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Argentina Part II : Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Sparkling in Search of Place and Purpose

by Anthony Gismondi, David Lawrason and Treve RingJuly 27, 2015

Over the past seven months, five of our WineAlign contributors travelled to Argentina, each bringing back different stories and aspects of the country. You can read Rhys Pender MW and Sara d’Amato’s views in Part One of the series here.

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A number of years ago I noted that when visiting Argentina, or most any other region for that matter, I was spending too much time in cars, eating lunch and dinner and not enough time tasting wines as they relate to the region, its terroir and its place in the world of wine. Hence the switch to early morning hotel tastings where themes and wines can collide and information is gathered in a much more efficient manner in a neutral space. Then the rest of the day, on the road, makes more sense.

A special thanks to the elegant Hyatt Hotel Mendoza for the room required and to Wines of Argentina for keeping an open mind and especially Edgardo del Popolo (Dominio del Plata) and Roberto de La Mota (Mendel Wines) for sharing some fabulous nuggets of information about their country, its wines and the places that make them special.

We wish we could see all these wines in Canada but the monopoly system and the general trend to taxing quality wine out of reach of the average wage earner in Canada makes it less and less likely. There are so many agendas that can foil the fine wine business in a heavily controlled liquor market like Canada. From ignorance to greed and back, the chances of seeing the brightest Argentina has to offer is left to a dwindling select few retailers and restaurants. Undaunted, our job is to uncover the latest and the best and push the names forward. The irony is, as the wine gets better and better, the quality, brought into Canada by many distributors, and sold by many retailers, government and private, is anything but. Certainly it does not reflect fast moving modern developments of a place like Argentina.

-AG

 

Cabernet Franc Ascending
By David Lawrason

I am going to state a bias upfront that Argentine malbecs pose difficulties more me. I understand them but I also find many to be blunt and monochromatic, especially at lower price points where young malbecs can have joyless rawness. I really do appreciate all the work underway in Argentina to fashion malbecs with more elegance, and I do score many very well.  I also like the current movement to find more complexity and elegance by blending other varieties.

After two trips to Argentina since December I would argue that perhaps the best blender and alt-variety is cabernet franc. The first visit with WineAlign colleague Anthony Gismondi was a tightly focused, intense tasting foray, anchored by themed, comparative flights of wines at our hotel before we ventured into the fields of Mendoza and Cafayate. The second trip provided a much broader lens, accompanying a Gold Medal Plates group of Canadians to many of the same wineries, this time from a consumer perspective.

Globally, cabernet franc has long been used as a vehicle for bringing aromatic life and palate freshness to heavier wines. The negative can be that it thins too much and encroaches on ripe fruitiness with its herbal, tobacco leanings, even at moderate proportions. But the very ripe, full bodied reds of Mendoza are the perfect canvass on which to splash a little greenish franc-ness.  The best show just a bit more elegance, freshness and complexity.

A caveat here that none of the wines I want to speak about are currently available in Canada – so not on the WineAlign database – but what else is new? Canada’s liquor boards always lag years behind trends on the ground abroad.  It is articles like this that might one day make them appear.

View from Bodega El Esteco

View from Bodega El Esteco

Among the handful of varietal labelled cabernet francs that scored 90 points or better I was most surprised and impressed by Kaiken 2013 Cabernet Franc, that would sell here for about $40. Sourced from a small block of “massal” or original vines in the Uco Valley, it presented very pretty, totally correct franc aromatics with excellent balance and length. Melipal 2013 Cabernet Franc from the Agrelo district of Mendoza showed classic currants, tobacco and great oak integration, a creamy palate then that tweak of cab franc greenness on the finish. Still in Mendoza, but from the very high altitude Guatallery sub-zone of Tupungato, Los Noques 2013 Cabernet Franc showed amazing lift, florality and freshness. And up north in Cafayate, Etchart 2013 Cabernet Franc showed lovely savoury cedar and tobacco and pink flowers. Very charming and less heavy than Mendoza peers.

As surprised as I was to find so many excellent ‘solo’ cab francs, I was just as intrigued to discover what cab franc does in blends. A little goes a long way. Staying up north in the province of Salta, Bodega El Esteco 2011 Altimus from the remote Valles Calchaquies carried only 14% cabernet franc and 25% cabernet sauvignon – a rich, quite oaky wine that really showed refreshing, dusty cab franc on the finish. Fuego Blanco 2012 from chalky soils in the Pedernal Valley of San Juan carries 10% cabernet franc co-fermented with malbec – lovely freshness, elegance, some minerality. The Pedernal Valley landscape is desert or semi-desert but at 1400 metres above sea level the temperatures are moderate with warm sunny days and cool nights. The rocky, poor-quality soils, glacial in origin, are dotted with flat, dark stones that give the valley its name, pedernal being the Spanish term for flint. Poor soils, low yields, it is a pattern.

Fuego Blanco Malbec Cabernet Franc 2012Per Se Le Craie 2012Manos Negras Malbec Atrevida 2010

Per Se 2012 La Craie from the Gualtallary region is a co-fermented gem with 65% malbec and 35% cabernet franc and another big winner from limestone (craie) soils. *See Anthony’s in-depth look at this special wine below.

Manos Negras 2010 Atrevida is 97% malbec but the remainder is cabernet franc and it shows with just a touch of lift and franc tobacco. Perhaps this is all that is needed to keep Argentine malbecs aloft.

Whether the lead actor, or best grape in a supporting role, I came away convinced that cabernet franc’s future in Argentina is assured.

 

Argentina’s Cup Bubbles Over
by Treve Ring

When you think about Argentina, sparkling wine isn’t top of mind, and possibly not even in the picture. That’s poised to change, as vineyards climb ever higher and cooler, grapes are picked ever earlier and the diversity of styles more accepted than ever before. At the 2013 edition of the Argentina Wine Awards, the number of sparkling wine samples had increased by 220% over the 2007 edition, and a full 30% over 2012. In that year, this sparkling wine sector totaled $22,900,515, an 8.2% growth with respect to 2011.

Though espumante has been produced since the 19th century, it wasn’t until the mid-20th century and the proliferation of pinot noir that bubble began to bubble upwards. Wineries both local and foreign started to show interest in the unique dry and sunny climate and unspoilt terroirs; Chandon, Mumm, Bianchi, Norton and Nieto Senetiner amongst the leaders in the sparkling stride. In the 1950’s and after a worldwide search for new regions to develop, Moët & Chandon’s oenologist, Renaud Poirier, named Mendoza the more suitable terrain for sparkling wine outside of France. Today, the Argentinian subsidiary of Moët & Chandon produces a wide variety of bubbles including Terrazas de los Andes and Baron B.

Refreshing with Norton with the Andes as a backdrop

Refreshing with Norton with the Andes as a backdrop

Unquenchable global demand for Prosecco may have helped in recent years, with consumers wanting to branch out, safely, from a familiar charmat or tank style, not to mention a comfortable entry level price point which Argentina can hit. Though styles range from frothy and fruity to traditional method and serious, the majority that I saw in my travels there and on the shelves back home are akin to Prosecco, easy, approachable, fresh and accessible. Last year Moet Hennessy announced they will spend £1.5m in the UK to back the launch of Argentinian sparkling wines that it believes will tempt drinkers away from top-end Prosecco without asking them to pay Champagne prices.

The best examples, across all sparkling styles, come from altitude, allowing the grapes to take full advantage of relief from the intensity of Argentine sun. In the Uco Valley, and especially in the 1000m heights of Tupungato, chardonnay and pinot noir thrive, ripening easily while retaining crisp acidity when harvested early. In the high desert of Salta, and the arid otherworldly landscape of Patagonia, potential is great, and being recognized and utilized with greater reach every year. Malbec, sauvignon blanc, Chenin, torrontes, viognier and sémillon are also utilized, while pioneering producers trial other grapes.

Here are a few of my top sparkling picks from a brief visit to Argentina in earlier this year, as well as some that are available on our shelves in Canada. Salud.

Bodega Ruca Malen Brut NV, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina
Bodegas Norton Cosecha Especial Brut Nature 2010, Mendoza, Argentina
Bodegas Escorihuela Gascon 1884 Extra Brut NV, Mendoza
Familia Zuccardi Cuvée Especial Blanc De Blancs NV, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina
Bodega Santa Julia Brut Rosé 2012, Mendoza, Argentina

Bodega Ruca Malen BrutBodegas Norton Cosecha Especial Brut Nature 2010Bodegas Escorihuela Gascon 1884 Extra Brut Familia Zuccardi Cuvée Especial Blanc De BlancsBodega Santa Julia Brut Rosé 2012

From Calchaqui to Rio Negra. In Search of Place and Purpose
by Anthony Gismondi

David Lawrason and I had not travelled together in years but our recent visit to Argentina was certainly one of the best weeks we had spent on the road in ages.

Our first morning tasting (there were several) was hosted by two giants of the Argentine wine business: Edgardo Popolo, the general manager of Dominio de Plata and Roberta de la Mota, partner Mendel Wines.

We began with the oldest working winery in Argentina (1831) and one of the highest vineyards. Colomé Auténtico 2012 from the Calchaqui Valley in Salta is pure Malbec, from 90 year old vines made with little intervention. The vineyards are grown and worked using sustainable practices thus presenting the “authentic” expression of the terroir. The winery practices pigeage, does not use commercial yeasts or lactic bacteria to speed up the fermentation, acid correction and the use of sulphur dioxide is minimal and it has no oak influence. This begs the question why so many softer, sweeter versions of malbec make their way to Canada? If you are making under 100,000 cases we see no need for the fruit bomb malbecs that do little if anything for your image and frankly aren’t all that healthy to drink.

One degree south takes us to Tolombón, where shallow, stony, splinter shale soils with quartz are the norm. The malbec here has a slightly riper, sweeter profile as seen in the Anko Flor Cardón 2012. It’s classified Winkler IV, as was the Auténtico, but it seems a touch warmer likely due to the lower altitude. The fruit is sourced from the Estancia Los Cardónes district of Salta, the northernmost winemaking province of Argentina, located just south of the town of Cafayate at roughly 1700 meters along the eastern slopes of the Valle de Calchaquies. The little soil found there is packed full of crushed mica. Winemakers and co-owners Jeff Mausbach, Alejandro “Colo” Sejanovich and Saavedra Azcona and family have planted the rockiest sites looking for minerality. I know, I know the notion of minerality doesn’t really exist in any wine… until you sense it. All I know is I’ll take the stony minerality of this wine over a residual sugar, soaked brand any day.

High desert vineyards of Salta

High desert vineyards of Salta

Old vines are a big part of the story told by Viña 1924 De Angeles Gran 2012 Malbec. There are many old blocks offering different styles, weight and structure. The fruit here is 100 percent malbec and it comes off Parcel 3 at Vistalba, a site planted in 1924 at 980 metres. Density is a medium at 7,200 plants per hectare and the irrigation is old school by furrow. This wine never ceases to amaze from its big black licorice, black cherry, earthy, smoky nose to its savoury, intense palate awash in black cherries, smoked licorice root, tobacco, orange peel and vanilla flavours. A wonderful expression of old vine malbec made with just the right touch of modernity. The farming is organic and the fruit picked for the Gran Malbec is picked a week later than the regular.

Next up was the Viña Cobos Bramare Marchiori Vineyard Malbec 2012 that hails from Lujan de Cuyo, at Perdriel, (33°10’29.45″S). The site is at 980 metres above sea level and faces southeast presumably to escape the desert sun. The terroir is clay over sandy loam that gives way to gravel and stone. In fact the soils are alluvial and low in organic material but very well drained. The result is bigger, sweeter tannins with plenty of flavour. More Napa in style, it tends to jump the terroir and rely more on its dense sweet tannins, floral, black berry, tobacco aromas and intense black cherry and blueberry fruit with flecks of orange zest and violets. There’s just enough minerality and acidity to keep it all interesting. Steak is a must.

A glimpse at two new wines from Gualtallary, Tupungato followed. This stony, high-altitude paradise lies just south of the city of Mendoza. First up was Bodega Aleanna Maldito Cabernet Franc 2012. At 13.8 percent alcohol this wine goes through a whole cluster co-fermentation with some malbec in cement before aging in 100-year old foudres. With no real wood influence other than it oxidative contribution the fruit is given a chance to shine. At 1400 metres the acidity is prominent at this stage and somewhat overbearing; it’s a style but it’s tart. According to La Mota and Popolo, Argentine cabernet franc needs time in the vineyard and time in the bottle.

Bodega Colomé Autentico 2012 Anko Flor Cardón 2012 Viña 1924 De Angeles Gran Malbec 2012 Vina Cobos Bramare Marchiori Vineyard Malbec 2012

Two kilometers away and some 100 metres below Maldito, Del Popolo makes 800 bottles of Per Se La Craie 2012, (translation by itself; and chalk). Some 1300 metres above sea level Per Se La Craie sits in the remarkable stone paradise of Tupungato. This elegant Gualtallary red, micro-fermented, tops out at 14.50% alcohol but you hardly notice it on the palate. In 2012 the grapes come from minuscule parcel selections originally planted for Dona Paula and in what was a warm year, Del Popolo chose all the limestone spots, in cooler vineyards to cope with the challenges of a warm growing season. The 65/35 malbec and cabernet franc is co-fermented; the wine spends 16 months in second use French barrels. Soils are amazingly complex: calcareous and alluvial gravels with the aforementioned spots of limestone. Both varieties were de-stemmed and they are fermented together with wild yeasts in French oak used barrels. Elegant and well-stitched Del Popolo credits talented winemaking partner David Bonami (Norton) for his assistance in year one. The fruit was destemmed before a 35 day maceration fermented on wild yeasts. The textures are chalky, silky and amazing. Bursting with fruit and minerality, it is a story teller. All class.

Vista Flores is the next stop heading south through the much heralded Uco Valley. Popolo’s departure from Dona Paula was feisty winemaker Susana Balbo’s gain. Upon his arrival at Dominio del Plata the first thing del Popolo asked Balbo was to consider taking her signature Nostros and set it free to travel to the best vineyard (fruit) each year. Originally the best vineyard in Agrelo it is now a Single Vineyard Nomade, a name meant to celebrate its journey every year to the best grapes they can find. Enter Dominio del Plata Nosotros 2012 Vista Flores, Uco Valley, Mendoza. In 2012 Nosotros is sourced from selected parcels in the region of Chacayes at 1200 metres, along the far west, high side of Vista Flores. The soils are complex, colluvial-alluvial origin with a sandy-loam frame in the first 10 inches. The second layer of calcareous soil and white gravels goes down two metres. Clearly more and more limestone sites are being planted to vine. More vertical and more linear, Popolo likes minerality and freshness while winemaker Susana Balbo likes sweetness and roundness with toast. So far it’s a fine match; Nosotros 2012 is a delicious, intense juicy vibrant red wine made with intensity and balance. A star is born.

Familia Zuccardi Aluvional 2012 La Consulta, San Carlos, Mendoza was next and the level jumped another notch. At 15% alcohol you might expect it to assault you but after 12 months in concrete vats using indigenous yeast there is an electricity and freshness and fruit that is almost overwhelming. Aluvional is made from several sites, all handpicked by winemaker Sebastian Zuccardi in the La Consulta, San Carlos region. At 990 metres above sea level, some 130 km south of Mendoza City, this is the mother lode. The vines were planted in 1974 on poor alluvial soils of sandy-silt-clay mixed with rock. Love the tension and the acidity of what is a complex rich, powerful red, full of floral fruit. All hail Sebastien and his relentless fire to find the true home of malbec.

Next door to Zuccardi’s Aluvional, the Mendel Finca Remota 2011 offers another look at Altamira, surely one of the finest pieces of terroir in all of Argentina. The 2011 was a little cooler than 2012 and the wine is a bit tighter. The vineyard is older, thought to be planted in 1950, the alcohol is a little lower at 14.3% and it spends 18 months in new French oak. Easily the most complex of the bunch, no doubt one of the most important characteristics of Mendel La Remota is the intensity and complexity of the fruit. Like the Angelus, it presents its old vines in the texture and viscosity that you don’t get in younger vines. It presents as a polished river stone, not one you have just cracked open.

Dominio Del Plata Nosotros Vista Flores 2012 Zuccardi Aluvional La Consulta 2012 Mendel Finca Remota 2011

Another step south takes us to Doña Paula Los Indios Parcel 2012, a tiny sub-section of Altimira in San Carlos area of the Uco Valley. The fruit here is grown on sandy, silty colluvial soils with small brick-like stones in pink and orange scattered about. Yields are only four tons per hectare. Microvinification takes place in second-used 225 liters, French oak barrels filled with 170 kilograms (375 lb) of pure-clean berries. The barrels are closed up and sent to a temperature controlled room where the alcoholic, wild culture and malolactic fermentation takes place. To make a soft extraction, the barrels are rolled daily for 10 to 15 days. After that the wine is racked to new French oak barrels where it is aged for 18 months. This artisanal vinification method ensures that grapes are handled gently and all the process is carried out by gravity. Only exceptional years can spawn a Los Indios Parcel Malbec limited in quantity to 2000 bottles. Like the Aluvional the spice and violets dominate the nose with impressive acidity and or freshness followed by texture, texture, texture. Impressive to say the least at this young age.

We concluded the tasting with two ‘southern’ reds from Patagonia. First up was the Marcelo Miras 2012 Malbec from Ing. Huergo, General Roca, Río Negro planted in 1979. This was made in the traditional style and aged for 15 months in French and American oak barrels and from a typical north Patagonian desert climate – think warm days and cool nights at 39º 08´ S. Here you can get big colour and structure thank to the thickness of the skins so you must pay attention to prevent the wine from being to rustic. The growing season can be shorter, much like the south Okanagan Valley. Solid but in tough against the group.

Doña Paula Los Indios Parcel Malbec 2012 Marcelo Miras Malbec 2012 Bodega Noemía A Lisa 2012

The finale was Noemia de Patagonia A Lisa 2012 from Mainque, Valle Medio, Rio Negro, a 90/9/1 blend of malbec/merlot with a touch of petit verdot that are sourced from estate grown limestone and purchased from nearby vineyards, managed biodynamically. Again, freshness permeates this red with only 13.5 percent alcohol. Long days of light in the summer compensate for the wind and cool temperatures bring out the floral aspects to lift the mid-palate flavours. The tannins are soft here and almost sweet. Impressive already and yet only a baby; like all the wines in this tasting it needs time to reach its full potential.

A stunning morning that only reinforces how little we see from Argentina in Canada and how little we are likely to see if the gatekeepers continue to demand cabernet and chardonnay to fill a retail philosophy completely out of touch with the reality of modern wine.

As we wrapped up the tasting both del Popolo and La Mota reminded us, “We tried to show you our terroir. There wasn’t any wine where our hope was to show you the grapes.” Aclamaciones to that los caballeros. Your objectives were accomplished and more.

~

Argentina Part I : Rewarding Freshness
Argentina: Not Just a One Hit Wonder (VINTAGES Buyers’ Guide)

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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British Columbia Critics’ Picks July 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’s always interesting lacing this column together and seeing what my colleagues have been enjoying over the past month. While we are all in contact regularly, we rarely get the chance to catch up in person, let alone taste together. Already in this month we’ve crossed time zones and terroirs from BC to Washington to California to Greece. Our picks often show some overlap, even when our paths do not. Natural wine, cellar dwellers, France, Italy and one local winery bubble to the fore this month, as does the ever-constant, singular uniting factor – delicious wines.

Cheers ~ TR

BC Critic Team

 

Anthony Gismondi

July is half over and most of us in the west are waiting, some even praying we will get some rain this month. It’s been warm and dry and the long-term outlook is more of the same. Beer seems like a good option, but a Vancouver Sun undercover story (some people have all the luck) revealed when you order a pint you often receive less than you paid for (seriously, who can you trust?) They still put wine in 750ml bottles so we will stick with that for July. Here’s three solid summer picks to enjoy and remember if the heat is oppressive chill down those reds – they will be all the better for it.

CedarCreek Merlot 2012 Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay 2013 Melini La Selvanella Riserva Chianti Classico 2010I’m betting Melini isn’t on your Chianti Classico mind most nights but the Melini La Selvanella Riserva Chianti Classico 2010 does the commune of Radda proud. If charcuterie is your thing it’s a perfect summer’s eve wine when the sun goes down. Silk plums.

My white pick will surprise some. Often underestimated by the ill-informed KJ’s calling card chardonnay, Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Vintner’s Reserve 2013 is in a good space in 2013, now a full thirty years down the road from vintage one in 1983. KJ’s strength is the sheer size of coastal chardonnay vineyards they own in California and the selection of fruit available to chief winemaker Randy Ullom. It is a chardonnay that will please a wide spectrum of tasters.

Closer to home, the race is on in BC to make better merlot. If there is a blueprint for simplicity and complexity I vote for the CedarCreek Merlot 2012. As noted and worth repeating, this is delicious stuff. The real attraction is the soft, silky tannins and the immediate drinkability of this savoury plum scented and flavoured red. Now, sit back and relax and let the summer wash over you before it’s gone.

 

Rhys Pender, MW

Domaine Chante Perdrix Chateauneuf Du Pape 2012 St. Urbans Hof Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett 2011 Muga Reserva 2010Sometimes a great vintage comes along and you should jump at the chance and stock up your cellar. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to find good cellaring wines either. One of the consistently most interesting and affordable wine regions to find cellar-worthy wines is Rioja. For around $30 there are some seriously good wines. The Muga 2010 Reserva is worth picking up a case to enjoy over the next decade or longer.

Another wine that offers great cellaring potential but is also delicious right now is the complex St. Urbans Hof Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett 2011. This wine shows how a light, low alcohol Riesling can still be so powerful. And it just keeps changing in the glass, offering layers of complexity.

More for immediate pleasure to drink now is the Domaine Chante-Perdrix 2012 Châteauneuf-du Pape. This will hold for 5-6 years but it is so good and complex now with so many different flavour elements and is so texturally pleasing that you should just drink it. Well priced for Châteauneuf-du Pape too.

 

DJ Kearney

Ochota Barrels The Green Room Grenache Syrah 2014 Domaine De La Mordorée Lirac Blanc La Reine Des Bois 2014 Château Sainte Rosaline Cuvée Harmonie 2014Grenache is one of my beloved grapes. It is capable of transmitting terroir in a special way, matching the violet fragrance and silky texture of great pinot and reaching haunting, earthy complexity with age. Though often dismissed for being hot, simple or good only for bolstering a blend, when grenache is given respect, vine age and a fine terroir, anything is possible. It’s a Spanish grape of course, but here are three diverting French bottles that I’ve enjoyed this week.

The first, Domaine de la Mordorée La Reine des Bois Lirac Blanc 2014 is, to my mind, one of the great whites of France. It’s a concentrated, complex wine that will transform over 5 years (if you can be patient) in your cellar, into a stone-driven treasure.

Provençal rosé is still high up on my playlist, and I love the role that grenache plays in the aptly named Harmonie Rosé 2014 from Château Sainte Rosaline.

Finally a netherworld wine. Ochota Barrels The Green Room 2014 is made by maverick Aussie Tamas Ochota and his anti-establishment, unorthodox methods conjure this Mclaren Vale grenache blend into something remarkable.

 

Treve Ring

M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes Du Rhône 2012 Nals Margreid Galea Schiava 2013 CedarCreek Amphora Wine Project Desert Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2013One of the most interesting wines I’ve come across this month is an experimental red from CedarCreek and winemaker Darryl Brooker (recently moved over to Mission Hill). The CedarCreek Amphora Wine Project Desert Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is a natural wine, made without any additions (such as sulphur) and left to its own devices in an unlined clay amphora for eight months. The experiment paid off, and I’m looking forward to future ones.

I always enjoy a chance to taste the fresh, alpine-imbued wines from north eastern Italy’s Alto Adige, a region underrepresented on this market. Nals Margreid Galea Schiava 2013 is one such special delight, transmitting 100+ year old schiava vines into a delicately hued, layered and complexed stony light red. A beauty.

It’s always a bonus to come across well-built, affordable wines that excel and excite with short-term cellaring. M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes du Rhône Rouge is a terrific example of this; a $20(ish) dollar red that wears a couple of years age beautifully. I recently cracked the 2012 in my cellar (purchased last year) and was seriously impressed by the progression. This biodynamic grenache/syrah Côtes du Rhone beauty will delight now, and reward later, so stock up.

~

WineAlign in BC

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


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20 Under $20 in BC : June 2015

Summertime… and the drinkin’ is Easy

It’s the time of year when thinking about drinking is shaped by summer weekends at the beach, boat or campfire and wine decisions are based upon gulpability equally to tastiness and price. What do I mean by gulpable? It’s a word I use to describe wines that are so tasty, well made, well priced and well balanced that it’s hard not to – well – gulp it down. Especially when they seem tailor made to lengthy days of sunlight and cloudless nights lit by starbright.

That said, we’re not all out loading up for a summer of holidays. As Anthony duly points out, we’re warily watching wine prices creep up – or disappear from the listings altogether – while every liquor retailer in BC adjusts to the new reality. Whatever the landscape, we just want to drink well and share our finds with you, and in this column we strive to bring you the best under $20 to meet that aim.

~ TR

BC Critic Team

 

Anthony Gismondi

We really need to review the under $20 category given all the price machinations taking place in BC. The new wholesale price system has given government retail stores the opportunity to set their own prices and they have been busy mostly raising prices, especially at the high end where in their minds, consumers won’t notice. I mean what’s an extra $20 on a bottle of cru Champagne? At the low end the increases are more calculated but they are there and when you subtract the GST and PST from the shelf price you can’t even see that the wine has gone up in price, until you get to the till. It’s such a slap in the face to regular wine buyers who already pay some of the highest prices in the land. All that said, here’s some picks that justify their price and taste like well, wine, which is why we put this list together every month.

I love the Régis Boucabeille 2013 Les Terrasses. It’s a great site that was abandoned in the 20th century because it was too tough to farm and unprofitable. Today 11 terraces at 200 to 300 metres, facing southeast make some very tasty stony red. Perfect with most summer grilled meats. Fine value.

Nearby in the Rhône the Louis Bernard 2013 Côtes du Rhône Blanc is crazy value. A blend of grenache blanc, bourboulenc and clairette, it is as juicy as it gets for the price.

Regis Boucabeille Les Terrasses 2013 Louis Bernard Côtes Du Rhône Blanc 2014 Bota Box Old Vine Zinfandel 2013 Monte Antico 2010 Almansa Laya 2013

If you are planning a street party pick up the Bota Box 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel (3L for $34.79 which works out to a mere $8.69 per 750mL bottle). Classic brambly, sweet blackberry fruit with soft textures assures it will placate crowds.

If chicken is in your plans grab a bottle of Monte Antico 2010 Toscana. This Tuscan red crafted by winemaker Franco Bernabei and importer Neil Empson is juicy, fresh and ready to drink – perfect when you need a simple red to play second fiddle to the food.

Finally from Spain, Laya 2013 Garnacha Monastrell Vieilles Vignes gets the nod for its soft textures and earthy mix of coffee, red licorice and a dusting of oak. Barbecue anyone? Enjoy the heat.

Rhys Pender MW

It is very, very hot in the Similkameen Valley as I write this column. The temperature reads 36.5C in the vineyard and I am glad to be in the cool of the shade. Summer is definitely beginning with a bang. Luckily there are many delicious wines close at hand to help with the heat.

I’m craving crisp, dry riesling. A good example is the Red Rooster 2013 Riesling. This is an absolute bargain at under $15. Chill it down to icy coldness and enjoy.

Another super value BC wine (it seems so many BC wines are getting cheaper and cheaper) is the See Ya Later 2013 Gewurztraminer. Lately I have been addicted to Thai food and the spicy flavours are perfect with the aromatic gewürz. Oh, and until June 27th it is on special for only $12!

Red Rooster Riesling 2013 See Ya Later Ranch Gewurztraminer 2013 Kanazawa Nomu White 2013 Gabbiano Chianti Classico 2012 Lafon et Chamboissier Racine Minervois 2012

A little richer and really well done is the Kanazawa 2013 Nomu White. This blend of viognier, sémillon and orange muscat is incredibly drinkable and perfect for warm afternoons.

For a couple of red selections it is back to the old world for some savoury goodness that is perfect when the sun goes down and the red meat comes out. For a great value Italian wine, the Gabbiano 2012 Chianti Classico is everything you would expect: dusty, savoury, meaty and leathery.

For something a little rounder and softer, the Racine 2012 from Minervois in France’s Languedoc is nice and savoury and juicy while quite complex for the price.

DJ Kearney

It’s warm and sunny and definitely the season that many of us reach for pink wines. I truly believe that rosé is for year-round drinking, but now is the time that the shelves expand with wider selection, like these two bone dry versions. The Bieler Père & Fils 2014 Coteaux d’Aix en Provence is screw-capped and bargain-priced, and Casa Ferreirinha 2014 Douro Rosé is 100% touriga nacional and full of pleasure and structure.

Bieler Père & Fils Coteaux D’aix En Provence Rosé 2014 Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Rosé 2014Arrowleaf Bacchus 2014Arrowleaf Zweigelt 2014Crasto Vinho Tinto 2013

Two wines from Arrowleaf Cellars are fresh as daisies and beg for a lounger on a summer patio. Bacchus 2014 is a riesling x sylvaner x mueller-thurgau cross and if you love riesling, this fresh patio sipper will delight. The 2014 Zwiegelt’s light, juicy wild berry flavours make it a perfect picnic wine, best served very well chilled and not far from water.

And when the grill is fired up and juicy bacon burgers are sizzling, it’s time to pour a generous goblet of lusty Crasto 2013 Vinho Tinto Douro.  

Treve Ring

When I’m asked for a great wine under $10 in BC, I’m usually at a loss for a solid (honest) answer. Now I’m just going to direct people to stock up on Count Karolyi 2013 Gruner Veltliner. One of my favourite grapes from a somewhat unlikely place equals pure fresh, zippy enjoyment with shellfish or lemon endive salads.

And while you’re feeling adventurous, pick up the Bodega Sierre Norte 2011 Pasion de Bobal. Think tasty 60+ year old bobal from the hot interior of Valencia from high altitude organic grapes would be pricy? Think again (delish with lamb kabobs).

Binderer St. Ursula Count Karolyi Gruner Veltliner 2013 Bodega Sierra Norte Pasion De Bobal 2011 Santa Carolina Reserva Pinot Noir 2013 La Fiole Cotes Du Rhone 2012 Langa Real De Aragon Cava

If exotic bobal scares off your crowd, you can crack the top on Santa Carolina 2013 Reserva Pinot Noir instead. Heady forest floor, light wood smoke and a round, soft palate welcomes pouring alongside cherry smoked pork or portabellas. The La Fiole Côtes du Rhône 2012 is a crowd pleaser as well, as much for the signature curved bottle as for the welcoming, softly spiced cherry, raspberry and peppered fruit.

My mates can attest that I drink more sparkling wine than anything else, and no better way to best summer’s heat than with refreshing bubbles. One of my best buys anytime of the year is Real de Aragon Cava, a stellar, crisp bargain of a Cava (with darling summery packaging as bonus).

~

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.


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Final Blend : National Hopes Soar

by Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

As I write this from the Post Hotel in Lake Louise awaiting the start of this year’s Wine Summit, the final weeks in the run off to The National Wine Awards of Canada are counting down. There is a certain symmetry in the two events that celebrate excellence in wine in Canada. Both are focused on high quality wine. At The Post Hotel the participants, year in and year out, are the who’s who of the international wine world, while at The Nationals we will spend an entire week looking for the who‘s who of Canadian wine.

This year The Nationals are being held in Niagara Falls, high above the rushing waters of the Niagara River just before it spills over the escarpment enroute to Lake Ontario. I grew up two blocks from the same escarpment in West Hamilton and spent countless hours climbing what in those days I thought was the mountain. Sitting in the Canadian Rocky Mountains today I have a better understanding of big hills and mountains.

Speaking of hills to climb, the National Wine Awards of Canada has done its share over the past fourteen years. I’m sure if you were to ask David Lawrason or me if we ever thought ‘The Nationals’ would come to what they are today we would say yes, except we thought it would happen in the first year. Back then just under 800 wines showed up in Toronto. It’s grown on average by about 50 wines a year.

In those days wine competitions were few and far between and getting the attention of struggling Canadian wineries was tough. It seemed winning a gold medal in Bulgaria, or New York State was more important than winning anything at home. We learned early on that we would have to prove ourselves long before any wineries would.

Judge_JamieGoode

Dr. Jamie Goode

Today we believe we have the finest competition on the continent, something we have come to know because most of our judges have worked elsewhere in the wine world and tell us so. Englishman and scientist Dr. Jamie Goode, a much sought after international judge, asked us if he could return after his first experience at ‘The Nationals’ in the Okanagan Valley last year. Goode characterised the judging team as “highly competent and well-travelled, and it was painless judging with them. The organization of these wine awards, which involved opening over 4,000 bottles, pouring flights for each judge, and then collating the results in real time, was superb. Which means that judges can get on with the process of judging wine.”

No one enjoyed those remarks more than David Lawrason and I. Dr. Goode went on to say “the process was thorough, and every wine was given respect and time to show its best.” We couldn’t have asked for a better recommendation. Oh, and yes, he will be with us again this year in Niagara.

Today we just surpassed the total pinot noir entries of last year and will surely set a record in 2015 for total entries. It’s part of a subtle change we see across all the entries. More red blends (with a higher percentage of merlot in the mix), more pinot noir, less cabernet sauvignon, more Rhone style blends both red and white. Strangely we get less and less icewine entries despite our image as THE icewine producers. Riesling now rivals chardonnay and pinot gris for the best white wine we make.

JudgeBrief3

Judging at NWAC 2014

Canadian winemakers are stretching their legs in different directions as their experience grows and with confidence comes wines that make more sense than ever. This spring I have been impressed by several new labels including a grüner veltliner, a marsanne, a Super Tuscan style blend, a true white Bordeaux style blend, a pair of natural wines, several biodynamic and organic labels and a sparkling made using an ancient sparkling wine method. It’s the creativity and experimentation we have craved for years and its appearance can only bode well for the future.

Much has been written about wine awards lately so let’s be clear. We have never been about giving out a mess of medals. In fact we are probably too stingy. What we are about is sorting out the best from the rest. Imagine you are one of the 100 pinot noirs that get tasted in June; you will have to be excellent to get out of the first flight as likely only two or three at most, will make it to the final rounds. Again, winning your next flight against the best is an enormous challenge but being a part of that round, typically no more than 25 percent of the pool and exclusively silver and gold rated, means you have made it.

Our strategy is to give something back to you and our readers who can now access all the results indefinitely, online. We even virtually display your medal for you year round on the WineAlign website. I would like to tell you more but I’m kind of busy organising 1500 wines into appropriate flights, herding the judges into cohesive panels and getting the back room ready to run like a clock. We do all that (our entire team) with only one goal in mind – so our judges can get on with the process of finding out who is making the best wines in the country.

Bottles2

The Back Room at NWAC 2014

In the meantime, to stay sharp and global and ready for whatever may come out of Canadian wine country I’m spending three days at the Wine Summit Lake Louise 2015. Krug Champagne will be presenting, reminding me that we can make wines with that acidity in our sleep. Mollydooker will suggest you can come from nowhere to capture the world’s attention. Domaine Faiveley and Pichon Lalande will remind us that place matters. Turley Wines will tell a story of old vines, one we have yet to embrace for obvious reasons, while Tenuta di Biserno reminds us to be adaptable no matter how long you have been in the business.

It’s the kind of perspective we expect all our judges to bring to Niagara Falls next month and it’s one that serves the interest of every wine entered in the competition. You can follow us live from the tasting room at #NWAC15 and we welcome your questions and thoughts.


The National Wine Awards of Canada

NWAC15 croppedThe National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC), held annually in June, is only open to wines grown and produced in Canada. The goal of ‘The Nationals’ is to expose Canadian wine drinkers to the best in Canadian wines. There is no restriction on price, leaving each winery the opportunity to compete with and against the best wines in the country. More importantly, as barriers to ship wines across the country come down, the combination of winning recognition at The Nationals and WineAlign’s ability to display the results alongside your key retail outlets, from the winery direct to across the country, makes it the only competition with enduring post competition sales opportunities.

The 2015 tastings will take place from June 23 to 27 in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Registration is now open. Click here for more information and to register.


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British Columbia Critics’ Picks : May 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 coming off of the Victoria Day long weekend in BC, and you can tell the WineAlign West team has been drinking – and eating – well, as usual. We’re all looking forward to next month and re-aligning at The Nationals, held for the first time in Niagara Falls. I suspect many trips to wine country are in our future, a treat for us westerners to taste the small scale, singular wines of the area. Of course, we’ll all excited to taste wines from coast to coast (ahem – Nova Scotia), especially ones like the trio from the Wine Islands that I share below.

There will be much more on the Nationals over the coming weeks. If you have a favourite Canadian winery, especially a small, under-the-radar one, please pass along the news that we’re keenly anticipating their entry and opportunity to taste and learn about them. These are the special wines we seek out to write on in columns just like this.

Cheers ~ TR

BC Critic Team

Anthony Gismondi

Serious summer wines. Now that’s a section of shelf space you seldom see in a retail wine shop. I mean summer wines are all about light and breezy and fun and fresh and – well you get the picture – but every once in a while you need a wine that reminds you that you care about wine. You need a wine that will test your tasting faculties and frankly those one or two meals a month where you decide the burgers or ribs won’t cut it. So for those nights when the street party is not on, here’s three delicious, summery wines that could qualify as seriously summer.

Descendientes De J. Palacios Pétalos 2012 Joseph Drouhin Chablis Drouhin Vaudon 2013 Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale 2011Chianti Classico is all about class, balance and florality and the Ruffino Chianti 2011 Classico Riserva Ducale brings a bright core of fruit mixed with meaty forest floor notes to turn a late summer afternoon barbecue into an intimate, late-night, dinner party for two.

Chablis has a similar outcome on dining. In this case a bottle Drouhin Vaudon 2013 Chablis Reserve de Vaudon may convince you to forgo dinner and served freshly shucked oysters until the wine runs out.

Finally, at some point a grilled steak will appeal but you can dress up the evening with a Caesar salad and fresh chimichurri sauce and go for mencia over cabernet sauvignon, by opening a fabulous bottle of Pétalos 2012. Pétalos is all about the old vine 60-years plus mencia grape that is bio-dynamically farmed on several small, rocky slate-y hillside plots. It’s seriously summer (and seriously great). You very well may drink the entire bottle.

Rhys Pender, MW

Bernard Baudry Les Grézeaux 2011 Marqués De Cáceres Gran Reserva 2005 Arras Grand Vintage 2004This month I’m picking a couple of classics and something a little more out there on the edge. Good bubble is always a great find. Tasmania in Australia is often considered as the closest thing to Champagne in the style of wine it can produce and one of the legends is now in BC. Not only has the Arras Grand Vintage 2004 arrived in LDB stores but it is also an 11 year old example. Not cheap at $61 plus tax but worth a splurge.

Another classic offering good value is the Marques de Caceres Gran Reserva Rioja 2005. At $35 plus tax it isn’t crazy pricing and the wine is solid, complex and interesting.

If you feel like pushing your wine tasting comforts and boundaries and are a little bored by fruity, same tasting wines you will often find something interesting in the Loire. Not for the faint of heart, the Bernard Baudry Les Grézeaux Chinon has plenty of eyebrow raising, but surprisingly pleasant, aromas and flavours.

(You might find both the 2010 and 2011 in the market.)

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2012

Ravenswood Teldeschi Single Vineyard Zinfandel 2012 Howling Bluff Summa Quies Rosé 2014DJ Kearney

My three choices offered delightful surprises when I cracked them open last weekend, all displaying light, ethereal facets that were thoroughly unexpected.

The inaugural Howling Bluff Summa Quies Rosé 2014 is all-pinot noir and struts some serious structure, while a Ravenswood Teldeschi Vineyard Zinfandel 2012 is one of the most elegant and restrained of its kind.

An impeccable match for steak au poivre is Burrowing Owl’s recently released 2012 Syrah, an alpha wine with a contemplative side. 

Treve Ring

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been travelling pretty solidly the past few months, but so far in May I’ve been focusing on wines from home – specifically my coastal home – the Wine Islands of BC. Often out of mind, out of sight, these small-production, family owned and operated wineries are worth seeking out for a taste of the authentic and unique maritime winegrowing climate of Vancouver and the Gulf Islands of BC. Ask your private wine shop or wine-smart local restos to stock the below, and more.

Sea Star Vineyards Ortega 2014 Unsworth Vineyards Petit Milo Vintners Selection 2014 Averill Creek Gewurztraminer 2014Cowichan Valley’s Averill Creek Gewurztraminer 2014 impressed with its cool climate stylings, transforming gew’s flabbiness into a tight, energetic and vibrant spiced white, ideal for Vietnamese flavours or a summer al fresco seafood dinner.

From nearby Unsworth Vineyards (one of the leading spotlights for the region) comes the unique Petit Milo Vintners Selection 2014, a crisp, mid-sweet, pure-fruited white from the hybrid petit milo grape. This is a lovely aperitif wine, especially with melon and prosciutto – and a patio.

Ortega is one of the finer calling cards of the Wine Islands – a coastal, bright, aromatic white grape native to Germany, and a cross between müller-thurgau and siegerrebe. Pender Island’s Sea Star Estate Farm and Vineyards crisp, lively 2014 Ortega is an excellent introduction to the grape, and beauty with papaya 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, 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. 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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20 Under $20 in BC : May 2015

Embrace the Change

Change. We all know it’s inevitable, unavoidable, even annoying.

The sentiment is true for change in routine (like with BC’s new liquor laws) as well as pocket change (who carries coins?)

However, you’ll have to embrace change both coinage and taxation for this column now, as we’re moving to 20 Under $20 before tax. I know, it doesn’t have the same ring to it, and now the wines we recommend may actually cost you $23 and up when you’re at the till. But we’ve been closely monitoring wine sales in BC since the April 1st Fools Day announcement, and it makes the most sense for all to make the pricing shift to reflect what you’re seeing on store shelves.

Believe me, we’re still tasting and searching to bring you the best value buys in wide scale distribution that we can find for this column. It’s just that, in this province, the searching has become a little more challenging. No worries – the WineAlign West team is up for the challenge, and never been afraid of a little change.

~ TR

BC Critic Team

Anthony Gismondi

It’s the first long weekend of the year. Temperatures are soaring and the barbecues are in full heat. This month we turn to some friendly, affordable ‘barbecue’ reds and whites you can take with you to a neighbourhood bash so that look like you know what you are doing around the grill. My secret: I have always thought the first duty of any barbecue red is to be affordable, if only because it complements the casual nature of most ‘cues. It also allows the host to accommodate last minute additional guests with minimal damage to the pocketbook. Since wineries seldom characterize their wines as “barbecue reds,” lest you think of them as not serious, I have selected a handful of affordable labels you can proudly term barbecue red or white. All you need to add is the guest list.

The Devil’s Rock Pfalz Riesling 2013 is crazy good for the price, bringing super fresh flavours to the table. Pop this open early for appetizers or bring it out with a piece of cheese.

Serious wine folk will be knocked out by M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Blanc 2013. This is a seamless mix of juicy grenache blanc, grenache gris and macabeu. Pour this into a glass hand it to your guest and walk away like you are the king of wine.

Devil's Rock Pfalz Riesling 2013 M. Chapoutier Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Blanc 2013 Santa Rita Merlot Reserva 2011 Sinfonia Monastrell Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Whiplash Lodi Zinfandel 2012

People turn their nose up at merlot for various reasons although none will turn away from the Santa Rita Merlot Reserva 2011. Play up the soft textures and the savoury black cherry flavours. You can’t miss with grilled sausages here.

Next up is Sinfonia Monastrell Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. Floral, blueberry, cranberry fruit with good acidity make this an easy wine to pair with grilled meats.

Finally you can’t have a barbecue without zinfandel. My pick is the tasty Whiplash Lodi Zinfandel 2012. Lodi zinfandel can be rich, ripe and spicy. In the case the tannins are moderate but nothing a big slab of ribs wouldn’t defeat easily. Have a great long weekend.

Rhys Pender MW

The weather has been stunning lately in the Similkameen Valley and I just want to be outside doing two things. One is drinking crisp, dry, refreshing zippy whites, preferably in the hammock and the other is drinking dry, savoury, meaty reds while grilling meat over an open fire. Here are some wines that fit those two scenarios nicely and all under $20.

Great value freshness for the price is the Errazuriz Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014. For something a little more mineral try the Château De La Gravelle Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2013.

Errazuriz Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Château De La Gravelle Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2013 Paz De Finca Las Moras Malbec 2013 Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2012 Lovico Gamza 2011

I also seem to be spending a lot of time standing around the BBQ or fire pit eating smoky, grilled meat. The natural pairing is a red wine with plenty of character and a savoury edge. These two from Argentina – Paz de Finca Las Moras Malbec 2013 and Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2012 will do nicely.

You are probably less familiar with Bulgarian wine but some of the native grapes are delicious. The Lovico Gamza 2011 is both cheap and perfect with a meaty evening around the BBQ.

DJ Kearney

My value picks this month are wines that I want to drink outdoors while I am fussing over food on the grill. Or perhaps sipping and relaxing while David fusses over the grill…

To start, maybe while menu scheming, I’ll drink a glass of the Kim Crawford Pansy! Rosé 2013, a watermelon-hued New Zealand rosé with a grown-up dry finish.

An appetizer might be grilled peaches wrapped in prosciutto, and the Lake Breeze The Spice Jar 2013 aromatic white blend with lush fruit and overt fruity finish will work a treat.

If grilled oysters or salad with goat’s cheese follow, so will the La Chablisienne Saint Bris Sauvignon Blanc 2013, a delicate, tangy wine that is also lean and saline.

Kim Crawford Pansy! Rosé 2014Lake Breeze Winemaker Series The Spice Jar 2013La Chablisienne Sauvignon Saint Bris 2013 Gabbiano Chianti Classico 2011 Almansa Laya 2013

Lamb chops rubbed in Italian herbs and Tuscan olive will be a fine match for the earthy and nicely developed Gabbiano Chianto Classico 2011. I love how authentic, light yet ripe this vintage presents.

If lusty bacon burgers are sizzling away, awaiting a thick slice of aged cheddar, then the full-figured Laya 2013 will fill a big glass and its massive fruit, generous oak and thick texture will be just the thing for the burgers, and to sit by the Weber kettle when dinner is over and watch the coals glow.

Treve Ring

Glorious spring weather has equaled an over-abundance of asparagus, halibut, al fresco dinners (twice this past week alone) and fresh, bright wines worthy of the season.

I’ve been tasting a lot of BC 2014’s this month, and two northern Okanagan whites that stood out in a field of impressive wines is the Spierhead Riesling Gentleman Farmer Vineyard 2014 with its streamlined, crisp, cool orchard fruit, and 50th Parallel Estate Grown Pinot Gris 2014, deftly blending herbal intrigue with ripe peach and white florals.

Spierhead Riesling Gentleman Farmer Vineyard 2014 50th Parallel Pinot Gris 2014 See Ya Later Ranch Gewurztraminer 2014Quails’ Gate Dry Riesling 2014Steller's Jay Brut Sparkling Wine 2009

If fragrant orange sauced Chinese flavours are in your bowl, you should splash some See Ya Later Ranch Gewurztaminer 2014 into your glass. Ripe lychee, melon and white peach are overlaid with fine ginger spices. Though if you’re in the mood for sushi or sashimi instead, I recommend the pithy tangerine and green apple lean (but not mean) verve of Quails’ Gate Dry Riesling 2014.

Of course, not all the current local releases are 2014. Traditional method sparkling wine takes time, and with Steller’s Jay Brut Méthode Classique 2009, you can expect green apple, lemon pith and a white grapefruit cushion of fruit on the medium bodied palate. There is always time for bubble – and I recommend this with brunch or canapés. Preferably outside in the spring sun.

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

~

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. 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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The Final Blend – ProWein: The Pro of Shows

By Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

ProWein 2015 has come and gone but not before leaving a big impression on me. Dusseldorf may seem like an odd place to assemble the entire wine world; it’s a city far more famous for beer than wine. That said, it works, and was an inspired choice to hold what is surely now the most important wine fair in the world.

The success of ProWein is obvious as you approach the fair site each morning – the energy is palpable, not unlike walking into a biodynamic vineyard. The show is global, with some 6000 wineries in attendance yet neutral in the sense that the wines of Germany do not control the stage the way the French wines do at VinExpo, nor do they dominate in the manner Italian wines can at Vinitaly. The halls are all business 9 to 5, with sales meetings at every booth, but it sure is fun to be a writer flitting about the halls, almost like a fly on the wall.

But it’s not all a lark; it can be distressing for Canadian writers and distributors to see so many wines on the floor that are never seen in Canada, where we are shielded from the real world of wine by monopoly buyers who know best what we should be drinking. Undaunted, there was a noticeable Canadian trade contingent, some actually pouring wine while many others were working the halls in search of new wines and to cement old relationships.

If you hadn’t notice a change in the way wine is sold in the free world over the last decade, and many Canadians living under a monopoly nanny state probably haven’t, it is safe to say the business has undergone a profound revolution. There’s been a steady shift toward urban sales, and more importantly those customers are wired to information from birth to death. Information, selection and the chance to sell direct to the final customer is turning the retail and distribution business on its ear.

It would have been unheard of even five years ago to ship wine across Canada, yet British Columbia has opened its doors to any Canadian wines produced in the country. Selling wine direct is the only way local producers can compete financially with rest of the world and it’s not just a Canadian phenomenon. Wine producers across the globe depend on ‘cellar door’ sales to maximise their income.

ProWein

Beyond the winery door there are even more changes. At ProWein, organisers working with Wine Intelligence researchers asked “How these changes are manifesting in terms of observable trends in key markets. Which channels are winning and losing? Which retailers are doing better than others and are there discernible patterns in the channel trends across different markets which would allow us to draw more broad conclusions about the way wine is sold globally?”

They studied eight major markets (that consume half the world’s production of wine) taking data from the United States, the world’s largest market for wine, Germany, the UK, Japan, Australia and France, Spain and Italy.

Canadians will not be surprised to learn that when it comes to convergence the stereotypical business model doesn’t reflect what Wine Intelligence refers to as “The bizarre reality of wine retail environments which are subject to different legal structures and different consumer expectations.” Certainly BC’s recently implemented insipid retail liquor reforms, well documented on these pages, has been a huge disappointment to the trade.

According to the report “This should not come as a surprise: consumers are creatures of habit, and tend not to go in for radical shifts in where they buy their groceries and beverages. Equally, the ‘installed base’ of incumbent retailers have a natural advantage over any new channel or retailer type: they occupy the best sites, have the greatest legacy brand awareness, and benefit most from consumer inertia. In this climate, traditional business models can persist, while new ones can struggle to gain traction in the short term.” Wow – are you listening Ontario? Sounds as if whatever the provincial government does with liquor in Ontario, the LCBO is going nowhere fast and they will make sure that neither will any new players.

What did come out of the study and is worth noting is what researchers are calling the ‘convenience revolution’ or ‘frequent shopping, smaller baskets.’ It’s a consumer trend toward buying groceries more often, in less quantity, and including wine in this behaviour. I know, what a concept, buying wine and food in the same store. It may explain why both the BC and Ontario consumers are being proffered bizarre grocery store models by our monopoly nannies. Regardless of the Canadian experience, shaped by regulators who already run and own the liquor business (see the previous paragraph), small and nimble makes a lot of sense.

The report says “Drivers of this trend are reasonably well known, and arise chiefly from the increasing urbanisation of population, falling car ownership and car usage levels in some markets (itself driven by rising oil prices and motoring taxes). This urbanisation-austerity model is especially true in Spain.” We could add the unaffordable housing markets of Vancouver and Toronto and not enough public transit to the equation and the reasons for the move from the city to suburbs and back is almost complete.

Another multi-country trend reported at ProWein was “The growth of direct-to-home, or online-based shopping models. These also come in several guises, from the UK’s advanced online grocery shopping networks, to the growing “click and collect” systems in France, and the specialist direct-to-home retailers (including wineries) in the USA.”

In many countries, famous for their wine shops the report suggest the new communications technology has changed how consumers use retail channels abandoning storefronts for the “More remote, but information rich, zone of the online shop.” Yet as we are experiencing in BC and soon in Ontario, “None of this changes the long-standing trend in global retail – consolidation and the very real pressure by mainstream supermarkets to occupy more premium market space, and put specialist wine shops under pressure.”

Canadians can only hope the death of specialist wine shops doesn’t come and go before they are allowed to take up residence in this country (Alberta excepted).

Mark Davidson - Wine Australia

Mark Davidson – Wine Australia

As for ProWein let’s just say for wine lovers, especially for the repressed Canadian trade, it is one hell of an exhilarating experience. Just about anybody who is anybody in the wine business is pouring their wine in Dusseldorf.

It’s hard to explain the feeling you get from walking the halls seeing just about every wine in the world open and ready to be tasted. I cut through Wine Australia’s stand where 39 producers and more than 400 wines were open. There was a very cool buzz at Wine Australia thanks to Vancouverite and Global Education Manager Mark Davidson and his ‘History, Evolution, Revolution’ Masterclass focusing on Australia’s people and provenance.

In a single morning I tasted high altitude, single appellation malbec at Alto Las Hormigas; a dozen delicious wines never seen in Canada made by the passionate Movement of Independent Vintners – an association of small quality-oriented Chilean wineries making wine personally, on a human scale; A crazy good albariño from Bodega Garzon grown less than 15 kilometers from the Uruguayan Atlantic coast; next up Castell d’Encus an amazing project of Raul Bobet in the Catalan Pyrenees tasting riesling grown at 1000 meters; from Spain to the Rhone and a comprehensive appellation based tasting at Caved de Tain a high quality cooperative located at the foot of the Hermitage hillside. Cave de Tain produces and markets a remarkable 5 cru wines from over 1000 hectares of vines in Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, Saint Joseph, Cornas and Saint-Péray. And the best part of ProWein – as I left the Cave de Tain, export guru David Quillin suggested I visit Romain Collet at Domaine Collet, voted the best young winemaker in Chablis by his peers. It was a perfect ending to a perfect morning.

Canada - On The World Map - ProWein 2015

I didn’t spend a lot of time at the Canadian booth for obvious reasons but there were plenty of other people from around the world who flocked to the stand to check out the latest in Canadian wine and the wineries who attended. I’m never sure why we are so timid about taking our best to the world or why we can’t put together a comprehensive delegation demonstrating all we have to offer in Canada, but if we ever figure it out ProWein is the place to do it.

The show returns to Dusseldorf, Germany March 13–15 in 2016. I’ll be back. Prost.

www.prowein.com 


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BC Critics’ Picks – April 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.

What’s on our minds this month? From the looks of the picks submitted below, a lot. We’re dividedly focused on hockey, food, travels and Earth Day, but united in focus on interesting, unique, off-the-path wines. This month we’re excited about well-priced and BBQ-primed zinfandel, aristocratic Alsatian gewürztraminer, idiosyncratic Jura vin Jaune and a BS-free sustainable sauvignon blanc/semillon from the Okanagan – plus others.

And if you happen to be watching the playoffs, while on the road, contemplating dinner and want to drink a local wine – this month we’re focused on you. Cheers (and go Canucks).

Cheers ~ TR

BC Critic Team

Anthony Gismondi

It’s the Stanley Cup Playoffs in most of Canada so this month’s picks are all about calming down. The wine business, like hockey reporting, isn’t exempt from hyperbole so this month’s picks are about relaxing, just a bit, and drinking something authentic, understated and supportive to whichever team turns your crank. Go Canucks.

A wine that screams Tuscan and delicious most any night is the Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2012. Suave with fine intensity and that signature savoury Bolgheri streak, it calls for pre-game spaghetti and meatballs.

Le Volte Dell'ornellaia 2012 Edmeades Zinfandel 2011 Radio Boka Tempranillo 2012

Following the comfortable theme, zinfandel works for hockey game gatherings and a current favourite is the Edmeades Zinfandel 2011 from its peppery, blackberry jam nose to its dense, sweet finish. Fire up the barbecue.

Finally a bargain you can find in private wine shops is Radio Boka 2012. Boka hails from Valencia, the home of oranges and paella, and in a similar fashion this red is as comforting as both. It’s dirt cheap, and even 30 percent cheaper in Ontario, but when you come from mountainsides and head-pruned, 25-50 year-old vines, well let’s just say it’s a good buy.

Rhys Pender, MW

Here are three wines that are just freaking delicious and worth seeking out.

The first is an old favourite, the Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012. I’ve been lucky enough to try cellared versions of this wine for decades as my dad often had a few older bottles kicking around when I was growing up. It was one of the few wines that got aged. It can easily go for a decade and there are probably few wines in the world that are as good a value bet for the cellar. And a secret, it is much more expensive in Australia than it is here in Canada!

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Cuvée Laurence 2012 Domaine Barmes Buecher Rosenberg Riesling 2012

I recently got the chance to visit the stunning vineyards of Alsace and one of my visits was with the charming Catherine Faller of Domaine Weinbach. We went through a lineup of 14 impressive wines, all of which ooze complexity, power and intensity. The Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Cuvée Laurence 2012 was particularly delicious, especially the bottle I had later with foie gras.

Another great Alsatian producer I visited was Barmes-Buecher. Such a charming family and the wines do not disappoint for being excitingly unique and interesting. One of their wines that has appeared from time to time in BC is the Rosenberg Riesling 2012, with its great texture and length. Worth seeking out.

DJ Kearney

Halibut season accounts for my three white choices this month. From Campania, the captivating Masseria Frattasi Acquafredda Fiano Beneventano IGT 2013, a rich but lively fiano for halibut marinated in lemongrass, lime leaf and coconut milk, then crisply grilled.

Masseria Frattasi Acquafredda Fiano Beneventano 2013 Colle Stefano Verdicchio Di Matelica 2013 Domaine Stéphane Tissot Arbois Savagnin 2000

For the linear but highly flavourful Colle Stafano Verdicchio di Matelica DOC 2013, halibut needs nothing more than a generous squeeze of lemon before slipping into a bamboo steamer.

For this magical Vin Jaune 2000 from savant winemaker Stéphane Tissot the halibut needs a beurre blanc made with the Vin Jaune, or serve after the fish with Compte cheese, another famous gift from the Jura.

Treve Ring

With April’s burst into spring, I’m always reminded how lucky we are to live in this corner of the globe, and what an outstanding and awe-inspiring diversity of environments that makes up our province. With Earth Day falling this week, it’s a perfect time to set to drinking wines that are purposefully grown and produced with sustainable measures in mind.

Claus Preisinger is one of Austria’s hottest winemakers. Youthful, driven, modern, consciousness and innovative – his aim is to create that typify terroir, and his vineyards are completely biodynamic to honour that. Basic 2011 is just that – a beauty blend of zweigent and blaufrankisch that pairs perfectly with blistered crust margarita pizza with arugula.

Claus Preisinger Basic Red 2011 Le Clos Du Tue Boeuf La Butte 2013 Lock & Worth Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2013

An equally dedicated producer is Le Clos du Tue-Boeuf, a project via Thierry and his older brother Jean-Marie. Together they farm the organic and biodynamic vines in Touraine, making charming, refreshing wines like La Butte 2013, a gamay with tart cranberry, perfumed tayberry and lissom body. Ideal with lentils and cured meats. #GoGamayGo.

The very best way to go green this Earth Day is to buy and support local producers, and save on shipping costs and goods around the globe. Lock & Worth Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon 2013 is a low-interventionist, herbal and stony textured white, crisp and pure and ideal for toasting our beautiful growing region.

~

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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Blind Tasting 31 of the World’s Top Cabernet Blends

The Master Blend Classification

In late February and on the eve of the Vancouver International Wine Festival, eleven of Canada’s leading wine critics gathered in Vancouver for the third Wolf Blass Master Blend Classification Tasting. Our assignment was to “classify” 31 of the world’s leading Cabernet Sauvignon based blends in a blind tasting. The wines selected for the tasting met three basic criteria: the vintage was 2010, the blend was predominantly cabernet sauvignon-based; and the wine had to fetch a minimum $100 retail price. In the end the list included some impressive labels from France, United States, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, Italy and Australia, painstakingly collected (an accomplishment in any Canadian market for sure) and randomly queued for solo tasting.

mbc2.

The Inspiration

The Master Blend Classification, inspired by the Bordeaux Classification of 1855 was also encouraged in part, by WineAlign’s own Bill Zacharkiw:

“I was asked to lead a tasting of Australian wines for my fellow Quebec journalists. With three winemakers present, I decided to throw everyone a curve ball, and have everyone, including the winemakers, blind taste their wines against comparable wines from around the world.

My goal was to show everyone, including the winemakers, where their wines stood against some pretty hot competition. And nothing defeats prejudice like blind tasting!

Well word got back to Wolf Blass chief winemaker Chris Hatcher about the stunt I pulled, and he loved the idea. And the next thing I know I am sitting in a room with $20,000 of wine and tasting through 30 of the world’s top cabernet blends. 

That was one year ago, the inaugural Master Classification Blend tasting session. It takes guts to do what Hatcher is doing, and this is one of the most educational and fun tastings of the year. And I am glad to have been part of its genesis.”

Thanks to Bill, that’s how we came to be seated in a well lit room in Vancouver, with 31 glasses of red wine in front of us totaling some $20,000 in value. Some of the group had joined Bill at the previous tasting (see last year’s Master Blend Classification and the WineAlign critics’ thoughts on 2009 vintage) so we knew what was likely in store – First Growths, icon wines, curveballs, eye-openers and detailed takeaway notes unrivalled anywhere in the world.

After a couple of hours of contemplative tasting followed by some adept spreadsheet calculations, the collective results were revealed.

Top Ten 2010

IMG_06042010 Chateau Latour

2010 Chateau Montrose

2010 Chateau Haut Brion

2010 Chateau Cos d’Estournel

2010 Chateau Léoville-Barton

2010 Chateau Léoville-Las Cases

2010 Antinori Solaia

2010 Ornellaia

2010 Vasse Felix Heytesbury

2010 Chateau Lafite

Master Blend Classification Event Director, George Samios, noted the quality of the lauded 2010 vintage was evident, with less than 2.25 points differentiating the top 10 wines.

“The eleven judges had a great diversity of background and we saw some really robust and dynamic discussion about all of the wines. Key themes continued to be the oak to fruit relationship and also the respective “characters” of some regional wines.

~ TR

Thoughts and themes from our WineAlign critics:

Bill Zacharkiw:

The Vancouver tasting confirmed what many have said, that 2010 in Bordeaux was an extremely good vintage especially if you value acidity. My top five wines were all Bordeaux (in order): Chateau Latour, Chateau Cos d’Estournel, Chateau Montrose, Chateau Léoville-Las Cases and Chateau Lynch-Bages.

Compared to the tasting of the 2009’s, when Bordeaux pumped out some pretty ripe wines, this year’s tasting showed that when Bordeaux has a more classic vintage, they really stand out from the pack. Last year, my top 10 was divided up pretty evenly between wines hailing from Italy, Chile and California.

Château Latour 2010 Château Cos D’estournel 2010 Chateau Montrose 2010 Château Léoville Las Cases 2010 Château Lynch Bages 2010

It comes down to character, and I have always felt that the riper the grapes are picked, the less they are distinctive. This year I was able to guess which wines were from Bordeaux, while last year tasting the 2009’s, I wasn’t nearly as precise.

Anthony Gismondi:

It was fun to be in Vancouver for a change, for a tasting of this magnitude and what turned out to be a showdown between California and Bordeaux. Both regions seemed more subdued in 2010 dealing with slightly cooler fruit. In my estimation California wines come about their ripeness and hedonistic demeanor in a more natural way than the Bordelais examples, i.e. sunshine and heat, versus optical sorting machines and cooler, low yielding vineyard sites.

That said, it is amazing how the gap between styles has closed over the last two decades, so much so that picking the appellation of any of these wines with certainty is a bit of a mug’s game. What I do know is that in all my travels through the New World, when you meet transplanted French people making wine in warm climates you usually find very interesting wines, and that was the case on this day.

Opus One 2010  Harlan Estate Proprietary Red 2010 Almaviva 2010

In the end I chose the luscious Opus One over the more mineral and restrained Chateau Haut Brion, and while they are studies in opposite style, Opus One is really hitting its stride, especially bringing some much welcomed elegance to the Napa Valley theme. I’m guessing ten years from now the scores could be reversed. The Harlan Estate Red was as elegant as I can remember, and that gave it the edge over the Dominus on my score sheet although both are superb. The best value among the French wines has to be the sturdy, well-crafted Château Léoville-Barton.

Back to the French transplants, with Chile impressing and Almaviva just barely inching the Joseph Phelps Insignia on my card. Both are delicious wines and will be ready before the French bottles reach their glory. The leaner, cooler, more mineral resinous wines’ futures lay ahead of them; Chateau Montrose, Chateau Pichon Comtesse de Lalande and the Antinori Solaia round out my top wines scoring 91 points or higher.

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2010 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse De Lalande 2010 Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2010

It was a tough trial for the Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, now in its 38th Vintage with its 40 percent shiraz. Winemaker Chris Hatcher, to his credit, thought the acid was too high and so did I.

There may need to be a different world order in 2016, and perhaps opening up the pricing restrictions could allow that. Certainly I have had wines from Argentina and Canada that would challenge several labels and need to be at the show.

mbc7

Rhys Pender, MW:

It was a suitable birthday present that I got to sit down at the end of February and taste 31 of the world’s most iconic Cabernet based wines, all from the 2010 vintage. Following on from last years tasting of the 2009 vintage, this was another good year for Bordeaux wines to strut their stuff. They performed pretty well, comprising six of my top 10 wines and nine of the top 12 when all tasters scores were averaged.

The surprise this year was the performance of the Italians. Last year I found them very new world and overly fruity and heavy on winemaking, but this year two were in my top four (Antinori Solaia and Ornellaia). The leathery, meaty, savouriness was back along with plenty of ripe, concentrated fruit.

Antinori Solaia 2010Ornellaia 2010Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 2010

The Californian wines caused a bit of strife amongst the tasters. Some wines were holding on to that lush, sweet style and while others were a bit more structured and less manipulated. There were scores both high and low for each style suggesting that California is in a bit of a state of flux as to what style its icon wines should be. I loved the Ridge Monte Bello as did a few others, but overall it finished quite a way down the list.

When tasting this calibre of wine, you have to basically disregard price as they are all expensive. But that said, a few of the wines that were expensive and from what should be a very good vintage disappointed. But that is always the way in wine and that is what keeps it interesting. 2011 with a cool year in Bordeaux should be very interesting indeed.

DJ Kearney:

The Master Blend Classification is aptly named. Handling cabernet sauvignon takes masterful hand; blending is what adds grace and charm to Bordeaux’s haughty black grape, and the courage to rank/compare/classify cabernet blends is a useful and meaningful endeavour. Well done to Wolf Blass and ‘Hatch’ for the third incarnation of this self-imposed measuring stick. It is an incredible privilege to take part in this iconic tasting.

It does not need to be said again that all tasters were surprised (sometimes gob-smacked) by the ‘reveal’. The very young Bordeaux wines – all acknowledged stars – showed intractable and shuttered, (downright dour in some cases), and their Cali and Oz counterparts beamed in comparison. My highest scores landed on both a classic aristocrat, as well as the Wolf Blass Black Label…. Nice when the quality gap is narrow, between wines made worlds apart. My overall highest scores where for a happy mix of new and old world blends. In retrospect, the 2010 Bordeaux, despite the glorious vintage, were tightly bound and difficult to taste.

Château Haut Brion Premier Grand Cru Classé 2010Château Margaux 2010 Sena Red 2010

My top five included both the focussed and fleshy Wolf Blass Black Label 2010 from McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek, followed by the brooding, savoury and spiced Chateau Haut-Brion 2010.

Chateau Margaux 2010 revealed its pedigree immediately, with intense perfume, potent cassis and the luxuriant aroma of fine, new French casks. Pauillac’s Chateau Latour 2010 emanates power and pedigree, even though it has years of unwinding ahead of it. While Eduardo Chadwick’s Seña 2010 displays lovely balance, depth and fruit right now.

IMG_0605mbc8

Treve Ring:

What an honour to taste these gloried wines, en masse, and have a bit of solo time to meet each one.

Upon reflection, my top notes were written for Bordeaux, with the structured savouriness and gravitas of Chateau Latour taking first rank, followed closely by the smoked stone and white pepper of Chateau Beychevelle and the peppery potency of Chateau Cos d’Estournel. The fine bones, bacon and gravels of Chateau Pichon Longueville was compelling and singular, even though I felt I was tasting through a faulted bottle, and a pair of Léovilles (Chateau Léoville-Barton and Chateau Léoville-Las Cases) charmed with their potential. Of course, these were still all far too young, but testament to the 2010 vintage that they impressed and showed as well as they did at this stage.

But all my highest scores weren’t reserved for the graphite youthful grippiness of 2010 Bordeaux. I also appreciated the generosity of fruit balanced with tempered, integrated tannins in the dense Wolf Blass Black Label. Henschke Cyril Henschke, Vasse Felix Heytesbury and Opus One also surprised and impressed me with their lavishly fruited, moderately oaked and positively floral direction.

Château Beychevelle 2010 Henschke Cyril Henschke 2010 Vasse Felix Heytesbury 2010 Vergelegen 2010

Would I have scored them as I did if I knew their retail price? Probably not. That’s the benefit of tasting blind, removing all name and price prejudices and shouldering up a $2500 bottle (Chateau Lafite) alongside one more than 25 times less (Vergelegn Estate GVB).

As this was my first Master Blend Classification tasting, I have no comparable event to hold it against. That said, I’m already looking forward to a line up of the 2011 vintage, when the playing field appears to be a bit more leveled globally.

En Français

Marc Chapleau wrote about his experience at Master Blend Classification in his column for Chacun Son Vin here.

To view the entire lineup of wines at the third annual event click on: Master Blend Classification

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


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20 Under $20 in BC : April 2015

April Fools in BC

If you’re reading this column, you are interested in wine. If you are from BC, you doubtlessly know about the recent changes to our liquor laws (yes, more changes) as of April 1, 2015. As part of the government’s effort to “level the playing field”, all the prices of wine in the BC Liquor Stores is now displayed without taxes, as Anthony notes below. This means that you have to be quick on your feet or have calculator in hand to know the price for your purchases (multiply the shelf price by 1.15). Private wine stores have followed suit, as the optics of having shelf prices 15 percent higher than your major competitor (your elected government) isn’t a positive.

For now, we’ve decided to try to keep our 20 Under $20 wine picks under $20 ALL IN (including the taxes), meaning the shelf prices of the wines below will be approximately $17.40 or less. We’re waiting to see how it all shuffles out over the coming weeks, and while the dust settles, WineAlign West is still hard at work to find you the best wines that you can purchase with a $20 dollar bill.

~ TR

BC Critic Team

Anthony Gismondi

It’s no secret that it’s getting harder and harder to find wines under $20 a bottle in BC and this month it looks as if government clearly agrees after it removed the PST and GST from its display price, dropping prices, at least for a few feet, by 15 percent. It’s a sleight of hand we could live without but when the taxes are as high as they are in BC what else can they do but try to deceive customers by hiding the ultimate price of its products. This month my picks are truly under $20 taxes all in. But I’m not sure how long that can continue as wine prices and taxes soar in BC.

Sumac Ridge Estate Winery Private Reserve Pinot Noir 2013 Santa Carolina Reserva Pinot Noir Casablanca Estate 2013 Pentâge Pinot Gris Estate Bottled 2013 Dunavár Pinot Grigio 2013

Pinot noir is never cheap but two bottles worth looking for as mid-week reds are the Sumac Ridge 2013 Pinot Noir Private Reserve and the Santa Carolina Reserva Pinot Noir Casablanca Estate 2013. Both offer a modicum of pinot noir flavour and would be perfect with a Margarita style pizza or a salmon salad.

Still with pinot, this time gris or grigio, it looks as if it is the only variety that consistently sells for less than $20. We love the latest Pentâge Winery 2013 Pinot Gris with its mineral salty notes and candied red apple flavours. Speaking of bargains, the Dunavár 2013 Pinot Grigio is as fresh and bright as you could want for $10.

Torres Viña Esmeralda 2014 Wild Goose Autumn Gold 2013Matua Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2014Château St. Jean Fumé Blanc 2012

If spicy, Pan-Asian take-out is on your mind you can pair it up with the exotic, generous, spicy/limey litchi fruit flavours of the Torres 2014 Viña Esmeralda or a personal, local favourite, Wild Goose Autumn Gold 2013, the latter a delicious mix of roughly one-third gewürztraminer, riesling and pinot blanc, just sweet enough to tame any spice.

Finally, the lighter dishes of spring will work better with clean, fresh sauvignon blanc such as the crisp, mouth-watering, tropical fruit scented Matua Valley 2014 Sauvignon Blanc from Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. Or in a slightly richer category, consider the Chateau St. Jean 2012 Fumé Blanc out of Sonoma County, California. It works well with goat cheese, pasta or shellfish dishes. 

Rhys Pender MW

This month’s selections are partially inspired by recent visits to Argentina and Alsace. There are many amazing wines, and while the best can set you back a few dollars, there is also a theme of great value in these areas. The best and most expensive wines are rarely crazy prices and this translates to the value range as well, where you get a lot of quality for the price.

I’m starting off with a pair from Alsace. Domaine Zinck is now run by Philippe and Pascale Zinck after taking over from Philippe’s father, Paul, who started the domain in 1964. They have expanded the estate vineyards and modernized things but kept making serious wines. Available at the BC Liquor Stores is the 2012 Pinot Blanc, a great way to compare an Alsace version with some of the quality BC wines made from the same variety.

Another great variety in Alsace is Gewurztraminer. Not for everyone’s taste because of its lush richness and often with a bit of residual sugar, there is no doubt it is the best wine to pair with richer, spicier foods. Foie gras is also a great match with sweeter versions. Try the 2013 Kuhlmann-Platz for a great priced version.

Paul & Phillipe Zinck Pinot Blanc 2012 Kuhlmann Platz Gewurztraminer 2013 Michel Torino Cuma Organic Torrontés 2013 Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2012

In Argentina, when the weather warms up you crave juicy, refreshing Torrontés. It is aromatic but not sweet and is a fantastic aperitif wine or one to just sip on its own for refreshment. The Michel Torino Cuma brand is not only great value but also organically grown.

From BC, one of the benchmark wines has always been Tinhorn Creek Merlot. It has always been great value and had a strong following. After a couple of tough vintages on the Bordeaux grape varieties (2010 and 2011 were very cool vintages), 2012 was much better and the Tinhorn Creek Merlot is the best it has been in many years.

DJ Kearney

Self-imposed frugality will govern my wine spending now as I look towards summer and the holidays I dream of taking. As the weather gets a little brighter, the frisky Fritz 2013 Riesling from Gunderloch buoys my spirits with its cheeky fruit and sheer ease of drinking. No food required, but a fiery black bean and mango salsa and good corn chips would be the ticket.

Two local aromatic whites are also in my fridge: Mission Hill’s 2013 Reserve Pinot Gris for when I need dry, assertive white wine, and the expressive Quails’ Gate 2014 Gewurztraminer which packs a punch of fruit in a confident off-dry style for a simple (and budget) chickpea curry or lettuce wraps.

Gunderloch Fritz's Riesling 2013 Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Gris 2013 Quails Gate Gewurztraminer 2014 Vina Chela Reserve Malbec 2013 Bota Box Old Vine Zinfandel

I’ve also selected a couple of reds that will keep my piggy bank bulging, including Viña Chela’s cheerful Malbec 2013 – smooth, smoky and organic for spicy grilled chorizo-in-a-bun. Also watch for the Bota Box Old Vine Zinfandel, holding 4 bottles-worth of good tasting red in a bag-in-box offering that over delivers.

Treve Ring

Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Trapiche Pure Malbec 2012 Norton Barrel Select Malbec 2010With a jump on this month’s World Malbec Day, stock up on Norton 2010 Malbec Barrel Select and pour its smoky tobacco and cassis with a thick wedge of BBQ beef. For a few bucks more, I recommend grabbing the Trapiche 2012 Pure Malbec – a chance to taste what pure Malbec is like, unharnessed and unsuppressed by oak.

Of course, there are more colours in the rainbow than malbec blue. A quick hop over the Andes lands you in Aconcagua Valley, and as you continue towards the coast you’ll come across this vibrant, spring fresh Errazuriz Don Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2013, tropical-fruit ready to meet your fruit chutneys or white fish. 

~

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.


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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008