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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Feb 6, 2016

In the Name of Love
By Sara d’Amato with wine notes from David Lawrason and John Szabo MS

Sara's New Pic Med

Sara d’Amato

‘Tis the month of love, loving, perhaps love-ins, whatever your brand of romance, we have a wine for you. From the city of love, Verona, to the escapist power of Hungarian Tokaji to the aromas of the wind-blown, sunny slopes of Provence – we have all of your romantic destinations covered. So save yourself the airfare and instead spend your precious Canadian dollars at home savoring faraway lands.

If daydreaming of lands afar doesn’t satisfy your cravings, be sure to take in our homegrown selections from Ontario and BC where plush, enveloping merlot and fleshy gewürztraminer are sure to tempt. More babies are born in the early fall than any other season reports Stats Canada, surely caused by our local selection of fragrant, fireside reds and spine-tingling whites best for blistering nights.

In the words of Latin America’s outspoken writer and activist Eduardo Galeano: “We are all mortal till the first kiss and the second glass of wine.” So transcend this mortal coil by indulging with those that matter most this Valentine’s week. We at WineAlign will be doing the same with our top picks from this most important release.

Buyer’s Guide to February 6th: Sparkling, White & Sweet

Taittinger Brut Champagne 2008

Lallier Grand Cru Rosé ChampagneLallier Grand Cru Rosé Champagne, Champagne, France ($58.95)
David Lawrason – This would be my pick to express the depth of your affection on Valentine’s Day. It is very classy, generous pink bubbly with all kinds of freshness, fine fruit, taut minerality and excellent length. It is sourced largely from estate-grown fruit in Grand Cru sites in the Champagne region. This small house was founded in 1903, but purchased by Francis Tribaut in 1984.

Taittinger 2008 Brut Champagne, Champagne, France ($97.95)
Sara d’Amato – Impressive wine has emerged from the rocky 2008 vintage in Champagne and this elegant, lightly matured example sets a high bar. This elegant and savory sparkler with a touch of creamy lees on the palate and a great deal of freshness would make for a cherished Valentine’s gift.

Domaine de Bellene 2013 Les Charmes Dessus Santenay, Burgundy, France ($35.95)
John Szabo – This is a lovely Santenay blanc from Nicolas Potel’s estate vineyards in the Les Charmes Dessus lieu-dit, crafted in the classic style. It’s flavourful but lean, very gently wood-inflected, spicy, savoury, and with a strong hit of umami, and tight enough to need another year or two in the cellar to fully express itself. Depth and complexity in the Burgundy category are exceptional for the price. Best 2017-2023.

Tinhorn Creek 2014 Gewürztraminer, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – It is tough to produce a gewürztraminer with such fine balance and upbeat manner despite the characteristic fatness of the varietal. Compelling aromas of lime, ginger and tender blossom are followed by a lightly sweet, ethereal palate. Don’t underestimate the seductive power of a voluptuous gewürztraminer.
David Lawrason – The Okanagan Valley is rounding into shape as one of the world’s best gewurz regions – not unlike Alsace in aspect with a northerly latitude to preserve acidity, and vineyards that sit in a rain shadow creating plenty of warmth in the growing season. This National Wine Awards gold medalist is very intense and complex with all kinds of spice, lychee, lavender and spearmint. It’s medium-full bodied, off-dry yet very well balanced with great flavour focus. Chill fairly well.

Tiago Cabaço 2014 Premium White, Vinho Regional Alentejano, Portugal ($14.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a tidy little value from southern Portugal, a fruity-floral, engagingly aromatic white blend free from oak, with light-weight palate and crunchy, saliva-inducing acids. This is all about the citrus and nectarine flavours, fresh sweet herbs and yellow flowers. Nicely crafted.

Domaine de Bellene Les Charmes Dessus Santenay 2013 Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2014 Tiago Cabaço Premium White 2014 Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2015 Gróf Degenfeld Tokaji Szamorodni Sweet 2010

Ken Forrester 2015 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This is a bargain white – a well balanced, fairly smooth chenin that seems poised to age well. I have had vertical tastings of this wine going back over ten vintages and it becomes very complex. But that’s not to suggest you shouldn’t drink it now. It nicely expresses chenin pear/quince, honey, spicy and waxy aromas and flavours.

Gróf Degenfeld 2010 Tokaji Szamorodni Sweet, Hungary ($18.95)
John Szabo – A sweet but balanced and lively, unusually fresh szamorodni (most are purposely heavily oxidative in style), that would make a great restaurant by-the-glass pour (bottles last several weeks after opening). I enjoyed the pleasant quince, dried apple and pear fruit flavours, and the lingering finish, a fine value all in all. Best 2016-2022.

Buyer’s Guide to February 6th: Reds

Grandes Serres 2012 Rocca Luna, Beaumes de Venise, Rhône, France ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – One whiff of this utterly enchanting Beaumes de Venise from Grandes Serres will transport you to the fragrant, arid, sunny and rocky landscape of the southern Rhône.  Although the appellation of Beaumes de Venise is better known for its sweet muscat, it also produces some top notch reds of good value such as this typical blend of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre.

Monte del Frá Lena di Mezzo 2013 Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore, Veneto, Italy ($19.95)
John Szabo – I find the entire ripasso category challenging, highly varied in style and quality, but Monte del Frà finds the right approach in my view, in this case a balanced and well crafted expression, without excesses of raisined or volatile fruit character, or obtrusive wood, and genuinely dry. It’s an attractively crisp and crunchy red, just with a little more bottom and back end than the (also very good) straight up Valpolicella from the same producer in this release. Best 2016-2023.

Grandes Serres Rocca Luna Beaumes De Venise 2012 Monte del Frá Lena di Mezzo Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore 2013 Cenyth Red Blend 2010 Boutari Naoussa Xinomavro 2013

Cenyth 2010 Red Blend, Sonoma County, California, USA ($68.95)
Sara d’Amato – Of the Jackson Family of Wines portfolio, Cenyth is the first commercial winemaking project of Hélène Seillan, the daughter of revered Bordelaise winemaker Pierre Seillan. Having studied in France and raised in Bordeaux and Sonoma, her wine feels both traditional and edgy.  There is serious structure here, depth and an abundance of flavours yet to be unveiled. A collector’s find.

Boutari Naoussa 2013 Xinomavro, Naoussa, Greece ($13.95)
John Szabo – Still performing at the top end of the value ladder, I think I’ve recommended virtually every vintage of this reliable bottling from Boutari since I’ve been reporting on wine. The 2013 is another classic, full of dusty, savoury, herbal character, firm but not unyielding texture, and long, dried strawberry-tinged finish. This vintage is reminiscent of good Chianti Classic, for example, and hard to top for value in a flamboyantly old world style red. Best 2016-2023.

Viña Chocalán 2014 Reserva Syrah, Maipo Valley, Chile ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This is the bargain New World red of the release pours very deep black purple syrah colour. Expect lifted, surprising complex syrah pepper, boysenberry, licorice, plus thyme and coffee grounds. It’s full bodied, dense, edgy and concentrated.

Viña Chocalán Reserva Syrah 2014 Quadrus Red 2010 Creekside Merlot 2013 Paul Hobbs Crossbarn Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Quadrus 2010 Red, Douro Valley, Portugal ($21.95)
David Lawrason – So many Douro reds show great value in their classic Euro way. This has a nicely lifted, intense nose of pomegranate-blueberry fruit with peppery, spicy and stony complexity. It’s medium-full bodied with classic Douro tension and granitic minerality. Excellent length. Just starting to mature – should live easily beyond 2020.

Creekside 2013 Merlot, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario, Canada ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – The 2013 vintage in Niagara saw growers scrambling to keep up with wild weather patterns and is generally considered a better year for cooler climate varietals such as riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir. However, winemaker Rob Power shows his experience by assembling a perfectly ripe merlot with great finesse.

Paul Hobbs 2012 Crossbarn Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California  ($49.95)
David Lawrason – This collectible/cellarable cabernet has more complexity and precision than I expected – in fact it has excellent structure within the New World genre, and it should age very well. Expect a lifted, quite fragrant floral nose with finely tuned cassis, mocha, meaty notes and a touch of mint. Within the rarefied air of premium California cabernets this one stands out for value.

For those looking to treat themselves to additional selections from the February 6th release, see Michael Godel’s recent piece regarding the changing face of South African wine where you’ll find an abundance of hedonistic options.


Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES February 6, 2016

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

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

Pepperjack Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Jan 23, 2016

From Macedonia to the Snake River in Idaho
By John Szabo MS with wine notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Last week I covered the two main features of the January 23rd release, Portugal and South America, with some thoughts on where you’ll likely find the best wine values in 2016. This week, the whole WineAlign crü weighs in with their top smart buys from all regions, covering a wide swath of the world from Macedonia to the Snake River in Idaho, with a little California sunshine thrown in for good measure.

Buyer’s Guide to January 23rd Whites: 

Porcupine Ridge 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa ($13.95)
John Szabo – A subtle and smoky, fairly rich and concentrated sauvignon blanc, especially in this price category. This has ample complexity and depth to satisfy, not to mention fine length.

Domaine de la Janasse 2014 Côtes du Rhône Blanc, Rhône, France ($21.95)
John Szabo – Every time I taste great Rhône whites like this, I wonder why I don’t drink them more often, especially in these cooler months. This is a really lovely, rich, salty, fruity, and complex white, balanced and flavourful, with genuine flavour concentration. I love the white flowers, marzipan and cherry blossom flavours added to the symphony of white fleshed orchard fruit. Best 2016-2022.
Sara d’Amato – A brother and sister duo leads the winemaking team at the innovative Domaine of La Janasse in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Proficient winemakers are exactly what were required in the cool and rainy year of 2014 to manage and compensate for this unusual vintage. This refreshingly zesty blend dominated by grenache blanc is packed with peachy, citrus flavour and a mouthfilling texture. Highly memorable.

Marchand-Tawse 2011 Saint Romain, Burgundy, France ($31.95)
John Szabo – This is fine, old school white Burgundy with great complexity and plenty of chalky texture and flavour from Pascal Marchand and partner Moray Tawse (owner of Tawse and Redstone wineries in Niagara). It’s bright and sharp, still lightly reductive, flinty, with inviting lemon custard and green nut flavours. Drink or hold this into the twenties without concern – the acids will hold this together for some time yet. Best 2016-2021.
Sara d’Amato – A Burgundian-Canadian collaborative negociant project that has proved immensely successful, consistently delivering top examples of a range of appellations throughout Burgundy. Saint-Romain’s characteristic notes of white flower, dried herbs and mineral are nicely expressed on the palate of this fresh and focused chardonnay.

Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Domaine de La Janasse Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2014 Marchand Tawse Saint Romain 2011 Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2014Domaine Chevallier Chablis 2014Martin Ray Chardonnay 2013

Blue Mountain 2014 Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, BC  ($24.95)
David Lawrason – The Mavety family purchased their stunning property in 1971 and have created Canada’s finest 100% estate winery, farmed organically from the beginning. The result – up and down their portfolio – are wines of real structure and depth. This subtle barely oaked chardonnay shows a lovely, generous aromas of ripe apple nicely framed by vanillin, subtle herbs/fennel and spice. It’s medium-full bodied, fairly intense with great grip. I would age it a year or two.

Domaine Chevallier 2014 Chablis, Burgunday, France ($23.95)
Sara d’Amato – A dependable favourite of VINTAGES, this new vintage is a superb value delivering an authentic, traditional  Chablis at an impressive depth. A terrific match for moules marinières.

Martin Ray 2013 Chardonnay Russian River Valley, Sonoma County ($28.95)
David Lawrason – Martin Ray was a pioneer of boutique California winemaking. He was based in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The winery that now bears his name is centred in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. This suave, rich chardonnay has fine bones, showing welcome restraint for California chardonnay with lovely subtle aromas of yellow/Japanese pear, gentle wood spice, dried herbs. Very focused, poised and complete with excellent length.

Russian River Valley Vineyards ©John Szabo, MS

Russian River Valley Vineyards ©John Szabo, MS

Buyer’s Guide to January 23rd Reds: 

Tormaresca 2012 Trentangeli, Castel del Monte, Puglia, Italy ($19.95)
John Szabo – Antinori’s establishment of the 100 hectare Boca di Lupo estate, certified organic and within view of the Vulture volcano next door in Basilicata, was a real shot in the arm for Puglia, historically a bulk wine producing region. Fans of plush and dense reds will love this blend of aglianico with cabernet and syrah, delivering massive fruit extract – the sort of modern style southern Italian red wine that turns heads in North America. Best 2016-2022.

Vincent Girardin 2013 Vieilles Vignes Santenay, Burgundy, France ($37.95)
John Szabo – Genuine values in Burgundy are few and far between, so it’s tempting to snap them up when they appear. Vincent Girardin has been a reliable name in the negociant world of Burgundy for as long as I remember, and this is a particularly compelling red from the southernmost commune in the Côte d’Or, best left for another 2-4 years in the cellar. It’s more structured and vibrant than the mean; I like the juiciness and vibrancy, and the tanginess on offer. Best 2018-2025.

Popov Versnik 2011 Merlot Tikves, Republic of Macedonia ($13.95)
John Szabo – Go on, get out of your comfort zone and try this exceptional fine value from Macedonia. You’ll be surprised, as I was, by the complexity delivered here, as well as firm structure and spicy fruit flavours. This would not be out of place in a tasting of premium Right Bank Bordeaux.

Tormaresca Trentangeli 2012 Vincent Girardin Vieilles Vignes Santenay 2013 Popov Versnik Merlot 2011Château des Demoiselles 2010

Château Des Demoiselles 2010 Castillon – Côtes de Bordeaux, France ($17.95)
David Lawrason – There is a fine little tranche of 2010 Bordeaux on this release, and this is a great value example – a delish yet structured merlot from the region neighbouring St. Emilion up-river.  It nicely combines ripe berry fruit, cream, oak spice and some gentle earthiness. There is some green tannin and heat, and it has very good fruit and depth at the price.

Carpineto 2010 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy  ($29.95)
David Lawrason – From a leading Tuscan family, here’s an estate Chianti Classico from an excellent vintage. It is showing great lift, presence and maturing complexity. The nose is nicely spiked with meaty and herbal bits, but also with classic sangiovese currants, vanillin and smoke. It’s mid-weight, firm and tart edged, and the length is excellent. Still could use a year or two.

Terrazas de los Andes 2013 Reserva Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95)
David Lawrason – The challenge with inexpensive, young malbec is how to balance such a big-boned, flavourful and often tannic wine – without resorting to sweetness and trickery.  Not sure of the secret here but it is a very complete, natural and detailed malbec with ripe blackberry, subtle herbs, licorice and oak. So well stitched and effortless. One of my favourite Argentine producers year after year.

Carpineto Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 Terrazas de Los Andes Reserva Malbec 2013 Ste. Chapelle Gem State Red 2012 Mocali Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Ste. Chapelle 2012 Gem State Red, Snake River Valley, Idaho, USA ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – Idaho is known as the “Gem State” due to its abundance of natural resources and its substantial rare mineral deposits. Although this is not the first release in VINTAGES of a wine from Idaho, such an offering easily qualifies as a seldom seen, curio selection. The Snake River valley is a shared appellation that also runs into the state of Oregon and produces fresh and elegant reds nicely portrayed in this value-priced example from Ste. Chapelle.

Mocali 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Rosso Toscano, Tuscany, Italy ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – In a “Super Tuscan” style, this inexpensive IGT delivers impressive power and structure for the price.  It’s bold and satisfying, and may just cure the chills, though a touch tannic, so be sure to decant and pair with a salty protein.

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

From VINTAGES January 23rd, 2016

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

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

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Jan 9, 2016

Finding Value in the VINTAGES section
By John Szabo MS with wine notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Dear WineAligners,

Top of the New Year to you! December was a record-breaking month for us. Nearly 250,000 of you read close to million pages of wine reviews and news. We’re thrilled that you came to us for advice and suggestions, and we sincerely hope you found what you were looking for. 2016 looks to be even bigger and better. We’ll be rolling out our newly redesigned, mobile-friendly website in the first quarter, with additional features, new columnists, more comprehensive coverage, and more reviews than ever. If you’re passionate about drink and food, WineAlign will be your top bookmarked page in 2016.

In this report we cover the January 9th VINTAGES release, with the annual focus on value. I’ve covered the top European value releases, while David covers the new world, and Sara spots her top picks from all worlds. If your cellar was depleted, like mine was over the holidays, it’s time to restock. Wines from seven countries make the list this week, all under $25.

Buyers Guide For January 9th: Best Buys under $25

White and Sparkling

Pupillo 2010 Cyane Moscato, Sicilia, Italy ($18.95)
John Szabo – It’s curious to see this released now – a dry, five year-old muscat from Sicily. But it’s far from past prime; it offers an arrestingly complex mix of dried, yellow-fleshed orchard fruit, mango and melon, bees-wax, honey, and baking spice, while the palate delivers genuine depth and concentration, and a lovely creamy texture. It’s idiosyncratic to be sure, but well worth discovering; try it at the table with herbed pork roast or veal scaloppini.
Sara d’Amato – Pupillo devotes most of their energy to the production of wines of the moscato variety and they are passionately devoted to the cause of reviving Sicily’s most ancient DOC, that of Moscato di Siracusa. This curious, dry, going on six-year old IGT moscato is wildly complex and thought-provoking. A touch oxidative but drinking beautifully now and offers an impressive range of flavours.

Donnachiara 2013 Irpinia Coda di Volpe, Campania, Italy ($16.95)
John Szabo – There’s lots of character for the money in this native Campania white made by the charismatic Ilaria Pettito, aromatically subdued, but intriguingly earthy and herbal. The palate is mid-weight with fine drive and length; I like the cooked lemon and wet clay-like character. Ready to enjoy.

Pupillo Cyane Moscato 2010 Donnachiara Irpinia Coda di Volpe 2013 Fred Loimer Lois Grüner Veltliner 2013

Fred Loimer 2013 Lois Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal, Austria ($17.95)
John Szabo – Although this is Fred Loimer’s entry-level Grüner, and not certified biodynamic like the rest of the range, the Lois 2013 is drinking marvellously at the moment and is well worth the money. It functions in both the aperitif slot, as well as with substantial dishes: fish, white meat, for example.
Sara d’Amato – A textbook grüner with spine-tingling vibrancy, focus and great purity. Tangy lime, bitter almond and cool stone dominate the mid-weight palate. Pair with raw oysters or sashimi.

Mulderbosch 2015 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This is very good buy in SA chenin – one of the leading value white wine categories in the world right now. It has complexity well beyond its price, offering mid-winter warmth, almost non-oaked tropical fruit richness. Roast pork or ham could work very nicely.

Alamos 2015 Torrontés, Salta, Argentina ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Sourced from the higher elevation Salta region where torrontes thrives; this is very bright – ringing with classic, lavender/Easter lily florality, lemongrass and lime. Very nicely balanced, with just right acid-sugar level and dryness. Great with Asian meals, but save a few bottles for spring sipping.

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2015 Alamos Torrontés 2015 Château d'Argadens Blanc 2014 Familia Zuccardi Cuvée Especial Blanc de Blancs

Château d’Argadens 2014 Blanc, Bordeaux, France ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – In the shadow of glorious reds, dry white Bordeaux often gets overlooked on this side of the pond. Styles of this sauvignon blanc/semillon blend can vary between smoky-oaky to more floral, fruit-forward, aromatic examples such as this compelling offering. Try with soft, ripe cheeses or fish and chips.

Familia Zuccardi Cuvée Especial Blanc de Blancs, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Mendoza’s high elevation sites make for some pretty special sparkling wine, often produced in a Traditional Method style. Immensely popular in South America, these well-priced bubbles rarely make it to Ontario. This non-vintage chardonnay cuvée balances mineral and razor-sharp freshness with comforting notes of warm bread on its ample palate.


Domaine Dupré 2012 Vignes de 1935 Morgon, Beaujolais, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – As the cuvée name implies, this wine hails from a small parcel planted in 1935 called Les Cras, on the hill of Morgon, origin of most of Beaujolais’s sturdiest crus. The nose is textbook – all stone-tinged tart red berry fruit – while the palate offers lively acids, light tannins but with a firm grip, and lingering, juicy finish. Delicious wine, best 2016-2020.

Thunevin-Calvet 2012 Cuvée Constance, Côtes du Roussillon-Villages, France ($18.95)
John Szabo – Those looking for a satisfying winter wine under $20 will find comfort and shelter here in this deeply coloured, deeply fruity, plush, dark and immediately appealing red from Bordeaux bad boy Jean-Luc Thunevin (of Chateau Valandraud in Saint Emilion) and his southern partner Jean-Roger Calvet. Evolving from a garagiste operation to a modern domaine with 60 hectares, I’d guess this was made with all of the technological advancements currently available; it’s designed to impress upon release, which it does. 15% alcohol declared gives this a warm and mouth filling impression, but it’s backed by a whack of ripe and concentrated fruit and an impression of sweetness. Best 2016-2020.

Domaine Dupré Vignes de 1935 Morgon 2012 Thunevin Calvet Cuvée Constance 2012 Aydie l'Origine Madiran 2012

Aydie 2012 l’Origine Madiran, Southwest, France ($14.95)
John Szabo – Fans of classic old world reds will appreciate this structured, earthy-spicy blend (70% tannat with 30% cabernets – sauvignon and franc), firm but not hard or unyielding.  This would even benefit from another year or three in the cellar – an attractive value for the money. Best 2016-2022.

Honoro Vera 2013 Garnacha, Calatayud, Spain ($15.95)
John Szabo – This is a fine, generous and juicy, savoury and fruity old vine garnacha from northern Spain, at a very attractive price. Tannins are soft but the palate maintains some tension and freshness, while wet concrete and resinous herb flavours add complexity. Serve with a light chill. Best 2016-2019.

Indomita 2013 Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Indomita has splashy modern winery in Casablanca but goes to its Alto Maipo estate for cabernet. No profound depth here, but it is well structured, dry and classic without resorting to undue sweetness and oak influence. A cab lover’s cab with a hint of greenness but also classic currant fruit, and a touch of graphite.
Sara d’Amato – A generous cabernet sauvignon with an old world feel from Chile’s most historically steeped wine region. There is a seductive darkness and density to this aromatic red with very fine oak. Tastes twice the price.

Honoro Vera Garnacha 2013 Indomita Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Nieto Senetiner Don Nicanor 2012 Montes Limited Selection Carménere 2012

Nieto Senetiner 2012 Don Nicanor Cabernet/Malbec/Merlot, Mendoza, Argentina ($16.95)
David Lawrason – This traditional house has more Euro, textural approach to winemaking that nicely buffs the edges of often brash young Argentine reds. Sourcing from 40 year old vines helps. This is quite classy, and the one South American red on this release that I would pick off the shelf for a classic mid-winter prime rib, with mashed potatoes and gravy all in.

Montes Limited 2012 Selection Carmenère, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Montes has always been a go-to Chilean producer but of late I am sensing an extra degree of purity (varietal acuity) and depth in its less expensive wines. So if you like your carmenere with lifted currants, greenness and cedar this one is textbook and ultra-Chilean. Roast lamb.

Sister’s Run 2012 Bethlehem Block Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($15.95)
David Lawrason – This is a very stylish, great value 100% Barossa-grown, 100% cabernet by winemaker Elena Brooks, one of the said sisters. This has an intense, very ripe, chocolate mint, blackcurrant and graphite nose. I really like the energy and mid-palate balance (reminded me of Coonawarra).

Sister's Run Bethlehem Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Château des Aladères Sélection Vieilles Vignes 2012 Michel Gassier Nostre Païs 2012

Château des Aladères 2012 Sélection Vieilles Vignes, Corbières, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Corbières produces an abundance of lavish, spicy reds of excellent value and here is a fine example. A blend of syrah, carignan and grenache made entirely in stainless steel vats allowing the fruit to expresses itself fully and generously. A punchy and powerful red with wide appeal.

Michel Gassier 2012 Nostre Païs, Costières de Nîmes, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – Soft, supple and enveloping, this low-yielding, hand-picked, organically farmed red blends local varieties: grenache, syrah, carignan and mourvèdre. Balanced, inviting and comforting in a full-flavoured, unfiltered style.

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

From VINTAGES January 9th, 2016

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

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

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Mission Hill Family Estate Winery – Drilling Down in the Okanagan

A WineAlign Winery Profile
By David Lawrason

Mission Hill Family Estate WineryAs 2016 dawns Mission Hill Family Estate is by now no stranger to anyone who has pulled a cork in Canada. Mission Hill wines have been available since the 1970s, although profoundly evolved since then. They are available in every province and territory in the country, from a store in Haines Junction in the Yukon to Carbonear in Newfoundland.

What’s remarkable is that the wines are not only very good quality and thus good value at the lower price range, but also often exceptionally good in the upper ranges. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, consider that Mission Hill, in blind tastings judged by Canada’s top critics, has been named Winery of the Year four times since 2001. The latest victory – over 200+ wineries entered – came in 2015 at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.

Mission Hill Winery Entrance and Keystone

Mission Hill Winery Entrance and Keystone

I will get to the many reasons for that, but I want to talk first about perceptions. A winery that has been around so long, and that is so widely available, is a natural target of some consumer apathy and cynicism, especially when hundreds of other smaller wineries have built their followings in direct competition in the meantime. Yet Mission Hill persists, prospers and continues to try to perfect.

That impetus and wherewithal must come from the top down, and it is by now well known that owner Anthony von Mandl is the man behind this mission. Vancouver-born, Europe-raised and back in B.C. to cut his teeth as a wine merchant in the 1970s – when BC wine was in its infancy – Von Mandl has parlayed it all into an impressive domain.

Mission Hill Family Estate Winery

Mission Hill Family Estate Winery

His mountain-perched, neo-monastic winery is the symbol of Mission Hill’s aspiration and ascendancy. And it is a grand and awe-some place (in the truest sense of the word). But the winery is in its way a one-point-in-time statement, and the real challenge has been to maintain and elevate quality in the vineyards and the bottle – over many years, over many price points. Von Mandl has succeeded by careful selection of people, by careful winemaking and careful marketing and messaging. It has allowed Mission Hill to succeed as a business in many different price and quality arenas.

The Winemakers and Vineyards

I don’t want to dwell on history that is available elsewhere, but you must know that since 1991 winemaking has been in the hands of New Zealander John Simes, who has brought a sense of brightness, best possible ripeness, tension and layering to the wines. Over a decade ago his focus turned to the vineyards as Mission Hill put together five distinct sites, with the two largest in the warmer southern Okanagan. Yet Simes remained the winemaking overseer.

Darryl Booker Head Winemaker

Darryl Booker Head Winemaker

Until six months ago when Australia-born, educated and trained Darryl Brooker was appointed head winemaker, taking over the production of the 2015 vintage. He came into the Mission Hill fold with the acquisition of CedarCreek Winery in 2014, but prior to that he worked in Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula, first at Flat Rock Cellars, then at Andrew Peller-owned Trius. I have known Brooker since his arrival in Canada, and I can tell you that he is smart, open-minded, amiable and very good at his job. And he is excited about taking Mission Hill down the inevitable path of terroir-driven wines.

“The biggest thing for me is to go out into the vineyards with John and absorb what he knows about all these sites, and blocks and rows” said Brooker in a recent interview. “John continues and will continue to be deeply involved with the vineyards.”

Of the five vineyards, two in the north Okanagan are smaller and focused on riesling, pinot noir and chardonnay. Naramata Ranch in the central Okanagan is a gem producing a wide range of white varieties plus pinot and merlot. While the two much larger sites on the warmer, drier Black Sage Bench and Osoyoos regions are more proficient with merlot, cab franc, cab sauvignon and syrah – and yes some chardonnay, the grape that made Mission Hill famous when their chardonnay stunned the world by capturing the Avery Trophy for World’s Best Chardonnay in 1994 in London, England.

Mission Hill Okanagan Valley Vineyard

Mission Hill Okanagan Valley Vineyard

Brooker’s arrival and the focus on vineyards comes at an interesting time in B.C.; when serious discussions about sub-appellations are entering the ‘brass tacks’ phase.  With its vineyards up and down the Okanagan, Mission Hill is not only poised to contribute to the sub-app discussion in all the main Okanagan regions, but to demonstrate it in the bottle.

But the Terroir Series wines – which are only available direct from the winery drill down even deeper than that. “We are sourcing from our very best plots within these five vineyards”, said Brooker.  “They tend to be older blocks between 15 and 30 years of age”.

Brooker was candid about the challenge of drilling down. “Look, Mission Hill is historically known for large production and blending from different sites” (eg the Five Vineyard varietals) he explained. “It is more difficult to narrow down into small batch winemaking that terroir wines demand. So I was very surprised when I walked in here and found so many small batch tanks”.

This year Mission Hill added some concrete eggs to its vessel repertoire, and is considering larger concrete tanks in the immediate future. They are also experimenting with stainless steel barrels. “We are dialling into everything to see what works” Brooker explained.

The Wines

Mission Hill 5 Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013Mission Hill 5 Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2014There are five price/quality Mission hill tiers. (They do not include the recently acquired Von Mandl Estates properties that include CedarCreek, Checkmate and Martins Lane). In recent weeks WineAlign has reviewed wines from across the portfolio – many being included in the National Wine Awards. Below we present links to some of the better buys and most representative wines but we urge you to look beyond.

Five Vineyards Series
These are moderately priced, fruit first varietals blended from any of the five family owned sites. They are available Canada-wide.

Mission Hill 5 Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2014
Mission Hill 5 Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013

Reserve Series
Also sourced and blended from any of the five estate vineyards, these varietal wines are from selected blocks of grapes. They spend longer time in barrel with more lees stirring. They are mid-priced and some are widely available across the Canada.

Mission Hill Reserve Riesling 2014
Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Mission Hill Reserve Chardonnay 2013
Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz 2013

Mission Hill Reserve Riesling 2014Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013Mission Hill Reserve Chardonnay 2013Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz 2013

Terroir Collection
This new range of varietally labelled wines express distinct viticultural aspects of the vineyard estates driven by soil, clone, climate, and precision farming. The back labels explain the source. They are gradually replacing the SLC (Small Lot Collection) range. The reds are premium priced and currently only available direct from the winery.

Mission Hill Terroir Collection No. 16 Southern Cross Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Mission Hill Terroir Collection No.23 Crosswinds Syrah 2012
Mission Hill Terroir Collection No.21 Splitrail Merlot 2012

Mission Hill Terroir Collection No. 16 Southern Cross Sauvignon Blanc 2012Mission Hill Terroir Collection No.23 Crosswinds Syrah 2012Mission Hill Terroir Collection No.21 Splitrail Merlot 2012Mission Hill Compendium 2012Mission Hill Perpetua Osoyoos Vineyard Estate 2011

Legacy Series
There are four wines in this pinnacle series: Compendium, Quatrain, Perpetua and Oculus. They are branded blends rather than labeled by varietal or vineyard. They are high priced and available at fine wine shops and restaurants in many Canadian markets.

Mission Hill Compendium 2012
Mission Hill Perpetua Osoyoos Vineyard Estate 2011

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

Privilege Membership

Become a Privilege Member and unlock a world of elite benefits.
Privilege members receive first access to limited releases, exclusive access to our members-only dining salon, and priority access to our signature Concert Series.
Sign up online or at the Mission Hill Family Estate Wine Boutique.

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Dec 12, Part Two

Holiday Value Selections
by John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason & Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

After last week’s preview of the best buys over $25, this week we look at the best selections under $25 included in the December 12th release. Also stay tuned for my annual fizz report coming out on the 18th just in time for the holidays, which will be full of premium sparkling wines available both at the LCBO and in consignment, for gifting, celebrating and collecting, a special feature on grower champagnes, as well as a revised look at an old favourite pastime, matching oysters and wine.

White And Sparkling Wines

Zenato 2014 San Benedetto Lugana, Veneto, Italy ($16.95)

Sara d’Amato – A great holiday white for a low price especially if you enjoy fresher, unoaked whites. Lugana is made primarily from verdicchio and this example shows well the variety’s generous fruity character and nervy nature.
David Lawrason – This is one of Italy’s great underrated whites based on the trebbiano grape grown in northern Italy. It sports a very generous nose of lemon, apple custard, vague almond and subtropical star fruit. It’s medium weight fleshy, very bright and fresh. For fans of viognier and the exotic.

Wynns Coonawarra 2014 Estate Chardonnay, Coonawarra, South Australia ($17.95)

John Szabo – A lovely, brisk, fresh, minimally-oaked chardonnay from the ever-reliable Wynns of Coonawarra, and terrific value at that.

Cave Spring 2013 Estate Bottled Chardonnay, Cave Spring Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($18.95)

David Lawrason – Ontario winemakers and pundits are pegging 2013 as a great white wine vintage in Ontario (and please abide my opinion that great white wine vintages are more important than great red wine vintages here in the homeland). This is a tender yet ripe and quite elegant chardonnay. Lighter and fresher than many but has some textural weight and creaminess at the same time.

Zenato San Benedetto Lugana 2014Wynns Coonawarra Estate Chardonnay 2014Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2013Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Sparkling Riesling 2013Mountadam Estate Chardonnay 2013

Tawse 2013 Spark Limestone Ridge Sparkling Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)

David Lawrason – Tawse’s cleverly named and varied Spark sparklers have been hit and miss in my view, but this is solid and great value – a quite fine, complex, tightly woven riesling with a compact and complex nose of dried green pear, petrol and chalky stoniness. And it’s priced for generous pours over the holidays.

Mountadam Estate 2013 Chardonnay High Eden, Eden Valley, South Australia ($23.95)

John Szabo – The cool Eden Valley above the Barossa in South Australia is the origin of this pleasant, fragrant and lifted chardonnay with plentiful white-fleshed ripe orchard fruit. Concentration aligns with balance, and length and depth are also exceptional for the category. Best 2015-2021.
Sara d’Amato – Anything but a rich oaky chardonnay, this high elevation Aussie version is perfumed and elegant with impressive harmony and refinement. A classy addition to your holiday table that makes an easy match for a wide array of cuisine.

Red Wines

Pinacle De Fakra 2010, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon ($14.95)

John Szabo – And now for something different … this cabernet-syrah-cinsault blend from Lebanon delivers a mouthful of savoury, dusty, succulent red fruit, full of wild herbs. Tannins are light and fine grained, acids are balanced and the overall length and depth are terrific for the price. A charmingly rustic, old world style wine, best 2015-2020.
Sara d’Amato – A curio selection with wide appeal, this blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and cinsault from the heavily French-influenced, super high elevation Bekaa Valley, offers softened tannins and a ready-to-drink nature. Mid-weight and loaded with fruit, it is one of the better values in this release.

Emiliana 2013 Novas Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Maipo Valley, Chile ($15.95)

David Lawrason – Wow, let Chile’s leading organic producer take a bow. This is an even-handed, quite delicious cab-merlot blend with complex notes of cassis, chocolate, graphite and mint. Well proportioned, even, fairly extracted but slender. May not have the density and depth of most wines that score 90, but impeccable balance trumps depth.

Pierre Laplace 2012 Madiran, Southwest France ($16.95)

David Lawrason – Here’s a textbook example of one of the world’s toughest-to-love reds. Madiran is a tannat-based red from the southwest of France, its name derived from the ferocity of its tannins. This example brings order to the house. The nose is a bit shy but appealing with blackberry, a touch of evergreen and vaguely iron-like minerality. It is medium-full bodied, quite firm and taut, but not overly aggressive.

Pinacle De Fakra 2010Emiliana Novas Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2013Pierre Laplace Madiran 2012Cabriz Reserva 2012

Cabriz 2012 Reserva, Dão, Portugal ($17.95)

David Lawrason – Great value here! The landlocked, moderate climate, complex-soiled hill Dão region in central Portugal has huge potential, but is currently constricted by its mid-price range. Lovely lifted floral, plummy, blackberry and violet aromatics on display. It’s medium-full bodied, surprisingly gentle, soft and fruity with just enough drying tannin.

Salentein 2013 Reserve Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($17.95)

Sara d’Amato – Rich and inviting with notes of cocoa and black currant, this comforting red is best for curling up by the fireplace. It’s not all guilty pleasure though offering surprising dimension for the price. Peppered with notes of anise and juniper that linger on the marathon of a finish.

Poderi Angelini 2010 Primitivo Di Manduria, Puglia, Italy ($18.95)

John Szabo – Lovers of full-bodied, big, intensely flavoured wines in the style of Amarone will appreciate this similarly styled primitivo from Puglia. But it’s more than just raisined fruit; Poderi Angelini provides an example with excellent complexity, mature and earthy, pleasantly rustic and decidedly old school. This radically over-delivers on the price – I’d put this up against $40+ Amarone any day. Best 2015-2025.

Salentein Reserve Malbec 2013Poderi Angelini Primitivo Di Manduria 2010Ernie Els Big Easy 2013Murua Reserva 2007

Ernie Els 2013 Big Easy, Western Cape, South Africa ($19.95)

John Szabo – This entry-level wine from Els shows the high level at which the estate is currently performing. Mainly shiraz-cabernet, with some grenache, mourvèdre, cinsault and viognier, this is superb value, appealingly complex, savoury-earthy and herbal, well-structured, dense and polished. Lots of joy and pleasure here, best 2015-2021.

Murua 2007 Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($21.95)

Sara d’Amato – A solid, old school Rioja at the peak of maturity. Pairs well with everything from nuts and hard cheeses to roast bird and beef tenderloin.

Château Pierre De Montignac 2009, Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($23.95)

Sara d’Amato – With equal parts cabernet sauvignon and merlot, this juicy Médoc is fresh, friendly and easy to appreciate. From the highly lauded, riper 2009 vintage, this is a safe bet for holiday offering.

Château Pierre De Montignac 2009Mazzei Ser Lapo Riserva Chianti Classico 2011Wakefield Jaraman Shiraz 2013Domaine Karydas Naoussa 2010

Mazzei 2011 Ser Lapo Riserva Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($23.95)

John Szabo – Tuscan stalwart Mazzei, family owners of the Castello di Fonterutoli in Chianti Classico since 1435, deliver an open, very pretty, silky and perfumed wine in the 2011 vintage, with sangiovese softened by a splash of merlot. Although tempting now, this should continue to improve over the next 2-4 years, developing appealing savoury character along the way. Best 2017-2023.

Wakefield 2013 Jaraman Shiraz, Clare Valley/McLaren Vale, South Australia ($24.95)

David Lawrason – The Clare Valley is admired in Oz, but overlooked here as just another Aussie region. Its wines can offer impressive structure and depth – to wit this elegant red packed with generous currants, herbs, pepper, vanilla bean and cedar shaving. It’s full bodied, fairly dense and warm yet mineral.

Domaine Karydas 2010 Xinomavro, Naoussa, Greece ($25.95)

John Szabo – Ok, this is marginally above $25, but I believe it’s worth including, especially for lovers of light, dusty reds in the style of pinot noir, nebbiolo or sangiovese. Xynomavro is the Greek variation on this theme, a native variety to Macedonia and specifically the Naoussa region. Expect dried and candied red berry fruit, Turkish delight and leather, and firm but not aggressive tannins and acids. Decant for maximum enjoyment or hold through to the mid-’20s.

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

From VINTAGES December 12th, 2015

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Dec 12, Part One – Holiday Gifting and Gathering

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!

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Buy The Case: Treasury Wine Estates

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

BuyTheCaseLOGOimageIn this regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single importing agent. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in 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

Treasury Wine Estates

Treasury Wine Estates is one of the world’s largest premium wine producers. They grow, vinify and market wines, mostly from world renowned estates in California and Australia, such as Stag’s Leap, Beringer, Penfolds, Wolf Blass and Rosemount. They also have estates in New Zealand, Argentina and Italy. Many of their wines can be found at the LCBO and VINTAGES but others are available by the case through their consignment program.

The WineAlign Toronto team recently unearthed the following gems during a late November Buy the Case tasting of wines offered by Treasury Wine Estates.

Two of the wines tasted were selected by all 5 writers, so if you are looking for a couple of great wines to have on hand by buying or splitting a case then check out Stags’ Leap 2012 Napa Valley Petite Sirah and Wynns 2013 The Gables Cabernet Shiraz.

Most also thought that Stags’ Leap 2012 Napa Valley Merlot would be a great addition to anyone’s cellar.

If you are selecting wines for a restaurant list, three wines Chateau St. Jean 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Pepperjack 2013 Shiraz and Gabbiano 2012 Solatio would all be good wine-by-the-glass selections.

Below are recommended picks and suggested reasons why you might consider buying by the case.

Stags’ Leap 2012 Petite Sirah,Napa Valley ($39.95)

2015-12-03_16-57-25David Lawrason – As the black colour indicates this is very full bodied, dense, tannic and chewy. And like so many petite sirahs the nose is nothing to write home about – closed and curmudgeonly, with overripe dark fruit, raisiny fruit, damp wood and chocolate. But it has very good concentration and complexity. Needs some time (maybe three to five years). A winter warmer with game, stews and roasts. Split a case with like-minded lovers of big red.
Steve Thurlow – I have always liked this wine from Stags’ Leap for its elegance and pureness. The nose like many petite sirah (aka durif) is not that interesting with aromas of dusty black cherry but the palate is super smooth and very finely balanced with a wonderful poise and very good length. Try with roast beef. Best 2015 to 2020.
Sara d’Amato – Petite sirah can often be overwhelmingly the opposite of petite – dark, intense and tannic. Despite the black, smoky fruit notable in this example, it is also refreshingly open and there is a lightness here that makes it ready to drink and inviting. Pretty, elegant and with complex aromatics.
Michael Godel – A clear distinction can be ascertained from the Stag’s Leap house style across the varietal reds, even in an example like the devilishly rich Petite Sirah. This is quite restrained for the expatriate French variety (called durif), balanced and alcohol gentle, relatively speaking. The Stag’s Leap achieves that rare combination of big and easy. Would make for a good change of pace, either as a curio or a split a case selection.
John Szabo – A perennial favourite of mine from Stags’ Leap, this savage and savoury petite sirah offers a fine mix of earth, fruit, resinous herbs and dark fruit character. Tannins are still firm and burly, but there’s more than ample fruit to ensure proper integration in time. A cellar selection, best after 2018.

Wynns The Gables 2013 Cabernet Shiraz, Coonawarra, Australia ($19.95)

Steve Thurlow – This is a very fine classic Coonawarra cabernet shiraz blend with appealing aromas of blackberry and blueberry fruit with prune, lemon, tobacco and earthy tones. The palate is very pure with clean firm lines and juicy blackberry fruit finely balanced by finely divided tannin and lemony acidity. It will gain in complexity as the tannins fold into the wine if given further bottle age developing more savoury notes in the future. Best 2015 to 2025. Very good length. Though drinking well now this is a great cellar candidate and is awesome value.Wynns Coonawarra Estate The Gables 2013
Sara d’Amato – Possibly the best value of the lot, “The Gables” cabernet sauvignon offers wild and savoury flavours consistent with cabernets produced in the region’s rich, terra rossa soils. A touch of eucalyptus and pine on the finish adds typicity and charm.
Michael Godel – In ode to one of the architectural icons of the Wynns estate, this has classic Coonawarra looks and suave charisma. It’s also electric and alive and represents terrific Cabernet Sauvignon value from an Australian region where that continues to become the norm, not the anomaly. Would make an excellent restaurant pour by the glass with rich winter braises.
John Szabo – There’s nothing from Wynns I wouldn’t happily drink, and this well-priced cabernet offers fine character and genuine depth, complexity and balance. I appreciate the fresh mint-tinged cassis fruit and brambly pine needle flavours. A highly versatile wine to have around the house for all occasions.
David Lawrason – Great value for a modest home cellar and weekend drinking with steaks. This is a generously flavoured yet compact cab-shiraz with black cherry, pepper, cedar and vaguely iron-like minerality typical of Coonawarra. It’s medium-full bodied and vibrant with considerable tannin. Australia can do this grape combo better than most, and Coonawarra leads the pack. Best 2017 to 2022.

Stags’ Leap 2012 Merlot,Napa Valley ($39.95)

David Lawrason – Merlot always plays second fiddle to cab in Napa, but this highly structured version rises up to cab stature – for less. It is a full bodied, fairly firm and dense merlot, with excellent length. Some grit and tension here so worth cellaring. Best 2020 to 2025.
John Szabo – A well crafted example from a reliable Napa name, Stags’ Leap’s 2012 Merlot is a dense and plummy, fruity and spicy wine, with bright, lively acids and moderate, lightly grippy tannins. All elements are in proportion and harmony, and length and depth are superior to the mean. A premium selection to gift to, or share, with special friends.
Steve Thurlow – An elegant classy mid-weight merlot with aromas of plum and red berry fruit with mild nicely integrated oak plus some earthy tones. The palate is juicy and mid-weight with fine tannins and vibrant acidity. Very good length. Try with roast beef. Best 2015 to 2019.

Stags' Leap Winery Merlot 2012Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Chateau St. Jean 2012, Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95)

Michael Godel – Composed from fruit drawn out of the North Coast and Central Coast, this Cabernet Sauvignon works in the simplest, apropos ways. Highly aromatic, well-structured, righteously crafted and respectfully restrained. Would proudly pour any night of the week as a house wine.
Steve Thurlow – This is a pretty very appealing cabernet with some nice floral tones to the cassis fruit and oak spice. The mid-weight palate is soft and juicy and dry with some mild tannin on the finish. Good to very good length. A good wine by the glass selection.

Pepperjack Shiraz 2013, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($24.95)

David Lawrason – Here’s a great wine for a premium by-the-glass pour. It’s authentically Barossa, deep and even yet not as brutish as some, making it enjoyable as a sipper or with food. Love the sultry nose of cassis, vanilla cream, mossy earthiness, subtle ginger and chocolate. It’s full bodied, fairly dense yet elegant.
Sara d’Amato – A very peppery Barossa shiraz, dense with a terrific concentration of black fruit. Firing on all cylinders here, there is no shortage of bang but with less oak than expected. The delicate smokiness compliments the fruit. Rich, savoury, and dry with notable balance. Very good length.

Pepperjack Shiraz Saltram Of Barossa 2013Gabbiano Solatio 2012

Gabbiano Solatio 2012, Tuscany, Italy ($16.95)

David Lawrason – This delivers basic Tuscan character and some charm at a fair price, so consider a case for by-the-glass pours, banquets or larger home or office gatherings. It is light to medium bodied red with vague floral notes, some grainy/malty character, plus some nougat and chocolate. Quite sleek with fresh acidity and fine tannin. Approachable now.
Steve Thurlow – This is a red blend of 50% syrah, 45% cabernet franc and 5% sangiovese with aromas of black cherry fruit with prune, lemon and mild oak spice. It is mid-weight and soft with the ripe fruit balanced by soft tannin and gentle acidity. The finish is a little hot from alcohol but the length is very good. A powerful wine for hearty stews. Best 2015 to 2018.

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 Treasury Wine Estates. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. Treasury has provided the following agency profile with more details on their consignment program and delivery options.

Consignment at Treasury Wine Estates:

treasury_wine_estatesWe are passionate about providing our clientele with the very best wines and service in the industry. We provide daytime delivery to your residence or office within the Greater Toronto Area. This service is completely complimentary, regardless of the volume purchased. We strive to ensure that all orders are delivered within five business days.

Our consignment program has been designed to make the procurement of our fine wines simple and bespoke. Wines can also be delivered to an LCBO store of your choice at no additional cost. This service usually takes two to four weeks however, could take longer based on the geographical location of the clientele’s LCBO of choice. The cases arrive pre-paid and we simply email an invoice or credit card slip in advance. The store will then call to notify you when the requested wine has arrived.

Throughout the process, your personal consignment concierge is only a phone call or email away if there are any questions.

Phone: 905-337-6217 | Mobile: 416-358-0177 |

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Dec 12, Part One

Holiday Gifting and Gathering
By David Lawrason, with notes by John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The last Vintages release of 2015 is as big or bigger than any this year, designed to bulk up the shelves down the holiday home stretch – the most intense shopping period of the year. For starters, there is a large selection of sparkling wine. John Szabo and Sara tease with three dandies below but John will be publishing his comprehensive fizz report in the days ahead. The other Vintages ‘theme’ is Holiday Gatherings, which contains a smorgasbord of styles and prices. Many of the high-priced and highly prized collectibles were released in November, and some are already off the shelves.

So without much ado we have chosen to divide the selection by price point – wines over $25 in this edition in the expectation that you may want to be thinking ahead and budgeting for more expensive gifts. Next week we turn the focus onto less expensive wines under $25, which can be grabbed up with less pre-meditation as stocking stuffers or last minute going-to-a-party wines. But as always our selections are value-based within their price tier.

White Wines

Hidden Bench 2013 Fumé Blanc, Rosomel Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($27.95)

David Lawrason Since launching his highly successful estate winery with the 2005 vintage, owner Harald Thiel has been setting a benchmark for Bordeaux-style, barrel whites thanks to old semillon and sauvignon vines in the Rosomel Vineyard. No one else in Niagara has touched their quality. Nuits Blanche is the top expression, but this Fume Blanc comes close. Something different for the turkey table.
Sara d’Amato – A lightly smoky sauvignon blanc with more richness and viscosity than is traditional. A classy offering on a festive occasion.

La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay 2012Jermann Chardonnay 2014Hidden Bench Fumé Blanc 2013Jermann 2014 Chardonnay, Venezia Giulia, Italy ($34.95)

David Lawrason – From one of the great white wine producers of Italy, this is a chardonnay that will restore the faith of those who have left the chardonnay fold. It’s taut, fresh and elegant with a bouquet of fruit and flowers well ahead of the well-fitted oak. Delicious and classy.

La Follette 2012 Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California ($50.00)

David Lawrason – Here’s a situation where the vineyard – planted in 1927 in lower Sonoma/Carneros – is more well-known than the winery. That’s because La Folette is a fairly new winery name (formerly Tandem) with veteran chardonnay-pinot noir specialist Greg La Folette (ex Flowers, Kendall-Jackson, Beaulieu) at the helm. It’s a powerful, complex, reductive Burgundian style chardonnay with great complexity and length.

Red Wines

Punset 2010 Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy ($55.95)

Burgess Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Punset Barbaresco 2010John Szabo – Here’s a gorgeous, floral-fragrant, potpourri and faded red berry scented Barbaresco in an absolutely classic mould that will surely impress. Be sure to forewarn your giftee that it’s still several years away from prime, another 3-5 years in the cellar. Best 2018-2025.
Sara d’Amato – A Barbaresco with the firmness and depth of a Barolo. Cherry, leather and dried herbs are wonderfully harmonious and sing in the glass. Still requires time to open up so decant in the morning or afternoon before serving.
David Lawrason – Here is a rugged, powerful and rustic Barbaresco to add to an Italian cellar. The irony is that it is one of very few Barbarescos or Barolos made by a woman (Marina Macarino), and made organically. It was a great vintage that will age long. It’s medium-bodied, very firm, dry and very tannic but the flavours pour through the sieve.

Burgess 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California ($56.95)

David Lawrason – Many of the big name Napa cabernets were released last month (except for the $200 Caymus Special Selection coming Dec 12). This much better value Burgess is a cab lovers cab, with great aromatics of lifted blackcurrant, fresh mint/evergreen, nicely inlaid with cedar, pepper and lavender. It’s medium-full bodied, fairly dense, warm and engaging.

Stonestreet 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California ($52.95)

John Szabo – A terrific option for fans of bold, impressive reds, with some regional name brand recognition, Stonestreet’s exceptional Alexander Mountain property delivers wines of exceptional class. This is densely knit and tightly woven, offering a fine range of ripe, fleshy dark fruit, integrated barrel spice, and excellent length, and would compete handily with many mountain Napa cabernets at twice the price. Best 2015-2028.

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2012Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Beringer 2011 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California ($164.95)

Sara d’Amato – A special occasion bottle best enjoyed in good company. The cooler 2011 vintage is wildly expressive and refreshingly less heavy and bold than in previous incarnations.

Penfolds Bin 389 2012 Cabernet/Shiraz, South Australia ($59.95)

David Lawrason – Long vaunted as the ‘Baby Grange’ this wine has always struck me as more than that – certainly value – now that Grange as attained unreachable prices. This is such a classic – very deep, dense and ripe Aussie red that is all about restraint (believe it or not). It’s full bodied, sinewy, warm and dense. Powerpacked, and structured to live for decades, although you or your giftee will enjoy it whenever the urge strikes.

Barossa Valley Estate 2008 Ebenezer Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($39.95)

David Lawrason – If you missed the sensational E&E Black Pepper Shiraz last month, the junior Ebenezer is a great comparative value at less than half the price. It’s full bodied, dense, rich and firm. Very dry, inky and intense – a dry, Barossa classic. Great depth, length and extension.

Château L'hermitage 2003Domaine Gagey Clos Du Roi Marsannay 2013Barossa Valley Estate Ebenezer Shiraz 2008Domaine Gagey 2013 Clos Du Roy Marsannay, Burgundy, France ($44.95)

David Lawrason – For that someone on your list who fancies fine pinot noir – or finer things in general – this Burgundy is light to medium bodied, firm, fresh and even with an engaging, almost haunting nose of pink flowers, pomegranate-cherry fruit and very fine oak smoke and spice. Give it a year to soften just a bit.

Château L’Hermitage 2003 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France ($39.95)

Sara d’Amato – This tiny four hectare property produces lush merlot and their blend is usually made up of at least 90% of the varietal. Behind the wine’s plush nature, there is a great vibrancy offering balance. You’ll have to go to the big store to find this Flagship Store Exclusive.

Sparklers and Sweets

Henry Of Pelham 2010 Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche, Estate Blanc De Blanc, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($44.95)

John Szabo – An excellent bubbly, in the top class of Canadian sparkling, Henry of Pelham’s premium bottling of pure chardonnay finds a very elegant expression in the 2010 vintage. It would make for a fine and smart gift for both proud locavores and demanding wine lovers, drinking now, or hold for 2-3 years for additional toasty complexity.

Tarlant Brut Rosé, Champagne, France ($62.95)

Sara d’Amato – This low-dosage Champagne from the house of Tarlant is refreshing and festive with a chic, pale colour. A tingling peppery palate and a fresh mineral component add extra sparkle.

Henry Of Pelham 2010 Cuvée Catharine Carte BlancheTarlant Brut RoséCa' Del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Brut FranciacortaChâteau Dereszla 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú 2008

Ca’ Del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Brut, DOCG Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy ($39.95)

John Szabo – Impress with your breadth and depth of wine knowledge by gifting this excellent bottle from Italy’s premier sparkling wine region. Leader Ca’ del Bosco’s prestige cuvée is intensely biscuity and toasty, full flavoured and impressively complex, in an elegant yet powerful style.

Château Dereszla 2008 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú, Hungary ($45.95)

John Szabo – For something different and exotic from one of the world’s legendary regions, choose this tokaji aszú; you can be sure plenty of Hungarian-Canadians will be sharing it over the holidays. It’s crafted in the mature, more old school style, which is to say highly savoury-spicy and replete with dried apricot and dried peach fruit, ginger and Sichuan pepper spice. 5 puttonyos means considerable residual sugar (c. 150grams/liter), but this is balanced on a firm frame of acids, and the finish lingers admirably. Best 2015-2028.

Thanks for taking the time to read this far during your busy holiday season, and if you are still thinking about how best to share your interest in wine with friends and family consider purchasing a subscription to WineAlign, which will give them a thirty-day head start to purchase our most highly recommended wines. Or have a look at The National Wine Awards Wine of the Month Club to bring you direct delivery of Canadian wines that have taken top honours at the National Wine Awards of Canada.

Until next week…

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES December 12, 2015

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

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



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Buy The Case: Lifford Wine and Spirits

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

Lifford Wine & Spirits

Proprietor Stephen Campbell has been a fixture on the Ontario restaurant and wine importing scene for more than four decades. Since 1978, Lifford has been bringing an exceptional portfolio of wines into Ontario and was purchased by Campbell in 1995. Two recent acquisitions in 2010, Saverio Schiralli Agencies and Prevedello and Mathews, have cemented Lifford as one of the premier agencies not just in Ontario, but across Canada. They now represent several hundred meticulously chosen producers in four provinces out of “a truly international collection of the world’s finest wines and spirits.”

Lifford is a provincial pioneer of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s consignment program and is arguably the largest supplier of premium wine to licensee restaurant accounts. Though the major areas of concentration of more than 125 producers are from France, Italy and California, with 16 total countries represented, Lifford’s is truly of a global portfolio.

This year their combined companies will sell more than 800,000 cases in Canada, cementing their work as a market leader in Ontario and the largest supplier of premium wines to the LCBO.

Below our critics have assembled their picks submitted for tasting in November, and they suggest reasons why you might consider buying by the case.

Australian Icon

Brokenwood Shiraz 2013Brokenwood 2013 Shiraz, Hunter Valley, Australia ($39.99)

John Szabo – Brokenwood is a Hunter Valley leader, and their shiraz a reliable and regular favourite of mine. The 2013 is full of elegance and grace in a style quite unique to Australia, where acids and elegance, and mid-weight, balanced wines seem to come together naturally. This has almost no detectable oak influence other than the rounding and softening effect on the palate; tannins are super fine grained and acids bright. This should age beautifully; buy a case now and follow its evolution over the next dozen years. Cellar Wine.
David Lawrason – From one of the great houses of the Hunter Valley, this shiraz has a lovely, pure and focused nose of blueberry/black cherry fruit, pepper, granitic earthiness and graphite. It’s medium-full bodied, very smooth, sweetish and engaging, with very fine tannin. If you are a fan of Aussie shiraz here is case to have on hand in your personal cellar, perhaps splitting with a friend or two.
Michael Godel – It may be the younger brother to the Graveyard but it comes from the same mother. A rare opportunity to enjoy Australian Shiraz of restraint and elegance. An excellent candidate to ask around and split a case with two or less.
Sara d’Amato – A classic and very elegant shiraz that is both fresh and fleshy. Very well structured but also not austere or bracingly youthful. Friends can help mitigate the cost of a case so buddy up and pool for this cellar-worthy find.

Welcome to the Age of the New Spanish Vigneron

Telmo Rodriguez 2014 Rueda Basa, Castilla y Léon, Spain ($16.99)

John Szabo – Telmo Rodriguez crafts some of Spain’s best, and best value wines from nine distinct regions throughout the peninsula. Against the odds, quality, and consistency are exemplary across the board. Basa is his rendition of Verdejo from Rueda, made here into a clean, semi-aromatic, floral and fruity white with no wood. Light CO2 spritz elevates the freshness. A fine house white or restaurant by-the-glass option. By-theGlass/House Wine
Michael Godel – Acts more like native Verdejo than ever before in ’14, with its very specific grape tannin effect. You must concentrate on the nuances to get this wine. This should hold a rightful white by the glass spot on every geeking out restaurant wine list.

Telmo Rodriguez 2013  Gaba do Xil Mencia, Valdeorras, Spain ($18.99)

John Szabo – Spain’s great red grape mencía continues to gather momentum, with both increasing numbers of quality producers, and consumers who appreciate them. Telmo Rodriguez (see Basa, above) highlights the lovely fragrant, floral and herbal side of the variety, with fresh red and blue fruit and no evident wood. All in all, this is a genuine mouthful, nicely proportioned, with great length and complexity at the price, full of joy and happiness. Drink with a light chill. By-theGlass/House Wine
David Lawrason – Made by young gun Telmo Rodgriguez, this charming, fruity red is from the mencia grape that is carving out a great reputation in northwestern Spain.  The treatment here is not as ‘serious’ as in Bierzo where it makes more dense, age-worthy wines, but I really like the juiciness, freshness. It reminds me of Beaujolais.  It’s price and style make a good by-the-glass restaurant pour but only to adventurous clientele. I would stock a case for warm weather sipping.
Michael Godel – A fluid, medium-rare red, perfect for a house wine to go with a mid-week steak. Year in and year out this is Rodriguez’ base and necessary expression for the “the freshness of Galicia.” Shares an aromatic commonality with Cabernet Franc though its gait is more Northern Rhône Syrah. Anti-serious, easy wine, existing as “a link to the past.”

Giro Ribot NV Cava Brut Reserva, Penedes, Spain ($18.99)

John Szabo – Quality sub-$20 sparkling wine, as Ben Franklin might have said, is a necessity of life. It’s even better when you find a traditional method, complex bubbly under $20, like this Cava. It’s crafted in the lightly oxidative style, with bruised apple and dried mango/tropical fruit flavours blending with yeasty/brioche notes, essentially dry, with succulent acids and very good length. House wine.
David Lawarson – This good value, well structured cava has a clean, mild nose that gently weaves subtle aromas of pear, wet stone, caraway and fresh baked scones. It’s light to mid-weight, firm with great acidity and minerality. Priced well as an upscale reception and oyster and tapas wine for mid-size functions. And a bit of talking point as well.
Michael Godel – Far from your average, every day, cookie-cutter Cava, the wealth of personality and character here is really refreshing. Though it is certainly steeped in tradition and a touch of oxidation, the amount of flavour will appeal to a diverse crowd at many different types of functions. Choose it for parties and sparkling needs at home.
Sara d’Amato – The name “giro robot” supposedly references the gyropalette which is the automated machine now used to riddle bottles of Champagne or sparkling wine in an even and efficient manner. And like Champagne, this Cava is leesy and complex with both verve and substance. Terrific value here, don’t miss out. House wine.

Basa Blanco 2014Gaba Do Xil Mencía 2013Giro Ribot Brut Reserva Ab Origine

Red Hot Value from Chile

Echeverria Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014Viña Echeverria 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, Chile ($14.99)

David Lawrason – This is a very smooth, quite supple, simple and vaguely sweetish young cabernet designed for immediate enjoyment. I like the balance and charm here, with some jammy fruit, very fine tannin. Very good length.  Screw cap assists its cause as a tippler that should stay fresh as a by-the-glass restaurant pour.
Michael Godel – Fresh, reductive, ripping and ready to pour for the masses Cabernet Sauvignon. Its versatility makes it an excellent choice for Chilean red by the glass to pair with a restaurant menu of many pages.
Sara d’Amato – Priced for everyday enjoyment, Echeverria’s cabernet sauvignon is refreshingly devoid of big oak and filling alcohol. Its meaty, earthy and minty profile is classically Chilean and its mid-weight profile allows it to be more versatile with food than your typical cab. Restaurant pour by the glass.


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 Lifford Wine & Spirits. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. Lifford Wine & Spirits has provided the following agency profile.

About Lifford Wine & Spirits

lifford-logoIf you’ve only heard of one agency that specializes in consignment sales by the case in Ontario, there’s a good chance it’s Lifford.

As a pioneer of the LCBO’s consignment program, Lifford has grown to be the largest supplier of premium wine to restaurants and discerning consumers in the province.

Founded in 1978, Lifford was purchased by Steven Campbell in 1995. As a seasoned restaurateur of twenty years, Steven was passionate about wine and jumped at the opportunity to acquire a small but excellent portfolio of Californian, Australian and Italian wines. Eager to expand the portfolio, Steven travelled the international wine roads to find regional superstars whose families owned the land, tilled the soil and breathed life and vitality into their wines.

Today the portfolio represents a myriad of meticulously chosen producers, a truly international collection of the world’s finest wines and spirits at every price point, with a special emphasis on family-owned producers.

Whether it’s iconic wines from regions like the Napa Valley and Tuscany, excellent values from countries like Chile and Spain, or exciting new discoveries like sparkling wine from England and Nova Scotia, you can find it all in the Lifford portfolio.

Sign up for their weekly e-newsletter at to learn more about their excellent portfolio, and browse their e-commerce enabled website to purchase wine for delivery direct to your door in Ontario.



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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 28, Part Two

Our Finest from Europe
by John Szabo MS, with notes from David Lawrason & Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

No need for a preamble this week; I’ll jump straight into the recommended wines. In part two of coverage for this largest VINTAGES release of the year, we look at European wines, minus the super Tuscans that David covered admirably last week.

We have suggestions from no fewer than nine countries, from Germany to Greece, Portugal to Austria, $18 to $90. I’m confident you’ll find something to love on the list. And don’t forget to log on and use the “find wine” feature on WineAlign, as we’ve been busy tasting and reviewing hundreds of wines over the last couple of months, including many wines in the consignment world, worthy of buying by the case for the holidays and beyond.

Buyers Guide for November 28th: Our Finest European White

Giannikos 2014 At Sea Roditis, Peloponnese, Greece ($17.95)

John Szabo – Fans of aromatic white wines will want to discover this fruity, peachy and floral expression of roditis, reminiscent of viognier, farmed organically. Enjoy it in the flower of its youth.
Sara d’Amato – This organically farmed Peloponnese white is made from the indigenous roditis variety, a pink grape that has the ability to hold on to freshness and acidity even when planted in hot climates. Fresh, light and typically aromatic, the palate boasts sweet fruit and tender blossom.

Donnachiara 2013 Greco di Tufo, Campania, Italy ($17.95)

Sara d’Amato – Donnachiara is located in the hilly vineyards of Avellino and is known for producing wines with great regional typicity. This distinctiveness is well represented in this aromatic, food friendly expression of Greco di Tufo offering notes of peach, grapefruit and melon.

Vignerons de Buxy 2103 Buissonnier Montagny, Châlonnais, Burgundy ($19.95)

David Lawrason – The Buxy co-op is one of the more successful in this region just south of the Côte de Beaune, and with its more famous neighbours now financially out of reach I urge you to try this for $20 bucks. It is not a dramatic or powerful chardonnay, but it is poised, complex and well integrated with peach, vanilla, wood spice and vague hazelnut notes. It’s lighter weight, quite tender and refined. Very good value.

Giannikos At Sea Roditis 2014 Donnachiara Greco Di Tufo 2013 Vignerons de Buxy Buissonnier Montagny 2013 Leth Brunnthal Grüner Veltliner 2013

Leth 2013 Brunnthal 1öwt Grüner Veltliner, Fels Am Wagram Austria ($24.95)

John Szabo – Here’s an archetypal grüner from a family-operated, regional leader on the deep loess soils of the Wagram region, replete with sweet citrus, fresh parsnip and sweet green herbs off the top, just slipping into the honeyed spectrum. It’s generous and broad, intensely flavoured, with fine depth and excellent length, with the merest impression of sweetness; a top class example at a very keen price. Best 2015-2021.

Jean-Max Roger 2014 Cuvée G.C. Sancerre, Loire Valley, France ($28.95)

John Szabo – 2014 was a cool and challenging vintage, but Roger comes out here with flying colours, delivering pure, crisp, bright and sharply focused flavours, with plenty of thrust and drive on the palate. This wine hails from the Grand Chemarin vineyard (“GC”), a top, particularly stony site in the village of Bué with the soil type known locally as caillottes.  Best 2015-2020.

Château de Beaucastel 2014 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Blanc, Côtes du Rhône, Rhône, France ($33.95)

Sara d’Amato – Known as the “baby Beaucastel” Coudoulet blanc’s 3 hectares of vineyard are located just across the highway from those of the revered Château de Beaucastel’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This cooler and wetter vintage in the southern Rhône has produced more delicate and fresher wines, which is evident in this elegant, graceful beauty with impressive complexity.
David Lawrason – I am a huge fan of Perrin family white wines. This is a refined, richly flavoured and exotic southern Rhône white with subtlety and integration – ripe peach/melon, oak spice, vanilla cream and the unique perfume of viognier peaking through. It’s mid-weight, fairly creamy yet fresh.

Jean-Max Roger 2014 Cuvée G.C. Sancerre Château De Beaucastel Coudoulet De Beaucastel Blanc 2014 Antinori Castello Della Sala Cervaro Della Sala 2013 Miraval Rosé 2014Künstler Hochheimer Stielweg Old Vines Riesling Trocken 2013

Künstler 2013 Hochheimer Stielweg Old Vines Riesling Trocken, Rheingau, Germany ($42.95)

John Szabo – Künstler is a leader in the dry riesling genre from the Rheingau, with an enviable collection of top vineyards. The 50+-year-old vines from Stielweg provide an explosive, dense, concentrated mouthful of wine, with terrific length and genuine complexity, and real old vine vinosity, best in at least another 3-5 years. Künstler describes the wine as “sustainable and robust”. “Stielweg is the only vineyard where old vines combine an enormous wealth of fruitiness with the delicate ways of a Riesling.” Best 2018-2025.

Antinori 2013 Castello della Sala Cervaro della Sala IGT Umbria, Italy ($57.95)

John Szabo – A classy, complex, mid-weight, sinewy and lean vintage for the Cervaro (chardonnay and grechetto blend) with integrated wood and notable lees character, and exceptional length and complexity overall. This is 2-4 years away from prime enjoyment, but should satisfy fans of the genre handily. Great depth. Best 2018-2025.
Sara d’Amato – The flagship wine of Antinori’s Castello Della Sala estate is a blend of chardonnay and grechetto. A smart, sophisticated buy that is also immensely satisfying. Lightly buttery with nicely integrated French oak treatment and a hint of creaminess from the fine lees ageing. Pair with a festive turkey dinner.

Miraval 2014 Rosé, Côtes De Provence, Provence, France ($22.95)

Sara d’Amato – A new shipment of the Miraval Rosé is quite welcome any time of the year. Just because the cold is upon us, it doesn’t mean that rosé should be off the table. In fact, it makes for a versatile wine over the holidays that works well with everything from roasted poultry to fish to lamb. The Perrin family and the Pitt-Jolie’s collaborative effort yields a dry, classy rosé with subtly and elegance.

Buyers Guide for November 28th: Our Finest European Red 

Lungarotti 2012 Rubesco, Rosso di Torgiano, Umbria, Italy ($17.95)

Sara d’Amato – This sangiovese-based blend, akin to a good quality Chianti Classico, is Lungarotti’s flagship wine. Licorice, leather and pomegranate make up the inviting nose of this traditional and lightly floral Rubesco.

Château Trillol 2011 Corbières Grenache Carignan Syrah, Languedoc, France ($19.95)

John Szabo – The Languedoc continues to be a source of characterful wines at down-to-earth prices, like this Grenache-syrah-carignan blend. It’s a genteel and elegant Corbières, more refined than the average to be sure, with elegant styling and suave, silky tannins. Length and depth are uncommonly good for the price category. Best 2015-2021.

Prazo De Roriz 2011 Tinto, Douro, Portugal ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This is ‘basic’ Douro red from a high-powered duo – the Symington family that forms the aristocracy of the Douro and Bruno Prats of Bordeaux’ Cos d’Estournel.  It has a generous nose of mulberry/blackberry with some vanillin, light mocha and cigar. It’s full-bodied, fairly dense, rich and smooth, yet showing firm tannin.  Youthful, from an excellent vintage.

Lungarotti Rubesco 2012 Château Trillol Grenache Carignan Syrah 2011 Prazo de Roriz 2011 Plavac Frano Milos 2011 Olim Bauda Le Rocchette Barbera D'asti Superiore 2012

Frano Milos 2011 Plavac Peljesac Peninsula, Croatia ($20.95)

John Szabo – Lovers of savoury, old world wines will want to make the acquaintance of native plavac mali from Croatia, and no better introduction than from regional star Frano Milos and the dramatic, terraced Dolomitic vineyards of the Peljesac (pell-yeh-shatz) peninsula overlooking the Adriatic. Wild fermented and aged in old Slavonian casks, this is a marvellously firm and complex red, with puckering walnut skin-like tannins, yet enough fruit extract to make it work. It will never be a supple and smooth red, but rather one destined for the table with a large roast of beef, served rare with a last minute sprinkle of sea salt. Best 2015-2025.

Olim Bauda 2012 Le Rocchette Barbera d’Asti Superiore, Piedmont, Italy ($28.95)

Sara d’Amato – Barbera is a great wine to include on your festive table. It is characteristically deliciously juicy, not too filling, and with both freshness and fleshiness to complement a wide array of dishes. This particularly memorable example is lightly oaked with more colour and structure than the norm, making it an excellent choice for a festive occasion.

Chapelle de Potensac 2010, Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($29.95)

John Szabo – A well structured and proportioned, lively 2nd wine from Potensac, perfectly mid-weight, zesty and fresh. I love the balance and class on offer – this is arch classic left bank Bordeaux, with firm, elegant tannins and bright natural acids. Lovely wine, drinking now, but better in 3-5 years.
David Lawrason – This is an even-keeled, fresh and engaging young Bordeaux – another very fine 2010 – with a fragrant, balanced nose of raspberry/fresh fig fruit, spice and fresh herbs. Quite juicy yet it firms up on the finish. Will thrive through this decade.

L’Expression de Margaux 2010 AC, Bordeaux, France ($33.95)

David Lawrason – I approached this wine with all red flags flying – a Margaux from a negociant, not an individual property (chateau). But it actually does express Margaux well (as advertised), which is so rare given that Margaux is pricing out of reach for most. The essence is nicely lifted fragrant black raspberry, cedar and vanillin. It’s smooth, elegant and a bit warm (14%) with very fine tannin.
John Szabo – Stylish and plush but balanced, this is a terrific mouthful of wine, even-keeled, with supple tannins that still frame the billowing dark fruit nicely. Acids are likewise firm and fresh, and the length is excellent. Elegant and suave in the Margaux style, and top value. Best 2015-2025.

Chapelle De Potensac 2010 L'expression de Margaux 2010 Faustino I Gran Reserva 2004Le Fonti Di Panzano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013

Faustino I 2004 Gran Reserva,  DOCa Rioja, Spain ($35.95)

John Szabo – A classic, old school Rioja here from Faustino, showing beautifully right now. Tannins are supple and suave, in place but perfectly integrated, while acids remain fresh and bright. The range and depth of flavours is excellent. Fine wine, drink or hold another decade.

Le Fonti di Panzano 2011 Chianti Classico Riserva, DOCG Tuscany, Italy ($41.95)

John Szabo – This may seem pricey for Chianti Classico, but tasted alongside a range of more expensive Brunello, this wine stole the spotlight. From a small organic farm in Panzano, the delicate hands of respected winemaker Dr. Stefano Chioccioli show through in this concentrated, very ripe, full and stylish wine made in a clearly defined riserva style, from evident low yields and careful crafting. Barrel ageing adds depth and texture without excessive impact on flavour, polishing and softening tannins. Excellent length. Best 2015-2025.

Château de Beaucastel 2013 Châteauneuf-Du-Pape AC Rhône, France ($89.95)

John Szabo – 2013 was a stellar year for Beaucastel, surely one of the Châteauneufs of the vintage. It’s rich, balanced, spicy, nicely delineated, clean-and very focused, firm, lively and elegant. I appreciate the freshness and pinpoint flavours, the light but tightly knit texture, like Kevlar, and the lingering, cherry-perfumed finish. Classy stuff, and best after 2020, when it will have shifted fully into the savoury spectrum. Drink 2020-2030+.

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

From VINTAGES November 28th, 2015

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 28, Part One – The Super-Tuscans

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!

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Culmina: No Stone Unturned

A WineAlign Winery Profile
By David Lawrason

Many of the world’s most iconic wines have taken single word names that evoke classicism and ring with entendre. Many end with the letter “a” –  Solaia and Ornellaia from Italy for example, or Insignia from California. I am wary of such wines as often the names can portend more than the wines deliver. It is much easier to sound important than be important.

Culmina, the latest ‘single-word-ending-with-an-a-winery’ from B.C.s Okanagan Valley is indeed important to B.C. and Canadian wine! As I sat with the range recently at the WineAlign offices I kept telling myself that they were clearly in a state of grace (literally) that many from B.C. have not yet attained. There is a sense of detailing and compactness that is actually quite rare in wines so recently out of the gate.

(At the bottom of this report, WineAlign critics have included some top picks from a recent Culmina tasting.)

culmina_table_crop4450_4 (1)

That may be because Culmina is not really new. The winery is new, the vineyards are new and the name is new, but the wines are truly the culmination of the careers of three men and two women with deep roots in winemaking, and who have brought not only experience, but a particular understanding of what it takes to make wine in the southern Okanagan.

The founders of Culmina are Donald and Elaine Triggs, whose surname still appears on more bottles of wine than any in Canada. After the partnership of Alan Jackson and Donald Triggs dissolved within a series of corporate acquisitions in the 1990s and 2000s, Donald was left to his own devices. He could have retired as a grandfather, but instead he and Elaine launched into a new project that would bring their years of experience to bear.

Part of that experience was having overseen the launch of Osoyoos-Larose in the southern Okanagan. Osoyoos-Larose was a joint venture between Vincor (of which Donald was president at the time) and Groupe Taillan of Bordeaux, and from the outset it was conceived as a “one wine” house focused on a red blend of Bordeaux varieties. In other words, ‘très serieux’.

Triggs hired two Bordeaux trained specialists for that project. One was renowned French viticulturalist Alain Sutre, the other was winemaker Pascal Madevon. Together these men knew the soils on the bench lands overlooking the valley; knew about temperature ranges at various elevations and about air and frost drainage; and knew the vagaries and caprices of vintages in this northern latitude. Madevon, through ten years of blending, had honed his ability to create excellent wine on a consistent basis.

Both men would become instrumental in the creation of Culmina. With Sutre’s help the search for a southern Okanagan site ideal for Bordeaux varieties began in 2006, with the first section of the current property being purchased in 2007 (of which more in a moment), with higher altitude benchlands being acquired in 2009.

Much of Donald Triggs experience and skill was administrative and operational – in building, brand development and marketing – tasks which he shares now with Elaine and daughter Sara. Elaine had been very hands on when the couple purchased and farmed the Delaine Vineyard in the Niagara River sub-appellation in 1998, turning it into one of Niagara’s best vineyards for sauvignon blanc and syrah. Daughter Sara, the youngest of three children, earned her Masters in Wine Business from Adelaide University in Adelaide, Australia and brings her very wine focused business and marketing skills to the table. In fact, I have rarely seen such careful, well-timed and sustained marketing efforts in Canada


The Vineyards

I first visited Culmina’s vineyards on the Golden Mile Bench in 2014, while in the Okanagan to judge the WineAlign National Wine Awards. I climbed into a truck with Donald and Madevon, and we stopped first near the winery at a site that once contained 12 acres of vines belonging to a previous winery (in total 44 acres were purchased, but the rest had not been planted). There were some red Bordeaux vines immediately identified as unsuitable, but also a tempting patch of chardonnay. The first tough decision Triggs had made was whether to keep them, which would give him some immediate production, or start again with his own vision. He decided to rip them out.

Culmina’s vineyards sit on the western slope of the valley with south-east-facing vineyards that capture early morning light when temperatures are cool, and are shaded when late afternoon-evening sun is hot. Their height above the valley floor was also a major draw; the Margaret Vineyard is the highest in the south Okanagan, a decidedly cool site that doesn’t qualify for the new appellation Golden Mile Bench boundary because it is above the mapped altitude line.

But knowing the basics was not enough. Triggs set up 20 temperature stations. He dug 66 pits to explore the soils of the site. He then mapped the site based on micro-climates and soil types, coming up with 45 different blocks of about 1.25 acres each. Once this information was analyzed he had a good idea of not only which grape varieties to plant but which rootstocks to use as well. No stone unturned.

That first vineyard – called Arise Bench – has similar heat-summation degree days to Bordeaux and is planted to cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot, with a touch of syrah and malbec in its warmest location. Cabernet franc was also placed in the areas containing soil with high calcium content, while the merlot was planted in areas nearest to the mountain shadow to protect the variety’s delicate aromas

Back in the truck we climbed steeply to a vineyard that curved along a long terraced bench. Out at its edge there was a rocky promontory which we climbed on foot to absorb one of the most spectacular views of the south Okanagan, from Oliver in the north clear to Osoyoos in the south. Out on this rock edge Donald Triggs was actually so excited that he danced a quick jig, kicking up dusty soil.

Donald Triggs

We were on Margaret’s Bench, a cooler site with heat summation closer to Burgundy. Three white varieties – chardonnay, riesling and Austria’s grüner veltliner – were selected, with soil variations further determining the placement of each clone and rootstock combination on the Bench. Grüner veltliner was chosen for the schist-like soil areas, whereas riesling was planted on stonier soils.

Back in truck we drove across (south) to Stan’s Bench. Here again they planted riesling, and chardonnay on the cooler, higher sections, but then decided to plant late ripening varieties of petit verdot and malbec in the lower areas, with the highest number of degree days on the property. And surprisingly at the far end of this patch, on a very steep slope he showed us the most daring of his vineyard exploitations – a patch of head pruned, unirrigated vines. This too was a culmination, the crescendo in a carefully orchestrated grape-growing scheme.

The Winemaking

With the combined experience of Donald Triggs and Pascal Madevon, Culmina’s winemaking is grounded in both tried and true methods and some new pieces of technology. Born in Paris, France, winemaker Pascal completed a Technician’s Degree in Viticulture and Oenology and went on to complete an Oenology National Diploma from the University of Bordeaux in 1989. He came to the Okanagan in 2002.

His philosophy revolves around two principles: gentle handling of fruit and minimal intervention of wine. All of the grapes harvested from the estate are picked by hand. They are then protected in small stacked bins so that their own weight does not cause their skins to break before they reach the winery. Upon arrival, the fruit is hand-sorted on a vibrating table so that the fruit is gently deposited into the de-stemmer. The grapes are processed in a gravity-flow designed winery, built into the side of a hill – allowing for pump-less rackings and transfers from the fermentation hall into the barrel room.

The winery’s simple design also allows for each tank to only be used once each vintage. By allowing the fermented wine to sit on the skins for up to 24 days after the fermentation is completed creates wines with softer and more approachable tannins.

Lastly, a simple basket press is also used for all pressings. Even though this kind of press is less efficient yield-wise, and is much more time consuming and manually intensive to operate, its gentle pressing ensures that stems and seeds are never pressed so hard that they crack, thereby preventing unwanted green tannins from being added into the pressed wine.

Among more high-tech processes, Culmina uses a Bucher Oscillys de-stemmer from France – the first of its kind in Canada – that allows more gentle handling during the crushing and destemming of fruit. In addition, modern, stainless steel, temperature-controlled conical red fermentation tanks were imported from France. And when a pump is required (pumping over) they use a peristaltic pump, the kind used to transfer live fish at aquariums from one tank to another.

The Wines

Full reviews by several WineAlign critics can be viewed by following the links below.

I have sat down with the range twice in the last year, and both times, as I mentioned at the outset, I was impressed by the sense of poise and layering.

The flagship of the range is a red blend called Hypothesis, based on merlot (as are many southern Okanagan reds) with cabernet sauvignon and cab franc.  It is not the most expensive of its sort in the Okanagan, but it is easily among the best, especially the 2013 to be released next year.  Three years does not quite a vertical tasting make, but the 2013 has a fine sense of fragrance and poise, whereas the currently available and quite ripe 2012 is a bit more powerful and youthfully tense at the moment. The 2011, the debut vintage from a cool year is quite refined, more subdued and showing subtle evolution. The less expensive blend called R&D Red is quite lively, complex if a bit more sinewy. And the 2014 rosé blend from the red wine shows considerable finesse and liveliness as well.

Culmina 2014 Saignée

“It has a very pretty, gentle nose of red currant jam, raspberry and fresh herbs. It’s medium weight, elegant, smooth yet nicely fresh with a dry finish.” David Lawrason

Culmina 2013 R & D Red Blend 

“Begins like elegiac poetry, with a Bordeaux sensibility and a nod to blends distinguished by site.” Michael Godel

Culmina 2012 Hypothesis 

“The palate offers an abundance of black cherry, plum and blackberry fruit along with graphite and saline. Excellent concentration with flavours that build like crescendo.” Sara d’Amato

Culmina Saignée 2014 RoséCulmina R & D Red Blend 2013Culmina Hypothesis 2012Culmina Decora 2014Culmina Dilemma 2013

Most people discussing Culmina whites leap onto the fact that Donald Triggs has planted the Austrian variety grüner veltliner – a rarity in Canada – and he has done an amazing job extracting varietal veracity.  The wine is called Unicus, and it was an immediate hit, selling out the  2013 and 2014 vintages. I am just as impressed by the bold, taut riesling called Decora, again with vineyard altitude imparting unexpected tension for South Okanagan riesling. The chardonnay, called Dilemma, is richer of course, but also based on fine acidity and minerality.

Culmina 2014 Decora

“Dynamic and age-worthy.” Sara d’Amato

Culmina 2013 Dilemma 

“I like the freshness and the balance here – acids snap and crackle on the palate, while concentration and density are genuine, weaving in some intriguing resinous-savoury-herbal character into citrus and white fleshed orchard fruit.” John Szabo, MS

The production at Culmina is relatively small, and clearly pointed to the premium end of the market – although fairly priced given the quality. So it may not be as easy to find as many in our national audience might like. But again, for a young project the family Triggs is keenly aware of the need to get their wines out to key buyers across the country. Their website provides points of contact.

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


Culmina is pleased to offer complimentary shipping across Canada to WineAlign Members on purchases of 12 or more bottles.
Have the warmth of the South Okanagan shipped directly to your door just in time for the holidays. All shipments are temperature-controlled to assure the integrity of your order. Purchase by Monday December 14th to best ensure delivery by December 24th.
We’ve exclusively made two cases of our sold-out 2013 Dilemma (Chardonnay) to WineAlign Members from our library (maximum two bottles per order). Try a mixed-case with our 2014 Decora (Riesling), 2014 Saignée (Rosé), and flagship 2012 Hypothesis (Bordeaux-Style blend) to share with friends and family.
Buy Now Here:

Have any questions? Call the winery directly at (250) 498-0789.
To ensure access to upcoming limited production releases – such as our first single varietal red, the 2013 Merlot, and 2015 Unicus (Grüner Veltliner) – become a complimentary Member to receive your own Allocation. No commitment is required.
Become a Member Here:
Creating wines of excellence through the blending of art and science.

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