WineAlign

Find the right wine at the right price, right now.

Season 5, Table 2 of “So, You Think you Know Wine?”

Blind Tasting meets Sauvignon Blanc

The oh-so serious sport of wine tasting is receiving a major reality check in Season 5 of WineAlign’s “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

Seán Cullen

The multi-camera format of Season 5 captures up-close jousting between participants who sit at a studio round table and focus on identifying the concealed “jug of freedom” (as host Seán Cullen calls it) in front of them.

Without any clues, comedian Seán Cullen takes each table through the sniffing, tasting, and gurgling ritual—asking them to correctly identify the grape, country, region, vintage, and price of the wine. Cullen then issues each player a score but not without, first, testing a few of his own theories against the experts. A champion eventually emerges.

The series showcases some of Canada’s most widely recognized, award-winning sommeliers and wine critics as well as three top local food personalities.

Seán Cullen is a triple Gemini and Canadian Comedy Award winner. He has made multiple appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and CBS’s The Late Late Show and has a number of his own specials including Comedy Central Presents, Comedy Now and was a finalist on NBC’s Last Comic Standing.

Click here to watch Table 2 or read on to learn more about the contestants in this round and the scoring method.

Table 2

At Table 2, wine experts David Lawrason (WineAlign, Toronto Life), Sara d’Amato (WineAlign, Chatelaine) and Will Predhomme (Sommelier, Wine Educator) battle it out to see who can correctly identify Creekside Sauvignon Blanc 2013.

David Lawrason

Sara d'Amato

Will Predhomme

The Scoring

The scoring on each wine remains similar to past seasons with points for Variety, Country, Region, Appellation, Vintage and Price.

Variety:  3 points
Country, Region, Appellation:  up to 4 points
Vintage:  up to 2 points
Price (within 10% on either side): 1 point

Let the games begin! Pour yourself a glass of wine and Watch Table 2 here.

For those of you new to our video series, “So, You Think You Know Wine?”, we have saved all previous episodes under the Videos tab.

Previously on Season 5 of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”:

Table 1 – Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2013

We hope that you find this new series entertaining and that you have as much fun watching as we did filming. As usual, please send your comments to feedback@winealign.com and feel free to share this video with your friends and family.

Special thanks to our glassware sponsor, Schott Zwiesel, for their beautiful glasses and carafes used during filming.


Advertisements
M8791_V_BannerAd525x225_1

Filed under: News, Video, Wine, , , , , , , , ,

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 21st – Part One

Icon Wines Demystified
By David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

“Icon comes from the Greek word eikenai, meaning ‘to seem or to be like.’ In certain religions, statues of religious figures are referred to as icons – because they are prayed to as if they were the thing they represent.” So goes one definition plumbed from the web.

So what do icon wines represent? We assume they are wines – often made in the image of Bordeaux from cabernet, merlot and their disciples – that have reached some awe-inspiring, mystic, spiritual pinnacle of perfection and grace. But often icon wines are simply the most expensive wines that a producer can get away with stuffing into an overly heavy bottle, in the hope that the consumer will be so besotted by the gravitas of it all that they won’t notice that the wine itself is only very good, not great.

South Americans, Americans and yes some Canadians are particularly fond of the term, and it’s all about hype. Which is certainly the case of the California wines that VINTAGES has chosen to call icons in its March 21st release, that leads up to the 36th annual California Wine Fairs in Ottawa April 10th and Toronto April 13. And the fact that some soar past $100 adds to their sense of gravitas. I am not saying most are not excellent wines; I have scored several 90+ (my threshold of excellence). But at $100 or more they should be jaw-droppingly outstanding at 95 points +, which they are not.

For many, my protest will not matter a fig. These wines will sell quickly because there are enough buyers with enough money who choose to pay more to assure they will get quality. And that reason is just fine. I only want to temper the expectations of those who might venture a pile of money on an icon and expect the moon, only to find out they are looking into the glare of a streetlight – hardly a celestial, spiritual or unique experience.

Below we focus on the California “icons” that actually come closest to delivering somewhere near greatness, 92 or 93 points. At the same time we put forward some Bordeaux on the same release that also deliver quality very nicely. Some are just as expensive as the Californians (but Bordeaux wines ironically are rarely called icon wines). And then we scatter in some true values as well for those who just want an honest bottle.

Just before we get there, I have another observation from this tasting that relates to vintage variation. The Californians include 2011s and 2012s, and there is quite a difference between the two years. The 2011s are less ripe, with more Bordeaux-like leanness and greenness but they do have terrific energy. The 2012s are riper, softer and frankly a bit understated and lacking some energy. They may open and rev up with more bottle age, but they fail to ignite at the moment. Over on the Bordeaux side, the 2011s are also of lighter stock. Not green necessarily but lacking some depth of flavour (length) for their price tag. While beside them, a clutch of minor, less expensive, good value 2010s show the class and structure of that great vintage.

California “Icons”

Cade 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley ($112.95)

Dominus 2011

Dominus Napanook 2011

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2011David Lawrason – Cade is a recent arrival on the slopes of Howell Mountain, an off-shoot of the famous Plumpjack Winery created in part by former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. The winemaker is Danielle Cyrot, a woman of French descent who has managed to bring considerable elegance and a complex weave to Howell Mountain fruit more commonly known to make blockbuster, masculine cabs. This contains non-estate fruit; the Cade Estate cab rings up at $300US at the winery.
John Szabo - If you’re going to spend big in Napa, spend it on a “mountain” wine like this one. The 21-acre Cade estate was established in 2005 high on Howell Mountain, and vines are farmed organically. The 2011 is a grand success for the vintage, no doubt in part to the vineyard being above the fog line and thus maximizing the benefits of the scarce sunlight. It’s a densely packed wine, as savoury as it is fruity, with the expected grip and firm dusty texture of hillside Napa wines, in need of another 4-6 years in the cellar. Best 2020-2030.
Sara d’Amato – Power and refinement are distinctive features of the volcanic, higher elevation plantings of cabernet on breezy Howell Mountain. The cooler 2011 vintage is surely responsible for the wine’s terrific acid structure, fine tannins and lovely purity of fruit – a real standout for collectors.

Dominus 2011, Napa Valley ($176.95)

David Lawrason – If fame is the foundation of icon-hood, storied Dominus is perhaps most deserving of icon status. I have often found Dominus rather simple and almost boring for the price it garners, but something in this vintage turned my expectations on their head. I immediately thought of a fine, traditionally made Bordeaux, perhaps because the cooler 2011 vintage has imparted some tension. Very nicely constructed and focused, with excellent to outstanding length.
Sara d’Amato – It is no surprise that some of the best wines in this feature come with a hefty price tag but here is one worthy of attention. This old world, cabernet-focused blend from the Bordelaise Moueix dynasty offers immediate appeal, huge structure and a wide breadth of flavours.

Dominus 2011 Napanook, Napa Valley, USA ($76.95)

John Szabo - Admittedly I loved the 2011 Dominus (above), but for pure value Napanook, the second wine of the estate, is the one to buy. It’s very nearly as good with its lovely and savoury, earthy and complex profile, firmly in the old world stylistic camp as Dominus has been from the start. Best 2015-2026

Ridge Three Valleys 2012

Ridge 2011 Estate Cabernet SauvignonRidge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Monte Bello Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains ($61.95)

John Szabo - Just about everything from Ridge is worth a look, and in the context of top California cabernet, this is an outright bargain. Forget what you’ve heard about the 2011 vintage – top producers like Ridge made some of the most compelling, balanced wines in the last two decades. This is all class, firm, succulent, zesty and ripe, still tightly wound and closed up, but this unquestionably has the balance and stuffing to evolve beautifully over the next 2-5 years. Best 2018-2030.
David Lawrason – Ridge is perched high on the crest of a mountain south of San Francisco – the Silicon Valley in view to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west. The wines have never lacked structure. In this cooler vintage you will indeed detect some greenness and firmness, but it is a cabernet-lovers cabernet. Excellent length.

Ridge 2012 Three Valleys, Sonoma County ($35.95)

Sara d’Amato – Only a warm California vintage can perfect fruit ripening like in this Sonoma zinfandel and carignan dominant blend. Ripe red fruit abounds on the palate featuring peppery spice along with refreshing notes of pine and menthol. Clean and succulent with a very authentic, un-manipulated feel.
John Szabo - A fine vintage for the Three Valleys, Ridge’s Zinfandel-led blend, with firm and honest, woolly tannins, a nice mix of ripe and sour fruit, red and black, along with a range of savoury wild herbs. Best 2015-2027.

Clos Pegase 2012 Mitsuko’s Vineyard Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley, ($29.95)

Calera Chardonnay Mt. Harlan 2013 Clos Pegase Mitsuko's Vineyard Chardonnay 2012Sara D’Amato – There is a real traditional California feel to this well-balanced and beautifully integrated chardonnay featuring a great deal of presence, ripened tree fruit, oily viscosity and creamy malolactic texture. Mitsuko’s Vineyard is a large, 365-acre site in the cooler climate of Los Carneros named after proprietor Jan Shrem’s wife. The site’s varying degrees of slope, of elevation and soil types create great diversity in the grapes harvested often resulting in rather complex and compelling wines.
John Szabo - Mitsuko’s Vineyard is a sprawling 365 acre parcel on the Napa side of the Los Carneros AVA with diverse soils and aspects, all of which builds complexity. This substantial chardonnay doesn’t sacrifice freshness despite ample richness, and while oak influence is abundant, there’s also impressive fruit extract to compensate. To be cellared another 2-3 years; best 2017-2022.

Calera 2013 Chardonnay Mt. Harlan, Central Coast, USA ($49.95)

John Szabo - This is a serious bottle of wine. The Mt. Harlan Chardonnay Vineyard was planted in 1984 on own roots (un-grafted) using cuttings from errant vines found among the pinot noir of Josh Jensen’s original vineyards. The site is naturally low yielding, which shows in this generously proportioned wine. There’s a real sense of chalky-minerality, and while wood is very marked for the moment, this will surely knit together beautifully in time. Best 2018-2025

Bordeaux

Château Pontet-Canet 2011, Pauillac 5eme Cru ($150.00)

David Lawrason – Riding a Parker 100pt rating the previous 2010 vintage of Pontet-Canet sold at VINTAGES last month for $300. So it’s decent of them to have cut the price by half for this less good vintage. (You won’t see Napa doing this). The 2011 remains a firm, reserved and well-built young Pauillac, but it does not have the depth or wow you may expect if this is your first brush with one of the most talked about properties of Bordeaux.
John Szabo - Pontet-Canet is perhaps the most progressive Château in Bordeaux. Alfred Tesseron converted to organic/biodynamic farming some years ago, and vineyards are worked by horse. Clay amphorae were introduced in 2012 in an effort to decrease wood influence – all things that would have seemed impossible a decade ago. The efforts have been worth it, for although ’11 was a challenging vintage, this wine is a marvel: explosive and concentrated, full, dense and rich – a real honest and solid mouthful of wine. Cellar at least 4-6 before opening, or hold a couple of decades. Best 2020-2035.

Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2011, Margaux, 3eme Cru ($89.85)

David Lawrason – This is a lovely blend very much in the Margaux vein; which to me is all about charm and refinement. The blend here is 50% cabernet sauvignon, 35% merlot, 10% cabernet franc and 5% petit verdot. A very fine effort in a lesser vintage.

Château Clerc Milon 2011, Pauillac, 5eme Cru ($89.85)

John Szabo - 2011 is a nicely polished, full but firm, succulent and vibrant vintage for Clerc Milon, perfect for enjoying while waiting for the 2009s and 2010s to come around. But don’t drink it right away – give it another 3-4 years to fully knit. This is classy wine, full stop. Best 2018-2031.

Château Pontet Canet 2011 Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2011 Château Clerc Milon 2011 Château Bel Air 2010 Les Charmes De Magnol 2010

Château Bel-Air 2010, Haut-Médoc ($28.95)

David Lawrason – For one bottle of Chateau Pontet-Canet you could buy five bottles of this firm, well structured mid-weight Medoc cabernet-based red – that I rated the same as Pontet-Canet in terms of quality. What a difference a vintage can make? And with five bottles you could open one to test drive then stick the rest into the cellar, for another ten years. It’s textbook Bordeaux.

Les Charmes De Magnol 2010, Médoc ($18.95)

David Lawrason – This is very good value – a nicely balanced, ripe and decently structured Bordeaux for under $20. It is a second label from the grand (and also large) Château Magnol, a showpiece property and hospitality centre just north of Bordeaux’s city limits.

Other Bordeaux-Styled Reds

Pondview Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2012

Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Chakana Estate Selection Red Blend 2012Chakana 2012 Estate Selection Red Blend, Mendoza, Argentina ($29.95)

David Lawrason – This is a fairly new winery based in Lujan de Cuyo, but focused on wines grown in stonier alluvial soils whether in Agrelo or in Altamira in the southern Uco Valley. Increasingly revered Chilean viticulturalist Pedro Parra has helped Chakana map its vineyards. The winemaking consultant is Italian Alberto Antonini, who also works his minimalist, terroir-first magic at Altos Los Hormigos. This compiles 60% malbec, 20% cabernet sauvignon and 20% syrah into a quite fragrant, savoury young red. It’s quite dense, elegant and refined.

Tahbilk 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Nagambie Lakes, Victoria, Australia ($22.95)

David Lawrason – This is not a cabernet with gravitas, but it does have complexity, vitality and pretty good depth. It’s a bit more cool, curranty and spare than many Aussie reds, and I could drink a bottle with ease; especially around rack of lamb.

Pondview 2012 Cabernet Merlot Reserve, VQA Niagara Peninsula Canada ($18.95)

John Szabo - This is an enjoyable wine from Pondview, an honest and juicy, Bordeaux blend with sweet-tinged fruit and decent depth and structure. This should please fans of cool climate cabernet at the price. Best 2015-2022.

And that is a wrap for this edition. John leads off next week with the wines of Southwest France and other sundry picks from the March 21st release. Meantime also look forward as John and Sara d’Amato both report on this year’s Cuvée event for the Ontario Wine Report. I will be on holiday and travelling for the rest of March and will not be covering any of the April 4th release; but we have asked Michael Godel to offer some of his recommendations. Michael’s often lyrical reviews are fascinating, and he is in there tasting constantly – which to me is the pre-requisite to being a successful, objective critic.

Cheers,

David

From VINTAGES March 21, 2015:

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

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


AdvertisementPenfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2011


California Wine Fair - Canadian Tour 2015

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , , , , , ,

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 7th – Part Two

The Tuscan Tapestry
By David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

VINTAGES has entitled its March 7 release: The Tuscan Renaissance. Tuscan wine has been reborn so many times – even within the span of my 30 year career – that the word renaissance hardly applies anymore. It must be in the genome of the place to always be evolving, and nowadays Tuscan wine has become a blur of all its various eras, grape varieties, climates, altitudes and winemaking philosophies. Starting out, one still needs to learn the main appellations (or DOCs) and their authorized grape varieties, with sangiovese as its soul, but you then need to embrace all the variations as well.

It’s easiest in the end to try to define Tuscan wine as a whole – as it manifests in the glass. What is it? Is there a hook, a mood, a signature? Well I am looking for wines that are linear, trim, tucked in (like a well made bed), with aromas and flavours that are detailed, nuanced and finely interwoven – like a finely embroidered tapestry. Tuscan wines should not be loud, brash, aggressive or – god forbid – sweet or mochafied. They always seem to be aiming for sophistication even if some don’t achieve it.

The 15 Tuscan wines in this release offer a decent cross-section of regions, prices and styles with very good to excellent quality, and we three critics cover most of the selection here.

Nipozzano 2011 Vecchie Viti Riserva Chianti Rúfina, Tuscany ($29.95)

Il Grigio Da San Felice Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2010 Fattoria Carpineta Fontalpino Do ut des 2011 Nipozzano Vecchie Viti Riserva Chianti Rúfina 2011David Lawrason – This lovely Chianti best expresses the sophisticated weave I was trying describe above. It has real charm and very good depth with classic, modern Chianti attributes.
John Szabo – Made from the oldest vines on Frescobaldi’s Nipozzano estate (age not specified), this clearly has better depth, structure and complexity than the average. I like the firm and dusty structure and the balanced-lively acids typical from this, the coolest and highest elevation Chianti subzone. It will certainly gain in complexity over the next 2-4 years in the bottle and hold even beyond that.
Sara d’Amato A premium bottling from the Nipozzano estate, this spicy, bold and exotic Chianti Rufina is undeniably compelling. I was enamored with the complex tapestry of cool spices, licorice and juicy cherry. Top notch!

Fattoria Carpineta 2011 Fontalpino Do ut des, Tuscany ($39.95)

David Lawrason – Vintages matter in Tuscany, and 2011 was not one of the greats. But this is one of the better 2011s I have had – showing better depth and power than most.  It is still young and sinewy with vibrancy and energy.
John Szabo - I’ve admired the Do ut des for several vintages now from Carpineta Fontalpino, a blend of equal parts sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon grown in the heart of the Classico zone of Chianti. I like the dark and smoky fruit profile, the abundant spice, the integrated barrel influence and the clear concentration and density. It’s enjoyable now, but better after 2017.

Il Grigio Da San Felice 2010 Gran Selezione Chianti Classico, Tuscany ($46.95)

Sara d’Amato – The Il Grigio carries the Gran Selezione designation, only two years old now, which demands a longer ageing period than a riserva, a panel tasting and requires the use of highest quality fruit of the estate. Certainly living up to its top quality rank, the wine exhibits exquisite complexity, great harmony and impressive length.
David Lawrason –  I first encountered this wine while tasting the range from San Felice, one of the grand wineries and hotel properties of Tuscany. It was clearly the most structured and deepest wine, and the longer ageing had clearly – and by design – removed fruit as a flavour focus. Yet there is great complexity. It is a wine from a great vintage destined to be drunk around 2020.

Castelli Del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico, Tuscany ($23.95)

Tenuta Di Trecciano Chianti Colli Senesi 2013 Rocca Di Frassinello Le Sughere Di Frassinello 2011 Panzano Chianti Classico 2008John Szabo - Castelli del Grevepesa is an association of 150 winegrowers throughout central Tuscany, and this is a selection from the village of Panzano in the Classico zone. It’s an ambitious style, which, at 6 years of age, has entered a nice stage of evolution with its dried plum, dried cherry and freshly-turned damp earth character. Acids and tannins are still firm and structure-giving – the cooler vintage shows through – making this a lively and balanced wine.
Sara d’Amato – This Chianti has been perfectly held back and is ready for immediate enjoyment. Fig, cherry and leathery notes are boosted by acidity from a cooler vintage.

Rocca Di Frassinello 2011 Le Sughere Di Frassinello, Maremma, Tuscany ($24.95)

David Lawrason – The southern, more coastal Maremma region is in one sense the new wild west of Tuscany, where sangiovese opens its arms to cabernet, merlot and other varieties. This is the ‘second’ wine of a large joint venture between Castellare di Castellina and Domain Baron de Rothschild. This is a quite ripe, fairly opulent, fleshy yet dense and very warming. Delicious yet still Tuscan.

Tenuta Di Trecciano 2013 Chianti Colli Senesi ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Another allure of Tuscany is its lively, fresh young sangioveses. Minimum oak, lighter structure and exuberant sour red fruit aromas. This is a fine and easily affordable example.

A Nod to BC

Mission Hill 2012 Reserve Shiraz

Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013Four wines from British Columbia are grouped as a mini-feature in this release. Wines from Canada’s left coast are vastly under-represented by the LCBO – this is our country after all – so it’s somewhat encouraging to see this grouping. There should be many, many more. Of course the best way to appreciate what’s happening in the Okanagan, which is bursting with innovations and new wineries, is to plan a week wine touring this summer. Get to know your favourites personally then begin to order them direct. The LCBO says you can’t do that, but the federal government says you can, and many in Ontario are already doing just that. It is entirely legal, by the way, for British Columbians to order Ontario wines direct.

Gray Monk 2013 Pinot Gris, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($19.95)

David Lawrason – Gray Monk Pinot Gris is a benchmark for a variety that is almost the white signature of the Okanagan. It’s bright and tender and full of peachy fruit.

Mission Hill 2012 Reserve Shiraz, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($26.95)

David Lawrason – Mission Hill has been working hard to up its game with the red grape that has taken the southern Okanagan by storm in recent years.  From an excellent vintage, this catches classic blackberry/cherry fruit, chocolate and peppery notes, finishing with that earthy desert sand and sage finish common in BC reds from Oliver-Osoyoos.

~

Who’s the best Sommelier in Canada?
by Sara d’Amato

If you happen to find yourself in Toronto this weekend, the Best Sommelier of Canada Competition 2015 will be taking place on March 8th at Montecito Restaurant presented by CAPS and Wine Country Ontario.

CAPS Best Sommelier of Canada Competition

Top Sommeliers from across the country will compete in front of a live audience beginning at 10 AM.

It is free to attend the viewing, however purchasing a Day Pass ticket will get you into two Master Classes: Wines of Chile with WineAlign’s John Szabo MS and that of the BC Wine Institute lead by Kurtis Kolt and Véronique Rivest. In addition, Day Pass holders will have the option to attend an exclusive afternoon tasting and lunch as well as a sparkling reception and dinner.

Tickets can be purchased at : Best Sommelier of Canada Competition.

~

Cheers,

David

From VINTAGES March 7, 2015:

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

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


AdvertisementPenfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2011


California Wine Fair - Canadian Tour 2015

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , , , , , ,

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES February 21st – Part One

A Great Australian Vintage
by David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The most interesting aspect of VINTAGES feature on Australian wines on the February 21 release is that it is focused around a single vintage – 2012. This is a very welcome development because rarely in the past has VINTAGES talked about vintages in regions outside of Europe.

There is a deeply held view – perhaps even a cultural bias – within the Euro-centric wine establishment (in which, until now, I would have lumped the LCBO) that vintages don’t matter in the New World. Europe has been steeped for so long in the annual vintage assessment of Bordeaux and Burgundy, and perhaps Barolo, Tuscany and Rioja, that denial of vintage variation anywhere else is an off-handed way of saying that those wines cannot be as good or pedigreed, because, well, vintages don’t vary. That’s nonsense. Vintage variation occurs everywhere – no two years are ever the same. And this could be even more true now as erratic climate change sponsored events settle in. So it is high time that New World producers and pundits made much more of this variation so that we can all get the most out of experiencing their wines. Good on VINTAGES for swinging the bat this time out.

The cover of the VINTAGES magazine calls Australia’s 2012 “The Best Vintage in 20 Years”, but doesn’t quote any specific local sources. The claim does however line up with my experience in Australia in Jan 2014, where producers were falling over themselves in excitement. Part of this may have been a bit of a rebound reaction due to the fact that 2011 had been the wettest, coolest vintage in their lifetimes, with many wines showing some greenness. (Interestingly 2011 also produced many under-ripe reds in Chile, Argentina and California as well). But yes, as the magazine spells out on page 4, 2012 did indeed bring ideal conditions to Australia, a good balance of moisture and sunshine with moderated temperatures and no searing heat waves (whew!). Long and slow and even ripening is always the best formula for ripe and balanced wines, and if yields are also lower those wines should have better concentration. This was the case when a late spring frost lowered the yield in some areas.

The irony is that some of the wines in this release fail to make the case for the excellence of 2012. Mainly because the average $20 price point of wine landed in Canada is not going to deliver balance and depth as easily. Some are marketing driven brands attempting to adhere to a style rather than show the variation of place or vintage, and they are very ripe, high in alcohol and tending to confection. The examples I have highlighted below are essentially single-site wines that do begin to show the evenness and balance of this vintage. Above all Australia’s reds need tension and structure – that is the on-going struggle for quality in one of the world’s hottest regions.

Just before getting to my picks (which include some good buys from California), a note that Australia will be all the buzz later this month as the theme country of the Vancouver International Wine Festival which runs the week of February 20. Our B.C. Editor and recently appointed National Managing Editor Treve Ring has already published a two part perspective on Australia Today, that includes some of her picks from the hundreds that will be poured at the Festival, as well as wines she encountered in Australia recently that she “Wishes They Were Here”. She has also just edited and published a Valentine Day compendium of romantic picks from WineAligners in three provinces in Canada – all the while being in Argentina.

Australia

Heartland Directors' Cut Shiraz 2012

Yangarra 2012 ShirazYangarra Shiraz 2012, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($32.95)
David Lawrason – Once again a biodynamically grown wine tops my charts, its bio-ness being unbeknownst to me when I tasted it. This shiraz was grown at fairly high, cooler altitude near the South Lofty Ranges, which combined with balance of the vintage and healthy viticulture has given it real class.  The focus and length are excellent. Supple and balanced enough to drink now; should hold three years at least.

Heartland 2012 Directors’ Cut Shiraz, Langhorne Creek, South Australia ($35.95)
David Lawrason – Heartland is a project by highly regarded winemaker Ben Glaetzer and his team (which includes John Glaetzer who was the man behind the success of Wolf Blass in its formative years). Director’s Cut is 100% Langhorne Creek fruit – the same region that supplied the backbone of Wolf Blass’ award winning wines. There is a fair bit of oak showing here, but in the end this big shiraz pivots on good acidity and firm tannin. Impressive!

Bleasdale 2012 Mulberry Tree Cabernet Sauvignon, Langhorne Creek, South Australia ($17.95).
David Lawrason –  Cabernet Sauvignon is the staple variety of this small cooler, maritime region on Lake Alexandria a stone’s throw from the Southern Ocean. Bleasdale was founded in the 19th C but a new viticultural regime introduced late last decade has resulted in wines with good tension and structure. Not huge depth here, but just fine for the price. And it’s unmistakably cab.

Dutschke 2012 80 Block St. Jakobi Vineyard Merlot, Lyndoch, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Varietally labelled merlot is rare in Australia, but this comes from one of the oldest plantings in Barossa. It struck me as particularly well composed and balanced merlot; all rather understated but quite delicious. As good merlot should be.

Penny’s Hill 2012 Cracking Black Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato No, ‘cracking black’ does not, in fact, refer to shiraz’s distinctive notes of cracked black pepper but rather to the infertile, cracking, grey-black soil of the Bay of Biscay where this hand-picked shiraz is planted. This crackling soil severs the surplus root structure of the vines, lessening vigor and enhancing grape quality. As dynamic as the soil in which it is grown, this aromatic and compelling shiraz deserves attention.

Bleasdale Mulberry Tree Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Dutschke 80 Block St. Jakobi Vineyard Merlot 2012 Penny's Hill Cracking Black Shiraz 2012 Schild Estate GMS Fowles Stone Dwellers Shiraz 2012

Schild Estate 2012 Grenache Mourvèdre Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – The grenache in this “GMS” is delightfully dominant giving the wine a crunchy saline texture, beautiful floral notes and plump red plum. Inspired by the blends of the Southern Rhone, this old-world-meets-new style is highly engaging. A Category Champion at WineAlign’s 2014 World Wine Awards of Canada.

Fowles 2012 Stone Dwellers Shiraz, Strathbogie Ranges, Victoria ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Cooler climate Australia is home to some dynamite shiraz that is exuberantly peppery and shows plenty of restraint, most notably in the alcohol department. If you normally stay far away from Aussie shiraz, give this one a try.

California Reds

 

Hartley-Ostini 2013 Hitching Post Hometown Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County ($28.95)
David Lawrason – I have always been a fan of well-made California pinot for its sheer drinkability. The problem of course is that high alcohol, sweetness and oak too often overwhelm the fruit. This nifty example from the company that starred in the Academy Award nominated wine flick “Sideways” manages to stay in fruit first focus.  A delightful, heart on its sleeve pinot – kinda like the movie.

Melville Estate 2012 Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County ($49.95)
David Lawrason - And from the same region is southern California comes yet another intriguing pinot that goes for elegance and structure. Melville is a small estate-fruit only operation specializing in pinot. They have gone to the trouble of planting 16 different clones in an effort to build up complexity, and it works so well. Wonderful aromatics and silky texture.

Hartley Ostini Hitching Post Hometown Pinot Noir 2013 Melville Estate Pinot Noir 2012 Kunde Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Volker Eisele Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

 

Kunde Family 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley ($26.95)
David Lawrason – This does not have the depth and structure to hit 90 points, but it is an honest, fairly priced cabernet with typical blackcurrant fruit and just enough firmness to announce its cab-ness. Kunde is based on a large sustainably farmed property in the hills above the Valley of the Moon. I have been liking their recent offerings, and the value is peaking these days.

Volker Eisele 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($68.95)
David Lawrason – Collectors of California cabernet may want to make some room in the cellar for this powerful, complex well attenuated blend of cabernet and merlot (14%) grown in the Chiles Valley up in the eastern hills above Napa Valley. The Volker Eisele family has farmed the site organically for over 40 years. Aged 24 months in French oak, it has plenty of fruit support, cabernet complexity and excellent length.

And that’s it for this edition. Tune in next week as John Szabo leads off on the rest of this release with a look at Euro reds and a selection of whites.

Cheers,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES Feb 21st release:

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!


Advertisement
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

 

 

 

 

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , , , ,

15 Great South African Wine Values

Photos and text by David Lawrason
with notes from John Szabo and Steve Thurlow

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

In a recent Newsletter called the New World Order (VINTAGES Jan 10) I made the statement that South Africa currently heads the list of the best sources of wine value in the world; followed by Argentina and Chile. I stand by that statement and want to elaborate, then to point out 15 South African wines currently at the LCBO or VINTAGES Stores that stand as evidence. The WineAlign team recently had an opportunity to taste the entire South African General List category, plus some recent VINTAGES releases.

First, I want to define value. It doesn’t solely mean wines that are the lowest price. Value juxtaposes quality and cost, at any price level. Quality I define as true, balanced, complex and generous expression of grape and place. The problem for South Africa – and in the end for consumers – is that so many of the wines bought by the LCBO are based on low price only. They will claim we consumers won’t pay more for South African wine. I contend that we will gladly pay more once exposed to the right wines. I spent three weeks in South Africa last year, and was stunned by how many “more expensive” wines showed great quality, and were still good value. And I tasted hundreds.

This is of course the age-old problem with the LCBO one-buyer monopoly system. They simply don’t have shelf space for more than a token representation from any one country and to be fair to all they must list wines from all countries. South Africa has suffered most from this because their supply and quality was interrupted when in 1987 Canada stopped buying to protest racist Apartheid policies. To regain market share after the sanctions were lifted in 1994 the LCBO bought the cheapest and often least good quality wines – which left a poor impression. The industry was stuck in a quality rut during the sanctions period, which I witnessed on my first visit just after Nelson Mandela was elected president.

South Africa

Fynbos, a collective term for the varied native vegetation of the Cape, can lend its wild aromas to the wines.

But those days are history, and since then quality has improved dramatically, particularly in the last five years. I noticed it during a visit in 2011, and by the time I visited again last March it was crystal clear. The same conclusions have been reached by all WineAlign colleagues who have also recently been to South Africa – John Szabo, Anthony Gismondi, Steve Thurlow and Janet Dorozynski. Each of them has come back writing about how South Africa has turned the corner. You can scan our archives for their articles.

The current situation is that the LCBO selection is still ridiculously small given what is available to the buyers; and the selection is still governed to a large degree by low prices, with some loyalty being shown to brands that have just always been around, which makes entry more difficult for new brands that are upping their game. Even VINTAGES, with its average bottle price of $18.95, lists few South African wines that are over $20. But, the good news is that quality within that price band has increased a great deal. To me the average $15 Cape wine is on a quality level of the average $30 French or California wine.

The complex terrain of Stellenbosch creates many sub-appellations

The complex terrain of Stellenbosch creates many sub-appellations

The quality surge has everything to do with better, often more natural grape growing. I was impressed by the level of ecological awareness in South Africa. It is also a result of better winemaking, with far fewer faulted “meaty and rubbery” wines. And there is also much more attention being paid to better location of specific varieties in the right climatic zones. I could go on and on about the latter in particular – the emergence of well-defined wine regions and regional styles – but that has already been covered before by our correspondents. And I will shortly be posting a detailed essay on pinotage which, by example, demonstrates these themes.

For now, I simply want to encourage those of you who have not tried South African wines to do so. To dip into our list of the best values on the shelf today. If you want an opportunity to sample first, some LCBO stores will be doing that on Saturday, Feb 14; and LCBOs with event kitchens will be staging mini-South African fairs.

And if you really want to dig into this subject by flying to South Africa itself, Wines of South Africa has a contest running until March 3rd that will send two people to the Cape with airfare, accommodation, meals and wine tours included. Enter at www.wosa.co.za/canadacompetition.

The Whites

Goats Do Roam White 2013

The Wolftrap 2013 WhiteThe Wolftrap White 2013, Western Cape ($13.95)
Steve Thurlow – This is an amazing white for the money with its intensely flavoured palate and pure complex nose. Expect aromas of melon and baked pear fruit with lemongrass and floral heather plus some typical South African minerality. The palate is intense and very solid with some bitter tones nicely closing the finish. It’s a bit chunky and does not have the elegance of the 2012 vintage. Very good to excellent length. Match with sautéed pork chops.
David Lawrason – Totally agree on the value quotient of this intriguing white blend that is built around viognier (60%),  chenin blanc (21%) and less seldom seen grenache blanc (19%). It’s a combination of warmer climate (Rhone)varieties that provide opulence anchored in chenin blanc acidity. Partial fermentation and ageing in French oak adds even ore layers.  The emergence of Rhone varieties grown in inland areas is one of the great stories of the new South Africa

Goats do Roam 2013 White, Western Cape ($11.95)
John Szabo
– The first vintage of this whimsically-named, Rhône-inspired blend was 1998, and the quality has steadily risen. And now that the vines are over 15 years old, there’s more than enough complexity to put this into the sharp value category. It’s about 2/3rds viognier with roussanne and grenache blanc, mainly from the Fairview property in Paarl with a small percentage from Swartland, delivering pleasant citrus-pear-apple fruit, savoury herbs and light floral-blossom aromatics on a mid-weight, essentially dry and fleshy frame. This will please widely.
Steve Thurlow – This is a consistently great value white. I love the pureness and the vibrancy of the 2013 vintage. It is an aromatic blend of three white grapes with lifted floral fruity aromas and an intensely flavoured palate. The nose shows apple and custard with pasty, floral orange and white peach fruit. It is medium-full bodied with firm balancing acidity and a long firm finish. Very good length. Enjoy as an aperitif with pastry nibbles or try with mildly spicy Asian cuisine.

Fleur du Cap 2013 Chardonnay, Western Cape ($12.85)
Steve Thurlow – This wine has been sadly absent from our market for a few years and it is a welcome return to the LCBO list. It is an oaked chardonnay with just enough oak to add complexity to the nose and palate. Expect aromas of baked apple with vanilla, caramel, with lemon and cinnamon notes. The palate is rich and very smooth with intense flavours and very good length. It is old school but well done. Try with fish and chips.

Mulderbosch 2012 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape  ($14.95)
John Szabo
– Mulderbosch is happy to pay a premium price for this fruit, sourced almost exclusively from bush vines, many over 30 years old and all dry farmed (Swartland, Malmesbury). The extra concentration shows through on the palate with its rich, succulent texture and very good to excellent length. 20% gets barrel treatment, though wood is not a player in the profile, and this is virtually bone dry. A wine with genuine depth and character, drinking now, but better in a year or two.

Boschendal The Pavillion 2014 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, ($10.95)
John Szabo
– Here’s a lovely little value from Boschendal, one of South Africa’s oldest farms founded in 1685 and set in the dramatic Drakenstein Valley surrounded by the Cape’s staggeringly beautiful landscape. There’s genuine substance on the palate and plenty of ripe citrus, pineapple and melon flavours bolstered by a welcome impression of sweetness. I’d happily sip this, a wine to keep around the house to pull out on those ‘whenever’ occasions.

Fleur Du Cap Chardonnay 2013 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2012 Boschendal The Pavillion Chenin Blanc 2014 Simonsig Chenin Avec Chêne Chenin Blanc 2012 K W V Contemporary Collection Chenin Blanc 2014

Simonsig Chenin 2012 Avec Chêne Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch  ($25.95)
David Lawrason – This is a fine example of Cape chenin, a quite full bodied, fleshy yet balanced example with classic green pear/honeydew melon fruit sewn with subtle fine French oak spice  and vanilla in the background. With chenin’s growing popularity, different styles are also proliferating, with varying levels of oak involvent. So check out labels before you buy. VINTAGES Feb 7.

K W V Contemporary Collection 2014 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape ($9.45)
Steve Thurlow – This is a delicious amazingly well priced alternative for pinot grigio lovers. The 2014 vintage of this wine shows that South Africa can make good inexpensive chenin with a good depth of flavour and well structured. The nose shows fresh melon pear fruit with grapefruit and mineral notes. The palate is midweight with ripe fruit balanced by lemony acidity. Very good length with a nice bitter tone to the finish. Try with seafood or white meats.

The Reds

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2013

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2013Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2013, Swartland, Swartland ($14.95)
John Szabo
– Mark Kent of Boekenhootskloof settled in the Franschhoek Valley, but has slowly come to terms with the fact that it’s a difficult region in which to grow grapes. Slowly but surely he’s pulled out vineyards (with the exception of some exquisite, old vine semillon) and replanted in other regions, especially Swartland, which he believes has enormous potential. And this all-Swartland syrah is a very strong argument in his favour, a wine that delivers all one could want at the price and more. The palate is rich and mouth filling, ripe but still grippy, with substantial flavour intensity and depth, as well as length. You won’t go wrong here.
David Lawrason – Not much to add here except “a high five”, especially if you are one who likes your syrah meaty, big and bouncy. This has been going strong since WineAlign first went on the air – scoring 87 points or better in every vintage since 2007.

The Wolftrap 2013 Syrah Mourvedre Viognier, Western Cape ($13.95)
John Szabo – Although a small step below Boekenhootskloof’s Porcupine Ridge range in terms of depth and complexity (and price), this is a thoroughly delicious, savoury-fruity, well-balanced blend that hits all of the right notes. It’s also less oak-influenced, and as such will appeal to fans of classic Mediterranean blends (i.e. Côtes du Rhône). Infinitely drinkable all in all, especially with a light chill.
Steve Thurlow – This wine captures in each vintage the essence of a Rhone red and this is probably the best yet. It is made mostly from syrah with about 30% mouverdre and a splash of viognier. There are no jammy tones and the palate is firm with acid and tannin for balance. The tannins are ripe which gives it structure for food balance. Expect earthy black cherry and bramble fruit aromas with some smoke and black pepper spice and hints of dark chocolate. The palate is full-bodied yet it feels lighter and the length is very good to excellent. Try with BBQ meats.

Thelema 2012 Mountain Red, Stellensbosch ($12.95)
Steve Thurlow – This delightful blend of shiraz and 5 other grapes comes from high mountain vineyards above Stellenbosch. The lifted nose shows ripe blackberry and blueberry fruit with black pepper, mild oak spice and floral complexity. It is very smooth and quite dense with a degree of elegance. Very good length. Try with pizza or burgers.
David Lawrason – Excellent value, once again from a leading producer that was among the first to upgrade its style and quality in the post-Apartheid era. (I first tasted and was thoroughly impressed by their wines at a trade tasting in Toronto in 1995 – I believe). The blending of several grapes is very much in vogue in South Africa and this a good example.

Goats do Roam 2013 Red, Western Cape  ($11.95)
Steve Thurlow – Fantastic value here. The 2013 is another excellent vintage with its lifted aromas of plum and black cherry, dark chocolate, mild oak spice, and smokey blackberry jam. It is midweight and well balanced with lively acidity and spicy black fruit and soft tannin. Very good to excellent length. It is a great food wine to be enjoyed with a wide variety of meat and cheese dishes.

Thelema Mountain Red 2012 Goats Do Roam Red 2013 Boschendal The Pavillion Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Avondale Jonty's Ducks Pekin Red 2011

Boschendal The Pavillion 2013 Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch ($11.95)
Steve Thurlow – I love the zippy juicy vibrant palate to this exuberant red. It is midweight with aromas of red cherry with white pepper spice, and modest oak treatment, so the fruit shines through. The fruity palate is well balanced by soft tannin and some racy acidity makes it feel quite light. Good focus and very good length. Try with grilled meats.

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

K W V Roodeberg 2012

Rustenberg 2011 ShirazRustenberg Shiraz 2011, Stellenbosch ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is from of the oldest wine estates in Stellenbosch that first bottled wine in 1892!  It is also the site of one of the finest restaurants and tasting facilities in South Africa (I was stunned by the sophistication of the hospitality scene in and around Stellenbosch.) Because Rustenberg is a classic old-school estate expect leaner, very Euro and very complex reds. VINTAGES Feb 7.

K W V 2012 Roodeberg, Western Cape ($12.45)
Steve Thurlow – This is a medium bodied Cape classic that as usual offers good value with the 2012 vintage. It is well balanced and quite complex. It is styled like a French southern Rhône red with red and black cherry fruit, white pepper, with herbal and mineral tones. Good to very good length, try with rack of lamb.

Cheers,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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!


Advertisement
WOSA Canada Competition

Filed under: Featured Articles, News, Wine, , , , , , ,

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES February 7th – Part Two

Righteous Reds from South of Zero
by David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

It’s Feburrrrr-ary in Ontario, so it doesn’t take too much encouragement to think about warmer climes; which VINTAGES invites us to do by grouping a handful of well-known producers into a South of the Equator mini-feature. And the selections, although few, are very good.

You may have noticed a trend so far in 2015 where John (the Vulcan) Szabo tackles Euro-featured wines (Italy last week), and I lead off with New World/Southern Hemisphere wines. It’s not quite by design, but it suits me fine because I love the energy and advancement of the southern zones. By chance more than design I have crossed the equator six times since January 2012; sixteen times in my career: and I will take two more trips over the line before April this year to South America and New Zealand. So one begins to get a real sense of what’s going on in the Southern Hemisphere. These nations are beyond the days of producing cookie-cutter jammy, hot and oaky red wines. There is exciting stuff afoot; they are on that journey of self-discovery that Europe completed long ago. Witness the Concha Y Toro Carmenère below that earned an aligned opinion from all three of us. But there were some Northern Hemisphere reds that also excited us.

South of the Equator

Concha Y Toro Terrunyo 2011 Peumo Vineyard Block 27 Carmenère, Cachapoal Valley ($29.95)

Katnook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Concha Y Toro Terrunyo Peumo Vineyard Block 27 Carmenère 2011David Lawrason - I have not rated this 95 like Wine & Spirits Magazine, but this is a textbook carmenère from a fine single vineyard. Chile is drilling down! Not only is it varietally and technically correct, it displays a sense of elegance as well. Really very fine!
John Szabo – Winemaker Ignacio Recabarren blends a splash of old vine cabernet sauvignon from Pirque (Maipo Valley) with this single block of terraced carmenère from Peumo to create this exceptional wine. 2011 was an unusually cool vintage, which for Chile simply means a great, long growing season. It shows in this lovely, crunchy, vibrant yet richly extracted wine, with terrific length and depth. I’d wait 2-3 years at least before drinking for maximum complexity.
Sara d’Amato – For six consistent years on the VINTAGES shelves, the Terrunyo, site-specific, carmenère proves to be one of Chile’s top examples of this highly aromatic varietal. With exceptional balance, of acids, tannin and fruit, here is a class act that can be enjoyed now with decanting or put on hold for another 3-4 years.

Katnook Estate 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia ($29.95)
David Lawrason – Coonawarra, in my view, is one of the great pure cabernet sauvignon regions in the world. Its moderate, almost coastal climate perfectly ripens cab – not too green, not overripe. And the terra rosa soils pack in complexity and structure. Katnook has delivered a soaring cab here with a riot of blackcurrant, mint/menthol, graphite, white pepper and oak. Plus cabernet lead pencil and rubber eraser.

Fabre Montmayou 2011 Gran Reserva Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, ($22.95)

Fabre Montmayou Gran Reserva Malbec 2011

La Posta Pizzella Family Vineyard Malbec 2013

David Lawrason – On recent travels to Argentina I really began to break Mendoza’s malbecs into sub-regional and stylistic chunks. This is a lush, rich and cuddly, wooded style from lower altitude vineyards (whereas the wine featured by John below is from higher altitude Uco). The other learning was that vintages matter in Argentina, and 2011 was one of the coolest on record, with this wine, despite its girth, showing a telltale tinge of greenness on the finish.

La Posta 2013 Pizzella Family Vineyard Malbec Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($15.95)
John Szabo
– Although the wood influence is still strong, beneath the oaky veneer is a wine of pleasant herbal, lavender, cracked black pepper and oregano-type flavours along with fresh dark fruit, characteristics often encountered in the cooler, high elevations of the Uco Valley (these vines are at over 900 meters in Altamira, La Consulta). This over-delivers on intensity and length for the money.
Sara d’Amato – A wine so easy to fall in love with (and perhaps to), due in part to the aromatic garrigue (notes of lavender, sage and dried brush) that are oh-so evocative of the blends of the southern Rhône. I can’t imagine that this appealing red for under $16 wouldn’t be an enormous hit with just about any crowd.

North of the Equator

Faiveley 2012 Mercurey, Burgundy, France ($24.95)

Domaine Beau Mistral Vieilles Vignes Rasteau Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2012 Foris Pinot Noir 2011 Domaine Faiveley Mercurey 2012David Lawrason – This is a cool climate pinot-lovers pinot, a lean, spry example with almost crystalline cran-raspberry fruit nicely etched with oak spice. Mercurey is the lead village for reds in the Côte Chalonnaise. Its pinot may not always have the structure of peers from the Cote d’Or to the north, but watch it carefully for Burgundy value.
John Szabo – Quality at Faiveley’s historic Mercurey base has risen nicely in the last couple of vintages, and this 2012, although not transcendental, is delicious. I love the delicate, lacy tannins and crisp acids, the way classic pinot should always be.

Foris 2011 Pinot Noir Rogue Valley, Oregon, USA ($24.95)
John Szabo - From a vineyard initially established in 1974 (winery in 1986) in the remote Rogue Valley in the southwest corner of Oregon, this is a fine entry-level pinot. It has all of the vibrant berry fruit one hopes for without significant interference from wood, plus an intriguing savoury edge and juicy acids.

Domaine Beau Mistral  2012 Vieilles Vignes Rasteau, Rhône, France ($23.95)
Sara d’Amato – Rasteau is an appellation to watch and one of the last villages in the southern Rhône to receive its own AOC status (in 2010). Formerly thought to be too hot to compete with the best south of Montelimar, there has been a recent shift away from the rustic styles of wine previously produced. The wines still have an appealing generosity and density but top examples, such as this, can also show lovely balance, elegant mineral character, notes of wild flower and a distinctive musky, peppery feature.

Finca La Cuesta 2011

Pinyolet Selección 2010

Château La Bienfaisance 2008Finca La Cuesta 2011 Bierzo, Castilla y Léon, Spain ($19.95)
John Szabo
– This is a part of Spain where things generally get interesting for fans of fruit and floral perfume on a balanced frame. This Bierzo, made by the established estate of Luna Berberide from old vines at up to 750 meters, smells like violets and blackberry, carried on the palate by the lively acids of mencía. A tasty value.

Pinyolet 2010 Selección, Montsant, Spain ($26.95)
David Lawrason - Pinyolet is the local name for the limestone soils of Montsant, an appellation in the shadow of its more famous neighbour Priorat. Both sit high in the arid hills of southern Catalonia, with Priorat’s best sites having steeper altitude and prominent slate soils that create wines with a tighter grain. I have always enjoyed Montsant’s more open-hearted yet still refined ambiance (thanks limestone), especially with garnacha involved.

Château La Bienfaisance 2008 Saint Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France ($31.95)
Sara d’Amato – Over the past ten years, there has been a concerted effort to craft very fine wines from high-cropped, low yielding vines at this estate. Produced from vines averaging 30 years, the 2008 Chateau La Bienfaisance is maturing slowly and gracefully. Drink now or hold another 4-5 years.


And for Valentine’s Day or Any Day

Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco SuperioreRustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Veneto, Italy ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – This frothy, sophisticated Prosecco immediately floated my boat upon tasting this past month and I distinctly remember feeling the same way having also tasted it a year ago. A successful pioneer in the introduction of non-Champagne sparkling wines to the international market, Nino Franco made the world take note of Prosecco in the 1980s. Consistently elegant, the wine remains a top example of this affordable bubbly.

There was a nod to Valentine’s Day in this release, with a bouquet of sparklers on the docket, but we defer to a nationally posted article en route next week that will compile the romantic musings of WineAlign correspondents in three provinces, and recommend wines available country-wide. Meanwhile, Steve Thurlow has just posted the February edition of Top 20 under 20 Values at the LCBO.

For those of you in the Toronto area, I hope that I’ll see you at the Wynns’ Gourmet Dinner & Tutored Tasting on Feb 19th where I’ll be co-hosting with winemaker Sue Hodder. Wynns is the Coonawarra region’s pre-eminent wine producer, with the largest holding of the region’s best and longest established vineyard sites. As I mentioned in a review above, Connawarra, in my view, is one of the great pure cabernet sauvignon regions in the world. This will be a great opportunity to try some.

Cheers,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES Feb 7th release:

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Feb 7th – Part One
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
All Reviews

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


Advertisements
Stags' Leap Napa Valley Chardonnay

 

 

 

 

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , , ,

Ontario Wine Report – January 2015

What’s New Niagara?
by David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

In mid-January I embarked on a long-overdue, four-day Niagara tour to better familiarize myself with the newer and most promising wineries on the Bench (plus Two Sisters in Niagara-on-the-Lake). It had been at least two years since doing the rounds. I was also partaking of icewine during the Niagara Icewine Festival, and dropping in and out of a role as an unofficial host to a group of sommeliers from the UK, Hong Kong and Montreal. Why are all sommeliers so young?

There is lots coming up, but if you want to skip right to a winery of interest click on a link below.

Pearl Morissette Estate Winery
Bachelder
Domaine Queylus
Redstone Winery
Kew Vineyards
Back 10 Cellars
Two Sisters Vineyards

Icewine First and Foremost?

The personal highlight of my icewine activities was actually picking icewine grapes, for the first time in my life. In fact, it was the first time I had “harvested” grapes of any sort, shattering a 30-year resolution not to partake – as a critic – of any part of the commercial wine production process. (Once a movie critic has made a movie can he or she be a critic?). Not picking grapes is a rather silly threshold of course, but imagine my relief when I discovered these were not real ice wine grapes (they were only partially frozen), and the whole exercise was a photo-op for the visiting sommeliers. Nor did it occur in the dead of night, but during the golden glow of a sunset that the photographers seem to have dialled in. I was spared the real deal.

David Lawrason Harvests Icewine

It all transpired in a vineyard owned by third generation grape grower Trevor Falk in the Niagara Lakeshore appellation. When we followed our picking bins into his press house I was stunned to find sixteen large basket presses installed largely for the icewine. They were still caked with the gooey pressed skins of the recent harvest and the air was sweet with fruit. The scale of it all shattered my romantic notion of shivering souls hand-cranking tiny presses outdoors to extract precious vials of juice. But on the other hand, it was an impressive display of efficiency and attention to detail. Icewine grapes need to be picked at an ideal temperature (which narrows the time window) and pressed almost immediately before grapes thaw – thus the need for rapid and high volume processing. But the scale of this press house also served to remind me how important icewine is to Ontario. We are, after all, numero uno in the world.

2015 Sommelier Group Photo David Lawrason & Gabor Foth

Trevor Falk supplies icewine juice to Andrew Peller Limited, and so the icewine experience continued later that evening at Peller Estates Winery where the group enjoyed a five course dinner by Executive Chef Jason Parsons. All but one course was paired with icewine! There was a frozen beet and goat cheese salad paired to riesling icewine; wild boar lasagna paired to Peller Estates Ice Cuvée Rosé;  icewine infused Blue Benedictine cheese with vidal icewine; and finally – the classic and my favourite – chocolate and cabernet franc icewine for dessert! It was gustatory tour de force, although we did feel sugar heavy by end of it all. I guess the icewine infused marshmallows we roasted over an open fire at minus 15C didn’t help. (Lesson, one experimental icewine pairing while entertaining is a great idea, but maybe not a whole meal)

We Really Make Wine Here?

Meanwhile, back to those sommeliers. It was informative to be informing off-shore palates who have little concept of Ontario wine, other than icewine (which some were serving in their London restaurants). The portrait we present to visitors is telling of how we really see ourselves, and our message is focused very much on what a difficult, almost absurd wine region Ontario is. We have a summer growing season like central France or northern Italy – a decidedly moderate (not all that cool) situation. But our seasons are totally unpredictable year to year and especially in the autumn. Some are cold and dreary (2014); most are very humid, and some are healthy, spry and warm (2012). There is actually no median here – no average Niagara vintage. And that is very challenging to our winemakers, and to consumer appreciation of our wines.

But the real story is that our winters can be dastardly cold – like no other wine region on Earth. A –minus 27C freeze-out ‘event’ overnite Jan 13/14 puts the 2015 vintage into question. The prolonged deep freeze of 2014 virtually erased less winter hardy merlot, syrah and sauvignon from the vintage, and reduced yields of all but the hardiest varieties planted in the most protected sites. It’s hopeful to say that global warming will improve the situation, but recent evidence points to climate change unleashing extreme and fluctuating events for which there is no adequate preparation.

Yet Ontario is pressing on, and has all kinds of potential. Let the rest of Ontario’s recent story be told via the new wineries that have opened in the past year or are still to open. Here is who I visited, with links to some of the most interesting wines I tasted.

Pearl Morissette Estate Winery
3953 Jordan Road, Jordan,
Visit and Taste – phone for appt, (905) 562-4376, no tasting room (yet)
Buy –  phone winery, very rarely at LCBO Vintages

Every once in a while I am challenged to rethink what I have learned over 30 years as a critic. It can be uncomfortable to be challenged, but it is essential. Perhaps to forestall being challenged it took me more than three years to meet with François Morissette, a Canadian-born, Burgundy–trained winemaker who came back to Niagara in 2007 to undertake this project financed by Toronto developer Mel Pearl. There has always been, until now, something reclusive and precious about Pearl Morissette – no highway signs, or tasting room, and a website that makes you peer inside for information. And an upper priced, idiosyncratic wine portfolio and style clearly not aimed at the average punter.

This may change this spring with the opening of a new facility that includes a tasting space, and the eventual roll-out of a less expensive line (as all premium Ontario wineries have had to do one day in order to actually sell wine in this market). This actually represents great news in terms of helping us understand what Niagara is, and what it can achieve. Because I tasted some of the most captivating wines of my Canadian tasting career at Pearl Morissette in January. And the UK sommeliers in the room that day were equally animated, even shocked, by the tasting as well.

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Persephone Cabernet Franc 2011François Morissette is actively and eruditely challenging many of the precepts upon which the Ontario wine industry has been built. To randomly pick some ideas: he challenges notions of grape ripeness (it’s all about skin ripeness not sugar levels); of sensory perception (aroma and flavour don’t matter only texture); of regulation (he has taken on the LCBOs VQA tasting panel on national TV after they ‘blackballed’ his riesling as being atypical, three times). He has been cast as a rogue, and god-forbid, a natural winemaker. Which he claims not to be because he uses sulphur when required. “Natural wine must still be good wine” he says, and I couldn’t care less whether the wine is orange” (which results from using little or no sulphur)

Pearl Morissette Riesling Cuvée Black Ball Barrique 2012His outspokenness, intellect and ethos make many in Ontario’s mainstream uncomfortable. Just as he is uncomfortable in Ontario’s restrictive regulatory and retail environment. But he is sticking it out and doing what he can because he loves the winemaking challenge Ontario delivers and he believes it can be a great region among the world’s best with certain grapes – including chardonnay, riesling, cabernet franc and gamay. In the end he really only cares about making wine his way, and defends his freedom to do so. Here are a couple of examples of wines that deserve your attention.

Pearl Morissette 2011 Cuvée Persephone Cabernet Franc

Pearl Morissette 2012 Riesling Cuvée Black Ball Barrique

Back to List
~

Bachelder Wines

Address: virtual for now
Visits: contact 905.932.3942,
Buy: LCBO Vintages, Saverio Schirelli Agencies 416.253.4974

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011If you thought François Morissette was hard to pin down, get ready for the nomad – Thomas Bachelder. He is a wandering oracle in wine world – full of ideas and observations and creative next projects. But he is not without a focus – making memorable chardonnay, and to a lesser extent pinot noir, in Niagara, Burgundy and Oregon.  His family and heart lie in Niagara, but he has but not put down real commercial roots anywhere – although Oregon is sounding as though it is the most attractive option business-wise.  For now he is making his wine in an old fruit processing shed above Beamsville, that does not have a tasting room or retail license (he can sell to restaurants). Thank goodness his “basic” chardonnay is a Vintages Essential.

Born and raised in Montreal Thomas was a wine writer before becoming a winemaker in the early 90s. We travelled together as correspondents for WineTidings in that era. But he forsook writing for making wine, working years in Burgundy and Oregon before being hired as the winemaker for Le Clos Jordanne in Ontario in the early 2000s. He guided that ground-breaking Burgundy-inspired joint venture between Boisset and Vincor Canada until soon after it was taken over by Constellation Brands in 2009.

Since then he and his wife Mary Delaney have traipsed between Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy making a series of wines that emphatically show the differences in terroir, and in vintage. His top Niagara chardonnays come from two sites, the Saunders Vineyard on the Beamsville Bench and the Wismer Vineyard from Twenty Mile Bench.  The next evolution may be bottlings from upper and lower reaches of the large Wismer site – he is currently following separate barrels of each.

Bachelder 2011 Niagara Chardonnay

Bachelder 2012 Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay

Back to List
~

Domaine Queylus
3651 Sixteen Rd, St Ann
Visits – 905-562-7474
Purchase – winery 905-562-7474, occasionally at LCBO Vintages

Domaine Queylus Grand Reserve Merlot Cabernet Franc 2011 Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2012The Thomas Bachelder nomadic quest continues at Domaine Queylus, a project launched by a group of Quebec investors who wanted to throw their weight at the idea of making world class pinot in Niagara – this after tasting Bachelder’s Le Clos Jordanne work.  So they hired him to spearhead their project, joined by world renowned French viticulturalist Alain Sutre who assessed sites that Thomas sourced.  One was a slam dunk, a small sandier hillside site in Twenty Mile Bench owned by the Neudorf family.  It once provided the fruit for a Le Clos Jordanne bottling called “La Petit Colline”.  The other site chosen was set in heavier red clay just below the escarpment on Mountainview Road in the Lincoln Lakeshore appellation. It was planted to chardonnay, pinot and cabernet franc, and in one block of blue clay similar to the soils of Pomerol, some merlot.

But where to build the winery?  The latter site has a high water table and construction would have been too expensive. So Bachelder found and refitted a modern wine warehouse located way up and over the escarpment eight kilometres south of Vineland. Far removed from lake effect, it is a  no-vine land. But he is considering planting winter hardy hybrids and perhaps vinifera that he would have to bury in winter (as is done in Prince Edward County).  He has hired the talented Kelly Baker as the on-site winemaker – a CCOVI grad who had also worked at Le Clos Jordanne and in Napa.  And this spring a tasting room will open in a large log cabin-style house on the property.

As to the wines, pinot noir is the main event – but they are not single vineyard editions. The owners are more interested in creating three tiers – Traditional, Reserve and Grand Reserve – which makes Bachelder’s task more challenging – selecting and blending the right barrels to fit the price points. The pinots do indeed get to a fairly high level for Niagara, but as you will see in one of the attached reviews I was also quite taken by the quality of the cab franc and merlot blends from the Lincoln Lakeshore site.

Domaine Queylus 2012 Tradition Pinot Noir

Domaine Queylus 2011 Grand Reserve Merlot Cabernet Franc

Back to List
~

Redstone Winery

4245 King Street Beamsville ON, L0R 1B1
Visits: Opens May 2015
Purchase: Vintages occasionally, direct 905-563-9463 X 201, winerytohome.com

Redstone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Redstone Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013The busy stretch of the King St Wine Route between Vineland and Beamsville is home to wineries like Kacaba, Malivoire, Greenlane, Kew Vineyards and Back 10 Cellars, with north-south cross streets like Cherry Ave and Mountainview Road leading to dozens more. In May this increasingly busy and important neighbourhood gets its new hospitality focal point when Redstone Winery opens, complete with an ultra-modern 100-seat restaurant (that the strip desperately needs).  Redstone is another project by Moray Tawse, bringing the same resources, organic/biodynamic viticulture and quality minded focus and team to bear. Rene Van Ede, with eight years at Tawse, is the lead winemaker of a projected 10,000 case enterprise that will have a varietal focus more than a terroir focus, and be positioned at generally lower price points that Tawse wines (20,000 cases).

Redstone occupies the site of the former Thomas & Vaughan Estates, a short-lived project that showed flashes of interest with cabernet and merlot blends – this due to the same red clay soils that inform the “Bordeaux reds” of Domaine Queylus (above).  Indeed Redstone takes its name from this terroir, which is the basis of its successful Bordeaux reds as well.  The Redstone pinot and brilliant whites are drawn from another Tawse-owned property called Limestone Ridge high on the Niagara Escarpment in Twenty Mile Bench (not far from Wismer on one side and Flat Rock on the other).  Altogether, and before the winery even opens its doors, Redstone has chalked up a fine reputation, finishing 14th out of over 130 wineries entered in the 2014 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.

Redstone 2013 Limestone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc

Redstone 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon

Back to List
~

Kew Vineyards Estate Winery
4696 King Street, Beamsville
Visit – Open Daily
Purchase – Winery, store.kewvineyards.com, LCBO Vintages occasionally.

Kew Vineyards Old Vine Riesling 2012 Kew Vineyards Blanc De Noir 2011Still in the heart of the King St. corridor, Kew Vineyard opened Sept 2013 with a tasting room and retail store situated in a classic if unique and utterly charming brick farmhouse. The spacious, warm tasting room with high top tables looks through French doors onto one of the great Bench vineyard vistas in Niagara.  What’s more, some of the vines you see are historic – with riesling planted in 1975 by Herman Weis of Germany’s Mosel Valley.  That block turns 40 this summer, one the oldest vinifera sites in Canada.  It was joined by chardonnay in 1978, and since then the 50-acre site has been populated with pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and even an experimental smattering of marsanne, roussanne and viognier (Rhone white varieties which actually survived the frigid winter of 2014).

The Kew Family sold the property in 2010 to the group of investors that also owns nearby Angels Gate. Management of the winery was taken on by John Young with his daughter Lisa running the tasting room and retail. They installed Angel’s Gate winemaker and Aussie-trained, Niagara veteran Philip Dowell to lend his bring his experienced hand with Bench fruit to the venerable vineyard. Indeed something like François Morissette (above) I find his wines to be texturally rich and balanced as opposed to bright and sassy – although a new organic riesling in 2013 has plenty of snap.  Besides the very good marsanne blend, Kew is making a mark with sparkling, including a rare 100% pinot noir Blanc de Noir, and their Tradition that includes pinot noir chardonnay and pinot meunier.

Kew Vineyards 2011 Blanc De Noir Sparkling

Kew Vineyards 2012 Old Vine Riesling

Back to List
~

Back 10 Cellars
4101 King Street, Beamsville
Visit: Sat & Sun 11-5, or by appt 905.562.3365
Purchase:  winery, www.back10cellars.com

Back 10 Cellars The Big Reach Riesling 2013 Back 10 Cellars Big Leap Cab Franc 2013And we remain on the King Street strip!  Back 10 Cellars opened last summer with ten acres of cabernet franc, riesling, pinot noir and chardonnay. (There should be little doubt by now that these are solidly emerging as Ontario’s “core varieties).  The fallow orchard and farmhouse were purchased in 2002 with planting on-going since that time. This “big leap” into commercial, boutique winemaking was the vision of Andrew and Christina Brooks, a young couple from Calgary. He is a sommelier who has studied and worked with Calgary’s well respected wine retailer Richard Harvey; and Christina worked in Calgary restaurants. When they moved to Ontario and began raising a family, they also started a winery touring company called Crush on Niagara.

Step by step they cleared and planted vines and waited for the day they could make wine – while getting advice from respected Niagara incumbents like Lloyd Schmitt and Featherstone winemaker David Johnson. Indeed the wines are still made at Featherstone and bottled on a mobile line. Christina has transformed the front rooms of the brick farmhouse bungalow into a lovely, family-style seated tasting room and retail space, while their family occupies the rest of the house.  So far the wines (with production of less than 1000 cases) are sold only from the tasting room, but the riesling and cab franc in particular are very much worth the stop.

Back 10 Cellars 2013 Big Leap Cab Franc

Back 10 Cellars 2013 The Big Reach Riesling

Back to List
~

Two Sisters Vineyards
240 John Street East, Niagara-on-the-Lake
Visit – open daily
Purchase – Winery, www.twosistersvineyards.com

Two Sisters Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Two Sisters Unoaked Chardonnay 2013An edifice of considerable gravitas has risen on the leafy outskirts of Niagara-on-the-Lake, right next door to Peller Estates. From the thick Greco-Roman columns at the entrance, to the grand high ceilinged foyer and massive tasting room; Two Sisters is a showpiece designed to present the more glamourous side of winemaking to the throngs of tourists who come to “Canada’s Prettiest Town”.  And it’s done with almost aristocratic Euro flair befitting the proprietors – two Italian sisters named Angela Marotta and Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli.  Indeed the classy, yet warm family style restaurant called Kitchen76 best defines that ambiance – with an Italian menu by chef Justin Lesso, that centres on a massive pizza oven.  (So yes I ordered pizza, but not before a great appetizer called Polpo, grilled octopus in shaved fennel and radish).

As to the wines, I have tasted the portfolio of whites and reds, but I have not yet toured the winery with winemaker Adam Pearce, a Niagara College grad who arrived from Pentage Winery in the Okanagan Valley, B.C., to make the 2013 vintage.  The 2012 vintage and 2010 wines were made by Martin Werner, who has since moved to the head winemaking job at Ravine Vineyard. It appears that the reds are all from their home vineyards in the Niagara River appellation, reflecting the ripeness and richness of this warmer site, especially in the hot 2010 vintage. And they are quite pricey.  The whites from various cooler sites, in my view, hit a higher note – and offer better value.

Two Sisters 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay

Two Sisters 2013 Sauvignon Blanc

Back to List
~

So that’s a wrap, and thanks for hanging in! There are still other new Niagara wineries to profile –  Di Profio, Wescott, Aure, Vieni, and Honsberger –  but we will save those for another day.  What’s most heartening about the group profiled above is that people with passion, experience and money continue to see Niagara as a worthwhile investment, with real potential. Now if only we could get Queens Park back out of the distribution and retail channel so that these earnest investors and proud winemakers can get their wines more easily to market.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Photos courtesy of Sherri Lockwood, Andrew Peller Limited

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!


Advertisement
Graffigna Grand Reserve Malbec


Canadian Wineries on WineAlign

It’s easy to explore Canadian wines & wineries on WineAlign. From the menu bar simply choose Wine >> Wineries.  You can select by region or winery name, or use our interactive map. We are adding new wineries all the time, so please let us know if we are missing your favourite.

Canadian Wineries

You can also click on the winery name on any wine page (or as in David’s Links above) to be taken directly to the winery’s profile page where you can see more wines and reviews. Just remember to set your filters to “All Sources” and “Show wines with zero inventory” as winery wines are not linked to retail inventory.

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , , , ,

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES January 24th – Part Two

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

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

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

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

South America

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

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

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

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

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

Other New World Reds

Rodney Strong Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Kurtz Family Boundary Row Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2010

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

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

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

Avondale Jonty's Ducks Pekin Red 2011

Nugan Estate Alcira Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

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

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

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

Euro Reds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES Jan 24th release:

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

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


Advertisements
Pepperjack Barossa Red

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , , , , ,

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES January 10th – Part Two

The New World Order
By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Last week John and Sara cracked open the first VINTAGES release of 2015 by focusing on European or Old World wines. Which leaves the New World for me; and that’s just peachy. New World wines tend to get painted with one broad fruit-bomb brush (especially by Europeans), but given my own travels (at least twice to each of the five major countries since 2010), I can tell you that the New World is a fascinating and fast-moving arena of discovery, diversity and sub-regionalization. John’s recent excellent essay on what’s going in Chile, could be written about any New World wine country.

Please indulge me for a moment. Grab a pen, and list New World wine countries as they spring to mind. Waiting, waiting …. tum ti tum….rump a pum pum…….New World wine countries….

Okay, time’s up. What have you got? I would bet that you have listed five or six countries, and that the order in which you listed them probably goes something like: California (US), Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, South Africa. You may, as a Canuck, have put Ontario or BC in there somewhere – while most citizens of our planet would not. But what do they know?

Well, if your list does mirror the list above, in that general order, then you have just defined the New World pricing hierarchy.

Popularity, reputation and history – general top-of-mindedness – are the pillars of wine pricing. Just look back to Europe for proof – Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany, Piedmont etc. Fame begets fortune. In the New World California has attained that status (thanks Napa), and Australia is not far behind (thanks Grange). Things begin to blur after that but New Zealand has vigorously marketed itself at a higher price point. Canada is paddling the same canoe, if still about three years upstream.

Then come South America and South Africa, which remain clearly at a lower overall price tier. I am not saying that these countries deserve to be there; I am saying that they are still there, despite proven capability to make good wines at almost any price point. The rest of the world just doesn’t yet know it or believe it.

So now I would like to redraw the list based on value. And it goes like this – South Africa, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Canada, Australia and California. The complete inversion of the popularity list!

I totally understand if you are not convinced to go out and buy wines from a certain country just because we critics say it’s good value. You may have not had good experiences with their cheapest wines, or have sensed a regional style or flavour profile you don’t like, or heard negative things. Maybe your attitudes are coloured by cultural imagery. But our job as wine critics is to ignore all that and locate quality. Then when we find it at a good price we need to tell you about it. The rest is up to you.

And at this juncture in history I am most frequently finding the best value in South America and South Africa – at all price points. Here are some of the best wines and best values in VINTAGES January 10th release; which is billed in the catalogue as “The Smart Buys Issue”.

Whites

Mulderbosch 2012 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Chenin blanc is the brightest light among South African whites, a specialty thanks to large and often old plantings that are being re-tooled to create premium wines. This is a tropical beauty.
Sara d’Amato – Yet another South African chenin stunner finds its way to the VINTAGES shelves. This is my top value pick in this release offering a terrific depth of flavour from old bush vines. A sustainable wine from an impressive producer.
John Szabo – Sourced almost exclusively from bush vines (Swartland, Malmesbury), many over 30 years old and all dry farmed, this is a bone dry chenin with great depth of flavour for the price. 20% barrel fermentation adds additional layers. It’s drinking now, but will be even better in a year or two.

Zuccardi Serie A 2013 Torrontés, Salta, Argentina ($15.95)
David Lawrason – During ten days in Argentina last month, I tasted dozens of torrontés – a highly aromatic muscat-crossed grape that has become that country’s signature white. The quality level was universally high, and no different here. Torrontés may never attain the complexity or finesse, or price, of top chardonnays or rieslings, but it is undeniably appealing, especially astride exuberant Asian cuisine.

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2012 Zuccardi Serie A Torrontes 2013 Keint-He Voyageur Chardonnay 2012 Talley Vineyards Bishop's Peak Chardonnay 2013

Keint-He 2012 Voyageur Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($16.00)
John Szabo - Here’s a fine value from Prince Edward County-based Keint-He winery, but sourced from vineyards in the Niagara Peninsula (hence the “Voyageur” brand). It delivers more than sufficient limestone-minerality to keep the punters happy, and I like the tight but ripe acids and firm structure. This will please widely at the price.

Talley Vineyards 2013 Bishop’s Peak Chardonnay, Edna Valley, Central Coast, California ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato - Deliciously easy to drink but with restrained oak and alcohol which makes it also versatile with food.  Elegant with bright acids and savory dried herbs – a lovely example of Edna Valley’s long and moderate growing season (the longest in California). Keep this sophisticated find on hand for surprise guests.

Reds

Oak Bay Gamay Noir 2012

Momo 2012 Pinot NoirMomo Pinot Noir 2012, Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95)
David Lawrason – There are three of four decent, moderately priced New World pinots on this release. I like this for it’s extra somewhat savoury/foresty complexity.
Sara d’Amato – The length and complexity here surprised me in this upbeat pinot noir that brightens and unfolds in the glass. The Momo portfolio offers an accessible range of wines produced from three of Seresin’s biodynamic vineyards and offers some great value (hard to find in a pinot noir!)

Oak Bay 2012 Gamay Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – #GoGamayGo – an expression and hashtag that is rapidly gaining popularity among winos in the know. Find out what all the buzz is about with this gold medal award winner from the National Wine Awards of Canada
John Szabo - This NWAC gold medalist, is a crisp, fresh, light, infinitely drinkable gamay, the way nature intended it to be rendered into wine. Serve chilled for maximum enjoyment.

La Posta 2013 Armando Bonarda Mendoza, Argentina ($14.95)
John Szabo - Argentina’s “other” grape (originally from northern Italy where it’s known as croatina) this is well worth investigating at the price for a full, generous, fruity, and engaging wine with plenty of dark berry fruit and minimal oak influence. Decant before serving; best 2014-2020.

Rupert & Rothschild 2011 Classique, Western Cape, South Africa ($22.95)
David Lawrason – This was my highest scoring New World wine of this release, thanks to its fine sense of composition, focus and length. South Africa has been making Bordeaux-styled reds for generations and they have learned a thing or two. This joint venture with the Rothschilds of Bordeaux only adds to the experience bank.

Devil’s Corner 2013 Pinot Noir, Tamar Ridge, Tasmania, Australia, ($23.95)
Sara d’Amato – This cool climate pinot noir taps into some old world flavours such as pepper, earth, red meat and sweet sweat. This intriguing conversation starter is a lovely package both inside and out.

La Posta Armando Bonarda 2013 Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011 Devil's Corner Pinot Noir 2013 Concha Y Toro Serie Riberas Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2012

Concha Y Toro 2012 Serie Riberas Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Marchigue, Central Valley ($17.95)
David Lawrason – Cabernet remains Chile’s most important red grape, and again the experience of large and well established company pays off. This is a very nicely balanced, complete and typical Chilean cabernet that brings it all together at a good price. This hails from granite based red clay soils of the Palo Santo Vineyard, on the south bank of the Tinguiririca River. Marchigue is a sub-region of Colchagua

Featherstone 2012 Red Tail Merlot, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario  ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – A substantive and riper than usual merlot from Featherstone – indicative of the hot, dry vintage in Niagara. Oh-so sensual, this appealing red boasts a voluptuous body and notes of wild flowers, plump plums and exotic spice.

And that’s a wrap for this edition. John returns next week with our first report on the January 24 release, while I will follow in with more detail on Chile & Argentina, the sub-feature on the 24th.

Cheers,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES Jan 10th release:

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES January 10th – Part One
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
All Reviews

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


Advertisements
Pepperjack Barossa Red

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , , , ,

12 Reds for the Christmas Crunch

By David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Well we can’t shorten the LCBO cashier line-ups for you, but WineAlign can reduce the time you spend in the store by helping you create your shopping list before you leave home. For weeks now we have been guiding you through your Holiday wine purchasing, and I suspect that many of you have already tuned in and done your shopping. The annual surge in traffic on WineAlign attests to that (we are having a banner year!). We are also welcoming dozens of new members every day. So if you are just joining us, here is what we have covered off in recent weeks.

Back in November, VINTAGES released its “finest” big guns, and we picked our faves, most of which will have evaporated from the shelves by now. From the last, huge December 6th release, we highlighted several whites, reds and fortifieds to add to your gift list. Earlier this week Steve Thurlow presented an intriguing selection of less expensive LCBO wines for The Five Days of Christmas, and last week Sara d’Amato guided you to VINTAGES recommendations for the various Personalities on your list. On December 23 watch for John Szabo’s annual Fizz Guide on the run up to New Years.

Today I simply want to present a varied selection of 12 international reds. They should prove to be horizon-expanding for those getting into wine. They are of excellent quality (over 90 points); good value (under $50) and still stocked in decent quantities (about 1000 bottles in inventory as of December 17). It’s up to you of course to decide why, which and how many you select: whether a single bottle for stuffing a stocking, a pair packaged as a host/hostess gift, a six-bottle splurge on wines for entertaining, or a generous twelve pack to seed the cellar of a new collector.

European Reds

Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2012

Confidences De Prieuré Lichine 2010

Domaine De Vieux Télégraphe 2012 TélégrammeDomaine De Vieux Télégraphe Télégramme Châteauneuf Du Pape 2012, Châteauneuf Du Pape, Rhone Valley, France ($49.95) – This is the second wine of Vieux Télégraphe the flagship of the meticulous Brunier family. It is refined and engaging, a great gift for the wine fancier, but no harm done if it’s opened and decanted over the holidays.

Confidences De Prieuré Lichine 2010, Margaux, Bordeaux, France ($48.95) – From a great Bordeaux vintage that has been thrilling me in recent months, this is second wine of Chateau Prieuré-Lichine, the producer of a very refined cab-merlot based blend in the Margaux appellation.  It’s the ideal introduction to the seamlessness that can make Bordeaux very special. Ideal inspiration for the start-up cellar.

Domaine Les Yeuses 2012 Les Épices Syrah, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($15.95) – This ebullient peppery syrah from the south of France is so well priced, you might consider gifting a six-pack as an instant “house wine” stock-up. Great for Mediterranean cuisine, and that includes pizza.

Sori' Paitin Barbaresco 2010

Ontanon Gran Reserva 2001

Tenuta Sette Ponti 2011 CrognoloTenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Tuscany, Italy ($34.95) – This is a very well made, mid-weight red that walks that fine line between Tuscan elegance and Italian heart. It’s a slightly rugged sangiovese buffed by a small proportion of cabernet and merlot, aged in new French oak. A fine specimen for those setting off to explore/cellar higher end Italian reds.

Ontanon 2001 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($39.95) – In my Dec 6 newsletter I focused on the joys of drinking older wines over the holidays. This is another that is ready to go, but will still age another five years. Spanish Rioja still leads the world in producing mature table ready reds you can buy off the shelf.

Sori’ Paitin 2010 Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy ($41.95) – At some point every wine fan gets enthused about the gritty nebbiolo-based reds of Barolo and Barbaresco in northwest Italy. I tend to gravitate to the slightly lighter, earlier evolving Barbarescos, and this is a fine example from a great year. Needs ageing for about three years, or three hours aeration in a decanter.

New World

Calera Pinot Noir 2012

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Domaine Tournon 2012 Shay’s Flat Vineyard ShirazDomaine Tournon Shay's Flat Vineyard Shiraz 2012, Pyrenees, Victoria, Australia ($37.95) – From a rugged outpost of granitic grape-growing 200km northwest of Melbourne comes a biodynamic shiraz by Michel Chapoutier, a leader in biodynamics in Rhone Valley. Click to read more about this French-styled syrah with outback ruggedness.

Wynns 2012 Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia ($27.95) – Coonawarra is among my top three go-to regions in the world for cabernet sauvignon; just cool enough to showcase the herbaceous side of cabernet yet warm enough to capture classic blackcurrant fruit. Winemaker Sue Hodder’s sensibilities have drawn a fine portrait, at a very reasonable price.

Calera 2012 Pinot Noir, Central Coast, California ($33.95) – California has come a long way with pinot noir, guided by Josh Jensen’s pioneering work in the terrain of the Central Coast. This generous wine weaves Burgundian rusticity and California fruit ripeness, and is just plain delicious. Could grace your Christmas bird.

Frei Brothers Reserve Zinfandel 2012

Bodega Noemía A Lisa 2012

Hidden Bench 2010 Terroir Caché Meritage, Beamsville BenchHidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($32.80) – Since 2005 Harald Thiel and his winemakers have been honing what is becoming one of the top Bordeaux-inspired red blends in Ontario (out of 100s that try this combo with very mixed success). I served it blind in a recent WSET class in Montreal, where a student who professed never to have found a Niagara red she liked, picked it as her favourite of the afternoon. Go to school here.

Bodega 2012 Noemía A Lisa, Patagonia, Argentina ($25.95) – From way off the beaten track, in the middle of scrub-infested nowhere in southern Argentina, this biodynamically grown malbec is nothing like those you might have had from Mendoza. It’s vibrant, funky, a bit meaty and shows some great finesse and depth for the money.

Frei Brothers 2012 Reserve Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, California, USA  ($24.95) – One of my great peeves of 2014 is the confection-ization of California red wines – and red zinfandel in particular. So this honest to goodness rendition of the California’s heritage grape came as a relief. I chalk it up to the Gallo’s deep roots among the old zin vines of the Dry Creek Valley. This is delicious.

Finally, if you just don’t have time to get out there to shop, you can always purchase a WineAlign gift certificate, and be responsible for turning your friends and family on to a lifetime of drinking better wine. Remember again to check in next week for The Fizz Report, and until then I hope you enjoy the run up to Christmas and all the anticipation.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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!


Advertisements
Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011


Niagara Icewine Festival2015


Kwaf_WineAlign_v1

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , , ,

@WineAlign

WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008