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Italy – a special place for both wine and food

Gismondi’s Final Blend
by Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

There’s already a buzz in Vancouver about the massive contingent of Italian wine producers headed for the west coast in late February to headline the 38th Vancouver International Wine Festival. The city will host some 60 producers that make wine in just about every important region of the vine land they call Enotria. But are we ready?

Whenever I’m lucky enough to be in Italy I take my watch off. It’s not so much that time stands still, but rather that it moves at its own pace and that rarely includes 60 beats per minute. Italians can be gregarious talkers and use a whirlwind of gestures when doing so, but when it comes to food and wine there is a calmness and a sense of purpose in their choices that few other cultures can match.

It’s not that they spend a lot of time thinking about pairing wine and food as much as they serve what comes naturally, or might I say historically, in the region where they live. What we can say is there is a simplicity and a clarity of flavours on the plate that make Italy a special place for both wine and food. Often only one or two flavours are present in any dish and rarely more than three and it is this reliance on simplicity and uncluttered flavours that gives Italian cuisine its wide appeal.

When you think about it, the Italian way is probably a good road map for where we need to go in Canada. Certainly there could be some relevance between modern-day high end Canadian wine and the mostly lean, fresh style of Italian white and red wines. Freshness and minerality are the hallmarks of many Italian whites and when paired with equally fresh seafood dishes they can move to another level, revealing finesse and character from the front of the glass to the back.

Pasta and Italian wine is an easy match and if you think like an Italian and add perhaps only one or two ingredients the results can be stunning. In the case of verdicchio, a crisp white with plenty of minerality and acid, it is a quick match for tossed fresh pasta, available at most specialty markets, with a variety of pesto. In Canada, pasta, some fresh clams in a butter sauce, and a steely chardonnay could result in a perfect match.

Map of Italy - Vancouver International Wine Festival

Pinot grigio is probably the best know Italian white wine but often the light-bodied, dry, crisp wine is overwhelmed by the food we serve with it in North America. A case in point is squid. It is almost always breaded, spiced and served as an appetizer when in Italy, pan-seared squid with a little olive oil, salt and pepper is the perfect match for a refreshing pinot grigio.

Red wines with vital acidity, like barbera, nebbiolo and sangiovese, are incredibly versatile food wines working with mushrooms, tomatoes, wild boar, raw beef and more. I can think of many local Canadian gamay, cabernet franc, grenache and pinot noir that fit that bill.

Enter Italy. There is something about Italian cuisine that simply does not intimidate the average food and wine aficionado in the way French food and wine traditions do. Perhaps it’s the Italian propensity for showing up late and staying late that sets a tone for informality. This month as the Canadian dollar heads south faster than a snowbird, I suggest you consider organizing an in-house dinner party and end a hectic day, Italian-style, at home, with friends.

It’s easy enough to pull together a no fuss menu and share it before hand with your guests and then suggest they bring along some of their favourite Italian labels to accompany one of the courses. With no restaurant mark-ups to double the price consider spending a bit more at retail and bring along a great bottle of wine for the night.

Friulano Tenuta di Angoris Villa Locatelli 2013 Adami Bosco di Gica Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco SuperioreTo get the party underway think about serving a selection of antipasti and your favourite Prosecco. The best Prosecco, the DOCG, are made from the glera grape and grown in the Conegliano and Valdobbiadene regions of Veneto, just north of Treviso. It’s a softer style bubble, with ripe fruit and a brisk finish, well-suited to all types of antipastos and pre-dinner bites. Think marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, a selection of olives, and some thinly sliced sopressata, capicola and Genoa salumis. I recommend the Adami Bosco di Gica Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore.

Make pasta your secondi or second course and keep it simple. You can pick up a variety of fresh pastas at most specialty markets. Simply decide on the saucing and you are ready-to go. Linguine with pesto is both satisfying and easy to prepare and it’s relatively wine friendly. All you have to do is boil some water, cook the pasta al dente and then toss with the pesto.

To accompany the pasta, think about the cooler, fresher style Italian whites from the north or those grown near the sea, or at altitude. A current favourite is Tenuta di Angoris Villa Locatelli Friulano 2014 from Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Fragrant wildflowers, honeysuckle, nectarine and fennel set the stage for a white wine that will cut through the pasta.

The main course sounds impossibly challenging but grilled Florentine steak or Bistecca alla Fiorentina could not be simpler to prepare. Rub the steak with a good olive oil and generously season it with salt and pepper. Then simply toss it on a pre-heated grill and prepare it to order for your guest. Grill some vegetables ahead of time – they taste sensational as the dry heat concentrates natural sugars and gives them a bold and rustic look. Now you have a main course built for big reds.

Tuscan sangiovese or Super-Tuscan reds are perfect match or you could look to the south of Italy for slightly more rustic reds that are big on value. Begin with Rocca della Macie Roccato 2009, a super Tuscan bled made by Sergio Zingarelli. Roccato is a 50/50 mix of sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon all picked by hand and vinified separately aged in French oak barriques. It easily has the heft to handle any grilled meats.

Similarly, fans of big reds will enjoy the Barone Ricasoli Colledilà Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010.  Colledilà has been a part of the Brolio estate for centuries, and is the cru that stands above all others. Expect a rich, round, smooth, juicy palate with a long but warm, meaty finish.

Rocca Delle Macìe Roccato 2009 Barone Ricasoli Colledilà Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010 Il Passo Nerello Mascalese E Nero D'avola Vigneti Zabu 2013 Batasiolo Bosc Dla Rei Moscato D'asti 2014

The ultra bargain steak wine comes from Sicily: Il Passo Nerello Mascalese e Nero d’Avola Vigneti Zabu 2013, Sicily. An 85/15 mix of nerello mascalese and néro d’avola whose canes are cut allowing the grapes to naturally dry out on the vines. The nose and palate is a savoury mix of baked fruit including plums, figs and black currants flecked with a peppery, cherry, chocolate finish.

If you have paced yourself through this multi-course marathon you can easily cap off the evening with an array of chocolate truffles from your favourite local purveyor and a lightly frizzante fruity ending based on the aromatic moscato grape. The fruity, orange ginger notes of the lightly sparkling moscato will all but set off the chocolate and send your guests home smiling.

The Batasiolo Bosc Dla Rei Moscato d’Asti 2014, as reviewed by Sara d’Amato, will suit.

Now all you need do is add music (Italian of course), and lively guests (Italians not a prerequisite) and you’ve yourself una serata perfetta – a perfect evening.


Castello Di Gabbiano Riserva Chianti Classico 2012


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20 Under $20 in BC : January 2016

Resolve to Drink Better

We all know them – maybe we’ve even been one ourselves. The person who swears off alcohol in a New Year, new start, liver cleansing, clean living kick. Yes, post-holiday restraint and moderation is a smart and healthy move. But, no wine? The thought to me always sounded a bit too unmoderate. Wine, in many cultures, is a part of daily life. Grapes are key members of the fruit group, yeah? Numerous studies have shown that wine, in moderation, leads to a healthy, lengthy, and much more fun life. Pay attention you January resolutioners – it doesn’t get better than this!

However, what many do need to cut back on after a holiday season of excess is expenses. Here are our January 20 Under $20 to boost your health and your bank account.

~ TR

BC Critic Team

Anthony Gismondi

It’s a new year but I’m loathe to change my philosophy of trying to always drink wine that matters no matter what the situation, or the price. Of course under $20 is a challenge in BC. Don’t be suckered in by the new tax-out pricing. Make sure you add that 15 percent in your head before you get to the till where some of these prices will quickly make some under $20 wines, well, more than $20. Add to that a brutal Canadian dollar and no respite in local prices and it all points to a column that will continue to be tough to write all year. The good news is we are doing all the work for you.

First up, a dealcoholized wine worth having around the house. Loxton N/V Cabernet Sauvignon is for that guest who would like a glass of wine that looks real yet does not pack that alcoholic punch that comes with regular wine.

Rustic reds are always better in cold weather so look to the mid-weight, easy-sipping Navarro López 2012 Pergolas Old Vines Tempranillo Crianza from Valdepeñas, Spain to help warm up a mid-week stew or a casserole.

If you are up to try something new, sparkling and affordable, from Moldova, check out Cricova Crisecco N/V Sparkling Brut, a medium-weight fruity sparkler you can serve most nights with some pre-dinner taste bites. It is a good value prosecco lookalike, but drier.

Loxton Cabernet Sauvignon Navarro Lopez Valdepenas Crianza Tempranillo Pergolas Old Vines 2012 Cricova Crisecco Sparkling Brut Feteasca Alba Muscat Bartier Bros. Gewürztraminer Lone Pine Vineyard 2014 Heartland Spice Trader Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Elephant Island Orchard Wines Fortified Framboise 2014

I love winemaker Michael Bartier’s style. Try his delicious Bartier Bros. 2014 Gewürztraminer Lone Pine Vineyard from Summerland: an orchard fruit party in a bottle. Where’s the curry chicken?

Finding an inexpensive Oz red that isn’t sweet and sour is no easy task but I like the Heartland Spice Trader 2012 Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon. There is good balance here, and even better, it is not acidic in the back end. From a superior vintage too.

Finally a simply amazing fortified fruit wine you might enjoy on your ice cream or solo in a glass. Elephant Island Orchard Wines 2014 Fortified Framboise is a treasure trove of intense raspberry/chocolate flavours.

Rhys Pender MW

Ahh, the hangover that is January. Memories of all the great wine, great food and nights of indulgence are etched in that extra belt hole and the hollow bank account. This makes January an important time for finding value wine. With your palates still tuned to the high quality wines you gulped down with abandon over the holidays, the budget bottles of the New Year have a lot to live up to. This makes it tough to find pleasure for under $20. Here are some wines I find that over deliver for their price. I hope you enjoy them.

You cannot easily wean yourself off celebratory bubbly and there is no need to as many of the best value wines on the market are sparkling. You can still get something with a little toasty autolysis and stay well under $20. That is worth celebrating in itself. The Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava is consistently one of the best.

We also need something crisp, fresh and white to pair with all those health conscious salads we are now eating as part of the new years resolutions. I was impressed by the new 2014 Quails’ Gate Dry Riesling both in price and quality.

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava Quails' Gate Dry Riesling 2014 Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2013 Niepoort Dialogo 2013 Ricossa Barbaresco 2011

I will admit I’m often not the biggest fan of Fumé Blanc but I was presently surprised and impressed by the 2013 Robert Mondavi Fumé. These guys invented the stuff so I guess they really know what they are doing. This vintage is probably the best I have had and is a lovely balance between racy freshness, a little tropical fruit and just a dusting of vanillin oak. Sear a bit of richer white fish in the pan to serve with your fresh vegetables or greens and with this wine you are set.

You also need some red wines that over deliver with a little complexity at a low price. A regular winner is the Niepoort Diálogo Tinto and the 2013 is a delicious mix of juicy, earthy, savoury and a good whack of fruit and complexity. This can please all comers and is a versatile food wine too with anything from basic pasta with tomato sauce to any grilled meat.

Another consistently good value wine is the Ricossa Barbaresco. The 2011 is lighter and savoury but gives a hint at some of the flavours you will find in the more concentrated Barbaresco and Barolo but at a fraction of the price.

Treve Ring

As I mentioned in my intro, wine is a part of daily life in many cultures, including the Trevehouse. I would much rather use up my “resolution budget” to try something new. Why not stretch into a new grape or region this month? It’s an especially apt opportunity when you’re not laying out too much cash as well.

Always fizz. There are many value quality : value fizz to explore this month. If you are adamant that you are cutting down on alcohol, then pick up Fresita, a Chilean fizz infused with organic Patagonian strawberries. Only 8 % alcohol and effortlessly delicious.

The act of drinking fortified wines regularly is new to most folks, so picking up a bottle of Bodegas Hidalgo Manzanilla La Gitana from Jerez’ neighbouring Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Spain is pretty much a must-do. This popular Manzanilla wins with its dry delicacy, sea salt freshness and lingering tanginess. A natural pair for almonds, olives, sardines and cured meats – as well as sushi. Pick up the 375ml to stay under $20.

Fresita Sparkling Wine Infused With Strawberries Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla Stag's Hollow Viognier Marsanne 2013 Friulano Tenuta Di Angoris Villa Locatelli 2014

Search hard for the new Stag’s Hollow 2013 Viognier – Marsanne, a ‘natural’ wine made without added sulfur or yeast, and one that was unfined and unfiltered. One year on the lees in older acacia barrel yields, gentle honeysuckle, heady floral acacia and lime on a very textured palate, where an undercurrent of herbal fennel, apricot, ginger spicing stream in with brisk acidity. A striking adventurous wine for BC.

If you aren’t familiar with the friulano grape, the Friulano Tenuta Di Angoris 2014 Villa Locatelli is a great gateway wine. Fragrant wildflowers, honeysuckle, nectarine and fennel are drawn across the waxy palate, one kept bright and fresh with 12.5% alcohol.

Portugal is a treasure trove of quality wines that hit far above their price – plus are comprised of indigenous grapes that are probably new to you. See Rhys’ Niepoort red pick above as prime proof. The Niepoort Dialogo 2011 Douro Branco is another prime example. This white blend of codega do larinho, rabigato, gouveio, dona branca, viosinho and bical entices and intrigues with its texture, concentration and easy lightness of being.

Another entirely overlooked and completely underrepresented category in BC is South Africa. There are some real wines / real values to be found, like the Spier 2013 Chenin Blanc, a steal at $14. Meadow, white grapefruit, perfumed gooseberry and ripe pear weightiness, without any oak influence which allows the fruit to shine.

Maybe Austria is a region you haven’t explored much of? Right that, right now, with Laurenz Und Sophie Singing Grüner Veltliner 2013 from Niederösterreich, a stony, herb-basted GV with crisp orchard fruit and green fig carried on a dry, oily, medium bodied palate, and an ideal pour against your pissaldiere.

Niepoort Dialogo Branco 2011 Spier Signature Chenin Blanc 2013 Laurenz Und Sophie Singing Grüner Veltliner 2013 Leyda Reserva Syrah 2012 Regis Boucabeille Les Terrasses 2014

Winter warmer needed? Are you familiar with Chile’s Leyda Valley? The Leyda Reserva Syrah 2012 was a gold value winner at the 2015 World Wine Awards, gold lit for its ripe, spicy and floral notes, grilled meatiness and smoothed tannins. Compact and tidy.

I think you’ll spare me the extra $0.49 to recommend the newest vintage of Regis Boucabeille Les Terrasses 2014, Cotes Du Roussillon Villages. Having southern France red blends like this remind me how much I adore southern France red blends. This organic grenache/syrah/carignan blend is planted on shale slopes that were abandoned in the 20th century because it was too hard to farm, but now is made into a seriously quaffable fresh, juicy red with ripe plums, smoked stone and garrigue riding a plump, sun-ripened cushion, one supported and defined by slightly gritty tannins. Stock up.


WineAlign in BC

In addition to our popular 20 Under $20 shopping guide, we publish the monthly Critics’ Picks report and include the wines across any price point and channel that excite us each month, 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!

National Wine Awards Wine Club

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Anything to declare?

Gismondi’s Final Blend
by Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

You can strike another one off the calendar. Another year, that is. Did 2015 flash by in a blink or does it just feel that way because my email box seems as if it was overloaded with editors asking where is that copy?

My year began sensibly in Hawaii on a deserted beach in Maui. I’m not really a beach person but living in an insignificant Pacific Time zone in a world that never shuts down, I’m connected 24/7 to the world of wine. If it isn’t Europe all evening, it’s eastern Canada in the morning, and all the rest in between, so recharging has now become as important as anything. Best of all, it is time that allows you to think. That said, the whales and the turtles are a distant memory as 2016 approaches, and I can’t wait to get back.

Australia kicked off 2015 with an ambitious upbeat showing at the Vancouver Wine Festival. The almost futuristic showing of what’s really possible Down Under was inspiring. Translating that into new listings and change on store shelves is proving to be a much bigger challenge.

It’s interesting to consider that when North America was a wine world afterthought in the 1970s and 1980s, most every import producer was breaking down the doors of North American retailers trying to get their wine into the country. By the 1990s Canadian monopolies were a showcase for wines of place. Dozens and dozens of boutique Napa Valley producers dotted our shelves and they were vying with their contemporaries from Australia and New Zealand and Chile and Italy. It was a time of super-Tuscans, Chianti Classico, class-growth Bordeaux, countless Burgundy négociants and exciting new New World finds almost weekly. There was even hope for South Africa. It’s hard to believe but visiting a wine shop back then was a real thrill for what was the forerunner of a wine geek.

It’s a different wine milieu today. Big brands and big retailers rule the world. The lowest price, the highest margins (and the sweetest wines) drive the business and we are all the poorer for it. There was much jubilation when the U.S. wine market surpassed France as the world’s largest wine-consuming nation two years ago. A lot was expected, or perhaps we should say was dreamed about, but what is really going on in the world’s number one wine market still lags far behind other countries in per-capita consumption.

In 2015 Shanken’s IMPACT Databank Review and Forecast for the US market noted slow growth especially among the on-trade environment where it is projecting “a tiny 0.2% increase by the end of this year, to a total volume of 321.7 million nine-liter cases. The 2015 volume increase represents the smallest increase since 1994 and after steadily increasing from 1994-2011, the per-capita wine consumption is projected to decline for the fourth consecutive year, as Americans bypass wine in favor of spirits, RTDs [ready to drink beverages] and cider.”

When you include bulk imports used for American brands (the equivalent of our Cellared in Canada or, more recently, International Canadian Blends) the domestic table wine category is projected to inch ahead in 2015. The report states “The primary growth driver in recent years has been Moscato, while on the import side double-digit gains continue to come from New Zealand wines, and on a much smaller scale, French rosé. Barefoot Cellars owned by Gallo is the “only brand with retail sales value exceeding $1 billion. Australia’s Yellow Tail leads all import labels comfortably by both value and volume.”

The numbers are somewhat shocking given it’s the age of the ‘Somm.’ Could it be natural wines and grower Champagne, just about all you read or hear about from sommeliers these days, are not on the radar of American wine consumers? If Hawaii restaurants are any indication the answer is a resounding no. But before we get too patriotic, it’s not much different here in Canada.

We have the provincial monopolies to thank for our shrinking selection. The changes are subtle, but as the expansion of big brand ‘facings’ (the number of bottles set side-by-side on a shelf) in liquor stores continues, each new facing spells the death of a boutique label likely produced in a legitimate appellation by a small family producer. In other words, every extra facing of Yellowtail, or Apothic or Sawmill Creek or Copper Moon means one less Rioja, or McLaren Vale Shiraz or Alto Maipo cabernet.

In March I attended ProWein. It turned out to be like a bowl of homemade chicken soup for the damaged wine soul. So much energy and so many great bottles and so few in Canadian stores. Like most foreign stops lately you learn that fewer and fewer family wineries are interested in dealing with the leviathan of rules and regulations that come with selling to Canada’s liquor monopolies. Between the regulations and the paperwork most say it’s no longer worth the effort to ‘maybe’ sell a single pallet of wine. And in another self–fulfilling way it’s not worth the monopoly’s time either. Bring on the sweet moscato and the sweet Prosecco and the critter labels and mega brands.

A better story is Canadian wine: production is up, sales are up, prices are up and the quality is up and all that is happening despite the best efforts of the country’s two largest markets, Ontario and Quebec, both of whom continue to block the sale of domestic wines made outside of their provincial boundaries.

Canadian vintners not exactly known for coming together to grow the market internationally may want to look to Adrian Bridge. Bridge is CEO of one of Portugal’s oldest and most important wine firms, the Fladgate Partnership, purveyors of several global brands led by Taylor Fladgate and Fonseca ports. Speaking at Spain’s Wine Vision 2015, Bridge was quoted in Drinks International as saying “The patchwork of different interests that exists in the world of wine often obscures our common areas of interest and gets in the way of cooperation and yet many of the significant challenges that are faced in the wine industry can be overcome by cooperation between competing producers, regions and even countries.”

Bridge speaks from experience revealing he has worked with Fladgate’s “archrivals/ competitors”, the Symington Group, holding joint port tastings. Bridge warned there are limits to what can be done but it is his view is that “The advantages of collaboration will generally outweigh the risks associated if the rules are clear and the parties look beyond their immediate goals and look to the medium and long term.”

Maybe 2016 is the year someone stops our quagmire that is Canadian wine politics, sidesteps the monopolies and brings together the industry under one banner. There is a sense the monopolies are on their last legs, not because of any reasoned or eloquent arguments that they should be terminated – and there are many – but rather like ancient Rome in the process of arrogantly trying to control everything to do with liquor they have finally upset Jack and Jill Citizen who think buying wine in a grocery store or a private wine shop is not the mortal sin it has been portrayed.

As I type this, Ontarians will have beer in 58 grocery stores by the end of the year. Ironically the folks who did all the work lobbying for grocery store wine sales will get nothing because according to government, the case for wine is far more complicated. Like BC, Ontario is learning grocery store wine sales are extremely complicated especially when you try to create a system that favours the home team and then try to implement it with special interest groups who are friends of government. An open market with a flat tax would eliminate all the problems, but then the only people who would benefit from that are consumers.

Somehow we will all survive in 2016 because Canadians will do what they have to do to buy interesting wine, even if a good portion of that will be illegal in the eyes of our goofball liquor laws that stretch from the Queen of England, to Ottawa to our photo-op obsessed provincial politicians. Consumers in Quebec and Ontario will continue to shop across provincial boundaries in search of bargains. British Columbian consumers and restaurants will continue to clean out Alberta wine shops and illegally ship their wine booty home, thumbing their nose at laws that make no sense and never have.

It’s tiresome to say the least, which has me wondering if I should go back to spending more time outside of the country in 2016. I have to say it is tempting. At WineAlign we spend an inordinate amount of time covering a lot of overtaxed dross bought and sold by the monopolies and I wonder whether we shouldn’t be going in another direction. It could be fun to report on the real wine world with tips on how to exploit the vast underworld of wine delivery needed to get those bottles into your homes.

I’m going to think about all this in Hawaii and get back to you soonest. Aloha, and Cheers to 2016.


Wolf Blass Gold Label Syrah

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British Columbia Critics’ Picks December 2015


While the WineAlign West crew drink fizz, well, daily, there’s even more reason to pop the cork at year’s end. Between festive gatherings, Christmas dinner (and brunch!) and toasting to the start of a prosperous 2016, there is ample reason to celebrate this season. Here are a dozen of our favourite sparkling wines tasted this past year, any one of which we would be happy to raise a glass of to you, dear reader and fellow wine lover.

Cheers ~ TR

BC Critic Team

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

Anthony Gismondi

If you want to know which of your friends is really into wine, check their refrigerator. If you find a chilled bottle of sparkling wine just waiting to be opened for no particular reason, chances are they are wine freaks. Some thirty years down the wine path I’m still baffled by consumer resistance to open, share, and generally drink sparkling wine on a regular basis. It’s almost as if we dare not be seen consuming a product widely associated with “celebrating” something. Confounding the issue is sparkling wine’s ability to pair with an almost infinite number foods. But why dwell on the dreary; it’s time for a break and a great bottle of fizz to celebrate a few days off.

My picks for the holidays are not cheap but if you are only going to celebrate with sparkling wine you might as well drink the best. The Veuve Clicquot 2004 La Grande Dame comes from a large harvest but you would never know it. Big and rich, yes, but with a brightness and acidity that travels throughout. Showing at its peak now but should age gracefully.

Taittinger 2005 Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs is not as big as the 2002 or 2004, so it’s ideally situated to drink now, providing breathing room for those wines to continue to age. Elegant as ever and delicate with full flavours.

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin La Grande Dame Vintage Brut Champagne 2004 Taittinger Comtes De Champagne Blanc De Blancs Vintage Brut Champagne 2005 Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne Piper Heidsieck Rare Champagne 2002

The delicious Louis Roederer N/V Brut Premier Champagne continues to impress in recent years, especially for the price. Love its cherry, citrus, chalky salty mineral palate. Always classy.

Finally the latest Piper-Heidsieck 2002 Rare Brut is a treat. One of the last tête-de-cuvées to come to the market, it doesn’t look or taste its thirteen years. Balanced and complex consider this serious enough for the dinner table.

Rhys Pender MW

Let’s make no mistake. Bubbly should not be reserved only for this holiday time of the year. Yes, we loosen our wallets a bit more around Christmas and upgrade from Cava to Champagne a little more often but we have to remember that it is fine to drink the sparkling stuff year round.

That said, the holidays are a great chance to try some classy wines and really see what you get for those extra dollars. You should get wines with more intensity, more complex flavours and greater length. They should leave you thinking with each sip. Here are four sparklers I would recommend for this Christmas and New Year.

The first is a delicious chardonnay based wine from the small Philipponnat house. You can currently buy the Philipponnat 2004 Grand Blanc Brut at private stores in BC and it is worth seeking out. Great combination of racy freshness and complex age and autolysis.

Another Champagne that is new to the shelves of the BC Liquor Stores, and new to me, is the Tendil & Lombardi N/V Brut Champagne. On special ’til Jan 2 for $46.99 this has fresh, crisp, racy minerality and just a hint of toastiness. Pairs well with oysters. I tested this personally for you.

Philipponnat Grand Blanc Brut 2004Tendil & Lombardi Champagne Brut Arras Grand Vintage 2004 Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve Champagne

Tasmania is Australia’s Champagne region – making its best sparkling wines. We are lucky to have another wine with some bottle age on the shelf in BC for a special treat. The Arras Grand Vintage 2004, is $60.99 and offers a richer style of wine with lots of developed character and still holding on with freshness. Try it with gougères.

Of the more widely available Champagnes you often end up developing a favourite. Admittedly I have a couple, but perhaps my favourite is the Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve Champagne. This has the combination of toasty richness balanced with crisp, mineral acidity that I look for and it seems more complex and intense than most of its competition.

Treve Ring

Fizz goes with everything from brunch to dinner and intimate date night to grand showy celebrations. And really, everything else. I’ll self award an A for Effort in my attempt to taste as many sparkling wines as possible in 2015. Here are four memorable bottles of bubbles.

The pristine, Champagne Pierre Gimonnet & Fils N/V Brut Rosé de Blancs is for those people who may not generally gravitate towards rosé champagnes (ahem – people like me). Delicate and intense at once, with a chalky textural minerality and precision that befits its 96 percent chardonnay. Four percent still pinot noir from Bouzy is added to the blend, yielding an ever-so-delicate peach hue and whiff of wild strawberries. One of the most memorable wines of my year.

Champagne Vilmart & Cie Grande Réserve N/V Brut Premier Cru is a graceful grower champagne, from premier cru vineyards around the village of Rilly, organically farmed. A fuller cushion of red fruit (red apples, currants) reflects the majority pinot noir in the cépage, balanced out with a vein of bright acidity from the chardonnay and plumped up with a minimum of ten months ferment and aging in oak.

Champagne Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut Rosé de Blancs Champagne Vilmart & Cie Grande Réserve Brut Premier Cru Coates & Seely Hampshire Reserve Brut Haywire The Bub Bottle Fermented & Aged

You’ve probably heard about British bubble, and now you can taste it, with the first to our province, Coates & Seely Hampshire N/V Reserve Brut, currently on shelves. This is a tiny, hands-on, traditional method (Méthode Britannique) sparkling house. Salt, wet chalk, lemon pith and subtle earthiness rings on the intense nose and palate before a bite of crunchy, citrus-spun acids. Charms with honest exuberance.

It’s always rewarding to see local wines shine and stand shoulder to shoulder with their peers worldwide. That’s what I thought when I tasted the latest Haywire The Bub, Bottle Fermented & Aged 2013. Pinot noir and chardonnay from cooler sites in Summerland and Oliver were used in this crisp, bright, bone dry (brut zero) fizz. Stock up, drink up.


WineAlign in BC

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

Zalto Wine Glasses

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20 Under $20 in BC : December 2015

Merriment & Cheer

‘Tis the season for holiday entertaining. Whether it’s trimming the tree, holiday parties or Christmas dinner, wine factors in often, and among this group, liberally. What better way to spread merriment than by sharing a bottle of wine with friends and family? We’ve selected 20 bottles that that will see you through the seasons’ festivities while leaving money for your holiday cheer.

~ TR

BC Critics

Anthony Gismondi

My goal was to cover all your holiday entertaining with six wines. I figure a half case of each should get you through the New Year and leave you some leftovers for the odd dinner or night off.

We begin with chardonnay – everyone loves it, especially from California. Our pick is the Kendall Jackson Vintners Reserve Chardonnay 2013 from California. It’s drier and fresher than you might think and capable of flying solo without food if needed.

You’ll need a cabernet but under $20 makes it challenging. A capable performer at a giveaway price is the El Esteco Don David Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013 from Cafayate, Argentina.

Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay 2013El Esteco Don David Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013Tabalí Reserva Pinot Noir 2013

Pinot noir will be required by those who prefer a softer red with gentle tannins, something you can sip all night. Enter Tabali Reserva Pinot Noir 2013 from Limari, Chile.

Of course, you should make sure you have a crowd-friendly sauvignon blanc on hand so I’m thinking Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014. It is all Aconcagua Costa fruit, quiet and fresh on the palate forsaking pungency for finesse. Great with holiday party snacks.

Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014Rio Madre Rioja 2012Château Pesquié Terrasses 2013

You need a geeky wine for the hipster crowd so I’m calling Rio Madre Rioja 2012. Rioja is not so geeky but when it’s made with 100 per cent graciano, it’s a bit off the beaten path. Round, soft and super ripe it slides down easily with party bites.

My under twenty red blend comes from the south of France where all the top values in wine reside. Château Pesquié Ventoux Les Terrasses 2013 is a 60/40 Rhone blend of grenache and syrah, or almost. There are traces of carignan, cinsault and mourvèdre. Expect a spicy black pepper nose with a fine dose of juicy, red fruits.

Rhys Pender MW

It’s that season again: friends and family drop in for a glass of wine and too much good food by the fire. It is important to have a selection of wine on hand to suit whatever situation may arise – be it charcuterie, sweets, oysters, etc. Here are my tips for five wines to get you through the holidays in festive style.

Bubbly – you must have good inexpensive bubbly on hand. Of course Champagne works best if your budget stretches that far but you don’t have to spend a lot to get decent bubbly. Cava is the best value and there are plenty of them on sale at the BCLDB this December. One of my favourites (unfortunately not on sale but worth it anyway) is the Parés Baltà Brut. It is crisp and zingy with some nice minerality. I’ve been slipping a lot of Cava into making some French 75s lately. So get some Gin and lemon juice and try out this delicious cocktail too.

Hopefully oysters are involved this holiday party period. While the Parés Baltà Brut will work as a good pairing, I would have on hand some crisp, mineral white that will go with oysters as well as many other little nibblies. I like the raciness of Muscadet and in BC the Château De La Gravelle Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2013 is always a safe bet.

Parés Baltà Cava BrutChâteau De La Gravelle Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2013Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages Combes Aux Jacques 2013Clos Des Miran Visan 2013Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage 2010

I also like to have a light juicy red on hand. This kind of wine is perfect with charcuterie and other savoury snacks. Get some top quality iberico ham, copa, salami, some olives and the like and crack open a bottle of Beaujolais. Nothing can go wrong. A good value choice is the Jadot 2013 Beaujolais-Villages – Combe Aux Jacques. Light, juicy, fresh and very tasty.

A soft warming red is also always a good idea to have around the house, one that is delicious around the fire or with anything meaty. The Rhône Valley and the Languedoc are always the source of many interesting and affordable wines. The Moillard 2013 Clos des Miran Côtes du Rhône-Villages Visan is fresh and lively as well as soft and silky and will be a good all rounder.

In the cool, winter holiday season it also seems like the perfect time to drink Port. There is plenty of great value Port out there, particularly in the Late Bottled Vintage category. The Taylor Fladgate LBV will be the perfect match to Christmas pudding as well as blue cheese and many of the baked goodies that appear at this time of year. You can get a half bottle for under $15 or spring for a larger version for under $25.

Treve Ring

So much joy to the world and decking of halls goes on this month, and much of it last minute. It’s best to stock up in advance so you can be prepared. With these tasty value wines, you can afford to pick up and stash a few. Maybe leave one out for Santa…

Of course, fizz. Always fizz. It wouldn’t be the holidays – or any day at the Trevehouse ending in ‘Y’ without it. Prosecco is certainly in its zenith right now, so it would well suit you to have a crisp, elegant and lively example like Vaporetto Prosecco Brut NV chilled and on hand at all times.

So impressed by the 2014 Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer. Always a strength of the winery, but the latest vintage has everything dialed in – especially the concentration of the 20 year old vines.

Vaporetto Prosecco BrutTinhorn Creek Gewurztraminer 2014Quails' Gate Chardonnay 2014Fontanafredda Gavi Di Gavi 2014

Always a smart move to have some chardonnay on hand, especially when its as star bright and food friendly as the Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2014. The juicy, medium bodied and lifted with bright lemon zest acidity – your new house local.

The classic Fontanafredda Gavi Di Gavi 2014 is as current and delicious now as it ever was. Almonds, herbed honey, citrus and cracked stone aromas lead through to a salty, snappy finish. Shellfish, anyone?

Okanagan Crush Pad’s Narrative line is meant to be pure, fresh, seriously quaffable wines that reflect the Okanagan – all at an affordable price. This current twinset of Narratives certainly reflect that credo, with the 2014 Red a juicy syrah and gamay blend and the 2014 White a fresh, floral blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, gewürztraminer and pinot gris.

No matter if you’re doing turkey, chicken, ham or salmon for Christmas dinner, a light, juicy, bright red will cover off all. I urge you to #GoGamayGo, with a lovely Cru Beaujolais like Domaine Lathuiliere Pisse Vieille Brouilly 2012. 50 year old vines, sustainably raised, precise and stony and structured – for this price?! Holiday miracle (though buy enough to drink year round).

Okanagan Crush Pad Narrative Red 2014Okanagan Crush Pad Narrative White 2014Domaine Lathuiliere Pisse Vieille Brouilly 2012Undurraga Sibaris Carmenere Reserva 2013Amalaya Vino Tinto De Altura 2013

When you’re home for a warming beef or root veg stew, reach for a bottle of the equally warming and rustic Undurraga Sibaris Carmenere Reserva Especial 2013, a full-bodied earth and tobacco laden red from Chile’s Colchagua Valley that will stand up to hearty dishes.

For a full bodied red in a more precise, perfumed style, hop across the Andes to Argentina’s high desert and the 2000m high vineyards of Amalaya Vino Tinto de Altura 2013. Malbec, cabernet sauvignon and syrah has never shown so concentrated – and lifted – at once. Suitable for beef tenderloin or lamb.


WineAlign in BC

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

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

Wolf Blass Here's to the Chase

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Enologica Bologna Fat and Happy

In this month’s Final Blend, Anthony Gismondi reports on Enologica Bologna, discovering a wealth of wine and food that speaks to the heart of Emilia-Romagna.

Gismondi’s Final Blend
by Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

The administrative district of Emilia-Romagna spreads across Northern Italy encompassing the historically significant regions of Emilia and Romagna, roughly halfway between Piemonte and Tuscany. Bologna is the capital of what is surely one of wealthiest and most developed regions in Europe and while Vancouverites like to brag about the quality of life on the West Coast it pales by comparison to what Bologna has to offer its citizens. The locals refer to the city as la grassa, ‘the fat’ for its rich culinary history.

In the year 2000, Bologna was named the cultural capital of Europe for a year, an easy choice given its first settlements date back to at least 1000 BC. From the Etruscans to the Celts and the Romans Bologna’s history is as rich as its food and wine. It is also home to the oldest university in the world – the University of Bologna founded in 1088. The centre of the city has been largely restored and conserved since the 1970s and it is a delight to walk the city center rich in monuments, medieval towers, churches, shops and some amazing restaurants.

I recently spent a weekend in Bologna and environs attending the 2nd Enologica Bologna discovering a wealth of wine and food that speaks to the heart of Emilia-Romagna: things like Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, Mortadella and Culatello di Zibello and well, the list goes on and on. The wines are equally charming, and ancient, involving a score of DOPs, DOCGs and IGTs. You need a handbook to navigate some of the labels, names like gutturnio – a blend of barbera and croatina (aka bonarda). Lambrusco salamino, lambrusco sobara, albana, bombino bianco, pignoletto, centesimino, malvasia and trebbiano are but a few of the names you are likely to encounter. Perhaps the best known is the resurging Sangiovese di Romagna.

Enologica 2015

It’s the same sangiovese that made its way to Tuscany. Historically the grapes were planted to the hillsides of the Apennines, a ridge that neatly divides Tuscany from Emilia-Romagna. Over time it made its way down to the flat lands and lost its purpose. There was a notion back then that the sangiovese clones of Romagna weren’t the best, but more diligent grape growing and vastly improved winemaking suggests the clones of Sangiovese di Romagna are among the best grown in Italy.

It’s not an easy grape to grow or even to come to know in the glass. According to Giorgio Melandri, a local journalist and true expert on most wine and food matters in Emilia-Romagna, the local sangiovese can be challenging. “It is always austere, moody and disrespectful (as well as relatively pale in colour), but as he correctly points out, “At the same time [it’s] able to maintain the ability to be elegant and profoundly interpret its territory.”

Fattoria ZerbinaThe final point is key. If a grape can express its terroir, and as a grower you know that, then you are well down the road to making the best wine you can. This is the story of the Sangiovese di Romagna in 2015. Throw in younger winemakers, a return to natural yeast fermentations by many, organic grape growing, older barrels, larger barrels, gentle winemaking and you have a story of growers in search of nuances that will set their wines apart from their famous neighbours to the south.

According to Melandri, “When the sangiovese grape grows on the clay soil of the first hills going in the direction of Romagna, the resulting wine has distinct floral characteristics, becoming more mineral the higher, less fertile and less compact the terrain becomes. Romagna is a true representation of mosaic terroirs and the sangiovese is able to express all of its potential as an interpreter of both the soil and microclimate.”

Knowing how slowly any changes in regulations move in Europe I admit to being shocked and exhilarated to learn that the growers of Emilia Romagna are working hard to develop a series of subzones within the existing DOCs and DOCGs to better differentiate their soils and wines. Most of these zones lie south of the historic Via Emilia, first constructed by the Romans in 187 BC, along the northern Italian plain, stretching from modern-day Rimini on the Adriatic coast, to Piacenza on the river Po.

This sense of place, something you might think is embedded in all of Europe’s wine, is all new in 2015 Emilia-Romagna where sub-regions are actively being identified to better tell the story of Sangiovese di Romagna. It’s a theme I experienced throughout the tasting room at Enologica where scores of wineries from all across the region gathered to showcase their latest bottles. While I was seeking to learn more about the Sangiovese di Romagna, after wandering the tasting room only a short distance it became clear there is so much more to discover in Emilia-Romagna.

Bologna streetBologna street 1

Moving from the plains to the hills, sangiovese and so many other indigenous grapes are going back to where they began. The sites are tougher to manage, the sloping, shallow soils poor and hard to work but the resulting grapes are so much more interesting. Couple that with the region’s waning fascination with international wines and the signs all point to a new authenticity in the region. Less oak, more acid, clean wines that taste different than the rest of the world are becoming the hallmark of the new Emilia-Romagna. That and seemingly endless and energetic supply of young people forming the next vision of this ancient region.

Today there are 87 different grapes varieties growing in the region. They range from red sangiovese to sparkling pignoletto and lambrusco. Throw in a few well-known ‘international’ varieties, albeit planted during the Napoleon era, along with various indigenous grapes with curious names and stories, like albano famoso, pagadebiti, centesimino, sgavetta, spergola, burson and uva ruggine and you still have barely scratched the depth of the region’s vineyards.

Here in Canada the region of Emilia-Romagna is better known for its specialty food like Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano than most any of its wines. And like most markets, our wine buyers tend to specialise in the easy to sell wines of Tuscany and Piedmont long before they would even consider a label from Emilia-Romagna.

Too bad I say. Eventually, just maybe, consumers will push back and force buyers everywhere to consider abandoning the ‘lowland’ brands for the ‘hillside’ labels and wines that matter.

Emilia-Romagna has found its way, can it only be a matter time before we do.


Fattoria Zerbina Ceregio Sangiovese di Romagna 2013, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Villa Papiano i Probi, Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 2011, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Il Nespoli Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva 2012, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Fattoria Zerbina Ceregio 2013Villa Papiano I Probi Di Papiano Sangiovese Di Romagna Riserva 2011Il Nespoli Sangiovese Di Romagna Superiore Riserva 2012

Wolf Blass - Here's to the Chase






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British Columbia Critics’ Picks November 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.

We’re all over the map this month with our picks, from our own BC backyard to New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Italy and France. All the wines stood out for us this month, and considering we’ve tasted hundreds of wines between us in the past few weeks, that’s saying something. Buy local, think global, but drink well.

Cheers ~ TR

BC Critic Team

Anthony Gismondi

Having just returned from Emilia-Romagna, Italian wines are on my mind, and in particular, warming reds that stand up to the heartier dishes craved in November. Altesino 2010 Brunello di Montalcino serves up sangiovese’s refined aromatics with restrained red fruit and silky tannins. Osso Buco anyone?

Popping over to Spain and Priorat, the Domini De La Cartoixa Formiga De Galena 2012 blends grenache, samsó and syrah into a a fresh, juicy and stony blend, ideal for a mushroom-laden winter stew.

If you’d like a new lens for local, seek out Black Hills Carmenere 2013 from Oliver. This wine has come a long way since first release. With only 12 percent alcohol, the peppery, structured undertone is balanced with soft red fruits, striking a fine balance and elegance.

Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino 2010Domini De La Cartoixa Formiga De Galena 2012Black Hills Estate Winery Carmenere 2013

Rhys Pender, MW

The world seems awash with great value Chardonnay in the modern, restrained style and New Zealand has many regions and climates well suited to this fresher expression. Winemaker and fellow MW, Michael Brajkovich has the technique down with a range of Chardonnays from his Kumeu River winery and these are starting to appear in BC. I was quite impressed with the Kumeu River 2012 Hunting Hill Chardonnay from the Kumeu region. Lots of nut, fruit, fresh crispness and restraint. Delicious.

A wine with good pedigree that I don’t get to try too often is the Howard Park 2012 Leston Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River in Western Australia. The 2012 is out now in BC and should be a good one to put a few bottles away for later. Most Margaret River reds seem to age quite well and are often a well-priced bet for the cellar.

An interesting red worth trying and that has some nice complexity and a bit of age for the price is the Losada 2011 Bierzo from Spain. Bierzo and its Mencia grape were rediscovered in a forgotten corner of north-west Spain not so long ago and I’m glad they were. This wine has a nice combination of rich fruit, minerality, spice and some savoury notes. Very good with something meaty cooked over charcoal.

Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2012Howard Park Leston Cabernet Sauvignon 2009Losada Bierzo 2011

Treve Ring

Though November has been chilly, we’ve been blessed with many days of brilliant sunshine and ample grilling opportunities, befitting juicy, friendly red wines. JoieFarm PTG 2013 is a BC classic, a blend of pinot noir and gamay that references Passe-Tout-Grains and the Burgundy blend of winemaker Heidi Noble. The medium-bodied palate carries forest, dark raspberries, cherries and dried salted herbs along lightly grippy tannins. Herb grilled chicken was a perfect match.

Gamay also plays a starring role in Okanagan Crush Pad’s Narrative Red 2014, a smart and well-priced syrah/gamay that is seriously quaffable. Smoked berry, ripe black cherry, raspberry jam and peppery roasted meats rule this juicy, round red, while ripe tannins finish with a gentle tug, making for the ideal support for a warm wild mushrooms and hearty grain salad.

Gamay is (obviously) never far from my heart, especially during November and Beaujolais Nouveau month. I skipped the Nouveau this year however, in favour of the striking Domaine Piron-Lameloise Chénas Quartz 2014. Rock juice. That’s what this wild ferment Chénas is like, living up to its Quartz name. Subtle earthy smoke, dark florals and black berries are laid across a textured streambed of stones. Tannins are slightly grippy and acids are bright and shining through to a fine peppery finish. Quite structured, this held up beautifully to roasted pork tenderloin.

~Joie Farm PTG 2013Okanagan Crush Pad Narrative Red 2014Domaine Piron Lameloise Quartz Chénas 2014

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.

Wolf Blass - Here's to the Chase

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British Columbia Critics’ Picks October 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.

Sitting here writing this while unable to see out my window due to the dense fog, it’s clear that Fogtober has rolled back into coastal BC. It makes my three Hallowe’en-ready picks even more appropriate this month, as well as the soul-warming reds and classic whites suggested by my colleagues. Meanwhile, DJ, ever the optimist (and sports fanatic) is getting the bubbles ready to toast the Blue Jays.

Cheers ~ TR

BC Critic Team


Anthony Gismondi

The harvest is all but done here on west coast of North America but it’s too early to say much other than it was one of the earliest on record and one of the warmest. Climate change continues to impact most every vineyard in the world and it will no doubt change the future of wine from California to British Columbia and beyond. Change, in fact, is the only certainty in the modern wine business; it matters not if you are new to the business such as BC’s Intersection Wines or if you have been around 40 years as is the case at Joseph Phelps Napa Valley or if you can date your winery back to 1500 as they can at Joseph Mellot in the Loire Valley.

Joseph Mellot Le Troncsec Pouilly Fumé 2014

Intersection Silica Merlot 2012

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2012This month my three picks follow those timelines beginning with the latest release of the Joseph Phelps 2012 Insignia, a Napa Valley giant. The 40th vintage of Insignia is something special and the cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, merlot, malbec and cabernet franc is going to need a decade to become one of the finest yet from one of the most respected valley pioneers.

Much farther north, an Okanagan Valley upstart is the Intersection 2012 Silica Merlot, a single block of fruit grown over sandy loam, the remains of beach deposits from an ancient glacial lake. A generous style with floral undertones, finesse and elegance. Surely where BC merlot must go.

Finally, stack up some bottles of Joseph Mellot 2014 Le Tronsec Pouilly-Fume from the famed Loire Valley commune. Here the magic is all about fruit grown over Kimmeridgian limestone marls and stones over clay, aided by a super classic vintage. Change – embrace it.


Rhys Pender, MW

Serge Dagueneau & Filles Tradition Pouilly Fumé 2014 Chateau de La Grande Gardiole Chateauneuf du Pape 2012 Bindi Pyrette Heathcote Shiraz 2013This month my selections are a mixed bag of delicious wines without any theme other than that they are all just delicious.

A new listing at the BCLDB, the Bindi 2013 Pyrette Shiraz is from the small but high quality Heathcote region in Victoria, Australia. Heathcote to me captures both the cool climate and riper side of Shiraz in the same wine. Fruit, spice, leather, pepper.

I never seem to tire of Châteauneuf-du Pape. It is so often just so delicious. The Château de la Grande 2012 Gardiole impressed recently with its lovely texture and complexity. 

I haven’t been over impressed lately with lots of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé and I’m not sure why. It is something about them seeming to be sweeter and fruitier than I expect. So it was a very pleasant surprise to try the Serge Dagueneau & Filles 2014 Pouilly-Fumé Tradition. Great complexity, racy minerality and super refreshing. 

DJ Kearney

Taittinger Brut Réserve Champagne Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Vigneti Delle Dolomiti 2014 Church & State Trebella 2014Freshly back from Portugal including a week rummaging around Madeira, I needed interesting wines to ease me back into the busy quotidian round that is life. I’d been drinking robust and thrilling Douro dry whites, and so the lusty, dusty Church and State 2014 Trebella provided a perfect transition to the 49th parallel.

The gravitas of Alois Lageder’s 2014 Dolomiti Pinot Grigio kept fine company with Lingini Vongole, my favourite welcome home dinner.

Sparkling wines are my best revivers (perfect for combatting jetlag) and it’s hard to beat the value of Taittinger Brut Reserve, where the elegant house style ensures thoroughbred bubble for celebrating Friday night, or (dare we hope) the Blue Jays’ playoff bid.

Treve Ring

I’m not one for themes. Nor am I one for holidays. That said, I am certainly one all for good wine. Packaging trumps all else on store shelves, sadly often masquerading the plonk inside. There are labels and packaging that reference the darker side AND are honest and tasty – perfect for your Halloween plans. Here are three that will suit your Halloween and Day of the Dead, as well as any other day of the calendar year.

Skulls Shiraz 2013 Ravenswood Besieged 2013 Moon Curser Afraid of the Dark 2013You needn’t grab a flashlight to drink the beguiling Moon Curser Vineyards 2013 Afraid of the Dark from the bottom reaches of the Okanagan Valley. Moon Curser Vineyards has proven that no one needs to fear Rhone varieties in BC, expressed through their concentrated wines like this roussanne, viognier, marsanne blend. Partner with Thai or Indian dishes.

Ravenswood 2013 Besieged is a blend from mostly Sonoma County, with petite sirah, carignane, zinfandel, syrah, barbera, alicante bouschet and mourvèdre all playing a part in this deep, savoury red, one scented with violets, dried spice and subtle leather resting on sueded tannins.

The label of 2013 Skulls Shiraz can appear either spooky or spookier. A man falling from a tree? Or a human skull? You don’t even need to have been drinking to be mesmerized by this artistic illusion, an illustration by artist Istvan Orosz titled Ship of Fools. However, be forewarned: if you drank a whole bottle of this heavyweight 20-60 year old vines Barossa shiraz at 16.5% alcohol solo, you’d just be seeing stars (or be passed out).


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.

Wolf Blass - Here's to the Chase

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Checkmate, it’s Only the Beginning

In this month’s Final Blend, Anthony Gismondi reports on Checkmate, a new, ultra-premium winery with an innovative and exclusive sales strategy, unique in Canada. How does one grape, planted in different terroir, differ? No expenses were spared to find out.

Gismondi’s Final Blend
by Anthony Gismondi

“By the time a player becomes a Grandmaster, almost all of his training time is dedicated to work on this first phase. The opening is the only phase that holds out the potential for true creativity and doing something entirely new.”  Garry Kasparov

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

It has been said to be successful in chess, or wine for that matter, you must constantly be thinking several steps ahead in tactics and decision making. From deciding where a pawn can be sacrificed to gain better position, to pitching single vineyard chardonnays at super premium prices you have to think your way through from start to finish. There’s no rushing in chess or wine. The best moves are all well thought out.

Mission Hill Winery owner Anthony von Mandl has done just that with his newest venture in the south Okanagan, Checkmate Artisanal Winery. Like most Von Mandl Family (VFM) initiatives the winery has been quietly progressing under the radar for more than three years now “doing something entirely new.” Checkmate’s first move, this November, will be its unconventional debut – online only.

In a world where winemakers and owners often say it’s all about the wine, and then go out and build a huge winery and visitor centre and restaurant, it would appear the VFM folks mean it this time. There is a physical building, the old Domaine Combret winery that had morphed into Antelope Ridge over the years, but it won’t be open to visitors. The facility has had a light retrofit but it is merely a place to make and raise the wine.

If you want to interact with Checkmate you will have to do it as a club member, online, or in a restaurant. As they say, membership has its advantages, and in this case membership will give you access to a limited number of bottles that will be made available to the public. There won’t be an endless supply.

To add to Checkmate’s mystique there will only be one grape in the mix, at least for now, and that is chardonnay. There will initially be five labels in all, with each boasting a different site selection or blend of sites, or in one case, wood treatment. By keeping the winemaking the same throughout, the aim is to express the individual site. Hardly revolutionary in the greater wine world but another step in the evolution of the Okanagan Valley where origin or site has played a secondary role to the grape and the producer.

I had a chance to taste through the first releases this summer and catch up with Anthony von Mandl, and winemaker and general manager Phil Mcgahan, the man charged with the Checkmate project.

Winemaker Phil Mcgahan with Anthony von Mandl

Winemaker Phil Mcgahan with Anthony von Mandl


Mcgahan, a transplanted Australian, grew up on a grain farm in the Darling Downs region of Queensland before obtaining a degree in law. After a short stint in the legal profession he caught the wine bug and returned to Charles Stuart University where he earned a Bachelor of Applied Science (Wine Science) degree and was Dux of his graduating class.

From school he ended up in the Hunter Valley but soon landed an important post as assistant winemaker at Sonoma-based Williams Selyem Winery, famous for its pinot noir and chardonnay, most of which sells for the equivalent of $80 to $125 a bottle. After several years in Sonoma, Mcgahan couldn’t resist the opportunity to come to British Columbia and run his own show at Checkmate. There is nothing brash about Mcgahan; in fact, his quiet, studious demeanour feels perfectly suited to the demanding, frenetic pace Von Mandl works at. They seem a perfect match.

Checkmate is situated on the Golden Mile Bench appellation, the newest and only recognised sub-appellation of the Okanagan Valley, but it will produce wines from sites around the valley. From the first five chardonnays released, three will be sourced from separate south Okanagan sites, one a blend of all sites and a final selection fermented and aged in a single large oval vat or foudre.

Winemaker Phil Mcgahan

Winemaker Phil Mcgahan


You can expect the Checkmate wines will spawn a minutia of details, from clones to rootstocks, to barrel makers, fermentation techniques and blending and ageing strategies. I’m not going to sugar coat it for the ‘keep-wine-simple crowd. This is a complex chardonnay project and it’s pushing a lot of boundaries.

Shoot thinning and positioning is key at Checkmate and it something the team has brought over from Viticulturist James Hopper’s work with pinot at Mission Hill Family Estates and Martin’s Lane. Once the thinning is done, and done early, the shoots can be further positioned. It’s a new architecture that spreads out the fruiting zone, produces uniform, open bunches and that results in higher quality fruit. It’s safe to say everyone involved is inspired by the great chardonnays of Burgundy, and there is a resemblance, but in the end the Checkmate style is neither Old World nor New World but rather Next World, Okanagan Valley.

Von Mandl admits at this stage “It is less about selling wine and more about making a statement and selling the valley,” and sell it he will from $80 to $125 a bottle. The mantra at Checkmate is to only release wines that are worth it and that can stand the price and I must say after tasting through the lineup the squat, ancient looking, artisanal-shaped bottles look the part and taste it too. It’s clear they have been rigourous and selective, discarding anything that doesn’t make the cut. The alcohol comes in just over 14 percent and seems fine although the long term goal would be to get it down under 14 percent.


CheckMate Artisanal Winery


The Lineup

The chess theme runs through the lineup starting with the 2013 Capture Chardonnay. The fruit is grown at the Border Vineyard, a single block planted in 1997 to the Dijon clone 76, in Osoyoos, not all that far from the Mission Hill Perpetua Chardonnay block. The final blend comes from a 50/50 mix of two barrel lots, one is fermented naturally and the other via inoculation with selected yeast. One hundred percent goes through malolactic fermentation with battonage. Mcgahan describe the style as “Running on the edge, it is not a safe wine but it encapsulates what we are trying to do.” The nose is lightly aromatic, the palate is spare and lean but with a fine citrus theme and minerality and just enough orange rind to suggest it might be richer than you think. The finish is long and persistent but understated. It’s barely showing its real face but will blossom in time in the bottle. It reminds me a bit of the Perpetua style. Captured has a double meaning here – it’s not just the chess. It speaks to the vineyard tucked up against the border – it can’t go anywhere. The wine is aged 18 months in oak (53 percent new) but is bottled unfiltered and unfined to keep it fresh. 190 cases.

The fruit for the 2013 Queen Taken Chardonnay comes off the Heritage Vineyard on the Golden Mile Bench, beneath Mt. Kobau and the Thompson Plateau. The vines are 35 years old and the earth a complex mix of Stemwinder, Ponderosa and Ratnip soils. Capture is a very different chardonnay; the aromatics are floral but there is a richer, peachy underpinning, perhaps as a result of the 35-year old vines. The 2013 was picked October 3rd and 15th almost a full month after Capture and no doubt benefitting from the cooler, late afternoon shadows of Mt. Kobau. The picks were kept separate as they went through the 50/50 stainless steel / oak barrel ferments and a 100 percent malolactic regime. The wine is more floral, less wild then the Capture with wet stone and exotic flecks of ginger. Citrus marks the flavours with apricot, melon and a touch of brioche in the creamy finish. Bigger and rounder than the Capture it’s also longer and more complex. It’s just beginning to show its stuff. 200 cases. A nice statement for Golden Mile Bench.

Label three, the 2013 Little Pawn Chardonnay, comes from the Barn Vineyard, planted in 1999 and situated on the west facing Black Sage Bench in southeast of Oliver. It’s a solitary micro‐terroir of fine‐grained sands with a very low capacity to hold moisture. The yields are low, the clusters small but the fruit beautiful. Little Pawn is a very feminine version of chardonnay with tightly wound floral notes and a lot of minerality. The fruit is green apple with perfectly supporting oak. In all, the wine spends 18 months in French barrels of which 57 percent are new. Elegance and restraint is the watchword. The site trumps the clones here. It’s only been in bottle for a couple of months so I expect even more form this label as it acquires some bottle age. Perfect for delicate fish dishes.

The only ‘blend’ of the initial quintuple Checkmate release is the 2013 Fool’s Mate Chardonnay. In this case winemaker Mcgahan decided to mix three different climates that form what the Checkmate team calls the golden triangle south of McIntyre Bluff, a prominent geological feature long thought to separate the southern Okanagan Valley from the north. Fool’s Mate is an 11/64/25 amalgam of Heritage Vineyard, Golden Mile Bench; the Barn Vineyard, Black Sage Bench; and the Border Vineyard in south Osoyoos. Clearly the most complex of the releases it has bit of all three vineyards, mostly different lots from the aforementioned single vineyard releases, but like most blends it is richer than the sum of its parts. Mcgahan says you lose some of the specificity of site but you can get more of true expression of the south Okanagan. The nose is a pleasant mix of brioche and spice with a hint of sagebrush. The palate is creamy with good acidity and peach/pear, hazelnut notes and a long creamy, leesy, textured finish. Power and elegance. The fruit was night picked by hand on the 11, 17, 18 and 19 of September. Some fifteen percent is wild fermented before all the wine was aged 17 to 18 months in French oak half of which was new. A great start.

The final release, the 2013 Attack Chardonnay is made from 100 percent Barn Vineyard fruit from Oliver’s Black Sage Bench. Attack is a single vineyard wine with a twist – It is fermented and aged sur lie in a 100 percent new French oak foudre. The effect is quite a spicy nose with flinty, stony, mineral notes. Three different clones combine to shape its flavours into citrus and sea salt with bright acidity and muted tropical fruit notes. I like this wine – the integration is amazing between the oak and fruit and I expect the next edition in the one year old vat will be even better as the oak moves into the background.

CheckMate Artisanal Winery - the lineup


Checkmate appears to be off to an excellent start, something Mcgahan knows is important. “It’s not that we are setting benchmarks worldwide but more about what we can do with the natural resources,” says Mcgahan. All the wines are unfiltered and unfined. It is hardly revolutionary these days but necessary to present the essence of the site. The original back labels are spare but von Mandl suggest there will be more site specific information in future to better explain the story of the single vineyards.

It’s only one year, but if you count the three years of work that went into the first releases you sense Checkmate is on its way. There will need to be more vintages before the wines find their ultimate mojo but you can get in on the ground floor now if you want to get some of the initial releases. You can sign up at and expect to receive your first bottles sometime in November.

It’s your move.


Wolf Blass - Here's to the Chase

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20 Under $20 in BC : October 2015

Cool nights, warming wines

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

~ TR

BC Crictic Team

Anthony Gismondi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhys Pender MW

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treve Ring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


WineAlign in BC

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

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

Painted Rock Estate Winery

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008