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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 7th – Part One

South American Reds and Classic Whites
By John Szabo MS with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The main feature of the rather large March 7th VINTAGES release (135 products) is Tuscany, which David will lead next week. There are also mini-features on British Columbia, Kosher wines and St. Patrick’s Day (Irish Whiskey, naturally). But for this week we were drawn hors piste by a handful of compelling reds from South America, including a pair of Chilean wines that further bolster my case to consider this conservative country in a new light (See my January report entitled “Chile Into The Future”).

And considering that Sara d’Amato has just returned from judging the Argentina Wine Awards (the first wine awards judged by an all-female panel, to my knowledge) and additional travels around the country, and that David Lawrason is currently basking under the South American sun (on business, of course), the focus of this week’s report is not entirely whimsical.

As a bonus, Sara shares some still-vivid impressions from Argentina. We’ll also round out this week’s recommendations with the short list of top chardonnays and sauvignon blanc (and blends) from the March 7th lineup.

d’Amato on Argentina

An invitation to judge close to 700 wines at the Argentina Wine Awards with an all-star, all-female panel, followed by a cross-country discovery tour had me in the southern hemisphere for most of this month. A few very distilled thoughts on my experience:

1.     There is huge diversity of malbecs across the country. High elevations (where you’ll find the best) do not equate with cool, necessarily. Growers battle with the complications of high UV radiation, needing inventive canopy management to shade and protect their grapes, and specialized irrigation so that water does not immediately evaporate in the dry heat. What makes high elevation plantings special is the temperature difference between night and day – when the temperature drops six degrees per hour you can feel the night coming on, and can imagine the grapes shivering and almost feel the nervy tension being built in these wines. Most importantly, higher elevations offer soils with better drainage and low fertility (a good thing).

2.     Varieties other than malbec are on the rise. In fact, in a big surprise to all judges, none of the regional trophies this year were awarded to malbecs. Top prizes were awarded instead to bonarda, which is widely planted and has great potential to be the next “it” grape. Not only is bonarda easy to grow on the less “desirable” soils, it’s approachable, easy to drink and offers plenty of fruit and supple tannins. What else rocked my world: tannat, petit verdot, cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc. And although I can’t imagine finding a pure tannat from Argentina on our shelves any time soon, its dark and surprisingly supple fruity goodness, uniquely expressed in Argentina, is worth demanding. Sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, unlike their fresh expressions in neighboring Chile, offered both depth and ripeness that proved balanced and appealing.

If you find yourself in southern Ontario, the last of the Colomé Reserva Malbec from a previous VINTAGES release is a gem worth seeking out. To put this in perspective, the higher elevation plantings of the Uco Valley in Mendoza are around 3,000 – 4,000 feet in elevation. At Colomé, in the northern region of Salta in the Upper Calchaquí Valleys, the plantings are well over 3,000 meters making them the highest elevation vineyards on earth. This is a malbec that will make you rethink malbec.

Readily available across the province is the Alamos 2013 Malbec. Affordably priced, this distinctive, reliable and solid quality malbec is produced in the higher elevations of Mendoza in the esteemed region of Vistaflores. A textbook malbec, finely crafted and a great value. For an introduction to bonarda, you’ll see my note below for the Zuccardi 2012 Serie A – which is being release in VINTAGES on March 7th.

The result of the AWA’s can be found here: ~ Sara


VINTAGES March 7th Buyers Guide: South America

Emiliana 2012 Novas Gran Reserva Syrah-Mourvèdre, Cachapoal Valley (Colchagua Valley), Chile ($15.95)

Santa Carolina Specialties Dry Farming Carignan 2010 Emiliana Novas Gran Reserva Syrah Mourvèdre 2012John Szabo – Under the direction of César Morales Navia, the Novas line of organic wines from Emiliana is among the best values in South America. This syrah-mourvèdre blend is an excellent example of the shift to grapes that are better suited to parts of Chile (Mediterranean) than the maritime Bordeaux varieties that have dominated the scene since the 19th century. It’s stylish and rich, generously flavoured and long on the finish, far outperforming many competitors in the price category.
David Lawrason - Great value yet again from this leading producer of organic wines. It feels very much like a rather rustic Rhone but with more fruit exuberance. A lot of depth and life for $16. Very good to excellent length.

Santa Carolina 2010 Specialties Dry Farming Carignan, Cauquenes Valley (Maule Valley), Chile ($17.95)

John Szabo - The Santa Carolina Specialties range is another perfect example of even the very large, entrenched rear guard companies of Chile (Santa Carolina was established in 1875) looking to craft wines more representative of the country’s potential rather than the marketing department’s wishes. Led by Andrés Caballero, the Santa Carolina team has sought out new terroirs “where grapes are in perfect balance with soil and climate. These wines speak of forgotten varieties, dry lands and endless root systems, old vineyards and small scale farmers”, according to official sources. In my view, this is a terrific wine made from 80 year-old dry-farmed carignan vines in the Cauquenes Valley (Maule) in Southern Chile, a bit wild and rustic, but that’s the beauty of old carignan, like a characterful, wrinkled face that has seen the passage of a great many years. Enjoy with a rare-grilled, well-aged umami-rich, bone-in ribeye.

Cuvelier Los Andes 2009 Grand Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($61.95)

John Szabo - Admittedly this is not the style of wine that I’m generally attracted to – the kind for which a fork and knife are as helpful as a glass – but this was so well done that it had to be mentioned. Fans of amarone and vintage port should line up for this 16.5% alcohol monster, a seriously dense and rich, ultra concentrated, smoky, wood-tinged, savoury red wine with massive structure and intensity. It would be hard to imagine stuffing more into a bottle of wine, or getting further in style from classic Bordeaux (from where the Cuvelier family hails and owns several château). This should also age magnificently.
David Lawrason - This 100% malbec is from one of the five French-owned estates in the magnificent desert compound in Vistaflores calles Clos de Los Siete.  Cuvelier is owned by Jean- Guy and Bertrand Cuvelier who are also the owners of Château Léoville- Poyferré and Château Le Crock in  Bordeaux. This is a very impressive, maturing rich, dense and elegant – very much in a French tone.

Zuccardi 2012 Serie A Bonarda, Santa Rosa, Mendoza, Argentina ($16.95)

Viña Tarapacá Gran Reserva Carmenère 2012 Zuccardi Serie A Bonarda 2012 Cuvelier Los Andes Grand Malbec 2009Sara d’Amato - Zuccardi is a true family affair and a big one that prides itself on innovation, finding unique sites and using cutting edge vinification.  The Serie A Bonarda is a great introduction to this seductive and ready-to-drink varietal that offers loads of fruit spice, gentle tannins and an impactful nature.
David Lawrason – The Zuccardi family has been growing bonarda in the eastern Santa Rosa region for decades, long before it became a trendy varietal. So they have a good supply of old vine stock. This nicely catches the fruity charm I am looking for from this grape – simple but exuberant, balanced and ready to drink.

Viña Tarapacá 2012 Gran Reserva Carmenère, Maipo Valley, Chile ($17.95)

David Lawrason - From a grand estate in middle Maipo this is a massive value in textbook carmenere!  The nose absolutely soars here with an up-draught of cassis, sappy evergreen, steak tartar and background oak. Powerful, deep and even for  carmenere lovers.

Buyer’s Guide March 7th: Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc (and blends)

Rodney Strong 2012 Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California, USA ($22.95)

Cave Des Grands Crus Blancs Mâcon Vinzelles 2013 Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009 Rodney Strong Chardonnay 2012John Szabo – I’m quite sure this is the first wine from Rodney Strong that I’ve ever added to the recommended list, but this is a happy departure from the over-wooded and overly sweet cuvées of the past. I appreciate the freshness and subtlety on offer without sacrificing the ripe fruit you’d expect from Sonoma chardonnay. This is balanced and pleasurable drinking at the right price.

Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009,  AC Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux, France ($31.95)

John Szabo -  Each time I taste a wine of this quality I wonder why I don’t drink more great sauvignon-semillon blends. IN the context of all of the overpriced, oaky chardonnays of the world, this wine delivers terrific complexity and regional identity at an attractive price. ‘09 was, as you know, a ripe, highly celebrated vintage in Bordeaux and this is packed with flavor. Decant this before serving to maximize the enjoyment.

Cave Des Grands Crus Blancs 2013 Mâcon-Vinzelles, Burgundy, France ($17.95)

John Szabo - “We had a marvelous lunch from the hotel at Lyon, an excellent truffled roast chicken, delicious bread and white Macon wine.” I’m sure Hemingway was thinking of a wine like this when he wrote these words in A Moveable Feast, and no doubt actually drank several bottles of Mâcon with F. Scott Fitzgerald on picnics. This is simple but delicious country wine in the best sense, at a price that can only make upstart wineries with big loans to pay off cringe with envy.

M.Chapoutier Tournon 2013 Mathilda, Victoria, Australia ( $19.95)

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2014 M.Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda 2013David Lawrason -  Although not specified on the label this is either wholly or in very large part made from viognier, the only white to my knowledge in this Rhone producer’s Australian portfolio. It makes sense as viognier too is a Rhone varietal. This is an intense, quite powerful white that rings with authenticity.

Villa Maria 2014 Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95)

David Lawrason - Marlborough is known for its very assertive sauvignons but there is a school going for less bombast and more compact structure. That is the book on Villa Maria in general as a matter of fact. This crisp, tart and mouth-watering with excellent focus and length, and an echo of wet stone on the finish.

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

Touring Tuscany & Piedmont

Consider joining me next October in Tuscany and Piedmont for an insider’s deluxe gastronomy tour via Indus Travel. Only fluffy, unlumpy pillows and high thread count sheets, plus daily diet of white truffles, cooking classes, 5-star relaxation and of course, plenty of wine tastings. It will be memorable. Details:

Tuscany and Barolo Tour with John Szabo MS

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES March 7, 2015:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

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

AdvertisementWynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES January 24th – Part Two

South America & Warming Winter Reds
By David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The most newsworthy story of the January 24 release was told last week as John Szabo and team parsed the fascinating release of Spanish reds, plus sundry global whites. South America is a secondary feature but the selection is too small and unremarkable to warrant an elaborate missive. This is not at all meant to convey that Chile and Argentina are undeserving. John’s great piece on Chile, on the heels of a similar essay by Anthony Gismondi, aired on WineAlign just a couple of weeks ago. And we are prepping something similar re Argentina following a fascinating trip there by Anthony and I in December. Sara d’Amato ventures there next month, along with Treve Ring, our Victoria-based Managing Editor.

Argentina was a revelation, indeed more than that. There is perhaps a winemaking revolution fermenting in Mendoza that could have profound effects on wine styles and attitudes in the New World. We will discuss what these trends are later. But it should come as no surprise when you take some of the most innovative, adventurous, successful and wealthy winemakers from France, Italy, Spain, California, yes Canada, Chile and Argentina itself, and give them a hospitable, viticultural haven like Argentina. Something exciting is bound to happen – and is happening. And it is happening in Chile as well. Now I am not saying that the current, small selection on this release are world beaters, but they are beginning to illuminate some of the trends underway.

South America

Luca 2012 Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza ($32.95)
David Lawrason – Having tasted extensively in Argentina in December (but not this wine oddly enough) I have a new appreciation for efforts – by various means – to sew more elegance into malbec. This is a prime example of the hugely important principle of higher elevation, marrying fruit from very high Gualtallery (1500metres) and fruit from older vines (avg. age 47 years) in moderately high La Consulta (1200metres) – both sub-regions of the Uco Valley. The result is a seamless, smooth, fruit-primed red without excess oak or alcohol. If you have not yet paid $30 for malbec – here’s a place to start.
Sara d’Amato – Although Luca’s appearance is domineering and its bottle weighty, the contents are unexpectedly elegant, pure and authentic. With a great breadth of flavours and generous palate, there is surprising lightness about this wine that comes from great balance. I look forward to visiting the Catena estate in just a few weeks.

Casas Del Bosque 2012 Gran Reserva Syrah, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($22.95)
David Lawrason – With syrah barely a generation old in Chile, it is still finding its footholds. More coastal regions like Casablanca seem to be prime real estate, especially if you like a briny, peppery northern Rhône edge. This one is from a single red clay/granite based site (like northern Rhône) in the westernmost edge of Casablanca closest to the ocean. I recall loving the Matetic syrah from a nearby precinct as well. Anyway, this a whopper but it has density and centre, and it will be awesome with a hearty, heavily sauced mid-winter roast.

Luca Malbec 2012 Casas Del Bosque Gran Reserva Syrah 2012 Falernia Reserva Carmenère 2012 Chakana Maipe Reserve Bonarda 2012

Falernia 2012 Reserva Carmenère, Elqui Valley, Chile ($17.95)
John Szabo – Falernia is a perennial favourite, and the Elquì Valley certainly distinctive. This is made in a quasi Amarone-style with grapes partially dried on the vine before harvest, which explains the lack of herbal-vegetal character typical for the grape, as well as the 15% alcohol declared on the label. If you’re after a heart-warming, plush winter red at a nice price, this fits the bill.
Sara d’Amato – Falernia is an innovative project founded in the late 80’s in Chile’s most northern wine region. This piece of otherworldly dessert, hot and arid, was terraformed into a lush wine growing area. Due to some drying on the vine, the finished product is even more dense and opulent than the norm – no vegetal character here.

Chakana 2012 Maipe Reserve Bonarda, Mendoza, Argentina ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – Argentina is far from a one-trick malbec pony. In fact, it is only very recently that malbec surpassed bonarda as the most widely planted grape varietal in Argentina. Formerly used exclusively as a bulk wine production blender grape, there are many fine examples, such as this, of this deeply coloured, floral and succulent varietal wine.

Other New World Reds

Rodney Strong Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Kurtz Family Boundary Row Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2010

Stoller 2012 Pinot NoirStoller Pinot Noir 2012, Dundee Hills, Oregon, USA ($31.95)
John Szabo
- The Stoller family property dates back to 1943, with vineyards planted half a century later. Tightly spaced pinot grows in the volcanic red Jory soils of the Dundee Hills, farmed with environmental care, resulting in a ripe, balanced, savoury and more red fruit-flavoured example with a fine balance of succulent acids, light, fine-grained tannins and excellent length. I like the silky texture and the umami-laden finish.

Kurtz Family 2010 Boundary Row Grenache Shiraz Mataro, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($29.95)
David Lawrason – There is a Kurtz Family winery in Sonoma as well, but there is no mistaking this exciting red as pure-blooded Aussie – indeed Barossa. When I was in Barossa a year ago winemakers often enthused more about their GSM blends than their shiraz. Just get a load of the aromatics here – the captivating exuberance. Kurtz is one of the wineries in the Light Pass sub-region of Barossa, very near the town of Nuriootpa.

Rodney Strong 2012 Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – I rarely recommend this VINTAGES favourite because, despite the characteristically high quality fruit used in this cabernet, it is often disappointingly overdressed. However, the 2012 vintage has a refreshingly transparent treatment, shows restraint, balance and purity of fruit – an excellent value.

Avondale Jonty's Ducks Pekin Red 2011

Nugan Estate Alcira Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Buehler 2012 Cabernet SauvignonBuehler Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California ($41.95)
David Lawrason - I have often chirped about lack of value in Napa cabernet, but here is a nifty exception very much worth $40. It hails from a small, family estate on the eastern slopes of the valley where faults and fissures have engineered three different soil types – sewing in surprising firmness and complexity. Eighteen months in 95% French oak (only 35% new) has added judicious layering.

Nugan Estate 2010 Alcira Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – Coonawarra is a very special place for cabernet sauvignon – producing unique wines of great character and complexity. Menthol, iron, licorice and pepper play up the perfectly ripened black fruit in this glorious example.

Avondale 2011 Jonty’s Ducks Pekin Red, Paarl, South Africa ($14.95)
John Szabo
– John and Ginny Grieve, owners of Vital Health Foods, bought the 300 year-old Avondale farm in 1997 and set about converting it to organic/biodynamic culture (actually, they’ve invented their own system called BioLogic). The same balanced approach is taken in the winery. And the results? Well, everything I’ve tasted from Avondale has been worth a look. Jonty’s Ducks is a second label of sorts, a hell of a wine for $15, which blends about 2/3 Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon with the rest of the Bordeaux grapes. It’s wholly satisfying and highly drinkable, either on its own for contemplation or with roasted meat preparations.

Euro Reds

Château Fortia 2012 Cuvée Du Baron Châteauneuf-Du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France ($39.95)
David Lawrason – Fortia is something of an institution with former owner Baron Pierre Le Roy de Boiseaumarié (1890-1967) being a pillar of the French wine industry and co-architect of the French appellation system instituted in 1937. His granddaughter and her husband now run the single 27.5 hectare block of vineyard that is festooned with the mini-boulder galets that make C de Pape, so remarkable. This fine offering is stuffed with flavours yet remarkably elegant and sensual. I have often been underwhelmed by the flagship appellation of the southern Rhône, but not this time.

J.M. Raffault 2011 Les Picasses Chinon, Loire, France ($19.95)
John Szabo
– The Les Picasses parcel sits on a rise overlooking the Vienne River, under which lies classic Loire tuffeau chalky bedrock (there’s an old tuffeau quarry practically underneath the vineyard). The result, in the hands of Raffault, is a fine and gravelly, firm and authentic Loire Valley cabernet franc here, neither green and herbaceous nor overripe – hitting the juste milieu.

Tenuta Rocca 2009 Ornati Langhe, Piedmont, Italy ($21.95)
John Szabo
– From a 15ha estate in the heart of Monforte in the quarter called Ornati, this is a stylish and savoury, earthy and zesty blend of almost equal parts nebbiolo, cabernet and barbera. It’s solid value in a surprisingly traditional style, despite the cabernet.

Château Fortia Cuvée Du Baron Châteauneuf Du Pape 2012 J.M. Raffault Les Picasses Chinon 2011 Tenuta Rocca Ornati Langhe 2009

Before signing off a word on an upcoming piece. There seems to be no let up to new ventures in Ontario, and after having spent five days in Niagara last weekend I have a bushel of news to report – and some stunningly good wines to review. I was there to take in some icewine activities during the Icewine Festival and to unofficially co-host a group of visiting sommeliers from the UK, Hong Kong and Montreal. But my main purpose was to visit newer Niagara wineries after not having done so for a couple of years. My aim is to profile at least six new wineries, and have that published by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy your purchases from the January 24 release, and watch this space next week when John Szabo orchestrates a preview the February 7 release.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES Jan 24th release:

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES January 24th – Part One
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
All Reviews

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

Pepperjack Barossa Red

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 16th – Part Two

Malbec and Mighty Fine Whites
by David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo MS

David New 2014

David Lawrason

Argentine malbec is a secondary feature in the August 16th release (south of France was featured in Part One). There are six wines that range from $15.95 (the price many are used to paying) up to $74.95 (which will undoubtedly cause some to question the new world order). And in between there are malbecs at $22.95 and $45.95. The more expensive wines do indeed show elevated quality. In fact the Colomé Reserva ($74.95) may be the best red of the release, at least on par with two just-under-$100 Bordeaux that are In Store Discoveries. But it will likely gather moss on the shelf. Which outlines the huge difficulty New World nations face in establishing the cred that Europeans (and now Napa) takes for granted. Wine reputations take time; and it takes courage to keep putting them out there. I am delighted that VINTAGES has purchased this wine, and so should Argentina be delighted.

But what of Argentine malbec in general – as reflected by half of the lower priced entries? Malbec was a wine that swept to power in the late 2000s as a tasty and affordable red just as the market for pricey wine was going into a recessionary tailspin. But now that the dust is settling we are taking a harder look. It is, if nothing else, big – at a time when sensibilities are lightening up. And you can’t just make malbec lighter with the flip of a switch. You can try to make balanced, complex and more refined malbecs, but this is difficult if you have to sell them under $20. Sweetening and oaking become key tools to impart drinkability, and then they all tend to taste the same. The homogeny of cheap Argentine malbec has become its biggest obstacle. So my mission now is to seek out, and be prepared to pay more for more expensive malbecs from producers focused on making higher quality, smaller batch, regional examples.

Meanwhile, there are several other wines worth a look on this release, including a bevy of nifty Italian and other Euro whites that superbly catch the sultry mood of August. We actually have triple alignment on the enchanting Basa Rueda from Spain. There are also excellent aged German rieslings, and Ontario chips in with a great Norman Hardie chardonnay. Plus there is an assortment of other reds put forward Sara d’Amato, John Szabo and I. Happy hunting!

Argentine Malbec

Colomé 2010 Reserva Malbec, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina  ($74.95)
David Lawrason – This very serious red hails from a historic winery in the province of Salta, far to the north of Mendoza. It registers excellent to outstanding depth, complexity and overall quality, but what I find intriguing is the different, more compact and linear demeanour that it demonstrates compared to Mendoza malbec peers.
Sara d’Amato – Colomé is one of Argentina’s oldest wineries and is home to the world’s highest elevation vineyards (we’re talking 3000 meters above sea level) – no wonder they can produce a wine of such balance, brightness and depth. This highly recommended example, although pricey, is both cellar worthy and undeniably memorable.

Decero 2011 Remolinos Vineyard Malbec, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina ($22.95)
David Lawrason – This is a refined, even keeled malbec from a single vineyard in the sub-region of Agrelo which lies in the heart of Mendoza south of the city. The Remolinos site is at 1050 metres, at the highest point of the region, where ripening is slowed thanks to cooling winds that sweep down from the Andes at night.

Colomé Reserva Malbec 2011 Decero Remolinos Vineyard Malbec 2011 Viña Cobos Bramare Malbec 2011 Graffigna Grand Reserve Malbec 2010

Viña Cobos 2011 Bramare Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina, ($45.95)
Sara d’Amato – Here is a wine that will bring out the fiery tango dancer in you. This is a riveting malbec with the depth and complexity to rival the best in this category. Unctuous and texturally intriguing with the elusive “sweet spot” of balance masterfully achieved. Vina Cobos is a shared partnership between renowned American oenologist Paul Hobbs and Argentine winemaking partners Andrea Marchiori and Luis Barraud.

Graffigna 2011 Grand Reserve Malbec, San Juan, Argentina, ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – In the best value category of this feature, this San Juan gem is refreshingly dry, a little tart and pleasantly fruity. A malbec you needn’t fear will overwhelm your main course but also one that is sure to please a crowd.


Norman Hardie Niagara ChardonnayBasa Blanco 2013Basa Blanco 2013, Rueda Spain ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This is a lovely, lively verdejo from great Spanish winemaker Telmo Rodriguez. Rueda whites are based on a terrific white grape called verdejo, that often is blended with a bit of sauvignon blanc. That was the formula for Basa as well, but in 2013 the sauvignon was replaced by 8% viura, a high acid native Spanish variety that has perhaps given this wine its amazing freshness.
John Szabo – Another fine edition, perhaps one of the best yet, of the Basa Rueda signed by Telmo Rodriguez. This smells like quality sauvignon blanc, or more accurately fumé blanc, with its gentle sweet herbal aromas and fruit shifting into the tropical – melon, guava, passion fruit spectrum.
Sara d’Amato – A sophisticated blend of verdejo and viura by iconic producer Telmo Rodriguez who is well-known for his work promoting indigenous varietals and delving into lesser known regions. This wine benefits from his keen and gentle touch and delivers a generous dose of zest, mineral and pure, refreshing fruit to the palate. A fabulous summer treat!

Norman Hardie 2012 Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($35.00)
John Szabo – It’s more often Hardie’s County wines that excite me, but this 2012 Niagara chardonnay is a beauty – a wine of serious substance and minerality, and terrific depth. I love how he can stuff so much flavour into a wine with under 13% alcohol – a lesson that should be absorbed by more winemakers everywhere. Best 2014-2020
David Lawrason – This took a gold medal at the 2014 National Wine Awards of Canada. Both it and its County counterpart are stunningly good in 2012, wowing both local and international critics at i4c. Having followed Norm Hardie from day-one I am not surprised by his success, but in 2012 his chardonnays have leapt to a new level.

Dr. Hermann 2005 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Auslese, Mosel, Germany ($23.95)
John Szabo – What a great price for this superb, mature auslese, by no means at the end of life, with abundant minerality, succulent fruit and gentle spearmint notes (a flavour I often get in aged German riesling) – hard to beat this.
David Lawrason – This mature, sweet, honeyed riesling offers character far beyond its price. It is almost a must-buy for anyone who needs a bit of education on riesling’s ability to age. (no image available)

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012 Alana Tokaj Tokaji Harslevelu 2005 Beyra Vinhos De Altitude 2012 Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay 2012

Vineland Estates 2012 Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – This continues to prove a top-caliber riesling, not only for Niagara, but is also a world-class example. This picture of elegance and power stems from an esteemed vineyard site from the Vineland estate itself planted in 1979. Vibrant, nervy and energetic – here is a firecracker of a riesling.

Alana-Tokaj 2005 Tokaji Dry Harslevelu Tokaj, Hungary ($24.95)
John Szabo – And here’s another beautifully mature wine that still has lots of life left, from an artisanal producer in Tokaj. Although the label says dry, it’s more like a gentle late-harvest style with the merest sensation of sweetness, and complexity is off the charts. Look for the saliva-inducing saltiness of volcanic terroir underlying the weighty ensemble – for $25 this is a real tour de flavour. Best 2014-2018.

Beyra Vinhos De Altitude 2012, Beiras Interior, Portugal ($13.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a brilliantly lively and perfumed blend of local varieties siría and fonte cal, like Chablis meets Sancerre. Vineyards at 700m on the schist soils of inland Portugal (just south of the Douro) are cool enough to yield this perfectly ripe wine at just 12% alc, focused on delicate citrus and sweet green herbs, with a killer streak of wet stone minerality.

Valdespino Inocente Single Vineyard Fino Dry SherryMiopasso Fiano 2012Beringer 2012 Private Reserve ChardonnayNapa Valley, California ($44.95)
David Lawrason – In a field of generally boring, over-oaked Calfornia chardonnays, this classic stood out for its poise and complexity – combining all the elements and expressing them with both authority and restraint. I am often hard on California wines for its pricing – this one is worth the money, perhaps even good value.

Miopasso 2012 Fiano Terre Siciliane, Sicily, Italy ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – The Miopasso range of wines focuses on indigenous varietals from southern Italy. This 100% fiano is flinty, smoky and mineral with a burst of citrus and delicate floral aromas. It is totally refreshing and immensely pleasurable.

Valdespino Inocente Single Vineyard Fino Dry Sherry, Spain ($22.95)
John Szabo – So salty and savoury, this is like an aperitif and an appetizer wrapped into one. Fantastic nuttiness, green olive brine, fresh bread and waxy citrus fruit flavours, in short, tremendous complexity, is apparently not for everyone (considering slumping sherry sales). But why would you spend the same $23 or more on a me-too generic cabernet from anywhere? Bring on the tapas.

Other Reds

Carvalhais 2011 Duque De Viseu Red, Dão, Portugal ($13.95)
Sara d’Amato – Portugal once again proves to be the land of great value. At under $14, this lightly perfumed and characteristically spicy wine from Dao is full-bodied and chalk full of perfectly ripened fruit. This lovely specimen will serve you well from aperitif to main course.
David Lawrason –
About halfway through tasting this dark, delicious, fruit-packed red I paused to check its price and just fell off my chair in surprise.  Enough said. You must try it.

Ninin De Antonino Izquierdo 2009Ribera del Duero Spain ($23.95)
John Szabo – Coming into its own now, I like the florality reminiscent of reds from further north in Spain like Bierzo, and the fine, pleasant bitterness. Best 2014-2019.

López De Haro 2008 CrianzaRioja Spain ($15.95)
John Szabo – It’s hard to ask for more for a $16 wine, especially if you’re a fan of old school Rioja. The resemblance to great traditionalist Lopez de Heredia Bodega doesn’t stop at the name and label design. This is an authentic regional wine. Best 2014-2020.

Carvalhais Duque De Viseu Red Ninin De Antonino Izquierdo 2009 López De Haro Crianza 2008 Apollonio Copertino Rosso 2007 Abad Dom Bueno Mencía 2008 Domaine De L'olivette Excellence Chusclan Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2012

Apollonio 2007 Copertino Rosso, Puglia, Italy ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This mature, rustic Italian country red will work better with a winter stew (the website actually recommends horse meat as a potential food much), but grab some now. It’s a blend of negroamaro 70% and montepulciano 30% that is absolutely stuffed with mouth-filling flavour and it has surprising harmony.

Abad Dom Bueno 2008 Mencía, Bierzo, Spain ($16.10)
David Lawrason – Here is yet another mencia-based red that performs well above its price with the power, structure and depth found in $40 reds from more famous regions of Spain and indeed the rest of Europe. The more I taste Bierzo the more I am convinced the mencia grape belongs in the gallery of the worlds best red wine grapes – up there with cabernet,syrah and company.

Domaine De l’Olivette 2012 Excellence Chusclan Côtes Du Rhône Villages, Rhône, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Chusclan is a tiny village appellation of only 250 hectares located on the banks of the Cèze river, a minor tributary of the Rhône and close to the town of Orange. This is a hot a sunny appellation, heavy in grenache, commonly known for its juicy, easy drinking reds and Tavel-style roses. This example from l’Olivette was a delight to discover with delicious botanical notes and distinctive garrigue.


That’s a wrap for this edition. Watch next week for our first Preview of the August 30 release, and don’t forget to check out Steve Thurlow’s round-up of the best new LCBO General List arrivals. Our national WineAlign team is convening in Toronto to judge the World Wine Awards of Canada. Busy times indeed.

Until next time!

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES August 16th release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
August 16th Part One – Southern France

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 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!



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

Gourmet Dinner & Tutored Tasting Featuring Wines from Graffigna

On August 21st, WineAlign is pleased to present a gourmet dinner & tutored tasting featuring wines from one of Argentina’s oldest wineries – Graffigna.

Graffigna HistoryGraffigna

Join us for an exclusive dinner at Jump restaurant with sommelier and global brand ambassador from Argentina, Federico Lleonart. Federico will guide you through a range of Graffigna wines and speak about the unique terroir of San Juan, Argentina as well as the history of the company that started with one man, Santiago Graffigna, in 1870. You will also have the opportunity to experience the exclusive Malbec glass – created in partnership with Riedel and Graffigna, and take home a box of 2 official Malbec Riedel glasses (valued at $50).

Federico will be joined by WineAlign’s Steve Thurlow.


Event Details:

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Location:  Jump (18 Wellington St W – Commerce Court East)

Reception: 6:30pm

Dinner: 7:00pm – 9:30pm

Tickets:  $80.00 plus HST and fees

*Please note tickets are limited to 50, so book early to avoid disappointment.

Purchase Your Tickets Here


Sparkling cocktails and hors d’oeuvres

Lime Cured Manitoulin Island Rainbow Trout
Avocado mousse, lemon jelly vinaigrette, lotus root crisps

Wine pairing: Graffigna Centenario Pinot Grigio

Grandview Farms Grass-fed Angus

Seared Flat Iron, stewed black beans and salt pork, chimmichurri rotolo of oxtail and tongue, braised mushroom forrestiere, escarole

Wine pairing: Graffigna Grand Reserve Malbec 2011

Cheese Course

Wine pairing: Santiago Graffigna (40% Malbec, 30% Cab Sauv, 30% Syrah) 2008

Hazelnut chocolate mousse
Bitter chocolate crunch, fresh raspberry coulis, baby mint

Wine pairing: Graffigna Late Harvest Malbec

*There are no substitutions*

About Jump

In the heart of Toronto’s Financial district, Jump combines classic style with sleek modern eclecticism. The sky high glass atrium, signature New York style bar and courtyard patio provide the perfect backdrop for world-inspired cuisine. Jump is renowned for its locally sourced meat and seafood, and seasonal vegetables, while continually creating fresh and innovative dishes.


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


Purchase Your Tickets Here


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Buyers Guide to VINTAGES May 10 – Part One

South America, Germany and Rosé
By John Szabo with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s Buyers Guide to VINTAGES (note our new name) features wines from South America, Germany and the annual spring fling with rosé. I’m pleased to report that there are plenty of good values, and good wines in the release, and the stars align on a handful. David Lawrason and Sara D’Amato also add their personal recommendations. Read on to see the top picks.

South America

The South American feature is a well-chosen selection that for the most part thankfully avoids the raft of over-made wines that have plagued offers from Chile and especially Argentina in the past. There’s a focus instead on balance and drinkability, and the best selections deliver genuine character and class. It’s also pleasing to see far fewer ludicrously heavy bottles – the kind that weigh a kilo empty – that were once all the rage on the continent.

The Stars Align

Valle Secreto First Edition Carmenère 2011Achaval Ferrer Malbec 20122012 Achaval Ferrer Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($24.95). John Szabo – Since 1999 Achaval Ferrer has been making some of Argentina’s best wines under the guidance of Italian oenologist Roberto Cipresso. If I had to choose one word to describe the estate’s wines it would be purity, though I’d also want to add in elegance and refinement. I find this, their entry-level bottling from three vineyards in Mendoza ranging from 13 to 86 years old, to be one of the most attractive buys in Argentina. One can’t help but be drawn in by the freshness of fruit, the delicate, suave and supple palate and the exceptional concentration and length. Best 2014-2020. Sara d’Amato –  A fresh and elegant malbec that smacks of sophistication for a price that is easy to swallow. A combination of old vines and high elevations makes this a wine to covet for your cellar. Compared to its single vineyard siblings, this entry-level is an undeniable value.

2011 Valle Secreto First Edition Carmenère, Cachapoal Valley, Chile ($18.95). John Szabo –  Carmenère is often a love-it-or-hate-it variety, a late ripener that can be quite burly and green even in Chile’s warm climate. Though this example has its share of wintergreen and fresh bay leaf, it’s nicely balanced and backed by plenty of and black and blue fruit – a solid and satisfying drop. Best 2014-2019. Sara d’Amato – This is a modern carmenère that has fallen into careful hands. It’s beautifully ripened and offers a slowly unveiling palate of rich black fruit, salinity and hint of dried herbs. The unique terroir of the upper Cachapoal has afforded this wine a really delicate balance between alcohol, tannins and fruit that play so effortlessly together on the palate.

John Szabo Recommends

2010 Altos Las Hormigas Terroir Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95). Another pair of Italians, Alberto Antonini and Attilio Pagli, are responsible for the exceptional wines of Altos Las Hormigas, a winery founded in Luján de Cuyo in 1995. The Malbec Terroir hails from the higher, and cooler, Uco Valley, highlighting the appealing floral side of the grape. Best 2014-2018.

2011 Ojo De Agua Cuvée Spéciale, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95). Dieter Meier is an enterprising Swiss artist and musician, the man behind the electronic music group Yello, as well as a professional poker player and formerly a member of the Swiss national golf team, as I learned from his Wikipedia page. In his spare time, he also runs a restaurant in Zurich, and raises cattle and grows organic grapes and produces wine in Mendoza – now that’s a well-rounded CV. His lovely Cuvée Speciale made from half malbec with cabernet sauvignon and franc, is fine, fresh and honest stuff, best 2014-2018.

2010 Maycas Del Limarí Reserva Especial Chardonnay, Limarí Valley, Chile ($19.95). I’m pleased to see this re-released and back on the shelves of the LCBO, drinking beautifully at the moment. The limestone-rich Limarí Valley in Northern Chile is the finest region in the country for chardonnay in my view, suffusing wines with a distinctively salty minerality, while the cool coastal breezes from the Pacific just a few kilometers away keep grapes fresh and focused.

2009 Tabalí Reserva Especial Limarí Valley, Chile ($22.95). But the Limarí is not just about fine chardonnay, as this blend of 3/4 syrah, with merlot and cabernet from Tabalí clearly shows. I’ve been regularly impressed with the full range from this estate, which I visited several years ago, now celebrating 21 years in business. This is also a re-release from last year, when it was also recommended. The extra year of age has conferred softer tannins and better wood integration, making it even more appealing. Best now-2019.

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Terroir 2010  Ojo De Agua Cuvée Spéciale 2011  Maycas Del Limarí Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2010  Tabalí Reserva Especial 2009  Maipe Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

More from Sara d’Amato

Maipe Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95). At over 3,000 feet above sea level where this delectable cabernet is grown, you can bet that the winds can be felt. The name Maipe means of the “Lord of the Wind” which is still called upon frequently to tame the summer heat. This entry-level cabernet delivers impressive depth and intensity all the while remaining open, honest and expressive.

Lawrason’s Take

Montes Purple Angel 2011Hermanos De Domingo Molina Hermanos Torrontés 2012Hermanos De Domingo Molia 2012 Torrontés Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina ($12.75). Torrontes must be the most obvious wine on the planet, with a peacock’s tail of perfumed aromatics. Some will hate it, others won’t. But whatever your stance, this is a textbook example. And at only $12.75 you can afford to find out where you stand.

Montes 2011 Purple Angel, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($59.95). For several years this has stood as an icon for Chile’s aspirations to make “great, global wine”. And as much as you might balk at spending $60 on Chilean red, I urge you to divert $60 from the purchase of any mainstream Bordeaux or California reds. And take the time to decant and delve into the fine nuances offered within its rich framework.


Riesling is still king in Germany, made in a style that I’ve yet to find reproduced anywhere else in the world, while pricing remains utterly attractive. Consider that barely a century ago, the top vineyards fetched higher prices than Bordeaux’s classified growths. Personally, I’m delighted with the situation – I’ll happily buy a hundred bottles of great riesling for the cost of one first growth. But the country offers more than just riesling, as David and Sara reveal.

The Stars Align

2011 C.H. Berres Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany ($18.25). John Szabo –  Rich, heady and ripe, as is frequently the case for rieslings from this astonishingly steep, perfectly oriented vineyard and its red volcanic soils, this is a real beauty. Have a look at the picture I took of the Würzgarten and marvel at the fact that anyone even bothers to grow grapes on this precipitous slope, and imagine the effort required to produce this wine. Then consider the price – I can say honestly say that $18 wouldn’t begin to cover my danger pay, though the vineyard workers surely have impressive calves. There’s enough dry extract, noble bitterness and lively acids to dry out the finish, making this off-dry wine seem virtually dry. Best 2014- 2023. Sara d’Amato – This prime Mosel house claims an impressive legacy: since 1510, twenty-one generations have worked the estate. Fermented with natural yeasts and afforded all the luxuries that riesling could ever want (and devoid of almost any interference), the result is a wonderfully expressive and highly intriguing wine – a steal!

C.H. Berres Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese 2011  Max Ferd. Richter Riesling Kabinett 2007Heinrich Vollmer Altum Spätburgunder Dry 2008  Königschaffhausener Vulkanfelsen Trocken Pinot Gris 2012  Werner Anselmann Edesheimer Rosengarten Siegerrebe Spätlese 2012

John Szabo Also Recommends

2007 Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany ($19.95). The Sonnenuhr (Sundial) is one of the Mosel’s great vineyards, combining perfect exposure with well-drained, pure slate soils that consistently yield startling fresh and balanced Riesling. This 2007 was first released in August 2009, and amazingly five years on since my first tasting, the fruit has advanced, but not much, and there’s still a delicious sapidity and freshness to the orchard fruit, not to mention a large dose of classic Mosel slatey minerality. Ahh, the magic of Mosel Riesling, truly timeless wines.

More from Sara d’Amato

Looking down to the Mosel River from the Würzgarten

Looking down to the Mosel River from the Würzgarten

2008 Heinrich Vollmer Altum Spätburgunder Dry, Qualitätswein, Pfalz, Germany ($19.95). You say spätburgunder and I say pinot noir – it’s all the same and yet completely different when planted in the almost Mediterranean climate of the Pfalz. Here vines ripen more quickly, benefitting from sunnier days and a drier climate than much of winegrowing Germany. This pinot will surprise you with its complexity and brooding smokiness.

Lawrason’s Take

2012 Königschaffhausen Vulkanfelsen Trocken Pinot Gris, Baden, Germany ($14.95). One of the great revelations from a trip to Baden in southern Germany last summer was the quality, style and depth of their pinot gris and pinot blanc. Not surprising really given these varieties also thrive over the Rhine River border in Alsace; but I think the best examples from Baden – like this great value – bring a certain slender elegance and polish often missing in Alsace.

2012 Anselmann Edesheimer Roséngarten Siegerrebe Spätlese, Pfalz, Germany ($16.95). Not unlike the Argentine torrontes in this release, this has incredible aromatics – very heady stuff.  Indeed that is siegerrebe’s claim to fame. And as with torrontes some may find it over the top, but I guarantee there will be occasions as our weather warms and you are enjoying a citrus or tropical fruit based salad where a chilled bottle of this modestly priced wine will be just perfect.

John on Rosé

Rosé wines are hot in Canada. Consumption has grown by 38 per cent in the last five years, and a recent Vinexpo study forecasts another 45% increase in sales by 2016. Most of these impressive gains are driven by cheap sweet blush to be sure, but I was happy to taste through the range of releases for May 10th, a solid collection of mostly dry, serious, food-friendly wines. Nearly half of the features are recommended by one or more of the WineAlign cru. Southern France remains the region where I do most of my shopping – I love those pale, delicate, dry, aromatic versions – though there are some fine contenders from elsewhere, too.

2013 Château La Tour De l’Évêque Rosé, Provence, France ($18.95). I could cut and paste just about any previous review for this wine without misleading – this is consistently solid, arch-classic Provencal rosé, and 2013 continues in the same lineage, if perhaps a little riper than average with its generous 13.5% alcohol.

2013 Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé, Languedoc, France ($19.95). Bertrand’s entire collection of wines, a considerable portfolio, is invariably worth a look. Part of your money goes no doubt to cover the cost of the attractive bottle with the bottom molded like a rosé flower, but the wine inside is also of premium quality, in the pale, dry, savoury and fruity southern French style. I’m inclined to pay the premium, and think of the designs you can make in the sand on the beach this summer.

2013 Château Val Joanis Tradition Syrah Rosé, Luberon, France ($15.95). This vineyard in the Luberon sits on round pudding stones like much of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, though the higher elevation yields lighter and more finely detailed flavours. This is pale, dry and fruity-savoury in the classic southern French style, gentle and delicate.

2013 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé, Coastal Region, South Africa ($12.95). Be thankful that the Swedes, who guzzle countless thousand cases of Mulderbosch’s rosé, saved us a few. This is nicely priced, simple but well-balanced cabernet rosé, with the merest hint of sweetness but lots of juicy acids to keep it firm and focused.

2013 Château La Tour De l'Évêque Rosé  Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé 2013 Château Val Joanis Tradition Syrah Rosé 2013 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2013  Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Rosé 2013

Lawrason and d’Amato Align

2013 Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Rosé, Costières de Nîmes, Rhône Valley, France ($15.95). David Lawrason – This nicely captures the basic appeal of southern French rosé – and despite the great pink leaps being made the world over the Rhône still owns this style, with classic fruit so deftly accented by fennel, pepper and that general sense of shrubby “garrigue”. Very well-balanced and priced. Sarah d’Amato – Consistently a bargain, this dry, classic, southern Rhône rosé brimming with spice and pepper is sure to bring the sunshine to you. Costières de Nîmes is located where the Rhône and Languedoc meet (and has changed sides of the border once already), and although the wines tend to be similar to those of the Southern Rhône (with that pleasurable garrigue and blasted by sunshine and heat), they do exhibit greater freshness due to the region’s proximity to the sea. No summer street festival of the South could do without.

Zenato Bardolino Chiaretto Rosé 20132013 Famille Perrin Tavel RoséAlso Recommended by Sara d’Amato

2013 Famille Perrin Tavel Rosé, Rhône, France, ($19.95). With Tavel on the shelves summer can’t be far behind (despite the fact that most of us are still waiting for spring). This small appellation surrounding the picturesque cliffside village of Tavel produces exclusively pink wines (and don’t dare call them rosé!), always dry, aromatic and savory. The Famille Perrin’s is super snappy and taught in an exciting and nervy way with Provençal herbs, lavender and perfectly ripened strawberries.

Lawrason’s Take

2013 Zenato Bardolino Chiaretto Rosé, Veneto, Italy ($14.95). This is utterly charming, and if that’s not what you want from rosé perhaps you are being too demanding. Based on the corvina grape, Bardolino is known for its light, fragrant charming reds and this ‘chiaretto’ is simply a lighter shade of pale. Very fresh, balanced and chock full of fruit and freshness.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Malbec World Day by David Lawrason

Promoting the malbec grape of Argentina

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Every grape, it seems, has its day. Malbec World Day on April 17 is a recent phenomenon to promote the malbec grape of Argentina. This late ripening variety is actually from southwest France (Cahors) but the hot, even climate on the high steppes of Mendoza has given it a perfect home, and malbec is now a household name in North America and South.

Indeed it has achieved a formidable presence in the Canadian market; fulfilling predictions that it would be “the next big thing” – like Australian shiraz. But as shiraz has gone through a downturn in mass market affection, might malbec be experiencing the same thing? Or, put another way, has malbec already had its day?

I was in my local store in Toronto on the weekend checking out how much malbec is available. There is a ton. When you go to WineAlign and search Malbec-Argentina-All Prices you will find a whopping 64 brands in current inventory at the LCBO. Similarly there are 65 showing in British Columbia. But a look at the small print on the price tags showed that many of the brands in the LCBO’s Vintages stores are showing release dates of weeks or months ago, especially if they are more expensive.

And I noted something else – many of the labels were unfamiliar, even to one who follows such things more closely than the average punter. It’s as if, at one point, Vintages just threw out a net and imported any malbec that wanted to be exported – whether good or not. So without my WineAlign iPhone app allowing me to check out my own reviews I wouldn’t know what to buy either.

I do enjoy malbec when I want a big, swarthy red. Barbecue season is such a time, and it’s no co-incidence that most Argentines drink malbec with their ubiquitous slabs of grilled and heavily smoked beef. And I like it a lot when it shows off its lovely floral, blackberry fruit unencumbered by too much oak, alcohol, meatiness or stemminess.

But I do find lower priced malbec rather homogenous, and many are heavy, coarse and unbalanced. This is partially because many are released too soon. Australia seemed able to get away with releasing very young shiraz that was more or less in balance – the syrah grape is inherently softer – but young, inexpensive malbec is not quite as affable or quaffable.

On the other hand, more expensive malbecs, although showing better complexity and depth of flavour, often don’t seem all that different in flavour profile or balance. And high alcohol can continue to be a problem.

So how to spot the good ones? I am looking at two things.

First, I am finding more elegance and floral lift in malbecs from higher altitude Uco Valley at (900 to 1200 metres). The recently developed region is a sea of vines up against the Andes, with one flashy new winery after another that makes it feel like Napa, at least in terms of its energy. In particular I am looking at the labels for mentions of some of the best sub-regions like La Consulta, Altamira, Vista Flores and Tunuyan and especially the highest region called Gualtallary near Tupungato. These ‘appelations’ are no yet official but they are beginning to appear on labels.

Second, I am looking for certain producers that I have come to know and respect. With so many producers (Argentina has over 2000 wineries) this is a slow process; but having visited there late in 2011 and paying attention since then, my go to list is developing. And I share it with you for Malbec World Day, with links to some of my favourite wines still on the shelf.

Altocedro Reserva Malbec 2009Altamira De Los Andes Reserve Malbec 2009Altamira De Los Andes Reserve Malbec 2009

This is made entirely from grapes grown in La Consulta and Vista Flores, two sub-regions of higher altitude in the Uco Valley. And it catches the floral charm I have come to expect of these regions. Lavish blackberry, violet fruit is nicely couched in moderated oak, vanillin and black licorice. It’s thick. elegant, sweetish and young with some alcohol kick, but essentially well composed, and excellent quality. Tasted February 2013.

Altocedro Reserva Malbec 2009

From the southern and higher reaches of the Uco Valley in La Consulta, this dark malbec has a lovely nose of mulberry, violets, chocolate and a hint of meatiness. It’s full bodied, smooth and very rich, with fine-grained tannin and considerable alcohol heat. Quite luscious with smoked meat finish. Excellent length. Best now to 2016. Tasted July 2012.

Versado Malbec 2010Cicchitti Edición Limitada Malbec 2008Angulo Innocenti Malbec 2010Versado Malbec 2010

Versado is small, new Canadian-owned winery in Argentina, with Niagara’s Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble at the winemaking helm. They have wrought some complexity here that’s often missing in malbecs at this price – combining woodsy, leathery notes amid the ripe berry-dried fig fruit. It’s medium-full bodied, fairly dense and refined, with some drying tannin. The length is very good. Tasted March 2013.

Cicchitti Edición Limitada Malbec 2008

This is very deep ruby-purple-black. The nose is generous, sweet and very ripe with mulberry, vanilla, coffee/chocolate and pepper. It’s full bodied, sweet, creamy and thick, with a tarry, smoky finish. Excellent length. It has great curb appeal, but Euro fans will find it too sweet. Tasted November 2012.

Angulo Innocenti Malbec 2010

La Consulta is a higher altitude sub-region at the upper end of the Uco Valley, expressing a somewhat more floral aroma and more delicate feel in this example. It is still very deep black-purple colour. It has a lovely floral fragrance with blackberry and gentle wood spice. It’s quite thick but not heavy with some woodsy tannin and pepper on the finish. Very good to excellent length. Fine now or over the next three years while the fruit is in bloom. Tasted March 2013.

Benmarco Malbec 2009Bodega Séptima Séptimo Día Malbec 2011Bodega Séptima Séptimo Día Malbec 2011

Septimo is owned by Spain’s famed cava producer Codorníu. It’s 135 hectares of vineyards are located in the Agrelo and Uco Valley.Young winemaker Paula Borgo has the reins at a state of the art winery. The result here is a rather vivacious, intense and almost racy malbec, whereas many are heavy and plodding. But that is not to say it is light because there is good weight and density and excellent length. The flavours are intense with very ripe currant-cherry fruit, very generous tarry, smoky oak and some of malbec’s florality. The length is excellent, the finish warm and a touch youthfully gritty. Lots here for $16; but I would give it a year for tannin to soften and oak to integrate. Tasted April 2013

Benmarco Malbec 2009

This has a very good stuffing, colour and fruit density – easily worth the money. It’s only lacking a bit of tension to put it over 90 – slightly low acidity with a touch of over-ripeness. Otherwise, enjoy the generous plummy, violet and chocolate aromas and flavours. It’s medium-full bodied, supple and rich with fine tannin. Very good to excellent length. Best 2012 to 2015. Tasted November 2011.

For more information on Malbec World Day you can visit the official Website, follow the activities on #MalbecWorldDay on Twitter, or see if there are still tickets to the VINTAGES event tomorrow night in Toronto.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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Win FREE tickets to Malbec World Day

Win FREE tickets to this popular Argentina Wine Tasting Event

Wines of Argentina is giving away 5 pairs of tickets to this walk around tasting event – a $130.00 value! Read on for more information on how you can win.

On Tuesday April 16, discover wines made from Argentina’s popular signature grape Malbec, as well as wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Bonarda, Chardonnay and Torrontes. This popular VINTAGES event is being held in Toronto at Roy Thomson Hall, 20 Simcoe Street.Enjoy fabulous wines, a tango demonstration, Argentina-inspired finger foods and music at this preview of 46 wines that will be available in stores in the coming months.

For more information and to purchase tickets go to or call 416-365-5767 or toll-free at 1-800-266-4764.

Malbec World DayFor a chance to win a pair of tickets, click the link below and answer the following question:

Did you know that Argentina has desert-like conditions in most of its wine growing regions, with many vineyards planted at cooler high altitudes. Which mountain range has the most influence on Argentine vines? 

Enter the Contest here

5 winners will be randomly selected from correct answers submitted by noon on Monday, April 8. Each of the 5 winners will receive a pair of tickets to the event. A $130.00 Value.


Malbec World Day

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages April 14th Release: Argentina Spotlight

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Tuesday, April 17th has been dubbed Malbec World Day by a marketing whiz within an organization called Wines of Argentina. It is a promotional exercise to focus the world’s attention on malbec specifically and Argentina’s wines in general, with events being held in over 40 countries. What’s most impressive is that 2012 is only the second year for Malbec World Day – and there has been a huge “buy-in” to the concept. Our very own Vintages stores are featuring several Argentine releases on April 14th. On April 12th there are trade and consumer events in Ottawa, and next week – on the 17th  – there will be trade and consumer events in Toronto. I look forward to leading the panel discussion and tasting for the Toronto trade, having visited Argentina with Rod Philips late last year. The two of us will also be collaborating on a regional tour in a WineAlign feature next week.

Mapema Malbec 2009Malbec still occupies more vineyard space, and head space, than any other variety in the country. I faced a malbec inundation, especially in Mendoza when I was there. But I was intrigued to begin to discover different takes on malbec based on differences in appellation and vineyard altitude, and I did find more expensive editions reaching for more finesse. But in the broader context malbec remains a big, cuddly, creamy red that delivers that essential mood just as easily in cheap wines as it does in expensive versions. Indeed, expensive malbecs often seem to not deliver that much extra for the additional money being asked. But at the other end of the scale, very inexpensive malbecs can become boring. So my general advice would be to target malbecs in the $17 to $25 range, like Mapema Malbec 2009 at $21.95, a proto-typical example that is balanced, fairly complex and rich.

Chakana Yaguareté Collection BonardaLa Puerta Alta BonardaI was more energized by some of the other varieties that play in malbec’s shadow, especially the dark skinned bonarda. This grape originated in sub-alpine Savoie region of France where it is known as corbeau, and it is found widely in sub-alpine regions of northern Italy (Piedmont and Lombardy). Fans of obscure California wines will know it as charbono. It has long been grown at high yields in Argentina to make fruity, simple jug wines, but it is now being made at lower yields, at higher altitudes, and/or barrel aged to bring it into premium quality levels. I love the florality and juicy exuberance of bonarda as best expressed by the simple Chakana Yaguareté Collection 2010 at only $12.95. The La Puerta Alta 2009 from the Famatina Valley in La Rioja, is a bit more rich and complex, and still great value at $14.95.

The release also has some decent Argentine cabernets and blends, but I was disappointed to find that there was a tasting sample mix-up with the Decero 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. A different vintage and bottling was presented in the lab, so I will taste it after release. Decero is a very good producer indeed.

Aussie Semillon Ain’t Getting Respect

St. Hallett SemillonTyrrell's Brookdale SemillonSemillon is the grape that some people love to hate, and many others simply choose to ignore. For as long as I have been writing about wine, semillon from Australia (in particular) has been on my radar as one of the great, unsung values among white wines. But the unique, often petrol/fusel scent inherent in most semillons takes some getting used to, along with the lime and minerality. Semillon seems to flat line in the fruit department. But the best also have great structure, proportion and depth, sometimes riding on remarkably low alcohol. And as they age they morph into exciting, quite rich and honeyed wines. If you are nimble you can own one of the last eight bottles remaining of Mt. Pleasant Lovedale Semillon 2003 ($59), that is still available through Vintages ShopOnLine – an iconic, kick-in-the-senses masterpiece! Or you can purchase Tyrrell’s Brookdale Semillon 2011 from the Hunter Valley on Saturday. It is textbook Semillon and very much worth an experiment at $19.95; so grab at least three bottles, one to try now, two for the cellar. St. Hallett Semillon 2006 gets you part way down the maturity track at $19.95, but this Barossa example does not have the same energy. To ease you gently into Aussie semillon try the Devils Lair Fifth Leg Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2010 that resides on the LCBO general list, and is currently $14.95 with $1 off until April 29. And finally if your interest is piqued, I also point you to Stratus White 2008 from Niagara-on-the-Lake, a multi-grape barrel aged blend that has promoted semillon into a more dominant role this vintage.

Stratus White

A McLaren Vale Clinic

Brokenwood ShirazSometimes themes just present themselves. I was merrily tasting through the line-up of Australian reds when I came upon Brokenwood Shiraz 2009($29.95). ‘Rather light and quite charming for shiraz’ I thought to myself, after wading through a couple of other typically dense, creamy and rich Aussie reds. I paid closer attention to the origin and read McLaren Vale/Beechworth, South Australia/Victoria on the label – a statement of intent to move to slightly cooler regions. Beechwood is a higher altitude, almost mountainous area of central Victoria, while McLaren Vale is a much more well known, maritime area near Adelaide in South Australia.

Shottesbrooke Cabernet SauvignonPirramimma KatungaAs it happened the next two wines were also from McLaren Vale, and I noted a similar lightness of step. Shottesbrooke Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($21.95) is a quite elegant yet firm cabernet; while Pirramimma Katunga GTS 2007($24.95) is solid yet refined red with impressive layered complexity and length. GTS in this instance does not refer some ‘60s roadster, but to the very creative and effective blend of grenache, tannat and shiraz. To be clear, these are not lean, tart, mineral-driven cool climate wines; they are still smooth, ripe and Australian to their core. But by being just a little less texturally ponderous they open themselves up to more prolonged drinking pleasure with a wider palette of culinary options.

Best Power Reds

For those on the prowl for powerful, dense and cellar worthy reds allow me to point you to three New World offerings that have easily surpassed 90 points. But before delivering the good news, how about even better news? You could buy 2.5 bottles of all three of them (8 bottles total), or buy one bottle of Solaia 2008 at $249. For those who may not know, Solaia is an excellent, modern Tuscan cabernet by Antinori, one of the first great modern cabernets of Italy, for which it gained almost legendary notoriety, with price following suit. The 2008 vintage is excellent indeed if not quite as sensuous as I expected.

Spier Creative Block 3Grant Burge The Holy TrinityWith the first of the three power reds we stay in Australia, and the terrific Grant Burge The Holy Trinity Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvèdre 2008 from Barossa, which I think is an excellent buy at $33.95. You are owning a bit of history here because Holy Trinity, which is patterned on Châteauneuf-du-Pape in France’s southern Rhône Valley, was one of the early GSMs (first vintage 1997). But most of all I love the sense of evenness and depth once the richness washes off – this is very nicely focused wine. The 2008 Spier Creative Block 3 from South Africa is very impressive and a huge value at $19.95. It too is a Rhône blend, but this time with shiraz, mourvèdre and a splash of viognier. And finally, I strongly urge Napa cab collectors to peer over the hills into Sonoma’s Alexander Valley – another cabernet hot spot. Alexander Valley VineyardsCyrus 2007 at $59, is a best blocks blend of 66% cabernet sauvignon, 23% cabernet franc, 6% merlot and 5% petit verdot. It’s named after Cyrus Alexander, a 19th century homesteader on the current AVV property, who lent his surname to the entire region. So you are buying a bit of history here as well, (and I scored it the same as Solaia).


Bargain Whites

Guy Saget Marie De Beauregard VouvrayLa Cappuccina SoaveVineland Estates Chardonnay MusquéAs has become almost a habit each release, we finish with a miscellany of great white wine values. I am a big white wine fan and as I have probably said before, more attentive and more technological winemaking is making it much more common to achieve great purity of fruit expression, which is the essence of white wine. That purity is readily apparent right here at home with Niagara and County whites too, and I am very impressed by Vineland Estates Chardonnay Musqué 2010 from the Niagara Escarpment, a great buy at $17.95. Musqué should be aromatic and floral but this fine effort releases new levels of aromatic complexity. Italy’s native white grapes are great benefactors of the quality revolution, when basic wines like La Cappuccina Soave 2011 can turn out such pristine, charming flavours at only $13.95. And over in France don’t miss what is textbook Loire Valley chenin blanc in Guy Saget Marie de Beauregard Vouvray 2009 at only $17.95.

Prince Edward County Showcase

You can take the boy out of the County, but you can’t take the County out of the boy. On Tuesday, 13 Prince Edward County wineries poured their wares at the Berkeley Church in Toronto, and I managed to taste most of the wines offered. I had not done this kind of comprehensive tasting since moving to Toronto from Belleville 18 months ago, and I was immediately transported back to that distinctive County essence. There continues to be winemaking issues in the County, largely traced to sour-edged volatile acidity, but the energy, flavour depth and distinctive minerality remain hugely exciting.

If you have not been to the County yet – and a surprising number of wine-interested Torontonians have not – then there are two prime opportunities coming up. The first is the annual Terroir Festival on Saturday, May 26 at the Crystal Palace in Picton. The second is one weekend later at the Great Canadian Cheese Festival June 1st to 3rd – same location. I will be helping to co-ordinate the wines for this event, with over a dozen County wineries on board. Between now and then I am hoping to post several new reviews of County wines right here on WineAlign. As most are not in the LCBO, search by winery name in the Search field.

And that’s a wrap, for now. To see all my reviews from April 14 please click here.


David Lawrason,
VP of Wine at WineAlign

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Uco Valley – the future of Mendoza ~ Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

A glimpse of the excitement:

A gigantic swath of land about 80 kilometres south of the city of Mendoza, many have written at length on the potential of the Uco Valley. Is it the future of winegrowing in Argentina, the nation’s ‘new Napa,’ as some have so grandiosely proclaimed it?

As food for thought, consider the following. The Uco Valley, or the Valle de Uco, now covers over 20,000 hectares of vines, much of it at altitudes between 1,000-1,700 metres. The highest of these are located in the sub-region of Tupungato, and many of the finest Argentinean winegrowers, as well as overseas investors, have begun planting ferociously here. Other subregions, or departments, of the Uco Valley include Gualtayary, Tunuyán, Vista Flores, La Consulta, and San Carlos.

Valle de Uco

The attraction of the Uco Valley, like many other up-and-coming winegrowing regions in Argentina, is largely due to the overall elevation of the area, a critical factor in the cultivation of vines throughout much of the country; as most places, semi-desert in composition, would be otherwise too arid and hot for the production of fine wines in this part of the world. In this extremely dry climate, growers are also attracted to conditions that offer the greatest temperature variations between night and day. For winemakers, the resulting wines are great in colour depth and flavour, both appealing traits to many modern enthusiasts, especially in North America, as well as collectors.

As mentioned before, the Uco Valley is a very large area, around 100 kilometres long and 50 kilometres wide, most of which is surrounded by hills and mountains—think of the majestic Andes Mountains to the west.

Uco Vineyard

Of irrigation, as most vineyards are not dry-farmed (though this may change over time), most water is sourced from the Tunuyán and (smaller) Las Tunas Rivers, as well as from local wells and reservoirs. Indeed, irrigation throughout the valley is essential, as most parts only receive less than 300 millimetres of annual rainfall. Not surprisingly for an area so vast, soil compositions are remarkably varied, though Decanter contributor Anthony Rose reports that most are “geologically young at 30,000 years old,” and that “the main constituents are alluvial sandy loam containing sand, clay, gravel and rounded pebbles; and colluvial, rocky soils” (The New World’s Most Exciting New Terroirs, 5 June 2009, Thus, even at the beginning of 2012, winegrowers remain continually in the process of determining how best to exploit such a varying, promising terroir.

As for the wineries themselves, much has already been accomplished, with top establishments investing extraordinary sums of money to build the best facilities possible. Top names? Here’s a short list: Andeluna Cellars, Cheval des Andes, Clos de los Siete, O. Fournier, Monteviejo and Salentein. No doubt there will be others over the next several years. The future holds much potential.

Click here for a few gems from the 3 March 2012 Vintages Release along with several others

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages December 10th Release: Escaping to Argentina, BC’s Big ‘O’ Reds, 92 Point Reds, Blinded by a PEC Pinot Noir & Bargain Whites

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

I experienced a secret pleasure while spending twelve days in Argentina recently. It was not the perfect mid-summer temperatures, nor the surprisingly good food (beef and otherwise), nor those rich creamy malbecs. No, it was missing twelve days of pre-Christmas hype and circumstance here at home. There was virtually no Christmas razz-a-mattaz in the streets of Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Patagonia. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. I am from a very large family for which Christmas was a fairy tale of fun, food and frolic. And it still is when our clan, that now numbers almost forty siblings and their off-spring, get together. But nowadays I find the banal consumerism of Christmas just too much, and it starts way too soon. I saw my first Christmas TV commercial while I was doling out Halloween candy!  Christmas should start right about now, December 10. Those who need more time to shop and prepare are perhaps doing and buying too much.

Escaping to Argentina

So if you want to escape Christmas, even for a little while longer, join me in a glimpse of Argentina. It’s a nation almost completely populated by Europeans, mostly from Spain and Italy, who at one point or other saw this vast land of plains and mountains as an idyllic escape themselves, not from Christmas but from poverty and persecution. There were several waves of European immigration in the 19th and 20th Centuries, with the latest being at the beginning of the 21st Century, as Argentina came out of a disastrous period of financial crisis. The latest wave is most evident in the burgeoning wine industry which has been hauled into the modern world and pushed onto the global stage by financiers and oenologists from Europe and elsewhere, who saw cheap land and endless potential for improving wine quality and value in this vast, warm and arid land. Wineries in new regions like Patagonia, Salta and the Uco Valley in Mendoza are monuments of modern, lavish architecture (Napa has nothing on these guys), and in stark contrast to the shoddy villages and crumbling roads encountered en route. But it is exactly the wealth, allure and global attraction of the wine industry that one day could be the engine to pull the rest of the country along, or so the government and banks hope having provided container loads of easy credit.

Mendoza, Argentina

Mendoza, Argentina

Argentine is the planet’s fifth largest wine producing country with endless amounts of arid, semi-desert land available for vineyard growth, as long as water from the Andes or deep wells can be economically applied. (Water is the only thing that is expensive). There are about 1,200 wineries in Argentina and most of them are very large. The size of the vineyard holdings of some of the largest would almost consume most of Niagara or the Okanagan. The smallest winery I encountered was at about 20,000 cases almost twice the output of the largest in Prince Edward County. This economy of scale, plus cheap labour, combines with large yields per hectare, and growing conditions easily controlled by irrigation to make the wine dead cheap.

But value of course is a two-sided coin, and cheap wine alone would not sustain Argentina in the world for long. The oceans of $10 malbec do provide bang for buck, but I was bored by them before I arrived, and still was as I tasted them in their own backyard. They are fruity and rich but often simple, short and coarse. The real strength of Argentina now, and the point of the massive upgrade in technology and winemaking talent, is to make wine that still does not cost very much – $15 to $30 – and that completely over-delivers on quality. The wines in this category were the revelation of my journey. One after another – whether malbecs, cabernets, merlots, syrahs, petit verdots, tannats or blends thereof – I found myself swooning over their texture, complexity and depth – routinely posting scores of 88 to 92 points, or more.  To the point that the so-called “icon wines” over $30 and as much as $100, simply didn’t supply that much more gratification or much better quality.

Cicchitti Edicion Limitada Malbec 2008In Saturday’s release there are two great examples of terrific mid-priced Argentine reds. I did not visit the Mendoza winery (bodega) that made CICCHITTI 2008 EDICION LIMITADA MALBEC ($23.95) but this lush red from organically tended vineyards scattered at various elevations from 800 to 1200 metres is a great example of the current state of the art, and Argentine wine history. It is an Italian family winery founded in 1928 and very recently expanded and upgraded to catch the export wave.

Benmarco Expresivo 2008BENMARCO 2008 EXPRESIVO, also from Mendoza, is pricier at $36.95 but it was one of few that I would personally have no qualms buying above $30. It is a very cool, rich yet refined blend of five Bordeaux grape varieties, a common practice in Argentina where the majors like cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cab franc – as well as more difficult petit verdot and tannat – can each be planted at altitudes most suitable to their growing season, then blended after. Altitude blending is Argentine’s secret weapon. Benmarco is not a winery by the way, but a brand produced at an excellent winery called Dominio del Plata, based in the important sub-region of Agrelo.

The winemaker at Dominio del Plata is Susanna Balbo, who I consider to be one of the great talents of Mendoza. I was not able to taste her SUSANA BALBO 2010 SIGNATURE CABERNET SAUVIGNON ($22.95) by press time, but I will add my note shortly after the release on Saturday. Likewise with CLOS DE LOS SIETE 2008 ($21.95) which I will re-taste after a disappointing experience last spring. Everyone seemed to like it but me. This is one of the most famous “foreign invasion” brands of Argentina, created by Bordeaux oenologist Michel Rolland who began consulting in the region in the early nineties, along with California’s Paul Hobbs. This pair, along with local hero Nicolas Catena, are largely responsible for where Argentina sits today.  And Argentina is sitting pretty!

B.C.’s  Big ‘O’ Icon Reds

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2007During a seminar on wine in Canada that we guests did for the Argentine wine industry in Mendoza, I mentioned that British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, especially south of Oliver, was very much like Argentina, only at a latitude 15 degrees cooler (the Okanagan lies from 49 to 50 North, while Mendoza is at 30-32 South). Eyes opened and jaws dropped when I told them that B.C.s little desert was producing syrah, malbec, merlot and cabernets. I would have loved to be able to pour them the two B.C. icon wines being released Dec 10th -OSOYOOS LAROSE 2007 LE GRAND VIN at $45.00, or MISSION HILL 2007 OCULUS at $70.00. They would have experienced fine merlot-based blends crafted with attention to complexity, finesse and depth, if still a bit leaner than in hotter regions like Mendoza..

Mission Hill Oculus 2007Which is the better Big O? Osoyoos-Larose or Oculus? Well I have not tasted the 2007s side by side but I have scored Oculus one point higher. At $25 more however that puts the “best buy” question on the sidelines. More importantly, I think that in both cases the 2007 vintage is among the strongest yet produced by both companies, with Mission Hill having a head start with its first bottling in 1997, and Osoyoos-Larose in 2001. The Okanagan Valley is indeed vintage sensitive, much more so than Mendoza. The 2007 vintage started poorly but finished hot, creating a lighter year with some catch-up ripeness. Both wines seem to have a bit more refinement, and in general among B.C’s often burly and unbalanced big reds, this is a very positive trait. I think the real reason is that the winemaking is simply getting better (which implies a better understanding of and adaptation to the vintage conditions).

By the way Osoyoos-Larose in the 750ml size is a Vintages Essential with the 2007 vintage now taking over from the burlier 2006. The magnum bottle(1500ml) of Osoyoos-Larose 2007 is being released Saturday at $99.95.

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Ep 2.3 - Keint-He Pinot Noir 2007

Ep 2.3 - Keint-He Pinot Noir 2007

No, I am not refering to the Leafs. I am talking about my performance in the latest episode of So, You Think You Know Wine, the video of WineAlign’s blind tasting tournament that pits we critics and guest sommeliers against one, taunting, humiliating gold foil wrapped bottle of wine set in front of us in a darkened studio. In this episode the wine was Keint-He 2007 Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County. As soon as I nosed it Prince Edward County leapt to mind, as it should given that I have devoted much time and energy to this fascinating region in the past decade. As a rule I believe in the blind tasting principle that “the nose knows”. But I failed to do the proper analytical diligence when the palate texture took me in another direction. It was wonderfully elegant and almost creamy – very New World in feel – so I took the easy route to New Zealand instead of properly asking myself what conditions in PEC might induce this. Elements like maturity (it looked mature), a warm vintage (2007 was such a vintage), and excellent, low yield, natural winemaking (which is the stock in trade of Keint-He winemaker Geoff Heinricks). So I blew it under pressure, plain and simple.

Closson Chase Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009

You can get to know PEC pinot noir with a very good example being released December 10th. CLOSSON CHASE 2009 CLOSSON CHASE VINEYARD  PINOT NOIR ($39.95) is one two pinots made by winemaker Deborah Paskus in 2009. This one is from the most mature vineyards (still only 10 years) on the original property. I have tasted it at least four times this fall, and I really like its taut, tart cran-raspberry County authenticity, but I would still age it a year or two to soften the edges. At the moment I am preferring its younger but more expensive sibling, the first vintage of CLOSSON CHASE 2009 CHURCHSIDE PINOT NOIR($49.95), from hilltop wines planted beside the little white church atop the northern slope across from the big purple barn. It has a bit less depth perhaps but I do prefer the more obvious barrel complexity and suppleness of texture. And it too should age well, at least for three to five years. It is available only at the winery.

A Pair of 92 Point Reds 

Kanonkop Pinotage 2008Bodegas Alion 2007KANONKOP 2008 PINOTAGE ($39.95) from South Africa’s Simonsberg-Stellenbosch district is a great example of pinotage, the grape hybridized in South Africa in the 1920s by crossing pinot noir and cinsault (a Rhone variety). Due to uneven ripening, a distinctive, often unpleasant flavour in some older examples, and a confusing array of styles pinotage is en route to extinction. But Kanonkop winemaker BeyersTruter made it is mission to embrace and elevate pinotage. I urge you to try what is one of the most intriguing wines on the release, if even only to try it once and say you did before it goes the way of the dodo.

BODEGAS ALION 2007 ALION TINTO from the Ribera del Duero region of Castilla y Leon in Spain, is pricier at $78.95, but again a terrific wine. This is a modern bodega founded in 1992 by the Alvarez family (owner of Vega Sicilia, Spain’s region’s most famous wine). It makes only one wine, from one grape – tempranillo locally known as tinto fino. It is aged in new French oak. I was blown away by the aromatics here!

And two Whites Steals Under $17

Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2008Poderi Del Paradiso Vernaccia Di San Gimignano 2010CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES 2008 OLD VINES RIESLING Niagara-on-the-Lake ($16.95) has been wowing critics and competition judges all year, including WineAlign colleagues John Szabo and Sara d’Amato as we judged it the Best Wine at the Toronto Gold Medal Plates culinary competition in November. Prior to that it won White Wine of the Year at the Ontario Wine Awards and a gold medal at the Canadian Wine Awards. When a wine is this decorated and only $16.95, you just have to try it.

PODERI DEL PARADISO 2010 VERNACCIA DI SAN GIMIGNANO$14.95 was an unexpected charmer. I had largely lost interest in the whites from Tuscany’s most famous, touristic town because they had modernised to capture brightness, losing some individuality in the process. From a historic property at the foot of the hill, this is remains very well made but it is a stylistic return to the richer, honeyed and floral vernaccia’s of yore. This has been achieved by fermenting 20% in small oak barrels then ageing six months, as well as through long lees contact for the other 80% in tank.

And so it goes for the last Vintages release of 2011. We return with Vintages previews prior to the January 7th release, but keep watching for special holiday features and updates and Picks of the Day on The National Posts’ The Appetizer.

And a fun, frolicking Holiday season to all!

Check out reviews on over 120 wines from the December 10th release here.

Cheers and enjoy, David

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008