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The Search for Summery Wines

The Caveman SpeaksJuly 14, 2015

By Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

I get asked a lot for wine suggestions, especially from my friends. Here’s a conversation that I had a few weeks back. Name was changed to protect the innocent.

Carrie: Bill, we want to buy a few cases of wine to bring with us to the country. We’re there for three weeks and I don’t want to stress about wines when we are up there. Can you suggest a few Summery wines?

Bill: What’s a Summery wine? You mean like white wines?

Carrie: You know I don’t like white that much. You keep forcing them on me and yes, they’re alright but that’s not what I am talking about. You know – summer wines.

Bill: No, I have no clue about what you are talking about. You mean rosés? Most people only drink those in the summer.

Carrie: I’ll get a few, sure. But that’s lunch and afternoon drinking. I need good reds.

Bill: Summer reds? You mean as opposed to winter reds? I didn’t realize red wine was seasonal. What are you eating?

Carrie: How would I know? Stop messing with me, you aren’t being any help at all. You’re Mr. fancy sommelier wine critic.

Bill: (Pause) So really what you are asking me is if I were to take a few cases of wine with me to the country, and that’s all I could drink, what would I bring? It’s like that desert island question where if you could only drink one wine for the rest of your life, what would it be? I always answer German riesling or Champagne. You should bring lots of those.

Carrie: Yes, I remember that German wine. Didn’t we drink that last time at your place? That was yummy, but I can’t remember the name.

Bill: Hey you remembered! That was the 2013 from Selbach Oster. It’s a great pre-dinner wine when you are cooking and when you eat spicy shrimp and other seafood. And if you want a deadly little sparkling wine for cheap, try the 2013 Vouvray from Vincent Careme or the 2011 Reserva Brut Cava from Juvé y Camps.

Selbach Riesling 2013Domaine Vincent Carême Vouvray Brut 2013Juvé y Camps Cinta Purpura Reserva Brut Cava 2011

Carrie: Ok, you’ve done aperitif, how about one of your pale rosés? You’ve actually convinced me on those.

Bill: Ha! No more sip sack sweet pinks for you! Go for either the Petale de Rose or the Pive Gris. They are my go to pinks these days. For a little more full-bodied rosé, try the 2014 Brotte Les Eglantiers Tavel.

Pétale de Rose 2014Le Pive Gris Vin Rosé 2014Brotte Les Eglantiers Tavel 2014

Carrie: Okay, pinks, bubbles and rieslings. What’s good with trout if hubby can actually catch a trout.

Bill: I would go with something crisp. Try an assyrtiko from either Gaia, Sigalas or my lil jewel from Argyros.

Gaia Thalassitis Assyrtiko 2013Sigalas Santorini 2013Argyros Atlantis White 2014

Carrie: Ok, I’ll try them. Now onto the important stuff – the reds.

Bill: Oh yes, the summery reds. Barbecue wines you mean.

Carrie: Exactly.

Bill: You need a few Burger wines. You guys eat Hamburgers don’t you?

Carrie: Of course.

Bill: Sounds strange but you need a red that goes well with ketchup. A red that you can chill a bit and crank it back but with a touch of green that will go well with the ketchup. My favourite ketchup wine is carmenère. Try the Cono Sur or Carmen. They have some torque as well.

Carrie: Now you are actually helping.

Bill: No problem. This is actually fun. So now a few wines to go with barbecue sauce – ribs, chicken pieces, pork chops – stuff like that. I would go new world here – California, Australia. Wines with loads of oak and lots of fruit, alcohol sweetness, especially if your sauce is a little spicy. Take a good zinfandel like the Lake Sonoma Dry Creek Valley or Ravenswood Besieged. They are a little more expensive but worth it.

Cono Sur Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenère 2013Carmen Reserva Carmenère 2013Lake Sonoma Winery Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2010Ravenswood Besieged 2013

Carrie: What about steak? We eat a lot of steak.

Bill: Steak wines. You can go wherever you want. I mean any wine with some good tannin that has done some time in oak will do. (Pause) But nothing too serious. Okay I see what you mean now by summer wines. I wouldn’t go Bordeaux, Rioja or Barolo or anything like that. I would go with wines like those zins I mentioned, or for a change try some Rhône wines. Rhône reds are great, been drinking a lot of those recently. Try the Saint Cosme, Signargues from Morel or Les Halos De Jupiter.

Château de Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône 2013Pierre Henri Morel Signargues Côtes du Rhône Villages 2013Les Halos De Jupiter Côtes du Rhône 2012

Carrie: Okay perfect, you will write everything down.

Bill: Not everything. I’ll give you a few specific wines and for the rest just find wines you want to try in the same style. But bring an ice bucket, hopefully it will be hot.

Carrie: We keep the whites in the fridge.

Bill: No, the ice bucket is for your reds. If it’s hot out, make sure it is always handy so you can dunk your bottle in it to keep temperature down. Hot red wine is gross, and you always serve your reds too warm.

Carrie: You are such a snob. You make me nervous every time you come over.

Bill: Okay, I won’t bring my own glass with me this time if it makes you feel better.

Carrie: Such a total snob.

:)

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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Gnarly Head Cabernet Sauvignon

 

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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – July 2015

Super Cool G&T’sJuly 13, 2015

by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Last column I promised to write more about the gin and tonic bar craze. Well summer is here and it’s time to mix up a long cool one with tips from the experts on how to make it perfect.

While the G&T seems a simple two ingredient highball, today there are a multitude of variations and ways to “perfect” the drink. In his 2014 book The Spirit of Gin: A Stirring Miscellany of the New Gin Revival, Matt Teacher writes about the London Gin Club in England: “Members can rejoice at the large selection of garnishes that have been specifically paired with each of the gins. The variable one has to choose from when selecting the perfect combination include the gin label, the brand of tonic, the accoutrements or garnishes, the form of ice and sometimes the addition of other flavors such as bitters.”

Toronto’s Nota Bene restaurant has a special G&T menu that enables customers to build their own by selecting first from the rotating choice of a dozen or so gins, then picking a tonic and the type of ice from the list. Two of my favourites were Botanist Gin on cubed ice with the house tonic garnished with lime wheels, cardamom and rosemary and Dillon’s Gin 22 on a single large cube of ice with Fever Tree tonic garnished with lemongrass, cucumber and dried hibiscus flowers.

The Botanist Islay Dry Gin Dillon's Unfiltered Gin 22Nota Bene’s owner Chef David Lee was inspired to do a G&T bar after his travels to Spain. On a recent trip to Spain, I too noticed Gin-Tonic bars were all the rage and have been told that “Gin Tonicá” is practically Spain’s national cocktail.

Matt Goulding in his article in time.com, wrote about Spain’s obsession with gin and tonics. “When I tell people that Spain is the best place in the world to drink a gin tonic, a drink created by the British army in India as a defense system against malaria, I’m invariably met with skepticism…. But “gin tonics” (in Spain, they use the English name, but drop the “and” so that it comes out cleaner) have captured the attention of Spain’s chefs, bartenders and alcoholics alike,” he wrote.

Apparently the country is now the world’s biggest gin consumer per capita, with demand increasing at an average of 18 percent over the past five years. I’ve not found anyone who can say why a niche taste became a mainstream mania in Spain, except perhaps that it suits the climate and Mediterranean lifestyle of the country.

The Gin-Tonic bar I went to in the historic centre of Aranda de Duero, north of Madrid, matched brands of gin with different flavours of Schweppes Tonic such as Pink Peppercorn, Orange Blossom & Lavender, and Cardamom & Ginger. I haven’t seen that range of Schweppes tonics in Canada yet but there are a growing number of artisanal tonics available both made here and abroad.

Jack's Tonique (photo: Amenh Tsan)

Jack’s Tonique (photo: Amenh Tsan)

Fever-Tree premium Indian tonic water from the UK is a great brand that blends natural botanical and quinine flavours. Q Tonic from New York claims hand-picked quinine from the Peruvian Andes. In the Atwater market in Montreal, I found Jack’s Tonique, an artisan tonic water concentrate that’s made in Gatineau from cinchona bark (the source for quinine), honey instead of sugar, fresh lemon grass, Sicilian lemon juice, ginger and lavender.

Mathieu Guillemette and Joël Beaupré launched Jack’s Tonique in the spring of 2014 to make the best G&T’s ever. They say their tonic goes particularly well with Tanqueray, Dillon’s gin from Niagara, North of 7 gin from Ottawa and Piger Henricus gin from Quebec. You can find stores that carry Jack’s via their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JacksTonique

This brings us to the question of what gin to use in a G&T. Beyond the obvious – aka your favourite – I’d say switch around depending upon what flavours you’re in the mood for.

In Canada, more and more delightful gins are being made by artisan producers. Ungava made by Domaine Pinnacle in Quebec is flavoured with indigenous Canadian botanicals of our far north such as Nordic juniper, Labrador tea leaf, crowberry, cloudberry and wild rose hips. Piger Henricus gin from Quebec features parsnips as its secret ingredient along with juniper, coriander, angelica, lemon peel and cardamom.

Ungava Canadian Premium GinPiger Henricus GinGeorgian Bay GinParlour Gin

Dillon’s in Beamsville, makes their Unfiltered Gin 22, by passing vapour through 22 botanicals. Georgian Bay Gin vapour infused with wild juniper, earthy angelica, lavender and more is bright with juniper and clean fresh botanical notes.

Alberta’s aromatic and well spiced Parlour Gin from Eau Claire distillery has the traditional juniper notes along with hints of rosehip, Saskatoon berry, mint, coriander and citrus that finish with cinnamon and ginger spice.

Victoria Gin, hand produced in small batches on Vancouver Island and distilled from ten botanicals (natural and wild gathered) is packed with personality. With Vancouver’s triple distilled Yaletown Gin, juniper and coriander jump forward in the bouquet.

Victoria GinYaletown Craft GinThe London No. 1 GinSipsmith London Dry Gin

London is the home of gin – so naturally there are many lovely ones to recommend from the mother country. The London Gin #1 is instantly recognizable by its distinct azure blue colour and sophisticated palate. Sipsmith London Dry Gin is a relative newcomer that’s beautifully crafted. Broker’s Premium London Dry delivers a delightful well-balanced style that’s value priced.

Death's Door Gin Broker's Premium London Dry GinNew to Canada from Wisconsin is Death’s Door Gin, with a focus on just three botanicals: juniper, coriander and fennel seeds.

The final step to a great G&T is the glass itself. Regarding that, bartenders are increasingly recommending serving G&T in a balloon shaped glass with plenty of ice and a garnish tailored to the flavours of the gin to best enhance the experience. (The balloon shape gathers the aromas of the drink at its opening.)

The gin and tonic has been raised to an art form. One that delights and refreshes the palate, far removed from its medicinal past.

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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Victoria Gin

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20 Under $20 in BC : July 2015

Smokin’ Hot in B.C.

Trust me, we’re not complaining about the heat in BC. We’re absorbing it as much as the grapes are (up to two weeks ahead of the norm in some areas). It’s just that after weeks of 20+ degrees Celsius and even more weeks without rain, we’re starting to dream rain dances in our sleep. Our thoughts are with all in BC affected by the fires, and with the brave firefighters working around the clock to stop the blaze. Keep safe all.

Though we certainly can’t control mother nature, we can control our thirst, and we do, liberally, with the tidy value buys below.

DJ Kearney is off to visit vineyards in Greece, so we’ve filled in while she’s filling up with Assyrtiko and other delicious wines. Watch for her field notes over the coming weeks.

~ TR

BC Critic Team

 

Anthony Gismondi

The heatwave persists in British Columbia and I can’t help but think it has spurred on interest in summer style wines that frankly were never a big part of the BC wine market, especially on the wet coast. But, damp and wet summers appear to be a thing of the past under climate change so this month I’m going with some classic summer sippers you should cool down with on the patio.

We begin with Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014. This wine just gets better every year as the vines settled into the Manzanar Vineyard some 12 km from the Pacific Ocean at Aconcagua Costa. Goat cheese, tomatoes, corn fish chicken…mmmm.

Closer to home and pink is the 50th Parallel Estate Pinot Noir Rosé 2014, a classic cool-climate style that is dry with citrus and cran-cherry flavours. Think summer pasta salmon and or potato salads.

Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 201450th Parallel Pinot Noir Rosé 2014Uber Riesling KabinettHillside Estate Unoaked Pinot Gris 2014Louis Latour Chardonnay l'Ardeche 2013Wolf Blass Yellow Label Sparkling Brut

No summer can pass without riesling and the Über Riesling Kabinett N/V from the Pfalz is affordable and gulpable. Bring on the sushi platters.

How much do I like the Hillside Pinot Gris Unoaked 2014? A lot. It’s such a pleasure to drink a pinot gris for grown-ups. Pinot gris can throw a little colour from its copper skin and this one has a beautiful Provençal hue. Grilled chicken or assorted shellfish all work here. Stock up for summer.

If you’re lucky enough to be enjoying Dungeness crab this month, you’ll want a creamy, solid wine with good intensity and freshness to pour. Try the Louis Latour Ardèche Chardonnay 2013, with intensity and brightness far beyond its price point.

Finally we all need to drink more bubble and to get you started may I suggest the Wolf Blass Yellow Label Sparkling Brut Mousseux. Their style is refreshing with juicy, citrus, honey apple flavours. A crowd pleaser at a crowd pleasing price. Head for the patio.

 

Rhys Pender MW

With the exception of a few necessary steak pairing situations, I haven’t drunk any big red wine for weeks. The body craves crisp dry white wines, savoury dry rosé, or chilled light juicy reds. Varieties like Riesling come into their own in summer with their powerful ability to refresh. Anything else with that crisp acidity and a mineral edge also works well. My picks this month all fit these criteria.

The first two wines are from BC, top quality wines that are consistent from year to year and wines that are always refreshing and drinkable. The Wild Goose 2013 Stony Slope Riesling has good zingy power and plenty of racy acidity. The Lake Breeze 2013 Pinot Blanc is a versatile wine for food, good on its own when well chilled but also with enough stuffing to stand up to things like roast chicken or richer white fish.

Wild Goose Vineyards Stoney Slope Riesling 2013Lake Breeze Pinot Blanc 2013Concha Y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2013Château de la Gravelle Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2013Folonari Valpolicella 2012

The next two wines are from two of my favourite “mineral” wine regions. Consistently the wines from Limari in Chile and Muscadet in France’s Loire have that stony, mineral edge that gives great refreshment. The Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha 2013 Chardonnay has ripe fruit and some body but still the great mineral edge that Limari always provides. Another standby is the Château de la Gravelle 2013 Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie, so crisp and refreshing and great with fresh oysters or anything deep fried.

The final pick is a wine that is red but can be drunk like a white, chilled down against the summer heat. Light, juicy and savoury Folonari Valpolicella 2012 is perfect for charcuterie or grilled light meats like rabbit or quail.

 

Treve Ring

Fresh back from The Nationals (#NWAC15) and a week of tasting nothing but Canadian wine (and the necessary post-judging refreshing Canadian beer, of course), my Canadian palate is as finely honed as ever. And with summer fresh local bounty taking over my table, the time is prime to pour wine from our BC backyard.

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2013 has never felt fresher, and upon retasting recently, a beautiful vein of stony minerality has risen through all the ripe orchard and melon fruit. Lovely with grilled corn on the cob.

If salmon is on the grill, crack the top on Therapy Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012. The tart rhubarb and mellow spiced cherry work well to carry cedar planked salmon.

Quails' Gate Chardonnay 2013Therapy Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012Thornhaven Estates Infusion 2014Lake Breeze Winemaker Series The Spice Jar 2014Sandhill Viognier Osprey Ridge Vineyard 2014

No matter the foodstuffs, bubbles is always appropriate. Thornhaven Estates 2014 Infusion blends pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay into a frizzante rosé. This sunripened, strawberry jam and floral sipper finishes crisp and off dry, ideal for brunching.

Lake Breeze Winemaker Series The Spice Jar 2014 is also brunch-ready, blending gewürztraminer, ehrenfelser, viognier and schonburger into an aromatic, exotically spiced white built around ripe pear and pithy lime.

Viognier can overwhelm some dishes, and some drinkers, with its flamboyance in the glass. Sandhill Viognier Osprey Ridge Vineyard 2014 harnesses the grape’s apricot essence, while honing in its bombastic nature. Great with Thai green curry.

Wild Goose Pinot Gris 2014 brings roses, fine spice and pithy citrus in a tighter, leaner style, balancing lime oil and herbal edged acidity to offset the off-dry palate. This makes for a welcome pour for fennel salads or lemon-dressed trout.

Wild Goose Pinot Gris 2014Mission Hill Five Vineyards Rosé 2014Spierhead Winery Rosé 2014Tantalus Rose 2014

It wouldn’t be summer without a rainbow of rosés in my glass. It’s hard to beat the consistency and availability of Mission Hill Family Estates Five Vineyard series, and the Five Vineyards Rosé 2014 once again hits the sweet spots. Great price, ripe candied fruit, bright, juicy acidity and just a kiss of summer sweetness to refresh you, and your wallet.

Spierhead Winery offers up a different style of pink with their single Lands End Vineyard 2014 Pinot Noir Rosé. Salted plums, strawberry compote, cured meats and a snappy dry finish welcoming pouring alongside fried chicken or salmon burgers.

Though known for their riesling, Tantalus Vineyards 2014 Rosé masterfully brings equal parts pinot meunier (planted 1985!) and pinot noir together to an elegant, fruity and dry wine my favourite rosé from the winery to date. Beauty balance between berry ripeness and stony freshness and one I’m looking forward to pairing with charcuterie platters all summer long.

~

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.

Here’s a quick link to the this month’s Top 20 Under $20

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


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19 Crimes "To the Banished"

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20 Under $20 in BC : June 2015

Summertime… and the drinkin’ is Easy

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

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

~ TR

BC Critic Team

 

Anthony Gismondi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhys Pender MW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DJ Kearney

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

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

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

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

Treve Ring

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

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

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

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

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

~

WineAlign in BC

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


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Wolf Blass Yellow Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

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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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