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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Feb 20, 2016

Confessions of a Serial Taster, and Sorting out Australia’s Present from the Past
By John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

“We live in an era of fear of the strange and unfamiliar”, wrote the Irish poet Thomas Moore almost two centuries ago. But the words are equally applicable to our era, and in fact any era. Fear of the unfamiliar drives us to the comfort of known entities. In the case of wine consumption, that means familiar brands, regions, grapes. But unlike the real-life dangers of the unknown, trying an unfamiliar wine has no dire consequences; it’s rarely even genuinely unpleasant, perhaps mildly disappointing or annoying at most. The February 20th VINTAGES release offers a fine opportunity to dispense with the mantra of “safety first”, and explore lesser-travelled trails – I pick a half-dozen unusual wines to try. The main feature is Australia, a largely disappointing collection that fails to reflect the current dynamic reality of the Aussie wine scene. But I’ve sorted through the offerings to find the wines more representative of 2016 rather than 2006. Read on for details.

Safety First

As I pondered aloud the staggering popularity of the seemingly blandest, most predictable wines at the LCBO lab last Friday, veteran wine writer Billy Munnelly turned to me and said: “it’s all about safety and comfort. It’s part of the culture of western civilization”.

Now, comments made during wine tastings often trip into the philosophical, but Munnelly’s comments struck me as particularly poignant, enough to cause me to take a break and reflect. I’d wager that anyone who has spent any significant time in any field laments to some degree the homogenized requirements of popularity: pop music, pop art, pop food, pop films, pop fiction, pop wines, it doesn’t matter.

Safety First

The most widely consumed products are invariably made to a standard recipe in order to become popular, the same recycled plot line, or repetitive back beat. Attaching a familiar name (brand, celebrity) makes these products even more irresistible. But at the same time, they become less desirable to anyone immersed within the same sphere. It’s a curious phenomenon. Familiarity breeds both comfort and contempt depending on the observer.

“It’s all about a comfortable sofa, a safe house and car, Bud Light”, Munnelly continues. His thoughts dovetail from the Thomas Moore quote he later sends me: “We live in an era of fear of the strange and unfamiliar, and therefore a fear of life and vitality. It stems from a cultural fundamentalism that is uncomfortable with all forms of ‘otherness’ and therefore strives to make everything one”.

We understandably have a natural yearning for comfort, and unfamiliar is uncomfortable, and even potentially dangerous. I had certainly noticed the popular-familiar-homogenous connection before, but hadn’t quite linked it back to some fundamental, cultural, biological imperative.

Confessions of a Serial Taster

beermixThere’s no doubt that I value safety and familiarity in my life, but when it comes to taste, I draw the line. It’s not a question of chasing after the latest shiny object, but rather the insatiable curiosity that landed me in the wine business in the first place. Taste is the one area of my life where I actively court danger of the unknown. I rarely ever buy a full case of wine; once I’m familiar with it, I’m ready to move on. I rarely ever order the same dish at a restaurant, and prefer to try out new places whenever possible. Beer? I’ll mix a six every time. I switch coffee and tea suppliers as often as I fill my car with gas (always at the same comforting gas station). I am a beverage brand’s worst nightmare.

But I could also argue that it’s the purpose of a critic, in any field, to suggest, at least occasionally if not exclusively, a route to a different destination rather than the same, familiar one. Otherwise, I would need only look up sales statistics and recommended the most popular product in any category. I’d be perfectly safe, but utterly useless to you. I do see the value in a comforting, familiar wine, and even endeavor to suss out the ones that deliver the most comfort for your money. But alongside those wines, I also value discovery, and enjoy sharing the good ones.

So, if you value discovery as well, at the risk of my reputation and your dollars, here are half a dozen, likely unfamiliar wines, from grapes far from the mainstream. What’s the worst that could happen? It’s only a bunch of fermented grapes, not a walk down a dark alley in a foreign city, after all. New tastes can also make the old ones even more comforting, just as travel can make you love your home even more.

A Scary Half Dozen

Vylyan Belzebub 2012 Ilocki Podrumi Premium Grasevina 2013Topping the list of frighteningly foreign-sounding (unless you’re Croatian), but most shockingly delicious wines in the release is the Ilocki Podrumi 2013 Premium Grasevina, Hrvatsko Podunavlje, Croatia ($21.95). Admittedly it took a bit of research to discern the who from the what and where, but Ilocki Podrumi is the producer, boasting a cellar that dates back to the 15th century, one of the oldest still operating in Croatia. Grasevina is the white grape, perhaps marginally better know as welschriesling (one of the most prolific and highly variable grapes in Eastern Europe, unrelated to riesling), and Podunavlje the region in northeastern Croatia. In any case, this is an absolute gem of a wine, rendered in a style that is reminiscent of Vouvray demi-sec, or a slightly late harvest Alsatian pinot gris. The nose is wonderfully aromatic and floral, full of white flowers, honey, apple blossom, ripe orchard fruit, sweet herbs and ginger, jasmine, and, well, you get the point: highly complex. And the smooth texture will certainly appeal. Give it a go; roast chicken would be a nice, safe accompanying dish.

Just north of Podunavlje, the southernmost Hungarian wine region of Villány is the origin of the Vylyan 2012 Belzebub ($14.95), a fleshy and generous blend of local kadarka and kékfrankos (aka blaufränkisch) with zweigelt and a splash of merlot to mitigate the fear factor. Vylyan (the company name stems from the name of the region as written in a 15th century manuscript) has established itself as one of the region’s leading producers over more than a quarter century, crafting rich, modern style wines. Bezelbub (The Devil) is focused on dark and savoury fruit, without notable wood, while tannins are plush and ripe. In case you’re still afraid, according to the website, “This devil is loveable”, highlighting “the light and ‘lovely’ side of our fabulous devil, not the ‘demonic-heavy’ face”. This is a devilishly good value indeed, one of the best in the release.

Closer to home and much less foreign is the excellent Peller Estates 2013 Private Reserve Gamay Noir, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95). I’m sure you’ve heard of Niagara, and probably even gamay, but although the grape is eminently well suited to the region, it has yet to slip into the mainstream, remaining unfairly on the fringe. This ambitious, expression with a smoky backbeat will help nudge it closer to wide acceptance, bright acids, tart red fruit and all. This wine also garnered silver at the 2015 WineAlign National Wine Awards, so risk is minimal.

The Iberian Peninsula is a rich source of unique local varieties, largely thanks to a presumed grapevine ‘refuge’ during the last ice age in the southwest corner – an area where indigenous vines were able to survive (see my article on the subject here). A low-risk, high-reward entry point is the Beyra Vinhos de Altitude 2012 Reserva, Beira Interior, Portugal ($15.95). I recommended an excellent white from this producer last year, and this is the red follow up, an easy-drinking but characterful blend of mencía and touriga nacional, full of freshness and life, an over-achiever in the price category. Drink lightly chilled.

Peller Estates Private Reserve Gamay Noir 2013 Beyra Vinhos de Altitude Reserva 2012 Pasolasmonjas 2011 Bodegas Ponce La Casilla Estrecha 2013

Bodegas Bhilar’s 2011 Pasolasmonjas, San Martín de Unx, Navarra, Spain ($20.95), made by the dynamic David Sampedro Gil (DSG Wines), is an excellent discovery of old vine grenache (70+ years in some cases), farmed biodynamically in the region of Navarra. Here garnacha is rendered in an intriguingly high-toned, orange-tinged expression, like candied orange blossoms, with full and dense palate, firmly structured, quite tannic for the grape but not unyielding. This will expand your definition of what garnacha can deliver. Best 2016-2021.

Also from Spain, and one of the most fascinating wines in the release is the Bodegas Ponce 2013 La Casilla Estrecha, Manchuela, Spain ($36.95). Manchuela is a southern region inland from Valencia, which specializes in the little-known bobal grape, of which this is a pure example. The under thirty-something Juan Antonio Ponce is part of Spain’s increasingly fashionable and large circle of natural wine producers, biodynamically farming his 80 year-old, bush-trained, tightly spaced vines (estrecha means narrow, referring to the spacing), and applying little else but a dash of sulphur in the winery. This is reductively crafted to respect the fruit, with ample structure, freshness and plenty of fruit tannins, while flavours span a wide spectrum from black pepper, liquorice and tarragon to crushed lavender and succulent grapefruit, and on into fresh black fruit – a genuinely complex expression without recourse to obvious wood. Best 2016-2023.

Oz c. 2016

Josef Chromy Sparkling 2010 Layers Shiraz Tempranillo Mourvèdre Grenache 2012The Australian feature for the February 20th release is largely disappointing. The majority of selections remind me of what Australian wines tasted like a dozen years ago: alcoholic, fat, sweet, obviously acid-adjusted. How things have changed down under, and how sad to see so few of those changes reflected on our shelves. Wine Australia, the marketing arm of the industry, has worked hard to change the old die-hard perceptions of the nation’s wines, backed by the help of hundreds of winemakers who are new to the scene, or who have found new gods to worship, those of balance and drinkability, and especially regionality. There are dozens of exciting new players. Where are they? Opportunity lost for Ontarians. You might say the LCBO is just providing what the market demands, and that it’s good business strategy. That may be true, but I’d say a balance between leading and following the market would be preferable.

But don’t let this release undo the progress made. Look instead to the established producers represented here who have been getting it right from the start. The late, venerable Peter Lehmann, for example, was a leader from start to finish in his long career, and almost single-handedly revived the fortunes of growers in the Barossa in the difficult early eighties. Lehmann Wine’s contemporary 2012 Layers Shiraz Tempranillo Mourvèdre Grenache, Barossa, South Australia ($17.95), is a wine with real life and energy, firm, ripe but not jammy fruit, and genuine complexity, delivering admirably on quality and complexity at the price. It’s the finest value in the Aussie feature in my view, and representative of the current state of Australian wine in which balance is preferred over sheer weight.

Tasmanian sparkling wine has grown to impressive heights in the 20 years, represented here by the Josef Chromy 2010 Sparkling, Tasmania ($29.95), a fine and complex traditional method vintage bubbly from a reliable name in Tassie wine. This is fully dry and firm, with a nice mix of tart green apple/citrus fruit and brioche-yeasty-autolysis character, and sits comfortably in the premium, cool climate sparkling wine category, not to say champagne.

No pure shiraz made my list, sadly, considering how many great ones are made today. But the Salomon 2012 Norwood Shiraz Cabernet, South Australia ($20.95) is certainly worth a look for its combination of balance and depth. From the Salomon family of Austrian descent, this is ripe without excess, firmly structured, with fine acid structure and depth, and impressive length – a generous, satisfying mouthful for the money, best 2016-2020.

Three pure cabernets, however, are nicely representative of their respective regions, all from well-established producers. Tahbilk is the elder statesman of the trio, one of the oldest wineries in Australia, established in 1860 in the Nagambie Lakes area 120 kilometers north of Melbourne. While evidently not part of the cutting edge, new wave of Aussie wines, the Tahbilk 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($22.95) has simply got it right from the start: balanced, firm and structured, dark fruit-flavoured, everything you’d want at the price, best now-2022 or so.

Salomon Norwood Shiraz Cabernet 2012 Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Katnook Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Xanadu Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Katnook Estate’s cellar door in Coonawarra was built in 1896 by regional pioneer John Riddoch, and is still used today to age wines like the Katnook 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($29.95). The welcome coolness of Coonawarra comes through in this lively, complex and concentrated red, a textbook wine from the region that has required little stylistic change to meet modern tastes circa 2016. I’d give it another year or two in the cellar for full development, but there’s no need for long term cellaring.

Xanadu Wines was one of the pioneers in now-fashionable Margaret River region in Western Australia, established in 1977, a full three years before the film of the same name starring Olivia Newton-John was released. The Xanadu 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Margaret River, Western Australia ($29.95) puts the maritime climate on display with its fresh and fruity-herbal profile, proudly parading some cabernet leafiness. I like the genuine acids and the better-than-average length. Best 2016-2022.

Some Somm Fun & Fundraising

CAPS Team Canada FundrasierThe Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS) Ontario chapter is hosting a fundraising event on Monday, February 29th to celebrate Canadian wine talent. Your support will help CAPS send a Team Canada delegation focused on promoting the participation of Canadian wine professionals in the World’s Best Sommelier Competition being held in Mendoza this April. Come out to see Terroni’s new event space on Adelaide, to taste and buy, bet on auction items and participate in activities with guest Sommeliers. Tickets are only $40 ($30 for CAPS members) – all to support your Canadian wine community. This event is open to the trade and the public. Hope to see you there. (You can find more info here:

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

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES February 20, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All February 20th 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 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

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

An Exclusive Gourmet Dinner & Tutored Tasting Featuring Wynns Cabernet Sauvignon – Ottawa

‘Terra Rossa Trends’ –Discover the Latest Chapter in the Wynns Coonwarra Estate Cabernet Story

On Thursday, January 28th, WineAlign is pleased to present an exclusive gourmet dinner and tutored tasting featuring wines from Coonawarra’s pre-eminent wine producer, Wynns.

WYNNS woodcut

Join us for an intimate (only 16 tickets) tutored tasting and gourmet dinner at Ottawa’s Restaurant e18hteen with Wynns‘ senior winemaker, Sue Hodder. Sue will guide you through a tasting experience that explores expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon through the microclimates of Coonawarra, showcasing the variety of the region. Subtle changes in soil type within one region can provide quite different grapes, critical from a winemaker’s perspective.

Taste the different Cabernet wines from this revered terroir with creatively matched food selections.

Wynns is the Coonawarra region’s pre-eminent wine producer, with the largest holding of the region’s best and longest established vineyard sites. Today the wines are regarded as benchmarks for the district, lauded for their consistent quality and depth of flavour.

About the Winemaker:


Sue Hodder

Sue Hodder is one of Australia’s best-known winemakers and this year celebrates her 21st vintage with Wynns – making wine from wonderful, expressive fruit grown in the heart of the terra rossa. Sue commenced her career as a viticulturist. Sue believes her early viticultural training – assessing vines, analysing mature fruit and tasting the finished wine – gave her an invaluable insight into the importance of the vineyard in quality winemaking. Sue brings valuable experience with vintages in other noted wine regions around the world and has judged extensively in regional, national and international wine shows.

Sue will be joined by WineAlign’s Janet Dorozynski.

Purchase Your Tickets Here

Event Details:

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

Location:  Restaurant e18hteen (18 York Street, Ottawa K1N 5T5)

Reception: 6:30pm

Dinner: 7:00pm

Tickets:  $125 including taxes and fees

*Please note there are only 16 tickets available for this event, so book early to avoid disappointment.

Reception Wines:

2014 Wynns Coonawarra Chardonnay
2012 Wynns Coonawarra Shiraz

Wine List for Tutored Tasting:

2013 Wynns “The Gables” Cabernet
2012 Wynns V&A Lane Coonawarra Cabernet  Shiraz
2013 Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon
2012 Wynns “The Siding” Cabernet
2012 Wynns John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon

Purchase Your Tickets Here



Seasonal Soup


Roasted Beet Salad
Sourdough cedar lavash, fromage blanc, lemon confit


Roasted Black Cod
Miso beurre blanc, rutabega, furitake


Spiced Squash Fritter
Vegan walnut velouté, pickled and seasonal vegetables


Grilled Bone in Pork Loin
Caraway, braised cabbage, pine nut cream


Sourdough Babas
Vanilla and brandy, chantilly cream, fruit preserves


Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée
Fruit preserves, spoon sweets

*There are no substitutions*

About Restaurant e18hteen

Restaurant e18hteen was named after its unique location in an 19th century heritage building in the ByWard Market Ottawa. Our adaptation of a Modern Steakhouse with a signature “Canadian Freestyle Cuisine” is a destination for local foodies, politicians, artists, celebrities and out of town visitors.


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


Filed under: Events, Wine, , , , ,

An Exclusive Australia Day Gourmet Dinner & Tutored Tasting Featuring Wynns Cabernet Sauvignon

‘Terra Rossa Trends’ –Discover the Latest Chapter in the Wynns Coonwarra Estate Cabernet Story

Celebrate Australia Day on Tuesday, January 26th with an exclusive gourmet dinner and tutored tasting featuring wines from Coonawarra’s pre-eminent wine producer, Wynns.

WYNNS woodcut

Join us for an exclusive tutored tasting and gourmet dinner at ONE Restaurant located in The Hazelton Hotel with Wynns‘ senior winemaker, Sue Hodder. Sue will guide you through a tasting experience that explores expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon through the microclimates of Coonawarra, showcasing the variety of the region. Subtle changes in soil type within one region can provide quite different grapes, critical from a winemaker’s perspective.

Taste the different Cabernet wines from this revered terroir with creatively matched food selections.

Wynns is the Coonawarra region’s pre-eminent wine producer, with the largest holding of the region’s best and longest established vineyard sites. Today the wines are regarded as benchmarks for the district, lauded for their consistent quality and depth of flavour.

About the Winemaker:


Sue Hodder

Sue Hodder is one of Australia’s best-known winemakers and this year celebrates her 21st vintage with Wynns – making wine from wonderful, expressive fruit grown in the heart of the terra rossa. Sue commenced her career as a viticulturist. Sue believes her early viticultural training – assessing vines, analysing mature fruit and tasting the finished wine – gave her an invaluable insight into the importance of the vineyard in quality winemaking. Sue brings valuable experience with vintages in other noted wine regions around the world and has judged extensively in regional, national and international wine shows.

Sue will be joined by WineAlign’s David Lawrason.

Purchase Your Tickets Here

Event Details:

Tuesday, January 26th, 2015

Location:  ONE Restaurant – in the Yorkville Room (The Hazelton Hotel, 116 Yorkville Avenue, Toronto)

Reception: 6:30pm

Dinner: 7:00pm

Tickets:  $100 including taxes and fees

*Please note tickets are limited to 55, so book early to avoid disappointment.

Reception Wines:

2014 Wynns Coonawarra Chardonnay
2012 Wynns Coonawarra Shiraz

Wine List for Tutored Tasting:

2013 Wynns “The Gables” Cabernet
2012 Wynns V&A Lane Coonawarra Cabernet  Shiraz
2013 Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon
2012 Wynns “The Siding” Cabernet
2012 Wynns John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon

Purchase Your Tickets Here


Passed Appetizers during reception


Organic Chicken Breast
Chive spun potatoes, roasted seasonal vegetables and natural jus


Grilled Atlantic Salmon
Cardamom labneh, heirloom carrots, red quinoa, avocado, fennel, orange, crisp lavash and cilantro dressing


P.E.I. Natural grass fed 8oz tenderloin
Roasted seasonal vegetables, wild mushrooms and truffle risotto, and béarnaise sauce


Spaghetti Bolognaise
Reggiano, garlic ciabatta, basil and olive oil


Dark Chocolate Mousse
Hazelnut praline cream, caramelized banana and honeycomb


Buttermilk Panna Cotta
Dulcey cremeux, poached pear, raspberries and candied ginger


Seasonal Fruit and Sorbet

*There are no substitutions*

About ONE Restaurant

ONE Restaurant is chef and restaurateur Mark McEwan’s North American contemporary Yorkville hotspot. With a variety of beautiful dining spaces to choose from, and dishes that will delight the palate, ONE is sure to impress.

The restaurant’s stunning décor was fashioned by award winning design group Yabu Pushelberg. Low light and textured walls create a sumptuous ambiance, perfect for entertaining. The tree-lined candle lit patio is the perfect place to sit back and savour ONE’s culinary creations and unique signature cocktails, all the while taking in Yorkville’s bustling and exciting street life.

ONE Restaurant is located in the boutique Hazelton Hotel.


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


Filed under: Events, Wine, , , , ,

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 16 – Part Two

Fresh and Fruity Whites and the Best of the Rest
By Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason and John Szabo MS

Sara d’Amato

Sara d’Amato

Wines for spring cleaning, wines for sunshine or wines for being social on the porch again, this week’s VINTAGES release theme of “Fresh and Fruity Whites” is a sure sign that the warm weather is upon us. As John Szabo completes his tour of the world’s most spectacular volcanic peaks (somebody’s got to do it) I sit grounded in Toronto, for at least the time being, choosing from among our top picks of this most anticipated change of the season.

In addition to these ephemeral selections, we bring you what impressed us most from this release, wines with both staying power and those we think you shouldn’t overlook. Unlike the whites, the reds available have not yet caught up with trend of warmer weather and I both hope and expect to see lighter, fresher reds in the next release. We will certainly see more gamay, primitivo/zinfandel and sangiovese on the shelves that are ready-to-drink and do best with a slight chill.

Fresh and Fruity Whites

Stoneleigh 2014 Latitude Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, ($21.95)

David Lawrason – The 2014 vintage was considered excellent in Marlborough with a bumper crop that ripened in “near perfect’ conditions – until the tail end of a cyclone came through late in the harvest. It’s hard to say which wines were picked soon enough of course. I have found many of the 2014 sauvignons a bit leaner, cooler and more compact – of which this an example. And that’s not a bad thing.
Sara d’Amato – A classic, elegant sauvignon blanc that rivals the best of Marlborough at a fraction of the price. Bring on the seafood kabobs!

Tiefenbrunner 2014 Pinot Grigio, Alto Adige, Italy ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – It wouldn’t be a “fresh and fruity” release without a solid pinot grigio. Tiefenbrunner is located in a picturesque spot fixed in the Italian Alps and is known for its meticulous winemaking and control from grape to bottle. Because of its reliable quality and its price point, it has frequently been a staple for me when creating wine lists.

Finca El Origin 2014 Reserva Torrontés, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina ($15.95)

Sara d’Amato – Although there are many obstacles to the further development of this remote wine-growing region, the wines, short in supply, are as uniquely arresting as the landscape. This is the home of the exotic torrontés, light, fresh and fragrant. The best examples, such as this, show some restraint and mystique.
David Lawrason – If you have not yet put Argentine torrontés in your summer patio repertoire don’t hesitate with this classic example from the Cafayate Valley in northern Argentina. A citrus explosion! Bring on the ceviche.

Stoneleigh Latitude Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2014 Finca El Origin Reserva Torrontés 2014 Matetic Corralillo Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Matetic 2014 Corralillo Sauvignon Blanc, San Antonio Valley, Chile ($13.95)

John Szabo – Tough to beat this crunchy, green apple and green pepper-flavoured sauvignon for sheer value, another welcome release from biodynamic producer Matetic in the cool, coastal San Antonio Valley. This tops many wines asking $5 more.
David Lawrason – A great buy here in a brilliant, juicy sauvignon that bristles with intense grapefruit/lime, nettles and passion fruit. It’s from an excellent, biodynamic producer that is the sole owner of the isolated Rosario Valley right on the edge of the San Antonio and Casablanca Valley appellations. It is a cool coastal site that has infused great energy.

Creekside 2013 Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula Canada ($17.95)

John Szabo – Creekside has made sauvignon a specialty, but there appears to have been a slight style shift in 2013 – this is less effusively aromatic and tropical than previous vintages, and I must say I like the more subtle and crisp profile. A mix of citrus and green apple, and gentle green herbs makes this a lively and pleasant wine, a little more “grown up” in my view.

Best of the Rest

Simonsig 2012 Kaapse Vonkel Brut Cap Classique, WO Western Cape, South Africa ($19.95)

John Szabo – From the house that first made traditional method sparkling wine in South Africa, this pinot-chardonnay blend with a splash of pinot meunier offers considerable toasty richness in a broad and mouth-filling style, notably dry despite the richness.

Vinum 2012 Africa Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($15.95)

Sara d’Amato – Incorrectly slotted into the VINTAGES “fresh and fruity” feature, this rich and savory chenin blanc still deserves recognition. Body, texture, viscosity – all of these are impressively featured at such an unassuming price.
John Szabo – Fans of complex, wood aged whites will rejoice at the quality/price of this chenin. Made in a “natural” (nothing added or subtracted) and idiosyncratic style, it’s a wine of texture more than immediate fruitiness, balancing ripeness with both acids and salinity. There’s loads of character for $16 in any case.

Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut Cap Classique 2012 Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc 2012 Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011

Hillebrand 2011 Showcase Wild Ferment Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($36.20)

John Szabo – As far as premium chardonnay goes, I’d say that winemaker Craig MacDonald has nailed this beautifully, and kept the price fair. As with most great chardonnay, this is a wine of mainly textural interest, offering a rich and complete mouth full of just-ripe orchard fruit, balanced with high quality wood. I like the succulent acids that prop up this flavour-heavy ensemble, and the excellent length. A very serious, accomplished cuvée all in all. Unfortunately the fruit source is not revealed – it’s labeled only as “Niagara Peninsula Vineyards” – but I’d be curious to know from where this hails exactly. Best 2015-2020.

Tawse 2011 Growers Blend Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($24.95)

Sara d’Amato  – A wine that has experienced impressive evolution – with a cohesive palate of wood, fruit and acids and much smoother tannins than its jerky beginning. A gem of a pinot that still has years to come.

Corvidae 2013 Lenore Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA ($19.95)

David Lawrason – Here’s a rarely seen (at the LCBO) great buy in Washington syrah – which in my mind is the premier red grape of eastern Washington and the southern Okanagan in BC. It’s a medium to full bodied, classic cool climate syrah with deep colour, considerable density and ripeness, yet just enough cool climate black pepper, licorice and smoked meat to please northern Rhone syrah fans.

Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir 2011 Corvidae Lenore Syrah 2013 Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Château Haut Peyraud 2010

Lapostolle 2012 Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon, Apalta Vineyard, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($24.95).

David Lawrason –  Yet another biodynamically-grown Chilean wine shines on this release – from a great estate occupying one of the great vineyard sites in the country. The depth, harmony and complexity here are remarkable for a $25 wine.

Château Haut Peyraud 2010, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, France ($16.95)

David Lawrason – I love the sense of poise and subtlety in this ‘petit’ 2010. What a wonderful vintage. This is a Bordeaux bargain, a lightweight, fairly supple merlot that is moving into prime.

Château De Gourgazaud 2013 Cuvée Mathilde Minervois, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($14.95)

Sara d’Amato – A spicy, peppery, musky and sweaty blend from southern France – unpretentious, raw and rustic. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Château De Gourgazaud Cuvée Mathilde Minervois 2013 Meandro Do Vale Meão 2012 Coppi Peucetico Primitivo 2008

Meandro 2012 Do Vale Meão, Douro, Portugal ($24.95)

David Lawrason – This is a very high energy red, bristling with wild berry and woodsy aromas, and all kinds of zesty acid and tannin. So you may want to age it, but I really feel that this vibrancy is key to its enjoyment. Chill just a bit and pair it with savoury seasoned red meats.
John Szabo – Even more impressive than the excellent 2011, this is another top value, complex, concentrated and structured Douro red blend from Vale Meão. Although considered the “second label”, this is better than most from the valley, especially at the price. Best 2015-2022.

Coppi Peucetico 2008 Primitivo, Gioia Del Colle, Puglia, Italy ($13.95)

Sara d’Amato – Vibrant and peppery, this mid-weight primitivo exhibits lovely, lingering floral and cherry notes. Savory, fun and summery – a wine that can take a slight chill for added refreshment.

That’s all folks! David Lawrason will highlight the best of the May 30th release and features next week along with an Ontario Wine Report with news on new wineries and trends in Prince Edward County.

From VINTAGES May 16, 2015

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Buyers’ Guide Part One: Australia First Families
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!

Beringer Knights Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Australia's First Families of Wine

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 16 – Part One

Australia First Families & Sara in the Pink Once Again
By David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato, with notes from John Szabo MS

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Last month the LCBO’s VINTAGES hosted Europe’s first families of wine (Premium Familiae Vini); this month it’s Australia’s First Families, a relatively new organization that formed in 2009. Families are a good idea – we all belong to one – although they can be trying at times. But I am not sure we need every wine region in the world to put together roving bands of families. There is just something a bit clubby about the idea. And can you imagine how it must feel if you are an upstanding family that is left out of the group?

The real question is whether families make better wine, and my short answer would be yes – because they tend to be driven by some sort of code of honour, pride and legacy, not just pleasing the shareholders. Their wines may or may not have a particular family personality but they are usually quite high quality, which shone through in many of the reviews of the May 16th batch that VINTAGES has put forward. Just about every wine got a kudo from John, Sara or I.

My only disappointment was not seeing a much broader, and higher range of wines in this release – we the large Ontario family of wine enthusiasts are tending to get their lower tier offerings. To get into the upper tier you have to attend the Australia’s First Families of Wine Event on May 26, where dozens of others will be available. See the list at but watch for those pesky little asterisks that indicate which wines are for tasting only (not purchase). Only in Ontario do we get to pay to taste wines that we can’t buy.

One last comment before trotting out our favourites. As I tasted through the reds I kept saying to myself – these are actually a pretty, fresh and bright bunch. More lifted on the nose, with cranberry, crushed berries and florals and less overripe jamminess and oaky. And less alcohol heat. For months now our WineAlign critics who have visited Australia have been reporting back that Oz is in transition to less heavy, fresher wines. And it struck me as I tasted along that they are now arriving on our shelves, and that this new mood is now showing up at lower price points.

The Whites

Tyrrell’s 2013 Brookdale Semillon, Hunter Valley, New South Wales ($24.95)

John Szabo – It is all too easy to overlook a wine such as this: bone dry, tart, lean and seemingly short on flavour. But give this 5+ years and it undergoes a full metamorphosis. If you enjoy flint and smoke, and smoldering, discreet fruit flavours, tuck away a few bottles of this arch-typical semillon in the unique Hunter Valley Style, part of Tyrell’s “Hunter Heroes” range. Best 2020-2030.
Sara d’Amato – A Hunter Valley semillon on the shelves of the LCBO is cause for celebration as it has been so long! Semillon reaches the peak of its expression in the warmer grounds of Hunter Valley. Tyrell’s semillons are legendary so stock up now! If your haul takes awhile to get though – that’s okay. Wait another 5 years on this semillon for optimum drink-ability.
David Lawrason – My colleagues have covered a lot of ground already. Let me just add that I loved the linearity and focus of this wine. It’s not Tyrrell’s top Hunter semillon, but it is bang on style-wise and affordable to those who might want to take it for a first-time spin.

Tyrrell's Brookdale Semillon 2013 Yalumba Viognier 2013 Henschke Tilly's Vineyard 2013

Yalumba 2013 Viognier, Eden Valley, South Australia ($24.95)

David Lawrason – I like viognier but often find them either overblown and cloying, or among cheaper versions, under-blown and kind of boring. This comes right up the middle, with quite precise, complex aromatics and a fine sense of weight and even-handedness.
John Szabo – Yalumba is a specialist in viognier, and has the oldest vines in Australia planted in 1980, so the high quality of this wine comes as no surprise. A little more than half is barrel fermented and treated to a little lees stirring, yielding a beautifully perfumed, arch-typical viognier, with marvellous silky-soft textured. If this had Condrieu on the label, no one would blink an eye at the price, indeed folks would be gushing all over it.
Sara d’Amato – The cooler, higher elevations of Eden Valley are a haven for vibrant whites. This sustainably produced viognier can be considered Yalumba’s signature grape varietal – they do it well and devote a great deal of the energy on this Rhone varietal. Terrific body, length, weight and presence.

Henschke 2013 Tilly’s Vineyard, Adelaide Hills/Eden Valley, South Australia ($26.95)

David Lawrason – This multi-grape blend is a bit of an odd duck – with a classic candle wax smokiness that I often find in Aussie whites – particularly in semillon (which is one of the grapes here). Some like this note, others not, so test drive a bottle if you are unfamiliar. It is the most “aussie” white of the bunch, substantial, complex yet fresh at the same time.

The Reds

Yalumba 2012 The Strapper GSM, Barossa, South Australia ($19.95)

John Szabo – Another fine buy in this release from Yalumba, the oldest family-owned winery in Australia (since 1849). The Strapper is a nicely measured GSM blend, incorporating all of the best elements of the grapes: the strawberry pie flavors of grenache, the black pepper and violets of syrah, and the earthy-meaty architecture of mourvèdre. It’s the wine that “the winemakers drink, when they’re not having a riesling or an ale”. Best 2015-2020.
David Lawrason – I was struck by a certain unexpected freshness and even tenderness here. The GSM’s of Australia can be big, rich and gooey, but this wine is more refined. That certain elegance I find in the best Chateauneuf-du-Pape crossed my mind as this crossed my palate. Absolutely delish and ready to drink.

Jim Barry 2013 The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, Australia, (26.95) (677476)

Sara d’Amato – Coonawara is a very special place for cabernet sauvignon in the world where the varietal expresses itself in a uniquely elegant way, rooted in the region’s iron rich, premium terra rossa soils. This distinctively polished example is rife with floral, mineral, herbal and peppery notes that are sure to woo.
David Lawrason – This is one of the reds that struck me as having a new sense of aromatic freshness and brightness, and a palate that is both spry and elegant at the same time. So well balanced that it is actually quite drinkable now, just a touch green on the finish. Fine Coonawarra cab.

Yalumba The Strapper Gsm 2012 Jim Barry The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Tyrrell's Rufus Stone Shiraz 2012 De Bortoli Villages Pinot Noir 2012

Tyrrell’s 2012 Rufus Stone Shiraz, Heathcote, Victoria, Australia, ($22.95) (91488)

David Lawrason – Here’s another bright, wonderfully lifted shiraz but it also shows a deeper side thanks to its origins in Heathcote, an increasingly important shiraz region in hills north of Melbourne in Victoria. Love the aromatics here – floral lift all kinds of blackcurrant/cherry fruit, menthol, pepper and slightly mineral/ferrous/iron-like notes that strike me as solid Heathcote.
Sara d’Amato – It wouldn’t be a proper Australian release without some serious shiraz and I was very pleased to find this reasonably priced example from the famed shiraz producing region of Heathcote in Victoria. Notes of cassis, licorice and cool herbs are seamlessly integrated and make for silky and approachable sips.

De Bortoli 2012 Villages Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia ($23.95)

John Szabo – A keenly priced and representative wine from the Yarra, which highlights Steve Webber’s minimalist style. This is a fine buy for fans of old school, not to say Burgundian, pinot noir, lean and savoury, in a distinctively cool climate idiom. Best 2015-2020.

d’Arenberg 2010 The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($49.95)

David Lawrason – This is about the only red of the bunch that I would describe as more traditional. It is a rich, full-on, maturing Aussie red with a complex, very ripe nose. Heavier for sure, but when you get up into this quality level that can work well. It was not wines like this that gave Australia problems. It was packing too much alcohol, jammy fruit and oak into cheaper wines that didn’t have the bones to carry the load.

Tahbilk Estate 2010 Shiraz, Nagambie Lakes, Central Victoria, Australia ($22.95)
John Szabo
– A shiraz that hits a comfortable juste milieu between ripeness and restraint, fruit and wood, plushness and firmness. Tahbilk has been at it since 1860, so there has been ample time to perfect and draw the maximum from the moderate Nagambie Lakes region. Best 2015-2020.

D'arenberg The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Tahbilk Shiraz 2010 Henschke Henry's Seven 2013 Howard Park Miamup Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Henschke 2013 Henry’s Seven, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($42.95)

David Lawrason – This is named for Henry Evans who planted the Keyneton area in 1853, and it’s very interesting that when visiting Henschke you get this amazing sense of historical depth, in a region that seems so remote that you can almost not imagine some farming there over 150 years ago. Anyway, this Rhone-inspired blend is yet another example of the wonderful freshness now appearing more routinely in Oz reds.

Howard Park 2012 Miamup Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, Western Australia ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This gets the nod on value, a very fine, classic Margaret River cabernet for $20. This maritime region is known for making leaner, very aromatic cabs, and this one is spot-on with lifted blackcurrant fruit, fresh green eucalyptus, finely woven tobacco and earthy notes.

Real Men (and women) Drink Rosé
by Sara d’Amato

Sara d’Amato

Sara d’Amato

‘Tis the season for rosé and I admit, I can’t get enough. And although I may be a woman and one who doesn’t shy away from pink, that is certainly not the reason I love this style of wine in which red wine meets white in a refreshing package. Sure, I take big reds seriously but it is one of the last things I want to imbibe in a hot summer’s day unless I’m in an air-conditioned basement.

And, I’m not the only one. North American men are a growing segment in the market of rosé but most I know still need some encouragement. If my repeated Buyers’ Guide segments on rosé aren’t enough to make you give it a try, then maybe some of these reasons will make you take the plunge:

1. Oh So Dry – Rosés need not be sweet and in fact, most of the classic rosés, especially those of Southern France, are and always have been dry. The most refreshing ones, whether simple or complex, have no sweetness. On that note, there is no evidence to suggest that women like sweeter wine than men, we are just marketed to that way.

2. Brad Pitt– yes, iconic manly role model Brad and equally influential Angelina Jolie have become pushers of the pink stuff with the purchase of Chateau Miraval in Provence. Maybe some of their success will rub off on you? Their excellent rosé graced the shelves of the LCBO last summer and I hope it does again.

3. The Men’s Movement – “Real Men Drink Pink” – it’s a thing, really, I kid you not. There are t-shirts galore to be found online and an empowering yet humorous commercial by Be a part of the movement to change pre-conceived and bigoted notions!

4. Barbeque – There is very little that goes better with a smorgasbord of backyard bbq than a ballsy but refreshing glass of rosé. With the mild tannins and weight of a red plus the versatile freshness of a white, you can pair rosé with almost anything.

Without further ado, my top three pink picks from the May 16 release:

Delas Frères Saint Esprit Côtes Du Rhône Rosé 2014 Somontes Rosado 2014 Megalomaniac Pink Slip Pinot Noir Rosé 2014

Delas Frères 2014 Saint Esprit Côtes Du Rhône, France ($14.95)

Sara d’Amato – This Côtes du Rhône blend made up largely of the sun-loving grenache which gives it a pale but vibrant pink hue, lightness of flavour and great approachability. Delas has been taken over by the Champagne house of Louis Roederer, makers of the famed Cristal but remains a consistent producer with a large offering of often well-priced and impactful wines from the northern Rhône to the southern tip.

Somontes 2104 Rosado, Serra Da Estrela, Dão, Portugal ($12.95)

Sara d’Amato – By far, the best deal in the rosé category. Dão is known for its sensual wines with spice and elegance and this example captures that character so beautifully.

Megalomaniac 2014 Pink Slip Pinot Noir Rosé, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($17.95)

Sara d’Amato – One of the more potent styles of rosé with just a hint of sweetness and a fresh new label. Punchy with crunchy acids and loaded with summer berry fruit. Chill well and pair with mid-day sunshine.


And that is all for this edition. John (the Crater Man) Szabo returns to lead off next week’s ramblings with a slew of interesting picks from the Cool Summer Whites selection just ahead of the Victoria Day (May 2-4) long weekend.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES May 16, 2015

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
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!

Beringer Knights Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Australia's First Families of Wine

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Taste of Maclean’s Dining Series – Vancouver – April 7, 2015

Enjoy a unique fine dining experience and benchmark Australian wines at Vancouver‘s Chambar restaurant as curated by Maclean’s and hosted by outstanding sommeliers and culinary talent.


You’ll love the sumptuous four-course meal paired with premier Australian wines.  Joined by Sommelier Rhys Pender MW and Chambar’s chef, Nico Schuermans, guests are invited to learn the subtleties of the pairings from the experts.

WineAlign members enjoy an exclusive discount and can purchase tickets at the Maclean’s subscriber rate of just $99+HST (regular price $149).

Purchase Your Tickets Here

Rhys and Nico

Event Details:

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Location:  Chambar (568 Beatty St, Vancouver, BC)

Cocktail Reception: 6:30pm

Dinner: 7:00pm – 10pm

Tickets:  $99 plus HST

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

Purchase Your Tickets Here

Wines Being Served Include:

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Coldstream Hill Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2012
Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2013
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 

*A vegetarian option will be available.  To provide the highest quality food and wine experience, your chef and sommelier are carefully curating the menu in advance of the evening.  Unfortunately, this means that substitutions, food restrictions, and allergy considerations cannot be accommodated.*

About Chambar

Chef Nico Schuermans and his wife Karri have brought to life their dream of opening a restaurant where guests can experience fine dining in a warm and inviting atmosphere.  Their philosophy is based on a commitment to fresh, innovative, and incredible food this is presented without pretension.  The result is a restaurant with exquisite cuisine, exceptional service, and a room that glows.  They are strong advocates for environmental and social responsibility.  Chambar Restaurant became carbon neutral in 2011.


Purchase Your Tickets Here


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Final Blend : Towing the Line / Align

by Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi Portrait Colour_Cropped

Anthony Gismondi

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

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

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

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

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

La Posta Pizzella Family Vineyard Malbec 2011

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

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

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

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


Some of the exciting labels at VIWF from Australia TODAY

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Les Soirées Vins et Gastronomie de Maclean’s – Montréal – 24 mars

Vivez une expérience gastronomique unique et dégustez de grands vins australiens au restaurant Maison Boulud à Montréal, au cours d’une soirée organisée par Maclean’s où vous serez reçu par des sommeliers et des chefs hors pair.


Vous adorerez le somptueux repas de quatre services, chacun combiné à un grand vin australien. En compagnie de la sommelière Véronique Rivest et du chef de la Maison Boulud, Riccardo Bertolino, vous serez invité à découvrir les subtilités des accords auprès des experts.

Billet à prix courant – 149 $
Abonnés de Maclean’s et membres de Chacun Son Vin – 99 $

Achetez vos billets ici

Vero and Riccardo

Notez à votre agenda:

Date de la soirée : Mardi 24 mars 2015

Restaurant : Maison Boulud, Montréal (Ritz-Carlton Montréal, 1288 Rue Sherbrook Ouest, Montréal)

Cocktail : 18 h 30 à 19 h

Souper : 19 h à 22 h

149 $  + TPS/TVQ par personne
99 $  + TPS/TVQ pour les abonnés de Maclean’s et membres de Chacun Son Vin

Achetez vos billets ici

Les vins qui seront servis:

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Coldstream Hill Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2012
Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2013
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Riesling 2012

*Note : Pour demander l’option végétarienne, veuillez communiquer avec la gestionnaire de l’événement à l’adresse Afin de vous offrir une expérience gastronomique de qualité supérieure, votre chef et votre sommelier élaborent le menu à l’avance avec grand soin. Aucune substitution ne sera donc possible.*

Mason Boulud – À Propos:

Chez Maison Boulud, nous vous proposons la cuisine d’un chef formé par la tradition française, mais aussi inspiré par des décennies passées à New York. Le menu de Daniel Boulud accompagne les saisons en côtoyant la richesse de fournisseurs Québécois. Vous trouverez des charcuteries Lyonnaises, des saveurs Méditerranéennes, même notre célèbre hamburger, ainsi que des plats crées uniquement pour Maison Boulud. Le résultat: une cuisine à la fois raffinée et contemporaine, mais aussi très personnelle et chaleureuse, préparée par notre Chef de Cuisine Riccardo Bertolino. Situé au Ritz-Carlton, le restaurant, bar et lounge et ses salons privés maintiennent leur propre identité, pleine de vitalité. Néanmoins, l’ambiance de la rue Sherbrooke reflète la renaissance du Ritz-Carlton et son importance au cœur de la vie Montréalaise. : La véranda adjacente à la salle à manger jouit d’une vue d’une vue splendide sur les célèbres jardins paysagés de l’Hôtel Ritz-Carlton. Le décor intérieur est constitué de riches matériaux naturels avec ses murs de verre coloré et ses fastueux tissus.

Maison Boulud

Achetez vos billets ici


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Oceans, Altitudes and Attitudes

The Cool Climate World of Oz
By DJ Kearney


DJ in legendary (and chilly) Steingarten Vineyard earlier this month, absorbing the sunshine

Journey into the elegant cool-climate world of Australia. See how high altitude wine regions and ocean proximity, combined with evolving winemaking practices and attitudes, have influenced the wines being crafted in Oz. At the upcoming Vancouver International Wine Festival, the ‘Oceans, Altitudes and Attitudes’ trade seminar is the ideal way to get the skinny on trends in Austrlalia viticulture in 90 action-packed minutes. My WineAlign colleague, Australian-born Rhys Pender MW and I will moderate our way around the country, as we taste wines that embody our triple themes of ocean, elevation and new perspectives.

There is much on the move down under. History, evolution and revolution have shaped this sun-baked land’s wine industry in a profound way. Australian wines reach so far beyond their stereotyped soft-and-generous fruit style: nowadays there are raspy light reds, bladerunner whites and crisply sharp bubbles that will utterly shred your preconceptions about Australia being just a hot place to grow grapes. Truth is these wine styles have always quietly existed, but changes in the vinescape, vineyard sites and attitudinal shifts have made these cooler-grown wines much more of the norm.


Attitudes: The Winds of Change

The Vigneron: One of the most important attitude shifts that’s really taken hold across the country is the fusing of grapegrowing and wine making roles. Phil Reedman MW, a respected Adelaide-based industry consultant sees this as a key qualitative change, he told me when we were tasting in the Barossa last week. Nowadays, big and small wineries are adopting the French notion of the vigneron…. where the farming of grapes and the making of wine are indivisible. The rough translation of vigneron is ‘winegrower’ and this notion that importantly connects the vineyard and the winery has permeated philosophies of big and small producers. Abel Gibson, from the tiny, wonderful winery Ruggabellus is a grower/winemaker who fashions miniscule amounts of truly exciting wine in the variable terrain of Barossa. He has planted a vineyard high in the breezy hills and is babying vines through their infancy with the same singlemindedness that he lavishes on the barrels of wines that bubble away and then relax in old casks at his tiny home/winery. On a completely different scale, Sue Hodder, chief winemaker at Wynns Coonawarra Estate, also embodies this shift, and she is every bit as involved and intimate with her much more substantial vineyard land. It shows in each bottle and tier at Wynns, where every flavour and structural element is always absolutely in the right place, and wines have an effortless balance and poise.

When to pick: Attitudes about picking times constitute an important shift according to the great winemaker Phil Laffer, who has seen the country flourish during 30 vintages at Lindeman’s and 20 years steering Jacob’s Creek. He’s seen Australia shift from fortified to table wines and been an instrumental part of the astonishingly successful charge to export markets. Picking dates are now as much as 4 to 6 weeks earlier in some regions. Picking raisined grapes and making high alcohol wines in the past was simply cheaper; less grape spirit was needed to boost them to 20% alcohol or more, and flavours were not so important. Now, almost obsessive care is taken in picking for flavour, balance and freshness.

Brave New Grapes: Jeremy Oliver, author of Australia’s Wine Annual, points to changing views of the grape scape, and increasing interest in Mediterranean varieties, especially Italian reds like sangiovese, barbera and nebbiolo. He states that though there is still much to learn (and vineyards need to mature), a few regional associations are emerging, like sangiovese with McLaren Vale, the King Valley and Heathcote; nebbiolo with the Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale and Heathcote; barbera with the King Valley, the Lower Hunter Valley and Mudgee. Tempranillo is showing well in sites from Clare to McLaren Vale to Victoria, and best of all chardonnay seems to be finding a true comfort place of balance all over the country, where acids are less screeching, fruit is more chiselled and confidently forward, oak is far more judiciously used. Good thing too, give that there are over 25,000 hectares of it planted.


Pushing the Limits: Altitude

Orange is the Cool: In the last few decades, Australians have begun to scale the hills, planting at unheard of heights and teasing wonderful freshness and natural acidity from grapes. What’s the point of elevation? In a nutshell, lower temperatures mean slower, even ripening for forward fruit flavours, without a shred of raisiny over-ripeness, lighter tannins and precise acids. Sunlight is different as well, giving greater light intensity without heat units. Orange is a classic example. Located in the Tablelands of New South Wales, it’s a few hours’ drive from Sydney. A true cool-climate region defined by the high altitudes within the Shires of Orange City, and defined by an elevation boundary as well as a geographic footprint. To use the GI, vineyards must be above 600 metres above sea level (lower reaches use the Central Ranges appellation). While most plantings are young, dating only back to the 1980’s, there are over 1,500 hectares planted already, indicating the interest in this cool growing region. Vineyards climb from 600 metres to over 1,100. The temperature change is significant for a vine: at 650 metres the average January temperature is 21.5 º C, but at 950 metres it drops to 18.5 º C at the height of the growing season. Grape harvest is delayed by 1 week for every 100 metre rise in elevation.

Whites like sauvignon blanc and chardonnay are a natural fit in Orange, as are aromatics like riesling and pinot gris, but light and juicy shiraz wines (often styled with a drop of viognier) are captivating too. Pinot noir may have a future, but plantings are small still. It’s important that altitude is matched to grape variety – thicker-skinned cab and shiraz can struggle to ripen at 1000 metres, and do well a little lower, whereas you can dial in chardonnay at any height and create peachy to lemony fruited beauties. Philip Shaw, famed winemaker at Lindemans, Rosemount and Southcorp, became fascinated with Orange and planted vines in 1989, giving Cumulus winery its start. He believes that merlot is a perfect variety for Orange, but there are still just 200 hectares, compared to shiraz’s 400 hectares.

Prized Fruit for Sharpening Blends: Tumbarumba is another region to watch. Half way between Sydney and Melbourne, and just a 3 hour whiz from Canberra, the air and water are mountain-pure. With 1180 growing degree days and an average maximum temperature of 18.3 º C, it enjoyed a stellar reputation as a grapegrowing region (rather than a winemaking one) since the 1980’s when premium wine grapes were planted at altitudes of 300 metres to over 850. A quick troll through the Tumbarumba Vignerons Association shows that this cool-grown prized fruit goes into top wines from Penfolds, Treasury to McWilliams and Clonakilla. Next time you are enjoying Penfolds magnificent Yattarna chardonnay, you’ll taste a little bit of Tumbarumba’s cool environment.


Steingarten Vineyard

Sublime Steingarten: Also high and cool is Eden Valley’s Steingarten Vineyard, a remarkable hilltop site that just sits on the Eden/Barossa boundary. At about 450 metres of elevation it’s not the highest vineyard in Eden (Pewsey Vale is higher) but it is venerable and yields intense, nervy fruit riesling fruit that hums and crackles with electricity. Jacob’s Creek chief winemaker Bernard Hicken describes the unique and site-specific features of Steingarten (only 450 cases worth of fruit comes from this low-yielding vineyard) as far from the Barossa Valley norm. There is a 2-3 ºC degree temperature difference from valley floor to the vineyard, as well as a notable diurnal shift of 12-15 ºC. Vintage is felt sharply here, with picking times varying by 2-3 weeks year by year. Global warming has had an effect too, as picking dates have advanced 3-4 weeks over the last 20-30 years. The 30 degree slope looks truly Germanic, and its sharp incline attracts downdrafting cold winds, known as katabatic or gully winds, cooling Steingarten further in the late afternoon and early evening. Visiting in early February was a chilly experience, but you immediately understand the piercing acidity that helps this stately riesling age for decades. The vine’s spindly trunks belie their 53 years – they have been stressed by dense planting, wind abuse and meagre exposure to morning sun only. This vineyard is a poster-child for cool-climate if ever there was one.

Chill in Adelaide: Just to the south of Barossa, the Adelaide Hills are as hot as a tin shed roof these days. ‘Hot’ as in ultra-cool and fashionable, where wines of finesse and varietal intensity have been turning heads for years now. It’s a very large wine region, but with small, undulating and often steep hills, marked by cool nights and growing degree days as low as 1172. Mount Lofty’s summit is 710 meters, but much of the vineyards lie at well over 400 meters, and many of Australia’s elite vignerons work or source fruit from this distinctive area. The sub-region of Picadilly Valley is 1-2 ºC cooler still that Steingarten vineyard in the Eden Valley. Taste the Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2013, and its riveting acidity and vivid lemony fruit offers a good insight into the potential of the Adelaide Hills.

Adelaide Hills

Adelaide Hills


Australia: the Ocean Effect

The Sunburned Country: For sun-deprived Canadian wine lovers fixated on our deeply romanticized images of Oz (Christmas at the beach, shrimp-on-the-barbie every day, it never, ever snows!) it can be hard to imagine how Australian wine might have anything whatsoever to do with the concept of ‘cool climate’, even though ‘cool’ is now the coolest thing an Aussie wine can be. So, maybe it is surprising to learn that of the more than 60 fine-wine regions of Australia, 24 are ‘true cool-climate’ and as cool, or cooler, than Bordeaux, famous for its moderate maritime climate. After all Australia is an island, and that one of the oceans surrounding it (the Great Southern) is a notorious source of nasty winds.

Three wine regions that are blessed with a maritime climate beneficial for winegrowing are Margaret River in Western Australia, the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, and the island state of Tasmania (read Treve’s Travels Part I & Part II for details on these regions and their wines). In all of them climate is moderated by close proximity to large bodies of water, with cooling ocean winds creating a longer growing season that makes possible fresher, more elegant wines with an ideal balance between fruit and acid.

To put ‘cool’ in relative perspective, it is instructive to refer to the Heat Summation system, developed at UC Davis, whereby cumulative ‘degree days’ for a wine region are calculated (using a slightly tricky formula) totaling the number of degrees above 10°C (50°F) during the 7 month growing season. There are five classifications: Region 1 (<1390) is ‘very cool’; Region 2 is ‘cool’ (1391-1670), and so on. Using this system, growing degree days (GDD) ratings for Champagne and Burgundy are 1031 and 1164 respectively; Bordeaux 1392, and Napa 1499. In comparison, Northern Tasmania’s GDD rating is 1020, Margaret River is 1690, and Mornington ranges from 1080 – 1570. For comparison, Penticton in the Okanagan Valley is 1320.

Mighty Margaret River: If the GDD of 1690 for Margaret River looks on the high side here, it is important to note that the Margaret River region is literally surrounded by water. While temperatures inland can be stinking hot, Margaret River temperatures are modified by a legendary wind from the south called the ‘Freemantle Doctor’ that brings cool air from the ocean, creating the moderate growing conditions to produce the famously elegant wines of Australian icons Leeuwin, Cullen, and Vasse Felix. Without the ocean effect, the wines would be very different.

Dr. Thomas Cullity of Vasse Felix planted the first vines in Margaret River in 1967, in red gravel in redgum country, with clay about 18” below the surface; in 1972 he bottled Margaret River’s first cabernet sauvignon.

As any visitor to Melbourne soon learns, bracingly cool (ok, bloody cold) breezes can scream in from the Southern Ocean at any time; it is safe to say that there is a distinctly ocean-affected climate. The Mornington Peninsula south of the city has become renowned as a cool-climate wine region, with a global reputation for pinot noir – a grape once deemed ‘impossible to grow’ in Australia.

By virtue of being cool, Tazzie has become one of Australia’s hottest regions. Launceston at the north end of the island is not just cool: at 1020 GDD’s it is flat out super-cool. Here the ocean breezes from the Bass Strait are at least as important in winter as in summer – keeping the temperatures up and protecting the vines from frosts. This is sparkling country.

Some wines that show the affect of oceans, altitudes & attitudes :

Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Margaret River

Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coonawarra

Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2013, Adelaide Hills 

Rolling Shiraz 2012 Orange, New South Wales

Jansz Premium Cuvee NV Methode Tasmanoise, Tasmania

Stonier Pinot Noir 2013, Mornington Peninsula

Steingarten Riesling 2013, Eden Valley

Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2013Rolling Shiraz 2012Jansz Premium CuvéeStonier Pinot Noir 20132015-02-19_15-38-03

~ All critics’ shared their top 20 Under $20 at the VIWF, and will chime in on their top 3 wines to taste at the festival in our joint BC Critics’ Report early next week. Finally, Anthony Gismondi’s Final Blend column will take a look at tasting notes, critics and where the WineAlign team is tasting, travelling and focusing.

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A Four-Course Gourmet Dinner with William Hardy of Hardys Wines – Montreal

On Wednesday, March 4th, Chacun son vin is pleased to present a four-course gourmet dinner paired with wines from the iconic Australian producer, Hardys.


Join wine agents Mondia Alliance for an exclusive gourmet dinner at O’Thym Restaurant and meet Hardys‘ Brand Ambassador and 5th generation family member, William Hardy.

Nadia Fournier, partner and principal critic at Chacun son vin will be your host for the evening. Please note that the event will be in English.

Purchase Your Tickets Here

Event Details:

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

O'Tyme RestaurantLocation:  O’Thym (1112 Boulevard de Maisonneuve Est, Montreal)

Time: 6:30pm to 9:30pm

Tickets:  $75 + taxes and fees (includes 4-course meal and wines)

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

List of Wines to be Served:

Hardys Butcher’s Gold 2012
Hardys The Gamble 2013
William Hardys Sauvignon Blanc 2013
HRB Riesling 2014
Eileen Chardonnay 2013
William Hardy Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Eileen Shiraz 2010
Whiskers Blake

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William David Hardy, or Bill as he prefers to be known, is the 5th generation of Hardys involved in Hardys wines. As the current champion for the Hardys family of wines, Bill continues to build on the legacy started in 1853 by Thomas Hardy. The Hardys global wine business grew under the stewardship of a line of Hardys, arguably none more famous than Eileen Hardy, Bill’s grandmother.

Bill HardyBill commenced work with the family business as a Trainee Winemaker in 1972, and after an initial vintage at the company’s Tintara Cellars in McLaren Vale, he travelled to Bordeaux, France to undertake the Diplome National d’Oenologue at the Université de Bordeaux, graduating Majeur (dux) of his year. He continued in his winemaking career at several of the Hardys’ properties.

At the same time, Bill continued his commitment to the Australian wine industry on both a national and regional basis, serving as President of the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology and Chairman of the McLaren Vale Winemakers’ Association.

In total, as a winemaker, Bill completed 12 vintages in South Australia, six in Western Australia and eight in France before handing over the winemaking reins to the next generation, and in 2012, Bill achieved an even greater milestone when he reached 40 years of continuous service to the company.

Most recently, Bill was paid the great compliment of having the William Hardy range of wines added to the Hardys’ portfolio this year..

Bill has maintained a family commitment to both the Australian wine industry and the environment. In recent years, he has been a member of the Australian Wine Industry Technical Advisory Committee, Australian Delegate to the Oenology Commission of the International Organization of Vine and Wine, and Chairman of Wetland Care Australia.

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008