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Top Values at the LCBO (July 2016)

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

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

It is mid-summer and so it’s a quiet time at LCBO for activities like delists and promotions but new wines have still been arriving and I have been busy tasting them as well as sampling some new vintages of existing listings.

As a consequence I am pleased to tell you that it is another exciting month for my Top 50 Best Values with six wines joining the list since I last wrote to you.

I also write about another wine that is brand new to the LCBO. It is great when a wine is added to the system and, without any discounts,  jumps straight onto the list. Congrats again to the smart buyers at the LCBO.

These are the usual reasons for wines joining the Top 50 Best Values list. There are also another five wines on the list that all have lots of Bonus AirMiles (BAMs) for the next 4 weeks, making them a little more attractive.

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

The discount period runs until August 14th.  So don’t hesitate. Thanks to WineAlign’s inventory tracking, I can assure you that there were stocks available, when we published, of every wine that I highlight.

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

Reds

Tini Sangiovese 2014, Romagna, Italy ($7.75) – This is a drinkable soft clean Italian red for pizza, pasta and risotto. It is dry and fruity with enough tannin and acidity for balance and very decent length considering the price. The finish is a little lean and a bit tart, but for the money, not bad.

Running With Bulls Tempranillo 2013, Wrattonbully, South Australia ($10.95 was $11.95) Delisted – This is a full-bodied powerful fruity red with smoke and spice from oak and some herbal tones and a dash of raspberry jam. The palate is juicy and fully flavoured with a long fruity finish. Very good length. Drink cautiously before running with bulls. Over 800 bottles remain.

Boschendal The Pavillion Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($12.05) – A very juicy full bodied red with an appealing nose and lots of fruit that is balanced by soft tannin and soft acidity. Good focus and very good length. Try with lamb kebabs.

Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2014, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($12.95 + 8 BAMs) – This is a pure fresh elegant wine with complexity and structure that usually costs a lot more. It has a youthful nose and very even palate which is finely balanced with excellent length. Enjoy with fine cuisine.

Tini Sangiovese 2014Running With Bulls Tempranillo 2013Boschendal The Pavillion Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2014Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2014

KWV Cathedral Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Western Cape South Africa ($13.45 was $15.95) – This cabernet shows classic Cape minerality which lightens the palate and nose giving the impression of freshness. It is full bodied with excellent length. Try with a steak.

Argento Reserva Malbec 2014, Mendoza, Argentina ($13.95) – This is a big powerfully flavoured malbec with a freshness and elegance to nose and palate. It is very smooth, well balanced with a fruity dry finish. Try with a juicy duck breast.

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2014, Western Cape, South Africa ($14.10 + 8 BAMs) – This is deeply coloured red blend that is medium to full bodied with firm tannin which gives a nice edge to the finish. Very good to excellent length. Best 2015 to 2019. Try with grilled red meats.

Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage 2011, Douro Superior, Portugal ($18.10) – A rich powerful port with fresh sweet black berry fruit aromas with vanilla and floral notes. It is full bodied very rich with the 20% alcohol finely balanced by soft acidity. Try with hard mature cheese and dark chocolate.

Kwv Cathedral Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon 2014Argento Reserva Malbec 2014The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2014Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage 2011

Whites

Cavallina Grillo Pinot Grigio 2015, Sicily, Italy ($8.20) Grillo is one of my favourite Sicilian native grapes which, when blended here with pinot grigio, delivers a deeply flavoured well balanced white at a great price. It is fairly simple but well balanced with very good length. Don’t overchill and try with sautéed seafood.

Domaine Jean Bousquet White Blend 2015, Argentina ($12.00) – This is a very rich smooth white blend that is probably mostly chardonnay maybe with a splash of viognier. It is midweight and deeply flavoured with very good length. Try with roast white meats like pork or veal or rich mature cheddar cheese.

Goats do Roam White 2015, Coastal Region, South Africa ($12.00) – The aromatic Goats white is a blend of three Rhone whites grapes and  is quite classy smooth and flavourful considering its price.  Enjoy as an aperitif with pastry nibbles or try with roast poultry.

Domaine Chatelain Les Vignes De Saint Laurent L’Abbaye Pouilly Fumé 2015, Loire Valley, France ($20.30) – This is a very classy dry white that is crisp and elegant with a mineral core to nose and palate which is so typical of Pouilly-Fumé. It is 100% sauvignon blanc. Minerally rich and very elegant. Try with sauteed seafood.

Cavallina Grillo Pinot Grigio 2015Domaine Jean Bousquet White Blend 2015Goats Do Roam White 2015Domaine Chatelain Les Vignes De Saint Laurent L'abbaye Pouilly Fumé 2015

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

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

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

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

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

The Rest of Steve’s Top 50

Steve's Top Value WinesIn addition to the wines mentioned above, there are another 38 wines on the Top 50 list this month. So if you did not find all you need in this report, dip into the Top 50 LCBO and VINTAGES Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste.

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

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

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

Cheers!

Steve Thurlow

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

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


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Top Values at the LCBO (June 2016)

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

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

I spent the last week in BC with over 20 colleagues from WineAlign judging the 2016 edition of the National Wine Awards of Canada. Between us we tasted over 1500 wines in the competition plus many more at wineries we visited. It was a great exposure to the many good wines being made in Canada today.

I am now back in Ontario and am pleased to tell you that it is another exciting month for my Top 50 Best Values with twelve wines joining the list since I last wrote to you.

Some are de-listed favourites, others are discounted or have Bonus Air Miles that apply, making these wines even more attractive. I also write about some wines that are brand new to the LCBO. It is great when a wine is added to the system and, without any discounts, jumps straight onto the list. Bravo to the canny buyers at the LCBO.

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

The current discount period runs until July 17th. So don’t hesitate. Thanks to WineAlign’s inventory tracking, I can assure you that there were stocks available, when we published, of every wine that I highlight.

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

Reds

Running With Bulls Tempranillo 2013, Wrattonbully, South Australia ($10.95 was $11.95) Delisted – This is a full-bodied powerful fruity red with smoke and spice from oak and some herbal tones and a dash of raspberry jam. The palate is juicy and fully flavoured with a long fruity finish. Very good length. Drink cautiously before running with bulls. Over 2300 bottles remain.

Trapiche Malbec Reserve 2014, Mendoza, Argentina ($10.95 was $11.95) – An elegant fruity structured wine for fine dining. It is medium bodied and dry with soft mature tannin and well integrated acidity delivering a gentle velvety smooth palate. Try with roast beef. Very good length.

Running With Bulls Tempranillo 2013 Trapiche Malbec Reserve 2014 Solaz Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Solaz Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Castilla León, Spain ($11.65) – This is juicy vibrant clean red with fresh raspberry and red cherry aromas with good focus and very good length with an intense fruity finish. Chill lightly and enjoy with BBQ meats.

Santa Carolina Carmenère Reserva 2014, Cachapoal Valley, Chile ($11.95 + 8BAMs) – Carmenere is rapidly becoming the signature grape of Chile where they have now mastered this difficult grape. It is a dense powerful wine that is full bodied but still very juicy with ripe fruit and fine tannin. Very good length.

Santa Carolina Carmenère Reserva 2014 Ogier Cotes Du Ventoux Red 2013 Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2013

Ogier Cotes du Ventoux Red 2013, Rhone Valley, France ($11.95) – This is a soft spicy red with raspberry, grapefruit and cherry fruit aromas and white pepper spiciness on nose and palate. It is mid-weight with soft tannin and very good length. Try with a grilled lamb cutlets.

Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2013, Mendoza, Argentina ($14.10 was $14.95) – The Masi team that has crafted a savoury acid driven style of wine that is eminently food friendly. So do not expect mocha and chocolate laced ripe berry fruit; this is more Bordeauxlike than what Mendoza’s Uco Valley often delivers and I like it a lot.

Whites

Cavallina Grillo Pinot Grigio 2015, Sicily, Italy ($8.20) Grillo is one of my favourite Sicilian native grapes which, when blended here with pinot grigio, delivers a deeply flavoured well balanced white at a great price. It is fairly simple but well balanced with very good length. Don’t overchill and try with sautéed seafood.

Mascota Vineyards O P I Chardonnay 2014, Argentina ($10.95 was $12.95) – This is lightly oaked to give some added complexity and structure and very smooth with a mineral tone to the fruit. Very good to excellent length with a dry finish. Try with creamy pasta sauces.

Cavallina Grillo Pinot Grigio 2015 Mascota Vineyards O P I Chardonnay 2014 Domaine Jean Bousquet White Blend 2015

Domaine Jean Bousquet White Blend 2015 Argentina ($12.00) – This is a very rich smooth white blend that is probably mostly chardonnay maybe with a splash of viognier. It is midweight and deeply flavoured with very good length. Try with roast white meats like pork or veal or rich mature cheddar cheese.

Goats do Roam White 2015, Coastal Region, South Africa ($12.00) – The aromatic Goats white is a blend of three Rhone whites grapes and  is quite classy smooth and flavourful considering its price.  Enjoy as an aperitif with pastry nibbles or try with roast poultry.

Goats Do Roam White 2015 Lacheteau Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Malivoire Chardonnay 2013

Lacheteau Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Touraine, Loire Valley, France ($14.10 + 5BAMs) – This is an elegant flavourful sauvignon with good varietal character that is midweight and quite rich with lots of flavour and fine balancing acidity. Very good length. Try with herbed chicken.

Malivoire Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($17.95 was $19.95) – This is a very classy white with a beautiful soft creamy texture and vibrant zesty acidity that is finely balanced and midweight with the fruit graced by minerality on the finish. Try with mildly flavoured poultry or seafood dishes. Happy Canada Day!

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

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

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

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

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

The Rest of Steve’s Top 50

Steve's Top Value WinesIn addition to the wines mentioned above, there are another 38 wines on the Top 50 list this month. So if you did not find all you need in this report, dip into the Top 50 LCBO and VINTAGES Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste.

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

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

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

Cheers!

Steve Thurlow

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

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


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

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

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rest of Steve’s Top 50

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

Steve Thurlow

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

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


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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – April 2, 2016

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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

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

Buyers’ Guide: Smart Buys in White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buyers’ Guide: Smart Buys in Red

Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES April 2, 2016

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

Italy Report: 2012 Anteprima Amarone & 2014 Valpolicella

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


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Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Chardonnay 2012

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Bill’s Best Bets – March 2016

The March Cellier release
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Spring is around the corner and while we still have at least another month of winter before us, the SAQ seems to already be there. Over the past month I have been tasting a number of lighter reds, many whites and even a few rosés.

And that’s fine with me. While many folks prefer this style of wines in the summer, these are the wines I drink year round. So what’s new? Here are a number of suggestions from the recent Cellier New Arrivals, which put the accent on Italian wines.

Let’s start with the exceptional. Two wines from the opposite ends of Italy caught my attention, both made with grapes I’m sure few have heard about. From Sicily, grown in the volcanic soils of Etna, is Tenuta della Terre’s 2014 Etna Rosso. Nerello mascalese is the grape and fans of nebbiolo-styled elegance will rejoice. From the northern region of Trentino Alto Adige, Foradori’s 2013 Teroldego Rotaliano is one again, and the wine is a marvel of complexity. So mineral, and so drinkable at 12% alcohol.

Tenuta Della Terre Nere Etna 2014 Azienda Agricola Foradori Teroldego 2013 Mascarello Giuseppe E Figlio Toetto 2007 Albino Piona Bardolino 2012

Staying in the north, for those of you who love lighter styled reds, try the 2007 Mascarello Toetta. Made with the freisa grape, this shows a profile similar to nebbiolo – great acid and florals though less tannin. While most Valpolicella Superiore can be a bit bland, in the neighbouring appellation of Bardolino, Albino Pinoa raises the bar of what corvina and rondinella can achieve. Beautiful fruit without resorting to drying the grapes in a ripasso style.

If you want a ripasso, then look no further than Pra’s 2013 Ripsasso. Incredible elegance and finesse and a wine that will keep and age beautifully over the next 10 years. In many ways it shows as much depth and complexity as an Amarone. In a similar vein, the Tenuta Sant’Antonio 2013 Telos il Rosso will please Ripasso fans with a mid-weight wine that shows beautiful fruit.

Pra Valpolicella Superiore 2013 Tenuta S Antonio Telos Il Rosso 2013 Lungarotti L'U 2012 Tua Rita Palazzetto 2013 Borgo Scopeto E Carpazo Borgonero 2011

While Ripasso styled wines are more a modern version of Italian winemaking, Veneto is not the only place where one finds a hint of modernity. Under $20, both Lungarotti’s 2012 L’U and Tua Rita’s 2013 Palazzetto show how cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese can produce a wine that despite its international leanings, can still “drink” very  Italian. Equally interesting is the 2011 Borgonero from Borgo Scopeto E Carpazo. A blend of sangiovese, cab and syrah.

But nothing replaces the classics and two of my favourite wines were Cantina Zaccagnini 2013 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Fontodi 2012 Chianti Classico. Just enough fruit and brilliant acidities. These two have power and will sing best at the table.

Zaccagnini dal Tralcetto Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2013 Fontodi Chianti Classico 2012 Marco De Bartoli Vignaverde 2014 Domaine Cazes Le Canon Du Maréchal 2015 Alternatus Fiano 2015

If you are a fan of white wines, then one of the most unique whites I have tasted in a while comes from Marco de Bartoli. His 2014 Vignaverde is made 100% with the grape grillo and shows melony fruit with a solid mineral streak. Well worth the $26 price tag.

Looking for a great aperitif wine that will work well with lighter seafood. Then look no further than the 2015 Canon de Marechal from Domaine Cazes. Hard to find wine this much fun to drink at $17. One white that blew me away was Angove’s 2015 Fiano. Taken from its native growing zone in southern Italy, in Australia’s McLaren Vale it seems equally at home. Great texture and minerality, that’s what fiano brings and more Australian wineries should be growing it.

Bonny Doon Vin Gris De Cigare Rosé 2015 Château La Tour De L'evêque Pétale De Rose Rosé 2015 Le Pive Gris Vin Rosé 2015And as we are getting some warmer days, I have already started drinking rosé on my porch in the sun. There are three SAQ classics that in 2015 are showing why they are consistently, year after year, part of my drinking repertory. The Pive Gris, Petale de Rose and Vin Gris De Cigare are all up to the high standards they have set for themselves. So no need to wait until May to start drinking great pink wine, they are already here.

Spring is coming folks!

Bill

“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

CELLIER Premium Feature

For Chacun son Vin Premium members, we have something to make your CELLIER shopping even easier. If you look under the Wine tab in the menu bar, you will see an option for <<CELLIER New Arrivals>>. By clicking here, you will be brought to a new page where we have grouped all of the new release wines and reviews together by date.

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


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Castello di Gabbiano Riserva Chianti Classico 2012

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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Mar 19, 2016

Highlights from March 19th, Taste Ontario and Cuvée
By John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report shines a spotlight on local wines in the wake of two big Ontario wine tastings last week. There was palpable energy at the ROM for Taste Ontario, where an impressively large contingent of sommeliers, media and wine buyers had gathered to take the pulse on the latest Ontario vintages releases. I share some of my top new picks here. The 28th edition of Cuvée also rolled out in Niagara Falls last weekend, and Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel each select three of their most memorable wines from the gala tasting.

The March 19th VINTAGES release features yet more Italian wines. And at the risk of over saturating you with vino, I’ve picked out two irresistible bargains, a red and a white both under $20. Also included is a trilogy of smart buys from South Africa that has your dinner covered from bubbles to main course, and a pair of outrageous $13.95 values from the Iberian peninsula.

Taste Ontario Highlights: 2013s and 2014s 

This year’s Taste Ontario event featured mostly wines from the 2014 and 2013 vintages, with the rare early release 2015 thrown in. After the warm 2012 vintage, 2013 saw a return to more ‘normal’ temperatures on average, although with highly variable weather, with occasional disruptions caused by inopportune rains especially towards the end of the growing season.

Earlier ripening varieties fared best, and it has turned out to be an excellent year for the grapes Ontario does well most consistently, namely riesling and chardonnay, as well as other aromatic white varieties. For reds the top pinots are spectacular, refined and fragrant wines, while cabernet franc returned to its appropriate cool climate style, certainly a local strength. The harvest was the largest on record, so there will be plenty of wine to go around.

Many of you will recall the brutal polar vortexes of winter in 2014 – I recall some 20 days in February with temperatures below -10ºC, and many days well below -20ºC. It seemed like the winter that would never end (how much nicer has this winter been?) Grapes, of course, suffered, and it was a stark reminder to growers that Ontario’s climate is not suitable to the ludicrously wide variety of grapes grown here. Tender grapes like syrah, semillon, sauvignon blanc and merlot were reduced to next to zero crop in many vineyards, if not killed outright by the repeated pummelling of glacial polar air masses. Quantities, needless to say, were down sharply. The positive side is that there’s now a better appreciation of matching site to variety. Vineyards that required re-planting will presumably feature varieties more suitable to the site.

Bizarre, challenging, cool weather continued through the summer and harvest was later than normal, again favouring early ripening grapes – Bordeaux varieties, with perhaps the exception of cabernet franc, were tough to get fully ripe. Yet despite all the cruel inclemency of Mother Nature, many winegrowers managed to pull out some exceptional wines, especially whites (most of the ‘reserve’ reds have yet to be released), and to them, chapeau bas.

One thing was clear from Taste Ontario: the number of wineries producing excellent wines is clearly on the rise. Each time I turn around there’s another player with a great new addition to the Ontario wine scene, while established producers continue to maintain high quality standards.

Below are some 2013-2014 highlights:

Thomas Bachelder/Queylus

Domaine Queylus Cabernet Franc Tradition 2013 Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013Thomas Bachelder seems to have gotten it all right in 2013, crafting some of his best wines yet under his own label, as well as Domaine Queylus, the up-and-coming project for which he is régisseur – head winemaker and estate manager. His 2013 Bachelder Lowrey Pinot Noir, St. David’s Bench ($44.95) from a choice parcel of the well-tended and sought-after Lowrey vineyard is a gorgeous wine. After the more burly and structured 2012, 2013 conspired to yield wines of paler colour, silkier texture and more haunting perfume – this is just how I imagine Bachelder would like his pinot noir to be (or at least how I’d like them to be). This is toute en finesse, filigree and lacy, with unexpected but genuine depth and length, for fans of finessed pinot. Bravo. Best 2016-2023.

Over at Domaine Queylus, Bachelder’s Signature Pinot Noir ($29.95) is a similar though slightly more saturated garnet red, with appealing, candied red fruit flavours leading. There’s no wood influence outside of Bachelder’s trademark oxidative styling, and light tannins and moderate acids make this a wine for short to mid term ageing, best 2016-2020. The 2013 Domaine Queylus Cabernet Franc ‘Tradition’ ($24.95) is likewise the best yet under this label, a lovely, floral, fragrant, lightly herbal expression well within the classic varietal idiom, attractively priced. Serve this with a light chill. Best 2016-2023.

Rosewood

Still in the pinotsphere, the 2013 Rosewood Estates Winery Select Series Pinot Noir Niagara Escarpment ($21.95) is a rare sub-$25 value in this rarefied category. Varietally authentic pinot at this price is hard to come by, so don’t hesitate to buy several bottles of this high-toned, floral, pot-pourri-inflected example, crafted in an appealing, gently oxidative style for immediate enjoyment. Drink with a light chill over the next 2-3 years.

Rosewood Select Series Pinot Noir 2013 Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2013 Cave Spring Estate Cabernet Franc 2013

Cave Spring

Venerable Cave Spring Cellars quietly continues to make some of Niagara’s most reliable wines, and have been particularly en form in the last few vintages. Long time fans will not be surprised to see the 2014 Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV Beamsville Bench ($29.95) recommended here, the latest release of one of Canada’s most consistent and best, made from the estate’s oldest vines, the oldest of which have already celebrated their 40th birthday. It’s tightly wound and still a long way from prime drinking, but this shows classic styling, more stony than fruity, mid-weight but authoritative and palate gripping, with palpable chalky texture and great length. Revisit in 2-3 years, or leave in the cellar for a decade or more.

Also impressive from Cave Springs is the 2013 Cabernet Franc Estate ($29.95), a fine and floral, ripe and lightly cacao-inflected expression with delicate structure, lively but balanced acids and very pretty styling all around. In 1-2 years this will have fully digested its oak component, leaving a perfumed and silky wine in its place. Best 2017-2023.

2027 Cellars

2013 Wismer Vineyard - Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2027 Cellars Aberdeen Road Vineyard 2013Winemaker Kevin Panagapka has slowly been expanding the range of wines under his virtual 2027 Cellars label (made at Featherstone Winery). Single vineyard chardonnay and riesling are his strongest suits in my view, and 2013 in particular seems to have lent itself to his typically tightly wound, ageworthy style. The first edition that I’ve tasted of the Aberdeen Road Vineyard Chardonnay Beamsville Bench ($30.00), is just such a wine, aromatically reticent despite 18 months in wood, with loads of palpable extract and sheer density evident – a genuine, solid mouthful of wine. It has power and depth in spades, and needs another 2-3 years at least to unfurl. Best 2018-2023. For more instant gratification, track down Panagapka’s 2013 Wismer Vineyard – Fox Croft Block Chardonnay Niagara Escarpment ($22.95), a more open and notably toasty Niagara chardonnay with verve and energy. It’s a terrific value for cool climate, oak-aged chardonnay fans.

Malivoire

I don’t generally consider pinot gris to be a great white hope for Ontario, but the Malivoire Wine Company makes a convincing argument with the barely bottled 2015 Pinot Gris Niagara Escarpment ($19.95). It’s still a touch sulphury at this early stage, but shows excellent promise for near-term development. The palate is lively, vibrant, succulent and appealingly saline, with great acids and excellent drive through the long finish. Let it sit for another few months and crack for mid-end summer enjoyment, or into autumn.

Rosehall Run

Rosehall Run Ceremony Blanc De Blanc Brut Malivoire Pinot Gris 2015And finally, over in Prince Edward County, Rosehall Run enters the increasingly crowded local sparkling wine market with a strong release, CEREMONY Blanc de Blanc Brut ($34.95), made from pure County fruit. It’s a well-balanced, rich and flavourful sparkling chardonnay, made from evidently fully ripe grapes with high flavour intensity, yet vibrant acids and fine tension and energy. Length and depth are superb, and dosage is well measured.

Cuvée Highlights

The 28th edition of Cuvée rolled out in Niagara Falls last weekend, organized by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI). For the past few editions, the Cuvée gala tasting has featured a ‘winemakers choice’ – a wine from the portfolio of each of 48 participating VQA wineries, deemed special by the winemaker him/herself. Wines were paired with signature dishes from 12 celebrated local chefs at live cooking stations.

It’s more than just a drinking-and-grazing industry party, however. Proceeds from the event go to the Cuvée Legacy Fund, which awards academic scholarships and contributes towards industry-driven research projects. “Not only does Cuvée showcase the finest VQA wines to consumers, it helps the industry continue to grow by funding valuable research and scholarships,” says CCOVI director Debbie Inglis. That’s a reasonably good cause to wine and dine, a sort of virtuous circle of investment.

Beautiful Niagara Falls

Beautiful Niagara Falls

Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel select three of their most memorable wines below.

Cattail Creek 2014 Small Lot Series Old Vines Riesling, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($21.95)
Michael Godel – Cattail Creek’s 1976 planted riesling is one of Ontario’s oldest blocks. In 2014 Roselyn Dyck and consulting winemaker Steve Byfield let the vintage and the old vines speak for themselves. The result is nothing short of impossible, or remarkable.
Sara d’Amato – Produced from some of the oldest, if not the oldest riesling vines in Niagara planted in 1975 and ’76. With a steely, mineral character and a subtle and slow build of flavour on the palate, the wine offers exceptional elegance at a steal of a price. Bone dry, tart but not austere, this is classic Niagara riesling.

Fielding Viognier 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($25.95)
Michael Godel – In a Niagara Peninsula discussion of what grape varieties to plant and where, winemaker Richie Roberts has more than a vested interest in viognier. If the 2013 from Fielding Estate helped decipher the code of the how, where and why, this follow up 2014 speaks at the symposium.

Cattail Creek Small Lot Series Old Vines Riesling 2014 Fielding Viognier 2014 Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Réserve 2013 Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Noir 2013 Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Block 12 140 Syrah 2012

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Réserve 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($44.95)
Michael Godel – It’s a tale of two vineyards, the Grand Cru of Neudorf and the upstart Queylus. Two inexorable blocks, running west to east, spoken through the lens of Pinot Noir. The middle sibling in the three that are made at Queylus is blessed with wisdom and a tale of future memories created in the here and now. So very young, it is the strongest reminder that reconciliation takes time.

Thirty Bench 2013 Small Lot Pinot Noir, Beamsville Bench $35.00 (Winery Only)
Sara d’Amato – Grapes for the Small Lot Pinot Noir were planted in 2000 and have started to produce outstanding wines. Modern, peppery and floral, this is a pinot with a great deal of charm and character. Emma Garner really shows her prowess in this impressive vintage.

Rockway Vineyards 2012 Small Lot Syrah Block 12-140, Twenty Mile Bench, $29.95 (Winery Only)
Sara d’Amato – Of the many skillfully produced syrahs that were showcased at Cuvée, Rockway’s Small Lot Block 12-140 had the perfect blend of cool climate expression and modern, fruity appeal. Sophisticated and beautifully balanced with a punch of acidity brightening the rich, spicy palate.

Buyers’ Guide to March 19th: More Italian Wine and other Smart Buys 

Jerzu Chuèrra Riserva Cannonau Di Sardegna 2011 Terredora Di Paolo Loggia Della Serra Greco Di Tufo 2014Fans of distinctive wines should make a b-line to the ‘Other Italy’ section of VINTAGES and grab a bottle or two of the Terredora di Paolo 2014 Loggia Della Serra Greco di Tufo DOCG, Campania, Italy ($19.95). It’s an intense and characterful white, one of the best in the Terredora portfolio, and consistently one of Campania’s most impressive whites. This is all lemon oil and fresh and dried herbs, wet volcanic rock and fresh earth – distinctive to be sure, perhaps too much so to be truly widely appealing, a wine lover’s wine to be sure.

Sardinia’s version of garnacha finds a fantastic expression in the Antichi Poderi Jerzu 2011 Chuèrra Riserva Cannonau di Sardegna DOC, Sardinia, Italy ($17.95), one of the most characterful reds in the March 19th release. Revel in the spicy-earthy complexity with a whack of ripe, dark berry fruit, laced with Mediterranean scrub. A very tasty wine for the money, over-delivering in the category.

South Africa comes up big in the quality/value category, starting with the refined and toasty traditional method Graham Beck 2010 Premier Cuvée Brut Blanc De Blancs, WO Robertson, South Africa ($23.95), from one of South Africa’s sparkling specialists. It’s on the richer side of the scale, nicely mature now, with excellent length.

With the next course pull out the Vinum Africa 2013 Chenin Blanc, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa ($15.95), a wine made with care but following a more natural, non-interventionalist approach. Wild yeast, and no temperature control during fermentation shift this out of the simple and fruity category (and there’s a touch of acetic acid, but well within bounds) into a wine focused on texture, depth and extract. I’d decant this and serve at cellar temperature in large glasses alongside poultry/veal or pork – something substantial in any case.

Shifting to red, the Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof 2011 Syrah, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, South Africa ($24.95) is a classy and quite elegant, mid-weight, succulent and juicy syrah from arch-classicist Rustenberg. Tannins are firm and fine, acids lively, and the overall length and depth, and especially complexity, in the price category are impressive. It’s drinking well now, but will surely be better in 2-3 years.

Graham Beck Premier Cuvée Brut Blanc De Blancs 2010 Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc 2013 Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2011 Mondeco Red 2010 Olivares Altos De La Hoya Monastrell 2013

And over to the Iberian Peninsula for two outrageous values from opposite ends of the style spectrum. Fans of lighter and zestier reds need look no further that the 2010 Mondeco Red, DO Dão Portugal ($13.95). This is high-pitched and floral, elegantly-styled Dão, with light tannins, designed to be enjoyed now with a light chill. But if you’re searching for a more substantial red, than the Olivares Altos De La Hoya 2013 Monastrell, DO Jumilla Spain ($13.95) is for you. This has all of the masses of bold and dark, jammy fruit and abundant oak spice that are normally found in wines at considerably higher prices. Best 2016-2021.

Attention Trade – Taste Ontario! is coming to Ottawa

For members of the trade in the Ottawa area, you will have your opportunity to explore the latest Ontario vintages releases on Wednesday, March 30th at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. Please note that this event is reserved for hospitality trade and media and is not open to the general public. Register or find out more here: www.eventbrite.ca/e/taste-ontario-ottawa-trade-and-media-wine-tasting

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

johnszabosignature

John Szabo MS

 

From VINTAGES March 19, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All March 19th Reviews

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


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Pepperjack Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

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20 Under $20 in BC : March 2016

Spring is Springing 

With the cherry blossoms out, it sure feels like spring in the west. During this transition month from the wets of winter to the sun of spring, we’ve a mix of wines suitable for all moods, and climates. Charming, authentic reds and fresh, herbal whites seem to rule our selections this month, with picks stretching all around the globe. While providing great value, all are food-friendly and ready for drinking now, ideal for stocking up on for your Easter celebrations. 

~ TR

BC Critic Team

Anthony Gismondi 

Though Italy has been top of mind and tongue this past month, I’ve also been busy tasting wines from around the globe that typify great value, even on our market.

Delas 2013 Côtes-du-Ventoux is a spicy resin-laced 80/20 grenache/syrah blend of black cherry, licorice and light charcuterie notes. The juicy fruit finishes with smoky, savoury, tobacco flavours in the finish. Try this with barbecue ribs.

Spain and value go hand in hand on this market, and where else can you find a decade plus old well made red selling for $18? Monasterio de las Vinas Gran Reserva 2005 is a mature mix of garnacha, tempranillo and cariñena that delivers with soft, round, complex savoury flavours of tobacco, spice, old barrels and a bit of spicy fruit cake.

Another great Spanish red – this one five years younger and a few dollars less expensive – is the Castillo de Almansa Reserva 2011. A 60/20/20, monastrell, tempranillo and garnacha tintorera blend from Alamansa, this is matured in American oak casks for about a year. The attack is supple, the textures smooth with medium rich, juicy, smoky, spicy, plummy fruit flavours.

Delas Côtes Du Ventoux 2013 Monasterio De Las Viñas Gran Reserva 2005 Castillo De Almansa Reserva 2011 Backyard Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2013 BenMarco Malbec 2013

From here at home, Backyard Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2013 gives you a taste of BC’s highly promising cabernet franc grape, here highlightin the savoury red and black fruit, cedar and spice. Youthful and robust, this would suit a grilled piece of lamb (perhaps for your homegrown Easter).

Judging the Argentina Wine Awards last month reminded me about the fresh, bright, smartly-priced wines we do see on our market, like Dominio del Plata Ben Marco Malbec 2013. Ripe red fruits with a dash of blueberry and that typical but not overwhelming savoury undercoat, softly textured with spice, licorice and chocolate. A wine in transition (somewhere in the middle) from the old style to the fresher more mineral, red fruit, modern style. This was a gold medal winner at the 2016 Argentine Wine Awards.

Rhys Pender MW

I have been inspired by the recent Vancouver International Wine Festival for this months picks and particularly by many of the indigenous (or autochthonous as was the fancy word of the festival) grapes that are starting to emerge from the shadows to plunge wine students into further despair while giving wine drinkers an ever expanding world of interesting wine to enjoy.

Italy was the theme of the festival and that is where the first four picks come from. As you should always start things with bubbly, we will kick things off with a lovely Lambrusco. After a recent visit to Italy and through an obsessive desire to eat fantastic charcuterie, I have fallen in love with Lambrusco. And we are not talking the sweet, simple, red plonk you may have stereotyped anything with the name Lambrusco as, but rather the more serious side of this large family of grapes. The Medici Ermete 2014 Lambrusco Reggiano Frizzante is made from the Lambrusco Salamino variety and is juicy, savoury, slightly fizzy and beautifully dry. Just add Salami or Coppa and happy times are ahead.

Medici Ermete Lambrusco Reggiano Frizzante 2014 Attems Ribolla Gialla 2014 Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna 2014 Feudo Maccari Nero d'Avola 2014 Lovico Gamza 2011

The north-east of Italy is a bit of a hotbed of experimentation and another area falling in love with its native grapes. One of these varieties is Ribolla Gialla which can have a lovely floral and citrus, lemon scent. The Attems 2014 Ribolla Gialla at just $17 is crisp and citrusy and has some nice weight to make this stand up to some serious seafood dishes.

Another even richer white comes from the toasty warm shores of Sardinia. The Argiolas 2014 Costamolino is made from the increasingly trendy Vermentino grape. It is rich, ripe and honeyed while remaining dry. Great with heavy, rich white fish.

Still in the south but from the Island of Sicily comes a lovely Nero D’Avola from Feudo Maccari. The 2014 has ripe, sun-warmed berry fruits but finishes dry and savoury with some complex graphite minerality.

Sticking with the theme of indigenous grapes, I recently re-tasted the Bulgarian Lovico Gamza 2011 that I had written up more than a year ago. Still in the BC LDB stores and a great price of $9.99 it was delicious on a chilly night around a fire pit. Savoury, good fruit and just a great Monday/Tuesday wine.

DJ Kearney

Variety is arguably the most appealing aspect of wine. That grapes can transform into so many flavours and textures is an insane delight. These five bargain wines are made from eight different varieties, and each is an honest, workaday wine, made to give pleasure, relaxation and keep tasty food company.  Just what you’d hope for vino that’s under twenty bucks.

We all need more chenin blanc in our lives, and South Africa has some of the oldest preserves of this noble Loire grape. Painted Wolf The Den Chenin Blanc 2014 combines weighty fruit and lick-smacking acidity for bring-home sushi or melon and shrimp cocktail.

And perhaps we all need interesting Spanish whites in our lives too, like the snappy, lime flavoured Cal Y Canto Blanco made from verdejo, just made for take-out sushi or a salad of crunchy greens, avocado and cucumber. Built for richer food is Lopez de Haro Blanco 2014, an all vuira (macabeo) white with a kiss of oak, and the kind of sneaky creamy weight that will prop up roast chicken or an oozing, crusty grilled cheese sandwich.

Painted Wolf The Den Chenin Blanc 2014 Cal Y Canto Blanco 2014 Lopez De Haro Rioja Blanco 2014 Masi Bardolino Classico Frescaripa 2014 Cave Saint Désirat Syrah 2013

Think of Bardolino as a region that makes reds that are lighter, juicier and even more refreshing than next-door Valpolicella. Masi Bardolino Classico Frescaripa 2014 is so well named – fresh and lively and ready for spag bol or just classic pizza.

And finally, one of my favourite red wine deals is Cave Saint Desirat Syrah 2013, a confidently rustic wine from the Ardeche. It balances lean fruit with a rust/stone character for shepherd’s pie or merguez sausages and cous cous. 

Treve Ring 

You know when you find one of those value gems that blows you away and you’re nearly hesitant to tell people because you’re tempted to stuck up and drink it all yourself? Well – Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur Lie 2014 is one of those wines for me. From one of the region’s leading sustainable vignerons, this is organic, wild ferment Muscadet, aged sur lie in earthen vessels, buried in the ground to keep cool and rest (obviously no racking) until the following spring. Light pear, subtle earthy lees, river stone, white florals and a fine vein of saline-laced lemon. Stunner. Save me some.

I feel similarly about the 2014 vintage of Bartier Bros. Semillon. Intense and striking though lean and narrow, with lively, almost prickly acidity, the concentrated, oily semillon lends a textured generosity to the palate which is highly alluring. Tempting to drink now, but you will be rewarded over a decade in your cellar.

Domaine De La Pépière Muscadet Sèvre Et Maine Sur Lie 2014Bartier Brothers SemillonCedarCreek Pinot Gris 2014 Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier 2015

From further north Okanagan in east Kelowna is the 2014 CedarCreek Pinot Gris. Fresh and vibrant, pear, orange zest, almond, white peach and brisk acidity is bathed in savoury dried herbs and buoyed by a pillow of fine, creamy lees. This would make a great match for Easter ham. 

Shooting down the coast – a long way – are the vines for Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2015. The Manzanar Vineyard, less than 13 kilometres from the Pacific, is home to this snappy, brisk fruit, while three months on the lees increases creamy, voluminous texture.

A hop over to Colchagua Valley, is the unbeatable king of value on our market. The latest vintage of Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier, 2015, highlights the grape’s cold cream, guava, bright pear, lime oil and apricot, with a nuzzle of peach fuzz on the medium bodied, creamy palate. Pour with Chinese-styled seafood hot pot or pad Thai.

~

WineAlign in BC

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

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


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Gabbiano Chianti Classico 2013

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Rooting for Italian Wine

Gismondi’s Final Blend
by Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

It didn’t take a wine festival to understand Canadians love Italian wines but the recent love affair in Vancouver between consumers and the visiting throngs of Italian wine producers would suggest the bonds are stronger than ever. In fact, Italian wine sales are now number two in British Columbia and closing in on the USA. So much for those infamous west coast palates we are said to possess.

The truth is the Italians seem comfortable making wine and selling it seemingly effortlessly around the world. Maybe it is the way they dress – there is no denying they were the most stylish delegation in the room. Maybe it’s their labels – classic yet modern, understated but artsy and all the while projecting a mystery that makes you want to buy every one of them. It might be that accent that had consumers swooning at the booths.

Okay that’s whimsy but there is something magical at the moment about Italian wines and consumers appear to have picked up on it.

My guess is that it’s all about diversity. Be it the style of the wines, the wealth of grape varieties or an even more primal attraction, the way the wines taste. No matter the reason, the more diverse Italian wines become the more it would appear wine drinkers are attracted to them.

Then there is the food. Italian restaurants are thriving in just about every corner of the world, they all sell Italian wine and they have for decades. Most of us grew up with Chianti in the kitchen, first as a wine, then as a candlestick. Either way, Italian wine was never far away, and as mentioned, always present in those restaurantes italianos.

Imagine the future of Canadian wine if ‘Canadian’ restaurants were spread across the globe and if they were important enough to be part of a yearly top ten list in most major cities. Visibility and familiarity has to have played a role in the spread and success of Italian wine globally.

It’s been said that consumers are confused when it comes to wine. Too many labels, too many, producers, too many grapes etc., etc. Yet Italians can sell a wine like Barolo, which is a region and a commune, made from the nebbiolo grape, a name that doesn’t appear on the label and everybody gets it. As for needing something new to capture the imagination of wine drinkers. Barolo is Barolo is Barolo, made with same grape, from the same place for many, many years.

Tignanello 2013 Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna 2014But don’t take my word for it; you can seek out most of the following wines anywhere you live in Canada and embrace the modernity of Italy. That the wines are technically better now versus historically is a given, but you could make a case they are also more authentic now than at any other time in their life. 

Who doesn’t love vermentino, in this case Argiolas Costamolino 2014 Vermentino di Sardegna grown at some 190 metres above sea level. It isn’t chardonnay and it isn’t sauvignon blanc but it is the perfect, fresh white to pair with seafood appetizers in the garden all spring and summer.

At the Antinori Tignanello/Guado al Tasso vertical tasting one wine stood out above all others: Antinori 2013 Tignanello. We remember visiting Tignanello a few years ago when the folks at Antinori were saying they thought the 2010 could be greatest Tignanello ever. Make no mistake, it is excellent, but the 2013 has something more. Already more elegant than its many predecessors, expect a glass full of power with amazing vibrant, juicy fruit and elegance. Long and complex this is one of the finest young Tignanellos we have tasted. The wine made its world premiere at the festival and will be released at Vinitaly next month but you will have to wait a few more months for its release in Canada. (No worries, the 2012 is excellent).

Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2010 Castello di Gabbiano Riserva Chianti Classico 2012There’s a new flavour in Chianti Classico – red fruit – making the modern CC story more classic. I love the affordable and available Castello di Gabbiano 2012 Chianti Classico Riserva replete with its violets and supple manner. Can you smell the roasted chicken? As it turns out the festival was a great place to catch up on the state of Gran Selezione, the highest order of merit now accorded a Chianti Classico’s top wines. It signifies the top of the quality pyramid, sourced from the heartland of the historic region. It would appear after anecdotal chats with many producers that the anti Gran Selezione group is fading as consumers embrace the terminology.

In the case of the Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro 2010 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, it’s always been the top label at Ruffino, but maybe Gran Selezione makes it easier for everyone when they are shopping to know it is the top dog. Refer to the first part of this story regarding success in the marketplace. 

Italy’s sparkling wine was a big hit in Vancouver spanning all levels from Prosecco to Franciacorta. Two favourites included what Treve Ring refers to as the blinged out Bottega Gold N/V Prosecco Spumante Brut, and the Ferghettina 2006 Franciacorta Extra Brut. The former is sophisticated fun bubble, produced to order, via a single fermentation in the winery’s specialized pressurized cuve close tanks for forty days. The latter is a serious, structured bubble with Champagne aspirations. It is an 80/20 mix of chardonnay and pinot noir spending 69 months on its lees.

Bottega Gold Prosecco Ferghettina Franciacorta Extra Brut 2006 Adami Cartizze Dry Valdobbiadene Superiore

The Adami Cartizze N/V Dry Valdobbiadene Superiore sparkler grows in a 1,000-foot-high vineyard. The 107 hectares of vines are owned by 140 growers. Sounds like Burgundy, tastes like heaven. Like I said, the Italians get it on all levels and for the moment it seems consumers can’t get enough of Italy.

At the packed Vietti booth, consumers learned when the nebbiolo from declassified cru sites is aged for less than the minimum legal requirements it becomes a varietal, Langhe IGT. How good is the Vietti 2012 Nebbiolo Perbacco? Well, very good. True it’s not a Barolo DOCG, but the price and its stature in the glass suggest this Langhe red is a bargain to be enjoyed now.

The folks at Mastroberardino have been into old, indigenous grapes for quite some time. Preserving the past by bringing it back to the future was another important theme at the festival and is part of a more organised movement across Italy especially with the next generation of winegrowers.

Vietti Perbacco Langhe Nebbiolo 2012 Mastroberardino Radici 2008 Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria

The less is more, old might be better movement, is reflected in the Mastroberardino 2008 Radici Taurasi. The word radici means roots in Italian and the wine is a nod to winery’s mission to preserve the local grapes well adapted to Campania’s volcanic soils.

A little farther south, the folks at Donnafugata have nurtured a Sicilian treasure also grown in volcanic soils. The grape is zibbibo and the Donnafugata 2011 Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria is a sweet breath of Mediterranean air.

Our own John Szabo has just reported on the latest from Brunello and the return of the sangiovese to its most attractive form. But did you know on the other side of the Apennines the growers of Emilia-Romagna claim to have sent the sangiovese to Tuscany?

Italy is steeped in history and it stretches from the past to the future, history to modernity, which is probably why we all like it so much.

Salute!

 

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


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Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico

 

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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Mar 5, 2016

“TreMonti” Italian Anteprime, 2010 Brunello, and More.
By John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Each year, wine regions throughout Italy organize tastings to showcase the latest vintage released to market, called anteprime, the Italian equivalent of Bordeaux’s en primeur tasting, with the one difference being that in many, but not all cases, wines are already finished and in bottle. In this week’s report I cover the best new releases from the “TreMonti”, the trilogy of central Italian hill top towns of Montalcino for 2011 Brunello (by law, Brunello must be cellared five years before release), 2013 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and 2012 Sagrantino from Montefalco in Umbria.

The VINTAGES March 5th release features California, already covered last week by David, as well as mini-feature of 2010 Brunello di Montalcino, rated a five star vintage by the Consorzio di Brunello. The collection on offer is modest, though includes one superlative wine. I’ve also picked out five smart buys from the rest of the release, with some great wines on offer from Spain, France, and Oregon. Read on for all of the details.

Benvenuto Brunello 2016

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Brunello do Montalcino DOC in 1966 (DOCG as of 1980), and it would be hard to overstate the meteoric rise of Brunello in the ensuing years. From one of Siena province’s poorest communes at the beginning of the 19th century – a rural backwater of woods, mixed agriculture, honey production and wine sold by the liter in demijohns – Montalcino has become one of the wealthiest. And the success has been built almost entirely on wine and the gastro-tourism it encourages. In 2015, 1.2 million tourists clambered up to the charming hilltop town (population: 5,272) and surrounding hamlets, lured in large measure by the allure of Brunello di Montalcino, now one of Italy’s most famous wines. Read more …

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Like Montalcino, Montepulciano lives on wine. The industry drives 70% of the local economy. Some 2200 hectares under vine are farmed by over 250 growers (1300 registered for Vino Nobile), and bottled by 90 companies. Average production per estate is higher than in Montalcino, with 7 million bottles of Vino Nobile reaching the market in 2015. But exports are higher, representing 80% of turnover, of which a modest 2% is sent to Canada. Vino Nobile also celebrates its 50th year as an appellation in 2016, first official defined as a wine with “ruby red colour, dry, slightly tannic taste, a scent of violets, and alcohol content of not less than 12 degrees” (now 12.5%).

Vino Nobile had the toughest gig among the various anteprime this year, presenting the challenging 2013 vintage. Read more… 

Montefalco Sagrantino

Around the turn of the millenium, Umbria’s flagship native grape variety sagrantino was very likely not on your radar, nor even most Italians’ radar. I know it wasn’t on mine. Despite it’s 500+ year history in the region around the town of Montefalco in the region of Umbria (“The green heart of Italy”), by the 1960s the grape had all but disappeared. But Umbria, and Montefalco, are on the move. Tourism is up significantly. The number of producer-bottlers has risen dramatically in the last couple of decades, now numbering over 60. If a glass of Montefalco Sagrantino has yet to pass your lips, chances are that will change very soon. Read more…

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 5th: Brunello & More Smart Buys

Click on the link above to get the jump on the latest releases of Brunello from the variable 2011 vintage. A handful of 2010s are offered in the March 5th VINTAGES release, of which the Ciacci Piccolomini D’aragona 2010 Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($72.95) is easily the finest, and most expensive. It’s a classy and complex Brunello from the southern sector of the appellation near Castelnuovo dell’Abate, aged in large old cask. Despite apparent light and elegant styling up front, this has power in reserve, building layers of complexity on the palate and continually expanding. Tannins are ripe and silky but present in abundance, and the length is terrific. Aromas and flavours are faithful to traditional sangiovese, all bright red fruit and flowers, gentle spice and earth. Very fine wine, best after 2018 or hold until the end of the ’20s.

Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona Brunello di Montalcino 2010 Domaine Lafage Cuvée Centenaire 2014 Descendientes De J. Palacios Pétalos 2013

Among the miscellaneous whites in the March 5th release, the Domaine Lafage 2014 Cuvée Centenaire, Côtes du Roussillon ($19.95) is well worth a look. I rated the 2011 very highly, the last vintage to be released back in 2013, and the vines have only gotten older. As before this is a blend of Lafage’s oldest grenache gris and blanc, and roussanne, including some centenary vines (with an average of 90 years overall). It’s a lovely, perfumed, floral, fresh but fleshy wine, still a year or two away from prime enjoyment. I like the peach and peach blossom florality, the balanced alcohol and acids, and the fine, lingering finish. There’s lots of character here for the money. Best 2017-2022.

Spain delivers two fine values this week, the first, a perennial favourite and consistent value champion, the ever-delicious Descendientes De J. Palacios 2013 Pétalos, Bierzo, Spain ($24.95). 2013 is another fine vintage, and I’m also very happy to see the price holding steady over so many years when the past success of this wine might have demanded an increase. It’s just such a lovely and floral, succulent and appealingly dark fruit flavoured wine that it’s hard to resist. A streak of stoniness will engage the punters, while everyone else simply enjoys this fruity-savoury, saliva-inducing beauty. Best 2016-2023.

The other side of northern Spain is the origin for another old vine value, the Jardín de Lúculo 2012, Navarra Spain ($23.95). The wine may be young, born in 2004, but the vines are old, among the oldest garnacha bush vines in Navarra, pre-soaked and wild fermented, followed by half a year in mostly old barrels. I love the firm but fresh, structured palate and the spicy, liquorice and orang peel-tinged flavours. Tuck this away for another 2-3 years for maximum aromatic development. Best 2017-2025.

Jardín De Lúculo 2012 Faiveley Mercurey 2014 Scott Paul La Paulée Pinot Noir 2011

Pinot noir drinkers have at least a couple of wines to track down, starting with Faiveley’s 2014 Mercurey, Burgundy, France ($29.95), a wine that effortlessly captures the joyful, forward fruit character of the Côte Châlonnaise, offering lots of pleasure at a reasonable (Burgundian) price. It’s perfectly in line with the Burgundian style but with more approachable and up front red berry character. Best 2016-2022.

Scott Paul 2011 La Paulée Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon USA ($50.95) is a gentle transition to the new world, a wine with definite old world sensibilities. La Paulée is a blend of vineyards in the Dundee Hills, Ribbon Ridge and Chehalem Mountains, from three different soil types, made by the delicate hands of winemaker Kelley Fox. It’s a wine of considerable finesse and elegance, balance and restraint. There’s nary an overt sign of oak, while acids and alcohol seamlessly integrate and the finish lingers impressively. A lovely, silky, beguiling Oregon pinot all in all, and considering that Paul has sold the business to long time frined, and Fox is no longer the winemaker, I’d snap this up while it’s still around. Best 2016-2023.

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

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES March 5, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All February 20th Reviews

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


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Pepperjack Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

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The “TreMonti” New Vintage Report: Part 1 Montalcino

Montalcino, Montefalco and Montepulciano
Text, Reviews and Photos by John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Each year, wine regions throughout Italy organize tastings to showcase the latest vintage released to market, called anteprime, the Italian equivalent of Bordeaux’s en primeur tasting, with the one difference being that in many, but not all cases, wines are already finished and in bottle. This year I report on the anteprime from Montalcino for 2011 Brunello (by law, Brunello must be cellared five years before release), 2012 Montefalco Sagrantino, and 2013 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The articles are posted in three parts for easier access.

Part 1: Benvenuto Brunello 2016

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Brunello do Montalcino DOC in 1966 (DOCG as of 1980), and it would be hard to overstate the meteoric rise of Brunello in the ensuing years. From one of Siena province’s poorest communes at the beginning of the 19th century – a rural backwater of woods, mixed agriculture, honey production and wine sold by the liter in demijohns – Montalcino has become one of the wealthiest. And the success has been built almost entirely on wine and the gastro-tourism it encourages. In 2015, 1.2 million tourists clambered up to the charming hilltop town (population: 5,272) and surrounding hamlets, lured in large measure by the allure of Brunello di Montalcino, now one of Italy’s most famous wines.

Brunello's 50th anniversary of the DOC (Credit_Brunello Consorzio)

Brunello’s 50th anniversary of the DOC (Credit_Brunello Consorzio)

There were only about a dozen dedicated commercial bottlers in the 1960s. Today, that number has ballooned to 208, farming over 3,500 hectares (of which 2100 are registered to Brunello). Wineries are run by a mixture of farmers-turned-winemakers and wealthy Italian and foreign industrialists looking to cash in on the region’s growing fame. The explosion in production and popularity of Brunello is one of the wine world’s greatest success stories. And production is on the rise once again, with an astonishing 9,800,000 bottles of Brunello released for sale in 2015, up 17% over the previous year.

And the world is clamoring for it. 70% of the total production is exported (+2.5%), with 30% finding its way to US cellars alone. As one producer, who makes wine in Montefalco, Montepulciano and Montalcino put it: “we can’t make enough Brunello. Despite being the most expensive in our portfolio, it it’s the easiest to sell and always sells out first.”

Per capita, howver, Canada is the most thirsty for Brunello, absorbing an impressive 12% of exports, or some 823,000 bottles. This year the LCBO was awarded the consorzio’s prize for the best retail assortment of Brunello di Montalcino outside of Italy, underscoring the deep love between Ontarians and Brunello.

LCBO buyer Colby Norrington receives the award for best foreign Brunello retail assortment (Credit_Brunello Consorzio)

LCBO buyer Colby Norrington receives the award for best foreign Brunello retail assortment (Credit_Brunello Consorzio)

But such growth obviously comes with a cost. Consistent quality can’t be guaranteed in such large volumes, and the extension of the territory permitted for the production of Brunello di Montalcino, particularly in the 1990s, has come to included parts of the commune that the Consorzio’s founding fathers would never even have considered for quality grape growing.

The zone of Montalcino, some 40 km from the coast, has a varied geological history, reflected in the enormous variability of soils, not all of which are suitable for quality grapes. Various mixtures of clay, limestone, schists, marls and sands have their say on Sangiovese’s vineyard sensitive nature. But perhaps even important is slope orientation and especially elevation, ranging from barely 100 meters above sea level to over 600. This is especially important given the weather extremes, the alternation of relentless heat, drought stress and excessive rains experienced in different vintages, which are the new normal in the context of global climate change. When the DOC boundaries were drawn up, for example, areas above 600 meters were excluded, as sangiovese simply wouldn’t ripen that high up. That restriction was recently eliminated, a recognition that change is real and temperatures are increasing.

The original zone around Montalcino itself, ranging from about 350-450+ meters where most of the top historic producers have vineyards, is notably cooler than areas further south and lower down, near the towns of Sant’Aneglo in Colle and Sant’Angelo Scalo, a critical advantage in the increasingly ‘normal’ hot vintages. Another unofficial subzone around Castelnuovo dell’Abate, also in the south, however, is moderated by cool air descending from the ancient volcano Monte Amiata and includes a clutch of top vineyards. The heavy clays around Torrenieri to the northeast were thought so unsuitable by Brunello’s founding fathers that they didn’t even bother officially excluding them. Today dozens of hectares are planted there. It’s complicated. The creation of subzones has been discussed for years, but efforts have so far been thwarted by the sheer complexity of the situation – divide by soil? Elevation? Vineyard site? And the stakes are now too high.

Vineyards at Pieve Santa Restituta, south of Montalcino-4209

Vineyards at Pieve Santa Restituta, south of Montalcino

Vintage 2011: 4 Stars

The 2011 vintage highlights the variability of the denominazione, and the 4 star rating (out of 5) it was awarded by the Consorzio simply splits the difference between truly excellent and mediocre. Amidst the excitement over the 2015 harvest (about which respected oenologist Vittorio Fiore says: “I have seen over 50 vintages during my career, of which at least 40 at Montalcino and I do not remember any other vintage with such great balance and so productive for long-ageing wines like Brunello”), 2011 was a year of variability and extremes, where vineyard site trumped all efforts in the cellar to make great wine. Simply put, 2011 is the year of the vineyard.

This makes it a tricky vintage for all but the most savvy consumers who happen to know who has vineyards where. Triage is necessary. But the best wines are exceptional, perhaps ultimately not as ageworthy as the almost universally superb and powerful 2010s, but hauntingly beautiful wines nonetheless that will offer immense pleasure for the next 10-15 years. One of the main challenges was intense summer heat, and especially hot, grape shrivelling winds from the south. According to Gaia Gaja, “spring was normal – neither hot nor cold – but summer heat was problematic, especially two weeks in August with constant hot Scirocco winds drying grapes. There was little hydric [water] stress, but the upper parts suffered”.

Some wines taste hard, tannic and baked, as though they were made from raisins, which they probably were. Cooler sites protected from the winds, with higher daytime-nighttime temperature shifts, preserved life-giving acidity and freshness, resulting in beautifully perfumed and fragrant, fine, silky textured wines.

One positive general observation on the current Brunello scene was the evident shift away from excessive extraction, ripeness and obvious new wood that was far more commonplace in previous editions of Benvenuto. There seems to be a more universal effort to protect the delicate, perfumed nature of sangiovese, a grape that quickly turns to Ribena juice when overripe, becomes ungracious and hard when overworked, and is easily overwhelmed by oak. There are happily more pale garnet, fragrant wines with firm but delicate structure, the way sangiovese is meant to be.

Looking south to the Monte Amiata from Below Montalcino-4226

Looking south to the Monte Amiata from Below Montalcino

Below are my top picks from the 2011 vintage, out of 100+ wines tasted. Note that not every producer submits their wines for Benvenuto, and several notable estates were not available for review.

Top 10 2011 Brunello di Montalcino: 94+ points

2011 Salvioni Brunello di Montalcino

This is perhaps the wine of the vintage. Giulio Salvioni’s vineyards southeast of Montalcino sit at some 420 meters, with particularly rocky, friable marly soils. Brunello is fermented with natural yeast, aged in large botti (there are no barriques in sight) and are bottled unfiltered. The 2011 is spectacularly perfumed in the traditional style, while the palate is exceptionally elegant, concentrated, delicate, yet so deep and complex, with amazing depth and staying power, and outstanding length. It’s hard to imagine it getting any better, but sadly, prices have come to reflect this. Best from 2018. (98 points.)

2011 Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino 

Le Ragnaie has turned out an exceptional range of 2011s from their organic vineyards south of Montalcino, just below the region’s highest point at 662 meters. Fermentation in cement is followed by ageing in both 2500l cask and barriques for three to four years. My top pick is the straight estate blend, at least for now, very peppery and still on the reductive side, but wonderfully silky and delicate on the palate, fully ripe without excess, with terrific concentration and energy. This is on another level, with evident viticultural care applied to a great site. Best after 2020 (95 points). Le Ragnaie’s single vineyard Brunello di Montalcino ‘Fornace’, and the Vigna Vecchia Brunello di Montalcino are barely half a step behind, however. The former, from a site in Castelnuovo dall’Abate, is a polished and elegant expression, bearing substantial, ripe cherry fruit with superb staying power on the palate and supple but structured tannins and acids to shore up the ensemble. (94 points.) The latter old vine selection from the estate pours with the deepest colour and is notably hazy (unfiltered), but the nose is pure fruit in a lightly oxidative, open style, and the palate is explosively concentrated with palpable, chewy extracted. It has an extra measure of umami over the rest of the excellent range, though not as tightly chiselled or well defined overall. (94 points.)

2011 Mastrojanni Vigna Loreto Brunello di Montalcino

Gabriele Mastrojanni was a pioneer in the area of Castelnuovo dell’Abate when he bought his ridge top property in 1975, now one of the top unofficial subzones in the DOCG. The estate was sold to Grupo Illy (of coffee fame) in 2008, though quality is as good as ever. The Vigna Loreto is a real step up in depth and concentration from the basic annata, fullish, sappy, succulent and dense with exceptional length and depth. Tannins are firm and well structured and need a few years to relax, but this has more than enough fruit extract to see it through to perfect balance in time. Terrifically complex. Outstanding wine, best after 2020 (95 points). Imported in Ontario by The Profile Wine Group.

2011 Conti Costanti Brunello di Montalcino

6th generation winegrower Andrea Costanti’s historic Colli al Matrichese estate, with roots back to the 19th century, covers 12ha of vineyards between 310 and 400 meters planted on limestone-rich galestro. No single vineyards are made; all grapes go into the annata and occasionally a Riserva, aged first in tonneaux, then large cask. A perennial favourite, the 2011 is exceptional. It offers a very fine nose, complex, evolved, and complete, while the palate delivers exceptional extract and length, with explosive flavours beginning from a point, than expanding into infinity. The quality of tannins is brilliant – fully ripe, polished but structured. (95 points.)

2011 Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino

Vineyards of this venerable estate, established in 1962 by Primo Pacenti, are some of Montalcino’s best-situated, one parcel on the highest point of Canalicchio (320+m east exposure) and another on the famed Montosoli (southeast-facing), both northeast of Montalcino. The house (vineyard) style is one of finesse and refinement, and the 2011 shows tremendous elegance and fragrance, and beguiling suave and silky texture. Terrific tension and length hold this together perfectly, with haunting length – a beautiful expression. (95 points.)

2011 Caparzo La Casa Brunello di Montalcino

Established in the 1960s, and later purchased by Elisabetta Gnudi Angelini in 1988, this exceptional property lies north of Montalcino. La Casa Caparzo’s single vineyard cru on the marley Montosoli Hill takes a fine direction in 2011, with supremely fine-grained tannins in an ultra-elegant profile. Fruit is perfectly ripe, still fresh, with exceptional length on the palate. (95 points.) Imported in Ontario by The Case for Wine.

2011 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino

Piero Palmucci’s established his cult estate in 1989, but it was recently sold to former telecommunications engineer Claudia Tipa in 2011, so it’s too early to say if he will maintain the decidedly Burgundian style Brunello for which Poggio di Sotto is so revered. After several years of searching for the ideal site for sangiovese grosso, Palmucci planted 12 hectares of vineyards on relatively, high 200-400m, steep, south facing slopes with a view to Monte Amiata above the Orcia River, south of Castelnuovo dell’Abate. Palmucci researched, with the assistance of the University of Milan, clonal selection and planting density to maximize quality; vineyards have been organically farmed from the start. The 2011 is already quite open, high-toned, even lightly acetic, a wine of supreme finesse and elegance, but a polarizing style to be sure. This is as much like natural pinot noir as Brunello, with it’s ultra-fine grained tannins, light but firm, pitch-perfect balance, and excellent length. This is all savoury- umami happiness, with terrific persistence based on genuine concentration. I wouldn’t say this is one for long-term cellaring, so drink over the next 5-8 years or so. (94 points.)

2011 Tenuta Croce di Mezzo Brunello di Montalcino

The 4.5 vineyard hectares of Barbara and Roberto Nannetti are just off the road from Montalcino to Sant’Antimo. Wines aged in large cask and are crafted in old school style, perfumed and savoury/pot-pourri-inflected, in the finest way. The 2011 is lithe, elegant, delicate, a lovely refined wine, with terrific perfume and length (94 points).

2011 Ucceliera Brunello di Montalcino

Born in Castelnuovo dell’Abate, Andrea Cortonese, jumped at the chance to buy part of the nearby Ciacci Piccolomini estate, called Ucceliera, in 1986. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, just as Brunello’s wave was starting to crest. The style here is sumptuous and deep, powerful and concentrated, what could be described as more modern, yet one that doesn’t sacrifice sangiovese’s grace and savoury character. The 2011 is indeed very ripe, with wood and extract in the fore, but stays on the right side of balance, with excellent length and depth. There’s no doubting the care and ambition applied here in this expansive wine. (94 points.)

2011 Caprilli Brunello di Montalcino

Founded in 1965, Caprili’s vineyards belong to he former Villa Santa Restituta estate near Tavernelle, south of Montalcino, in the neighbourhood of Soldera’s Case Basse and Gaja’s Pieve Santa Restituta. The style blends the inherent power of Brunellos from this zone with an appealing traditionalism; fermentations are wild, and only large casks are used for ageing. The 2011 is ripe, dark and concentrated, fullish and rich, generously proportioned and with great flavour density and extract, not to mention exceptional length. (94 points.)

Also outstanding (93 points):

2011 La Rasina Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Franco Pacenti Canalichio Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Sesta di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Sesti Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Le Potazzine

2011 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Fonterenza Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Terre Nere Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Villa Poggio Salvi ‘Pomona’ Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Agostina Pieri Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Az. Agr. Martoccia – Brunelli Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Col di Lamo Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Fornacella Brunello di Montalcino

92 Points

2011 San Lorenzo Brunello di Montalcino

2011 La Manella Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Le Chiuse Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Le Macioche Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Piancornello Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Pinino Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Renieri Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Talenti Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Collemattoni Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Tenuta San Giorgio Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Villa Poggio Salvi Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Campogiovanni Brunello di Montalcino

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Like Montalcino, Montepulciano lives on wine. The industry drives 70% of the local economy. Some 2200 hectares under vine are farmed by over 250 growers (1300 registered for Vino Nobile), and bottled by 90 companies. Average production per estate is higher than in Montalcino, with 7 million bottles of Vino Nobile reaching the market in 2015. But exports are higher, representing 80% of turnover, of which a modest 2% is sent to Canada. Vino Nobile also celebrates its 50th year as an appellation in 2016, first official defined as a wine with “ruby red colour, dry, slightly tannic taste, a scent of violets, and alcohol content of not less than 12 degrees” (now 12.5%).

Vino Nobile had the toughest gig among the various anteprime this year, presenting the challenging 2013 vintage. The contrast was especially stark since my last visit to the Fortress of Montepulciano in 2013 when the excellent 2010 vintage was on offer, atasting provided some of the most memorable wines of the year and some of the best surprises, particularly when value is factored in (Vino Nobile sells for about half the price of Brunello).

But cool and rainy 2013 is another story, despite the 4 star rating awarded by the consorzio. In the words of one producer, the wines are “crudo”, literally raw, in other words, lean, sinewy and sometimes downright sour and sharp, short on flesh and charm. Yet as always, producers with the best sites and the most attentive viticulture produce consistently admirable wines even under challenging conditions.

Styles are highly variable in Vino Nobile, given the legal addition of up to 30% of grapes other than prugnolo gentile, the local biotype of sangiovese. And the list of recommended or authorized red grapes in Tuscany is long. Some wines are marked by the telltale colour and aromas of the cabernet family of grapes, while others hew much closer to the classic pale garnet, savoury-earthy character of sangiovese. It’s a question of knowing your producer. Yet one of the most appealing and pervasive features of Vino Nobile in general is their notable salinity, more common than in either Chianti Classico or Brunello di Montalcino.

Below are my top, finished and bottled picks out of the 44 wineries who presented at the anteprima; the top barrel samples are listed separately, followed by the top 2012 riservas, also presented this year.

Buyer’s Guide: Top 2013 Vino Nobile di Montpulciano and 2012 Riservas

2013 Tenuta Vallocaia Bindella “I Quadri” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

From the southern sector of the appellation, this parcel selection including 15% colorino, canaiolo and mammolo aged in tonneaux, is a nicely rustic, succulent, blood-iron driven wine with marked salinity on the palate. Tannins and acids work in tandem to create firmness on the palate; length and depth are better than the mean. Solid. (90 points.)

2013 Le Bèrne Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

The hillside vineyards of Le Bernè (from the Etruscan term verna, or ‘hillock) yield a subtle but classy pure sangiovese with old wood (large cask and 40% barrique) bright red fruit, and light cinnamon spice aromatics leading, while the palate shows real depth and elegance. Tannins are fine but firm, acids succulent, juicy, and balanced, and length and depth are genuine. This should be very fine in 2-3 years, and hold at least another half dozen after that. (90 points.)

2013 Palazzo Vecchio “Maestro” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

The wine from the majestic hilltop property of Palazzo Vecchio in the eastern part of the zone wine shows more ripeness and depth than the average in 2013, sappy and fruity, but also savoury, with a genuinely salty taste on the palate. Superiore length and complexity, too. I like the range of savoury, earthy-resinous notes. Quite distinctively salty. Sangiovese with 10% cannaiolo, 5% mammolo. Best after 2019. (90 points.)

2013 Antico Colle Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Evident wood spice and herbal-cabernet family aromatics lead off, despite just 5% merlot blended in– such is the delicate nature of sangiovese – but it works nicely nonetheless. The palate is mid-weight, juicy, with solid depth, length and ultimately complexity. This is juicy and pleasant, less aggressive than many of the 2013s. (89 points.)

2013 Gattavecchi “Parceto” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Gattavecchi is one of the historic names in Montepulciano, and the cellars in the center of town date back the Etruscan period, but the style is thoroughly modern. The Parceto selection is a riper, more forward and darker fruit-scented than the standard range from Gattavecchi, still in a more modern style, but with solid flesh and fruit extract to match firm acids and tannins. Length and depth are good to very good. Give this a year or two for toasty wood notes to better integrate. (89 points.)

2013 Lunadoro “Pagliaretto” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

This is fine and fleshy, relatively soft (but still very sangiovese-esque), with succulent acids and a nice volatile lift on the finish. I like the fruit character here, the fleshy morello cherry flavours; a touch of acetic acid adds complexity and lift. (89 points.)

2013 Boscarelli Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Boscarelli is a relatively small, 14.5ha estate established in 1962 on the celebrated Cervognano hill in the southern sectore of the appellation. The 2013 is a pretty, bright, red fruit-led expression, with fleshy, better-than-average depth on the palate. Tannins are still firm and puckering, but riper than the mean for the vintage. Classic sangiovese character (plus 15% canaiolo, colorino and mammolo), with solid length. Best after 2019. (88 points.)

2013 Tenuta di Gracciano della Seta Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

The Gracciano hills north of Montepulciano are one of the area’s historic crus, and the estate’s history stretches back to the early 19th century. In 2011 Marco, Vannozza and Galdina della Seta acquired the property from their grandmother and have embarked on conversion to organics and a low-intervention approach in the winery the results of which are already noted. The 2013 is attractive and bright, with tart red fruit, succulent acids and good to very good length and complexity overall. A firm, honest, balanced wine, if not expansive or overly complex. (88 points.)

Promising 2013 cask samples

2013 Fattoria della Talosa Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

This was one of the properties that most impressed me on my last visit to Montepulciano, and happily quality is still among the top in the appellation. Talosa was indeed among the first wineries to focus on quality, established in 1972 by Angelo Jacorossi, with historic Etruscan cellars right under the town’s main square. Attentive farming, simple winemaking and ageing in large old cask express the region faithfully. The 2013 is certainly quality wine, succulent, balanced, fresh and spicy, unusually fleshy for the vintage with very good length. (90-91 points.) There’s also an excellent 2012 Riserva in the pipelines from Talosa, still in cask.

2013 Tenuta Valdipiatta “Vigna ‘d’Alfiero’ Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Fullish, fleshy, concentrated and quite ripe, with abundant, still rough and sandy tannins that should integrate in time. Fruit slips seamlessly between red and black, and wood is not a significant flavour influence. Long finish. Tidy wine. (91-92 points.)

2013 Montemercurio “Messagero” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Another promising sample, fleshy and fruity, like a fresh morello cherry, black cherry, succulent and juicy, Alcohol spikes a touch but the fruit holds on. Tannins are slightly drying, but I think there’s enough fruit extract to hold it together. (90+ points.)

2013 Salchetto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

A promising result here in 2013 from Salchetto, firm in the vintage style, but not hard or shrill. There’s fine, fleshy fruit, mostly red, and limited barrel influence – this is all about the savoury red berry character. (90-91 points)

2013 Fattoria del Cerro “Antica Chiusina” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

A heavily toasted barrel-influenced version, crafted in a modern, forward, coffee-inflected style. Fruit is ripe and verging on jammy/candied, and the palate is thick. Concentrated to be sure, but certainly not excessively overdone, In a forward style nonetheless. This will appeal widely no doubt. (89-90 points.)

Top 2012 Riservas

2012 Avignonesi “Grande Annata” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Avignonesi is the biggest player on the DOCG with over 200 hectares, all the more impressive that owner Virginie Saverys has undertaken biodynamic faming since acquiring the property in 2009. Although the 2013 did not particularly impress, the 2012 riserva is a terrific wine, ripe, classy, complex, succulent and silky yet finely woven and taught. I love the firmness, the juicy acids, the savoury fruit character, the excellent length. Best after 2018. (92 points.)

2012 Lunadoro “Quercione” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

Resinous and closed off the top, but the palate is fleshy, succulent and deep, with expansive flavours and very good length. This is fine wine, best in another 3-4 years no doubt. (91 points.)

2012 Fattoria La Braccesca “Santa Pia” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

Antinori’s Montepulciano outpost, La Braccesca’s large, 330ha vineyard borders Umbria in the east sector of the DOCG. The Santa Pia Riseverva is generous and ripe, fruity and toasty example, modern in style but full of pleasure, with ripe tannins and marked but balanced acids. Wood could still use a couple of years to fully integrate, but this shows lots of promise for those seeking a more immediate and generous style. (90 points.)

2012 Il Conventino Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

I’ve been following Il Conventino for many years now, always a reliable name in the region, organically farming 25 prime hectares in the southern sector. The 2012 riserva is still somewhat closed on the nose, but the palate is nicely weighted, juicy, firm, without obvious wood influence, and mostly tart red and dark berry fruit and good to very good length. Solid. (90 points.)

2012 Le Bernè Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

A markedly woody wine on the nose, resinous, with little fruit currently on display, but the palate picks it up with considerable salinity and juicy acids. This comes across as a Rioja-like wine, woody, but light on its feet. Length, depth and complexity are indeed quite good. (90 points.)

2012 Tenuta Gracciano della Seta Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

A fleshy, mid-weight, succulent and juicy Riserva here, with old world styling, firm and crunchy acids, and very good to excellent length. This is a solid mouthful, authentically rendered, with solid complexity and expansiveness. (90 points.)

Montefalco Sagrantino

Around the turn of the millenium, Umbria’s flagship native grape variety sagrantino was very likely not on your radar, nor even most Italians’ radar. I know it wasn’t on mine. Despite it’s 500+ year history in the region around the town of Montefalco in the region of Umbria (“The green heart of Italy”), by the 1960s the grape had all but disappeared. But Umbria, and Montefalco, are on the move. Tourism is up significantly. The number of producer-bottlers has risen dramatically in the last couple of decades, now numbering over 60. If a glass of Montefalco Sagrantino has yet to pass your lips, chance are that will change very soon.

For most of its existence, sagrantino was used to produce sacramental wine, the favourite of local clergy for its propensity to produce powerful, sweet, long-lasting wines from partially dried grapes in the style of recioto in Valpolicella. The original name of the grape, as you may have guessed already, derives from sacrament, and until fairly recently was still called sacrantino.

But sweet passito styles had fallen out of fashion, and producing a palatable dry version of sagrantino proved to be a considerable challenge. The grape is most famous for being the most extract-rich variety known, by which I mean deeply coloured, but also especially tannic. Young sagrantino can be downright beastly, mouth-stripping, sucking every last once of moisture out of your desperately parched mouth.

It didn’t help that vineyards were set up all wrong to make dry wines, planted at low densities, and trellised to maximize production. The already late-ripening sagrantino never really stood a fair chance of reaching full maturity, and temper those fierce tannins. Yet when partially dried and fermented to leave some residual sugar, producers could balance the tannic excess and create intriguing bitter-sweet sacramental wines. But fermented dry, the wines were all but undrinkable.

Things started to change in the 1970s. Although not the first – Adanti and Antonelli were already bottling wines in the 1970s – Arnaldo Caprai is the man generally credited with reviving the fortunes of sagrantino. He purchased his property in 1971 and revived commercial production, shifting away from the sweet versions, virtually the only ones known in the period. But it was his son Marco who would raise quality and bring sagrantino to the world under the Caprai name after taking over the family operation in 1989. Marco set about revolutionizing production, undertaking multiple experiments with the help of the University of Milan with the goal of producing quality dry red wine.

The starting point was the vineyards. Caprai experimented with various trellising to determine the best way to reach higher and more consistent levels of ripeness (finally landing on cordon spur training), and higher densities, between 5000 and 7000 vines per hectare. Different vinification techniques were then explored. Counter-intuitively, Caprai found that longer macerations, 3-4 weeks or longer, actually had the effect of softening tannins.

As Filippo Antonelli later explains, “the highest percentage of tannins in sagrantino come from the skins and are released in the first 3-4 days of fermentation. So shortening the fermentation, as was done, say, in Barolo to soften nebbiolo, doesn’t work with sagrantino”. Caprai, Antonelli and others learned that extending the maceration after fermentation allowed the skins to re-absorb some tannins and colour, resulting in a relatively more supple expression. It’s also speculated that the skins eventually start to release proteins, which further soften the texture by adding supple mass.

Most producers today also agree that eliminate a percentage of the seeds during fermentation – source of the most astringent tannins – in a process called délestage, or rack and return is a critical step in production. Fermenting must is drained out of tank through a fine screen that catches the seeds, which are them removed before the wine is returned to the vat.

Barrel ageing remains somewhat contentious. Some producers like Caprai believe that small barrels, new French wood in particular with at least medium toast is key to softening sagrantino’s texture. His top cuvée, Montefalco Sagrantino ‘25 Anni’ is given the 200% new wood treatment, racked after a year or so from new barrels to another set of new barrels. It’s a wine that takes years, however, to come around in bottle.

Yet others firmly believe that large casks and time are key to softening and polishing the grape’s firm character. Newcomer Milanese Peter Heilbrun uses only large, 5000+ liter Slavonian oak casks for long ageing to great effect, his first vintages showing tremendous refinement and a perfumed, ethereal, almost nebbiolo-like character, a wine he loves and models his sagrantino after. Tenuta Castelbuono, owned by the Lunelli family of Trentino (owners of the successful Cantina Ferrari, producers of sparkling Trento DOC) also uses large casks exclusively for ageing sagrantino, yielding wines of impressive elegance; experiments with clay vessels are also underway, the aim being to allow critical oxygenation to soften tannins without the unwanted addition of oak flavour. Adanti uses both tonneaux and large cask to similar, excellent effect, as does Antonelli, whose experimentation has extended to both clay and ceramic vessels for ageing.

All in all, the wine scene in Montefalco is vibrant and developing rapidly. Riper grapes and better winemaking have radically altered character of sagrantino, launching it into the modern wine world. But make no mistake; these are still big, structured, highly ageworthy wines. Sipping sagrantino on the terrace is not counseled. Given the necessity of full ripeness, and the grape’s efficiency in producing sugar thanks to its large canopy and propensity to grow new, photosynthesis-effective young leaves, sagrantino under 14% alcohol is impossible to find. 15%+ is more common. As one producer put it: “drinking sagrantino without food would be unthinkable, preferably with roast lamb, wild boar or other game meat. Sagrantino is a veriety that leaves a strong impression.”

Most of the region’s 2000 hectares of vineyards (of which about 700 are sagrantino) are planted on predominantly heavy clay soils, with some more stony, limestone-influenced sites, others with more sand. Yet the relationship between sagrantino and vineyard site is not well understood. The next step for the region is to gain a better understanding of vineyards, and their influence on style. “The interaction between sagrantino and vineyard is not well known”, relates Antonelli, curiously, since his family has had vineyards in the region since the late 19th century. “In Montefalco, vineyards were never shared here as they were in, say Piedmont where grape traders understood what each site gives. Here, the hand of the producer is more prevalent. House style really drives the wine style. As for vineyard expression, it’s ground zero”, he continues. But with sufficient producers now producing and bottling quality wine, it’s a just matter of time.

Montefalco Rosso and Trebbiano Spoletino

A good entry point into the wines of the region is through Montefalco Rosso and Rosso Riserva, earlier maturing, easier drinking wines made predominantly from sangiovese (60-70%) with the addition of sagrantino up to 15%, and other permitted grapes up to 15%. House styles of course vary, but in general these are lively, savoury wines ideally suited for the table.

A special mention is due here to Trebbiano Spoletino, in my view the most interesting white variety in Umbria, and indeed the most illustrious grape within the large and undistinguished trebbiano family of grapes. There’s speculation that the Spoletino biotype is related to the Greco of Campania, and indeed there’s a steely, minerally edge coupled with impressive extract, making it uncommonly ageworthy among Italian whites as several older vintages have shown. With age, trebbiano spoletino acquires an unusual white and black truffle scent (dimethyl sulphide), and a kerosene like note reminiscent of aged Riesling (or Greco). Along with verdicchio, tebbiano spoletino is arguably central Italy’s best white wine. For top examples try Tabarrini’s ‘Adarmando’, made from vines over a century old, still trained up trees in the style that’s been around since Etruscan times. Examples from Perticaia, Antonelli, Le Cimate and the first release from Brocatelli-Galli are also excellent.

Vintage 2012

2012 is considered an excellent vintage for sagrantino. Yields were naturally reduced thanks to late frosts in April and May, which turned out to be a blessing over the long, hot, very dry summer. Lower crops reduced water stress, despite hot winds lasting into September. October rains rebalanced the vines, completing maturity without excessively raisined flavours, and harvest continued into early November. On the whole the wines are generously proportioned, fully ripe, full-bodied, with excellent ageing potential.

Montefalco Sagrantino: A Top Dozen 2012s

2012 Tenuta Bellafonte Montefalco Sagrantino

Milanese entrepreneur Peter Heilbrun makes an uncommonly elegant sagrantino, this 2012 cask sample showing sweet-fruited perfumed with no evident wood character, all red fruit and candied-floral aromatics, supple, ripe tannins and balanced acids. There’s a great deal of succulent fruit extract and the length is excellent. Sappy and fleshy, with genuine concentration and expansiveness, what you could call a Piedmont-inspired expression. (94 points.)

2012 Fattoria Colleallodole Milziade Antano Montefalco Sagrantino Colleallodole

Ultra-traditionalist Milziade Antano makes big and bold wines, though his 2012 old vine selection ‘Colleadole’ selection appears lighter and slightly less rustic style then previous vintages. It’s still dense and full of concentrated ripe red fruit to be sure, but lifted by orange peel and floral notes. The palate is supple, ripe and wholly satisfying, and notably clean without wood flavours, and while alcohol is definitely high, it’s integrated in the ensemble. This could even be called elegant. (94 points.) The “regular” 2012 Montefalco Sagrantino is just a step behind equally deeply coloured and ultra-ripe, lightly volatile (acetic), but well within acceptable bounds, brimming with concentrated fruit and without obvious oak flavour. This should age very nicely. (93 points.) Imported into Ontario by Cavinona.

2012 Moretti Omero Montefalco Sagrantino Vignalunga

Moretti Omero is a fine discovery, an organic farm producing refined sagrantino since the early 1990s. The vineyard selection Vignalunga is an elegant, stylish, uncommonly supple sagrantino, immediately inviting and attractive, polished and modern, but alive, with high quality wood spice (aged two years in French tonneaux) (93 points). The ‘regular’ selection is very nearly as good, with a beautiful fruit expression accented with light wood spice, and perfectly pitched tannins. (92 points.)

2012 Adanti Montefalco Sagrantino Il Domenico

One of the original Montefalco producers bottling since 1979, Adanti’s lovely 2012 Sagrantino (cask sampl) is pale garnet, open, high-toned, and floral, with a touch of acetone but correct, and vibrant red fruit, like dried strawberry, with no evident oak (aged in cask and tonneaux). The palate is balanced and juicy, lively, firm to be sure but ripe, with attractive fruit and supple texture. (93 points.)

2012 Tenuta Castelbuono – Tenute Lunelli Montefalco Sagrantino Carapace

Aside from the stunning winery designed in the shape of a shell (‘Carapace’) by celebrated artist Arnaldo Pomodoro, the wines of Tenuta Castelbuono, certified organic from 2014, show a similar artistic touch, light, unmanipulated, focused on elegance, produced under the guidance of respected Tuscan consultant Luca d’Attoma. Sagrantino sees only large cask, and in 2012 the result is fine and fragrant, spicy and complex without exaggerated ripeness. This sports some intriguing herbal-resinous-peppery spice, alongside ripe, lightly dried mostly red fruit. The palate is med-full and well balanced, with relatively fine-grained tannins and long-perfumed finish. 2015 experiments with clay amphora and small tunconic wooden fermenters are very promising. (93 points.)

2012 Tabarrini Montefalco Sagrantino Campo delle Cerqua

Fifth generation winemaker Gianpaolo Tabarrini is Montefalco’s iconoclast, an energetic, outspoken winemaker with a contagious affection for the region and its native varieties. He was the first in his family to begin bottling in the mid-1990s. The full range is exceptional, and of the two single vineyard expressions of sagrantino, Campo delle Cerqua is the more elegant, crafted in a lifted, high-toned, floral style with fine-grained tannins all in all, and relatively higher acids. It’s one of the top 2012s to be sure, still heavily extracted, dense, dark concentrated, massive, in need of many years in bottle. (93 points.) Colle alle Macchie, a warmer site, is an unapologetically massive and bruising wine, but remarkable all the same. (93 points.) Imported into Ontario by Trialto Wine Group.

2012 Romanelli Montefalco Sagrantino Medeo

Devis Romanelli is a young, ambitious producer, who’s first bottled vintage was 2008. The aim from the start was to produce rich, supple, very ripe sagrantino in a more polished and modern style. He farms organically but has not sought certification (his olive groves are certified organic), Medeo is a vineyard selection from his 8 hectares, a parcel which, according Romanelli, shows more balanced and consistent maturity, first bottled in 2011. The 2012 is a great leap forward, however, offering better fruit quality and less obvious wood (the 2011 was all new wood; the 2012 includes a percentage of old wood), and dense and rich, powerful and concentrated palate. Tannins are ultra-abundant but fully ripe, palate coating, bolstered by succulent acids. Excellent length. The top in Romanelli’s range. (93 points.)

2012 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Sagrantino ’25 Anni’

The top sagrantino selection from Marco Caprai, 25 Anni is generally produced from the same plot each year, but not systematically a vineyard selection. Since this wine was first made in 1993 (when celebrating 25 years of winemaking), Caprai’s vineyards have expanded considerably, now c. 140 hectares; the oldest of which were planted in 1989. It’s given the 200% wood treatment, moving to a second set of new barriques for half of the 28 month elevage. There’s sweet wood/cacao noted off the top – this is still extremely young – and dark fruit leads, with roasted spice and toasted wood to match. The palate is structured to be sure, but again the tannins are relatively refined, surrounded by abundant, fleshy/plummy fruit. Very good to excellent length. Sagrantino is surely one of the only varieties in the world that can handle this much new oak, for so long, without becoming overwhelmed, even if it’s not necessary in my view. Patience required; best after 2022. (92 points.) Imported into Ontario by the Stem Wine Group.

2012 Colsanto Montefalco Sagrantino

Colsanto’s lovely 2012 is deeply coloured with lightly baked/raisined/oxidative fruit, like red berry jam, with full, supple, texture, evidently high in extract, concentration and alcohol, and generously proportioned; a satisfying mouthful. Wood is not a significant factor. Pleasantly bitter on the finish (barrel sample, 92 points.)

2012 Terre della Custodia Montefalco Sagrantino

A clean and technically spot-on sagrantino, fragrant, spicy, red fruit-inflected, attractively complex, without obvious oak aromatics. The palate is balanced-mid-weight, with fine, black pepper spice, firm but fine-grained tannins, abundant but neither overly plush nor hard, rather refined all in all. A fine wine, hitting the right place between regional/traditional, and widely appealing. (Barrel sample, 92 points.)

2012 Fratelli Pardi Montefalco Sagrantino

This is intriguingly spiced, like an incense-infused church interior, with a light black pepper note and abundant ripe but fresh dark fruit. The palate is relatively suave and fleshy, with no apparent barrique influence (although aged for 18 months in barrel), just plenty of succulent red and black fruit character. Fine, supple tannins, relatively, concentrated and fully ripe, are in balance, albeit on a massive frame. (91 points.)

2012 Il Colle di Saragnano Montefalco Sagrantino

This is a refined and elegant, fullish, supple, concentrated and clean sagrantino, with no apparent oak flavours, or at least very well integrated into the ensemble. High alcohol accompanies ripe tannins and slightly jammy flavours, and overall this works very nicely. (91 points.)

Top Current Releases/Older Vintages

2006 Antonelli Sagrantino Montefalco Chiusa di Pannone

Antonelli is a reference for the region, crafting uncommonly delicate and refined wines across the board, from the former property of the Archbishop of Spoleto, in the family since the late 19th century. Chiusa di Pannone is Antonelli’s excellent single vineyard expression of sagrantino, from the highest elevation vines on the property at 400m, facing southeast, the first high-density planting on the property in the early 1990s. It’s given more time in wood and bottle before release. This is downright succulent and elegant; tannins are really fine and tightly knit. Excellent length. Perfumed, classy. A top example.  (94 points.) Imported into Ontario by Cavinona.

2010 Antonelli Sagrantino Montefalco

Open, perfumed and elegant on the nose, pleasantly peppery and spicy, with wood a minor influence. The palate is balanced and elegant, with firm but not hard tannins, and lingering finish. Really refined and fabulously elegant, also unique and distinctive. 15% alcohol is perfectly integrated. (93 points.) Imported into Ontario by Cavinona.

2008 Tabarrini Montefalco Sagrantino Campo delle Cerqua

In the exceptional Tabarrini range, the Campo delle Cerqua is the more elegant expression of sagrantino, crafted in a more lifted, high-toned, floral style with fine-grained tannins all in all, and relatively higher acids. This verges on elegances within the massive and concentrated range of Montefalco, with outstanding length. This is superb wine. (94 points.) Imported into Ontario by Trialto.

2007 Tabarrini Montefalco Sagrantino Colle alle Machie

A warm site in a warm vintage, the Colle alle Macchie is an impenetrably deep, dark red colour, with a rich, prune jam like expression on the nose and palate, and massive extract and ultra intense concentration. This is a take no prisoners wine, with massive tannins coated in extreme fruit extract – a classic wine for the region, no apologies for its bruising character but remarkable all the same. (93 points.) Imported into Ontario by Trialto.

2008 Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Sagrantino

A marvelously rich and full-bodied, firm but not unyielding sagrantino, in the Pambuffetti family sine the mid 20th century. This is dense and concentrated yet neither heavy nor pasty, and while it may not have the flash and new wood styling of some of the more modern sagrantinos emerging from Umbria, this has ample regional and varietal character in an uncompromising style. Don’t expect soft and cuddly – this is authoritative and palate grabbing, with flavours that are slipping into the dried fruit spectrum, and loads of earth and wet forest floor notes. Very good length. A wine to warm the body on a cold winter’s night.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The “TreMonti” New Vintage Report: Part 2 Montefalco
The “TreMonti” New Vintage Report: Part 3 Montepulciano

Italy New Vintage Report Part 4: 2012 Amarone and 2014 Valpolicella

If you are the Canadian Agent for any of the wines mentioned, please send us a note to feedback@wineAlign.com with availability and pricing and we’ll gladly update our site.


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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008