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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – May 28, 2016

Commemorating the 40th Year Anniversary of the Arrival of New World Wine
By David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo MS & Michael Godel

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

On May 24, 1976 eight California wines hand-picked by British wine merchant Steve Spurrier faced off with top Bordeaux and Burgundy in a blind tasting by French experts. It was dubbed the Judgment of Paris. And to the shock of not only the judges, but the entire wine drinking world, they did extremely well. Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay beat a Meursault Premier Cru for first place; Stag’s Leap Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon topped Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1970. A thorough reading of the results, with California nicely intermingled with the French wines, proved the top victories were no fluke.

It was of course an enormous coup for California, but really for a whole generation of pioneers and cowboys who were just beginning during the early seventies to create the foundations of the New World wine wave in places like Oregon, Australia, New Zealand and right here in Canada. Just look at where New World wine is today – 40 years later – by viewing VINTAGES catalogue and considering that here in Ontario – one of the most international markets in the world – New World wines are being consumed by a majority of consumers.

My interest in wine had germinated in 1975 when, on vacation in California, I visited my first winery, in Monterey County. I remember reading the Time magazine piece on the Judgment of Paris soon after, and being so excited that California had done so well. In the late 1970s I visited California wine country at least three more times, then in 1984 spent three months tasting and researching California wine, visiting most wineries in existence at the time (about 200) including those on the Judgment of Paris roster. I then spent two months in France that same year, cementing an understanding of where New World wine had come from, and how different it was at the time.

But times have changed. There will likely always be debate about New World wine versus Old World wine, but nowadays it is debate about style. Climates and regions create wine character and style, while good vine-growers and winemakers who have the vision, understanding of their regions and experience create quality. And viticulture, winemaking and quality have improved so much since the Judgment of Paris that the two worlds are not so much colliding, as slipping into each others arms. This makes modern attempts to repeat such tastings as the Judgment of Paris almost meaningless – at least in terms of officiating quality and declaring one country or region better than another. They become mere popularity contests.

Unquestionably the Judgment of Paris did launch California on the global scene. It is now as globally important as Bordeaux or Burgundy, that for so many years it has striven to emulate. Wines from both regions are highly respected, highly priced and sought after. And many other regions around the world have achieved this as well. Wine is in a much better place now than it was before 1976, thanks partially to that one judgment in Paris.

Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to be invited by the California Wine Institute to attend VINTAGES Judgment of Paris dinner at George restaurant in Toronto. I tasted 32 wines that night, from the eight Napa wineries that had competed in Paris. Eight of those wines are being released on May 28, which I re-tasted in the LCBO lab. The remainder are now included in a VINTAGES on-line offer at : Judgment of Paris. This edition of VINTAGES preview features WineAlign team picks from the on-shelf eight, plus my highlights from the rest of the pack. Because the latter were not tasted in proper review conditions they are not rated or fully reviewed.

 

 

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 28th Selections

Ridge Monte Bello 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains ($191.95)
David Lawrason – At VINTAGES Judgment of Paris event, then again in the tasting lab, this towered above, and outlasted the pack in terms of length of finish. It has stupendous cabernet aromatics; so lifted and pure with cassis, mint, background meat, conifer. Great structure and depth. Deep into the cellar for now.
John Szabo – The 2013 iconic Montebello from Ridge stands in its own league in this Judgment of Paris revival, an arch-classic, monumental wine of staggering structure and proportion. A lovely savoury-mineral note sits out on the leading edge, while the palate shows epic (a word I don’t use lightly) concentration allied to balance in this vintage of pitifully low yields, driven by a second straight year of drought stress. Length is simply outstanding. This is really nowhere near prime drinking – I’d speculate another 5-7 years minimum to relax, soften and shift into the mature flavour spectrum that is the joy of drinking properly aged Montebello. Best 2023-2033.
Michael Godel – From a serious drought vintage, dry, warm and demanding, the 2013 Montebello’s Draper perfume is as heady as ever, to such effect that after one whiff this is where daydreaming takes over consciousness. Montebello is a classic, lithe and restrained blend of sheer, utter exceptionality in balance.

Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 2013 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2014 Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2013

Chateau Montelena 2014 Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($75.95)
David Lawrason – This is one of the most impressive chardonnays in recent memory, combining a sense of opulence in terms of flavours, plus power, intensity and restrained finesse. And compared to the prices of its peers on this release, as well as top white Burgundies to which is still compares today, it is actually a good buy.
John Szabo – The 1973 Château Montelena, made by a young Mike Grgich, took top spot in the 1976 tasting, and remains one of the classiest whites in northern California. The fruit source has changed (most aren’t aware that 40% of the fruit for the ’73 came from the Bacigalupi estate in Sonoma County, which recently began bottling its own wine), but I love the perfectly pitched nature of this 2014, anchored on tight, bright acids but still delivering an impressive dose of citrus-orchard fruit and beguiling floral notes. But it’s really the length and genuine depth of flavour that seals the deal here, plumbing the depths of this wine requires minutes, not seconds, to reach the bottom. A terrific wine all in all, drinking surprisingly well now, but surely better in another 2-3 years. Best 2018-2026.

Grgich Hills Estate 2013 Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($67.95)
John Szabo – Having just turned 93, Mike Grgich is involved a little less in the day-to-day operations of the business he co-founded in 1976, though his figure looms large. Nephew Ivo Jeramaz has shepherded the estate into organics/biodynamics, and crafts one of the tightest chardonnays in the Napa Valley from vineyards in cool American Canyon and Carneros in southern Napa, made, unusually, without malolactic and designed to age. This 2013 seems a little less flinty (reductive) than previous vintages, coming across as gently ripe and sensibly wood-influenced, relatively round, soft but balanced on the palate, with toasty-honeyed orchard fruit lingering alongside caramel on the finish. Admittedly I miss the intense mineral-flint note of the last vintage, but this will surely appeal more widely. Best 2016-2023.
David Lawrason – This is an organically grown nervy and powerful chardonnay with lifted slightly reductive/matchstick notes amid pineapple fruit, toast and vanilla cream. It’s full bodied, quite fleshy and warm yet dry – a big chardonnay for the cellar.
Michael Godel – Stylistically consistent yet somehow different and still the feeling remains the same. Another exceptional Chardonnay to further the winemaking legacy of Mike Grgich, maker of Chateau Montelena’s 1976 Judgment of Paris chardonnay winner.

Clos Du Val 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($59.95)
David Lawrason – Since my first visits to California in the late 70s I have had a fondness for the light more French leaning style of Clos du Val. Founder Bernard Portet was from Bordeaux. This is the most approachable of the cabernets at the moment, with pretty, soft, ripe fruit driven aromas, and lighter, quite elegant styling.
John Szabo – For more immediate pleasure, Clos du Val’s pleasantly dark and savoury, lightly herbal Napa cabernet is your best option. The estate has always favoured a more reserved, less exaggerated style, and here the palate is attractively mid-weight, with light but still grippy tannins, and lingering finish. A fine vintage for the estate, best 2016-2023.

Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Heitz Chardonnay 2014 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Heitz Cellar 2014 Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($49.95)
David Lawrason – This is a very fine, tender and elegant chardonnay – more refined than most from California. It has generous if subtle aromas of lemon, vague blanched almond nuttiness, crisp apple and lightly warmed bread. Feels slender on the palate, but in any case wonderfully refined.
Michael Godel – When the Napa Valley name Heitz is mentioned it is Cabernet Sauvignon that comes to most minds, 99 per cent of the time. Chardonnay is a Heitz thing, dating back to 1961. Wound tighter than a wire around a boat winch, this 2014 just needs some time to settle in.

Ridge 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, Monte Bello Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains ($74.95)
David Lawrason – Offered as a Flagship In-Store Exclusive, this too is excellent, and great value compared to the Montebello above. Also more evolved and ready to drink. It’s full bodied, dense, yet lifted and superripe. Great tension and richness.

Freemark Abbey 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($54.95)
David Lawrason – This is a bit of a sleeper – not as showy as those above, but worth cellaring. It is a big, brawny cab with reserved aromas of ripe blackcurrant, earth, considerable oak and dried herbs. It’s full bodied, dense, powerful and a touch warm. Into to the cellar now and out in 2020. Tasted May 2016

David’s Recommendations from VINTAGES Special Offer

Judgement of Paris

Chardonnays
Ridge Vineyards 2014 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains, $80
Mayacamus 2013 Chardonnay, Napa Valley, $96
Freemark Abbey 2014 Chardonnay, Napa Valley, $37

Cabernet Sauvignons
Heitz 2005 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley $310
Heitz 2004 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $310
Chateau Montelena 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga Napa Valley, $193
Chateau Montelena 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga Napa Valley, $203
Grgich Hills 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $117
Mayacamus 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, $187
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 2013 Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $279
Stag’s Leap 2010 Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $280
Clos du Val 2012 Stags Leap District, Napa Valley, $126
Cheers!

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES May 28, 2016

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
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!


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2016: A Watershed (Dam Busting?) Year for Canadian Wine

The Canadian Wine Report – May 2016
by David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The 2016 growing season is underway across Canada, with vines galloping ahead in B.C. where temperatures have been higher than normal. In Ontario and Nova Scotia however, after a mild winter but a slow, cool spring, the buds are barely bursting as I write on May 10th. May is always a ginger moment here in the upper reaches of northern hemisphere, second only to the September harvest window as a time of anxiety and anticipation. Will the flowering be on schedule? Will late spring frosts descend? Whatever Mother Nature determines for this vintage, much in the Canadian wine retail and regulatory landscape has changed or is changing since the harvest of 2015.

Supermarket Wine Sales

Conversation and action around the introduction of supermarket wine sales has moved onto the front burner in both B.C. and Ontario.

In 2015, B.C. announced sales of BC VQA wines in supermarkets, but on a gradual basis, with a few locations established in grocery stores which have purchased licenses of existing VQA stores. This move is viewed to be expanding distribution of VQA wines beyond international trade agreements and Canadian commitments to the World Trade Organization, so it has ushered in official diplomatic protests from California, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Argentina and Chile. B.C. argues that the although the grocery locations are new the licenses are not; they have just been transferred. I’ll let the lawyers figure that out. On the one hand I am disappointed to see the erosion of VQA speciality stores with deep selections of BC VQA wines by staff who care. It is entirely possible that the grocery stores can mount an equal in-store experience, but will they? On the other hand, how many more consumers who have never been to a BC VQA wine store will now discover BC VQA wine in their supermarket. This is the reason for putting wine in supermarkets in the first place, and the reason to risk the international challenge.

BC Wines in Grocery Stores

In February, Ontario also announced that supermarket wine sales will be implemented this year, but the modus operandi is different. As one plank in a government initiative to liberalize wine sales, expand distribution and selection, Ontario will allow wine sales in 300 grocery stores in the years ahead (a pittance), with about 70 going on stream in 2016. In a political move to give Ontario wines a leg up while attempting to keep the international community at bay, half the new locations will sell only Ontario VQA wines, with the remainder selling a 50/50 split of both international and domestic wines. This formula is also temporary; I have read reports that this framework will dissolve by about 2022, and the supermarket channel will be wide open. Meanwhile, the LCBO seems set to re-focus on a “premium wines and on-line ordering and delivery” model that will include Ontario and imported wines currently beyond its retail offerings. Stay tuned – it’s early days as full of supposition and conjecture as the introduction of legalized marijuana. On that note, imagine the outrage from the wine community if marijuana ends up being less regulated and in freer distribution than wine.

Interprovincial Law: Order, Ship and Sip

On October 6, 2012, Gerard Comeau, a retired steelworker from Tracadie, New Brunswick, was charged for driving fifteen cases of beer and three bottles of liquor across the J.C. Van Horner Bridge over Restigouche River from Pointe-à-la-Croix and the Listiguj First Nation Indian Reserve in Quebec into Campbellton, Brunswick. His alcohol was confiscated. He decided to fight this in court, and caught the attention of a team of lawyers focused on interprovincial trade issues: Arnold Schwisberg, Mikael Bernard and Karen Selick. Comeau’s defence was funded by the Canadian Constitution Foundation which took up his cause and prepared a case that finally came to judgment in late April.

The New Brunswick judge ruled that the law forbidding interprovincial transportation of alcohol was unconstitutional. The contravened phrase in the Constitution states “All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces”.  We all wait to see if an appeal is forthcoming, and if it is it will very likely become a case before the Supreme Court of Canada. But even so, Canada’s provincial liquor boards, in my opinion, have certainly lost any moral authority on this issue, and consumers and wineries should just go ahead and order, ship and sip.

Mr. Comeau, meanwhile, was asked by a reporter if his confiscated beer was ever returned to him.  He replied “no, and I am thirsty”. Only in Canada, eh?

Sub-Appellations in British Columbia

Since the 2015 harvest, B.C. has thoroughly embraced the study of sub-appellations and new appellations. The BC Wine Appellation Task Force was assembled, and has recommended a significant parsing of Okanagan wine regions, which makes sense given the incredibly diverse climatic, topographical and geological make up of the Okanagan. A report was tabled, and taken to a series of ‘town-hall’ meetings for discussion through the winter. We still await official reports from that process.

BC Wine Appellation Task Group Report

However, on May 7 Anthony Gismondi reported in the Vancouver Sun that “Some committee members I spoke with suggested it could be five to ten years before any smaller sub-GIs come to fruition in the Okanagan or on Vancouver Island, due mainly to opposition from the large and medium sized wineries who are decidedly content with broad appellations that suit their winemaking. If they all vote “No,” they have enough veto power to defeat any of the recommendations and the word is they prefer things as they are”.

I was rather surprised to read this. The mid and large size wineries have the luxury and flexibility to make wines of all designations, and it would seem wise to make different tiers from different appellations for different consumers and price points.

CheckMate Queen Taken Chardonnay

But Anthony’s comment triggered a recollection of comments by Ingo Grady of Mission Hill Family Estate when he was introducing the new Von Mandl Estates Checkmate chardonnays in Toronto in April. He chided the creation of sub-appellations in Niagara (established in 2005) and referred to creating sub-apps has the “ghetto-ization” of wine. I have long known and respected Ingo, and thought at the time that this was mostly about being playfully antagonistic. But in light of Anthony Gismondi’s comments, perhaps it does reveal an anti sub-app position by larger companies. I find this thinking ironic given that the five new $100 Checkmate chardonnays, which will only be sold to upscale restaurants on allocation, are very specifically single vineyard and by extension, sub-appellation wines.

Anthony Gismondi also reported that” it was very likely” that four “emerging” regions of B.C. would be given VQA approval. As he put it: “A handful of far flung regions benefitting from climate change hope to capitalize on the thirst for local wine with the establishment of four new geographic indications (GIs). The Thompson Valley, Shuswap, Lillooet-Lytton and Kootenays will likely be added to the mix with final boundaries subject to a review in consultation with regional stakeholders”. I have tasted an admittedly small sample size from each of these regions this year in the Canadian Wine Scholar course, but I have been impressed by Harpers Trail 2013 Riesling and Baillie-Grohman 2013 Pinot Noir

Harper's Trail Silver Mane Block Riesling 2013Baillie Grohman Pinot Noir 2013 Lightfoot And Wolfville Ancienne Chardonnay 2013 Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2013

The Terroir Conference in Toronto

In other national news, the annual Terroir Conference held at the Art Gallery of Ontario in late April presented a seminar and tasting on the Culture of Canadian Wine in Canada. Terroir has evolved over the years to be the leading culinary and wine forum for the hospitality industry in Toronto. Our seminar was sponsored this year by Wine Country Ontario. The panel consisted of winemakers and sommeliers from Atlantic Canada, Ontario and B.C., and included two flights of wines from three provinces. As panel leader I tried in vain to steer conversation to an esoteric view of national perceptions of Canadian wine, but rightfully so attention in the 90-minute program drilled into the eleven glasses on the table – sparkling and chardonnay from five appellations in three provinces. Heidi Noble of Joie Farm in Naramata, B.C., made what I thought was the single most important observation. “All these wines are just so elegant”. From Nova Scotia check out Lightfoot and Wolfville 2013 Ancienne Chardonnay and from Ontario Southbrook Poetica 2013 Chardonnay

The WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada

National Wine Awards of CanadaLast but not least, we are looking forward to the 15th running of Canada’s leading national wine awards competition in Penticton June 22 to 26. Registration is open and deadlines are looming for entries.

The goal of The Nationals is to expose Canadian wine drinkers to the best in Canadian wines, and to provide winemakers a true benchmarking platform. There are no price categories in the competition, leaving each winery the opportunity to compete with the best wines in the country on a level playing field. More importantly, as barriers to ship wines across the country come down, the combination of winning recognition at The Nationals, and WineAlign’s ability to display the results, makes it the only competition with enduring post-competition sales opportunities. This year I plan to fully use the results of The Nationals as a springboard for commentary and discussion in this space. We are assembling the largest and finest group of judges to date, with the inclusion again of Dr. Jamie Goode of the UK and Elaine Chukan-Brown of Sonoma, California, our first American judge.

Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2012Rosehall Run J C R Rosehall Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2014 Spierhead Pinot Gris 2014 Laughing Stock Portfolio 2013

There is much more I could have covered in this report, but I will save some content for next time. Meanwhile, the click on the bottle images above to link to five more Canadian wines I think you might like to know about. All were encountered in a recent Canadian Wine Scholar course held in Toronto in April. Check www.FineVintageLtd.com for details on upcoming courses in Calgary and Edmonton June 18-19, Vancouver June 25-26, and Kelowna July 9-10.

If you have a minute, Wine Country Ontario would like you to answer a few questions concerning your views on travel and leisure in Ontario’s wine country. When you complete their short survey, you will be entered into a draw for your chance to win a weekend getaway in Ontario’s wine country. (See below to start the survey)

Cheers!

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

The Canadian Wine Report brings you News and commentary on Canadian wine from a national perspective. Which means that the subject matter, events and tastings have elements or implications beyond provincial and appellation boundaries.

Past issue: Speaking up for Canadian Wines

 


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – May 14, 2016

Their Favourites, Our Favourites
By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The May 14 release features 23 “Customer Favourites”, as selected by VINTAGES without any explanation of the reasoning. One can only assume they have impressive sales history – but this is not explained to us in the magazine. Do you need to know? Maybe not, but there is comfort and sway in buying something others consider favourites. We go our own way to present our picks, and explain why (hint, quality/price relationship is a rather critical element).

John has been travelling in recent days and will return with his top smart buys in next week’s report, which will also focus on New Zealand and include a report by Sara d’Amato on the New Zealand wine fairs being held in Ottawa (May 9) and Toronto (May 11 – sold out).

So right to it with our release highlights, with a reminder that you can click on David Lawrason, Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel to see the complete list of our most recent reviews.

The Whites

Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Blanc 2015, Costières De Nîmes, France ($17.95)
Michael Godel – Unctuous floral white blend in which viognier lifts grenache blanc, marssanne and roussanne. Really special vintage from Mr. Marès – the most ethereal yet.
David Lawrason – This is a very fine southern French white blend. Lovely aromas of orange blossom, star fruit, lychee and wood. Quite creamy but not overblown with some fine acidity. A summer patio winner. Great value.

Rodney Strong 2013 Chalk Hill Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Sonoma is California’s bastion for refined chardonnay, and for many vintages now Rodney Strong’s Chalk Hill has been a classic motif of the genre. This is a very elegant and complex chardonnay with lovely scents of vanilla, orange Creamsicle, Crème brûlée, spice and tobacco. Priced well for the quality delivered.

Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Blanc 2015Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2013 Bischofliche Weingüter Trier Ayler Kupp Riesling Kabinett 2013 Gehringer Brothers Classic Riesling 2014

Bischofliche Weingüter Trier Ayler Kupp Riesling Kabinett 2013, Prädikatswein, Mosel, Germany ($23.95)
Michael Godel – This is a ripe to ripping off-dry wow release with a searing tang. Wait and watch it develop for many years.

Gehringer Brothers 2014 Classic Riesling, British Columbia ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – Brothers Gordon and Walter have trained in top institutions in Germany and bring their riesling expertise to Okanagan’s Golden Mile Bench. Their focus for several decades has been on aromatic whites from dry to Icewine. This particular riesling shows a real respect for terroir exhibiting riper characteristics and more of an unctuous quality than your typical Mosel brand but still retains a lively vein of acidity keeping it balanced and focused.

Pinks

Louis Bernard Tavel Rosé 2015

Rollier De La Martinette Rosé 2015

Fielding Rosé 2015Fielding Rosé 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Quietly Fielding has become one of the leading Niagara wineries for offering expertly made, good value VQA wines. This is a beautifully composed, balanced and fresh rosé with just the right acid-sugar balance. Sip all summer long.
Michael Godel – Some rosé just rubs the wrong way. At first sniff and sip you just know this Fielding ’15 is not one of those. In its fresh and spritely youth this is one of the most pleasurable rosés from Ontario.

Rollier De La Martinette 2015 Rosé, Côtes de Provence, France  ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Whiter Shades of Pink seems to be the new anthem for serious producers of rosé around the world, and they are looking to Provence for inspiration. This very pale Provencal rosé packs more flavour intensity than its appearance suggests. The nose shows subtle, pure sour cherry/currant fruit, rosewater, grapefruit and herbs. It’s mid-weight, firm and dry with a warm, spicy finish. A dinner wine.

Louis Bernard 2015 Tavel Rosé, Rhône, France ($21.95) (450833)
Sara d’Amato – It’s not spring without a great rosé and this classic Tavel fits the bill. To call it bottled Provence is a bit romantic but it certainly exudes typical notes of lavender and wild herbs. The fruit is nicely concentrated and there is a slight tannic edge that makes it suitable for pairing with red meat.

Reds

Domaine Courbis St Joseph 2013

Joie Farm Pinot Noir 2013

Viewpointe Focal Pointe Cabernet Franc 2010Viewpointe 2010 Focal Pointe Cabernet Franc, Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Lake Erie North Shore is the warmest VQA region in Ontario, well suited to reds made from Bordeaux varieties. We see too few prime examples! This is a quite substantial, complex and deep cab franc that is maturing into prime time but holding some vitality. Expect lifted aromas of red currants, raspberry, wood smoke, capers and spice. Scores on depth and complexity.
Michael Godel – Wine Country Ontario’s Lake Erie North Shore appellation flashes onto the radar here with Viewpointe’s very youthful and soulful 2010 Cabernet Franc. A huge accomplishment and so worth the side trip.

Joie Farm Pinot Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – Despite a challenging vintage in the Okanagan, this more delicate style of pinot noir is not short on complexity or length. Very expressive with great definition and real purity of fruit – for pinot noir traditionalists.
Michael Godel – A dark berry and mineral pinot noir that will drink well for five years or more though I’m not sure there can be any reason to wait.

Domaine Courbis St Joseph 2013, Rhône, France ($36.95)
Michael Godel – Note the deft touch and dearth structure from this powerful yet elegant northern Rhône syrah. So much berry and tannin, with everything structure requires in between.

Pierre Amadieu 2013 Romane Machotte Gigondas, Rhône, France ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – The wines of Pierre Amadieu are widely recognized as having a “Burgundian” appeal and focus on balance, respect for terroir and purity of fruit rather than boldness, power or muscle. There is no heaviness here in this 2013 incarnation but certainly a great deal of flavour and focus. Pepper and Provençal garrigue add a great deal of charm and typicity to this blend.

Tüzkö 2012 Cabernet Franc, Tolna, Hungary ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Under the management of the Antinori family, Tuzko Estate produces noteworthy whites along really interesting reds such as this unexpected find. Interestingly, the rolling hills of Pannon surrounding Bátaapáti in Tolna are said to resemble those of Tuscany.  The pleasant cool herbal notes compliment the fruit on the palate while the firm tannins give this cabernet franc structure and longevity. Excellent value.

Pierre Amadieu Romane Machotte Gigondas 2013Tuzko Cabernet Franc 2012 Rendola Rosso Di Montalcino 2009 Fabre Montmayou Gran Reserva Malbec 2012

Rendola 2009 Rosso Di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($15.95)
David Lawrason – At this price grab a handful for everyday drinking with your favourite Italian dishes, or to sip with mild, firm cheeses. From a ripe, softer vintage, this has evolved to prime, and has developed lovely of sweet cherry/tomato fruit, cedar, dried rosemary and licorice aromas. Smooth, warm and delicious if not deep.

Fabre Montmayou 2012 Gran Reserva Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Here is an impressive, beefy and complex malbec that I would cellar for future grilling events. It is approachable now but has the structure to live well into the next decade. It’s full bodied, fairly dense and juicy with considerable alcohol, but dense fruit, licorice and intriguing vermouth-like spices carry the day.

And that’s a wrap for this week. Tune in next time for the up and down, north and south of New Zealand. If you need an excuse to have a glass of wine today, you should know that it’s International Sauvignon Blanc Day. Just use the hashtag #SauvBlanc and you’ll be sharing in good company from around the world.

Cheers!

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES May 14, 2016

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Mix
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!


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Buy The Case: The Vine’s Hidden Gems

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

Buy the CaseIn this regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single importing agent. Our critics independently, as always, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in our Buy The Case report. Importers 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 each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines. 

For an explanation of the program, the process and our 10 Good Reasons to Buy the Case, please click here

The Vine Agency

Sometimes we fantasize about Ontario being populated with fine wine shops owned by some of the top wine importers and Ontario wineries – people who love wine, select their portfolio’s with pride, and sell them with diligence and the utmost in customer service. While there are many “agencies” that we can envision in this role, we suspect that The Vine Agency would end up being among the most popular and successful. Owner Rob Groh founded The Vine with the goal of bringing Ontario wine drinkers and restaurateurs a fine selection of wines from Italy and California (primarily). We tasted a selection of new arrivals for this feature, and it was a delightful experience.

The Vines mantra (taken from their website) is “Authenticity, Distinction, Character” and for a glimpse into how this is achieved consider their approach to their relationship with their suppliers. “When we take on representation, our view is long term. Because we insist on the highest standards, we visit the wineries and get to know the people. We look for relationships where we connect both personally and professionally, and only work with those who meet these criteria”. We suspect they deal with their customers with similar sincerity and thoroughness.

Sometimes you buy a product because it is specifically the product you want; sometimes because you like and trust the store. Here are our critics picks from current Consignment offerings at The Vine.

Podere le Boncie Le Trame 2012, Tuscany, Italy ($59.95)

Tenuta Cocci Grifoni Le Torri 2010

Podere Le Boncie Le Trame 2012Michael Godel – Giovanna Morganti makes Le Trame, from southeastern Tuscany in San Felice just outside of Castelnuovo Beradenga. It is essentially Chianti Classico but labeled IGT, known as “the intrigues” and that it surely is. It will drink into longevity up there with some of the best Brunello, Vino Nobile and Gran Selezione. A Cellaring Wine
John Szabo
– Fans of elegant/delicate sangiovese should line up for this gorgeous example, organically/biodynamically farmed in the heart of Chianti Classico. It’s elegant, an expression of pure finesse, all ripe and vibrant red berry fruit flavoured, exhaling faded roses and spice. A supremely pretty wine with soaring grace all in all, to enjoy now or forget for a decade.
David Lawrason – This is an estate grown sangiovese with great energy and fruit depth. Balanced to drink now but will stretch beyond 2020. It is available in six packs, so just go for it. It is so good that you might regret splitting it with friends. It’s also an ideal size for trying it out on a wine list.
Sara d’Amato – An authentic Tuscan blend from an organically farmed vineyard planted at high density. Predominantly wild yeast fermented sangiovese, this sophisticated find is absolutely captivating. Drink on its own but best with roasted pork.

Tenuta Cocci Grifoni 2010 ‘Le Torri’ Rosso Piceno Superiore, Marche, Italy(21.95)

John Szabo – A leading estate from Le Marche, Cocci-Grifoni’s montepulciano-sangiovese blend is an engaging, dark, earthy-spice, roasted coffee, and bitter chocolate flavoured red, succulent and satisfying. It’s a big and robust mouthful of wine perfect for big cuts of roasted/grilled meat.
David Lawrason – It’s a bit rustic and may not appeal to all tastes – so I would be wary of buying for by-the-glass pours or occasions where you don’t know your guests tastes. But this is delicious in its way; ready to drink and a great match for stews. Buy a case for autumn and winter drinking and split with like-minded friends. Great value from one of the best estates of the region.
Steve Thurlow – This is quite delicious with a delicate nose of black cherry fruit with mineral, herbal and spicy notes. It is complex on the palate also with the delicate fruit finely balanced by soft acidity and gentle tannin. This is ready for fine dining with roast meats or bold mature cheese. Buy a case and enjoy a bottle from time to time over the next few years.

La Mozza I Perazzi Morellino di Scansano 2014, Tuscany, Italy ($24.95)

Valdibella Kerasos Nero D'avola 2014

La Mozza I Perazzi Morellino Di Scansano 2014Michael Godel – One of the freshest and most exciting examples of Morellino di Scansano to come across the consignment channels of the Ontario market. A project of Mario Batali and the Bastianich family, this is one of the best examples of humble decadence in their portfolio. Should very much be considered when bringing tutta la famiglia al tavolo. Consider wine pooling.
David Lawrason – From a modern estate in the southwest corner of Maremma this good value is a blend 85% Morellino (the local name for Sangiovese in Maremma), 5% Syrah, 5% Alicante, 2% Colorino and 3% Ciliegiolo. Sangiovese turns in a riper, darker performance in this area, with a certain plushness and richness. But it’s also quite lively and fresh. It could be my Tuscan house wine, or a decent pour by the glass in an Italian restaurant.

Valdibella 2014 Kerasos Nero d’Avola, Sicily, Italy (19.95)

John Szabo – Here’s a particularly lovely, lively, floral and vibrant version of nero d’Avola, organically grown. I love the energy and tension, the vibrancy and genuine flavour concentration. Dark spice, earth and ash flavours linger.
Michael Godel – Truly modern Sicily here from Valdibella, a.k.a. the “cherry tree”. Its wide ranging flavours make it a limitless match for so many different foods and because it’s amenably virtuous in so many ways. Restaurant pour by the glass. 

Château de Saint Cosme 2013 Gigondas, Rhône, France($57.95)

Von Strasser Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Chateau De Saint Cosme Gigondas 2013David Lawrason – Of all the Cotes du Rhône villages Gigondas often produces wines with the most finesse. Power too, but there is a textural evenness thanks to limestone marl in the soils. It becomes Chateauneuf-like, and is priced in that realm as well. But still good value for fans of southern Rhône. It comes in a six-pack, ideal for a home or restaurant cellar.
John Szabo
– Saint Cosme has crafted a savoury grenache-based masterpiece here in 2013, massively concentrated, but not heavy, structured and full of black pepper and spice. This has enough of an acid lift to keep fruit and spice focused, with abundant but fine and dusty tannins that lend grip. I’d love to see this again in another 3-5 years; there’s more than enough stuffing to see this blossom.
Sara d’Amato – A very old, revered and consistent producer. Grenache and very peppery syrah make up the majority of this spirited and well structured blend. Many great Gigondas keep step with the best of Chateauneuf du Pape and here is a spot-on example.
Steve Thurlow – There is great finesse to this wine with a very fresh pure yet complex nose of black cherry fruit with some sweet herbs a hint of licorice and a floral hint. It is midweight and delicate on the palate with the fruit well balanced by acidity and fine tannin. Excellent length.

Von Strasser Winery 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California (89.95)

John Szabo – This is another terrific vintage from Rudy von Strasser, making the most of his superb volcanic terroir on Diamond Mountain. It’s a classic Napa ‘mountain’ cabernet, which is to say dark and swarthy, ripe and firmly structured to be sure, with serious depth and length, and significant black fruit extract. Broad shouldered but flexible, this has all angles covered, best after 2018.
David Lawrason – This has terrific presence and structure with lifted aromas of blackcurrant, green cedar/conifer, earth, mineral and dusty, spicy oak – all well integrated. It’s full bodied with some heat and tannin to be sure, but fine acidity as well. The focus and length are excellent. I would age it another three years to calm the tannin. Best 2019 to 2030. Split a case with cab collecting friends.

Groth Hillview Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, California ($56.95)

De Conciliis Selim Spumante Brut

Groth Hillview Vineyard Chardonnay 2014Michael Godel – From a 44-acre Yountville vineyard founded in 1982 and (mostly) re-planted in 1996. This is a perfect and prime example of all the right directions Napa Chardonnay has taken in the last 10 years, with kudos to Suzanne Groth for embracing the ideal, from restraint, for elegance and in balance. Gifting Wine.
Sara d’Amato – If you are suffering chardonnay fatigue, this ought to spice things up! Whole cluster pressed, fermented in fine French oak but offering youthfully exuberant fruit. A chardonnay worth its weight in coin.
Steve Thurlow – This is a beautiful classic California chardonnay that’s fine now but will improve in integration and complexity with a few more years in the cellar. Expect aromas of pineapple and cantaloupe melon, with smoky, nutty and buttery tones with hints of caramel. It is full bodied but feels slimmer due to soft lemony acidity. Excellent length.
David Lawrason – This is a very classy, rich and well honed chardonnay that’s delicious now but could also age nicely for five years. Agree with Michael that it would be a great gift item for chardonnay fans, or introducing casual California chardonnay drinkers to the real thing!

De Concilis Selim Spumante Brut, Campania, Italy ($32.95)

Sara d’Amato – Here is something you don’t come across that often, a tank method sparkler from Campania based on local fiano and aglianico grapes. Pricey for a curio find but the result of this winemaking effort is most definitely rewarding. Available in a six bottle case.

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. 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!


This report was sponsored by The Vine Agency. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. The Vine has provided the following agency profile.

About The Vine Agency

The Vine AgencySince we took the leap to start The Vine in 2000, our goal has never been to be the biggest, most all-encompassing wine agency in the province or the country. Instead, we set out to offer a focused selection of wines that reflect our personal taste and interests. We believe that smaller wineries – estate oriented and family-owned – provide the best source of characterful wines that deserve our attention. We also place a high value on trust: yours.

To that end, we strive to deliver outstanding customer service, trustworthy recommendations and informed conversation. But ultimately, the portfolio speaks for itself – this is a collection of great wines, selected and supported by people who know the people behind the wines. Most of the winery owners we represent in Ontario are people we are proud to consider friends.

Join our Mailing List

If you wish to have your name added to our mailing list (to be notified of featured wines, tastings or events) please call 416-693-7994, email wine@thevineagency.ca or write to The Vine, 105 – 625 Queen St. East, Toronto ON M4M 1G4

All the wines are sold in cases of 12 bottles, unless noted otherwise. Unfortunately, mixed cases are not possible due to LCBO regulations. We quote prices per bottle, excluding
Refundable Bottle Deposit. HST is included in Retail prices. Delivery charges may apply.

EXPRESS PICK-UP SERVICE
Nobody home to receive your delivery? No problem – just give us 36 hour’s notice — we’ll have your wine ready for drive-by pick-up. You’ll barely have to slow down. Our office is on Queen St. East, immediately opposite the ramp to northbound DVP. Call as you drive up, we’ll run your wine out to the car, and load it in while you stay warm & dry.

 


 

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – April 30, 2016

Global Chardonnays, Springtime finds and What it takes to be The World’s Best Sommelier
By Sara d’Amato with notes from David, John and Michael

Click here for more from Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

From Tasmania to Washington to the Côtes de Provence, there are so many gems in this weekend’s release that we each had difficultly narrowing down our top five picks. Thankfully John Szabo covered the two main features of this VINTAGES release, that of the Pacific Northwest and rosés last week. In addition to those spotlights, this release offers a substantial selection of quality wines from both BC and Ontario as well as very fine global chardonnays of which we have several double alignments. An out-of-this-world Chilean sauvignon blanc was also successful in charming more than one of our palates.

Although some interesting rosé finds from the south of France where previously highlighted, we couldn’t resist recommending a few more from this twelve bottle springtime release. Hoping for warm days ahead, you’ll find plenty of fresh, nervy offerings to tantalize your senses as well as some rich, comforting reds in case the beau temps doesn’t arrive.

Buyers’ Guide to Whites & Rosés

Quinta de Couselo 2014 O Rosal, Rías Baixas, Spain ($23.95)
David Lawrason – The albarino-based whites of Spain’s northwest Galician coast can range from dull and weak to overly tropical and blowsy. I like them somewhere between these two extremes, as delivered here. The property once belonged to Cistercian monks but it has been a family winery since 1864, and there is a sense of this pedigree in the bottle. It is a lovely example of Rias Baixas – elegant, a touch floral, complex and well balanced.
John Szabo – A serious version of Rias Baixas, crisp, crunchy, bone dry, genuinely concentrated and richly flavoured. I like the lick of white pepper (“stony, mineral”), and the sharp, well-chiselled acids.

McGuigan 2015 Bin 9000 Semillon, Hunter Valley, New South Wales Australia ($14.95)
John Szabo – Hardly a wine of earth-shattering complexity, but this fits the bill for fans of crisp, bright, saliva-inducing unoaked whites, simple but highly quaffable, ready to enjoy. Think of it as a dry riesling/unoaked chardonnay sort of wine, at a nice price.

Josef Chromy 2014 Pepik Chardonnay, Tasmania, Australia ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – A crisp but leesy chardonnay with a northern Burgundian feel. The vibrant, floral and delicate flavours of cool climate chardonnay are beautifully expressed here.
John Szabo – Chromy makes a fine representation of cool Tasmanian terroir, zesty and lively, unoaked, and bearing more than a passing resemblance to Chablis. It’s all citrus and green apple fruit, enlivened by tight acids and a pinch of CO2 on the palate. An ideal oyster/patio sipping, aperitif wine.

Quinta De Couselo O Rosal 2014McGuigan Bin 9000 Semillon 2015 Josef Chromy Pepik Chardonnay 2014 Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2014

Norman Hardie 2014 Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($39.00)
Sara d’Amato – Norm’s Niagara chardonnay offers more plumpness than its County’s counterpart without sacrificing elegance, verve and focus. Drink now and don’t chill excessively.
Michael Godel – It’s hard not to compare Norman Hardie’s Niagara Chardonnay side by side with his County-grown and produced estate counterpart but this much I know. A Hardie Niagara Chardonnay is meant to be enjoyed in its early youth. This 2014 is so good right now.

Vignerons de Buxy Les Chaniots Montagny 1er Cru 2013, Burgundy, France ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – A real steal, this chardonnay from the white only appellation of Montagny in the Cote Chalonnaise is skillfully produced with terrific intensity and structure. Despite its technical correctness, it still offers an abundance of ready-to-drink pleasure.

Montes 2015 Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc, Zapallar Coast, Aconcagua Valley, Chile ($19.95)
Michael Godel – This is an exciting hyperbole of Chile, a Sauvignon Blanc from the coast with wild flavours and singing aromatics. Job well done with this newly directed Montes.
John Szabo – The Zapallar D.O. is a new, cool coastal region in Chile pioneered by Aurelio Montes on the far out Pacific coast at the end of the Aconcagua Valley. And this is very pungent and zesty sauvignon to be sure, like jalapeño purée with lime zest and lemon juice, all good things, offering good density and weight.

Vignerons De Buxy Les Chaniots Montagny 1er Cru 2013 Montes Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Domaine Maby La Forcadière Tavel Rosé 2015 Gassier Sables D'azur Rosé 2015 Villa Maria Private Bin Rose 2015

Domaine Maby La Forcadière Tavel Rosé 2015, Rhône, France $18.95 (701318)
Sara d’Amato – Longing for hot, sunny days, this most sophisticated of French rosé appellations is a terrific way to take a mental vacation. A spot on, very distinctive Tavel offering rich colour, a dry palate and some tannic presence giving it the ability to stand up to meat such as pork and lamb.

Gassier 2015 Sables d’Azur Rosé, Côtes de Provence, France ($15.95)
Michael Godel – Consistently and unquestionably pure and classically reasoned Rosé from Gassier. A dictionary entry rendering from Provence.

Villa Maria Private Bin Rosé 2015, East Coast, New Zealand ($17.95)
Michael Godel – Villa Maria produces one New Zealand’s most consistent portfolios across a wide range of whites and reds. It is no surprise to see the same high quality with this lively Rosé. It possesses palpable aridity and true red fruit aromas.

Buyers’ Guide to Reds

Featherstone 2013 Red Tail Merlot, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – A red blend that is ageing remarkably still with an abundance of fresh fruit and a plump, fleshy palate. Offers everything an affable textbook merlot should including flavours of Christmas cake, chocolate and deep plummy fruit.

Le Gravillas 2014 Plan de Dieu Côtes du Rhône Villages, Rhône, France ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – Known for fairly average wines, Plan de Dieu can surprise every once and awhile. Due to lack of wide recognition, this southern Rhône region offers approachable pricing. Lavender, tapenade, black pepper and sundried tomatoes evoke Provence and its sunny warmth.

Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2013 Le Gravillas Plan De Dieu Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2014 Lamadrid Single Vineyard Reserva Malbec 2012 Pata Negra Reserva 2010 Tenuta di Capraia Chianti Classico 2013

Lamadrid 2012 Single Vineyard Reserva Malbec, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina ($17.00)
David Lawrason – One of my main beefs about Argentine malbecs is that many are released too soon, and come across as too blunt and coarse. This is still youthfully tannic but it is also fresh and juicy with lifted mulberry, herbs and graphite aromas and flavours. But the real attraction was the very good concentration for the money. The length surprised me.  The style immediately suggested a barbecue.

Pata Negra 2010 Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($17.00)
David Lawrason – There is a very traditional school of winemaking in Rioja that reveres textural richness and length, even if the flavours are not bright and fruity. Indeed some can be downright farmy.  This maturing example is chock full of cured meat, leather, peppery spice and cedar but so smooth and complex. Very impressive depth of flavour for the money and great balance.

Tenuta Di Capraia 2013 Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($21.95)
Michael Godel – Red fruit forward, leather and spice. These are the hallmark characteristics of classic, charming Chianti. This is Capraia’s 2013. A six days a week Chianti Classico.

Tabalí Reserva Especial Syrah, Limarí Valley, Chile ($17.95)
David Lawrason – From an underrated, emerging Pacific cooled region well north of Santiago, this is a deep, dark syrah with quite lifted aromas of tar, licorice, stewed blackcurrant/cherry fruit. I would like to see a bit more linearity and finesse but it is very impressive in terms of flavour depth, complexity and genuine syrah-ness.

Tabali Reserva Especial Syrah 2012 De Grendel Shiraz 2013 Château Bouscassé Vieilles Vignes 2006 Sordo Rocche Di Castiglione Riserva Barolo 2008

De Grendel 2013 Shiraz, Coastal Region, South Africa  ($24.95).
David Lawrason – Syrah/shiraz is the most exciting red from the Cape nowadays. I had several stunning examples on a recent visit.  This is from a vineyard in the Durbanville Hills only 7kms from and 200 metres above the cold Atlantic Ocean. It is a classic with all kinds of complexity, verve and depth. The ferrous minerality and acidity is very mindful of the northern Rhone, and it boasts amazing complexity and depth for the money.

Château Bouscassé 2006 Vieilles Vignes Madiran, France ($38.95)
John Szabo – This is clearly a superior, ambitious wine of class and pedigree, from the sister property of regional leader Château Montus. At this stage it’s pretty much fully mature, with a taste reminiscent of porcini mushroom broth – a big hit of umami. Yet it’s also still very structured, tannic even, with puckering astringency, so serve with assorted salty protein dishes. Terrific length and complexity overall. Best 2016-2026.

Sordo 2008 Rocche di Castiglione Riserva Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($49.95)
John Szabo – A fine and savoury, now nicely mature nebbiolo from the village of Castiglione Falletto, crafted in a rather classic style, complete with leathery and tarry red fruit, liquorice, dried herbs and more. The palate is medium-full bodied, filling and washing over the taste buds, with excellent length, depth and complexity. Best 2016-2025.

~

The World’s Best Sommelier

He’s Swedish, 31 and loves hip-hop music. The title of World’s Best Sommelier was bestowed upon the unconventional Arvid Rosengren this month in Mendoza, Argentina. Fifty-six countries participated in this “Olympics of Wine” including our Canadian champion, Elyse Lambert of Quebec.

What does it take to achieve this most coveted of titles? Over the course of five days, the competitors are whittled down to 15 and then to 3 finalists. Rigorous theory exams, blind tasting and identification of spirits and wines, locating errors in wine lists, pouring a magnum of Champagne into 15 different shaped glasses, menu pairing and convincing a table of guests to buy expensive wine are among the many tasks. All of this must be diligently and calmly performed in a timed setting in front of thousands of of spectators in a language other than your mother tongue.

The-fifteen-semi-finalists-of-the-Best-Sommelier-of-the-World-Contest-Argentina-2016

The fifteen semi finalists of the Best Sommelier of the World Contest Argentina 2016

It is not unusual for competitors to train five to ten years for this very competition. All candidates are national champions before they are offered a seat on the world stage. This year, three of the top five finalists were women including Elyse Lambert. A substantial Canadian delegation attended the competition made up of members of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, a national organization with chapters in BC, Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and the Atlantic provinces. Celebrated winemakers and great supporters of Canadian Sommeliers, Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling (producers of both Sperling Wines and Versado among others) offered their Mendozian home to Canadian delegates over the course of the week.

The results are clear, Canada has a wealth of talent and our sommeliers rank among the world’s best. This international recognition of our Canada’s wine savvy community is the reason it has been chosen as the location for the Pan American Best Sommelier Challenge in 2018 which will take place in Montreal. Raise a glass to those who make a living serving others, and in particular, making sure that we are only served the best of wine!

Santé,

Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES April 30, 2016

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

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


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Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Chardonnay 2012

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An Exclusive Dinner Featuring the Wines of Whitehaven – May 3 – Toronto

On Tuesday, May 3rd, join us for a dinner and tutored tasting featuring the wines of one of New Zealand’s most respected family wine companies, Whitehaven.

This special tutored tasting and gourmet dinner will be at Jump Restaurant with Whitehaven Wines founder and proprietor Sue White and general manager Simon Tonycliff. Whitehaven is located in Marlborough, the heartland of New Zealand winemaking. Sue leads a small, talented, committed team who have carved global recognition for the WHITEHAVEN label, showcasing elegant, single varietal Marlborough wines that are enjoyed around the world.

Gold Medal Plate Winner Chef Luke Kennedy will be preparing a special meal to pair perfectly with each wine showcased during the evening.

Sue and Simon will be joined by WineAlign’s David Lawrason.

WhitehavenLogo

About Whitehaven

Whitehaven was founded in 1994 by Sue and Greg White during a sailing expedition along the New Zealand coastline. What was meant to be a mere stop along the way became a spontaneous new course, charted by the Whites. Instead of continuing past Marlborough, they fell in love with the region, dropped anchor permanently and established Whitehaven. Two decades later, the company is headed by Sue White, an enthusiastic advocate of the spectacular Marlborough wine region, who continues to fulfill the dreams she shared with her late husband Greg.

Sue Whitehaven Sign

In Marlborough, the lengthy growing season — coupled with cooling breezes funneled in from the coast through the Wairau and Awatere Valleys — gives the wines intense flavors and crisp acidity. A wide diurnal swing and differentiated sandy soils, which run in east-west bands, converge to create the unique characteristics of Marlborough grapes: vibrant tropical flavors with a crisp and herbaceous edge.

Whitehaven sources fruit from 90 acres of its own vineyards and from more than 20 esteemed local growers located in exceptional vineyard sites across Marlborough’s Wairau and Awatere valleys. Whitehaven has formed strong partnerships with the region’s top growers, who consistently produce fruit of extraordinary quality. Whitehaven and many of its partners are active members of Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ).

Whitehaven’s winemaking philosophy is centered on the pursuit of quality without compromise. Since its first vintage in 1995, Whitehaven has risen in popularity to become the top-selling ultra-premium Sauvignon Blanc in the United States. With this great success has come the need to expand the winery’s facilities. Following two decades of small production, Whitehaven has upgraded its winemaking resources to keep pace with the demand for fine Sauvignon Blanc wines from Marlborough.

Although Whitehaven has grown beyond the expectations of its original visionaries, the management, winemaking and viticultural teams remain small and focused, where their talents can be combined to produce elegant wines with distinctive regional character.

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Whitehaven Vineyard

Event Details:

Date: Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

Location:  Jump Restaurant (18 Wellington Street West, Commerce Court East, Toronto)

Reception: 6:30pm

Dinner: 7:00pm

Tickets:  $100 including all taxes and fees

Tickets are limited, so book early to avoid disappointment.

 

MENU

Hors d’oeuvres
Wine: La Marca Prosecco*

Beet Salad

Hazelnut Vinaigrette, Watercress, Endive, Shrimp
Wine: Whitehaven Pinot Gris*

Fresch Chitarra
Fogo Island Crab, Parmesan Foam
Wine: Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc

Duck
Vadouvan, Burnt Orange, Snap Peas, Fresh Peas
Wine: Whitehaven Pinot Noir

Petit-Fours

* Available through VINTAGES release June/July 2016

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About Jump Restaurant

Once a pioneer as the first restaurant in the Financial District, Jump is now a pillar of quality in our downtown dining scene.

Offering food that is robust, honest and full of flavour, Jump showcases modern North American cuisine with Italian influences. Subtly reinventing classic favourites, such as handmade pastas and great cuts of meat, Jump is dedicated to using the finest, freshest ingredients and to serving delicious food.

Renowned for its selection of over 90 types of scotch, whiskey and bourbon and its spirit-forward cocktails, the Jump bar buzzes with warmth and excitement.

Originally inspired by the bustle of a Manhattan café, Jump exudes an irresistible energy and a classic style, paired with distinctive modern notes. This vibrancy is brought to life by the sky-high glass atrium, dramatic lighting elements, striking liquor display, warm palette, signature New York style bar and hidden-gem courtyard patio.

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

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – April 16, 2016

The LCBO Talks about its Future and We Pick from the Present
By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Last week John Szabo covered off the “European Vocation” feature of VINTAGES April 16 release; so this week we three chime in with more emphasis on the new world offerings. Australia gets a nice nod with alignments on an elegant chardonnay and a highly quaffable cabernet blend – and Ontario shows how important vine age can be with a couple of excellent rieslings. You can skip the following digression and head to our picks here.

As I walked to the LCBO tasting lab on Tuesday I wondered what might become of VINTAGES in the months ahead, and of the LCBO in general. The day before I had attended the California Wine Fair and listened to Shari Mogk-Edwards, Vice President of Products, Sales and Marketing deliver the LCBO’s annual state of the nation address at the Trade Luncheon. After announcing that California has become the number one imported wine region in Ontario, she spoke about the future of the LCBO now that grocery store sales and a new e-commerce and home delivery system are promised to roll out this year.

Within “a decade” we are promised 150 grocery outlets selling Ontario wine, and another 150 selling both imported and Ontario wines. Given the number of grocery outlets in Ontario this is a pittance, but government promises are rarely writ in stone are they? This is careful politicking and messaging – and I personally suspect accelerated implementation in far less than a decade once the marketplace sinks its teeth into privatized wine and beer retailing.

Shari Mogk-Edwards also said that the new E-commerce and home delivery system, which has already completed initial testing, will expose a wide range of products to consumers – not just existing LCBO General List and VINTAGES products. It will source within the stocks of importing agencies as well, to make selection far greater to the general public. I suspect some agents will not be happy about the deal they get, but I am in favour of anything that widens selection and access for consumers.

So, with all this liberalization, what’s to become of the LCBO itself as a bricks and mortar retailer? And VINTAGES, specifically, around which we publish these previews every month? Well Shari Mogk-Edwards let it be known that “The LCBO’s focus will be on premium products and on-line sales”. This makes perfect sense if grocery will take on the lower end of the market, and it bodes well for an expanded VINTAGES role.

Whether the LCBO needs or will keep all its retail stores is a different issue in a way. And so is the question of whether the LCBO should continue to exist. But as long as it is here I am happy that it is aiming up market. Hopefully we will see much more shelf space devoted to interesting wines from home and abroad, and an end to the arbitrary exclusion of so many wines that want to be here and deserve to be here.

Buyers’ Guide to Whites & Sparkling

Two Rivers Of Marlborough Convergence Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Vasse Felix 2014 Filius ChardonnayVasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2014, Margaret River, Western Australia ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Sublimely elegant and complex chardonnay from the first winery to plant in the Margaret River, in 1967, with their first vintage in 1972. Love the well-honed nose of pear, oak spice, vanilla, honeysuckle and wet stone. Very classy.
Sara d’Amato – Margaret River is a haven for chardonnay and this top example is part of a new breed of elegant, fresh and zesty versions of this classic varietal.  Polished with discreet oak and an ethereal mouthfeel, the Filius chardonnay is a delightful game changer.
Michael Godel – The 2013 Filius was very good. It would be an impossible expectation for winemaker Virginia Willcock to do more with equal or less in 2014, but she has. This is Australia’s great cool-climate value Chardonnay.

Two Rivers 2014 Convergence Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Convergence refers to the fact that grapes are sourced from the two main valleys of Marlborough – Awatere (cooler) and Wairau (warmer). And I sense both influences in the wine, with Awatere’s dill-like greenness and firm acidity, atop some tropical passion fruit from the Wairau. It has a cool, compact feel, with a touch of enlivening C02 spritz. Finish is a bit stony and tart; length is excellent.

Graham Beck 2009 Brut Zero, Méthode Cap Classique, South Africa ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – From coal mining to sparkling wine, Graham Beck’s pioneering spirit and desire to innovate was best expressed in his iconic Cap Classique method wines. This vintage dated, crisp, zero dosage sparkler is an absolute steal. Mid-weight and vibrant with the comforting aroma of warm brioche. At this price, you don’t need a celebration to indulge.

Château des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, Canada ($16.95)
Michael Godel – One of the finest values vintage after vintage for Riesling in Ontario with a distinct advantage. Old Vines. Riesling from down near the lake that will leave you wide awake.

Vineland Estates 2014 Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Planted in 1979 St. Urban is one of Canada’s oldest riesling sites, and it shows just how important vine age can be. This is a lovely, off-dry, very bright and refreshing with lifted floral, apricot, honey and vaguely stony aromas and flavours. It’s light bodied at only 9% alcohol but some sugar adds flesh. Flavours stay nicely poised; Bench minerality joins the finish.

Graham Beck Brut Zero 2009Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2013 Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2014  Darting Dürkheimer Nonnengarten Gewürztraminer Kabinett 2012Maison Chanzy Rully En Rosey Blanc 2014

Darting 2013 Dürkheimer Nonnengarten Gewürztraminer Kabinett, Pfalz, Germany ($20.95)
Sara d’Amato – Everything a classic gewürztraminer should be: opulent and inviting with an intricate, perfumed nose that fills the room with fragrance. An impressive find just north of $20 perfect for creamy cheese or aromatic curries.

Maison Chanzy Rully en Rosey Blanc 2014, Côte Chalonnaise, Burgundy, France ($26.95) 
Michael Godel – It is not until you get a load of this style and this special layering of Chardonnay that you realize how so many just don’t add up. Here the Côte Chalonnaise showing other Burgundy at its best for a fraction of what more celebrated blocks command.

Buyers’ Guide to Reds & Fortified

Culmina R&D Red Blend 2014

Wynns Coonawarra 2012 Estate Cabernet/Shiraz/MerlotWynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2012, Limestone Coast, South Australia ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Great value here! This has a lifted, savoury and complex nose with cedar, blackcurrant, chocolate, mint, pepper and meaty notes. What great aromatics! It’s full bodied, dense, rich and profound with great salt and pepper, charcuterie and fig jam flavours. This is delicious, and deep and so well structured. Very good to excellent length.
Michael Godel – The blend formerly known as “Cabernet Hermitage” involves vines dating back as far as 1969 and in which Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot share the Terra Rossa sandbox. A highly quaffable red blend that brilliantly shows the deft touch of winemaker Sue Hodder.

Culmina R&D Red Blend 2014, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($25.95)
Sara d’Amato – Short for “research and development”, R&D is a new, whimsical and affordable tier of blended wines. The 2014 is primarily merlot with small portions of cabernet franc and sauvignon offering a peppery, full-bodied, firmly structured palate overflowing with black fruit.
Michael Godel – A tribute to proprietor Don Triggs and twin brother Ron, in which research meets development. The culmination of the winery’s R & D is this D-league red assemblage, Culmina 250.

Edmeades 2013 Zinfandel, Mendocino County, California ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Edmeades has long been a favourite small producer of Mendocino, based in the Anderson Valley. This captures the essential joy of zinfandel – that lifted nose of raspberry, lavender, perfume, with a hint of mocha on the side. It’s mid-weight, smooth, sweetish and warm – very easy to drink with little tannin.

Kistler 2013 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA ($103.95)
Sara d’Amato – You won’t get a break on the price here but Kistler’s Russian River pinot noir delivers a transformative experience for serious pinot seekers. Modern but not forceful, elegant but generous, classic but not stodgy, this finely balanced pinot noir is no gamble.

Couly Dutheil Les Gravières D’amador Abbé de Turpenay Chinon 2014, Ac Loire, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Admittedly, the classic cabernet franc region of Chinon often fails to excite me so I was gleefully surprised to come across this lush, inviting and characteristically perfumed example from Couly Dutheil. For those who find cabernet franc too “green”, this dusty herbal example with generous fruit may just get you hooked.
Michael Godel – This Couly Dutheil takes a page out of that savoury book. This is wise, sage and tarragon bombed balm, with full on dark red fruit and mineral stony play.

Edmeades Zinfandel 2013Kistler Pinot Noir 2013 Couly Dutheil Les Gravières D'amador Abbé De Turpenay Chinon 2014 Hauner Salina Rosso 2013 Constance Et Du Terrasous Vin Doux Naturel Hors D'age 6 Ans Rivesaltes

Hauner 2013 Salina Rosso, Italy ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Salina is a 27 square km island off the northern coast of Sicily, and this is the first wine I can recall tasting from its shores. This is a fresh, juicy fruity red with very good concentration of fresh berry/plum fruit, plus savoury notes. Really has some charm and intrigue. Nicely focused and very long.

Terrasous Vin Doux Naturel Hors D’age 6 Ans Rivesaltes, France ($27.95)
David Lawrason – This is an exquisite, lightly fortified, sweet wine from a Mediterranean corner of southeast France. It pours brilliant if subtle orange-copper. The nose shows wonderful dried apricot, honey, wood spice, tea and marmalade confection (a good thing). It’s very smooth, very sweet yet wonderfully light on its feet, with great concentration and elegance all at once.

Cheers,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES April 16, 2016

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview
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!


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Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Chardonnay 2012

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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – April 2, 2016

2012 Anteprima Amarone and 2014 Valpolicella, and Top Smart Buys at VINTAGES
By John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report offers the fourth and final look at new releases from Italy, the 2016 edition of Anteprima Amarone focusing on the excellent 2012 vintage, which produced wines of great power, balance and longevity. I sifted through close to 80 wines to find a top dozen worth tracking down. I’m also hugely enthusiastic about straight-up Valpolicella, which is for me (and many producers) the most authentic expression of wine from the slender hills north of Verona (heresy!). I list my top picks from the 2014 vintage, which put terroir and production skills under a magnifying glass. (We’ve posted the Italy feature on its own page for easier reference)

David and I also collaborate on the April 2nd VINTAGES release, picking our top smart buys, following on last week’s Buyers’ Guide compiled by Sara and Michael. We’ve aligned on a terrific Left Bank Bordeaux and an excellent Niagara Riesling, before going down our own wine paths, as you are encouraged to do.

Buyers’ Guide: Smart Buys in White

Duquesa de Valladolid 2014 Verdejo, Rueda, Spain ($13.95)
John Szabo – Consider this your perfect summer house wine, unoaked, versatile, widely appealing, and attractively priced. Fresh tropical fruit flavours lead the way in sauvignon-esque style; enjoy nicely chilled.

Henry Of Pelham 2012 Estate Riesling, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95)
John Szabo – Even in so-called warm vintages like 2012, riesling shines in Ontario (perhaps, counter-intuitively, even better than classic ‘cool’ vintages). Henry of Pelham’s estate riesling has hit a lovely drinking window, developing some fine, limey and petrol-like notes. The palate is just off-dry but balanced by bright acids, and the finish lingers impressively.
David Lawrason – We have been oft told that riesling is a great grape in Niagara, but as vines mature it is becoming more than just hear-say, as more very fine rieslings are emerging. This is bold, complex and structured with classic petrol, pear, and citrus aromas that stay nicely focused. And huge value!

Duquesa De Valladolid Verdejo 2014 Henry Of Pelham Estate Riesling 2012 Dr. Hermann From The Slate Riesling 2013 D'arenberg The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne 2014

Dr. Hermann 2013 From The Slate Riesling, Mosel, Germany ($17.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a wine to have on hand for all types of summer gatherings, for morning, afternoon or late night sipping. It’s clean, bright, sharp, fragrant and just off-dry, the sort of riesling you never tire of, lifted by a light CO2 prickle.

d’Arenberg 2014 The Hermit Crab Viognier/Marsanne, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($17.95)
John Szabo – An aromatically intense white blend, ideal for outdoor enjoyment. Oak-free ageing allows the attractively fragrant, floral-fruity character, full of violets, ripe nectarine and peach fruit, to take the fore, while hay and herbal notes add interest.

Loimer 2014 Langenlois Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal, Austria ($21.95)
John Szabo – Bright, clean, open and complex, this is a fine and energetic grüner from biodynamic producer Fred Loimer. I love the mid-palate richness framed by sharp acids, and the layers of citrus, white-fleshed orchard fruit and honeyed-waxy, earthy flavours. Best 2016-2020.

Momo 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95)
John Szabo – The immediately recognizable (and memorable) house style of Seresin is present in spades in the 2014 Momo, the estate’s ‘second’ wine, full of attractively flinty-reductive character, sharp but ripe acids, and palpably salty palate. This causes salivation in the most positive way. Fine length, too.

Loimer Grüner Veltliner 2014 Momo Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Roland Tissier & Fils Sancerre 2014 Clos Du Bois Calcaire Chardonnay 2013

Roland Tissier & Fils 2014 Sancerre, Loire Valley, France ($27.95)
David Lawrason – After sifting through several sauvignons on this release, out popped the winner, with all its fragrant finery and spry, compact palate. Unless you are regular buyer of Sancerre you might feel that it’s too expensive for sauvignon, but this style is an easy transition from New Zealand and worth every penny. It’s light bodied, super fresh and delicious with firm, mouth-watering acidity.

Clos du Bois 2013 Calcaire Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County ($29.95)
David Lawrason – It’s fashionable to dismiss opulently fruity California chardonnays in favour of leaner mineral driven Burgundy inspired models, but this quintessential Sonoma chardonnay should not be missed. It has plush vanilla cream, brulee, peach pie, hazelnut aromas and flavours. I expected it to be richer and heavier, but it actually sits on the palate with considerable poise and tenderness.

Buyers’ Guide: Smart Buys in Red

Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz 2013

Château Beau-Site 2009Château Beau Site 2009, Saint-Estèphe, Bordeaux ($47.95)
David Lawrason – Well here’s a grand surprise! From a hot vintage in Bordeaux this packs in all kinds of fruit and class! It has very lifted cedary, roasted, savoury and meaty nose with underlying currants and herbs. This is a significant wine, rich, dense, balanced and showing excellent length. Dare I say even excellent value at almost $50. Collectors alert!
John Szabo – Ditto what David said: this is a classic, albeit very ripe, left Bank Bordeaux showing really well at the moment, fullish, firm, succulent, savoury, really well balanced and slightly forward, given the nature of the vintage. Although it’s drinking well now, it will easily hold into the mid-twenties and beyond. Best 2016-2029.

Jim Barry 2013 The Lodge Hill Shiraz, Clare Valley, South Australia ($24.95)
John Szabo – Barry has crafted a fine 2013 Lodge Hill Shiraz, pleasantly high-toned, floral and fruity, blue and black fruit scented without excessive oak influence. Acids are a bit hard for the moment, but another 2-3 years should see this through to attractive balance. Best 2017-2023.

Château Lamartine 2011 Cuvée Particulière, Cahors, France ($26.95)
John Szabo – Made from over 50 year old vines, aged in 2nd and 3rd fill barrels, I’ve been a fan of this wine for many years. It’s a malbec of class and character, depth and substance, that manages to seamlessly blend the old world rusticity of Cahors with the new world fruitiness of Argentinian versions for a compelling and complex expression overall. Tannins are abundant but polished, but it’s the extra dimension of the palate that sets this apart. Many Bordeaux would kill for the depth and complexity at the price. Best 2016-2026.

The Chocolate Block 2013, Western Cape, South Africa ($39.95)
David Lawrason – Created by Marc Kent of Boekenhoutskloof, this is a hugely successful ‘modern’ South African red. Despite the name, the syrah-based Chocolate Block is not sweet. It is heavily toasted and smoky yes, with all kinds of cedar/pine, coffee, cured meats and peppery/clove spice. It is lush, rich and dense, with considerable power.

Château Lamartine Cuvée Particulière 2011 The Chocolate Block 2013 Dauvergne Ranvier Grand Vin Cotes Du Rhône Villages 2013 Torres Salmos 2012

Dauvergne Ranvier 2013 Grand Vin Cotes du Rhône-Villages, France ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This is a nicely ripe, balanced and juicy young Rhone with typical plummy fruit, licorice, meaty and peppery character. The kind of red you will enjoy immensely with casual mid-week meals, or with a charcuterie board.

Torres 2012 Salmos, Priorat, Spain ($30.95)
David Lawrason – Within the realm of powerful Priorats, Torres Salmos is among the prettiest and lightest examples. I love the nose – very lifted with new oak, vanilla finery, ripe blackcurrant/blackberry fruit, and some sense of Priorat tar and stoniness. It has firm acidity, energy and minerality, but nothing too intense or brawny or hot. A good intro to the genre, and affordable.

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

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES April 2, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
All April 2nd Reviews

Italy Report: 2012 Anteprima Amarone & 2014 Valpolicella

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


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Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Chardonnay 2012

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – March 5, 2016

The Napa Locomotive
By David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Another batch of 20 California wines hits the LCBO’s VINTAGES shelves March 5. This makes 78 California labels released by VINTAGES so far this year, feeding the thirsty beast that makes California wine the number one imported wine in Ontario, and most Canadian provinces for that matter, except Quebec where French wine reigns. One could lament that other regions deserve more play, but VINTAGES is only reacting to what sells. You can skip directly to the California picks by Sara d’Amato, Michael Godel and myself, or read on for my thoughts on California, and Napa in particular.

California Value Proposition

Regular readers may be aware I have issues with the price/quality ratio of California wine – a straight value proposition that has nothing to do with style. Well perhaps just a bit when I detect overt residual sugar and mochafication that distracts from varietal character, and makes the wine a beverage rather than a product of place.

What makes California a tough value proposition is that, without question, it has the highest average price of any region on the shelves, and this will only become more dramatic in the months ahead as stock purchased with our weakened loonie begin to hit the shelves. I suspect we will also see shrinkage of selection as California producers shy away from our market, especially at the higher end. Why struggle with high priced wines here when it’s so much easier elsewhere?

Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon is the engine of California wine pricing. There are many regions in the Golden State where prices aren’t as high, and other varieties are cheaper as well. But “Napa Cab” has swept America and the globe as the New World’s number one prestige wine, creating a pricing up-thrust of San Andreas fault proportions for California wine in general.  Nor does it hurt of course that the California marketplace is one of the wealthiest on the planet.

Last week I returned to Napa Valley after a long hiatus and got right into the boiler room of the locomotive that drives California wine pricing. I attended the annual Premiere Napa Valley auction, at the invitation of Napa Valley Vintners Association. It was a chance to re-calibrate what is happening in California’s flagship region by at least doing some intensive tasting to better judge if all the fuss is warranted by what’s in the glass.

Napa Auction

The annual Auction is a showcase for the winemakers, each selecting a best barrel or three of this and that. Most of the 226 auction lots were barrels sold as futures from the hot, drought-stricken 2014 vintage, and many of the wines were certainly well concentrated and structured. A surprising number were 100% cabernet sauvignons, a statement that in this climate the king of Napa’s grapes can clearly stand on its own sturdy legs, without needing the Bordeaux-esque tweaking and coddling by blending merlot and cab franc. In fact more muscular malbec and petit verdot were just as likely to be the blending widgets.

The buzz in the spacious and hallowed halls of the Culinary Institute of America (one felt like one was in church) was about who bought what for how much. The lots were from five to twenty cases and by my rough math the average case price was about $1500 (probably higher). The auction raised over $5 million dollars in three hours of live bidding, and a new e-bidding program.

For those who might want some sense of who is “hot” in Napa the following fetched the highest prices:  Memento Mori, Nine Suns, Realm Cellars, Rombauer Vineyards, Shafer Vineyards, TOR Kenward Family, Duckhorn Vineyards, Silver Oak Cellars and ZD Wines.

So who is buying these wines? Well doubtless some very wealthy folk, but with multiple case lots at play it was largely an audience of retailers and restaurateurs more so than individuals. There were only two successful Canadian buyers of which I am aware: Willow Park Wines that has several stores in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and Liquor Stores North America that owns the Liquor Depot and Liquor Barn chains in Alberta.

Out beyond the auction hall I got an even better perspective of Napa in 2016. The first shock was the growth of America’s most famous wine region, the wall-to-wall and up-the-wall vineyards that now encompass 43,000 acres on the valley floor and in five mountain appellations on either side of the valley. By comparison, all of Canada has about 30,000 acres.

There are over 500 members of the Napa Valley Vintners Association, with 80% producing fewer than 10,000 cases. And 95% are family owned! Several of the 226 wineries in the auction were producing less than 1,000 cases, some less than 500. I can only assume that with Napa prices so high, many can actually afford to make a go of small volumes – selling direct to mailing lists and key restaurant clients and skipping all the marketing and middleman costs.

Napa’s Recent Vintages

So the critical mass is certainly apparent but what about the actual quality in the bottle? I tasted a number of great wines at the auction but there was so much hubbub it was very hard to focus. I fared much better the previous day at a well-executed blind tasting of the 2013, 2012 and 2011 vintages across 16 Napa wineries. These are the vintages on shelf or soon arriving in Canada, although few of the labels I encountered are available here.

Napa Blind Tasting

Held at the historic Charles Krug Winery on a misty Napa winter morning, I spent three hours cross-checking variation of the three years. And yes vintages do matter in Napa! I was so pleased to see the consistency of the different years vintage to vintage. We also tasted flights of wines from the 2006, 2001 and 1996 vintages and the vast majority were holding and maturing very well, another barometer of quality.

The other overall observation was that the wines had more finesse and structure than I expected – there were very few jammy, soft, sweetish and hottish wines. They were very classy, and the vast majority easily scored over 90 points. So there is qualitative substance, and as for pricing – well that is clearly set by how much and how many people are willing to pay.

I was very taken by the quality of the soon arriving 2013 vintage (one of the first in Ontario being the Frog’s Leap arriving March 5). In most cases I was scoring the 2013s a couple of points higher than 2012 or 2011. Typical of young wines many of the 2013s were aromatically reserved at this point. But they have impressive colour depth, body, concentration and tannin. Indeed it is the tannic structure combined with the fruit depth and purity that portends a long-lived vintage. They do have tension, and brilliance, and fine moderate to warm climate black fruit detailing.

The 2012s tended to be the most plush, fruity and approachable now. There was great hoopla and relief over 2012, the first of three drought year vintages after the greener 2011s. Ripeness had returned. But in tasting through the 2012s last week I kept feeling that they hang a bit heavy, and lack some elan and poise.

The lighter 2011s were engaging on two fronts. First, from a cooler, wetter year several were already starting to show some evolution – good complexity, integration and refinement of the tannin. And second, if you like and are accustomed to some cabernet greenness as I am – from years of tasting Bordeaux and Canadian reds – the 2011s showed more “classic” character. I thoroughly enjoyed many and did not find them “weaker”. They were more linear.

It was out beyond the decanters and tasting halls that the real allure of Napa was to be found, one that has infiltrated me every time I return. The scenery is stunning, from the sweep of the valley floor to the vineyards perched high in the five mountain appellations, which I visited on a gorgeous five hour Sunday drive. If one wants a sense of place in wine, Napa has got it.

Spring Mountain

And the people I met are as pleasant and down to earth as anywhere in the world. Restaurant service is superbly friendly and genuine. And at two Napa restaurants I encountered ‘Bring Your Own’ policies with zero corkage! That alone is testament to the strength of the wine market in the New World’s epicentre. And that alone is enough to endear any Canadian.

Here are some California picks from the March 5 release, which should hold you until the California Wine Fair touches down in Ottawa, Friday April 8 and Toronto, Monday April 11.

Buyers’ Guide to California Whites

Beringer Chardonnay 2014

Macrostie Chardonnay 2013

Kistler Mccrea Vineyard Chardonnay 2013Kistler 2013 McCrea Vineyard Chardonnay, Sonoma Mountain ($120.95)
David Lawrason – Few California chardonnays crack the $100 mark, and when it happens one needs to look deep into the glass. What I found here, within the friendly ambiance, was a very generous, complex nose that weaves yellow fruits and flowers, hazelnut, lemongrass/conifer, gentle peat smoke and wet stone. It’s medium weight, very elegant, just a touch sweet on the palate, with a dry, stony finish. The focus and length are outstanding.
Michael Godel – Considered the most Chablis-like in the Kistler range from the eastern flank of Sonoma Mountain out of a rare mix of Sonoma volcanics and limestone. To my mind the McCrea Vineyard is the coolest climate Kistler, of gemstone and tart orchard fruit personality

Macrostie 2012 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, California ($35.95)
Michael Godel – A true melting pot Chardonnay of Sonoma Coast origins. Vineyards involved include Sangiacomo and Champlin Creek (Carneros), Dutton and Martinelli (Russian River Valley) and Wildcat Mountain Vineyard (Petaluma Gap). Really defines then territory.
Sara d’Amato – A chardonnay that stands out in a release that features mostly creamy, full-bodied and oak-driven styles of times past. Although the palate offers creamy coconut and pineapple, there is a pleasant undercurrent of acidity that adds brightness and balance – a relatively fine value too!

Beringer 2014 Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Although a touch sweet and obviously oaked I sensed some purity of fruit and genteel character here. This is generously flavoured yet refined chardonnay at a very acceptable price.

Buyers’ Guide to California Reds

Frog's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Shafer 2013 MerlotShafer Merlot 2013, Napa Valley ($94.95)
David Lawrason – Doug Shafer and his wines hold sway in Napa. Everybody seems to love Shafer, but I think it comes down to a consistent sense of silk and purity in the wines themselves. This is a gorgeous merlot that I would drink nightly if it weren’t almost $100 a bottle. It has a lifted nose of currants, red plums, fresh herbs, lavender and a touch of pepper.
Sara d’Amato – A fine, age-worthy merlot, sleek and sophisticated. Like many of the wines in this feature, the alcohol is high and so it would benefit from a slight chill for best expression of the marvelous fruit and floral aromas.

Joseph Phelps 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($106.95)
David Lawrason – Another legendary Napa house that seems to deliver year and year out. This is beautifully rendered, fruity, elegant and finely-toned cabernet from the ripe 2012 vintage. All the classic cab and Napa elements are nicely layered. So smooth, dense and refined, with youthful tannin.
Sara d’Amato – A lovely vintage of this iconic cabernet sauvignon which is definitively Napa Valley.  Best to wait another 2-3 years for the muscular tannins to mellow and the fruit and oak to coalesce. If you are in no hurry, there is a decade or more of time yet to enjoy this monumental tour de force.

Frog’s Leap 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa Valley ($83.95)
David Lawrason – One of the first 2013 cabs onto the market in Canada shows a deep colour and a fragrant, concentrated nose of red and blackcurrants, among other complexities. It’s medium-full bodied, fairly dense, vibrant, juicy and tannic, with excellent length. Cellar a bit.

Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Frei Brothers Reserve Pinot Noir 2012

Jonata Todos 2011 RedJonata Todos Red 2011, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County ($79.95)
Sara d’Amato – This small, artisanal winery is the sister property to Napa’s Screaming Eagle and has had no shortage of critical praise. Vineyards are cared for using organic and biodynamic techniques and the resulting wines offer an abundance of character and impressive finesse. The 2011 blend is largely based on syrah with a peppery nose and kirsch-like flavours on the palate.
Michael Godel – Eighty dollars is not exactly pocket change but a scant few California peers compare at the price. Syrah leads a supporting cast of seven total grape varieties for a big, balanced and age-capable wine. Blending never tasted so worthy.

Frei Brothers Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County ($26.95)
Michael Godel – Purposefully ripe, dark and warm Pinot Noir from winemaker Scott Kozel who firmly believes in growing the right grapes in the right places and not messing with the purest expression of those grapes. This is Pinot Noir with commercial appeal and the quality to stand behind the product.

Josh Cellars 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, California ($17.00)
Sara d’Amato – Certainly the best value in this release, this generic California cabernet sauvignon is well balanced, mid-weight and with alcohol nicely in check. Expressive and aromatic with wide appeal.

Sommelier Fun & Fundraising

CAPS Team Canada FundrasierThe Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS) Ontario chapter is hosting a fundraising event on Monday, February 29th to celebrate Canadian wine talent. Join Sara d’Amato, John Szabo, Bruce Wallner and other guest sommeliers at Terroni’s new event space on Adelaide. They have a fun event planned with a blind tasting challenge, raffle prizes, great wine and tasty treats. Tickets are only $40 ($30 for CAPS members) – all to support your Canadian wine community. This event is open to the trade and the public. Hope to see you there. (You can find more info here: https://teamcanadacaps2016.eventbrite.ca)

And that’s a wrap for this week. John Szabo returns from Italy next week just in time to discuss the Brunello contingent on this release, along with other picks.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES March 5, 2016

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael Godel’s Picks
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!


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Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Wynns of Coonawarra: Where Cabernet Soars Solo

By David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

For all its fame and glory, cabernet sauvignon can be difficult to love. Yes, it can sport great aromatics and tannic structure – making it age-worthy and collectible – but in most cases and places, its gruff tannic exterior and penchant for greenness needs tempering, either by blending other grapes like merlot, and/or liberal oak ageing. There are few places in the world where it flies solo, and though many wineries attempt it, few do it well.

One of those successful places is in Coonawarra in South Australia, and one of those few wineries is Wynns, making their 100 percent cabernet Black Label for 60 years.

Winemaker Sue Hodder was recently touring Canada, pouring Black Label and other wines for enthusiasts and trade. We got a good look at the 2013 vintage Black Label, plus the famed John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon, the super-premium plot and barrel selection only made in better vintages.

What impressed me about both was their sense of purity and cohesion, their refinement within the context of cabernet’s thick skin. Cabernet’s blackcurrant was in perfect form, not underripe redcurrant, not overripe jam. There was a genteel minty greenness, not strident eucalyptus. There was subtle ferrous/graphite minerality. The tannins were firm but fine.

So the evening we spent with Sue Hodder in Toronto at least, and in other cities as well I suspect, was a great opportunity to try to understand more about her unparalled Oz success with cabernet. Earlier in the day, we sat down with Sue to capture her remarks on video:

The simple answer is that Coonawarra, situated in a remote southern semi-coastal area of South Australia, has the ideal climate for ripening this late-ripening variety. It is one of the cooler regions of Australia – prone to frost – but obviously plenty warm during the growing season. It fits cabernet’s growing cycle like a glove.

But so do other regions like Margaret River in West Australia, Alto Maipo in Chile, mid-Napa Valley in California and various aspects within the mountain slopes of Stellenbosch, South Africa. And let’s add the mid-Medoc of Bordeaux, the classic homeland of cabernet sauvignon. All make great cabernet-based wines, but even in these regions, merlot is often used to flesh them out.

Thus, the reason that Coonawarra can do solo cabernet so well must lie below ground, in its vein of famed terra rossa soil that pushes up close to surface, creating a cigar-shaped mound with elevation barely perceptible to the naked eye. Just below the unremarkable-looking surface lies a layer of red oxidized limestone that was once under the sea. And below that lies white pure limestone. All of these strata are close enough to the surface to be penetrated by the vine roots.

Sue Hodder - Wynns Coonawarra Estate

But what does the soil relationship mean for the wine? I asked Sue Hodder what the terra rossa is delivering – the minerality, that ferrous character? Nope. She simply said “balance”, the secret structural ingredient that cabernet misses in so many other places. It is created by the way the terra rossa mitigates water retention and vine vigour, growing balanced grapes, and in turn, produces balanced wines.

Perhaps the most measurable aspect of balance is the natural and consistent 13% alcohol level that shows up in the wines. Wynns wines are rarely “hot”, and in an era when climate change and consumer preference has been driving alcohol levels higher and higher, this is a welcome relief.

When Sue Hodder arrived to make wine in Coonawarra in 1993, fresh from viticultural work with Penfolds and a graduate degree in agriculture from Roseworthy, the vineyards at Wynns were already decades old. There were some great old vines, but management of the vines over the years had not been optimal. By the time she assumed the chief winemaker role in 1998 it was obvious to her that a major vineyard rejuvenation project was required. She enlisted the help of viticultural specialist Alan Jenkins and they set about replanting, employing new rootstocks, re-aligning, re-trellising and fine tuning the vines to become better conduits of the balance that the soils so naturally provided.

Wynns Coonawarra Estate

That process of tweaking and improving and learning about the soil relationship continues unabated today, partially to engineer the vineyard for global warming, but also to create even more complex and interesting wines.

“Even within the terra rossa zone we are identifying subtle soil differences” Sue explained. “It is leading us into projects like the V & A Lane Cabernet, and other single plot wines”. Another wine in the cabernet line-up is called The Siding, a younger vine, somewhat juicier, less structured cabernet that will be appearing in Canada this year.

Cabernet is the lynchpin of Wynns, but other varieties are also on the docket. A more supple shiraz, a grand single plot shiraz called Michael, a complex cabernet-shiraz called The Gables, the iconic re-striped cabernet-merlot-shiraz, a very fine riesling, and an effortless, fresh chardonnay that nowadays is showing very little oak.

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2013Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Release 2010Wynns Coonawarra Estate V & A Lane Cabernet Shiraz 2012Wynns Coonawarra Estate The Siding Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Wynns Coonawarra Estate The Gables 2013

But the Black Label is the real storyteller for Wynns. A couple of years ago during the blind tasting challenge called So, You Think You Know Wine?, I was able to deduce this wine as a Coonawarra cabernet, right down to the correct vintage. But I missed a perfect 10 score by over-estimating the price by about $10. Not only is it an excellent wine and an excellent cabernet, it is an affordable lesson and pleasure.

Affordable enough to be the bedrock cabernet sauvignon in not only a budget minded cellar, but any wine lover’s cellar.

Cheers,

David

On a regular basis WineAlign hosts functions for our Members to attend where winemakers and their wines are profiled. These events are often hosted by a WineAlign principal critic. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then may independently recommend wines to appear in the event profile. Wineries (or their agents) 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. 


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