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The (Not So New) Wines of Greece

Text and photos by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Earlier this month the WineAlign crü sat down to taste a couple dozen currently available wines sent by Wines of Greece. This buyers’ guide lists our favorites. Whether you’re already familiar with Greek wines and would like to explore further, or you’ve yet to experience Greece in your glass, this is a great list to get you going. There’s really never been a better time to drink Greek wine. And for the very keen, read on for some thoughts on how the recent tough times in Greece have had unexpected benefits for North American wine drinkers.

The Benefits of Crisis

The mood in Athens was buoyant and lively. The streets were packed with people strolling with leisurely purpose in the warm sun. Restaurants spilled outdoors onto sprawling terraces occupying the sidewalks, chairs filled, tables laden with family-style platters of typical Greek foods and glasses filled with wine. Traditional bouzouki players plucked their instruments, wandering like minstrels through the crowds. There was no particular holiday or festival happening, just weekend business as usual in the nation’s capital.

What’s perhaps surprising is that this is not the retelling of a scene played out years ago, before the current financial wobbles that have plagued the Greek economy since about 2009, or the well-publicized austerity measures that were first introduced in 2010. This is the scene I observed, unexpectedly, just last month on my latest visit to the country. Had I just crawled out of a cave where I’d spent the last half dozen years and landed directly in Athens, I might have believed that Greece was booming, as though they’d just discovered a whole chain of marble mountains ready to be carved into expensive kitchen countertops and sold around the world. It’s of course not the case. But when it comes to eating and drinking, spending time with friends and just celebrating another day, the plucky Greeks seem impervious to doom-and-gloom headlines.

Busy Monastiraki neighborhood under the Acropolis, Athens-5358

Busy Monastiraki neighborhood under the Acropolis, Athens

I suppose this philosophical outlook is born of the understanding that things will eventually improve, as they have after every other crisis that has befallen Greece over the last few thousand years. However the party-like atmosphere does obscure the reality that high-end restaurants and premium wines are struggling. Unemployment, increased taxation, and capital controls, such as restricted daily bank withdrawals, mean less money in Greek pockets. And while nothing will stop them from taking to the streets for a good time, the average spend is down. That wine filling all those glasses? You can be sure it’s not the country’s finest; although a reported 98% of all wine consumed in Greece is of Greek origin, it’s not the top stuff. Strong tourism may keep the economy of hospitality rolling for some time, but can only take it so far.

But the Greek debt crisis has had an unexpected silver lining for wine consumers around the world. The faltering domestic market has forced Greece’s top producers to look outside the country, and focus more effort on export markets, much like Argentinian producers had to do when the peso was de-pegged from the dollar after the turn of the century. “Greek winemakers have started being more extrovert, and most importantly, have started working together. All these new developments are paving the way to [export] success”, writes Stellios Boutari of Kir-Yianni Winery in Naoussa.

And timing, strangely enough, couldn’t have been better. Had the crisis occurred a decade earlier, most attempts to break into foreign markets would have been ahead of their time, the wines totally foreign, the grapes unknown, the flavours too far from the mainstream. But as most overnight successes are years in the making, so too had the groundwork for export success, especially into North America, been laid.

Century-old xinomavro at Alpha Estate, Amyndeon, Macedonia-5290

Century-old xinomavro at Alpha Estate, Amyndeon, Macedonia

The organization formerly known as The New Wines of Greece has, for over a decade now, been educating North American trade and media through countless tastings, workshops, winery roadshows and in-country visits. Utterly foreign, formerly unpronounceable grapes like moschophilero [moss-koh-FEE-le-roh], assyrtiko [ah-SEER-tee-koh], agiorgitiko [ay-your-YEE-tee-koh] and xinomavro [k-see-NO-ma-vroh] have become, well, a little less unpronounceable and certainly more familiar in flavor. They turn up regularly on restaurant wine lists and in recommendations in the press. What must have surely looked like a herculean task in the early 2000s has paid dividends. In recognition of this, the trade organization recently dropped the “New”. Now they are simply “Wines of Greece”, back to being ancient and respected.

Exports to North America have risen sharply. According to data released by EDOAO, the national inter-professional organization of vine and wine, Greek wine exports to the United States and Canada in the last five years have increased by 39% and 55%, respectively. [Source: Greek USA Reporter, Ioanna Zikakou]

Old basket vines at Argyros Estate, Santorini-5408

Old basket vines at Argyros Estate, Santorini

These figures are expected to rise even higher in 2016. “We export 60% of our products abroad. “The demand is so great”, said enologist Erifyli Parparoussis in the northern Peloponnese. The growth of the wine industry has been one of the most positive stories to emerge from Greece since the national soccer team won the European Cup in 2004, which seemed only slightly more unlikely. “There are now few North American sommeliers who do not know about Greek wines and who do not include at least one label on their list. Their popularity has surpassed all expectations”, says Sofia Perpera, director of All About Greek Wine, who, along with partner George Athanas, has worked tirelessly over the last dozen years and has been instrumental in raising the international awareness of Greek wines.

Canada, and especially Ontario and Québec, have been particularly receptive markets, with sales showing impressive gains over the last half decade. “Greek wines have shown strong growth”, confirms LCBO Media Relations Coordinator Genevieve Tomney. Sales at LCBO and VINTAGES combined are up over 20% since 2012-2013, increasing from 3.4m to 4.1m in 2015-2016.

Part of the increase in Ontario can be attributed to the launch of the LCBO “Destination Greece – Products of the World” specialty store in Toronto’s Greektown on Danforth Ave. The program is designed to offer the broadest selection available from a given country, drawing not only on regular LCBO and VINTAGES listings, but also wines from the consignment program, previously only available directly from the importing agent and sold by the case. Greece was the first Products of the World specialty store, officially opened a year ago in August 2015. “We’ve seen sales of Greek products at that store increase by 140 per cent over last year”, continues Tomney.

Winemaker Angelos Iatridis of Alpha Estate in Northern Greece-5276

Winemaker Angelos Iatridis of Alpha Estate in Northern Greece

Steve Kriaris of the Kolonaki Group, the largest importer of Greek wines and spirits in the province, has also seen significant benefits: “The Greek specialty store has been a blessing for us. It has helped our consignment volume go through the roof. We are finally able to expose far more consumers to premium Greek wines and spirits. We’re now selling great quantities of bottles in the $30 to $50+ range, wines that previously were only available by the full case. And this is only the beginning. I expect total sales volume to double in the next 10 years”, he says enthusiastically.

The Products of the World program was the initiative of former VP, now President of the LCBO, Dr. George Soleas. Soleas was recently honoured with the 2016 Greek Wine Industry Award in Athens in March, an award given to individuals who have made a significant contribution to the Greek wine industry. “As a Canadian of Greek-Cypriot origin, I have always believed in the potential of Greek wines to measure among the best on the world stage. And now they do,” said Soleas in a subsequent press release. “The Greek wine industry has evolved significantly over the past 25-years and I could not be prouder of all it has accomplished.”

So what’s all the fuss about? It’s clearly not just marketing savvy and “fam trips” for sommeliers. To gain long-term traction in the market, wine quality must also match expectations. And to a large degree, it does. One of the main strengths is the wealth of indigenous grapes – some three hundred or so – which over centuries have survived a Darwinian selection process. These are the varieties that proved adaptable to radically diverse growing conditions across the country, yielding naturally balanced wines that require little adjustment in the winery. And unique flavours and minimally processed wines happen to match the current zeitgeist – this is precisely what many wine drinkers are seeking.

Mountains of Achaia, Northern Peloponnese, source of excellent Roditis-5368

Mountains of Achaia, Northern Peloponnese, source of excellent Roditis

Earlier this month the WineAlign crü sat down to taste a couple dozen currently available wines sent by Wines of Greece. Here are our favorites; whether you’re already familiar with Greek wines and would like to explore further, or you’ve yet to experience Greece in your glass, this is a great list to get you going. There’s really never been a better time to drink Greek wine.

Greek Wine Buyers’ Guide: White

Greek Wine Cellars 2015 ‘Apelia’ Moschofilero 2015 (1000ml – $10.60)

David Lawrason – Can’t think of a better summertime value. It’s a bit light and short, but clean as a whistle, refreshing and almost biting, with pretty lemon blossom, vaguely minty green notes and a touch of resin. Move over pinot grigio.

Skouras 2014 Moschofilero, PGI Peloponnese ($15.25)

John Szabo – Moschophilero is a lovely, fresh, intensely aromatic white variety, and this is a great example. It’s just beginning to shift into wildflower honey aromatics, alongside a bowl-full of fresh tropical fruit, nectarine, mango, honeydew melon and more. Acids are bright and crisp, alcohol a refreshingly moderate 12% declared, and the length is certainly impressive in the price category. Infinitely sippable.

Apelia Moschofilero 2015Skouras Moschofilero 2014 Troupis Fteri Moschofilero 2015

Troupis 2015 Fteri Moschofilero, Arcadia IGP, Peloponnese ($15.60)

David Lawrason – Good value here in a very clean white with subtle floral notes plus fennel, lemongrass and some yellow fruit. It’s light bodied, slightly spritzed and very refreshing. Need a break from sauvignon blanc?

Troupis 2015 Mantinia Moschofilero, PDO Mantinia ($16.95)

Michael Godel – Mantinia is a special place for moschofilero and this ripping example from Troupis should not be missed. At this price ($17), the value quotient is simply crazy good bordering on ridiculous. Whole grilled Branzino or Porgies with lemon and olive oil would make for a perfect foil.
Sara d’Amato – A zesty, dynamic and very pretty moschofilero from the cool growing region of Mantinia located in the high Arcadian plateau in the Peloponnese.  Characteristically aromatic with exotic fruit spice, dry and with racy acidity, the wine is undeniably refreshing. Given the price, I would stock up on this go-to summer white before word gets out.

Troupis Mantinia Moschofilero 2015 Santo Assyrtiko 2015 Argyros Santorini Assyrtiko 2015

Santo 2015 Santorini Assyrtiko, Santorini ($14.95)

John Szabo – Move quickly to buy this if you’re a fan of structured, powerful whites – this price can’t be sustained. The cost of grapes on the island of Santorini have more or less tripled in the last year, demand is up sharply, and supplies are scarce. The Santo cooperative is the largest producer on the island, producing about half of the appellation’s output from some 300 member-growers, but even still this wine must be at or even below cost, thanks to stern LCBO pricing negotiations to get this on to the general list. But it’s not just that – the wine is excellent, too, a typically subtle assyrtiko, more stony than fruity, with crackling acids – it needs another year in bottle at least to show its best.  You’re getting a lot of wine here for $15 to be sure. Decant if serving now; will also age into the early ‘20s.
David Lawrason – This is a medium weight, fleshy, bright assyrtiko with intriguing complexity. Immediately refreshing but more than that, with aromas of guava, lemon peel, white pepper and candle wax.
Michael Godel – Assyrtiko in 2015 from Santo just seems to evoke and spew a slow lava flow of a narrative, to tell a story that is pure Santorini. At $15 this is a steal. Neither price nor any sort of quantity in hand will last very long.

Argyros 2015 Santorini Assyrtiko, PDO Santorini ($22.95)

John Szabo – Argyros Estate draws on a marvellous collection of old vines to produce this bottling, although in this case, the vines are ‘only’ about fifty years old. It’s an archetype for the island, saline, firm, powerful, still tightly wound. It’ll be spectacular in a year or two. 
Michael Godel – This essential Argyros always offers the pleasure to bathe in its saline, sunlit waters and drink of its energy. Never failing Assyrtiko. Can you not imagine the stone crag, the whitewashed mineral cliff, the late afternoon sunshine gazing into the shimmering Aegean from an Oia perch?

Greek Wine Buyers’ Guide: Red

Idaia Winery 2010 Kotsifali/Mandilaria, Crete ($14.75)

John Szabo – Kotsifali and mandilaria are Crete’s two star red varieties, often sensibly blended. The former adds colour, flesh and fruit, the latter acids, tannins and savoury flavour. Idaia makes a pleasantly rustic, dusty-earthy, version, a little firm and tight, but balanced and food friendly. Best served at the table with some grilled meat or other salty, umami-rich foods; a tidy value overall.
David Lawrason – Great value here! Better structure and complexity than expected. It’s fairly elegant yet dense with a nose of very ripe blackcurrant/blackberry jam, vanillin, brambly notes and some earthiness. And there is a lead pencil character mindful of Bordeaux.

Alpha Estate Turtles Vineyard Syrah, PGI Florina, Macedonia ($21.95)

Michael Godel – The area of Petron Lake at Alpha Estate was an ancient nesting place for the local species of Chelonii on the Amyndeon plateau in northwestern Greek Macedonia. Some syrah in parts of Australia smell just like this; smoky, meaty, peppery and just plain strong. That it comes from Greece shakes the foundations of thought and adds Amyndeon into the syrah front page discussion.

Idaia Kotsifali Mandilari 2010 Alpha Estate Turtles Vineyard Syrah 2011 Alpha Estate Axia Red Blend 2012

Alpha Estate 2012 Axia Red Blend, PGI Florina, Macedonia ($17.95)

John Szabo – This is a stylish, succulent, fine-grained syrah-xinomavro blend, elegant and inviting. I love the mix of violets (syrah) and sundried tomatoes and olives (xinomavro – northern Greece’s finest red variety, reminiscent of nebbiolo), and the kirsch fruit and fresh black berry. Tannins are light but firm, bolstered by lively acids. Lovely stuff.
David Lawrason – I like that both the syrah 50% syrah and 50% xinomavro, step up to offer their strengths. Ripe cherry and smoked meat character of syrah dominate the nose; xinomavro kicks in just enough acidity to maintain ballast and some freshness. A quite rich and warming red, with fine tannin.

Domaine Glinavos 2007 Dryades, PGI Epirus ($22.95)

John Szabo – Well, here’s an intriguingly spicy and complex red blend from a regional leader, including the rare indigenous Vlahiko and Bekari grapes of northwestern Greece, along with cabernet and merlot. It’s fully mature and savoury, offering an aromatic experience that’s like walking through a North African spice market, with old leather, dry earth, dark spice, and so much more. This is surely not for everyone (even the WineAlign cru was divided) but I find it fascinating. There’s no questioning the amazing range of flavours, even if it’s outside most drinkers’ comfort zone, nor the fine depth and length on the palate. Give this a chance, perhaps with a Moroccan spice lamb tagine or similar.
David Lawrason – This is an impressive, complex, savoury and mature red with old school but well managed leather, sandalwood and spicy aromas and flavours. The fruit is very ripe, almost pruny and there are dried herbs in there as well. It’s medium-full bodied, quite dense but even keeled.  Try it with lamb.

Domaine Glinavos Dryades 2007 Katogi Averoff 2012 Boutari Agiorgitiko 2015

Katogi Averoff 2012, Metsovo ($16.95)

Sara d’Amato – A very traditional and distinctive blend of agioritiko and cabernet sauvignon from the mountainous Metsovo in northern Greece. Crunchy acids and saline with impactful flavour and very little oak influence make for a compelling and expressive red. Be sure to decant well or hold for another 2-3 years.

Boutari 2015 Nemea Agiorgitiko, Peloponnese ($13.10)

John Szabo – This is a fine, friendly, smooth and spicy Greek red, highly versatile at the table with distinctive old world styling. Agiorgitiko provides a nice range of tart and baked red fruit flavours, suave tannins, resinous herbs and Mediterranean scrub, putting this somewhere between the southern Rhône, Chianti and Rioja in style. Enjoy with a light chill.
Sara d’Amato – A super value, everyday table red that is fleshy, appealing and has gusto. Peppery and musky with rich fruit in an easy to appreciate package. There is nothing particularly complex or challenging, which is sometimes just what you want to unwind.


John Szabo MS

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!

Caldera view, Santorini-8215

Caldera view, Santorini

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British Columbia Critics’ Picks July 2016

A Mixed Case of Favourites

This column is always the most interesting to put together each month because it reflects what wines we’re really keen on: wine that has left the palate, but lingers in the mind. Yes, we’re a right team of wine geeks and we taste thousands of bottles each year, but wine continues to surprise and move us all the time. When I sit down to write this column, it’s easy to come up with wines that were memorable over the past month. The hard part is picking just a few specials to share. We hope you enjoy this mixed case of our recent favourites as much as we did.

Cheers ~ TR

BC Critic Team

Our monthly BC Critics’ Picks is the place to find recent recommendations from our intrepid and curious BC critics – wines that cross geographical boundaries, toe traditional style lines and may push limits – without being tied to price or distribution. All are currently available for sale in BC – through BC Liquor Stores, private wine shops or direct from the wineries. Inventory is also available when linked to BCLDB stores.

Rhys Pender, MW

I’m not sure exactly what happened to summer but it somehow has seemed to disappear since the dizzying highs of 38 and 39 degrees in early June. Still, the weather is warm enough that most evenings, when the hour for wine comes about, I am craving a flavoursome white wine. There seems to be plenty of very good white wines around right now and the prices are quite reasonable for the intensity, power and flavour you get.

My first pick is one of the first of its kind in BC, the Stag’s Hollow 2015 Albariño Shuttleworth Creek Vineyard from the Okanagan Valley is complex, savoury, intense, crisp and has a lovely phenolic grip. Very serious wine for $25 and a great food pairing choice for everything from seafood to roast chicken.

As I write this, I am also prepping for a panel discussion I will be part of at Riesling Rendezvous, a bi-annual event celebrating the deliciousness of riesling. So I have Riesling on the brain and I have recently tasted two delicious wines from different corners of the globe.

Stag's Hollow Albarino Shuttleworth Creek Vineyard 2015St. Urbans Hof Old Vines Riesling 2014 Two Hands The Wolf Riesling 2015Riesling Rendezvous

The St. Urbans-Hof Old Vines Riesling from Mosel, Germany is always a very tasty wine but for me the 2014 vintage is the best yet. This is complex, intense, fresh and just keeps unfolding and is a great example of the off-dry style of Riesling.

From the other side of the world and the Clare Valley comes a new wine to BCLDB shelves, the Two Hands 2015 The Wolf Riesling. This is classic Clare Valley with its lime juice and zest, power and minerality in the bone dry, racy style.

And just to finish off, I saw a t-shirt recently (thanks Rémy) that summed up riesling to perfection. It said simply “If you don’t like Riesling, you are a f@#king idiot.” I couldn’t agree more.

DJ Kearney 

Three diverse wines caught my fancy this week. The white is a salute to the late great Etienne Hugel, whose family has, since 1639, interpreted Alsace’s complex, rolling terroir.  He was a great friend of wine, and it’s a relief to know that his legacy is in the capable and determined hands of offspring Charlotte and Jean-Frédéric.  There are many profound wines in the Hugel et Fils stable, but the most humble, if that is the right word, is the softly fruity Gentil Hugel 2014 blend. I tasted it recently with Jean-Frédéric, who declared it “Alsace in a glass.” No argument here.

I chose the Bodega del Abad Gotín del Risc 2012 because of the eye-candy rhinestone and pink petal label – a catchy look for an esoteric grape from a small, rugged region in north west Spain called Bierzo.  Solid, well-oaked bold red for those who like fruit and oak richness, with no added sugar.

Hugel Gentil 2014Gotín del Risc Mencía 2012 Bachelder Oregon Pinot Noir 2012

And finally, a wine I have not stopped thinking about since tasting it at the 2nd Judgment of B.C. on the 21st of June, 2016. It’s Thomas Bachelder’s Oregon Pinot Noir 2012, as juicy, pure and soaring as pinot in the Willamette gets.  It ranked second out of twelve impressive wines in a benchmark tasting that compared six local pinot noir wines, with six globally acknowledged standards.  It tastes utterly effortless in the mouth, a true indicator that a great deal of work went into its creation.

Treve Ring

I’ve just returned from a road trip to Willamette Valley before up to Seattle for Riesling Rendezvous, tasting beautiful wines along the way from our Oregon neighbours to the south. I’d love to write about all of them here, but NEARLY NONE of them are available in BC, sadly. Sigh – it’s worth the border crossing and a few nights’ cabin rental to head south this summer and see what about our vintner kin are doing in the Willamette (The Eyrie Vineyards, Goodfellow Family Cellars, Brooks Winery, Beckham Estate, Division Wine Co. are must-stops). In addition to DJ’s stellar Bachelder pick above, seek out Domaine Drouhin Laurène Pinot Noir 2012 for classic earthy Burgundian-meets-scented Dundee Hills pinot.

Up at Riesling Rendezvous, Rhys and I started each morning with a tasting of 20 Rieslings blind. The first day was devoted to dry Riesling, while the second day was a flight of 20 sweet Rieslings (of course, the debate is never ending about where to draw that line). Rieslings from all over the world were in the lineup, including ones from our own Okanagan backyard. The Tantalus Vineyards 2013 Old Vines Riesling impressed the crowd with its dry, earthy potency, lime zest vibrancy and herbal texture. In the sweet lineup, Martin’s Lane Naramata Ranch Vineyard Riesling 2014 was a surprise, showing ripe peach, pear butter, mango and pulpy mandarin. And Synchromesh 2015 Storm Haven Vineyard Riesling astounded the tasters with its nimble balance of 45.8 g/l RS with 11.1 TA and 2.8 pH in a tidy 8.9% alcohol package.

Domaine Drouhin Laurène Pinot Noir 2012Tantalus Old Vines Riesling 2013 Martin's Lane Naramata Ranch Vineyard Riesling 2014Synchromesh Riesling Storm Haven Vineyard 2015 Ochota Barrels I Am The Owl Syrah 2014 Secateurs Badenhorst Chenin Blanc 2015

A couple of nights ago I cracked into a bottle from one of my favourite Aussie producers and enjoyed it greatly over two evenings (restraint)! Ochota Barrels 2014 I am the Owl Syrah is whole bunch, without additions, rested ten months in French barrique, this is as pure and patient view of cooler climate Oz syrah that you will find. Try and enjoy this beguiling wine slowly, even though it’s so easily smashable.

Also exceptionally drinkable, and cellar-able, is the new vintage of A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc. The 2015 Secateurs, his “entry-level” is from selected old bush vines on granite slopes in South Africa’s Swartland, and lures with precise lemon zest vibrancy, savoury broken stones, roasted nut, medicinal lemon balm and gentle honeycomb. Stock up.


WineAlign in BC

In addition to our monthly Critics’ Picks report, we also publish the popular shortlist 20 Under $20, as well as the Rhys Pender’s BC Wine Report, a look at all things in the BC Wine Industry. Treve Ring pens a wandering wine column in Treve’s Travels, capturing her thoughts and tastes from the road. Lastly, Anthony Gismondi closes out the month with his Final Blend column – an expert insight into wine culture and trends, honed by more than 25 years experience as an influential critic.

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!

Beringer Founders' Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

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If I could buy only one – July 23rd, 2016 VINTAGES Release

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

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

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

David Lawrason – My highest scoring wine of the release is the gorgeous Flowers 2014 Chardonnay combining depth and finesse. It shows classic and complex aromas of pear, almond, gentle toast, vanilla, lemon custard and spice. My score may raise eyebrows and expectations, but that rating is based above all on its impeccable detailing and balance – not some onrush of power. I have always been a chardonnay fan but will not spend on cheaper versions that don’t rise to this grape’s potential. This is expensive but I would buy it, so it’s a good thing I am only allowed to buy one wine.

Flowers Chardonnay 2014


Sara d’Amato – A rosé that feels effortlessly beautiful – Hecht & Bannier Bandol Rosé 2015 – a French stereotype. I was swept away by this beauty before I had left for the heart of Provence. I find it genuine with a natural feel, subtle yet unrestrained. There is colour here, but not too much, and a fluidity on the palate that will bring calm to your summer nights.

Hecht & Bannier Bandol Rosé 2015


And, you might need to buy two bottles of this wine!

John Szabo – It’s perhaps a little more expensive than the typical house pour (I guess it depends on the house), but there are several reasons to stock up on the William Fèvre 2014 Champs Royaux Chablis. For one, 2014 is an absolute cracker of a vintage in Chablis, for many producers the best in recent memory, and Fèvre has found another gear for the generally excellent entry level bottling. It has an extra measure of depth and especially stony-mineral character, and I love the sharp acids and the perfectly chiseled citrus/apple fruit, as well as the very fine length. If you love classic Chablis, this is it. And secondly, considering that the region has lost over two-thirds of the 2016 harvest to dramatically bad weather (so far; the seasons is only half over), prices will inevitably rise, so stock up while you can. This will also handily age until the early twenties, so there’s no rush to drink, although it is delicious now to be sure.

Michael Godel – Having just returned from a week in Chablis and now spending four days in Niagara at #i4c16, the Burgundian outpost and chardonnay are front and centre and in my thoughts. It’s been a catastrophic spring there; hail, snow, rain, hail, frost and mildew. Fèvre’s winemaker Didier Seguier makes many great wines and his entry-level Champs Royaux is the perfect lead into the estate’s oeuvre and the crux of Chablis. It is a generalized but oh too important expression from kimmeridgian soil, hedged and qualified from all over the area’s hills, valleys and les clos. It is textbook Chablis, a guarantee of quality, especially out of the cracker 2014 vintage. Lets give Chablis some love.

William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2014

From VINTAGES July 23rd, 2016

Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES
John Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
Lawrason’s Take
All July 23rd 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!


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Canada Thinks Pink, Drinks Pink

by Treve Ring

Treve Ring at The Nationals

Treve Ring judging at the 2016 Nationals

No matter what shade, it’s pretty obvious that more folks are thinking pink.

And with fresh results from the 2016 National Wine Awards of Canada held in Penticton, BC last month, Canadian winemakers are stepping up with terrific offerings. The full medal results of the Awards will be revealed Tuesday, July 26 – with Winery and Small Winery of the Year being announced July 28. But we thought we would tease you with ten of the top rosés (in alphabetical order) from this year’s competition. So get out there and a grab a few.

Worldwide, rosé sales are skyrocketing as drinkers embrace these fresh, food-friendly and approachable wines. The International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) and the Provence Wine Council (CIVP) released a detailed study on rosé sales and production worldwide in 2015, showing rosé represents 9.6% of global table wine production.

While the world rosé wine consumption has increased 20% from 2002-2014, Canada was up 120% in consumption during that same period. When we keener Canucks like something, we really like it. The same study shows that Canadian pink drinkers were pretty evenly split between men and women.


Why all the rosé coloured glasses? More about refreshing than refinement, the accessibility and friendliness of rosé, especially dry rosé, has made it an easy choice. Rosés really are the best of both wine worlds, especially when it comes to pairing. Wine industry faves, the versatility of these wines is a huge part of their appeal. You have the freshness, acidity and best food-friendliness of white wines, with the structure, berry fruit, tannins and best food-friendliness of red wines. The majority of rosé wines are priced affordably, even for premium and large format bottles, comparatively speaking. Have you ever rocked up to a party with a magnum of rosé? Trust me – you’ll be the most popular person there.

It’s no surprise that France is the world leader in the production of rosé, with approximately 141 million bottles of AOP Rosé annually. Provence represents 35% of the French production of rosé and 5.6% of the world production of rosé wines. Provence is also the only region in the world that specializes in rosé, with almost 90% of total wine production. Even still, there are pink wines from every corner of the globe at your local liquor store, from Spain and Italy to Chile and Argentina, and California to South Africa – and beyond.

Thankfully Canadian winemakers have paid attention. After a simple, sweet and confected start, producers are embracing dry, finessed and grown up rosés. We tasted 90 still rosés at the Nationals this year; the majority were dry or veering in that direction, with off-dry examples deftly balanced out with a vein of acidity. The wines below, almost all from BC, made it to the final round of deliberation and tasting. While colours ranged from near clear to deep pink, and residual sugar varied from bone dry to double digits, they all carried a steady bead of refreshing acidity and a thirst for food-pairing. And really, isn’t that what wine is for? Think pink, drink pink.

Bench 1775 2015 Glow, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Bench 1775 Winery Glow 2015

CedarCreek 2015 Estate Pinot Noir Rosé, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

CedarCreek Rosé Pinot Noir 2015

Haywire 2015 Secrest Mountain Vineyard Gamay Noir Rosé, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Haywire Secrest Mountain Vineyard Gamay Noir Rosé 2015

Henry of Pelham 2015 Rosé, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada

Henry Of Pelham Rose 2015

Niche 2015 Pinot Noir Blanc, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Niche Wine Company Pinot Noir Blanc 2015

Quails’ Gate 2015 Rosé, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Quails' Gate Rosé 2015

Red Rooster Winery 2015 Reserve Rosé, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Red Rooster Winery Reserve Rosé 2015

Salt Spring Vineyards 2014 Rosé, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada

Salt Spring Vineyards Rosé 2014

Seven Directions Wine 2015 Pinot Noir Rosé Canyonview Vineyard, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Seven Directions Wine Pinot Noir Rosé Canyonview Vineyard 2015

Sperling 2014 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Sperling Vin Gris Of Pinot Noir 2014


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


Zalto NL

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – July 23, 2016

Chile’s Cool New Limari Valley is Making Waves
by David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Michael Godel

David Lawrason

There are two wines from Chile’s Limari Valley hitting the shelves this week at Vintages, and both come highly recommended as great values by our WineAlign team, (see below). Co-incidentally, WineAlign hosted a winemaker dinner this week featuring Tabali, yet another winery from Limari.  Three wineries in one week from the same small, relatively unknown region may not constitute a tsunami, but there is obviously a wave of interest in this more northerly region.

As emcee of the WineAlign dinner, which was co-hosted by Hobbs & Co at The Shore Club in downtown Toronto, I spent much of the evening with Tabali CEO and Chief Winemaker Felipe Muller, whose excitement over Limari was palpable. He called it “Chile’s most unique region” and said it is attracting attention from winemakers all over Chile.  Indeed, one of the wines in Saturday’s release is Santa Rita 2014 Syrah, from a giant winery based in Maipo to the south.  And Concha Y Toro, Chile’s largest winery, was quick to open a winery called Maycas de Limari as well, in the early 2000s.  Tamaya (below) is yet another strong presence in Limari.

Chilean Wine Map

Click for larger image

There are two main attractions that create Limari’s terroir. One is the abundance of limestone in the soils, a rare occurrence in Chile. Throughout the valley the limestone is rather scattered amid clay, sand and gravels, but in one area especially there is a very high concentration. This is in Tabali’s Talinay vineyard, which lies only 12 kms from the ocean.  The Tabali Talinay Pinot Noir 2013 released back in June (and still available in limited quantities) is particularly fine and firm, quite different from most Chilean pinots that tend to be a bit jammy.

The proximity of the Pacific with its cold Humboldt current running off-shore is the second piece of puzzle. The way the valley opens gently and broadly to the sea allows the “Camanchaca” fog to blanket the area each morning, and directs cooling breezes inland during the afternoon.  So despite lying at a “warm” latitude 400 kms north of Santiago Limari is one of the coolest, and latest harvested regions of Chile.

The resulting wines have a certain lightness, elegance and freshness, which was on display throughout The Shore Club‘s menu. And in fact, their structure proved to be ideal at the table. They kept palates alive and stood their ground with the bold flavours by chef Angel Sevilla .  The Tabali 2015 Especial Sauvignon Blanc was solid with a very piquant gazpacho.  The subtle, complex Tabali Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2013, released on July 9 was a terrific foil to a ceviche, with bright acidity standing up the citrus and its sweeter fruit bringing calm at the same time.

(Those attending the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (I4C) in Niagara this weekend will get to try this chardonnay).

The main course featured two terrific Tabali reds. The delicious, almost sold out 2012 Reserva Especial Syrah was perfect with grilled Canadian prime ribeye steak, while a brand new, first vintage 2013 Reserva Especial Cabernet Franc, proved the hit of the night with the roast chicken.  The Cabernet Franc is a small production wine that will likely never see release at the LCBO but can be private ordered through Hobbs & Co.

As an added treat we were served the debut bottling of a terrific 2013 Syrah from the Talinay Vineyard. It had great bones and density yet a wonderful sense of restraint and purity.  Alas we may not see this for awhile as only 100 cases were made in this first vintage.

And now onward to wines you can get, as John, Michael and I present our picks from the July 23 release. In case you missed it, John’s preview last week included his faves among the Spanish and sauvignon blanc features.  Sara is off for the next six weeks on her annual family excursion to the south of France – doubtless drinking Tavel on a riverbank somewhere.

Buyers’ Guide to July 23rd release:

White Wines

Pala I Fiori Vermentino Di Sardegna 2015William Fèvre 2014 Champs Royaux, Chablis, Burgundy ($24.95)
Michael Godel – The Champs Royaux is Chablis drawn from a selection of Fèvre’s better grower contracts. It takes all the hills, valleys, les clos and slope/aspect dimensions into account. It is textbook Chablis, a guarantee of quality, especially out of the cracker 2014 vintage
John Szabo –2014 is a terrific vintage for the generally excellent entry level Chablis from Fèvre, with an extra measure of depth and especially stony-mineral character. I love the sharp acids and the perfectly chiseled citrus/apple fruit, as well as the very fine length. And considering that Chablis has lost over two-thirds of the 2016 harvest to dramatically bad weather (so far), and prices are sure to rise, I’ll be stocking up on the excellent ‘14s.
David Lawrason – I like it too! Better than I remember from previous outings.

Pala 2015 I Fiori Vermentino Di Sardegna, Sardinia, Italy ($14.95)
John Szabo –
A lovely wine that would make for a great house pour this summer. It’s dry, crisp and unoaked, pleasantly fruity and saline, smoky and lightly herbal, with exceptional length and complexity in the price category.
David Lawrason – Great value here! Vermentino is an important white grape of the Mediterranean, creating refreshing higher acid wines. This is a mid-weight, refreshing example with lifted aromas of lemongrass and star anise. It has a bit more weight and richness than I expected but remains elegant and refreshing.

Anselmi Capitel Croce 2014Redstone Limestone Vineyard South Riesling 2012Redstone 2012 Riesling Limestone Vineyard South, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara ($19.20)
David Lawrason – Moray Tawse bought the large Limestone Ridge vineyard not long ago, and has been turning out taut, mineral rieslings. The north or lower part of the site goes into his Tawse line-up, the south or higher section is directed to his Redstone Winery label. This is a lovely, clean, medium sweet version with classic peach, lemon, honey and petrol aromas and flavours.

Anselmi 2014 Capitel Croce, IGT Veneto, Italy ($26.95)
John Szabo – This is serious wine, pure garganega from the heart of Soave Classico (though Anselmi voluntarily labels as IGT Veneto). It’s full, rich and concentrated, but perfectly balanced, with strikingly intense minerality and excellent length. I love the ride of sweet herbs, orchard fruit, and exotic tropical fruit, which loops back again to apple and citrus on the acidulated finish. Fermentation/ageing in barrel goes mostly unnoticed, save for the texture enhancement. So very classy, and ageworthy, too.

Sutherland 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Elgin, South Africa ($14.95)
Michael Godel – From Thomas Webb’s Elgin outpost, the Sutherland is a pungent, insistently perfumed cooler clime sauvignon blanc with more texture than its Thelema ’14 cousin. Shows classic Elgin cool savour running linear like a beam through the joist of structure.

Flowers 2014 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California ($68.95)
David Lawrason – My highest scoring wine of the release is a gorgeous chardonnay combining power and finesse. It shows classic and complex aromas of pear, almond, gentle toast, vanilla/lemon custard and spice. Pricy but impeccable.

Roger & Didier Raimbault, Sancerre 2014, Loire Valley ($26.95)
Michael Godel – Sancerre laid out with clear instruction in precisely what sauvignon blanc needs for it to impress from the Loire. Essential sauvignon blanc with poise, precision and mandatory feel. This is tres fort fricative stuff.

Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2014Flowers Chardonnay 2014Roger & Didier Raimbault Sancerre 2014

Red Wines

Santa Rita Medalla Real Syrah 2012, Limarí Valley, Chile ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This is a wonderful value in rich New World syrah. The nose is ripe and rich with black cherry/plum, licorice, smoked meat, cedar bough, white pepper and generous oak. It’s full bodied, fairly dense, soft and streamlined, with soft tannin.
Michael Godel – From the northerly clime of the Limari this is seductively floral syrah with an edge of peppery spice. Cue the value jingle.

Tamaya 2014 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Limarí Valley, Chile ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This sports a lovely nose of blackcurrant jam, cedar bough, vanillin and some earthiness. It’s medium-full bodied, fairly dense, balanced and complete. Very good cab value.

Creation 2014 Pinot Noir, Walker Bay, Walker Bay, South Africa ($26.95)
John Szabo –
Swiss winemaker Jean-Claude and South African partner Carolyn found a terrific spot for Pinot noir in the southern hemisphere, in the upper reaches of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in the southern Cape. The cooler climate and house style favour balance and finesse over power, as displayed in this silky and suave, refined example, showing the hand of even-keeled, confident winemaking. I like the saliva-inducing, saline finish and impressive length and depth. Best 2016-2022.

D’Arenberg 2013 D’arry’s Original Shiraz/Grenache, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This has long been one the great values from McLaren Vale, a blend with considerable complexity, richness yet decent balance at the same time. It pours quite deep black purple. The nose is nicely lifted with florals, ripe black cherry, mocha, pepper and a touch of menthol. Some graphite on the finish as well. Very good to excellent length. Tasted July 2016

Santa Rita Medalla Real Syrah 2012Tamaya Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014Creation Pinot Noir 2014D'arenberg D'arry's Original Shiraz:Grenache 2013

Kir-Yianni 2012 Kitma Yianakohori Hills, Imathia, Macedonia, Greece ($19.95)
John Szabo – New to Greek wines? Here’s a fine intro, a pleasantly ripe and generously proportioned blend of half xinomavro with merlot and syrah, with the firm tannic structure of the former lending framework to merlot’s plummy fruit and syrah’s spice. Length and depth are really quite exceptional at the price, as is the over all complexity. Best 2016-2022.

Menguante 2012 Selección Garnacha, Cariñena ($16.95)
Michael Godel – Jose Pablo Casao make full use of oak for this smooth Cariñena operator. It is one of the region’s most accomplished examples of garnacha. His colleague and peer (winemaker) Jorge Navascues Haba told me, “if you come to to experience garnacha, this wine will allow you to discover the wonders of American oak.”

Corte Giara 2013 Ripasso Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Lovely venetian red from Allegrini that accomplishes Ripasso intimacy by doing so at a mimetic remove. Lingers like a perfect pastille.

Querciabella 2013 Chianti Classico, Docg Tuscany ($38.95)
Michael Godel – Remarkable sangiovese steeped in tradition and history meets varietal significance, but it’s a new oration., A brilliant “normale” without the new slang of Gran Selezione but in many respects it may as well be.
David Lawrason – This is a very fine, nervy and intense Chianti, if a bit pricy.

Kir Yianni Kitma Yianakohori Hills 2012Menguante Selección Garnacha 2012Corte Giara Ripasso Valpolicella 2013Querciabella Chianti Classico 2013

And that’s it for this week. As the heat of summer settles in like a wet blanket, we urge you take it easy, drink crisp wine and lots of water. We will be back next week with Australian and other picks from the August 6 release, and stay tuned next week as well as we announce the winners from the National Wine Awards of Canada.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES July 23rd, 2016

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview
All July 23rd 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!

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Bill’s Best Bets – July 2016

The BBQ Wines
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

I just love those classic summery activities. Gardening, golf, beach time and of course, having friends over and cranking up the BBQ. The question is what to drink? From brochettes to burgers, T-bones to filet mignon, there is a lot to choose from out there. If you are just grilling a simple steak, pretty well any red with some torque can do the job. But if I want to get picky, there are a number of variables that will make certain wine choices better than others.

There are three things to consider when choosing your wine: the cut of beef, the type of marinade or sauce, and how the meat will be cooked. Understanding how these three variables will play off your wine will lead you to wines with different tannin structures and flavours.

The reason that barbecues are such a fantastic way to cook is because of what it imparts to your meat. First is the smoke. If you are a charcoal user, then bravo! Most newer propane barbecues do not use lava rocks or other heat sources that will impart an aroma to the smoke, as opposed to charcoal grills that can bring maple, mesquite or other aromas, but smoke is smoke and whether it has a particular aroma or not, it will add a unique flavour to what you are cooking. And where do you find smokiness in your wines? Well, wines that were aged in oak barrels.

The other thing that grilling does is to caramelize the surface of your meat. The intense heat will oxidize and turn the proteins in the fat of the meat into complex sugars, forming a sweet crust on it’s surface.

Then there are the marinades and the accompaniments. Finding complimentary flavours will take a good pairing and make it great.  For example, mushrooms pair well with dark berry flavours, a sauce with thyme goes well with a wine that has different herbal notes. If you have something hot like chile or black pepper, then it’s compliment is sweetness. So a spicy marinade will marry nicely with a new world wine that has lots of sweet fruit.

With respect to the fat, everything depends on which cut of beef you are using and the amount of time that it is cooked. The more fat you have, the more tannin you will need in your wine. But the longer you cook it, the more it goes from rare to well done, the drier it will get, the more the fat will drip out of the meat, and the less you want these stronger tannins.

So let’s get down to recommending a few wines. Let’s start with burgers. Hamburger tends to be cooked well done. This means that they tend to be drier, with less fat and thus less flavourful. Most of the flavour will come from sweet and fruity condiments like ketchup and relish, or those which are vinegar based like mustards and pickles. In effect you are matching with the condiments.

I love Chilean carmenere with burgers and there is no need to spend a lot. Try the 2014 Luis Felipe Edwards Reserve or the 2014 Carmen Reserve for quality under $15 options. If you want to spend a little more, then my last burger adventure was accompanied by the 2011 Rioja, Reserva, from Beronia.

Luis Felipe Edwards Reserva Carmenère 2014Carmen Reserva Carmenère 2014Beronia Reserva 2011

The fattier cuts

Whether its a T-Bone or Rib steak, these cuts should properly be cooked ‘medium’ at most, as not to dry them out. This is a great opportunity to bring out more tannic reds that will cut through some of that richness that the fat brings. After that, look at the sauce or what you used to flavour your meats. If you rub your meat with spice, look for wines that have a peppery spice on the finish.

Syrah is a great option here. From the Rhone, try the 2013 Pierelles from Domaine Belle, if you want a more refined option. If you want a European wine with new world accessibility, the 2014 Chateau Paul Mas Clos des Mures from the Coteaux du Languedoc will do the trick. Lots of fruit and the 15% grenache adds some extra smoothness. And if you spent your money on the meat and want a good under $12 wine, try the 2015 grenache/syrah from Coto de Hayas.

Domaine Belle Les Pierrelles Crozes Hermitage 2013Château Paul Mas Clos Des Mûres 2014Coto De Hayas Grenache Syrah 2015

Cabernet fans will can drink their favourite wine as well, but I love cab with lamb. I drank the 2012 Petales D’Osoyoos with lamb chops recently and this Bordeaux blend from British Columbia simply rocked it. If you want a real treat, then the 2014 Tenuta Argentiera Poggio al Ginepri is one of the  better Italian cabs I have tasted in a long time. And if you want to spend $34, then their 2012 Villa Donoratico is one of my rare four-star wines.

Osoyoos Larose Petales D' Osoyoos 2012Tenuta Argentiera Poggio Ai Ginepri 2014Tenuta Argentiera Villa Donoratico 2012

Finally, I am a huge fan of BBQ sauce and make my own-bourbon and ketchup based version which bathes my baby back ribs and chicken pieces. I like to smoke them for hours first and then sizzle them with sauce. Here is where I allow my zinfandel fetish to come forth.

Try the 2011 Sledgehammer which melds perfectly with the sauce, from the spice to the vanilla influence from the Bourbon. With more power, the 2014 Lodi from Ravenswood is a great option. If you want a more European option, I was recently in Puglia in southern Italy and their two main grapes, primitivo and negroamaro also rock the BBQ sauce. Try the 2013 Torcicoda or the 2013 Sangue Blu for a great taste of Puglia.

Sledgehammer Zinfandel 2011Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2014Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo 2013Torre Quarto Sangue Blu 2013

Happy grilling folks!


“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

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



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Top Values at the LCBO (July 2016)

Your Guide to the Best Values, Limited Time Offers & Bonus Air Miles selections at the LCBO
by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

It is mid-summer and so it’s a quiet time at LCBO for activities like delists and promotions but new wines have still been arriving and I have been busy tasting them as well as sampling some new vintages of existing listings.

As a consequence I am pleased to tell you that it is another exciting month for my Top 50 Best Values with six wines joining the list since I last wrote to you.

I also write about another wine that is brand new to the LCBO. It is great when a wine is added to the system and, without any discounts,  jumps straight onto the list. Congrats again to the smart buyers at the LCBO.

These are the usual reasons for wines joining the Top 50 Best Values list. There are also another five wines on the list that all have lots of Bonus AirMiles (BAMs) for the next 4 weeks, making them a little more attractive.

Steve’s Top Values are best buys among the 1600 or so wines in LCBO Wines and the Vintages Essentials Collection which I select from wines on Steve’s Top 50, a standing WineAlign list based on quality/price ratio. You can read below in detail how the Top 50 works, but it does fluctuate as new wines arrive and as discounts show up through Limited Time Offers (LTOs).

The discount period runs until August 14th.  So don’t hesitate. Thanks to WineAlign’s inventory tracking, I can assure you that there were stocks available, when we published, of every wine that I highlight.

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


Tini Sangiovese 2014, Romagna, Italy ($7.75) – This is a drinkable soft clean Italian red for pizza, pasta and risotto. It is dry and fruity with enough tannin and acidity for balance and very decent length considering the price. The finish is a little lean and a bit tart, but for the money, not bad.

Running With Bulls Tempranillo 2013, Wrattonbully, South Australia ($10.95 was $11.95) Delisted – This is a full-bodied powerful fruity red with smoke and spice from oak and some herbal tones and a dash of raspberry jam. The palate is juicy and fully flavoured with a long fruity finish. Very good length. Drink cautiously before running with bulls. Over 800 bottles remain.

Boschendal The Pavillion Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($12.05) – A very juicy full bodied red with an appealing nose and lots of fruit that is balanced by soft tannin and soft acidity. Good focus and very good length. Try with lamb kebabs.

Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2014, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($12.95 + 8 BAMs) – This is a pure fresh elegant wine with complexity and structure that usually costs a lot more. It has a youthful nose and very even palate which is finely balanced with excellent length. Enjoy with fine cuisine.

Tini Sangiovese 2014Running With Bulls Tempranillo 2013Boschendal The Pavillion Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2014Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2014

KWV Cathedral Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Western Cape South Africa ($13.45 was $15.95) – This cabernet shows classic Cape minerality which lightens the palate and nose giving the impression of freshness. It is full bodied with excellent length. Try with a steak.

Argento Reserva Malbec 2014, Mendoza, Argentina ($13.95) – This is a big powerfully flavoured malbec with a freshness and elegance to nose and palate. It is very smooth, well balanced with a fruity dry finish. Try with a juicy duck breast.

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2014, Western Cape, South Africa ($14.10 + 8 BAMs) – This is deeply coloured red blend that is medium to full bodied with firm tannin which gives a nice edge to the finish. Very good to excellent length. Best 2015 to 2019. Try with grilled red meats.

Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage 2011, Douro Superior, Portugal ($18.10) – A rich powerful port with fresh sweet black berry fruit aromas with vanilla and floral notes. It is full bodied very rich with the 20% alcohol finely balanced by soft acidity. Try with hard mature cheese and dark chocolate.

Kwv Cathedral Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon 2014Argento Reserva Malbec 2014The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2014Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage 2011


Cavallina Grillo Pinot Grigio 2015, Sicily, Italy ($8.20) Grillo is one of my favourite Sicilian native grapes which, when blended here with pinot grigio, delivers a deeply flavoured well balanced white at a great price. It is fairly simple but well balanced with very good length. Don’t overchill and try with sautéed seafood.

Domaine Jean Bousquet White Blend 2015, Argentina ($12.00) – This is a very rich smooth white blend that is probably mostly chardonnay maybe with a splash of viognier. It is midweight and deeply flavoured with very good length. Try with roast white meats like pork or veal or rich mature cheddar cheese.

Goats do Roam White 2015, Coastal Region, South Africa ($12.00) – The aromatic Goats white is a blend of three Rhone whites grapes and  is quite classy smooth and flavourful considering its price.  Enjoy as an aperitif with pastry nibbles or try with roast poultry.

Domaine Chatelain Les Vignes De Saint Laurent L’Abbaye Pouilly Fumé 2015, Loire Valley, France ($20.30) – This is a very classy dry white that is crisp and elegant with a mineral core to nose and palate which is so typical of Pouilly-Fumé. It is 100% sauvignon blanc. Minerally rich and very elegant. Try with sauteed seafood.

Cavallina Grillo Pinot Grigio 2015Domaine Jean Bousquet White Blend 2015Goats Do Roam White 2015Domaine Chatelain Les Vignes De Saint Laurent L'abbaye Pouilly Fumé 2015

How does a wine get selected for the Top Value Report:

There are three ways that a wine gets into this monthly report of wines that are always in the stores either on the LCBO “General List” or the VINTAGES Essential Collection.

– On Sale (LTO’s or Limited Time Offers): Every four weeks the LCBO discounts around 200 wines I have looked through the current batch and have highlighted some of my favourites that offer better value at present…. so stock up now.

– Bonus Air Miles (BAM’s): If you collect Air Miles then you will be getting Bonus Air Miles on another 150 or so wines…a few of these have a special appeal for a while.

– Steve’s Top 50: Wines that have moved onto my Top 50 Best Values this month. This is on an-on going WineAlign selection that mathematically calculates value by comparing the price and rating of all the wines on the LCBO General List. You can access the report any time and read more about it now.

The Rest of Steve’s Top 50

Steve's Top Value WinesIn addition to the wines mentioned above, there are another 38 wines on the Top 50 list this month. So if you did not find all you need in this report, dip into the Top 50 LCBO and VINTAGES Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste.

To be included in the Top 50 for value a wine must be inexpensive while also having a high score, indicating high quality. I use a mathematical model to make the Top 50 selections from the wines in our database. I review the list every month to include newly listed and recently tasted vintages of current listings as well as monitoring the value of those put on sale for a limited time.

Before value wine shopping remember to consult the Top 50 (Click on Wine => Top 50 Value Wines to be taken directly to the list), since it is always changing. If you find that there is a new wine on the shelf or a new vintage that we have not reviewed, let us know. Moreover if you disagree with our reviews, tell us please. And if you think our reviews are accurate, send us some feedback since it’s good to hear that you agree with us.

The Top 50 changes all the time, so remember to check before shopping. I will be back next month with more news on value arrivals to Essentials and the LCBO.


Steve Thurlow

Top 50 Value Wines
Wines on Limited Time Offer
Wines with Bonus Air Miles

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


Wine Country Ontario

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An Exclusive Champagne Dinner Featuring the Iconic G.H. Mumm Brand – Toronto

On Thursday, August 4th, WineAlign is pleased to present an exclusive champagne dinner with world-renowned Cellar Master, Didier Mariotti, from the iconic G.H. Mumm brand.

Join us for dinner at The Chase with G.H. Mumm’s Cellar Master, Didier Mariotti.  Didier joins us for the evening from Epernay, France to guide us through a range of champagnes from this iconic House.  As the latest in a line of passionate Cellar Masters responsible for crafting the House style, Mariotti is both the guardian and the beneficiary of G.H Mumm’s long heritage.  Didier will be joined by WineAlign’s David Lawrason.

Mumm 3 pics

Event Details:

Date: Thursday, August 4th, 2016

Location: The Chase (10 Temperance St., Toronto)

Reception: 6:30pm (on front terrace)

Dinner: 7:00pm (private dining room)

Tickets: $104 per person (plus tax and fees)

*Please note tickets are limited, so book early to avoid disappointment.

G.H. Mumm Champagne Dinner - Purchase Tickets

Menu and Wine List

Pearl Platter
East and west coast oysters, shrimp, crab, and tuna
G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut

With albacore tuna, cured egg yolks, white anchovy, olives, and baby romaine
G.H. Mumm Rosé

Main Course
Roasted with wild mushrooms creamed spinach, linzer potatoes, and brown butter tartar sauce
G.H. Mumm Millesime 2006

Angel food cake, lime curd, coconut cream, toasted marshmallow icing
Coffee & Tea

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G.H. Mumm Champagne Dinner - Purchase Tickets

About Didier Mariotti:

G.H. Mumm’s Cellar Master, Didier Mariotti, is the guardian and beneficiary of nearly two centuries of expertise – shaping the distinctive House style. He adds his own winemaking contribution and continues to perfect the balance of tradition and innovation that brings out the exceptional character of the unique terroir rated at 98% on échelle des crus.

This is Didier’s first trip to Toronto, celebrating the VINTAGES release of the highly acclaimed G.H. Mumm Millesime 2006 vintage champagne.

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About The Chase

The Chase offers small plates with big flavours; entrées that are satisfying and adventurous, but healthy, and experiences that exude sociability and interaction with our staff.

The Chase is our passion for casual elegance. Our rooftop restaurant highlights what we love most about upscale dining, and presents it in a modest and thoughtful way. Our ongoing chase for the finest ingredients from around the world, coupled with simple and uncomplicated flavours, is the foundation for our culinary philosophy.

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Our winemaker events have been consistently and quickly selling out.  If you are interested in attending then we advise you to purchase your tickets as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

G.H. Mumm Champagne Dinner - Purchase Tickets


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Canadian Wine: Winds of Change

Direct Shipping, Grocery Sales and Health Issues Hit the Floor at the CVA Annual Meeting
by David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Winds of change and currents of conflict were swirling at the recent annual general meeting of the Canadian Vintners Association in Kelowna. I will get right to the details, but first I want to share the most exciting news for Canadian wine consumers.

On July 26, WineAlign will announce the results of the National Wine Awards of Canada, and on July 28th the winner of the coveted Winery of the Year and Small Winery of the Year Awards. I joined 21 other judges in Penticton in June to taste over 1500 wines over five days, and I can tell you there was a great deal of excitement in the judges’ room – I believe there were some leaping out of seats. Canadian wine quality has never been better, nor evolution so rapid. This is reflected by increases in the medal counts, and the emergence of new stars.

Days after the judging I was invited to attend the annual general meeting of the Canadian Vintners Association (CVA) in Kelowna, and sat transfixed as experts stood up to address the issues facing Canadian wine across the country. Direct inter-provincial shipping, selling wine in grocery stores and educating Canadians about alcohol-related health issues and safe drinking guidelines were all discussed in detail.

Some will not be aware of the Canadian Vintners Association, even though it is celebrating its 49th year of existence. With a 3.5 person office in Ottawa, but a membership of about 60 mostly large and mid-size wineries representing 90% of the wine produced in Canada, it is the industry’s mechanism for dealing with national regulatory issues, standards and policies. It is also involved in market study and analysis, developing wine exports, and most recently establishing marketing materials through a database at that includes info on all 675 wineries in Canada.

The CVA’s political connectedness was on display at the Kelowna AGM. No fewer than five federal MPs from BC and Ontario were in attendance with a sixth sending his regrets. Through lobbying efforts by the CVA these MPs have formed an all-party parliamentary Canadian wine caucus, giving Canadian wine the loudest voice in the House that it has ever had. That voice is exactly what is needed for Canadian wine to move ahead.

Direct to Consumer Interprovincial Shipping

Vance Badaway

Vance Badaway, MP Niagara Centre

The politicians and CVA members were most vocal about getting Canadian wine moving freely and directly across all provincial boundaries in Canada. Alas, there was no breakthrough to announce in terms of more provinces dropping their opposition, but I was surprised by how loud, frequent and public the CVA and its members, as well as the politicians, have become – insisting that action be taken sooner rather than later. There was a mood in the room.

By way of background, two of the MPs – Dan Albas, Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, and Ron Canaan, Kelowna Lake Country, were instrumental back in 2012 in creating a private members bill to overturn Bill C311 that made it illegal to carry or ship wine for personal use across provincial borders. Their bill received an historic, unanimous vote in the House of Commons, but it was left to individual provinces to agree, or not. To date only Manitoba, British Columbia and Nova Scotia have allowed their citizens to freely import Canadian wine from other provinces.

Newly elected Liberal MP Vance Badaway of Niagara Centre gently approved of the movement when he addressed the CVA membership. “I am committed to supporting the wine industry and helping with efficiencies and market development. And we are going to park party politics and work to get things done,” he said. Whether rhetoric or not, it demonstrates sympathy. And wine is now firmly entwined in broader discussions about eradicating interprovincial trade irritants. This is all a step forward.

Loblaws Outlines Plans for Selling Wine in Grocery Stores

Greg Ramier, Senior Vice President, Loblaws

Greg Ramier, Senior Vice President, Loblaws

With grocery store wine sales rolling out this year in B.C. and Ontario, the most highly anticipated presenter was Greg Raimer, Senior Vice-President of Wholesale, Gas, Liquor and Tobacco for the Loblaws group of companies. The retailing of wine by Loblaws is underway in Alberta, and in a pilot project in New Brunswick. So Mr. Raimer has their corporate strategy well thought out, and he opened his presentation with a bold prediction:

“Within 20 years wine will be sold in grocery stores right across Canada” he said. Amen, I said under my breath, but can we make that sooner?

Most of his presentation outlined how wine will fit at Loblaws stores, differentiating the grocery shopping environment from state and privately run stores where food is not involved. And for those who think that supermarkets will become a trash heap for cheap, giant brands, you may want to think again.

“Our strategy is to elevate the shopping experience” Mt. Raimer explained, “by offering, diversity, uniqueness and education.” He went on to say they are looking to provide occasion-based in-store retailing, solution-based retailing, as well local, organic and healthy products, all of which dovetail with modern trends in grocery retailing.

Then came his second telling comment. “The average grocery store bill is about $40. We have found that when there is a bottle of wine in the cart, the average bill is closer to $80. Shoppers who buy wine for dinner almost always spend more on food”.

He said that Loblaws was not looking to make wine a huge profit centre in itself, but it was an up-selling tool. “We want to offer wine from $10 to $100 per bottle” he said. It’s worth noting that the Ontario government has currently set $10.95 as a floor price in supermarkets.

It is a good thing that Loblaws is not looking to make bushels of money selling wine in Ontario, because government regulations will be capping grocery store wine margins at 4%.

At the moment we don’t know how many of the first 70 licenses awarded in 2016 in Ontario will go to Loblaws, or whether other grocers will have the same perspective on wine sales. But Raimer did say he thought we would see wine in grocery store starting to roll out at the end of October, to catch the holiday spending season. So we will know before long.

After the meeting I asked him how Loblaws will be purchasing wine, given that the LCBO is the wholesaler. He said that grocery stores that sell imports (about half of the initial 70 licences) must buy wines pre-selected by the LCBO that are stocked in the LCBO warehouse. This does not include stocks from the Consignment Warehouse, from which agents sell direct to licensees.

Grocery stores selling Ontario wine (all of them) will be able to buy from the LCBO or directly from the wineries, at LCBO dictated prices that ensures government gets its cut. This will at least give many Ontario wines a much needed boost in their retail distribution.

Health & Social Responsibility

Rita Notarandrea, CEO of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA)

Rita Notarandrea, CEO of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA)

As impressed as I was with all the speakers, it was Rita Notarandrea, CEO of the Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse, who made perhaps the most thought-provoking presentation, which in the end urged Canadian vintners to take a leading role in educating the public about the harms of alcohol over-use and abuse.

They ignore her at their peril.

The Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse is an organization mandated by an Act of Parliament in 1988. Its role is to track alcohol and drug usage, abuse and addiction, and to find ways to educate the public on the harms of unsafe usage.

“We are not out to promote abstinence or abolition of alcohol” she assured the winemakers, several times. Although she did say there are those in the health field who would like to do that, and that there is “a groundswell among health professionals who want more regulation”.

She also said that much of her current work surrounds the impending legalization of marijuana in Canada, but she focused on alcohol this day.

“Canada has a deep seated drinking culture” she said. She reported that 76.5% over the age of 25 consumed alcohol in last year, 82% aged 19 to 24, and 60% under age. She said that 36% of Canadians qualify as “risky drinkers”, consuming more than the recommended amounts of “ two drinks a day, 10 per week for women, and three drinks a day, 15 per week for men, with an extra drink allowed on special occasions”.

She said “alcohol abuse costs Canada $14.6 billion dollar per year”, and estimates that alcohol-related deaths would be reduced by approximately 4,600 per year if the guidelines were followed.

So she asked the Canadian wine industry for help in educating the public – in two specific ways.

Most controversially she asked them to help come up with a way to include more detailed safe drinking guidelines and social responsibility messaging on wine labels. There was opposition by some vintners to the idea of giving up more “label real estate”, but some thought there might be “an elegant way” to do it.

I was most impressed by her “elegant” idea of developing labels specific to the size of the bottle and the type of alcohol (by volume) therein. My head spins trying to figure out labels that try to do this universally, as on Australian wines, that utilize one label for all types of alcohol in all sizes of packaging.

Ms. Notarandrea’s second request was to enlist winery help in disseminating The Centre’s “Low Risk Drinking Guidelines” now available in printed format and online.

And I don’t see any reason why wineries and wine writers shouldn’t be directing readers to these guidelines too. Somehow the “please drink responsibly message” seems just a bit shallow in the face of the magnitude of this issue.

Wine Drinkers Are More Moderate Consumers of Alcohol

John Mohler, Vice President, Ipsos Canada

John Mohler, Vice President, Ipsos Canada

There were two other presentations but I am going to end of with partial results of an alcohol consumption survey conducted by John Mohler, Vice President of Ipsos Canada, a national polling firm.

It is the result of a project now in its second year that has 1,000 Canadians from coast to coast keeping a daily diary of their alcohol consumption – how much, what kinds of alcohol, how often they mix, where, when and with whom they drink.

In a typical day the respondents drank two glasses of wine, or 2.3 glasses of beer, or 2.1 glasses of spirits, comfortably within the “Low Risk Drinking Guidelines”.

Among those who drink wine 84% stop after two glasses. For those who drink more than that 63% stay with wine. Among beer and spirit drinkers 75% stop after two drinks, not a wide margin of difference.

Among wine drinkers, 61% drink wine with dinner and another 18% while grazing (the latter percentage higher among millennials). It is a stat that leapt off the screen, a much larger percentage than beer and spirits.

Where, dear reader and imbiber, do you fit in?

See you next month, with analysis and recommendations from the National Wine Awards. Meanwhile here are links to ten Canadian wines I poured at the Fine Vintage Canadian Wine Scholar course in Kelowna on the heels of the CVA meeting.  More courses are coming up across Canada coming up this fall:  Toronto  Sept 10/11 , Edmonton Oct 15/16, Calgary Oct 22/23, Kelowna Oct 29/30 and Vancouver Nov 5/6. More details are available here.

Whites and Sparkling

Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut Thirty Bench Small Lot Riesling Steel Post Vineyard 2014 Rosehall Run Chardonnay Jcr Rosehall Vineyard 2014 Meyer Family Mclean Creek Vineyard Chardonnay 2014 Le Vieux Pin Ava 2014

Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario

Thirty Bench Small Lot Riesling Steel Post Vineyard 2014, Beamsville Bench, Ontario

Rosehall Run Chardonnay JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario

Meyer Family Mclean Creek Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Okanagan Valley, B.C.

Le Vieux Pin Ava 2014, Okanagan Valley, B.C.


Le Chateau De La Grange Le Chant Des Vignes 2012 Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2014 Rosewood Origin Merlot 2012 Orofino Wild Ferment Syrah 2015 Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2012

Le Chateau de La Grange Le Chant Des Vignes 2012, Quebec

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario

Rosewood Origin Merlot 2012, Beamsville Bench, Ontario

Orofino Wild Ferment Syrah 2015, Similkameen Valley, B.C.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2012, Okanagan Valley, B.C.



Wine Country Ontario

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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – July 23, 2016

Spanish Cante Jondo, and the non-linear price-quality relationship of sauvignon blanc
by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

In flamenco music there’s a style known as cante jondo (aspirate that ‘j’), which means literally “deep song”. It’s said to be the purest form of flamenco, unchanged over centuries (watch this short clip). On a parallel plane, this week’s report takes us deep into Spanish wine, exploring the country’s wealth of ancient vines, handed down to us by generations of growers, and less well-travelled regions, seemingly untouched for centuries. This is Spanish wine in its purest form. I’ve highlighted my top picks from the Spanish-themed VINTAGES July 23rd release, as well as some excellent wines from a new Spanish specialist in Ontario, Cosecha Imports. These are some of the most exciting Spanish wines to reach our market in the last decade, available by private order, but well worth the effort.

I also have a look at the curious price-quality relationship of sauvignon blanc. It’s a wine that appears to be priced based entirely on origin rather than quality, which means that some inside information is needed to find the best values in this minefield. I pick a quartet of smart buys to illustrate the point. Read on for the details.

Buyer’s Guide: Spanish Cante Jondo

Alejandro Fernandez, the founder of the Grupo Pesquera, is the man largely credited with putting Ribera del Duero on the map, starting in 1972. Tinto Pesquera is still one of the appellation’s top wines. Fernandez added three other bodegas over the years – Condado de Haza (Ribera del Duero), El Vínculo (La Mancha), and Dehesa la Granja (Castilla y Léon) – and it was wine from this last estate that caught my attention in this release, the 2008 Dehesa La Granja, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León ($22.95). The vineyards around Zamora deep in old Castille are not particularly well known for top quality wine, but this is exceptional tempranillo, unabashedly spicy and wood-inflected, exotic and complex, full of cedar and sandalwood scents in the traditional Spanish style. It’s the best Dehesa I can remember tasting, and superb value at that. Beware the heavy sediment; you’ll want to stand this up for a day and decant. Best 2016-2028.

The roots of the Merayo family run deep in the region of Bierzo (northwest Spain), and they have always owned vineyards, and occasionally made wine. But in 2010, a definitive step was taken to establish a commercial winery. On July 23rd you’ll see the 2014 Merayo Las Tres Filas Mencia, DO Bierzo, Spain ($19.95) reach LCBO shelves, a bright, ripe, red and black cherry flavoured red drawing on the wealth of 80+ year-old mencía vines in the family holdings. I like the rustic, deeply honest country styling; tannins are a little rough and tumble, but in time – 2-3 years – this should soften up nicely. Acids provide necessary energy and tension, and the length is excellent. Best 2018-2024.

Alejandro Fernández Dehesa La Granja 2008Merayo Las Tres Filas Mencia 2014 Almansa Laya 2014

Almansa is hardly a region that flows off the tongue in general wine conversations, even amongst professionals. But this backwater in the country’s deep southeast corner (province of Albacete, Castilla-La Mancha) has plenty to offer, including high elevations to temper heat, ranging from 700m up to 1000m above sea level, and just enough water-conserving limestone in the soils to keep vines alive. The ambitious Gil family, who also bring us excellent values from Jumilla D.O. under Bodegas Juan Gil, are behind Bodegas Atalaya, and the 2014 Laya, DOP Almansa, Spain ($15.95) is another terrific bargain for fans of bold, ripe, oak-influenced wines. A blend of garnacha tintorera and monastrell gives rise to this modern style, full-bodied red, generously endowed with spicy, vanilla-tinged oak flavour, smoky, like well-peated Scotch, and wild resinous herb notes to round out complexity. Best 2016-2022.

Cosecha Imports – Some Producers to Track Down

In May I sat down with Philip George of Cosecha Imports, a new player in the field focusing exclusively on Spanish wines. The company has managed to scoop a handful of “New Spain’s” most exciting producers, exploiting little-known, ancient regions and old vines, and applying post-modern techniques – earlier harvests, old wood, whole bunch indigenous fermentations and a host of other hip practices – that yield, when done correctly, beautifully perfumed and balanced wines, and above all, infinitely drinkable. This is vino jondo.

Rafael PalaciosRafael Palacios is among the portfolio headliners. A scion of the famous Rioja winemaking family, he struck out on his own in 2004, settling on the northern region of Valdeorras in Galicia to make his mark. He works exclusively with the native white godello, making some of Spain’s most exciting white wines today. Bolo (c. $20) is the excellent, stainless steel fermented entry level version; vine age, complexity and ageability are ratcheted up in Louro, which includes a splash of native treixadura and is fermented in old 3000l cask, in my view the best value in the lineup, while the top in the portfolio, As Sortes ($70), made from vines approaching a century old and fermented in demi-muid, is a wine of astonishing depth. These are all worth seeking out.

Commando GCommando G is another cultish producer turning heads around the world. It’s the project of Daniel Landi and Fernando Garcia, who selected the remote Sierra de Gredos area about an hour’s drive outside of Madrid as their regional canvas, already painted with garnacha reaching up to 80 years old. Farming is organic/biodynamic in these small parcels, necessarily without machinery, which rise up over 1200m above sea level. If you think garnacha is heavy and alcoholic, you must try these wines, suffused with elegance, freshness and finesse. The prices of the ultra-limited cuvees rise steeply, but I loved the entry point 2014 Bruja de Rozas (c. $30), a vino de pueblo (village blend) of wonderfully silky and spicy garnacha, fresh and mid-weight, very Burgundian in feel.

Other excellent producers to look for in the Cosecha portfolio include Joan D’Anguera in Montsant D.O. and Pardas in the Penedès. It’s so great to see the Spanish wine offering expanding in the province.

On the Curious Relationship between Sauvignon Blanc and Price

The price of sauvignon blanc in LCBO VINTAGES is curiously predictable. It seems to be based on origins, rather than any notion of quality, however slippery that is to define. Chilean and South African sauvignon is invariably in the mid-teens. So too is basic Touraine or Bordeaux, while Aussie sauv seems able to fetch a dollar or two more. New Zealand hovers around $18, occasionally just over $20, alongside Friulian sauvignon, while Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé will set you back somewhere in the mid-twenties. Napa is in a neighbourhood of its own, in which $40 seems to be the standard point of entry.

Are these prices tied to how delicious the wines are? Hardly. It would be an eye-opening exercise to buy a range of sauvignons from $12 to $40 and taste them together, blind, with origins concealed. The results will surprise you. You’ll find that the cost appears much more directly linked to the wine’s home address than any other aspect of enjoyment. You might then buy 3 or 4 wines from the same region at the same price and repeat the exercise, observing how quality diverges at identical cost.

Now, wine pricing is a complex calculation to be sure. It’s based in part on hard production costs, including real estate and labour, currency exchange, and no small measure of regional and winery brand recognition, with a dash of speculation thrown in. Most regions are constrained to offer their wines in a more or less fixed range of prices, as the cost structure, and market tolerance, is similar for all (minus the individual brand recognition and speculation factor). But for sauvignon blanc, the price range is amazingly consistent, and narrow, from region to region, more so than for any other variety. It’s as though the producers get together to set a standard price for all. Even pinot grigio comes in greater price variation, based to some degree on quality. Why is that? Is it because sauvignon blanc is more a commodity than it is wine? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

In any case, as a buyer, it’s frustrating knowing that a wine fetches a price based on birthright, not merit. But then again, as a smart buyer, I know that when looking for a typical sauvignon blanc experience, I needn’t overpay, either, just for the smart neighbourhood (unless I’m drinking the label). I can get a similar experience in an underprivileged neighbourhood for far less. It’s something to be aware of.

Below is a quartet of sauvignons that can be considered the nicest houses on their respective blocks. You only need choose what neighbourhood you want to live in.

Buyers’ Guide: Sauvignon Blanc

Roger & Didier Raimbault 2014 Sancerre AC, Loire Valley, France ($26.95) A Sancerre archetype: more stony than fruity, more citrus than tropical, more herbal than vegetal. The length, too, is excellent. Textbook. Best 2016-2024.

Domaine de la Commanderie 2014 Quincy AC, Loire Valley, France ($19.95) The so-called Sancerre satellite appellations (i.e. Reuilly, Quincy, Menetou Salon) are usually about 20 percent cheaper than Sancerre, but can offer a similar, lean and brisk profile in the classic Loire style. This is a fine example, a nicely tart, lemony and lightly stony sauvignon, brimming with green herbs and citrus. It’s perfectly satisfying; a classic oyster wine.

Roger & Didier Raimbault Sancerre 2014 Domaine De La Commanderie Quincy 2014 Boya Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Boya 2015 Sauvignon Blanc Leyda Valley, Chile ($15.95) Chile just may offer the best value sauvignon on the planet, especially if you prefer the pungent and smoky, vegetal/green pepper/pyrazine-driven style. Cool coastal regions like the Leyda do it best, and the Garcés Silva family (of Amayna) do it as well as anyone. Boya is the fine ‘entry range’, and this youthful 2015 offers great acids and a nicely acidulated, citrus fruit finish. There’s a lot of energy and life in this bottle for the price.

Sutherland 2014 Sauvignon Blanc WO Elgin, South Africa ($14.95) South Africa also vies for a spot at the top of the southern hemisphere sauvignon heap of value, again drawing from cooler areas, like southerly Elgin, to produce pungent gently smoky and green pepper-inflected wines. Sutherland is well-established Thelema Mountain Vineyards’ newish project in Elgin, and this 2014 is a compelling, if slightly unusual sauvignon. Fruit shifts into the orchard spectrum, like nectarine and green peach, while the palate is quite broad and deeply flavoured, with earthy-medicinal character alongside the ripe-tart fruit and smoky-leesy character. It’s a wine of strong personality. 

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


John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES July 9th, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All July 9th 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 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008