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British Columbia Critics’ Picks : May 2015

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

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

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

Cheers ~ TR

BC Critic Team

Anthony Gismondi

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

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

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

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

Rhys Pender, MW

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

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

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

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

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2012

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

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

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

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

Treve Ring

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

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

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

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

~

WineAlign in BC

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

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


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20 Under $20 in BC : May 2015

Embrace the Change

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

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

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

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

~ TR

BC Critic Team

Anthony Gismondi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhys Pender MW

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

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

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

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

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

DJ Kearney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treve Ring

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

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

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

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

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

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

~

WineAlign in BC

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

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


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The beautiful frustration that is Burgundy

The Caveman Speaks
By Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

I am in Burgundy as I write this column. While I am gorging myself on some exceptional chardonnay, I’m here for the pinot noir. It is a bit of the holy grail. While most winemakers I talk with as I travel the globe might reference another place when talking about their wines, most seem happy to pursue an expression of where the grapes are grown. However mention to the vast majority of those winemakers who make pinot noir that their wine is “Burgundian” in style, and you will see even the most serious crack a smile.

What I like to call  “proper pinot” are wines that show a combination of fruit, acidity, minerality and tannin that are at once exceptionally delicate, and profoundly deep and lengthy. And I have tasted a number of very good pinot noirs from around the world, but few, if any, reach the heights of the best in Burgundy.

Why is that? Pinot noir requires a cool climate and a slow ripening period, which maximizes the aromatics and allows the grape to keep its acidity while at the same time developing ripe flavours and phenolics: tannins and colour. If the weather is just a bit too hot, the grapes can ripen too fast and you are left with grape juice. But too cool and the grapes don’t ripen fully and the resulting wines can be green and acidic. This is why the very best pinot noirs come from a relatively thin latitudinal band on the extremes of where grapes can be grown in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

While the mix of limestone and clay in the soils have something to do with it, Burgundy is home to very old vines. Add to that the accumulated wisdom of close to a thousand years of growing the grape, and you can understand why this place has it dialed.

But it is not without its hazards. Between 2011 and 2014, vignerons have had to deal with frost and/or hail every year. In some appellations, over 90% of the crop has been lost. Maybe that is why they are so humble. They are used to getting their butts kicked by Mother Nature.

There is something different about pinot noir people, those who collect and drink these wines. And for those of you who aren’t one of us, it might be a bit difficult to understand. But if they can be characterized by one word, I will borrow the characterization uttered by a wine writer friend of mine, Stuart Tobe: masochists.

Maxime at Domaine Georges Noellat makes a killer Echezeaux

Maxime at Domaine Georges Noellat makes
a killer Echezeaux

What’s it like to be a devoted pinot drinker? For me, it is more often than not a case of unrequited love. It might seem strange to spend inordinate amounts of cash on wines where you always expect to be disappointed in one way or another. Despite having drunk hundreds of pinots from around the world, I have to say that I have yet to have 100% satisfaction from any of these bottles. It’s not unlike having kids. Despite that they drive you absolutely nuts most of the time, nothing they can do will really stop you from loving them. And one, albeit brief, moment of joy is ample payback for all the annoyance and occasional disappointment.

Believe me, I have been close. Drinking pinot noir is about nuance, requiring patience and attention. When the wines are at their peak, and the vast majority of the best require at least a few years to reach that point, they are as fun to smell as to drink. The bouquet can be intoxicating, and if I tend to associate this with some sort of sexual act, it is because it can be a sensual experience.

I remember drinking one Vosne Romanée that was sooo close. I compared drinking it to having the lips of my truest love so close that I could feel her breath, yet we remained separated by the thinnest of veils. The closer we got to the end of the bottle, the more sensual the experience became. It smelt of a liquified rose, perfumed, delicate. My nose was so close to the wine in my glass, I almost inhaled it. We took over an hour to drink the bottle, and as I got to my last sip, I swirled and swirled my wine. Please, I thought, just give me one perfect sip. But no, the wine coated my mouth like satin, so complex, so rich, and then just as I was getting that shiver, it cut short.

I wrote in my tasting note: “You stick your nose in the glass, it draws you closer but there is a thin veil of tannin and acid that keeps pushing you away. It is why we drink Burgundy. To on one hand be given a glimpse of perfection, only to be denied by the other.” It’s a beautiful frustration and if that experience did anything, it was to add fuel to the fire: to buy, cellar and drink even more of these wines.

So why do we do it? Marq deVilliers, in his book about pinot noir, The Heartbreak Grape, nailed it for me. “They called it (pinot noir) the heartbreak grape because it was so stubborn, so particular, so elusive, so damn difficult to get right. And also because when it was at its best it made the most sublime wine of all. The heartbreak grape? You cannot break a heart without having captured it first.”

Burgundy is expensive. Over the past week I have tasted so many great wines, from such fabled Grand Crus like Musigny, Richebourg. But these wines are unaffordable and even if you could pay for them, they are incredibly hard to find. So I have found some good, relatively inexpensive example for you to try.

There are some excellent generic Burgundies on the market. If you want a more classic style, with bright acidity and crunchy fruit, try the 2013 Ursuline from Jean-Claude Boisset, or the 2012 Le Chapitre from Rene Bouvier.

Jean Claude Boisset Bourgogne Les Ursulines 2013 Domaine René Bouvier Bourgogne Pinot Noir Le Chapitre 2012 Domaine Des Perdrix Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2012

If you want a richer style, with darker fruits and a more Cote de Nuits style, the 2012 Bourgogne from Domaine des Perdrix is very good.

One of my favourite inexpensive Burgundies is from the Mercurey appellation. The 2012 Chateau de Chamirey is a beautiful wine that shows impeccable balance between power and finesse. In Ontario you pick up the 2012 Domaine Faiveley also from Mercurey.

Château De Chamirey Mercurey 2012 Domaine Faiveley Mercurey 2012Nicolas Potel Santenay Vieilles Vignes 2011 Maurice Ecard Savigny Les Beaune 1er Cru Les Narbantons 2009

Part of what I love about pinot noir is the aromatics. If you want a nose full of beautifully ripe fruit try the 2011 Vieilles Vignes Santenay from Nicolas Potel. If you are in BC, you can find the lovely 2009 Savigny Les Beaune 1er Cru Les Narbantons from Domaine Maurice Ecard.

For more selections. Set your “Find Wine” filter to “Pinot Noir” from “Burgundy” and let us help you find the best examples at stores near you.

Bill

“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

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’s reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Louis M. Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – April 2015

Fashionable Spirits
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

In my constant travels around the globe, I often come across hot new trends in drinking. Sometimes the connection with the place seems natural such as the prohibition style bars (a password required to enter) in North America and the growing farm to shaker movement among mixologists in the hip hoods in America. Other trends are head-scratchers.

How did the mania for Gin-Tonic bars in Spain start? England surely has top claims to that drink – but no. Spain is now the world’s biggest gin consumer per capita, with demand increasing at an average of 18 percent over the past five years. (The Philippines consume the largest volume of gin: the local Ginebra San Miguel celebrates its 181 birthday this year.) I’ll write more about this trend when we finally head into warmer weather.

In Charleston when I saw a flight of Grand Marnier on the drink menu in Belmond hotel’s Charleston Grill, I got curious. Grand Marnier, a cognac based orange liqueur first created in 1880, is a fine French tipple but to offer three versions of it in a flight is unusual.

Locals informed me that Charleston has such a craze for Grand Marnier that the city is the number one consumer of it per capita in the world. They call it GrandMa and mostly drink it like a shooter. I tracked down this trend to an odd law and a chef.

A South Carolina law restricted bars and restaurants to serving liquor from mini-bottles until 2005. Chef Bob Carter, at the helm of the highly popular Peninsula Grill in the late nineties (until 2011) used to show up at events with minis of GrandMa and cajole colleagues into taking shots with him. He started a mania that is only now beginning to slow.

Fireball, a Canadian whisky punched up with a strong hit of cinnamon, is fast becoming the shooter of choice not only in Charleston but throughout North America: it’s one of the most successful liquor brands in decades. Sales have reached the million cases level and it all started in Canada.

Fireball Cinnamon Whisky Liqueur 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon

It began as a Dr. McGillicuddy’s brand but really took off when it was renamed Fireball. It’s now owned by Sazerac North America Inc which also owns well-loved bourbons such as Buffalo Trace, Blanton’s, Eagle Rare and “1792” Ridgemont Reserve. I’ve met recently with the master distillers and blenders in the company and tasted through a lot of their products, but no one presented Fireball to me at that time. Now having just tasted it – I can see why. It’s so powerfully cinnamon with a burning finale it would kill the palate for their more “subtle” whiskies.

As to the Kentucky whiskies, Buffalo Trace’s first official registration of still 113 was in 1787 though it’s very likely they were distilling before then. By the mid 1800’s there were over 300 registered stills in Kentucky. Almost all were forced to cease during Prohibition between 1919 and 1933. Only four, including Buffalo Trace, were allowed to continue distilling for medicinal purposes. People must have been mighty sick at the time. Over six million prescriptions were written during Prohibition entitling the bearer to a pint of whiskey.

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight BourbonEagle Rare Single Barrel 10 Years Old Kentucky Straight BourbonW. L. Weller 12 Year Old Kentucky Straight BourbonSazerac 6 Years Old Straight Rye Whiskey

Buffalo Trace gets its name from the pathway taken by buffalo on their ancient Westerly migratory route. The company claims to be the only producer using five recipes for whiskey products: three rye recipe bourbons, one barley and one wheat bourbon. These five recipes create a matrix under which the individual brands are made.

For example Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare and George T. Stagg all are made according to Buffalo Trace rye recipe #1, the key difference is length of time in wood which changes the balance and flavour profile of them. Buffalo Trace rye recipe #2 is used to make Elmer T. Lee, Hancocks Reserve and Rock Hill.

The wheat bourbon recipe make W.L. Weller and Pappy Van Winkle. The wheat gives a mellower, softer profile which softens the wood effect allowing Pappy to be aged more than 20 years without being overly oaky. The straight rye recipe, a spicy, peppery brew, is used for Sazerac and Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13 Year Old.

Master Blender at Buffalo Trace, Drew Mayville (a Canadian who started at Seagram’s in Waterloo about 34 years ago) told me the key to the success of the company is innovation. They continually try out new ways to make whiskey to come up with an ever better product. One example is a “cured oak” whiskey aged in barrels made from oak staves that have been aged (seasoned) outdoors for 13 months instead of their average of six. They have micro-distilleries to try out for example brown rice bourbon recipes and the like.

Ken Pierce, Director of Distillation at Barton, said that the Sazerac Company has a good eight to nine ideas to innovate the Canadian whiskey category. I doubt that will mean more Fireball type recipes, despite that liquor’s runaway success. We can only bid our time like a barrel in a warehouse until the big reveal.

Cheers,

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

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


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VINTAGES Presents: Primum Familiae Vini

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The Successful Collector – Bordeaux 2012 Futures

Julian Hitner reports on one of the most inconsistent and overpriced vintages Bordeaux has faced in recent years.

A question of value:
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

If there is one lesson claret connoisseurs may take from the 2012 vintage, it is that it pays to be selective. To best understand this, we must briefly turn our attention to the back-to-back vintages of 2009 and 2010. Widely hailed as two of the most luxurious, most ageworthy harvests Mother Nature has ever bestowed, most estates and négociants experienced little compunction in raising their prices by hitherto ludicrous margins. Considering the quality, collectors and casual buyers both played along, and sales went extremely well. Then came 2011, a vintage of middling quality that should have brought prices back to levels similar to 2008 – ironically the most underrated vintage of the 21st century. It didn’t, and sales were anything but vigorous.

This brings us back to 2012, a vintage of even more variable quality. For most of us, common sense would dictate that estates and négociants, smarting from a sharp decline in 2011 sales, would deign to adjust their prices to something mimicking 2008. Once again, this did not happen, leaving many claret lovers to ask, especially when considering how mediocre 2013 is purported to be: when will Bordeaux wise up?

Hence the importance of selectiveness in 2012, in patronizing only the best wines from a select few estates and négociants with the audacity to sell at reasonable prices. For the record: a surprising number of estates did in fact manage to produce some really attractive, freshly flavoured wines, making it doubly unfortunate that 2012 is most likely to be remembered along the same lines as 2011 or 2007: two deceptively average years plagued more by price gouging than precipitation or pestilence put together. In the end, only a handful of top performers got their acts right.

The Left Bank:

In terms of consistency, Margaux is the standout appellation, with more wines than naught retaining remarkable freshness, definition and fragrance. Clarity of fruit is essential in a vintage like 2012, particularly where new oak is often (and advisably) used in lesser amounts. Those that had problems with ripeness suffered in spades, not just in Margaux but in many other places. In St-Julien, many estates seem to have publicly defied the challenges of the harvest, crafting wines of impeccable fruit orientation and layering. By contrast, Pauillac is more of a mixed bag, where only the really illustrious properties seem to have produced wines of exceptional body, structure and class. More than anything, this is likely to do with problems in fully ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, a factor on which great Pauillac almost always significantly depends. In St-Estèphe, many châteaux seem to have compensated by using larger percentages of earlier-ripening Merlot, crafting some truly appetizing, approachable wines.

Château Kirwan, Margaux

For bargain hunters, however, the appellations of Moulis-en-Médoc and Listrac-Médoc rank as top picks. Without the same name recognition as their above-mentioned counterparts, prices for the best wines, crafted with undeniable scrutiny and care, seem strikingly rewarding and reasonable. Though not exactly as fulsome and cellarable as the best of Margaux or St-Julien, the most promising examples (crafted from larger percentages of Merlot) clearly possess more than enough freshness, structure and durability for both youthful enjoyment and long-term accumulation. Such is the theme of most overvalued yet underappreciated vintages: it gives underdogs a rare chance to shine.

The Graves:

Along with at least several parts of the Left Bank, the reds of Pessac-Léognan are largely hit-and-miss affairs. The whites, on the other hand, are a different matter entirely. Though I was only able to record formal notes on a handful of them (same with the reds), it seems 2012 will be remembered as an extremely successful vintage for white Graves. Crafted mostly from Sauvignon Blanc with Sémillon as accompaniment (along with a few drops of Muscadelle), a great glass of white Pessac-Léognan certainly ranks one of Bordeaux’s most under-celebrated types of premium wine. Like top white burgundy, the best examples are both fermented and matured in oak barrels, resulting in impeccable concentration, complexity and long-term cellaring potential. In 2012, many estates produced truly exceptional, sophisticated examples.

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Sauternes

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the sweet whites of Sauternes and Barsac, with several estates opting out of even declaring a vintage. This is has generated a great deal of controversy, with many arguing such a move serves only to discourage buyers from patronizing the vintage in any way whatsoever. On the other hand: there is general consensus that most estates experienced enormous difficulties in 2012, with only a small number of properties managing to craft really rejuvenating, desirable versions. Thankfully these days, prices for Sauternes and Barsac are almost always agreeable, especially when considering the amount of labour that goes into producing this type of wine.

The Right Bank:

In this neck of the woods, where wines are mostly crafted from Merlot and small amounts of Cabernet Franc, there is no question that Pomerol is the winner, with many estates producing wines of impeccable beauty, harmony and charm. Like their counterparts on the Left Bank, the best examples shall easily keep for two decades or more, though may be enjoyed now with unfettered enthusiasm. Unfortunately, many of these same properties also seem to have taken the same misguided cue in pegging their wines at markedly high prices. As a result, one must use the same level of caution when selecting from Pomerol as with Margaux, St-Julien or white Graves.

Château Gazin, Pomerol

Across the border in St-Emilion, the same generalizations regarding quality are almost impossible to make. On the one hand, there are a good number of estates that steered clear of overt Parkerization (excessive extraction), crafting wines of beautiful smoothness, opulence and pedigree. On the other, you have countless establishments that seem to have lost their way, their wines possessing more in common with port than with claret. While these same wines may be awarded high scores, their injudicious use of new oak and prolonged hang-time on the vine to promote extra ripeness and higher levels of alcohol (particularly inadvisable in 2012) serves only to distort the origins and singular qualities of the wines themselves, not to mention fails to disguise any phenolically underripe grapes that may have been picked. After all, what is the point of growing wine in St-Emilion when they all start tasting like they originated from Napa? In a year like 2012, the creation of such supercharged, overpriced wines does little to boaster long-term support for one of Bordeaux’s most dynamic appellations.

Final thoughts:

For many wine lovers nowadays, Bordeaux continues to harbour an image problem. For some, the estates and their wines are too stuffy, too obsessed with their own self-worth, charging exorbitant prices for bottles that may not even be opened for a decade or more. This makes the pricing structure of a vintage like 2012 all the more problematic, in that it only feeds into such sentiments. If claret is to remain relevant, its countless producers must never forget that its wines are unique, that it is short-sighted to produce wines like those of the Upper Douro or Napa Valley, and that it is especially important for premium estates to significantly lower their prices in non-legendary years. For an underappreciated vintage like 2012, most simply failed to recognize this.

Top picks:

Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2012 Pessac-Léognan hails from one of the most consistent, most proficient producers of premium white Graves. Retaining exemplary palate roundness, harmony and refinement, the Perrin family is yet again to be commended for its superior efforts. Drink now or hold for up to a decade. 

Château Kirwan 2012 Margaux may be easily justified as one of the top premium picks of the appellation, if not the entire vintage. A wine of remarkable purity, fragrance and freshness, it’s a miracle VINTAGES isn’t charging more for this. Drink now or hold for up to two decades. Decanting is recommended.

Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2012 Château Kirwan 2012 Château Siran 2012 Château Prieuré Lichine 2012

Château Siran 2012 Margaux comes from one of the friendliest, most accessible estates in its neck of the woods. Though not included in the 1855 Classification, this deliciously fruity and flavourful claret is easily one of the best bargains of the vintage. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Prieuré-Lichine 2012 Margaux hails from one of the most fragmented estates on the Left Bank, with as many as forty different parcels scattered throughout the appellation. Over the past several years, quality has risen considerably, its latest outing showing exceptional structure and precision. Drink now or hold for eighteen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Maucaillou 2012 Moulis-en-Médoc is unquestionably one of the best bets for the budget-minded, demonstrating outstanding precision, style and harmony. Owned by the Dourthe family since 1929, quality at this estate has risen much over the past several years. Drink now or hold for fifteen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Poujeaux 2012 Moulis-en-Médoc is capable of going head-to-head with many more famous names throughout the Left Bank. Possessing remarkable harmony, precision and build, the Theil family has every reason to be proud of all they’ve accomplished. Drink now or hold for up to eighteen years. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Maucaillou 2012 Château Poujeaux 2012 Château Sociando Mallet 2012 Château Coufran 2012

Château Sociando-Mallet 2012 Haut-Médoc comes from one of the most adept, most undervalued estates on the Left Bank. Possessing remarkable structure and class, wines from this exemplarily situated property are always reasonably priced and delicious. Let’s hope this never changes. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Coufran 2012 Haut-Médoc is a great choice for the budget-minded, containing far more Merlot than Cabernet Sauvignon in the final blend – a reflection of vineyard conditions. Owned by the Miailhe for a very long time, this is one property to watch. Drink now or hold for up to a decade or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Saint-Pierre 2012 St-Julien is definitely one of the year’s highlights, possessing extraordinary layering, structure and elegance. One of the smallest estates included in the 1855 Classification, this impeccable Fourth Growth is seldom sold in VINTAGES, only through its futures programme. Drink now or hold for two decades or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Haut-Bages Libéral 2012 Pauillac hails from one of very few estates in this vintage with the gumption to set its prices correctly. A claret of marvellous framework, balance and appellation character, a wine like this merits our patronage. Drink now or hold for up to eighteen years. Decanting is recommended.

Château Saint Pierre 2012 Château Haut Bages Libéral 2012 Château Gazin 2012 Château Lafaurie Peyraguey 2012

Château Gazin 2012 Pomerol has all the makings of an exemplary red wine, crafted at one of largest, most greatly improved estates on the appellation’s plateau. Exhibiting impeccable layering, structure and breed, it is unfortunate loyal admirers were only given a perfunctory break on the price. Drink now or hold for two decades or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2012 Sauternes regrettably represents one of few sweet wines for which I had time to write formal notes. Even so, few would deny that this particular specimen ranks as one of the most sensational, most lusciously stylish of the bunch. Reasonably priced when considering the amount of labour involved. Drink now or hold for three decades or more. 

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Click here for Julian’s complete list of 2012 notes

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


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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – February

250 Years of the Finest Cognac
By Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

The world’s most popular cognac house is celebrating its 250 anniversary this year. Expect to see a lot of deserved hoopla around Hennessy over the next months as the maison embarks on “The Hennessy 250 Tour” around the world following the footsteps of the Grand Tours the family has made through the centuries. Along with the travelling exhibit comes the launch of a new collector’s blend.

The patriarch and founder, Richard Hennessy, an Irish man of minor nobility, after fighting in the army of King Louis XV settled in Cognac and created the Hennessy trading company in 1765. Jean Fillioux joined forces with the Hennessy family becoming chief cooper in 1806. His son Christophe later became master blender for the Hennessy brand.

The connection of the Hennessy and Fillioux families has remarkably continued to present day. Eight generation Maurice Richard Hennessy is brand Ambassador for Hennessy (the cognac house is part of LVMH – Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy – today) and Yann Fillioux is Master Blender.

Yann is responsible for the creation of Richard Hennessy, Paradis Impérial and now Hennessy 250 Collector Blend. Not yet in Canada, shipping across the globe is expected to begin in April. I had a sneak preview at Château de Bagnolet, a magnificent 1810 house on the banks of the Charente.

Hennessy 250 Collector Blend

Fillioux and his team have been working on this special blend since 2010. In the spirit of the 250 anniversary, 250 barrels each holding 250 litres have been produced, from which the house will release 60,000 bottles for around 450 Euros each.

At Château de Bagnolet the cognac was paired with appetizers that brought out its notes of saffron, nutmeg, bitter orange, salted caramel and florals (e.g. scallops with saffron sauce or maki roll with cilantro). I don’t have ‘pro’ tasting notes as it was a stand up cocktail situation, but I can tell you that the spirit was so appealing that most of us kept wanting more.

“For the 250 birthday, we’re spending energy saying we are like trees,” said Maurice Hennessy. “We have 250 year old roots but want to grow to the sky. We have the stock to do much; warehouses full of aged cognacs.”

Hennessy creates its cognacs from the four “premier grand cru” winegrowing areas of Cognac; namely the Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois. (The grape ugni blanc accounts for 95% of the AOC Cognac.) The company works with some 1,500 independent grape growers, 560 bouilleur de cru (growers who distill their own product) and 20 distillers in the region and has three distilleries that they own.

Fillioux and his tasting committee meet every workday morning to taste through cognac eaux-de-vie to decide which samples to accept or reject and the potential of the spirit – therefore which barrels to put it into – older or new.

Their cognac is always matured in Limousin type barrels made at their own cooperage, La Sarrazine, where barrels are hand assembled on location. Because wood is such an important part of the flavour of cognac (think of the long ageing in barrel) Hennessy tightly controls their wood supply, using only oak from sustainably managed forests in the Limousin region from 100 to 150 year old trees. The cut wood is aged outdoors for several years before use.

About 15,000 to 20,000 new barrels go into use each year. The rest of the cognac slumbers in older barrels.

Hennessy V S O P Cognac Hennessy Black Cognac Hennessy V S CognacOf the approximately 200 cognac producers, four dominate and of those Hennessy is the biggest in sales and value worldwide. Hennessy VS Cognac, the America’s best-selling cognac is aged from two up to eight years in oak and is a blend of up to 40 different batches.

Hennessy Black contrary to its name is one of the lightest coloured cognacs in the range aged entirely in seasoned barrels (no new oak ones). Hennessy VSOP first created in 1817 by Jean Fillioux, is a blend of eaux-de-vie that’s four to 15 years old that’s sweet and gentle on the palate.

I have a true fondness for Hennessy X.O. as the cognac I purchased whenever I wanted to really treat myself even when I was a struggling student. Hennessy X.O. created in 1870 was the only XO on the market for its first 100 years. The company has always insisted on a minimum age of 10 years for their XO and has pushed the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) to make this the case for all. In 2018 the ten year minimum age rule will be in force.

Paradis was created in 1979 by Maurice Fillioux when Hennessy was asked for an “ultra-prestige” cognac higher in quality than XO. This bliss in a bottle has been sold in Canada but I haven’t found any lately. (Check with Agent Charton Hobbs for availability in BC & Saskatchewan)

Hennessy X.O. CognacHennessy ParadisHennessy Paradis Impérial

Paradis Impérial which I consider the most sophisticated and elegant (can I say feminine?) of all can be found in several provinces. It’s a blend created by Yann Fillioux in 2010 out of 35 to 130 year old cognacs matured in seasoned old barrels. Only one out of 1000 is good enough to get in these bottles. The original blend was created at the request of the Imperial Court of Russia in 1818 by the Empress. Fillioux pays tribute to this first commission, nearly 200 years later.

Richard HennessyWonderfully masculine Richard Hennessy created in 1996 to honour the founder is on the other end of the spectrum: robust, full and bold. Both are ultimate taste experiences well worth the price should you be flush enough to afford a bottle or an ounce.

For those of us with more modest wallets, the Hennessy VS and Meukow VS fit the bill. Meukow VS Cognac in an attractive black panther decorated bottle, is rich and full bodied with powerful depth. So too do two exceptionally value-priced products made by women cellar masters at other producers.

Gautier VS Cognac from one of the oldest Cognac houses established in 1755, is gently oaky, harmonious and mellow (created by cellar master Isabelle Couprie).

The latest creation of cellar master Mrs. Martine Pain at St-Rémy is St-Rémy Small Batch Reserve, which while not a Cognac (the wines come from other regions) is a mighty fine brandy. Aged for more than six years in small oak barrels, it’s flavourful and fleshy with caramel apple sweetness.

Meukow V.S. Cognac Cognac Gautier V.S. St Rémy Small Batch Reserve Brandy

Here’s to putting a little celebration into your glass.

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can find Margaret’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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The Successful Collector – The First Growths of Bordeaux

Julian Hitner reports on some of the top châteaux of Bordeaux after visiting one of France’s most celebrated winegrowing regions in 2014. Read on to learn more about the classifications of Bordeaux, a typical visit to first-class estate and an overview of some of the region’s most revered properties.

A spiritual experience:
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

A visit to a First Growth is unlike any other wine pilgrimage. The closest thing it resembles is a pseudo-religious experience: setting foot on sacred vineyards, entering sanctified estate interiors and partaking of wines officially consecrated as the best of the best, the latter a deceptively secular means of declaring such contents divine. Of course, this is mere melodramatic testament to perfectionist winegrowing, acknowledged by centuries of near-universal adulation, exorbitant price structuring and begrudged rarity of genuine appreciation by all but the most deep-pocketed of wine collectors. Yet these are the terms in which the most illustrious estates of Bordeaux must be understood, in that they are grandiose, that they are picture-perfect, and that the wines they produce are among the greatest in the world.

But how does one account for this situation? For wine historians, the success of Bordeaux’s greatest estates has as much to do with the quality of their flawless vineyards as it does with the long-standing endurance of the classification systems to which they belong. Of these, the most famous is the 1855 Classification of the Médoc (or Left Bank) and Sauternes-Barsac. This is the classification, or hierarchy, that includes the most prized châteaux of the Left Bank as First Growths: Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild (promoted in 1973), Margaux and Haut-Brion (the latter based out of the appellation of Pessac-Léognan in the Graves). All other estates fortunate enough to be included belong to four other categories: Second Growth, Third Growth, Fourth Growth and Fifth Growth. In Sauternes-Barsac, there are three categories: Premier Cru Supérieur (a status enjoyed only by Château d’Yquem), Premier Cru and Second Growth.

Château Lafite Rothschild vines and buildings

Château Lafite Rothschild vines and buildings

In the Graves, the appellation of Pessac-Léognan employs a one-category classification of Grand Cru Classé, or variations thereof, for both its red and white wines. Unlike the Left Bank, where all whites must be labeled, appellation-wise, as generic ‘Bordeaux’ and may not even mention the estate’s official ranking, those of Pessac-Léognan are permitted to state the actual name of the appellation as well as the official classification of the estate. All of this stands in contrast to the much larger, reds-only classification system of St-Emilion, the most significant appellation of the Right Bank sector of Bordeaux. Subject to revision every ten years or so, a sizeable number of estates are placed into four categories. The first is Premier Grand Cru Classé A, widely considered the equivalent of the First Growths of the Left Bank. For the longest time, only Châteaux Ausone and Cheval Blanc were ranked as such, having recent been joined (not without controversy) by Angélus and Pavie. Following this are Premier Cru Classé B, Grand Cru Classé and Grand Cru. Over the border in the appellation of Pomerol, there is no classification system in place, though few would dispute that immortal Château Petrus along with a few others may be considered equals to the First Growths of the Left Bank or St-Emilion.

Fairy Tale Second Growth Château Pichon-Longueville Baron

Fairy Tale Second Growth Château Pichon-Longueville Baron

 

All spiritual jargon aside, there is indeed something to be said for visiting nearly all of the First Growths of Bordeaux, along with a host of other magnificent properties, in only roughly one week. As appearances go, such properties are immaculately tended, with luxurious gardens, aristocratic exteriors and interiors and perfectly tended vines. Yet strangely enough, visiting the finest châteaux is not an entirely complicated concern, for most estates nowadays are eager to accept visitors. Advanced planning is key. Appointments must be made well ahead of time, in some cases as much as several months, and travel by car or perhaps bicycle is highly recommended. Most estates have special sections on their website on how they may be contacted for making an appointment. Furthermore, most estates, First Growths included, now retain public relations staff in their employ, many of whom are extremely courteous and knowledgeable. Excepting fellow winegrowers and professional journalists, it is highly unlikely that visitors will be greeted by the owner, chief viticulturalist or director of winemaking.

From personal experience, the course of a visit seldom varies from one château to another: a tour of the vineyards and cellar, followed by a tasting of the latest vintage, typically from barrel. The length of one’s stay depends almost entirely on one’s depth of interest. In most cases, First Growths are extremely large properties, consisting of substantial vineyard parcels, work-specific and residential buildings, elaborate garden spaces and below-ground cellars. Any self-respecting claret lover should make a point of viewing as many of these components as possible. Photos are almost always permitted.

Château Latour pigeon house and vines

Château Latour pigeon house and vines

 

As it so happens, those expecting an abundance of different wines to taste will be left out in the cold. Except on rare occasions, even professional journalists are only provided with a sample of the latest vintage to taste. Compared to many other types of wineries, many of which possess a vast range of wines on offer, most Bordeaux estates produce only a handful of wines every vintage. In the case of First Growths, this may consist of as a little as two wines: the grand vin (the top wine of the estate) and the second wine (usually crafted from parcels or vat selections deemed to be of lesser quality). Those that also produce white wines, such as Château Margaux or Haut Brion, seldom make these available for tasting, as they are produced in very small quantities. This said, tasting the latest vintage of Margaux or Cheval Blanc is anything but immaterial, for such wines are nowadays remarkably appreciable and understandable even in infancy, providing enthusiasts with invaluable insight into the reasons for which these estates are held in such sensational regard.

Unfortunately these days, the greatest names of Bordeaux are entirely unaffordable, demand far outstripping supply even for the second wines, a single bottle of which now cost at least a few hundred dollars. Not that such wines were ever low-cost, there was nonetheless a time, only a decade or two ago, when enthusiasts could put aside a few monies and lay their hands on a bottle or two for the cellar. This makes a pilgrimage to the First Growths all the more singular, for it is genuinely the only means nowadays of partaking of a small quantity of ostensibly hallowed wines traditionally reserved for a select few. As it appears, pseudo-religiosity knows very few bounds when discussing First Growths.

The greatest estates:

The First Growths of the 1855 Classification:

Château Latour:

Château Mouton Rothschild 2012 Château Lafite Rothschild 2001 Château Latour 2004As name recognition goes, Château Latour is perhaps the most famous of the First Growths, a name that evokes not unfounded notions of regality, grandeur and longevity. Owned by François Pinault, much of this 78-ha estate is located on the southern boundary of Pauillac, right across from Second Growth Léoville-Las Cases in St-Julien. The director of winemaking is Frédéric Engerer. The second wine is Les Forts de Latour. The estate also produces a third wine known as Pauillac de Château Latour, which has been produced every year since 1990.

Not long ago, Latour stunned the wine world by announcing that it is no longer participating in the annual en primeur (futures) programme, instead releasing specific vintages direct from the château only when they believe the wine is ready to be drunk. This is meant to discourage price speculation, bolster traditional markets and ensure the best possible quality for the connoisseur. Enthusiasts everywhere may look upon this as a positive development.

Château Latour 2004, Pauillac hails from one of the most classic vintages of the new century, possessing wondrous precision, harmony, layering and breed. Like so many other vintages before it, those fortunate enough to possess a bottle or two need not fear of carefully cellaring it for a few decades, perhaps for a child’s graduation. Drink now or hold through 2050 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Lafite Rothschild:

The epitome of pedigree and positive life forces, Château Lafite Rothschild may be considered the very embodiment of great claret production, for centuries compared and contrasted with Latour as the more aristocratic and graceful of the two. Owned by Baron Eric de Rothschild, this 112-ha property is situated on the northern boundary of Pauillac, directly across from Second Growth Cos d’Estournel in St-Estèphe. The director of winemaking is Charles Chevalier. The second wine is Carruades de Lafite.

Over the past decade, prices for Lafite have risen considerably in many parts of the world, mainly (though not exclusively) a result of its burgeoning popularity among well-heeled buyers in Asia. Although the wines of Lafite were never cheap, this dilemma has certainly shed light on the growing contrast of prices between those of the First Growths and its counterparts lower down the ladder. No solution has yet to be found.

Château Lafite Rothschild 2001, Pauillac is quite possibly the greatest wine of the vintage. Retaining indomitable authority, harmony, structure and gorgeousness, every claret enthusiast should discover the means of appreciating, if only once in a lifetime, a wine such as this, preferably on an occasion lending itself to quiet reflection and the company of one or two good persons. Drink now or hold through 2060 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Mouton Rothschild:

First Growth Château Mouton Rothschild has the extraordinary honour of being the only estate to have ever been promoted in the 1855 Classification, a status to which few would dispute it is rightly entitled. Owned by Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, this 84-ha establishment is bordered next to Lafite in the northern sector of Pauillac, where wines of miraculous depth, exuberance and breed are produced to worldwide acclaim. The director of winemaking is Hervé Berland. The second wine is Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild. The estate also produces small amounts of white wine known as Aile d’Argent, largely regarded as a work in progress.

For every vintage since 1945, Mouton has commissioned some of the world’s most famous artists to design the front label of the bottle, including Salvador Dalí, Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and acclaimed director John Huston. Few châteaux are as creative and dynamic as Mouton Rothschild.

Château Mouton Rothschild 2012, Pauillac is a wine like few others, delivering unbelievable structure, radiance, harmony and breed. For decades, Baron Philippe de Rothschild (1902-1988) worked tirelessly to have Mouton promoted from Second to First Growth, finally achieving his dream in 1973. Nearly forty vintages later, wines like ’12 prove precisely why this advancement was necessary. Drink now or hold through 2065 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Haut-Brion:

Château D’yquem 2011 Château Margaux 2008 Château Haut Brion 2007Based out of the appellation of Pessac-Léognan in the Graves, Château Haut-Brion is the only estate outside of the Left Bank to be included in the 1855 Classification. Owned by Prince Robert of Luxembourg, this 46-ha estate is by far the oldest of the First Growths in terms of name recognition and quality. Long-established hallmarks for both reds and whites (the latter produced in extremely small quantities) are precociousness of texture, sophistication and fragrance. The director of winemaking is Jean-Philippe Delmas. The second wine is Le Clarence de Haut-Brion.

In 1983, Haut-Brion managed to acquire the 26-ha Château La Mission Haut-Brion from across the road, running the property as a separate entity yet with the same perfectionist standards. In some ways, La Mission may be rightly deemed a sixth First Growth, for the quality of its wines, both red and white, is virtually identical to that of Haut-Brion (to which it is most often compared) and the four others. For now, however, the estate is only included in the one-category classification system of Pessac-Léognan. The second wine is La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion.

Château Haut-Brion 2007 Pessac-Léognan is very possibly the most inspiring claret from this difficult vintage. Tasted twice (most recently at the estate), it is probably the most ‘backward’ of the graduating class, featuring mindboggling layering, texture, elegance and harmony. With almost as much merlot as cabernet sauvignon, it is approachable even at present, though it will cellar for an extremely long time. Drink now or hold through 2060. Decanting is recommended.

Château Margaux:

Unequivocally the most sensual of the First Growths, Château Margaux is renowned for is unsurpassed spirituality of fragrance, elegance and structural dimension. Owned by Corinne Mentzelopoulos, this 92-ha estate is located in the appellation of the same name, with vineyards scattered among the choicest locations. The director of winemaking is Paul Pontallier. The second wine is Pavillon Rouge, and the estate also produces very small quantities of a miraculous white wine known as Pavillon Blanc.

Like many of the other First Growths, Margaux has spent the past several years tightening up quality, in the process creating a third wine, Margaux du Château Margaux. Now that two of five estates have launched such a label, it is likely only a matter of time before the rest of the pack does the same. Reactions to this development have been mixed. While quality of the Grand Vin and second wines are bound to go up, prices are likely to ascend just as rapidly.

Château Margaux 2008 Margaux is a claret of sensational layering, precision, harmony and grace. In many ways, it is a testament to the colossal aptitude of Paul Pontallier, Margaux’s managing director for nearly twenty-five years. Yet even Pontallier is the first to admit that his role at Margaux comes at a distant second to the estate’s unmatched terroirs. A very modest individual. Drink now or hold through 2050 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château d’Yquem:

Not only the greatest sweet wine producer in France, Château d’Yquem is easily one of Bordeaux’s most lauded and legendary institutions. Owned by luxury goods group LVMH, this 110-ha property is the only estate in Sauternes to be designated as Premier Cru Supérieur, its wines considered, at least historically, to be so much finer than any of its peers that to rank them as equals was unthinkable. The director of winemaking is Sandrine Garbay. Although there is no second wine, a small amount of dry table wine, known as Ygrec, is produced every vintage.

For the extremely challenging 2012 vintage, d’Yquem generated a great deal of controversy by announcing that it would not be producing a sweet wine. This has placed other estates in Sauternes and Barsac in a difficult position, with many winegrowers lamenting the effect d’Yquem’s decision has had on the market and overall expectations. While some producers have stayed the course and claim to have made excellent wines, others such as Rieussec, Suduiraut and Raymond-Lafon have gone the way of d’Yquem. Instead, many will only be bottling a wine under their second label. Was d’Yquem’s course of action justified? Time will hopefully tell.

Château d’Yquem 2011 Sauternes clearly reflects the quality of this magnificent vintage, delivering astounding glamour, harmony, energy and decadence. Put simply, few other estates in Bordeaux, France or any other part of the world are capable of routinely crafting wines of this type at such a stupendous level of excellence. A shame one vine at d’Yquem averages only a single glass of wine. Drink now or hold through 2060 and beyond.

Other illustrious estates:

Château Léoville-Las Cases:

Château Palmer 2004 Château Ducru Beaucaillou 2001 Château Léoville Las Cases 2008Were the 1855 Classification ever revised, Second Growth Château Léoville-Las Cases would likely join the ranks of the First Growths in a heartbeat. Owned and operated by Jean-Hubert Delon, this 98-ha institution is located in northern St-Julien, just opposite Château Latour in Pauillac. For decades, its wines have overwhelmed connoisseurs with their immaculate sense of structure, refinement and capability. The second wine is Le Petit Lion du Marquis de Las Cases, while another, more famous wine known as Clos du Marquis is sourced from extremely high-grade parcels adjacent to the main holdings of the estate.

The Delon family is also the proud owner of Château Potensac in the appellation of Médoc, one of the greatest overachievers in this rather northerly part of the Left Bank. Planted on atypically gravelly soils at slightly higher elevations (unusual in much of this appellation), wines from this 84-ha property are routinely of extremely high quality and are rarely overpriced. If only more entities were as perfectionist as Léoville-Las Cases and its sister property.

Château Léoville-Las Cases 2008 St-Julien is one of the most affordable wines I have ever encountered from this estate in modern times, at least judging by the profound reverence for which this Super Second is held. Sustaining spectacular harmony, layering, style and pedigree, it begs the question why the 1855 Classification has only once been meritoriously revised to accommodate Mouton Rothschild. Drink now or hold through 2050. Decanting is recommended.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou:

Along with Léoville-Las Cases, Second Growth Château Ducru-Beaucaillou is the pride and joy of St-Julien, an appellation with no First Growths yet possessing an awfully impressive résumé of revered properties. Owned and operated by Bruno Borie, this 50-ha establishment nowadays yields wines of prodigious finesse, harmony and excitement. The second wine is La Croix de Beaucaillou.

An overachieving Second Growth, Ducru-Beaucaillou is one of the most sought-after of the ‘Super Seconds,’ a nickname used to describe estates in the 1855 Classification that either perform well above their rank and/or are much more expensive than their peers. These include: Léoville-las Cases in St-Julien; Second Growths Cos d’Estournel and Montrose in St-Estèphe; Third Growth Palmer in Margaux; and Second Growths Pichon-Longueville Baron and Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac. Also worthy of mention are Lynch Bages and Pontet-Canet, two Pauillac Fifth Growths of Super Second quality and cost.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 2001 St-Julian is now entering its peak, possessing uncanny sophistication, harmony, refinement and breed. From one of the most underappreciated vintages of the new millennium, wines like these serve as a valuable reminder that premium clarets need not nowadays be aged for decades on end in order to be fully appreciated. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Palmer:

Though only ranked as a Third Growth, Château Palmer has been known to eclipse even neighbouring Château Margaux in some vintages. Owned by the Sichel and Mähler-Besse families, this 55-ha property has for decades produced wines of irrepressible beauty, profoundness and harmony. The director of winemaking is Thomas Duroux. The second wine is Alter Ego.

Although cabernet sauvignon is usually the most significant grape throughout the most prestigious appellations of the Left Bank, some estates like Palmer prefer to use near-equal amounts of merlot in the final blend, contributing extra concentration and beguilingly velvety textures to the wines. As of 2014, the estate also switched to 100% biodynamic farming. The future of Palmer has never shone brighter.

Château Palmer 2004 Margaux is already ten years old and yet only just beginning to open up. Endowed with astounding posture, refinement, harmony and style, its best days are still well ahead of it. For claret enthusiasts with the means of acquiring a bottle or two, it is thus a prime candidate to lay aside for the birth of a grandchild or long-awaited natural passing of a reviled in-law. Drink now or hold through 2050 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Cheval Blanc:

Vieux Château Certan 2012 Château Cheval Blanc 2006Along with Château Ausone (not visited), Château Cheval Blanc has long been recognized as the leading estate of St-Emilion, ranked as Premier Grand Cru Classé A in the appellation’s classification system. Owned by luxury goods group LVMH, this 37-ha establishment is situated on the border with Pomerol, and is known for wines of extraordinary pedigree, durability and envelopment. Prices are routinely equal or higher than the First Growths of the Left Bank. The director of winemaking is Pierre Lurton. The second wine is Le Petit Cheval.

In 2011, the estate completed a major renovation and expansion of its main building and adjacent facilities. Reactions to its unapologetically ultramodern design have been mixed, with some (mostly Cheval Blanc affiliates) lauding its savvy technological features, while others have bemoaned its outward ostentation and contrast with the traditional appearance of neighbouring estates. So long as quality remains the same, or is even enhanced, such developments are likely of small consequence to claret enthusiasts.

Château Cheval Blanc 2006 St-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé A is one of the most majestic wines I have tasted from this estate to date, conveying spellbinding structure, pedigree, texture and balance. Containing 55% merlot and a whopping 45% cabernet franc, it is unquestionably the qualitative equivalent of a Left Bank First Growth, albeit one derived from a distinctly different set of winegrowing criteria. Drink now or hold through 2055 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Vieux Château Certan:

With absolutely no classification system, claret aficionados are entirely left to their own devices when ranking the estates of Pomerol. Even still, few would disagree that Vieux Château Certan is one of a handful of estates meriting highest standing. Owned and operated by Alexandre Thienpont, this 14-ha property has for decades borne wines of magnificent stature, elegance and authority. The second wine is La Gravette de Certan.

Unlike other prestigious appellations in most other parts of Bordeaux, châteaux in Pomerol are often small-scale affairs, with vineyards typically only adding up to several hectares. Usually family-owned, there is an almost peasant-like mentality in how winegrowers view their properties. At Vieux Château Certan, Monsieur Thienpont takes a very hands-on approach, personally receiving visitors and sharing his ideas with them. If only top estates elsewhere could assume a similar attitude, though property sizes in many cases renders this unrealistic.

Vieux Château Certan 2012 Pomerol was grabbed right off the bottling line by Alexandre Thienpont during a recent visit. Possessing tremendous harmony, attitude, elegance and breed, it almost singlehandedly defies the difficulties many winegrowers faced throughout this troublesome vintage. From one of Pomerol’s most historically renowned estates, if only there were more of its wines to go around. Drink now or hold through 2048 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Stay tuned next month for my report on the 2012 vintage. Plenty of choices for both the budget-minded and serious collectors alike.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Click here for Julian’s massive list of Bordeaux red wine recommendations

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


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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – January 2015

Burns Suppers & Fine Whiskies
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

January 25 is Robert Burns’ 256th “birthday”, as great an excuse as any to pop open a fine whisky and spout poetry. Here are some suggestions on what to drink and how to celebrate.

Burns Suppers have been a long time tradition in Scotland and beyond for over 200 years. Visit Scotland has created a free downloadable 76 page guide all about Rabbie Burns (as he is often known) and how to hold your own Burns Supper including dress code, songs such as Auld Lang Syne, poems and recipes. See “Hold your own Burns Supper eBook

Arran Distillery was granted a lifetime patronage from The Robert Burns World Federation in 2000, and their classic Robert Burns Arran Single Malt is an eloquent, value priced dram. The Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish Single Malt, which has been matured in traditional oak and finished in ex-Amarone casks, has heat and a black peppercorn bite.

Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old Single Malt from Islay is deep, powerful and rich with a gingerbread nose. Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera Vat not only is a terrific whisky but two dollars is donated from every bottle sold across the country in support of Wounded Warriors Canada. (To date, Wounded Warriors Canada has received over $300,000 in charitable support from Glenfiddich. Last November’s cheque was for $120,000.)

Mortlach, the oldest distillery in a town that has the world’s highest concentration of distilleries, was established in 1823. The Mortlach 15 Year Old Speyside Single Malt has personality plus.

Robert Burns Arran Single Malt The Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish Isle Of Arran Single Malt Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old Islay Single Malt Glenfiddich Single Malt 15 Years Old Mortlach 15 Year Old Speyside Single Malt

Ardbeg Auriverdes Islay Single Malt is a special limited release that was created to celebrate the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and while pricy, it’s impressive. Closer to home, Glen Breton 14 Year Old Single Malt Whisky from Glenora Distillers in Nova Scotia has a true scotch whisky flavour.

Glen Breton 14 Year Old Single Malt Whisky Ardbeg Auriverdes Islay Single MaltOn this side of the pond, I recently did the Whiskey Trail in America (www.americanwhiskeytrail.com). The American Whiskey Trail is a journey into the history of spirits in America, starting with the colonial era, where whiskey played an important economic and social role. The gateway is George Washington’s Distillery at Historic Mount Vernon. George Washington operated one of the largest whiskey distilleries in early America, producing 11,000 gallons in 1799.

The distillery was excavated and authentically rebuilt on its original foundation and opened to the public in 2007. Visitors can see a demonstration of how whiskey making was carried out in 18th century America and visit the gristmill and education center.

The bulk of the distilleries on the trail however are in Tennessee and Kentucky, where the indigenous limestone rock is a natural filter, cleaning the water of iron and impurities which would adversely affect the whiskey.

Charcoal filtering is the main difference between Tennessee whiskey and Kentucky bourbon both of which are majority distilled from corn and aged in new charred white oak barrels a minimum of two years. Only water is added to adjust the bottle strengths.

Each distillery has its own unique setting and story to tell visitors. George Dickel established in 1870 in Cascade Hollow near Tullahoma still has a rustic atmosphere. The property gets over 20,000 visitors a year. On their extended 75 minute tour ($10) visitor’s get to taste four of their whiskies. George Dickel Rye, made from 95% rye and the rest malted barley, has a nice spicy fruity character. George Dickel Tennessee Whisky No. 12 is more mature with distinct wood spicing. After their first use here, parent company Diageo ships the oak barrels off to the 26 Scottish distilleries they own.

George Dickel RyeGeorge Dickel Tennessee Whisky No. 12 Jack Daniel’s Old No 7 Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey

Jack Daniel’s in Lynchburg, the oldest registered distillery in the United States, is a crowd favourite drawing over 200,000 visitors annually. Tours talk tales of Jack, the colourful founder and highlight the special 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal that JD filters through drip by drip. Jack Daniel’s Old No 7 has been made since 1866 using this special charcoal mellowing technique. Gentleman Jack goes through the process a second time: through three feet of charcoal though not ten.

In Clermont at Jim Beam, the world’s best-selling bourbon, you might meet master distiller Fred Noe, great grandson of the founder. Tours start at the T. Jeremiah Beam home filled with family photos and heirlooms. Built in 1911, this home of Jim Beam’s son T. Jeremiah, master distiller from 1938 to 1960, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The old household knickknacks and kitchen gadgets take visitors back to another era.

Jim Beam Devil's Cut Jim Beam White Label BourbonThe distillery makes about 1000 barrels of whiskey a day (13 million barrels since prohibition). Jim Beam White Label Bourbon is their basic corn based bourbon. The Jim Beam Devil’s Cut is more robust and interesting. The distillery does also experiment with various grains such as brown rice, soft red wheat and other grains for their Signature Craft collection.

Makers’ Mark in Loretto established in 1805 as a gristmill distillery, is the oldest working distillery on its original site. A National Historic Landmark, seven old Victorian buildings were preserved and restored on sprawling beautifully manicured grounds. Makers’ Mark is famous for its whiskey bottles sealed by hand dipping in red wax – visitors can watch the process. At the end of the tour, if they buy a bottle, they can try their hand at dipping their purchase in wax themselves.

Maker’s Mark Kentucky Bourbon is double distilled and batch distilled using a sour mash method. Maker’s Mark 46 is barrel finished with seared wood staves added to the inside of the barrels.

Woodford Reserve near Versailles is in the middle of Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region famous for raising racehorses. The historic distillery has been fully restored to its 1800s splendor. Hungry guests can enjoy the Picnic on the Porch restaurant and dine on menu items such as Bourbon Trail chili, Shady Lane chicken salad and Barrel Beef sandwiches. (It’s the only distillery with a James Beard award winning Chef in residence.) Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select is the number one super premium selling bourbon in the world.

Maker's Mark Kentucky Bourbon Maker's Mark 46 Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select Wild Turkey 81 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Wild Turkey on a hill overlooking the Kentucky River has a plain and simple outward appearance. However inside legendary master distiller Jimmy Russell cooks up ultra-smooth bourbons with sweet vanilla caramel tastes. Wild Turkey 81 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon is nicely balanced with sweet vanilla smoothness. If you can get your hands on Forgiven or Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel – you’ll be in for a treat.

Raise a glass of whisky with friends old and new. It’s the perfect antidote to a cold, dark January night. It’s my birthday this month too so you can bet I’ll be celebrating in fine fashion.

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

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


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British Columbia Critics’ Picks – January 2015

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

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

Cheers ~ TR

BC Team Version 3

Anthony Gismondi

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

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

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

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

DJ Kearney

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

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

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

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

Rhys Pender MW

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

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

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

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

Treve Ring

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

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

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

WineAlign in BC ~

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

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


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A simple resolution for 2015

The Caveman Speaks
By Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

It’s not December 31 quite yet but it is never too early to make a few resolutions. If you are looking for a bit of inspiration, and want to do something good for the wine industry, then here’s a suggestion as to how you can make the wine world a better place.

Be courageous – choose indigenous grapes.

By indigenous grapes I mean grape varieties that have a history firmly entrenched in a particular region, having been grown there for a long period of time. While travelling the world’s wine regions over the last few years, I have seen old vine sylvaner in Alsace ripped out to make room for pinot gris. One hundred year old carignan in the Languedoc replaced with syrah. I could go on but the list is long and littered with dead vines.

While in some cases replacing the vines made sense, and made for better wine, in most cases it was simply a question of economics. Grape growers can get more money with well-known grapes, even if they are less well suited to that climate and soil type.

The reason they are doing this is because consumers, especially in North America, tend to drink the same grape varieties – cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay etc… And this makes me sad. With each indigenous varietal that is replaced, another thread of the wonderfully complex tapestry that is the world’s wine culture becomes a touch less colourful (read – the wines are less good.)

In many wine producing countries, people tend to drink locally as opposed to internationally. They drink wines from their own region, or if they branch out, from their own country. We are fortunate here in Canada to have a choice of wines from all over the world.

But with choice comes responsibility. Wine stores, whether they be government controlled monopolies or privately owned, might take a chance on a wine once but if it doesn’t sell, the wine will not be reordered.

So this leads me to you, the wine lover.

These wines might be made with unfamiliar grapes, or come from places you have never heard of, but that’s what so interesting about wine. Will you like everything? Not necessarily, but exposing your palate to different textures, flavours and aromas will merely expand your wine horizons. And my bet is that you will discover wines that you absolutely love.

The tide is starting to turn. In many of these regions, especially with younger winemakers, they are looking at their own indigenous varieties with more respect. I have seen winemakers searching out these old vines and protecting them rather than replanting them. They have started to understand that these grapes are not only part of their heritage, but what makes them distinctive.

So in 2015, forsake the familiar and make one out of every three bottles you buy something you’ve never tried before. Give the wine a chance. Try and understand it. You will be helping the wine industry, and you will make yourself a better and more knowledgeable drinker.

If you need some suggestions, then here are a few wines currently available in BC, Ontario or Quebec that you can try. As I mentioned sylvaner, try the 2011 from René Muré. Works as an exceptional aperitif as well as with lighter seafood. Another white in a similar vein comes from Greece and Domaine Gerovassiliou. The 2013 Assyrtiko/Malagousia is a beautiful example two indigenous grapes working hand in hand. The rare freisa grape gets a solo show in the juicy, earthy tobacco leaf layered Borgogno Langhe 2012 Freisa from Piedmonte. Pair with charcuterie and sip throughout the night. Of course, if you really want to support indigenous wines, pick up a bottle of sherry and support not only native grapes, but method as well. Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana, a Manzanilla from Sanlucar De Barrameda is 100% palomino fino grape, and a bone dry tangy, salty, nutty sipper to signal festivities.

René Muré Sylvaner 2011 Domaine Gerovassiliou White 2013 Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2012 La Gitana Manzanilla

Looking for a really interesting white with body to spare? Elisabetta Foradori’s 2012 Manzoni Bianco will satisfy the most curious white wine drinker. Made with extended skin contact, which is unusual for white wines, it combines body and aromatics like few wines I have tasted this year. Similarly, Mastroberardino’s 2012 Greco Di Tufo showcases the stony, waxy power of the greco grape, by way of the volcanic soils throughout Campania. And Telmo Rodriguez 2013 Basa Blanco combines the familiar – sauvignon blanc – with the curious – verdejo and viura – in this herbal, citrus-driven, linear white.

Foradori Fontanasanta Manzoni 2012 Mastroberardino Greco Di Tufo 2012 Telmo Rodriguez Basa Blanco 2013

On the red side, the choice for indigenous grapes is just as interesting. Hailing from the region of Marcillac in France’s southwest, Lionel Osmin’s 2012 Mansois offers up delicate fruit and lots of exotic spice with fine, razor-sharp tannins.

One of my favourite reds from the past year is Arianna Occhipinti’s SP68. From Sicily’s DOCG appellation of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, it combines delicate fruit with beautiful acidity. Sicilian Beaujolais!

Marcillac Mansois 2012 Occhipinti S P 68 2013 Quinta Da Pellada Àlvaro Castro Reserva 2011 Tilenus Envejecido En Roble Mencía 2010

And if you are looking for a bigger red wine, try a blend of alfrocheiro, tinta roriz and touriga national. Alvaro Castro’s 2011 Dao is a beautiful example of how the region can produce finessed, yet very powerful wines. Rustic winter stews and casseroles were made to be served alongside a wine like Tilenus 2010 Envejecido En Roble, from Bierzo, Spain. The mencia grape’s wild and succulent black fruit and firm tannins might become a new cold weather favourite.

Happy holidays and new year folks!

Bill

“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

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’s reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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