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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 11th – Part One

Spain’s Diversity Uncorked (Sort of)
By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo MS

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Spanish wine continues to surprise, challenge and often delight both the palate and the pocket book. In May I spent a week in the Catalonia region, first in Priorat then in Penedès and Barcelona with its umpteen thousand restaurants. I had expected to be wowed by Priorat (about which I will write in depth soon) but I had not expected to be so impressed by the range, diversity and quality of the sparklers, whites (in particular) and reds emerging from other Catalan DOs (appellations) like Conca de Barbera, Costers del Segre and Terra Alta. And to think that such diversity, and such greatly improved winemaking, is being replicated in regions large and small from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, and south into the centre of the country as well.

This VINTAGES release aims to showcase Spain’s regional and varietal diversity, and provides some decent value wines en route, if no stunning “must buy values”. But I would love to see more specialized regional releases from Spain. When was the last time VINTAGES mounted a feature solely on “France”, or “Italy”? Never! Spain’s regions need to be embraced the same way as Tuscany or Bordeaux or the Southern Rhône. And it certainly has enough regional diversity to provide several features over several months.

I have heard from two reputable sources that VINTAGES put out “a call” for Spanish wine submissions and received about 1,400 applications (on paper). Less than 50 were actually sampled, and only 15 were purchased (that’s just over 1%). The first shocker is that so many Spanish wineries want access to the LCBO/Ontario market; the second is just how ridiculously limited VINTAGES offerings are, with no other available retail venues for the wines. (See last month’s rant about Canadian wine for the reason why).

So yes, Spain is a brave new world for wine exploration and if you are curious you should seriously consider travelling there to grasp its vinous depth. Never mind that it is one of the most historically rich countries in the world. And that the food is fantastic as well, reaching far beyond stereotypes of paella, jamon and tapas.

WineAlign Bus to I4CThis week John and I offer our recommendations from the Spanish release, while Sara vacations and tastes in the south of France. We also offer other white wine finds. Next week John leads off with chardonnays coming to VINTAGES and the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration July 17-19. We have a handful of seats remaining on the WineAlign bus to the Grand Tasting & Dinner on July 18. John Szabo will be joining the group for dinner, so you can compare tasting notes at the al fresco feast.

Spanish Cavas and Whites

Juvé & Camps 2011 Cinta Purpura Reserva Brut Cava, Penedès, Spain ($18.95)

David Lawrason – Fine character and complexity here from one of the most highly regarded producers of Penedès. It is aged 24 months on its lees before release. It shows a generous, complex nose of baked peach, hazelnut and dried flowers with a touch of lees. Nicely fresh but has some substance as well.
John Szabo – Another terrific Cava, on the more mature, richer side of the spectrum, for use at the table rather than aperitif hour.

Gramona 2006 Iii Lustros Gran Reserva Brut Nature Cava, Penedès, Spain ($49.95)

John Szabo – This was a brave listing by the LCBO, a $50 wine in a category that rarely exceeds $20. The wine, however, is absolutely superb. This has all of the class and complexity of great traditional method sparkling wine, crafted in artisanal fashion by Jaume and Xavier Gramona, the fifth generation of a family business established in 1881. If you thought Cava was trapped in the cheap and cheerful bubbly category, this will change your mind.

Juvé & Camps Cinta Purpura Reserva Brut Cava 2011 Gramona Iii Lustros Gran Reserva Brut Nature Cava 2006 Finca Las Caraballas Verdejo 2013 Pansa Blanca 2014

Finca Las Caraballas 2013 Verdejo,Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Leon, Spain ($16.95)

David Lawrason – This is an organically produced, fairly deeply coloured young Verdejo. Not from Rueda but is made in the proximity. It is almost overripe with yellow plum jam/raisiny fruit, fennel, nut shell and waxiness. Quite full bodied, very smooth, with great flavour depth.
John Szabo – This will be a polarizing wine, already golden amber and clearly made in a highly oxidative style. But forget the standard paradigms. Is the wine good? On that score, the wine succeeds. This is like a juicy, overripe mango that has fallen from the tree, sprinkled with sea salt and a squeeze of lemon and tangerine. For the price, it’s worth the punt to expand your horizons.

Alta Alella 2014 Pansa Blanca, Catalunya, Spain ($14.95)

David Lawrason – Pansa Blanca is a local name for the xarel-lo grape, one of three used in Cava. This still wine version is produced by Alta Allela, a leading organic producer. It is very brightly made – no organic funk here. Expect fairly reserved, almost overripe yellow plum, mild fresh mint and spice.

Spanish Reds & Fortified

Cune 2010 Reserva, Rioja ($23.95)

Bodegas Ochoa Reserva 2007 Cune Reserva 2010John Szabo – Traditional Rioja is one of the great wines of the world, and CVNE (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España), a grand old Bodega in the heart of Haro in the Rioja Alta, is one of the protagonists. Since 1879 they’ve been crafting wines like this Reserva, finely balanced, mid-weight, firm, nicely chiseled. Although drinkable now, this will be much better in 2-4 years, or hold until the mid ’20s without issue.
David Lawrason – This is quite refined, well balanced young Rioja from a classic, traditional producer. The nose shows fairly generous, soft aromas of cherry, vanillin, cedar and burlap/earthiness. It’s mid-weight, fairly tender yet generous.

Bodegas Ochoa 2007 Reserva, Navarra  ($24.95)

David Lawrason – This single vineyard tempranillo-cabernet-merlot blend has an engaging, very lifted nose of rosemary/mint, blackcurrant with meaty notes and some soya character. It’s mid-weight, elegant, dense and lifted with vibrant acidity.

Peña 2010 Roble Crianza, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($21.95)

John Szabo – A mid-weight, balanced, lively, saliva-inducing tempranillo, with light, dusty tannins and firm acids. This works nicely on a gastronomic level.

Maetierra Dominum 2007 Quatro Pagos, Rioja ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This is a ‘vino do pago’ or estate wine, assembled from four separately vinified sites (quarto pagos) belonging to a winery called Maetierra Dominum. It’s based on tempranillo; a mature Rioja showing lifted meaty, smoky, spicy and dark cherry notes. It’s medium-full bodied and quite dense, with some liveliness and further ageing potential.

Tomàs Cusiné 2013 Llebre, Costers del Segre ($15.95)

David Lawrason – This is a fresh young tempranillo (called llebre in Catalan) from an inland region of Catalonia. It has a lifted, spicy, peppery almost Rhonish nose with violets and generous wood spice. It’s quite soft, a touch sweet with some warmth (14% alc) and generosity.

Peña Roble Crianza 2010 Maetierra Dominum QP 2007 Tomàs Cusiné Llebre 2013 Chapillon Siendra 2011 Gonzalez Byass Del Duque Amontillado Viejo

Chapillon Siendra 2011, Calatayud ($14.95)

David Lawrason – This is from Bodegas Langa, the oldest and largest family winery in the interior, high altitude region of Calatayud. It is 80% old vine garnacha spiced with cabernet, merlot and syrah. The nose is almost sweet with violet/pansy florality, chocolate and ripe plummy/blackberry fruit. It’s open-knit, dense, soft and a bit sweet.

Gonzalez Byass Del Duque Vors Amontillado, Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum, Jerez, ($38.95)

Antonio Flores, Gonzalez-Byass

Antonio Flores, Gonzalez-Byass

John Szabo – Terrific to see this back on our shelves, an outstanding old Amontillado, one of my favourites from the excellent Gonzalez-Byass range. VORS means a minimum of 30 years of age, and the first whiff is “like opening the door of an antique shop” according to capataz Antonio Flores, in a fireworks display of complexity. The palate is explosive, powerful, yet still suave and smooth, with tremendous length. Needless to say, value is off the charts.

Other International Whites

Salomon-Undhof 2013 Kremser Tor Grüner Veltliner, Alte Reben, Kremstal, Austria ($21.95)

David Lawrason – From a classic Kremstal-based producer dating back over 200 years, this is a bright, rich and quite fruity young grüner – a bit softer than some, but it has polish and freshness. Expect gentle aromas of yellow pear/plum fruit. It is great to find this quality at the $20 mark.
John Szabo – If you like wines with a sense of place, you can’t go wrong with this genuine old vine beauty. I love the substance without excessive ripeness, and at 13.5% declared, this hits a fine balance. Give it another year in the bottle to really come together.

Domaine Des Baumard 2011 Clos de Saint Yves Savennières, Loire, France ($34.95)

John Szabo – For some inexplicable reason, the top wines of Savennières have never achieved the prices of other great whites from around the world, but they surely should be counted among them. This is ultra-classic chenin blanc with its honest, wet hay, barley, wheat cracker, and honey flavours, very generous texturally but shapely and firm, but more importantly, chock-full of sapid, salty mineral character. It’s the sort of timeless wine you can enjoy now or in a decade, or more. Best 2015-2026.

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara 2013 Riesling, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95)

David Lawrason – For several years now Tawse Sketches Riesling has been punching above its weight. Not in terms of complexity and structure, but in delivering effortless, super bright, balanced, sippable riesling with textbook fruit, florals and just enough minerality. The excellent 2013 white vintage in Niagara adds to its cachet. A great buy under $20.

Salomon Undhof Alte Reben Grüner Veltliner 2013 Domaine Des Baumard Clos Saint Yves Savennières 2011Tawse Sketches Riesling 2013Domaine Gerovassiliou Malagousia Vieilles Vignes 2014 Reinhold Haart To Heart Piesport Riesling 2013

Gerovassiliou 2014 Malagousia Vieilles Vignes, IGP Epanomi, Macedonia, Greece ($23.95)

John Szabo – I reckon you might as well have your introduction to this variety from the man who literally rescued it from near oblivion in the 1970s. Gerovassiliou is still the reference for Malagousia in Greece (and thus the world), and his 2014, a full, rich, fleshy, abundantly fruity wine, drinks like top end viognier.

Reinhold Haart 2013 Haart To Heart Piesport Riesling, Mosel ($19.95)

John Szabo – A terrific Mosel riesling to buy by the case, from one of the great producers in Piesport. I’d swear there is some declassified “GG” (Grosses Gewächs, or grand cru) blended in here.

And that’s a wrap for this edition. WineAlign has set new readership records in recent weeks, during a traditionally slower season. We thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm. We hope you are enjoying some down time during our not-yet-too-hot summer.

Cheers!

From VINTAGES July 11th, 2015

Lawrason’s Take
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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Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011


International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 27 – Part Two

Canada is Bigger than Canada Day
By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

As VINTAGES releases its token selection of new Canadian wines this week ahead of Canada Day – all ten of them among 120 new releases – John, Sara, Michael and I plus other WineAlign critics are in Niagara judging over 1400 Canadian wines at the National Wine Awards of Canada. I have never been one to overplay patriotism as a reason to drink Canadian wine, firmly believing that quality must be the driver of its success. These annual awards are a significant tool to that end, helping winemakers benchmark themselves, and providing consumers with the names of those wines that stand out. We will certainly be displaying the winners in the weeks ahead. Your inbox will be buzzing with the news.

But I am disappointed that VINTAGES, during Canada’s national week, has not greatly bumped up its Canadian representation. Why not devote an entire release to Canadian wine? There are certainly enough very good wines out there from B.C., Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.

Well here’s why it’s not happening. The LCBO has a template that prescribes how many wines, from which countries/regions, get released every two weeks. And it’s really all about store/shelf management – keeping the same number of SKUs in the same locations within the same stores week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. Arguably it is for the shopping ease and familiarity of consumers, but it’s more for the convenience of unionized staff. Heaven forbid they would have to create a new, enticing display of 100 great new Canadian wines on Canada Day. Much easier to plaster big very expensive posters in the window and call that a promotion.

I am not blaming any individual within the LCBO, except perhaps its leadership. The LCBO’s intrinsic and historic inflexibility is one reason that the Canadian wine industry – and those of all other countries in fact – are crying for some form of privatization. A model that will allow at least a tripling of SKUs sold within a network of stores that includes supermarkets, cold beer and wine stores, fine wine stores and regionally dedicated shops (these all exist elsewhere in Canada). A network that will allow the elasticity required to manage the ebb and flow of a product so wonderfully diverse as wine.

This summer I am more hopeful than ever. We are on the eve of major change in Ontario. By September ex-TD Bank chairman Ed Clark, mandated by Kathleen Wynn’s Liberals, is supposed to propose how wine in supermarkets might work. Which of course will be a welcome start when it finally does come about. But as listed above, supermarkets are only one piece of a much more diverse template that is required.

The Ontario wine industry itself is strongly in favour of independent wine shops selling both Ontario and imported wine. This a bold and crucial stance, because as I said, patriotism should not be the only reason that we buy Canadian wine. It must compete head to head in a fair retail environment, and at least some of Ontario’s winemakers have figured that out – often those that do best in the National Wine Awards.

My greatest hope is that Ed Clark also believes this. That he beats back the howls of the vested interests who seek advantage for themselves over what makes sense for the industry at large and the consumers it serves. Wine in supermarkets is a huge first step, but independent stores must soon follow.

As an interim step the existing private retail licenses granted to the large Ontario wineries before 1988 must be re-distributed among the many interests selling Canadian and imported wines. Ontario’s international trade partners cannot, and will not, disagree. When it is proven to work – which it will – many more licenses need to be made available. As many as the market demands. And Ontario will finally join the rest of the globe in terms of natural wine retailing. We are still, as we speak, an anomaly on this planet. And we are widely ridiculed.

We ask you to celebrate Canada Day with a bottle of Canadian wine, but in the true spirit of Canadian globalism, if you decide that a wine from France, Chile or New Zealand is what you want in the moment then do so without guilt. Canada welcomes all. Canada is bigger than Canada Day. Every person contributing to wine production somewhere in the world matters too.

Here are our picks from the June 27th release, plus a couple of recently tasted Canadian selections from VINTAGES Essentials

Canadian Wines

Vieni Estates 2012 Foch Vintage Reserve Ontario Canada ($19.95)

David Lawrason – Canada’s wine industry began with hybrids like marechal foch, and a few remaining old vine versions garner an almost cult-like following (eight were entered in this year’s wine awards). This deep, gnarly, rustic red explains their curious durability.
John Szabo – This is one of the best hybrid wines I’ve come across in long-term memory, great for the back yard or cottage with is smoky, forest floor, resinous herbs and dried plum flavours.

Calamus 2013 Steely Unoaked Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($14.95)

David Lawrason – Unoaked chardonnay is often boring, giving us no reason not to drink pinot grigio instead (which can also be boring). This is a nicely fresh, quite fulsome unoaked chardonnay with ripe pear, florals and honey. Calamus has re-designed its labels and found some new energy  in its wines of late.

Vieni Foch Vintage Reserve 2012 Calamus Unoaked Chardonnay 2013 Sperling Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2013 Malivoire Musqué Spritz 201413th Street Cabernet Merlot 2012

Sperling 2013 Gewurztraminer, Okanagan Valley ($28.95)

David Lawrason – Born and raised on the family’s vineyard in East Kelowna, Anne Sperling is better known in Ontario as the veteran winemaker at Southbrook and formerly Malivoire. She also commutes home to BC to tend Sperling Vineyards. This is a quite delicate, off-dryish gewurz  from estate vines well positioned on a south-facing hill overlooking west Kelowna and the lake.

Malivoire 2014 Musqué Spritz Beamsville Bench, ($19.95)

John Szabo – Lively, fresh, off-dry, and yes, spritzy, Malivoire’s 2014 Musqué Spritz is an infinitely drinkable, aperitif-friendly white that goes down with alarming ease. A great wine to have around the house for the summer, for those impromptu afternoon occasions.

13th Street 2012 Cabernet Merlot, Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)

David Lawrason – The 2012 vintage is perhaps the best all ‘round vintage Niagara has seen to date. Having been dealt nicely ripened fruit, JP Colas has delivered a quite lifted complex cab/merlot blend with notes of slightly stewed raspberry currant, herbs, leather, grilled red pepper and fresh herbs.

Culmina 2012 Hypothesis, Okanagan Valley ($39.95)

David Lawason – Since departing Jackson-Triggs when the label was sold to US-based Constellation Brands, Donald Triggs and his family have been carving out an ambitious new vineyard project on the benches of the south Okanagan’s Golden Mile. This is a very serious, sculpted, deep merlot-based red.
Sara d’Amato – From the recently delimited, sub-appellation of Golden Mile Bench, this BC Bordeaux blend has the complexity of left bank Bordeaux but the appealing, generous nature of a new world. Youthful and spicy but with excellent structure for mid to long term cellaring.

Culmina Hypothesis 2012 Malivoire Chardonnay 2012 Cave Spring Estate Riesling 2013 Queylus Reserve Du Domaine Merlot Cabernet Franc 2010

Malivoire 2012 Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)

John Szabo – Made from essentially all Beamsville Bench fruit, Malivoire’s 2012 is a typically ripe and flowery, gently oaked, lively and well-balanced chardonnay. Acids are crisp and lively, and fruit is in the ripe orchard spectrum. Lovely wine, well priced.

Cave Spring 2013 Estate Riesling, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95)

John Szabo – Cave Spring’s 2013 riesling is just off-dry but balanced, lively and vibrant, with arch-typical riesling profile – as reliable as they come.

Queylus 2010 Reserve du Domaine Merlot Cabernet Franc, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($39.95)

Sara d’Amato – A head turning Bordeaux blend from the hands of one of Canada’s most celebrated consultant winemakers, Thomas Bachelder. From rose and violets to blackcurrants and plums, this fleshy but structured palate is swoon-worthy.

International Reds

Finca Sophenia 2013 Reserve Malbec, Tupungato, Mendoza ($17.95)

David Lawrason – This is a very pretty, floral and lifted malbec that doesn’t succumb to oak from the high country at the north end of Mendoza’a Uco Valley.

Château Pey De Pont 2010, Médoc, Bordeaux $21.95

David Lawrason – The 2010 vintage continues to deliver great value among the petits chateaux. With well layered currants, spice, herbs, vanilla and a hint of maturing leather, this is ready to roll and should hold over the next three to five years.

Finca Sophenia Reserve Malbec 2013 Château Pey De Pont 2010 Gran Passione Rosso 2013 Domaine Le Clos Des Cazaux La Tour Sarrasine Gigondas 2012

Gran Passione 2013 Rosso, Veneto, Italy ($15.95)

David Lawrason – Lots here for $16! This is a very smooth, ripe and easy going ripasso with very good density. It has a nicely lifted nose of plum/cherry fruit, chocolate, some underlying meatiness and herbs.

Domaine Le Clos Des Cazaux 2012 La Tour Sarrasine Gigondas, Rhône France ($28.95)

John Szabo – A complete southern Rhône package here, classy and compelling, drinking well now, but should also hold a decade in the cellar quite comfortably. Best 2015-2025.

Il Molino Di Grace 2007 Il Margone Riserva Chianti Classico, Tuscany. Italy ($34.95)

John Szabo – There’s a lot of wine here for the money; this drinks up there with Brunello costing twice as much. I love the fully mature, earthy, mushroom and wet clay/wood- oxidative feel. There’s a touch of funk here to be sure, but it melds seamlessly with the rest of the ensemble. Best 2015-2022.

Domaine Le Clos Des Cazaux La Tour Sarrasine Gigondas 2012 Il Molino Di Grace Il Margone Riserva Chianti Classico 2007 Michel Gassier Les Piliers Syrah 2012 Sileni The Triangle Merlot 2013

2012 Michel Gassier Les Piliers Syrah AC Costières de Nîmes, Rhône, France ($18.95)

John Szabo – Here’s a fine value, lively and authentic syrah, floral and very pretty, with elegant tannins and vibrant acids. Very classy, and really well priced.  Best 2015-2020.
Sara d’Amato – Costieres de Nimes’ milder climate sandwiched between the southern Rhone and the Languedoc provides a haven for finicky syrah, allowing it to express itself in all its peppery and floral glory. An excellent value that has crowd-pleasing appeal.

Sileni 2013 The Triangle Merlot, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – Since the late 90s, Sileni has been producing a wide range of wines in the milder climate of Hawke’s Bay. This standout merlot shows terrific concentration and fruit but with a nervy acidic backbone that makes it versatile with food.

Ermete Medici & Figli Concerto 2013And for Something Special on the Patio This Summer…..

Medici Ermete & Figli 2013 Arte E Concerto Lambrusco, Emilia-Romagna  Italy ($19.95)

John Szabo – A long-time standard-bearer for Lambrusco, Medici Ermete’s Concerto, made from the Salamino member of the vast lambrusco family of grapes, is a deeply-coloured, very fruity and engaging wine, essentially dry (10 grams of residual sugar) and light-mid weight on the palate (11.5% alcohol). I like the dark berry flavours, the floral and peppery notes reminiscent of syrah done in carbonic maceration. Decent length. Perfect for the charcuterie board (is it a coincidence that the grape is named salamino, after the salami-like shape of its bunches?).

From VINTAGES June 27th, 2015

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

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


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Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 27 – Part One

Pan-Am Wines; WineAlign’s Favourites of Customer Favourites
By John Szabo MS, with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

The Pan Am games are virtually upon the Golden Horseshoe. The 1.5 billion-dollar event has impacted the region significantly, motivating many infrastructure improvements like multiple sports venues, a long-overdue rail connection to Pearson, new HOV lanes, and a prettied-up Queen’s Quay. The games have even influenced the wine selections arriving in Ontario on June 27th. But the LCBO’s selection of Pan-AM-themed wines stack the odds in favour of the powerhouse countries and give little hope for the emerging ones.

It’s a shame that the elite competitors from little-known wine producing countries like Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico weren’t invited to compete against perennial favourites from Canada, the US, Chile and Argentina. Instead, those marginalized countries are represented only by their second-string wines, unprepared for international competition. If one of the goals of the thematic, as for the games, is to introduce us to the new stars and to expand Pan-American cultural awareness and respect, I’m afraid spectator-drinkers will go home with prejudices fully intact.

Rather than one of southern Brazil’s very good sparkling wines (Chandon Brazil, Cave Geisse, Vallontano?), we’re offered instead a weak and bony, fleshless, amateur bubbly from the cooperative Aurora Winery, which, according to their website, is “the largest of its kind in Brazil and produces beverages [my emphasis] to suit all tastes and occasions”. Hardly an inspiring training motto for the factory’s winemakers. But for $13.95, all you can expect is the regional high school team, not the world cup squad.

Uruguay with its flag-waving tannat grape has countless potential medal-winning entries, but it didn’t even qualify. Instead we have Del Pedregal’s bench-warming Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly serviceable, worthy perhaps of a participation ribbon, but definitely not starting-team, medal material (Del Pedregal’s tannat wins all the medals). And Mexico, well, Mexico should have stayed home altogether. In a retirement home. Washed-up and oxidized, Freixenet de México’s entry should be watching the games from a reclining armchair. Is this really the best Mexico has to offer?

In the end, none of these countries will walk away with any new fans. And that’s the shame. It’s hardly a fair reflection of their sporting potential.

You could of course argue that no one will pay a high-priced ticket to see an unknown country perform, even if it’s the best in the event-category. And you’d probably be right. Stocking the LCBO shelves with expensive oddities is not smart planning, unless there’s an enthusiastic mascot on hand at every venue who can sell the ticket. But then again, if the proper infrastructure isn’t in place, then maybe the LCBO shouldn’t have been awarded the games at all. The risk of misrepresenting emerging countries is high.

So if you are going to the games on the 27th, preserve your unsullied impression of the mystery entries by keeping them a mystery, and go straight to see the marquee performers. The WineAlign odds-makers have lined up the top contenders from Canada, Chile, the US and Argentina, where medal chances are high.

The other theme of the release is “Customer Favourites”, a straightforward selection based on what has sold well in the past. These are the wines that you’ve voted for. This week’s report covers our favourites out of your favourite white wines (along with a handful of other irresistible wines that we’ll boldly predict as “future customer favourites”), while reds will be covered next week along with David’s lead-off on Canada’s finest for our national day.

Buyers’ Guide to Pan-American Wines

Montes Alpha 2012 Carmenère Colchagua Valley Chile ($19.95)

John Szabo – A big and muscular, Pan Am sumo wrestler of a wine with soft midsection, yet sufficient acids to keep the masses of fruit from falling out of the ring. Best 2015-2020.

Viña San Pedro 2012 1865 Single Vineyard Syrah, Cachapoal Valley, Chile ($19.95)

Sara D’Amato – A syrah that knocks it out of the park with perky peppercorn and notes of juicy black currants on its compelling palate that is sure to prove a backyard barbecue favourite.

Trapiche 2011 Fincas Las Palmas Gran Reserva Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($16.95)

David Lawrason – This is impressively deep, full and flavourful for the money – a hefty Argentine malbec that manages some complexity. As the largest and one of the oldest wineries in Mendoza, some might categorize Trapiche as old school – but I rather like the inbred oak driven complexity. A grilling red.

Montes Alpha Carmenère 2012 Viña San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Syrah 2012 Trapiche Fincas Las Palmas Gran Reserva Malbec 2011 Sperling Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2013 Colomé Torrontés 2013

2013 Sperling Gewurztraminer, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, Canada ($28.95)

John Szabo – A sprightly, energetic, more hundred-meter-dash-than-marathoner of a wine in the gewürztraminer context. It’s marvellously aromatic in the varietal style, but much crisper, drier and firmer than the mean.
Sara D’Amato – A stunningly elegant gewürztraminer which features well-balanced, bright acids to counteract the characteristic fatness common to the varietal.  For a cross-cultural, Pan Am treat, try with a slightly spicy chile relleno.

Colomé 2013 Torrontés, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Salta, Argentina ($13.95)

Sara D’Amato – From the world’s most elevated concentration of vineyards comes a smart and poised but characteristically value-priced torrontés. A restrained floral component and vibrant palate make for a widely appealing, easy summer sipper.
David Lawrason – Gran Altura is harvested at three different altitudes between 1800 and 3100 metres (which is lofty even for Argentina standards). The result is a delicacy and finesse rarely encountered in this show-off, highly aromatic variety. And at this price it’s amazing value. Make sure you chill well for garden sipping. Ideal for ceviche.

Our Favourites of Your Favourites Part One: White Wines

La Crema 2013 Chardonnay Monterey, California, USA ($26.95)

John Szabo – La Crema has slowly but surely been tightening the screws on their chardonnays, and while even the Monterey bottling, typically the tightest of La Crema’s range, wouldn’t have been among my favorites even just a few years ago, the 2013 hits the right balance. It’s still very much California, but happily tweaked for freshness and extended shelf-life. Best now-2023.

Casas Del Bosque Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Featherstone Sauvignon Blanc 2013 La Crema Monterey Chardonnay 20132013 Featherstone Sauvignon Blanc VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($17.95)

John Szabo – Featherstone, too, steps into my favourites line-up for the first time, with this strong 2013 sauvignon release. I like the mix of guava/passion fruit inflected with subdued herbal-grassy character, and the honest dusty-chalky finish. Just feels right.
Sara D’Amato – Don’t expect a grassy New Zealand style of sauvignon blanc nor a riper California fumé but rather a uniquely Niagara style with great balance and appeal. Sourced from grapes at peak ripeness, this mid-priced sauvignon blanc exhibits surprising viscosity and staying power with the refreshing flavours of cooler tropical fruits such as pineapple and passion fruit.

Casas Del Bosque 2014 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($13.95)

David Lawrason – The world is increasingly dividing into three camps when it comes to sauvignon blanc, and given the time of year let’s call them summer camps – Camp Oh So Green, Camp Cool by the Lake, and Camp Deep in the Woods.  This is a New Zealand-inspired Camp Oh So Green blaster with intense capsicum, celery, dill on the nose and palate. A bit much for some, but a huge flavour hit for $13.95.

“Future Favourites” Part One: White Wines

Ken Forrester 2014 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($17.95)

John Szabo – I’m delighted to see the return of this excellent value from Forrester, my pick for a future Vintages favourite. The 2014 is a particularly steely and mineral version, still at least a year or two away from prime drinking, but this has the depth and stuffing to go the distance. Best 2016-2024.
Sara D’Amato – This exceptional chenin blanc has been a WineAlign favourite since 2009. Each subsequent vintage has been hit after hit – a testament to the consistency of the wines from this internationally acclaimed producer. This substantial and complex example of a variety that has found unique expression in South Africa delivers a great deal of impact for a petite price.

Flor De Vetus 2013 Verdejo, old vines from Segovia, DO Rueda Spain ($15.95)

John Szabo –  Verdejo has the (unfortunate) tendency to turn into a Delmonte tropical fruit cup, but not so this example, from several old parcels all above 850 meters in the western corner of Rueda. It’s unusually subdued, with lovely cut and dense texture on the palate, and the sort of energy and depth that’s uncommon at this price. This is much more about stony-salty-mineral flavours than fruit, yet neither lean nor shrill, which is nice.

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2014 Flor De Vetus Verdejo 2013 Marrenon Doria Luberon 2012 Château Saint Genès 2013 Monte Del Frá Ca' Del Magro 2012

Marrenon 2012 Doria Luberon, Rhône, France ($17.95)

John Szabo – An excellent wine from the extensive Marrenon coop (1200 members farming over 7,000 hectares!). This is one of their top whites made from selected parcels, a blend of Vermentino (rolle), grenache blanc and a splash of Roussanne, harvested late and vinified together. The result is an engagingly floral wine with fully ripe orchard fruit (peaches, apricots), and gentle but fresh, palpably chalky palate. 20% barrel fermentation goes virtually unnoticed, save for the textural creaminess. I’d love to see more wines like this, especially at the price.
David Lawrason – This is a classy, understated summer white from vineyards on the clay limestone slopes of the Luberon in southern France. The estate was founded in 1966 by Petula Garcia , a wealthy Brazilian who fell in love with the Provence countryside (as wealthy people often do). This is a fresh, slender blend peachy white made from  60% vermentino, 30% grenache blanc and 10% roussanne.

Château Saint Genès 2013, Bordeaux Blanc, France

David Lawrason – This is a fine little value in white Bordeaux, blending semillon and sauvignon blanc. Often white Bordeaux is barrel-aged but if there is oak here it’s very discreet indeed. It’s from a property in the Cotes de Blaye, where vines are grown on gravelled soils with limestone underpinning. Lovely precision!

Monte Del Frá 2012 Ca’ Del Magro, Custoza Superiore, Veneto, Italy   ($17.95)

David Lawrason – Made from local varieties that grow in low-yielding vineyards on the slopes above of Lago do Garda, this a subtle, fresh young white that would work very nicely on the shore of your lake as well. Or by the pool. It reminds of a mid-weight Soave with subtle aromas of peach, yellow flowers and almond. Nicely made by one of my favourite houses of Italy’s northeast.

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

From VINTAGES June 27th, 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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Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011


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Buy The Case: Treasury Wine Estates

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario

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Each month we will taste wines submitted by one importing agent. WineAlign core critics will independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews will be posted to WineAlign. We will then independently recommend wines to appear in our Buy The Case report. Importers pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines.

These recommended wines can only be purchased by the case from importers registered in the LCBO’s Consignment Program. They are ‘already landed and stocked’ wines that can be delivered directly to your restaurant, home or office. For an explanation of the program, the process and our 10 Good Reasons to Buy the Case, please click here.

June – Treasury Wine Estates

Treasury Wine Estates is a global wine company with a large portfolio including some of the world’s most recognised wine brands. Names like Penfolds, Stags’ Leap Winery, Etude, Wynns and Wolf Blass are regularly found in the LCBO and VINTAGES, but in addition many others are available through their consignment program. Four WineAlign critics sat down in late May to taste a dozen Treasury submissions. Here are our recommendations, grouped loosely under reasons why we would buy the wine by the case.

Click on the wine name or bottle image to see full reviews by the WineAlign team. Prices shown below are retail and do not include taxes (licensee prices may be less). Treasury has submitted their agency profile with more details below.

Restaurant Pours by the Glass

Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011, Tuscany, Italy ($22.95)

Etude Pinot Gris 2013 Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011Steve Thurlow – A very typical Chianti with mild aromas and a soft midweight fruity palate that will work well with a wide variety of meat and cheese dishes. It is supple and smooth on the palate but there is just the right amount of acidity for freshness and some firm tannin for grip. It finishes dry with good to very good length. Best with food.
Michael Godel – This Tuscan offers the best of both worlds, in two ways. First, this is Sangiovese made by an old wine making family steeped in tradition under the conglomerate ownership of a very large wine company that supports with modern infrastructure. Second, the wine is rich, modern and approachable with accents that reek of old world style. Sometimes wine with a foot each in the past and the present is a very good thing. Ideal for the licensee in need of wines with broad, immediate and accessible appeal.

Cellaring Wine or Gifting Wine

Etude 2013 Pinot Gris, Carneros, California ($39.95)

John Szabo – Etude is one of the classier operations in Carneros, always focused on elegance and refinement. This is a wine to buy a case of, keep a few bottles for yourself, and give the rest away to your close, wine-savvy friends with a nudge and a wink (they wouldn’t likely spend $40 on a bottle of California pinot gris, which means they would miss out on this lovely wine, perfect at the table with anything lightly spiced and aromatic herb-infused). You’ll become their go-to wine source, if you weren’t already.
Michael Godel – If not the first to do so, this Carneros offers a rare comparison in the way it intimates with near pitch-perfect exactitude the kind of Pinot Gris experience that comes from a similarly priced, lieu-dit, ‘premier cru’ Alsatian. Etude’s stylish PG should be considered a case buy without hesitation, to enjoy once a year for the next dozen. Or, convince a wine geek friend or two to split the case with you.

Function Wines or Personal House Wines

Chateau St. Jean 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Usa ($19.95)

Colores Del Sol Malbec 2012 Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon 2012John Szabo – This is a smart option when a foolproof, widely appealing wine is required, like those larger functions (with decent budgets) with important but unknown guests that you need to impress. This has the star power of both California and cabernet sauvignon, coupled to name brand recognition amongst those in the know, for a powerful and attractive combination.
Sara d’Amato – A touch pricey for an everyday house wine but one to stock up on for when barbecued steak is on the menu. There is an impressive amount of substance and depth here and without sweetness or the use excessive oak.
Steve Thurlow – This is a pretty cabernet with some nice floral tones to the cassis fruit and oak spice. The midweight palate is soft and juicy and dry with some mild tannin on the finish. Good to very good length. Good value for an appealing Californian cabernet.
Michael Godel – Having first tasted this at dinner with winemaker Margo Van Staaveren, what stood out so profoundly was this simple, ‘entry-level’ California Cabernet Sauvignon’s ability to mimic and transition to Chateau St. Jean’s more expensive and increasingly complex Cabernets. At this price you can pour at will to crowds large and small.

Seasonal Wines

Colores del Sol 2012 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($11.95)

John Szabo – A perfectly serviceable, soft and fruity, easy drinking malbec, which fulfills the party or BBQ wine role nicely. At this price you can serve generously, while your guests will think you spent more on this fashionable bottle, as Argentine Malbec continues to garner recognition and sales.
Steve Thurlow – This is a soft somewhat overripe malbec with some high toned aromas on top of the blueberry fruit with peppermint and honey. The palate is soft and fruity with some tannin showing up on the finish. Good to very good length. Try with burgers or grilled sausage.

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2012 Devil's Lair Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Six Packs Please

Devil’s Lair Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Margaret River, Australia, $49.95

Sara d’Amato – Dry, full-bodied and most importantly balanced, this fleshy cabernet from Devil’s Lair has preserved an impressive amount of acidity contributing to a solid, age-worthy wine. What is most compelling, however, is the wine’s savory, floral nose with notes of mint, black fruit and purple flower. Available in an easy to swallow 6-pack case.

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2012, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia ($29.95)

Sara d’Amato – Beautifully developed, this cool climate pinot noir from select parcels throughout the Yarra Valley delivers a round, appropriately rich and appealing palate with impressive complexity. Offered in a 6-pack case, it will be easy to find friends who are willing to split.

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

This report was sponsored by the Treasury Wine Estates. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. Treasury has provided the following agency profile with more details on their consignment program and delivery options.

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Consignment at Treasury Wine Estates:

Treasury Wine EstatesWe are passionate about providing our clientele with the very best wines and service in the industry. We provide daytime delivery to your residence or office within the Greater Toronto Area. This service is completely complimentary, regardless of the volume purchased. We strive to ensure that all orders are delivered within five business days.

Our consignment program has been designed to make the procurement of our fine wines simple and bespoke. Wines can also be delivered to an LCBO store of your choice at no additional cost.  This service usually takes two to four weeks however, could take longer based on the geographical location of the clientele’s LCBO of choice. The cases arrive pre-paid and we simply email an invoice or credit card slip in advance. The store will then call to notify you when the requested wine has arrived.

Throughout the process, your personal consignment concierge is only a phone call or email away if there are any questions.

Phone: 905-337-6217  |  Mobile: 416-358-0177

leslie.gray@tweglobal.com  | orders.consignment@tweglobal.com


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 13 – Part Two

Best Bets for Dad and More of the Pink Stuff
By Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason and John Szabo MS

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Although Father’s Day is the official kick-off of barbecue season, if you’re a true Canadian, you never really stopped. But surely the return of heat requires you to kick it up a notch in the refreshment category. As the rosés continue to roll out, (and they will stop, soon) we can’t get enough of their appealing, food friendly nature and their thirst-quenching properties. Once again, the majority of our picks come from the world’s most reputed pink destination, that of the south of France. The region is now producing roughly 8% of the world’s rosés which have become top priority as global demand rapidly increases. I’ll be returning to this southern destination in the next few weeks and look forward to reporting on ever-changing trends, unique finds and new ways to beat the heat.

Our Father’s Day picks encompass our most exciting finds outside of the Italian subset that was covered by John Szabo in last week’s report. A very international selection, there is sure to be something to be found for just about any personality and gifter’s price range. One of the strongest and highest scoring categories this week are the wines from Spain and Portugal so keep an eye out for great value in this growing section. David Lawrason has just returned from both of these sunny destinations and you will surely hear more from him on this subject shortly.

FATHER’S DAY PICKS

Whites and Sweet

Quinta Do Alqueve 2013 Tradicional, Tejo, Portugal ($14.95)

Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Laurent Miquel Nord Sud Viognier 2013 Quinta Do Alqueve Tradicional White 2013David Lawrason – I have just returned from Portugal where I was very impressed by the quality improvement of white wines. This beauty from a smallish family estate in Tejo (formerly Ribatejo) 40kms northeast of Lisbon explains why things are getting so interesting. It is made from local varieties – 90% fernao pires, 10% arinto grapes that were grown at low yield and hand sorted before fermentation. It reminds a bit of viognier but more compact, subdued and nuanced somehow. Very classy white at a great price.

Laurent Miquel 2013 Nord Sud Viognier, Vin De Pays d’Oc, France ($14.95)

Sara d’Amato – A great value summer white that will stand up to at least 3/4 of what you put on the barbeque. Love the ripe, fleshy appeal of this viognier which has a refreshing backbone of vibrant acids.

Loveblock 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)

David Lawrason – It’s priced a bit above the norm for Marlborough sauvignon, but the quality is there. Erica and Kim Crawford’s Loveblock property overlooks the Awatere Valley, and uses some Awatere fruit (along with Waihopai fruit) in this wine, which provides a more compact, firm frame than we often see from Marlborough. There are also intriguing fresh herb/green notes on the nose (dill, green pepper) along with lime and green apple. Its balance is the key to my recommendation.

Max Ferd. Richter 2013 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany ($21.95)

Patricius 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú 2003 Leyda Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2013John Szabo – I suppose I’ll never tire of recommending (and drinking) the gems from the Mosel, especially from these top vineyards that have been celebrated for about 2000 years. For me, wines like these are the white equivalents of classified Médoc or grand cru red Burgundy, only, double check the price. That’s right, only here are legendary vineyards given away for $22. Best 2015-2028.
Sara d’Amato – What a find! Think your dad doesn’t like riesling? Think again – this racy gem is sure to win him over and the price is too good to be true. This centuries’ old top site produces some of the most dynamic and exhilarating rieslings on earth.

Leyda 2014 Garuma Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda Valley, Chile ($19.95)

John Szabo – A bright, punchy, crunchy Chilean sauvignon from the genuinely cool but sunny Leyda Valley. There’s plenty of vibrancy and a nice mix of citrus and passion fruit flavours with lingering acidic tang.

Patricius 2003 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú, Hungary ($39.95)

John Szabo – This is the best tokaji to come into VINTAGES for as long as I can remember, and in fact one of the best sweet wines as well, even more astonishing considering the price. It’s a furmint-based, botrytis-affected wine from one of the leading producers in the region, which delivers the complexity that can only come with great wine and a dozen years in the cellar – three in barrel and the rest in bottle (a recent release). This is really pretty, fragrant and delicate, infinitely drinkable, rich but far from heavy or cloying. Try it with duck à l’orange or pork belly, and learn what all the fuss over tokaji in the last 500 years is about. Best 2015-2033.

Reds

Cara Nord 2013 Conca De Barbera, Catalonia, Spain ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Huge value here – an aromatic explosion, followed by a nervy, mouthwatering palate and excellent length. It’s a blend of grenache, syrah and 20% garrut (mourvèdre) the Rhône varieties also widely used throughout Catalonia, culminating as it were in some of the great wines of Priorat. Conca de Barbera neighbours Priorat to the northwest on the other side of the Montsant mountain range, a flatter terrain with limestone based soils instead of Priorat’s unique slate. Winemaker Tomas Cusine – who also makes Montsant DO red – is fashioning a reputation for dynamic, expressive wines, and this certainly explains his success.

Roux Père & Fils 2010 Vougeot Les Petits Vougeots 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($74.95)

Sara d’Amato – A wine with wonderful finesse, elegance and class. Attention fans of classical music – although the wine is much too complex to find an adequate food pairing, it would match wonderfully with the restrained but twinkly and complex nature of a Mozart concerto.

Cara Nord 2013 Roux Père & Fils Vougeot Les Petits Vougeots 1er Cru 2010 Burning Kiln M 1 Merlot 2013 Catapereiro Escolha 2012

Burning Kiln 2013 M 1 Merlot, Kiln Dried, Ontario, Canada ($34.95)

Sara d’Amato – Have a dad who likes big, bold and impactful wines? Surprise him with this tobacco kiln-dried merlot made in a rich appasimento style from the emerging Ontario region of South Coast, Norfolk County. I was impressed with the presence and structure of the wine which is surprisingly not showy or overdone. Excellent with just about anything a barbecue can handle.

Catapereiro 2012 Escolha, Vinho Regional Tejo, Portugal ($15.95)

Sara d’Amato – There is such a wealth of extravagant and voluminous Portuguese and Spanish selections in this release that it was hard to find only one to put forth. Due to the excellent price/quality ratio of the Catapereiro, it wins out as the sinful find of the day.

Ninquén 2013 Antu Chilean Mountain Vineyard Syrah, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($17.95)

John Szabo – Ninquén’s Antu, from a rare volcanic mid-valley hillside site in Colchagua offers not just weight and depth, but freshness as well. For the money it’s a substantial wine, and with another 2-3 years in the cellar should evolve into an even more complex and balanced expression. Best 2015-2021.

Montebuena 2012 Cuvée KPF DOCa Rioja, Spain ($14.95)

John Szabo – Just plain tasty and lively little wine from Rioja, with real vibrancy, fresh fruit and integrated herbal spice, offering much more complexity and enjoyment than one usually finds in the price category. Serve lightly chilled and drink it up, with pleasure.

Ninquén Antu Chilean Mountain Vineyard Syrah 2013 Montebuena Cuvée K P F 2012 Two Hands Bella's Garden Shiraz 2012 Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Release 2010

Two Hands 2012 Bella’s Garden Shiraz, Barossa Valley, Australia ($63.95)

David Lawrason – Come to papa for Father’s Day! This is an extraordinarily delicious red – powerful, seamless and oozing fruit. Yet so nicely nuanced, almost silky and balanced at the same time. There are six wines in Two Hand’s “Garden” series. This is sourced from several Barossa sites, open top fermented, aged 18 months in French oak (many Barossa shiraz are in American) and bottled without fining or filtration.

Wynns 2010 John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, Australia ($99.95)

David Lawrason – This In-Store Discovery will not be in wide distribution but is worth tracking down – a wine I rated outstanding at 95 points. I cannot think of a much more exciting and exacting expression of cabernet sauvignon, let alone Australian cabernet sauvignon. Read my tasting note for all the descriptors, but I will say here that the BLICE quality measurement elements (balance, length, intensity, complexity and expression) line up almost perfectly. Be prepared to cellar it for a while. It really is a bit too firm to fully enjoy now but I am betting it will let go by 2018 and live much longer.

Rosé

Domaine De Triennes 2014 Rosé IGP Méditerranée, Provence, France ($17.95)

John Szabo – Both of my rosé picks from this release are from Provence – there’s simply nowhere else on earth that does it as consistently, and as tastily, as the South of France. This is a confident rosé, not trying too hard to please. Classically pale, essentially dry, herbal and fruity with a generous helping of complexity.

Carte Noire 2014 Rosé Côtes de Provence, France ($17.95)

John Szabo – Another arch-classic Provençal rosé, discreet, dry, light, and flavourful.

Domaine De Triennes Rosé 2014 Carte Noire Rosé 2014 Château D'aquéria Tavel Rosé 2014 Monte Zovo Bardolino Chiaretto 2014

Château D’Aquéria 2014 Tavel Rosé, Rhône, France ($21.95) (319368)

Sara d’Amato – From the world HQ of rosé, Tavel, comes the inevitable return of Château d’Aquéria on the shelves of VINTAGES. Although the quality wavers from vintage to vintage, this incarnation is in top form and well worth the penny for serious fans of the pink.

Monte Zovo 2014 Bardolino Chiaretto, Veneto, Italy ($13.95)

Sara d’Amato – On a much more playful note, this Bardolino Chiaretto, made in northeastern Italy from similar grapes that make up the wines of Valpolicella, is like a bite of cold watermelon on a hot summer’s day. Albeit dry, it provides an abundance of refreshing and inexpensive pleasure that is simply delightful.

John Szabo will be back next week reporting on our top picks from the June 27th release. Until then, stay refreshed.

Cin, Cin!

 

Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES June 13th, 2015

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
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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Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 13 – Part One

Repetitive Wine Lists, Italian Whites & Reds, Sparkling
By John Szabo MS, with notes from Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

The mid-June VINTAGES release has mini-features on sparkling wines, Italian whites, rosé and father’s day suggestions. This week Sara and I will cover the first two (and we’ve added our top Italian reds of the release for balance) while David is down in the schist in Priorat and the Douro Valley (he’ll be back next week for part two).

Although the selection of Italian whites is predictably repetitive, rather than a focused effort to showcase Italy’s best, there are at least several commendable wines. Ditto for the sparkling selection, in which wines from outside of Champagne (and France) really shine, showing the breadth of options that the 21st century offers.

Same Old Same Old

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Italian whites offered on June 13th look as though they were selected out of a random (very large) pile of submissions, based on a whole bunch of criteria that supersede any logical reasons for being included in a feature on Italian whites.

You’d be forgiven because that’s essentially how it works. A high score plucked at random from the vast worldwide sea of wine reviews, the reputation of the agent who made the submission to the LCBO, the willingness of the winery or agent to “support” the sale of the wine through LCBO stores, the agreement of the winery to wait many, many months for payment and risk a discount if sales don’t meet quota, and a host of other, often opaque, criteria are used to put these features together.

A wine’s contribution to the breadth and completeness of the LCBO’s offering comes far down the list, if at all. “Theme” is rather a grand word. It seems instead that these themes – and not just Italian whites but so many other of the LCBO thematics – is retrofitted to a group of wines that made it through.

Consider that of the seven wines under this banner, only two are new to the province, all are from the north, all but one are stainless steel fermented, and two are from the same grape and nearly the same price. Italy’s greatest, most distinctive white grapes, like fiano, greco, verdicchio or carricante, to name but a few, are nowhere to be found. Instead, we have more pinot grigio, like we have every release. Ah, it’s because pinot grigio sells, you say. Well of course it does if that’s all that’s offered. Where’s the discovery? Where’s the expertise of the buyers? If a sommelier student were to hand me this list of Italian whites, presented as even a small representative collection of what Italy has to offer, they’d flunk on the spot. In a country that’s positively fermenting with innovation, none of it is even hinted at here.

So much for choice…

I frequently see parallels on restaurant wine lists. It’s very obvious when a sommelier has been “bought” (or is plain lazy or inept). The list will contain a number of wines that have no real business being there. Picture, for instance, a short list with, say, five similarly-styled chardonnays out of fifteen whites. Or a list on which half the wines are from the same country or region (without any obvious ethic or regional theme to the restaurant). Or a half-dozen wines from the same winery, or twelve versions of the same jammy, heavily oaked, or zesty, tart berry fruit-flavoured red. Such overlaps don’t add anything to a wine program, in fact they take away from it. Each repetitive selection takes up dollars and space that could be reserved for a different grape/style/category of wine, broadening the selection without increasing inventory costs, offering more choice to customers, while at the same time lessening the tyranny of having to choose between a bunch of wines that all taste the same.

But such is invariably the list compiled by a sommelier who sits back and waits for wine agents to show up at the door. They’ll just buy what they’re told to, what’s convenient, or rely solely on the supplier who bought the umbrellas on the patio.

The best lists, on the other hand, are assembled by a sommelier who actively pre-determines what the list should contain, establish his/her own selection criteria, and then does the leg work to go out and find the best wines to fill each category.

Now, it’s not a perfect parallel, and I’m not suggesting that the LCBO has been bought, or is even lazy or inept. I know category buyers are hamstrung by a tangle of rules that often precludes them from being the true “architects” of a really useful, representative collection of wines under any theme. I do not envy them. Send each of the category managers on research trips to see what’s really happening on the ground, who’s making the best wines, the best values, what are the classic and innovative styles? No question of it. Instead, they’re treated as little more than administrative clerks passively sending out tenders then shuffling though files and sorting data by “Score: highest to lowest”.

It’s frustrating to know that so much more ground could be covered, literally. Our monopoly system limits Ontarians’ wine choice. Period. It’s like a repetitive restaurant wine list, only it’s the only restaurant in the province. Or rather, chain of restaurants.

On the Bright Side…

On the bright side, at least the wines in the thematic are strong, even within a very narrow band of style. I’m not griping about quality, just selection. So read on below for the best.

Buyers Guide for Italian Whites

Pieropan 2011 La Rocca Soave Classico DOC, Veneto, Italy ($39.95)

Alois Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2013 Zenato Sergio Zenato Lugana Riserva 2012 Pieropan La Rocca Soave Classico 2011John Szabo  This is the single best white in the release, from any country, and a steal in the premium white wine category. La Rocca is Pieropan’s steeply terraced, calcareous-limestone vineyard on Monte Rochetta, within sight of Soave’s medieval castle, one of the oldest “cru” white wines in Italy, first bottled in the 1970s. It has a distinctively chalky smell, not dissimilar to top Chablis, along with substantial depth and complexity, seamless texture and marvellously mineral, non-fruit complexity. It should age beautifully over at least another decade.
Sara d’Amato – Anything but your basic Soave, in case the price wasn’t a giveaway. Complex and quite traditional with a very pleasant evolved character beginning to show.

Sergio Zenato 2012 Riserva Lugana, Veneto, Italy ($30.95)

John Szabo – Zenato’s Lugana Riserva is often one of my favourites from the company’s portfolio, and a fine expression of trebbiano di Lugana. 2012 yielded a particularly generous and mouth-filling wine, with the faintly sweet tinge of wood-derived caramel flavour lingering alongside ripe tropical fruit; in a blind tasting I might be fooled into guessing barrel fermented sauvignon blanc.

Alois Lageder 2013 Pinot Grigio DOC Südtirol – Alto Adige, Italy ($21.95) 

John Szabo – A premium, biodynamically-grown pinot grigio far above the oceans of innocuous PG that flood northern Italy. This is somewhere between the leaner Italian style and richer Alsatian versions. Marked minerality adds interest. Drink or hold short-term.

Le Monde 2013 Pinot Bianco DOC Friuli Grave Italy ($16.95) 

Villanova Traminer Aromatico 2014 Masera Gavi 2013 Le Monde Pinot Bianco 2012John Szabo – Vigneti Le Monde has vineyards in a particularly chalky district of northern Friuli, off of the more common gravelly soils, which accounts perhaps for the finesse and fragrance exhibited here. It’s a gentle and fragrant, spring blossom-scented pinot blanc, light-mid-weight, neither tart nor flabby, just well-balanced.

Masera 2013 Gavi, Piedmont, Italy ($18.95)

Sara d’Amato – So many Gavis that make it to the shelves of VINTAGES are unfortunately dilute and very simple, certainly not representative of the elegant but appealing and playful nature of cortese. In this example from Masera, the vibrant acids take center stage along with concentrated citrus and tree fruit.

Villanova 2014 Traminer Aromatico, Friuli, Italy ($13.95)

Sara d’Amato – All that is wonderfully fragrant about spring is captured in the nose of this easy-breezy, elegant, ethereal white. Lovely as an aperitif or for brunch with friends.

Buyers Guide for Italian Reds

Batasiolo 2012 Sabri Barbera d’Asti, Piedmont, Italy  ($15.95) 

John Szabo – For the money, this is a polished and fruity, zesty and juicy barbera that over-delivers. This would make a great restaurant by-the-glass pour, full of joyful fruit and bright acids.
Sara d’Amato – A juicy, fleshy, well-made and easy-drinking barbera under $16 – a great summer house red to pull out for barbeques and unexpected guests.

Castello Di Ama 2009 Riserva Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($34.95) 

John Szabo – Beautifully evolved at this point, yet still bold and full, like a mouthful of warm gravel, neither austere nor hard, this is a fine example of mature Chianti. Best with the tempering of food – roasted or grilled protein ideally.

Batasiolo Sabri Barbera d'Asti 2012 Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2009 Feudo Arancio Nero d'Avola 2013 Quercia Al Poggio Chianti Classico 2009

Feudo Arancio 2013 Nero d’Avola DOC Sicilia, Italy ($13.95) 

John Szabo – A terrific little wine for casual BBQs and the like, honest, firm and dusty in the Italian style, an essence of the herbally fragrant Sicilian countryside.

Quercia Al Poggio 2009 Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($21.95)

Sara d’Amato – An unexpectedly concentrated and age-worthy find at a steal of a price. Produced from organically farmed sangiovese and a small percentage of indigenous varieties fermented in cement, the wine sees very little oak and offers a great deal of pure but balanced fruit.

Buyers Guide for Sparkling

Showcase 5 Blanc De Noirs 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($55.00) 

John Szabo – “This wine is journey into the unknown for me. A rare glimpse into what Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier can evolve to when tiraged for 5 years in the cellar. We just kept pushing it and it just kept getting better and better over time”, says winemaker Craig McDonald of the inaugural release of the Trius “Showcase 5″. I say fantastic. Not a wine for sipping, mind you, this should be a centerpiece at the table; it’s a fine value in the context.
Sara d’Amato – Trius’ handcrafted, small-lot Showcase series allows veteran winemaker Craig McDonald to show his true colours. This succulent and substantial traditional method vintage Blanc de Noirs will make you an instant fan.

Josef Chromy Tasmanian Cuvée Méthode Traditionnelle, Tasmania, Australia ($28.95) 

John Szabo – Chromy is a reliable name in Tassie, and Australian, sparkling wine. The style is quite dry with highly chiseled acids – some might find them jarring, but I appreciate the no-compromise cut and sharpness. The balance of toasty-yeasty character and citrus-green apple fruit is spot on. A perfect aperitif style.
Sara d’Amato – Tasmania’s cool climate is ideal for the high acid grape growing that is needed to produce great sparkling wines. This very appealing traditional method cuvée is a blend of two of the island’s most widely planted varietals: chardonnay and pinot noir.

Showcase 5 Blanc De Noirs 2009 Josef Chromy Tasmanian CuvéeTawse 2013 Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling SparklingBollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne

Tawse 2013 Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling Sparkling, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($19.95) 

John Szabo – A crisp, off-dry, apple-scented bubbly, indeed very much like riesling with bubbles, which of course it is. This fits nicely into the sipping category.

Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne, Champagne, France ($73.95) (384529)

Sara d’Amato – Bollinger’s Special Cuvée is a premium non-vintage offering resulting from a blend of new wine and reserve wines including some that have been aged in Bollinger’s library cellar for over 15 years in magnum. The outcome is an incredibly complex Champagne with ample body, length and a yeasty, biscuity flavour.

Wines of Portugal, A World of Difference.

Taste the Soul of Portugal - June 9th - TorontoOn Tuesday, June 9th, you’re invited to discover the exceptional diversity of Portuguese wines – with yours truly along as your guide. Here’s your chance to kick the varietal habit and come to terms with regional identity instead. Portugal has 200+ grapes, and all old vineyards (and there are many in Portugal) are field blends, like the wines. It’s the region that makes the style difference. This is the way wine has always been made, and understood. We should get back there. Find out more and save $10 on your ticket with WineAlign’s access code.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES June 13th, 2015

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

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 30 – Part Two

Southern Rhône Reds and the Best of the Rest
By John Szabo MS, with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

This week’s report features the top Southern Rhône reds of the May 30th release, along with the best of the rest of the reds. Although prices in the Southern Rhône Valley have been creeping up over the last decade, particularly for the marquee appellations like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, there are still plenty of satisfying wines for the money. In fact, I’d say the region remains one of the top sources for fulsome, impactful reds in a style that appeals almost universally, without the premium commanded by more niche appellations. And in my view, the most costly wines are often the least regionally representative, and thus less interesting. I’ll leave those to the trophy hunters with the corporate boxes.

One of the reasons for the Rhône’s famous value quotient is simple: volume. There are over 71,000 football fields worth of vineyards in the valley, producing enough wine to fill 100 Olympic swimming pools, every year. That’s a lot of wine, second only to Bordeaux AOC in sheer size and production. And considering that there are over 5000 producers of Rhône Valley wine, competition is fierce. In the end, basic supply and demand create a favourable playing field for us, the consumers. So, to carry on the alarming display of mixed metaphors, let’s dive into the WineAlign crü’s top medal-winning performers. It’s telling that there’s such a spread of choices between us (only one double alignment), underscoring again the overall consistency and value offered by the southern Rhône. It comes down to nuances of preference, so align yourself up.

Also in this report you’ll find a fine collection of red wines that cover a wide style and geographic spectrum. Read on to see them, an impressive seventeen recommendations in all.

Buyers Guide: Southern Rhône Reds

Château De Nages 2012 JT Costières De Nîmes, Rhône, France ($24.95)

John Szabo – Nages is the family property of the sizable Michel Gassier wine business, representing the top of the ladder. This bold and ripe but balanced syrah-based cuvée (with 14% mourvèdre) is well worth the detour to this lesser-known southern French AOC, delivering well above the price category. It offers plenty of typical smoky, inky, cold cream and black pepper aromatics, while the palate is firm and lively with lots of tannic grip and floral-violet-inflected flavours. Best 2015-2022.

Pierre Amadieu 2012 Romane-Machotte Gigondas, Rhône, France ($27.95)

John Szabo – One of the first to put the name “Gigondas” on a bottle of wine in 1929, the Amadieu family continues to craft elegant, stylish grenache-based wines from their 7 ha at the foot of the village. This is the original cuvée, offering all of the southern Rhône-grenache suppleness one hopes for, alongside garrigue-licorice complexity and mouth-filling richness. It’s worth the price premium if you’re after something a little classier from the region. Best 2015-2022.
Sara d’Amato – Pierre Amadieu was the first producer to bottle wine with the name Gigondas and was also a principal founder of the region’s AOC. The wines from this estate reflect a traditional, elegant and complex approach. This endearing blend is a prime example of why Gigondas is rightfully emerging from the shadow of the neighboring Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Château De Nages J T Costières De Nîmes 2012 Pierre Amadieu Romane Machotte Gigondas 2012 Domaine Les Aphillanthes Plan De Dieu Cuvée Des Galets Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2011 La Ferme Du Mont Première Côte Côtes Du Rhône 2012

Domaine Les Aphillanthes 2011 Plan De Dieu Cuvée Des Galets, Côtes Du Rhône-Villages, Rhône, France ($23.95)

John Szabo – A biodynamic domaine (certified Biodyvin since 2007) producing terrifically rich and concentrated wines from their 37 hectares of vines between Gigondas and Cairanne. This 2011 CDR is bold, very ripe and boozy in the style of the vintage, with 15% alcohol declared, but, amazingly, it’s not out of whack. Serve with a light chill in any case to increase the freshness. As impressive as many Châteauneuf-du-Pape at twice the price. Best 2015-2020.

La Ferme Du Mont 2012 Première Côte, Côtes Du Rhône, Rhône Valley ($14.95)

David Lawrason – One of my favourite “newish” southern Rhône producers returns with a basic Côtes du Rhône that punches above its weight. It shows more exuberance than many more traditional and pedestrian southern Rhônes at this price.

Domaine De La Vieille Julienne 2012 Les Trois Sources, Châteauneuf-Du-Pape, Rhône Valley ($79.95)

David Lawrason – Well this is no bargain, but it is one of my top scoring wines of the release at 93 points, and there will be CdP fans/collectors who might want a few bottles of this very appealing and well made young Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the cellar. It has some opulence yet structured elegance. Best 2017 to 2025ish.

Domaine De La Vieille Julienne Les Trois Sources Châteauneuf Du Pape 2012 Cave De Rasteau Ortas Prestige Rasteau 2010 Famille Perrin Les Christins Vacqueyras 2012 Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuvée Philippine Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2013

Ortas 2010 Prestige Rasteau, Rhone Valley ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This is one of the more adventurous wines on the Rhône release, quite tarry, meaty and leathery as it heads into maturity. It is solid and well structured, yet another decent 2010, and good value.

Famille Perrin 2012 Les Christins Vacqueyras, Rhône, France ($23.95)

Sara d’Amato – A consistently sophisticated, polished find from the reliable house of Perrin. Largely grenache which is nicely complemented by peppery syrah. The appellation of Vacqueyras is quickly becoming the rising star of the southern Rhône with underpriced wines that show restraint, elegance and aromatic complexity.

Domaine Les Grands Bois 2013 Philippine, Côtes Du Rhône Villages, Rhône, France ($18.95)

Sara d’Amato – I am delighted to see the Domaine Les Grand Bois Villages on the shelves of the LCBO again after such a long absence. The Philippine takes its name from one of the three young daughters of the proprietors of this family-owned winery. Mireille and Marc Besnardeau now own an extensive 46 hectares of vines split over 7 southern Rhône communes. This hand-harvested, field-sorted wine made from vines of up to 70 years old is an excellent value.

Buyers Guide: Smart Red Wine Buys

Quinta Das Carvalhas 2011 Touriga Nacional, Douro, Portugal ($21.95)

John Szabo – The crown jewel of the Real Companhia Velha, Carvalhas is a large and spectacular quinta on the left bank of the Douro almost opposite the town of Pinhão where the company’s top wines have been produced since 1975. The 2011 touriga nacional is a bold, ripe, highly polished red with massive structure and concentration (it was a hot year in the Douro), with the potential to improve with another 2-4 years in the bottle. A superb wine for the price, dense, rich and full. Best 2017-2023.
David Lawrason – Go to school here on touriga nacional – Portugal’s signature grape – with this fine, lifted floral yet mineral example. I was reminded of a pure zinfandel. It’s very smooth, deep and driven by good acidity. It should cellar well for ten years. It was a great vintage in the Douro.

2014 Harvest in the Quinta das Carvalhas-3483

2014 Harvest in the Quinta das Carvalhas

Corino 2013 Dolcetto d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy ($18.95)

John Szabo – Giuliano Corino has nailed this one, a polished and supple, deliciously fruity Dolcetto from hillside vineyards in the town of La Morra, known for its more delicate and seductive wines. Drink or hold short-term; smiles guaranteed.

Rustenberg 2010 Merlot, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($19.95)

John Szabo – An arch-classic wine from one of the Cape’s most storied producers, which will have your friends guessing Pomerol. This is drinking beautifully now, and should continue to hold through the mid-term. A terrific buy for old world style/Bordeaux blend fans. Best 2015-2020.
David Lawrason This scores big on depth and complexity. The Bordeaux variety reds of Stellenbosch often taste like Bordeaux actually, with more flesh and power. This is a classic example with all kinds of ripe berry fruit, olive, savoury and mineral notes.

Quinta Das Carvalhas Touriga Nacional 2011 Corino Dolcetto d'Alba 2013 Rustenberg Merlot 2010Errazuriz Aconcagua Alto Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Diamandes De Uco Malbec 2011

Errazuriz 2012 Aconcagua Alto Cabernet Sauvignon Aconcagua Valley, Chile ($19.95)

John Szabo – A polished and supple, generous and fruity example of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, from the higher elevation (“Alto”) Andean foothills of the upper Aconcagua Valley. Winemaker Francisco Baettig has dialled the ripeness and freshness, fruit and oak into a highly appealing style. Best 2015-2020.

Diamandes De Uco 2011 Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($24.95)

David Lawrason – Diamandes is one of the French-owned estates within the Clos de los Siete complex in the Vista Flores sub-region of Uco Valley. The compound reminds me of an outpost of the French Foreign legion! But my goodness are the member estates ever making great wine. The top label from Diamandes was the single best red I tasted in Argentina. This junior version still hits 90 – a classy, dense, poised and well structured malbec.

Trivento 2012 Golden Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – A very impressive cabernet with a great deal of structure and density of fruit for under $20. Trivento is Concho Y Toro’s Argentinean project and is a consistent consumer favourite.

Trivento Golden Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Boschendal 1685 S & M Shiraz Badia A Coltibuono Riserva Chianti Classico 2009 Alvaro Castro Red 2011

Boschendal 2013 1685 S & M Shiraz/Mourvèdre, Coastal Region, Western Cape, South Africa ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – A little offbeat but wildly appealing at the same time with a name that is sure to spark conversation. The wine is brimming with a complex array of flavours that include pepper, cool menthol, tilled earth, exotic spice, mineral and an abundance of cassis.

Badia A Coltibuono 2009 Riserva Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($38.95)

Sara d’Amato – Finding a wine such as this makes the hours of tasting largely mediocre quality wine all worthwhile. With a bounty of charm and character, this largely sangiovese based blend made from organic fruit is drinking beautifully now but has many years yet to come.

Álvaro Castro 2011 Red, Dão, Portugal ($17.95)

John Szabo – I don’t believe I’ve ever had a wine from Castro that I haven’t enjoyed, one of the Dão’s most sought-after producers. This is all elegance, class and balance in a mid-weight, infinitely drinkable red blend. Best 2015-2021.

WineAlign's Bill Zacharkiw gives the Thumbs Up to Alvaro Castro in Viseu, Dão-3708

WineAlign’s Bill Zacharkiw gives the Thumbs Up to Alvaro Castro in Viseu, Dão

 

Wines of Portugal, A World of Difference.

Taste the Soul of Portugal - June 9th - TorontoOn Tuesday, June 9th, you’re invited to discover the exceptional diversity of Portuguese wines – with yours truly along as your guide. Here’s your chance to kick the varietal habit and come to terms with regional identity instead. Portugal has 200+ grapes, and all old vineyards (and there are many in Portugal) are field blends, like the wines. It’s the region that makes the style difference. This is the way wine has always been made, and understood. We should get back there. Find out more and save $10 on your ticket with WineAlign’s access code.

 

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES May 30, 2015

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Buyers’ Guide Part One: Pinot Noir’s New World
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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Hello, It’s Canada Calling.

How Are Canadian Wines Received Internationally?May 26, 2015

Szabo’s Free Run

Text and photographs by John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Despite the considerable fuss we make over local wines, outside of these borders, knowledge of Canadian wines, and even awareness of their existence, remains limited. Icewine remains the most high profile product by a wide (commercial) margin, while table wines are relegated to the anecdotal ledger book margins of export reports. But over the last half-dozen years or so recognition of quality Canadian ferments has been growing, especially in the UK and the US, thanks to a combination of factors such as shifting taste trends, on-going targeted marketing efforts, the unquenchable thirst for novelty, and, of course, some pretty damned good wines. Canada, it seems, is becoming a bonafide wine category.

The Canadian wine industry is not insignificant, after all. At last count there are over 12,000 hectares of vineyards shared between Ontario, BC, Québec and Nova Scotia. That’s a third more acreage than, say, all of Oregon, a state with considerable international brand awareness, or just over a third of New Zealand’s total acreage, a powerhouse export country. There are also over 500 registered producers across Canada (including fruit wine), all of which suggests that Canada could be more than just a sweet blip on the world wine map.

Although sales at home are strong, there’s still surplus to sell, and more importantly, as with any emerging nation, some outside recognition is a great shot in the arm that can also generate more sales locally. “Positive media and influencer attention from overseas is well received in our own local market creating more pride here at home”, says Magdalena Kaiser of the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario. You may think that’s a typically Canadian position, but Canada is hardly the only country in the world to seek some positive outside reinforcement. Even well established wine producing nations still crave it. So Canadians have been making calls abroad.

The Grand Tasting-2154

The Grand Tasting

On May 14th, 2015, I had a front row seat to listen in first hand on who is answering oversees in the highly influential UK market. On the eve of the annual London Wine Fair, Canadian wine and cider makers were busy pouring their wares to a curious group of British wine tradespeople in the heart of the capital in an event called “Canada Calling”. It was not the first, but in fact the third time in five years that a sizable delegation from Canada presented wines in London (the first in 2010, followed by a 2013 edition). And the setting couldn’t have been more grand: the event was hosted at Canada House, the seat of the High Commission of Canada to the UK, which occupies prime real estate on Trafalgar Square – a subtle reminder of Canada’s pride of place within the Empire.

This year’s delegation included nearly three-dozen wineries from five provinces, building on the success of previous showings that delivered “measurable results” in marketing parlance, according to several sources. Ten Canadian wineries have already signed UK distribution agreements, while others who made the journey this year “are in serious discussions”. It was “the largest pan-Canadian wine event outside of Canada to date”, according to Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada co-organizer and WineAlign contributor Janet Dorozynski. The enthusiastic participation was driven no doubt in part by the forthcoming Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. Immediately upon CETA’s entry into force, EU tariffs on Canadian red and white wines, including icewine, will be eliminated, leveling the playing field and mitigating one of Canada’s handicaps, high price.

Author Jamie Goode in discussion with Graham Rennie, Rennie Estate, ON-2163

Author Jamie Goode in discussion with Graham Rennie, Rennie Estate

The day consisted of a masterclass held in the morning, focused on red wines – an eyebrow-raising move to be sure for a country perceived as snowbound most of the year. The tasting was hosted by this writer, along with panelists Jamie Goode (UK based wine writer and WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada judge), Thomas Bachelder of Bachelder wines in Ontario, Severine Pinte, winemaker at Le Vieux Pin/La Stella in the Okanagan Valley, and Janet Dorozynski.

It was by all accounts a success, hinging in part on the element of surprise, and particularly the BC syrah flight. “I sort of expected pinot noir and even cabernet franc”, Christine Parkinson told me after the tasting, head wine buyer for the Hakkasan Group in London. “But I was surprised by the red blends, and especially the syrahs”, she continued. She later tweeted: “Enjoyed #Canadacalling tasting with @johnszabo today. Syrah flight so good that I actually heard someone whispering ‘this must be a ringer’”.

Her comments were echoed by others, including the venerable Hugh Johnson who likewise tweeted: “Remarkable wines from British Columbia at Canada House. Esp the Rhonies; scented Syrahs, Rouss/Mars/Viognier blends, P. Noirs. News to me.”

The Venerable British author Hugh Johnson w Magdalena Kaiser, WMAO-2160

The Venerable British author Hugh Johnson w Magdalena Kaiser

The afternoon featured the usual walk-around tasting with tables set up around the perimeter of the main floor salon. But what was perhaps unusual was the number of top-level journalists and wine buyers under the same roof at once for a tasting that included neither Burgundy nor Bordeaux on the list. Paparazzi (like me) were happy snapping candid shots of Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, Oz Clark and Steven Spurrier, to name but a few, who shuffled between a bevy of MWs and sommeliers, wine buyers and educators. Although the room wasn’t packed, as with wine, it’s quality, not quantity that counts, as Jamie Goode pointed out. “Thursday’s Canadian wine tasting and seminar at Canada House was a great success. Lots of energy and enthusiasm, great people, and some lovely wines”, he later wrote on his popular website.

I caught up with Steven Spurrier from Decanter Magazine at the Tawse Winery table, fittingly enough, as the Tawse Estate Chardonnay had recently appeared on the cover of Decanter. “This is brilliant chardonnay, brilliant chardonnay”, he said animatedly, tasting the wine again with genuine enthusiasm. When I asked him what he thought of the value, he responded quickly saying that Canadian wine isn’t about value. “This should take the place of good village or premier cru Meursault on a wine list”, he said, continuing on to point out the importance of sommeliers in the UK market. “If the sommelier proposes it, clients will take a chance and enjoy it. And all the sommeliers at these new restaurants and wine bars are looking for new wines to sell. You don’t see Bordeaux on wine lists anymore.”

Decanter Editor Steven Spurrier, tasting intently-2156

Decanter Editor Steven Spurrier, tasting intently

It’s likely not news to any Canadian producers hoping to export that the best way into any new markets where you can’t compete on value (and I doubt Canada will never compete on pure value alone, even with tariff eliminations), is invariably via the on-trade. And there does seem to be genuine appetite for high quality Canadian wines.

Xavier Rousset MS, co-owner of the Michelin-starred restaurant Texture and three wine bars under the 28-50 brand in central London where Canadian wines have found a spot on the list, was also enthusiastic about the overall quality on offer at the event. He cited chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet franc as personal highlights. But he also commented on value: “Canada is not seen as great value”, he said frankly. “North American wine in general is not seen as value. But we buy on quality, and the story behind it”. The comment underscores another well-known aspect of wine sales.

Canada House, Trafalgar Square, London-2152

Canada House, Trafalgar Square, London

So, Canada, What’s your story? When the world answers, it needs to be sharp and focused. Attention spans are narrow.

Here’s one idea: Canada is genuinely cool. Whereas a mere decade ago in the age vinous largess, when the more a wine would give the better it was, a cool climate was a major handicap. But now that the style pendulum has swung to the more restrained and understated side, authentic coolness (and not just a “relatively” cool climate) has become one of Canada’s greatest strengths across the country, even in the southern Okanagan. Canadians needn’t work hard at crafting crackling, sharp, finely tuned wines with all the drinkability of a glacial stream on a hot summer’s day. No need to apologize anymore for slim size or electric acids. Seems like a good place to begin the story.

The rest is yours to tell.

Calling Canadian Wineries: Wine Align National Wine Awards 2015

It’s not too late. If you’re a Canadian winery and would like to see how your wines measure up against the best from shore to shore, calibrated by a dozen and a half professionals with vast domestic and international experience, enter them in the NWACs. We’re pleased to welcome back the very sharp Dr. Jamie Goode to the panel this year.

Click here for more information and to register.

That’s all for this Free Run. See you over the next bottle (of Canadian?) wine.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS


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Season 5, Table 6 of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

Where in the (New) World is it From? (a.k.a. California Dreamin’)

Will “So, You Think You Know Wine?” contestants Sara d’Amato and the two Szabos – John and Zoltan – be able to pinpoint the Pinot at Table 6? Watch to see who comes close to scoring full points.

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

2015-05-06_14-06-04

Click here to watch Table 6 or read on to learn more about the contestants and the scoring method.

Table 6

As always, the video series brings together Canada’s top wine experts, but this time a few well-known food personalities have taken on the daunting task of competing against wine critics, sommeliers, and wine educators.

Sara d’Amato

Sara is a Toronto-based wine consultant, sommelier, wine critic and principal partner with WineAlign. She has worked in cellars both in Niagara and in France, as Sommelier at the Four Seasons Hotel and at the Platinum Club of the Air Canada Centre. She is also a contributor to Chatelaine magazine. Sara is the first and only woman to have won the Grand Award at the prestigious Wine Tasting Challenge.

2015-05-06_13-42-32

Zoltan Szabo

Zoltan has worked in the hospitality industry for two decades and on three continents.  He worked his way up from dishwasher to sommelier to general manager.  Nowadays he’s a consultant, wine judge, educator, and journalist. In 2009, he won the title of Grand Champion in the prestigious Wine Tasting Challenge.

2015-05-06_13-41-30

John Szabo, MS

John is Canada’s first Master Sommelier. He’s a partner and principal critic for WineAlign and authors the bi-monthly Vintages Buyer’s Guide. John is wine editor for Toronto’s CityBites Magazine and is author of Pairing Food and Wine For Dummies. John also designs wine programs, teaches, speaks, judges and travels around the world, and to round out his experience and get closer to the land, he also owns a small vineyard in Eger, Hungary, the J&J Eger Wine Co. These days you’ll find him climbing volcanoes.

2015-05-06_13-41-56

The Scoring

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

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

Let the games begin! Pour yourself a glass of wine and watch table 6.

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

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

Table 1 – Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2013
Table 2 – Creekside Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Table 3 – Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Table 4 – The Grinder Pinotage 2013
Table 5 – Faustino VII Tempranillo 2012

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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LCBO Announces First Regional Specialty Store

by John Szabo MS, WineAlignMay 3, 2015

 

There will be some happy Greeks on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue!

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The LCBO, in a progressive move, has confirmed it will be moving ahead with a pilot project to create regional specialty stores across the GTA. LCBO Executive VP Dr. George Soleas shared the development with WineAlign, revealing that the concept will be trialled in store 4, the flagship location on the Danforth in the heart of the Greek community, starting May 25th.

According to Soleas, “90-100 Greek wines and spirits will eventually be stocked in their own prominent section, including up to 50 pulled directly from the consignment program, ranging in price from about $15 to $50″.

This nearly triples the current offering in LCBO stores, and several of the consignment wines recently reviewed by WineAlign will soon be on shelves. It’s the first time that wines from the consignment warehouse, restricted to case lot sales and often subject to delays and delivery charges, will be incorporated into LCBO stocks. Mr. Soleas says, the move is designed to increase the selection in under-served categories, in the demographic areas where demand is highest.

According to Steve Kriaris of the Kolonaki Group, Ontario’s largest importer of Greek wines & spirits, “the additional benefit is not only larger selection, but also, finally, that premium Greek wines will be available by the bottle. Until now consumers have had to buy most of the premium offerings in full case lots, which, of course, is limiting”.

Dr. Soleas revealed that Portugal is scheduled next, and if the pilot proves successful, other stores will be designated to carry a deeper selection, including consignment products, from specific countries and regions. He said he has been working on this initiative for some time and is pleased that it is going ahead.

For me, while it’s not as progressive as fully privatized specialty shops, it’s a welcome move, opening up consumer access to the vast range of wines available in the province that fly under the radar in consignment. WineAlign will endeavour to review as many of these wines as possible, especially through our new consignment wine review program called “Buy the Case” that is launching imminently.

Over 30 Greek wines carried by the LCBO were reviewed and posted to WineAlign last week, many of which are featured in my report called Confident wines from Original Vines: Reasons to Drink Greek. Many will also be available for tasting by trade and media at the annual Wines of Greece fair May 5 in Toronto.

Cheers,

John Szabo, MS

John Sazbo, MS


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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008