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Final Blend : Towing the Line / Align

by Anthony Gismondi

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Anthony Gismondi

If you’ve ever wondered what the ‘align’ in WineAlign means, think come together or line-up. Although in the case of us critics it is more likely a case of get them on the same page of the website. The process reminds me a bit of the chaos of Italy where 60 million people pulling in opposite directions results in Ferrari, Prada, Gucci, Benetton, Armani, Piedmont Barolo, Tuscan Chianti and much more. At WineAlign we boast an equal strength although I’m sure the people responsible for shepherding our content onto these pages think otherwise as in it’s like herding cats.

In short, we have the freedom to do whatever we want most days with the caveat from management that we let you know once in a while what we are up to. Sounds easy, but I can vouch for all of us it rarely is. All of which leads to this month’s column that begins with some important news about how we display our notes on the Critics’ Profile pages – just in case you haven’t already noticed.

Our old version was coded to display our highest scoring (and often highest priced) wines first, regardless of when the note was posted. We now display our notes by date reviewed. It is far more timely and interesting in my estimation. You can still search the entire site using the Google custom search in the upper right hand corner of any page, but the new design to these pages, including links to their recent articles and Twitter feed, allows you to see the diversity and strength of our critics and exactly what they are tasting at the moment.

Ridge Lytton Springs 2012 Nicosia Fondo Filara Etna Rosso 2010Now we know that John Szabo is writing a book on volcanic wine and appears to be completely consumed by the thought of tuff, a porous volcanic rock also called ‘tufa’, although one should be careful not to confuse calcareous tuffa with the porous volcanic rock whose parallel etymological origins can sometimes be called ‘tufa’. I’m sure John will get to the bottom of the volcano and we will all hear about it, endlessly, between flights at the upcoming WineAlign 2015 National Wine Awards of Canada in Niagara Falls. Sorry John – those are sedimentary rocks you can see from the tasting room in Niagara. Nicosia Fondo Filara 2010 Etna Rosso.

Meanwhile Bill Zacharkiw has been running around California escaping the snow and cold and his beloved Maple Leafs searching for the next, less-is-more wine from the Golden State. Bill’s mission is to convert every sugar-loving, new-barrel toting winemaker into an organic, terroir bleeding, soul-searching wine grower that is completely in touch with his land. Look for many new California selections to get Bill’s stamp of approval in the coming months. I for one love the way Bill has embraced the New World with an Old World eye and when the stars align, well, look out. Expect to see more of Bill’s impromptu videos on penguins, beaches and elephant seals and surfers in the days to come. Ridge 2012 Lytton Springs.

La Posta Pizzella Family Vineyard Malbec 2011

Zuccardi Series A Bonarda 2012David Lawrason has been practically living in South America for the last three months when he’s not busy with the Canadian chefs and the Canadian Olympic team where he devotes a great deal of time raising money for Gold Medal Plates, and at the same time, the reputation of Canadian wine. We recently spent a few days together in Argentina searching for the minerality and electricity that excites us. We found it in spades and will report back soon on all our discoveries. Zuccardi 2012 Series A Bonarda.

Earlier this month Sara d’Amato judged alongside Jancis Robinson and a large group of respected woman wine tasters at the Argentina Wine Awards. This travel goes unrecognized by most Canadians but it’s an important part of bringing a Canadian perspective to the international wine scene. We are in the game now and that helps everyone making wine in Canada. La Posta Pizzella Family Vineyard 2013 Malbec

The rise of our French-speaking Quebec team has brought an even wider perspective to WineAlign, or as we’re called in Quebec – Chacun son Vin. While it may seem like Two Solitudes sometimes as we discuss scoring systems, somehow on the tasting bench we seem to easily come together when we are talking wine. Nadia Fournier, Rémy Charest and Marc Chapleau have been invaluable additions to the WineAlign milieu. All have been instrumental in bringing a fresh perspective to the judging room at the National Wine Awards of Canada.

As you read this WineAlign Team West: Treve Ring, Rhys Pender and DJ Kearney will be working the 37th Vancouver International Wine Festival greeting a 55-strong Australian contingent hell-bent on getting Canadians to ‘Savour” the new Down Under. There won’t be any critter labels this time around and don’t expect to see any kangaroos in the room. There’s a new mantra Down Under and it has to do with regions, or to be even more specific: place.

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Some of the exciting labels at VIWF from Australia TODAY

Australia TodayOne need only pick up a bottle of modern-day Australian wine to see where the country is heading. Australia’s new generation of winemakers are doing what they do best, adapt, and in doing so they are headed back to their vineyards. Where once they would not think twice about blending wines from hundreds of kilometres apart the new reality is all about uniqueness and to take what the land will give you.

It’s a philosophy that may not be so new to the French or the Italians who love their appellations but Down Under it’s a radical and much needed departure for many in the wine business. Today the emphasis is on regionality and smaller vineyards and as mentioned taking what the land will give you. The difference between a Barossa shiraz and a Coonawarra shiraz are day and night and they should be celebrated, not blended away into one big tank. We will all be looking for it. For me the joy of the show is tasting so many different wines in one room. I leave you with a short list of tasty bottles to look for at the festival, should you have a ticket, or to pick up at your local government wine shop.

Gérard Bertrand Saint Chinian Syrah Mourvèdre 2011 Teusner Avatar 2013  Zuccardi Tito 2011Yalumba The Menzies Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Southern France superstar Gérard Bertrand will be pouring his St Chinian 2011 Syrah Mourvèdre while the new kids on the Barossa block at Teusner will be pouring their Teusner Avatar 2013 Grenache Mataro Shiraz. Sébastien Zuccardi honours his grandfather Tito with the Zuccardi Tito Zuccardi 2011 Malbec – Cabernet Sauvignon – Ancellotta while winemaker Peter Gambetta has sent his amazing Yalumba The Menzies 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra.

It’s been a great week so far, and best of all we are free to step out of alignment to cover it for you from our point of view.

~ Anthony Gismondi closes out each month with his Final Blend column – an expert insight into wine culture and trends, honed by more than 25 years experience as an influential and global critic. Click here to visit his WineAlign profile page.


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British Columbia Critics’ Picks February 2015

A Special VIWF Edition

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 through BCLDB or VQA stores. All are currently available for sale in BC. Don’t despair if WineAlign is not showing inventory. Some wines mentioned are only available in the BC Liquor Store at the Vancouver International Wine Festival Feb. 26-28, 2015. Others can be found at your favourite private wine shop.

It’s the week of the Vancouver International Wine Festival, and our BC critics have selected their top three recommended wines not to miss.

Cheers ~ TR

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

It’s wine festival month in Vancouver and hard to believe it is year 37. I have attended them all in some fashion and written about most of them but I never really get tired of entering the international festival tasting room where hundreds of wines are poured daily for the trade and public. Each year I rate the best booths at the festival, ahead time, based on the wines that will be poured and the principal who will pour them. It is hardly an exact science and it’s not an indictment of the other wineries attending just a personal opinion based on, well, 37 years of experience.

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Zuccardi Tito 2011Yalumba The Octavius Old Vine Shiraz 2008My top three wines you shouldn’t miss in 2015 are:  Yalumba The Octavius, Familia Zuccardi Tito Zuccardi, and Wynns Coonawarra Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon.

Yalumba’s 2008 The Octavius is old vine shiraz sourced from Barossa and Eden Valleys, and is a powerful, rich, ripe and smooth flagship wine that was built to last. Yalumba’s global communicator and storyteller, Jane Ferrari, will be on hand throughout the week.

Familia Zuccardi 2011 Tito Zuccardi is Sebastian Zuccardi’s tribute to his grandfather Alberto, or Tito as he was known, and is a delicious mix of new and old grapes (malbec, cabernet sauvignon and ancellotta).

Finally vine star Sue Hodder will pour her amazing Wynns Black Label 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine she has guided into the future with rich textures, moderate alcohol and plenty of fruit.

See you inside the tasting room.

DJ Kearney

I’ve just returned from a fast and furious week in South Australia and have nothing but Aussie wines in my heart and mind now… also a couple of new pairs of R.M Williams jeans on my legs too! Diversity and sheer joy of drinking is what we have in store for us as some of the biggest wine personalities in the world are coming to party with us in the last week of February.

Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz 2010Thorn Clarke Shotfire Quartage 2012Devil's Lair Chardonnay 2012I’ll be tasting as much as I can, but will not miss three favourites. Devil’s Lair in cool and breezy Western Australia make luxuriant oaked chardonnay, and you’ll find the 2012 Margaret River Chardonnay incarnation full of richness and finesse. It’s an emphatic reminder that chardonnay with a restrained embrace of oak is one of life’s great, great pleasures.

A wine that shows the cooler side of the Barossa Valley is the Shotfire Quartage 2012, from Thorn-Clarke. The wondrous 2012 vintage gives extra dimension and vinosity to one of the most consistent and lovely Bordeaux blends ever, at this price.

Finally – there will be a massive crowd around the Penfolds table, to taste the epic wines of course, but also to hang with DLynn Proctor, who won our hearts in SOMM, the 2012 movie that cast a vivid spotlight on a few characters in pursuit of the Master Sommelier pin.

Now Penfolds Winemaking Ambassador, he’s a smooth guy to listen to as you sip the glorious 2010 St. Henri. It is astonishing, and the $65 price is too-good-to-be-true. (For more from the world of Oz, check out my recent article: Oceans, Altitudes and Attitudes)

Rhys Pender MW

Vancouver Wine Festival is always a treasure trove of interesting wines. I recommend looking through the list and honing in on those wines that you can’t normally buy or taste. From the theme country Australia, look for Semillon young and old, Riesling, Coonawarra Cabernet and wines from some of the cooler re-emerging regions. There is much to learn about Australia.

Black Hills Nota Bene 2012Barossa Valley Estate Ebenezer Shiraz 2007Jansz Premium CuvéeOne wine style that few know about Australia is its sparkling wine. Tasmanian winery Jansz will be on hand and those in the trade should get a chance to try the Jansz Premium Cuvée N/V. Freshness, balance, acidity, excellent.

I’m looking forward to trying the 2010 vintage from Barossa Valley Estate’s Ebenezer Shiraz. There has been some 2007 kicking around in BC that was excellent value.

For a non-Australia wine, this festival might also be the first chance for many to try the Black Hills 2012 Nota Bene. After too very cool vintages in 2010 and 2011, this vintage finally shows all the work winemaker Graham Pierce and team have been doing.

Make sure to do a bit of research online before heading in to the festival tasting room and hit those interesting wines first. See you at the festival!

Treve Ring

Gonzalez Byass Noe Pedro Ximenez Aged 30 YearsSt. Urbans Hof Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett 2011D'arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz 2009I trust you’ll be spending a lot of time in the Australia section (Treve’s Travels Part I and Part II may be added incentive). Be sure not to miss d’Arenberg 2011 The Dead Arm Shiraz, an iconic McLaren vale wine made in very small amounts due to the fact that the aged vine has been affected by ‘Dead Arm Disease’ and can only eke grapes out of one trunk. I have tasted the 2009, so looking forward to this new-to-shores release. Rarified and special.

Don’t forget about amazing wines from the rest of the world. I’m looking forward to trying the Weingut St. Urbans-Hof 2012 Riesling Ockfener Bockstein Kabinett. The 2011 vintage was exciting and intense, proving that low alcohol wines (8%) can be satisfying in their doe-nimble lightness.

And finish off with an exceptional example of one of the richest, most intense and rare sherries you’ve probably come across. Gonzales Byass Noe Pedro Ximénez is designated a VORS (Very Old Rare Sherry) with an average age of 30 years, staggering concentration, alluring sweetness and depth of flavour that you’ll be tasting as you head off (safely on transit / designated driver) from the tasting floor.

WineAlign in BC

In addition to our monthly Critics’ Picks report, we also publish the popular shortlist 20 Under $20, as well as the BC Wine Report, a look at all things in the BC Wine Industry. Lastly, Anthony Gismondi closes out each month with his Final Blend column – an expert insight into wine culture and trends, honed by more than 25 years experience as an influential and global critic.

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


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20 under $20 in BC: February 2015

Special Edition : Vancouver International Wine Festival

For us, as for many wine folks in the west, February signals Wine Fest. Now in its 37th year, Vancouver International Wine Festival (VIWF) takes over the Vancouver Convention Centre and the attention of many sommeliers, wine enthusiasts and wine producers – from here and abroad. Dozens of principals and countless out-of-town attendees attend seminars, dinners, minglers, brunches, trade tastings, parties (and after parties) and the main event – the International Festival Tasting. The WineAlign team will be out in force, with Bill Zacharkiw, Nadia Fournier and Marc Chapleau coming out from Quebec and Heather Riley and Head Wineaux Bryan McCaw from Ontario. The BC team members will be speaking on various panels, and DJ Kearney will be overseeing the Global Focus Syrah/Shiraz station.

1750+ wines, 14 countries, 170 wineries. Where to start? The BC team (minus DJ, who is currently tasting in Australia) has put together a handy list of 20 wines to watch for under $20 available at the festival.

VIWF’s tagline is “The Wine World is Here.” I hope we’ll see you in Vancouver at the end of February.

~ TR

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

Thirty seven years is a long time for any festival and special when the subject is wine. It took a lot of brave souls to launch the Vancouver International Wine Festival way back in 1979 but it’s firmly established today as one of the best consumer wine shows on the continent. Our task as always is to find 20 wines under $20 you can enjoy at the festival this month so with my picks I’m going worldwide.

First up is a new juicy, fun, garnacha – 5G Five Garnachas Five Generations from Miguel Torres. Garnacha tends to be more acidic and lower in alcohol in Spain versus the grenache of France making this one food friendly.

From the nearby Okanagan BC, winemaker Nikki Callaway will hold your attention with her Quails’ Gate Chardonnay. Less reductive, less overt oak more citrus and super juicy. Roast chicken is the match.

Torres 5g Five Garnachas Five Generations 2013 Quails' Gate Chardonnay 2013 Louis Bernard Côtes Du Rhône Blanc 2012 Mionetto Il Prosecco Frizzante Nugan Alfredo Second Pass Shiraz 2012

Be sure to drop by the Louis Bernard booth and find why the Louis Bernard Cotes du Rhone Blanc is so delicious and so inexpensive. Stock up on this one.

Bubble is a useful sip at the festival cleansing your palate as move about the room. Don’t miss the value packed Mionetto Il Prosecco Frizzante. Balance and style bottled under a yellow crown cap you just pop off.

To finish I suggest a stop at Nugan Estate to discover the Down Under version of ripasso, “the Second Pass” re-fermented over the skins or pomace of the Nugan Alfredo Dried Grapes Shiraz.

Have fun, don’t forget to spit.

Rhys Pender MW

Australia is proudly the theme country for the Vancouver International Wine Festival and it often produces killer value wines. Bleasdale of Langhorne Creek in South Australia has a couple of beauties under the $20 mark. Try the Mulberry Tree Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon for a nice, pure example of Cabernet.

If you are at Wine Festival you should also try to visit the Tahbilk table. Tahbilk has been around a long time and is kind of out on its own in the middle of Victoria. But the wines are killer, particularly the Shiraz and Marsanne 2013.

Bleasdale Mulberry Tree Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Tahbilk Marsanne 2013 Penfolds Rawsons Retreat Shiraz Cabernet Yalumba The Y Series Viognier 2013 Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2013

Penfolds will be sure to have some great red wines open for tasting at VIWF so be sure to check out that table. They also offer great value in the lower price points. Try the classic Aussie blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon in the Rawson’s Retreat Shiraz Cabernet.

Yalumba is another table definitely worth a visit. One of the best wines in the Yalumba lineup is always the viognier as they helped pioneer this variety in both Australia and to the world. The Y Series Viognier 2013 is great value.

I feel like I am always recommending this wine to everyone but it is just such a good wine for the price and really hits the style that good cool climate Aussie Chardonnay should be aiming for. And a few dollars over $20 but worth it. It is the Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay. Both the 2012 and 2013 vintage are excellent.

Treve Ring

One of the very best things about the International Festival Tasting is the chance to try something new. At every level, from fledgling through professional, there is something new on that floor to taste, and hopefully, find some new wines to love that won’t break the budget.

Many folks won’t have tried the traminer grape before, so Shot in the Dark 2013 Traminer Riesling from New South Wales is an aromatic and quaffable place to start.

Or perhaps you’d like to visit a new region? Sip Southern France’s Languedoc-Roussillon, with the tasty Château de Caraguilhes 2012 Domaine de L’Olivette Rouge, a humble and juicy organic blend of familiar grapes syrah, grenache and merlot.

Shot In The Dark Traminer Riesling 2013 Château De Caraguilhes Domaine De L'olivette Rouge 2012 Deinhard Green Label Riesling 2012 Cavas Hill 1887 Brut Anna Spinato Prosecco Brut Organic Sparkling White

Deinhard Green Label Riesling 2012 was a Judges’ Choice selection at the 2014 World Wine Awards of Canada. This consistent, tropical, off-dry sipper over-delivers and is worth having in your ‘wines for a crowd’ collection.

From time to time, you’ll need to refresh your palate, and after water (drink water!) bubbles is a classic refresher. Cavas Hill 1887 Brut from Spain will do the trick, with its white grapefruit, green apple and lemon pith notes. Or skip to Italy, for the lively floral, yellow apple and pink grapefruit fruited Anna Spinato Prosecco Brut Organic – you won’t be able to miss the dynamic green wrapped bottle.

While in Italy, swing by the Ruffino table, start on their entry level dusty cherry scented 2012 Chianti, and then work your way up through the winery’s ranks of increasing typicity and prestige.

When you think of white wine from New Zealand, chardonnay probably doesn’t come to mind. After trying the generously creamy melon and stone fruit of Marisco The King’s Legacy.

You don’t need to travel far from home to taste something new. BC is represented at the festival, so be sure to introduce yourself to Summerland’s 8th Generation 2013 Riesling and its bright, energetic orchard fruit. Or look to Oliver, in the southern Okanagan and the round and ripe fruited Cellar Hand 2013 Free Run White from Black Hills Winery, an aromatic and creamy blend of pinot blanc, muscat, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and viognier.

Ruffino Chianti 2012 Marisco The King's Legacy Chardonnay 2012 8th Generation Riesling 2013 Cellar Hand Free Run White 2013 Croft Pink Port

It’s always a good idea to go out on a sweet note, so head to Portugal and finish off with some of the amazing fortifieds of the Taylor Fladgate / Fonseca / Croft Port partnership. If you’ve never tried, or heard of, pink port, now’s your chance with the candied strawberry and cool plum sweetness of Croft Pink Port (tip – also a great building base for cocktails).

If you don’t have your tickets to VIWF yet, there is still time. Many seminars and dinners have SOLD OUT, but there are still some great finds to be had.  Your International Festival Tasting ticket is FREE if you book a downtown hotel with www.beVancouver.com. Details at www.vanwinefest.ca.

Check out Treve’s Travels feature on Australia TODAY Part I here, with Part II coming next week. In addition, DJ Kearney is previewing her Oceans, Altitudes & Attitudes seminar that she is presenting alongside Rhys Pender, Treve will be talking all about the Global Focus, Shiraz/Syrah in a look at this grape in all its forms, as well and sharing what top sommeliers and wine professionals are excited about this year with a recap of the popular trade seminar, Excitement in a Glass. All critics’ will chime in on their top 3 wines to taste at the festival in our joint BC Critics’ Report coming out next week. Finally, Anthony Gismondi’s Final Blend column will take an insightful look at the festival and where wine culture and private liquor retail is in BC today.

Treve

Here’s a short-cut to the complete list searchable by store: 20 under $20 in British Columbia

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


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British Columbia Critics’ Picks – January 2015

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 through BCLDB or VQA stores. All are currently available for sale in BC.

It doesn’t take long for our BC team to settle back into work after the holidays. We’ve been led by our stomachs (pairing to comfort foods), our schedules (prep for Vancouver International Wine Festival), celebration planning (Chinese New Year), and our natural instinct for great deals (Rhys’ port pick below) in this month’s selections.

Cheers ~ TR

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

With a foot still dragging in 2014 (post-holiday catch up) I’ve already got my eyes on February, and Vancouver International Wine Festival. The BC team will have lots of coverage on the festival next month, but since seminar/interview/coverage planning is well underway now (as are ticket sales), my mind is in VIWF mode.

Arrocal Selección 2009 Stag's Hollow Syrah Penfolds Bin 2 Shiraz Mourvèdre 2012Australia is the theme region, and Penfolds will be well represented. The Penfolds 2012 Shiraz – Mourvèdre Bin 2 is drinking well right now, particularly when poured with warming roasts.

Shiraz is in the spotlight, so we’ll be tasting dozens of examples from around the globe. One BC winery showing the grape due respect is Stag’s Hollow, and their 2011 Syrah has the freshness, black fruit flavours, florals and acidity we look for.

Of course, there’s a world of wine not represented at VIWF. Bodegas Arrocal 2009 Seleccion Ribera del Duero will transport you to Spain’s rugged landscape with its intense black fruit, leather and tobacco flavours. Pour this now with roast lamb, or cellar for a few years.

DJ Kearney

For me, right now, it’s all things Italian. Mid-winter makes me get into the kitchen and braise, stir and slow-cook deep flavours that demand lusty, earthy reds with a juicy edge – in other words, Italian reds.

Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale 2011 Ceralti Scirè Bolgheri Rosso 2012 Masi Serego Alighieri Vaio Armaron 2006Ragu first… my partner and I have ragu smack-downs which serve to fulfill our competitive spirits and the freezer. He favours a silky three-meat version simmered for (interminable) hours with milk, and I (quickly) sizzle up an all pork and calabrese sausage rendition with heavy wine deglazings and globs of bomba stirred in along the way. This time we opened the benchmark Ruffino 2011 Chianto Classico, alive with plummy fruit and a good thrust of sangiovese’s trademark acidity from this early, ripe and abundant vintage.

A Bolgheri Rosso provided stark contrast of both cépage and vintage, and the Ceralti 2012 Scirè showed impressive structure, fruit and persistence.

For a wild mushroom risotto, no other wine than the Masi 2006 Serego Alighieri Vaio Armaron would do – rich, savoury, powerful, maturing. With food and wine this good, winter can stay all year.  Well not really, but another month is ok.

Rhys Pender MW

There is something special to find a wine that is big and burly but also structured and with some freshness. Seghesio is a Zin specialist with a great range of wines and while not cheap, they are excellent quality. The 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel from 90 year old vines in Alexander and Dry Creek valleys in Sonoma is everything Zinfandel should be.

Croft Vintage Port 1991 Poplar Grove Syrah 2011 Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel 2011A good homegrown wine that impresses every vintage is the Poplar Grove Syrah. The 2011, a very cool vintage, shows that Syrah can still be delicious even in chilly vintages. It is peppery and delicious now but should also cellar nicely.

Port houses occasionally do us the lovely favour of releasing some older vintage wines from their cellars. Not only are the wines ready to drink but they are often very reasonably priced.

There are still a few cases of the Croft 1991 Vintage Port left in BC Liquor Stores at just $80 a 750ml bottle, $40 less than the current 2011 release. Definitely worth a splurge to see what a 20+ year old wine tastes like.

Treve Ring

Though the holiday season is a fading memory for some, it hasn’t even culminated for others. Chinese New Year is February 19, and celebrations will be welcoming in the year of the Sheep.

Haywire Lunar New Year White 2013 Haywire Lunar New Year Red 2012 Pentage Roussanne Marsanne Viognier 2011You might not think of pairing wine with your Chinese New Year feast, but Haywire’s recently released, limited edition Lunar New Year duo should urge you to reconsider. Scoop these quickly, because only 200 cases of each were made. The Haywire 2013 Lunar New Year White is a fresh, white aromatic blend to pour alongside fragrant curries or citrus slicked noodles with prawns, while the Haywire 2012 Lunar New Year Red is a gamay-based blend that will complement caramel chicken or Peking duck.

Of course, you needn’t have a special occasion to crack a special bottle. Pentâge Winery’s 2011 Rousanne Marsanne Viognier has the weight and texture to stand up to January’s heartier foods, and enough of the fragrant Skaha Bench orchard fruit to have you dreaming of warmer times ahead. I poured with seared tuna and hazelnut endive salad.

WineAlign in BC ~

In addition to our monthly Critics’ Picks report, we also publish the popular shortlist 20 Under $20, as well as the BC Wine Report.

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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20 under $20 in BC: January 2015

Altogether Now: We Resolve to Spend less and Drink Better

We know. You have bills. And you’re resolving. But it doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy wine in post-holiday season January. In fact, I recommend the complete opposite.

Instead of tying yourself to strident resolutions that you won’t stick to (no wine – HA!), resolve to spend less and drink better. Explore paying attention to one glass of honest, authentic, interesting wine with dinner rather than downing a few glasses of plonk mindlessly. You needn’t spend more than $20 to find bottles to transport you around the globe in your glass. And by slowing down, focusing on what you’re drinking and where it’s from, you’ll be protecting your bank account while growing your wine databank.

Here are 20 wines to welcome you to January, and a year of drinking mindfully and smartly.

~ TR

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

Though daylight hours are shorter, my tasting hours are longer in January. There isn’t much incentive to venture outside into Vancouver’s downpours, so I’ve been catching up on wines and notes while taking full advantage of a warm, dry office.

As the label says, MMM. MMM Macho Man Monastrell from Jumilla, Spain is 100% monastrell from very old vines, full with black fruit and floral notes and leather and black peppery on the finish. Great for warming and satisfying.

Stay in for pizza and a movie night with a tumbler of Santa Cristina 2012 Sangiovese Toscana. The fresh, soft, juicy palate shows plum jam, black licorice, spicy, savoury flavours in a simple but well made wine. Solid value here.

Macho Man Monastrell 2012 Antinori Santa Cristina Rosso 2012 Red Rooster Pinot Gris The Show Chardonnay 2012 Wolf Blass Yellow Label Sparkling Brut

If you’re in the mood for white wine, pick up Red Rooster 2013 Pinot Gris from our Okanagan Valley. Pear, floral, apple skin notes melt into similar flavours on the palate, and finishes dry and mineral-focused. Great for poultry or lighter pork dishes.

Or for a fuller, creamier white, The Show 2012 Chardonnay is a mix of cool fruit from Sonoma and Monterey appellations, fresh with pear and ripe apple, impressively dry and with some French oak to add texture and weight. A perfect wine for grilled scallops or lightly prepared calamari. Fair value.

It’s been a couple of years since I tasted Wolf Blass Yellow Label Sparkling, so I was happy to see it remains reliable and at a crowd-pleasing price. Refreshing juicy, citrus, honey apple flavours go down easily and will brighten a dull January day.

DJ Kearney

If ever there was a time when we need smashing deals, this is it. We are tightening our belts (literally and figuratively) and getting ready for the potential debacle of a new government liquor pricing policy (see my colleague Anthony Gismondi’s sobering words here) that could potentially greatly reduce the diversity that we currently enjoy. I’d start stocking up on your favourite premium priced wines, and when they are safely in the cellar, try these 5 bottles that deliver on every penny.

I was charmed by Chateau de la Gravelle 2013 Muscadet at a great new Kitsilano bistro, and it’s gratifying to find it on the monopoly shelves. It’s the real deal leesy muscadet, with extra heft and thrust from superb volcanic terroir, and a heroic pairing with a simple prawn salad, or croque monsieur.

Château De La Gravelle Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2013 Quinta Do Ameal Loureiro 2013 Sogrape Gazela Rosé Tommasi Vigneto Le Prunée Merlot 2012 Alceño Premium 50 Barricas Syrah 2012

In a similar stony vein is the Quinta do Ameal Louriero 2013 Vinho Verde from coastal Portugal. Floral, briney and delicate, it’s as lively an aperitif wine as you could hope for.

Staying in Portugal, try the cheeky rosé from Gazela next time you have 11 bucks burning a hole in your pocket. Yes, I know you’re thinking I’m bonkers recommending a fruity rosé in the middle of January, but it truly is a soothingly mellow winter drop. Made from native, characterful red grapes, low alcohol and possessing tangy sweetness, you’ll love sipping it after a brisk tromp in the woods or après-ski, should you find any snow this year.

Perfect for the fireside is Tommasi’s Merlot Le Prunée, a robust red for lamb Shepherd’s Pie or pizza (which you are allowed to eat on your lap) or a nice hunk of cheese.

Finally, a delightfully rich and mellow wine I tasted over many hours, looking for a chink in its armour and finding none, is Alceño 50 Barricas Syrah from Jumilla, Spain.

Rhys Pender MW

I’m writing this from Thailand where everyday is 30 degrees (and wine is ridiculously overpriced so I’ve only drunk beer for 3 weeks) but a quick check on the thermometer at home shows -8 C. I know I’ll be craving red wines, grilled meats and hearty stews when I get home in a week. The $20 mark also is a good target at this time of year when the Christmas and holiday VISA statements start coming in. Here are five choices that will not disappoint; some lighter, some heavier, some cheaper, some earthier, some fruitier but all worthy of picking up a few bottles to warm you through winter. (Click on the bottle images or names below for the details and my review)

Vigneti Zabú Il Passo Nerello Mascalese 2012 Carpineto Spolverino 2011 Nuviana Tempranillo Cabernet 2012 Niepoort Dialogo 2011 Almansa Laya 2013

Vigneti Zabù 2012 Ilpasso Nerelli Mascalese Nero d’Avola
Carpineto Spolverino 2011
Nuviana 2012 IGP Tempranillo / Cabernet Sauvignon
Niepoort Dialogo 2011
Laya 2013

Treve Ring

Back to school, back to work, back to reality. In the thick of deadlines, 2015 scheduling and holiday recovery mode, I’m in need of some comfort wines.

Is there anything more comforting to drink than an aged red wine on a drizzly wet winter’s day? Instant comfort via the 2005 Anciano Gran Reserva Tempranillo Aged 7 Years, with its mellow, sweet aged vanilla oak aromas and earthy tea leaves, dried raspberry and dusky, dusty fruits on the finish. Pour with sage dusted pork dishes.

Calatayud’s Pablo 2012 Old Vine Garnacha is another Spanish warmer winner, round and ripe, with black cherry, anise, blackcurrant jam and cracked black pepper. Nice, honest fruit concentration over slightly ragged tannins, urge you to partner with grilled pizza or ragú sauced pastas.

Valdepenas Gran Reserva Anciano 2005 Calatayud Garnacha Pablo Old Vine 2012 Kuhlmann Platz Gewurztraminer 2013 CedarCreek Rose Montes Classic Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

I’ve been on a curry kick as of late (more comfort dishes). Kuhlmann-Platz 2013 Gewurztraminer has been a regular pour, a medium bodied off-dry gew delivering peach blossoms, pink grapefruit, roses and a heady, potent ginger spice note on the finish.

CedarCreek Rosé Pinot Noir 2013 will brighten your day through its alluring delicate fruit and hue alone. Wild ferment pinot noir fermented long and cool in stainless steel teems with savoury wild strawberries and finishes with persistent spice. Polished and elegant enough to pair with your poached salmon or poultry.

Sometimes, only a big, built red will do. When you’re hankering for rustic casseroles or tourtière, Montes Classic Series 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon will meet you there. This plumy, approachable medium-bodied cabernet is drinking well now (especially with that beef) but will continue to hold and improve over the next 2-4 years. And at this price, you can afford to lay a couple down for a couple of years.

~

If you can’t decide on one of these twenty wines, try one of the 1500+ wines available during Vancouver International Wine Festival week at the end of February. Tickets to public events went on sale Tuesday, January 6, and your ticket is FREE if you book a downtown hotel with www.beVancouver.com. Details at www.vanwinefest.ca. The entire WineAlign West team will be on hand, as will some of our colleagues from across the country. Oh yeah, and tens of thousands of other wine lovers from around the globe. Watch for our VIWF coverage to kick off this month with Treve’s Travels, and WineAlign West will focus exclusively on the festival wines and events throughout February.

Cheers,

Treve

Here’s a short-cut to the complete list searchable by store: 20 under $20 in British Columbia

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


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Pointed reviews, pointless policies and the decolonization of Bordeaux

The Final Blend: A look back at 2014
By Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi Portrait Colour_Cropped

Anthony Gismondi

It’s been another crazy year in wine, especially in Canada where government involvement in the liquor business, as they like to refer to it, is at an all-time high. Some 365 days ago not a single British Columbia winery was allowed to ‘export’ its wine to the kingdoms of Ontario, Quebec or Alberta and despite numerous photo ops, and vineyard visits, plenty of rhetoric and a televised tastings featuring MPs and their favourite wines, nothing has changed regarding the shipping of Canadian wine within Canada.

It’s worth noting that since British Columbia opened its borders to wines produced from other Canadian provinces our provincial economy has managed to withstand the onslaught of Canadian wine criss-crossing the country one case at a time.

Whatever progress British Columbia boasts regarding local wine, when it comes to the business of selling wine the province has gone mad in 2014. Pressured to modernise its liquor laws and the business of liquor (there’s that word again) government officials invited every one and their dog to comment on the current state of BC liquor laws. As a result the changes resemble a dog’s breakfast at best.

Refusing to address the number one issue of the highest wine prices on the continent and thinking they could distract consumers by announcing Happy Hours and the sale of wines at farmer’s markets, government has moved to set up a new ‘wholesale’ monopoly responsible for collecting a massive, stage one, ‘wholesale’ tax applied to the landed cost of every bottle of wine in the province. The plan brings the business of buying wine back into government hands where it will be taxed at source before being doled out to the retail sector, one that now includes government stores. From here all retailers will apply their markup (estimates run from a 10 to 40 percent markup) to cover costs and an expected profit margin. That retail price will be further taxed at the cash register as consumers leave the store with the ten percent provincial sales tax applied to all alcohol before it is taxed another five percent by the federal government and voila the highest prices in the nation just got higher.

B.C. Liquor Policy ReviewTo be fair government claims their undisclosed formula and pricing won’t raise prices but every model I have been shown points to significant increases to wine over $15 and we all know there is very little worth drinking under $15 in British Columbia. It’s hard to believe government could damage the on-fire local wine industry but blatant favouritism, no wholesale pricing to industry buyers, skewering of the original private wine stores and a stupid grocery store policy have inflamed a lot of people working in the trade selling wine, and that is bound to have an effect on all wine sales.

The idea of a wholesale price is hardly new but this government’s interpretation is so far off the map it’s going to take more than a GPS device to get it back on track. The accepted trade view was along the lines of the Alberta model, charging a flat tax (say $3 a bottle, or whatever the number required) to raise the same tax revenue already collected. After that retailers would be on their own to sell the product at whatever price they fancied and consumers would be free to shop province-wide for the best deal. That right would also be extended to restaurants, hotels, golf clubs, caters etc., allowing them to finally purchase at wholesale prices. Eschewing a real wholesale transaction for the British Columbia trade ensures further growth of the Alberta food and hospitality sector and allowing the wild rose province to attract better wines and people at the expense of the British Columbia hospitality sector. It also fuels the trade in illegal liquor draining millions of dollars from British Columbia into Alberta.

In short, the playing field has been slanted to favour government stores, the only retailer that can supply the needs of restaurants, hotels and clubs. Local wine appears to have escaped unscathed but its involvement in the new grocery store model, BC wine only, will likely end poorly in court when the rest of the world stands up for its rights under several trade agreements. I’m sure grocery store owners are betting on just such a ruling. After all, the wine sweet spot in grocery stores is going to be much closer to $10 a bottle, a number that the vast majority of BCVQA wines can’t compete at. It’s a massive mess to say the least. (Download a copy of the BC Liquor Policy Final Report here)

~

Ah, but what about the rest of the wine world in 2014?

Was there any good news? I’m glad you asked. In many ways it was a pivotal year especially when it comes to the business of review points and oak.

The 100-point scoring system came under increased assault this year, although personally I still find it useful for the studious wine buyer who knows the reviewer and his or her scale. The problem is over-inflated scores. Wineries can’t help themselves when they get 94 points even if it’s the first review ever published by the reviewer. In fact, the proliferation of high scores especially for ordinary wines has hurt all reviews. Many are predicting that the impending withdrawal of Robert Parker from the everyday world of wine and the rise of social media will render the 100-point system obsolete, but wines will always be reviewed by experts and we don’t see that model disappearing anytime soon.

What has disappeared in large numbers are new oak barrels, or barriques, as the French would say. The reduction in new oak used in many of the best wines worldwide is perhaps the best story of 2014. Larger oak (more liquid-to-wood ratio) older oak, fermentations finished in oak, and a massive rise in the use of concrete has changed the nature of many wines made in both the New and Old World. In many ways it signals the beginning of the end of the worldwide colonization of Bordeaux. Seriously. When you think about it, there are very few places that even resemble Bordeaux around the world yet most set out to make a first growth, Bordeaux style with a lot of new French oak.

Ironically it’s the French concept of terroir that has brought about the sea change in oak as wine growers around the globe seek to make wines that speak to their site. Origin over oak and grape variety is where the best are heading and with the assistance of information and technology it is happening at an accelerated rate. Once you make a wine that tastes like its origin, and by definition no one else’s, it gets easier and easier to be yourself.

Case in point is the concept of ‘Vi de finca,’ a village and vineyard demarcation championed by Alvaro Palacios in Spain. I love what is a simple concept of authenticity that recognises either the village or the vineyard in the village where the wine is made. It takes Priorat to yet another level of authenticity and ultimately protects it from being copied by any other region in the world.

M. Chapoutier

At M. Chapoutier being different and staying different means “paying attention to each plot, listening to the world, the environment, anticipating the needs of the earth”. What I like most about the Chapoutier brand and what should appeal to all wine drinkers is his pride in crafting regional wines with the same dedication given to the most prestigious bottles. He says “the aim is always to convey the same love of wine, to give complete beginners a chance to discover its diversity.”

Like I said it’s been a crazy year but don’t be distracted by the machinations of politics and special interest groups. Wine has never been better and the future has never been brighter. Come to think of it it’s probably why government is sticking its nose into something it shouldn’t be. On the eve of 2015, we can only resolve to continue to track down and report on the most interesting wines in the world. Where you buy them is your business.


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British Columbia Critics’ Picks December 2014

Supersized Sparkling Special

One of the things we love to do at WineAlign is to drink sparkling wine at every opportunity we get and I can honestly say, we never really get bored doing it. When you taste thousands of wines a year (somebody has to do it) you crave the freshness and acidity that is the hallmark of most great sparkling wines just to keep your palate sharp. Yet even if they are soft and perhaps slightly sweet à la prosecco, or pink and fizzy a la rosé the more you taste the more you come to really appreciate what is one of the most diverse categories of wines made in the world. So in the spirit of the holidays we’ve gifted you with a supersized Sparkling Special, with some of our favourite festive fizzes selected from hundreds of picks we tasted this year from under $15 to well over $200.

Cheers,
Anthony

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

One of the great benefits of bubbles is sparkling wine’s ability to make most any dish it is served with taste better. How can you beat that? All you have to do is be ready and by that we mean keep a couple of bottles of your favourites in the refrigerator chilled and ready to go.

The Parés Baltà Cava Brut, is my go-to Spanish sparkler. So sophisticated and clean, it works with most foods and the grapes are 100 percent organically grown. Green never tasted so good.

Many of you will know the quality and consistency of Blue Mountain Brut NV, but to really experience the best of BC sparkling wine you have to try the Blue Mountain Blanc de Blancs R.D. 2007. Like the 2006, this one hundred percent chardonnay is pure elegance and a wonderful expression of less is more. Cheese please.

A delightful surprise from Germany this year is the Selbach-Oster Riesling Brut 2011. Expect crunchy, crisp, Mosel fruit that runs from the front of the glass to back and will have your guests lining up for more. You can pair this with oysters, cheese straws, sashimi and more.

Parés Baltà Cava Brut Blue Mountain Blanc De Blancs R.D. 2007 Selbach Oster Riesling Brut 2011 Jansz Premium Cuvée

The current star of Oz bubble in the market is the Jansz Premium Cuvée N/V from Tasmania. We love its creamy textures and bright fruit.  A compelling drink for the price.

The prosecco prance is waning a bit but there is always room for the best and the Mionetto Il Moscato N/V is one of them. Well balanced and refreshing its peach flavours and baked apple mineral fruit are all in harmony with the bubbles. We love the crown cap.

A California classic and all class is the Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2009. Rich but austere it’s as close to champagne as it gets at half the price.

Mionetto Il Moscato Schramsberg Blanc De Blancs Brut 2009 Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne Möet & Chandon Dom Pérignon Vintage Brut Champagne 2004

Speaking of Champagne we finish with two stars. The Bollinger Special Cuvée N/V  is no ordinary multi-vintage champagne with its high percentage of reserve wines. Complex and powerful it is a spectacular food wine from charcuterie to chicken or sashimi.

Finally perhaps for New Year’s we suggest the Champagne Dom Pérignon 2004. Winemaker Richard Geoffrey, never at a loss for the perfect words to describe his wine, has called the ’04 Dom Pérignon ‘tactile, dark and chiselled’. In the glass this wine is all serious a brooding sparkler whose lees and sparkle have yet to fully knit into what will surely be one of the great seamless Dom’s of the decade if not the first half of the decade. Happy New Year, for sure.

DJ Kearney

Henkell Riesling Dry Les Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain ChampagneThere’s nothing like bubbly to get the heart thumping, the eyes twinkling and the appetite fully stimulated. Obviously famous for toasting special moments and milestones, sparkling wines also happen to be some of the most adept and deserving partners for food. I posit that we should drink sparkling more often for this reason alone – not just when a major celebration demands it.

For moments when I crave champagne, my two must-have’s are Henriot Brut Souverain and Le Mesnil’s unbeatable value Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, both non-vintage wines that over-deliver on price, complexity and deliciousness.  I love the Henriot with briney oyster bisque and Le Mesnil with Dungeness crab eggs Benny.

For a crowd when lots of jolly fizz is needed, try the Dry Riesling from Henkell – it’s full of fresh and soft citrus appeal. Give it a frosty chill and serve as a welcome wine to break the ice and spark conversation.

Two more sparklers I find indispensable with food are both crémants. The surprisingly complex Paul Zinck Cremant d’Alsace – with some tender cheesy gougères , and Jean Bourdy Cremant de Jura is a minerally marvel paired with rustic pâté de champagne or frico.

Paul Zinck Cremant d’Alsace Jean Bourdy Cremant du Jura Bottega Gold Brut Prosecco Benjamin Bridge Nova Scotia Brut 2009

Finally two wines that dazzle for different reasons. The gleaming bowling pin bottle of Bottega Gold Prosecco, and the astonishing Benjamin Bridge Brut 2009 that elevates Nova Scotian hybrids to unheard of heights. It’s bubble or nothing for me this Christmas.

Rhys Pender MW

Bubbly should be consumed throughout the year, but over the Christmas holidays there seems to be many more great excuses to pop a cork.

At this time of year it is always worth spending some money on a bottle or two of delicious Champagne. There are many big Champagne brands out there but just because they are Champagne doesn’t mean they are all equally good. For me, one of the best and most consistently excellent from year to year is the Piper-Heidsieck Brut. Delicious for a $60 splurge. For a few more dollars you can get into some really interesting grower Champagne. Biodynamic, wild yeasts, 100% Pinot Noir, neutral oak and just delicious is the Marie-Courtin 2007 Efflorescence Extra Brut.

BC is stepping up its game when it comes to bubbly production with more and more traditional method wines coming on to the market and they are often a lot less expensive than Champagne. Many wines don’t see long lees aging but they have plenty of flavour, freshness and the trademark BC acidity. Try the Bella 2013 Westbank Sparkling Rosé for a good crisp example to help with those afternoon snacks with family and friends.

Piper Heidsieck Brut Marie Courtin Efflorescence Extra Brut Pinot Noir 2007 Bella 2013 Westbank Sparkling Rosé Summerhill Pyramid Winery Cipes Blanc De Noir 2008 Benjamin Bridge Nova Scotia Brut 2009Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava

For a BC bubbly with a little more toastiness from long lees aging, try the Summerhill Pyramid Winery Cipes Blanc De Noir 2008. It is quite complex and interesting and richer in style, perfect with richer canapés.

From the other side of Canada, exciting things are happening with bubbly in Nova Scotia. Benjamin Bridge is leading the way. The 2009 Brut has plenty of verve and intensity and complexity from a good few years of age. Think hybrid grapes can’t make good wine? This will change your mind.

With people dropping in over the holidays you should always have some bubbly on hand to greet them. After all, it is the festive season. The Segura Viudas Brut Reserva is good wine and the price is right so you can pour generously without breaking the bank. Go out and buy a case now. You won’t be disappointed.

Treve Ring

Domaine Carneros Brut 2008 No Unauthorized Reproduction @Jason DziverThose who know me can well attest to the fact I’m an avowed sparkling wine drinker. There are always bubbles chilling in my fridge, I have a secret stash (shh) hidden for impromptu celebrations (Tuesday!) and I’ve been known to pair sparkling wine to BBQ pork chops (a delight). My heart is in Champagne; for me, Champagne is not just the pinnacle of the sparkling world, but the pinnacle of the wine world. That said, my favourite thing about sparkling wine is its diversity; across region, grape and method, there is a style to fit every personality, budget, and yes – food.

From the west coast, one of the most singular sparklers is Road 13 Vineyards Sparkling Chenin 2011, with its racing acidity, green fig, green apple and chalk notes, it’s an ideal wine to crack (crown cap) with west coast oysters.

Our neighbours to the south, in California, know a bit about wine. And Domaine Carneros knows much more than a bit about sparkling wine. The Carneros winery was founded by Champagne Taittinger and holds close ties with the illustrious Champagne house today. Pick up the Domaine Carneros Brut 2008 for Champagne’s tradition, at half the price.

One huge benefit about the prosecco boom is that consumers are discovering there is more than one style, and importers are responding. I’ve noticed quite a few new interesting proseccos on our market recently, including the well priced, fuller bodied Terre Prosecco Extra Dry, the elegant, crisp and fresh Vaporetto Prosecco Brut and the generous, stylish Giusti Prosecco Brut. ‘Tis the season for brunching!

Terre Prosecco Extra DryVaporetto Prosecco Brut Giusti Prosecco Brut Lini 910 Labrusca Lambrusco Rosso Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Rosé Champagne

It’s also the season for celebrating with friends. The Lini 910 Lambrusco is a jolly red hue, fruity and bright, and a great casual pour with pizza or cranberry decked poultry.

Sometimes, when the situation calls for Champagne, nothing else will do. I recommend picking up Champagne Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut Rosé NV, an elegant, subtly fruited grower Champagne, ideal for cheersing any festivities or for gifting to that special (lucky) someone.

About the BC Critics’ Picks ~

Our monthly BC Critics’ Picks column 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 through BCLDB or VQA stores. All are currently available for sale in BC.

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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20 Great Holiday Buys under $20 in British Columbia (December)

Holiday Picks from our West Coast Critic Team

This time of year we get asked the same wine questions over and over (and truthfully, we regularly ask ourselves the same questions too)!

What are the best wines to have at my {insert holiday function here}?

Which we all mean to say…

What are the best wines at the very best prices to have at my {insert holiday function here} because my budgets are all being directed elsewhere but I still want to enjoy delicious and special wines?

We understand. From celebratory dinners to family brunches and from office lunches to gift swaps to the big festive dinner, there are countless wine pairing possibilities – and countless ways to blow your budget. The BC team has gleefully shared some of our favourite under-$20 picks to see you through this busy month.

Happy holidays and cheers from the WineAlign west team.

– TR

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

I love to decant a young inexpensive red in a simple, plain, glass decanter. Not only does it look good but 30 to 60 minutes of air allows the wine to show its stuff. There’s really not any downside and the upside is your under $20 reds will taste like you paid under $30. Here are five holiday party picks that will all improve with some air and because they are in a decanter they will keep your guests guessing about their price and origin until the reveal.

The Castaño Lujuria 2013 offers fresh, juicy, red wine that mixes merlot and monastrell that is perfect for wandering the party floor catching up with friends.

The Yalumba Shiraz Viognier Y Series 2011 beguiles with its floral nose, ginger, bacon and a black pepper, savoury black fruit aromas and flavours. Grilled meats or cheese work here.

Castano Lujuria 2013Yalumba Y Series Shiraz Viognier 2011Xanadu Next Of Kin Shiraz 2011Famille Perrin Réserve 2012Louis Bernard Cotes Du Rhone Villages 2012

Another Down under pick, this time from Western Australia is the Xanadu Next of Kin Shiraz 2011. A warm, ripe vintage has spawned a peppery, plum, chocolate flavoured red that works with lamb.

Is there better value red wine in Canada at the moment than Cotes du Rhone? The Famille Perrin Côtes du Rhône Rouge Réserve 2012 bears a ‘Reserve’ moniker but it doesn’t really need the meaningless qualifier. The palate is juicy with plummy, ripe raspberry fruit flavours you can serve with grilled pork or lamb chops.

Maison Louis Bernard works with over 20 vineyard owners in the Côtes-du-Rhône Villages appellation which spreads across some 4000 ha and 95 villages in Ardèche, Vaucluse, Drôme and Gard. Expect a slightly more complex structure and bouquet from this delicious Louis Bernard Côtes du Rhône Villages Rouge 2012.

DJ Kearney

Holiday brunch is on the calendar, and my festive home will soon be bulging with rellies, friends and no doubt, one or twelve kids and a few pets….   The adults are thirsty, the kiddies are hungry and the pets are out of control…. It’s predictable and beloved holiday chaos.

All the favourite recipes have been dusted off, a few new ones are trialed, and the holiday log crackles from the TV in my Yaletown condo. Bubbly is essential for toasts and well, good times in general. One of my favourites for a crowd is the streamlined Anna de Codorniu, with bright citrusy fruit, pillowy mousse and extra definition from a preponderance of chardonnay (70%), uplifting native Spanish grapes. The snowy white bottle and the sale price of $16.49 are two extra reasons to drink or stuff into a stocking.

I’ll also have a favourite Alsatian quichy dish, tarte a l’oignion made with Gruyere cheese and melted onions all bound in a savoury egg custard. An easy and regional pair is Kuhlmann-Platz Gewurztraminer, perfumed, just off-dry and hefty enough for the rich tart.

Codorniu Anna De Codorniu BrutKuhlmann Platz GewurztraminerOlivares Rosé 2012La Vuelta Syrah 2012Ganton & Larsen Prospect Admiral Shorts Okanagan Tawny

Ham and a heaped platter of juicy plump sausages need a rosé and a substantial red – I’ll give the Olivares Jumilla Rosado 2012 a big chill (yes, we can drink pink in the winter) and wow my guests with an Argentine syrah, La Vuelta 2012 that is one of the best bargains I’ve encountered lately.

Dessert (if anyone can manage) is sticky toffee pudding, mince tarts (made from my Mum’s quince mincemeat recipe), plus some local blue cheese, and I’ll offer a BC treat, the Ganton & Larsen Prospect Okanagan Tawny. Like port, it’s been lengthily aged in cask, and offers a mellow, sweet and warming winter drop. Amazingly there are over 200 bottles in the BCLDB system, so don’t miss the chance to taste this fortified BC hero. Eat, drink and be merry.

Rhys Pender MW

Christmas Day for me involves drinking pretty much all day, but certainly isn’t about over indulging. You don’t have to spend a lot to drink well on Christmas day, but as it is Christmas after all, I have stretched the budget a little beyond the $20 mark – but not much.

Christmas starts early with young kids and so after a few strong coffees a little glass of bubbly is good for livening you up for the next eating event. You don’t need anything fancy, as a splash of good orange juice is often in order, but it must be good enough to stand up on its own – not sweet, a little complexity, and freshness. Cava is always the best value and for just a few dollars above entry level you get some pretty delicious wine. The Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut does nicely.

The next Christmas event is brunch and we always try to have something that is not too heavy, saving room for the grand feast later on. Bubbly works so if there is any Cava left, that will do but it is also a great time to taste some interesting whites. A wine that goes with a great range of foods is Muscadet. The Château De La Gravelle Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2013 is crisp, mineral and fresh.

Freixenet_Elyssia_Gran_Cuv_e_Brut_Cava_webChâteau De La Gravelle Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2013Château De Pierreux Brouilly 2012Muriel Reserva 2008Falernia Reserva Syrah 2010Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Port 2008

When you get on to the main meal of the day, we often go for something other than the traditional turkey or ham, the stomach still full from Thanksgiving. Roast leg of lamb or beef tenderloin works well and allows a number of red wine options. If you go with a lighter Christmas dinner or the traditional route, good quality Beaujolais is the way to go. Try the Château De Pierreux Brouilly 2012.

For something a little fuller bodied, it is often fun to try something with a bit of age or some interesting flavours as there is often time to sit around with family and savour complex flavours. In terms of value for money, Rioja is hard to beat for wines with some development. One good bet is the Muriel Reserva Rioja 2008.

Another meaty, interesting wine that will go with grilled or roasted meats beautifully and do well around the fire place on its own is the Falernia Reserva Syrah 2010 from Chile’s Elqui Valley.

Somewhat miraculously towards the end of the evening, there is room for some cheese, Stilton being a particular favourite. The best value wine to match with a strong, crumbly cheese is Late Bottled Vintage Port. These wines can offer amazing value for money. Try the Taylor Fladgate LBV 2008.

Treve Ring

We all think about matching wine with food, but what about matching wine with people? A bottle of wine is a lovely gift to give and receive, and even more so when there is more thought put into the purchase than just the colourful label. Wine certainly needn’t be expensive to be fantastic, or appreciated. One of my favourite gifts to give is a bottle I’ve specifically selected for someone, along with a handwritten neck tag about why I chose it for him or her – and yes, often with a food pairing suggestion too.

For The Cocktailist: Lillet Blanc is a classic French aperitif – meant to stimulate the appetite before the meal. Try it over ice, or use in cocktails – the golden honey, apricot, orange oil and earthy spice a complement to many spirits.

For The Hostess: Bringing wine to an event can be hit or miss. Just remember that bubbles go with everything! Cava is an easy like and affordable place to start – Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut is mind-boggling value for all the lively green apple and citrus enjoyment.

Lillet BlancJaume Serra Cristalino Brut CavaViñas Elias Mora 2010Hester Creek Pinot Gris 2013No Unauthorized Reproduction @Jason Dziver

For The Carnivore: Elias Mora 2010 is a big, structured black fruited savoury tempranillo from Spain’s Toro region that would make any grill king or queen happy. I suggest pairing with roasted tenderloin and chestnuts.

For The Locavore: From an area that has been approved as BC’s first official Sub-Geographical Indication – the Golden Mile Bench – comes the spiced Hester Creek Estate Winery Pinot Gris 2013, a natural for those who support our local producers (and want something tasty to pair with leftover turkey sandwiches).

For The Sweet Toothed: With icewine, a little goes a long way. All the better then for the BCLDB’s stocking-stuffer-sized 50ml Inniskillin Niagara Vidal Icewine 2012 for $8 (!), a perfect little nip of peach nectar and mandarin spice to pair with your gingerbread.

****

Thoughout the entire month the BC team will bring you timely and useful holiday selections. Our December Critics’ Picks will focus exclusively on sparkling wines, and for the next BC Report I’ll be sharing news on BC’s icewine harvest alongside tasting notes for different styles of local sweet wines. Anthony’s Final Blend will close off December with a look back on 2014 and a look ahead to the fresh new year.

Cheers,

Treve

Here’s a short-cut to the complete list searchable by store: 20 under $20 in British Columbia

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


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Chile 2.0 The Next Generation

Anthony Gismondi’s Final Blend

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

The modern Chilean wine business is closing in on 25 years in Canada. That’s right, Chilean wine spans an entire generation of Canadian wine drinkers and is already working on a new generation of wine consumers. Unfortunately what worked in the 90s or even the 00s is unlikely to be successful over the next decade and how Chile evolves and reshapes its image in foreign markets is going to be crucial to its long-term success.

Long known for its value, the time has come for Chile to ask itself why they would want to continue down that path. There is nothing wrong with offering value, especially at all price points, but countries, and important wine regions, usually build their pedigree from the top down. As they say at Ford, ‘quality is job one’ and it’s quality wine from recognised appellations that will reshape the modern Chilean wine landscape.

Chile need look no farther than Canada’s Niagara Peninsula or the Okanagan Valley to see how much money they are leaving on the table. It’s all in how you position yourself. In my opinion, and for too many years now, Chile’s best wines have been suppressed by wholesale buyers, distributors, monopolies and supermarkets content to sell expensive French, Italian or American wine while convincing the Chileans they need to attack the market from the bottom end up, because, well they were Chilean and well, the wine was from South America.

Value was the password and while the French and Italian were busy selling Grand Crus, First Growths and Riservas, Chile was asked to sell a case of wine at the same price its competitors were getting for a single bottle. That kind of thinking has to end. I have long been interested in Chile’s ultimate development which surely must move beyond the value for money moniker that attaches itself to Chilean wines in the same way an early morning Pacific fog blankets Chile’s coastal vineyards.

The current mantra is to get to the coast or up the mountains, but beyond that it’s more about exploring all of Chile and finally matching each grape with a specific soil. It’s not breaking news; we know the wine will be better, but the point is the Chileans have finally come to see that their future success will be dependent upon their ability to be different from the rest of the wine world and not to be at the beck and call of British supermarkets, giant American distributors and, of course, our own monopolies, all of whom have ridden the pony for a generation demanding nothing but cheap, loss leader wines to get customers to come into the store.

Casa Silva - Largo Ranco Sauvignon Blanc - Wines of Chile

Casa Silva – Largo Ranco Sauvignon Blanc

Arguing against value is not something I’m used to doing but if it means an end to bland, faceless brands that bring nothing to retail wine aisles, I accept the challenge. Chile’s blanket value brand identity has to disappear if it is going to make the jump to prime time.

Last week I spent some time with a number of the WineAlign team in Chile and we found plenty to rave about starting with Winemaker Mario Geisse of Casa Silva, who blew me away with his Lago Rancho 2013 Sauvignon Blanc from the Futrono, Region Austral Patagonia, Chile. The vineyard is eight years old and dry farmed thanks to 70 inches of annual rainfall. Futrono is situated in the Chilean Patagonia, 904 km south of Santiago where the average maximum temperature is 18.5 degrees Celsius from January to May. Extreme? You bet. Electric, you bet. Different than anything you will see in Canada from Chile, you bet.

About 1700 kilometres to the north in the Atacama desert, winemaker Felipe Toso was pouring the Ventisquero Tara Red from Huasaco. The vineyard, now seven years old, is located at 28º 31’ 54,85’’ S  and is planted to ungrafted syrah and merlot over chalky soils. The mix is 66/34 and the fruit was all picked in the first week of April. The two varieties are fermented separately in small, open 500-kilo tanks, ‘pinot style.’ After a week of pump overs it was racked to fifth-use French barrels, where the malolactic fermentation took place. The wine is simply amazing and has nothing to do with the Chile you know.

Ventisquero - Tara Red Wine - Wines of Chile

Ventisquero – Tara Red Wine

Another sure sign of change is a movement among the big wineries to be more responsive to the need for Chile 2.0 wines. Case in point, the Marques de Casa Concha Pais Cinsault 2014 made by winemaker Marcelo Papa. The hundred plus year old país vines are grown at Cauquenes, Maule Valley; the 50-year old cinsault is from Trehuaco in the Itata Valley. The mix is 85 percent país with 15 percent cinsault, a blend no one would have thought possible even a decade ago. Fresh bright red fruit flavours dominate, revealing a minerality and freshness that is the polar opposite of those old icon reds. Make no mistake; Papa is taking a chance by attaching this wine to the famed Marques brand but he wanted people to pay attention to it and at $20 a bottle this wine is making waves.

The question is will it make it to wine lists in New York, or London or San Francisco where traditionally you can check off the likes of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Shiraz, Brunello, Chianti and lately even Mendoza malbec. Yet more often than not, Chilean wines are nowhere to be found. True, you may find some carmenère but like South African pinotage these curiosities do not a country establish.

Chile’s strength is its fabulously natural and isolated wine regions, uncontaminated by most of what goes on in North America. Naturally made wines should be the focus of its future. My notes from numerous trips would suggest sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, carignan, pinot noir, and yes, old vine pais, will likely be the stars of the next decade along with riesling, chardonnay and more innovative and creative red blends. Many could be organic or biodynamically grown. But there is more.

As varietal wine comes to the end of its useful life, this more than anything could provide the springboard Chile needs to recreate its international image. Temperature, altitude, longitude and yes even latitude are all part of a new story that should be told. As discussed in the pinot noir tasting there is no need to be Burgundian but we can all learn from them. Pinot noir and chardonnay cover the vineyards but the story is always about its people and its places. Puligny, Chassagne, Meursault, Corton, Faiveley, Leflaive, Latour, DRC: the French are the masters of terroir-based wines because they learned decades ago that no one can copy your dirt.

No one knows better what the wines of Chile have to offer than the Chileans themselves. It is time Chile decided what is best for its future. Shaking that ‘cheap’ moniker is not going be just about raising prices. There has to be an attitude change; the industry’s youngest and brightest will need to step up and pursue the next 20 years with the same passion Aurelio Montes, Eduardo Chadwick, Agustin Huneeus, Alvaro Espinoza and Ignacio Recabarren have done in the last two decades.

The Movement of Independent Vintners (MOVI)

The Movement of Independent Vintners (MOVI)

Groups such as The Movement of Independent Vintners (MOVI) and Vignadores de Carignan (VIGNO) are a great start. Young and vigorous, the plan is to explore the limits of Chilean wine while respecting its history. MOVI calls itself an association of small, quality-oriented Chilean wineries who have come together to share a common goal to make wine personally, on a human scale and to promote a passion for the endeavours of growing grapes and crafting fine wine.

But can you be a serious wine producing region if you don’t produce so-called first growth, a grand cru-like wines or in the case of Chile — a super-premium blend? Frankly, I seldom measure a wine region by its greatest wines but rather by its most simple. Using that scale Chile moves well up my world wine chart of quality producers and with 1700 kilometres of potential vineyards to explore the possibilities are limitless.

Winemaker Aurelio Montes has fought the good fight for a long time and he is to be congratulated for pushing The Wines of Chile and its members to think outside of the box as it moves forward. Montes suggested the entire industry needed to “be brave,” moving forward as it reveals the story of the New Chile. Indeed as the song says, “Honestly, we want to see you be brave.”

Oh and be Chile, because no other country can replicate that.

 

Anthony Gismondi

(Photos courtesy of Wines of Chile & MOVI)


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British Columbia Critics’ Picks November 2014

Our critics have been on the move this month – crossing paths, and crisscrossing seasons between Vancouver, Similkameen, Okanagan, Whistler, Argentina and Australia. Whether we’ve just been in spring (flowering and bud break in the southern hemisphere) or dreaming of spring (the earliest icewine harvest ever for many in BC), the wines we’ve individually selected will warm you. Naturally, since we’re all crazy for food, our finds specifically pair with meals that will comfort.

Cheers ~ TR

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

Wind, rain, snow and cold is all on its way and that makes it easier to slide into some richer wines from warmer climates to help warm up your disposition.

Zuccardi Q Tempranillo 2010 Beringer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Chateau de Caraguilhes Classique 2012From southern France my pick is a delicious organic Corbières: Chateau de Caraguilhes 2012. Believe me it is far easier to drink than to pronounce.

This syrah/grenache/mourvèdre/carignan blend is textured with savoury licorice undercurrent and makes a great match for fall’s cassoulets.

A tough year in Napa was no problem at Beringer where several vineyards from the valley floor to the mountain top contributed to a fresh and aromatic Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, ready to drink now with your steak.

If lamb is on your fall menu the Zuccardi Q Tempranillo 2010 will stand up to its wild flavours and impress with its richness, power. A bargain red for all you year-round barbecue fanatics this juicy and round high altitude (620m) is the best yet from Zuccardi. Impressive now but will age easily for five years.

DJ Kearney

Drinking whites in the winter is something I anticipate each year with the kind of deep-seated pleasure that stirs my soul and tastebuds. Earthy, savoury, botanical, spicy, broad wines embrace flavours in a bearhug of body and warming alcohol. Wines like creamy oaked chardonnay, ripe white Rhones, mineral-drenched Wachau gruners, honeyed Alsatians, Italians like arneis, top soave and vermentino, and even the right kind of rich, leesy, toasty champagne are perfect. The dishes that I crave and cook for these cool-weather whites are leek risotto, cream-braised endive, veal and mushrooms, roast pork with onion soubise, cauliflower and cheese, roast chicken with truffle oil…  you get the picture? Here are three whites that I am drinking now to warm palate and spirit.

Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2013

La Spinetta Vermentino 2012

Verus Vineyards Pinot Gris 2012Wolf Blass Gold Label Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2013 is broad and surging, with lemon curd, crème brulée and gingerbread flavours kept fresh and crisp with succulent acidity. Worth keeping for a few years for the oak to snuggle into the exotic fruit density, but will be delicious now with lemongrass risotto or winter baked fish with rich Mornay sauce.

La Spinetta Vermentino 2012 is a remarkable wine with savory flavours and emollient texture, held together with just enough acidity to coat the wine sleekly. Completely fascinating and serious vermentino for winter dinners or savouring by the fire.

An attention-getting smoky nose opens Verus Vineyards Pinot Gris 2012 from Slovenia before impressive mineral heft and complexity, reminding me of both Alsace and Soave. It’s a sign of the high calibre wines that Slovenia is capable of, and we want more sent our way, please.

Rhys Pender MW

With the holidays rapidly approaching, it is time to think about starting to loosen the purse strings a little bit and treating yourself.  You want to avoid the wines that are expensive on reputation ahead of quality, and hopefully we steer you on the right track with our winealign.com notes. Of course, there are many great wines that are worth the occasional splurge. There are also some great value alternatives if you look to some lesser-known regions.

Boutari Grande Reserve 2007 Poderi Di Luigi Einaudi Barolo Terlo 2009 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2013Chardonnay is still the greatest white wine and it turns up top quality wines in surprising places. Take the Hamilton Russell 2013 Chardonnay from the cool, coastal part of South Africa where it achieves wonderful elegance but still with some new world gumption.

One wine that is nearly always worth a splurge is Barolo. And not to just have a few sips, you need to sit with a big glass full and let it open up over time to enjoy all the nuances and complexities that lie hidden in its slowly evolving self. The Luigi Einaudi 2009 Barolo Terlo does just that.

Okay, we can’t all afford Barolo and there are some wines that offer a pretty good facsimile at much more approachable prices. The best bet for me is Xinomavro from Naoussa in northern Greece. While we don’t get a lot of good Greek wine options in BC, one stalwart on many BC Liquor Stores shelves is the Boutari Grande Reserve 2007 Naoussa. Great complexity for $23.

Treve Ring

When I approach pairing wines with food (or with seasons), it’s not so much about the flavours or the hue; it’s all about texture. My November wines are much like my November wardrobe – thick and layered, cozy and familiar, with grippy fabric, warming thread throughout and a comforting, lingering memory. Pass the wool scarf – I mean semillon!

Ferrari Carano Chardonnay 2012

Bartier Bros. Semillon Cerqueira Vineyard 2012

Alvear Pedro XimenezFerrari-Carano Chardonnay 2012 from Sonoma’s Alexander Valley is one such wine, full bodied and weighted on the palate, built with creamy pear and hazelnut paste, and primed to partner with your white sauced pastas or fish.

Bartier Bros. Semillon is another such wine that has palatable texture and depth that seems to grow each time I taste it. Though the 2013 is on the shelves now, I recently opened a 2012 (these wines age beautifully) and was impressed by its thorny, herbal wildflower spice and chalky, tactile acidity. Pair with pork belly, savoury risotto or scallops with herbed leeks.

And it’s hard to think of a more textured wine than pedro ximenez, some rumoured to be so thick and unctuous you can take with a spoon. Alvear Solera 1927 Pedro Ximenez is unapologetically and confidently a bit of a conundrum; exceptionally sweet, and overtly salty with baked figs, coffee and cloves that linger far past a single sip. Try this memorable PX with (or over) vanilla bean ice cream and cracked black pepper for a dessert you won’t forget.

About the BC Critics’ Picks ~

Our monthly BC Critics’ Picks column 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 through BCLDB or VQA stores. All are currently available for sale in BC.

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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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008