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A History, a Lesson and a Tour…

Whites from Loire & Bordeaux
by Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

While Bordeaux may be better known for its classified growth red wines and the Loire Valley for Sancerre, both regions have long been producing white wines, across a range of styles. Dry white blends from sauvignon blanc and sémillon are found throughout Bordeaux and the “other whites” from chenin blanc and melon de bourgogne are common in the western end of the Loire Valley.

I revisited both regions this past spring after a long absence and many changes in the French and global wine industry. Although France is now again the largest wine producer in the world, with 46 million hectolitres (more than 6 billion bottles) in 2014, according to latest International Organisation of Vine & Wine (OIV) figures (see infographic @ Decanter.com), this news comes amid a decline in global and French wine consumption and the lingering economic crisis of the last decade. In spite of this, dry white Bordeaux blends and wines from chenin blanc are experiencing renewed interest among both wine producers and the wine cognoscenti around the globe.

What follows is a brief history of these storied and savoured white wines of the Loire and Bordeaux, plus suggestions where and when you can pair these whites throughout the winter season.

THE LOIRE VALLEY

Chenin Blanc, Queen of the Loire

Chenin blanc is currently one of the darling white grapes among sommeliers, due in part to the quality wine focus in places where it is widely planted like South Africa and the US, as well as along the western reaches of the Loire Valley from Blois to Savennières, where chenin reigns.

Chateau Angers Chenin vines

Chateau Angers Chenin vines

The Anjou region is south and southwest of the city of Angers, where Château d’Angers houses the hauntingly beautiful Apocalypse Tapestry series of the late 14th century. Here, 140 chenin grape vines were planted atop and within the fortressed walls as a testament of King René the First of Anjou’s interest in this noble grape. It is in this part of the Loire where chenin blanc, known locally as pineau de la Loire, is made into a range of wine styles including the fascinating dry Savennières, the long-lived botrytis-affected sweet wines from Bonnezeaux, Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume, and méthode traditionelle sparkling wines known as Crémant de Loire.

Chenin when it Sparkles

Bouvet Ladubay, of the adjacent Saumur appellation, has been making sparkling wine since 1851 when the family purchased eight of the hundreds of kilometers of underground tunnels resulting from excavations to build the Loire’s famous castles and palaces. These passageways now house the maturation cellars for the chenin blanc-based sparkling wines of the region. In the late 1800’s, Bouvet Ladubay was the largest shipper of sparkling wine in the world and has continued with a specialization in sparkling wine in a range of styles. In addition to a visit and tasting at the winery, visitors can get a sense of history and space thanks to a guided bicycle tour of their sparkling wine cave carved deep into the tuffeau limestone underneath the winery and vineyards. Bouvet Ladubay Brut de Blancs Saumur is a great introduction to this house.

While a number of grape varieties can be used to make Crémant de Loire, chenin blanc is the most common. Naturally, sparkling is well-suited to festive occasions but because crémant tends to be well-priced, it is also a perfect everyday wine and ideal as an aperitif. Crémant blanc matches well with seafood such as oysters and crab, while crémant rosé is a good partner for spicy Chinese dishes, salmon carpaccio and vegetable or meat terrines.

Dry and Complex Loire Whites

Beyond bubbles, chenin blanc is also responsible for the region’s impressive dry and sweet white wines. Domaine des Baumard, whose property has been in the family since 1634, produces a series (Clos de St. Yves and the Clos du Papillon) of dry, structured and nervy whites from the Savennières appellation, sweet wines from the Quarts de Chaume and Coteaux du Layon, along with Crémant de Loire – white and rosé, in both dry and off-dry styles. Like many estates in this part of the Loire, the majority (80%) of their production is dedicated to white wine, with sparkling comprising over half of overall production.

Others such as Pithon-Paille are newer to the scene and since 2008 have been negociants in addition to wine growers, producing predominantly dry white wines from chenin blanc, with a smattering of red from cabernet franc and grolleau. Although their production is small (approximately 7000 cases a year), they export slightly more than 50%; Quebec is their largest market with the 2010 Chenin Blanc and 2011 La Fresnaye available.

Chateau-de-La-Roche-aux-Moines---Coul-e-de-SerrantSavennières is also home to famed biodynamic producer Nicolas Joly of Château de la Roche-aux-Moines. Originally an investment banker in the US and UK, he took over the family estate in the late 1970s and produces just three wines: Les Vieux Clos from the Savennières appellation, Clos de la Bergerie from the Savennières-Roche-aux-Moines appellation and Clos de la Coulée de Serrant from the Savennières-Coulée-de-Serrant appellation, a seven hectare appellation d’origine protégée (AOP) of its own, under vine since it was planted by Cistercian monks in 1130 and belonging all to Joly. A vertical tasting of Clos de la Coulée de Serrant in the 1990s was my first Road to Damascus moment in wine, so it was a special treat to taste recent vintages and meet the man behind the wines. In recent years Joly has handed over much of the winemaking and management of the estate to his daughter Virginie.

The whites of Savennières show depth, concentration and richness and with higher levels of acidity, can definitely benefit from longer aging in bottle, These are rich, medium-to-full bodied, dry white wines, with no oak and a backbone of palate cleansing acidity. Because of this, they are well suited to hearty winter dishes such as fish in cream or butter sauces, grilled and roasted pork dishes or veal in a creamy mushroom sauce.

Maritime Muscadet

Just west of Anjou near the mouth of the Loire River is the Pays Nantais. This is France’s largest white wine appellation and the region known for Muscadet made from the melon de bourgogne grape. In contrast to the full-bodied dense whites of Savennières, Muscadet is lighter in body and style, displaying a tangy crispness and salty (some would say maritime) influence. Due to the process of aging on the lees or sur lie, many of the wines like the Château du Cléray Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre et Maine are crisp but layered with good complexity though often overlooked in favour of similar trendier wines like Albariño. A newer generation of winemakers, such as Rémi Branger of Domaine de la Pépière, are also making complex and age-worthy Muscadet using a combination of new and traditional techniques and lower yielding clones. Standouts include the Cru Clisson and Château-Thébaud, benefitting from older vines, stony well-draining soils, 2 to 3 years of lees contact and stirring.

BORDEAUX

Boosting Bordeaux

Bordeaux is an historic area for premier wine production in France. Unfortunately, this history also works to its disadvantage; the region is often thought of as being too complex, with too many appellations, and in the case of North American consumers, no varietal labelling to indicate what grapes are in the bottle. Though the region is better known for red blends, ranging from good value generic Bordeaux to stratospherically priced first growths, dry whites have been made in Bordeaux for centuries and outpaced red wine production up until the 1970s. Currently, dry white wine production represents around 8% of the total of AOP wines in Bordeaux.

As with other wine regions in France and throughout the world, the Bordelais are interested in attracting new consumers, in particular, seizing new-found market opportunities in China and throughout Asia. A new international promotional and branding campaign focused on authenticity, diversity and innovation aims to stimulate curiosity and a re-discovery of Bordeaux as a world reference in terms of wine quality and expertise. While much of the focus centers on the region’s red wines, there is a tacit acknowledgement that dry Bordeaux whites are not as well-known as they could be. Since consumers have globally embraced sauvignon blanc the goal is to promote the “original” white Bordeaux blends from sauvignon blanc and sémillon as exceptionally food friendly and emulated by winemakers from Australia to Canada.

Sauvignon blanc is the main white grape planted in Bordeaux (55% of all white plantings), followed by sémillon (34%) and muscadelle (7%). It is thought that sauvignon blanc originated in Bordeaux. Furthermore, the Faculty of Oenology at the University of Bordeaux, led by Denis Durbourdieu, has conducted extensive research on sauvignon blanc aromas and the ways in which viticultural and wine making practices can enhance quality wine production and aging potential.

Back to (Bordeaux) School

A good start to learn about Bordeaux whites, or any of the wines from this region, is by going to wine school. Bordeaux’s École du Vin de Bordeaux in the city centre is where professionals and consumers alike can learn about the region, history, grape varieties and winemaking, while tasting examples of the main wine styles.

Ecole du Vin Bordeaux

Courses at the École du Vin range from two-hour workshops to intensive multi-day technical courses that include vineyard visits and dinner at a wine estate. If you can’t make it to the École du Vin, check out their partner schools and global tutors and find out more information on their website.

Winter Weight Whites from Bordeaux

While most shift to heavy, full-bodied reds during the cold winter months, there is still a place at the table for the two main styles of dry Bordeaux whites. The first is the fresh and vibrant whites such as Bordeaux Blanc, Entre-Deux-Mers and Cotes de Bordeaux. These generally are unoaked, light in body and made to be drunk young with lighter lunchtime fair such as salads or grilled fish or platters of oysters from the nearby Bay of Arcachon.

The second style is the richly textured and well-structured dry whites from the Graves and Pessac-Léognan appellations. They tend to be medium to full-bodied, usually vinified and aged in oak and can benefit from aging as well as decanting when served. This type of wine makes a great accompaniment to creamy soups and fish in cream sauces.

A Sea of Lively Whites

Entre-Deux-Mers is a pretty region located between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, hence the name meaning “between two seas”. After Bordeaux Blanc, it is the largest appellation for dry white wines, which are made predominantly from sauvignon blanc with sémillon added for weight and complexity and muscadelle for aroma. Producers like Château Sainte-Marie also add some pink-skinned sauvignon gris to their Entre-Deux-Mers for mouthfeel and aromatics. Most Entre-Deux-Mers are fermented and aged in stainless steel, resulting in dry, crisp and fruity wines with floral and citrus aromas. They are meant to be uncomplicated and consumed within a year or two of release. Chateau Sainte-Marie Entre Deux Mers Vieilles Vignes 2013 is a more stately example, not to be missed.

White Graves and Pessac-Léognan

The region of Graves and the well-known appellation of Pessac-Léognan lie to the south of the city of Bordeaux, encompassing some of its southern suburbs and on the left bank of the Garonne River. While Graves is considered the origin of red Bordeaux wines, dating back to the Middle Ages, the appellation of Pessac-Léognan is a relatively new addition created in 1987. Both reds and whites are produced in Graves and Pessac-Léognan, with white grapes accounting for approximately 20% of the vineyards of the latter.

This is an area of powerful, complex and aromatic dry white wines that spend a considerable time aged in oak barrels and continue to evolve and deepen in colour as they age in bottle. Sémillon and sauvignon blanc make up the blend, with appellation rules stipulating that sauvignon blanc must comprise at least 25% of the blend.

André Lurton is the owner of Château La Louvière, one of the key figures driving change in the area and behind the creation of the Pessac-Léognan appellation. Château La Louvière was the first winery to use screw caps in Bordeaux and they currently bottle their wines under both cork and screw cap, depending on the market of sale. The Château La Louvière Blanc is predominantly sauvignon blanc, with a small portion of sémillon depending on the vintage. The 2009 is 100% sauvignon blanc and though barrel fermented and aged, manages to retain a crisp freshness set against a backdrop of spicy, toasty notes with good depth and finish.

Although plantings of sauvignon blanc are more recent in this region, sémillon vines and vineyards are considerably older, with some reaching 120 years of age. Château Latour-Martillac oenologist Valerie Vialard explained that only the sémillon portion of the blend will undergo skin contact during fermentation to extract more flavour and add concentration, a move that has proven great success. So much so that Denis Dubourdieu, consultant to the winery, is considered responsible for the widespread use of skin contact for sémillon for white Bordeaux wines.

Old Vine Chenin Chateau Latour Martillac

120 year old sémillon at Chateau Latour Martillac

Bordeaux’s Golden Whites

Not all of the white wines from the Graves are dry and lovers of sweet wines are likely familiar with the golden elixirs of Sauternes and Barsac. The same grapes used for dry white Bordeaux are also used here, with sémillon being the principal grape, since it is particularly susceptible to “noble rot” Botrytis cinerea. Due to the grape’s desiccation, the shrivelled grapes produce intensely flavoured juice that results in concentrated sweet wines. The yield is much lower than for dry wines and the production process more labour intensive; botrytis does not affect each vine or bunch at the same time or way, so wineries are required to hand-pick the affected bunches or berries by passing through the vineyard up to a half-dozen times to complete the harvest.

100ml Sauternes tubes Chateau Guiraud

100ml Sauternes tubes Chateau Guiraud

Sweet wine production here dates back centuries though most Sauternes producers also make a dry white, which takes the first letter of the name of the Château, such as the Le G de Château Guiraud 2013. Although the golden sweet wines are revered by wine lovers across the globe, sales and exports have shown a decline since the financial crisis. According to Caroline Degrémont of Château Guiraud, the effect of the crisis seems to have been longer for Sauternes because these were “the first wines that you stopped drinking and the last that you start to drink again”. To make the wine accessible and affordable, the Château sells 100ml “tubes” of Sauternes in their tasting room which go over well with visitors.

Holding a slightly different view, Fabrice Dubordieu, a fourth generation family member of Château Doisy-Daëne in Barsac, hasn’t felt the impact of the crisis as much. He believes that the “sweet wine consumer is not your average wine consumer and is less concerned with showing off and more concerned with pleasure”. Dubordieu also explained that “to create a market for sweet wine, you need to create a ritual around it and a ritual for the food served with it”. Seems like timely advice as many of these wines have intense flavours that shout out for rich foods that you might only eat on special occasions and holidays. Think about Sauterne’s classic pairing with foie gras or Roquefort cheese, the less conventional pairing with sweetbreads that I once had in Sauternes (delicious!) or with a roasted pineapple tart to end a meal.

With the long winter ahead there are many whites from the Loire and Bordeaux, dry, sweet and sparkling and in a range of price points that will make your winter a little warmer.

Stay warm!

Janet Dorozynski

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


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Behind the scenes at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada 2014

A Quality Affair

In June 2014, WineAlign converged on Penticton, British Columbia for the WineAlign 2014 National Wine Awards of Canada. For five full days the ballrooms of the Penticton Lakeside Resort were transformed into a world class stage to judge the country’s best wines.

We thought you might enjoy this insider’s look at what goes on behind the scenes of one of the best wine competitions in the world.

It’s as good as it gets!


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Championship Round: “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

Season 4 is a Wrap! Who will come out Victorious?

We have sadly come to the end of So, You Think You Know Wine? – Season 4.  This departure from the previous critic-against-critic challenge of past seasons was very exciting and full of energy. This time the competition had a game show/family feud feel with tasters battling against each other in teams, rather than individually.

Season 4 was certainly a big learning experience for us, as we had originally thought that working in teams would make it easier for the competitors to identify the wines. We soon discovered that teamwork is not always an advantage. We watched despairingly as the critics sometimes strayed from their first, and usually correct, instincts and wandered down a completely different path. But, we also saw teams almost perfectly guess certain wines, like in this, the final, episode.

Click here to watch The Final Round, as Raiders of the Lost AOC battle it out against Whole Bunch Press, or read on for highlights from the last round.

RaidersAOC

WholeBunch

Highlights and Score from Round #8

In the second semi-final round, the last-placed (or as Rhys reminds us, “4th place”) Whole Bunch Press faced The Inglorious Bitters, who were in first place. Whole Bunch Press were on the right track when they guessed California as the place the wine came from.  They said it had “the plush texture of California.”  Unfortunately, they guessed that the grape was Merlot, not Petite Sirah, and they thought it was from Sonoma, not Napa.

The Inglorious Bitters also had a tough time identifying Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah.  Because of the high alcohol level, and very ripe, almost dried grape notes in the wine, they concluded that it was an Amarone from Veneto, Italy.

In the end, Whole Bunch Press won the round and went on to the Championship round against the Raiders of the Lost AOC.

The scoring remains the same as past episodes, with points for Variety, Country, Region, Appellation and Vintage, and a little less emphasis on Price this season. After 8 rounds the totals are in and the Semi Final match-ups have been set:

So, You Think You Know Wine? Scorecard

 

Season 4 For those of you new to our video series, “So, You Think You Know Wine?”, we have saved all previous episodes under the Video tab.

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

So, You Think You Know Wine?

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

Previously on “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

Espisode 4.1: California Square Russian River Chardonnay

Episode 4.2: Louis M Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Episode 4.3:  Travaglini Gattinara

Episode 4.4: Finca Decero Malbec

Episode 4.5 Paul Zinck Eichberg Riesling

Episode 4:6  Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz Viognier

Episode 4:7 Semi-final #1 The Chocolate Block

Episode 4:8 Semi-final#2 Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah

 


Fortessa Canada Inc. Glassware sponsor to SYTYKW

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Ontario Wine Report: Cuvée 2014 and Brock’s Experts Tasting

This is the first of our monthly reports on Ontario wine by WineAlign’s Ontario-based critics.  Both Sara d’Amato of Toronto and Janet Dorozynksi of Ottawa attended the ever-growing Cuvée and Experts Tasting events earlier this month and file their reports. It was announced during this year’s event that Brock University’s CCOVI program will be managing this event going forward, with proceeds going into wine industry training and research programs.

Cuvée Winemakers Showcase Their Best
by Sara D’Amato

Cuvee 2014Set in the Grand Ballroom of the Niagara Fallsview Casino, this 26th anniversary of Cuvée event showcased wines from 41 different Ontario wineries and a solid group of critically acclaimed Chefs. What was particularly exciting for guests of this annual event is that they are afforded the opportunity to fraternize with all of the participant Winemakers and Chefs. In addition to the Gala event on the night of February 28th, “Cuvée en Route” allowed pass-holders to take advantage of “red carpet” or exclusive tastings at the individual wineries all through.

This year’s Gala followed last year’s format which allowed winemakers to choose only a single wine per winery to showcase at the event (despite some grumbling that the wines were not always chosen by the winemaker). Regardless, I’ve warmed up to this approach for a number of reasons. One wine per winery is much easier to conquer and keep straight – let’s face it, not all of us are critics who are spitting at this event. In addition, this format allows the winery to put its best foot forward and to showcase wines that often get overlooked, expressing some personality along the way. Finally, the atmosphere feels less competitive and much more convivial as it is free of the constrains of awards and “best of” categories of years past.

I did very much enjoy the amped up décor, grandiose feel and terrific food this year which included the likes of Chef Erik Peacock’s Lamb Belly Man Tao (who subsequently was awarded a Promote the Promoters Award at CCOVI’s Experts Tasting). Such offerings certainly deserve a resplendent setting – not to mention the lovely company, dressed to their nines. But enough about style and backdrop and on to the wines . . .

Cuvee 2014It’s no wonder so many producers chose to showcase their 2010 reds at Cuvée this year, as it was a warm, near perfection year for darker hued wines. But reds were not the only stars of the show – pinot gris was shockingly good. Chardonnay was also striking and both pinot noir and sauvignon blanc made a strong presence.

Despite some minor variation, the wines largely showed very well and the choices were smartly made by the wineries. I would have loved to taste every offering, but unfortunately conversation and a real time impediment always seems to prevent such a monumental task. It was great to see so many WineAlign members at the event as well. And I extend a special thank you to Dan Trcka from Grape Selections who has shared his photos with us. (You can view more of Dan’s Cuvée pictures and his event summary at: http://grapeselections.com/cuvee-2014/ )

All WineAlign Critic and member reviews of the winery offerings can be found on under the tag: Cuvée 2014.

Stratus Red 2010 ($110- magnum) This awe-worthy offering from the hands of J-L Groux at Stratus is a wine of immense complexity and impact. Still young and a bit tight, the palate shows notes of wild dried herbs, rose petal, black fruit, vanilla, cedar and tobacco. Elegant, balanced and superbly knit. This rich tapestry of flavour set on a sophisticated and carefully coaxed structure is sure to provide enjoyment over the next half decade and more. Harmonious and brilliantly integrated are the hallmarks of J-L’s assemblages.

Cuvee 2014Lakeview Cellars 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Niagara, Ontario ($29.95) A gold medal winner in the National Wine Awards of Canada, this rich, ripe and highly gulpable cabernet sauvignon is a testament to the fact that we shouldn’t give up on this varietal in Ontario. In a warm, favorable vintage such as 2010, cabernets can be showcased proudly as a single varietal bottling. Notes of blackberry, a little bramble and pepper make up the palate bolstered by firm tannins. Acidity is mild but present and pleasantly balances the wine.

Ridge Road 2013 Pinot Gris ($16.95) A mere six weeks in bottle and this lovely pinot gris is already starting to show its colours – literally speaking it is a pretty pink hue (as the skins of this grape are actually pink) but also boasts a really sensual aromatic profile that includes notes of peach, honeysuckle and rosewater. Just off-dry, elegant and nicely balanced. Medium-bodied with a food friendly attitude. Notes of fresh green herbs linger on the finish. Relatively new to the scene, Ridge Road came to be a winery in its own right in 2009 on a 100-year-old established vineyard site on the western extremity of the Niagara region in Stoney Creek.

Calamus 2013 Pinot Gris ($16.95) It would appear that 2013 was a terrific vintage for Ontario pinot gris. Here is a wonderful example of such elegance of this cool climate style – Alsatian in feel with just a touch of sweetness. Creamy with notes of peach, pear, honeysuckle and white pepper. Mid-weight with great balanced. Pretty, lingering and honest.

Peninsula Ridge “Wismer Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc ($19.95) A very impressive sauvignon blanc from the superb Wismer vineyard site. This harkens back to the days of Jean-Pierre Collas when sauvignon blanc reigned supreme at Peninsula Ridge. The winery is currently under the winemaking direction of Jamie Evans who has coaxed the maximum expression from these lovely grapes and has done so with a sensitive hand. The wine is hugely aromatic featuring complex and compelling notes. The palate is impressively succulent and nervy, fresh, classically built with notes of gooseberry, lemongrass and thyme. Clean, vibrant and with terrific length and at a very fair price.

Cuvee 2014Domaine Queylus 2011 Pinot Noir Reserve, Niagara, Ontario ($45). Domiane Queylus is a unique project spearheaded by winemaker Thomas Bachelder that has taken many years to come to fruition and involved good friends with a common goal. Without sounding sentimental, there is a great deal of love in this bottle. An impressively grand pinot noir that makes a real textural impression on the palate – with a feathered tickling of the tongue, the tannins are present but unobtrusive. Classically styled in the Burgundian tradition but with Niagara feel that brings a greater juiciness and a touch more lushness to the palate. Nicely ripened, the palate features notes of cran-cherry, sweet tomato, a slight smokiness and bergamot. However, the wine evolves so quickly in the glass that more is revealed with each sip – a wine to keep in your glass throughout the evening.  Should be very interesting so feel this evolve over the next 3-5 years.

The evening came to a conclusion with Sun Media Après Cuvée Party which saw most of the guests dancing the night away with Icewine & bubbles or sampling an array of local craft beer, charcuterie and cheeses. Cuvée 2014 proved to be another terrific celebration of VQA wines with a greater sense of camaraderie and local pride than ever before. For more information visit the Cuveé website at: http://cuvee.ca/grand-tasting and maybe we can meet there next year!

The Experts Tasting at CCOVI
By Janet Dorozynski

The annual Experts Tasting at Brock University’s Cool Climate and Oenology Institute is one of the highlights of the trade tasting calendar in Ontario, with this year’s 25th anniversary edition being no exception. Each year the tasting focuses on a particular theme, for example a wine style, grape variety or a specific region/appellation in Ontario. This is my ninth or tenth year to attend this annual event and I have to say that this benchmarking exercise is always very informative and instructive. It is a means to see how wines being made in Ontario fare against one another, as well as against the foreign wine ringers that are always thrown in.  Many of the wines are from current releases or vintages but we also get to taste back vintages which show the evolution and how each wines are maturing.

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

This year’s tasting boasted a record attendance of over 150 members of the trade, media and wine industry, with a bus load of Toronto sommeliers brought in courtesy of Wine Country Ontario and Will Predhomme, former sommelier extraordinaire at Toronto’s Canoe Restaurant and now wine guy about town.

The 25th anniversary tasting focused on grape varieties and wine styles that are noteworthy for Ontario and we had the opportunity to taste through flights of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and red blends from Bordeaux grape varieties. There was also the final “Wine Options” flight, based on the Australian blind tasting sport or a multiple choice test on the wines tasted, where we worked in teams to identify the grape variety, appellation, region or country of origin, vintage and price for five different wines. Sadly I wasn’t part of the winning table but we did put in a respectable showing with a final score of 85 out of a total of 120 points.

We started the tasting with a flight of Riesling “breakfast wines” with several stellar examples from Niagara and a ringer from the Finger Lakes. There were three Rieslings from Charles Baker, from the Picone Vineyard in the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation in Niagara, which is the farthest away from Lake Ontario at the top of the Niagara Escarpment and, some might say, the least forgiving in terms of climate and terrain. However, from what we tasted, Riesling seems to have found a home in this sub-appellation, with the slightly off-dry styles of Charles Baker Riesling showing great intensity, finesse and ageability.  The 2009 Riesling was especially impressive, with spicy citrus and pear notes, coupled with typical Riesling petrol notes and a long stony finish.

The Cool ABC flight, which stood for Appealing, Balanced Chardonnay, shone the spotlight on what many believe to be Niagara’s and Ontario’s signature white grape variety.  Most of the wines showed cool-climate deliciousness with good restraint of oak usage. Notwithstanding, the Kittling Ridge 2012 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay from Niagara Peninsula showed more generous oak with intense floral and citrus and stone fruit flavours in an overall appealing package.  And at $16.95, it certainly had many in the room wanting to have another look at a winery that was recently sold to Magnotta Wines.

Brock's Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute Experts TastingThe two red flights featured Pinot Noir and red blends, made predominantly from well-known Bordeaux grape varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  Pinot Noir, which we learned from CCOVI’s newest oenologist and scientist Belinda Kemp, is a decidedly “unfunny” (read difficult and pernicious)  grape in the flight  entitled “You’ve been Pinot’d”,  showed a range of aromatics and flavours, from light and floral red fruit flavours, to deeper, grippy dark berry flavours, depending on the vintage, site and of course, winemaker.  A contrast in styles and approach is evident between the Inniskillin 2011 Pinot Noir Reserve and Foreign Affair 2009 Pinot Noir, the latter comprised of 40% appaissimento or dried berries in the blend, resulting in dense dark fruit and intense flavours, while the former showed very enjoyable but leaner red berry and current flavours with fresh acidity and a long chalky finish. Most of this Pinot flight, and in fact, many of the wines tasted, were very good indeed, with many showing the range and diversity of Ontario wines.

The red blend flight put the question to the tasters – “are we on the right track?” and had us determining if Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Merlot was the dominant grape in the blend. With Merlot comprising the  dominant majority in a number of the blends, notably the Konzelmann Heritage Reserve 2012, Trius Red 2011 and Truis Grand Red 2010, which showed juicy and dense dark fruit, with the slightest hint of bell pepper flavours that could be coming from the Cabernet Franc or Sauvignon,  or from the Merlot itself.  The 2004 Meritage from Creekside Estate Winery and  2002 Henry of Pelham Reserve Cabernet Merlot, both showed remarkably lively flavours and intensity and are proof that Ontario red blends can be worthy of ageing.

The final “Wine Options” flight featured all the above varieties and red blends with a Lake Erie North Shore Syrah thrown in, an experimental bottling called North Shore Project, which is collaboration between Hinterland Wines in PEC and Will Predhomme, with fruit sourced from the vineyards of Colio Estates. The goal is to put LENS or Ontario Syrah on our radar and judging from this example, Syrah has a bright future in Ontario’s southern-most appellation.  Next year’s Expert’s tasting will focus on significant wine styles and emerging grape varieties in Ontario and I’m sure will prove as equally interesting as this year’s tasting.

In addition to an instructive tasting, the winners of the Promote the Promoters Awards were given out to recognize those who promote, in an exemplary manner, VQA wines in Ontario. This year’s winners included William Mancini, a product consultant from Toronto and a posthumous award to the LCBO’s David Churchill in the LCBO category; Erik Peacock, from Wellington Court Restaurant in the category of Hospitality; Shawn McCormick of UnCorkOntario.com in the category of Promoter-at-Large; Lloyd Schmidt, viticulturist and Canadian wine pioneer for Lifetime achievement and to Wine Align’s VP of Wine, David Lawrason in the Media Category.  For more information on the Award winners and a complete list of the wines tasted at this year’s Expert’s Tasting see here: http://www.brocku.ca/ccovi/outreach-services/experts-tasting

Editors Note: You can find our Critic’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


 

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A 2013 Retrospective: WineAlign Looks Back and Ahead

As the curtain falls on 2013 the WineAlign teams looks back on wines and trends that caught their attention and fancy in the past year. All with the perspective of course that they portend the future. We have assembled an eclectic, perceptive and incredibly well-travelled collection of men and women to review wines, so the range of ideas about what is going on out there globally is quite remarkable.

WineAlign’s Big Year

Before each writer takes the podium, a quick look back at WineAlign’s fifth year. It was the year of our great leap forward, crossing the one million mark in unique annual visitors (currently 1.35M and growing), and 55,000 registered users. We expanded from our Ontario base into full-fledged coverage of British Columbia, with linkage of inventories of the BC Liquor Stores and BC VQA Stores. Four highly respected voices from BC also came aboard: Anthony Gismondi and DJ Kearney of Vancouver, Rhys Pender of the Similkameen Valley and Treve Ring of Victoria. We launched two new wine awards – the National Wine Awards of Canada that attracted 1100 entries from five provinces, and the World Wine Awards of Canada, with a focus on international wine under $50, that also attracted 1000 entries. We released the fourth season of our blind tasting video series called “So, You Think You Know Wine?“, morphing into a more entertaining game show format with four teams. And we anchored all this from a new office in Toronto, managed incredibly well by Sarah Goddard who joined Carol Ann Jessiman, Heather Riley and Bryan McCaw as our fourth full-time employee in 2013.

There is still much to do and improve in 2014, and we have no end of engaged readers and staff who have ideas about how to make things better.  WineAlign is a melting pot of ideas, that at times feels like a cauldron. But the big news in 2014 will be the addition of four Quebec writers and the new French version of WineAlign called Chacun Son Vin. You will be glued to the musings of the Montreal Gazette’s Bill Zacharkiw, Nadia Fournier of Le Guide du Vin, plus veteran wine journalists Marc Chapleau of Montreal and Rémy Charest of Quebec City. And for the first time in the history of wine publishing in Canada there will be a truly national database of international and Canadian wine based on the inventories of the country’s three largest liquor boards – with more to come.

But for now, let’s hear what several of our critics had to say about 2013.

Treve Ring, Victoria

Winemaking Looks Back to Move Ahead – As I sit down to reflect on my 2013 in wine, one key theme sprints to the fore. Strikingly clear in my tastings this year is how much synchronicity I’m seeing around the world of wine. Not synchronicity in a mass-produced global commodity wine recipe (we’ve been there and done that), but synchronicity in goals. From travels through Canada to Chile to Oregon to France to Portugal to Germany I experienced a shared striving for authenticity, faithful trust in terroir and a contemplative and collective gaze backward, giving way to a propulsion of exciting winemaking forward.

Fouassier Pere Et Fils Sancerre Les Romains 2011De Martino Viejas Tinajas CinsaultWhether it’s using concrete (Okanagan Crush Pad, BC) or earthenware amphora at De Martino in Chile practicing biodynamic viticulture, (Johan Vineyards, Willamette), employing wild yeast ferments at Domaine Fouassier in Sancerre, or the natural, sans-sulfite wines at Marcel Lapierre in Beaujolais, there continues to be a heavy, pensive pendulum swing backwards to winemaking traditions of old. Before pesticides and herbicides, MOX, oak chips and stainless steel were invented, people were (gasp) making wine just fine; monks mapped soils painstakingly over decades, vines were treated with naturally derived preparations and grapes grew according to provenance, not fashion.

As Alberto Antonini, one of the world’s most influential wine consultants, as recently named by The Drinks Business magazine noted in Vancouver last week, “We have to free our minds of everything colonizing wine over the past 40 years” in order to move forward. “Those techniques make conventional wine. We want to operate with a free mind.” He’s excited by the potential in the Okanagan Valley, and working with Okanagan Crush Pad to start from square one, as it were, to make serious wine. “To make a wine with a sense of place is easy. To make it serious, is not easy at all.”

People take great care with what they’re feeding themselves. They ask what their free-run heritage chicken ate for lunch and where their heirloom runner beans were cultivated. But up until recently, I didn’t see consumers asking any questions about where their wines were coming from, how they were processed, or who made them. In 2013, I certainly felt a shift, started entering different discussions and was hearing new questions about origin, source and history. The three wines highlighted above are ones I tasted this year that typify this return to authenticity – stripped down and transparent – and are damn tasty.

John Szabo, Toronto

The Rise of Tempranillo and Iberia – What kind of wine can you expect to see more of in the coming years? Kym Anderson of the Wine Economics Research Centre at the University of Adelaide published an amazingly comprehensive report in December illustrating changes in global vineyard area by variety between 2000 and 2010. According to the report, despite the fact that Spain’s vineyard acreage is shrinking, tempranillo is the world’s fastest expanding grape (so who’s planting it?). And this year in Ontario, the Iberian Peninsula (Spain + Portugal) has been on fire, gaining 19% in sales over the previous years in LCBO-VINTAGES, the highest gains of any country. I would bet on seeing more tempranillo in 2014. And while there’s plenty of fruity, cheerful tempranillo, if you still have doubts that the grape should be considered among the top fine wine varieties of the world try Alion, Ribera Del Duero, for a sense of the potential grandeur. Alion is produced by legendary Bodega Vega Sicilia, and this should see its way through to the ’30s in a good cellar with ease. Great wine by definition should also be able to stand the test of time.

The Leaning of Chardonnay –  It’s been ongoing for several years, but 2013 saw lean, fresh, low oak chardonnays from the new world move from the fringe to the mainstream. In fact, the pendulum has swung so far that I’ve encountered many underripe, underoaked chardonnays, leaving me wanting for a few more days’ ripening on the vine, and longer in wood to add interest to otherwise dull, neutral chardonnay grown in the wrong place. But when the right balance is hit, it’s sublime.

Alion 2009Sandhi Sanford & Benedict Vineyard ChardonnayA representative example is the 2010 Sandhi Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills, California one of a couple dozen fine chardonnays selected by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Bonné for an international media tasting held in Sonoma in late September. Bonné’s choices were largely on the leaner side for California, highlighting the welcome shift to freshness. Sandhi is a venture launched by the Michael Mina Group’s sommelier Rajat Parr and Sasha Morrman, and this wine hails from the Sandford and Benedict vineyard planted in 1971 – one of the first in Santa Barbara. It’s fermented in 500l puncheons, an ever-more popular size, with only partial new wood, and while there’s a denseness and richness to the orchard and light tropical fruit flavours, there’s an equal measure of riveting acids to balance and moderate alcohol. It’s classy stuff if you can find it.

Ontario’s Red Varieties – Pinot noir and cabernet franc are most frequently put forth as Ontario’s best bets. But for pinot, with the exception of perhaps Prince Edward County, I’d say it’s as much wishful thinking as reality. There are of course many very good examples of pinot from Niagara, but in terms of sheer viticultural suitability and reliability, there’s mounting evidence that cabernet franc has the edge, and probably gamay, too, for that matter. But cab franc and gamay sell for far less on average than pinot, leading growers to try their luck with thin-skinned, rot-prone, difficult-to-vinify pinot.

Rhys Pender, Similkameen Valley

Sweet Red Wine – One of the amazing things that has happened in 2013 is the widespread success of Sweet Red Wines, sugared up with concentrated grape must. One can only think back to the days of Germany and riesling and how the dumbing down of the wines to chase the short-term sale resulted in an entire generation who thought riesling could only be sweet and simple. Sweet red wines are now no longer only the domain of California and Australia but starting to appear all over the world. Every marketer has their eyes on the impressive sales figures achieved by the likes of Apothic and Ménage à Trois and new brand launches are starting to come thick and fast. It will be interesting to see what the future for these sweet red wines will hold and if there will be any backlash further down the track confusing the quality of red wines.

Restraint Please – Even though the sweet red wine trend continues apace, a counter movement seems to be happening with a focus on restraint, lower alcohol and less obtrusive oak use. Throughout 2013, virtually every winemaker I talked to (about making red wine) shared these sentiments. It seems that bigger is no longer perceived as better and wines are and should continue to become increasingly drinkable. With the two diverging paths of red wine trends, maybe this would be a good time to have some kind of legislation instituted to give a separate name to those products with concentrated grape must added before bottling (or at least insist it is written on the label) and let wine be wine.

Janet Dorozynski, Ottawa

The Evolution of Grape Varieties – It’s hard to believe that 2013 is almost over and as I look over my tasting note books, with scores of scribbles on wines from across Canada and the globe, there are several things that jump out from the pages. First, it’s encouraging to see some regions or countries focusing on lesser known or fashionable grape varieties, in particular in the case of lighter bodied and juicier red grape varieties. In Argentina, more attention is being paid to Bonarda, which some are calling the country’s hidden gem and next red. Originally of Italian origin, Bonarda is fruit forward and with just enough tannins and acidity to make it highly drinkable but yet substantial enough to stand up to some Argentian beef. In the case of Chile, there is increasing attention to old vine Carignan from the Maule Valley, much of which was planted in the 1940’s and first started to hit the market as single varietal (or dominant) wines in the early 2000s. Although we still don’t see much old vine Carignan from Chile in the Canadian market, a recent tasting of the Canepa Genovino 2009 made me wish we’d see more in our market, as the vibrant fruit intensity and refreshing acidity make it a welcome change from other dominant red varieties.  And then there’s Gamay, much maligned due to its association with Beaujolais Nouveau, but which is also a highly drinkable and lively red, and in terms of some of the Cru Beaujolais, can be as good if not better than many red Burgundies, which cost much a lot more. I just loved the expression of gamay in Marcel Lapierre Morgon 2011. And while Beaujolais may be the heartland of Gamay, there is also great Gamay coming from Canada, California and New Zealand and I’m hoping that this grape will gain more momentum in 2014

Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2005Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2011Domaine Marcel Lapierre Morgon 2011Another positive development is the collective fine tuning of regional and country identities in terms of key wine styles or grape varieties. While individual business decisions ultimately determine what a winery will choose to plant and produce, we’ve seen the success and consumer recognition of New Zealand, Oregon and Austria with their respective focus on Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Gruner Veltliner. Similarly, regions like Burgundy, Alsace, the Rheingau and Mosel have highlighted their signature grape varieties for hundreds of years (though some would argue as the result of restrictive appellation laws which stifle experimentation and creativity), which created an identity for the region and understanding among consumers.

Closer to home, we’ve seen a focus on core grape varieties and wine styles in both Wine Country Ontario and Nova Scotia. While many grape varieties are grown in each province, Ontario highlights Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, alongside the internationally known flagship Icewine, with increasing attention to sparkling wine, which also holds great promise in the region. The concerted, collective effort has gained traction and recognition through events such as the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, as well as at tastings throughout Ontario and in London and New York, which have caught the attention of consumers, as well as accolades from the wine trade and media in both Canada and globally. Similarly, Nova Scotia has captured the attention of wine drinkers with its signature regional blend called Tidal Bay, which is a blend of various white grape varieties that is often greater than the sum of its parts. Nova Scotia is also keen to let Canadians and the world know that they are sparkling wine territory with impressive examples produced by Benjamin Bridge, L’Acadie Vineyards and Blomidon Estates. A pair of prime examples of what is great about Canadian wine includes Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2011 from Niagara’s Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation and Benjamin Bridge Brut Traditional Method 2005 from Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Valley.

DJ Kearney, Vancouver

Key events in Canada ­– Two noteworthy events happened this summer in Niagara and the Okanagan Valley that will help to draw continued attention to our regions and wines. The first, as Janet mentioned, was I4C (International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration) held in Niagara in July, attracting a serious list of producers, top-level dialogue and important cool-climate discussions and comparisons – in spite of the sweltering temperatures. Then in September, the 1st Annual B.C. Pinot Noir Celebration was staged at Meyer Family Vineyards in Okanagan Falls where selected local pinots were tasted beside global standards. Attended enthusiastically by local winelovers and media, there’s abundant interest and opportunity to turn this event into something important and enduring. Sparking debate and useful comparison, I hope these events grow from strength to strength. (see my reviews of Norman Hardie Prince Edward County Pinot Noir 2011 and Meyer Family McLean Creek Pinot Noir 2011)

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011Meyer Family Pinot Noir Mclean Creek Road Vineyard 2011Helping shine more light on Canadian wine was Stuart Pigott, well-known and well-loved Riesling crusader who raved yet again about Ontario Rieslings (it’s been 9 years since he first toured Ontario) and visited the BC for the first time (en route to Riesling Rendezvous in Seattle). He admired some of the Okanagan’s completely unique ‘bladerunner’ Rieslings like Tantalus, Syncromesh, CedarCreek, Geringer and Lang. The Wild West of his favourite grape impressed him on his first ever visit to BC.

Diversity and Change – There are two truths that occur to me when I reflect broadly on vinous things (and the New Year encourages reflection): wine’s greatest strength is its diversity; and that the only constant in wine is change. Variety and flux, one dependent upon the other. 2013 has seen a greater choice of natural wines on our shelves, and surely this is just the beginning of a burgeoning interest in wines made with few or no additives. The definition of ‘natural’ is problematic for many, as is the stability of some wines. And while interest and commitment to natural wines will surely evolve throughout 2014 so will the continued success of gigantic commercial brands. It’s paradoxical of course, but all part of wine’s diversity. But more of the natural and less of the industrial please.

Little Farm RoséJulia Kemper Dao BrancoQuinta Do Ameal Escolha White 2011Portugese White and Similkameen Pinks – Speaking of diversity, there’s been a happy leap in dry wines from Portugal available in Canada, particularly white. From the astonishing Vinho Verde spectrum, to characterful sparklers and producers who celebrate high calibre grapes like Arinto and Encruzado, there is so much to discover, like my favourite of the year, Julia Kemper Dao Branco.

We drank more rosé in BC than ever before, and my crystal ball (which looks strangely like a huge Burgundy glass) suggests that 2014 will see us drinking more pink – year round. Rosé consumption is predicted to grow by 45% worldwide over the next 2 years, and by 7.5% in Canada.

The Similkameen Valley with its stone-y, bone-y soils and persistent winds is a region to watch for top rosé. Orofino, Clos du Soleil, Eau Vivre, Little Farm, are some of the best. Drink pink – fresh, local, ideal with food and on-trend.

Sara d’Amato, Toronto

Change in the Wind – 2013 proved to be a tumultuous year with a great deal of consumer activism and outspokenness. With several editorials in the wine and mass media, and the “mywineshop.ca” initiative spearheaded by the Wine Council of Ontario, there was a great deal of momentum towards the need for more individual control for how and where we purchase our wine. The prospect of private wine retailers is now more tangible than it has been for some time in Ontario and the campaign for this fundamental paradigm shift will certainly see continued momentum in the New Year. Although this is still but a campaign, albeit one with a great deal of thrust, purchasing wine through a private agent is currently an outlet that consumers have in order to find wines that do not have places on the limited LCBO shelves. One of my top picks of the year: Musar Jeune White 2012, Bekaa Valley, Lebannon – represented in Ontario by 30 50 Imports.

Palatine Hills Neufeld Vineyard Meritage 2010Domaine Chante Cigale Tradition Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010Musar Jeune White 2012Wine’s Widening Appeal – For me, 2013 saw yet another addition to our family and made me further contemplate the elusive work-life balance. Often moving from very adult settings to more PG scenarios, I’ve been struck by the realization that wine is a topic of interest to a whole array of people who traditional shy away from discussing alcohol. Surprisingly, from mommy groups to post natal exercise settings to conversing with teachers, educators and bus drivers, conversations about wine abound. Folks are looking for ways to fit wine into their changing lives in a responsible manner, whether it be a post-workout mimosa, a play group wine tasting event or advice on wines to give birth by (most maternity wards now list “wine” on their items to bring to the hospital for post-delivery). Even the contentious topic of what is acceptable consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is making headlines like never before. So, for all the mommies and daddies out there who have worked so hard this year and deserve a break – here is an indulgent pick for you with the type of balance, that we as parents, aspire to:  Domaine Chante Cigale Tradition Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010.

The Great Canadian Wine Challenge – And finally, a shout out to our WineAlign Cru Member – Shawn McCormick (Uncork Ontario) who is one of the jump starters of The Great Canadian Wine Challenge which has experienced a response of unprecedented popularity. Canadian Wine Day was not enough for McCormick and counterpart Calvin Hanselmann and as a result of a Twitter discussion, the challenge, asking joiners to only open or purchase Canadian wine for one full year, was born. For more information visit:  The Great Canadian Wine Challenge or follow on Twitter @TGCWC. My contribution – a 100-mile recommendation that particularly turned my crank this year: Palatine Hills Neufeld Vineyard Meritage 2010, Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario.

Steve Thurlow, Toronto

My Best Value Wine – Throughout the year I write about Top Values at the LCBO, so my radar is set on quality/price ratio. This year I can’t think of a better value than The Wolftrap White 2012, Western Cape, South Africa. This wine is an elegant partner to the popular red of the same name. It is an intriguing blend of viognier with chenin blanc and grenache blanc. The nose is very stately with apple pie plus a hint of caramel, with baked peach, honeysuckle and nutmeg tones. The palate is rich with loads of flavour with the fruit sweetness nicely balanced by lemony acidity. Excellent length. Try with a mild curry or tandoori chicken.  Available in seven provinces across Canada.

Trapiche Terroir Series Malbec Finca Ambrosia 2010Ornellaia 2001The Wolftrap White 2012My Best Wine of 2013Ornellaia 2001, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy. 2013 was the 25th year in which this winery on the Tuscan coast has been making wine. To celebrate I was invited to dinner in Toronto on Nov 26th when I tasted many of the vintages of those 25 years. The 2001 was my favourite and, though several of the more recent years may well improve, on that day it was the 2001 Ornellaia that best showed the class of this estate. It was a deep ruby with little sign of age with a complex nose of black and red cherry with chocolate, interwoven with forest floor accents, vanilla, and oak spice. The palate had layers of the same flavours was midweight with soft acidity and firm tannin with a finish that seemed to last for ever. It is elegant, pure and amazingly youthful indicating that though this wine is ready to drink now it will hold for another decade or more.

Malbec from Argentina – Argentina makes a lot of very ordinary malbec. Few wineries have shown the same passion for excellence with this grape as has Trapiche. They have access to over 90 vineyards in different areas of Mendoza which are used each year for the production of their range of malbec wines. Since 2003 Daniel Pi and his team have chosen out of this collection the three best malbec wines from each harvest, produced separately in the winery, following the same wine-making process for their Single Vineyard Series. This project aims to convey the extraordinary potential of the vast array of Argentina’s terroirs for the production of malbec and to demonstrate that this variety can make truly great wine. I have been tasting these wines since the inception of this project. This year my favourite comes from a new vineyard to the program, Finca Ambrosia. Trapiche Terroir Series Malbec Finca Ambrosia 2010, Single Vineyard. This is an elegant complex malbec which is opaque purple-red with a very pure nose of ripe cassis and blackberry fruit, with chocolate, mild oak spice and soft minerality. It’s full bodied but has a lightness from soft acidity, very smooth and rich, with soft tannin. It is blessed with layers of fruit flavour and dark chocolate with perfect balance.

David Lawrason, Toronto

Biodynamics – Other writers have touched on this topic, but to me 2013 was the year that biodynamic wines firmly gained critical acceptance, at least among writers and wine enthusiasts. It is based on the simple fact that biodynamics makes better wine! Yes I still hear skeptics sneer at the burying of cow horns. It is actually quite practical for its purpose, but it has become a disproportionately powerful logo for a movement that has much more important things to say about good agriculture. The bottom line is that healthy soils build healthy plants that less frequently need feeding and curing through synthetics. After spending a week in Germany in August for an in-depth look at what’s happening there, with stats gathered from around the world, there is no doubt it is becoming a force, and an essential decision for producers and consumers who value quality, authenticity as well as environmentalism. This was one of my favourite and most affordable and succinct biodynamic wines tasted in 2013: Volpaia Chianti Classico 2010, Tuscany.

Blue Mountain Gamay NoirVilla Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2009Volpaia Chianti Classico 2010New Zealand Pinot Noir – At the very beginning of 2013 I spent three weeks in New Zealand, focused on pinot noir. I attended the four-day 2013 Pinot Noir NZ conference in Wellington, and travelled and tasted through every pinot producing region.  Of course there were some great wines, and some not so great wines. But in retrospect, I am now aware that I had been participating in something much bigger and perhaps more historic – a key moment the evolution of a new Burgundy. I am not going to draw all the parallels at this point except to say that I think NZ has same sense of terroir depth and quality potential. The evolution is at an early stage. There is a youthful rawness to the wines and the people – no end of passion, debate, inquisitiveness, and experimentation, which is all good and necessary.  But they are also insecure, afraid to demarcate and label appellations that are already showing in the glass. My cursory list revealed 22 possible pinot appellations. And the marketing types in NZ need to get out of the way and let winemakers and consumers follow the always intricate path that pinot is laying out for them. In more practical terms, if they are going to charge $50 or more for pinot (which is just fine by me when quality is commensurate) they need to tell people that its origin is guaranteed, no matter how microscopic. Here’s is a fine example: Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2009

Canadians Grow Impatient – In terms of the slow, grinding evolution of wine culture in Canada, 2013 reminded me of the years just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, when the cracks began to appear. It is of course the liquor boards – propped up by over 80 years of self-sustaining managerial bureaucracy and its unions – that are impeding progress. For most of that time public sentiment (fear) kept them in place. But the public is changing its mind, wanting more choice, price freedom and convenience, and they are increasingly aware this can be achieved without dire social cost. Many politicians are now also in favour. So pressure mounts against the monopolies, and there are longer and deeper cracks in our wall.  BC is reviewing its whole structure; Ontario’s Wine Council is lobbying for private stores that also sell imports; both the BC and Ontario gov’ts have now authorized wine sales in farmers markets; even Saskatchewan is poised to take another run at private stores in 2014 having recovered from a flawed previous attempt. For those who are counting Canada in 2014 will have five provinces selling a blend of Canadian and imported fine wines in private stores. Here’s a Canadian wine that should be sold, unfettered, from coast to coast. Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2012.


All of us at WineAlign hope that you have enjoyed our work over the last twelve months, and we promise a whole lot more in what will be a very exciting year ahead. Thank you for your support, and we send our very best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.


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Penfolds Grange 2008

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A Sparkling Countdown to New Year’s Eve (Part 3)

If you have not already bought your bubbly for New Year’s Eve take a look at this list of affordable sparklers that WineAlign critics have picked out for you. We know that 90% of the bottles will be popped in the 30 seconds before or after midnight, and that you will be more engaged in a heartfelt Auld Lang Syne than appreciating the nuances of these wines. But you can take our word for it that they offer great value. Our selections were in inventory in the Ontario, Quebec and/or BC liquor stores as of Dec 27, and many are in other provinces as well, with the vast majority under $30. For a rundown of luxury Champagnes see JohnSzabo’s article Luxe Bubbles for 2013 or explore the world of ‘growers Champagne’ with Treve Ring at Farmer Fizz.

Last Minute Affordable Sparklers

Canadian Sparklers

We lead off with Canadian bubbly, because – in case you have not been following along – it is emerging as a great ‘coast to coast’ wine style with fine examples from B.C., Ontario and Nova Scotia.

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Rosé BrutBlue Mountain BrutBlue Mountain Brut Gold Label, British Columbia

This elegant, lean, beautifully structured sparkling wine from a fine terroir and a pioneering wine family is worth seeking out. It’s reminiscent of good Champagne with a leesy/toasty, lemony nose, but shows its BC origins with pure apple and pear plus a hint of herbs. Vigorous limey acidity leads the palate charge, with zingy green apple and peach flavours, coated in lees and minerals. The bubble structure is small and persistent, and nicely shows off a long and layered nervy finish. (DJ Kearney – BC, ON, QC) 

Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catherine Brut Rose, Ontario

A lovely salmon pink colour, this bubble shows medium intense red berry, floral and citrus notes on the nose which follow through on the dry but fruity palate. Medium-bodied with fine mousse, this is a well balanced sparkler with vibrant acidity and a long red berry and pink grapefruit finish. This pinot noir based pink is one of the great bubblies being produced in Canada, pink or otherwise. (Janet Dorozynski – ON)

Gray Monk Odyssey White Brut 2010Trius BrutCave Spring Blanc De Blancs BrutGray Monk Odyssey 2010 White Brut, British Columbia

Locally there are plenty of accolades for Blue Mountain and they are well deserved but this year a wine that caught my attention with its reserved styling and persistence of flavours comes from Gray Monk, a BC VQA pioneer and family run operation. Impressive wine that would be perfect with most before dinner appetizers. Serve with some tasty BC smoked salmon. (Anthony Gismondi – BC)

Trius Brut, Ontario

This silver medalist at the National Wine Awards of Canada is an excellent value sparkling wine with a lot of class that will appeal to lovers of Champagne. It has a fine mousse with the tiny bubbles that persist well and give a creaminess to the palate. The nose is delicate with nice toasty notes to the apple lemon fruit. Best as an aperitif. (Steve Thurlow – ON)

Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut, Ontario

I poured this razor sharp chardonnay bubbly for a swish pre-Christmas corporate party and the guests loved it. Clearly sparkling has a big future in Ontario. (David Lawrason – ON)

Angels Gate Archangel Chardonnay Brut 2010Haywire The Bub Sparkling 2011Haywire 2011 The Bub, British Columbia

This is the first vintage of traditional method bubbles from the progressive team at Okanagan Crush Pad – and part of the small movement towards terroir-driven sparkling wine in the Okanagan. It pours a foamy flute of apple, stone, pear skin, and light eraser rubbings on the nose, along with tart white peach and crisp lemon in the mouth. Baked apple notes seal the finish and a crown cap seals in the freshness. (Treve Ring – BC)

Angels Gate Archangel Chardonnay Brut 2010, Ontario

A very classy, classic, elegant style here with a real Old World feel – for traditionalists – and a silver medalist in the sparkling category at this year’s National Wine Awards of Canada to boot! The Archangel name is a throwback to the property’s original ownership – the Congregation of Missionary Sisters of Christian Charity. (Sara d’Amato – ON)

Spanish Cava

Spain is one of the world’s largest producers of sparkling wines. Applying traditional method (second fermentation in bottle) production to native varieties like Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel.lo results in wines with complexity and structure and unbelievably good prices.

Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut CavaParés Baltà Cava BrutJaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava, Spain

You always need a couple of bottles of bubbly on hand for when you get those surprise visitors over the holidays, or any time of year for that matter. This is great value Cava. It is dry, fresh and crisp with a soft mousse and aromas of lees, lemon, peach and ripe golden apple with green apple and some salty, mineral notes on the medium length finish. (Rhys Pender – BC)

Parés Baltà Cava Brut, Spain

What could be better than organically grown fruit, a family operation and a great price. Pares Baltà B over delivers on all accounts and proves price doesn’t mean a great deal when it comes to sparkling wine. I’m fond of saying the annual tasting of ‘b” never disappoints although this year the tasting was in Pacs in the heart of the Penedès region that is home to Pares Baltà. The blend is a mix of organically certified (and more recently bio-dynamically grown from several sites spanning 230 to 615 metres. Good value and food friendly and the perfect wedding sparkler to boot. (Anthony Gismondi – BC, QC)

Langa Real de Aragon CavaSegura ViudasSegura Viudas Brut Reserva, Spain

This Spanish cava made from local grape varieties continues is a perennial best buy in sparkling wine, especially in the $15 range. Such complexity, poise and length for the money. Great with hors d’ouevres. (David Lawrason – ON, BC, QC)

Langa Real de Aragon Cava, Spain

Just having this pretty bottle around makes people merry. Wait until they drink it! Tremendous value for this serious, well-crafted Cava – perfect for brunch, small plates and celebrations. (Treve Ring – BC)

Other European Sparklers

Champagne is the most famous French sparkler, but other regions of Europe have been perfecting local styles for generations as well, and most are at least half the price of Champagne. Very much worth exploring; whether a fine French cremant from Bourgogne, Alsace or the Loire; or an airy prosecco from Italy.

De Chanceny Excellence Brut Vouvray 2010Vitteaut Alberti Blanc Brut Crémant De BourgogneIl ProseccoDe Chanceny Excellence Brut, France

I’m a sucker for sparkling Chenin Blanc, so I couldn’t resist this gem from Vouvray in France’s Loire Valley. It highlights the versatility of Chenin Blanc and excellent value of French sparkling wine from outside of Champagne. (Janet Dorozynski – ON)

Vitteaut Alberti Blanc Brut Crémant De Bourgogne, France

Oh-so-charming with incredible complexity for the price. Here is a wine that is sure to impress, as fine Champagne would do. Made from chardonnay, pinot noir and aligoté (for some kick), with a fullness and richness that is sure to satisfy on special occasions. (Sara d’Amato – ON)

Il Prosecco, Italy

Wearing a spiffy looking crown cap and bowling pin shaped bottle this light prosecco has a clean, fresh and simple aroma poached pears and icing sugar. It’s medium bodied, fairly soft, sweet and only lightly effervescent. (David Lawrason – ON, BC)

Other New World Countries

Around the world sparkling wine is enjoying a renaissance in quality and popularity. Here are some reasons why.

Barefoot Bubbly Pinot GrigioYellowglen Pink SparklingYellowglen Pink Sparkling, Australia

Every time I try this wine I think that these are pretty amazing everyday bubbles! This blend of pinot noir and chardonnay over delivers for the money. An orangey pink with fine bubbles that persist well with ample aromas of cherry, toffee and bread with a hint of stewed strawberry. Don’t over-chill or you will miss the fruit and aromas. (Steve Thurlow – ON, BC)

Barefoot Bubbly Pinot Grigio, California

A clean refreshing bubbly at a good price. The nose shows fresh lemon with floral jasmine and bread aromas with some mineral notes. It is quite rich and creamy and well balanced without a lot of complexity. Try as an aperitif with pastry nibbles. (Steve Thurlow – ON, BC)

Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut, California

This is a long standing personal favorite and good example of what happens when you combine Old World traditional method wine making with the New World know-how of California. (Janet Dorozynski – ON, QC)

Domaine Chandon Étoile BrutJansz Premium CuvéeTerra Andina Sparkling MoscatoJansz Premium Cuvée, Australia

One of the best value bubblies from the exciting Tasmania that is taking Australia by storm for not just bubbly but some of the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The nose is quite rich and autolytic with lots of bread, hazelnut and lees with golden apple and lemon. The finish is long. Great value and now available in BC Liquor Stores. (Rhys Pender – BC, QC)

Terra Andina Sparkling Moscato, Brazil

It’s full of fruit, tasty and it’s from Brazil! – three good reasons to try this value-priced sparkler. Overflowing with Latin exuberance and joie de vivre, it reminds me of how Brazil plays soccer – with passion, righteousness and unbridled devotion to the beautiful game. From muscat grapes grown in the north of the country in the Vale de Sao Francisco, it has energetic grapey, floral and peachy aromas and flavours with a broad and foamy palate. Though quite sweet, it’s balanced enough with fruity acidity. Give it a severe chill and pour for the brunch crowd or make a fizzy Sangria with frozen peach slices. (DJ Kearney – BC)

A Sparkling Countdown Part 1: Farmer Fizz
A Sparkling Countdown Part 2: Luxe Bubbles 2013
Complete list of recommended wines: Sparkling Countdown 2013


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Season 4, Round 5: “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

Chenin or Riesling…Riesling or Chenin…?

Season 4 of “So, You Think You Know Wine?” is a departure from the previous critic-against-critic challenge of past episodes. This time the competition has a game show/family feud feel with tasters battling against each other in teams, rather than individually. As always, the competitors have the daunting challenge of identifying the wine with only their nose, eyes, and palate – no other clues are given.

Click here to watch Round #5, or read on for highlights from the last round and a look at today’s teams.

Highlights and Score from Round #4

Last time on SYTYKW, Raiders of the Lost AOC initially started on the right track with South American malbec but slowly talked themselves into a grenache dominant blend from Southern Rhone. The Good, The Bad, and The Blind also went with a grenache dominant blend from Southern Rhone, but dug a little deeper and came up with Vacqueyras as a more specific appellation. In the end, neither team guessed correctly in this, the lowest scoring episode so far; however, both teams agreed that Finca Decero Malbec 2010 is a very good wine. David Lawrason stated that the elegant style of the wine led them to France, and the Raiders of the Lost AOC declared after the reveal, “Trust your first instinct!

The teams debate the characteristics of each wine to come to a consensus as to what they think the wine is and their conclusions are submitted to Amil in writing. Each team then announces their decision and the wine is revealed. The scoring on each wine remains similar to past episodes, with points for Variety, Country, Region, Appellation and Vintage, and a little less emphasis on Price this season. Here’s how the teams stand after 4 rounds:

So, You Think You Know Wine? Scorecard 4.4

Round #5

The teams are now starting to really gel and become more comfortable with each other, but does this help or hinder in this competition? Do they have too much respect for each other to challenge a teammate’s opinion? Watch the competition progress as The Good, The Bad, and The Blind (aka Mom, Dad, and Little Brad) take on Whole Bunch Press in this nail-biting episode.

Pour yourself a glass of wine and Watch Round #5 here.

The Good, The Bad and The Blind

David Lawrason, DJ Kearney, and Brad Royale of The Good, The Bad and The Blind, with referee Amil

So, You Think You Know Wine?

Anthony Gismondi, Janet Dorozynski, and Rhys Pender of Whole Bunch Press

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

So, You Think You Know Wine?

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

Previously on “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

Espisode 4.1: California Square Russian River Chardonnay

Episode 4.2: Louis M Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Episode 4.3:  Travaglini Gattinara

Episode 4.4: Finca Decero Malbec


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Penfolds Grange 2008


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WineAlign Gift Guide – Ontario Edition

20 Great Bottles

WineAlign critics in Ontario review thousands of wines released through the LCBO Vintages stores every year.  During the last hectic days before Christmas it is difficult to sort through what’s left, with the added pressure of making rushed decisions in a crowded store.  To ease wine gifting stress Sara d’Amato (SD), Janet Dorozynski (JD), John Szabo (JS), and David Lawrason (DL) have pooled their palates to assemble a list of 20 higher end wines that they would like to receive, and that you will be proud to give this Christmas.

Furthermore, thanks to WineAlign’s inventory tracking, they are able to assure you that there were decent stocks available as of December 11. (By registering for WineAlign you can find the inventory at your closest LCBO Vintages store). Put the following great buys on your personal WineAlign shopping list.  Here’s a list of these 20 great  bottles with inventory at your local LCBO.  For our friends in BC, here’s the BC WineAlign Gift Guide .

Ontario Critic Team

The Bubble

Krug Grande Cuvee Brut Champagne
Krug Grande Cuvee Brut ($271.95)
Champagne, France

Looking for a gift for the woman or man who has it all? You can rest assured that if they have this, they’ll be even happier they have another. (SD)

The Whites

Domaine Bachey Legros Vieilles Vignes Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot 1er Cru 2010

Domaine Bachey Legros Vieilles Vignes Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot 1er Cru 2010 ($59.95)
Burgundy, France

What wine lover wouldn’t be thrilled to get a great white Burgundy, especially from a very fine site in the best vintage in recent times. Drink or cellar. (DL)

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2010

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 ($44.95)
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada

A complex and creamy Chardonnay from one of Niagara’s famous vineyards (Wismer) is sure to impress lovers of cool climate Chardonnay. (JD)

Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2010

Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2010 ($55.00)
Napa Valley, California, U.S.A

Another fabulous Chardonnay, this time from California, which is refined, elegant and biodynamic, for the environmentalist on your list.(JD)

Kerpen Graacher Domprobst 1 Star Riesling Auslese 2010

Kerpen Graacher Domprobst 1 Star Riesling Auslese 2010 ($36.95)
Mosel, Germany

I’ve recommended plenty of German rieslings over the course of 2013, and the 2010 Graacher Domprobst Auslese “1 Star” from Martin Kerpen is a 5-star wine that deserves another mention. 2010 was an extraordinary vintage that lent itself perfectly to sweeter styles of Riesling anchored on a balancing base of electrifying acidity. You could comfortably write “to be enjoyed in 2030” on the bottle, that is, if your giftee can resist it in the interim. (JS)

Kistler Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay 2012

Kistler Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay 2012 ($84.95)
Sonoma Mountain, California, U.S.A.

California continues to dominate VINTAGES selections, led by premium wines from Napa and Sonoma. Chardonnay has taken a stylistic about-face in recent years, shifting from thick, tropical fruit-and-oak flavoured to leaner, more svelte, subtle and complex expressions. Yet Steve Kistler has been producing this “post-modern” style of Chardonnay since the beginning, meaning he’s been ahead of the game. The 2012 Sonoma Mountain AVA chardonnay is a classic example of luxurious-meets-precise, a wine that exemplifies depth and class that will delight drinkers from the Côte d’Or to the Sonoma Coast. (JS)

The Reds

Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010

Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010 ($43.95)
Southern Rhone, France

In 2013 we’ve seen a terrific range of wines from the southern Rhône come into Ontario, especially from the excellent 2009 and 2010 vintages, and in the premium wine world these are frequently excellent value. A case in point is the 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Château de La Nerthe, a certified organic vineyard with roots dating back to the 12thC.  This delivers amazing depth and southern Rhône richness for under $45. (JS)

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010 ($39.00)
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada

A show stopping pinot noir and one produced from carefully selected vineyards sites across Niagara. Polished but also highly expressive and complex. If you’re hoping to dazzle, this pinot will not fail you! (SD)

Aurelio Settimo Rocche Barolo 2006

Aurelio Settimo Rocche Barolo 2006 ($52.95)
Piedmont, Italy

Cru Barolo remains a relative bargain for what is one of the world’s most distinctive wines, and the 2006 Barolo Rocche from Aurelio Settimo is a powerful, highly traditional style wine that will thrill fans of the genre. Recommend decanting this a good hour before serving, or cellaring another 3-5 years. (JS)

Renato Ratti Marcenasco Barolo 2008

Renato Ratti Marcenasco Barolo 2008 ($52.95)
Piedmont, Italy

Any collector, new or old, appreciates Barolo in the cellar. This is spry, intense edition from one of the best modernists won’t need to age forever, but it should hold well. (DL)

Château Des Charmes Equuleus 2010

Château Des Charmes Equuleus 2010 ($40.00)
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada

The Equuleus is an impressive and fleshy Ontario Bordeaux Blend, or Meritage, that is drinking well now or can be cellared for a few more years. (JD)

Domaine Tournon Shay's Flat Vineyard Shiraz 2011

Domaine Tournon Shay’s Flat Vineyard Shiraz 2011 ($35.95)
Victoria, Australia

From the wilds of Victoria comes a savoury and meaty biodynamic red that will wow the big red lover on your list. Says Shiraz on the label but with the Rhone’s Michel Chapoutier at the helm it comes across like a Rhone syrah on steroids. (DL)

Sequillo Cellars Red 2009

Sequillo Cellars Red 2009 ($23.90)
Swartland, South Africa

A blend of Syrah, Mouvedre, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault from one of South Africa’s most talented winemakers Eben Sadie, will appeal to fans of Rhone blends. (JD)

Château Joanin Bécot 2009

Château Joanin Bécot 2009 ($42.85)
Cotes de Castillon, Bordeaux, France

This is a merlot as it is meant to be – lush, silky and elegant, from a region up-river from Saint Emilion. A great glimpse of an up-and-coming region offering the best value in Bordeaux today. (DL)

Domaine Chante Cigale Tradition Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010

Domaine Chante Cigale Tradition Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010 ($41.95)
Southern Rhone, France

An impactful, sexy southern French blend from a region that is synonymous with distinction. Ripe, bold and a product of one of the sunniest places on the planet. (SD)

La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial 2004

La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial 2004 ($38.95)
Rioja, Spain

Aged to perfection and ready for consumption, this terrifically characteristic Rioja Alta is destined to impress. (SD)  Spain has been a big story this year with sales skyrocketing, an inevitable development as the world takes note of the vast depth of old vines and traditional know-how in the country offered at mid-twentieth century prices. For a glimpse of what Spanish wines must have been like circa the late 19th century, offer a gift of the 2004 Reserva Especial “Viña Ardanza” from arch-traditionalist estate La Rioja Alta, a marvel of savoury complexity. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine stuffing a greater range of flavours into a sub-$40 wine. This can be enjoyed now of cellared for another decade without concern. (JS)

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($27.95)
Coonawarra, Australia

A wine that tastes much greater than its price makes the best gift. An undeniably classy cabernet from both a producer and a region that consistently exceeds expectations. (SD)

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2009

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2009 ($32.95)
Marlborough, New Zealand

A great New Zealand Pinot Noir from Marlborough, a region more associated with Sauvignon Blanc but which is also showing great promise for this red grape. (JD)

The Sweet

Castelnau De Suduiraut 2010

Castelnau De Suduiraut 2010 ($42.95)
Bordeaux, France

Classic Sauternes is a discovery for many new wine lovers. This ‘second wine’ from one of the top estates is a beaut, and great value under $50 for a 750ml bottle. (DL)

De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2009

De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2009 ($31.95/375ml)
New South Wales, Australia

The critics are aligned – the Noble One semillon is a chart topping sweet (known as ‘stickie’ on the other side of the globe) and is happily still available. Botrytis has transformed these grapes into a highly complex and compelling nectar with undeniable, world class appeal. (SD)

List with inventory of all of these great wines at your local LCBO:  20 Great Bottles .

Editors Note: You can find complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Season 4, Round 4: “So, You Think you Know Wine?”

Mysterious Malbec

Season 4 of “So, You Think You Know Wine?” is a departure from the previous critic-against-critic challenge of past episodes. This time the competition has a game show/family feud feel with tasters battling against each other in teams, rather than individually.  As always, the competitors have the daunting challenge of identifying the wine with only their nose, eyes, and palate – no other clues are given.

Click here to watch Round #4, or read on for highlights from the last round and a look at today’s teams.

Highlights and Score from Round #3

Last time on SYTYKW, both teams immediately pounced on Italy as the country this wine was made in, but had a bit more trouble identifiying the grape variety.  Bill, Treve and Zoltan of Inglorious Bitters, bounced around on the grape for a while but soon correctly landed on Nebbiolo, while Anthony, Janet, and Rhys of Whole Bunch Pressed  concluded the wine was a Valpolicella made predominantly with the Corvina grape variety.  As Anthony later said, “We should have paid more attention to the vintage, because it’s older, so it sort of led us in a different direction. In the end, Inglorious Bitters rocked the house by just about nailing the Travaglini Gattinara 2007.

The teams debate the characteristics of each wine to come to a consensus as to what they think the wine is and their conclusions are submitted to Amil in writing. Each team then announces their decision and the wine is revealed. The scoring on each wine remains similar to past episodes, with points for Variety, Country, Region, Appellation and Vintage, and a little less emphasis on Price this season. Here’s how the teams stand after 3 rounds:

So, You Think You Know Wine?

Round #4

The teams are now starting to really gel and become more comfortable with each other, but does this help or hinder in this competition?  Do they have too much respect for each other?  Watch the competition progress as Raiders of the Lost AOC face off against The Good, The Bad, and the Blind in this Mysterious Malbec episode.

Pour yourself a glass of wine and Watch Round #4 here.

Raiders of the Lost AOC

John Szabo, MS, Sara d’Amato, and Steve Thurlow of Raiders of the Lost AOC

The Good The Bad and the Blind

David Lawrason, DJ Kearney, and Brad Royale of The Good, the Bad, and the Blind, with referee Amil

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

So, You Think You Know Wine?

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

Previously on “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

Espisode 4.1: California Square Russian River Chardonnay

Episode 4.2: Louis M Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Episode 4.3:  Travaglini Gattinara


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Freixenet Cordon Negro


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Season 4, Round 3: “So, You Think you Know Wine?”

The Pros and Cons of Team Play

WineAlign is pleased to launch a new season of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”. Season 4 is a departure from the previous critic-against-critic challenge of past episodes. This time the competition has a game show/family feud feel with tasters battling against each other in teams, rather than individually.  As always, the competitors have the daunting challenge of identifying the wine with only their nose, eyes, and palate – no other clues are given.

Click here to watch Round #3, or read on for highlights from the last round and a look at today’s teams.

Highlights and Score from Round #2

Last time on SYTYKW, Bill, Treve and Zoltan of Inglorious Bitters, correctly identified the wine as Cabernet Sauvignon, while David, DJ and Brad of The Good, The Bad, The Blind tussled, struggled, and were a bit divided with this wine. In the end, the somewhat glorious Inglorious Bitters scored the most points with the Louis M Martini Cabernet Sauvignon and came out ahead.

The teams debate the characteristics of each wine to come to a consensus as to what they think the wine is and their conclusions are submitted to Amil in writing. Each team then announces their decision and the wine is revealed. The scoring on each wine remains similar to past episodes with points for Variety, Country, Region, Appellation and Vintage, and a little less emphasis on Price this season. Here’s how the teams stand after 2 rounds:

So, You Think You Know Wine?

Round #3

You’ll soon find out that team work has many advantages, and also a few disadvantages. Do the teams stick with their first impressions, or do they talk themselves into something else?  Watch the competition progress as Inglorious Bitters are back to face off against Whole Bunch Press.

Pour yourself a glass of wine and Watch Round #3 here.

So, You Think You Know Wine?

Inglorious Bitters: Bill Zacharkiw, Treve Ring, Zoltan Szabo

So, You Think You Know Wine?

Whole Bunch Press: Anthony Gismondi, Janet Dorozynski and Rhys Pender

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

So, You Think You Know Wine?

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

Previously on “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

Espisode 4.1: California Square Russian River Chardonnay

Episode 4.2: Louis M Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon


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Tait The Ball Buster Red 2011


Fortessa Canada Inc. Glassware sponsor to SYTYKW

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008