Find the right wine at the right price, right now.

California: The State of Pinot Noir

By John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

“The quality of pinot noir has escalated dramatically in the last ten years”, asserts Karen MacNeil in her introduction to a tasting of thirteen California pinot noirs held last week to kick-off the annual California Wine Fair. The author of best selling The Wine Bible (fully revised in 2015) and chairman and creator of the program at The Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley, MacNeil is as well qualified as anyone to make the claim. She’s been a keen observer of the California wine industry since the 1970s, and as a native New Yorker, is unfettered by regional chauvinism. The wines she selects for the tasting amply prove the point.

And I couldn’t agree more with MacNeil’s assessment of the state of California pinot noir. The grape has undergone a radical makeover over the last decade, more than any other variety. Chardonnay, too, it can be said, has been given a 21st century facelift, slimmed down, toned up, and applied less makeup to be sure. But pinot’s evolution has been more complete, transforming from garish cabaret dancer to elegant ballerina (just keeping up the mixed metaphors) in under a generation.

Perhaps that’s because pinot noir had so much further to go in order to find a comfortable and natural regional expression, while great California chardonnay has a much longer and more robust history, with many protagonists. Once all but indistinguishable from merlot or even cabernet, California’s finest pinot noirs are now clearly recognizable as pinot noir, while still informed by the generous sun and thick fog that flood coastal vineyards and give rise to the state’s unique style.

Karen MacNeil and her selection of representative California Pinot Noir-4982

Karen MacNeil and her selection of representative California Pinot Noir

There are of course producers who found a confidently Californian expression many years ago – pinot pioneers Josh Jensen of Calera, Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, and Burt Williams and Ed Selyem of Williams-Selyem spring to mind. But the list of people making memorable pinot noir now stretches into the dozens, drawing on vineyards spread over 800 kilometers from the Anderson Valley in the north to Santa Barbara down south. Pinot noir is California’s 5th most planted variety, and it finally has an expression all its own, in all of its infinite nuances. This is fantastic news for devotees of the grape.

The turning point for pinot noir came sometime around the turn of the millennium, when it was apparently recognized that pinot is in fact not cabernet, and that it needs to be farmed differently, in different areas, and treated with more deference in the winery. During the tasting, MacNeil shared the thoughts of one winemaker who makes both pinot noir and cabernet (a rarity). After spending some time away from the winery, he likened his cabernet to a Labrador retriever that jumps and slathers you in delight on your return, happy, undemanding, unchanged. Pinot noir, other the other hand, is more like the sullen, aloof cat, which eyes you suspiciously and rancorously as you walk in the door, as if to say: “where have you been?” before slinking off moodily into another corner. Compared to pinot noir, cabernet is a breeze to make, another reason why it has taken so long to master.

What Makes for Great California Pinot Noir?

As we taste, MacNeil, a consummate educator, asks us to consider some key points that distinguish great California pinot noir. She speaks of “corruptness”, a twist on a common theme discussed amongst pinot fanatics, where slight imperfections contribute to the appeal of a wine. “Pinot Noir needs a little corruptness, something dark, primordial”, she says. Indeed, beauty often resides in slight asymmetry; technical perfection has all the romance and excitement of differential calculus. MacNeil quickly points out that she’s not referring to outright flaws, just minor deviations.

Also critical to pinot greatness (and the greatness of any wine) is what Greg Brewer of Brewer-Clifton describes as ‘negative space’. As in visual arts, what isn’t there often helps to define what is, the visual equivalent of deafening silence, or the spaces that hang between the notes in a piece of music. To illustrate, MacNeil taps out a beat – a constant “rhythm” that great pinot should lay down as it washes across the palate, like a trusty metronome, with essential silence between the beats.

Texture is also critical, one of the pinot noir’s greatest assets. California’s pinots are most often softer and gentler – read less tannic – than red Burgundy, a feature, McNeil speculates, which arises from enlightened winemakers’ desires to get as far away as possible from cabernet. There is undoubtedly a suppleness and softness in California pinot that is rare to find elsewhere.

And one last hugely important point: understanding the difference between richness and concentration. These separate attributes are frequently confused, as MacNeil suggests. California wines are rarely short on concentration; that’s easy to achieve in a warm, sunny climate. Harvest your grapes after they start to shrivel into raisins and you’ll get plenty of concentration (and alcohol). But that’s not genuine flavor richness and certainly not complexity. MacNeil quotes famed wine importer Kermit Lynch: “turning up the music loud doesn’t make it any better.” Exaggerated concentration was a common flaw (and still is in some cases), but the best of the new generation have honest richness and depth and breadth of flavour, something that can’t be faked in the winery.

The road to pinot greatness requires of course vineyards in the right areas, a trial-and-error process that takes considerable time. But by now it has become clear where the most suitable pinot noir sites are found in California.

Three Top Regions to Consider

If I were forced to narrow down California’s 137 AVAs to just three essential regions for Pinot Noir, these would be the Sonoma Coast, the Sta. Rita Hills and the Anderson Valley. What all three have in common is their proximity to the Pacific and its heavy cooling effect felt in onshore vineyards. Fog, too, plays a mighty role in moderating climate and slowing ripening in all sites except those located above the fog line.

Sonoma Coast-3146

Sonoma Coast

The Sonoma Coast is a large, sprawling AVA (the largest in Sonoma County), so to be more specific, I’m referring to what the locals call the “West Sonoma Coast” (or sometimes “far, true, real or extreme Sonoma Coast”), an unofficial distinction that carves out the coolest, westernmost 10% of the AVA. It runs roughly from Jenner, where the Russian River meets the Pacific, north to Annapolis, and from just a couple kilometers inland from the coast to no more than about 20 kilometers, except in the most southerly section where lower coastal hills allow cooling influence to seep a little further, to near Freestone, Occidental, Green Valley and Sebastopol. In short, it’s the coolest, rain and fog-soaked western margin of the county in the coastal hills, often within sight of the Pacific. And the distinction is taken seriously by those eager to distinguish themselves by the more sun-soaked vineyards of inland Sonoma Coast. There is in fact a West Sonoma Coast Vintners (WSCV) Association of some 40 vintners with vineyards in the West Sonoma Coast, or who source grapes from it. Most of the top names in Sonoma pinot make wines from this area.

A little further north in Mendocino County, the Anderson Valley is likewise a cool, heavily Pacific-moderated AVA, about 25 kilometers from end to end. The west end of the Anderson Valley, open directly to the ocean via the Navarro River valley (also known as “the deep end”) and reliably bathed in morning fog, is only a few kilometers from the Pacific. It’s classified as a Region I viticultural area, the coolest still viable for grape growing. Aside from pinot noir, Anderson Valley is also known for its chardonnay, riesling and gewürztraminer, and especially traditional method sparkling wine. Champagne house Roederer set up shop here.

Hirsch Vineyards-3171

Hirsch Vineyards

Although nearly 800 kilometers further south, the Sta. Rita Hills AVA in Santa Barbara County is another hot, cool spot for fine pinot. In California, as in Chile, its proximity to the ocean that principally defines climate, not latitude, and here a similar Pacific-exposed geography plays out to create cool, coastal growing conditions. The Sta. Rita Hills AVA could also have been called a valley, indeed one of the most clearly delineated transversal valleys (east-west) on the western coast of the Americas, thanks to tectonic plate movements that spun the coastal hills 90º clockwise, from parallel to perpendicular to the coast (see this brief video of plate motion). The resulting open end to the Pacific draws in cold air and fog with occasional ferocious intensity, and vineyards, especially those at the western end near Lompoc are indeed at the marginal edge of viable viticulture.

If you’re just starting your California pinot road trip, these would be my first three stops.

A Tasting of Cool California Pinots

The following wines were selected by Karen MacNeil to illustrate the current state of California pinot. To avoid repetitiveness in describing production techniques, virtually all wines were made from 10-20 year old vines, including multiple clones of pinot noir, fermented with wild yeasts, punched down by hand in open top fermenters, and aged in barrel but with minimal new oak. You might call it a recipe for the best.

(Ontario Agents are listed where available.)

Foursight Wines 2012 Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley

A relatively new, small family-run operation. Pale garnet colour. Delicately aromatic, tending towards the oxidative, more floral, faded fruit, leafy end of the spectrum. The palate is mid-weight, very soft and gentle, low tannin, with some baby fat and balanced acids, neither fat nor racy. Good length on light caramel wood notes. A really lovely style, for fans of delicate pinot. 91

Failla Wines 2013 Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

Winemaker Eric Jordan has never studied winemaking; his degree is in Art History “Artistic intuition is hard to teach.”) Fruit comes from David Hirsch’s vineyards on the far Sonoma Coast, the pinot pioneer in the region with some parcels planted in the 1970s. This is saturated red-garnet, with pronounced fruity-cherry aromatics, like spiced morello cherry, with little obvious wood. The palate is firm and succulent-juicy, with great tension and sappy red fruit flavor, and very good length on lifted alcohol vapors. Great length – there’s considerable underlying power here. This will develop nicely over the next 2-3 years, and gain in complexity. 92

Talley Vineyards 2013 Estate Pinot Noir, Arroyo Grande Valley (The Vine Agency)

The Arroyo Grande AVA is about halfway between Mendocino and Los Angeles, historically a big fruit-growing area. Subdued aromatics, slightly dusty and medicinal, showing old wood and slight volatility. The palate is a little sharper, leaner, with less depth and richness of flavor. Simple and straightforward. 88

Sandford Winery 2013 La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills (Terlato International)

Richard Sandford is co-responsible for the first pinot noir plantings in Santa Barbara, the Sanford and Benedict vineyard planted in 1971. La Rinconada abuts the original site on a north-facing slope. This has quite a saturated red colour, pure, holding on to some ruby hints. The nose offers riper, darker fruit within the pinot spectrum, with a measure of dark spice though it’s not obviously woody. The palate is verging on full, firmly textured, with dusty, structure-giving tannins, marked acids, with impressive length on the finish. I find this appealingly salty, savoury in the most positive way. 93

Williams-Selyem 2013 Precious Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast (Tre Amici)

Fairly dark ruby colour, matched by a core of dark fruit, like spiced black cherry, with cola nut and dried twig-leafy notes, more brooding and introspective. Wood influence is more prominent here. The palate is surprisingly light and lithe, low in tannins, axed more on acids, with lingering, high-toned notes (pleasantly lifted VA), and tightly wound texture. An intriguing wine that hasn’t quite come together – give it another 2-3 years. 90

Laetitia Vineyard & Winey 2013 La Colline Pinot Noir, Arroyo Grande Vineyard

Made from a selection of ‘Martini clones’. Pure, limpid red with a light ruby rim. Rather simple but pleasant red-fruited pinot noir, lightly candied. The palate offers an impression of sweetness, with an intriguing herbal note that brings to mind mescal and also brings balance to otherwise very ripe fruit. Tannins are lightly grippy. This stays on the right side of balance. 89

Brewer-Clifton 2014 Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills (Barrel Select)

From vineyards practically on sand dunes by the coast. Pure ruby-garnet red. Some stem inclusion (whole bunch) is evident from the marvelous aromatics, mixing fresh red and slightly darker fruit character with a measure of fresh earth, twiggy-leafy spice and more, including a touch of funk. The palate is rich and sappy, with fine flavor density and notable salinity, and great length – this has genuine concentration and a broad range of flavours. Fleshy, satisfying and dense, without excesses. Love the seaside saltiness. 94

McIntyre Vineyards 2013 Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands

The warmest AVA on the table and it shows in this simple, medicinal cherry fruit-flavoured example, more power than finesse. The palate offers an impression of sweetness, with sweet oak notes. More of a plundering wine that rolls across the palate, focused on concentration rather than elegance. 89

Wrath Vineyards 2013 Boekenoogen Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highland

Another warm(er) climate example, resulting in a broad, very ripe, dark fruit and spice-flavoured pinot, more languid on the palate, even fat, with a vague sweet impression. Sweet baking spice lingers. 89

Kosta Browne 2013 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast (Halpern)

Closed aromatically, revealing only oak-spiced, mostly red but very ripe fruit, and vanilla extract. The palate is thick and full, structured, more palate grabbing, but also slightly sweet and generous with alcohol. This is certainly less edgy and bright than typical far Sonoma Coast pinot, pushed into a more powerful style. A bit of a bruiser. 90

Radio-Coteau 2013 Savoy Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley (Cru Wine Merchants)

There’s some funk leading off on the nose, though the palate is lovely, lean and vigorous, energetic, focused on fresh red fruit, cran-cherry, neither shrill nor over-wrought. Acids are firm and driving, bolstering light but dusty, structure-giving tannins. Great length. Really like this. Perhaps not the most complex, but alive and tension-filled. 93

Au Bon Climate 2012 Knox Alexander Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley

California pinot pioneer, and mentor to so many winemakers on the south-central coast, Jim Clendenen delivers the most old school style wine on the table. This 2012 Knox Alexander, named for his two children, is open and oxidative, earthy, old wood-driven, driven by acids, twiggy, with light but dusty-grippy tannins. A lovely, savoury style, infinitely drinkable, lighter but with serious flavor intensity. 92

Paul Hobbs 2013 Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir, Napa Valley (Authentic Wines & Spirits)

The darkest pinot on the table, with dramatic oak, fruit and intensity to match, a ‘back end’ wine that hits you on the finish. This is a big, ripe, intense, palate-gripping example with notable oak, and marked but ripe, supple tannins, abundant but not obtrusive. Better in 2-3 years in any case. For fans of power over finesse. 90

And just in case pinot is not your thing, here are 18 other recommended California wines from the fair: John Szabo’s Buyers’ Guide: California Wine Fair Highlights


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!

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , , ,

John Szabo’s Buyers’ Guide: California Wine Fair Highlights

By John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

These picks were whittled down from over 60 samples of currently available or incoming wines. The Ontario agents are listed for each wine; prices subject to change. Follow the wine links for complete reviews and to see if these wines are available near you. I’ve posted a separate feature article on the State of California pinot and reviews of some of the state’s top bottlings. Although the specific wines reviewed are as widely available as white unicorns, all of the producers on the list and their other cuvees are worth tracking down.

Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut ($33.95, Airen Imports) – A toasty, yeasty, pleasantly doughy release for this California sparkling stalwart, with pleasant appley fruit and mid-weight, fresh, lively, dry palate. Solid length.

Wente Vineyards 2014 Morning Fog Chardonnay, Livermore Valley ($17.95, Churchill Cellars) – A pleasantly open and aromatic, sweet wood tinged, floral and soft chardonnay with wide appeal. Everything is nicely in place. Drink now.

Grgich Hills Cellar 2012 Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($67.95, Rogers & Co.) – A tight and sharp Napa chardonnay in the house style, particularly well chiseled in this warm vintage, still hanging on to tight, reductive, flinty, grapefruit aromatics. There’s terrific tension and genuine length, not to mention complexity, even if this is still 2-3 years away from prime enjoyment. Wood, stones and fruit are seamlessly integrated. Terrific, savoury, highly sapid wine. Tasted in June 2015 and April 2016.

Flowers 2014 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast ($64.95, Rogers & Co.) – Made from a blend of mostly purchased fruit, predominantly from the far west of Sonoma County (Sonoma Coast) and some declassified estate lots, recently bottled. The 2014 vintage fell during the heart of the drought in northern California, the third consecutive low rain year. Vines started their cycle early, resulting in a long growing season and harvest beginning in early September. “Quality was exceptional,” says winemaker Dave Keatly, yielding an “opulent chardonnay, but with great acids”. 20% new wood is used, though a portion is also aged in stainless. I find this fragrant and very attractive, featuring ripe lemon and lemon blossom aromas/flavours. Wood is not a major factor, though beneath the ripe fruit lies a gentle range of baking spice. There’s plenty of mid-palate richness, and length is very good to excellent. A fine follow-up to the (also excellent) 2013, best after 2017. Tasted January 2016 and April 2016.

Esser Wines 2014 Chardonnay, Monterey County ($19.95, Noble Estates) – A significantly improved wine over the previous vintage, Esser has shifted from vaguely sweet and overripe, to a pleasantly tight, smoky-flinty, fresh and pure expression of chardonnay, of modest depth and length, but pure, easy-drinking and refreshing. A genuine cool climate style, rendered well.

Etude 2012 Pinot Noir Grace Benoist Ranch, Carneros ($49.00 at the SAQ, Treasury Wine Estates) – From Etude’s ranch in the rolling hills of Carneros, this 2012 pinot is a generous and dark fruit-flavoured wine, on the more plush and generous side of the grape’s range of expression, offering both richness and concentration in a full, satisfying style all around. Wood is still noted in the sweet dark spice notes, so I’d give this another 2-3 years to resolve and mellow. Bold and generous all in all.

Schug Carneros Estate 2014 Pinot Noir, Carneros ($45.00, Lifford) – A lighter, leaner, more pale and savoury expression of pinot noir, in the typical house style of Schug, succulent and saliva-inducing. I appreciate the restraint and the firm acid profile of this wine, anchored on light, dusty (stem?) tannins and no small measure of saltiness. Very good to excellent length.

Marimar Estate 2013 Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast ($36.75, Family Wine Merchants) – A pinot that hails from the warmer, further inland part of the Sonoma Coast AVA, and it shows in this generous but balanced example from the reliable house of Marimar Torres. This is nicely pitched and firm, juicy and ripe without excess, with excellent length. I like the savoury side of this wine, the gentle salinity, and the lengthy finish. Lovely stuff.

Daou Vineyards 2013 Mayote, Adelaida District, Paso Robles ($174.95, The Vine Agency) – 45% Syrah, 43% cabernet sauvignon, 12% petit verdot. A Paso wine of uncommon depth and complexity from steep slopes at 2,200 feet elevation, offering a wide range of savoury herbal notes, ripe but not raisined fruit, especially considering the almost unnoticed 15.2% alcohol. The density, richness and concentration is particularly obvious – a wine of evident ambition, structure, power and complexity, like most California ‘Mountain’ wines. Tuck this in the cellar for 3-5 years minimum – this is not an easy-drinking, fruity California wine.

Duckhorn 2012 Three Palms Merlot, Napa Valley ($99, Rogers & Co.) – The iconic Three Palms Merlot finds an elegant balance of richness and concentration here in 2012, with fine grained tannins, balanced alcohol and acids, and genuine long-lasting finish. This is clearly a wine of class, pedigree and elegance, with a great future ahead even if it’s delicious now. One of the state’s top merlots to be sure.

Long Meadow Ranch 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($85.00, Profile Wine Group) – Here’s a fine, firm, gritty and honest Napa cabernet, with succulent acids and tight but still fruity and fleshy texture. I like the savoury depth and the dark, swarthy character – a wine with great personality and depth. Drink now, but better in 3-5 years to be sure.

Raymond Family Classic (Boisset) 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast ($19.95, Charton-Hobbs) – This is a nicely forward, ripe dark fruit flavoured cabernet from areas north of San Francisco, bold, fruity, plush and easy-drinking yet with a bit of grip and substance. A solid value in the California constellation, without being overtly commercial, and ready to drink.

Stags’ Leap Winery 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($49.95, Treasury Wine Estates) – Firm, tight and gritty, this wine is not for the fans of plush and cuddly cabernet, but it has all of the savoriness and the tight, dusty texture that makes this grape so well suited to salted protein dishes, not to say T-Bone on the grill. Very good length. A very solid vintage for Stags’ Leap.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 2013 Stag’s Leap Vineyard (SLV) Cabernet Sauvignon, 40th Anniversary Vintage, Napa Valley ($125, Profile Wine Group) – The iconic SLV vineyard delivers a gritty, firm, densely packed and savoury, succulent 2013 cabernet, with ample flesh and dark fruit on the palate, a broad range of cacao-infected wood spice and long, saliva-inducing finish. This is a commanding, ripe but balanced, nicely anchored wine, one of the best from SLV in recent memory.

Kenwood Vineyards 2012 Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County ($39.95, Corby) – This is a very fine vintage for the Jack London Cabernet, balanced, savoury- succulent, with that extra dimension, depth and length of the very best wine. Wood has been well managed and the concentration and complexity are genuine. Top stuff.

Archimedes (Francis Ford Coppola) 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County ($77.95, Noble Estates) – A dense and rich, concentrated, gritty and firm cabernet, one of the most juicy and savoury in the Coppola range. I like the tight-knit tannins, the succulent acids, and the very good to excellent length. Nice stuff.

Silver Oak Cellars 2011 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($125.95, Halpern) – I have to say that the 2011 Silver Oak Alexander Valley stood out from a long range of California cabernets tasted alongside. It has such genuine acids, balance, and succulent, savoury character. Yes of course the new American oak stands out in the profile even at this developing stage (100% American oak, and new), but there’s no doubt it will integrate as time wears on, and wears down its blunt force. There’s no contesting the length and richness of flavor – obtained without recourse to raisined/overripe fruit, just low yielding, carefully cultivated grapes. I love the lingering, salty finish. Best after 2021. Tasted April 2016.

Heitz Wine Cellars 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley ($192.00, Lifford) – Dense, ripe, ultra dark-fruit scented and tinged with eucalyptus in the classic Martha’s Vineyard style, the 2005 has already shed a great deal of its tannic cloak, evident in the copious sediment observed in the glass. Flavours have shifted into the sotolone category, which is to say, maple syrup and sweet caramel, like great old fortified wine burnished by time. Excellent length and depth – a wine of obvious history, pedigree and complexity. Ready to drink, or wait another decade if you wish.

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


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!

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , , , , , ,

Tomatin – The Softer Side of the Highlands

By Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Named “Distiller of the Year” at the Whisky Magazine’s Icons of Whisky Awards 2016, the Tomatin Distillery Co Ltd has been on people’s tongues for centuries if not exactly top of mind. During the seventies it was the largest single malt distiller in the world, though not well known outside of industry circles as most of the whisky ended up in blends – until about fifteen years ago.

Johnnie Walker, J&B, Chivas Regal, Dewars and Ballantine’s all have used Tomatin in their blends. Today the distillery produces two million litres per annum of whisky with half a million litres laid down for single malt. The 14 working warehouses can store around 220,000 casks. It all started long ago.

The Tomatin area in the Monadhliath Mountains in the Highlands of Scotland, 16 miles south of Inverness, has been a producer of malt whisky since the 15th century. Originally it was produced illegally by the local laird who owned the land where the modern day distillery is located. The first formal licenced distillery came into operation in 1897.

Tomatin is a community distillery: 80% of the employees live in housing on the site which is provided by the company. It’s one of the last of these special type of distilleries left in the country and loyalty among employees is strong. Between them, the Master Distiller, Cooper, Head Mash Man, Head Stillman and Warehouse Manager have worked at the Distillery for over 180 years.

Tomatin (rhymes with satin) is one of the highest distilleries in Scotland at 315 metres above sea-level. The waters of the Alt-na-Frith (Freeburn) run pure from the mountains over granite rock, collecting few minerals. This soft water leads to a soft, delicate whisky. Hence their slogan “The Softer Side of the Highlands” is very apropos for the brand.

A few other factors help make Tomatin special. All the barley used is grown in Scotland by farmers with which the company has growers’ contracts to ensure quality and consistency. The pot stills are unique with long necks and an imposing ball in the neck to help create a reflux and ensure a nice soft final spirit. In addition they run the stills very slowly to make certain that none of the heavier flavours make it to the final cut.

Their ‘coup de grace’ is an in-house cooper who works with their casks which come directly from sherry bodegas, bourbon distilleries and other prime sources within the wine and spirit world. Experts believe that 70% of the final flavour in whisky comes from the wood, yet few distilleries in Scotland still employ their own cooper.

Japanese owned since 1986, about fifteen years ago the company changed focus from bulk whisky to brand blends and single malt. They have plans for steady growth of the core brands and some expressions. Recent repackaging efforts have resulted in a more upscale looking bottle that’s squatter and broader with classy colours. Watch for the new packaging to hit our shelves in about six months time.

Tomatin Legacy Highland Single MaltTomatin 12 Year Old Highland Single MaltTomatin 14 Year Old Port Wood Highland Single Malt Tomatin 15 Year Old Highland Single Malt

Best news for whisky lovers – Tomatin has a good stable of older stocks, unlike many other Scottish distilleries which are running low.

Legacy is the newest edition to their core line and is a non-age statement entry level single malt aged in part in virgin wood. Tomatin 12 Year Old is a lightly sherried malt that’s the flagship of the range. Tomatin 14 Year Old is port wood finished which gives it a copper hue and fruity smoothness. Bourbon cask matured Tomatin 15 Year Old is about to disappear from the North American market so buy it while you can.

Tomatin Cù Bòcan Highland Single Malt Tomatin 18 Year Old Highland Single MaltThe delicious, full bodied Tomatin 18 Year Old is heavily sherried from time spent in oloroso sherry butts. Cù Bòcan is the lightly peated version of Tomatin – just 15 parts per million phenol in the distilled spirit – enough for a slight smokiness without the dominant reek of a highly peated malt.  Cù Bòcan – The Sherry Edition is lightly peated and finished in sherry casks. Only 6,000 bottles of this wonderful expression were produced so I suggest you stock up. The name in Gaelic means ghost dog and it’s easy to see how this would disappear quickly.

As a regular feature WineAlign tastes wines and spirits submitted by a single winery or agent. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the submissions – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend selections to appear in the profile. Agents pay for this service. Ads for some products may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to WineAlign. 


More about Tomatin Distillery


At Tomatin, we are more than just another distillery. Since 1897, our people have worked hard to build the Tomatin community that exists today and lies at the heart of everything we do.

Tomatin Life is a celebration of our people, our place and, of course, our whisky. It is a taste of what makes Tomatin the ‘softer side of the Highlands’. Over the next few months, we invite you to share a dram and uncover #TomatinLife.

Please note: All fans must be over the legal drinking age in their country.

Tomatin Distillery

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , , , , , , ,

British Columbia Critics’ Picks April 2016

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.

Here’s a tidy six pack that excited Rhys and I this month. It’s obvious we’re both enjoying the heat wave warming the west, with this line up of crisp whites, brisk fizz and juicy reds. From our backyard to Burgundy and a skip to Friuli, this is what is on our tables this month.

Cheers ~ TR

BC Critic Team


Rhys Pender MW

As warm spring days increase in both frequency and temperature, so too does the need for intense and crisp white wines. Riesling, fresh chardonnay, muscadet, picpoul and the like are all finding a spot in the fridge ready for those warm evenings.

My first choice is a well-known BC wine that routinely delivers top quality. The new release of the Tantalus Old Vines Riesling is the 2013 and it is a very good one. Not just intense and packed with refreshing acidity, it is also a very complex wine. I would drink some now but also stick six bottles away for cellaring to see how it develops over the next decade or so.

Tantalus Old Vines Riesling 2013 David Moret Cromin Meursault 2012Bartier Bros. Merlot

A wine I can never seem to get enough of is good white Burgundy. It is not easy to find and rarely inexpensive but usually worth a splurge to get something absolutely delicious. And the David Moret 2012 Cromin from Meursault was just that  elegant, complex, refreshing and seamless.

We get to taste a lot of different styles of BC merlot from the light, juicy and simple to the big blockbuster extracted style, all of which can be successful. Often the best style though seems to be where some elegance is maintained, often at the expense of big ripeness. I was impressed recently by the Bartier Brothers 2013 Merlot from their Cerqueira Vineyard. It has plenty of generous ripeness but maintains elegance and complexity at the same time. Delicious.

Treve Ring

This month was all about revisiting old favourites. Some were new releases of past charmers, some were new wines from trusted vintners and others looking at choice grapes through a new producer’s lens.

Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées l’Ancien Beaujolais 2013 is the former, the first time I’ve tasted the 2013, and certainly won’t be the last. L’Ancien, from gamay vines 50-80 years old, is savoury and lithe. Wild herbs, rasped stone, juicy wild raspberry and thorns are lifted with bright and lifted cherry and textured with mineral salts. Graceful, with a bamboo firm frame of tannins. I loved this with truffle salted frites and lardon decked endive. #GoGamayGo.

Jean Paul Brun l'Ancien Beaujolais 2013 Bella Gamay Methode Ancestrale 2015Ronco del Gelso Vigna della Permuta Malvasia Isonzo 2014

I’ve tracked Jay Drysdale’s sparkling career since pre-Bella Wines inception; he’s as much of a fizz-fan as I am. So I was delighted to taste his new pét-nat, the Bella Gamay Methode Ancestrale 2015. Six barrels from organic Beaumont Vineyard sat under his cherry trees and waited for a full wild ferment to do its thing (ferment finished in the winery to 11.2 percent alcohol). Zero additives, this was hand bottled and tagged; there is no label on the bottle itself, but a singular paper catalogue tag affixed by string to the cage. Wild, salted earth and stone, funky rhubarb and juicy, just crushed wild strawberries, this is subtle with a spark of intensity.

Always learning. Who knew there were 17 different types of malvasia in Italy? Ronco del Gelso 2014 Vigna della Permuta Malvasia Isonzo is malvasia istriana, grown on the gravelly soils of the Isonzo plains, near the sea. Opening with light perfumed pear and rose blossoms, this compact white shines lemon oil, gooseberry and hay along a linear, oily palate. Great snappy acidity, lingering with sea salt spiciness on the finish. A terrific partner to simple grilled white fish or moules, this will be one I revisit oft this summer.

For those of you in Vancouver, don’t miss the Great New Zealand Wine Tiki Tour which will be held on May 5th at the Terminal City Club. WineAlign members save with access code NZWA2016.


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!

Gabbiano Chianti Classico

The Great New Zealand Wine Tiki Tour - Vancouver 2016

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , , ,

Alerte Cellier : les bons choix de nos experts pour l’arrivage du 28 avril

Le plus récent arrivage Cellier commencera à arriver en succursales jeudi prochain, le 28 avril, mais la prévente en ligne commence dès le 21 avril. Vers quels vins se tourner ? Nos experts Marc Chapleau et Nadia Fournier, qui ont goûté plusieurs de ces nouveaux produits, vous conseillent.

Cellier Nouvel Arrivage

Du côté des chardonnays californiens, tant Marc que Nadia ont beaucoup aimé celui de Lake Sonoma Winery, dans Russian River Valley. Rien de profond, mais un bon vin blanc mûr et équilibré. Même enthousiasme partagé pour Les Béatines 2015, le rosé du Domaine les Béates, en Coteaux d’Aix en Provence. Peu coloré et en apparence délicat, il ne manque pourtant pas de saveurs ni de tenue.

Lake Sonoma Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2013 Les Béatines Rosé 2015 Yealands Land Made Pinot Noir 2014 The Ned Pinot Noir 2014

À cela s’ajoute un duo de pinots noirs de la région de Marlborough, en Nouvelle-Zélande. Marc a nettement préféré celui de Yealands Estate, Pinot Noir 2014 Land Made, soulignant la générosité de son fruit et son empreinte boisée bien dosée. Nadia aurait souhaité y trouver un peu plus de fraîcheur. Pour cette même raison, elle a préféré le caractère coulant du Pinot Noir 2014, The Ned de Marisco Vineyards.

Toujours en rouge, on retourne en Californie avec le Silver Palm, Cabernet sauvignon 2012, North Coast, pas très musclé ni puissant, mais généreux, bien proportionné, correctement boisé et avec de la fraîcheur. À moins de 25 $, une affaire !

Moins impressionnant mais très correct, le Beringer, Waymaker 2013, Paso Robles est un bon vin de nature généreusement fruitée, avec peut-être un peu de sucre résiduel mais aussi une bonne acidité. Une expression rassasiante des cépages syrah, cabernet sauvignon et petite sirah.

Silver Palm Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2012 Beringer Waymaker 2013 St. Supéry Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Enfin, le St.Supéry, Cabernet sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley s’avère un très bon cabernet, plein en bouche, boisé avec soin, appuyé sur une trame tannique mûre, mais pas surmûrie, ce qui lui donne une allure très classique.

Bons achats !


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 les notes de dégustation sur tous les vins du CELLIER, en un seul et même endroit.

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.)

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , ,

The Cellier April 28th release

The most recent Cellier release will hit the stores on Thursday April 28th, however, quantities will be available for pre-sale on as of April 21. Which wines are worthy of your attention? Two of our critics, Marc Chapleau and Nadia Fournier, tasted a number of these wines and here are their suggestions. 

Cellier New Arrivals

In so far as Californian chardonnay is concerned, both Marc and Nadia really liked the 2013 Lake Sonoma from the Russian River Valley. Nothing overly complex, but a very good white that is both ripe and balanced. They shared a similar enthusiasm for the Béatines 2015, a rosé from Domaine les Béates in the Coteaux d’Aix en Provence. While delicately colored, it is not lacking in either fruit or structure.

Lake Sonoma Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2013 Les Béatines Rosé 2015 Yealands Land Made Pinot Noir 2014 The Ned Pinot Noir 2014

To that add a pair of pinots from New Zealand’s Marlborough region. Marc preferred the Yealands Estate 2014 Land Made Pinot Noir, for both its generosity in terms of fruit as well as its balanced use of oak. Nadia was looking for a little more freshness, which she found in The Ned 2014 Pinot Noir from Marisco Vineyards.

Staying with red wine, we return to California with the Silver Palm 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. Not the most muscular or powerful wine, but there is a great generosity in terms of fruit and freshness, and a judicious use of oak. At under $25, it’s a great deal.

Equally recommendable is the Beringer 2013 Waymaker from Paso Robles, which exhibits exactly what you would expect in terms of the powerful fruit character of the region. While there might be a touch of residual sugar, it is more than balanced by the acidity. An interesting and tasty expression of syrah, cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah.

Silver Palm Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2012 Beringer Waymaker 2013 St. Supéry Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Finally, the 2012 St. Supéry is a very well done cabernet sauvignon: full bodied, appropriately oaked, with ripe, but not over-ripe, tannins. A classic expression of Napa Valley cab!

Happy shopping !


CELLIER Premium Feature

Cellier New ArrivalsFor Chacun son Vin Premium members, we have a special feature to make your CELLIER shopping even easier. If you look under the Wine tab in the menu bar, you will see an option for <<CELLIER New Arrivals>>. By clicking here, you will be brought to a new page where we have grouped all of the new release wines and reviews together by date.

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!


Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , , , ,

An Exclusive Dinner Featuring the Wines of Whitehaven – May 3 – Toronto

On Tuesday, May 3rd, join us for a dinner and tutored tasting featuring the wines of one of New Zealand’s most respected family wine companies, Whitehaven.

This special tutored tasting and gourmet dinner will be at Jump Restaurant with Whitehaven Wines founder and proprietor Sue White and general manager Simon Tonycliff. Whitehaven is located in Marlborough, the heartland of New Zealand winemaking. Sue leads a small, talented, committed team who have carved global recognition for the WHITEHAVEN label, showcasing elegant, single varietal Marlborough wines that are enjoyed around the world.

Gold Medal Plate Winner Chef Luke Kennedy will be preparing a special meal to pair perfectly with each wine showcased during the evening.

Sue and Simon will be joined by WineAlign’s David Lawrason.


About Whitehaven

Whitehaven was founded in 1994 by Sue and Greg White during a sailing expedition along the New Zealand coastline. What was meant to be a mere stop along the way became a spontaneous new course, charted by the Whites. Instead of continuing past Marlborough, they fell in love with the region, dropped anchor permanently and established Whitehaven. Two decades later, the company is headed by Sue White, an enthusiastic advocate of the spectacular Marlborough wine region, who continues to fulfill the dreams she shared with her late husband Greg.

Sue Whitehaven Sign

In Marlborough, the lengthy growing season — coupled with cooling breezes funneled in from the coast through the Wairau and Awatere Valleys — gives the wines intense flavors and crisp acidity. A wide diurnal swing and differentiated sandy soils, which run in east-west bands, converge to create the unique characteristics of Marlborough grapes: vibrant tropical flavors with a crisp and herbaceous edge.

Whitehaven sources fruit from 90 acres of its own vineyards and from more than 20 esteemed local growers located in exceptional vineyard sites across Marlborough’s Wairau and Awatere valleys. Whitehaven has formed strong partnerships with the region’s top growers, who consistently produce fruit of extraordinary quality. Whitehaven and many of its partners are active members of Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ).

Whitehaven’s winemaking philosophy is centered on the pursuit of quality without compromise. Since its first vintage in 1995, Whitehaven has risen in popularity to become the top-selling ultra-premium Sauvignon Blanc in the United States. With this great success has come the need to expand the winery’s facilities. Following two decades of small production, Whitehaven has upgraded its winemaking resources to keep pace with the demand for fine Sauvignon Blanc wines from Marlborough.

Although Whitehaven has grown beyond the expectations of its original visionaries, the management, winemaking and viticultural teams remain small and focused, where their talents can be combined to produce elegant wines with distinctive regional character.


Whitehaven Vineyard

Event Details:

Date: Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

Location:  Jump Restaurant (18 Wellington Street West, Commerce Court East, Toronto)

Reception: 6:30pm

Dinner: 7:00pm

Tickets:  $100 including all taxes and fees

Tickets are limited, so book early to avoid disappointment.



Hors d’oeuvres
Wine: La Marca Prosecco*

Beet Salad

Hazelnut Vinaigrette, Watercress, Endive, Shrimp
Wine: Whitehaven Pinot Gris*

Fresch Chitarra
Fogo Island Crab, Parmesan Foam
Wine: Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc

Vadouvan, Burnt Orange, Snap Peas, Fresh Peas
Wine: Whitehaven Pinot Noir


* Available through VINTAGES release June/July 2016


About Jump Restaurant

Once a pioneer as the first restaurant in the Financial District, Jump is now a pillar of quality in our downtown dining scene.

Offering food that is robust, honest and full of flavour, Jump showcases modern North American cuisine with Italian influences. Subtly reinventing classic favourites, such as handmade pastas and great cuts of meat, Jump is dedicated to using the finest, freshest ingredients and to serving delicious food.

Renowned for its selection of over 90 types of scotch, whiskey and bourbon and its spirit-forward cocktails, the Jump bar buzzes with warmth and excitement.

Originally inspired by the bustle of a Manhattan café, Jump exudes an irresistible energy and a classic style, paired with distinctive modern notes. This vibrancy is brought to life by the sky-high glass atrium, dramatic lighting elements, striking liquor display, warm palette, signature New York style bar and hidden-gem courtyard patio.


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.



Filed under: Events, Wine, , , , , ,

Bill’s Best Bets – April 2016

The beautiful complexity that is Alsace
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

As I write this, I’m looking out my hotel window at the Strasbourg train station. It’s an interesting building – all glass, reminds me of a massive doughnut seen from its side. Figures they would make something so complicated yet strangely beautiful here. After all, this is Alsace.

Of all the world’s wine regions I have travelled, few stories are harder to tell than Alsace. What makes it any more complicated than any other region? Well, that’s a lot easier to answer.

The soils

The great wine regions have a variation in soil types, though they tend to be variations on a central theme. Germany’s Mosel has its slate. Chablis owes its distinctiveness to oyster laden Kimmeridgean soils. The Northern Rhône is primarily granite, and Burgundy is Burgundy because of its stratified limestone and clay.

Despite being only 50 km wide and around 100 km in length, Alsace has a dizzying array of soil types. A dominance of one type of rock in a soil will alter the growing conditions of the vine and ultimately, the final wine. In Alsace, there are six distinct families of soils and within those, dozens of subtle variants.

Maurice Barthelmé from Albert Mann revealing the _dirt_ about The Granc Cru Hengst

Maurice Barthelmé from Albert Mann revealing the dirt about The Granc Cru Hengst

So you get everything from granite to limestone, volcanic to shale, sand to marl. In practical terms the result is that the same grape can show very different personalities. Grown in granite, expect floral and fruity aromas and a delicate acidity. A slate soil will be very austere, and more dominated by acid. Limestone brings citrus notes and depending on the amount of clay will bring more or less body.

The grapes

When you travel through Chablis, with its one grape variety and one soil type, you are tasting how chardonnay changes its expression depending on subtle variations in exposition and climate.

In Alsace, there are five main grapes: riesling, muscat, pinot blanc, pinot gris and gewurztraminer. There is also excellent pinot noir and auxerrois which is often blended in with pinot blanc and sylvaner. That’s eight different varieties for only 15,000 hectares of vines. Burgundy, excluding Beaujolais, has roughly twice as much vineyard but grows predominately two grapes, chardonnay and pinot noir.

Riesling growing in the Steinart Grand Cru

Riesling growing in the Steinart Grand Cru

There are also different perspectives on what is “ripe.” Some winemakers are looking for botryitis, or noble rot, in their wines so they tend to have some sweetness. Others are pushing for as dry as possible, which is definitely more a tendency, especially amongst the younger winemakers. Both are great, but again, very different wines.

So herein lies the dilemma. A riesling, for example, can be grown in a wide variety of soils, harvested at different levels of ripeness, and made in a wide variety of ways. How can you possibly say it is “one thing.” You simply can’t.

The people

In my many travels, I have never witnessed a place with such an interesting and deeply rooted culture. They have so much in common with each other, such pride, yet can have such different visions.

It is a region of intense religiosity and spirituality. Both Catholic and Protestant influences can be seen everywhere. It is the meeting ground of the Latin and Germanic cultures. The region has bounced back and forth between German and French control to the point that even their traditional dialect is a blend of German and French.

How complex are Alsatian soils_ Pierre Gassmann showing me 20 different rock types collected around his village

Pierre Gassmann showing me 20 different rock types collected around his village

One of the results of this mix of French rationalism and love for terroir, and the more Germanic love for nature, is that Alsace is one of the most environmentally conscious regions I have ever visited. It is the spiritual home for bio-dynamic grape growing. Organic viticulture is more the rule here than the exception.

So in the spirit of embracing the plurality of expressions and the complexity, suffice to say that centuries of wine making history, combined with the world’s greatest soils and noble grapes which are perfectly adapted to the terroir, no matter what you find in your glass, there’s a good chance it will be very worthy of your interest.

For those of you new to Alsace, a great place to start is with a blend. While each winery does it differently, what is often labelled “Gentil” must be composed of a minimum of 50% riesling, muscat, pinot gris and/or gewurztraminer. Try the 2012 Trilogie from Barmes-Buecher for its minerality and reserved fruit, or the more expressive, fruitier and slightly sweet 2014 Black Tie from Pfaffenheim.

Domaine Barmès Buecher Trilogie 2012Pfaffenheim Black Tie Pinot Gris Riesling 2014 Josmeyer Mise Du Printemps Pinot Blanc 2014 Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2014 Domaine Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru Hengst 2012

With snow crab being in season, time to go pinot blanc. Delicate and nuanced, it will support the sweet and subtle flesh of the crab to perfection. If you can find a bottle, try the 2014 Mise de Printemps from Josmeyer. Simply put, an extraordinary wine. A classic which once again does the job well, the 2014 Pinot Banc from Trimbach won’t let you down.

Pinot gris is the most mysterious of the Alsatian grapes. The Grand Cru wines can lived for decades, and properly should be drunk after a decade in bottle as time allows for them to “eat up” their sweetness and develop amazing complexity. If you are into cellaring wines, then pick up a few bottles of the 2012 Grand Cru Hengst from Albert Mann. This is a beast with its apricot and lemon notes and is so richly textured. A touch more accessible, the 2013 Loberger Weingarten is a touch leaner yet shows great finesse. If you want it completely dry, then pick up the great gris from Leon Beyer.

Now on to riesling. Sadly, just last week we learned that Etienne Hugel passed away. He was a great ambassador for both his family estate and for the wines of Alsace in general. One of my go-to wines has always come from Hugel. Their basic riesling is dry and mineral, but with texture – classic Alsace riesling. And the 2014 lives up to its reputation. If you want a wine with more texture and just a bare hint of sweetness, the 2014 Vignoble d’E from Ostertag is an excellent wine, and ideal for a spicy stir fry.

Domaine J. Loberger Pinot Gris Weingarten 2013 Léon Beyer Pinot Gris 2013 Hugel Riesling 2014 Vignoble d'E from Ostertag Jean Louis Schoepfer Gewurztraminer 2014 Domaine Weinbach Cuvée Théo Gewurztraminer 2014

And finally, for you fans of powerful wines with no lack of aromatics, two gewurztraminers that are textbook. The 2014 from Jean Louis Schoepfer is quite dry but does not lack in texture but shows nicely restrained aromas. If you want a more classic gewurz, which shows layers of richness, spice and fruit, then look no further than the 2014 Cuvee Theo from Weinbach. In my books, one of the classic expressions of the grape. Bring on the Munster cheese.


“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!

Castello di Gabbiano Riserva Chianti Classico 2012

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , , , , , ,

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – April 16, 2016

The LCBO Talks about its Future and We Pick from the Present
By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Last week John Szabo covered off the “European Vocation” feature of VINTAGES April 16 release; so this week we three chime in with more emphasis on the new world offerings. Australia gets a nice nod with alignments on an elegant chardonnay and a highly quaffable cabernet blend – and Ontario shows how important vine age can be with a couple of excellent rieslings. You can skip the following digression and head to our picks here.

As I walked to the LCBO tasting lab on Tuesday I wondered what might become of VINTAGES in the months ahead, and of the LCBO in general. The day before I had attended the California Wine Fair and listened to Shari Mogk-Edwards, Vice President of Products, Sales and Marketing deliver the LCBO’s annual state of the nation address at the Trade Luncheon. After announcing that California has become the number one imported wine region in Ontario, she spoke about the future of the LCBO now that grocery store sales and a new e-commerce and home delivery system are promised to roll out this year.

Within “a decade” we are promised 150 grocery outlets selling Ontario wine, and another 150 selling both imported and Ontario wines. Given the number of grocery outlets in Ontario this is a pittance, but government promises are rarely writ in stone are they? This is careful politicking and messaging – and I personally suspect accelerated implementation in far less than a decade once the marketplace sinks its teeth into privatized wine and beer retailing.

Shari Mogk-Edwards also said that the new E-commerce and home delivery system, which has already completed initial testing, will expose a wide range of products to consumers – not just existing LCBO General List and VINTAGES products. It will source within the stocks of importing agencies as well, to make selection far greater to the general public. I suspect some agents will not be happy about the deal they get, but I am in favour of anything that widens selection and access for consumers.

So, with all this liberalization, what’s to become of the LCBO itself as a bricks and mortar retailer? And VINTAGES, specifically, around which we publish these previews every month? Well Shari Mogk-Edwards let it be known that “The LCBO’s focus will be on premium products and on-line sales”. This makes perfect sense if grocery will take on the lower end of the market, and it bodes well for an expanded VINTAGES role.

Whether the LCBO needs or will keep all its retail stores is a different issue in a way. And so is the question of whether the LCBO should continue to exist. But as long as it is here I am happy that it is aiming up market. Hopefully we will see much more shelf space devoted to interesting wines from home and abroad, and an end to the arbitrary exclusion of so many wines that want to be here and deserve to be here.

Buyers’ Guide to Whites & Sparkling

Two Rivers Of Marlborough Convergence Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Vasse Felix 2014 Filius ChardonnayVasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2014, Margaret River, Western Australia ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Sublimely elegant and complex chardonnay from the first winery to plant in the Margaret River, in 1967, with their first vintage in 1972. Love the well-honed nose of pear, oak spice, vanilla, honeysuckle and wet stone. Very classy.
Sara d’Amato – Margaret River is a haven for chardonnay and this top example is part of a new breed of elegant, fresh and zesty versions of this classic varietal.  Polished with discreet oak and an ethereal mouthfeel, the Filius chardonnay is a delightful game changer.
Michael Godel – The 2013 Filius was very good. It would be an impossible expectation for winemaker Virginia Willcock to do more with equal or less in 2014, but she has. This is Australia’s great cool-climate value Chardonnay.

Two Rivers 2014 Convergence Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Convergence refers to the fact that grapes are sourced from the two main valleys of Marlborough – Awatere (cooler) and Wairau (warmer). And I sense both influences in the wine, with Awatere’s dill-like greenness and firm acidity, atop some tropical passion fruit from the Wairau. It has a cool, compact feel, with a touch of enlivening C02 spritz. Finish is a bit stony and tart; length is excellent.

Graham Beck 2009 Brut Zero, Méthode Cap Classique, South Africa ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – From coal mining to sparkling wine, Graham Beck’s pioneering spirit and desire to innovate was best expressed in his iconic Cap Classique method wines. This vintage dated, crisp, zero dosage sparkler is an absolute steal. Mid-weight and vibrant with the comforting aroma of warm brioche. At this price, you don’t need a celebration to indulge.

Château des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, Canada ($16.95)
Michael Godel – One of the finest values vintage after vintage for Riesling in Ontario with a distinct advantage. Old Vines. Riesling from down near the lake that will leave you wide awake.

Vineland Estates 2014 Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Planted in 1979 St. Urban is one of Canada’s oldest riesling sites, and it shows just how important vine age can be. This is a lovely, off-dry, very bright and refreshing with lifted floral, apricot, honey and vaguely stony aromas and flavours. It’s light bodied at only 9% alcohol but some sugar adds flesh. Flavours stay nicely poised; Bench minerality joins the finish.

Graham Beck Brut Zero 2009Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2013 Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2014  Darting Dürkheimer Nonnengarten Gewürztraminer Kabinett 2012Maison Chanzy Rully En Rosey Blanc 2014

Darting 2013 Dürkheimer Nonnengarten Gewürztraminer Kabinett, Pfalz, Germany ($20.95)
Sara d’Amato – Everything a classic gewürztraminer should be: opulent and inviting with an intricate, perfumed nose that fills the room with fragrance. An impressive find just north of $20 perfect for creamy cheese or aromatic curries.

Maison Chanzy Rully en Rosey Blanc 2014, Côte Chalonnaise, Burgundy, France ($26.95) 
Michael Godel – It is not until you get a load of this style and this special layering of Chardonnay that you realize how so many just don’t add up. Here the Côte Chalonnaise showing other Burgundy at its best for a fraction of what more celebrated blocks command.

Buyers’ Guide to Reds & Fortified

Culmina R&D Red Blend 2014

Wynns Coonawarra 2012 Estate Cabernet/Shiraz/MerlotWynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2012, Limestone Coast, South Australia ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Great value here! This has a lifted, savoury and complex nose with cedar, blackcurrant, chocolate, mint, pepper and meaty notes. What great aromatics! It’s full bodied, dense, rich and profound with great salt and pepper, charcuterie and fig jam flavours. This is delicious, and deep and so well structured. Very good to excellent length.
Michael Godel – The blend formerly known as “Cabernet Hermitage” involves vines dating back as far as 1969 and in which Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot share the Terra Rossa sandbox. A highly quaffable red blend that brilliantly shows the deft touch of winemaker Sue Hodder.

Culmina R&D Red Blend 2014, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($25.95)
Sara d’Amato – Short for “research and development”, R&D is a new, whimsical and affordable tier of blended wines. The 2014 is primarily merlot with small portions of cabernet franc and sauvignon offering a peppery, full-bodied, firmly structured palate overflowing with black fruit.
Michael Godel – A tribute to proprietor Don Triggs and twin brother Ron, in which research meets development. The culmination of the winery’s R & D is this D-league red assemblage, Culmina 250.

Edmeades 2013 Zinfandel, Mendocino County, California ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Edmeades has long been a favourite small producer of Mendocino, based in the Anderson Valley. This captures the essential joy of zinfandel – that lifted nose of raspberry, lavender, perfume, with a hint of mocha on the side. It’s mid-weight, smooth, sweetish and warm – very easy to drink with little tannin.

Kistler 2013 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA ($103.95)
Sara d’Amato – You won’t get a break on the price here but Kistler’s Russian River pinot noir delivers a transformative experience for serious pinot seekers. Modern but not forceful, elegant but generous, classic but not stodgy, this finely balanced pinot noir is no gamble.

Couly Dutheil Les Gravières D’amador Abbé de Turpenay Chinon 2014, Ac Loire, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Admittedly, the classic cabernet franc region of Chinon often fails to excite me so I was gleefully surprised to come across this lush, inviting and characteristically perfumed example from Couly Dutheil. For those who find cabernet franc too “green”, this dusty herbal example with generous fruit may just get you hooked.
Michael Godel – This Couly Dutheil takes a page out of that savoury book. This is wise, sage and tarragon bombed balm, with full on dark red fruit and mineral stony play.

Edmeades Zinfandel 2013Kistler Pinot Noir 2013 Couly Dutheil Les Gravières D'amador Abbé De Turpenay Chinon 2014 Hauner Salina Rosso 2013 Constance Et Du Terrasous Vin Doux Naturel Hors D'age 6 Ans Rivesaltes

Hauner 2013 Salina Rosso, Italy ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Salina is a 27 square km island off the northern coast of Sicily, and this is the first wine I can recall tasting from its shores. This is a fresh, juicy fruity red with very good concentration of fresh berry/plum fruit, plus savoury notes. Really has some charm and intrigue. Nicely focused and very long.

Terrasous Vin Doux Naturel Hors D’age 6 Ans Rivesaltes, France ($27.95)
David Lawrason – This is an exquisite, lightly fortified, sweet wine from a Mediterranean corner of southeast France. It pours brilliant if subtle orange-copper. The nose shows wonderful dried apricot, honey, wood spice, tea and marmalade confection (a good thing). It’s very smooth, very sweet yet wonderfully light on its feet, with great concentration and elegance all at once.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES April 16, 2016

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview
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!

Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Chardonnay 2012

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , , , , ,

The Answer is Wine. What was the Question? April 2016

by Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

If I had a dollar for every question that friends, family and colleagues have asked me about wine, I would certainly have a much more impressive cellar than I do now. With the popularity of wine and easy access to information and education on all things enological, there still seem to be queries and questions that many wine drinkers have but are afraid to ask. This is your chance to ask about all things vinous that weigh heavy on your mind and see if the answer shows up in our monthly column. Remember, unlike some gimmicky wine labels, there are no stupid questions.

So welcome to the first installment of The Answer is Wine. What was the Question? Each month I will answer a few of the most interesting questions submitted by readers. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions and please keep them coming. Email your queries to or tweet them with the hashtag #AskDrJDo.

Q: NB asks: While my question may not be interesting per se, I believe it has practical value. Once a white wine or sparkling wine has been chilled, can it be removed from the fridge and stored for later consumption?  (unopened, of course) Or would the change in temperature and then re-chilling it affect the quality of the wine?  I’ve asked a few LCBO employees over the years, and nobody has been able to give me a confident response.

A: I am sure there are many wine drinkers who have wondered about this as they remove the stash of left over bottles from their fridge after a party.

In terms of temperature fluctuations, while you don’t want to subject your wines to repeated and rapid changes in temperature by chilling and re-chilling, particularly with older, more delicate whites, white wines will not be affected after refrigeration and can easily cope with the change from room temperature (around 20 to 22 Celsius in most homes) to the fridge (4 to 6 Celsius on average) and back again, at least once and even multiple times.

What you do want to avoid is drastic and frequent variations in temperature such as putting bottles in the freezer and then taking them to sit on your deck when its 35C and then back to the freezer or storage if unopened. It is important when storing wine for later consumption that you avoid heat and direct sunlight, as extremes can permanently damage wine, even with short exposure. On the opposite end of the thermometer, extreme cold doesn’t usually damage wine. Occasionally wines that have been frozen can develop crystals, which are harmless tartrates and have no effect on the flavour of the wine.

The same applies to sparkling wine that has been removed from the fridge for storage and chilled at a later time. It will not be ruined, nor have fewer bubbles, though it is a good idea to chill down bubbly and whites by submerging the bottle into a bucket of ice water (adding a few handfuls of salt will chill it even faster), rather than sticking it into ice alone or in the freezer. Sparkling wine that is chilled down in a freezer can sometimes result in a frothy explosion when you open the bottle, which is something you likely want to avoid unless you are celebrating winning a stage at the Tour de France.

Q: JH asks: We buy a couple bottles or a case of a wine we like: one bottle tastes great, the other is somewhat “off” (funky?). How can this happen? Same vintage, screwcap, sometimes all in the same case, sometimes different bottling date, nothing old (often whites from the current year).

A: Funky bottles can often be the result of cork taint caused by the microbial compound 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole, or TCA, which typically smells of wet cardboard, wet dog or a moldy basement. Cork closures are also frequently the reason why one bottle can taste different from the other, due to the inherent variability of a natural product (cork comes from the Cork oak tree, Quercus suber) and variance in the amount of oxygen that enters the bottle, affecting how each bottle ages. However, the funky wines that you purchased were under screwcap so the much maligned cork cannot be the culprit here.

One of the major reasons for bottle variation in screw cap wines may be attributed to what wine geeks call reduction. Reduction refers to the absence of oxygen in the winemaking process, a practice used to preserve the fresh, primary fruit characters of the grape. Excess reduction in winemaking can also produce volatile sulfur compounds, which can make a wine smell like rotten eggs, garlic, cabbage or burnt rubber. It is not the actual screw cap that causes this reduction, but if a wine is already reduced, a screw cap will hold all the aromas within the bottle, which would not be the case with cork as more oxygen is transmitted. Although unpleasant at first, try decanting the wine or giving it a good swirl and shake in your glasses because in most cases the reduced or funky smells blow off. If that still doesn’t get rid of the funkiness, return the bottle to store for a refund.

Q: GS asks: Greetings Dr. JDo:  I am subscribed to WINEALIGN and find their content to be most interesting, informative and helpful. I am writing now as a member of an organizing committee for an anniversary and fundraising dinner. It will be a formal Polish dinner for 150 to 180 guests and consist of food items such as Cabbage Rolls (Golabski), Pirogi, Pork Cutlet (Kotlet) and Borscht (Barszca). The committee has chosen to serve only wine even though beer and vodka may be more popular for a Polish feast. Since I am responsible to select the wines, I researched the Web extensively but found it very challenging to come up with some consistency as to which wines to serve. I am finding it challenging to find appropriate wines for this type of event and menu and wanted to know if you have any guidelines for food and wine matching for this type of menu? CAN YOU HELP? 

A: Sounds like a great line up of food and reminiscent of my childhood. I too would agree that beer and vodka might be more popular and I know that was certainly the case at my family gatherings. That being said, we needn’t get too hung up on food and wine matching, as the menu contains a range of flavours and textures and there is never only one wine to match perfectly with everything.

The best thing to do in situations like this is to identify the primary flavours and textures. In this case, we should pay attention to butter and onions in the pirogis, salty and vinegary flavours in the borstch and a fair deal of starch, fat and weight in dishes like cabbage rolls and pork cutlets. You also need to keep in mind that for a large crowd it is always good to have a range of wines, say 2 to 3 whites and 2 to 3 reds,  to accommodate the different tastes and preferences of your guests.

With this in mind, for whites you could easily go with a moderately oaked Chardonnay, and a dry and fruity white, like Chenin Blanc, both of which could complement and balance the buttery pirogis and pork. In terms of reds, you should lean towards medium bodied wines with a lighter oak touch, some savoury notes and acidity to balance the richness of some of the dishes. A few that come to mind include Gamay (which I think works with many dishes and I often take to my family’s Ukrainian Christmas feasts) or Grenache, also known as Cannonau in Sardinia. Rosé would also work well with this kaleidoscope of flavours and I would go for a fruity but drier style. Here are a few options that are sure to please the crowd. Na zdrowie!

Marisco The King’s Legacy Chardonnay
Wolf Blass Yellow Label Chardonnay
Secateurs Badenhorst Chenin Blanc
Malivoire Gamay
Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages Combes aux Jacques
Sella & Mosca Riserva Cannonau di Sardegna

Marisco The King's Legacy Chardonnay 2013Wolf Blass Yellow Label Chardonnay 2014 Secateurs Badenhorst Chenin Blanc 2014 Malivoire Gamay 2014 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages Combes Aux Jacques 2014 Sella & Mosca Riserva Cannonau di Sardegna 2011

If you need more suggestions, check out WineAlign’s Food Match tool. It doesn’t cover every possibility, but it’s a useful feature to help you get started.

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions and please keep them coming. Email your queries to Janet Dorozynski at or tweet them with the hashtag #AskDrJDo.


Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , , , , ,


WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008