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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 7th – Part One

South American Reds and Classic Whites
By John Szabo MS with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The main feature of the rather large March 7th VINTAGES release (135 products) is Tuscany, which David will lead next week. There are also mini-features on British Columbia, Kosher wines and St. Patrick’s Day (Irish Whiskey, naturally). But for this week we were drawn hors piste by a handful of compelling reds from South America, including a pair of Chilean wines that further bolster my case to consider this conservative country in a new light (See my January report entitled “Chile Into The Future”).

And considering that Sara d’Amato has just returned from judging the Argentina Wine Awards (the first wine awards judged by an all-female panel, to my knowledge) and additional travels around the country, and that David Lawrason is currently basking under the South American sun (on business, of course), the focus of this week’s report is not entirely whimsical.

As a bonus, Sara shares some still-vivid impressions from Argentina. We’ll also round out this week’s recommendations with the short list of top chardonnays and sauvignon blanc (and blends) from the March 7th lineup.

d’Amato on Argentina

An invitation to judge close to 700 wines at the Argentina Wine Awards with an all-star, all-female panel, followed by a cross-country discovery tour had me in the southern hemisphere for most of this month. A few very distilled thoughts on my experience:

1.     There is huge diversity of malbecs across the country. High elevations (where you’ll find the best) do not equate with cool, necessarily. Growers battle with the complications of high UV radiation, needing inventive canopy management to shade and protect their grapes, and specialized irrigation so that water does not immediately evaporate in the dry heat. What makes high elevation plantings special is the temperature difference between night and day – when the temperature drops six degrees per hour you can feel the night coming on, and can imagine the grapes shivering and almost feel the nervy tension being built in these wines. Most importantly, higher elevations offer soils with better drainage and low fertility (a good thing).

2.     Varieties other than malbec are on the rise. In fact, in a big surprise to all judges, none of the regional trophies this year were awarded to malbecs. Top prizes were awarded instead to bonarda, which is widely planted and has great potential to be the next “it” grape. Not only is bonarda easy to grow on the less “desirable” soils, it’s approachable, easy to drink and offers plenty of fruit and supple tannins. What else rocked my world: tannat, petit verdot, cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc. And although I can’t imagine finding a pure tannat from Argentina on our shelves any time soon, its dark and surprisingly supple fruity goodness, uniquely expressed in Argentina, is worth demanding. Sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, unlike their fresh expressions in neighboring Chile, offered both depth and ripeness that proved balanced and appealing.

If you find yourself in southern Ontario, the last of the Colomé Reserva Malbec from a previous VINTAGES release is a gem worth seeking out. To put this in perspective, the higher elevation plantings of the Uco Valley in Mendoza are around 3,000 – 4,000 feet in elevation. At Colomé, in the northern region of Salta in the Upper Calchaquí Valleys, the plantings are well over 3,000 meters making them the highest elevation vineyards on earth. This is a malbec that will make you rethink malbec.

Readily available across the province is the Alamos 2013 Malbec. Affordably priced, this distinctive, reliable and solid quality malbec is produced in the higher elevations of Mendoza in the esteemed region of Vistaflores. A textbook malbec, finely crafted and a great value. For an introduction to bonarda, you’ll see my note below for the Zuccardi 2012 Serie A – which is being release in VINTAGES on March 7th.

The result of the AWA’s can be found here: ~ Sara


VINTAGES March 7th Buyers Guide: South America

Emiliana 2012 Novas Gran Reserva Syrah-Mourvèdre, Cachapoal Valley (Colchagua Valley), Chile ($15.95)

Santa Carolina Specialties Dry Farming Carignan 2010 Emiliana Novas Gran Reserva Syrah Mourvèdre 2012John Szabo – Under the direction of César Morales Navia, the Novas line of organic wines from Emiliana is among the best values in South America. This syrah-mourvèdre blend is an excellent example of the shift to grapes that are better suited to parts of Chile (Mediterranean) than the maritime Bordeaux varieties that have dominated the scene since the 19th century. It’s stylish and rich, generously flavoured and long on the finish, far outperforming many competitors in the price category.
David Lawrason - Great value yet again from this leading producer of organic wines. It feels very much like a rather rustic Rhone but with more fruit exuberance. A lot of depth and life for $16. Very good to excellent length.

Santa Carolina 2010 Specialties Dry Farming Carignan, Cauquenes Valley (Maule Valley), Chile ($17.95)

John Szabo - The Santa Carolina Specialties range is another perfect example of even the very large, entrenched rear guard companies of Chile (Santa Carolina was established in 1875) looking to craft wines more representative of the country’s potential rather than the marketing department’s wishes. Led by Andrés Caballero, the Santa Carolina team has sought out new terroirs “where grapes are in perfect balance with soil and climate. These wines speak of forgotten varieties, dry lands and endless root systems, old vineyards and small scale farmers”, according to official sources. In my view, this is a terrific wine made from 80 year-old dry-farmed carignan vines in the Cauquenes Valley (Maule) in Southern Chile, a bit wild and rustic, but that’s the beauty of old carignan, like a characterful, wrinkled face that has seen the passage of a great many years. Enjoy with a rare-grilled, well-aged umami-rich, bone-in ribeye.

Cuvelier Los Andes 2009 Grand Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($61.95)

John Szabo - Admittedly this is not the style of wine that I’m generally attracted to – the kind for which a fork and knife are as helpful as a glass – but this was so well done that it had to be mentioned. Fans of amarone and vintage port should line up for this 16.5% alcohol monster, a seriously dense and rich, ultra concentrated, smoky, wood-tinged, savoury red wine with massive structure and intensity. It would be hard to imagine stuffing more into a bottle of wine, or getting further in style from classic Bordeaux (from where the Cuvelier family hails and owns several château). This should also age magnificently.
David Lawrason - This 100% malbec is from one of the five French-owned estates in the magnificent desert compound in Vistaflores calles Clos de Los Siete.  Cuvelier is owned by Jean- Guy and Bertrand Cuvelier who are also the owners of Château Léoville- Poyferré and Château Le Crock in  Bordeaux. This is a very impressive, maturing rich, dense and elegant – very much in a French tone.

Zuccardi 2012 Serie A Bonarda, Santa Rosa, Mendoza, Argentina ($16.95)

Viña Tarapacá Gran Reserva Carmenère 2012 Zuccardi Serie A Bonarda 2012 Cuvelier Los Andes Grand Malbec 2009Sara d’Amato - Zuccardi is a true family affair and a big one that prides itself on innovation, finding unique sites and using cutting edge vinification.  The Serie A Bonarda is a great introduction to this seductive and ready-to-drink varietal that offers loads of fruit spice, gentle tannins and an impactful nature.
David Lawrason – The Zuccardi family has been growing bonarda in the eastern Santa Rosa region for decades, long before it became a trendy varietal. So they have a good supply of old vine stock. This nicely catches the fruity charm I am looking for from this grape – simple but exuberant, balanced and ready to drink.

Viña Tarapacá 2012 Gran Reserva Carmenère, Maipo Valley, Chile ($17.95)

David Lawrason - From a grand estate in middle Maipo this is a massive value in textbook carmenere!  The nose absolutely soars here with an up-draught of cassis, sappy evergreen, steak tartar and background oak. Powerful, deep and even for  carmenere lovers.

Buyer’s Guide March 7th: Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc (and blends)

Rodney Strong 2012 Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California, USA ($22.95)

Cave Des Grands Crus Blancs Mâcon Vinzelles 2013 Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009 Rodney Strong Chardonnay 2012John Szabo – I’m quite sure this is the first wine from Rodney Strong that I’ve ever added to the recommended list, but this is a happy departure from the over-wooded and overly sweet cuvées of the past. I appreciate the freshness and subtlety on offer without sacrificing the ripe fruit you’d expect from Sonoma chardonnay. This is balanced and pleasurable drinking at the right price.

Château De Cruzeau Blanc 2009,  AC Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux, France ($31.95)

John Szabo -  Each time I taste a wine of this quality I wonder why I don’t drink more great sauvignon-semillon blends. IN the context of all of the overpriced, oaky chardonnays of the world, this wine delivers terrific complexity and regional identity at an attractive price. ‘09 was, as you know, a ripe, highly celebrated vintage in Bordeaux and this is packed with flavor. Decant this before serving to maximize the enjoyment.

Cave Des Grands Crus Blancs 2013 Mâcon-Vinzelles, Burgundy, France ($17.95)

John Szabo - “We had a marvelous lunch from the hotel at Lyon, an excellent truffled roast chicken, delicious bread and white Macon wine.” I’m sure Hemingway was thinking of a wine like this when he wrote these words in A Moveable Feast, and no doubt actually drank several bottles of Mâcon with F. Scott Fitzgerald on picnics. This is simple but delicious country wine in the best sense, at a price that can only make upstart wineries with big loans to pay off cringe with envy.

M.Chapoutier Tournon 2013 Mathilda, Victoria, Australia ( $19.95)

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2014 M.Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda 2013David Lawrason -  Although not specified on the label this is either wholly or in very large part made from viognier, the only white to my knowledge in this Rhone producer’s Australian portfolio. It makes sense as viognier too is a Rhone varietal. This is an intense, quite powerful white that rings with authenticity.

Villa Maria 2014 Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95)

David Lawrason - Marlborough is known for its very assertive sauvignons but there is a school going for less bombast and more compact structure. That is the book on Villa Maria in general as a matter of fact. This crisp, tart and mouth-watering with excellent focus and length, and an echo of wet stone on the finish.

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

Touring Tuscany & Piedmont

Consider joining me next October in Tuscany and Piedmont for an insider’s deluxe gastronomy tour via Indus Travel. Only fluffy, unlumpy pillows and high thread count sheets, plus daily diet of white truffles, cooking classes, 5-star relaxation and of course, plenty of wine tastings. It will be memorable. Details:

Tuscany and Barolo Tour with John Szabo MS

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES March 7, 2015:

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

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

AdvertisementWynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES February 21st – Part Two

Euro Reds and Sundry Whites
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week we wrap up recommendations from the February 21st Vintages release. Last Week David and Sara highlighted the best buys from Australia and the excellent 2012 vintage down under, along with other new world reds. This report features the best red wines from Europe and white wines from around the world. The WineAlign crü has, quite unintentionally, chosen to highlight a wide range of wines with no overlap – no alignment – so this is a fine opportunity for some discovery and comparison, and perhaps alignment with the critic whose top picks match your preferences. France, Italy, Spain and Portugal are well represented, as are Canada and the US, but you might be tempted to venture further to, say, Romania or Lebanon for something different (and inexpensive).

Buyers’ Guide: Euro Reds

Quinta Do Mondego 2009Lento Lamezia Riserva 2010Gérard Bertrand Saint Chinian Syrah/MourvèdreGérard Bertrand Saint Chinian Syrah/Mourvèdre 2011, Languedoc, France ($18.95)
John Szabo – The ever-reliable Gérard Bertrand delivers again, in this case a smoky and savoury, black pepper flavoured red blend from one of the Languedoc’s most distinctive terroirs. A successful and characterful wine all in all, ready to enjoy. Best 2015-2021.

Lento Lamezia Riserva 2010, Calabria, Italy ($19.95)
John Szabo - Here’s an example of grapes perfectly adapted to their terroir: magliocco, greco nero and nerello are blended together to yield this attractively rustic wine, fully savoury and earthy in the typical southern Italian idiom, retaining crucial natural acids. This will appeal to fans of classic Italian country wines, honest and food friendly. Best 2015-2020.

Quinta Do Mondego 2009, Dão, Portugal ($19.95)
John Szabo - Named for the river that runs through the region, the Quinta do Mondego has engaged the talented Francisco Olazabal of the excellent Quinta Vale Dona Maria in the Douro to lend a hand with winemaking. This is another tidy little value from the Dão, fresh, firm and succulent, with a fine range of red and black fruit, floral and spice components. Best 2015-2020.

Cave Kouroum Petit Noir 2012, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon ($13.95)
John Szabo – This oddity is well worth a mention for intrepid discoverers. “Petit Noir” is a blend of syrah, cabernet sauvignon, grenache and carignan with a splash of cinsault from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, similar in style to, say, a southern Rhône red at a very attractive price. I appreciate the rustic grip and honest savoury-fruity profile without artifice or adjuncts.

Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuvée Maximilien Côtes Du Rhône Villages Cairanne 2012, Rhone Valley, France ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato - The sundrenched southern Rhone wines of Cairanne have a charming, rustic appeal and the best examples, such as this, relay the beautiful aromas of Provence – those of thyme, rosemary and lavender. Due to the heat and the fact that the village is located in one of the sunniest places on earth, grenache dominates these wines with syrah and mourvedre playing secondary but important roles. The small, family-owned Domaine of Les Grand Bois is widely regarded as one of the finest properties of the southern village appellations.

Rotllán Torra 2010, Priorat, Spain ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato - Succulent and exquisitely balanced, this elegant assemblage is a fine example of a wine at its apex of harmony and drinkability. This carefully handpicked and long-macerated blend of grenache, mazuelo (carignan) and cabernet sauvignon with very fine tannins is an indisputably sophisticated find.

Cave Kouroum Petit Noir 2012Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuvée Maximilien Côtes Du Rhône Villages Cairanne 2012Rotllán Torra 2010Château La Bastide 2012Domaine Du Grapillon D'or Gigondas 2012Rocca Di Frassinello Poggio Alla Guardia 2010

Château La Bastide 2012, Corbières, Languedoc, France ($13.95)
David Lawrason - There is nothing extra special about the wine itself – it simply offers a balanced, correct version of a Languedoc red based on varieties like syrah and grenache. But the price made me sit up and take notice. It offers the kind of value that might tempt me to grab a case for those stay at home comfort food occasions.

Domaine Du Grapillon D’or Gigondas 2012, Rhone Valley, France ($32.95)
David Lawrason - Once again a sleek, rich Gigondas outperforms a Châteauneuf-du-Pape served side by side in Vintages tasting lab, both on quality, and on price (by a long shot). It’s packed with fruit, warm and engaging. The Chauvet family has owned this property since 1806, with Celine Chauvet now heading up the winemaking. This is 80% grenache, 20% syrah from 40 year old vines.

Rocca Di Frassinello Poggio Alla Guardia 2010, Maremma Tuscany ($17.95)
David Lawrason - Here’s a fine buy in a well-crafted, now maturing 2010 from the southern, warmer Maremma zone, specifically from a large, hillside estate owned in a joint venture by Castellare di Castellina of Chianti-fame, and Domain Baron De Rothschild-Lafite of Bordeaux. It is a nifty, well-balanced merlot, cabernet, sangiovese (15%) that has not had any oak ageing.

Buyers’ Guide: Sundry Whites

Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Dry Riesling 2012Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Dry Riesling 2012, Clare Valley, South Australia ($25.95)
John Szabo – Although Australia was covered last week, mention should be made of this outstanding Clare Valley riesling. The Lodge Hill is Barry’s top site for the variety (also a superb shiraz), one of the highest points in the Clare Valley at over 400m on slate bedrock. This is arch classic, bone dry with terrific intensity, depth and length. Ample citrus-lime and green apple character leads the profile, while crunchy acids cleanse the finish. Best 2015-2025.

Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, Ontario Canada ($24.95)
John Szabo - This is the best appassimento style white wine I’ve come across from Ontario (made from grapes partially dried in a repurposed tobacco kiln). It brings to mind the opulence of late harvested but dry Savennières from the Loire, of a full bodied Alsatian pinot gris, to give but two references. As such, this dense and rich, viscous wine would be perfect with the cheese board or with poultry or pork dishes, especially with mushrooms.

Crama Girboiu Varancha Feteasca Regala Demisec 2012, Vrancea Hills, Romania ($13.95)
John Szabo – Don’t be afraid of the unpronounceable! Just think of this as a gently off-dry, clean, fresh, well-made wine, which it is. A fine value match for the cheese plate, or spicy green or yellow curies. And at $14, the risk is pretty low.

Gayda Viognier 2013Domaine Des Huards Romo Cour Cheverny 2010Crama Girboiu Varancha Feteasca Regala Demisec 2012Domaine Des Huards 2010 Romo Cour Cheverny, Loire, France ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato - Produced from 100% romorantin – the ageworthy grape that exclusively makes up the wines of the Cour-Cheverny appellation. This organic selection will certainly not prove widely appealing but is a great find for the adventurous wine lover. In terms of flavour, the grape is a cross between chenin blanc and semillon, highly structured with notes of beeswax, sour lemon and mineral. This example has a touch of pleasant funk and slight oxidation – weird, wonderful and highly compelling.

Gayda 2013 Viognier, Pays D’Oc, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($13.95)
Sara d’Amato - As pleasurable as a perfectly ripened peach, this lush, easy drinking, gratifying viognier over-delivers for the price. One sip will make you feel like summer is just around the corner. Try with Thai-inspired ginger chicken.

Andrew Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Niagara-on-the-Lake ($30.20)
David Lawrason - This took a platinum medal at the 2014 National Wine Awards, pushing Peller Estates over the top in the winery of the year sweepstakes. It’s a generously oaked example with wonderfully fragrant evergreen and spice, in the manner of white Bordeaux. Tremendous flavour depth here. An auspicious debut by winemaker Katie Dickenson.

Hartford Court Chardonnay 2012Quails' Gate Chardonnay 2013Andrew Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2012Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2013, Okanagan Valley ($21.95)
David Lawrason - Winemaker Nikki Callaway has taken the helm at Quails Gate, which is perhaps the reason why this chardonnay as such a lovely sense of brightness and balance. It is nothing dramatic or profound but it just has this even-handed fruit-oak sensibility that makes it ideal for sipping or bringing to the table.

Hartford Court Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, California ($39.95)
David Lawrason - Hartford Court, (est. 1996) has long been a personal favourite, making pinot, chardonnay and zinfandel only from meticulous multi-cloned vineyards in the Russian River. This is a grand and very stylish chardonnay – sleek, poised and refined with great complexity and excellent to outstanding length.

Touring Tuscany & Piedmont

Consider joining me next October in Tuscany and Piedmont for an insider’s deluxe gastronomy tour via Indus Travel. Only fluffy, unlumpy pillows and high thread count sheets, plus daily diet of white truffles, cooking classes, 5-star relaxation and of course, plenty of wine tastings. It will be memorable. Details:

Tuscany and Barolo Tour with John Szabo

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES February 7, 2015:

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

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


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

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES February 7th – Part One

Native Wine Grapes of Italy and Sundry Whites
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The spotlight this week shines on the native grapes of Italy, or at least a handful of them. Despite the promising billing of the thematic, the February 7th release will disappoint anyone hoping for a real chance to discover some of the more obscure, unique regional treasures of this implausibly wine-rich nation. Considering that Italy is home to more native wine grapes than any other country – a staggering one-quarter of the world’s known commercial varieties (anywhere from 377 to around 2,000, depending on who’s counting and how you define “native”) – the selection proffered by the LCBO is, well, dissatisfying to say the least.

There are some fine wines from already familiar friends like sangiovese and dolcetto which we’ve highlighted below in the Buyer’s Guide, but I can’t shake the feeling that this is a hopelessly corporate release, playing it ultra, ultra-safe. To build a feature around barely ten grapes, all of which Ontarians have seen countless times before, and from producers already well drilled on the LCBO shipping and payment process (there’s not a single new producer included in the feature) seems to me a huge opportunity lost. But it’s a reality of the monopoly world, you’ll say.

The selection in Ontario is of course much broader if you’re keen enough to search for wines in the private import/consignment program, where you’ll find an impressively comprehensive range of unique, native Italian grapes if you look hard enough. But you’ll have to buy them a case at a time. Otherwise, I’d suggest a stop at one of the more enlightened restaurants and wine bars across the province, where the chances of expanding your horizons are much greater.

Native Wine Grapes of ItalyFor anyone looking to learn about, if not taste, Italian wines, I couldn’t recommend more strongly the monumental, magnum opus by Italian-Canadian wine authority Ian D’Agata entitled Native Wine Grapes of Italy. D’Agata spent no fewer than thirteen years researching the work (not counting the other dozen and a half years that he’s been covering the world of wine for publications like Gambero Rosso, Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, The World of Fine Wine, Decanter and others), and has compiled the most complete, accurate and detailed work on Italy’s native grapes imaginable. Each of the hundreds of entries includes details on where the grape is found, its history, etymological origins, synonyms, and general style/flavor profile, and which specific wines to choose and why. Curious about pelaverga, timorasso or frappatto? You’ll find everything you need to know, and much more besides, in the book.

With the author’s permission, I’ve quoted some interesting tidbits on a few of the varieties mentioned below to give you a bit of the flavor of the work. Anyone seriously studying wine should have this classic reference book in their library.

Also in this week’s report is a collection of sundry whites, including some memorable wines from central Europe and a pair of west coast chardonnays.

Buyers Guide: Native Italian Wine Grapes

Volpaia 2011 Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($27.95)

Feudi Salentini Luporano Primitivo Del Tarantino 2012Salcheto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011Volpaia Chianti Classico 2011D’Agata on Sangiovese: “One of the etymological possibilities includes a mythological reference to the blood of Jupiter (sanguis jovis), unsurprisingly given the wine’s longtime association with myths, symbols, and sacrifices to the Gods. Another possibility is that the monks in Santarcangelo di Romagna, at the foot of the Monte Giove near Rimini, chose the name sanguis jovis when forced to call the wine they made by a name other than vino”.

John Szabo - Admittedly I love the classic style of Volpaia, representing the finessed side of sangiovese, grown in some of the highest elevation vineyards in Tuscany. The 2011 is a wine for fans of lighter, more elegant Chianti Classico, which should really hit ideal drinking in another year or two, at which point succulent savoury flavours will lead the way.

Salcheto 2011 Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy ($29.95)

John Szabo – 2011 was the first experiment with wild yeast fermentation at Salcheto, an organic estate. The result, as fine as past vintages, is an earthy, savoury vino nobile, still a year or two away from prime drinking, but with an attractive range of resinous herbal notes to encourage additional sips.
Sara d’Amato – This generous Tuscan red of the prugnolo gentile varietal (sangiovese) is concentrated, musky, compelling and organically produced. A well-known sustainable producer, Salcheto was named Gambero Rosso’s “Sustainable Winery of the Year” in 2014.

Feudi Salentini Luporano 2012 Primitivo Del Tarantino, Puglia, Italy ($17.95)

D’Agata on Primitivo: “Puglia is Primitivo’s home in Italy, and at 11,133 hectares it is one of the country’s ten most planted red varieties…. When very good, Primitivo is creamy-rich and heady, usually not shy in alcohol (16 percent is common) and awash with aromas and flavours of ripe red cherry, strawberry jam, and plums macerated in alcohol”.

John Szabo – Like D’Agata’s description above, I often find primitivo to be overly sweet, alcoholic and raisined. This example, on the other hand, has rare balance and freshness. You might say it’s not “classic”, but I find it pleasant and highly drinkable. No fork and knife required.

Abbona 2013 Papà Celso Dogliani, Piemonte ($24.95)

Beni Di Batasiolo Riserva Barolo 2006Resta Salice Salentino 2011Abbona Papà Celso 2013D’Agata on Dolcetto: “The Dolcetto di Dogliani… can also be the most powerful. This is because in the Dogliani area Dolcetto has always been viewed as the most important grape and the best sites have been reserved for it.”

John Szabo – Abbona’s dolcetto supports the above description of Dogliani’s more powerful versions. This is made from 50-60 year old vines in the Bricco di Doriolo, a prime hilltop sight. Fruit is ripe and in the dark berry plum spectrum, with considerable density and length on the palate.
David Lawrason – As I have always been a fan of fruit-first reds like gamay (Beaujolais) I have also had a soft spot for dolcetto. An eyebrow raises that it has hit $25, but not unexpected now that it has its own Dogliani appellation. This is a lovely fresh and fruity, and even substantial – estate grown old vine example from a producer I admire.
Sara d’Amato – A consistent over-performer, this dolcetto from the relatively recent Dogliani DOCG once again proves a terrific value. Exotic spice, violets and pepper dominate the soft, round palate. Although dolcetto’s name means, “the little sweet one”, it is rarely sweet but rather low in acid (making the wine feel less than dry) and high in tannins. Thankfully, in this example from Abbona, the tannins are rather supple, balanced and allow for immediate enjoyment.

Resta 2011 Salice Salentino, Puglia, Italy ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Italy’s deep south is a gamble, with all kinds of modern, soft, fruity/jammy pleasing but often not very interesting reds (as on this release). Then again there are gems from another era (or at least a traditional mindset) that are very complex, edgy and powerful. Go to school on this imperfect, slightly volatile classic. Great winter fare.

Beni Di Batasiolo 2006 Riserva Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($39.95)
David Lawrason – Ok, this doesn’t have the heft and structure you might expect from great Barolo. But it has exact aromatics that are wonderfully complex, and I have often said that scents are what make Barolo really fascinating. And the fact that it is a mature wine, from a great vintage, at $40 makes it all the more appealing. Go to school here.

Ocone 2012 Flora Taburno Falanghina del Sannio, Campania, Italy ($18.95)

Eco Pecorino D'abruzzo Superiore 2013Michele Chiarlo Le Marne Gavi 2013Ocone Flora Falanghina 2012D’Agata on Falanghina: “Along with Aglianico, this is believed to be Campania’s oldest variety… Today we know that there are at least two genetically distinct Falanghinas, Falanghina Flegrea and Falanghina Beneventana… Falanghina Flegrea wines (especially those from Sannio where Falanghina Flegrea will ripen up to three weeks earlier), tend to be less complex but more fruity, with flavours and aromas of unripe peach, golden delicious apple, apricot kernel, and cherry pit.

John Szabo – I can’t say that Ocone’s version is particularly fruity, in fact it offers more organic oil, rock and earth than fruit flavour, but there’s a point of bitterness on the palate that is indeed reminiscent of cherry pit and apricot kernel. In any case the flavour intensity is impressive for the price category. Drink this at the table with white meats, pork and poultry, heavily herb-flavoured.
Sara d’Amato – Ocone is a certified organic winery practicing minimalist intervention with grapes from seriously old vines. Falaghina is the winery’s star white varietal, a grape almost exclusively planted in the southern, coastal region of Campania on the volcanic soils surrounding Mt. Vesuvius. This version shows off the varietal’s distinctive floral characteristic and has a good dose of succulent citrus balanced with a decadent, mouth-filling texture.

Michele Chiarlo 2013 Le Marne Gavi, Piedmont, Italy ($16.95)

D’Agata on cortese: “One romantic legend has it that the name of Cortese’s most famous wine, Gavi, derives from the golden-haired, beautiful, and gentle-natured Princess Gavia, daughter of Clodomiro, King of the Franks, who eloped to get married against the wishes of her family.” “Cortese wines, when well made, have many selling points: high acidity, real minerality, and even ageworthiness

John Szabo – Chiarlo’s version fits into the mould of pleasantly fresh and fruity, with balanced acids and light alcohol, for current enjoyment, chilled, without excessive contemplation.

Eco 2013 Pecorino d’Abruzzo Superiore, Abruzzo, Italy, $17.95
Sara d’Amato – An organically produced wine from Italy’s eastern coast – home to the fresh, exotically floral and mineral pecorino variety. Eco’s very characteristic interpretation is dry, zesty and lightly peppery with notes of jasmine and apple blossom.

Buyer’s Guide: Sundry Whites

Reichsgraf Von Kesselstatt RK Riesling 2008Weingut Zahel Riedencuvée Grüner Veltliner 2013Wieninger Nussberg Alte Reben Wiener Gemischter Satz 20122012 Wieninger Nussberg Alte Reben Wiener Gemischter Satz, Wien DAC, Austria ($37.00)
John Szabo – This may seem pricey for a wine you’ve likely never heard of, but it’s a marvellous old vines (“alte reben”) field blend (“gemischte satz”) from one of the greats of Viennese winegrowing. Nine different varieties, grown biodynamically in a stunning limestone vineyard overlooking downtown Vienna, converge to yield a powerful and complex wine with fleshy white and yellow fruit. Just picture yourself in Wieninger’s heurige as you sip – pleasure guaranteed. Wieninger on the ’12 vintage: “Unfortunately, there was a very small quantity due to the damages caused by hailstorms and hungry wild boars.“ Ahh, the perils of growing grapes in a major European capital…

Weingut Zahel 2013 Riedencuvée Grüner Veltliner, Wiener Lagen, Austria ($16.95)
David Lawrason – This wine slowly reeled me in. At first glance it presented the basics – a fresh, firm and balanced grüner. Then it hooked me with its very fine structure, depth and subtlety. If you have not yet ventured into Austrian grüner here is a very well-priced example you can’t afford not to try.

Reichsgraf Von Kesselstatt 2008 RK Riesling, Mosel, Germany ($15.95)
David Lawrason – From one of the great estates of the Mosel, this is a clinic and fine value in a mature riesling. I really can’t believe it has landed here, six years later, at $16. So there is no excuse not to see why mature Mosel riesling is the darling of so many aficionados. It’s off dry but tender, elegant and impeccably balanced.

Girard Chardonnay 2012Caves Orsat Fendant 2013Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2012Poplar Grove 2012 Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, B.C. ($29.95)
David Lawrason – Poplar Grove has long been one of BC’s boutique wineries doing a better job of getting beyond BC’s borders. It has improved with new ownership in recent years, and importantly the quality consistency has evened out. This is a quite complex, well balanced and firm chardonnay.

Caves Orsat 2013 Fendant, Valais, Switzerland ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Fendant or chasselas is Switzerland’s second most planted grape variety after pinot noir. Although chasselas is found throughout Europe, it is most celebrated in Switzerland. An adaptable varietal, it is generally subtle and nuanced but in the best cases can exhibit a rich mouthfeel. This fresh version from Caves Orsat is nicely representative of a Swiss chasselas (rarely seen here on our shelves) and exhibits a creamy, delicate nature with a touch of white pepper spice.

Girard 2012 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA ($26.95)
Sara d’Amato – A slightly creamy but bright Russian River chardonnay that displays impressive refinement, balance and restraint. The Girard winery is currently owned by former Pump Room sommelier, Pat Roney, who is very much inspired by the cool climate chardonnays of Burgundy.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES February 7, 2015:

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

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

AdvertisementStags' Leap Winery Chardonnay 2012

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES January 24th – Part One

Learning Spanish and Winter Whites
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

¿Hablas español? Either way, you’ll probably learn a few new words in this report, which covers the Spanish feature of the January 24th VINTAGES release. Although Spain may not be able to claim as many indigenous grapes as, say, neighboring Portugal or Italy, there’s a lot more to the country than just tempranillo and garnacha (as good as they can be). There’s a fine collection of oddities and uncommon varieties alongside the classics in the release, one of the most interesting Spanish features I can recall. So if you’re not sure what a graciano is, or if prieto picudo has yet to pass your lips, or if verdejo sounds just kinky enough to give it a go, read on. We’ve assembled ten Spanish wines for your consideration, with some alignment from the winealign crü as well as some solo recos where the love was not universal. So polish up your glass and your Spanish vocabulary and join us for a little fiesta a la española.

This week we’ve also included our top white picks from the release – I’ve called them “Winter Whites”, a marvelously vague theme that allowed us to include pretty much everything we enjoyed. Next week David will follow up with the top kit from South America and the rest of the best reds.

La Cruz Blanca, Jerez-1582

Buyers’ Guide to Spain

Duquesa De Valladolid 2013 Verdejo, Rueda, Spain ($13.95)
David Lawrason – Great value in a spiffy, polished white from a grape variety now fully risen to stardom in this appellation near the River Duero where calcareous soils paint the arid landscape a greyish tone. Is verdejo Spain’s best white grape? That’s a tussle with albariño, but I find verdejo more consistently hitting excitement.

Baron De Ley 2010 Varietales Graciano, DOCa Rioja, Spain ($21.95)
John Szabo – Graciano is a low-yielding, colour and aroma-packed variety happily making a comeback in Spain, mainly in Rioja and neighbouring Navarra. This example is crafted in the traditional style by traditionalist Baron de Ley, with a significant dose of American-oak/toasted coconut and damp cedar flavour alongside zesty-fresh red berry fruit. I bet once you’ve had a sip, you’ll want more.

Duquesa De Valladolid Verdejo 2013 Baron De Ley Varietales Graciano 2010 Finca Los Alijares Graciano 2009 Abelis Carthago William Selection Crianza 2011

Finca Los Alijares 2009 Graciano, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain ($17.95)
John Szabo - This version of graciano is a little further out there, with a wonderfully evolved, spicy, wild range of aromatics. Pure resinous bay leaf/ laurel tree, wet balsa wood, fresh earth and leather lead off, while the palate is pleasantly tart-astringent with a decidedly Old World texture that would be best served with some salt, fat and protein to soften. At the price it’s well worth the detour for some horizon expanding.
David Lawrason – Considered too beefy and rustic to go solo graciano is primarily a blender in Rioja. This departure certainly has heft, with solid acidity and buzz-saw tannin – I like the energy. Somewhat Priorat-like in the structure.

Abelis 2011 Carthago William Selection Crianza, DO Toro, Spain ($23.95)
John Szabo – Toro is downriver from Ribera Del Duero and thus warmer, where tempranillo takes on a riper profile. This is a particularly ambitious version from 45 year-old vines tipping in at 15.5% alcohol with an abundance of oak flavour, which will impress fans of big and bold at the price. Think higher-end Napa cabernet, for example.
David Lawrason – I spent 48 fascinating hours in Toro a few years ago, and was moved by the arid, powerful and picturesque landscape, and the way that power and ruggedness translated to its tempranillo-based reds. The biggest red of the Spanish feature, but proportioned at the same time.

Casa Castillo El Molar 2011

Bikandi Vendimia Seleccionada Reserva 2001

Dominio Dos Tares 2011 Estay Prieto PicudoDominio Dos Tares Estay Prieto Picudo 2011, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León, Spain ($15.95)
John Szabo - Prieto Picudo is another rare red variety of central north-western Spain, somewhere, say, between mencía and tempranillo in style, which is to say naturally high in acid with relatively light tannins. This is a fine and savoury-juicy example, well balanced fleshy and fully satisfying for the money with broad appeal and terrific length, too.
David Lawrason – Another day, another new grape variety. Prieto picudo is a dark skinned grape localized near Leon in northwest Spain. This is a substantial red for the money; wearing a bit too much oak for some perhaps, but offering very good sense of richness and density, especially at $15.95.

Bikandi 2001 Vendimia Seleccionada Reserva, DOCa Rioja Spain ($26.95)
John Szabo - Here’s a fine value for those into mature wines but who don’t want to cellar them for a dozen years. Bikandi has done that for you in this mature, savoury, zesty, old school style Rioja, complete with cinnamon and cedar-tinged oak notes. I like the succulence and juiciness here – this is fine Rioja for current enjoyment, though no rush to dink it, either.
Sara d’Amato - Bright, vibrant and distinctive with still grippy tannins, this surprisingly youthful Rioja delivers an abundance of pleasure with many years ahead. Aged for a whopping 54 months in oak – first in new American barrels for optimum softening followed by a long period in French oak for developing harmony of flavours.

Casa Castillo 2011 El Molar, DO Jumilla Spain ($17.95)
John Szabo - A heart-warming, heady, 100% grenache from southern Spain, with a generous 15% alcohol, for those cold winter nights.

Macho Man 2012 Monastrell, DO Jumilla Spain ($18.95)
John Szabo - I honestly never thought I would ever recommend a wine called “Macho Man”. But I feel ok about it, since it’s not entirely true to its name. It’s rather more of a light-mid-weight man, freshly shaved, sprightly, with even a slightly tender side. In fact, it’s really not very macho at all. If the silly name and label still make you uncomfortable, ask that guy loitering outside the LCBO to buy it for you and just put a bag over it, or decant and quickly discard the bottle in your neighbour’s recycling bin.

Señorío De Sarría 2009 Viñedo No.8 Mazuelo Crianza, Navarra, Spain ($17.95)
David Lawrason – From a grand agricultural estate in the Pyrenees foothills comes a  mazuelo (alias carignan) with a firm, rustic, almost hard-ass ambiance. Some true grit here; I would like to see it age even further. I like its drive.

Macho Man Monastrell 2012 Señorío De Sarría Viñedo No.8 Mazuelo Crianza 2009 Sueño Tempranillo 2011 Vinessens Sein 2011

Sueño 2011 Tempranillo, Ribera Del Júcar, Spain, ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato - Low cropped, 50-year old vines are used to produce this absolutely sensual tempranillo. Ribera del Jucar is one of Spain’s youngest DOs and tends to produce tempranillo with a remarkable degree of refinement and perfumed aromatics such as this great value.

Vinessens 2011 Sein, Alicante, Spain, ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato - This southeastern coastal region is home to some great value monastrell (aka mourvèdre) grown on its loose, sandy soils. This monastrell/syrah blend shows considerable purity of fruit, freshness and an enticing peppery quality.

Buyers’ Guide to Winter Whites

Bachelder 2012 Bourgogne Chardonnay, AC Burgundy, France ($35.95)
John Szabo - A wine crafted in the typical Bachelder style, with evolved flavours from long elevage, yet retaining a good dose of fruit. Honeyed-wet stone flavours lead the profile, ample and mouth filing, with really quite exceptional length and depth overall. This is one of the more concentrated Bourgogne Blancs I’ve tasted from the typically light 2012 vintage.

Vignerons De Buxy 2010 Les Chaniots Montagny 1er Cru, AC Burgundy, France ($25.95)
John Szabo- A fine value from the Côte Châlonnaise from the reliable co-op of Buxy, savoury and succulent. The quality of the 2010 vintage shines here in spades, a year of balanced, minerally wines with genuine power and depth. A great entry point for classic Bourgogne fans.

Domaine Chatelaine 2013 Les Vignes De Saint-Laurent-l’Abbaye, AC Pouilly Fumé, France ($21.95)
John Szabo – The 12th generation now runs the family domaine, and this wine hails from an old Abbey vineyard planted since the 12th century. It’s a crisp, elegant, mineral and highly representative bottle of Pouilly-Fumé.

Bachelder Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012 Vignerons De Buxy Les Chaniots Montagny 1er Cru 2010 Domaine Chatelain Les Vignes De Saint Laurent L'abbaye 2013 Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Rosehall Run Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2013

Porcupine Ridge 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, WO Western Cape, South Africa ($13.95)
John Szabo – A tidy value here from Marc Kent (of Boekenhootskloof in Franshhoek) unmistakably South African with its wet hay and iodine flavours, and with depth, weight and complexity easily beyond the asking price.

Rosehall Run 2013 Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay, Prince Edward County, Ontario ($19.95)
David Lawrason - Hungry Point is the new name for the Cuvee County tier of estate grown wines at Rosehall Run. The entire area that juts into Lake Ontario was once called Hungry Point because its windswept stony soils were so poor for growing traditional food crops. Vines, on the other hand, thrive. The cooler vintage and absence of muffling oak have ignited the fruit here – all kinds of County energy and surprising depth of flavour.

Anselmann 2012 Edesheimer Ordensgut Weissburgunder Kabinett Trocken, Pfalz, Germany ($13.95)
David Lawrason - When travelling Germany two years ago I was most surprised and taken not by riesling, or pinot noir, but by weissburgunder, alias pinot blanc. It inspired me to focus much more attention on this grape from various parts of the world, and I continue to be impressed. This is a slim but intense example bursting with flavour, and excellent length. $13.95, are you kidding me?

Anselmann Edesheimer Ordensgut Weissburgunder Kabinett Trocken 2012 Château De Jurque Fantaisie Jurançon Sec 2012 Kellerei St. Magdalena Pinot Grigio 2013 Imako Vino Majestic Temjanika 2013

Château De Jurque 2012 Fantaisie Jurançon Sec, Southwest France, ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato - Produced on steep slopes of the foothills of the Pyrenees, this dry Jurancon is a typical blend of gros and petit manseng. Jurançon wines are reputed to have powers of virility, in fact, advertisers have long used the motto: “Manseng means Jurançon means Sex” – best to tuck this vibrant, earthy treat away for Valentine’s Day.

Kellerei St. Magdalena 2013 Pinot Grigio, Südtirol Alto Adige, Italy, ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato - This ethereal beauty is not your typical, indistinct pinot grigio but one which offers a lofty texture, crunchy salinity, lush peach and floral notes and punctuated by a hint of delicate bergamot. Pretty, compelling and head-turning.

Imako 2013 Vino Majestic Temjanika, Republic Of Macedonia ($13.95)
Sara d’Amato - In the weird and wonderful category, this inexpensive delight is worth a try for the adventurous. The temjanika grape is a local clone of muscat blanc a petit grains common in the south of France. This very floral example is slightly off-dry with notes of tangerine, licorice and meringue – it should prove a delight with soft, creamy cheeses.


Touring Tuscany & Piedmont

Consider joining me next October in Tuscany and Piedmont for an insider’s deluxe gastronomy tour via Indus Travel. Only fluffy, unlumpy pillows and high thread count sheets, plus daily diet of white truffles, cooking classes, 5-star relaxation and of course, plenty of wine tastings. It will be memorable. Details:

Tuscan Hilltop town- Orvieto-7861
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES January 24th, 2015:

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

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

Pepperjack Barossa Red 2012

Niagara Chilled

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

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES January 10th – Part Two

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

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Oak Bay Gamay Noir 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES Jan 10th release:

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

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

Pepperjack Barossa Red

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

Chile Into The Future

Szabo’s Free RunJanuary 5, 2015

Text and photographs by John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Does the mention “Chilean wine” conjure up the image of a tweed jacket? In this Free Run report I take a look at how this conservative South American country has leaped from the 19th century directly into the 21st. I offer ten reasons why you should rethink your views on Chile, along with the wines that prove the point. And for intrepid travellers, check out these four suggested travel adventures complete with photomontage, as well as some restaurant recommendations in Santiago.

Red Pants Spotted in Chile

The southern hemisphere is on the move. I’m thinking of Australia and South Africa for example, two ‘old’, new world countries that have both been radically rethinking their regional wine identities over the last decade. Now, you can add Chile to that list.

It has taken some time for the most conservative South American country to embrace change and diversity. As Toronto’s Peter Boyd recently commented via twitter: “Chile needs more outliers. More wild men + women ready to abandon the cookie cutter”.

Well Mr. Boyd, the cutters have been shelved and the revolution is in full swing, driven by the smallest operations to even the largest corporations. The new ‘boutique’ producers have no option but to offer something different, since they can never compete with the big guys on price or marketing might. And the large companies can afford to set up experimental divisions to test out new wines and respond to changing market demands, which is what they’re doing. The net result is radically good: from my first visit to Chile in 2006 to the latest last month, the cravats have come off, the top button loosened, and the occasional pair of red pants spotted. There’s evidently growing confidence that Chile can produce so much more than decent $10 cabernet and chardonnay. As Chile-based Antarctic expedition leader Francesco Contini recently revealed to me, “Chileans look all structured and serious, even boring maybe, but there is a wild side to this culture.”

The New Chile

This doesn’t mean they’re chucking out everything and starting over. In the new Chile, it means intelligent perseverance – keeping what’s working well – while at the same time experimenting with new, and often better-suited grapes. Remember that the so-called ‘new world countries’, including Chile, burst onto the scene at a time in the early 1990s when exports were dominated by wines made with a small handful of mostly French grapes. Back then the markets made planting decisions, not winegrowers.

Colchagua Valley, from Altaïr-6835

Colchagua Valley, from Altaïr

It also means prospecting for new, often cooler regions, and allowing regional conditions to inform wine styles rather than boardroom directives. With experience, Chilean winegrowers have become more confident in their terroirs and their ability to express something different. There’s less pressure to emulate some far away European wine style – a futile endeavor in any case. And since the world is more open to, and demanding of, diversity today than ever before in the history of wine, the opportunities are great.

It also means rediscovering the value of “lost varieties”. Like South Africa’s recent enthusiasm for its old chenin blanc, or Australia’s crush on ancient grenache (both planted because they work well, not because some marketer told them they had to be), Chile, too, has a fine collection of old vines. There are plenty of carignan vines that Chilean poet Pablo Neruda himself may have gazed upon in his prime (d. 1973), and even some país speculated to be older than the Republic of Chile itself (independence from Spain was declared in 1818).

Marco Puyo in his pit, Viña San Pedro-6882

Marco Puyo in his pit, Viña San Pedro

But perhaps most importantly, the new Chile has meant dissolving the walls between growers, makers and marketers. In 2006, winery visits began in a boardroom, with the export manager delivering a corporate power point presentation before the winemaker took over to present wines. Vineyards were never visited and vineyard managers never seen.

In 2014, every visit began in a pit – a soil pit dug in the vineyards, with the winemaker and vineyard manager (and even the occasional export manager) enthusiastically digging away to show the different soil structure of their various sub-parcels, which were then related to experimental wine lots back in the winery. Believe it or not, that’s the kind of stuff that tickles the taste buds of a writer jaded by an ocean of me-too varietal wines. And it speaks volumes of a country ready quite literally to examine the deeper crevices of its navel.

So, if you wrote Chile off long ago as the Tweed jacket of the new world – staid, safe and cookie cutter, here are ten things to know that just might change your mind, along with a few wines that will illustrate the point (the hyperlinked wines are available in Ontario; for a full list of top rated Chilean wines available in your province – simply set your WineAlign search parameters to “Chile”).

Warning: you may end up wanting to visit this beautiful country.

Ten Things to Know About Chile

1. There Really is Diversity

Chile is in the early stages of recognizing its full diversity of soils and climates. But from the limestone of Limarí, to the granites and schists of the coastal range, the volcanic rocks of the Andean foothills, the basalts and ash in Bío-Bío and south, and the gravel terraces of the many rivers that flow from the mountains to the sea, they’ve got plenty to work with. Vineyards have also been pushed off the Central Valley floor into the cooler foothills of the Andes and beyond the Coastal Range sometimes within site of the icy Pacific – the Chilean equivalent to the far Sonoma Coast, as well as into the deep south in regions like Itata, Bío-Bío, Malleco, and others further south still, yet to be officially named.

View from Luis Felipe Edwards LFE 900 project vineyards-6955

View from Luis Felipe Edwards LFE 900 project vineyards

For those who have been following the industry this is not breaking news – Marcelo Retamal of De Martino for one has been exploring new areas for over a decade. But plenty more are joining in the hunt, and the planting of new areas has accelerated. And it’s not just the fringe (although there are many small producers pioneering new areas). Even the big players are playing. Carmen’s Waves Series, Montes Outer Limits, Undurraga’s Terroir Hunter Rarities, Casa Silva Microterroir, Concha y Toro Terrunyo, Santa Carolina Specialties, and the Luis Felipe Edwards “LFE 900 Project” are just some examples of the innovative series of wines emerging from well-established companies.

Wines: try the Montes 2014 Outer Limits Cinsault, a crunchy, fruity wine made without oak influence, the winemaker’s own expression and a radical departure from the usually plump, oaky house style, or the 2013 Marqués de Casa Concha País-Cinsault from old, dry farmed vines. It’s a huge statement that Concha y Toro bottled such a wine under this ultra-conservative range; ten years ago a pais under the Marqués label would have been unthinkable.

2. Going Organic

There are still too few wineries taking advantage of Chile’s near perfect climate to farm without chemical intervention, but the industry is slowly shifting in that direction. As winemaker Rodrigo Soto of Veramonte points out, it’s now clear that heavy conventional agro-farming is not only bad for workers and the environment, but it also shortens the lifespan of vines. Many vineyards are dying after barely a couple of decades – premature for plants that can often live to a hundred years or more.

This means that the maximum potential of a site expressed by proper old vines can never be realized. Big operations like Cono Sur and Emiliana prove that it can be done profitably on a large scale, while smaller companies like Matetic, Odjfell and Koyle simply understand that it also makes better wine. Oh, and consumer demand for organic wines is rising – would you pay a dollar or two more for better, organic wine?

Julio Bastías, Matetic-7226

Julio Bastías, Matetic

Geese, Matetic-7267

Geese, Matetic

Wines: Julio Bastías of Matetic is making fine biodynamically-certified wines across the board, though his flagship is the excellent syrah from the granite soils of the Coastal Range –the Coralillo Syrah is the lighter, juicier version, while the EQ Syrah is the more serious, concentrated range, though still very much in the cool climate idiom. Emiliana’s Coyam, also biodynamic, is a terrific, field blend of six grapes planted from massale selections and led by syrah. It’s pure, savoury and mouthfilling. Cono Sur’s Single Vineyard Nº 23 Riesling from the Bío-Bío Valley is the finest example I’ve tasted from Chile.

3. Experimentation is in Full Swing

Dry farming, massal selection, early harvest, wild yeast, whole cluster, carbonic maceration, old wood, clay pots, foudres, low sulphites, natural wine – you name it, every buzzword on the lips of sommeliers from Montreal to Tokyo is spoken, not whispered, in Chile. Just about every ancient and new technique has been trialed somewhere by someone, and the best results will eventually stick. The one-size-fits all recipe is disappearing as quickly as the ceviche spoons at a Latino wine party. Let’s hope that winery owners continue to give their winemakers a “chipe libre” – a free pass – to carry on doing what excites them.

Wines: track down De Martino’s deliciously succulent 2014 Viejas Tinajas Cinsault, a version aged in 200+ year-old clay amphoras unearthed, sometimes literally, in the deepest corners of the country, or Santa Carolina’s 2013 Tinto de Montaña, a blend of mostly 80 year-old malbec picked early and intentionally, or at least not regretfully, a little funky (yes there’s brett!).

4. Mediterranean Grapes Are Back

Chilean wine regions by and large enjoy a Mediterranean climate: a hot, dry, sunny growing season. And after all, the country was colonized by Spain. So it’s logical that Mediterranean grapes would have been at the origins of Chilean viticulture. The Spanish planted País 500 years ago, a grape brought via the Canary Islands (where it’s known as Listán Prieto). Cariñena (carignan) and cinsault have also been part of the Chilean table since Chile was called Chile, and even before.

The deviation to French varieties came much later, but that influence is clearly waning, re-opening the door to more sensible Mediterranean varieties. Grenache (garnacha), mourvedre (monastrell) and syrah are appearing in vineyards from Elquí down to Maule. And what’s most exciting is that the majority of the new “Mediterranean blends” started as true terroir wines, instigated by the winemaker’s vision, from the bottom up not top down – it’s the wine they want to make. Prices are very modest and the best will please any southern France, Italian or Spanish wine drinker.

Cristóbal Undurraga, winemaker, Koyle-6933

Cristóbal Undurraga, winemaker, Koyle

Wines: Casa Lapostolle’s 2013 Collection Mourvèdre is the best southern hemisphere example I’ve tried, made without crushing, fining, or filtration, fermented with wild yeasts and aged in old wood, very Bandol-esque. I love how winemaker Andrea León resisted the old siren call of oak and extraction, and had the courage to let freshness and succulent, just-ripe red fruit dominate. Undurraga’s Terroir Hunter Rarities Garnacha-Cariñena-Monastrell is a fine example of the distinctly Chilean twist on classic Mediterranean grapes, with ample, ripe blue fruit and a significant dose of South American-style garrigue led by the fragrant boldo tree (think fresh bay leaf).

5. Vigno

Vigno, from Vignadores de Carignan , is a recently launched association of twelve founding producers, whose aim is to revalorize the rich history of the Maule Valley and especially its wealth of old vine carignan. The group’s intention is to eventually create an official Denominacíon de Origen (D.O.), though the wines bearing the Vigno name already adhere to strict appellation-like criteria. Among other requirements, Vigno must be made from unirrigated bush vines at least 30 years old (often more than sixty), and at least 2/3 carignan.

Like any appellation or producers’ association, Vigno is imperfect and exclusive (there’s only so much old bush vine carignan around, and dammit it’s a Spanish speaking country so call it cariñena), but it’s a positive step for Chile. Vigno is the country’s first wine with a genuine regional, varietal and stylistic identity. Sommelier students beware – Vigno could show up on a blind tasting exam someday soon.

Wines: Miguel Torres’ Cordillera Vigno, a recent release in Canada, is a pure essence of carignan, savoury and even a touch savage yet with some of the Torres polish; biodynamic producer Odjfell makes a dashingly rustic, stainless steel-aged, old vine carignan with genuine depth and complexity, while Gillmore’s Vigno takes a more vertical tack, with riveting acids and firm, dusty texture, aged in old wood.

6. Pipeño

Pipeño is not a grape, not a place, not a D.O. nor even an association, but it spells fun in a bottle like you never thought Chile could write. Pipeño is your chill, crack and crunch wine, an infinitely drinkable, if loosely defined style that is woefully underrepresented in so many countries. In reality there’s no standard definition of pipeño – the name derives simply from the Spanish word for barrel – pipa – the format in which wine from the 1600s-1800s was invariably sold. Ask any old-time Chilean what pipeño is and he’ll tell you it’s the dodgy stuff gauchos and farmers guzzle from a gallon jug. But it’s quickly becoming the stuff cool sommeliers (and writers) want to be guzzling after their long shifts on the floor (or “serious” tastings).

It’s no accident that I was turned on to pipeño by Chile’s most highly regarded wine writer, Patricio Tapia, and its top sommelier, Hectór Riquelme. Here’s the gist of what it is (or should be): a wine made from ancient país grapes (I tried one from supposedly 250+ year-old vines) and occasionally some equally ancient carineña (although other grapes can be used), vinified as naturally as possible (wild yeast, no additions of any kind, minimal sulphur), and bottled young without any wood ageing, preferably in magnum.

In an age when so many producers strive to make only “important” wines (read: expensive), it’s delightful to see a growing number of Chileans focusing on good, wholesome fermented grape juice meant for drinking not worshipping.

Manuel Moraga, Cacique Maravilla-7303

Manuel Moraga, Cacique Maravilla

Wines: Manuel Moraga is a salt of the earth sort of fellow, the kind of vignador you’d expect to see at the natural wine fair in the Loire Valley. In fact, he’s just sent the first shipment of his Cacique Maravilla Pipeño there, probably to a group of curious vignerons. And speaking of France, sort of, David Marcel is an expatriated Basque, former-courtier-in-Chile-turned Pipeño-producer. His Aupa is a little more gentil than Moraga’s but still captures the savage drinkability of the genre. To prove the point he also bottles it in 330ml format – you might call it a chic beer alternative at the party, only it’s definitely bohemian, not chic.

7. Cabernet Sauvignon

Despite all of the excitement around novelties, Chile’s unique way with cabernet can’t be denied. The grape has a proven track record; it’s been planted for almost 150 years. Not all are great, and indeed many at the basic level are manipulated with acids, oak chips, tannin powder, and more. But the best deliver authentic savoury cab flavor at under $15/bottle, a feat that few other countries can match. And at the top end, especially from classic areas like the gravel terraces of the Alto Maipo as well as from new hillside projects, Chilean cabernet handily delivers equal pleasure alongside much more expensive versions from elsewhere around the world.

Andres Caballero, winemaker, Santa Carolina-6800

Andres Caballero, winemaker, Santa Carolina

Wines: so many to choose from, but for value, character and availability it’s hard to top the 2011 1865 Single Vineyard Cabernet from Viña San Pedro, made from a plot of old vines in the Isla de Maipo that shows classic regional character for under $20 (Ontario). And for sheer excitement about the future, look forward to the Luis Felipe Edwards LFE 900 Vinificacion Integral Cabernet Sauvignon, an experimental wine made from newish, high elevation vines, nearly 900m off the Colchagua valley floor in schists and granites. It shows the potential to carry a big, ripe frame on superb, natural acid and fine-grained tannins. I’m also awaiting the release of Santa Carolina’s Piedras Pizzaras, winemaker Andres Caballero’s latest crush from a thigh-burningly steep, extremely stony (slate-schist) hillside in Totihue, Colchagua Valley.

8. Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon blanc is the most reliable white grape in Chile, and at times one of the most exciting. I’m not referring to the basic tropical fruit cocktail versions from the central valley, I’m referring to those from the coast where the mighty Chilean sun meets the icy Humboldt Current. Casablanca and San Antonio (and the smaller Leyda Valley within) are the most established zones, but watch out for other coastal areas that are starting to get exploited, like Paredones and Zapallar on the far out coast of the Colchagua and Aconcagua Valleys respectively. The entire south from Itata on down is yet another source of potentially excellent sauvignon soon to come online.

And then there’s value: in a world where there’s often little to tell between a $12 and a $20 sauvignon blanc, Chile consistently delivers delicious examples at $5 to $10 dollars less than the average from around the world.

Wines: There are many fine examples from Casablanca and San Antonio/Leyda, but two of the most exiting sauvignons I recently tasted were southerners: Casa Silva’s Lago Ranco is an almost fruitless, purely mineral expression from the Región Austral in Patagonia and its volcanic ash and pyroclastic stone soils, 904 kilometers south of Santiago, and the equally riveting and mineral Laberinto Cenizas de Barlovento, Rafael Tirado’s recent project with vines planted in volcanic ash at 600m in the foothills of the Andes in the eastern Maule Valley.

9. The Best is Yet to Come

“Wait ten years”, sommelier Hectór Riquelme tells me. “We have it here in Chile”. I believe you Hectór. Chile is in a good place, but I can’t help but think that many of Chile’s most promising sites have yet to be planted, and those that are are in their infancy. Those old vineyards are a valuable heritage, but let’s not forget that they were mostly planted to crank out quantity, not quality wine. Imagine what we’ll taste when today’s plantings of the right grapes in the right place, designed to maximize site expression, reach 50 years of age. That’s exciting.

Terroirist Pedro Parra-5641

Terroirist Pedro Parra

Thankfully the spirit the of exploration and experimentation is alive and well, and if I had to point to one man who’s made the greatest difference in changing the Chilean mind-set, it’s self-declared “terroirist” Pedro Parra. Parra, a rare expert who combines knowledge of rocks and soils along with their relation to both grape growing and wine style (most geologists aren’t trained winetasters), has been instrumental in helping dozens of Chilean (and international) wineries better understand their terroir and how to exploit it, and which new areas are worth planting. All those soil pits? You can thank Parra for them.

“About a decade ago, people started to realize that Chile could be much more interesting than it is”, says Parra. “The reality today is that the best terroirs are far away from Santiago, but the ‘big money’ doesn’t want to go that far from the capital.” True enough, it’s hard to establish a wine region where there’s virtually no infrastructure, but the ones willing to be pioneers may well reap huge rewards. To be continued, and keep digging, Pedro.

Wines: Parra puts his money where his mouth wants to be in his own project, Clos des Fous. Along with friend and winemaker François Massoc and two other partners, this crazy venture seeks out extreme terroirs: high altitude, extreme coast or deep south. The Clos des Fous Tocao Granito Paleozoico is a mesmerizing malbec from a vineyard planted in 1914 in the southern Bío-Bío Valley, with marvelously fresh acids and fine, granitic tannins.

10. It’s a Beautiful Country to Visit

Fairytale climate, increasingly fine food and excellent wine, and breathtaking, varied landscape should be enough to convince you. But why read words when you can see photographs – watch this short compilation of some of my highlights from Santiago, Tierra del Fuego, Cachapoal, Colchagua, Curicó and San Antonio. Just the tip of the iceberg, as they say.

And here’s my mini travel guide of memorable things to do in Chile, and places to eat in Santiago.

Four Memorable Things to do:

1. Stargazing in the Elquí Valley

Enjoy one of the clearest night skies on the planet, guaranteed cloudless, unless you’re the unlucky one who arrives on the one rainy day per decade.

2. Horseback Riding in Colchagua

A great way to visit the vineyards up close; early morning or late afternoons best. Also makes you very thirsty – start with the sauvignon blanc post ride.

Horseback riding at Montgras, Colchagua-7132

Horseback riding at Montgras, Colchagua


Bill Zacharkiw and I saddle up


3. Camping in Torres del Paine National Park

An astonishingly beautiful park, even by Canadian standards. And major bonus: Chilean mosquitos don’t bite.

4. Boat cruising in Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

Glaciers, fjords, Magellenic forests and penguins and other wildlife galore – the trip of a lifetime.

The glacier at Almirantazgo Bay-6369

The glacier at Almirantazgo Bay

Penguins, Magdalena Island-6464

Penguins, Magdalena Island



Places to Eat and Drink in Santiago:

1. Donde Augusto. Delivering ultra fresh, rustically prepared seafood in the bustling Mercado Central since 1872. That’s right, 1872. An experience not to be missed.

Donde Augusto, Mercado Central-7315

2. D.O. Restorán. Back from 10 years in Spain working with some of that country’s most innovative chefs, Juan Morales’ mission is to highlight the depth and diversity of Chilean products. The acronym stands for “Denominación de Origen”, which, as it also applies to wine, means products with a sense of place – the mantra of the restaurant.

D.O. Restorán-5659

D.O. Restorán

Juan Morales. D.O.-5661

Juan Morales

3. “ChPe” Pisco Republic. A self-declared independent republic housing the best piscos offered in northern Chile (Ch) and southern Peru (Pe), and there are hundreds. The cuisine follows suit; try the outstanding ceviche (both Chilean and Peruvian style). If your partner isn’t into pisco or even sours, next door is Bocanariz, one of Santiago’s best wine bars.

del Pisco

4. Liguria. An atmospheric, boisterous wine bar serving simple but tasty Chilean classics and copious bottles of wine.

Bar Liguria-5592


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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

For a full list of top rated Chilean wines available in your province – simply set your WineAlign search parameters to “Chile”.

Find Wines from Chile

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!

Rosehill Wine Cellars

Niagara Icewine Festival

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES January 10th – Part One

WineAlign: Past, Present and Future, & Smart Euro Wines
By John Szabo MS with notes from Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

“Hope Smiles from the threshold of the year to come, Whispering ‘it will be happier’…” said Alfred Tennyson. At WineAlign, we have plenty of reasons to be happy about this past year, but even more to welcome the hopeful smiles of 2015. In 2014, over 1.5 million of you and your unique friends visited WineAlign and put your trust in us for recommendations. December alone saw nearly 3,500 new users join the WineAlign community, and close to 40,000 of you logged in, presumably to find great wines and spirits, which remains the raison d’être for our little slice of the World Wide Web. In 2014, 6.3 million pages flashed in front of users’ eyes, with the average session lasting 3 minutes and 26 seconds, a veritable three-day weekend in Internet time. For all of your trust, time and support, we are deeply grateful.

But we won’t be taking too many long weekends in 2015 to reflect on past success. On the contrary, we have big plans. We’ll be undertaking the massive migration to “responsive web design”, which, according to the masters of web land, means that WineAlign will perform magically on whatever electronic device you own now, or will ever own. It’ll be faster, sleeker, more efficient, shearing off precious time between you and your next memorable glass.

WineAlign Unique Visitors

We’re six years old now, as old as the eternal city in the cyber world, so it’s also high time for a little renovation. We’ll be refreshing the site with a more contemporary look; out with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and in with the urban landscape of the future. With the revitalization will come new features, not least of which will be individual pages for all of your favorite critics – you’ll find each of our latest reviews and recommendations, articles, micro posts, videos and photographs in one place, so we can get to know each other even better. We’re also streamlining our data input system to get more reviews onto the site. Soon, all of the additional thousands of wines the WineAlign team reviews on the road each year will find their way efficiently into the database. Many of these wines may not be currently available at your local shop, but we know that you travel, too, and the more the merrier as they say. We aim to be the number one reference resource for all things liquid and tasty not just in Canada but also internationally, and we have the crack team in place to achieve just that. We’d also love to hear any suggestions you have that could make WineAlign even more useful for you. (

So here’s to the past, present and future, on this, the threshold of the New Year 2015. May your cup runneth over with good wine.

VINTAGES 10th Buyers Guide: Smart Euro Wines

Of course, all of this development costs some serious dough, so we’ll be easing off the grand crus and looking for the smartest values for the next little while. That’s what the January 10th release is all about. Part One of the report this week covers the top smart buys from European soil (all under $25, many closer to $16), and next week we’ll look at the rest of the world. David was gathering vinous intel in Argentina in December and missed the media tasting, but he’ll be back next week as usual with all of his reviews from the follow-up tastings.

Euro Whites

Domaine Du Bois-Malinge 2013 Muscadet Sèvre Et Maine Sur Lie Ac, Loire, France ($13.95) John Szabo – A crisp and very dry, classically-styled Muscadet designed for the aperitif hour.

Rabl 2013 Kittmansberg Grüner Veltliner DAC Kamptal Austria ($14.95) John Szabo - A fine buy to keep around the house for casual sipping from the ever-reliable Rudi Rabl, crisp, dry and sprightly.

Domaine Bois Malinge Muscadet Sèvre Et Main 2013Rabl Kittmansberg Grüner Veltliner 2013Borgo Magredo Mosaic Pinot Grigio 2013Gunderloch Fritz's Riesling 2013

Borgo Magredo 2013 Mosaic Pinot Grigio, Friuli Grave, Italy, ($15.95) (72389) Sara d’Amato - A fresh and unadulterated pinot grigio from the gravelly soils of the aptly named “Grave del Friuli”. This innovative winery prides itself on decades of oenological research and cutting edge vinification tools, which it uses to produce appealing and modern wines while preserving purity of fruit – the essence of the terroir. This undressed example boasts lively acids and notable minerality.

Gunderloch 2013 Fritz’s Riesling, Qualitätswein, Germany, ($13.95) Sara d’Amato - Gunderloch’s unbelievably steep, red slate soils on the banks of the Rhein are almost entirely planted with naturally low-yielding riesling. Fritz Hasselbach, along with his wife Agnes manage the estate and are well-known ambassadors of the unique riesling grown on the “Roter Hang” between Nackenheim and Nierstein. Fritz’s riesling is upbeat and playful but delivers great impact for such a small price.

Euro Reds

Château Beauséjour Hostens 2010, AC Haut Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($22.95) John Szabo - A complex, well-structured, succulent and savoury Bordeaux from the excellent 2010 vintage, with concentration and density well above the mean for the price. I like the range of dark fruit flavour, the integrated wood spice, the firm tannins and balanced acids. Solid stuff, and will be even better in 2-5 years.

Lafage Côté Sud 2010, IGP Côtes Catalanes, Roussillon, France ($14.95) John Szabo - Source of excellent value, characterful wines, the Roussillon delivers slightly savage, garrigue and blue fruit-flavoured wines, such as this example from Lafage. Across Jean-Marc Lafage’s sizable 160 hectare estate, average yields run about 20hl/ha, barely more than half the permitted yield in Grand Cru Burgundy, which accounts, in part, for the concentration on offer. Thankfully the pricing remains très Midi. For salty protein and snowfalls.

Ontañón 2010 Crianza Tempranillo/Garnacha DOCa Rioja Spain ($16.95) - John Szabo - Another fine, balanced, savoury and succulent wine from Ontañon, a reliable name in the Rioja constellation of producers. Best 2014-2020.

Château Beauséjour Hostens 2010 Lafage Côté Sud 2012 Ontañón Crianza 2010 Boutari Naoussa 2010 San Silvestro Brumo Nebbiolo d'Alba 2012

2010 Boutari Naoussa PDO Naoussa Greece ($13.95) John Szabo - An intriguing find for fans of traditional, old school, European wines at a super price. It’s not for pre-dinner sipping, mind you, but something to pull out with the roasts or braised meats. How refreshing it is to come across a wine that’s so decidedly non-fruity, fully focused savoury, earthy, sundried tomato flavours and much more; Boutari is back on track with this xynomavro classic in 2010. Best 2014-2020.

2012 San Silvestro Cantine Brumo Nebbiolo D’alba Doc, Piedmont, Italy ($15.95) John Szabo – A more than decent entry-level nebbiolo for fans of the grape. Best 2014-2018.

Saint Saturnin De Vergy 2012 Bourgogne Hautes Côtes De Beaune, Burgundy, France, ($24.95) Sara d’Amato - Complex, aromatic and structurally sound, this well-priced Burgundy hits all the right marks. I imagine this classic, polished and stylish pinot to be a top seller in this release.

Maison Roche De Bellene 2012 Cuvée Réserve Bourgogne, Burgundy, France ($21.95) Sara d’Amato - Roche de Bellene’s style tends to veer on the side of restrained and elegant with great finesse and this sophisticated buy is a case and point example. Both dinner party and cellar worthy – this class act exudes refinement and boasts deliciously distinctive pinot noir character.

Saint Saturnin De Vergy Bourgogne Hautes Côtes De Beaune 2012Maison Roche De Bellene Cuvée Réserve Bourgogne 2012Quercecchio Rosso Di Montalcino 2012Villa Mora Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2008

Quercecchio 2012 Rosso Di Montalcino Tuscany, Italy, ($16.95) Sara d’Amato - Good Rosso di Montalcino such as this has characteristics of its big brother, Brunello, and this cheerful and complex example over-delivers. From Quercecchio’s historic estate, this succulent find is certainly a top value in this first release of the New Year.

Villa Mora Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2008, Umbria, Italy, ($16.95) Sara d’Amato - A “super-Umbrian” blend of sangiovese, sagrantino, merlot and cabernet that has been given a great deal of attention. Wonderfully decadent, upfront, highly appealing and complex – a sure-fire hit.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES January 10th, 2015:

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

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



Niagara Chilled

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Bill, John and Treve’s Excellent Portuguese Adventure

Treve’s Travels

Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Earlier this fall, John Szabo, Bill Zacharkiw and I spent some time tasting and travelling together through northwest Portugal. Though the coastal slip of a country is small in size, its wine tradition is vast in scale, reaching back thousands of years. With just under 11 million people, Portugal ranked 11th in the world for wine production in 2011, and was 10th in wine exports. Small, but mighty! Vines grow everywhere, from residential backyards to prohibitively steep slopes, and winemaking is an intrinsic part of Portuguese culture.

As John deftly explained in his recent article, Portuguese wine diversity is unparalleled. The quality and range of the country’s autochthonous, or native varieties (about 250) coupled with the 200 or so identified microclimates and wide range of soil types results in infinite wines – and that’s before any stylistic winemaker intervention or historic tradition.

Further to his view on Portugal’s biodiversity in a glass, John believes “the evidence points to the southwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula as a hot spot for vine biodiversity, a so-called “refuge” during the last Ice Age. And within the last century, for myriad socio-politico-economic reasons, Portugal essentially sidestepped the erosion of varietal diversity that occurred in many other parts of the old world. The net result, and most importantly for wine lovers, is that Portugal has held on to an astonishing collection of unique indigenous grapes. Considering the strikingly different terroirs harboured in this relatively small country, from the cool and rainy, granite-based vineyards of the Minho in the north to the blazing hot schists of the Upper Douro, or the baked sandy clays of the Alentejo in the south, Portugal ranks as one of the world’s richest sources of original, and often beautiful, wines.”

For such a small country, there’s a lot to learn and experience, and we did our best in our intensive trip to absorb it all. We focused on Vinho Verde, Douro, Bairrada and Dão regions, taking in the culture (generous, authentic and friendly) and food (fresh, sea-centric and seasonal) along with hundreds of wines and a few appreciated aguardente .

Of course, being WineAlign kin, we had some very memorable excellent adventures along the way…

The WineAlign Crew in The Douro Valley-3445

The WineAlign crew in the Douro Valley

John (JSZ), Bill (BZ) and I (TR) have packaged up some highlights, lessons, takeaways and our best Portuguese language skills here for you (hint – JSZ wins the language trophy. All the language trophies).

Saúde ~ Treve


Section I : THE GRAPES

This is a test. Without looking it up, what are synonym (s) for the following :

IMG_7012Arinto (answer Pedernã)

JSZ. Pederña
BZ. Acid
TR. Herbal white tastes like more

Tinta Roriz (answer Tempranillo, Olha e Lebre, Aragones)

JSZ. Aragonês, Tempranillo
BZ. Elegance
TR. Tempranillo

Tinta Bairrada (answer Baga)

JSZ. Baga
BZ. Makes Baga less yahoo
TR. Baga

Maria Gomes (Answer Fernão Pires)

JSZ Fernão Pires
BZ. Muscaty
TR Fernão Pires 

Sousão (answer Vinhão)

JSZ. Vinhão (Vinho Verde)
BZ. raisin bran

Fly Shitted (Borrado das Moscas)  (answer Bical)

JSZ. Bical
BZ. Freckles
TR. Hm… it was speckled. Small dots. White grape. How could I forget this one?

Dog Choker

JSZ. Esgana Cão, or Sercial (with an “S”, not a “C”)
BZ. Mourvedre
TR. Ripping acidity!

Answer, TR: This caused us the greatest amount of confusion on the trip, as different winemakers told us different things and the grape takes different spellings and names depending on where it is from. Upon returning home and referencing my grape bible, Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes, I have clarified that Cerceal is an acidic Douro variety not to be confused with Madeira’s Sercial.

Cerceal is identical to Cercial in Bairrada but distinct from both Sercial on Madeira and Cercial in Pinhel.

Madeira’s Sercial is known as Esgana Cão on the mainland and it is exceptionally high in acid. The name Esgana Cão translates to dog strangler, hinting to the fierce acidity of the wines.


New grape discoveries from the trip that you want in your glass & why.

JSZ. Alvarelhão: This local red variety was apparently listed as one of Portugal’s most promising grape grapes in Jancis Robinson’s mid-1980s seminal work Vines, Grapes and Wines, But I guess it hasn’t caught on. I have only ever seen alverelhão at Campolargo in Bairrada, though based on my small sampling (one single wine), I wish there were more. It’s marvellously spicy and earthy, reminiscent of Burgundy or refined Loire Valley cabernet franc, light and dusty, the very definition of a modern sommelier’s wine.

Loureiro: one of the classic grapes of Vinho Verde, usually part of a blend, but there appears to be increasing solo bottlings of the variety. Loureiro performs best in the Lima Valley sub-region in the north of Vinho Verde (just south of Monçao e Melgaço), in a cool, highly Atlantic-influenced area. It’s an aromatic grape with lots of terpenes (the molecules that give riesling, muscat, gewürztraminer, pinot gris and others their characteristic floral notes), light, fresh and beautifully transparent. Try the yop notch examples from Aphros or Antonio Lopes Ribeiro.

BZ. Encruzado. We have a few wines available here in Quebec, but as I dig the mineral I want even more. The grape combines texture and freshness and that makes me happy.

To Try:
Quinta Da Ponte Pedrinha 2012
Álvaro Castro Reserve White 2012, Dão
Quinta Das Marias Encruzado 2011, Dão

TR. Really liked Alfrocheiro – alluring bright acid, wild florals and fine tannins in a lighter red. For whites, I was drawn to the waxy, flinty and herbal qualities of Encruzado, and was impressed by its aging capacity.

Bill ZacharkiwSparkling Baga. Yay / nay?

JSZ. Yay, except for maybe the red versions.

TR. YEA – the blanc baga!

Bill on Baga:

Baga – it’s a grape, and for some, a passion. Spend time tasting with the Luis Pato and the rest of the “Baga friends” and even if you don’t really like the wines, you want an “I love Baga” t-shirt.

I call it a bit of a “yahoo grape.” The aromatics can be boisterous, that tannins can unruly and the acidity can be like a dagger. But in the hands of a winemaker with a more delicate hand, it can do some impressive things. With higher yields it can be downright juicy, like a dark-fruited Beaujolais with a poor disposition. When grown to be a bigger wine, it can age well, gaining more mushroom and spice notes.

I doth protest, however, to the sparkling baga. I found them as confusing as sparkling shiraz in Australia. Simply because it can be done, does not mean that it should be done.

To try:
Campolargo Baga Bairrada 2010


Takeaway thoughts on Vinho Verde.

JSZ. Although quality in all Portuguese wine regions has risen significantly in the last generation, Vinho Verde could rightly claim to be the most improved. It has transformed itself from a region dominated by highly rustic, mostly red wines that were the proverbial definition of “local specialty” and cheap, spritzy, off-dry, basic whites, into a reliable source of light, crisply acidic, minerally, keenly priced white wines that neatly fit in to the zeitgeist of modern drinking.

It’s claimed that Vinho Verde was the fist Portuguese wine exported to European markets, mainly to Britain, Flanders and Germany (although Madeira would be a more likely candidate). In any case, today, Vinho Verde ranks second in total sales in the Portuguese market after the Alentejo (which is mostly red), while export are also up from 15% to nearly 40% of the production.

The traditional vine training systems up trees or purpose-built pergolas, designed to maximize land use not quality, have all but disappeared in commercial vineyards (you’ll still see high trellising in home vineyards, where precious land is still reserved for vegetables or other crops while grapes grow above). Factor in reduced yields, a focus on the half-dozen or so most suitable grape varieties, and a critical mass of producers pushing the envelope of potential, and the scene is very exciting indeed.

BZ. I have a soft spot for Vinho Verde, much like I do for Muscadet. They are simple wines, inexpensive, and when made without too much residual sugar, so highly packable. Being oyster season, I will no doubt pick myself up a bottle to enjoy one evening with a dozen.

But not everyone can appreciate the simple. What’s happening up in the northern part of the region with alvarinho needs more press, and more bottles being shipped to Canada. This is Portugal’s Chablis, with wines that show more subtlety than Spanish albariño, but with the minerality and depth.

To try:
Anselmo Mendes Alvarinho 2012
Deu La Deu Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2013

TR. It’s a shame that the range Vinho Verde available in Portugal is nothing like we see here. I tasted dozens of serious dry wines of terroir from across 10 demarcated sub-regions, and from a diverse array of grapes. In fact, nearly half of production in Vinho Verde is from red grapes, with vinhão proving the most successful, followed by azal tinto and espadeiro.

Whites, fortunately, are marginally easier to find, even with their limited reach. Light and lower in alcohol, the white wines vary considerably from the crisper, focused wines of northern Vinho Verde down through the riper styles of the south. alvarinho rules the white grapes (especially from the northern subregion of Monção and Melgaço) through its fleshy white peach, apricot, floral, stony characteristics and bracing acidity. A versatile grape that reflects its soils soundly, it responds well to malolactic or barrel fermentation and maturation to yield wines of complexity and ability. I also fell in love with the floral, citrus, herbal spiced local white varieties of loureiro, trajadura, arinto and azal, each quite distinct and memorable.

To try:
Quinta Do Ameal Escolha White 2011, Vinho Regional Minho
Toucas Alvarinho 2011

Takeaway thoughts on Dão.

JSZ. Cool, fresh, floral reds with blends dominated by touriga naçional . Touriga here takes on much more perfumed, rose and violet, blue fruit aromatics relative to TN from the more severe Douro Valley. The whites, based on encruzado, are among Portugal’s most compelling. Stylistically they’re the white Burgundies of Portugal, to use a horribly overused but not-inaccurate analogy.

BZ. Portugal’s Bordeaux. When it’s on, it combines finesse with power like no other region in Portugal.  This is the native home of touriga naçional and it shows. Unlike in the Douro, when it can veer towards high alcohols and figgy, fried fruits, in the Dao, touriga naçional offers power and finesse. And for the quality of the wine you are getting, they are remarkably inexpensive.

To try:
Carvalhais Duque De Viseu Red 2011
Quinta Dos Roques Vinho Tinto 2011
Quinta Da Ponte Pedrinha 2005

John on Douro Table Wine:

Foot trodding in the traditional style at Quinta Vale Dona Maria, Douro Valley-3323

Foot trodding in the traditional style at Quinta Vale Dona Maria

Moving Over To The Table. The Douro Valley is undergoing a massive focus shift from port to table wine (unfortified red and white). A cast of innovative and creative characters are rewriting the history, or in some cases recovering the history of the region. I’m referring for example to the important work of the “Douro Boys”, a loose association of like-minded producers established in the early 1990s (representing Crasto, Neipoort, Vale Dona Maria (Cristano Van Zeller), Vallado and Vale Meão), or Sandra Tavares of Wine & Soul who have significantly raised the image of Douro table wine while still making great port.

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed as other players large and small, well-established or just starting out, have understood the need to raise quality. It’s heartening to see old vineyards being recovered, rehabilitated and maintained, while many new plantings have shifted away from the prevailing monovarietal philosophy of the ’80s and ‘90s and back to the traditional approach of multi-variety field blends that are such an important and increasingly unique part of Portuguese winegrowing heritage.

And the Wines? Which wines to try? There are many. There’s the silken, Burgundian-like Charme, or the more robust, “traditional” Batuta from Niepoort, the forceful new world richness of Crasto’s Vinhas Velhas, the prickly and zesty Souzão from Vallado, the elegantly textured Vinha Francisca or the manifestly richer and denser 85 year-old vineyard blend of Vale Dona Maria, or the Upper Douro savage intensity and thickness of Vale Meão. It would be a shame not to experience the miraculous juxtaposition of power and finesse, florality and fine-grained structure of Wine & Soul’s Quinta da Manoella Vinhas Velhas, or the remarkable poise and polish of Quinta da Romaneira, or again, the density without sacrificing elegance of the Real Companhia Velha Vinhas Velhas de Carvalhas. And I haven’t even mentioned the whites…

To try :
Niepoort Vertente 2009
Crasto Vinho Tinto 2011
Quinta Do Crasto Old Vines Reserva 2009
Meandro Do Vale Meão 2011
Porca De Murça Reserva Tinto 2011
Quinta Do Vallado Reserva Field Blend 2009
Niepoort Dialogo Branco 2011

On Pricing. Although the prices for these and other top wines are certainly high, in the $50-$100+ range (even if I find them more than fairly priced in the relative world of fine wine), the average price for Douro table wine remains artificially low. So, buy while you can. As we learned on this visit, the prices paid for Douro grapes are in many cases below the cost of production. And one look at the savagely steep vineyards of the region, coupled with the Douro’s extreme climate, and it’s obvious that production costs are high and yields low.

Where once grape growers could earn a comfortable living selling a large percentage of their grapes for port wine, and looked upon the “leftover” grapes destined for table wine as a bonus, today, with the shrinking port market and thus demand for grapes, the money paid for the smaller percentage of grapes allocated for port no longer cover production costs of the entire quinta. Table grape prices will have to rise or growers will be out of business. Large companies have no interest in acquiring more vineyards since they can purchase grapes for less that it would cost to grow them, never mind the capital cost of acquiring the vineyards and maintaining them. Eventually something will have to give; vineyards will be abandoned or prices will rise. In any case it’s clear that the days of fine quality $15 Douro wines are numbered.



We met some interesting, forward-thinking folks moving the needle of Portuguese wine and challenging convention. Here are three people or movements that we want you to know about.

Sandra Tavares, Wine & Soul, Douro Valley-3580

Sandra Tavares, Wine & Soul

Bill on Wine & Soul:

When I first met Sandra Tavares back in 2010, she changed the way I thought about Douro’s table wines. Hers had an elegance that I had never tasted in the wines of the region. And after this most recent visit, I am even more convinced that great things can be done here.

Along with her husband, Jorge Borges, their winery “Wine & Soul” has much more than simply a modern name and snappy wine labels. The entire line-up is worth drinking. Hell, I even loved their Port. Granted it was a blend of two barrels made in 1880 and 1900, but still, I normally don’t really like it.

Wine and Soul is about single vineyard wines, great grape growing, and made with traditional food stomped grapes. Each wine has its own character. And what you come away with is that the Douro does indeed have great terroir.

John on Vinho Verde producers today:

Some names to watch for:

Vasco Croft, Aphros Wines

Vasco Croft, Aphros Wines

Aphros Wine. The calm, confident and introspective Vasco Croft took over his mother’s semi-abandoned 17th century family estate in 2003 in the Lima Valley in the north of Vinho Verde. He assembled a team of crack consultants and began conversion to biodynamics in 2006. Starting with the original 6 hectares, Croft has since purchased the neighboring eight-hectare quinta, and rents another six, bringing the current total to 20 hectares in production.

The most suitable variety in the cool, heavily Atlantic-influenced Lima Valley is Loureiro, a very floral (terpenic) white variety, which represents three-quarters of production. Croft makes three different versions, and even the entry-level Aphros Vinho Verde Loureiro is impressive, made in a richer, riper style with plenty of fruit extract as well as herbal-hay notes. A pinch of residual sugar (8 grams in the 2013) is in perfect balance. The Daphnos cuvee, another variation on loureiro made only in suitable vintages and fermented in barrel after a half-day soak on the skins, is a rare success for an aromatic grape aged in wood. It’s a wine of texture and complexity rather than a varietal expression, and all the more interesting for it.

Provam (Varando do Conde). Provam is a hybrid cooperative-negociant, bringing together ten associates each with their own parcels, but who also purchase from 300 producers in the sub-region of Monçao e Melgaço. A long-standing value favorite of mine is the Varando do Conde Vinho Verde made from 70% alvarinho and 30% trajadura. This shows the mineral, decomposing stone character that typifies the region, and offers considerable density and weight for the money.

ALR (Casa da Mouraz). “ALR” refers to António Lopes Ribeiro, who along with his former dance teacher wife Sara Dionísio, produce wine both in Vinho Verde under the ALR label and in the Dão under Casa de Mouraz. The VV project was established in 2006 when, after much searching, the couple found a 4ha parcel of organically grown Loureiro in the Lima Valley sub-region. They wanted to produce a radically different style of white wine from what they were making in the Dão. As in the Dão, biodynamic principals are applied though the wines aren’t certified; they distrust the administrators at Demeter.

Wines are all fermented naturally and only minimal sulphur is used. A mini vertical of the 2013-2012-2011 ALR Vinho Verde, the only wine currently produced, made clear that fine Vinho Verde can improve with age, and in some cases needs time in bottle to fully express itself. These are pure and transparent, crystalline Vinho Verde with quivering acids and pitch-perfect balance, taking on riesling-like petro and mineral notes with bottle age.

Treve on Luis Pato:

Luis Pato’s family has been producing wine since the 18th century, and his father, Joâo was the first to bottle wine in Bairrada DOC after it was officially demarcated as an appellation in 1979. “Bairrada” is from “barros” (clay) and due to the clay-laden soils throughout the area. Though the region is relatively recently recognized by the rule books, it is an ancient area for grape growing. Viticulture in Bairrada has existed since at least the 10th century, when the region gained independence from the Moors. Recognized for its deep, full and tannic reds, the wines of Bairrada were sought after during the 17th century when the Douro’s illustrious Port houses, pressed to satisfy the growing British tastes for Port, would blend in wines from the region to ramp up quantity.

Together with his father, Luis is credited with bringing Bairrada back to life, legitimately. Though the Pato name (Portuguese for duck, and referenced by the bird in flight on the label) is synonymous with Bairrada, Luis has used the name in Beiras (outside) on his labels since 1999, in opposition to the Bairrada head office and politics within. He was also protesting “flying grape varieties” in the region; the proliferation of international grapes planted in Bairrada. In his opinion, Beiras should be the larger, unified region with the term Bairrada reserved for top reds of hometown hero baga.

Luis Pato is also the first and only one in the world to produce sercialinho, a Portuguese cross planted by his father 40 years ago. Luis believes it to be a cross of sercial with alvarinho, true to name. Though his solo sercialinho is not available in Canada, a fantastic blend utilizing the grape is – the chalky, white grapefruit and smoked stone Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas Branco 2012.

The Baga Friends, In Luis Pato's kitchen-3753

The Baga Friends, in Luis Pato’s kitchen

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

Champagne and Sparkling Report 2014

By John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Admittedly, publishing this report on December 23rd reinforces the notion that sparkling wines are only suitable for celebration or special occasion, which is, of course, nonsense. I regularly pop corks anytime between January 1st and December 31st, often simply to celebrate that the sun has risen again, or that the atmosphere still contains oxygen (note that the views of this author are, in this rare case only, shared by the publisher of WineAlign and its entire editorial team). Yet the last couple of months of each year register over half of annual champagne and sparkling sales, so it’s also a sensible time to publish, if only to capture your attention.

So, following are a dozen occasions to buy and drink sparkling wine, in case you needed inspiration, along with a smart buy or two for each. Some occasions are holiday related, while others are applicable year-round. All wines are currently available in Ontario; those available in consignment will list the agent name and link to their profile page on WineAlign where you can access their contact info – these are the ones you’ll be buying by the 6 or 12 pack. The rest are in stock at the LCBO or are available through the local winery.

1. Lunch with the Girls

Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut Grange Of Prince Edward Sparkling Riesling 2013 Bottega Vino Dei Poeti ProseccoThere’s lots to talk about, so no time to fuss over precious wine. The Bottega Vino Dei Poeti Prosecco, Veneto, Italy ($13.95) delivers exactly what’s needed: a gentle, barely off-dry, lightly effervescent burst of happiness at a drink-another-bottle price. For those who prefer it a little sweeter, opt for the Grange Of Prince Edward 2013 Sparkling Riesling, Prince Edward County ($19.95), a medium-sweet, authentic riesling-flavoured bubbly from the Grange’s estate fruit.

On the other hand, if your girlfriends are free in the middle of the day and up for boozy lunches, there’s a good chance they work in hospitality, so you’ll want something a little more “important”. Cave Spring has quietly been making some of Ontario’s best bubbly, especially the refined 100% chardonnay Cave Spring Blanc De Blancs Brut, VQA Niagara Escarpment ($29.95). It’s treated to three years on the lees for extra biscuitiness, without the calories.

2. To Take to the Big House Party

Nino Franco Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Belstar Brut, ProseccoWho knows whether you’ll be offered crystal stems or paper cups, if it’s a beer and cocktail crowd, or if a pack of rabid wine snobs may be lurking in the corner. But for all eventualities, the Belstar Prosecco, Veneto, Italy ($16.95) has you covered. It’s inexpensive but not available at the LCBO so you can make up any price you want, the package looks classy and expensive, and the wine inside is actually damned good. It’s a less frivolous version, on the drier side of brut, ideal for sipping and chatting, or washing down the smoked salmon canapés. Buy a case, you’ll need it. Available through 30-50 Imports, 12b/case.

3. To Crack When Friends Drop By (unexpectedly or not)

You know its gonna happen, so don’t be caught unawares. Nothing’s more welcoming to a long-lost friend, or better for neighbor relations, than the gesture of cracking a bottle of bubbly. But champagne’s too expensive for my freeloading acquaintances and noisy neighbors, so split the difference with the Nino Franco Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Italy ($21.95), a premium but affordable prosecco from one of the most lauded producers in the region. This is very dry and crisp, more stony than fruity  – you might call it a grown-up version.

4. Intimate Family Dinner

Josef Chromy Sparkling 2008 André Clouet Brut RoséTime to dig deeper and enjoy. The André Clouet Champagne Brut Rosé, France ($62.95) is just about the finest rosé champagne I’ve tasted this year, probably in several years, certainly for the price. It’ sumptuous and rich, generously proportioned and perfectly balanced. This classy latest shipment from small grower André Clouet was disgorged in April 2014, made from a 2010 base wine with the balance from 2009 and 2008, all from grand cru vineyards in Bouzy. Considering the oft-inflated price of the category this is very smart value. It’ll pass from aperitif to table with grace. 6/case; Groupe Soleil, Stephen Cohen,

5. With Oysters

Tasmanians know a thing or two about both oysters (send up those Pacific Crassostrea gigas please) and sparkling. In fact, cool Tassie is currently the hottest source in Oz for sparkling wine grapes (and fine chardonnay and pinot in still versions, too). Josef Chromy makes a very bright 2008 Méthode Traditionnelle, Tasmania ($29.95), perfectly brisk, fresh and very dry, not to say ideal with those salty, iodine, cucumber-tinged Pacific bivalves. At the price, you can also throw in another dozen.

6. The Classy Brunch

Schramsberg Blanc De Blancs Brut 2011 Hinterland Ancestral 2014What better way to start the day? Act quickly to secure a few bottles of the 2014 Méthode Ancestrale, Prince Edward County ($25.00) from sparkling specialists Hinterland, a gamay based, lightly effervescent, off-dry bubbly with about 8% alcohol that sells out quickly each year. It’s like a pre-made raspberry mimosa, made in the original sparkling method, by bottling still-fermenting wine (well, back then it was accidental, now it’s on purpose). Available from the winery; order before December 24th for pre-New Year delivery.

When you move to the table, move on to the Schramsberg 2011 Blanc De Blancs Brut, North Coast Region, California ($51.95). Sometimes champagne seems over the top, but you needn’t give up on pleasure, and Schramsberg is a wine with quality and pedigree. It was founded by Jacob Schram in 1862, and lays claim to America’s first commercially produced, Chardonnay-based brut sparkling wine in 1965. Fruit from the cool and ideal 2011 sparkling vintage comes from vineyards in Sonoma and Mendocino as well as Napa County, yielding a brisk and lively, citrus and green apple-flavoured bubbly. A quarter of the base wine is barrel fermented, adding a delicate touch of spice, while nearly two years on the lees broadens complexity further to give you hope for the rest of the day. Available through The Vine Agency, 6/case.

7. For Contemplative Sipping

Diebolt Vallois Prestige Brut Blanc De Blancs Louise Brison Champagne BrutFor moments more Beethoven than Mozart, the outstanding Louise Brison 2006 Champagne Brut “Tendresse” Blanc De Blancs ($64.00) will fill your mind with happy, or at least deep, thoughts. This small grower’s vineyards are in the very southern part of the region, closer to Chablis than Reims. Base wines are fermented and aged in barrel without malolactic, and wines are kept on the lees far longer than appellation requirements – this particular bottle was disgorged in September 2013, meaning over a half dozen years sur lattes. It’s a wonderfully mature, toasty, complex champagne, more like aged white Burgundy with fine bubbles, and terrific length and depth. Mature, vintage champagne from a great year, for $64? I’ll take a case of that, Mr. Le Caviste. Marcel Rethore:

8. To Impress Your Fancy-Pants, Champagne-Loving Friends

So your friends have had it all? I’d wager they haven’t tried Diebolt Vallois Prestige Brut Blanc De Blancs ($68.00), unless of course they travel regularly to Champagne. And even then, they’ll still appreciate this beautiful wine from the grand cru villages of Chouilly, Le Mesnil s/Oger and Cramant in the celebrated Côtes des Blancs. There’s pitch perfect equilibrium between creamy citrus, lightly toasted wheat bread, pear and apple, with a lovely streak of ripe acids and a saline, mineral finish. Seven grams of dosage gives this a drier edge. 6/case; Groupe Soleil, Stephen Cohen,

9. To Gift to Someone you don’t know well

Benjamin Bridge Nova Scotia Brut 2009 Taittinger Brut Réserve ChampagneIf you’re not close to the recipient and want to be sure to impress, you need some brand recognition. Otherwise your “niche discovery” might be misperceived as a cheap substitute. Taittinger Brut Réserve Champagne ($58.95) has just that, a well-respected name. And beyond that, the wine is also excellent: a classy, well balanced, chardonnay-based champagne that hits a balance between enough biscuity-brioche flavour to satisfy fans of developed champagne, while retaining enough fruit and freshness for those in search of vibrancy. In other words, I can’t see who wouldn’t enjoy this.

10. To Gift to Someone You Know Well

On the other hand, for someone you know well, and who more importantly will know that your intentions are pure, give the gift of both discovery and quality, from somewhere unexpected. Nova Scotia may not yet be known as the epicenter of top sparkling wine in North America, but Benjamin Bridge is doing their best to make it so. The Benjamin Bridge 2009 Brut, Gaspereau Valley, ($49.95) is not even their top wine, but it’s a tidy blend of over half L’Acadie Blanc, with ¼ chardonnay and the balanced filled in by seyval blanc, well worth discovering. Your friends will thank you.

11. To Sip During the Lead-Up To Midnight

Champagne Agrapart Terroir Blanc De Blanc Grand Cru Champagne Deutz Brut Classic ChampagneKeep it classic in the lead up to the countdown with a champagne that’s neither excessively aggressive nor overly mellow: Deutz Brut Classic Champagne ($54.95) fits the bill. It features sufficiently intriguing toasted wheat bread, dried fruit and honeyed character to keep your interest over several hours, while it’s also crisp, dry and sinewy enough not to tire the palate.

12. To Ring in The New Year

Increase the vibrational energy in the room to welcome the new year with Champagne Agrapart Terroirs Blanc De Blancs Grand Cru ($67.95), an uncompromising grower champagne regularly in my top picks, made in an extremely mineral style. It comes across as virtually brut zero despite almost 5 grams of sugar, though that all but disappears in a stream of crackling acids. It improves dramatically with aeration so I recommend the radical tack of carafing before serving, around 11:45pm (just do it gently so you don’t lose too much effervescence, and use a narrow decanter) to ensure maximum midnight merriment. 6/case; Groupe Soleil, Stephen Cohen,

I only drink champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.” - Lily Bollinger

Celebrate in Italy Next October

And while you’re thinking of celebrating, consider joining me next October in Tuscany and  Piedmont for an insider’s deluxe gastronomy tour via Indus Travel. Only fluffy, unlumpy pillows and high thread count sheets, plus daily diet of white truffles and extraordinary wine. It will be memorable. Details:

Tuscany and Piedmont with John Szabo


That’s all for this year. We wish you the very happiest 2015 and thank you sincerely for putting your trust in us when it comes to the realm of drinks. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Earlier Holiday Gift Guides:

David’s – 12 Reds for the Christmas Crunch
Sara’s – Wines for the Personalities on your List
Steve’s – On the Five Days of Christmas…


 Niagara Icewine Festival

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

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Dec 6th – Part Two

Unearthing Aged Reds, Great Explorations and Surprising Values
By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

This is the second look at what may be the largest Vintages release of the year (we covered bubbles and whites last week). Close to 200 products land December 6 in the final attempt to pad the shelves for the holiday madness. Sara and I managed to taste all those presented – over four days – filling in for John who was scaling volcanos, all in the name of research of course. Most of the big gun gift items were released in November; this time we have a wealth of middle-priced, sometimes obscure or first-time-through-Vintages labels. Some are couched in a cosy feature called “Family Gatherings” but there is little to differentiate those from the rest of the pack. An interesting theme did however catch my eye!

Collectors often save their aged wines for special occasions, like Christmas and New Years, serving them to family and friends during lavish meals, and embellishing the event with tales of the wine’s provenance, how it became an honoured member of the cellar corps, and how it was cared for forever since (in that great old cellar) with an eye to opening it for someone special (just like you, dear guest). My sincere hope is that many such mature wines see the candlelight this season for appreciative audiences.

But if you don’t have your own cache of mature wines, how can you feel a part of this time-honoured ritual? Watchful shoppers are aware that Vintages places mature wines in the line-up from time to time, but this time there are several, and most are reasonably priced given their time on Earth – they just happen to come from regions that are unvalued as a whole. We have highlighted a few favourites below, in descending price order.

But, please note that not all the aged wines on this release are in great condition. We all tend to tire, and get a bit more earthy and grumpy as we pass our prime; especially if we have had to live our years within the confines of a hollowed out cork tree. So you should begin the presentation of these old wines to your guests with a caution that “not all wines are better with age” (which is very true), and that “there can be significant bottle variation in older wines” (also true). That said, I would avoid the following for the reasons stated above: Cicchitti Gran Reserva 2004 Malbec, Argentina (three bottles cork tainted); Monastir S.Xii Cluny 2006 Navarra, Spain (tired & farmy/manure-like aromas); Bodegas Balbás 2005 Ardal Crianza, Spain (good wine but impossibly youthful for a 2005, despite the tasting note quoted in Vintages catalogue. I don’t know why, I just know it doesn’t look, smell or taste nine years old).

Aged Reds

Heitz Cellar Trailside Vineyard 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California ($119.95)
David Lawrason – If you are willing to pay up front to join the big leagues in great mature red, this is a classic and utterly gorgeous Napa cabernet from one of the families that put Napa on the map as a collector’s paradise.

Caprili 2009 Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($44.95)
David Lawrason – Five years may not seem very old, but Brunello spends over four years ageing at the winery, a minimum of two in barrel. This hastens the onset of brick-amber colouring and all the classic mature characteristics. As well, this was a hotter, and faster maturing vintage due to its lower acidity.

Heitz Cellar Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino 2009Morgenster Lourens River Valley 2005Il Molino Di Grace Riserva Chianti Classico 2006Poderi Angelini Primitivo Di Manduria 2009

Morgenster 2005 Lourens River Valley, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($25.95)
David Lawrason – This will be a controversial recommendation! It’s a fully mature cabernet with distinctive meaty and iodine-like Cape flavours, and you may even detect some cork taint. I tried it three times and one bottle was corked – the others were fine. Beyond this lurks an amazingly complex, beautifully textured wine with profound depth of flavour from a small Cape producer rooted in Euro traditions. Match to lamb or game.

Il Molino di Grace 2006 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($23.95)
David Lawrason – This is a mature Chianti from a good vintage known for its power and longevity (most Chianti’s are peaking at about seven years). It is not hugely deep, but we are catching it at its most complex, with still fresh fruit nestled amid the leather, earth and spicy complexities. Ready to drink now and will run another couple of years.

Poderi Angelini 2009 Primitivo di Manduria, Puglia, Italy ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Normally I would not expect a soft, cushy, higher alcohol red from Italy’s deep south to age well. They often develop stewed, raisiny flavours. This maintains some piquancy but it is indeed rich, smooth and heart-warming.

Pomum Shya Red 2008Monasterio De Las Viñas Gran Reserva 2005Monasterio de las Viñas 2005 Gran Reserva, DO Cariñena, Spain ($16.95)
David Lawrason – The Spanish love mature wine; it’s a cultural thing rooted in generations of drinking wines that oxidize/mature easily in this sunny clime. So the whole country is a veritable museum of older wines, from the bodegas of Rioja to the more out of the way zones like Carinena. This is a mature, smooth, complex and very tasty blend of garnacha, tempranillo and carenina – a great old Spanish chestnut at an amazing price.

Pomum 2008 Shya Red, Yakima Valley, Washington, USA (24.95)
Sara d’Amato – Pomum focuses on artisanal, handcrafted wines with very limited production. This exceptionally elegant and well-structured Washington Bordeaux is demonstrative of 2008’s cooler temperatures and longer growing season. The balance of acid, tannins and fleshy fruit provide the framework for great longevity.

Great Value Red Explorations

Ernie Els 2012 Big Easy, Western Cape, South Africa ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Of all the celeb winery owners, PGA golf pro Ernie Els gets my vote as the one who really cares most about quality in the glass. Sorry Wayne, Mike and Dan (Canada’s celeb winemakers), but it’s the truth. I was totally impressed with his whole range in South Africa earlier this year, and even this “entry level’ blend of several grapes shows excellent structure.

KWV 2011 The Mentors Canvas, Coastal Region, South Africa ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – A funky and intriguing blend of shiraz, tempranillo, mourvedre and grenache. The complexity here is absolutely splendid and makes it a perfect pairing for a holiday spread. With its elegant packaging, it also makes for an attractive host gift.

Ernie Els Big Easy 2012Kwv The Mentors Canvas 2011Descendientes De J. Palacios Pétalos 2012Lavau Rasteau 2012Terrazas De Los Andes Reserva Malbec 2011

Descendientes de J. Palacios 2012 Pétalos, Bierzo, Spain ($26.95)
David Lawrason – Alvaro Palacios was just in Toronto (unfortunately, I missed him this time). He has been here a lot recently which may have something to do with the reception that ultra-modern Spanish wines are getting in Ontario. They nicely bridge approachability and serious structure, while still capturing the essence of the three regions he operates within (Rioja, Priorat and Bierzo). The latter is a fantastic red wine region in northwest Spain that has great slate soils and experiences some Atlantic influence.
Sara d’Amato – Palacios is an innovator whose wines have become benchmarks of quality and distinctiveness in their respective regions. These modern wines, progressive in style with seductive appeal offer outstanding value.

Lavau 2012 Rasteau, Rhone, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – It has only been four years (since 2010) that the Cotes du Rhone Villages appellation Rasteau was given its very own AOC and can now be labelled as simply “Rasteau” – since that time the quality of the wines continue on an uphill trajectory. This lovely example made from equal parts grenache and syrah certainly made me take note with sensual, floral and spicy notes backed by a great deal of power but also finesse. This family-owned negociant hails from the right bank of Bordeaux but has now established three successful cellars in the southern Rhone.

Terrazas de los Andes 2011 Reserva Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95)
David Lawrason – I will be in Argentina as this is posted, and Vintages large and interesting December selection from Mendoza has given me much food for thought, and for questioning winemakers when I a am there. This is my favourite, and it’s great value in well structured, compact malbec that shies away from the obviousness of so many. I look forward to reporting back.

Red Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2013Volcanes De Chile Tectonia Pinot Noir 2012Volcanes de Chile 2012 Tectonia Pinot Noir, Bío Bío Valley, Chile ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This is not a super-serious pinot in terms of structure, depth, etc., but for me it’s a bellwether for a new, more subtle take on Chilean pinot that steers well south of that exuberantly fruity, minty style I have come to know. One reason may indeed be that they have gone far south in Bio Bio for this pinot. Good value and some charm here.
Sara d’Amato – Fresh, ethereal, and elegant – a cool climate, floral and lightly peppered pinot noir with an upbeat, jazzy feel. As “volcanic wines” are on the brink of widespread consumer fascination, be ahead of the trend and pour this at your next gathering. The volcanic soil in these vineyards comes from sediments of the Antuco and Lonquimay volcanoes – notable features of the southern Bío Bío Valley landscape.

Red Hill 2013 Estate Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – Red Hill, boutique winery with serious award-winning clout, has been an iconic fixture of the Mornington Peninsula for the past 25 years. Its cooler, fringe climate is ideal for the production of Burgundian varietals with style and complexity such as this tantalizing example.

And that is a wrap for the last Vintages newsletter of 2014. But do keep checking your inbox through December. John, Sara and I will be doing one newsletter per week to help you gear your wine selections to the Christmas season. Next week a last minute gift guide, the following week wines to match a variety of holiday foods, moods and events; and then just before Christmas, our annual far-reaching Fizz Report. Don’t go away.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES Dec 6th release:

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

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