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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 18th – Part One

The Old World
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report cherry picks the top smart buys from the Old World in the April 18th release. We’ve highlighted a fine collection of classics from familiar friends like Italy and France (including one triple alignment), while Spain gets a nod with wines ranging from $14 up to $90, for one of the best bottles from the Iberian Peninsula. Adventurous drinkers will find discoveries from Slovakia and Hungary. Next week David will lead the discerning charge into the new world.

If it’s not already in your google calendar, be sure to carve out some time to attend the “County in the City” tasting of Prince Edward County wines on April 16th in Toronto, details here. The WineAlign crü will be there scouring the room for the best from Canada’s coolest and stoniest region. And on April 14th, for our members in Ottawa, WineAlign is hosting Beringer Winemaker Laurie Hook. Got to love a tasting that showcases wines from volcanic, cobbled rock and alluvial soils (details here).

Whites and a Rosé

Trimbach 2011 Réserve Riesling, Alsace France ($29.95)

John Szabo – You have to appreciate that the Trimbach house style has remained virtually unchanged over several centuries. Here, the wines are decidedly dry and austere in the best sense, relying on sheer density rather than sugar for their weight. The grapes for the reserve are source entirely from the village of Ribeauvillé, mainly old vines (40 years average), on clay-limestone soils. And although this usually ages magnificently (and slowly), the 2011 is surprisingly ready to enjoy, and won’t require, nor benefit much from long term cellaring. Best 2015-2026.

Tokaj Kereskedoház 2012 Grand Selection Semi-Dry Tokaji Furmint, Tokaj, Hungary ($16.95)

John Szabo – Don’t be put off by the semi-dry designation; this is drier than most purportedly “dry” commercial chardonnays, not to mention more complex. 2012 was the first vintage for well-regarded winemaker Károly Áts, who brings over two decades experience to Tokaj’s largest producer. This plump, pineapple, pear and sage flavoured wine is well worth a look, especially with some lightly spiced southeast Asian dishes or salty west coast oysters.

Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2011 Tokaj Kereskedoház Grand Selection Semi Dry Tokaji Furmint 2012 Hugel Riesling 2012 Vignerons De Buxy Buissonnier Montagny 2011 Château Belá Riesling 2012

Hugel 2012 Riesling, Alsace, France ($24.95)

David Lawrason – That Hugel riesling and other Hugel labels like Gentil (also on this release) are not available continuously in Ontario is a travesty of our system. This is so refined, layered and downright delicious – textbook Alsatian styling with a modern sensibility. It could make a riesling-lover out of the most reticent.

Vignerons de Buxy 2011 Buissonnier Montagny, Burgundy, France  ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This tender and nicely polished young chardonnay makes a return engagement after a debut last autumn. Glad to see quality and value being rewarded. The Buxy Co-op (located in the Côte Châlonnaise) is one of the largest in Burgundy and an evident success.

Château Belá 2012 Riesling, Muzla, Slovakia ($24.95)

Muga Rosé 2014 Gradis'ciutta Pinot Grigio 2013Sara d’Amato – A Slovakian riesling made under the guidance of renowned Mosel producer Egon Müller, co-owner of Chateau Belá. This must-try, drop-dead beauty is edgy and tense with outstanding length. Off-the-beaten-path but certainly not a gamble.

Gradis’ciutta 2013 Pinot Grigio, Collio, Friuli, Italy ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – The sur-lie aging of this pinot grigio has created the presence and texture to balance the wine’s razor sharp acids. Immensely attractive, this punchy grigio is no pushover.

Muga 2014 Rosé, Rioja Spain ($13.95)

John Szabo – A genuinely dry, simple but highly appealing, strawberry and red cherry-scented rosé from one of the region’s most reliable producers. Full stop. A perfect start to spring.

Reds

M. Chapoutier 2013 Les Vignes De Bila-Haut, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, France ($15.95)

John Szabo – While Chapoutier’s Rhône wines are rightfully admired widely, his Roussillon operation is where I go shopping for the top values in the portfolio. Bila Haut is regularly a terrifically fruity, dense and compact, savoury and complex southern French red, which delivers an extra gear and flavor dimension above the price category.
David Lawrason – It’s hard to choose between this and the neighboring, fresh, elegant fruit driven Roussillon Le Cirque, so don’t choose. Buy some of each! “Bila haut” by tres serieux, biodynaminista Michel Chapoutier has been a great buy in juicy yet well-formed southern French reds for a decade. This vintage is very satisfying once again.
Sara d’Amato – Southern French charm bottled at an indisputable price. A hand-harvested blend of syrah, grenache and carignan offering a real sense of place with enticing aromas of lavender, pepper, earth, smoky meat, underbrush and wild berries.

Alión 2011, Ribera Del Duero, Spain ($89.95)

John Szabo – Top Spanish reds have yet to command the cache of certain other celebrated regions for myriad reasons, but the wines of Vega Sicilia come as close as any. Considering the superlative quality of the 2011 Alión, a tempranillo of massive structure, complexity and ageability, this remains a very smart buy. Revisit after 2020 for best enjoyment.
Sara d’Amato – Drink now or anticipate the delight it will bring in a decade or more. The 2011 Alión exhibits all those exciting little faults that make for a brilliant, compelling and all-consuming experience.

M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2013 Alión 2011 Torres Celeste Crianza 2011 Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Torres 2011 Celeste Crianza, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($20.95)

John Szabo – I admit I greatly admire Miguel Torres, one of the most consistent and reliable names in the global wine industry. Every wine, it seems, is crafted in an appealing style that at the same time manages not to sacrifice the regional identity of its respective appellation. This 2011 Ribera Del Duero does the job nicely, delivering plenty of engaging and fresh red and black berry fruit with a significant but balanced dose of wood in the Spanish style. Best now-2025.

Fattoria Dei Barbi 2009 Brunello Di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($49.95)

John Szabo – Barbi does old school style Brunello very well, the way sangiovese was intended to be rendered in my view. This 2009 has evolved nicely, delivering engaging candied red fruit flavours, dried earth, zesty herbs, faded flowers and so much more. I love the delicate tannins, the balanced acids and the exceptional length – a very harmonious wine all in all. Best now-2025. 2025

Le Cirque 2013 Grenache/Noir/Carignan/Syrah, Côtes Catalanes, Roussillon, France ($16.95)

David Lawrason – Here is yet another success from a French co-op – Les Vignerons de Tautavel Vingrau, located in the village of Tautavel in Languedoc-Roussillon. For archaeology buffs this village houses the European Centre for Prehistoric Research. Tautavel Man, an early hominid, unearthed near here is perhaps the oldest human remain in Europe. Nothing prehistoric about this wine however.  It is a pretty, poised and fresh young, modern southern French blend with an easy, breezy drinkability.

Joseph Drouhin 2012 Côtes De Nuits-Villages, Burgundy, France ($34.95)

David Lawrason – Drouhin is another class act from France that for my entire career has been badly represented in Ontario. The house possesses such fine, white gloved hand interpretation of Burgundy, without sacrificing appellation character. Côtes de Nuits-Village will never deliver profound pinot, but I really like the refinement here. A bit pricy but a textural masterpiece.

Le Cirque Carignan Mourvèdre Syrah 2013 Joseph Drouhin Côtes De Nuits Villages 2012 Château Bonnin Pichon 2010 Brigaldara Valpolicella 2013

Château Bonnin Pichon 2010, Lussac St Emilion, Bordeaux, France ($21.95)

Sara d’Amato – Like me, you might find yourself double checking both the price and the appellation of this right bank blend from the Lussac satellite region of St Emilion. Age-worthy, complex and maturing with grace – a wine that exceeds all expectations.

Brigaldara 2013 Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy ($14.95)

Sara d’Amato – A textbook Venetian blend that refreshingly tries to be nothing but a juicy, honest wine offering simple pleasures. One could expect no greater refinement and appeal from a $15 bottle of Valpolicella.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES April 18th, 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!


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Exclusive Beringer Winemaker’s Dinner – April 14 – Ottawa

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 4th – Part Two

Off the Beaten Path, from East to West and a Battle of the Corkscrews
By Sara d’Amato with notes from Michael Godel

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Before leaving for more volcanic wine adventures, John Szabo focused the past newsletter on Easter lamb-inspired wines with a bonus feature of three delectable recipes. The secondary promoted feature in this week’s VINTAGES release is the wine of Veneto, a very short, rather humdrum selection of bottles. More interesting, however, were the selection of idiosyncratic wines from little-known regions and lesser-known grapes. With the aid of Michael Godel, replacing our traveling critics this week, we have therefore decided to take you off the beaten path in order to highlight some of these unique discoveries.

Off the Beaten Path

Livia 2013 Sarba, Cotesti, Romania ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Sarba is a recently developed Romanian cross of two aromatic grape varietals: tamaioasa romaneasca and riesling. The result is a bright, floral zesty wine perfect for aperitif time. The family owned winery of Girboiu is located in the south-eastern Romanian region of Cotesti known for its warmer conditions, mineral rich soils and gentle altitudes of up to 200 meters.

Garamvári Szolobirt 2013 Irsai Olivér, Balatonlellei, Hungary ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Unique to Hungary, the Irsai Oliver varietal has a distinctive muscat-like character but with the fresh, easy-drinking playfulness of pinot grigio. Pretty, appealing, and perfect for a brunch table milieu.

Horse Valley 2013 Single Vineyard Chardonnay, Danubian Plain, Bulgaria, ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – With 3,000 years of winemaking history, Bulgaria is one of the oldest wine producing nations in the world. And while its reputation has taken a hit in recent times, there is quality and value to be discovered. I was particularly taken by this offbeat, fleshy chardonnay, featuring flavours of honeydew melon and apple along with racy acids, saline and fresh herbs.

Livia Sarba 2013 Garamvári Szolobirt Irsai Olivér 2013 Horse Valley Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 Dandelion Vineyards Lionheart of the Barossa Shiraz 2012 Alain Jaume & Fils Clos de Sixte Lirac 2012 Muriel Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2008

Dandelion Vineyards 2012 Lionheart of the Barossa Shiraz, Mclaren Vale, South Australia ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Not so much off the beaten path as actually growing on a beaten path. This is shiraz from ancient, gnarled vines, many over a hundred years of age. A wine from Neolithic soils, consumed and procreated on and upon itself.

Alain Jaume & Fils 2012 Clos De Sixte Lirac, Rhône, France ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – Lirac is the southernmost cru of the Rhône and one that is often overlooked and overshadowed by its more famed neighbors. This tranquil district butts up against the mecca of rosé, Tavel and the Clos de Sixte vineyards mirror those of Châteauneuf-du-Pape directly across the Rhône river. A Mediterranean influenced and wildly complex blend of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre .

Cálem Lágrima White Port

Monte Faustino Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico 2008Muriel 2008 Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada, Rioja, Spain ($18.95)
Michael Godel – A great wine for the money, right up there with the Montecillo 1991, but cleaner, juicier and with more sex appeal. A red head, a ginger, Rita Hayworth, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone.

Monte Faustino 2008 Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico, Veneto, Italy ($45.95)
Michael Godel – Once in a while there comes a Recioto in reserve of its own preciousness. A dessert wine comfortable in its own skin, does not have to try too hard, posits only what it is safely made of. An elegant example with under the radar personality.

Cálem Lágrima White Port, Douro, Portugal ($15.95)
Michael Godel – Sometimes you just need to walk along roads you never seem to take, take in the backstreets or sip along with something that’s always there but you just never bother. Port can be non-descript and it can also be like this Cálem Lágrima, a viscous and seamlessly crafted White Port.

British Columbia & Ontario

Every week we Ontario WineAligners taste over a hundred international new wine releases just before they hit the shelves of the LCBO. What might surprise some is that our local wines, more often than not, hold their own and even shine in this international context. In this release we are fortunate to have an abundance of such shining examples that are well worth singling out. Our top picks highlight the strengths and differences in the contrasting regions of the Okanagan and Niagara.

Vintage variations are at the heart of what makes Ontario wine sing. Some call the region a cool climate when in fact Niagara summers can be as hot as Bordeaux with which it shares similar latitude. In some vintages, cabernet ripens with ease and in others it is a struggle to get most reds off the vine before winter’s icy fingers take hold. These vintage variations are part of what make Ontario wine so unique, excitingly mutable, and able to push the boundaries of feasibility. This “fringe” climate, if you will, causes the unlikely and remarkable benefits of stress to the vine, often naturally reducing yields, forcing growers to focus on particular varietals and the production of premium rather than mass-produced wines. It is in these unique pockets of the world that spring forth some of the most surprising and impactful wines. Careful management in the vineyard and honed, responsive winemaking are the keys to success in Ontario – successes which become more and more apparent as the region comes to maturity.

Golden Mile Bench - Culmina WineryGolden Mile Bench - Culmina Winery

British Columbia is a naturally gifted wine region with great variation in its distinctive and more recently formally recognized appellations, such as the Okanagan’s Golden Mile Bench – the first of many BC sub-appellations to come. From lush to arid, high to low, ocean-influenced to shadowed from the rain and intemperate climate, British Columbia is anything but a one-trick-pony. And although we in Ontario have great reverence for the big, bold and consistently ripened reds of BC, the region has terrific variation to offer, from nervy bubblies to aromatic German varietals, to gutsy and energetic reds.

Without further ado, our local recommendations from the April 4th release:

Gehringer Brothers 2013 Private Reserve Pinot Gris, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($18.95)

Sara d’Amato – A Golden Mile offering accentuating pinot gris as a strength of the Okanagan. Weighty, earthy, nutty and succulent with a viscous texture and a rather pleasant oxidative character.
Michael Godel – Gehringer offers a unique, golden mile take on pinot gris. The last vintage to pass through these parts had a fuller and slightly oxidative lean. Here the generous alcohol contributes to the mulish attitude though in ’12 the freshness, citrus and aridity bring so much energy to the table.

Pearl Morissette 2013 Cuvée Black Ball Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Ontario, Canada ($32.20)

Sara d’Amato – A polarizing wine that does not aim to please but rather to challenge, requiring patience and an open mind. This type of complex and compelling riesling is a hallmark of Niagara.
Michael Godel – The wines of François Morissette are not meant to please curmudgeons, skeptics, contrarians or members of the wine media. This Riesling has no desire to kiss ass. This will not appeal to late harvest lovers, from Kabinett to Auslese. Is it ripe? Not quite. Is it different? Absolutely.

Tawse 2014 Sketches Of Niagara Rosé, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($15.95)

Sara d’Amato – It’s spring, isn’t it? This fresh and cheerful dry rosé will have you singing in the rain in no time. Clean, peppy and youthful but with more structure than meets the eye.

Gehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2013 Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2013 Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Rosé 2014 Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011 Small Talk Vineyards Recap Syrah 2012

Burrowing Owl 2011 Syrah, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($39.95)

Sara d’Amato – The southern Okanagan can produce stunning examples of syrah with impressive depth and substance. This riper version from the desert sites of Burrowing Owl is a true showstopper.
Michael Godel – Is there another Okanagan winery that coaxes maximum ripeness and richesse out of desert sage country syrah? Burrowing Owl pushes the envelope even higher in this ripping 2011.

Small Talk Vineyards 2012 Recap Syrah, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, Canada ($24.95) (415612)

Sara d’Amato – Syrah expresses itself fully in the relatively cooler climate of Niagara with intensely peppery flavours and aromatic wild flowers. So distinctive and so divine.
Michael Godel – In the hands of new winemaker Angela Kasimos, Small Talk Vineyards should consider going with and increasing their plantings of syrah. It’s clear that Kasimos has inherited good solid fruit and the Small Talk (formerly Cornerstone Wines) 2012 lays down good solid roots.

Best Canadian Sommelier Competition

Toronto had the fortune of hosting the Best Sommelier of Canada Competition at the new Montecito Restaurant earlier this month. The competition, managed by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS), takes place every two years, each time in a different province. Competitors from coast to coast came to put their best corkscrew forward to try their hand at winning this prestigious award sponsored by Wine Country Ontario.

After a grueling day of written service exams, and a restless, anxious night, the candidates lined up in the presence of over 150 members of the public and countless webcast voyeurs for the announcement of the top three finalists. Those top three were then thrown into the ring, for an afternoon of unknown challenges scrutinized by not only a panel of distinguished judges but by a national community of viewers.

Élyse Lambert - Best Sommelier of Canada 2015

Those esteemed judges included WineAlign’s John Szabo MS along with Geoff Kruth MS, Chief Operating Officer for the Guild of Sommeliers and Ricardo Grellet, founder and Vice-President of the National Association of Sommeliers of Chile as well as guest judge Magdalena Kaiser of Wine Country Ontario.

Of the three finalists, which included Steven Robinson of Atelier Restaurant, in Ottawa and Carl Villeneuve Lepage of Toqué! in Montreal, the title of Canada’s Best Sommelier was awarded to Élyse Lambert, Sommelier Consultant, Maison Boulud of the Ritz Carlton in Montreal. Lambert’s previous success at APAS, the Pan-American Sommelier Challenge means that she can no longer compete this month in Chile at that same competition, but she will go directly the World’s Best Sommelier competition in Argentina in 2016.

The competition was arduous and exacting, and the crowd showed deserved reverence to those sommeliers who put their reputations on the line for the greater good of promoting the Canadian sommelier trade. Blind tasting was only a portion of the taxing exam but here are the wines with which the finalists were faced. Think you could have correctly identified these wines in succession? Élyse Lambert nearly nailed them all:

Di Prisco 2005 Taurasi, (Aglianico), Campania, Italy

Travaglini 2007 Gattinara, (Nebbiolo) Piedmont, Italy

Silvio Grasso 2009 Annunziata Vigna Plicotti Barolo, (Nebbiolo) Piedmont, Italy

Stay tuned for adventurous reports from Germany and Santorni, among other volcanic destinations by John Szabo in the near future. Word from David Lawrason as he returns from his New Zealand trek is also forthcoming.

For our members in Ottawa, you asked for more wine events, and we deliver! Check out this great evening exploring regional estates with Beringer winemaker Laurie Hook. WineAlign’s Rod Phillips will be your host as Laurie takes you through a tasting that showcases the volcanic, cobbled rock and alluvial soils of Knights Valley, the highest elevations of Napa’s Howell Mountain and the sun-drenched valley floor of Napa’s Oak Knoll district. (Find out more here.)

Until next week!

Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES April 4th, 2015:

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael Godel’s Picks
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide Part One: Szabo’s Easter Lamb and Red Wine

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

Golden Mile Bench photos: Culmina Winery, courtesy of Treve Ring


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 4th – Part One

Easter Lamb and Red Wine, plus Pre-dinner Whites and a Glass for Dessert
By John Szabo MS with notes from Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

It’s Easter time again. But whether or not you celebrate the holiday, any dinner that involves succulent roasted or grilled lamb and fine red wine is reason enough to get the family and friends together. In this report we share some of our favourite recipes for lamb, one traditional that I’ve made and enjoyed on many occasions, and one a little more exotic from our friend, chef Michael Pataran.

We’ve picked our top reds from the April 4th release to match with each, and because the chef is always thirsty, we’ve lined up some pre-dinner sipping wines for your consideration, both classics and exotic. We’re happy to welcome long-time WineAlign contributor Michael Godel in this report – he’s filling in for David Lawrason who’s still scouring the globe for more great stories. If at first you don’t understand Michael’s reviews, you may have to smoke a joint or put on some classic 70s tunes and they’ll all make more sense.

Traditional Easter Lamb

Lamb and mint are tried and true soul mates. They just seem right together. But it’s not an accident. As it turns out, the two ingredients share some flavour molecules, so their synergy seems to be preordained. In this simple recipe you’ll be mixing mint, garlic, sea salt, black pepper and olive oil to make a savoury rub for your leg of lamb, which you’ll then roast to rosy rare-doneness. You can use a food processor to make the rub, but I find that pounding in an old-style mortar and pestle releases more flavour from the mint – like a bartender muddling – and prevents the garlic from turning bitter from the violent steel blade chopping action of the machine. It’s also more cathartic. But either way, with enough of the right wine in the end, it’ll all be fine.

Ingredients

– 1 leg of spring lamb, about 2kg
– Coarse sea salt
– Freshly ground black pepper
– 1 large bunch fresh mint, washed and leaves picked
– 2 cloves garlic, peeled
– About 75 ml olive oil
– 500 ml chicken stock (buy from your butcher; avoid the sodium-laced supermarket cans)

Method

Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Score the lamb all over with a sharp knife (not too deeply). In a mortar and pestle (or in a food processor), pound the mint leaves with the garlic cloves until pasty. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper to your mixture to make a moderately thick paste then brush all over the lamb. Roast in the oven for 1½ hours or until done (still pink by the bone), brushing with the seasoned oil from time to time.

Remove the lamb from the oven and set aside to rest in a warm place. In the meantime, drain off some of the fat from the roasting tin and deglaze with red wine. Be sure to scrape up all of the tasty bits. Add the chicken stock and simmer until reduced to a dense and savoury liquid.

Slice the leg of lamb and serve with a drizzle of the lamb jus and your favorite side dishes.

Recommended Wines

This recipe works beautifully with classic cabernet sauvignon and blends, as these wines, too, share a touch of herbal minty-ness, while the rich protein of the meat binds up those tannins and softens the texture of the wine. But most medium-full-bodied reds with a lick of acid and firm texture will work well enough.

Château Haut Selve 2010 Réserve, AC Graves, Bordeaux, France  ($27.95)

John Szabo – Here’s another superb 2010 Bordeaux, from south of the town in the Graves district, one of my favourite corners in the region. It’s a wonderfully classic, unapologetically leafy-herbal red with genuine zest, freshness and crunchy black fruit flavour. I’m willing to wager that it’ll be perfect with the lamb, and your guests will think you spent far more than $28 on it.
Michael Godel – Who wouldn’t want to find a well-priced and expertly made Bordeaux to accompany an Easter feast? The abstraction is not as easy as it may have once been but once in a Paschal full moon a wine comes along and affords the opportunity. This Graves will seal the Easter deal with its cool savour and chocolate hops.

Mayschoss 2013 Trocken Pinot Noir 140 Jahre Jubiläumswein, Ahr, Germany ($21.95)

John Szabo – I know pinot and lamb aren’t exactly old friends, but I had to slip in a mention of this terrific value pinot noir from the northernmost region of Germany, the steep Ahr Valley, and its volcanic soils. And I do think there’s sufficient stuffing and fruit to manage the dish, and certainly the acidity to slice through the tasty, fatty bits. Don’t be afraid to decant this for maximum effect.
Michael Godel – Ahr Pinot Noir (as opposed to those from Germany’s Baden region) are just that much more accessible and wider table friendly. That’s because of volcanic soil and older vines like you find in this Qualitätswein. The fruit is richer, the cure more refined, the flavours full and the wine structurally sound. No matter the colour of your braise or roast, this Pinot Noir will compliment the hue.

Château Haut Selve Réserve 2010 Mayschoss 140 Jahre Jubiläumswein Trocken Pinot Noir 2013 Stephane Aviron Domaine De La Madrière Vieilles Vignes Fleurie 2011

Stephane Aviron Domaine De La Madrière Vieilles Vignes Fleurie, Beaujolais, France ($21.95)

Michael Godel – Old vines and Fleurie together scream “holiday dinner wine” in my books. This is where it’s at Gamay that struts out from a terrific Cru, of maturity, chutzpah and depth. Talk about a red wine that could equally double down for the Easter and Passover table. Gamay that swings both ways, AC/DC, “it’s got two turntables and a microphone.”

Moroccan lamb loin chops

If you’re looking to spice it up, try this exotic, mildly spicy and flavor-packed recipe courtesy of Michael Pataran, executive chef of L’Eat catering. It needs a day of marinating so plan ahead, and it’s best on the BBQ, so keep your fingers crossed for fine weather. It also works as a tasty snack or hors d’oeuvre. Adjust quantities as needed.

Ingredients:

– 12 lamb shoulder chops (3oz.)

Marinade:

– 6 cloves Garlic, minced
– ½ medium Spanish onion, finely chopped
– Zest of one lemon
– 2 tbsp pink peppercorn, crushed
– 3 tbsp Rosemary, chopped
– 2 tbsp Paprika, sweet
– 1 tbsp saffron, ground
– 2 tbsp thyme, chopped
– 2 tbsp coriander seed, crushed
– 2 tbsp fennel seeds, crushed
– 1 tbsp salt
– ½ cup olive oil

Method:

Marinate lamb loin chops, overnight or up to a couple of days, in the minced garlic, chopped onion, lemon zest, crushed pink peppercorns, chopped rosemary, sweet paprika, ground saffron, thyme, coriander seed, fennel seed, salt and olive oil.

Grill over hot coals until desired doneness (recommended medium-rare). Serve with a squeeze of lemon or lime.

Recommended wines:

The sommelier recommends bigger reds with sweet, ripe fruit and full, generous but soft texture. Look to warmer climates and new world style wines.

Seghesio 2013 Zinfandel, Sonoma County, California, USA ($31.95)

John Szabo – Seghesio is a leader in the Zinfandel category in my view, crafting bold and ripe but balanced wines – a tough act to get right. This 2013 is generously proportioned, intensely fruity and lively, with terrific length and depth. This should handle the spice well.

Mendel 2011 Malbec Mendoza Argentina ($27.95)

John Szabo – Mendel is another producer who crafts balanced wines in a region known more for monolithic bulldozers. This is full and plush, richly concentrated to be sure, and it delivers the fruit intensity needed for this spicy lamb preparation. Yet it stays composed and poised throughout.
Michael Godel – On the rare occasion when a Mendoza Malbec exhibits restraint, balance and all around congenial behaviour, it is imperative to sit up and take notice. The Mendel will seduce, hypnotize and cause general swooning. Like a Grand Budapest Hotel box of treats, it will sooth even the savage beast.

Seghesio Zinfandel 2013 Mendel Malbec 2011 Andrew Rich Red Willow Vineyard Merlot 2010

Andrew Rich 2010 Red Willow Vineyard Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA, ($29.95)

Sara d’Amato – This small-lot, boutique wine from a prime vineyard within Columbia Valley has an impressive hook. This is holiday in a glass with notes of Christmas pudding, bayberry and liquorice complimenting the generous plum and red berry fruit proving an excellent choice for an exotically spiced main course.

Barque Smokehouse: Smoked Lamb Ribs

Our last recipe comes to us from Barque Smokehouse, from the complex BBQ mind of owner David Neinstein. Lamb Ribs will blow your mind and smoke along with your wine.

Ingredients:

– 2 racks of lamb ribs, trimmed
– Herb Spice Rub (see below)
– Pomegranate Molasses BBQ Sauce (see below)

Barque RibsRub:

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and set aside

– 1 tbsp white granulated sugar
– 1 tbsp brown sugar
– 1 tbsp kosher salt
– 1 tsp granulated garlic
– 1 tsp granulated onion
– 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
– 1 tsp ground cumin
– 1 tsp freshly ground coriander
– 1 tsp mustard powder
– 2 tsp dried rosemary

Pomegranate Molasses BBQ Sauce:

In a sauce pan over medium-low heat, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer at low for 15 minutes, careful not to burn.

– 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
– 2 tbsp honey
– 2 tbsp orange juice
– 2 tbsp ketchup
– 2 tsp red wine vinegar
– 2 tsp kosher salt
– 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Smoker Method (see below for backyard grill instructions):

Set the smoker to 280F and season the Lamb with rub on both sides, be generous. Smoke bone down for about 2 hours and 15 minutes, depending on how meaty your ribs are. They’re done when the meat evenly pulls back from the tips of the bone.

– Remove from the smoker and let cool.
– Pre-heat the oven to broil.
– Cut the ribs into individual pieces and place them on a cookie sheet sprayed with non-stick spray.  Baste the ribs with the pomegranate bbq sauce.
– Place the tray on the middle rack and cook with the door slightly ajar until the sauce starts to bubble slightly.
– Remove the ribs and serve right away with lime wedges if you’d like.

Alternatively:

Set a deep fat fryer to 325F and fry the individual bones for 60 seconds and then toss in the pomegranate bbq sauce.

Set and serve with lime wedges.

Backyard Grill Instructions

To turn your backyard grill into a smoker, follow these simple steps:

1. Remove half of the grill from the bbq and turn on only the element from the exposed side to its lowest setting. This method will heat the average grill to 250 F (120 C). Adjust if needed.

2. Take a square foot of foil and fill with two cups of wood chips (hickory is a good choice). Create a pouch and pierce multiple times with a fork or knife to allow for airflow. Repeat, making enough to last throughout the cooking process.

3. Place the pouch directly on the heat source. Wait about 15 minutes, or until smoke appears, then place the food directly on the side of the grill without heat underneath. Follow the same cooking instructions, keeping the lid of the grill closed as much as possible.

4. Place a large metal bowl with water in it beside the grill. Using long metal tongs, place used smoke pouches in the water bowl to douse. Discard them once they’ve soaked through and there are no hot coals left inside.

Recommended wines: 

Luigi Bosca De Sangre 2011 Diemersfontein Pinotage 2013Smoky, earthy wines tend to compliment this richly flavoured dish best. Look to South African and Southern Italian reds along with robust new world blends for inspired matches. 

Diemersfontein 2013 Pinotage, Wellington, South Africa ($18.95)

Sara d’Amato – I’ve been a long admirer of Diemersfontein’s rich, robust and smoky pinotage which proves an exciting match for earthy or gamey red meats. Try with smoky barbeque or coffee/cocoa rubbed lamb.

Luigi Bosca 2011 de Sangre, Mendoza, Argentina, ($24.95)

Sara d’Amato – From the high altitude desert region of Lujan de Cuyo, butted up against the Andes, and known for its lush malbec comes this compelling blend of cabernet sauvignon with a touch of syrah and merlot. Impactful and head turning so it needs an appropriately bold and flavourful food pairing.

Pre-Dinner Sipping wines

Dog Point 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, South Island New Zealand ($24.95)

John Szabo – I love the house style of Dog Point: comfortably flinty, grapefruit-driven and gently reductive, clearly more ripe and concentrated, and less grassy, than the average from the region. But it really shines on the palate with its exceptional depth and density, and terrific length. You’ll wait patiently, and happily, for the lamb to roast while sipping this.
Michael Godel – This Sauvignon Blanc may just be the most consistent in every vintage, not only stylistically but also for the hedging of probability bets for guaranteed Marlborough quality. Like school in fall, winter and spring, the Dog Point is all class.

Krauthaker 2013 Grasevina Kutjevo, Slavonija Croatia ($23.95)

John Szabo – Don’t be frightened by the name. Just think aromatically intense, sauvignon blanc-like, with uncommon density and weight. This was evidently grown with care and the low yields that lead to this sort of concentration.  Grasevina (aka welschriesling) is the company’s focus and flagship.

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Krauthaker Grasevina 2013 Montresor Soave Classico 2013

Montresor 2013 Soave Classico Dop, Veneto, Italy ($13.95)

John Szabo – A tidy little value from one of Italy’s most overlooked areas, still dragging the baggage of the bad old wines from decades past. This is fresh and lively, with gentle peach flavours and a light dose of petrol-like minerality. Length and depth are impressive for the price category.

Fielding Viognier, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($25.95)

Michael Godel – Winemaker Richie Roberts has worked tirelessly with Viognier to find out where it fits into the lexicon and ambience of Niagara Peninsula white grape varieties. The 2013 vintage marks a turning point in his and by extension, all of our understanding. The tropical fruit is now reigned in and the tension on the back bite a perfect foil to that well-judged, rich fruit. Sip it joyously on it own or bring on the Easter Rijsttafel!

Sara d’Amato – The seductive viognier is not only characteristically viscous, honeyed and peachy, it also exhibits refreshing balance with verve and brightness. This warm climate varietal does not often exhibit such beauty in our local fringe climate.

Fielding Viognier 2013 Cdv Brazão Colheita Seleccionada Arinto 2013 La Jara Organic Brut ProseccoChâteau La Tour Blanche 2011

Cdv Brazão 2013 Colheita Seleccionada Arinto, Vinho Verde, Portugal ($16.95)

Michael Godel – A highly unique Vinho Verde that works as a sipper and as a solid, pair me with just about anything table wine. This Arinto will tie appetizers together and buy time until the bird, hock or shank is on the table with the feast’s big reds.

La Jara Organic Brut Prosecco, Veneto, Italy ($15.95)

Sara d’Amato – This dry, charmat method Prosecco is one of the best values in this release and although it may not fool anyone into thinking it is Champagne, it is a festive delight with an impressive amount of complexity. Peach blossom, pear, honeysuckle and lemongrass make for an exotic, lush and spontaneous bubbly. “La Jara” is the name for “gravel” in local dialect referring to the large calcareous white stones of the river Piave adjacent to the vineyard – a similar surreal landscape to the much warmer vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

And For Dessert

2011 Château La Tour Blanche AC Sauternes, 1er Cru France — Bordeaux  ($49.85)

John Szabo – An arch-classic, beautifully balanced, complex and silky textured Sauternes, still extremely youthful but already nicely layered and complex. Dessert? Who needs dessert after a glass of this?

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES April 4th, 2015:

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

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


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Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2011


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Ode to the Hills: Why Hillsides Make Better Wine

Szabo’s Free RunMarch 23, 2015

Text and photographs by John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

“This is where I would plant”, Kevin Pogue tells me as we wind our way up the valley on the north fork of the Walla Walla River near the Washington-Oregon border. I look on either side of the road at the surrounding Blue Mountains, more rounded hills in this part really, covered with pale green wild grasses framed by the occasional outcrop of black basalt bedrock breaking the surface on the thin hillsides and peaking out on the ridge tops in surprising geometric precision. Stands of Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs dot the higher hills in the distance.

Aside from a few isolated patches of young vines that have yet to yield their first crop, vineyards are notably absent. I say notably, because that’s what Pogue is strangely referring to. This is where he would plant grapevines, if he were ever to establish a vineyard. Pogue is a professor of geology at Whitman College in Walla Walla and a respected vineyard consultant – he’s dug pits and analyzed soil structure and chemistry throughout the region, and advised many of the top producers on what, and where, to plant. So it’s telling that he’s pointing to virgin hillsides as the promised land for fine wine – land with no history, no track record to prove its suitability. There are plenty of other areas in Walla Walla, and Washington State for that matter, which have established reputations for yielding good grapes. That’s where you’d think the smart money would go. But Pogue has more than a hunch that these hills are destined for greatness. He knows.

Kevin Pogue in the future grand cru of Walla Walla

Kevin Pogue in the future grand cru of Walla Walla

Why Pogue can say this with confidence is not exactly a mystery. Hillsides have been considered prime terroir for fine wine production since long before Roman times. The steeply carved river valleys of the Northern Rhône, Douro and Mosel, the hills that rise up to the Chianti and Soave Classico districts, the flanks of the Vosges Mountains in Alsace, the vertiginous terraces of the Valtellina and the Wachau, the precipitous schists of Priorat, or the volcanic nubs of Mt. Badacsony, Somló and Tokaj that mark the northern edge of the great Plain in Hungary, to name but a very few old world examples, have been celebrated for centuries for the magical properties they impart to wine.

The Douro Valley

The Douro Valley

So what is it that makes hillsides so well suited to fine wine? In a word, it’s drainage. I’m referring mostly to water drainage, but air drainage is also important, especially in frost prone areas. Cold air drains off hills and pools, like water, in the lowest spots it finds. In cold climates, this is where you’ll get the most vine damage, which is inconvenient to say the least, even if it doesn’t affect quality directly. Just ask winegrowers in the low-lying parts of Chablis, or Prince Edward County or Washington State or the Okanagan Valley.

It’s About the Drainage

But water drainage on the other hand, does affect quality directly. Indeed, water availability is the single most important quality parameter for grape growing according to every one of the dozen or more soil scientists and geologists I’ve interviewed in the last year.

Here’s the simplified version.

Drainage, or more technically “water holding capacity”, is so important because a vine’s access to nutrients is largely a function of water availability in the soil. Macro and microelements must be dissolved in water first before roots can absorb them.

Ürziger Würzgarten, Mosel, looking at 3rd rate flatlands

Ürziger Würzgarten, Mosel, looking at 3rd rate flatlands

Terraced Vineyards on the slopes of Mt. Etna-7482

Terraced Vineyards on the slopes of Mt. Etna

It’s a fine balance: no water in the soil and the plant dies. But excessively water-retentive soils are equally bad news. When vine roots are immersed in water, they suffocate, literally. Excess water excludes oxygen, which is critical for the nitrogen cycle and other processes that feed the plant.

The ideal – at least from the quality winegrower’s perspective – is closer to the drier end of the continuum. Well-drained soils make nutrients less available – i.e. they are less fertile – and thus produce vines with less vegetative growth, and fewer and smaller but more concentrated grapes (less juice-to-skin ratio) due to the moderate water/nutrient stress. For a winegrower aiming for high quality, this is perfect. Overly wet soils, on the other hand, promote “luxury consumption” of nutrients, which in turn leads to high vigour, high yields and less ripe, more vegetal-flavoured, watery grapes.

Nutrient Poor

Dry soils are also inherently less fertile – they have fewer nutrients to offer the plant in the first place – because they support less natural vegetation. Fewer weeds, grasses or even desired cover crops can grow between vine rows in arid soils. That means less accumulation of organic material derived from decaying plant matter over time. Thus dry soils remain naturally poor in the vigour-promoting nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium of which organic matter is composed. Excessive vine vigor, the nightmare of the quality grower, is rarely a problem in well-drained soils. But wet soils, short of an all out chemical war against weeds, are perpetually re-fertilized by organic matter and thus doubly vigorous.

“Physical characteristics are the dominant factor of soil potential”, confirms James A. Kennedy, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at 
Fresno State in California. He’s referring to such things as particle size and the percentage of organic matter and clay (and what type of clay) a soil contains, all of which contribute to its water holding capacity.

Rangen de Thann, Alsace

Rangen de Thann, Alsace

Napa Hills vs. the Valley Floor-8363

Napa Hills vs. the Valley Floor

I press another California-based soil and viticultural specialist, Daniel Roberts (AKA “Dr. Dirt”) at length for some kind of relation between soil chemistry and wine quality, but he finally shakes his head and raises his hand to stop me. “That soils are well drained is the most critical factor” he declares, closing the door on any fantastic theories I might have had about magic dirt. “Soil chemistry can be adjusted. Soil structure is much harder to adjust. But that’s what matters.” He’s quite right. Soils can, and are regularly amended through applications, man-made or organic. That’s not to say soil chemistry doesn’t matter to wine – it clearly does. It’s just not as important as drainage.

In a similar vein, when I ask Chilean “terroirist” and international vineyard consultant Pedro Parra to describe his “ideal” terroir, the most important factor he cites is: “a very stony soil, with plenty of fractured rocks”. The reason is simple: pebbles and rocks tend to break up the soil, providing avenues for water percolation and root penetration. In other words, he’s after well-drained soils.

No Modifications Required

So why hillsides? Because they come ready-made with low water holding capacity and scarce nutrition. Of course, there are many examples of flat vineyards with low fertility and excellent drainage, mostly on ancient riverbeds full of the drainage-promoting stones that Parra looks for. Consider the gravel terraces of Bordeaux’s Left Bank, the Gimblett Gravels of Hawke’s Bay, the oft-photographed pudding stones of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or even the new Rocks District of Millton-Freewater AVA in Oregon, sighted entirely on basalt cobbles carried down from the Blue Mountains by the Walla Walla River, for prominent examples. But the fact that these areas also produce excellent wines only strengthens the evidence that drainage is key.

But hillsides are favoured for quality winegrowing because they are invariably less fertile and better drained than low-lying flat ground. They can’t help but drain – they have the natural advantage of gravity on their side. Have you ever seen a waterlogged hillside?

Hillside vineyards in Orvieto, Umbria, Italy

Hillside vineyards in Orvieto, Umbria, Italy

High above the Valley in Colchagua, the future of great wine in Chile -7011

High above the Valley in Colchagua, the future of great wine in Chile

Erosion is also inevitable on hillsides, resulting in shallower soils, that is, less physical soil to hold water or nutrients. And all that soil washed down from slopes accumulates and makes valley floor soils deep and rich in organic matter, and even more fertile and water retentive. Add to that the fact that valley floors also effectively receive double rain – the water that falls from the sky and the water that drains off of surrounding hills, and the challenge of growing quality grapes is further compounded.

On hillsides there’s far less distance for roots to travel to reach the hard, non-water-retentive bedrock. The minimal moisture available is nonetheless sufficient to allow the vine to absorb critical trace elements that have weathered from the bedrock: enough but not too much. If you believe that geology does influence wine flavor, hillsides would be the place to look for evidence.

There are other advantages of hillsides, notably an improved angle for sunlight reception, favoring photosynthesis, and greater air movement, which keeps vines dry and healthy. Higher elevations can be exploited for their cooler temperatures to slow ripening down – critical in hot climates – or to locate vineyards above fog lines or inversion layers (when warm air sits on a dense mass of cold air, and the temperature actually increases as you go higher) to promote ripening. The sugar-acid balance of ripe grapes is almost always better (more natural acid at the same degree of ripeness) on a dry hillside than on a moist flatland vineyard in any given situation.

Mt. Badacsony, Hungary-5037

Mt. Badacsony, Hungary

The downside is higher cost of production. Vineyards planted on the flats are more productive (you can grow more tons per acre) and easier to farm (because they’re flat and tractor-friendly). But on hillsides the yields are naturally low and farming is more labor intensive. In the case of the steepest hills, all work must be done by hand, which increases costs dramatically. The maintenance of terraces and retaining walls to keep soils on the hills are yet other expenses not shared by flatland farmers. In recognition of this, European winegrowers on hills with a greater than 30% gradient have recently sought EU subsidies to help maintain their vineyards, without which many will disappear. That would be a great loss of vinous patrimony.

Of course there are dozens, if not hundreds of other factors than play a role in wine quality. And proper site preparation before planting, such as installing under row drainage tiles, and smart grape growing like regular plowing and applying compost to improve (read: loosen) soil structure can mitigate the negative effects of low-lying, water-greedy soils. But all things being equal, given the choice between the flats and the hills, I’ll always opt for the hillside wine. The vineyards that Kevin Pogue envisions for the Blue Mountains may cost more to farm than anywhere else in Walla Walla, but the results, I wager, will be well worth it.

Buyer’s Guide for the Love of Hills: Great Wines from Steep Hillsides

Set your wine search to any of the regions mentioned in this report to find the wines currently available in your province.

Studert Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2012 Dalva 20 Year Old Tawny Port Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny Port Quinta Da Romaneira 2010 Touriga Nacional Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Studert Prüm 2012 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany

Laurel Glen 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Mountain, California

Ridge Vineyards 2011 Monte Bello Domäne Wachau Dürnstein 2013 Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Domäne Wachau Achleiten Smaragd 2011 Riesling Aurelio Settimo Barolo 2010 Domaine Des Baumard Clos De Saint Yves 2010 Savennières

Ridge Vineyards 2011 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains, California

Aurelio Settimo 2010 Barolo, Piedmont, Italy

Domaine Des Baumard Clos De Saint Yves 2010 Savennières, Loire, France

Wolf Blass Gold Label 2013 Chardonnay Stoller 2012 Pinot Noir Hirsch Heiligenstein 2013 Grüner Veltliner La Moussière 2012 Sancerre J. L. Chave Selection 2011 Offerus St Joseph

 

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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


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 Newsletter-CITC-2015V4

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 21st – Part Two

Southwest France, Riesling & the Best of the Rest
By John Szabo MS with notes from Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The deep southwest remains one of those lost and misunderstood corners of France, as seemingly impenetrable as the local accent. I’ll never forget watching a news report in Paris in which a farmer from the Gers, a region to the west of Toulouse, was being interviewed. His accent was so thick the TV station posted subtitles so the rest of France could understand.

The region’s two marquee appellations, Cahors and Madiran, featured in the March 21st release, could likewise use some subtitles to help consumers understand them a little better. I was also inspired by a quartet of rieslings from three classic regions, and Sara and I have a handful of additional smart buys for you, filling in the gaps while David continues his peripatetic wine research.

Buyers’ Guide March 21st:
Southwest France, Cahors, Madiran & Fronton: Lost in Translation

Cahors

Considering Argentina’s success with malbec, a grape that originates in southwest France on either side of the Lot River near the town of Cahors, you’d have thought that some reflected spotlight would have shone back home. But I’d wager that most enthusiastic drinkers of deeply fruity malbec from Mendoza would have little inkling of the grape’s true origins, a perfectly understandable knowledge gap considering for one that the French original is rarely labeled with the name of the grape, but more importantly, how radically different the two styles are.

Ironically, these days it’s Argentina that has a more clearly defined style for the variety, and the old world is busy reinventing itself. It’s been fifteen years since I’ve been to that corner of France, so I asked local writer and wine importer Alain Laliberté for his most recent impressions of the region – Laliberté is somewhat of a specialist and has travelled there on many occasions over the last decade for his importing business.

“A generation of young producers have picked up the baton since the turn of the century, with a far more rigorous approach to quality than the previous generation. And they’ve already had a big impact”, he reveals [my translation]. “The rustic, bony wines of the ‘70s, ’80s and even ‘90s, with their drying tannins, have ceded place to structured wines that are more like an iron fist in a velvet glove.”

Cahors has indeed improved a great deal, and the top examples highlight malbec’s floral character, like a field of violets, and bring graceful natural acidity to bear on chiseled tannins, lifting and framing the wine. It was in fact that naturally high acid working with green tannins in the past that made the old “black wine” of Cahors so unruly.

Pont-Valentré, Cahors. (Photo from tripadvisor.ca)

Pont-Valentré, Cahors. (Photo from tripadvisor.ca)

There are also notable style differences depending on precisely where the grapes are grown, as the Cahors appellation has three distinct areas. “Malbec from the low-lying, gently inclined parcels facing the Lot River are less dense”, Laliberté confirms, “while the elevated inclines above produce more structured wines.” The Cahors most suitable for long ageing, however, are those grown on the iron-rich limestone plateau that sits above the river and the other two areas, which yields the most firm and dense wines, according to Laliberté, but also the most finessed. Clos Troteligotte, one of the producers Laliberté represents, has vines on the plateau and produces no fewer than six malbec cuvées according to the concentration of iron in each micro-parcel. (Clos Troteligotte K-Or Cahors 2012 is set to be released in April or May).

For more immediate gratification, try the Château Pineraie 2011 l’Authentique ($39.95) from this release. It’s a bold and seriously pure malbec from the plateau. Sixty year-old vines are harvested very ripe and grapes are fermented in wooden vats (more oxygen, softer tannins) before ageing in barriques, 2/3rds of which are new, for a year and a half. The net result is a dense and supple wine with excellent quality tannins: ripe but firm, fine-grained and neatly woven. Even at the premium price this over-delivers. Best 2015-2026.

Madiran

Tannat, the principal variety in the appellation of Madiran even further southwest of Cahors in Basque country, has yet to really garner any significant international attention. Unlikely Uruguay has made it somewhat of a signature variety, and I’ve seen it pop up in regions as far-flung as Greece and Australia, but its wiry, impermeable character make even malbec look like a plush and cuddly stuffed animal, and has limited its appeal in a new world looking above all for soft, fruity wines. During my first visit to Madiran in 2000, my palate was stripped of all flesh and saliva after a barrel tasting of just four wines, needing a full afternoon to recover from the blitzkrieg of tannin.

It’s not tough to imagine why micro-oxidation (or “micro-ox”), a technique of gently dosing wine with oxygen bubbles to soften tannins, would have been invented here to deal with tannat. But as in Cahors, more attentive viticulture, lower yields, and riper grapes have altered the style landscape. Also, in theory tannat need only represent 40% of a Madiran final blend, even if in practice the percentage is much higher, and producers have the option of adding cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon or fer to complement (it’s telling that cabernet sauvignon would be considered a softening variety here).

Château Pineraie l'Authentique Cahors 2011 Château Peyros Vieilles Vignes Madiran 2009 Château Bellevue La Forêt 2011

Most take advantage of the rules and blend 20%-30% of other grapes, as in Château Peyros 2009 Vieilles Vignes Madiran ($18.95). For this old vines cuvée, average 50 year-old Tannat is blended with 20% of cabernet franc to great effect yielding a very pretty, violet-scented example with an engaging medicinal note, like walking into an herbalist’s shop. For the money you’d be hard pressed to find more complexity; this is a flavour trip into wonderland. Now five years on it’s drinking very well, though it’s still Tannat, and tight tannins call for salty protein. Best 2015-2021.

Fronton

It seems only one estate waves the flag internationally for the small AOC of Fronton north of Toulouse and its unique specialty, négrette. Sara d’Amato recommends it:Château Bellevue La Forêt 2011 ($13.95). The blend is primarily made up of négrette, a grape found in very few places outside of Fronton or the southwest. As the name suggests, it produces deeply coloured wines, spicy with medium tannins but short on acids. In this case it is blended with syrah (adding appealing notes of black pepper and purple flower), cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. Impactful and memorable.”

Buyers’ Guide March 21st: Riesling Rules!

A quartet of excellent rieslings from regions with proven track records of success – Germany, Alsace and Ontario – inspired this mini-thematic. Gather your tasting group and line these up for a thorough schooling in riesling styles. Lovers of classic Mosel will find happiness in the Dr. Hermann 2010 Erdener Treppchen Kabinett Riesling ($17.95). It would be hard to imagine stuffing more regionally distinctive character, and just plain lots of wine, into a bottle for less. And if you saw how steep and difficult to farm the Treppchen vineyard is, you’d almost feel guilty. Almost. This wine will live on until the early ‘30s no doubt.

Ontario is by now internationally recognized for the quality of its riesling, and March 21st sees two of the finest examples offered. Since the first vintage in 2002, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling ($19.95) has turned heads. The 2013 is yet another lean, tightly wound, sharp riesling the way we like them, finely woven and very nicely balanced. Drink or hold until the early ‘20s.

And with an even longer track record, and some of the oldest riesling vines in Canada panted in the late 1970s, Vineland Estates 2012 Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling ($19.95) continues on in the Germanic tradition, carrying amazing flavour intensity on a featherweight, 9% alcohol frame. I like the off-dry, crisp-balanced, spiced apple flavours and the lingering apple blossom finish. Drink through 2022.

Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Kabinett Riesling 2010 Flat Rock Nadja's Vineyard Riesling 2013 Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012 Trimbach Riesling 2012

If you prefer your riesling fully dry and upright, you need only knock on the centuries old house of Trimbach, where dry riesling has been a specialty since 1626. The 2012 Trimbach Riesling ($21.95) is a terrific, arch-classic dry Alsatian style with deceptive intensity and length on a seemingly light frame. This quivers and reverberates on and on. Best 2015-2022.

Buyers’ Guide March 21st: More Smart Buys

Force Majeure 2011 Collaboration Series VI Red Mountain, Columbia Valley ($64.95)

John Szabo – In a short time Red Mountain has become Washington State’s premium red wine AVA, and Force Majeure one of its maximum interpreters. Paul McBride planted his first vines in 2006, but while waiting for them to mature, embarked on a series of collaborative wines with Ciel du Cheval vineyard. The series is being phased out as estate fruit comes into production, so it’s unlikely we’ll see this again, a sturdy and well-structured blend of mourvèdre and syrah with a splash of grenache offering plenty of dark fruit and spice, integrated wood, and liqueur-like concentration. Best 2017-2026.

Tinto Pesquera 2010 Reserva, DO Ribera del Duero, Spain ($44.95)

John Szabo – One of my first great wine moments involved a bottle of Pesquera, and happily, some years later, the wine is still as memorable. There are few places, and indeed fewer wines on earth that can pull off such a fine balance of fruit and oak, structure and suppleness. This wine also ages magnificently, and I recommend cellaring another three years or so before making your own memories. Best 2018-2030.
Sara d’Amato – An iconic, generous wine sure to etch itself in your memory. Drink selfishly or please, give a taste to a first time wine drinker and you may just be responsible for the birth of a new oenophile.

Force Majeure Collaboration Series VI 2011 Tinto Pesquera Reserva 2010 Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette de Limoux E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2013

Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Languedoc, France ($18.95)

Sara d’Amato – Limoux is known as the “original Champagne” as the bubbly was thought to have come about in the 16th century, close to 200 years before Champagne became prominent. With lots of depth, succulence and creaminess, this appealing and frothy example has me wanting to celebrate.

E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2012, Rhône, France ($18.95)

Sara d’Amato – White Rhône floats my boat and it is a shame we see it so infrequently on our shelves. This is a fine, well-priced southern example, very characteristic and easy to appreciate. Notes of lush apricot, lavender and crunchy sea salt will have you salivating. Try with white fish in a peppery lemon butter sauce.

That’s all for this week. But in case you missed it, check out d’Amato’s and my report on Cuvée 2015 and the best from Ontario, complete with compromising photographs! See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES March 21, 2015:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
March 21st Part One – Icon Wines Demystified
All Reviews

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


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Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2011


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Cuvée 2015: Judging vs. Choosing and The Winemakers’ Stories

Ontario Wine ReportMarch 16, 2015

Text and photographs by John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

It was a brittle and glacial February evening for the 27th annual Cuvée celebration of the Ontario wine industry at the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls. Outside, the lampposts shivered and the iron railings surrounding the gorge groaned under a thick coating of ice. Even the mighty cataracts were given pause by the cold, struggling by the sheer force of gravity to stay fluid, while the normally raging Niagara River below had hardened into a solid sheet of snow-covered ice as if to blanket itself from the icy caress of another Canadian winter’s night.

Yet inside, it was all fireside warmth and smiles. Some seven hundred or more wine drinkers had overcome the darkness of cold and had gathered to warm their palates with fifty-two Ontario wines, the maximum expression of each vintner’s art and soul.

If you haven’t been to Cuvée in the last couple of years, things have changed. For the first twenty-four years of the event, the process of selecting the wines to be presented to the public was altogether different. The wines were chosen through a competition, judged by the winemakers themselves – winemakers judging the wines of their peers – a sort of Oscars of the Ontario wine world. Wineries would submit wines to the Cuvée Awards competition, and then winemakers would gather and taste them blind, in various categories, just as we do at WineAlign for the National and World Wine Awards of Canada. The top scoring wines were awarded the opportunity to be poured at the Cuvée Grand Gala, and the winemakers who came out on top of course earned bragging rights for the next twelve months.

But the awards-style process of selecting Cuvée winners was discarded like pressed grape skins in 2013, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the celebration. It was, as I’m told, a way of freshening up an event that had perhaps run its course. “We started to review ways to make enhancements to Cuvée and create a new format that would again be the first of its kind”, says Magdalena Kaiser of Wine Country Ontario, who was on the Cuvée board when the changes were made. “And so a Grand Tasting was created where one single wine each year would be highlighted – the winemaker’s favourite.”

So now, the selection is left up to each winemaker. Each chooses what he/she believes is a unique wine, something representative. Or at least that’s supposed to be the plan.

But admittedly, I miss the old selection process. It was unique in the world, and I always found it fascinating to learn what the winemakers of Ontario liked about Ontario wines. Which deserved awarding and which deserved the kitchen sink? What grapes were favoured, outside of commercial considerations, in the rigid context of a blind tasting? And which winemaking approaches were becoming more universally accepted or rejected? After all, winemakers are often much harsher critics than wine critics, lightning quick to point out even the most minor technical deviations, like a Spanish inquisitor sniffing out an infidel, or a nosy neighbour ratting out dissenters to Party Officials.

Seeing which wines the winemakers would choose to represent the entire industry, through the unsullied, anti-commercial process of evaluating anonymous bottles, certainly added another valuable perspective in the vast constellation of opinions that populate the wine universe. I’m sure it was also a useful opportunity for winemakers to take a hard objective look at the industry as a whole from 30,000 feet, to taste each other’s wines without the mental shackles of friendship, admiration, envy or dislike that impede objectivity when tasting in each other’s cellars or at industry events. It’s a fair way to get a sense of where Ontario wines stand on a broader stage, to identify strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps even gain inspiration to try new techniques, and plant (or rip out) certain varieties.

Frozen Niagara River and Sluggish Falls

Frozen Niagara River and Sluggish Falls

The new approach though, allowing winemakers to take control of their own message-in-a-bottle, paints a vastly different but also interesting scene. Feedback from the industry and attendees is apparently positive. “The fifty-two winery spots were filled far before the deadline, and we actually had a waiting list of wineries wanting to participate”, writes Barb Tatarnic of COVVII at Brock University, which took over management of the event in 2015. So it seems most wineries have embraced the new format: no judging, no awards, just a chance to let consumers read that message and decide for themselves if it moves them. It’s surely also fascinating, and in some cases telling, to see how winemakers view themselves through the lens of the wine they select as their representative.

In an ideal world, I’d love to see the two formats combined in some fashion, so we’d benefit from the insight offered by both selection processes.

I also couldn’t help but notice that the new format also opens the door to distortion of the spirit of the event. While the majority of wineries in attendance rose above the base needs of business – the current that runs through virtually every other consumer wine event on the planet – some couldn’t resist the siren call of commerce.

Perhaps under pressure from the sales and marketing department (and in the wine business, there is always pressure), some felt compelled to show the wine that is readily available, just released, or most popular, rather than the one they’re most excited about or personally fascinated by, or what they’re ultimately most proud of – the wine that distills their philosophy and personality into a bottle. But those are precisely the wines we want to taste. Those are the wines that, even if not available, cast a warm and positive glow over an entire winery’s range, and by extension the whole industry – it’s what those same marketers call the halo effect. And those are the wines that make Cuvée unique, rather than just another fancy wine gala.

It’s also unfortunate that Cuvée is not fully representative of the entire Ontario industry – there wasn’t a single winery from Prince Edward County in the room, for example. And other noteworthy wineries were conspicuous by their absence, and not because they didn’t make the deadline. When I inquired why, say, Tawse or Hidden Bench or Norm Hardie didn’t participate, I was told essentially that they were too busy, a polite way of saying that other events are more worthwhile, and that Cuvée is overly Niagara-centric. “Perhaps if this event were held in Toronto in alternate years and celebrated the industry as a whole, not just Niagara, it would attract more interest from us” wrote Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench, for example.

Yet in the end it certainly is a worthwhile event from my perspective, with enough winemakers rising to the occasion and pouring something representative, something that unfolds another leaf in the story of Ontario wine.

And for those who missed Cuvée 2015, I’ve rounded up a baker’s dozen of my top picks based on a combination of wine quality and intriguing narrative. But rather than writing my usual critique (you can assume they’re all worth buying) I’ve asked the winemakers instead to share the reason why they selected their wine, to tell a (mostly unedited) story that captured some aspect of their art or history or personal journey.

Meet the Winemakers

White

2027 Cellars Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2012-9352

2027 Cellars Fox Croft Block Chardonnay

2027 Cellars 2012 Wismer-Foxcroft Block Chardonnay ($30)

Kevin Panagapka: ” 2012 was my second year working with the Wismer Vineyard ‘Fox Croft Block’ Chardonnay. I intentionally picked this block slightly early in 2012 to retain the acidity and ease back on the alcohol. I like the tension in the wine; there is a fine acidic backbone and minerality I haven’t seen in other blocks.  I feel like the wild barrel fermentation added complexity and mouthfeel while the Burgundian Oak is working in nicely after a year in bottle.  Frankly, out of my current portfolio I felt this wine was showing the best at the time, which is why I chose it for Cuvée. For me, it’s about understanding the individuality of each vineyard block. I fell like this Chardonnay has a wonderful sense of place.”

Big Head 2013 Chenin Blanc ($22)

Andrezj Lipinski: “I would have gladly chosen any one of our wines for their quality but the Chenin is special to me. I think it has tremendous potential, it just needs to be planted in the ideal areas of Niagara, and the vineyard we source from in Niagara-on-the-Lake, close to the water and protected by it, is giving us beautiful and healthy fruit consistently. We let it go naturally in older oak, and it sings. The 2013 had much more hang-time than the 2012 resulting in some wonderful complexity that is just starting to push through.”

Andrezj Lipinski and his Big Head Chenin Blanc 2013-9353

Andrezj Lipinski and his Big Head Chenin Blanc

Jay Johstone and his Flatrock Cellars The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012-9374

Jay Johstone and his Flatrock Cellars The Rusty Shed Chardonnay

Flatrock Cellars 2012 The Rusty Shed Chardonnay ($24.95)

Jay Johnston: “We chose the 2012 Rusty Shed Chardonnay because we’ve loved that wine since it was first blended together. We had a lot of different styles of barrel fermented Chardonnay in the cellar in 2012, and this was my first chance to blend the Rusty, having started at Flat Rock in September that year. Tasting the results when we racked and blended the 25 barrels selected for Rusty was a very special moment. All of the barrels were so individually unique beforehand, and then once blended they created an extremely focused and pure wine that totally blew us away. It was one of those ‘wine moments’ where you really appreciate the creative and artistic side of winemaking.”

Marty Werner and his 2013 Ravine Chardonnay-9404

Marty Werner and his 2013 Ravine Chardonnay

Ravine Vineyard 2013 Chardonnay ($25)

Marty Werner: “I selected our 2013 Ravine Chardonnay because I feel that it shows the potential of picking Chardonnay in Niagara-on-the-Lake while the grapes are still green, as opposed to golden. I feel that picking the grapes earlier can show off not only fruit, but other complexities such as vintage and sense of place.”

Stratus Vineyards 2012 White ($44)

JL Groux: “The 2012 Stratus White is the tenth edition of that wine and we are celebrating our tenth anniversary this year so it did fit well for Cuvée. With no aromatic varieties and 43% Chardonnay, the 2012 has a lot of depth and length. The balance is made of Sauvignon Blanc at 42% and Semillon at 15%.”

Westcott Vineyards 2013 Estate Chardonnay ($26)

Carolyn Hurst (owner; Arthur Harder is the head winemaker): “This wine represents the culmination of a vision that started in 2006 with the purchase of the vineyard and the selection of the chardonnay clones and root stock. We dreamed of creating a chardonnay of this elegance and we were rewarded in 2013 for our hard work and care. We are inspired by this wine to continue on our rocky road journey to perfection.”

Suzanne Janke standing in for JL Groux and his 2012 Stratus White-9428

Suzanne Janke standing in for JL Groux and his 2012 Stratus White

Victoria and Garett Westcott and their Westcott Estate Chardonnay 2013-9439

Victoria and Garett Westcott and their Westcott Estate Chardonnay 2013

Red 

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery David Sheppard ‘Vintage 30’ Cabernet 2012 ($36.95)

Dave Sheppard and his _Vintage 30_ Cabernet, Coyote's Run-9393

Dave Sheppard’s Vintage 30 Cabernet

Dave Sheppard: ‘Jeff Aubry had asked me to pick something special from the vintage to do an anniversary issue wine, so the field was wide open. The Cabernet Sauvignon was a “one-off” opportunity from a grower (Ralph Serluca) whose vineyard is only a couple of kilometers from Coyote’s Run and within the same sub-appellation. Ralph had offered us the block of Cab pending our approval upon inspection. The moment I set foot in the vineyard I told Jeff “we must have these grapes”, not thinking specifically of the 30th anniversary wine at the time, but rather just that the vineyard was absolutely beautifully and paternally tended and the grapes were spectacular.  It was an opportunity not to be missed. Later in the process when it came time to select a wine for the 30th, I admittedly quite selfishly gravitated towards what I thought to be the best of the vintage, and that was the Cabernet Sauvignon from that vineyard.”

Lailey Vineyards ‘Impromptu’ (84% Syrah with malbec and petit verdot) 2012 ($45)

Derek Barnett: “I chose the wine for its elegance and balance, something I think that the Niagara River appellation brings out in syrah each and every year. I also chose it because it is awesome, too‎”.

Creekside Estate Winery Broken Press Syrah 2011 ($39.95)

Rob Power: Pouring our top Syrah at high-end Ontario wine events usually raises a few eyebrows. But one taste reminds that Syrah actually does very well in cooler climates. And it also serves notice that Niagara is much more than a one or two-trick varietal pony: many different great wines are possible across the Peninsula’s varied terrain. Broken Press, à la Côte-Rôtie, includes Viognier skins in co-ferment with Syrah, imparting added aromatic complexity and rounded texture.”

Derek Barnett and his Lailey Impromptu 2012-9386

Derek Barnett and his Lailey Impromptu 2012

Rob Powers and his Creekside Broken Press Syrah 2011-9470

Rob Powers and his Creekside Broken Press Syrah 2011

Thirty Bench Winemakers Small Lot Pinot Noir 2012 ($35)

Emma Garner: “Our 15 year-old Pinot Noir block at Thirty Bench has been quite a well kept secret until just recently.  Our reputation at the winery has always been centered on Riesling and its unique ability to demonstrate the subtleties of terroir. Pinot is another such variety and I have finally started to understand our vines and just what they are capable of. 2012 was a picture perfect year to develop optimal ripeness. It was also a year in which grapes could get too ripe and jammy if left to hang too long. We found the sweet spot with our 115 clone Pinot Noir in 2012. Extended skin maceration (3 weeks) and judicious oak usage (100% French and 15% new) helped to develop a wine worthy of aging. I truly feel that I have turned a page in my Pinot vinification journey. It has always been somewhat daunting, however. Now I realize that it is an endless journey in search of the perfect glass.”

Emma Garner and her Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Noir 2012-9414

Emma Garner and her Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Noir 2012

Craig MacDonald and his Trius Grand Red 2012-9395

Craig MacDonald and his Trius Grand Red 2012

Trius Winery Grand Red 2012 ($55)

Craig McDonald: “The G Red was my choice because I wanted to showcase an unusual technique I learnt from an old Penfolds Winemaker back in 2000, ‘Slingers’, whilst at De Bortoli in the Yarra. Once fermentation is complete and the free-run wine is transferred out of the wooden vats I use gravity to press the remaining cap and gently ‘drip’ the wine from the skins directly into barrel. It takes a bit of practice to make the right cut and it’s a pain in the butt to dig out later on but the wine is stunning – rich, intense and inky black but with fine silky tannins because it’s naturally pressed and not dug out and pressed mechanically. Most of the G Red was made this way so it’s actually pressings from our best blocks of company fruit from the great 2012 vintage. I think pressings are often overlooked by Winemakers so this is my ode to B-Side Winemaking and classic Aussie innovation ”

The Foreign Affair Winery Petit Verdot “On Assignment” ($49.95)

Len Crispino: “In exceptional years like 2012 we produced a single varietal Petit Verdot. We take a judicious approach on the proportion of grapes dried, in this case almost 15%. We believe our slow drying method yields subtle nuances and rich complexities. We do not depend on a standard formula. Decision are based on listening to the vintage, being respectful of the varietal and being true to our desired artistic interpretation through innovation.”

Len Crispino and his Foreign Affairs and his Petit Verdot 2012-9418

Len Crispino and his Foreign Affairs and his Petit Verdot 2012

Brian Schmidt and his Vineland Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve 2012-9448

Brian Schmidt and his Vineland Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve 2012

Vineland Estates 2012 Reserve Cabernet Franc ($40.00)

Brian Schmidt: “I just had to bring out the 2012 Reserve Cabernet Franc for an early showing at Cuvée.  I am thoroughly convinced that Cabernet Franc is Ontario’s “red hammer” and I believe the variety is most suited to showcase our terroir with consistency. I think the 2012 Reserve is the “sledge” and it drives the Cabernet Franc point home with authority. After its quick outing I had to pull it back into the cellars where it is going to quietly develop more depth and finesse until it is ready to come out for good.”

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Sara d’Amato: Report on Cuvée and Expert’s Tasting 2015

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


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County in the City

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 21st – Part One

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

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

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

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

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

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

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

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

California “Icons”

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

Dominus 2011

Dominus Napanook 2011

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

Dominus 2011, Napa Valley ($176.95)

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

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

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

Ridge Three Valleys 2012

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

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

Ridge 2012 Three Valleys, Sonoma County ($35.95)

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

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

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

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

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

Bordeaux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Les Charmes De Magnol 2010, Médoc ($18.95)

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

Other Bordeaux-Styled Reds

Pondview Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2012

Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,

David

From VINTAGES March 21, 2015:

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

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


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

Blind Tasting meets Seán Cullen

The oh-so serious sport of wine tasting is receiving a major reality check in the Season 5 launch of WineAlign’s “So, You Think You Know Wine?”—a digital series produced by Toronto’s feltfilm.

“It’s a show where we play with wine and we play with words. Weird!” muses comedian Seán Cullen, the new host of this video series.

2015-03-09_14-01-01

A wine junkie himself, Cullen is best known for his ability to produce unscripted madness by turning words into playthings. The theatre of wine tasting provides no lack of fodder for Cullen to spin his magic out of fact-based educational content.

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

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

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

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

Click here to watch Round #1 or read on to learn more about the scoring and the contestants in this round.

Table in Studio

The Scoring

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

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

Round 1

In Round 1, wine experts Bill Zacharkiw of Chacun son vin, Montreal Gazette, and CHOM FM and John Szabo MS of WineAlign and City Bites face off against TV and radio host and food blogger, Pay Chen.

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Let the games begin! Pour yourself a glass of wine and Watch Round #1 here.

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

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 7th – Part Two

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

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Nod to BC

Mission Hill 2012 Reserve Shiraz

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

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

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

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

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

~

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

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

CAPS Best Sommelier of Canada Competition

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

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

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

~

Cheers,

David

From VINTAGES March 7, 2015:

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

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


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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: http://www.winesofargentina.org/awa/edicion/2015/premiados/regional%20trophy. ~ 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: www.indus.travel/tour/tuscany-and-barolo-with-john-szabo

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!


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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008