wines has more or less ended, sagely returning to the marvellously mid-weight, vibrant and savoury, eminently age-worthy reds for which the region is so well suited. And sherry gains new converts every day, at least among smart drinkers who know where to lay down their money to get the most singular and complex drinking experience for the least outlay.

All of these developments, and many more, have been simmering away in Spain for a couple of decades now, but admittedly, you would have been hard-pressed to know it living in Ontario. Few of the exciting wines were imported, and little promotion was done. But, it seems the pot has finally come to a boil.

Last night, Wines from Spain and LCBO-Vintages held the first significant tasting of Spanish wines in Toronto in longer than I can remember. A pre-tasting seminar sold out in short order, and some 350 people crowded into the Roundhouse to sample the wares of nearly three-dozen producers covering a fine cross-section of the industry. Just the week before, the LCBO launched a Spanish Specialty Store, the third in the laudable “Products of the World” initiative (read David’s report about it, and we’re planning a full review of the Spanish selection, triple the previous number of products available). And to line up everything neatly, the October 3rd VINTAGES release features a collection of Spanish wines.

What’s different from previous Spanish releases is the evident effort to shift consumers up-market; the average price of the featured wines is about $30. And while Spain has plenty of excellent wines in the sub-$20 range, those few extra dollars allow you tap into some of the more regionally distinctive and representative wines – the stuff that makes a country unique – as you’ll see in the category-leading Terras Gauda Rias Baixas or the comfortingly classic Viña Real Rioja Gran Reserva. It also permits exploration of some innovative curiosities that aren’t just weird but also wonderful, like the pure Rufete from Bodegas Bhilar, one of the most memorable discoveries at last night’s event.

Let’s hope this is the beginning of a more regular and representative selection of what Spain has to offer, so Ontarians can add wine to the list of Spain’s world culture contribution.

Speaking of Sherry

Love sherry? Or think you might? Check out the Canadian premier screening of Sherry and The Mystery of Palo Cortado, this Sunday October 4th, part of the Eatable Film Festival in Toronto (drinking sherry and eating pintxos is part of the deal). Go all in and have dinner at Bar Isabel after the screening with a crazy collection of sherries presented by winery principals.

Buyers Guide for October 3rd 2015: Spain 

Terras Gauda 2013 O Rosal Blanco, Rías Baixas, Spain ($24.95)
David Lawrason – When I first visited this region I remember being so impressed by examples that combined dancing, exotic fragrance and freshness with grounded structured and great depth. This is one of those wines, the best albarino of the year, giving full expression to the grape and the maritime terroir of Galicia.
Sara d’Amato – The O Rosal Blanco is blended from native varieties of albariño, loureira, and caiño blanco and fermented with wild yeast. This complex and highly pleasurable white is perfect for pairing with Thanksgiving fare although I plan to enjoy it all on its own.
John Szabo – Terras Gauda has been a Rias Baixas reference for me for many years now, and this O Rosal (sub-regional designation) may just be the finest yet. A splash of Loureiro adds additional aromatics to albariño’s impressive floral-fruity range, while caiño blanco chisels and tightens the palate with its stony wash. I love the salty taste, too, like the Atlantic mist-infused air of Galicia.

Viña Real 2008 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($36.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a lovely, succulent, deliciously savoury Rioja, salty and infinitely drinkable. Unlike most in the traditional camp (in which this wine can be included as well), this is not dripping in spicy American oak flavour, but finds a balance between fruit, wood, and developed spicy-earthy character. Length is excellent, too. Drink or hold a dozen years without concern.
David Lawrason – Grand indeed! This traditional Rioja is so elegant, tidy, refined and surprisingly youthful – with subtle floral notes among cherry fruit and fine oak vanillin. Great weave and finesse, and still able to age. Predict peak about 2020.
Sara d’Amato – Opulent and modern with velvety tannins, this Gran Reserva is a standout from other Riojas in this release. Offering the characteristic concentration and ageability of a wine at this level with only a hint of maturity. A cooler weather wine best enjoyed with hearty stews or braised red meats.

Marqués De Cáceres 2009 Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($24.95)
John Szabo – Firm, succulent, juicy, genuinely savoury and saline Rioja from the ever-reliable Marqués de Cáceres, this has firmness and cut, mouth-salivating acids and marked minerality. I’d tuck this away for another 3+ years for maximum enjoyment, or hold another decade.

Terras Gauda O Rosal Blanco 2013 Vina Real Gran Reserva 2008 Marqués De Cáceres Reserva 2009 Phinca Encanto Rufete 2011 Baron De Ley Gran Reserva 2008

Bodegas Bhilar 2011 Phinca Encanto Rufete, Sierra de Francia, Spain ($32.95)
David Lawrason – This is incorrectly indicated as a Rioja in Vintages catalogue (the winery is based in Rioja but the fruit is from a less well known region in central-northwest Spain).  It is a delicious and fascinating wine. Winemaker David Sampedro Gil (“DSG” is its brand) is a young gun from a 5th generation of vintners who is on mission is recover indigenous varieties.  Rufete is an early-ripening, well-under-the-radar red grape centred in the Duero/Douro region of Spain/Portugal. It is all tangy cranberry (making it a great Thanksgiving turkey pick as well).
Sara d’Amato – A rather unusual find, this 100% Rufete (also known as tinta pinheira in Portugal) is a real stunner. Although my reference for this a wine such as this is quite low, the grape is known for producing wine with high acids and tannins and thus with great ageing potential. This example is immensely compelling offering verve and intensity with a complex array of flavours from clove and plum to kirsch and violets.
John Szabo – Damned if this isn’t both intriguing, and high quality. I can’t say classic rufete (can anyone?) nor even classic Spanish style, but fans of sharper, mid-weight reds – think nebbiolo, or cool climate syrah or pinot noir – will get into this. Tannins are still a bit burly, but there’s enough weight and density to envision future harmony, after 2017 or so I’d speculate. An exciting find.

Baron de Ley 2008 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – Because a Gran Reserva must be held back for at least five years, older releases such as this 2008 are not uncommon. This traditional version from a reliable producer delivers great intensity and power for the price. Still quite youthfully rugged, the wine deserves time in a decanter or another 2-3 years tucked away before it can be optimally enjoyed.

Buyers’ Guide For October 3rd 2015: Thanksgiving dinner 

Bubbles to start 

Jansz Premium Cuvée TasmaniaJansz Premium Cuvée, Australia ($26.95)
John Szabo – Along with Ontario, and Crémant de Bourgogne, Tasmania should be on your list of sources for fine value, traditional method sparkling. Jansz is among the most reliable (and regularly available) names in Ontario, a bright, lively and fresh version. I like the vibrant citrus-orange zest and freshly baked white bread aromatics, and the well-measured crisp-dry-balanced palate. Fine length, too. 

White & Rosé

2013 Bründlmayer Kamptaler Terrassen Grüner Veltliner Dac Kamptal, Austria ($24.95)
John Szabo – A terrific, arch-classic grüner from Bründlemayer, at once fleshy and lean, richly flavoured but sharply defined and stony. This hits the mark, with expansive finish and broad flavour range, a perfect segue from aperitif into first course.

2014 Coffin Ridge Bone Dry Riesling VQA Ontario Canada ($17.00)
John Szabo – The best yet from young Coffin Ridge Crisp, this is bone dry (as advertised), lime-flavoured Riesling, uncompromising, reminiscent of the Clare Valley in Australia (a good reference). Ready to crack open your taste buds.

Angels Gate 2010 Mountainview Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Ontario, Canada ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – I was pleasantly surprised by the outstanding value this Beamsville Bench chardonnay delivers with appealing viscosity, great concentration of fruit and very good length of finish. The oak is a tad showy but also seductive and integrated. A rich offering that will prove a decadent addition to a Thanksgiving feast.

Seresin 2012 Chardonnay, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This profound, complex chardonnay has the stuffing to match the big bird and all its stuffing.  In fact flavour-wise it is not dissimilar, with buttered asparagus, corn, tobacco, nutmeg and barley sugar. It is biodynamically farmed, giving it great energy and depth.

Bründlmayer Kamptaler Terrassen Grüner Veltliner 2013 Coffin Ridge Bone Dry Riesling 2014 Angels Gate Mountainview Chardonnay 2010 Seresin Chardonnay 2012 Gassier Sables d'Azur Rosé 2014

Gassier 2014 Sables d’Azur Rosé, Côtes De Provence, Provence, France ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – We don’t often see a rosé featured this late in the year but it is a welcome addition to this week’s release. Just in time for Thanksgiving, this style of wine makes a versatile pairing for fish, poultry, pork or as a pre-dinner sipper. Well-priced, from a reliable house and offering a dry, crisp palate with a pleasant salinity and notes of lavender and savory herbes de Provence.

Lighter Reds

Herdade do Sobroso 2013 Sobro Red, Alentejano, Portugal  ($14.95)
David Lawrason – I was just about finished a large tasting when along came this lively, smooth and juicy wine packed with sour red fruit, herbs and spices. It was invigorating and pleasant, and just the right weight for a turkey dinner.  Then I looked at the price.  If your table will be including extended family and friends this year, you can afford three or four bottles of this one.

Stephane Aviron 2012 Vieilles Vignes Morgon Côte du Py, Beaujolais, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a terrific cru Beaujolais, firm, meaty, substantially flavoured with an authentic and natural twist. Oenologists may dither about the touch of volatile acidity, but for me, it lifts the earth into the floral sphere and extends the back end. This is no carbonic fruity style, but traditional, old school, worldly gamay with legs to run another half dozen years or more. It’s the cranberry sauce on your Thanksgiving turkey.

Herdade do Sobroso Sobro Red 2013 Stephane Aviron Vieilles Vignes Morgon Côte du Py 2012 Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2013 Castello di Volpaia Riserva Chianti Classico 2012

Cave Spring 2013 Cabernet Franc, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($19.95)
David Lawrason – I hunted through this large release for a great Thanksgiving turkey pinot noir, but couldn’t find one rating highly that was ready to drink.  But this charming, lighter weight, pure and well-balanced cab franc will do the trick. Cave Spring is known for riesling but its reds are impressing of late.

Castello Di Volpaia 2012 Riserva Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($41.95)
John Szabo – This is great vintage for Volpaia – maturing beautifully now – high-toned, floral, savoury and herbal, arch-classic Chianti Classico with elegance, depth and staying power on the palate. Drinking now, or with any Thanksgiving dinner up until the early ‘20s.

Domaine La Tour Vieille Reserva Banyuls Tenuta San Vincenti Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2011 Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013Medium-Full Reds

Le Vieux Donjon 2013 Châteauneuf-Du-Pape, Rhône, France ($58.95)
John Szabo – If you’re going big, you might as well go really big with this dense and rich, full, fat, sweet and savoury, generously proportioned yet finely tuned CdC  – it has the full package. A top vintage for Vieux Donjon. Decant an hour ahead of dinner at least.

Tenuta San Vincenti 2011 Gran Selezione Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($54.95)
Sara d’Amato – The “Gran Selezione” is a relatively new qualitative rank representing the peak of the pyramid and about 10% of the Chianti Classico produced. This mid-weight red is no lightweight when it comes to flavour and impact. It is wildly complex and its tannins are supple enough for immediate drinking pleasure.


Domaine La Tour Vieille Reserva Banyuls, Roussillon, France ($29.95)
David Lawrason – We see so little Banyuls that it’s almost a must for the curious. It’s a deep amber-brown, fortified ‘vin doux naturel’ with a lifted nose of prunes, walnuts, molasses, and a touch of earthy oxidation. It’s medium-full bodied, sweet, well balanced yet nicely dry and dusty. A wine for meditation after dinner, or with nut and dried fruit based desserts.  

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Oct 3rd, 2015

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

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

Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Les bons choix de Marc – Cellier d’octobre

par Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

Plusieurs bons vins, dans l’arrivage Cellier mis en vente en succursales aujourd’hui, 1er octobre. Et il y en aura quelques autres de très recommandables avec la deuxième vague, offerte celle-là dans deux semaines – avec, comme à l’habitude, une prévente en ligne à compter de jeudi prochain. Mais chaque chose en son temps. Ceux que vous pouvez vous procurer dès maintenant ou cette fin de semaine, d’abord.

Les blancs, pour commencer. Avec un petit bijou : le Pinot Blanc Mise du Printemps Josmeyer 2014, vin d’Alsace bien engageant au nez, des notes de tabac, un peu de volatile, de la pêche aussi, juste un soupçon. La bouche est à l’avenant, toute en fraîcheur sans être dépourvue de richesse. Miam ! À 21 $, un incontournable.

Autre très bon vin, de Provence celui-là, le Domaine de Triennes Viognier Sainte-Fleur 2013. Un viognier sur la retenue, pas du tout exubérant ni parfumé comme beaucoup de ses congénères. Néanmoins convaincant, relativement fin, bien construit, bien structuré. À 22 $, on ne se trompe pas.

Pour amateurs de chardonnay, maintenant. Mais de chardonnay lui non plus pas expansif, discret au nez même, avec une pointe d’acidité volatile et un boisé en bride. Sans briller par son éclat, ce Bachelder Chardonnay Minéralité 2012, de la vallée du Niagara, a des saveurs délicates et harmonieuses, qui convainquent.

Josmeyer Mise du Printemps Pinot Blanc 2014 Triennes Viognier Sainte Fleur 2013 Bachelder Chardonnay Mineralité 2012

C’est la manne du côté des rouges, également.

Et mon coup de coeur est allé pour le Domaine de la Pinte Poulsard de l’ami Karl 2013 en appellation arbois, dans le Jura. Des amis comme ça, moi, j’en veux tout plein. Quel beau vin ! Original, cela dit, qui peut dérouter les non-initiés. La couleur est en effet rouge avancée, presque tuilée, en tout cas bien orangée ; pour un peu, et à l’aveugle total, on pourrait croire que le bougre est tranquillement en train de passer l’arme à gauche. Sauf qu’en bouche, il est on ne peut plus en vie ! Goûteux, nerveux, rafraîchissant, léger et poivré. Une sorte de pendant d’un beaujolais, en moins friand, en plus sérieux, mais en terriblement convaincant.

Parlant de gamay, le Damien Coquelet Fou du Beaujo 2014 est d’un rouge violacé pâle, son nez est fin, légèrement herbacé, floral également, il y a de la griotte aussi là-dedans. La bouche suit, tout en fruit et en délicatesse, avec une agréable finale saline. Super vin de soif ! À siroter donc pour lui-même, à l’apéro, ou avec un viande blanche rôtie ou grillée.

Autre rouge sinon de soif, du moins rafraîchissant et très avenant, le Domaine d’Aupilhac Lou Maset 2013, un coteaux-du-languedoc floral, vif, fruité, à peine corsé. À seulement 16,15 $, un excellent rapport qualité-prix.

Domaine de La Pinte Poulsard de L'ami Karl 2012 Damien Coquelet Fou du Beaujo 2014 Domaine D'aupilhac Lou Maset 2013 Château Juvénal La Terre du Petit Homme 2013 Redstone Cabernet 2012

Plus corsé, beaucoup plus même, le ventoux Château Juvénal La Terre du Petit Homme 2013 est marqué par la syrah au nez, un arôme plein, lourd, engageant. Les saveurs sont pleines également, le taux d’alcool tourne autour de 15 pour cent, c’est presque capiteux, mais voilà, l’ensemble garde de la tension, du tonus. Il s’agira de le boire légèrement rafraîchi, et de sortir, peut-être pas l’artillerie lourde, mais les mets assez relevés et jusqu’au gibier, sans hésiter.

Enfin, on revient chez nous, dans le Niagara c’est-à-dire, avec le Redstone Cabernet 2012 élaboré par la réputée maison Tawse. Plutôt finement typé cabernet (légère odeur de poivron), des notes vanillées (boisées) en sourdine, du corps, une bonne charpente et une indéniable fraîcheur. Très réussi !

À boire, aubergiste !

On se calme, on se calme. L’aubergiste vient de vous en suggérer tout plein d’entrée de jeu, des vins à boire.

Je vous laisserai seulement avec cette pensée : vous vous souvenez, il y a un mois à peine, on ne donnait pas cher de la peau de la SAQ ? Privatisation, démantèlement, refonte en profondeur, et ainsi de suite.

Ça va peut-être se faire, remarquez. Sauf que pour le moment, les chiens ont à peu près fini d’aboyer. Et la caravane, bien, j’ai l’impression qu’elle est passée…

Allez, une bonne bouteille, de bons copains, une bonne discussion, et on lui règle son cas, au monopole.

Santé !


Présentation de la fonction CELLIER

Nouvel arrivage CELLIERAfin de vous guider encore mieux dans vous achats et faciliter vos emplettes, nous avons ajouté une fonction spéciale au site Chacun son vin pour nos membres Privilège.

Chaque fois que la SAQ met en vente ces nouveaux arrivages, vous n’aurez qu’à visiter notre site et cliquer sur l’onglet «Vin» puis sur «Nouvel arrivage CELLIER», dans le menu déroulant. Aussi simple que cela !

Vous pourrez ainsi lire mes notes de dégustation sur tous les vins du CELLIER, en un seul et même endroit.


CELLIER d’octobre

Note de la rédaction: Cet accès exclusif, ainsi que la possibilité de lire dès leur publication tous les commentaires de dégustation publiés sur Chacun son Vin, est offert à nos membres Privilège pour la somme de 40 $ par année. (Les membres inscrits bénéficiant d’un accès gratuit doivent, pour leur part, attendre 60 jours avant de pouvoir accéder à tout notre contenu.)

Les vins du Sud-Ouest de la France

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The Question of Ageing, and an Unlikely Protagonist

Szabo’s Free RunSeptember 29, 2015

Text and photographs by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Consider this more of an around-the-water-cooler type of conversation, neither the first nor certainly the last word on what is a devilishly complex subject: the ageability of wine. At least, this is the sort of thing we chit-chat about around the water cooler at the WineAlign office. I trust your conversations are a tad racier and more interesting.

What prompts these reflections is a recent deep dive into the small sea of Hunter Valley Semillon, arguably the southern hemisphere’s most unique white wine (read about my adventure with WineAlign regular judge Brad Royale here). For every other wine, there is a compass that points north to somewhere in the old world, some original paradigm or model to follow. For Hunter semillon, there is no model; no other region in the world produces semillon in even a remotely similar fashion (or the Hunter has become the magnetic pole). And it’s also one of the world’s most unlikely, most age worthy whites. Just why and how this is so was cause for pause.

A couple of hours north of Sydney by car, the Hunter Valley is an improbable place to make fine wine. It’s blistering hot in the summer. The mercury pushing past 40ºC is a common sight, as are big fluffy white, and frequently dark, clouds. The semi-tropical climate means rot-inducing high humidity and rain, and especially harvest rain, which arrives with Swiss dependability. The most memorable comment from my first visit to the Hunter several years ago came from Scott McWilliams of Mount Pleasant Wines, in answer to my question of how he makes the decision to harvest: “mate, we know it’s time when it’s bucketing rain outside”. (In equally memorable fashion, when I brought up the comment on this visit, Stuart Hordern of Brokenwood didn’t miss a beat with his own quip: “sounds like he was a day late, mate”.)

Braemore Vineyard

The point is that the season is compact. Semillon is harvested at a potential alcohol of around 10%-11%, or it rots. The majority is fermented completely dry with little to no skin contact in stainless steel, and bottled young with no exposure to oxygen. The result is a bone dry, low alcohol, high acid (low pH) wine with slim body and slight structure, vaguely fruity (unless some aromatic yeast strain is used to make a sauvignon blanc look-alike, but left to it’s own devices, semillon is a far less aromatic variety). According to the textbooks, this, like most light, dry, reductively-made wines (in the absence of oxygen) should be in the DYA category, a “drink youngest available” sort of proposition. What could such a wine possibly gain over time? The answer, in this case, is everything.

Back to Ageing Basics

The understanding of the mechanisms of wine ageing has progressed considerably in the last couple of decades, though the mystery is far from fully unraveled. Numbers alone do not tell the whole story. There’s the science of wine, and then there’s the reality of wine.

According to conventional wisdom, phenolics, acid/pH, sugar and alcohol are the key components that modulate the ageability of wine. Complex polyphenolic compounds, mostly tannins and colour pigments extracted from grape skins, are what give (mostly red) wines their “structure”. But more importantly, according to researchers, polyphenols are anti-oxidants, which is to say they scavenge and neutralize oxygen molecules that inevitably make their way into wine, preventing them from doing their nefarious work of oxidizing everything else. The more polyphenols, the more soldiers in the war on oxygen. This explains why red wine, which is made by soaking skins in the juice and thus richer in polyphenols, is by and large more ageworthy than white wine made with little or no skin contact.

Acidity, and closely related pH, are also critical for wine’s longevity. Generally the more acid (lower pH), the better for long term cellaring. Like oxygen, acids are responsible for catalyzing a whole series of reactions that create new aromas/flavours from existing “precursors” (stuff already present in grape must/wine). The pH level sets the tempo in which these reactions unfold. Lower pH also makes wine inhospitable to spoilage organisms (yeasts and bacteria) that would otherwise hasten a wine’s demise, or at least send it terribly sideways.

The preservative effects of alcohol are well known. The discovery sometime in the 18th century (or perhaps even earlier) that a generous shot of brandy added to casks of wine would “fortify” (i.e. stabilize and protect) them for long sea journeys under sub-optimal cellaring conditions, to say the least, quite literally changed the world of wine. And sugar, while a great source of nourishment for yeasts and bacteria, also seems to stabilize and slow the ageing process, while contributing a wide range of desirable traits in old sweet wines.

John Szabo and Brad Royale ready for Benchmark tasting. (photo: Damien Harrison, Brokenwood)

John Szabo and Brad Royale ready for Benchmark tasting. (photo: Damien Harrison, Brokenwood)

So, wine with all four of these elements in generous measure, like, say, a sweet, fortified wine such as vintage Port or especially Madeira, are certainly good bets for forgetting in the cellar. Conversely, wine with none or just one of these elements usually heads downhill straight after bottling. Hunter Valley semillon, propped by nothing but acidity, should fall apart.

It’s important to note at the same time that all of these elements can be added to any wine. Tannins come in convenient powdered form that can be dosed into wine at will. Acid, too, can (and is regularly) added by the bag-full into vats of wine to raise total acidity and lower pH. Sweetness is an easy fix, usually in the form of concentrated grape must added to adjust a wine’s flavor profile before bottling. And when added in its crystallized form during fermentation, in an old technique called Chaptalization (a bag of standard Redpath will do) you can subsidize nature’s shortfall and boost a wine’s final alcohol level, if dumping brandy into the wine seems too drastic.

Other techniques can improve a wine’s potential for ageing, such as clarifying juice (by settling, centrifuging) before fermentation begins, thereby essentially removing many of the compounds that will otherwise oxidize somewhere down the line. Critical decisions around bottling can also make a big difference, namely dosing out sulphur dioxide, the great wine preserver, or in many cases, particularly with white wine, bottling with some dissolved carbon dioxide, either natural CO2 from fermentation still trapped in the wine, or added on the bottling line, which keeps oxygen at bay. Closure, too makes all the difference, ranging from synthetic cork (the worst, which allows the most oxygen in), to cork (with huge variability in “oxygen transmission rate” – generally the longer the cork the less oxygen gets in), to near oxygen-proof Stelvin screw caps.

Brokenwood bottles

So, with all of the possible chemical tinkering and other techniques that can be used to extend shelf life, would it not be possible to tailor-make a wine for long-term cellaring? By this logic, even the most humble wines made by a competent winemaker who knows basic chemistry should be able to survive as long as the grandest of cru classé Bordeaux. But this is patently not the case.

The Anti-democratic Nature of Wine

Here’s where science get’s left behind and the magic comes in. The amazingly complex biochemical stew that is wine is an entirely a dynamic system. Everything affects every other thing. Many, but certainly not all, of the reactions are known. Measuring, and therefore predicting the outcome of ageing is staggeringly complex, and programming it reliably is beyond the grasp of current wine science.

Mount Pleasant Lovedale

What is clear is that a natural balance and relative abundance of these elements is what makes wine ageworthy. In other words, there’s no substituting what nature provides. Competent farming is thus a sine qua non, but it also follows that only certain regions have the right basic conditions to yield naturally balanced grapes, which stand a chance of being turned into ageworthy wine. As I’ve said before, the wine world is profoundly undemocratic; try as you might, if your region is too hot, cold, wet, dry, cloudy or sunny, you are naturally disadvantaged from the get-go (and you’ll probably have to tinker in the winery). If on the other hand the climate is conducive to yielding fully ripe grapes with a balance of components, naturally, then you have no excuses.

There are also un-measurable elements that work mysteriously to lengthen a wine’s lifespan. One of these is genuine flavor concentration, the kind that comes often, but not exclusively, from low yields and old vines. I call it the “invisible force shield of flavour” that protects wines, ensuring that they don’t just survive, but also improve over time. In other words, a wine needs stuffing. That’s why not all wines from great regions age well – it takes some effort, and expense, to get the stuffing in.

Then there’s the contribution of the soil – structure and chemistry, which is very difficult to quantify (especially chemistry). But yet, it’s as plain as day. Some vineyards naturally produce more ageworthy wines than adjacent ones, with the same macroclimate, and clones/rootstocks/vine age, farmed and vinified in precisely the same fashion. Call it the magic of terroir. Every winemaker with more than one site knows this. Swimming around in the biochemical soup of the greatest, most ageworthy wines is a group of unidentified vigilantes  – the mineral gang – coming to the aid of official forces to protect their turf from time.

The Lovedale vineyard, planted 1946

The Lovedale vineyard, planted 1946

All of which brings me back to Hunter Valley semillon. There’s something magic about the combination of grape and place that makes this wine so well suited to ageing, against all odds. The closest paradigm is riesling (there’s good reason why Hunter semillon was called Hunter Riesling for years before the days of official appellations), with the difference that riesling is aromatic and can be enjoyed young. Hunter semillon is neutral and frankly boring before it’s 5th year. Acid is of course a big factor, as is SO2, CO2 and the almost exclusive use of screwcaps. But since none of these things are exclusive to the Hunter Valley, there has to be something more. It’s the ability to reach full ripeness (full flavour potential or phenolic maturity) at high acid/low pH (Champagne, Chablis, Mosel anyone?), thanks to high heat, regular cloud cover, free-draining sandy soils and no doubt a bunch of other unique factors that happen to suit semillon. You can harvest semillon in the Barossa Valley at 11% alcohol to approximate the Hunter style, but the flavours are green and the wines no where near as age ageworthy. As Stuart Hordern, senior winemaker for Brokenwood says quite simply, “you can’t fake it”.

Of course not all Hunter semillon ages gracefully for twenty years (and some wines have acid added to them, I was shocked to learn), but the overall track record of the majority proves the case. Then there are particularly special places, like Mount Pleasant’s extraordinary Lovedale vineyard, which only starts to get moving after a decade. According to winemaker Adrian Sparks, “Lovedale [planted in 1946] has a much lower pH at picking than younger vines, and also retains more of its natural acidity. And the naturally low cropping levels of these wines produce an intensity of fruit [and a large gang of mineral vigilantes] that can age for decades.” He’s not exaggerating. After a decade or so, great Hunter semillon blossoms from relative neutrality into a wildly unique and delicious mix of hot buttered toast slathered in honey, wrapped in a wool blanket and left in a spearmint patch.

So, extrapolating this knowledge to answer the age-old question: “which wines should I age”, my best advice is to check the track record of the region first, and then specific producer. You probably already knew that, but maybe understand now why it’s so important. This may sound unfair to young regions, but frankly without a minimum of 30-40 years history (15-20 for vineyards to mature, plus another 20 to see how wines age afterwards), it’s mostly speculative.

Buyers’ Guide: Hunter Semillon for the Cellar (or mature wines to enjoy now)

Note: availability varies across Canada, but pretty much any semillon from Brokenwood, Tyrrell’s and Mount Pleasant (McWilliams) is worth a look, and time in the cellar.

McWilliam’s 2007 Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon
Mcwilliams 2007 Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon
Brokenwood 2014 Hunter Valley Sémillon
Brokenwood 2009 Latara Vineyard Semillon
Tyrrell’s 2010 Vat 1 Hunter Semillon
Tyrrell’s 2013 Brookdale Semillon 2013

Mcwilliam's Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2007 Mcwilliams Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2007Brokenwood Hunter Valley Sémillon 2014 Brokenwood Latara Vineyard Semillon 2009Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon 2010 Tyrrell's Brookdale Semillon 2013

Read more on ageing in these great Wines & Vines articles What Really Makes Wine Age Well? and Winemakers’ Views On Why Wines Age by Tim Patterson.

At WineAlign we strive to provide some guidelines on ageing in our reviews – check the drink from/to dates – based on our knowledge of the region and experience with specific producers. But sometimes it’s an educated guess. Have you found any surprisingly ageworthy wines? Let us know in the comments section. (Another of mine is Muscadet.)

Oh, and lastly, once you have one of those ageworthy wines, make sure you store it properly. But that’s a whole other water cooler conversation.

That’s all for this Free Run. See you over the next (old) bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

Catena Malbec & Catena Cabernet Sauvignon

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Le Sud-Ouest – Au-delà des terroirs battus

par Marc Chapleau28 sep 2015


Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

Je n’ai pas vraiment hésité, quand on m’a demandé d’écrire un texte sur le Sud-Ouest.

Et ça n’a rien à voir avec le fait que j’ai déjà été — oh my god ! ça fait longtemps — intronisé dans l’Ordre de la Dive Bouteille de Gaillac. À l’époque du journal Voir, c’était. Tu te souviens, Dominique-Ann ? « Boivons, boivons, pâ-pom pâ-pom, boivons, boivons… ce saint clystèreeeeee de qualité, ohé ! » Et là, après avoir chanté devant un parterre d’invités endimanchés, il fallait faire cul sec avec un immense verre à vin bien rempli genre pot à fleurs ou aquarium, dans ces eaux-là. Épique, la soirée.

Mais trêve de sentimentalisme.

L’idée d’aborder le Sud-Ouest m’a souri d’emblée parce que c’est toujours agréable, pour nous autres chroniqueurs, de parler de vins et de régions moins bien connues et dans l’ombre, si on parle par exemple de la France, du Bordelais, de la Bourgogne, du Rhône et même du Languedoc. Même si, cela dit, il se vend à la SAQ moins de vins de la vallée du Rhône, de la Loire ou de l’Alsace que du Sud-Ouest.

Quel est le problème, alors ? Pourquoi, les ventes montrant pourtant le contraire, la notoriété de la région ne semble pas être ce qu’elle devrait être ? C’est à cause du nom, j’ai l’impression : une banale juxtaposition de points cardinaux. Voilà qui n’interpelle pas beaucoup, et qui ne fait pas vraiment rêver.

Ajoutons un peu d’eau au moulin. Nommez-moi la ville centre de cet important vignoble. Pas évident, n’est-ce pas ? Même bibi, pourtant rompu à ces pirouettes géographico-municipales, je ne suis pas certain. Toulouse ? Vérification faite, oui, c’est bien elle.

Et cependant, malgré cette méconnaissance, malgré cette situation pour ainsi dire en demi-teinte par rapport aux autres grands vignobles français, le Sud-Ouest propose des vins particuliers, à la fois originaux, généreux et souvent droits comme des i, qui incitent à la découverte.


Beaucoup de cépages autochtones

Car les atouts de la région sont bien palpables. À commencer par le réservoir de cépages autochtones qu’elle constitue, dont certains, le lauzet et le camaralet, tous deux aux arômes épicés, ont été réintroduits il n’y a pas si longtemps à Jurançon. Il y a aussi les valeurs sûres, depuis longtemps utilisées : le mauzac et le len de l’el (« loin de l’œil » en langue d’oc, ainsi appelé parce que la grappe pend loin du bourgeon du fait d’un pédoncule plus long — vous me suivez ?), le mauzac et l’autre bigleux disais-je, deux cépages blancs du Gaillacois ; le fer servadou, de la famille des carmenets comme le cabernet-sauvignon et utilisé en assemblage à Saint-Mont, Gaillac et Madiran mais presque à 100 % à Marcillac, où il est souvent appelé mansois ; le courbu, associé aux mansengs [man-sein] grand et petit de même parfois qu’à l’arrufiac pour donner les moelleux d’appellation jurançon et pacherenc-du-vic-bilh [pache-rinque-du-vic-bile] ; et aussi bien sûr la négrette, cultivée pour l’essentiel autour de Toulouse et qui entre dans l’élaboration des vins du Frontonnais.

Sans oublier, évidemment, les autres cépages emblématiques que sont le tannat à Madiran et le malbec à Cahors.

Des rouges moins tanniques qu’avant

À ce propos, il s’est passé une sorte de révolution dans le secteur du Madiran et celui de Cahors, au tournant des années 2000.

Les vins de ces deux régions, des rouges, demeurent toujours relativement costauds mais ils sont désormais en quelque sorte plus amènes, moins tanniques. Les vignerons s’organisent en effet pour vinifier de manière à ne pas accentuer l’astringence naturelle, sans pour autant renier la personnalité des vins.

Résultat : les madirans, cahors et cie sont toujours des vins de repas par excellence, auxquels la nourriture riche et roborative va comme un gant — les magrets et les confits, notamment. Mais, ils sont plus accessibles en jeunesse, on n’a pas, comme avant, à attendre une bonne dizaine d’années pour qu’ils s’assagissent.

On trouve aussi des blancs secs, des blancs moelleux, des blancs liquoreux et des rosés, dans le Sud-Ouest.

Les jurançons d’Henri Ramonteu et de Charles Hours, par exemple, continuent à briller, tandis que les pacherenc-du-vic-bilh — la version en blanc des madirans —, ceux d’Alain Brumont, notamment, font d’excellents compagnons de table entre autres avec les fromages de la région : bleu des Causses, ossau-iraty, tomme des Pyrénées, etc.


Y aller

De mon dernier passage là-bas dans le Sud-Ouest, j’ai rapporté quelques bonnes adresses.

Mais d’abord, pour traverser l’Atlantique et choisir un bon point de chute pour sillonner le vignoble, Toulouse est bien indiquée (surtout via un vol direct avec Air Transat). On peut aussi atterrir à Bordeaux ou à l’aéroport Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrénées (en transitant par Orly).

Suggestions pour l’hébergement — et outre le désormais incontournable Airbnb : l’hôtel Central, à Pau, un sympathique deux-étoiles au très bon rapport qualité-prix et situé au coeur de la ville. À Cahors, l’Inter-Hôtel de France, un trois-étoiles près du fameux pont Valentré. Ou sinon, à Cahors toujours mais en périphérie, on peut s’offrir le grand chic au restaurant-hôtel du Château de Mercuès, établi dans une forteresse du 13e siècle.

Le tourisme : Rocamadour et Saint-Cirq-Lapopie sont deux très beaux villages historiques du Sud-Ouest, accrochés sur des falaises. J’ai personnellement préféré Saint-Cirq [saint-cirre], plus paisible et plus coquet bien que très fréquenté aussi.

À boire, aubergiste !

Voici une série de bons rouges du Sud-Ouest, pour l’essentiel sélectionnés à partir d’une dégustation organisée par l’agence Sopexa, qui veille aux intérêts des vins de la région, notamment au Québec.

Château Eugénie 2011 Cahors (15,95 $) : À petit prix, un cahors très satisfaisant, déjà fondu et prêt à boire, rien de complexe ni de compliqué mais on ne va pas chipoter, la matière est là, et ça goûte bon tout en étant conforme aux normes de l’appellation.

Domaine Rotier Renaissance 2011 Gaillac (22,15 $) : Violacé moyen, nez attrayant de fruit bien mûr, des notes épicées ; un rouge mi-corsé, souple en bouche mais avec du tonus, une bonne acidité. Convaincant, et rafraîchissant, sans être dépourvu de longueur.

Château Eugénie 2011Domaine Rotier Gaillac Renaissance 2011Causse Marines Les Peyrouzelles 2013Château De Haute Serre Malbec 2009

Causse-Marines Les Peyrouzelles 2013 Gaillac (21,15 $) : Violacé plutôt pâle, un peu de réduction au nez, d’assez intenses notes de cuir et de poivre blanc. Bouche à l’avenant, un brin « sauvage », résolument épicée jusqu’à la finale. Mi-corsé par ailleurs, et un léger reste de gaz carbonique. Original et rafraîchissant.

Château de Haute-Serre 2009 Cahors (25,25 $) : Un cahors qui a bien vieilli, a caractère fondu, en souplesse, cependant que le vin demeure charpenté et avec une solide dose de fruit. Tout à fait à point, bref, et on aime bien l’amertume finale, qui appelle la nourriture.

Château Bouscassé 2010 Madiran (21,25 $) : Très madiran, très tannat, tannique c’est dire, mais avec une bonne assise acide, qui apporte de la fraîcheur. Le vin demeure toutefois pour l’heure monolithique, bien qu’il ait déjà cinq ans bien sonnés. À carafer plusieurs heures à l’avance, ou à mettre de côté quelques années.

Château Montus 2010 Madiran (30,25 $): Profondeur manifeste dès l’étape du nez, il y a du bois, c’est normal, mais aussi beaucoup de fruit. La bouche suit, bien bâtie, bien serrée, avec de la minéralité. Déjà très bon, et un excellent candidat pour la cave (horizon 2018-2020).

Château Bouscassé Madiran 2010Château Montus 2010Château Les Hauts D'aglan Cuvée A Cahors 2009Château Montauriol Tradition 2013

Château Les Hauts d’Aglan Cuvée A 2009 Cahors (26,95 $) : De la complexité au nez, des accents herbacés également, réglissés aussi. Bouche à l’avenant, concentrée et fondue, en souplesse.

Château Montauriol Tradition 2013 Fronton (15,40 $) : Caractère engageant au nez, très sur le fruit ; saveurs à l’avenant, pas très corsées, nerveuses, tout en fruit. Rien de compliqué, mais on en a pour son argent, vraiment.

Santé !


P.S. L’équipe de Chacun son Vin s’est réunie il y a quelques semaines, le temps d’une dégustation de vins du sud-ouest de la France.
Pour voir la gamme complète des vins goûtés, cliquez sur : Les vins du Sud-Ouest de la France

Note de la rédaction: vous pouvez lire les commentaires de dégustation complets en cliquant sur les noms de vins, les photos de bouteilles ou les liens mis en surbrillance. Les abonnés payants à Chacun son Vin ont accès à toutes les critiques dès leur mise en ligne. Les utilisateurs inscrits doivent attendre 60 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de bons vins !

Les vins sud ouest france

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