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Top Values at the LCBO (April – 2nd Edition)

Your Guide to the Best Values, Limited Time Offers & Bonus Air Miles selections at the LCBO
by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

When I wrote to you a few weeks ago, I thought that spring would soon be here; I was so wrong. So to console you I have found some great value wines to drink while we all wait for the weather to improve.

For you bargain lovers I have some great news. Although there are only three new wines on my Top 50 Best Values this month there are another six, that were already on the list, that are either discounted or have Bonus Air Miles (BAMs) that apply, making these wines even more attractive and your spring drinking even more affordable.

There are also some new listings that are fine buys. As usual wines have been joining the Top 50 Best Values list and others have fallen off over the last 4 weeks. Those of you who follow me know I really enjoy discovering inexpensive gems. I have also included in this report four wines that almost made it onto the Top 50. I am writing about them because they all have lots of BAMs for the next 4 weeks.

Steve’s Top 50 is a standing WineAlign best buys list based on quality/price ratio of the 1600 or so wines in LCBO Wines and the VINTAGES Essentials Collection. You can read below in detail how the Top 50 works, but it does fluctuate as new wines arrive and as discounts show up through Limited Time Offers (LTOs).

The current discount period runs until May 22nd. So don’t hesitate. Thanks to WineAlign’s inventory tracking, I can assure you that there were stocks available, when we published, of every wine highlighted.

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!


Citra 2014 Sangiovese Terre di Chieti, Abruzzo, Italy ($7.95 +5 BAMs) – This red is a little rustic with a savoury herbal nose, but quite tasty with mildly flavoured red meat dishes or a mild hard cheese like cheddar.

Santa Carolina 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Rapel Valley, Chile ($8.95 + 5BAMs) – This is a pure and very even red with a good depth of flavour. Not a lot of complexity but then it is under $9. Try with roast meats.

Santa Carolina 2015 Merlot, Chile ($8.95 + 5 BAMS) – Great value for an exuberant fruity merlot. The palate is brimming with lively bright fruit with enough tannin for balance and good to very good length. Enjoy on its own or with cheese and meat dishes. Very versatile.

Citra Sangiovese Terre Di Chieti 2014 Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Santa Carolina Merlot 2015 K W V Paarl Cape Ruby Bodegas Castaño Hécula Monastrell 2013 Château Canteloup 2012

K W V Paarl Cape Ruby South Africa ($9.85 + 6BAMs) – This is a fullbodied fortified red made in similar way as ruby port. It is medium sweet well balanced with decent length. Try with blue cheese, semi-sweet dark chocolate or dried fruit and nuts.

Bodegas Castaño 2013 Hécula Monastrell, Yecla, Spain ($10.45) New to Top 50 – The monastrell (mourvedre) grape in southeastern Spain makes many delicious juicy full bodied reds like this. The palate is very smooth with a good depth of flavour and it finishes dry with some fine tannin for grip. Very good length. Try with roast meats.

Château Canteloup 2012, Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($19.65 + 10 BAMs) – This is great value for a good quality Bordeaux with the aromatics of a great wine. Though the structure is not that of the best, it is still very impressive for the money. It’s medium weight with a silky mid-palate, then a firm tannic finish. Excellent length.


Periquita White 2013, Portugal ($8.95 + 5 BAMs) – A juicy blend of three white grapes with a very smooth palate and a good depth of flavour. Enjoy with mildly flavoured seafood.

Domaine Jean Bousquet 2015 White Blend, Argentina ($11.90 + 4 BAMs) – This is an aromatic white that’s midweight and deeply flavoured with the fruit well balanced by soft acidity. Try with roast veal or pork.

Periquita White 2013 Domaine Jean Bousquet White Blend 2015 Santa Rita Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2015

Santa Rita 2015 Sauvignon Blanc Reserva, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($11.95 + 7BAMs) – A juicy nicely structured sauvignon with just enough sweetness to balance the acidity and not too much greenness. Try with sautéed seafood.

Marqués de Riscal 2014, Rueda, Spain ($12.70 + 6 BAMs) – This is a pure fresh crisp white with an aromatic nose of grapefruit, passion fruit, white pepper with some honey notes. Since it is lively and juicy with very good length and is so refreshing, it is a great selection for seafood and mildly flavoured white meats.

Wolf Blass 2014 Yellow Label Chardonnay, Padthaway/Adelaide Hills, South Australia ($12.95 was $14.95) – This is a well balanced fruity lively chardonnay with a touch of oak; quite elegant for such an inexpensive wine. Try with rich seafood dishes, roast pork or sautéed veal.

Marqués De Riscal 2014 Wolf Blass Yellow Label Chardonnay 2014 Riverlore Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Riverlore 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($13.90 was 15.90) New to Top 50 – This crisp very juicy kiwi sauvignon shows classic Marlborough aromas and flavours. It is midweight and well balanced with a creamy rich palate and crisp dry herbal lemon finish. Try with grilled calamari or creamy goat cheese.

Peter Yealands 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($13.95 was $15.95) New to Top 50 – There is a soft appealing mineral tone to the aromas and flavours of this juicy vibrant mouthwatering sauvignon. Nice concentration and very pure with very good length. Try with seafood dishes.

How does a wine get selected for the Top Value Report:

There are three ways that a wine gets into this monthly report of wines that are always in the stores either on the LCBO “General List” or the VINTAGES Essential Collection.

– On Sale (LTO’s or Limited Time Offers): Every four weeks the LCBO discounts around 200 wines I have looked through the current batch and have highlighted some of my favourites that offer better value at present…. so stock up now.

– Bonus Air Miles (BAM’s): If you collect Air Miles then you will be getting Bonus Air Miles on another 150 or so wines…a few of these have a special appeal for a while.

– Steve’s Top 50: Wines that have moved onto my Top 50 Best Values this month. This is on an-on going WineAlign selection that mathematically calculates value by comparing the price and rating of all the wines on the LCBO General List. You can access the report any time and read more about it now.

The Rest of Steve’s Top 50

Steve's Top Value WinesIn addition to the wines mentioned above, there are another 37 wines on the Top 50 list this month. So if you did not find all you need in this report, dip into the Top 50 LCBO and VINTAGES Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste.

To be included in the Top 50 for value a wine must be inexpensive while also having a high score, indicating high quality. I use a mathematical model to make the Top 50 selections from the wines in our database. I review the list every month to include newly listed and recently tasted vintages of current listings as well as monitoring the value of those put on sale for a limited time.

Before value wine shopping remember to consult the Top 50 (Click on Wine => Top 50 Value Wines to be taken directly to the list), since it is always changing. If you find that there is a new wine on the shelf or a new vintage that we have not reviewed, let us know. Moreover if you disagree with our reviews, tell us please. And if you think our reviews are accurate, send us some feedback since it’s good to hear that you agree with us.

The Top 50 changes all the time, so remember to check before shopping. I will be back next month with more news on value arrivals to Essentials and the LCBO.


Steve Thurlow

Top 50 Value Wines
Wines on Limited Time Offer
Wines with Bonus Air Miles

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!

AdvertisementColio Lily Sparkling

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Top Values at the LCBO (March 2016)

Your Guide to the Best Values, Limited Time Offers & Bonus Air Miles selections at the LCBO
by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

There are ten new wines on my Top 50 Best Values this month, which in itself is amazing news, however I also found that another three, already on my Top 50, are discounted making them an even better deal. Plus another four on the list have Bonus Air Miles that apply, making these wines even more attractive for the next four weeks or so.

It is an exciting time for me since so many new vintages arrive this time of the year. Some of the new vintages I tasted were better and some not so good, so wines join the list and others fall off. As those of you who follow me know I really enjoy discovering inexpensive gems, so I am delighted to have found so many new great values at the LCBO this month.

The wines featured in this report are best buys among the 1600 or so wines in LCBO Wines and the VINTAGES Essentials collection which I select from wines on Steve’s Top 50, a standing WineAlign list based on quality/price ratio. You can read below in detail how the Top 50 works, but it does fluctuate as new wines arrive and as discounts show up through Limited Time Offers (LTOs).

The current discount period runs until March 27th, so don’t hesitate. Thanks to WineAlign’s inventory tracking, I can assure you that there were stocks available, when we published, of every wine that I highlight.

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!


Solaz Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Castilla León, Spain ($9.45 was $11.45) – A juicy vibrant red with red berry fruit and just enough tannin for balance. Try with grilled meats or mature hard cheese.

La Casona De Castano Old Vines Monastrell 2014, Yecla, Alicante, Spain ($9.65) New to Top 50 – This is a bright ruby red with appealing berry aromas. It is a medium-bodied, full-flavoured wine with juicy ripe fruit, well balanced, with the fruit persisting well onto the finish. Try with meaty pasta sauces or pizza.

Caliterra Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2014 Colchagua Valley, Chile ($9.95) New to Top 50 – A typical Chilean cabernet at a great price. Juicy full bodied and well balanced. More complexity than you would expect for such an inexpensive wine. Try with a steak.

Solaz Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 La Casona De Castano Old Vines Monastrell 2014 Caliterra Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2014 Santa Rita Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Santa Rita Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Maipo Valley, Chile ($11.95 was $13.95) New to Top 50 – A juicy rich well balanced cabernet with good varietal character. Its full bodied and nicely structured with very good length. Try with grilled meats or a creamy cheese like Brie.

Santa Julia Reserva Malbec 2014, Mendoza, Argentina ($10.95 was $12.95) New to Top 50 – This is a rich malbec with a creamy texture and enticing aromatics. Flavourful with a long lingering very dry finish. Try with a rack of juicy ribs.

Thelema Mountain Red 2012, Western Cape, South Africa ($11.00 was $13.00) New to Top 50 – This delightful blend of shiraz and 5 other grapes has a lifted nose that shows ripe blackberry and blueberry fruit. It is very smooth and quite dense with a degree of elegance. Try with pizza or burgers.

Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2013 Mendoza, Argentina ($12.95 was $14.95) – A consistently solid buy and at $2 off a fantastic deal. A rich, full flavoured malbec with aromas of chocolate, spices and berry fruits. Buy an armful while the deal lasts.

Santa Julia Reserva Malbec 2014 Thelema Mountain Red 2012 Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2013 Château De Vaugelas Le Prieuré Corbières 2013 Firestone Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Château De Vaugelas Le Prieuré Corbières 2013 Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($13.95) – The 2013 is a big improvement for this syrah grenache blend. Well balanced nicely structured with very good length. Quite classy for such an inexpensive wine. Try with a steak.

Firestone Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Santa Ynez Valley, California, USA ($19.90) – Lots of depth, flavour and complexity for a wine at this price, the 2013 is just as good as the superb 2012. Elegant and well balanced. Try with roast beef.


Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier 2015 Colchagua Valley Chile ($8.95 was $9.95) – At $9.95 it was already the best value white, so at $1off its time to stock up on this aromatic flavourful white. Enjoy on its own or with mildly spicy white meat dishes or rich poultry or with Swiss Gruyere cheese.

Dunavár Pinot Grigio 2014 Hungary ($8.95) New to Top 50 – This is a simple, fresh and lively pinot grigio, that is quite flavourful and very easy to drink.  It is midweight with a slight spritz adding to its freshness. At this price it provides plenty of basic refreshment.

Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier 2015 Dunavár Pinot Grigio 2014 Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Grigio 2015 Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2015

Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Grigio 2015 Central Valley Chile ($9.95) New to Top 50 – The 2015 vintage is just as good as the excellent 2014. Aromatic and flavourful it is probably the best value grigio at LCBO. Chill well and enjoy with grilled calamari, cheesy pasta sauces or sauteed seafood. Why pay more when you have all you need here?

Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2015 Casablanca Valley, Chile ($9.95) New to Top 50 – Consistently one of the best white wine values at LCBO. Good varietal character with lots of flavour. Try with cheesy pasta sauces or roast chicken.

How does a wine get selected for the Top Value Report:

There are three ways that a wine gets into this monthly report of wines that are always in the stores either on the LCBO “General List” or the VINTAGES Essential Collection.

– On Sale (LTO’s or Limited Time Offers): Every four weeks the LCBO discounts around 200 wines I have looked through the current batch and have highlighted some of my favourites that offer better value at present…. so stock up now.

– Bonus Air Miles (BAM’s): If you collect Air Miles then you will be getting Bonus Air Miles on another 150 or so wines…a few of these have a special appeal for a while.

– Steve’s Top 50: Wines that have moved onto my Top 50 Best Values this month. This is on an-on going WineAlign selection that mathematically calculates value by comparing the price and rating of all the wines on the LCBO General List. You can access the report any time and read more about it now.

The Rest of Steve’s Top 50

Steve's Top Value WinesIn addition to the wines mentioned above, there are another 37 wines on the Top 50 list this month. So if you did not find all you need in this report, dip into the Top 50 LCBO and VINTAGES Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste.

To be included in the Top 50 for value a wine must be inexpensive while also having a high score, indicating high quality. I use a mathematical model to make the Top 50 selections from the wines in our database. I review the list every month to include newly listed and recently tasted vintages of current listings as well as monitoring the value of those put on sale for a limited time.

Before value wine shopping remember to consult the Top 50 (Click on Wine => Top 50 Value Wines to be taken directly to the list), since it is always changing. If you find that there is a new wine on the shelf or a new vintage that we have not reviewed, let us know. Moreover if you disagree with our reviews, tell us please. And if you think our reviews are accurate, send us some feedback since it’s good to hear that you agree with us.

The Top 50 changes all the time, so remember to check before shopping. I will be back next month with more news on value arrivals to Essentials and the LCBO.


Steve Thurlow

Top 50 Value Wines
Wines on Limited Time Offer
Wines with Bonus Air Miles

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!


Gabbiano Chianti Classico 2013

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Winery Profile: Viña Errazuriz

Who owns bragging rights as Outstanding Value Winery retailing in Canada? That would be Errázuriz of Chile. This winery entered eleven wines in the WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada and took seven value medals – three gold, three silver and one bronze.  

by John Sazbo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

“I think the challenge is to stop following the recipe when it comes to making wines, and start making “terroir” wines, wines that the world’s best restaurants would fight to have on their wine lists”, writes Francisco Baettig, in Chile’s La Cav magazine nearly a half dozen years ago, some time before the real beginning of what might be called Chile’s vinous renaissance. The thoughtful and introspective chief winemaker at Viña Errazuriz (as well as Seña and Viñedo Chadwick), Baettig has long had a solid grasp on the Chilean wine business, its past and especially its future, and its place on the world stage.

As I’ve written on WineAlign before, Chile is in the process of shedding its staid image, and waking up to its vinicultural potential, exchanging dog-eared recipe books for vinous adventure guides. It’s no easy task, considering the weight of history and the slow moving wine business, which wheels about with the nimbleness of a giant cargo ship. But Baettig, and Errrazuriz owner and president Eduardo Chadwick, have assigned themselves the task of refashioning Chile’s reputation, and putting the country on the world map, all the while maintaining the success of one of Chile’s oldest wine companies, founded by Don Maximiamo Errázuriz Valdivieso in 1870.

Casona - Old Winery 1870

Casona – Old Winery 1870

‘Don Max’ was the first to plant French grapes in the Aconcagua Valley north of Santiago. At one point in the 19th century, with 700 hectares under vine, Viña Errazuriz was thought to be the largest vineyard under single ownership in the world. Chadwick, a descendant of Don Maximiano, is less interested in sheer size today, and more focused on exploring Chile’s terroir and its stylistic potential, and gaining recognition around the world.

Chadwick has achieved a great deal in his time, best known internationally for his “guerilla tastings” first launched in 2004, pitting his top wines against the best from elsewhere in a series of blind tastings for top journalists in major cities from Toronto to Tokyo. The results were often shocking, and pleasing, for Errazuriz. Seña, Viñedo Chadwick and Don Maximiano regularly bested top crus from Bordeaux and Italian cult classics. In repeated tastings over the years, Chilean wines finished in the top three in 19 out of 21 tastings, establishing that Chadwick’s, and Chile’s wines, have earned a spot at the top.

Icon new Winery

The new Don Maximiano Icon Winery

Uniquely for a large player in the Chilean wine industry, the vast majority of Errazuriz’s wines come from a single region, the Aconcagua Valley. And the valley itself is also unusual, a long, narrow transversal valley that stretches from the Pacific to the Andes, unlike most of Chile’s other valleys. Soils and climate thus vary dramatically, making it suitable for a variety of grapes and wine styles from sauvignon blanc and pinot noir to grenache and cabernet sauvignon. This fact was recognized recently in Chile’s revised appellation system, dividing the valley into three sub-regions: Aconcagua Costa is the coolest near the ocean in the coastal range, Aconcagua-Alto covers the high foothills of the Andes at the eastern end of the valley, and everything else falls under the cumbersome Entre Cordilleras (“Between the Ranges”) denominations, usually labeled simply as Aconcagua Valley.

Errazuriz Estate Chardonnay 2015 Errazuriz Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2015In early February, the WineAlign crü tasted through currently available wines from Errazuriz. Among the highlights is the simple but tasty, and well priced, 2015 Estate Series Sauvignon Blanc ($12.95). The Estate series is the entry point into the Errazuriz range, designed to be inexpensive, easy drinking and varietally driven. This sauvignon achieves the mark, with substantial fleshy texture and weight in the price context, and a fine mix of tropical guava/papaya flavours alongside sharper citrus.

Equally competent and attractively priced is the 2015 Estate Series Chardonnay ($12.95), a sweet lemon and apple/pear fruit-flavoured, crisp and fresh wine, essentially unoaked (aged in 4th and 5th use barrels), from Casablanca Valley fruit. Lively acids (no malolactic fermentation here) carry the finish beyond the mean for the price category.

The Max Reserva range is the next step up, the core of Errazuriz’s production. These wines are more structured, made from generally older vines, and hand harvested. Reds are made from vineyards in Panquehue around the winery itself, and whites from the more suitable Casablanca Valley and Aconcagua Costa appellations. According to Baettig, the Max Reserva wines are “very polished, so apt for early consumption, but with enough intensity and structure to age for 5-8 years. We aim to over deliver on quality”.

Max I vineyard- oficial

Max I vineyard

The 2015 Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc ($16.00), for example, comes from Errazuriz’s Manzanar vineyard in the Acongagua Costa DO, a stone’s throw from the Pacific. It’s slightly denser and richer than the Estate Series sauvignon, with more extract on the palate, and flavours comfortably situated between the extremes of overtly tropical fruit and green-herbal character.

Especialidades, or Specialties, is Baettig’s favorite range, a playground for experimentation. “In these wines I try to make the kind of wines I personally like to drink, that is, more food-friendly with less alcohol, more nerve and freshness, bone dry, and with very intense fruit and some oak-derived complexity, but well integrated.”

A prime example is the 2013 Pinot Noir Aconcagua Costa ($24.95), also from the Manzanar vineyard. It bridges the gap between old and new world styles, leaning gently towards darker fruit character, though also offering some savoury, earthy notes. Wood is marked but already well integrated, and will continue to meld into the ensemble over the next 1-3 years no doubt, maximizing complexity. It’s surely a very promising vineyard site for genuinely cool climate pinot in Chile, one to follow closely as vines mature.

Also worth a look is the pleasantly juicy, fresh, lightly wooded 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Aconcagua Alto ($19.95) from Errazuriz’s vineyards in the Andean foothills. Fruit stays lively and buoyant on the palate, aided by firm acids. Let this sit another year or so in bottle to come together nicely.

Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Pinot Noir 2013

Among the things to look forward to from Errazuriz is a new vineyard project called Las Pizzaras in the Aconcagua Costa zone. “Eduardo asked me to create a high end Pinot and Chardonnay”, relates Baettig. “I wanted it to come from a terroir approach. I knew we had some metamorphic rock (pizarra means slate/schist) on the property so I hired a geologist from Burgundy to create a geological map. From this, coupled with exposure, plant material and tasting of the different lots, I’ve identified what I believe are the equivalents of Grand Cru, Premier Cru and Village parcels. It’s not Burgundy, but it is another level of Chilean Pinot and Chardonnay. It’s an on-going project”.

Baettig is also experimenting with different vessels like concrete eggs, concrete tanks, and small foudres, and red and white blends from Mediterranean varieties (grenache, mourvedre, tempranillo, etc.), among other projects, so there is more to come. But for now, we can take advantage of the value that Errazuriz, and Chile in general, offer. “Chile not always has the leverage to charge a “fair” price for the quality we provide”, says Baettig, “thus usually we over deliver on quality in the $12-$25/bottle range. “Try to find a Cabernet from the US, for instance, like our Max Reserva at $18.95. Very difficult.”

Sounds like we’ll be lining up another blind tasting…

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

As a regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the winery profile. Wineries pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to WineAlign. 

About Viña Errazuriz

World Wine Awards - Outstanding Value WineryDon Maximiano Errázuriz founded Viña Errázuriz in 1870. With his great vision for the future and his innovative, pioneering spirit, he planted the first French grape varieties in the Aconcagua Valley. His initiative and creativity were handed down to future generations and, in just over a century, his descendants consolidated the winery and positioned their wines among the world’s most noteworthy. Here, we invite you to get to know some of the main landmarks that have shaped the history of this family vineyard, currently one of the best examples of successful winemaking in Chile. Visit their website for more infomation:

Photos courtesy of Viña Errazuriz

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Les bons choix de Nadia – Février 2016

De grands terroirs sous-estimés
par Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier

Le monde du vin est vaste. De plus en plus vaste. L’année dernière, on recensait une soixantaine de pays producteurs. La France, l’Italie, les États-Unis et l’Espagne dans le peloton de tête; la Lettonie, le Kyrgyzstan et le Zimbabwe comme bons derniers.

Le Zimbabwe, quand même!

Malgré cette apparente diversité, j’ai l’impression de vous parler sans cesse des mêmes appellations, des mêmes vins. Évidemment, on ne peut réinventer la roue – qu’elle ait trois ou quatre boutons – à chaque chronique. Puis, comme notre travail consiste avant tout à vous guider dans vos achats, nos recommandations sont tributaires de l’offre à la SAQ.

La sélection du Cellier du mois de février, par exemple, est somme toute assez conservatrice. Outre quelques exceptions, l’offre se résume aux régions européennes classiques : Bordeaux, Madiran, Cahors, Sancerre, Barolo, Rioja, Douro et quelques vins de Toscane. Cela dit, bien que peu novatrice, la sélection compte de très bons achats, tous commentés plus bas.

Mais pour être certaine de ne pas vous laisser sur votre soif, je vous donne en prime quelques suggestions de vins abordables qui proviennent de régions encore trop souvent sous-estimées, sinon snobées.

À la vôtre!

Dão, Portugal 

Carvalhais Duque De Viseu Red 2013 Quinta Das Maias Dâo 2012Avec les investissements soutenus dont elle bénéficie depuis une vingtaine d’années, cette région qui a beaucoup souffert du monopole de coopératives instauré sous la dictature, est en voie de réhabilitation. Si les vins de table du Douro ont été la révélation portugaise des années 1990, ceux du Dão pourraient d’ailleurs être celle de la présente décennie.

Au Portugal, on entend souvent dire que les vins du Dão empruntent certains traits caractéristiques à ceux de la Bourgogne ou du Beaujolais. Fruité et goulayant, doté d’une certaine mâche tannique, tout en conservant une immense « buvabilité ». Le cépage touriga nacional n’a pourtant rien en commun avec le pinot noir ou le gamay et donne plutôt des vins puissants et tanniques dans le Douro. Mais sur les sols de granit du Dão, où il profite autant de la fraîcheur de l’océan atlantique que de celle des montagnes, il est la source de vins élégants et tout en nuances, comme le Quinta das Maias 2012, ou le Duque de Viseu 2013. Tous deux vendus sous la barre des 20 $. 

Muscadet, France

Depuis une dizaine d’années, les vins du Muscadet sont enfin sortis des limbes. grâce au travail d’une poignée de vignerons qui ont redonné leurs lettres de noblesse à ces vignobles situés au sud-est de Nantes. La région en avait grand besoin : le muscadet est sans doute l’un des vins blancs dont la réputation a le plus souffert de la vague industrielle qui a régné sur plusieurs vignobles de France après la seconde moitié du 20e siècle.

Soumis à des rendements immenses, le cépage local melon de bourgogne n’a longtemps donné que de petits vins vif et sans âme. Le muscadet constitue une excellente alternative économique pour les amateurs de vins blancs secs, non-boisés et désaltérant comme ceux de Chablis. Ses notes salines et minérales évoquent tantôt les coquilles d’huîtres, tantôt l’odeur de cailloux chauffés au soleil.

Les meilleurs vins de l’appellation peuvent aussi reposer en cave pendant une bonne dizaine d’années. Ils acquièrent alors des arômes des notes d’hydrocarbures et de cire d’abeille qui rappellent de vieux rieslings.

Guy Bossard (Domaine de l’Écu) a été l’un des premiers vignerons à redynamiser le Muscadet. Évoluant à contrecourant, il a en converti à l’agriculture biologique dès 1975, le domaine familial aujourd’hui géré de façon tout aussi rigoureuse par Fréderic Niger Van Herck. La cuvée Granite 2013 est l’un des beaux exemples du genre à la SAQ. 

Maule, Chili

Ce qui se passe en ce moment dans le vignoble chilien est fascinant. Un vent de renouveau souffle sur le pays depuis quelques années, entrainant sur son passage de nouvelles générations de vignerons. Rien à voir cependant avec la révolution technologique et oenologique qui avait permis de moderniser les méthodes de vinification dans les années 1980 et d’accroitre la concentration. Certains vous diront qu’il s’agit plutôt d’un retour en arrière : des raisins cueillis moins mûrs, moins d’interventions au chai et aussi moins de bois neuf.

Frappés par la sècheresse dans les régions viticoles les plus septentrionales, plusieurs acteurs importants de l’industrie viticole chilienne manifestent un intérêt croissant pour les régions de Maule et d’Itata. Les cépages carignan, cinsault et país – dont plusieurs vignes centenaires qui abondent dans ce secteur – sont maintenant pris au sérieux et donnent des vins aussi authentiques que délicieux.

Élaboré par Pedro Parra, chasseur de terroir et ambassadeur du renouveau chilien, le Clos des Fous Cauquenina 2013 est l’archétype du vrai vin de terroir. Issu de vignes âgées de 80 ans en moyenne (carignan, malbec, syrah, país, cinsault et carmenère) il évoque autant la terre que du fruit, par ses parfums de feuilles mortes et ses tanins un peu granuleux.

Domaine de L'ecu Granite 2013 Clos des Fous Cauquenina 2013 Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese Trocken 2014

Les riesling allemands… secs! 

Malgré la croyance populaire, tous les rieslings germaniques ne sont pas doux. À visiter les régions viticoles d’Allemagne, on pourrait même croire que les rieslings demi-secs sont une espèce menacée. Depuis une bonne trentaine d’années, les Allemands ont largement adopté les vins secs, dépourvus de sucre résiduel, au détriment de tout autre style de vin. En fait, la survie des riesling demi-sec tel qu’on les connait repose essentiellement sur la demande des acheteurs étrangers.

Au 19e siècle, les vins germaniques étaient plus secs que ceux de France et titraient jusqu’à 12,5 % d’alcool. Ce n’est qu’après la Première guerre mondiale que les vins ont commencé à évoluer vers un style demi-sec. Pour des raisons financières, les entreprises viticoles ont été contraintes d’accélérer le processus des vinifications. Ainsi, plutôt que de laisser le sucre présent dans le moût de raisins se transformer complétement en alcool – ce qui pouvait prendre un an voire plus, si la température extérieure ralentissait l’action des levures – plusieurs ont entrepris de bloquer la fermentation au printemps, lorsque les vins avaient encore une généreuse quantité de sucre résiduel. Ils pouvaient alors mettre le vin en bouteilles dès l’été et l’expédier avant la prochaine vendange.

Pour redécouvrir le riesling allemand sur un mode sec, vif et tranchant, goûtez le Riesling Trocken 2014 de la maison Kerpen, produit sur les des coteaux vertigineux du cru Wehlener Sonnenuhr, dans la Mittelmosel. Qu’un vin apte à vieillir et provenant d’un des plus grands terroirs viticoles de la planète coûte moins de 25 $ devrait suffire à vous convaincre de l’essayer. 

Cellier – Février 

En rafale, mes coups de cœur parmi les vins qui ont été mis en marché les 4 et 18 février dans le cadre du lancement du dernier Cellier. Pour consulter la liste complète des vins du dernier arrivage, commentés par Marc Chapleau, Bill Zacharkiw et moi, cliquez ICI.

Le Château Cormeil-Figeac, propriété de la famille Moreaud, fait face aux châteaux Figeac et Cheval-Blanc, à Saint-Émilion. En 2010, Coraline et Victor ont produit un vin harmonieux, franc et net, qui marie la rondeur du merlot à la vivacité du cabernet franc, avec un esprit de dépouillement qui fait le charme des bons bordeaux classiques. (38 $)

Château Cormeil Figeac 2010 Péraclos 2010 Michel Rolland Bordeaux 2010 Château La Fleur Pourret 2009 Château de Cenac Cuvée Prestige Malbec 2011

Le Péraclos 2010, Montagne Saint-Émilion offre une interprétation ambitieuse de ce terroir secondaire de la rive-droite. Encore jeune et marqué par l’élevage; compact et conçu pour plaire aux amateurs de vins costauds. (19,95 $) Nettement plus rond et accessible dès aujourd’hui, le Bordeaux 2010 de Michel Rolland est l’expression même d’un merlot mûr, gorgé de saveurs confites et porté par des tanins rond. (21,60 $) Dans le même registre, le Château La Fleur Pourret, Saint-Émilion grand cru 2009 affiche la générosité caractéristique du millésime. Le vin est cependant tissé de tanins assez fermes et n’accuse aucune lourdeur en bouche. (31 $)

Bon vin de Cahors issu à 100 % de malbec, le Château Cénac, Cahors 2011, Cuvée Prestige s’avère plus aromatique que concentré ou puissant. Droit et assez bien tourné. (17,50 $)

Dans le Piémont, Sergio Germano élabore des vins de facture moderne, qui mettent à contribution les barriques neuves. Son Barolo 2010 est gorgé de fruit et d’épices et soutenu par des tanins compacts. Encore jeune et très vigoureux, il devrait se bonifier d’ici 2018. (49,75 $)

Ettore Germano Barolo 2010 Marqués de Murrieta Finca Ygay Reserva 2010 Lavradores de Feitoria Douro 2013 Alves de Sousa Gaivosa Primeros Anos 2012 Guy Breton Régnié 2013

Célèbre pour sa cuvée Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva, Marques de Murrieta produit aussi une version Reserva commercialisée sous le simple nom de Ygay. Le Rioja Reserva 2010 est une belle bouteille à revoir dans 5-6 ans. (29,70 $) 

Disponible en très bonnes quantités dans le réseau et vendu pour moins de 15 $, le Lavradores de Feitoria, Douro 2013 ne titre que 13 % d’alcool, mais il a beaucoup de volume en bouche. À ce prix, on serait fou de s’en passer. (14,80 $) Un peu plus riche et boisé, le Gaivosa 2012, Primeros Anos, Douro est joufflu et assez rassasiant à sa manière. (20,95 $) 

Et pour terminer sur une note de légèreté, le Régnié 2013 de Guy Breton fera le plus grand bonheur des amoureux du gamay. Comme plusieurs vignerons de la région, Breton a fait ses classes aux côtés de Jules Chauvet, père du mouvement des vins naturels. Son Régnié est souple, coulant, gorgé de fruit et irrésistiblement digeste. (28,30 $)


Nadia Fournier

Note de la rédaction: vous pouvez lire les commentaires de dégustation complets en cliquant sur les noms de vins, les photos de bouteilles ou les liens mis en surbrillance. Les abonnés payants à Chacun son vin ont accès à toutes les critiques dès leur mise en ligne. Les utilisateurs inscrits doivent attendre 60 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de bons vins !


Castello di Gabbiano Riserva Chianti Classico 2012

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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Jan 23, 2016

Playing the Currency Markets; Portugal and South America
By John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The Canadian dollar took a beating last year, and continues to languish against most currencies. While this is good news for exporters, it’s nothing but strife for importers, who must continually wrangle with their suppliers and distributors over whose belt gets tightened to maintain steady prices.

In the Ontario wine world, however, there’s no wrangling with the retailer. The LCBO doesn’t cut margins to keep shelf prices of import wines steady. The onus is instead on the supplier, or the supplier’s Ontario agent, to cut profits, or see shelf prices rise. And even a $1 or $2 increase in the most vulnerable sub-$20 category can have a direct and dramatic effect on sales.

Last week, the Canadian dollar reached a 10-year low vis-à-vis the US dollar, dropping nearly 20% over the course of the past year. And the trend is predicted to continue. The full effects of that significant bottoming out have yet to be felt. The LCBO buying cycle is very long, often more than 6 months, so most of what is currently on the shelves was purchased at a more favourable exchange. And large companies can buffer currency fluctuations with foreign exchange reserves – for a while – but not forever. So you can expect to see the prices of all your favourite Californian wines inch inexorably upward in 2016, and real values will be ever more elusive.

The Euro on the other hand, gained a relatively modest 6% against our dollar in 2015, which, to be fair was already very strong in previous years, but is predicted to trend sideways or even lose against the dollar in 2016. The Australian dollar remained steady last year, and the Argentine peso actually dropped 4% against the dollar. The Chilean peso was almost steady, but the sputtering South African Rand has been on a downward spiral for several years, losing around half of its value in the last five years against our loonie.

So, what does this mean? In terms of pure currency exchange, for my money, the bargains to be found in 2016 will come from Europe’s already depressed economies, namely Spain and Portugal, and South America, while Australia will continue to regain the market share it lost in the first decade of the millennium. South Africa has been one of the best bargains of all in recent memory, and will continue to impress at every level.

Now factoring production costs into the equation, my predictions are similar. Wine is cheaper to produce in all of the above-named countries compared to the US or northern Europe. This same group of countries will be the ones to watch when seeking the biggest bang for your buck.

Portugal and South America – Playing the Markets

And as if to drive home the point, by luck or coincidence, or improbable foresight, the January 23rd VINTAGES release features a fine range of values from both Portugal and South America.

Portugal in particular is producing wines of exceptional quality at prices that hardly seem sustainable. For Europhiles looking for their fix of savoury, dusty, firm reds under $20, Portugal should be the first stop.

The Barão de Vilar 2012 Proeza, DOC Dão ($13.95) is a case in point, made by a port house belonging to the Van Zeller family. Proeza is a collection of wines from “meaningful” Portuguese regions, and this Dão is indeed a tidy little value, not fabulously complex or life changing, and a touch sweet, but at least as good as many similar wines at twice the price.

Similarly, the Flor de Maio 2012 Mayflower, Vinho Regional Alentejano ($13.95) is fine and spicy-floral, savoury red blend (Touriga Nacional, Alicante Bouschet, Syrah, Trincadeira, Aragonez, Cabernet Sauvignon) aged in stainless steel, juicy and firm, perfectly serviceable for the money, made by a partnership of three enologists under the company Magnum Vinhos. In fact, the complexity is quite high and the balance very good for the sub-$15 category.

Barão De Vilar Proeza 2012 Flor De Maio Mayflower 2012 Vale Do Bomfim 2013 Pomares Tinto 2011

It’s clear that the low prices for Douro table wines cannot be maintained. Once considered an afterthought, and subsidized by grapes destined for port wine production, the high production costs of dry Douro reds – made essentially from the same steep, low yielding vineyards as port – are not currently reflected in their price. Enjoy the likes of the Vale do Bomfim 2013 ($15.95) and the Pomares 2011 Tinto ($16.95) while you can. Both are representative of the region, on soft and supple frames. The former is attractively dark-fruited, the latter plush and supple, spicy and licorice-tinged. Each offers plenty of pleasure, and drinkability for the money.

South America

South America, on the other hand, is a value haven for fans of new world style, generously proportioned fruit forward wines. Chile is particularly dynamic. A country in the midst of a comprehensive renovation from monochromatic cabernet and chardonnay, to a multi-coloured display of depth and diversity. One of the most exciting developments is the re-discovery of a wealth of old vines of once-unfashionable varieties, mainly in the deep south, and their revalorization.

The 2011 Santa Carolina Specialties Dry Farming Carignan, Cauquenes Valley, Chile ($17.95) is a prime example, made from 80 year-old vines dry-farmed in the Maule Valley. Santa Carolina’s Specialties range is where you’ll find the company’s most exciting wines, and this is an attractively herbal, succulent and juicy, yet still fruity, very ripe, almost liqueur-like carignan. 15% alcohol is high, but think of this in, say, a southern Rhône context and you’ll see that it fits into the world of fine value, with a savoury edge. Try with braised meat dishes.

But Chile also still does classic cabernet as well as anyone, as in the Cono Sur 2014 Single Vineyard El Recurso Block 18 Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.95). It’s a high-toned but varietally accurate Maipo Valley red from the company’s top vineyard, which finds a balance between succulent and juicy fruit, neither over nor under ripe. Modest wood influence adds another layer, rather than dominates, the flavour profile. Decant and serve with salty protein.

Chile has long been a source of particularly good value sauvignon blanc, and Casa Silva’s 2014 Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc ($16.95) from the far out Paredones sub-region of the Colchagua Valley captures the cool pacific influence nicely in its lean, bright, sharp, and tangy and profile, as the name promises.

Santa Carolina Specialties Dry Farming Carignan 2011 Cono Sur Single Vineyard El Recurso Block 18 Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Casa Silva Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Viña Cobos Felino Chardonnay 2014 Trapiche Broquel Bonarda 2013

Over in Argentina, the market is still overwhelmingly dominated by malbec, but fans of rich and creamy west coast style chardonnay will love the Viña Cobos 2014 Felino Chardonnay, Mendoza ($19.95) by peripatetic winemaker Paul Hobbs. It delivers multiple layers and terrific texture, seamless, with excellent length, a fail-safe option to bring to any gathering.

For something other than malbec from Mendoza, check out the Trapiche Broquel 2013 Bonarda ($14.95) Made from a grape I’d like to see more of, this is a juicy, dark, succulent red with a touch of coffee liqueur on the finish from toasted wood, but still a fine mouthful of wine for the price.

That’s it for my VINTAGES Preview, but we’ll be back next week with our complete BUYERS’ Guide for the January 23rd release, with David and Sara’s picks as well.

See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES January 23, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys: Portugal and South America
All Reviews

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

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 31, Part One

Chile and Top Whites Picks
by John Szabo MS, with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Fall is a frenetic time of year in the wine world, and not just for winemakers. This year in particular has been non-stop, with multiple invitations for tastings squeezing into my inbox almost every day, featuring visiting winemakers and winery principals. Canada, it seems, has become a real “focus market”, which is great news for us. It means more great wines in our market, even if you’ll have to go direct to agents for many – there are only so many open SKUs at your local retail monopoly store. We’re doing our best at WineAlign to keep up with tastings and posting reviews of both LCBO and consignment portfolios, so if you’re looking for off-the-path great wines, set your filter to “All Sources” when using the wine search function.

This week we bring you a wine-packed report on the very good Chile feature, hitting VINTAGES on October 31st, along with an eclectic selection of recommended whites from around the world. Read to the bottom for details on upcoming events and tastings, including the annual Chilean Wine Fair (special offer for WineAlign readers), and upcoming grower champagne and volcanic wine masterclasses.

Chile: Getting its Due

Earlier this year I reported on some of the exciting developments that have shaken up the staid, traditional foundations of Chile, a well-established wine producer and exporter, in the last handful of years. In that piece, I list ten things you should know about Chile (that you may not have known already), including discussion on some of the most exciting winery projects, fruit of a visit there last November. Yet sadly, so many of the wines that we discover and get enthusiastic about on such trips abroad, and write about, fail to ever reach our shores. It makes me wonder what the point is.

But happily, the October 31st VINTAGES release featuring Chile gives us hope that somebody is listening, or at least doing their own research to properly represent the country on our shelves. A couple of my picks even came in, so to speak. Projects like Luis Felipe Edwards exceptional LFE 900 range, from some of Chile’s highest elevation vineyards where naturally balanced, exceptional reds are standard, or Pedro Parra and friends’ Clos de Fous project, whose stated aim is to seek out and express “extreme terroirs in Chile: altitude wines, coastal wines in front of the Pacific Ocean, or Southern Wines coming from Malleco, 700 km South Santiago”, will help to broaden and deepen the field beyond the familiar. If you’ve never found Chilean wines particularly exciting, give these a try.

View from Luis Felipe Edwards LFE 900 project vineyards-6955

View from Luis Felipe Edwards LFE 900 project vineyard

But the selection is not all radical. In fact it’s rather well thought out with some classics like Concha y Toro’s excellent Terrunyo cabernet (and also revisit winemaker Marcelo Papa’s enlightened new direction with the ultra-traditional Marqués de Casa Concha line, especially the cabernet sauvignon from 2013 on, a VINTAGES essential). The De Martino winery under Marcelo Retamal has been innovating for a decade already and his fine sauvignon blanc is on offer.

Sara and David include their visions of quality and diversity, bringing a recommended white blend, carignan, pinot noir, carmenere and syrah into the discussion. Indeed it’s a testament to the broad stylistic range and the generally high quality on offer that there’s virtually no alignment of picks this week between David, Sara and I. It’s not because our palates don’t align, they do (albeit not always), but rather because there was lots of choose from in a wide variety of styles.

Diversity is one of Chile’s best new strengths, and it’s heartening to see Chile getting its due. Read through the reviews to find the wines that match you.

Buyers Guide For October 31st 2015: Chile

Clos Des Fous 2012 Grillos Cantores Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Valley, Chile ($17.95)

Terroirist Pedro Parra-5641

Terroirist Pedro Parra

John Szabo – Four crazy friends, Pedro Parra, Albert Cussen, Paco Leyton & Francois Massoc are behind the excellent Clos des Fous project, focusing on Chile’s radical terroirs at the forefront of change in the country. The cabernet from the Grillo Cantores vineyard in the Alta Cachapoal D.O. on volcanic alluvial soils with limestone is like no other cabernet you’ve had from Chile. It smells like wine: no artifice, no exaggerated ripeness and no wood. Acids are firm and fresh, and tannins are well managed and fine-grained, infinitely drinkable. A great wine for the table with its appealing salty streak.
Sara d’Amato – From ungrafted, high altitude vines, this captivating cabernet is generous yet still showing some restraint. There is a lot to look forward to here in this red fermented and aged in concrete vats. There is good potential for graceful development over the next 3-4 years.

De Martino 2014 Legado Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($16.95)

John Szabo – Chilean sauvignon blanc is one of the better value countries for the grape, with even premium versions like this rarely cracking the $20 ceiling. De Martino’s winemaker Marcelo Retamal is among the most forward thinking (which often means backwards thinking) winemakers in Chile, and here he has crafted a sharp and fresh version with a blast of citrus and light tropical fruit, with fresh wintergreen mint flavours. This should satisfy both old and new world sauvignon fans.

Luis Felipe Edwards 2012 LFE 900 Single Vineyard Blend, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($29.95)

John Szabo – the “LFE 900” project is surely one of the top terroirs in Chile, a rocky (volcanic) vineyard 900m above sea level in the Colchagua Valley were the ripening cycle is much longer and natural balance is regularly achieved. Based on cabernet and syrah, this has genuine cut and class, freshness and refinement. Tannins are beautifully ripe and fine grained, and acids life-preserving. Terrific stuff, best 2015-2027.

Concha Y Toro 2012 Terrunyo Andes Pirque Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Las Terrazas Block, Pirque Vineyard, Maipo Valley, Chile ($29.95)

John Szabo – Terrunyo is the premium range of single vineyard “terroir” expressions (terrunyo in Spanish), and this 2012 cabernet from the gravels of Pirque is finely balanced, rich and succulent but well-cut with a terrific salty note. There’s real drive and depth on the palate; this expands nicely across several flavour dimensions. Best 2015-2022. 

Clos Des Fous Grillos Cantores Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 De Martino Legado Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Luis Felipe Edwards LFE 900 Single Vineyard Blend 2012 Concha Y Toro Terrunyo Andes Pirque Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Las Terrazas Block

Signos De Origen 2014 La Vinilla Chardonnay/Viognier/Marsanne/Roussanne, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – This singular blend from the cooler region of Casablanca is a product of organic and biodynamically grown fruit with little oak and body-enhancing lees ageing. Wildly complex with an abundance of tree and tropical fruit.

Sara d’Amato – From ungrafted, high altitude vines, this captivating cabernet is generous yet still showing some restraint. There is a lot to look forward to here in this red fermented and aged in concrete vats. There is good potential for graceful development over the next 3-4 years.

Cono Sur 2013 Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir, San Antonio Valley, Chile ($18.95) (419010)

Sara d’Amato – San Antonio’s cooler, ocean influenced terroir makes growing pinot noir a breeze. This single vineyard, sustainable selection is a typical example of Cono Sur’s reliable value.

Ventisquero  2012 Grey Glacier Single Block Carmenère, Trinidad Vineyard, Maipo Valley ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This is a single vineyard (albeit large vineyard) carmenere from the lower Maipo Valley. It has a lifted, very minty/juniper nose with pure blackcurrant, light cedar and vanillin. It’s medium weight, tense, firm and juicy with excellent length.

Signos De Origen La Vinilla 2014 Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2013Ventisquero Grey Glacier Single Block Carmenère 2012 Morandé Edición Limitada Carignan 2011Montes Alpha Syrah 2012

Morandé 2011 Edición Limitada Carignan, Loncomilla Valley, Maule ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Carignan grown in old vine sites in the coastal Maule region is the new, rising star of Chilean wine. There is even an association called Vignos devoted to the genre and it may become a DO (but Morande is not a member). This has lifted, grapey, blackberry fruit with a hot red brick oven minerality that is distinctly carignan.

Montes Alpha 2012 Syrah, Colchagua Valley ($19.95)

David Lawrason – Although deeply coloured and ripe many Chilean syrahs are going for a lighter, juicier feel than examples from Australia, South Africa or Chile.     This is a very pretty, supple and tender syrah with ripe blueberry aromas, considerable oak vanillin, dried herbs, chocolate and lead pencil.

Buyers Guide For October 31st 2015: Miscellaneous Whites 

Casal di Serra 2014 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Classico Superiore, Marche, Italy ($17.95)

John Szabo – I’ve been admiring this wine for many years, originally a single vineyard selection but now a blend of top lots from 4 parcels in Jesi. Quality remains high: 2014 is a fullish and flavourful, solid mouthful of a wine, with great acids and pronounced stony-minerality. Lees contact contributes notable smokiness on the palate.
David Lawrason – Verdicchio remains one of the world’s most undervalued white wines. It is capable of greatness and this comes close – a bright, polished solid and firm white that with a richness and complexity more mindful of White Burgundy. Great acidity and power here.

Demorgenzon DMZ 2015 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa ($14.95)

John Szabo – Terrific value chenin, fresh, with ripe apple and lightly honeyed flavours, and real phenolic grip on the palate from low yielding, relatively old vines. I like the density and intensity, especially at the price – this packs a solid winey punch.
Sara d’Amato – A wonderfully representative South African chenin blanc from 35 year old, low yielding vines. The name DeMorgenzon refers to ‘the morning sun,’ as it is the first part of the Stellenboschkloof valley to see the sun due to its high altitude location and orientation. Bonus, its stylish packaging makes it a dinner table conversation piece.

Casal di Serra Verdicchio Dei Castelli di Jesi 2014 Demorgenzon DMZ Chenin Blanc 2015Inniskillin Reserve Chardonnay 2013Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2013

Inniskillin 2013 Reserve Series Chardonnay VQA Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($18.95)  Chardonnay

John Szabo – Inniskillin has been tweaking their chardonnay style over the past few years, and this vintage really hits the mark. It’s very pretty, fruity, well-balanced and firm-fresh, with light oak influence and engaging citrus fruit. A light lactic touch gives this an almost Chablisienne profile. Best 2015-2020.

Burrowing Owl 2013 Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($34.95)

Sara d’Amato – Savory, dry, focused and mineral-driven – this nervy, almost Chablis-like chardonnay is a head-turner. A wine sure to make an impression at your next dinner party.

Château De La Ragotière 2014 Sélection Vieilles Vignes Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, Loire, France ($14.95)

Sara d’Amato – The Terra Vitis designation on the label is indicates that sustainable viticultural practices were used. Produced from wines aged 30-60 years old, this “sur-lie” melon de Bourgogne is punchy and brimming with orchard fresh pear, fleshy peach and typical cool stone.

Château de la Ragotière Sélection Vieilles Vignes Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2014 Ferrari Carano Fumé Blanc 2013 Stoneleigh Latitude Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Ferrari-Carano 2103 Fumé Blanc, Sonoma County, California  ($22.95)
David Lawrason – The well known Mondavi Fume is on this realease as well, and its very good, but this is better. The complex reminds me of corn shoots and fresh peas, with gentle oak spice/nutmeg. It’s quite full bodied, plush, sweetish and warm but the flavour intensity is admirable. Good value within the genre of barrel aged sauvignons

Stoneleigh 2014 Latitude Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($21.95)
David Lawrason – Very complete, refined NZ sauvignon with not a hair out of place.  Nicely lifted, very peppery (green and black) aromas with chive, grapefruit, passion fruit and lime. Its mid-weight, very bright intense and even.


Upcoming Events

Tutored Tastings - GFWEGourmet Food and Wine Show Tutored Tasting: Volcanic Wines

From the Ring of Fire to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the meeting of the Eurasian and African Tectonic plates in the Mediterranean, join Master Sommelier John Szabo for an exotic tour of the world’s best volcanoes! Or rather, the exceptional wines that grow on them. Since the dawn of time, humankind has been drawn to these lethal but irresistible fissures in the earth, not least because the soils surrounding them are incredibly mineral-rich and whatever grows on them, including grapes, has flavours as intense as a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. Salty, gritty and powerful — these are the world’s best volcanic wines. Buy tickets now

Host: John Szabo, Master Sommelier
Friday November 20th, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Cost: $85


Maison Bereche Champagne vineyard

Maison Bereche Champagne vineyard

IWEG Masterclass: The Intrigue of Grower Champagne

Hosted by John Szabo, Canada’s first Master Sommelier and IWEG WSET Diploma Graduate, experience the nuances that make grower Champagne so exceptional and unique! Taste 8 premium single estate Champagnes produced in limited quantities, most of which will not be available in the LCBO.

Event Details:

When: Tuesday, November 24th, 7-9pm
Where: IWEG Drinks Academy, 211 Yonge St., Suite 501
Cost: $105 / $95 for IWEG alumni

Sign up at


Discover the Flavours of ChileChilean Wine Festival - Oct 27

Q: Where can you sample over 120 great wines from 30 different wineries along with regional cuisine?

A: The Chilean Wine Festival taking place Tuesday, October 27th at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Purchase your ticket with the WineAlign promo code and save $10.


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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES October 31, 2015

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

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

Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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10th Annual Chilean Wine Festival – October 27, 2015

Discover the Flavours of Chile

Wines of Chile and the Trade Commission of Chile (ProChile) present their annual grand tasting and celebration of wine and food in Toronto – the Chilean Wine Festival taking place Tuesday, October 27th at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Wines of Chile

Chilean Wine Festival Special Offer

WineAlign readers are invited to discover the flavours of Chile with a special offer. Purchase your tickets using the promotional code WineAlign and you will get $10 off the regular admission price of $75.

Purchase Tickets

Explore new wines

Chile’s outstanding diversity of wines stems from the country’s extraordinary geography and unique climate. Regionality is the key to Chile’s stylistic development and winemakers are striving to reflect the different terroirs that the country can offer, especially in the cooler coastal areas and in the Andean foothills. Avid wine consumers today recognize the names Casablanca, Maipo and Colchagua, but these are just the beginnings of a host of appellations. It is this mosaic of appellations and wineries that composes Wines of Chile.

An outstanding set of 30 wineries bring Toronto more than 120 wines for this tasting. Guests will also enjoy a special Chilean fusion menu prepared by Daniel and Daniel catering and authentic Chilean empanadas prepared by The Empanada Co. The 2015 tasting will feature two new theme tables, one featuring a collection of Sparkling Wines and another showing wines that demonstrate Innovation in winemaking.

Chilean Wine Festival

Experience live entertainment including Chilean cultural dancing by Grupo Chile Dance Co. and a live acoustic performance by Farrucas Latin Duo.

Special guest Chef Andres Michel will design and prepare a special menu of Chilean inspired dishes.

Participating wineries include:

Arboleda, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Bisquertt, Caliterra, Carmen, Casas del Toqui, Cono Sur, Concha y Toro, Emiliana, Errazuriz, Indomita, Koyle, Leyda, Montes, MontGras, Morandé, Pérez Cruz, San Esteban, San Pedro, San Rafael, Santa Alicia, Santa Ema, Santa Rita, Siegel, Tabali, Tarapaca, Terraustral, Ventisquero, Veramonte, VIA.

Chilean Wine Festival

Event Details

WineAlign readers are invited to discover the wines of Chile with a special offer. Purchase your tickets using the promotional code WineAlign and you will get $10 off the regular admission price of $75.

Date & Time:

Tuesday October 27th, 2015
Walk-About Tasting – 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm


Royal Ontario Museum, Peter F Bronfman Hall, 2nd level
100 Queens Park, Toronto, Ontario

Price: $75 regular, $65 with the promotional code WineAlign

Purchase Tickets


Wines of Chile Event


Peter F. Bronfman Hall is located on the second level of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Guests will enter from the main doors on Queen’s Park and access the second level from either the north or south staircases or the elevator. Proceeds from the event will be donated toward ROM’s highest educational priorities.

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES January 24th – Part Two

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

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

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

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

South America

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

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

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

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

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

Other New World Reds

Rodney Strong Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Kurtz Family Boundary Row Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2010

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

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

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

Avondale Jonty's Ducks Pekin Red 2011

Nugan Estate Alcira Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

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

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

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

Euro Reds

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

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

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

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

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

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


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES Jan 24th release:

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

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

Pepperjack Barossa Red

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Chile Into The Future

Szabo’s Free RunJanuary 5, 2015

Text and photographs by John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Does the mention “Chilean wine” conjure up the image of a tweed jacket? In this Free Run report I take a look at how this conservative South American country has leaped from the 19th century directly into the 21st. I offer ten reasons why you should rethink your views on Chile, along with the wines that prove the point. And for intrepid travellers, check out these four suggested travel adventures complete with photomontage, as well as some restaurant recommendations in Santiago.

Red Pants Spotted in Chile

The southern hemisphere is on the move. I’m thinking of Australia and South Africa for example, two ‘old’, new world countries that have both been radically rethinking their regional wine identities over the last decade. Now, you can add Chile to that list.

It has taken some time for the most conservative South American country to embrace change and diversity. As Toronto’s Peter Boyd recently commented via twitter: “Chile needs more outliers. More wild men + women ready to abandon the cookie cutter”.

Well Mr. Boyd, the cutters have been shelved and the revolution is in full swing, driven by the smallest operations to even the largest corporations. The new ‘boutique’ producers have no option but to offer something different, since they can never compete with the big guys on price or marketing might. And the large companies can afford to set up experimental divisions to test out new wines and respond to changing market demands, which is what they’re doing. The net result is radically good: from my first visit to Chile in 2006 to the latest last month, the cravats have come off, the top button loosened, and the occasional pair of red pants spotted. There’s evidently growing confidence that Chile can produce so much more than decent $10 cabernet and chardonnay. As Chile-based Antarctic expedition leader Francesco Contini recently revealed to me, “Chileans look all structured and serious, even boring maybe, but there is a wild side to this culture.”

The New Chile

This doesn’t mean they’re chucking out everything and starting over. In the new Chile, it means intelligent perseverance – keeping what’s working well – while at the same time experimenting with new, and often better-suited grapes. Remember that the so-called ‘new world countries’, including Chile, burst onto the scene at a time in the early 1990s when exports were dominated by wines made with a small handful of mostly French grapes. Back then the markets made planting decisions, not winegrowers.

Colchagua Valley, from Altaïr-6835

Colchagua Valley, from Altaïr

It also means prospecting for new, often cooler regions, and allowing regional conditions to inform wine styles rather than boardroom directives. With experience, Chilean winegrowers have become more confident in their terroirs and their ability to express something different. There’s less pressure to emulate some far away European wine style – a futile endeavor in any case. And since the world is more open to, and demanding of, diversity today than ever before in the history of wine, the opportunities are great.

It also means rediscovering the value of “lost varieties”. Like South Africa’s recent enthusiasm for its old chenin blanc, or Australia’s crush on ancient grenache (both planted because they work well, not because some marketer told them they had to be), Chile, too, has a fine collection of old vines. There are plenty of carignan vines that Chilean poet Pablo Neruda himself may have gazed upon in his prime (d. 1973), and even some país speculated to be older than the Republic of Chile itself (independence from Spain was declared in 1818).

Marco Puyo in his pit, Viña San Pedro-6882

Marco Puyo in his pit, Viña San Pedro

But perhaps most importantly, the new Chile has meant dissolving the walls between growers, makers and marketers. In 2006, winery visits began in a boardroom, with the export manager delivering a corporate power point presentation before the winemaker took over to present wines. Vineyards were never visited and vineyard managers never seen.

In 2014, every visit began in a pit – a soil pit dug in the vineyards, with the winemaker and vineyard manager (and even the occasional export manager) enthusiastically digging away to show the different soil structure of their various sub-parcels, which were then related to experimental wine lots back in the winery. Believe it or not, that’s the kind of stuff that tickles the taste buds of a writer jaded by an ocean of me-too varietal wines. And it speaks volumes of a country ready quite literally to examine the deeper crevices of its navel.

So, if you wrote Chile off long ago as the Tweed jacket of the new world – staid, safe and cookie cutter, here are ten things to know that just might change your mind, along with a few wines that will illustrate the point (the hyperlinked wines are available in Ontario; for a full list of top rated Chilean wines available in your province – simply set your WineAlign search parameters to “Chile”).

Warning: you may end up wanting to visit this beautiful country.

Ten Things to Know About Chile

1. There Really is Diversity

Chile is in the early stages of recognizing its full diversity of soils and climates. But from the limestone of Limarí, to the granites and schists of the coastal range, the volcanic rocks of the Andean foothills, the basalts and ash in Bío-Bío and south, and the gravel terraces of the many rivers that flow from the mountains to the sea, they’ve got plenty to work with. Vineyards have also been pushed off the Central Valley floor into the cooler foothills of the Andes and beyond the Coastal Range sometimes within sight of the icy Pacific – the Chilean equivalent to the far Sonoma Coast, as well as into the deep south in regions like Itata, Bío-Bío, Malleco, and others further south still, yet to be officially named.

View from Luis Felipe Edwards LFE 900 project vineyards-6955

View from Luis Felipe Edwards LFE 900 project vineyards

For those who have been following the industry this is not breaking news – Marcelo Retamal of De Martino for one has been exploring new areas for over a decade. But plenty more are joining in the hunt, and the planting of new areas has accelerated. And it’s not just the fringe (although there are many small producers pioneering new areas). Even the big players are playing. Carmen’s Waves Series, Montes Outer Limits, Undurraga’s Terroir Hunter Rarities, Casa Silva Microterroir, Concha y Toro Terrunyo, Santa Carolina Specialties, and the Luis Felipe Edwards “LFE 900 Project” are just some examples of the innovative series of wines emerging from well-established companies.

Wines: try the Montes 2014 Outer Limits Cinsault, a crunchy, fruity wine made without oak influence, the winemaker’s own expression and a radical departure from the usually plump, oaky house style, or the 2013 Marqués de Casa Concha País-Cinsault from old, dry farmed vines. It’s a huge statement that Concha y Toro bottled such a wine under this ultra-conservative range; ten years ago a pais under the Marqués label would have been unthinkable.

2. Going Organic

There are still too few wineries taking advantage of Chile’s near perfect climate to farm without chemical intervention, but the industry is slowly shifting in that direction. As winemaker Rodrigo Soto of Veramonte points out, it’s now clear that heavy conventional agro-farming is not only bad for workers and the environment, but it also shortens the lifespan of vines. Many vineyards are dying after barely a couple of decades – premature for plants that can often live to a hundred years or more.

This means that the maximum potential of a site expressed by proper old vines can never be realized. Big operations like Cono Sur and Emiliana prove that it can be done profitably on a large scale, while smaller companies like Matetic, Odjfell and Koyle simply understand that it also makes better wine. Oh, and consumer demand for organic wines is rising – would you pay a dollar or two more for better, organic wine?

Julio Bastías, Matetic-7226

Julio Bastías, Matetic

Geese, Matetic-7267

Geese, Matetic

Wines: Julio Bastías of Matetic is making fine biodynamically-certified wines across the board, though his flagship is the excellent syrah from the granite soils of the Coastal Range –the Coralillo Syrah is the lighter, juicier version, while the EQ Syrah is the more serious, concentrated range, though still very much in the cool climate idiom. Emiliana’s Coyam, also biodynamic, is a terrific, field blend of six grapes planted from massale selections and led by syrah. It’s pure, savoury and mouthfilling. Cono Sur’s Single Vineyard Nº 23 Riesling from the Bío-Bío Valley is the finest example I’ve tasted from Chile.

3. Experimentation is in Full Swing

Dry farming, massal selection, early harvest, wild yeast, whole cluster, carbonic maceration, old wood, clay pots, foudres, low sulphites, natural wine – you name it, every buzzword on the lips of sommeliers from Montreal to Tokyo is spoken, not whispered, in Chile. Just about every ancient and new technique has been trialed somewhere by someone, and the best results will eventually stick. The one-size-fits all recipe is disappearing as quickly as the ceviche spoons at a Latino wine party. Let’s hope that winery owners continue to give their winemakers a “chipe libre” – a free pass – to carry on doing what excites them.

Wines: track down De Martino’s deliciously succulent 2014 Viejas Tinajas Cinsault, a version aged in 200+ year-old clay amphoras unearthed, sometimes literally, in the deepest corners of the country, or Santa Carolina’s 2013 Tinto de Montaña, a blend of mostly 80 year-old malbec picked early and intentionally, or at least not regretfully, a little funky (yes there’s brett!).

4. Mediterranean Grapes Are Back

Chilean wine regions by and large enjoy a Mediterranean climate: a hot, dry, sunny growing season. And after all, the country was colonized by Spain. So it’s logical that Mediterranean grapes would have been at the origins of Chilean viticulture. The Spanish planted País 500 years ago, a grape brought via the Canary Islands (where it’s known as Listán Prieto). Cariñena (carignan) and cinsault have also been part of the Chilean table since Chile was called Chile, and even before.

The deviation to French varieties came much later, but that influence is clearly waning, re-opening the door to more sensible Mediterranean varieties. Grenache (garnacha), mourvedre (monastrell) and syrah are appearing in vineyards from Elquí down to Maule. And what’s most exciting is that the majority of the new “Mediterranean blends” started as true terroir wines, instigated by the winemaker’s vision, from the bottom up not top down – it’s the wine they want to make. Prices are very modest and the best will please any southern France, Italian or Spanish wine drinker.

Cristóbal Undurraga, winemaker, Koyle-6933

Cristóbal Undurraga, winemaker, Koyle

Wines: Casa Lapostolle’s 2013 Collection Mourvèdre is the best southern hemisphere example I’ve tried, made without crushing, fining, or filtration, fermented with wild yeasts and aged in old wood, very Bandol-esque. I love how winemaker Andrea León resisted the old siren call of oak and extraction, and had the courage to let freshness and succulent, just-ripe red fruit dominate. Undurraga’s Terroir Hunter Rarities Garnacha-Cariñena-Monastrell is a fine example of the distinctly Chilean twist on classic Mediterranean grapes, with ample, ripe blue fruit and a significant dose of South American-style garrigue led by the fragrant boldo tree (think fresh bay leaf).

5. Vigno

Vigno, from Vignadores de Carignan , is a recently launched association of twelve founding producers, whose aim is to revalorize the rich history of the Maule Valley and especially its wealth of old vine carignan. The group’s intention is to eventually create an official Denominacíon de Origen (D.O.), though the wines bearing the Vigno name already adhere to strict appellation-like criteria. Among other requirements, Vigno must be made from unirrigated bush vines at least 30 years old (often more than sixty), and at least 2/3 carignan.

Like any appellation or producers’ association, Vigno is imperfect and exclusive (there’s only so much old bush vine carignan around, and dammit it’s a Spanish speaking country so call it cariñena), but it’s a positive step for Chile. Vigno is the country’s first wine with a genuine regional, varietal and stylistic identity. Sommelier students beware – Vigno could show up on a blind tasting exam someday soon.

Wines: Miguel Torres’ Cordillera Vigno, a recent release in Canada, is a pure essence of carignan, savoury and even a touch savage yet with some of the Torres polish; biodynamic producer Odjfell makes a dashingly rustic, stainless steel-aged, old vine carignan with genuine depth and complexity, while Gillmore’s Vigno takes a more vertical tack, with riveting acids and firm, dusty texture, aged in old wood.

6. Pipeño

Pipeño is not a grape, not a place, not a D.O. nor even an association, but it spells fun in a bottle like you never thought Chile could write. Pipeño is your chill, crack and crunch wine, an infinitely drinkable, if loosely defined style that is woefully underrepresented in so many countries. In reality there’s no standard definition of pipeño – the name derives simply from the Spanish word for barrel – pipa – the format in which wine from the 1600s-1800s was invariably sold. Ask any old-time Chilean what pipeño is and he’ll tell you it’s the dodgy stuff gauchos and farmers guzzle from a gallon jug. But it’s quickly becoming the stuff cool sommeliers (and writers) want to be guzzling after their long shifts on the floor (or “serious” tastings).

It’s no accident that I was turned on to pipeño by Chile’s most highly regarded wine writer, Patricio Tapia, and its top sommelier, Hectór Riquelme. Here’s the gist of what it is (or should be): a wine made from ancient país grapes (I tried one from supposedly 250+ year-old vines) and occasionally some equally ancient carineña (although other grapes can be used), vinified as naturally as possible (wild yeast, no additions of any kind, minimal sulphur), and bottled young without any wood ageing, preferably in magnum.

In an age when so many producers strive to make only “important” wines (read: expensive), it’s delightful to see a growing number of Chileans focusing on good, wholesome fermented grape juice meant for drinking not worshipping.

Manuel Moraga, Cacique Maravilla-7303

Manuel Moraga, Cacique Maravilla

Wines: Manuel Moraga is a salt of the earth sort of fellow, the kind of vignador you’d expect to see at the natural wine fair in the Loire Valley. In fact, he’s just sent the first shipment of his Cacique Maravilla Pipeño there, probably to a group of curious vignerons. And speaking of France, sort of, David Marcel is an expatriated Basque, former-courtier-in-Chile-turned Pipeño-producer. His Aupa is a little more gentil than Moraga’s but still captures the savage drinkability of the genre. To prove the point he also bottles it in 330ml format – you might call it a chic beer alternative at the party, only it’s definitely bohemian, not chic.

7. Cabernet Sauvignon

Despite all of the excitement around novelties, Chile’s unique way with cabernet can’t be denied. The grape has a proven track record; it’s been planted for almost 150 years. Not all are great, and indeed many at the basic level are manipulated with acids, oak chips, tannin powder, and more. But the best deliver authentic savoury cab flavor at under $15/bottle, a feat that few other countries can match. And at the top end, especially from classic areas like the gravel terraces of the Alto Maipo as well as from new hillside projects, Chilean cabernet handily delivers equal pleasure alongside much more expensive versions from elsewhere around the world.

Andres Caballero, winemaker, Santa Carolina-6800

Andres Caballero, winemaker, Santa Carolina

Wines: so many to choose from, but for value, character and availability it’s hard to top the 2011 1865 Single Vineyard Cabernet from Viña San Pedro, made from a plot of old vines in the Isla de Maipo that shows classic regional character for under $20 (Ontario). And for sheer excitement about the future, look forward to the Luis Felipe Edwards LFE 900 Vinificacion Integral Cabernet Sauvignon, an experimental wine made from newish, high elevation vines, nearly 900m off the Colchagua valley floor in schists and granites. It shows the potential to carry a big, ripe frame on superb, natural acid and fine-grained tannins. I’m also awaiting the release of Santa Carolina’s Piedras Pizzaras, winemaker Andres Caballero’s latest crush from a thigh-burningly steep, extremely stony (slate-schist) hillside in Totihue, Colchagua Valley.

8. Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon blanc is the most reliable white grape in Chile, and at times one of the most exciting. I’m not referring to the basic tropical fruit cocktail versions from the central valley, I’m referring to those from the coast where the mighty Chilean sun meets the icy Humboldt Current. Casablanca and San Antonio (and the smaller Leyda Valley within) are the most established zones, but watch out for other coastal areas that are starting to get exploited, like Paredones and Zapallar on the far out coast of the Colchagua and Aconcagua Valleys respectively. The entire south from Itata on down is yet another source of potentially excellent sauvignon soon to come online.

And then there’s value: in a world where there’s often little to tell between a $12 and a $20 sauvignon blanc, Chile consistently delivers delicious examples at $5 to $10 dollars less than the average from around the world.

Wines: There are many fine examples from Casablanca and San Antonio/Leyda, but two of the most exiting sauvignons I recently tasted were southerners: Casa Silva’s Lago Ranco is an almost fruitless, purely mineral expression from the Región Austral in Patagonia and its volcanic ash and pyroclastic stone soils, 904 kilometers south of Santiago, and the equally riveting and mineral Laberinto Cenizas de Barlovento, Rafael Tirado’s recent project with vines planted in volcanic ash at 600m in the foothills of the Andes in the eastern Maule Valley.

9. The Best is Yet to Come

“Wait ten years”, sommelier Hectór Riquelme tells me. “We have it here in Chile”. I believe you Hectór. Chile is in a good place, but I can’t help but think that many of Chile’s most promising sites have yet to be planted, and those that are are in their infancy. Those old vineyards are a valuable heritage, but let’s not forget that they were mostly planted to crank out quantity, not quality wine. Imagine what we’ll taste when today’s plantings of the right grapes in the right place, designed to maximize site expression, reach 50 years of age. That’s exciting.

Terroirist Pedro Parra-5641

Terroirist Pedro Parra

Thankfully the spirit the of exploration and experimentation is alive and well, and if I had to point to one man who’s made the greatest difference in changing the Chilean mind-set, it’s self-declared “terroirist” Pedro Parra. Parra, a rare expert who combines knowledge of rocks and soils along with their relation to both grape growing and wine style (most geologists aren’t trained winetasters), has been instrumental in helping dozens of Chilean (and international) wineries better understand their terroir and how to exploit it, and which new areas are worth planting. All those soil pits? You can thank Parra for them.

“About a decade ago, people started to realize that Chile could be much more interesting than it is”, says Parra. “The reality today is that the best terroirs are far away from Santiago, but the ‘big money’ doesn’t want to go that far from the capital.” True enough, it’s hard to establish a wine region where there’s virtually no infrastructure, but the ones willing to be pioneers may well reap huge rewards. To be continued, and keep digging, Pedro.

Wines: Parra puts his money where his mouth wants to be in his own project, Clos des Fous. Along with friend and winemaker François Massoc and two other partners, this crazy venture seeks out extreme terroirs: high altitude, extreme coast or deep south. The Clos des Fous Tocao Granito Paleozoico is a mesmerizing malbec from a vineyard planted in 1914 in the southern Bío-Bío Valley, with marvelously fresh acids and fine, granitic tannins.

10. It’s a Beautiful Country to Visit

Fairytale climate, increasingly fine food and excellent wine, and breathtaking, varied landscape should be enough to convince you. But why read words when you can see photographs – watch this short compilation of some of my highlights from Santiago, Tierra del Fuego, Cachapoal, Colchagua, Curicó and San Antonio. Just the tip of the iceberg, as they say.

And here’s my mini travel guide of memorable things to do in Chile, and places to eat in Santiago.

Four Memorable Things to do:

1. Stargazing in the Elquí Valley

Enjoy one of the clearest night skies on the planet, guaranteed cloudless, unless you’re the unlucky one who arrives on the one rainy day per decade.

2. Horseback Riding in Colchagua

A great way to visit the vineyards up close; early morning or late afternoons best. Also makes you very thirsty – start with the sauvignon blanc post ride.

Horseback riding at Montgras, Colchagua-7132

Horseback riding at Montgras, Colchagua


Bill Zacharkiw and I saddle up


3. Camping in Torres del Paine National Park

An astonishingly beautiful park, even by Canadian standards. And major bonus: Chilean mosquitos don’t bite.

4. Boat cruising in Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

Glaciers, fjords, Magellenic forests and penguins and other wildlife galore – the trip of a lifetime.

The glacier at Almirantazgo Bay-6369

The glacier at Almirantazgo Bay

Penguins, Magdalena Island-6464

Penguins, Magdalena Island



Places to Eat and Drink in Santiago:

1. Donde Augusto. Delivering ultra fresh, rustically prepared seafood in the bustling Mercado Central since 1872. That’s right, 1872. An experience not to be missed.

Donde Augusto, Mercado Central-7315

2. D.O. Restorán. Back from 10 years in Spain working with some of that country’s most innovative chefs, Juan Morales’ mission is to highlight the depth and diversity of Chilean products. The acronym stands for “Denominación de Origen”, which, as it also applies to wine, means products with a sense of place – the mantra of the restaurant.

D.O. Restorán-5659

D.O. Restorán

Juan Morales. D.O.-5661

Juan Morales

3. “ChPe” Pisco Republic. A self-declared independent republic housing the best piscos offered in northern Chile (Ch) and southern Peru (Pe), and there are hundreds. The cuisine follows suit; try the outstanding ceviche (both Chilean and Peruvian style). If your partner isn’t into pisco or even sours, next door is Bocanariz, one of Santiago’s best wine bars.

del Pisco

4. Liguria. An atmospheric, boisterous wine bar serving simple but tasty Chilean classics and copious bottles of wine.

Bar Liguria-5592


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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

For a full list of top rated Chilean wines available in your province – simply set your WineAlign search parameters to “Chile”.

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Rosehill Wine Cellars

Niagara Icewine Festival

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Chile 2.0 The Next Generation

Anthony Gismondi’s Final Blend

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

The modern Chilean wine business is closing in on 25 years in Canada. That’s right, Chilean wine spans an entire generation of Canadian wine drinkers and is already working on a new generation of wine consumers. Unfortunately what worked in the 90s or even the 00s is unlikely to be successful over the next decade and how Chile evolves and reshapes its image in foreign markets is going to be crucial to its long-term success.

Long known for its value, the time has come for Chile to ask itself why they would want to continue down that path. There is nothing wrong with offering value, especially at all price points, but countries, and important wine regions, usually build their pedigree from the top down. As they say at Ford, ‘quality is job one’ and it’s quality wine from recognised appellations that will reshape the modern Chilean wine landscape.

Chile need look no farther than Canada’s Niagara Peninsula or the Okanagan Valley to see how much money they are leaving on the table. It’s all in how you position yourself. In my opinion, and for too many years now, Chile’s best wines have been suppressed by wholesale buyers, distributors, monopolies and supermarkets content to sell expensive French, Italian or American wine while convincing the Chileans they need to attack the market from the bottom end up, because, well they were Chilean and well, the wine was from South America.

Value was the password and while the French and Italian were busy selling Grand Crus, First Growths and Riservas, Chile was asked to sell a case of wine at the same price its competitors were getting for a single bottle. That kind of thinking has to end. I have long been interested in Chile’s ultimate development which surely must move beyond the value for money moniker that attaches itself to Chilean wines in the same way an early morning Pacific fog blankets Chile’s coastal vineyards.

The current mantra is to get to the coast or up the mountains, but beyond that it’s more about exploring all of Chile and finally matching each grape with a specific soil. It’s not breaking news; we know the wine will be better, but the point is the Chileans have finally come to see that their future success will be dependent upon their ability to be different from the rest of the wine world and not to be at the beck and call of British supermarkets, giant American distributors and, of course, our own monopolies, all of whom have ridden the pony for a generation demanding nothing but cheap, loss leader wines to get customers to come into the store.

Casa Silva - Largo Ranco Sauvignon Blanc - Wines of Chile

Casa Silva – Largo Ranco Sauvignon Blanc

Arguing against value is not something I’m used to doing but if it means an end to bland, faceless brands that bring nothing to retail wine aisles, I accept the challenge. Chile’s blanket value brand identity has to disappear if it is going to make the jump to prime time.

Last week I spent some time with a number of the WineAlign team in Chile and we found plenty to rave about starting with Winemaker Mario Geisse of Casa Silva, who blew me away with his Lago Rancho 2013 Sauvignon Blanc from the Futrono, Region Austral Patagonia, Chile. The vineyard is eight years old and dry farmed thanks to 70 inches of annual rainfall. Futrono is situated in the Chilean Patagonia, 904 km south of Santiago where the average maximum temperature is 18.5 degrees Celsius from January to May. Extreme? You bet. Electric, you bet. Different than anything you will see in Canada from Chile, you bet.

About 1700 kilometres to the north in the Atacama desert, winemaker Felipe Toso was pouring the Ventisquero Tara Red from Huasaco. The vineyard, now seven years old, is located at 28º 31’ 54,85’’ S  and is planted to ungrafted syrah and merlot over chalky soils. The mix is 66/34 and the fruit was all picked in the first week of April. The two varieties are fermented separately in small, open 500-kilo tanks, ‘pinot style.’ After a week of pump overs it was racked to fifth-use French barrels, where the malolactic fermentation took place. The wine is simply amazing and has nothing to do with the Chile you know.

Ventisquero - Tara Red Wine - Wines of Chile

Ventisquero – Tara Red Wine

Another sure sign of change is a movement among the big wineries to be more responsive to the need for Chile 2.0 wines. Case in point, the Marques de Casa Concha Pais Cinsault 2014 made by winemaker Marcelo Papa. The hundred plus year old país vines are grown at Cauquenes, Maule Valley; the 50-year old cinsault is from Trehuaco in the Itata Valley. The mix is 85 percent país with 15 percent cinsault, a blend no one would have thought possible even a decade ago. Fresh bright red fruit flavours dominate, revealing a minerality and freshness that is the polar opposite of those old icon reds. Make no mistake; Papa is taking a chance by attaching this wine to the famed Marques brand but he wanted people to pay attention to it and at $20 a bottle this wine is making waves.

The question is will it make it to wine lists in New York, or London or San Francisco where traditionally you can check off the likes of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Shiraz, Brunello, Chianti and lately even Mendoza malbec. Yet more often than not, Chilean wines are nowhere to be found. True, you may find some carmenère but like South African pinotage these curiosities do not a country establish.

Chile’s strength is its fabulously natural and isolated wine regions, uncontaminated by most of what goes on in North America. Naturally made wines should be the focus of its future. My notes from numerous trips would suggest sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, carignan, pinot noir, and yes, old vine pais, will likely be the stars of the next decade along with riesling, chardonnay and more innovative and creative red blends. Many could be organic or biodynamically grown. But there is more.

As varietal wine comes to the end of its useful life, this more than anything could provide the springboard Chile needs to recreate its international image. Temperature, altitude, longitude and yes even latitude are all part of a new story that should be told. As discussed in the pinot noir tasting there is no need to be Burgundian but we can all learn from them. Pinot noir and chardonnay cover the vineyards but the story is always about its people and its places. Puligny, Chassagne, Meursault, Corton, Faiveley, Leflaive, Latour, DRC: the French are the masters of terroir-based wines because they learned decades ago that no one can copy your dirt.

No one knows better what the wines of Chile have to offer than the Chileans themselves. It is time Chile decided what is best for its future. Shaking that ‘cheap’ moniker is not going be just about raising prices. There has to be an attitude change; the industry’s youngest and brightest will need to step up and pursue the next 20 years with the same passion Aurelio Montes, Eduardo Chadwick, Agustin Huneeus, Alvaro Espinoza and Ignacio Recabarren have done in the last two decades.

The Movement of Independent Vintners (MOVI)

The Movement of Independent Vintners (MOVI)

Groups such as The Movement of Independent Vintners (MOVI) and Vignadores de Carignan (VIGNO) are a great start. Young and vigorous, the plan is to explore the limits of Chilean wine while respecting its history. MOVI calls itself an association of small, quality-oriented Chilean wineries who have come together to share a common goal to make wine personally, on a human scale and to promote a passion for the endeavours of growing grapes and crafting fine wine.

But can you be a serious wine producing region if you don’t produce so-called first growth, a grand cru-like wines or in the case of Chile — a super-premium blend? Frankly, I seldom measure a wine region by its greatest wines but rather by its most simple. Using that scale Chile moves well up my world wine chart of quality producers and with 1700 kilometres of potential vineyards to explore the possibilities are limitless.

Winemaker Aurelio Montes has fought the good fight for a long time and he is to be congratulated for pushing The Wines of Chile and its members to think outside of the box as it moves forward. Montes suggested the entire industry needed to “be brave,” moving forward as it reveals the story of the New Chile. Indeed as the song says, “Honestly, we want to see you be brave.”

Oh and be Chile, because no other country can replicate that.


Anthony Gismondi

(Photos courtesy of Wines of Chile & MOVI)

Beringer - Holiday the California Way

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008